TITLE: The Choices We Make
AUTHOR: M. Edison
FEEDBACK: Oh yes please! Be gentle though. ;-)
CATEGORY: AU.
RATING: PG-13
SPOILERS: Spoilers for TSbyBS
SUMMARY: Jo and Blair react.
DISCLAIMER: None of the characters or concepts of The Sentinel belong to me but Annie & Jo do

Jo:
When Blair walked into my home office in the Brewery I knew *something* big had happened - he
had that stunned look, the one I'd last seen on his face right after the press conference he'd
given. The one where he renounced his dissertation as a fraud. I don't know why I'm thinking
about that now. It's in the past. We've all moved on, everything's returned to a semblance of
normal. Blair's working at Major Crimes as a consultant and he's partnered with Jim again, which
is the important part. The goal behind Simon offering him the badge. Get Blair and Jim back into
the field as partners again - give them a chance to rebuild their friendship and the trust that
they'd had between them.

It's good to see them like that again. Going through the Dissertation fiasco was hell on all of
us but on them especially. I still don't know how Jim could even think that Blair would sell him
out. Blair's just not capable of that kind of betrayal.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not blaming Jim. I never blamed him. Jim's a product of his childhood
as well as his experiences in life and, given what I've seen and heard of both, they were pretty
harsh on him. It's a miracle he's come through it as well as he has. But still...Blair's had a
hard time of it too. They both have, just in different ways.

"The Chancellor..." Blair says finally, locking a numb gaze with mine. "She..."

Oh god...the Chancellor. What's that bitch want now?

Not exactly my usual language I know, but there are very few words in the world that describe
Chancellor Edwards so accurately as bitch. She is the living embodiment of it in my opinion. Not
even Cassie comes that close and we all know she's one of my least favourite people in Cascade.

Closing my laptop, I push away from my desk and walk to the door of my office where he stands.
"She giving you a hard time again?" I ask quietly, reaching up to rest a palm on his cheek.

Blair covers my hand with his and lifts it free of his face so he can pull me against him. "No.
It's the opposite actually...she, uh...she called me to say Rainier wants me to resubmit my
dissertation on Sentinels." There's a long pause before he continues. "Jim and Annie...they went
to see her, told her that everything was true. They even proved it to her."

Oh my god....

I lift shocked eyes to Blair's as I try to hide my fear. What the hell have those two done? Are
they crazy?! How could they do that? Yes, it's clearly helping Blair but at what cost? Is the
chaos we faced last time going to come back to overwhelm us again? I don't know if I can face it
again. I've had to face the press plenty of times, working with Annie and the Fugitive Squad in
Toronto pretty much made that a weekly event. Every time they took down someone big the local
and national press would be sure to do more than a little calling. That I can handle; but not
what happened when Blair's dissertation went public. It was hell, literally.

People sifting through our garbage, reporters hassling me at work, I even had one or two fake
injuries just to get close to me in the ER - never mind the guy that snuck into the women's locker
room at the hospital when I was getting a shower. We had no privacy and no lives outside of those
cameras. I can't do it again. I barely survived last time even after John showed up and played
bodyguard for me.

Swallowing hard, I chose my words carefully. "How much media coverage are we talking?"

Rubbing my shoulders reassuringly, Blair brings out a shaky smile. "None. According to the
Chancellor, there are conditions surrounding the whole situation. Conditions Jim and Annie put
on it. No press is the biggest one. The only coverage that's supposed to be involved is a very
small press release from the University stating the fact the wrong dissertation was released and
that I felt I had no choice but hold that press conference because I didn't know how else to fix
it."

"Well..." I allow, speaking slowly. "In a way that is true, in a manner of speaking."

"In a manner of speaking," Blair agrees with a wry smile.

We fall silent again, both caught up in our worries and hopes. Part of me is thrilled by this
news. Blair gets a second chance. A chance to prove to his colleagues that he's not crazy, that
he's not a fraud, that all this time he was right. I'll finally get my professor back.

Don't get me wrong, our relationship is as strong as it always was - that hasn't changed. But
Blair has. He's different than before. Harder, somehow. More composed and reserved than he used
to be. Working for the police all the time, it's changing him and I'm still not sure if it's for
the better...or the worse. All I know is that the man I fell in love with is different than the
one I love now. The love is still between us. It'll always be there.

That's the one thing that I'll always be sure of.

Another part of me is shaking in fear. That's the part of me that's been Anne Marie Langdon's
friend since I was in diapers. Blair's dissertation going to the committee means there's another
chance Annie and Jim are going to be in the line of fire again. That thought has me terrified.

