LOVE AND OTHER BRUISES

by: ANNIE

 

DISCLAIMER: The characters and concept of the program "The Sentinel" are not mine (unfortunately). No money has been made from this piece of fiction and no copyright infringement is intended.

 

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

This story is loosely based on a real-life crime that was committed here in my home state of South Australia between the years 1979 - 1983. Due to the difference in time and countries, I've had to alter some things to fit with this. Also, keep in mind, I'm not a lawyer or a cop, and that this is fanfic, not an article for the Law Review. I've made it as accurate and believable as possible while (hopefully) keeping it entertaining as well <g>. Also, I know that the percentage of homosexual serial killers is outweighed by the percentage of heterosexual serial killers, and this fic does not reflect in any way my personal beliefs or opinions about homosexuality. It just so happened that the person found guilty of these crimes in Australia was, in fact, a known homosexual pedophile and this worked for the story I had in mind. Oh yeah, the title is from a song by the Aussie band "Air Supply".

WARNINGS: The subject matter (child molestation and murder) may be distressing for some people. If you think you may be one of those people, hit your delete or back button NOW! I would give this an R rating for language and content.

One other very important warning - Blair is a cop in this story. There are several good reasons for this: 1- it worked best for the fic. 2- I think Blair would be a great cop. 3- most importantly - it's my story and I wanted it that way <weg>.

Hey, look, sis! I wrote a long one. I just hope it's as good as it is long J .

LOVE AND OTHER BRUISES

by

ANNIE

CHAPTER ONE

"Damn it!" Jim Ellison swore as the phone rang. He looked over at his partner and roommate, Blair Sandburg, and shrugged.

'Wanna make a bet it's work?" Sandburg asked as he expertly flipped a burger on the hotplate of the barbecue grill Jim had set up on the balcony. "These are almost done," he called as Jim headed inside to take the call.

Blair sighed heavily as he surveyed the food set out on the table. This was the first weekend he and Jim had been given off in months, and the first that so far, hadn't been ruined by psychos, bank robbers or rogue CIA agents. He had a feeling that was about to change.

He tried to look on the positive side. After all, it could just be a friend calling to say hi or his mom checking in from whatever far-flung corner of the world had taken her fancy this week.

But the minute Jim appeared at the balcony doors, with both his and Blair's jackets slung over his shoulder, Blair gave optimism up as a lost cause. He turned off the grill and quickly swept the burgers onto a plate, which he covered with foil. He sidled past Jim into the loft to put the meat in the fridge as Jim gathered up the condiments, balanced them on a tray and brought them inside.

Blair loved being Jim's partner and Guide. He just sometimes wished that they could switch their seats on the roller coaster for a couple on the merry-go-round from time to time, though he knew that was in direct contradiction to what he told Jim not all that long ago.

*There's still something to be said for being Blair Sandburg pre-Sentinel, * he thought darkly to himself as he slammed the fridge door a little more forcefully than necessary and turned and pulled his coat from over Jim's shoulder.

"Guess I won the bet, huh?" he asked morosely on their way out the door.

"We didn't actually bet, Chief," Jim corrected him in that annoyingly pedantic way he used sometimes. "But, if we had - yep, you would have won."

~oOo~

Jim glanced over at his partner, who'd been silent since they left the loft, an unusual condition for Sandburg at the best of times. "You okay, Chief?" he asked.

"Yeah," Blair said, nodding.

"Thought you'd be chewing my ear off asking what we're being called downtown for on our day off," Jim remarked.

"Figure I'll find out when we get there," Blair replied.

Jim eyed his friend thoughtfully. Come to think of it, Blair had been unnaturally subdued for the past few days. He guessed there'd always be times when Blair wondered how his life had ended up the way it was, how he'd ended up a cop instead of a Doctor of Anthropology. He'd been at pains to reassure Jim he didn't regret it, well, most of the time anyway and Jim holding his own press conference to admit to having two heightened senses (not all five), had to have helped. Even Jim's father had tried to help by giving Blair the services of his own attorney so Blair could fight the university and the publishers over his dissertation being released without his permission and before it was completed. Blair'd got a big chunk of change out of it and an invitation to go back into the doctorate program, which he'd refused. He'd felt that fate was leading him on a different path and he wasn't going to buck fate. He'd said he wanted to be a cop, wanted to be Jim's official partner and so that's what he'd become. But Jim knew there had to be times when it all ate away at him and this was probably one of those days. All Jim could really do was what he hadn't done before - be there for Blair, if and when he wanted to talk and back him up in whatever decision he made about his life.

"Hey, Chief, you're okay with this, right?"

"What 'this', Jim?"

"You know?" Jim waved a hand vaguely in the air between them. "The hair thing. The cop thing."

"Yeah, sure. The hair thing, well," Blair ran a hand through his close-cropped curls. "I was getting too old for the neo-hippie look anyway. I mean the ladies may think long, dark and curly is sexy but I've got a feeling they'd use a less flattering term for long, *grey* and curly, you know?"

Jim couldn't help but laugh at that.

"As for the cop thing - I like being a cop, Jim. Hell, I liked being a cop before I was a cop. Even when I was just an observer."

"You were never *just* an observer, Chief," Jim said, every word heartfelt and ringing with truth.

"Yeah?" Blair smiled shyly at him. "Thanks, man." The smile became a grin, one of those whole-face Sandburg grins that Jim suddenly realized he hadn't seen in far too long. "How do you do that?" Blair asked.

"Do what?"

"Know how to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time to make me feel better when even I didn't know I was feeling down?"

Jim grinned back as he pulled into his spot in the PD garage. "I learned it from you, Chief."

 

~oOo~

 

Banks stuck his head round the door the minute they cleared the doorway of Major Crime. "You two, in here."

"We're fine, Captain. Thanks for asking," Blair muttered snidely sub-vocally as they walked across the bullpen.

Banks ushered them to seats and sat down himself. "Sorry to call you in like this," he began.

"It's okay, Si- Captain. Jim and I are getting used to having our weekends off interrupted, right, Jim?" Blair said.

Jim shot a warning glance at his partner. Simon Banks' face was dead serious and Jim had the distinct feeling he wasn't in the mood for any of Sandburg's razzing right now.

"You're a detective now, Sandburg. They don't get weekends off. They get *days* when and if the caseload allows," Simon barked, glaring across the desk at his newest detective. Suddenly, he sighed, thumping his fist down onto his desk. "Sorry, Blair," he said. "It's been a hell of a weekend for me too. Joan just about chewed my ear off when I called to tell her I couldn't spend time with Daryl after all, this weekend."

Blair flushed. "Sorry, Captain. Guess it's gonna take a while for me to get used to the fact that I really am a cop now, not just someone following Jim around."

"It's okay, kid. I didn't mean to come down on you so hard. Look, another boy's body just turned up. He disappeared a week ago, was originally tagged as a maybe-runaway, but the cause of death looks to be massive bleeding as the result of a sexual attack."

"Like the other four?" Jim asked. "I thought Homicide was handling that."

"They were. But as of today it got kicked over to us, or to be more specific to you two. The Commissioner's really on a tear about this kid."

"Captain, I don't mean to sound cold. I mean, any kid getting murdered is a big deal and I know everyone's worried sick with Homicide not coming up with anything concrete over the past 6 months but why suddenly take this away from them?" Jim asked.

"The Commissioner's worried about the extra publicity this murder is gonna generate. He wants, and I quote, "the best team Cascade's got" on the job and he expects results, Jim."

"There's more to it than that, sir," Blair said flatly.

*Trust Blair to get right to the heart of the matter* Jim thought.

"Yeah, there is, Sandburg. This last boy was named Ryan Hass. He's Don Hass's son."

"What?" Jim stood up and paced to the window, turning there and fixing Simon with a look that telegraphed a hundred different questions. He asked the first one that came to his mind. "The son of Cascade's premier television reporter disappeared a week ago and nobody heard anything about it?"

"Guess that just goes to show that the media will close ranks around their own and keep quiet when they want to, Jim," Simon said, shrugging.

"But why did they keep it quiet?" Blair asked. "I would have thought Hass would have wanted his son's name and description out there."

"Apparently Hass was worried it was a kidnap for ransom or revenge. He figured if he went public with it, the kidnappers would know and kill the kid," Banks replied.

"So he did nothing and the kid turned up dead anyway," Jim said, moving back to take his seat next to Blair.

"This needs special treatment, Jim. We've got to get this guy before any more kids get killed. Here's the file on the Hass boy. I've put the files on the other victims on your desk," Simon said, waving them both toward the door.

"We'll do our best, Captain," Blair said, following Jim out to the bullpen.

"I wouldn't expect anything less of you, Detective Sandburg," Simon said, the title still new enough to feel unfamiliar on his tongue, but a smile finally lighting his tired face. "Now get out of here and get to work."

Jim was already skimming the file on his way out the door. "Well, there's not a lot we can do tonight apart from reading up the files sent over by Homicide. The boy's autopsy is tomorrow morning. We'll have to attend that," he flashed a sympathetic look at Blair, who simply shrugged, "then we'll go out and talk to the parents and any other witnesses we can dig up. In the meantime, let's go home and eat that dinner you cooked."

Blair nodded and picked up the other files Simon had left on Jim's desk and followed Jim back down to the truck.

~oOo~

The message light on the answering machine was blinking as they entered the loft and Blair walked over and pressed the button to play the message. He groaned aloud as Sam's angry voice filled the air.

"Blair, you were supposed to meet me thirty minutes ago. I'm waiting another 30. If you're not here by then, just don't bother calling me again, you creep."

The next sound was of the receiver being slammed down.

"Ouch," Jim said. "I didn't know you were seeing Sam again."

Blair and the crime lab analyst had made several tries at having a dating relationship but something always seemed to cause it to stumble to a halt. The first time they'd broken up, Sam had exploded a harmless chemical in the lab in Blair's face. He wasn't hurt but it was a foretaste of the darker side of Sam's moods.

"She cornered me last week. Said she was upset because she was worried about losing her job now that Serena Chang's working in the lab. Say's Simon and everyone always asks for Serena to do special jobs for them, as if they don't trust Sam to do the work properly anymore."

"Well, maybe that's because Serena doesn't snap people's heads off when you ask her to go the extra mile for you on a case," Jim stated flatly.

"Hey, I know that and you know that. Anyway, she was really down so I took her out for a drink and she talked me into giving things another try," Blair explained glumly. He sighed as he picked up his keys from the basket where he'd just tossed them as they came in the door. "Ah, Jim would you mind? I really should at least go see her. I'm gonna tell her it's over, that it's not gonna work between us. She's a little too intense for me, but I should do it face to face, at least."

