Disclaimer: No money made, and none of the characters are mine, alas. They belong to the folks at Pet Fly and Paramount. No point in chasing after me in hopes of cash, trust me.

Author's Notes: The Muse, bless her heart, planted this one in my head some time ago. Then she shifted it to the bottom of the pile and sent me scurrying off on some longer stories. When I came up for air, this one came with me. I hope you enjoy it. For those of you at all familiar with my propensity to write 'long', you'll be as pleased as I am to know that 'short' is apparently also still in my working vocabulary <g>. Feel free to check out the final note at the end and touch base with me if you'd like.

Dedication: To Sharon, to keep her ff quota filled—and because I know she can identify with this one <g>.


Endurance
by
K. Ryn

kdkm@aol.com

 


Endurancen. (1) power or habit of enduring; (2) ability to withstand prolonged strain. Stamina, resilience, staying power, hardiness; perseverance, persistence, fortitude, tenacity; durability, longevity.

Jim Ellison was certain he'd never been in so much agony.

He knew, in his heart, that his assessment probably wasn't accurate.

Surely there had been worse pain after the chopper crash in Peru.

It was just that the mind had the unique ability to discard the memories that it couldn't deal with...

Until it was faced with them again.

His eyes burned. His skull reverberated with the pounding of a headache so severe it made his teeth hurt. If he'd been prone to cliches he would have compared his dry mouth and tight throat to a desert, but he was already feeling the affects of going for hours without so much as a drop of water, so he avoided any thoughts that suggested heat, sand and burning sun. The hunger pangs that were ravaging his stomach were best ignored as well. There was no hope for sustenance in the near future. With a regretful sigh, he turned his head slightly to the left and a bolt of pure fire shot up his spine. It blossomed into an explosion at the base of his skull, then plummeted downward to send a tingling message of anguish through his aching legs.

The Sentinel shut his eyes and instinctively reached out with his senses for his Guide—reassured that he was still holding his own by the soft, steady pace of the younger man's voice as it droned on, revealing one carefully kept secret after another.

Jim shifted slightly against hard wooden confines of his chair, but there wasn't enough room for him to find any relief for his cramped limbs. He took a shallow breath and then another before opening his eyes again, anxious to see how his remaining companions were fairing.

They were three now. There had been five of them at the beginning. They'd lost Joel Taggert before the end of the second day—Henri Brown half-way through the next. The Sentinel's eyes rested on Rafe, whose head had been jerking up and down like a marionette's for the last hour. The young detective had struggled valiantly to hold on, but as Jim watched, his eyes closed and his chin dropped to rest against his chest.

And now we are two.

He shifted his gaze from Rafe's still form and met Simon Banks' pain-clouded stare. It staggered Jim to see that his captain was hurting as much as he was. Of all of them, the Sentinel had been sure that Banks would survive this torture out of pure obstinate pride, if nothing else. With a single look, the two veteran cops exchanged the grim knowledge that it was almost over.

A slight increase in his Guide's heartbeat drew the Sentinel's attention. He looked across the room and caught the worried gleam in his partner's eyes. Jim managed to force a smile, and saw the younger man's concern abate a bit before his gaze shifted away and he began answering questions again.

The world slid out of focus for a fraction of a second, and Jim's eyes fluttered shut. He was awake again in an instant, silently cursing himself for letting down his guard. He had to remain strong. There was nothing left now, but honor.

Drawing on all the stiff-necked stubbornness that his partner always teased him about, Jim focused a steely-eyed stare on the windows at the far side of the room, he tried to recall just how he'd gotten them all into this mess.


It had been a quiet three weeks. Unusual in the annals of the Cascade PD. Unheard of since Blair Sandburg had become Jim's partner. Spring normally brought all the violence, that had been hibernating under the cold, wet Northwestern winter, bursting forth in full bloom.

But this year was different. March had come in like a lamb and stayed that way. Gentle warm breezes caressed the city and soothed the negative vibes that had often turned friend into foe.

There had been no crimes of significant proportion. No bank robberies that degenerated into hostage situations. No serial murderers drenching the streets and alleys with blood and dismembered corpses. No bombs hidden in obscure places, threatening innocent lives.

Even the uniformed cops assigned to parking duty had found the meters filled and their ticket books barely touched by the third week of the month.

