Part One

by Xasphie

burtonnominee2005.jpg (9972 bytes)



E-MAIL: Xasphie

SPOILERS: Yes, lots of them! Main ones are TSbBS, SenToo


RATING: PG-13, with some bad language in the middle

DISCLAIMERS: Don't own them, someone else does. All errors are mine. No copyright infringement intended, etc.

SEASON: Takes place within the first few days after the end of TSbBS

With many thanks to Arianna for being a great beta.


- I -

He'd tried.

Oh man, had he tried.

His only hope now, was that Jim would forgive him.

Blair crammed the last of his shirts into the duffel bag, determined to be gone before Jim returned. The last thing he needed right now was another confrontation. In fairness, Simon had thought that everything was fine in the Ellison Household but not once had he actually considered uttering the words, "If this is what you want?"

Didn't it occur to anyone that the dissertation had been the sum of his life's work, and that the whole Sentinel/Guide thing was really only a subject matter leading to the word 'Doctor'? Guns freaked him, even after several years spent with Jim wielding his at critical moments - firearms training was out of the question. Time spent at the Academy would be futile if his heart wasn't in it.

A lump came to Sandburg's throat at all the favors Jim and Simon must have had to have called in, to be able to offer him Detective status.

While the offer seemed almost too good to refuse, Cascade would always contain Rainier University and the knowledge that while a selected few knew the truth, he would always be considered the irresponsible geek who had played everyone for fools.

Blair shook his head to clear his thoughts, his eyes misting over as he gazed around his den for a final time, brushing a few flecks of lint off the nightstand.

He stepped out into the sitting room and allowed himself a small smile. He'd had a great time here, and he would always have those memories. Glancing at the kitchen; it wouldn't take Jim long to rid himself of all the disgusting healthy-living food Sandburg had merged into the food cupboard. He wouldn't have to complain about his less-than-neat housemate leaving bizarre concoctions brewing on the hob.

He might object to his Guide not bidding him farewell, but he'd survive. He'd come through worse things in the past, and Ellison was born to survive again.

Placing his house key on the work surface, Blair rubbed the back of his hand across his nose and picked up his duffel bag.

A solitary tear escaped and trickled down his face; the apartment door at 852 Prospect clicking shut behind him as he left the loft for the last time.

Jim, I tried.

It wasn't until he reached the Interstate that Sandburg was able to think more rationally. It had been three days since his conversation at Cascade PD, revoking his observer status, and all he had known in that time, was that he couldn't stay in that city any longer. The adrenalin rush when he realized that he had been wanted and needed by his friends at Major Crimes, had overwhelmed and suppressed his distraught feelings towards the Dean's reaction at Rainier. Superficially Blair had forgiven Naomi, but too many trusts had been broken.

Blair Sandburg, former TA, former observer, former Guide, former truster-of-anybody.

Everything he had worked for in his academic life was now in his head. All remaining tangible effects were either boxed ready for shipment to the University for use by his fellow grad students, or had been ditched. He didn't think it had been overly sappy to leave Burton’s Sentinel book on Jim's bed, after all, the friendship might be finished but Ellison still had to control his abilities on a daily basis.

Thirty minutes later, Blair had left the city of Cascade behind him completely, and felt some of the tension leaving his shoulders. Thankful for a quiet stretch of road, he slumped against the steering wheel and rested his forehead against the windshield, maintaining a steady 55mph. He wasn't quite sure where he was heading, but he had a friend down in New Mexico who shouldn't have heard about the disaster surrounding the news story; he'd always been promising to 'drop by' someday. Failing that, there was always Mark and Karen over in the Carolinas. A cross-country trip might be just what Blair needed right now.

As the light began to fail in the sky, Blair Sandburg's Volvo headed east, it's sole occupant chewing his bottom lip in a frustrated effort not to cry.

Jim, please forgive me.

- II -

Jim stumbled into the loft, both mentally and physically exhausted from a day's legal wranglings at the courthouse. Neither he nor Simon had felt that their presence had been necessary nor had it accomplished anything. Ellison had been surprised that the answer phone had picked up his earlier call; he had thought Sandburg was at home. On reflection, his Guide had been looking a little ragged for the past few days so perhaps he had called it a night. He could use the sleep.

"Ah," Jim mused, spotting the key on the counter. "Must already be in bed."

If the exhaustion had not been so all consuming, the detective's Sentinel hearing would have belied his erroneous assumption, by indicating the lack of breathing sounds. Jim hauled himself up the stairs, kicked off his shoes and flopped onto his bed, not noticing the bang as something heavy thudded off the bed and onto the floor. He hadn't even bothered to undress before he fell sound asleep.

At 10:30pm, with a good four hundred miles clocked up, Blair pulled into a truck stop in Montana. He'd cleared Washington State and had left Idaho a while back. His eyelids were heavy and he knew it would be foolish to continue driving. He had visited the ATM the day before in preparation; he didn't want anyone at Cascade PD tracing him through his credit cards. He could use those again when he had slipped from their thoughts. He used the amenities at the stop, stretched his legs and grabbed something to eat.

