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DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly and Paramount. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
For everyone on this list who's had a tough time of it this year. Many thanks to Alison for the beta.
Set after Killers, before The Debt.
"Hey, Jim. Captain."
Simon Banks rolled his eyes as the exuberant voice sounded from the doorway to his office. He turned, watching the anthropologist - Jim Ellison's new ride-along partner - bounce into the office and throw himself into the chair next to Jim.
"What's up?" the young man asked, pushing his glasses up on his nose.
Jim smiled tolerantly. At least one of them was happy to see What the heck was the kid's first name again? Blair, that was it. Simon thought it sounded a little girlish. He raked a disapproving look over Sandburg's long, unruly curls and sighed. If the shoe fit .
"Hey, Chief," Jim greeted the younger man. "I didn't expect to see you this afternoon."
Blair shrugged cheerily. "Finished my class notes early and thought I'd head down here on my way home to see if I could help you with anything."
"Okay. I was just getting Simon up to speed on the hospital drug heist."
Sandburg's brow furrowed, then smoothed out. "Oh, right. Do you still think that nurse Sally Marshall is in on it? You smelled her perfume in the pharmacy."
Jim nodded slowly. "Had to have been her. It's the only thing that makes sense. No forced entry into the pharmacy. We're still tracking down the connection. A couple of other hospitals in Seattle were hit recently. We're running a check to see if Marshall was working at any of those hospitals at the time they were hit. She "
"Jim," Simon interrupted quickly.
Simon held up a hand in a silencing gesture and turned to Sandburg. "I need to speak with Detective Ellison in private for a moment."
Blair nodded, his earnest expression making Simon feel vaguely guilty. "Sure, no problem." He stood, slapping Jim lightly on the shoulder before heading for the door.
Simon waited until the door closed, then turned to the detective. "Jim, I think we need to exercise a little restraint here."
Jim looked puzzled. "Meaning what?"
Simon sat down at his desk. Picking up a cigar, he toyed with it idly. "Sandburg's a civilian. He's not a cop. I'm not sure it's necessary for him to know all the details of every case we investigate."
Jim sat forward, resting his clasped hands on the desk. "He's riding with me, helping me with my senses, I think he needs to know some details."
"Look, Jim. He's been here, what, a month? I'm glad he's been able to help you with the senses thing, but the fact remains, he's strictly an observer and as such, he should be limited to helping you with your senses."
Jim's features were stony. "If anybody knows the meaning of discretion, it's Sandburg, sir. Can you imagine what would happen if word got out on the street about my senses? We've discussed the need for anonymity and secrecy. I don't think there's a problem." He smiled wryly. "Granted, he's a little flaky and he takes some getting used to, but he's handled himself really well so far."
Simon nodded. "I agree, though I could do without his Pollyanna act every day. Look, Jim, keep him updated on a need to know basis, all right? That'll keep all our asses out of the fire. How much have you told him about the hospital case?"
"Most of it. He was with me when I checked out the pharmacy for prints. It was Blair who guided me in picking up Sally Marshall's scent in the room. I recognized it on her when we interviewed the hospital staff." He frowned. "Shes a friend of a girl hes been dating."
Simon groaned. "Great. You'd better get out there and see if he's told his girlfriend anything. We don't want the Marshall woman thinking we're onto her before we have enough evidence."
Jim nodded. "Yes, sir. Is there anything else?"
Simon shook his head. "That's all for now. This whole Sentinel thing makes me uneasy, Jim. You make sure you dot your i's and cross your t's on every report. I don't want anything thrown out of court over a questionable investigation. After what happened with Juno, we have to be more vigilant of how your reports are worded. I can and will back you up where I can, but if it means the difference between a perp walking free, or being put away, we may have no choice in keeping your senses a secret. Have you thought about what you would do if that happened?"
Jim shook his head. "Ive tried not to."
"All right. Sandburg's got sixty days left on his ride-along. Do you think you can get what you need from him by then?"
"I don't know. All I know is whatever he's doing, it's working." He shrugged. "Maybe I need him around to make it work properly."
Simon gaped. "You mean for good?"
Jim simply shrugged.
