LEARNING TO TRUST

By

ANNIE

EMAIL: Annie

This is set early in the series just after "The Debt".

The Disclaimer Chorus : Everybody join in : "Not mine, no money exchanged, no copyright infringement intended."

Thank you to all my wonderful friends on SA. This fic is especially for Mary Ellen and Crowswork for supplying me with fic above and beyond the call of SA duty. You blokes are grouse, mates. (I promise it doesn't mean anything rude… ask Lyn <weg>)

Blair stood and glanced a little uncertainly around the bullpen. He couldn't see any sign of his friend and partner, Jim Ellison, anywhere in the room.

Blair had been riding along with Jim for a couple of months now, helping the detective learn to manage his heightened senses, gathering information about the whole process for use in his dissertation and managing to get himself into a few scrapes along the way. He knew most of the other detectives in the Major Crime Unit pretty well now and on the whole, they'd been friendly and accepting of his presence there. Blair wasn't sure how many of them actually bought into the cover story he and Jim had come up with, that Blair was doing his thesis on closed societies with the PD as its model, but nobody had asked too many questions.

He couldn't say the same for the cops outside the MCU though. The ones that didn't openly resent him, simply ignored him, but he'd been on the receiving end of more than a couple of "accidental" shoves against walls and doors, not to mention actually being tripped down a flight of stairs once. He hadn't mentioned it, not to Captain Banks and especially not to Jim. After all, he hadn't been really hurt apart from a nasty looking bruise on his hip and the guy had apologized. The last thing that Blair wanted, was for Jim to decide that it was too much trouble letting Blair hang around at the station. So he'd allowed the patrolman to help him up, shook his hand and made it a point to avoid the stairways as much as possible.

But despite the casual friendship extended to him by Jim's fellow detectives, Blair still didn't feel entirely comfortable hanging out at Jim's desk when the detective wasn't around. Then again, he figured he probably looked more out of place simply standing in the doorway, so he finally squared his shoulders, took a calming breath and moved inside, nodding a quick hello to the uniformed cop seated at the desk across from Jim's.

"Hi, Sandburg, how's it going?" the man smiled up at him.

"Oh, fine, thanks, um, Officer, um…" Blair answered as he put his backpack down on the floor and seated himself in Jim's chair, and tried to remember the guy's name. He was one of the uniforms who was assigned to Major Crime, Blair knew. "Officer Rafe!" Blair gave the cop a brilliant smile as the name came to him.

"Just Rafe's fine, Sandburg," Rafe said, returning to his paperwork.

'Rafe, right," Blair murmured, memorizing the name. "Um, where's Jim, do you know? He asked me to meet him and I'm a little early but…"

"He just went down to grab some lunch with the Captain. He'll be back in a minute," Rafe replied.

Blair's stomach gave a sympathetic grumble as if in reply to Rafe's words and he stood up and headed to the break room for coffee, standing aside to let the girl with the donut cart through first. He looked longingly at the pastries, knowing he didn't have enough money to buy one. He checked his pockets for change for the snack machine but the excavation only produced 50 cents and he sighed and put it back. He'd have to make do with coffee for now.

His money had been gradually depleted over the past couple of weeks since his home, an old warehouse, unfortunately situated on the same premises as a drug lab, unbeknownst to Blair, had exploded. Ellison had taken Blair and his current roomie, a Barbary Ape named Larry, in for a week. At the end of the week, Larry had been returned to the University, after running rampant in Jim's apartment not once but twice and Blair had resigned himself to a similar fate. Instead, Jim had stunned him by offering to let him stay on. Blair had insisted on paying rent, not letting on to Jim that even the small amount Jim charged him, on top of keeping his car running, left him with barely enough to buy one meal a day. He'd used what cash he did have left over to buy his share of the groceries so he could take his turn at cooking dinner for the two of them on alternate nights. He got away with Jim not knowing how little he was actually eating by setting his alarm so he was up and out the door before Jim got out of the shower in the morning. He usually filched one piece of toast on his way through. The rest of the day he filled the steadily growing emptiness in his belly with as much water and free coffee as he could drink without feeling like he was drowning in the stuff. He'd lost weight, he knew, which wasn't surprising considering he was burning up the same amount of energy as he always had, but on a greatly reduced number of calories. He hid that from Jim's Sentinel gaze by wearing a couple more layers than usual, easy enough to explain away with his usual complaints about Cascade's cold climate.

Now, he poured himself a cup of the brew that euphemistically passed for coffee in the PD and gratefully took a sip, not caring that it burned his tongue, just happy to have something to soothe, temporarily at least, the gnawing ache in his gut.

"Hey, Blair, you looking for Jim?"

Blair turned, recognising the warm voice of Joel Taggart, captain of the Bomb Squad and a sometime secondment to Major Crime. Taggart was the only person who called him by his first name. To Jim, he was Sandburg, Chief, Darwin or Junior; to Henri Brown, Hairboy and to Captain Simon Banks, simply and always, Sandburg. He smiled a welcome at the big man. "Yeah. Rafe said he went out for lunch so I thought I'd grab some coffee while I was waiting. I hope that's okay."

"Sure it is, Blair. Have you eaten already? My wife packed me two salad sandwiches. She's been on at me to lose weight but she figures if they've got salad on them, it's okay for me have two." Joel grinned and pulled his lunch bag out of the fridge, motioning for Blair to join him at the table. "Thing is… and this is our secret, Blair… I always get hungry before lunch anyway and I always end up grabbing a pastry off the donut cart. I figure, just one's okay, you know. Then, when lunch gets here, I can only eat one sandwich and Callie gets suspicious when I bring one home. I swear, the woman should be a detective." Joel laughed and pushed one of the sandwiches across to Blair, watching the young man keenly. He gave a pleased grin as Blair took the sandwich and began eating hungrily. "You getting by all right, Blair," he asked. "I mean, it must be tough trying to replace everything you lost on a teacher's wage."