January and February had been rough, with far more cases than bodies to assign to them. At the end of the first week of quiet, everyone had breathed a collective sigh of relief. The stressed, exhausted detectives of Major Crimes—Ellison in particular—had been more than grateful for the break. They'd taken the time to regroup, slowly grinding their way through the accumulated paperwork—filling out the reams of forms and reports that meant closure to their end of the battle.

The tension that had permeated every waking moment had eased even further mid- way through the second week of calm, although many of the detectives had found themselves holding their breath, waiting for the other 'shoe' to drop. Cops were suspicious by nature, and they had all acknowledged that the peaceful interlude was only the calm before the storm.

It was at that point that Simon had hauled out his list of personal pet projects. Being the good manager that he was, he'd seen the opportunity that so seldom presented itself and had put the active minds and hands of the men and women under his command to work with a vengeance. By the end of the second week, the department would have passed inspection by the toughest drill sergeant. Jim's keen eye could hardly find a speck of dirt or a stray piece of lint.

Even the paperwork had been finished. All of it. That monumental milestone in itself had been cause for celebration. The Friday night get-together at Miller's pub would go down in the records as one of the rowdiest parties that the department had ever 'not' sponsored. And the best attended.

Only three men had held back from jumping headfirst into the festivities.

Banks had stopped in for a short visit. He'd allowed himself one drink over his normal limit and had spent the rest of the time surveying his troops with a critical eye. A little downtime was a good thing, but too much and the edge that kept them alive and alert in a crisis would dull. He'd made a mental note to schedule everyone for some sessions at the firing range, made his excuses and headed home.

Ellison had favored them with a rare appearance, after having been badgered by Rafe and Brown for the preceding two days. The normally stoic detective had actually been sighted cracking a smile and laughing at a joke or two, but he had said his good-byes after two beers.

Sandburg had been a no-show. His absence had been the only damper on the whole event.

It was also the reason that Ellison had left early.

Monday of week three had found everyone surly and at odds. The only partners that Simon hadn't counseled by the end of the day were Sandburg and Ellison and that was because Jim had wisely taken a vacation day, citing personal business. The department's observer had never made an appearance. His calming influence had been sorely missed.

The spirits of the group had risen again on Tuesday when the practice sessions that Simon had arranged became an enthusiastic competition. Rafe had been declared the winner by default—Ellison had taken another personal day and missed the fun and games.

Wednesday had dawned clear and bright. The tall tales had started to fly, circulated and compounded by increasingly bored detectives who were much better suited to riding the streets than their desks. Ellison had a court date and had exhibited his normal pre-trail grouchiness. Sandburg had never shown.

On Thursday, Simon had been forced to write a memo detailing the proper use of department supplies—there had been a significant increase in the number of paper airplanes in the bullpen wastebaskets. Coffee intake had risen to an all time high and the donut girl was doing a brisk business.

By Friday, boredom had reached an all-time high. And the tall tales had grown taller.


"Thirty-six hours? You can't be serious!" Taggert sat back in his chair, an expression of disbelief on his face.

Sitting to the left of Rafe's desk with his feet propped up on Henri's, Jim grinned at Joel's outburst, but kept his own doubts about the accuracy of the story Brown was telling to himself.

"I am serious. We sat three straight days on that stakeout. Existed on stale coffee and donuts, but we got the perp," Brown finished proudly.

"Yeah, Henri we did, but you need to finish the story," Rafe chuckled. "Tell them what happened when the suspect decided to make a break for it."

"Rafe, I don't think that's..."

The younger detective waved aside Brown's protests. "We did do the full 36 hours—with no relief. It was during that nasty flu epidemic. Remember when we were so short handed? Man, my butt was flat and I needed coke bottles to prop my eyes open by the time we were finished. The dealer we'd been waiting for finally showed. We followed him for a couple of blocks. Everything was going down by the book, until some joker decided to run a stop sign. We almost backended the guy we were following. Of course, he made us and took off running. Henri started to get out of the car..."

"Rafe..."

"Keep a lid on it, Brown," Joel glowered threateningly. "Sounds like we're just getting to the good part."

Rafe's eyes twinkled with amusement. "Well, you remember that Henri said we'd had nothing to eat but coffee and donuts? That was the truth. Problem was that Henri had been dumping the cartons on the floor. When he tried to get out to chase the suspect, he caught his feet in the boxes. It was quite a sight. There he was—lurching down the street, screaming at the top of his lungs, gun in one hand, strawberry and cream-filled donuts squishing with every step."

