Once again, many thanks to Shycat for her help and for letting me invade her Page. Hugs to Mercury for taking time out of her busy schedule to beta this. I owe much to both of you for your encouragement and time!

Slight warning: This story was written before 'Sentinel Too' aired. It may seem like quite a downer, but I beg your indulgence; please reserve judgement until the end!

Disclaimer: If you want to read it, Starfox has it on her main page. At the bottom. In tiny print. :o)

Last Rites

by Bonnie

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

Captain Simon Banks pulled his sedan up to the building at 852 Prospect, and easily found a parking place. There weren't many cars there: just Blair's Volvo, a blue VW Beetle and, a discreet distance away, another sedan harboring one of Cascade P.D.'s finest, Henri Brown. Jim's blue and white truck was still down at the station...four days after the attack. There was no rush to return it to the loft.

With a sigh at the necessity, the tall police captain reached into the back seat and pulled forward a bulletproof vest. He got out and locked the door. Heading for the building's entrance, he cast a quick glance around: no one in sight. Whether that was good or bad remained to be seen.

Today was going to be hard for everyone, and he was sorry for Jim Ellison's brother and father. But it was going to be especially stressful for the young man who awaited him in the loft: Ellison's partner, best friend and Guide, Blair Sandburg.

Simon found himself taking the stairs rather than the elevator, so he could put off the moment of facing Blair on this summer morning that promised to be either the end of life as the anthropologist had known it for the last two exhilarating years, or a new lease on the old one.

'I hope the kid gets through this intact,' he thought as he covered the short distance to the loft's door. 'Hell, I hope we all get through it.'

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

Blair stood in the living room, facing the balcony, one hand held flat against the cool surface of the glass door, face unconsciously turned up to the warming morning light. But his mind was definitely not on the weather. A dove sailed across his vision. As his eyes followed it until it became a blur, he thought how Jim could have watched its graceful flight for blocks, making out each barred feather, hear the susurration of the breeze caressing each outstretched wing tip.

He turned abruptly away from the familiar cityscape that stretched before him, his Sentinel's City. He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. The last few days had been the loneliest he'd known since becoming Guide to Sentinel James Ellison. And the most frustrating, the saddest, and even the most frightening. Blair thought of all he and his partner had faced: abduction by Lash, exposure to the designer drug Golden, kidnapping, gunshot wounds; dangers he'd never faced in his worst nightmares in his prior life as a 'simple' anthropologist.

But last Friday had been...no words could describe the shock and horror of it. Behind closed eyes, Blair involuntarily pictured the moment, walking down the courthouse steps, laughing with Jim over a joke that wasn't all that funny, but allowed some release from the tensions of their session with the D.A. They'd just wrapped up a trial that had begun with a bank robbery, escalated to a multi-hostage situation and ended six hours later with the deaths of two bank robbers and one hostage.

Jim had slapped Blair affectionately on the back as they paused for traffic before crossing the street to Jim's Ford, parked in a lot on the other side. Both were standing by the passenger door as Jim unlocked it, when the Sentinel suddenly froze, yelled "Get Down!", shoved, then toppled across his partner's chest, a deadweight pinning him to the concrete.

Blair squeezed his eyes tighter, thinking of the horrifying warmth of Jim's blood covering his hands and soaking into his shirtfront as he shook his motionless friend, and some bystanders crawled over to help. No further shots rang out. Hell, the anthropologist hadn't even heard the first one, but the Sentinel apparently had been warned by his hypersensitive hearing and made every effort to protect his Guide.

Blair pushed himself away from the support at his back and crossed the living room, as if physically removing himself from the memories. But it wouldn't help. He re-lived that moment every night, almost every waking hour, wondering, 'What should we have done differently? Did we miss something?'

How could that devastating outcome have been avoided?

"Jesus, Jim..." he murmured. A firm knock on the door distracted him, but he paused before calling out, "Who is it?"