Blair sighed happily around his mouthful of food. "Don't really get a wage," he replied, before he took another bite. "I get grants and a stipend and sometimes I get paid a few bucks for articles I publish. But I'm doing okay. At least I've got a roof over my head, thanks to Jim."

"Hey, Hairboy, there you are. Jim’s looking for you."

Blair looked up to see Henri Brown framed in the doorway. "Oh right." He stood and shot Joel a grateful look. "Thanks for the sandwich, Joel."

"Don’t mention it, Blair. Just remember though, not a word to Mrs. Taggart about the pastries." Joel grinned at Blair and heaved himself up. "Well, back to the salt mines, I guess. See you round, Blair. You take care of yourself, you hear?" He fixed Blair with a firm look and patted the observer’s thin shoulder as he left.

Blair started to follow him out but was brought up short by Henri’s hand on his chest. "Hairboy, listen, it’s Jim’s birthday next week and the guys and I thought we’d shout him to dinner at that new restaurant in town. You know, put some bucks in the pot and buy him some decent fishing gear. We figured you’d want to be in on it to kinda thank Jim for giving you somewhere to live."

"Yeah, I’d love to but how much money are we talking? I’m sorta strapped for cash at the moment. You know since the explosion I’ve had to replace a lot of stuff as well as make instalments on replacing that video camera Jim got Carolyn to loan me." Blair waited, hoping he could find some way to accept.

"Well, you can probably figure on at least 50 bucks for your own meal and around 10 towards Jim’s then 50 dollars each’ll get us some really fine fishing equipment. Oh yeah, and drinks as well of course, at dinner and after. Say, two hundred dollars all up should do it," H informed him with a grin.

Blair swallowed his disappointment down. "Man, I’m sorry, H, that’s a bit too much for me right now. But I’ll definitely put in for the fishing gear if you can wait a couple of weeks. I’ve got some money coming for an article I had published. Sorry, but that’s the lot of the impoverished grad student."

"Hey, that’s cool, Hairboy. Don’t sweat it. If anything changes and you find out you can make it, just come on anyway. I’ll book an extra place just in case." Brown grinned and turned on his heel. "Better get yourself out there ‘fore Ellison tracks you down. Oh, and not a word to the big guy about this, okay?"

Blair nodded, still feeling disappointed. It would have been the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone – getting an entrée to the closed society otherwise known as the Cascade PD as well as a chance to show his appreciation to Jim in a concrete way for taking him in. Despite having said no to Henri, he began to run a tally in his head on his way back to the bullpen, in the hope he would find a way to participate after all.

"Sandburg, nice of you to grace us with your presence," Jim said as Blair pulled up a chair next to him at his desk.

"Hey, man, sorry about that. I’ve been here for a while but I was out in the break room talking to Joel and Henri. So, what’s happening, big guy?"

‘Nothing big at the moment. Looks like the perps have decided to take a vacation. Pity we can’t do the same thing."

"Can I have everyone’s attention, please?"

Both men looked up as Simon Banks’ voice boomed out across the bullpen.

"It’s been brought to my attention that we have a thief in the building."

"Geez, ya think?" Blair snickered, elbowing Jim in the ribs.

"I’m glad you find this funny, Sandburg," Banks barked, spearing a glare in Blair’s direction.

Blair felt his face heat in embarrassment. "Sorry Si…Captain," he stammered. "I just meant it’s a police station, right? So, of course it’s got thieves… and murderers…" he stuttered to a halt, uncomfortably aware of all eyes in the room on him.

Banks glared a moment longer then continued on. "There have been a number of thefts of cash and personal property from the bullpen and other areas including the locker room. Please ensure that all valuables are kept locked away and of course, anyone who has any information, come and speak to me. All information will be handled in confidence. That’s all."

Jim looked at Blair and smiled, seeing the vestiges of embarrassment on the young man’s face. "Don’t worry about it, Junior. The captain’s bark is worse than his bite. Just keep a lid on the jokes when we’re working, okay?"

"Oh great!" Rafe yelled, as he began riffling through his drawers, obviously frustrated as he failed to find what he was looking for.

"What’s up?" Brown asked, moving to stand next to Rafe’s desk.

"My wallet," Rafe replied angrily. "It’s gone. I left it in my top drawer when I went to get a file and now it’s gone." Rafe looked up. "Hey, Sandburg, you were here. You see anybody hanging round my desk when I left?"

Blair cast his mind back but came up blank. He shook his head. "Joel came in the break room just after I did. Maybe he saw someone."

Rafe stood, his face showing his anger. "Guess I’d better go report this to the captain and cancel all my credit cards." He walked over and knocked on Banks’ office door.

"Man, that sucks," Blair murmured sympathetically.

"Yeah, it does, Chief," Jim replied. "Well, you gonna help me with these reports or not?" He handed Blair a stack of files.

Blair nodded and set to work.

~oOo~

Blair waited till he heard Jim's truck pull away before he picked up the phone. "Hey, Dace," he said, "You still looking for someone to work those night shifts while Ebony's away?"

"Yep, sure am, Blair," his friend responded. "You interested yourself or is this for another of your hard luck cases?"

"It's for me, Dace. Need some extra cash to tide me over, you know how it is. She'll be back in three nights, though, right, cos I tell you I don't think I can keep it up any longer than that."

"Yeah, just three days, Blair. Ebony'd kill me if I gave her job away. That's why it's been so hard to get someone to cover. Nobody wants a job for just three nights," Dacy said, the relief obvious in his voice.

