New Arrivals
Author-Lynne Rogerson
Titles

The Value of Family
Part 4
by Lynne Rogerson

See notes and disclaimer in part one.

Monday Night, 10:30 p.m.

The light rain felt good on her flushed face. Adelaide closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Here, at the back door of the building, there was no way any well-meaning person could find her. Just ten minutes of solitude. Just a few minutes to pull herself back together, so that she could face all those people still waiting to be consoled.

She felt almost mean for such an unchristian thought. She tried to remember that those throngs of people had waited hours in the rain to touch Risa's silver blue casket and say goodbye. The wake had lasted almost eight hours all together. Eight hours of standing still, of hugs and tears and even a little laughter. Daniel had kneeled on the ground as he talked with the children from Risa's class, hugging those that allowed him too. All those well-meaning people offering their condolences and comparing Risa's hideous death with the passing of an elderly parent. Adelaide shuddered, recalling the two young girls who, not a half an hour ago, had thrown themselves in her arms. Sobbing hysterically, they begged for reassurances that they were safe, that nothing would happen to them.

Adelaide spied a metal folding chair and opened it under the small overhang at the back door. She sat down and leaned forward, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes, trying to ease the headache pounding at her temples for attention.

"Here, drink this."

Startled she found herself caught up in the solemn blue eyes of Detective Blair Sandburg. Accepting the paper cup of water, she grinned faintly. "You remembered. My favorite."

Blair grinned back and shrugged his shoulders. "It's a gift."

She chortled and drained the cup.

"You holding up okay?"

"Almost." Addy sat back in the chair and adjusted the long, navy blue skirt over her legs.

"They did a nice job with the casket."

"I guess."

"I'm amazed by all the flowers. Two entire rooms full! It's nice so many people thought so well of your sister. The Easter lilies are beautiful."

Adelaide wrinkled her nose in distaste. "They smell like death."

Startled, Blair replied, "Easter lilies remind you of death? I thought they were part of history, you know the resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Mar..."

"Why are they all here, Blair? Why are they all still here?"

He sighed. "They came to say goodbye to Risa. To pay their respects to your family and offer condolences. It's their way of showing support."

She glared at him with watery, angry brown eyes. "Well they're not! Three and a half hours this afternoon and almost four and a half tonight! Have you looked at my mom? Or my dad? Sammi's ready to collapse, and Max is wearing himself out trying to take care of everybody. And Daniel. Daniel. The kids are healing him and hurting him at the same time. If Patrick didn't take him off for a walk every once in a while..."

A touch on her arm abruptly halted the hysterical flow of words. "Addy, how are you doing?"

"They wanted me to tell them that everything was going to be all right. That they were safe and nothing bad would happen to them. Like happened to Risa." She grabbed the hand on her arm, "I don't want to be responsible for their fears! I, it's too much. I don't want it." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't want it."

Blair closed his eyes and tried to center himself. He didn't know what to say, how to make it right for her.

Adelaide tightened her grip briefly on Blair's arm before letting go. She winced at the building pressure in her head and pressed her fingers against her temples. "I listen for her all the time, you know."

Sandburg opened his eyes and squatted next to her chair, bracing himself against the side. "You listen for Risa?"

Addy nodded. "I walk in a room and expect to see her standing there. I check for her car in the parking lot as I drive by the school. I guess I figure that if I stare long enough or listen hard enough, then she'll be there. Even though I know she can't be."

Blair pressed the fingers of his left hand against his lips in thought.

"Damn!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I feel like I've had this headache since Risa disappeared. I just can't seem to get rid of it." Adelaide rubbed her forehead fiercely, as if the roughness would alleviate the pain.

Blair stood up suddenly and almost fell over. He steadied himself against Addy's hastily extended arm and stared at her attentively.

Adelaide's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "What?"

"Your headaches started after Risa disappeared?"

"Yes, why?"

"You've been listening and searching for her since then."

"I told you that yes." Blair started pacing excitedly back and forth, mumbling to himself. "Blair, what is wrong with you?"

He gripped her by the shoulders and lifted her up until she was standing. He threw his arms around her in a quick fierce hug. "Oh man! Oh man! Don't you see? Jim's forcing... You're forcing yourself to look for things that aren't there! I know, I know. I sound like some crackpot, but listen to me. We generally deal with sensory input everyday. Massive amounts of sights, sounds, smells. Our brain accepts the input, processes it and files it in the right drawer. This time your brain is trying to dictate, through memory, how it wants your senses to collect the data."