Jim nodded. "Go, sort her out. We can talk about the case tonight or tomorrow morning. Just be careful she doesn't try to blow your face off again, Chief."

"Oh, Sam's all right. She apologised for that. She's just not really my type, you know." Blair opened the door, glancing back over his shoulder at the Sentinel. "Thanks, Jim. I shouldn't be too long."

~oOo~

Jim managed to wait out the hour for Blair's return before his growling stomach reminded him just how long it had been since he'd eaten. He fried up some potatoes, slapped a couple of the already barbecued meat patties on a bun with all the fixings he liked and scarfed the lot down while he sat at the dining room table and began to go through the files from Homicide.

Soon, the number of similarities in each case registered on him and he grabbed a notebook and pen out of Blair's backpack and started to take notes as he read.

When he looked at his watch and saw it was ten o'clock, he yawned and set the files aside. Obviously Blair and Sam had managed to sort things out once again.

Jim couldn't say he'd be pleased if that was the case. He'd be happy if Blair found that certain someone, the someone he himself had once thought Lila was. But, he got an itchy prickling feeling in the back of his mind whenever he thought about Blair and Sam together forever. He'd never say anything to Blair, of course, but it bugged the hell out of him, nonetheless.

He turned off all the lights in the loft, save for the bathroom one, leaving the door to the room ajar as well, so it would give Blair enough light to negotiate his way into his room when he finally got home.

Then he checked the windows and the fire escape door in Blair's room. Finally he locked the front door then headed wearily up the stairs to his bed.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Jim glanced at the clock as he heard the front door close. He'd never really gone to sleep, one part of his mind keeping watch for his partner. He felt like a parent waiting up for an errant teenager, but it was a habit he just couldn't seem to break.

Blair had no idea of course. Once his partner was safely home, Jim's mind allowed him to sleep and he had no intention of letting Blair know that he had someone waiting up for him who couldn't sleep properly till he was home. He sent his senses on their usual recce downstairs to check on his Guide - another thing he'd become accustomed to doing over the years of their association. What he heard and smelled had him bounding from his bed, grabbing his robe and running down the stairs.

Blair was standing at the kitchen sink, running water over his hand. He looked up as Jim reached his side. "Before you say anything, it's no big deal, Jim, so just take a chill pill and go back to bed, okay," he said tiredly.

Jim grabbed the injured hand and looked at it. There was a long gash running across Blair's palm. The edges of the cut were smooth and the wound was still oozing blood heavily, despite Blair's attempt at first aid.

"This is nothing, Blair?" Jim said, his voice tense. "This was done with a knife, a sharp one. What the hell happened?" He'd grabbed a dishtowel as he was speaking and held it under Blair's hand then maneuvered them both over to the dining room table so he could take a closer look.

Blair grunted as Jim pushed him down into a chair and began probing at the wound. "It was an accident. I'm sure she didn't mean for this to happen. She was really upset when I wouldn't let her take me to the ER. Ow, man, take it easy!"

"Sorry," Jim murmured. He went into the bathroom and came back with clean gauze and a bandage and proceeded to wrap the injured hand. "This is just to hold you till we get to the hospital -"

"Aw, Jim, no hospital, man. Come on. They'll want to fill out a police report and Sam doesn't need any more hassles."

Jim clamped a firm hand around the wrist of Blair's other hand. "You need stitches, Chief. Sam did this?"

Blair sighed. "Yeah. She didn't take me breaking up with her too well. Grabbed a knife and said she was gonna kill herself so I tried to get it away from her and…" He looked down at his hand. "I tried to get her to agree to get some counselling. Even said I'd go with her but then she asked if that meant we'd stay a couple and I said no. She got pissed and told me to get out. So I did. I called her sister and she came over and said she'd stay with Sam, make sure she didn't do anything stupid."

"All right, let's go, Chief."

Blair stood up and moved sluggishly over to collect his jacket. "You sure it needs stitches, Jim? With your eyesight, you could probably stick it together with butterflies or something or - hey, what about that superglue stuff you get for skin nowadays?" he asked, his voice ever hopeful.

"Sandburg, that gash is across the palm of your hand. The glue stuff won't work because every time you open or close your hand, it's gonna come open again," Jim explained patiently, grabbing his own jacket and keys and helping Blair get his coat on, ushering him through the door at the same time.

"Look, Jim, I don't want to make a report about this, okay?" Blair said, once they were in the truck.

"I don't know, Blair. This is pretty serious and it's an assault on a police officer," Jim said, looking at his partner searchingly.

"Jim, please, it's over with Sam. Can we please just get my hand stitched and then I can forget about it?"

Blair looked exhausted, Jim thought. He extended his hearing a little. His Guide's heart was racing and Jim could seen tight pain lines around the edges of Blair's mouth and his eyes. "It's your call, Sandburg," he said finally. "But I really hope her sister talks her in to getting some help."

"Me too," Blair said. He turned to stare out of the window of the truck, pulling his throbbing hand up to rest against his chest.

~oOo~

The autopsy was as awful as most autopsies were, this one made worse by the fact that the body on the stainless steel table was that of a young boy. Not much more than a kid really, Jim thought, as he listened to Dan Wolf's preliminary findings. They'd get the final report, along with the toxicology screens and the other lab data within twenty-four hours, Dan assured the two detectives. For now, he could at least tell them that the cause of death was the same as it had been for the other four young men who'd been murdered over the past six months.

Ryan Hass had bled to death. It was a horrible way to die, in any case. What made it more horrific still was that Ryan had bled out from a huge wound in his rectum. The boy had been raped violently and the murderer had used something artificial to bring it about, probably a glass bottle of some kind, Dan thought.

Jim looked over at his partner as they listened to Dan.

Blair looked pale and nauseated. Not surprising under the circumstances, Jim knew. Most cops hated attending autopsies, Blair even more so than most. His partner's tender susceptibilities also had to be struggling with the very fact that someone could do something like this to a young boy.

Jim thanked the ME and ushered Blair from the room. "You holding up okay, Chief?" he asked as they waited for the elevator.

Blair nodded wordlessly. He rubbed absently at the bandage covering his left hand. The wound Sam had inflicted had needed 15 stitches to close and Jim knew Blair hadn't slept much after they'd returned from the hospital, despite the strong analgesics the doctor had sent him home with, and that Jim had insisted he take before they'd finally gone to bed.

"Maybe you should take some more pain meds when we get upstairs," Jim suggested. Blair hated taking any sort of artificial medication, preferring to use natural remedies whenever possible, but they still had to go out and speak to the boy's parents. That was going to be tough on both of them and Jim knew from bitter personal experience that it was better to be able to concentrate all one's mind on what the family had to say, without the distraction of physical pain interfering.

Blair acquiesced easily enough and as soon as they entered the bullpen, the young cop headed straight to his desk and pulled out the bottle of pills from his desk drawer. He shook out two pills and then reached into his backpack for a bottle of water.

He swigged down the tablets then turned to Jim. "So you want to go out and talk to Don and his wife now, Jim? It's about a thirty minute drive so the meds should have kicked in by the time we get there."

Surprised by Blair's sudden docility, Jim just nodded, grabbed the file and they headed out again.

~oOo~

The man who met them at the door of the Hass residence was a shadow of the man Blair remembered.

Blair had last seen the reporter personally almost a year before when Naomi had accidentally leaked his dissertation on Sentinels to a publisher, and thereby to the media. Don Hass had been one of the contingent of media reps that had staked out the loft and the university, all of them desperately eager for a sound bite from the newly outed Sentinel or his Guide.

The Don Hass Blair knew then had been a fit-looking man in his mid-fifties with a full head of dark hair. He'd been vigorous, pushy even, in his pursuit of a story and garrulous with it. The man who stood before them now looked a shadow of his former self. His hair was greying at the temples and his face was thin, his eyes looking deep-set because of the dark circles that bespoke many sleepless nights.

"Detective Ellison, you've come about my son?" he said, opening the door and moving aside for them to enter.

Jim stopped just inside the hallway and motioned to Blair. "Mr. Hass, we're very sorry for your loss. You know my partner, Detective Sandburg?"

Hass nodded. "Thank you. I'd heard you'd gone onto the Academy, Detective. I'm very glad to know you'll be handling the case. Please, come through to the living room. My wife is upstairs, resting, but I can ask her to come down, if you'd prefer."

"That's fine, Mr. Hass. I don't think we need to disturb your wife at this time. We can always call back if there's anything we need to clarify with her." Jim waited till the reporter sat down then took up a seat on the couch opposite him. Blair remained standing for now, allowing Jim to take the lead with the questions while he began to wander round the room, looking at the photographs displayed along the shelves and on top of the television.

"Perhaps if you just tell us in your own words, what happened the night Ryan disappeared," Jim suggested, taking out a notebook and pen. He watched Blair from the corner of his eye, knowing that his partner was doing what he did best, observing and drawing extrapolations from what he saw around him, using his background as an anthropologist to pick up any clues.

"Ryan had a friend here most of the day, Jason Marks. They did the usual things young boys do, listened to music, and played computer games. Jason stayed for an early dinner with us then Ryan said he would walk with him to the bus stop. I offered to drive Jason home but he said he preferred to catch the bus." Hass smiled almost wistfully. "You know young people nowadays. They don't want to be seen with their parents. It's not cool."

"My captain said that very thing about his teenage son not so long ago," Jim said, with an answering smile.

Blair watched, impressed. *When did Jim become so comfortable talking to victims?* he wondered. Maybe, he'd helped Jim with more than just his senses after all. He moved over and took a seat next to his partner.

"Yes, well, they went off. Ryan had this collar he'd picked up from somewhere -"

"Collar?" Blair asked.

"Yes, you know the ones? Those punk bands wear them sometimes. It had spikes on it. Jason was laughing at him, told him he looked stupid so Ryan took it off and wrapped it around his wrist instead, then they went off and we never... well, Ryan just didn't..." Hass swallowed, rubbing at his tear-damp cheeks with his hand. "I went out looking of course. Called Jason but he said the last he'd seen of Ryan was as the bus pulled out and Ryan was walking back towards our house."

"Why didn't you contact the police as soon as you knew Ryan was missing?" Jim asked, though he already knew what Hass had told Homicide.

"I thought maybe he'd been kidnapped for ransom and I was scared if I called the police, the kidnapper would find out and we'd never get Ryan back." Hass broke down completely now, his shoulders shuddering with sobs. "I was wrong. Maybe if I'd called you, we'd have Ryan back safely."

They waited a few minutes for the man to regain control.

"Mr. Hass," Blair began quietly, "Had Ryan been having problems at school? Was he being bullied or taking drugs, drinking?"

