Inside and Out

Part I  


"Ellison! Sandburg!" Captain Simon Banks raised his voice over the bustling noise of the bullpen as he called the two men into his office.

Blair glanced at Jim, then rose from his seat near the desk as he followed the detective into the office. Banks plopped himself down behind his own desk and waited for Sandburg to close the door.

"What is it, Sir," Jim asked, leaning against the back table. Blair took a seat in front of Simon's desk.

"You remember William Penrose?"

Ellison nodded. "Yeah. I put him away a year ago for possession with the intent to distribute."

Simon nodded.

"Oh yeah. Luke Skywalker, right," Blair asked, snapping his fingers.

Simon and Jim fixed the young anthropologist with quizzical stares. "Luke Skywalker?" Simon raised his eyebrows questioningly.

Blair nodded, smiling. "Yeah. He looked like Luke Skywalker."

Simon shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Of course." He turned back to Jim. "Well, I just got word. He committed suicide."

Blair's smile faded instantly. Jim stiffened.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Sir," Jim said. "I always had the feeling he was a decent enough kid."

"Claimed he was innocent," Sandburg added.

"Most of them do, Sandburg," Simon informed the young man.

"And some actually are," Blair responded.

Jim raised a hand in the air to silence his partner. "Wasn't he due for parole next week?"

Simon sighed. "Yeah. Some luck, eh? I almost feel sorry for the kid."

Blair released a sharp breath. "He didn't deserve a death sentence. Geez, wasn't that, like, his first offense? He was a student at Ranier, and a nice enough guy. I still find it hard to believe he was dealing." He shook his head. "He just.... I don't know... he just didn't seem like the type." He glanced back and forth between Jim and Simon. "It's not fair, man. You send these guys to prison and, if they manage to survive, they come out worst than were going in. Hell, I bet you could put an innocent man in prison and have him come out a hardened criminal."

"Cut the liberal crap, Sandburg," Simon replied. "He was in a minimum security prison. It's not like he was surrounded by murderers and psychos."

"Well, obviously he was. Either someone killed him and made it look like a suicide, or he figured death was better than prison," Blair retorted.

Jim sighed. "Okay. That's enough, Sandburg. It's a shame he died. He didn't deserve that. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about it now."

Blair lowered his gaze to the floor. "Yeah. I know. It just seems SO absurd. Our society has this entire justice system based on a method of punishment that ends up creating worst offenders and then setting them free rather than rehabilitating them."

"Don't start on this 'victim of society' bull," Simon said. "You think Bracket and half the other scum we've dealt with are victims of society?"

Blair shrugged, raising his head to meet the Captain's gaze. "Come on, Simon. I didn't say that. I just meant that, sometimes, the prisons don't work. You gotta admit it, this justice system of ours isn't perfect. Societies have different methods of punishing criminals and maintaining order. Historically, prisons have existed to punish offenders and keep them from doing further harm. More harsh societies deal with civil disobedience and crime by simply executing offenders. Our society, as supposedly advanced as we are, still hasn't solved the problem of dealing with criminals. We send them away or execute them. We talk a bit about rehabilitation and hope for the best, but, realistically, prisons are a place where the laws of nature are amplified. Survival of the fittest. Natural Selection." He took a breath, then looked at Ellison. "You went inside, Jim. You know what it's like. Those places aren't conducive to rehabilitation. Prison can turn a good man into a killer."

Jim clenched his jaw, his eyes cold and his expression guarded. He managed a terse nod, then turned to look at Simon. "Anything else, Sir?"

Banks shook his head, affording one last, annoyed glance at the anthropologist. "No. I just thought you should know."

"Thank you, Sir," Jim said, then rose and walked out of the office. Sandburg scrambled to his feet and followed on Jim's heels.

Blair walked out of the anthropology building and paused to gaze at the fiery sky, watching in silent appreciation as the sun bled into the horizon. Man, what a sunset, he thought. I wonder if Jim would see it the same way? Would the colors be more vivid? Or maybe the sun would be too much for his sensitive eyes, causing him to turn down the dials? I wonder....

A hand on his shoulder interrupted his thoughts, and he turned to see a fair-skinned young man staring at him. "Hey, man," the adolescent began. "You got change?"

Blair blinked, quickly taking in the teenager's scruffy, empoverished appearance. "Huh? Change for what?"

"For a twenty, man," the kid said. "Do you have change for a twenty?" The killed pulled out his wallet and grabbed a twenty, pushing it into Blair's hand. "I need two tens or four fives. You got it?"

Blair shook his head. He only had a ten in his wallet, and he intended to use that to put gas in his car on the way home. Quickly, he handed the bill back to the young man. "No, sorry, man. I don't."

The kid glanced across the street. "Yeah, okay," he said. "No problem." He stuffed the bill back into his wallet and spun around, walking quickly across the street.

Blair shrugged and headed toward his Volvo, wondering briefly why the kid had seemed so terse.... almost nervous. He shook his head and smiled. Maybe he was just getting too old to relate to these kids. Here it was, a Friday night, and he was glad to be going home, and even more glad that it wasn't his night to cook. Yep, he was definitely getting old. He chuckled as he reached his car. Yeah, Jim would have a field day with that one. If Blair was getting old, that would make Jim ancient. He grinned at the thought and vowed to keep his silence. He did, after all, value his life.

Jim walked into the loft and tossed his keys into the basket by the door. He glanced at the kitchen and grimaced. It was his night to cook, and, quite frankly, he was too tired to do anything besides plop himself down in front of the t.v. Well, too tired to do anything besides that AND dial the phone to order chinese food. He smiled briefly at that thought and headed over to the couch, intent on ordering the food before Sandburg got home. It was then that his sensitive nose picked up an odd smell. He cocked his head, focusing on the scent. It took him only a second to identify it and isolate its location. His heart sank and he clenched a fist as he walked over to Sandburg's room.

He stalked over to the bureau and pulled out the top drawer. He noticed a few tiny white specks of powder on a shirt, and rummaged through the clothes. His hands closed on a plastic bag. He paused briefly, his body rigid and his stomach tight, and took a deep breath. The smell assaulted his nostrils, and he almost took a step back. Instead, he pulled out the plastic bag and gazed at the white powder inside. Cocaine.

Blair pulled into a parking space in front of the loft and grabbed his backpack from the passenger seat. He closed his door and headed up to the loft, rummaging through his backpack as he stepped onto the elevator. He pulled out the bottle of herbal ice tea that had been left mysteriously in front of his office door earlier that afternoon. He smiled and glanced at the intricately decorated label. The bottle had been accompanied by a note from an anonymous student: 'Thanks for the extra help, Mr. Sandburg. You're the best teacher I've ever had. I heard you like this healthy stuff, so I hope you enjoy the tea.'

His smile broadened and he felt his chest grow warm. Wow. So I really do make a difference sometimes. The elevator door slid open, and he walked out onto the third floor, practically skipping toward the loft door. He grabbed his keys from the front pocket of his jeans and unlocked the door, stepping inside with a silly grin plastered on his face. He tossed his backpack next to the coat rack, threw his keys into the basket, and slammed the door behind him just as he bounded into the kitchen.

"Hey, Jim," he said, spotting the older man on the couch in the living room.

Ellison rose from the couch and walked into the kitchen, his face expressionless. Sandburg grabbed a cup from the strainer and bounced over to the freezer. He grabbed a few ice cubes, tossed them into the glass, then held the bottle of ice tea proudly in front of him.

"Some student left this for me today," Sandburg began, showing Jim the bottle as he opened the cap. "It was a thank you present for my teaching. Can you believe that?" He realized he was grinning stupidly as he poured the liquid into the glass, but he really didn't care. He felt on top of the world, and he wanted to share the feeling with his best friend. "You know, these are the things that make me really like teaching."

Jim's face remained impassive. "That's great, Sandburg," he said, his voice flat. "Unfortunately, you and I need to talk." He gestured at the kitchen table. "Sit down."

Blair raised his eyebrows, taking a long sip of his tea. He waved one hand in the air as he moved over to the table and set the glass down. "Okay, sure. Just give me a minute to go to the --"

"Now," Jim said. "Sit down."

Blair's smile melted away as he gazed at Jim's stern features. "Okay, big guy," he said, plopping himself down on one of the kitchen chairs. "What's up?" He took another sip of his tea.

