New Arrivals
Author-LindaS
Titles

Connections
by LindaS

December 1999

Synopsis: Epilogue to The Girl Next Door. Originally posted to the Sentinel Angst List. Rated PG-13.

Note: The most creative and original story for this episode is Convergence written by Mackie. However, my epilogue was inspired by one of my favorite authors, DawnC. I suggest you read her missing scene from The Girl Next Door called Mug Shot of an Anthropologist, before reading mine. I couldn't help myself here. After reading her story, I felt that both Jim and Simon deserved a little guilt. Thanks to my twin, Sherrylou, who always offers me encouragement (that's a nice way to say she pesters me a lot so I will finish the story). A special thank-you to Nickerbits who took the time to beta this story. All remaining mistakes are mine. Spoilers, of course, for The Girl Next Door and a bit for Cypher. Feedback appreciated but please be kind.

Disclaimer: The characters of The Sentinel are owned by UPN and Pet Fly Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made.

Blair lay in bed, his right arm draped across his forehead. A small lamp provided the only illumination in the room. Staring at the ceiling, he let his mind drift. It had been hours since he heard the parting good-byes of Simon and Joel filter through the French doors. Tired, he had excused himself from the evening's activity, leaving Jim, Simon and Joel to their own accord. He had listened to the relaxed bantering between the men.

They were coming off an adrenaline high. Hell, they had brought down one major criminal, a few minor ones, and confiscated over half million dollars worth of heroin. Why shouldn't they be patting themselves on the back?

Of course, that wasn't how Blair was feeling. Instead, at least for a while there, Blair had felt like he was one of the criminals. He touched his fingers, picking at the tips. Though he had scrubbed his hands, there were still remnants of the ink in some of the whorls. Ink from when he had been fingerprinted. Hot tears stung his eyes as he remembered the humiliation. He still had trouble believing Simon had the nerve to book him.

First he was abducted and held against his will for twenty-four hours. And then, when he thought it was all over, he found his freedom was at stake again. What made the second situation worse was that it was his own friends who did it to him.

It would have served them right if he hadn't caught up with Iris. I should have let her get away with the drugs. And then what, Simon? Blair mentally asked, angrily wiping a tear from his eye. I certainly couldn't be booked if there were no evidence. The momentary payback over the dessert at dinner was not enough to release the young man's anger. It gave him little comfort now.

His mind drifted to Jim, his partner, roommate and best friend. It would have been nice if the man had shown concern in any one of those capacities. At first, when he had seen Jim, Blair had been so relieved. He had immediately obeyed Jim's request to go after Iris, never giving it a second thought that anything could come out of it. It just felt good, after all those hours of being a captive, now being the captor. It felt good slamming the trunk of his car on the girl and the drugs.

Afterward, he was almost giddy from the release of the tension that had been building during his captivity. He didn't even mind the ribbing about his "date from hell". It wasn't until they had returned to the station, realizing that he was being led to booking, that the emotional high took a noise dive. Charged with possession, he was held for four hours against his will. True, he was restrained in Simon's office, but he still couldn't get up and leave. Hell, he couldn't even go to the men's room without a guard.

The only difference between Parkman and Simon was that instead of being threatened with death, he was threatened with ten to twenty years in prison. And Jim let it all happen without a word. It had been a real nice way to end the day.

After Simon and Joel had left, Blair had listened to Jim puttering around in the kitchen. Then, Blair heard Jim pause outside his room. Holding his breath at that point, unsure whether he wanted to talk to Jim or not, he needn't have worried. The sound of Jim's feet padding up the stairs to his bedroom echoed throughout the loft. After a few minutes of listening to Jim walking around in his room, Blair had finally heard his roommate climb into bed.

At least Jim can sleep. Blair silently mulled over this fact while still lying in bed, with the thoughts of slumber being held at bay. Part of him was tired, so tired that all he wanted to do was sleep, and, yet, he was too tired to sleep. He had thought "that expression" was a diametrical saying. How could someone be too tired to sleep?

But, here he was, exhausted from the events that had taken place in the last thirty hours, staring at the ceiling. And, perhaps that was for the best, because the other part of him did not want to go to sleep. Sleeping meant giving up control of his mental process to his unconscious mind. He was not ready for what his brain in a dream state would concoct from the whole incident, especially the incident with Parkman.

Blair shuddered. Rolling over in bed, he moaned as his muscles protested the move. He had noticed, when he had taken a shower earlier this evening, that he sported a rather impressive array of bruises. Most were finger bruises on his arms. Most had occurred when he had been bounced like a ping pong ball between Iris, Chance, Rob and Parkman. Some of the others occurred when he had stumbled and fell while running down the train tracks. He sat up and clutched his left forearm, which was now throbbing. It hadn't bothered him much before, perhaps he had been too numb to notice. It did hurt a bit when he had played the guitar earlier, but then, so did his whole body. The adrenaline which had kept him going throughout this misadventure had worn off and now each bump and bruise appeared to be in competition in making itself known.

Staring at the clock that now read three a.m., Blair knew he wouldn't get any sleep tonight. In fact, he didn't want to sleep. All he could see when he closed his eyes was a replay of the past day's events. Clutching his stomach, he sat up on the edge of his bed. He hadn't eaten any dinner. Hell, he hadn't eaten since lunch of the day he had been abducted. He should be hungry and, yet, the idea of food was nauseating. Feeling on edge and tense, he thought perhaps a cup of tea would help soothe his nerves.

Using the light from the full moon, Blair moved softly out to the kitchen and turned the kettle on. Before it could whistle, he removed it from the burner and made a cup of tea. Grasping the warm cup, he crossed to the table and sat down. A sip of the hot brew comforted the young man. He had felt too many emotions today.

