Stage Fright
by Laura Picken

Summary: Sequel to Date with Destiny. The Commissioner has an interesting assignment for Jim and Blair.

2012 Update: Be warned that this is probably the only story where I've ever been accused of creating a Mary Sue character. If you know what that means (and some of you do) and you don't like those kind of characters, don't read it. One day I might edit this story to make her less of a Mary Sue, but until then...

On a timeline scale, this follows "Pennies from Heaven", and has one slight reference to it. This story has a very high SPF (Shameless Personal Fantasy) factor, with some romance, sense work, (hopefully) humor, and even a case thrown in for good measure. Many thanks to JR (a.k.a. Rene de Pree) for her help beta-reading this story, and to Yvonne McCool who's been an invaluable resource, critic, and help for mega-drooling suggestions for this story. The final scene in this story (when you see it) was almost entirely inspired by her. I owe you both big for this!

Humor me for a minute here guys - I just wanted to say to those writers whose stories I've read and I've never gotten a chance to e-mail a reply to (and believe me, the only things I _don't_ read are NC-17 or slash, so I've probably read any other Sentinel stuff that's been put up anywhere on the web), thanks for inspiring me. If I wrote thank yous to all you wonderful people for all the great fanfic you've written, I'd never have gotten around to writing stuff of my own, so just let it be known that if it weren't for you guys having the guts to post first, I wouldn't be here. So, thank you. I try not to rip off concepts without saluting the author first, so if I've ripped off anyone's story idea without permission, I apologize in advance. E-mail me and we'll try to work something out.

Disclaimer: All must sing the official anthem...(tap baton on keyboard-start official fanfic theme music). Jim, Blair, Simon and Cascade do not belong to me, but to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. Chorus: Please don't sue! Please don't sue! I'm only doing this for fun. I may throw in references to other shows, songs, etc., and if I do, they belong to whomever they belong to. (repeat chorus) The other characters belong to me... I didn't research the theories on the science of sound that are used in this story-I just made them up off the top of my head to fit my own warped concepts.

One punctuation note: anything in brackets([ ]) is a thought.

"Thank you, Commissioner. I trust that you will handle this unfortunate situation with the utmost discretion."

"I will do my very best, Sir."

As the mayor left her office for the third time in a week, Cascade Police Commissioner Diane McPherson sat down at her desk, pulled out her homeopathic headache remedy, and stuffed 10 of the sweet pellets under her tongue. She then tried to take a long drink of water, and almost choked on 5 of the pellets that came up from under her tongue. [That's what I get for trying to take a double dose,] she thought. She prided herself on being able to handle just about any possible situation, but this was definitely a new one for her, even after more than 15 years in police work. She needed some advice on this one, so she turned to the one person that she knew she could talk to about anything-"Julia, could you come in here for a moment please?"

Her administrative assistant, Julia, casually walked in, pen and legal pad in hand, and asked, "Yes, Commissioner?"

"Julia, when we're alone, you could call me Diane, you know? After all, you are dating my kid brother."

Julia knew she was on a first-name basis with Diane, she just liked giving her (hopefully) future sister-in-law a hard time about her 'prestigious' position. "Whatever you say, Commissioner."

Diane glared at her assistant, then decided to get straight to the point. "Diane, do you know anyone on the force who can sing?"

Julia had always felt confident that she knew everything that someone in her position could know about the Cascade PD. But this was definitely a new one. She had to be hearing her wrong, "Sing?"

Diane nodded. "Apparently someone is calling in threats to the mayor's office about planting a bomb at the Cascade of Stars Festival. The mayor's been able to keep a lid on it so far, but he'd like me to send in a few undercover people to be safe. According to him, he 'doesn't want another Atlanta' on his hands."

"So he thinks the threats are legitimate?"

"Legitimate or not, he has a valid point. I know we can find people to work concessions, administration, and security pretty easily. I could even talk to my nephew Tom about bringing someone into the tech unions. But, I would also like to put someone in with the performers. Can never be too careful, after all. So, any ideas?"

"None that I can think of."

