Author's Notes:

There is a very brief mention of the episode Rogue. I'm also raising the rating to TV-MA because of language and violence.



D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 1-23-98)

Every man needs one essential friend. ~~ Dr. William Glasser
Wednesday - 2:34 A.M.

Detective Jim Ellison let himself into his condominium, a loft in Cascade, Washington, and immediately knew his roommate wasn't home. Since his roommate was a grown man, and one who really liked the ladies, he wasn't too surprised not to find him in his own bed at 2:30 in the morning. But he did find it odd that he hadn't left a note or a message on the answering machine. It was a habit they had both learned since Blair Sandburg came to live at the loft.

Two healthy, adult, heterosexual, non-related males living together wasn't exactly unheard of. Sometimes it was the need to conserve money that prompted the arrangement. Sometimes it was safety, especially in the big cities, that was the number one factor. The third reason why two males lived together was convenience. Perhaps they owned and operated a business together or their interests overlapped so much that it just made sense that they stay together.

On the surface, it appeared money was the factor that kept Blair under Jim's roof. Blair was an Anthropology grad student who moonlighted as a police observer. His previous apartment had been destroyed when his neighbor's drug lab had exploded one night. Jim, whom he worked with, had offered him the use of his spare room for a short while. Since the explosion had been over three years ago, people assumed the rent Blair paid Jim was extremely reasonable. And everyone knew grad students were perpetually broke.

Others thought safety was why Blair stayed with Jim. Blair, while being a really nice guy who wouldn't willingly hurt a soul, was quite the magnet for trouble. He went to pick up a piece of art for the university and ended up in an elevator rigged with explosives. He fell in love with a girl whose father was head of a South American drug cartel. He ate a piece of pizza and almost overdosed on a designer drug called Golden. Unlucky people like that would definitely find comfort in living with Jim. The detective was an ex-Army Ranger. Tall, muscular, and potentially lethal if anyone dared to threaten him or whatever he considered his, Jim was the perfect haven for an academic with a ponytail and a penchant for danger.

Most of the people who knew both of them, however, figured it was convenience that kept the two together. Although Blair was officially just a police observer, he was to all extent and purposes Jim's partner. When he wasn't at Rainier University taking or teaching classes, he was at Jim's side, investigating crimes or typing up reports for the detective. It only made sense that they shared living quarters since both were bachelors and Sandburg's car never ran like a damn.

Only a handful of people knew the true reason why Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg lived together. Or maybe handful was too big a number. Of course, Jim and Blair knew why, as did their commanding officer Simon Banks. One of the bad guys by the name of Lee Brackett knew and whether he had told anyone remained to be seen. That was it. That was how many people who knew Jim was a Sentinel.

Back in the good old days before satellites and surveillance equipment, before heat-seeking missiles and smart bombs, before automatic targeting and laser sights, to attack another group of people one had to sneak up on said band and whack the heck out of them. That was called warfare and it worked pretty well unless the tribe was protected by a Sentinel. A Sentinel was a regular person born with a genetic advantage-- his/her senses were enhanced. True Sentinels could see, hear, smell, feel, even taste when an enemy approached and well, the whackers would end up getting whacked and that was called defeat or victory depending on which tribe you happened to call home. Now since the Sentinel (most tribes only had one and if they were lucky to have two, they usually sent him off to the neighbors) was the tribe's first line of defense, it was in their best interest to keep him safe and well. This task fell to the Sentinel's companion who was called his Guide. The Guide, whom little is known about, lived with the Sentinel, honed his senses, and protected his back as the Sentinel went about his job of protecting his people.

Blair had discovered the existence of Sentinels in his anthropological studies and had been fascinated by the idea. He even chose the subject as his doctoral dissertation, which meant he really needed to find a Sentinel to document his work. He found several candidates who had one or more Sentinel-enhanced senses. But he only found one full-fledged Sentinel and suddenly he was filling the position of Guide. A short while ago his status had been upgraded to Shaman, but he was still trying to get the hang of that.

Jim stopped reminiscing and tried to shake off the foreboding feeling he had about Blair's absence. Blair had intimated on more than one occasion that Jim's Sentinel abilities may also affect his "sixth" sense as well, but he chose not to believe it. Actually the whole idea of a "sixth" sense sounded like nonsense (no pun intended). He liked to think that instincts and gut feelings stemmed more from experience than from some genetic alignment. For instance his worry about his missing roommate was due to the number of times Sandburg had been kidnapped, taken hostage, held captive, etc. It had nothing to do with the tingling that reached from the base of his skull, wrapped around his heart, and settled in the pit of his stomach. Absolutely nothing.

He managed to fool himself into believing that until the phone rang as he stepped onto the first stair that led to his room. The tingle turned into pure fear and he instantly knew it wasn't Blair calling to babble an excuse or even a hospital saying his partner had been injured. No, Blair was in danger and this phone call was going to confirm it. "Ellison," he answered tersely.

"Good morning, detective."

He didn't recognize the voice, but the oiliness of the tone, the arrogance of its twang was familiar. Once again, someone had taken his Guide. "Where is he?" he demanded.

An address. Then... "And, detective, our visitors are required to be polite at all times."

Jim grabbed Sandburg's laptop and logged onto the internet, instantly getting directions to the address. He could have easily gotten the same information from the Cascade P.D.'s intranet, but his query would have been on file and he couldn't take that chance. The voice said for him to be polite: no weapons, no violence, and no tagalong visitors like other cops. Normally, Jim would have considered taking back up despite the warning, but with Blair's life on the line, he played by the rules dictated to him. For the moment anyway.

Wednesday - 4:12 A.M.

Jim pulled into a residence on the outskirts of Seattle. He sat in his truck for a few minutes, pulling himself together. He was tired, having just come off a stakeout. He was angry because his friend had been taken. And he was scared, because Sandburg was more a brother to him than his actual brother by blood. However when he stepped into the house, none of that could show. He had been an Army Ranger, worked Covert Ops on occasion. He knew the first rule in dealing with people of this caliber: show no fear. Weakness would be used against you, any frayed seam would be picked at until you unraveled. It was the nature of the game and although he hadn't played in years, Jim knew how to win.

The door was opened by a secondary creature, one high enough on the evolutionary scale to be above mere muscle, but too low to have more than one creative thought at a time. He took one look at Jim and crooked his finger. A lower being joined him with bulging arms and a metal detecting wand. He was scanned from head to toe, an ominous buzz sounding when it ran over his pocket. One was smart enough to put his hand on his gun, the other just stared with a frown. Jim reached slowly into his pocket and pulled out his keys.

"Blue and white pickup out front," he said as he tossed them to the muscle. "It could use a wash and wax if you have a gentle hand."

The muscle looked blankly at his handler. With a sigh, the man grabbed the keys from the outstretched hand and gave them back to Jim. Then he led the detective down the hall. Even before the doors to the study opened Jim sensed Blair's heartbeat but none of the relief he felt showed when he walked into the room and found his Guide sipping tea with a distinguished-looking older gentleman. Finally, the upper echelon.

Blair was so glad to see Jim that he wanted to leap up and give him a hug. But, although he didn't have Jim's dark background, he knew that would be totally unacceptable. Besides, Jim was in his "I'm just looking for an excuse to cause pain" mode and he didn't want to be the excuse. Jim was his friend and he trusted him, but the man was dangerous even in a good mood. He himself made sure Jim was in the best physical condition and his partner had been trained by the U.S. government, no less, to kill in at least a thousand ways. And while he had all these traits that made him muscle, he had the gray matter to make him a leader. That combined with his Sentinel heritage made him a force, a power to be reckoned with.

But like with all powers Jim had a potentially fatal flaw and, Blair thought sadly, that flaw was him. Jim needed him and with need came vulnerability. The enemy, whoever he was, knew that now. Why else would Jim come out in the wee hours of the morning without so much as an implied threat? Blair knew exactly what the man had said to Jim; he'd been in the room at the time. Of course, this was probably old news to the man anyway. Most of the bad guys had figured out Jim's Achilles heel long ago.

"Tea, detective?"

Jim looked at his watch and shook his head. "In less than ten minutes I will have been awake for twenty-four straight hours. Forgive me for being rude, but let's get this over with. What do you want?"

The older man looked apologetic and motioned Jim into one of the winged-back chairs arranged around a highly-polished cherry table holding a silver tea set. "I'm sorry, detective. You've been working long hours since you're not only performing your police duties but also coordinating security with the Secret Service. A very busy man, but the most capable."

Jim's face didn't reveal that he'd already figured out this must have something to do with the presidential visit to Cascade scheduled for Thursday afternoon. "Not if I don't have enough sleep. Again I ask, what do you want?"

The man shrugged. "I want you to kill the President."

"No way!" Blair shouted, spilling the small amount of tea left in his cup.

Jim reached out to the table and handed his partner a linen napkin. "Do I get a detailed agenda or am I allowed to be creative?"

