Notes: Becky's Moonridge 2007 story. Thank you for bidding! Between the auction and now, RL went kind of crazy on me, so I had the idea to offer another story that hasn't been on the net yet. It has been in a zine, though, timing out a little before Becky's 30 days will end - talk about timing. I'm glad this could be resolved so easily.

Betaed by Xasphie.

Cutting Ties

By Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

Chapter One: Cutting Ties

"Just what the hell did you think you were doing?"

"My job?" I offered, knowing the amiable tone would enrage Jim even further, not caring. I wasn't in the mood to back off.

What was once supposed to have been a day filled with boring paperwork had developed into a dangerous hostage situation. Behaving very much like a Sentinel caught up in a sensory spike, the perp had demanded to talk exclusively to me, because he'd seen me in the press conference. Otherwise, he'd threatened, he would kill all ten hostages he'd gathered in the back of the small grocery store.

After a heated conversation with Jim, I went in.

Right now we knew Michael Preston wasn't a Sentinel, but high on hallucinogens. At that time, he had already injured one hostage, a teenage boy, by shooting him in the leg.

"Right. It's your job to play hero now?" Jim's voice rose with each word, as well as his frustration, and the fact that Simon had taken my side hadn't helped any. On the contrary, it had been a hair's breadth away from disciplinary action.

"Fine. But don't be surprised if you get fired soon. *Again*."

"Gee, thanks, Jim. That was really a nice thing to say."

It would have been too good to hear some words of encouragement, or something like 'well done you saved the lives of ten people'... but then again, this wasn't 'some damn encounter group', right? I had every intention of locking myself in my room and then trashing something or having a nervous breakdown or better, both, but as my hand touched the door handle, Jim grabbed my arm and spun me around roughly.

"No, no. For once in your life, you're going to listen to me."

"I'm listening. What the hell do you want from me?" //Don't think you're the only one who's seriously pissed off here.// I had been in there with Preston for nearly two hours, talking the man down from his drugged state, and I had very well understood the risk I was taking. There had been moments when I was scared out of my wits, and now the adrenaline rush was catching up with me. I simply couldn't take any more of this discussion.

"You don't understand, do you? How could this ever happen?" Jim punctuated each of his words with a shake. When he let go with one hand to run it through his hair shakily, I almost lost his my balance.

"What? What is your problem?"

I had started to get worried then, but hell, I couldn't do it now, finding a clever solution for what was possibly to do with Jim's senses, when I felt like I was hanging on the edge like that. "Tell m..."

"You! You are the problem! Sneaking into my life like you did, making me depend on you! I can't, no, I don't *want* to live like this anymore! How's this shit supposed to be working when you risk your life like that?"

//Ah, here we go again.// "I'm sorry. But, you know, things have changed. I'm not supposed to 'stay in the truck' anymore. We'll figure this out, but please, man, not today, I'm really..."

"No! Forget it! It will never work! God, I was such a fool, believing you all the time, but the game's over, did you hear that, *over*! I figured you out, Chief."

I just stared at him, shocked. I couldn't have heard that. Jim wouldn't have said...

"That surprises you? Come on. You planned it all from the start, I realize that now. Fuck you, Sandburg, go get yourself killed if you want. You think I need you? Think again. I don't care!"

"Then I guess it's good to know where I stand," I said coldly, finding it wasn't as hard to say it as I'd thought. There was this numbness that had been creeping all over me, body and mind, when Jim started his tirade. It was a good thing because there was no way I could have faced the pain and the damage being caused right now. //Whose fucking idea was it anyway to make me a detective?// I wasn't going to listen anymore. I'd done good work today, other officers had said it, even some of those who had doubted me all along. Even Simon had said it.

Only my partner had a different opinion, and what did that say about our relationship?

There was a deep despair behind the cruel accusations, but some things just couldn't be excused. I had always been trying to help, had gone all the way for the miracle of having found this very special friendship as well as my Holy Grail, a real-life Sentinel. When I poured my own career down the drain, I'd done it freely, damn it, I'd come back from the dead for this man... and this was what I was left with:

Less than nothing.

"You know it would be easy to pack some things and get out of your hair if you let me go."

'Out of your hair'... that's what I had said when I promised Jim that I wouldn't stay longer than one week. Three years ago. I felt my eyes stinging. This could not be happening. No way would I cry in front of Jim right now.

"Yeah, right. Run away, that's the only thing you know when things get complicated. I don't need some starry-eyed legend to function on the job, and I sure as hell don't need you for it!"

"I got it now!" I turned away, muttering to myself as I tried once more to open the door to my room, "I'm so sick and tired of this shit."

"So am I, but *you* are the one who's been throwing this shit in my face for three fucking years now!"

Jim pushed me, probably harder than he meant to, to emphasize his point. It wouldn't have been that bad if it hadn't have been for the backpack I had dropped right there when we had come in. Trying to stop my fall, I tripped straight over it, and hit the door handle full-on instead.

~~~

It was like waking from a trance - it was like I was only now able to grasp what had gone wrong all along. What I had done wrong? There wasn't much blood, or, from what I could see, a serious injury, but it was enough to trigger all the emotions I had tried to extinguish all day long. Understandably, Sandburg wasn't interested anymore. I had gone way too far.

He just sat there for a moment, his back against the door, his hand carefully probing the bruise I could see forming beneath a small trickle of blood. God, I didn't want to do that. My hands were shaking. So were his.

"Please, let me take a look at least," I pleaded, reaching out tentatively.

"Don't!" His anger couldn't hide that he flinched from my touch.

"Can't we... you know I didn't mean it. Please," I said again, still to no avail. He just turned his head away.

And then there was a knock on the door and the tell-tale smell of cigars also told me who the visitor was. Oh no. Someone I couldn't expect to just walk away. "We're gonna talk about this, right? Just don't bail on me. I didn't mean what I said. You've got to believe me."

I could hardly believe myself, honestly, so why should he? "Right," Blair agreed, sounding more tired than sarcastic as he eased himself off the floor, ignoring my offered hand. While I opened the door for Simon, Blair tried to disappear into his room, but wasn't fast enough.

"Sandburg, what happened to you?" came the inevitable question as he caught the glimpse of blood. Simon had even foregone any greeting. I felt a sudden flare of panic that he'd find out. That I could have lost control like that.

All I ever wanted was to offer Blair a chance after he'd made his impossible sacrifice. I'd been afraid he'd refuse, walk out on me like I deserved, but he didn't. Became a cop, and I couldn't cope with it. Wasn't that ironic?

Blair shrugged with feigned indifference. "How 'bout I've been the hostage of some whacked-out person yet again? What can I say? They just love me."

With that, he shot a pointed glance at me, daring me to - what? Say it, yeah, right, but don't forget the most whacked out person is standing right here, namely his so-called partner.

"I didn't think he..." Simon began, intently watching the non-verbal conversation between us, when Blair interrupted him, "I'm sorry, but do you need me here? It's been a long day."

It was very obvious that Simon didn't understand what was going on, and that he didn't like it. He looked from Blair to me, and when neither of us said anything, he shook his head. "Don't you play me for a fool, gentlemen," he warned, exasperation in his voice. "I could hear you yelling all the way from the elevator. Care to explain that?"

"If this isn't job-related, I don't think..." Blair tried again.

"Damn it, what's the matter with you two?"

"Funny, I just wanted to ask the same." Then Blair was out of the door, not even pausing to take his jacket with him, and all I could do was watch him flee, left with our very annoyed boss and my own guilty conscience. I wanted to turn back time.

~~~

It was raining. Why was that surprising me? Washing away what had once been. A very special friendship - a bond - love, damn it. Along with some dearly held illusions of mine.

As I sat in the cab, aware of the suspicious glances the driver shot at me every now and then, I realized it hadn't just started today. I couldn't blame the guy for looking at me that way. The embodiment of credibility I was definitely - not.

I leaned back in the seat, willing to delay the breakdown I knew was unavoidable somewhere during this day. Had Jim really felt that way about me all this time? Like I wanted to make a fool of him, making him need me, then taking stupid risks just to see what happened? Was that what he thought of me? Oh God.

