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by Kristine Williams

Part 8

Blair left the doughnut shop only slightly happy to have been in there. Not only did he hate the smell of cooked fat, he really disliked Jim's snitch. Losing his best pair of Nikes the last time they met had really left a lasting impression. That, and the sore spot on his ankle that took weeks to go away while breaking in the new replacement shoes. But this time, it had been worth it. He'd kept his shoes by wearing hiking boots, and he'd been able to pick up some information Jim was going to be happy to have. Of course, Sneaks would rather have given the information directly to Jim, and it had taken some convincing to get him to open up. But Blair had finally learned what he was sure would solve this case.

Who knew, Janet's lover, Steve, was a woman? And, stranger still, that she had been the woman at the rental agency, Miss Peters. It was obvious now that Steve, upset over Janet's death, was blaming Jim. And, he'd learned, Steve was as good a markswoman as officer Simmons had been.

It was dark, but Blair could see Jim's truck parked on the street when he rounded the corner. He was relieved to see his partner had made it back without trouble, especially now that he knew Steve had been right there, leading them on a merry chase, all along. When he started to open the door he heard Jim on the phone.

"He's here, Captain. I'll call you back." Jim hung up the phone and turned to Blair.

"Hey, Jim, you wouldn't believe what I found out, man."

"Where the hell have you been?!"

Jim's shout took Blair completely by surprise, leaving him speechless for a moment as his friend's anger registered. "Jim, I--"

"I told you to stay here! What the hell's wrong with you? We've got a sniper out there who's already taken two shots at you!"

He moved closer and Blair backed up. "Jim, I tried to call you, but the line was busy." He was against the closed door now and Jim's eyes were flashing. Blair didn't understand this reaction. All he'd done was go around the corner and meet with Jim's own snitch. "Jim, relax, man. I was just down the street." He thought that should help, but the ice didn't leave those eyes. Blair felt his heart begin to race; his head was spinning with confusion.

"Relax?! Sandburg, we've got a killer out there." Jim's head shook once and his hands came up.

Blair flinched, then felt his face redden. "Jim, if you'd just listen to me--"

"No, you listen to me. I told you to stay here in case Simon called. I needed you here, Sandburg, not off traipsing around the town when I'm trying to meet with a suspect."

Jim's voice had lowered, but the edge was sharper. Blair searched his eyes, hoping he could find something behind that anger that would tell him this wasn't happening. He'd just gone down the street, for Christ's sake! And it wasn't for himself. "Jim, would you just calm down for a minute, so I can explain?" Blair tried to reason his way through the steel trap that was pressing down on him.

"Sandburg, I don't understand you sometimes." Jim turned suddenly and took a few steps away, then spun back around before Blair could move away from the door.

Blair's eyebrows creased and he opened his mouth to speak, but Jim's hand came up again, stabbing a finger in the air.

"This whole mess could have been avoided if--" Jim stopped himself, jaw clenching tightly. He shook his head sharply and turned away, then walked into the living room.

Blair's heart was pounding now, and the fear that had been churning in his gut froze in place. "If what, Jim?" He pushed off the door and took a step into the room, stopping short of actually following Jim. "If I had been killed instead of Simmons?"

Jim spun around, eyes flashing. "I never said that, Sandburg."

"You didn't have to, Jim." Some small part of Blair's mind was surprised at his ability to look his partner in the eyes. "There's plenty of "ifs" to go around." He held up a hand and began to check off the points. "If I hadn't been there at the campus. If Simmon's hadn't died. If I had kept my mouth shut about Carpenter." The news he had from Jim's snitch was completely forgotten now. Steve, his discovery, all of it--gone. Right now, Blair was looking a very cold truth in the face, and he wasn't sure if he should be scared, upset, or just plain pissed.

"Stop putting words in my mouth, Chief. If I felt any of those things, I'd have said as much." Jim turned back to the living room.

"Would you?" Blair stayed where he was, fighting the urge to just turn and leave the loft entirely.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jim faced him again, standing beside the couch.

