Production No. CVT501

written by:

edited by:
Brenda, JAC, & Kelly


There was still a light on behind the office door that had the word "PERSONNEL" printed on it. Inside, the digital clock on the wall of the dimly lit office displayed the time 2341 hours or 11:41 p.m. for anyone who did not understand how to read military time. Underneath the timepiece, the silent figure was sitting at the cluttered desk fidgeting with the paperwork that was lying in front of him. The sudden jangling ring of his telephone caused him to jump and then quickly reach for the receiver.

"Perkins...Where have you been?...Oh, I forgot about that conference. It's just that I've been waiting for you to call...The final roster was supposed to be turned in three days ago... Okay, hold on." Setting the receiver down, the man opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a folder. Opening it to lay flat in front of him, he picked up the top page.

"Okay, those two guys you selected... Yeah, they're both still in this class. My contacts were able to handle the screening. Did you know that there's another guy... Oh, you knew he was coming here. Isn't he the same guy... I thought so. He worked with... What do you mean 'so what?' Him attending a police academy could bring a lot of media... Well, we've got a sweet thing going on here. The one thing we don't need is publicity... Okay, if you say so. But I've got too much to lose if our operation gets exposed. I'll be watching him closely and at the first sign of trouble, I will take steps to remedy the problem."

Slamming the receiver back down onto the cradle, the man stood up quickly. His chair crashed back against the wall and then rolled back towards his legs. He paced back and forth behind the desk and then stopped and picked up the page from the folder. He stared at it for a few minutes before tossing it back down.

"Damn it!" he exclaimed, slapping the folder shut and tossing it into the desk drawer. "I've got way too much to lose." Slamming the drawer shut, he turned off the desk lamp and stomped out of the room.

852 Prospect Three Weeks Later

The long, limber fingers fumbled with the knot on the dark blue tie, adjusting the angle and tautness to ensure that it lay straight but comfortable on the lighter blue-colored shirt. They next checked the shirt buttons, especially the ones on the pocket, to ensure that each was securely fastened. Hesitantly, the fingers brushed across the name tag pinned above the right pocket. It read "SANDBURG" in white letters on a dark blue background. Looking back up, Blair Sandburg studied the image that stared back at him from the mirror. Placing his hands onto the bathroom sink in front of him, he dropped his head and closed his eyes.

"All I need to complete this geek picture is a pocket protector and some white tape on my glasses," he mumbled softly and ran a hand through the rioting curls that lay close to his head. It had been two weeks and he still wasn't used to the length. The sacrifices we make for the things we want the most.

"Oh I don't think so, Chief. Pretty sharp looking cadet standing there if you ask me," Jim Ellison voiced from the doorway of the bathroom. He was leaning casually against the door jam with his arms crossed on his chest. When Blair turned towards him, Jim gave him a confident smile. "Getting butterflies?"

"More like fighter jets getting ready to make strafing runs. Last time I was this nervous I..." Blair's voice trailed off as he turned back to look at the face in the mirror.

Ellison stood up straight and moved to stand behind his friend. The taller man could easily see himself over his smaller friend's head. "You were giving the news conference." Bright blue eyes met darker ones looking up towards them in the glass. The owner of the darker ones nodded and then dropped the gaze.

Sandburg shifted away from the mirror and walked into the main area of the loft where his backpack sat on top of the kitchen table. His friend followed him. "History, man. Something to be remembered but not relived or regretted."

"I hear you, Chief." Ellison's usage of his mother's favorite phrase caused Sandburg to hesitate for a few seconds and then continue to gather his things together. "You'll do fine, Sandburg. You're lucky the academy has changed since I went there. It's no longer a requirement to stay on the grounds unless you live outside of a fifty-mile radius. So that means you'll see my bright and shining face every night."

"Oh, man. Do you think it's too late to claim that I live in Tacoma?" Blair quickly ducked but was unable to avoid the hand swung at the top of his head. Glaring at his friend, he used his fingers to try and control the unruly curls. "Hey, don't mess with the hair, man. It took me hours to get it to reach this level of chaos."

Jim noticed the way his friend's fingers lingered in his hair. "It will grow back."

"Damn right it will. Just as soon as I get close to graduation, I'm developing an allergy to scissors."

Ellison laughed softly and walked into the kitchen area to pour himself a cup of coffee. He leaned back against the counter and watched his friend open and check the backpack for the things he knew he was going to need for the day. "You still okay with this, Chief?"

Looking up from his activity, Blair gave his friend one of his brilliant smiles. "Piece of cake, Jim. At least now I'll be learning the correct way of handling police work instead of the Major Crime version. I'd better get on the road or I'll be late. Not a good thing to be on the first day. Right?" Moving quickly, Blair swung his backpack over his shoulder, walked to the loft door and had it open before Jim could reply. Grabbing his keys, he turned, gave his friend a quick wave and closed the door behind him as he exited.

