New Arrivals
Author-Johanna C.A. Fally
Titles

Home Alone
Part One
by Johanna C.A. Fally

Summary: Sandburg's gone on a seminar, and Simon's left with a jinxed Sentinel. Rated PG for some language.

Disclaimer: They aren't mine, they were never mine, and they'll never be. This text was written for entertainment purpose only, the author (that's me) doesn't make a cent with it.

Author's notes: That's what comes from positive feedback...oh, and from my alpha reader blackmailing me into submission. Many thanks to Shelley for her patience and good advice. You're one hell of a beta, girl!

Feedback: Yes, please. I can even take criticism. <g> I'll write back. Promise.

"Okay. That's the number of my cell phone; that's the address of my hotel; that's my room number; that is the phone number and the email address of the conference center; that's the number of my emergency beeper; that's the number of Mr. Heeley's private line..." Sandburg stopped and eyed his roommate suspiciously. "You do remember who Mr. Heeley is, right?"

Jim Ellison, former Army Ranger, Detective First Class, and Sentinel of the Great City, was sprawled all over the couch, trying to follow a Jags game on television and paying little attention to his friend's rambling. Now he reluctantly tore his gaze away from the screen to scowl at the nervous bundle of energy that was suddenly invading his personal space. Not that he had much personal space where Sandburg was concerned, he mused. The young anthropologist was the only person who didn't give a damn about his touch-me-and-die-regretting-it attitude, and got away with it.

"Sandburg, I'm a detective and a sentinel. I remember everything."

"Not if you don't listen, you don't. So, who's Mr. Heeley?"

He's not going to let this go.

"I haven't the foggiest."

Sandburg looked about ready to throttle him. He took a few deep, calming breaths, closing his eyes and obviously counting to ten. Jim fought down the urge to grin. He knew he was evil, but he just couldn't help himself.

His Guide had been on an emotional roller coaster ever since he had gotten the invitation to attend a seminar about early Peruvian tribes and their modern successors in Chicago, and his resulting rapid mood swings had irritated the Sentinel to no end. He was the one with the volatile temper, and he was used to having Sandburg to calm him down. Instead the younger man was thrilled one minute and frantic the next, unable to decide whether to be incredibly happy because he had been invited, or in a complete panic because he couldn't take Jim with him.

In any case, he was a bundle of nerves, which also meant that he was really short tempered.

"Dammit Jim!" he yelled. "I told you about a hundred times! Why don't you ever listen? He's..."

"...the seminar manager," Jim concluded, exasperated. "I know. I was just pulling your leg."

Sandburg wasn't amused.

"That's not funny, Jim!"

"I know," the Sentinel growled, grabbing the remote and turning off the TV. "It stopped being funny about a week ago. I've reached the point where I can either laugh or seriously maim you, and as you can see, I'm still trying for the first."

He bared his teeth in a feral grin. Sandburg took in the slightly maniacal edge to it and backed away, rounding the couch and plopping down beside the detective.

"That bad?"

"Worse."

"Oh."

They sat together in silence for a few minutes, then Blair looked up at his Sentinel from behind long strands of curly, brown hair and grinned.

"So, you did remember everything I said, huh?"

Jim shrugged casually.

"It seemed important to you."

"Oh man, that's just....just...." He gestured helplessly, for once at a loss for words.

Jim, who knew how his Guide's brain worked, made good use of the moment.

"No memory tests, Sandburg. Don't even think about it."

Sandburg blushed.

"I wouldn't have thought about it," he claimed unconvincingly. "But since you remembered everything I told you, why let me repeat it again and again?"

Another shrug.

"It seemed to calm you down a bit."

"Well, yes," Blair admitted. "It did. Talking seems to help me cope with difficult situations. As I'm sure you noticed by now. It's just....I mean....I really wanna go to that seminar. It's a great opportunity, I know Dr. Limes and I admire his work, and it could help a lot with my Sentinel research and with one of my classes, but...."

"But...?"

"But....I don't want to leave you. So. Now I've said it. I can't stand the thought of going to Chicago without you."

Jim grinned. Sandburg thought about what he had said and slowly turned scarlet.

"SHIT! I didn't mean it THAT way!"

Jim chuckled.

"I was talking about your senses, about possible zone-outs and your tendency to overdo it and cause yourself monster-headaches!"

Jim started to laugh.

"Jim, so God help me, if you don't stop that immediately..."

Jim lost it completely.

Sandburg looked at his Sentinel, who was laughing so hard now that he was slowly sliding from the couch down to the floor, and felt something inside him loosen up. It was kind of funny, come to think about it. A slight chuckle escaped his tight control. Jim, who had fought valiantly to calm himself, heard it and started laughing all over again.

The young Guide tried to remember how serious the topic was, and how terrible the fears that had rendered him sleepless since he'd gotten the invitation, but his Sentinel's laughter was contagious and he soon found himself on the floor beside his friend.

