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Dotty    Kathy    Lvblair    Mary Ellen    Ophelia    KAM    Ronnee    Kathy 'n Mary Ellen 




The Protests


By: Ronnee

Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, Joel and Rafe belong to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. I just play with them and return them. I don't make any money off of my fun either. ;-(

Warnings: Tear jerker (or so I've been told) Spoilers for TSbyBS. References (kind of) to Blair as a cop.

As always, many thanks to my Betas: Toni Rae and Hazel. All errors are mine (I'm a bit on the slow, stubborn side... it isn't their fault).

Thanks to all the folks on SentinelAngst who encouraged me to turn a snippet into this. This is for y'all. Enjoy. Comments are welcome.

Blair entered the loft, fully expecting to hear Jim begin griping at him the moment he opened the door. Even though he hadn't seen the truck in the parking lot, he knew Jim was home. He could feel the sentinel's waiting, impatient presence. He dropped his backpack on the floor and toed off his shoes. The loft was still, quiet. Too quiet. He hung his jacket on its hook a frown forming on his face at Jim's lack of reaction. Out of habit he tossed his keys and badge into the basket by the door.

The moon shone through the open windows, giving him a familiar view of the loft. The indistinct shadows of the furniture remained unmoving. Nothing seemed out of place, but he could not shake the unnerving impression that something was very wrong. As his heart began to race, he could almost hear Jim's voice asking, "What's wrong, Chief?" But there was no sound, no movement that Blair could discern.

Flipping on the lights, he stilled, eyes wide in shock. Everything in the loft was off center, out of place. //Okay,// his mind raced over that thought, //what was out of place?//. His artifacts were in their normal places, well almost in their normal places and there were more of them out than he remembered. Then it clicked in his mind. Jim's things were out of place. They were missing -- all those little pieces of memorabilia that meant so much to the older man were gone.

He spun in a half circle before spotting the curio cabinet against a wall. At first first he was puzzled, the antique curio cabinet was unfamiliar. Oh, wait, he remembered Jim bringing it into the loft as a disreputable piece of junk...

"Hey, Chief!" The sentinel broke into a huge grin as he entered the loft. Blair paused at the sight of him, the forensic manual suddenly forgotten on his lap. The tall man was literally covered in dust-- it streaked his clothes and his skin liberally. "It's going to be perfect."

"Um, Jim..." Blair had hesitated, staring at the ugly green thing that Jim and another man were wrestling into the loft. It was huge, solid wood from the way they were moving. Blinking, he forced himself to look past the garish green and gold paint job. From what he could see it would probably be a nice piece, but only after a lot of work. "It will take a lot of work to make it ..."

"Yeah, but the wood is solid. When I've stripped and refinished it, it will be perfect."

"Perfect for what, Jim?" Blair asked, watching in amusement as the sentinel ran his fingers over the curio cabinet, a happy smile on his face.

"For important things. For things that need to be ... I don't know, protected, Chief." Jim paused in his contemplation of the antique to press some money into the other man's hand. As soon as the man left, he returned to his study of the piece.

Blair sighed to himself, knowing that Jim would be busy for weeks restoring the old thing. Hopefully there was enough room in the basement or he'd be stuck trying to talk Simon into letting the other man borrow his garage. It would be worth all the trouble, eventually. But for now Jim's reaction to the piece was enough.

Blair stared at the antique curiously, wondering when Jim had finished its restoration. The green paint was gone and carved Celtic knot work gleamed under its light coat of stain and wax. Blair didn't remember seeing that before, it must have been hidden by the layers of old paint. He vaguely noted Jim's things, his photos and a few knickknacks were behind the curved glass. Not only had Jim finished it, he had rearranged a little.

He completed his turn, inspecting the loft. He had been hoping to see a sign or a banner announcing that it was April Fools Day or something. Instead, a flashing red light by the door caught his attention. He had forgotten to set the alarm! Even after a year of setting it every night, he still forgot way too often.

Simon would have his hide for that. The captain reminded him to set the darn thing every night before they left the station. It was their compromise, Blair had gotten an alarm installed and the Major Crimes crew didn't check on him every night. He reached out and typed in Jim's id number. The light stopped flashing as the alarm reset itself, protecting him from the outside world.

He leaned on the door, enjoying the feel of the cool wood against his forehead. He was over 4 hours late. Jim was supposed to be here, griping if not actually yelling at him because of it. Instead, a quiet, empty loft surrounded him. Part of him wanted to race up the stairs looking for Jim. The other part, the part that had always warned him when he was getting in over his head was screaming at him. But he couldn't quite understand the message it was sending.

A low whimpering cry came from behind him. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Blair knew for a fact that they didn't own a dog, so what had made the sound?