"Jim! You can't be--" Blair cut off in mid-cry as Jim's eyes swung over to meet his. He knew personally how cold those light blue eyes could become when the Sentinel was pissed. The look had been bestowed upon him on occasion and even then, it was always tempered by Jim's underlying warmth. He'd also seen the look at its worst. Like when psycho David Lash had kidnapped him and Jim had charged to the rescue. If looks could kill, Jim wouldn't have had to waste those five bullets he'd pumped into the man.

What Blair had never seen, however, was the glare Jim sent in his direction now. In freshman chemistry Blair had seen demonstrations with liquid nitrogen. It froze stuff on contact, making whatever was in its path so brittle that it would shatter on impact. That was how Blair felt under Jim's scrutiny; as if the slightest movement would cause him to shatter all over the bad guy's expensive Oriental carpet. All the times before, Jim's eyes had held fire, silently saying, "I'm mad as hell and I will hurt you." This gaze wasn't merely so benign. There was no heat, no source of warmth whatsoever. The blue crystal shards sent out one precise message: "I'm as dead as hell and I would love it if you would join me."

"I was told you were a smart man, Ellison. I shall leave the details to you."

Jim nodded as if that met with his approval. "Now for the catch. What's to keep me from breaking your neck in the next few seconds and walking out of here with Sandburg?"

The man laughed. "It's a pity you gave up the game, Ellison. You apparently haven't lost your touch." He took a sip of tea to regain his composure. "Embedded subcutaneously in Mr. Sandburg's right arm are several micro-vials of a poison I had personally designed for my own amusement. The vials were carefully injected with a needle and can only be removed surgically. However, they are extremely fragile and the odds are very high that not even the most competent surgeon will be able to remove all of them without at least one shattering. Therefore it is advisable that the antidote be administered before such surgery."

Jim absorbed the information without a flinch. "What are the mission parameters?"

"Clinton dead."

"And afterwards?"

"You and Mr. Sandburg return here, the antidote is provided and you and your friend are given new lives in the country of your choice."

"Australia has always been a favorite of mine," Jim observed casually.

Blair started to make a comment, but having been burned by the blue ice the first time, he did not relish a repeat performance. Especially since he believed a second exposure might blind him for life.

"Most prefer South America. Closer to home, I suppose."

"Been there, done that, buried a few bodies. I'll take Australia," Jim said firmly.

The man raised his cup. "Your choice."

"Is that all?" His host nodded and Jim rose to his feet, signaling Blair to do the same. "Sorry to rush off, but I need my beauty rest."

"Don't we all, detective. Dimitri will show you out." The man who had ushered him in reappeared in the doorway.

"Nice pets you have," Jim commented with admiration. "Very obedient."

"It's all in the training."

"I suppose it is," Jim murmured and gestured for Blair to precede him. Just as he reached the door, he swiveled on his heels. "Be here when Sandburg and I return. I don't respond well to doublecrosses. You might say they annoy me."

The man laughed again. Damn, the service had lost a good one when this man decided to go legitimate. "Message received and understood, detective. I assure you I will be eagerly awaiting your return."

Jim nodded and followed Blair to the truck. "Let me drive, Jim," Blair offered, knowing the last time Jim had slept.

"Later," his partner replied and slid into the driver's seat. As soon as they reached the interstate, he pulled into the large parking lot of a trucker's rest and convenience stop and leaned his forehead against the steering wheel.

"Jim?" Blair asked hesitantly. "You alright, man?"

"I'm tired, Sandburg. You feel up to driving? We can always check into a motel until morning."

"Hate to tell you, Jim, but that light on the horizon ain't a shopping mall. It's the sun. It's already morning, man."

"Fuck!" Jim shouted, slamming the heel of his hand against the steering wheel. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" With his last curse, he jumped out of the truck and angrily paced the parking lot.

Blair slid behind the wheel and waited for Jim to return to the truck. There was no way he was going after him. Not because he was scared; this angry Jim was far less threatening than the one he'd seen earlier. But he knew that Jim had to work through his frustration and walking was the only alternative he had at the moment.

"We gonna talk about this?" he asked as Jim climbed into the passenger's seat. He seemed calmer but the tension in him was almost like a third person in the truck.

"Later," Jim said dismissingly. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Jim. I was treated as an honored guest by your friend."

"Your arm?"

"They gave me something when they took me from the loft and I was still out of it when they injected these things in me. As for now, the drug has worn off but my arm feels fine."

Jim sighed, glad his partner wasn't in pain. "Let me know if you feel tired. Morning or not, we can stop."

Blair shrugged and headed out of the parking lot. "I'm good to go. I didn't get up nearly as early as you did and quite honestly, I was napping on the sofa when they grabbed me. So I've had way more sleep than you." He glanced over at Jim as he took the ramp that would take them back to Cascade. "I'm sorry about letting myself be taken. I know I had the locks on."

"Wasn't your fault, Chief. Locks don't mean a thing to men like that. If anyone should apologize, it's me. I should have been more cautious working with the Secret Service. I never thought I would be a target and thereby make you a target. I slipped up."

Blair couldn't believe his ears. "Contrary to how you acted back at the house, you are not God, Jim. You don't control everything around you. Stop taking the blame. Stop feeling guilty."

Jim didn't say anything else, but Blair could feel him brooding as they headed for home. The stubborn man didn't even take advantage of his passenger status and catch a nap. Instead, he sat stiff as a statue and stared out the window. A few times Blair was scared he had zoned but his inquiries were always met with a grunt and so he left his friend to his self-made misery.

Blair was glad to see there were no messages on the machine when they entered the loft. He could sense that all Jim needed was one excuse not to go directly to bed. He couldn't understand why his roommate was fighting sleep like a cranky baby; he himself couldn't wait to get into bed. Maybe, however, it wasn't so much as going to bed as it was to what bed he was going to. If asked, Blair wasn't ashamed to admit living with Jim was one of the best things in his life. His mother had been a flower child of the sixties and she and her son floated like the wind throughout his childhood. When he started out on his own, he drifted much like she did, which probably started him on his path toward anthropology. Then he'd found Jim and had not only gained a friend, a brother really, but also a home. It was the first one he'd ever had and it filled a void in his life that he hadn't even known existed.

Wanting his Sentinel to sleep, Blair turned off the ringers on all the phones except the one in his room. Then beating his pillow into a comfortable shape, he lay down and wondered how he and Jim would survive the next two days.

Upstairs, Jim heard his roommate fall into an easy sleep and headed for a shower and a change of clothes. Leaving Blair a note in case he woke up, he got in his truck and drove to the Cascade P.D. headquarters. He was too edgy to rest and there were plans to go over, decisions to be made, all in a very short time. In about thirty-two hours President Clinton would be in Cascade for ninety minutes at the most, just a quick wave and chat to corral money for the local democratic party. Jim had to decide when would be the best time to assassinate him.

Wednesday - 8:03 A.M.

Captain Simon Banks looked out the glass partitions of his office and saw an empty bullpen. A strange sight, but not unexpected. His men were working a continuous stakeout which meant some of his men were on the stakeout now, some were just getting home, and others had permission to come in late. Even the two supposed to be manning the office at this hour were out working a case. So even though the quiet was unnatural, all was right in Major Crimes.

As he did paperwork, he caught movement in the corner of his eye. He looked up and saw one of his detectives come in and sit at his desk. He glanced at his watch and knew this particular detective wasn't scheduled to come in for at least another couple of hours. Diligence was one thing; risking one's health was another. He walked over to the door.

"Jim, when I left that message on your machine, I didn't mean for you to come in now."

His detective froze as if he hadn't heard him approach and something began to crawl around the back of his skull. It wasn't suppose to be possible to sneak up on Jim Ellison. "Something wrong, Jim?" The man slowly turned around from the computer screen and something Simon's grandmother used to say popped into his head. Soul-weary. That was the only term that could describe the person in front of him. "You look like hell," he muttered.

"Thanks for the compliment, captain," Jim said with a tired smile. He'd recognized the fact earlier that more was wrong with him than lack of sleep. The fear he'd felt had drained him and the game he'd had to play sapped whatever reservoir of strength that remained. At one point in his life, the Ellison in the parlor had been an effortless facade. But that had been when he lived in the shadows. Leaving the Army had given him a taste of the sunshine and finding Sandburg had flung him headfirst into the life-giving rays. Now he rebelled at being dragged into the darkness again. Yet, it was the only way to save the light.

"Why are you haunting this office instead of home in bed?" Simon demanded. "What's going on?"

"Nothing, captain. You said you called the loft? What do you need?"

"The latest Secret Service plan. I need to see how to change the stakeout schedule in order to accommodate the feds."

"No problem, sir." Jim turned back to the computer and called up the plans. With a touch of a button he sent them to the printer.

Simon watched his officer move as in slow motion and wondered what the hell was going on. Had Ellison and his partner been fighting again? On more than one occasion he had jokingly threatened to send them to a marriage counselor. He knew about the Sentinel/Guide thing and although he didn't understand everything, and didn't want to, he knew it was best that they stayed together. Although they weren't aware of it, the two of them were quickly becoming a legend around the station not just because of the number of cases they solved, but because of the magnitude of those cases, and Simon knew the sharing of close quarters was a way of strengthening the bond that made them so effective. Living together, however, sometimes had them at each other's throat and it was usually left up to him, their long-suffering captain, to mediate a peace accord.