"It means sometimes I just don't know you, man." Blair took some courage in his anger and started to pace a few feet, still not moving toward the living room. "I've seen you put up with a lot when you have to, and sometimes I wonder if that's not what you're doing with me."

"Sandburg, I don't know where you're going with this." Jim ran a hand over his short cropped hair and looked at the far wall for a moment.

"I just told you, Jim. You and me. This is what it all boils down to, isn't it?" Blair's voice got quiet. Watching Jim's reaction was beginning to put a few pieces into place. But they were falling into places he'd never thought they'd go. "Jim, can you look at me and tell me I'm wrong? Tell me this isn't about you regretting what happened." His pounding heart threatened to stop, and he idly wondered if his friend was bothering to listen to it.

Jim looked in Blair's direction, but the icy eyes seemed to focus somewhere behind him. "You're wrong."

He was right. First, his heart stopped. Then, it sank into the cold pit that was his stomach. All of his imagined fears and insecurities had just become reality. Blair looked at the floor, coming to the only conclusion he could. When he looked back up, Jim was wearing a puzzled expression. "I meant look at me, Jim. Not through me." Jim opened his mouth to reply and Blair held up a hand, silencing him for once. "No, man. Forget it. I just need some air."

He turned to leave and Jim crossed the room quickly. "You're not going anywhere, Sandburg. Weren't you listening to me?" Jim grabbed Blair's shirt, pulling him around.

Blair's anger flared over the fear as he faced the larger man, feeling the fists pressing into his chest. "Apparently not, Jim! I've been listening, but not hearing." He tried to pull out of Jim's grasp, but he couldn't.

Now, it was Blair's turn to clench his jaw against the anger that wanted to be expressed. He failed. "You know, Jim, someone should talk to you about this might makes right problem you have." He finally wrenched out of Jim's hold and backed away a few steps, taking his jacket off with a flourish. He knew better than to try and barge through that granite mountain, but he'd be damned if Jim was going to win on points. "Fine. You're bigger, stronger, and you own this place. I get it, man. I don't have to like it, but I get it." He slapped his jacket down on the table, frustrated that such a light-weight coat made little noise.

"No, I don't think you do get it, Sandburg." Jim stepped away from the door, but remained between Blair and the exit. "There's a woman out there trying to kill you. I've lost her and she could be anywhere. On top of that--and one officer's death--I've got a cop who's probably going to be implicated in this mess."

Blair's anger stalled and he looked at Jim, finding eyes that met his. Eyes that bore into him, instead of through. When he found his voice again, he remembered the snitch. "No, Jim, that woman, Steve, she's after you. That's where I was, meeting your snitch, Sneaks."


"He called, while you were gone. He said he knew who was trying to kill you." A small sense of helpfulness tried to resurface, but Blair could feel how weak it was.

"Well, then, he was only half right."

Now he was just confused. "No, Jim, he said this woman is ex-army. She's a trained markswoman." Jim's jaw muscles flexed again and he walked to the windows. Blair followed but stopped halfway into the living room, watching his partner close the blinds. "She's been asking around about you, Jim. What kind of record you had, how many partners you'd had." Blair watched as each shade was pulled.

"It's not me, Chief." Jim finished the last window and turned. "She's after you." He walked back to the kitchen and picked up the phone. "You think someone that well-trained would mistake you for me?"

Blair froze in place. He hadn't thought about that. After learning what he had from Sneaks, he'd been so relieved about having something that would finally help Jim, he hadn't thought past it. And then, having come home to this explosion, he'd stopped thinking altogether.

"Captain, it's Ellison. Yes, he's here."

Jim shot Blair a look that made him mad all over again. Most of the voices in his head told him to hold tight and calm down. But there was still one small, insistent one, speaking from that part of Blair that warned him when the going got tough, get the hell out.

"What about an address?"

A few months ago, Blair would have been out that door and never looked back. But a few months ago, he hadn't known Jim Ellison. He was mad, frustrated, upset, and not just a little scared. The perfect combination for the "it's over" signals blaring off in his head. But he couldn't just walk through the door and leave.

