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Summary: Just as life begins to get back on track, tragedy strikes.

Author's Note: This is the third story in The Dawn to Dark Series.





Twilight of the Soul
By Fluterbev

December 2003


Not having a free hand, Jim Ellison kicked the door of the truck closed a little too forcefully. His fingers had already gone from uncomfortable to numb as the handles of too-many heavy plastic carrier bags dug into each hand. He ignored the discomfort, determined to make it upstairs with the groceries in one trip; silently cursing Sandburg for not meeting him at the mall as they had agreed.

Since Sandburg had sold his pride and joy, the Volvo, Jim couldn't tell from outside the building whether his roommate was in or out, so he extended his hearing to the loft above as he waited for the elevator. Blair was in. Jim could hear one side of a conversation as his partner talked on the phone. He sounded a little excited.

Purposefully not listening as the elevator ascended the three floors to his apartment, Ellison nursed his bad mood. He hated shopping. But even more than that, he really hated being stood up. He smiled menacingly, fantasizing about revenge. Sandburg would have to pay.

The door to the loft was slightly ajar - the lapse in their security precautions another reason to ream Sandburg out - so Ellison pushed it open with his foot. It was just as well, really, he grudgingly acknowledged, that the door was open. He doubted he would be capable of holding, let alone using, his key. He dumped the bags down just inside the door, then winced as he straightened his fingers. What the hell were those handles made from, anyway? Razor blades?

Blair seemed to be winding up his telephone conversation. "Hang on, he's here now. Yeah, yeah, I'll tell him. Thanks man. I'll be in touch. Ciao." Blair put the phone down. "Hey, Jim! You'll never believe this!"

"Go on, Sandburg. And make it good," Jim growled.

Blair either didn't notice - or decided to ignore - Jim's crankiness. "That was Clive Phillips. Rainier has caved already, they've made an offer! They've admitted that they breached intellectual ownership considerations by promoting my thesis without my consent, and that Edwards acted precipitously in firing me and kicking me out of my grad studies. Basically they've accepted there's no proof that I put the diss forward as my doctoral thesis!"

"That's great news, Chief!" Jim's annoyance was forgotten. "How much have they offered?"

Blair ran both hands through his hair, pulling it back. "Well, it takes into account loss of salary, as well as compensation. All in all, about two hundred grand, man!"

Jim shook his head. It might sound a lot to Blair, but it was nowhere near enough for what his partner had been through. "So what does Phillips say?" Clive Phillips, The lawyer Simon Banks had engaged to help Blair sort out the dissertation mess, had so far proved to be worth more than his weight in gold. Which was pretty significant, actually, since the man had to weigh over three hundred pounds, despite being shorter than Sandburg.

Blair frowned a little. "Well, he says that it's not enough. Apparently he laughed out loud when he got their letter, it's so far below what I would get if it went to court. And," Blair looked a little uncomfortable, as though he was reluctant to say it, "they're contesting the bullying and harassment charge. Which I was always unsure about myself, to be honest."

Jim shook his head in annoyance. "That's crap, Chief. Edwards has had it in for you for a long time. Look at that whole Brad Ventriss mess. The only reason she re-instated you that time was because she knew she had no chance of getting away with it once Ventriss went down for murder. Hell, she wouldn't have gotten away with it, period. The woman is a loose cannon with a god complex."

Blair shrugged. "Whatever." He leaned on the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. "Before they'll even investigate it, they want documentary evidence of sustained harassment and names of witnesses who are prepared to come forward."

"So? You can get that together, right?"

"Possibly." Blair chewed on a fingernail a moment. "Phillips thinks it might be more to our advantage to drop it. You know, conditionally."

Jim nodded. "Make a deal."

"Yup. He thought we should insist that they improve their offer, and add in reinstatement. He thinks that they're certain to go along with it now they've accepted they shouldn't have kicked me out in the first place."

"So what did you tell him?"

"I said I needed to talk to you."

"Good." Jim was pleased. They had agreed they were in this together, and it seemed Blair had taken it to heart. "So, do you want to do that? Reinstatement would pretty much prove to everyone that you never acted fraudulently."

