This is #4 in the TS/LFN crossovers so it would probably be a good idea to be familiar with the first three as there are many references to occurrences in those stories. Sorry it took so long to write this one. Hope you enjoy!
As always, feel free to write. I write back!
Cascade, Washington: Cascade Harbor
It was called "Fallen Heroes". A fountain in the center of Cascade Harbor, water dancing around two eagles perched to soar off into the heavens. On the dock was an arch and etched into this brass structure were the names of police officers who had died in the line of duty. Ironically, "Fallen Heroes" had been designed by a prisoner. According to the documentary a student at Rainier University had done, the artist had been inspired-- no, called-- to do the fountain when the death of two Cascade officers had stunned the city jail where he had been awaiting transfer. He spoke of the initial shockwave that had raced through the station, the disbelief, followed by the devastating acceptance of the tragedy. He felt that two men who could affect so many, so deeply, deserved a tribute. So he had created the design, shown it to the officers' captain and from that point, the fountain had a life of its own. The donations poured in, so much so that the fountain was increased in size and dedicated to all fallen officers.
The two names at the top of the arch usually drew the most attention. Visitors read the names and the dates of their deaths and surmised the officers must have died together. After taking a picture or two, the arch framing the fountain perfectly, a few of the bolder visitors would ask a passing policeman about the names and if he were part of the old guard, one of those who personally knew the officers, he would weave a tale of perfect friendship, perfect partnership, and a legacy that would live forever.
The visitor would then sniff discreetly and remember the story to tell to others when the photos were printed. And thus it was that many people now knew of one extraordinary cop, Detective James Ellison and one extraordinary police consultant, Dr. Blair Sandburg.
Section One: Control Room
Jim and Nikita were standing over Birkoff, going over sequencing for their latest mission, when Jim felt Sandburg's heartbeat go into overdrive on the other side of the room. Murmuring an apology to his companions, he left to see what was happening. When he had left his friend, he had been going through the tip list-- a clearinghouse for the security community.
"Sandburg?" he asked when his partner didn't react to his presence. Partner wasn't a working term these days, Nikita basically filled that role now, but they continued to be partners on a deeper level and all other titles still applied-- Guide, confidant, roommate, friend, brother...
Sandburg moved his head to one side so Jim could read the screen in front of him. "... According to the source the presidential candidate, Simon Banks, will be terminated as he gives his last speech before the election..."
"Damn it!" Jim growled, running his fingers through the hair that he still preferred short-shorn. "Who's working it?"
Sandburg looked up with pain-filled eyes. "No one."
Jim clamped his jaw closed, a ridge forming along his cheekbone. "Start a mission profile. Surveillance Team Alpha is in India. They are due to be rotated out in three days. Send in their relief and rotate now. Debrief them and give them a couple of days rest before sending them in. They will act as backup."
"And the primaries?" Sandburg asked as he keyed in the instructions.
"You and me."
Sandburg paused. "The last speech will be in Cascade."
Jim muttered an oath. For the past seven years Cascade, once their home, had considered Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison dead. For them to go there and perhaps be recognized, would compromise their operative status and possibly be enough to ensure their cancellation. And Jim didn't want to die, not by Section's hands or the opposition's. It was hard to be happy in Section with all of its strict rules and regulations, but he was content. He was doing what a Sentinel was meant to do-- protect-- and he had his cherished Guide by his side. So although he didn't fear death, he was by no means seeking it out.
The real problem was their profession. If they had just been ordinary citizens, the chance of being recognized in Cascade would be slim. But they had been cops, and cops were notorious for sticking close to home. Cops only transferred out because of family considerations or promotions or because they had been compromised in some way. So that meant there would be people around who had known them, perhaps worked closely with them. It was definitely a risk, but... "It's Simon, Chief. Who should go?"
Dark blue eyes met lighter ones and Sandburg keyed in the information. Simon Banks had been their commander and their friend. He deserved the best the Section had to offer and that was Jim, whose Sentinel abilities had flourished in the controlled, covert environment. "I'm getting a request for authorization from Operations before Surveillance Team Alpha can be recalled."
"Operations is out for the rest of the day," Birkoff interjected. He and Nikita had come over to see what was happening. Jim wasn't the type that just walked away from a briefing. He was arguably the best operative to come along since Michael, less tortured than the more senior spy and therefore, more predictable.
Jim shrugged and keyed in a code. The computer immediately continued its sequence. He placed a hand on Nikita's shoulder. "Michael is going to have to take my place with you, sis. He's currently working on a profile for Team Tau in Northern Africa. That's a slow-moving situation, so tell him to put it on hold for the next couple of days, then brief him on the mission. Birkoff, I want to speak to the informant personally. Have Hunter and Janelle pick him up."
