by Kristine Williams
Jim shed his clothes and slid into bed. Blair's confession, as mild as it had been, served to both warm and surprise him. For some time, Jim had been aware of Dr. Eli Stoddard's influence and effect on Blair, and for some time he'd realized his own jealousy over the closeness his friend shared with his first mentor. A closeness that nearly cost Jim his partner once, when old loyalties called. But he had also begun to realize, over time and with a few hints from Blair, that Jim now held a higher place in the younger man's life. Hearing him reiterate that, in his own uncomfortable way, felt good. Making him squirm a bit to voice that feeling had been a small bonus.
Blair's anxiety about the upcoming trial
was a bit overblown, even for the kid. But, Jim decided it could just be the fact
that he hadn't been around this case from the beginning. He always worried about
things he wasn't a part of that would affect Jim. It was a nice feeling, in a
way, knowing how concerned his partner was with everything going on. With a sigh,
he closed tired eyes and pressed his head into the pillow. Slowly, he let his
senses feel around the loft, taking note first of the quiet breathing in the room
below. After assuring himself the loft was secure, Jim let his mind begin to drift
into sleep, trusting his instincts, Sentinel senses, and the two detectives outside
to keep things quiet.
Jim shot out of bed so fast, he barely registered the reason for it. "Blair?!"
"Are you all right?" Quickly adjusting his hearing back to a more manageable level, Jim realized his friend's simple exclamation had been magnified by alert Sentinel hearing.
"Yeah, just cut myself."
Jim's momentum had carried him halfway to the living room before he stopped, now hearing the water running down the hall. As he walked down the rest of the stairs, Blair came out of the bathroom, dressed only in jeans, dabbing at his chin with the corner of a towel.
"Hey, how do you feel about blueberry pancakes?"
The mere word brought instant salivary recall. "Oh, yeah. Are you cooking?"
Blair glanced at the towel in his hand, then gave Jim a smirk. "Of course I am."
"Great." Smiling, Jim passed his partner in the hall, giving him a friendly swat on the back of the head as he entered the bathroom.
"What do you think about inviting Jenkins and Brown in for breakfast?"
"I think if you're trying to score points, that'll do it." Jim reached around to shut the bathroom door. "Call Brown's cell phone, the number's in my book."
Jim washed up, then turned on the shower and stepped inside. He could hear Blair in the kitchen, first calling the two Detectives who had just spent an entire night watching over them in for breakfast, then moving around in the kitchen. It wasn't like Blair to worry, but when it came to Jim's safety, the kid did lean severely toward caution. Some might say Blair was protecting his interests, but Jim knew better. And he was flattered.
As he stepped out of the shower, he recognized his bathrobe hanging on the inside of the door. Reaching for it, he heard Brown laughing in the living room.
"Jim, thanks for the invite, man." Brown waved his coffee cup in the direction of his partner. "I was just getting ready to send Jenkins out for doughnuts."
"Don't thank me, it was Sandburg's idea." Jim tied his robe on the way to the stairs. "If it were up to me, you'd be eating stale doughnuts and downing cold coffee." He laughed at the looks directed his way for the teasing, then went upstairs.
"Hey, man, we were just doin' our job," Brown retorted.
"I'm not complaining." Jim pulled on his shorts, directing his voice downstairs. "The Captain's idea, or Milton's?"
"Both, I think," Jenkins replied.
"Okay, guys, breakfast is ready."
At Blair's announcement, Jim hurried with his shirt and pants, rushing down the stairs to ensure his guests didn't get all the blueberries. With some foresight, and no small bit of talent, Blair had made plenty, ensuring they all had a pleasant morning.
After eating, both Jenkins and Brown were off duty and headed home, while Blair and Jim went in to the Station. The flavor of blueberries lingered in Jim's mouth from the few bits still trapped between two molars. As he headed to the bathroom with the floss kept in his desk, Blair hung their coats on the stand and pulled his chair up to Jim's computer.
"Ellison, quiet night, I trust?"
"As quiet as it could be, with Jenkins and Brown talking outside all night." Jim turned on the tap and leaned forward, wrapping floss around two fingers while Simon washed his hands in the sink beside him.
"You mean they were in the apartment with you?"
Jim shook his head, but had to wait until he'd spat out the blueberry bit. "No, I just checked up on them once or twice."