"Well, I do," Blair replied. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow night at 9PM. Thanks, Dace. I really appreciate this. Oh, Dace, any chance you could pay me in cash after my last shift?"

"Sure, Blair, no problem. You trying to do a tapdance on the taxman? Mighty risky business now you live with a cop," Dace said, laughing.

"Nah, nothing like that, man. I just really need the cash for something special and I need it by next weekend."

"You got it, Blair. Hey, even after this I'll still owe you for coaching Farley last semester."

"Thanks, Dace. Say hi to Farley for me, okay. Bye." Blair hung up the phone and punched a jubilant fist into the air accompanied by an exultant shout of "Yeah!" Now all he had to do was hope like hell that no stakeouts or night time excursions to crime scenes reared their ugly heads, and keep his Blessed Protector from noticing that he'd just signed away all but 3 hours of his remaining sleeping hours. If he could accomplish all that, by the time Jim's birthday party rolled round, Blair would be there to help his best friend celebrate.

~oOo~

"Yo, Hairboy, over here!"

Blair looked across the crowded restaurant and saw Henri Brown waving him over enthusiastically. Grinning, he picked his way between chairs and patrons till he reached the table occupied by the Major Crimes crew.

 

"Hey, Chief, I wondered what had happened to you," Jim said as he stood up and grabbed Blair in a bear hug. "What happened to the hot date with Cindy? Was she a no-show or was it all just an obfuscation so you could surprise me?"

"You should know better by now, big guy. No woman does a no-show on me. Of course, it was an obfuscation. Happy Birthday, Jim."

Blair was hyped with pleasure at finally being here. Sure, he was exhausted from fitting in the job at Dace's store on top of school and the PD, but it was worth it to feel a part of the MC unit at last and to see the obvious pleasure on Jim's face that he was here. He'd make a deal with the sleep-debt fairy later.

Under cover of the laughter and conversation that bubbled around the table, Blair leaned over to Henri and whispered, "I've got my share of the cash for this and the gift, Henri. I can give it to you whenever you want."

"Hey, no rush, Blair. I've already covered everything anyway. I'll catch up with you before we leave or tomorrow. No biggie, bro, just glad you could make it. How'd you get the dough? Rob a bank?" Henri thumped Blair's shoulder and laughed fit to bust a gut.

"No way. You kidding? Not when I hang around with Cascade's finest." Blair grinned, while he tried to decide whether to tell the truth. Finally, he decided against it. if Jim knew he'd taken on another job just to attend his party, he'd be pissed. The cop was always on at Blair to get more rest as it was. Best to let sleeping Sentinels lie, Blair decided. "My mom sent me some money," he lied fluently. "She does that sometimes. You know moms?" He gave Henri a conspiratorial wink.

"Well, then, here's to Mrs. Sandburg!" Henri raised his glass and tapped it against Blair's.

"To Mom," Blair replied, taking a sip of his beer, and forcefully squashing his guilt. Tonight was Jim's night and he was happy to be able to be a part of it. After all, it wasn't as if he'd done anything wrong and nobody was going to get hurt by his little charade. With that thought in mind, he turned back to the table and flung himself into the festivities.

~oOo~

Sentinel and Guide arrived home early in the morning, both well oiled and more than a little the worse for wear.

It had been an eye-opening night for Blair and one that he'd enjoyed immensely. He thought somewhat groggily back to the long hours he'd put in to make it possible and didn't regret a single spirit-sapping second of it. He'd thought nothing would top seeing the guys of Major Crimes lined up in a loose-limbed interpretation of a chorus line, doing an inebriated version of the can-can, as they sang "Happy Birthday" to Jim at the top of their not-inconsiderable lungs.

But then, in the elevator on the way up to the apartment, Jim had fixed him with somewhat bleary eyes and said, "H told me you used money your mom sent you so you could be here tonight, Chief. I know there were other things you prob'ly should have used that money for… and, anyway… well, I just wanted to say thanks. It wouldn't have been the same without you there. You're a good friend, Blair."

Blair had felt himself blush with pleasure at the rarely voiced praise and he joked back to cover how much the words meant to him. "I'm glad I was there too, Jim but I swear, if you kiss me, I'll throw up all over your nice expensive shoes."

So the evening had ended as it had begun, with laughter and Blair had gone to bed feeling for the first time in a very long time, that he was exactly where he was meant to be.

~oOo~

"Look, sir, it'll only be for two days. I can't turn my back on Jeff, now. He was a good friend to me, hell, to all of us in Major Crime when he worked here. Now, he needs someone to be there for him. I really want to do this, sir."

Jim looked his captain firmly in the eye. He could imagine what the other man was thinking. *When did hard-nosed Jim Ellison ever give a shit about anybody else?* Jim had wondered the same thing himself, ever since the call had come from Jeff Matthews, telling Jim that his wife, Helen, had been killed in a car accident. A couple of months back, he would have offered Jeff his sympathy and gone on with his life, but today, something in Jeff's voice had tugged at his heart, bringing an alien dampness to his eyes at the news. When Sandburg had asked him what was wrong, Jim had found himself telling Blair the whole story and when Blair had suggested that he should go to the funeral, in a town a couple of hundred miles away, Jim had decided it was the right thing to do. He had plenty of accrued leave after all.

Banks sighed. "I'm not suggesting you should let Jeff down, Jim. Hell, I'd like to be there for the guy myself. Matthews was a damn fine member of this unit and a good man. I'm just a little surprised, that's all." Banks grinned suddenly. "Maybe the kid's good for something other than just helping you with your senses, after all. Take the two days, Jim. I'll get Brown to cover you. You've got no active cases at the moment, anyway. Just copy him on anything that might come up. You taking Sandburg with you?"