I've been told that, for a doctor, I have a highly overactive imagination and whenever I start
thinking about Sentinels becoming public knowledge....well let's just say that imagination of
mine kicks into high gear and what I imagine is *anything* but pretty.

I don't know, maybe I've watched one too many episodes of Nikita or something - because when I
think about it all I can see is some secret government agency showing up in the middle of the
night and taking Annie or Jim. If not both. That's a bad enough thought, but my mind doesn't
stop there. It goes on, painting a scenario that's horrific to say the least. Experiments, forced
pregnancies, slavery. Those are just the tamer options. My mind shies away from the truly horrific
ones.

So, with these two sides warring over my emotions, I step back to look into Blair's face. "Are you
going to do it?"

He sighs and turns away, walking into the main room where Riley and CC are curled up by the fireplace.
We don't use that much, but Annie likes to light it occasionally. It reminds her of home.

"You don't have to decide right away," I add, seeing how conflicted Blair is by all of this. I
know Blair well, he can't hide much from me even if he wanted to but, right now, the confusion
is easy to see. I can see how badly he wants this to work. Oh, he still believes he did the
right thing in lying about the dissertation, make no mistake there, but he also can't help
longing for the chance to have it back. And not so much for the doctorate - it's the chance to
make a difference. That's what it's always been about.

Blair told me that one night, after the whole dissertation fiasco, when we were in bed. We talk
about a lot of things when we're in bed. Share feelings and secret thoughts. I know a lot of
people would be surprised to hear me say that. I've heard them talking around the station.
Wondering about me and Blair - our sex life. Just how active it really is. Not that it's any of
their business but there's nothing sedate about me and Blair in the bedroom and that's the way
we plan to keep it, thank you very much.

Oops, rambling off topic aren't I? Sorry.

Back to the dissertation and what it's really about. We've, Blair and I, done a lot of talking
about it since everything died down. One thing I usually don't have much difficulty with is
getting Blair to talk about is his feelings and personal thoughts. Oh, there are times when it's
definitely not *easy*, don't misunderstand me, Blair Sandburg can be as infuriatingly tight-
lipped as the next male. Drives me crazy sometimes. But it is easier to get him to talk than
say, Jim or John.

And we talked a *lot* about the dissertation fiasco. We still talk about it sometimes. Just as
we talk about *why* it had been so important to Blair. He's told me about the professors he had
when he first started attending university, about the influence they had on him. How they taught
him to appreciate life in any form, how to honour the beliefs of each person. To savour the truths
in each but not to become so caught up in cultures that he lost sight of his objectivity or himself.
They showed him what it meant to be an eternal student. Always learning. And I can see how important
that is to him.

That's what he really gave up. The chance to pass on that knowledge to the kids coming up after
him. That's what wants so badly now that it's being dangled before him again.

"No," He agrees with a nod, dropping down on the couch where he's joined by Riley. The Irish
Setter puts his head on Blair's leg and stares up at him with the devotion only dogs are capable
of.

Sitting down in the overstuffed chair, I pick CC up and she curls into a ball on my lap -
purring comfortingly - while I rub behind her ears. "I think you should do it." I blurt
without warning.

There, it's out.

Surprise appears in his eyes as he lifts his gaze from Riley's to mine. "What?"

"I think you should do it." I repeat in a calmer tone, more at ease with the decision I hadn't
even known I'd made.

"But look what happened..."

"Last time?" At his nod I continue. "Blair, last time that nimrod of a publisher leaked it to
the *press*... Come on, in your experience with academia, when was the last time a doctoral
thesis received that much press coverage?"

"I can't rem..."

"Exactly!" I exclaim, taking CC in hand, I move over to sit next to him on the couch. I know I
must look like a starry-eyed teenager right now but I don't care. The idea of Blair getting a
chance to finally get what he deserves, that Doctor before his name, it's got me excited and,
in my not-so-humble opinion, he should be excited too. This is the chance of a lifetime.

"Besides..." I add in a quieter tone of voice. "Jim and Annie went out on a limb for you. A
very shaky limb. The least you can do is honour that and *try*. We survived the last time Blair.
Why can't we survive now?"

He looks over at me, reaching out to cup my cheek in his palm, with those eyes of his all deep
and thoughtful. Damn he's beautiful. I know, I know, guys aren't supposed to be *beautiful* -
they're supposed to be handsome, but I can't help it. Blair Sandburg is the most beautiful man
I have ever met in my life. Inside and out. Inside especially but it's the outside that could
stop traffic. I've thought that since the day I met him.