Staring at the closed door, Ellison listened as his friend walked quickly to the stairwell, trotted down the different levels and finally left the building. "You'll do just fine, Chief. I know it," he said softly then headed towards the stairs to his bedroom to get ready for work.

Cascade Range Police Academy, One Month Later

Blair sat at the rear of the classroom staring at the answer booklet in front of him. Looking around at the other members of his class, he realized he had finished the test before the rest of them. Again. Suppressing a sigh, he fidgeted with his tie and then the collar of his uniform until he saw the instructor at the front of the room watching him. Giving the man a quick grin, he turned his attention back onto the pages in front and allowed his mind to wonder to how he ended up here. As it usually did when he became frustrated, his thoughts drifted to his first day.

Only a month ago he had stood in the courtyard in the center of this building, feeling totally lost and in shock that he was actually enrolled in a police academy. He smiled to himself remembering the fleeting moment of fear that had flashed through him when the sharp sound of a whistle cut through the air. What happened afterwards was as clear in his mind as if it had happened that morning.

Blair was looking around the roomy courtyard that he had been ushered to when he had arrived at the administrative building. The layout of the grounds was pretty simple. One large building, the one he was in currently, held the administrative offices, classrooms and a dining facility. Behind it was a smaller, oblong building with two windows in the front. It was the indoor firing range and Blair thought it resembled a bunker he'd seen in an old war movie. The last main building was the farthest away and fairly new. It contained a gymnasium with a weight room and had a quarter-mile track behind it. Not as large as the university campus but still big enough to make Blair feel insignificant.

Most of the other men and women that had arrived with him had the same lost expression he was sure covered his face. Clutching his backpack, he carefully wound his way through the group until he was standing off to the side. Unsure of what to say to any of the other people, probably a first in his life he would muse about later, Blair studied the design of the nearby flower garden and listened to the voices around him. A sharp whistle cut through the air to halt all the conversations.

"Good morning!" Called a husky, woman's voice. Blair spun quickly around to the owner of the statement and saw two sharply dressed police officers standing erect near the door of the building. One was a man who stood taller than he by a good three inches with stripes on his sleeves marking him as a sergeant. He wore a stern expression on his face and was making a careful study of the group of 25 similarly dressed men and women standing in front of him.

The woman next to the Sergeant was just as tall, wore the rank of Captain on her collar and was also looking over the group. However, her expression was more relaxed, confident and definitely friendly. Once she saw that she had everyone's attention, she shifted into a more comfortable stance and continued to speak.

"My name is Captain Kathryn Schofield, Commander of the Academy. Beside me is Sergeant Charlie Blanchard. He will be in charge of you starting today and will guide those of you who decide to stick it out during the next 5 1/2 months." The Captain relaxed slightly and clasped her hands behind her back. "You have all made a big decision in your lives by showing up here this morning. I commend you for that decision and hope that what ever drove you to our doors will stay within your constitution until graduation and beyond."

The woman's eyes locked onto Blair's for a space of a couple of breaths and then continued on to roving across the group. His heart skipped at beat. She recognized me! I didn't think anyone would with this hair cut. Reaching up, he fingered the curls that swirled high on his neck. God. I hope Jim or Simon didn't have to have a long conversation with the brass to get my application accepted.

"You had to pass background checks by your department to get here so I'm not worried that any of you are not the quality of people needed to protect our cities. But neither do I care about what your former lives were." Again her eyes flickered to Blair's and he relaxed at her words. She flashed a brilliant smile at the group. "You are now police cadets at one of the finest academies across the state and will hopefully soon join the ranks of a strong brotherhood. Again welcome, good luck and I now leave you in the capable hands of Sergeant Blanchard."

Shifting back a step, Schofield turned to the Sergeant and extended a hand to usher him forward. He gave her a nod and waited until she was completely through the doors behind them before turning back to the group.

"Alright. Move forward and make two nice straight lines in front of me." The man's voice was low, strong and easily heard. A smirk appeared on his face as he watched the group of people shuffle forward and jostle for positions. It grew into a smile when the movement halted. "Congratulations. You've just passed your first test with flying colors. You were able to follow a simple order. If you listen to what I tell you and take it to your heart, do what is asked of you and put forward the amount of effort needed to complete what is required, each and every one of you will make it to graduation."

Standing at the end of the back row, Blair had to lean slightly to the left to see past the tall man standing in front of him. Sergeant Blanchard stood facing the group, his hands clasped behind his back. The intensity of the look he was giving to the group reminded Blair of the glare Jim would give him each time his explanations became creative with the truth. When the dark eyes swung in his directions, Blair shifted back and hopefully out of sight.

"Before we get started issuing you the equipment you will use while attending here and classroom materials you will use while attending here, I want to make one very important point. I am here for you. If you are having difficulty with the curriculum, come to me. If you are having difficulty with any of the instructors, come to me. But most of all, if you are having any problems with any other cadet, you better bring it to me. Do you understand me?"