Joel's laughter erupted in a huge guffaw and he practically doubled over in his chair. Jim saw the pained expression on Henri's face and his own grin widened.

"I don't remember that entry in your official report, detective," Simon observed as he crossed the room to join them. He perched on the edge of Brown's desk, and took a sip of coffee while eyeing them all curiously. "So what's the story topic for today, gentlemen?"

"Endurance," Rafe explained with a grin.

"And who's ahead?"

"Well, Henri had the lead before Rafe supplied the punch line, Simon," Joel answered, still wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.

"The duration of the stakeout was the important element of the story," Brown growled and turned to Jim. "Ellison, you're the acting referee. What's your call?"

"I'd give you five points for the thirty six hours and deduct one for each donut you destroyed in the pursuit." Jim deadpanned.

His summary judgment had them all talking and laughing at once. Even Henri's eyes sparkled and he took the good natured razzing with ease.

"Okay, Rafe, it's your turn," Joel declared. "We've already heard about the stake-out so it's got to be something different."

"Hey, it's not my fault Henri stole the best story."

"Enjoy the hot seat, Rafe," Brown smirked. "The clock is running..."

"hmmmm... hot seat, clocks... oh yeah. Did I ever tell you about the time I did an undercover shift for vice? We were doing round the clock surveillance on the exotic dance clubs down on King Street. I was the one who got tagged to go inside and scout out the layouts. Had to dress in drag..."

"Rafe, the topic is endurance, remember? Not endearment..."

"Hey, endurance also means tenacity, Henri. You know, the ability to stick with something and not get sidetracked..."

"If I need a dictionary, Rafe, I'll consult the one at Ellison's desk. Get on with it."

"All right, all right, now, where was I..."

The Sentinel let the younger detective's excited voice fade into the background. His gaze drifted across the bullpen and landed on the living, breathing, reference Guide that was seated at his desk.

Sandburg had blown through the doors of Major Crimes several hours earlier, begging sanctuary and a quiet place to work. Ellison had barely had time to nod before Blair had plopped down in Jim's chair. The detective had gone to the break room for a cup of coffee, fetching one for his partner as well. By the time he'd returned, his personal whirlwind had turned his neat working space into an disaster zone. The anthropologist's laptop was open and humming. Books and papers were stacked haphazardly on every available surface and several chairs had been pulled closer to function as temporary bookcases for the rest.

Jim had sighed and resigned himself to the loss of his desk for the duration. He'd cautiously edged one stack of books aside—careful not to start an avalanche of epic proportions—and placed the coffee he'd retrieved within easy reach of his young friend. Blair had flashed him one quick, brilliant smile of thanks before diving back into his backpack for more materials.

Laughter rippled through the group of detectives and Jim tuned back into their conversation long enough to realize that Rafe was just wrapping up his tale—something about high heels, a hot tub and a pimp with a Rolex. He did a quick scan of his memory and decided he'd heard enough to render his verdict. He gave Brown the bad news and Rafe cheered.

"Guess I'm up," Joel murmured, and immediately launched into a story about one of the cases he'd worked on when he'd captained the bomb squad.

Jim found himself easing out of the conversation again. He glanced at his fellow officers. He knew a fair amount about each, and respected them all, but he found himself thinking that their stories, as interesting as they were, fell far short of the mark.

Endurance... They should try living Sandburg's life for a little while, he mused, shifting so that he could see his Guide out of the corner of one eye. Maybe then they'd really understand the meaning of the word.

While the rest of them had been indulging in the slower pace of the last three weeks, there had been no such respite for Blair. The observer had simply traded one set of stressful and demanding schedules and responsibilities for another.

March, in the world of academia, meant mid-terms.

To the unenlightened, it was a week or two when papers were due, tests were given and the class load was light.

To the Sentinel, it was a hellish nightmare during which he watched his Guide drive himself to, and past, the point of exhaustion.

There were tests to prepare, tests to proctor, tests to grade, grades to post. Then there were the papers for which Blair pushed the envelope even further. He practically lived in the cramped space he called an office—keeping his door open from the crack of dawn until late at night so that he could be available to each student, all of whom seemed to share a propensity toward procrastination. Papers, that once turned in, had to be read and graded—all within a ridiculously short span of time.

