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No Sexual Situations
No Violence


When the winds of change blow through two lives, what will be left standing?

This story takes place after "The Sentinel, by Blair Sandburg."

With thanks and apologies to Pet Fly and Jimmy Buffett, and proceeding under the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than permission....

Wind is blowing harder now
Fifty knots or thereabouts
There's whitecaps on the ocean
And I'm watching for waterspouts
Time to close the shutters
It's time to go inside



The weathervanes and windsocks of Jim Ellison's life had signaled a storm coming for a while now.  He'd watched it build with a fatalistic apathy ... hadn't taped his windows, hadn't sandbagged his door, hadn't bought candles or batteries or bottled water.  He'd simply hunkered down, planless, and waited for the tempest to hit.

Now the barometer was dropping fast, and while he conceded to himself his foolishness in doing nothing, he still couldn't think of how he might have prepared.  Or how he was going to survive, or recover.


It was five-thirty when Jim swung the truck into an empty space in front of 852 Prospect.  Sandburg was home; Jim could hear the heartbeat.  But no Volvo; the customary parking space was empty, apart from the permanent oil slick that was the old car's mark of territoriality.  Bad omen.  And coming from upstairs, a soft murmur of misery, the sound of paper being shredded, and ... metal on plastic?

What the hell?

No matter.  He'd find out. 

He listened all the way up the stairs to the sounds coming from #307.  Angry footsteps, and the slamming of a door made mostly of glass.  Papers rustling, cardboard cartons being shoved around, irritated muttering.  He entered the loft and winced as the words became clear.

"Lived my entire life out of boxes. I should have this down by now."

Blair was rummaging through the boxes in his room.  Boxes that he'd never completely unpacked after Alex, and repacked and left that way after the press conference. 

Jim slipped out of his jacket and hung it up, then glanced through the mail on the small table by the door.  All junk; he went into the kitchen and tugged open the cabinet door beneath the sink to toss it away.  Something small and white dropped from the curled-up edge of the plastic trash liner and landed at his feet.  He bent and picked it up.

Half of a credit card; the only one, Jim knew, that Blair had left.  Ragged on the edge where it had been scissored in two.


He moved quietly across the floor to stand outside the French doors.  Closed, as they hadn't been in months, even when Blair was sleeping or dressing or on the phone.  He raised his hand and rapped his knuckles lightly on the glass.


Movement.  A shuffling of feet, a sharp thump and a muttered "dammit" and the door swung open to reveal Blair, rubbing his shin, a grin that seemed forced affixed firmly to his face.

"Wow, Jim, you're home!  What time is it?  I'm sorry about dinner ... I got involved...."

"I can see that."  The artificial cheer was overt, and prompted Jim to cock his head and peer over Blair's shoulder in a blatant intrusion.  The Great Wall of Sandburg had been disturbed; several boxes lay open on his bed, explosions of paper erupting from them.  Fairly certain that he didn't really want to know, but unable not to ask, Jim did.

"What's going on?"

"I'm looking for something."  A shrug dismissed the question.  "I didn't get to the store after the Academy this afternoon, but I think we still have some stuff in the fridge.  Give me half an hour to put something together for dinner?"

Jim had lived with Blair for a long time, and knew a purposeful dogleg when he heard one.  "What are you looking for?"

"Nothing important.  Look, if you're really hungry, I can probably put something together in a few--"

"It must be important, for you to get into those boxes."  Jim hesitated; they'd never spoken about The Great Wall.  "You haven't touched them since ... ah...."

The purposeful animation left Blair like a screen wipe; he went abruptly from color to black and white, like some strange special effect in a movie.  His shoulders slumped and he plopped down on his bed, legs folded crookedly beneath him, arms resting boneless on his knees.  His hair fell around his face like a ragged cloak.

"I should just pitch this shit," he muttered. 

Jim's heart broke a little at the tone of voice.  "Well, no," he said, uncertain of his footing.  Fear that Blair would reject the Academy and life as a detective ... as Jim's partner ... had haunted him since the press conference.  He'd tried to pretend that it wasn't a real concern, but now it was swept up from the dark corners of his conscience by the tornadic winds that had been rising day by day.  He groped desperately for an alternative to offer the young man.  "No.  You shouldn't.  There's a lot of work here, Chief.  You never know ... you might write a book someday."