Jim remained standing. He reached into the pocket of his slacks and pulled out a plastic bag filled with white powder. Blair focused his gaze on the bag, furrowing his brow.

"What's that?"

"Cocaine," Jim said.

The crease in Blair's forehead grew more pronounced. He stared at the white powder for a few seconds, then looked up into Jim's hard eyes. Realization slammed into him, making his throat tight. No way... There's no way he's thinking what I think he's thinking....

Blair took a deep breath, his heart hammering in his chest. "What are you doing with that? What's going on?"

Jim pierced Blair with icy blue eyes. "I found this in your dresser drawer."

Blair felt the color drain from his face. "You think that's mine? You can't be serious, Jim!" He jumped out of the chair, gesturing wildly. "I don't know how that got into my room, man. Come ON, you know me, Jim. I'm not into drugs. Hell, do you think I'd be stupid enough to keep narcotics in my bedroom with you around? You have a nose that rivals a bloodhound, man, and I know that. If I were into drugs, no WAY would I keep them in the loft." He shook his head, his curls dancing chaotically around his face. "That stuff's not mine, Jim. You gotta believe me. I don't know where it came from."

Jim looked unconvinced, and he placed his palms flat on the table, leaning closer to Sandburg with that menacing expression Blair had so often seem his use in the interrogation room when questioning suspects. The fact that such a look was now directed at him made Blair's blood run cold.

"Maybe you weren't thinking too clearly when you left it there," Jim said, cocking his head in a gesture Blair recognized as indicating the use of the Sentinel's sensitive hearing.

"Oh man, I don't believe you!" Blair backed away from the detective, unnerved by Jim's intense glare and the icy tone in his voice, knowing the detective was listening to his heart rate for signs of deceit. "You think I'd be high and you wouldn't know it? What, you think one dose of Golden turned me into a junkie?!" Blair clamped his mouth shut, his fists clenched to control the shaking in his hands.

Jim waved the bag in front of him. "WELL WHERE DID THIS COME FROM THEN?!"


Jim's expression softened and he released a sigh, sinking into one of the kitchen chairs. "Okay, Chief. I believe you," he said, his voice low as he held Blair's gaze. "I just needed to hear it from you. I'm sorry I came down on you like that, but I needed to be sure."

Blair nodded. His knees folded in relief, depositing him back into the chair. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, and gazed at Jim anxiously. "So, where do you think it came from? Someone must have planted it. Any idea who?"

Jim shook his head. "Not a clue."

"Why would someone do that? Who'd want to set me up?" He shook his head, swallowing. "I've never done anything to anybody... not that I can remember, anyway."

Jim shook his head. "I don't know, Chief, but, don't worry. I'll call Simon over here and get forensics to go over the place."

Blair's stomach clenched in a knot. "Uh... Jim... do you think that's such a good idea? I mean--"

Jim grimaced. "I know." He managed a small, reassuring smile. "Look, Chief, I can't just dump this stuff down the toilet. I can do a sensory sweep of the room.... see if I find anything, but, realistically, we need this official. We have to find out where this came from. If someone's trying to set you up, we need to find out who. Simon will back us on this, and I promise you I'll make sure I talk to him privately before calling in a team. No one's going to arrest you, but I'm obligated to turn this in."

Blair felt a lump growing in his throat, and he tried, unsuccessfully, to swallow it down. "Okay, Jim. Whatever you say." Truth be told, though, he knew a lot of people down at the station resented his partnership with Jim. Combine that with his less-than-conservative appearance, and this incident would spread through the precinct like wild fire. Rumors would spread, and he might find his position in the department jeopardized... even if no charges were ever filed.

Jim fell onto the couch, burying his head in his hands. "Sorry, Chief." He had finished the sensory sweep of Blair's room and came up empty-handed.

Blair nodded, taking the armchair next to the sofa. "Don't worry about it, Jim. You can't find what's not there."

The detective rubbed his temples, trying to massage away the headache that had risen. He wondered if his handling of the drug was partially responsible for the throbbing pain behind his eyes. He had been careful with bag of cocaine, and he didn't think he'd gotten any of it on his fingers, though he supposed he could have picked some up when he'd been searching Blair's drawer.

Jim raised his head and looked at Blair. "I'm going to have to call Simon, now." He listened to his Guide's heartbeat, frowning when he found it alarmingly fast. He heard the grating sound of grinding teeth, and watched Sandburg clench and unclench his jaw.

Blair nodded. "I know. It's okay."

Jim clenched his own jaw, looking away from Blair's trusting gaze. "Listen, Chief. Forensics probably won't find anything either. I'll talk to Simon privately... maybe we can keep this thing under our hats. Just keep calm, Chief. This'll work out."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "Do you want to put Simon in that position?" He bounced in his seat, looking nervous. A thin sheen of perspiration was visible on his brow.

Jim sighed, shaking his head. "No, I don't, but, right now, I don't know what else to do. If I flush this stuff down the toilet, and someone IS trying to set you up, they'll only try again. They'll probably do something more sure-fire, maybe something more public. We should check your car and office for more drugs." He saw Blair wince, and added quickly. "I just want to make sure there's no other surprises. Don't worry, Chief, I don't believe for a minute that you're into this."

Blair smiled appreciatively, his eyes glittering. "Thanks, Jim. That's means a lot."

"Maybe we should check those first before calling Simon?"

"Okay, but whether or not we find anything... we'll still have to call him."

"I know. It's just that... well, there's no evidence that I've been framed, so, isn't he, like, duty-bound to take me in?"

Jim clenched his jaw. "We'll work something out, Chief. Simon's a by-the-book guy, but he's also a loyal friend and a smart cop. He'll know this is a set-up, and he'll back us up. We'll stand a better chance of finding this guy with his support."

Blair nodded. "Okay, Jim. If you think that's best, I trust you." He rose from the couch and walked into the kitchen, grabbing his half-empty cup of tea and taking a sip. After a brief moment, he turned around and said, "Thanks, Jim."

The detective shrugged, looking over his shoulder at Blair. "You're welcome, Chief."

"Thanks for trusting me, man. I hate to put you in this position, and I know what this means for you to be doing this." He glanced down at his glass, biting his lower lip. "I don't want to see you get in trouble for this, so if... if Simon thinks he needs to take me in, then that's okay. I'll go along with whatever you two think is best." Blair raised the glass to his lips and swallowed the last of the liquid. He walked over to the sink and gently placed the glass into the basin.

"Listen, Blair," Jim began, rising from the couch and walking up behind Sandburg. "I'm doing this because you're my partner and I know you're being set up." He placed a hand on the young man's shoulder, feeling the small tremors that pulsed through Blair's body. Gently, he turned Blair around to face him. Sandburg kept his face low, his eyes pinned to the floor. "We're going to get to the bottom of this, buddy. Don't look so worried, your blessed protector will make sure everything's taken care of. Don't worry about me or Simon. We've been around the block a few times, you know, this isn't anything we haven't dealt with before. Other cops have been set up, you know."

Blair's head rose and he stared at Jim with wide eyes, a smile playing on his lips. "Other cops, eh?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah." He raised a hand and ruffled Blair's hair. "We stick up for our own, you know... that thin blue line stuff you're supposed to be writing about?"

Blair chuckled, shaking his head. "So what about all those times you and Simon have felt the need to inform me of my civilian status? 'You're not a cop, Sandburg.' Sound familiar, big guy?"

Jim shrugged, lowering his head a fraction. "You're not officially a cop, that's true, and we both want to make sure you're as safe as possible. However, you've been with me for years, Sandburg, following me into the field, watching my back, putting yourself on the line.... You may not officially carry a badge, but you're a cop in every other sense of the word. Don't doubt that for a second." He took a deep breath. "Someone has set you up, and I'm willing to bet it has something to do with one of our past cases. You're being put on the spot now because of your involvement with me and the police force. Don't think for a second I'm going to let you take the heat for this."

Blair nodded, his face growing red. "Okay, I think you've filled your sentiment quotient for the month, Detective Ellison." He smiled, his eyes bright.

Jim gave his Guide a pat on the shoulder and said, "Good. I wouldn't want to make this a habit, you know."

Blair nodded tersely. "Of course not." He moved away from Jim, heading toward the bathroom. "Now, if you don't mind, I needed to go to the bathroom when I first got home. Now it's becoming something of an emergency."

Jim chuckled. "Okay, you're relieved, Sandburg."

"Is that an attempt at a pun, Jim, because, if so, that's SO not funny," Blair said, practically leaping into the bathroom.

