by Kristine Williams
"Ready as I'll ever be." Blair replied, grabbing his coat.
"I should leave you here. You'd be safer." Jim didn't want to bring Blair along, but he didn't want to leave him either. Brackett was unpredictable enough to get into the Station house undetected if he wanted to. There was no safe place for him or Blair until this madman was behind bars for good.
"No. No way man, I'm coming with you." Blair had put on his coat and stood in front of Jim, waiting for him to turn around.
"Okay, come on." Jim led the way to the elevator. On the way down he checked his gun again, then looked at his partner. "How you feeling?"
"I'm fine." Blair replied, glancing at the elevator lights.
"It's been nearly four hours."
"I'm fine." Blair repeated.
"We need to get you back to the hospital, make sure."
"Jim, I'm fine. Let's just do this, okay?" The doors opened and Blair let Jim step out first. "I'll be a hell of a lot better when this is over."
"Yeah, you and me both, partner. You and me both." Jim automatically scanned the parking garage as they walked to the truck, then he scanned the truck before opening the door. If they didn't catch Brackett tonight, he could very well die of high blood pressure before the week was out.
"So, what exactly is the plan?" Blair asked as they pulled into traffic, heading towards the industrial area.
"Kostov has set up a meeting with Brackett, to discuss a contract on Vladstoyavich. He's offered him double what Brackett is getting for the hit on him."
"And he went for it?"
"Brackett's no fool. He may smell a rat. But, he's also ruthless, and enjoys a good double cross. I think he'll take the bait, but we've got to be ready for anything. That's why the SWAT team set up in the warehouse an hour ago. Kostov and Brackett will meet in two hours, and we can assume Brackett will check the place out first. We either get him when he cases the warehouse, or during the deal."
"What about Kostov? If you take Brackett before the deal goes down, how will you get Kostov?"
"The DA made a deal. Brackett, for deportation."
"That's it? The guy runs a protection racket for three years, has people killed, and he just gets deported?"
"That's the way it works sometimes, Chief. You pass up one or two smaller ones for the chance at a bigger one." He glanced at Blair. "Brackett's worth losing Kostov over. Besides, being deported will get him out of Cascade, out of the US, and probably right into a Russian prison. He's a wanted man there, too."
Blair nodded but said nothing.
It wasn't right. A man like Kostov getting off, after having men killed. Even if he didn't pull the trigger himself, he was directly responsible for at least three deaths. And they were going to let him go just for Brackett. But then, Lee Brackett wasn't above killing for pleasure, business, or the thrill of what he called 'The Game'. He needed to be stopped. Jim was right, if a choice had to be made, he'd rather see Brackett be the one.
Jim pulled up next to a garage a block away from the warehouse and he and Blair got out, crossed around the back of the building and climbed an outside staircase leading to the upper level. Once inside, they were met by the Captain of the SWAT team.
"No sign of him yet," Captain Miller said, glancing at the two of them and motioning them over to where he crouched behind several boxes. "I've got three sharp-shooters around this upper level. From here we can see every inch of the ground floor."
Jim nodded and motioned Blair over to kneel down beside him. The upper level consisted of a balcony that ringed the entire building. From where they were, they could see the main floor below. Blair looked over the edge from his vantage point behind a box. The ground floor was a maze of crates of all shapes and sizes, stacked everywhere, with very little space between each uneven row. There was a small open area in the center, where he assumed Kostov would be meeting Brackett. From that angle, the sharp-shooters would have no trouble taking him out. But Jim was right, Brackett was no fool.
"What now?" he asked, whispering to Jim.
"Now, we wait," Jim replied. He glanced around the upper floor, then spotted what he wanted and motioned for Blair to follow. Off to one side of where they had come in was a collection of smaller crates piled against a wall. It was a dead end, and Jim told Blair to sit down.
"We've got a wait on our hands, Chief. Might as well get comfortable."
