Author's Notes:

Rating: TVM: Strong Language and Violence

Prerequisites: This story contains members of The Family. See Shades of Black* for further details. Also, the antagonist, Quinlan Brooks, first appeared in Candle In The Dark* and made a subsequent appearance in Faith*. Simon was designated the Watcher in An Essential Friend. References are also made to the episode, "Finkelman's Folly".

*My fanfics. See TVLIT 101 if necessary.

ALONE

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 5-12-98)

Prologue

The man lay sprawled across the bunk, his eyes open but unfocused on the bed above him. There was a glittering in the eyes that bespoke of joy, satisfaction. The smile which graced his lips also signified a happiness that was rarely found in a federal penitentiary. But while the smile and emotions may have been out of place, the thoughts that ran through Brooks Quinlan, Sr.'s head were not. In fact, the images that filled his mind were perhaps too dark for his surroundings. After all he was in prison, not hell.

Quinlan wanted revenge for the death of his son. Brooks, Jr. had been impulsive, careless, but neither of those things warranted his death. Yet a cop, one Det. Jim Ellison, had shot him down like a rabid animal. The outraged father simply could have ordered the cop's execution, but that would have been too easy. The detective deserved to suffer, to pay for taking away his precious progeny. So he had hired an expert in "behavior modification". Ellison had been reduced to a mass of quivering protoplasm whose only responses were whimpering and curling up into a fetal-like ball. But something had gone wrong and once the cop was returned to his people, his condition had been reversed. Not only had he regained his senses, but he remembered enough to put everyone involved in prison for the rest of their lives.

However, that wasn't cause for giving up so Quinlan tried again. This time he framed the man for murder. It had worked, but once again the detective's friends had come through, identifying the frame and destroying it piece by piece. Evidently, the cop was one lucky son of a bitch. But luck only went so far.

Now Quinlan had one final chance and he was sure this one would work. Ellison always depended on his friends. When he was screaming his head off in an insane asylum, his partner Sandburg and his captain Banks had come to his rescue. When he'd been hauled in for the murder of a woman in his apartment, Sandburg and Banks were there once again-- keeping him out of jail and figuring out what had really occurred. Always Sandburg and Banks.

So if Ellison's strength lie in his friends, he would take away that strength. And Ellison would be alone, just like he was...

Quinlan sat up, glanced at his watch, and smiled. Time for the show to begin. "Guard," he called. "I need to make a phone call."

Chapter One

"This is a great restaurant, Simon. Thanks for inviting us," Blair Sandburg said as he sat at the table with his two friends, Simon Banks and Jim Ellison. The Italian restaurant was of the upscale variety, very bright and clean.

"Don't be too grateful, Sandburg," Jim warned. "Simon received a coupon stating Buy Two Dinners Get One Free. Now who do you suppose is planning on getting the free dinner?"

Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department looked aghast at his detective. "Jim, you wound me. Do you think I would pull something like that on the two of you?"

"Am I wrong, Simon?"

Simon laughed. "No, but I'm still wounded you caught on so fast."

"I don't carry a badge for nothing, captain," Jim pointed out amiably.

The three men were good friends. Simon was in charge of the Major Crimes unit, Jim was one of his detectives, and Blair was Jim's partner. However, Blair wasn't a cop. He was an anthropology grad student at Rainier University and on paper, somewhere, he was listed as a police observer. But according to Jim, Simon, and the rest of the department, he was Jim's partner. More often than not, he wrote Jim's reports (Simon approved; Jim hated writing reports and it showed) and it was his voice that called for backup when Jim ran into a situation. He had also been known to back up Jim himself, to put his life on the line for the man. Of course that had nothing to do with Jim being his best friend; he was simply doing his job.

Blair knew that despite the number of hats he wore-- police observer, student, teacher, etc. only one job counted and that was the one the least people knew about. Jim was a Sentinel, a person with enhanced senses. His ancestral counterparts used their special abilities to protect their tribes; Jim used his to protect the people of his city of Cascade, Washington. Blair was his Guide, his coach so to speak. He designed practice sessions for the training of the senses, made sure the Sentinel was in excellent physical shape, called out words of encouragement and strategies while the Sentinel was in play, and provided comfort and sympathy when the game got out of hand or the Sentinel did the unthinkable and lost.

If Blair was the coach, then Simon was the athletic director (a.k.a. the A.D.). His title was that of Watcher. He oversaw the game from a distance, only coming onto the court when needed. Supportive, bossy, protective, sympathetic, pushy, demanding, caring, concerned-- all facets of the Watcher that Sentinel and Guide could not do without. None of the citizens in the restaurant knew of the triumvirate that sat in their midst, but something about the laughter coming from the table, the air of fellowship, made them feel comfortable, safe.

"Excuse me. One of you gentlemen Det. Ellison?" a waiter asked politely.

Crystal blue eyes looked up in surprise. "That's me."

"You have a phone call, sir. It's on the pay phone near the rest rooms."

Ordinarily, all three would have been suspicious. In their line of work, what was odd was also ominous. Why would anyone call Jim on a pay phone at a restaurant he'd never been to? Why wouldn't they have dialed his cell phone or even the cashier's desk? Why did he have to walk around the corner to the narrow corridor between the Men's Room and the Ladies' Lounge? But this was not an ordinary night. They weren't thinking about work. No one had received any threats. Their caseload was minimum. They were taking time out to enjoy themselves and they were careless. These were the things they would tell themselves later...

"Ellison," Jim said into the receiver he found resting on the shelf beneath the phone. "Hello?" he said when no one answered.

"How does it feel, Ellison?" a voice rasped. "How does it feel to be alone?"

The Sentinel immediately focused on the voice, but his focus wasn't so total that he couldn't hear the click of automatic weapons in the other room. With a shout he dropped the phone and pulled his gun. He rounded the corner and knew even then that he was too late. The smell of blood permeated the room, blending with the acrid stench of gunfire to assault his nose. The cries of the wounded and the dying threatened to overwhelm him as he took aim and destroyed those intent on destroying what was his.

When the enemy was defeated, he went in search of his fallen men. The table where they had shared laughter only moments before was just so many splinters. Unmindful of the misery around him, he fell to his knees and used his incredible senses to detect life in the bloody bodies before him. He balled together napkins and pressed them against the wound in the Guide's throat. Automatically, he reached around with his other hand and sought the damage to the Watcher. A hole in his chest. Concentrating with his fingers, he followed the path of the bullet, knew it had nicked the aorta as it bypassed the heart. Just as blindly as he'd done everything else, he sent his finger into the hole, placing its tip against the damaged artery, keeping the blood flowing in its rightful stream.

"Let me help you, sir."

The Sentinel barely heard the voice but he looked into the kind eyes on the same level as his. "You seem to have your hands full. I'm a nurse. I can help."

"There are others." He wasn't so out of it that he didn't know the injuries extended beyond the table.

"The ones that can be helped are being taken care of. The others are in the hands of God." Jennie Albright had gone to the rest room. She had come out to find this man in front of her, calmly firing at two men carrying weapons she had only seen in the movies. When the man moved away, she was stunned to see the carnage that had occurred in only a few minutes. Before there had only been the red of pasta sauce. Now the red turned deeper as sauce mixed with blood. Relying on her training, she tried to help but trauma wasn't her forte. She worked in a pediatric clinic. She wiped noses and occasionally refereed fights between Barney and the Power Rangers. Thankfully there were people more qualified than her and when she saw the injured were getting help, she looked for the man who had shielded her. Maybe he hadn't meant to. Maybe for once in her life she had been at the right place at the right time. That didn't matter. Whatever the reason, she wanted to thank him.

She saw him hovering over the two men and she remembered seeing the three as they entered the restaurant. Her sister had commented on how differences could be good. "Look," she had said, "Now tell me that every woman in this place can't choose at least one of them for a pretty decent fantasy. Thank you, God, for the diversity of mankind." Peggy. Funny that she had God on her mind five minutes before she died.

"My friends," he explained, still reluctant to release control of either of them.

He seemed so lost, yet he was competently doing exactly as he should to care for those he was working on. How did he manage? "I know. My sister and I saw you come in." Jennie gently took over the pressure on the napkins.

"Your sister okay?"

Jennie felt a hand wrap around her heart and almost laughed at the ironic image. She hadn't missed what the man was doing to save his friend. She'd heard about such occurrences but never thought to witness it. "She didn't make it. Men always claim women can't go to the rest room alone. This time I did. Are you a cop?"

Her question startled him into forgetting to give his condolences, to apologize for not being able to save her sister or any of the rest. "Yes. Why do you ask?" Something shifted inside Simon and he paused before making a slight adjustment. He listened to the blood to make sure he'd done the right thing. He felt himself drifting along with the corpuscles and grabbed hold of the woman's voice to steady him, to keep him anchored where he needed to be.

"The way you took down the shooters. You didn't even appear to aim. Two shots straight into two hearts. I am seriously hoping you are a policeman."

The Sentinel nodded. "Yes, a detective. That's my partner you're taking care of and this is my captain."

"Coworkers as well as friends. That's fortunate." Jennie looked impatiently toward the doors. "Someone called 911. Help should be here soon."

The Sentinel nodded, already hearing the screaming of the various rescue vehicles as they approached. "They're both going to make it," he said more to himself than to her. "They have to."

Jennie heard minute catches in his voice and she worried he was going to go into shock. Even the strongest of persons had to be bothered by the brutality. Wasn't she barely hanging on? And she had merely lost her sister. He was literally holding death at bay with his fingertip-- inside a close friend. If he lost his concentration... "How did you know what to do? To save your captain?"

