Killers: Yet Another Alternate Ending

By Anne Roquemore

Thanks: Much deserved kudos to Sue Pokorny, who read this story twice and made it better in the process. And to LKY (my fellow Washingtonian), who did a great job beta'ing (for the first time) when she hadn't even seen the episode yet. We need to remedy that.

Legal Stuff: All characters in this story belong to Pet Fly, whose writers, I hope, will forgive me for rewriting their plot.

Note: Even after the first time I watched "Killers", the ending felt wrong to me. The show had totally set-up the episode to end in a different way when Simon told Blair to stay away from the crime scene. But instead of following the set-up, the female was put in danger instead of the character that should have been. Yes, I do mean Blair. And not because I get off on Blair-owies, either. Juno was out to get Jim because Jim had taken his brother's life. Admittedly, in "Killers", Jim and Blair are still building the foundation of their relationship, but there is definitely a connection there that Juno witnessed on the steps of the courthouse. Naturally he would go after THAT connection, not the woman. So, does that give you an idea where this alternate ending is going? I promise not to harm Blair too badly.

********************

Blair Sandburg turned halfway in his seat, peering over one shoulder at the light display behind him. Cascade Police vehicles trailed Simon's car, lights flashing as they followed the police captain to O'Toole Trucking, where they would find yet another dead body. Shifting forward again, Blair studied his silent partner in the passenger seat, wondering once more why he hooked up with the lead detective of Cascade's Major Crime. In the past few weeks, Blair had seen more dead bodies than he'd like to recall. Danny Choi had been the first person he'd ever seen gunned down in a professional hit. That image was going to take some time to get out of his head. That and the look of complete devastation he'd seen on Jim's face.

Admittedly, Blair was still trying to figure out the enigmatic Jim Ellison. But the other night in the alley, watching Jim wail over the loss of his friend - more like his kid brother, Blair had found out - gave Blair a glimpse into his associate that both thrilled and scared him. Thrilled, because the stone-faced detective let the charade slip and in that tragic instant Blair saw something worth hanging around for - something that made up for all the bullets flying and guns in his face, even made up for Jim's cold shoulder and frigid responses. There had been love between Danny Choi and Jim, though neither of them would have admitted to it in precisely those terms. Seeing that had made Jim more three-dimensional. The man was capable of compassion and experiencing great loss. That was something Blair hadn't considered.

Which was why that scene had scared Blair so much. Jim Ellison, always in control, for an instant had exposed his vulnerability and Blair had been the only witness. One didn't take that kind of trust lightly. Soon after Danny's murder, Jim had closed down to all rational thought, sending his senses on the fritz. From what he had been able to gather about Jim Ellison so far, Blair was certain guilt and fear played a big part in that. Guilt that Jim had let Danny down; fear that he had shown too much weakness in that alley. One of these days, Blair was going to find out about Jim's childhood. There were answers to be found there.

In the meantime, something more important had to be resolved. Jim's fear and guilt were wreaking havoc on his senses. In the corridor of the police station, Blair had tried to explain that to Jim, who, as was par with Jim Ellison, immediately went on the defensive.

Blair's gaze switched to the intense police captain chomping on a cigar as he steered the vehicle through the streets of Cascade. Did he dare continue the conversation in front of Simon? How would Jim react?

Stupid question, Sandburg, you know exactly how he'll react. One other important thing Blair had learned about Jim was how private he kept his life. If Blair brought up this particular conversation in front of Simon, he'd probably have to withstand Sentinel ice glares for weeks to come. Jim had to understand, though: if he was going to find Tommy Juno, he had to get his emotions under control.

Since only the three of them were in the vehicle, no time like the present to continue that argument. Something Blair was really looking forward to.

Not.

"Look, Jim, back at the station all I was saying…"

"I know what you were trying to say, Sandburg," Jim interrupted sharply, his eyes still forward. The flashing police light on Simon's dashboard danced across Jim's hardened features. "Let's just drop it, okay?"

"Something I should know about?" Simon asked, taking a sharp turn and jerking the steering wheel to control the skidding back end of his car.

"Nothing worth repeating, sir."

Blair growled in frustration. He leaned forward as far as the seatbelt would allow, grabbing the back of the passenger seat. "Dammit, Jim, will you just listen to me?"

"Listen to you tell me that I need therapy? I don't think so, Chief!"

"Why do you always have to jump to conclusions like that? All I'm saying…"

"Listen, Darwin," Jim replied curtly, shifting only slightly in his seat, "if these senses are so feeble that a little anger is going to send them flying, then what use are they?"

"Jim, you have to understand that your senses are not separate from you. They make up the whole of you. If something affects Jim Ellison the man, or the detective, then it's going to affect every part of you. What you have to do is learn to let go of the guilt and fear…"

"Whoa there, Chief." His head swiveled enough to peer over his shoulder, glaring at Blair with icy blue eyes. "You just stepped too far over the line. You can test, hypothesize, guess - or whatever you scientists do - all you want about these damn senses, but don't even start to think that you know me well enough to talk to me about fear."