Birkoff looked stunned as he stumbled back to his station. "What's the matter, Birkoff?" Nikita asked as she accompanied him. The computer expert was always pale, having spent way too many hours in the Section, but he seemed even more wan than usual. "You're worried because Jim knew Operations' authorization code?"
He shook his head. "No. He's used it before and Operations doesn't seem to care."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Did you hear him, Nikita? He knows, without looking, without asking, where every operative is. He just rattled off the names of the people he wanted and what changes had to be made to get them. You don't find that spooky?"
"That he can remember so much?"
"That he actually bothers to. What does that mean, Nikita? Why is Jim keeping track of all our operatives and what does he plan to do with the information?" he asked nervously.
Nikita stared at the back of the man who had been her partner for the past seven years. His abilities, his ever growing number of skills had never ceased to amaze her, but oddly enough, they had never frightened her. Maybe that was because she was one of his guides or maybe because she knew inside the warrior beat the heart of a caring man, something that she couldn't say for certain about any other cold op she knew. "There's nothing to be worried about," she told her friend. "I trust Jim with my life and even more importantly, with yours."
Birkoff nodded, knowing how much Nikita cared for him. Besides, whatever Jim was doing obviously had Operations' support. For over a year, Jim had had a certain autonomy within the Section and not once had their leader interfered. Still, it was weird watching him assume control as if... as if Section One belonged to him.
Section One: Entry
Jim nodded to the two operatives who stood lounging outside the heavy metal door of the chamber often known simply as "the white room". Hunter and Janelle had been very efficient, having detained their mark in less than an hour. "Thank you," he said curtly as he opened the door. Operations referred to the Section as a military installation and Jim agreed that it should be run like one. But that didn't mean he couldn't be polite.
"Hello, Mr. Morrell," he said to the figure secured in the lone chair that sat in the middle of the room. With one hand, he deftly removed the dark sack covering the man's head.
Jerry Morrell flinched involuntarily as he watched the cool blue eyes examine him. Morrell considered himself a decent-looking man on his best days. But this wasn't one of them. He'd been trolling the back alleys of the city when a man and woman had approached. He thought they wanted to play and he was willing for a price. However, the next thing he remembered was being led down a hallway with a sack over his head and being forced into this cold, hard chair. He had been alone until this giant of a man had walked in and removed the stifling cover.
"Who are you? Where am I? What do you want from me?" he asked quickly.
"I don't think you want to know the answer to the first two," Jim said calmly as he examined a catch at the tip of one of his fingernails. Very annoying to a Sentinel. "There's a rumor around this place that knowing information like that can kill you. However, the third question is an easy one. What do you know about the upcoming attempt on Simon Banks' life and how do you know it?"
Morrell considered the questions and his interrogator. Physically fit, straight shoulders and back. Worried about a presidential candidate... "Who are you? The Secret Service? I told you about this a couple days ago and you didn't want to have anything to do with it. Why do you want to know now?"
The man smiled but it added no warmth to the chill in his eyes. "Because I'm not with the Secret Service."
Morrell took in his surroundings and nodded. He should have known this wasn't a government operation. It was too new, too high-tech. Although the room was stark white and all he could really see from his position in the chair was a few instances of gleaming metal, he could sense the hidden details, the potential for pain the room had. This was a top-rate facility, which meant money. Lots of it. "Information doesn't come cheap, you know."
"Don't devalue your life like that, Mr. Morrell."
It took him a moment to understand what the man was implying and he paled. Hell, he'd been threatened and had almost missed it. "I'm much more valuable alive than dead," he pointed out quickly.
"See? I knew you were a reasonable man, Mr. Morrell. Now, just start at the beginning."
An hour later, Jim emerged from the room. "Take Mr. Morrell back where you found him," he ordered the waiting operatives. "And give him a small something for his time. He may have access to information we will need at some future point." He left Janelle and Hunter to handle the transfer and motioned for Sandburg to follow him. His Guide had monitored the interrogation, but from his increased heart rate, he figured Sandburg was outside Entry for another reason. "What is it?" he asked, when they were clear of anyone else.
"Madeline wishes to see you in her office."
"She knows about the Cascade mission?"
Jim sighed, having known if opposition were to come, it would be from Madeline. The strategist/ profiler would protest the idea of them going to Cascade as well as working on the mission which, if she knew Jim, would be personal. And she did know him, Jim thought ruefully. Sleeping together since his first few months in the Section tended to give her insight into him, despite his efforts to protect his innermost thoughts from everyone but Sandburg. "You heard Morrell's confession. Adjust the profile accordingly."
"You don't anticipate any problems?" Sandburg asked, watching him closely.
"I don't anticipate any problems that will change the mission profile."