"So I'm crazy?"

"No! No! Not at all. You want Risa back so badly that your brain is trying to have your senses find physical traces of her. All the things that categorized her interaction with you on a day to day basis. Where she parked her car, the sound of her voice, probably even the smell of her perfume or shampoo."

"So my headaches come from what? Stressing out my eyes and ears?"

Blair chuckled. "Something like that. I know it sounds pretty far-fetched, but try to keep it in mind next time you get a headache. Try to remember where you were, what you were doing..."

"What I was thinking about." She concluded. "Couldn't hurt, I suppose. I'll give it a shot." Adelaide sighed and glanced at the back door. "Guess I better get back inside. Would you mind?" She held out the now crushed paper cup.

"No problem."

She folded the chair and placed it back against the building. She opened the door and stopped just as she was about to go in. "Hey, Blair?"

"Yeah, Addy?"

"Thanks for the talk."

"Thank you for allowing me to listen."

She smiled and let the door close.

Blair waited until he was sure the door was closed before he let out an excited whoop. He pulled out his cellular phone and punched his partner's number on the speed dial.

"Hey, Jim! Oh man, guess what? I think I finally figured out where your headaches and sensory spikes are coming from..."


Tuesday, 5:30 a.m.

The day of Risa Landaux's funeral glowed with the first sunshine in seven days. Blair found himself unable to sleep, and stood in quiet awe as the sun rose to greet the morning sky. In spite of the emotional hours ahead, he couldn't help but close his eyes and absorb the warmth on his face. Not much had a chance to bloom this early in the season, but the young man could feel the newness, the clarity. He thought of the murdered woman's family and was perversely glad that they could bury her on such a beautiful day. He gazed down at the picture he held in his hand, of a young lady with curly brown hair and blue eyes and an impish grin. He traced her jaw line delicately and closed his eyes again. He could still see her face.

"Thank you." he whispered.

"Who you thanking, Chief?" The suddenness of Jim's voice startled Blair out of his quiet reverie, and he self-consciously lowered the picture against his leg.

"Oh, nobody."

Jim stood next to Blair on the balcony, clad only in his boxer shorts, rubbing sleep from still tired eyes. "Hmm. That nobody wouldn't happen to be grinning at you from that picture in your right hand, would she?"

"Well, man, it just seemed fitting, you know?" Blair seemed embarrassed by the admission. "I mean, the first nice day in about forever is the day of the funeral. It's almost as if she's trying to make it easier for everyone somehow."

Jim crossed his arms and scrunched his shoulders in a shrug. "Could be, Sandburg. I don't know. That mystical stuff is more your bag."

"Nothing mystical about thinking good thoughts, Jim. I'd like to find a small positive somewhere in all this mess. You read all the reports. She was extremely well liked, kids, teachers, friends, family. That's alot of people. It's such a waste of a life that could have done so much good."

"I don't know if I would call her life a waste, Chief. Seems to me that her death has brought together a whole lot of people."

"But is that positive? Did you see those people last night, Jim? Standing there in the rain, waiting hours to pay their respects for someone they didn't even know."

"You see that as a negative?"

"Not negative exactly. Just a heavy burden for the family. I was inside the funeral home for a little while. Just standing in the back, trying to blend in. Doin', you know, detective type stuff. Observing people, seeing if anyone seemed out of place."

Jim grinned faintly. "I know where you were, professor. I sent you there, remember?"

"Yeah, I know. Well, I was just standing there, looking at all those people, looking at all those flowers. Did you notice that there were two whole rooms full of them? All I could smell was the lilies. Man, after talking with Addy, I don't think I will ever look at a white lily the same way again. She said that their smell reminded her of death. Gruesome image for a flower with a history of being associated with the Virgin Mary."

"People can't help their associations, Chief, good or bad. Take Simon for example. I smell his brand of cigar and immediately think of him. Or Brown. I see a leather cap and think of him in his."

"Really? Who else?"

"Naomi."

Together they replied, "Sage!" And laughed softly.

"What about me?" Blair asked.

"Hmm. You're tougher."

Blair frowned. "You don't associate me with anything?"