"Anything at the rental agency?"

Jim might be mad at him, angry with what he had done, upset at the position he'd been forced to take back at the Station. And he might very well be disappointed in Blair. But if there was any chance--any chance at all--of salvaging this partnership, he couldn't leave. Jim had proven himself able to forgive a lot of things. But cowardice wasn't one of them.

"Yes, sir. What about Blake?"

If he stayed there, and toughed it out no matter what the outcome, he might still be able to forge some small bit of respect. If he left--if he ran--it would be over. All of it. But, there was a small, rebellious part of him that wanted to know he could leave, if he wanted to.

"Right. We'll be here."

Or not. Blair sighed, pushing his hair back. The momentary confusion about Steve was being lost again in his frustration. "Well?"

"We lost her." Jim shook his head and set the phone down. "No sign of her at her apartment and her bank account has been emptied. She's either skipped, or gone into hiding until she gets another chance."

Blair watched Jim pace back into the living room. His face was a wall of frustration that added to Blair's own volatile emotional state.. "Maybe I can just walk around Cascade with a target on my ass, then you and Simon can track the muzzle flash."

Jim was just a few feet from Blair and he turned, leaning forward with one hand raised. "Don't start this again, Sandburg, I'm not in the mood."

Blair's heart didn't stop this time, but his face flushed and it took all of his self control not to flinch away.

"I'm going to bed." Jim turned and walked upstairs.

"Right." Blair shook his head and went to his room, shutting the doors with a little more force than might have been called for. He didn't want to go to sleep. He didn't even want to sit still. What he wanted to do, was go out that front door, just to prove he could. But he wouldn't.

"At this rate, there'd be too many muzzle flashes to track," he mumbled, not caring that Jim would hear what he said.

Blair paced his room for a few minutes, trying to sort out what he felt from what he deserved to feel. Sure, Jim had told him to stay inside, to wait for Simon to call. He hadn't said it was a matter of life or death that Blair not go out. In fact, at the time, it was Jim who was in danger, not Blair. He'd gone out to confront a suspect, and he'd gone out alone. When his snitch called, there wasn't anything to do but meet with him in Jim's place. Blair had tried to call, but the cell phone was busy. What was he supposed to do? He'd even tried Simon's office once, but the Captain was on the phone. If he hadn't gone, Sneaks wouldn't have waited. Then Jim would have come home to find he'd missed whatever his snitch had, and he'd have been mad.

Of course, he was still mad. And he'd jumped down Blair's throat the instant he walked in. Jim's anger had frightened him, and that fact made him angry, which in turn changed to frustration.

It was that frustration that was keeping him awake now. "All right, Sandburg, just get over it." Blair pulled off his shirt and tossed it across the room. "You're stressed out. Jim's stressed out." He kicked off his shoes and let them stay where they landed. "You've done a fine job getting the entire Department stressed." He sat down hard on the bed and pushed his hair back with both hands. "Just shoot me now and get it over with."

"If you don't shut up, I will!" Jim's voice called down from upstairs.

Blair shot the ceiling a dirty look. He hadn't realized his running monologue was out loud. Instead of apologizing, he fell back on the bed, resigned to the fact that he'd be awake all night. God, he wasn't looking forward to tomorrow.

It came all too quickly. Blair rolled over, seeing the clock just as it flipped from 5:59 to 6:00. He slapped off the alarm before it had a chance to go off, then swung his legs out from under the sheet before he had a chance to change his mind. Jim was still upstairs, probably still asleep as usual, so Blair walked into the bathroom. He wasn't sure if he was going in with his partner or not, but until he heard otherwise, he decided to proceed with his usual morning routine anyway. Hell, they might not even be partners anymore. But, with Blair's luck, Jim was going to make him ride this out right there in the front lines. No hiding till things cooled off, not with James Ellison. No sirree. You make a mistake, you stand up front and take the heat for it.