Sandburg tried to halt the proprietary smile he felt coming to his face. That was his Sentinel speaking, confident, sure of his actions and his decisions. The hesitation he had sometimes sensed in Jim in the old days was gone. He had been unsure of his abilities, uncertain that he could do what his Guide insisted he could do. In Sandburg's opinion, Jim had relied too much on his gun instead of on what his body and mind were capable of doing. But that was in the past. The Sentinel now was certain of his talents, believed without question what his Guide said he could do, and even had faith in abilities he had yet to try.
But maybe Jim was being a bit overconfident, he thought, the smile fading. Whatever deal Jim had going with Operations (he truly didn't know and in fact, had no desire in learning) was just with Operations; Madeline was the same wildcard she had always been. Her relationship with Jim had tempered her for the better, but Sandburg had no doubt whatsoever that if it came down to a choice between Jim and the Section, Madeline would choose the Section. "I'm worried, big guy," he admitted.
"Don't be, Chief. I won't let her stop us from saving Simon."
"That's not my worry. You are."
Jim's mouth became a thin line. "I can handle Madeline."
Sandburg reached out for his partner's forearm. "I know you can, Jim. I just think it's going to hurt more than you realize."
"From the beginning Madeline and I knew we were only temporary, Chief. Our relationship has been a convenience, nothing more."
Sandburg took a deep breath and looked around, making sure they had privacy. He wasn't worried about the alcove being bugged; Jim could sense any electronic sensors. "I know you wouldn't lie to me, Jim, so I'm assuming you're lying to yourself. You have been as faithful to Madeline as you were to your ex-wife Carolyn. Women both inside and outside the Section have offered themselves to you, yet you have not strayed. That implies some kind of connection, Jim. Maybe less than love, but sure as hell more than convenience."
"Why are we having this conversation now?" Jim demanded, not dismissing any of his friend's insights, yet wishing he could have waited with them.
"Because you are about to go in there to confront her and you are going to get your way, no matter what you have to do. I know that. You know that. And I'm just as sure Madeline knows that as well. I just wanted you to be prepared when it all hits the fan."
"I'm prepared, Chief," Jim assured him. "I know what I have to do and that is protecting Simon. I have the means necessary to make that happen. Whatever... emotional cuts and bruises that ensue, I, no we, will handle later, after Simon is safe. Deal?"
Sandburg nodded and watched Jim walk away. His friend was right; the healing could wait until Simon was safe. Maybe by then it would be time for their semi-annual retreat. Some time alone in the woods was always good for whatever ailed them, whether it be a broken bone, a broken spirit... or a broken heart.
Section One: Madeline's Office
"You wished to see me, Madeline?" Jim asked politely.
The woman looked up from her desk and nodded, gesturing for him to have a seat. "I see you and Sandburg have been working on a mission profile you assigned to yourselves."
"Yes. Sandburg was just glancing through the tip list and saw the item about a death threat aimed at potentially the next president of the United States. I'm sure it was an oversight that Section or any other government entity had made no effort to stop this assassination attempt."
"The Secret Service gave it no credence, so neither did we."
"When did Section One begin following the assessments of other agencies? I know we help them out when we are asked, but I did not know we had to have their prior approval before we embarked on a mission," Jim commented.
"You have talked with the informant." It was not a question. "You believe him. Therefore, although you have not asked for it, you have my authorization for this mission." She knew the Sentinel could tell lies from truth better than any of her machinery. "But I cannot allow you and Sandburg to be included. It is against every policy we have here at the Section."
"I know. But, nevertheless, we will be the primary operatives."
"Not without my approval."
Jim's hands curled around the arms of his chair. "Do not force this, Madeline. Remember what we are, what we have been, and do not do this," he pleaded softly.
Madeline was surprised she was having trouble looking directly into his eyes. She had known better than to allow him to get so close to her, known that eventually this day would come. "What we are, what we have been, has always been an aside to the Section. That was stated clearly from the beginning, was it not?" Jim nodded. "Yet, you would try to use it against me now?"
"No," he said. "I would not defile that which was personal, that which was private between the two of us, by using it as a threat or a weapon. You know me better than that."
"Just as I know you do have something you would use against me if necessary?"
"There is that," he agreed amiably.
"And you going to Cascade is considered necessary?"
She leaned back in her chair and swiveled toward the computer. "Consider your threat delivered. I concede. Do what you will." He nodded and stood to leave. "You didn't even bother to bring any tangible proof of your blackmail with you, did you? Were you that sure of my capitulation?" she asked, merely from an academic point of view.
"You are of a master of human behavior, Maddie. Everything that occurred here, you had already predicted down to even this part of the conversation. I understand that and even applaud your skills. Therefore, you would know I do not make idle threats. The disks, the papers, were unnecessary. In fact, this entire confrontation did not have to occur."
"Yes, it did."
