"Trina is asleep already," Megan said, stifling a yawn. "Can't this wait?"
"No, it can't. Megan, you've got to look after her, like, right now. We believe our killer is after her, too," Blair told her.
Even from a few feet away, over the phone, Jim had heard the dramatic increase of her heartbeat. There were hasty footsteps, then a door was opened. "Trina? Hey, sweetie, are you okay in there?"
Jim watched Blair as he listened, his fingers clutching the phone in a tight grip. Those visions were never easy to take, but this one had been very personal, and he knew that Blair would never forgive himself if they were already too late.
Jim could relate. But Trina had been safe, just a little while ago, hadn't she?
"Oh my God."
"What is it?" Blair asked anxiously. "Is she okay?"
"Not hurt or anything." Megan had her composure mostly back, her tone now signaling determination. "Okay, I wouldn't say, but she's drunk."
Foley winced when Blair sat down at his desk, picking up the folder about Michael Lazar. "Heard you almost got caught up in the explosion. I hope you're okay," he said sincerely.
Blair looked up at him, giving him a distracted smile. "Yeah, except for this." He traced the gash on his cheek gingerly. "Fortunately, it didn't need stitches. Jim already said it's giving me a pirate look. Not sure if that's a good thing."
Chris smiled back at him. "You and Jim are not just partners at work, are you?"
Now he had Blair's full attention. Jim had already brought up the subject that other colleagues might be thinking the same way as Rafe did, and that there could be problems arising for them. He wasn't too sure about Foley, who would be gone after a few weeks anyway, but still...
"You seem very observant."
"I observe many things. Like you're one of the best marksmen around, but you still hate picking up a weapon. Bad memories, I guess. Like everybody's good friends in Major Crimes, but there's a tension so thick in here you could cut through it."
"Wow, I'm impressed." Blair also recognized the subtle invitation to reveal more. No, thanks!
"Me, too. I was expecting kind of conservative structures within the department, but it's not nearly as bad as I thought. You guys are for real."
"Thanks... I guess."
"You're welcome. How's the old guy, by the way?"
"McDougall? He's in a coma. Chances are, we'll never find out what he wanted to tell me. We have an ID on one of the men in the warehouse though. Possibly one or all of them were involved in the murder."
"That was a gruesome one." Chris nodded. "Whereas Micki... I wonder if her death wasn't just an accident. Or why the Jester was interested in her anyway."
"Wish we knew. I was hoping McDougall had an idea about that."
Indeed, Chris was picking up many things. Blair didn't think the news about the aliases of Julia Edmonds had made the rounds yet. He meant to ask about it, but at that moment, Megan and Rafe entered the bullpen together; from the looks on their faces, it was easy to guess that nothing had been solved on a private level yet - great.
"I guess Megan's got work for me," Chris said with a hint of regret in his voice - not so much for the work, but the mood his supervisor would be in, Blair guessed. Not that it was her fault. This situation had to be really hard for Megan, as it was for everybody involved. "Nice talking to you."
"Yeah," Blair said, following Foley with his gaze, still wondering about the younger man's observations. Just a tiny bit of suspicion remaining - but then again, there were probably quite a few colleagues that who felt the same about him.
"Falling asleep at your desk? I didn't think we stayed up that long last night."
Much to his credit, Jim had a cup of delicious-smelling coffee with him, and Blair took it from him gratefully.
"I don't know," he sighed. "It's just that... it doesn't add up. Every trace seems to turn into another dead end, and those visions - I have no idea why they're coming back now. Sure as hell don't make much sense to me. I never saw myself in one before, only kind of pieces of the killer's mind. And thank God Trina is safe, but there's no explanation as to why I saw her."
Jim's gaze was sympathetic, but showed that he didn't have any more answers. "Maybe McDougall could have helped clear that up, but whatever he wanted to tell you, we're not going to hear it anytime soon."
