New Arrivals
Author-Kim Jackson
Titles

My Buddy and Me
by Kim Jackson

Summary: Jim and Blair find an abused dog in the forest and take him in for a time. Meanwhile, Jim is working in a series of home invasions that hit a little too close to home. To make matters worse, Jim is feeling a little under the weather. Warning for language and violence.

Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters don’t belong to me, unfortunately. I’m just borrowing them.

Blair Sandburg stretched out in the grass, his arms under his head, staring up at the clear blue sky. The cool breeze touched his face and blew his hair slightly. It felt good to be in the great outdoors, being close to nature. He and his partner, Detective Jim Ellison, had had a busy couple of weeks, and it felt good to get away. The both of them had been so exhausted the last few days. They had planned to go camping and fishing at one of their favorite spots, but at the last minute, one of Blair’s friends from the university gave Blair permission to use his cabin up in the Cascade National Forest since he wasn’t able to use it due to a family emergency. It was just for the weekend. Blair wished it was for longer, but they both had demanding jobs that they needed to get back to. They were lucky to get a three-day weekend.

Blair heard his partner’s whoop of delight and pushed himself up to lean on his elbows. Jim Ellison was knee-deep in the nearby stream, the fishing pole in his hands bent sharply as he struggled to reel in a fish. Blair smiled. Jim loved fishing. It was one of their favorite pastimes. They had never been to this stream before, but Blair’s friend had told him that it was full of fish just waiting to be caught.

Jim struggled a bit before finally reeling in a pretty good sized fish. There was a big smile on his face as he brought the fish to the cooler on the shore.

“Hey, nice fish, Jim. Bet I could catch better though,” Blair said.

“Oh yeah? Well, why don’t you get up off your ass, Junior, and show me what you can catch,” Jim countered, smiling good-naturedly.

“Oh, you’re on.”

Blair grabbed his pole and jumped to his feet, running toward the stream. They had been fishing all morning, and Blair had decided to take a little break on the shore and relax a little bit. Now, he was up for a little competitive fishing. The two partners often competed to see who could catch the biggest fish and the loser would have to cook dinner.

Blair and Jim headed back to their cabin an hour later with a cooler full of fish. Blair had lost the bet, which he usually did, but he didn’t mind. He liked cooking for his Sentinel. Besides, he had a new recipe for fish that he wanted to try out.

“I still say we should have gone camping,” Jim said as they entered the cabin. Jim had been griping about using the cabin rather than their tents ever since they arrived early that morning.

“Jim, I like camping as much as the next guy, but right now I’m too tired to be sleeping out in the cold night with nothing but a tent and a sleeping bag. I need a warm room and a bed to sleep in.”

They headed into the kitchen, and Jim placed the cooler on the counter before turning to his Guide. “It’s not that bad. It doesn’t get that cold this time of year, and the sleeping bag would keep you warm, and we’d have a fire going.”

“I know that, and like I said, I like camping. I really do, but I need a bed to sleep in right now, ok?”

Jim smiled a little and patted his friend on the shoulder. “Alright, alright.”

“Look, if it’ll make you feel better we could build a fire outside the cabin and cook the fish out there. Then you could get the camping experience.”

“I’ve got a better idea. How about this? We cook the fish in the kitchen, and after we eat, we go outside, build a fire, and roast marshmallows. Maybe make some s’mores.”

“Aw, I haven’t had s’mores since I was a kid. All right, let’s do it!” Blair said excitedly.

Jim laughed at his partner’s enthusiasm. “Ok, I’m going to get changed while you start dinner. Remember you lost the bet fair and square,” Jim said as he headed down the short hallway to his bedroom.

“Yeah, yeah. Just go,” Blair said, waving his hand.

After dinner, the two friends sat out in front of the cabin with a fire going. The sun had long set, and it was getting a bit cool. Luckily, the fire kept the chill at bay. Each partner held a stick with a marshmallow on the end over the fire.

Jim closed his eyes and sent his senses out into the night. Using Blair’s heartbeat as an anchor, he listened to the sounds of the forest. A hooting owl sat in a tree searching for its prey. Small critters skittered along the forest floor, and the chirping of crickets was a constant background noise. He sighed deeply. Sometimes it was good to commune with nature. It was a way to get Jim’s senses into balance. Blair’s exclamation brought Jim out of the light zone, and he looked over at Blair in amusement as his partner quickly pulled a blackened, flaming marshmallow out of the fire. Blair quickly blew out the fire and looked forlornly at his burnt marshmallow with this sad look on his face. Jim burst out laughing.

“Next time, Chief, take the marshmallow out of the fire before it starts flaming,” Jim said, still laughing.

Blair glared at him. “Gee, thanks.” He picked up a couple of graham crackers and some chocolate and smashed the marshmallow between them. He took a big bite and smiled. “I’s ‘till g’d.”

“Uh, Chief,” Jim said with a laugh. “I may have super hearing, but I can’t understand gibberish.”

Blair swallowed. “I said it’s still good.”

Jim smiled as he mashed his own marshmallow between some graham crackers and chocolate. He was about to take a bit when a faint rustling caught his attention. Putting his s’more down, he canvassed the area, dialing up both hearing and sight.

Blair, noticing his partner’s sudden alertness, abandoned his own treat. “What is it, Jim?”

“I don’t know. I thought I heard something.”

Blair scooted closer so he could rest his hand on the Sentinel’s arm. Jim kept his hearing turned up but heard nothing else. He was about to abandon the search when he heard a small whimper. Following the sound, he saw what looked like an animal limping through the trees, sniffing the ground.

“See anything?” Blair whispered.

“Yeah, I think it’s a dog.”

“Really? Where?”

Jim pulled Blair closer and pointed at the dog. “Right there. You see it? Moving around?”

Blair squinted until finally he could make out the outline of what could have been a dog. “Oh yeah.”

“I think it’s hurt. C’mon.”

Jim got up from the ground and started walking toward the animal with Blair following. They slowly approached the dog, careful not to frighten it. The dog didn’t take notice of them until Jim called to it.

“Hey buddy,” Jim spoke gently. The dog’s head perked up at that. “It’s ok, boy. We won’t hurt you. It’s ok. Come here.” Jim took a few steps closer to the dog, holding out his hand.

“Jim, be careful,” Blair warned. Blair had his sympathies for the animal, but injured animals tended to become violent when frightened. And this one looked pretty frightened. He didn’t want his partner to get bitten.

“He won’t bite me, will you, buddy?” Jim continued to speak in a calm, soothing tone as he moved closer. “Hey, I bet you’re hungry. How about some graham crackers, huh?” Jim took some of the golden crackers from his coat pocket and held them out to the dog.

The dog moved forward cautiously. It was full grown, although it looked pretty young and could maybe still be considered a pup. It was covered in dirt and dried clumps of mud so Jim couldn’t tell what kind of dog it was, but it looked to be maybe a black Labrador. There was a chain wrapped around the dog’s neck. It looked to be painfully tight, and Jim winced in sympathy. The dog sniffed the graham crackers a few times before gobbling them up.

“That’s a good boy,” Jim said, petting his head as the dog sat and enjoyed his treat. Jim motioned with one hand for Blair to come closer while continuing to rub the dog’s back with the other.

Blair came closer, shocked at the condition the dog was in. “My god. He’s filthy. Wonder where his owners are,” he said, looking around the darkened woods. There was no one around.

“I don’t know, but they don’t seem to be taking good care of him.” He examined the animal with a Sentinel eye and noticed the blood on the dog’s right front leg. He carefully lifted the leg up for closer inspection, eliciting a pained whimper from the dog. He scratched the dog behind ears. “I know it hurts, pal. It’ll be ok. Blair, keep him calm.”

Blair nodded and continued to rub the dog’s back and head gently and then fed him another graham cracker. Jim examined the 3-inch long gash. The bleeding had already slowed, but it looked like it would require stitches to close. Luckily, Jim didn’t feel any breaks. He did feel the heat of bruising on the dog’s side and underbelly. This dog had been through some rough treatment.

“Well, nothing’s broken. There is some bruising, but I can’t tell how bad it is, and this is going to need stitches. The best I can do is clean and bandage the wound until we can get him to a vet.”

“Well as long as we’re cleaning the wound, we might as well give him a bath. He’s in desperate need of one,” Blair said.

“Good idea. Why don’t you take the dog to the bathroom and get the bath ready while I go grab the first aid kit.”

After putting the fire out, they led the dog back to the cabin. Jim retrieved the first aid kit from the kitchen and then went to the bathroom. The dog sat on the floor near the sink watching curiously as Blair filled the tub with warm water. Jim set the first aid kit on the toilet and knelt down in front of the animal.

“We should get the chain off before we start,” Blair suggested.

Jim examined the dog’s neck closely. His anger mounted as he saw the damage the chain had done to the poor animal’s neck. It was on so tight that it had dug painfully into the soft flesh.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Jim said grimly.

“What? Why?” Blair knelt down next to Jim to get a look at the dog.

“The chain is imbedded in his neck in some places.”

“What?!”

“It’s not so bad up here. It looks to be the worst under the chin,” Jim said, gently lifting up the dog’s chin. “It looks as if someone was yanking on the chain repeatedly and hard.”

Blair sighed. “Who would do something like that?”

“I don’t know.” He let go of the dog’s chin and looked into the canine’s eyes. There was no fear in the dog’s eyes now despite the obvious abuse. There was just a curiosity. “What have you been through, buddy?”

The dog seemed to get excited and licked Jim’s face affectionately. Jim smiled and patted his head.

“Well, whatever he’s been through, he still seems to be friendly,” Blair said with a smile of his own.

“Thank god for that. Is the bath ready?”

“Yeah.”

The dog was pretty calm while they washed all the dirt and grime off. He sat pretty still in the tub as they scrubbed, only moving when they came to a painful spot on his body, which let the two men know to be gentle in that area. By the time they were done, a couple of hours later, there was a layer of dirt covering the bottom of the bathtub, and the dog was perfectly clean. They were surprised to find out that he wasn’t a black Lab at all but a yellow Lab, the light yellow color of his fur having been completely covered in the dirt and mud.

After wrapping the gash on the dog’s leg, he also wrapped a bandage around his neck covering the chain. The flesh under the neck around where the chain was imbedded felt slightly warm, indicating the onset of infection, and Jim didn’t want it to get worse. Once he was finished bandaging the dog’s wounds, Jim patted him on the head.

“There. That’s better, isn’t it boy?”

The dog stood up, his tail wagging furiously, and jumped excitedly on Jim. Jim, who’d been kneeling in front of the animal, lost his balance and fell backwards with the dog on top of him licking his face enthusiastically. Blair started laughing hysterically.

“I think he likes you, Jim,” Blair said.

“I like him too, but would you get him off me?” Jim turned his head to the side to avoid getting the dog’s tongue in his mouth as he spoke. Despite the grumbled order to his partner, he had a smile on his face.

Blair watched in amusement for a few more seconds as the dog continued to lick Jim’s face. Finally he pulled the dog gently off his friend. Jim sat up, wiping his face. Blair chuckled softly. Jim glared at him and he lost it again. Finally, he was able to get a grip on himself.

“I’m sorry. That was just classic. I wish I had a camera.”

“Very funny,” Jim grumbled, but there was a twinkle in his eye. “He’s very excitable. I’ll give him that.” He wiped his face again. “Why don’t you go fix him something to eat and drink while I go clean the bathroom. And my face.” He added the last part silently, but Blair still heard it. Jim listened to his partner’s renewed giggles as he made his way to the bathroom.

After Blair found something to feed the dog and giving him some water, he went to go help Jim clean the bathtub. Once that task was done, the friends decided to hit the sack since it was too late to go back to Cascade. They would leave first thing in the morning in order to get the dog to a vet. Jim was a little worried about that infection in the dog’s neck, but there was no way they would be able to find their way back to the main road in the dark. It would have to wait until morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Morning came all too fast for Jim. Sunlight streamed through the window and shone on Jim’s face. He felt the warmth on his face and turned his head. Careful to dial down his sight, he slowly pulled his sleep mask off. He was surprised to find the dog curled up on the bed beside him and wondered how he had gotten there without him knowing. The dog certainly hadn’t been there the night before.

Jim stared down at the peacefully sleeping canine and wondered at the trustfulness and resiliency of the animal. Despite all he’d been through, he still was able to trust Jim and Blair enough to approach them in the woods and allow them to bathe and feed him. It amazed him that abused animals could still trust humans even though it was humans who hurt them. Maybe they could all learn a little bit from these creatures.

Jim patted the dog’s side, and the animal immediately brought his head up to look at him. “Morning, buddy. Sleep well?”

The dog’s tail started thumping the bed, and he tried to lick Jim’s face again. Jim pulled back and gently patted the dog’s head to reassure him. “Oh no. No more licking.”

Jim cast his hearing out to Blair’s room across the hall and found that the young man was awake. He got up off the bed and went to the bathroom to take a shower. When he came out and realized that Blair still hadn’t gotten out of bed yet, he knocked on his bedroom door.

“Sandburg, get a move on. We’ve got to get going.”

When he heard Blair moving around in his room, Jim went to the kitchen to fix coffee and some toast for a quick breakfast with the dog on his heels. Once Blair was showered and dressed, he joined Jim in the kitchen carrying his bags where he was promptly handed his breakfast.

“Thanks. So how’s the dog doing?” Blair asked, breaking off a piece of his toast and feeding it to the dog who was staring hungrily up at him. The dog gobbled it down with a flourish and looked up at him for more.

“He’s fine. He somehow found his way into my bed last night.”

“Awww. How cute. He must really like you,” Blair said, teasing. He laughed at Jim’s glare.

Jim swatted him on the back of the head. “Laugh it up, Junior. Go get the stuff packed in the truck.”

Blair, who continued to chuckle, took a big gulp of his coffee, put the piece of toast in his mouth, and picked up his bags. Slinging one bag over his shoulder, he headed out the door while Jim went to his room to get his bags. The dog followed him. Jim listened to the dog’s nails tap on the hardwood floor and smiled. Blair was right. That dog really did like him since he kept following him everywhere he went. Jim had to admit. He was starting to like the canine too.

Once they were all packed, they were on their way back to Cascade. The dog was settled in between the partners with his head in Blair’s lap enjoying the constant head rubbing that Blair was giving him.

When they reached Cascade, they headed to the nearest emergency vet. Jim, who didn’t want the dog to re-injure his leg, carried him inside rather than walking him in. They approached the woman at the front desk.

“Excuse me. I need to see a doctor right away,” Jim said.

“Certainly, sir. If you’ll just have a seat, the doctor will be with you as soon as possible,” the woman said kindly.

“No, you don’t understand. I need to see a doctor now.”

“Listen, I know you’re worried about your dog, but the doctor is very busy. She’ll be with you as soon as she can.”

“No, you listen,” Jim said. He was starting to get angry. “This dog has been brutally abused. There is a chain imbedded in his neck, and he has a gash in his leg that needs to be looked at, and there may be other injuries that we’re not aware of. There’s an infection starting in his neck that is going to get worse if he isn’t treated now. So get me a doctor!”