Or a bullet, if it turned out that way. Blair finished brushing his teeth, and splashed cold water over his face to wake himself up. A sudden mental image of Jim facing Naomi, trying to explain why he'd just killed her only son, made Blair nearly laugh. He turned on the shower and tossed his shorts into the hamper. Yeah, let him take her on. He stood under the spray and closed his eyes, picturing his mom tearing the great and mighty Detective Ellison into little bits. Blair considered how long he could make his shower last, but with the new hot water tank, he'd be a prune before he could use up all the hot water.

He lathered up and rinsed off, thinking of what would be left of Jim and Simon after his mom went on another rampage. They thought they'd seen her mad that night in the Captain's office, but Blair knew better. No one did righteous anger as well as Naomi Sandburg.

Blair closed his eyes as the water rinsed the last of the shampoo from his hair. Suddenly, the image of his partner being torn apart by his mom was replaced with the very real memory of Jim lying on the couch, bleeding to death from a bullet wound to his shoulder.

Blair's eyes shot open and a shiver sent goose bumps coursing over his skin despite the hot water. He quickly shut off the shower and pushed the curtain open. His heart was racing as he toweled off, trying to shake the vision of Jim covered in blood. God, what was he thinking? Jim could have--he'd nearly died. All the fear and panic came rushing back and Blair had to sit on the edge of the tub for a minute to calm down. Jim hadn't deserved Blair's attitude last night. But Blair hadn't entirely deserved Jim's. They were both stressed, and falling victim to things that were beyond both of them. Maybe now that they knew who was behind the shootings, they could focus on finding her, and some of the rest of it would just blow over.

Blair stood up and finished drying off, then went to his room to get dressed. Jim was just coming down the stairs, and one look at his face told Blair it hadn't blown over. Not yet. Wordlessly they passed in front of Blair's room, Jim walking into the bathroom and Blair into his room. Both men shut the doors.

"Great. This is going to be fun." Blair pushed wet hair from his face and found a clean pair of boxers. He dressed, listening to the shower and trying not to think out loud. Not that there was much to think about. He felt like a kid. Like he'd just been caught doing something he'd been forbidden to do, and was now being given the silent treatment. That was always the ultimate punishment for Blair. He'd been a student of body language even as a kid. Little things people did he heard as keenly as being shouted at. Naomi had known it. So did Jim.

Breakfast was toast, coffee, and silence. Blair couldn't quite tell if Jim's silence was due to last night, or if maybe he was just working this whole case out in his mind. He could stay quiet for a long time, even in a good mood. Blair had learned over the months that silence with Jim wasn't always a bad sign. But after last night, it probably wasn't such a good one.

"Come on, Chief." Jim stood, finishing his coffee.

"What's the plan, Jim?" Blair dumped the contents of his own cup in the sink. He wasn't sure if the humble approach or the let's forget it method would work best, so he tried a simple, straight question to test the water.

"Keeping you alive and finding our shooter." Jim clipped his holster on the back of his belt and walked to the door.

"Yeah, great." Blair kept his voice low, speaking to the far wall before he turned to join Jim at the door. His partner's simple, straight answer did little to make him feel better.

Halfway to the Station was more than he could take. "Jim, I'm sorry about last night."

"Not now, Sandburg."

"Well, when, then?" Last night's frustration came rushing back. "Jim, we need to talk about this."

"Not now." Jim turned to look at him just before pulling into the parking garage. His voice was quiet, but the tone was uncompromising.

"Great." Blair unclipped his seatbelt as Jim parked, then opened the door and got out, stopping just short of slamming it shut. "That's just great."

Three uniformed officers turned to watch them walk to the elevator, and Blair hoped they enjoyed the show. Maybe this was what it all boiled down to. Maybe Jim really was taking sides, only the side he had taken wasn't the one he thought. Maybe his partner had been fooling himself all this time, as well as fooling Blair. He'd been a cop for a long time, and before that a Captain in the army. Those feelings of solidarity were hammered in during training, and weren't easy to override. You could consciously make a choice, and tell yourself and the world that you had, but deep down inside, sometimes it didn't matter.