"Get real, Jim," Blair said in a voice that was chillingly cynical.  "I've permanently alienated my readership."

Jim thought carefully.  

"You're a teacher, Blair.  You can make this stuff interesting to anyone."

He was unprepared for the sudden flash of anger that reanimated his friend.  

"Nope.  Wrong, Jim.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  First of all, I'm not a teacher any more.  And second, the reason I'm rummaging through this shit is because I forgot that I'm not a teacher any more."

Blair rolled his eyes, and Jim noticed for the first time the lines that were beginning to ray out from their corners.  Not the broad laugh lines that had always arrowed into the twinkling blue they accented; these were smaller, finer creases, painted by tension.  By worry, and by loss.  

"I made some remark today in class about the parallels between the social and psychological motivators of Academy cadets and the volunteer outrider warriors of some nomadic tribes of the early Mongol and Native American cultures."  Blair's voice was harsh.  He got to his feet and started haphazardly stuffing things back into boxes; with sharp movements, he folded down the flaps on one and began stuffing another as he spoke.  "The class laughed themselves silly.  Instructor Carlton thought it was an interesting theory, but pointed out that I had a little ... credibility problem."  Another carton was tucked closed and ruthlessly shoved against the wall, and Blair straightened.  Troubled eyes fell on the wall of boxes with a gaze that looked through, and beyond, them.

"I've spent the past eight weeks proving myself," Blair said softly, almost to himself.  "I aced my classes on ballistics and arson incendiaries and emergency response to weapons of mass destruction, riot situations and natural and civic disasters.  I can Mirandize a suspect, talk down a jumper and disarm a perp with my bare hands.  I can fieldstrip and reassemble my handgun blindfolded ... and bull's-eye the target damn near every time.  And god help me, I can circumvent my own arguments with myself about using the damn thing.

"I've been in the field for over four years now ... done things ... survived situations ... that the fucking Academy doesn't even train you for.  But you know what?  None of that matters.  I have no credibility with the other cadets, or the instructors, or the administrators.  And I can live with that ... I have for months now."   He blinked and turned his uneasy eyes on the man listening to him.

"But Jim ... what's gonna happen when I'm finally your ... when I'm on the force?  Are my arrests going to be acquitted because the prosecutor can conveniently point out that I'm a fraud?  Is your backup going to blow you off because I'm a cheat?  Are you going to...?"

Jim leaned heavily on the doorframe.  Am I going to what, Chief?  Say it....

But Blair didn't.  He turned away and bent over, closed the last carton and lifted it into an empty space among the others that lined the wall.  Jim knew that the door that he'd desperately been hoping that Blair would open would remain closed, and dropped his head in disappointment.

Blair didn't notice ... his thoughts were turned inward now.  "Write a book?"  His voice was subdued, the ragged edge of distress gone, replaced by bleak apathy.  He looked around the small room and shrugged.  "I don't have room to turn around in here, much less search through all these boxes, collect my research and lay it out and coordinate it and collate it.  Which is what it would take to write a book.

"And even if I did, no one would read it anyway."  Once again a shadow figure of black and white, Blair moved toward the door slowly, like an arthritic.  "I think I'll spend this weekend feeding the dumpster," he said softly, and walked past Jim and out of the tiny room.  

Jim stayed where he was, just inside the door of the small room, and sent his hearing elsewhere.  He listened to the refrigerator door open, the crackling of plastic wrap and the thud of Tupperware hitting the tile counter, the faint flare of a gas flame on the stove igniting.  

Money ... the Academy ... the job.  That's not all of it, Chief.  But it's a start.