Both women sat in silence for a minute, thinking over all the contacts they had within the department who could discretely handle a situation like this one. Suddenly, Diane's eyes widened in realization. [ I have no idea if he could sing,] she thought, [but a guy like him could probably learn faster than anybody else on the force, and we -do- have a week before the Festival...]

Julia couldn't help but notice the look on Diane's face. Half the time, it meant that she needed to send her boyfriend home to pick up a change of clothes for her, because she would be working with Diane late into the night. She winced, and asked, "Do I need to call Chris?"

Diane smiled, "Not this time. Get Captain Banks on the phone, and tell him I'm going to need to borrow his best detective for a while. Then call Detective Ellison and ask him and his partner to meet me here in about an hour. And get my friend Sharon on the phone - I need to talk to her about training someone for me. If she can, have her come to the same meeting. I'm going to work out some of the details with regard to the other members of the team. They will meet us here in an hour and a half."

Julia nodded, and got up to get back to her phone. "Yes ma'am."

Blair had just finished his report and was about to grab Jim and head out the door for the day when Simon waved them over. Jim made it to his office, but before he could sit down, Simon had grabbed his coat and was ushering him back out again. "Grab your coat, Jim, we have another meeting with the Commissioner." Blair barely had enough time to grab the printed report from his desk before the quick-moving (and much bigger) men almost left without him.

As the three men walked into the (now very familiar) Commissioner's office, Julia waved them quickly into Commissioner McPherson's office while she was talking on the phone. "Go on in, gentlemen-she's expecting you." She then quickly resumed her conversation with whoever it was she was talking to.

The three men nodded their acknowledgment and walked into the office. Diane quickly cut off her phone call, with "All right, I'll see you in about ten minutes or so. Gotta go-they're here. Bye!" She then turned to her guests and extended her greetings. That last call did leave her time to exchange a few pleasantries. "Good evening, gentlemen. It's good to see you again."

The three men said a polite "Good evening" to the Commissioner, where Blair chimed in with "I have the report on our latest case," as he handed Diane the report he had so hastily grabbed from his desk.

Diane received the report from Blair, stapled it, and briefly skimmed the pages. As she was reading a part that caught her eye about the building explosion, she commented, "I always find your reports such interesting reading, Professor Sandburg. Apparently, you two seem to be able to validate forensic evidence in a fraction of the time it takes our entire division, if they catch the evidence at all. Amazing."

She put the report down, and got down to business. "Gentlemen, I'm sure you're all familiar with the Cascade of Stars Festival that is coming up next week." Jim and Simon both nodded, but Blair looked slightly confused. Sensing his partner's confusion, Jim explained, "It's a big party that the city throws about once every four or five years or so. There are concerts and a film festival, but the big event is a $1,000,000 talent show. People from all over the Northwest are auditioning for this. The grand prize in each category is $100,000 and a contract with William Morris. Even for the people who don't win the grand prize, it could be their big break. Talent scouts from all over the country are coming out for this-rumor has it this festival is where Nirvana debuted just before they made it big."

Diane chimed in, "Well, this year it seems we may be getting an uninvited guest. There have been several anonymous bomb tips phoned in to the mayor's office. There hasn't been anything confirmed yet, but the mayor doesn't want to take any chances, so he's asked me to assign a task force to go undercover during the event. Simon, if you don't mind, I'd like you to head up the group. I'd do it myself, but I've been asked to be one of the judges for the talent show, so I'm going to be stuck in a lot of social functions during the Festival. I need someone I can trust to man command central effectively. Will you be able to do it?" Simon nodded.

Diane continued, "Good. That takes a big load off my mind. I've got people who are working undercover with the technical unions, the concessionaires, and the cleanup crew. Simon, they'll report back to you, and you, in turn, will report back to me. I'll inform Chief Warren of this arrangement. There will be an independent security force there, but they'll all be screened thoroughly and half of them will be Cascade PD anyway, so I'll let the Chief handle them. That leaves one group that I need help with. Unfortunately, I think this will be the toughest place to find someone to go undercover."

Simon chimed in, "The performers, right?"