"You sure you don't want to go to the hospital?" the driver asked, and that made me remember the fact my head hurt like it was about to explode had a reason. I was one messed up person, actually. There I was whining about what I had done to make Jim think this badly about me when he didn't seem to give a damn about my feelings.

It hadn't always been that way, no, I'd never believe that.

It would have denied who I was, still, even if I doubted we'd get over this so easily. Let's face it, Jim would, in some way, always need me as his Guide, and it was a part of my identity to guide the Sentinel.

But there was a limit as to how many blows I could take, literally.

And how was I supposed to do my damn job if it made my partner freak?

Who's freaking anyway. For a moment there, I'd been afraid of him. That is so not right. I know that despite those fears having a tight grip on him, he'd never intentionally hurt me. Never. Physically. Me tripping over my own feet; that was an accident. Now words, that's a different matter, because Jim tends to underestimate the damage they can do.

I let the driver drop me off in the city, not really sure of what I'd be doing next. I was confused alright. Looking down at me, I realized I would probably get lots of weird looks if I entered a restaurant, if they let me in at all.

So McDonald's it was.

I still got weird looks.

~~~

Simon didn't even try to get me to talk about the case, knowing it was futile. Knowing that what was wrong here didn't have anything to do with Preston in the first place. Sometimes I tended to forget that he'd had years to observe us in both a professional and private context, and was therefore able to see more than I'd have ever freely told him. Even in the friendship context. "Whatever's going on here, it already has a negative impact on your work, and I can't tolerate that. I want you to fix it - both of you."

Yeah, right. Maybe some couples' counseling would help. I didn't even realize I had spoken it out loud until he answered,

"Jim, I'm serious. Go talk to the kid. It can't be that bad!"

But it was. It was just that bad. "I don't know, Simon," I said tiredly. "Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to continue the partnership after all. It's not the same anymore."

"Of course it's not the same anymore!" he said impatiently. "So you're having a little trouble adjusting, but can't you at least try and do that for him?"

The man had a talent for pointing out things I didn't want to deal with. As if I didn't know it, I was the one who was having more trouble accepting the changes than Blair. But this was just the surface. He had no idea. Abruptly, I stood up, making distance until I stood in front of the balcony doors, my back to Simon.

I really wanted to get those words out, get their weight off me by saying what I couldn't tell Sandburg. I needed him so damn much, and sometimes, that scared me even more than thinking I was losing my mind in the days before he came along. It had been my fight and I would either succeed or go down. Finding out who I was, believing it and acting on it - being a Sentinel - was something I could never have done alone from the start.

And part of me hated it.

Where would that lead me? Us?

Not that it mattered anymore.

"It doesn't matter anymore," I said it aloud. "I don't think he'll want to continue." Not after the things I told him. God, I was such a fool.

I thought I'd read exactly that in Simon's expression, but I was wrong, finding only compassion - and a hint of amusement. "Then you'll give him some good reason, will you?"

~~~

Just my luck, or maybe a downright punishment for constantly lecturing other people on healthy food - when I go to a fast food restaurant for the lack of a better place - any place at all - it's the same evening some crazed gunman chooses to rob said restaurant.

Now, twice a day, that had to be a record.

I was so tired I was just about to fall into my VeggieMac when the first shot rang out. The man was nervous, the clerk, a girl no older than eighteen got hysterical, and somewhere out of my sight a child began to cry.

"Shut up," the guy screamed. "Make her shut up, or I will."

Slowly, I turned around to see him clutching the revolver in a shaking hand, pointing at the little girl and her mother who was too shocked to even speak, holding her even louder crying toddler close.

Shit, I just couldn't let that happen. I had succeeded with Preston...What I really wanted to do was beam myself into another time and place, home, back to a time when Jim and I still trusted each other unconditionally... but that was out of the question, so what was I to do instead?

'It's your job to play hero, now?'

That had hurt, right to the core of the professional self-confidence I thought I'd gained.

You're telling me how to do the job? Watch me now!

"Man, you don't want to do that."

I got what I intended, he spun around, away from the woman and child, glaring at me. "I didn't ask you, punk. Who do you think you are?"

I rose carefully holding my hands up, mindful not to startle him. Was I afraid? Probably. Somewhere along this day, fear had lost much of its meaning though. When Preston asked to see me, I thought I'd done the right thing. Now, I wasn't so sure, but it didn't matter anymore. I was in the game. "Someone who can possibly help you. You don't want to kill anyone." I'd definitely heard that line before. Not so long ago. Not one of my best, but it seemed to work.

He eyed me suspiciously, but I could tell I got his attention. His, and that of the other occupants of the restaurant. "Who says I need help?"

"The cops will be here soon. Whatever the reason is for you to be doing this, I'm sure you don't want to get life. Right?"

"Fuck you," he spat. "You don't know shit." But his uncertainty had grown; he glanced nervously to the clerk who had set off the silent alarm while the perp wasn't looking. If Jim were here, he'd probably already be able to hear the sirens. The perp could tell by guessing, obviously, because he expressed his frustration with a shot in the air right into the halogen lamps. Glass rained down, somebody was softly crying, the mother held her child so close I was getting afraid she might smother her.

"Then tell me," I offered. Right, Blair Sandburg, confidante to every psycho in town. Why didn't I make it a profession? "Come on, it can't be so bad that you don't care about spending the rest of your life in prison. Or worse, if you harm any of the hostages, the police could shoot you."

The man was sweating, slightly shaking, and I wondered if he was on drugs. Like Preston had been.

"I. Can't. Go. To. Prison," he emphasized, desperate alright.

"Do the right thing, and you will have a future!" Just why did my advice sound a little funny in my ears? He stared at me intently. "What's your name, man?" I prodded. "Why are you doing this anyway?"

"Fuck you."

So we had apparently reached the limits of verbal communication, but part of me could sympathize anyway. His despair ought to be something real, no drug-induced terror but the realization of having made a bad mistake that would change his life forever.

"You want to help me? That's not your goddamn job!"

Things that can ruin your day. "No!" I said sharply when he raised the gun to his own head. I didn't think I'd be able to deal with someone blowing his head away on top of this shitty day. "You want to end this, that's okay with everyone around here. But not this way. Look at all the children here. Do you have a child?"

Once in a while, even my prayers were answered. "Yes," he whispered, his haunted eyes meeting mine again.

"Would you want them to see that? Believe me, I've seen what a mess it is. Don't do that to them. Please," I added exhaustedly, as much for my own benefit as for the kids here. I really hoped they would get out of here without the images of death planted in their heads forever.

"Right. You know what to do. Give me the gun."

The shaking got more pronounced. "Just why would I do that?" There was a split-second when I wondered if he would do it or just shoot either me or himself or both point-blank. Beyond fear. Somehow I was alright with either solution; that couldn't be quite right, could it?

Then he lowered the weapon to the ground, straightening. I dug out the cuffs, finally able to identify myself as an officer, arrest him, and say the magic words, "You've got the right to remain silent..." He didn't make any attempt to resist anymore, even told me his name. "It's okay," I said finally. "It was right to give it up. Everybody saw it. That'll go in your favor, I'm sure about that."

When I turned around, there was the young mother whose child he had threatened. "Thank you... I..." Her voice broke, and I embraced her, let her cry while an older woman who'd been there with her grandchildren gently put the little girl back into her baby carriage.

When the uniforms arrived to get him, I just slumped onto a plastic chair, resting my elbows on the table, covering my face with my hands.

Somebody give me a fucking break...

"Chief? You okay? Are you hurt? What happened here anyway?"

And I had thought I was the master of a thousand questions. Jim was back in Blessed Protector overdrive, but I couldn't forget his earlier words, much as I wanted to. I had some mean retort on the tip of my tongue, something like, 'between two crazed robbers and my Sentinel, guess who hurt me', but I bit it back. No use in continuing the score.

"Are you ready to come home? The statement can surely wait until tomorrow morning. Chief... please don't do this. I'm sorry for pushing you around. I had no right."