He looked around.  Jim had long ago become accustomed to the scattering of debris that collected in inevitable, if haphazard, orbit around his friend.  Clothing in piles on the unused side of the small futon; threadbare shirts, torn jeans, a ragged pair of Nikes.  A coffee mug with a dark stain at the bottom, and several empty bottles that had once held fruit juice or cold tea or water.  Pens with nibbled caps and yellow labels with scribbles across their faces.  Papers.  Notebooks.  Journals.  And, as there had always been, books; but not as many as before things had changed ... and now the titles spoke of mundane and prosaic police procedures instead of exotic and arcane civilizations.  

Still, lingering in the air, a old, familiar fragrance ... aged leather, with traces of university classrooms and the bullpen at Major Crimes and the cabs of Jim's many trucks and the jungle of Sierra Verde clinging to it.  He looked down, searching for the source, and found it; a glimpse of ancient binding edging out from under the futon where it had been shoved as if with intent to hide, or to forget.  He reached down and pulled the volume out and lifted it into his lap.  It fell open easily to a photograph of a tall man in face paint, holding a bundle of arrows in one hand and a spear in the other.  The sentinel's sensitive fingers slid across the sienna-tinged image of his spiritual kin and were arrested in their caress by odd distortions on the smooth surface of the aged paper.  Small puckered places that smelled of primeval seas.


Only a dream can kill a dream.

Where had he heard that?  It didn't matter ... Jim didn't need the citation.  He knew that it was true.  He'd been watching it happen ... had been letting it happen.  He'd watched over the years as Blair struggled to fit into Jim's world and be of help to his friend.  He'd watched as expeditions had been given up, flyers for seminars and conferences found their way into the trash, clothing grew more ragged and the Volvo slowly died.  And then, when everything had gone to hell and the brass ring appeared and offered Blair a future at the cost of Jim's, he had watched Blair surrender the last of his life and strive to reinvent himself yet again.  And strive equally hard to not appear to mind.  

A terrible reward for doing the right thing.  

At the time, Jim had eased his own guilt with rationalizations.  Blair shouldn't have used his name in the thesis ... Blair should have passworded the file ... Blair should have foreseen that it could never be published.  Those rationalizations fell apart in the face of truth ... that Jim could match each bad choice of his partner's with one of his own.  Still, he had stepped back and watched the whirlwind of activity and energy and self-generated chaos that had always surrounded Blair become a barrier, his friend withdrawn and hidden in the deceptive calm of its eye.

Jim ran his fingers over the old photograph, and thought of weathervanes and windsocks, and the conversation he'd had with Simon that afternoon.  The storm was at hand ... he could see it in the shadows that colored Blair's eyes, and hear it in the strain that whispered beneath his voice.  Soon it would make landfall and break apart, and all that its wild inertia had supported over the past months would come crashing back to earth.  And unprepared as he was, Jim knew that he had to face it, try to bring them both through it and salvage what he could when it was over.  

He'd been focused too long on taking care of his tribe.  Now it was time to take care of his guide.

Jim closed the book and gently returned it to its hiding place, then walked out into the kitchen.  Blair looked up and smiled a small smile over his shoulder.  

"Found some eggs and the Chinese from day before yesterday.  Egg Foo Whatever sound okay?  I can make some biscuits too, if that's not too cross-cultural for you."

Jim grinned in spite of himself.  "I'll broaden my worldview, just for tonight."  He leaned against the kitchen island and watched his friend assembling the meal.  "I talked to Simon today.  He's got a job for you."

Blair was suddenly still.  "Oh?" 

"Yeah.  Some legal papers on the Esterhaus case have to be delivered to the DA in Portland, witnessed, copied, and returned.  Confidential files ... suit stuff.  Interested?"

Blair concentrated intently on mixing the Bisquick with exactly the right amount of milk.

"Can't do it.  Volvo's dead."

"Rental car's part of the deal."

"Can't miss classes."

"You've only got a morning class on Friday.  Leave afterward."

"Too far for a day trip."

"Hotel room's covered, and per diem for meals.  Come back Saturday."

A wooden spoon dug into the biscuit dough and dropped it in evenly spaced mounds on a greased baking sheet.

"Why?  Why me?"

"Simon needs someone he can trust to do this.  And he knows you need the money."

The wooden spoon clattered into the bowl and blue eyes flashed in irritation.  