'Another way my life has changed,' he thought. 'I can't even just open a door to see who's on the other side. I can't go on the balcony. Phone calls are monitored, mail...'

As he had expected, though, the deep voice of Captain Banks called out reassuringly, "It's Simon, Blair. I'm alone."

"And now we're on a first name basis," Blair muttered as he unlocked the door, and the tall dark man slipped in and shut it again. The captain placed the vest he carried on the kitchen table, then turned to study the young man before him. The pale face and set expression spoke volumes to the captain, who was far more familiar - and comfortable - with the lively and voluble observer Sandburg used to be. Before this.

He reached out a long arm and gave the thin shoulder a squeeze. "How you holding up?" he asked softly.

Blair blinked quickly and turned to the spotless kitchen. "I'll manage. Can I get you something? Coffee, juice?" Tugging open the refrigerator door, he peered inside. "There should be some cream in here..."

Simon planted himself on a chair at the kitchen island. The loft couldn't have been cleaner if Jim had ordered it himself; the kid had kept his hands occupied, at least. "Blair. Blair!" When he had the rummaging anthropologist's attention, he said, "No thanks, I had coffee just before I came. Any more and I won't make it through the ceremony with any dignity."

His attempt at humor was met by an understandably stony countenance. He rubbed a hand over his jaw, then pulled out the chair next to him. "Come sit here a moment, Blair."

When the young man complied, again uncharacteristically silent, Simon leaned an arm on the counter and turned to look squarely at his friend.

"You don't have to do this. I've told you, no one will think any less of you."

"Yes I do, Simon. I promised Jim." His gaze slid away and he ran a shaking hand through his long hair before he continued, more firmly, "Besides, Jim's father and Steven will be there. I have to be there, too. And this may be the last chance..." He trailed off miserably.

When the big man opened his mouth to answer, Blair waved a hand at him and interjected, "Have you gotten any more notes?"

"No. Nothing since Friday's oh-so-laconic little message. I'd have told you right away."

Once more Blair's eyes roamed the loft unseeingly. "Bastard," he whispered.

Simon had never heard the kid utter any word with such venom. But he knew for whom the curse was meant.

After the hostage crisis at the bank, they had received ominous notes at the station. First they were directed at the police department in general, threatening legal action for negligence leading to the deaths that had occurred. The notes were unsigned, of course. As the case ground through the system, and Jim and Blair's close involvement at the scene had been made public, the threats had become more personal and disturbing. Sentinel and Guide had been named as those the accuser primarily blamed for failing to prevent the tragedy. Then, the last week of the trial for the remaining two robbers, nothing. No plain white envelopes holding indistinguishable paper run through an untraceable printer.

They had breathed a collective sigh of relief, feeling that the trial had perhaps provided some sort of closure for their angry correspondent. But investigations into the backgrounds of all the robbers continued. Jim had relaxed his vigilance slightly, though Blair was aware of the Sentinel's sensory sweeps before they exited a building. They continued to vary their routines and routes.

It was all for nothing. The perp hadn't given up, merely bided his time. After the shooting Friday, they had received another anonymous message, this time with a single word: One.

Again, Blair looked at his friend, and Simon thought he saw a spark of the old fire in the anthropologist's expression, a squaring of his shoulders. It had been sadly lacking over the weekend, when Simon daily checked on the observer, as he'd promised Jim in that hospital room Friday night. Now, he could see Blair steeling himself to get through the memorial ceremony and stand with Jim's - and his - colleagues. To do what had to be done.

"We're going to get this creep off the streets, and no one will be happier than me to see him go down. If I'm the bait, so be it. Simon, we have to do this for Jim." The anthropologist stood, then walked with firm strides into his room.

'And for you, Sandburg,' Simon thought with pride. He shook his head admiringly. 'Just when you think he's had enough, the kid proves he can keep up with the best.' And the best was Jim Ellison - as a loyal friend, a cop, and a Sentinel.