Diane nodded. "They're the most high profile group, unfortunately, they also have unrestricted access to all sites at the festival. Our guy could very well either be a performer or be working in cahoots with one of them in order to get his access. I need someone there who can pick up on the slightest little detail. Unfortunately, I also need someone who could go on stage if necessary and not make a fool of himself."

Jim groaned, but Blair still didn't understand. "So where do we come in?"

Jim looked at the Commissioner with a look of bewildered amazement on his face. "How did you find out about that?"

Diane replied, confused, "Find out about what?"

In unison, Diane and Jim then asked each other, "You mean- ", and before they could complete the sentence, both burst out laughing.

Simon and Blair looked at the two of them, understandably confused, and Simon, who hated total confusion much more than Blair did, declared, "Will someone _please_ tell me what is going on here?"

Diane, who by now had stopped laughing, explained, "I think the Detective and I were thinking of two different things. Detective, I'd like the you and your partner to go undercover with the performers. Professor, your cover is pretty simple-you'll be Jim's manager. Detective, I figured you'd be the best to go undercover as a performer because, with your hyperactive senses and excellent track record, you'd probably be able to pick up on something faster than anyone else in the department. I also figured that if you couldn't sing now, it would be easier to train you than anyone else. That was the call that the three of you walked in on-a very good friend of mine is a vocal coach, and I asked if she'd be willing to give you lessons to prepare for this. She agreed, and she should be here any minute. You don't happen to have any musical background, Detective?"

Jim replied, "Actually, I do, but it's been so long that I've forgotten almost all of it. If I tried to sing now, I'd probably screech so badly I'd kill every plant in this office. It would be interesting to try and learn it again."

Diane sighed in relief. Just then, Julia knocked discretely on the door, and Diane invited her in. "Commissioner, Sharon Driver is here."

"Excellent, Julia. Please show her in. Gentlemen, Sharon is the vocal coach I just told you about. Jim, I'll give the two of you a few minutes to get acquainted before the rest of the task force comes in and we have to start the briefing. If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I'm going to make sure Julia has the conference room ready." She then got up and quickly excused herself from the room. As she grabbed the door to leave, Julia let Sharon into the room.

Blair took one look at Sharon and had trouble keeping his jaw from dragging on the floor. His choir teacher from his high school days was so old and strict that she completely turned him off to anything remotely connected to music for most of his undergraduate years. But one look at Sharon's big blue eyes, long blond hair and killer smile, and he knew he'd be willing to sing for this woman anytime. The three men got up as Sharon entered the room, and Jim, sensing his partner's reaction to the lovely young lady who just walked in, decided to take care of the introductions. "Miss Driver? I'm Jim Ellison, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg, and Simon Banks, who is the head of the task force."

Sharon shook hands with the three men and motioned for them to sit around the table. Her eyes seemed to linger on Blair for a moment before addressing the group, "It's good to meet you, gentlemen. I look forward to working with you."

As the group settled in around the table, Sharon pulled a small notebook and a pen out of her purse so that she could take notes. She addressed the group, "Forgive me, gentlemen, but Diane has told me very little about this case. Which one of you is going to be undercover with the performers?" Jim hesitantly nodded.

Sharon smiled her most reassuring smile. "Why Detective, you look nervous. Have you ever sang in public before?"

Jim replied, "Actually, I have, but it was a long time ago and an experience I would rather not repeat."

Blair looked at his partner, stunned. He had never seen Jim so on edge. He thought, [I have _got_ to find out what happened.]

Sharon, meanwhile, wrote down in her notebook, "definite baritone-no tenor, slight bass undertone to voice, might have trouble singing low or too high-very street-smart voice", and continued to reassure her client. "You'll do fine. For one thing, my philosophy is that everyone can sing. The vocal chords are an instrument, and God never made an instrument that is completely out of tune. You just need to learn how to play that instrument properly. Besides, you may not even have to go in front of a large audience. The first three stages of the competition are before the judges in a closed-door panel. The only people who will hear you in there are the judges, your manager-I assume Mr. Sandburg will play that role?" Blair nodded. "And anyone with all-area access. Most of them won't care what you sound like, anyway - they'll be too worried about their own performances to be critical of yours. Also, I'll be available to you at every stage of the competition, so if you need any extra help or coaching during the festival, just ask."

