Novation Production's Virtual Season 5, Episode 2
Fear-Based Responses

by MaBrown, Brate, & Gemini

"At the top of the news hour, a repeat broadcast: Have you seen this woman? The police could still use your help in returning Alex Barnes to the Oregon Psychiatric Institute, from which she escaped last month. She was being treated after allegedly shooting a guard during a robbery at Oberon Security in the spring of last year. Barnes is well known because of the proclamation by Blair Sandburg that she's a Sentinel -- a person with all five senses enhanced. Authorities are conducting a widespread search of the greater Northwest."

A gasp followed by a soft choking sound met the proclamation.

"Sources say that the woman should be considered armed and dangerous. She is Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes, standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing approximately 135 pounds. Anyone with any information regarding Barnes or her whereabouts, please call the number listed at the bottom of the screen. Remember, if you see this woman, do not approach her, she is considered extremely dangerous. Call the police or dial 911--"

The sound of breaking glass replaced the reporter's monologue, and a somber figure on the sidewalk stared morosely at the shards of glass littering the ground. After glancing around to ensure she hadn't been seen, she hurried off.  She hadn't meant to smash the store's window, but hearing the reporter's lies made her lose her temper. She wasn't dangerous and she wasn't armed… yet. She had one purpose in escaping. Find Blair Sandburg. 

She didn't want to hurt anyone this time: she simply wanted help. That was all. No hidden agendas. She wanted--needed--that help to relieve the constant chaos raging within her, the never-ending fight against her own senses, the continuous slipping of her fragile control as her emotions and senses spiked, often leaving her writhing in indescribable pain.

Thinking of the intense pain she so often had to endure reminded her of the bottle of aspirin she had bought. She could feel yet another migraine coming on with a vengeance, so she sought the bottle in her pocket for relief. Holding the small container in her hand, she closed her eyes. She could picture the moment she'd bought the pills, remember entering the store and seeing him.

The answer to all her problems.

Blair Sandburg.

 ~~~~&~~~~

Blair moaned softly as he glanced at the digital display on the clock next to his bed. Six a.m.  How could that dreaded hour have rolled around so quickly? Groaning, he rose slowly from his warm haven and braced himself to face the day. It wasn’t a bad day, actually. It would be a day of doing what he loved -- teaching. The word itself brought a smile to the sleepy man's face. He closed his eyes and pictured himself in front of a room full of eager students hanging on his every word. Realistically, he knew it wasn't always like that, but he enjoyed the dream, nonetheless.

Grabbing his robe and some fresh underwear, Blair made his way to the bathroom, keenly anticipating the feel of a nice, warm spray of water against his chilled skin. It was known, by all with whom he came into contact, that he hated being cold, and this morning was no different.

After closing the bathroom door, he turned on the shower and stripped out of his sleeping attire. Stepping beneath the water, he yelped loudly as the spray betrayed him, denying him his coveted warmth, and instead sending icy rivulets of water down his already-chilled body. Yelling even louder, he jumped from the shower, reaching blindly for a towel in a vain attempt to stop the cool air from leeching away his body's warmth. The warm glow of morning had quickly faded, and so had his cheerful demeanor. Wide-awake -- and now irritable -- he toweled off, silently debating the wisdom of murdering one Jim Ellison in his sleep.

A knock on the door a few moments later, followed by a tentative, "Sorry, Chief," did nothing to improve Blair’s mood. Various promises of vengeance and threats to find his own place -- with its own shower that would constantly have hot, running water -- fell from the anthropologist's lips as he towel-dried his already frizzing hair. Great, now a bad hair day on top of everything else.

Running an agitated hand through the thick mass, he pulled it back into a ponytail and called it good. Sighing deeply, he pasted on a smile and prepared to meet his ill-fated roommate and partner. He'd play it cool for now and deal with his partner's shortsightedness later. Maybe I can check out that apartment below Jim’s loft that the owner's been trying to sell.

 ~~~~&~~~~

"Are you positive this is the woman who came into this store last night, Mister…." Megan scratched a brief note on her pad as the teenage clerk nodded enthusiastically.

"Aw, just call me Hank. Ain't old enough to be a 'Mister' yet." Hank smiled. "Yeah, I'm sure it was her, she was hot! I mean you can't forget a face, or a body, like that. I saw the newscast in the break room tonight and kind of freaked. Figured I better call, y'know? Especially if she's 'armed and dangerous.' Plus, the manager wanted me to call, figuring if this wacko saw cops casing the place, she wouldn't come back here."  

Megan nodded, choosing to ignore the rather lascivious look on the clerk's face as he described Alex's appearance. The inspector was here for one reason and one reason only: to get the escaped patient locked up as soon as possible. The thought of the woman who had tried to kill Sandy running around free made Megan’s blood run cold. She would do whatever it took to see Barnes placed back in the locked ward of the loony bin. The first step was figuring out what the woman was up to.  

