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Just a minute, I said.

The guy at the next carrel looked up at me, a puzzled frown on his face. I smiled politely and a little absently as I continued to gather up my books. When I'd stepped away with those I needed to check out, I said: I'll be out in five.

And five minutes later I was on the steps of the public library looking at Jim's pickup parked in the handicapped zone right at the foot of the steps.

"This is illegal," I told him as I climbed in.

"Yeah." He folded the section of paper he was reading and put the truck in gear. "Are you cooking, or should we stop for something?"

"Let's stop. I'm too tired to do anything but shower and go to bed."

He nodded, and we pulled out, arguing over Chinese, Mexican, or Italian.

Come on, I muttered, hopping back out of the sudden downpour. The overhang at the academy wasn't very large and even with my back against the building, I was getting splashed. I held my backpack in front of me, although it gave me no protection.

I said four o'clock, remember? If there's a problem, you should call. I have my cell phone and it's on and it's charged up. I'm really getting a lot more responsible about that.

My cell rang; I dug it out of my backpack.

"I'll be there in ten."

"Okay. I'm going back inside; it's too wet to wait out here. Call me when you're here."

"Yeah. Sorry, Chief. I really do have a good excuse."

"You always do, man. Call me."

Simon waved me into his office the minute I stepped through the frosted glass doors of Major Crimes.

"What are you doing here? We had an agreement; you wouldn't show your face here until after the academy. There was a reason for that agreement, Sandburg."

"Yes sir, I know. But Jim asked me to help . . ."

Simon's glare silenced me. He tapped his fingers irritably against the desktop, staring at me with that bulldog glower that used to intimidate me. Before I knew how much he cared about Jim and me, before I knew how much he valued my work. I had him over a barrel now. He knew it, I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. Still, I tried not to press the issue.

"Sorry, sir."

He rolled his eyes. Didn't buy that one bit, I could tell. Finally, he said, "Jim's in forensics working with Samantha. I don't think you should go down there."

"No, sir."

"I think you should wait right here in my office until he returns."

"He'll be here in just a minute."

"How do you know?"

I thought for a second. "He's heard me."

Simon stared at me, not really a glare this time, more a wounded, betrayed look -- I'd revealed something mystical about the Sentinel-Guide relationship. That broke an unwritten rule. But he had asked, and he would be my direct supervisor.

Just then there was a quick knock on Simon's door which immediately swung open.

"Come in." Simon's sarcasm was thick.

"Hey, Chief."

"Hey, Jim. Simon doesn't think it's a good idea for me to be here."

"Okay. We have to go to the morgue, anyway. I need your help while I check out a John Doe in the freezer."

"Man, I hate it when you say 'freezer.'"

He grinned at me. "I know."

Simon cleared his throat. "Gentlemen? You are cordially invited out of my office."

"Bye, Captain Simon, sir," I smiled at him, and he tried to glare at us. He did try.

Simon was taking Jim to task, I knew. I was in the men's room, trying to stay out of Major Crimes, per Simon's very strong preferences. We'd been to the morgue and I'd held Jim's hand while he studied the battered body of a beaten homeless man. He'd found some things, too, that might turn out to be helpful. But he had to justify my being there during these difficult days.

I couldn't hear what was going on, of course; I'm not a sentinel. But Simon had been really clear about why I should stay away, at least for a few weeks. I'd only been at the academy three. So I knew Jim was getting dressed down for inviting me here, no matter how valid the reason.

When ten minutes had passed and I was started to feel like a pervert hanging out in the john, I said: Take a deep breath, Jim. You're both right. I shouldn't be here, but I should be helping you. This is a lose-lose situation, so take your medicine like a man. Next time I'll stay out of Simon's way.

Another five minutes and Jim stuck his head in the bathroom. "Ready?"

"Oh man, am I ever." I grabbed my backpack and we headed out. "Was it bad?"

He grimaced. "I still have a little skin left." When we were in the elevator and alone, he said, "Thanks. That helped."

I nodded. "We shoulda thought of that. Simon's in a tricky position; I don't want to embarrass him."

"Yeah. Yeah."

I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Overhead, Jim was in his bed, or so I assumed. He'd gone up the stairs just a few minutes after I'd crawled into my bed.