Blair smacked his forehead against the back of the passenger headrest, frustrated beyond words with the sudden Neanderthal in the passenger seat. "I knew you'd take it that way, Jim. I'm not calling you afraid, man. All I'm saying is if you don't realize that what happened to Danny was not your fault and get your anger at Juno under control, then your senses…"

Jim held up one hand, silencing Blair as Simon piloted the vehicle and the police entourage through the gates of O'Toole Trucking and stopped outside a large, white warehouse. Jim shifted fully in his seat and glared at Blair - a glare Jim usually saved for the interrogation room.

"Let's just get something straight, once and for all, Chief. Study the senses, stay out of everything else. Got it?" With that, he jerked open the passenger door and climbed out, Simon following suit.

Shaking his head, Blair opened his own door. That went really well.

Police scattered around them as Blair stepped up behind Jim, who already had his gun pulled. His head was tilted slightly in a gesture Blair had come to know pretty well by now, though how the Sentinel could possibly pick out sounds from inside a building with so many people in the parking lot both intrigued and amazed him. Wonder if Jim would be willing to test that particular skill in a controlled environment?

As Jim took off with some officers in tow, Simon grabbed Blair's shoulder and tugged him back.

"All right, look, Sandburg," Simon began, reaching into his coat for his own weapon, "this is a crime scene. I don't want you touching anything."

Suddenly excited, Blair chuckled as he followed Simon towards the warehouse. "Come on, Simon, I'm an Anthropologist. I've been on excavations before."

Simon took the first two steps of the warehouse and spun around, lifting one hand in warning at Blair. The police officers that had been following stopped as well. "You know what? On second thought you stay out here." Gesturing for the officers to follow him, Simon continued up the stairs. "Let's move!"

Pretending not to notice the occasional smirk, Blair was forced aside as the remaining officers followed their captain. Throwing his hands up in the air, he turned away from the building and walked dejectedly back toward Simon's car.

"Great, just great," he muttered to himself as he leaned against the chrome bumper.

Police lights danced across the warehouse and a light breeze swept over the parking lot. Brushing vagrant curls of his shoulder length hair back from his face, Blair listened to the shouts from the interior of the building, barely registering the voices over the police car radios. He knew he shouldn't be upset about this. It was a crime scene after all; someone was dead, and Blair's comment about excavations had been rather…well, inane, to say the least.

Still, Blair couldn't help but think the real reason Simon made him wait outside was because the man still didn't know whether he could be trusted. That hurt, especially after the part he played in bringing down the Sunrise Patriots and their raid on the station a couple weeks back.

Even though Simon Banks was even harder to understand than Jim, one thing remained perfectly clear: the police captain had very little patience with his best detective's civilian observer. The wire-tapping had merely been the excuse Banks needed to yank Blair's riding pass. That Jim had insisted the pass be returned when Jim's privileges had been restored seemed to only irritate Banks more. Thus, leaving Blair on the outside.

Again.

Sighing, Blair drew his black and red checkered coat more tightly around him. So many obstacles to overcome; was it even worth it? Sure he'd get his dissertation, but at what cost? So far hanging with cops had only resulted in clarifying the term "emotional constipation" and an increase in nightmares. Maybe he should throw out the Sentinel dissertation and actually do that study on closed societies.

"Here they'n left ya all alone, now, did'n they?" a soft voice asked from behind Blair at the same time something cold pressed against the back of his neck. "'tis awfully nice of 'em, workin' with me like that 'n all." A soft voice with a Scottish brogue.

"Damn," Blair whispered right before something struck him behind the ear, sending him into oblivion.

********************

After checking the entire warehouse, Jim and Simon, followed by two uniforms, silently made their way to the office. Simon entered first, gun raised; Jim followed. He watched as his superior ducked back and forth in an effort to ascertain the safety of the environment.

Lowering his weapon and slipping it back into his holster, Simon turned to Jim. "We're clear."

Jim had already lowered his gun, noting that no other heartbeats were in the office other than those of the officers and Simon. Crossing the light tan carpet to the body sprawled in a pool of blood, Jim slipped his own gun back into place in the holster at the base of his spine and crouched alongside the body. Simon knelt as well, checking the body for a pulse.

"Mickey O'Toole," Simon announced while Jim pulled on some latex gloves. "Dead."

Spotting items on a nearby table, Jim stepped over O'Toole's body as more officers filed into the room.

"Captain," one officer called.

"Yeah," Simon asked, snapping on latex gloves.

"We've got a couple more bodies out here. Looks like some of O'Toole's guys."

From the table, Jim listened as Simon ordered the officers to call the coroner and forensics, then sent the other officers back out into the warehouse. But Jim's attention was riveted on the bloody objects on the table. Carefully sifting through them, an idea started forming when Simon suddenly appeared at his shoulder.

"What have you got there, Jim?" Simon asked, kneeling.

Jim glanced up once, continuing to sift through the items. "Looks like someone was playing doctor to a gunshot wound." Taking a deep breath and letting it out, he continued, "Ten to one that wounded man is Juno." A soft ringing started behind him, but he ignored it. "Looks like he came here for help and things went sour."

The ringing persisted. Simon checked his coat. "Not me," he stated.

Jim focused on the ringing and crossed back over to O'Toole's body. Crouching, he searched the dead man, retrieving a cell phone from a pocket. Giving the object a quick glance, Jim pressed the call button.

"Hello?" he asked, glancing up at Simon, who turned around to face him.