Tests and papers times two, because he was teaching two different classes, each with at least 80 students.

Tests and papers times three, because there was also his own work to consider. Besides his teaching responsibilities, Blair also had his own classes to attend, papers to write and tests to take.

Often papers times four, if he were writing something for one of the myriad Anthropology journals or publications in order to meet the department's "publish or perish" doctrine. Murphy's Law tended to be in full blown action where the grad student was concerned, which meant that the deadlines for submission tended to fall within the same March madness.

Then there were the meetings—all scheduled by someone with a great deal more time than common sense. Department meetings, meetings with his advisor, meetings for all the special committees that Blair had either volunteered for, or was volunteered for by some well-meaning professor.

Even with Blair's seemingly endless energy level and an uncanny ability to pack 48 hours of activity into 24, the weeks of stress took their toll. In an attempt to meet the insane schedule and overwhelming responsibilities, sleeping and eating quickly fell to the bottom of the priority list, and with it the younger man's health.

Jim had suffered through the insanity of mid-terms four times since he'd met the anthropologist. The last round—the fall semester—had been the worst. Unlike the current state of affairs, their caseload had been crushing, demanding the constant use of the Sentinel's senses. His Guide had stubbornly remained at his side, which had further strained the already crazed grad student's existence.

Both ends of his life playing out at full intensity at the same time had been too much for even Blair to handle. The day after all the chaos of the weeks from hell, the detective had returned home to find the younger man collapsed on the kitchen floor, with no memory of what had happened, or how long he'd been laying there. Jim had bundled up his dazed roommate and hauled him to the emergency room.

The Sentinel had stood in the hall, blatantly ignoring his own set of rules about eavesdropping on private conversations and had listened to the doctor's assessment of Blair's condition. Exhaustion. Dehydration. A dangerous weight loss. Jim had determined then and there that it was the last time he was going to stand by and watch his friend disintegrate right in front of his eyes.

A change in Joel's deep voice caught his attention and the Sentinel's focus shifted once more. Taggert was explaining how his team had been faced with the challenge of finding and disarming a dozen expertly constructed bombs. Jim decided that the sniper fire that Joel had been dodging at the same time qualified him for first place in their little contest, and filtered out the bigger man's words, drawn back to thoughts of his partner.

Extending his senses, the Sentinel monitored his young Guide. Sandburg was doing his classic imitation of a juggler—slender fingers flying over the laptop keyboard and then over to the keyboard on Jim's terminal which was logged onto the web searching for information; blue eyes flickering between both screens and an open exam booklet that he was grading at the same time. It was daunting just to watch, but the younger man's pulse was strong and steady, his respiration was even and he glowed with enthusiasm and good health.

The Sentinel smiled smugly, extremely pleased with himself, and relaxed for the first time in three weeks.

While the increasing boredom of life at the station had been as aggravating for Jim as the rest of the detectives, he'd welcomed the opportunity to put the plan he'd conceived months earlier into effect. Instead of focusing on cases and criminals, he'd concentrated almost exclusively on his partner.

He'd taken over Blair's cooking duties, often bringing lunch and dinner to the younger man at his office to make sure the grad student was eating on a regular basis. He'd played chauffeur, errand boy, and valet. He'd even managed to coax his Guide into falling asleep in bed, instead of face first in his laptop.

Blair had been almost suspicious of his partner's efforts at first, but Jim had countered the younger man's claims that he didn't need a nursemaid with a softly murmured comment about friendship. Once his Guide had understood that his Sentinel wasn't hovering out of guilt or a lack of respect for Blair's inability to manage his own life, he'd graciously accepted the older man's help.

Things had gone smoothly until the end of the second week. Jim had returned from the Friday night bash to find Blair grumbling about students with no respect for his privacy or his efforts in their behalf. A little subtle interrogation revealed that his roommate had fielded more than a dozen frenzied and demanding phone calls in the few hours that the detective had been gone. The Sentinel had solved that problem by unplugging the phone and advising the station that he'd be reachable only at his cell number for the rest of the weekend.

Blair had spent Saturday and Sunday surrounded by a moat of peace and quiet.

