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by Kristine Williams

Part 2

"What about when you found the shooter? What happened then?"

Jim shrugged. "I told him to drop it. He looked at me, said "Drop me" and started to fire. I had no choice."

Sheila nodded. "I spoke to Captain Banks after he talked to Kingston's therapist. Sounds like the guy was a ticking bomb."


"Well, I don't think we have to worry about the shooting. It was clearly justified. And if this guy was psyched out, he was dangerous and you had no choice."

"So that's what this is about? Whether Jim killed this guy out of anger or not?" Blair felt a small sense of relief, but it was short-lived.

"Basically, yes," Sheila replied, glancing at Blair. She turned back to face Jim. "I'm sure you understand what's going on right now."

Jim nodded. "Yeah. It's not too surprising, considering."

Blair looked from Jim, to Sheila, then back again. He wanted to ask what they were talking about, what was expected, but he didn't want to know. Blair never liked to ask Jim to clarify something in front of too many other people. Especially people who had at one time thought less of Blair's position as Jim's partner.

"Well, I think that's all I need right now. I'll read your reports, and talk to Captain Banks, but I think this one is pretty cut and dried." Sheila stood and they followed suit. "These things are never easy. Thank God they're as rare as they are."

"Right." Jim glanced at Blair and nodded toward the door.

"Oh, Sandburg, I understand you play?"

Blair stopped and turned around, totally confused. Judging by her reaction, it showed on his face.

"Baseball, Sandburg. You were at practice today?"

"Oh, right." He tried not to blush when she shot Jim an amused look. "Yeah, I play."

"I guess I'll see you out there for Saturday's game, then?"

Blair's eyebrows rose. "You?"

"Yep, second base." She nodded. "Does that surprise you?"

"No, not at all," he hastened to reassure her, then opened the door, anxious to get out of her office.

Back in the hall, he walked with Jim to the elevators. "I don't know, man. She scares me sometimes."

Jim smiled. "That's her job, Sandburg." He reached out and pressed the elevator button. "It's not easy being the one who polices the cops."

"No, I mean SHE scares me." Blair heard the elevator arrive and Jim's laughter at the same time. The doors opened and two uniformed officers stepped out, glancing from Blair to Jim as they entered the hallway. Blair could practically feel their thoughts as the officers pushed past them.

Jim immediately put his hand on Blair's shoulder and ushered him into the waiting car. He pressed the 7th floor button, then turned to Blair. "Listen, I have to finish my report, shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. Why don't you go wait in the truck?"

He was tired of this already. "No, Jim, I can wait upstairs." Was he trying to protect Blair, or himself? "I'm not blind, Jim. I can see what's happening here."

"I never said you couldn't, Chief."

"Then why send me into Simon's office? And now down to wait in the truck? Look, Jim, I can understand your need to show your solidarity, especially at a time like this. I just want to know that's what it is, that's all."

Jim shook his head. "No, Sandburg, trust me." The elevator doors opened and he stopped talking for a moment, glancing into the hall. "You've got this all wrong, and we'll talk about it later." He reached back into the car and pressed the garage button before Blair could get out.

"Yeah, I hope I've got it wrong, Jim." Blair replied to the closed doors. He sighed, rubbing his forehead for a moment before pushing his hair back. It still amazed him just a little, how a day with Jim could go from a pleasant afternoon of baseball, to having your world turned upside down in such a short span. The ball practice seemed like days ago, but the stiffness in his throwing arm told him it had been earlier that day. And now, the camaraderie and acceptance he'd felt while pitching out there, surrounded by uniformed and plainclothes officers alike, was gone. Like lightning, Blair had gone from one of them, to an outsider. And what's worse, they were taking Jim down with him. Guilty by association.

But what had Blair done to be guilty of? Other than being the one Jim had saved, while an officer was shot. Would they be happier if Blair had been killed, and officer Simmons was alive? Stupid, of course they would. The elevator doors opened and Blair stepped out, walking straight to the doors that led to the parking garage. He passed one Detective on the way, who looked at Blair and smiled. In the garage, two motorcycle officers walked by, also nodding and saying hello. He returned the pleasantries and crossed the garage, heading for Jim's truck at the far end. Just as he reached the door, another officer walked by, glaring at Blair with an expression that came as close to one of Jim's ice-cold spearing looks as anything he had ever seen.

