Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Rating: PG-13 (for language)

Warnings: Because the summary might be misleading, Blair is not a cop or a cadet at the Academy.

Author's Notes: This story was originally posted to the SentinelWorkshop List.

Vertically Challenged



"So, Ellison, that's your tag-along?" Captain Hawkes didn't sound impressed.

The hot summer sun beat down on the two of them, standing off at the side of the main arena. It was too good a day to spend as they were spending it, in both men's opinions, though for different reasons. An off day for the cadets, the place was almost deserted.

"Yeah, that's Sandburg, all right." Jim played it cool. Hawkes was a good man, and Jim knew him from his own days at the Academy. In exchange for a promise that Jim wouldn't push him to use a gun, Blair had undertaken the physical fitness part of the cadet program. With a little help from Jim to get into shape before his own classes at Rainier ended in the spring, Blair had signed on for the six week phys. fit. torture session.

"Gotta say he's done pretty good," Hawkes acknowledged with only a trace of reluctance. "Runs like a hound after a deer."

"Yup," Jim agreed. "The guy's got legs. I'm faster over the long haul, but he outdoes me in the short dash, and he keeps up with me to the end, even if he does come in late."

"No shit?" Hawkes turned to stare at the man with the best long dash record at the Academy.

"Yeah." Jim let the word lie there for a moment. Then he got garrulous. "You know, when I first met him, I didn't think much of him."

Blair was in a singlet and shorts, running the perimeter of the arena. He was flying past the quarter mile mark.

"H'mm," Hawkes replied. "Doesn't look like much."

"Short," Jim defined for them both.

"Short," Hawkes chimed in.

"But he's sturdy, and he's got guts." Jim put a hand to his eyes as if shading them from the sun.

"Yeah?" Hawkes asked, and Jim could tell he really wanted to know.

He pitched his voice low and moved in confidingly, his lips to the other's ear. "Don't tell anyone this, but the guy saved my life the day we met."

Hawkes swore and spat on the ground. "You're shitting me!"

"Nah," Jim said. "God's honest truth. I'd be roadkill now if it weren't for him."

"Huh. What'd he do? Call out to you to get you to move?"

"Hell, no," Jim swore in his turn. "The guy jumped in front of me and threw us both down so this giant economy size garbage truck ran straight over the both of us."

"Shee-it!" Hawkes sounded impressed. "That is guts. He looks like such a kid, too."

"Yeah. Gotta love a guy who'll put his life on the line for a stranger."

The two cops stood and watched the runner, musing on their own calling to protect the innocents.

"Plus, he's smart," Jim added after a pause.

"I hear your solve rate went way up this year. Is that true?" Hawkes was an elephant attempting to be delicate, but Jim wasn't being picky about things.

"Yeah. Sandburg's why, too." Jim smiled at the dumbfounded expression on the Academy Dean's face. "I mean it. He took some getting used to, but he's got the brains, and sometimes we're so in sync on a file, it's scary. We brainstorm together, throw ideas back and forth, and he thinks outside the box all the time. Really creative. I think he's a genius. Hell, I know he's a genius."

"No kidding." Hawkes was drawing a conclusion.

"Uh-huh. But he's short." Jim sighed deeply, shaking his head. "Good build on him, but he's not big."

"Not the be-all and end-all of a good cop," Hawkes mentioned. "He interested in joining up?"

Jim turned away for a moment. "I wish. But he hates guns. Plus, of course, he's actually got a career of his own."


"He's going to be Dr. Blair Sandburg one of these years and teach at the U. and, if we're lucky, consult to Major Crimes. He'll make more to start as a consultant than I got after five years!"

"Life's not fair," Captain Hawkes whined, retirement dollar signs in his eyes. "But at least he's still short!"

Both cops sniggered at that.

"I think he's doing pretty good out there," Hawkes commented. "Too bad he doesn't want to be a cop. I know you got him in here on an 'audit' status. Were you trying to get him interested or something?"

Jim shrugged his shoulders and shook out imaginary kinks in his muscles. "Woulda been nice, but no," he allowed. "Born pacifist. But I want him at my side as my partner as long as I can have him." Jim smiled with satisfaction. "No one's ever matched our solve rate."

