Disclaimer: I do try to keep the Sentinel Universe intact as much as possible, but I'm working with a specific request here. There is a death in this story, but it is of a character that is no longer important to the Sentinel Universe (I hope!). If they ever decide to bring this character back, or if they explain where she went, I'll have to relegate this story to the status of "AU."  Note: Thanks, Ruby, for the drawing! I'd also like to thank Hephaistos for beta'ing this story and for giving me some great ideas for scenes. Rated PG-13 for violence and strong language. Most of the violence is implied, though. Lots of h/c and angst.

Avenging Angel
A Sequel to "Mirror Image"
As Requested by Ruby


She squirmed in the chair, her arms bound painfully behind her back. Cold eyes stared at her, and she wilted under the gaze. The man who stood before her had lost touch with reality long ago. He was a psychopath, beyond hope. Evil. She had never been so terrified in her life, and this time she knew there would be no last-minute rescue.


Simon sank down in his chair slowly, his cigar nearly falling from his mouth. He gazed at the faxed sheet in his hand, his brain numb with shock.

"He won't get out again, Cassie."

"That's what they said the last time."

Slowly, he lowered the paper to the desk, then placed his cigar in the ashtray. With a deep breath, he forced himself to his feet and walked over to the door. His hand wrapped around the knob, and he swallowed, bracing himself for what was to come next. Then he pulled the door open, locked his gaze onto the figure seated at the desk, and said, "Ellison, my office."

Ellison's head snapped up, and from the expression on the detective's face, Simon knew the man had picked up on the tone in his voice. Jim narrowed his eyes warily and stood up, following Simon into the office and closing the door.

"Yes, sir?"

Banks sat down and gestured to one of the empty chairs on the other side of the desk. "I think you'd better sit down, Jim."

Ellison complied. "Bad news?"

Simon nodded. "Jim... I uh... I received a fax from the San Francisco PD. Cassie was down there for a visit, and... well, they found her body yesterday. She was tortured... and shot through the heart with a forty-five." That was Chapel's M.O. The man had been dubbed the "Avenging Angel" by the press because he typically targeted criminals who had escaped the law.

Jim went rigid. "No." The single word came out as a whisper.

Simon closed his eyes briefly. "I don't know how to tell you this, so I'll just come right out and say it. Chapel escaped a week ago. They transferred him out of state, and he got out." He shook his head. "They don't know how he found out Cassie was in San Francisco, but he did."

Jim's face had gone white and he bolted from his chair. "Cassie told me that Chapel blamed her for his first arrest." He rushed to the door. "He'll go after anyone who interferes with whatever mission he thinks he's on. We've got to get to Sandburg."


As Jim sped toward the university, he dialed both Blair's office phone and his cell phone, but met with failure each time. He clenched his jaw, hoping the lack of response meant that Blair was in class. He knew Blair taught classes on Tuesdays, but he didn't know when. You'd better be in class, Chief, he prayed silently as he skidded the truck around a corner. He glanced in his rearview mirror at the police cruiser speeding behind him. He knew he'd freak Blair out by showing up at the University with a black and white, but he knew -- he just knew -- that Blair was next on Chapel's list. Simon had agreed, adding that Chapel would most likely come after both Jim and Blair, but the detective felt confident that he could deal with Chapel himself. He had an edge, after all... one that Chapel did not know about: Sentinel senses.

One day, he thought. Cassie's body had been found one day ago... and the SFPD had said she'd been missing for almost thirty-six hours before that. Jim took another hard turn, pushing back the fear in his chest. Almost three days. Chapel had almost a three day head start, and he could be anywhere. In fact, he was most likely already in Cascade. He knew where Blair lived, and he probably already knew where Blair worked.

Jim pressed his foot harder on the accelerator, driving the truck dangerously down the road. He extended his senses, searching his environment for cars and pedestrians ahead of him so he would have ample warning to swerve or stop if needed. Minutes later, he screeched to a halt in front of Rainier's anthropology building, and leapt out of the truck, leaving the door hanging open and gesturing for the officers to wait outside. No use having a bunch of uniforms crashing through the halls unless there actually was a present danger. He kept his hearing tuned outward, searching for the sound of Sandburg's voice, or even his heartbeat.

Jim barreled through the corridor of Hargrove hall, relieved when he encountered the sound of Blair's voice. He followed its steady cadence, skidding to a halt in front of a closed door and peeking through the small window into the classroom. Blair stood at the head of the classroom, a small piece of chalk in his right hand, gesturing wildly as he explained something about pink dolphins.

Jim decided not to interrupt. He glanced at his watch, noting that it was only ten 'til the hour. Odds were, the class would end on the hour, so he wouldn't have long to wait. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back against the wall, waiting for Blair to finish his class.

True to Jim's guess, the class ended ten minutes later. Jim waited as the students filed out of the classroom, then he ducked inside. Blair stood over the podium, gathering some papers and stuffing them into a folder, completely unaware of Jim's presence.

"Sandburg."

Blair's head snapped up sharply. "Jim?" A crease formed in his brow. "What are you doing here, man? Everything okay?"

Ellison swallowed hard. He didn't quite know how to break the news to the kid. While nothing even remotely serious had ever developed between Cassie and Blair, Jim knew the young man would take her death hard -- especially considering the circumstances. Chapel had been the forensic chief's worst nightmare, and she had been required to muster all her courage just to help Jim and Blair on the case. To find out that her nightmare had been realized left Jim with a cold knot in his stomach. Sure, he'd found her annoying more often than not, but nobody deserved to die in such a brutal manner.

The crease in Blair's forehead grew more pronounced, and his eyes took on an expression of concern. "Jim? Hey, man, what is it?"  He maneuvered around the podium, coming to stand in front of Jim.

"I've got some bad news, Chief," Jim began, gesturing to one of the empty seats. "I think you should sit down."

The Sentinel heard the spike in Blair's heart rate, and the young man dropped quickly into the chair.

"Simon's okay, right? Naomi? Is--"

Jim sat down in the adjacent chair. "Easy, Sandburg. They're all right." He hadn't meant to frighten the kid... not that way, anyway. His expression must have been more severe than he realized. He took a deep breath, deciding to get it over with quickly. "It's Wells. She's dead."

For several seconds, Blair didn't respond... didn't even blink. Then the words began to register, and Jim watched the change in his friend's expression. "Dead?" His voice caught, and he swallowed. "When? How?"

Now for the really hard part, Jim thought, mentally bracing himself for whatever reaction would be forthcoming. "Chapel. He escaped."

Blair's face went white and he straightened. "Chapel?" He swallowed again. Hard. "He killed her?"

Jim nodded solemnly. "Sorry, Chief."

Blair took a deep, shaky breath and ran his hands over his face. "Oh man. How... How did she die?"

Jim clenched his jaw. "She was shot through the heart." He didn't think the kid needed to hear that she'd been tortured first.

Blair closed his eyes briefly. "God..."

Jim rose to his feet, frowning. He knew he should say something, but he found himself at a loss for words. He knew Chapel terrified Blair almost as much as he had Cassie. He still remembered the wild-eyed look in Sandburg's eyes when the kid had barreled into him in the hall of the psych ward, claiming that Chapel was hot on his heels.

"Come on, Chief," Jim said, his voice gentle. "As of right now, you're in protective custody."

Blair blinked. "Huh? Why? You.... You don't think --"

Jim raised his hands quickly. "It's just a precaution, Chief." He placed a reassuring hand on Blair's shoulder. "So, until he's caught, you don't go anywhere alone."

The full impact of Jim's statement registered with Blair, and his eyes widened. "What about classes?"

"Someone will come with you."

Blair nodded slowly, looking numb. Finally, he pushed himself to his feet and took a deep breath. "Okay."

Jim raised an eyebrow, surprised and somewhat concerned about Blair's easy acquiescence. Keeping his hand on Blair's shoulder, he guided the young man toward the door. "You okay, Chief?"

Absently, Blair nodded. "Yeah, fine man," he said, his voice flat but a little shaky.

"Don't worry, Chief. We'll find him," Jim reassured his partner.

Blair nodded again. "I just have to stop by my office and pick up some things."

"Okay, no problem," Jim replied.

Blair made the trip to his office quickly, grabbing a few stray folders, the daily mail, and his laptop, all of which fit in his backpack. Then he followed Jim outside.

"I'll follow behind you," Jim told the young man. "Do you need to stop off anywhere before heading home?"

Blair shook his head. "No."

Jim nodded curtly. "Good." He gave his friend one more pat on the shoulder, then ducked his head a fraction to get a better look at Blair's face. "You okay to drive?"

Blair nodded quickly. "Uh-huh."

Jim cocked his head, listening to his Guide's heart. It beat fast and steady. He nodded, satisfied, "All right. Let's go," he said, heading out toward Blair's Volvo.


Jim and Blair walked into the loft, and the detective tossed his keys in the basket and locked the front door as Blair made a bee-line for the couch. The anthropologist dropped his backpack on the floor as he sank onto the cushions, then rummaged through his pack and pulled out his laptop and mail.

Jim eyed his partner with concern as he headed into the kitchen. "You want a beer, Chief?"

Sandburg shook his head. "No thanks."

"I'm going to hit the shower. If anyone knocks..."

"I got it," Blair said, waving him away. "Believe me man, with Chapel on the lose, I'll be on my toes."

Jim nodded curtly. "Good." Then he turned on his heels and headed for the bathroom.

Blair opened his laptop, then sifted through his mail while he waited for it to boot up. A medium-sized bubble envelope caught his attention, and he frowned when he saw there was no return address. He wasn't expecting any packages delivered to the university. Quickly, he tore open the package and pulled out a video cassette. A small pink post-it was attached to the tape, scribbled with the words 'Here's a little something I thought you'd enjoy'.

Aha! Realization brightened his face. Bill finally got around to sending me the tape. He'd nagged the grad student for weeks, asking to borrow the tape Bill had made of the marriage ceremony during his trip to Bali. He couldn't wait to show it to his class.

He rose from the couch and popped the tape into the VCR. The picture flickered to life, and Blair gasped at the image on the screen, falling back onto the cushion. Cassie Wells sat strapped to a chair. She appeared unharmed, but her hair and make-up sat in disarray. Black mascara streaks lined her cheeks, and her eyes glistened with tears.

A deep, disembodied voice spoke, and Cassie looked up at someone behind the camera.

"Ms. Wells, care to say anything to your friends at the Cascade PD?"

She sniffled, shrinking in her chair. "What do you want, Chapel?"

A low chuckle. "It's simple. Revenge, my dear."

Blair sat in horror, silently commanding his body to move and turn off the VCR, but his hands refused to obey. He ordered his vocal chords to call out for Jim, but they remained stiff, uncooperative. He sat motionless, his eyes glued to the screen, his stomach churning with queasy anticipation. Please. Please don't let him kill her on camera.

The image cut abruptly, and Cassie still sat in the chair, but it was obvious that considerable time had passed. Her blouse hung torn around her waist, leaving her shivering in a bra. Blair didn't know if her trembling was due to fear or cold, but her wide eyes told him she was terrified. Bruises and cuts marred the right side of her face, and wet mascara snaked down her pale cheeks.

Chapel moved on screen, a huge hunting knife gripped in his right hand. Cassie squirmed in a futile attempt to move away from the man, but the bindings held her rigidly in place.

Oh God. Blair willed his eyes to close, but they remained stubbornly open.


Some time later, Chapel's disembodied voice sounded off-screen. "Say good-bye to Sandburg for me, Cassie... oh, and Detective Ellison, too, I'm sure. Ask the hippie if he's spoken with his higher power, lately. He's gonna need her."

"Oh God," Blair croaked.

"Oh God no!" Cassie pleaded, tears streaming down her face. "Please, don't--"

A single round spot of red erupted on the left side of her chest, and Blair flinched involuntarily. Cassie's eyes widened even more in momentary shock. She gasped once quickly, then slouched forward in the chair, motionless.

"I hope you liked the little preview," Chapel's voice mocked. "You're next on my list, Sandburg, then your partner. Take care, little man. I'll be seeing you soon."

The camera lingered on Cassie's limp form for several seconds, then the picture ended and the screen filled with white snow.


Jim wrapped the towel around his waist and opened the door. Hot steam billowed out of the bathroom, following him into the hall. He made his way into the living room, his eyes automatically falling onto his partner's motionless form. Blair sat rigid on the couch, poised in front of the TV as white snow flickered on the screen.

Jim frowned. "Sandburg, what are you doing?"

No response. His frown deepened, and he walked up to the young man, maneuvering around the couch to look his friend in the face. Blair's eyes were locked open, fixed unblinking on the T.V. screen. His face had lost most of its color, and if it weren't for the sound of the young man's shallow breathing and jack-hammer heartbeat, Jim would have thought the man a corpse.

Alarmed, he dropped to his knees in front of Blair. "Chief?" He placed a hand on Sandburg's shoulder, giving his friend a gentle shake. "Come on, buddy, look at me."

Blair gave no sign that he even heard the plea. Panic bloomed in Jim's chest, and he looked at the T.V. screen, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. Quickly, he pulled the remote out of Blair's hand, then hit the REWIND button. Seconds later, Cassie's bloodied image popped on screen, and events played backward in accelerated time.

Oh hell. Seconds later, he flicked the power off, and the screen died to black. He didn't need to watch the video just then. He had a pretty good idea what he'd see... What Blair had seen.

Turning his attention back to his catatonic partner, he dropped the remote on the table and moved to sit next to Blair.

"Okay, Chief, come on back now."

When he got no response, he gave the young man a light slap on the cheek. Blair jerked to life, flinching away from the Sentinel and releasing a strangled gasp as even more color drained from his face.

"Blair?" He placed both hands on the kid's shoulders, offering comfort with his touch. "It's okay, buddy. I'm right here."

Sandburg released a deep, shuddering sob and fell forward off the sofa, heading toward the coffee table.

"Blair!" Jim adjusted his grip to catch his partner, catching him as he fell.

Blair's fist latched onto Jim's arm, and the Sentinel lowered the young man to the floor. "Easy, Chief. Take it easy."

He listened to Blair's struggles, noting with rising alarm that his partner wasn't breathing. Blair's eyes were wide, his face panic-stricken, and his chest heaved as though trying to force air into his lungs.

His own chest tight, Jim grabbed Blair's shoulders and gave the young man a firm shake. "Come on, Blair, let it go. Let it go. Breathe, buddy, come on."

As if a switch had been thrown, Blair inhaled a deep, violent breath, gulping in air greedily. Jim breathed his own sigh of relief as he listened to the tortured sounds of Blair's breathing. He wrapped an arm around Sandburg's shoulders and pulled him closer. "That's it, Chief. Just take it easy. You're okay."

Several seconds passed before Blair was able to get his breathing under control. When he succeeded, he pushed himself away from Jim and slid onto the couch, leaning forward to bury his face in his hands.

"Oh God, Jim. Cass..." His voice failed him, and he shook his head in a gesture of denial.

Jim pushed himself to his feet and stood motionless in front of his distraught partner. He found himself at a loss for words... again. Sandburg had just watched a person he'd worked closely with murdered in a cold, brutal manner.

Hell, do something, Ellison, he berated himself. Slowly, he lowered himself to the couch and placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Chief." It was a weak offering, but it was all he could think to say at the moment.

Blair raised his head and glanced at the detective, then quickly turned his gaze to the blank television screen. "He tortured her first," he said, his voice strained to a whisper.

Jim closed his eyes, tightening his grip on his partner. "You shouldn't have seen that."

"He's coming after us. You and me," Blair stated flatly.

"He won't get near you, Chief, don't worry."

Finally, Blair turned his head to look at Jim. "You're my bodyguard?"

Jim furrowed his brow and nodded. He'd thought that fact was obvious.

Blair swallowed. "Who's gonna protect you? He's after you too, Jim."

Jim clenched his jaw, his eyes fire. "I'm after him, Sandburg."


Later that evening, Blair busied himself cooking, trying desperately to get his mind off of Chapel. He remained acutely aware of Jim's furtive, concerned glances. The detective sat in the living room in front of the evening news, the volume turned low for sentinel ears. Every few minutes, he'd glance over his shoulder at Blair, and Blair would catch most of these glances out of the corner of his eye. He made a valiant effort to ignore the Sentinel, hoping Jim would relax and stop worrying about him. Sure, he'd freaked out earlier, not that he remembered it all, but he didn't want Jim to think he couldn't handle the situation. He swallowed hard, straining the pasta in the sink and listening to the water snake down the drain. He remembered the video, remembered Cassie's screams, the terror in her eyes. Then, after that, he didn't know what had happened, but suddenly Jim was in front of him, shaking him, and he couldn't breathe.

Major panic attack. Bet Jim's never had one of those.

A noise invaded his thoughts, the sound of someone turning the loft's front door knob. His heart leapt into his throat at about the same time Jim shot off the couch. Blair spun around in time to see a white envelope shoved beneath the door.

Jim withdrew his gun and crept toward the front door, his head cocked ever so slightly, a gesture Blair knew meant that the man was extending his sentinel hearing. Jim must have heard the would-be intruder retreat, because he threw a glance at Blair and said, "Stay here," before lunging forward and flinging the door open, disappearing into the hallway with surprising silence.

Stay here. Sure, Jim. No problem. Can't move, anyway. My feet seem to be glued to the floor here, and... Shit! Man, don't zone. What if he's out there? What if he gets the drop on you? God, I don't want to get a video tape of you, Jim. Oh man. Oh man. Oh man. What am I doing just standing here? I should call someone. That's the least I can do.

Footsteps shuffled in the hallway, heavy, and Blair kept his eyes glued to the half-open front door. "Jim?"