When Blair returned, his long, curly hair was tamed at the back of his neck and he carried his dark suit jacket. Simon picked up the vest from the table and helped Blair shrug into it, then adjust the closures.

Blair gave the vest a rap over his chest. "Been there, done that," he said, thinking of the time he'd taken a bullet at close range during the Iceman case.

Simon grinned. "So you know it works. I'd give you a helmet too, but we don't want to be too obvious."

"No, of course not." The anthropologist grimaced. "We have to play fair; make the guy think he's got a chance." He pulled his jacket on over the vest, and buttoned it up despite the promise of rising temperatures, to help disguise the vest's presence.

They would attend the memorial, but Blair would wear the bulletproof vest, and be surrounded by the men and women of Major Crimes who had come to know and respect him over the last two years as Jim Ellison's partner and shadow.

Simon shuddered to think of receiving another one-word note: Two.

'Over my dead body,' he vowed grimly. Which was very possible if the sniper lay in wait somewhere near the funeral home.

"All right, hang on a moment while I call Brown," Simon said, pulling his cell phone from his pocket. While Blair paced, pausing only briefly to look at a photo of himself and Jim on a fishing trip, the captain punched in the number he wanted. "Henri? Captain Banks. We're coming down now...All right, we'll meet you at the door." He cut the connection, and addressed the young man: "All set? Brown will pull up to the door and I want you to jump in. Don't stop, don't look, just get in," he ordered.

Blair nodded, glancing abstractedly once more around the loft. The captain could almost read his thoughts, and once more put out a hand to calm his friend.

"Sandburg, we're gonna get through this. You know we will. You'll be coming back here; you've got a whole squad of cops on your side."

"No offense, Simon," Blair murmured as they headed out the door, "but all I want is one Sentinel at my side."

Simon sighed and descended the steps in front of the anthropologist. "That's the way I'd prefer it, too."

When they reached the outer exit, Banks placed a hand on Blair's chest to halt him. He opened the door, took a good look around, then pulled open the back door of Brown's waiting vehicle and motioned the anthropologist forward. Blair ducked under the protective arm and into the back seat.

'There, that wasn't so bad,' he chided his racing heart. 'Step one, no problem.' He was surprised at the amount of anxiety he felt, considering this whole setup was his idea. 'But then, I'm not a cop, as I'm so often reminded. Simon wouldn't let me go through with it if he didn't think there was any hope, though, would he?'

Henri turned from the driver's seat to give Blair a sympathetic look and a thumbs up. Simon bent his tall frame and leaned in the doorway.

"Okay, Sandburg, Henry will drive you and I'll follow, as we discussed. When we get there, wait for me to escort you before you get out of the car. Understood?"

Blair nodded. "Yes, sir, I know. Believe me, I've got the whole plan memorized. I'll sit where you tell me, move when you say, breathe only when I'm ordered..."

That last surprised a quick smile out of the big captain. He gave the forlorn young man a light clap on the shoulder. "That would be a first. See you at the other end." He turned to the detective. "I'll be right behind you. Is everyone in place?"

"Yes, sir. Rafe called about twenty minutes ago. We've got people on surrounding roofs, others masquerading as employees or passersby." A brief glance was aimed at his passenger. "And of course all of Major Crimes will be attending. The place is covered."

Blair knew the recitation was mainly for his reassurance. And it did help. He took a deep, calming breath. 'This may actually work.'

Simon nodded to the both of them, then shut the door. He tapped on a corner of the glass. Blair took the hint and punched down the lock. With a salutary flash of his hand, the big man was gone.

Brown idled in place until Simon was able to pull up behind him; then both cars eased out of the lot into early morning traffic. It was almost nine a.m. on a Tuesday, so there was still commuter traffic filling the streets, but Blair knew they would get to the funeral home in plenty of time. He was to be there and installed where the cops could keep an eye on him, preferably before any other mourners showed up for the ten-thirty ceremony.