"Ellison?" a familiar voice resonated from the phone. Juno.

"Yeah?"

"Damn you fer what ya've done," the soft voice spat. "He was more than just my brother. He was the other half of my soul."

Feeling tension begin in his jaw, Jim mouthed Juno's name to Simon, then asked, "What do you want, Tommy?"

"You say hello to a friend of yours."

The sound of struggling echoed over the receiver of the phone. Jim glanced up at Simon, whose expression reflected confusion. Jim shook his head and shrugged; he didn't know what this was about.

"Say somethin'," Juno's voice demanded, but not into the phone; obviously he was talking to someone else. Silence followed, then the sound of flesh hitting flesh. "Dammit, I said say somethin'…"

Jim rose, a sudden sinking feeling cementing in his gut. Automatically his hearing stretched out of the office, beyond the sound of Simon's heartbeat, beyond the sound of the officers in the warehouse, seeking beyond the cement walls of the warehouse towards the parking lot where Simon had left Sandburg…alone.

"Dammit, boy, I said say somethin'!" Juno yelled over the phone, causing Jim to cringe and lose focus. But not before realizing that the sound he expected to hear in the parking lot was not there.

Over the receiver, something soft thudded against something hard, a gasp and a low moan followed. No words needed to be spoken. Jim recognized the vocal quality of those sounds immediately. Juno had Sandburg.

"Leave Sandburg out of this," Jim hissed. "This is between you and me."

Juno chuckled mirthlessly. "I'm impressed you figured it out. Hero boy here just wouldna cooperate. Good friends are hard to come by, aren't they, Ellison?"

Unable to breathe because of the knot twisting his gut, Jim peered up at Simon, whose eyes widened at the implication of Jim's statement.

"We'll be in touch." The phone clicked, then died.

Lowering the phone, Jim made barely enough time to gesture Simon to follow before he raced from the office and back through the warehouse. Charging through the door, his long legs cleared the entrance steps with one leap. He came to a skidding halt, his eyes immediately locked on Simon's sedan. Hanging from the antenna was Sandburg's black and red checkered coat.

"Shit," Simon gasped from behind.

Jim nodded, resting his hands on his knees, still watching as a breeze moved through the lifeless coat. He hung his head, ignoring Simon's barking commands, the sudden life in the parking lot as officers appeared from the shadows. All that registered was one, tormenting thought: an assassin bent on revenge had Sandburg.

********************

Captain Simon Banks was a pro at multi-tasking. He could be speaking to the Commissioner on speakerphone and divvying out assignments to his detectives while sending an email to the mayor confirming a lunch date. Sometimes, his abilities even impressed himself.

Those multi-tasking abilities came into play now. While he shepherded an agitated Detective Ellison back into O'Toole's warehouse, careful to steer him clear of the officers gathered in the parking lot, he shouted orders at the newly arrived forensics team to split up - some to start dusting his car for any clues where Juno may have taken Sandburg, the other half to head to O'Toole's office - and pulled out his cell phone to start a trace on O'Toole's phone. Juno would be calling back at any moment and unless he was willing to just tell Ellison where he had the kid, Juno had to be tracked somehow.

With the coroner in O'Toole's office along with the other half of the forensics, Simon decided that it would be best to find a nice quiet corner where Ellison could explode without an audience, if it came to that.

Knowing how Jim felt about that kid, the explosion would probably be eminent.

Settling Jim on a desk near one of the loading docks, Simon finally tapped the phone number of the station's communications section, keeping a firm eye on Jim. A little guilt edged its way into Simon's voice as he ordered a phone trace on O'Toole's cell phone. After all, he had been the one to leave Sandburg behind. Not that there was any evidence that Sandburg would get hurt, but the reasons for leaving him out in the cold were no more professional than the kid's excuse as to why he should be allowed onto a crime scene. Quite frankly, the kid irritated him.

While he waited for confirmation on O'Toole's trace, Simon wondered again what his silent detective saw in Sandburg. They were as mismatched as peanut butter and pickles. That conversation in his sedan was proof. Sandburg was touchy-feely, something that grated against Simon's nerves; he could only imagine what it did to Jim. Simon had received his fair share of guff from the brass about allowing the graduate student to be partnered with one of Cascade's finest - especially when that Cascade's finest had refused partners since Jack Pendergrast's disappearance. Despite how much Sandburg's youthful enthusiasm maddened Simon, though, he couldn't possibly deny the difference he made in Jim's demeanor. In just short of a month, Jim had changed from a hard-nosed loner to someone who actually greeted the other detectives in the morning. Quite a feat for a hippie-wannabe.

As the communications officer confirmed the trace, O'Toole's phone began to ring. Instantly Jim was on his feet, grabbing the phone from Simon. Flipping it open, he held it up, allowing Simon to hear Juno's side of the conversation as well.

"Ellison."

"Meet me at the fairgrounds on the old midway in thirty-minutes," Juno instructed over the phone. "You were right. This is between you and me. You took Dylan from me, and it's you who will pay. So, we'll make a trade. The long-haired kid for you. But, if I see any cops, he dies."

Jim paused a heartbeat before responding. "Forget it," he stated simply, ignoring Simon's surprised look.