I know some people jokingly refer to Blair as a trouble magnet. I won't disagree with that one.
He's managed to attract more than his fair share of trouble over the last few years - though I
jokingly blame a lot of it on Jim - and a lot of that has landed him either in hospital or in
the news. Usually both. So yes, he can be called a trouble magnet, but I say he's a people
magnet too. He draws them to him. Good and bad. It really doesn't matter what their personality,
Blair just seems to be a magnet for people. The nexus. He's the one that everyone revolves
around.

I love watching him at parties. Meetings. Wherever there's a large group of people. Guaranteed
he's at the centre of it all. Talking about some obscure legend or story. Sometimes it's pure
BS but people don't care. They love to listen to him. It's what makes him such a good teacher.
The kids respond to that energy as much as their elder siblings, parents. Whoever he's interacting
with. It's impossible to ignore it.

That energy was what drew me to him, but it's Blair that keeps me here.

Blair:
She wants me to do it. I don't know whether to love her for her support or ask her if she's
crazy. The hell we went through last time...the hell I watched them all go through. I can't take
the risk of putting them in that situation again.

Believe me, John Doggett wasn't the only one who thought I screwed up when it came to protecting
Jim and Annie. *I* thought I'd screwed up to. I know Annie almost had kittens when she heard John
and me arguing - haven't seen her react like that in a long time - but the truth of it was,
Doggett wasn't saying anything I hadn't already thought of.

*I* should have protected them. *I* should have taken more care to lock up the Dissertation.
Hell, *I* should have put a damn *password* on the file!

There are a lot of things I should have done differently. There are a lot of things all of us
should have done differently, I know, but the only ones I'm concerned about with are the ones I
had control over.

I didn't have control over whether or not Annie and Jim could walk into Chancellor Edwards office
and out themselves to her. It's been done. I can't stop that now. It's in the past and I can't
change that. It's done. But I can change what happens first.

I don't want to ask them to risk this again.

So much happened the last time. So much that could have been prevented. Simon and Megan almost
died. Jim and Annie had reporters hounding them all over town. Jo even had someone sneak into
the ladies' locker room at the hospital! The man snuck into a room where my *girlfriend* was in
a shower, completely unprotected.

It never should have happened.

I can't ask them to take that risk again. What happens if someone finds out the Dissertation
this time around and it leaks into the press? Names or no names, people are going to know who
I'm talking about.

I know I'm paranoid but when you're dealing with the lives of two of your closest friends there's
no wiggle room for screw ups. Especially not when those friends happen to be in possession of
abilities that some governments would give their eyeteeth to have. Jo's not the only one with
an over-active imagination. I know what can happen. I've dreamt the same nightmares she has.
Seeing Jim and Annie being dragged off in the middle of the night by men in black vans with
ski-masks. Special Forces. The images that follow don't get any prettier either. Tests. Assaults.
Eventual death. I know they'd die before they'll let anyone use their abilities to hurt people or
let them be used against each other.

I know Jim and Annie worry about us. About what could happen to us. But Jo and I...we worry
about them. The "what ifs" that haunt Jim Ellison and Annie Langdon are a lot scarier than the
ones that haunt us. Jo and I'd survive. That's what we do. We land on our feet and keep going.
Jim and Annie do that too but in a different way. Jo and I have a lot less wounds on our souls
than they do. We can take more hits and keep going. Not so with Jim and Annie...they're like older
boxers. They've taken so many hits they can't afford to take many more. Not if they want to stay
alive.

And not just physically, though that's our biggest concern, but emotionally too. They've seen
so much in their line of work. Annie's had Jo with her most of that time, sure, but still she
and Jim both hide so much from us both. They want to keep the worst of it from us when they can.
No matter how insistent we are that they share it with us.

That's probably why they did this. Went to the Chancellor. It's their way of providing me a way
to balance life. In their eyes, it's an escape for me. Jo has the hospital and her work there,
they want me to have the university and my work there.

I can't deny I want it. It's not the degree anymore, the doctorate. Losing that showed me just
how far down the priority list it had fallen. Over the last few years my priorities have gone
through a drastic shift. When I started my dissertation Sentinels were almost mythical in my
mind and my perceptions. Sure, I believed there were real Sentinels out there but I had an
almost dreamlike view of them. That they were immune to the weaknesses and fallacies of life.
Like gods on Olympus or something.. Knowing them has proven that illusion to be exactly that:
an illusion. Sentinels can be all too human.

I've learned now that the reality is far more worthy of my admiration than the illusion. Jim
and Annie struggle with their weaknesses and their fears but they do what they have to anyway.
That's a true hero. Jim doesn't know that. I've never been able to tell him that but he's my
hero. Annie too but Jim's always going to be the one I think of first and I know she understands
that. She's encouraged it in the past. She's always stressed my first concern in a situation
like this should be how my choice is going to affect Jim.