"Right. The guys from the warehouse wanted something from him. Lazar's goons, most likely, and there must be a connection to Michelle Bergen, or Micki Baker. So what do you think about Foley?"
"Foley." Jim didn't even seem surprised about the non-sequitur. "Very motivated and interested in anybody and anything, in a kind of charming and sometimes annoying way. Very much like someone I know."
"Well, thanks." Blair scowled at him, regardless the fact he'd made that comparison himself earlier.
"Why are you asking?"
"Not sure. You're right, he's very... interested. Basically a nice guy, I guess. Maybe I'm just paranoid."
Blair was aware that Jim would have liked to go deeper into the subject, but that moment, the call came in, and they never found the time for it.
"You were supposed to stay in the car! You are *my* responsibility, something happens to you, it's my ass on the line. If I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it!"
Jim winced a little as Megan's voice rose to a higher pitch, sharing an amused look with Blair. He could definitely sympathize as to the reason for the mood she was in - he'd been there before.
They were all assembled in the storage room of the 'MYTH'. A neighbor had called the police about a break-in at McDougall's store, and Megan and Chris had been first on the scene. The perp had still been there, and shots had been exchanged, but the two men had gotten away.
Upon seeing the second perp entering the store, Chris hadn't waited as Megan had instructed him to do, but joined her just in time to push her out of the way of a bullet, and take a graze himself.
Knowing Megan as he did, Jim could easily perceive the underlying emotion. It wasn't ungratefulness that made her yell at her ride-along, and even if her relationship with Foley was nothing like his with Blair had been - he knew all about it. Would have reacted the same, a while ago.
Chris didn't seem fazed by her words; he just waited until she was finished, and then said, "I'm sorry, but I can take care of myself. I'm okay."
"Yeah, right." She shook her head in exasperation, turning away from him. "In any case, the search of the store turned up some interesting things. Including this."
The object she showed them brought a collective groan from everybody.
One more Jester card.
"Are you kidding me?" Lazar shouted. "You said you'd give me the Jester, yet that comedian shoots up my guys when they were taking a look at the old man's store. McDougall can't be him, because he's still in the hospital!"
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that. I wasn't sure before, but I am now. The Jester stands for someone who does things in a new, unconventional way. With police work, he's got access to all data, and the perfect cover."
"Then fucking do something about it."
Michael Lazar made an impatient gesture, and the young man knew he was dismissed.
He didn't like it, not a bit, but it was either this or blow his own cover.
He'd have to go and warn somebody.
This time, the Jester was true to his word again - the card had been stuck to a disc that contained photos, and emails exchanged between McDougall and Julia Edmonds, in which he called her Micki.
Now they knew what McDougall had lied about in the interview. He had somehow found out that Micki had been Lazar's contract killer, probably sent after the Jester in the first place. And if he was right, the big money came directly from Michael Lazar - for successful jobs done.
"So, I guess it's time to pay Mr. Lazar a visit," Jim remarked.
"It definitely is," Megan said triumphantly, "Look at this."
The picture seemed to be from a security camera, enlarged and printed out, but the three people were still identifiable even without Sentinel senses:
Darren Edmonds, and Michael Lazar who was handing something that looked like an envelope to a dark-haired woman, Julia Edmonds, or whatever she had called herself at that time.
The men who broke into the store had obviously been after this evidence, but the Jester had found it before them.
Trina felt hopelessly overtaxed, craving a drink, but of course that wouldn't happen anytime soon. Ever since Megan and Brian had found her out, she seemed to be under constant observation, and all she could do to get a little distance was spend every minute out of school in her room.
Megan had scheduled an appointment with the department psychiatrist for her, and she and Brian took turns driving Trina to school and picking her up.
To her, it was like being in a prison.
All she knew was that she couldn't go on like this much longer, and in addition to that, she felt bad about betraying Jim's trust. Though he had unconventional ways of making his point, Chris Foley was the only one who had really listened to her and talked to her like an adult.
Jim surely wouldn't feel inclined to help her again.