"What do you mean forget it? You think I won't kill him?" Across the receiver the sound of a gun clicking in a new round could be heard "I've got a gun to his head right now. Too bad he's unconscious, otherwise I'm sairtin he'd be whimperin' right about now."

"I've got another deal," Jim replied quickly, his voice steady. "There's something you don't know. Your brother Dylan isn't dead."

Simon slowly shifted his gaze to stare incredulously at Jim, who held up his other hand to stave off the look. Whatever Ellison was up to, Simon had a bad feeling it would require someone with the ability to bring back the dead.

Juno's voice shook as he spoke. "I don't believe you."

"We leaked that report to force your hand. We've been keeping him at a guarded ward at the hospital. He's pretty banged up but he's still alive. Now, if you want a trade…" he paused, tilting his head to one side in a gesture Simon had learned to connect with Jim's hearing. He had no idea what Jim was listening for, but as long as the outcome got Sandburg back safely and Juno in custody, he didn't care. "We'll trade your brother for Sandburg."

Simon rolled his eyes heavenward. This he hadn't been expecting. Already items clicked into place that needed to be done to pull of this ruse.

"You'd better not be lyin' to me, and you'd better not be screwin' with me, or I swear, whatever is left of yer friend here won't be enough to fill a matchbox."

"All right, all right, I'm gonna need some time, though. Give me an hour."

"You've got forty-five minutes." The phone went dead.

Closing the phone, Jim announced, "He took the deal."

Simon let out a heavy sigh. "Great. Now all we have to do is find a way to bring a dead man back to life." He opened his cell phone and started dialing the morgue. "Sandburg better appreciate this."

Jim nodded, already lost in thought. It didn't take a genius to realize he was worried. Maybe there was more to the kid than Simon first thought. If they got Sandburg out of this alive, perhaps he'd take the opportunity to get to know the graduate student better.

After all, the kid was going to be around only for another couple of months.

********************

A sharp pain in his side drove through the darkness holding Blair.

"I said get up," a voice barked, followed by another sharp pain, this time in his shoulder.

With some effort, Blair worked his way through the darkness, slowly becoming aware of several things: his hands were bound in front of him with rope that bit into his skin; a dull throbbing behind his left ear sent spasms through his head; he was on his side; and he was cold. Shivering brought him fully out of unconsciousness and he managed to roll onto his back. His eyelids fluttered open and a pale face came into focus. Blair moaned as memory swept in.

"Damn," he whispered, closing his eyes again. This wasn't good.

"Good marnin' to ya," Juno announced, crouching beside Blair.

Eyes snapping open once more, Blair looked around him. Darkness shrouded everything in shadows but was that a merry-go-round he saw? "Where 'm I?"

"At the fairgrounds, me boyo. Ready to go for the ride of yer life?"

A strong hand grabbed a handful of shirt and hauled Blair to his feet, slamming him against a concrete wall. He tried not to moan, but the mistreatment sent new waves of pain through his head.

"What's the matter, boyo? Head hurtin ya?"

"Something like that," Blair murmured, lifting his bound hands up to touch the back of his left ear. He winced at the painful lump, but found no blood. "So, Juno, are you going to tell me why we're at the fairgrounds, man, or am I supposed to just consider this our first date?"

Juno actually chuckled. "Bravery, huh? I would have expected you to cower knowin' how close you are to dyin'."

Another shiver ran through Blair's shoulders and he noticed his jacket missing. Great, late Autumn in Cascade and he was tied up and held at gunpoint with only a long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans to keep him warm. Maybe being cold gave him the bravery Juno accused him of. Yeah, let's go with that.

"So, just how close to dying am I, man?"

Juno's dark eyes narrowed dangerously, forcing Blair to think twice about pissing off the assassin any further. "Another few minutes, I'd say. And then yer partner will be bringin' my brother to me, and that'll be the end."

Brother? Blair's head jerked up and he eyed his captor. There had been hope in those words, which could mean several things: either Juno didn't know Dylan was dead, or Dylan had suddenly come back to life and Jim was using him as bait, or…

Closing his eyes, Blair hoped it wasn't the third option.

"What's the matter, boyo? Bravery finally gone?" Juno laughed again, this time it sounded much more menacing. "Yer partner is going to pay dearly for comin' between me and my brother. He'll regret ever messin' with either of us."

"Well that's a bit hypocritical don't you think?" Blair winced. That was a stupid thing to say, Sandburg.

In agreement with that conclusion, a gun suddenly appeared, the barrel pressed firmly against Blair's cheek. Over the barrel, two steely eyes glared at him. "And what exactly does that mean?"

Blair bit his lower lip. Maybe if he just remained silent. The gun disappeared only to have the butt jammed fiercely against his left cheek. Blair crumpled to his knees as new pain flared and something wet trickled down his face. Smart, Sandburg, really smart. Irritate the man with the gun.

"I asked you a question, boyo," Juno spat, getting in Blair's face. "What did you mean?"

Lifting bound hands to ward off any more mistreatment, and the bad breath, Blair shakily got to his feet. He leaned against the cement wall until he found his equilibrium again.

"It's just interesting that you're pissed at Jim because he put your brother in the hospital, but you shot and killed a cop that was like *his* brother." Blair finally looked up, catching Juno's narrowing gaze. "Two sets of rules, man?"