"No. Why would I?" Jim asked.

"Just wondered. You two seem pretty tight these days, that's all."

"Sandburg's done a lot to help me with this Sentinel stuff, sir. I appreciate the help he's given me, that's all."

"Hey, you won't get an argument from me there, Jim. The kid's done good, even if I won't ever say it to his face. Seems to have had a positive influence on your character as well, judging from the way you were enjoying your birthday party the other night. It was good to see, Jim. So, did you ask the kid to go with you?" Banks smiled, as if he already knew the answer.

"As a matter of fact, he offered. But he would have had to get someone to take over his classes and I know he's got a journal article almost past due, so I told him not to worry about it. I don't know how the hell he does as much as he does anyway. Like I told him, it's only for two days and I'm not going to be using my senses or anything like that. Besides, he didn't know Jeff. Could be a bit difficult trying to explain why he was there, you know?" Jim said.

Banks nodded. "Okay then, you'd better get going and catch up with Brown before you go home. Give Jeff my sympathy, will you? I asked Rhonda to organize flowers from everyone. Tell him if he needs anything at all, to be sure and let me know. I'll give him a call in a couple of days, see how he's doing."

"I'll be sure to pass on the message, sir. Thank you."

Banks sketched a quick goodbye in the air and settled back down at his desk as Jim left.

~oOo~

Blair jogged down the stairs of the PD, heading for the basement level where he'd parked his car.

Jim would be back tomorrow afternoon but until then, Blair thought cheerfully, he had the loft to himself. He'd called his friend Faith that morning and invited her over for dinner. There'd be no chance of him breaking Ellison's House Rule # whatever-it-was regarding no sex in the loft. Blair and Faith were strictly friends but Blair enjoyed her company and he thought it would be nice to have a visitor of his own at the apartment for once. It was something he hadn't been able to do since he'd moved in with Jim, mostly due to never having enough money to entertain. But the job at Dace's had taken care of Jim's birthday surprise plus left him a little left over for himself. He knew he should probably have spent it on books or something but just once, he wanted to indulge himself. He knew he probably wouldn't have a chance to do so again for a while, if ever.

"Watch where you're going!"

Blair heard the voice at the same time he found himself pushed roughly up against the railing of the stairway. *Shit! Not again!* he thought as his hands scrambled urgently for purchase on the slick metal. His feet began to slither out from under him but then he felt his arm grasped in tight grip and he was pulled up and deposited none too gently on the step below the one he'd originally been on. He looked up to thank his benefactor and apologize for the collision, then felt his heart sink as he recognized the man's face. *Damn!*

Sergeant Yale Abbott stood glaring down into Blair's face. "Christ, Sandburg, can't you even walk downstairs without getting in everyone's way? Where's your trained pitbull? He gonna come tearing down here to protect you, little boy?"

What was it with this guy? Blair wondered. They'd barely spoken two words to each other but Abbott seemed to have had it in for Blair from day one. He'd been the cop who'd helped Blair down the stairs the last time they'd passed each other, too. Mind you, that time he'd blamed Blair for it as well, though he covered that up and even helped Blair to his feet when Henri Brown happened come past just after it happened.

Sighing heavily, determined not to give Abbott any excuse to start an argument, Blair raised his hands in what he hoped was an appeasing gesture and used his most conciliatory tone. "I'm sorry, man, I really didn't see you coming up." He grinned disarmingly. "We're gonna have to stop meeting like this. People are gonna start talking."

The words were barely out of his mouth before he felt the front of his jacket gripped in an iron fist and he was held inches above the floor.

"You saying I'm queer, hippie? You might be Ellison's little fuck-buddy but I'm not a homo. You got it, Jewboy?" With that he dropped Blair back to his feet and then grabbed one shoulder and spun the observer around, shoving him down another couple of steps.

Blair's arms reached out instinctively to break his fall and he felt his backpack slide down off his shoulder. Gasping for breath, he watched as it tumbled down to the landing below, the top, which Blair had left undone, gaping open and spilling its contents over the tiles. He didn't worry too much about it. He was too concerned with regaining his footing on the stairs and putting as much distance between himself and Abbott as he could.

Abbott laughed and pushed past Blair to move down and stand next to the backpack. He smirked as he looked up at the young man. "Well, well, what do we have here?" he asked snidely, bending down and pulling something from his pocket. "Tsk, tsk, looks like I've found our thief, doesn't it?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Blair asked hotly, covering the steps down to stand next to Abbott in a jump. "I haven't stolen anything. You're trying to set me up, Abbott. What the hell have you got against me anyway?"

Abbott turned on him and spun him up against the wall, pinning one arm behind Blair's back, jerking it up till he heard Blair gasp in pain. "You have the right to remain silent…" he began as he fished his handcuffs out of his back pocket. By the time he'd finished reciting the Miranda warning, Blair was cuffed. The cop pulled him around again and grinned down at the smaller man.

"What are you arresting me for?" Blair ground out between gritted teeth, trying to restrain his anger. Jeez, this guy was gonna be dead meat when Jim found out about this. He almost smiled at the thought, but figured that would probably get him a whack across the head so he restrained himself and instead repeated his question.

"Theft, Sandburg," Abbott said, a feral grin on his face. He held a wallet up in front of Blair's stunned eyes, holding it open to show the gold badge and ID card at its center. "Blair Sandburg, I am arresting you for the theft of a wallet belonging to Officer Brian Rafe. Other charges may be brought against you as the investigation continues." With that, he turned Blair roughly once more and frogmarched him back up to the booking area. Just before he pushed open the stairwell door, he leaned in and whispered in Blair's ear, "Gotcha."