Brown sneaked a look in the rearview mirror. 'Damn, the kid looks wiped. I've never seen him so down, so...alone.' He cleared his throat and caught Blair's attention. "The last few days must have been pretty tough, huh?"

The anthropologist nodded, focusing his gaze out the window. "Understatement of the year, man." Thinking how ungrateful that sounded to a man who was offering him sympathy, he quickly apologized. "I'm sorry, Henri. I didn't mean that the way-"

Brown waved one hand. "No, it's all right." He gave a wry grin. "It was pretty lame. But you know we're all behind you, right? We really respect what you're doing today." His sincere brown eyes met Blair's blue ones in the rear view mirror.

Blair warmed at the words; it wasn't often praise passed the lips of the tough guys in the bullpen. They all felt that if they did the job they were paid for, and were successful at catching the bad guys, that was reward enough. Sometimes Blair thought it took an especial act of bravery to be noticed. He just wasn't sure this qualified. In his mind, this was more like an act of desperation than one of courage.

He summoned a smile for the detective, then, as Brown concentrated on driving again, Blair closed his eyes and tried some mental techniques to center himself. It would be almost half an hour before they reached their destination. The time could be better spent than imagining all the things that could go wrong.

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

Very little more was said on the miserable ride. Brown occasionally glanced in concern at the observer, but mostly found him with eyes shut and sitting unnaturally still for such an energetic person.

As he turned the last corner, he announced, "We're half a block away now."

Blair's eyes opened and covertly checked out their surroundings. They passed a small park on the left, with a young jogging couple circling on a path. A man sat reading a paper on a stone bench. Another wandered across the grass with a German shepherd. No kids were in sight, not unusual for an early hour on a school day, but Blair suspected those he saw were all cops.

They had chosen the funeral home carefully, having the safety of all the mourners as well as Blair to consider; but they couldn't completely restrict access if they hoped to lure their sniper. Blair felt momentarily numb with the emotions raging through him, then, with a deep breath, mentally cast up all anxieties. It was out of his hands now; all that was required of him was his presence and trust. And to get through the morning with a modicum of dignity.

Brown pulled into the driveway at the small funeral home and parked where an attendant - another policeman? - directed. Blair waited until Simon arrived beside them, then unlocked the door. Simon spoke briefly into the mike of a discreet headset, nodded to his unseen colleague, then opened the passenger door. Brown locked up and came around to walk on the observer's other side.

They escorted him through the entrance, crossed a narrow entry way and passed through double doors into a pleasant, wide lobby. It was decorated in soothing pastel tones with soft couches and armchairs, the walls hung with unmemorable floral watercolors. Blair hated it.

Simon touched his arm, and Blair followed him to the far right corner. It was occupied by a small couch, flanked by an unmarked door on the right as he sat, and a potted palm on the left.

"Sit here, Sandburg," the captain told him. "Brown will stay with you, then bring you in when it's time."

"All right," Blair answered, feeling both protected and embarrassed by his 'babysitter'. As Simon walked off to see to business, Henry tried to engage him in conversation, but Blair just wasn't up to banalities, and couldn't talk to the detective about what he was really feeling at the moment. Henri was a friend, but face it - he wasn't Jim.

Blair recognized some of the faces of the first mourners to arrive - people from Cascade P.D. There was Rhonda, Simon's assistant, eyes moist as she clasped his hand and murmured heartfelt condolences. Blair could hardly meet her eyes. She was followed by others: detectives, uniforms, even some civilian personnel who had come to pay respects to a man who was arguably the best detective on the force. A man whose dedication and loyalty was unquestioned, even if his tough exterior allowed few of them close enough to call him friend.