Smiling patiently, Megan leaned toward the young man. "Do you happen to have the security tape for me? I'll need that for evidence." 

"Oh yeah, sorry." Hank fished around under the counter for a minute before standing and handing the tape to Megan, "Here ya go." 

She nodded her appreciation, trying to ignore the slickness of his sweat-coated palms as she took the tape from him. "Did she speak to you at all?" Megan inquired as she slid the videotape into a large yellow folder, carefully sealing the metal clasp. There was no way she was going to lose this important piece of evidence. Megan didn't want a repeat of the tragic events of a year ago. Once was more than enough to witness the demise of Ellison and Sandburg's partnership, and Blair's subsequent near death. A small shiver ran through the inspector as the unwanted image of Blair floating in the deceivingly innocent, sparkling water of the fountain flashed across her mind's eye. 

"Yeah, she came up to me to buy… what was it?" The clerk's voice snapped Megan back to the present.  "Oh yeah, some kinda headache medicine. Said something about the weather making her migraines act up. That was it, and she left right after she paid." 

“Did you notice which direction she went after she left?” 

“No, someone else came to check out and I had to help them. When I finished ringing them up, she was long gone.” 

Megan nodded her thanks. "I appreciate your help, Hank. Here's my card. Please call if you think of anything else that could help us out." After handing the young man her card, she turned to leave.

"Wait a minute. There was something else." The clerk called out. 

Connor paused at the door, and turned to face the youth. "Yes, what is it?" 

"That chick asked me about some guy who came in just before she did. I remember because the guy had all this curly hair, and when she described him I knew who she was talking about; he comes in here all the time. He’s into all that herbal crap we sell in aisle three. You know, he's that dude who was a fraud but isn't now. Something like that… it's confusing. Anyway, she asked about him; I figured she liked him or something." 

Megan felt her blood run cold as the clerk's words sank in. It was starting again -- Alex was after Blair. The past was repeating itself, and the ending promised to be bad. 

~~~~&~~~~

Jim suddenly found swallowing nearly impossible as he watched the videotape reveal Alex's fuzzy image. Beside him, he could hear his captain's heart rate shoot up as they watched Alex speak to the clerk briefly, make her purchase, then leave the store. Closing his eyes against the painful memories that her image evoked, Jim was grateful to hear the tape click off. He was even more grateful for the fact that Simon had called this meeting with just the two of them. There was no one present to witness his shame. Not yet, anyway.

"So she came back, after all." Jim's voice held an odd tone of finality, resignation with the situation coloring his face grim. "She's here for Sandburg, isn't she? I mean, why else return to Cascade?" 

Simon glanced over at his detective, wincing inwardly at the hard expression on Jim's face. Not again. Lord, I don't think any of us can go through that again! Rising from his seat, Simon walked toward the windows of his office that faced the bustling bullpen, swiftly closing the metallic blinds to lend a sense of privacy to the informal meeting. It was a meeting he'd been dreading for the last hour. 

"Looks that way, Jim. That's why I called you in here alone. Figured you might want a moment or two to digest the news." Simon placed his hands in his pockets and strolled back to the table. "You're the only one right now who knows what Megan found out today, that Alex is after Sandburg; I'll let the other members of Major Crimes know in a few minutes. After all, they have a right to know. Sandburg is their friend and they’ll want to help. I practically had to threaten Megan to keep her from storming in here, but I knew you needed to hear this without everyone else coming at you. There will be time enough for that later."  

Jim nodded wearily and rubbed his hands over his face, wishing the small gesture could wipe away his worries and fears. Dropping his hands to rest on the wooden table, he turned haunted eyes to his captain. "I understand, sir. And I appreciate that; I just don't know what to do now. First, I need to tell Sandburg. That’s going to be hard enough. Together, maybe we can figure out what she wants. Maybe she's trying to take care of unfinished business with both of us." 

Simon blanched at the thought of what that business might be and nodded, understanding clearly just how hard that would be for his friend, for both of them. 

~~~~&~~~~ 

Blair rubbed his eyes, groaning as he looked at the stack of papers before him. Either he was getting older or being a teacher was getting harder, because tackling the essays before him seemed an almost insurmountable task.

Blair had worked like a dog during the two weeks the dean had given him to complete his revised dissertation, changing the information about Jim's senses and making Alex his primary subject. The dissertation had been turned in on time, and now he was hoping to get back into the relatively calm and normal world of teaching. He'd forgotten how even one class could pile up so much paperwork.

He couldn't wait until his TA arrived; she was supposed to start within the next few days. She was going to be a godsend. Blair shook his head, realizing that his mind was wandering again and that he needed to tackle the task at hand. Glancing at his desk clock, he saw that it was only one in the afternoon, which left plenty of time to grade papers before leaving to meet Jim at five. 