Blair had started to protest, until Jim sat down with him. He didn't argue then but sat. They had two hours to wait for Kostov, and if Brackett was going to make an early appearance, Jim or the SWAT team would spot him first. The hours passed like weeks. Blair was scared to death being in an area they were trying to lure this madman, but he felt safer with Jim beside him. He knew his Sentinel friend was no longer prey to Brackett's white noise generators, and would sense him even before the SWAT men saw anything. If there was anyone he trusted his life with, it was Jim Ellison. He could see Jim scanning the warehouse, using his senses to detect any sign of Brackett, but he never saw him lock onto anything. Even so, the slightest noise or movement startled Blair. He only hoped that each time he jumped out of his skin, Jim was too busy concentrating to notice. If they didn't get Brackett soon, the adrenaline would kill him before the week was out.
"It's time." Jim said, glancing at his watch. "Brackett should be here any..."
Blair looked up and saw Jim's face go blank. "What? What do you hear?"
"A car." Jim stood, motioning for Blair to stay put.
"It's Kostov." Captain Wilson whispered. "Still no sign of Brackett."
Jim turned to Blair. "I'm going down below. Stay here with Captain Wilson. That's an order, Chief."
Blair was opening his mouth to argue when Jim gave the order. He reluctantly obeyed, glancing at the SWAT Captain. If he was safe enough here, then so was Jim. He watched as his partner carefully moved along the balcony they were on until he was at the opposite side of the warehouse. He then took the stairs down slowly, reaching the bottom before Kostov's car had pulled up just outside the warehouse doors. Blair leaned forward to try and get a better view. Suddenly it hit again, without warning, but not as severe as before. Blair had to grit his teeth, clamping down hard so as not to make any noise as he fought the intense pain that shot through his gut. Not now. Dammit not now! He was fighting to breathe, to concentrate on anything but the pain, until it stopped. But it wasn't stopping. The cramping of his muscles wasn't as violent as it had been, but it was relentless. He couldn't take a deep breath, couldn't straighten up or move. He heard a thundering of metal and realized the large warehouse doors were opening. The spasms stopped for a second and he inhaled, trying to focus. There was movement in front of him, and he heard two short popping sounds. He looked up and the pain hit again just as Brackett shoved the gun into his chest.
"Still enjoying my little surprise, I see." Brackett leaned down and pulled Blair to his feet with a handful of his jacket. "Well, it's coming to an end. You'll be glad to know, when the pain lasts this long, it's almost over."
Blair tried to pull away, but he didn't have the strength. "Bastard!"
Brackett laughed and shoved Blair forward, moving behind him. He saw Captain Miller then, and the sharp-shooter that had been beside him, unconscious on the floor. Before he could make a move towards either of them, Brackett wrapped an arm around Blair's throat, holding him tightly, and placed the gun into his side, pressing it in. "Move." He said, pressing the gun harder. "Downstairs."
Blair had no choice but to walk back down the staircase he and Jim had come up, holding on to the arm that was choking him, trying to pull it away. His heart was racing, and it was no longer due to the pain still searing through his stomach. He tried to spot Jim, surely he'd be coming after them? But had he heard the silencer over the noise of the warehouse door? He knew he wouldn't survive Brackett again. He couldn't. Whatever was going to happen, it would end here. They reached the bottom of the stairs and Brackett forced him away from the warehouse, towards a car he could see waiting at the far end of the building. Blair tried to resist and Brackett increased the hold around his throat, beginning to cut off his air.
"Let's go for a ride, shall we?" he whispered into Blair's ear.
He tried to fight, to resist. God he had to fight this man! Not be taken so easily again. The pressure increased both around his neck and in his side where the gun was.
"We'll go somewhere quiet and try out a few more drugs, give your partner a run for his money. I want to see just how far this connection between the Sentinel and his Guide goes."
