Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

WARNING: DEATH STORY

Okay, here's the deal: after receiving so many kind remarks on my stories, I thought I'd cool my growing ego by posting something to make everyone mad. Nickerbits read a version of this but, as I suspected, didn't care for the storyline. I have made some changes since then (but not to the things she didn't like). However, I thought I'd give vent to my depressing side and do a death story. After all, everyone dies sometime.

Besides, my other works are bogging down.

I'm not sure it's even a very original idea.

This version has not been betaed.

AND AGAIN: DEATH STORY!!!!!!!!!!

On with the tale:

What the Future May Hold

By Madraf

********************
Jim Ellison heard the sounds of children laughing and playing around the swimming pool in the back yard of Simon's house as he got out of his truck parked on the street. He picked out the particular voice and laughter of BJ and smiled. He looked toward the front porch then angled across the lawn for the gate to the back yard. BJ had spent the night with Simon and Clarice and her grandson, David, last night in anticipation of today's birthday party for David. Jim recognized the voices of many of the children, but a couple of new voices were also in the mix.

"Hey, Jim," Simon Banks, former captain of the Major Crime division at the Cascade Police Department, called to his friend. The tall black man made a show of looking behind the detective walking across his lawn. "Where's Megan and the baby? Clarice will have your hide for not bringing that baby with you."

"He was up all night and he's still fussing today. We didn't want to bring him out if he's coming down with something," Jim explained. "BJ ready to go?"

"They're just getting out of the pool to have cake and ice cream." Simon smirked. "You always did have impeccable timing when it came to food. Looks like you should hit the weight room, though, if you're gonna keep up with a new baby." He reached out and patted the detective's stomach.

"I'm in better shape than ever, and you know it," Ellison responded with a smile. "A good marriage agrees with me. And you." The two men smiled at one another as Banks stepped aside to let Ellison through the gate.

From the back yard, Jim heard the sounds of voices growing rough.

"He'll forget all about you now that he's got his own son," an unfamiliar voice whispered.

"Will not," BJ replied. "He's just like a dad to me."

"Then why don't you call him 'Dad?' He won't let you, especially now that he has his own son. He doesn't need you around anymore. Men never like kids that remind their wives of other men."

"Nothing's gonna change." BJ's whisper didn't hide the anger or the fear he felt. He started to turn away when the older boy reached out and grabbed his arm.

"You'll see," the taller boy said. "I know."

"He'll always want me," BJ retorted, pulling to free his arm from the other boy. But the other boy had a firm grip and wasn't ready to discontinue the discussion. BJ yanked hard and slipped on the wet pavement around the pool. Flailing his arms to find his balance, he fell, hitting his head and rolling into the pool with barely a splash.

Jim heard the start of the conversation and turned to Simon. "Who's here?"

"The usual kids. Plus a couple of new neighborhood boys that David met yesterday morning. I don't know if he invited them or if they invited themselves, but they're here," Simon said.

Jim nodded and started back down the path that led around the house to the back yard. He heard the escalating confrontation and silently pleaded with BJ to let it drop for now. Hearing BJ's gasp of surprise as the boy lost his balance, Jim broke into a run. Simon, not hearing the conversation but knowing something was wrong, was on Jim's heels. Jim heard the small splash as BJ slid into the water and rounded the corner to see the six-year-old slipping to the bottom of the shallow end of the pool, dark curls trailing and a tint of red beginning to stain the blue of the water.

The detective almost tripped in his haste to reach the pool. He ignored all the others as he jumped in feet first into the three feet of water and pulled the child from the pool's bottom. He dimly heard Simon shout for Clarice to call 9-1-1 and then the other man was beside him, trying to help carry the child to the side. Jim cradled the boy in his arms, refusing to let Simon help. He staggered to the grass away from the pool's edge and wrapped his small bundle to him.

The years peeled away and Jim remembered another shallow body of water and the body of his friend floating beneath a gentle spray. He'd searched that day for a heartbeat and heard none. Time had slowed then until a miracle had brought his friend back to him.

Three years ago, he had sat beside the cooling body of his best friend in a dim hospital room and listened to that heartbeat disappear. Today, beneath the warm afternoon sun, Jim cradled the small body and lost himself in the steady rhythm of the heartbeat coming from the form. He pulled back long enough to look at the bleeding gash on the back of the boy's head. Simon placed a towel in his hand and he pressed it to the wound.