"Too many things, actually. Chamomile, vanilla, that herbal shampoo you use, your jungle drum music, the candles you use to meditate. All things that are calm and centered." Jim's cheeks tinged pink at the admission, but Blair grinned foolishly, pleased his friend thought so well of him.

"Cool."

"What about me?"

"You? Oh that's easy. White socks!" Blair laughed at his own joke, but stopped when his friend didn't join in. "Really, Jim." He added earnestly. "That is one of the things I associate with you. And gun oil. And the greasy smell of a WonderBurger. And your marinara sauce. And V-neck sweaters..."

"All right! Stop already! I get the point! And now I see that you do too." Jim rolled his eyes and sighed.

They stood quietly together on the balcony, the companionable silence broken by Jim's morning yawns.

"Can we move this inside, Chief? I really need some coffee."

"Sure. I can finish my story from the couch."

"Finish? You mean you weren't done yet?" Jim teased as he poured two mugs of steaming coffee and carried them to the living room.

Blair had already ensconced himself on one end of the couch, bare feet tucked underneath his legs. He nodded his thanks as Jim handed him one of the mugs, and took a tentative sip while his friend settled at the other end of the couch.

"The casket was closed. Did you know that?" Jim nodded. "You should have seen their faces, Jim." Blair said quietly, watching the steam rise from the warm cup.

"Who's faces, Chief?"

"The kids, man. They were terrified." He looked up at Jim, eyes wide with sadness and wonder. "Did you know they bypassed all the adults? Hardly noticed them. Those kids saw Adelaide and Daniel and practically threw themselves into their arms."

Jim took a thoughtful sip. "Maybe they identified with them because they're younger."

"I don't think that was it. And I don't think Daniel is our guy either. He got down on his knees and hugged them all. I was too far away to hear what he said, but they clung to him so tight... you should have seen them, man."

Jim opened his mouth to comment, but Blair held out a hand to stop him.

"I know how procedure works. You don't have to remind me. He hasn't been proven innocent so he's still a suspect, blah, blah, blah. At home I can have my opinion, right?"

"Sure, Sandburg." Ellison agreed, hiding his smile behind another sip of coffee.

"There were these two girls, twins I think..."

This time Jim did laugh. "Are we still on the same story?"

"They're like twelve, man. Jeez, Jim what are you thinking?"

"Nothing, nothing at all. Go on and finish your story."

Blair shook his head in disgust, but continued. "They were the worst. I saw them crying before they even got inside the funeral home. They did okay at the casket and talking with Oscar and Emily, but once they made eye contact with Addy. Man." His gaze wandered somewhere over Jim's head and stayed there.

Jim waited a few minutes before waving his hand and trying to bring his friend back to the present. "Hey, Chief! You gonna tell me what happened?"

"Huh? Oh yeah. Right. They completely flipped out. Threw themselves at Addy and started wailing. They wanted her to tell them everything would be okay. That they weren't going to die some horrible death like her sister. Their mom had a real tough time getting them to let go."

Jim looked soberly at his roommate. "Wow. That must have been tough on Adelaide."

"She held it together okay inside at the wake, but I talked to her outside later on and she pretty much wigged."

"Awful lot of responsibility to get heaped on you."

"I know they couldn't help it, Jim, but I still feel sort of angry at them. And not just those little girls either. The Landaux's were supposed to be getting consoled for their loss, instead I saw them doing an awful lot of consoling. That family has been through too much to be carrying all that extra weight."

"They'll survive, Chief. It'll be hard and probably cause a lot of heartaches and headaches, but they'll survive."

"Speaking of headaches, man, how is yours?"

Jim's wide grin was a balm to Blair's distressed heart. "Gone. You were right on the money."

Blair sighed, pleased that he had been able to alleviate some of his sentinel's discomfort. After the wake, they had returned home to the loft just after midnight. Excited over the possible cure for Jim's sensory spikes, he practically dragged his tired and hurting friend into the living room. Falling back on a basic practice they barely used anymore, Blair dimmed the lights and put Jim into a light trance. Walking the sentinel through each of his senses, the concerned but elated guide discovered that all them were set well over ten on the dial. It had taken the better part of an hour, but in the end Jim's senses were back to normal settings and the stress lines on his forehead had disappeared.