Blair forced himself to return a mild smile, then hurried into the truck, closing and locking the door.

"Just calm down, Sandburg, this is normal." Sure, from an anthropological viewpoint. But Blair hadn't been the brunt of something this typical and emotionally killing before. So, had the other officers not heard yet? Or were they dividing among themselves already? Instead of the entire group banding together against the one outsider, were they forming groups within groups at such an early stage? And if so, what group had they placed Jim in? Or, more importantly, what group was Jim placing himself in? And was Blair anywhere near it?

After what seemed like an eternity sitting in that truck waiting for Jim and trying not to make eye contact with any of the other officers, his partner came through the doors and headed for the truck. He had a look of darkness about him that Blair wanted to attribute to the death of an officer, but he wasn't so sure that was all there was to it. No, there was more. He watched as Jim walked past two officers who had just driven in, and a blind man couldn't have missed the looks they gave Jim.

Blair reached over to unlock the door as his partner approached.

"Let's go home, Chief." Jim dug the keys out of his pocket and started the truck.

"How'd it go up there?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean, Jim." Blair was turned around in the seat, trying to face his partner as they drove out of the garage and into traffic. "This would make a very interesting case study, if it weren't so personal."

"Sandburg, that's exactly why I sent you into Simon's office, and down here to wait." Jim glanced at him, then looked back at the road. "I've seen this before, and it never changes, as I'm sure you must know with all your studies of human nature."

"Yeah, but Jim, these are your friends."

"My co-workers," Jim corrected. "Some of them are friends, yeah. And some of them are just your typical red-necked jackasses, who figure anyone who doesn't dress like them, talk like them, and cut their hair like them isn't worth the time of day." They turned down Prospect and Jim started looking for a parking spot. "And that attitude goes for some of the men and women they work with, too." He found a space close to the front of the building and parked, looking at Blair when he shut off the ignition. "I sent you into Simon's office so you could fill out that report and not be bothered by the crap that was going on in the bullpen. Crap that I was expecting. I can deal with it, Chief. I just didn't want you to have to."

Blair laughed shortly, but he was far from amused. "Afraid I'd think less of the men in blue?" Jim started to get out of the truck, so Blair opened his door and climbed out.

"No, Chief, afraid you'd think less of me."

Jim shut his door and Blair stood there, his own door half-closed, trying to understand what he'd just heard.

"You gonna give me a hand here or what?"

Blair shook himself, realizing Jim was pulling their baseball gear from the back. He shut the door and grabbed one of the two bags, then followed his partner up the stairs.

Once inside, Jim went straight for the kitchen and took a beer from the fridge. He held it up questioningly.

"No, no thanks. You hungry? I thought I'd make a sandwich."

"Yeah, I could eat." Jim crossed the room and sat down on the couch, sighing quietly.

"Listen, Jim, seeing you dealing with other cops that way wouldn't have made me think any less of you." He reached into the refrigerator and began to remove meats and cheeses. "I mean, I see you deal with jerks every day, right? Why would this be any different?" He found the bread and mayonnaise. "In fact, I think I'd have appreciated seeing it." Blair finished that sentence quietly, almost not wanting Jim to hear, but knowing full well he would.

"Appreciated it?"

Of course he heard you, idiot. "Yeah." Now you have to explain. Well, maybe it was about time he did. Jim was on the couch, facing Blair as he stood in the kitchen. "I mean, you're my Blessed Protector, remember?" He picked up some bread and started to fuss with the meats, trying to use a distraction to keep from having to look at Jim while he spoke. "That is, if you were protecting me in there."

"Of course I was, Chief. What did you think?"

Blair shrugged, trying to get into anthropologist mode as a way to separate himself from what he was feeling. "Jim, it's common for people in your situation, cops that is, to form strong bonds that only become truly evident in times of stress. I don't mean the usual blue-brotherhood stuff, but really close." He continued to make the sandwiches as he spoke. "Even tribes that have feuding family units will all pull together against a common enemy, or during times of death or famine. Anyone that tribe perceives as being outside their small community is the focal point for the entire group in an antagonistic way. It's a human need to ban together and find that common enemy." The sandwiches were finished, so he put them on plates and started to put the rest back into the fridge. "In fact, it was during the cold war that America was its strongest. We all, as a unit, had one common threat: Communism. Anyone perceived as being one of "them" was attacked in some way." He finished cleaning up, then picked up both plates, balancing one on top of the other so he could also carry a bottle of water, and walked out to the couch, since the table was still covered in papers and books. Blair couldn't help but be slightly surprised to find Jim listening intently, or at least seeming to. He reached out and took the top plate.