Blair stepped forward. The pain in his abdomen was coming in waves, relentlessly, and he was having trouble breathing now. He finally caught his breath for a moment, "I thought you learned that last time?" He couldn't see Jim. Where were the sharp-shooters? Couldn't they see them out there? Or didn't they hear Brackett with the doors opening? Did Jim not hear the other car? They continued across the back of the building, Brackett pushing Blair forward slowly. He was convinced Jim could find them if he just listened for the racing of Blair's heart, and the heavy breathing that was barely keeping him conscious. He wanted to talk, to tell Brackett to go to hell, but he couldn't get enough air. And when he did, the pain was too much to talk through.
They both spun around and Blair could see Jim, several yards away coming out a side door, gun drawn.
"Nice of you to bring your partner." Brackett said, moving the gun from Blair's side, to his neck. "I really wanted to have more time together the other night, but I had work to do."
"It's over Brackett, put the gun down." Jim stood his ground, holding his aim.
"I don't think so. I think it's time we found out which one of us it's gonna be."
"You're surrounded this time. There's no way out."
Brackett eased the pressure on Blair's throat just slightly, but pressed the gun harder into his neck. He fought the pain that swept through his stomach then. The gun was pressing into the same spot as the needle had that night. Blair willed his heart to slow down as he looked at Jim. He couldn't let this happen again. Jim wouldn't let this happen again.
"You really think you can take me, before I put a hole through his neck?"
Blair looked at Jim, watching his eyes. He could see Jim look from Brackett, to him. Suddenly the nightmare came back clear as day. Jim had taken aim, then moved, and shot Blair once, through the heart. He'd rather have that, than ever deal with Brackett again. He wouldn't survive Brackett again.
"Shoot him," Blair said. He felt the gun move against his neck and heard Brackett's low chuckle. "Shoot him!"
The gun went off. Something slammed against his neck and Blair went down, hitting the ground hard, then rolled to the left. Pain shot through him, but it was a familiar pain. A pain he had been fighting for three days, not a searing hole in his chest. Not a bullet through the neck. He lay on the ground, breathing through the spasm, and tried to look beside him. Brackett was on the ground and Jim appeared, kneeling next to Lee and threw the gun away that had been pressing into Blair's neck.
"Is he dead?"
Jim moved from Brackett and came over, reaching down to help him off the ground. There were SWAT men everywhere now, leaning over Brackett, talking on the radios.
"Come on, Chief, it's over now." Jim was ushering him away, towards the side of the building.
"Is he dead!" Blair fought Jim, fought him moving away from Brackett. He had to know. Brackett had to be dead, or else it wasn't over.
"No, he's not dead," Jim said, shaking his head. He was holding Blair by the arms, but they stopped.
Blair glanced back at Brackett and the men surrounding him. He could hear sirens approaching, and someone calling for an ambulance. Captain Wilson was there, holding his bullet proof vest. Blair turned and his eye caught the gun Jim had stuffed into the front of his pants. He stared at it for a long moment, and a chill ran up his spine. If he wasn't dead, it wouldn't be over.
"You don't want to do that, Chief," Jim said quietly. He was still holding on to Blair, watching him. "It's over." He made no move to keep Blair from the gun. "Trust me."
Blair looked up, meeting his partner's
eyes. He knew Jim had known what he was thinking. But had he really understood?
Could he ever understand? Brackett had used Blair, more than once, and he was
going to do it again. Use him against Jim. Not because of Jim. He had been helpless
against Brackett. Jim couldn't possibly know what that meant. Blair just nodded
and allowed Jim to guide him past the warehouse and towards a waiting ambulance.
Two hours, and several blood samples later, the doctors told him he could go home. Jim came into the exam room as the nurse was handing Blair his shirt.
"How's he doing, Doctor?" Jim asked as he entered.
"He should be fine," The doctor said, glancing at Jim. "There's just a minute trace now of the drug, so I'd expect the pain to be quite mild for the next day or so, then it should be gone completely."
"Thanks Doc." Jim shook the doctor's hand then looked at Blair. "You ready to hit the road, Chief?"
