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I shouldn't have written the damn thing. This has basically been my internal mantra for days now. Over and over again I say that to myself. Pointless though, since it comes under the heading of `Could'a Would'a Should'a'. I could have changed my dissertation subject, I would have changed it as soon as I finished the original, and I should have never written the original in the first place.

Could'a, Would'a, Should'a.

I sigh and nestle back further into the seat cushion. Jim and I are watching the Seattle Mariners play, it's only the first inning, no score, and I don't care who wins tonight. I haven't been going out much, trying to stay inside, out of the glaring lights and cameras. Not too much trouble; I have no job and the Academy doesn't start for another month or so.

Jim doesn't have the `stick your head in the sand' option I do, he still has to go to work. The media haven't been bothering him as much as I thought they would. First, he's this genetic anomaly; then his roommate and partner uses him in a fraudulent paper. It's good stuff.

I shift and bring my legs up under me so I'm sitting cross-legged in the large chair. Jim is on the couch staring at the game, seemingly fascinated, so I check the score still zero, zero. I don't want to meet Jim's eyes `cause I'm not really in the mood to talk, I'm afraid that whatever comes out of my mouth will be shrouded in bitterness. That isn't what we need, I'm not sure what we need but it isn't me being a bastard.

During the last few days I've put the press conference, the shield, Jim's words, my mother's actions and my stupidity out of my mind. I was little more than a walking robot with a mission. I cleaned out my office at Rainier in record time, only grabbing my personal effects and my electronic files. Whoever was taking over the teaching position would need the papers and texts. I went to the University at the quietest time possible, trying to avoid as many students as I could. I was successful on the way in, but was treated to some shocked and betrayed stares, murmured support and loud stinging accusations on the way out. Plus I was alone, which didn't help.

Seems a hell of a lot longer, but it's only been days since the press conference. Major Crime and company couldn't be any more supportive but the academic side of my life is deathly still. I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, but there isn't another shoe. I have no job, I have no doctorate, my name is tarnished in that community, and I have nothing to show for the last five years of my life. What else is there? I chuckle softly as the thought of Rainier suing me for something which I'm sure is possible, but there is no money. In fact, I now have years of loans coming due and no paycheck in sight.

I hadn't thought of that.

Looking up I see Jim looking at me, I must have gotten his attention with my laugh, although it's not very humorous. He doesn't say anything just looks a little while longer before turning his attention back to the game. Score is now one, nothing Seattle well that's good. Go Home team.

Wonder what he sees when he looks at me? A friend? Soon to be partner? The person that outted him to his department friends? The person that betrayed him most deeply?

Shifting again I tuck my knees to the side and curl myself up as tight as possible and look out the balcony doors. The night sky is clear enough for me to see the twinkling of stars and I lose myself there for a while, trying not to think.

Unrestrained, all the things that were said come flooding back through my mind like a slide show, one right after another.

- - There's nothing to say, Chief. It's all been said. It's out. It's over. There's no going back. I just thought we had an agreement that I was going to read your thesis first.

- - All right, just to generate publicity for the sake of generating publicity without even having a deal because he wants to, what toss it, uh, in your face, like a dangling carrot?

- - Chief, you got a great opportunity here. It's a once-in-a- lifetime play. Go for the brass ring. Good luck, huh?

- - How did you intend to protect my identity and still keep your research valid? -- You don't know. You couldn't have. You knew that and went ahead and wrote it down anyway.

- - People change. You just got to go with it. This whole sentinel thing has just gotten too out of hand. I can't take this attention. That's not me. I just want to go back to the way things were.

- - Well, you tell me who I am, then, 'cause I have no idea.

- - Your research is done, Chief. Why don't you just let it go?

- - That happened because of me. I don't think it's a good idea to be around me right now. The only chance I got of getting Zeller is if I'm on my own.

I may have hurt Jim deeply but his remarks hit their intended soft spots. Oh yeah, I fixed the situation that was created by my stupidity; it was a huge cost to myself but it doesn't erase what he threw in my face. That I had changed, that I wanted the money and fame, that I didn't have his best interests in mind, that he no longer wanted me around, almost as though he wanted to erase my existence. I felt like I had nothing, with his words he tore everything I kept close to my heart out of me. How do you talk to a person that thinks so little of you? How do you explain what was going through your mind to a person who chooses not to listen? I thought his words about trust and turning my back on our friendship many months ago was bad, that being kicked out of the loft was devastating. Nothing could have prepared me for the deadness I felt once Jim was finished throwing all he could at me.