They never heard Simon knock, so they were still down there when the captain came in.

***

Captain Simon Banks was getting used to all the weirdness in his life. If somebody had told him a few years ago that one day he would be friends with a living, breathing Sentinel and his spirited Guide, he would have...well, he wouldn't have known what the hell a Sentinel and a Guide were, but he certainly wouldn't have expected to find them in Cascade, Washington, of all places, and in his own bull pen at that.

Now, he couldn't imagine a life without them.

It was kind of embarrassing.

When Simon was drunk or tired enough to really think about everything that had happened during the past years, he was amazed that he had made it through all of it with only one or two hairs turning gray. Actually, he should have turned completely white by now.

Serial killers. Mad bombers. Drug dealers. Rogue CIA agents.

His city was getting worse than L.A!

He had never been able to decide whether it was Ellison or Sandburg who attracted all the trouble, but he strongly suspected that it was the combination of both of them. Although they also were pretty good each by themselves, especially Sandburg. Simon theorized that it was because he was smaller than Ellison, and because with all that long, curly hair and those big, blue eyes he looked a lot less dangerous than the tall ex-ranger. Not that Jim wasn't perfectly capable of getting himself into all kinds of messes, too.

It was bad enough when they were both in Cascade. One of them in Cascade and one in Chicago could well equal a national crisis.

This was going to be a long week.

Simon had noticed the kid was nervous about going to Chicago without his Sentinel. Well, "freaking out" would have been a more appropriate phrase. The captain knew how the anthropologist felt. He himself would have preferred them going together, or, even better, accompanying them personally. Not that his presence stopped them from getting into dangerous situations, but at least they wouldn't be completely on their own. These two needed all the backup they could get.

Unfortunately Jim couldn't go, since he had to testify at court. The Guide had almost declined the invitation when he had learned about that, but his Sentinel would have none of it. The seminar was important to Sandburg, so Sandburg would go. It was an honor to be invited, and the world of academia was a jungle. Throw an opportunity like this away and you wouldn't get another shot. Ellison was determined that Sandburg took this chance, even if he had to kick him all the way to the airport.

That was the reason why Simon was now climbing the stairs to the loft, cursing the unreliable elevator, his troublesome team, and the world in general. He was not developing a bad case of mother-hen syndrome where these two were concerned. No. Not him. But when Jim had called, begging him to do something before he committed murder, Simon, hearing the desperation in his voice, had promptly broken his latest vow not to get involved and agreed to try and divert his friend's hyperactive partner. Not that he was worried about Jim actually harming Sandburg -- the Sentinel was devoted to his Guide and would rather kill himself than hurt him -- but if Ellison lost his famous temper, it was probable he'd say things he'd regret. That would mean they would part in anger, which was a surefire way to get them into trouble. Having a disagreement made them edgy enough; but if they had an argument and then were separated so they had no way of making up...that's when things tended to get ugly.

It didn't really help his mood when he opened the door and found Sentinel and Guide sitting on the floor and laughing so hard that tears streaked down their faces.

He kicked the door shut, drew himself up to his full considerable height, and glared at his men until they finally took notice of his presence.

"Are you done, gentlemen?" he asked, his voice dangerously calm.

Jim rose to his feet in one fluid motion, automatically coming to a parade rest in front of his superior. Sandburg, whose slightly suicidal way of handling Simon in a bad mood was becoming legendary in the department, just grinned at the tall police captain and leaned back against the couch.

"Hi, Simon!"

"May I inquire what the hell is going on here?" Simon growled. "I thought you were packing, Sandburg!"

Sandburg shrugged.

"I'm already done. Packing is kind of a specialty of mine. You know, if you spend half of your life on the move, travelling, you get the hang of it pretty quickly. It's basically a question of organization. You have to know what you're going to need and how to fit it into your luggage, or, in my case, backpack. The heavy stuff comes first, so it doesn't squash or wrinkle the rest of your things, then you work your way up to...."

"Sandburg," Jim interrupted.

"Yeah?"

"Breathe."

Sandburg grinned and took a deep breath, preparing to launch back into his lecture about packing. Simon stopped him with an impatient hand-gesture.

"Would you please come to the part that had you and Jim on the floor?" He thought about what he had just said. "Come to think about it, I don't want to know."

It wasn't really important, either. Jim laughing was in any case far better than Jim yelling. Actually, Jim laughing was good, period.

Sandburg grinned and held up a hand. Jim grabbed it and pulled him to his feet, not even pausing to think about it. Simon fought a grin. The Guide had trained his Sentinel well. A year ago Ellison would have told him to get up on his own.

"So, what are you doing here, Simon?"

