Themefic for Sheffield on SentinelAngst: Seven years after TSbyBS, what's everyone doing? Minor Crossover with Criminal Minds.
'Then there are my true friends - the ones who, like a pair of fine shoes, never go out of style or out of favor, whose appeal and value just increase with time. Physical distance does not separate us; time does not change the fundamental fact of our friendship; the wear and tear of life does not stop us; the sole still supports us; the colors and lines still gently bend around our contours and ridges.'
- Friends Are Like Old Shoes by Donne Marganella in A Cup of Comfort for Friends
Rafe rushed into the bullpen, looking as though he was barely able to control his excitement. His partner, Henri, shuffled in at a more sedate pace, though he was shaking his head, a somewhat bemused expression on his face.
"Jim!" Rafe exclaimed, hurrying over to Ellison's desk. "H and I caught that BAU rundown on the prostitute murders. Man, I thought it was gonna be as boring as hell, but it was really good. There was this young guy there," he traced quotation marks in the air, "'Doctor Spencer Reid'. I swear the kid looked like he should still be in high school. Never thought I'd ever meet someone smarter than Sandburg."
"No one's smarter than Sandburg," Jim said without looking away from his computer screen. He forced away the now-expected pang of sadness that always arose when he thought of his long absent partner.
"This guy is," Henri put in.
"Anyway," Rafe waved away Henri's comment like it was the evening weather report and babbled on, a wide grin creasing his face, "speaking of Sandburg, you're never gonna guess who we ran into!"
Jim hit the save button on his computer and pushed his chair back with an aggrieved sigh. "Gee, I don't know, Rafe. The Easter Bunny?"
Rafe grinned and slapped Jim's shoulder. Jim gave him a glare that wasn't entirely faked. "Sorry," Rafe said, "but, man! I couldn't believe it!" He turned to Henri. "Could you?"
Henri gave him a patient smile, rubbing a hand over his bald head. "Could have knocked me over with a feather."
"So spill already, Rafe," Jim pushed. "I'd like to know before I go into the retirement home."
Rafe whooped. "Funny, Jim. Sandburg!" At the disbelief on Jim's face, he nodded enthusiastically. "No shit! Blair Sandburg. He's working some kind of anthropology deal with the BAU."
Jim felt as though a vice had tightened around his chest. "Blair?" he managed to husk out. He stood, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair. "Where is he?" He snapped his fingers impatiently at Rafe. "Where was the meeting with the BAU held?"
"Homicide bullpen, but they've left already," Rafe said. "They're flying back to Quantico first thing tomorrow morning." His expression grew puzzled. "You didn't know?"
"Blair got seconded to the BAU after finishing his Forensic Anthropology course," Henri put in helpfully. "According to Doctor Reid, they couldn't snap him up fast enough. He's been working with them for a month now. You really didn't know? He didn't phone and tell you he was coming? I thought he would have headed straight up here to see you when they arrived. When did you last speak to Hairboy?"
Jim shrugged. "Just after he got his Forensic Anthropology doctorate. He invited me to his graduation but I got stuck in court all that week. Since then I tried calling him a couple times but his phone always routed to his message bank. I just figured he was out of town, visiting Naomi or something."
"You two have a fight before he left?" H asked.
"No we didn't have a fight," Jim said sarcastically. "We've both been busy, is all. Besides, Sandburg made his choice seven years ago."
Rafe nodded slowly. "You had a fight. About him leaving?"
"Look, I'm sorry, guys, but what happened between me and Sandburg before he left is our business, no one else's."
Rafe held up his hands in a defensive gesture. "Okay, Jim. It was good to see him again though, and he's really digging working with the BAU. It's just I thought maybe he'd come back to Cascade once he got done with his studies."
"Looks like he got a better offer," Jim ground out, regretting the words the moment they were out of his mouth, knowing how difficult the choice had been for Blair, how cut up he'd been when he'd finally made his decision, knowing too, deep down, that Blair had done the right thing. "You know what hotel they're staying at?"
"The Cambridge," Rafe said. "Nothing but the best for Quantico's finest - and they have their own jet! Can you believe that?"
"I've gotta go," Jim said, already heading for the exit. He didn't bother with the elevator, heading straight for the stairs.
Hovering outside the hotel room, Jim hesitated, suddenly unsure. He and Sandburg had parted on good terms, though he was certain Blair had picked up on his disappointment that he had refused Simon's offer of a badge, despite Jim's half-hearted assurances that he understood. Sentinel hearing ranged out of its own accord, homing in instantly on his Guide's ex-Guide's voice.
"So, you think I did okay?" he heard Blair ask.