Jim inclined his head as if to say her motives were her own. "If you wanted out of the relationship, Madeline, there were easier ways."
"Such as?" she asked softly, thankful he had been such an apt pupil. Her purpose had been very clear to him.
"You could have just said so."
She watched the door close behind him, then turned back to her computer.
Cascade, Washington: Cascade Hilton- The Presidential Suite
"So, how you holding up, Dad?"
Simon Banks turned from the window of the suite and eyed his son with pride. Tall, good-looking, Daryl had a job waiting for him at a prestigious law firm as soon as he got off his father's campaign trail. "I'm down to one speech left, Daryl. I think it's too late to wonder how I feel."
"I'm not talking about the campaign. I'm asking about being back in Cascade."
Simon turned back to the window, not wanting his son to see too deeply into his eyes. How could he explain to Daryl that it still hurt after all these years, that he still had trouble accepting the deaths of Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. He certainly hadn't been able to explain it well to Claire, his wife. She had moved to Cascade six months after their deaths and they were married a year later. She had been the one instrumental in getting him into politics, saying that the time was right for a person with a strong anti-crime background. He'd spent two years as mayor of Cascade, one year as Lt. Governor of Washington, and the past year as a presidential candidate. "Cascade is our home, son. Why shouldn't I be thrilled to be here?"
"Because outside that window, thirty-one stories down is a memorial to two of your best friends," Daryl pointed out. "I'm not Claire, Dad. I knew them. I remember them. More importantly, I remember you with them. You were a different man then."
Daryl shrugged. "Not that there's anything wrong with you now, Dad. I mean, I would vote for you regardless of whether you were my father or not. You are the best man for the job."
"But?" Simon pressed.
"But you were a better man with them," he blurted out uncomfortably. "Out there, on the campaign trail, you're great, Dad, but personally... I don't know, maybe it's just with me... you lack some of the confidence you used to have and some of the fun too. I remember how you used to tease Blair, how you and Det. Ellison would take us fishing and the two of you would be so relaxed... When was the last time you laughed, Dad? Not that polite, company laugh, but the spontaneous kind that brings tears to your eyes?"
"Claire says that kind of activity shows a lack of breeding."
Daryl wanted to shout, "Forget, Claire!", but didn't want to upset his father any further. It wasn't that he actively disliked his stepmother, but he just didn't know how good she was for Simon. "Claire never met the man I grew up with, Dad," he said instead.
"We had some good times then, didn't we, son? Even with all the violence that seemed to accompany every outing..." Simon voice faded as he reminisced. Then he remembered that horrible day when word had come that Ellison and Sandburg's car had been forced off the road, that Ellison was critically injured and that Blair's body had yet to be found and was presumably lost forever. He had raced to that hospital to be with Jim, but in his heart, he'd known that Jim would not survive without Blair. So he hadn't really been surprised that when Jim's cries for his partner had gone unanswered, his friend had merely given up the battle. Strange, now as he looked back on it, it seemed that he had given up something that night as well.
He felt his son's arms come around him and he knew that he wasn't imagining the tears in his eyes. "What would the American public think if they saw their presidential candidate puddling up in a hotel room with his son?" he said bitterly.
"They would think that you had a right to grieve for your friends and that you had one hell of a son who understood and was comforting you the best he knew how." Daryl planted a kiss on his father's brow. "You miss them, Dad, and that's okay. It really is." He glanced down at the distance lights in the harbor that illuminated the tribute to his father's best friends. Only then did he realize he too had tears in his eyes.
Cascade, Washington: Cascade Harbor
"I didn't think it would hurt this much."
"I know, Chief," Jim said as the two of them stared at the memorial. There were places in Cascade they knew to avoid and this should have been one of them. But they had been drawn to it, barely able to wait until the cover of darkness before coming to see it. From a purely aesthetic point of view it was an exquisite piece of artwork, the delicate balance of the eagles encircled by the sprinkles of water rainbow-colored by cleverly hidden spotlights. It was designed to be pleasing to critics as well as the general public... with or without enhanced vision. From a very personal view, however, the memorial was poignant to the point of being painful. He knew exactly what his Guide was feeling.
"Even the photos of our funeral didn't affect me like this, man," Sandburg pointed out, his voice breaking. They had been buried together, although Sandburg's coffin had been knowingly empty. Naomi hadn't protested the non-denominational service. Her son had stayed by the detective's side in life; surely that was his place in death as well.
"I think the pictures showed that we were mourned." Jim put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I think this... I think this shows that we were loved."
Sandburg wrapped his arms around his waist, unconsciously trying to hold himself together. "Maybe we shouldn't have come here to Cascade, Jim. Maybe the Section had the right idea--for all the wrong reasons, of course, but still the right idea."