Despite being well over eight hours since he left the loft, his heavy heart had robbed him of much appetite. He picked at a toasted sandwich and drained a milky mug of tea before curling up on the rear seat of the car. He bunched a sweater under his head, buried himself underneath the blanket and closed his eyes.

The following morning Jim awoke early with an uneasy feeling in his stomach. There was something unsettling him which he couldn't quite fathom.

He ran over the events of the previous day in his head, staring up at the ceiling as he catalogued each scene. Helping Blair return some artifacts he had boxed up for the University, agreeing to meet for dinner, getting caught up at the Courthouse, calling Blair to apologize, coming home late, crawling into bed. Nope, couldn't find the cause there.

He dialed up his hearing to listen for Blair's heartbeat in the apartment, and was puzzled when he couldn't hear it. He could hear the couple in the apartment below enjoying a moment of, um...

Jim smiled. He reverted back to the loft. Blair was incapable of getting himself ready and out without disturbing Jim, so how could he have missed him?

An alarming thought charged into his mind and he sprinted down the stairs, slipping as he reached the bottom. Yanking open the door he hurried into Sandburg's room,


The undisturbed bed was a reassurance that his friend hadn't died, and he let out the breath he had been holding. That was a dumb thought, he rebuked himself. But he had been here last night, he countered.

Or had he?

He saw the key on the counter.

The Sentinel's heart lurched as a myriad of thoughts raced through him. Sandburg had forgotten his key and was sleeping in his car; Sandburg had forgotten his key because he was late for a hot date and slept there instead; Sandburg had gone out early?   No. Sandburg had...

Not caring that he was dressed only in boxers, Ellison ran towards the windows, wrenched open the balcony door and leaned over to check the parking area. No Volvo.

He slammed the window shut and tore back into Blair's den. He wrenched open two or three drawers and a realization hammered into his chest like a physical blow.

Blair had gone.

Jim, I'm so sorry.

A bleary-eyed ex-Guide woke from a disturbed night's sleep. He was grateful that he wasn't any taller or the night would have been even more uncomfortable. Blair clambered out of his car and stretched in the misty morning air.  It hadn't been the car that had caused him discomfort, it was the dreams and thoughts chasing in endless circles across his mind.

Jim must have found out by now, he reasoned, as he folded the blanket back into the trunk. Perhaps he had even called Simon and put a trace out on his car. He ensured that his phone remained switched off and safely stowed in the bottom of his duffel bag, and firmly shut the door. With any luck he was far enough away from the grasps of those who wanted to remind him of the embarrassment that was his life.

He had recently contemplated venturing to see the Penare Indian settlement in Venezuela; it was one item on his wish list, but he hadn't seemed to have found the time in recent years. With the glimmer of a happier thought, he considered how he was now free to do all the exploration he desired.

He pictured himself spending a month with the tribe on the Amazon and sharing the wealth of gained information with his 334f Evolution Studies class. Better still would be Jim's face when he... maybe not.

Blair spent ten minutes in the rest room, freshening up and changing clothes. His reflection in the mirror only reinforced his resolve to cut clear across Montana, stay on the I-90, drop into South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and down. He spat out the toothpaste, swirled a mouthful of water and headed back to the car. He would stop for breakfast when he was hungry. It would break up the journey. Only a few thousand miles left to go.

Sandburg figured he'd make it to North Carolina within three or four days, but he planned to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Simon was on the telephone and gesticulating wildly when Ellison walked into the Captain's office.

"Forget the 20/200 vision, I'm not that blind," he growled, surprising the newcomer with his ferocity. "I can see what you're trying to do, and I'm telling you I need that trace to go outside of the State. Damnit, of course it's important or I wouldn't be calling." With that the phone was jammed back into its cradle.


Ellison jumped at the spat word. "Uh, Simon?" He was too edgy to sit and pacing seemed to fit his needs just now.

"How in hell can you not notice that the King of Incessant Chatter was no longer living in your apartment?" Banks demanded, drumming his fingers on the desk, the freshly-healed chest wound pulling as he turned. "Your Sentinel senses so finely tuned that you failed to realize that he wasn't there?"

"Simon, I..." Jim faltered. He, what? He was too tired? Too wrapped up in himself?

"Has he left a note? Have you tried his phone? Have you checked the airport manifests? Have you tried getting in touch with Naomi?" The questions were fired at the off-guard detective like bullets out of an AK-47.

"Simon, we went over this on the phone." Jim resumed his pacing. "I've checked all of the airlines, I've tried every contact I can, and all I can establish is that no one's seen him since he returned some items to the University yesterday lunchtime. Except," he paused opposite the window. He fiddled with a loose thread on his sleeve and ignored the sirens below that were making his hearing troublesome. "Except one of the other TAs told me that they weren't items he was returning:they were items he was donating."

There was silence in the Captain's office as the sirens dopplered into the distance.

Pained eyes looked away from the window and stared at his superior.

"I think Sandburg's gone, Simon."

The scenery gradually blurred into one scenic event and Blair lost himself in the majesty of the world outside.

He had been driving for eleven hours with only two short breaks and was finally beginning to feel as though he had escaped. The sign welcoming him to the State of South Dakota had been a welcome relief. He would break for five minutes at the next stop. He still had another two hundred miles he wanted to achieve before turning in for another night's sleep.