There was a mumbled reply from a few members of the group but most just nodded. The smile that appeared on Blanchard's face almost transformed it into something friendly, but it quickly disappeared. "Okay. Follow me and we'll get you 'would-be' police officers started."

The light tap of a hand on his shoulder interrupted Blair's thoughts. Looking up, he saw the instructor standing next to his desk. The man pointed towards the door. Closing the answer booklet and suppressing a sigh, Blair looked towards the door at the back of the room only to see it closing. Silently, he rose from his chair, walked to the desk in the front and dropped the answer booklet in an empty wooden box marked 'in.' Although he was trying to move as quietly as possible, all the other cadets had turned to watch him hand in his material and then move to the back of the room. However, their heads quickly returned to their own desks when the door opened and the figure of Sgt. Blanchard could be seen standing in the hall.

"Is there something wrong Sergeant?" Blair asked quietly after the door had closed behind him.

The Sergeant turned to walk down the hallway and Blair fell into step beside him. "There's a question concerning some of your work, Mr. Sandburg. The Captain feels that a discussion is needed with you before any accusations are officially accepted."

"My work? Wh-what's wrong with my work?"

"As far as I've been able to find, nothing. But a few of the instructors have raised some questions and the issue of some tests you've taken has raised some concern. The Captain wants to give you the opportunity to answer the questions and talk with the instructors." Blanchard glanced at the smaller man keeping pace with him. He could see confusion and concern in the cadet's face but nothing that would indicate guilt.

Blair's mind raced over the past month and tried to think what any of the instructors might have found to question. "Right," he mumbled. "Let me have my say before kicking me out."

Blanchard stopped in front of an office door with the words 'Commander' and 'Capt. K. Schofield' emblazoned across the glass. He rapped sharply on the door twice and then opened it without waiting for an answer. He allowed Blair to precede him.

The administrative clerk sitting at the desk inside the door didn't look up as the two men walked past into the main office area. Through one set of doors, the large, mahogany desk sitting in front of the windows was empty. Placing a guiding hand onto Sandburg's shoulder, Blanchard aimed the hesitant police cadet towards a second door to the right.

"Please come in, Mr. Sandburg," Capt. Schofield invited when the two men appeared in the doorway. Blair hadn't seen her since the first day but his memory of her appearance was still sharp in his mind. Schofield was a tall, striking woman with light colored hair worn in a short but stylish manner. The only indication of age about her was a streak of silver that started at the hairline above her right eye and flared back. Despite that, she was tanned, fit and trim in the police uniform.

Schofield stood at the head of a long conference table and she wasn't alone. On one side of the table stood Officer Williams, the instructor for report writing and police procedures and Ms. Sanchez who had given two previous psychological exams during the first week of training. "Please have a seat. I'm sorry we pulled you out of class before it was completed but the issues at hand are important"

Moving hesitantly to the chair indicated Blair sat down quickly and tried to relax. "No problem, Captain. I was finished anyway." He gave the woman a quick smile.

"Yes. That's one of the reasons you were asked here today. You were being given the Myers-Briggs Personality Test today, if I remember the curriculum right. That test normally takes an hour and a half to complete and you've only taken about 45 minutes. According to Ms. Sanchez, you also completed her tests in record time and the results were very, uh, general."

"Well, I tried to explain to Ms. Sanchez that it wasn't right for me to take the tests but she insisted that I complete them."

"And why is it not right for you to take the tests?" Sanchez spoke up. The expression on her face was one of extreme irritation. "Do you think that you are special? These examinations are important determining factors on the psychological make-up of all cadets."

"Yes ma'am. But the results are useless if you know how they are devised and how to answer the questions. The two you gave were not too different from the Myers-Briggs test we were just doing. The choices we make on the two statements presented can create a fairly accurate picture of an individual's background, current state of mind and psyche. However, if one has an understanding as to what each pair of statements is looking for, specific choices can be made and the results can be very neutral, lean in the direction the test taker knows the presenter is wanting or be way off the scale."

"How can you know this, Mr. Sandburg? The tests are carefully guarded to ensure that they can't be compromised." Sanchez folded her arms firmly across her chest and glared.

Blair knew he could lose the argument if he allowed his temper to flare like it was begging. Instead, he turned to the Captain. "If she could see my records Captain, my application and the college transcripts accompanying it, she'll see what some of my studies were at Rainier."

Schofield held up a folder. Throwing a glare at the straight-faced man sitting across from her, Sanchez accepted the extended binder. Reading quickly and then flipping through a couple of the pages, some of the anger drained from her face. "You have a decent background in psychology."