Simon scrubbed a hand tiredly over his eyes. Standing, he picked up his coffee cup and turned to refill it. "He takes a lot of getting used to. He talks too much. He seems to be able to annoy me without even trying. Hes like that damn Energizer bunny. Hes "
"Hes Sandburg, sir." Jim shook his head and stood. "Look, its the last thing I wanted. Im not used to having a partner. Everyone knows I work better on my own."
"Jack Pendergrast was the only cop who could put up with you," Simon chuckled.
Jim nodded. "I remember, and the fact that Sandburgs this short little geek who looks like he just stumbled out of the sixties doesnt help. I hear the talk around the station. Youre not the only one whos having trouble adjusting to Sandburg. The ladies seem to like him, though." He grinned. "Look, Im hoping that once I get a handle on how to control my senses, Ill be able to make them work for me, for the department. Then Sandburg can go back to his books and his students, and I can get on with doing my job."
A sound at the door had Simon directing his gaze past Jim and he saw Sandburg standing in the doorway, his hand dropping from the knob as it swung open. The kid still hadnt learned to knock. "Did you want something, Sandburg?"
Simon saw Jims eyes widen briefly before he turned slowly toward the doorway and he realized the Sentinel had not been aware that the anthropologist was there. Must have his senses turned down or whatever he did with them.
Sandburg shook his head rapidly, his unruly curls flying. "No, sorry. I should have waited until Jim came out." His gaze flickered over to Jim and he raised a hand, waving it behind him. "I just remembered I have to go to the library."
"I thought you said you were done for the day," Jim answered.
Blair nodded and smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. "Yeah, I know. My brain is like Swiss cheese sometimes. Ill see you later unless you need me for something?"
Jim stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. "No, you go on. Ill catch up with you later. You mind coming by my place around 7? I need to discuss a few things with you."
"Sure, no problem. I can do that." Sandburg paused and turned to leave, then looked back. "Providing I get everything done I need to do." Simon saw his Adams apple bob as he swallowed. "Is it important?"
"Nothing that cant wait," Jim said.
Simon watched a range of emotions sweep over Sandburgs mobile face as he fidgeted and bounced on his toes. Then the anthropologist turned and walked over to Jims desk. Picking his battered backpack up from the floor, he slung it over his shoulder, and walked out of the bullpen.
Jim finished eating dinner and was about to settle down in front of the television for the early news when a soft tap sounded at the front door. Glancing at the clock, he was surprised to see that it was 7PM, which meant that if it was Sandburg at the door, he was on time for a change. Sure enough, when he opened the door, his new partner stood in the hallway, dressed in his usual assorted layers, with the ever-present backpack slung over one shoulder.
"Hey, Chief. Glad you could make it." Jim turned back to the living room, then stopped when he realized Blair had not followed him in. "Come in," he said. He waited until Blair nodded and stepped inside, dropping his bag on the floor beneath the coat-hooks.
Jim seated himself on the couch and motioned for Blair to join him. He frowned. Sandburg was unusually reticent tonight. "Everything all right?" he asked as Blair sat somewhat stiffly in the armchair opposite him.
Blair nodded vigorously. "Everythings fine." He fiddled with a loose button on the cuff of his flannel shirt. "You uh wanted to see me?"
"Yeah." Jim leaned forward and clasped his hands on his lap. "How well do you know this Sally Marshall?"
Blairs brow furrowed for a moment. "From the hospital?" At Jims nod, he went on. "Not at all, really. Claire, the girl Ive been seeing is a friend of hers. After the pharmacy robbery the other night, Claire mentioned her friend Sally told her shed been questioned." He smiled a little. "Seems she asked Claire if she could have your phone number." His grin faded a little when Jim didnt return it. Growing serious again, he leaned forward in the chair, mirroring Jims actions. "Whats going on, Jim?"
"Did you discuss the case with Claire at all?"
Blairs mouth dropped open. "Are you kidding? No way, man. She just asked if she could give Sally your phone number." He stood up and began to walk toward the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Home. Ive got work to do."
Jim followed him to the door and placed a hand on Blairs arm as he reached down to pick up his backpack. "Look, Chief, Im sorry. Simons just nervous about information getting back to Sally and scaring her off before we can get the evidence we need on her. If we can get what we need to charge her, we might be able to do a deal to force her to name whos behind the robberies."