Simon squinted his eyes, then suddenly nodded in understanding. "Right, I keep forgetting." He dried his hands and tossed the paper towel in the trash. "I want to go over this trial with you in my office before you head over to the courthouse. The DA wants you over there at ten."
"Yes, sir." Jim followed Simon back out to the bullpen and found Blair staring at the computer, a look of intent concentration on his face. Sitting in his own chair that had been pushed slightly aside to make room, Jim glanced at the screen.
"I had no idea this Burgini family was responsible for so many deaths." Blair shook his head, still gazing at the screen.
"They had a pretty successful protection racket going for many years." Jim glanced at his coffee cup, asking himself if another cup would be too many this early.
"Man, you were undercover on this one for five months?" Blair sat back, pulling the glasses off his face as he looked at Jim.
"Off and on. This bust was a group effort. Lots of people put a lot of time and effort into this one, including the DA's office."
Blair nodded, glancing at the desk in thought. "Do you think it will end now, or will the rest of the family just start over?"
Jim shrugged, pushing aside his cup so he could open a file. "Hard to say, Chief. The rest of the family seems to be setting up shop on the East Coast. If they do start up, they're someone else's problem. Every city has its share."
Jim glanced up, seeing the Captain's face poking out of his office door accompanied by a small cloud of white smoke. With an acknowledging nod, Jim stood and looked back at Blair. He expected his partner to get up, and follow him as he always did, but instead, Blair was again studying the computer screen.
"Yes, sir?" Jim shut the office door behind him and walked up to the Captain's desk.
"Looks like this trial might come off without a hitch after all." Simon waved a cigar-laden hand at the chair beside Jim. "The FBI's been keeping close tabs on all the other family members, and so far they're all still on the East Coast. In fact, they seem to have all relocated there permanently."
"Someone else's problem." Jim nodded.
"Something Blair and I were saying about the rest of the Burgini family starting over, becoming someone else's problem."
"He wasn't here during this case, was he?" Simon started to grin, then continued before Jim could reply. "I bet it's just killin' him, not to be a part of it."
Ignoring that remark, Jim shrugged. "Actually he's a little nervous about it all."
"That's nothing new," Simon snorted.
Jim shook his head. "No, actually Simon, it is. Blair isn't usually afraid of things. He's cautious, sometimes." Just not usually when I want him to be. He spared a glance out to the bullpen, where his friend still sat, staring at the computer. "No, he's not acting normal somehow."
"Tell me, Jim, what IS normal for Sandburg?"
It took a moment for Simon's question to hit home. Jim was trying to answer it for himself first. "Normal is right now." He nodded to his partner, studying the computer. "Investigating whatever it is he doesn't already know."
"So what's the problem?"
Jim shook his head, then tried to shake off the nagging feeling in the back of his mind. "Nothing." Or something. He knew better than to ignore his own instincts, but Blair's behavior really wasn't odd enough to raise any tangible alarms. Not yet, anyway.
A puff of cigar smoke accompanied the Captain's nod. "Oh, before I forget, the kid got some mail delivered here again." Simon reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a postcard. "The mailroom's tired of looking for a place to put it, so they're stuffing it all in my box."
Jim accepted the postcard with a shake of his head, but before he could reply the phone on the desk rang. He turned to glance into the bullpen and heard the phone on his own desk ring. Ignoring Simon's call, he focused on the one his partner picked up.
"Yeah, Major Crimes."
"I'm looking for a Mr. Sandburg."
"Can you give me directions to 7th and Vine?"
Simon's sudden exclamation drew Jim's attention back into the office.
"All right, we'll come over now. Keep everyone together until we get there." Simon hung up the phone and looked at Jim. "The DA's assistant was killed this morning."
"Marsha? What happened?" Jim stepped closer to the desk, all curiosity over Blair's phone call vanished.
"Her husband shot her as she was leaving the house."
"Her husband?" Jim's mind flashed through his meetings with the young woman, trying to determine if he'd ever met her husband. He hadn't. "Was it a domestic dispute?"
Simon was walked around his desk, shaking his head, his face a mask of anger and frustration. "There's no word yet. Here." He reached around the side of a bookcase and pulled out a kevlar vest. "We're heading over to the courthouse. Put this on."