Blair shook himself back to the present. "Well, you can thank Adelaide. She's the one who clued me into a solution. Even if she doesn't know that she did."

"You saying I got the wrong guide? Maybe I should talk to Adelaide..." Jim burst into laughter at the surprised dismay on Blair's face. He reached over and knuckled his friend's curly head. "Aw c'mon now. You know you're irreplaceable." He stood and gave his unmoving guide a hand to his feet. Jim swept his friend into a swift hug. "Thanks, Blair."

Smiling now, Blair patted the detective's firm stomach. "You're welcome."

Jim gave Blair a gentle push in the direction of the downstairs bedroom. "We better get ready for the funeral, Chief. Risa went to all this trouble to give us such a nice day; it wouldn't be polite of us to miss the chance to help send her home."

"I think she'd like that."

"Me too, Chief. Me too."


October -- Six Months Later

"I wish I could tell you that things were more positive, Ms. Landaux. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough evidence to continue this investigation. We have no witnesses, we have no motive, we have no suspects, and we have no weapon. We will keep an active file on your sister's case, but unless something miraculous happens, there isn't much hope of closing her file. I'm truly sorry."

Adelaide looked incredulously at Jim Ellison. "You're sorry, Detective Ellison? God isn't that rich!"

"Addy. Ms. Landaux." Blair paced nervously, unable to keep away from the distraught woman and equally unable to stay close. "I'm sure what my partner meant to say was..."

She raised a hand wearily, "Please don't. Don't say anything. You'll only make it worse."

Blair flushed, and snapped his mouth closed. He crossed his arms, gripping his sides tightly and shuffled nervously from foot to foot. "I'm sorry." he mumbled, needing to say something.

"Sorry for what?" Adelaide asked. "Sorry that she died? Sorry that you won't ever catch the sick bastard who took her life? Sorry that we found her? Sorry that you know? Sorry for what, Mr. Sandburg?"

"I..." Blair stopped, her sudden formality stealing his breath, for once in his life not knowing what to say. He took a step towards her, needing to find a way to take the bleakness from her eyes, needing to do something to help. Addy turned from him, and stared blindly out the rain-spattered window. He lifted his hand to touch her, give her some comfort, and instead felt a firm grip on his arm. He glanced over his shoulder and his partner gave a slight shake of his head. Jim tugged lightly on his arm and he reluctantly moved away from the window.

"You know what is the funniest thing, detectives?" the young woman asked suddenly, without turning around. "I should have counted myself lucky when I was younger; no divorces, no family feuds, no death. But somehow that was never good enough." She turned her head to face them, brown eyes large and bright with unshed tears. "I thought my life was boring, I daydreamed constantly of an opportunity to show the world that I was brave and strong. I prayed for it." Adelaide turned to look outward again, the window streaked with the grief she wouldn't express. "Be very, very careful what you wish for." She laughed then, a sudden, guilt-ridden bark she tried to suppress with her hands. "My family is in the middle of a media circus, my sister is lying in a grave instead of her boyfriend's bed, and now..." her voice dropped to a whisper, and she leaned her head against the glass, "...and now I would give anything to be ordinary again." Adelaide turned from the window, towards the silence behind her, "Pretty harsh way to learn a lesson, wouldn't you say?"

Unsure of how to respond to such a confession, the partners exchanged nervous glances. Blair took a step forward, and thought furiously of something helpful to say.

Adelaide smiled quietly, as if the admission lessened her guilt. "There is nothing you can say, Blair. It's something I live with. And someday I'll learn to deal with it, too. If you gentlemen are done?" They nodded silently. "Let me show you out, then. I think I would really like to lie down."

"It's okay." Jim finally found his voice, and raised a hand to keep her from the front door. "We'll let ourselves out." Adelaide smiled again, this time in thanks, and shuffled tiredly in stocking feet towards her bedroom. Jim followed her progress, watching her rub her temples. "Adelaide." She stopped, but didn't turn. "Call us anytime you need to. You have the number."

Jim watched as his partner turned one last time towards the now closed bedroom door. "Hey," he said as he closed the apartment door behind them, "Don't take it personally. She's got a lot of hurt and anger inside and no one to pin it to. We should have been able to close the case, avenge her sister's death, but we didn't. We may never, and she realizes that now. You're the one who studies people, Chief, I'd think you'd understand that."