"I wondered how long it would take before you showed up," Simon said as a figure came through the doorway. He sensed Jim flinch and once again he was startled that his detective had been caught unawares. Although Major Crimes was seven floors up, Jim always knew when Sandburg entered the building. The situation was looking more and more dire.

But instead of the anger he expected to find in Sandburg's eyes or even contrition, he saw only deep concern. "Jim, man, why'd you run off like that? You're in no condition to drive. In your state you're liable to zone at the drop of a hat." Zoning was one of the side effects of the Sentinel abilities. Sometimes when Jim concentrated on one sense, the rest of the world dissolved away and he entered a fugue state. When the Sentinel was in typical form zoning only happened when he had to intensely focus a sense, usually in the middle of a case, and that was why it was a good idea to have his Guide nearby to pull him out. But in his enervated condition, anything could cause a zone. If he had suspected even the least bit that Jim wasn't going to sleep for the rest of the day, he would have hidden his car keys.

"I'm fine, Sandburg."

Blair had had enough. "You are not fine, Jim. You haven't slept. You haven't eaten. You are as tight as a drum. Did you know there's a wrinkle between your eyebrows that only appears when you have a headache?" He then played his trump card. "You are about to crack, my friend, and I cannot afford to let that happen. It may be your sanity on the line, but it's my life."

Simon suddenly knew this was much more serious than a domestic dispute. "We need to talk, gentlemen," he said gruffly.

Blair jumped as if he'd forgotten the captain was in the room. How much had he said? How much had he revealed? "Uh, Jim really needs to be at home in bed, Simon," he began, trying to put the captain off.

"Five more minutes won't make a difference," Simon said firmly. He reached out to grab Blair's arm and propel him into the office.

But his hand met something far more solid than Sandburg's arm. In a movement he hadn't even seen, Jim's hand wrapped around his wrist, halting him. Simon first reaction was pure fury. How dare a detective of his put his hand on him in anger! "Let go of me," he warned between clenched teeth. The pressure on his wrist increased. He reached out to hurt Jim Ellison.

"No, Simon!" Blair yelled desperately. "Look at him!"

Controlling his anger, as a good leader learned, he looked at the detective but Jim did not look back. He had zoned. The anger changed to worry. "Do something, Sandburg," he ordered. "Before I have to."

Blair insinuated himself between the two big men and placed his hands on Jim's shoulders. "Jim, let him go," he said softly, going into full Guide mode. "He meant me no harm. It's Simon, Jim. He's not a threat. But you're hurting him just the same." The word hurting seemed to trigger a response in Jim and just like that, he loosened his grip. Simon took a step back and let Sandburg do his magic. The Guide talked so softly he couldn't hear what was being said, but he saw when awareness colored Jim's eyes and knew, for the moment, disaster had been averted.

Jim looked as if he was going to apologize, but instead stormed out the door. Blair sighed, debating whether to go after him. But Jim usually regained control faster on his own. "Are you alright, Captain? He didn't break it, did he?"

Simon cradled his wrist, pretty sure it was just bruised. "I say again, we need to talk." He reached out and Sandburg flinched. A sick thought came to mind. "He hasn't hurt you, has he?"

Unfeigned amazement appeared in the deep blue eyes. "Jim? No way, Simon."

"Yeah, I would have said the same thing five minutes ago. But Jim's out of control, Sandburg. I don't think he knows his own strength at the moment. If you need protection..." It hurt Simon that he had to extend the offer. God knows, he never thought Jim would hurt the kid. But he hadn't recognized the man who'd nearly broken his wrist a moment ago.

"I'm not afraid of that Jim, Simon," Blair said. "After what I've seen in the past few hours, an out-of-control Jim isn't the worst that can happen."

"What's worse, Sandburg?" Simon wanted to know. His detective had certainly scared the hell out of him.

"Jim in control." He paled at the memory.

"I think I should put you both under psychological observation," the captain said, suddenly personally aware what soul-weary felt like. "I think they can keep you there for seventy-two hours with little probable cause."

"That, man, will be one day too long," Blair mused aloud.

Simon didn't want to consider the possibilities that statement had. He looked at his watch. Only fifteen minutes had passed since he looked out and saw Jim. Why did it seem like an eternity? "Question: are you in control?"

"Of myself? Yeah. Of Jim? He's scared himself so badly, I think he's ready to listen to me. Let's go find him and see if we can't get him home."

Simon shook his head. If Sandburg thought he was in control, he was the only one in the room. Why else instead of filing charges or merely beating the man senseless, was he going in search of his errant detective to make sure he went to bed? The world wasn't the same place it had been twenty minutes ago. "Where do you think he's gone?"

"To the gym."

Blair was correct. Simon watched through the door as Jim almost destroyed a punching bag, bare-knuckled. "Who is he pulverizing?" he asked, wincing as Jim landed a solid blow. Several others officers watched in fascination. They had wisely kept their own counsel when Ellison had stomped into the gym, took off his shirt, and assaulted the bag.

"Himself," Blair said softly. Jim hated losing control. That was one of the reasons he'd let Blair into his life so quickly. He provided control for the senses Jim hadn't even known he had until they just came online one day and sent him for a loop. And for him to lose it with Simon, a man he respected, a man he called friend... "It's time to go home, Jim," he called, pushing through the door and casually speaking to the other officers.

Jim nodded, reaching for the towel Blair handed him. He stopped in mid-reach as he noticed Simon standing in the doorway. "It's okay, Jim," Blair said, too softly for anyone else to hear. "He understands."

"I wish I did," Jim replied as he grabbed his shirt. In the hallway, he straightened his shoulders and faced his commander. "I'm sorry, sir."

Simon nodded. "Make it up to me by going home and getting some sleep."

"Yes, sir."

Jim's crisp "sirs" always reminded Simon of the detective's military background for which Simon was thoroughly grateful. Sometimes he figured the only control he had over Ellison was the man's deeply ingrained reflex of obedience to commanding officers. "And, Jim?" He waited until the blue eyes focused on him. "We will talk." Jim inclined his head brusquely and allowed Sandburg to escort him out.

Wednesday - 12:17 P.M.

Simon knocked softly and when he didn't get an answer he pulled out his own key to the loft. Jim had given it to him soon after the anthropologist had moved in, saying that Sandburg at times needed two keepers. Simon had taken it as the sign of trust that it was and had never used it except in times of emergency. Considering Jim's earlier behavior, he figured this qualified. Besides, at least one of them had been expecting him because they hadn't put the chain on the door.

He checked Sandburg's room first and found it empty. There was evidence that someone had been sleeping on the sofa, but no one was there now. He carefully went up the stairs to Jim's room and found them both sprawled across the bed. Simon merely straightened the covers over them and went downstairs to wait. A few years ago he might have been shocked, uncomfortable finding them sharing a bed. But, he thought to himself as he checked in the refrigerator for lunch, he'd been there since the beginning of their relationship and he'd watched as it progressed from tentative friendship to fraternal, and sometimes paternal love. He had no doubt in his mind that Jim had had trouble falling asleep and Sandburg had joined him upstairs to put his roommate through some kind of relaxation technique which had worked on both of them.

He made a sandwich, grabbed a beer, and headed for the living room. He knew the action was against Jim's sacred house rules but, hell, the man was sleep; he'd have the crumbs cleared away before he woke. It was funny. Up until today he had wondered how these two totally different men had come to trust each other so implicitly so quickly. Jim had been this hard-assed cop who had been so cold his wife had divorced him, the other cops had been scared of him, and had been assigned to Simon because the brass thought he was one of the few people big enough to handle him. One day he meets an anthropology student who explains to him that his enhanced senses are real and gives him a few pointers on how to control them. A month later, the anthropologist is living with him and Jim is slowly molded into a more even-tempered human being who listens to this kid, basically puts his whole life into this stranger's hands. And Sandburg, who'd lived his entire life on the move, defying authority, living without rules, places his life in Jim's hands. He settles into the loft, follows Jim's rules up to a point, and believes without a glimmer of a doubt that whenever he's in trouble, Jim will save him.

The level of trust was incredible, unbelievable, spooky. Yet, he realized as he sat in his office after they'd left, that the trust had extended to him. He trusted that whatever trouble Sandburg was in, and he knew the kid played a big part in whatever was going on, Jim would eventually get him out of. He had trusted Sandburg to make Jim release his arm, to take Jim home and heal what was broken in him. Damn, he even trusted that they would talk to him and when he left, he would understand.

This was not good. Of course Captain Banks trusted his men-- he couldn't send his officers out into the line of fire if he didn't. He trusted them to do their duty, to do right by the law, to protect the citizens of Cascade to the best of their ability. He even trusted that if he ran into trouble, they would rescue him. Yet, if it were his son, Daryl, in trouble there were only two men beside himself he would trust. Was it because he knew Jim was a Sentinel? Then why did he trust Sandburg, who had no special senses? Why did he trust that the both of them together was better than an eight-man SWAT team or even the National Guard? Where in the hell did he fit into the Sentinel/Guide realm and why was he there to begin with? What possible role was he filling?