The door swung inward, and a large figure walked into the loft. Blair's heart rammed into overdrive, thundering wildly in his chest as he stared at the nightmare in front of him. Stringy blond hair framed a square, hard face, and thin lips parted to reveal crooked teeth.

Blair stood, frozen, flashing back to another time when he had found himself face-to-face with a nightmare in the loft. Lash. He'd fought for his life then, but Lash had still taken him, and now that nightmare was about to happen all over again.

"Hello, Sandburg. Miss me?"

Adrenaline took over, spurring Blair into action and bypassing conscious thought.

"Jim!" he yelled, flinging the colander of pasta at Chapel and sprinting for his bedroom.

He almost made it, but a sharp sting in the back of his right shoulder hit him just as he reached the doorway. He stumbled a few more feet, staggering toward the fire escape. His legs grew heavy, and greyness encroached at the edges of his vision. Gravity tugged at him, its strong grip pulling his body downward. His legs gave way, and he crumpled to the floor, falling into the inviting embrace of Darkness.


"Jim!"

The Sentinel halted his pursuit and spun around, listening to his prey's footsteps retreat down the stairwell.

Sandburg! He pumped his legs hard, flying up the stairs to the third floor in record time. His eyes locked on the front door hanging partially opened, and his mind whirled as he ran toward the loft. Had he left the door open? He couldn't remember. Regardless, Sandburg had enough smarts to close the door after him.

Damnit! It was a diversion. How the hell could I have been so stupid?

He focused his hearing on the loft, and the drum of footsteps sounded in retreat toward the rear of the building. The fire escape. Bursting through the front door, his heart sank when he spotted the pasta spread out on the loft floor, the empty colander resting upside down next to the couch.

"Blair?" He knew it was useless, but he called out his partner's name anyway, a soft plea in the face of disaster.

Sprinting toward the lower bedroom, he saw the fire escape window hanging open. Wasting no time, he lunged forward, gun in hand and senses on full alert, and leapt onto the fire escape. It was empty. His eyes scanned the alley below, but saw no sign of his partner. His ears searched the perimeter, but sound gave no clue to Blair's whereabouts.

His chest tightened with heavy realization. I lost him. 


Jim stood rigidly inside the loft, peering out through the balcony windows at the surrounding blackness. The subdued sounds of footsteps and hushed voices floated to his ears as the forensics team did its work, but he ignored them. He'd already sweeped the loft three times with his senses, and all he'd found out was what he'd already known -- Chapel had taken Blair. The discovery of a few strands of golden hair in the kitchen had confirmed his suspicions, and the fingerprints forensics had lifted from the doorknob, kitchen counter, and bedroom window would no doubt solidify the conclusion.

"Jim?" Simon Banks inquired softly from behind.

The Sentinel pulled his gaze away from the window and turned his head to look at the man.

"You okay?" Simon asked.

He turned his gaze back to the window. It was a stupid question. Rhetorical at best.

"You haven't seen the contents of the envelope yet?"

Jim shook his head.

"Three pictures. Two Polaroid's of Cassie. Not pretty." The Captain paused, fashioning a tense silence. After a few moments, the silence was broken. "There was some writing on the back of the first photo."

Jim tensed, bracing himself.

"'One down, two to go,'" Simon finished. "Um... The third photo was of Sandburg."

Jim's head whipped around, ice blue eyes locked on the dark face of his Captain.

"It was taken outside the Anthropology building at Rainier. Blair's walking outside. We don't know when it was taken, but probably recently. Maybe this week."

Jim turned his gaze back to the night city outside, his back straight and his shoulders rigid. Somewhere out there was his partner... Alive, most likely, but not for long. Time was running out, and he could swear he heard each tick of the clock as clearly as the beat of his own heart.


His head hurt. Someone was using his head as a soccer ball; that was the only explanation for the harsh pounding in his skull. Darkness surrounded him, and he wasn't even sure if his eyes were open or closed, but he blinked, solving the mystery. His eyes were definitely open, and the darkness was real.

He realized his head was hanging forward, and that he was seated in a chair, his upper body held upright by a pressure around his chest. His arms were tied painfully behind his back, and his legs were secured to the legs of the chair.

Chapel!

Slowly, almost hesitantly, he raised his head. Colors exploded around him, masking the darkness, and he mentally braced himself, sure he was falling. Seconds passed, but the impact never came. The colors died to black, and the sickening sense of motion abated.

Oh man. His heart pounded fiercely, throwing itself against the cage of his chest like a frantic beast desperate for escape. Cassie! Oh God. Visions of her torture flashed through his mind. The knife carving into her skin. The blood. The screaming. The look of disbelief and pain in her eyes as Chapel slid the blade into her... Not far enough to kill. Never enough to kill until he put a bullet through her heart.

And now it's my turn. Oh God. He clenched his eyes shut, willing the nightmare away. Jim, man, please, you have GOT to find me. I'm right here. Don't know where 'here' is, but here I am, anyway. Anytime, man, because I know what's gonna happen and ohmanohmanohman, I don't want to die. Not like that. Not any way, but definitely not like that. And, oh please, God, please, not on tape. Not for Jim and Simon and everyone to see. I'm not gonna be strong. I'm not like Jim. I can't do this. Please, please, please, God, let him find me. Soon. Incacha, spirit guides, whatever, whoever, however, but I'm sending out a big SOS here, and I really, really, really need some help right now.

His rambling prayers came to an abrupt halt when the click of a dead bolt penetrated the silence, echoing through the darkness. His eyes shot open and his heart stopped for the briefest of moments. When a sliver of light expanded as the door opened, revealing a hulking figure, his gut twisted, and his heart nearly leapt into his throat.

"I see you're awake," Chapel's deep voice echoed.

Blair pulled his eyes away from the man, using the light to scan his surroundings. He was in the center of a large, bare room. A video camera sat on a tripod a few feet in front of him, and he stared at the cap covering the lens. His chest tightened. It's gonna start now. Oh hell, it's gonna start right now. He felt the sting of tears in his eyes, but he took a deep breath and pushed them back, forcing his chin higher in defiance of the fear. If his death was going to be videotaped, he'd go down with dignity. He would not let Jim and Simon down. He would not beg, he would not cry. He might scream. Okay, yes, he'd most definitely be screaming, but he would not let Chapel turn him into a quivering idiot. He would not plead with the man, nor beg for his life. He knew there was nothing he could say to change Chapel's mind, anyway. The man was insane. Beyond reason. Beyond hope.

But he's not gonna win, and I'm not gonna break. I'm NOT gonna break. Whatever happens, happens. But I'm not letting him break me. I won't give him that satisfaction. And I won't do that to Jim.

He swallowed hard.

Just remember Jim. Just look at the camera and remember Jim. Sitting on the other side, watching this. His face. I won't do that to him.

"Nothing to say?" Chapel asked, walking into the room. "I hope you don't mind the germs. I didn't have time to wipe the chair down for you," he said, referring to the germ-phobic Connover persona that Blair had adopted when he'd tried to get close to Chapel, "but germs are not something you need to be worrying about right now, anyway."

Blair took a deep breath, pouring every ounce of will he had into making his throat work. "Chapel." He narrowed his eyes, hoping he looked at least marginally courageous. In truth, he was having a hard time just controlling his bladder.

A sliver of a smile touched the larger man's lips. "You're gonna make this interesting, aren't you?" He moved over to the camera, twisting off the lens cap and flicking on the power. "Now look into the camera and say hello to Detective Ellison." He touched a button, and a red light sprang to life. Seconds later, the small spotlight on the top of the lens flared, and Blair squinted against the glare.

"Go on, say hello to your friends at Major Crimes," Chapel instructed, his voice casual.

Blair raised his head, looking directly at the camera lens. "Jim, sorry about the pasta, man. When you and Simon find this psychotic remedial, I hope he resists arrest. Big time. Not that I'm telling you to use excessive force, or anything, but, you know, if you have to, I won't object. Oh, yeah, and could you call the University for me and tell them I'll be out for a little while? Also, there's a -"

The red light flicked off suddenly. "Okay that's enough of that. Had your fun?" Chapel stepped away from the camera, moving toward Blair. "I hope so, because things aren't going to be fun for you much longer." He swooped down on Blair, and, in the blink of an eye, his hands wrapped around the young man's neck.

Blair flinched, trying to pull back, but the chair held him firmly in place. His lungs screamed, struggling to expel the air trapped inside and take in a replenishing supply. Black dots danced at the edges of his vision, and panic bloomed in his chest.

Suddenly, Chapel released him, and he would have sagged forward if not for the rope around his chest. He gasped, his throat like sandpaper, wheezing hard as he inhaled greedy gulps of air.

"Let's try this one more time, shall we?" Chapel moved back to the camera and hit the record button. "Now, did you have something to add, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Go to hell!" he croaked, panting fiercely.

Chapel sighed, moving in front of the camera and looking into the lens. "Oh well. Guess we'll have to do this the hard way."

He moved behind the chair, and Blair forced himself to remain still, resisting the temptation to turn his head to search for the man. He heard the rustle of cloth, and then a black fabric covered his eyes. Chapel tied it off in the back, giving it a tug to make sure it was tight. Then, something hard and cold pressed against his neck, cutting sharply into his skin enough to cause pain, but not hard enough to draw blood. A blade. He stiffened, fighting back the panic that threatened to explode from his throat.

"I try to do it a little differently each time," Chapel told him. "Since you already saw what I did to Cassie, I didn't think it fair to spoil your surprise by doing it the same way. Oh, don't worry, I've still got the old tools to use, but I've thought up some new games to play since finishing with Cassie."

Blair trembled at the cold, casual tone in Chapel's voice. Please... He swallowed. He'd almost said the word aloud, but caught himself in time. Remember Jim. Be strong for Jim.

"Really?" Blair asked, forcing his voice steady. "Have you tried chicken yet? I hear it works well if you play it with an oncoming train."

A hot streak of pain along the side of his neck caused him to gasp. Warm wetness slithered down his neck, and the blade left his skin, only to make contact again on the other side of his neck.

"I could slit your throat right now," Chapel said matter-of-factly, leaning over Blair's right shoulder.

The man was obviously very close to him, because Blair could feel his warm breath against his ear.

"Go ahead," he said. "That would kind of spoil the show though, wouldn't it?"

Chapel released a low chuckle and pulled back, withdrawing the knife. "Of course it would."

Blair heard the shuffle of feet indicating that Chapel had moved in front of him. Then the cold blade returned, held flat beneath his chin to push his head upward.

"Have you spoken with your higher power, Sandburg? Right now, I'd be praying if I were you."

"If you were me, you wouldn't be holding the knife right now."

A brief pause, then, "Good point."

"If you like, I'd be more than happy to trade places with you, man."

Chapel gave into another short laugh. "You have a gift for humor, Mr. Sandburg. I might just prolong your torture. Keep you around a bit longer."

A shiver of dread snaked down Blair's spine. Jim, man, I really hope you find me before this tape is delivered.



Jim sat at his desk in the bullpen, scanning the report in front of him with tired eyes. It had been ten hours since Chapel had taken Blair... Ten hours too long.

With a sigh, Jim rubbed his eyes. His normally sharp vision was blurred, fatigued from long hours of strain. His head pounded with a relentless headache. He'd gotten zero sleep the night before, spending most of it in his truck searching the city. Cascade, unfortunately, was a big city, host to many empty and isolated buildings that Chapel could use to hold Sandburg.

To torture him. Jim stopped breathing, closing his eyes against the image of Cassie's final seconds of life. She'd been found only thirty-six hours after her disappearance. That didn't mean that she'd lived for thirty-six hours after the abduction. The initial coroner's report indicated that she'd been dead for approximately five hours before being found. That narrowed the time window to about thirty hours.

A little over a day. The burning in his lungs reminded him to breath, and he sucked in a deep, shuddering breath, opening his eyes. He saw Captain Banks standing on the other side of the desk, his dark eyes pinched with concern.

"Jim, you need to get some sleep."

The Sentinel shook his head, rising from his seat. "There's no time for sleep, sir," he said, his voice harsher than he intended. "Sandburg's got less than twenty hours if Chapel sticks to the M.O. he used for Cassie."

"I know, Jim but --"

"And he's already been tortured," he croaked, a warm sting touching his eyes. He watched the shift in his Captain's expression, almost reveling in the stunned look on the larger man's face. When he spoke again, his voice was a hoarse whisper. "You know that, sir. You know what Chapel's most likely done to Sandburg already. You saw it on the tape. You really think I can sleep knowing that right now Sandburg is going through that?" His voice rose a notch. "Right now that son of a bitch has him somewhere, probably right here in Cascade, and I'm here, standing around, fiddling my goddamned thumbs while the rest of the force runs around like chickens with their heads cut off. We're all fucking useless!" He shouted the last remark, causing a sudden silence to descend upon the bullpen as his friends and fellow officers stopped their frantic work to look at him, their faces etched with a shared pain.

Simon stiffened, a mask of authority falling like a veil over his face. "In my office now, Ellison," he ordered quietly.

Jim stood still for several long seconds, his fists clenched at his sides. He forced himself to take several slow, deep breaths, struggling to calm the rage that burned in his chest and the waves of despair that rolled over him like a black ocean.

Finally, he nodded. "Yes, sir." He was just telling his legs to move when Rhonda rushed into the bullpen, a yellow bubbled envelope clutched in her right hand.

"Delivery for Ellison," she announced with a quivering voice, her eyes fluttering briefly over Jim, then falling to rest on Simon. "I think it's a video tape."

The silence in the bullpen became palpable. Jim's knees gave way, and he sank back into his chair. "Oh God."

A sharp pain sliced through his chest, piercing his heart. He wanted to scream in denial, but he couldn't move, couldn't even form a sound. It can't be, he pleaded silently to whatever deity was listening. It can't be. It's only been ten hours. Only ten fucking hours! I still have time. Goddamn you, Chapel! I still have twenty more hours! Twenty-one more hours to find him. So help me, God, Chapel, if you've killed him, if you've done that to him and put it all on tape, I swear to you, I'll find you. I'll stand on the fucking corner waiting for you. Come on, you coward. Come for ME.

"Jim?"

He looked up to see Simon standing over him, the envelope held in his left hand.

"I can view this on my own, Jim," he said gently. "There's no need for you to --"

Jim shook his head. "No, sir," he croaked out, his throat tight. "Thanks, but it's for me. I have to see it."

Simon nodded. "Okay. Come on then, Jim," he said gently.

Jim let himself be guided out of the chair, Simon's firm hand wrapped gently around his arm.

"Let's get this over with," Jim whispered, squaring his shoulders and walking stiffly to the Captain's office.


Jim sat rigidly in the chair in Simon's office, his hands clenched around the arms of the chair, his knuckles white. The blinds had been drawn closed, giving the two men privacy. Simon hit the play button on the remote control, and the television screen flickered to life. Blair sat bound in a chair, his hands behind the back of the chair. Ropes wrapped around his chest, securing him to his seat.

The room looked dark, but a bright light shone directly in Blair's face, making him wince. He peered apprehensively at the camera, and Jim extended his hearing, searching for the kid's heartbeat. He gritted his teeth when he couldn't find the precious rhythm. It had been a long shot, anyway - no way would the microphone have picked up such a faint sound.

"Go on, say hello to your friends at Major Crimes," Chapel's deep voice instructed.

Blair raised his head, looking directly at the camera lens, his pupils tightly constricted, enhancing the brilliance of his blue eyes. Jim held his breath, meeting the firm gaze of his friend, even though he knew he was looking only at a two-dimensional electromagnetic version of his partner. Still, peering into those familiar eyes, he half-believed that Blair was actually looking at him, perhaps trying to convey a message. Probably trying to tell me not to get all worked up.

When Blair spoke, Jim held his breath.

"Jim, sorry about the pasta, man. When you and Simon find this psychotic remedial, I hope he resists arrest. Big time. Not that I'm telling you to use excessive force, or anything, but, you know, if you have to, I won't object. Oh, yeah, and could you call the University for me and tell them I'll be out for a little while? Also, there's a -"

The image flickered briefly to black, then sprang to life again. Blair sat in the chair, breathing hard, his eyes wet with unshed tears and his face red. Jim clenched his jaw, gripping the sides of his chair harder, struggling to maintain control. His body pulsed with the urge for action, the drive to tear something -- anything -- apart, shred it to pieces, stomp it out of existence.

"Now, did you have something to add, Mr. Sandburg?" Chapel's disembodied voice asked.

"Go to hell!" Blair croaked, panting fiercely.

Chapel sighed, moving in front of the camera and looking into the lens. "Oh well. Guess we'll have to do this the hard way."

Jim focused on his breathing, his nebulous control slipping as he watched the knife slice a red path along Blair's neck. A faint ghost of pain tickled the side of his own neck, and he resisted the urge to rub the spot. Instead, he remained unmoving in the chair, his eyes glued to the screen.

As the minutes wore on, his body became more and more tense, his muscles rigid. Then Blair started screaming, breaking the fragile thread that held Jim to the chair.


When Jim lost it, Simon was ready, expecting the outburst. Watching the video was hell, and only a few minutes had passed. He had no idea how much longer the tape would play, and his stomach churned with queasy dread. He'd seen the tape of Cassie, and he didn't know if he had the stomach to watch the same thing happen to Blair.

Keeping one eye on the screen and the other on Jim helped Simon maintain his own facade of calm. So when Jim sprang out of his chair, growling with rage as he flew toward the television, Simon leapt into action. He caught the Sentinel by the arm, spinning him around and pinning him up against the wall, chest to chest with his friend.

"Ellison!"

Jim pushed back, but Simon's stance remained firm, his hands on the detective's shoulders.