Simon glanced over to Jim, silently asking if he was allowed to tell Sandburg about Jim's plea for help. Ellison shook his head slightly. Oookay. His detective didn't want his roommate to know just how thoroughly he had tried his patience. Well, thanks to his job and these two Simon had been in sticky situations more than once, he had learned to improvise.

"I just wanted to make sure you made it to the airport without getting kidnapped."

Jim chuckled. Blair groaned.

"I'm not THAT bad!"

"Yes, you are," Simon stated. "You're so bad Jim will come with you and check the plane for terrorists, explosives, or dripping engine fluids."

He saw the Sentinel flinch and stopped.

Oops. Obviously, Sandburg didn't know about THAT either....

***

A few hours later, Jim closed and locked the door behind him, threw the keys into the basket and his shoes in the general direction of the doormat, and made a beeline for the couch.

Getting Sandburg on that plane had been more taxing than two double shifts in succession. First he had to convince his Guide Simon had been joking, then he had to assure him he would remain on the sidelines while Sandburg was gone, then he had to recite each and every emergency procedure and number his friend had told him during the past week and a half, and then Simon had to promise he'd keep an eye on Jim.

It was humiliating and astonishing at the same time.

Humiliating, because he was not only a grown man but a cop and an ex-soldier who could really take care of himself. He didn't need a long-haired, skinny grad student fussing over him.

Astonishing, because he never had anybody to really care about him before. Nobody had ever fretted over whether he would eat properly, take care of himself, and sleep without nightmares, or not. Nobody had ever ordered him to call them regularly just to make sure he was all right.

It was the knowledge that his Guide was worrying over him that made him endure Sandburg's agitation stoically. Of course Simon's company might have something to do with it, and the look on Simon's face while watching their interaction had made it all worthwhile.

In spite of his grumbling and his sour expression, the captain had really been helpful. Not only had he calmed Sandburg considerably, but he had also kept the anthropologist busy while Jim had disappeared to check out the plane and the other passengers. The airline staff as well as the airport security had stayed out of his way, again thanks to Simon, who had arranged permission for his detective to do what he deemed necessary to ensure the safety of the flight. They had been even more cooperative after Jim had singled out a guy who smelled of plastique, who turned out to be a wanted terrorist; and when the Sentinel detected a small leak in the plane's hydraulic system, which had been too small to attract attention during the routine check, they were hanging on every word he said.

Jim shuddered, thinking about the possible disasters he had prevented. At least his Guide would be safe on this flight. Chicago, on the other hand.... The Sentinel groaned and buried his head in the cushions. He should have gone with him, or stopped him from going. His instinct was to keep his Guide close. Why didn't he listen to it?

Because the kid more than deserves this chance. It was about time somebody recognized his worth. This invitation was long overdue. Since he declined Dr. Stoddart's offer to go to Borneo with him, nobody has approached him again. It doesn't matter that he seems quite content here in Cascade with me. He should at least have the opportunity to go if he wanted to.

Knowing that it was right to send Sandburg to this seminar wasn't the same as liking it, though. Not that he was going to miss the kid. No way. He was used to being alone. He liked the quiet. He liked the lack of chaos. He was a tough, independent cop, big and mean and certainly NOT missing his exuberant, constantly talking, bouncing, laughing partner. No, sir. Not him. Not James Ellison.

He got up and started pacing the loft, unconsciously extending his senses in search of his Guide.

No familiar heartbeat. No living scent. No small, reassuring touches in passing. Not a glimpse of an ever moving figure. No taste of Sandburg in the air.

It was unsettling.

He noticed that he was moving in circles, the beginning of a search pattern. Dammit, he was acting like a bloodhound looking for its lost master. Abruptly coming to a halt, he stood in the middle of the living room, softly swearing under his breath. What the hell is wrong with me? The kid's barely gone and already I'm going stir crazy! He looked at his watch. Three and a half hours. Was it too early to call Sandburg's hotel?

"Get a grip!" he muttered. "He can take care of himself."

That he could. Before meeting Jim, Sandburg had traveled all around the world, living among primitive tribes in the jungle and moving through the hazardous world of academia, and he had not only survived, he had had fun.

Of course I don't want to know how often he barely escaped death in a hundred different forms, Jim thought, or how often he was hurt because nobody was there to look out for him. He shook himself. Stop it. Just...stop it.

He started for the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee, then changed directions and headed for Sandburg's room. Pausing in the doorway, he took in the chaos, at the same time fighting the urge to clean up the mess and savoring his Guide's still-lingering scent. He almost never crossed the threshold to Sandburg's little domain. He himself was a highly private man, even while sharing his home with his friend, and so it was natural for him to respect his roommate's privacy as well. The unspoken law of the loft was that the room upstairs was Jim's territory and the former storeroom was Sandburg's. Everything else they shared equally.

Still....Sandburg might be a quick packer, but he also was a messy one. And since he had spent so much time worrying about whether he should go or not, he had simply thrown on the floor whatever got in his way.