"It's a good idea to understand human nature and the make-up of the human psyche if you intend on going into Anthropology. I took a few classes in psychological testing and measurement and have even been certified to give the Myers-Briggs." Blair's statement was made with enough humbleness to eliminate the rest of the hostility between him and the woman. "I'm sorry, but I did try to explain because the same thing happened back at the precinct." This was to the Captain.

"I take it that this information will also soothe the feathers of Mr. Burnstein when he brings me the results of the test you just took." Blair gave her a quick smile but quickly schooled his expression back to one of neutrality.

"You haven't shared your knowledge with any of the other cadets, have you Mr. Sandburg?" Sanchez was checking through some papers she had before her. "I've got three other cadets who had similar results to the tests. Krist, Johnson and Carson."

Blair looked sharply at her and shook his head then moved his hands in a negative motion. "No way. That's totally unethical and I would lose my certification. Besides, those three and I aren't, um, the best of friends. If they were similar to mine then--"

"Thank you, Ms. Sanchez. I think we've got your situation resolved." The Captain quickly jumped in. After the woman exited the room, Schofield passed Sandburg's folder over to Officer Williams. As he read the paperwork, she swung her chair to face the cadet. "Your records also indicate that you've been an observer with the Cascade Police Department for the past four years. I know all about that time but would you please explain to Officer Williams what that entails?"

Clearing his throat, Blair brushed a hand nervously through his short hair and then clasped them in front of him again. "I was working on my... an important study and was attached to the Major Crimes division as an observer. I was allowed to work with a specific detective in order to understand the workings of a closed society such as a police department. During that time I sort of assisted him and a couple of the other detectives with their paperwork and was allowed to be... included in the investigations of some of their cases." Blair could have sworn he heard a chuckle from the woman to his left but her face betrayed no emotions.

Closing the folder with a sigh, the officer returned his gaze to the Captain. "Well, this certainly would explain the work you turned in last week. You obviously have extensive knowledge of police procedures, investigations and report writing."

"Yeah... I mean yes. I ~ahem~ guess I do." Can't help but know how to do police paperwork if your partner makes you handle his all the time.

"Is there anything in the curriculum that you don't have excessive experience with Mr. Sandburg? I'd hate to be trying to teach you something that you would be more qualified to teach yourself." Williams gave the nervous cadet a knowing smile.

Looking quickly at the Captain, he turned back to the officer after she gave him a nod. "Well, I don't have a full understanding of the law studies but do know most of the warrant and patrol procedures and working with evidence at crime scenes. My roommate was a medic in the Army so I've learned First Aid from him and from field work. However I haven't been certified with CPR. I guess I'm a little clueless on the firearms training since I'm not really comfortable with guns. And I'm not sure what all the physical fitness and defense tactics will require but I've had to take classes on diversity and ethics."

"Thank you for your honesty, Mr. Sandburg. Would you mind waiting outside? I want to discuss options with Sgt. Blanchard and Officer Williams." Blair opened his mouth but quickly closed it when he saw the look of determination in the Captain's eyes.

With a nod, Blair stood up and pushed his chair back against the table. Throwing a quick look at Sgt. Blanchard, he exited the room. As he walked past the clerk's desk, the door opened and two officers Blair didn't know entered the office and headed towards the room he had just left. With only a moment of hesitation to watch them, he quickly stepped out into the hallway. Leaning against the wall beside the now closed door, Blair took a deep breath, held it for several seconds then slowly released the air. The calming technique wasn't helping his nerves.

"Hey, Sandburg," a female's voice called from down the hall. Looking up, Blair saw a trim brunette in a cadet uniform moving quickly towards him. It was Lynn Crowder from his class. He'd been trying to get to know her on a more personal level but she had easily rebuffed his advances, preferring to just be friends. "You look like you just got raked over the coals. What happened? Why did they take you out of the class?"

"Oh, hey Lynn. It's nothing. There was just a question about the results of those tests we took in the beginning and some other things. Is the last session over?" Blair walked a few steps towards his classmate still staying near the office door.

"Yeah, we've been released for lunch. You want to go get something to eat? They're having something Mexican in the cafeteria. I understand you don't need to add any hot sauce to the burritos and it's a good idea to have large amounts of milk available." The woman gave Blair a friendly smile and was rewarded with one in return.

"How 'bout I meet you there. I've got to wait for an... um, answer and shouldn't be too long." Blair looked back towards the Captain's office.

"Okay, but don't take too long. We've got to eat fast and get down to the driving course before 1:00 p.m. Our intro to patrol car orientation is this afternoon. I heard we might even get a chance to take a drive to test our abilities if there's time. But I honestly doubt it." She said, giving the young man a saucy wink.

"Huh? Sorry, my mind wandered for a few moments."

A frown replaced the smile. "You're not in some type of trouble are you? Have Carson and Krist been on your case again? Those jerks should have joined the Marines with the attitude they have. They've been talking to me and a few of the other cadets about coming to special meetings with them."