"Stop it, Jim!" Blair's screams continued in the background, and Simon raised his voice to drown out the horrific sound. "You're wasting time. We need to get through this video, and if Sandburg's still alive, we need to find him." He gave the man a firm shake. "Now snap out of it and look for clues. Use those senses of yours, damnit, and see if you can figure out where that video was shot."

His words penetrated the inferno of rage surrounding Jim, and the Sentinel deflated, sagging against the wall. Simon kept his hands firmly planted on Jim's shoulders, keeping his friend upright. Suddenly, Blair's screams died, bathing the room in silence. Simon stiffened, but didn't dare turn to look at the screen. He closed his eyes briefly, giving a silent prayer. Please, God, don't let him be dead.

He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "Come on, Jim," he said gently. "You can do this. Sandburg's counting on us."

Jim nodded, shifting his gaze to the television screen. The thick silence in the room broke with new sounds of torment, sending an icy shiver down Simon's spin, but he kept his attention fixed on the detective. An icy veil descended over Jim's eyes, masking the rage that had burned there moments before.

"Stop the tape," the Sentinel said, his voice low. "Let's take it from the beginning."


Hours and Hours and Days and Days. Eternity crept by, leaving him cold and shivering, surrounded by blackness. Time tormented him, hovering like a ghost, ephemeral and untouchable, a shadow at the edge of reality. It mocked him, sometimes crawling along like a snail, leaving a bright trail of agony as it passed. Other times it flew by, cheating him out of rest and solitude by jumping ahead, cutting short the time he had between Chapel's visits. Whoever had said that time was relative must have caught a glimpse of the beast. Blair almost pitied that poor soul, whoever it had been. He was sure he knew the name, had learned it sometime in the past, but the past was Time's domain as well, and it danced just out of his reach. Mocking him.

Time must have heard his thoughts, because it snapped ahead once again, depriving him of his meager peace -- no doubt retaliating for his blasphemy. The click of a lock sent him shivering uncontrollably, and he closed his eyes, hoping the next round of pain would be the last, either because Jim would find him, or Chapel would finally kill him. Of course, he preferred the first scenario, but the second wasn't looking too bad either at this point. At least the pain wasn't so bad anymore. In fact, most of his body felt numb. He couldn't feel his legs or his hands, but his right shoulder pulsed with pain where Chapel had burned him, and his right side throbbed with a steady, deep ache. The bleeding from the wound in his side had stopped, courtesy of a brief cauterization by Chapel.

He'd lost all feeling in his hands hours ago, the circulation cut off by the ropes. He'd been working the bindings around his wrists almost continuously, even when he'd felt the warm wetness of blood on his hands that told him he'd rubbed the skin raw. At least that didn't hurt. His wrists and hands felt puffy and numb, like he'd slept on his arms the wrong way and woken with no feeling.

The door opened, and light spilled into the room. Blair didn't bother raising his head, he didn't have the strength and he knew what he'd see, anyway. Instead, he closed his eyes, and focused on the one thought that had allowed him to maintain at least a modicum of dignity during Chapel's sessions.

Jim.

He kept the image of his friend in the forefront of his mind, reminding himself that Chapel was videotaping the sessions and that Jim would eventually see the whole thing. He had to be strong for Jim. Chapel could take away his freedom and his life, but he couldn't take away his dignity. That belonged to him, and he'd be damned if he'd give it away to his psycho captor.

Jim, I wonder what you're doing right now, what you're thinking. Please, please be okay. Don't blame yourself for this, man. It's not your fault, and I couldn't stand it if you blamed yourself. Just be okay, and I can handle anything on this end, Jim. Just be okay, man. Watch your back.

Please God, don't let him do anything stupid. Just please, if he doesn't find me in time, if this psycho kills me, please don't let him get Jim, too. That's all I ask right now. He needs to sleep and eat, because if he doesn't, he'll end up zoning, and Chapel will get the drop on him, and, man, oh man, I can't stand the thought of him in this chair, going through what I'm going through.

"How are you feeling, Sandburg?" Chapel mocked as he walked up to Blair. "Think you can handle another round?"

Blair didn't have the strength or inclination to answer.

"Well, I guess we'll find out soon enough," Chapel continued. "You know, this really is unfortunate. What I do, why I kill... It's to rid society of the bad apples, to get rid of the men the law doesn't. In a way, I'm on the same side as you and your partner. It's just a shame you crossed the fence, kid. You and your partner came after me. You lied to me. Now I have to get rid of you, too."

Slowly, Blair lifted his head, though it felt about as heavy as a block of cement. "Get a clue, man. You're one of the bad apples."

A stinging slap whipped his head to the side, sending him into blessed oblivion.



Jim leaned forward in his chair, forcing himself to filter out the sound of Blair's screams to focus on the background noises. Simon sat in the chair behind him, remaining so quiet that he wouldn't have thought his Captain was even present if not for his steady breathing and occasional moans. Unfortunately, after an hour of trying, he hadn't found anything to give him a clue about his partner's location.

On the screen, Chapel moved behind Blair, pulling off the blindfold. Blair opened his eyes tentatively, then flinched from the spotlight and clenched his eyes shut.

Chapel's cold blue eyes stared at the camera, and a small smile touched his face. "Ellison, have you looked into the face of a man who knows he's about to die? Have you stared into his eyes as you've slid the blade into his flesh? The eyes always go wide, disbelieving, as the knife moves into him." He brought the knife around from behind, sliding the blade down in front of Blair toward his stomach. "Of course, you know that's not my M.O., don't you? One shot through the heart. That's what does it, but, still, if I'm very careful, I can place the blade just right so that it doesn't kill, doesn't puncture anything vital. It's quite an experience for the victim, I'm sure."

No don't. Chapel, goddamn you, I swear...

Jim stiffened as Chapel moved the blade into position. Blair remained conscious, but his head hung forward, limp. With one hand, Chapel lifted Blair's head, showing his face to the camera, then, slowly, he pushed the blade into Blair's ribcage.

On the first penetration, Blair's eyes shot open, and a low moan escaped his throat. He struggled in the bonds, gasping as his motion caused the blade to cut into him further. Suddenly, he went rigid, and, inch-by-inch, the blade moved into him and he arched his head back, his mouth open and his eyes wide with disbelief, agony written in the lines of his face. He made no more sounds, as if he knew that even the motion of screaming would increase the pain brought by the blade.

Fuck you, Chapel, you're a dead man, a fucking corpse, Jim vowed.


Blair knew he was close to the end. Cold and pain no longer bothered him. He'd been kept in the dark for so long, except when Chapel had the camera running, that light hurt his eyes, and he'd found himself flinching from the harsh spotlight of the camera.

Jim's not gonna make it in time.

He clamped down on the thought as soon as it surfaced, and guilt flared in his chest. It's not his fault. He's trying. I know he's trying. He's just gonna be too late.

He closed his eyes, almost giving into the well of emotion that threatened to spill out of his control. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't break, he'd promised himself that long ago. He'd promised Jim. It was a promise he had to keep. He'd forgotten why, but he knew it was important.

He continued to move his wrists, or at least he thought he did. He couldn't feel his arms, so he didn't know for sure. He just kept telling his wrists to move, hoping he would find a way out of the ropes.

He didn't realize the exact moment he'd broken free until the maddening prickling started, like pins of fire drumming into his hands. His heart thudded in disbelief, pounding furiously in his chest and sending a rush of blood to his head. Dizziness washed over him, but he fought it back.

The click of the door caused him to jump. No! No not yet! I'm almost free, damn you.

The door opened and Blair quickly brought his hands behind his back. He still couldn't feel his arms, except for the horrible pinpricks, more intense than anything he'd ever felt before. He gritted his teeth against the intense sensation and hoped that he'd wrapped the ropes marginally around his wrists. Maybe, just maybe, he could fool Chapel long enough to take the man by surprise.

"One more round, Sandburg?" Chapel asked.

He walked into the room, the knife clutched in his right hand. As he passed the video camera, he flicked on the record button, and the spotlight flared to life. Blair's eyes snapped shut, and he turned away from the harsh glare.

Seconds later, he felt Chapel in front of him, the man's warm breath on his face. "When I'm through with you, Ellison's next," he whispered. "You know that, don't you?"

Blair swallowed, anger bursting in his chest, but he kept a reign on his emotions. He doubted he had the strength to act on them, anyway.

"How's the wound?"

Chapel pressed the blade against Blair's side, digging into the old wound he'd caused some time before. Hours? Days? Blair wasn't sure. He had no way of knowing how long he'd been held in this particular hell.

Now or never, one way or the other. Blair saw his chance, and he took it. He couldn't see the knife, but he could feel the cold metal against his skin. He only hoped that he had enough control of his hands to make use of the instrument. He was ready to kill, without doubt and without hesitation. Part of him mourned that new development in his psyche, and he wondered what Naomi would think of her son if she knew he'd crossed that line.

But I can't let him get to Jim.

No. He'd risk his own soul, his own sanity, but he'd never risk Jim's life. His arms lashed out, his fingers wrapping around the blade of the knife and snatching it out of Chapel's hand, pain slicing through his own palm. He wasn't sure what happened next, but he heard Chapel jump back, utter a brief, strangled yell, then topple to the ground. Blair shifted the knife, cutting at the rope around his chest. His palms were wet, making his grip slippery, but from blood or sweat he didn't know.

Move it! Just move it!

He had nothing but faith to go on that Chapel was out of the way. The room was silent, and he opened his eyes, but the light pouring in from the doorway sent bolts of pain into his skull, forcing him to clench his eyes shut again. Blindly, he continued to cut at the rope, ignoring the pain in his palm.

Some time later, he was free, and he fell out of the chair, landing on the cold floor with a hard thud, the knife clattering out of his hand. He lay there for several seconds, panting hard, fighting against the exhaustion that threatened to claim him. Come on! Get up! He slid his arms up, making a pathetic attempt to push himself off the ground, but he barely managed to move an inch.

No, no, no. He couldn't believe this! He was so close. Was Chapel dead? Hurt? Unconscious? Would he wake up? How long?

He bent his knees, then pushed himself forward with his feet. Slowly, he crawled along the floor toward what he hoped was the door. He risked another brief glimpse, catching sight of the bright light, then squeezed his eyelids shut and moved toward the source.

It seemed like hours had passed by the time he felt the gentle breeze against his face, and he almost cried when he realized he'd made it outside. Still, he refused to give into the well of emotion. He'd made it so far, he wouldn't give in yet. If he let the emotion surface, it would take him over, and he'd wind up curled in a ball on the street, sobbing uncontrollably.

So he continued to move, slithering along the street like a lizard, his stomach scraping against the gritty pavement. He had no other way to find help, so he opened his eyes a fraction. When he realized that it was night, he risked a larger look, and his eyelids lifted halfway to peer at the world around him.

The structures before him looked blurry, and he blinked several times to clear his vision, but the attempt failed. The streetlights bled harsh, yellow light, and he avoided looking directly at them. He could barely make out his surroundings, but he saw a bright, painful blue glow several feet ahead, and his heart nearly leapt into his throat.

Thank you, God. Please let that be a phone.


The bullpen was quiet, its few occupants weary from days of relentless work. Rafe, Brown, Jim, Simon, Megan, and Taggart comprised the dedicated team searching for Sandburg, but only half of the team filled the room at such a late hour. Taggart, Megan, and Rafe had gone home a few hours ago, ordered by Captain Banks to get some rest so they could start the next day with a fresh head.

Jim sat hunched in his chair, his head on his desk. Thirty-six hours. The "deadline" had passed, and with it, the hope that Sandburg was still alive. Still, Jim couldn't let himself believe that his friend was dead. Just because Chapel had given Cassie less than thirty-six hours, didn't mean he'd do the same for Sandburg. He'd already deviated from his M.O. with Cassie by sending the video tape before killing Sandburg. For that, Jim was grateful. He'd nearly broken down when the tape had ended without a bullet being put through Sandburg's chest. Instead, the kid had been bloody, beaten, and unconscious... But, Dear God, alive.

His phone rang, and the harsh shrill pierced his eardrums like an explosion. He straightened and snatched up the receiver, shaking his head against the ringing that echoed in his skull.

"Ellison," he croaked into the receiver, his voice rough with exhaustion.

Silence filled the line, and he gritted his teeth in frustration. "Hello? Who is this?"

The ringing in his ears died down, allowing him to hear the ragged breathing over the connection. "Jim?" The voice was faint, hoarse and scratchy, but still recognizable.

Jim's heart somersaulted in his chest. "Blair?"

Every head in the bullpen snapped up to look at the detective.

"Blair is that you?" Jim persisted.

"H-Help," came the soft reply.

"Where are you, Chief?" He looked up at Brown and gestured wildly toward the other man's phone.

The detective nodded, snatching up his phone and calling in the trace.

"Blair, come on, buddy, answer me. Where are you?"

"Don't know."

Jim shot out of his chair in frustration. "Look around, Chief, tell me what you see."

Seconds passed, and he got no answer.

"Blair."

Silence. He began to panic, stretching his hearing. The raspy sound of breathing reached his ears, and then the faint heartbeat that he knew belonged to his Guide.

"Sandburg, talk to me!"

His plea fell flat, and the line remained quiet.

"Got it, Jim! Third and Trancas. It's from a phone booth."

The bullpen erupted in a flurry of activity and Jim bolted out of the bullpen. As he slid into the hall, he jabbed a finger at Brown and barked, "Stay on the line with him!" Then he disappeared into the stairwell, unwilling to wait for the elevator.


Blair sat huddled in the phone booth, hovering at the edge of consciousness. The phone hung next to his shoulder, dangling by the cord. He thought he heard a voice calling to him, but he wasn't sure if it was real or a dream.

The quiet of the night was disrupted by the brief sound of a crash. Blair jerked to consciousness and saw a blurry figure stagger out of the warehouse yards ahead.

Chapel! Although he couldn't see well enough to make out the man's identity, he knew it had to be Chapel. Fortunately, the man seemed to be stumbling away from him.

Got to move! Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the phone booth door, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder and side. Streaks of blood marred the glass where his palm had made contact, but he barely registered the fact. Instead, he resumed his slithering motion toward the nearby alley. Hide. Jim's coming. Just a little bit longer.

He moved at a snail's pace, but finally huddled up against a dumpster in the alley, fighting the tug of sleep. Somehow, he had to find cover, but the alley was bare. Tilting his head back, he peered up at the top of the open dumpster. It might as well have been a twenty story building with the amount of strength he had left. He doubted he'd be able to pull himself into the large trash bin.

Angry yelling reached his ears, spurring him into action. He's coming! No. No. No. Hurry, Jim. Please hurry. Reaching up, he grabbed the rim of the trash can, gritting his teeth as he pulled himself up. A stifled scream escaped his control as a bolt of agony shot through his midsection, and his vision greyed...

He opened his eyes to darkness, and a thick stench assaulted his nostrils. Huh? How? He had somehow gotten himself into the dumpster, but he had no memory of how he'd accomplished that immense feat.

Jim, please, please, hurry, man. The darkness hovered around him, but he knew he had to stay awake. He had to wait for Jim.

Footsteps crunched in the alley, closing in on the dumpster. Then a deep voice sent his heart into overdrive.

"I know you're here, Sandburg," Chapel growled. "I followed your blood trail."

Something hit the side of the dumpster, and Blair bit his lower lip against the scream that threatened to erupt. He curled himself into a tight, painful ball, burrowing into the trash in an attempt to conceal himself. The refuse threatened to smother him, but he forced himself still. He heard a metallic clang, and clenched his eyes shut. Jim, come on, come on, please, Jim hurry.

Sirens blared in the distance, and another harsh clang shook the trash bin, followed by hurried footsteps.

"Jim," Blair whispered, his voice rough and sore from his hours-days of screaming. He'll find me. If I whisper, he'll hear.


The blue and white Ford truck screeched to a halt in front of the phone booth, followed by half a dozen squad cars, their red lights pulsing frantically. Jim leapt out of his truck, senses on full alert. He immediately spotted the blood on the glass of the phone booth, as well as the dangling phone, and his heart skipped a beat, wondering if he was too late. Had Chapel found Blair? Killed him?

Turning in a slow circle, he scanned the empty street and sidewalk, his head tilted as he listened for his partner. A weak, muffled voice floated to his ears, and a wave of relief crashed over him.

"Jim. Jim. Jim."

The Sentinel took off in the direction of Blair's voice, and the litany continued, growing weaker with each passing second.

"Blair!" He slid into the alley, following the blood trail and the voice to the dumpster.

"Jim! Where is he?" Simon asked, skidding to a halt behind the detective.

Jim peered into the open trash bin, but he saw no sign of his partner. To his dismay, he realized Blair had grown silent, and he stretched his hearing as he pulled himself over the rim of the container and dropped into the trash. Rough breathing reached his ears, and he bent over, digging through the pile of trash like a madman intent on finding promised treasure.

His hand contacted a mass of curls, and his motions became more hurried. Quickly, he pushed aside the trash covering his partner, and, for a moment, froze as he took in the full extent of his partner's condition.

"Dear God," Simon whispered.

"Sir?" Someone inquired from outside the bin.

"Get an ambulance here!" The Captain bellowed.

"Already  done, sir. It's on its way," the officer informed the Captain.

Jim knelt beside his partner, his finger gently brushing knotted strands of hair away from Blair's face. The young man looked barely alive, pale as corpse. His face, chest, torso, and back were covered with cuts and bruises, as well as blood, both old and fresh. The old blood was dried and caked on in obvious layers over Blair's arms, chest, and back.

"Come on, Jim, let's get him out of there," Simon said.

Jim kept his eyes fixed on his partner. He knew he had to get Blair out of the trash bin, but he feared moving him. The young man looked so fragile, as though the smallest stress would break his tenuous grip to life. He knew that the paramedics would never be able to get a makeshift stretcher into the cramped compartment of the trash bin, so the only alternative was to physically carry Sandburg out, which could possibly aggravate his partner's injuries.