"Are you kidding?" a younger voice replied. "You were great! Of course, it helped it's your hometown." The unknown man gave a small chuckle. "But your ideas were insightful and clear. I know Gideon was very satisfied with what you had to offer."
"Yeah?" Blair sounded pleased. "He's a great guy. Hotch, too. And Derek? Man, the guy is one tough dude. Reminds me of Jim."
"My partner when I was in Cascade."
"Oh, right. Was he one of the guys you were talking to when the meeting finished?"
"No. He - Guess he's caught up on a case."
"It's still early. Once you finish up your report, I'm sure Gideon won't mind if you go out for a while. Catch up with your friends."
There was a long pause, then Blair spoke again. "Nah, it's fine. I really want to look through the case files again before we leave in the morning, make sure I didn't miss anything."
"You didn't, but I know how that goes. Can't seem to break the study habit even now. Blair, I'm glad you're on the team."
"At least I'm not the only geek now," the other man chuckled. "Gives the hotshots someone else to tease."
"Thanks, Spencer, you're all heart. You want to hang around? Order in some food?"
"Sure, why not."
Jim hammered on the hotel room door a little more forcefully than necessary before his bravado could desert him. There was a moment's pause before he heard footsteps approaching, then the door was opened and Blair stood in front of him. He didn't look that different, Jim noted. Shorter hair, though. That was a surprise. Sandburg had always sworn he wouldn't cut his hair. Jim couldn't stop the smile that upturned his mouth. "Hey, Chief. Were you gonna leave without saying hello?"
Blair's mouth gaped open then he grinned. "Jim!" He pulled Jim forward into the room and wrapped him in a bone-crushing embrace. Pulling back, he looked up. "Man, it's good to see you!"
Jim laughed, still hanging onto his Guide, unwilling to let go. "You didn't answer my question."
"What?" Blair's forehead creased into a frown, then smoothed out. "Oh! No! Yes! I mean, I just figured you were busy, since you didn't come to the meeting. And we fly back out tomorrow, so " He trailed off, shrugging. Turning to the other man in the room, he pushed Jim forward. "Spencer Reid, this is my partner, Jim Ellison."
"Ex-partner," Jim clarified. He saw the hurt look that crossed Blair's face and cursed his runaway mouth. He gripped Reid's hand, probably tighter than necessary and shook it. "Seems you guys have poached one of Cascade's finest."
"I was never a cop, Jim," Blair said in a soft voice.
Jim dropped Reid's hand and looked at Blair. "You were, for four years, Sandburg."
Reid massaged his hand, looking, Jim noted with some small satisfaction, a little discomfited. "Look, I'm going to let you guys catch up," he said, sidling past Jim. "I'll see you in the morning, Blair. We can have dinner when we get back to Virginia, invite the whole team." He looked at Jim. "It was nice meeting you, Jim. And you're right, we only poach the best." He sketched a wave, and let himself out of the room.
There was a long moment of awkward silence before both men spoke in unison. "I'm sorry."
Jim gestured for Blair to speak first. "After you, Chief."
Blair stared at him for a long moment then huffed out a sigh. "I'm sorry for not letting you know I was coming. We were called in at the last minute and I honestly thought I wouldn't be asked to tag along, then when I found out some of the murder victims were years old, just skeletons, I told Gideon I thought I might be able to offer some information, and he agreed."
"I hear you did great."
Blair shrugged, looking a little sheepish. "Well, I don't know how much help I was. I mean, Dan's got to be the best Medical Examiner in the US. Probably nothing I told him he didn't already know."
"Sounds like your Doctor Reid was impressed."
Blair smiled. "He's a great kid. Twenty four years old, and he's already got three PhDs to his name." He shook his head. "Took me four years to finish one."
"Well, you had some stumbling blocks along the way," Jim reminded him, the old guilt rising up to choke him. He cleared his throat. "Sounds like you're enjoying your new career."
"It's great," Blair said enthusiastically. "I mean, I've got the best of both worlds! Remember when I told you I thought that if Simon cut my observer's pass, it would be like getting back on the merry-go-round after riding the roller coaster?"
Blair slumped down onto the bed. "When Jason Gideon first approached me, I said no." He looked up at Jim, his expression bleak. "I figured I was just going to get into the same thing I'd left behind: being a cop, carrying a gun."
Jim sat down beside him. "What changed your mind? I mean, what did the great Jason Gideon say to convince you that I didn't." Blair visibly winced and Jim reached out and grasped Blair's hand. "Sorry, Chief, that was a rotten thing to say. I'm just curious why -"
Blair pulled his hand away and stood. "Why I left Cascade? Why I left my life's work? Why I left my best friend?"