But, maybe, Chris could.
"I don't mean to be rude, gentlemen, but I don't have much time, so how can I help you?"
Michael Lazar was quite the businessman; hard to believe he was commissioning the murder of one of his own, albeit criminal adversaries. By now though, Blair knew that with people like him, looks were deceiving more often than not.
He had a hard time concentrating; visions of Trina's fearful eyes dancing on his mind ever since they'd entered the lobby of the building, another implication that they were searching absolutely in the right place.
Lazar practically oozed wealth, and even though he'd made an effort to distance himself from the activities of his family, the persistent vision fragments told another story. Disturbing as they might be, until now, they had been precise.
"Mr. Lazar, how was your relationship with Julia Edmonds?"
Lazar scrunched up his face in confusion. "Should I know her? You know, I make a habit of knowing the people who work for me, but there's no guarantee - there are so many. The name doesn't ring a bell."
"Well, maybe you knew her under another name - Micki Baker."
"Micki, oh, right. She worked here as a secretary. Didn't come to work one day, and I haven't seen her since. Has something happened to her?"
Blair turned sideways to Jim, who wasn't giving much away, but the small smile told him enough - Jim did the human polygraph thing again, with success.
"A secretary, you say? We have a witness who claims she might have been in a different line of work. Making people disappear. Being paid by you, Mr. Lazar."
"Then your witness is lying." Lazar smiled jovially. "If you're making allegations based on my family history, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm a businessman; I might emphasize, on very good terms with your father, Detective Ellison. Anyway, it's nothing new that employees try to badmouth you. If you're talking about those guys I've fired recently, I can imagine where that rumor's come from."
"So - does the name McDougall ring a bell, then?"
"Sure. He used to have his little esoteric store in this building; I thought it didn't quite fit with what I had in mind, so I paid him to get lost. He's telling a different story."
Blair shared an amused look with Jim. The guy really had an answer for everything.
"I heard you have an extensive security staff working for you."
Lazar smirked at that. "Well, not everybody likes me, sad, but true. You can imagine that in my line of work, you need to take precautions."
"Of course. Mr. Lazar, one last question. Did any of these men ever work for you?"
Blair handed him the pictures of the three goons that had shot at McDougall and himself in the warehouse.
"This one. Andrew Marshall; we hired him last year, but he had to leave a few months after that. Had a drinking problem he couldn't seem to control - I couldn't employ him any longer."
"And you never saw him again?"
"No. Is that all, gentlemen?"
Blair smiled at him politely. "For now - yes."
"Too bad that neither my visions nor your polygraph abilities are admissable in court," Blair mused as they stopped at a diner a block away for lunch. "He knows more than he's telling us, but how do we get him? You think Sneaks could give us something more?"
Jim shrugged. "Not sure about that. He seemed unusually nervous, even for him. It seems like now every criminal wants to hunt down the Jester, there are others who are worried about being mistaken for him... what is it? Another vision?"
"No. It's just freezing in here."
Blair shivered, not quite sure himself about what had just happened, but he was glad that Jim seemed inclined to let it go and give him an indulgent smile instead. "So, what about Rafe? Have you talked to him?"
"Haven't had an opportunity yet, but he seems pretty pissed. In this case, I think he's got the right to be."
"You had your reasons for not telling them - and in the end, it was only a small delay."
"That could have turned out to be very dangerous, if your vision had been literal."
Blair chose not to answer that, knowing it would be pointless, but his thoughts wandered back to the strange feeling he'd had just a few minutes ago, when Jim mentioned the Jester. Everything would be a lot easier once they'd found the man; he was bound to have many answers for them, including Lazar's involvement.
And maybe he even knew who was supposed to replace Micki in the hunt. Chances were the same person had murdered Vanessa Masters, and left the Death card at the scene to warn off the Jester.