The Sentinel blinked as he searched his mind for the answer. Simon's blood kept calling to him, however, and he fought the distraction. "I was a medic in the Army."

"You've probably witnessed scenes like this before."

"Yes." He felt Simon's blood pressure fluctuate again and this time he knew what to do. Then he reached out to touch Blair. "They're here, Chief. I'll have to go with Simon, okay? But we'll be together soon, buddy. I promise."

Before Jennie could comment, the restaurant was swarming with rescue personnel. Her patient was prepped and put on a gurney and when she finally got a chance to look around, the captain was being wheeled out, the detective perched above him but his eyes on the other gurney. Jennie hoped for the detective's sake that both men would survive.

"Miss, the detectives will need to take your statement when they arrive. If you wouldn't mind coming with me?"

She turned toward the officer standing behind her. He was young, but his eyes told her this wasn't the first bloody scene he had attended. There was no sign of a reaction in his face. "Detectives? Do they know?"

"Know what, ma'am?"

"About the hurt ones. Two of the men they wheeled out are policemen. One was a captain, according to the detective, and the other was his partner."

Finally the officer showed some reaction. He knew of only one set of partners and a captain who regularly hung out together. "Was the captain a tall Black guy?" He held his hand up to suggest a height.

"Yes, and the hurt detective had curly long hair. Do you know them?"

The man didn't answer but grabbed his radio. "Someone put in a call to Major Crimes," he said hoarsely, looking at Jennie with the horror he should have felt in the beginning. "They have people down."

Chapter Two

Jim remembered very little of the journey to the hospital. The paramedics worked around him, stabilizing Simon as much as possible. When they asked him questions about the captain, he answered, surprising them with the details he knew of Simon's life. At the hospital, they bypassed the E.R. and headed straight to the elevators for the surgical floor.

"Jim?"

He turned with relief toward the voice. "Dr. C. Can you tell me about Blair?"

Dr. Mandy Cuthbertson had the answer because she knew what the question was going to be. Mandy prided herself on being the resident expert on Jim, Blair, and Simon. The three men were, unfortunately, regular visitors to Cascade General Hospital. "He's being prepped for surgery. I'm on my way up now to make sure they're ready for him."

"You'll stay with him?"

"Of course." She knew it was hurting the detective not to be with his friend. The two were usually frantic to be near each other when one was hurt and the captain was usually pacing outside the door. But nothing was going to be usual tonight. "You know he understands you have to be with Simon."

"Yeah, but he may need to be reminded."

"I'll tell him as soon as I see him," she promised solemnly. One of the orderlies pushing the gurney looked at her strangely, but if Jim thought Blair should be reminded, who was she to scoff. She had watched these men bring each other back from the brink of death time and time again. If the ritual required words, so be it. The elevator neared the surgical suites. "Are you okay, Jim?" Mandy asked, wondering if it was the light in the elevator making him seem pale. Of course, she knew when his friends hurt, so did the detective.

"I guess you could say I'm a little stressed."

She heard the humor beneath the statement and relaxed. Joking was a good sign. Still, she wished Sadie Farmsworth was in town. Sadie worked the registration desk in the E.R. and had unofficially adopted the three guys. But Sadie was in Los Angeles with one of her grandsons and wouldn't be back for another four days.

"I'm counting on you, Dr. C," Jim called as the gurney was wheeled inside the operation chamber.

"I know you are, Jim."

"Detective Ellison!"

Jim came out of his zone to find a surgical team staring at him. "I'm sorry," he said quickly.

"It's okay," the lead surgeon said. "Most people in your position would have lost it by now. I'm going to make an incision over the heart and when I tell you to move, I want you to let go. Don't worry, the nurse will be right there with the clamps. Do you understand?"

Jim nodded, surprised to find he and Simon had been sterilely draped and he even felt a surgeon's cap on his head and a mask across his face. How had they done that without him being aware of it? Wait until he told Blair. The Guide would be...

"Now, detective!"

Jim pulled away, Simon's blood soaking the paper gown before the clamps were in place. The surgeon and his team ignored him as he backed down the captain's body. When he reached the floor he discovered it was difficult to straighten up and he suddenly remembered something he had repressed in order to save Simon. When a nurse noticed him bent over, she asked if he needed assistance. He assured her it was merely a cramp from being in the position for so long. She nodded and went back to her task.

Jim hobbled out of the operating theater and instead of stopping to clean up, he went in search of Blair. Maybe because of the emergency situation or because of his dress, a blood-stained surgical gown and cap, no one stopped to question his presence in the restricted area. Beyond a set of double doors he heard the sound he'd been searching for-- the sound of his Guide's heart. Not as strong as he'd like it to be, but clearly audible, clearly beating.

With deep-seated relief, he sagged against a wall. For the moment, Guide and Watcher were alive. But others were not. Why hadn't he been able to protect them? The woman at the restaurant said her sister was dead. Unacceptable, the Sentinel silently cried. Even more unacceptable was that she and the others were dead or injured because of him. The phone call was proof. A taunt, a slap in the face that said the Sentinel couldn't protect what was his. The Sentinel was a failure...

Which he could handle as long as the price for failure was not the loss of both Guide and Watcher. He had often despaired of losing the Guide and had wondered what he would do if that ever happened. But in the back of his mind, he knew his Guide would demand he go on and the Watcher would be there to make sure that happened. The Watcher would be his strength. As the Guide would be if something ever happened to the Watcher. But how in the hell was he supposed to survive without either?

Of course, there was the possibility he was worrying prematurely, he thought as he clutched his side and turned down his pain dial to a negative number. His friends were alive at the moment. Both could survive. And there was also the chance, he grimaced as he felt blood seep through the thin yellow gown, he wouldn't. If that was the price he had to pay, then he would pay it without regret. But he had one thing to do first. Listening to the familiar heartbeat one more time, he headed toward other familiar sounds.

*****

Captain Joel Taggert leaned against the wall in the waiting room and surveyed the crowd there. Vaguely he wondered who was patrolling the city, considering the number of cops before him, but that wasn't his problem. He was a member of the Major Crimes unit and as such, had every right to be exactly where he was.

The nursing staff probably would have kicked them all out by now but they weren't making pests of themselves asking questions every five minutes. They knew that they would get their answers when Jim Ellison joined them. According to the witnesses, it had been Jim who had taken out the shooters. Then the detective had done the impossible and kept Simon and Blair alive until help arrived. So even though they knew they didn't have a chance in hell of seeing Simon nor Blair, they would see Jim and he would tell them what they needed to know.

Some of the detectives closest to the trio were there not only to send their prayers to the injured but to lend support to Jim. Whenever his partner was hurt, Ellison went a little nuts and Captain Banks was about the only person who could handle him. With both his friends in critical condition, he was going to be either a) out for justice; b) out of his mind; or c) both. They owed it to Sandburg and Banks to see to it that Jim would be okay until they were on their feet.

"Joel."

He looked up to see Jim standing in the doorway. He looked dazed and actually swayed on his feet. That was not good. Fearing the worse, the cops froze instead of rushing toward him. Seeing everyone lacked the courage, Joel approached. "Jim?" he asked hesitantly.

"They're alive."

A collective sigh of relief rose from the crowd. But it was short-lived as they took a better look at the detective. Something was terribly wrong. "You okay, Jim?" Joel asked, reaching out toward his friend.

Jim reached up to wipe sweat from his brow and left a smear of blood behind. "I need a favor, Joel." His voice was barely a whisper.

"Whatever you need, Jim. You know that."

Jim fumbled with the paper gown and Joel pulled the ties in the back, releasing him. As the gown drifted to the floor, someone gasped. The dark circle of blood on Jim's sweater foretold of a night that was just going to get longer and darker. "Jim, you've been hurt," Joel said, grasping the man's elbow. "Rafe! Get a doctor now!" he barked to one of the detectives.

"Man, let's get you seated," Det. Henri Brown said, coming up to take Jim's other arm.

Jim refused to budge. "Get my I.D., Joel. It's in my pocket."

"We can do that later, Jim. We need to stop the bleeding right now."

"The I.D., Joel."

The man was adamant. Joel pulled out the I.D. "Behind the badge. There's a card," Jim continued as the room grew dark. He squinted in order to see the former Bomb Squad leader. "Call the number." His legs refused to hold him any longer. Joel and Brown struggled to slowly lower him to the floor. "Say Alpha Delta Red. That's what you tell him, Joel. Got it? Alpha Delta Red."

"Who am I calling, Jim?"

"My brother."

"The guy from the racetrack?" What could he do? He was just a businessman, wasn't he?

"No, not Steven. Adam."

Before Joel could ask any more questions, a resident was escorted by a very determined Rafe to Jim's side. "Good God!" he exclaimed as he examined Jim. "This man's been shot!"

The contingency of cops stood by in shocked silence as another member of their cadre was wheeled away to surgery. Would tonight's tragedy never end? "What do we do now, captain?" someone asked.

Joel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This was not a position he wanted. He was a newcomer to Major Crimes. He hadn't earned the right to leadership in the unit and was quite content to work under Simon. And if Simon wasn't around, well, Jim was next in line. Maybe he didn't have the rank, but he had the know-how and the respect of every one of the detectives. Joel remembered the argument that had ensued after Simon had recovered from the shooting at the bank.

