Summary: Blair is caught in a dangerous situation during a stint as a substitute teacher. And Jim is contemplating a career change.

Warnings: Teenage violence (somewhat graphic), death (no major characters), h/c, angst, and, of course, Blair owies.

Notes: Thanks to Jill who went through this for me. This was written as a November Themefic for SentinelAngst, asking to project the guys to the present day.

Life Changes

By Debbie

EMAIL: Debbie

Jim Ellison sat at his desk in the bullpen of Major Crime. He was bored, mainly because his partner, and guide, Blair Sandburg wasn't there. Things were always livelier when Blair was at the station. Jim looked at his watch, noting it was just past 10:30 AM, which meant Blair was at Cascade High School, teaching History to impressionable juniors and seniors.

As always, Blair wasn't content to be just a consultant to the Cascade Police Department. He wanted to do everything, so when the principal of the high school approached Blair to ask if he wanted to substitute teach three years ago, Blair jumped at the chance. Teaching was Blair's first love, even after all he went through. The principal was a friend of Blair's from his Rainier days and he wanted to help his friend. After the first year, Blair signed up to be on the permanent substitute list. Just as with the police department, Blair did everything. He substituted in all subjects, although his favorite subjects were History and English. This particular substitute stint was to last to the end of the week. Blair was still available to the PD in the afternoons.

Jim looked around the bullpen, wondering how much longer he wanted to stay as a detective. He could still feel the ache in his arm from the last bullet he had stopped over six months ago. As he got older, it took longer to recover from injuries. He had been with the Cascade Police Department for over fifteen years and before that, he had been in the Army. He had been answering to other people most of his adult life. He was thinking that maybe it was time to start calling his own shots. However, he did want to talk to Blair about it.

Over their years together, both Jim and Blair had learned, the hard way, that it was best to communicate with each other. Both men had made mistakes over the years that had almost cost them their friendship, and at times, their lives. So now, they discussed every little thing, no matter how trivial or seemingly insignificant.

That was how Jim had been able to deal with the fact that Blair wanted to move out of the loft three years ago. Initially, Jim thought Blair was leaving him alone like almost everyone else in his life. When Blair explained to him that he needed more than just a small utility room, Jim felt guilty. Blair further explained he didn't want Jim to feel guilty, he just wanted Jim's blessing with getting his own place.

Jim did more than that. He went apartment hunting with Blair, using his sentinel abilities to uncover hidden problems and defects in several places. Soon, they had exhausted all of the possibilities and Blair still didn't have a place of his own. Jim suggested a house and Blair scoffed at the idea. Jim pointed out Blair still had some leftover money from his settlement over his dissertation. Jim even suggested that he could contribute half and that way, they wouldn't have to separate.

Of course, Blair saw that suggestion for what it was - the Sentinel wanting to keep his Guide close. However, it was okay with Blair. That was how they had found their home. It was a home, because they made it a home shortly after moving in. Adding personal touches from both of them.

Jim shook himself from the memories and absently rubbed his left forearm. Yeah, it was past time to do something else. Jim definitely didn't want to die in the line of duty. He and Blair would have a long talk.

He saw Simon coming out of his office, a look of horror and disbelief on his face. Jim automatically got to his feet, knowing something had happened.

"Simon?" questioned Jim as he neared his Captain.

"Jim… I just got a call from dispatch. There have been reports of gunfire at Cascade High School. Unconfirmed reports of possibly multiple shooters. Isn't Sandburg there?"

"Blair… ah, yeah. He's teaching history this week." Jim stared at Simon, wondering how such a thing could be happening.

"SWAT, hostage negotiation and the first responder team are already on the scene. I told them that you and I were coming, since Sandburg is inside the school. I'm not sure how much we'll be able to do, but I was thinking it would be best if you were there instead of here."

"You're right, Simon. Can we go?"

Simon had noticed that the rest of the bullpen was paying attention to what was being said instead of doing their work. He decided to address everyone. "We will keep you up to date with any information that we get regarding the situation and Sandburg." He turned to Jim. "Let's go, Jim."

Jim automatically followed Simon from the bullpen to the elevator. He wasn't even conscious of his movements. His mind was on the high school and Blair. He pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial for Blair's cell phone, hoping there would be an answer. However, there was no answer. He knew it was possible Blair had his phone off or hadn't even brought it into the school with him. Jim snapped the phone closed.

"Don't jump to conclusions, Jim." Simon was trying to be the voice of reason.

However, Jim didn't want to hear that. "Gunmen in the school? I'm sure they spotted Blair as soon as they walked inside." Jim realized how he sounded. "I'm sorry, Simon. It's just we don't need this now. Blair doesn't need this now."