He just seemed to have all but forgotten that *pushing* me wasn't all that had happened tonight.

When I didn't answer, he reached out to gently pry my hands from my face.

"What?" I said angrily.

"It's been a long day, you said it before. Let's get home."

Never a question. Did I want to? Ah, hell, it wasn't like I had anywhere else to go. I stood up, only mildly surprised when my legs gave out under me. Jim caught me effortlessly, holding on until I was steady enough to walk. "Easy," he said quietly. "The truck's only a few feet away from the entrance."

I yanked my arm back, noticing with some satisfaction the hurt that flickered across his face. At least I wasn't the only one. Satisfaction, crap. It was only a short, stale success.

Something was broken that wouldn't be fixed so easily. I wondered when he was going to start chewing me about the fact I'd left my gun on the kitchen counter before I wandered off to talk down yet another armed and despairing criminal.

Chapter Two: Patricia

Detective Patricia Scott joined Major Crimes when Rafe went to Canada on a one-year-exchange program. She was temporarily partnered with Brown who immediately disliked her. Patricia had the manner of taking charge when it wasn't asked for, but she did it in a way that always left her flawless.

I had talked to her for about two minutes when I decided that compared to her, I could even start to like Cassie Wells. I didn't share my opinion with my partner though, the way we hardly shared anything lately, except for the job and a place to live. And while I was still pondering ways to change this, Patricia did not only come into the picture, she also came on to Sandburg.

Despite every crack I'd ever made about Blair's ways with women, the infamous 'table leg' comment included, I'd never thought that Patricia ever had a chance. After just one week, everybody in Major Crimes treated her with caution, not wanting to be involved in whatever seemingly incidental remark she made in Simon's office every now and then. That should have been enough, but loyalty aside, she was at least ten years Blair's senior. Sure, Patricia was attractive, but she was also just a few years younger than Blair's mother.

Another subject we wouldn't talk about.

~~~

I would deny it if called upon, but when Patricia asked me out first, I accepted simply because it would upset everybody in Major Crimes including Simon, who wasn't any happier with her than any of his detectives. As their captain, he had to take her seriously though whenever she complained about any of his department. She seemed to do that a lot, except with me.

It seemed to be the change that got things moving. Sure, I had accepted Jim's apology, had agreed to stay, but there was a little voice that kept nagging me, saying they had all taken it for granted, hadn't expected anything else of him, because I always gave in. That's what the lapdog was supposed to do.

I didn't plan to fall in love with Patricia.

~~~

She seemed to be very interested in my relationship with Jim, as much as she resented it. "I can't believe you're still living with him," she shook her head, a sad expression on her face after I'd cracked one evening, needing so desperately to tell the truth at least once.

It was a little before six a.m; I had stayed over at her apartment. We always met there, exclusively of course. Patricia used to say that except for me, she didn't need to see those guys she had to work with more often than necessary. I often wondered why she stayed with Major Crimes anyway.

"We're friends," I said, a little stunned about how lame it sounded. "He's done a lot for me. In a good relationship, you don't just run away when there's the first sign of trouble." The way I did before Jim. Then again, with him, I stayed through lots of weird things.

"You're just too nice for your own good," she observed, snuggling into my arms. "Tell me just what has he done for you anyway? Something that didn't just make him look good."

Somehow I had expected her to come up with this question, and I had my answers ready. "Come on. Jim saved my life a couple of times..."

"...because it's his job."

"No, it's not just that. Whenever I got hurt, he was there for me, sitting in the hospital all day..."

"...because of guilt."

I sighed. "Just hold it right there, okay? I know you two don't like each other, I accept it even though it makes my life more incredibly complicated than it is anyway, so what. I just don't want to talk about it every time we're together, okay?"

"I just want you to be happy." She smiled at him innocently.

~~~

The day didn't get any better. For the next couple of hours I was stuck with Jim, staking out an alleged drug dealer, which wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the cold. The real one that made my teeth chatter, and the other one, less palpable or definable, but present between us all the same.

"So you're gonna move in with Scott?"

"What?" I couldn't believe it. What else could this be but a nice way to ask me to leave? Had Jim finally decided that whatever we had had, it wasn't worth saving? Sure. Jim had decided and expected me to go along with whatever that meant. Nothing new so far.

"I thought so," Jim said, keeping his gaze straight forward, locked on the entrance of the old warehouse though absolutely nothing had happened. "You already have half of your stuff at her apartment. I don't think it's too strange to ask."

"Sounds like you'd be more than okay with the idea."

"Look, Sandburg, if that's what makes you happy, I sure won't hold you back. Right now, we have to work," he said, opening his door as the suspect pulled up and entered the building.

"Wait a minute, shouldn't we call for backup first?" I hurried to keep up with him as we carefully approached the warehouse, still unsure about the implications of our latest conversation.

"Then call, damn it! I thought we were beyond that part when I have to tell you everything you have to do!"

I made the call, telling myself that there was no point in thinking of some clever return right now. There was no point anyway. Maybe it was for the best to ask Patricia for asylum. In any case, I couldn't go on living like this.

~~~

"I didn't do anything! For sure, it wasn't my idea to take down four armed men while backup was on the way!"

It was very clear that Patricia had another notion of the events that had taken place just a few minutes ago. I wasn't so sure if anyone believed me. Wasn't I the one with the reputation? Hell, even I couldn't understand why Blair had acted so stupidly. Inside the warehouse, there wasn't only the suspect, but a man who controlled a big part of the drug traffic in the North-West, along with two of his goons. We had immediately recognized him, but he was about to leave already, and then... I closed my eyes tiredly as if tuning out Scott's tirade.

"Aren't you the one with all the experience? Then why the hell don't you look out for your partner?" she was bitching.

And as much I'd come to hate the guts of Detective Scott, I had to admit that she wasn't completely wrong. I should have been intervening, no, anticipating what would happen. Blair was so eager to prove to anybody he wasn't in this team simply because of politics. At all costs. And it had gotten him shot, not life-threatening, but it was bad enough that it had happened anyway.

"Pat. Please."

Though it almost took Sentinel hearing to understand those softly spoken words, she had turned away and kneeled down beside the gurney. "I'm so sorry. You're right, it's not the time for this." She bent down to kiss him briefly and then the paramedics lifted the gurney into the ambulance, Patricia climbed in behind them, her composure clearly signaling 'fight' to anyone who should dare object.

As I watched the van disappear out of his sight, I felt ridiculously cheated, all the conflicting feelings arising once more, the same that had led us into this one-way street.

"Hey, Jim. Seems like my 'partner' 's just taken off. Could you give me a ride?"

I hadn't even heard Brown approach. "Sure," I answered curtly, though not missing Brown's disappointed expression as he realized I wasn't in the mood to hear complaints about Scott, too occupied with my own thoughts.

Just what had happened?

Pure dumb luck, we had managed to disarm the four men, killing one in the process, even after Blair had been injured. And before Brown and Scott arrived, in that precious moment, I had held him, told him to hang on; not even mentioning any wrongdoing, and everything was like it used to be. The chance to start all over again. "Just keep breathing," I'd said. "Help is on the way. Stay with me, buddy."