Not all stopped to talk, though most at least nodded in his direction, before signing a guest book and entering a side room where the service itself was to be held. Blair could only be relieved there was no casket to be faced during the blessedly short ceremony they had planned. Jim had expressed a preference for cremation, and an elegant urn had been picked out by Simon on Saturday. They had all been so unnerved by Friday's attack, the captain had cajoled, insisted, and finally ordered Blair to stay in the loft and out of sight, where he had remained disconsolately 'til this morning. But he hadn't been alone; he'd been visited individually by his friends from Major Crime. The anthropologist suspected some rotation had been worked out among them, so he was never left too long.

Few civilians not connected to the police department showed up; evidence of Jim's limited personal life. Before Blair had entered his life, Jim had been something of a lone wolf by nature. Although he had relaxed and, wonder of wonders, even developed a sense of humor since his Guide blew in and breached his walls, their work with Jim's heightened senses necessitated they maintain some distance from others. Plus, their combined workloads at the P.D. and the university left little free time.

So Blair was touched when he saw Mikki Kamarev come through the door with her sister, especially as she and Jim had not parted on the best of terms at their last meeting. He stood to greet them, with Brown hovering at his back.

"Oh, Blair," she said in her heavy but attractive Russian accent, leaning to give him a sisterly kiss on the cheek. "I cannot believe it. I have lost one of my guardian angels."

Blair gave her a comforting hug. "Mikki, it was great of you to come." He pulled back but kept one hand on her arm, extending the other to Mikki's younger sister. "And Katrina, too. Glad to see you're feeling better."

Katrina had been fighting a battle for her life after exposure to radiation when he last saw her. She still looked pale and thin, but shook her head. "Thank you. But, please, we will not talk about me today. I am sorry to hear of your friend. Mikki was very upset, and I did not want her to come alone."

Mikki continued, "You and Jim have been in my prayers since I heard."

Blair could only swallow, and gave her another hug. "Thanks," he murmured. "Why don't you find a seat and let Katrina sit down. They're going to start shortly."

The two sadly moved off and Blair let out a sigh that moved Henri to pat him on the back. Blair was about to sit down, when the pair he really dreaded seeing entered. He nearly started towards them, but Brown gripped his elbow. Remembering Simon's orders, the observer waited to let Jim's father and brother come to him, if they would.

Both were impeccably groomed and wore expensive suits quite in contrast to the more workaday and serviceable clothes worn by most of the others he had seen. And although James Ellison, Senior, seemed in firm control of his stoic mask, Steven's had slipped; his red-rimmed eyes searched the room almost in bewilderment, and he steered his father towards Blair when their eyes met.

'Almost like I'm the only thing real to him,' Blair thought miserably. Steven's eyes were the same color as Jim's, but the expression in them was softer; he concentrated on that difference to force himself to look Steven in the face as they drew near.

Only recently had the three Ellisons developed a new, adult relationship after years of mutual distrust stemming from an unhappy childhood on the brothers' part. Jim had seen Steven several times since their reunion, his father less. Blair was unsure of his status in the two men's eyes, but an awkward hug from Steven was welcomed. If Steven felt the vest beneath the coat, he gave no sign of it. Ellison senior shook his hand, gripping it a bit longer than was usual, and gave the anthropologist a sharp look. Simon had called to tell the Ellisons of the shooting. Blair wondered how he'd managed.

"Will you sit with us?" Steven asked.

Blair nodded. "I will, thanks, but, uh, why don't you go ahead? Captain Banks wants a word with me before we begin."

Steven nodded and turned. His father glanced at Brown, and Rafe, who passed by and disappeared through the unmarked door; then he followed his younger son.

"Well, that went well, wouldn't you say?" Blair said in a noncommittal tone. Brown gave him a brief smile. Rafe returned, whispered in Brown's ear, gave Blair's shoulder a brief squeeze, then went out the front again.

'Guess he'll be missing the ceremony,' the young man thought as he sat again, noting the headset the young detective had worn as part of the surveillance team. 'Wish I could.' He felt the tightness in his skull that presaged a stress headache. 'I hope I'm home before the bass drum kicks in.' He hoped everyone was home safely by then.