"Put it on!"
Jim accepted the vest being shoved at him.
"Right now, I have to assume this is an attack on anyone connected to this trial. And until I hear otherwise, no one is taking chances."
Simon glared at him until he put the vest on, leaving it unfastened for now. "Yes, sir. What about Milton and the jury?" Jim glanced out at Blair, who was still on the phone.
"They're being escorted to the courtroom now, that's where we're going. I'll send Clark and Carpenter out on this shooting."
Jim wanted to listen in on the conversation causing Blair to crease his eyebrows so darkly, but the Captain was still talking and the vest kept slipping down. "Looks like the FBI missed one, huh?"
"These mob families can be so large and spread out, it's a wonder we've located as many as we have." Simon checked his gun, then looked at Jim. "Sandburg should stay here, he was never a part of this case."
Jim looked at his partner again. Blair had just hung up the phone and was reaching into Jim's desk drawer. "I agree with you there. Better let me tell him."
"I have to make a call, I'll meet you out there."
As Jim left the office, he glanced at the postcard in his hand. "What
the hell?" With a flash of understanding, the pieces began to suddenly make
sense. At the same instant he registered the sight of Blair aiming the gun, the
bullet slammed into him like a cannon.
Pain. Pain and darkness were all Jim knew for the longest time. But the fear soon penetrated his fog, screaming at him from afar that he had to wake up, he had to get up. Blair was in trouble! How or why, Jim didn't know. All he knew was an intense pain in his chest, and a feeling of terror building in his gut that something terribly wrong was happening to Blair.
The pain he could fight, somehow, but the fear he needed to use to urge his mind out of the darkness. His partner was in danger, how could he be sleeping? Blair! Only his mind heard the cry, so he must still be asleep. Another stab of pain in the right side of his chest brought him closer. Close enough now to hear voices, feel hands touching him. With a force of will, he recognized one voice.
It wasn't Blair.
"Sandburg!" Jim's mind snapped awake, but his body refused to follow the order to get up.
"Jim!" Simon filled his still-blurred line of sight. "Take it easy, let the doctor finish."
"Where's Blair?" Frantically blinking away the fog, Jim scanned the exam room, finding only Simon, a nurse and a man in a lab coat standing over him, bandage scissors in hand.
"Detective, hold still, I'm almost finished here."
With one more snip, Jim felt the doctor's hand smoothing down the bandages wrapped tightly around his chest.
"Simon, where's Sandburg?" Why wasn't he there? What weren't they telling him?
"Jim, it's pretty complicated. Just let the doctor finish."
Anger took over, forcing the pain to the back of his mind. "Simon!"
"Detective, you've been shot." With some force, the doctor pressed Jim back down onto the examination bed. "Your friend is going to be all right, and so are you if you'll just lie still and let me do my work."
Frustrated, Jim lay back, glaring up at the young man putting more tape on the front of his ribs, adding to what was already pressing heavily from the back. The doctor couldn't have been much older than Blair, probably an intern. The resemblance to a young, lab-coated man with long hair and way too much enthusiasm was uncanny.
"Your friend is fine, I assure you."
"Where is he?"
"In the next room. Now, you've taken a solid hit to the chest, but thanks to that vest you sustained only two bruised ribs."
The doctor's words meant nothing. Jim could feel the bruising of his own ribs, he could tell he was alive, what more did they need to know? He tried to force his hearing out of the room to search the rest of the exam areas for Blair, but all he could manage was magnifying the sounds in his own room. The doctor's voice, Simon's frustrated sighs, the nurse's slightly increased heart rate as she checked his pulse, which also seemed to ring in his ears. Nothing he did was working, he couldn't get out of the room, couldn't control his senses or direct them.
"...rest for a few days, and you'll be fine."
Finally, the doctor stepped aside. Jim registered his words again. Nodding, he looked over at Simon. "What happened? Where's Blair?"
Simon sighed heavily, then stepped closer as Jim slowly raised himself to a sitting position. "Jim, Sandburg shot you. Everyone in the bullpen was pretty stunned, and Carpenter just reacted with instinct."
Ice ran through Jim's gut, forcing his jaw tightly shut. Unable to open it, he stared at the Captain, demanding an explanation.
"He's okay, Jim." Simon held up both hands, either warding off an expected verbal attack, or protecting himself from it.