"Well, if he won't use a gun, how about hand-to-hand?"

"Jeez, no!" Jim sounded horrified. "I want him as far away from the criminals as possible!"

"Sometimes that's just not possible," Hawkes said flatly.

"Yeah, well, this is so that if he ever has to run, he's in top condition and knows how to do it." Jim was nodding. "You wouldn't believe some of the things that have happened to him. It's enough to turn your hair white."

"Doesn't seem to have worked on his curls, unless he's using Miss Clairol," the Dean quipped.

Jim chuckled. "Nah, that's all natural, swear it on my grandmother's grave. I should be so lucky." He ran his hand over his slightly receding forehead.

"So you want him to know when to run and be in peak condition to do it, huh?"

"Yeah. You see any problems I should know about? He's my partner, but he's a civvie and, well, I worry."

"Yeah, you would. Being he's your partner and all," Hawkes sympathized.

Jim smiled to himself. Your partner. If he ever were to persuade his best friend to join the Academy, Blair would find a warm welcome, at least from the Dean. The Black Ops Ranger in him wouldn't let Jim at least try to put the pieces together, even if he had to hammer a few into place. Plans within plots within purposes. Jim was no slouch at thinking, either.

Dean Hawkes went on, "Overall, I think he's pretty solid. It's just—The Wall."

Air slid out of two pairs of lungs. The Wall. The major obstacle in a long and nasty obstacle course. The one thing that Jim needed to know Blair could conquer if he were ever penned in a dark alley one lonely night. The Friggin' Wall. And Blair would run the obstacle course as soon as he came around the mile mark.

They watched in silence as that moment came. Blair ran past, slowing, and finally bending down, hands on knees, drawing in deep draughts of oxygen. Jim and Hawkes went over, Jim offering a sports drink to boost the potassium, salt and sweat lost to the race against time. Both cops were duly congratulatory as to his time as he towelled off.

"Now it's the obstacle course," the Dean announced when Blair had caught his breath.

"Okay, man! Uh, sorry, Dean," Blair smiled apologetically. "It's just been great being out here with all the trainers and cadets. Thanks, Captain Hawkes, for letting me join the summer session."

"Thank your partner," Hawkes said gruffly. "He arranged it."

Blair grinned fondly at his best friend. "Thanks, Jim. Great suggestion. Did you know he's helping out at the CPD gym too, Dean? I don't know how he wangled it, but I'm guessing he just doesn't want a wuss for a ride-along and nagged someone forever for permission."

Jim grinned back in utmost smugness. "Permission? I don' need no steenkin' permission."

Blair gasped with laughter. "Oh, man, don't tell me you never asked. You didn't, did you?"

Jim shook his head. "Why ask? They might have said no. Now everyone expects to see you with me and no one has bothered to check if you're legit."

Blair was guffawing. "Or"—chuckle, chuckle—"if they did"—snort—"they were too scared of you to ask if you had permission." Blair sank into a puddle on the ground, holding his ribs. "The guy is scary when he's brushing his teeth, Dean. Just imagine how he looks when he's pumping iron or hitting the bag! How do you get away with these things, Jim?"

"Talent, Junior. Plus good old-fashioned death threats."

Hawkes was watching their by-play with amusement. "I believe you, Ellison. I believe you. Now, are you up for the obstacle course, Sandburg?"

Blair scrambled to his feet. "Oh, yeah." He began bouncing back and forth, flexing his joints, warming up for the exercise. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Just remember that The Wall is a tough cookie, Chief," Jim cautioned. "It'll be okay if you don't make it." He sounded a little too loud.

Blair looked at him strangely, and then at the Dean.

"Yeah, a lot of folk don't get over The Wall the first time, or even the second or fourth or tenth or whatever," Captain Hawkes put in.

"You guys know something I don't know?" Blair asked. "Is there, like, a pool on this? You bet against me?"

Both Jim and Hawkes went red. Jim explained, "Yeah, there's a pool, two of them, actually, one here and one in MC. But I bet on you." He looked pointedly at the Dean, who was whistling as he watched clouds.

"Uh, can I get a little of that action?" Blair wanted to know.

"Bet against yourself?" The Dean was appalled.