"The next time Captain Banks is incapacitated, I think Ellison should be put in charge of the squad," he'd told the brass at their monthly meeting. "Not that, you, Captain Finkelman, did anything wrong, but it would have been a smoother transition." What he didn't say was that Major Crimes had almost mutinied under Finkelman's watch. If it had happened, most people would have assumed it was some kind of anti-female thing, but that wasn't the case. Sure, they had minded the suit-wearing mandate, but what had really pissed them off was that she'd had the audacity to pull Sandburg's ride-along permit. Major Crimes had been furious, but before they protested they looked to Jim to find out how they should react and when Ellison, surprisingly, hadn't caused a stir, they held back. The next day Finkelman changed her mind and Sandburg was once again a viable member of Major Crimes. Suspicions and speculations had run rampant through the station. No one ever figured out whether Jim had finagled, finessed, or outright blackmailed the captain, but their respect for the man grew.

Simon and even Finkelman had agreed that Jim should take over the unit. Others, envious of Major Crimes' clearance rate, suggested Ellison wasn't enough of a politician to take charge. Then Simon reminded them that Jim had come to them as a leader in the most political of all arenas, the U.S. Army. If he was good enough for Uncle Sam, what right did Cascade P.D. have to complain. The measure passed and Joel and Simon both agreed it was best that Jim not know. Their friend was like Spock of Star Trek fame-- he didn't want to command. But they also knew, like that character, he would do so if he had to and he would do it well.

Which was why Joel had been prepared to let Jim take over in this situation. Homicide was working the case for now, but Major Crimes was expected to lead the investigation as soon as they regrouped. Jim, without even realizing it, would have had the investigation laid out in his head already, anticipating how Simon would organize it and adding his own little subtleties. Joel had no such plans, yet now the detectives were looking toward him for direction. He did the only thing he knew to do; he followed his last order.

He dialed the phone, aware that every eye was on him, every ear listening to his words. "Hello? This is Captain Joel Taggert of the Cascade P.D. May I speak to Adam?... Jim Ellison asked me to call and give you this message-- Alpha Delta Red... Cascade General Hospital... He and Captain Banks were injured as well... Yes, I understand... Uh huh... Okay... Until then." He hung up the phone and digested what he'd been told before facing his officers.

"According to Jim's contact, the coded message indicates that we, as well as the rest of Jim's friends and family, may be targets. We are all to be on our guard and the civilians should be guarded as well."

"We don't have the manpower," Brown pointed out. "We can't run an investigation and watch Jim's people as well."

Joel scratched his head. "I was told that matter would be taken care of."

"What does that mean?" Rafe asked.

Joel shrugged. "I have a feeling we won't have to wait long to find out."

Chapter Three

Adam knew there were certain actions to be taken but all he could do was stare at the phone he'd just hung up. How had the world changed so quickly? Five minutes ago, he'd been reviewing a monograph of a questionable line of research which had been forwarded to him from his chief of operations in Ohio. What the scientist was doing was borderline by Family standards and it was up to Adam to either let the research continue at Ohio State or "suggest" the work be moved to a Family facility.

The Family was a self-proclaimed, self-funded watchdog organization dedicated to protecting man from himself. They kept a close eye on scientific research occurring all over the world and if someone's work appeared to be dangerous or lacking restraints, the scientist was relocated to a Family lab and his research would either be closely monitored or held back unto appropriate controls could be devised. While it was true that what the Family did wasn't legal and they were considered villains by some of the scientists they had contacted, they firmly believed that sometimes human rights had to be sacrificed for the good of human life.

Adam was in charge of North American operations. He had the title of vice president. Each continent had its own and together they were the core of the Family. Because the head of the organization was called Father, the seven vice presidents considered themselves to be siblings. North America was the "home office" of the Family, so Adam not only lived with Father but was third in the chain of command. Second in command and the eventual leader was the Elder. He was also known as James Ellison.

Now he'd received an Alpha Delta Red code from James. It was bad enough that James had never felt the need to contact the Family before when he was injured, but his message indicated he was gravely injured, that his close contacts were in danger, and that the danger was immediate. Which meant he'd better get off his ass and do something. "Sam," he called into the intercom. "I've just received an Alpha Delta Red from the Elder. You know what needs to be done."

Sam immediately went to work, contacting various Family members. Sam wasn't a person but something his owner's manual called an "artificial intelligence". Physically, he was all circuitry and wires, but his computer chip was so sophisticated and so incredibly fast, that it mimicked actual thought processes. Even he wouldn't go so far as to label himself "sentient", but he learned more and more each day. And that was thanks to the Elder. The Elder had taken him out of storage and put him to use. That made the Elder a very special human. He would do everything in his power to help him.

Knowing Sam would follow the protocol James had devised to the letter, Adam headed for Father's room. A few months ago, one of the vice presidents had tried to kill their leader. Father was getting better but it would take a while before he fully recovered-- physically and mentally. Adam was afraid this news would cause a setback, however. James was very special to Father.

After knocking and receiving acknowledgment, Adam walked in to find Father playing chess with Raleigh. He sighed. His worry just doubled. Raleigh took care of the Family and the farmhouse that was the Family's homebase. He and Father had served together in the Army way back when and had become best friends. When Father founded the Family, Raleigh was right by his side. And when Father saw James and knew he was the heir to the throne, Raleigh had enthusiastically agreed. Throwing his shoulders back, Adam stood at attention before the veterans. "I've received an Alpha Delta Red."

The chess game was instantly forgotten. "From whom?" Father asked tersely.

Adam swallowed. "The Elder."

Both men paled. "How bad is it?" Father managed to ask, although his throat had gone horribly dry.

"Sam, what have you found out?" Adam asked as he activated the intercom.

"A quick overview of the local media reports reveals that two gunmen opened fire in the restaurant where the Elder was having dinner with Blair Sandburg and Captain Simon Banks."

"They got Blair too?" Raleigh said softly. Although they had known of James' partner, they hadn't met the man until Father was nearly killed and James had come home to run the Family. Raleigh had found him to be a nice, polite young man who obviously cared for James. As the Elder, James had the right to bring anyone into the Family and they all considered Blair just as much a member of their organization as they did the others.

"Blair received a wound to the neck and Captain Banks was shot in the heart. Extraordinarily, both are still alive."

"What about James?" Father asked impatiently.

"Initial reports do not mention any injury to him. If I may be permitted to interface with Cascade General Hospital, perhaps I could get an update." It was one of the safeties the Elder had built into Sam's programming; he had to receive permission before violating another server's files.

"Interface, Sam. Authorization code 3A2," Adam replied quickly.

"Connecting."

"James make the call himself?" Raleigh asked, reaching up to run his fingers through his white hair, but stopping when he noticed the trembling in his hand. Damn. Their James had to be okay. He looked at Father and saw the same thought in his blue eyes, eyes so similar to James' that they actually could have been father and son. In private the two older men considered the Elder, "their boy". He was the son neither of them had had. Their lives had always been about war and when it was time for peace and the requisite "settling down", neither of them found what they were looking for. So Father had declared his own war and Raleigh had joined him. They had created their own "Family" of which James was the crowning glory.

Adam shook his head. "Apparently he was well enough to ask a coworker, a Captain Taggert, to contact us."

"Adam, we have a problem," Sam called.

"What? You can't get into the hospital system?"

"No, it's not that. Scott Morgan is resisting the idea of transferring men from Redmond to Cascade."

"Put him on," Adam said angrily. "Listen to me very carefully, Morgan. I don't care if Gates is planning to takeover the whole fucking universe. I want all your people in Cascade a.s.a.p.! Do you understand! End call, Sam."

"I want Scott Morgan removed," Father said.

"I'll take care of it as soon as I'm in Cascade," Adam promised. "How's that downlink, Sam?"

"It seems that the Elder was shot in the abdomen. He is currently in surgery. Several units of blood have been ordered. Wide-spectrum antibiotics as well. Just a second. Someone's doing an update... Originally, the Elder was thought to be uninjured. He was apparently instrumental in keeping the captain alive and the blood seen on him was thought to have belonged the other man. It was only after the captain was in surgery and the Elder had gone to the waiting room that his injury was discovered."

"Shit, what kind of fucking hospital are they running out there?" Father asked in consternation. "I'm coming with you, Adam."

"No." Two pairs of eyes looked at him in surprise. Only one person got away with telling Father no-- and it was in his name, Adam was stating the negative. "James thinks someone is after his family and we don't know whether the person knows of this Family as well. Going to Cascade would only make you a larger target, Father. Sam has already increased security here on the farm. This is where you should stay."

"You're his Family too," Father said softly, agreeing with him but wanting him to understand the danger to himself as well. Adam sometimes deluded himself into thinking he was expendable. It was a trait that only James could control... usually by grabbing his brother by the throat and telling him otherwise.

"I know and I'm sure Sam's taken care of that as well. Just stay here and trust me to handle everything, okay?"

Father reached out and put his hand on Adam's arm. "We trust you, Adam. We know you know what to do."

"I know, Father. I'm going to keep my brother alive and then I'm going to kill the son of a bitch who did this to him." He nodded to the two men and headed for the airport.

Chapter Four

Joel Taggert sighed and looked down at his watch. Two down and one to go. Jim and Simon were out of surgery but Blair was still under the knife. He had opted to remain at the hospital until all three men were out, coordinating the investigation from the waiting room. Now that they didn't have to worry about safety, all the detectives could be out working the case.