"Ryan was a straight A student, Detective. I'm almost certain he didn't take drugs or drink, though I know you can't always be sure. We did catch him smoking cigarettes once, last year, but he said they just made him feel sick anyway and that was that. Would it help you to see Ryan's room?"

"That would be helpful, yes," Jim said, rising to his feet and following Hass up stairs, Blair at his heels.

Don Hass left them alone in the boy's room and went to check on his wife. It was a pretty average room for a fifteen-year-old boy, Blair noted. Maybe a little tidier than most. They poked around inside the boy's dresser and closets, flipped through his school journal and ran through some of the programs on his computer, but found nothing that gave them any leads as to how Ryan had ended up dead and discarded on the side of a mountain road.

Fifteen minutes later, Hass came back and escorted them downstairs again.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Hass. If you think of anything at all that may help us find the person who did this please call immediately." Jim passed over his card then turned and ushered Blair out ahead of him.

Blair waited till they were in the car before asking Jim what he thought.

"I think he's a bereaved father who feels guilty for not doing more to protect his son," Jim summed up. "What about you? I saw you doing your little anthro routine. What did you make of it?"

"They seem like your average American family," Blair replied. "That thing with the collar though... Was that found with the body?"

Jim shook his head. "No."

"Maybe the killer likes to keep trophies," Blair said thoughtfully. "It may not help us catch him but it might help us pin the murder on him when we do."

 

CHAPTER THREE

They were both exhausted by the time they got back to the PD.

Blair looked at his watch and realized with a start that it was only midday. He felt as if he'd been up for 12 hours straight already.

"You want something?" he heard Jim ask, motioning towards the break room.

"Just coffee, thanks," Blair replied, heading for his desk. He collapsed into his chair then noticed the paperwork he'd left there earlier was gone. He looked under the desk, then under Jim's. Nothing. Puzzled, he stood up and grabbed the trashcan, pulling out papers one by one. He just knew he wouldn't have thrown the completed reports in the bin but then again he'd been pretty tired this morning.

"Training for a new career as a sanitation engineer?" Jim asked from behind his shoulder.

Blair shook his head. "I left some completed reports on the Donaldson case here on my desk before my days off and now they're gone." He finished sifting through the bin and turned to face his partner, accepting the cup of coffee Jim held out to him. "Thanks. You haven't seen them, have you?"

Jim shook his head. "Maybe one of the other guys saw it was done and decided to file it for you," he suggested, sitting down and munching into the chocolate bar he'd brought from the break room.

"Yeah, maybe." Blair wasn't convinced but the paperwork definitely wasn't anywhere he could see so he put it to the back of his mind and sat down to drink his coffee. He'd just check the completed files later.

"Jim, Sandburg!" Banks stood at the door of his office and motioned to them. "My office."

"Oh great," Jim muttered, setting his own drink down on his desk and walking across to the Captain's office.

"How'd it go with Don Hass?" Banks asked.

"About as you'd expect," Jim replied. "The man's tearing himself apart for not calling the cops straight away. I think his wife's under sedation. He did give us a couple of things to look for if we come up with a suspect but nothing that's really going to help us find the guy."

"Well, I might have some good news for you on that score," Banks said. "Rafe's got a guy down in interrogation waiting to talk to you. The guy's a junkie but he swears he was on the street Ryan was kidnapped from the night it happened *and* he says he saw the kid get into a car." Simon stopped and waited expectantly.

"Did he get a number plate or anything?" Blair asked, almost breathless with hope.

"He did better than that, Sandburg. He knows the car. Says he's ridden in it many times. He knows the driver *and* he's willing to talk." Banks sat back in his chair.

"Why?" Blair asked.

"What do you mean why, Sandburg?" Banks almost growled.

"I mean, you said this guy's a junkie. Normally, they don't want to help us. Why does this guy suddenly want to talk to the cops?"

Banks gave a mock-sigh. "I'm disappointed, Sandburg. I never took you for a cynic." He stood and leaned forward, resting his hands on the desk. "How the hell should I know why?" he almost growled. He softened his tone slightly. "Why don't you and your partner go down to interrogation and ask the nice man why, okay?"

"Right, right, that's a good idea, Si- Captain," Blair muttered. He felt Jim turn him round and push him in the direction of the door. An arm came round him and opened it and Jim propelled him through into the bullpen.

"One thing you still have to learn, Chief," Jim whispered as they moved toward the interrogation room. "You never, ever ask the Captain 'why'."

Blair stopped just before opening the door to the room and flashed his partner a quick grin. "Got it," he said.

Rafe stood up as they entered the room, nodding a greeting. "Detectives Ellison and Sandburg, this is Mr. Aaron Zabinski. Mr. Zabinski has some information for you. Um, I'm gonna go get some coffee, if you guys are okay here?"

Jim gave a quick nod. "Fine, Rafe, thanks." He eyed the man seated at the table, dialing up his senses to catalogue the man's baseline pulse rate and the current state of his emotional condition.

Blair had seated himself in the chair directly opposite the guy and was watching the Sentinel intently, obviously aware of what Jim was doing. He looked over at the witness and gave him the patented Sandburg "you can trust me" smile. "Hey there, Aaron, how you doing, man? You don't mind if I call you Aaron, do you?"

Aaron gave an nervous grin and shook his head. He was a short, scrawny man with long dirty blond hair that straggled past his shoulders. The tracks on his arms showed that he'd been using for quite some time and there was a fresh needle mark on the back of his left hand. Aaron had obviously begun to run out of places to inject himself. He shook slightly, his whole body quivering as if an electrical current was running through his system and he tapped his feet against the floor in a vague sort of rhythm. His hands moved constantly, first lacing his fingers together then pulling them apart, drumming his fingers against the tabletop before twisting them together again, repeating the pattern over and over till finally Blair leaned across and placed his own hand firmly over Aaron's.

"Try to relax, Aaron, okay?" Blair said, using what Jim recognized as his "Guide" voice.

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly, Jim thought) the motion stopped and Aaron suddenly stilled and looked up at the Sentinel. "I know who's been killing those boys," he said.

Jim sat down at the table and held a finger over the record button of the small tape recorder Rafe had left set up in the middle of the table. "Do you have any objections to this interview being taped?" he asked Zabinski.

"You're not gonna use it to charge me with anything, right?" Aaron asked nervously. "That other cop, he said I wouldn't get in no trouble if I told you what I know."

"Providing you did not have an actual role in murdering these boys, then, no, you will not be charged. At the moment, you're just a material witness, all right?" Jim replied.

Aaron nodded. "Okay then, you can tape it."

Jim pressed the record button, introduced himself and Blair and their interviewee and gave the date and time of recording. "All right, Aaron ,why don't you just tell us in your own words what you think you know about these murders?"

"There's this guy. He hangs out on the strip, you know, picking up kids," Zabinski began.

"The strip?" Jim asked, wanting every detail spelled out.

"Yeah, Washington Street where the street kids and the hookers hang out. You get kids there, they need money for a fix, so they go with these older guys for… for sex…" Aaron dropped his head, his face flushing and Jim understood that Zabinski had been one of those kids himself.

"Go on."

"Okay, well, I started hanging out down there about a year ago. I've got a habit - but I guess you probably know that," Aaron said, his fingers rubbing unconsciously over the tracks in his arm. "Anyway, there's this one guy who picked me up regular-like, you know. Then one night he tells me he'll give me extra if I help him get someone younger…"

"You mean, younger than you?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, I guess I'd gotten too old for him. But the newer kids were scared to go with him on their own. The dude had a rep of being rough, you know. He'd knocked me around pretty good a few times. He likes seeing people hurt. It's how he gets off. That's why I didn't mind too much when he said I was too old for him now. So, anyway, I went with him a few times and got kids into the car for him. I didn't let him do anything too bad to them, man. Just whack 'em a few times with a switch or something but then he told me…" Aaron stopped, swallowing hard. He looked up into Blair's eyes. "He asked me if I wanted to see someone die. I said no way. He said he'd done it already, three or four times, that there weren't nothing to it but it was a big rush. He scared me, man, so I started hiding out so he wouldn't find me. I was scared he'd kill me to stop me talking. Anyway, the night that Ryan kid went missing I seen Samuels and I took off and hid in an alley. I seen him pull up next to the kid and the kid got in the car."

"This was on Washington?" Blair asked, confused. Ryan Hass hadn't seemed the sort of kid who'd be hanging around the strip.

Zabinski shook his head. "No, man. Like I told you, I've been hiding out from Samuels. I ain't been on the strip in weeks. This was on Fifth, you know, the street the bus takes. Kid must've got off the bus, I guess."

"Why didn't you go to the cops straight away?" Jim asked harshly. Christ, if they'd got to Samuels in time, if Zabinski was telling the truth, that is, Ryan might still be alive.

"I did, man. Well, I called but the cop I spoke to, he knew me from busting me for possession and he said I was just after a reward and he wouldn't listen to me. A few days later, I heard the kid's body had been found and the papers was talking about how the murderer had killed those other boys as well. Then I seen Samuels around asking questions and some guys said he was looking for me. I figured he was gonna kill me too if he found me so that's when I came here. That other cop that was here before, Rafe, he believed me right away and he said nothing would happen to me if I told the truth. But you gotta promise to protect me, man." Aaron stopped, his breath coming in huffing gasps.

"You know where we can find this Samuels?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, he took me to his place. It's on Davis Street, the last house on the end. I could show you, as long as you make sure he doesn't see me."

Jim stood up and went to the door. He opened it and motioned Rafe back inside then turned back to Zabinski. "I'll send someone in with some food and coffee for you, then we'll find out about finding you somewhere safe to stay. Chief?" He nodded to Blair and waited till his partner was through the door before fixing him with an inquiring look as the door closed behind them. "What do you think?"

"He sounded convincing enough. What do you think?" Blair replied.

"I think we still don't have enough to just waltz into this guy Samuels' house and arrest him. I think we get Zabinski squared away somewhere safe and sound, then we run some checks on Samuels. Shit, hang on!" Jim reopened the door to the interview room and spoke to Zabinski again, asking him the make of Samuels' car, whether he knew the plate number (he did, because he'd taken to watching out for it whenever he was on the street) and what Samuels' first name was. The last question had Zabinski flummoxed for a few minutes as he thought back through his drug-addled memories and finally came up with Don or maybe Dennis, then decided it was definitely, positively Dave. Jim shrugged and walked back out, heading back to the Captain's office with his partner in tow. He stopped at Brown's desk and asked the detective to take the witness in interview room 3 some coffee and food.