Because I couldn't go on without you? Because I love you? Whoa. Here they were, the same ideas that had made me freak out two months ago. But before I ever had the chance to follow up that thought, Patricia had arrived and taken over.

~~~

Now he even had a reason to want me out of his sight, if not out of the partnership. Not even I knew why I had to pull that idiotic stunt, but I did and I paid for it, enough I think. The bullet went straight through my shoulder, so I'd live, but it still hurt like hell and wasn't it common knowledge that your psychological condition has an impact on the perception of pain?

In the beginning, it satisfied some of my more down instincts, the shock-like reactions that I got because of getting it on with Patricia, but the way she and Jim treated each other was unbearable.

The thought that I'd possibly have to make a choice sooner or later, was making me sick.

A knock on the door preceded Jim into the room, I thanked every God I know about that Patricia had gone away to get me some personal stuff. "Hey Chief," he said with a hesitant smile. "I heard they're keeping you overnight. Seems like you'll be spared the paperwork."

I was not in the mood for this. "Yeah, right, I did it on purpose. Paperwork sucks," I said just a little too sarcastically. He's going to leave. Even with Patricia coming back any minute, I didn't want him to leave. And I hated myself for being that... what exactly? Dependant? If that's it, I'd done a damn good job of ignoring it the past few years.

He didn't leave, but the smile vanished from his face. "You need anything?"

"No, thanks. Patricia... just went." Surely he's very uncomfortable with her being alone at the loft. Fortunately, he didn't start a discussion on that.

"Of course."

"Thanks for asking," I said as the silence became too heavy. Shouldn't there be a nurse coming and giving me something for the pain? I just wanted to sleep. Things were way too complicated at the moment.

"Anytime."

He was just about to sit down when the door opened and Patricia returned. I wanted my pain shot - now! Apart from a hardly perceptible nod she ignored him, hurrying to my bedside. Yes, she really cared about me, and I was in love with her, but... No buts, I imagined her saying. Jim's gotta learn that your life doesn't revolve around him.

"I'll be here tomorrow," he said.

"Not necessary," Patricia responded, not even looking up. "Blair's moving in with me."

"All right then. As you want it, Chief."

I could tell it took him every bit of his willpower not to slam the door behind him. I felt like crying. One day, they were going to kill each other.

~~~

I don't really know what higher voice told me to run a background check on her, but when I came up with an IA investigation four years ago because of large amounts disappearing from confiscated money, I felt the triumph. In the end, they couldn't tie her to anything, but the verdict was there.

Then it was the guilty conscience, because if she was indeed involved in anything, it would be hard for Blair. I couldn't think of any other woman having reached that level of importance before, except for Maya, and that had been a long time ago.

But didn't I have all the righteous intentions, saving my friend from yet another catastrophe? Yeah, right. I should know my reasons well.

And what if he had done it on purpose? Dating someone I didn't like, and moreover, appearing to have fallen in love with her. Just to see what'd happen?

~~~

Later that evening, as I sat in front of the TV set alone, having been banned from the hospital by Patricia once more, the thoughts were back again. Why I needed Blair that much even beyond the Sentinel thing. You weren't supposed to feel that way for your friend, a *male* friend. Unless you were gay, that is.

I'd even considered that and decided it wasn't the case, not very much comforted, because the question marks remained. Then what? A case of homophobia, not the one with the ugly public face that resulted in open violence, but the more subtle one, like, //it's okay when the guy next door swings that way, but not me, of course?//

It wasn't that easy.

Not Sir Richard Burton, nor Incacha; nobody had offered us any explanation as to why our relationship had become so symbiotic, let alone considered what consequences that would have in our time and environment.

Maybe we'd never have any.

~~~

"You don't understand. See, for example, when I freaked out because of that Golden drug, he was simply amazing."

"I guess it was part self-preservation, half image-building to talk you down that car. I saw the video. He's a terrific actor when he needs to be. Amazing alright. Can't you see he did everything to control you, and with great success?"

Those arguments were so very tiring. I had the childish impulse to hide my head under the pillow. "He saved my life," I said, wondering whom I was trying to convince.

"He needs to. Superman's nothing without Lois Lane."

"You're insulting me now?"

She smiled at that. "By the comparison to a female character or the unfortunate tag-along? Blair, what I'm trying to say is that he keeps you from living up to your potential. I mean, remember when we first went out together, you called to say you wouldn't be home for dinner? That's like living with your parents!"

"Pat," I pleaded, but she hadn't finished yet.

"I don't claim I even vaguely understand the shit that was going on with your dissertation, but that's another point. You don't have to prove your gratitude on your knees all the time for the position you got in Major Crimes, because you're as good a detective as any of us."

"Somehow I'm not sure if you're calling me a loser or a saint." I tried to smile, but probably failed miserably.

"Oh, Blair. Honey." She reached over, stroking my cheek with her long fingers, a cool soothing touch that made her truth a little less hard to understand. She loved me, after all. "It's not your fault. I'm sure your Mom had good intentions with that 'Detach with love' thing, but somewhere along the way you forbid yourself to need someone, anyone. It's like an anorexic with food - you can resist only so long. The moment the subject of need arose, you had no choice. Jim saw that and used it to his advantage."

"No."

I had to admit, however, I didn't really have anything to prove her wrong. Try trust. Try friendship. But I already knew that she would have none of it. This was a nightmare. Lucky for me I had Patricia, because if I had to face that look in the mirror all alone, I simply couldn't stand it. I knew that if she had come along only a few months ago, I would have hated her. No, simply ignored her. But a lot had happened since then. Too much. Alex, the dissertation, the argument that Jim seemed to have forgotten all about. But I hadn't forgotten it.

I could see it now. The vision we had both shared. It hadn't been the beginning of a wonderful new age in our relationship, it had been the beginning of the end, when Jim made it clear that he wasn't ready to follow that path. And that 'merging' thing, had it been any more than a symbol for the fatal way our lives had become entangled with one another?

"It's called a 'collusion'," Patricia said softly. "People with complementary needs meet each other, and at first it seems like the perfect solution, but with the time, it only results in accusations. Hurt."

"Stop it. I am going to cry."

~~~

Detective Scott had had a partner who died in the line of fire, three weeks after the money investigation had been stopped. I stared at the screen, deciding that this was the time to tell Blair to get the hell out of her reach. To come home. I wasn't naive enough to think it would be easy, he would try any possible way to defend her, but the things I had found out so far were telling their own tale and I was sure there was more.

I had conspired with Simon to keep Patricia working overtime one day, and had asked Blair to come over to the loft for dinner. To my surprise, he agreed, but that hadn't been the hardest part anyway.

Despite Sandburg living with Scott, we were still partners at work, of course, but hadn't shared any time outside the precinct together. Even though it wasn't mentioned, it was clear we had both missed it. Nice for a start. It made me almost forget about his initial intention, but this was too important to let go. Hopefully, I'd be able to convince Blair, too.

After putting the dishes into the sink, I'd grabbed two beers from the refrigerator as we went to the living area.

There wasn't any good moment to start, so I decided to jump right in. "You know, there's something I need to talk to you about..." The interest was evident in Blair's face, as much as his attempt to hold back, but there was always the chance the Sentinel subject was concerned, and if that was the case, the kid would move heaven and earth to find a solution, no matter what newly-built walls might have been erected between us. Sorry, buddy.

"...I'm afraid you won't like it."

A sigh. "If it's about Patricia, drop it, man, please. Yes, I know her age, and no, it's no mother-complex. I'm not going to discuss the hostility with you, haven't done that with her either."

"That I can understand. But I think that woman is dangerous."

Blair put his bottle down on the table. Slowly. He didn't seem angry at all, just sad, as he waited for a further explanation.

I misunderstood.

"Look, I know this is hard for you, but I had to tell you. We can't be sure what she's planning right now, but there's a lot..."

"We, Jim? Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not interested."

"There's evidence," I said calmly. "Just too much to be coincidental, and if we were talking about any other person here you would..."

"But we're talking Patricia!" Blair interrupted me, now definitely angry. "You heard me, I'm not interested. Whatever it is, I don't want to hear it. It doesn't work that way! I'm sorry," he got up and went for his coat, not even looking back as he said, "I really thought we could get this right. I was wrong."

"Will you just hear me out?"

I hadn't missed my partner flinch at the harsh tone. Fighting the unsettling déjà-vu feeling, I indicated for Blair to sit down again.

"Whatever, man."

"Thank you."

"Just get it over with, okay?"

This wasn't good. Something like reversed roles, and I thought I wasn't really handling it well. I wanted to say so much more. I didn't really want to *have to* talk about all this at all, but there were the facts neither of us could ignore.

Or so I'd thought.

"A background check," Blair said. "Great. Not only don't you trust me to do my job, you still don't trust me to pick my dates. You know, just because Pat isn't Major Crimes' darling, it doesn't mean she's a crooked cop."

"I didn't make it up."

"And I didn't say that. But you know how it works with IA. Surely you don't think..."

The door closed with a deliberate 'Bang!' before I could even think of holding him back.

//Now - that went well.//

~~~

I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it.