Blair nodded, thanked the doctor, then followed Jim out to the truck. He said nothing for a long time, letting Jim explain to him how Kostov was now in the custody of the FBI, and he would be at the mercy of any deal they were willing to make. Rumor had it that Vladstoyavich left Cascade the minute word got back to him that Brackett was meeting with Kostov. They were halfway home before Blair was able to form the question.
"Is he alive?"
Jim looked over at him before replying. "Yes, he's alive," he said. "It's over now. He'll be in jail for the rest of his life. Several counts of murder, kidnaping, attempted murder. This time, he's ours, not the CIA's."
Blair nodded and they continued on to the loft in silence. It was early evening, and Blair was exhausted, but he was afraid to go to sleep just yet. He was sure the nightmares weren't over, and if he could just sit up for a few hours, and convince himself it was over, maybe he'd get some sleep.
"You hungry?" Jim asked as they entered the apartment.
"No, I'm not." Blair replied. "I suppose you're going to order pizza yet again."
Jim laughed. "Nope. Don't have to. There's leftovers."
Blair rolled his eyes and took a seat on the couch. Jim put the pizza in the oven to warm, then took two beers from the refrigerator and offered one to Blair as he sat down.
"Thanks." Blair accepted the beer, but just held on to it, fingering the top. Jim was in the chair opposite the couch watching him. He had let his partner down again, not only being taken by Brackett for the third time with no struggle, but then wanting him dead. Jim never sought out vengeance, just justice. Blair wasn't that strong. He tried, for Jim, but he wasn't that strong. "Listen, about...I mean, I wouldn't have...I couldn't have actually.." Blair sighed, pushing the hair away from his face. How was he going to say this? What if he had taken Jim's gun? For a few minutes, back there, he thought he could have. "Back in the warehouse, I wanted to..I wanted him dead."
"But you didn't do anything." Jim said quietly. He was watching Blair, calmly. "I wanted him dead too, Blair. But I can't just kill a man in cold blood. And neither could you." He sighed. "Look, I know this is hard, but it's over. Dead or in jail, it's over. I would have been just as happy if the bullet took him out, but it didn't."
Blair nodded, looking at the beer in his hand. He wanted to say Jim was right. He wanted to believe he wasn't capable of a killing a man. He'd never been able to shoot a gun before, and never really wanted to. But he had never had the chance to take out Brackett before. And for one moment, one brief moment, he had considered it. He'd been ready for it. He'd wanted it. "You're sure about that, huh?" He still couldn't look up. What must Jim think of him?
"No, Chief, I'm not sure about that. I'm sure about you. You're better than that. No matter what you think or feel right now, you're better than that."
Blair looked up then, meeting Jim's eyes. How could he be so sure, when Blair wasn't sure himself? He was feeling small again. Small and unsure in the presence of a man who was always so sure and in control. He wanted to say something, to make sure Jim wasn't changing his opinion of their friendship after what Blair had thought, but a lump formed in his throat before the words would come out. He needed to know that the reassurance he had felt the other day was still there. He needed to know Jim still felt the same way, and wasn't disappointed in his desire, brief as it may have been, for Brackett's death.
Jim stood, put his beer down, and walked around behind Blair, placing both hands on his shoulders. "Let it go."
Blair took a long drink, trying to swallow back the lump, but before he could speak there was a knock on the door. Blair started for an instant, then relaxed as Jim smiled and patted his shoulders.
"It's okay. It's Mike." Jim crossed over to the door. "I'd better tell Sara to change his aftershave."
"Hey, hope you two are still on the adrenaline rush, 'cause it's rematch time." Mike came in, followed by Jeff. Both men nodded at Jim and Blair and Jeff held up a deck of cards.
"Rematch?" Jim asked, letting the two Detectives inside. "Are we talking real money here?"
Mike looked from Blair to Jim. "Well now, that all depends. Is he playing, or sleeping?"
Blair laughed, pulling his feet up onto the couch. Before he could answer, Jim tossed a blanket across the room, which landed on top of Blair,
"He's sleeping," Jim said. He winked at Blair then turned to the two officers. "Break out the cash boys, and prepare to lose."
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