"And of course, Simon thinks that I would do that, right?" Blairs tone was laced with bitter sarcasm. "Because Im not a cop. What about you, Jim?"
"What about me?" Jim countered, his own voice thinning with an edge of anger. "Do I think you told Claire anything? No, I told Simon as much, but he still has a right to ask. As the man in charge, its his ass if the shit hits the fan."
Blair let out a breath and seemed to deflate in front of his eyes. "Do you want me to stay around, Jim?"
It was Jims turn to gape. "Of course I do. What makes you think ." His eyes narrowed. "How much of my conversation did you overhear this afternoon?"
"Enough," Blair replied. "I didnt mean to eavesdrop." He fiddled with the strap on his backpack. "Look, were both getting something out of this sentinel thing, right?"
"Right, you get to write about me anonymously - and you help me figure out how to use and control my senses better."
Blair nodded. "Anytime you think you dont need me around anymore, just say so. Just try telling me, because Id rather hear it from you than any other way. I know Simon doesnt like me ." He held up a hand as Jim opened his mouth to protest. "Thats okay. Im not a stranger to that." He shrugged, looking rueful. "I seem to affect people that way sometimes."
Jim managed a strained smile. "Youve got to admit youre not the standard run-of-the-mill kind of cop, Sandburg."
Blair grinned. "Ill take that as a compliment. Now, do you still need me around, because Ive got to tell you, there is no way that I have nearly enough data for my dissertation yet, so Im sorta hoping youll say yes."
"Put your bag down," Jim said in reply. He walked back into the kitchen and pulled two beers from the refrigerator. "Lets go over what I picked up at the pharmacy. The lab thinks they might have some luck with the partial finger print I found."
"Jim? I didnt discuss the case with Claire." Blair rolled his eyes. "And Ill try to remember to knock before I go waltzing into Simons office. Maybe if I just sit at your desk and not talk to him, Simon wont even notice Im there."
Jim held up a restraining hand. "Easy does it, Chief. I dont want to stifle your natural enthusiasm, and Simons bark is worth than his bite."
"You could have fooled me."
Jim turned back to him and smiled. "Lets get to work."
Blair stared at him for a moment, then bent down and rummaged in his backpack, pulling out a notepad, pen and his glasses. "All right, lets see what weve got."
Their industrious work was cut short ten minutes later when the phone rang. Jim herded Blair out the door at a run. "That was Simon. Henri got a tip that theres a big drug buy going down tonight and our suspect is supplying the goods."
Blair hesitated when Jim climbed out of the truck. A few blocks ahead of them, he could see the vague outline of Simon's car and beyond that, a warehouse similar to the one he currently called home. The interior looked dark from where he sat, but he thought if he squinted a little, he could see light flickering through the downstairs windows.
"Come on, Chief." Jim leaned in at the driver's side window and looked at him, a frown creasing his forehead. "Simon's waiting."
Blair pulled his backpack from the floor and clutched it to his chest, one hand resting on the door handle. "Maybe I should just wait here."
Jim smiled. "Now, there's a first. You wanting to stay in the truck." He shook his head. "I want to listen, so I can tell the rest of the team when to move in."
"Right. Okay." Depositing his bag back on the floor, Blair climbed out and followed Jim to Simon's car.
Sliding into the rear seat, he smiled a little nervously as he raised a hand in greeting to the captain. "Hi Si Captain."
Simon's dark eyes studied him from the rear-vision mirror. "How are you doing, Sandburg?"
Blair relaxed a fraction. "Oh, you know, pretty good."
Blair watched as Jim climbed into the front seat. Shifting forward on the expensive leather upholstery, Blair tapped Jim's shoulder. "Okay, are you ready?"
Jim took a steadying breath and nodded.
"All right." Blair's hand rested lightly on Jim's shoulder, unconsciously massaging the tense muscles beneath his fingertips. "Get your focus. Discard the sounds you don't need."
Jim nodded again. "I've got them." He paused, then spoke again. "The girl's there."