"This is symbolic of who we were, Chief. To deny it, to not acknowledge it at least once, would demean what our friends and our families felt for us. We can't do that to them, Sandburg, not after what they have done for us."
Sandburg turned to face the larger man, surprise mixing with the despair in his expression. "How do you do that, Jim? How do you scrape away the sentimentality, the sheer drama, and find the core of any situation, helping me see how little in this universe is about me?"
Jim smiled ruefully. "First, is this a good thing or a bad thing?"
Blair laughed. "It's good, Jim. No one should take themselves too seriously."
"Well then, I can proudly say that everything I know about cutting through bull, I learned from you, Chief." He dodged the teasing punch swung in his direction. "I'm serious, Blair." It was the first time he'd called him that since his indoctrination into Section One. "I learned to hear by listening to you talk. I learned to see by watching you. I learned to seek the core of the matter by searching your heart."
"Damn, I'm a good teacher," Sandburg said with a hollow laugh, touched as much by Jim's tribute as he was by the memorial.
"You always have been, Chief. Always."
Section One: Control Room
"So what's the situation in Cascade?" Nikita quickly asked Birkoff. She and Michael had just finished debriefing from their mission and she hadn't even bothered to change out of the evening gown she had worn, knowing that the speech was tonight. "You are in contact with Jim and Sandburg, aren't you?"
"Slow down, Nikita," Michael cautioned, standing behind her in his evening wear as well. Although he probably wouldn't admit it if asked, but he too was concerned about the two operatives. When Nikita's hand sought his, he took it and gave a gentle squeeze. "Give Birkoff time to answer one question before you hit him with another."
"Sorry," she said apologetically to her bespectacled friend. "So what do you have, Birkoff?"
"I'm monitoring their transmissions," he said, indicating the listening device he had in his ear. "Jim asked that it not be broadcast to the entire room."
"He doesn't trust Madeline," Nikita surmised. "I, for one, can't say that I'm upset that their relationship is over. It has always bothered me."
"Even after all these years?" Birkoff asked. He'd been mildly shocked at the beginning, then it just became part of the norm.
"Nikita is good at holding a grudge," Michael commented, grunting only slightly when Nikita's elbow made contact with his stomach.
"I've forgiven you most of your sins against me, Michael. Trying to start the list up again?" she asked sweetly.
Before he could reply, Birkoff held up his hand for silence. "The team is in place and Banks is about to make his appearance."
"Where are Jim and Sandburg located?" Michael asked. Because of the suddenness of his mission with Nikita, he hadn't had a chance to review the Cascade mission profile.
"Because several of the invited guests are cops or former ones, especially those who worked Major Crimes, they have to keep a low profile. Sandburg is therefore manning the Mobile Com, directing the tactical and monitoring the screens."
"He is inside." Birkoff watched Nikita and Michael exchange glances. "He's high up in a projection booth-- out of sight and out of range for most people. But then, he isn't most people, is he?" Most of what he knew about Jim, he had surmised; the cold op's abilities had never been put down in "writing". Jim's personal file made no mention of the things Birkoff had witnessed, albeit virtually, Jim do during the course of a mission. That in itself, an incomplete file, enhanced the mystery.
Before he could see what additional information he could get out of Nikita and Michael, Birkoff's earpiece started to hum. "Something's happening... Shots have been fired... A total of three shots... The Secret Service is whisking Banks away. No one is sure whether he is injured or not... Our operatives are starting their egress."
"The shooter?" Michael inquired.
"Was taken down. He is in custody."
"Jim?" Nikita asked anxiously.
"They're waiting for him in Mobile." He listened a bit longer, then flashed Nikita a grin. "Jim's back. He's apparently responsible for taking out the assassin."
Nikita's fingernails bit into Michael's hand. "But was that before or after the shooter got Banks?" she worried. If Jim failed to save his friend, he was going to be devastated.
Cascade, Washington: Cascade Hilton- The Presidential Suite
"I'm fine, damn it!" Simon Banks bellowed, tired of the flunkies and agents flocking around him. "I was a cop for God's sake! I've been shot at before!"
"Simon," Claire said, with an implied warning in her voice.
He usually listened to that warning because he really wanted this marriage to work; two failures would be too much. But he had just had someone try to shoot him and although as he had stated, it was nothing new, being unarmed himself was. "Claire, get them out of here or I won't be responsible for what they see or hear. Understand?"
Claire Hall Banks realized for the first time in her marriage that her husband was not going to back down from an argument with her. Wondering if she liked this side of him or not, she nevertheless shooed the people out of the suite. Before she could close the door, she heard a soft, "You can go with them too." She frowned, but left.
Simon sighed and sat down heavily on the sofa. He was going to owe some big apologies tomorrow. But just for the moment he needed to be alone.