"Jim," Simon said. "We need to lay him down. I don't think rocking him is a good idea right now." Simon tried to reach the shocked man on his lawn but had no luck. "Jim!" he ordered. "Let him go. You could be hurting him!"

Ellison's eyes cleared and he focused on the face of the man in front of him.

"He's going to be all right," Simon assured the stricken man. "But think about first aid, here, okay. He's out. He may have a head injury. We need to keep him still. I know you want to hold him. I know what he means to you, but for his sake, you have to let him go."

It was the wrong phrase to use on the shocked man. Ellison clutched the boy tighter.

"I can't let him go."

Simon realized his mistake even as the words left his mouth and he berated himself.

"Jim," he said. "It's okay. He's breathing. There's help coming." Simon stopped. Nothing was reaching the man. He could only pray that nothing was seriously wrong with BJ Sandburg. Right now, Jim Ellison was three years in the past holding the brain-dead form of his partner and best friend instead of that friend's son, and nothing would get him to let go again.

BJ began to stir even before the paramedics arrived, and Simon sighed deeply with relief. The six-year-old was beginning to talk to his step-father even as the paramedics pulled up in front of the house. For Simon, who had the medics wait on the patio for a moment, it was eerie, watching the young boy talk to the man, so much like his father had talked--softly, calmly, slowly relaxing the tense body of the detective. When Ellison's hold on the boy slackened, Simon stepped toward the two.

"Jim?" The detective's eyes were full of fear but clearly focused on Simon in the here and now. "The paramedics are here to have a look at BJ, okay?" Jim nodded and Simon waved the medics over. One paramedic reached for the child while the other set up their equipment, but Jim wasn't ready to let go just yet. Simon tried again. "Jim," he began, but BJ broke in.

"It's okay, Jim," BJ whispered. "I can get up now. You can let go."

Jim looked down into the boy's face and smiled weakly. He tucked a strand of curly hair behind an ear and leaned forward to kiss the child's forehead before gently placing him on the ground. He maintained contact with the boy and spoke only to answer questions from the paramedics.

"Are you the boy's father?"

"Step-father. I'm his legal guardian." BJ winced at the declaration, and Jim ran a loving hand across the damp forehead.

"What's your name, son?" the medic asked BJ.

"BJ Sandburg," was the prompt reply.

"What happened, BJ?"

"I slipped and fell in the water." Jim looked up to glare at the oldest boy standing on the other side of the pool with the other party-goers. He looked down again when BJ stroked his arm.

"Looks like you've got a nasty bump on the head." The paramedics finished their exam and suggested a trip to the hospital. BJ scrunched up his face and turned pleading eyes toward his guardian. Jim, in turn, wordlessly questioned the paramedics who relented on the condition that BJ go to his own doctor within 24 hours and that his parents keep an eye out for complications.

Jim helped BJ sit up under the watchful eyes of the emergency medical team and made his apologies to Simon and Clarice. Wrapping the boy in a towel, Jim carried him to the truck and made his way home.
********************
The drive to their home was well over 30 minutes on the best of days and today they seemed to hit a lot of traffic which slowed progress. Jim glanced often at his passenger, relishing the life in the drying bundle in his vehicle. He also noticed the frown on the face which signaled deep thoughts in the boy.

"I heard the conversation," Jim admitted as yet another traffic light released them. "You're right, you know. Nothing changes between us just because Jimmy's born."

"Then why can't I call you 'Dad?'" a small voice asked.

Jim took a deep breath before answering. "Because you have a dad, and it's very important to me that you remember that. Your dad gave up a lot for me in his life. I won't take his son away." Jim parked in front of their home and pulled the little boy into his lap. "That doesn't mean I don't love you, BJ. I love you with all my heart. You have a special place in my heart, not just because you're your father's son, but because of who you are." Jim Ellison hugged the little boy tight and kissed the top of his head. "Now, come on. We have some explaining to do to your mother, and your brother's been squalling all night and morning for you."

BJ's face lit up with a familiar smile, and he bounded out of the truck and up the walk to their house. Jim sat a moment longer, basking in the smile, and in the memory of one so like it.

Ellison walked through the front door of the house and reflected, gratefully, on how unlike his childhood home this one was. He scooped up the wet towel BJ had been wrapped in from where the boy had dropped it on his way to the nursery and reflected on how like the father the son was. He heard Jimmy quieting and falling into a peaceful sleep and walked down the hallway to peer into the nursery.