There had been fear, relief, humiliation and anger. It had been exhausting. Fear was the worst. How many times did he think he was going to die? Parkman definitely would have done it. The time he had pulled the trigger, Blair had expected the impact. Instead, it was just a damn click. Shit! He had been so scared.

Blair's hands started to shake, as the full impact of the almost deadly encounter made itself known. The cooling tea sloshed over the rim onto the table. Blair sat the cup down before it could slip from his hand. Running his fingers through his hair, he felt his heart pounding in his chest. His breaths quickened and he knew he was on the verge of a panic attack. Blair rested his hands lightly on the tabletop, closed his eyes and concentrated on his respiration. Better get my breathing under control before Jim leaps out of bed thinking I'm under attack. Able to calm his breathing down, but not his mind, Blair stared out into the darkness of the loft, continuing to dwell on the events surrounding his abduction.

********************

In the morning, Jim found Blair sitting at the table in front of a half-drunk cup of tea. Noticing the weary look on his friend's face, he felt a pang of guilt. It didn't appear his roommate had gotten any sleep last night. Jim, himself tired from the hunt for his friend, had slept soundly -- so soundly that he hadn't hear Blair up and about during the night.

"Simon wants to meet with us this morning. Why don't you take the shower first, Sandburg, while I prepare breakfast?"

Blair barely acknowledged Jim's presence. Nodding his head, he pushed the cup aside. He rose as if on automatic and proceeded across the room to the bathroom.

Jim watched, with a worried look. The kid was way too quiet. Perhaps he should have talked to Blair about the incident, but, with the arrest, the interrogations and then the impromptu dinner last night, there hadn't seemed to be any time. And, of course, Blair appeared fine, maybe a bit quiet given the circumstances, but he had fixed dinner and played his guitar. His roommate even had taken some sort of satisfaction from that practical joke with the dessert. Jim rubbed his tongue against his teeth, swearing he could still taste that concoction made from the moldy dates.

We'll talk over breakfast, Jim thought, as he pulled the eggs out of the refrigerator.

*********************

Blair stripped off his shirt, noticing the finger bruises on both upper arms. His left forearm now was a little swollen and displayed a dark bruise, which he hadn't noticed yesterday. Must have pulled something, Blair thought, rubbing the arm before stepping into the shower.

The warm water massaging his muscles felt wonderful and Blair tried to release the tension he felt building within. For some unknown reason, he couldn't seem to get a handle on his emotions. The fear was still there. He didn't know why he didn't feel safe. He wrapped his arms around his trembling body. Hell, Sandburg, it's over, he reprimanded himself. Get a grip before Jim comes bursting through the door. "It's over," he repeated that saying again and again as his mantra, while taking deep breathes. Now, if he could only convince his mind it was over.

********************

Jim, putting the scrambled eggs on the plates, threw a concerned look toward the bathroom. Generally, he gave the kid privacy, but now he was wondering if he should check up on him. Before he could decide, Blair exited the bathroom wrapped in a robe. Strolling over to the table, he sat down.

"These look great. Thanks, Jim." Blair smiled, putting on a false bravado.

Jim consumed his eggs and was on a second piece of toast when he noticed Blair hadn't eaten a bite from his plate. The kid was pushing the eggs back and forth. Jim stared at his friend, knowing something was amiss.

"Is there something wrong, Chief?" Jim's question was not only about the eggs.

"No---no, the eggs are fine. I…I guess I'm not that hungry," Blair stammered. "I think I'll get dressed now." Blair pushed his chair away from the table and crossed over to his room.

Jim just shook his head, picking up the two plates from the table. That's not what I meant, Chief.

********************

Simon poured himself a cup of coffee, taking in the aroma of the dark rich blend. He sat down at his desk, reveling in the liquid. "Ah, French Roast." Setting the cup down and picking up the file in front of him, he couldn't help but smile. Nabbing Parkman and the drugs had put a feather in his cap with the DA, the commissioner and the mayor. Yes sir, it was a good bust.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Enter."

The assistant DA, Sharon Campbell, came in. Captain Banks rose to greet her. "Won't you have a seat?" he asked, indicating the chair in front of his desk. He couldn't help but to admire her form as she crossed the room to the chair. He was attracted to her and had been toying with the idea of asking her out. "Would you like some coffee?"

She nodded. Simon handed a cup to her, which she accepted while crossing her long, dark legs. Flashing a bright smile, she stated in a firm, but friendly voice, "I'd like to thank Major Crime for all the work in the Parkman case." She took a sip of the coffee. "Mmm, this is good." Smiling, she again continued, "Ms. Johnson, her brother and boyfriend are all eager to roll over on each other. Each one is trying to cop a plea. It also appears, due to the overwhelming evidence against Parkman, that he is willing to plea bargain. Looks like we may be able to save the taxpayers some money in avoiding an expensive trial."

"Well, that is good news." Simon liked it when all the loose ends were tied up into nice neat knots. "That will also be a relief for Sandburg, if he doesn't have to testify."

"Sandburg?" Ms. Campbell was momentarily puzzled. "Oh, the civilian. I was meaning to ask you about him. I noticed that after you brought him back to the station, you had him booked. You don't think we will get any bad press from him, such as kidnapped victim rescued and then arrested by police? After all, this is an election year and you didn't exactly follow departmental policy in regards to victims of crimes."

"Oh, you don't have to worry about Sandburg. He's one of ours."

"One of ours?"

"He's a police observer. He rides with Detective Ellison. We kind of consider him part of Major Crimes. He should be no problem."

"Oh, I guess it didn't register," Ms. Campbell said, looking through the folder. "I never imagined you would book one of…" She paused looking for the right word. "What I mean is, if it was one of your detectives that had been abducted, would you have booked him?"

The question caught Simon by surprise, like a deer caught in a headlight.