Simon knew what Jim was referring to. The police department had chose Blair to attend a series of seminars in Seattle at the end of the month to let him better facilitate his duties in various areas, such as procedure, grant-writing, time management and other techniques. Blair was looking forward to attending and learning. Even after all these years, Blair was still as much a student as he was a teacher.

++++++++

They reached the high school, getting as close as they could. Jim jumped out of the car, making his way to the command center. He noticed it appeared as if there was a standoff. There was no sound of gunfire. Several students and teachers stood outside the school, waiting for word. Jim saw the SWAT team around the perimeter of the school, waiting. It appeared as if everyone was waiting.

Jim found the lead negotiator, Sgt. Gerald Smithers. "Gerald? Do you have any idea what you're dealing with?"

"What are you doing here, Jim?"

"Sandburg is inside the high school, unless he was one of the lucky ones who made it out already."

"Damn! I wasn't aware of that. From what I've found out so far, there are at least four gunmen who entered the school and started shooting almost immediately. There are reports of people down, but no confirmation yet on injured and/or dead. We don't even know who it is that lay siege to the school. We're trying to get in contact with someone inside now, but all of our attempts are being ignored."

Jim looked towards the school again, wondering just how many students and faculty were injured or dying inside. Including the possibility that Blair was one of them.

++++++++

Blair came to, wondering what had happened. Suddenly, it came crashing back with vivid clarity. He couldn't feel his left leg. He moved around, finally able to sit up, leaning against the wall in the hallway outside his classroom. He saw the blood soaking through his khakis, covering his leg and the floor beneath him.

Blair had heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire. He told his students to stay where they were and left the classroom himself to find out what was happening. Just as he reached the hallway, two gunmen came around the corner, shooting. Blair felt several bullets impact with his body. He knew the feeling all too well. He fell to the floor, fighting consciousness, feeling totally useless and inadequate as he watched the gunmen advance, going towards the classrooms.

Blair had lost consciousness at some point. He was able to look at his watch, seeing that it was noon. He was supposed to leave a half an hour ago, after his class. Blair went to reach into his pocket for his cell phone, noticing his hands were shaking. He didn't have his cell phone. Then he remembered his cell phone was in his backpack, which was still in the classroom. Blair wondered if he could make it to the classroom. He couldn't tell where else he had been shot. His whole body felt numb. He tried scooting along the floor, inching his way towards his classroom. If nothing else, he wanted to see how *his* students were. He had only been with them for three days, but they had achieved a certain rapport already, along with the fact that Blair had taught most of them in some subject already during the year.

Blair slipped and dropped flat onto the floor. He tried to sit back up, but his body wasn't cooperating. He wondered where the gunmen had gone and why they had chose the high school to attack. Blair lay flat on the floor, trying to summon up the strength and ability to move again.

Suddenly, he heard footsteps and was worried that the gunmen were back to finish off the job. But the faces of two of his students, Carla Mather and Chris Phillips, came into view.

"Mr. Sandburg? Are you okay?" asked Carla, as she suddenly noticed the blood, both on Blair and on the floor.

"What are you two doing out here?"

"We were worried about you and we didn't hear gunfire any more. Chris and I were sent to look for you."

"Are any of you injured?"

"No. They didn't come into the classroom."

"I need one of you to get my cell phone for me. I need to make an important call to the police."

"We've heard that the police have surrounded the school. They're trying to get in contact with the shooters."

"I still need to make a call, to my partner." Blair just wanted to assure Jim that he was okay. He was sure Jim was out amongst the police officers.

"I'll get your cell phone, Mr. Sandburg. I really don't thing you shouldn't be moving around with your injuries."

"You're right, Chris. I just wasn't sure what the situation was and I wanted to make sure the class was okay. My cell phone is in the side pocket of my backpack."

Chris went back into the classroom while Carla stayed with Blair. Chris reported about their teacher being injured and then got Blair's cell phone. He took it back out to Blair and handed it to him.

"Thanks, Chris." Blair fumbled with the phone a few minutes, trying to get it opened. He pushed speed dial one, the number for Jim's cell phone.

++++++++

Jim was surprised when his cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and answered it.

"Ellison."

"Hey, Jim. I thought I'd call."

"Sandburg, are you all right?"

"Not really. I'm being held hostage in a high school with crazed gunmen running around loose."

"Are you hurt? Did you get shot?"

Blair heard the worry in Jim's voice. And he knew he couldn't lie to Jim, knowing he would know. "I was hit several times, Jim." Blair tried not to break down, realizing Jim couldn't come to his aid at the moment. "I don't know how serious it is. You'd think I'd know, after personally being shot numerous times before. Do you know how many dead or injured, Jim?"

Jim closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. "Not yet. We haven't been able to get inside yet. As far as we know, the gunmen are still inside. I don't want you moving around, Chief. You could do more harm than good."

