Note: This started out as a simple missing scene. Now, it may become one of my Transitions series. I hope not. Maybe I'm just feeling a bit depressed....
For Shellie and Caroline. Thanks to Joanne for the quick turnaround on the editing.

Close Calls
(Waiting Room Missing Scene)

-- by Mackie

Ellison set the parking brake and bailed out of the truck in a single, smooth motion. The transmission groaned at the unaccustomed abuse as the old pickup rocked hard on its shocks. Several patrol cars were right behind him, so he barely paused to make certain the would-be carjackers were taken into custody.
Rushing to the driver's door of the wrecked Volvo, he took his first real breath since he'd heard his partner's frantic cellphone call for help. The interior of the car was empty, and there were no traces of blood to indicate Sandburg had been injured in the crash.
Opening his hearing, he quickly filtered out the chaos of sound around him and sent his senses forth to find his partner.
His breath hitched in his lungs again when he heard multiple heartbeats coming from inside a derelict building just a few yards from where the Volvo had crashed. Unholstering his weapon, he vaulted over the rubble and dashed into the old structure.
He climbed the stairs quickly, his eyes and ears scanning ahead. How many heartbeats had he heard? At least three at first, possibly four. Now, only two, and the softest of footfalls retreating quickly toward the back of the building.
And the scent of blood - too much blood.
He reached the landing, his heart thudding painfully in his chest, tension thrumming through his nerves at what might greet him around the corner. Raising his weapon, he lunged into the open, pistol trained on whoever was in the hallway.
He focused instantly on his partner and breathed a second sigh of relief: Blair was alive and appeared unharmed. The second heartbeat he'd detected came from the man his partner was tending on the floor. Whoever else had been in the building was already beyond the reach of his senses.
"Are you all right?" he demanded, hurrying forward.
Sandburg jumped, surprised at the unexpected arrival of his partner. "Jim! We need an ambulance," he said, his voice catching as he struggled to overcome his shock.
Ellison was already on it, dialing his cellphone and speaking the necessary instructions even as he crouched beside his friend. One hand automatically clutched the sleeve of Blair's jacket, as if he needed to reassure himself the kneeling figure was real. "Are you all right?" he repeated.
Blair nodded, but the paleness of his skin, his rapid breathing, and his glazed eyes confessed the falsehood of his answer. Realizing his lie had been virtually transparent, he looked down at the injured man, his hands pressing futilely against the wound. The pumping blood was ebbing, but not because of his efforts. Beneath his fingers, the heartbeat wavered, fluttered for a moment, and then stopped.
Jim was still speaking into the phone. "Send some uniforms around back. One, maybe two suspects are leaving the building. Consider them armed and dangerous."
He put the phone back into his pocket and turned his full attention to his partner. Gently, he removed Blair's bloodied hands from the mortal wound in the victim's chest. "It's OK, Blair," he said quietly, "no one could have saved him. There isn't anything else you can do."
Numbly, Blair nodded. The events of the past few minutes caught up with him suddenly and sent his blood pressure into a nosedive. Abruptly, he pulled away from the body and sat down on the floor, his back against the wall, knees drawn up as he hugged himself. "Oh, man - "
Jim moved quickly to block Blair's view of the dead man. "You gonna pass out or throw up?" he asked quickly.
"Both...neither. I don't know," the younger man admitted softly, grateful for the strong hand that gripped his shoulder, support and understanding flowing from the touch. Distractedly, he stared in fascination at his blood-slick hands. "Uh, did you catch the guys?"
"We caught the men who tried to carjack you," Jim admitted. He jerked his head toward the body. "Just your bad luck to stumble into this, too."
Blair nodded, some color finally banishing the stark whiteness of his face. "I practically walked in on it, didn't I?" he asked with fatalistic calm, and got his confirmation when he saw Jim's face pale slightly in the dim light of the corridor. "You sensed them?"
The older man shrugged, trying to keep it simple, trying to deny the multitude of horrible scenarios that could have played in the few short minutes between Blair's call and his arrival. "I sensed someone. He must have crept out a few moments after you found the body." He heaved a sigh of uncertainty. "There might have been someone else, too. I don't know. If there was, he was already leaving by the time you got here."
Footsteps thundered up the stairs, the heavy breathing of the paramedics clearly audible long before they reached the landing. Two men dressed in the uniforms of a local ambulance service stumbled into view, their arms burdened with an assortment of monitoring and life-saving equipment.
"How long ago did he stop breathing?" one of them gasped, dropping beside the dead man and reaching into his case for an ambu-bag.
"No more than a minute," Jim told them, climbing quickly to his feet.
Blair scrambled up a moment behind him, not wanting to stay in the hallway and watch the doomed resuscitation efforts of the paramedics. He noticed Jim staring at the drama. His partner's face was pale, his expression almost zone-out blank. "Jim?"
Ellison looked at him, and there was a bleakness in his eyes that sent shivers down the younger man's spine.
"Jim, what is it?"