Knowing that his friend would be besieged with students the moment he set foot on the university grounds, Jim had called Simon and arranged for some vacation time. Monday morning had found the detective stationed on a chair outside of Blair's office door. His scowling presence had kept the worst of the offenders from wasting the teaching fellow's time and had prompted those with genuine business to conclude it quickly. Tuesday saw him standing sentry again, with similar, positive results.

Jim listened to the steady heartbeat that carried across the bullpen and smiled again. It had all been worth it. Mid-terms were essentially over and his Guide was still healthy and sane—or at least as sane as he ever was, given the Sandburg Zone's unusual dimensional capability for the bizarre. The only thing that bothered him was that outside of himself, no one really appreciated what a Herculean effort Blair made to maintain both his academic life and his life with the department.

Part of the problem was the casual way that Blair waved it all off, especially when he was razzed about the 'soft' life he led as a student. He didn't whine; he didn't go out of his way to let the other cops know that he'd missed a day's worth of meals because they'd been chasing a lead from one end of the city to another; he made jokes about trying out a new fashion statement when he was teased about wearing two different colored socks—truthfully the result of no personal time left in a frantic week to do basic things like laundry.

And, of course, no one besides the captain knew that he was a Sentinel's Guide. Even Simon wasn't privy to the knowledge that Blair was also a fledgling Shaman—the partners had kept that information strictly between the two of them. The frustrating fact was that only Jim knew how much time, effort and unwavering dedication Blair put into his various roles.

He simply endured it all—the schedules; the danger; the strain; and the incredible stress of being student, teacher, friend, roommate, police observer, Sentinel's Guide and Shaman, all at the same time.

Endurance... If there were any justice in the world, you'd find Sandburg's picture when you opened the dictionary and looked up the word, Jim brooded. Pasted right next to the definition.

Stamina, resilience, staying power, hardiness; perseverance, persistence, fortitude, tenacity; durability, longevity. They were all words and concepts that so accurately described the young man who had become so important in his life.


Simon's booming voice interrupted Jim's reverie.

"I'd say that moves Taggert into first place," the captain announced, turning his gaze on the Sentinel. "But how about you, Jim? I know you've got a tale or two that would put the ones I've heard so far to shame."

"Sorry, Simon. I'm not playing," Jim replied, meeting the older man's eyes with a regretful shake of his head.

"Why not?"

"We disqualified him," Rafe chuckled.

"Can't have the pros playing against the amateurs, Simon," Joel explained with a grin. "Between his stints in the Rangers and Covert Ops, Jim would have beaten us all, hands down."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence, Joel," Jim murmured, the intriguing beginnings of a idea stirring in his mind. "But I wouldn't have won... not if Sandburg had been playing."

Jim watched four pairs of eyes swivel in stunned surprise to focus on the grad student.

"Sandburg?" Rafe choked. "But he's..."

"What?" Jim fixed the younger detective with an icy, blue-eyed glare. "Just a student? Not a cop? Never served in the military?"

"Jim..."

Simon's warning tone eased the Sentinel's protective instincts back down to their lowest level.

"All of that is true," he admitted. "But given the right playing field, Blair would beat all of us," he added confidently.

"That's a pretty strong statement, Ellison," Simon murmured.

"I'm prepared to stand behind it, Sir," Jim responded, throwing down the gauntlet.

"Now there's a challenge if I ever heard one," crowed Brown.

"Just hold on," Simon snapped. He studied the Sentinel carefully. "Just what kind of game is this, Ellison?"

"The same one we've been playing all along, Captain," Jim answered innocently. "I'm just entering my partner as an active participant."

"Without asking him first?" Simon's voice dripped with suspicion.

Jim shrugged. "Sandburg's usually up to a challenge... if he finds it interesting enough."

"So how do we go about setting up this little test?" Rafe asked eagerly.

"Actually, I have some ideas about that," Jim replied.

"Wait a minute, Jim," Brown interrupted. "No offense, but you're his partner and you did propose this..."

"Are you doubting my integrity, H ?" Jim raised an eyebrow in mock disbelief.

"I don't think we have any worries on that score, Jim," Joel said quietly. "I also know that you wouldn't be proposing anything that would put Blair in any kind of jeopardy."

"He'd better not be," Simon growled. "I've had to tap-dance for the Commissioner far too many times in the last few years, trying to explain just how a civilian ended up hurt or in the middle of what should have been purely a police matter."