The Assistant DA continued. "It's a good thing I don't work in this department. I would have been more than peeved, if it had been me who was arrested." Ms. Campbell smiled, trying to make light of the situation.

Simon rubbed his forehead. Hell, would he have arrested one of his own men? Jim, Joel, Brown or Rafe? He couldn't imagine it. And, what if it had been his son, Darryl? There would have been no way that would have happened. As for a civilian, well the department policy was pretty explicit on the procedure to be followed. She was right. Why hadn't he followed the policy? He hadn't even considered it. Was booking Sandburg some sort of punishment for all the worry he had caused -- for going out with the wrong girl? Gee, Simon quietly admonished himself. I'm not his father. What I did by booking him was equivalent to the criminals' own mistreatment. Instead of offering comfort, I continued to terrorize the victim.

Ms. Campbell, realizing she touched upon a sore subject, rose. "If you will excuse me, Captain Banks, I need to get back to my office."

"Of course," he replied, absentmindedly, rising after her. Any thoughts of asking her out on a date had long since fled his mind.

As she left the office, Simon sat back down at his desk. Picking up the folder containing Blair's statement, he flipped through it. He had read the statement first thing this morning and found it disturbing. The kid went through hell and he hadn't seemed to help matters at all. Taking a swig of his coffee, Simon stared at the cup. The brew now tasted flavorless and bitter.

********************

Jim, monitoring his partner carefully on the elevator ride to the seventh floor, heard Blair's heart rate increase. Casting a glance at the observer, Jim couldn't discern any outward changes and, yet, there was something wrong. What is the kid thinking? Blair had kept to himself during the drive to the station. No amount of prodding had produced more than a one or two word response. After meeting with Simon, he needed to take Sandburg somewhere private and get the kid to open up.

As Jim approached his desk, Simon's voice boomed, "Ellison, my office, now!" There was a pause, then the voice added in a softer tone, "Alone." Jim gave Blair a shrug and proceeded into the office.

Blair sat down at Jim's desk, pushing aside some of the paperwork. Deciding to sort though the interoffice mail, he picked up the large envelope. If he appeared busy, he could avoid discussing yesterday's misadventure with anyone. Knowing the station's underground gossip line, he was sure his booking was the number one topic. He didn't know how right he was, until he opened the envelope and pulled out a wanted poster.

At first, the image on the poster didn't register. Blair sat there staring at the piece of paper in his hand. On it was the mug shot of him taken yesterday, both the front and side views. The picture of the man on the poster looked stunned, the eyes were glassy and unfocused. Below the pictures was a description of the wanted ‘suspect,' along with a list of his crimes, starting with drug possession and ending with poor judgment of the opposite sex. It was someone's sick sense of humor.

Blair's hands shook holding the paper. The humiliation of the booking was once again fresh in his mind. He glanced around the bullpen wondering if anyone there was gauging his reaction and perhaps taking pleasure in his misery. Gads, I don't deserve this. He crumpled the paper, letting it fall onto the desk. With his stomach churning, he knew he had to get out of the bullpen and fled straight to the men's room.

Rushing into a stall, Blair vomited the bit of tea he had drunk earlier and then continued with dry heaves. With the feeling finally subsiding, Blair rose and crossed over to the sinks. Rinsing out his mouth, he stared at the reflection in the mirror. The man staring back at him looked very much like the man on the wanted poster, stunned and confused.

********************

Jim entered Simon's office and sat down facing his superior. Simon handed the detective a folder. "I take it, you haven't seen Sandburg's statement?"

"No," Jim replied, wondering what was in the document if Simon was making an issue out of it.

"I suggest you review it."

Jim scanned the papers. His jaws clenched as he read the statement. During the chase, Jim had been concerned for his partner, however, he never knew that Blair had been so close to death so many times. It was mere luck that he had found Sandburg alive and not lying dead in some ditch beside the road. Simon, watching Jim's reaction, could swear he could tell when Jim reached the part with Parkman by the angry glint that appeared in the detective's eyes.

With restraint, Jim closed the file, placing his hand on top of it. "Hell, I didn't…I never knew what Sandburg went through while he was missing. He seemed okay when it was over. He just hasn't talked about it." Jim stretched out his senses to check on his absent guide. Puzzled when he didn't locate Blair by his desk, he rose from the chair.

"I better go and check on him, Sir."

Simon nodded, understanding immediately to whom Jim was referring. "Could you bring him in here, Jim? I need to apologize."

Jim paused before leaving. "We both do."

********************

Passing his desk, Jim noticed the crumpled wad of paper and picked it up. Smoothing out the paper to reveal the bogus poster, his face hardened. Spying Joel nearby, he handed the poster to him.

"Do me a favor, Joel. Nip any more of these surprises in the bud."

It only took one glance at the paper for Joel to understand the situation. He was fond of the kid, as well as protective of him. He didn't like to see him used for this type of amusement. "Will do, Jim."

Jim left the bullpen, already knowing the location of his partner. Opening the door to the men's room, he found Blair leaning over the sink. "Okay there, Chief?" The distant look in Blair's eyes disturbed Jim. The young man who always seemed so centered, now appeared to be out of kilter.

"Fine, Jim," Blair replied, flashing a somewhat shaky smile.

Fine my ass, Chief. Right now, the detective wanted nothing more than to take Blair away from the station. There's probably too much for the kid to assimilate here. Assimilate -- hell, I'm starting to sound like Blair's mother. Jim forced a smile and placed a hand on his partner's shoulder. Blair jumped at the touch, surprising Jim who at once removed his hand.

"Let's check out what Simon wants and then get out of here." Jim suggested.

With that, Blair sighed, following the detective out of the room like an obedient dog.