One of these days, he was going to ask Sandburg that very question, he decided as he searched the bookshelves for something to occupy his time as he waited for them to wake. As soon as he felt comfortable enough to accept the answer... Should be sometime between hell freezing over and the apocalypse. And then again, maybe not.

Wednesday - 2:59 P.M.

"Hi, Simon," Blair said softly as he made his way down the stairs. "Been here long, man?"

Simon set aside the Tom Clancy novel he'd given Jim for Christmas and looked up at the Guide. "A few hours or so. Hope you don't mind I made myself some lunch."

"No problem, man. As soon as I shower, I'll start dinner. That was the last meal I had and who knows when Jim's was."

"He still asleep?"

"Yeah. I was real careful getting up." Blair looked expectantly at Simon. "Uh, about the sleeping arrangements..."

"Don't sweat it, Sandburg. I'm the one always having to explain to the medical staff why one or the other of you has to stay in the room with the injured party. I figured this was one more example of a medical necessity."

"Thanks for understanding, Simon. I'll be out in a few minutes," he said as he padded by on bare feet to the bathroom.

"Take your time. I'm in the middle of a chapter."

Fifteen minutes later Blair reappeared, rubbing his curly hair dry with a towel. "Any sound from upstairs?"

Simon nodded distractedly as he turned a page. "He called out for you, but I told him I was babysitting and he went back to sleep."

Blair shook his head in disgust. "You two enjoy this, don't you? Keeping up the delusion that I need looking after?"

Simon looked up and adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses. "Delusion, Sandburg? Shall we itemize the dangerous situations you've been in since I met you? And to make things more fair, we won't even include the ones related to the job."

Blair knew when to admit defeat. "Let's not, Simon. Anything in particular you want for dinner?"

The captain started to say he didn't care but then he remembered some of the leftovers he'd seen in the fridge. "Whatever Jim likes is fine with me," he said instead. "Need any help?"

"Nah. Enjoy the book." Blair suspected that was the last enjoyment Simon would have for a while.

Dinner was mostly a silent affair. Jim had awakened just before Blair's casserole was done and Simon had been content to wait until dinner had been consumed and the dishes done. Then he deliberately when to the living room and turned off the television. It was time for answers.

Jim took a seat on the edge of the sofa but before he could get started, Blair bounded in handing each man a cold pack from the freezer. Both men looked grateful as Simon wrapped his around his wrist and Jim draped his across the knuckles he'd bruised on the punching bag.

Jim cleared his throat, took a look at Blair and began. "When I came home after last night's stakeout, I found Sandburg had been taken."

"What do you mean taken?" Simon asked sharply.

"He means kidnapped," Blair supplied.

"Why am I just hearing about this?" the captain asked angrily. Jim knew he could call him any time of the day or night if something happened to his partner.

"Because the party responsible for taking him called me immediately," Jim said. "I went to a place near Seattle--"

"Without back up," Simon interrupted dryly.

"And they gave Blair back to me."

"In exchange for what?" Jim mumbled something. "Speak up, Ellison! All of us aren't Sentinels, you know."

"I have to kill the President."

Simon nodded. He wished he felt shocked or stunned, but the only emotion he could manage was resignation. He'd had suspicions from the moment he'd seen Jim in the office and this was only confirmation of one of the scenarios. He reached for the phone.

"Please don't, sir," Jim said tightly. "There's more."

"Isn't there always," Simon said with a sigh. "Okay, Jim, what's the threat they're hanging over your head?" He looked knowingly at Sandburg-- Jim's strength and weakness rolled up into one ponytailed, chattering package. He listened intently as they explained about the micro-vials.

Simon felt for them both, but he knew where his duty lay. "We have to let the Secret Service know about this threat, Jim. You know that. I'll put in a call to the King County officials and we'll work on securing that antidote too."

"It's not that simple, Simon."

"It is that simple when someone is threatening the President of the United States."

"I think you should listen to him, Simon," Blair entreated. "He knows what he's doing."

"And I don't?" the captain asked incredulously. "I may not be a Sentinel, but I didn't fall off the back of a turnip truck either. We're talking a breach of national security here. There's not a lot of leeway."

"On either side, Simon," Jim pointed out. "You haven't taken the other side into consideration. I know, sir, that I cannot be the only threat they've aimed at Mr. Clinton."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm a wildcard in the game, captain. I was approached late, they couldn't have been sure I'd take the bait, and I'm a cop. Me as an assassin is a toss of the coin so although I'm the primary in this mission, I am not the sole option. A back up plan is surely already in play. And my bet is that the back up is within the Secret Service. Our people are only playing a support role, crowd maintenance, etc. We wouldn't have the access. It would have to be an agent."

"Someone on the inside to kill the President in case you fail," Simon said with dawning comprehension.

"And someone to kill me whether I succeed or fail. Either way I'm a liability to them. So if I'm killed by a conscientious Secret Service agent trying to protect the President, I'm a nice, non-informative, scapegoat. They will probably make Blair's death look like a suicide-- out of guilt or because 'he can't live without me.' My name will go down in the book as an assassin and the back up's will go down as a hero."

"So what you're saying is that the assassination will take place with or without you. And we are on our own to stop it."

"That's the situation, sir."

Simon wondered why he bothered to read the Clancy novel-- hell, his life was one. "What happens if we manufacture a reason why Clinton can't come to Cascade? A gas leak, a chemical spill, whatever."

"Then the assassination is set up for another city with another scapegoat and in the meantime Sandburg and I are still killed."

"God, Jim, how can you just sit there and know what these people have planned?" Simon asked. "Did you overhear something, are you reading their minds, what?"

Jim shrugged. "I know the rules of the game, Simon, because I've played it."

"You've been an assassin? Right, Jim," Simon scoffed.

"In war, the titles are different, but the results are the same."

Simon felt a shiver run along his spine. "You're starting to scare me, Jim."

"Now you know how I felt," Blair said from the end of the sofa. "You don't know these people, Simon. Jim does. Hell, when we were in that parlor I couldn't tell him from the guy who had kidnapped me. If anyone can stop them, Jim can."

Simon took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ease the tension building in his head. Not a chance. "Okay, Mr. Expert. How do you suppose we handle this?"

"We play the game, Simon. At some point the mole will have to reveal himself and then we act."

"You mean we wait until this guy maybe gets a shot off at the President before we do anything? No way. That's cutting it too close."

"What's the alternative?" Jim argued. "Accusing the whole Secret Service? Take a chance that the back up guy isn't the agent in charge? Cancel Clinton's appearance and let the same thing happen in another city?"

"Look, Jim, I know you're worried about Sandburg--"

"Damn it! This isn't about Sandburg, Simon. This is about a plot to assassinate the leader of the Free World in his own damn country! These things aren't supposed to be able to happen anymore. Terrorists all over the world will see the U.S. as a brand-new, very rich target. First, foreigners took out the World Trade Centers in New York. Then a couple of military rejects managed to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They say the third time's the charm, Simon. I don't relish the prospect of America becoming the next Beirut or Israel or, hell, Northern Ireland. When I start my truck in the mornings I don't want to worry about a car bomb or that the building I work in may blow up. I don't want that for me. I don't want that for any children I may have."

Simon thought about his son, Daryl. What kind of future would he have if terrorists decided America was primed for assault? He shuddered as he thought about the film he saw on the nightly news, the children disfigured, maimed, killed by the violence around them. How could he condemn his son to that kind of existence? "Alright, Jim, we do it your way," he said softly.

An hour later Simon left. He'd been right to trust them. They had explained and he understood. Why the hell then didn't he feel any better?

Blair put the chain on the door behind the captain and turned to his roommate. "You were amazing, man. I don't think I've ever heard you as eloquent as you were tonight. Simon had no choice but to do as you asked."

Jim kneaded a knot in his shoulder. "We put everything on the line when we told him, Chief. He takes his duty as seriously as I do, if not more so. I had to convince him to see things my way. There was no alternative. Not one I could live with anyway."

Blair was shocked, then he wasn't. He could easily picture the man who'd held him ordering Simon's execution if he got in the way. Thank God, or whatever entity, that Jim wasn't truly caught up in that life anymore. "Sometimes honesty is rewarded, Jim."

"And sometimes we just get lucky and choose our friends well." Jim shrugged. "After all, I did lie to Simon."


"When I told him it wasn't about you, Chief."

"Oh." Blair wondered why it felt so warm in the loft.

"I will make you feel safe again, Blair. I give you my promise," Jim said solemnly.

"That's not a promise I need, Jim. I always feel safe in your presence, man." Blair smiled suddenly. "Except maybe when you haven't had enough sleep, or when you're hungry, or maybe when I've forgotten to do the laundry or clean the bathroom or..."

Jim shook with laughter and much of the tension in him drained away. Everything would work out. To protect the life of the man beside him, to protect the lives of the people who lived under his watch, he could do-- he would do-- anything. Never before had he felt the calling of the Sentinel as he did now. Never before had he been prepared to embrace his alter ego and let its primal nature take over. Never before was he willing to lose control of who he was and let the Sentinel lead. But that had been then. And this was now. New game. New rules. Winner would take all. And he had no intention of losing.

