Authorís note: I wrote this around the time of my own anniversary (30th), so this oneís dear to my heart. Iíd like to thank Wendyís betas for betaing this for me and most of all, for my technical support (among other things), Iíd like to thank my husband for assisting me with the technical stuff.

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Close as a Heartbeat

by MyMom

with technical consult by MyDad

Simon leaned back in his chair, raised his glasses and ran his hand across his eyes. Captain Simon Banks of Major Crimes was faced with a potential serial killer. Three killed within the week; shot in the heart, no clues, no apparent motives and no connections between the victims. He replaced his glasses in time to see his best detective, Jim Ellison, enter his office and toss a folder on his desk, then move to the window overlooking the city of Cascade, Washington.

"Thatís it, Simon, the sum total of the case - background of victims definitely no connections. The M.O. - all were shot in the chest by someone using a .22 caliber shell. Hell, Simon, a common .22 shooter could be a man, woman or a kid. Only two things we have is; because the areas the victims were killed in, a rifle is highly unlikely and forensics puts the shooting distance between three and twenty-five feet. Thatís not a hell of a lot to go on, Simon. Weíre really going to need to get lucky on this one," Jim observed.

"Yeah, I know," sighed Simon, looking past Jim. "We could really do with a break. Not only do we have a maybe serial killer, but we also wind up with a mob informant in custody Ďtil the feds can come tomorrow and take him back to New York." He paused, laying his hand on top of the file folder, look around for. . . ĎSomethingís missing.í "Sandburg. . ." Simon exclaimed. "Jim, whereís your shadow? I thought he was here earlier."

Jim turned to look at Simon now, allowing a brief smile to play across his face. "Aaaah...said he had a special errand to run. He wouldnít tell me what it was. Heís been hyper-happy, even by Sandburg standards and secretive all week. And you know how hard it is for Sandburg to keep a secret. He gets so excited and talks so fast he usually spills everything before he even realizes it. Not to mention," Jimís self-satisfied smile came out," I can usually extract from him what heís trying to hide."

Simon gave a warm smile and hint of a laugh. In this business, your smiles and releases wherever you could find them. Blair Sandburg, anthropologist, police observer, partner, roommate and friend of Jim Ellison was probably the best stress release for the department. He definitely was for Jim and himself, and had found a special place in the gruff Captainís heart.

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Blair Sandburg, object of fond speculation by Simon Banks and Jim Ellison, was at the moment bouncing up and down on his toes in front of the jewelry counter at Joiles Jewelers. He was patiently -NOT- waiting to see the object he had kept secret from Jim for over a week now. Tomorrow marked the third year since Jim and Blair had officially met. Blair reflected back. ĎThree years since a narrow-minded, aggressive cop came to me for help for his out of control senses and threw me up against the wall. Then I threw him down under a dump truck.í Blair smiled. ĎOf course that was to save his life. Then this Sentinel/Guide life was born. Who could have foreseen the tears, laughter, adventures, shared secrets, companionship, brotherhood, that would come into being. Itís like our anniversary.í Blair came out of his reverie as the jeweler approached the counter and opened the box that contained the medallion and chain he had specially ordered.

Putting his glasses on and nervously pushing his shoulder length curls back, Blair picked up the medallion and carefully examined it. It was approximately an inch and a quarter in diameter, made of silver alloy. On the front, a picture of a black jaguar and a wolf intertwined, with the phrase, "Itís about friendship" written along the border, while on the back, simply "To Jim from Blair, 2 Ď 1' with an infinity symbol engraved in the middle. There was also a display case with it, just in case Jim would feel uncomfortable wearing it.

Blair turned his gaze back to the jeweler. "Itís great." Putting it carefully back in the box, Blair pulled out his wallet and paid the jeweler. Then he put the box in his inside coat pocket to wait for just the right time to give it to Jim.

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The man strolled down the sidewalk, a bag of groceries in one arm, thoughts only on getting home and putting his feet up. Maybe some TV. He noticed the man approximately eight feet in front of him, standing by a parked car. He didnít pay attention as the man raised his hand, or the brief pain that would end his life, as his groceries spilled onto the sidewalk.