Blair sighed. "I don't know man. I mean, Edwards will still be there, and if she had it in for me before, boy will she be after me now. And there will still be doubt in some people's minds about whether I'm a fraud or not. I just wish I'd never used that word."

Phillips had bemoaned at great length that Blair had used the word "fraudulent" during the press conference to describe his work. If Blair had instead emphasized that the thesis was background material for a novel, rather than stating publicly that it was a fabrication with the intent to defraud, then he would most likely never have lost his job in the first place. It made the lawyer's task now that bit more difficult.

Jim shook his head. "Can't be helped now, Chief. It's done. The important thing to ask yourself, is do you want to go back?"

"The honest truth is, I don't know. I never thought it would be an option, you know? And my sentinel research is pretty much dead in the water. I'd have to find a new thesis topic. I need to think about it."

"Well, you could always go for the deal anyway. You don't need to actually take them up on it - the offer of your job back would stand as vindication in itself."

Blair nodded. "I guess I'll consider it."

Jim tossed the truck keys in the basket, and hung up his jacket. "Well here's something else for you to consider, Aristotle. Groceries. Seeing as you stood me up, you can put them away."

"Oh man!" Blair was all wide-eyed innocence. "I'm sorry, Jim. I was supposed to meet you, wasn't I? I completely forgot."

Jim was not moved one iota. "We need to work on that selective memory of yours, Sandburg. Now get going!" Blair ducked as Jim swiped at his head.

***

Ellison had been back at the PD for a week, the bullet wound sustained during the Zeller case now healed sufficiently for him to do desk-work. Connor was still out, having taken extended leave, while Simon (who had been the most seriously injured of them all) was taking some extra recuperation time; Joel Taggart acting as temporary captain in his stead. The other Major Crimes detectives injured during the station shooting were all back at work, including Rafe, whose head injury had kept him in hospital for a total of five hours before he signed himself out AMA to come back and participate in the post-attack clean-up.

Jim sighed. Doing other people's paperwork was dull as dishwater. Idly he contemplated making the report he was writing for Dills more interesting. The suspect was acting in a manner which indicated probable possession of narcotics, would be much more colorful reading if he changed it to: the suspect was as high as a kite, mistook me for a woman and goosed me. He smiled evilly, contemplating his fellow detective's possible reaction. It was, after all, true.

Ellison's stomach rumbled, and he looked at the clock impatiently. As soon as H and Rafe came back, he was going for lunch. Something big.

His musing of the culinary delights of the steak house two blocks away was interrupted when his desk phone rang. "Ellison," he barked, picking up the ball from his desk and tossing it against the wall.

“Hey, Jim.”

Ellison grinned. "Hey Chief. You just interrupted my novelisation of the Dills ‘goose’ incident." The ball bounced again.

Blair chuckled delightedly. “So, exactly how concise are you going to be?”

Jim snickered. "Oh, I don't know. The perp apparently made some pretty suggestive comments about Dills' ass. I was thinking... very."

“You're so cruel, man.”

There was a pause, as they both happily contemplated how far the report could go. Jim threw the ball, caught it. "You up for lunch? I was thinking of heading to Pendolino's Barbeque. They have an all-you-can-eat daytime special on."

“Sorry man, I've already eaten.” Blair paused. "I'm on my way to see Clive Phillips."

Another bounce, another catch. "So you've made up your mind?"

"Yeah. I'm going ahead with what we talked about last night. More money and reinstatement.”

Bounce. Catch. "Good."

"You really don't mind that I'm not going to be a cop?”

Jim caught the ball, and held it. "We discussed this, Chief. I want you to do what's right for you. You can still be my partner if you go for the alternative thesis topic." Blair had come up with an idea for research involving both his anthropological knowledge and his undergraduate Psychology background. It would require him to study cops during their investigation of violent crimes. No shortage of those, if he went back to shadowing Jim.

"You really think the Chief will allow Simon to let me back in?” Since the press conference, Blair's observer status had been revoked.