Simon was intrigued-as far as he knew, the number of people with all-area access was to be limited to the performers, with Blair being the only exception-he knew Diane would figure out a way to squeeze him in. He asked Sharon, "You'll have all-area access?"

Sharon nodded, "In addition to helping Detective Ellison here, I'm also competing in the female vocalist category. You think I'd pass up a shot at a hundred thousand dollars?"

In spite of himself, Blair let out a small chuckle, and Jim and Simon glared at him. Sharon, for her part, ignored the exchange between the three men. She turned to Simon and asked, "I take it that we'll be able to start first thing in the morning?" As he nodded, she opened her notebook to a blank sheet of paper and wrote down an address. "Very well, then, gentlemen. I expect to see you both promptly at 9 a.m. In case there's any problems, I gave you a phone number where I can be reached." Julia took advantage of the opportunity to quickly step into the office and inform the group, "The briefing is going to start in a few minutes, everyone. If you'll follow me to the conference room."

"Careful, careful!" called the voice from inside the rehearsal space. "The door's not going to open all the way. If you keep shoving at it like that, you're -going- to break my equipment."

Confused, Jim nevertheless complied with Sharon's request, and squeezed inside past the doorway, barely fitting into the entryspace for the too-small recording studio. Once inside, he was amazed not only at the amount of highly specialized technical equipment now crammed into the small room, but at the fact that Sharon had obviously carried in every piece of equipment earlier that morning. In a bizarre way, the technical setup was almost comforting, reminding him not of the showbiz nature of their assignment so much as one of Blair's Sentinel experiments.

Jim's musings were interrupted by the sounds of his partner clearing his throat behind him. "Uh, big guy, would you mind-?"

Jim suddenly realized that he had been blocking the door, completely preventing Blair from getting in. Moving forward into the wider area of the room, he allowed the younger man to squeeze his way into the room. "Sorry about that, Chief."

Blair sighed. "Next time, Jim, if you want to do some philosophical thinking when you enter a room, at least let -me- go in first?"

Jim smiled. Apparently all was forgiven, as always. "Sure Chief, whatever you say."

Finally able to get a good look at the room, Blair whistled at the impressive, although highly intrusive technical setup. The only thing in the room that didn't seem to be made of metal and plastic was the baby grand piano crammed into a corner at the far end of the room. Looking over the amplifiers, microphones, printers and spectrographs that were scattered around the room, Blair made a mental note to see if he could borrow some of this stuff in the near future. "Pretty impressive stuff, eh Jim?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, it's impressive." Jim was barely focused on his guide's musings as he continued to examine the equipment in the room. Blair's borrowed equipment usually had 'property of Rainier University' stenciled in conspicuous places all over each piece, to protect the equipment from those who would want to keep it permanently. But this equipment was in showroom condition-not what you would normally expect from your average vocal coach. [Something about this isn't quite right...]

As Sharon turned around from adjusting one of the monitors, she noticed her student and his friend studying the equipment. She asked Jim, "I'll bet you're wondering what a vocal coach is doing with such highly specialized equipment, right?" Ignoring any possible response from the two men, Sharon was all business, positioning both men next to the piano. As she worked she continued to explain, "The equipment has to do with several theories I have about training people to sing. Jim, I need you to stand right here." She moved Jim gently over to her left, opposite the equipment, and handed him a wireless microphone. She then directed Blair, "Blair, it would be best if you could stand behind me. That way, you can see everything that's going on without getting in the way of my view of the equipment." She then gently directed Blair to a safe point behind the piano bench, and returned to her spot at the piano.

"Jim, put your hand on the piano for a minute." He put his hand on the piano as Sharon directed, and she played a middle C. She asked, "Did you feel the vibrations as I played the note?" Jim nodded. She then took the hand that Jim had on the piano and placed it carefully at his throat in a light choke hold. She directed him, "Okay, now try and sing 'oh' on this note." She played C one octave lower, and Jim mimicked the sound exactly as she directed. She asked Jim, "Did you feel a difference in the vibrations that you felt from the piano when I played middle C as opposed to the vibrations you felt from your throat when you sang the lower note?"