"Why does Simon think that I need money?"

Jim decided that blunt was the best approach.

"He wanted to know why you keep turning down invitations to go out with the gang from the bullpen.  Telling him you were broke seemed more tactful than telling him you didn't want to be seen with us."

Blair opened his mouth, closed it, almost smiled, then narrowed his eyes.  "I'm not a charity case, Jim."  The anger was back, controlled but evident.  "No one needs to look out for me.  I can take care of myself."

"I know that.  Simon just thought--"

"Simon did?  Or you did?"

"We both did."

Blair sighed and focused again on the biscuits.  "Look, Jim, I--  I don't need help.  And you don't owe me anything."

"That's not exactly true."

"You don't need to do this."

"I didn't.  It was Simon's call."  Come on, Chief....  "Look, he was counting on you to handle this for him.  If you're not going to do it, call him now and let him know.  He doesn't have much time to find someone else."

Blair opened the oven and slid the baking sheet in, set the timer, and finally met Jim's eyes.  The spark of humor there caused Jim to catch his breath.

"You trying to get rid of me?"


"I thought as much.  What's going on, Jim?"

"We're throwing a surprise birthday party for you."

"My birthday's not for another three months."

"That was going to be the surprise.  But we can change the plan."


"Okay, look at it this way.  Say you're right ... say Simon doesn't owe you anything.  And neither do I.  But you owe him.  You do him this favor and he not only collects on his marker but he feels good about helping you out.  Win/win for Simon.  And you can afford to fix the Volvo and buy everyone a round when we go out after work next week and end up the good guy.  How can you say no?"

"You fight dirty, Jim."

"Fire with fire, Chief."

Blair leaned back against the kitchen island, arms folded across his chest, still unconvinced.  Jim reached out and dropped a hand on his shoulder and tried to ignore the way Blair tensed at the touch.

"Get out of Dodge, Chief.  Get out on the road.  Take some down time.   Do some thinking.  You need it."

"All right."  Blair dropped his shoulder and let Jim's hand fall away, and Jim felt the barometer in his heart drop another notch.  Bad weather building.


Cascade's heavy dew dampened the sidewalk, and the air held a chill in spite of the rising sun.  Blair shrugged deeper into the heavy cotton weave of his hooded Mexican overshirt.  

"I'm not sure when I'll be back."

Jim fabricated a relaxed grin.  "Take your time, Chief.  Drive carefully.  Call me when you get there, and before you leave tomorrow."

"Okay.  Ah, Jim...."  Blair shuffled his feet and his head dropped, avoiding eye contact.  "Ah ... thanks."  The word sounded as if it was painful to speak.  Blair pulled out the car keys and unlocked the door of the shiny red rental.  

"I'll pass that on to Simon," Jim answered, and wondered why Blair seemed bothered by the words.

But "Bye, Jim," was all he said.

And "Bye, Chief," was all Jim had to offer in reply.

He stood on the sidewalk and watched the little Neon back out of the parking space, pull away and turn the corner at the end of the block.  When it was beyond even sentinel sight, Jim turned his back on the street and pulled out his cell phone, punched in a number, and waited impatiently for the ring.


"Yeah, Simon.  He's gone."

"Took you long enough."

"You know him.  He thinks we're up to something, and he tried to get me to spill it."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him that we were planning a surprise party for him and needed to get him out of town."

"You WHAT?!"

"Something I learned in covert ops.  Sometimes the best place to hide is in plain sight.  Now let's get moving."

"We're on our way."


Jim stood by the open doors to the balcony, watching the sun set on a Saturday afternoon and sipping his beer and listening.  It would be tricky, since the rental's engine wasn't committed to memory as was the wildly variable but always identifiable symphony of the Volvo's unreliable motivator.  He would have to hear the heartbeat too, to be sure.  He smiled to himself.  After waking constantly the night before to listen for that which he knew was not there, he was willing to bet that he'd pick up that signature sound long before he heard, much less identified, the car.