The woman looked horrified, whether because Jim was yelling at her or at how the dog was treated, Blair couldn’t tell, but she practically jumped from her chair saying she was going to get the doctor right away. Blair placed a calming hand on Jim’s arm.

“Calm down, Jim. He’s going to be ok,” he said softly.

A few minutes later, a tall African American woman approached the duo. “Hi, I’m Dr. Cassidy.”

“I’m Jim Ellison and this is Blair Sandburg.”

“I understand you have an injured dog?”

“Yes,” Jim said, turning toward the doctor.

Dr. Cassidy moved forward and gently pushed aside the gauze bandage covering the chain. She frowned as she perceived the damage. She looked at Jim.

“You’re right. This looks bad. Bring him in back and we’ll have a closer look.”

Jim and Blair followed the doctor into an examination room, and Jim set the dog down on the metal examining table.

“Why don’t you two wait outside. I’ll come get you when I’m finished with my examination,” the doctor said.

Jim and Blair nodded before going out to the waiting room. They sat down in two empty chairs. Blair started looking around the room at all the people and their animals. There was a lady sitting across the room with a small carrier on her lap with a cat inside. There was a constant hacking cough coming from inside the carrier, like the cat was trying to cough up a hairball but wasn’t successful. Further down the line of patients, a man sat with his Golden Retriever sitting next to him. The retriever had one those white funnel things around its neck. Blair always thought those things looked funny, but he knew that they had a purpose, to prevent the dogs from biting or some such thing.

A half hour later, Dr. Cassidy re-emerged from the back and approached the two men. They stood up to greet her.

“How is he?” Jim asked.

“First of all, the gash on his leg wasn’t too serious. It just required a few stitches and should heal nicely. Now we did find some extensive bruising on his side and belly indicative of a severe beating, but there is no evidence of any internal damage. Now x-rays show that there have been previous broken bones so this has been going on for quite some time.”

Jim clenched his fists. How could someone do something like that to a defenseless animal? Whoever is responsible better prey that Jim doesn’t find him. He felt like punching someone.

“His most serious injury is his neck. You were right. There is an infection starting and we’re giving him antibiotics to combat that. He’ll require surgery to remove the chain, which he’s being prepped for now.” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Now, I have to ask you. Is this your dog?”

“No,” Jim answered immediately. “We found him out in the Cascade National Forest.”

“By himself?”

“As far as we could tell,” Jim answered.

“Yeah, and it looked like he’d been out there for a while,” Blair added. “He was covered in dirt and mud when we found him. He was so dirty we didn’t even know what color he was until we gave him a bath.”

The doctor shook her head. “I can’t understand how people can be so cruel.”

“Me either,” Blair muttered.

“What’ll happen to him? Is he going to be ok?” Jim asked. He knew the score. If an animal is too badly injured, they’re usually put to sleep. Jim didn’t want that to happen. He had formed an attachment to that dog.

“Well, we’ll know more once the chain is removed, but right now, I’d say that he should make a full recovery.”

Both Jim and Blair let out simultaneous sighs, which didn’t go unnoticed by the doctor. She smiled and continued. “We’ll call the ASPCA, and they’ll take care of him, give him food, shelter, and find a good home for him.”

Blair bit his bottom lip. “Um, could you excuse us for a few minutes,” he asked the doctor. He grabbed Jim’s arm and moved him away.

“What?” Jim asked.

“Maybe we should take him,” Blair suggested.

“What? Look, Chief, I want to keep the dog too, but you know how hectic our schedules can be. Sometimes we don’t even get home until late and we leave early in the morning. He’d be alone most of the time. It just wouldn’t be fair to the dog.”

“I know that, but I thought maybe we could take him on a temporary basis just until they find a more permanent home for him.”

Jim sighed. “I don’t know.”

“C’mon, Jim. The ASPCA, yeah they’re great. They take care of injured animals, but let’s face it. He’s going to be locked away in a cage until they find a home for him. I think he’s been through enough. I think he’d be better off staying with us until they find him a home. We can rearrange our schedules, and we’re not working on anything major. And we still have the rest of the weekend off. We can take care of the dog while he heals.”

Jim looked down into blue eyes pleading with him to give in. He didn’t want the dog to be locked in a cage anymore than Blair did. He just didn’t want to neglect the dog the care he deserves. Then again, it would only be temporary, and Blair was right. They didn’t have anything major going on that would require all of their attention.

“Please, Jim. I’ve always wanted a dog,” Blair begged.

“Yeah, me too,” Jim muttered under his breath. He looked back at those pleading puppy dog eyes and sighed. “All right. We’ll see what the doctor says. If she’s ok with it, then we’ll take him.”

Blair’s face split into a megawatt smile. He practically bounced back over to the doctor behind Jim.

“Hey doc,” Jim said. “I was wondering if maybe we could take the dog.”

“You want him?”

“Not permanently. Our schedules can get a little crazy sometimes. But I was thinking maybe we could take care of him temporarily. Just until you find a more permanent home for him.”

Dr. Cassidy looked thoughtful. “Well, I don’t know. That’s highly unusual.”

“C’mon. I think it would be better for him to be with us rather than be locked up in a cage,” Blair reasoned.

“Hmm. Well, you have a point. He’s going to need a lot of attention the first few days while he recovers from his injuries.”

“No problem. We have the weekend off,” Jim answered.

“Well, I suppose it’ll be all right. He’s going to be in surgery for a while. Why don’t you come back later this evening, and you can take him home then.”

“Great. We’ll do that. Thank you,” Jim said, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“Yeah, thanks. We really appreciate it,” Blair said excitedly.

They turned to leave. As they were heading out the door, the doctor called to them. “While you gone, why don’t you think of a name?”

They paused and looked back at her.

“You want us to name him?” Blair asked.

“Yes. You found him. You rescued him. I think it’s only fitting.”

Jim and Blair looked at each other and then back at the doctor.

“We’ll do that,” Jim said.

They stopped for breakfast on the way home since they hadn’t had time to eat anything but toast before they left. When they got back to the loft, they each carried their bags into their rooms and then plopped down on the couch. Blair was vibrating with excited energy. Jim shook his head and smiled at the kid’s enthusiasm.

“Man, I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted a dog. You know I never had any kind of a pet growing up. Not one. A few of Naomi’s friends, the ones that we stayed with when we had nowhere else to go, they had dogs. I used to love playing with them, but I never had a dog of my own. Did you ever have a dog?”

Jim seemed distracted before he finally realized that he’d been asked a question. “Huh? Oh. No, not really.”

“What’s wrong?” Blair leaned back on the couch.

“Nothing.”

“Jim, c’mon, man. Talk to me.”

Jim sighed. “My old man never let us have a dog even though Steven and I both asked for one several times. He’d always say, ‘what’s the point. The thing would end up dying anyway and just be a big waste of money.’”

“Man, that’s harsh.”

“I hated him for that,” Jim continued. “I just wanted someone to play with and to talk to, to tell my secrets to.” He paused, his face reminiscent of past memories. Finally, he shook himself and continued. “Anyway, I was twelve, and I was on my way home from school one day and I saw this puppy, a black Lab. It couldn’t have been more than a couple months old, and it was all by itself. There was no one around, and I couldn’t just leave it there by himself so I took him home. He was the cutest little dog you ever did see and so playful. I named him Shadow.”

Jim smiled a little, but Blair could see the loss in his eyes. Blair leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and waited for Jim to continue.

“I kept him from my dad of course. I kept him hidden in my room, snuck him food whenever I could. When I went to school, I tied him up out in the backyard after Dad left for work so that he wouldn’t be cooped up all day. Then when I got home I’d take him in before Dad got home. Sally knew about it of course, but she never said a word.

“Steven and I took care of him together. We’d both bring him food. He’d take care of the pup when I had football practice, and I’d look after him when Steven had swimming. It was our little secret. In fact, I think it was one of the last things we ever did together. It was the most fun I’d ever had growing up.”

Blair smiled. He was glad his partner had at least one happy memory from his childhood. “So what happened?”

Jim’s face darkened. “Dad found out a few weeks later. He blew a gasket. I thought he was going to have a stroke. We were both grounded, and he took the dog to the pound. I never saw him again. I don’t even know what happened to him.”

Blair placed a gentle hand on Jim’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Jim waved off his concern and got to his feet. “Just another memory completely shot to hell by my old man,” he said nonchalantly as he moved to the balcony doors.

Blair felt a swell of anger toward William Ellison for doing such a thing to his oldest son. He got up off the couch and moved to stand next to Jim.

“So you want to take care of this dog the way you took care of Shadow,” Blair stated.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“You know, Jim,” Blair said thoughtfully. “Maybe we could find someone we know who’ll be willing to take the dog. That way we’d get to see him sometimes.”

Jim looked at him, and his mouth slowly formed into a smile. “Now that’s a great idea, Chief. We’re going to have to figure out who would want him.”

“I could check around campus. I know one of my fellow TAs was talking about getting a dog.”

“We could also check around the precinct.”

Blair nodded. “We also need to figure out a name.”

They spent a few hours trying to come up with the best person to take the dog. It had to be someone who had more time to care for him and also someone who would let Jim and Blair come visit him every once and a while. They also ran several names by each other, but neither one of them could agree on one.

When a call came from Dr. Cassidy letting them know that the dog was ready and waiting for them to come pick him up, the partners left the loft in a hurry, anxious to see how the dog was doing. Dr. Cassidy was waiting for them when they arrived.

“Mr. Ellison, Mr. Sandburg,” Dr. Cassidy greeted. “I called the ASPCA, and they’re going to work on finding a home for him, but in the meantime you’re free to take him with you. He’s right in here.” She led the two back to an examination room.

The dog was sitting atop a metal exam table. Heavy bandages encircled his neck and his right paw, but other than that he looked perfectly healthy. He seem to perk up when the two entered.

“Hey buddy. How are you doing?” Jim asked, coming to pet him on the head. The dog seem to get excited. His tail wagged furiously and he licked Jim’s face and then tried to lick Blair’s when he came over but he was too far away. Blair noticed and moved closer so the animal could reach.

The doctor smiled. “Well, he seems to be happy to see you. Have you thought of a name yet?”

Jim and Blair looked at each other.

“Well, we haven’t agreed on anything yet,” Jim said.

“Hey, how about Buddy?” Blair suggested.

“Buddy?”

“Yeah. He seems to get excited every time you call him that.”

Jim looked thoughtful. Then he smiled. “I don’t know. I was thinking maybe Fido.”

“Fido? Are you kidding me? That’s a terrible name.”

“Well, how about Rover?”

“Rover? That’s even worse than Fido. What, are you going to come up with every stereotypical dog name there is? What’s next? Rex?”

“Hey, now there’s a name.”

“What! We are not naming him Rex or Rover or Fido or any…” Blair paused when he noticed the large grin on Jim’s face. He smacked Jim’s arm. “You are such an ass,” he said with a smile.

Jim laughed. “I’m just kidding.”

“You’re still an ass.”

Jim continued to smile. “I think Buddy is a good name. Do you like Buddy?” he asked the dog. The canine looked about ready to jump off the table and into Jim’s arms he was so excited. “Whoa, ok. Calm down, boy,” Jim said, patting his back. He looked at Blair. “I think he likes it.”

“Well, then, Buddy it is,” Blair said. He proceeded to scratch Buddy behind the ears.

“Buddy. I like that,” Dr. Cassidy said. “Well, gentlemen, he’s all yours. The ASPCA will be working to find him a home. They’ll contact you once they do.”

“Ok, thanks, doctor, for everything,” Jim said, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“No problem. Just make sure you take good care of him. I don’t want to see him in here again.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Blair said, helping Buddy off the table.

Jim watched Buddy running around ahead of them as they headed to the truck. They’d have to get a leash for him, he realized. He seemed to stay pretty close to them, but still he didn’t want him running out into the street and getting hit by a car. At least, the dog seemed to be moving ok despite the grim diagnosis the doctor had given them a few hours before. He wasn’t moving stiffly, and he only seemed to be marginally limping. Jim was grateful for small favors.

Before going to the loft, they stopped off to buy a few things. They bought a leash, some dog food and dog treats, food and water dishes, chew toys, and a few other things to make the dog feel right at home.

When they got home, Blair placed a few plastic bags on the kitchen island while Jim came in behind with a big bag of dog food under one arm and a few more plastics bags in his other hand. He put his burden on the counter before shutting the door.

“Man, who would thought that all this stuff would cost so much,” Blair said, hanging his jacket up on the coat hook next to the door.

“Well, apparently, having a dog is expensive,” Jim said, hanging up his coat as well. He looked down at Buddy who was sitting at his feet looking up at him curiously. “Yeah, I’m talking about you.”

Blair tried to stifle a snort but was unsuccessful as Jim looked at him. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Blair answered hurriedly. “So how about some lunch? I’m starved.”

Jim looked at his watch and was surprised to find that it was only about 1:00 p.m. He felt like it should be much later. “Sounds good. What do you say we go out to eat and then take Buddy here to the park? Let him run around a bit.”

“Sounds great! But are you sure that’s a good idea. I mean he is still injured.”

“Well, he seems to be moving alright, and the exercise will do him good.”

They looked down to where Buddy had been only to find that he was gone.

“Where did he go?” Blair asked.

Jim heard plastic rustling and looked past Blair to see Buddy with his front paws up on the kitchen island, his nose stuck in one of the plastic bags.

“Buddy!” Blair said. He hurried over and pulled the dog down off the island.

Jim laughed. “Guess he’s just as hungry as we are.” He reached in the bag Buddy had been nosing around in and pulled out the doggy treats. He opened the box and gave one to the dog, who happily munched on it.

They watched Buddy finish the treat and then look up at Jim for some more with this innocent look on his face. Jim laughed and gave him another one before putting the box away where the dog couldn’t get at it.

Blair shook his head, trying not to laugh too. “This is going to be interesting.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They spent the weekend at the loft, spending time with Buddy and each other. It was actually nice to spend time at home in the presence of each other’s company. They hadn’t done that in quite some time. And having Buddy there added a little something new.

They took the dog to the park a couple of times and found out very quickly that he was a very energetic dog. His injuries, which were healing nicely, didn’t slow him down one bit. Jim had made a comment to Blair that he was the perfect dog for the younger man. They both had the same amount of energy.

Buddy loved to play fetch and probably would have continued playing for hours if Jim hadn’t finally called it quits. He especially loved meeting new people. Every time someone would walk by, he would get excited and run to say hello. Jim and Blair had laughed, and Jim could have sworn he scared a couple people. They warmed up to him pretty quickly though. Jim had been surprised that Buddy liked people considering all that had been done to him. One would think that he’d be afraid of people. After all, it was a human being that had caused him so much pain. He truly was a unique dog.

Sunday found the two men at Holden Park once again. They had decided to take Buddy to the park one last time before they returned to work the following morning. Buddy was doing well. The bandages had been removed earlier in the day and his limp was completely gone.

Jim and Blair sat on one of the picnic tables and watched Buddy run after the tennis ball Jim had just thrown.

“Do you think he’ll be ok tomorrow?” Blair asked.