~oOo~

Blair had been sitting at his computer for at least an hour, running through everything he could find on David Samuels. It was a lot. The guy had been in trouble with the cops before, though nothing on the scale of murder. Boiled down, the guy was a known pervert who'd been pulled in for questioning over allegations of flashing in front of a boy's private school, trawling for male prostitutes and possession of kiddie porn. All told, he was an unsavory character. But none of it made him a murderer. He worked as a computer programmer at a city loan company and lived alone. His mugshot showed a man in his early forties, soft-bodied, though not actually overweight. He was unremarkable looking, Blair thought, though there was something about the man's eyes that gave him pause. Then again, he decided, maybe that was just because of what the guy was suspected of doing.

"Come on, Chief, let's go."

Blair looked up and saw Jim standing next to him, holding both their jackets. "Where to?" he asked.

"Looks like Samuels is out of town. His boss says he's on a conference until Monday. We've got some guys watching his house. As far as he knows, he's not under suspicion so there's no reason to think he won't come back and we don't have enough to arrest him. When he gets back, we'll go out there and see if he'll come in for a chat. While we're there I'll take a quiet look around," Jim tapped his eyelid gently and smiled. "In the meantime, we're going home and you're gonna let me redress that hand and get some sleep."

Blair nodded and stood up, stretching the kinks out of his back. His hand had been throbbing dully for the past hour or so but he hadn't wanted to take any more pills just yet. He grabbed his jacket from Jim's hand and followed his partner down to the garage

CHAPTER FOUR

Monday morning found them outside David Samuels' house. Rafe and Brown had been keeping watch on the house for the previous 10 hours and had reported in when Samuels had arrived home at 6 AM. Blair and Jim were on the man's doorstep less than an hour later.

The man who answered their knock at the door didn't look much different than his mugshots, which wasn't all that surprising considering his most recent arrest had only been a year before. He showed surprise when Jim said why they were there, but voiced no objections to them entering the house.

Blair glanced around as they walked inside, Samuels ushering them through to the living room. The house was clean and tidy, spotless in fact and Blair despaired of even Jim finding any evidence that would tie Samuels to the murders. Then again, he reminded himself, there was nothing to say the murders had been committed here, only that the boys hadn't been killed where they were found. He looked at the man in front of him, wondering how this obvious weakling would have been able to overpower the healthy fit young men who'd been killed. The disposal of the bodies had to have presented problems as well. Not for the first time, Blair wondered if the killer had an accomplice and his mind went back to Aaron Zabinski. Had the junkie been telling the truth when he said he'd had nothing to do with the killings? He jumped suddenly, feeling Jim's hand on his back and realized Samuels had spoken to him. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that," he muttered, casting an embarrassed look at Ellison.

"That's quite all right, Detective. I can see you're injured." Samuels looked pointedly at Blair's bandaged hand. "I was just asking if you were the Blair Sandburg who gave that press conference last year about falsifying his thesis?"

Blair nodded. He cleared his throat. "Yes, that was me."

"I thought it was such a shame at the time, the way the press was hounding you," Samuels continued, his voice all smarm.

Blair could sense Jim bristling next to him and wasn't surprised when the Sentinel went on the offensive, trying to pin Samuels down about his whereabouts the night Ryan Hass went missing.

Samuels responded in generalities, saying that he couldn't be sure after all this time. He led a busy social life, after all, but he'd be happy to check his diary if it would help.

Jim's cell phone rang and Jim answered it then excused himself to move just outside the living room to speak privately, leaving Blair and Samuels standing alone.

Blair shivered as Samuels' cold eyes swept over him. The guy gave him the creeps.

"So, Detective Sandburg, your primary field of interest is anthropology? That's always been an interest of mine, too. Oh, not on the scale of your career, of course. I just like to read a little here and there. Surprising how alike the human race is despite out geographic differences, I think. Take murder, for instance. I mean, in some tribal cultures, it's considered quite the thing to murder one's enemy and eat their heart to give one courage."

Blair nodded then found his voice. "Well, in the United States, it'd be considered murder."

"Of course, of course."

Samuels had moved and now stood just behind Blair, within touching distance.

Blair fought the urge to move and stood his ground, his skin crawling as Samuels' breath lifted the short hairs on the back of his neck.

"You know, Detective, when I saw your press conference, I couldn't help thinking what a shame it was that something so appalling was happening to such an attractive young man. I'm so glad to see you didn't allow it to destroy you. You have immense courage. I should enjoy getting to know you better."

Blair gave up pretending the slime didn't bother him and took a step forward, just as Jim came back into the room.

The Sentinel fixed Samuels with an ice-cold glare and moved to Blair's side. "If you'd excuse us for a moment, Mr. Samuels?" He waited till Henri Brown had walked into the living room then motioned Blair out.

"Jim?" Blair asked the minute they were far enough from the open door not to be overheard.

"Ryan Hass had the same drugs in his blood as the other boys, with one difference. He also had Mandrax in his system."

"Mandrax?" Blair asked, surprised. "That hasn't been prescribed for a while, Jim."

"Exactly. But you can still buy it on the streets. It's just not as common as Rohypnol or Serepax or any of the other downers. Put it this way. If we find Mandrax in Samuels' possession, it definitely tells us we're on the right track."

Jim gave his partner a searching look. Blair knew he probably looked flushed and his heart was beating faster than it should have been. "You okay, buddy? Your hand bothering you?"

"Nah, it's fine, man. I think that creep was trying to hit on me, though. Guess it just shook me a little, you know?" Blair smiled, shrugging.

"You want to sit this one out? I can get Brown or Rafe to stay in here with me."

Blair shook his head firmly. "I want to be with you on this, Jim. Besides, I don't want that creep to think he's got one over on me. I'm a cop now, Jim. I can handle it." He patted Jim's arm reassuringly. "Thanks for the Blessed Protector routine anyway, though. You ready to stretch those senses? Let's do it."

With Jim only inches from Blair's back, they headed back in to beard the lion in his den.

"Mr. Samuels," Jim began, "You were saying you're not sure of your whereabouts on the night Ryan Hass was abducted?" He subtly extended his hearing, listening for any increase in the man's pulse rate or breathing.

"Actually, as a matter of fact, I am now. I've just remembered. I was with a friend. Aaron Zabinski. We went out for a drink and I didn't get home until midnight, at least." Samuels looked smug. "I'd be more than happy to furnish you with Mr. Zabinski's address though he's rather difficult to pin down at times. He tends to move from place to place."

He was lying, Jim knew and he telegraphed the knowledge to his partner with just the lift of an eyebrow.

"Thank you," Jim replied smoothly. "That would be helpful. Do you take drugs, Mr. Samuels?"

Samuels' gasp was audible even to Blair. "Only medication that has been prescribed by my doctor to help me sleep," he replied eventually. "I don't believe in polluting my body unnecessarily. I believe, where possible, in taking an holistic and natural approach to illness. I'm sure you'd concur with me, Detective Sandburg?"

Blair could almost hear Jim's sub-vocal growl as the Sentinel moved so he was standing between his Guide and their suspect.

"Where possible, yes," Blair managed to reply. "But I think Detective Ellison was asking *what* drugs you take, or have in the house, whether prescribed or not."

"Of course, Detective… do you mind if I call you Blair? All this formality-"

"I do, actually," Blair said. "Detective Sandburg's just fine, thank you, *Mr.* Samuels."

Samuels' eyes narrowed and he sat down heavily in an armchair. "Perhaps I should call my attorney," he suggested.

"You're quite within your rights to do so," Jim answered, his voice even.

"But then again I have nothing to hide," Samuels went on. "I take Valium for anxiety from time to time and a herbal sleeping tablet containing Valerian. I did take at one time, a medication called Serepax, also for anxiety and to help me sleep. However, I discontinued using that some months ago."

"Have a pretty stressful life, do you?" Jim asked, his tone just barely civil, the sarcasm almost evident.

'I have had, in the past. It's not easy being a gay man, even in today's more enlightened society," Samuels whined.

*You mean pedophile* Blair's mind supplied as he looked at Samuels with barely restrained disgust on his face.

"Would you be willing to show us where you keep your medication?" Blair asked suddenly, playing a hunch.

"Of course, Bl- Detective. I do hope you're taking note of the fact that I'm being extremely cooperative. I could simply tell you to leave and come back with a search warrant-"

"Which we'd have no problem getting," Jim said. "But your cooperation is noted and appreciated."

Samuels stood and led the way out of the living room and across the hallway into a large bedroom. He indicated an en suite bathroom. "I keep all my medications in the bathroom cabinet in there, Detective Ellison. Feel free to look and see what I have. As I said, I have nothing to hide."

Jim pushed past Samuels and walked into the en suite. He opened up the cabinet and took out several small pill bottles and checked the names and the dates on the labels. Sure enough, Valium, Serepax and a medication called Sleepezy, which contained primarily Valerian, from his reading of the label.

He moved back out into the bedroom and turned in a slow circle, ignoring Samuels' curious stare.

It was a tidy room with a large queen-sized bed situated in the middle of it, below the window that looked out onto the street. The floor was covered in wall to wall blue carpeting, which was unstained, as far as Jim could tell. He was about to leave the room when his eye caught sight of a rolled up mat of some sort pushed under the bed. "May I?' he asked Samuels, who nodded, somewhat nervously, the increase in his heart rate instantly audible to Sentinel hearing.

Jim knelt and pulled the rug out and unrolled it. It was a brightly colored large area rug. Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out a latex glove. Placing it on his hand, he ran his gloved hand over the surface of the rug, picking up several fibers as he did so. He sniffed cautiously but could pick up no odors other than what smelled like detergent. He stood and rolled the glove off his hand, capturing the fibers within. Turning his back to Samuels, he put it in an evidence bag and placed it carefully in his pocket.

Standing, he motioned to Blair to lead Samuels from the room then stopped suddenly. "You don't have any other medication in here apart from the tablets I just saw in the medicine cabinet?" he asked.

Samuels spun on his heels, fetching up hard against Blair who shuddered almost visibly at the contact and took a step back as he felt Samuels' hand grab at his arm.

"No," Samuels replied surely. "I told you I have nothing to hide."

Jim sniffed and reached out with his sense of smell. He could smell blood. It was faint but there nonetheless. The room around him seemed to coalesce into a tunnel and he knew he was on the verge of zoning. Suddenly there was a warm hand on his back and the voice of his Guide at his ear.

"Ground yourself with another sense, Jim," Blair said, Sentinel-soft, casting a swift glance over his shoulder to where Samuels stood, seemingly frozen in place, Brown just behind him, making sure the perp didn't decide to make a run for it.