"Great," Blair muttered. He rubbed his hands over his face and blew a disgusted breath through his fingers. "So the bad guys win, and the good guys take all the punches. How fair is that, man?" He held up his hand when Jim stopped walking. "That's not how I meant it to sound, Jim." he said tiredly. "I know we did the best we could. I guess I wanted some closure myself. I think we could all use a little: Risa needs justice, Addy needs peace, her family needs an end to all the unanswered questions, I need for them to feel better, and you, my friend, need to realize that even the great detective James Ellison is going to lose sometimes."

"What the hell does that mean, Sandburg?" Ellison replied, more harshly than he intended.

"Jesus, Jim, you're only human! Just because you have a gift, an extra edge, doesn't mean you're infallible!"

"Then what good are these senses?! If I have been given this extra 'edge,' why can't I find the evidence I know has to be there? And if I have such an 'edge,' Einstein, why does it keep cutting out on me?"

Blair shook his head, "I'm sorry, Jim, I just don't know. I wish I had all the answers for you, but I'm as much in the dark as you are. I've been racking my brain, and going over all my notes, but there's just nothing there."

Ellison could feel his partner's frustration. He wanted to tell Blair that he was doing fine, that he couldn't expect more from his guide under the circumstances. He wanted to, but he couldn't.

"I want this stuff back on line, Chief. I can't have it affecting my work. My life. These...episodes...caused havoc with this investigation. If I had a better handle on them, then maybe Risa Landaux would still be alive. She wouldn't be buried in a box. She would be home with..."

"That's bulls**t, man!" Blair's outburst was loud and angry. Surprised, Jim's protests trailed to a stop. "That's bulls**t!"

"But..."

"No way." Blair's hand sliced through the air, effectively cutting off his friend. "You read the forensics report, Jim. She was dead before this investigation even started. Unless you count psychic powers among your sentinel talents?"

"Very funny, Sandburg." Jim growled.

"Who the hell says I'm joking? Simon doesn't hold you responsible, the rest of Major Crimes doesn't hold you responsible, I don't hold you responsible. Why does Jim Ellison hold you responsible?"

"Look, I just do, okay? There's nothing here you need to analyze, Dr. Freud. Every part of my body screams that it should have turned out differently. If I'd done a better job, maybe it would have."

"So suddenly you're the only one who worked on this case? Brown didn't find the fingerprint? Joel and Megan didn't track down possibles on the vehicle? Rafe didn't coordinate field units? I didn't interview Del Masters? You are one arrogant bastard."

"What?!" Jim was startled.

"Well, that's what you're saying isn't it? Apparently none of us did any good either. So sentinel senses or not, we're all failures."

"Blair, that isn't what I'm saying at all! Don't be ridiculous!"

"It is pretty ridiculous isn't it?"

Caught by his own words, Jim glared at the anthropologist but kept silent.

"Listen, man, before you got your senses back, didn't you ever have a case you couldn't solve?"

"Of course! No one solves every single case, as much as I wish it were different."

"Were you this hard on yourself back then, or did you try and accept the fact that you weren't going to be able to find the answers?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, "I guess I got over it, yeah."

"Then why are you so hard on yourself with this case?"

"I don't know, Chief. I just don't know."

"And the mood swings, man. You gotta admit those have been pretty harsh."

Jim shrugged his shoulders in resignation. "Sorry."

They resumed walking and descended the stairs in silence. Jim pushed the apartment building door open into frigid winter air. The rain promised to turn to something nastier, and the partners bent their heads against the wind. They were soaked by the time they got to the truck. Jim relented and turned up the heater when he saw Blair shivering. Hair plastered flat against his skull, arms folded tightly against his chest, the young man appeared decidedly miserable. God, from this angle the kid looks just like...Shit!

"Thanks, man. It'll be okay once we get home and I can shower some warmth back into these bones."

Jim didn't answer, and Blair turned to find his friend staring out the windshield and clutching the steering wheel.

"Jim, you okay?" Still getting no response, Blair reached over and shook the detective's arm. "Jim!" he called sharply, afraid his friend was zoning out.

"Don't worry, Sandburg, I'm fine. No whacked out senses. Just figuring some things." the big detective visibly relaxed his hands and he turned to his friend. God, why didn't I ever see it? Why didn't Sandburg ever see it? "Chief, you and I have some serious talking to do when we get home."