The gun lashed out again, this time against the back of Blair's neck, and he crumpled completely to the ground. Before the pain could register, Juno had a hand in Blair's hair, jerking his head back.

"If I were you, I'd be worried about yer own neck, boyo," Juno hissed in Blair's ear, "instead of keeping score in a game that you're eventually going to lose."

********************

Jim shook his head, amazed at how easily Sandburg could make matters worse with that tongue of his. Still, at least the kid was keeping Juno's attention from his surroundings, allowing Jim the time to set-up for this little charade. One that he hoped paid off.

He moved easily through the amusement park, following the voices echoing in his heightened hearing. Stopping at the exit, shifting slightly to compensate for the chill inching up his neck, he glanced around the park. Roller coaster, Spider, ferris wheel, merry-go-round…ahhh, merry-go-round. Ignoring the steam of his breath in the air, Jim's vision focused across the park, beyond the ceramic horses and golden rods, to a spot near a retaining wall. Juno knelt beside Sandburg, who was on the ground, hands bound, head up in a precarious manner.

"Okay, okay, get the hand out of the hair, man!" Sandburg said, his voice edged with weariness and pain. "You're the one who asked…"

Juno jerked again and Sandburg spasmed. Jim's jaw clenched. "Do you ever know when to stop?" Juno demanded.

Shaking his head, Jim muttered to himself. "Apparently not. Remind me Sandburg to give you lessons in listening to your warning voice. If you have one."

Shifting his gaze away from the scene, Jim searched the area for the dark van where Simon was waiting. In the driver's seat, his captain gestured that everything was set. Nodding, Jim stepped forward.

"Juno!" Jim bellowed.

Pulling Sandburg to his feet, one arm wrapped around the kid's neck, the other pressing a gun in his side, Juno moved behind the retaining wall of another ride.

"Throw your gun away!" Juno yelled.

As he reached behind his back to grab his weapon, Jim focused on Sandburg's expression. Lips were pursed, blue eyes wild, body tense, prepared to run when the moment presented itself. Jim had to hand it to him; Sandburg was ready for whatever Jim had planned. He sure had a lot of faith in Jim. Laying the gun on the ground and scooting it away with one foot, Jim lifted both hands and watched as Juno stepped clear of the protecting wall, struggling to make Sandburg move. The gun in Sandburg's side shifted to his head, pressing into exposed flesh. Blair got the message and stopped struggling.

"All right, where's my brother?"

Nodding once, Jim motioned for Simon to pull forward. "Bring him in!"

The black van pulled up and stopped. After a moment the side door slid open and a body in a wheel chair rolled into position. Electrical whirring filled the air as the mechanism lowered to the ground. Jim cast a wary glance at Juno, hoping that through the shadows the assassin couldn't tell that the figure in the chair was a corpse. It had been a trick to set this one up; it would be even more so if it worked.

"Dylan, is that you?" Juno called out.

There was a pause and Jim's heartrate increased. Simon had been practicing with the tape player all the way to the fairgrounds, guessing what questions Juno might ask his brother to establish if he was all right. He had even written down the pointer numbers of each phrase from Jim's illegal wire-tapping that would hopefully supply those answers.

"It's me. How ya doin'?" finally echoed over the mini-amplifier.

Juno didn't seem to notice the tinny quality of the voice. "Are you okay?"

A longer pause followed. From the van Jim could hear Simon playing through the recorded conversation, his deep voice counting along with the tape counter.

"Dylan," Juno yelled again. "Are you okay?" Anxiety edged the man's voice and Jim's throat dried out as he heard what sounded like the tape popping out of the cassette holder and Simon's quiet swearing.

"Everythin's fine," the answer finally occurred.

Jim swallowed.

"All right, you send him over!"

"Uh-uh," Jim replied. "You send out Sandburg, then I'll send Dylan over at the same time."

A silent pause followed, and Jim squinted into the shadows. Juno had shifted his weight and removed his arm from around Sandburg's neck. From the pained expression on Sandburg's face and the awkward slant of his head, it was obvious Juno held him by a handful of hair once more. That damn hair. Wonder if after this Jim could get the kid to cut it?

"All right. But just remember you try anything and your friend here bites it. Got it?"

"Yeah."

Shoving Sandburg forward, Juno lifted his gun and aimed it directly at Sandburg's back, his gaze never wavering. As Simon steered the electric wheelchair forward with a remote, Blair's voice floated across the air to Jim's hearing.

"Okay, Jim," Blair whispered Sentinel-hearing soft. The kid's gaze caught Jim's, filled with a mixture of fear and hope. "Whenever you're ready, man, I am. Don't much like the feeling of a gun being pointed at me, ya know? Just say the words and I'm Speedy Gonzalez."

Jim hid a smile. He had to hand it to the kid - despite the pounding of his rapidly beating heart and the obvious dry mouth, Blair remained calm on the outside. Calm and trusting. Damn, why did he have to be so trusting?

The wheelchair carrying Dylan Juno's body slowly made its way across the cement, edging closer to Sandburg as he walked to meet it. When Blair caught sight of the body, an expression crossed his face that Jim couldn't quite read. Before Jim could remind himself to ask Blair about it, the wheel chair jerked to a halt. The front wheel had found a pothole. There was no getting it out.