“He’ll be fine. Besides, didn’t you say that you were going to take him with you to the university? Are you sure that’s ok by the way?”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Jim, for the hundredth time, yes. I only have a class to teach tomorrow at 11am. My students will love him. Besides, I just started teaching them about a South American tribe who worshiped dogs kind of like the Egyptians worshiped cats. So it fits with the curriculum somewhat.”

Jim smiled and shook his head slightly. Only Blair could find a way to fit a dog in with the curriculum. Buddy came running back with the yellow ball clamped in his mouth. Jim took the ball from him and threw it again. Buddy ran after it.

“No, I’m talking about when I meet you at the station later,” Blair continued.

“Well, you’re going to have to take him home. You can’t take him to the station with you.” He coughed a little.

Blair looked at him in concern. The cough didn’t escape his attention, but he didn’t say anything about it. “Yeah, I know, but you know how much he hates being alone.”

They found out the previous day that Buddy didn’t like being by himself. They had left him at the loft to go grocery shopping because the fridge and cabinets were down to the bare bones. When they got back, Jim could hear him whimpering and whining. Fearing that he may be in pain, Jim had raced up to the loft. The minute he walked in, Buddy pounced on him, nearly knocking him over. Jim didn’t want to ever hear those sounds coming from the dog again. But what could they do? He couldn’t come to the station. He was just going to have to get used to being alone for a while.

“I know he doesn’t, but there’s nothing we can do. I’m sure he’ll be…fine,” Jim said. A series of hacking coughs shook his muscular frame.

Blair patted him on the back. “Hey, you ok?”

Once the coughing fit eased up and he could take a deep breath, Jim replied, “I’m fine.”

“You know, Jim, you’ve been coughing a lot lately. Are you coming down with something?”

“Sandburg, I told you. I’m fine. It’s just a little cough.”

Blair didn’t look convinced. “Are you sure? Maybe you should stay home tomorrow.”

“No, I am not staying home tomorrow. It’s nothing. I feel fine. Just drop it.”

Blair backed off. He didn’t want to argue. He knew from experience that he wasn’t going to change Jim’s mind.

They watched Buddy play with a couple of kids nearby and smiled. He definitely was a very playful dog. As Blair watched, something came to mind. He frowned.

“Hey Jim. You know what I just realized. He doesn’t bark. I mean have you heard him bark at all since we found him?” Blair said.

Jim’s brow furrowed. “No, I haven’t. That’s odd.”

“Yeah. I’ve never known a dog that doesn’t bark.” A horrible thought came to Blair’s mind. “Hey, you think maybe he can’t bark?”

Jim looked at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, he’s suffered a lot of abuse for who knows how long. Maybe that abuse damaged his vocal cords.”

That thought made Jim angry. He looked back at the dog happily playing with a group of children that seemed to have grown in number in the last five minutes. “God, I hope not. Besides, I’m sure the doctor would’ve noticed something, would’ve said something.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Blair was driving to the University. Buddy sat in the seat next to him, with his head stuck out the window. Blair smiled. Like all dogs, Buddy loved sticking his head out the window. Blair glanced at the leash on the floor. He had to keep him on a leash. Buddy tended to run off when there were other people around. He was such a social dog that he just had to say hi to everyone he saw so Blair and Jim made sure to have him on a leash when other people were around.

Blair started slowing down as the light turned red. Then, unexpectedly, Buddy jumped out the open window. Blair didn’t even have time to react. The last thing he saw was a yellow tail disappearing out the window. Blair pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. He grabbed the leash and jumped out of the car and ran after Buddy who was running toward a woman walking her dog.

The woman, upon seeing a rather large dog jump out a moving vehicle, stopped in her tracks, a look of fear on her face. Her dog, a Boxer, stood in front of her growling, ready to defend his master.

“Buddy! Heel!” Blair yelled.

Buddy stopped his advance. He looked back at Blair and then ran to his side. Blair grabbed the collar they had bought for him and held on tight. He secured the leash on Buddy’s collar and then turned to the woman.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t expect him to jump out the window like that. He’s really a very good dog. He meant you no harm. He just wanted to say hi.” He looked down at Buddy. “What did you think you were doing? You don’t do that! Ever!” Blair scolded. Buddy lowered his head, almost as if he knew he was in trouble.

“Oh, it’s quite alright. He just scared me that’s all. It’s not every day a dog jumps out of a moving vehicle,” the woman said with a smile although there was still a slight tremble in her voice.

“Yeah, I hear that. I’m Blair Sandburg, and this little kamikaze right here is my dog, Buddy.” Blair smiled, which seemed to win her over.

“I’m Holly Jacobson, and this my dog, Zeus.”

Blair bent down to pet the Boxer on the head. Zeus wagged his tail vigorously, licking his palm. Blair smiled.

“Excitable, isn’t he?” he asked, standing up straight.

“Yes, well, he’s still a pup.”

“Well, it was nice meeting you, Ms. Jacobson.”

“Oh, call me Holly.”

“Holly. It was nice meeting you, Holly, but I have to be going now.” Blair turned Buddy around and started heading toward his car.

“Hey wait,” Holly called.

Blair turned back. “Yes?”

“Maybe we can get together sometime, maybe have lunch or dinner.” She smiled shyly.

“Uh, sure. That’d be great.”

“Great! Let me give you my number.” She searched around in her purse until she came up with a pen and a piece of paper. After writing down her phone number, she gave it to him. “I hope to see you soon.” She kissed him on the cheek before departing.

Blair blushed as he watched her walk down the street. Then he looked down at Buddy. “Ok, since you got me a date, I’m going to forgive the whole jumping out of the car thing, but never do it again.” He gathered up the leash and headed toward his car again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Across the park, Jack Monroe, a man with dark hair and brown eyes, watched as a long-hair young man put a yellow lab into the passenger side of a green Volvo and drive away. He clenched his fists in anger. He’d know that damn dog anywhere. He had hoped the dog would starve to death in the forest where he had left him, but apparently, he wasn’t that lucky. How anyone found the animal out in the middle of the forest, he’ll never know.

Jack supposed he should leave it alone. It’s not like anyone could connect him with the dog, but that dog had been nothing but a nuisance since he got him. All he wanted was good guard dog who would help him with a few problems he’d been having, but the dog wouldn’t listen to a word he said. He only growled and barked at him. Even when Jack beat him, the dog just didn’t get it. He wouldn’t learn.

Jack fingered the long, jagged scar on his left cheek. The dog had given him that. Stupid animal had jumped on him and clawed him. He had needed twenty stitches to close that thing. That had been the last straw. After that, he had decided that it would be easier just to get rid of the thing. He thought leaving it in the forest would be the best way. He was wrong. He just wanted that dog dead.

A young, blonde man walked behind Jack. He was young, barely out of his teens. Scott Logan, Jack’s mind supplied. He was young, Jack knew, but god, the kid was good at breaking and entering and doing it quietly. Jack had recruited him after the kid returned from Juvenile Hall where he was sent after he broke into someone’s home and stole a gold watch. The only problem was he got nervous easily.

Scott shifted from foot to foot nervously. “Jack, what are you looking at?”

“Nothing. I have something I need to do.” He started walking towards his car.

Two other men joined Scott. One was a tall, lanky man with brown hair. His name was Lee Calhoun, and he was the best safecracker Jack had ever seen for someone only in his early twenties, which was why Jack picked him. The other one, Will Knox, was short with an average build and a crew-cut. He was just the muscle, but he was good at it. He made beating an art form and boy, could he swing a bat.

“But we have a job to do tonight,” Lee said.

‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll be there. Just make sure you don’t screw anything up,” Jack said harshly as he got into a black SUV.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair pulled into a parking space at Rainier. He got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side to let Buddy out. Buddy immediately started running toward all the students heading to their classes. Luckily, Blair had grabbed a hold of the leash before letting the dog out. He held onto the leather leash and gently pulled Buddy back toward him.

“Calm down, boy. I know you want to say hi, but I can’t have you running around lose on campus. The Rainier officials would kind of frown on that.”

As Blair started walking toward Hargrove Hall, a black SUV pulled up and parked right behind Blair’s Volvo. The guy didn’t even bother to park in an actual space. Blair watched curiously as a man stepped out of the SUV. The greasy black hair and menacing brown eyes made Blair uneasy as the man’s gaze settled on the anthropologist. And the scar on his cheek just made him look frightening.

“You,” Jack said, pointing at Blair.

“Who me?” Blair asked, puzzled as to what this guy wanted.

“Yeah, you,” the guy said, walking toward Blair. “Where did you get that dog?”

Buddy started growling and snarling, the fur on the back of his neck bristling. Blair gripped the leash tighter. He took a deep breath and tried to remain calm even though he had a bad feeling about this.

“What business is it of yours?” Blair was surprised his voice stayed so steady.

“Because that is my dog, and I would like him back,” Jack replied, and even though the words were polite, the tone was not.

Blair felt his anger rise. This was the man responsible for Buddy’s suffering. “We found this dog out the in woods, dirty, hungry and injured. If you’re claiming this dog is yours, then you must have been the one who left him out there, and you’re also responsible for the injuries he sustained.”

Jack pursed his lips, but his voice was calm. “I never said that. I lost him three days ago. For all I know, someone else could have done that to him. Now, I would like my dog back.”

“Yeah right. How do you know this is your dog?”

“I just know,” Jack growled.

“Yeah, well, you’re not getting this dog.”

Jack stepped closer so that he was right in Blair’s face. “You going to stop me?”

Buddy started barking then, causing both Blair and Jack to jump. Buddy snapped at Jack’s hand, and Jack quickly moved back to avoid getting bit. Blair kept the smile from his face.

“Looks like your dog doesn’t like you very much,” Blair said.

Jack’s face twisted in anger and he looked about ready to do something. He was in fact starting to reach into his coat for something. Then two of Blair’s students, a muscular ex-football player and his girlfriend, noticed the big, ugly goon confronting their favorite teacher and decided to intervene.

“Hey Mr. Sandburg. Is there a problem you need some help with?”

Blair felt grateful for loyal students. “No, Matt. He was just leaving,” he said, not taking his eyes off Jack.

Jack schooled his features. He had to get control of his temper. He didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention. He straightened. “Another time,” he said, turned, and walked back to his car.

Blair tried to get his license plate as he was driving off, but it was covered in dirt, and Blair couldn’t read it. It was only after the guy was out of sight that Blair was able to breathe easier.

“Are you ok, Mr. Sandburg?” the young girl, Myrna Applegate, asked, looking concerned.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Myrna. Thanks.”

“Who was that guy?” Matt asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Man, that guy looked like bad news.”

Blair couldn’t argue with that. That guy’s mere presence made Blair nervous. Blair had no doubt that what he was reaching in his coat for was a gun. If a guy was crazy enough to try to shoot someone in the middle of a crowded campus, who knows what else he’s capable of. Blair had a feeling it was something more than abusing a dog.

Blair turned to his students. “Thanks for the help. I better get going.”

Blair missed the puzzled glances the two students shot at each other as he hurried to his office. He just wanted to get done with his class and then get to the station.

When he got to his office, he dropped his backpack on the floor next to his desk and sat down. He had an hour before his class this morning, and he planned to use that time to grade some papers. He had to get them posted by tomorrow. He grabbed a paper from the stack and began.

He couldn’t believe some of the answers these kids came up with. He was constantly underlining and writing in the margins, “This doesn’t make sense,” “Where did you get that from?” “This doesn’t answer the question,” and so on. Man, where were these kids when he was teaching this stuff, off in lala land?

He was brought from his thoughts when Buddy rested his head on his lap. He looked down and smiled, placing his hand on the dog’s head.

“What’s the matter, Buddy? Are you bored?” He looked at the clock on the wall. And no wonder. They’d been sitting there for fifty minutes. He had meant to just grade for a half hour and then take Buddy outside so he could run around for a while so he wouldn’t get so bored. “Oh, sorry, boy. I didn’t mean to take so long grading.”

He quickly gathered his things and left the office with the dog on his heels. He had to get to his class. He was planning on involving Buddy in his lecture if he could. He didn’t want the dog to be sitting there with nothing to do. He’d had enough of that already.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim sat at his desk, finishing his backlog of paperwork, trying to ignore the coughs that kept interrupting his concentration. He looked at the clock. It was approaching 1:30 p.m. Blair’s class had let out at noon. Even though he had to go back to the loft to drop off the dog, he still should have been there by at least 1:00. Where was that kid?

As if on cue, Blair walked into the bullpen. Jim sighed in relief and then he saw Buddy at his side, and his sigh of relief turned into one of exasperation. One of these days that kid was going to learn to listen to him.

“Sorry I’m late, Jim,” Blair said, dropping his backpack on the floor next to Jim’s desk.

“What’s the dog doing here?” Jim asked.

“Oh, well, I kind of got caught up in my lecture and then all my students wanted to say good-bye to Buddy. It took forever. By that time, I was running late, and I didn’t have time to stop off at the loft to drop off Buddy.”

Before Jim could reply, Rafe and Brown came up behind Blair.

“Hey Hairboy, what’s with the dog?” Brown asked, squatting down to the pet the canine, who excitedly jumped on the detective, nearly knocking him backwards. “Hey, easy there, fella.”

“Oh, this is Buddy.”

“When did you guys get a dog?” Rafe asked, taking his turn to pet Buddy too.

Jim sighed, rubbing his forehead. It looked like Buddy was going to be spending the day with them after all.

“We found him in the woods,” Jim answered. A cough punctuated his statement.

Blair glanced at him briefly before returning his attention back to Brown and Rafe. “Yeah, he was completely covered in dirt and mud, and he had been abused so we took him back to Cascade with us,” Blair added.

“Oh, he’s so cute. What’s his name? Buddy?” Megan asked. She squatted down next to Brown and started scratching Buddy behind the ears.

Buddy was relishing in all the attention. He rolled onto his side and looked at them in a silent question to rub his belly, which all of Major Crime obligingly did. He looked like he was in heaven. Jim and Blair smiled. If any dog deserved all that attention, it was Buddy.

“You know, Megan,” Blair said persuasively. “We’re looking for a home for him. Jim and I are just temporary care-givers, I guess you could say. He still needs a home if you’re interested.”

Megan stood up. “Sorry, Sandy. I’d love to take him, but I don’t have the time to take care of a dog.”

Blair turned to Rafe and Brown. “Brown? Rafe? How about it?”

“Sorry, man. Same here. I don’t have the time or the space for a dog,” Rafe answered apologetically.

“Brown?” Blair asked hopefully.

“Sorry, my wife’s allergic to dogs.”

Blair’s shoulders slumped. Jim patted him on the shoulder.

“Thanks anyway, guys,” Jim said.

“Sorry. I hope you find him a home soon,” Brown said as he and Rafe headed back to their desks.

“Man, we gotta find him a home soon,” Blair said, leaning on the edge of Jim’s desk.

“We will,” Jim said.

“Hey guys. How’s it going,” Joel asked as he entered the bullpen. Buddy immediately jumped on the big detective, his tail wagging furiously. “Whoa, hey.” He rubbed the dog’s head. “Who’s your friend?”

“His name’s Buddy. We found him in the woods, and we’re taking care of him until the ASPCA can find him a home,” Blair explained.

“The ASPCA, huh.”

“Yeah, he’s had a rough life,” Jim said.