Jim breathed out slowly then focused on Blair's hand in the small of his back, his mind unconsciously using it as an anchor. He stretched out again with his sense of smell then focused his eyes on the place that sense was leading him to. He tossed a grateful smile over his shoulder at his Guide as he moved over to a bedside table and crouched down. He snapped another latex glove over his hand then reached behind it, coming up with a pillowcase. He turned and held the item aloft, watching with satisfaction as Samuels' face paled.

"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked, though he was sure he already knew the answer.

Jim reached into the pillowcase and pulled out a small bottle of pills. He examined the label closely, noting the lack of any pharmacy identification details. There was just one word on the tag.

"Jim?" Blair asked.

"We'll need a lab analysis to be sure but the label says it's Mandrax," Jim replied, unable to keep the satisfaction from his voice.

His next question would have made no sense at all to anyone who knew nothing about Ryan's kidnapping. "What happened to your dog?" he asked Samuels.

"I've never owned a dog, Detective. I don't understand…" Suddenly comprehension seemed to blossom on Samuels' face and he blanched. "I may have looked after a friend's dog at some time," he blustered.

Jim placed his hand inside the pillowcase again and pulled out a spiked dog collar. He was almost sure it was the same one Ryan Hass had been wearing when he was abducted. He turned the collar over in his hand, inspecting the underside and focused his eyesight as narrowly as he could until his enhanced vision picked up what his sense of smell had already told him was there. The soft leather of the collar was marked with minuscule pinpoints of blood, tiny sprays that appeared to have been left when someone had grabbed the collar tightly around living flesh and twisted perhaps, abrading tissue and bursting microscopic capillaries under the skin. Jim would bet anything that the blood would turn out to be identical to that of Ryan Hass.

"I want to call my lawyer," Samuels said. his voice low and venomous.

"Somehow, I just knew you were gonna say that," Jim replied, grinning broadly. "Detective Sandburg? Would you like to escort Mr. Samuels to the car?"

Blair grinned. "My pleasure, Detective Ellison. Sir?" He motioned Samuels to the open doorway and waited for the man to turn, then with immense satisfaction, as evidenced by the flourish with which he drew the items from his belt, he pushed the perp up against the wall and cuffed him, then shoved him through the door and out to the car, reciting the Miranda warning clearly and precisely all the way.

~oOo~

Blair virtually stumbled through the front door the loft, his feet dragging with sheer weariness. They'd spent almost all day trying to get a confession from Samuels, who'd simply repeated his request to contact his attorney and once his lawyer arrived, all interviews were called to a halt and Samuels' lawyer had managed to get the man bailed and released. The one good thing had been obtaining a search warrant for Samuels' house and car and the forensic teams were already on the job. Rafe and Brown had Samuels under surveillance at the local motel he'd gone to after being released.

Jim had stated to Blair with absolute conviction that it was only a matter of time before they had the slime back in custody, this time for good.

The one thing that continued to nag at Blair was the almost-certainty that Samuels hadn't acted alone and that Zabinski was more involved in the murders than he'd let on. He'd confided his doubts to both Ellison and Banks and had been somewhat mollified by their assurances that if that were the case, it would give them an extra bargaining chip with Zabinski. They might just be able to cut a deal with the junkie, offering him less time and protection in a prison away from Samuels for rolling over on the main perpetrator.

Blair walked straight to the fridge and pulled out 2 beers, handing one to Jim as they passed each other. "I can't believe that asshole, man," he said, his voice tight with anger. "We know he killed those kids. What's worse, I can't believe his attorney. How could any self-respecting lawyer defend a piece of shit like Samuels?"

"That's an oxymoron, Chief," Jim commented with a subdued grin. "Self-respecting and defence lawyer don't exactly go together in my book. Still, I thought you'd be the first person to say that everyone deserves an adequate defence. You know, human rights and all that stuff." He slumped down on the sofa and took a long pull of his beer.

"That creep's not human and he's too much of an animal to be equated with animals, if you know what I mean," Blair replied, sinking down in the armchair next to his partner.

"I hear you," Jim said. "All we can do, though, is keep building a case against him and hope like hell the jury believes us instead of him. How about I redress your hand and we order in tonight? It's my turn to cook and I sure as hell don't feel like cooking."

Blair nodded his agreement and fetched the first aid kit and the menu for the Chinese restaurant they frequented. He suffered through having his hand cleaned and redressed then grabbed them both another beer before going to settle down in front of the television with Jim. He'd only barely sat down when the phone rang. He glanced at Jim, who was sitting with his head back against the back of the sofa, eyes closed. Mumbling a soft curse under his breath, Blair stood up and went to answer the phone.

"Hellooo!" he carolled into the receiver. "Sandburg-Ellison residence."

"Is this Blair?" the caller asked.

"Yeah, who's this?"

"It's David. I was wondering if perhaps you and I could get together tonight? You know, spend some time together, get to know each other better, find out what we both like and do it to each other."

"Who is this?" Blair knew his voice had risen and he glanced across to see Jim was now sitting bolt upright on the couch.

The Sentinel had obviously dialed up his hearing to listen into the other end of the conversation and was making a stretching motion with his hands, at the same time getting up and collecting his cell phone from his jacket pocket.

"I already told you that, Blair. It's David. We only met today so I don't expect you to remember me straight off but I must admit to being disappointed. You made such an impression on me. I had hoped for at least a little of the same reaction from you," the voice continued.

Blair knew the voice was familiar but was still having problems placing it and exactly what the caller wanted from him until the reference to meeting for the first time that day clicked. "Don't you dare call me again, you sick fuck, Samuels," he screamed into the phone. He could see Jim talking into his cell phone and knew he should probably keep Samuels on the line but before he even realized what he was doing, he slammed the receiver down into its cradle then walked over and fell onto the sofa.

He leaned forward, resting his head in his hands and moments later felt the sofa dip as Jim sat beside him. "Sorry, I should have kept him on the line…" he began.

Jim's arm wrapped warmly around his shoulder and squeezed gently. "Don't worry about it, Chief. He identified himself to you and you recognized the voice. That's enough to get a restraining order against him."

"I just can't believe he'd be so stupid as to proposition one of the cops who's investigating him for murder, man," Blair said quietly, feeling his gut churning still.

"The guy's a sicko, buddy. It's got nothing really to do with you," Jim replied.

"I'm starting to feel as if I have a flashing neon sign on my forehead saying 'Psychos welcome'," Blair muttered. "Look, I'm exhausted, man. Would you mind if I just hit the sack?"

"Go for it, buddy. You sure you don't want something to eat, first, though?"

Blair knew his partner was checking him out carefully, cataloguing his reaction to the call. He gave Jim a reassuring grin. "Man, I'm sorry. We didn't even get to order dinner, did we? Nah, you go ahead and order something, though. I really am tired, Jim. I just feel like going to bed."

Jim stood up and pulled him into a loose hug then turned him around and pointed him in the direction of his bedroom, sending him on his way with a swat on the backside. "I can fend for myself, Sandburg. Go get some sleep. I'm seriously considering skipping dinner myself in favor of some sleep. And by the way, that was Simon I called while you were on the phone with your not-so-secret admirer. He's gonna call Samuels' attorney, tell him to advise his client to back off and he's gonna put a patrol on the loft tonight. So rest easy, okay, partner?"

Blair nodded. "Thanks, Jim. Goodnight."

"Night, buddy."

 

CHAPTER FIVE

They spent the next day going over everything they had on the case so far. Blair re-read the reports on the other victims and fed everything into the computer, collating all the details, trying to analyse similarities and differences. All the murders had too much in common to have been committed by different perps, he decided, not that that knowledge helped much as Homicide had already come to that conclusion.

He still wondered about Aaron Zabinski's true involvement. He felt that Samuels had to have had help, at least to dispose of the bodies. Zabinski had been placed in a safehouse with 24-hour protection. He'd professed a wish to get clean and had been placed on a methadone program. This might be just the right time to speak to the kid again, Blair decided, while his defences were down.

All the evidence they had on Samuels so far was circumstantial. Nothing wrong with that, Blair knew. People had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. But there was the worrying possibility that Samuels would come up with some plausible reason for the dog collar, the Mandrax and Ryan's blood to be in his house. He could say, for instance, that yes, he'd picked the kid up and given him a ride then dropped him off and the kid had dropped the collar in his car, where Samuels had later found it and put it away. It was a long shot but it only took one juror to be swayed by his excuses to result in a hung jury. He looked up as he felt a warm hand come down on his shoulder.

"How's it going, Chief?" Jim asked. "Feel like taking a break for lunch?"

"Yeah, might as well, man. I'm not getting too far here. Just going round in circles, pretty much." He stood and stretched. "Look, Jim, I've been thinking, maybe we should talk to Aaron again. He's probably feeling pretty vulnerable right now. We might be able to get him to come clean on exactly how much he *helped* Samuels."

Jim nodded. It still amazed him how well Blair had adapted to being a cop. It shouldn't, really. He'd meant it when he'd told Blair once before that he was the best cop Jim had ever known. Blair was a natural detective. Jim guessed a lot of it came from his training as an anthropologist, but an equal amount of it was borne out of Blair's innate curiosity about people and what made them tick.

They were just about to head out the door when Jim's desk phone rang. "Terrific," Jim muttered, turning back to answer it. He listened for a few minutes, a grin gradually spreading across his face. "That's great, Dan. Thanks, man."

"Jim?" Blair asked, wondering at his partner's sudden good humor.

"Those fibers I picked up off that rug under Samuels' bed?" Jim said. "There are over 100 on Ryan's clothing that are virtually indistinguishable from the fibers I collected. How about we skip lunch and go have that talk with Zabinski?"

Blair nodded agreement. Finally this case was coming together. It would only be a matter of time before Samuels was behind bars, hopefully this time for good.

~oOo~

Blair felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders as the truck pulled up outside the loft.

His instincts about Zabinski had been right on the money. The junkie had come clean, admitting (in return for a promise from the DA of protection in prison), that he had not only helped Samuels coerce the kids into the car but helped dispose of the bodies. He insisted he hadn't taken part in the killings, saying that Samuels had made him go for a walk while it was done, returning in time to help manhandle the dead kids into Samuels' car.

The problem was that Samuels was now nowhere to be found. He'd given the cops who were watching him the slip. If his attorney knew where he was, the creep wasn't talking.

Blair started up the stairs to the loft, with Jim close behind. He bent and picked up the package that was sitting in front of the door to the loft then jumped as Jim's hand closed over his.

"Were you expecting something, Chief?"

Blair shook his head, holding the parcel up and inspecting it from all sides. It was the size of a shoebox and wrapped in gold paper, wrapped with red ribbon. His name was scrawled in red ink across the top.