Blair's attention jerked back around at the names. The two cadets mentioned had recognized him the first day and seemed to go out of their way to harass him. Mostly it had been minor taunts and tricks, but it had been growing steadily worse. "No, uh, don't worry about it. They're just trying to have a power trip and I'm not giving them the satisfaction of knowing whether it bothers me or not. Hey, you better head for the cafeteria before they run out of burritos. Just make sure you save me a spot, okay?"

Lynn stared into the beguiling blue eyes of the man in front of her. When she couldn't read anything in the look he was returning, she sighed, gave his arm a squeeze and then walked down the hall.

Staring at the retreating figure of the woman, Blair wondered for a few minutes about what he felt was an obvious flirt. When she was out of sight, he looked towards the closed door to the Captain's office and then moved over to the chair sitting across the hall. Closing his eyes, Blair took a deep cleansing breath, held it for a count of five, and then released it slowly as he murmured a calming mantra.

He was not very deep in his meditation when he felt that he was being watched. Looking around, he thought he saw a shadow quickly back around the corner down the hall. Blair stood and was about to check it out when he caught the sight of two familiar people outside the window next to him.

Stepping to the window, he looked out and saw his two aforementioned tormentors. Cadets Martin Carson and Daniel Krist were as different as night and day in looks. Krist was tall, standing well over six feet, with a thin but wiry frame. He wore his blond hair in a standard Marine style cut that accented his chiseled features. Blair remembered his emotionless brown eyes that always seemed to look at him with contempt.

Carson, on the other hand, was shorter but of a stockier build. He had the look of someone who spent many hours in a gym. Unlike the man beside him, Carson had dark, almost black hair that he wore slightly longer than was authorized at the academy. His crystal blue eyes seemed to echo the cruel laughter that usually came out of his mouth at the oddest of moments.

The two men were standing in the courtyard of the academy talking with two other cadets. Blair could see that it was an intense conversation, Carson leaning forward with a hand placed on one of the other cadet's shoulder. Krist was pulling a couple of folded pieces of paper from a notebook he was carrying as he glanced around the area. His sweeping gaze stopped abruptly when he caught sight of Sandburg watching from the building. He elbowed his friend.

Blair was just stepping back from the window when the Captain's office door opened. Turning, he saw the clerk motion him to return. Taking a last glance through the glass, he walked back into the office.

"We've got a proposal, Mr. Sandburg," the Captain started when he sat down. Both Sgt. Blanchard and Officer Williams were now standing behind her chair. "You've already proven that you are proficient enough in report writing that you can skip those hours. I've also agreed that you can take the final tests for the investigations and the search and seizure classes."

Blair started to ask her a question but stopped when the woman held up her hand. "That only eliminates a couple of hours in the morning for the next two months. You will be required to present yourself to Sgt. Blanchard no later than 11:00 a.m. each morning and to participate to your best ability in all the other courses. I take it you can handle this adjustment?" Schofield stood up, gathered the folder in front of her and started walking towards her office.

Blair couldn't hide his stunned expression and he stumbled to his feet and followed the woman. "Yes, ma'am. I mean, thank you Captain." He almost reached out his hand but suddenly realized that it would be an improper gesture. Blair waited until the woman sat at her desk and mumbled 'dismissed' before turning and leaving the office.

As he closed the door carefully behind him, Blair pumped his fist. "Yes!" he whispered forcefully and almost skipped down the hallway in the direction of the cafeteria. When he rounded the corner at the end of the hall, he suddenly found himself trying to stop himself from falling. His foot had caught on something that had been thrust into his path... a black shoe.

His momentum too great, Blair landed on one knee. The sharp pain from the impact almost made him collapse over onto his side. Pulling himself up, he heard sharp laughter and looked over to see Carson and Krist leaning against the wall.

"You know, Marty, statistics show that most accidents occur when some people are in places that they shouldn't be to begin with," Krist commented to the man beside him. "You've been spying on us, Sandburg."

"What are you talking about?" Blair questioned, putting a little distance between him and the men while he brushed the dust from his uniform. "Do you guys make it a habit of pulling juvenile stunts or is this just some lame way of getting my attention?"

Blair's come back erased the smirking looks on the two men's faces. Carson placed a hand on Krist's arm to stop him when he took a step forward. "You couldn't make it in the academic world, Sandburg. What makes you think you can do any better here?" The man's voice had a soft taunt to it.

"I don't know what you two are up to, but all I want to do is get through the training and get back to my partner and my new job." Blair stood his ground when his defiant attitude caused a visible reaction from the two across from him.

"Your past has already proven that you aren't the quality of person that should become a policeman. The people of Washington need those who have the integrity and ability to take charge when chaos tries to take over. I suggest you find another line of work," Krist replied, pulling his arm out of Carson's hold. Then almost as one, both men turned and walked away.