"Oh God," Blair said sub-vocally as he was shoved through the door, "Jim, hurry and get back, please. I really need you, man."

Looking around as he was manhandled up to the booking desk, Blair wasn't sure whether to be glad that there was nobody around that would recognize him or not. "I want to make a phone call," he said quietly.

"You'll get your call, Sandburg," Abbott replied, giving his wrists a totally unnecessary twist as he spoke. "Doubt it'll do you much good though. Caught you red-handed, didn't I?"

"Look, I didn't steal that wallet. I saw you plant it. Detective Ellison will vouch for me," Blair said to the cop behind the desk.

The cop nodded tiredly. "Whatever, kid. Let's get on with it, shall we? The sooner you're processed, the sooner you get your call."

~oOo~

By the time he'd gone through the routine of being searched, photographed and fingerprinted, Blair was beginning to have a whole new understanding of what it felt like to be on the other side of the criminal system. Not that he felt any more sympathy for the perps he'd helped Jim put away, but he at least had a feel for how humiliating the process was. If he decided to actually use the closed society subject as his thesis, he guessed he'd have a whole new angle on it, now. He could call it "The Closed Society - a study from both sides". He gave a shuddering sigh that was halfway hysterical giggle and halfway sob then took a deep calming breath and tried his utmost to pull himself together.

He was seated in one of the interview rooms, handcuffed now to the table in front of him. Abbott had left him here around thirty minutes before, according to the clock on the wall. He slumped as far forward as he could and rested his head on the edge of the table, feeling utterly drained. He kept hoping that any minute Jim would come bursting through the door, unlock the cuffs and tell him it was all over. Just thinking of how he was going to explain this to the Dean of the University, even if it was a wrongful arrest, made his gut churn.

The door slammed open and he jerked upright, grimacing as the cuffs bit into his wrists at the sudden movement. A telephone was slammed down onto the table in front of him and then Abbott moved around and bent to unlock the cuffs.

"You've got five minutes, Sandburg. I'd give serious thought to calling either a lawyer or a bail bondsman if I were you. Once you've made your call, I'll be taking you down to the lock-up." He slammed a meaty hand down on Blair's shoulder. "Well, get on with it, hippie. The clock's ticking." Then he walked over and propped himself against the wall next to the door.

Blair thought quickly. He had no idea if he could make a call to a cell phone or not. That was his only way to reach Jim. If he tried and the call didn't go through, he had no doubt that Abbott would say he'd used his call and refuse to let him try anyone else. As much as he dreaded it, he knew there was only one number he could call and be reasonably sure of getting help. Taking a deep breath, he dialed the office of Captain Simon Banks, heaving a sigh of relief as the phone was answered.

"Um, who's this?" Blair asked, not recognizing the voice that answered. "Oh, ah, Rhonda, is Captain Banks available? This is Blair Sandburg, Detective Ellison's colleague." He waited as Rhonda explained that Banks was at a meeting with the Commissioner and wasn't expected back for an hour. Briefly he contemplated hanging up and trying to get Abbott to allow him another call but one look at the cop's hard face convinced him that wasn't likely to happen. So he plunged ahead. "When he gets back, could you tell him that I've been arrested and I'm down in booking and they're gonna put me in a cell and I really need him to get down here as soon as possible, like yesterday, you know, and straighten this out? You will?" Blair's breath whooshed out of him in an agonized gasp of relief. "Thank you! Please just make sure he gets the message real soon, okay. I've been framed here but Jim's away and…"

A beefy fist came down and cut the connection then the same hand clipped him across the side of the head as well. Stunned more than hurt, Blair toppled from the chair and stayed where he'd landed, shaking his head. Then he was pulled up, the cuffs released from the table and his arms were twisted behind him as he was cuffed again.

"Let's find you a room, Sandburg," Abbott grunted into his ear. "Hope you like your new roomies as much as you like Ellison. Bet you didn't know we got some nice guys just in, waiting for transfer interstate. They're gonna just love you, sweetheart."

With that, he pushed Blair ahead of him out of the room.

~oOo~

"He's what?" Simon Banks was stunned almost to the point of being speechless. "What do you mean he's been arrested?" He glared at the blonde woman who'd just delivered Blair's message as if she'd suddenly grown a second head. "What for?"

Rhonda managed to repeat Blair's message with only the slightest tremble in her voice. "What do you want me to do, sir?" she asked hesitantly. "Do you want me to contact Detective Ellison?"

"Hell, no!" Simon roared, immediately apologetic as he saw Rhonda flinch. "Look, I'm sorry, Rhonda, but I definitely don't want Jim to know about this until he gets back. He can't do anything about it while he's on a plane anyway. Hopefully, by the time he gets back, I'll have it all straightened out."

Had he had time to think about it, the Captain might have wondered at his instinctive certainty that the whole mess was just a mistake. It certainly never occurred to him to think for even one second that Sandburg was a thief. When he did think about his reaction later, he knew then that the kid had gotten to him too: wormed his way into the Captain's affections without Simon even realizing it.

But for now, all he could think was that the shit was really gonna hit the fan when Ellison got wind of this. That, and the fact that he had an overwhelming need to get down to the cells and make sure that Sandburg was okay.

"Christ, Sandburg! I swear to God, you're a trouble magnet on legs," he muttered as he headed for the elevator. He snagged Rafe to accompany him as he passed through the bullpen. When it came to his favorite (and only) observer, Banks figured he'd be just as well to take backup. God knew, Sandburg was perfectly capable of getting himself into more trouble than he was already, even inside a police station.

As the elevator began its descent to booking, Simon made himself a firm promise. From now on, if Ellison went out of town, even if it was only for a day, he was taking Sandburg with him.