The shooter had planned this well. The people he had killed were only means to an end. He was being paid by the New York Syndicate to kill and the informant, held in the Cascade Police Department. It was an interesting challenge. He needed to get in and have freedom to move about, plant the charge and then get out. He smiled to himself. The police were about to invite him in. Now the lost piece of this part - he aimed at his arm and fired. He flinched and released air between his clenched teeth, put the .22 Ruger in the glove compartment, calmly picked up his briefcase, then sat at the base of a nearby tree and waited.

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Jim was sitting at his computer searching for any other serial killings nationwide that might have the same M.O. as theirs. When he felt the presence of his friend and guide, he let his heightened senses spread out just a little. ĎAh, yes. The familiar bouncy step, quick words spoken in passing, little giggles, and the flirting words. Oh yes, the new coffee girl.í "Hi, Chief," Jim let out to the person just turning the corner and heading toward the detectiveís desk.

"Donít I ever surprise you?" Blair looked at Jim with a cheeky grin.

"Sure, all the time. But only in actions, not in where you are," Jim smoothly replied. "Get your errand done?" He raised his eyes to Blair.

Blair made a face at Jim, the looked over Jimís shoulder at the computer screen. "Uh, yeah...What are you looking for?"

Jim filled him in on what he was seeking. Blair put on his glasses and concentrated on helping when the phone on the desk rang.

"Detective Ellison...Yeah...Has the crime scene been secured? Good...What!? Yeah, maybe this is it. Iíll meet you at the hospital." Jim jumped up and quickly headed into Simonís office. "Simon, weíre going to the hospital. This could be the break we need. The killer struck again, but this time there was a witness, wounded, but in good condition at the hospital."

Simon perked up. "All right! When you get there, put him in protective custody and get him here A.S.A.P."

"Will do, Simon." Grabbing Blairís arm, Jim propelled him out the door. "Glad you didnít get your coat off, Chief. Weíre on our way."

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Jim and Blair hurried down the halls of Cascade General Hospital, when they were intercepted by Detectives Brown and Rafe. They gave Jim all the latest information they had from the crime scene. The rest would have to wait on forensics. The only difference was, this time there was a witness.

Brown pointed out the uniformed officer standing by one of the cubicles in the emergency room. "Heís right over there, Jim. Since we brought him in either Rafe, myself or Officer Dermont has been with him."

Jim gave a tight lipped smile of approval. "Good work, H. Weíll go talk to our witness."

Heading toward the cubicle with Blair in tow, Jim spied an emergency room doctor he had had experiences with several times - either with Blair or himself on the receiving end. "Doctor Branston." Jim reached out his hand.

"Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg." The doctor returned the handshake, nodded at Blair and smiled. "Donít get me wrong, but Iím glad I havenít seen you today."

Blair smiled back. "Yeah...same here."

Jim continued. "Doctor, you have a wounded patient over there in that cubicle..."

"Yes..." Dr. Branston checked his chart. "A Mr. Rouse - David Rouse."

"Is he well enough to talk to me concerning his injury? Itís really quite important," Jim said.

"Sure. Actually, the wound was just a graze to the upper left arm. We cleaned and stitched it. He can leave any time now," The doctor informed Jim as they walked toward the cubicle.

"Thanks." Jim smiled at the doctor, then nodded to Officer Dermont and stepped in the cubicle. Blair was waiting for him just inside the cubicle door. Jim observed the patient was about his height, slighter build, short brown hair, glasses. Nothing really stood out. The patient looked up at Jim and raised his eyebrows in question.

"Hello, Iím Detective Ellison," Jim introduced himself, extending himself to the patient. "And this is my associate, Blair Sandburg."

He shook Jimís hand and nodded back at Blair. "David Rouse, detective, and I think I can guess why youíre here."

"Yes, I suppose so," Jim acknowledged. "So, if youíre up to it, could you tell us, sir, exactly what you can remember?"

Rouse furrowed his brow. "Iím a little nervous here, detective. Iíve never had this happen before. I live a very quiet life."

"Thatís understandable. Take your time," Jim encouraged him.

Rouse let out a deep breath. "Okay, I was heading toward my car, not really paying attention, until I saw this man fall down. Then I noticed this other man by the side of the road. He noticed me." Rouse carefully moved his left arm. "He pointed a gun at me and I jumped behind a tree. There was a pain in my arm and I just started yelling. I guess that scared him off. I still shake thinking about it."

"Mr. Rouse, do you...." Jim started when Blair jumped in.