It had been a long night, and a lonely one.  He was hungry for that sound and strained to hear it through the cacophony of activity that was Major Crimes preparing for a party.  Some kind god had spread its wings over Cascade and shadowed the weekend with peace and good will, and while a few of the people in the loft were on call, none of them had been called, and the work of yesterday afternoon and this morning had been completed with dispatch.  Now it was Miller time ... with a host of local breweries and coffee blends and regular ice teas and Long Island ice teas sharing the happy hour with the cliche that gave it the name, as the perpetrators of the surprise waited for the payoff.

Jim smiled, and turned his attention back to the street.

He felt it first, as if his own heart half-skipped a beat or two to place itself back in sync with a subliminal metronome it had missed and listened for since Blair's departure.  And then his ears kicked in ... yes.  That heartbeat, audible over the sound of the rental, identified by the syncopated revolving of one mismatched tire that wasn't balanced with the other three.

"He's here."

A flurry of activity followed the announcement.  Empties were gathered up and tossed in the trash, fresh ice was dumped in the sink and warm bottles slid into the crunchy nest.  Platters of snacks were pulled from the fridge and unwrapped and laid out on the kitchen island.  A quick policing of the area for unswept sawdust and stray nails and overlooked wood scraps satisfied even the leaseholder.

And they all settled down to wait.


Jim followed him by the sounds.  Tires bumping gently into the curb in front of the building.  Key pulled from the ignition, door swung open, trunk popped, duffel tugged out and trunk dropped shut.  Keyring jingling, and a muffled oath upon discovery that the elevator was out of order, then the distinctive creak stretch flop of battered Nikes.  The old shoes carried that one-in-a-galaxy individual up the stairs, closer and closer to the door that Jim wanted so desperately for him to again feel was home.  

Then the heartbeat was directly outside ... faster than it should be, even for someone who had just climbed three flights of stairs carrying a duffel.  Clearly returning home required some psyching up, some shifting of gears into a personality and mood that Blair felt would be acceptable to the homeowner.  

Jim sighed.  He'd fucked up so badly ... would this day fix things, or make them worse?  He shivered as the brass key grated against the inner workings of the Schlage lock, and the door swung open.  The cold wind of a phantom gale blew in and chilled his nerves.

He was tired, Jim could see.  An air of weariness hung around him like smoke.  His eyes scanned the crowded living room and widened, and for a moment Jim saw a hint of fear color the surprise in them.

Oh god....

And then the homecoming was taken out of his hands.

"Sandburg!"  "Sandy!"  "Hairboy!"  "Darwin!"

Jim watched as they swarmed around the young man, smothering him with warm welcomes, and couldn't help but smile at the sight.  Over the years, the world-weary men and women of Major Crimes had succumbed with surprisingly little fight to the same charm that had taken Jim in and live-trapped him before he knew it.  Some of the shine had gone off that charm lately; Jim knew why, and suspected that his coworkers had their ideas about that too.  He could see it in their eyes.

It was why they had given up their weekend to be here.

It was time to apply a little soul polish.

"Chief."  He grinned, stepped forward and took the duffel that Blair was still holding and dropped it on the floor by the door, then placed his hands on Blair's shoulders and shook him gently.  "Welcome home."

"Thanks."  Blair blinked and looked around him, a bit stunned.  "I suppose I'm wondering why I called you all here," he said slowly.

"It's a surprise, Sandy," said Megan, as if that explained everything.

Blair nodded.  "Yes, it is."

"I think he wants to know why it's a surprise," Joel commented.

"Yes, I would."

"Tell, him, Jim," prompted Rafe.

"Yeah, man," Henri chimed in.  "Give the boy a clue."

Jim swallowed hard.  He'd had a speech prepared but the storm winds tore it away the moment Blair trained alarmed and angry eyes on him.  How to say this right, without insulting Blair, or pissing him off, and without failing to put every emotion Jim felt right out there where Blair could see them?

"It's like this, Chief...." he began, and stalled.

"Like what, Jim?" Blair asked edgily.  

Goddamn words.  Jim stepped aside and aimed Blair's gaze at the other side of the room and crossed his fingers.  A sweat of fear that felt like cold rain dampened his neck above his shirt collar.