Frowning, Jim stepped into the room and started digging a path from the doorway to the bed. When Sandburg came home, ready to collapse, at least he needed to be able to reach the bed. And while he was at it, he cleaned the rest of the floor, neatly folding the cloths before placing them into the drawers. There were a couple of books lying around and he put them back on the shelf, surprising himself by knowing which book belonged where. Then he changed the bedcovers and put the old ones into the laundry. He nodded satisfied, feeling a little better. When his Guide came home, he could just crawl into bed and sleep.

It was still too early to call the hotel, so the Sentinel went upstairs to his own bed to lie down a bit. Simon had confined him to his desk until Sandburg returned, so he didn't have to get up as early as usual, but he knew he would have difficulties falling asleep without his Guide's heartbeat to listen to. He just wanted to get some rest before tackling a week alone. Not that he minded being alone. He was well able to go through life without a lively chatterbox bouncing around him all the time. He was perfectly content to be on his own again. The fact that he had grabbed one of Sandburg's pullovers and was still holding it didn't mean he missed the little pest. No. Not him.

He fell asleep with his nose buried in the soft fabric of the pullover, breathing in his Guide's scent.

DAY ONE

"You sure you don't wanna come with me to California? I'd love to have you with me."

She shook her head and climbed out of the car, dragging her heavy duffel bag with her, and giving the driver her most dazzling smile. He had no chance against her. If she wanted to get out, she got out. That was how she lived: on her own terms.

"Thanks for giving me a ride, Clyde," she told the man who had offered to marry her half a dozen times on their way from Vancouver airport to Cascade. "It was real sweet of you to come fetch me."

"Anytime, Naomi," he answered, mustering smile. "Anytime."

"Oh, Clyde," she scolded. "Don't look so sad. You know we were never destined to be together. Just enjoy the good times we have."

Clyde sighed, then looked into her sparkling eyes and couldn't help but smile -- a real smile, this time. She was simply irresistible, and she knew it. He couldn't stay mad at her. Nobody could, as far as he knew. He knew she wasn't a woman to marry; she was far too independent to let herself get caught in that particular trap. But, hell, a guy could dream, couldn't he?

"Take care of yourself, Naomi," he said.

Another one of those unbelievable smiles and a wink was all he got in return. Of course, she had always taken care of herself, she didn't need the reminder. He watched her shoulder her bag, fighting the urge to get out of the car and help her carry it. If she wanted his help, she'd tell him. Or not. You never knew with Naomi.

One last wave, then she pushed open the door to 852 Prospect and disappeared from sight. Clyde still sat in his car, looking at the house, when the door had long fallen shut again.

***

He had the most peculiar dream.

He dreamt that Blair had left for a seminar and he was home alone, lying in his bed and balancing on the precarious edge between being asleep and being awake. The loft was far too quiet without his partner's familiar presence, but he didn't want to get up, because that would mean he'd have to face a whole week of being alone, and he really didn't want that anymore. His lone wolf days were gone, and he didn't miss them. Not that he would ever tell Sandburg, of course. Didn't want the kid to get a swollen head. Then he heard someone coming up the stairs, someone whose heartbeat sounded vaguely familiar. A faint scent tickled his sensitive nose, a weird blend of various herbs and candle smoke.

Even in his sleep he sneezed when he detected a hefty amount of sage in the mixture, instinctively burrowing his nose deeper in Sandburg's pullover, seeking protection against the offending smell.

He dreamt that the familiar stranger reached the door, dropped something soft but heavy on the floor, and knocked impatiently. He wasn't surprised to hear Naomi's voice calling out for Blair -- this was a dream, after all. He missed Sandburg's energetic presence, so his subconscious conjured up the only other person he knew who was able to create an impression of barely controlled chaos without doing a thing.

Following the usual rules of a dream, he got up, padded down the stairs in his boxers and opened the door. A wave of rosemary, sandalwood, and sage assaulted him and made him stagger a step back. He was still trying to regain his equilibrium when a redheaded whirlwind blew through the door and into the loft, talking non-stop in a melodious, cheerful voice that somehow reminded him of his Guide.

Yet it wasn't until Naomi stopped to eye him appreciatively from head to toe that he finally realized this was no dream. This was Sandburg's mother standing in his loft, blatantly checking him out, because he was wearing nothing but a pair of silken boxer shorts and his most stupid face.

Well, shit.

What could he do? He went and got Naomi's bag from the corridor, ignoring her impish little grin as she watched his muscles dance when he moved. He deserved the embarrassment. If he'd cared to properly wake up before opening the door, he'd never gotten into this situation in the first place. Stubbornly refusing to blush he closed the door, put the baggage on the couch, and turned to finally face his guest.

"Hi, Naomi."