It'd been a shitty day. My car was in the shop for the second time in ten days; I had no money to get it out of hock. Jim was having to ferry me everywhere. I'd tried to talk to him about money, but he just waved me off.

On top of that, the academy was a lot different than I imagined. For one thing, it was more like high school than college. I had to wear a kind of uniform: khaki trousers, a polo shirt, a name tag that read "Cadet Sandburg," and leather shoes. Jim had had to buy it all for me. I owed him so much; I'd never get out of debt.

Finally, I whispered: Jim. I know you don't want to talk about money, but I can't sleep. It's on my mind all the fucking time. I'm so scared. I owe thousands of dollars in student loans, and I can't even buy groceries. My car is on its last legs, and I can't afford a new engine, which is what it really needs. I really need to talk to you about this. I think, uh, maybe I'd like to work out a payment plan with you, so when I start working I can repay you a bit every month. I've tried to keep receipts, but you just buy me stuff.

I sighed, and rolled onto my side. It's really hard to be so dependent on you, Jim. It's like I'm your kid now, and you have to take care of me. I hate that. I've been on my own since I was sixteen years old. I don't know what to do.

I heard the floorboards above my head creak. Jim, you don't need to come down here. I just want to talk to you. Don't be mad at me.

The doors opened and Jim came in, tying his robe. He pulled out the chair from my desk and sat down next to the bed. Running his hand over his hair, he sighed.

"Look, Sandburg. I don't know how to say this. You say you don't want to be dependent on me. Well, imagine how I feel. I can't do my job without you at my side. I'm completely dependent on you to work, to play, to function as a human being. There is no way I can ever repay you for what you've done for me. The little bit of money . . ."

"Jim, it's hundreds of dollars. Maybe thousands. That's not a little bit of money."

"If it was a million, it wouldn't matter. I'd be dead or locked up if it weren't for you. You gave up your life for me. Twice. Just. Just accept this, okay? It's the only way I know how to repay you. I don't want your gratitude."

"What do you want?"

It was dark, and without sentinel sight, I couldn't see Jim's face. But I could see him turn toward me, and I could hear him sigh. Very softly, he said, "Your friendship. Your Guidance. Your -- affection."

I reached out my hand toward him, and he took it. We stayed that way for almost a minute, then he sort of shook my whole arm. "Are we okay?"

I thought about it. "For the moment. I'll need to talk to you about this again."

He carefully placed my hand back on the bed, and snugged the sheet up around my shoulders. "Okay. Whenever you need to." Then he left.

When I heard the floorboards creak again, I said: Thank you.

I wove my way through the crowd, pushing toward the table in the back that the Major Crimes people usually gathered at. I saw Rafe first, who smiled welcomingly at me and held up a hand in greeting. It was too noisy to hear what he said until I stood next to him.

"How does he do that?" he shouted. I flagged down a waitress and asked for a pale ale.

"Do what?"

"Know you're here."

I looked around and saw Jim, H, and Megan sharing a table. Rafe and I pushed our way toward them. H said, "Goddam, you're right again, Jim. Good thing I didn't make a bet."

"Ha ha," Connor said as she pulled a five dollar bill out of her wallet and passed it to Jim. He gave it and a ten to the waitress who brought my ale and drinks for the others. I pulled a chair up from another table and sat down between Jim and Rafe.

"How do you do that?" Rafe asked, studying Jim closely. He smiled, rather smugly, and shrugged.

"Lucky guess."

"Yeah," Connor said in her clipped accept. "Bloody lucky." But she didn't look too unhappy.

Joel had called me with the news. My car was still kaput, so I caught a cab from the academy and headed to the site. The driver couldn't get very close; uniforms turned him away, and he was happy to go. I threaded my way through the crowd of police and bystanders, holding out my ID as I went. Finally, I spotted Joel and Simon; they aren't hard to find even in a large crowd.

Joel saw me first, and put a hand on my shoulder, pulling me into their circle. "Blair. It might be bad; I knew you'd want to be here."

"Where is he?"

"In the bank, with the other hostages and the gunmen."

"Jesus, Simon, how could this happen? He's a terrible negotiator. You know how pissed he gets." Simon studied me and I blushed. I shouldn't bad mouth my best friend when he was locked away from us with guns pointed at him. "Sorry," I muttered.