********************

Well, here I am sitting in the chair as Simon had requested. Now what? Squirming in the chair, Blair felt uncomfortable. Yesterday's events were still firmly planted in his mind. He had no idea what Simon wanted to talk about, however, given the serious look on the older man's face, it wasn't going to be pleasant. For all he knew, Iris could have recanted her statement and he was about to find himself back in lock-up. The fleeting thought brought out a desire in Blair to bolt from the room. With surprising control, Blair kept his seat. Come on, Simon, any day now. He watched the older man open his mouth and then hesitate. Since Simon wasn't starting this conversation, he'd better do it.

"You wanted to see me, Sir?" Blair spoke with a strange detachment.

What's with the sir business, the kid never calls me sir. Simon, noticing the formal tone of the observer's voice, was momentarily taken aback. "About yesterday…" Simon started.

Blair interrupted. "I really don't want to discuss yesterday. Man, I really don't want to discuss yesterday. Simon, let's talk about anything but yesterday. My stomach won't stop churning and I really need to get out of here. "I have some work to finish up at the university, that is, if I'm free to go?" I better be free to go. Please tell me, Simon, that I can go.

If he didn't know better, Simon would have thought that the kid was trying to bait him. It almost worked. He was ready to explode with ‘of course you're free to go, Sandburg!' Instead, he bit back his reply, understanding that the kid had to be hurting from the treatment he'd received at his hand. "Sandburg, there's something I need to say. I would appreciate it if you would listen."

"Sir, I really don't have the time this morning." Because, if I don't leave soon, I am going to lose it and I don't think it will go well with that blend of coffee you're drinking.

Simon shook his head. God, he called me sir again. The kid's not going to make this easy. Of course, given the circumstances, he doesn't have to. "Sandburg…"

"If it's okay with you, I would really like…" In the middle of the statement, Blair had pushed up on the arms of the chair to rise. A sharp pain seared through his left arm. Blair dropped back into the chair. "Shit!" he shouted, clutching his left arm to his chest.

Jim recognized the sound of pain in his partner's voice and rushed to Blair's side. Before Blair could protest, Jim carefully took the arm Blair was cradling. Sliding the sleeve of the shirt up, Jim probed the swollen, bruised limb.

"What happened, Chief?"

"Nothing, it's nothing." Blair snatched his arm away. He didn't need their sympathy now. "It's nothing, just a bruise."

"It's not nothing, Chief, it's broken. What happened?"

Blair ran his right hand through his hair. In addition to his unsettled stomach, now he felt the beginning of a headache. I do not want to discuss this.

"What happened, Blair?" This time, Jim repeated the words softly.

"I don't know. Man, I don't know. I was bounced around like a pinball and then I fell trying to get away from Parkman." Jim noticed Blair's voice had lost the earlier controlled tone and was taking on a tinge of hysteria.

"Hey, it's okay," Jim said, trying to calm the young man. "Why don't we go to the hospital to check it out." Jim assisted Blair out of the chair.

Blair paused at the door and turned toward Simon. "I'm sorry about this, Simon. I never gave you a chance to talk. Is it okay if we talk later?"

"Sure, Blair. Jim, keep me informed." Simon watched the two of them leave. Well, this hadn't worked out right. Blair left apologizing to him. Hell, if he felt bad before, he felt even worse now. No one had bothered yesterday to ask the kid if he was all right. He couldn't believe he had had Sandburg fingerprinted with a broken arm. So much for following the manual. Sandburg would have every right to throw the book at him for disobeying policy. Simon rubbed his large hand down his face and picked up the observer's statement again. He had assumed that Blair was all right. For once the saying about "assume" applied. He was the epitome of a jackass.

********************

After an hour of waiting at the hospital since his injury was non-critical, Blair was finally ushered into an ER cubical. Jim followed him in, keeping him company while waiting for the doctor to arrive. Helping Blair on with the gown, Jim berated himself when he saw the bruises on Blair's body. He had to bite his tongue not to say anything. In the truck Blair had avoided any attempts at a conversation. Still keeping to himself, the kid appeared sullen and withdrawn.

Blair laid down on the table, wondering if the past events were finally catching up to him. His stomach didn't seem to want to settle down. The headache that had begun in Simon's office had settled into a steady rhythm. He knew Jim was bothered by his silence, but he wasn't in a mood for what he was sure would turn into a lengthy discussion.

When the doctor did enter, Blair sat up, to be greeted by Dr. Miller. Closer to Jim's age than his own, Blair, nevertheless, found her attractive and on previous occasions had flirted with her mercilessly. She always rebuffed his attempts. After a quick nod in Jim's direction, acknowledging his presence, she turned her attention to the patient.

"So, Blair, what brings you here today?" She already knew the complaint from the intake form but, by questioning the patient and judging the response, it helped her to assess the patient's condition. Blair held out his left arm.

"Well, that looks rather nasty. How did it happen?"

Blair shrugged his shoulder. "I fell."

Dr. Miller noted that the injury was not fresh. "And, when was that?"

"Yesterday afternoon, I guess. I'm not sure." Blair rubbed his forehead. He didn't want to think about it.

The doctor, noting the bruises on the patient's knees, asked, "And, is that when you bruised your knees?"

"I think so," Blair lied. He really didn't remember as the past events had somewhat melded together.

"You think so?" The doctor queried.

"Yeah… I mean no. Man, I really don't remember," Blair stammered. His distress was clearly visible to Dr. Miller.

The doctor was puzzled by the young man's response. She had seen Blair hurt worse than this and he still would be joking with the medical personnel or trying to finagle a date from one of the nurses. She was just about to ask about the finger bruises on his arms, when she noted a change in his breathing.