Sandburg's mother, who didn't even know the meaning of the word 'self-conscious', grinned up at him, and winked.

"Hi, Jim. Nice to see you again. Where's Blair?"

"In Chicago. He's attending a seminar."

"Oh." Naomi's face fell. "Why didn't he tell me?"

"Most likely because he didn't know how to reach you," Jim answered, more brusquely than he normally would have.

This morning was not going well. He was a creature of habit and didn't like changes. It was difficult enough do adapt to his Guide's absence. Naomi's sudden visit didn't exactly help him regain his footing. He liked her, he really did. She reminded him of an exotic bird, fluttering through the world on brilliantly colored wings, dancing through the lives of the people she met and brightening their existence for a while. Her brief visits certainly had made his own life more interesting, and although she had the same potential as Blair for driving him absolutely nuts, she was also his best friend's mother and he respected and honored her for that alone.

Since he was already off-balance, however, he encountered some difficulties maintaining his Jim- at-his-least-threatening persona, hence his unusual gruffness.

Naomi, who had never been confronted with his less friendly side, looked at him with big, surprised eyes.

"Are you angry with me?" she asked.

Jim bit down on the response the irritated Sentinel tried to voice and forced a smile on his face.

"No, of course not, Naomi. I'm sorry if I sounded a bit..."

"Harsh?" she supplied, the gleam back in her eyes.

"Harsh," he agreed.

Naomi flashed one of her brilliant smiles.

"That's okay, Jim. I understand. I can see the disturbance in your aura. Give me a few minutes to settle in, then I'm going to help you rearrange the furniture according to the energy lines. You'll feel better in no time, believe me!"

"Yes, Naomi," Jim sighed, resigning himself to having his loft turned upside down for the duration of her visit. "Just make yourself at home. I have to be at the precinct in half an hour, so you'll have the loft to yourself."

That gained him another affectionate smile.

"Thank you. You don't mind if I burn some incense and light some candles, do you? I need to center myself. Those long flights are hell on my spiritual focus."

"Naomi..." Jim started, then looked into those big, innocent eyes and capitulated. "Mi casa es su casa. Make yourself comfortable. Just don't burn the sage, please. You know I'm allergic to it."

He could actually smell her disappointment. Naomi loved sage. Before her puppy dog expression could seriously hurt him, the Sentinel took to his heels and disappeared into the bathroom, thanking his proverbial anal retentiveness for always having a stack of fresh clothes there, just in case.

He could hear her rummaging around while he was in the shower, could feel the vibrations when she started to move his furniture. Every screech of wood against wood made him flinch, every thump made him shiver. Had he really longed for a little chaos? What had gotten into him? And which sick deity had decided to grant him his wish? He wanted his Guide, dammit, not his Guide's mother, no matter how charming she was! He wanted things to be normal according to Sentinel standards!

Silently berating himself for urging Sandburg to go to that blasted seminar he brushed his teeth, shaved, and dressed, then left the bathroom to get his gun and badge from upstairs. The sight greeting him when he opened the door made him stop. Petite Naomi was busy pushing his favorite couch across his meticulously polished hardwood floor, huffing and puffing and looking disgustingly cheerful while wreaking havoc on his home. When she saw him standing in the open doorway she paused and broadsided him with another one of her smiles.

"Hey, Jim. Would you mind giving me a hand here? This sofa is awfully heavy."

So Jim Ellison found himself reluctantly rearranging his furniture to please his best friend's mother, all the while tonelessly swearing under his breath. He was more than happy when he had to leave for the station.

***

The day crawled by at a snail's pace. Simon, true to his word, didn't let Jim out of his sight, ensuring his continuous presence by burying him under a heap of paperwork that would have put the Everest to shame. Luckily, there wasn't much going on at the moment, the city being relatively quiet, so the captain could afford to keep his best detective at his desk.

The other detectives, knowing that Sandburg was gone for a week, gave the Sentinel a wide berth, tiptoeing through the bullpen as if he was a ticking bomb. They weren't that far off.

By noon Ellison was ready to explode at the slightest provocation. He had a headache because of the paperwork, he was hungry, and he missed his Guide's soothing voice. He had called him twice already and he had sounded all right, but with Sandburg's luck that could change in a matter of seconds. His mind insisted on showing him horror visions either about what might happen in Chicago, or alternately about what else Naomi might be doing to his loft. Someone on the second floor was playing the same tape over and over again, and Simon was smoking non-stop in his office. Since he unconsciously extended his senses from time to time in search of his Guide, these annoyances made him increasingly irritated.

It didn't help when Simon opened his door and bellowed "Ellison!!" at the top of his lungs.

Jim winced and had to fight the urge to roar back. Only years of military training made him keep a hold on his temper. No matter that they were friends, Simon was his superior officer and Jim would not challenge his authority simply because he was feeling a little stressed. He had better control than that.