"I know it." Jim was confident. They'd find a way, even if it meant telling the truth to the brass - although he hadn't broached that possibility to Sandburg yet.

“Okay man. Hey, I gotta go. See you tonight.”

"Later." Jim hung up as Rafe and H walked off the elevator. He stood, stretching, and reached for his jacket.

***

It was after eight that night when Blair let himself back into the loft. After the meeting with Phillips he had hung around in town, browsing in shops and generally chilling out. Reading in a bookstore café he had lost track of time, and when he had eventually noticed how late it was getting, he had realized that he'd left his cell phone at home; so he couldn't call Jim to say where he was. He could have used a pay phone, he supposed, but it seemed to make more sense just to head straight back rather than join a queue. It was his turn to cook, but hopefully Jim wouldn't mind something quick and easy if he had gone to Pendolino's for lunch like he had wanted.

To Blair's surprise, the loft was in darkness. Trying to work out if Jim might have gone for a lie down upstairs, Blair realized he hadn't seen Jim's truck outside in its usual parking space, so maybe he had been delayed at the station. Blair put the bag containing his purchases from the bookstore on the kitchen counter and took off his jacket. It was odd, though; Jim usually tried to get out early when he was stuck riding a desk.

As he hung his jacket up, Blair noticed the phone message light was flashing. He pressed the 'play' button as he went to look in the fridge, only to hear Jim's voice, tinny through the speaker. ”Hey, Chief, something's come up. I may be a bit late. Don't worry about dinner, I ate a cow - everything except the tongue. Hope it went okay with Phillips. Toodle pip.”

Blair grinned. 'Toodle pip?' What kind of expression was that?

He was pulling out salad materials from the tray when the next message played. "Blair, it's Joel Taggart. I need to talk to you, son. This is urgent. Please call me as soon as you get this.”

Blair paused, lettuce in hand. 'Son'? Joel never called him that. Something in Joel's tone of voice raised his hackles, and a sense of foreboding paralyzed him momentarily. Then he stood, hardly breathing as the next message began. Simon this time. “Sandburg, if you're there, pick up.” A pause. “Blair, when you get in, call my cell or Taggart at the station. This is urgent.”

Not allowing himself time to think, Blair dropped the lettuce and launched himself at the phone. Just as he snatched up the receiver, he jumped, startled, as someone knocked loudly at the door. Feeling a weird sense of unreality, he hung the phone up and went to open it.

Joel and Simon were on the threshold. One look at their somber faces confirmed his worst nightmare.

"Oh no," he said faintly. "Oh god no."

***

The kid's reaction had been pretty much as Simon Banks had expected. Once the initial shock had passed, he was full of questions and pissed as hell.

"Joel, he was supposed to be restricted to desk duty. There's no way he should have been out in the field with his injury." Blair was pale, resolute, dry-eyed.

"I'm sorry, man. It was supposed to be a routine call, Blair, just a routine call, following up on one of his snitches. The guy insisted he would only deal with Ellison. Jim assured me he could handle it. There was no way any of us could have known about the gas leak." Joel looked, if anything, even more upset than Blair. After all, he had been the acting Captain. The safety of those under his command was his responsibility.

Simon felt that he should intervene. "Blair, you know what Jim is..." He swallowed, then continued more quietly, "What he was like. Once he found out there was a child's life at stake, Jim wouldn't back off from that."

"I know." Blair closed his eyes a moment, then turning his back on the two police captains he moved carefully over to the couch. Simon and Joel watched as he lowered himself to sit on the edge, his head bowed, face hidden behind a fall of hair. Banks made a move towards him. Without lifting his head, Blair held up a hand. "Give me a minute, man. Just a minute."

Simon backed off, and went to stand with Taggart in the kitchen. It was always hard, breaking the news. Simon had never gotten used to it, in all his years in the PD. And this; this was different. This was much worse. This concerned two of their own; one who was gone, and the other left behind to grieve.

Both of them Simon's personal friends.

A hand on Simon's shoulder disturbed the path of his thoughts. "Hey, man." Joel's tone was compassionate, despite the misery on his own face. "How're you doing? I know you were close."