The elevator took forever to reach the 7th floor. By the time it did, he was resigned to having a really bad day. Jim marched straight to Simon's office and Blair followed, staying behind and to one side as Jim stood in front of the Captain's desk.

"Jim. Sandburg." Simon nodded to each of them, then pointed to the coffee pot. "Help yourselves."

"No, thank you, Captain," Jim replied.

Blair simply shook his head.

Simon looked at them both, then shoved his glasses back on. "We came up empty in Perry's apartment last night. She's disappeared." He opened a file folder and flipped through a few pages. "Emptied her bank account, took a few clothes and personal, items according to her neighbor, and vanished." He closed the file and looked at Jim. "Maybe getting that close to her yesterday scared her off. She may have reconsidered her position and skipped town."

Jim shook his head. "I doubt that, Simon. Anyone that distraught isn't going to seek revenge, then quit after two failed attempts."

"Maybe they weren't failed, Jim." Blair had been thinking about that for a few hours, but only had the nerve to voice his opinion in front of Simon. Not that the Captain held him in very high regard right now, but where Jim was concerned, he'd at least listen.

Jim and Simon both looked at Blair, waiting for him to explain himself.

"She's a markswoman, right? Army trained? If she's good enough to remember to pick up her spent cartridge, and you're assuming she's too good to have mistaken me for Jim, then why isn't she good enough to miss when she wants to?"

"What would be the point, Sandburg?" Jim asked.

Blair shrugged. "I don't know, Jim. Fear. Suspicion." He waved his arm to indicate the bullpen as well as his partner. "This."

Jim shook his head and turned back to Simon.

"What are you getting at, Sandburg?" The Captain looked from Jim to Blair, eyebrows creased.

"Look, we're all trying to avoid the obvious because it's not pretty and we all want to deny it, but that's not helping anyone." Blair glanced at Jim, then turned back to Simon. "Polite society dictates that we monitor our feelings and reactions in deference to the people around us, when in fact that usually ends up causing more harm than good. If we could just be open and honest about how we all think and feel, we might understand each other better."

Jim looked at Blair and raised his eyebrows. "Did I hear correctly, Sandburg? You are advocating truth and honesty?"

"I'm advocating communication, Jim," Blair replied, trying to keep most of the irritation he was feeling out of his voice, with little success. "If we could just be honest about what's going on, maybe we'd get through it quicker."

"Would either of you care to communicate with me?" Simon asked, quickly becoming agitated as he looked from one man to the other.

"I haven't the faintest idea, sir." Jim shook his head.

"Yes, Jim, you do." Blair looked at his partner now, all but forgetting he was in the Captain's office. "You saved my life, and an officer was killed. Now, whether the two are independent of each other is irrelevant." He glanced at Simon and briefly wondered if anyone was going to try and contradict him. "The fact is, right now, right here, I'm the outsider. And no matter how hard the two of you might try to convince yourselves otherwise, it's true. And this just might have been her goal in the first place. Create enough confusion and accusations to get us completely divided."

Jim shook his head but wouldn't look at Blair. "No, Chief, you're wrong. You're my partner, we're on a case, and right now, someone's trying to kill one or both of us. End of story." He looked at Blair then and raised a hand to emphasize his point.

"Well that part's right." Simon slapped a folder closed that was in front of him and looked at Jim. "Forensics went through her apartment and found plenty of evidence, but we're still coming up empty finding Ms. Perry herself." He pulled a slip of paper out of the file and handed it to Jim, along with a single key. "Take a look and see if you and Mr. Social Sciences here can find anything. And keep your eyes open. I don't need any more funerals this week." Simon picked up his phone and began to dial, ending the conversation.

"Right, sir." Jim turned and Blair moved aside, opening the door.

He half expected a pat on the arm, or a hand on his back, ushering him into the bullpen. But there was nothing. Jim crossed the room and stopped at his desk, fishing through a drawer for something.

"I'll be right back, Jim." Blair kept going, heading for the men's room across the hall. No, this story wasn't over. It was far from over.

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