Passing the Torch
A "What If" Twist on 'The Killers'
PG for language and violence
Warning: Death Story
God! I can't believe Jim Ellison! Beverly Sanchez stormed into her apartment and threw her briefcase in the general direction of the couch. Her coat followed it and she headed for the bathroom, kicking off her shoes as she went.
It had been an all around shitty day--make that shitty week. She turned the shower tap on full force and began to get undressed. It was all Ellison's fault, every bit of it. I can't believe I went out with him! What was I thinking? His fabricated testimony had gotten the charges against Tommy Juno thrown out, and made Beverly look like a chump. Then Ellison was stupid enough to set up an illegal wiretap, which would have been bad enough by itself, but the bozo had to get himself caught! On videotape, no less, by that nosy reporter, Don Haas.
All of which had led to Beverly getting her ass chewed out by the District Attorney, and to having a federal prosecutor paw through her records, looking for any collusion between herself and Detective Ellison. Thank god there was nothing to find.
She stepped into the shower and stuck her head under the hot spray. Enough of this. Ellison was on suspension and with any luck, she'd never have to deal with him again.
When she exited the bathroom twenty minutes later, wrapped in a soft terry-cloth robe, the towel she'd used on her hair draped over her shoulder, Beverly felt much better. The hot water had gotten rid of most of the tension in her neck and shoulders, and there was a pint of Ben and Jerry's in the freezer calling her name. Jim Ellison was just a bad memory.
Sitting down at her vanity, she began to blow-dry her hair. The annoying peal of her telephone cut through the noise from the hairdryer. It better not be someone trying to sell me vinyl siding, she thought uncharitably, her bad mood returning in an instant.
Just as she picked up the receiver and said 'hello', someone began pounding on her front door.
"Beverly!" With a crash, the door flew open and banged against the wall. Blair Sandburg, Ellison's friend, rushed toward her as the plate glass window she'd been standing in front of exploded. She screamed.
"Get down!" he yelled, tackling her to the floor behind the safety of the couch.
"Blair, what in the hell--" she started to say when she realized something was terribly wrong. Blair was leaning over her, shielding her, but his eyes were wide in shock or fear and his face had gone stark white.
Her gaze followed his hand to his chest, and she gaped at the spreading crimson stain on his shirt. He gasped, a wheezing sort of choking sound, and slid to the ground.
"Blair--oh god--Blair!" Grabbing the towel still hanging around her neck, Beverly pressed it forcefully against his wound with one hand, scrabbling for the phone she'd dropped with her other. Pressing in the emergency number, she yelled she needed an ambulance, then turned her attention back to the man bleeding on her floor.
"Shh…Blair, save your strength, help is on the way," she told him.
"…No…no…I have to tell you…you have to know the truth…." He grabbed hold of her robe, pulling her closer, forcing her to meet his determined gaze.
She shook her head, biting her lip and blinking away tears. "Blair, please…."
"Beverly." Sudden strength turned her name into a command.
Fighting back her fear, she nodded for him to continue.
"It's about Jim…what he said in court was true. He could see Juno. His eyesight is better than ours, better than most people's. So are all his other senses…" He let go of her for a moment, fumbling in his coat pocket, then pressing a key ring into her hand. "That's…that's to my office at the university. All my…all my research is there…."
She didn't understand. "Research? Research on what?"
The vestige of a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. "On people like Jim…on Sentinels. I was trying to help him…help him figure out how to make his senses work …sentinels need someone to watch their backs…."
Beverly pressed the now crimson towel harder against his chest. "And you will help him, you will. Please, Blair, you'll have plenty of time for Jim…."
"There is no time," he rasped. Blair's hand clamped down on her bare forearm, his fingers hot and slick with blood. She stared at where he gripped her, at the stain on her skin, and then she was falling….
When the world righted itself again, Beverly was kneeling on a bed of dried vegetation in what appeared to be a forest. This has to be a dream…. Getting slowly to her feet, she looked around her. The earth, the sky, the trees were all an other-worldly shade of blue.
She turned slowly in a circle, trying to take everything in, wondering why being in a turquoise dream world wasn't scaring the shit out of her. A familiar face appeared in front of her. Blair! But how…and why?
He was standing a few feet away from her, his hair loose and falling over his shoulders, the blue of his eyes matching the surreal landscape. This can't be happening…we were in my apartment--he was hurt. But Forest Blair wasn't bleeding to death; he was whole and healthy and--naked. "Blair, what's going on? Where are we? Why are we here?"
He shook his head. "Time is running out, Beverly. Do you trust me?"
Did she trust him? She barely knew him--but he had risked his life for her. His life. An electric shiver went down her spine. On some level, she knew why they were there. "Yes," she whispered, "yes, I trust you."