Jim's voice faded and Blair knew the sentinel was only partly cognizant of his and Simon's presence. He watched Jim closely, squeezing the detective's shoulder a little harder as Jim's features slackened a little. "Hearing only, man. Don't try to see what you can't. Stay with me."
Blair was suddenly conscious of Simon's gaze upon him, his look one of discomfort or perhaps distaste. The anthropologist lifted his hand for a second, then resolutely turned away from Simon's seemingly disapproving glare and lowered his hand again. "It helps to ground him. It seems to stop him from zoning."
Simon nodded. "It's fine, Sandburg," he replied, shifting to stare back out through the front windscreen. "Whatever it takes. I'm still not entirely comfortable with this Sentinel stuff."
"You can say that again," Jim responded.
"You heard that?" Simon's look changed to one of uncomfortable embarrassment.
"I'm right here, sir." Jim looked over at the captain and grinned. "I still find it a little difficult to split my focus but I'm improving." He looked over his shoulder at Blair. "Aren't I?"
"You've got a way to go, man, but you're getting there." Blair smiled, then went back to the task at hand. "What did you get?"
"Four others besides the girl. The buyer's interested." Jim stared out the windshield at the warehouse. "Give me a minute."
The other men stayed silent. Simon's gaze followed Jim's. Blair kept his eyes on the sentinel. He jumped when Jim stiffened suddenly several minutes later, and reached for the door handle. "They're making the buy! Let's go!"
Blair reached for his own door, freezing when Simon pointed a finger at him as he shouted orders into the radio. "Stay here, Sandburg."
"But Jim ."
Jim paused momentarily in his sprint toward the warehouse; his weapon already clenched in his fist. "Do as you're told, Chief."
Blair huffed out a disgruntled sigh and hunched down so that he could watch the action through the windshield. In the distance, he could hear shouting voices, a woman screaming, and then more ominously, several gunshots.
"Jim! Rear entrance!"
Recognizing Simon's voice, Blair climbed out of the car and stood beside it, squinting into the darkness, and wishing, not for the first time, for sentinel senses. Hair prickled suddenly at the nape of his neck and he felt a sharp pain pierce his side, at the same time as a strong arm wrapped around his throat. He whooped, and tried to pull in air, his hands coming up to claw futilely at the muscled limb pressed against his windpipe.
"Get back in the car, cop. You're getting me out of here."
"I'm not a " A shove in his back accompanied by a burst of pain halted his words. This guy was interested only in escape. Blair doubted he'd think twice before stabbing him and simply taking the vehicle. Slowly, he reached out for the door handle, gasping as his attacker shifted his grip and the blade sunk back into his flesh.
"Freeze! Cascade PD."
Blair felt tears of relief sting his eyes at the sound of Jim's familiar voice. The detective stood several yards away, his weapon gripped in two hands, the barrel aimed directly at the two men.
The man holding Blair shook his head, his greasy, lank hair flicking into Blair's face. He pulled Blair in closer to his own chest and the anthropologist gasped as the blade sank home again. Cold sweat broke out on Blair's face and he tried desperately to swallow down the bile he could feel rising to his throat. Suddenly his knees buckled and he staggered, crying out as the knife bit into him.
"Keep still, Sandburg!"
Jim's voice sounded like it was coming from far away, but Blair managed to lock his knees, and sagged back against the other man.
"Well, well," his attacker snickered. "Looks like we got ourselves a stand-off."
Jim had scrambled to the rear entrance of the warehouse at Simon's warning shout. The door was already wide open, and he could hear the sound of footsteps rapidly moving away. He allowed himself a moment's pause, knowing the whole area was locked up tight, and there was no way the suspect was going to get away, short of climbing over the warehouse roofs or .
Jim wheeled around and ran full tilt for the street. He skidded to a halt, taking in the sight in front of him with a sinking heart.
Sandburg was standing beside Simon's car, one hand reaching for the door handle, while his other grasped the arm wrapped around his throat.
Jim brought his weapon up and steadied, his finger touching the trigger, but not closing on it. "Freeze! Cascade PD."
Even from this distance, Jim could see that Sandburg was in a bad way. Sweat coated his pale face, his breath panted harshly from a constricted airway, and his eyes were wide with fright. He couldn't miss the relief that swept over the young man's face at the sound of Jim's voice.
