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Previously posted on Guide Posts; retrieved from archived cyberspace via the Way Back Machine. Posted here without author's permission (which means it could disappear if Chaz writes and asks me to remove it).


Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respective creators.


...And After
by Chaz

"Thanks, Nan. I owe you one."

The words don't mean anything to me, but the tone pulls me immediately out of the depths of cyberspace to which I have fallen. A quick glance at the clock informs me that I have been lost in my research for over five hours now. Oh man, no wonder Jim is upset! It's nine o'clock, and it's my turn to fix dinner tonight. I sure hope there's something in the fridge I can throw together fast. No way I want to deal with a disgruntled and hungry Jim after the day I've had. A day where I really wonder if those three letters after my name are worth all the hassle. Ungrateful students and unsympathetic professors do not a happy Teaching Fellow make.

I wonder why Jim hasn't said anything. He's not usually so shy about demanding to be fed, and I know my pounding away on the keyboard irritates those sensitive ears of his. Think fast, Blair. An apology on my lips and a dinner plan involving pasta and leftover chicken running through my head, I look up from my laptop with what I hope is a suitably contrite expression -- only to find myself pinned by Jim's laser blue stare. My spine straightens with a near audible snap, and my heart starts to pound. Something is very, very wrong, and I don't think it has anything to do with a late dinner. Jim never gives me that look unless *he* knows something he doesn't want *me* to know. I so hate that look.

"What's wrong, Jim?" I ask automatically, out of my chair and halfway to him before all the words leave my mouth.

His response is one hundred percent vintage Jim. Trying to act casual, he waves a dismissive hand in my direction and settles down onto the couch. Picking up the phone book, he replies, "Nothing, Chief. How about takeout tonight, since *someone* forgot to cook? I'm kinda hungry for Chinese."

Rolling my eyes upward in a silent plea for patience, I continue my journey into the living room until I'm standing directly in front of my frustrating roommate. He attempts to ignore me by making a big show of flipping through the Yellow Pages. Snatching it out of his hands, I plunk myself down on the coffee table opposite him and toss the book onto the chair behind me.

His attention gained, I say in my best wheedling tone, "C'mon, Big Guy, talk to me. I can't help if I don't know what's going on."

For a couple of moments, Jim looks like he's either going to clam up on me or give me one of those infamous Ellison lectures. I really don't know why we have to do this all the time. I mean, he *knows* that eventually he's going to tell me what's bothering him, if only to stop me from nagging at him. Jim seems to realize this, too, because for once he decides not to play that game and asks instead, "You remember that trip we took to Hawaii?"

Oh man, is *that* what this is all about? How could I forget that? Another vacation shot to hell because I live Murphy's Law. And we weren't even camping! This time, a gas main exploded and took out two square blocks of Waikiki with it. Hundreds of people were hurt or killed in that blast and guess who was one of them? I'd been one of the lucky ones, though. I got away with only a couple of broken ribs, a concussion, and a colorful assortment of cuts and bruises.

Even so, I was pretty mad when I woke up in the hospital and the first shock had worn off. I'd won that trip in a contest the U had held for its staff, and I'd really been looking forward to getting out of gloomy Cascade and having some fun in the tropical sun. So had Jim. A hospital stay had *not* been on the travel itinerary, but as traumatic vacations went, it hadn't been all that bad. At least this disaster had waited until the last day of our trip to let loose!

So why was Jim bringing it up now?

"Yeah, I remember," I answer with a mock groan, striving to lighten the mood. "I remember having to fight with my insurance company for weeks afterwards because some idiot intern wrote my name down wrong on the admittance forms. I mean, c'mon, 'Blaine Sanburn' sounds nothing like 'Blair Sandburg' . . ."

I stop with the lame attempt at humor when I see him wince. Great, now I get it. He's *still* feeling guilty about something he had absolutely no control over. *I'm* the one who's always getting banged up, but *Jim's* the one who always seems to get the worst of it when he thinks he should have been able to protect me. Another stupid ritual we go through way too often. Touching in a way, but stupid.

Playing my part, I lean forward, put a hand on his arm, and tell him, "Jim, it was *not* your fault, man."

Right on cue, he starts protesting, "But if we'd gone to the museum that day like you'd wanted, instead of the beach like I'd wanted --"

"-- something else probably would have happened," I finish with a kind of fatalistic certainty. He stares up at me with angry surprise. I shrug. "Something almost always does. Besides, *you're* the one who keeps saying I'm a walking trouble magnet." Smiling slightly, I give his arm a little shake. "That's why I have a Blessed Protector."

His face darkens, and he tries to pull away. "Lot of good I was that day. It took me *hours* to find you, Blair."