Our last fight, Alex not withstanding, was over the dissertation. The damn paper turned out to be that great big pink elephant in the middle of the living room. It was there, we knew it was, but we didn't speak about it, not in depth, not seriously. Ignore it and it will go away. I wanted that to be true, I wanted the perfect little life where I kept my best friend, wrote my dissertation on a subject I researched and loved for half my life and was able to juggle two lines of work. Police Observer and Teacher. For many years during my days in college I just wanted the letters after my name and the paper. I was a simple man until I found my true path.

Those first few days, "after," were hell. I was too wound up and upset to get angry with him, but now, I want to get angry but I feel it's too late. We've been through the wringer. I know his days are rough; trying to take all the ribbing from the other cops in stride, still do his job, only to come home to the loft where we don't really speak. We exchange pleasantries, but we haven't talked about what happened, I'm not even sure that's a good idea. I'll throw all the things he said to me in his face, he'll throw all my actions in mine. What would it accomplish? Just more hurting and we've really had our fill.

We were so lost without each other that sounds so trite but it seems true. Jim didn't want me around, he wasn't sure where his past cases stood, his reputation, how he was going to continue to work; I couldn't go to school, and the station was out of the question. We were both floundering professionally and emotionally. The guilt was heavy all around. Naomi felt guilty for sending the paper, I feel guilty for just writing it and Jim blamed himself for the shootings. I don't really think it could have gotten much worse.

I jolt back to myself when Jim clears his throat. My head snaps toward him but the television has all his attention. Did he do that to get my attention? I glance at the score box in the corner of the screen. I blink. The seventh inning? I close my eyes and let my head fall onto the cushion behind me. I wanted to not think for a while, but I hadn't realized so much time had passed. Looking at Jim again he seems to have relaxed a bit in the last few moments maybe he had wanted to kick me out of my trance.

We still don't know how to be around each other. Sure, Jim gave me the badge, told me about the academy that I could be his official partner and it sounds great. The problem isn't when we are in the company of others. It's like we're afraid to talk in case we say something wrong. It's getting tiring.

I roll my head to the side and look at the game again. Mariners are still winning but the score is two, one now; I'm missing a good game. What can I do to make us more comfortable with each other? I'm not sure how much more I can do, I'm exhausted emotionally. The press conference took all the control I had, and even then I couldn't hide my distress; just thinking about it now I wonder how I did it and how I'm going to repair my friendship with Jim.

My eyes stray to the slightly slouched figure on the sofa and some of my wariness lifts. I did everything for this man threw away my career for his peace of mind, his career, and our friendship. I've never had such a relationship before where it actually frightens me to think of him not in my life. He's that important to me, I can't explain it to anyone, but he is and I would do it all again if I had to. It will take time, probably months before we are totally in sync with each other again, but it will happen.

Will we forget what happened? Never. We can't, we need to remember what it was like when we didn't have faith in each other, remember what it was like to be alone. I'll forgive Jim eventually for the scarring words, just as he will probably forgive me for blindly writing my dissertation. There was a time where that book was all that mattered to me. I entered college so young, but I had a goal and I was going to get it and get it my way. I had kept that philosophy for many years, until meeting Jim. Slowly my fierceness shifted from a book to a man. I know we could have avoided this whole scenario if I had just followed my heart instead of old dreams, and that is something I have to carry with me.

Live and learn; that's what all the sayings tell us. I have learned, now I just have to shift my life around to live again. No more hiding, no more walking on eggshells. With a deep breath I stand and walk to the refrigerator. As I open the door I call to Jim, "You want a beer?" I clench my fist to stop my hand from shaking.

There's silence for a moment, he's not used to us making small talk here at home but it has to change for us to really get passed this. I forced us to this precipice; I'll be the one to push us off.

"Yeah," he says.

When I return I sit on the other end of the couch and lean across to hand him the bottle. "So, what did I miss?" I ask as I gulp several swallows of beer.

Jim's eyebrow quirks up a little before rattling off some of the stats for the game. We'll be all right eventually.

I've got the game on but I couldn't really tell you who's playing. Sandburg's sitting with me but not, usually he's next to me on the couch cheering and cursing with me and the rest of the fans. But not today. Today he's curled up on the chair just staring vaguely in the TV's direction. If he's actually seeing any of it, I'll repaint Sweetheart bright yellow.

The diss. I know it's on his mind because it's on mine. I can't believe how badly the whole deal went down. I've been on busts gone wrong where the perps got away with the drugs and shot four cops on the way out; that went down better than this. Special Ops missions with bad intel the wrong target and no reclaimable mission target that were more successful. What? You thought Peru was the only bad mission the Army ever sent me on?

