Originally published in the fanzine Sentry Duty #10

Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters, I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. That's it, typing practice. I'll return them to their actual owners (relatively) undamaged. This is an amateur work of fiction; no profit beyond pleasure was derived from the writing.


The Sentinel

Susan M. M.

For Sentry Duty #10

Naomi Sandburg, a middle-aged leftover of the flower child era, stared at the company of police cadets. "They all look alike in their uniforms."

Detective Jim Ellison chided her gently. "Why, Naomi, I didn't think you were the sort of person who'd say that members of a group 'all look alike'." The big man grinned down at her and winked to let her know he was teasing.

The redhead craned her neck up at him, giving him an exasperated look. Then she shook her head, and pretended to give her attention to the boring graduation speech.

Eventually the police commissioner finished droning on and on, and the Cascade PD Pipe and Drum Corps marched across the field. Naomi grimaced; bagpipes were an acquired taste she'd never acquired, nor ever wanted to.

"My fault. My actions forced him into this," she chastised herself.

Jim couldn't contradict her. If Naomi hadn't decided to "help" her son, Blair would never have been thrown out of Rainier University. He wouldn't have had to lie to protect Jim's secret. And Simon Banks would never have offered the young anthropologist a position in the Cascade Police Department. "He's a big boy, Naomi. He makes his own decisions."

She nodded.

"You should be proud of him," Jim added.

"Oh, I am, I am. I just never expected my son to become a … police officer."

Jim smiled to himself. He knew she'd been about to say "pig."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud of all our cadets. 50 young men and women started this program thirteen weeks ago. 37 stand before you – the best of the best – who will start new careers with the Cascade Police Department, the Rainier County Sheriff's Office, and other law enforcement agencies. We are proud of all of them," the commissioner repeated, "but three deserve special recognition. For highest academic marks, Cadet Blair Sandburg."

The audience clapped politely, Jim and Naomi vigorously.

"For best marksmanship, Cadet Anya Dziekonski. And top of his class, best overall for physical competency and leadership abilities, for academic excellence and superior marksmanship, Cadet Roger Jeter."

Enthusiastic applause broke out. His grandfather, Deputy Chief Walter Jeter and his wife, Roger's father Captain Frederick Jeter and his mother, his uncle Det. Lucas Jeter, his aunt Lt. Georgia Jeter-Smythe, and assorted cousins and siblings (some in uniform, some in plain-clothes) cheered and clapped for the latest star in the Jeter dynasty.

Jim smiled wryly as he clapped half-heartedly. Next to Blair, Roger had probably had the toughest time in the academy. Jim had gotten to know the boy from the study sessions Blair hosted. Living up to his family's expectations wasn't easy. Nor had it been easy for Blair, older than most of the other cadets, with half of them believing he was a liar, and the other half convinced he'd only lied about lying and that Blair was Alfred to his Batman, Tonto to his Lone Ranger. But both Blair and Roger had struggled, persevered, and succeeded.

The commissioner waited until the applause died down. Then he nodded to Father Mulcahy, the police chaplain, to step forward. "Raise your right hands," he directed. "Repeat after me: I swear or affirm …."

Using his enhanced hearing, Jim picked out Blair's voice amongst the chorus reciting in unison.

"I swear," Blair said, "to uphold the laws, and protect and serve the citizens."

In the audience, Jim remembered his own commissioning ceremony as an army officer, and his graduation from the police academy. Would Blair feel the same way he had, with the oath sending chills down his spine, making it feel intensely, frighteningly real? He glanced at Naomi. Would a solemn oath mean as much to someone who'd been brought up by the free-spirited Naomi? Normally he wouldn't have tried to pick out one person from the crowd without his guide there to keep him from zoning out, but he knew the sound of Blair's heartbeat and respiration well enough to pick them out at Disneyland on a summer Saturday. Jim smiled, listening to the elevated heartbeat. The solemnity of the occasion was reaching Blair, too.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Summer 1999 graduating class of the Cascade Police Academy," the commissioner announced.

The crowd cheered. No one really heard the commissioner dismiss the newly sworn-in law enforcement officers. The academy graduates broke apart, and their friends and families swarmed the field to congratulate them.

Naomi and Jim hurried to reach Blair, but Simon and Darryl Banks, Megan Connor, and Rafe Taggert had gotten to him first.

"Oh, Blair." Naomi reached up to touch her son's hair. "Your hair hasn't been this short since you were eight months old."

"It'll grow back, Mom."

"Just not as long as before," Captain Simon Banks reminded him.