"The SWAT team is going to go in. We need to give Jim some warning."

I nodded, and we pushed our way to the cordon around the bank. Leaning against a marked car, I listened intently to the SWAT commander explain what they were going to do. They had blueprints of the bank spread out on the hood of the car, and his blunt fingers traced where the snipers would fire and where his men would enter. Men and women; I saw at least one woman in their gear. When he finished and started placing his people, I wandered off a bit.

Staring at the bank, I said: Jim, the SWAT team will be entering in approximately ten minutes. There will be two snipers; one on the building behind me, it's a, uh, -- I turned to look -- it's a copy center. The other will be on the building next door, to the north. They can see in the windows if they use some special filtering device. They're going to get as many of the robbers as they can and then the back door will be blown and a team will enter.

Jim, you need to get yourself and any civilians out of the way. Please don't get hurt, okay? I really need you not to get hurt. Just stay out of the way and let the SWAT team have their moment of glory. Your closure rate is phenomenal; you can let somebody else have their day in the sun, right?

Okay, get down. The snipers are in place and aiming. I can see the guy on the building next door. Any minute, Jim. Please get down. Please be okay. I really need you to be okay. I'm right here waiting for you. Please, Jim. You need to know that I love you.

My throat closed up at the very moment that the first shots were fired. I ducked behind a car and waited impatiently for this drama to end. I heard an explosion, and people shouting, and women screaming, and a lot of shots. Then everything was in motion. I peered over the hood of the car and stared into the bank, at the dark windows reflecting back the chaos outside. Then the front door opened and two women ran out, then an older man, and finally Jim.

I sprinted to him and wrapped my arms around him. "Jesus, James," I said when I could talk. He rubbed my head and put an arm on my shoulder. I let him go and turned to see Simon and Joel behind me.

"Whose idea was that?" Jim asked Simon, who just smiled. "It was a good one. Thank you." He kind of tugged me closer to him and said softly, "I heard every word. I always do. I hear you, Chief."

Then they took him away for his statement, and Joel bought me an ice cream from a truck that happened by.

I had to work Saturday, and was at my desk working on a report about why I had pulled my gun when I heard him. I tracked his voice down to the parking garage. He said: Simon doesn't want me to stop by, but I thought this would be a good time to buy that winter coat you need. There's a sale at Penney's. Come on, Jim, let's go.

I smiled and saved my work, then powered down the computer. McGrew, who works most weekends, looked up at me from his desk. "What's so funny?"

I shrugged. "See you later, Mac. Got an errand to run." He nodded, and I headed downstairs.

Sandburg was leaning against my pickup, staring at the elevator, when I arrived. "How'd you get here?"

"Bus. Cascade has a fine transit system, officer." I smacked the back of his head and unlocked the passenger door for him.

"So, Penney's has a sale. We could stop by Trader Joe's afterwards and pick up --"

"-- some battered halibut," he said in unison with me, and I had to smile again.

He needed gloves, and if he saw any sweaters he liked, I thought I'd pick up a couple.

A phone rang, waking me. I rolled over to catch it, but it was Blair's cell phone. I heard him scrabble for it, and then, distantly, Naomi's voice. "Sweetie! How are you?"

"Hey, Mom," he answered, his voice warm with affection. He sounded so happy to hear from her, after everything she'd done. I shook my head and dialed down my hearing, just enough so I couldn't hear the words, only their voices.

After a good while, I heard my name. Jim. Jim. I know you're awake, man. Dial it up. That was my mom. She sends her love, which makes me nuts, but I'm passing it on anyway.

She's so sorry, Jim. She knows I wanted to be an academic my entire life. She's been sitting meditation for hours every day, trying to understand how she could have gotten in my way so much.

I told her it's okay, Jim. I told her that this is where I'm supposed to be, and that she just got me here quicker than I would have by myself. Is that okay, Jim? Is this where I belong?

I rolled out of bed and headed downstairs. Halfway down the stairs I realized I'd forgotten my robe, but this was important. I'd fucked up as much as Naomi, maybe more. It was my turn.