What really burns me, other than my own behavior, which we'll tackle at a later date, is Naomi. I managed to be civil, polite and even marginally affectionate but dammit! She pisses me off! She hasn't been by one for a calm and peaceful visit. Ok, granted, the other times well, they were mostly just annoying rather than damaging and actually there were some damned amusing moments, baby pictures come to mind. But every time she blows through, Sandburg is left in her wake. He says he's not hurting and on the surface, he probably isn't. Long years of this type of behavior have gotten him used to her drive-by visiting and meddling. But this went above and beyond. He told me about the Prize money and the masseuse that added to the mayhem. I understand a mother's love, in an abstract sort of way of what little I remember; Sally's efforts and protective mothers I've seen on the job over the years. This goes way beyond what I consider normal or even over-protective mothering into downright meddling and manipulation.

I mean, how hard can it be, really, to call your masseuse friend and tell them to forget it? How hard is it to stop the cameras and that disgracefully greedy Dean from getting in your son's face when he's obviously upset about it? What did she REALLY do to repair the damage?? Call the publisher when Sandburg asked her too? Gee- big help.

A soft, rather disgusted chuckle slips from Sandburg rather involuntarily and I look up, wondering if he's reading my mind now. But no, he just glances briefly at me and returns to staring, only this time out the window, that same vague air of waiting and wondering that has been clinging to him all week takes my notice again and I repress a sigh.

Where was I on my list oh yeah. The publisher. Well he'll be hearing from my lawyer. I don't care what Sandburg says. I can even twist this into part of my duties as executor of his estate when we did the Powers of Attorney. What ever happened to the client's right to say no? To withdraw their own work work THEY own all rights to? And you can't tell me he didn't say no. I know he did. Not just the fact that he told me he did, but that he wouldn't have broken that old promise to me. That and the utter surprise on his face when they ambushed us in the truck. Looking back on it now, the news was an absolute shock - I could see it on his face, hear it in his responses.

Oh look, the game's progressing. There are scores, stats; I make a vague note in case I need to discuss it tomorrow at work.

Work. Can I mention how damned pleased I am that he's gonna accept the offer? Granted, he doesn't have a lot of options right now, but there could be a few. I did mean what I said though. He's been and will be a damned good cop. And despite my tendencies and repressions and hidden pitfalls I care for him. See I can even say it now. After four years of his "get-in-touch-with-your- feelings-man", I can at least say it to myself. I think that's part of the reason Carolyn was cool to him. I never found a good way to ask her and they didn't interact much in those early days before she got the job offer.

So, I care for him. I'll support him till then, offer to help out with training if he wants. He's not going to need much. The firing range stuff and the hand-to-hand; that's gonna be it. The rest of it he's got down cold.

So. That just leaves the hard part. My responses and reactions. What can I say I freaked. Ah, that word again. A multi-purpose word is it not? Freak: a verb, a noun, an adjective almost as useful as the other F-word. So the "freak" word was just all over the place those couple of days. Used by me to describe myself, used by my family (still using the term loosely) to describe me, used to describe all of our reactions to the news of the leak, used to describe our friends' reactions, used to describe the whole madhouse situation with the reporters. I could go on with the analysis but I'm boring myself and drifting. Back on topic Ellison.

I freaked. My second, ok, third worst nightmare had just come true. Sandburg had obviously screwed me, why shouldn't he take the money and run? He'd done this to me. My secret, my freakishness plastered all over the evening news; interfering with my job, letting the bad guys get too close, get away, almost get away with murder. And I hurt him. I knew it with my vicious little jabs. I knew where the soft spots were. After all this time, I knew them. And it's like the rational, normal, regular me was in a little box in my mind screaming at the rest of the instinctual, hurt, freaked side to back off, back down, just stop and think. It's not like I owned him or anything. It's not like I brought him back from the dead...

I clear my throat and shake my head, loosening my clenched jaw. I see Sandburg startle and realize he was as lost in his thoughts as I was.

I brought him back from the dead and he did this to me. And then he saved me from it. The rational side of me has clawed its way out of the box and banished the freaked side into it instead. He saved me from it and all I've been able to do is tiptoe around him. This has got to change! He saved me and I'm saving him. With a job, still a place to stay, the emotional support he needs until we can figure out what to do about the guys at work. I don't seriously see them buying most of it. The problem is whether they buy the Sentinel part or the fraud part. Well, obviously we just have to get them all believing the Sentinel part and hope that the fact we saved all their asses at various points will buy us forgiveness and acceptance.

"You want a beer?" The question startles me aware this time, and it takes me a second to process it.

"Yeah." He brings it back and hands it to me while settling on the couch, with me this time. There's a new openness in his body language something that speaks to a willingness to try again and when he asks for game stats, I happily supply what little I noted.

We take synchronized sips of our beers and grin at each other. And by the time the game is over, we've each shifted enough that our shoulders are almost touching like they used to and that other feeling is making its way back too. Two more F-words. Forgiveness and friendship, like they used to.

And I like it.

~End~