Slowly, cautiously, he turned around. A wolf was stretched out on the floor, watching him. Its sad, icy eyes bored into his soul. It looked ragged, fur unkempt, ribs showing through the skin. On its side was a dark, discolored patch of fur. Blair's eyes met the wolf's in recognition as his hand rose involuntarily to his chest. He half expected to find a gaping wound there, where his soul had been ripped out. For a brief, agonizing minute the pain burned through his body, igniting all of his nerves. Oh, God! The pain! Even as he staggered back against the door, both the pain and the wolf disappeared.

It was then that the most significant change to the living room hit him. The old, comfortable furniture was gone. The coffee table and sofas, their refuge from bad times, were gone. In their place was a new set, the overstuffed sofa the same shade as Jim's eyes. He found himself running his hand along the back of the soft cloth upholstery as he walked toward his room, eyes looking for things that weren't there any more. There were so many things missing. Things that had once meant a lot to both the sentinel and the guide were missing. Things that were comfortable were gone.

The familiar worn rug was gone, only the bare wooden floor was underfoot. And somehow Blair knew that it had been his decision, one made for ease of maintenance. No rug meant no dust mites, no seasonal removal for cleaning. It simply made his life easier. And like everything else, if it made his life easier to survive on a daily basis, Blair had chosen it instead. There had been no arguments about his decisions because no one dared argue with him after the accident.

The pain flared again at that thought. Blair closed his eyes and it vanished after a moment. Opening his eyes he turned back to his perusal of the loft.

The red poster Jim had hung on the door was framed now, hanging on the wall next to the curio cabinet. The door itself had been replaced -- at Simon's direct order. One too many enemy had broken into the loft gunning for Jim before the word had gotten out. So one weekend, in an attempt to protect his officer and relieve the pressure on Major Crimes, Simon and the entire crew had arrived. Every outside door and window frame had been replaced with top of the line security steel, every window with bullet proof glass.

If only that protection could has saved Jim... Blair's mind jumped away from that thought, leaving him dizzy. He leaned heavily on the soft sofa. For a brief instant he was breathless and the pain made him want to scream. So he did, but he couldn't hear it.

"Easy, Chief. Take a shallow breath, that's it. I've got you." He heard Jim's voice and felt his gentle hands gripping his arms. But when he opened his eyes again the loft was silent and he was alone, leaning on the sofa.

Panting shallowly, Blair pulled himself upright. He was better than this. Over the last year he had gained a reputation on the force for stubborn tenacity that rivaled the Ellison legend. He was NOT going to break. Not even in the privacy of his own home. Jim had taught him well -- trained him, molded him, shaped him into one of the best cops in Cascade. What Jim hadn't taught him, Simon had. He refused to let his sentinel or his captain down.

With slow, reluctant steps he neared the french doors. He really didn't want to open them but he had to know. Was it still his room? Or had the unthinkable happened again? No, in the past years since the Alex fiasco, they had gone beyond that fear. His stuff was still here, so he still lived in the loft..

Blair opened the French doors, fully expecting to find an empty storage room instead he found an office. It was impeccably neat, but aside from that odd fact, it was HIS office. The artifacts were his artifacts. Some were items that he kept in storage because they just didn't have the room for them. Others were things that his mother had kept for him. A few were things from Jim's past - that was Jim's football, that was Jim's copy of Kerouac's On the Road. It was as if he had been trying to keep Jim in his office-- trying to keep his presence intact.

Blair's mind raced as everything began to fall into place. One by one he felt the mental tumblers click and the door to his memories begin to swing open. The pain in his head doubled again. He closed his eyes and let go of the tension. It would come to him.

He stared at the office. Shelves covered all four walls, even his desk was part of the shelves. Artifacts and books standing stiffly, almost as if at attention. The papers on the desk, so very neatly stacked were covered with his handwriting. The only things that did not fit into the perfection of the office was a short stack of books beside the desk. Jim's influence was obvious. The neatness, the orderly lines of books, all pointed to the fact that Blair had learned to imitate Jim's habitual neatness.

The titles of the books, Forensic Pathology, Mind Hunters, Hunting the Criminal Mind, Kooman, Voice of the Raven, Storylines, showed a mixture of his old profession and the new one. How much had he changed in the past five years? Did it really matter? He was still who he had always been... Blair Sandburg, anthropologist, cop, shaman, guide, the man who still found Simon the best target for his unique brand of teasing. Just because he was actually a police officer didn't keep him from studying the people around him, he just looked at them differently. Jim had been so proud once that little fact slipped out, past reticent lips. The older man had been afraid that by getting his badge, Blair would change too much, lose his identity. It hadn't happened that way at all. Everything else had changed. But the essential Blair was the same.

The final tumbler fell into place. He backed out of the office, panic raising its head, choking his lungs. If this was his office, where was his room? And more importantly where was Jim's? All the things that had changed were Jim's... the most logical conclusion was... Jim's truck was missing, Jim was late or missing, the loft was more secure than it had ever been... secure with an alarm that would drive sentinel senses crazy, Jim's things were rearranged and displayed as if they were a memorial and his memories of Jim were vague and foggy.

