Sam finished the final page of Blair’s thesis and sighed deeply. On his other knee was a pad of paper, where he’d begun jotting down the idea he’d had.
Ziggy’s right–this paper does deserve to be published. It’s good. And it’s not right that he should be forced to choose between the recognition he deserves and the friend he’d give his life to protect. An image of Al flashed into Sam’s mind and he shuddered. He didn’t even want to think what it would be like to have to make that kind of choice.
“If you had to choose between a Nobel Prize and someone you cared about,” the Observer’s words echoed in his thoughts. “You would do it in a second. You and the kid have a lot in common that way.”
He realized how lucky he’d been with his own doctoral work, especially in physics. Even though his string theory was every bit as sensational as Blair’s sentinel research, it couldn’t hurt anyone. Until the day he’d decided to put that theory to the ultimate test, it hadn’t touched anyone’s life but his and maybe Al’s. And now that it affected so many more…well, he had to admit it was for the better, as much as he wanted to give it all up and go home.
A hand fell on his shoulder. “Will you ever forgive me for making such a mess of things?”
Sam looked up at the sound of Naomi’s voice and forced a hesitant smile. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s okay…Mom.” Reaching out one hand, he patted hers. “We’re…we’re all going to be fine.”
She sighed. “Do you still love me even with all this?”
The physicist blinked, startled. Was Naomi Sandburg really so insecure in her relationship with her son? Setting down both the dissertation and the pad, he stood and smiled warmly at her. “Mom, come on. You know me better than that.”
He held his arms out to her and she stepped into his embrace with a grateful smile. Which one’s the parent and which one’s the child, here? Sam wondered ruefully.
Naomi sighed again. “I’m sorry.”
“Of course I love you,” Sam promised in a sincere, quiet voice. “Would you stop loving me because of one little mistake?”
“Oh, honey, of course not.”
“So why should I do that to you? We were all doing what we thought was right. Right? Maybe this happened for a reason. Maybe there’s something we’re all supposed to learn from it. And I think I know what.”
“And what’s that, Blair?”
He released her with a comforting squeeze of the shoulder. “Why don’t you go call Sid, and I’ll tell you both at the same time?”
Naomi nodded. “Okay, sweetie.”
Back at the Project
“Look, Kid…” Al took a deep breath before proceeding. “If you remember anything once we send you back…look me up sometime. Let me know how you’re getting along.”
Blair smiled a bright, genuine smile that the older man fervently hoped his best friend would be able to preserve. “Thanks. I really appreciate that.”
“Just one thing–”
The man who had once been a father’s nightmare now shook a fatherly finger at the young anthropologist. “You lay a finger on one of my girls, and even your friend Ellison won’t be able to count the number of stitches you need. You hear me?”
“Whoah, man, chill,” Blair laughed. “I promise, okay?”
Al chuckled in return. “Don’t you know it’s a father’s duty to protect his daughters from young men who remind him of his own misspent youth?”
“I’ll remember that if I ever have kids,” the anthropologist joked. He paused thoughtfully. “Al, do I–?”
The Observer shrugged. “Hell if I know. You’re only a year behind us here, remember?”
The Visitor nodded. “A year behind…wait, that means you won’t know me for a year.”
“Once you get back to your own time, yeah. I won’t.”
“That sucks. I was really looking forward to taking you up on that offer.”
Al chuckled. “Hell, do it anyway. Tell me I said for you to look me up–I shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out the rest.”
The room was packed with reporters by the time Sam came in. The Leaper took another deep, quaking breath.
“Don’t sweat it, Sam, you’ll do fine,” Al reassured his friend’s unspoken concern. “You were nervous as hell when you accepted the Nobel Prize, but once you got up there, there wasn’t a person in that room who woulda known it. Except me.” The hologram smirked.
Sam smiled. “Thanks, Al,” he whispered softly, just as someone gestured for him to approach the podium. He did so, shuffling the notes he didn’t really need and leaning forward into the mike.
“Hi. Thank you all for coming. I just have a short speech prepared here. Um… In our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published and after years of research there is great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However, there’s been a serious mistake, for which I accept full responsibility. The paper which was released to you is *not* my dissertation.”
Sam took another deep breath and let it out before plunging ahead.
“In all my years of research into the history and legends surrounding the concept of Sentinels, I was never able to find a test subject, a modern-day Sentinel whose abilities I would be able to observe first-hand. So, I changed the subject of my doctoral thesis to a study of the anthropological sub-culture of law enforcement. In order to research this new dissertation, I was assigned as an observer to the Cascade Police Department, and as an unofficial partner to Detective James Ellison.
“In Detective Ellison, I found all the traits that would make a good Sentinel–a strong sense of honor, a commitment to protecting the innocent–except for the heightened senses. Since I had never quite dealt with the necessity of abandoning my original thesis, I began to imagine how that paper would have taken shape if I had found a Sentinel.”
Sam lifted his eyes to look directly into the camera, hoping Blair’s partner was watching somewhere. “The manuscript you have been led to believe is my thesis, ‘The Sentinel,’ is actually the first draft of a novel. The central character is not Jim Ellison but a fictional amalgamation of my work with him and my Sentinel research. However, having very little experience in writing fiction, I chose to name the characters after the real people who had inspired them until I could think of something better. I apologize for the misunderstanding. My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I’ve caused those that are close to me. Thank you.”
“Sam, you did it!” Al crowed. “It takes a little work on Blair’s part, but he not only convinces the press that his thesis is a novel, he actually rewrites it as a novel and it becomes an instant bestseller. And get this–” The hologram grinned. “He changes Jim’s name in the book to Sam.”