Blair had relieved himself a few minutes ago, and now found himself standing over the bathroom sink, his hands clenching the sides of the porcelain as he gazed into the mirror. His heart pounded in his chest, way to fast, and his lungs felt heavy. He gazed in the mirror, noticing the beads of sweat on his forehead. He raised a shaking hand to his head and ran his fingers through his head. He found himself buzzing with energy, and it threatened to overwhelm him. He bounced on his heals, pacing toward the door and back to the sink. God, this is unreal. I can't believe this is happening. He increased his pacing, trying to rid himself of the excess energy. Why am I so wired? He shook his head, deciding it was time for some fresh air.

He bolted out of the bathroom and bounced into the living room, snatching his jacket off the coat rack as he grabbed his keys from the basket.

"Whoa. Where are you going, Sandburg," Jim asked, rising from the kitchen table.

Blair looked at Jim as he put the coat on. "I'm just going downstair for some fresh air. You wanna come with me? We can check the car out."

Jim raised an eyebrow, looking at Blair critically. "You okay, Chief?"

Blair smiled, his eyes glittering with barely contained energy. "Fine. I'm just going down stairs," he replied, turning toward the door. "You coming?"

Jim nodded. "Sure. Okay. Just hang up there a second, cowboy." He walked over to the door and opened it, stepping into the hall past Blair.

Sandburg followed Jim into the hall, closing the door behind him. He hurried past the detective, stopping to wait at the elevators. He bounced impatiently on his heels as he tapped the DOWN arrow repeatedly. "Come on. These things are so slow. I swear, I could grow old waiting for this stupid car." He turned to Jim. "Wanna take the stairs? You could use the exercise, man."

Jim gazed at Blair with narrow eyes. "Blair, calm down. You're wound up tight." He reached up and placed a hand on the young man's shoulders. "I know you're anxious about all this, but just try to take it easy. You're heart rate's way up there."

Blair shrugged off Jim's touch, bouncing over to the stairs. "Come on, I'm okay. I know you'll take care of this. I'm not worried, I've just got all this extra energy all of a sudden." He opened the door and disappeared into the dim stairwell.

"Damnit, Sandburg!" Jim rushed after him, taking the stairs two at a time as he tried to keep up with the younger man. "Slow down!"

"You're getting old, man," Blair shouted, glancing over his shoulder at the sentinel.

Blair flew through the exit doorway and emerged onto the street. He jumped with delight and spun around just as Ellison burst through the doorway.

"Hah! I beat you," Sandburg exclaimed, stomping his feet in excitement.

Jim's eyes blazed as he glared at his partner. "What the hell has gotten into you, Sandburg? This is a serious situation, and you're acting like a two year-old."

Blair slapped Jim on the arm. "Hey, lighten up. You said it would work out. Obviously I'm being framed. What's too worry about? We'll get the guy. We always do." He whirled back around and headed for the Volvo a few feet away. "Come on. Let's check out the car." He reached the green Volvo and suddenly stopped, reaching out to put a hand on the roof.
Jim watched Blair stiffen and lean against the car, his exuberance diminishing with alarming suddeness. Cautiously, he approached the young man, listening to his quick, erratic heartbeat. His lips pursed into a thin, tight line as he reached out to grab Sandburg's arm.

"You okay, Chief," he asked, turning Blair around to face him.

Sandburg's face was pale and sweaty, and he gazed at Jim with a confused expression. Slowly, he raised a hand to his head, brushing a few curls out of his face. "Man, I don't feel so good," Blair muttered.

"Just sit down for a sec--"

Blair suddenly collapsed against Jim, catching the older man off-guard.

"Sandburg!" Jim stumbled backward as Blair fell into him. He grabbed his Guide's shoulders and eased him onto the cement. Blair's body suddenly went rigid, then, just as suddenly, it went limp again. "God," Jim muttered, glancing up at the loft. He needed to get to a phone, but he didn't want to leave Sandburg alone on the street. Blair's body erupted into violent convulsions, and Jim, though unprepared for the seizure, threw himself on top of Blair, struggling to restrain the young man and keep him from injuring himself.

"HELP! I NEED HELP," Jim yelled, glancing up at the windows of his building. It was early in the night, and most people would still be awake. "I NEED AM AMBULANCE HERE! SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULANCE!"

A window on the second floor opened, and a middle-aged woman with long blond hair looked out. She spotted Ellison and Sandburg on the ground below and yelled, "I'm calling 911, Detective!"

Ellison glanced at her briefly, recognizing her as the bank teller he'd run into a couple of times on the way to his mailbox. He nodded an acknowledgment and turned to look at his partner. Blair's convulsions had died down, almost to the point of being nonexistent. Now, only mild tremors racked his body. His face was pale and sweaty, and his lips pressed tight into a thin line.

"Come on, buddy, hang on. Help's on the way," he muttered, praying to God that the help wouldn't arrive too late.

Jim sat next to Blair's hospital bed and gazed up into Simon's dark, angry eyes.

"Damnit, Jim, why didn't you call me sooner?"

Jim shook his head, rubbing his hands across his face. "I didn't want to put you in an awkward position, Sir."

Simon released a tired sigh. "Jim, I hate to say this, but are you sure Sandburg's clean on this?"

Jim raised his head sharply, glaring at Simon. "Of course he is, Sir. Come on, you know Sandburg. He's many things, but he's not a junkie. I've lived with him for three years and this is the first time anything like this has happened. If he'd been using, I would have smelled it on him, in his car, at his office.... you know that, Sir."

Simon nodded, grabbing a chair from the far wall and dragging it over to the bed. He sat down and fixed steady eyes on the distraught detective. "I know, Jim. I'm sorry for mentioning it, but... well, I had to. You understand?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, Sir. That's why I wanted to wait before calling you."

The door opened and a tall man with round glasses and grey hair walked into the room. "Detective Ellison?"

Jim rose from the chair. "Yes, Doctor? Is he going to be alright?"

The doctor nodded. "Yes, I think so." He paused, taking a breath. "You might want to sit down, Sir."

Jim remained standing. "What is it, Doctor?"

"We ran a tox screen on him, and found a large amount of cocaine in his system."

"Cocaine?" Simon rose from his chair, walking over to the doctor.

Jim fell into the chair. "God.... " He lowered his head and rubbed his eyes with one hand. "Damnit, I was afraid of this." He shook his head. "I knew something was wrong with him when he bolted out of that bathroom. His h--" he caught himself, glancing up at the doctor, then back at Simon. "Uh, he was sweating and bouncing with energy... but he flew out of the loft so fast that I didn't have time to think about it."

"How long til he comes around," Simon asked.

The doctor shrugged. "Maybe about six or seven hours." He glanced at Jim, then back at Simon. "Cascade does have a good drug rehabiliation facility--"

Jim sprung from his chair violently, causing the doctor to take a startled step backward. "Listen, Doctor," Jim began. "My partner's not a drug addict. He was dosed with this stuff. Got it?"

The man swallowed and nodded quickly. "Uh... okay," he stammered. "I didn't know. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you, Detective."

Simon placed a hand on Ellison's shoulder. "Take it easy, Jim. He had no way of knowing. He's just doing his job."

Jim glanced at Simon, then back at the doctor. Finally, he nodded, his eyes softening. "I know." He turned back to Blair, taking in the sickly pale features and sweat-soaked hair. "This is the second time he's been in the hospital for a drug overdose." He shook his head solemnly. "He just doesn't deserve this, Simon."

"I know," Simon sighed. "Any idea how he got the stuff in his system?"

Jim shook his head. "No," he sighed.

Simon patted Jim on the shoulder. "We'll get to the bottom of this. Don't worry."

Simon chewed on a cigar as he sat at his desk, lost in thought. Once again, the kid had somehow managed to find himself in the middle of trouble. He shook his head, Sandburg must be wearing a cosmic bullseye, he mused.

The phone rang, causing him to nearly drop the cigar from his mouth. With a scowl, he grabbed the cigar and placed it in the ashtray on his desk. Then he snatched the receiver off the hook.

"Banks here."