Simon took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes with one hand. "I haven't begun to deal with this, Joel." He said quietly. "It's..." he shook his head, swallowing. "Jim was... special." He managed.

"Because he was your friend? Or because he was a sentinel?"

Simon looked at Joel sharply. "What?"

"C'mon, Simon, you don't think I bought that load of bull about Blair being a fraud, do you?"

"Joel, I..." Simon stopped, at a loss for words.

Joel squeezed Simon's shoulder. "I worked with Jim. I saw what he could do with my own eyes, Simon. When the press started talking about heightened senses, I knew it was true."

Simon took a deep breath, and put his glasses back on. He indicated with a nod the silent figure on the couch. "Joel, now is not the time to get into this."

Joel nodded his understanding.

Knowing his way around the kitchen in the loft, Simon made a pot of coffee, feeling in his bones that this was going to be a long night. As he was pouring it into the mugs, Blair rose from the couch and came to stand beside him.

"I want to see him." Blair's voice was composed, determined. If he had cried at all, it didn't show.

Joel, coming back from the bathroom, had overheard. "I don't think that's a good idea..." he began, but Blair overrode him.

"I need to see him, Joel! Simon, c'mon."

Simon's eyes met Joel's, a wordless communication. They had both viewed the body, and it was not a pretty sight. Taggart came to stand beside his young friend. "Blair, Jim would want you to remember him as he was; you've got to understand..." He stopped abruptly as Blair picked up one of the mugs and hurled it at the wall, where it smashed to pieces, coffee spattering in its wake.

Into the shocked silence, Blair said calmly. "Don't tell me that Jim would want me to remember him as he was. Because I'll never forget what he was. I need to see for myself that it's him. That he's gone. So don't patronize me. If you won't go with me, I'll go by myself."

***

Dan Wolf was waiting for them when they arrived at the Medical Examiners office. He went straight over to Sandburg. "I'm sorry, Blair. I can't imagine how you must be feeling right now, but I got to tell you we're all upset about Jim. He was something else, man."

Blair nodded, pale and tense. "Thanks Dan. Can we just get this over with?"

"Sure." Dan opened the door and stepped to one side to let the three of them through.

The room was dominated by the autopsy table. It was covered with a white sheet, the shape underneath it bulging oddly. The stench of burnt flesh was obvious even to those without hyper senses. If Jim had been here, Blair would have urged him to dial it back, then rushed off to the men's room. He had still not got used to the impact that the victims of violent death had on him, even after all these years of riding with Jim.

No escape this time. This time he had to look.

Blair could feel Simon and Joel on either side of him, supporting him, like massive buffers. Dan Wolf went over to stand beside the table. "This might be a shock, Blair." The ME was well aware of Blair's tendency to toss his cookies after viewing a corpse. And none of them had been the bodies of his friend.

Blair found his voice. "Just do it."

The sheet was pulled back.

Vaguely man shaped, black and shriveled, claw like hands contracted hideously by the heat.

Blair managed to register that much before the room tilted. Voices jumbled up together, speaking above his head, a sensation of being carried. Knew he shouldn't have... Tried to tell him, damn stubborn kid... I'll get his legs... In here, Simon, my office has a couch.... Blair grayed out.

Blair drifted back to find Simon peering down at him. Sandburg lay flat on his back on what felt like a couch, his legs elevated on something. He could see a Native American painting hanging on the wall, and a poster with a wolf on it, alongside another poster advertising chemical autopsy products. Dan's office.

"Hey." Simon's voice was uncharacteristically gentle, his expression sorrowful. "How're you doing, Blair?"

Blair fixed his eyes on the ceiling a moment, noting the flaws in the paintwork as he took a series of deep breaths. Then he looked miserably back at Simon. "How can you be sure it's him?"

Simon sighed. "From what Joel told me, the uniforms arrived on the scene just as Jim got the child out. He told them she was the only one in there. They said he seemed to pause, like he was listening to something, then he ran back in the building. Two seconds later the whole thing exploded."