Blair couldn't prevent the tears from forming in his eyes. He was grateful Carla and Chris had left. "Too late, Jim. I was shot in the hallway and I was trying to return to the classroom to see about my students."

"It'll be okay, Blair. We'll get inside soon." There didn't seem to be anything else to say at the time. Jim wanted to reassure Blair. "Just hang tight."

"That I can do." Blair wanted to be with Jim. "Just don't let SWAT screw this up."

"I'm not here officially, Chief."

"But you're looking after my well-being. See ya soon, Jim."

Jim held the phone for several minutes after Blair had disconnected the call. He wanted to do nothing else but rush the high school, take care of the gunmen and get Blair to a hospital. He realized, though, that he couldn't do that. It was as he told Blair - he wasn't here officially. He turned to Simon, who had been listening to Jim's side of the conversation.

"Blair's been shot at least once. He didn't tell me where. He said shot several times. He sounded weak. He could be bleeding to death in the hallway of the school." Jim barely had control of his emotions and temper.

"Jim, they're doing all they can. And Blair's not the only one injured inside there. There are probably dead bodies in there also. From what I've heard, it was like a shooting gallery in there for a while and a real bloodbath."

"I know, Simon. But you know where my focus is… "Jim's voice just sort of trailed off.

Simon understood all too well about Jim's focus on his partner and best friend.

++++++++

In the end, it was another bloodbath, this time for the gunmen, who turned out to be four young men expelled from the school for carrying guns and drug possession. They had given the police officers no choice when they shot at them.

As SWAT dealt with the dead gunmen, other officers, including Jim and Simon, did a sweep of the school to find the victims. Also, all available paramedics and some doctors and nurses who had responded to the call for medical personnel, went with the officers.

It took time for the sweep, as the gunmen had shot an ungodly amount of ammunition, hitting victims left and right and anyone who came within their range. And they had been deadly accurate with their shots.

As they finished the first floor, there were five dead and fifteen injured. There were still two more floors to go through.

Jim wasn't sure where Blair's classroom was. He thought about asking someone, but anyone who would know were either injured, dead or too shell-shocked over what happened to give him the information. Jim would just have to wait.

They split up, half taking the second floor and the other taking the third floor. Jim went with the third floor. He spotted Blair the minute they came out from the stairwell. Jim ran down the hall, skidding to a halt by Blair's prone body. Jim knelt down, noticing Blair's closed eyes. He saw all of the blood and checked for a pulse, not relying on his hearing to give him the answer to the most important question in his mind.

Jim released the breath he was holding, relaxing just a bit. He saw the entrance wound in the left leg and the loss of blood. Jim checked for more wounds, finding that blood soaked the back of Blair's shirt. He picked up Blair's cell phone from the floor.

"Damn, Chief! Just hang on!" Jim looked around, spotting a nurse just coming down the hall. "Can you help me?"

The nurse came over, taking Blair's vital signs. Jim noted how low they were. The nurse got on her cell phone, calling for a gurney, stat. She then turned to Jim. "He's lost a lot of blood and needs to go to the hospital ASAP. It doesn't look like there are exit wounds, so the bullets are still inside his body. They'll be able to determine more at the hospital. Is he a friend of yours?"

"Yeah, he's my partner at the PD. He's only a substitute teacher."

The gurney and two paramedics showed up and gently lifted Blair onto the gurney. Jim decided to follow them to the hospital. He knew Blair would want to know the final count of dead and injured and the outcome, but no one would know until later. As Jim went to follow the gurney, a student stopped him.

"This is Mr. Sandburg's. Can you make sure he gets it?"

Jim took the backpack, smiling at the girl. "I'll make sure he gets it. Thank you. Are any of you hurt in there?"

"No. Mr. Sandburg told us to stay put and we did. He's a great teacher. Do you think he'll want to return again?"

"I'm sure he will. Blair loves teaching. It will take more than this to keep him away." Jim was sure he was telling the truth.

"Is it safe to leave now?"

It was then that Jim realized the remaining students and teachers didn't know the outcome of the siege. He had an obligation to let the rest of them know. "Yeah, it's fine to leave now. There are officers who will help direct you outside and help you get in contact with your families."

Jim hitched Blair's backpack up on his shoulder, slipped Blair's cell phone into his pocket and went to check the rest of the rooms on the floor. There would only be the wait at the hospital and he figured Blair would want him to make sure the members of his tribe were safe and that the threat was over.

++++++++

Jim stayed until everyone came out of the high school. In the end, there were fifteen dead and over thirty injured to varying degrees. Already, grief councilors, clergy and support services arrived to offer help for teachers, students, families, parents and even some of the rescue personnel. Jim took a deep breath once outside, finally clear from the stench of blood, death and gunpowder. He had finally resorted to dialing down his sense of smell, especially when he caught himself a couple of times almost zoning on the combination of smells and the unreasonable amount of blood that was splattered everywhere. He knew he couldn't zone, not without Blair there to help him out of it.