The detective took a measured step forward as the perp shook his head. Suddenly Blair wavered on his feet, yelping with pain. Jim's gaze slid downward and saw the knife. The perp's hand gripped and re-gripped the knife, his sweat-slick, bloodstained fingers slipping on the handle.
"Keep still, Sandburg!"
The order appeared to snap Blair out of his faint, and he shifted upright, leaning back a little. The chokehold on Blair's throat loosened fractionally.
Jim's nose twitched involuntarily and his sense of smell turned up in an automatic response. Blood. He focused his sight on the place where the knife dug into Blair's side. A dark patch of blood was seeping through the material of Blair's jacket. It had already begun to soak the waistband of his jeans, slithering downward toward his thigh in a widening stain .
Blair was sure he was going to throw up, despite the constricting hold around his throat. He could feel the sharp blade piercing his skin, going deeper then pulling out a little. He gritted his teeth against the nauseating sensation and concentrated on staying on his feet. Something warm and wet snaked down his side. "Can't breathe," he managed to choke out.
The arm loosened and he sucked in a gasping breath of sweet air. His gaze flickered back to Jim, and he groaned as he recognized the vacant stare on his partner's face. Jim was sliding into a zone.
Desperately, he tried to think of a solution. Thus far, he'd only managed to pull Jim out of a zone-out with his touch. They'd been working on it for weeks now, attempting to get Jim to respond to Blair's voice almost as a subliminal command. Blair had discovered there was a particular low tone and resonance that Jim appeared to react to in a light zone, but it had been slow and arduous work. Grimly pushing aside the agony that seemed to flare with every breath or minute movement, Blair focused on Jim.
"Jim? Pull back, man. You hear me. Pull back." He intoned the words over and over, at the same time attempting to reach out and give the detective a mental shove. He hoped that the man holding him captive would misinterpret his words as a plea for Jim to stay back.
Jim suddenly took in a whooping breath, his eyes widening as he staggered for a moment and shook his head. The perp took advantage of Jim's lapse and pulled the knife from Blair's side, shoving him against the car. "Get in the car now!"
"I don't think so. Drop the weapon, Maddern."
Blair shuddered at the welcome sound of Simon's voice. Maddern made another grab for him then froze. Dimly, past the roaring in his ears, Blair heard the clatter of metal hitting the ground.
He turned to face Jim, using the body of the car for support, feeling his legs go out from beneath him. He hit the ground hard, the impact sending shards of pain through his side. Jim's face swam in front of him, and a gentle hand tilted his head up as it sank toward his chest.
"Blair? You with me, buddy?"
Blair smiled and sank into the darkness.
His eyes opened and he blinked slowly, trying to make the blurred face above him come into focus. A hand stroked across his forehead, pushing back the damp curls from his face. His throat felt dry and sore and his entire body seemed to throb with muted pain. Blair blinked again.
"How are you feeling, kid?"
"He went to get some coffee. He'll be back in just a minute."
Blair nodded; his eyes sliding closed again as the hypnotic stroke across his forehead continued. "Why you here?"
The hand stopped and dropped away, and Blair lamented its loss. "I was worried about you. You lost a lot of blood."
Blair's brow furrowed as he tried to rein in his drifting thoughts. He remembered the warehouse, remembered the knife. He shuddered even now at the memory of it digging in, dragging out.
"Hey, you're awake at last."
Blair's eyes snapped open as footsteps crossed the room and a familiar and welcome face appeared in front of him.
"How you doing, buddy?"
"'kay, I guess. 'M tired."
"You lost a lot of blood, but the doc says you're gonna be just fine."
The stroking was back, only this time it was Jim's hand, and Blair let it lull him toward sleep. "You okay?" he managed to get out.
"I, uh, just wanted to say it was a hell of a job you did, pulling Jim out of that zone thing, despite your injury."
A hand gently patted his shoulder. Simon's, Blair supposed, since one of Jim's hands was currently stroking his head, and the other was wrapped around his own.
Blair tried to smile, but wasn't sure if he'd succeeded. The pull of sleep was dragging him into its cotton wool depths. "S'what I do."
"You do it well." Simon's voice faded into the darkness and this time Blair knew he had smiled.
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