"Dylan!" Juno screamed, raising his gun.

As Jim prepared to yell for his friend to get down, he noticed Sandburg was already flying to the protection of a nearby wall, bullets spraying rock and cement near his feet before he was safe. Juno disappeared. Reaching for the second pistol he kept at his ankle, Jim called out, "Sandburg?"

"I'm fine, Jim. Go!"

With a nod, Jim pulled out his pistol and took off after Juno.

********************

"Those mirrors really threw me off, though," Jim was saying as the paramedics finished up wrapping gauze around the rope burns on Blair's wrists. "But you were right." Blair's head snapped up as they walked away from the ambulance. He stared in open-eyed wonderment at Jim's confession. "It *was* me. Once I put aside all the anger, my senses clicked right back on-line. While in the maze of mirrors I couldn't use my eyesight, so I listened for his heartbeat and nailed him."

"That's fantastic, man!" Blair moaned as he moved his wrists wrong.

"You need to learn how to talk without your hands, Darwin," Jim replied with a smile, dropping an arm around Blair's shoulders. "Speaking of things to learn, let me ask you something, Chief. Do you have a voice inside that thick head of yours that speaks to you and tells you when it's time to shut up?"

Blair laughed, hands coming up in defense. "I used to, man, but I think it's shut down for repairs."

Squeezing his friend around the neck, Jim stated firmly, "Get it fixed. You're lucky Juno didn't shoot you for talking to him about all that two sets of rules shit." Jim grinned as Blair struggled out of his armhold.

"No doubt. But that's fantastic, man!" Blair switched gears quickly, stopping and placing both hands on Jim's chest to stop him as well. "The most important thing here, man, is that you took control of not only the situation but of your senses. I knew you could do it!"

Jim's mouth turned down in thought. Yeah, he could do it. But not alone. "Look, Sandburg…"

"Uh-oh," Blair murmured, a knowing grin coming to his face, crinkling the bandage over his left cheek.

Jim followed his friend's line of eyesight. Beverly Sanchez walked toward them, dressed in a turtleneck knit sweater and jeans. Jim had to admit, the DA was quite attractive, even at seven in the morning.

"Well, knowing that the faithful companion's most important duty is to know when to make himself scarce, I'll…uh…I'll see you later, man." Blair patted him on the arm and headed towards a police vehicle. He chatted with a uniform for a minute then waved at Jim as he got into the back seat of the vehicle.

"Jim," Beverly Sanchez called. "One of the officers briefed me on what happened tonight. Is your friend okay?"

Still watching as the police vehicle pulled away, focusing his hearing on the rapid heartbeat in the backseat, Jim barely heard Beverly's question. Had Blair's hands been shaking?

"Jim?" A soft hand touched his, pulling his attention from the retreating vehicle back to Beverly's soft brown eyes. "Is Mr. Sandburg okay?"

"Yeah, he's fine." Not wanting to discuss Sandburg with Beverly, Jim changed the subject. "Sorry about Juno. I know you wanted to nail him for those killings."

Beverly shrugged, digging both hands into her jeans pockets. "He's off the streets, not hurting anyone else. That's what counts." She took a deep breath, then shifted so she faced Jim. "Look, I've been thinking a lot about you and me the last couple of days."

"Oh?" Jim asked, an eyebrow arched. "And what did you come up with?"

"That maybe we should just try being friends."

"Friends?"

"Yeah. What do you think?"

Jim reached out his hand and took Beverly's. "Friends, then," she stated, somewhat sad.

"Yeah, friends." He grinned mischievously. "With potential."

Beverly met that smile with one of her own. "If you say so."

Jim chuckled.

********************

Blair's silver gray Corvair pulled up beside the green Ford truck, the lone occupant staring curiously at the man leaning against the bumper of the Ford. Jim had changed clothes since Blair had last seen him, and looked more awake than Blair felt. Waving at the detective, Blair turned off his vehicle and grabbed his backpack, wondering why Jim had traveled clear across Cascade to the warehouse district only to stand in front of Blair's home. Well, not technically "home" - it was a warehouse, but hey, there was lots of room.

"Where've you been, Chief?" Jim asked as Blair exited his car. "I expected you to be home sleeping."

Blair shook his head. "You're insane, man. I had just enough time after the uniforms dropped me off this morning to shower, dress and get to the university before my first class." Stepping past Jim, Blair walked to the front entrance of the warehouse, pulling out his keys.

His shaking hands had a hard time sifting out the right key and he nearly jumped when Jim reached over and took the keys from him. Having school to concentrate on had allowed Blair to focus on something other than the fear twisting his heart into his stomach all day. Now that he was home, though, he had hoped to go straight into meditation, try to work out his emotions into some semblance of order, maybe have a nervous breakdown, that sort of thing. Jim's presence complicated things. There was no way Blair was going to lose it in front of his friend.

"…planning on sitting back and taking it easy tonight," Jim was saying as he unlocked the door and guided Blair through with a hand on his shoulder. "Thought maybe you'd like to join me. Order some pizza, watch the Jags."