Blair shook his head. "Okay, okay. But that's just circumstantial evidence, man. So, Jim was at the scene of the explosion, I got that. But how do you know that... that thing is him? I mean there's got to be dental records, right? Something like that?"

Simon nodded. He had known this would come up. Hell, he didn't want to believe it himself. "Dan's on it now. We should know in the next couple of hours."

***

Simon and Joel had accompanied Blair back to the loft, where the three of them waited impatiently for the call confirming the identity of the charred remains. When Simon's cell phone rang just before eleven o’clock, Blair had already resigned himself to the answer. As Simon folded up the cell and put it away, he felt a numb sense of unreality as Banks said simply "It's him."

Blair nodded. Then seemed to draw himself together. "I have to call Jim's dad. And Stephen."

"I'll do that, Blair. As Jim's Captain, it's my responsibility to notify next of kin."

Blair nodded, deflating a little. He waved vaguely towards the balcony doors. "I'll just..." he faltered, began again. "I just need some air." Keeping his face averted, he opened them and stepped out, pulling them together behind him.

Joel and Simon exchanged a look. Joel shook his head. "They were close, man. This is going to hit him hard once it sinks in."

Simon nodded grimly. "You don't know the half of it."

***

Dan Wolf was a little surprised to see Blair Sandburg at his office door at eight-thirty the next morning. Sandburg looked like he hadn't slept. His hair was pulled back into an unforgiving ponytail, and the normally impeccable former observer looked like he had missed a few places here and there while shaving.

To tell the truth, Dan hadn't slept much either, having simply camped out in his office. It had been a busy night for the ME, completing a rush autopsy on the late Detective Ellison. After over twenty years in this job, Dan was pretty much immune to the horror he often dealt with; but this had hit him harder than most. Ellison had had a reputation as a bit of a hard-ass, but Dan had found him to be a pretty decent guy. At least the autopsy had proved the detective had already been dead before the fire took him.

Sandburg was carrying a box in his arms. Dan waved him in. "Blair, come and sit down."

Blair shook his head. "Uh, no. Thanks anyway, Dan. I..." he paused, looking a little lost, Dan thought. "I wondered if, if Jim was still here. His, uh body, I mean."

Dan nodded. "For now. I'm expecting the funeral home to come by and get him soon."

Blair looked haunted, and possibly a little embarrassed. "Do you know how he'll be uh, transported? Will he be in a casket, I mean?"

Dan nodded. "Sure. Because of the way he looks, it'll be sealed here before they take him."

Blair was nodding. "That's what I thought might happen." He looked down at the box he was carrying, then beseechingly at Dan. "I know it's pretty unusual, but I've got a few things that I think should be buried with him. Kind of to take with him into the afterlife, you know? Jim lived with the Chopec for a while, when he was in Peru, and I know their traditions meant a lot to him. They always bury their warriors with totems from their lives. I just kinda thought that... That Jim would have wanted that too."

"Sure, Blair." Dan was sympathetic; he understood the importance of tradition. He also remembered the stink Ellison had kicked up a year or so ago, when that Chopec shaman had been killed; insisting that nothing which conflicted with Chopec belief took place during disposal of the remains. "I'll make sure that these things go in before the casket is sealed."

"Thanks." Blair nodded. He handed over the box reverently. "Thanks man."

"No problem."

Later, Dan looked curiously at each item as he placed it around and upon the mortal remains of James Ellison. Dog tags, from the detective's time in the military. Ranger's, wasn't it? His detective badge. A framed photo, obviously taken on a fishing trip, of a grinning Jim and Blair, standing with an arm around each other, holding between them an enormous bass. More photos, in an album, of Jim's childhood and family. A Jags cap. An arrow, with colorful markings; Dan assumed from Peru. A well-thumbed paperback of Jack Kerouac's work. A bag containing a lukewarm Wonderburger and fries. A bottle of beer.

And the final item. A thick sheath of paper, spiral bound. The Sentinel - by Blair Sandburg.

Dan's eyes widened at this last. He knew about the dissertation mess - who didn't? But he was curious. If Sandburg had lied about his research, then why would he want his fraudulent document to be buried with his friend? Surely, Dan mused, Sandburg's thesis had caused Ellison only embarrassment.