Jim gave the older man a rueful smile. "What I have in mind is completely safe, Simon. But if you simply want to concede the crown to Sandburg without going through the hassle..."

"No way!" Rafe objected.

"The challenge has been issued and accepted, Ellison," Brown declared.

Jim glanced up at his superior questioningly. "Simon? " Simon glared down at him for a full minute before shaking the air with an ear- shattering "SANDBURG!"

Jim flinched and turned to see his partner's head snap up in surprise, nearly unseating the glasses that were perched half-way down his nose.

"Uh... yeah?" Blair's stammered response floated over to the assembled group.

"Give whatever it is you're working on a rest and join us for a moment," Simon ordered.

Jim had to force himself to keep the grin off of his face as Blair blinked in confusion, then scrambled to find a place for the three books he had balanced in his lap. The younger man shot his partner a puzzled, questioning look as he threaded his way across the bullpen. He stopped just to Jim's left and leaned against the side of a desk, pocketing his glasses.

"What's up, Simon?" Blair asked cautiously.

"Your partner's just volunteered you for a little contest."

Blair gave Jim a wary glance. "And what kind of contest would that be?"

"An endurance test," Rafe volunteered gleefully.

"An endurance test," Blair repeated faintly. He turned his head and glared at his partner. "Gee, thanks, Jim," he muttered under his breath.

The Sentinel heard his Guide's heartbeat shift into a higher gear and caught the flicker of confused pain in the younger man's expression. Alarmed, Jim took a quick look at his fellow cops and saw the faintly predatory gleam in all but Joel's eyes.

Damn... this is not what I had in mind.

"I appreciate it, guys, but I think I'll pass," Blair said quietly. "I'm sure you'd all get a big kick out of dragging me all over the academy's obstacle course, but I'm not really into pain and I get enough humiliation on a daily basis working with Jim."

"Aw, come on, Blair, where's your sense of adventure?" Rafe prodded.

"I lost it jumping out of an airplane over Peru," Blair quipped. His tone was light, but Jim could see the look of betrayal in his partner's eyes.

"It's not going to be that kind of test, Sandburg," Jim said quietly. He waited until Blair turned to meet his gaze before continuing. "This game's going to take place on your turf."

Blair's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"His turf?"

"You mean the university?"

"I don't get it..."

Jim held up his hands to silence the confused babble. "If you'll recall, gentlemen, my exact words were, 'given the right playing field, Blair would beat all of us.' You never asked for the specifics of the challenge before you accepted." "Pretty tricky, Jim," Simon murmured. "So what are the terms of this contest that you've so effectively maneuvered us into?"

The Sentinel shifted his gaze back to his young Guide's. "They're simple really. All you have to do is keep up with my partner. If anyone can outlast him, then I'll have to withdraw my claim."

Jim was pleased to see the expression of glee that sparkled in Blair's eyes. He'd hoped his partner would play along with the game once he understood. Ellison flashed the younger man a quick grin and heard the anthropologist's soft, mischievous answering chuckle.

"That's it?" Rafe asked in disbelief. "We just follow him around when he goes to his classes and stuff?"

"That's it," Jim replied. "You keep his schedule. Do what he does, eat when he eats, sleep when he sleeps."

"Sounds simple enough," Henri remarked. Rafe immediately voiced his acceptance, but Joel took a moment longer to consider, finally nodding in agreement.

"How long are we talking here?" Simon asked dubiously.

"As long as it takes," Jim answered. "My guess is no more than a few days, tops."

"Wait a minute, Jim," Blair interrupted. "I haven't agreed to this yet, you know."

"Worried, Hair Boy?" Brown sniped.

"Not in the least, Henri," the anthropologist responded. "I just want to know what's in it for me. I mean pride is great, but it doesn't pay the bills."

"This isn't an off-track betting parlor, Sandburg," Simon growled.

"It'll be a donation, Simon," the Sentinel interjected smoothly. "To the Wayward Anthropologist's Fund. What's your textbook fee for the semester, Chief?" Jim asked casually.

"About $725.00, with all the graduate courses figured in."

"Why don't we round it up to $800.00? That's $200.00 a piece, assuming that you're in on this too, Simon," Jim suggested.

"As long as the criminal element of the city is still on vacation, I suppose I can excuse all of us for this little exercise," Simon said hesitantly. "But the game stops if a case comes up."

"Agreed."