Joel looked at the dog. “You know I’ve been looking to get a dog for my kids.”

Blair perked up. “Really! Well, he’d be perfect. He listens well. He’s exceptionally well trained and very friendly. Oh, and he’s great with kids.”

“Yeah, you should have seen the crowd he’d gathered at the park,” Jim added.

“Yeah, and he doesn’t bark, or growl, or bite.”

Joel frowned. “He doesn’t bark?”

“We’ve never heard him,” Jim replied. “We don’t know if he’s just quiet or if he can’t bark.”

Joel sighed. “Well, if I do decide to get a dog, I not only want one to be a playmate for my children but also one that would be a good guard dog. If you can get him to bark, I’ll consider it.”

“Well, that might be a problem,” Blair said. “Like I said, he’s well trained. He responds to every other command. Sit, stay, heel, roll over, but he won’t respond to speak. But we’ll try.” Then Blair remembered what happened at the university today. “Oh, wait. He can bark.”

Jim looked at him, puzzled. “What?”

“Yeah, I heard him at the University today. He was barking at…” Blair paused as he remembered who Buddy was barking at.

“At what?” Jim asked.

“Not at what. At whom. There was this really creepy guy at the University today. Jim, he was claiming to be Buddy’s owner.”

Jim’s face darkened. “What?”

“Yeah, and he tried to take Buddy away. But don’t worry,” Blair quickly reassured, “Buddy wouldn’t let the guy anywhere near me. He was growling and barking the minute the guy stepped out of his car. He even tried to bite him. Then a couple of my students showed up and he got into a black SUV and drove off. But I have to tell you. Buddy didn’t like him at all.”

Jim and Joel exchanged glances filled with both concern and anger.

“Did you get a license plate number?” Joel asked.

“No. It was covered with dirt. I couldn’t read it. But I got a good look at the guy. He was right in my face. He was tall with greasy black hair and brown eyes. Oh, and he had this long, jagged scar on his right cheek. And Jim, I think he had a gun.”

Jim leaned back in his chair, horrified at what could have happened to Blair and relieved that his partner made it back to the station unharmed.

“Do you think he’ll try something?” Joel asked.

Jim sighed, rubbing his forehead to combat the headache building behind his eyes. “I don’t know. We’ll just have to stay on our toes.”

“Well, I better get going. Stay safe, you guys,” Joel said.

“Hey Joel. What about Buddy?” Blair asked.

Joel smiled. “I’ll think about it.”

Blair nodded as Joel left the bullpen. Blair sighed glumly. He squatted down in front of Buddy and rubbed the side of his neck gently. Jim got up, moved around the desk, and leaned against it.

“Don’t be so glum,” Jim said, patting Blair on the back. “He said he’d think about it.”

Blair lowered his eyes. “Yeah, I know. But there’s still a chance that he might say no. He really needs a home, Jim.”

Buddy, who seemed to sense the younger man’s melancholy mood, licked Blair’s face, trying to cheer him up. Blair looked up and smiled, rubbing the dog’s head affectionately.

“Ellison! Sandburg! My office!” Simon bellowed.

Jim and Blair looked at each other before moving toward the captain’s office, Buddy following behind.

“Leave the dog,” Simon said.

They looked down at the animal, who looked back up at them, his tail beginning to wag.

“Oh right,” Blair said. He led Buddy back to Jim’s desk and looked for something he could tie the dog to so he wouldn’t go anywhere.

“I’ll look after him, Sandy,” Megan said.

“Thanks, Megan,” Blair said.

Megan took Buddy to her desk while Blair followed Jim into Simon’s office. Jim closed the door behind him and immediately let out a loud sneeze. Simon raised his eyebrows.

“Bless you. You doing ok, Jim?”

“I’m fine, Captain.”

“Well, good. Now, would one of you please explain to me why there’s a dog in my bullpen?”

Jim and Blair looked at each other, each one waiting for the other to explain. Jim’s stern gaze won out eventually, and Blair turned back to Simon, who was waiting patiently for their explanation. So Blair proceeded to explain to the captain about how they came to be the temporary owners of an abused dog.

Simon rubbed his forehead. “So how long are you planning on keeping this dog?”

“Until someone finds him a home,” Jim replied.

“Alright. Just don’t let me see that dog in the bullpen again. So how’s the home invasion case coming along?”

Jim and Blair had spent the last week working on a series of home invasions. There were a total of eight so far. Burglary had been handling it until the last few escalated with violent and tragic results, and it got bumped to Major Crime. In each case, the thieves entered the house neatly and quietly by cutting a hole in one of the windows. They only ever took small, but valuable objects, jewelry mostly. Then they left just as quietly.

The first five invasions no one got hurt. The owners weren’t home when the burglary occurred. The last three, however, the thieves entered the home while the owners were still home. In one case an older couple and their 12-year-old son were severely beaten. The father and son were expected to survive, but the wife, however, was still in ICU with a severe head injury. The doctors were unsure of her recovery. In another case a young couple in their mid-twenties were lucky to get away with only minor injuries, but the last one, however, a gun was brought into play. A young female in her early twenties was shot in the chest. The doctors weren’t optimistic about her survival.

Jim had inspected the most recent crime scenes, but he couldn’t find many clues. There were no fingerprints at the scene. He did manage to find a brown hair at the point of entry, but it wouldn’t do much good unless they had a suspect to match it to. What they did get from interviewing the victims was that there were at least four of them, all young males.

“Nothing yet, sir,” Jim answered. “But I was thinking maybe we should go through each case file and see if we can…cough…cough…maybe find some sort of connection between the victims, something that we may have…cough…missed.”

“Are you sure you’re feeling ok, Jim?” Simon asked with a worried frown.

“I’m fine, sir. It’s nothing.”

“Well, all right…” Simon was interrupted by loud barking coming from the bullpen.

Jim and Blair looked at each other.

“Was that Buddy?” Blair asked.

They immediately left the captain’s office, Simon on their heels. They saw Buddy standing in front of Jim’s desk and he was indeed barking. They followed the dog’s gaze to a suspect sitting in a chair next to Brown’s desk with his hands handcuffed behind his back. A minute later, the guy had the handcuffs off and was vaulting out of his seat. Rafe, who had been standing next to the man, didn’t have time to react before he was pushed roughly to the ground. The suspect took off out of the bullpen and practically jumped through the elevator doors just as they were closing.

Jim pulled his gun and immediately took off toward the stairs. Keeping his hearing on the soul occupant of the elevator, Jim raced down the stairs two, sometimes three at a time, striving to reach the ground floor before the elevator. He could vaguely hear the footsteps of other detectives following him, but he kept his focus on the man in the elevator.

He pushed through the door on the first floor and went straight to the elevator doors, watching as the numbers above the door lit up as it reached each floor. When it reached the first floor, the doors opened and Jim put his gun in the perp’s face before he could move.

“Don’t move,” Jim growled.

The guy put up his hands.

“You got him?” Simon asked when he arrived.

“Yeah…cough, cough, cough…I got him. Turn around.” He pushed the guy against the wall face first and handcuffed him. When Brown arrived, he handed off the suspect to him. “Here you go, Brown. Special delivery.”

“Aw man, Jim. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened,” Brown said.

“Don’t worry…cough…about it. At least he didn’t get far…cough, cough….” Jim turned to Rafe, who was holding the back of his head. “You ok?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Once the perp was led away and the detectives began to disperse, Jim doubled over with a series of hacking coughs. He leaned his hands on his knees as he tried to take a deep breath, but the coughing wouldn’t stop. He felt a hand patting and rubbing his back. He looked up at Blair’s worried face.

“Hey, Jim. Are you alright?”

Jim tried to answer, but only more coughing came out. He tried to take in air as the coughing continued. His eyes started to water.

“Hey, someone want to get me some water,” Blair called to anyone in particular as he led his partner to a nearby chair. He continued to rub Jim’s back. A few minutes later, a bottle of water was provided by the desk clerk, a young blonde who was looking very worried. Blair smiled his thanks and handed it to Jim. “Here, Jim. Drink this.”

Jim took the bottle gratefully and started guzzling it down. He nearly drank the whole bottle before the coughing finally stopped and Jim was able to take a deep breath. Blair was still rubbing Jim’s back as the older man took the time to catch his breath.

“You ok now?” Blair asked.

“Yeah,” Jim answered, his voice raw from all the coughing.

“Man, Jim, that was bad. Maybe you should go home. It’s obvious that you’re sick.”

“It’s just a cold. I’m fine now, and if it happens again, I’ll drink some more water.” Jim drank the last of the water and tossed the bottle in the trash as he headed toward the stairs.

Back in the Major Crimes bullpen, Buddy was sitting in front of Jim’s desk waiting for them. Jim knelt down in front of Buddy and rubbed his head and neck. “That’s a good boy, Buddy. Thanks for the warning.”

Blair knelt next to him. “So maybe he only barks at people he really doesn’t like.”

“I’d say that’s a fair assumption. So if Buddy barks, we know someone is really bad.”

Blair smiled. “Sort of an early warning system.”

“That’s right. You know maybe we should have Buddy check out all your dates. That way we’ll know which ones are bad and which ones aren’t.”

Blair gave Jim a mock glare. “Very funny.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Over the next couple of days, Jim and Blair worked hard to try to solve this burglary case. It had been three and a half weeks since the last one, and they were long overdo for another, which just made Jim and Blair nervous. It made them wonder what these guys were planning next.

Jim sat in one of the conference rooms after hours with all of the case files spread over the table. He and Blair had been at it for hours, and they still weren’t any closer to finding out who these guys are or where they were planning on hitting next. He had been sitting there staring at those files for the past hour. Blair had gone back to Jim’s desk saying that he was going to do a little research that would hopefully help with this case.

Jim rubbed his face with both hands. “All right. What do we know so far?” he rasped to himself and winced at how horrible he sounded. He couldn’t hold back the coughs that racked his body.

Jim had been getting worse over the past few days. He was coughing more frequently, and he now sounded like he had a frog caught in his throat every time he talked. He was looking pale and sweaty, and his body ached all over. Both Blair and Simon kept insisting that he go home, but he just couldn’t. He had too much work to do. He had to solve this case before someone was killed.

Buddy, who was lying at Jim’s feet, lifted his head and looked up at Jim. He let out a tiny whimper. He seemed to be worried about his temporary master. Jim patted the dog on the head as if to reassure him, and Buddy laid his head back down. He knew he shouldn’t have Buddy at the station, but if he wanted to get technical, Simon had said that he didn’t want to see the dog in the bullpen, and they weren’t in the bullpen. They hadn’t been all day except for in the morning, and Simon had been in a meeting with the Commissioner at the time.

Jim sighed and started going over the files again. The suspects had committed a series of two or three burglaries in a row, usually within a day or two, and there were about two or three weeks between each series. The third couple hit, Todd and Amy Jameson, are related to the fifth victim, Joshua Jameson, who is their son. Also, the sixth victim hit, Ann Williams, is related by marriage to the seventh couple hit, Dennis and Natalie Williams. Ann Williams’ husband, John, and Dennis were brothers. John Williams was killed in a car crash two years ago. And that’s about all the connections they could come up with between the victims.

Jim leaned back in his chair and started rubbing his temples. He was starting to get a major headache on top of everything else. Blair suddenly burst in the room, causing Jim to jump. He was carrying computer printouts in his hand.

“Hey, Jim! Guess what!” He paused as he saw Jim jump slightly. He frowned. “Did I scare you?” He didn’t think it was possible to sneak up on a Sentinel.

Jim ignored the question. “What have you got, Chief?”

Blair looked at Jim critically as he moved further into the room. He placed the sheets of paper on the table. “Ok, I did some research on a few of our victims, and I think I found a connection between them.” He spread the sheets out on the table in front of Jim. “Ok, now the first victims were Alex and Juliana Cortez, and the second victims were Mark and Kristen Kern. Now Kristen’s maiden name used to be Cortez. She’s Alex and Juliana’s daughter. Now Todd and Amy Jameson not only had a son, Joshua, but they had a daughter as well.”

“Let me guess. The fourth victim, Kelly Shrader.”

“And her husband, Jack,” Blair added, nodding.

“So they’re going after rich families. The first and the second victims are related. The third, fourth, and fifth victims are related, and the sixth and seventh victims are related.”

“Exactly. That’s why there’s only a day or two between some and two or three weeks between others. Between the family members that are hit, they wait a day or so, but between each family it takes them two to three weeks.”

“Probably searching for the next family,” Jim said thoughtfully. “Ok. I see your point. But what about the eighth victim? Jessica Hoger wasn’t married, and her parents died when she was ten.”

“Ah, but those were her adoptive parents. Jessica Hoger was put up for adoption when she was born. Want to take a guess who her birth parents were?”

“I’m guessing one of our previous victims.”

“John and Ann Williams. When Ann got pregnant, they were both so busy with their careers that they didn’t have time for a baby so they put the child up for adoption after she was born, but when John was killed in a car crash a couple of years ago, he claimed Jessica as his daughter in his Will and left her the bulk of his estate.”

“So that’s the connection. They’re going after families,” Jim said.

“Exactly. Now all we have to do is find out who they’re going after next.”

“Great. That’ll be easy.” Sarcasm colored Jim’s voice.

The Sentinel was suddenly overcome with coughs that racked his muscular frame and left him breathless. Blair started rubbing Jim’s back in slow circles. He waited until the coughing subsided before he spoke.

“Jim, I think it’s time to go. It’s getting late, and you look like hell.”

“Gee, thanks,” Jim said when he could breath normally again.

“Jim, I’m serious. You seem to be getting worse not better. If you don’t slow it down and take it easy, you’re going to end up with pneumonia or something. I think you should stay home tomorrow.”

“No thanks. We still…cough…haven’t figured out…cough, cough…who these jokers are.”

“Jim, you’re not going to be catching these guys if you’re too weak to walk. Listen to you. You can’t even complete a sentence without coughing.”

“I’m fine! Will you leave it alone?” Jim snapped. He got up from the table and stormed out of the room.

Blair sighed and rubbed his forehead. That went well. Buddy stood up and gave Blair a look as if to ask what happened. Blair bent down and rubbed the side of the dog’s face.

“Don’t mind him. He gets a little touchy when he’s sick. Of course, he gets a little touchy when he’s healthy too.” He stood up, gathered the files together, and left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Blair stood in the kitchen making a sandwich. Jim had gone straight to bed the night before without so much as a glance at Blair. Then that morning, Jim had practically rushed to get ready, saying that he had to get to the station early, and when offered breakfast, he had said that he didn’t have time and that he’d get something on the way, but by the looks of him, he probably wouldn’t have been able to keep it down. Jim hadn’t looked better that morning than he had last night. In fact, he looked worse, and Blair wondered how he kept on his feet.

Jim had told him before he got in the shower that they wouldn’t have to time for lunch that day. They would have to make do with whatever was in the vending machines, which was why Blair was making a sandwich. He didn’t think he could stomach vending machine food. He only had one class to take that morning and then he’d be joining Jim at the station around noon.

Buddy sat at Blair’s feet looking up at him, begging him to give him something to eat. Blair spread the peanut butter on the bread and looked down at Buddy when he heard a whimper. Buddy was staring longingly at the bread and peanut butter.