 

~oOo~

"Sergeant, you want to tell me why the hell my observer is locked up in a cell?" Banks demanded as he breasted the booking counter.

The anger on the Captain's face would have been enough to give most men pause. Not so Sergeant Abbott, who'd just finished regaling some of his fellow uniforms with full details of arresting that little shit, Sandburg.

"Caught him red-handed, sir," Abbott said, a self-satisfied grin lighting his broad face. "Had Officer Rafe's wallet in that backpack of his."

"No way!" Rafe said loudly. "Sorry, sir, but Sandburg's no thief…" Rafe began, then stopped as the captain smiled grimly at him and held up a hand before turning back to Abbott.

"Listen, Abbott," Banks growled, leaning over the counter and pulling the man toward him by the front of his shirt, "I don't care if you filmed him stealing it. I still wouldn't believe Sandburg was a thief. You've had a problem with the kid ever since you failed the detective's exam just around the time Sandburg started here. Think nobody noticed? The only reason I haven't stepped in up till now is because I knew Sandburg was hoping you'd eventually see him for the decent person he is and get on with your job. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when Ellison gets back, Abbott. And don't be thinking about taking leave just now, either, because once I've spoken to Sandburg, I'll be back to talk to you. Now where the hell is my observer?" Banks released the chokehold he had on Abbott's collar and pushed the man back.

One of the other uniformed officers grabbed the cell keys from Abbott's nerveless fingers. "He's in cell 4A, sir. I'll take you down there."

"Rafe, stay and keep Sergeant Abbott company, will you? Did you know about this, Corelli?" Simon asked.

"Not till Abbott started bragging about it just now, sir, though I've seen the way he's been treating Sandburg ever since the kid started partnering Ellison," Corelli muttered.

They were barely through the heavy doors leading to the cells when the sounds of what seemed to be a brawl were heard. Simon broke into a run, Corelli on his heels.

Banks skidded to a halt at the barred doors, momentarily stunned by what he saw. Two men had a third much larger man backed up against one wall. They held the man by an arm each, barely containing him as he struggled to escape their grasp. Another man, dressed in motorcycle leathers was kneeling next to a crumpled body on the floor. Simon could see that it was Blair.

"Ah Christ!" he yelled. "Corelli, get some backup down here and call an ambulance."

The man being held against the wall was sitting, still struggling against his captors but with less force now, as if he knew it was futile.

"You, get away from him," Banks called to the man next to Blair. He wanted nothing more than to race into the cell and get to the kid but he knew he had to wait for backup. Even then, the men inside the cell had to be removed first, before Simon or anyone else could enter to help Blair.

The man at Blair's side looked up. "I'm not going to hurt him. We tried to stop that guy from beating up on him but he hit him a few times before we could get him away. I've done a first aid course. He's unconscious. I'm keeping his airway clear and making sure he doesn't move, that's all."

"Okay," Banks said. He looked up the hallway as he heard the sound of running feet coming towards them. *Thank God! * The cavalry was here. He stepped back from the door, but kept his eyes on Blair. The young man was moving his head slightly now. Simon hoped that was a good sign.

A few minutes later, though it felt much longer to Banks, the prisoners had been removed from the cell and Simon raced to Blair's side. He gave the man who'd been caring for him a pat on the shoulder and a quick word of thanks as the man was led away. "Where's that goddamn ambulance?" he asked Corelli.

"ETA's 2 minutes, sir. Is Sandburg okay?" Corelli asked anxiously.

"He's had the crap beaten out of him, Corelli. What do you think?" Banks snarled back.

"Unnh…"

Simon snapped his attention back to Blair as he heard him moan. "Easy, Blair. You'll be all right, kid. Ambulance is on its way. You just lie still now, you hear me?" // Jesus, the guy had really done a number on the kid, // Banks thought as he stroked a bloodied strand of hair away from the long gash on Blair's forehead.

Besides the gash, one of Blair's eyes was already beginning to swell and blacken and there were fingertip marks on his throat.

Simon ran a gentle hand over Blair's chest, noticing the way Sandburg was clutching his ribs. Wincing as Blair moaned at his touch, Banks lifted his t-shirt and saw a huge red mark covering much of Blair's left side. His ribs were definitely badly bruised, possibly fractured, Simon surmised.

"Oh man, Blair, I'm so sorry," Simon whispered.

"Jim," Blair husked.

"Jim'll be back soon, Blair. Just lie still, okay."

A couple of minutes later, Simon felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to see a paramedic standing behind him. He stood up and moved back out of the way while they checked Blair over and started an IV. Then he was placed on a backboard, a cervical collar around his neck and lifted to a gurney, then wheeled out to the waiting ambulance with Simon trotting alongside.

~oOo~

A faint incoherent mutter from the man in the bed had Banks on his feet in seconds.

"Blair?" he asked quietly. "It's about time you woke up."

Blair's eyes opened slowly and his gaze roamed lazily around the room before moving back to rest on Banks. "Hey," he whispered, "What happened?"

"You got beaten up. Do you remember anything?" Simon asked. He had no wish to push the kid too hard when he'd just come round. The part of him that was Blair's friend wanted nothing more than to hope that the kid had only vague memories of the pain that had been inflicted on him. On the other hand, the cop part of him was aware that the memories of an attack were best recorded before the victim had his recollections contaminated by anything others might tell him later. He was somewhat surprised to realize that he was stroking Blair's forehead gently, much as he did when Daryl was hurt or ill. He was more surprised to realize that it felt right.