"All that and more."
Blair ran a hand through his hair. "Like I said, when Jason approached me, I was going to refuse. I just figured I'd be walking back into what I'd already left behind in Cascade. We talked - for a long time. He assured me that, as part of the scientific, investigative team, while I'd still have to take regular firearms courses, I wouldn't be required to carry a gun. It's not often the Forensic Anthropologists get shot at." He smiled weakly. "What Simon offered there was no leeway. I had to be a cop, with everything that goes with that. Gideon's offer gave me the best of both worlds."
"What about your promise to Incacha - to be Shaman of the Great City? My Guide?"
"Jim, you didn't need me holding your hand anymore. You haven't zoned in years. You have all your senses completely under control, had them under control for a while before I left."
"Thanks to you," Jim said quickly.
Blair gave him a small smile. "Thank you, but I couldn't publish what I'd studied and learned. I had to find something I could do and wanted to do."
Jim nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry you even had to make that choice. Most of all, I'm sorry to have lost the best partner I ever had, but I understand."
"Am I still your best friend?" Blair asked pointedly.
"Always will be," Jim said. "I still don't understand why you didn't call, tell me you were going to be in Cascade."
Blair shrugged. "I know you were disappointed in me not taking the detective's badge. Every time you came to Seattle to visit or I came here, you tried too hard to reassure me that you understood why I'd left."
"You know me too well," Jim said.
Blair smiled. "Yeah. I just couldn't face you. Didn't want you wondering why I'd refused the badge, but was still working in law enforcement."
"You figured I wouldn't find out you were here?" Jim quirked an eyebrow. "Come on, Sandburg, you have to have known that one of Cascade's finest was going to let me know you'd been here."
Blair looked sheepish. "Guess I hoped the word would leak out."
Jim stood. "I'm glad it did."
"So, you're doing okay? Your senses?" Blair asked.
"You were a great teacher - and Guide, Chief. I promised I'd call if there was a problem, and I'll stick to that."
Blair looked relieved. "Okay, that's good." He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Striding back, he opened the door and admitted a man a little older than Jim. "Gideon, everything all right?"
"Everything's fine," Gideon said, patting Blair on the shoulder. "I just wanted to say, well done. You picked up some good clues from the burial sites today."
Blair's cheeks reddened. "Thank you." He turned back to Jim. "Detective Jim Ellison, this is Special Agent in Charge, Jason Gideon of the BAU."
Gideon gave Jim a smile, and shook his outstretched hand. "Gideon is fine. It's a pleasure to meet you, Detective. From what Blair tells me, if it wasn't for your guidance, Blair wouldn't be the excellent investigator he is."
"I think he's exaggerating again." Jim gave Blair an amused glance. "Fact is, Blair is a natural investigator. Best cop I ever worked with."
Gideon smiled and nodded, but Jim had the unnerving feeling he was being studied - closely. "If you ever get tired of Major Crime in Cascade, Detective, I'd be happy to consider you for a position with the BAU. I've been talking to the powers that be about starting up another team of profilers. With your experience in Covert Ops, and on the police force, you'd be an asset."
Jim opened his mouth to reply, but Gideon jumped in, waving a hand. "No need to decide just yet. If it happens, it's at least six months away." He poked a finger in the air. "Think about it. I'll be in touch."
Jim nodded. "I will, can't promise anything."
Gideon nodded, then turned to Blair. "Wheels up at 0800. Don't be late or you'll have to hitchhike back to Virginia."
Blair grinned. "I won't be late. Gideon, thanks."
Gideon waved a hand in the air, dismissing Blair's words. "Good meeting you, Detective."
Blair slumped back onto the bed after Gideon left. He cut a glance up at Jim. "So, what do you think?"
"About Gideon's offer?" At Blair's nod, Jim shook his head. "I don't know, Sandburg. I really like where I am right now. The only thing that would make it the perfect job is if you came back to Cascade."
Blair rested his head in his hands. "I don't think I can do that, Jim. I think I think the time was right for me to move on. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. As a matter of fact, I agree with you." Jim smiled when Blair stared at him open-mouthed. "And I'm not saying that if an offer comes through from the BAU, I'll take it. Simon was pissed off enough about losing you, I'm not sure how he'd take to losing two of his best men to the FBI. Still, a Sentinel and a Shaman at Quantico would be something of an asset."
"You're right." Blair stood and walked over to pull his jacket from the closet. "So, you still treating me to dinner?"
Jim nodded, feeling the lead weight in his chest lift. "You bet. And I promise, Chief, no Wonderburger."