Blair watched as the two men strode down the hall. "Sounds like they are going through the wrong place for training. I know a group that would have taken you two," he commented to himself as he recalled Krist's words. With a shake of his head to rid himself of the memories of his two encounters with another maniacal individual, Blair continued towards the cafeteria with a limping step.

The Loft, That Evening

"You were able to do what?"

Sandburg smiled as he received the reaction he had expected from his roommate. With a calm expression, he turned away from the stove towards the tall man. "I said, they're allowing me to by-pass the classes on the stuff I've already proven I can do and will let me take final tests on a couple more to see if I meet the qualifications. That means I can be with you in the mornings until around 10:00 for the next couple of months. I have to report to the academy by 11:00."

Ellison shook his head in amazement, a bemused expression on his face. He had arrived at the loft that night to find his friend in the kitchen working industriously on dinner and acting like the cat that ate the canary. It hadn't taken any prodding from the older man to get the information. "You don't think this'll create some problems with the rest of your classmates?"

Blair shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the pot of sauce simmering in front of him. "Maybe a couple, but they've had something against me from the beginning. Most of the other cadets are more concerned about learning what's being presented."

Moving to the refrigerator and taking two beers out, Jim handed one to Blair and leaned back against the appliance. "A couple of hard cases?"

"Yeah. Recognized me from the first day and... you know. Don't worry about it, Jim. A couple of bullies in the schoolyard are nothing to worry about. I'll make sure I tell the teacher if they want to play rough."

"Sandburg-- "

"Let it go, man." Blair moved the pan he was stirring onto a cold burner. Wiping his fingers on a towel lying on the counter, he grabbed his beer and limped towards the living room. Slumping down onto the couch, he realized that Jim had followed him and was sitting down on the loveseat.

"Will you at least tell me the reason you're doing a 'Chester' routine? What happened?" When there was no reply, Ellison became impatient. "Come on, Chief. Spill."

Blair took a long swallow from the bottle he held before he spoke. "It's nothing really, man. I slipped on a wet spot in the hall and bumped the knee trying to catch myself. It's just a little bruised so don't worry about it." He quickly added the last when he saw the concerned look on his roommate's face.

Ellison settled back into his seat and stared. He listened to the rhythm of Sandburg's heart and noticed that it was slightly elevated which meant that he wasn't telling the truth.

Blair knew by his roommate's expression that he had been caught. "Jim, I'm not letting them get to me and you shouldn't either. We both know that I'm going to be the object of resentment and some razzing because of what happened. I'm willing to put up with their antics as long as I make it to graduation and become your partner."

Ellison concentrated on the long-necked bottle he rolled between his hands before looking up. "I told you once, Sand--"

"Yeah, I know." Blair gave his friend a quick, pleased smile but allowed it to fade into a pensive expression. "It is kinda odd about those guys and the psyche tests."

Realizing what his friend was doing, Ellison went along with the change in the subject. "What about the tests? They're standard and have been proven to be pretty accurate."

"I know. Say, what were the results of yours?" Blair raised an eyebrow towards Jim and was rewarded with the man's patented icy blue gaze. "Come on, Jim. Having some insight into your personality, other that what I've observed over the past four years, can be very beneficial to me as your partner."

"Only if I can get the results of yours."

"Wouldn't help you any. I know how the tests are put together and can make the results say whatever I want. That's another reason why I was at Captain Schofield's office. Had to explain about being able to finish them faster than the expected time and with the results being so neutral. What was odd was that the two bozos giving me headaches had test results similar to mine." Blair drained the last amount from his bottle and stood to go into the kitchen. "You finished?"

Realizing that his roommate was trying to change the subject, Ellison decided it was better to not push it. He finished his drink and placed his bottle into the extended hand. "Probably just coincidence, Chief," he replied walking towards the stairs leading to his bedroom.

"Yeah, coincidence," Blair mumbled limping over to the trash bin and setting the empty bottles in a sack. "Been hanging around detectives way too long. Starting to get as paranoid as they are and seeing criminals behind every corner." ~ sigh ~

"You're going to be joining the ranks of the paranoid in less time than you think, Sandburg. You better remember that." Ellison's voice floated down from his bedroom.

Rolling his eyes, Blair moved the pot of sauce he had been working on earlier back onto a burner.

Next Day, Major Crimes Bullpen

"Sandburg's being allowed to--"

"How could Hairboy get--"

"Why's Sandy getting special--"

Ellison sat at his desk with a smug smile on his face as he listened to the blustering of Detectives Rafe and Brown and Inspector Connor. He had told the three of them about the change in Sandburg's work status so that they wouldn't be too surprised when he made an appearance. After allowing the cacophony to continue for a few minutes, Ellison finally raised his hands and motioned the detectives to quiet down.