As I sat in my car, driving around in aimless circles, my mind was reeling. Okay, so I knew that Jim was most likely trying to make me come back, work things out maybe. But he wouldn't obfuscate. He'd never lie to me.

No, I thought bitterly, *when* he chose to talk, then it would be with the utmost honesty.

That meant... shit, shit, shit.

The most harmless interpretation of this mess was that Pat had just had lots of bad luck in the past, but given my luck, I wasn't so sure anymore. Jim wouldn't have told me if he hadn't been sure she was probably dangerous, would he? Damn, my thoughts were running in circles, too.

I couldn't go back yet. Face Patricia.

What was so wrong with it all? So she was a little older than me, and she didn't get along with Jim very well, but damn it, we were all adults, or so I'd thought. So why couldn't it just, for fucking once in my life, work out?

I had assumed I'd paid my dues to the people I owed. I moved in with Pat when she thought I shouldn't live with Jim any longer. Maybe she even had a point there. I wanted things to be okay between Jim and me, wanted it so bad I was almost ready to just forget about the strange conversation that had started the downward ride. Naomi and I were okay, finally. Even if I was, at times, secretly mourning for what had been lost, deep down inside I'd always known she wasn't really the one to blame. She'd only been trying to help, and it had only really been a matter of time.

Back to Jim who couldn't handle it when I, once in a while, had to leave the safety of his shadow and just be the cop, his partner, be what he'd offered, and I had accepted.

Back to Patricia.

Right now, I dearly wished to lead a life other than the one of Blair Sandburg.

Any other.

~~~

I was a fool, such a goddamned fool. What had I ever expected from this? The money that had disappeared. Patrica's dead partner. 'You're the one with all the experience so why don't you watch out for your partner?' Criminals got away with what they'd done every now and then, and when the criminal happened to be a cop he or she knew even better how to cover all their tracks.

Was it that or was I out of my mind?

I knew that feeling, of control slipping, the fear of it. The Switchman case. Alex.

I hadn't learned anything, had I?

And then the pieces fell into place, the picture taking shape before my eyes. It put me into action immediately. Each movement fueled by routine and necessity, I holstered my gun, grabbed the keys and my coat and was out of the door within a few seconds, not bothering with waiting for the elevator. Heading across the lobby and towards the space where I had parked the truck before, I couldn't miss the flash of black fur as one large cat possibly signaled its approval that I finally got it.

I hoped to God it wouldn't be too late.

~~~

When I entered the apartment, Patricia wasn't there, and I was much too occupied with my own thoughts to wonder why. Calm down. An IA investigation. That finally proclaimed her innocent, otherwise she wouldn't have been considered for the exchange program anyway. It didn't make sense.

So far, I had always thought this was something between Jim and me, something that Patricia's presence had brought to the surface in a painful way. Nothing she could exactly be blamed for.

Collusion.

I actually looked it up in the library. There I had been, thinking symbiosis was a good thing. It certainly seemed a good thing to me that it gave us the power to cheat death, and it had been working in everyday life for quite a long time.

No wonder I didn't major in psychology; too much depressing stuff in there. Just when you think you've got it good, a close relationship, someone comes along and talks regression. Or dependency. Or collusion.

And if she was wrong?

But that wasn't the point; it wasn't about our views of the world being compatible or not; Jim said Patricia was potentially dangerous, and when I took a good hard look at the facts, it seemed like lots of bad luck.

Somehow I had ended up in the bedroom we had been sharing for a couple of weeks now, and I asked myself... just in case... then what did she want from me?

Chapter Three: Incompatible

It had been the date.

When Patricia Scott applied for the exchange program, it had been the same day Blair declared himself a fraud before the eyes of the world. A woman who had secrets, secrets that were expensive. Money disappearing. Her partner had found out. She had come to Cascade with a mission to pursue...

IA might have prodded, but they were missing an important piece of information.

She couldn't be a Sentinel, Blair couldn't have missed *that*, neither would I. We knew that from bitter experience, but the signs were all there. She might be working with or for one, and that's what I sensed around her, got me into this territorial behavior once again and unfortunately treating Sandburg like he couldn't do his job. I still cringed at some of the things I had said - I had been overbearing in my irrational approach in trying to make sure he was safe - and pushed him away all the same.

Damn, I made it so easy for her, pushing him right into her arms.

~~~

One moment I was yelling at Jim for suggesting Patricia could have done anything illegal, the next I was searching her apartment. Her apartment. Our apartment. Pathetic, wasn't it, I hadn't even once thought of it as home. Home was... ah, stop that already!

I wasn't really sure about what I was searching anyway, but started with the underwear drawer. Mostly the best guess for hiding something, wasn't it?

That's how she caught me. We both knew what I was doing, and no amount of fast-talking would explain otherwise. Training her gun at me, her gaze held regret, apology even. A bad combination; another woman had taught me that already. Doesn't really matter that people regret 'having to' kill you, what counts is when they're determined to go through with it. But make no mistake, things had changed.

"Hey, Pat, you're not serious about that, right? I am so not into that kind of..."

"Shut up, Blair," she said, not really commanding, sounding a little tired even. "You surely know it's out of your hands now. Hell," she gave a bitter laugh that held no mirth, "it's even out of my hands now. I guess your mom was right with that 'Detach with love' thing after all... So let's do this with some dignity, shall we?"

"And what exactly are you talking about?" I watched the weapon in her hand. Held steady. She wasn't the least bit nervous about this.

"If it's those coincidences that got IA's attention, then I have bad news for you. Jim knows about them. He was going to meet me this evening," I lied straight into her face, taking half a step backwards. "You will never get away with this, believe me." Could somebody else talk down the psychos for a change? I allowed myself a brief moment to silently lament the fact that this time I had come really close to asking her to marry me.

"Then this was all some big comedy? Us? Your clever comments on the dynamics between Jim and me?"

Patricia smiled. She fucking smiled at that. "Come on, we had a good time, didn't we? And don't worry about Jim, it's been all taken care of."

"What the hell does that mean?" my voice rose to a higher pitch.

"Come on, baby, we have a plane to catch," she said instead of answering my question, then shaking her head. "It's really true... I only read it in the reports before, you know. Sounded more like the legend it is... but it's really that hard to come between a Guide and his Sentinel. No wonder many at the precinct are wondering how close you really are. Whatever... we must go now."

She had to step aside to let me through the door, getting a bit careless, and that moment I made my move. It was desperate, granted, but all I could think of was what she'd said... 'taken care of'.

I surprised her, and we both stumbled to the floor.

Then again, she had gone through the academy, too, knew the same moves as I did and then some.

"You done already?" queried a deep voice from the door, sounding annoyed.

Then it didn't matter that much anymore since he was on her side, but Patricia made her point anyway and used the butt of her gun to knock me out.

~~~

"Jim, will you do me a favor and stay with me; damn it!"

Simon's words finally broke through the haze; the assault of images that was threatening to make me lose my mind. Very close to what it was like in the pool in the temple of the Sentinels. This was just one of too many times that I hadn't read the signs early enough; Lash, Alex and some in between, and once more we had come to find an empty apartment, an overturned chair, and on the rug a small amount of blood that had opened the zone.

Distantly, I heard the Captain assign officers to the different tasks; Joel would bring Megan up to date and they'd fly to Vancouver to talk to Patricia's colleagues; Brown and Jennings would be checking the airports.

Me, the personal pitbull - I still felt a little embarrassed I'd actually said this to Simon - was supposed to work the miracle, and there I was, zoning, whining about missed chances. //Stop that!//

I started with the open underwear drawer, finding miniscule sticky spots where something had been taped to the underside of the drawer, I figured. Not that it was any help. I resisted the impulse to just slam it back in. There had to be something, any hint as to where she'd taken Blair.