Simon, however, wasn't fooled. He took one look at the clenching jaw muscle and suppressed a sigh.

One day, he thought. One day and he's back to one-mean-SOB Ellison. Great. How are we going to survive this week?

He waited until Jim had closed the door behind him, then leaned back in his chair and studied his best detective critically.

"Everything okay, Jim?"

"Sure, sir. I'm almost done with stack A, moving on to stack B, and saving stacks C and D for tomorrow."

"You know I'm not going to let you go out there alone, so don't even start."

"Yes, sir."

"So, are you going to continue driving everybody crazy?"

"Most likely, sir."

Icy blue and frustrated brown eyes locked, engaging in a silent staring contest. Simon thought frantically. He'd known it was going to be bad. He just hadn't thought it was going to be so bad. The detectives of Major Crimes had gotten used to the new Ellison, so the return of pre-Sandburg Ellison positively freaked them out.

So far Jim had offended the chief of forensics, chewed out Rafe for irritating behavior (namely tapping his ballpoint pen), nearly bit Brown's head off for touching his desk, and scared a uniform half to death by creeping up on him and growling into his ear because the stupid idiot had dared to express his opinion on Ellison's mood.

It was just like in the good old days.

If Jim wasn't busy spreading panic and terror where ever he went, he was checking and rechecking the location of every criminal he'd put away while working with Sandburg, making sure none of them was headed towards Chicago. Knowing Sandburg, everyone was more than willing to help with this, so the entire bull pen was up to their necks in files, or hanging on the phone. Jim's desk was the center of attention, his dark scowl ensuring a constant level of pressure in the room.

After two false alarms that had everybody scrambling, Jim was twitchy like a stallion on the run, every fiber of his being radiating tension.

Oh, joy. This is going to be fun. Simon seriously considered giving his detective one of his famous lectures, but something told him it would be fruitless. Ellison would listen, nod, and then go out there and continue snapping and bitching. Sighing, the captain decided on another tactic.

"How are your senses?"

"I'm fine, sir."

"Sure. And what a charming way to show it. You're driving everybody crazy, Jim, and you don't even realize it. So what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Is it because Sandburg's in Chicago?"

"I do not miss him."

"Right."

Simon stifled a chuckle. So, that's what was wrong. He'd been afraid it was a Sentinel thing, like Jim 'feeling' his Guide was in danger or something similarly occult.

"You know, I'm a bit surprised," the captain admitted. "I mean, I know you and Sandburg spend most of your time together, but during midterms or finals he spends days at the University, not showing his face at the station, and you don't go all primal on us."

Jim suddenly seemed extremely interested in his shoes.

"Thatsbecausethenheswithincitylimits," he mumbled.

Simon frowned.

"What was that?"

Jim cleared his throat and looked up, blushing slightly.

"I said," he growled. "That's because then he's within city limits."

Simon didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Laugh, because it was kind of cute, and seeing Ellison squirm in embarrassment was a sight he seldom enjoyed; or cry, because he could almost feel the Sentinel's growing desperation. His Guide had left his territory: he wasn't able to protect him anymore, so he felt unbalanced and frightened. Apropos frightened: it was frightening how well he had learned to read his friend. He shook himself and turned to grab his coffee cup in order to mask his sympathy.

"You do realize he's a grown man and able to take care of himself, don't you?" he asked, trying for gruff and ending up with gentle.

"Yes, sir."

Great. Back to two syllable sentences. I wonder if he does it on purpose. That would be so Ellison. In spite of his infamous temper the tall detective was well capable of conveying his displeasure subtly, and slipping back into what Sandburg called his 'military mode' was one of his favorite ways to do so. It was rather difficult to argue with somebody who answered every question with 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir' and refused to voice his opinion.

"He'll be fine, Jim. He's not that bad."

Ellison shot him an unbelieving look.

"If you say so, sir."

Simon thought about it, and had to admit that indeed Sandburg might be that bad. After all, he was the guy who had been kidnapped by a right wing terrorist just two days after he'd met Jim. He was the guy whose apartment had blown up, because he was so unlucky as to live next to a drug laboratory. He was the guy who got shot at on a regular basis, and who'd gotten himself kidnapped so often that every uniform in Cascade knew his face and particulars by heart.

"Okay, Jim, listen. Why don't you go home and try to relax a bit, huh? You've got the whole week to do the paperwork, and if you continue to piss everybody off this is going to be a pretty long week."

Ellison sank down on one of the visitor chairs and looked up at Simon with a look of such utter helplessness that it would have been hilarious if it hadn't been so desperate.

"I can't."

"You can't what? Do the paperwork? You damn well can, Ellison. Supersenses or not, you're still a police officer, which means you have to follow the same procedures as everybody else. You can't decide you don't want to..."

"I can't go home."