Just as he opened his mouth, Jim heard a familiar chuckling coming from the direction of Simon Banks' office. Turning around, he saw his Captain leaning against the door jam of his office with a smile almost splitting his face in half.

"So Sandburg smoozed his way into getting some of his workload reduced. I don't know how you knew it would happen, but I'm glad I didn't take you up on that bet, Jim." Banks sauntered up to his detectives and stood with his arms crossed on his chest.

"It was easy to calculate, sir. Sandburg would never brag about any of the experience he's received from us but I knew he'd use that experience when it came to the course work. If there's one thing that Blair wouldn't do is deliberately try to mess up with any tests. It's just not in his nature. So, it was only a matter of time before he would be questioned on his background, experience and ability to perform so well. I just didn't expect them to eliminate that much of the class work."

"Where's the kid now?"

"He's down at the personnel office." Ellison looked at his watch. "He should be here in about another 15 minutes. I don't think that we should make a big deal about all this. I've got a feeling that things haven't been too easy for him at the academy and he probably needs a little normality."

"But what's normal for Sandburg?" Rafe asked.

"I don't think we really want to go there, man," Brown answered with a laugh. "Come on, Rafe. We can go down to forensics and check on the evidence from that robbery homicide. Tell Sandburg that it'll be good to have him around again. We need a buffer from you."

Ellison threw the black detective a dirty look but the other was already moving out of the room dragging a laughing Rafe behind him. He then noticed that Megan Connor was still at his desk. "Is there something you need, Connor?"

"What kind of problem is Sandy having with his training?" Her serious expression mirrored the concern in her voice.

"He won't tell me much about it. Just that it's a couple of guys that recognized him from the news conference back in May. There're always a couple of troublemakers in every class, Connor. He told me he can handle it." Ellison lifted his empty coffee cup, looked into it and then looked up at Banks. The Captain just stared at him and he set it back down with a grimace.

"Doesn't your academy have rules against harassment or hazing or what ever they're calling it here?"

"Of course we do, Connor," Simon answered for his detective. "But what do you think we should do? Find him a bodyguard to get through the course? That'd do wonders for his confidence not to mention how he'd fit in with the rest of his class."

Banks' answer only angered the Australian inspector and she whirled away from the two men. Moving towards the elevator, she spotted the subject of their conversation walking up the hall towards her. His attention was focused on firmly attaching the red temporary badge to his shirt.

"Hi, Sandy. I hear you're doing really well with your training." Megan smiled sweetly at the young man. At her greeting, Blair looked up from the badge and gave back an answering smile.

"Megan, hi. Yeah, I'm doing okay. Or so they tell me." Blair glanced nervously into the bullpen and saw his partner and Simon speaking. "How are things going with you?"

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, sure. Why wouldn't I be all right? Has someone said different?" Again, he looked towards the two men.

"No, no, uh, I was just worried about how you would adapt. I remember what it was like when I went through my academy. Listen, if you need to talk about it, I'm available. Okay?" With a gentle squeeze on his arm, Megan strode down the hallway.

"Right. Thanks... Megan," Blair called after the retreating woman. With a shake of his head, he walked through the doors of Major Crimes and over to the area he knew so well. "Hey, Jim. Simon."

"That's Captain Banks, Sandburg. You better get used to saying it," Simon growled at the young man. "Aren't they teaching you anything about respect for your superiors?"

"Well, actually, Naomi taught me to respect my elders but I didn't think you wanted to be reminded of your age, sir." Blair was able to keep his face still as he watched Simon struggle not to explode.

Finally, the police Captain whirled and stomped towards his office. "Try to make yourself useful, Sandburg" came the parting shot just before he firmly shut the door to his office.

Jim looked at the closed door and then over to the smirking face of his partner. "A smart man would try to make a friend rather than an enemy of the man who will be his future supervisor."

Blair moved over to the desk he used, hung his coat onto the back of the chair and then sat down. "It's too late in the game for me to try and make points with Simon, Jim. I know he's been thinking up different tortures for me ever since I agreed to go to the academy. I'm just getting in my last volleys."

"It's your skin, buddy. Why don't we just follow his last order and get you doing something useful. It'll justify the pay you're receiving for not having to show up for class." Ellison then handed over half of the files that had been sitting in the tray on his desk. Sandburg took what was offered without a complaint; a smirk hovered around the corners of his mouth.

Academy Driving Course Three Weeks Later

The sun was shining brightly on the wet pavement where 12 cadets stood milling around. It had rained earlier in the morning, enough to create puddles around the area. Sandburg stood slightly away from the group, eyeing the positioning of orange, plastic construction cones, poles and barrels. The class had been split into two groups for the training they were entering, defensive driving.

Glancing to his left, Blair could see Carson and Krist standing away from the group. A few other cadets stood with them, listening to whatever the two men were discussing with rapt attention. He had hoped that he wouldn't be paired up with the two men, but at least the training permitted only one cadet in the vehicle during the time of the driving.