Sighing in resignation, he picked up his red pen and lifted the first of the essays from the stack. He soon found himself immersed in his work, and time began to pass quickly. He became so lost in his efforts that when the phone rang, he jerked upright in his chair, his heart pounding from the unexpected noise. Cursing softly at his jumpiness, he picked up the phone and answered, "Blair Sandburg." 

"Hey, Chief. How's university life treating you?" 

Blair's eyebrows quirked a bit at the forced joviality in Jim's tone. "Not bad, getting back to the grindstone. Grading papers, y'know… the glamorous side of the job." Blair smiled slightly as he heard Jim's chuckle. 

"Well, better you than me. Listen, uh, how much longer you going to be?" 

Blair frowned. Something was wrong, very wrong. Jim's voice was colored with worry, and the younger man had a distinct impression that the worry involved him. "Jim, what is it, man? You okay? Someone get hurt?" Blair's frown deepened as he heard Jim laugh quietly. There was a hint of sadness behind that laugh. 

"Easy now, Chief. Nobody's hurt. I'm just wrapping things up here and thought I'd come by and we could get a bite to eat. Save you from driving down to the station." 

Sandburg set his grading pen down and leaned back in his chair. He furrowed his brow as he attempted to read between Jim's fuzzy lines. "What's going on, Jim? Straight answer this time, no bull." 

Silence reigned for several seconds, and Blair's concern grew with each passing moment. "Jim?" His patience was running out, and he was seriously starting to freak. He heard his friend take a deep breath and waited for Jim to speak.  

"Look, there's no easy way to tell you this. It's.… It's Alex. She was seen in the area earlier. We think she's after you. No, scratch that. I know she's after you, Chief." Silence traveled across the telephone lines again, the tension thick and heavy.  

Blair stopped breathing. No reply seemed fitting in light of such an awful revelation. He knew his lack of an eloquent response would be unnerving to Jim. No doubt the detective had guessed he'd be pretty upset, and he was. But there was simply no way to verbalize how he felt about hearing that Alex had returned. Ever since they had been notified of her escape, he'd been praying she would leave the country or better yet, get caught. There weren't any appropriate words to lend voice to his distress, so he numbly chose a one-word reply. "Oh."  

~~~~&~~~~  

She watched, hidden, as the large vehicle pulled into the parking lot, absently adjusting the baseball cap on her head and brushing her fingers along the back of her bare neck to make sure her hair was properly tucked beneath the hat. Sunglasses added to her disguise, though she wore them as much to protect her sensitive eyes from the summer sun as to mask her identity. 

Her eyes stayed riveted to the truck. He was here to protect his precious partner. He knew there was a threat to the bond. Thanks to her foolishness, they were on to her now. She wanted Sandburg desperately, but the timing had to be absolutely right. There was no way she could afford to botch this. Things had gone so badly before.  

She crouched down lower in the bushes as Ellison got out of the vehicle and began walking slowly toward the building. Watching the dejected way the sentinel moved, she felt a pang of regret for what could have been. There walked the man she had wanted to live with forever, a man who embodied everything she had ever hoped or dreamed. A sense of longing welled up inside her, and she angrily shoved the unwanted emotion aside. The past was dead, and the future now involved her and Blair, functioning together as Sentinel and Guide. 

Seeing there was no possible way to obtain Sandburg right now without tangling with Ellison, Alex retreated, disappearing into the shadows.  

~~~~&~~~~  

Jim closed his eyes and leaned his large, muscular frame forward, welcoming the cooling sensation of the steering wheel as his forehead came to rest against it. It was a warm day, and the heat inside the truck added to his building frustration. He couldn't believe Blair had reacted like that. Blank, dead, devoid of any and all emotion. The conversation on the phone had ended abruptly with Blair quietly telling Jim he'd see him when he got to Rainier; then the younger man had just hung up.

As he got out of the vehicle, Jim paused, glancing around the campus. It was fairly deserted and, except for a few lingering students on the other side of the parking lot, things were pretty quiet. Shutting the door, he dropped his keys into his pocket and began his trek to Blair's office. Regardless of how Sandburg might be feeling about current events, this was something that needed to be dealt with. Ignoring the facts wasn't going to make things better. Alex was back, and Jim’s gut feeling was that she had returned for Blair.

He was almost to the door of the building when a prickling sensation crossed the back of his neck. Feeling his hairs standing on end, Jim paused and turned toward a more shadowed part of the lot. He waited, but sensed nothing out of the ordinary. He could have sworn somebody had been watching him, but his eyes and ears told him a different story. There was nobody else nearby. Shrugging it off as a bad case of nerves, he turned, opened the door, and went inside.


Continue to Act 2