"Jim!" He barely heard his voice as he screamed the name. Why didn't he answer? Jim always answered him. Jim should be home by now. He had to find him. He stumbled as he hit the stairs to Jim's bedroom. Without looking at the pictures hanging on the wall, he careened off the bricks. He paused to see what he had knocked askew, but he didn't recognize the pictures of himself. Shaking, he grabbed the railing and pulled himself to his feet. Knuckles going white as he gripped the hard metal, he slowly ascended the stairs, dreading what he was about to find.

The pain in his knee where he'd hit the riser floored him. It burned and throbbed, aggravating the wounds he already had. When had he gotten hurt? He couldn't remember getting hurt. He bit his lip, refusing to let the pain stop him like it had before. If his leg hadn't failed him at the fire, maybe things would have been different. He wouldn't let it stop him again.

He could hear Joel's voice even now as he remembered that night so long ago. Joel had spoken softly, firmly as the older man tried desperately to convince the new detective. "It is not your fault, Blair. You did everything you could."

"But it wasn't enough! It wasn't enough!" He had been so close to tears. No one would have said a word if he had cried. Most of the officers and EMT's there had been close to tears. He had refused to move, because he couldn't leave until everyone was safe. According to Jim, you never left a friend behind. Only the unconsciousness brought on by shock, blood loss and the sedative the EMT's forced on him had ended his pain filled vigil.

Blair shook his head to clear the memories. He needed to focus on what he was doing. Finding out where Jim was and what had happened was more important than pursuing these teasing fragments of memory. He had to find the answers so he forced himself to finish climbing the stairs.

It was no longer the spartan room he remembered. Where Jim's bed had been, was his smaller one, covered with his colorful bedspread and pillows. Where Jim's things had once sat on the metal shelving were artifacts. It was no longer Jim's room. In fact, it was as if it had never been Jim's room.

Blair sank onto the bed, eyes closing as he searched his memory. He knew that this had been Jim's room - not his. Hadn't it? He thought hard trying to picture his friend. All he could bring to mind were feelings he associated with the sentinel - security, comfort, friendship, love, exasperation. For a split second, he could see Jim's eyes staring at him, filled with worry. There had to be something that would prove Jim existed. That he wasn't a figment of his imagination. NO! Blair refused to consider it. Jim was real. His sentinel, his holy grail, his best friend., his brother, his partner was real. The pain attacked again - a band of fire through his skull that made his vision flicker with red.

After another long moment, the pain in his head and the bone deep weariness subsided enough for him to pull himself from the bed and head for the closet. He shoved open the closet door. His clothes hung there. He peered above the shelf, the carefully labeled boxes were gone. He pulled open a drawer only to find his own underclothes. He skimmed the neat stack of books by the bed, they were all his. He checked under the bed itself, nothing, not even a speck of dust. On the night stand sat the only sign that Jim had ever been here. It was a picture of him and Jim taken by Simon on some fishing trip. Other than that it was if the sentinel had never existed.

Blair grabbed the picture, cradling it in his hands. Slowly he traced his fingertips over Jim's likeness. Jim was real. He had smiled for this picture and that smile was electric, reawakening Blair's memories. His friend's face was transformed from its normal quiet calm, showing the world Jim's all too hidden side. Blair thanked every god and goddess he'd ever heard of in his studies for the picture and the proof that he had not gone mad.

The sudden shrill ring of the phone startled him. Shaking his hair out of his face, Blair stared at the answering machine, anxious to hear the message.

"This is Blair Sandburg. Please leave a message." The voice was his, but it was so very lifeless, he almost hadn't recognized it. It sounded stilted and dead. He shuddered at the thought.

"Blair? Honey?" His mother's voice whispered through the loft. "I just wanted to know if it was time for the unveiling. I want to be there."

What had been the first vestiges of panic bloomed into a full force terror. It was a miracle Blair didn't tumble as he flew down the steps, barely touching them. Somehow he landed on his feet. He peered into the bathroom. It hadn't changed much. His soap and shampoo were still there, but as with every other room, Jim's things were missing. No! He still refused to accept his own conclusions. It couldn't be. He refused to believe it.

It was a bad dream, no, a nightmare. No. It had to be a joke. One of Brown's infamous practical jokes. They had just gone a little bit overboard this time -- even managing to get Naomi to participate. He looked for Jim and the rest of the gang, knowing this had to be the worst joke in the history of mankind. Any minute they were going to bound out of some corner, some hiding place, laughing at his terror and fear.

He cursed aloud when they didn't appear. By now the sound of his heart, pounding way too fast should have brought the big, pre-civilized, way overprotective sentinel to his side. That and the fact that his mother would never have joined in on a joke that would hurt so much, told him that this was no joke. It was reality.