"Chief." Carefully, he placed a hand on the young man's arm, fairly certain he'd chosen a spot that wouldn't hurt. "I'm going to lift you now, but I'll be as easy as I can." He was pretty sure Blair was completely oblivious, but he felt the need to reassure his young partner nevertheless.

As gently as he could, he slid his arms under Blair's shoulders, then lifted the man into a sitting position. "Okay, buddy, let's go," he mumbled, grunting as he scooped his friend into his arms.

Blair jerked to consciousness, his arms flailing. "No," he muttered, the word barely audible, but heavy with fear.

"Easy, Blair. Easy," Jim soothed, shifting his weight to keep his weak, squirming partner in his arms.

Simon reached in, carefully grabbing Blair's shoulders.

"Easy with him!" A sharp female voice barked, and Jim looked up to see a woman in a blue jacket running up to them. She carried an orange tool box in one hand, and waved her partner into the alley with her other hand.

"We are," Jim ground out, reluctantly relinquishing his hold on Blair so Simon could hoist him out of the trash bin.

"No. No. No," Blair continued to protest softly, but his eyes remained closed, and his struggles had died to nothing.

Jim hopped out of the garbage can just as Simon and the two paramedics lowered Blair to the ground. Immediately, he crouched next to his partner, knowing he was crowding the paramedics' space but needing to stay close.

"Chapel?" Jim asked, throwing a glance at his Captain.

"No sign of him yet, Jim," Simon reported.

A clench of the jaw was Jim's only reply as he turned his attention back to his partner.

The woman snatched a penlight out of her pocket and lifted one of Blair's eyelids, quickly shining the beam into his eye to check his pupils. Sandburg's reaction was instantaneous. A low, hoarse scream erupted from his throat and he flung his hands up over his face, clenching his eyes shut and turning his head away from the offending source.

Jim's hand snapped out, yanking the penlight out of the woman's hands. "Take it easy, lady," he snapped.

The woman's eyes flashed with anger, and she snatched the penlight back. She opened her mouth to speak, then clamped her mouth shut and took a deep breath, turning her gaze back to Blair.

"I know this is hard for you to watch, sir," she said softly, "but please stay out of our way and let us work on him."

"Come on, Jim." Simon grabbed Jim's arm and pulled him to his feet, giving the two paramedics their space.

"Sorry," Jim mumbled to the woman.

She nodded, not bothering to look up as she and her partner continued their examination of the young man.



Jim paced the hallway outside of Blair's room, waiting impatiently until the doctor finished his post-op examination. Blair had sustained some internal injuries that had required surgery, and he'd also undergone a couple of skin grafts to repair the more severe burns on his body. Chapel, unfortunately, had not been found, though forensics had found the warehouse where Sandburg had been held.

Jim clenched his fists, glancing in the room as the doctor and a nurse continued their examination of the young man. Blair was still unconscious, wrapped in bandages almost from head to toe, with tubes jutting into and out of his body, providing him food, water, and oxygen.

The warehouse room had been gruesome, with streaks of blood marring the floor, relatively fresh. Forensics had matched it to Chapel's blood. Other blood had been found on the chair bolted to the floor, the discarded ropes, and the floor, and that had been matched as Sandburg's. A discarded knife, a video camera complete with tape, and other gruesome tools had been found in the warehouse.

Jim had yet to watch this second tape. He just didn't have the stomach for it at the moment. Besides, he needed to stay close to Blair. Chapel was on the loose again, and this time Jim vowed that the man would not get anywhere near Sandburg. Nothing would pull him from the young man's side. Nothing. Not Simon, not the commissioner, not even a nuclear war. Blair wasn't getting out of his sight. Period. The doctors had protested his hanging just outside the operating room, but he'd adamantly asserted his role as a police guard and required that he be stationed just outside the room where he could keep an eye on the surgery through the window.

Simon, fortunately, had understood, giving him the "official" on-duty guard role. However, Jim had caught Rafe, Brown, and Megan hovering around on occasion, attempting to be inconspicuous, or outright approaching him to inquire about Sandburg, and he suspected the Captain had assigned them as his guards, each of them alternating shifts. Such was really the only way any of them would have been allowed unimpeded access to the restricted surgical area rather than being forced to stay in the waiting room.

The door to Blair's room opened, and the doctor and nurse stepped out. Doctor Baker, a middle-aged man with dark hair and graying temples released a tired sigh as he walked up to him, and Jim straightened, preparing himself for the man's report.

"He came through the surgery well, and he's resting now. I don't expect him to wake up for several hours, and, when he does, he's going to be in pain. Right now, we've got him on mild pain killers because of the anesthesia. As soon as he wakes up, we'll put him on a morphine drip, but I suspect that, even maxed out, he'll be in considerable pain." The doctor sighed, rubbing a hand over red-rimmed eyes. "Unfortunately, he's been put through the ringer, as you know. Several broken bones, including his ribs. A severe stab wound that was barbarically cauterized, along with another burn on his shoulder. His other shoulder was dislocated. He's got an impressive assortment of cuts and bruises all over his body. He's going to take a while to heal. He also demonstrated some light sensitivity when initially brought here, while conscious. We've examined his eyes, and they appear undamaged. His vision should be fine once he wakes up, though he'll probably take some time to get used to the light. He was kept in the dark for a while, right?"

Jim nodded. "With some exceptions. The guy had him in a dark room, near as we can tell, but then shone a spotlight on him during the sessions. He kept his eyes closed most of those times, though... At least when he wasn't blindfolded."

The doctor pursed his lips, his gaze drifting as he appeared to ponder that information. "Hmmmn. Well, I've called a psych consult. As soon as Mr. Sandburg is semi-coherent, he'll be examined by a psychiatrist. Anyway, you can go into the ICU room now, but don't try to wake him, and don't touch anything."

Jim nodded. "Of course." He pushed past the doctor, eager to be close to Sandburg.

Once inside, he eased the door closed, though he was sure that even an explosion wouldn't wake the motionless, pale figure on the bed. The unfortunately familiar sound of the heart monitor beeped in cadence to the steady swoosh of the respirator, and Jim took a moment to scan his partner with his senses before approaching the chair next to the bed. Blair's heart beat slow and steady, and his lungs expanded and contracted from air supplied by the respirator.

Rubbing one hand over his short cropped hair, he sighed and dropped into the seat, closing his eyes and leaning against the chair's back. Close. Too damn close. Again. How many times is he going to have to go through this shit? And what about this time? What's he going to be like when he wakes up?

The muscles in Jim's shoulders tightened, sending a cramp up his neck. Blair had been through so much over the past three and a half years. Too much. Each time, his eyes lost a bit of their sparkle, and his bounce became a little less lively. After Lash, the kid had bounced back with impressive speed, but then there was the Golden, then Roy, then Alex. Oh God. That was the one that had done it, he was pretty sure. Their relationship had been patched back up, but something inside Blair had never quite healed. He didn't smile as much anymore. He definitely didn't talk as much. He mumbled a lot, his earlier youthful enthusiasm gone.

And now this. How much can one person take? Something has to give, damnit, sometime, somehow, it's gonna give, and then he'll be gone for good. Not just gone. Broken. Maybe he already is. Maybe some things just can't be fixed.

A lump rose in his throat, and he swallowed, pushing it back down. Slowly, he reached out one arm and wrapped his fingers around Blair's hand, one of the few areas on the young man that wasn't seriously injured, although both wrists were well-bandaged, the skin underneath raw from the ropes.

"Wake up soon, Chief," he urged softly, leaning forward and resting his other arm on the bedrail. "It's all over. You're safe. You can come back now."


Day had come and gone, leaving Jim fatigued and physically drained. His back, legs, and butt hurt from hours of sitting. Blair hadn't stirred once since coming out of surgery, and Jim had taken to periodically pacing the room and, of course, he had taken a few trips to the bathroom. He'd kept his senses on alert almost continuously since finding Blair, and now his head throbbed with a relentless headache. The antiseptic smells of the hospital only added to his headache, and he'd been forced to turn his sense of smell way down. He'd hardly slept at all, catching a few minutes here and there, lightly napping and being woken by every little sound. Every footstep in the hallway brought him to instant awareness, tense.

He knew Chapel was out there, and would want to finish what he'd started. Chapel wasn't one to leave things undone. Unfortunately, he also knew that the more exhausted he became, the less able he'd be to protect his partner. He knew Simon still had other guards at the hospital, but Chapel was cunning, and Jim didn't dare leave his partner's safety in the hands of anyone else, even those he trusted with his own life.

He picked up on the slow increase in Blair's heartbeat and moved to his partner's side instantly, standing rigid, silently urging the steady beat faster. Come on, Blair, open your eyes for me.

A few minutes later, a subtle groan rumbled from Blair's throat, the respirator having been exchanged for an oxygen tube hours ago. The young man's face contorted, and his heart rate spiked.

Jim held his breath, grabbing the call button and alerting the nurses' station. Blair had experienced so much pain over the past couple of days, and he didn't want to see his friend go through any more. The doctor had said that as soon as Blair woke up, he'd be started on a morphine drip, and Jim intended to hold the man to that promise.

"Blair? Can you hear me, Chief?"

Another moan, then Blair's eyelids cracked open, eliciting a pained whimper from the young man. Quickly, he clamped his eyelids shut again and turned his face away from the harsh glare of the overhead fluorescent lights.

Jim sprung to action toward the light switch just as the door opened, admitting a petite nurse with short, dark hair. "Yes, Mr. --?" Her question was cut off when her eyes fell on Blair, and she realized he was awake. "I'll call the Doctor," she said.

"Can you turn off these lights?" he asked, pointing to the ceiling. "They hurt his eyes. And draw the blinds, too."

The nurse nodded, and within moments, the room dimmed, the only light filtering in through the uncovered glass in the door. Jim sank into the chair, positioning himself to block the door's light from Blair's face and leaning forward to grasp the young man's hand in his own.

"Okay, Blair, you can open your eyes now."

"Mmmnn..." Hesitantly, Blair's eyelids lifted, revealing blue eyes and dilated pupils.

His gaze immediately drifted to Jim, and he blinked several times, but his eyes remained unfocused and the lines of pain in his face deepened.

"Jim," he breathed, ever so soft.

"Yeah, Chief." He gave Blair's hand a gentle squeeze. "You're in a hospital."

The door opened, spilling light into the room, and Blair's eyes clamped shut. Jim threw an annoyed glare at the newcomer, his eyes making a critical pass over the young physician. Hell, he can't even be out of med school yet, Jim thought, his jaw clenching with frustration.

"Who are you?"

The young man straightened. "Doctor Keenan," he replied, stepping to the foot of the bed and grabbing Blair's chart, his eyes scanning the top page. "How are you feeling, Mr. Sandburg?" he asked, dropping the clipboard back to its position and walking to the side of the bed.

Blair moaned in response, and Jim moved away long enough to close the door. Doctor Keenan looked up sharply, a frown on his face. "I need the lights on, please," he said.

"They hurt his eyes," Jim countered firmly.

"Sorry, but I can't conduct a proper examination of him in the dark," he said, pointing to the light switch. "Please. You're allowed here in ICU as a privilege, but if you interfere -"

"I'm here as a police guard," Jim snapped, but he flicked on the switch, bathing the room in artificial light.

"Thank you." He grabbed his stethoscope from around his neck and listened to Blair's breathing and heartbeat for several seconds.

Jim hovered a few feet away from the doctor, watching, his other senses tuned to his partner in the bed. Keenan leaned over and pulled up one of Blair's eyelids, provoking a startled gasp from the young man, and he flinched, raising one bandaged hand to push away the Doctor's arm.

"Is this really necessary?" Jim growled, moving to the bedside and placing a light hand on Blair's arm.

Doctor Keenan pursed his lips, his eyes narrow as he gazed at the detective. "Yes," he stated simply.

"Fine," he ground out, the pain in his head beating like a brass band. "Just make it quick."

"I don't tell you how to catch criminals, Officer, now do I?" Doctor Keenan retorted, his eyes focused on Sandburg. "Please don't tell me how to attend to patients."

Jim took three deep breaths, his hand twitching at his side as he struggled to control his anger. Keenan seemed oblivious, finally moving away from Sandburg and walking toward the door.

Good, he's leaving, Jim noted with satisfaction. He kept an ear turned to Sandburg's breathing and heartbeat, pleased to realize that his friend was drifting into a light sleep.

Keenan popped his head into the hallway. "Nurse! Could you get someone in here to give me a hand with the patient."

The detective stepped up behind the smaller man. "What do you mean by that?"

Keenan jumped, spinning around, and Jim suppressed a smile of satisfaction.

"Uh, I need someone to hold his arms while I check his pupils."

Jim had heard enough. "Like hell. He's been through enough already. It can wait." He placed a hand on the Doctor's back and pushed him out into the hall. "I'm listed as his next of kin, so you do anything to him, you clear it with me first. Got it?"

"Listen, Officer," Keenan sputtered, taking a step forward, but Jim pushed the young man back, slipping into the hall and closing the door behind him.

"No, you listen, Doctor. I don't want some wet-behind-the-ears intern who just learned to tie his shoes touching my partner. You got that? You get someone in here who knows what he's doing. And I want him on pain medication like Doctor Baker ordered."

"Not until he's been examined."

"THEN YOU GET SOMEONE ELSE HERE NOW!" Jim bellowed, his control finally snapping.

Keenan jumped, stunned, glancing uncertainly at the anxious nurse behind the desk. "Call Security," he said.

Jim's nostrils flared, and he practically breathed down the young man's neck. "I am security here. Got that?"

"That's it!" Keenan exploded. "This is Intensive Care, not a police station. Do you got that? If you really care about your partner in there, you'll let me complete my examination."

Jim took a step back, mentally counting to three before continuing. He knew he was on the verge of losing control. His head continued to pound mercilessly, and he rubbed his forehead, taking a deep breath. Get a grip, he told himself. You can't risk getting thrown out of the hospital. If Simon heard he'd almost assaulted a doctor, he'd pull him off "guard duty" in a heartbeat and order him back to the loft. Jim couldn't let that happen, not with Chapel still on the lose.

"Look, Doc," he said, forcing a measure of calm in his voice, "I know you're only doing your job, and I appreciate that. It's just that my partner has been through a lot recently, and I'd like to spare him any more pain if at all possible. I'm sorry for the way I acted. Please accept my apologies."

Keenan visibly deflated, looking relieved that no physical violence would ensue. Immediately, his expression softened. "Yes, sir, I understand how hard this is for you." He glanced at the door to Blair's room. "I guess the rest of the exam can wait a few hours. His vitals are good, so I'm not too worried. I'll order a morphine drip for him A.S.A.P., okay?"

Jim managed a small smile, genuine gratitude washing over his face. "Thank you, Doctor Keenan."

"Would you like me to prescribe a mild sedative for you? I can have an extra bed rolled into the ICU, if you like?"

Jim shook his head. "No, thank you. I'm on guard, remember?"

Keenan nodded. "Ah. Right, but you have to be relieved some time, right?" he asked, almost hopefully.

"Of course," he lied. "Eventually." When Chapel's caught.

 


 

Click.

Jim jerked awake, instantly alert, tensing as the door opened. He relaxed when a white-clad man with shaggy blonde hair entered the dimly-lit room carrying a folded blanket.

"Hey there," the newcomer greeted. "I'm Nurse Pierson."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Detective Ellison," he informed the man.

Nurse Pierson walked over to Blair's bed, setting the folded blanket at the edge of the mattress and lowering the bed rails. "I'll just change his bag and give him a new blanket. It's straight from the dryer. Very warm."

Jim smiled, nodding his thanks.

Pierson carefully removed the blanket covering Blair, rolling it into a ball and tossing it into the small hamper against the wall.

 


A deep male voice poked at his consciousness. He focused on the sound, grabbing onto it like an anchor and letting it pull him toward awareness.

"It's straight from the dryer," the voice continued.

Blair cracked his eyelids open, but he saw only fuzzy, dim images.

"Very warm."

A large shape loomed into view, its form indistinct except for the golden hair. Blair's heart leapt into his throat, realization slamming into him like a truck. Chapel! No, no, no...

The man reached down, and Blair felt firm hands on his legs. Adrenaline pumped his legs into action, and he kicked at the man, springing into action with the speed of a cat.

 


"Shit!"

The blow caught Nurse Pierson on his chin, spinning him around. Jim hesitated only a moment, stunned by Blair's sudden outburst, before leaping from his chair and throwing his body over his flailing partner.

"No!" Blair screamed hoarsely, in near-convulsions as he tried to escape the hold.

Jim wrapped his arms around Blair's torso, pinning the young man's arms at his sides and using his own weight to keep Blair in the bed. He gritted his jaw, trying not to hurt the fragile body in his grasp, but determined to keep Blair safely in the bed. Several tubes had already been ripped out by Blair's struggles, sending shrill alarms into action.

"Pierson!" he yelled, seeing the man rise unsteadily to his feet . "His legs!"

"Yeah, yeah," the nurse mumbled, still dazed, swaying as he captured the flying legs and pinning them beneath his chest.

"Blair!" Jim yelled. "Take it easy, Chief. It's okay." Damn, how's he so strong all of  sudden?

Blair struggles died instantaneously, and he sagged in Jim's hold, the tension in his body melting to shivers.

"Jim?"

The detective released a large breath. "Yeah, Blair, it's me. You're okay, buddy. Just relax."

Blair shuddered, a muffled sound catching on Jim's shoulder. "Jim."

"It's okay, Blair," he soothed, shifting one hand to rub his friend's back.