"You shouldn't pick up things like that if you're not expecting anything without giving me a chance to check it out," Jim said admonishingly, taking the gift from Blair's suddenly shaking hands.

"Sorry," Blair said, pulling out his keys and unlocking the front door. "You're right. I just wasn't thinking."

Jim walked into the loft behind him and set the parcel down carefully on the kitchen counter. He cocked his head in the pose that told Blair he was extending his hearing then shook his head and handed it back to Blair. "Seems okay," he said, going up the stairs to his bedroom to change.

Blair sat down on the couch and pulled off the wrapping. It was weird. it wasn't his birthday or Valentine's Day or any other day that he'd expect to receive a gift. He carefully lifted the lid of the box and pulled away the tissue paper inside. "Shit!" he yelled, shoving the box off his knees and as far away as he could. He jumped to his feet and over the back of the couch, fetching up against the balcony windows, feeling his breath coming in hard shuddering gasps. His heart felt like it was going to pound right out of his chest. He pushed his hands behind his back, forcing them to hold him up as his knees began to shake, his injured hand jabbing with fresh pain as it came in contact with the glass.

"What the hell…?" Jim was suddenly there in front of him and Blair hadn't even heard him coming, so intent was he on his own feelings of panic and the horrible contents of the box.

"Blair?" Jim reached out, grabbing a shaking arm and levered Blair down towards the floor. Once down, he patted Blair's shoulder. "Stay there," he said then he walked over and picked up the box, which had fallen on its side up against the front door. "Shit!" he said as he picked it up. He turned back towards Blair, tipping the contents back into the box. "Who the hell would want to send you something like this?" He pulled a latex glove from the packet they kept in the kitchen drawer for doing dishes and put it on.

Blair shuddered as Jim reached in and pulled out the dead body of a rat, its head partly severed from its body, its blood dried and clotted around the gash in its neck. The awful thing swung from Jim's fingers by its tail and Blair bolted to his feet, his hand over his mouth. "Gonna -" He rushed headlong for the bathroom and fell to his knees in front of the toilet, retching violently.

Jim fetched a plastic bag from under the kitchen sink and placed the box and its contents inside. He removed the glove and threw it in the bin then went into the bathroom and knelt behind Blair, his big hand rubbing up and down his partner's back.

Blair had stopped vomiting. Now he was bent forward over the commode, panting.

Jim turned him round and pulled him up against his broad chest. "It's okay, buddy. Take some deep breaths." He waited a few minutes then pushed Blair back to sit against the vanity. "You okay for a minute?" he asked. When Blair nodded hesitantly, Jim stood and wet a washcloth then crouched again and used it to wipe his friend's face. Pulling Blair to his feet, he handed him a glass of water to rinse his mouth then led him out to the couch and pushed him down onto it.

Seeing Blair shivering violently, Jim grabbed the afghan off the back of the sofa and wrapped it around Blair's shoulders, then he sat on the coffee table and waited for Blair to calm down, his hands moving soothingly up and down his partner's shaking arms, using his touch to calm and warm.

"How you doing, Chief?" Jim asked the question softly, all too aware of the fact that Blair was still a long way from being okay.

Blair swallowed, shuddered and swallowed again before answering. "I'm okay… well, not exactly okay but I'm getting there. Man, did you *see* that thing? Well, of course you *saw* it. You picked it up. God, Jim how could you do that? Pick it up and hold it like… Oh man!" Blair swallowed hard again, one hand covering his mouth. His skin took on a faint greenish tinge.

"You gonna be sick again?" Jim asked, ready to do a scoop and run with his Guide if he had to.

Blair finally took some deep slow breaths and then shook his head firmly. His skin began to return to its normal color and the trembling was easing, Jim was glad to see. "I'm better, Jim. Thanks. I'm sorry for wussing out like that."

"Forget it, Sandburg. It would have wussed me out, too. So, who'd send you something like that. Did you recognize the writing on the wrapper?"

Blair thought about it, hoping Jim wasn't going to ask him to take a closer look at the paper or its contents. "I really don't think so. I mean, it's just my name and it's printed so someone could and probably would disguise their handwriting anyway, right? I don't know who'd do something like this. Hey, wait! What about Samuels?"

"I don't know, Chief. I mean, would he know your address? And why do it anyway? Just because you knocked him back? I guess it's possible, though. What about an old girlfriend? Sam?"

"Oh, Jim, no. I mean, Sam's a bit flaky but…" Blair suddenly nodded agreement. "Yeah, you're right. It is the sort of thing she'd do. But it could be someone we've put away too. Guess we'll have to wait and see what Forensics turns up on it."

Well, that's where I'm heading right now. I want to find out if there's any word on Samuels, anyway," Jim said, getting to his feet.

Blair stood up and tested his legs. They'd stopped shaking and he was pretty sure he wasn't going to fall flat on his face. "I still can't believe the DA said he wasn't a flight risk, Jim. Hang on, I'll just get my stuff…"

"Why don't you wait here, Blair?" Jim collected Blair's unwanted "gift" and snagged his keys from the basket. "Give yourself some time to settle down properly. Have some chamomile tea and meditate or something. I'll be back in an hour tops and I'll bring some Chinese back with me, okay?"

Blair thought about it. He looked at the ghastly parcel in Jim's hand and realized he really didn't want to have to hold the thing on his lap all the way to the PD. A hot shower, tea and a lie-down were infinitely preferable to riding in Jim's truck with that. He nodded. "Okay. Just hurry back. I'm still feeling a little jittery, man, and I think I'll feel better with my Blessed Protector around." He gave Jim an embarrassed smile.

"Take it easy, buddy. Oh, and Blair," Jim turned at the door. "Keep the door locked, all right? You know, maybe I should get Rafe or someone to come keep an eye on the place…"

"Nah, it'll be cool. Simon's already got that extra patrol doing cruises up and down the street. And you know Mrs. Rosenblum watches everyone who comes and goes, anyway."

"That's because she thinks it's strange that I let a hippie move in with me, Sandburg. She never used to be so suspicious," Jim said, straight-faced.

"What can I say, Jim? She wants me. After all, she never hand-delivered oatmeal cookies till I moved in, did she?" Blair replied, equally straight-faced.

"You got me there, Chief. Well, I guess I can leave you in Mrs. Rosenblum's safe hands, then, hey?" Jim grinned as he backed towards the door. "If you get a delivery, save a cookie for me, okay?"

"Well, I guess I could do that, even though Mrs. R always makes a point of telling me the only reason she brings the cookies is because I look as if you never feed me. God, chill out, Jim. I'll call you if I hear a suspicious noise or anything, I promise." Now Blair really felt embarrassed. He stared down at the floor. God, great cop he was, scared of being on his own just because someone sent him a dead rat. He looked up to see Jim watching him closely and flashed a wide grin at the Sentinel. "Go!" he ordered. "The sooner you leave, the sooner I get Chinese."

Jim laughed and closed the door behind him, not walking off till he heard Blair set the locks.

 

CHAPTER SIX

Blair luxuriated in the warmth of the shower. This was one time when he knew Jim wouldn't mind if he didn't ration the water, so he stayed under the blissful spray, letting it massage his muscles and leech the tension from his body, only climbing out when the water began to cool. He towelled off and dressed in his oldest, most comfortable sweats then put the kettle on for tea. He grabbed a book from his room that he was in the middle of reading and put it on the coffee table next to the couch. He could stretch out, drink his tea, read and relax till Jim got home. Maybe then everything that had happened in the past few crazy days would begin to make some sort of sense, or failing that, at least settle into a distant corner of his mind so he wouldn't have to think about them so much.

The kettle had just begun to boil when there was a knock at the door. He sighed heavily then turned off the stove and went to answer it, wondering momentarily whether he should grab his gun then laughed inwardly at the thought of what Mrs. Rosenblum down the hall would think if he took to packing every time she popped over to bring him a plate of cookies.

~oOo~

Jim headed straight for his desk, juggling the unwieldy package containing the box of deceased rat. A phone rang just behind him, causing him to jump and he almost dumped everything on the floor. He finally managed to regain his hold on it and looked toward the captain's office. Banks was nowhere in sight so Jim decided to take the parcel and its wrapper and contents down to Forensics then come up and see if Banks was back.

"What you got there, Jim?" Brown asked as he passed. "Someone's birthday?"

"Not hardly, H," Jim replied grimly. "Look, if Captain Banks comes back while I'm gone, tell him I really need to see him. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"No problem, man," Henri agreed, turning back to his computer. A minute or so later he heard a phone ring and pulled out his cell. No, it wasn't his. Looking around the room he saw Jim's phone sitting on the floor next to his desk where he'd obviously dropped it.

"Hello, this is Ellison's phone. Henri Brown speaking."

He listened for a moment then turned and sprinted for the elevator, skidding to a sudden halt when he realized he had no idea where Jim had gone. He turned to go back to the bullpen and have Ellison paged when he saw a tall figure in front of him and collided with Simon Banks.

"Captain! Do you know where Jim is? We gotta find him…"

"Whoa, slow down, Detective. What's going on?" Banks grabbed Henri's arm, steadying him.

"I gotta find Jim," Brown said tensely. "Blair just called!" He spun back to punch frantically at the buttons of the elevator just as the door opened and Ellison walked out. "Oh man, Jim! We've gotta get to your place! Blair just called. He's in some sort of trouble!"

"What?" Jim grabbed Henri by both shoulders and shook him hard. "What did he say, H?"

"He didn't get a chance to say much before the phone went dead, man. He said, "I need help, Jim. It's Sam-" and the phone just cut out."

"Where's Samuels, Simon?" Jim asked urgently.

"I just got a call from his attorney. He said Samuels is in his office and he's ready to turn himself in." Banks headed for his office at a run and grabbed the phone. He dispatched a patrol car to the loft then turned back to Jim. "Let's go. I'll drive."

As one, all three men ran for the stairs.

~oOo~

Banks didn't need to be a Sentinel to know that Blair was gone. The loft was silent, making the overturned furniture and spots of blood on the floor near the door even more chilling.

He looked for Jim and saw he was stalking around the rooms, his senses obviously dialed up, searching for anything that would give them a clue as to where Blair had been taken.

At least, with all his senses on high there was no chance of him zoning, Simon realized, but then one of the uniforms slammed a door open, sending it crashing into the wall and the Sentinel dropped to his knees as if stunned.

*Shit! I forgot about sensory spikes* Banks made his way over to his downed detective and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, speaking softly and urgently into his ear. "Jim, come on, you gotta get a handle on this. You're not gonna be able to help Blair like this. Dial it all down, man. Come on." He gave Jim's shoulders an emphatic shake as he spoke and was relieved to see the Sentinel's hands pull away from his ears and a semblance of normalcy return to his eyes.