Jim walked around, looking for Simon, finally spotting him offering support to several parents. Simon looked up, seeing Jim and quickly wrapped up his words. He walked over to Jim, meeting him halfway.

"Are you finished?" Simon saw the exhaustion on Jim's face and with his movements.

"Yeah. Damn, Simon! Fifteen dead and over thirty injured some of them in serious condition! And the gunmen were four students!"

"The world is a different place today, my friend." Simon patted Jim on the shoulder. "You ready to go to the hospital to see about Sandburg?"

"I guess. I feel there should be something else to do, some way else to help."

"We did all we could, Jim. Those kids thought only about destruction and death. Not much we could have done. Not even the school administrators. Or probably even the parents."

Jim only shook his head. He hitched up Blair's backpack again and walked with Simon towards his car. Once they were inside the car, Jim spoke.

"I'm thinking about resigning, Simon."

Simon looked over at Jim. "When did this come up?"

"Before all of this shit. But I think it helped seal the deal. I need to talk to Blair about it, though. He's so ingrained into the PD these days that I don't want to do something he's not comfortable with doing. I've been a cop for over fifteen years and I'm thinking maybe there is something less dangerous I could be doing, just for myself."

"I understand where you're coming from, Jim. What about a promotion within the PD? Would you consider that?"

"Being a boss? I'm not sure. I don't know of any openings presently and anyway, with my track record, I'm not sure I'd be the first on the promotions list."

"You do have a point there, Jim. Why don't you wait to talk to Sandburg? I'm sure he'll be able to give you both sides of the argument."

Jim smiled. "Yeah, he'd definitely be able to do that."

++++++++

When they reached the hospital, Blair was still in surgery. Jim found out four shots had hit Blair, two in his left leg, one in the back and the other in his right arm. Jim winced as he listened to the nurse explain the injuries.

Now, Jim and Simon sat in the waiting room. It had been two hours already and Jim knew how many steps it was from one end of the room to the other. Jim knew how much damage bullet wounds caused. Blair knew how much damage bullet wounds caused. They could compare scars once Blair recovered.

Jim shook his head. Who would have thought a high school would become a war zone? This wasn't what Jim had signed up to do when he became a cop. Kids weren't supposed to be murderers and killers. Although, Jim had seen a lot as a cop. By extension, Blair had seen the same death and destruction, having been associated with the department for over ten years. Maybe Blair would be amenable to leaving too.

However, Blair was still an optimist and still tended to see the good in people. At least try to see the good in people. It amazed Jim that Blair was still that way, after all the psychos and criminals he had encountered over the years. It was because of Blair that Jim hadn't become cynical and hadn't given up a long time ago.

It was another two hours before the doctor came to the waiting room. Jim turned to face the man, trying to decipher the look on the surgeon's face. But he kept his features neutral.

"How's Blair?" Jim blurted out the question, anxious to know the outcome.

"He came through the surgery. We were able to remove all four bullets. Amazingly, other than a high volume of blood loss, there was no major damage done. However, the bullet that went into Mr. Sandburg's back concerns us somewhat, only because there is swelling in the area. There is a possibility of paralysis. We won't know anything until he comes to and we can test his reactions. We will be placing him in Intensive Care and he'll be receiving blood transfusions and antibiotics to ward off infection. He will probably be out of it for the next day or so." The doctor looked from Jim to Simon. "Any questions, gentlemen?"

Jim shook his head no.

"No, doctor. Thank you." Simon shook the doctor's hand.

The doctor left the room, leaving Jim and Simon alone.

"You want me to take you home, Jim?"

"I'd like to try to see him, Simon. Just because... "Jim stopped, not wanting to voice the emotions going through him.

Simon patted him on the back. "I understand, Jim. Let's go see if we can see him for a short time."

The attending nurse let Jim in for a few minutes. Jim stood by the bed, the threat of zoning very much present. But he reached out and patted Blair on the arm, careful not to jostle any of the leads or tubing there.

"I'll be back, Chief. You just rest." Jim didn't want to leave, but also knew Blair needed the rest. He went back out, rejoining Simon, who watched through the window.

"Can you take me to the PD, sir? My truck is still there." He saw Simon's skeptical look. "I can drive myself, Simon."

"Okay, Jim. But I'm following you to make sure."

++++++++

The smell threw Jim as he walked into the house from the garage. It smelled like… chicken. Then the memory of that morning kicked in. Blair had placed chicken breasts in the slow cooker with vegetables and broth for dinner. Jim checked it, pleased to note the chicken wasn't ruined. He turned it off and removed the chicken breasts and vegetables onto a platter. At least he had a meal to eat that he didn't have to think about. Blair was always looking after him.