Blair had been listening closely and something seemed odd to him. It piqued his curiosity, which automatically put his mouth in gear. "You must be awfully lucky that an accomplished serial killer could miss you so widely then get scared off when there was no one else around."

Rouse broke in with a hard glare at Blair, yet with a condescending smile. "Guess Iím just lucky...but I think I could identify him." *There. The bait.*

"Great," Jim said, stepping in front of Blair and giving him a raised eyebrow look. "Since the doctors have given you the okay to leave, why donít we take you to the station and give you protection and see if you can give us a good I.D."

"Sure. Just let me grab my coat and Iím all yours." Rouse picked up his coat and proceeded out with Jim and Dermont on either side, Brown and Rafe in the front with Blair bringing up the rear, nursing his thoughts.

ĎBig mouth,í Blair silently berated himself. ĎWhy do you always jump in? But somethingís wrong...what am I saying? What do I know? Iím not a cop...itís just a gut feeling...sounds like Jim. I donít have cop guts...maybe my guts are just hungry.í

After Brown and Rafe left with Rouse, Jim and Blair got in the pickup to follow. As Jim turned the key, he turned to Blair. "What were you trying to do in there, Chief?" he quizzed.

Blair looked down at his hands. "I donít know, Jim. Just had to jump in to clarify something in my mind. Sorry if I messed up."

Jim gave him a little smile. "I donít think much damage was done."

"But Jim, doesnít it strike you as odd..."

"Chief, what would his purpose be to go and sit in a building full of cops?"

"Does seem a bit ridiculous, huh, Jim?" smirked Blair.

Jim smiled back and reached over, patting Blairís shoulder. "Letís go see if we can get a picture of a killer."

"Yeah," Blair said, nodding. ĎBut just in case, Iíll be an extra observant observer.í

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Rouse had gone through the mug books and now he was having coffee, reflecting back on the wealth of information he had picked up from various people since he had been here. All put together (and he was good at putting pieces together), heíd found out Jim Ellison was a top detective, his partner was actually a Rainier University grad student and police observer, and that the FBI informer was on the third floor. ĎShouldnít be much longer now.í He left his briefcase at the front desk for safe keeping and smiled at that.

"Hey, Mr. Rouse," Jim called out as he and Blair entered. "Ready for the Identi-Kit? Weíve got it all set up."

"Sure," Rouse finished his last drop of coffee, got up and started after Ellison, when he paused as he saw Blairís reflection in the glass of the door, carefully picking up Rouseís cup and putting it in his coat pocket. ĎOh, kid, youíre gonna make me have to hurry a bit. You should have stuck your books.í Then he hurried after the detective.

Blair, meanwhile, took his prize to Serena in forensics. He was sure he could get her to develop the prints, which "Jim wanted developed", then fax them off. ĎWell, Iíve got nothing to lose except a little time before I go to that TA meeting at the University...and of course the ribbing if nothing turns up. Ah, here we are.í "Oh, Serena. Hi! Jim sent this for you to..."

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In the captainís office, Simon, Jim, Rouse and a person from the forensics department with the Identi-Kit were putting together a composite of the killer.

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Serena had come through and now Blair had faxed the prints to the National Crime Information Center or NCIC, as it was faster than the FBI and Blair needed the results fast. He looked at his watch again. ĎNot much time before I have to leave for that meeting. Come on...í Waiting was something Blair did not do well.

"Hi, Blair. Howís it going?" Detective Joel Taggert, formerly with the bomb squad, great detective, good guy and genuinely fond of Blair.

"S*l*o*w*l*y, Joel. Iím waiting for the results of some prints for Jim and Iíve got to get out of here, like now."

"Jim needs them A.S.A.P.?"

"Ummm, yeah..." Blair studied his hands.

"No problem. Iíll watch for them. Iíve got to wait for some results of my own questionnaire. You just run on."

"Thanks, Joel. I owe you..." Blair was saying over his shoulder on the way out.

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Rouse finally put the mouth on the picture and composite was finished. He looked at the captain. "Iím really beginning to feel quite woozy. I havenít eaten anything since breakfast and the detective there promised some food."

Simon smiled, going over to the door and called someone in the office to show Rouse the cafeteria. They had just stepped outside Simonís office when Blair hurried toward Simonís office.

Rouse paused to eavesdrop on the conversation.

"Hey, Jim, Iíve gotta leave now for that meeting at the University. It should be over by 9:00, so Iíll meet you...?" Blair raised his eyebrows.