11 pm saw Jim Ellison alone in his apartment. The lights were off and he sat on the couch staring at the phone, silently begging it to ring.

"Why, Chief? Why?" They were the only words that his beleaguered mind could find to utter.

Somewhere around fifty miles off the I-90 in South Dakota, Blair Sandburg spent his second night on the rear seat of his car.

Turbid thoughts and feelings ran amok in his head, and the restlessness carried through into his sleep.

I'm sorry, Jim.

- III -

The sun was barely over the horizon when Blair awoke. He could cope with bizarre dreams involving wolves and panthers when he had been acting as Guide to a Sentinel, but he'd handed in his resignation to that job, and wanted none of the peripherals any longer, thank you very much.

He couldn't remember specific images from the dreams, but the emotion from them was clear. He was being hunted.

He wasn't far enough away.

Sandburg completed his morning ablutions as quickly as possible, shaving off the overnight stubble, and hurriedly resumed his trek.

Ellison was exhausted when he woke up, covered in sweat and struggling to catch his breath. He felt like he had been running half of the night.

A screaming of noise suddenly assaulted his hearing and he slammed the palms of his hands against his ears. Opening his eyes he instantly squeezed them shut again, unable to cope with the brightness.

He senses were running on overload and he desperately needed his Guide to... well, to guide him. He concentrated on regulating his breathing, feeling his racing pulse pound through his body. He tried to imagine Blair's voice in his head coaching him to dial down his senses one at a time. 'Isolate them and dial them down, Jim. Start with your sense of sight... '

Blair had become bored with the Interstate and was quite happy spending the next stretch of the journey checking out some of the back roads. His tumultuous thoughts were being drowned out by the blare of a local radio station, intermittent in its signal as he bounced along a slightly higher, more secluded road. He had been enjoying some time with the window down and a good steady beat to drive to, at least until the rain had started.

Just as he was beginning to feel some form of control, all of Ellison's senses abruptly went numb. It was as if someone had shut him in a confined, soundproof black room.

Sitting bolt upright in bed Jim's breathing quickly became erratic as he fought to control the rising panic. He couldn't see, hear, smell, feel... he couldn't sense anything.

There was nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

He couldn't even hear his own breathing.

He couldn't feel his own heartbeat.

Suddenly a single sound broke through the barrier and Jim heard the plaintiff and unmistakable sound of a wolf howling.

Blair Sandburg was a vigilant driver who was aware of his surroundings.

What he could never have known was when his front offside tire was going to blow out, and send him careening off the side of the road.

I'm sorry, Jim.

- IV -

There was a very weird feeling playing havoc with his stomach. Perhaps that new Thai Curry House on the corner of Radison hadn't been such a great idea of Jim's. Perhaps if he just turned over and went back to sleep again, the odd sensation would go away? Hell, it was worth a try. His alarm clock hadn't gone off yet, and he couldn't hear Jim moving around the loft.

What day was it anyway? What were today's plans? Man, he hated those initial moments in the morning when he really couldn't figure out what day it was, and whether or not he had to be anywhere at a certain time.

Damn that feeling in his stomach, it wasn't quite nauseous it was more queasy - like travel sickness without having had the food first. Still if he just turned over, and tried to sleep it off for a little while...

Something in the rational part of Blair's mind was trying to point out something very obvious.

Sandburg wasn't interested in the rational part of his mind. That part could go take a long run off the short pier near Cascade harbor.

He needed to go back to sleep. He didn't like that unusual feeling in his stomach and was convinced that sleep was the cure for all.

Without opening his eyes, Blair returned to oblivion.

"Simon, just take my word for it, Sandburg's in trouble." Jim was exasperated. Not so much with Banks, but with the whole interminably frustrating situation. How was it possible for one man to disappear so completely in the space of 36 hours?

Banks studied the drawn face of his friend. "Jim, Sandburg's always in trouble. Name a time he hasn't been?" It was the closest he could manage to a light-hearted tone of voice. No one in his department could believe that their favorite wild-haired womanizer would just up and leave without a word. Brown was already chasing down leads suggesting that this was not something he had chosen to do, but rather had been coerced. It wouldn't be the first time the anthropologist had been kidnapped, damaged, abducted, challenged, held hostage - the list was scary. Nevertheless there was an undisputed link between Detective James Ellison and soon-to-be cadet Sandburg; if the former believed that the latter was in trouble, then it was more than likely to be the case.

"I've given Connor all of his bank details and she's been checking all transactions but he hasn't used either his credit or his debit cards since he left. It's as though..." Jim halted when Simon's desk phone rang.

"Banks." Ellison disobeyed a self-made rule and eavesdropped on the ensuing conversation.

The pit of his stomach fell when he heard Sheridan at the Academy explain about a letter he had received, thanking them for the offer of a place but refusing it and apologizing for any inconvenience. Was that what all of this was about? If that was all then he could have talked it through with Sandburg. They weren't forcing him to attend were they? He thought they had merely offered him something that he wanted, as a part consolation for losing so much that had been dear to him.