Fascinated, Jim nodded, then paused, thinking. He asked Sharon, "Can we try that again?"

She shrugged and replied, "Sure." He placed his hand on the piano, and focused on his sense of touch as Sharon played middle C again, using the sound of the note to keep from zoning out. The vibrations at his fingertips felt to him like a vibrating massage tool. He then placed his hand at his throat and sang the low C again. The vibrations were there again, strong, but much less frequent - like the massager had been switched from a high setting to a low setting. He explained to Sharon, "The vibrations feel similar, but it's like one set was faster than the other."

"Which one was faster?"

"The note that you played."

Sharon clapped her hands together in excitement. "Exactly! Each note on the musical scale had a different wavelength signature. As you go up or down octaves, the frequency changes, but not the wavelength. Now, I'm going to play the low C again, but this time, put one hand on the piano, and one hand to your throat as you're singing." She played the note, and he sang along, following her instructions. "The vibrations are identical to each other."

"Right! Blair, could you turn on the spectrograph for me?" Blair reached around the piano, and turned on the each of the three spectrograph monitors, which automatically registered a blank line.

Sharon then explained, "Jim, although you seem to be able to distinguish the sounds pretty accurately by touch, I also use the spectrograph to give people a visual impression of the notes they're singing that will help them to gain control over their tone."

Blair chimed in, "Kind of like the way biofeedback is used to control pain?"

Sharon agreed, "Exactly. One of these monitors is connected directly to the computer, one is tuned in to the frequency of my voice, and the third one is connected directly to the wireless microphone you hold in your hands." As she spoke, the line on the top monitor moved in synch with her voice. She directed Jim, "Let's try that last note again." She played the note, and Jim sang into the microphone, trying to match his voice as closely as possible to the note coming from the piano. The middle monitor registered the frequency of the piano perfectly, but the bottom monitor still registered a blank line.

Realizing her mistake, Sharon apologized, "Oops - sorry guys. Jim, your mike isn't on. Flip the switch on the side and the switch on the bottom of the mike." She repeated the note, and Jim followed her lead. Sharon watched the monitors intently, and noticed that while the top monitor registered a blank line, the middle and bottom monitors were registering almost identical wavelengths. She praised her student, "All right Jim, that's perfect! Two problems are typical in people who think they either can't sing or don't sing well: one is that they simply haven't learned the ability to recognize the note in the music and copy the necessary sound, and the other is that they can't control the sound for a lengthy period of time, which is what causes people to 'warble', sending them completely out of tune. At this point, you have three ways to be able to mentally process the sounds that you hear: first audibly, then through touch, and finally visually through the spectrograph. We'll keep the spectrograph on for the first couple of days, until you get used to feeling for the changes in notes. After that, I'll continue to encourage you to feel the vibrations in rehearsal, but since you can't exactly have your hand to your throat while you're performing, by the time of the show you should be confident enough to go entirely by what you hear. Now, let's go through a simple scale, so you can see the differences between the wavelengths of the different notes..."

Blair watched Sharon work with Jim, fascinated. It seemed like the teacher's young age apparently belied an immense amount of knowledge and wisdom, a comment that was often made about Blair as well. He couldn't tell whether or not Sharon knew about the Sentinel's abilities, although he trusted the Commissioner enough to know that she would not have been the one to tell Sharon if Sharon did know. Yet, her theories on voice training seemed tailor-made for someone with Jim's enhanced senses. He was practically chomping at the bit to talk to her about his research. But, to do that would probably mean revealing Jim's Sentinel abilities, and he would _never_ do that. [Not even for someone like her,] he thought, [although _man_ it's tempting.]

They had finished the scale, and Sharon looked approvingly at Jim, praising him. "Jim, you have a great voice. Why haven't you done more with it?"

Blair worked very hard to suppress his laughter, and failed miserably. He had tried for three hours the night to get Jim to tell him about his last 'musical experience', but Jim wouldn't budge. So Blair wasn't surprised when Jim simply shrugged off the compliment, replying, "Never needed to."