Well, almost alone. He took the glass of alcohol his son handed him. "Someone didn't leave a camera running, did they? Wouldn't want to wake up tomorrow and be accused of being a lush," he said mockingly.
"Someone tried to kill you. You're entitled to knock a few back," Daryl reasoned. "Been a while, hasn't it?"
Simon nodded. There had been a time when someone pulling a gun on him had him instinctively diving for cover. "My reflexes have slowed considerably. All I could do was stand there and watch that bullet sail straight toward my head. If it hadn't been for..." His hand started to shake and he put the glass down.
"If it hadn't been for what, Dad?" Daryl asked. He wasn't sure what had happened because the Secret Service was knocking him to the floor before he was fully aware of what was going on.
"Son, this is going to be hard to believe and if you want to doubt your old man on this one, be my guest," Simon offered, closing his eyes to remember. "I saw the bullet heading for me, Daryl, almost as if it were in slow motion. Then out of nowhere, another bullet appeared and it intersected the first bullet, driving it harmlessly into the floor."
"You're saying a bullet was shot out of mid-air by another bullet?"
Simon heard the skepticism and sighed. "That's what I'm saying."
"Hard to imagine anyone making a shot like that," he said diplomatically.
"Anyone living anyway," Simon added with a shudder.
Daryl stared at his father. "What do you mean?"
"I'm losing it, Daryl," he said sadly. "Maybe it's being back here in Cascade. Maybe it's the talk we had the other night... Anyway, tonight I felt the presence of Jim and Blair, son. It was as if I could reach out and touch them if I wanted to."
"You think they protected you?" Daryl asked hesitantly.
Simon shook his head. "I don't know, Daryl. I just know that I was saved and it wasn't in a conventional way." Someone knocked on the door and he signaled for Daryl to answer it.
"Mr. Banks, sir?" A Secret Service agent stood in the hallway. "I thought you might want to see this before I send it to the lab. It's one for the books, I'd say."
"What do you have?" Simon asked, walking toward the door.
The man held up an evidence bag. Inside was a bullet and going through the center of that bullet was another. "We haven't tracked down who injured your would-be assassin and saved your life, but I would have to say, he is one hell of a shot."
Simon remembered a man he had once called a Sentinel and a friend. "I guess the angels were looking out for me tonight," he said with a faint smile.
The agent looked at the interlocked bullets. "Yes, sir. I would have to agree with that."
Cascade, Washington: An Abandoned Airstrip
The lone cargo plane was loaded and ready to go, except for the two people who stood outside in the shadows-- well, one was standing and the other was pacing furiously.
Sandburg listened to his friend rail at himself, checking his watch every so often to make sure this self-censure didn't go on too long. All in all, he was pleased with the mission. Thanks to the Secret Service, however, everything hadn't gone as planned. At the last minute they had allowed guests through another entrance which had caught the Section One operatives offguard and Sandburg was certain that was the only reason the assassin had gotten past them.
Okay, so for a moment he had been petrified when one of his screens showed the man pulling his gun. He barely remembered alerting the operatives but apparently he had, because they reported back a second later. However, by that time it was all over. From overhead, Jim had seen the gun too and knowing he was too late to stop the man, he had fired two quick shots. One was aimed toward the shooter, the other toward the bullet. Both had found their marks.
Sandburg was fascinated by the Sentinel's new skill and was eager to conduct a few tests now that the crisis was over. But Jim was in no mood for hearing about tests. In fact, he was in no mood for anything other than kicking himself in the ass. He felt guilty because it had been such a close call. Guilt. Sandburg shook his head. It was amazing how old patterns fell into place when you were at home. Forty-eight hours in Cascade and suddenly Jim was once again the king of guilt, blaming himself for not anticipating the Secret Service's stupidity, blaming himself because Simon almost got killed.
He looked at his watch and knew it was getting late. They needed to head back to the Section. Besides, Jim was starting to repeat himself. He reached out and snagged his friend's arm as he marched by. "Hey, man, enough is enough. Whether you accept it or not, we did good tonight."
"The assassin should never have made it into the building."
"I agree," Sandburg said patiently.
"He never should have been allowed to take a shot."
"I agree with that statement as well."
Jim looked at him in angered bewilderment. "Then how the hell can you say we did good tonight?"
"Because Simon is alive, man. That's what we came here to do and that's what we accomplished. The mission has closure, Jim. Let it go."
"He's alive," Jim repeated as if the realization was a new one.
"Yes, Jim. Simon's alive thanks to you."
He shook his head and gave credit where it was due. "You're the one who saw the tip."
Sandburg sighed. "Then he's alive thanks to us, Jim."
His partner gave a slow smile. "Why does that sound familiar, Chief?"
"A lot has been familiar during this mission, big guy."