My fingers tighten around his arm, not letting him get away from me, but I hesitate before I make my reply . . . because I don't remember it that way. Granted, I don't remember much about the explosion. Jim had to fill me in on the details later. But I do recall being cared for and held and told I was safe, and I remember it being done with Jim's hands and arms and voice. Maybe it'd been wishful thinking or the knock to the head, but I'd been absolutely certain Jim'd been down in that hole with me. It had totally shocked me when he'd told me he hadn't.

I'd wondered about it for a long while after we'd gotten back to Cascade -- about who my mystery savior was and how'd he been able to inspire the same level of safety and security in me that Jim always did in situations like those. I'd spent ungodly amounts of time on the phone and the computer trying to track the man down, but I'd never gotten anywhere with my inquiries. Eventually, I'd just accepted it as one of those things I wasn't meant to know, sent out a silent thank you to whomever it was, and went on with my life. Jim's question made that recently put to rest curiosity itch all over again.

Thanks a lot, man.

Impatiently, I pull myself out of the past and back into the present. Gripping both of Jim's upper arms, I give him a rough shake. "But you *did* find me, Jim! Just like you always do," I tell him with all the bottomless conviction I have on that subject, "and I'm all right, okay? You have got to quit doing this to yourself, Big Guy. It was months ago."

It doesn't take me long to realize the words are falling on deaf ears, so I try a different tack. "What brought this back up, Jim?"

Jim suddenly becomes fascinated with the space beyond my left ear. I worry for a second that he's zoned, but just as I open my mouth to ask, he starts talking. "I've been trying to track down the guy who was in the sinkhole with you, to thank him for doing my job for me."

Deaf as a post, I swear he is, Sentinel abilities or not . . .

"But it hasn't been easy," Jim continues, oblivious as usual to my frustration with that particular trait of his. "The medics took him away before I got a good look at him, and he refused medical treatment at the hospital, so there was no record of him there. None of the S&R people could remember him, either, with all that was going on at the time."

He finally quits glaring a hole in the opposite wall and focuses entirely on me. "I have a few contacts in Hawaii, though, and they've been looking for him for me. It's been so long, I'd almost forgotten about it, but Nan called and told me they'd found him today. His name is William Wolfe, a lieutenant for the Honolulu P.D. She faxed the rest of the information to the station."

"You found him?" I repeat a little stupidly. Of course Jim found him. Jim finds anyone or anything he sets himself to find. It's one of the founding principles of my life -- right up there with water being wet and the sun rising in the east every morning. I wave aside any reply Jim might have made with one hand and tug on his sleeve with the other. "Cool! Let's get down to the station and see what Nan sent. I've been wanting to thank the man myself."

Jim stops my upward ascent from the coffee table with a heavy hand on my shoulder. "You're sure you're okay with this, Chief?"

I guess I can't really blame Jim for double- and triple-checking my mental attitude here, no matter how exasperating it is. Stuff like the explosion does usually mess me up for a while and I usually try to hide how much it's messed me up and Jim usually has to shift into Big Brother mode in order to nag me into talking about it. A stupid game of my own -- one we never got to play this time around. Almost as soon as we got home, Simon gave Jim a real nasty arson/homicide case that took a couple of weeks to clear up, then I got swamped with school stuff right after that, and by the time everything settled down into what we laughingly call normal around here, neither one of us had thought to bring the subject up. Guess we should have. Now, how do I convince a man with six months' worth of guilt razzing at him that I really am fine?

"Okay, Chief. Let's go."

I stare at Jim in confusion. What the heck?! Just like that? No persuasive arguments, no marathon of objections? Just 'Let's go'?

He's watching me with a mildly amused expression, radically different from the look of moments ago. The frown has magically disappeared, and the muscle in his jaw is no longer twitching madly. The hand on my shoulder tightens briefly, then shifts to my upper arm as he gets us both to our feet. With a final pat on my arm, he moves around me and plucks our coats from the rack.

"C'mon, Sandburg," he says as he tosses me my jacket, "you're so curious to find out about Wolfe, quit dragging your heels."

Well, what d'ya know? He actually figured it out without any help this time. Making a sound somewhere between a sigh of relief and a groan of exasperation, I shrug into the coat and follow him out the door.

*********************************************************************

There's usually only a skeletal office staff at the station this time of night, but as we walk through the bullpen doors, there's so many non-cop type people milling around that I start to worry there's some kind of office worker revolt going on. After a few seconds, both Jim and I realize what's really going on and swear softly. The office *people* haven't gone on strike, but the office *equipment* has -- again. Which means the computers and, more importantly, the fax machines, are out of commission. So much for Lt. William Wolfe.