Blair gave him a wry grin. He'd have to transfer from Major Crimes to Vice to be allowed to have his hair as long as he used to wear it.

"I think you look quite handsome, Sandy," Inspector Megan Connor told him. The Australian policewoman, an attractive redhead, was working for the Cascade PD on a professional exchange program.

"You got all the red tape finished with Human Resources?" Simon asked. The captain was a tall, wiry African-American, about Naomi's age.

Blair nodded. "Yes, Simo-, uh, captain." Blair reminded himself that now that he was an official member of the CPD, instead of just a civilian ridealong and observer, he'd need to watch his Ps and Qs. He knew he'd have to call Simon sir or captain at work. He just couldn't bring himself to use the word 'sir' in front of his mother; that would convince her more than anything else could that he'd sold out to The Establishment.

Simon's lips twisted upward, as if he knew the thoughts running through Blair's head. "Then I'll see you Monday morning at 9:00. Until then, your time's your own."

"Except for 6:00 tonight," interrupted his teenage son, Darryl.

"What's happening tonight at six?" Blair asked.

"We're all meeting at CiCi's Pizza," Jim told him. He suggested the restaurant. As a pizza and pasta buffet, it was easier for him to pick and choose foods that wouldn't be too strong for his enhanced sense of taste.

"You did tell him about the tradition, didn't you?" Rafe asked Simon. Rafe claimed he was merely big-boned, but if truth be told, his heavy frame carried as much fat as muscle.

"What tradition?" Blair asked.

Completely deadpan, Simon replied, "New hires buy dinner for the whole unit at the welcome-aboard party."

"What?" Naomi expostulated.

"Just where did that tradition come from?" Blair asked suspiciously. He'd been "observing" Jim Ellison and his colleagues in Major Crimes for three years, and not once had he seen or heard of anything like this.

"Very old tradition," Jim said solemnly.

"Very old," Rafe agreed.

Darryl laughed, unable to keep the joke going any longer. "Yeah, real old – since yesterday."

Blair chuckled, trying to hide his unease. Going from the Major Crimes Unit's 'kid brother' to a new rookie meant he was going to be subjected to a great deal of razzing. No hazing – Simon wouldn't permit that – but a great deal of well-intentioned but serious teasing. Still, he'd be with Jim, finally his official partner, guide to his sentinel. That was worth a lot: giving up his quest for his Ph. D, the haircut, surviving thirteen weeks of the police academy, even being mercilessly teased by the other detectives.

"Congratulations, kid." Rafe shook his hand. "See you at dinner tonight." He turned and walked off.

"Gotta go. See you later, rookie." Simon laid an arm around his son's shoulder. As a divorced father, he didn't get as much time with Darryl as he wanted. Although Darryl had agreed to attend the graduation, Simon had other plans for the rest of their afternoon together. Just the two of them.

Megan shook his hand, then gave him a quick peck on the cheek before walking away herself.

"Knew you'd make it, Chief. And top academic marks, not bad."

"After Rainier, the classes here weren't that much of challenge," Blair said modestly. "The only thing I really had problems with was marksmanship."

Jim smiled wryly, managing not to smirk. Blair had just barely passed the minimal standards for qualifying with a pistol.

Naomi shuddered. A pacifist, she'd brought up her son to seek non-violent solutions to problems. She was uncomfortable with the idea of him carrying a gun, and repulsed by the notion he might need to use it.

"Real life isn't like TV," Jim told the Sandburgs. "Most cops go their whole career without ever drawing their weapons."

Blair knew that was true. He also knew as Ellison's partner, that was likely not to hold true for him.

Jim pulled a long, narrow box from his inside jacket pocket. "Got something for you."

"Graduation present? You shouldn't have." Blair opened the box and stared down at the plaid tie. "You shouldn't have," he repeated. "The gun and the haircut weren't enough? You want me to wear a tie, too?"

Jim shrugged. He wasn't overfond of ties himself. "As a plainclothes detective, there are times you have to wear a tie. Court appearances and such like."

Blair looked at the tie: a black and purple check against a white background. Then he noticed the writing on the white cardboard box. Scottish Heritage, an expensive import shop at Lakeview Mall. "This isn't just plaid. It's tartan. "

Jim nodded. "MacPherson hunting."

Ellison, Blair remembered, was a Berwickshire sept of Clan MacPherson. "Your own tartan."

Jim corrected him. "Our tartan, bro."

Blair looked up at his partner, his blue eyes reflecting the love and acceptance he saw in Jim's eyes.