Flipping on the overhead lights and staring into the spacious - and cold - warehouse waiting for him, Blair warmed to the thought. Jim had never invited him over to the loft just to hang out. It was either a quick stop while on a case or to meet Jim for some testing. Blair loved the loft, with its windows along one side to let in the sunshine and a breathtaking view of Lake Cascade and the city skyline. When Blair had suggested that Jim start meditating in order to find a peaceful place when he felt loss of control, Jim had mentioned that he didn't need that kind of crap, not when he lived in his peaceful place. Blair hadn't understood that. At least, not until he visited the loft.

Relaxing there would be just the ticket.

"Chief?" Jim asked, laying a hand on Blair's shoulder.

They had managed to cross the cold floor of the warehouse to the area Blair had set-up his living room and now Jim was watching him. Could probably feel with that single touch on his shoulder how Blair's nerves were ready to explode. Backing away from that touch, Blair pasted on his best smile and started unloading his backpack.

"Sounds great, Jim, but I really have a lot to do tonight. Last night kind of screwed up my schedule, man. Gotta get caught up." After arranging everything in a chaotic mess on the coffee table in front of the couch, Blair finally looked up. "No rest for the weary, right?"

Blair could tell Jim wasn't buying it. One of the things that amazed him about the detective was how he could see right through a perp and know exactly what to say in order to get what he needed for a case. That same expression Blair had seen many times when Jim was working on an interrogation now stared back at him. Inwardly, Blair cringed.

Please, man, not tonight, Blair thought, willing Jim to forego his usually inquisitive self and just let him be alone. It was hard enough not freaking out right then and there. Too many things had built up over the past month and last night with Juno had been the catalyst. Just let me have my breakdown, man, and then I'll be all right. Just don't want you to see it. Please, please, please…

"All right, Chief," Jim finally said, turning to go. There was a sharp quality to his voice, but not as sharp as Blair had heard from him before. "You going to be at the station tomorrow?"

"Yeah, yeah, man, I'll be there, probably in the afternoon. Have open office tomorrow morning and a class."

Nodding once, Jim started for the door, then paused and turned. "Look, if you find that eating cold macaroni and studying cracked artifacts isn't enough tonight, the invitation is still open."

Again, the warmth of the invitation struck Blair, and for an instant he saw in Jim someone who could become a good friend, something for which to stick around, just enough to bait him and keep him hooked for a bit longer. All thoughts of writing down the pros and cons of continuing this partnership fled Blair's mind. He'd hang in there maybe just a bit longer.

"Thanks, man."

"You bring the beer," Jim called over his shoulder as he continued toward the door.

Blair waited until he heard Jim's car pull away, waited until he was certain Jim's Sentinel hearing couldn't extend back through the noises of traffic to listen in. Once he was certain no one else would witness the episode, Blair Sandburg crumpled to the floor, drew his knees up to his chest, and quietly had a meltdown.

********************

Turning on the television just as the announcers introduced the players for the Jags team, Jim sat down on the couch and stared out the windows overlooking his deck. Cascade had settled in for the night and against the backdrop of an auburn sky at dusk, the skyline twinkled with life. The aroma of pizza permeated the loft from the box on the coffee table, the sound of the Jags game underway muffled in the background lulled Jim to slowly relax, one muscle at a time, starting with his jaw.

He had put aside the tenseness during his visit with Sandburg earlier. Somehow that kid seemed to know almost instinctively when Jim was on edge and that irritated him. Sandburg had been right about Jim's guilt and fear, and not only had he been able to read it, the kid had actually had the guts to say something about it. And when Jim said guts, he meant guts. Not even Simon would have called Jim on it.

That moment had both scared and pleased him. Scared, because somehow, in only a month, Sandburg had managed to do something no one else had done, not even Danny. Not even Carolyn. He'd managed to get inside and see things Jim had hidden from everyone else. In the alley, after Danny had been killed, Jim had cried. Damn, he couldn't even remember the last time he'd done that. But in that moment of loss and grief, Jim had felt…what, comfortable? safe?…in Sandburg's presence to let it out. How did that happen? When had this long-haired, punk grad student managed to wheedle his way so much into Jim's life?

Which was why he had also been pleased. Sandburg may question his position around Jim, but when the kid believed in something he didn't back down. It was refreshing to have someone around whom Jim knew would always be honest when it was absolutely necessary. Sure, Sandburg had told a potful of lies since they'd met. Lies he was so good at, the people he told them to actually believed him. Hell, even Jim had had his fair share of double takes. But where Jim was concerned, where these strange Sentinel abilities were concerned, Sandburg would be there and wouldn't back down. In a strange way, that actually felt good.

But what was the cost of keeping the kid around? When Sandburg had gotten into the police vehicle earlier this morning, his heart had been pounding against his chest, his hands shaking. Who could blame him? He had been taken at gunpoint by a madman, had been slapped around, shot at. And before any of this happened with Juno, there had been the takeover of the police station by the Sunrise Patriots a couple weeks back. Kincaid had put a gun in Blair's face, had been ready to kill him when Blair had told the mother of all lies. A lieutenant from Vice. Wow. And the deception had paid off, but at what cost?

Blair had attended every funeral of every cop and civilian that had been killed during that attack, but had never once said anything about what he was feeling. He had been part of something that was bloody and wrong; it had to have affected him. Just as last night had.