Jim was gone... The thought crashed through Blair's mind. He staggered into the living room as the thought coalesced into an icy pain. It echoed in his head and his chest. Ringing in his ears was Joel's voice, a pained memory that brought tears to his eyes again. "Blair, you have to believe me. Jim is no longer in any pain. It's over. Let it go."

Once before he had felt a similar pain. But even that was nothing like what he felt now. When Maya left, telling him she could not forgive him, he had thought that his heart would never recover. Eventually the pain of Maya's loss faded, but this had not. The wound in his soul felt as fresh as if it had just happened. And somehow he knew it never would heal.

It was time to unveil the matzevah, the tombstone he had carefully designed. He could see the plain, almost stark marble plaque. Simple words on it that read, James J Ellison. The only ornamentation was the sleeping jaguar. If it was time for the unveiling, that meant that it had been a year -- 365 days without Jim at his side. And he had forgotten... even if for only a moment. The weight of his despair wrapped itself around his shoulders.

Blair fell to his knees in front of the curio cabinet. The items on its shelves captured his eyes. These were Jim's awards. His medals earned during his time in the military were mounted nicely in a velvet lined frame on the top shelf. The letter he'd gotten in high school, carefully removed from his letter jacket, was half hidden behind the trophy he'd earned in college. There were the Cop of the Year Awards he'd received several years running. Several citations, miscellaneous awards, and memorabilia sat on the lower shelves. Most ominous of all was the pale wooden frame that held Jim's badge and id card. He glanced away to see the clock and realized that it had been at exactly this time of day that Jim had died in the act of protecting someone else.

Blair shook his head in denial as he backed away from the cabinet. He tripped over his own feet as he tried to stand. Landing on the edge of the soft sofa, he rolled over it. For the first time he noticed the oversized albums on the coffee table. He could feel tears streaming down his face as he picked the first one up. Easily the largest, it was labeled simply, Cascade PD 1995-2000 and dated back to his first year as an observer. Simon had given them to him last Chanukah. He had smiled as he accepted the gift but never opened any of the books. The memories were too heavy to bear even now.

He opened the cover, not quite sure what he was expecting. The title page said it all, "Detective and Observer: Day by Day." It was not a simple photo album, it was a scrapbook, filled with snippets of their life together. The first picture was of the precinct. //Of course,// he thought, //the perfect place to start.// He flipped through the pages, some faster than others. And as he turned the pages, the memories came back. Memories of a better time.

He saw again the first time he'd met Jim when he read the article about the Switchman Case. Then he saw the pictures taken of them standing beside the damaged bus. He had never seen them before. He remembered that first meeting with Joel. The former bomb squad captain had changed so much since then. But then again, they all had.

He kept turning the pages, surprised by all the articles, gathered from every possible source. Magazines, newspapers, journals, each and every story about James Ellison or Blair Sandburg seemed to be there. There were photographs from the first years, when he'd been the observer who everyone knew as Jim's tagalong.

They showed the precinct, the people and the cases. He saw Simon and Darryl and Joel. Rafe and Brown. Cassie, Sam, Megan, Rhonda. The police chief, the mayor, the governor. Col. Oliver, Bracket, Alex, Lila, Maya. Every case was documented, pictures of scenes, newspaper clippings and thank you notes, autographed pictures of a retired actor, a beautiful singer, a politician, there were even official reviews and commendations. He wondered briefly where Simon had gotten all of this together.

The memories made him laugh. They made him wince. Some nearly made him cry. He kept on turning the pages until he came to the end of the album. Without making a conscious decision he picked up the next one. This was one was labeled simply, "A Sentinel". He shook his head at Simon's whimsy. He didn't expect this one to have much, it was too light to be a finished book. He opened the cover and dropped the album. He hadn't expected that picture.

The first page was a photograph of Jim's truck, or rather the blackened remains of his truck. Only the license tag was really recognizable. The truck had been deliberately rammed into the blackened husk of a building. The caption said everything: "Heroic Police Detective Saves Children at Own Cost".

Turning the page, he read the article frantically, letting every single word imprint itself on his brain. Inside his heart he could feel a wailing, keening scream building. He bit his lip, using both the pain and the coppery taste of his own blood to fight memories he didn't want to face again. He hated reliving the night his world had ended.

Blair grabbed onto the door as Jim took a corner way too fast. The police radio was a babble of indistinguishable questions and responses as cops from all over the city raced to the scene. A pair of cars racing through the streets had caused a series of accidents. The last call from the pursuing police officer had been garbled, something about a gas tanker. That officer was now out of contact.

A witness had called in to report an accident involving an exploding police car, two more cars and a fuel truck. Another accident, caused by the same two cars, just blocks away immobilized the rest of pursuit and kept the fire department from reaching the burning buildings. Even from several blocks away, Blair could see the red glow and heavy smoke rising from the scene.