Giving her a smile and a wink, Blair said, "A sentinel needs a partner." Then he was shrinking, dropping to all fours, changing, bare skin becoming fur, hands and feet becoming paws. A tail waved high over his back, and large ears swiveled toward her. His long muzzle opened in the lupine version of a grin, and the large silver wolf lifted his head to the sky and howled.
Beverly watched all of this, frightened, but at the same time calm, knowing that whatever was going to happen was somehow meant to be. The wolf 's eyes met hers; she was not surprised at all to find them the same sapphire blue as Blair's.
With a little yip, the wolf began to run toward her, then leapt into the air. She felt a jolt as it collided with her, but when she looked down, it was gone, almost as though it had jumped *into* her. The jungle around her began to grow brighter and brighter, until she had to close her eyes against the brilliance.
When Beverly opened them again, she was back in her apartment, leaning over Blair, watching the light fade from his eyes. His hand slid from her arm to fall limply across his chest. "Blair? Blair? Oh god…oh god…." She lifted him into her arms, cradling him against her. The tears she'd been holding back began to trickle down her cheeks.
Running footsteps outside her door made her look up again. Jim Ellison stood framed in the doorway, the expression on his face one of confusion and fear. "Sandburg?"
She shook her head, unable to speak.
"Sandburg…Blair…oh no…no…." He entered slowly, his head swiveling from side to side as he took in the broken window, the pool of blood on the floor, and the still form sprawled across Beverly's lap. Dropping to one knee beside her, his fingers felt for the pulse at Blair's throat, his hand slowly withdrawing when he didn't find it.
He met her gaze for a moment, his eyes shadowed and haunted. Then Jim shook himself and got to his feet, muttering, "Pull it together, Ellison."
"Jim, I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…I--"
He whirled on her. "Not now, Beverly. Not *now*." He strode purposefully toward the door, giving orders to the arriving police officers, ignoring the tragic image behind him.
Forcing down the sob threatening to break from her throat, Beverly realized this was not the time to try to talk to Ellison about what Blair had told her. Looking down at Blair's still, beautiful face, she gently closed the eyes that had been so full of life only moments before, silently promising him she would do what he wanted--she would find some way to help Jim.
Despite the leaden skies and the unrelenting drizzle of rain, the turnout for Blair Sandburg's funeral was far greater than Jim had ever imagined. It seemed Blair had touched the life of everyone he'd ever met, and it appeared to Jim that all of them had shown up to pay their respects, to speak highly of the brilliant anthropologist, the constant friend, the sympathetic teacher, or to simply lay a flower on his grave. He'd even met Blair's mother, albeit briefly. Naomi Sandburg had solemnly embraced Jim, whispering cryptically that "Blair was where he was meant to be."
But now, long after the graveside service, Jim stood alone in the cemetery, watching as the grounds keepers shoveled the last of the dirt onto Blair's coffin, then walked off. He felt…numb. Too much tragedy, too much grief, in too short a time for him, for anyone, to handle. Danny's funeral had been that morning, and then Blair's that afternoon. He'd cried silently in the back of the church at Danny's funeral, mourning for the man he'd come to think of as his little brother. He could grieve for Danny.
But Sandburg--Jim didn't know how he was supposed to feel about Blair. He'd known the man only a few short weeks, barely long enough to learn to tolerate him, let alone figure out how Blair was going to fit into his life--as a colleague, a friend, or like Danny, someone he would have been proud to call "brother."
The sound of a car door closing and the crunch of footsteps on the gravel path winding among the grave sites alerted Jim to another presence. He suspected it might be Simon Banks, come to give him another talk on how Danny and Blair's deaths weren't his fault, that Dylan Juno had been to blame. Dylan--Tommy Juno's secret twin. The hitman really had been able to be in two places at once. Now Dylan lay in the morgue, killed in a fall from the parking garage across from Sanchez's building, but not before he'd fired the shot that had pierced Blair Sandburg's heart.
The footsteps came to a stop behind Jim, but the person didn't speak. Turning around, Jim frowned at the sight of Beverly Sanchez. "Look, Beverly, I don't know what it is you want from me, but now is not the time or the place."
Her dark eyes narrowed against the rain, she peered up at him. "Well, when is, Jim? I've been trying to talk to you for the past two days, and you keep shutting me out."
Letting out a sigh, he shrugged. "Fine. What is it that's so important you've been following me around like a puppy?"
Now that she had his attention, Beverly seemed to hesitate. Finally she stuttered, "It's…it's about the other night, when Blair…when Blair died…."
Jim felt the muscle in his cheek jump, and he turned his gaze back toward the fresh mound of earth, unable to look at her.