"Serious talking, that's good. We'll do some serious talking. You and me. Jim, are you sure that you're okay?"

Ellison's laughter was loud and sudden in the small truck cab. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Sure, Jim. Um, Jim, man, can we head home now? I'm freezing!"


"What do you see?"

Blair stared quizzically at the two photos he held in his hand. One was of Risa Landaux and the other was a picture of him holding a huge trout from their last fishing trip. Without changing expression, he glanced at his roommate, sitting on the other couch.

"Jim, man. What am I trying to see here? They're pictures. Nice pictures, I guess, but I'm still pretty much in the dark. What does Risa Landaux have to do with fishing?"

"What do you see?"

"Pictures, Jim. Just some pictures!" Blair threw them on the coffee table in exasperation. "Have you been sleeping at all? Cause you are making no sense. Nada!"

Jim Ellison was calm. With the most likely answer to his zoneout clear in his mind, he found that some of the stress of the last few months had eased. "Look at the pictures again, Chief."

With a groan of frustration, Blair reached forward and snatched the photos up from the table. "Okay, Jim. I'm looking at the pictures. See me looking?"

"Don't be a smartass."

"I can't help it! Tell me what I'm looking for! What am I supposed to see?"

"You're whining, Sandburg."

"You're making me, Ellison."

Jim chuckled. "Okay. Okay. Describe the first picture to me."

"But..."

"Do it."

With a disgusted huff, Blair sat back in the couch and considered the photograph of the victim in their last case. "It's a picture of Risa sitting on the floor. She's looking up at whoever is taking the picture and she's smiling. She's wearing a yellow sweatshirt and blue leggings." He peered over his glasses at Jim. "Okay?"

"Anything else?"

"How the hell do I…" Blair changed his tactic after an unhappy glare from his roommate. "Right, anything else. Her hair is long, just a couple inches past her shoulders, it's curly and brown, and her head is cocked a little to the left, like she's listening to someone talk. Her teeth are even and white and her eyes are blue. She's the sole focus of the picture; there is nothing in the background. Better?"

"Good." Jim nodded in agreement. "Now the other one."

"This had better all make sense, Jim. I feel like an idiot." Blair muttered. He knew he sounded like a spoiled child, but he was tired and out of sorts. This last case had been hard on them both. The Landaux files were still piled in boxes in the interrogation room. Although months had gone by, no one seemed willing to send them to the archive room. It seemed unfair to the young woman's memory. Instead they were stacked neatly in the corner like an unfulfilled wish. Jim's sensory spikes, once he and Jim had discovered what the sentinel had been doing, had tapered back to normal. At least as normal as someone with enhanced senses can be.

"Chief? You okay?"

"Wha…? Yeah just thinking."

Jim pointed at the other photo.

"Right. Sandburg. Describe. Got it Jim."

Jim folded his arms and grinned.

This happy Jim was beginning to get scary. "This is a picture of me. With that huge-ass fish that you and Simon were so sure I could never reel in." Blair couldn't help smiling at the memory. "You guys ate crow on that one, didn't you? Made forty bucks on that trip! Stop with the looks, man! I'm just giving you the background." He studied himself in the picture critically, but kept his unfavorable comments to himself. Jim wasn't asking if he thought he looked good in the picture; the detective wanted facts. "Let's see. Jeans, work boots, my favorite blue plaid shirt, white t-shirt. My lucky fishing hat, which, by the way, you will never wear."

"Don't need the luck, I've got the skill. Stop changing the subject, Jacque Cousteau. Now describe you."

"Jim, this is so weird." Jim just cocked an eyebrow at him. Blair took a deep breath. "Okay. Long curly brown hair, two gold hoop earrings, blue eyes, big goofy smile…" All humor left his voice and he lifted the first photo and held it beside the second. "Long, curly brown hair, blue eyes." He glanced at the picture of himself. "Long curly brown hair, blue eyes." He sat back in the couch with a thump. "Jesus, Jim." He breathed, turning to his best friend. "No wonder you had so much trouble. She and I, we, I mean the two of us…"

"Yeah." Jim wasn't grinning anymore either.