Dan opened the first page. There, in neat handwriting, was an inscription: To my friend, my brother, my sentinel. May your jaguar spirit guide you and guard you until the wolf is ready to take his place by your side, once more to be your guide and watch your back. It wasn't signed.

Dan closed the book and laid it reverently on Ellison's chest. "Well, hot damn," He said softly.

***

Through the high-powered binoculars, Blair Sandburg could be seen making his way along Prospect Avenue towards number 852. He looked, mused the watcher, defeated, the lines of grief in his face undoubtedly genuine. It appeared the operation was so-far going to plan.

***

The funeral went by with a minimum of ceremony, as Jim would have wanted. It was well attended, the crowd reflecting the life Ellison had led. There were men in military uniform, from Ellison's days in the Rangers, as well as a massive turnout from the PD, and a variety of civilian friends and acquaintances whose lives Ellison had touched in some way. Even Jim's ex-wife Carolyn had made the trip from San Francisco, and a few of the Jags basketball team had turned out to pay their final respects.

Simon had vented his grief for his friend the night before over beer with the rest of the Major Crimes department, crying on Joel's shoulder while Henri, Rafe, Megan and the rest had effected not to notice his loss of control. Today he was once again the strong, dependable Captain of Major Crimes, there to support his team in their own sorrow over the loss of their colleague and friend, Detective James Ellison.

Sandburg had hardly been alone since the news of Jim's death had been broken to him. Joel, Simon and the others had taken turns to stay with him at the loft, helping him liaise with the Ellison family to organize the funeral arrangements. Everyone knew that Jim and Blair had been close, even more so than regular police partners. They had all been expecting Sandburg to break apart at any moment. So far he had not done so, prompting Joel to remark worriedly the night before, "That kid is an unexploded bomb," and Simon had to concede that the former bomb squad captain knew what he was talking about.

Simon had been convinced that the kid would finally lose it at the funeral, but instead Sandburg maintained a stoic silence, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, which accentuated the paleness of his face. The most conspicuous mourner, surprisingly, was Ellison senior. As the casket was lowered into the ground, Jim's father began to weep noisily. Stephen Ellison laid an arm about his father's shoulder, his own expression closed and unreadable. Seemingly Jim had not had the monopoly on keeping his feelings under wraps in the younger generation of the Ellison family.

The mourners began to drift away, some to their cars, and others moving to stand in small groups talking in hushed voices out of respect for the occasion. Standing near to Sandburg, ready to give support should Blair need it, Simon watched Stephen Ellison walk over and hand Sandburg a piece of paper. He heard Jim's brother say, "This is the lawyer's address. We're heading over there now, then going back to Dad's. I really think you should come."

Blair looked reluctant. "I don't think I'd be welcome."

Curious, Simon glanced over at William Ellison again, who was crouching by the grave, his eyes fixed down onto the casket below. He realized he had not seen Jim's father and Blair acknowledge each other at all.

Stephen laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "You know, Jim changed his will two weeks ago, Blair. He told me that he wanted to make sure you'd be okay. He knew that with his job, with the danger, there was always a chance something like this would happen. And he wanted you to be sure of your place in his life."

Blair swallowed. "I was sure, Stephen. I don't need his will to tell me that."

Stephen fixed his eyes on the younger man. The intensity of his gaze reminded Simon achingly of Jim. "Blair, I wouldn't press you on this if I didn't think it was important. Jim would want you to be there. You're Jim's family, just as much as I am, no matter what my father says. And," his voice cracked a little "You were more of a brother to him than I ever was."

"That is not true, man!" Blair seemed stricken. "He loved you."

Stephen nodded. "I know. And I thank god for the chance we got to put things right between us. But you were there for him, through all the shit he went through with his senses the last few years. You saved his life more than once. He told me what all of that meant to him. So," he paused, "are you going to do what Jim would have wanted, or my father? Because you and I know the real story here."