"I got arrested. Then I was in a cell and Sergeant Abbott told one of the men there that I was a snitch and the guy was really pissed with me. I tried to talk to him but he just kept hitting me. I think the other guys that were there tried to stop him, but he was really big and he just kept hitting and choking me and I couldn't breathe. I was trying to scream for help but he had his hands around my throat and I was passing out. I couldn't breathe! He wouldn't stop! I didn't steal Rafe's wallet, Simon, I swear to God I didn't take it." Blair's words were tumbling out now, tripping over each other as his breathing became labored and he fought to push himself upright.

"Blair, stop now. Take it easy." Simon grabbed the young man's shoulders and tried to push him back to the pillows, becoming more concerned as he heard the thundering heartbeat echoed on the monitor.

Blair was gasping now, his fingers clenched tightly into Simon's shirtfront. "Oh God, it hurts, Simon. Can't breathe."

"Shit!" Simon ran to the door and yanked it open, spotting Blair's doctor just across the hall. "Doc, I need you in here now!" The he spun back to Blair's bedside and redoubled his efforts to get Blair to calm down.

The doctor entered the room at a run and took in the situation at a glance. Within minutes, Blair was quiet again, thanks to an injection of Demerol in his IV.

"I'm sorry, Doctor. I just asked if he remembered what happened and…" Simon's voice trailed off under the glare the doctor cast in his direction.

The doctor waited till Blair appeared comfortable then checked his vitals. Satisfied that his patient was in no danger, the man fixed Simon with another stern look. "I will not allow you to stay with Mr. Sandburg unless I have your word that you will not attempt to interrogate him again until I say he's well enough. Is that clear, Captain?"

Simon nodded. He didn't need the warning. He felt bad enough about the pain he'd caused Blair already. Dammit, he should have waited. He looked at his watch. Jim's plane should have just landed. Rafe would bring him directly to the airport. As much as he knew Blair would want Jim here, he wasn't much looking forward to the Sentinel's arrival himself. Ellison was gonna be mighty angry about this and Simon didn't blame him one little bit.

~oOo~

Blair could feel the pain ebbing away as the narcotic washed through his bloodstream. He kept his eyes closed and let himself float. He could hear people talking somewhere off to his side. Their words worried him.

Simon had wanted to interrogate him, the doctor said. So, he was still under arrest then. He wondered vaguely why he wasn't handcuffed to the bed but they probably thought he was too weak to escape.

He wanted desperately to make Simon understand that he was innocent, that he would never steal from anyone, let alone these people he had come to consider his friends but he was so tired and his mind was fuzzy. He wondered where Jim was. Surely, someone would have told him that his partner had got himself in trouble yet again. Jim probably didn't want to see him now.

Thinking of Jim forced his fragile emotions to the fore again. He bit down on his lip hard, desperately trying not to give in to the sob he could feel pushing its way up past the lump in his throat. He took a breath, feeling it hitch in his throat and immediately felt a hand on his shoulder, pressing gently.

"jim," he whispered, the word making his throat ache.

"He's on his way, Sandburg. He'll be here soon." Simon pulled a chair back up to the bedside and sat down heavily, leaving his hand on Blair's shoulder, squeezing softly.

Blair closed his eyes and turned his head away as he felt the burn of tears in his eyes. He didn't want Simon to think he was crying. He could feel the drug still coursing through him and he gave into it, allowing it to take him away from the pain in his body and his heart.

~oOo~

The room was almost dark when he woke again, the only light coming from above his bed. It was dim and he was able to open his eyes without pain this time. He stayed still for a while, cataloguing the litany of aches and pains assailing his body, as his injuries made themselves known once more. The Demerol had obviously worn off but the pain was bearable now. He knew he must have been asleep for some time but he still felt exhausted. Being beaten up tended to do that, he thought wryly.

A movement to his left side caught his eye and he turned his head, wincing a little at the pull of the sutures in his forehead.

The figure sitting slumped in the chair next to the bed was instantly recognizable. Jim! At last. He moved his hand out and touched his friend's arm hesitantly.

"Jim." His voice was still husky, no doubt a combination of no fluids for several hours and the choking his assailant had subjected him to. He coughed a little to clear his throat, grasping his ribs as the action jolted the dull ache in his chest into sharp pain.

Jim sat up as the touch roused him. He stood up and leaned over the bed. "Hey there, Sandburg," he said, smiling. "It's good to see you awake, at last."

He turned and picked up the glass that had been placed on the bedside table and held the straw to Blair's lips.

Dry though his mouth was, Blair pushed the glass away after a couple of sips. He still felt nauseous and past experience told him that too much fluid and a concussion weren't a happy combination.

"How you doing, Chief?" Jim asked, sitting down carefully on the edge of the bed. "I gotta tell you, I've seen you looking better." He gave Blair one of his patented Ellison wide grins, the one that always made Blair feel better, no matter what the circumstances.

"Okay, I guess," Blair replied, trying to match the smile but knowing he wasn't succeeding. He could feel that damn lump in his throat again and the sting of unshed tears. He closed his eyes briefly, willing them away but was unable to prevent a couple from overflowing and trailing down his bruised cheek. He clenched his hands into fists, digging his fingernails into the skin of his palms and tried to take slow breaths.

He couldn't, wouldn't lose it in front of Jim, like he had with Simon. Jim would take one look at his snivelling partner and decide Blair couldn't handle the heat and call it, call them, the partnership, quits and Blair knew he couldn't bear it if that happened. He'd been through worse than this since he started working with Jim. Gone up against Kincaid and The Sunrise Patriots for crying out loud and he hadn't lost it then. He wasn't going to lose it now either, he told himself firmly, and he fixed his gaze steadfastly on the IV in the back of his hand and tried to consciously stop himself from losing it.

He would have succeeded too. But Jim grabbed both his shoulders and ever so carefully pulled him up so he was sitting, supported by those capable hands.