"Chapel?" he croaked, his voice weak and tinged with pain.

Jim's jaw twitched. "He's not here, Chief. You're safe, now."

The door crashed inward, feet pounding on the tile, but Jim threw a glance at Pierson, and the man nodded a curt acknowledgment before turning to the new arrivals.

"Just one moment, please. Give them a few minutes. He's okay, just pulled some tubes out," Pierson informed the staff.

Carefully, Jim lowered Blair back to the mattress, noting the lines of pain in the younger man's face. His eyes caught a wet spot of red on the front of the hospital gown, and his heart lurched into panic when his sense of smell kicked in, sensing the metallic odor of blood.

"Oh God." He spun around. "Get a doctor!" he shouted to Pierson.

"Right here." A small woman with short hair and fine lines around her dark eyes stepped forward, her lips pursed unhappily.

Immediately, she pulled back the gown, inspecting the wound. Blair remained still during her examination, his jaw clenched tightly, the pain visible in his face.

"We had to do surgery on your stab wound, Mr. Sandburg, to repair some internal damage. You've pulled your stitches out and reopened the wound." She glanced up at Pierson, pulling a packaged swab out of her pocket. "I think we can handle this with a local."

The nurse nodded and hurried out to retrieve the supplies.

"Sorry," Blair mumbled, his eyes closed and his face pale. Heavy stubble darkened his chin, making him look several years older.

"No problem," she said, carefully cleaning the wound. "But the needle may hurt a bit."

Jim shifted past the doctor to move to his partner's side. "How you doing, Chief?" he asked softly.

Blair opened his eyes narrowly to gaze up at the Sentinel, obviously still shying away from the light. "Not too good," he admitted in a low, strained voice. "Everything hurts."

Pierson returned with the supplies, and Jim placed his palm on Blair's forehead in silent reassurance. "Why don't we try some of those relaxation techniques you've taught me," he said, trying to distract the young man from the sting of the needle.

Blair closed his eyes, wincing only slightly when the Doctor plunged the needle into his side. "Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief?"

"Did... Did you and Simon see the tape?"

Jim stiffened. "Yes. The first one. I haven't seen the second one yet."

Blair swallowed. "Chapel?"

"You don't have to worry about him right now."

"He got away?"

Jim hesitated, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, Chief, he got away, but we'll catch him."

"He's coming after you next."

"Good. It'll save me trying to find him," Jim replied.

Blair finally opened his eyes to peer up at Jim. "Don't, man," he rasped hoarsely. "Don't you take any chances, Jim."

"I won't, Sandburg."

Blair shook his head, clenching his eyes. "You saw what he did to me?"

Jim's nostrils flared. "Y-Yeah," he stammered. "I did."

"That's what he'll do to you, Jim, if he gets the chance," Blair whispered. "So be careful, man. I don't want to get a tape of you."

Jim closed his eyes briefly. "He's after both of us, Chief. That means you and I stay together twenty-four seven. I'm your official guard, and Simon's got the others taking shifts to guard both of us."

"There. All done," the Doctor announced, interrupting the quiet conversation. "We'll be putting you on a morphine drip, Mr. Sandburg, and that should make you much more comfortable. Okay?"

Blair nodded. "Thanks."

 


Heavy. That's how Jim felt. His arms, his legs, his eyelids -- they all felt heavy. With a sigh, he leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face, feeling the scratchy growth on his jaw. How long had it been since he'd shaved? Two or three days? One of the nurses had brought in an extra bed -- a folding cot, actually -- that many of the residents used, she'd said. Jim had laid down sometime around midnight, falling asleep instantly. Not even the beeping of the heart monitor had kept him awake. Rather, the steady rhythm had faded into the background like white noise, and he hadn't woken until a nurse entered the following morning to check up on Sandburg.

Still, he felt exhausted, the muscles in his shoulders knotted from hours of sitting. Blair had barely stirred since being put on the morphine drip, as still and pale as a corpse. Jim shuddered involuntarily, his eyes drifting over the motionless figure on the bed. Blair's eyelids twitched, indicating that dreams played underneath. Jim doubted that the images conjured up by Blair's subconscious were pleasant, but at least the young man seemed peaceful enough.

Footsteps thrummed on the floor out in the hall, and, moments later, the door swung inward. The thick scent of cigars drifted into the room, and Jim looked up at his Captain, sans cigar. Simon carried a small duffel bag in his right hand, and set it by the door as he walked into the room.

"How's he doing?" Simon asked, jerking his chin toward Sandburg.

"As well as can be expected, I guess. Out like a light. They put him on morphine last night after he woke up. Rough night. He became violent, briefly, and ripped out the tubes, as well as his stitches," Jim reported flatly.

Simon's brow creased with concern, and he closed the door behind him. "What do you mean 'he became violent'?"

Jim sighed, suppressing a yawn. "A guy came in with a blanket. He had blond hair, kind of like Chapel's. Blair woke up, and reacted." He sank deeper into the chair. "I should have foreseen that one."

The Captain walked up to the bed, placing one hand on the rail as he studied Sandburg. "Jim, why don't you go to the loft? Shower. Shave. Get some rest. There are some clothes and other things for you in the duffel bag. I'll stay here and keep guard. Rafe's downstairs, and he'll go with you. "

Jim shook his head. "No, sir. Chapel's not the type to leave things undone. He'll be back for Blair, and with these senses, I'm the person best able to protect him."

Simon shook his head. "Not like this you're not. Look, I'll call in Joel and Megan for a few hours. I'll stay in the room, Megan can keep watch in the hall, and Joel will stand guard at the hospital entrance."

"There are two main entrances, and several fire doors, Simon. If Chapel comes, I doubt he'll walk through the front doors."

Simon sighed. "Look, Jim, I've distributed his photo to all hospital personnel, and Security is on alert. Go home. The kid will be safe with us for a few hours. Okay?"

Jim looked up, his eyes hooded. "I left him before, and Chapel got to him. I promised I wouldn't leave him again. Not until Chapel's found. He'll be coming for us, and I'll be waiting."

"Fine, Jim." He raised one hand to rub his forehead. "At least go take a shower, shave, and grab something to eat. Walk around a bit, maybe even catch a nap in one of the rooms they use for the interns. I'll stay here. You'll still be in the hospital, able to keep tabs. Okay? Take Rafe with you. I'll call security and have them post a guard outside the room while you're gone, and I'll stay in here with the kid. That's an order. Non-negotiable, Ellison."

Jim studied his Captain's face for several seconds, noting the concern in his dark eyes and the determined set of his jaw. Finally, he nodded. "Okay, sir. Thanks." He looked at Blair. "If he wakes up, tell him where I am and that I'll be right back. He's worried Chapel will get to me, so I don't want him getting all worked up if he finds me gone. Okay, Captain?"

Simon nodded. "Got it. Hold on a moment, though." He walked to the door and poked his head into the hall. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said to the woman at the nurse's station. "Can you please page Detective Rafe and tell him to come up here."

Jim heard the woman mutter a "Yes, sir," and Simon pulled back into the room, closing the door.

"Rafe's your shadow, Jim. Understand? You're not in the best condition to be using your senses. Am I right?"

Reluctantly, Jim nodded.

"And Sandburg will kill me if anything happens to you, so be careful, okay?"

"Roger that, sir," Jim said, a slight smile tweaking his lips.

 


Three hours later, Jim was a new man. Showered, shaven, fed, and rested, he felt more than prepared to deal with Chapel when the man made his move.

He hurried down the hall, anxious to check on Sandburg, Rafe hot on his heels. He nodded curtly at the guard standing in the hall, brushing past the man and breezing into the room, his eyes immediately locking onto Sandburg.

"Did he wake up at all, sir?" he asked.

Simon rose from the chair, magazine in hand. "No. Slept like a baby."

Rafe moved to the side of the bed, quiet as he studied the sleeping figure. "He looks thin," he said. "Pale. I've never seen him so... still." He looked up at Jim, his eyes somber. "Sandburg's a good man, and we're not going to let Chapel get away with this, Jim. If he gets anywhere near you or Blair, we'll be all over him. I promise."

Jim noticed the approving smile take shape on Simon's lips, and his own mouth twitched upward, his chest warm. "Thanks, Rafe. I know you will."

 


 

Soft and warm and fuzzy. Mmmnn...

Blair drifted toward consciousness, enshrouded by pleasing sensations. His body felt light and puffy, like cotton, and things soft and warm surrounded him, cradling his head and wrapping him in mollifying security. It felt so nice, so very different than the pain that had been his constant companion, that he wondered for a moment if he were in heaven.

His eyelids lifted, adjusting slowly to the soft, hazy light. His eyes tingled with a hint of protest, but he didn't shy from the light. It wasn't like before -- not intense and focused. That was the bad kind, the harbinger of pain. This light was different, soft and diffuse, assuring safety.

Through the soothing haze, he saw a figure. Lean and tall, with dark hair. Recognition dawned slowly, clearing the fog from his mind.

"Rafe?" Was that my voice? It didn't sound like his voice -- too scratchy, hoarse.

Surprise flickered over Rafe's face, and he leaned closer to Blair. "Hey, Sandburg, how are you feeling?"

Soft and warm and fuzzy. "Like cotton," he answered, swallowing a large lump of saliva to wet his throat. Maybe some of the cotton was in his throat. Maybe that was why his voice sounded so funny.

"Cotton?" a familiar voice asked, and Blair shifted his gaze to Jim. The tender smile on his friend's face brought a new kind of warmth to his world.

"Mmmm-hmmm." A contented smile played at his lips.

All he needed to make things perfect was something soothing to drink, something that would wet his throat and warm his chest. Maybe Jim would make him some tea. Yeah, that would be nice.

As if reading his mind, Jim asked, "Water, Chief?"

"Tea," he answered, his eyelids drifting closed as he soaked up the warm softness around him. Chamomile. With lemon and honey. Not too hot, Jim.

There was a brief pause, then Jim said. "Coming right up, Chief."

"Tea?" Rafe echoed, his voice soft. "From the cafeteria?"

"No. Look, Rafe, could you do me a favor and go to the loft?" Jim asked, the jangle of metal overlaying his words. "In the cabinet above the sink you'll find Blair's tea. Bring the chamomile and green teas. Oh, and bring some lemon and honey. Honey's in the same cabinet, and the lemons are in the refrigerator, bottom drawer."

"Sure thing, Jim," Rafe answered.

"Tea, Jim?" Simon's voice, this time. "You think they'll let you give him tea?"

"How's it gonna hurt him?" Jim asked. "I'll make sure it's not too hot, grab one of the straws. I doubt he'll manage more than a few sips anyway, but if he wants tea, he's gonna get tea."

"He'll be out by the time Rafe gets back, Jim."

"So what? He'll have it for the next time he wakes up."

Blair tried to follow the conversation, but he wasn't having much success. He knew they were talking about his tea, but he didn't think it'd be such a big deal. After all, how long does it take to boil water?

Wait a minute... Why were Simon and Rafe in his room? He was just about to ask Jim that question when he felt a cold pressure on his bottom lip.

"Here's some ice in the meantime, Chief," Jim told him.

Cold! Blair tried to turn his head away. He was nice and warm, in a soft bed, and he really didn't like the cold very much. But the small ice chip slipped into his mouth, wetting his tongue, and he found it quite soothing as the water melted, sliding down his throat. Not so bad. More, please...

But no more ice chips were forthcoming, and he slipped into an easy sleep waiting for them.

 


Chapel was a patient man, years in confinement had given him that quality. He knew where Sandburg and Ellison lived, and where they worked. Time was his ally, and would eventually provide him with the perfect opportunity to accomplish his goals.

Sandburg had proven the difficult one, more difficult than he'd figured, and he was the one that needed to pay the most. He was the one who had infiltrated the facility, thinking he could fool everyone. But Chapel had not been fooled, and anyone who tried to deceive him, to betray him, would have to pay the price.

Ellison, on the other hand, had been honest. Still, the detective had arrested him, interfered with his mission, thereby allowing more evil on the streets. For that, he had to die. No one crossed Chapel. His was a name of Righteousness -- of Truth and Justice. His vengeance could be swift and immediate, or slow and painful. Ellison was due for the former, Sandburg the latter. He'd only lead the young man into believing Ellison would be the next recipient of his prolonged vengeance, and that, too, had been part of the anthropologist's punishment.

He walked slowly into the bathroom of the old, worn hotel room, one arm cradling his injured side. The knife wound had been moderately deep, but he'd managed to stop the bleeding. Stabbing him was another sin that Blair Sandburg would have to pay for.

 


"I'll raise you twenty," Jim said flatly.

"Fine," Simon huffed, narrowing his eyes to study the Sentinel. "You wouldn't be using those senses of yours, would you?"

Jim raised his eyebrows, hoping he looked indignant enough. "Sir, are you accusing me of cheating?"

"If the shoe fits, Ellison."

"I take that to mean you've got a bad hand."

"Now wait just a minute here, Jim, you can't use your senses to listen to my heart beat and then try to psyche me out when I call you on it."

"I'm not trying to psych you out, sir," Jim said innocently. "I'm just trying to play poker."

"Sure you are." Simon chewed on his unlit cigar, his eyes darting from his hand to Jim's face. "Your word, Ellison."

"I'm not listening to your heartbeat, sir. Happy?"

"You're not now listening to my heartbeat? Were you listening to my heartbeat?"

"Not specifically, sir, no."

"What the hell does that mean, Jim?"

"I was listening to Blair's heartbeat, Captain. I might have heard yours in the background... inadvertently, of course."

Simon tossed his cards face down on the table. "That does it, Ellison! I'm not playing poker with you anymore."

Jim finally let go, chuckling. "I'm just yanking your chain, Simon. I promise I wasn't listening to your heart beat. Scout's honor."

The Captain did not look relieved. "Well, it doesn't matter, anyway, because now you know my hand sucked, as Blair would say." His eyes darted to the young man in the bed, and he jumped, slamming his knee against the folding table when he saw blue eyes staring back at him. "Jesus, Sandburg! Say something, don't just stare at a guy like that."

Jim turned around quickly to see for himself that Blair was now awake.

A drowsy smile touched Blair's lips. "Sorry, Simon," he apologized tiredly. "Fun to watch you two bicker."

Jim rose from his chair and walked up to the bed. "How're you feeling, Chief?"

"Okay. Tired. Kinda disconnected."

"That's the drugs."

"No kidding," Blair retorted, his smile growing a notch wider. "Medicine head, that's me. It's not so bad though. Feel kinda light and fluffy."

"Like cotton?" Jim inquired, a small smirk on his face.

"Yeaaaah. Cotton," he agreed tiredly. "Cool. Bed's soft, too. Doesn't hurt anymore."

Jim's smile dropped. "You need anything, Chief? Water?"

"Tea," came the bleary reply. "Chamomile. Lemon 'n honey, please."

"Coming right up." He turned to Simon. "Sir, would you mind rounding up a cup of hot water?"

"No problem, Jim," the Captain replied, rising from his chair and heading to the door. "I'm sure I can handle that mission."

Jim flashed a brief, grateful smile. "Thanks, sir." He looked back down at Blair, realizing his partner was steadily drifting toward sleep. "Chief?"

"Hmmmnnn?" The eyelids opened halfway.

"You fall asleep, your tea'll get cold."

"Okay. Tea's nice. Chamomile --"

"With lemon and honey," Jim finished. "I got it, Chief. Rafe brought them for you."

"Mmmmn-hmmmm." His eyes closed again, briefly, then they sprang back open, his heartbeat jumping a notch, echoed by the steady beeping of the heart monitor. "Jim!"

"Hey, easy." Jim placed a hand on Blair's arm. "I'm right here."

Blair's eyes locked with his, the drowsy tranquility that had filled them moments before replaced with fear. "Chapel?"

Jim sighed, his stomach tightening. Chapel seemed to be the only thing on Blair's mind, pervading his thoughts during those brief moments of consciousness.

"He's being dealt with, Chief," he explained again, deliberately vague.

"You caught him?"

"Uh... No. Not yet."

Blair groaned miserably, closing his eyes. "Oh man."

Jim responded by giving Blair's arm a delicate squeeze. "Don't worry, Blair. We've got guards all around. He's not getting anywhere near here."

"The tape?"

Jim clenched his jaw. This was another bit of information he didn't want to re-hash. "He sent us the first one. The second one is in evidence."

Blair was silent for a long moment. "Sorry," he finally whispered.

Jim leaned forward, confused. "For what, Chief?"

"That you had to see that." He opened his eyes, pinning Jim with a somber vigil. "You okay?"

Jim blinked, his jaw going slack. "Me? Am I okay?" He shook his head. "Yeah, Chief, I'm fine. It's you I'm worried about."

"Don't," he countered, voice heavy. His eyelids faltered, drifting lower. "I'm Okay. Worried... Didn't want you to see... Didn't cry. Knew you and Simon would be watching."

A brief, blinding flash of rage tore through Jim, and, for a moment, all his senses blanked out. Then, just as suddenly, the episode ended, leaving him breathless. He blinked, shaking, and stumbled backward, sinking into the chair.

"Chief --" He looked over at Blair, but the young man had fallen asleep.

Closing his eyes, he sank deeper into the seat, mulling over Blair's small drug-induced confession. He was what? Trying not to disappoint me? He leaned forward, rubbing his hands over his face. The image of Blair strapped in the chair, trying to put on a brave front because he knew it was all being taped, punched a hole through his chest.

"Jim?"

He startled, looking up to see the Captain standing by the table, a steaming cup of water in his hand. "You okay?"

Jim nodded, rising from the chair. "Yeah, sir," he lied. "Thanks for the water."

Simon placed the cup on the table, studying his friend carefully. "What happened since I left? Did Blair say something?"