Thursday - 5:30 A.M.

"Rise and shine, Sandburg." Muffled groans came from the room down the hall. "Ten and a half hours until show time." He heard a curse and his roommate's feet hitting the floor. That worked quicker than his usual threats. He'd have to remember that. "Better use that 24-hour antiperspirant, Chief. It's going to be a long day," he added with a laugh as he heard Blair head for the bathroom.

"Man, what's up with you?" Blair asked when he padded into the kitchen with his shoes in hand. "You sound chipper which wouldn't be normal on a regular day, much less this one." He looked at the mounds of food on the table. "The National Guard's coming to breakfast?"

Jim chuckled and motioned for his partner to sit. "This is for us, Chief. We're going to need the energy. You see, today's your lucky day. You know how you're always begging me to let you help? This time you're part of the plan."

"I am?" Blair asked in amazement. Then he got suspicious. "Why?"

Jim shrugged. "Because this isn't a police operation. Because I need you." Because this would keep him occupied and out of immediate danger. The Sentinel could be cunning when his Guide's life was on the line.

He needed him. That was nice. "Whatever you want me to do, I'm in, Jim."

"Thanks, buddy." He heard someone coming up the stairs. "I think you're about to find out your assignment." He went to the door and opened it. An older teen stood there with his fist raised, ready to knock.

"Mr. Ellison?" Jim nodded and the kid held out a set of keys. "Everything you requested is inside."

"Any substitutions?"

"No, sir."

Jim handed him a folded sheet of paper. "The time and place of pick up. Don't open before four o'clock."

"Yes, sir."

Jim pulled out a twenty and handed it to him. "Tell Joe he has good deliverymen."

The teen smiled. "Thank you, sir."

"Who's Joe?" Blair asked as Jim shut the door and came back to the table.

"An old friend."

"And what was delivered?"

"Finish your breakfast and you'll see."

Blair didn't understand Jim's good humor but he certainly didn't want it to go away, so he did as ordered. "Grab whatever you need for the day, Chief. We won't be coming back here until after it's over," Jim instructed as he put away the dishes.

They exited the building and instead of turning toward the spaces where the truck and Blair's Volvo were parked, Jim headed in the other direction and stopped beside a battered bread delivery truck. He took out the keys the teen had handed to him.

"Joe sent you day-old bread?" Blair asked curiously.

"Something like that. Step inside, Sandburg."

"Holy shit," Blair murmured as Jim hit the switch to the interior lights. There wasn't a loaf of bread to be found. But there was a bank of monitors and several rows of sophisticated hardware that Blair could only imagine would do what. "This is so cool. Like out of a movie, man. A mobile surveillance lab, right?"

"You got it in one, Chief. And it's all yours... for today, anyway." Jim scanned the contents and seemed to approve. He reached beneath a panel and brought out a rather large notebook. "Here are the instructions. You know what your deadline is."

The President was due to land at Cascade Airport at 3:30. He would arrive at the Civic Center at 4:00. Departure time was scheduled for 5:00. Of course, Mr. Clinton always ran late and stayed later. Still, that didn't give Blair much time. He opened the book and began to read, never noticing when Jim opened the portal to the cab of the truck and slipped into the driver's seat.

"We're two blocks from the Civic Center, Chief," Jim said as he reentered the back of the truck and pulled open a drawer, dragging out a handful of little disks. "Each of these mini-cams corresponds to one of the monitors in front of you. I'm going to go in and attach the cameras. I need you to watch the monitors and tell me if something is obscuring your view."

Blair struggled to hide his confusion. Granted the back of the truck had no windows, but he hadn't even felt the truck moving. What a great way to start his first day as a spy. "Sure. I can do that, Jim." While Jim walked the two blocks to the Center, he would scan the section on monitor operation. It would be a snap. "Uh, how am I supposed to contact you?"

Jim reached into another compartment and brought out a thin headset and small earpiece for himself. "Here you go."

Blair looked at all the cubbyholes, compartments, drawers, and cabinets in the truck and wondered just what else was hidden around him. '"I'm curious, Jim. How much does a setup like this rent for?"

"Joe deals in favors, not cash. Less paperwork that way."

"So you're going to owe him big after this, huh?"

Jim grinned. "Nah. He'll still owe me."

Blair shook his head. "You know, I'm beginning to wonder if you have a whole other life I know nothing about, Jim. What is it that you do when you're not home with me?"

"You're starting to sound like a jealous housewife, Chief," Jim chided as he opened the door and jumped to the ground.

"Dating I can handle," Jim heard although he hadn't turned on his earpiece yet. "It's the thought of what you're doing if you're not dating that worries me."

"I don't know if I like this new suspicious nature of yours, honey," Jim said as he adjusted his earpiece. He rounded the corner and saw the Civic Center. "Maybe Simon was right. Maybe we should see a marriage counselor."

He heard Blair laughing in his ear. "Obfuscation, Jim? I thought that was my department."

"I knew you would teach me your bad habits. I'm at the Center. Going silent."

Blair flicked on the monitors and waited for the screens to show something other than snow. He had been teasing, but how much of it was true? How could Jim still be so "connected" after all these years? He had apparently made one phone call and a truck full of state-of-the-art electronics was delivered to their door. And how many favors could he have done in the past that people were still paying him for? Was his Sentinel freelancing? Without his Guide? Definitely something to check out once this little drama was over.

Jim's voice sounded in his ear and for the next hour he prompted his partner in placing the cameras. When all was done, he had every angle of the stage covered. "Good job, Chief. I'll personally be covering the rafters so between the two of us, we should be able to catch this guy before the act. I want you to stay where you are and learn the equipment, okay. Practice focusing, zooming, whatever. I'm heading down to the station to talk to Simon."

"How you going to get there, Jim?"

"My truck is parked in front of the Civic Center. How else could I have gotten here, Sandburg? Catch you later."

What had Alice said when she fell down that rabbit hole? Curiouser and curiouser. Jim was going to have a lot of 'splaining' to do when he got home.

Thursday - 9:45 A.M.

"Hey, Brown," Jim called in surprise as he walked into the Major Crimes bullpen. "I thought you were working the stakeout today."

"Guess you haven't heard. We finally caught the guy. Nabbed him as he snuck in this morning. Where's Hair Boy?"

"I got him running errands."

Brown's eyes widened with awareness. "That's right. Today's the big day, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I finally get to send the feds on their way and Cascade can heave a huge sigh of relief."

"Better you than me, man." The phone rung. "Guess you're not on duty here today, huh?"

"Sorry, amigo," Jim said with a grin as he tapped on the captain's door. "Good morning, Simon."

The captain glared at his smiling detective. "Whatever you're on, you could have at least brought me some of it."

"You sound like Sandburg."

"One more insult like that and you can get out, detective."

Jim sat down. "I would have thought you'd be in a better mood since we caught the guy who's been keeping us all up at night."

"Uh, Jim, you haven't forgotten that I have bigger worries, have you? Worries you gave me. Worries that should have you glaring the paint off the walls instead of sitting there as if you haven't a care in the world. What's with the Mister Rogers attitude?"

Jim tried to think of a way to explain that he was letting instinct take control and at the moment there were no warning signals going off. He would enjoy the peace while he could get it. Of course there was no way Simon nor Blair would understand so he chose to ignore the question. "How are things at your end? You've talked with the King County people yet?"

"Yeah. The house is under surveillance. If someone tries to leave, they will be informed that there is a large sinkhole in the road and no traffic can get through. Otherwise, there is to be no contact with the residents of the house until you give the word."

"The helicopter?"

"Will be waiting for you and Sandburg as soon as the matter at the Civic Center is taken care of. Since Major Crimes is back on regular rotation, I'll have Ryf and Brown nearby to take into custody whoever you catch," Simon added. "Unless of course, you don't stop him in time. Then I think the feds will have something to say about custody."

"I'll get him, Simon."

"You seem pretty confident. Is that part of the game too?"

"Smoke and mirrors, Simon. Smoke and mirrors."

"You're scaring me again, Jim."

Jim just grinned and rose to his feet. " Got a meeting with the Secret Service. See you later, sir."

Thursday - 3:47 P.M.

"Air Force One just landed, Chief," Jim said into the tiny mike as he overhead the Secret Servicemen talking. "Are we in sync on orientation?"

"Got it, Jim. Mr. Clinton is the North Star."

"Good. Mastered recording yet?"

"Chapter 8. Memorized."

"Great. Because this case is going to rest on the incriminating video you take of our guy. He's going to be alive when he's captured and he's going to plead innocent. I want a judge and jury to laugh in his face. Got it?"

Blair shivered. Jim hadn't been kidding when he said he was part of the plan. He had half-convinced himself Jim was just getting him out of the way. Apparently he'd done his friend an injustice. "As soon as we figure out who the inside man is, he'll feel like a movie star."

Jim lowered his voice as he sensed someone entering the auditorium. "I've already ID'ed the guy, Chief. Agent Lorenz. I think he's third in that stack of photos I gave you earlier."

"How'd you come up with him, Jim?" The crisp shuffling of photos trickled through the receiver.