Jim dished up some of the food and then went to check on the messages on the answering machine. There was one for Blair from the Chief of Police's office, confirming his flight schedule and that he could pick up his airline ticket in the office whenever he was at the department. Jim wondered if they knew about the shooting at Cascade High and Blair's involvement. It was a fair bet that Blair wouldn't be able to go to the seminars at the end of the month.

++++++++

Blair's return to consciousness consisted of pain and restrictions. He opened his eyes, looking around as best as he could. He saw the machines, and the beeps and other noises came to his ears. A hospital. However, the memory of why seemed to elude him at the moment. He closed his eyes, trying to jog his memory, trying to remember what happened this time.

He gasped when it came to him. The school, the shooters, the blood! Before he was able to assimilate it all, there was a nurse by his bedside.

"Well, we didn't expect you to come to quite yet. I'm going to ask you some questions and I want you to try to answer them. Okay?"

"Sure." Blair croaked the word out, just realizing his mouth felt stuffed with cotton.

The nurse placed the straw in his mouth and he sucked in the cool, wet water. Then the nurse removed the straw.

"Not too much just yet. Can you tell me your name?"

"Blair Sand - burg."

"Where do you live, Blair?"

"Cascade."

"Do you know what day it is?"

"Uh… Tuesday?" Blair wasn't sure how long he'd been unconscious.

"Close. It's Thursday. You've been a little out of it. Do you remember what happened?"

"Gunmen. High school. Shooting up the place." Blair felt himself getting short of breath.

The nurse patted his shoulder. "Just calm down, Blair. Take as deep a breath as you can. It's all over now. There are no gunmen here."

Blair took several breaths. He looked around the room. 'Was Jim here? Did Jim know he was here?'

"Ah… is my friend here? Detective Ellison? Jim Ellison?"

"One of the other nurses is contacting him about you."

'Good,' thought Blair. 'He'd be here soon.' "Thank you."

"I've also called your doctor so he can examine you. Just relax Blair."

Blair closed his eyes, drifting off again. The memory of the shots and the blood, his blood, filled his mind.

++++++++

Jim arrived at the hospital, going up to Intensive Care. He stood outside Blair's room, waiting until the doctor finished his examination. He automatically latched onto Blair's voice, his breathing and his heartbeat. It appeared as if Blair remembered most of what happened.

The doctor checked for reactions in Blair's back. There was no feeling, but the doctor said it was early and that Blair should just relax. Blair said he would try, but he was still concerned.

The doctor came out, seeing Jim standing there.

"Detective Ellison." The doctor extended his hand and Jim shook it.

"How's Blair?"

"Well, he's improving gradually. He has swelling around his spinal cord, so there is no feeling there right now. But I have every confidence that once the swelling goes down, he will regain the feeling. There is no damage to the spinal cord."

"Can I go in to see him?"

"Of course."

"Thank you, doctor." Jim made his way inside the small room. Blair lay in the bed, eyes closed. Jim noted his breathing was a little harsh. He made it over to the bed and lightly patted Blair on the arm. Two pain-filled blue eyes opened to look at him.

"Jim…" Blair's eyes closed again.

"It's okay, Chief. Just relax. You're still receiving antibiotics and a blood transfusion."

Without opening his eyes, Blair responded. "Do you… know how many… dead?"

"There have been fifteen confirmed dead and over thirty injured. The gunmen are dead also."

A frown came across Blair's face, but he still kept his eyes closed. "Who were they?"

"From what I heard, they were four students who had been expelled for carrying guns and drug possession."

"All of them… dead?" There was sadness in Blair's voice.

"The SWAT team had no choice, Blair. It was hard for them to shoot kids."

"Yeah. Too much death and destruction for everyone." At that time, Blair opened his eyes and looked at Jim. "Can you… stay a while?"

"Sure, Chief." Jim found a chair and sat down by the bed, within full view of Blair. He'd stay as long as Blair wanted him.

There wasn't much more talking between the two of them. Eventually, Blair drifted off asleep again, but Jim stayed put. He had nowhere else to go. After some time, Jim drifted off asleep, too. He kept a hold of Blair's hand, to let him know he was there.

++++++++

The swelling around Blair's spinal cord didn't go down until almost a week later. The good news was that there was no paralysis and Blair was to start rehab within a couple of days. Jim stopped by as often as he could, telling Blair about the memorial services held for the victims that he attended.

Several of Blair's students also stopped by to talk. Blair encouraged the students to talk about whatever they wanted. Blair listened, knowing that they were just trying to come to grips with what happened. It also helped Blair to start to understand what was going on. Blair encouraged all of them to talk to anyone who would listen to them and not to keep their thoughts, feelings and worries to themselves. He knew that was the only way healing would begin for them all.