And if it was there, I'd find it.

~~~

I came to while we were in the air, one hand cuffed to the seat beside me. Patricia sat across from me, reading something. She looked up, smiling at me briefly, then resumed her reading as if this situation was completely normal.

I tilted back my head and winced when a tender spot made itself known, a lump already raised where she'd hit me.

"Are you going to tell me why you went to all the trouble anyway?" It sounded bitter; I sure had the right to be, didn't I? I had defended her in front of Jim more than once, only to find out she'd played me as well. Like Alex had. Once was bad luck - twice was merely stupidity. I had run out of excuses.

She didn't look up this time. "If you must know, it wasn't so much trouble anyway. I didn't mean to get involved in the first place, but it helped my cover - and the sex was okay."

"I loved you." Damn, why couldn't I just keep my mouth shut?

"Pity," Patricia said. She shook her head, her voice patronizing, as she went on, "Seems like you have no sense of realism when it comes to relationships. Your friend beat you up and still you--"

"Wait, that's not true. We had an argument, he shoved me, I fell. That's what I told you."

She shrugged. "Isn't that what they always say? At least, you're safe from him now. Oops," she said then, with mock regret, "I forgot. It's not much safer with Eddie either, but that can't be helped."

I would have liked to believe that she was only trying to keep me off balance, but the whole scenario certainly didn't support that assumption. They had been planning this too carefully.

"Who's this Eddie?" I asked, a cold unease spreading inside of me. Whatever the answer, it couldn't bode well for me.

~~~

The plane landed on a small private airstrip about half an hour later. They opened the cuff for a brief moment, only to restrain my hands behind my back, then I was ushered into a car that took us to the house, a big mansion surrounded by a large park; it only made my apprehension grow. Those people seemed to be real rich, enough money to let somebody disappear if they wanted to.

Would Jim even want to try and find me? Oh yes, he would. As Patricia and her companion briefly talked to the guards at the entrance, and nobody paid much attention to him, I closed my eyes. If I ever came out of this alive, I knew some things would have to change if we wanted to save our friendship, but whatever had happened, it wouldn't change Jim's instincts.

The Sentinel would always move heaven and earth if the Guide was in danger.

That was at least something to hold on to.

~~~

Eddie, Edward McEwan, could have been a Sentinel really. He still was, by definition, if you counted the five heightened senses. Protector of the tribe? He might have had a chance once, but that man they showed me in the padded cell, separated from us by a two-way mirror, was too far gone now.

With dread, I began to understand, as Patricia explained my role to me. "As you can see, he's in bad shape, but we're optimistic that you can change that soon."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. I've seen you working with Jim, and I've hacked into all your files, so I know what you can do. Eddie here should be a challenge for you - his abilities are far more evolved than Jim's are; the only thing you've got to do is to get him to function."

I looked at the man inside the cell. His hair was shabby, eyes bloodshot, and there were long scratches on his arm, self-inflicted, I had no doubt about that. He was only now beginning to calm down; I assumed they had drugged him a lot, messed him up even more than his out-of-control senses had.

Function? To hell with all of them.

"To do what in the end? Become an assassin?"

She gave me a wry glance. "You're paranoid. We've got many tasks for him, once he's up to it, but killing isn't one of them. Our own snipers are skilled enough, thank you very much."

Our own... my God. That moment, I wished fervently I had stayed away from her. It was Alex all over again; if Jim and I had managed to *communicate* properly for once, maybe none of this would have happened. Like the last time, we'd both put in our share.

"What if I don't do it?"

"Uh-huh. I knew you'd say that. You'll change your mind; I can promise you that."

~~~

We'd checked out the major airports first, coming up with nothing. Patricia's name didn't ring a bell with any of the clerks, but they saw so many customers that it didn't really mean anything.

Then a young man thought he'd had seen her though the name was different; she'd been in the company of a man whose sketch was currently being run through the database, but he hadn't seen Sandburg when they got themselves clearance to fly the private jet.

While the clerk told us some details, my cell phone rang. It was Brown, and he didn't have good news. "We've got a name on the guy. It's Adam Hogan, former drug dealer, now the right hand of a mob lord--"

"Damn it," I swore. "Thanks anyway."

Patricia sure didn't play around; the people she did trade with were high on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

~~~

And so it had happened; I didn't even have much time to voice a protest when, the next time they went to see McEwan, the door was opened and Patricia's companion, a man she called Adam, pushed me inside.

The safety door was locked behind me.

For the first time since this had started, a feeling of dread uncurled in the pit of my stomach, overlaying regret, and, if I was honest, not a small bit of self-pity.

McEwan was totally out of control, there was no way I could even think of 'guiding' him.

A most correct assessment, I thought, as the man turned to face me at the sound of the door being slammed.

The look on the Sentinel's face was feral; the world behind those tortured eyes a hell of sensory over-stimulation. They hadn't even tried to give him the least bit of relief, like the use of a white-noise generator, or any of the hypo-allergenic products I was sure had to be mentioned somewhere in my dissertation.

What had Patricia hacked into my files for, when she hadn't known how to use the most simple information?

Unwittingly overcome by a surge of sympathy, I took a step forward, thinking of Preston and the robber at the McDonald's drive in. Come on, you do have a skill here.

"Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg. Why don't we..."

My words, as well as the sympathy, were quickly drowned out by a vicious punch that sent me stumbling backwards. It was followed by another one to my stomach, and then a kick to my groin, and I collapsed to the floor, crying out with pain.

But anyway -- the man might have a few pounds on me, and sought refuge from his own inferno in senseless brutality - but I thought I was just as desperate; and I hadn't gone through the academy training for nothing.

Only I hadn't had to fight for my life then.

~~~

"Simon."

We had checked all sources regarding Hogan's last whereabouts, and at the moment, there was literally nothing to do than wait for the information to come in; in a few minutes, everyone would gather in Simon's office and hopefully get us closer to finding Blair.

It had probably been the tone of my voice that convinced Banks to close the door of his office and sit down across from me. "What is it?"

"This is all my fault." It was a simple statement, devoid of emotion. There was no need to lament what was so blatantly true.

"Oh come on," said the captain, exasperated. "There's no time for this, Jim, and you know it. You've been out of line a couple of times, right. Before all this started, even, that I won't deny. Ask Sandburg for forgiveness when we find him, but we've got to achieve that first."

"We had an argument some weeks ago, you know when that thing with Preston happened. It... got ugly."

Simon didn't say anything, but he was listening attentively, his elevated heartbeat showing that he was coming to conclusions of his own.

"I didn't... I didn't want to..." So much for leaving emotions out of this. My voice was fucking shaking, I realized, even when confronted with the mere memory of it. Looking back, it wasn't so much what I had actually done - it was worse to face what could have happened. I'd been so out of control then...

"What happened?"

It shamed me to even talk about it, but I finally found the words to describe what had gone down that evening. "It was an accident. But some of the things I said... I don't think he could forget about them. Neither can I."

The captain was silent for a moment. When he spoke, there was no condemnation in his voice.

"That was seriously stupid, but you know that already. We'll get him back first. And then you two are going to have to learn to communicate."

~~~

They had thought I was too out of it, not making the effort to lower their voices as they discussed the results of their cruel little experiment.

"You said he's going to make Eddie work properly," Adam Hogan said with unveiled suspicion. "What good will the guy do for us when he's *dead*? Why don't we get him out of there now?"

"Just a little while longer," Patricia insisted. "Eddie might not be so friendly at the moment, but if that stuff I've been reading is true, he will recognize Blair as a Guide. If not..." She shrugged. "Then it was all for nothing anyway, and we don't have a use for either of them."

She was just about to turn, when Hogan grabbed her arm and spun her around angrily. "What does that mean? Do you know how much money has gone into this project?"

Patricia yanked her arm back, regarding him coldly. "I should know, because I brought most of it in. This isn't a fairy tale - James Ellison is a Sentinel, but we still get more out of the deal if we get Eddie to do the job. We agreed on him."

"He's a fucking nutcase," Hogan mumbled. "I get the feeling you're enjoying the show a little too much."

I could only agree with him.

Once again she shrugged and smiled at him, conciliatory now. "Just wait. You'll see I'm right."