“Oh no. You’ve already had you’re breakfast.”

Buddy licked his lips and continued to stare. Blair sighed. He looked to make sure Jim wasn’t coming and then stuck his finger in the peanut butter and scooped out a big glob.

“Here. Try some of this,” he said, as he fed the peanut butter to the dog. Buddy lopped it up gratefully just as Jim came into the kitchen.

“Sandburg, don’t give the dog peanut butter,” Jim said.

“What? He likes it. See how he’s licking his lips?”

Jim looked down at the dog. He was moving his tongue around his mouth, trying to lick up all the peanut butter. Jim shook his head.

“That’s because the peanut butter is stuck to the roof of his mouth. Will you get him some water please?”

Blair picked up Buddy’s water dish, filled it with water, and placed it back on the floor at the end of the kitchen island. Buddy lapped up the water like there was no tomorrow. Blair raised his eyebrows.

“Wow. The peanut butter must have really been stuck to your mouth.”

“All right. I’m heading out,” Jim said, grabbing his coat from the coat rack. He started coughing violently.

Blair moved forward and patted his partner on the back. “You alright?” he asked worriedly.

When the coughing eased, Jim took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he rasped. He cleared his throat loudly and said in a more clear voice, “Yeah, I’m ok. Now you’re going to be at the station later today, right?”

Blair sighed. “Yeah, but I wish you weren’t going to be.” He put a hand on Jim’s forehead. Before his hand was batted away, he felt the heat emanating from his partner. “Jim, you have a fever. You need to stay home and rest.”

“I’m fine.” A sneeze followed by more coughs belied that statement.

“Yeah, right. ‘I’m fine’ is starting to become your motto. Why are you so anxious to kill yourself?”

“I’m not,” Jim snapped. He rubbed his forehead. His headache was getting worse. “I’m sorry. I just want to catch these guys. It’s getting worse. The next time someone may get killed.”

Blair scrutinized him carefully. “There’s something else, isn’t there?” He could see Jim starting to clam up. “C’mon, Jim. Talk to me. You’ve been acting weird ever since we got this case. What is it?”

Jim sighed. The kid was too damn observant. “The last few robberies were in my father’s neighborhood, ok.”

There was an intake of breath from Blair. “Oh man. And you’re worried that he may become the next victim.”

“He fits the profile.”

“Damn. Why didn’t you say anything? You know what, never mind. Look, I understand your need to catch these guys before they get a chance to go after your father, but Jim, let’s face it. You’re sick. And making yourself sicker is not going to help your dad. You need to take care of yourself first.”

Jim stood silent for a few moments. Blair could hear the slight wheeze in his partner’s breathing, and it worried him. Jim shook his head. He grabbed his keys from the basket.

“I’ll see you later today,” he said as he walked out the door.

“God damn stubborn Sentinels,” Blair muttered as he shut the door. He didn’t even try to keep the frustration from his voice, knowing full well that Jim would hear him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim sat at his desk, trying to get his eyes to focus on the file he had been studying. He felt like shit. His head was pounding a staccato beat. He was nauseous. He couldn’t stop coughing. He felt hot and cold at the same time, and his senses kept spiking on him. Sometimes his eyes wouldn’t focus and then other times things were so sharp it hurt and the lights blinded him. The smell of coffee was making his nausea worse, and his hearing kept going in and out. Sandburg was right, he realized. He should have stayed home.

He tried in vain to keep his eyes open, but he was losing. He looked around the bullpen. It was pretty much empty. Maybe he could sleep for a little while. No, he admonished himself. He couldn’t afford to sleep. He had a case to solve. Unfortunately, his body wasn’t following his mind. His head collapsed onto the desk as his body surrendered to some much needed sleep.

The next thing he knew, someone was shaking him awake. He tried to push the hand away. He didn’t want to wake up just yet.

“Jim.” Simon’s voice. “Jim, come on, man. Wake up. Jim, if you don’t wake up, I’m calling an ambulance.”

Jim eyes snapped open as he remembered where he was. He sat up abruptly. He groaned and grabbed his head as everything began to spin. There was a hand on his shoulder steadying him.

“Easy there. Don’t move so fast.”

“Oh, sorry Simon. I must have fallen asleep. Won’t happen again.”

“Yeah. Right.” He didn’t sound convinced. “All right, Jim. That’s it. You’re going home.”

“What, no. I’m fine,” Jim insisted.

“Jim, you’re not fine. You’re burning up. You are going home, and that’s an order, detective,” Simon said in a gruff tone.

Jim sighed. He couldn’t pretend any longer. He wearily pushed himself to his feet. “Very good, sir.”

He pulled his keys from his pocket, and Simon immediately plucked them from shaky hands. Jim glared at him, but there was no feeling in it. He was too tired.

“You’re in no condition to drive. I’ll take you.”

Jim nodded and headed out of the bullpen. The fact that he had agreed had Simon a little worried. He was definitely going to have to call Sandburg.

The ride to the loft was made in silence. The only sound in the car was Jim’s coughing. Simon glanced at the quiet man in the passenger seat. Jim was leaning his head against the cool glass. He looked about ready to fall asleep. He really hoped this was nothing serious.

When they got to 852 Prospect, Jim was grateful that the elevator was working for once. He was really too tired to try to make it up three flights of stairs. When they got into the loft, Jim immediately collapsed onto the couch. Buddy came up to him and licked his face affectionately. Jim smiled and patted him on the head.

Simon entered the loft, snapping his cell phone closed after calling Blair for the third time.

“Damn it. The kid’s not answering his cell phone.”

Jim put an arm over his eyes. The light from the balcony windows were really starting to hurt his eyes. “He’s in class right now, Simon. He probably turned it off.”

Simon sighed and studied his best detective. “Will you be alright alone? I mean do you need anything?”

“No, I don’t need anything. You go on.”

“Are you sure?” The concern was plain to see.

Jim smiled, removed his arm from his eyes, and looked up at the captain. “I’ll be fine, Simon. Really. Now get out of here.”

“All right. You get better. I’ll keep trying to get a hold of Sandburg.”

When he was sure Jim was going to be ok, he quietly left the loft. Jim sighed. He knew he should probably get up, that he’d be more comfortable in his bed, but he really didn’t want to. Getting up required too much energy, energy he didn’t think he possessed. Buddy, seeming to sense Jim’s distress, sat down next to the couch and laid his head on Jim’s arm.

Jim couldn’t keep the smile from his face. He rested his hand on the top of Buddy’s head. It was amazing the way animals can make their owners smile even when they feel like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of somebody’s shoe, which was how he felt at that moment.

Jim debated on just staying there on the couch. His stomach made the decision for him, however. He jumped up from the couch and stumbled toward the bathroom. He barely made it before he started retching violently. He continued to dry heave long after his stomach was empty. When he was finished, he sank down on his butt against the bathtub and sat there for a few minutes.

After flushing the toilet, he pulled himself onto shaky legs and made his way to the sink. He washed his mouth out and then splashed cold water on his flushed face. He looked into the mirror and almost didn’t recognize the person he saw there. His face was gaunt and pale, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He rubbed his face with both hands. He really needed to get some rest.

After drying his face with a towel, he made his wary way through the loft and up the stairs to his bedroom. He didn’t even bother getting undressed. He just collapsed onto bed and fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buddy lay at the foot of the stairs, sort of standing guard over his ill master. The loft was quiet except for the rasping sound of Jim’s breathing from upstairs. There was a soft snick from the door. Buddy’s head popped up and a low growl sounded form his throat. The doorknob slowly turned and the door was pushed silently open as four strangers dressed all in black entered the loft. Buddy was up and moving toward the intruders, barking and growling.

The four intruders jumped as the dog started barking. One of the men took a step back as they caught sight of the angry dog baring its teeth and barking loudly.

Jim sat up in bed and immediately regretted it as dizziness assailed him. It took him a few minutes to realize what had awakened him. It was a dog barking. Buddy, he thought. He pulled out of his gun and slowly got out of bed. He peered over the balcony and saw Buddy facing off against the four black-clad men, each holding some sort of weapon, including a hockey stick, a metal baseball bat, and a couple of crowbars. None of them seemed to be holding a gun, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have one.

He blinked his eyes, furiously trying to dispel the blurriness. He could hear the men talking below.

“Oh shit. What are we supposed to do now?” The voice sounded young.

“Shut the dog up,” a second voice commanded. This one sounded older.

“And how would you like us to do that?” a third voice asked.

“Shoot the damn thing!”

“I’m not going to shoot a dog.”

Jim took a deep breath. He stood up and aimed his gun at the four criminals. “Freeze! Police!”

The four froze as their gazes went upward to settle on the detective.

“Put your weapons down slowly and put your hands on your head,” Jim commanded. He slowly descended the stairs, not taking his eyes off the intruders. He kept his face cold and hard, trying to hide the fact that he wasn’t in top form. Unfortunately, his illness greatly affected his balance and coordination. His foot missed a step and he stumbled, trying to regain his balance.

The four would-be burglars immediately spurred into action. The one with the hockey stick moved forward, and Buddy jumped on him, knocking the guy to the ground. The guy had brought up the hockey stick at the last moment so Buddy’s jaws clamped down on the stick rather than his throat.

The guy with the bat moved swiftly to the stairs. He swung the bat hard, and the metal came into contact with Jim’s left knee. He fell forward as pain shot through his whole leg. Consciousness fled before he landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Blood oozed from a nasty gash above his eye where his head had made contact with the stairs.

The man with the bat, Will, stood and stared at the unconscious man. The other two came forward.

“Is he dead?” Scott asked.

“Does it matter?” Jack asked.

“Someone get this dog off me!” Lee yelled as he continued to struggle with the enraged canine.

Jack rolled his eyes. With an expression of annoyance, he walked over to where Lee and the dog were struggling, pulling out a gun. He aimed it at the animal without hesitation, but before he could fire, one of his colleagues pushed his arm down.

“No. What are you, crazy? Put that gun away,” Will said.

Jack backed off while the two worked to get the dog off their comrade. Buddy was relentless in his attack, and when other hands touched him, he bit them. Finally, they had to resort to hitting the dog in the ribs with a crowbar. Buddy let out a pained whimper and backed off. When he tried to attack again, they hit him again, knocking the dog to the ground. He didn’t move.

They helped their friend up. Lee looked at the chewed up hockey stick. That could have been his arm, or worse his throat. “Fucking dog,” he muttered.

Awareness slowly crept into Jim’s consciousness. He blinked his eyes open and slammed them shut as the light from the balcony doors pierced his eyes. He quickly turned down the dial on sight. His head pounded in time with his heartbeat and his knee was one mass of pain. Other bumps and bruises made themselves known. He felt like he had gone one on one with a Mack truck and lost.

He turned over onto his back slightly. He suppressed the groan that wanted to escape as voices flitted into his consciousness and remembered that the loft was broken into.

“Look, you’ve got to control your impulses. This isn’t like the other times. This isn’t a house where the neighbors are in another building and are less likely to come investigate. The neighbors here are closer.”

“Yeah, and someone could have heard the dog barking, not to mention the guy falling down the stairs. We better get out of here before the police show up.” The voice sounded shaky at best.

“We’re not leaving.” There was menace in that one voice.

“C’mon, Jack. The guy’s a cop. He obviously hasn’t followed in daddy’s footsteps. We made a big mistake coming here.”

Jack sounded cold and calculating as he spoke. “I don’t like cops.”

Jim chanced opening his eyes. The light wasn’t so bad, although his vision was a little blurry. He wasn’t sure if that was from his illness or from the concussion. He looked toward the voices. Three of the would-be robbers stood nearest the door. The fourth, the one with the gun whom Jim assumed was Jack, faced them. His gun hand shook slightly with anxious energy. He was obviously itching to inflict pain on someone and it didn’t matter who.

“You’re not seriously talking about offing a cop,” Will said.

“Why not? They’ve caused me nothing but grief,” Jack replied.

“You can’t be serious!” Lee exclaimed

“This is going too far,” Scott said, his voice still shaky.

Jim’s gaze left the group arguing in his living room. His eyes landed on Buddy lying the floor, only just starting to stir. His anger started to rise. Keeping his eyes on the men, he started to push himself up as slowly as possible so as not to attract unwanted attention.

Buddy made it to his feet, and noticing the intruders, let out a low growl. Jack noticed the dog’s recovery first and aimed his gun at the animal. His finger was just about to pull the trigger when he was tackled from the side by a large body.

Jim tackled the guy with all the strength he had left, which wasn’t much. He got a few good punches, and then they struggled for the gun. Sometime during the struggle, Jim managed to pull off Jack’s mask. Buddy attacked at the same moment, knocking one man into his companion and sending them both to the ground. He then jumped onto one of the fallen men and chomped down hard onto his arm. The guy let out an agonized scream.

The remaining man standing hefted his hockey stick and brought it down on Jim’s unprotected back. He did it again and again when Jim continued to fight until finally Jack was able to push Jim off him and get back to his feet. Jack then proceeded to kick Jim hard in the chest a few times. When he was done, Jim lay on the ground breathing heavily. He had no energy left. He could feel consciousness slipping away. He tried to hold on, but he couldn’t. He looked up at his attacker’s face and imprinted the man’s features in his memory before his eyes focused on the gun barrel aimed at his head. That was the last thing he saw before his world went grey.

Jack aimed his gun at the cop’s head, a look of satisfaction on his face. Then he felt a pair of paws pounce on his back, knocking him to the ground.

“Get this dog off me!” Jack yelled.

His comrades worked together to pull the snarling dog off him and then threw the canine across the room. As they were helping Jack to his feet, they heard sirens in the distance.

“Shit, it’s the cops! Let’s get out of here!”

One by one they ran out of the loft until only Jack was remaining. He stood staring down at Jim’s unconscious form. Buddy moved in between Jim and his attacker, growling viciously. Jack finally decided it wasn’t worth it and ran out after his companions. That cop would pay for this, along with that stupid dog.

Buddy remained in a rigid, protective stance until Jack’s footsteps were no longer audible. The dog then relaxed and turned back to Jim. He nudged Jim’s arm and let out a tiny whimper when he didn’t get a response. He lay down next to Jim and laid his head gently on Jim’s stomach, the ever-vigilant watcher.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair exited the elevator on the seventh floor of the police department and entered the Major Crime bullpen. He was anxious to see Jim. He was worried about his partner. He really hadn’t looked well that morning. He looked to Jim’s desk and frowned when he found it empty.

“Hey Rafe,” he called to the young GQ detective seated at his desk. “Where’s Jim?”

“The captain sent him home. He looked really bad. Oh, by the way, the captain said he wanted to see you the minute you got in.”

Blair’s frown deepened in concern. Jim must have been feeling really bad if he let the captain send him home sick. “Thanks Rafe,” he said absently as he made his way across the bullpen to Simon’s office. He knocked on the captain’s office door, but didn’t wait for a reply as he entered.

Simon looked up from his paperwork and removed the cigar from his mouth. “Sandburg, there you are. I’ve been trying to reach you all morning.”

Blair wondered about that briefly, trying to remember if he had remembered to charge his cell phone last night. Then his thoughts immediately went back to Jim.