Simon managed to get him on his feet and supported him till he could take his own weight. "Anything, Jim?" he asked. Other cops had canvassed the neighbours and come back empty-handed. Even the ever-vigilant Mrs. Rosenblum had missed seeing who had turned up at the loft and taken Blair.

"I'm not sure, Simon. Some sort of medicinal smell. Probably whatever it was that was used to subdue him but that's about all. It's gotta be Samuels. That's what Blair was trying to say."

"Okay, let's get going. We'll head over to Samuels' attorneys office now."

~oOo~

The moment Blair opened his eyes, he knew it was a bad idea. His head pounded in time with the rapid pulsing of his heart and he had to swallow against the harsh dryness in his throat to stop himself from throwing up. The light overhead flared to brightness and he closed his eyes, trying to will away the headache and the nausea.

"Good, you're awake."

Blair opened his eyes again and turned his head, looking for his abductor. She was sitting in a chair a few feet away, smiling brightly at him.

"Sam? What the hell are you doing?" He moved, trying to get to his feet, only now discovering he was lying on a bed and that his arms and feet were shackled in some way to the posts of the bed. "Sam, you need to let me go, okay? We gotta get some help for you…"

He broke off as she leapt to her feet and ran to stand over him, her hand flicking down toward him. He gasped with pain as something branded his skin. Flinching back as much as he could, he looked up in shock and saw a thin bladed knife in her hand.

"Don't talk unless I tell you to," she snarled, leaning closer to him, her hot breath panting across his mouth.

He shook his head, feeling the heat of his blood trickling across his chest where she'd cut him. It stung like hell but the blood was only oozing, not gushing or spurting so he figured the wound wasn't too deep.

"You hurt me, Blair," she said softly, straightening up again. "But then I thought of the perfect way I could always have you with me. I need to get some things ready so you're going to have to have another sleep for a while." Turning back to the table, she returned with a syringe in her hand.

Blair struggled against his bonds. "Sam, you don't have to do this… We can talk things over…"

"Goodnight, Blair," she said sweetly as she jabbed the needle into his arm.

Within minutes, there was a roaring in his ears and her face seemed to blur and waver. He fought to keep his eyes open but the darkness rushed upon him too quickly and the last thing he heard was the sound of her laughter.

~oOo~

Clara Jones almost dropped the coffee she'd just finished making when the door to the office slammed open and crashed back against the wall, almost shattering the glass. The sight of the two large men who rushed through in the wake of the door's opening didn't do anything to calm her nerves. One was white, about 6 feet tall, the other African American and even bigger. She'd been working for Max Jacobs, Cascade's best defence attorney for long enough to learn to take notice of details like that.

The white guy leaned over her desk, looking as if he was about to grab her by the front of her shirt and beat a confession out of her. The cups in her hands clinked together and she managed to shakily put them down, watching as if hypnotised as the coffee sloshed over the tops and stained the files she'd been working on. She had a vague hysterical thought that Max would be pissed off about that then realized the guy was talking to her. "What?" she squeaked.

"I want to see Max Jacobs right now!"

Clara swallowed and looked toward Max's closed door. He was in a meeting with that Samuels guy, the one accused of killing all those young boys and she didn't think he wanted to be disturbed. She took a step back from the desk, not liking the look on the big guy's face. He looked… frantic or something. Like his entire life depended on him seeing Max.

Suddenly the other guy was there, pushing his way in front of the white dude, almost shoving him aside. "I'll deal with this, Jim," he said. "Look, Miss…" he glanced down at her nametag. "Clara, we really need to see Mr. Jacobs. I'm Captain Simon Banks, Major Crime, Cascade PD and this is Detective Ellison. Is Mr. Jacobs in?"

*Wow* Clara had time to think. *Ellison! He was that super cop they'd talked about on the news a while back. Wait till the girls hear about this!* The next moment the supercop was in her face again and then Max opened his office door and all hell broke loose.

Ellison took a running jump at the man standing in the doorway behind Jacobs and clasped both his hands around the man's throat. "What the hell have you done with my partner, you prick?" he growled into the man's face.

"Get your hands off me, you Neanderthal." Samuels was surprisingly calm and it was that as much as anything else that made Jim drop his hands from where they were preparing to wring the man's very life out of him. He stretched his hearing out and picked up the man's heartbeat, a little fast, which wasn't surprising but there were none of the jumps he'd learned to associate with someone telling lies. Furthermore, the man looked and smelled cool as a cucumber. Jim couldn't even get a whiff of the scent of fear from him. "I have no idea what you're talking about," Samuels continued, rubbing his neck. "Max, I want this creep charged with police brutality."

Jim wasn't even listening anymore. He swung back to face Banks. "I think he's telling the truth, sir. Oh, Christ! It's Sam… Samantha! She's the one who's been after Blair."

"Oh dear," Samuels purred from behind him. "I do hope your dear little friend is all right. I was so looking forward to getting to know him better."

Jim spun back around. "Get to know this, you pervert!" he yelled as his fist connected squarely with Samuels' smug face. Not wasting the time to see the guy hit the floor, he ran from the office, Simon at his heels, trying to apologise and catch up with his runaway detective at the same time. He yelled at Brown, who'd been waiting outside the office for them, to get inside and place Samuels under arrest. He'd already called for backup on their way down and he could hear the sirens nearing them now.

Simon caught up with Jim outside at the truck. Ellison was hunched over the hood of the vehicle, his breath coming in rasping pants.

Simon grabbed him by an arm and swung him around. "Are you fucking nuts, Ellison?" he roared. "Happy now you're gonna end up facing IA over this?"

"He deserved it," Jim said sullenly, his breath still catching in his throat.

"Yeah, he did, but you're not gonna be able to help Blair if you're locked up in a holding cell, are you?" Simon sighed and grasped Jim's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "I know, Jim. I'm worried about the kid too."

"Ah, shit!" Jim exclaimed suddenly, turning to race around and climb into the truck. He waited till Simon was in the passenger seat before explaining his outburst. "Sam's got a sister. She was there the night Blair got cut."

"Sam did that?" Simon shook his head. "You know, Jim, I'd appreciate a heads-up on stuff like this from time to time. The kid told me it happened when he was cutting a bagel. You know how to contact the sister.?"

Jim shook his head and motioned to the two-way. "Might be listed in her personnel records, sir. Which I'm not authorized to access…" He smiled over at his superior for the first time since they'd discovered Blair missing.

Simon had the information in less than 5 minutes and 10 seconds after that they were on their way.

~oOo~

"Look, I know Sam can be a bit crazy at times, but she loves Blair. She wouldn't do anything to hurt him." Sam's sister, Faith, was emphatic in her defence of her sister.

"She cut his hand the other night when he tried to break up with her," Jim growled, stepping up into the young woman's personal space and watching with some small feeling of satisfaction as she took a step back. He felt Simon reach out to draw him away but he held his ground. Blair had already been missing for several hours and the Sentinel wasn't about to back off till his Guide was found alive.

"I know," Faith said softly, dropping her eyes. "Sam's always been real… intense, you know? She gets like that with guys. Half the time I don't think she really wants them till they lose interest in her. Then she'll do anything to keep them. But I really don't think she'd hurt Blair. I mean, he's a guy, after all. She's just a little bit of a thing."

"You don't have to be a 6 feet tall muscle man to poison someone or drug them, which she already has done to Detective Sandburg," Simon remarked, not bothering to explain how they knew. "Sam's a scientist, Faith. She knows how to use drugs to overpower someone and probably even to kill them. We don't want any harm to come to Sam either. But we can't get her the help she obviously needs if you won't tell us where she is." He reached out and grabbed the woman's arms, pulling her closer and lifted her chin with one gentle hand. "Come on, Faith. You want to help your sister, don't you?"

Tears filled Faith's eyes, overflowing and trickling down the pale face that looked so much like Sam's. "Of course I do," she whispered brokenly. "I love her." She flashed a look at Jim. "I like Blair a lot, Detective. I don't want anything bad to happen to him but I honestly don't have any idea where she'd be."

"Okay," Simon said. "How about you come with us down to the station and see if you can think of any other people who might have some idea of where she'd have taken Blair?"

Faith nodded. "I'll bring my address book," she said. "We have some mutual friends. They might have some ideas."

Jim heaved a sigh borne partly of relief and partly frustration. "Thank you," he said finally, already on his way out the door, leaving Simon to wait for Faith.

~oOo~

Simon watched as Jim paced back and forth across the carpet of his office. The Sentinel's jaw was clenching and his hands were drawn into tight fists. "Why don't you sit down for a while, Jim," he suggested.

Jim looked quickly at him then nodded and threw himself down into a chair. Minutes later, he was on his feet again. "How can nobody have any idea where she's gone?" he asked. "With all the people she worked with here and all the people her sister phoned, nobody has a clue!" The last word was shouted emphatically, causing even the big Captain to jump and Jim had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry," he muttered. He slumped down into the chair again and leaned forward, his arms resting along his legs. "There has to be someone who knows something. Have we checked all the home rental agencies?" he asked, knowing they had.

Simon nodded anyway. "Look, all we can do is keep looking. There's an APB out on her car. Something'll turn up." His voice tried to convey surety but he wasn't sure himself he'd done a good job of it. That impression was confirmed when Jim leapt to his feet again and resumed his pacing.

"It's been over twenty-four hours, sir," the detective muttered. "You know the statistics on people who are missing longer than twenty-four hours as well as I do. If we don't get a lead soon, the trail's gonna be so cold that even I won't be able to pick up anything. Supposing I can focus properly while I'm worried out of my head about Blair to do any good, anyway."

"I know, Jim." Simon stood up, about to insist they get out of the place for a while, grab some food, maybe drive around a little and see if they could pick up anything when his phone rang. He picked it up, not missing the way Jim's eyes leapt to the instrument, hope springing anew into his face. "Banks," he said tersely.

//Captain Banks, this is Serena Chang from Forensics.//

"Serena, I thought you were off duty for a few days," Banks replied, cocking a non-committal eyebrow at Ellison, who'd stopped pacing and was obviously listening in to the voice on the other end of the phone.

//I am, sir, but I just got a phone call from a friend of mine who told me about Blair. Is it true? That you think Samantha abducted him?//

"Yeah, unfortunately, it's true, Serena. Have you got any information that can help? I didn't think you and Sam were friends."

//Well, we're not. Not really. But one day when she was griping to me about you guys asking me to do your lab tests and stuff, she started going on about how I was gonna cause her to lose her job. I thought she was upset about it but then she said something that didn't make any sense at the time. I mean, even for Sam.//

Simon could see Jim leaning forward as if he was about to rip the phone from his superior's hands. "Well, spit it out, Serena," he said, a little more forcefully than he'd intended.