"I really don't feel well." Blair said, clutching his stomach. The doctor, recognizing the signs, grabbed a small dish from the counter as Jim moved beside Blair, rubbing his back and telling him to take deep breaths. It didn't seem to help as Blair proceeded with a bout of dry heaves.

Making a few notations on her chart, the doctor addressed her patient, "Blair, why don't you lay back and rest while I speak with Jim." In a firm voice, she said, "Detective, may I see you outside?"

As soon as they were out the door, the doctor lashed into Jim. "Would you care to explain what's going on, Detective?" The doctor asked, in a cool and detached tone. "Given his injuries and bruising, I'm a hair breath away from reporting him as an abuse victim."

"It's not that," Jim stated.

"Oh, then what is it?" Dr. Miller shot a glared at the man while waiting for the explanation. Jim then provided her with the details of the last few days.

"Why wasn't he brought in sooner?" she snapped. "Since when has the police department changed its policy on kidnapped victims?" Jim didn't have an answer for her. "And, why, Detective, wasn't anything said when you brought him in? That man was traumatized and I should have been informed before I began my treatment. Now, is there anything else I should know?"

"No, ma'am." Jim replied, feeling thoroughly chastised. How had he messed up this situation? Berating himself, he followed the doctor back into the exam room.

Jim watched with amazement as the doctor's demeanor changed when she addressed Blair. Kind of like watching Mr. Hyde turning back into Dr. Jeckyll.

"Well, Blair, from what Jim told me, you been through quite a lot during the past few days." The doctor continued the easy rambling while examining Blair. During her ministration, she could tell that her patient's fear was diminishing.

"Blair, I have just a few questions to ask before we get your arm x-rayed. Is that okay?"

Blair nodded.

"With all that has happened, you've probably been upset. Do you recall the last time you ate?"

"I'm not sure. I didn't eat breakfast, did I, Jim?" Blair asked, glancing at Jim. The detective shook his head. "I think it was lunch, two days ago."

"I see, and what about fluids?"

"I had some tea this morning."

"And, were you able to keep it down?"

"No." Blair looked down at the floor. "I was sick at the station this morning."

"Well, radiology is backed up right now, so while you're waiting, how about we start an IV to replace some of those fluids?" Blair nodded and laid back.

"If you like, I can also give you something for the pain. It will help you to relax." She could tell the man was tense, fine tremors were running through his muscles and his arm had to be bothering him.

Blair bolted back up. "No --- no," he responded, with such force that it surprised both Jim and the doctor. "I'm fine. I don't need to relax." Blair did not want any drugs that might cause him to fall asleep. If he couldn't forget Parkman's face while he was awake, he was sure he wasn't ready for it in his dreams.

"Then I won't give you anything," she reassured him. Jim noticed how the doctor phrased all her questions, letting Blair make the decision. After being robbed of his freedom, the doctor was attempting to give some of it back. This was something Jim could have done and, yet, he had failed his friend miserably. When he had found Blair, the first thing he had done was order him to go after one of the people who had kidnapped him. He treated his friend as if nothing had happened. That it was just another day of chasing the bad guys. Then, upon arrival back at the station, he didn't fight Simon when the captain had Blair booked. Finally, he hadn't even bothered to ask Blair how he was. Jim just took for granted that the kid was fine and, of course, that speculation turned out to be wrong. He might as well take down that ‘Blessed Protector' shingle.

********************

It was another hour before radiology had an opening. Finally, the x-ray confirmed what Jim had already felt. The ulna in Blair's forearm was broken -- a simple fracture. As the doctor applied the cast, she managed to get a smile out of Blair. A white cast being a thing of the past, Blair had a choice of colors from a camouflage-colored cast to a rainbow one. Choosing a light blue one, the doctor remarked how it brought out the color of his eyes. By the time Blair was ready to leave, his appearance was better.

The doctor provided Jim with the prescriptions. One was for a painkiller and the other was for a sedative. Both of which Jim knew Blair would fight taking, aware that the anthropologist hated putting anything unnatural into his body. The doctor further told Jim that the next few days might be rough for his friend. His emotions may be out of sync. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea for him to talk to someone about what happened. She could recommend a good therapist. Dr. Miller could already tell Blair was sleep deprived and that he needed to rest in order to get better. Finally, she instructed Jim to make sure that Blair was eating and getting enough fluids, even though he may not feel like it.

Thanking the doctor for her concern, Jim went to gather Blair, to take him back home.

********************

Ushering Blair inside the loft, Jim was amazed his friend was still on his feet. Barely awake, the kid was walking like a zombie.

"Why don't you go to your room and lie down." Jim suggested, knowing Blair had to cave in sometime soon.

"No, I think I'll just stay out here on the couch. Maybe watch some TV." Blair shuffled over to the couch and flopped down. Picking up the remote he began to channel surf, finally settling on a documentary on The Discovery Channel.

That should put him out, Jim mused, listening to the narrator drone on about the insects of the Amazon basin. Moving to the kitchen, Jim pulled out a saucepan. "How about some soup?"

"Fine -- whatever." Blair waved with his good hand, never taking his eyes off the documentary.

By the time the soup was done, Jim was surprised to see that Blair was still awake. The kid managed to eat a bit, even though his coordination was being affected by the lack of sleep. Jim had to bite his tongue, not to order Blair to bed.

"Listen, you're pretty well out on your feet. The doctor prescribed a sedative, if you would like to take it."

"No -- no drugs. I'm fine." Blair ran a shaky hand through his hair.

"You're not fine, Blair. You need to get some rest. If you don't want to take anything, why don't you at least lay down for a while." Jim could see that Blair was mulling over this idea. "If you'd like, I could wake you in a few hours."

Blair eyed his bedroom, knowing he couldn't stay up indefinitely. "Okay," Blair responded hesitantly. "But, make sure you wake me for dinner."