Smiling broadly, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped down from the podium, out of the room, and out of Blair Sandburg’s life in a flash of light.
Back in the Major Crimes division of the Cascade Police Department, a group of officers sat in stunned silence before the television, absorbing the words they’d just heard.
When the eerie quiet showed no signs of ending, Captain Simon Banks shook his head and spoke in a voice too low for anyone but Jim to hear: “Damn. I always knew the kid was good at obfuscation, but that beats everything I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth.”
A very pensive Jim Ellison nodded. And he saved my neck. Again. He stood. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen…I need to go see a man about a book.”
A little while later
Blair stared at the notebook where it lay in front of him on the dining room table. The first page, which he had folded under, contained the speech he had given at the press conference. Part of him still marveled at the words that had come out of his own mouth. What on earth had given him the idea to call his dissertation “the first draft of a novel”?
Of course, it wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it was probably a much better idea than what he’d briefly considered doing, which was to denounce the paper as academic fraud.
Now I just have to figure out how to make people believe it, he decided. That was why he was staring down at a blank piece of paper, with his hands clenched and a firm set to his jaw. If there had been a mirror anywhere in the vicinity of the table, he probably would have laughed at how reminiscent the unconscious mannerism was of Jim at his most determined.
His right hand fiddled with a pen, bringing it up to his mouth to uncap it. With the cap still clamped between his teeth, he brought the ballpoint back to the paper and scratched out a first line:
“Draft Dr. Lake as a co-conspirator.”
That was an absolute necessity, he decided as he removed the cap from his mouth with his left hand. Dr. Lake had seen the early chapters of the dissertation, and was the one person who could blow this plan to hell if he wanted to. Thankfully, Blair was certain that his thesis advisor could be trusted.
Pursing his lips, he let out a low, almost whistling breath and stared at the page again. A few moments of thought later, he scribbled down another “to do” item:
“Figure out fictional names for Jim, me, Simon, Megan, Joel, Rafe, Brown, etc…”
On impulse, he brought the pen down to the next line and wrote under Jim’s name, “Sam.”
Sam? Where’d that come from? Frowning, Blair reached up to draw a line through the name, but paused. Actually…that would work. It sounds a little bit like ‘Jim,’ has some of the same vocal nuances…
Figuring out a fictional name for himself would be harder. He’d have to be careful not to choose something that might invite teasing from the guys in Major Crimes. Not that any of them were probably students of Etymology or Onomastics, but on the off chance that someone might know if a name sounded particularly self-aggrandizing–
“Hey. Thought I might find you here.” Jim circled the table slowly and seated himself in a chair opposite the younger man. The smile he offered him was subdued, but not forced or angry or hurt, as most of their interaction lately had been.
Blair looked up at his partner, a little sheepishly. “Yeah, um…I didn’t know where else to go. If you want, I can–” he gestured towards the door.
“No, I don’t want you to leave.” Ellison’s hand somehow found its way to Sandburg’s forearm, where it fastened with a firm but gentle grip. When he could tell that the younger man was going to acquiesce and stay put, the detective loosened that hold just a little.
He looked Blair straight in the eyes, his own eyes just as subdued as his smile. “I saw your press conference.”
“Oh, yeah, you saw it?” the anthropologist repeated lamely. Wow, if his press conference had inspired this reaction, what would Jim have done if he’d gone with the fraud idea? He suppressed a shiver and shrugged. “It’s just a book.”
“It was your life.”
“And I’ve still got it,” Blair pointed out. “Albeit in a slightly altered form.”
Jim inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment, and the younger man continued. “But this way…this way I don’t have to choose between your life and mine. Like I said, this isn’t just about a research project anymore. It hasn’t been almost since the beginning. It’s been about friendship, and that’s what I don’t want to lose. The dissertation I can live without, hell, even the doctorate if the University won’t let me start over.”
There was a long pause as the detective regarded his friend. “You really think this’ll work?” he asked hopefully.
“I’ll make it work,” Sandburg promised. “Besides, uh…I mean, where I get off following you around for three years pretending I was a cop, right?”
“You might have been just an observer, but you were the best cop I’ve ever met and the best partner I could have ever asked for. You’ve been a great friend and you’ve pulled me through some pretty weird stuff.”
An Observer…Blair smiled, not knowing why he now capitalized the word in his mind. “Thanks.” His fingers tightened around the notepad. “Jim…I know I used to joke about it…about my paper. Like that stupid remark I made once about movie rights when you were in the hospital. If anything I said ever led you to believe I would do something like that to you, expose you like that…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
The detective frowned, thoughtfully. “I don’t know. Maybe it did. But I seem to recall you also saying once that you had enough material for ten dissertations, but you were stalling on finishing it because you wanted to stick around.” He smiled again. “I think I’m the one who made the mistake here, Chief. I assumed the worst when everything I know about you should have told me otherwise.”
Sandburg nodded, relieved.
His smile warming a little, Jim patted his partner’s arm. “So, are you ready to get back to work?”
A delicious shock ran through the younger man at those words. His own smile broadened as he flipped the notebook closed and lifted it to stuff in a deep flannel pocket.
“Hey, man, I thought you’d never ask!”
Chuckling, the Sentinel rose from his place at the table and crossed to the door.
“No matter how badly you think you’ve screwed up, if you just hold on and fight for it until the hurt is past, the friendship will survive.” Blair shook his head, bewildered by the memory. Especially since he couldn’t recall who’d spoken those words to him.
Jim turned back in the doorway, his voice light. “You coming or not, Chief?”
Oh well. It didn’t really matter who had said it. All that mattered was that the words were proving true. He grinned into the once-again-friendly blue gaze of his roommate.
“Right behind you, partner.”