"Oh, my God!" Blair couldn't quite believe his eyes as they took the final corner. One of the two cars whose race had started of the disaster was burning against a telephone pole. Most of street was covered in a thin layer of glistening fuel.

A tanker, which had pulled out from a local mini mart at exactly the wrong time, was now resting against an ancient brownstone. It was the source of the liquid covering the street. Jim stopped the truck as the gas reached the burning car. The flames spread quickly racing up the sidewalk to the tanker.

With a muffled roar the tanker exploded, sending more gasoline spraying through the air. A large section of the old building vanished. The flames following the trails of gasoline within moments everything that glistened wetly was engulfed in an inferno.

Blair instinctively turned towards Jim, worried about his reaction to the explosion. The sentinel's eyes were narrowed as he stared past the flames. The tilted head and the furiously working jaw muscle told him that Ellison was focused on something beyond normal sight.

"Hold on, Chief!" Jim's grim words barely gave Blair time to brace himself against the dashboard before he drove the truck through the flames and up onto the sidewalk.

"Jim! What are you doing?!" Blair's voice was rough as he tried not to yell.

The truck shuddered as Jim rammed one of the fire hydrants lining the walkway. The resulting spray of water rained down onto the wrecked police car, holding the flames at bay. As a second yellow hydrant went flying, the younger man recognized the building that was now burning.

Blair grabbed the radio's microphone, "This Charlie Mike 11. We have a multiple vehicle fire that involves several buildings." He winced as a burning car's gas tank blew. "The orphanage at 1223 Tate St. is on fire. We need fire and rescue teams dispatched immediately."

The dispatcher repeated the information back to him adding an ETA for the first arrivals. Jim's voice echoed eerily as he spoke softly but forcefully, "They won't be here in time! Hold on!"

Blair looked up in time to see the fence before Jim drove through it. They bounced across the burning lawn, the chain link mesh snaking along behind them. He glanced back and realized that Jim had hit the fence at an angle, catching it on the grillwork for a reason. It stretched back through the smoke, marking the way back to the dubious safety of the gushing fire hydrant. Jim's arm crossed over his guide's chest a second before they hit the building, pinning him to the seat.

The truck plowed through wood and plate glass, grinding to stop halfway into the living area of the old brownstone. Through the smoke and falling debris he could just make out a small group of teenagers huddled against the far wall. As soon as they realized that the truck was stopped they raced for the opening in the wall, streaming past the truck.

"Follow the fence!" Jim yelled as they ran past.

Jim's plan made sense now, he had made an escape route for the trapped kids. One of the burning cars had blocked the main entrance of the orphanage, trapping people inside the building. The explosion of the gas tanker had ripped apart the fire escapes and destroyed a good portion of one wing and its exits. So Jim had used his truck to create a new exit. It was something that his Sentinel would do without hesitating if necessary. And it was necessary.

Jim slid from the truck, pausing to wait for his guide. The moment he felt Blair's hand on his back, the sentinel headed into the smoky building.

Afterwards, Blair remembered being told that he had only been inside the building for a few minutes. While inside it had felt like hours. The heavy smoke, the heat, the roaring, rushing sound of the flames nearly overwhelmed him. Only his need to stay with Jim, to keep the sentinel from zoning kept him moving. He had been afraid of losing Jim in the smoke but his partner seemed to know that. Every time he paused, Jim had been there, helping him up, keeping him from getting sidetracked in the smoke and darkness. It almost as if they knew that separation meant both of their lives. Somehow, mostly thanks to the sentinel's senses they led the trapped children and adults to safety.

As the rescue equipment finally began pulling up to the scene, Jim tilted his head again. Blair recognized that habitual move -- the sentinel heard someone else inside the building. Taking a quick deep breath, Blair was ready when the bigger headed back towards the fire. Ignoring the startled shouts of firemen and other cops, the two partners sprinted into the smoke filled opening.

They used the truck as a ladder, climbing from its bed to its roof and then up to the building's second floor. Jim quickly smashed out the windowpane. Behind them, streams of water began flowing onto the walls as the firemen tried to slow the encroaching flames.

"Stay here, Chief!" Jim yelled as he climbed in through the window, ignoring the broken glass in his hurry.

Blair did get a chance to argue before Jim shoved a little boy at him. As the boy slid on the wet metal of the roof, Blair had grabbed him and set him in the truck bed. Several more kids quickly clambered out the window, barely giving him time to help them down to the dubious safety of the truck. Firemen appeared and began moving the children away from the flames.

Jim had just placed a really small child in his arms, not really even a toddler when the first round of explosions rocked them. Reflexively, Blair wrapped himself around the little body, turning his back to the flying rubble. As he had felt himself slide from the truck roof, something slammed into his back.