"Hey, Bro," BJ crooned as he caressed the two-month-old's cheek while his mother held him.

"Hi, Baby," Megan whispered to her older son as she watched him work his magic on her infant. She shook her head in wonder and raised her eyes to share a look with her husband.

Jim gave her a brief smile then turned quickly from the scene, heart pounding in his chest and breathing suddenly difficult. He wondered briefly if he were headed for a heart attack as he made his way into the master bedroom and sank onto the bed.

Megan caught the frightened look in her husband's eyes. "Did something happen at the party?" she asked her son.

He looked up at her in wide-eyed innocence and Megan felt her breath leave in a rush. Sometimes he looked so like his father, she thought. She could see him replaying the party in his quick mind, then he shrugged.

"I fell," he said, absently rubbing the back of his head. Megan had him turn around and she inspected the cut there with one hand before turning him to face her.

"Will you keep Jimmy company for a while? I think he missed you." She rose from the chair and put the baby in his crib while BJ wrestled the chair closer to the crib. BJ settled in and reached in to lightly rub Jimmy's hand as the infant slipped into sleep, content in the presence of his older brother.

Megan smiled at the two, gave her older son a quick kiss atop his head and then went to find her husband. She found Jim curled on their bed, shivering slightly. She sat beside him and reached out to rub his back.

"You took a swim, too?" she asked as she felt the damp clothes. He shrugged and remained quiet. "BJ said he fell." Jim nodded. "Is that what's wrong?" He shrugged again.

When Megan remained quiet, gently rubbing his back, Jim finally turned onto his back and looked up at his wife. She began a gentle massage of his stomach.

"He fell in the pool," Jim said. "He was unconscious." Megan's face reflected her own fear and horror. "I pulled him out and he was unconscious for a while, not long. The paramedics think he should have our doctor check him out. I'll take him by tomorrow."

Megan nodded.

"Thank you," she said.

"It was almost like seeing Sandburg in that fountain again," Jim whispered. He closed his eyes. "Then Simon tried to get me to lay him down...to let him go," he went on, repeating the words. He reached out to grasp her hand, holding it gently and rubbing it softly with his thumb. "There are still days," he whispered, tears gathering in his eyes, "when I miss him so much. But then I realize if I had him back, I wouldn't have you or Jimmy, and I feel confused.... and scared."

"Don't, Jim," Megan whispered around her own blossoming tears. "I miss him, too." She stopped to gain her composure. "He knew, you know, that we didn't have long. Almost from the first day of our marriage, I felt like he was preparing me to be there for you.

"And I always felt it was like a dream." She looked away. "He wasn't the type I usually went for, you know. The first time I set eyes on you, I noticed you. Then when we got off to such a horrendous start, I was scared. You know how in the movies true love always seems to start with true hate? That's what crossed my mind.

"And I was attracted to you, but then there was Sandy, and I just sort of got sidetracked. You know, if we'd tried to make a go of it before, I don't think it would have worked. I think we needed Sandy to show us how." She chanced a glance at her husband to see how he had taken her speech. He met her gaze with a small smile full of tender love and understanding.

"I love you," he said.

"I love you," she replied.

"I have to talk to BJ," Jim said. "He wants to call me 'Dad.'"

"I know."

"I can't, Megan," Jim said. "How do I explain to a six-year-old that I took everything his father had to give and I wouldn't feel right taking his son, too?" New tears threatened as Jim went on. "How do I tell a six-year-old how special his father was to me, when I can't even explain it myself? How do I bring Blair alive to him?"

"Give a little time," Megan said. "He's too young. Let's give him a couple of years."
********************
Jim cast his line out into the lake again. BJ followed suit and the two sat in silence for a while. Silence, however, was as foreign to BJ as it had been to his father, and Jim knew whatever was bothering the twelve-year-old would soon surface.

"How did my dad die?" BJ asked.

The question startled Jim. It was a story he'd told several times. A quick glance at his step-son showed a careful avoidance of eye contact, and Jim knew there was another question BJ wanted to ask.

"He stopped by a convenience store to get gas and walked into a robbery. When a woman and her grandson came in the door, the robber was startled and turned to shoot them. Your dad tried to stop him and was shot in the head. He died five days later."

Jim gave the short version of the story and in the silence thought of how Blair had really died at the store but Jim had refused to let go. With Megan in Australia visiting family, it had been his call and he had stubbornly refused to believe what the doctors told him.

Megan had returned two days after the shooting and after another two days she had cornered him in Blair's room.

