Blair Sandburg watched his partner sleep in the seat next to him. A pang of jealousy ran through him: as much as Blair wished he could sleep on their red-eye flight back to Cascade, he knew that it was impossible.

He had far too much on his mind.

The Guardians all knew that they wanted to give Jim and Blair a proper send off and thank you, so Castle offered the one place that Alexis suggested where anyone with heightened senses would feel most relaxed: his house in the Hamptons.

Blair joined the group on the patio after his healing treatment with Lanie. Jim stared at him for so long Blair was afraid the Sentinel had zoned out on him. "What is it, Jim? Do I have a horn growing out of my head now or something?"

"It's's weird. She couldn't have spent more than a minute with you...tops...and you look better than I've seen you in weeks!"

"Actually, this is the best I've *felt* in weeks. What was it that you said you did, Lanie?"

"Generalized cell regeneration. It's something I've been trying to practice for the past few days. Seems to work wonders on 'overworked' cops," replied Lanie with a wink at her boyfriend.

While everyone else started a run of good-natured teasing at Esposito, Blair had a different thought entirely. "Huh," he commented, "so that must be how they did it..."

Beckett was the first to notice Blair's different track to his train of thought. "Did what, Blair?"

"Well," Sandburg explained, "One of the big bonuses to living in Shangri La was the ability to live to a dramatically longer-than-average lifespan."

"How long did they live?" asked Lanie, now curious herself.

Blair replied, "One of the people in the legend was casually mentioned to be 350 years old."

Silence fell upon the group instantly. All eyes turned to Lanie for medical verification of Blair's reference to the legend. Castle was the first one to ask the question they were all thinking. "Lanie? Is this even *possible*?"

Lanie was fighting hard to suspend her automatic presumption of disbelief and think through everything she knew about the aging process and her own abilities. "You mean barring the higher-than-average percentage probability that we could all just end up dying violent deaths from some crazy supernatural fight or the fact that the majority of the people here are cops? Yes, it's definitely possible. Most of what we know about the aging process is based in the idea that the body's cells simply degrade over time. I *think* this process cancels that out, so theoretically...yeah. With regular treatments..."

The group fell silent, each completely lost in their own thoughts.

Blair looked out the window and watched the clouds roll by beneath him. Even setting the offer of literally anti-aging treatments aside, so much of this trip had shaken Blair to the core of who he was and what he believed his future would be. He had thought that his only objective was to train Jim on how to use his abilities, take notes on how Jim handled himself, write up his diss and be done with it. Much like he thought he would have seen with Detective Beckett.

But Beckett needed a guide. All of them did. In the Guardian legend, the monks who prepared to take up the mantle in case the last guardian died prepared their entire lives for the privilege. But this the absence of a full-time guide, they grabbed help from anyplace they could find it.

Even from a graduate student who got most of his expertise from a bunch of books written by people who only ever watched a Sentinel and guide from a distance.

And yet...every one of the Guardians (and Alexis) referred to him as Jim's *guide*.
And the title, to him, felt *right*.
And that one fact scared the crap out of him.

Guides were usually tribal elders (or their sons) who prepared all their lives for the privilege. When they were eventually paired with a Sentinel, it was a lifetime bond of brotherhood, a til-death-do-us part kind of commitment.

Mark called Jim *his* Sentinel.
Not *a* Sentinel, *his* Sentinel.
So was he not just an observer studying Jim, but his *guide*?

If he really was Jim's guide, then his dissertation as he had proposed it was well and truly screwed. It would be impossible for Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison's guide to let Blair Sandburg, PhD candidate submit a dissertation that would spell out his Sentinel's capabilities for the whole world to see.

"Chief?" Jim was in that state of half-awake where he was talking with his eyes still closed, hoping against hope to get back to sleep.

Blair checked his body position to make sure he wasn't infringing on his partner's space. "Sorry Jim, did I wake you?"

"Yes Blair, you were thinking so loud I'll bet Ryan could hear you back in New York." Jim sat up, knowing that when his partner was this stressed out over something, that the thing he needed most was a sounding board. "So what's up?"

"I was just thinking about my dissertation."

I thought he thought about that thing *constantly*. That couldn't be all of it... "And-?"

"Mostly I was thinking about how screwed I am."

Okay, *that's* new. "What do you mean?"

"Jim, I'm your *guide*."

Now Jim was truly confused. "This is news to you, chief?"

"Actually...yeah, it is. When we're in Cascade it's so easy for me to fall into the day-to-day routine of being your partner. But in New York, when everyone was looking at me with a fresh perspective-and for a fresh perspective-on what they were going through, they saw me as your *guide*. And I finally saw how much of what I do for you every day fits the job description."

"So what's the problem?" asked Jim.

Blair replied, "Jim, the problem is that I can't submit a dissertation full of observations on an anonymous subject *when you're my only subject.* The committee would have no way not to verify that my dissertation wasn't just a really boring work of fiction. But a *guide* would never deliberately do anything that would endanger his Sentinel. And I can't think of anything that would put you in more danger than publishing my dissertation with your name all over it."

Jim sat up to look his guide straight in the eye. "Sandburg, you're my *partner*. If we can't use your dissertation as the reason to keep you around anymore then we'll talk to Simon and come up with something. But I'm not going to let you lose your position at the precinct that easily."


For the first time in the conversation, Jim heard a note of hope in his guide's voice. Satisfied that would be enough to help the younger man settle down the night, he declared, "Not a chance, chief. The place wouldn't be the same without you..."