~~~

When McEwan realized that I was defending myself, it had enraged him even more. This man had been stripped to the bare bones of his instinctual defensive mechanisms, and despite his probably long-time incarceration, he had something of a frantic strength.

Unable to distinguish between friend and foe any longer.

Or was he?

"Please, stop this. It's probably so b-bad..." I coughed, tasting blood, the pain making me dizzy, but I tried anyway. I couldn't *not* try. It wasn't because this guy was a Sentinel that I wanted to help so desperately. It was because pleading with Patricia hadn't helped, I had practically begged her to get me out...

"...and you can't stand to have anyone around, but let me try. I can help you!"

As he bent over me and I tried to scramble away, futilely, a wave of nausea rolled over me at the sight of the blood on his hands. Not his. Ironic, really. He wasn't the one who needed help, I guess.

~~~

Consciousness returned slowly, but not slow enough for my liking. I had to be black and blue all over, I still tasted blood in my mouth, and when I tried to move my arm, I couldn't hold back a yelp of pain. Opening my eyes, my blurry vision gradually integrated into an image of Patricia standing over me.

"What do you want?" I almost gagged on the taste of blood.

"You're awake, good," she said coldly. "I hope you have some better ideas next time. You should know by now that you are of no worth of us if you can't help in controlling Eddie."

I realized I was beginning to shake, embarrassed, but unable to stop it. "Come on, you can't mean -- you saw it yourself, he's way too far gone!" What was I hoping for? She had watched him beating me up, so there was no reason she wouldn't do that again another time.

"Let's just hope he's not. It would be so not good for you," she declared mockingly.

~~~

Confessing to Simon had been a relief. He hadn't denied the situation was indeed serious, and would have probably given me a piece of his mind if we weren't under so much pressure right now, but he also thought the problem was solvable.

It enabled me at least to put the burden aside for a moment - I had to think of different things at the moment.

Megan had called and told us that Patricia had been seen in Hogan's company by one of her colleagues - and that the man was kind of scared, because he assumed that her former partner, a young cop named Dan Graham, had been killed because he had found out too much about her side project.

We'd also faxed the sketch that had been made with the help of the airport's clerk, to the police department in Salem near Portland - that's where the plane had been scheduled to land. And we'd be going down there, too.

Doubts I've had for so long were dissolving, making room for the persona of the Sentinel who was about to free his Guide to take over. No distractions this time - and I'd learn something for the future from this.

Hopefully, I'd get that second chance. For now, I couldn't allow any other thought.

~~~

I was feeling sorry for myself, miserable, still hurting - and fearing for my life. Jim might be on his way already, but what if he was too late this time? Eddie, when he was off the drugs, was an uncontrollable force you couldn't contain with a few moves learned at the academy.

Still, I couldn't do anything but lie here and wait until they threw me to the lions, so to speak. "Damn," I said aloud, the only motion the restraints allowed was to slam my already bruised fist against the wall. The pain brought tears to my eyes, but I didn't give in to them, too angry and fed up with myself.

Maybe, after all, I actually deserved what was happening right now.

~~~

We were planning the whole action carefully, I knew that's the way it had to be not to risk anybody's life foolishly, but I still felt like the proverbial tiger in the cage. Well, panther.

There was our witness who had flown in from Vancouver together with Brown and Megan, and some local cops who had helped us locating Hogan. Obviously, they had retreated to a mansion on the outskirts that belonged to a businessman called Franks.

There seemed to be lots of security on the grounds - not such a problem for me, and I guessed from the looks of some of the men that they must have caught the Sentinel story on TV as well.

I wasn't really nervous, only very tense, reminded of the whole Alex disaster once more. But this time it was different; I knew the dynamics and would use them to my advantage.

I had to get Blair out of this mess safely, and nothing would stand in my way.

~~~

"Look, I know there's lots of pain involved, but I really can help you. If you let me."

Not Patricia's doing, that much I was sure of, but somebody had shown mercy, and shot up Eddie with something that made him look slightly stoned. In another life, I might have mustered the ability to feel sorry for him. But I was still hurting all over, scared shitless that those drugs maybe weren't enough to hold back the wild animal inside, and I could hardly stay on my feet. What's to care about?

He simply stared at me, disbelieving.

"Come on, Eddie. You're probably bothered by all kinds of noises, but you can block them out. You can. I know it."

He took a stumbling step towards me, and I reeled back. I just couldn't help it.

"Imagine something you can picture, like a dial. You can turn those sounds down at your own will," I insisted, my voice uncharacteristically shaky. Pathetic, wasn't I?

"There's nothing but my voice." To my utter surprise, the pain lines in his face were starting to melt away. I didn't have much of an illusion it could be due to my skillful guiding, the drugs seemed more of an explanation to me, but there was surprise on his face, too, showing me something had happened that had never happened before.

Probably, he didn't even remember what he'd done before. I certainly preferred that.

~~~

We were getting closer. I could determine that from the extent rational thought fled me - better not to tell Simon about that - to be replaced by pure instinct. I had felt this intensity only once before, with Alex, but this time it wasn't mixed with a confusing and unwanted attraction.

There was vengeance on my mind. Come to think of it, that wasn't anything I should share with Simon either.

It was directed against Patricia, of course, but there was more to it, which told me without a doubt that another Sentinel had to be involved. And if that was the case, they had set up Blair for one single reason: That Sentinel needed a Guide. *My* Guide.

In the real world, we had to solve some very real problems, and I was quite sure it couldn't be delayed any longer - but in this netherworld of mystical trappings and tribulations, there was only one principle that counted:

If he had hurt Blair, he would pay for it.

~~~

"Go for it, babe. You're good." Patricia smiled and leaned in to kiss me, grabbing my hair in a painful grip when I tried to avoid her.

Hard to imagine I had been in love with her... She had practically been disappointed when Eddie quit the beating. I think she got off on it, had anticipated a violent scene every time. With a shudder, I wondered if there had been others before me.

Their next genius move was to tie me to a chair, then bring Eddie into the bare room.

I should have been in a hospital; for once, even I could see the sense it made. A concussion, cracked ribs, maybe even one broken - that would account for the pain it caused to take a deep breath - and there was no saying what injuries his fists had caused.

I didn't want to help the guy. I wanted to survive.

What Eddie wanted wasn't so simple, it never was with a mad person.

He kneeled beside my chair, making unintelligible noises as he was stroking my hair. I guess nothing had ever brought him the relief that dial idea had, but I sure didn't want his gratitude. To my embarrassment, I felt silent tears slip down my cheeks. They were anger and frustration on the surface, fear and pain underneath.

I just didn't want to be me any longer.

Outside, Patricia gave me the thumbs up. Eddie was on the hook.

~~~

Then came the moment I was close enough to make out his voice. No actual words, but sounds. They made me shiver with apprehension. And his skittish heartbeat, dangerously close to the one I was dying to hear.

What ever was going on in there?

Patricia spoke up, her voice oozing satisfaction as she said, "Remember what I promised you Eddie? Your Guide."

I'd almost yelled back at her, disregarding the fact that she wouldn't hear me and everybody else, except for maybe Simon, would think I'd completely lost it.

In the distance, the mansion appeared. I could hardly wait to get in there.

~~~

Keep your hands off me, you freak.

I didn't say it out loud, just in my mind, because there wouldn't have been a point anyway, with the condition Eddie was in. I didn't want him so close, knowing that he could kill me in a heartbeat and still probably would at some point. Struggling to keep my boundaries firm, I closed my eyes, but somehow that was even worse. His breathing sounded obscenely loud in my ears, and I could smell his sweat. Blood, even, though that could have been my own.

When I hastily opened my eyes again the room was spinning, and I was afraid I'd puke all over him. Breathe! After long, torturous moments, the nausea had abated enough to know I wouldn't embarrass myself.

There was one last weapon I had.

"Can you hear my heartbeat?" I asked softly, concentrating on relaxing, as much as this was possible at the moment. "Focus on it. Just your hearing, okay? Concentrate on that one single sense, that one sound..."