She should be happy to hear that her lecturing worked. Right now Jim's all I'm thinking about.
I keep seeing his face, hearing his voice, everything that he said and did during the whole
Dissertation Fiasco...I don't want to risk that again. I've never seen him so...lost.

Over our friendship both of us had done some serious growing emotionally, but that one mistake
drove him back. He lost ground and it was like I was dealing with the Jim that I'd known in
the beginning. The one who'd been forever distrustful, suspicious of my motives...I had to
start from scratch.

I don't want to do that again. I don't think I could handle it.

Especially not if something happened because of my desire to get those letters after my name.
What if someone else gets hurt this time? Megan and Simon almost died last time because Jim was
off his game, which I was the cause of...man, I don't want to look into his face and see that
look again. What if this time something does happen to Jo? Or Annie? Or our friends?

I don't want to carry that on my shoulders. Its a mistake I can't afford to make.

God, I wish I knew what to do.

"Blair..." Jo speaks up again, one hand resting on CC while the other reaches out to work its
way into my hair, rubbing comfortingly. "Its a big risk, I won't deny that, but its obviously a
risk that Jim and Annie are willing to take...Its scary but what's worse? You try and fail,
maybe it hits the news again, maybe it doesn't or...you try and succeed, become Dr. Blair
Sandburg and maybe do some teaching again?"

She smiles and my attention goes to her mouth. I know this is a bad time to be noticing it
but...I can't help it. Josephine Barnes is a knockout. My knockout. I still can't believe
sometimes that she's here. With me. She's not perfect but to me she is. When the whole thing
went down with the Dissertation, Jo was walking a very fine line. She endured a lot. Being torn
between defending Annie and defending me, putting up with the reporters hounding her every second
of the day, watching me and agonizing over the fact she couldn't help, just weathering everything;
and she did it without complaint.

Yeah, she had her say about the whole situation but she never once complained about what she was
going through. Half of it I didn't find out about until after the whole thing had settled down.
Plus, if Jo had been able to have her way about it, some things I *never* would have found out.
She's just the type that protects her family and friends from her own pain. She doesn't want to
dump it on us to deal with. It's one part pride and two parts concern. She just wants to protect
us, and herself.

"I would love to teach again." I confess slowly, forcing my attention away from her mouth and up
to her encouraging eyes. "I really would."

"You miss it." she agrees with a nod. "We all saw that."

"Saw what?"

Jo's hand finds its way into my hair and strokes softly. She knows what that does to me. I
confess, I love it when a woman plays with my hair. It's a weakness and one Jo likes to exploit
ruthlessly when she gets the chance. She's been known to use it to relax me too; momentarily I
pause, wondering which one it is this time. Finally I decide I don't care. I love the feeling
and she loves doing it so I'm just going to enjoy and that's that.

She hesitates to answer, but in the end does so anyway. "You're changing, Blair; you're not the
same as you were and I don't mean in a good way."

Somehow I begin migrating and soon find myself stretching out on the couch, my head in her lap;
her fingers absently combing through my hair as she stares off into space, gathering her thoughts.

"It's the complete focus on police work," she clarifies, looking down at me. "I mean, with the
way Cascade's been lately...it seems like there's been more bad than good and you're caught up
in it all. It hasn't been good and you don't have your work at the University to balance it anymore."

I open my mouth to argue but...she's right.

I never thought about it, I guess I didn't want to, but it's been happening. Slowly. Barely
noticeable. But it's been happening. I need the academic life to keep me on an even keel. I
don't really belong to one world or the other anymore. I need a bit of both to keep me...well
to keep me *me*.

"How long?" I prompt softly. "How long have you been seeing it?"

"A while," she replies gently. "Jim and Annie noticed it too. That's why they wanted to do this.
We don't want to lose you, Blair. You're too important to all of this. To all of us. They refused
to let you, your life, and your dreams suffer just to ensure theirs remained quiet. It's not fair
to you."

"And what about taking the risk that they'll end up exposed if I do this?" I frown. "That's not
fair to them."

"It's their choice, Blair." Jo reminds, smiling. "Its would only be unfair if you'd done it without
their agreement. They're the ones that put this into motion. You just reap the benefits...they take
the risk."

"But..."

"Blair," she clamps a hand on my mouth and leans down. "For once...just say thank you. Don't
over analyse." Her lips brush my forehead in a kiss. "They wanted to do this for you. Let them."

Her gaze was earnest. Her face pleading.

And for a moment I saw more than just Jo in her eyes. For a moment I saw Jim and Annie looking
out at me too. All of them silently encouraging me to do it. To take this one chance.

How could I say no?

Finis