Blair looked down a moment, then up again at Stephen, a suggestion of sad blue eyes showing above his glasses. He sighed. "Okay, man. I'll come to the lawyer's. But I won't come back to your dad's, okay? I think he'd probably set the dogs on me."

Stephen smiled faintly, and clapped Blair on the back. "Good. I'll see you there." He walked off towards his father.

Simon moved closer. "What was that about?"

Blair shrugged. "Jim's dad, he uh, he called me, the day after Jim... after he died." he faltered a moment, clearing his throat. "He said a bunch of stuff, about Jim's senses, the dissertation, all that mess. Let's just say that he didn't approve of my influence on his son. He seems to think I'm some kind of a Svengali figure, who brainwashed Jim into believing he was something he wasn't, and took advantage of him. Basically I guess he's been in denial about Jim's senses ever since the thing became public."

"Hmm." It had been clear to Simon that Jim and William Ellison had had, at best, a tense relationship. Jim's father had refused to stand up for his son when, as a child, the fledgling sentinel's senses had enabled him to witness a murder; and a serial killer had escaped justice as a result. William seemed to have regarded his son's extraordinary talent as an embarrassment, so the public outing of Jim as a sentinel must have rubbed salt in the wound. It was not a complete surprise that he would hold Blair responsible for that whole disaster. "So what was all that about the lawyer?"

Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Apparently Jim left me some stuff in his will. Stephen said the lawyer indicated it was pretty substantial. He wants me at the reading, but Mr. Ellison wants me to stay away.";;

Simon scratched the bridge of his nose. He had a good idea what this was about, having witnessed Jim's signature when he changed his will just the other week. Strange; it was almost as if the sentinel had known his time was short. Perhaps his sixth sense had been heightened also. "Would you like me to come with you?"

Blair looked at Simon gratefully. "Hey, man. You don't have to do that. It could get pretty ugly."

Simon put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "If it's gonna get ugly, Sandburg, then I want to be there. You don't have to deal with this shit alone."

Blair hesitated a moment, clearly wanting the support, but reluctant to seem too needy. Then he smiled, the first time Simon had seen him do that since this whole nightmare had begun. "Thanks Simon. I appreciate that."

***

It turned out that Blair was now the proud owner of some real estate. Jim had left him the loft and most of its contents, as well as his truck and a substantial amount of money - certainly more than enough to keep Blair on his feet until the legal claims arising from the dissertation were settled.

But it was less the substance of the bequest than the wording of it that finally fanned William Ellison's smoldering anger at Blair into full flame. "My friend Blair." The lawyer recited. "It is difficult for me to express exactly what you meant to me in this brief legal context, Chief, but I'll try. No truer friend could I have had, my brother in all but blood."

William Ellison stood. "What the hell? Jimmy had a brother! He didn't need you!" Ellison was red in the face with rage. He pointed at Blair, his finger stabbing towards him as though he wished it was a sword. "You - you pushed your way into his life. And look what happened! You were his so-called 'partner', you were supposed to watch out for him. So if you hadn't plastered my son's name all over the news, like some," he paused, incandescent, "some glory-seeker, you might have been with him that day, instead of barred from setting foot inside the PD!" His voice dropped, red-hot venom in every word. "And then maybe you would be the one who died in that explosion instead of my son!"

Blair was silent and pale throughout William Ellison's tirade, but Simon refused to sit quietly any longer. He stood, his Captain's bark cutting through the other man's anger. "That's enough! Mr. Ellison, you are Jim's father, and as his Captain I owe you my respect, but you are out of order!"

Stephen had stood also, and put a hand on his father's arm. "Dad. Dad please, sit down."

George Richards, the lawyer, held up both hands. "Gentlemen, please." He looked at the elder Ellison, his expression sympathetic, but his tone no-nonsense. "Bill, Jim would not have wanted this. Please, let me complete the reading. I'm sure there will be an opportunity for you to settle your differences afterwards."

Still glaring hatefully at Sandburg, Ellison senior allowed himself to be coaxed back into his seat. Simon sat down again next to Blair, only to hear a faint whispered "Thanks, man."