But had the kid said anything about his hurt? No. In both cases, his main concern had been Jim. After applying Blair's wisdom last night and gaining control of his emotions, Jim realized one very important thing: he couldn't do this alone. No, that's not right. It's not that he couldn't do this alone. It's that he didn't want to.

So, Jim had gone to visit the kid at the place he called home - Jim called it a wreck waiting to happen - only to find no one there. When Sandburg had pulled up, Jim wanted to rattle the kid's head. What was he doing at school after what happened last night? Even without Sentinel sight Jim could tell Sandburg was ready to collapse. Why hadn't he forced Blair to stay at the loft tonight? Why had he just walked out?

Maybe it had been the begging in Sandburg's eyes - those damn blue eyes that seemed to mirror every emotion, reflect every thought the kid had. In those eyes Jim saw a frantic need to be alone. Jim respected that. For the moment. He didn't know Sandburg well enough to force the issue. Maybe one of these days he would.

Familiar footsteps piqued Jim's hearing and a slow smile crossed his lips. Strange that he was excited to know that Sandburg had come after all. What was it about that kid?

Rising, he crossed to the door and opened it, chuckling at Blair's surprised expression, a hand up and ready to knock. At least he had showered and changed. Standing in the doorway dressed in comfortable jeans with rips at the knees, a blue shirt and his curly hair pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, Sandburg looked much better than he had at the warehouse. Blue eyes that twinkled up at Jim were still puffy, but only so much that Sentinel sight could tell. Bruises stood out against his pale face, and the bandage on his left cheek crinkled with the kid's smile, but even those disappeared in the delighted expression on the kid's face. The smile was all Sandburg.

"That is so weird, man," Sandburg said, crossing the threshold, his eyes still studying Jim. "Did you know it was me?"

"You have your own fragrance, Sandburg," Jim replied as he closed the door. "Did you bring the beer?" Blair lifted a paper sack. "Good. Pizza is lousy without a good beer. I would have been pretty upset with you if you'd forgotten it."

Blair frowned suddenly. "Hey, wait a minute. How did you know I'd be coming?"

Jim chuckled, tugging on the ponytail as he relieved his friend of the six-pack and placed it on a kitchen counter. "Jags are up ten to nothing."

"Yeah, I know. I've been listening to the game on the radio." Blair crossed the apartment to the windows and stood silent while Jim opened two cans. The game played quietly in the background as Jim turned and studied his friend.

A shiver traced across Sandburg's shoulders and when he turned away from the windows, Jim caught just a fraction of sadness before the smile was planted firmly in place again. Jim shook his head in exasperation and met Blair at the couch.

"Here." He handed Blair a beer and they both sat.

Blair flipped open the pizza box and inhaled deeply. "Do you think heaven smells like pizza, Jim? Because, man, this smells like heaven."

"Dig in, Chief."

Cocking an eyebrow in Jim's direction, Blair quietly studied Jim a moment.

"What?" Jim asked, reaching for a piece of pizza and a napkin.

Blair just smiled again. "Nothing. I mean...thanks for the invite, man."

The blue eyes staring up at him said more than the words. "Any time."

Nodding acceptance to Jim's reply, Blair grabbed a piece of pizza and bit into it. "Am I hungry," he said around a mouthful.

Chuckling, Jim grabbed a napkin and placed it on Sandburg's knee. "You get sauce on my couch and you'll wish you'd never seen that pizza."

They settled back and watched the game. Blair let out a contented sigh as he threw half of his third piece back into the box and settled back. After a few moments, the brightness of his blue eyes began to dull, his eyelids drooping. Catching himself nodding off, he straightened.

"Man, I'm wiped," Blair commented, rubbing both hands down his face in order to wake up. "Think maybe I'd better head home."

"When's your first class tomorrow?"

"Not until one, but I have open office from ten to twelve, and I've got a lot of studying to catch up on tonight." He eyed Jim shrewdly, a mysterious smile lifting one cheek. "Besides, I still have to put down everything about what happened with your senses this week while it's still fresh in my mind."

Jim rolled his eyes. "I don't think you'll have a problem remembering any of that. Where my senses are concerned, your mind is like a computer."

"Ha. Thanks, man, I think."

Blair started to rise, but Jim put a hand on his shoulder. "Look, Chief, why don't you sack out here? You'll have plenty of time in the morning to get back to that deathtrap you call home and get ready for school. Whatever you're going to write about my senses can wait, doncha think?"

Mouth open to argue, something passed across Sandburg's features that Jim didn't recognize. Irritation, gratitude…relief? Finally, the man sighed and sank back.

"Even if I did have enough strength to argue with you about it, Jim, I'm not going to. Thanks for the invite, man."

By the time the fourth quarter started, Sandburg had slipped off his shoes, curled up on his side and even managed to wrap the afghan from the back of the couch around his shoulders. By the time the Jags won, the kid had fallen sound asleep. While after game highlights played, Jim remained on his end of the couch, only half listening to the television, finishing up his beer as he watched the twinkling skyline. Before too long, he couldn't even hear the television. Instead, his head was filled with the steady, strong beat of Sandburg's heart.

Whatever vestiges of stress from Danny's death and the events of the last several days that remained in his shoulders slipped away under the steadiness of that heartbeat.

The End

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