Everybody had worked long hours, but in Megan's opinion, it was better than getting home early, with the way things were now. Blair's call had really given her a scare; of course she didn't understand those visions any better than anybody else, but she was worried that the danger wasn't over yet.
Approaching Brian or Trina wasn't really easy, especially since they'd found out about the latter's secret drinking. It felt like everything was slipping away, and she was helpless to keep it from happening.
Laden with those dire thoughts, the invitation for Sunday evening from Simon who was going to show off his brand-new pool table didn't really come at a good moment.
Rafe stayed silent, while Megan was answering for both of them. She felt like she'd been doing this a lot in the past few weeks. "Thanks, Captain, but I'm afraid we can't come." She sent an imploring look at her lover, and when nothing came from that direction, she sighed. "Trina -- it's not so easy at the moment. I'd feel bad going out and leaving her all alone."
"Go if you want," Rafe said. "I'll stay with her." In another situation, it might have been an offer of support, but that was definitely not how it was meant now.
"Why don't you bring her? I guess our newest addition to the department will be there - and Daryl said he'd drop by, too."
Megan looked at Brian again, then she said, "I'll ask her; I'm not sure if she wants to do anything with us at the moment."
Simon was obviously aware of how embarrassing this whole situation was for her. "Don't worry, Connor, that won't last forever. I speak from experience here."
It was a nice try, but Daryl was eighteen now - she hoped that it wouldn't last three more years for Trina to see what she was doing to herself.
To everybody's surprise, Trina had joined Connor - Rafe being absent and excused by Megan - but she avoided talking much. Daryl said hello to everybody, but was soon gone to spend the evening with his date.
Simon was shaking his head, but the look of pride on his face was unmistakable. No wonder, his son's quick thinking had helped save a girl's life not so long ago.
"He's seeing Marissa, isn't he? How is she now?" Jim asked him, remembering the frightened girl they'd saved from the serial killer's clutches. Maybe Trina appearing in Blair's vision was just a weird coincidence altogether, and an aftereffect from the last case.
"Better. Still getting some counseling, but she seems to be dealing pretty well with everything. Talked things through with her parents, and they're fine now."
"They should be. Besides being the son of a police captain, Daryl's a great kid."
"Yeah, he is," Simon confirmed. "Hell, they might be annoying as teenagers, but it's worth being patient."
Jim just nodded, knowing where the captain was going with this. There were no more words necessary. He caught Trina's eyes across the table, giving her a smile. She smiled back shyly.
Again, he thought about Blair's last vision, wondering whatever it had meant to tell them. Now that everybody was warned, was she still in danger from anything except her own pain?
Later that evening, when they started the games of pool, Megan was first against Simon.
"Be careful, sir - she's armed and dangerous," Jim smirked, clearly reading it in her body language when she picked up the cue. He could sympathize. While Rafe probably had reason to be mad with Jim at the moment, it wasn't fair that he gave Megan the cold shoulder, too. She tried hard to keep things together.
She was rolling her eyes at him, but indeed, she didn't need more than a few minutes to precisely pot the balls, hardly giving Simon a chance.
"Is it bad luck that I lose the first game on this new table?" Simon wondered aloud, but he grinned good-naturedly. "Who's next?"
There was a small pause, then Trina unexpectedly got up. "I can play..." she said, clarifying,
"I mean, Dad taught me. He was pretty good."
All of a sudden, there was complete silence in the room, not because of her suggestion to join in, but at the mention of her father. Nobody quite seemed to know how to answer this, and she blushed, misunderstanding. "I just thought--"
Out of habit and because he was always ready to give him the credit in those precarious situations, Jim's bet would have been on Blair, but to his surprise - or not - it was Henri Brown who finally saved the situation.
"Well, sista," he drawled, "then come show us what you've got. I know my partner - he plays a mean pool game. Must run in the family."
"You bet," she returned with a relieved smile, and the tension dissolved again.
She actually won that game, and it wasn't that Brown had simply let her.