Less than thirty minutes after the phone call to Jim's brother, a squad of men and women in dark suits and long coats had appeared at the hospital. The one in charge, Scott Morgan, had handed him a card similar to the one Jim had given him. On the front it read Family Security Services. He had never heard of the company but it was obvious they knew what to do. Somehow they got permission to "infiltrate" the hospital, posting men outside each of the operating rooms. Joel was informed that Jim had made a list of the VIPs in his life and that all were either covered or would be shortly. Also, since the detectives were all on the list, they could go about their business without having to watch their backs themselves.

The captain didn't have the heart to tell Morgan that the detectives were now more wary than ever, because, whoever these people were, they weren't a standard security company. Of course, considering it had something to do with Jim, he wasn't surprised. Ellison had always been more than the average cop. Oh, he tried to blend in and all, but there was something about him that caused him to stand out. Other cops had military backgrounds but how many did the FBI seek out on a regular basis? When the President visited Cascade, who had the Secret Service chosen to spearhead the local efforts? Nah. It was obvious the man was still connected. Whatever the hell he was doing on the police force was part of something bigger. Joel was sure of it. And this so-called Family Security Service was evidence of that. Because if these people weren't government, he'd stay away from chocolate for a week.

There were other matters bothering him too. He'd spent half an hour arguing with Joan, Simon's ex. Joel thought she should tell Daryl about his father and bring him down to the hospital. But Joan refused to do either. She said she would tell Daryl in the morning when it would probably be known whether Simon would live or die. According to her, Daryl hadn't recovered from the last time Simon had been shot and her son deserved a good night's sleep before facing the same thing over again. Joel figured Daryl was going to be as resentful as hell for being kept in the dark. One of these days Joan was going to have to face the consequences of the questionable decisions she'd made where Daryl was concerned. He just hoped when the time came, Simon was strong enough to help his son through it.

"Captain Taggert?"

He looked up to see a man enter the waiting room, flanked by two other men and followed by Morgan. Was this the leader? Jim's brother? The dark hair and dark eyes said otherwise. "I'm Joel Taggert."

The man held out his hand as Joel stood. "I'm Adam Black. We spoke on the phone."

"Jim's brother?"

"Yes." Adam waited for the captain to comment, but he remained silent. "Has everything been explained to you?"

"What do you mean explained? Mr. Morgan here told me that his men was taking care of security."

"He didn't ask you if you had any questions or concerns?"

Joel was puzzled. "No."

Adam turned to Scott Morgan. "Go home and pack. You're being transferred to the Antarctica station."

Morgan's jaw dropped to the floor. "What? What about my wife? My kids?"

The dark eyes never wavered. "They'll be taken care of. You'll be contacted when the arrangements have been made." Adam gestured for Joel to sit and he took the seat next to him. "Sorry for the interruption, captain. I want you to know that at anytime you think we are hindering the investigation, just let me know and my team will adjust. We don't want to get in anyone's way. We are here for your convenience, not ours."

"You can't do this to me," Morgan muttered.

Adam wished the man would shut up. Father had ordered him fired for questioning the transference of men from Redmond to Cascade. Then he'd discovered Morgan had just barged in on the Cascade P.D. That was a definite breach in policy. When you pushed people around, people started asking questions. And that was something the Family avoided like the plague. If Adam had been in Virginia, he would have dismissed the guy and moved on to the next section of the Washington Post. But James wasn't like that with their employees and he considered the West Coast as James' territory and would play it as he thought his brother would. James wouldn't give a shit about the man, but he would worry about the wife and children. Soft-hearted. Thankfully, too many people weren't aware of that. "Would you rather lose your job completely, Morgan? Or better yet, you can stay here and we'll let the Elder decide what to do with you after he learns how you've disrespected his friends."

Morgan shuddered. Angering the Elder was not a good idea. "How long will I be gone?" he asked in resignation.

"Six months if you behave yourself. Maybe by then, you will have learned to appreciate politeness and the value of following an order without question." Adam sighed as he watched the man leave. "I'm sorry you had to witness that, sir. But discipline must be administered quickly or the lesson is lost."

"I have a feeling discipline problems are not common in your line of work," Joel commented, noticing how quickly Morgan had changed his tune when the Elder was mentioned. Who the hell was he? The head honcho? And why was he being sent to Antarctica? Who needed security in Antarctica? The penguins?

"Fortunately, you are correct. I do apologize for his behavior. Have you any questions or suggestions to make? This is your town, your investigation and the security firm appreciates that."

Joel shook his head. "Your people are good at being unobtrusive. Have you talked with Jim's doctors yet? He just got out of surgery."

Adam nodded. "I went by his room briefly but I wanted to check on Blair as well."

"You know Blair too?"

"Yes. A very intelligent young man but prone to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Like figuring out who had tried to kill Father while the would-be killer was listening in the next room. Adam would never forget that dash into the dangerous caverns of the Blue Ridge Mountains to save the anthropologist.

Joel chuckled. "Yeah, you do know him, don't you? He's an alright kid, though. He's helped me out on occasion."

"James is very lucky to have him in his life," Adam agreed.

James? He must be close to Jim if the detective let him get away with that. Before he could question him, Dr. Cuthbertson entered the waiting room. Joel jumped to his feet, aware of Adam doing the same. "How's he doing, Dr. C?"

Mandy shrugged. "He's out of surgery, for now. The bullet creased the spinal cord, however, and we're probably going to have to go back in and repair some damage once Blair has regained a bit more strength. I have a call in to the leading neurosurgeon on this coast and once I talk to him, I should have a definite idea of what we're facing."

Adam frowned. "The leading neurosurgeon on this coast? Is there someone else you'd like to request?"

Mandy looked at him in mild curiosity and Joel made the introductions. "I had really hoped never to meet you, Mr. Black," she said, surprising Joel. "It's nothing personal. On Jim's medical records, you are to be contacted in case of emergency only when Blair and Simon aren't available. I had hoped that day would never come."

"I understand, doctor."

"Are you the gentleman responsible for my escort?" She nodded toward the guy who had followed her into the waiting room.

"Has he been in your way?"

"Not at all. I just wanted to thank you."

"Thank James," Adam replied. "He holds you in high regard and considers you a close friend. He wanted you protected in case someone was after all his friends."

"I wonder if I should warn Sadie," she mused, not realizing Jim thought someone was after his friends.

"Sadie Farmsworth? Don't worry. We have someone on her in L.A. Now, if you would give me the name of the best neurosurgeon in the world, I'll see what I can do."

How could he have possibly... Never mind. I'm not sure I want to know. "Sabastian Weir in Germany. But it would be very difficult to get him," Mandy pointed out. "Our best bet would be Sturgis in Boston. He possibly could be persuaded if he thought the case was interesting enough." She saw both men frown distastefully. "Egos have to be stroked on occasion, gentlemen," she reminded them.

Adam punched in Weir's name and whereabouts into the palmtop computer he carried. Sam was somehow interfaced with the unit. Probably had something to do with bouncing signals illegally off of government satellites. Adam had authorized Sam to do whatever necessary to insure the health and safety of James. Anything was fair game when it came to protecting the Elder. "While we're at it, doctor, I want you to make a wish list of all the personnel, equipment, or whatever you deem necessary to make sure James, Blair, and Captain Banks not only survive, but regain their full strength."

"Anything, huh?" Mandy asked, wondering if she'd heard correctly.

"Anything," Adam assured her. The computer in his hand chirped. "Dr. Weir has been contacted. He'll be in Cascade by no later than tomorrow morning. Is that suitable?"

Mandy Cuthbertson's jaw dropped to the ground. "I think I'll go start that list, if it's okay with you," she said hoarsely.

Adam nodded. "When you finish, I'll be with James." He motioned to his personal guard and walked toward the elevators.

Mandy looked at Joel. "Do I want to know who that man is?" No one, no one she knew anyway, could just call up the world's finest neurosurgeon and tell him what he had to do. Neurosurgeons considered themselves god and as the best, Weir probably added the capital "G". Yet he was apparently at the beck and call of Jim's brother.

"If you ever found out, he'd probably have to kill you," Joel joked.

There was no humor in her eyes as she murmured, walking away, "You're probably right."

Chapter Five

Adam stared at the figure in the bed and wondered how he could still look so powerful. Most people looked puny and weak in a hospital bed, especially unconscious. But not James, not the Elder himself. Adam sat in the chair that was already in place next to the bed, which he thought odd in an intensive care cubicle. But nothing seemed normal in James' world anyway. When he had requested to see James, he had expected the usual spiel about no visitors or ten minute limitations. However, the nurse said no problem, that Dr. Cuthbertson had explained everything, including the order that no machine in the room be set for an audible alarm. He had no idea of what that was about, but he already had a great deal of respect for the doctor. And that was exactly what he'd told Father when the old man had made noises about getting James a Family-connected physician.

"How do you do it, James? How can you lie there, recovering from a bullet wound to the gut that perforated your intestine which has lead to a severe infection, yet still look like some noble Roman god? You haven't changed a bit, have you, old son? Still the Golden Boy."

James hated that nickname. It was given to him the moment he stepped into the barracks at the Army Officer Candidate School. Adam had already moved in. Most of the guys he'd met were excited about being accepted. He, on the other hand, didn't care one way or the other. In fact, that was the guiding rule in his life-- not to care about anything. It certainly was the reason why he was in the Army in the first place. An acquaintance had asked for a ride downtown and on the way had committed a robbery. In court for being an accessory, the judge noted that Adam had dropped out of college after two years because his advisor had told him to, stating that he was intelligent but unmotivated and lacked ambition. Thinking the Army would provide more motivation and perhaps a higher level of ambition than prison, he'd given Adam an ultimatum. His lawyer said go to the Army, so he went.