"At the loft," Jim replied. "Late supper."

"íKay." Blair smiled. "See ya, Simon..." Blair nodded, heading back out, comfortable knowing Taggert would get Jim those results...if there were any.

As he left, Rouse started back out of the cafeteria, eyes narrowed at Blair. ĎWell, at least it wasnít the fingerprints, but I had better hurry.í

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Rouse went by the cafeteria, passed through, went to the front desk for his briefcase and went up to the third floor. He had his guest badge and could always get past the watch. He wouldnít need long to set the explosives in the briefcase, but he had to find the right place to put it and time to get out as there wouldnít be much left when it went off. Then there was one more loose end to tie up at the university.

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Blair had been gone about an hour when the fax started to come back with the results on his inquiry. Taggert started reading it, then grabbed it up and hurried off to Simonís office.

Jim and Simon were both there when Taggert came bursting and handed the fax to Jim. "Hell, Jim." Taggertís breath coming in gasps. "Looks like your hunch paid off with those fingerprints Blair was waiting for."

Jim frowned as he took the fax, looking at Joel, then read the fax to Simon. "ANCIC reports back fingerprints match David Rice - military record - weapons specialist and demolition- dishonorable discharge. Also match David Rhiner, David Richer, D. Race...wanted in ongoing investigation by New York State Commission against Organized Crime - believed to have mob connections. Simon, weíve been set up big time!"

Simon and Jimís eyes met with a single thought and voice Ė "the informant."

Simon hit the intercom and within minutes, the hunt was on for David Rouse, as Simon, Jim and Taggert raced up to the third floor. The whole building was alive with activity, but no one turned up Rouse.

Once on the third floor, Jim turned up his heightened senses. He had been lax, too focused on the serial killer to check on anything else. Now he had to focus those senses to find anything that did not belong...like...he could smell plastique. ĎWhere, where...piggyback eyesight...there, over there...the briefcase.í "There, Simon, the briefcase against the desk."

Carefully, Jim and Taggert approached the briefcase with Simon standing nearby. Simon realized the best hope was Taggertís experience and Jimís senses.

Time seemed to move in slow motion as Jim and Joel slowly opened the briefcase. The timer indicated not enough time to evacuate all the building. It was up to them and they had to hurry. By process of elimination, they narrowed it down to where luck and skill merged. Simultaneously cutting two wires and closing their eyes. No explosion.

"Whew." Simon looked at his detectives and all those around that had been spared.

"Jim." Taggert wiped the sweat off his forehead. "If you hadnít had Blair run those fingerprints, we never would have suspected a hit man infiltrated in here and found that bomb in time."

Jim and Simon looked at each other. Jim shrugged, then remembered Blairís suspicions and then remembered Rouse in the area when Blair mentioned the meeting at the university. "Blair! Oh, Simon, Iíve got a bad feeling about this. Weíve got to get to the university. With us all blown up, Blair is the only tie-in and Rouse knows where heíll be."

Jim, Simon and Taggert made record time to their vehicles, with Simon putting a call for black and white units to Rainier University Anthropology area and also the campus police.

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At the end of the meeting, Blair checked the time. 9:10. Pausing in the midst of gathering up his things, he removed the boxed medallion from his pocket. He opened the case and put the medallion around his neck. ĎIíll give it to Jim tonight. Iíll transfer it from me to him. Kinda like a special ceremony...all sentimental.í He giggled slightly. ĎItíll drive him crazy.í Then serious, Ď I hope he understands.í

Shaking himself, throwing his backpack over his shoulder, he exited the building. Feeling his gift to Jim nestled on his chest, he paid little heed to the sirens in the distance. As he got closer to the parking lot, the sirens seemed a little louder. Blair looked up and noticed a shadowy figure near his car. Blairís eyes widened as he recognized Rouse pointing a gun at him. He froze in the middle of the walkway.

"You should have kept out of this. You know too much and I donít leave loose end." With that, Rouse fired.

Blair felt the pain of impact spin him back. He heard loud voices and felt his head come in contact with the concrete. Then, nothing.

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Jimís truck, followed by vehicles carrying Simon and Taggert, plus several black and white units, swerved into the parking lot. Jim had located Blairís car while turning the corner. His enhanced vision saw Blair, saw Rouse. "Faster...Come on..."