Blair had been almost uncontrollable in his enthusiasm on that night, when most of the Major Crimes Division had gone out to celebrate. The color had come back into Sandburg's face for the first time since the whole debacle started. Even back at the loft he had chattered continually right up until Jim had planted both hands on his shoulders, looked him squarely in the eyes and said the words, "Chief? Go to sleep. Now. Or else." Blair had gulped and grinned like the Cheshire cat, mutely nodding, turning on his heel and scurrying into his den to go to bed.

So how did their friendship dissolve from that to this?

What had happened in between that had destroyed a working partnership and special friendship, meaning that Blair had felt the need to run away from everyone and everything? Or was there something that hadn't happened?

Ellison was brought round by Simon's insistent tugging of his elbow. "Jim? Jim. Can you hear me?"

"Captain?" Ellison snapped back into reality and realized he must have zoned out on his boss. He needed his Guide back.

Somewhere at the back of his mind he could still remember the lone howling.

Crap that feeling was still there. That was okay because he didn't feel like he actually needed to throw up.

Which was also good because he seemed to be having some trouble moving.

- V -

There was a dull throbbing sensation in his back as Blair finally roused himself; one that was closely matched with a raw ache in his head. It took him some time to open his eyes and become fully aware of his predicament, and it was all he could do to suppress the well of panic as he took in his situation.

He was still firmly strapped into the driver's seat of his car, the belt cutting a mark into his left shoulder. The world had taken on a peculiar angle, and it took Blair some time to settle his disorientation and realize the car was bedded on its side, with the driver's side resting against the ground. The left hand side of his head was cold where it was pressed against the window; his shoulders ached, there was an indescribable sensation in his stomach, and something didn't seem quite right with his legs.

Very slowly, Blair raised a hand and gingerly probed the side of his head. There was a small bump there, but there didn't seem to be any blood. He continued to use the fingers of his right hand to explore the rest of his head, moving down towards his chest and stomach, relieved to find that at no point did he pull them away to reveal blood. After a few moments he took a deep breath.

He was surprisingly okay; quite shaken obviously, but everything seemed to be functioning. His plan of action? Simple. All he needed to do was undo the seat belt and crawl up and out of the passenger side.

Releasing the catch on the safety belt took Blair longer than he supposed, hindered by both shaking fingers and a mechanism that had twisted in the fall. His left shoulder twinged as the pressure of the belt was released and he slumped further against the window. "Okay Sandburg, task number one, check." Quietly muttering reassurances to himself he brought his left hand around onto the glass and reached his right hand to the edge of the seat. There was plenty of leverage for him to use and he just hoped that his movement would not alter the car's angle while he shifted. The view out of the front of the car was obscured by vegetation and he uttered a silent prayer that he was not resting precariously over the edge of some unforeseen precipice.

His arms were shaking with shock and he had to count himself into freeing himself from the driver's seat. He aborted the first attempt because although he could get a purchase with his hands, his arms weren't prepared to take any weight. He inhaled deeply once again, counted to three and strained to lift himself clear of the foot well.

Jim sat at his desk in the Major Crimes department and reviewed a lengthy list he had compiled. It contained all the methods he could think of for locating his partner. Many of the items had since been crossed out including the monitoring of bank transactions, hospitals, clinics, use of passport, Naomi, ex-girlfriends, Rainier. It had occurred to him that some of the latter may have been covering for Sandburg, but there seemed to be startlingly few at the University who would want to assist him. On the contrary, Naomi's worried concern had been palpable. Taggert agreed with him that a kidnapping would have had some form of confirmation by this stage, and the withdrawal of several hundred dollars from his bank account the day before he disappeared, suggested otherwise.

At the moment Jim's best chance was the APB out on any sightings of Blair's car. Banks' insistence had led to it becoming a nationwide alert although Ellison knew that cops in other precincts were uninterested in a simple, voluntary disappearance of an adult, so it was highly unlikely that those in other states would take much notice either. Rafe was currently holding a conversation with a weekend security officer of a fuel company, determining whether or not gas stations in his chain could be alerted. Jim couldn't help but smile at the lengths his colleagues were pursuing.

A shadow fell across his desk. "Jim, go home." Ellison raised his tired face towards that of his captain.

"I can't, Simon. Not until I know what's happening."

Banks' expression was soft. "We're all concerned about him, Jim. We're doing everything we can. You haven't slept since you came in yesterday morning, and I don't think the caffeine diet is the most sensible at this stage." He laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I promise that someone will call you the moment they know anything, no matter how insignificant."

Jim looked over at the clock on the wall. It was just after four o'clock on Sunday afternoon and he had last seen Sandburg on Friday lunchtime. The kid could be anywhere by now. "Let me make a few more calls first Simon, then yes, I promise you I will go home."

Knowing that Jim would be adamant about staying longer, Simon sighed heavily, catching Connor's eye and motioning towards his stressed detective. She understood and came to take his place as Banks returned to his office.

She stood in front of the Sentinel's desk a good three minutes before Ellison even noticed she was there. "Megan, er...?"

"Which sense is out of whack today, Jim?" Her voice was quiet. "We've done all we can here for the moment, so let's go and grab something to eat." She walked around the side of the desk and removed the sheet of paper from his hand. She carefully folded it, placed it in the top drawer of his desk and snagged Ellison's coat from the back of his chair. "Up," she commanded. "You choose the location, I drive."