Jim swallowed, knowing he couldn't lie to the Captain. Besides, the man was his friend, and Blair's. "Yeah, he did, sir, but I don't think it was something he wanted us to know."

"Oh." Simon sank into the extra chair. "It's going to be a tough road to recovery for him, you know."

Jim nodded, stooping to retrieve the tea and other supplies from the bag. "Yeah, Simon, I know."

"Jim?"

"Yeah?" He dunked the tea bag into the cup, stirring absently with a plastic spoon, his gaze distant.

"He's asleep, you know. I don't think he'll be drinking the tea."

Jim shrugged. "He might wake up again by the time it's cool enough. He's just sleeping lightly."

Simon nodded. "It's just tea, Jim."

He stopped stirring to look at his Captain. "What, sir?"

"You feel guilty for letting Chapel get to Blair in the first place. Now you're trying to ease your guilt by giving the kid what he wants. Tea. I mean, you couldn't just get any tea from the cafeteria. You had to get Blair's tea, with lemon and honey."

Jim stiffened defensively. "Sir?"

"It wasn't your fault, Jim."

Jim resumed his stirring. "I know what you're going to say, sir. We've had this conversation too many times before. Only it was my fault, and you know that. I fell for the ploy. I left him alone, and Chapel got to him. He played me... and Blair... well, you saw how he paid the price."

Simon sighed. "Yeah, I saw it. I wish I hadn't, but I did." He shook his head sadly. "You're gonna beat yourself up over this, I know, but just remember that Blair's alive... and I know he doesn't blame you."

"I know that, sir," he snapped, quickly belaying the unintentional harshness with a trace of a smile. "But thanks."

"Just doing my job, Ellison, as your Captain... and your friend."



The Captain paid his next visit a few hours later, his face grim as he stepped into the hospital room.

"What is it?" Ellison asked, rising from the chair.

"Huh?" He seemed surprised by Ellison's concern, and shook his head. "Nothing. Not what you think, anyway." He sighed, suddenly looking years older. "I saw part of the second tape."

Jim stiffened. "And?"

"There's one part where Chapel whispers something in Blair's ear. The computers haven't been able to amplify it without garbaling the sound, so --"

"You need me to listen to it," Jim finished.

Slowly, Simon nodded. "Yeah."

"I'm not leaving the hospital, Simon."

"I brought it with me," the Captain countered. "It's a long shot, but I'm hoping maybe you can pick something up that we missed... Something that'll give us a clue as to where Chapel's gone."

Jim nodded. "Okay."

He didn't like leaving Blair, and he especially didn't like the idea of sitting through another round of Chapels sick film-making, but it was his job, and if he could find something on the tape to help catch Chapel, then it would be worth the sacrifice.



An hour had passed on the tape, and Jim's stomach was ready to revolt. He didn't know how much more of this he could take, and he was just the observer. Blair had lived it, and Jim renewed his vow to make Chapel pay... hard.

On the screen, Chapel stood in front of Blair, hunched over so that his face was close to the young man's ear. This was the part that Simon had told him about, and Jim leaned forward in his chair, his ears tuned to Chapel's voice.

"When I'm through with you, Ellison's next," he whispered. "You know that, don't you?"

Blair flinched, a brief flash of anger darkening his face, but he remained silent. Chapel moved the blade downward toward Blair's ribs.

"How's the wound?" he hissed, pressing the blade against the injury.

Blair winced, but the next few moments happened in a blur. Blair's arms swung out from behind his back, suddenly free, and one hand wrapped around the blade, yanking it out of Chapel's grip.

"Not Jim."

The words were so softly spoken, that Jim almost missed them. He stiffened in his chair, his heart thudding in his chest as he watched Blair's frantic attempts to cut through the ropes. Seconds later, the young man toppled from the chair, hitting the floor hard, and Jim winced in sympathy. He felt like he was right there in the room with Blair, and he could almost smell the fear pouring off his partner.

Blair inched along the floor, groaning in pain, and soon disappeared from view, but Jim continued to track his progress audibly, hearing the soft scrapes and moans that accompanied his struggles. Then a door clicked open, and a stronger moan interrupted the relative quiet. Chapel wavered into view, and, seconds later, the screen cut to white fuzz. Jim didn't move, sitting rigidly in the chair as Simon moved to shut off the VCR.

For several seconds, neither man spoke, but Simon finally broke the silence.

"The kid's something else. I can't say that I'm not glad he gave Chapel a taste of his own medicine."

Jim nodded. Not nearly a big enough taste. His mind played over Blair's words, twisting his stomach into a knot. "For Jim." He swallowed, pushing himself out of the chair, suddenly needing to be close to his partner... especially knowing what he now did: that Blair had taken the knife and plunged it into Chapel, an act so totally against his nature, because of Chapel's threat. He was trying to protect me, Jim realized, and that realization caused a tight pressure in his chest.

"Were you able to make out what he said?" Simon asked.

Jim blinked. "What?"

"Chapel," Simon explained. "Could you hear what he said?"

"Oh. Yeah." His jaw tightened, and he glanced at the dark television screen. "He told Blair that I was next. That's all." That's all. He clenched his fists. Come on, then, Chapel, he silently goaded the man. Try me.


Screaming... It infiltrated his consciousness, shoving him out of the gentle embrace of sleep. Two loud bangs, one right after the other, rang above the screech of hysteria, and Blair lurched awake, his eyes popping open.

A figure stood above him, tall and massive, the outline of a gun visible in his hand. Blair blinked, his heart nearly exploding out of his chest.

"Easy, Chief," the figure urged, voice low, and Blair immediately relaxed.

"Jim?" His throat hurt, making his voice weak.

"Yeah, Blair. Just stay put, and be quiet."

"'Kay."

He bit his lower lip, listening to the sounds of a struggle outside the room. Jim approached the door slowly, crouched like a cat ready to pounce. He was two paces from threshold when the door banged inward, slamming into the Sentinel and driving him to the floor.

"Jim!"

Chapel stormed into the room, eyes wild. "You stabbed me, Sandburg," he snarled, raising a long-barreled gun. "Did you think I'd let that go?" He aimed at Jim, who remained still, his eyes locked on Chapel.

"Say good-bye, Sandburg." He pulled the trigger.

Blair lunged out of the bed a second too late. "NO!"

 


"NO!" He jack-knifed awake, pain slicing through his body and dropping him hard back to the mattress.

"Hey, hey." A familiar voice soothed, accompanied by a consoling hand on his forehead. "Lay still, buddy, or you'll open up your stitches again."

Blair sagged into the mattress, relief flooding through him. "Jim?" he gasped.

"Yeah."

"You're okay?"

"Yeah, Blair, I'm fine. Relax. It was just a dream."

Blair closed his eyes, succumbing to a sudden tremor. "A bad dream," he breathed. "A very bad dream."

"Want to talk about it?"

Blair shook his head quickly. "No, not really." He was struck with the irrational fear that if he gave voice to the dream, it would come true.

Jim let the matter drop. "Okay. How are you feeling otherwise? You want some water?"

Blair spied the box of chamomile tea resting on an empty chair in the far corner, next to a small green duffel bag. "Tea?" he asked, looking up at the Sentinel.

Jim smiled. "You want some?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "That sounds real good right about now. You think they'll let me?"

Jim shrugged. "I spoke with the doc earlier, and she said there'd be no problem with you having a bit of chamomile tea."

"Thanks, Jim," he said, but his brow furrowed. "I seem to remember something about tea earlier, though."

"Ah yes, you were a bit out of it. You asked for it, which is why it's here. Rafe went to the loft for us and brought it back."

"Oh yeah," he bit the inside of his cheek, looking slightly bewildered. "I think I remember him being here."

Fifteen minutes later, Jim had a steaming cup of water ready, and he steeped the tea bag for a few minutes. Then he let the liquid cool, stirring in a bit of lemon and honey, and, when he was satisfied with the temperature, brought it over to the bed.

"Okay, easy does it," he said, hitting the control button and raising the bed to a comfortable 45 degree angle. "You think you can hold this on your own?" he asked, gesturing to Blair's hands.

"Huh?" Blair looked at his hands, noticing the thick bandage on his right hand. "What happened?"

He gave his fingers an experimental twitch, feeling a hot tug at his palm. The entire hand felt about two sizes too big, and, now that he was aware of it, pulsed with a distant pain.

"You had a pretty deep cut on your palm, probably from a knife," Jim informed him. "You don't remember?"

The crease in Blair's forehead deepened as something nagged at his brain - a vague memory. The dark room. Chapel. A pain in his side. He reached out and grabbed something - a blade, he realized - and lashed out. A thud. Then silence. The ropes. He cut them, toppling out of the chair. He couldn't walk, couldn't get up. Chapel was coming. He had to move --

"Chief?" A hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present, and he saw a pair of light blue eyes peering down at him in concern. "Slow down. You're starting to hyperventilate."

He was starting to hyperventilate, he realized, his breaths coming in short, quick gasps. Closing his eyes, he focused on his breathing, willing himself to take slow, deep breaths. After a few moments, he succeeded, nudging his respiration into a calm, steady rhythm.

"You okay now?" Jim asked.

Blair opened his eyes to look at the detective. "Yeah. Thanks." He reached out with his left hand for the cup. "I can take that now."

Carefully, Jim let him take the small plastic cup from his grip, prepared to act quickly if the container toppled. Blair raised the cup to his face, inhaling the subtle aroma appreciatively.

"Thank Rafe for me, when you see him," he said, then took a cautious sip of the tea.

The liquid was quite warm, but not hot, a touch sweet, with just enough lemon to tickle his taste buds. "Hmmm. Thanks," he murmured gratefully, taking a larger swallow.

Jim peered at Blair quizzically, looking as though he were on the verge of asking a question. Blair gave his friend a few moments, then prompted him.

"What is it, Jim?"

Ellison sighed, placing a hand on the bed rail. "What happened just now... Did you remember something?"

Slowly, Blair nodded, taking a long sip of his tea. "Yeah. I think so. I remember Chapel was in front of me, but I couldn't see him. It was too dark. He had a knife pressed into my side. I grabbed it - the blade. Then I think I stabbed him with it," his voice caught on that, and he quickly took another drink, giving himself a few seconds to calm his raging heart.

He supposed it was a good thing that it had been too dark for him to see anything, because he shuddered at the thought of seeing the look on Chapel's face as the blade sunk into him. He sure as hell was glad he hadn't seen the blood. He hated the thought of having to kill someone, so he was at least glad that Chapel hadn't died.

"I used the knife to cut the ropes," he continued, his voice steadier. "I guess that's how I escaped. I don't remember much after that. A blue light, maybe. A phone?" He looked at Jim for confirmation, and the older man nodded.

"Yeah, Chief, you called me from a payphone on the corner."

The door clicked open, grabbing both men's attention, and Simon Banks walked in, his face lighting up with surprise when he saw Blair "sitting up" in bed.

"Hey, Sandburg, how are you feeling?"

Blair managed a wry grin. "Fine, Simon. Thanks."

"Good to hear." He glanced at Jim, a question in his eyes, touched with uncertainty. Jim gave a small nod, and Simon turned his attention back to Blair, walking over to the bed. "I hate to dredge all this up for you, Sandburg, but -"

"It's okay," Blair insisted, setting the cup of tea on a small table area next to the machines. "You can ask."

Simon nodded, a touch of relief flickering over his features. "This isn't an official statement, but just an information session. Chapel hasn't been found yet, and I'm hoping you can tell us what happened. We... uh... have the second video, but some things happened off-camera. You want to tell us what you remember, son?"

"I stabbed him," Blair said bluntly. "He had a knife on me, and... and," he pursed his lips together, on the verge of realization. "The ropes!" he remembered at last. "I'd managed to slip my hands out of the ropes, and I grabbed the knife. I don't remember exactly what happened after that, but I'm pretty sure I stabbed him, and then I cut the rest of the ropes and got out of there."

"We found you in an alley dumpster, Sandburg. Do you know how you got there?"

Blair swallowed. He didn't remember the dumpster, but he didn't like the image that Simon's statement evoked. "No. Sorry, sir."

"That's okay, Sandburg," Simon said, a soft smile playing on his lips. "Did Chapel ever tell you anything that might indicate where he'd go?"

Blair shook his head. "No, not that I remember. Though he made it clear that he wants revenge on Jim and me." He glanced uncertainly at the detective, and Jim gave him a reassuring pat on the arm.

"Don't you worry about that, kid," Simon reassured him. "We've got this place buckled down. All units are on alert for Chapel. He'll show up eventually."

"He's probably nursing his wound, taking time to recover," Jim suggested.

"We've distributed his picture to all hotels, hospitals, and transportation stations. Eventually, we'll get him," the Captain reiterated.

Blair remained silent for several long seconds, listening to the steady beeping that echoed his heart beat. "I hope so," he announced softly, the fingers of his left hand twirling a stray piece of cotton on the blanket, "because he's one nutcase I really don't wanna come face-to-face with again."

Jim and Simon exchanged glances, neither man able to frame a suitable reply.

 


Home at last, Blair thought, walking slowly into the loft. Jim had an arm wrapped carefully around Blair's waist, half-supporting him as the two of them moved toward the lower bedroom.

"You doing okay, Chief?"

"For the hundredth time, yes, Jim," Blair snapped, the smile on his lips taking the sting out of his words.

Rafe locked the door behind them, watching the partners shuffle like old men toward the bedroom. Suppressing a grin, he made himself comfortable on the couch.

A few minutes later, Jim emerged from Blair's bedroom, leaving the French doors open a crack. He eyed Rafe, grateful to the man for watching over them, but somewhat annoyed that he'd now have a "guest" living with him, forcing him and Sandburg to check their conversations when it came to his Sentinel senses. The good news was that Simon had understood his unease, and put himself on rotation with the young detective. So Jim and Blair would be graced for twelve hours with Rafe, followed by twelve hours with Simon, and so on. It doesn't get much better than this, he thought bitterly. The sooner Chapel was caught, the better. Then, at least, he and Sandburg could get back to something vaguely resembling normality.

Jim walked into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of mugs. "Coffee, Rafe?"

"Yeah, that sounds nice," the detective answered.

Twenty minutes later, the coffee was made, and both men sat on the couch in front of a televised basketball game. Silence hung thick in the air, the situation putting them both on edge.

"How's he doing really?" Rafe whispered out-of-the-blue, turning to look at his fellow officer as he glanced at the French Doors.

Jim sighed, setting his cup on the small coaster resting on top of the coffee table. "He'll be okay, Rafe."

Rafe nodded once. "I know, Jim. He's a strong man, but I was asking how he'd doing now."

Jim leaned back into the cushions. "How do you think?" he asked, a bit more sharply than he intended. He quickly followed the statement with an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Rafe. Don't mind me, I haven't finished the cup of coffee yet."

Rafe chuckled, taking a sip of his own coffee. "It's okay, Ellison. Why don't you forget the coffee and go take a nap? I know you could use one. I'll keep watch down here."

Jim glanced at his unfinished coffee. He was tired, and he knew he had a lot of sleep to catch up on. Finally, he nodded. "Thanks," he said, rising from the couch. "I'll see you in a few hours." With that, he headed up the stairs and sank into bed.

 


Night had fallen, but Rafe maintained his vigil, keeping the television low so as not to disturb the loft's sleeping occupants. The light from the television, combined with the soft glow of the full moon that filtered through the balcony windows, cast a hazy quality to the loft's interior. On the screen, a man with blonde hair was talking to a woman about a photograph called Hidden Agenda. Rafe paid only half-attention, his eyelids drooping from fatigue.

A scream and a loud crash sent him airborne off the couch, gun in hand, heart pounding furiously.

"Sandburg?" Gun poised, he made his way to the French doors, gaining a peek through the small opening into the room.

Footsteps pounded, and Rafe glanced behind him to see Jim, clad in blue boxers, hurrying down the stairs. Waving the gun away, Jim moved quickly past the younger detective.

"Easy, Rafe, I think he just had a nightmare," he whispered. "Go on back to the couch. I'll handle this."

Holstering his gun, Rafe glanced uncertainly at the bedroom. "But someone could be in there. There's a fire escape access."

Jim shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Trust me on this one," he said quietly. "Go on, I'll check it out."

Rafe looked unhappy, but complied, moving noiselessly back to the couch.

Jim gave a grateful nod, then moved to the bedroom, peering in through the French doors. What he couldn't tell Rafe was that he knew Blair was alone because he heard only two heartbeats in the loft, both pounding fast, but one beating so furiously he knew it had to be spawned by fear.

He'd expected this, anyway. Blair was off the morphine now, so not only would his physical pains be making themselves known, but he probably wouldn't be sleeping through the night like he had at the hospital. Easing the doors open, he stepped inside, finding Blair sitting on the floor, his legs stretched out in front of him and his head and back propped against the wall. His eyes were closed, his breathing fast, and his face pale. He wore grey sweats and a thin, white T-shirt that was wet with perspiration.

"Blair?"

The young man opened his eyes, swallowing hard, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Sorry I woke you, Jim."

"It's okay," he said, walking up to his partner and kneeling in front of him. "What happened here? Nightmare?"

Blair managed a shaky nod. "I know this is gonna sound real pathetic, but I fell out of bed and I can't get up." He flashed a self-deprecating smile, a tint of red coloring his cheeks.

Jim returned the smile. "You've fallen and you can't get up?" A low chuckle escaped his throat.

Blair rolled his eyes and held out his hand. "Cut it out and help me up, will ya?"

"Sure, Boss," he said, mocking a salute. "But first tell me if anything hurts. God knows you've got enough bandages there to wrap a mummy."

"I think I'm okay," Blair said. "Just whenever I try to get up, my side hurts."