++++++++

Blair's rehab was going slow. He got easily frustrated, wanting to do more than his body was ready to do. Jim stopped by to watch Blair's progress, but whenever Blair saw him, he shooed Jim away.

Blair wanted to be able to make the trip to Seattle at the end of the month, but his possibilities were getting slim. He wasn't making the progress he wanted to make. His leg was giving him the most problems. He wasn't able to stand for very long because the muscles were weak and still healing. The good news was Jim was stopping by tomorrow to bring him home to recuperate. He'd still have regular rehab sessions, but he'd be out of the hospital.

Blair also wanted to arrange to return to teaching. He knew it was important for him to go back and prove to himself that he could do it. He was sure there would be no problems. He did worry about his position with the Cascade Police Department. There were no guarantees that he would be able to make a complete recovery and return to the abilities he had before the shooting. It was an on-going situation. He would have to talk to Simon about it.

++++++++

Jim was worried about Blair's silence as he drove them home. It was obvious that the level of violence associated with the shooting had shaken Blair. However, Jim had seen Blair talking to students who stopped by, explaining that, with time, things would be easier to handle and deal with. Maybe it would just take Blair longer because he was a victim.

Jim did know Blair was worried about returning to the PD and the fact that he missed the series of seminars in Seattle that were to enhance his position. Jim tried to explain that it was circumstances beyond Blair's control as to why he wasn't going to be able to attend the seminars. Jim told him there would be other seminars. Blair mumbled something Jim didn't catch and probably wasn't supposed to catch. Jim knew he'd have to be patient with Blair, knowing that eventually he would talk.

Jim pulled into the driveway. As soon as the car stopped, Blair got out of the car, using his cane expertly as he maneuvered towards their house. Jim got ahead of Blair in order to unlock the front door. Blair hobbled inside first. Jim noticed the pain lines on Blair's face.

Blair sat down on the couch in the living room. "Now what do I do with my life?"

Jim had moved towards the kitchen to get water for Blair to take a pain pill. He turned around at Blair's question. "You keep going to rehab and take things easy until you're healed. You've gone through this before." Jim watched Blair for his reaction.

Blair looked up and over at Jim. "I've never been this injured before. What if I can't come back to the PD? What if I don't have the stamina to endure an entire school day?"

Jim heard the desperation in Blair's voice. He came back over to the couch, sitting down by his friend, pulling him into a hug. "You do what you can, Chief. Whatever that may turn out to be. You can probably still be a consultant with the department. You don't go out into the field with me much anymore since I have Connor as a partner. And you know that the stamina will return over time. You just need to be patient." Jim paused, wondering if he should talk to Blair about what he was thinking. He decided to take the plunge.

"Blair, I need to talk to you about something." Jim left it like that.

He saw Blair raising his head and looking at him. "It sounds serious, Jim."

"It could be. I'm thinking about resigning from the police department."

Blair frowned. "What? Why would you want to do that?"

"I've had enough. I mean, I've been a cop for over fifteen years and before that, I was in the Army. Other people have structured most of my adult life. I feel like doing something on my own, being my own boss."

Blair slowly nodded his head. "Yeah, I can see that. It's time for your rebellious side to come out. Why are you telling me about it?"

"Because we talk everything out, Blair. And with you as a consultant to the department, I didn't want this to come as a total surprise. Actually, I've been thinking about this ever since the last time I was shot, six months ago. My arm has been aching ever since then and I'm thinking that I'm getting too old to be taking so many foolish risks."

"But don't pension benefits kick in after twenty years?" At Jim's nod, Blair continued. "You're not there and you're not even at the right age. Isn't there any way you could stick it out for at least five more years?"

"I suppose I could, but I've just been feeling old lately."

"That means we need to get away, take some time off. Let Major Crime handle things for a couple of weeks. I'm sure you've accumulated the time. And I'm going to be on medical leave for a while. That sets it up perfectly for us to take some time, get reconnected with each other and get you back to feeling younger."

"I hate to break it to you, Chief, but I'm not getting any younger." Jim smiled, hoping Blair understood.

"Oh, I know that, Jim, but as a Sentinel, you are at the peak of your performance now. I'm sorry that I've been neglecting you over the past several months. I know that Connor has become very good at helping you use your senses to the fullest, I also know that without your true Guide, your abilities suffer as a result. I've been lax in my duties as your Guide."

"You've been busy lately, Chief. I totally understand that you want a life without me in it all the time."

"That's not my choice, Jim. I made the choice and the commitment. I think a couple weeks out communing with nature and reconnecting with each other will do wonders for both of us."