"But not as familiar as it should be," Jim said, taking in the glow of the distant city lights, lights which used to mark his territory. Now they symbolized just a small portion of it. And there was only one place from where the Sentinel could watch over the whole of what was his. "I never thought I would say this, not with regards to Section One, but... let's go home, Chief."
Sandburg nodded and in a matter of minutes, the airstrip returned to its former abandoned status.
Section One: Michael's Office
Birkoff waited patiently for Michael to disable the monitoring system, then his fingers flew over the keyboard. "Madeline had me run some special sims on Jim before he and Sandburg left for their retreat," he explained as he called up the information he wanted to share with Michael and Nikita. "The results were interesting."
Nikita folded her arms and tried to figure out what Madeline was up to. Then she gave up because it was impossible to second guess the woman. "What was the purpose of these sims?" Sims were computer simulations used by the operatives to test and hone their battle skills.
"At first I thought they were a result of the shooting he did back in November. You know, the way he saved Banks and all. But then I realized she was testing for vulnerable spots."
"Jim's weak point is obviously Sandburg," Michael said and Nikita nodded in agreement.
"Madeline thought the same as well, but..." He found the screen he was looking for. "I ran the standard shoot-the-bad guys-before-they-shoot-you sim. This line here," he pointed to the black line on the bottom of the graph, "is the average score for cold ops of two years or more. The blue line above it is yours, Nikita. Michael, that yours at the top of the screen." He toggled a button to decrease magnification in order to see more of the graph. "The red one is Jim's."
"You haven't seen anything yet," Birkoff warned. "This upper mark is Jim's score when Sandburg ran the sim with him."
Nikita felt a faint tingle in her blood. At times like this, the guide she had become surged forward. "That's Jim in protect mode. His senses intensify to shield those around him."
"Okay, explain this one," Birkoff sneered as he once again decreased magnification. "The green line here is the best the computer could do against itself."
"But there's a line above that one," Michael pointed out.
"Exactly. When the sim was altered to a save-Sandburg scenario, that line was Jim's score."
"Merde," Michael swore softly in French.
"Then Sandburg is not Jim's weakness, but his strength," Nikita uttered in awe. "How did Madeline react to this?"
Birkoff shrugged. "Reading Madeline is not in my job description but I know she took the results straight to Operations."
Nikita shuddered and Michael reached out a steadying hand. "My God," she whispered. "What are they up to?"
Cascade, Washington: Valley of Peace Cemetery
The new president-elect ordered his security to stay back as he approached the double headstone. Tomorrow, he would fly into D.C. and start a new life as President of the United States. But first, he needed to come here one last time when cameras wouldn't be over his shoulders, when he could commune with his friends without interference. The Secret Service had been furious with him, he had already been targeted once in Cascade, but Simon knew the cemetery held no dangers for him.
"Good evening, gentlemen," he greeted the marker formally. "I just came to say thank you. I don't know how you did what you did... But when did I ever know that, huh? All I ever really knew was that when I needed a miracle, you were always there. Impossible was never a word that applied to either of you and I guess that's still the case. So thank you for whatever you did that night at the hotel. I just hope I'm worthy of the gift you gave me."
"You're welcome, Simon."
"And more than worthy."
Simon Banks stiffened, then turned. What he saw made his knees buckle and suddenly there were hands on his arms, forcing him to sit down on the headstone with his head down. "Breathe, Simon," a voice was telling him in a tone he had heard a thousand times before. "That's it, deep and easy."
"I'm not zoning, Sandburg!" he said sharply before he even realized he was saying anything at all. His head came up slowly and he looked to his left and to his right. He closed his eyes and opened them again. The visions remained.
The one that looked like Jim smiled. "We're not ghosts, Simon. Even your normal senses ought to tell you that. You can see us, hear us, feel us, Simon. We're real. We're alive."
"You're alive. You're both alive." Then he thought about how stupid that sounded. Of course if one was alive, so was the other. If there was one thing in the universe that still made any sense was that there wouldn't be one without the other. He reached out and pulled both of them close. They went willingly, knowing how Simon was feeling. Once they too had experienced the joy of being reunited.
Then Simon was pushing them away and they found themselves facing a thunderstorm. "You're alive, goddammit! For seven years I have mourned for you. My son says I haven't laughed since the day I learned that the two of you were dead! What kind of sick joke is this! Damn you! Damn you both for putting me, for putting all the people who cared for you through this!"
"It was not intentional, Simon," Jim said quietly, his voice cutting through the red haze blinding his former captain.
Simon took a deep breath and took a good look at the men before him. They were older, but still the same. Maybe Jim's hair was a bit shorter and Blair's a bit longer, but they looked healthy. No, better than healthy. They were trained, fit. And that's when he knew. "It happened, didn't it? The government took you away, just as you feared they would if they discovered you were a Sentinel."