"How come you're not on the hook for a part of this, Jim?' Taggert asked.

"Because I'm the judge, remember? This is just an extension of today's game. You already disqualified me from playing. I'll be there to watch every move, believe me."

"All right," Rafe agreed. "But what if Sandburg doesn't win?"

"Then I'll pay the winner the $800.00 out of my own pocket," Jim answered confidently.

"Jim!"

The Sentinel waved aside his Guide's startled exclamation. "Grab your class schedule for next week, will you, Chief? We'll make copies so that everyone will have an idea of what to expect."

While the anthropologist departed to retrieve the requested document, Jim finalized the details. "It's settled then?" When four heads nodded in agreement, he smiled and rose to his feet. "All right. The game starts on Monday. I suggest you get all the rest you can over the weekend, gentlemen."

He sketched a salute and went to join Blair, leaving the others to their own speculations. The anthropologist handed him the schedule with a shake of his head.

"Jim, I think I know why you're doing this, but what if..."

Eyes dancing with mischief, the Sentinel met his Guide's concerned gaze with a smile. "Don't worry, Chief. I have the utmost confidence in your abilities. You'll leave them in the dust."

Blair grinned back. "What about you, Jim? Want to make a little side bet?"

"On what?"

"I know you said you weren't going to participate, but an extra $200 would go a long way toward the purchase of that copy of Burton's manuscript that I've had my eye on..."

"Cut to the chase, Sandburg," Jim growled.

"Okay. Here's the deal. Just between you and me. You play the game as well... without using your senses. No dialing back the levels."

"And what do I get in return?" the Sentinel countered with a sly smile. "What's my prize when I'm standing over your comatose body, doing my victory dance?"

"Pride for a job well done?" Blair yelped and barely dodged the cuff that Jim had aimed at the back of his head. "All right... let me think..."

"Don't damage your brain, Darwin," Jim rumbled happily. "I'm sure I can come up with something, since I know you don't have the cash. How about you clean the loft and haul out the trash for the next five years?"

"That's cruel and unusual punishment, Ellison," Blair muttered.

"And cook all the meals..."

"Jim..."

"And do all my paperwork..."

Blair held up his hands in surrender. "I already do ninety percent of it! Enough. Man, you are one sadistic cop, but you're a great motivator. I'm going to enjoy seeing you squirm."

"In your dreams, junior. You forget who set up this little game," Jim replied smugly. "I have the inside track."

"We'll see, Ellison. We'll see." His Guide's face wore an equally smug smile.

For a split second, Jim wondered whether he'd made a mistake. Reviewing the plan in his mind, he decided there was nothing to worry about. After all, he knew his partner and his schedule better than anyone. And he was an Ex-Ranger, after all. He could take it.

Although he had to admit that the gleam in his partner's eye had him a little worried.


Jim barely stifled a groan as he shifted in the hard wooden lecture seat. Thank God the week was almost over. Five days of Blair's schedule had almost done him in. From the front of the hall he could hear the teaching fellow concluding the day's lecture. The younger man sounded as fresh and enthusiastic as he had when the contest had begun

It's your own fault, Ellison. You had him primed and ready for this. You should have known better. You should have listened to your instincts—never, never underestimate an anthropologist with treasure within his grasp.

A side-ways glance at Simon abruptly made him want to laugh. The older man's glassy-eyed stare was priceless. The mighty had fallen. He decided to join them.

The Sentinel closed his eyes and pictured the dials that his Guide had designated as his sensory controls. One by one he tuned them into line, conceding the contest. After all, he'd set it all up to prove a point to the others, not to compete with his best friend. On this playing field, Blair was the true victor.

The anthropologist had led them a merry and exhausting chase. The game had started at 3:01 a.m. on Monday morning when Jim had awakened the competitors from their sound sleeps to inform them that Blair was awake and studying. After dealing with the disgruntled comments of each one, he'd instructed them to open the textbooks that he'd conveniently supplied and to start reading the nineteenth chapter. After reminding them that they were due at the loft by 6:30 for breakfast, Jim had hung up and pulled out his own thick book.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, two slices of toast and coffee. Joel and Simon had both grumbled about the small portions, but a grin from Blair had silenced them. Brown seemed content although he looked decidedly crushed at being cut off at one cup of liquid caffeine. Rafe hadn't said a word about the meal. Instead he had asked the anthropologist a question about the chapter they'd been assigned.