"So you're saying you feel like a communist?" Jim sat back on the couch, eyeing Blair, his beer bottle and plate resting on his lap.

"In a manner of speaking, I am." He sat down, setting his plate on the coffee table. "I'm the only one there who isn't a cop, Jim. So, like it or not, I'm the outsider in times like this."

"Well I don't like it, Sandburg. I don't like it at all." Jim ran a hand over his face tiredly. "You're my partner, you're a certified police observer, you're a better cop than many of them, and I don't have to like this one bit." When he finished, Jim took a bite of sandwich, then washed it down with a long pull on the beer.

Blair was listening. He had been reaching for his dinner, but he'd stopped. "Jim, it might be a good idea to stick with them at a time like this." His voice was quiet, and he skipped the sandwich, reaching instead for his water. "You practically live with these guys, and if they think you've turned your back..."

"No, Chief. I don't live with them, I work with them. And I took sides long before this."

Blair contemplated that and picked up his sandwich while Jim flipped on the TV. The news was on, and he thought Jim would skip it, but he stopped flipping channels and listened to the sports report. Blair ate, not looking at the news, but listening anyway. The Jags won, the Mariners lost...typical. The new stadium issue was still hot and controversial. He finished his dinner as the weather report kicked in. Sunny and mild, partly cloudy by Wednesday, but with sun breaks.

"Hope it clears up for the game Saturday." Jim stood and took both of their plates to the kitchen, then started to rinse them off.

"Will there still be a game?" And will I be there?

"Yeah. These things are like your famous unwritten rules of society." He finished with the plates and set them in the sink. "It's sort of a tribute, you know?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I know. That's good. It's a form of therapy at times like this."

Jim returned to the couch as the anchorwoman thanked the meteorologist for the lovely forecast.

"And in an update tonight, regarding the shocking news of a police officer's death. Sources at the Cascade PD confirm the killer--a sniper who began a wild shooting spree on the campus of the Cascade Community College--was himself gunned down by Detective James Ellison. Officer Simmons, a patrolwoman for 7 years, was shot and killed while Detective Ellison was protecting a civilian police observer."

Blair glanced at the screen. The anchorwoman looked properly solemn, and behind her were still photos of the campus and a few uniformed policemen standing to one side.

"The shooter, a decorated Desert Storm veteran, is believed to have been suicidal at the time. Unconfirmed rumors report the investigators found a note at his residence, as well as evidence of possible mental instability."

The picture behind the attractive woman changed, showing the outside of Kingston's old house. Blair reached out for his water bottle and sneaked a quick glance at Jim. He was watching the news intently, jaw clenching off and on.

"Officer Janet Simmons was a decorated markswoman and a devoted officer. Her funeral is scheduled for Wednesday. In national news..."

The TV shut off, and Blair heard the remote land on the coffee table. He was looking at the water bottle in his hands, trying idly to peel the label off at one corner.

"That was better than I expected." Jim stretched both arms over his head, then cracked the knuckles of both hands.

Blair grimaced at the sound, as he always did.

"Of course, as soon as they grab that suicidal veteran angle, they'll blow it as far out of proportion as they can."

"Is that the angle you think they'll jump on?" Blair sat back, still working on the label. He couldn't believe he'd just asked that, but he wanted--he needed--to know.

"If they can't find any other tragic news to take their minds off it, yeah." Jim picked up his beer and took another drink. He set the bottle in his lap as he scrunched down in the seat, resting his head on the back of the couch.

Blair nodded, staring into the bottle he held. The water inside was crystal clear, but the plastic bottle distorted the contents just enough to give it a blurred, almost foggy look that made it both reflective and transparent.

"Jim, did you push me down out of instinct, or choice?"

"Both, Chief." There was no hesitation in his voice, no sound of regret or remorse anywhere to be found.

Blair looked up, meeting his partner's eyes. They held his, steady and unblinking.

"Sandburg, you're my partner and my friend. I made a choice to keep you around, just like you made a choice to say around. Protecting you at all costs is instinct."

"Sure, a cop's instinct." Blair nodded.