Blair gasped.  

The outside of the walls defining the space that was Blair's were clad floor to ceiling in bookshelves.  The area nestled beneath the stairs was now one long desktop, resting on half a dozen two-drawer filing cabinets made of wood.  Above and behind the desk, defined at the top by each stairstep, was an expanse of corkboard with several dozen map tacks in varying hues stuck in haphazard rows.  An overstuffed office chair on castors sat centered in front of a cluster of boxes imprinted with the gray silhouette of an apple.  At the end of the desk closest to Blair's room stood a book caddy ... an exact replica of the one Thomas Jefferson had invented for his own office.  Four of the easels were empty, but the one on top held Sir Richard Burton's monograph on "The Sentinels of Paraguay."  The volume was open to the frontispiece ... the photograph of a sentinel.

Jim used every sense in his possession in an attempt to take the measure of Blair's mood as the young man's eyes traveled over the shelving, the desk, the cabinets, the computer boxes and, finally, the book caddy. Blair's hands trembled, his shoulders hitched slightly and he took a step forward, and then another, until he was standing in front of the caddy; one finger uncurled from a clenched fist and reached out and touched the face in the old photograph, tentatively and with aching tenderness.  

Jim held his breath as Blair turned around and looked at the handful of people who had done this thing. 

Please, Chief ... understand....

And Jim was probably the only one in the room who was not surprised at what Blair said.


Landfall.  The storm that had been building for so long finally hit, and hit hard.  Wind roared in Jim's ears, tore his breath from his throat, stung his eyes and blinded him.  He swayed, gravity unable to hold him in place in the face of the fierce turbulence that was clawing at him.  Too late for Blair to trust this offering, and too much for the sentinel to bear as he felt the storm tearing his guide away from him.  He looked helplessly at Simon.  

And Simon, knowing from experience that both sentinels and guides occasionally needed more than their spirit guides to aid them, sighed deeply and did his job.

"Payback, Sandburg," he said, and Blair looked at him, uncomprehending.  Simon made his voice patient.  "For seeing the things that no one else could see, and explaining the things that no one else could have understood.  Because although your life has changed, no matter what you do now, we don't want you to forget or lose any of the things that have made you what you are.

"And because you deserve it."

Blair swallowed hard.  "But Simon ... I...."  He choked, and coughed, and Jim's last hope flew away with the wind as he recognized all the emotions that scudded like storm clouds across that honest face.  "I ... I'm not a cop.  I may never be.  And I almost got you ... killed.  And Megan, and Rafe ... and Jim ... my fault...."

"Blair!"  Simon cut him off sharply.  "You've saved my life, and my son's, more than once.  And Rafe's, and Megan's, the day Zeller shot up the office.  You gave Joel back his job.  Everyone in this room owes you somehow.  What value do you think we put on those acts?

"And how does Jim pay you back for four years, three million dollars, your degree, and his life?"

"But...."  Blair swept the crowd with agonized eyes and turned away, and only then did the presence of the monograph, and all that the display of it implied, seemed to sink in.  He whirled and looked at Jim in alarm, but once again it was Simon's voice and heart that saved them both.

"Blair," he said gently, "look around you."

Blair did.  And the smiling faces gathered around told him that they knew exactly where the truths and lies in Blair Sandburg's life lay, and that they understood the singular truth that had made necessary one desperate, devastating lie.

"Do I make myself clear?"

Blair blinked rapidly and swallowed hard, rocked a little on his failing Nikes and whispered, "Yes sir."

"Good.  I hope you know how to put that thing together," Simon said, nodding toward the stack of computer boxes.  "Because you're on your own.  I'm going to have a beer."  He clamped down on his unlit cigar and headed for the kitchen, followed by the rest of the crowd.  Jim and Blair were left alone in the living room, facing each other.

Blair looked at Jim and let his face ask one more question.  It was the one that Jim had been waiting and hoping for, but he could only lift his hands, palms up, and offer back a question of his own.

Blair answered both of them when he stepped into Jim's arms.

And the sun came out.

~ 30 ~

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