"Rick, *when* can I take this blindfold off? We've been driving around for at least an hour..."

Castle pulled into a parking spot and shut off the engine. "I told you, Kate, I wanted it to be a surprise! That's why I needed to blindfold you, because you've been here before."

"I've been here before?" Now Beckett was even more intensely curious. She opened up her other senses as much as she dared, trying to pick up any clues. We're near the river, that much is obvious...

"Hey Castle, where are we?" Beckett nearly jumped into the river at the sound of Ryan's voice. The younger man winced as he realized Beckett had her hearing turned up. "Oops, sorry Beckett."

Beckett waived off the apology, forgiving her friend even as he said it. Recognizing what Ryan's appearance at their location *meant*, she turned back to pushing her boyfriend. "Okay Castle, everyone's here. Can I *please* take this blindfold off now?"

Seeing that everyone had, indeed, arrived, Castle took off the blindfold, and finally announced to the group, "Surprise!"

Beckett did, indeed, recognize the area the minute she saw it. "Castle, this is Zalman Drake's workshop-"

"Not anymore," Castle interrupted her. "I bought it this morning when we got back from the Hamptons. Edmund's been looking for some new capital to expand the museum, and I knew we could use it."

"For what?" asked Beckett.

Castle's smile grew even wider, if such a thing were possible. "You'll see. Follow me." He led the group to the wall of the warehouse and waited while Beckett found the secret panel he could never find to open the front door. Once everyone was inside he closed the door and turned on the lights.

"I figured every group of superheroes needs a hideout to ply their craft. Welcome to the Guardians' training center," announced Castle.

Each member of the group seemed to stare off in different directions. Beckett, Ryan and Esposito's eyes never left the ceiling. Castle started his explanations with them. "I figured with your talents, you guys might be finding the precinct gym a little dull. Think this might be a better place to workout?"

"Castle, this place is *incredible*..." Ryan knew that he was staring at a parkour facility on steroids. Ladders ran up the walls from the floor to the ceiling, where ropes had been strung through the crossbeams. Those crossbeams supported eight large wooden platforms each, creating an environment an entire species of monkeys would be happy to call home. The floor was a maze of rock climbing walls ranging from 15 to 30 feet tall-tall enough to provide a challenging climb but short enough to jump to as an alternate method to reach the ceiling. And what little floor space there was left was covered in padding 5 feet deep-enough to ensure that a head-first drop from one of the ceiling ropes wouldn't prove fatal.

Castle poked his head in between Ryan and Esposito's heads to urge them on. "Why don't you guys go give the place a good breaking in?" They didn't have to be asked twice-the trio took off at a sprint, Beckett climbing up the ladders and Ryan and Esposito jumping to the top of the climbing walls and using them and running tracks.

Castle then turned to Lanie and his daughter, who had both wandered over to the opposite corner of the room which was lined floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves and a rolling ladder allowing them to reach the top shelves. "I asked Blair to give me a list of every book you guys might find helpful in your research. I know the shelves are only about 1/3rd full, which is why you guys each have a PC on the desk for Internet searches, and more important, to order books. I opened a bank account just for you guys to fill those bookshelves, and if you need more money, just let me know." Turning back to where Beckett was swinging from the ceiling with her two fellow detectives, Castle told his girlfriend, "Kate, there are a bunch of books here on how you can work better with your senses. When you get a chance you should come check them out."

Hanging from one of the ceiling crossbeams, Beckett yelled her response, "I'll do that, Castle. Thanks!"

Alexis ran over and nearly tackled her father in an excited hug. "Thank you soooo much for this, dad!"

"You're very welcome, pumpkin," replied Castle, returning the embrace. "I just thought that if we're going to get half as good with our abilities as Jim is with his, we needed a place where we could all relax and practice without worry."

Lanie started thumbing idly through one of the Sentinel journals. "Really good idea, Castle...really good idea..."

Alexis looked around and realized that one person didn't have their own space-that she saw. "What about you, dad? Where are you going to practice?"

Castle pulled Alexis to the one wall that was smooth and empty, except for a...coffin. "Come and see." He opened the door to the coffin and pushed her through, then followed her.

Confused, Alexis asked, "Dad? This room is empty."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Castle. "It's a big empty room where I can do anything I want!" To prove his point, Castle started throwing fireballs around the room, exploding on every wall leaving a blast of black soot behind. "I enchanted the walls and the ceiling in here so that nothing I do will ever leave permanent damage."

Alexis threw herself into an embrace with her father once again. "Hey dad?"


"Welcome home."

Well, that's it for this one, kids! Please press the blue button and let me know what you thought of it. I do take constructive criticisms and requests...sometimes I like those even more that the ubiquitous "Update please!" What did I do that you liked? What fell flat? Did my action writing improve? How about the twist in the murder case at the end? Am I balancing the development of the characters well, or should I just focus more on one Guardian over the others in the future?

And please let me know if you want to see more of this series. From the dismal response I got to "The Morning After", it's clear that you want action and case work over the 'relationship stuff'. Hey, I'm all good for that!

But on that note, I have a question for you guys. The next case is going to be a murder in Chinatown that will shed even more light on the origins of the Guardians. Now, I can do that one of two ways: Either A) I bring in an old Chinese man who will be involved with the case and explain the history of the Guardians, or B) Castle could find the journal of the last Guardian of the previous generation and read it during the case a la "The Blue Butterfly". Which one would you guys prefer to see? Leave a comment and let me know!