"The truck..."

"I drive," she reaffirmed, guided him out of his chair and effectively shoved him out of the door. Banks watched from the safety of his office and nodded in gratitude to the Australian.

The clock in the battered car registered 4:27 pm and Blair was still in the same position in the driver's seat, after many aborted attempts. As far as he could establish, the car must have rolled when it first went over the side of the road and the impact had dislodged the dashboard panels, jamming themselves down on top of his legs. The steering wheel was millimeters away from his stomach making forward motion all but impossible. Something was pushing through the soft padding of the seat itself and pressing against his back. It reminded him of a recent flight when the rather tall gentleman behind him had struggled to keep his knees from digging into his chair. Sandburg tried to wriggle into a more comfortable position but whatever it was behind his seat was not going to move, and he couldn't slide away from it. The steering wheel in front of him hindered the majority of his movement and his legs were not responding at all.

He was fairly certain he could still feel his toes and was convinced that he had just wiggled them, but without a visual confirmation he was not one hundred percent sure. He could see half way down his thighs, the jeans were unmarked, but beyond that was the damaged interior of the console. In despair he endeavored to shift either of his legs to the one side or the other but to no avail. He eased his right hand down towards the inside of his right thigh, gripped what little he could of the material and wrenched his hand to the side.

The sudden slicing pain that shot down his spine and up from his knee was immeasurable and left Blair gasping for breath. His fingers fell slack in his lap and his head lolled against the window as his vision grayed.

Being driven down 9th, Ellison had been leaning back against the headrest in Connor's car when he snapped his head forward.


"Did you hear that? Stop the car." Puzzled, Megan pulled over as soon as she could, shifted into park and turned to face the alert detective.

"What can you hear, Jim?"

"Shush." He held up a hand to stem any further words.

Eyebrow raised, she let her friend concentrate on refining his hearing. She had never truly observed his Sentinel abilities and it was quite eerie. His facial expression merely suggested that he was daydreaming, but she was thankful that she had come to learn differently.

After a few moments Ellison turned and stared at Connor. "It's gone. I couldn't get it."

"Get what? What did you hear?"

"That's the problem. I'm not sure." He leant his arm against the door and gazed at his surroundings. "Would you call me crazy if I said 'I think Blair's in trouble'?"

"Sandy? How do you know?" Silly question, she thought. The connection that these two had would make the answer obvious. "No Jim, I wouldn't." She patted his arm to bring his attention back to her. "What can I do to help?"

The answering tone was pure exasperation. "I don't know."

"Okay, Sandburg, you aren't panicking are you?"

His voice was stilted, forced through gritted teeth as he steeled himself for another futile attempt at moving. He was ready for the shooting pain this time but still cried out when his limbs refused to budge. He had spent nearly an hour hopelessly trying to move out of this position, and all he had managed was a bitten lip where the initial surge of pain had caught him by surprise.

It did not take him long to establish that if he stayed in this one position then nothing hurt, but it did not take his IQ to know that staying in this one position would ultimately lead to...

Blair did so not want to go there.

The tightness across his chest, and the wheezing that was beginning, were symptomatic of an impending panic attack. He could ward this off. He was not going to die here; there was always hope. After all, someone would notice his car, or the tracks and the tire rubber on the road above, or failing that he had friends who would notice his absence and come looking for him...

Breathing was difficult as the band of steel constricted his lungs further. No, he would not panic. The trembling in his hands was still a residue from the accident itself. He could breathe. He was going to escape from this predicament:wasn't hard. All he had to do was... was, c'mon Sandburg, think. All you have to do is,... okay, that's it.

He reached out his right hand and switched on the radio, fumbling with the dial until he found a clear enough station. The drumbeat that came across the airwaves was perfect as he notched up the volume. "This is a good idea, Blair. Well done. Someone's going to hear this."

The music soothed his nerves and his breathing relaxed back into its normal rhythm. The gasped breaths he had been taking had forced his stomach against the wheel and he squeezed his fingers into the gap to massage the pinched skin below. His hair kept falling into his face so he twisted it all to the left and made himself a pathetic pillow to soften the hard surface of the glass. As the music faded into the chirpy tones of a local DJ Blair thought longingly of his blanket and duffel bag, firmly secured in the trunk: the duffel bag that contained a thick sweater, the credit cards he had refused to use for fear of being located, and a cell phone that he had ensured remained switched off.

The next song did nothing to alleviate the pressure building back up in his chest.

Nobody knew where he was.

Moreover, he had spent three days convincing himself that no one cared either.

Help me, Jim.

- VI -

The radio announcer delivered the six o'clock news with the Úlan of a tabloid journalist. Blair felt that an announcement involving an armed hold-up of a store, and the death of two elderly people in a fire, should not have been dealt with in such a sensationalist attitude, but he was hard-pushed to achieve his usual buoyant viewpoint on life. Somewhere in his heart, he wished to hear the words: "and the search is continuing for an anthropologist from Cascade, Washington, missing since Friday afternoon" - but no such words were forthcoming and he was surprised to experience a sinking feeling in reaction. The bulletin went on to detail the weather forecast for the next few days including the nighttime low of thirty-seven degrees fahrenheit.