Trading a look of perfect understanding, the two of us start backing slowly for the doors. We're both aware of the consequences of interfering with tech people on the rampage. I personally feel safer staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun. The backs of my sneakers bump up against the double doors, and I'm just beginning to think we're home free, when our names suddenly rip through the cacophony. We freeze as Rhonda, Simon's normally sweet secretary, emerges from the mob and heads straight for us, a sheaf of papers in her hand. Oh man, she's *still* here? I thought she had a date tonight . . . which probably explains the pissed off look on her face. Maybe if I'm real quick, I can duck behind Jim's desk before she erupts . . .

Rhonda takes pity on us. Seeing the terror in our eyes, she pauses a moment to take several deep, cleansing breaths before handing over the papers to Jim. That's one thing I like about Rhonda -- she never takes out her frustration on the undeserving.

In a voice much calmer than I'm sure she's feeling, my favorite secretary tells us, "Those came in for you about an hour and a half ago, Detective. I'm afraid they didn't come out all that well." She casts an acid glance at the techs behind her and mutters something about idiot repair people under her breath.

Taking another deep breath, she continues in the same forced calm tone, "The words are legible, but the pictures didn't come out at all. I hope they weren't really important."

"This is just fine, Rhonda, thank you," Jim replies hastily. I have a feeling that Jim would have said that even if the biggest case of his life hinged on those mangled faxes. Rhonda nods curtly and vanishes back into the chaos behind her.

Prize in hand, the two of us bolt out the doors and practically dive into the elevator. I don't think either of us relax until we're in the truck and out of the underground garage. I sure feel sorry for the Captain. With Rhonda on the warpath and his computer down, Simon's morning is going to be anything but fun tomorrow.

*********************************************************************

I'd really like to know what Rhonda's definition of ‘legible' is, cuz it sure ain't the same as my own. I've studied ancient hieroglyphics that were easier to decipher than these faxes! From the frown on Jim's face, I can tell the words aren't any clearer for him, Sentinel eyes or not. All either of us have been able to make out in the past three hours of decoding is Wolfe's name, his precinct and badge numbers, and some of his physical stats -– height, weight, hair and eye colors, that sort of thing. None of the other 150 pages of official data, newspaper articles, or Jim's friends' personal observations of the Honolulu detective survived the second great Electronics Disaster of Major Crimes.

We can't even get extra copies of the information. When I'd asked Jim earlier if Nan could resend the faxes to my office at Rainier, he'd shaken his head and mumbled something about ex-CIA personnel and old habits dying hard. I decided not to ask further.

The silence in the loft had become so absolute as the two of us went through the faxes that I nearly jump out of my skin when Jim slams a fist down on the table.

"This is getting us nowhere," he growls, glaring down at the offending pages spread out before him as though he could make the words clear by sheer force of will. After several fruitless seconds, he stands up and stalks over to the telephone.

"Hello? Yes, I'd like to make two reservations for your next flight to Hawaii . . ."

*********************************************************************

"Okay, we're here, we're unpacked, we've got a rental car, and we've got the address to Wolfe's precinct. Let's get going!"

Picking up the keys to the Jeep, Jim shoots me a look of tolerant amusement. "You sound just like a little kid on vacation at Disney World, Chief."

I make a face at him and push him towards the door. "Yeah, well, this trip was *your* idea, Jim. Man, though, the look on Simon's face was priceless when you told him where we were going. I thought he was going to choke on that cigar."

Jim's smile widens a bit at the memory. "He's just jealous because we get to play in the sunshine. Simon likes the rain about as much as you do, Sandburg."

We keep up the friendly chatter all the way to Wolfe's precinct, both of us a little nervous about meeting the man, but neither willing to admit it. Traffic is bad this time of day, and the parking is worse. After circling the Honolulu station three times vainly searching for a parking space, Jim finally gives up and pauses long enough outside the main doors to let me get out.

I'm in and out of the station again by the time he completes another circuit around the block. Wolfe wasn't at the station, I'd been told by the bored desk sergeant. He was down at One West Waikiki, the state's medical examiner's office. It figures. Of all the possible places Wolfe could be in this tropical paradise, he's at a morgue.

It doesn't take as long to get to One West as it did the precinct, and surprise, surprise, we have no trouble finding a parking space here. Who'd want to hang around a building full of dead people?

We're just climbing out of the Jeep when Jim's cell phone rings. It's the hotel, relaying a message from Cascade. Using hand signs, Jim indicates that it's an important message and to go on without him. Taking a deep breath, I push through the glass front doors and make my way down a short hallway. As I turn the corner, I nearly run down a dark-haired woman in a white lab coat. A *beautiful*, dark-haired woman in a white lab coat. Hmm, maybe morgues aren't such a bad place after all . . .