"I will, now go." Jim watched as Blair went to his room. At least one obstacle was over. Jim quickly cleared off the table. Picking up the phone, he dialed Simon's number.

Jim updated Simon on Sandburg's condition. Knowing Simon was still feeling guilty about the preceding events, Jim invited him over to dinner. With the phone call concluded, he went to sit on the couch. Picking up a book to read, he still kept his hearing tuned into his partner. Jim smiled. Blair's respiration and heart rate had slowed, indicating his partner had finally fallen to sleep.

********************

Jim was just checking on the lasagna when Simon arrived, or he would had been at the door before the man had a chance to knock.

"Slipping there, Jim?" The captain couldn't miss an opportunity to tease his number one detective.

"No, just checking on dinner, which happens to smell better than those cigars you smoke." Jim walked back to the kitchen and pulled two beers out of the refrigerator. Opening them both, he handed one to his captain.

"Why don't we talk outside?" Jim moved across the loft and out onto the balcony. Taking a swig of the beer, he turned and leaned against the railing, facing Simon.

"I really screwed up this time, Simon."

"Don't you mean ‘we' really screwed up?" The captain wasn't about to let Jim shoulder the whole blame.

"Well, the doctor at the hospital reamed into me. She made me realize that I had totally forgotten that Blair was a victim in all of this. I mean, I didn't even ask Blair how he was after it was all over and I don't know why."

"Listen, you weren't the only one not to," Simon interrupted.

"I know, but Blair's not only my partner, but my friend and roommate. I, more than anyone else, should have. He calls me his ‘Blessed Protector.' Some ‘Blessed Protector.' I don't know what good my abilities are, if I can't even tell when he's hurt."

Simon, having had enough of this pity party, set his beer down. "I'll tell you what good your abilities are. Your abilities kept that kid from becoming another crime statistic. No one, Jim, no one else could have found him in time. And if you want to place blame, most of what happened afterwards was my fault. I have no idea why I had the kid booked. I was so worried about him and then when we found him, I was just so -- so…"

"So relieved, Simon?" Jim interjected.

"Yes, relieved, but also mad for him putting me through this. I know it doesn't make sense." Simon sputtered.

"Oh, it does. You were worried about him and when you found him safe and sound, you wanted to discipline him."

"You make me sound like his father."

"In some ways you are," Jim chuckled, then quickly added, "Well, at least an authority figure. The kid looks up to you."

"Maybe you're right, but not after this. How are we going to get pass this?"

"Slow and easy. I think you'll find Sandburg is awfully forgiving." Jim paused, cocking his head to one side. Hearing the increase in his partner's heart rate, Jim pushed past Simon. "Excuse me, I need to check on Blair." Jim rushed toward Blair's room with Simon close on his heel.

********************

The bed felt so good when Blair lay down. He wouldn't mind some sleep now, just no dreams. He closed his eyes and, before he realized it, he was fast asleep.

Blair noticed how dirty the bathroom was. The sink's faucet produced a steady drip, creating a worn brown-green stain on the porcelain. The toilet appeared to be constantly running. He faced Parkman and thought what a place to spend your last minutes of life. He wouldn't want to sit on the dirty floor but, once shot, he supposed that was where his body would fall. As if in slow motion, he watched Parkman's finger tighten on the trigger. In all its clarity, he saw the hammer pull back and then release. He held his breath and closed his eyes. There was a click and then, and then…nothing. He opened his eyes, surprised to be alive, even more surprised to see Simon standing in front of him.

"Simon," he gulped. "What happened?"

Simon, pulling out his handcuffs, replied in a flat tone, "Blair Sandburg, I place you under arrest for…"

"Noooo!" Blair screamed. He pushed the larger man aside and ran out the door. He found himself running, running -- first down the train tracks and then inside a warehouse. He paused, confused as to how he had gotten there. Looking around, he spied a dentist chair nearby. Recognition of the location slammed into Blair. "Lash!" Blair gasped. Staring across the room at the dreaded object, the observer began to shake. With trepidation, he walked over to the chair. There was a body chained to it. He gazed at the dirty blonde hair and lifeless brown eyes. It -- it was David Lash. But how?

"Freeze," a voice shouted. Blair spun around to find both Jim and Simon pointing their weapons at him.

"Jim," Blair said, in a shaky voice. "What's going on?"

"Cuff him," the captain ordered. "Blair Sandburg, I arrest you for the murder of…"

"Noooo!" Blair screamed. Jim had just snapped the cuff around his left wrist when he flung his arm. The loose shackle caught Jim across the forehead, sending him to the floor. Blair pushed pass Simon and ran about twenty feet before he felt himself tackled. Strong arms wrapped around his body.

"No, I didn't do anything. Tell him, Jim. This isn't happening." Blair shouted, trying to kick his way free, but the arms refused to let him go. "Please, Jim, help me. I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. Why is this happening?" he sobbed, realizing he couldn't escape. "Why, Jim, why?"

********************

Jim had recognized by the change in Blair's respiration that he was dreaming. He rushed into the room to find his partner struggling in the bed.

"Blair, wake up." Jim attempted to grab Blair by his shoulder, when the kid all of a sudden let out a scream and swung his left arm. Cracking Jim across the skull with his cast, Blair leapt from his bed. Stunned, Simon watched Jim fall. Pushing pass Simon, Blair headed for the front door. Simon, hesitating for a moment, saw Jim sitting up holding a hand on his forehead and waving for him to go after Blair. Before Blair could get twenty feet, Simon was able to tackle him, bringing him down to the floor.

"Sandburg, wake up." Simon wrapped his arms around the thrashing kid, trying to keep him from hurting himself.