Simon stopped, backtracked, and tried to recover his line of thought. He eyed his detective suspiciously, not quite convinced whether he was serious or not.

"Why not? Your loft blew up, too?"

"Worse," Jim sighed. "Naomi decided to pay us a visit."

Simon grimaced. Naomi was almost as bad as Sandburg when it came to creating chaos and destruction. Not that he didn't like her: it was just that she was so unbelievably energetic. This woman left everybody else in her dust, except perhaps for her son, who was used to her capers. For an off-balance sentinel she must be hell with red hair.

"You wanna talk about it?" he offered.

"No. I don't. I don't even want to THINK about it." Jim shuddered, then got up and motioned in the general direction of the door. "I guess I'm going back to my paperwork," he mumbled. "I'll try not to talk to anybody, maybe then I can avoid driving everyone crazy."

Seeing him like this was like watching a kicked puppy. You just had to try and make it better. Simon knew he'd regret it later, but he couldn't help himself.

"Jim," he called.

Jim stopped halfway to the door and stared at him with a look that would have made a Hell's Angel go 'Awww'.

"Yes, sir?"

I'm so going to regret this.

"I know Sandburg said desk duty only, but if you promise to be extra careful, and I accompany you to make sure you don't zonk out on us, we could do some footwork tomorrow, just to get you aired out a bit."

The spark of hope flashing through these desperate eyes was well worth all the grief Sandburg would give him for allowing the Sentinel out of the station.

He was going to be there all the time, what could possibly go wrong?

DAY TWO

"I can't believe it."

Simon chewed his dripping cigar to shreds, watching the tow trucks fish Jim's truck out of the harbor. Jim was busy reading the drenched perps their rights, looking almost happy, although he was just as wet as them.

The coast guard was in the process of retrieving the stolen motorboat, throwing respectful glances in the direction of Ellison. There were few people brave enough to intercept a speeding boat with a hayseed truck, and even less people stupid enough to try. One more myth joining the urban legend that was Jim Ellison.

How did it come to this? Simon mused, finally realizing his cigar was in the process of dissolving, and throwing it away. All we were going to do was question a witness or two, go for lunch, and return to the station. How come we ended up in the harbor?

The answer to that question was yelling at the salvage crew to be more careful with his truck, dammit, and no, he didn't want to go change into dry cloths and get himself checked out at the hospital now, he was going to stay right here and make sure they didn't maltreat his car, thank you very much.

Simon sighed and buried his face in his hands.

Sandburg was going to rip him to shreds.

But what was even worse was that he couldn't ban the image of the 69 Ford going over the pier like that stupid orca whale on the poster of Free Willy. He feared that picture was going to stay with him a long time...

***

Jim was finally feeling a little better.

The day had started bad enough with Naomi carrying out some obscure African cleansing ritual to 'get rid of all the negative energy' in his loft. The ritual obviously included singing a lot and stamping one's feet -- a dead certain way to wake one miserable sentinel. He'd practically fallen out of bed when she started with the drums, not to speak of the high pitched shouts she gave every minute or so.

Struggling into his cloths he'd made his way down the stairs, afraid to look, but more afraid not to. Naomi greeted him cheerfully, interrupting her chant only long enough to tell him good morning and that she'd made breakfast.

Breakfast had consisted of something green and slimy in a large glass, smelling not unlike one of his Guide's healthy concoctions. He would have told Sandburg to go kill a few cats with the stuff, but since he really hadn't wanted to insult Naomi, he'd squeezed his eyes shut and gulped down the brew, fighting the gag reflex all the way. When she asked him how he'd liked it, he plastered a big -- if slightly strained -- grin on his face and lied.

For some reason she even bought it.

He'd fled before she could force him to participate in the ritual, breaking the speed limits all the way to the station just for the fun of it. It was the only way he could think of to get rid of some of his frustration that didn't include a gun and a couple of trained assassins.

Nevertheless, he'd managed to keep his manner fairly normal when he called his friend, making sure he was all right. Sandburg had sounded more than all right, he was downright ecstatic, giving his roommate a detailed report about the lectures he'd heard. Jim had sat down at his desk, closed his eyes and gave himself over to the clear voice of his Guide. Even on the phone Sandburg was able to soothe the frayed nerves of his irritated Sentinel, calming him until he was almost purring in contentment.

He hadn't noticed the time until Sandburg gave a startled exclamation and said a hasty goodbye, already late to a lecture about a tribe that lived near Chopec territory. Putting the phone down and looking at his watch, he'd realized they'd spent more than an hour talking. He didn't care, the mostly one-sided conversation had done him a world of good, but he'd expected some serious ribbing from his co-workers. To his surprise, nobody seemed to have noticed, although he hadn't been able to shake the feeling that the atmosphere in the bullpen had lost much of its tension.