"No, Chief. My instinct."

Blair's eyes failed him, dropping his gaze back to the bottle he held. He nodded slowly. That was exactly what he wanted to hear, and the confirmation settled somewhere deep inside, where he could hold on to it.

"Listen, an officer died, and I feel terrible about that." Jim finished his beer with one last swallow and set the bottle on the table. "You're alive, and I sure as hell don't feel bad about that. But the two are not dependant on each other, no matter what some ignorant jackasses back at the station might want to think, or say."

Oh God, they had been saying it, then?

"Janet wasn't shot because I pushed you out of the way, Chief. She was shot because some whacked out sniper had her in his sights, and she couldn't get down fast enough."

"But, if you had.." Jim held up a hand and Blair paused.

"If I had, she'd have died underneath me." He lowered his hand. "I heard the trigger being pulled up there. Bullets travel faster than I can, remember? There's no Sentinel sense of speed at work here."

"Yeah, but Jim.."

"But nothing, Chief. A cop is dead. I feel terrible, and I'm trying hard not to feel too responsible. But I sure as hell don't feel guilty." Jim stood and picked up the empty bottle. "How do you feel?"

Blair looked up, watching Jim walk to the kitchen. How did he feel? "Truth is, Jim, I feel kinda warm."

"Warm, Chief?" Jim tossed the empty bottle in the trash.

"Yeah," Blair nodded. He felt a little silly admitting it, but it was true. And Jim deserved to hear it. "Like I said, you're my Blessed Protector." He smiled, glancing up at his friend, who remained in the kitchen, looking at him. "I've never had one before, ya know."

"Yeah well, you never needed one before you met me, huh?"

Blair shook his head. "No, man, it's not like that. Besides, I can find trouble all by myself, remember? It's just that, I've always taken care of myself, I'm not used to having someone there all the time. Especially not someone willing to take a bullet for me." He looked at the bottle in his hands again, finding the corner of the label that was sticking out. "It just...feels pretty good." He glanced up at Jim and saw a slow smile spread across his face. A smile that seemed to be accepting, not mocking, what he had just said. "And I like it." There, he said it. He liked that feeling of being protected. A feeling he'd never really thought about before, or even wanted, until he had it.

"Thanks, Chief." Jim nodded, accepting Blair's statement. "But you know it's not going to be easy around the Station for a few days."

Blair took a deep breath. "Yeah, I know." He finished his water, then got up and walked to the kitchen. "Listen, Jim, if it would be easier for me to stay at the University, I've got some work there I can do."

"No, I need you to help me go through that evidence from the Brook Station robbery. If we're going to make this case stick, we've got to find something forensics and the DA missed."

Blair nodded, tossing his empty bottle into the recycle bin. "Okay." Sure, he could handle it. He was used to being outside the groups he studied. Not that he wanted to feel like an outside observer at the Station, but if he still had Jim on his side, he could handle it. "Listen, Jim, if you need to--distance yourself--I'll understand. I mean, if things get worse before they get better, I can handle it if you need to smooth things over."

Jim shook his head. "First of all, this whole situation is based on rumor and secondhand information. Cops who weren't there, and didn't see what happened, are jumping to the wrong conclusions because they need someone to blame. Hell, if Kingston was alive, they'd be focused on him and no one would be giving you a second thought."

Blair raised his eyebrows and nodded. Sure, that was true, but...

"And second, I don't bow to peer pressure, Chief. Never have. I don't think you do, either."

"Who, me? I'm lucky to even have peers half the time, man." He shook his head. "No, I'm used to swimming upstream. I guess I'm not alone on this one, though."

"No, Chief, you're not alone." Jim patted Blair on the arm, then sniffed the air. "Do you smell that?"

Blair glanced around, eyebrows creased. "Jim, how often does anyone smell what you smell?"

Jim made a face, still sniffing and looking around the kitchen. "It's the trash."

"You just emptied that last night."

"Yeah, and I'm gonna empty it again." He opened the doors and pulled out the garbage can, pulling the bag out.

"Here." Blair handed him a plastic tie from the drawer, then nodded towards his room. "I'm gonna get some research of my own done."

Jim nodded, tying up the bag. When he glanced up, his eyebrows were creased and his nose wrinkled up just slightly.

"You know, Jim, you could just use the spray."

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Monday May 10 2010
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