"I want to see him." When Simon paused, Jim turned to the doctor. "Where is he?"
"I'll take you to him, if you like," the too young doctor replied, reaching out a helping hand. "His concussion was pretty mild. Either the officer who shot him was very good, or Mr. Sandburg was very lucky."
"Jim, hold on just a minute." Simon placed a hand on Jim's shoulder, then looked at the doctor. "Can we have a moment, please?"
"Certainly. He's just down the hall to your left." With that, the doctor and nurse exited, leaving Jim and Simon alone.
"Jim, there's the little matter of what happened we have to deal with."
Jim's jaw flexed again, and he gave up trying to find Blair from his room. It just wasn't working. "I think I know what happened."
"Sandburg shot you. Right there in the Station. It was purposeful and calculated, Jim."
Shaking his head, Jim tried to relax his jaw. "No, Simon, it wasn't Blair. It was Giovanni."
Jim pushed past the Captain. "I want to see him."
"Wait a minute, Jim." Simon's hand clutched Jim's arm, holding him firmly. "I want some explanations here."
"After I see Sandburg, Captain." Jim pulled away, expecting a reprimand that he wasn't the least bit afraid of ignoring.
Simon's shout traveled through the open door, following Jim two doors down. In the hallway, he finally picked up Blair's voice, thanking someone for something. The relief was almost tangible. As the last vestiges of fear sank through his feet, his legs were able to slow down, giving him enough time to walk through the door of the exam room with some small display of control. Inside, he found his partner sitting up, a bandage on his right temple nearly covered by long, dark strands of hair. The eyes that met his were desperately confused.
"Hey, buddy." Nodding at the nurse as she left the room, Jim stepped over to the exam table Blair was sitting on and put a hand on his hair, pulling enough back to check out the injury.
"Jim, what happened? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He gave Blair his best reassuring smile, then let his hand slide down to his partner's shoulder. "This is pretty complicated, Chief."
Blair looked up, a flash of emotion in his eyes. "I shot you, Jim. I don't remember it, not really. It was like I was watching myself do it."
"Jim, what the hell's going on? I shot you!"
"I didn't--Jim, I would never--" Blair stopped himself, taking a deep breath and looking at the floor for a moment.
"I know. Just take it easy, there's an explanation for all of this, Chief." Jim put his free hand on Blair's other shoulder and stood directly in front of him, looking down. "Will you trust me for just a little while? I want to get us out of here and someplace more quiet. Okay?"
"No, Jim. I want to know what the hell I did, now!" Blair's anger flared, searching for a direction. "Just how complicated can it be?"
"All right." Jim sighed, and walked over to shut the door. Simon was in the hall on his cell phone, talking to the DA's office. When he returned to the exam table Blair was sitting on, he took a breath to gather his still-fuzzy thoughts. "I think you were hypnotized, Chief."
"I'm sure of it now. It wasn't clear before, but it makes sense."
"There was a postcard, sent from Dr. Stoddard to the Station. It was in Simon's office. He was writing to apologize for missing the conference in Toronto." Blair opened his mouth to protest, but Jim held up both hands to silence him, wincing at the action. His body was trying to remind him what had just happened. And of what could have happened. How close Blair had come to being killed. "Listen, we're both exhausted. I don't know exactly what's going on, but I have a good idea that Giovanni was in Toronto when you arrived." Blair's eyes flashed as a sudden jolt of understanding shot through his mind. Jim held up a hand, and put the other on his friend's shoulder. "Let's not panic until we know more." He glanced toward the door and heard Simon hanging up the cell phone. Turning back to Blair, he found him rubbing the side of his head slowly, eyebrows knit together. "Simon's coming. Look, will you trust me for a little while? I'd like to get out of here and go over this someplace more private."
Blair looked up, nodding. His eyes were bloodshot and tired.
Jim turned to find Simon entering, one of his darker scowls clouding his face as he eyed both men.
"All right, Jim, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt here, you've earned it." Handing Jim his shirt, Simon glared at Blair. "But I want an explanation, right now, or I have to take Sandburg in."
Jim shook his head and reached for the shirt, taking note of the look his Captain was giving his partner. "On what charge, Simon?"
"What?" Simon's gaze moved back to Jim. "Ellison..."