"Nope, bet on me," Blair said with the bright light of challenge in his glittering sea-blue eyes. "I've got a hundred and a half I took off Simon and H at poker last week."

Jim caught Hawkes' confusion. "Captain Banks and the MC detectives play weekly. Blair usually wins."

Hawkes' head was bobbing up and down. "I got suckered, didn't I?" he said plaintively.

"Who's making book on this, Jim? Jim? Oh, so it's you!" Blair was amused. "What odds you offering?"

"Ten to one," Jim mumbled.

"You are so dead, man," Blair told him lightly and Jim made haste to add, "You can have half."

"Well, all right, then, partner." Blair looked around for the betters. "Is everybody here now? Can I run this course anytime soon?"

Jim scanned the area. Sure enough, everyone from MC was there, and so were all the instructors from the Academy. "Yeah, they're here, Chief," he said.

"You musta been betting your retirement fund, weren't you?" Blair chided gently. "What if I don't make it?"

"You'll make it, Chief." Jim held his best friend's gaze for a long minute. "I believe in you."

Blair's eyes blinked and came alert again even more brightly than before. "So, can I do this, or what?"

"Yeah," the Dean said.

"What are the terms of the bet? Is there a time requirement?" the steeplechase horse asked.

"No, just that you won't finish, for any reason, at ten to one odds, and if you make it over The Wall on the first attempt, it's twenty to one in your favour."

"Not bad. See if you can scrape up a time requirement and if you can, grab a stopwatch and tell me when to let loose!" Blair was a man in a hurry. "Let's go win us a retirement home in Southern California!" He smacked his partner's arm, Jim 'Ouch'd' convincingly, and the Dean waved a hand at the gallery of viewers, attracting a few who got the new betting terms and hastened back to their buddies to confer and signal back the new bets.

The obstacle course posed a series of tests of balance, accuracy, speed and strength. Blair stretched, wiggled and bounced again, then started rubbing his hands together, drying and powdering them for a better grip. He dusted off his hands, and set up at the start of the run, watching the Dean.

At the drop of Hawkes' hand, the one-man race was on.

The first obstacle was a double set of rubber tires, requiring the runner to dance in and out of each to cross to the next test. Blair had no trouble with it at all, and Jim's Sentinel hearing picked up a strain from The Nutcracker Suite which had him holding back his laughter by main force. Only Sandburg would do a Police Academy test to ballet music, he thought.

But Blair was already on to the next event. A huge net was stretched over an incline, and he had to climb-crawl his way over it. It was a finicky kind of movement, and it took more time than the tires to complete, but Blair was well ahead of average scores.

Now Jim heard murmurs from the others watching. Blair was doing better than anyone from the Academy ever believed he could. SoCal, here we come, Jim thought.

The monkey bars run was a thing of beauty to behold. MC was berating itself over the test. Of course they ought to have know that Anthropology Boy had had experience with climbing and vines and things, H was saying, and Megan was with him on that, but Simon and Rafe were sullen and wouldn't admit it. Joel just grinned, the only other person to bet on Blair.

The rope bridge was the one true worry MC had about the obstacle course, not because of their purses, but because they knew of Sandburg's fear of heights. If that was the test that put him down, it could hurt worse than hitting The Wall at fifty klicks ever could.

But Blair surprised them. He had obviously scoped out that obstacle beforehand, and he thought outside the box on it. With a good tug at the cords to see how stable they were first, he swung himself up underneath the bridge and began to haul ass across the 'gorge' in the same way as with the monkey bars. He had drawn his legs well up to reduce the swing and although it cost him time, he made the trip safely and without panicking.

The Police Academy personnel were boggled. MC, however, cheered their lungs out.

At last it was The Wall. Blair stopped for a moment before taking it on, peering around at the bystanders, and catching Jim's eye. Jim was looking proud, and he cocked a thumb's up at his partner.

"Geez, Jim, didn't you listen when I told you that was the death signal in the Colosseum?" Blair bitched.

Jim immediately signalled thumb's down.

"Well, okay, then," Blair whispered and took in a couple of deep breaths before starting his sprint toward The Wall.

The Wall was eight feet high, sheer wood from top to bottom, and the objective was to get yourself over the damn thing somehow. Jim remembered the sweating and grunting and aching arm muscles that his run at The Wall had cost him. From the dead silence of the other onlookers, it seemed they too knew this was the make-it-or-break-it point.