His sergeant said he should take the test for OCS. He did and passed with incredibly high scores. He packed up his stuff when his CO told him to and that was how he ended up at OCS. There he planned to do what they wanted him to and nothing more. He didn't want to be an officer but if it happened, it happened.

He lay on the bunk and watched the others trickle in. They were a noisy bunch, some having been pals before. Suddenly, everyone quieted and he actually opened his eyes all the way to see what was happening. There in the doorway stood James Ellison, shoulders perfectly straight, fatigues perfectly uncreased. He nodded tersely and walked with military precision toward the bunk next to Adam.

Someone whistled and another called out, "Look at the golden boy. We're going to have to go some to keep up with him."

"Probably excelled in ass-kissing in boot camp."

If looks were capable of killing, their OCS class would have been the smallest in history. However, when his classmates didn't drop dead where they stood James went about proving he didn't have to kiss anyone's ass to get wherever he wanted to be. And for some odd reason, he dragged Adam along with him. Time to go to class, Black. Black's going to be my partner. Got that paper done, Black? Let's go practice, Black. Damn. He got tired of hearing his name all those weeks, but he did what Ellison said because this time he really knew compliance was easier than resistance. The one time he'd deliberately failed to live up to James' expectations taught him never to do so again.

James always had the top grades and Adam was always just behind him. Except once. He played with the test instead of taking it and as soon as class was over James took him around the corner and grabbed him by the throat, pressing him up against the brick building. James had proceeded to tell him what would occur at painful intervals if he ever pulled a stupid stunt like that again and as Adam stared into the ice-cold eyes, he believed his friend meant every word he said. So when James graduated as number one in the class, Adam was number two. When their performance caught the attention of the Rangers, Adam signed on right after James did. When James decided to be part of the Family, Adam became part of the Family. And when James disappeared in the jungles of Peru, Adam for, the first time since grade school, had cared enough to cry.

He heard a noise that sounded halfway between a groan and a sigh and Adam looked up to see James staring at him with those intense blue eyes.

"I must be alive," Jim said hoarsely. "Heaven wouldn't taunt me like this and hell would come up with something better than you, Adam."

"Hello to you too, Golden Boy."

Jim grimaced. "Maybe it's hell after all." He closed his eyes and ignoring the pain, sent his senses searching throughout the hospital. Where were they? There was one. He focused more. And there was the other one.

"James!" He opened his eyes to find Adam bent over him anxiously. "Man, don't you ever do that again," Adam urged. For half a second, it had seemed as if James had stopped breathing.

"Security?" Jim asked, ignoring the brief zone. It had been worth it.

"As per your instructions, Elder."

"Blair and Simon?" He knew the answer, but knew Adam would think it strange if he didn't ask.

"Both are alive. I had specialists brought in for them, but in your case I thought Dr. Cuthbertson was the best choice. She seemed to understand your needs."

"You made the right decision. So what's the word on Blair and Simon, other than they're alive?"

"Both have been placed in medically induced comas for the time being to allow for the damage to heal. The captain is doing well and full recovery is expected, but Blair may have some damage to his spinal cord. However, the full extent of his injuries won't be known until he wakes and the swelling goes down."

Jim nodded and moved as if to get up, but a hand to the center of his chest forced him to be still. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Adam asked.

"I need to see Blair." Jim was planning on being very angry at Adam as soon as the room stopped spinning.

"You need to get well. You've asked about everyone's health but your own. Don't you give a damn that you almost died!" Adam took his hand away. "Of course you don't. But some of us cared, James, and we still do. What do you want me to do? Go home and tell Father that yes, you survived the surgery but you killed yourself trying to check on friends that are under the very best medical care. You hate me that much, James?"

Jim dropped his head to the pillow. "Damn, Adam. You've gotten pretty good with this guilt shit."

"Thank you."

Jim sighed and picked at the tape on the back of his hand which was started to irritate. "Speaking of guilt, what was the final count?" he asked softly.

"Three dead-- not including the gunmen, six seriously injured, fifteen treated and released."

Jim closed his eyes. "It was because of me."

So I gathered from your coded message. What's your intel?"

"I got a call just before the shooting. A man wanted to know how it felt to be alone. That's when I heard the automatics being chambered."

"Which phone?"

"The restaurant's pay phone. I should have suspected something was up then, but..."

"But you decided to be human for an hour or two," Adam concluded as he keyed in the information on the tiny computer. He'd been through the guilt trip thing with James before. The man cared way too much for his fellow earth dwellers. "Sam's tracing all calls to that phone."

"You're connected to Sam?"

"Yeah, and don't ask. Some rules have been bent, but it was for the greater good."

"You sound like a politician," Jim said wryly. He reached for the controls and raised the head of the bed.

"No need to be nasty, bro." Adam watched as the Elder adjusted a clamp on the I.V., then yanked out the tubing, leaving just the needle in the back of his hand. "What are you doing, James?"

"What does it look like I'm doing, Adam?" He sat up and slowly swung his feet to the side. The room leveled off pretty quickly this time.

"Didn't we have this discussion only a few minutes ago?"

"You had a discussion. I had a dizzy spell. But I'm fine now and I need to see Blair. Who's guarding me?"

"Apparently not me," Adam muttered. "William, of course. He has appointed himself your personal keeper. I got him to sleep maybe an hour or two in the past three days."

Jim's head jerked around sharply, which he regretted immediately. "Three days? I've been out that long?"

Adam threw up his hands. "Finally you show some concern for yourself. You've been close to death, brother dear. That bullet didn't just nick you, you know. It went in and stayed in, causing serious damage. It penetrated the small intestine and because you ran around without alerting anyone to the fact you'd been shot, the contents of your intestine leaked out and contaminated the abdominal cavity."

"Guess Blair was right about junk food being the death of me," Jim joked nervously. He had no idea that he'd been that sick. Even now, he merely felt tired and sore.

"I assure you you wouldn't think it was so funny if you'd had to sit in a chair and watch a man who was already weak from blood loss battle a 106 degree temperature," Adam said angrily. The cool towels had seemed to sizzle as he placed them on the burning forehead.

Jim was startled by the traces of anguish in Adam's eyes and immediately became contrite. "I'm sorry, Adam. I know what it's like to be on that side of the bed."

"If you're so sorry, James, then why are you getting out of bed? You aren't in any condition to go roaming around the hospital at will."

Jim tried to think of words that would make Adam understand, but when it came to using words to paint a picture, he wasn't his partner. He had to hope that mere honesty would work just as well. "I have to see Blair, Adam. I wish I could explain why that is, make you understand the urgency I feel. We, Blair and I, sometimes we just know when one of us needs the other. And he needs me now. So please, Adam, please don't fight me on this."

Adam turned his head quickly so James wouldn't see the suspicious brightness in his eyes. Need. He knew what that felt like. Just before the mission to Peru, he and James had been at the farm. Looking back he would wonder if James had suspected something was wrong about the mission, because James had been drinking that night and the Elder wasn't too keen on heavy liquor. Well, considering no one would ever accuse him of having a noble nature, Adam decided to take advantage of James' condition to ask him why. Why had he chosen him? Why had he bothered to include him in his life? Why had he pushed him to excel? Why had he mattered to James at all?

James had leaned back in one of the leather chairs in the library and stared at Adam, his striking blue eyes as warm as they could be cold. Then he had smiled. "We are what the other needs, Adam-- then, now, always." With that profound message, James had calmly passed out.

Adam had thought about the words in the following days as the news of the helicopter crash was made known. He had thought about going AWOL to the Peruvian countryside to do his own search. But the memory of James had demanded he not disgrace the uniform, that it was his responsibility to take care of the Family and not rot in Leavenworth or be on the run for the rest of his life. So he had listened to the lies James' superiors had created, stayed in the service until he could formally resign his commission, then had taken his place in the Family. Apparently James had been serious about the always part.

"You have always been one stubborn son of a bitch," Adam muttered, knowing the argument was lost. "William!"

"Sir?" was the immediate reply from a small crack in the door.

"The Elder requires a wheelchair."

"The Elder?" William frowned and stuck his head all the way into the room. "Elder! You're awake!"

Jim bit back a retort about stating the obvious when he saw the guard's enthusiastic grin. "Damn," he said as William left. "Did everyone think I was going to die?"

"Sure they did. Probably why William is on the radio now broadcasting news of the second coming," Adam groused. "How does it feel to be considered a god, James?"

"If this is the way a god feels, I prefer being a mortal." Using his senses, Jim took stock of his injuries. More damage than he'd realized. But the last fully rational thought he'd had had been before that damning phone call... Speaking of which, he heard the machine in Adam's hand chirp. He watched his brother read the screen, his face totally devoid of reaction. That meant Sam had made a match. "Tell me, Adam," he demanded softly.

"A call was made to that particular pay phone from the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois."

"Brooks Quinlan." Jim felt what little energy he'd managed to garner, drain away. If there was such a thing as a personal demon, Quinlan definitely qualified. "The man had me tortured and I let him live, Adam. He set me up for a murder, violated my home to do so, and I let him live. Now he has tried to kill Blair and Simon. No more, Adam. This time he dies."

"I couldn't agree with you more," Adam said solemnly. "I'll have it taken care of immediately."

Jim shrugged. "Do whatever you have to, but remember, Adam, in the end he's mine."