He listened to the voice on the other end of the line and closed his eyes. "Yes, Commissioner, that's true.... Uh-huh.... It happened just last night. We are in the process of conducting an investigation.... Sir.... Sir.... Sandburg's not a drug user. Doesn't that call seem a little odd to you, Sir? My man is being set-up, and we're in the process of trying to find out who poisoned him." He sighed, keeping his eyes closed as he listened to his superior. Finally, he nodded. "Sir, I understand your position... Just give me 48 hours.... Come on, Sir, you can't be serious. The kid's innocent.... No, no. Fine. If those are your orders, I'll follow them. Good day, Sir." He slammed the phone onto the base and stifled a curse. God, he hated his job sometimes.

Jim snapped to awareness as he hit the ground. The truck rolled over him, leaving him unharmed. Breaks squeeled, and he shut his eyes, pushing himself to his feet. What just happened? He opened his eyes and saw Sandburg standing next to him with wide eyes.

"Oh man, that really sucked," Sandburg exclaimed.

The driver of the truck stepped out, and Jim turned to look at him. His breath caught in his throat when he saw Incacha standing near the driver's door, staring solmenly at him.

"Incacha?" He shook his head. What the hell was a Chopek doing in the middle of Cascade?

"You are the Sentinel," the shaman stated.

Jim swallowed, glancing back at Blair. He realized with sudden clarity that he was dreaming, reliving the second time he'd met Blair Sandburg... the time the kid had saved his life.

Ellison looked back at Incacha and nodded. "I am the Sentinel."

Incacha nodded, raising his spear and slamming it back onto the blacktop. "He is the Guide. The Shaman."

Jim swallowed, nodding.

"The Guide protects the Sentinel. The Sentinel protects the Guide," Incacha stated.

"What are you trying to say?" He hated these word games.

"Innocence is to be cherished... Goodness preserved."

Jim opened his mouth to reply, but a familiar voice cut him off.

"Jim? Jim, wake up."

The Sentinel's eyes snapped open, and he found himself staring into Simon's concerned eyes. "Hey, Captain," he muttered.

Simon breathed a sigh of relief and sat down in the small, plastic chair next to Sandburg's bed. "You had me worried there for a second. I've been trying to wake you for over a minute."

"Sorry, Sir," he said, glancing at Sandburg. His Guide was still asleep on the bed.

"Any change," Simon asked.

"He woke up once, but he was still pretty out of it."

Simon nodded, swallowing. Jim looked at him, cocking his head as he listened to his Captain's accelerated heartrate and shallow breathing. "What's wrong, Simon?"

Simon looked at Sandburg, obviously avoiding Jim's gaze. "I got a call from the Commissioner this morning," he said. "He got a call from someone claiming to be a reporter. He asked to get a comment from him about Sandburg being in the hospital as a result of a drug overdose. Apparently, he went on a sermon about corrupt cops and the thin blue line."

Jim's heart dropped to his stomach. "Jesus. How the hell did the press find out about this?"

"I have no idea, Jim," Simon replied.

"What's the damage?"

Simon took a deep breath. "He wants me to arrest Sandburg as soon as possible. He said we have to play this one by the book."

"He's up for re-election."

Simon narrowed his gaze. "Don't start, Jim. You know this is the way it has to play out."

Jim clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth. He shook his head. "This is ridiculous, Captain. He's being set-up. Have you found out who made the call?"

Simon shook his head. "It came from a pay phone, according to the Caller ID."


"Jim, we have to take him in, but, don't worry, he'll get bail. This is his first offense. We'll pay the bail and get him out of there as quickly as possible. Then we'll hunt down the son of a bitch that did this," Simon reassured him.

"I told him he wouldn't be arrested, Sir. He trusted me."

Simon closed his eyes briefly. "I'm sorry, Jim. I've got no choice. If I don't arrest him, the Commissioner will send someone from narcotics down here to do it."

Jim fixed Simon with pained, pleading eyes. "Let me do it," he whispered. "I owe him that much."

Slowly, Simon nodded. "Okay, Jim. Let me know as soon as he wakes up. I'll come down here, and then...."

"Yes, Sir," Jim stated, his chin raised stifly.

Simon took a long puff on his cigar as he stepped out of the squad car. His chest felt tight and his head hurt. He scowled at every uniformed officer that glanced at him. He really, really hated his job sometimes.

He walked into Sandburg's office and watched in silence as the uniformed officers searched through Blair's belongings. They tore through his desk, went through books, and inspected every artifact and box in the crowded office. He wasn't surprised when one of the officers straightened suddenly and announced that he'd found something. With a sigh, Simon walked over to the young man who'd made the discovery and peered over his shoulder. What he saw caused his heart to nearly skip a beat.

"There must be close to a quarter of a million dollars of coke here," he muttered.

The officer turned to look at him. "Yes, Sir. We found the briefcase in a locked drawer."

Simon swallowed. Whoever had set Sandburg up obviously wanted to make sure the kid went down for a long time. He vowed to make sure that didn't happen. There was no way Sandburg would make it on the inside. With his smaller frame, long curls, blue eyes, and innocent nature, he'd be a target for every sex-starved psycho bully in the joint. He wouldn't last five minutes. Simon closed his eyes and suppressed a shudder. He'd throw away his career before he'd let Blair take the fall for something he didn't do.

Jim forced a smile on his face when he heard Blair groan and saw the flutter of his eyelids.

"Hey, Chief. How are you feeling?"

Blair turned cloudy blue eyes onto Jim. He furrowed his brow. "What happened," he rasped.

"You were dosed with cocaine," Jim said, barely able to get the words out of his mouth. He didn't know what else to say, so he clamped his mouth shut and averted his gaze.

"Hey," Blair said, his voice soft and hoarse. "Wha's matter?"

Jim forced himself to meet Blair's questioning gaze. He opened his mouth to tell him about the Commissioner, trying to think of a way to break the news of his impending arrest to the young man. Staring into those wide, trusting blue eyes, however, he found himself unable to get the words past his throat.

Instead, he closed his eyes and sighed. "Rest, Chief," he muttered. "You need your rest."

He felt a soft pressure on his wrist and opened his eyes to see Blair's hand on his own. "So do you, big guy," he said. "You look like hell."

Jim managed a small smile. "You should talk, Sandburg. You obviously haven't looked in a mirror."

Blair smiled weakly. "What is this, a competition?"

Jim chuckled, raising his free hand to cover Blair's. "You definitely win."

Blair held his smile a moment longer, then let it fade. He closed his eyes briefly and inhaled a deep, shaky breath. "Did you say cocaine," he whispered, opening his eyes once again to look at Jim.

Jim's gut twisted and he increased the pressure on Blair's hand. "Yeah, buddy. You nearly overdosed. Someone must have slipped it to you."

"When?" His brow creased in bewilderment.

Jim shrugged. "I don't know, but we're trying to find out."

Blair's heartrate jumped briefly, reflected in the sudden rapid beeping of the heartmonitor. "Simon knows?"

Jim nodded. "Yes."

"Who else?"

Jim swallowed. Damn. How the hell was he going to break the news to Blair? He'd promised him everything would be alright, and now he had to tell him he was due to be arrested as soon as Simon arrived. He glanced at his watch. It was almost two in the afternoon. Maybe he could put off calling Simon for a couple more hours.

"Who else knows," Blair asked again.

Jim snapped his attention back to Blair, just then realizing that he hadn't answered his partner's question. "Uh... That's not important right now. You just get some sleep."

Just then, his cell phone rang. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the phone, flipping it open. "Ellison."

"Yeah, Jim, it's me," Simon's voice announced.

"What's up, Sir?"

"We completed the search of Sandburg's car and office.... Jim, I hate to tell you this, but we found several kilos in a briefcase in his office. We also found a list of 'customers' in the trunk of his car, along with several photos of drug dealers and users." He paused, and Jim listened to his shaky breathing. "There was also a photo of Sandburg taking money from a kid named Barry Johnson. He's been busted three times for possession and once for dealing."

Jim's hand tightened on the cell phone, his knuckles going white. "Damnit. Whoever's behind this wanted to be thorough."

"But, Jim, Sandburg was taking money from a drug user. Are you sure--"

Jim tightened his already crushing grip on the phone. "Come on, Simon. Would he really have someone take a picture of him with a drug user and keep it in his car? Do you think he'd keep a briefcase full of coke in his office? Do you really think he'd dare keep a bag of the stuff in his room when he knows all about my sentinel abilities?"

Simon sighed. "No. You're right, of course. The kid's nowhere near that stupid."

"No matter how ridiculous it seems to us, the photo, though, is still evidence," Jim sighed.

"Unfortunately, yes... How is he by the way?"