“Sorry about that Simon. Rafe said you sent Jim home.”

“Yes, I did. He looked like a hell. I found him asleep at his desk. He had a high fever so I took him home.”

Blair was really worried. A high fever coupled with the other symptoms wiped Jim out and really messed with his senses. He didn’t like that Jim had been alone all this time.

“Thanks Simon. I better get home and see how he is.”

There was a knock at the door, and at Simon’s, “Come,” Brown entered, looking grim.

“Captain, we have a serious problem.”

“What is it, Brown?”

“There’s been another burglary. The same M.O. as the others.”

Simon sighed. “Damn it. Who is it this time?”

Brown glanced at Blair briefly. “William Ellison, sir.”

Blair’s head whipped around. “What? Was anyone hurt?”

“No, no one was home at the time.”

“Shit.” Simon pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right. Get Rafe. Get over there. See if you can find out anything.”

“There’s another problem, sir. This happened a couple days ago.”

“WHAT!” Simon’s bellow turned several heads out in the bullpen. “Why are we just hearing about this now?”

“Apparently, Mr. Ellison has been out of town on business for the past few weeks, and his housekeeper had been out visiting family. Neither one knew about the break-in until the housekeeper came home this morning.”

Blair was filled cold dread as he realized the implication of Brown’s words. “Oh god,” he whispered. He looked up at Simon. “They’ll be going after Jim next. Simon, if this happened two days ago…” His voice trailed off as he hurried out of the office and across the bullpen to Jim’s desk. He grabbed the phone and dialed the loft first. His heart started pounding as he heard the recording stating the number he dialed was temporarily out of service. He hung up the phone and looked at the gathered detectives, looking at him anxiously. He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “The line’s disconnected.”

The others glanced worriedly at each other as Blair picked up the phone again and dialed Jim’s cell phone number. He let it ring for a few minutes before he slammed the receiver down.

“He’s not answering his cell,” he reported.

“All right.” Simon’s voice boomed. “Brown, Rafe, Joel, you’re with me. Connor, get dispatch on the line and have them send all available units to the loft. And you better have them send an ambulance while you’re at it.”

Blair followed the detectives out of the bullpen. Before they got into the elevator, he grabbed Simon’s arm and pulled him away from the others.

“Simon, with Jim being sick, he’s not going to hear them coming,” Blair said.

Simon put a hand on the shoulder of the young man who was terrified for his best friend. “Don’t worry, Blair. He’ll be alright.”

“I hope you’re right.”

The ride to the loft was a blur of lights and sirens. Blair couldn’t get his mind off what could happen to Jim. The Sentinel’s senses always got messed up whenever he was sick. He wouldn’t hear them coming until it was too late. His reflexes would be sluggish as well. He kept picturing Jim still in bed or on the couch with a bullet in his head. He shook his head to clear those horrific images as they came to a screeching halt outside of 852 Prospect. Other police cruisers were pulling up as they were getting out of the car.

Blair was heading toward the building. He was about to head inside when a rough hand pulled him back.

“Sandburg, stay behind me,” Simon ordered.

The captain led the way into the building with Blair close on his heels. The other detectives and officers followed behind them. Simon paused outside of Apartment 307. He tried the doorknob and found it to be unlocked. With a quick glance at Sandburg, he slowly pushed the door open, his gun raised. He ventured into the loft with the others trailing behind. His eyes widened when he spotted Jim lying on the floor behind the large couch. There was a small pool of blood beneath his head.

“Oh god,” he whispered.

There was an intake of breath beside him and he looked over at a white-faced Blair staring down at his best friend.

Buddy, who had been lying with his head on Jim’s stomach, jumped up as soon as they walked in. He stood in between the newcomers and Jim, barking and growling. He was still in protective mode. When Simon tried to move closer, Buddy barked louder, the fur on his back standing on end. Sandburg came over the shock and moved forward, his hand upraised in a calming manner.

“Hey Buddy,” Blair said in a soft voice. “It’s me, Blair. It’s ok, boy. You did good, but it’s time to stand down now. These people are here to help. That’s it, Buddy. C’mon. It’s ok.”

Blair continued to placate the animal as he took careful steps forward. He didn’t quite know exactly what happened here, but it had to have been bad. He could see blood stains on his yellow fur and around his mouth. Buddy was on edge, so on edge that he hadn’t recognized Blair when he walked in. His master was hurt, and he was determined to protect him from further harm. But as Blair continued to speak, the dog slowly relaxed, finally recognizing Blair as a friend.

Blair knelt down with his hand outstretched. Buddy, with a small whimper, walked toward Blair’s hand. Blair was dismayed to see that the dog was limping. Buddy first sniffed Blair’s hand carefully and then rubbed his head against it. Blair responded by petting him gently. Buddy sat calmly in front of the young man.

Once the dog was calm, the police moved into the room, scouring the loft for evidence as to who was responsible for hurting one of their own. Simon moved immediately to Jim’s side and checked for a pulse. Blair looked at him expectantly. Simon gave a slight nod.

“He’s alive,” he informed the young man.

Blair breathed a sigh of relief, and returned his attention to Buddy. He examined the canine closely.

“How’s the dog doing?”

Blair looked up at Simon. The captain still knelt by Jim’s side, holding a handkerchief to Jim’s head to stop the bleeding. Joel took Blair’s place beside Buddy as the young man stood up and came to kneel on Jim’s other side. He placed his hand on his unconscious friend’s shoulder, wincing at the amount of blood pooled on the floor. After giving a careful examination, he finally looked up at Simon.

“The blood isn’t his. I think he bit one of the attackers,” Blair answered.

“Good. That’s the least of what they deserve,” Simon said.

A groan brought the two men’s attention back to the injured man. Jim’s eyelids flickered open and unfocused blue eyes gazed up at them.

“Jim? Hey big guy. Can you hear me?” Blair asked.

Jim looked at him dazedly. “Chief?”

“Yeah, Jim. It’s me. You’re going to be ok, buddy. Ambulance is on the way.”

The telltale crease in Jim’s forehead and his labored breathing testified to the amount of pain Jim was in. Blair placed a hand lightly on Jim’s forehead, mindful of the gash, and kept his other hand on Jim’s shoulder. Jim seemed to relax a bit at his touch. Blair was alarmed at how hot Jim’s skin was. The Sentinel’s body was raging with fever.

“It was them, wasn’t it?” Jim asked. “The burglars.”

“Yeah, it was them,” Blair answered.

“Did they get away?”

“Yeah, but Buddy took a bite out of at least one of them.”

Jim laughed and then winced, clutching his abdomen. “Talk about taking a bite out of crime,” he said, his voice lined with pain.

Blair chuckled, rubbing Jim’s arm. He was glad to see that Jim still had a sense of humor. Maybe that meant he wasn’t too injured. “Yeah, that’s Buddy, the crime-fighting dog.”

Jim smiled, but it quickly faded. “Is he ok? They hit him hard.”

Worried, Blair glanced at Buddy who was lying on his side. Joel was still by his side, petting him and keeping him calm. The dog looked about ready to fall asleep. Blair made eye contact with Joel. Joel seemed to get the hint as he began to thoroughly check Buddy over for any serious injuries. Blair looked back down at his partner.

“Yeah, he’s fine. He’s just resting, which is what you should be doing.” Blair’s head came up as he heard the siren announcing the arrival of the ambulance. A quiet mumble brought his attention back to the injured man. “What was that?”

“He saved me,” Jim whispered again. His eyes were closed, but pain still lined his face.

Blair smiled. “Then I owe him a big doggy treat later. Hey, how about we work on getting that pain dial turned down. I bet it’s turned pretty high. And while we’re at it, we better get your other senses turned down as well.”

Jim nodded slightly, and Blair coached him through the process until all his senses were turned down below normal. When he was finished, Jim was resting comfortably.

Blair stepped away as the paramedics arrived. They examined Jim and then began to prep him for transport. As they were transporting Jim onto a stretcher, Joel came up behind Blair.

“Blair, I’m going to take Buddy to a vet and get him checked out, and I’ll call you later to let you know how he’s doing. You’ll be at the hospital, right?”

Blair nodded, watching the paramedics work. After getting Jim secured to the stretcher, the paramedics started wheeling Jim out of the loft and Blair jumped up to follow them down to the ambulance. The ambulance ride seemed to take forever. Jim awoke during the ride, disoriented and in pain. Blair gripped his hand and made sure he was in Jim’s line of sight. He told him to turn the pain dial down further. The paramedics looked at the young man strangely but worked around him as his presence and voice seemed to calm their patient down.

Blair was left behind to wait in the waiting room once they reached the hospital while Jim was whisked away to a trauma room. He sat alone in one of the waiting room chairs, contemplating the events that had transpired. Damn. How could this have happened? If William Ellison hadn’t been out of town, then they would have known about this ahead of time. Of course, if William Ellison had been home when the burglars broke in, then he would have been the one who was injured. If Simon hadn’t sent Jim home, he wouldn’t have been at the loft when the thieves broke in. He would have been safe and sound at the station. He shook those irrational thoughts from his mind. He couldn’t pin this on Simon. The captain couldn’t have known what was going to happen. He was just looking for someone to blame for this whole mess.

Blair ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He should have been there. If had been with Jim in the first place, he could have helped. If he had been there, it would have been better odds. Instead, Jim had to face four burglars by himself. Jim probably could have handled one, even in his weakened state. And if he couldn’t, then Buddy sure could have taken on one without a problem. But four was just too many.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair paced back and forth in the hospital waiting room. Simon watched from where he sat. The captain had arrived at the hospital about an hour after Blair after having secured the crime scene. They’d both been waiting for two hours now with no word on how Jim was doing. Blair had been pacing for about an hour.

“Sandburg, would you cut that out? You’re giving me a headache,” Simon barked.

Blair quit pacing and dropped down into the seat next to Simon. “Sorry Simon. I just keep going over in my mind. If I had been there, maybe I could have done something.”

“Blair, if you had been there, you would have been injured too. Don’t beat yourself up over this. What happened wasn’t your fault. Actually, it’s more my fault than yours. I’m the one that sent him home. I’m the one that left him there alone.”

Blair looked at the captain’s guilt-ridden face. He placed a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Hey, this isn’t your fault. There was no way you could have known what was going to happen.”

“Yeah, I know.” Simon leaned back in the chair and rubbed his face with one hand. “Man, look at us. What a pair we make. A couple of guilt trip experts.”

Blair looked at him with a twinkle of humor in his eye. “Yeah. I think it’s like an addiction. You just can’t stop.”

“Maybe you, me, and Jim should go to Guilt Trips Anonymous.”

“Oh yeah, the GTA,” Blair played along. “We can go through the 12 step program.”

They both laughed. Their humor vanished quickly, however, as they saw a man in his early fifties with salt and pepper hair and dressed in green surgical scrubs and a white lab coat. Blair and Simon got to their feet immediately to meet the doctor.

“Dr. McMaster, how is he?” Blair asked.

McMaster looked at the young man standing before him, his face filled with worry for his friend. The doctor sighed. He had treated these two many times when one or both of them came into the ER. He personally liked the young grad student and the tough as nails police detective. They had a connection like no one he had ever seen. Both were very protective of the other. He was always saddened to see one or both of them injured.

“He’s stable for now. He has a mild concussion and quite a few broken ribs, one of which puncture his lung. We managed to re-inflate the lung,” the doctor rushed on, seeing the looks on the men’s faces. “We have him intubated now. His right knee is also severely sprained. Now, he does have some internal bleeding that will require surgery to repair…” The doctor paused.

Blair sensed there was more. “But?”

“He’s spiked a high fever, and I’m reluctant to take him to surgery until we can get his temperature down. I’d also like to find out what’s causing this fever to begin with.”

“He’s been sick,” Blair supplied. “He’s been getting worse the past few days. In fact, Captain Banks sent him home sick today. I think it’s the flu or something.”

“Well, that’s probably it, but I’d still like to run a few tests to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on.” Before the doctor could say more, a nurse hurried into the room.

“Doctor, his blood pressure is dropping.”

Dr. McMaster ran out the waiting area, followed by the nurse. Blair had the urge to run after the doctor and nurse as fear gripped his heart like a vice. He was about to do just that when Simon grabbed onto his shoulders and held him back.

“No, let them work, Sandburg.”

Blair struggled for a moment and then relaxed in Simon’s grip. He took deep breaths to try to calm down. Twenty minutes later, the doctor came back. Blair jumped out of his seat to meet him.

“What happened? Is Jim ok?”

“The bleeding was more extensive than we thought,” the doctor answered.

Blair swallowed. “What do you mean?”

“He’s bleeding into his chest cavity. His chest is filling up with blood, constricting heart and lung function. If we don’t go in there now and stop the bleeding, he’s going to die. Now I’m not going to kid you. He’s lost a lot of blood already and, coupled with the high fever, his body is severely weakened. I’m not sure he’ll survive the surgery.”

Blair closed his eyes, trying to hold back the tears. Oh god. Jim. He felt gentle hands guiding him down into a chair. He took a few deep breaths to try to center himself. He felt a hand rubbing soothing circles on his back and felt grateful for Simon’s presence.

Dr. McMaster sat on the other side of Blair. His voice was soft as he spoke. “Blair, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he survives the surgery.” Blair nodded. “Surgery is on the fourth floor. You can wait in the surgical waiting room. I’ll let you know once he’s out of surgery.”

When the doctor left, Simon gently pulled Blair to his feet and guided him up to the surgical waiting room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair was sitting, staring at the floor when a Styrofoam cup of coffee was thrust into his hands. He looked up as Simon took a seat next to him with a cup of coffee of his own.

“Thought you could use this,” the captain said.

“Thanks,” Blair muttered. He gripped the cup in both hands and took a drink.

“I called Jim’s father a little while ago. He’ll be here in a little while. I’ve been trying to get a hold of Jim’s brother with no success. I called his office, but his secretary said that he was in a meeting and couldn’t be disturbed. She said he wasn’t going to get out until late. I told her to have him call the hospital when he gets out.”

“Didn’t you tell her that his brother is having surgery?” Blair asked.

“Yeah, sure, I told her, but she still wouldn’t let me talk to him. Said she had strict orders not to disturb him when he’s in a meeting.” The tone of the captain’s voice made it obvious how he felt about that.

Blair shook his head. They’d been sitting there for three hours with no word on how Jim was doing. He paced for the first hour and a half until Simon snapped at him to sit down again. So now he sat nervously jiggling his leg up and down. He couldn’t seem to keep still. Now that he thought about it, drinking coffee probably wasn’t the best idea right now. He was exhausted to be sure, but he was filled with so much nervous energy that drinking coffee would probably have him bouncing off the walls.

He placed his cup down underneath his chair. Buddy lifted his head and looked at him from where he lay at Blair’s feet. Joel had brought the dog to the hospital a couple of hours ago with the news that Buddy hadn’t been seriously hurt, for which Blair was grateful, just a small fracture in his leg and some extensive bruising. The nurse at the nurses’ station nearby had made a fuss at first until Simon had a talk with her. Blair didn’t know what he said to her, but she didn’t say anything after that.