"Hey, buddy," I said softly. He turned in his bed so he was on his side, head propped on his hand. I pulled the chair over to the bedside and sat down. "How is your mom?"

"Okay. Still pretty upset."

"She should be." He sighed and dropped his head back on the pillow. "Did you mean it? What you said, that you should be here?" He didn't answer, but I could see his eyes watching me in the dark. "I think so. Your instincts are good, Blair. I think you're a good cop; I told you that already. My best partner." I scratched my neck; this made me uncomfortable.

"Thanks," he whispered. I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

A rare sunny day in Cascade, the last before winter hit. Really, a little too bright for someone raised here and who had my vision, but the air felt good on my bare arms. I even pulled off my Jags cap.

You there, Jim? I turned my head; I was waiting at the bus station for Blair, who'd gone down to Portland to see his mom for a couple days, at the Buddhist monastery she was staying at. His bus wasn't in, wasn't due in for another -- I checked my watch -- ten minutes.

People on the bus probably think I'm nuts, talking to myself. I should take out my cell phone and talk to it. You notice that? That crazy people talk to themselves, but sane folks to their cell phones? But I don't think anybody's listening. You're the only one who listens.

So I'm going to tell you now, before I can see you, before I can be sure you're hearing this, that I missed you. I really missed being away from you. I can't wait until I'm through at the academy and can ride along with you again. I miss that roller coaster ride. I knew I would, way back when, I knew I didn't want to go back to academia.

But that'd been my goal for my entire life, Jim. It's so hard to just give it up. I was pretty good at it, too. I had a history. But now, all I have is your say-so. I wanna be good at this. I wanna make you proud of me.

Jesus. That's sappy. I'm gonna shut up now. Get yourself a soft drink; we aren't scheduled to pull in for another seven or eight minutes, and traffic looks bad enough that it might be ten or fifteen.

I stood there in the sun, in the parking lot of the bus station, biting my lip with amazement at my friend's courage. I got a soft drink from the soda machine inside the lobby, then went back out to wait in the sun.

When he stepped off the bus, that ratty old backpack in his hand, I tossed the half empty can into the trash, then pulled it out and put it in the recycling bin. He was grinning when I looked up. I pushed past the people milling around and put my arm around his shoulder, then slid it up to his neck and pulled him into a hug. "I missed you."

He hugged me back. I could feel his smile against my shoulder.

Simon and Daryl sat on one side of me; Connor on the other. Beyond her sat Rafe and H; behind me, Joel and his wife. Rhonda and her husband were here somewhere, but I didn't spare the attention to find them in the crowd.

"Do you see him, Jim?" Simon asked me, and I gestured at the far right of the auditorium. Connor started to applaud. H folded the wrapper of his candy bar and stuck it in his pocket, then cupped his hands around his mouth.

"Hey, Hairboy!"

His head popped up and he scanned the audience. "Stand up," I told everyone, and we did, waving like idiots. A smile spread over his face that could be seen in Vancouver. Then the eighty-seven graduates trooped onto the floor of the auditorium, just below the speaker's platform. We sat back down; Simon leaned across me to say something to Connor, but I leaned back and ignored them.

Jim. Jim, I can't believe I'm here. I feel like a fool. Did you know I never went to any of my graduations? I probably would have gone to my doctoral graduation, but I hadn't made up my mind. If you hadn't insisted, I wouldn't have come to this one.

The commandant of the academy started speaking, the usual blah blah how happy we are to have you here, the future of law enforcement, high expectations for the graduating class. I kept my ear cocked for Sandburg, though.

A rabbi gave the blessing; I thought that was nice, for Blair, not that he was a practicing Jew or anything, but still. Then the mayor gave her usual speech, basically welcoming the graduates to her turf, although she phrased it a little differently than that. Then some other guy in the news, but I was tapping my foot on the bleacher beneath me in frustration now.

Finally, the commandant got back up and the graduates started across the stage. Alpha order, of course, so I waited impatiently. Once they were up to the Ps, I heard Sandburg again.

Jim. Jim. I'm shaking, man, I can't believe this. It's just a ceremony, it has only ceremonial significance, this isn't the real world, but it's just a really big deal. Thank you, Jim. Jesus, I never thought I'd be here, I can't believe I'm here. If you could talk to me, you'd tell me to breathe, Sandburg.