"No, I didn't do anything. Tell him, Jim. This isn't happening." Blair shouted, flailing his legs. Simon couldn't believe how strong the kid was, especially since he still appeared caught up in his dream.

Jim staggered out of the bedroom, kneeling next to Blair. A small lump was beginning to swell above his eyebrow. "Blair, come on, buddy, wake up." He grabbed Blair by the shoulders.

"Please, Jim, help me. I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. Why is this happening?" Blair sobbed. "Why, Jim, why?"

Jim pulled Blair out of Simon's arms and wrapped his own around the man. "It's over now. You're safe. It's okay." Jim repeated over and over. His heart ached for the anguish in Blair's voice.

Simon rose and walked to the kitchen table, giving the two men some privacy.

Blair sobs finally quieted. He realized that the arms that once were restraining him, were now comforting him. Opening his eyes, he was surprised to find himself in the middle of the floor, cocooned in Jim's arms. Pulling back in embarrassment, he looked around, wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand.

"What happened?"

"Let's just say you had the mother of all nightmares." Jim tried to make light of the situation, understanding Blair's discomfort.

"Did I do that?" Blair reached up and touched the small bruise forming above Jim's eye.

"It was an accident, Chief. It's nothing." Jim reassured him.

"Oh, man. I'm so sorry." Blair pulled himself up off the floor and walked over to the kitchen table, noticing Simon for the first time. "I guess you were here for the floor show, huh?" Blair sat down at the table.

"You could say I had a front row seat."

Blair buried his head in his arms. "Do I even want to know what happened?"

Jim walked to the table, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder. "What do you say I put some coffee on? We can have a talk. Dinner can wait. Okay, Chief?"

"Sure, Jim. I can tell you right now I am so not worried about the caffeine keeping me up."

An uneasy silence was maintained while Jim brewed the coffee. Bringing the pot over to the table with three mugs, he sat down between Blair and Simon.

"Do you remember what your dream was about, Chief?" Jim asked, while pouring the coffee.

"Remember…Gads, I wish I could forget. It was about Parkman, Lash and -- and." Blair hesitated, glancing at his two friends, afraid to continue.

"And about us, right, Blair? About us, but in your dream we weren't helping you, were we?" Jim came right to the point.

"Yeah, but I'm sure it didn't mean anything. It was just a dream."

"Just a dream. Doesn't sound like a remark from someone who spouts the wonder of Freud. Come on, Blair. Simon and I are big boys. I'm sure we can handle anything your subconscious can dish out and it can't be anything worse than what we already think."

Blair deliberated, looking at both Jim and Simon. Jim was right. It couldn't be any worse than what they could imagine. "Let's just say in the first part, Parkman was ready to shoot me. I closed my eyes, heard the click and when I looked up, there was Simon, who was in the process of arresting me. I took off running and the next thing I knew, I was in the warehouse and Lash's body was chained to the dentist chair. Both you and Simon were there. Simon was telling you to arrest me for murder. I guess when you started putting the handcuffs on me, I freaked, Jim. I hit you and ran, but I didn't get very far. Simon tackled me." Blair stopped his story, looking at the two men. "So, you want to tell me what I missed?"

Simon stared at the observer. He had suspected as much but still it chilled his soul to hear it in words. "You didn't miss much. When Jim went to wake you, you slugged him and took off. I did tackle you and held you down until Jim was able to wake you." Simon swallowed. "Sandburg, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to interpret your dream. I know that my actions had a lot to do with it. Blair, I need to apologize."

Blair attempted to interrupt the captain, but the older man continued. "Just wait, let me have my say. It's something that you need to hear and I need to voice. In the past, I have always been quick to criticize you. You are well aware that, in the beginning, I didn't approve of your pairing with Jim. During the Lash case, I hastily pointed my finger at you as being the leak. I constantly tell you that you are not a cop and, yet, I don't hesitate to use you for an undercover assignment when the need arises. And, in spite of everything, you have never let anything I said interfere with our relationship. In fact, you have put your life on the line more than once for me -- and for my son. I know that I am slow to praise or thank you. Sure, I complimented you in front of your mother, but that was more or less coerced. What I'm trying to say, is that I appreciate all you do for the department but, more than that, I appreciate all you do for me. I don't know why I had you booked. It's just that I was so worried about you, and also a little frustrated too. I swear, Sandburg, with all the trouble you get into, you tend to give me more gray hair than my son. But, in spite of this, in spite of everything, I consider you my friend."

"Simon," Blair said, knowing this was the most the man had ever revealed his soul to him.

"I'm not finished yet," Simon stated, placing his hand on top of Blair's, waiting for the young man to look at him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for violating your trust and your friendship. I'm sorry for my actions and for not being there for you when you needed me. I can only hope you can forgive me."

The two men stared at each other. Blair could see the depth of emotion expressed in Simon's eyes. He began to understand the reasoning behind the booking. It was Simon's misdirected way of trying to keep his friend safe, of emphasizing Blair's importance with a sharp rap of a ruler instead of a hug. Blair felt some of the tension he was holding within released.

"You're forgiven," Blair replied, acknowledging the man's penitence. Naomi taught him the power of forgiveness. How it extended between the grantor and the grantee, absolving the guilt and releasing the hurt. He could remember more than once his mother embarrassing him by quoting the "Quality of Mercy" speech in front of his friends. However, the importance of the lesson remained long after the humiliation.

The two words startled the other man. "That's it?" Simon was amazed. He expected more. Blair Sandburg reduced to two words.

Blair smiled. "Well, does that mean curfew is lifted and I can use the car on Saturday, Dad?"

Simon removed his hand and pointed a finger. "Only if you're home by eleven and I get to check out your date first," the captain chuckled. He didn't realized how much he missed Sandburg's wit until he heard it.