Buddy sat up and rested his head lightly on Blair’s knee, trying to offer comfort. Blair smiled slightly and patted the dog’s head. His leg stopped jiggling and he was able to relax somewhat. He didn’t know how the dog did it, but he just seemed to exude calm and comfort. It was always said that people with pets live longer lives. Maybe this was the reason.

Blair continued to rub Buddy’s head as he leaned back and looked at all the faces around him. The waiting room had filled up pretty fast. Most of the detectives from Major Crimes dominated the room with a few officers from Patrol, Homicide, and Vice. Joel sat opposite him looking worn out. Megan sat curled up next to him fast asleep, worry lines creasing her pretty face. Brown and Rafe had come and gone. After finding out how Jim was doing, they had gone out to find the guys responsible. Every face in the room looked concerned not only for their fellow police officer whose life hung in the balance but also for the young police observer as well.

A couple minutes later, William Ellison entered the surgical waiting area. His face was pale and worry lines creased his forehead. Blair and Simon got up to greet him.

“Mr. Ellison,” Simon greeted, shaking the man’s hand.

“Captain Banks. Mr. Sandburg. How’s Jimmy? Any word?”

“No. He’s still in surgery,” Blair replied.

William sighed and rubbed his face. He looked ten years older. “What happened?”

“Some men broke into Jim’s loft and attacked him,” Simon answered. “We believe that the ones who broke into your house are the same ones who did this to Jim.”

“Yeah, there have been a string of burglaries,” Blair added. “And they go after families.”

William seemed to mull this other. “First they robbed me and then Jimmy. Then they’d be going after Stevie next.” He seemed to pale even further if that was possible.

“If they stick to the pattern, yes,” Simon confirmed.

“I gotta get a hold of him.”

“I’ve been trying. He’s in a meeting and his secretary won’t let me talk to him,” Simon explained.

William’s lips lifted into a small smile. “Let me try. She can be pretty stubborn. I keep telling Stevie to get rid of her, but apparently, he goes through secretaries like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t know what it is, but no one seems to stay there longer than a few months. This one seems to have stayed the longest, and Stevie doesn’t want to go through trying to find another one. With this one, you just have to get tough with her. Eventually, she’ll cave.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Steven’s number.

Simon and Blair watched as the elder Ellison listened for the other line to be picked up. When it was answered, they listened unabashedly to the conversation.

“Hi, this is William Ellison. I’d like to speak with my son, please.” His voice was polite. “I don’t care if he’s in a meeting. Interrupt him.” Pause. “Look, Ms. Montenegro, I don’t care what your orders are. He would want to take this call. It’s about his brother. He was injured this evening and is in surgery. Now will you please get my son?” His voice didn’t raise at all, but it still held authority. “Thank you.”

“Now why didn’t that work for me?” Simon asked, shaking his head.

“Family holds more precedence. Or maybe you just weren’t tough enough,” Blair said.

Simon glared at him.

The two men went back to their seats and left William to speak with his younger son privately. When he was done, he came to sit with them.

“He’s going to try to get here as soon as he can.”

It was another half hour before the doctor finally entered the room looking exhausted. Everyone stood up, anxious to hear the news while Blair and Simon went to meet the doctor.

“How is he?” William asked.

The doctor looked at him quizzically.

“Dr. McMaster, this is Jim’s father, William Ellison,” Blair explained.

The doctor nodded and took a deep breath. “There were some complications during the surgery, which caused some heavy bleeding. He did go into cardiac arrest once during the surgery, but we were able to bring him back right away,” the doctor rushed to reassure them as Blair’s face turned white. “We got him stabilized, and we were able to stop the bleeding and repair the damage. He’s in recovery now, but he’ll be moved to ICU shortly where he’ll remain until I’m satisfied his condition has improved.”

Blair ran his hand through his long curls. It was a long list. He looked up at Dr. McMaster. He opened his mouth to ask the question foremost on his mind, but Simon beat him to it.

“But he is going to be ok, right?” the captain asked, wary of the answer.

“He lost a lot of blood during the surgery, but we’re giving him transfusions and IV fluids. Also, he still has a high fever, which has me worried. We’re going to work on getting that down. He’ll also need to be on a ventilator just to take the pressure off so his body can heal.”

Blair shook his head as if to clear it. Enough was enough. He didn’t want to hear any more about what was wrong with his friend and partner. He just wanted a straight answer on whether or not he was ok.

“Dr. McMaster,” Blair said. “Is Jim going to be ok?” He spoke slowly as if speaking to a child.

Dr. McMaster looked at the young grad student intently, then at the other two men looking at him anxiously, and then his eyes canvassed the room filled with worried faces. He sighed. “I don’t know for sure, but based on his strength and physicality and his sheer stubbornness, I’d say he has a good chance of making a full recovery.”

There was a collective sigh through the room. Blair sagged a bit as if the weight of world had been lifted from his shoulders.

“When can we see him?” the anthropologist asked.

“Once he’s moved to ICU, you’ll be able to see him, but only one at a time and only for ten minutes out of the hour.” Blair opened his mouth in protest, but the doctor held up a hand to forestall any arguments. “Except for you, Blair. I’ve seen you two together. Now I can’t explain it, but one of you always seems to heal faster when the other is around. I’m not going to question it. I’m just going to except it and move on. You can stay at Jim’s bedside for as long as you like. I’ll let the nurse know. Just don’t tire yourself out or you’ll be in the bed next to him, and then I’ll have to revoke your privileges. Do you understand?”

Dr. McMaster gave Blair a stern look, and after Blair nodded, he turned to leave. He stopped when he noticed Buddy sitting at Blair’s side. “And I’m afraid the dog is going to have to stay out here.”

“But doctor, Buddy saved Jim’s life and was inured in the process. I think Jim would like to see him when he wakes up.”

“Look, Blair, there are only so many rules I’m willing to bend.” McMaster gave Blair a meaningful look. When he noticed the defeated expression on the grad student’s face, he softened a bit. “All right. When Jim is awake and out of ICU, then you can bring the dog in, but until then, he’s going to have to remain out here.”

Blair nodded resignedly. “Thank you, doctor.”

After the doctor was gone, Joel placed a hand on Blair’s shoulder. “I’ll look after Buddy for you.”

Blair smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He patted Joel’s hand. “Thanks Joel.”

“Sandburg, why don’t you go in to see Jim? I’m going to see how the investigation is going,” Simon said.

“Ok,” Blair said quietly.

“And tell Jim we’re pulling for him,” Megan said. She patted him on the shoulder as she was leaving.

The rest of the police officers filed out as well, each one patting Blair on the shoulder in silent support. Blair felt warmth at this show of acceptance and appreciation from the other detectives and police officers. Soon only Blair and William Ellison remained. Blair looked at Jim’s father.

“Do you want to see him first?”

“I can see him later. You go ahead,” William said. He put a hand on Blair’s shoulder with an understanding smile.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair entered Jim’s ICU cubicle and looked at the still figure in the bed. Jim was covered with tubes and wires. He had two IVs in his left arm, one giving him fluids and the other giving him blood. He was attached to all sorts of machines, including a heart monitor, which beeped out a steady, reassuring rhythm, and a ventilator helping him to breathe. It was all very disconcerting, and Blair hated seeing Jim this way.

Blair approached the bed. He gripped Jim’s limp hand in his own and held on. He looked at Jim’s face. His face was pale, and faint bruising peeked out from underneath the bandage on his forehead. Blair placed his free hand on Jim’s forehead, avoiding the bandage. He was worried at how hot his skin felt. Jim’s fever was still running rampant. Blair pulled up a chair and sat down, holding Jim’s hand.

“Hey Jim. How are you doing?” He paused, hoping for some sort of response. He got nothing. “You gave us all quite a scare, especially me. You know, it was really bad luck that you happened to get sick now. Maybe now you’ll try some of my natural remedies.” He smiled and then took a deep shuddering breath. “You know the guys are working diligently to catch the guys that did this to you, but they don’t have a lot to go on. Unless you saw something and you wake up and tell them what you saw, I don’t think they’re going to catch them before they strike again.”

He stopped as he remembered that Jim’s brother, Steven, will be the next target. Maybe they could use that to their advantage. He’d have to talk to Simon about that. Blair sighed and leaned back in his chair, still keeping a hold of Jim’s hand. He was ready to keep vigil over his partner and best friend.

Blair’s eyelids start to slip closed. The adrenaline that he had been running on since he found out about Jim had faded, and now he just felt exhausted. He laid his head down on the side of the bed and closed his eyes, intending to just rest his eyes for a little while.

Blair didn’t know when he’d fallen asleep or how long he’d been asleep, but he suddenly found himself being awakened abruptly when a nurse entered the ICU cubicle carrying a basin of water and a washcloth. She smiled at him as she placed the water on the bedside table.

“Sorry. Did I wake you?” she asked.

Blair smiled back at her and replied, “No, not at all. Just resting my eyes.”

She raised her eyebrows disbelievingly, looking at the sleep creases on the young man’s face. Then she shrugged, deciding not to pry, and proceeded to check out her patient. Blair sat up a little straighter and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He wondered how long he’d been asleep. He looked at his watch and then remembered he hadn’t thought to put it on that morning.

“What time is it?” Blair asked.

The nurse, Shelly according to her nametag, looked up from the chart she was writing in and looked at her watch. “It’s half past midnight.”

“Really?” He’d been asleep for a couple of hours at least. “Oh man, I didn’t mean to sleep that long.”

“Looks like you needed it. Maybe you should go home and get some sleep. He’s probably not going to awake for another few hours at least.”

“No, I want to be here when he wakes up.” Besides, Blair thought, the loft is a crime scene.

“Suit yourself. You should at least get something to eat.” She placed the chart at the end of the bed where she had taken it from.

“So how is he?” Blair asked, ignoring her last remark.

“Well, his vitals and blood pressure are normal. His breathing is a bit better. The doctor will probably be able to remove the breathing tube pretty soon. His temperature is still a little high though.” She turned to the basin of water and wet the washcloth, ringing out the excess water.

Blair stood up. “May I?” He offered his hand to take the washcloth.

She looked at him in surprise and then handed it over to him. “Sure, if you want to. Just wipe down his face, neck, and chest. It should help bring his fever down.”

Blair nodded and starting wiping Jim’s forehead and down his face gently.

“I’ll be back to check on him in a few hours.” With those words, she left the room.

Blair was so intent on his task he didn’t even notice her departure. He slowly and methodically moved the cool cloth over the hot skin, down Jim’s neck and over his bare chest, avoiding the bandages, and then moved back up to his face. He re-wet the washcloth and repeated the process.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim opened his eyes, squinting through the painfully bright sunlight peeking through the windows. He turned the dial down on sight until he was able to see the room without being blinded. He took stock of his surroundings and realized he was in a hospital. That made sense considering he could feel the IVs in his arm and hear the steady beep of a heart monitor behind his head, not to mention the steady ache in his head, chest, and knee.

He lifted his hands to rub his eyes but only his left hand obeyed his command. He looked down and smiled at the curly head resting on his right arm. He squeezed the hand that held his and brushed his free hand through Blair’s long curls.

Blair stirred and opened his eyes. He sat up straight when he saw a pair of pale blues staring back at him. He smiled and was happy to see the smile returned. The doctors had removed the breathing tube during the night and had transferred Jim to a regular room after his fever broke.

Steven had arrived not too long after that and had stayed with his big brother while Blair went to get some real sleep in a bed down the hall per doctor’s orders. He only stayed away for an hour and half and was soon back beside his partner. The two remained vigil until daybreak when Steven announced he was going to have breakfast with his father. Blair had declined his invitation and stayed at Jim’s bedside where he had fallen into a restless sleep until he got his wake-up call. And what a wonderful wake-up call it was.

Blair felt another squeeze and looked at Jim again who looking at him quizzically. He smiled again, almost giddy with relief. “Hey Jim. You’re awake. How are feeling?”

Jim opened his mouth but all that came out was a raspy croak. His throat was so sore. Blair quickly reached for a pitcher of water on the bedside table.

“Oh, here. Let me get you some water. You were just transferred from ICU. You’ve been on a ventilator since last night.”

Jim blinked. Well, that explained the dryness of his throat. He took the water gratefully and Blair helped him take a few sips of the cool liquid. When he was finished, he pushed the cup away and lay back down with a sigh.

“Thanks,” he said.

“You’re welcome.” Blair set the pitcher and cup back on the table. “So how are you doing?”

“Tired.”

“Any pain?”

Jim closed his eyes. “A little.”

Blair looked at him closely. The pain lines on his forehead and around his eyes were evidence of more than a little pain, but before Blair could call him on it, Jim spoke.

“How long have I been here?” Jim asked without opening his eyes.

Blair sighed. “You’ve been here since yesterday afternoon. You scared the crap out of me, Jim. You had some internal bleeding, but the doctors were able to repair the damage and replace the blood you lost. You also have a concussion, and you’re knee is badly sprained.”

Jim opened his eyes at Blair’s tone of voice. There was relief in Blair’s eyes, but the lines in his forehead and the bags under his eyes gave testament of too little sleep and a whole lot of worrying.

“I’m sorry,” Jim whispered.

Blair looked puzzled. “Sorry for what?”

“For worrying you.”

“Oh, hey, that’s not your fault. You just concentrate on getting better. How about we work on getting the dials down and you can get some rest?”

Jim was too tired to argue. He nodded and closed his eyes. Then he remembered what had happened. His eyes snapped open again.

“It was them. It was the burglars,” he said.

Blair gripped Jim’s arm, both to comfort him and to keep him in bed. “Yes, it was.”

“But they only go after families,” Jim said, puzzled.

“Yeah. They robbed your dad’s place a few days ago,” Blair admitted and hurried to reassure him. “But he’s ok. He and Sally weren’t home at the time.”

Jim was relieved to hear that, but the worry wasn’t completely gone. “They’ll be going after Steven next.”

“Don’t worry. Simon’s got that covered. He’s got police officers stationed outside Steven’s house. If they try anything, they’re going down. Now relax and let’s get those dials down.”

Jim finally relaxed. He listened to the soft, gentle tones of his Guide and followed his instructions. One by one, they got the dials on his senses turned down. By the time they were done, Jim was asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When next Jim awoke, he found the chair Blair had been sitting in earlier empty. He rubbed his face and glanced out the window. Judging from the placement of the sun, it had to be close to noon. His eyes left the window and, to his surprise, fell on his father sitting in a chair near the window reading a magazine. His brother, Steven, sat in a chair next to him asleep, an open magazine resting on his chest. He had slid so far down in the chair to such a precarious position he looked like he was going to slip off at any moment. The whole scene brought a smile to Jim’s face.

William Ellison looked up from his magazine and saw a pair of pale blue eyes similar to his own looking back at him. He smiled and put his magazine down. He got up and moved to his son’s side.

“Jimmy! You’re awake!” William exclaimed happily. “Stevie, wake up. Your brother’s awake.”

Steven startled awake at his father’s exclamation. He slid further down in the seat and nearly slid right down to the floor before he was able to push himself up again. Jim snorted and tried to keep from laughing out right.

“Need some help there, bro?” Jim asked, his lips curling into a smile.

“No, I’m good.” He went to get up and let out a groan, putting a hand to his back. “But now I’ve got a terrific backache. I swear these stupid chairs are a chiropractor’s dream.”