Adam bowed his head just a fraction. "As you wish, Elder."

Chapter Six

Jim knew that conscious or not, Blair could sense what he was feeling. Whether this was because Blair was a shaman or because there was an empathic link between Sentinel and Guide was unknown. The subject had been largely undiscussed because as men they were uncomfortable with the bond. Jim knew the avoidance was stupid considering the personal matters they had discussed. Hell, he'd shared a lot more with Blair than he ever had with his ex-wife Carolyn-- which was probably why Blair was still around and she wasn't. Anyway, knowing Blair would pick up on his feelings, he forcibly suppressed the anger he felt for Brooks Quinlan before allowing Adam to roll him into the Guide's room.

He had told himself he knew what to expect when he saw Blair. Some of their coworkers swore the hospital was Jim's and Blair's second home. Others suggested that the two hadn't bothered to wait for death before donating their bodies to science. Jim appreciated the joking and the worry that was implied by it. Of course, the guys had a point. He knew exactly what measures the medical staff would have taken to save his partner's life, the machinery necessary to do the things Blair was incapable of doing for himself. So the blue breathing tube taped to his face was expected, the mounds of gauze swathing his neck, and the multiple I.V.s crisscrossing his arms were all part of the picture that had been in his head. Yet, the mental preparation did not to stop the jolt that raced through him when he saw the still figure lying in the bed, arms bound to the sides with thick ties.

"Why?" he asked hesitantly when he realized he could talk without completely falling apart.

"The spinal injury has caused intermittent spasms and they are afraid his movements may cause more damage," Adam explained, stopping the wheelchair so the bed was within reach. "The breathing tube's in place because the swelling in his throat threatened to cut off his oxygen supply, but his lungs are healthy. He's doing much better than he looks, James."

"You seem to know a lot about his case."

"He is a member of the Family."

"I didn't want to introduce him to you, to get him involved with the Family, you know. But now I have you to thank for his life. Fate can be a gracious bitch when she wants to be. Too bad more often than not, she's just simply a bitch."

"It wasn't fate who killed the gunmen before they could finish the job on Blair and the captain. Nor was it fate that kept them from bleeding to death on a restaurant floor. It was you, James."

"Yeah, it was me," Jim snorted. "Me who made them a target of that bastard in the first place." He closed his eyes, trying not to fall into the pattern of guilt Sandburg had blasted him for time and time again. But this time was different; this time he was to blame. "Give me a few minutes alone with him, please."

Adam nodded. "There are some things I need to take care of." He gave James' shoulder a squeeze and headed for the door.

"He's mine, Adam," Jim reminded him, knowing exactly what Adam had to take care of.

"I know, James. I'll be back in a few."

Jim heard the door close, heard Adam tell William where he was heading, then walk away. "Adam's turning out to be quite the hero where you're concerned, Chief. I knew he had it in him all along. Somebody somewhere told him he wasn't anything and he believed them. He reminds me a little of you in that way, neither of you recognizing your true worth. Sometimes I think I'm succeeding in making you understand just how important you are. At other times, I'm not so sure. Like now. Do you know how desperately I need you, Chief?

"You know, just when I thought I had Jim Ellison the way I wanted him, you and these damn senses came into my life and upset the balance, redefined the man I had become. Eventually, I got used to you. First, I told myself you were necessary because of the senses. Then I said that if I had to have a partner, you weren't a bad choice. I was used to you. I could predict your behavior. Hell, I wouldn't even have to stop by your place and pick you up because you were already living with me. It took a while, Chief, probably longer than it should have, but I finally admitted to myself that you'd gotten to me-- you'd broken through those walls Jim Ellison had erected, or maybe re-erected is a better term. The walls were familiar, Chief. They had kept out my dad and brother for years." He untied the wrist closest to him, bothered by the restraints even though he knew their purpose. He rolled around to the other side of the bed.

"You commented on how different James and Jim Ellison are. That's because they are two separate people to me. Jim was born the moment he had to repress his sentinel talents as a kid. James came into being when he became part of the Family. He opened up and let people get close to him, let them matter to him. But he went away after Peru, after he suspected he'd been betrayed by those who were supposed to be looking out for him. In a way, I guess Jim is a defense mechanism which means, I suppose, that James is the real me and Jim is just a front. Or is it the other way around? You're the psychology minor, Chief. You need to wake up and straighten this out for me, okay?" He heard Adam approaching and squeezed the hand he was holding one last time. "The warden's coming, Chief, so I'm going to have to leave. I'll be back as soon as I can though."

"James?" Adam walked into the room and if he noticed the restraints had been removed, he didn't say anything. "You need to get back to bed and to your medication."

Jim nodded and allowed himself to be rolled into the corridor. "Coronary Care is on the sixth floor," he said at the elevators.

"Meaning you just have to see Captain Banks," Adam interpreted. "Five minutes, James. I mean it. I have Dr. Cuthbertson on my speed dial, you know. And I know for a fact that a certain Sadie Farmsworth is on her way back to Cascade."

Jim craned his neck to look up at Adam. "Who's been talking? Someone's been leaking my secrets. Who was it? One of the guys at the station?"

"James, do you really think you have any secrets from the people of Cascade? Do you know how calls the police fielded when our men went to check your loft? Ten different neighbors called in to say someone was messing in your apartment. One even confronted me with a baseball bat. It seems they knew you and Blair were in the hospital so they were keeping an eye on the place for you. When they finally understood we were the good guys, they rattled off your standard visitors, the number of women you've brought home, which trucks you've owned and what happened to each, how many bad guys have shot up/broken up the loft, and a Top Ten list of the greatest and loudest arguments you and Blair have had."

"Damn," Jim said in awe. "With the weird hours Sandburg and I keep, I wasn't even sure some of them knew the loft was occupied."

Adam laughed. Leave it to James to be aware of everything but his own life. "You don't have any idea of how integral you have become in their lives, do you? Most of them swear they sleep only because they know a cop's nearby. Crime is at an all-time low in your neighborhood because they warn all would-be criminals they have two cops around the corner who would be very pissed if anything were to happen to them. I can't wait to tell Father about this. He was so worried you were isolating yourself out here. But just the opposite is true."

"Wait until Blair finds out about this," Jim said with a grin. "It'll be a while before he brings his 'date of the week' home again." The grin faded as he saw one of the Family guards standing in the hallway and knew they were at Simon's room. Once again he prepared himself for the sight of a friend wired and tubed, struggling for life. This, as his partner would say, sucked.

Even before Adam pushed through the door, he knew Simon wasn't alone. "Hey, Joel," he called as the wheelchair was swung around.

A lazy smile came to Joel Taggert's face. "Jim! It's good to see you, man. No one told me you were up and about."

"It's a recent occurrence," Adam explained. "Very recent."

Joel nodded knowingly. "Which means he woke up and demanded to see Sandburg."

"See, James? No secrets at all. Yes, captain, we've been to see Blair and he gets a five minute visit with Captain Banks. Then it's back to bed. Isn't that right, James?"

"Blackmail is a punishable crime, isn't Joel?" Jim asked with a scowl.

"Not if it's in the victim's best interest," Joel said diplomatically and received a smile from Adam. "Your brother's a good man, Jim. Try to listen to him, okay?"

Jim ignored him and rolled himself over to the bed. "They're ganging up on me, Simon. You need to get well so you can protect me. With both you and Sandburg out of the game for a while, I'm an easy target for the well-meaning and good-intentioned crowd." He heard Joel and Adam quietly leave the room. "Sandburg's going to make it, just like you, Simon. I want to thank you for what you did at the restaurant. I could tell from the way you two were lying that you tried to protect him. When you wake up, you're going to want to thank me for saving your heart. Well, we're even, my friend. You saved mine too.

"I know this Watcher thing has turned out to be more than you bargained for. Sandburg and I figured the danger would be aimed at us for the most part. We never thought your involvement would put your life on the line. Unlike us, you have someone depending on you. Daryl needs you, Simon, and we don't ever want the Sentinel/Guide/Watcher relationship to come between you and your son. I know you're going to say that we can't predict everything that happens. I mean, you were shot in the bank and it had nothing to do with us whatsoever. But this was because of me, Simon. Brooks Quinlan orchestrated the attack to deliberately get rid of you and Sandburg. Before, he had always been a straight-shooter. He wanted me and he went after me. Why he changed tactics, I don't know yet. But I will. I won't tell you more because you're a captain and I don't want to compromise you. But I swear to you, Simon, you'll never have to worry about Brooks Quinlan again."

Jim felt himself swaying to the gentle blipping of the heart monitor and knew it was time to return to his room. He reached out to pat Simon's arm in farewell, then paused, leaving his hand on Simon's forearm. Something was wrong, out of synch. If he could only...

He was sitting in the same position when Dr. Cuthbertson entered the room. "So there you are, detective!" she called loudly, bringing him out of a light zone. "When I discovered you weren't in your room, I went to see Blair. I didn't find you but his improved condition led me to believe I had just missed you."

"Improved?" Jim repeated hopefully.

"Dr. Weir thinks we can let him wake up tomorrow. And before you ask, I suggested you be there. We need him to be as calm as possible and you're better than any sedative."

"Thanks, I think," Jim said, a smile and a yawn colliding at his mouth.

Dr. Cuthbertson belatedly realized comparing him to a sedative wasn't exactly a compliment. "Oh well, you don't keep me around for my bedside manner anyway. And speaking of bedside..."