"Okay, easy does it then," he said, slipping his arms beneath Blair's and carefully lifting the young man to his feet.

A short hiss escaped Blair, and Jim winced in sympathy as he deposited the young man on the bed. "Sorry."

"S'okay, Jim," Blair reassured him. "It's just that, without the drugs, my aches and pains are flaring up. Those pills they gave me are doing absolutely nothing, man."

Jim took a seat on the mattress next to his friend. "Believe me, Chief, they're making a difference. Keep taking them -- per doctor's orders."

Blair raised his hands in mock surrender, wincing slightly from the motion but covering his reaction quickly. "Hey, no argument here. This is one time I'll take them with gratitude. Pain is so not my thing." A shadow darkened his face at that comment, and his gaze shifted to some distant point over Jim's shoulder.

"Hey," Jim placed a light hand on Blair's shoulder. "You with me, Chief?"

Blair blinked, looking back at Jim and nodding. "Yeah, sorry. Tired, I guess."

Jim frowned, wondering what was going through his partner's head. Whatever it was, it couldn't be pleasant, that much was certain.

"You hungry?" he asked, the only thing he could think of to say at the moment.

"No, thanks," Blair replied lifelessly. "I'm just gonna go back to sleep now. Tell Rafe I'm sorry. I heard him call my name, but --"

"I will," Jim said quickly. "He understands."

Pulling back the crumpled covers, Jim eased his partner back onto the mattress, then tucked the blankets around his lean frame.

"Comfortable?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah," he said drowsily. "Thanks, Jim."

"You're welcome, Junior."

He watched Blair's eyes drift shut, the lines of pain in the younger man's face fading as sleep claimed him. Blair's whispered plea came back to him, hitting him like a fist in the gut. "For Jim."

He swallowed hard, a sudden warmth tingling in his chest, and his protective instincts flared, unexpectedly intense. When had his life become so intermingled with another? Somehow, Blair had gotten beneath his skin, finding ways past the walls he'd erected around his heart.

Gently, he reached out and brushed a lock of curls away from Blair's eyes. Leaning over, he whispered so softly, that, even if Blair had been awake, he doubted the young man would have heard him.

"Thank you, Blair."


The next morning, Simon arrived to relieve Rafe. Jim heard the ding of the elevator in the hallway outside, and, moments later, smelled the residual scent of his Captain's cigar. Heading from the kitchen, he walked to the door, swinging it open and catching his Captain with his fist in the air.

"Mornin' Captain."

Rafe looked away from the television, rising from the couch. "Hello, Captain, sir." He looked at Jim. "How'd you know he was there? I didn't hear a knock."

Jim froze. "Uh... I didn't. I was just heading down to pick up the paper."

Rafe rose from the couch. "Come on, Ellison, you know I'm not supposed to leave you or Sandburg."

"Exactly," Simon agreed. "So you're with me, Ellison. I think the two of us can handle this mission. Wouldn't you say?"

Jim's lips twitched upward. "Yes, sir," he replied, and, with that, closed the door and ducked into the hallway after the Captain.

When he returned, paper in hand, he and Simon grabbed a seat at the kitchen table while Rafe doled out the eggs and bacon.

"How's Sandburg?" Simon asked, taking a drink of his coffee.

Rafe settled into his own chair and dug into his food.

"Not too bad," Jim replied. "A bit rough around the edges, but good, considering." Considering he was at the hands of a psychopath for almost two days...

"I saved him some eggs, Jim. They're in the microwave, in case he wakes up."

Jim offered a tiny smile. "Thanks, Rafe."

"Well, we're going to need his official statement soon, Jim. You think he's up to it?" the Captain asked.

Jim sighed. "I don't know, sir. I spoke with the counselor at the hospital who evaluated him, and she seems to think he's handling this pretty well. I think it's safe to ask him."

A scraping noise in the room caught his ear, and he tilted his head, listening as his partner grunted and groaned his way out of bed. The sounds soon grew louder, audible to normal ears.

Simon chuckled. "Sounds like he's in a chipper mood."

One of the French doors swung open, and Blair limped out, one arm held tight against his side, his hair wild and his eyes bloodshot. He spotted the three men seated around the kitchen table and froze, looking like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"Mornin', Chief," Jim greeted cheerfully. "Hungry?"

The red-tinged blue eyes blinked, uncomprehending. "Huh?"

Jim dropped his fork to the plate and rose from his chair, approaching the young man. Blair followed Jim's progress like a parakeet in a cage tracking a cat.

"Are you hungry?" Jim asked again, one hand grabbing Blair's elbow. "Table or bathroom?"

"Uh," Blair's eyes darted to Simon and Rafe, and the two men plastered large grins on their faces.

"You okay, Chief?"

He looked back at Jim, his eyes a touch more lucid. "Yeah. Bathroom, thanks. I can walk." He shuffled away from Jim, moving like an eighty year-old man with arthritic joints.

Jim monitored his partner's progress, ready to spring into action if Blair faltered. A small eternity later, the grad student disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

"Weird. I've never seen him so subdued before," Rafe said. "Well, not counting the hospital."

Jim returned to the table. "A few hours after his nightmare last night, he woke up groaning," he told the younger detective. "I gave him another pain pill. Put him out for the count."

"He did?" Rafe looked confused. "I didn't hear anything."

Jim flashed a lopsided grin. "You were making out like sleeping beauty on the couch."

Rafe blushed, eyes darting quickly to the Captain, who donned an appropriate glare. "Uh. Sorry 'bout that," Rafe apologized.

Jim chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Rafe. I was in special forces, remember? I can keep watch for a few hours, you know. Besides, staying up all night's not part of the deal. The loft was locked down tight, so you and I would be forewarned of any intruder."

"Just make sure that, between the two of you, someone is awake on watch," Simon admonished. "We know Chapel's going to be coming after you and the kid, it's just a matter of when and how."

Like magic, the light mood turned dark, and Jim's smile faded. "Yes, sir, I know."

He glanced at the hallway, tuning his ears to his partner. Blair was brushing his teeth, the water running, his heartbeat slow and steady. He feels safe right now, Jim noted, pleased, but that emotion turned quickly to anger as his eyes scanned the loft, remembering the last time he'd told Blair he would be safe in the loft. Only he hadn't been safe, he'd been a target, and Jim had let Chapel get to him. The loft was supposed to be their home, a place to relax, not a prison. He automatically noted all the vulnerable areas.

The balcony -- it wasn't locked at the moment, an oversight that caused his jaw muscles to tighten. Just because the balcony rested on the third floor didn't mean it wasn't accessible. A determined intruder could easily gain access to the balcony from either the rooftop or the street below, and would then gain virtually unhindered access to the loft.

His eyes darted next to the skylight -- not the easiest way to gain entry, but a possibility. Chapel could either break the glass, or, more quietly, cut a hole through each layer and drop into the kitchen. That area would have to be secured.

He turned his attention to the back door next -- at the end of the hall a few feet away from the bathroom. Like the front door, a strong man could break the wood with a strong kick, splintering the frame. The building was old, some areas of the wood weakened with age. He would have to remedy that defect.

Next was the front door, graced with a deadbolt and a chain lock. However, as Lash had proven, the door could be kicked in. The wood frame was newer, since he'd had to repair it after that break-in, but the door still needed to be reinforced. Perhaps he'd send Simon or Rafe out to the hardware store for a few tools.

The next issue was that of electronic security. The balcony doors and skylight, being made of glass, would be the hardest to secure, so he'd have to put some kind of alarm on those two. A vibrational alarm would do the trick nicely, giving them much-needed notice, even if just a few seconds, of an intruder's presence. With two cops in the loft, a few seconds notice was all they would need. Last time, Chapel had cut the power to the building in order to bypass the security alarm, so whatever electronic devices Jim used this time would be battery-powered.

The good news was that Chapel preferred to work alone. He had opted to use a partner during his time in Connover simply because he hadn't been free to do the work himself, but, when it came down to it, Chapel was a loner. That meant Jim would only be dealing with one man, not a full-out assault.

"Jim, you with us?" Simon's voice cut into his thoughts.

"Uh, yeah," he muttered, bringing his attention back to the table. "Just thinking about security. We've got to make some changes to the loft."

"Such as?" Rafe asked.

"Braces for both doors, and vibrational alarms for the balcony and skylight," he explained. "I'll make a list of items we need, but can one of you go to the hardware store for me? I'll give you my credit card, of course."

"I'll go," Rafe volunteered, glancing at the Captain. "It's your shift here, anyway, and I don't mind running the errand."

"Good." Simon smiled approvingly. "After breakfast?"

"Yeah, sure," Rafe agreed. "No problem."

The Sentinel-soft sound of running water ceased, and, moments later, the bathroom door creaked open. Blair shuffled slowly to the kitchen, emerging from the hallway looking exactly the same as he had earlier, his hair sticking out in all directions. He stopped, breathing a bit too hard, his eyes taking in the table scene.

"Eggs are in the microwave for you, Chief, ready to be warmed up," Jim said, gesturing to an empty chair next to him. "Come sit down, and I'll get it for you."

"Thanks," Blair mumbled. Head low, he hobbled over to the table, sinking slowly into the chair.

"Tea or orange juice?" Jim asked, pushing himself to his feet.

"Uh, tea, please," Blair replied, studiously avoiding the gazes of the other two men seated at the table.

"So how are you feeling, Blair?" Simon inquired gently.

"Fine, thanks." He watched Jim move about the kitchen. The detective tapped 20 seconds into the microwave and then moved to the faucet to put water in the teapot.

An uncomfortable silence descended over the table, with Rafe and Simon focusing on eating their eggs, trying a little too hard to act like they weren't scrutinizing the anthropologist. Jim caught Blair's gaze, seeing the naked plea in his eyes, and suddenly he understood, and, just as suddenly, lost his appetite.

He's embarrassed because he knows Simon saw the tape, and probably thinks that Rafe saw it, too. Not to mention last night. Poor kid probably feels ashamed that Rafe heard him fall out of bed. He huffed a sigh, angry. Damnit, what he needs now is time and rest. He needs a place to feel at ease, not a place where he's barricaded in and watched by a police guard... Even if it is just Simon and Rafe. Hell, ESPECIALLY Simon and Rafe. Always trying to prove himself, now he's forced to have Rafe and Simon see him when he's vulnerable, hurting. He clenched a fist. The tea pot started to whistle. Goddamnit, Chapel, when I get my hands on you...

"Tea's ready," Blair mumbled, his eyes never leaving Jim's face.

"Right," he acknowledged, quickly turning off the flame and setting to work on the tea. A few minutes later, he returned to the table, setting the mug and plate down in front of Blair.

"Thanks," Blair muttered, picking up the fork and quickly focusing his attention on his food.

"So, Jim, there's a game on today, right?" Simon asked, throwing only a cursory glance at Blair.

"Yeah, the Chargers are playing the Packers," he replied, watching his roommate out of the corner of his eye. Blair's gaze never left his plate, and he seemed completely oblivious to the conversation.

"Guess we can sort of consider this down-time. A little R&R," the Captain continued. "Care to make a wager?"

"Oooh, tough choice there Simon. I'm with the Packers."

Simon scowled. "Fine. Guess I can stand to lose twenty bucks... unless you want to do a point spread."

Jim chuckled. "Sure, I'll wager the Packers will win by seven." He looked at Blair. "What do you say, Chief, care to place a bet?"

Blair looked up, startled by the question. "Huh?"

He wasn't even listening, Jim noted, wondering just where his partner's mind was wandering.

"The Chargers are playing the Packers today. You want to place a bet on the point spread?" he reiterated.

"Oh," Blair shook his head, looking back down at his plate. "No thanks." He dropped his fork, letting it clatter against the plate, and eased himself out of the chair, his tea untouched. "I'm just going back to bed, Jim. Thanks for breakfast, but I guess I'm not as hungry as I thought."

"That's okay, but --"

He shot out of his chair when he saw Blair attempt to pick up the plate and mug, which was quite a feat considering he had only one good hand.

"Hey, leave that for me, Chief," he said quickly, taking the items out of Blair's hand. "You go back to bed and I'll bring you some orange juice. You're due for another dose of your antibiotics, anyway. You need another pain killer, too?"

Blair shook his head quickly, his eyes darting to Simon. "Uh, no thanks. I'm fine." His eyes skidded over Rafe as he turned and headed toward his room. "See ya later, guys."

Jim watched the young man shuffle into his bedroom and close the door, leaving it open just a crack as it had been before. He heard Blair gasp, then rustle the covers and shift into bed, releasing a tired sigh. Jim eyed the bottle of pain killers on top of the refrigerator, then rose from his chair to pour the glass of orange juice and retrieve the bottles of medication. With a little cajoling, he could probably even convince Blair to take another pain killer.

 


Rafe headed to his sedan, giving the shopping list one final scan before tucking it in his jacket pocket. He was just about to retrieve his keys when he caught a reflection in the car window of a large man with shaggy blonde hair. His hand shot to his gun, but something sharp stung his neck, sending him into oblivion before his fingers could wrap around the cool metal of the firearm.

He awoke an instant later, or so it seemed, his eyes opening to darkness. His head tilted, throbbed, and his stomach churned. For a moment, his mind remained blank, disoriented, oblivious to the direness of the circumstances and focused instead on trying to figure out where he was and why he couldn't move. Then the fog lifted, and his heart leapt into his throat.

Chapel.

Damn. He'd been off his guard, and Chapel had gotten the best of him. He moved his wrists experimentally, feeling the tightness of the ropes around them. His ankles, legs, and chest were also bound, securing him to a hard chair in the middle of a dark room.

God. Just like Blair. He swallowed hard. He hadn't seen the video tape that Chapel had sent to Ellison, but he had seen the one of Cassie, and he had no desire to be the next subject of Chapel's gruesome production.

His mind raced. Just how long had he been unconscious? Long enough for Simon and Jim to miss him, to wonder why he hadn't yet returned with the supplies? They'd figure out that Chapel had gotten to him, then they'd call in the search. Ellison would find him in time, just like he had Blair...

His blood grew cold with realization. He didn't find Sandburg this time, Blair found him. Oh man, I'm dead.

His fear kept him company for nearly an hour, drenching his body with sticky sweat. Finally, the door opened, sending bright light into the room. He noted, with some relief, the conspicuous absence of a video camera.

Rafe flinched, his heart beating so furiously he was sure that Chapel could hear the pounding. Chapel stepped into the room, one arm tucked protectively against his side, his eyes blazing.

"One chance," he told Rafe. "Tell me how many men are guarding Ellison and Sandburg, and how to get to them."

Rafe's chest tightened, but he shook his head, thinking of Sandburg, how he had sat right here, well different warehouse, but same situation, facing this madman, alone, afraid, just like he was now. Goddamnit, he should have been a lawyer, or a teacher, or something other than a cop in Cascade. Oh God, Sandburg, how did you do it? How'd you get through this? I never realized how strong you were before, and you're a grad student, an anthropologist, not a cop, not trained to deal with these psychos like I'm supposed to be, but how do you train for this? How do you learn not to be afraid? How do YOU do it, Blair? And if I tell him, he'll do it to you again, and no one should have to go through that twice. Not even once, but definitely not twice, so I'll try, Blair, I'll try to be strong and not say anything, but oh God help me to be strong please, or send in the cavalry, or give us an earthquake, or anything, just please, please get me out of this one and I'll go to every damn church in Cascade... darn church, I mean, sorry for that, please don't hold that one against me, sir.

"I was hoping you'd cooperate," Chapel told him, sauntering up to Rafe. "I'm really not in the mood to be patient. As I'm sure you know, that little runt you police sent in to spy on me put a rather painful hole in my side, and I intend to make him pay dearly for it. You, on the other hand, have really done nothing to me, thus far, except try to keep me from Sandburg and Ellison. That, I'm willing to forgive, if you make up for it by telling me what I want to know. I'll even let you live. It's not like having you as an eyewitness would hurt my legal case anymore, right?" He smiled, lips parting to reveal dull, slightly crooked teeth. "So why don't you go easy on yourself? Just tell me how many men are guarding Ellison and Sandburg. I saw only you and the black guy, but there could be others, right? And what about security? Schedules? Shifts? That sort of thing. If you tell me, I'll make sure Ellison dies fast. Sandburg, unfortunately, has some more pain coming to him, but Ellison need not die horribly. On the other hand, if you don't tell me, I'll get to them anyway. It'll just take a bit longer, and then I promise you, Ellison will die a slow, painful death -- just like Sandburg. And just like you. Only I think I'll kill you first, after Sandburg. It'll be a fitting punishment for the hippie to watch you die."

Rafe took a deep, shaky breath. Part of him wanted to believe Chapel's promise, believe that he could still get out of this alive, but he knew the man was lying, and, even so, he doubted he'd be able to live with himself knowing that he betrayed Ellison and Sandburg... a betrayal that would also, most likely, take Captain Banks' life as well.

One life isn't worth three, he told himself, though his heart pounded furiously in opposition.

"Well?" Chapel prompted.

"No deal," he blurted. "Go after them on your own, Chapel. They'll kick your ass and put you back where you belong."

 



Ellison hung up the phone, his jaw tight. "No go, sir. Rafe never made it to the store," he told the Captain.

Rafe had left to pick up the security items over three hours ago, much longer than the errand should have taken, so Ellison had called the hardware store to find out if the young detective had arrived. He hadn't, which meant trouble.

"You try his cell phone?"

A flash of irritation touched Jim's features. "No, sir, that never occurred to me. What a brilliant idea." An edge of sarcasm sliced through his words, and he immediately regretted them, especially now that he found himself facing the dark anger in his Captain's eyes.