"Something like that, Simon," Jim said, looking at Sandburg. The details could wait... or never be stated at all. "We work for a group known as Section One."
Simon suddenly wished he was sitting again. "I've heard of that organization, but only because of my new status. I've heard..."
Sandburg nodded. "Everything you've heard is probably true."
"Section One agents are the walking dead, not just in body but in spirit as well."
"We are the dead, remember, Simon?" A glance at the double headstone confirmed it.
"But the organization is cutthroat, ruthless, getting the job done without regard to lives lost. I know that can't be the two of you," Simon argued.
"The name of the game is survival," Jim said softly.
Simon nodded, knowing what Jim had been capable of when he worked black ops. But Blair... He turned to the man who had refused to carry a gun. "And you? How have you survived?"
"The same way I always have, Simon." His eyes settled on the taller man beside him.
"And this is the organization I owe my life to?" Simon asked, wondering what the repayment would be.
"Yes," Jim said.
"No," Sandburg countered. "It was Jim who saved you. Therefore, you owe nothing."
Simon smiled. "With the shot. I knew there was only one person who could have made that. I told Daryl your ghosts had saved me."
Jim shrugged. "Not so far from the truth after all, my friend."
Simon looked into the eyes he knew so well. "Don't take this the wrong way, because you don't know how much seeing you, knowing that you are alive, means to me. But why? Why are you revealing yourselves now? Aren't you just asking for trouble from your superiors?"
"Rumors of your impending assassination were ignored, Simon," Sandburg said bluntly. "We're telling you this because we think, we know, there are people high up who wouldn't mind if someone took you out. Not that they have the guts to do it themselves, but they wouldn't stop it either. Unfortunately, among that number are the persons in control of Section One and her sister organizations."
"I know I have enemies, Blair," Simon said. "The election was a close one and I barely made it through the Electoral College count. Trust me. I can feel the flames below my feet."
Sandburg nodded. "That's why we wanted you to know that you have a flame retardant shield between you and the fire. Whatever else you hear, know that Section One is on your side. Jim has made that so."
Simon looked at his friend, his face devoid of all emotion. "Is that so, Jim? Have you been making deals on my behalf?"
"I've made decisions on my behalf, sir. And that includes letting you know that we are alive," Jim said, sighing heavily and just waiting for an opportunity to get Sandburg alone. He'd told more than they had agreed upon. "But it has to stay a secret, Simon. No one can know. Not our families or yours."
Simon nodded. Keeping their secrets was a way of life for him. "You know I won't let you down."
"Yeah, we do know that, Simon," Jim said and once again allowed himself to be drawn into an embrace. "Look, we have to get out of here. Your guards are going to be waking up soon."
"And these are the people entrusted with my safety?" Simon said, wondering if he would survive the next four years.
"No," Jim said, his eyes locking onto Simon's and making a pledge. "Let them think that, let them believe you trust them with your life. But know, Simon, know where it counts," he pointed to his friend's heart, "who really is protecting you."
"The Sentinel," Simon replied obediently, "and his Guide."
Cascade, Washington: Cascade Hilton- The Presidential Suite
"Dad!" Daryl ran into the suite and despite the look he received from Claire, wrapped his arms around his father. "I heard on CNN there was a problem with the detail protecting you."
Simon laughed. "Yeah, there was a problem, son. They all fell asleep."
"And you're laughing?" Daryl pulled back to look his father in the eyes, having inherited his height. "What's going on, Dad? What do you know?"
"That I was safe in the cemetery, that I'm protected wherever I go."
"Jim and Blair, huh?" Daryl guessed.
"Daryl, stop encouraging him," Claire objected. "Do you remember how the press hounded Nancy Reagan because she visited a psychic?"
"Then you have nothing to worry about, baby," Simon said, draping his arm across his son's shoulders. "I don't need to consult with a psychic to know what I know. So, Daryl, know any good jokes? I feel like laughing."
"Wait 'til Washington gets a load of you," Daryl muttered, his eyes dancing at the return of his father. Whatever had happened in the cemetery, it had been for the better. "Hey, Dad, have you heard the one about..."
Section One: Operation's Office
"So it has begun?" Madeline asked the somber man behind the desk.
"Yes, Phase One is in effect," he said, looking closely at the woman standing before him. Although she hid it well, he could see the effects of the past few months on her. "There is still time to stop this," he offered.
"No," she said firmly. "We do this to protect Section One, to ensure its survival. We can't turn around now."
He nodded, trusting that she was sure the time was right. But he could tell she was saddened by the events and he wished to cheer her up. "How about dinner? At my place?"
Madeline smiled. "And who will do the cooking?"
He winked and got up from the desk. "But I'll do the dishes."
She laughed and took his arm. "You got yourself a deal, Marcus."