In the end, the final was played between Chris and Blair. Jim stood a bit to one side, watching the interaction between the two younger men with fascination, while he was aware that he was not the only one.
Before they'd even started, Jim had been convinced that Blair would make it into the final round. He had fun playing, and he was just that good. Even if Jim could have probably beaten him if he weren't so - well - distracted while they had been up against each other.
If he hadn't promised not to use any 'superhuman' abilities.
Foley, however, wasn't just doing it for the fun. There was something predatory about him when he approached the table. He was dressed in all black tonight, the choice of clothes enhancing the effect of the red streaks in his hair.
It was an interesting showdown. Chris, the new one, and Blair, who had been in this situation before, but was now a trusted member of the department.
Jim thought of the Jester who was using unconventional ways to bring the bigger fishes to justice, seemingly always a step ahead of the investigators. Would be interesting if there had been a way to work with him instead of hunting him, because he seemed to have access to many important sources of information. But where was he getting his information from?
What if the Jester was a cop himself?
It had been a nice, rather relaxed evening so far, more than they could have expected, but nothing was ever that uncomplicated, Blair thought when Rafe came to pick up Megan and Trina, snapping at his younger sister the first moment he saw her.
"I guess I don't have to tell you it's not a good thing when your teacher calls me on the weekend."
It was easy to see that Trina was mortified being shown up in front of the adults, and she answered in kind, her lips set in a grim line. "Why don't you ever back off?"
It was on the tip of Blair's tongue to suggest they'd better talk about that at home - to spare any of them any further embarrassment - but he didn't get that far.
"Because someone has to set you straight?"
"You're not my father!" she yelled. "Just in case you've forgotten, our parents are dead!"
Rafe paled at her words, but he didn't say anything, simply shook his head, while Trina bolted from the room. Megan looked like she didn't know who to console first.
Foley laid a hand on her shoulder then, promising, "I'll talk to her," and for once, she didn't argue, just thanked him.
There was nothing they could do for any of them right now. Blair sent a questioning gaze at Jim, and they agreed without words that now would be a good moment to leave. They quietly said goodbye to everyone, but before closing the door behind the two of them, Blair heard Simon say, "Maybe it'd be better if you took a few days off, until you've got things straightened out at home."
He could only agree to the captain's suggestion.
As soon as she was in bed after another seemingly pointless discussion, Trina picked up her cell phone and called the number she knew by heart already.
"I can't stand this any longer. I need to get away." There was a pause, and Trina sensed Chris' hesitation. "Don't let me down now. You always said you were going away anyway. Take me with you, please. I won't be a bother."
"I know you wouldn't be," he said then, gently. "I'm just not sure if this is the right moment."
She guessed he was talking about more than her going away, but truth be said, she didn't care much. She'd screwed up so totally that the best she could think of was to start over somewhere else. Everybody was so disappointed in her now; Trina thought it was impossible to ever gain their trust again. Cringing at the memory of what she'd said to her brother, not to mention her broken promise to Jim, her resolve was nevertheless strengthened.
Somehow, she knew it would be different with Chris. "You have to. I don't know where else to go."
There was another nerve-wracking moment, before he answered, "All right then. Write them a note; make sure nobody's going to be worried. By the time they find out we're gone, it'll be too late." Trina hung up the phone, wiping the tears from her face. For the first time in a long time, she was making choices again.
It felt good.
"Hey, what's up with you?"
Jim had been quite silent after they'd gotten home. Not that it was an unusual thing, but Blair could surely tell the difference, that his lover was still brooding about something.
He flung an arm around Jim's waist, pressing his body a little closer, not in a sexual way this time, but more like offering support. He loved this closeness that now came easily between them, of body and mind. Reveling in the feel of warm skin against his, wondering how this had to feel to Jim, while he was waiting patiently for the answer he knew would come.
"Rafe was right," Jim finally said. "I should have told them about Trina the moment I knew."
"Maybe." Blair traced a single finger down Jim's arm. "On the other hand, she needed someone she could trust, to treat her like an adult. You tried."