"I talked to Simon about resigning, too."

"What did he say?"

"He asked if I would entertain the thought of a promotion."

"And?"

"I said I probably wasn't first on the promotion sheet. I'm not sure I'd want to be a boss."

Blair chuckled. "Smart answer. Probably true, too. Why don't we go on our two week leave of absence and see how we feel afterwards, then make a decision."

"We?"

"Well, it is the two of us together. We are partners, even if it doesn't seem that way most of the time. I'm so involved with other departments that sometimes I don't even set foot in Major Crime during a week. I want you to know, though, that I'm always thinking of new ways for you to use your senses. I've passed several ideas onto Megan."

"Yeah, the smell test was a rousing success. Had everyone laughing the whole day."

"Hey, they all can't be gems, Jim. So, we are agreed that we'll wait?"

"Yeah, we can wait. But what about your rehab schedule?"

"I'll talk to the therapists and see if I can take a couple weeks off if I promise to continue to do the exercises. Out in nature, I'll be able to stretch myself and do more."

"I just don't want you to injure yourself further and push your recovery further behind."

"Don't worry about that happening. With you along as my Blessed Protector, you'll make sure I'm okay."

Jim had to agree with that. He got up and went to get water for Blair to take his pain pill. Blair took the medication without a word, knowing he needed the relief it provided.

++++++++

Jim arranged for two weeks of vacation starting immediately. Blair got permission to take a break from rehab, as he had been making strides forward over the past week. He still was weak and wobbly on his feet, but he was getting steadier.

They loaded Jim's truck together and were soon ready to hit the road. Blair had suggested renting a cabin in the mountains, an idea Jim quickly agreed on. It would be less stressful on Blair's injuries to have a real bed to sleep in instead of a sleeping bag.

Jim drove to the cabin, while Blair slept most of the way. Jim took the opportunity to look over at his sleeping partner, wondering if he would ever have the same energy level he possessed before the shooting. Blair didn't talk about the shooting much, although Jim knew he talked to students from the high school almost every day. He had made himself available to any of the students. Jim knew Blair was still frustrated over his slow recovery and that pain was his almost constant companion. He still had a limp and he had told Jim the other day the doctor had mentioned something about another operation on his leg. Blair was still trying to decide whether to go through with it.

Jim reached the cabin and Blair automatically woke up. "We here already?"

"Already? I've been driving for over two hours. You, on the other hand, have been in slumber land."

"Hey, those pain pills knock me out. And someone insisted that I take one before we left this morning."

"Hey, it's okay, Chief. Let's just get our stuff inside the cabin and start our vacation."

++++++++

Over the two weeks spent at the cabin, Sentinel and Guide reconnected and Jim and Blair discussed the police department, the shooting, their friendship, their lives, the universe and everything in between. They decided that Jim would try to work until he had twenty years in, only if Blair spent at least one day a week in Major Crime. Blair was sure he could do that.

Blair decided to return to substitute teaching, something he still loved even after what happened. He was going back for the students, knowing they needed the best education they could get. Blair would also return to the police department, knowing how much both the department and he had invested in the place. Blair enjoyed the job, helping others.

Blair did his exercises religiously over the two weeks, his leg was getting steadier, and his gait was better. He still walked with the cane, but he was thinking he might not need the additional operation just yet. Jim saw Blair's confidence bloom as recovery was actually happening. It still would take time, but all they had was time.

++++++++

Blair walked into Cascade High School on Monday morning. This was his first day back since the shooting, almost four weeks ago. He was nervous, but he tried to hold it inside and not let it show. He walked into the office and students, teachers and administrators all greeted him. He still walked with a cane, but it was mostly as a precaution. He felt better almost immediately and went to find his classroom for the week. This week was English.

He started slowly, but soon got the students involved in the discussion and the time passed quickly. Too soon, it was over, but many of the students stopped by his desk as they left and told him how great it was that he was back. It made him feel good.

He stopped by Wonder Burger on his way to the PD, getting lunch for him and Jim. He had told Jim he would be at the PD by 1:30 PM. As he walked into the bullpen, Jim looked in his direction and smiled. Blair didn't know whether the smile was for him or for the lunch he brought. But as he sat the bag down on Jim's desk, Jim said, "I see you survived the first day of school."

"A few butterflies, but then everything was cool. They were glad I was back and I was glad I went back. So, do you need me to do anything?"

"Well, I think Simon wanted to see you when you came in. He's been fielding questions about when you were coming back."

"I guess I should go see what he wants me to do, then. Don't eat my spinach salad, man."

"Don't worry, Chief. I wouldn't dare touch it. Oh, by the way, thanks for the double cheeseburger and fries."

"Anything to keep you happy, man." Blair laughed as he made his way to Simon's office, knocking on the closed door and walking in.