Jim threw himself from the truck as it was stopping. Weapon drawn, he yelled, "Freeze!" even as he heard the shot and saw Blair fall. "Nooooo!"

Rouse turned toward Jim, a cold resigned smile on his face.

Jim fired a split second before Rouse. He raced by the body of Rouse and headed toward Blair. Kneeling by his friend, Jim gently rolled him over and checked his pulse. "Yes!" He started applying pressure to stop the bleeding. Jim could hear Simon running up behind him, calling for an ambulance. However, his entire concentration was focused on that special person under his hands. "Hold on, Chief. Itís going to be okay. Iím here."

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Blair was in surgery, while an entourage of detectives had taken up residence in the waiting room. Jim sat with blood on his clothes and Simonís hand on his shoulder. No words needed to be spoken...just to be there for each other.

Jim looked at the clock. ĎWhy do clocks in a hospital move so slowly?í

"Detective Ellison..." a voice boomed out.

Jim leapt to his feet, clasping his hands and looking at Dr. Branston. Simon and the others had gathered around. Dr. Branston gave Jim a comforting smile. "Blairís out of danger and heís going to recovery. In an hour or two, heíll be in his room. You can be with him if youíd like."

Jim rubbed his hand across his face, almost weak with relief.

"He was a lucky young man," the doctor continued. "He would be dead now if the bullet had not been deflected by this." The doctor held up a bent medallion and gave it to Jim. "That quarter of an inch saved his life."

Jim turned it around in his hands. The meaning of the animals and message on the front and back.... He clasped it tightly in his hands and smiled.

"As it is, heíll have one hell of a bruise between his breastbone and ribs, plus cracked ribs, the bullet wound and a concussion where his head hit something hard." The doctor looked at Jim.

Jim nodded understanding and placed his hand on the doctorís shoulder. "Thank you....I...." What could he say?

Dr. Branston put his hand on Jimís. "I know. Now, if youíll follow this nurse here, sheíll take you where you want to be."

"All right!" Simon boomed out, after squeezing his eyes and discretely hiding his handkerchief. "We need to get to work here." He pointed to the others, relief evident on all the faces. "We can drop in on Blair when heís ready for visitors. Letís go. Oh, Jim, Iíll stop by the loft and bring you back a change of clothes. Iíll know where to find you." Patting Jim on the back, he gave him a little push toward the nurse.

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Blair felt like he should be opening his eyes. "Come on, eyes...open." He seemed to be getting encouragement. He could hear his name being called.

"Blair...Come on, Chief."

ĎOkay, I can do this. There...oops, fuzzy. Try again...still fuzzy...One more time....oh, yes, I see itís....í "Jim." The name came softly from his lips. He felt someone squeeze his hand, so he squeezed back.

Jimís grin was radiant. "Blair...Chief. Youíre gonna be fine. Just take it easy." Jim gently brushed a lock of hair back, letting his hand remain on Blairís head.

"íKay." Blair closed his eyes. Heíd open them again when they were more cooperative.

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"Ow...man!" Blair woke up with this pain in his chest.

Jimís hand went to Blairís right shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. "Youíre going to be real sore there for a while, Blair. But itíll pass. Youíre going to be fine."

Blair looked at Jim. "Rouse?"

"You did good there, Chief. Saved the whole department. Not only was he a mob hit man, the gun he used on you proved he was also the serial killer." Jim looked past Blair, his jaw clenched hard. "Iím sorry, Chief. Shoulda caught on sooner. His file is closed permanently."

Blair put his hand on Jimís arm. AItís okay." Then, the memory of something else surfaced and Blair started feeling around on his chest, trying to sit up and look around.

"Blair, what are you doing?" Jim pressed his hand firmly against Blairís shoulder, trying to calm him down.

"Iím looking for...ummm...did anyone give you a..." Blair was babbling at a loss for words.

Jim held up a silver-looking medallion, slightly worse for wear. "Is this what youíre looking for?"

Blairís face fell. "Oh, Jim, itís ruined. I wanted to give you something special to commemorate our three years together. How I feel about you. Now itís..." Words failed again, but his eyes spoke volumes.

Jim smiled gently at Blair. "What do you mean ruined? Never. This is a great gift and it means more to me than youíll ever know. This saved something that is more precious to me than my own breath." With that, Jim put it around his neck, leaned forward, gently grasped Blair and whispered in his ear. "Happy Anniversary, Blair."