He must have blacked out then. The next thing he remembered he was surrounded by firemen and paramedics. One of the firemen tried to take the crying child from him as the others carried him away from the flames. Reluctantly he released his death grip on the baby, allowing the fireman to whisk the child away to a waiting ambulance. He tried to get up the moment the firemen laid him down on a gurney. Firm hands held him in place.

"Don't try to move, sir!" The paramedic's voice was hard to hear over the sound of more explosions and rescue equipment.

The memories were so vivid. Even now, a year later, Blair only had to close his eyes and it was as if he was still there. He could smell the heavy scent of the fire, a mix of ash, charred metal, roasted paint, gasoline, scorched earth, and more ... more burnt scents than he could distinguish. He wasn't the sentinel, he couldn't tell them apart. He could hear the sudden shrill scream of a car alarm going off as the firemen used a truck to move the vehicle out of the way. The wailing screech was so loud that he clamped his hands over his ears. The flashing red light... was it the alarm or his memories?

Somehow Blair managed to break free of the hands holding him down. He couldn't quite focus his eyes on the person but the heavy fireproof suit made him pause. He knew he couldn't attack a fireman. He knocked the figure away, trying not to hurt him. He knew Simon wouldn't really approve of him using his academy training like this but he had to get to Jim. He shook his head, trying to clear his head.

He almost made it back to the burning building before he was tackled from behind. As he hit the ground he felt his already bruised ribs yield. The white hot stab of pain broke his reticence. He came up fighting, using every trick and every move that Jim had so painstakingly taught him. Rafe landed hard on the ground and barely dodged the next blow. The third strike, a kick left the other detective gasping on the ground. Blair turned back toward the fire.

More sirens arrived, more fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars. A body interposed itself between him and his goal. He growled, low in his throat as he sidestepped the new form. His vision was too blurry to make out the person's identity. The man froze, startled by Blair's response.

"Sandburg!" Simon's voice broke through the sound of the siren. A hand grabbed his arm, tugging firmly. The big captain's eyes were masked by the flashing lights, his face grim. "You shouldn't be here. Let's move before there are any more accidents."

It had taken several seconds for Simon's meaning to sink through his daze. //Accident? But he'd meant to throw Rafe.// The sad but grim expression in the eyes, the dejected slum to Simon's shoulders spoke volumes. Volumes he didn't want to understand. Blair froze, refusing to move.

"Jim?" He couldn't form the rest of the words.

"Come on, Blair. The paramedics are waiting for you." The Captain spoke softly, his body blocking the view of the flaming building. The rest of Major Crimes fanned out around them, blocking any attempts to rush past the big captain. Beyond them, firemen and other police officers worked frantically to contain the fire and finish evacuating the area.

"Simon! You can't think that... Jim's alive! He needs my help! We've got to get him out of there!" Blair's voice broke as he dove, trying to get past the bigger man. Simon had been ready for that move. They went down together and Blair screamed in both fury and pain as his knee caught their weight. The rest of the department moved in and within moments, Blair was being held upright by Simon's firm grasp.

"Simon! Jim's still in there!" Blair's voice broke as he struggled to get free again.

Simon didn't answer as he pulled the smaller man toward a waiting ambulance. Blair dug in his heels but Joel joined them then. Wrapping their arms firmly around Blair, the two captains literally lifted him off his feet, dragging his struggling body in the direction of their choice.

Blair peered behind them. Flames wrapped around the building, beautiful yellow-red flames. Destructive and yet so beautiful. They wavered and danced in the windows, as if alive. Even the Golden fire people hadn't been quite so compelling, so attractive. For a moment, he saw Jim in the flames. Instantly, Blair tried again to break free from the arms holding him back, keeping him from joining his sentinel.

"No, you don't." Simon's grim words and harsh grip made him stop struggling. "You are not going back in there."

"But Jim's..." Blair tried to tell Simon. He vaguely heard more voices, familiar ones surrounding him. But he couldn't hear the one he needed most. He could feel Jim's presence but he knew his sentinel wasn't there. He was still in the flaming building.

Joel grabbed his shoulders then, forcing him to look into the bigger man's eyes. He spoke softly, firmly trying desperately to convince. "Listen to me, Blair. It is not your fault, Blair. You did everything you could."

"But it wasn't enough! It wasn't enough!" He yelled at Joel. He had to convince them. "Jim's still in there! I have to go back for him." He felt the tears gather in his eyes but refused to let them fall. No one would have said a word if he cried. He could see that most of the officers and EMT's there had tears in their eyes. The paramedics wanted him to get into the ambulance. He shook his head, refusing their assistance. "I'm not leaving him. I'll be fine."

"Sandburg." Simon's voice was oddly gentle, almost as if he didn't want to say the next words.

"No, sir. I don't want to hear that. I am waiting." Blair felt something move inside him as he shrugged away from the hand on his shoulder. He had to explain that Jim was waiting for him. His sentinel waited for the guide to lead the way out. As he struggled for the right words, trying to tell Simon what he'd seen, what he felt, what he knew to be true, the pain in his ribs flared.