"I sniffed him out this morning and confirmed this afternoon."

"You sniffed him out?"

"Yeah. He smelled fearful, not to mention he couldn't hold my gaze for more than five seconds. It's him."

If not being able to hold up under one of Jim's icy stares was a sign of guilt, there were a lot of people heading to Hell, Blair thought with a smile. The big guy just didn't know his own power. But he did know criminals and if his senses told him Lorenz was the plant, so be it. "I'll target him as soon as he comes into range."

"Okay. I need to check in so I'll get back to you later." Jim pocketed the earpiece and went to the office designated as the command center.

"Everything okay on your end, detective?" Assistant Deputy Director Jordan Whitney of the Seattle Bureau asked. The Secret Service had adopted the policy of getting the locals involved which also included the local FBI. So far he'd just been a figurehead and he wished he had assigned someone else to the task. But he hadn't wanted to pass up the opportunity to work with Jim Ellison. He was new to the Seattle Bureau and really wasn't up to speed on some of the older cases. But just mentioning the name of Ellison and his partner garnered such a reaction he was curious to find out about these guys. When asked, his agents had merely shrugged or said something cryptic like "you'll see." However, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The whole thing has been a disappointment.

"Cascade P.D. is in place, sir. I just wanted to check in before I assumed my post."

"Noted, Ellison. You have your commlink?" Jim pulled out the long wire from his left pocket and clipped it in place behind his ear. The equipment was so obvious, quite unlike the one in his other pocket. Leave it to the government to ignore the cutting edge of technology.

On the catwalk above the stage, he exchanged earpieces. "Back, Chief."

"How we doing, Jim?"

He extended his hearing and heard the growing excitement of the crowd outside which was now drowning out a small group of protesters who had gathered and were under tight surveillance. "The motorcade is approaching."

"Dial down your hearing, Jim. Now!"

The Sentinel obeyed his Guide without hesitation. "What's going on?" he asked in concern.

"When the first limo is sighted, the middle school band is to play 'Hail To The Chief'. They've been practicing all day, man. It's really something you don't want to hear in enhanced mode."

Jim smiled, glad to notice his own relaxed demeanor was keeping his partner from going overboard with anxiety. "Let's hear the rest of the plan, Chief."

Sigh. "We've been over it four times already, Jim."

"Indulge me."

Don't I always? "When I see Lorenz is taken care of, I leave the tape running and lock the truck. Then I head for the roof of the Carmichael Building where Simon is waiting for us in a helicopter. We then proceed to the house outside of Seattle where hopefully our resident bad guys won't know what went on yet."

"As soon as all hell breaks loose, the King County cops are to cut all power to the house. It should work." If nothing went wrong. "Lorenz should be getting into place now. Watch for him."

Two minutes later. "Got him, Jim. Northwest sector."

"I got him too, Chief. The President's entering the auditorium." Jim was glad his hearing was still set on low. The noise in the hall was literally thundering.

"You were right about Lorenz. He's really edgy. Seems to be searching for something."

"Me, Chief. He knows where I'm supposed to be and I'm not there. He's debating whether it's part of my plan or if I'm bailing. Pretty soon he's going to realize I'm not going to do it."

"He's moving, Jim."

"So am I." Clinton mounted the podium and Jim lost Lorenz for a second. "You still got him, Chief?"


Jim moved, keeping on top of Lorenz. As the President spoke, Jim pulled out his gun and sighted the Secret Service agent. When Clinton uttered the words "in closing", Lorenz slipped a small gun out of his pocket and palmed it. Jim muttered a curse. He was going to shoot the President with a Saturday night special-- gun of choice for petty criminals everywhere. Cheap and usually untraceable, it was also the choice of cops who were of the "shoot first and ask questions later" variety. Known as drop guns, a cop caught in a situation such as a questionable shooting often kept a Saturday night special to "drop" into the victim's hand and voila, it became a clean shoot. It was also perfect for framing Jim Ellison for shooting the President.

"Did you get that, Sandburg?"

"Got it. You can take him out now."

"In a second."

Jim knew he was going to be cutting it close but Lorenz's intent had to be perfectly clear. Keeping his focus on Lorenz, he pulled out the microphone that clipped to his wrist, as dated as the earpiece. The agent looked around one more time, then inched his hand upward. No one seemed to notice. He took aim.

"Shooter!" Jim yelled into the mike.

The President was thrown to the floor and covered. Lorenz, perhaps his nervousness making his reaction time slow, continued to point his weapon. Jim fired and Lorenz looked stupidly at his bleeding hand. One think about cheap guns-- they splintered easily.

By the time Lorenz was blanketed in suits and it was determined the gun was shot of out his hands from a position above, Jim was already down the street and headed for the Carmichael Building. By the time, they figured out who was unaccounted for, the helicopter was well on its way toward its destination.

Thursday - 6:09 P.M.

Jim leaned back in the chopper and let the headphones dull the sound for a while. Jumping ahead a few hours, he knew he had an entire evening of explaining to do and media to dodge. But that would only be when the Secret Service and the FBI caught up with him. He hadn't figured out how much to tell them yet; but he would tell it in such a way that Blair and Simon would be protected. They had both stood firmly behind him through all of it.

But he sort of wished Simon wasn't along for this part. Securing the serum would require him to don the game player persona again and this time, he might actually have to do more than just threaten. In fact, he was pretty sure someone would have to die before he got what he needed and Simon was going to give him some serious grief over that. But he couldn't let the captain's disapproval stand in his way. On the issue of getting the antidote for Sandburg the detective, Sentinel, and former covert operative were in complete agreement: do whatever necessary.

Blair felt Jim stiffen beside him and wondered if his partner had discovered a problem. So far everything had gone perfectly. Unless he had screwed up something in the van. But the record buttons had lighted when they were supposed to and he had heard the whirring of the tapes as they captured the images for posterity. Nah. He'd done everything according to the book. He was sure of it.

With a clear conscience he turned slightly to face Jim, confident that he was without fault. That was when he noticed Jim had changed from the surprisingly easygoing guy he'd been all day to the cold son of a bitch he'd been the other morning. Man, how had he switched that quickly? Unconsciously, he eased away from the stranger and bumped into Simon.

What was Sandburg up to now, the captain wondered as he pierced the observer with a patented stare that dispensed impatience and concern in equal portions. The kid jerked his head toward his partner. He looked at Jim and saw the detective staring silently ahead, his jaw firmly clenched. Nothing out of the ordinary. "What's the problem?" he mouthed. Blair shook his head. If the captain didn't understand now, he soon would.

The chopper landed in a field ringed with law enforcement vehicles. A man raced out to greet them as they stepped onto the ground. "Lt. Brad Paulsen, King County Emergency Response Team."

Simon introduced himself and his officers. "What's the situation?"

"The residents of the house have been contained. If you step over to the car, I have a detailed plan of assault--"

"That your car?" Jim interrupted, pointing to a dark sedan.

"Actually that belongs to one of the Seattle feds that just arrived," Paulsen explained huffily. It was his county and until it was proven these people had conspired against the President of the United States, the government should stay out of it. "As I was saying, I have a pl--"

Jim ignored him and jogged over to the car, Blair on his heels. "I need your car," he said to the FBI agent.

"It's yours, Det. Ellison." He too had heard the office scuttlebutt.

"Hey, what's going on?" Paulsen demanded. "Captain Banks?"

Simon shook his head as the car speeded away. "Seems like we won't need your plan, lieutenant."

Jim stopped the car at the gated entrance and listened. The house seemed empty but that was most likely because of the loss of power. He listened closer and he heard the faint voice of a professional announcer.


Blair's yell and subsequent shake of his shoulder brought him out of a zone. Thanks to letting the Sentinel take control it was the first such incident of the day. But the Sentinel often thought with his heart instead of his head when it came to protecting his Guide and Jim couldn't risk letting these people get the upper hand. "We have a complication."

"What is it, Jim?"

"There's a radio on inside. Must be battery-operated. They know what happened."

Blair reached for the cell phone in his backpack. "I'll let Simon know we need reinforcements."

Jim shrugged. Back up could roll if it wanted to, but he wasn't waiting on it. He drove up to the front of the house. "Stay here and wait for the others."

Blair started to protest but one look at Jim told him he would just be wasting his time. He nodded and watched as his partner just marched up to the door and shot the lock off. He shuddered for whoever got in his way.

The interior was dark, but not to someone with Sentinel sight. When the muscle man stormed out of the shadows with an Uzi instead of the metal-detecting wand, Jim shot him in the heart without batting an eye. He trained his hearing and found a heartbeat behind a closet door. His foot pummeled the door, then he reached in, dragged the smarter thug out by his throat, and pinned him against a nearby wall.

"Jim, you alright, man?" Blair called from the doorway. "I heard a shot." That sound made all earlier agreements null and void.

"No problems here, Sandburg."

Blair took that to mean it was safe for him to enter. Although the dark blocked his view of the man lying dead, he did see the man who was slowly dying beneath the power of Jim's hand. Glancing at his friend's calm expression, he knew appealing to his better nature wasn't going achieve much. Maybe he should approach this logically. "Uh, Jim, you may want to ease up a little, man. He may be of use to us later on."