Until that moment, the heat issue had not occurred to Sandburg.   He had slept in the car for two nights, tucked safely underneath his heavy car blanket whilst wearing his thick sweater over his trademark undershirt. He had been plenty warm enough with that, but the overriding difference for those nights was that he had been able to move if necessary.

The rumble of his hungry stomach interrupted his thoughts; reminding him that he hadn't eaten since much earlier in the day. His mouth was dry; his last drink being from the bottle of water he had finished around 10am, about fifteen minutes before the car had left the road. Had he really been down here that long? For such a minor bump on his head, Blair did not think he had lost consciousness for that length of time.

No matter how much he strained to see, the foliage from surrounding trees and bushes obscured his view, and he had no idea how far down the side of the hill he had fallen, or whether or not the car was resting at the bottom of the slope. It unnerved him to work the logical possibility that if he couldn't see out from his vantage point, then other people would be unable to see him. Not that anyone would be looking for him.

Which all brought him back to why he had left Cascade in the first place. Had it been immature 'running away' by not saying goodbye, or at least discussing the situation with his former roommate? After all, Jim had proved himself to be his dearest, closest and most trustworthy friend for years. No. He had tried to broach the issue; he knew he had. He considered other friends from both the Police Force and the anthropological world and rejected them the same way they would currently be rejecting him as a fraud. A memory of words Naomi had uttered once about his not being cut out for this sort of thing, came rushing back to haunt him. She had been right.

Who had ever heard of a detective who refused to carry a gun? That would guarantee his failure at the Academy for a start.

His stomach rumbled again and Blair remembered the half-finished bag of mints in the glove box. They would act as a form of sugar replacement even if they were neither filling nor nourishing. It wasn't so far to the glove box from where he sat in geographical terms, but the way in which he was wedged in by the steering wheel and collapsed dashboard, it might as well have been a mile away. Nevertheless it gave him a new determination.

Sandburg eased his head up and leant over to his right as far as he could, his neck muscles straining to pull his body upwards. He grappled at the passenger seat to keep himself from flopping back down, and stretched towards his goal. His fingers weren't obeying his instructions too well, but he managed to fumble a grip on the handle. The door fell open and various contents spilled out, dropping down towards Blair's head. Pushing aside the gloves, the windshield cloth and the Kleenex, he searched for the elusive mints.

With a victorious shout his fingers curled around the crumpled packet and withdrew it. There were only four left but it was four more than he had had a minute ago.

"Perhaps I should ration myself," he giggled. He popped one of the precious items into his mouth and sucked on it as slowly as he could. Jim would have laughed to watch him, considering the way he usually guzzled things down. He ignored the temptation to crunch his teeth through the casing and enjoyed having something to concentrate on for a few moments. He stuffed the packet into the well near the gearshift and struggled yet again to alleviate the weight building on his back.

His left shoulder was taking some of the weight, but the awkward twisted position he was forced to remain in, was bringing alive muscles he was fairly sure didn't exist. Blair had turned around as far as he could to see what was digging into his seat, but could only catch a vague outline. He had jiggled around the rearview mirror but still couldn't make it out.   It was reluctant to shift, whatever it was. In the meantime he would just have to cope with the discomfort.

He listened to the radio for another few hours, as the light outside began to wane. The radio was louder than he could shout and he fervently hoped that someone would hear it. He would keep it on for another two hours, and then give his hearing a rest. No way Ellison could have coped with that noise level for this long. Perhaps it would be better to play it in the middle of the night, when the sound would travel further - on the other hand, he would be wasting valuable battery charge if no one was driving along that route. The easiest way to re-charge the battery would be to start the engine.

Sandburg toyed with the idea before dismissing it. If he had survived this many hours without incident, then it was safe to assume that the car was not due to blow up in the near future, however, attempting to start the engine might be a fatal decision.

He gingerly removed the keys from the ignition and placed them next to his remaining three mints.

Connor had driven Ellison back to the loft and insisted on coming in for a coffee, before leaving him to wallow in self-pity. She had wanted to stop over and ensure that he at least went to bed, but Jim was determined to have some space.

Although he and Sandburg had discussed the issues surrounding Alex Barnes a year ago, and agreed to drop the subject, he couldn't help but feel guilty each time he recalled throwing his Guide out of his apartment.   Was this some sort of revenge?

"C'mon Chief. All you have to do is call." Jim checked his cell and placed it next to his bed. The beer hadn't helped; it had only served to suppress his senses for a while. He was having a hard time keeping the dials aligned and having a good portion of his mind preoccupied, was starting to cause control problems.

Ellison stripped down to his boxers and held off on the shower until the morning.

He lay in bed and pulled the sheet up tight around his neck. He needed Incacha's guidance to connect him back to his spirit guide. The howling wolf he had heard was to do with Sandburg, and the noise he thought he had heard this afternoon was akin to it. He needed Incacha's help.