Jim glanced at Blair, meeting the kid's solemn, fearful gaze. "He's awake, Sir," he said, his voice strained.

"Do you know when he can be released?"

"The doctor said he's out of the woods. He wants to keep him here for observation a few more hours, but, realistically, he can go home anytime," Jim informed him, talking past the lump in his throat when he realized he'd said Blair could go 'home.' He turned away from Sandburg's gaze, feeling like he'd just betrayed his partner and best friend.

Simon sighed. "Okay, I'll be there in a few minutes." He paused. "Have you told him yet?"

Jim held his breath. "No, Sir."

"I suggest you tell him now, Jim."

Jim released the breath slowly, trying to calm his raging emotions. "Yes, Sir."

Jim ended the connection and flipped the phone closed, returning it to his jacket pocket.

"Was that Simon," Blair asked, his voice shaky.

Jim nodded, turning back to look at his friend. "Yes. He's coming over."

"I'm going to be arrested, aren't I?."

Jim clenched his jaw. "There's something I have to tell you."

Blair stiffened, almost imperceptibly. His heart rate spiked again. "Go ahead," he said, his voice surprisingly steady.

"They found some more drugs in your office," Jim began, barely able to look his Guide in the eyes. "They also found a photo of you taking money from a known drug user." He felt Blair's hand begin to tremble beneath his own, and he used that sensation as an excuse to look down, away from Blair's child-like eyes. "The Commissioner found out about this. He's ordered Simon to have you arrested."

"I'm going to jail?" Blair's voice was barely audible.

Jim nodded, raising his head to look at Sandburg, hoping he managed to keep his expression sympathetic and reassuring. He didn't want Blair to know how terrified and guilty he really felt. He had been on the inside, and that was just an undercover assignment. He barely came out of that with his sanity intact, and he was an ex-covert ops army ranger trained and conditioned to handle the darker side of human nature. Blair was an eager, optimistic, peace-loving man with a curious mind and a self-sacrificing nature. He'd be lucky to last a week on the inside.

"We have to take you in, but, don't worry, you'll get bail... and I promise you I'll post it and have you back home just as soon as possible. We'll catch this guy before it ever goes to trial," Jim said, hoping he sounded convincing. How many times had he told the kid not to worry over the past twenty-four hours? Each time, Blair ended up with more to worry about. Jim vowed to do everything in his power, and then some, to make sure Blair stayed out of prison.

A remnant of the dream came back to him, and Incacha's voice filled his head. "The Guide protects the Sentinel. The Sentinel protects the Guide." With a heavy heart, Jim suddenly realized what the dream meant. "Innocence is to be cherished... Goodness preserved." The Sentinel inhaled a slow, deep breath. Blair was an innocent, as good a man as any he'd ever met. It was his duty as a Sentinel and Blessed Protector to protect his Guide from harm.... even if that meant breaking the law to keep Blair out of prison.

Jim smelled the ghost of Simon's cigar a few minutes before the man entered Blair's hospital room.

"Ellison, Sandburg," Simon said, his voice rough.

Jim kept his back to Simon, his eyes locked onto Blair. Sandburg looked up at Simon and managed a small, strained smile. "Hey, Captain," he said. "Jim told me."

"I'm sorry about this--"

Blair raised a shaking hand to silence the Captain, then lowered it quickly, his face reflecting his embarrasment when he noticed the tremors.

Jim grabbed Blair hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "It's okay, Chief. Remember, I'll have you out of there in no time."

Blair swallowed loudly, but nodded. "I know. It's okay. You can proceed now."

With a low groan, Simon handed Jim a pair of handcuffs. "I'm sorry," he said. "This has to be by the book."

"It's okay, Simon," Blair said. "Can I get dressed first?"

Jim glanced at the handcuffs in his hands. "Yes, of course you can." He managed a small smile. "I wouldn't want to give the fellas down at the station an eyeful of your backside."

Blair mirrored Jim's smile, but it was obviously forced. He eased himself off the bed, and Jim moved to the small bureau, pulling out the top drawer and removing Blair's boxers, jeans, t-shirt, socks and shoes. Blair slipped into his boxers and jeans, and turned his back to the two men, tossing the hospital gown on the bed. He then grabbed the t-shirt from the bed and pulled it over his head. He placed his feet in the sneakers, not bothering to put on the socks. Slowly, he bent over to tie his shoes. When he finished, he straightened, keeping his back to Jim. He sagged slightly, looking suddenly small and fragile.

Jim reached out and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I promise you everything will be alright, Chief. Okay?"

Blair nodded, placing his hands behind his back so Jim could put the cuffs around his wrists. Ellison winced inwardly at the gesture, his stomach suddenly unsteady. He bit his lower lip and slipped the cuffs around Blair's wrists, making sure he kept them loose so as not to cause the young man any unecessary discomfort.

"Blair Sandburg, you have the right to remain silent," Jim began, almost choking on the words. He swallowed hard, forcing the lump of guilt in his throat down into his stomach. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you by the court. Do you understand these rights."

Blair nodded, his long curls hanging forward to hide his face.

Blair stood in the corner of the small, cramped holding cell. The bunk was taken up by two large men who had apparently staked claim to it as their own. Even if one got up to pace the small confines of the cell, he prohibited anyone else from taking his place with a single glare that encompassed all of the four standing occupants of the prison.

One of the men on the bunk, a huge Hulk Hogan look-alike with two dark slits for eyes and a shaved head that was marked by a large winding tattoo of a serpent, had been staring at Blair silently for the passed five minutes. Sandburg kept his gaze diligently away from the man, trying to appear calm and confident. In reality, he felt frightened and alone. He was sure his trembling was visible to the other men in the room. Even without Sentinel hearing, he imagined they must be able to hear his heart beating, as it thundered in his own ears with almost deafening volume.

Don't show fear, Sandburg. Stay calm. Be cool, he told himself. Jim'll get me out this. He'll post bond, and then I'll get the hell out of here.

The large tattoed man spoke, almost causing Blair to jump in surprise. Fortunately, he caught himself just in time, and, instead, turned his head slowly, forcing himself to gaze at the man with clear, steady eyes.

"I asked you your name runt," the man said, rising from the bench and walking over to Sandburg.

Blair looked up at the inmate, realizing with a dull horror that the man stood a good foot and and a half taller than himself. Geez, does he have some glandular disorder, he wondered. Just my luck, I get stuck with Andre the Giant.

Blair realized he hadn't answered the man's questioned, and quickly remedied that oversight. "Sandburg," he blurted. "Blair Sandburg." He extended his hand out in front him, offering a handshake. "You are?"

The man gazed at Blair incredulously for several long seconds, then threw his head back and released a loud, bellowing laugh. Blair didn't know whether to be worried or relieved by the man's outburst, so he decided the prudent thing to do would be to keep his mouth shut.

Finally, the man's laughter quieted and he lowered his head to look at the anthropologist. "You have the name of a woman and the manners of one," he chuckled. He reached up a hand and tugged on one of Blair's curls. "Nice hair, pretty boy."

Oh man, oh man... Blair batted the man's hand away, barely aware of his own actions. Don't show fear, he reminded himself. "Listen, big guy, I don't get touchy on the first date. Maybe we can take it slow? Dinner. A movie. You can bring me some flowers... meet the folks... Then, if it works out, we can take it from there. I warn you, though, I'm a bit possessive and prone to mood swings. I talk a lot, too, in case you haven't noticed. I feel open communication is important for a healthy relationship. Don't you?"

The inmates erupted into unrestrained laughter, their cackles echoing through the hall. Blair forced himself to grin goodnaturedly as he stared up at the looming figure above him. He swallowed, hoping the man wouldn't decide his pride had been injured and use Blair as a punching bag in retaliation.

The large man chuckled and placed a hulking arm around Blair's shoulder, dwarfing the young man with his size. "You're a real piece of work, pretty boy. Why don't you come on over and sit down," the man 'suggested', firmly guiding Blair over to the bench and pushing him down.

Blair tried to calm his racing heart. He felt the urge to shrug out of the man's firm hold, but knew that would be a potentially painful error. Instead, he leaned back and tilted his head, glancing over at his new companion. "That's one interesting tattoo you've got there," he said, trying to be conversational.

The man grinned, revealing a set of yellow, uneven teeth. "You like it?" He leaned closer to Blair. "It took six hours to do. Hurt like hell, too."