Finally, Simon followed in a last group of stragglers, none of whom Blair recognized, and nodded at Brown from across the room. Blair was vaguely aware of the last young man who signed the guest book. Then the funeral director appeared from another room and ushered them all into the room reserved for Jim's memorial, closing the solid doors behind them.

The pews were filled. Blair finally shed his minder and squeezed in beside Steven near the front, guiltily wishing their sniper had shown up and made his attempt, and put an end to today's ordeal one way or another. He grit his teeth at the first thrum of the timpani in his head.

'Oh God.' He lightly rubbed the fingers of one hand over his aching temple and wished his Blessed Protector sat beside him, instead of his brother. 'But then, this whole thing would be unnecessary if Jim could be here. What I wouldn't give to end this nightmare...'

The 'chapel' was simply decorated. 'Jim would approve,' Blair thought with a faint smile. In front was a small table supporting a candelabra holding five fat, white candles, and the silver, faintly Greek-style urn Simon had chosen. Blair quickly averted his eyes when they first wandered there, and desperately wished himself elsewhere. Two muted, appliqued banners were hung on the wall behind the speaker's podium. Several small floral displays were outdone by the red and white wreath contributed by the P.D.

A tall, white-haired man made his way up the center aisle, carrying a small bible. He was the minister they had met at the hospital Friday night, a soft-spoken man who had seemed especially sympathetic on meeting Jim, an officer of the law. He'd told them his son was also a policeman, in Tacoma.

Jim had no particular religious affiliation, so they had asked him to deliver the eulogy. Which he did with much grace. Despite the situation, Blair was impressed with Reverend Lowe's thoroughness. He himself had talked on the phone with him Sunday morning, telling of Jim's generosity in offering him a place to stay when his own place had blown up; the sacrifices he made for friends, or in the line of duty. Blair recognized anecdotes from others at Major Crime: Joel's tale of Jim designating himself driver at the squad's New Year's party and delivering three colleagues and one observer safely to their homes in the wee hours of the morning; the rescue of Simon and his son from drug lords in Peru.

Blair had to swallow hard several times at the accurate picture painted of his friend. He recognized some sobs behind him as Mikki's, and ached for her also. At one point he felt his own eyes burning and blinked back the tears quickly. He let his eyes roam, and his gaze crossed that of the young man who had come in last. With honey gold hair, and intent green eyes that were fixed on Blair, the man sat to the right and up one pew, turned slightly, probably to better see Reverend Lowe. He gave Blair a humorless smile before returning his attention to the front.

'He does look familiar.' Blair gladly set his mind for a moment on the puzzle. 'A student? No, can't imagine any of them knowing me or Jim well enough to come here.' He closed his eyes, trying to imagine a setting with the man in situ. 'Not the department...but it was with Jim...'

Reverend Lowe announced a brief prayer, and the anthropologist grudgingly re-entered the present. He bowed his head with the others, but had no clue to the prayer's words, which many of the others recited along with the chaplain. Evidently neither of the Ellisons were any more religious than Jim; no murmurs were heard from that quarter either.

Afterwards, a disembodied, heart-breakingly beautiful soprano sang Amazing Grace while those assembled filed out. The anthropologist found his sitter again and parked himself on his couch. The stress of the memorial service had been the last straw: his head felt like it would explode at a mere touch, and the vest was stifling and hot. A few people said their good-byes; he spoke once more with Steven and Mr. Ellison in a haze. After ten minutes, he was desperate enough to ask Henri to find him some aspirin; he couldn't ignore the pain 'til he was able to go home and dose it with some herbal tea.

Brown retreated a step towards the potted palm to pass on the request through his own mike. Just then, the familiar mourner paused by Blair, and stuck out his hand.

"Mr. Sandburg? My name is Richard Fenmore."

Enlightenment! Carrie Fenmore was the name of the teller who had been killed during the hostage situation at the bank.

Blair's brow creased in sympathy. He put out both hands to engulf Mr. Fenmore's.