Simon looked up as Blair walked into his office. 'Damn, it was good to see Sandburg up and around again,' thought Simon, as Blair closed the door behind him. "Well, you're looking almost normal, Sandburg. How are things going?"

Blair sat down in a chair in front of Simon's desk. "Much better, Captain. I still have some rehab to go through, I still need to use the cane, and I still have to work to increase my stamina, but it's getting there. Jim told me you've been fielding questions about when I was coming back and that you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah. I've talked to the other departments about what you and Ellison decided on doing about you working in Major Crime. There's no problem with that. In fact, I've proposed you be based here and then go to other departments when needed. I know you had a small office near the Chief's office, but if you don't mind, we'll just relocate you to Major Crime?"

"No, I don't mind. And I'm sure Jim will be pleased also. He admitted to me that he was having minor problems with his senses and his control, so with me closer, I'll be able to detect the problems and help him immediately."

"Yeah, he also tells me that you're the one responsible for him not resigning."

"I'm not sure about that. I just want him to get his full pension and I pointed out that he's at the peak of his career now. We'll get him through at least five more years and then he can go off and do something for himself. Although, I don't think Jim will ever relent being a protector and guardian of his tribe."

"You're probably right about that, Sandburg. We don't have your desk or anywhere set up for you just yet, but I figured you could share Jim's desk, as you have in the past. At least for a little while. Just one thing, no going out on calls until you've been cleared by your doctor."

"I understand, Captain. Thank you again." Blair got to his feet slowly and went to leave Simon's office.

"Oh, wait, Sandburg. I knew there was something else I wanted to tell you."

Blair turned around to face his captain. "Yes?"

"I've gotten word that there are going to be more seminars offered in Olympia in a couple of weeks, if you're still interested?"

"Yeah, but I thought I missed out on the one opportunity they were offering?"

"Well, it seems there was such an overwhelming interest in the topics being offered that the demand brought more offerings. I'll resubmit your request to the Chief and see if he's still willing to send you."

"Thanks, Captain. I'd definitely be interested in attending if I can get in. That is, if I can avoid bullets and bad luck."

"I have every confidence in you, Sandburg. Now, go tell your partner that you're coming back to Major Crime."

Blair left Simon's office, letting the grin get wider as he approached Jim's desk. Jim was hard at work, typing away at something on the computer and didn't notice his partner standing there. Finally, he looked up.

"Sit down before you fall down, Sandburg." He noticed the smile didn't leave Blair's face. "Ah, it must have gone okay with Simon."

"Much better than okay, Jim. I'm coming back to Major Crime. You'll have me every day. I'm going to be here and then work with other departments. Simon is going to clear it with the Chief. I'll be able to know when you have problems with your senses or someone else here needs me."

Now Jim had a smile on his face. "That's great, Chief! I always thought it was silly that you were up where the Chief was, like he was keeping an eye on you."

"Nah, it wasn't that way at all, Jim. I think he just wanted to part us for a time, to see if you were as efficient without me as you were with me. At first, your solve rate went down, as did the efficiency of your reports. Either Megan wasn't as good as me writing them, or you had taken over the writing, which is definitely lower than my standards."

Jim only shook his head. "Hilarious, Chief. My solve rate has rebounded, no thanks to you."

"No, it was probably because Simon gave you and Megan the easy cases and gave the baffling ones to Brown and Rafe." Blair couldn't help but laugh.

"That's never been true, Sandburg! Simon always gives me the rough cases, the ones that need extra skill."

"Oh, Jim! You best quit while you're ahead. If Brown and Rafe hear that, they'll never forgive you. I think all of you are equally qualified to be Major Crime detectives. You're a great group who work together on cases, not separately. It's been that way for years."

It was Jim's turn to laugh. "You're right, Chief. So, when are you moving down here?"

"I'm not sure. I'd suspect a couple of days. There's even better news, though, Jim!" Blair was practically bouncing in his seat.

Jim only shook his head and reached out to try to contain Sandburg. But he kept bouncing. "What's the better news? You better tell me before you explode."

"In two weeks, the state is offering the same seminars that I missed previously. They are in Olympia and Simon's going to resubmit my name. He thinks the Chief will want to send me."

"I'm sure he will. You're a valuable asset to the Cascade Police Department. We have to keep you around."

"Why, thank you Jim. That's the nicest thing you've said to me all day."

"That's because of the double cheese burger. Now, are you in the mood to do some reports for me?"

"Sure, Jim. Just show me what to do."

Blair fell into the routine with minimal problems. As he was working, Jim watched him out of the corner of his eye. Everything was getting back on track. There would still be bumps in the road, but Jim knew he and Blair were good and that was all that mattered in the immediate moment. The future would take care of itself.

END