The fingers relaxed just a smidgen. "You want to live?" he asked the specimen before him.

The man grunted and Jim eased the pressure a little bit more. "Yes," the guy gasped.

"What's your name?"

"Dimitri Marcellus."

Jim shook his head. "Your name is Fred. You want to know why that is, Fred?" The man shivered as he tried to drink in the oxygen trickling around Jim's massive hand. Suddenly the fingers closed again. "I asked you a question, Fred. I expect you to respond."

When the hand relaxed again, Fred knew better than to waste time trying to breathe. Obviously, the blue-eyed devil was impatient with such minor matters as that. "Wh... why, sssir?" Because it would fit easier on my tombstone?

"I'm renaming you, Fred, because from this moment on, I own your ass and can do with you what I will. You understand that, don't you, Fred?"

At that moment, the power returned and Jim was suddenly blinded by the lights. Without even being aware of it, his grip tightened around Fred's neck and the henchman gagged, certain that death was only seconds away. Simon and Paulsen ran in, weapons drawn. The first thing they saw was the man sprawled across the floor, the burned circle on his chest signifying how he had died. Then they saw Jim and the rapidly fading Fred.

"Ellison!" Simon barked, even as he wondered why Sandburg was just silently standing by.

"I'm busy," Jim replied, prying his fingers away from Fred's neck as he spoke. "Sorry about that, Fred. Where were we?"

Fred doubled over, trying to suck in much needed air and Blair attempted to give the man extra time to recover. "You were asking him if he understood the significance of his new name, Jim."

"Thank you, Sandburg. It's nice to know someone was listening. Were you, Fred?"

"Yes... sir," came the faint reply. "You own my ass, sir. You may call me anything you want to."

"Good boy."

Simon had had enough. "What the hell is going on?" he yelled, tired of being ignored.

"Just stating the rules of the game, Simon," Jim replied easily. "Fred, say hello to Captain Banks."

"Hello, Captain Banks."


"Can't talk. Fred is going to take me to the antidote now." He shoved him toward the rest of the house.

"Hold up, Ellison!" Simon touched his detective on the sleeve and Jim turned around for one brief second before following Fred down the hall.

"Who the hell was that?" the captain asked, having taken a step back from the man.

"That was Jim Ellison in control," Blair replied as he moved to follow his partner. "I tried to warn you."

Jim heard the breaking glass and labored breathing before Fred touched a hidden latch and revealed a room beyond the study. In the center of the room was Fred's boss. The old man was an odd mixture of gray and green, with sweat trickling from his brow. With his heightened sight, Jim watched as a cramp twisted its way through the man's abdomen, causing him to clutch futilely at his stomach.

"I don't," Fred's boss began, "like being doublecrossed either, detective." He paused as another pain cut through him. "This is what's awaiting your partner. I took my own poison to show you firsthand the agony he will suffer because of your betrayal."

"Where's the antidote?"

The man pointed to a wet spot on the polished floor, shards of glass awkwardly reflecting the light. "Destroyed, just like me. What are you going to do now, detective? Shoot me? Strangle me? Cut my heart out?"

Jim smiled, his eyes chilling further. "No such luck. I'm going to let you die the long-suffering, extremely painful death you deserve. You're going to be good and ready for hell by the time you get there." He turned and saw the others in the doorway, including the FBI agent whose car he'd borrowed. "Think your people can get a sample from that spot of the floor, fed?"

"We'll do our best." He pulled out his cell phone.

Paulsen and his men started toward the old man. "Stay back," Jim ordered. "There's nothing you can do except ease his pain. And there's no way in hell I'm letting you do that."

"Just a minute," Paulsen began, but Jim skewered him with an icicle of a gaze and the King County officer backed away.

"Fred, go get me the dying little maggot's files. Maybe the formula is there." Fred scurried away.

"Is it a good idea to send him off on his own?" Simon asked.

"Fred knows better than to screw with me, captain."

Simon had no doubt that poor Fred did. The man came hurrying back into the room, carrying two large boxes of papers, videotapes, and various computer media. "Sorry, sir, but I don't think the poison is mentioned anywhere in these files." He flinched, waiting to be killed on the spot. But when he sneaked a peek at his new "master", he saw the man's attention was diverted.

"This party is about to double, gentlemen. Seems the Secret Service and the rest of the FBI have arrived," he said dryly. "Fred, share the contents of those boxes with Assistant Deputy Director Jordan Whitney. Admit you were my informant in this case and you fed me everything I knew about this assassination attempt. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

Jim smiled. "I may have to keep you, Fred. Okay, everyone play nice. I'll be back in a minute."

He walked out the back door and took a deep breath. He had won and he had failed. Which meant he had failed. "Sorry, Chief," he called to the man he'd felt following him. "I thought we would make it in time. Maybe I should have let Paulsen and his ERT squad storm in here."

Blair was getting used to the quick switches in personas. Thank God, his Jim was back, with his usual guilt in tow. "You stopped an assassination plot, Jim. We have the files to put anyone away who was involved, including one of the Secret Service's own. The loss of the antidote is inconsequential compared to what you accomplished."

"We accomplished," Jim corrected. "But you were never inconsequential, Chief. Not even to the man who I become when I walk into that house."

"Oh, you mean the man who came out in the middle of the night to rescue me? Who barged inside a little while ago, knowing they could have set up a trap, but determined to get the antidote for me anyway?"

Jim laughed. "I can never fool you, Chief. You always have my number. Just don't tell Fred, okay?"

Blair shook his head. Jim was making light of what had happened, probably to keep his partner from worrying. But Jim had been right the first time; he couldn't fool him. Jim had come close to killing Fred, probably would have killed the poor man, and he had meant it when he said he owned the thug. The only thing he would be telling Fred was, if he valued his life, he better do everything Jim said. "I think the FBI labs will be able to make more of the antidote, Jim. That was a good idea you had."

Jim looked at his best friend and remembered the dying man writhing in pain on the floor. "It's only good if it works," he said sadly.

Two Weeks Later

"What's happening?" Simon asked as Sandburg let him into the loft. The observer and Jim had taken the day off to go to the FBI labs for the final report on the antidote. It had been a long two weeks. Ellison hovering over Sandburg, trying to keep his arm from being jostled or bumped against a wall or a car door, and the extra attention making Sandburg more apprehensive and bringing on bouts of insomnia. And if Blair couldn't sleep, Jim couldn't. So it was with relief that Simon had granted them the day off to go to Seattle. When he called to see if they had returned, they had refused to discuss the results over the phone and Simon had been chomping at the bit for his workday to end so he could check on them.

"They can't match it, Simon," Blair said. "There's one ingredient they can't identify and apparently it's the key component."

Simon looked through the glass doors and saw Jim prowling the patio. He knew his friend must be taking the news hard. Sandburg too, but the grad student wasn't showing it. "What's the next move?"

"The feds suggested I find a surgeon I trusted and go for it."

"Real offhanded when it comes to your life, aren't they?"

Blair shrugged. "It's the best advice they had to offer, captain. They tried. Everyone's tried. There's no fault in failing after you've given it your best."

Simon flicked his eyes to the patio again. "I'm sure that went over well with your partner. Have you two discussed this option?"

Blair grinned. "The entire afternoon. Surprised someone didn't call the station to report a domestic situation."

"For someone who can hear really well, he can turn up the volume, can't he?" Simon replied with his own smile. Hell, if the kid could find some humor in the situation, who was he to bring him down? "So what was decided after the fur stopped flying?"

"There's only one person I trust to do such delicate work."

Simon reached into his pocket for a notepad. "Give me his or her name and I'll run a check just to be sure."

Blair shook his head. "Only one person has the sensibilities to find the micro-vials and remove them without breakage."

Simon got the message and understood what all the shouting had been about. "He's not a surgeon, Sandburg," he said in Jim's defense. No wonder he was walking a hole in the patio.

"A surgeon isn't required. The vials are just beneath the skin. He can do it. I know he can. It just took a little while to convince him."

"You did?" Simon was amazed once again at the control this young student had over his seasoned detective. "He agreed to this? I am astounded by your persuasive powers, Sandburg."

"This time I had the truth on my side, Simon. Jim knows no one else can do this better than he can. He just didn't want to accept the responsibility of it."

"The responsibility of perhaps killing you? It's shocking he was so reluctant," Simon replied dryly.

Blair threw up his hands. "What is it? The bigger you are, the more alike you think? If one of the vials breaks in my arm, it won't be Jim's fault. It will be the fault of the people who put them there in the first place."

"That will be small comfort to him as he stands over your grave, Sandburg."

"That's where you come in, Simon. If something happens to me, you'll take care of him, won't you? He'll be fine eventually. You just need to keep him alive until then."

Simon grew angry. "You know, I really get tired of these conversations with the two of you. Anytime one of you heads into a dangerous situation, you expect me to take care of the other one. Is that how you see me, as your private babysitter?"

Blair looked at him blankly. "We thought you understood, man."

"Understood what?" Simon demanded. "I barely comprehend this thing you call the Sentinel/Guide connection and I sure as hell don't know where I fit into it." There. He'd voiced the question. Now if Sandburg had an answer, could he accept it?