He gasped for breath, the pain making it even harder for his tired lungs to expand. He coughed, struggling now for air, fighting the encroaching darkness. An oxygen mask descended over his face. With wild, uncoordinated movements, Blair fought it. He felt the prick of a needle. He screamed, just before everything went dark, "JIM!"

Blair opened his eyes, dismissing the troubling memories. He looked around the loft, so full of who he was now, of who he had been. He was on his knees beside the coffee table, clutching the scrap book. Tears streamed down his face as he read again the newspaper's glowing praise for Jim's heroic deeds.

"Detective James Ellison of the Central Precinct's Major Crimes Unit paid the ultimate price for a public servant early yesterday morning. He gave his life rescuing over twenty children from the fire that destroyed St.. John's Orphanage on Tate Street. For his dedication and devotion to the citizens of Cascade, the governor has already stated that he is awarding Ellison with a posthumous Citation for Bravery Above and Beyond the Call of Duty."

The article went on, citing Jim's many awards, citations and honors. It even mentioned the fiasco that had occurred with the revelation of Blair's dissertation. The final quote almost made him laugh, "If Ellison had really been the sentinel that publisher Sid Graham had believed him to be, maybe he would have gotten out of the building before the gas lines exploded..."

Oh, how that hurt. Jim's senses probably told him that the gas lines had ruptured during the explosion of the tanker. That probably was the reason he had ordered Blair to stay outside, not to help get the kids down safely. Jim's primary instinct had always been to protect the guide. Nothing else came first.

With a quiet sigh, he closed the album. He couldn't bear to read any more. He didn't want any more platitudes about Jim's life. He didn't want to know about his life without Jim. Maybe it was time to let go, time to stop fighting the memories. He ran his hand across his face, wondering about the pain that was blossoming in his temples. His fingers came away bloody. When had his nose begun to bleed? He needed to call Simon.

The flash of the red alarm light caught his attention as he stood, body wavering, fighting tears and memory. Even as he turned towards the door, he felt the heavy weight of memories burying him. He barely heard Simon's frantic voice yelling, "Hold on, Sandburg!"

"Come on, Blair! Don't do this!" Joel's voice cracked in Blair's ear. He barely felt the rough hands trying to bring him around. He wondered when Simon and Joel had arrived, but it really didn't matter, not anymore.

Resolutely, Blair turned away from the temptation of their voices. He let the rest of the memories out of their locked corner and let them overwhelm him. It was time, no past time, to face them. If they had been out in the open, he knew he would never have survived the first night after his sentinel's... Even now he couldn't face the word, not even in his own thoughts. He couldn't accept the reality of it. Maybe the memories would be easier than his fractured fears. But then again, maybe not. He let his mind drift away from the panicked voices. He saw Jim in his mind's eye. Jim was waiting for him. He let go, let the memories flow.

A paramedic clamped the oxygen mask to his face, assisting it by forcing the air into his lungs with the hand pump. Another flashed a light into his eyes, speaking words that jumbled together and made no sense. He tried to move but straps held him secure. Behind them, Simon and Joel stood guard, watching him worriedly. He was lifted into an ambulance. The darkness swooped down taking him with it.

Blair's eyes opened. Familiar white walls and a white ceiling. He was in Cascade General. He tried to move but his arm was restrained. He turned his head. No one sat in the chair. No one waited for him to wake up. It hadn't been a nightmare. He felt slow hot tears slide down his cheeks. Closing his eyes, he let sorrow claim him. Jim was gone.
The darkness claimed him again.

"Blair? Are you awake?" Joel's voice was soft. The soft beeping of a heart monitor, the hum of medical equipment were so normal. He was so used to it. It was something that his life with Jim and the police department had gotten him so used to hearing "It's time for you to wake up, kid."

A gentle hand ran across his forehead. The hand on his brow felt so familiar. Blair opened his eyes, but he didn't see Jim. Instead he saw Joel's worried eyes. The haze of drugs and the pain in his head told him he wouldn't be awake long. Even as he thought that, the scene began to blur. The bright red blinking light of the monitor caught his eye.

He tried to speak but nothing came out. Joel held a straw up to his lips, before it touched his lips the light was gone. He wet his lips and throat. As the water trickled down, he felt the scratchy burn that told him he had been on a respirator again. He hated that feeling. He whispered, fighting the deepening darkness. "Where's Jim?"

"He's..." Joel's sentence disappeared into the silence as Blair returned to unconsciousness.

It rained the day they buried Jim. Almost as if nature was mourning the loss of the Sentinel. Or maybe because the Shaman was so grief-stricken the skies had to shed the tears he couldn't let fall.