"Yeah. It wasn't enough though."
"I'm sorry, but I think the drinking's just the tip of the iceberg, isn't it? It's something they can only solve as a family. We can try to be there for them, but we can't do it for them."
Jim turned around, and his first kiss was pure gratitude, even though Blair sensed that he hadn't quite convinced him - he was being rewarded for the attempt. Very slowly, the heavy veil of responsibility and guilt lifted, their shared intimacy once more proving to have a healing quality.
And when the phone rang, it was Jim who groaned, "We're off duty, right?"
Not that Blair was happy to be distracted from the task at hand, so to speak. "It could be important. I'll get it."
Casting another regretful look at Jim who was still sprawled on the bed invitingly, but with an annoyed look on his face now, he hastened down the stairs, but didn't catch it before the machine. It was Megan's voice on the tape, sounding more urgent that he'd ever heard her.
"Please, call me back as soon as you're home. I was wondering if Trina is with you--"
"Megan?" His heart pounding all of a sudden, Blair had yanked the phone from its station. "What happened?"
It was spooky to hear their usually tenacious colleague on the verge of tears. Upstairs, Jim had started to dress, just coming down the stairs when Megan said, "It's terrible, Sandy. Trina has run away. Brian is not here. I had hoped that she was with you, maybe--"
"Sorry, no. But we can--"
"Come over in a few minutes, as soon as he's put some clothes on," Jim, who had taken the phone from him, explained dryly. "Come on, Chief. Get moving. No, Megan, it's not a problem. Why don't you take another look at her room in the meantime?"
"She's left a note."
There were tears in Megan's eyes now, and she didn't try to hide them.
Jim took the rose-colored page from her, obviously torn out of a diary.
"Don't worry about me. I need to get away, and be with myself for a while. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but you have to know that I love you both, and I'm grateful you gave me a home. It's not your fault I screwed up.
"I've already called her best friend Helen, spoken with the mother, too. They honestly don't know where Trina is."
"Have you found the rest of this yet?" intimating the diary. "There might be a hint in it about where she's going."
"I looked," Megan said, defeated. "I have no idea where she kept it. I wanted to respect her privacy, you know?"
"Nothing wrong with that," Blair assured her. "But this is your department. Think, where did you keep your diary when you were fifteen years old?"
Once again, Jim admired his lover's people skills. Megan just gave him a wry look. "I didn't keep one. Some of my friends did, though. Oh, wait - you'd put it in a place that seemed too obvious for the adults to look. Hiding it in plain sight, like..."
She started pulling open the drawer's of Trina's desk, reaching inside each, and behind them. "Nothing."
"Wait a minute. Is she seeing anyone?" Jim interrupted them. "I know that scent," he explained. "An after-shave, but it's not Rafe's."
Megan struggled with this new information for a moment, but then her cop persona gained the upper hand. "I don't know of any boyfriend - or anyone else who could have been here. Wait a minute - Chris was here a few days ago, but they talked in the living room."
She blushed a little, and Jim assumed that there had been an argument between her and Rafe once again.
"Hell, that doesn't really count, only that we must find her soon," she said resolutely. "We can pay for a clinic, or therapy, or whatever. Let's keep looking for that diary."
After the young man was gone, Lazar called his newest employee, Micki's supposed replacement, into his office.
"I want you to follow him, but unobtrusively. He's given me the information I want, but I'm not sure whether I can really trust him. See where he goes, and then bring me the Jester."
"You said you don't care what I do with him," the other man reminded his boss.
Lazar shrugged. "I've changed my mind. I want to have a long talk myself with the Jester - before I kill him."
He took a long look at the picture of the man who'd sat in his office not so long ago, asking all kinds of nosy questions. The game would be over soon - and this time it would be him asking the questions, and he would get his answers.
From the Jester, Blair Sandburg.
Just why had it taken everybody so long to figure it out?