"You know, many primitive tribes use such self-mutilating art as a way to express their beliefs and solidify their role in the cast. Warriors often decorated themselves with images of serpents, tigers, and other predators. Medicine men often chose celestial or botanical objects to imprint on their bodies." He paused, taking a breath. "Sometimes, though, the serpent was used by teachers to represent mystery and the search for knowledge. Our own society uses the serpent as a symbol of the healing profession, among other things. In your case, though, I gather it's neither of those."

The man stared at Blair with a slack jaw for several long seconds. Sandburg looked nervously around, realizing the room had been bathed in silence as the men stared at him. Finally, his companion began to chuckle, and, gradually, the chuckles rose to full-fledged laughter. Soon, the rest of the men joined in, and the small jail cell was once again filled with the riotous sound of laughter.

"Thanks, Simon. I appreciate this," Jim said, as he walked through the doors that housed the holding cells.

Simon puffed on his cigar. "Don't mention it. I told you we'd get him out of here."

"I know, Sir. I expected to drain my savings or take out a second mortgage to make bail, but I never imagined it would be so high. I'm sorry you had to dip into your savings as well."

Simon shrugged. "Money's not an issue. It's not like he's going to skip town." He sighed. "Just take the kid home and make sure he gets a good night's rest. He's had a rough couple of days."

Jim nodded, offering the Captain a small, grateful smile. "He kinda grows on you doesn't he."

Simon scowled. "This is between you and me, Ellison. Sandburg doesn't need to know where the rest of the money came from."

Jim's smile broadened. "If you say so, Sir."

Simon strode up to the front desk, presenting the clerk with the bail receipt and said, "We're here to take Blair Sandburg." The clerk, a thin man in a blue uniform, nodded at the Captain and left the desk, disappearing down through a doorway that opened to reveal a long corridor.

Simon glanced at Jim. "You think the kid's okay in here?"

The humor that had touched Jim's face earlier faded insantly. "I hope so, Sir." He cocked his head, frowning.

"What is it," Simon asked, glancing at the doorway the clerk had just walked through.

"I hear laughter."


Jim shrugged. "Yeah."

The clerk emerged and waved the two men inside. "You two can follow me."

Jim and Simon hurried after the young man. Halfway down the hallway, Simon heard the faint echoes of laughter. The officer opened another door, waving Jim and Simon inside. Banks lead the way, with Jim at his heels. The laughter was now more pronounced, and, a few seconds later, the clerk stopped in front of a small holding cell filled with several laughing men. Blair sat on the bench near a large man who had one muscular arm wrapped around the kid's shoulders. He spotted Simon and Jim and immediately sprung out of the man's hold, walking up to the bars with a nervous glance over his shoulder.

"Tell me you got bail," he whispered.

Jim and Simon glanced at one another as the laughter died down.

"Hey, pretty boy, who's your friends," the big man asked.

"Detective Ellison, long time no see," another voice chimed.

Simon glanced passed Blair to see a small man leaning against the far wall.

"You get busted, or something," the man smirked. "Boy, that'd make my day."

Ellison ignored the man, focusing his attention on Blair. "You okay? What's all the laughing about?"

"I'll tell you later. So am I out of here, or not?"

Jim nodded, turning to the young officer. "Open this up," he ordered.

The clerk nodded and fumbled with the keys for a moment before finding the right one. By that time, the large man who had staked claim to Blair moved up behind the young anthropologist and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Awww... you're not leaving us, are you now," the man asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Just when we were getting to know one another."

Blair glanced up at the large man, shrugging his shoulders. "Sorry, but I've got a warm bed waiting for me."

The man glared down at him. "You a cop?"

"That would be a definite 'No'," he said. "I'm an anthropologist."

Ellison scowled, impatient with the young clerk, and swung the door open just as the officer turned the key in the lock. The Sentinel reached in and yanked his partner out of the cell, sliding the door closed quickly.

"Bye, Blair," the man yelled, his voice taking on a sing-song quality. "Maybe I'll see you back on the inside."

Jim shot the man a deadly glare as he guided Blair out of the holding area. The three men walked silently out of the building, and, once on the street, Jim heard a soft chuckling behind him. He turned around, his eyes blazing, and found the source of the offending noise.

"Simon?" Jim spun around. "What's so funny?"

Simon's cigar bobbed up and down in between his lips as he attempted to stifle the laughter. Finally, he pulled the cigar out of his mouth and looked at the perplexed and slightly embarrassed anthropologist in front of him. He shook his head in disbelief. "Only you, Sandburg. Only you."

Blair crinkled his brow. "What do you mean?"

"Here I was worried about you being stuck in a holding cell, and I arrive to find a room full of hysterical men. What did you say to them," the Captain asked.

Blair lowered his head, grinning. "You were worried about me?"

Simon immediately sobered. "Don't let it go to your head, Sandburg. Obviously my concern was misplaced. I should have felt sorry for the other five men that got stuck with you. I believe we may have violated their constitutional rights by sending you in there."

Blair cocked his head, gazing at Simon quizzically. "Huh?"

"Cruel and unusual punishment," Simon explained.

Blair scrunched his nose at the Captain. "Very funny, Simon," he said, turning around and resuming his walk. "Where is the truck, anyway," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Jim.

Jim struggled to suppress his own grin as he pointed down the block. "We took Simon's car. It's up there," he said.

Simon pulled the car in front of the loft just after midnight. The three men exited the vehicle and headed into the building. Blair had remained relatively quiet on the way home, and his unusual silence worried Ellison.

The three men rode the elevator in silence to the third floor. When the doors slid open, Blair was the first one out. He walked quickly over to the loft door, obviously anxious to get inside.

Jim threw Blair the keys and watched his partner fumble through the set for the right one. When he found it, he hastily slid it into the lock and pushed open the door, tossing the keys into the basket and heading straight for the bathroom.

"Man, I've had to go for hours," he mumbled, disappearing down the short hall.

"They had a toilet in the cell, Chief," Jim yelled.

"No way was I going in there," came the high-pitched response.

"You mean to tell me you spent nearly a day in that cell without using the facilities," Simon asked, raising his voice to be heard.

"Yeah. How'd you guys get me out so fast on a weekend?"

"Simon pulled a few strings, got a judge to set bail," Jim yelled.

There was a brief silence, then the sound of the toilet flushing drifted down the hall. A couple of minutes later, Blair emerged into the living room. "Thanks guys," he said.

"I told you I'd get you out of there, Chief," Jim said. "You're lucky Simon's such a persuasive guy."

Blair threw the Captain an appreciative smile, then walked over to his room, leaning against the french doors. "So how much was the bail," he asked.

Jim glanced briefly at Simon. "Twenty-Five thousand dollars," Jim said.

Blair's eyebrows nearly rose to his hairline and his jaw dropped open. "Twenty-five thousand dollars? Where'd you get that kind of money."

Jim shrugged. "Savings. I couldn't work on getting a second mortgage til Monday, so I emptied out the savings and borrowed the rest."

"From who? What about a bail bondsmen?"

"Would have taken longer," Jim said. "Where I got the money isn't important. As long as you show for your court date, we get it back."

Blair looked momentarily hurt, but recovered quickly. "Of course I'll show," he said, his voice low.

Jim mentally kicked himself. "Listen, Chief," he began, taking a few steps closer to his Guide. "I didn't mean it like that. I wasn't thinking...."

"You know we have the utmost faith in you, Sandburg," Simon added. "No one at the station thinks for a second that you're guilty."

Blair nodded, releasing a slow sigh. "Thanks." He opened the doors to his bedroom and cast a brief glance over his shoulder before disappearing into his room. "I'm beat. Thanks again for getting me out of there, guys. Right now, all I want to do is get to sleep."

Jim nodded. "Okay, Chief. Good idea. I'll see you in the morning."

Blair awoke the next morning to the smell of eggs and bacon and the sizzling sound of grease in a frying pan. His stomach growled loudly, and he opened his eyes, realizing that he hadn't eaten in over a day. With a groan, he rolled out of bed and shuffled out of his room.

Jim stood over the stove, pushing scrambled eggs around a large frying pan. He turned to look at Blair, his mouth parting in a large grin. "Good morning, Chief. Hungry?"

Blair nodded, opening his mouth to speak. His reply was cut off by a sudden, unexpected yawn, and he raised one hand to cover his mouth. "Uh-huh," he muttered.