"Simon, you know damn well Sandburg didn't just shoot me because he wanted to." He winced slightly pulling his shirt on. "It was brainwashing, Captain. For lack of a better term. Sandburg, and Marsha Wu's husband." Jim glanced at Blair for a moment. "I'd be willing to bet he just got back from the East Coast."
"Dammit!" Simon pulled his phone from a pocket and dialed a few numbers. "Brown, I want another room set up there. Ellison and Sandburg. Yes, that's right. Have Clark meet us there in thirty minutes."
Jim looked at Blair. "It'll be all right, Chief."
Blair nodded, risking a quick glance at Simon as he ended the phone call.
"Jim, I need to see you in the hall." The Captain's face never changed, but he did shoot Blair a look first, softening just a bit when he did.
Jim turned back to Blair while he buttoned his shirt. "Stay here, we'll be right back." Once in the hall, with Sentinel senses on full alert, Jim turned to Simon.
"I'm trusting you on this one, Ellison. Ken Wu was in New York two weeks ago." The Captain glanced over Jim's shoulder and shook his head. "He shot himself right after killing his wife."
Instantly Jim's blood ran cold. "Simon, did Blair--"
Simon nodded. "We think so. It all happened too damn fast, but Carpenter says Sandburg was bringing your gun up to his head when he shot him."
"God." Jim closed both eyes momentarily, forcing out the vision trying to take shape.
"We have the jury sequestered and court's out for the day. I'm gonna take the two of you there until we get this straightened out."
"Right. What about Burgini?"
"He's asked to see you. I'm going to meet with him after I drop you two off, see what he's up to." Simon reached out and pushed the door to Blair's room open again, following Jim inside. "I'll let you know what he says."
Jim nodded and walked over to Blair, putting a hand on his partner's arm. "What did the doctor say?"
"I'm okay." Even with that assurance, Blair eased himself off the exam table slowly. "I guess Carpenter's been wanting to pop me since that time in the garage."
Jim nearly laughed as he put a steadying arm around Blair's back. "You're a better shot than he is."
"All right, let's get out of here."
Simon opened the door and led the way out of the exam room.
For Blair and Simon's benefit, Jim began the explanation in Simon's car. "Just put the facts together, Simon. There's no way Sandburg would shoot me of his own volition." He glanced at his partner as they both rode to the hotel in Simon's back seat, his left arm draped protectively over Blair's shoulders while his right remained tucked close to his injured side. "And as far as I can tell, Marsha and her husband had no cause to hate each other. So what did the two have in common?" Jim held up a hand and counted off the similarities. "One, they both recently came back from a trip to the East Coast. Two, they both have access to people connected to the Burgini trial. And three, they're both the last people any security sweep is gonna suspect."
Beside him, Blair inhaled sharply through his nose while pushing long strands of hair from his eyes. "So, you're saying someone was there, in Toronto, and they somehow got me to shoot you?"
Jim nodded once. "I know it's hard to fathom, Chief. But Giovanni is a shrink, remember? I'm sure if anyone could pull this off, he could. Or he'd know someone who could."
Blair shook his head. "No, it's not hard to fathom, Jim. That's the problem."
Before he could reply, Simon pulled into a parking garage and shut the sedan off. "All right, the two of you are going to be kept upstairs with the jury. I've got a meeting with Burgini back at the Station."
"Keep me informed, Captain. I'd like a talk with him myself." Jim opened the door and found Clark waiting for them in the elevator.
"We'll see about that after I find out what's on his mind." Simon looked at Jim through the passenger side window, shooting a quick glance in Blair's direction as the younger man got out of the car. "Jim, you stay alert. Clark and Jenkins are staying on the floor with you, and we've got uniforms at all the exits."
"We'll be fine, sir." Jim stood, placing his right arm against his tightly bandaged, throbbing side, then put the other around his partner's shoulders as they walked to meet Clark at the elevator.
Blair was silent for the entire ride up to the fifteenth floor. Detective Clark explained the floor plan and the positions of each officer, then gave them a key to a room midway down the hall off the elevator. By the time they got to their room, Jim's ribs were aching badly. He locked the door, checked all the windows, then tossed the keys to a bed and sat down carefully, all the while keeping one eye on his quiet partner.
"You should get some rest."
"Jim, we have to talk."
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