"I remember now! I saw you once at the trial, and - at the bank, also?"

The man nodded, again with that intent expression. "Yes. I feel like we're connected. And now we've both suffered a terrible loss; my sister, your partner."

Blair felt mortified to have to look the man in the face. He knew they had tried their best during that crisis, and the loss might have been even higher without Jim's Sentinel skills, but failure haunted him still. Yes, he had looked into those same green eyes, in a young woman's terrified countenance, for one brief moment before the light died in them.

"Mr. Fenmore, I can't tell you how sorry..."

"Don't try." Richard Fenmore must have recognized the anthropologist's anguish. Releasing his hand, he gave a sad smile. "Words are so inadequate at times like this, aren't they? I just wanted to tell you that. Good-bye."

He turned away; Blair's stomach roiled with upset now, too. He looked around for Henri. The detective came forward again, then stopped abruptly, head cocked as he listened to some instruction in his headset.

Blair wasn't quite sure what order of events came next, they happened so speedily. The unmarked door at his back opened in a rush; Henri whirled, waving frantically to a counterpart at the door, where confusion erupted

and Richard Fenmore was suddenly skipping away from the cop, facing him, Blair, with a gun in his hand.

Many panicked voices shouted at once: "It's him!" "This is for Carrie!" "Chief!" "Get down!" "Shoot, shoot!"

Hands grabbed at both men in desperation, but not quick enough to prevent the deafening release of a bullet from the sniper's gun, or the violent impact to the chest that sent Blair crashing bonelessly into strong arms behind him while he thought, 'Shit, not again!', and gasped for breath, barely hanging onto consciousness, the pain was so overwhelming. He wondered, panic-stricken, 'Was anyone else hurt?! Please, not him, not for real!'

He slowly realized he was sprawled across someone's lap on the couch. Familiar hands cupped his face from behind, and he made out his Blessed Protector's worried face hovering above.

The hands lightly slapped his cheeks; the Sentinel's ice blue eyes bored into his, looking for recognition. "Blair! Come on, Chief, tell me you're in there."

The Guide wasn't sure if he answered, although he tried. Goddamn, it hurt! Numbly he felt someone fumbling open his coat, then the catches on the vest, but it wasn't Jim, Jim's hands remained firmly clasped on his Guide. Cool air seemed to rush across his chest as the lifesaving encumbrance was lifted away. Brown's scared face appeared briefly, then withdrew.

"Come on, buddy, talk to me." Jim spoke quietly but urgently, then raised his voice in demand, causing Blair to squint at the renewed assault of his headache added to the pain of his ribs. "Damn it, Simon, where're the medics!"

Blair summoned a ghost of his usual voice. "Hey, Jim, can you keep it down a bit? I've got a hell of a headache."

When he tried to lift a hand to his head, it was gripped instead by his partner, who gave him a crooked grin of relief. "Sorry, Chief." Sensitive fingers with a touch light as a butterfly's nonetheless caused the anthropologist to bite back a groan when they touched his chest. He squeezed the hand holding his in reaction and shivered.

"Sorry," Jim repeated. "I'd say you've also got some bruised ribs."

Blair relaxed a bit, letting his partner handle things now. He closed his eyes, and felt a cool hand on his forehead. "Here comes a paramedic now," Jim told him in a low voice, preparing him for a painful examination. To distract himself, Blair questioned his friend.

"Was anyone else hurt? Did they get him?"

"Yeah, Chief, they got him. Rafe winged him; they dragged him out a moment ago. He was the only one hurt. Well, besides you, of course." Blair heard the amusement in Jim's voice, but didn't see the perplexed look the paramedic threw Jim.

Jim explained, "My partner is accident prone. In fact, he's such a jinx you might not want him in your ambulance."

Black humor the medic understood. He smiled. "I'll take my chances. Why don't you join us, and I'll check out your shoulder?"