When he didn't speak, she plunged ahead. "Blair…told me about you, about how you really could see Juno two hundred yards away at night. He said you were a sentinel, that all your senses were heightened--"
Jim let out a bitter laugh. "Yeah, right. Maybe once, but not anymore, not since Danny died."
"I know. I--"
"You know? What did he do, spend his last breath telling you my fucking life story?" He turned on her now, his hands clenched into fists, feeling violated by a dead man.
She met his angry gaze evenly. "Not in so many words, no. But his notes--"
"His notes! What right do you have reading his notes, let alone who in the hell at Rainier let you go through his things!" Jim was shaking with rage now, and fear. He'd never considered what Sandburg might have left behind, never even thought about the information on him falling into the wrong hands. He needed to do damage control, and do it quickly. "If you have anything--notes, dictation, test results, anything--you'll turn them over to me. Now. And you'll forget you ever heard of sentinels."
For a moment, Jim saw fear in her eyes, and he was glad. Then she frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. "No. Blair gave me the key to his office, told me that was where his research was. He entrusted it, and you, to me. I'm not going to let him down." Jim swore it took all she had to keep from stamping her foot.
He tried a different tack. "It doesn't matter anyway, or didn't you hear me? My senses are gone, off-line, repressed, and with any luck, it's permanent."
Reaching out, she laid a hand on his arm. "No, they're not. Blair wrote about it in his notes. He thinks it's a form of post traumatic stress, like hysterical blindness. We just have to work through it, work through your grief and your guilt and---"
Yanking his arm away from her, Jim yelled, "Where in the hell do you get off --" His tirade was cut short by a bullet slamming into the tree trunk behind them, showering them with debris. Training took over as Jim shoved Beverly to the ground, dragging her with him to the meager cover of a large sepulcher.
"Jim? What is it? Who's shooting at us?" Beverly's voice was low and frightened.
Pulling his weapon from the holster at the small of his back, Jim thumbed off the safety. "My guess is Tommy Juno. After all, I'd say we're the two people he hates most in the world at the moment, wouldn't you?" A shot clipped the top of the stone crypt, the noise ringing through the rapidly darkening cemetery. "You got a cell phone? See if you can get us some back up."
Beverly dug in her pocket, produced a cell phone, and started punching numbers.
Satisfied she was handling calling for help, Jim peered around the corner of their protection, searching for Juno's position. Two shots in rapid succession forced him quickly back. "Damn it," he swore under his breath.
"What?" she asked. "Help is on the way, ETA 15 minutes."
He turned to look at Beverly; she was scared, but determination shone in her eyes. "That might not be soon enough. He's got us pinned down, and once the light goes he'll have the advantage. He has to have a night scope."
She chewed her lip, then said, "Can't you use your senses to pinpoint where he is, and take him out or something?"
Jim stared at her. "Well, yeah, I would, but in case you missed it, my senses are *not* working."
"Why don't you try--"
"No!" Ellison felt like throttling her. "Just shut up about things you know nothing about!"
A long shudder went through Beverly then, and for an instant her expression was completely blank, her eyes rolling back in her head. She blinked slowly, and when her eyes opened again, they were no longer brown, but an eerie, luminescent blue. "Geez, Joe Friday, would you get a grip?"
Jim was so shocked he dropped his gun. It was Beverly's voice, only deeper, and the inflection was definitely Sandburg's.
"Close your mouth, man, you look like a fish." When he'd complied, Bever--er, Blair, said, "Much more attractive. Now, you going to listen to us, or what?"
Ellison opened and closed his mouth a couple more times before he could speak. "Sandburg?"
"In a manner of speaking." A bullet smacked into the stone just above Beverly's head. "Can we save this conversation for another time? Cause I really don't want to die again. The first time sucked."
Swallowing convulsively, Jim nodded. "What do you want me to do?"
She gave him a wry grin. "Well, first, pick up your gun." Once he had his Sig back in his hand, Blair/Beverly continued, "Now I want you to close your eyes and just breathe. That's it. Concentrate on your breathing and nothing else. Clear your mind, let all the fear and the grief and the tension just flow out of you as you exhale. You feeling relaxed now?"
No, not really, Jim thought, but he nodded.
"Good, now really concentrate on your hearing. You know what a sniper rifle sounds like, filter out everything else, the rain, the wind in the trees, my voice…"
Closing his eyes again, Jim listened, letting everything fade into the background until he heard the sound he was waiting for--the smooth click of a round being chambered and the bolt being thrown. It was to the west of them, up the hillside. Rising to a half crouch, he pivoted, letting his ears guide his sight.