"I can't do this, Jim," Megan told him. "I have a child who needs me. I can't wait here by Sandy's bedside forever."

"I can." Jim had replied.

"No, you can't. I need your help with BJ. I need someone who can tell him about his father. Tell him what a brilliant man he was. Tell him how much he loved his son."

"He'll be OK," Jim had said, tears welling in his voice and throat. "He's got to be all right."

Megan had paused. "Jim." When he had continued to look at Blair, she had called him again. "Jim, look at me." When his eyes were blearily focused on her, she continued. "Do you know that? Like you knew at the fountain? Do you know that he'll come back to us? Because if you do, if you can tell me Sandy will come back to us, I'll wait forever. But if you can't tell me for sure, I have to think of BJ." She waited in silence as Jim studied her tear-streaked face then turned his attention back to the form on the bed. She had watched him take Blair's hand and hold it to his chest. She had watched him rise and look deeply into Blair's face, tracing it gently with his other hand. She had watched him kiss her husband's forehead softly, then place his forehead against Blair's. His tear-choked voice tore at her own heart.

"What am I going to do without him, Megan? How am I going to survive?" Megan had moved then, taken her husband's best friend into her arms and together they had bid good-bye. Together, they had looked up Blair's doctor and given him their decision. The next day, Megan, Jim, Simon and Naomi had gathered in the small room as the life-prolonging machines were disconnected and Blair left this life.

"So he was a hero?" BJ asked.

"Very much so. He saved many lives while he lived. Including mine."

"The garbage truck," BJ said with a nod.

"And lots of other times. He helped me when no one else even admitted I needed help."

"Because you can do things others can't?"

"Yeah."

"So, he did for you what Mom does?"

Jim thought of the previous night and blushed, turning away from his son. "Trust me, BJ, your mother does things for me I never wanted your father to do," he whispered.

"But she helps you with your senses? So you don't zone?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "And you do."

"Is JJ like you?" BJ asked after a moment.

Jim hesitated. James Jacob Ellison was now six. So far, he hadn't shown any signs of being super sensitive like his father was. Ellison's five heightened senses had emerged sometime in his childhood, been suppressed after a traumatic experience and an argument with his father, reappeared in Peru after an Army mission gone sour, then reappeared five years later when he was a detective in Cascade. It was then that Ellison had met up with the irrepressible anthropology grad student who had helped him gain control of his senses. Their friendship had survived near death and Ellison's own inability to trust.

Blair Sandburg had partnered with Ellison to study the Sentinel abilities as well as help the police officer learn control. During the course of the four years they worked together, Blair had gone from observer to active participant in the Sentinel business. He had moved into Jim's apartment on a temporary basis and never left. His presence, first or second-hand, allowed Jim control of his senses in a way neither of them expected. Despite a few bumpy times, they had worked well together and Jim's solve rate was notable nationwide.

Sandburg had become an indispensable asset to Ellison and the officer's Major Crime co-workers. When Sandburg's dissertation was inadvertently sent to a publisher and that publisher released portions to the press against Sandburg's wishes, Jim had very nearly thrown everything good in his life away. Blair had remedied the situation by announcing himself a fraud and proclaiming his documentation on Ellison's senses false. He had turned down an offer to work with Major Crimes and instead, after a brief disappearance, opted to publish another thesis and receive his coveted doctorate.

For seven years after the disaster of the Sentinel dissertation, he had worked as a teacher in an inner city high school, accomplishing more good there in his work with the troubled students than he ever would have as a cop. Sandburg had married Megan Conner, also.

Conner and Ellison had teamed up in Major Crime and over the years of the marriage and the partnership, Ellison finally realized, he had come to associate his guide with Megan. Her presence and Blair's eventually mingled to one so by the time Blair had died, Ellison was able to rely on Megan--and to a degree, BJ--for the guidance and grounding he needed.

"Jim?" Blair Joseph Sandburg put his fishing rod safely on the bank and walked cautiously to his step-father's side. He had heard about zones but seen very few. His mom said as long as one of them stayed close by, Jim wouldn't be bothered by them. He tentatively reached out his hand to touch the Sentinel's bare arm. "Jim?" he repeated, hoping he wouldn't have to call his mom.

"Sorry," Jim said, looking down into the boy's face and coming out of his daydream to the soft, familiar voice. "Lost in my thoughts."

"Oh," BJ stepped back. "So, is JJ going to be like you?"