Blair's eyes flew open. A smear of blood stained the Sentinel's shirt where the bullet had hit him days before, passing completely through.

"Damn, Jim! I forgot! Did your wound re-open?" Open-mouthed, he remembered the body that had broken his fall. "God, I did it, didn't I? When I fell on you?"

Jim shook his head at his partner's distress as the paramedic finished his examination, then stood waiting on their decisions. "It's a small enough price to pay, Chief. You're alive."

Blair quirked his lips. "So are you. Again."

"And it sure feels good." Jim nodded to the medic. "All right, we'll both come to the hospital and get checked out."

Blair insisted he could walk to the ambulance. As the two larger men helped him to his feet and outside, he was applauded by the officers on the scene. Simon rolled his eyes as they went by, happily puffing his cigar now that he was outdoors. "Hey, Sandburg!" he called. "What did that Burns guy say about plans?"

Blair grunted and held a hand across his ribs as he was helped into the ambulance. He sat delicately on a collapsed gurney. "Robert Burns? Uh - 'the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley'. That what you mean?"

Simon strolled nearer and frowned. "No, that's not it." He released a ribbon of smoke from his mouth, which spread and dissipated while he thought about it.

"Yeah, Simon, it is."

Jim shook his head in puzzlement at the exchange. He shrugged at the patient paramedic, who, after bandaging Jim's shoulder, took his bag to see if his partner could use any help with the sniper. Fenmore sat on a bench by the funeral home's entrance, guarded by several watchful officers.

"Hmm. Does that mean 'oft go astray'?"

"Yeah, close enough." Blair frowned indignantly. "Hey, man, are you knocking my plan? It worked, didn't it?"

The big man chuckled. "No, Sandburg, I'm not knocking your plan. Mr. Fenmore's. Between the two of you, he didn't stand a chance." He tilted his head. "Actually, the P.D. is partly to blame for this mess. We should have been more thorough, and checked out all the victims' backgrounds. For that, you have my sincerest apologies, Blair."

The young man smiled briefly. "Well, we don't know this guy's history yet. Maybe there were no indications that he would snap, no priors involving guns." He shrugged, eager to turn to something else. "Okay, Jim, give. How'd you pick this guy out?"

Jim sat carefully next to his partner. "Couple of things. I heard his heart racing when he came in; I mean his vitals were different than anyone else's up to that point. He was one of the last guys in. After the chapel doors were shut, Rafe brought me the guest book. Fenmore's name was the last in it, and I recognized it. The guy was arrogant, signing his name!"

"Well, Jim, he didn't expect someone to be monitoring his heart rate, after all," Blair put in dryly.

"Well, anyway - when he came up to you afterwards, there was the heart racing again, and..." Jim's brow crinkled. "You know how they say an animal can smell fear?" At their nods, he explained, "Well, there is some indefinable odor I get. I don't know, maybe the professor here can explain it: adrenaline, sweat. All of that combined set off bells. I was listening closely, ready to jump out if he tried anything, but pretty sure his plan was to lie in wait outside. Why would he try anything inside where he'd be nailed? I told Henri to stop him for questioning." The detective spread his hands and looked apologetically at his Guide.

"I guess the guy was really desperate."

"Captain!" Rafe waved at Simon from Fenmore's side. Simon acknowledged him then turned back to Sentinel and Guide.

"Sure you won't join the Academy, Sandburg?" he jested, before leaving them with a wave.

Blair grinned. "I'll guess that was compliment."

"I think it was, " Jim replied. They looked at one another, clasping their respective injuries, and smiled.

Blair released some tension in a forceful expulsion of air that left him breathless with the pain it caused his bruised chest. The detective put a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Jim," the Guide said seriously, thinking over the lonely, anxious days he'd spent, "if you ever die, I'm gonna kill you."

"Same here, Chief. It's a deal."

As one, Sentinel and Guide leaned back against the side of the vehicle, content to await their attendants in one another's healing company.

The End

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