"I can hear your stomach growling form here," the Sentinel remarked.

Blair smiled sheepishly. "I didn't really get a chance to eat yesterday, you know."

Jim smile faded, and he nodded, turning his gaze back to the frying pan. "Well, breakfast's done. Grab yourself a plate."

"Thanks," Blair said, walking over to the cabinet and grabbing two plates and two cups. He set the cups on top of the dishes and made his way back to the kitchen table, setting a place for Jim and himself. "Want some juice? Or are you just having coffee?"

"Coffee," Jim said.

Blair nodded and grabbed his glass, heading over to the refrigerator and filling the glass to the rim with orange juice. He raised the glass to his lips and greedily swallowed half the liquid. Then he poured more juice into his glass, returned the container to the refrigerator, and walked back over to the table.

"Wow. I didnt' realize how thirsty I was either," Blair remarked. He inhaled deeply and smiled. "It feels really good to be home."

"You were in the holding cell for less than a day, Chief," Jim pointed out. "You sound like you haven't been home in months."

Blair shrugged. "Man, I had no idea how long I was going to be in there. I figured you and Simon wouldn't be able to get me out until Monday... and I really didn't want to... well, you know, engage my bodily functions in front of my new friends, if you know what I mean," he said, an exaggerated shiver coursing through his body. "Man, did you see that guy? He was huge!"

Jim stiffened infinitesimally. "He didn't hurt you in any way, did he?"

Blair shook his head, waving a hand in the air. "Nah, but I really wouldn't have wanted to spend the weekend with him. Besides, I think they would have caught onto my... uh... discomfort after awhile. I mean, a guy can only hold it so long. They were probably already starting to wonder."

Jim turned off the flame and carried the frying pan over to the table. He dumped a pile of eggs onto each plate. He then returned to the stove and exchanged the larger pan for a smaller one. He carried the smaller one over to the table and dumped two pieces of bacon on each plate.

Blair watched Jim walk back and forth between the table and the stove. The Sentinel's back was rigid and his jaw muscles taught. He barely looked at Blair as he returned to the table carrying napkins and silverware. He placed a set next to Blair's plate, then sat down into his chair, gazing down at his plate.

Blair frowned. "Something wrong, Jim? Did I do something? Man, I know twenty-five thousand dollars is a lot of money, but, I swear to you, I have no intention of taking off. You and Simon will get it --"

Jim raised a hand in the air to silence his partner. "It's not that, Chief, believe me. Don't worry about the money, and we know you're not going to bail out."

Blair felt confused. "What then?"

Jim sighed, offering a tired smile. "Nothing, Blair. It's just been a long week, that's all."

Blair's mouth went dry with sudden apprehension. "You do believe me, don't you?" He glanced down at the table. "I mean, I can see how you might have some doubts."

Jim leaned forward suddenly, closing the space between himself and Blair. "Jesus Christ, Sandburg, of course I believe you. I know you're not involved in this. The whole thing smells of a set-up. No one would be stupid enough to leave all that evidence hanging around just waiting to be found. Plus there's that call to the commissioner. A reporter apparently got a hold of information about your drug overdose and contacted the commissioner for a statement. I'm willing to bet our guy leaked it to the press to expediate your arrest. How else would that information have gotten out so quickly?"

Blair groaned. "The press knows about this?" He closed his eyes. "Oh man, I was kind of hoping to keep this as quiet as possible." He leaned forward on the table and buried his face in his hands. "I can kiss my career goodbye. If the university hasn't found out about this by now, they will soon. I'm sure I'll be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. Hell, maybe they'll just decide to fire me outright." He raised his head and looked at Jim. "Not to mention my observer status is down the tubes. I'm surprised Simon didn't ask for my credentials last night."

Jim tilted his head sympathetically. "He didn't have the heart. He feels bad enough about having you arrested and, though he did have your observer status revoked, he thought it best that I hang on to your credentials until this mess is sorted out." He pointed to Blair's plate. "Eat your eggs, Chief. They're getting cold."

Blair nodded, dejected. "Yeah, I guess I should. I haven't had anything to eat since the day before yesterday." He shrugged. "I just kind of lost my appetite all of a sudden."

"So, did you find out about the reporter," Jim asked, looking at Simon hopefully.

Simon leaned back in his chair and took a puff on his cigar. "No," he said, exhaling the smoke. "The commissioner isn't at his best when woken abruptly like that. Apparently, he can only remember the reporter's first name. John. He doesn't remember what rag the guy said he was working for."

Jim snorted. Great. Just Great. Sandburg's life is on the line and our supposed superior can't even remember a simple name. "And he's involved with law enforcement.... " He shook his head disbelievingly.

"Take it easy, Jim, he was taken off-guard in the wee hours of the morning. The guy hung up before he could get any kind of real information," Simon explained.

Jim began pacing the small confines of Simon's office. He'd left Sandburg alone at the loft, and he was anxious to get back and keep an eye on the kid. Someone out there was trying to take Sandburg down, and he wasn't so sure that someone wouldn't just opt to kill him, deciding that leaving Sandburg dead with a dirtied reputation would be a satisfactory fulfillment of his (or her) goals.

"Sir, we've got to get something on this guy, and soon," Jim sighed. "I'm worried about Sandburg. What if this asshole decides to take him out? He's got no police protection--"

Simon opened his mouth to protest, but Jim cut him off. "I know. I know. You can't put a guard on him because there's no official reason to believe he's being set-up. Only you and I know the kid well enough to realize he'd never do anything like this."

Simon's eyes softened, and he released a tired sigh. "Unfortunately, the 'he would never do something like this' defense just doesn't hold much water with judges or juries."

Simon's phone rang and he quickly snatched up the receiver, throwing Jim a brief glance. "Banks," he barked. He listened in silence to the speaker on the other end of the line.

Jim was tempted to tune his hearing to the conversation, but he had enough respect for his superior not to breech his privacy. However, as he watched the lines in Simon's forehead crease with anxiety, the temptation to listen into the conversation became almost overwhelming.

"Don't touch anything until Ellison and I arrive," Banks ordered, his voice tight. After a few more seconds of listening to the caller, he hung up the phone, gazing up a Jim with anxious eyes.

"What was that about," Ellison asked, his throat tight.

Simon sighed, raising one hand to rub his temple. "Barry Johnson's body turned up in an alley in the old warehouse district."

Jim collapsed into the chair. "This is just getting worst and worst," he muttered. "Now we can't question him."

"It's worst than that," Simon informed him.

Jim's heart sank. Oh God, don't say it....

"They found Sandburg's fingerprints on a bloody knife in a dumpster around the corner," Simon explained. "The preliminary indicates that the knife may be an artifact from his office."

Jim's chest constricted, and he found the air around him dizzyingly thin. He rested an arm on the chair and covered his mouth with his hand, feeling suddenly very tired, as if all the energy had been drained from his body within a matter of seconds.

"You okay Jim?" Simon rose from his chair and walked around his desk to stand in front of the detective.

Jim looked up and managed a delayed nod. "No, not really, Sir," he sighed. "The whole world's falling apart and there's nothing I can do to stop it."

It wasn't really the whole world, he knew, but it was his world. Sandburg's life and reputation was being ripped from him, and Jim found himself inadequate to the task of preventing the destruction. Instead, he'd been indirectly relegated to the sidelines, forced to watch as his Guide's world crumbled into dust. Worst of all, he knew there was someone out there responsible for the mess, and he, even with sentinel senses and army training, couldn't find that person. He's human, he thought. He's going to make a mistake. Sooner or later, he'll slip up. When he does, I'll be there to dish out a little of the misery he's put Sandburg through these past few days.

His thoughts were interrupted by a gentle pressure on his shoulder, and he snapped back to reality, seeing Simon standing above him.

"Jim? Come on, Ellison. Don't zone on me here," Simon said.

Jim gave his head a slight shake. "I wasn't zoning, Sir, but thanks."

Simon breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. Now I'm really anxious to get Sandburg back. There's no way I can do what he does all the time."

Jim offered his superior a curt nod. "Me too, Sir. Me too," he mumbled.

Jim arrived at the scene twenty-five minutes later. He halted his truck near the group of squad cars parked chaotically around the alley and hopped out of the driver's seat, dashing under the yellow tape as he headed into the alley.