Jim laughed. He put a hand to his stomach as bruised muscles made themselves known, but the pain didn’t hinder the Sentinel’s laughter. He needed the release.

“Yeah, laugh it up,” Steven said indignantly but with a smile on his face. “So how are you doing?”

Jim mentally checked himself out. He didn’t ache as much as he had when he first woke. His head didn’t pound so much and he felt more awake and refreshed than he had in days.

“Better,” he answered. “So how long have you two been here?”

The two Ellison men looked at each other and then at the third member of their family.

“In the room or here in the hospital?” Steven asked.

“Both.”

“Well, we’ve been in the room for almost an hour now,” Steven replied.

“And I’ve been in the hospital since just after you went to surgery,” William said.

“And I’ve been here in the hospital since you were moved into a regular room,” Steven said.

Jim looked at his father and brother, two men he hadn’t had the best relationship with but was working hard to rectify that. He was glad to see it was working, considering they were both there. If something like this had happened six months ago, he doubted his father would have come, and his brother wouldn’t have even been contacted. He smiled.

“Thanks for being here,” he said quietly.

“Hey, anything for my big brother,” Steven said, placing a hand on Jim’s arm.

There was silence between them for a few minutes before Jim cleared his throat and decided to change the subject. “So, uh, where’s Blair?”

“Oh, Captain Banks and Captain Taggart took him out to lunch,” William replied.

“Yeah, they practically had to drag him out of here,” Steven added.

Jim smiled. He wasn’t the least bit surprised. Blair tended to care more about others than he did himself. He didn’t have a lot of self-preservation in these situations.

“And they left you a little guest.” Steven pointed to the other side of the bed.

Jim looked down over the edge of the bed and saw Buddy lying on his side. A huge smile spread across his face.

“Buddy! Hey boy! Come here!” Jim patted the side of the bed.

Buddy’s head snapped up at Jim’s exclamation. He immediately stood up and jumped up onto the bed with his two front paws. Jim, with Steven’s help, managed to move the head of the bed up so he could better reach the dog. He petted him and hugged him close, happy to see that he was ok. The ordeal didn’t even seem to faze the dog. His tail was wagging furiously and he was trying to lick Jim’s face but couldn’t quite reach that far. He tried to get all the way up onto the bed, but Jim pushed him back gently.

“Oh no. I’m not quite well enough to have your weight lying on me,” Jim said.

Buddy didn’t seem too daunted though. He just gave up trying to lick Jim’s face and licked his hands instead. The door opened at that point and Blair and Joel entered. Blair smiled when he saw Jim awake.

“Hey Jim. How are you doing, big guy?” Blair asked. He sat down in the seat he had been sitting in earlier and rubbed Buddy’s back.

“Much better,” Jim answered, continuing to pet Buddy’s head.

“Well glad to hear it,” a deep voice said from the doorway. Simon entered, putting his cell phone back in his pocket. “Because I have some good news and some bad news.”

“Well, I think Dad and I should go get something to eat. I’m starving. We’ll leave you guys to talk about the case or whatever. We’ll see you later, Jim,” Steven said, gathering his coat and his father’s. He slung an arm around William’s shoulder and pulled him to the door. William only had time to wave before they were gone.

After they were gone, Jim looked at his captain. “So what’s the good news?”

“Our burglars have been caught.”

“Really?” Blair said. “That’s great. But what’s the bad news?”

“One of them got away.”

“You’re kidding. What happened?” Joel asked.

“They tried to break into Steven’s house and got caught. One of them gave in without a fight. Another tried to escape out the backdoor but got caught in the backyard. The third attacked an officer with a crowbar and got shot in the shoulder, but he’ll survive. And somehow, in the chaos, the fourth got away.”

“What are the names of the three you have?” Jim asked. He had a feeling he knew which one got away.

“Scott Logan, Will Knox, and Lee Calhoun. All three are willing to cut a deal. The identified their partner as…”

“Jack,” Jim whispered, remembering the one with the gun who had tried to shot him and Buddy who his companions had called Jack.

“Right,” Simon said. “His name is Jack Monroe. He’s wanted for B & E, assault and battery, assault with a deadly weapon, and attempted murder, among other things.”

“What about the other three?” Jim asked.

“Scott Logan, 16, was sent to Juvenile Hall after he was caught breaking into a neighbor’s house and stealing a gold watch. It was shortly after he returned that he met Jack. Lee Calhoun, 23, was a smalltime safecracker. He was suspected of taking part in a couple of bank jobs a while back, but the police couldn’t find enough evidence to convict him.”

“They had quite a team going here. Someone to get them into the houses, and someone to get them into the safe if there is one,” Joel said.

“What about the other guy?” Blair asked.

“Will Knox. Now he’s a real piece of work. When Knox was 15, he beat a man to death with a metal bat. When the police questioned him on why he did it, he simply said, ‘Because he was there.’”

“Oh man,” Blair whispered.

“He’s also wanted in the connection of several beatings in the area, but he never stays in one place long enough for the police to find him.”

“That’s definitely quite a team,” Joel said.

“Yeah. Knox was probably muscle, hired to do the dirty work. He’s probably the one who did all the beatings,” Jim said. He sighed and rubbed his forehead. His headache was starting to come back. “So what are we going to do about Monroe?”

“I put out an APB, and I’ve got every available man out there looking for him. In the meantime, I’ve posted a man outside your room, just in case.”

“Do you really think he’ll come after Jim?” Blair asked, worried.

“I’d say that’s a possibility,” Simon replied gravely. “Jim’s the reason they were caught and his little operation is now over. He may be looking for revenge.”

“If that’s the case,” Jim said, “why not wait for him to come to us?”

“What?” Simon said.

“Jim,” Blair began.

Jim held up his hand. “Just hear me out. I have an idea.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jack Monroe cruised through the corridors of Cascade General. He held a nice bouquet of flowers in his hand, looking for all the world like he was there to wish a patient well. All he had to do was kill the cop and his little friend if he’s there, and then he’ll be free. There was still, of course, those three ingrates who no doubt gave the police his name, but they were in jail, and if his contacts were true to their word, they won’t be alive for much longer.

Jack smiled. It was the perfect plan. And maybe, if he was lucky, that stupid dog will be there too. He could have a little more fun with that damn dog. He could do so much more to the animal. That’ll teach him to attack Jack Monroe.

He approached the nurses’ desk, a fake smile pasted across his face. The redhead looked at him with a smile of her own.

“Yes, can I help you?” she asked with an Australian accent.

“Yes, I’m here to see a very good friend of mine. He was attacked in his home earlier, and I would really like to see how he’s doing,” Jack said as politely as he could stomach.

“Ok, and what’s his name?”

“Jim Ellison.”

The woman checked her computer. “Ah yes. Ellison. He’s in room 203. I’m sure he’ll love the flowers.”

“Yes, I’m sure he will,” Jack said as he headed down the hallway.

Inspector Megan Connor watched him go, the smile disappearing from her face. She picked up the phone.

“Captain, he’s on his way.”

Jack glanced back to make sure the nurse couldn’t see him anymore before he discarded the flowers in a nearby trash receptacle. Upon entering room 203, he found it to be dark. It appeared that Ellison was asleep. Good. It would make it easier. He was a little disappointed to see that that little hippie punk wasn’t in the room as well. He would have enjoyed killing him.

He walked across the room, without turning on the light, toward the figure in the bed. He took a knife out of his coat pocket and raised it above his head, intending to stab his victim in the chest. When suddenly the lights flipped on, and his victim sat up in the bed and aimed a gun at him. Only it wasn’t his intended victim.

The room suddenly filled with police, all aiming guns at him. Damn it. They set a trap for him, and like an idiot, he fell for it. Well, they aren’t going to catch him so easily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Captain Simon Banks entered the hospital room, gun drawn. Brown came in after him, followed by Joel and a couple of uniforms. They fanned out from the doorway so they could each have a clear shot at the assailant holding the knife.

“Police! Freeze!” Simon yelled.

Monroe seemed to wilt. He slowly lowered his arms and dropped the knife. Rafe, who had been the decoy, got out of the bed and pulled out his handcuffs. He pulled Monroe’s hands behind his back, intending to subdue the prisoner. But Monroe managed to break out of Rafe’s grasp. He elbowed the detective in the stomach and then threw him into the other officers, knocking them down and freeing the way for his escape.

He bolted out the door, but he didn’t get far. The minute he stepped out the door, he was slammed hard against the wall and held there. He felt hot breath on his neck, and a cold voice whispered in his ear.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Jim held him against the wall with arm across his shoulder blades. He grabbed one of Jack’s arms, pulled it behind his back, and held it there, pushing upwards slightly, just enough to cause some pain.

“If you think you can get away this time, you’re wrong.”

“Fuck you.”

“You know maybe I should let Buddy have a crack at you. You know he would love to rip you to shreds,” Jim said coldly. He looked back to where Blair was standing holding onto a leashed Buddy. The dog wasn’t barking, but he was growling fiercely. He looked about ready to charge.

Jack looked at Jim and then at Buddy and then relaxed in the Sentinel’s grip.

“Jim,” Simon called. He tossed a pair of handcuffs to his detective who immediately cuffed the prisoner. “Get this piece of garbage out of here.”

A couple of unformed officers took charge of the prisoner. As they were leading him away, Blair approached Jim to help steady him as he still couldn’t put much weight on his injured knee, Buddy leading the way. Buddy stretched to the end of his leash and was able to reach the cuffed prisoner. But instead of biting him, he simply lifted his leg, and peed all over his shoe.

“What the…” Monroe said. He looked down at what the dog had done. “Why you fucking mutt! Come here! I’ll kill you!” he yelled angrily, struggling against the officers who held him.

Blair, Jim, and Simon were laughing their heads off as Buddy walked calmly back and sat down next to Jim with finality. He had such a look of satisfaction. It was almost as if he was saying, ‘Yep, my job is done here.’ Blair and Jim both bent down to pet the animal.

“Now that’s what I call justice,” Jim said.

“He’d make a good police dog,” Blair commented.

They all had a good laugh over Buddy’s antics until Dr. McMaster showed up.

“Gentlemen, I take it we caught our criminal?” McMaster asked.

“Oh, doctor,” Simon said. “Yes, we did. Thank you so much for the use of the hospital to spring our trap. We really appreciate it.”

“It was my pleasure. Now that everything is all said and done, let’s get Jim back into bed.”

“Uh, doc. Do we really have to? I mean I feel…” Jim began.

“Don’t say it. Don’t even think it,” Blair interrupted.

“Better,” Jim finished. “I was going to say better.”

“No, you were going to say fine. I’m beginning to hate that word. You’re not fine. You can’t even stand on your own. Now, don’t argue with the doctor.”

“But Chief…” He paused when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked over his shoulder at Simon.

“Ellison.”

“Yes?” Jim said resignedly.

“Get back into bed. And that’s an order.”

Jim sighed. He knew when he was beaten. “Yes sir.”

By the time they got Jim settled back into bed and the doctor had checked him out to make sure he didn’t re-injure himself, Simon, Blair, and Joel were the only ones left in the room.

“Well,” Simon said, looking at his watch. “I have to get back to the station. You get some rest, Jim. I want you back on duty as soon as possible.”

“Will do, Simon,” Jim said as Simon left.

Joel made to follow but stopped at the door and turned to the two men. “Hey guys. Are you still looking for a home for Buddy?”

Jim and Blair smiled at each other. Blair looked back at Joel and said, “Yeah, you still interested?”

“Very.”

“You’re welcome to have him,” Jim said.

“Yeah, but one condition,” Blair added, giving Jim a sidelong smile.

“What’s that?” Joel asked even though he had a feeling he knew the answer.

“We get to visit him any time we want.”

Joel smiled. “Deal.”

“Yes!” Blair exclaimed.

“Hey, you hear that, Buddy. You’ve got yourself a permanent home,” Jim said, patting Buddy’s head.

Buddy looked at him and started wagging his tail.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

Jim lounged in a plastic chair on Joel Taggart’s back porch. His leg rested on another chair in front of him to elevate his injured knee. He had been out of the hospital now for about a week and had been stuck at home during that time. Plus he had to get around on crutches, which he really hated. The damn things drove him nuts, and coupled with the fact that he couldn’t return to work for another week, he had become very irritable, which in turn made Blair very irritable as well. So when the invitation to come to Joel’s for a barbeque had come up, the partners jumped on it. They needed to get out of the loft.

All the detectives from Major Crime had been invited as well as the captain and his son, Daryl. They all sat around the patio table watching Joel’s three kids play with Buddy in the vast backyard. Buddy had taken an immediate liking to the family and seemed to be enjoying his new home, and the kids were so excited to have a dog, especially one who was a hero.

“He really is good with kids,” Blair commented from the seat next to Jim.

“Well, he’s technically still a puppy. He’s energetic and loves to play, so it makes sense,” Jim said.

Blair looked at his partner. “Do you miss him?”

Jim leaned back in his chair. “Yeah, sometimes. But I’m glad he has a home.”

“Uncle Blair! Uncle Blair!” Tommy, Joel’s youngest, called. “Come play!”

Blair smiled, placed his drink on the table, and went to join the kids in their playtime. Simon sat in the seat Blair had vacated.

“He’s just a big kid, isn’t he?” Simon said.

Jim smiled. “Yeah, and I wouldn’t change him for the world.”

“Hey guys. Dinner’s almost ready,” Joel called. He stood in front of the grill, flipping burgers.

“Great. I am starving,” Brown said.

“Now why doesn’t that surprise me?” Rafe said jokingly.

“Hey!”

Jim smiled. Life was good. He had friends. He had family. But most importantly, he had Blair, his partner, his friend, and his brother. The kid was his anchor, his sanity, and he was someone he could talk to, although he’d probably never admit that, but the things he told Blair were things he would never have told anyone else.

And then there was Buddy. He truly was an amazing animal. Despite all that he’s been through, all the abuse he’s endured at the hands of man, he’s still an energetic, playful pup. He simply loves people, especially kids, and at first glance, there is no evidence that he was ever abused. Jim was glad Buddy had a stable home with people who love and care for him. He wished every situation turned out like this. Yep, life was definitely good.

The End

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author’s notes: This story is based on real events. My sister really did find a yellow Labrador in the forest preserves. He was covered in so much dirt and mud that they didn’t know he was yellow until they gave him a bath. The only thing is that he had no injuries. That I added in. And his name really was Buddy. It was the only name he responded to because a friend of my sister’s yelled out, “Hey Buddy!” And he came running.

He was such an excitable dog and he really loved people. Also, Buddy really did jump out of a moving vehicle. My sister was driving down the street, and Buddy just jumped over the person sitting in the front passenger seat and out the window . He went running after this guy walking his dog. Luckily, they were only going like 25mph at the time. Surprised the heck out of my sister though.

Buddy’s not a pup anymore though. He’s pretty old now. He’s still alive as far as I know. My sister was forced to give him away to a friend of a friend to take care of because she couldn’t anymore. We haven’t seen him since. We have pictures and memories, but that’s it. So I thought I’d write this story as sort of a tribute to him. I hope you all enjoyed reading it. Feedback is always appreciated.