"I'm so wiped, you don't even have to threaten, Dr. C. But before I go, would you mind listening to Simon's heart? Something isn't right," he added worriedly.

She watched the heart monitor and it showed no sign of abnormality, but Jim had an uncanny way of knowing things before the diagnostic tools did. Whipping out her stethoscope, she peeled back Simon's hospital gown and listened for herself. Frowning, she rechecked the monitor then put in a call to the cardiologist. "I'm not sure what we're hearing, Jim, but I'm going to have it checked out. Do you need some help getting back to your room?"

He shook his head. "Adam and Joel are just outside the door. You'll let me know if it's anything serious?" he pleaded as he propelled himself toward the door.

"I will," she promised. The door opened and just as he'd said, his brother and Captain Taggert were standing in the hallway. But they hadn't been when she entered the room. How had Jim known... With the shrug she had long reserved for that question, Dr. Cuthbertson resumed her examination.

Chapter Seven

"It's okay, buddy. No need to get upset. You're going to be fine," Jim cajoled smoothly as Blair slowly regained consciousness. "Don't fight the breathing tube, Chief. I know it feels weird, but it's helping you get better." The aqua eyes flashed open suddenly, locking onto the ones bending over him. "That's right, Chief. I'm here. It's going to be okay. Dr. C is here too. You listen to what she tells you, you hear?"

Jim stepped aside and eased into the waiting wheelchair. He hated the fact that he was still weak. Yet, he wasn't about to let that stop him from being with Blair when he woke. It was scary as hell waking up with a tube stuck down your throat and strangers hovering over you. And he didn't know how much Blair remembered about the attack. The kid may have been worrying about him and that's why he demanded he be on his feet when Blair opened his eyes.

"Mr. Sandburg, can you wiggle your toes for me?" Dr. Weir, the neurosurgeon, was asking. "I know it's not as easy to do as before, but please try. Don't panic if you fail. It just means you haven't healed enough."

Well, that was encouraging, Jim thought dryly. He heaved himself out of the chair and moved the doctor out of the way. When his legs threatened to give way, he plopped down on the bed. "Chief, I saw how you squeezed the doctor's hand, so I want you to take mine and squeeze it." He grinned when he felt the pressure. "Good. Okay, I want you to concentrate on your left foot. Now wiggle those big ol' ugly toes of yours. If you don't make them move, I may just have to paint those nails. How about a bright red? Or maybe purple like that last girl you dated. Yeah. I think purple would go with your eyes, hmm?" Blair rolled his eyes and wiggled his toes. Jim looked quickly at the doctor and was encouraged by the man's smile. One down, one to go.

"What about the right foot, Chief?" Jim felt the effort run through Blair's body, but there was no evidence of movement even to the Sentinel's eyes. "Not a problem. Remember what the doctor said? You may have to heal a little longer. We'll try later, okay?" Fingernails dug into his hand. "You have always been pigheaded, Sandburg. We'll give it another shot, but this time I want you to mentally picture the message to your toes. Don't give me that look. You're the one who taught me the visualization technique. If you won't try it, you can never ask me to do it again. Joel told me that blackmail is okay if it's in the victim's best interest, so take it up with him later. Close your eyes. No? Then look at me. Good. Send the message to your toes. Tell them to move. Do it, Chief."

The big toe jerked once. Then all the other toes followed. Jim looked up at the neurosurgeon and grinned. "Well, doc?"

"You're going to be fine, Mr. Sandburg. No more surgery is necessary. Guess I'm about to lose a patient-- the right way."

Dr. Cuthbertson patted Blair on the arm encouragingly. "I knew one of my favorite patients wouldn't let me down. But you know what? You used up a lot of energy and you need to get that back so I can get you out of here and I can head back to my lab." Blair's eyes glanced at Jim. "No, he can't stay with you. Doctor's orders." For both of them. Jim looked close to passing out on his feet. His temperature had spiked during the night, probably because when he removed the I.V., he cut off his supply of antibiotics, allowing the infection to flare up. Therefore she had switched him to oral medications which seemed to be working. But the detective still needed to rest.

Blair looked at Jim with a question in his eye. "Simon's okay, too. Sleep, Chief," Jim whispered in his ear. "I'll hear you when you wake." Blair nodded and let his eyes close. Only then did Jim move to the wheelchair.

"It's amazing the way you two communicate," Dr. Cuthbertson said as she pushed the chair toward the elevator.

Jim shrugged. "The questions are pretty basic in a situation like that. 'Am I okay?' 'Are the people who were with me okay?' Simon is doing better?"

"Yes. As I explained last night, the cardiologist just had to change his medication. Thanks to you catching the problem in time, Simon's going to be fine. And no, you can't go see him. Maybe later when we wean him off his sedatives. But only if you behave in the meantime."

"He giving you trouble, doc?" Joel asked as he stepped off the elevator. "I'll take him off your hands if you like."

"Thank you, captain. Make sure he gets in bed and stays. He's had a very busy morning."

"Aye, aye, Dr. C."

Joel waited until Jim was in bed before he gave him the bad news. "Remember what you told me about the phone call last night? We traced the calls coming into that line. One that stood out was a call from the federal pen in Illinois."

Jim tried to act shocked. "Brooks Quinlan was behind this! The son of a bitch!"

Joel patted his shoulder, trying to calm him down. "We told the commissioner and he put in a call to the prison to read them the riot act. He also planned to call a few of his political friends to see what could be done to end these attacks once and for all."

"And?"

Joel sighed. "And he found out Quinlan escaped some time last night."

"Escaped! From a maximum security federal penitentiary!" Jim bellowed.

"Jim, if you don't settle down, Dr. C. is going to be in here with a needle to put you to sleep," Joel warned.

"How can you expect me to settle down, Joel? The man is after my friends!"

Joel shook his head. "The feds followed a trail that makes them think Quinlan fled the country. It's over, Jim."

"So the bad guys win one, huh?" Jim said softly. "I am not a happy man, Joel."

"I know it's not a satisfying end, Jim, but you have to let it go. Blair and Simon are going to be okay. Just count your blessings and get on with life, man. It's all we can do."

Jim nodded slowly. "I... I guess you're right. Thanks for being honest with me, for letting me know what was happening."

Joel wiped his hand across his jaw, feeling uneasy about leaving Jim alone. "Where's your brother?"

"Adam had things he needed to do. He'll be back later."

"Want me to hang around until he returns?"

Jim smiled. "I'll be okay, Joel. I need some time alone to process everything that has happened."

"I understand. You mind if some of the guys stop by tomorrow? They've been content so far to let me report back to them, but now that you're on your feet and the others are getting better..."

"Sure, Joel. Tell them I expect gifts though. Anyone coming through the door empty-handed, I'll personally toss out on his... ear," Jim threatened teasingly.

Joel grinned. "I'll pass on the message. And, Jim, I'm sorry about how things turned out."

"It's not your fault, Joel. Sometimes we don't get the things we want."

Joel nodded and headed for the door. "Take it easy, man."

Jim gave a small wave before he leaned back against the pillow and smiled, remembering what Adam had whispered to him before he left in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes you didn't get what you wanted; and sometimes you did.

Chapter Eight

"I demand to know where I am!" Brooks Quinlan said imperiously to the man who entered the small room he had awakened in. One minute he had been in his cell in Marion, the next he was coming out of a drugged sleep in this hellhole. There wasn't even a toilet or a bed.

"You demand?" a voice questioned softly. "You aren't giving the orders this time, Quinlan. I am."

"Who the hell are you?" Quinlan asked, squinting into the darkness to see the newcomer.

"After all this time trying to destroy me, you don't even recognize my voice?" Jim flicked a switch and the room flooded with light. He leaned against the door, a mocking grin on his face.

Quinlan's gasp was painful. "Ellison."

"Got it in one, old pal. How do you like your new surroundings? Not much in the decor department, but hey, you won't be here very long anyway."

"You broke me out of prison?"

"Yeah."

"And brought me here?" Jim nodded. "And now you say I'm going to be leaving again. And going where?"

"Straight to hell where you belong."

Quinlan paled but managed to rally. "I don't think so, cop. You kill me, you won't be any better than I am. You'll be just another murderer. I don't think you could live with that."

Jim reached into his back holster and pulled out a gun. "What I can't live with is you. You were a fool, Quinlan. When you were just coming after me, I was content to let you rot in jail. But you went after my friends and I just can't justify letting you breathe any longer. Why did you do that, Quinlan? Why target Blair and Simon?"

"Because they were your strength. I wanted you to be alone. Like me."

Jim shook his head. "Never like you, Quinlan. Look around you. My friends are in the hospital, but does it look like I'm alone? I couldn't have broken you out of a maximum security prison by myself or flown you here to Cascade or kept you on ice until I could get out of the hospital and deal with you myself unless I had help." He looked at the man with pity. "You fucked up, Quinlan. I think you know that now, don't you?" He raised the gun.

Only to scream in pain when a gun went off next to his ear. When he recovered from the shock, he saw Quinlan sprawled in the floor before him, a burnt hole in the middle of his chest. With a yell of frustration, he turned around to see who had dared to take his trophy, who had the balls to take what the Elder considered his, the retribution that should have belonged to the Sentinel exclusively. Adam looked back at him, refusing to drop his eyes as he handed the gun back to William. "Damn it, Adam! You knew he was mine!"

"As long as the job is done, why quibble about it?" Adam replied with a shrug, then braced himself for the inevitable.