The rest of the reading went without incident. Blair's had been the biggest bequest, and the only one involving money. The remainder had consisted of personal items left to William, Stephen, Sally, Stephen's family; and - to Simon's surprise - him. Some of the fishing equipment Banks had so admired in the past was now his.

If Blair had been hoping to slink off unnoticed after the reading, he was disappointed. William cornered him before he could get on the elevator, his anger now banked to smoldering embers, his voice low and deadly. "I know what you are. You are a parasite, a gold digger, living off my son; and you've gotten everything you wanted now he's gone. But I'll tell you this." His voice became lower, more threatening; every bit the ruthless businessman of the childhood memories Jim had related to Blair. "I will hire the best attorney I can, and I will challenge this! I will prove the unnatural hold you had over Jimmy. I will not sit by while you leech off my boy any longer, especially now he's no longer here to defend himself!"

Blair was aware of Simon and Stephen coming to stand nearby, preparing to intervene. He ignored them, taking off his dark glasses and fixing a tired gaze on Ellison. He smiled faintly. "You know what?" Blair's voice was weary, but resolute. "You can do whatever you like. Because this is what Jim wanted. And if he wanted it, that's good enough for me." The elevator dinged, and Blair was aware of Simon taking him by the arm and leading him inside. Sandburg's last glimpse of William Ellison, before the doors closed, was of the fury and grief on his face as Stephen prevented him from following.

***

The unseen watcher across the road from 852 Prospect peered through his scope as Captain Banks's car drew up and parked. So, they were back from the funeral. As the two men entered the apartment building, the watcher noted that neither of them were looking so dapper. Time to switch on the remote listening device.

***

When they entered the loft, Simon went straight to the kitchen cupboard where he knew Jim kept the whisky. He got it out and poured two glasses, bringing one to Blair as he stood looking out of the balcony windows. "To Jim," Banks saluted. Blair raised his glass in answer, and they both downed them in one.

Simon took both their glasses, and placed them on the coffee table, then returned to stand beside Sandburg. "You doing all right?" he asked softly.

Blair shook his head. "I don't really think I am," he admitted. The altercation with Jim's father had shaken him badly. Now he felt overwhelmed, adrift; and he remembered this feeling. The last time had been just before Jim had caught up with him in a gloomy backwater, miles from Cascade, about a week after the press conference. The feeling hadn't lasted that time, because Jim had brought him back from the brink, convincing Blair in his own inimitable way that he had a future after all.

Jim. His friend.

Suddenly Blair was crying, great hiccupping sobs, as though he was going to break apart. Simon put his arms around him, drawing him into a hug, but it didn't help. He wasn't Jim.

It would never be Jim again.

***

One-hundred-per-cent satisfied that Ellison's closest friends believed him dead, the watcher decided to call in and recommend an end to the surveillance at 852 Prospect. There was no way the operation had been made. It was the kid's reaction that had done it. No one, no matter how good an actor, could fake that level of grief.

***

Meanwhile, two hundred and twenty miles away in a cabin in the woods, feigning sleep in a camp bed, Jim Ellison extended his hearing to the next room, where his erstwhile captors had forgotten to switch on the white noise generator. “I'm moving out now,” came a voice over the radio.

"Copy that. Prepare for further orders." This second voice, the man in charge, the one he loathed. Then, "Shit! Who turned this off? I told you..." the sound of a switch being flicked, then the voice disappearing into a wall of static.

The sentinel smiled grimly. In comparison with his own covert ops days, these men were rank amateurs, their ex-CIA boss notwithstanding. They would slip up again, and then he would find a way to bring them down.





The End



The fourth story in The Dawn to Dark Series can be found here: The Darkest Night




Comments are welcome, but absolutely not necessary - all of my stories are offered freely and without obligation. If you do wish to comment below please sign your name/pseudonym if you are not logged-in to Dreamwidth or Open ID, or alternatively you can email me at fluterbev@gmail.com



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Date: 2007-08-01 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] klgrem.livejournal.com
You had me in tears with this one. Good job! On to read the next part...

Date: 2007-08-01 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Wow, praise indeed! Glad you enjoyed it :-)

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