It was déjà vu. Once again, he was staring at Juno hunched over a rifle, the detail so fine he could count the man's eyelashes. Bracing his arm on the top of the crypt, Jim gently squeezed the trigger, watching with grim satisfaction as Juno jerked once, then dropped, a hole neatly placed between his eyes.
The warmth of a hand on his shoulder brought Jim back to himself. Beverly was gazing at him, a worried expression on her face, her eyes no longer blue. "Jim, are you okay? Did you get him?"
He sat down next to her, leaning his back against the wet stone of the sepulcher, running a hand wearily over his face. "Yeah, I got him."
"Okay," she said softly, then wrapped her arms around her knees. They waited in silence until the wail of sirens cut through the still cemetery and flashing lights bobbed up the gravel road toward them.
Ellison watched the body bag holding the remains of Tommy Juno being loaded into the coroner's van as the scent of cigar smoke heralded the arrival of his superior.
"So, Jim, you wanna tell me what went on here tonight?" Simon Banks held an umbrella over his head with one hand, while the fingers of the other flicked ash from the end of his smoke into a puddle.
Jim shrugged. "Sanchez and I were talking. Juno started shooting at us. We ducked behind a crypt, and when I got the chance, I took him out."
"Uh-huh." His captain's tone indicated he didn't believe a word of it. "Hell of a lucky shot there, Detective, uphill, in the dark, in the rain. One only someone with extraordinary vision could have made."
Ellison knew what Simon was hinting at. He nodded. "My senses seem to be back, for now."
"Think you can handle them without Sandburg? After all, you were the one who convinced me he was so necessary to your abilities so I'd approve his riding along with you."
"And look where that got him," Jim said under his breath.
"What was that, Detective?" Banks asked, knowing full well what Jim's words had been.
Jim didn't answer right away, his gaze searching for Beverly Sanchez among the crowd of police, forensics, and the media. She was sitting on the edge of the seat in a squad car, her legs out the open door. A blanket was thrown over her shoulders, and her hands wrapped around a cup of what Jim knew, from the cup he'd had earlier, was terrible coffee. A big gray dog from the canine unit sprawled at her feet. A smile tugged at his mouth unbidden. "I said, sir, that I can handle them just fine."
"That's what I want to hear," Banks said, clapping his hand on Jim's shoulder before he headed toward the crowd of reporters.
Jim watched him go, not envying him the task of trying to explain the past few days events. When he looked back at Beverly, she was walking toward him.
Coming to a stop in front of him, she said, "We still need to talk, Jim."
"Yeah, we do, about what you did back there." He jerked his head in the direction of Blair's grave.
A startled look crossed her face. "About what I did? All I did was what you told me, I called for help."
"You really don't know, do you?" He grasped her by the arms, shaking her, figuring his anger had brought Sandburg out once, maybe it would again.
"Know what? Jim, you're scaring me." The confusion in her eyes was genuine.
He released her, shoving his hands into his pockets, no longer trusting himself. "It's nothing."
Now it was her turn to grab hold of him, her fingers clutching at the sleeve of his coat. "No, no, it's not nothing, not when you're this upset by it. What did I do?"
Jim gazed up at the night sky, unable to look at her while he said, "You were--I was yelling at you, then it was like you had some kind of seizure, but only for a second. But when you looked at me again, when you spoke to me, it wasn't you. It was--it was Sandburg." When she didn't reply, he added, "And yes, I've always been crazy."
Beverly shook her head slowly, her expression thoughtful. "No, no, you aren't crazy. I've seen it before. It's just never…never happened to *me*."
"Okay, now I'm even more confused. What are you talking about?"
She looked up at him, her smile wide. "My abuela, my grandmother on my mother's side, she was a medium. She would go into these trances, and spirits would speak through her. I just thought she was a scary old woman, you know? But after one of her 'fits', she could never remember what she did, or what she said, either." She bounced on the balls of her feet. "So Blair used me to speak to you…I wonder if that has anything to do with the wolf…"
Now she was beginning to sound like Sandburg even when she wasn't channeling him. "Wolf? What wolf? You mean that K-9 unit I saw you with earlier?"
"K-9 unit? What are you talking about?"
He pointed. "Over there, when you were in the squad car, there was a dog, a big silver dog, sitting next to you."
She threw back her head and laughed. "Oh my. Oh my. We are certainly in the Twilight Zone now. I'm channeling dead people, and you're seeing spirit animals."
Jim felt like a parrot. "Spirit animals?"
Hooking her arm through his, Beverly began to drag him away from the crime scene. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee, Jim, and tell you about my trip to the blue forest…"
For a second, Jim thought about resisting, but then Beverly looked back at him with an expression of eagerness and awe that mirrored the one he'd seen on Blair's face nearly every day. He'd taken a chance on Sandburg, why not with Beverly? And he followed her.
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