A young man laid on his back beneath a fire escape, blood covering his chest and neck. Jim walked over to the body, scanning the corpse for miniscule shreds of evidence that could clear his partner. His sight zoomed in on a long, dark strand of hair on the man's sleeve. Cautiously, Jim hunched over, picking up the strand of hair and holding it up for inspection. He bit his lower lip as he examined the curly strand. He was pretty sure it was Sandburg's hair.

Damnit, this guy doesn't miss a beat, he thought. So, the perpetrator had broken into Sandburg's office, planted the drugs, stolen the knife, and collected a strand of hair. He had also managed to break into Sandburg's car and plant the additional evidence. Most amazingly of all, he had poisoned Sandburg with cocaine in such a subtle manner that no one, not even Sandburg, had any idea when and how the drug had been ingested.

How had Sandburg been dosed with coke? He clenched his jaw, feeling as though he were missing something obvious. Come on, Ellison, think! Sandburg's counting on you! The promise of an answer nagged at the back of his mind, and he closed his eyes, trying to capture the amorphous remnant of a memory. His train of thought, however, was interrupted by a low, scratchy voice behind him.

"Detective Ellison!"

Jim spun around, coming face-to-face with the commissioner. "Sir!" He straightened, years of military training making the gesture a reflex.

"I've been speaking with Captain Banks and have instructed him to remove you from this investigation. You are to leave this crime scene immediately," he ordered.

Jim's mouth almost dropped open. No... This could NOT be happening. He had a sinking feeling that if he were removed from this investigation, the final nail in Sandburg's proverbial coffin would be hammered down. Jim's sensory talent was Blair's best hope of vindication. It was the one wild card the mastermind behind the set-up could not reasonably have anticipated. Forensic teams weren't perfect. Minute traces of evidence could be overlooked. Jim, however, was determined to use his senses to the fullest to find some physical evidence of the truth. He'd risk zoning in front of the entire city of Cascade if it meant getting Blair off the drug and murder charges.

"Commissioner, I understand your reasoning," he began, struggling to keep his voice even. "However, I respectfully request that you reconsider. Sandburg's innocent. I have compelling reasons to believe he's being framed in retaliation for a case he helped me with in the past."

"I'm sorry, Detective, but--"

"Come on, Sir. He's a civilian. He's never gotten into any trouble before his association with me and the department. He doesn't deserve to have his life ruined because of his generosity in volunteering his time and skills to our police force. His unique perspective has helped us out on many cases, and he's always conducted himself with the utmost integrity."

The commissioner gazed at Jim sympathetically for several seconds, then shook his head. "I know how you feel, Detective," he said. "I appreciate and respect your loyalty to Mr. Sandburg. However, this case is becoming too public, and allowing you access to this investigation could seriously compromise our case. You're relationship with Mr. Sandburg, quite frankly, makes your presence at these crime scenes potentially compromising."

Jim raised his chin sharply. "Sir, are you implying that I'd tamper with evidence to clear Sandburg?"

The commissioner shook his head. "I'm not accusing you, Detective. However, this case must be done by the book. Your involvement could lead to uncomfortable complications and innuendos. Surely, Detective, I needn't convince you of the inappropriateness of your involvement?"

Jim took a deep breath, knowing he wouldn't win the argument. He simply nodded and, without another word, headed back to his truck.


Jim halted, his back turned to the commissioner.

"I just thought you should know.... I've sent a couple of uniforms over to your place to take Sandburg into custody. In light of this new... uh... evidence... it's the only thing I can do. I'm sorry."

Jim remained absolutely still. "How long ago, Sir?"

"Just now."

Jim nodded and resumed his walk toward the truck, resisting the temptation to run. He calmly seated himself behind the wheel, placed the key ever-so-carefully in the ignition, started the engine, and, with a deep breath, slammed his foot onto the accelerator and squeeled away from the crime scene.

Blair sat lostus-style on the living room floor, eyes closed, surrounded by the soft light of a dozen candles and the gentle rhythm of tribal music.

I am calm. I am at peace with myself and my surroundings. Reason and serenity fill my soul. I am calm...

He focused his mind on the gentle waves of the music, letting the rhythm carry his fear and anxiety away. Willing the hypnotic beating of drums to fill his consciousness and calm his spirit, he inhaled a slow, deep breath. He was safe there, in that quiet place of solace. Nothing could touch him. Nothing could harm him. The world did not exist... There was only him and the music. There was only peace and comfort.

The steady beat of the drums was abruptly interrupted by the loud beat of a different rhythm, and he jumped in surprise, his eyes flying open.

"Police! Open up!"

The serenidity surrounding him crumbled, and his heart kicked into overdrive in his chest. He glanced around the loft, wishing Jim were with him to meet whatever waited him on the other side of that door.

"Open up now!"

Shaking, he pushed himself off the floor and walked over to the door. He unlocked the deadbolt and swung the door open, revealing two stern-looking officers in dark blue uniforms.

"Blair Sandburg," the dark-skinned young man on the right asked.

Blair nodded, his throat too dry to produce sound.

The officer stepped inside the loft, removing a pair of handcuffs from his belt. "You are under arrest for the murder of  Barry Johnson"

Blair's head spun, his pulse thundering in his ears. Murder? He swallowed. There had to be some mistake... Jim? Where was Jim? He'd explain it... He'd fix whatever went wrong...

The officer slid behind Blair and pushed him up against the wall, raising his hands above his head and placing one of the cuffs around his wrist. He then frisked Blair, performing a thorough and somewhat embarrasing search of his body and clothes.

Blair closed his eyes, hoping that he'd wake up and find himself asleep on the living room floor, once again surrounded by the comforting caress of candles and music. Instead, he felt his arms being pulled behind his back and heard the click of the handcuffs as they tightened painfully around his wrists.

"You have the right to remain silent," the officer began. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

A loud crash sounded in the hallway as a door flung open and slammed against the wall. The two officers jumped and reached for their guns as Ellison skidded to a halt behind the man in the doorway.

"Sandburg?" Jim pushed roughly past the man in the doorway, affording him a brief, angry glare on his way past. The younger man apparently knew about Ellison's reputation, because he swallowed audibly and took a step away from the door.

"Detective Ellison, please stand back," the dark-skinned cop near Blair commanded.

A pang of relief pierced Blair's chest at the site of his partner and blessed protector. "Jim?"

"Go easy on him," Jim growled, fixing icy blue eyes on the cop in front of him. "It's innocent until proven guilty, remember?"

"What's going on," Blair asked "Who died?" A strangled croak escaped his throat. "Murder? Jim they said murder... "

Jim turned his gaze to Blair, the harsh anger melting instantaneously from his mercurial blue eyes, replaced by a watery sea of helpless desperation that stole Blair's breath and threatened to tear the beating heart from his chest.

"I'm sorry, Chief," he said. "Just hang tough. I swear I'll figure a way out of this. I'll find out who's doing this. I'll get you the best lawyer... whatever it takes." He paused briefly to take a quick breath. "I promise you - you're not going down for this."

The panic in Jim's voice stood in frightening contrast to his words. For the first time, Blair felt a powerful, overwhelming sense of fear and doubt. He could really go to prison.... put away for the rest of his life, forced to spend the 60 or so remaining years of his existence in a small, dank room, surrounded by darkness and brutality. Could he meditate in prison? Would he be able to light his candles and listen to music? Would he ever be able to savor the taste of tongue and hummus and relax in front of a warm, crackling fire? What about women? His studies? His mother? His friends?

His throat clamped tight. What about the death penalty? Was there the chance he could get the death penalty for murder? How would it feel? If he were electrocuted, would he feel pain? What about gas? Would it burn his lungs? Lethal injection. How did that feel? Did people wet their pants? Lose control of their bowls? Would he maintain his dignity in the final walk, or humiliate himself and Jim by whimpering and begging for his life?

His breathing came to him in shallow, chaotic gulps as his lungs struggled to take in air that suddenly felt suffocating thin and heavy at the same time. He closed his eyes, fighting to suppress a surge of nauseau that threatened to overwhelm him. Vaguely, he realized his body was moving, pushed forward by rough hands.

Distantly, he was aware of Jim voice, meaningless words that bounced off his eardrums and echoed through his skull. "I'll meet you at the station, Blair. Stay calm. Don't worry, Simon and I are on top of this. We'll be there for you. We'll find this son of a bitch and make sure he regrets the day he was ever born. I'll see about bail... God, I hope the judge sets bails... Whatever the cost, I'll find a way to pay. I'll get you out of there as soon as possible."