Throughout the simple ceremony, Blair sat in his wheelchair dry eyed. He was surrounded by friends. Police officers, neighbors, old students, professors, and many people who he had never met crowded the cemetery. Each and everyone had stopped by to see him. They all wanted to make sure that he was all right. Everyone who knew Jim, knew how much Blair had meant to the older man. And they all wanted him to know that.

Not even Naomi's simple understanding had broken through the shell he had built. The tears stayed firmly under his control, leashed and repressed. Jim would not have approved. William Ellison did and thanked him for his sensibility. Only the fact that the old man had aged so much with his son's death kept him from striking out at him. Instead Blair had nodded and asked Simon to take him home.

He heard Simon's voice. It was speaking softly, reading something. One of his books, he recognized the words. It was one of his Burton books. When had Simon taken up reading about Sentinels? He opened his eyes, to see the haggard face looking at him. Even as Simon began to smile, the view faded out again.

A doctor stood over him, waiting for a reaction. "Ah, there you are, young man. Are you awake now?"

Blair blinked. The pain in his head had eased a little, but his vision was still blurry. "Who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Adamson. Do you know who you are?" The man spoke softly, a kindness to the pounding in Blair's head.

"Detective Blair Sandburg, Ph.D." He winced at the roughness of his voice. The doctor smiled. From the relieved expression in his eyes, the man had been expecting a different answer. He knew what that meant, head trauma and possible amnesia.

"Can you tell me today's date?" Dr. Adamson asked.

"October something." Blair murmured.

"And the year?"

Blair thought hard. If a year had gone past... or was he in his memories again. The words were soft as he confessed. "I don't know."

The doctor's face was sympathetic, his touch gentle as he examined Blair's eyes. "That's to be expected, Detective. What is the last thing you remember?"

Blair felt the pain in his head bloom into to raging inferno as the events of the fire exploded through his memory. He tried to take a deep breath but between the tightness in his lungs and the tape holding his ribs in place, he couldn't breathe. Darkness hit him fast and hard, almost as fast as Jim took a corner. Just before he blacked out, he screamed, a husky, choked, broken word. "Jim!"

Blair opened his eyes. This time he didn't feel groggy or drugged. He looked over at the empty chair next to him. Jim wasn't there. He hadn't been there for a year. The grief burned in him as he let the thought roll through his mind. He had refused to grieve for so long, holding out for a miracle. Even now, who knew how long later, it felt as if Jim was still there. He could feel the connection him and his sentinel. It was like a warm, comforting presence within him.

He wondered briefly why he had ended up in the hospital this time. His memories were so vague. Almost as it they were fever induced dreams instead of reality. He knew that everyone had been waiting for him to remember the bits and pieces he had lost in the explosion. He vaguely remembered the doctor telling him it would come back to him, when his mind was ready to remember. He let the tears flow. It had been a long long time since he had cried. Not since Maya and that had been five, almost six, years ago. And Jim meant so much more to him than Maya ever had.

The door of his room opened. He ignored it. He didn't want to see whoever it was. If it was a nurse, he or she could do their job and leave. He just wanted to grieve. A warm, familiar hand touched his cheek, wiping away the tears.

"Hey, Chief. How about opening your eyes?" The voice was soft, hopeful and it was the voice he knew he shouldn't be hearing. "Please? Wake up for me, Sandburg."

He turned towards the voice warily. Blue eyes and a bruised face met his gaze. Blair ignored the pain of burns, broken bones and bruises as he threw himself towards the other man. His voice, still raw, grated on his own ears as he cried out in shock. "You're alive!"

"Whoa! Easy, Chief." Jim's words were whispered into the younger man's hair. Gently the sentinel wrapped his arms around the guide, holding him close. "I'm alive and so are you buddy."

"But you were dead... I saw the memorial and the loft was empty and. . ." Blair's words were confused. He tried to make sense of his jumbled memories and the vague uneasy dreams. "I was all alone."

"I know, Blair." The tortured whisper made him look up. Blair met Jim's eyes and saw the despair and the worry in the red rimmed eyes. "I dreamed too."

"But it was so real... and you weren't there." The memories of waking to the empty cubicle, of being forcibly restrained while the doctors tried to reattached vital equipment flashed through his mind. Jim's arms tightened briefly.

"It was a nightmare caused by your concussion and a reaction to the medication from the emergency surgery." Jim didn't let go. He simply held on to his shaking guide. This one had been too close, for both of them. He rocked, a slow, gentle movement that soothed both of them. "I'm right here. We're both going to be all right."

It took a several long minutes before Blair relaxed enough to believe the arms wrapped around him were really Jim's arms. He sighed, letting the grief and rage and fear go. His sentinel was alive. How and why would have to wait. For now he was content to rest and heal. Jim could explain it all to him later.

The End

My deepest apologies to everyone who begged for Jim's side of the story. The muse refused to discuss it. Nada. Zip. Not even a fragment.