Jim felt like a voyeur watching the interplay between his two friends. He was glad for Simon but he still needed his conscience to be cleared. However, he didn't think there could be anything the wizard … or should he say shaman … could pull out of his pouch for him. Jim rose and grabbed the now empty coffee pot.

"I'll brew some more." Jim entered the kitchen and pulled out the coffee container.

Blair couldn't help but notice the pained expression on Jim's face. He knew his friend was hurting. When Jim screwed up, he generally refused to let go of the burden. And now, that burden weighed heavily on his shoulder. Strange, Blair thought. With forgiving the captain, he was able to release a lot of the tension he had been holding onto. He was able to comprehend the captain's position better and perhaps understand where Jim was coming from. Now, to be able to get Jim to understand it.

"Hey, Simon," Blair was forming a plan. "I never heard the whole story. I was wondering how in the world did you know that I was in trouble?"

"You and trouble have the same meaning, Sandburg. Look it up in the dictionary." Simon teased at first and then became serious. "Actually, Blair, it was mostly luck that we knew you were in trouble. It so happened that Brown and Rafe were nearby and responded to the 911 call from the convenience store. They ended up with the store's surveillance tape. It was left in my office and the next day, finding it and being curious, I watched the tape and recognized Iris from the search Jim had done earlier on the database."

"The what?" Blair choked and turned to look at Jim. "Jim, since when have you been running my dates on the database?"

"Hey, Chief." Jim gave an apologetic smile as he returned to the table with a fresh pot of coffee. "Since your choice of dates have rated up there along with Lizzy Borden and Mata Hari."

"Very funny. We'll discuss this later. Well, then what happened, Simon?"

"Realizing that it was a drug deal gone wrong, we put out an APB on your car. We really lucked out that it was spotted, because Jim was starting to climb the walls wondering where you were, Sandburg."

"Just Jim?" Blair prodded.

"And me," Simon amended. "Anyway, you should have seen Jim when we came upon the overturned school bus. He was so focused on finding you that he nearly ripped into the county officer that gave up pursuit of your vehicle to assist the victims of the accident. Jim didn't even notice the bus at first. Of course, we both stayed to help out."

Blair started to laugh.

"What's so funny, Sandburg?"

"I remember the cop following us and stopping at the accident. Believe it or not, I actually told Chance that we should stop and help the kids. I'm not sure what I was thinking. Like two fleeing criminals are going to stop voluntarily to assist a bunch of kids."

"Well, that was the hard part for Jim. Being so close and all and then losing the trail again."

Blair looked at his partner who was staring down at the cup of coffee in his hand. Jim raised his face and locked his eyes onto his friend.

"I can't tell you, Chief, how hard that was. And when I found your trail again and finally heard your voice at the train station, I can't tell you how relieved I was." Jim paused, his eyes reflecting the turmoil in his voice. "But then I didn't tell you how relieved I was that I found you. Instead, the first thing out of my mouth was me telling you to go after Iris. I don't know why, Blair, but I'm sorry."

"Well, I can understand it now. It's just you going back into your cop mode or military mode or whatever you want to call it." Blair could clearly comprehend his partner's actions.

"What?" Jim looked at his partner, wondering how this man could understand what even he couldn't perceive.

"Actually, a lot of it probably stemmed from your upbringing. You father was probably the type to say ‘be a man' or when you were hurt, ‘brush it off and get back into the game.' I'm guessing that you suppressed your feelings from an early age. And then, when you joined the military, it was just a continuation of what was instilled in you as a child. The mission came first. If a man was down, you couldn't let that interfere with the outcome of the assignment. And, even though I know that you are my friend, Jim, and believe me, I do know that, as soon as you realized that I was safe, you slipped back into your cop mode. I was no longer your friend in need, but your partner who you trust to back you up. Do you understand that, Jim?" Blair was unable to gauge his friend's reaction. During the discussion, Jim had lowered his head, staring once again at his coffee cup, revealing little or no emotion.

Jim sighed and, without looking at Blair, replied, "I do understand some of it, but… but it doesn't make it right."

"You're right. It doesn't make it right. But, at least that's where you are different from your father. You recognize that it's not right. You can make changes. And, Jim," Blair touched his friend's hand. "When it's really important, you're always there for me."

Jim raised his head and smiled at Blair. Then he placed his hand on Blair's shoulder and pulled the man closer, whispering into his ear, "Thank you," before placing a kiss on his friend's forehead.

Simon stared at the display of affection between his best friends. Clearing his throat, he grumbled, "Now that all this mushy stuff is over, can we finally eat? I don't know about you, but I'm starved."

Blair smiled. The tension he had felt earlier was vanquished. The hurt gone. In fact, he was hungry. "Simon's right. I'm starved, too. Let's eat."

"It'll be up in a minute, Chief." Jim rose, cuffing Blair lightly on the back of the head before crossing into the kitchen.

Blair watched as his partner moved -- the gait stronger, the shoulders squarer, and the head taller. Yes, the burden, for now, was lifted from Jim's soul. And for himself, it was gone, too.

Reaching up to remove three dinner plates from the cabinet, Jim turned his head and smiled at Blair. Blair smiled back. He once again felt centered. Oh sure, he'd probably have dreams --- nightmares about the past events but, in time, those would fade, especially with Jim's help. Once again he felt connected, the bond, not of sentinel to guide, but of friend to friend.

Jim placed the plates on the table and took the lasagna out of the oven.

"Almost forgot the salad. Hey, Chief, is Italian okay with you?" Jim asked, reaching into the refrigerator.

Catching the twinkle in Jim's eye and the intonation in his voice which meant that Italian was the only salad dressing left in the refrigerator, Blair replied, "Yes, Jim, it's okay with me." And then, in a softer voice that only Jim could hear, Blair spoke, "Everything is okay with me."

The End