"I don't know. Your dad said that my senses came on-line after an extended period of isolation and a feeling of being in danger. Maybe if we can keep JJ safe and not alone too much, he won't have to mess with it."

BJ let the conversation slide for a while. He walked to the bank to pick up his rod, but opted to sit on a boulder instead.

"I think it'd be cool," he finally whispered.

"What?"

"To see more, hear more, feel more."

"Sometimes it is," Jim agreed. "Sometimes it just hurts more."

"Do you wish you'd never gotten them?"

"That's a loaded question," Jim said. He pulled in his line and went to sit by the boy. "If I'd never had them, I never would have met your father, lots of criminals might still be running free, and a lot more people might have died. You might never have been born, or JJ. So no, I guess, overall, I'd have to say they've brought me more good than anything. Mostly, they brought your father into my life, and you." Jim stopped talking and reached out to hug the twelve-year-old. "There's not a thing in the world I'd trade those two things for."
********************
"I went to Rainier last week on a field trip," BJ said, pulling Jim's attention from the paper he'd been reading on the front porch of their home. Jim stared blankly at BJ for a moment.

"How'd it go?"

"All right until we met a professor from the Anthropology Department." Jim tensed as BJ described meeting the man who had been at Rainier for more than 30 years. "There were only about six of us and he asked us our names. He tried to talk me out of anthropology. He said it wasn't a good career choice for someone with my background."

BJ looked away from Ellison. "I said my dad had a doctorate in anthropology and was a good man, and he said maybe someone should get me a new history book." BJ paused, still staring out at the quiet evening. "I looked up some stuff on Rainier and Dad and found what it said about his press conference."

"We've told you about that. You know he didn't lie in his dissertation," Jim said.

BJ nodded. "I just don't know why you let him do what he did."

"I didn't know what he was planning until after he'd held the press conference," Jim said. "I offered several times over the years to try to work something out, but he always turned me down." Jim paused. "I have no excuse for the way I treated your father, BJ," Jim said, "except to say that I was scared."

"Scared?"

"Very."

"Of what?"

"Of losing him." Jim looked around at their modest home in a unassuming neighborhood. He had retired from the police department several years before and gone into security consulting. Although he was successful, their house didn't announce anything more than average Americana. "I was taught, growing up, that money and prestige were the only things in life that mattered. He had all that offered to him on a silver platter, BJ. I just couldn't imagine him hanging around with me. Not to mention, I couldn't step outside the door without being mobbed by reporters. I depended on him more than I'd depended on anyone else in my life. If it hadn't been for him, I would never have been able to make a relationship last. I'd never have been able to work on this marriage with your mother.

"But he stuck it out. He did something braver than anything I'd ever seen before or since." Jim paused. "Remember when you wanted to call me 'Dad,' and I wouldn't let you?" BJ nodded. "I never wanted you to forget whose son you are. I will never forget what your father did for me, that day and every other day of his life." Jim took his eyes off the sixteen-year-old and studied the darkening neighborhood. "I'll go visit that professor tomorrow and set him straight."

"JJ's coming home," Jim said, hearing his son two blocks away at the park saying good night to his friends. So far, JJ hadn't exhibited heightened senses to the degree Jim had as a 10-year-old, but there were times.... The boy did seem to have extremely good sight and hearing, especially when it came to finding his older brother.

"Jim," BJ began again. "If JJ should ever develop senses like yours, and I think he could, will I be able to help him like Dad did you?"

Jim considered the question. JJ, while not exhibiting sentinel-level senses, had been a fussy child, BJ had shown an uncanny knack for being able to calm him. Jim nodded.

"I think so. But you and JJ are one up on me and your dad. You're brothers already, legally. No one will question your right to be concerned about him or him about you. No one will try to make your friendship something it isn't. No one will try to tell you can't be with him when he is sick or dying."

"I don't know a lot," BJ whispered, watching Jim track his son's movements from the park in the growing night. "But I know you were always there for Dad when he needed you. Just like you're always there for us." BJ headed for inside. "I'd better get some of that pie Mom brought home before JJ shows up or there won't be any left." He paused at the door. "You don't need to talk to that professor. He'll be gone before I get there."

With that, the older-than-he-was teen slipped into the house, leaving a silent Sentinel with drying tears on the porch.

"And you were always there for me, Chief," Jim whispered, thanking his friend silently, not only for the gift of his friendship, but the gift of his son, as well.

The End

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Madraf.