Blair had been delighted and had started to lecture on the spot, but Jim had gently reminded him that they were due at the University by 8:00.

Once they'd hit the campus, Blair had shifted in full gear and the rest of them had been forced to scramble to keep up. The day had flashed by in a blur—four classes, two lectures, three meetings, and afternoon office hours. A half of a sandwich was eaten on the run between one meeting and the next. A cup of tea was gulped down while advising four students. By the time the end of the day and dinner time had rolled around, the detectives and their captain had been famished and parched, not to mention a bit dazed. Blair had prepared a quick meal of pasta and vegetables at the loft and then had handed out the night's study schedule, graciously allowing a full fifteen minutes to roam the TV channels and another thirty to read the paper.

There had been groans of disgust at the volume of reading on the study list, but another grin from the youngest competitor had them gritting their teeth. Jim had ushered them out the door with a promise to call when Blair decided to retire for the night, or if he elected to have a midnight snack. A bag of microwave popcorn was consumed at 11:30, but light's out hadn't arrived until shortly after 2:00 Tuesday morning.

Three hours later Jim had hauled himself out of bed when he heard the tapping of Blair's laptop keys. He'd made the necessary phone calls to alert the rest of the group and to set the day's schedule before crawling into the shower. Two more hours of studying had followed. Breakfast had consisted of a bowl of cereal, milk, juice and an orange. Blair had chuckled at the bloodshot eyes and frequent yawns of the older men, but had refrained from making any comments.

Day two had been executed at an even faster pace than day one—classes, meetings, office hours, more meetings, trips to the depths of the library and then finally back to the loft for light dinner once again. Joel had given up the game at that point, claiming that he couldn't survive on the amount of food that the anthropologist didn't eat. He'd slapped the grad student on the back, wished him well and headed off for dinner at his favorite steak house.

Brown had succumbed the next day. Loud snores had abruptly filled the air in the middle of one of Blair's lectures. The anthropologist had apologized to the class for the excess noise coming from the third row and continued his presentation. The remaining three contestants had exchanged grins and settled firmly into the uncomfortable seats, each certain that they'd be the last one standing.

Day four had found them revising that smug estimation. They were bleary, tired and cranky. One look at Blair as he'd bounced out of his bedroom, as charged with energy as ever and Jim was sure he'd have to shift into 'Blessed Protector' mode to keep Rafe and Simon from killing his Guide before the day was over.

By Friday morning, the writing on the wall was clear—Blair had hit his stride and was going to outdistance them all. They'd made it through to the early afternoon lecture, but Rafe's defeat a few minutes earlier and the look on Simon's face had sealed their fate. Jim relaxed and let the pain of his headache and stiff muscles subside. If he never sat in one of the torture devices the university passed off for chairs, or attended one more faculty meeting, he would die a happy man.

The Sentinel heard the soft rustle of papers and books as the students around them dispersed and opened his eyes to see the anxious face of his Guide.

"I'm calling this off, Jim," he said softly. "I'll concede."

"Why?" the detective asked in shocked amazement.

"I never should have made that bet with you," Blair murmured. "I want you to turn down the dials now. I know you've got a headache, man. I could see the pain in your eyes from across the room."

"Blair..."

"No stupid contest is worth seeing you this uncomfortable, Jim. Just consider the trash already on the way to the dumpster."

"Sandburg, will you be quiet for a minute?" Jim growled. He reached out to touch his Guide's arm. "The headache's almost gone. The dials are already turned down. "

"They are? When did you..."

"Just a few minutes ago. I bow to your superior endurance, oh masterly one," Jim intoned with a grin. "Just don't ever ask me to spend the week with you again unless we're on a case or camping."

Blair stared at him doubtfully for a moment, then started to smile. He glanced over at Simon and the grin widened as he waved his hand in front of the older man's face. Banks never blinked.

"I think I just heard him say, 'Uncle', Chief," the Sentinel smirked. "Congratulations."

His Guide's brilliant smile and laugh soothed away the last of the Sentinel's discomfort.

~ End ~

Author's Additional Notes: Okay, so this was a teaser at the beginning, but it all worked out well by the end, now didn't it? <g> No real owies, no damage to the boys, and a whole lot of smarm.


E-Mail K. Ryn at kdkm@aol.com
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Page last updated 8/15/03.