The other man just shook his head, his expression clearing. "Bad memories," he confessed gruffly. "Let's go."
Blair paused just enough to snag a foil-wrapped antiseptic wipe from the paramedic's kit. He held it up in silent request, received an affirmative nod from the second attendant, and gratefully tore it open. The blood on his hands was still damp, and he began to clean his fingers thoroughly as he headed for the stairs.
As they went down the steps, Jim focused on the comforting presence of the heartbeat just a few feet ahead of him and tried to quell the nervous tremble in his gut. Why was he feeling so upset? Everything had worked out all right. Still, Blair had been too frequent a visitor lately to the "close calls" department. Perhaps Jim had every reason to feel a little freaked.
When they reached the ground level, Jim stopped, reluctant to go outside into the turmoil of activity still surrounding the crime scene. His thoughts were swirling around in kaleidoscope confusion, and he wanted to bring some sort of order to them before tackling the latest investigation.
Within a few feet, Blair realized his partner was no longer following, so he turned and came back. They stood together, hands tucked into jacket pockets, their arms touching through the heavy layers of fabric and yet each lost in the solitude of his own thoughts.
Despite his assurances, Blair didn't appear to be doing all that well, either. To the Sentinel's sensitive hearing, his partner's heartbeat was still too rapid, and he could feel almost imperceptible tremors telegraphing through the fabric where their coat sleeves touched. Soon, he would take his friend home to the comfortable warmth of a soothing mug of tea.
Jim had to restrain an impulse to wrap a protective arm around the trembling shoulders. Blair would have been aghast. He hated being fussed over, and he would have felt embarrassed at being coddled at a crime scene, even if he were the victim.
The past few months had been hard on him...hard on them both. Too many things had happened, events that had wakened a wary uncertainty reflected in Blair's behavior. Jim secretly missed the friend he had known before.
He missed the ready smile and the enthusiastic bounce that kept his partner in motion through every waking moment of the day. He missed the eagerness with which Blair tackled each new challenge, whether with Jim's senses or some puzzle relating to an investigation. He missed the whirlwind of energy that had swept into his life, creating splendid, ever-changing chaos where before, there had existed only stale, static order. What had happened to that Blair? Had he died beside the fountain at Rainier? Had Alex killed him -- or had it been Jim, shredding their friendship as he rolled like a juggernaut toward his own destruction?
Or was the Blair Sandburg he remembered still here, keeping his distance with quiet reserve, no longer trusting his role in the relationship he had with Ellison?
That all was still not right between them was evident to anyone who cared to look. The two friends had never quite reconnected. Although Jim knew the only constant was change, he also knew he had been responsible for the cataclysmic events that had shattered the life they had shared. They were putting the pieces back together, but some of them didn't seem to fit properly. Perhaps they never would. Perhaps some things simply could not be made whole again -- or if they were, their form was forever altered. What remained was still complete, and good, and welcome -- just different.
It didn't make him love or cherish his friend less; it just made him a little sad, as if he has lost something he'd had no claim to in the first place and hadn't appreciated until it was gone.
"Earth to Jim," Blair murmured, feeling a bit anxious at his partner's distraction. "You're a million miles away."
Jim smiled slightly and shook his head. "No, I'm right here," he answered enigmatically, forcing himself back to the present.
Simon, who had arrived at the scene sometime after Jim, strode into the building. He stopped when he saw his best detective team together and unharmed. "Sandburg, you OK?"
"Yeah, Simon, thanks," the younger man replied with a wan smile. "I'm coming down from an adrenaline high, but other than a bad case of nerves, I'm fine."
"Good." The captain glanced up the stairs. "What happened up there?"
Jim grunted. "Sandburg's natural affinity for trouble was working overtime tonight," he commented, trying to smile, but it came off forced and brittle. Damn! He had to shake this melancholy. Blair was beside him, where he belonged. That was all that mattered, wasn't it?
Simon waited for details, but none were forthcoming. "Yeah?" he prompted.
Blair hastened to fill the ensuing silence. "I found a man upstairs who'd just been stabbed. Whoever did it might still have been - " He stopped, unable to continue.
"Might still have been there?" Simon interpreted, connecting Jim's cellphone call and Blair's sudden reticence.
Blair nodded. "Jim heard someone leave. I didn't see him."
"What about the victim?"
"The paramedics are working on him," Jim explained, focusing on the present with difficulty. "I don't think they'll have any luck."
One of the paramedics rushed down the steps behind them. "I need to get the gurney," he said, hurrying past.
Knowing the stairs would soon be the scene of more activity, they headed out the door into the clean, crisp night air.
Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The incident had reawakened too many recent, painful memories. Right now, he didn't care about the victim upstairs, or even about the gang of carjackers that had tried to harm his partner. Right now, this second, he needed to absorb that his partner was alive and safe. The rest could wait.
"You sure you're OK?" he asked again.
Blair nodded. "Shaky, and I'm probably going to be climbing the walls instead of sleeping tonight, but yeah, I'm OK."
Jim accepted the assessment with a nod of his own. "Why don't you sit in the truck until they bring the guy down? I need to see if he has any ID on him."
"OK, thanks," Blair agreed. He squeezed Jim's arm before he stepped away. "I'm fine, Jim, really."
Jim pulled him into a brief bear hug and gently tugged the wild spray of curls erupting from the ponytail. "I know you are." And I'm grateful for that every single day.

THE END

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