//Sorry, sir. She said she wasn't too worried if that happened because she had a feeling she and Blair were going to get back together and she'd already put a down payment on a cabin in the mountains where they'd go to live.//

Jim was shaking his head and Simon asked Serena to hold for a moment.

"There's no record of Sam buying any cabins from any of the real estate companies in Cascade," Jim said, the disappointment in his voice profound.

//I heard that, sir," Serena interrupted through the phone. "She didn't buy it in her own name. She said she wanted to surprise Blair so she bought it under the name of Samantha Chambers. Chambers was her mother's maiden name. Apparently she had a bank account already in that name so the estate agent signed off on the deal.//

"You know what company she used, Serena?"

//Even better, sir. I know where it is. She showed me on a map when I asked her. I'm so sorry, sir. I should have said something then but I thought it was just Sam and her pipe dreams, you know?// Serena's voice was filled with anguish. //I would have been in touch sooner but I was out of town and I only just heard about Blair. I can come in right now and show you where the cabin is that she showed me.//

Now Jim did lean forward and grab the phone. "You sit tight, Serena. Give me your address. The Captain and I will be right over. Thank you. You did everything exactly right."

//You're welcome, Detective. I hope Blair's okay.//

"I'm sure he will be." Jim wrote down Serena's address and put down the phone. He was already out the door by the time Simon had grabbed his keys and coat.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Blair tried to keep his breathing shallow in the hope that Sam wouldn't know he was awake. He just wanted to erase everything that happened since Sam had abducted him, especially the past hour. The shallow cuts she inflicted on him with the knife as punishment for speaking, stung like hell. He knew they weren't dangerously deep but that didn't lessen their pain any. Especially now, when his body was streaming with sweat from his struggles against his captor and he knew it was only a matter of time before they became infected in the unsanitary conditions.

The salt stung the wounds cruelly. The other pain was in his groin, which ached dully. His head thumped constantly and he felt as if he'd throw up again if he moved a muscle. He'd already vomited several times due to the drugs she'd pumped into him and he knew he was in danger of becoming dehydrated. Sam's ministrations didn't include the provision of such necessities as food and water.

He shifted cautiously on the bed, drawing in a breath as Sam stirred from where she reclined against him. His back felt bruised, especially around his kidneys, no doubt a result of the beating she'd given him with a hefty piece of wood as punishment for biting her when she'd kissed him. His bladder felt as if it was about to burst but he cringed from the undoubted pain that relieving it would give. Providing, of course, his kidnapper saw fit to allow him up to do so.

Worse than all the physical pains was his utter humiliation at what she'd forced upon him. He'd helped others through similar trauma and thought he'd understood how they felt but now he knew that had all been surface feeling. Only now was he able to empathise with their pain and shame.

When he'd woken the first time, all he could think of was that Jim would find him and he'd listened for any sound that might mean his Sentinel had done just that. Now, much as he wanted to be rescued, he wondered how he could face his friends again with any sense of dignity. He knew Jim would understand but all the compassion in the world wouldn't erase his anguish at what had happened.

He closed his eyes again, allowing himself to test the strength of his bonds, wondering if he could break free, uncaring anymore if his movements woke the woman next to him. She'd already caused him so much pain. He almost wished she'd just wake up and kill him and get it over with.

Sam moaned and turned her head toward him, her eyes opening to gaze into his. She lifted herself on one elbow and leaned toward him and then she was gone, and in her place Blair saw the face of his Sentinel.

"Jim?" he whispered, hardly daring to believe.

"It's me, Chief. Just stay still while I get you untied and see where you're hurt, okay?" Ellison looked over his shoulder to where Sam had already been cuffed and was being dragged out the door by a grinning Simon Banks.

They'd come in through the window and the bitch hadn't heard a thing. He stroked Blair's damp hair away from his forehead, wincing as he felt the heat rising from his Guide's skin then busied himself with undoing the ropes tying Blair to the bed. Once he had him free, he grabbed a blanket from the foot of the bed and draped it around his friend, covering his nakedness.

Blair grasped the blanket with the tips of his fingers, rolling himself within it as he turned on his side away from Jim. Jim rubbed his shoulders, and Blair clenched down hard on his lip with his teeth as if to keep the sobs that were overtaking him from moving past his arid lips.

"Hey, it's okay, buddy," Jim said softly. He leaned forward and pulled his partner back toward him, finally managing to turn him into the shelter of his arms.

Blair was crying silently, tears leaking down his pale face and Jim rocked him, one hand patting his back, the other keeping him close against his broad chest.

"Sorry," Blair whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, you've got nothing to be sorry for, Blair. Ssh, we're gonna get you to the hospital now. Get you checked out-"

"No!" Suddenly Blair was pushing to free himself from Jim's embrace, shoving himself back till Jim had to reach out to stop him from falling to the floor.

Jim snared an arm, managing to pull Blair back from the edge of the bed. "Chief? Come on, buddy, you need to get checked out. Some of those cuts need stitches and she drugged you with something..."

Blair allowed himself to be held where he was. He looked into Jim's eyes, seeing nothing but worry and love shining back at him. He still didn't want to go to the hospital but he wanted even less for Jim to be worried about him so he nodded abruptly and let Jim pull him forward till he was in the Sentinel's arms once again. Once there, feeling safe at last, he turned his face into Jim's shoulder and let the darkness in, his only conscious awareness of the world around him, the feel of Jim's big hand cupping his head and Jim's cheek coming down to rest against his hair.

By the time the medics had done their checks, inserted an IV and loaded him onto a stretcher, he was asleep, his hand clasped loosely in Jim's own.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

"How's he doing?" Simon Banks asked as he moved quietly into the hospital room and over to stand next to the chair Ellison was sitting in. It was pulled up as close as possible to Blair's bedside and Jim had his arm through the rails, clasping his partner's limp hand in his.

"Doctor said the knife wounds are mostly superficial but a couple needed stitches," Jim said softly, turning in the chair to face his captain. "He's got some nasty bruises on his back and they were a bit worried about his kidneys but they think it's just a small laceration that will heal on its own."

He glanced down and Simon followed his gaze, shuddering a little as he saw the bag hanging on the side of the bed, the tubing snaking up under the sheets. The bag's contents were rust-colored.

"Christ!" Banks swore softly. "Poor kid! What about whatever she drugged him with?"

"That's probably the worst part," Jim muttered. "She used some form of drug they use to subdue animals to take him down and keep him down. The doc says that luckily she didn't overdose him. Guess her training was good for that, at least."

He looked over at Blair and noticed a frown on the young man's face. His eyelids were fluttering as if he was having a bad dream.

Jim reached out and smoothed the palm of his hand across his partner's forehead, as if by smoothing out the lines there, he could erase the memories that had caused them. "It's okay, Chief. You're safe. Try to rest, Blair."

The words seemed to do the trick as Blair sighed and turned his head into Jim's hand, his face suddenly more peaceful. His hand clenched tighter around Jim's, then relaxed and he seemed to fall more deeply into unconsciousness.

Once Jim was sure Blair was asleep, he turned back to Simon. "They think she raped him, Simon."

"Oh God, no, Jim! How do they know? Did he say something or -"

"One of the drugs in his system is used for maintaining erections and he has a lot of bruising around his…" Jim's voice broke then and he looked down. "Jesus, Simon! How the hell is he supposed to cope with that? He'll blame himself. Somehow, he'll make himself responsible for it and then he'll try to push it all inside."

"We'll just have to be there for him, Jim. You, especially. If anyone can get Blair through this, you can. But we'll all help. We'll all be there for him, just the way he's always been there for us." Simon reached forward and grabbed Jim's shoulder, pulling till his detective looked up at him. "No matter what it takes. Okay?"

Jim nodded. "Thanks, Simon. He may not be able to say it for a while, but it'll mean a lot to him to know you want to help."

Simon turned to leave then stopped at the door. "You take as much time as you need to get him through this, Jim. Samuels' lawyer has apparently convinced him not to bother pressing assault charges against you but I'm gonna have to put you on paid administrative leave for at least a couple of weeks. You understand that, don't you, Detective?" Simon smiled wearily at his friend, knowing he would.

"I understand perfectly, sir."

CHAPTER NINE

"You know, don't you?" The words were Sentinel soft and Jim lifted his head from where he'd rested it when his own exhaustion had caught up with him and looked into his Guide's tired eyes.

He nodded, waiting for whatever Blair wanted to tell him.

"I should have been able to stop it happening…"

"You couldn't have, any more than I could've," Jim said firmly, taking Blair's hand in his once more and holding on tightly, wanting somehow to share his strength. "She drugged you, manipulated you. It was no different than what happens to a woman-"

"I should have fought her harder. I'm a man -" Blair struggled to sit up and Jim lowered the bed rails and grabbed his shoulders, holding him still.

"It's no different, Chief and you know it. You'd be saying just what I told you if this had happened to me. Wouldn't you?" He gave the shoulders under his hands a little shake. "Wouldn't you?" he repeated.

Blair looked up then, trying not to let the dampness in his eyes spill over into tears. "Yes," he whispered. "I know that but it doesn't help right now, you know, Jim?"

"I know, Chief. I know." Jim pulled his guide forward into his arms, resting his cheek on the soft curls and rocked them both slowly, just as he had when Blair had been found. "But I'm here and we'll get through it somehow."

Blair turned his head into Jim's chest and let himself relax into the comfort, finally able to tell his partner what had happened, needing to verbalise it as if then the memories would no longer have any power over him. "I was so ashamed, Jim. I tried not to respond but she shoved this needle into my…" He swallowed hard, feeling his face heat with embarrassment. "Oh man! That hurt." He managed a slightly hysterical sounding giggle. "I don't know how guys can do that to themselves. I think I'd rather just join a monastery or something than willingly do that." His voice became serious again. "And then she started coming on to me. I was tied up so I couldn't really do much to stop her and whatever she'd knocked me out with was still making me feel groggy and sick. Then she was on top of me and I…" He felt Jim's arms squeeze his shoulders in sympathy and it gave him the courage to finish telling it. "She said she'd found a way she could kill me but still have me with her. I didn't understand what she meant at first but then I realized what she wanted." His next words were laced with horror. "Oh God, Jim! What if she's pregnant?"

"We deal with it, Chief." Jim's words rumbled soothingly across the top of Blair's head, his arms never wavering from their self-appointed task to keep his Guide safe.

Blair nodded. He believed it. With Jim to back him up, he could deal with it. It wouldn't be easy, but together they'd do it.

THE END