"All right, people. Listen up!" A woman's voice barked from behind the group. Almost turning as one, they noticed the petite, black female officer standing with a clipboard tucked under her left arm. Officer Holmes strode forward through the group and turned to face them when she reached the double yellow line at the edge of the course. "As you can see, we've been provided with an excellent opportunity for training using a factor that will definitely occur during the course of your duties. Driving in conditions that are out of the norm. Of course, for those who are from this part of the state, this is the norm." Chuckles rose from the cadets.

"When I call your name, I want you to get into that vehicle over there," she pointed to the police cruiser off to the right. "There is a driving helmet, which you will wear, on the front seat. Shoulder harnesses and lap belts are also required to be worn. These safety requirements are a part of the academy regulations, not just because we're sure you're going to crash.

"Beginning at the 'Start' flag, you are allowed to take one circuit through the course at a low or normal speed. However, once you reach the finish, I want you to come back to the start and go through the course at a pursuit speed. What I am looking for from each of you is your ability to maintain the pursuit while also staying completely in control of your vehicle."

"Carson!" The dark-haired cadet jerked his attention away from his group and took a step in the direction of the instructor. Without another word, she pointed towards the car and then took the clipboard from under her arm.

With a cocky grin to his friends, Carson strode over to the police cruiser, opened the door and climbed in. Donning the helmet, but not securing the chin strap, he started the engine and revved it. The car sped towards the starting line.

Not following instructions, the cadet took off from the start at a high speed. He flashed around the different obstacles, taking the corners with ease. At the end of a straight section of the course were three corridors, each with a red and green light in the center. The objective of the driver was to increase their speed significantly, watch the lights carefully, and swerve into the lane where the green light was illuminated. To do it successfully required sharp eyesight and quick reflexes. Carson proved that he had both.

Accelerating down the center of the corridor, he was approaching 60 M.P.H. when the light over the left one turned green. The police car easily cut over in that direction. Swinging around the last turn sharply, Carson accelerated again and brought the car to a screeching halt in front of the group. The cadets that had been standing with him earlier, along with Krist, broke into an impromptu applause as the man jumped out from the driver's side. He gave a toothy grin to the glaring policewoman as he sauntered back over to his friends.

"Nice show, Carson. But you get 5 points knocked off your score," Holmes said calmly. At the cadet's sharp look, she pointed to the far side of the course. In the area that had several sharp turns, there was an orange cone lying on its side. "Next up, Jones."

One by one, each cadet tackled the driving course until there were just three remaining. "Sandburg! Step up."

Blair calmly approached the police car and followed the instructions that had been given at the beginning of the training. With the helmet firmly on and secured, he started the engine and approached the start of the course. After completing his practice drive, he approached the start again. At the nod from the instructor, Blair stepped hard onto the accelerator and sped off.

Easily, he drove through the course, avoiding all the obstacles and maintained a steady but fast speed. When he reached the part that had several twisting curves, he efficiently negotiated the first and was entering the second when the front tire of his vehicle exploded. Immediately, Blair took his foot off the gas pedal and yanked the wheel in the direction that the vehicle had begun to skid.

The car turned sharply, plowing through the cones and barrels. Blair kept a strong hold of the steering wheel; countering and adjusting for each swerve the vehicle took. At one point, the car tipped slightly off two wheels, but eventually stopped off the pavement on the side of the course. Miraculously, it had stayed upright.

Officer Holmes and several of the cadets charged across the pavement to the still vehicle. Upon reaching it, they saw Blair's helmeted head resting on the steering wheel that he still clutched tightly.

"Sandburg! Are you all right!" Holmes practically shouted at the motionless driver. Placing a gentle hand onto his shoulder, the officer pulled until Blair was sitting back against the seat. His eyes were clamp shut and his mouth hung slightly open, panting breaths emanating from it.

"Can you hear me, cadet?" Holmes voice had dropped significantly in volume, taking on a calm tone. Slowly, she opened the driver's door and squatted down beside the seat.

Carefully, Blair opened his eyes. Dazed, he looked around the interior of the car. Seeing that it was intact, he peeled his hands off the steering wheel and lightly patted himself down. Satisfied, he turned to the woman crouched beside him. "I'm alive."

"I don't know how you kept this thing from flipping, but that was some damn fine driving." Holmes gave the stunned man a wry grin and a pat on the shoulder. "Where did you learn to drive like that?"

Dropping his head back onto the steering wheel, Blair swallowed heavily. "From a guy who's been involved in more high speed chases than I can count. Thanks, Jim." The last two words were whispered, too low for any of the others to hear.

Standing up and stepping back, Holmes watched as Sandburg leaned back, unbuckled his seatbelt and shoulder harness and shakily stepped from the vehicle. Motioning to another cadet, the officer asked him to help Blair back indoors.

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