It came quickly, more powerfully than he expected. James's fist cracked against his jaw, sending him smashing into the wall. "Why did you do it, you son of a bitch! Why did you take him away from me?"

"Because you didn't need him on your conscience, James," Adam explained, checking for any loose teeth.

"He wouldn't have been on my conscience. It would have been a pleasure to kill him," Jim argued, wishing he could hit Adam again but knowing this time he'd miss and end up on the floor. Adam had let him get in one punch; another was asking for too much. On a good day, he could take an Adam that was fighting back. Unfortunately, today was not one of those days. In fact, the one punch combined with the confrontation with Quinlan, left him pretty much a wet noodle. The only reason he was still standing was that he was too stubborn to fall.

"Tell it to someone who doesn't know you, James. Quinlan was unarmed and unable to fight at the time of his death."

"That didn't mean he didn't deserve it! That didn't mean I couldn't live with killing him! Don't pretend to know my soul, Adam."

"Maybe I don't know it, James. But I know mine. And it did not want you carrying around guilt over the death of slime like Quinlan. You're damn right Quinlan deserved to die. But he doesn't deserve the right to haunt you. Understand this, James. Protecting your soul was my way of protecting my own."

Adam's soft reply was Jim's undoing. He reached out for the wall and sank to the floor. Adam was at his side in an instant. "William, get the chair!" He checked James' forehead and found it extremely warm. Shit. The fever was back. Had he reopened his incision? He started to lift his brother's sweater. He got his hand slapped away.

"Stop it, Adam. I'm not going to die on you," Jim said, feeling the anxiety coursing through the man. "I just need a minute to get my sea legs."

"You're running a fever, James. Dr. Cuthbertson is going to kill me if she finds out I took you out of the hospital." And he would be totally without mercy if Sadie Farmsworth ever got wind of it. He'd met the feisty grandmother a few hours earlier as she visited her "sons".

Jim paid no attention to Adam as he stared at the body that was just an arm's length away. In death, Quinlan looked like a mere man. Not evil. Not twisted. Just an average man. Who had put him through hell. "For weeks, all I knew was pain, Adam," he said, wincing at the memories. "Quinlan used to come to beat up on me and all I could do was cower helplessly. When I was thrown out of a moving van on the side of a highway, I couldn't speak. In the hospital, I couldn't eat or stand to be touched. I vaguely recognized Blair when he arrived, and later, Simon, but I was scared of them too. He took so much away from me."

"I know, James."

"Do you?" Jim smiled. "You probably do. I know the Family was monitoring the whole business of the woman being killed in my room. I really thought I'd done it and I would have fought any Family effort to absolve me of it."

Adam nodded, remembering how close he'd been to jumping on a plane to Cascade. "But Blair and the captain convinced you otherwise. Damn, I'm starting to see why Quinlan wanted them out of your life. However, he badly underestimated your resources."

"That he did. Maybe I have too," Jim said apologetically.

"No, James. You called when you needed us. I never expected any differently. We are what the other needs-- then, now, always."

Jim turned his head to take one final glance at Quinlan. Adam had been correct; the scum would have haunted him. "Always," he agreed.

Adam extended his hand to help James to his feet. "Now we need to sneak you back into the hospital."

"After we make one brief stop," Jim corrected as he settled into the wheelchair.

"I don't think so," Adam said, pitching his voice as a warning.

Jim just smiled.

*****

The memorial service was over. Jennie Albright hadn't wanted this extra service for her sister but Peggy's friends had pleaded and begged for a chance to say goodbye, a chance they hadn't had at the brief funeral Jennie had held two days after the restaurant incident. Afterwards, she knew she hadn't been fair so she conceded to the memorial service. And now that that was over, so was this part of her life. Maybe she would move to another city, start over again. She had only come to Cascade because her sister had loved it here.

"Ms. Albright?"

She jumped, thinking she was alone in the chapel. The minister had retired to his office, telling her to stop by when she was ready to leave and then he would lock up. Nervously, she looked around and saw two men in dark suits. Then she saw the wheelchair in front of them and recognized the passenger. "Detective! What are you doing out of the hospital?"

"I wanted to pay my respects. I saw the notice for the service in the paper."

She slid to the end of the pew to be closer. "Thank you for coming, but you really shouldn't be here. I know you aren't ready to leave the hospital yet."

Jim's eyebrow rose a notch. "You do?"

Jennie blushed. "I was worried about you and your friends. I went to school with one of the nurses at Cascade General and she kept me informed. You know, I was impressed how you kept your cool at the restaurant but I had no idea of how impressed I should have been. You could have bled to death and you never said a word."

Jim smiled ruefully. "Don't be impressed. Quite honestly, I think I forgot about being shot until much later. And don't feel bad about checking up on me. I did the same out of worry for you. To lose a relative... If there's anything I can ever do for you, Ms. Albright--"

"Jennie, please," she insisted.

"If there's anything I can ever do for you, Jennie, don't hesitate to ask." He handed her a card with his phone numbers and address.

"Why?" she asked, confused by his generosity. "I did so little that night. I merely held the compress against your friend."

Jim took the hand that held his card. "You were there, Jennie. That was enough." He signaled Adam that he was ready to leave.

Jennie's eyes followed the wheelchair until it disappeared. Then she looked at the card in her hand and her eyes filled with tears, tears she hadn't been able to cry for her sister until now. Once again the detective had come to her rescue. Maybe she would stay in Cascade after all. Guardian angels were hard to come by.

Epilogue

"Maybe a tad more curry," Simon suggested, picking up the spice.

Jim sneezed and rapped the captain's knuckles with a wooden spoon. "If you add one thing to my chili, you aren't going to get any. Do I make myself clear, captain?"

"I was just trying to be helpful, Jim."

"Simon, it doesn't pay to help Jim in the kitchen," Blair called as he came in with a six-pack. "The man is a tyrant. Everything has to be his way or no way."

"And you put up with this, Sandburg?"

"Beats the alternative of me cooking every night."

Simon shook his head. How these two put up with each other's idiosyncrasies, he would never figure out. How in the hell did the bad guys think they could come between them when their own differing personalities couldn't? "I'm sorry Adam didn't hang around long enough for me to meet him. Joel speaks highly of your brother. By the way, he thinks the Family is some ultra-secret government organization."

"At least he didn't think the mob like you two," Jim pointed out.

"He met them under different circumstances," Blair said defensively. "Maybe if I'd met Adam in 'protect' mode, I would have seen him in another light too."

"The guys wanted to thank him but Joel told them you would pass on the information," Simon said as he joined Blair at the table. "He was scared if someone else tried to contact them, the Elder might get upset. And apparently that's something to avoid."

"Yeah, it is," Jim said, sniffing his chili and deeming it perfect. "I wield a mean spoon when I have to." He looked at the two sitting at the table. Apparently they equated being tossed out of the kitchen with being too inferior to get out place settings. With a sigh, and the knowledge he still had a tendency to spoil them even though they had been out of the hospital for weeks, he got out bowls and eating utensils.

"Jim," Simon said solemnly, "I'm only going to ask this once. No explanations desired and definitely no details required. Are you sure we have nothing to fear from Brooks Quinlan again?" Joel had told him of the escape, the trail out of the country, and though all the evidence seemed to fit, none of it rang true.

"Believe me, Simon, when I say that for once in his miserable existence, Brooks Quinlan is actually making a contribution to society."

Simon looked at Blair, but the Guide shrugged. The Sentinel told him that Quinlan was no longer a threat and he believed him, no questions asked. So he knew nothing he could add to Jim's odd statement. The Watcher sighed and using the talents he possessed, scanned for even the hint of danger to his charges. The "air" was clear. All was well. There was nothing left to do but trust the Sentinel. And he did.

"You were right," he said as he tasted the chili. "Didn't need curry at all. It's the garlic powder that's missing."

The argument continued for the rest of the night.

*****

"Welcome to Anatomy 201," the professor said to the Rainier University students piling into the lecture hall. "For those of you who took 101 last year, you'll notice we have a new friend." He pointed to the corner of the room where a human skeleton hung strung together by wire. "Bony Tony was getting a little ratty, literally, so a donor offered us this pristine model. The department has decided to hold a contest to name him. There will be a box outside the door when you leave. Okay, in front of you is a copy of this semester's syllabus..."

The professor droned on, never seeing the figure that hovered outside the door for a few minutes before leaving. Heading across the campus to meet Blair for lunch, Jim thought back to what he had seen. He was sure if Brooks Quinlan could speak, he would thank him. Not only was he finally being appreciated, but considering the fact that Basic Anatomy was a popular class (the professor was boring, but he never gave a grade below a "C") well, it would be quite a while before Brooks could complain about being alone.

Humming at tune and flashing a smile at a couple of staring coeds, he made a mental note to stop by in a few weeks to find out the winning name. Kids these days had such imaginations...

"Earth to Jim," Blair said as his partner stood outside his office. "What's got you so jazzed man? If your smile gets any wider, we're going to have to hose down the women around here."

Jim shrugged and winked at a passing tenured professor. The older woman became so flustered, she almost walked past the office she'd occupied for the last twenty-five years. "It's just a great day to be alive, Chief."

Blair slung his backpack across his shoulder and joined Jim in the hall. After walking a few yards, he realized he was grinning too. "I think this condition you have is catching, Jim."

"You think?" Jim tested the theory by smiling at a passing group of students. They all smiled back. "Come on, Chief. We have a city to infect."

And they did.

THE END

Comments? D.L. Witherspoon