Blair ran forward in short paces, knees high. It didn't look right, somehow. He should have been plowing the earth to China, with long, long strides, or so it seemed to the people who'd made it over The Wall. He almost seemed to be prancing rather than racing. It couldn't work. He'd lost, and it looked as if it was his nerves that had done it, had held him back from making his best attempt.

People began to take out their wallets.

But Jim Ellison's eyes never left Blair Sandburg's body as he moved purposefully and swiftly toward the barrier. He held his breath at the last three paces and then it happened.

Blair almost came to a stop, his feet both on the ground at the same moment, his legs going into a deep knee bend, his upper body stretching high.

And then he leapt.

His own height.

Almost from a dead stop.

His upper body was higher than the top of The Wall, and he came down at it with his torso twisting, big, square hands grabbing hard and pushing him off to land on the other side.

He had almost pole vaulted the thing, without using a pole.

Jim had to nudge Hawkes into remembering to stop the stopwatch, and when he did, the Dean yelled, "HE DID IT! HE DID IT!"

The crowd went wild. Blair came limping around The Wall, having landed a trifle heavily on his right leg, and bowed and waved to the group.

Jim jogged up to him. "Okay, Chief?" he asked, checking every vital sign he could, and Blair batted off his hands.

"I'm fine, Jim, just need an Ace bandage. How much did we win?" Blair had his priorities straight, whatever his Sentinel might have thought.

Jim got busy and started collecting the bets.

Blair was at his desk the next day, taking in the pink plastic ballet slippers, the horseshoe keychain with 'Good Luck' written on it, six toy monkeys of various sizes and colours, the Ace bandage and bottle of liniment it perched on, and the second-hand copy of 'The Rocketeer'. He laughed himself silly at each one, and then the questions began.

"How'd you do it, Sandy?"

"Yeah, Hairboy. Where'd you get that move?"

"Whattaya got, India rubber for legs?"

Jim fended off the questioning horde with hand smacks. "Hey, everyone pay up before he answers, okay?"

Simon Banks groaned and reluctantly took out his wallet. "This is costing Daryl his college education, I want you to know, Sandburg."

"Oh, gee, Simon, I'm so sad. Hey, maybe you can get him into the Police Academy!" Blair blinked big blue eyes at him, just slightly unfocussed.

"Heaven forbid!" Simon bellowed. "But here's your blood money, you thief-from-children's-college-funds, you!"

Blair just chortled heartily and pocketed the bucks. "Oh, man, I am always so grateful for your contributions to my college education, guys. You have my utmost gratitude." He waved his hand airily.

"Yeah, Sandy, but how'd you do it?" Megan demanded.

"Natural talent, that's how," Blair started, before being cut off by moans and complaints.

Jim got the room to hush, and Blair tried again.

"No, really, it's natural talent," he said. "Think of Mickey Rooney. There's that thing he did with Judy Garland where she's standing on a table and she reaches down and grabs his jacket and it looks as if she pulled him up to stand next to her."

People started searching their memories.

"But, of course, she didn't. He did it himself. From a standing start, after he'd done some of the dance routine before, so he was limber, right?, he jumped the height of the table."

"Yeah, I kinda remember that now," H admitted. "I think I saw it in a dance special on TV a while ago."

"I saw the movie," Megan said slowly, "though I don't remember which one it was. That scene stayed with me. I wasn't sure if it was staged somehow."

"No," Blair assured them, "it was legit. He's not the only person who can do it, either, and I've seen folks in various musical comedy productions do the same kind of thing. But the one thing those of us who can jump our own height, or close to it, that we all have in common..."

"What?" "Tell!" "You tease!" filled the air.

Blair grinned grandly. "We're all vertically challenged."

He snickered for the whole of the rest of the day.

~ End ~

Author's Additional Notes: Jason Alexander did this, too, in a television production of Bye-Bye, Birdie a couple of years ago. From a standing start, he leapt up onto a fence as high as his head, if not higher. Of course, both those actors shared the physical traits of being short, stockily built, and having very powerful lower body strength. I borrowed the idea for Blair. <g>

E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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