Blair ran one of his ever-gesticulating hands over the day-old stubble on his face. He blinked a few times to clear the fog out his weary vision, and vigorously rubbed the skin around his eyes. For some reason he was finding it hard to concentrate. Sitting still was only usually feasible for him provided he had his laptop, an extremely engrossing book, some engaging research or some well-thought-out student papers. That was probably why ideas were coming slowly to him, he needed to be able to pace up and down to think clearly.

The telephone was in the trunk, as were options for warmth. No one had any idea where he was and he had left no signs to that effect. He doubted that anyone would remember him at any of the truck stops or gas stations he had called at, and even if the security cameras had logged his presence, he was not under suspicion for anything and few would have taken notice of him. Blair supposed he should be regretting leaving without acknowledging any of his so-called friendships, but he had spent so much of his childhood following a nomadic existence in the company of his wandering mother, that cutting and running was a reasonable option.

He never was much of one for commitment. Commitment to a cause maybe, but relationships? Nah.

The last of the daylight had vanished and the denseness of the night confirmed his distance from habitation. With the bird song having ceased and the wind having dropped, the silence was unsettling. An anxious part of Sandburg's mind wanted to pay attention for any sign of wolves, and it drew a nervous laugh from him. At least within the confines of the car he should be safe. "According to Jim, I am a wolf anyway, so they should be friendly toward their brother." The idea was not as heartening as he would have liked.

Remembering the cold he always felt when leaving a movie theater, Blair decided that it would be more sensible to shrug off his jacket and over shirt, so that when the temperature dropped during the night he would at least have the psychological suggestion of adding layers of clothing for warmth.

Easier said than done.

Taking his right arm out of his jacket was straightforward enough, but pushing his body up and away from his left side caused the muscles in his back to spasm. He gasped with the unexpected sensation and forced himself to continue, easing out his left arm. He imitated the movement with his shirt and was relieved to relax back against the cold glass. Pausing for a moment to catch his breath, he then scrunched up his coat and padded it up as a pillow.

"Yeah, man. Much better." More for his own emotional reassurance than physical, Sandburg made a show of getting cozy.

He couldn't see the interior clock any more, and the only comforting glow of light came from the radio. Now would be a sensible time to switch it off. The quiet of the night suggested a lack of traffic above, and he needed to preserve the power to guide the rescue team when they saved him in the morning. It was one of the few positive thoughts he had managed in hours, and he held the sentiment close to him.

As his eyes adjusted, he found the dark all encompassing with no hint of light from any source. The temptation to panic was still there, but he once again persuaded his subconscious that it would be a waste of good oxygen. "You could always meditate to calm yourself down, Chief."

"Jim?" Blair's instinctive reaction was to snatch his head around and scan the dark for the owner of the voice. "That you?"

His question was greeted with total silence. He shook his head; his long curls slapping across his face. He tucked a stray wisp behind his ear and closed his eyes. The dark always played havoc with his mind, but perhaps meditation wasn't such a bad idea.

He knew he hadn't heard a voice, he had simply heard an echo of words uttered in the past. Ellison wasn't in the car in either a spiritual or a physical presence. The detective would be either at home on the couch, beer in hand and watching the game, or chasing some dead-end lead to yet another case. Sandburg snorted in derision. Ellison really did need to get out and find a life. His 'Associate' had dated more in the past year than Ellison had done since he'd met him.

He opened his eyes to the dark once again. He needed to empty his mind if he was to try and meditate. He could do this. Abandon all the emotional concerns that were currently raging through him, ignore the pins and needles that were stabbing into his legs, and overlook the thudding headache that was taking up residence behind his left eye.

Sandburg shut his eyes and focused on clearing his thoughts.

In apartment 307, a restless Sentinel fell into an uneasy sleep.

- VII -

Prowling through the undergrowth, highly refined senses on alert, ears lying flat against the skull - the hunter in full stealth mode.   In the distance lay the temple, the ultimate goal. Between the panther's lean shape and the stepped shrine lay the barbed thorns of hatred, thrown into his path as a deterrent. The dark creature prepared to vault, launching itself high into the air to clear the tortuous trail. It's flanks stretched in flight, its claws reaching out to soften the landing.

Distant baying accompanied the pounce, the lost and lonely cry of a wolf in pain.

The panther landed and surveyed the terrain. The leap had accomplished nothing. The animal had moved no closer. The undergrowth seemed to expand on all sides and the level of the thorned vines grew higher.

Jim was woken by the sound of his landline ringing. Slipping on his robe he crept downstairs so as not to awaken Sandburg in the room below, and snatched up the phone. "Ellison." He swung around expecting to see the groggy face of his guide emerging from his room, and he could have kicked himself as he remembered why he wasn't there. "Yeah, Simon."

The remnants of sleep were driven out by Banks' encouraging tones. Ellison dropped down onto the couch to absorb the information he was being given. "Where? When?"

"The cashier is fairly certain she remembers someone who matches Sandburg's description filling up with gas on Saturday afternoon." Ellison scrubbed his hand through his hair as his captain continued. "She remembers him because she thought his laugh was 'cute'."

Jim smiled. "Are there any video tapes of that time so we can confirm?"

"They dug them out and sent them over with a trucker who has to pass through Cascade. They should be here later on today. It was the quickest we could manage."

"Do we know which direction he was heading?"