"Blair?" Jim waited till the young man looked up. "Don't you ever be afraid to fall apart in front of me. You understand? You've been there to pick up the pieces for me and I'm here to do the same for you."

Blair nodded, and looked away again, swallowing hard, his fists still clenched. His heartbeat was pounding in his ears now and then he felt himself pulled forward so his head was resting against Jim's chest and he could feel Jim's big hand rubbing circles on his back, just like his mother had done when he was a kid. He found himself laughing at the incongruity of that thought. Somehow the laugh turned into a sob and by the time he'd cried away the lump in his throat that he'd thought was going to choke him, Jim's shirtfront was a soggy mess and Blair's head ached more than it had before. But the lump in his throat was gone and the awful aching loneliness that he'd felt when he woken up the first time and found that Jim wasn't with him, had disappeared along with it.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to do that." He looked down at the blanket, idly picking at one of the threads.

"That's okay," Jim replied easily. "You've had a rough time. You needed the release. You think I've never cried when I've been in as much pain as you are?"

Blair shook his head, finally looking up into the his friend's face, understanding now why he'd wanted Jim to be there so badly. "Not you," he said. "I've never seen you come close to crying when you're hurt."

"But we're not just talking physical pain here, Chief, are we?" Jim put out a hand and used it to cup Blair's cheek. "When all that shit started happening with my senses and I was in pain every day and I thought I was going nuts and that no one would believe me if I told them what was happening, you'd better believe I did my share of crying then."

Suddenly Blair couldn't hold back any longer. He had to make Jim believe him. "I didn't do it, Jim. I swear I didn't steal anything. I wouldn't do that to you, to anyone."

"We know that, Sandburg."

Both men turned to see Simon Banks entering the room. He walked over to stand next to Jim. "How you doing, kid?" he asked. "I'll be damned if you don't look worse than you did last time I saw you." He chuckled but Blair could read the concern in the dark eyes.

"I'm a bit sore, sir, but I'll be fine," Blair responded, his mind still hanging onto the words Banks had said when he'd come in. //They believed him? Was the nightmare really over?//

"Hmph," Banks grunted, reaching out to gently tousle Blair's hair. "Must still be concussed, Ellison. He just called me "sir". You heard that, right?"

"Yes, I did… sir," Jim said, smiling. He stood up and stretched. 'The doc says you can go home tomorrow morning, Chief. If you think you're up to it, all right? I think I'm going to go home and sleep in a real bed." He grinned down at his partner, then bent forward and pushed him back against the pillows, adjusting the blankets over Blair's arms. He looked up to see Banks grinning widely at him. "What?" he asked, straightening up after giving the blanket one more tug to make sure it covered Blair's chest adequately.

"Nothing," Banks replied. "Just thinking what a lovely mother you make, Ellison." He broke out into a full laugh as Jim blushed hotly. "You get some rest, kid. I'll call round once you get home, bring the guys to see how you're doing."

He and Jim both turned to leave and Blair reached out a hand in panic, snagging the back of Jim's jacket. "Wait!" he said. "You said you knew I didn't do it, Simon." He watched, barely daring to breathe as they both turned back to him.

"Guess the concussion's gone," Simon said. "Of course, we knew you didn't do it, Sandburg. Think I'd've gone barreling down to holding to get you out if I thought you'd stolen from us. Besides, the little donut girl, what's her name?"

"Jenny," Blair supplied quickly, his eyes begging Simon to just cut to the chase and explain already.

"Whatever," Banks continued. "She came forward and told us that Abbott threatened her to get her to steal stuff from around the PD. You know, sometimes she comes in and nobody's there. It was pretty easy for her, really. I mean, who locks up their valuables in a police station, right?" He shook his head. "Well, we do, from now on," he said. "So where was I?"

Blair wriggled impatiently in the bed and Simon decided to take pity on him.

"Abbott's been pissed at you being in Major Crime since you first got there, Sandburg. Turns out the guy can't cut the tests to get into plain clothes, let alone an elite department like Major Crime. Plus, he's not exactly a progressive thinker, you know? Hippie types aren't his favorite people. He's been looking for a way to get you out since the day he heard everyone talking about how impressed they were with how you handled yourself with Kincaid-"

"They were?" Blair asked shyly.

"Come on, Chief, no false modesty here. I told you that, remember?" Jim sighed and perched himself on the bed again. Simon was obviously gonna do this the long way.

'Anyway, one day he arrests this kid for possession and I'm talking heroin. Not enough to say he's a dealer, just some poor kid who's using, you know. Had the fit kit on him and everything. Turns out the kid's this Jenny girl's boyfriend. He goes to her, tells her she'll lose her job if the PD find out about her boyfriend being a junkie but he can make it all go away if she'll just do these few little jobs for him. He's just playing a practical joke on a few buddies, he says. So the girl does what she's asked, but then she hears Rafe and the others talking about how they were gonna cream Abbott for what happened to you. She realizes she's been set up and tells Rhonda and hey, presto - *Mr*. Abbott," Simon said, emphasising the "mister", "is now finding out just what people don't like about being in jail." Banks finished his recitation and gave Blair a gentle smile. "Okay, kid?" he said quietly. "The one thing you need to understand is that, even before we knew for sure what was going down, we all knew you were innocent. You got that, Sandburg?"

Blair nodded, closing his eyes, feeling relief wash through him.

"Get some sleep, Chief," Jim said, patting his shoulder. "I'll be by to take you home in the morning."

Blair lay awake for a long time after they'd left, just letting the sheer relief that the ordeal was over, sink in. The cuts and bruises would fade in time, he knew. What wouldn't fade was the warmth he felt inside at the realisation that for perhaps, the first time in his life, he really finally did have a place to call home.

The End