~~~

//one single sense, that one sound...//

Almost having followed him into the zone, I shook myself. It alarmed me that through the calmness of Blair's characteristic 'Guide voice', other emotions came across just as clearly. Fear. Despair. And I couldn't ignore the pain to save my life.

Still, we weren't there yet. We had entered the house through a back entrance after I'd pointed out all the motion detectors to the other cops, told them where the dogs were kept, and what would send the alarm off. Door by door, I told them if anyone was inside, how many guards. So far, everything by the plan.

When I turned to Simon, I realized he was watching me with a mix of awe and disbelief.

"What?"

He shook his head. "You know, I should be used to this. I'm not. Hell, Jim, times like this, I'm really glad you're on *our* team."

I gave him a wry grin in acknowledgement. "I'll take that as a compliment, sir."

"Whatever you like. Kid was damn right about that 'caveman' thing. You really can't stand another Sentinel near him, can you?"

"He's hurt Blair," I said. "That's what I can't stand."

At the moment, it actually was that simple. When this was over, I would have to deal with the things I was guilty of.

~~~

Almost. Please, I prayed. Eddie's eyes had turned a little glassy as he was watching me avidly, his hands still all over me, the feathery touch reminding me of spider legs creeping all over me.

//No, come on now, *don't* lose it!//

Suddenly, he straightened up, his posture tense, on alert. His nostrils flaring, he looked around wildly. That must be... but all my relief about the fact that I was about to get out of here dissipated soon when he tore the low-hanging lamp from the ceiling.

Sparks flew, and we were plunged into utter darkness. God. I didn't dare to breathe when glass rained down on me, and then a sharp pain flared when he used one shard to cut my arm. The next thing I knew was an agonizing pressure over the wound, and more warm wetness, and even while going into shock, I realized that he must have cut himself. An impromptu bonding to claim the Guide that had been found for him.

As always, no one bothered to ask the Guide for his opinion.

~~~

Patricia was still laughing when I put the cuffs on her. "You're pathetic, do you know that? Arrest me all you want, but those glory days are over. Blair belongs to another Sentinel now, and the guy won't give his new Guide up so easily."

"Don't worry about that," I returned coldly, meaning it. "He will."

She gave me a grin I answered with an icy glare, even though worry began to spread inside of me.

"Just shut up, Scott. You're not being asked for your opinion."

As soon as the uniforms ushered her away, I hastened further down the hallway to that door at the end. Kicking it, I stepped back just soon enough not to take a header down the stairs that were right behind, leading down into a cellar tract.

That was from where the sounds came; the frantic heartbeat, and the growl of a voice I already hated even though I'd never met its owner before. "Mine..."

The room was actually pitch-dark, which was no problem for me at all. It was more unsettling that the man who looked up at me with vengeance in his eyes, had the same advantage - he looked right into my eyes. And he had a shard of glass in his hand that he was pressing to Blair's throat, the threat unmistakable.

~~~

It was beyond terrifying, being robbed of one sense in the dark, knowing Eddie hadn't been. As far gone as he may have been, it seemed my presence had indeed had the effect desired by Patricia and her criminal friends - McEwan had gained more control.

Even though he wasn't very vocal yet.

The pressure of the sharp shard against my skin was a clear message to Jim - don't get any closer. Or he'd be cutting my throat from one side to the other.

"Let him go," Jim said, with the tone he'd reserved for rapists and child molesters.

Eddie snarled.

Even though I was fed up with this, being a pawn in whatever the respective Sentinel's deal was, part of my mind remained stuck in utter fascination at this archaic showdown.

Anyway.

"It's okay, Eddie," I forced out, barely able to speak, because that sharp edge was digging deeper. "I'll stay with you, right? You know that. Come on, trust me."

I didn't need my vision to determine that Jim was shocked. I imagined I heard him gasp, but it couldn't be helped at that moment.

Eddie shook his head frantically, keening.

"I can help you," I rambled on. "You know I can..."

~~~

I stood there, the gun still trained on that man, the caveman's rage still boiling inside of me - frozen. I hadn't heard him say that, had I?

But then I really focused, realizing Blair was - what, giving me a sign? Three, he signaled with his fingers. The other Sentinel didn't see, his attention on me completely.

"But you have to concentrate on my heartbeat, like I told you. There's nothing but the sound..."

Two...

I clutched the weapon tighter, the feel of the cold metal preventing me drifting off into a zone - like my adversary was.

"Yeah, Eddie, that's good. I am your Guide, you can trust me..."

The man's hand dropped, the shard falling from his hand.

One...

That's when I took the shot.

~~~

Epilogue: Progressing

There hadn't been any conflict, I reflected on my way to the hospital to pick up Blair who was going to be released today. During the whole frantic search, the dramatic rescue, I'd never once felt threatened by my emotions, or the Sentinel's instinctive behavior. It had all been very clear.

Maybe I was going to learn this thing one of these days.

We hadn't had so much time to talk, with other colleagues visiting, someone always around, and there was no telling anyway how much the cops from Vancouver and Salem already suspected.

Obviously, Scott and Hogan had planned to set up Eddie for big-time industrial espionage - they'd had Sandburg's notes on Alex, and knew it could be done.

If anything, it showed we wouldn't be able to let our guard down anytime soon, because people like Brackett were out there, as were other Sentinels.

The trick was to recognize the signs early enough.

~~~

Blair hadn't said much during the drive home, but I assumed he was tired. Me, on the other hand, I felt much more energized than I had in a long time. How much of those conflicts had we actually created ourselves? With catastrophic results, no doubt about it, but in the end, it was quite simple.

That's what we would have to talk about, still, but I didn't dread that conversation. For the first time in my life, I thought I really knew what being a Sentinel was all about, and I did say yes to it. Blair had been right all along, I had to respect the decision he'd made, and the sacrifice to become my official partner in the end.

I was so totally contented with this knowledge that it was a downright shock when he disappeared into his room and started packing almost immediately.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He sat down on the bed, his exhaustion showing. "Are you going to yell, or hear me out?"

"Do you still want to leave?" My alarm must have been obvious, because Blair shook his head, giving me a weary smile.

"No. Not forever, I understand that wouldn't work for either of us. I did ask Simon for a few days off though, and I do need a little time for myself. I hope you understand."

"But why--" I interrupted myself. "Where will you go?"

His answer came as an utter surprise. "To see Maya. I feel like, with all that happened, I need to take a good look at my past, to get an idea of what the future will be like. We've been in contact all the time, but since she can't come here, and the weather's nicer in Chile, I thought it was a good idea."

Yes, but... what was that I had decided about respecting Blair's decisions? "Is there any danger you're going to stay with her?"

"Hell, no." He grinned at me. "Believe it or not, I've had enough of the femmes fatales for a while. I think we can be friends, and that's the best that can happen between us."

"I'm so sorry I didn't get it."

It was the moment; if I'd missed it, I would have never said it aloud. "I want this to work."

"Me, too," he said seriously. "We have to, even. You saw what they did to McEwan. Alex, Brackett - we just have to be much more careful, and still do our job. Will you let me do mine?"

"It's hard." I let my words stand in the room for a moment. "But whenever I've tried to hold you back, the results were worse in the end. Patricia - I should have known--"

"Stop," he said gently. "If there's ever a next time I hope you won't turn into a jerk, and you'll listen to me first. But I didn't behave so clever, either. I guess be both have enough to think about."

"True." I couldn't deny it. "I'm looking forward to you coming back though. Hell, I--" I was still worried this could sound silly, or something, but those words had to be said. If only once. "You know that I'd never give you up. I would have killed him first." Pathetic, maybe, but as honest as I could get.

When he looked at me, there was no surprise in his gaze. "I know."

We were both startled out of this intense moment, when a car horn blared.

"My cab."

"So... I guess you've got to go now."

"I guess so."

I sure hadn't anticipated this course of events; but in any case we were closer than we had been in a long time. Before Patricia, before Alex. Maybe it wasn't so bad at all that some questions would never be answered - but we both knew, it was the test outside that we still had to stand, when we'd be out on the streets again.

I helped him bring his luggage to the car, then drew him into a brief hug.

I knew he'd be back.

The End