Putting on my best smile, I say, "I'm so sorry. I should have been paying more attention, Ms.—?"

She has a wonderful smile and a firm handshake. "Nui Shaw. I'm the assistant M.E. And you are?"

"Blair Sandburg," I reply, clasping her hand in return. We exchange a long, admiring look before she gives herself a little shake and asks, "Are you looking for Dr. Holliday?"

"Huh?" I'd almost forgotten my reason for being here. "Uh, no, actually, I was looking for Lt. Wolfe. Have you seen him?"

Nui's smile shortens into a grin. "You, too, huh? Yeah, I've seen him. Just take the next right hallway. You can't miss him."

"Thanks," I murmur as I watch her walk away. I briefly wonder if I can find her again in this maze of a building after I talk to Wolfe. Smiling, I set off to find the man in question.

I find the hallway with no trouble and there at the end of the corridor is a man and a woman, their backs to me, apparently in the middle of a heated discussion. And from the sounds of it, the small blonde woman is winning. I grin to myself. Guess the other person looking for Wolfe found him, too. Time to return a little of the favor he did me and do some rescuing of my own.

Clearing my throat, I call out, "Lt. William Wolfe?"

"That's me, and it's Mack. Nobody calls me ‘William' but my mother," the man answers distractedly as the pair turns to face me.

I stumble to a halt and my eyes widen in stunned surprise at the sight and sound of the Honolulu detective. Only one thought makes it through the shocked stuffing that's suddenly fluffed through my brain: *now* it makes sense.

The lieutenant is wearing an outrageously loud Hawaiian shirt, a pair of suspenders and tan chinos. His chosen footwear is sandals, and he's not wearing socks. He has the tan of someone who spends as much time as possible out on the beach, and despite the frown now on his face, the laugh lines around his eyes betray his easy-going manner. As I watch, he pops a stick of red licorice into his mouth.

Except for these things, he's a dead ringer for Jim.

I don't know how long I stand there staring dumbly at the man, but when my brain finally reconnects with my mouth, I manage to stutter out, "Hi. My name's Blair Sandburg, and I just wanted to thank you . . ."

The effect of those words is quite dramatic. At first, he just looks faintly puzzled, his frown deepening as he searches his memory for my name. I realize then I don't know if anyone ever told him what it was and open my mouth to give him further details, but they aren't necessary. Face lighting up, eyes widening in his own surprise and apparent delight, he closes the gap between us and grips my shoulder with one hand.

"Chief?! From the explosion, right?" he asks excitedly.

I nod hesitantly and suddenly find myself enveloped in a bear hug. I return the warm embrace easily, glad Mack has no objections to such a thing. It's so much easier than trying to verbalize what I want – need – to say to this man.

After a moment, Mack pushes me back gently, but his hands remain on my shoulders as he rushes on. "I'm glad you came out of that mess all right. I thought I'd never hear from you again! You aren't exactly an easy man to find, you know. Is Jim with you, too?"

"Chief?" a confused voice interrupts Wolfe's string of questions.

I turn as much as Wolfe's grasp on my shoulder allows and see a startled Jim standing a few feet down the hall from us. Mack's fingers tighten painfully at this second shock of the day for the Honolulu detective. Bouncing my gaze back and forth between the two cops, I see the same transformation from surprise to understanding dawn on both their faces at practically the same time. Weird.

I decide some introductions are in order. "Jim, I'd like you to meet Mack Wolfe, Honolulu PD. Mack, this is Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. And my best friend."

Mack is the first to find his voice. "I wondered why . . . never mind. Pleased to meet you, Detective Ellison." He extends his free hand, the other still on my shoulder.

"It's Jim, and the pleasure is all mine," Jim replies solemnly. Instead of taking the proffered hand in a traditional handshake, Jim clasps his double's forearm in a style reminiscent of ancient brothers-in-arms. Jim's eyes meet mine for a second before he turns his full attention to Mack. "Thank you."

Mack's response is equally solemn and sincere. Casting a glance down at me, he meets Jim's gaze steadily and says, "You're welcome.

A quiet moment stretches out between the three of us, a kind of shared understanding that goes beyond words. We all know what is being left unsaid and prefer to leave it that way. Sometimes, silence is best.

The communal silence ends when the blonde woman interjects with a somewhat plaintive plea for information. We chuckle together and turn to her to start the round of explanations and answers that have been six months past due. Finally, the puzzle of identity and searching will be solved.

And hey, maybe Jim and I'll even get an un-traumatic tropical vacation this time around . . .

~The End~


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