"East on I-90. Jim?" It didn't take Sentinel abilities to discern the hesitation. "This isn't a case of missing persons, kidnap or chasing a misdemeanor. I can't offer official departmental support on this, you know that?"

"Yeah, I do, Simon." Ellison consoled. "But what people volunteer to do in their spare time is up to them, right?"

Banks laughed in agreement. "It seems many in Major Crimes are due for some downtime. And I really must learn to keep better tabs on the use of the work facilities... like vehicle tracing and telephone lines, but that will have to wait for the next review meeting I suspect."

"Thanks, Simon." He was fortunate to have such an understanding superior.

"Bring him home, Jim. He's one of us, no matter what he thinks."

The night had been distressing in so many respects. The pins and needles in his legs had escalated beyond painful and had finally descended into numbness. He could handle the lack of sensation much more easily than the throbbing he had endured for the first part of the night. The meditation had worked for a short while but he couldn't focus sufficiently well to block out the barrage of aches and cramp which assaulted his system. The feeling in his stomach had finally receded but he was still left with the pressure forcing itself into his spine.

During the night he had suffered his greatest embarrassment. He had slept in fits and starts, occasionally managing to become an obscure form of comfortable, but startling himself awake when he tried to move. He had never been a static sleeper. At one point he had woken with a pressing need and absolutely no way of relieving it. He should have realized that it would happen sooner or later, and should have made arrangements accordingly. Perhaps he could reach the water bottle he had slung into the rear of the car? He knew there wasn't anything in the foot well on the passenger side because he had tidied that out at the last gas station. If only he hadn't left the I-90 he would still be on the road, or at the very least someone would have found him. Was he really only an hour's drive away from his last stop? Sandburg twisted his right arm behind his seat and stretched as hard as he could, straining for the plastic container he was convinced must have dropped down to this side of the car in the fall. The exertion put renewed stress on an already aching limb, and his actions grew to be frantic as his need became urgent. He fumbled desperately for the bottle knowing that it would be too late in a few moments, but despite his scrabbling he was not rewarded.

Blair could not recall anything so degrading. Not even the embarrassment of lying at a press conference and being summarily dismissed from the University, compared to the humiliation he felt when he couldn't hold himself back any longer. He was grateful by this stage that the feeling had gone from his legs, because being able to sense the water trickling down the inside of his thigh was torture enough. He had never felt so ashamed. For the first time since the accident had happened, Sandburg found himself not wishing to be rescued, if only to preserve what little dignity he had left. Nobody would wish to be found in this state.

Grown men didn't cry. Mature men didn't display feelings. Crying was for people without control over their emotions. Only babies cried. He had no right to cry unless he was as immature as Jim thought him to be. Naomi scoffed if he cried. Tears are for the weak. Nobody had time for someone who cried.

Blair couldn't help it as the salty tears flooded down his cheeks.

As the night progressed he had become colder. The over shirt had gone back on first; he wore it back to front to try and retain some heat in his chest. An hour later the jacket had ceased to be a cushion and Sandburg had shivered underneath it, forlornly trying to remember when he had felt colder. He was sure there had been a time; he was just having difficulty remembering when.

When they eventually arrived, the first hints of daylight came as a relief. The phrase about everything seeming darkest before the dawn had never held so true for him. Blair had battled the demons of depression during the night and the steadily bludgeoning idea that he would not be rescued.

Dawn brought fresh hope.

At 6 am he had turned the radio back on, loudly, and had trembled with the cold for a further three hours before the outside temperature was sufficient enough for him to handle.

Ellison brewed fresh coffee and moved to the refrigerator for the milk. A noise caught in his throat as he glimpsed the neatly packaged leftovers from a bean concoction he had been subjected to on Wednesday. He had threatened to throw out the remaining food but Blair had insisted that it would be fine for a few days, and he could snack on it cold.

Whereas his usual habit would be to open the lid, cautiously sniff the contents and more than likely chuck it out, Jim instead picked up the Tupperware dish and held it in his hand. "Oh Chief. I just don't understand." The vision of his dream came back to him with absolute clarity and he could feel himself beginning to zone with the recall. Why did he know that the thorned vines in the way had been "thorns of hatred" - it seemed a highly bizarre analogy and he could not find the justification for it.

Tenderly replacing the dish on the shelf, Jim backed up to sit on the counter, the refrigerator still open in front of him. "'Kay Chief. You told the Academy you weren't interested. You dissed your Diss for me..." On any other occasion the combination of words would have raised a smile. "You feel as though you let down the University, the department, me, Naomi and yourself. You're embarrassed because of that." He clenched his teeth and furrowed his brow. "Am I close?"

"You were too ashamed to continue working with any of your present colleagues because you believed they thought you to be a sham, and who at the Academy could place their trust in someone who let down his University colleagues." He stared across the room towards the balcony. "Unless you talk to me, Sandburg, I can't tell you how wrong you are."

The refrigerator didn't answer him.

Its door was kicked shut and the coffee abandoned. Ellison took his jacket from the hook, picked up his keys and slammed the door shut behind him.

At 9:13 am the Volvo's battery decided that enough was enough, and died.

The abrupt silence crashed in around him, and Blair Sandburg realized that he was utterly alone.