"Squarely in the center," Jim said, having reentered the loft so silently that neither of the men had noticed. "There is no one else I trust to protect Blair, Simon. Sometimes the only thing allowing me to function as a Sentinel is the knowledge that if I can't protect my Guide, you will."

"It's the same for me," Blair admitted, touching the captain's shoulder. "When I'm in trouble, I know Jim will save me because you will be at his side to protect him. You guide him when I can't, Simon. I trust you with my life, captain, but more importantly, I trust you with Jim's."

Jim came closer and put one hand on Simon's shoulder and the other on Blair's, completing the circle. "I watch over Blair and he watches over me. But you, Simon, you watch over both of us. If it makes it any clearer for you, we can call it the Sentinel/Guide/Watcher connection."

"Let's not," Simon said, unnerved to find out he really did fit into the scheme of things. "Why me? Because I was in the position to make your working together possible?"

Jim shook his head. "That could have been anyone from the mayor on down."

"You were chosen to be our Watcher, Simon, just as we were chosen. It was your fate, your destiny."

"I don't want to hear this," Simon said huskily.

"You asked, man."

"Don't remind me." Damn. He should have kept the question in the back of his mind where it belonged. Now suddenly he was flashing upon images of personally telling one that the other had been injured, volunteering to drive him to the hospital, and keeping vigil throughout one long night after another. Then he remembered all the times he comforted and consoled, lectured and listened, supported and dispensed hope. Not to mention when he had to referee their infamous fallings out. He did watch over them, the restfulness of his night depending on whether he knew these two were together and safe. How often had he come running with cavalry in tow, knowing in his own way they were in trouble? He cared for all his men but Ellison and Sandburg claimed most of his worrying hours.

It was true then; he was their Watcher. "Tell me there's a 12-step program to get me out of this," he pleaded.

"Sure, Simon," Jim said easily. "The first step is to leave us alone. Don't be with us tomorrow when I..." He couldn't even bring himself to say it.

Simon knew he was doomed when he reached out and gave Jim's arm a pat. "You'll do fine, Jim. Just tell me the time and the place."

Sentinel and Guide shared a knowing glance, then confided in their Watcher.


Two men sat in the car and watched as another disappeared into the building. For a moment they were both silent probably because the slamming of the car door still reverberated in their ears.

"I hate to imagine his reaction if the operation hadn't been a success," Simon said dryly as he wondered if there was any permanent damage to his car. Then he realized what an unsuccessful operation would have meant. "Sorry, Sandburg."

"No, problem, man. It's getting kind of scary, though. I'm starting to understand you both so well," Blair said as he hung over the seat from his position in the back.

"Don't start believing your own hype, Mr. Guide."

"No, I'm serious, Simon. You see, for three weeks Jim has been holding back everything he's felt. Now he's free to react. The emotion he feels most comfortable expressing is anger, yet who can he be angry with? The man who put these things in my arm is dead. Fred has become the Bureau's newest tenor. I was the victim and even you didn't give him any grief when you found out what was going on. So inanimate objects, like your car door, have to do instead."

Simon winced as he remembered the punching bag at the station. His poor car door could have suffered a much worse fate. "You sure you don't want to change your major to psychology, Dr. Sandburg?"

"Ach. Then we come to you, Captain Banks," Blair said in his best imitation of Freud. "You have been disturbed by the recent acknowledgment of your Watcher status, yes? You wish to remove yourself from our presence and go back to your office where you may be merely Captain Simon Banks. So you turn sarcastic, make a snide remark or two, and hope that we get the message. Is that not correct?"

"How about I tell you to get out of my car? Analyze that, doctor."

Blair laughed. "It's cool, man. I'm leaving." He reached for the door.

"How's the arm?" Simon heard himself asking. Damn it. He'd almost made a getaway.

"Itchy. I think the anesthetic is wearing off."

"How'd you manage to snag one of the 'clean rooms' at the university?" The labs were sterilized each night.

"I have my ways, man. Jim was pretty awesome in there, wasn't he?"

"I don't think I've ever seen Jim so focused without losing it."

Blair nodded. "He explained it to me. He let the Sentinel part of himself take control, just as he did when we were trying to find the mole in the Secret Service."

"If it's that easy, why doesn't he let the Sentinel dominate all the time?"

"Why don't you let Daryl's father be in control all the time? Or Captain Banks? Or the Watcher? We're all a series of personas and we are all more effectual when they are in balance. Each minute of the day we decide who leads in what situations. Look at me. Sometimes I'm a teacher. Sometimes a student or a Guide or a police observer, or merely a friend. Whatever the situation calls for."

Simon grunted. "As long as I never have to meet up with that cold son of bitch Jim was at that house, I'll be satisfied."

"Yeah, I think all three of us will agree with that. Jim's not particularly fond of him either. But he was needed. He may be needed again."

"Gee, Sandburg, thanks for the uplifting words. I feel so much better. Get out before I have to hurt you and start this whole cycle over again."

Blair laughed and got out of the car. "Take it easy, Simon. We'll see you tomorrow. And thanks, man. For driving us. For being there."

"Yeah, yeah. Like I had a choice," Simon muttered and drove away.

Blair literally skipped up the stairs and entered the loft. "You know, man, you keep up this attitude and you're going to scare away our Watcher before he can get acclimated to the job."

"Sorry, Chief," Jim said as he came down the stairs from his room, shrugging into a fresh shirt. That was when Blair remembered he'd gotten a small amount of blood on him as he removed the vials. Damn. The scent must have been driving him crazy. "How's the arm? The anesthetic wearing off? Maybe I should check the bandages?"

Blair sighed. "The arm's fine, man. I'm more worried about you. Wanna talk about it?"

"About what, Sandburg?"

Sandburg. Definitely on the defensive. "About what you're feeling. The anger. The guilt. I'm alive, man, and it's all thanks to you. You should be feeling great."

"About what? Putting you in this danger in the first place? Just think of the life would you have if you weren't hooked up with me. No daily exposure to criminals. No hostage situation of the week. No set a trap for the Sentinel by baiting it with his Guide."

"You act as if I have no say so in this, Jim. But my being here, and taking on whatever dangers that involves, is my choice."

"You're damn right it's your choice!" Jim yelled. "I know your self-preservation skills, Sandburg. I've seen you fight to survive when others would have given up. Yet you won't do the one thing that would increase your survival rate to the max. Get out of Cascade while you still can, my friend. I will miss you like hell but at least you'll be alive."

"Will I, Jim? Was I truly alive before I met you? Or was I just wandering through the universe, drinking in the oxygen and not much more?" He flopped onto the sofa and motioned for Jim to sit. "Being here is my destiny, Jim."

"Not much of one, Chief-- sitting in an open window with a large red target on your back."

"Yes, and if I wasn't the target, someone else would be and that other person wouldn't have you to protect him and keep him safe. Think about it, Jim. Everyone who has come after me, can't go after anyone else again. Protecting the tribe is what it's all about."

Jim shook his head. "I just don't understand where you get your faith from, Chief."

"That's easy, Jim. The Shaman trusts the spirits. The Guide trusts the Sentinel. Blair Sandburg trusts Jim Ellison, his one essential friend. Having you in my life is as essential as breathing and eating. Trusting in you is just as essential." He cupped his hands together and reached out toward Jim, urging him to hold out his palm. "Maybe we've been too silent on this, man. Here is my life." He opened his hand and imagined the grains pouring into the outstretched palm. "This is where it belongs."

Jim stared at his palm, then accepted the gift by placing his hand against his heart. "And you know where mine belongs." He repeated the gesture and Blair took Jim's life into his heart.

"Good thing Simon went home," Blair said, trying to clear the tears out of his throat. "This would definitely give him the heebie jeebies."

"Yeah," Jim said, wondering if Blair would notice if he reached up and brushed away the tear threatening to spill on his cheek. "Some men just aren't comfortable with emotion, you know."

"Damn shame, too," Blair was saying as he hurried to the kitchen. "Wanna a beer, man?"

"Sure, but none for you. You're on those antibiotics one of your little girlfriends stole from the hospital."

"Hey, why is it that when my friends help me out, they've stolen something and when your friends do it, you just shrug it off."

"Because my friends don't steal, they 'secure'."

"Semantics, Jim. In other words, bullshit."

"Am I going to have to wash that mouth out with soap, Sandburg?"

"Not even Naomi could do that," Blair muttered of his mother as he bent over in the fridge.

"What was that?" Jim asked and Blair knew he was right behind him.

"Don't forget about my arm, Jim," he said weakly. Jim immediately stepped back, ready to apologize. But then Blair stood up and opened the soda he had been secretly shaking in the refrigerator. It sprayed all over Jim. "And if I were you, I'd save the soap for your shirt, man."

By the time Jim realized what his partner had done, Blair had slipped out of his reach and was sprinting for his room. The big man gave a growl and followed.

And across the city, in an office on the seventh floor, the Watcher felt a sudden sense of peace and knew that no matter what was wrong in his jurisdiction, Sentinel and Guide were doing just fine.


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