"So, like, all of the sensory spikes, the headaches, the bad moods, somehow I caused all of that?" The look on Blair's face passed from red-faced embarrassment to pained guilt. "Aw, jeez Jim, I am so sorry, man! I didn't know, I mean I never guessed…"

"Whoa, Chief! Just hold on. None of this was your fault." The big detective cut off his roommate's protest with a slash of his hand through the air. "No. None of it."

"I didn't know I was adding that kind of stress to your job. This is so bad. I mean, Jim, you've been zoning! This is so not good. How are we going to fix this?"

"Chief! Slow down. Don't go getting yourself all worked up over it. I didn't recognize the signs for what they were. I looked at Risa Landaux's picture that first day in Simon's office. If I had been a better detective at the time, I would have noticed the likeness. I didn't and my senses tried to show me what I had missed. It's as simple as that. No muss, no fuss. I figured it out, so it should stop now. Everything back to normal."

"One hundred percent. Right?"

Jim nodded.

"No, Jim! Not right! I'm flattered that you would worry about me, but not at the cost of your own health!"

Jim Ellison had far too little family to be careless. The fear of someday losing Blair was a tangible thing that made him feel guilty on good days, and ate at his gut on bad ones. The similarities between Risa Landaux and Blair Sandburg may not have been enough to alarm the casual observer, but to a Sentinel protecting his Guide, or a detective watching out for his partner, or a man afraid for his brother, it was enough.

"You seriously underestimate your worth, Chief." He said quietly.

Blair, the observer/guide in him awakened, began fidgeting on the couch as his brain ordered and processed this new information. "I can understand the Sentinel's need to protect the Guide. I understand that you are predisposed to that type of behavior…"

"You just don't get it do you?"

"I…"

"Blair, this isn't just some sentinel mumbo-jumbo. You're my best friend. Don't you think that I worry about you?"

"Sure, I guess. But your headaches…"

"There's no 'I guess' about it! Me, Jim Ellison, cop, roommate, friend - 'I' worry about you. Every day. And if the price for keeping you safe is a few zoneouts or headaches, then I welcome them! You're more than worth the sacrifice. You are the most important person in my life, and I will do whatever it takes - 'whatever' - to make sure you're okay."

The declaration left Blair speechless.

"It's not something that's easy for me to say, Chief. You know how I am with all this mushy stuff. But after all the crap that has gone down in the last couple of months, I thought I would remind you." Jim sat forward, his expression earnest. "In case you needed me too. Thanks for sticking around, Blair. Thanks for all of it." Blair tried not to gape at the uncharacteristic outburst from the man sitting across from him. The seriousness of the subject seemed to demand some sort of an answer, but the elated, relieved, and surprised part of him couldn't organize the feelings into a single thought. He knew he should be long past any uncertainty of his place in Jim Ellison's life. They had argued in the past, and probably would again, but their friendship was held in a sacred, untouchable place. They had shed too many tears, too much blood for there to be any question. Just as Jim would lay down his life for Blair, Blair would gladly lay down his life for Jim. They were partners forged by necessity and brothers forged in love. They were family. Sometimes he just needed to be reminded. These past weeks had been so hard: Jim's zoneouts, their fights, the Landaux family and all that grief. The estrangements in their friendship had hurt.

"What, Sandburg?" Ellison teased gently, "Nothing to say?"

"Thanks, Jim."

Neither man could think of anything else to say, but the moment seemed to demand stillness. After a few moments, Jim began to squirm in discomfort. The normally stoic detective was fast approaching his 'touchy-feely' quotient. Recognizing his friend's uneasiness, Blair jumped up from the couch and raced for his room, returning with a brand new spiral notebook. He grabbed a pen from the table and began writing furiously, even before he sat down again. "Do you realize what this means, Jim? The implications? The Sentinel's need to protect the tribe must be more genetic than I thought. I mean, you've perceived danger before, but never at such a subconscious level! Wow! Man, it's like an early warning system or something! The headaches and spikes are totally unacceptable; I think if I can just work it out in my head, we should be able to run through some tests to minimize those surges. Maybe something in a controlled environment…"

Jim rolled his eyes, but sat quietly and watched his best friend write. Blair muttered to himself as he thought, and physically brightened when the words in his brain formed into an idea. The sentinel eased himself flat on the couch and closed his eyes. His guide's low voice and the pen scratching on the pad soothed him and he began to drift off to sleep.

Yep. For moments like this, it was well worth the price. Family always is.

~ The End ~