I heard him take a deep breath and then slowly release it.

That's better; you're right.

Jim. Jim. I'm gonna cry a little, okay? Don't think any less of me, okay? I wish I could hear your voice.

"Rubenstein!" A tall black man preceded Blair across the stage; I didn't know black folks were named Rubenstein.

"Sandburg!" Major Crimes burst out into cheers; Jesus, H had even brought an air horn. Half the audience looked our way instead of at the stage, but I never took my eyes off him. He was looking straight at me. When the commandant handed him the diploma case and shook his hand, he said, "Thank you. Thank you, Jim." The commandant looked a little puzzled; his name was Matthew.

I paced in the kitchen; Sandburg had taken the trash out. I was supposed to be washing up from the party we'd had to celebrate his graduation, but I felt frantic. I leaned against the sink counter and turned on the hot water, squirted some soap into the sink.

Jim. It's a beautiful night. I'm gonna go up on the roof for a bit, look at the stars. Just put the dishes to soak, okay?

Obediently, I loaded the sink with dirty dishes, scraping the worst into the new trash bag. When the sink was full, I dried my hands and grabbed Blair's sweater hanging by the door.

Bring me a sweater, would you? It's chillier up here than I thought it'd be.

Smiling, I sprinted up the stairs to the roof. He was sitting in the chair we left up here for that purpose, staring out toward the harbor. I draped the sweater over his shoulders and tugged it down his back when he leaned forward.

I took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air after the stuffiness of the apartment, and then put my hands on his shoulders. He relaxed back into them, and I gently rubbed them. I touched his short hair, and then his left earlobe, empty of any ornamentation. Then I walked to his side and knelt next to him. He slung his arm around my shoulders and now I leaned against him.

"Well, partner," I finally said. I could tell he was close to tears; his breath was hitching a bit and he was trembling, a vibration almost below my threshold of awareness.

"Hey, partner," he said in a deeper voice than usual. We sat there for some time, watching the lights on the water. I sat down on the gravel roof and rested my head against his hip; he started rubbing my shoulder and arm.

There was so much I wanted to say to him, but I had a feeling he already knew it. Just as I could hear his voice from almost any distance, he knew my thoughts before I did. We're a team. Partners. A couple.

I stood up and took his hand. "It's late. You're exhausted. And you stink of Simon's cigar. Come on." He came willingly, and I kept hold of his hand as we went back to the loft.

I was in bed, staring out the skylight, remembering the day, when he spoke to me.

Jim. You might want to dial your hearing all the way down. I'm gonna say something I could never say to your face. It's only by pretending you can't hear me that I have the courage to say this.

Jim. I love you. I, uh, I want to be with you. This isn't the best time to tell you, I know, now that we're permanent partners. Be kinda funny if Monday you tell Simon you can't work with me, after everything that's happened. But this is way important. I talked to my mom today, and she said something that really stuck. She said that we don't always know what we want until we have it. She was trying to make herself feel better about what happened, but she's right.

Jim, I have you as a partner and as a friend. This is what I want. But I, uh, would like more, if you do. Only if you do. But, Jim.

I was in his room, looking down at him by then. He smiled up at me, and I sat on the edge of his bed. I put my hand on his face, his beautiful face. He'd seen me crazed by my senses, by women, by anger; he'd seen me cry; he'd seen me sick; he'd seen me do life-threateningly stupid things; he'd seen me lose it. He knew what a freak I was and yet he still loved me, enough to change his life, to give up his life.

I leaned down and kissed him. Tears filled his eyes. "Now I have everything," he whispered, so softly only I could hear him.

"No. Now I do."

Jim. Jim. I'm at a pay phone, pretending to make a call. I'm just outside the DA's office, but I'm pretty sure you can hear me. I love you. I gotta make my first statement on my first case. It's pretty cool, you know? All these firsts?

Last night was a great first, too, Jim. I can't stop grinning; Beverly's gonna think I'm an idiot. Thanks, Jim. I love you, man. Oops, gotta go, somebody wants to make a real call.

I sat at my desk smiling. A big goofy grin on my face. Rafe caught my eye and looked puzzled; I just shrugged. But the smile wouldn't go away.