He'd actually managed to do some paperwork before Simon was ready to leave, and since everybody had been careful not to move into the vicinity of his desk, he hadn't been forced to raise his voice once. All in all, except for the rough awakening, the day had turned out only half as bad as expected.

The chance to leave the station for a while and check the parameters of his territory...correction, to stretch his legs a little...had lifted his spirits even more. He'd used his senses only once, almost unintentionally, and the result had been a break in a case he'd chewed on for weeks like a dog on a dry bone. The perps had tried to get away, which had led to a wild car chase across the city, waking the hunter in him. He'd enjoyed himself immensely, even if Simon seemed less excited about the events.

The incident with the speedboat had been a little less pleasant, but -- hey! -- he'd caught his prey, so what the hell.

Obviously, he was still able to function without Sandburg.

Good to know.

Keeping a lynx eye on the salvage crew, he used his sight to determine the damage his truck had taken and smiled in satisfaction. As far as he could tell, he'd be able to repair the faithful vehicle. He would have hated to lose yet another one. Car insurance was a bitch if you had a reputation like his. All he'd need was a little time, patience, and spare parts and the good old truck would run again.

Or was that a hairline crack in the front axle?

He concentrated on it and the next thing he knew was that Simon was shaking him and threatening to throw him into the harbor if he didn't come back at once.

Come back?

Oops.

***

"That's it," Simon decided. "You're not leaving my sight until Sandburg's back."

Jim looked at him disbelievingly.

"You're kidding, sir, right?"

"DO I LOOK LIKE I'M KIDDING!?" Simon roared, still shaken by the knowledge that he'd nearly lost Jim to a zone out.

What did it take to make this mule of a man understand that his friends were worried sick for him when he did something like this? It was bad enough that he seemed to magically draw trouble, that he risked his life on a daily basis because of his job and his senses, did he have to take unnecessary risks, too? Simon couldn't believe it. No matter how uncomfortable he was with the whole Sentinel business, he knew enough about it to realize the senses were a double-edged knife. They made Jim what he was, namely the best detective Simon could imagine, but they also needed to be balanced carefully, otherwise they could get him killed. How Jim could shrug off the danger so...so unbelievably nonchalantly was beyond Simon.

"What's the problem?" Jim asked, his famous Ellison temper flaring up. "I'm fine. I just got lost there for a minute."

"A minute?" Simon stared at his friend, fighting the urge to grab his shoulders and shake some sense into him. He knew the Sentinel lost his sense of time when zoning, but what did he have his watch for, dammit? "You were gone for at least ten minutes, Jim," he ground out, trying to stay calm. "I couldn't get you to respond to me. I was seriously contemplating throwing you into the water and see if the shock woke you!"

Ellison digested this for a moment.

"Oh."

"Yeah. 'Oh.' My sentiments exactly. Now give me that blanket and get going."

His friend obediently followed him to the patrol cars, neatly folding the blanket Simon had thrown over his shoulders to keep him from freezing and handing it to one of the uniforms. Simon acquired a car, getting behind the wheel before Jim could so much as move to the driver's side. No way was he going to let Mr. We'll-get-them-no-problem-sir drive. He didn't know how Sandburg dealt with the daily horror of riding shotgun with a guy who thought brakes were there only because somebody had decided that from an aesthetic point of view two pedals looked nicer than only one, but he wasn't going to repeat the experience anytime soon.

"Where are we going, sir?" Ellison finally asked.

"To the loft. I want you to have a hot shower and change into clean cloths before we get back to the station."

"That won't be necessary. I'm almost dry."

Simon gritted his teeth.

"I don't care if you're almost dry. If you catch a cold, Sandburg's gonna kick my ass down seven flights to the lobby." Jim grinned at that. Simon didn't even want to know why. "I don't have the nerves to deal with a sick Sentinel," he continued grimly. "So I'm going to make sure you stay fit. You will shower, you will change, you will eat properly. Then you're going to sit down behind your desk and do nothing more dangerous than lift your coffee cup and move paper, understood?"

Jim growled rebelliously. Simon used the fact that at the moment they were waiting at a red light to stare him down, throwing all of his authority as a police captain and temporary Guide into his glare.

"Understood?" he repeated in the lowest, most dangerous voice he could muster.

Most men would have cowered at the leashed fury underlying his tone, and even the Sentinel budged, albeit grudgingly.

"Yes, sir."

"Good. And don't even think about using that puppy dog expression on me. It won't work."

"Sir?"

"You heard me."

Ellison's rigid posture would have made any drill sergeant proud, but the picture of meek obedience was somewhat ruined by the smirk Simon detected in his voice.

"I don't have a puppy dog expression, Simon. You're mistaking me for Sandburg."

Hearing this, Simon couldn't quite suppress a smirk of his own.

"No," he said sweetly. "I'm not."

Eat this, Free Willy.

Concluded in Part Two...