"Ellison," Banks began slowly, "I'm going to let that one go because I know you've been under a lot of stress lately and haven't gotten much sleep." He paused only long enough to take a deep breath, standing rigid as he faced the detective, his shoulders squared to maximize his full height. "But if you want to stay on this case, I suggest you lay off the attitude, because right now I've got a man missing and I'm in no mood to put up with your shit. Got that?"

Ellison met his Captain's gaze, but his eyes softened and he nodded quickly. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

A distressed moan tickled Jim's eardrum, and he shifted his gaze to Blair's bedroom. Moment's later, the bedraggled-looking young man appeared in the doorway, his eyes bloodshot.

"What's going on, Jim?" he asked, then gave in to a yawn.

Damn. He didn't think Blair needed to hear that Rafe was "missing." Such news would only upset the young man, and that was the last thing Jim wanted to do at the moment.

Blair apparently caught onto Jim's hesitation, because he took a shaky step into the main room, his brow lined with concern. "What is it? What's wrong?" he asked, a note of apprehension in his voice.

Jim walked over to Blair, stopping only inches from his partner, his expression somber. "It's Rafe," he explained. "He went to buy some supplies from the hardware store. That was three hours ago. I called the store, but he never showed."

Blair paled, and Jim was ready, grabbing the young man's arms the moment he sagged. "Easy, Chief. Let's get you over to a chair."

"Oh man," Blair moaned, leaning heavily against Jim as the older man guided him over to the kitchen table. His knees gave way the moment he reached the chair, and he dropped into the seat, a pained gasp escaping his throat. "Oh God. Oh God, Jim. Chapel's got Rafe." He turned agonized blue eyes up to the Sentinel, their edges bright red. "He's going to do the same thing to Rafe that he... that he did to me." He swallowed hard, looking away quickly. "This can't happen. We have to find him. We have to find him real soon, Jim."

Simon approached, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder. Blair flinched infinitesimally, wincing in pain, and Simon yanked his hand back quickly. "God, I'm sorry, kid. I forgot about your burn there."

"S'okay, Simon," Blair croaked.

"We don't know for sure that Chapel has him, Sandburg," Simon tried to reassure him. "Any number of things could have happened. He could have gotten into a car accident, or--"

Blair looked up sharply. "He has him. Of course he has him," he shot back. "And he's going to torture him and then kill him unless we find him ASAP, and let me tell you, man, that is not something anybody should go through." He shook his head in denial. "Not Rafe, especially. It's not worth it, man. It's not worth his life -- him protecting me. I mean, what difference does it make? His life or mine? It's a life either way, so I'd rather Chapel just got it over with. I mean, how many people have to die? You? Rafe? Brown? All just to protect me and Jim?" He looked up at the Sentinel. "And Jim's much harder to get to," he said, glancing back at Simon. "He comes after Jim, odds are that he'll lose. He doesn't know about Jim's senses, so he won't be taking any special measures against them. Jim'll hear him coming a mile away. So it's me, really, that you're protecting, and, I'm telling you right now Simon, no more people are going to die because of me. Call it off. Just call it all off. Or use me as bait, or something, but do something other than just waiting around for him to make his move, knocking people off --"

"Blair." Jim placed a hand on Blair's good shoulder. "Take it easy. You're starting to hyperventilate again."

Blair shrugged angrily out of Jim's touch. "Don't patronize me, man. You just don't get it, do you? Rafe's a good guy, you know? He's the only one at the station that treats me like an equal, not some damn mascot, and he was willing to risk his life to protect you and me, Jim, and if you think about that, and think about the fact that right now he's probably sitting in some dark place getting carved up, beaten, or whatever else that sick fuck can think up, I really hope you won't tell me to take it easy, man, because that's the last thing I can do right now. It's not what Rafe's doing right now, and if you want to sit there and act like this is just another case, and keep your cool, and distance your emotions, go ahead, goddamnit, but he's my friend and I can't just turn it off like that." He looked up at Jim.  "Did you? When it was me missing, did you just turn it off and go on, like I was just some stranger off the street rather than your partner? Your  --"

"God, Blair, no," Jim stammered, shocked, sinking into the proximate chair. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean it like that."
He glanced quickly up at Simon, monitoring Blair's heartbeat, hearing it pound much too fast, then darted his gaze to the bottles of pills on top of the refrigerator before meeting Blair's gaze again. "He's my friend, too, you know," he told his partner. "And I'm not patronizing you. I'm worried about you, that's all. You want to know what I went through when you were gone? Knowing I let Chapel get to you because I fell for some stupid ploy? How the hell do you think I felt? Probably ten times worst than you feel right now for Rafe, even though you might find that hard to believe. Yeah, I know you care about him, and I know this is hard on you, but right now Rafe needs our help, and that means we have to keep our emotions in check and think rationally. That's the only way we're going to find him in time, and, I know you know that, Chief, but you've been through hell lately, and I don't expect you to distance yourself. No one could in your shoes. Hell, I'm having a hard time myself. A very hard time, but I know Rafe's life depends on my keeping my cool, and I'm not going to let him down. Understand?"

Blair dropped his gaze to the table and nodded solemnly. "Yeah, Jim... Sorry."

"It's okay, Chief." He gestured quickly for Simon to retrieve the pills. "And, at the risk of sounding patronizing again, it's time for your meds."

Blair looked up, flashing an abashed grin. "Sorry about that, too, man."

"You can make up for it by taking the pills without any lip and getting your ass back in bed."

"But --"

"No 'buts,' Chief. The better you follow doctor's orders, the faster you'll heal and get back on your feet to help me track down Chapel," Jim stated, leaving no room for argument. "Agreed?"

Blair's protest died, and he nodded. "Yeah."

 



"The first thing we've got to do is get you and Sandburg to a safe house," Captain Banks mandated, sitting rigidly in the armchair and anxiously chewing the end of his unlit cigar. "If Chapel's got Rafe, it's a safe bet that he'll try to get information out of him about the set-up here. It's also safe to assume he's been watching the loft, and knows that you and Sandburg are here and that I'm on guard."

"Agreed," Jim admitted reluctantly. "And we'd better move quickly, because Chapel's not gonna spend a lot of time interrogating Rafe. He's gotta figure that we'll relocate now that he's picked up Rafe, which means we'd better move fast." He didn't like the idea of packing up and dragging Sandburg to a safe house, but now it appeared as though he had little choice -- not if he wanted to keep the kid safe, anyway.

"Brown and Megan are on their way here, and Taggart's getting the safe house ready. We're leaving as soon as possible, so go wake the kid and get him ready," Simon ordered. "We'll have unmarked cars following to make sure Chapel doesn't follow us."

Jim sighed, rising from the couch. "Yes, sir. I'll have us both packed in less than an hour. Sandburg's bound to be a bit out of it, though, since he took the pain killers."

"Good." Simon nodded approvingly, flashing an amused grin. "That means he won't be so damn frustrating. Between the two of you, it's a miracle I haven't gone grey yet."

Jim raised his eyebrows, heading toward the lower room, and glanced back at the Captain. "Oh I don't know about that, sir. You've got a few strands," he cracked, ducking into Blair's bedroom.

"Like hell I do, Ellison," Banks shot back.

Jim grinned, glad for the brief levity, and walked up to the bed. Blair lay sleeping on his back, the covers rising to his chin, motionless except for the gentle rise and fall of his chest. Jim listened to the heartbeat, its slow, steady rhythm indicating a deep sleep. He hated to wake the kid, but he had no choice. Hell, now that he thought about it, he should have just held off on giving the kid the pain killers, but Blair had obviously been in a lot of pain, even if he had done a good job of hiding the full extent of his discomfort. Plus, he knew the constant pain would just work on Blair's mood, making him short-tempered and overly-emotional. At least the pills had provided Sandburg with a bit of peace, and, hopefully, they would make the trip to the safe house a lot easier on him physically, dulling the pain that would otherwise be caused by the jostling.

Jim decided to pack Sandburg's clothes and essentials first, giving the kid a few more minutes to sleep. Going to the closet, he retrieved a large duffel bag, and, working as quietly as possible, began rifling through drawers, pulling out articles of clothing that looked like they would keep Blair warm enough.

He packed four changes of clothes, enough to get by on, then set the duffel bag next to the bureau and walked quietly out of his room to pack his own things, wanting to give Blair as much time to sleep as possible.


The darkness was alive, thick like blood and just as repulsive. He moved his wrists, still trying to slip out of the ropes and gain his freedom, but the bindings held tight, cutting into the tender skin. A soft groan to his right disrupted the silence, and he snapped his head toward the sound.

"Hello?"

A weak voice answered. "Sandburg?"

His heart turned a cartwheel in his chest. "Rafe?"

"Yeah."

"You okay?"

"Not really, Sandburg. You?"

"I guess so," Blair answered.

A metallic click stopped both men cold, and the door swung inward, spilling white light into room. Chapel's hulking figure filled the doorway, and he walked into the room, toward Rafe. Blair looked over, finally getting a look at the detective. Rafe's face sported a number of blue, purple, and black bruises, and a trickle of dried blood snaked down his chin.

"How are you doing, Detective?" Chapel asked. "Comfy?"

Rafe ignored the man, looking to Blair instead, fear in his eyes, but still Blair could tell that the young detective was trying to convey a sense of reassurance.

"Hey, leave him alone, Chapel! It's me you want, right?" Blair yelled, a mixed sense of victory filling him when Chapel turned away from Rafe to look at him.

"You've got guts, kid, I'll give you that," Chapel answered, his voice low and dangerous. "Want to see them spilled all over the floor?"

Blair's chest tightened when Chapel moved away from Rafe and approached, towering over him like Goliath. Now he knew how David had felt, probably hadn't been able to breath, either, just like he couldn't now. It was a wonder the guy had been able to aim the slingshot, because Blair knew that if his hands were free, they'd be shaking something terrible.

"Come on, wake up," Chapel commanded.

Blair furrowed his brow. He was awake, wasn't he? The man's hand lashed out, striking him with surprising gentleness across the cheek, but the slap stung hard nevertheless, bringing tears to his eyes.

"Come on, open your eyes," Chapel ordered.

"Get away from me!" Blair spat back. "I'm awake. Can't you see I'm awake? What more do you want?"

He tugged at the ropes again, releasing a yelp of surprise when he realized that his hands were free. Wasting no time, he lashed out, his fist connecting with solid flesh.

"Damnit! Chief, easy, take it easy."

"Go to hell!" Chief? He swallowed, his heart pounding, and Chapel was suddenly on top of him, slamming him into the floor. "Get off of me!" He bucked, pain slicing through his side and flaring angrily in his shoulder, but Chapel didn't budge.

Strong hands grabbed his wrists, pinning them to his chest, and Chapel leaned forward, his face inches from his own. "Stop it. It's just a dream. Come on, open your eyes."

Blair swallowed, his head swimming. The face belonged to Chapel, but, he suddenly realized, the voice was that of his Sentinel.

"Jim?" He closed his eyes, feeling warm breath on his cheek. "Jim, man, where are you?"

"Right here, buddy. I'm right here. Come on, just open your eyes. You're okay. It's just a dream."

Blair shook his head. "No."

"Yes. Come on, Blair, open your eyes for me. I promise, you're safe."

The floor seemed to tilt, making him dizzy, and suddenly the dream faded, and he opened his eyes, seeing Jim's face inches from his own -- not Chapel's. Warm blue eyes pierced his own, touched with concern and a hint of relief.

"There you go," the Sentinel whispered softly. "You're okay, see?"

Blair nodded slowly, shaking like Jell-O and feeling just as weak, pinned to the mattress by Jim's weight. "Jim?"

"Yeah. You okay?"

He closed his eyes, too embarrassed to meet the older man's gaze. "No." He shuddered, remembering the dream. Remembering Rafe. God, it had seemed so real... And he still couldn't breathe. He opened his eyes and looked at the Sentinel. "Jim, man," he gasped. "Could you move, please?"

"Oh yeah," Jim replied, scrambling off the bed. "Sorry. I didn't want you to hurt yourself." He grabbed the bottom of Blair's T-shirt and pulled it up. "Let me take a look at those stitches, make sure you didn't pull any out."

Blair nodded, too tired to put up much of a protest. His body felt heavy, like a sack of concrete, and he could barely lift his arms now. He felt Jim's warm hands on his side, pressing gently against the bandaged wound. The injury flared a bit in protest, but not too bad, and he started to nod off, eyelids drifting closed, the medication pulling him back under the dark sea of oblivion.

"Blair?"

He jerked awake, and saw Jim still sitting on the edge of the bed, peering down at him. "You're gonna have to get up, Chief. Simon's moving us to a safe house. All your stuff is packed, and we're ready to go."

"'Kay," the young man muttered, but made no attempt to move.

"Come on, Chief," Jim prodded. He slid an arm beneath Blair's shoulder, gently lifting him to a comfortable angle, then used his free hand to slide Blair's legs off the mattress. "You with me?"

Blair nodded, his head heavy. "Yeah. You shouldn't have given me the pills," he grumbled.

Jim smiled, sliding his arms beneath Blair's armpits and pulling him to his feet. "Come on, Sleeping Beauty. On your feet."

"Did you pack my laptop?" he asked, his voice thick.

"Yes, Sandburg. It's in your backpack." He swung Blair's arm around his shoulders and steered him toward the door. "I think you'll be okay in the sweats you're wearing," he told the younger man, walking him through the doorway and into the living room. "First the couch, then I'll get your shoes," he said, easing Blair onto the cushions and propping him against the back of the sofa. "You okay?"

"Mmm-hmmm," Blair mumbled, half-asleep.

"You need some help, Jim?" Simon asked.

"No thanks, sir."

He tilted his head, hearing the elevator doors ding open. Two sets of footsteps clanked in the hallway. Megan and Brown, Jim figured. Seconds later, a fist pounded twice on the front door.

"Ellie, sweetheart, it's me, Megs," came the distinctly Australian voice.

Jim frowned, his eyes narrow as he glanced at the Captain.

"Ellie?" Simon eyed Jim skeptically, chuckling, and moved to open the door. "Sweetheart? Jim is there something you're not telling me?"

"No," he answered tersely, irritated. It was one thing for Connor to butcher Sandburg's name, but he'd be damned if he'd let her...

"No funny business or it's over," a low voice whispered.

Jim's chest tightened as Simon unlocked the chain and turned the doorknob.

"Simon, no!" Jim pulled his gun, rushing forward, but he was too late. The door exploded inward, and a single bullet, hushed by a silencer, slammed into Simon's shoulder, sending him flying backward.

"Drop it, Ellison!"

Chapel turned the gun on the detective, using Megan as a shield. Jim met her apologetic gaze briefly, kicking himself for not recognizing the warning she'd tried to convey to him seconds earlier.

"No way, Chapel," Jim replied, his ears picking up the reassuring sound of Simon's heartbeat.

Chapel smiled, shifting the barrel of the gun to press it against Megan's temple. His gaze flicked past Ellison, settling on the motionless figure on the couch. Jim resisted the urge to turn around and look at his partner, but he refocused his hearing to Blair's vitals, hearing the catch in the younger man's breathing and the pounding heartbeat.

Damn. He's awake. If only the medication had kept the kid under a bit longer, then maybe he could have dealt with this asshole and gotten the situation under control before Blair was any the wiser. Instead, Sandburg would have to be subjected to this nightmare twice.

No, Jim decided, clenching his jaw, the blue of his eyes turning to ice as he pinned Chapel with a warning glare. Not this time. It ends here. You're not getting anywhere near him.

His finger twitched on the gun, and he aimed the barrel at Chapel's forehead, thankful for the height advantage Chapel had over Megan.

"Put it down, Chapel," Jim ordered again.

His adversary cocked the gun. "You want her brains splattered all over the place? You put the gun down."

"Enough!" the loud bellow surprised Jim, and he glanced over his shoulder quickly to see Blair on his feet, his eyes angry and his fists clenched at his side. He looked right at Chapel, his gaze unflinching. "You want me, asshole? I'm right here, so go ahead. Pull the damn trigger already!" He spread his hands out, his eyes challenging the man to follow through.

"Sandburg, get back!" Jim barked, but the young man paid him no attention.

"Patience, Mr. Sandburg," Chapel replied coolly, his eyes flickering back and forth between the two men. "First tell your partner to put the gun down."

Blair slid in front of Jim, blocking his aim.

"Sandburg!" He was about to step forward and physically yank the kid out of the way when he saw Blair flash three fingers behind his back.

"Megan, sorry for this," Blair said. "But I guess it's your turn to choof off."

Two fingers...

Chapel smiled, shifting further behind Megan and swinging the barrel toward Blair. Megan swallowed, watching Blair closely.

One!

Blair dropped to the ground just as Megan slammed her elbow into Chapel's stomach and lunged for the floor. Jim went into a roll, pulling the trigger even before he finished the maneuver.

Seconds later, Chapel lay motionless on the floor, his blood pooling slowly onto the hard wood. Jim wasted no time, flashing a look at Megan and jerking his chin toward where Blair lay on the floor, clutching his side. She nodded and moved to Blair, and Jim focused his attention on Simon, pulling his shirt off to press against the wound in his Captain's shoulder. Reaching into Simon's jacket pocket, he retrieved the cell phone and dialed 911, his gaze settling on Chapel as he extended his hearing. He released a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding when he found the slow, steady rhythm. It wasn't Chapel's life he was worried about, it was Rafe's, and he needed the man alive to find out where the young detective was being held... If he was even still alive.

 


The door opened, bringing with it light... and the promise of pain. Rafe flinched, clenching his eyes tight against the intrusion. God, no more. Please... Just get it over with. He couldn't remember what he'd told Chapel. He just hoped that he hadn't betrayed his friends. Either way, he was a dead man, but he prayed that he hadn't brought Sandburg, Ellison, and the Captain down with him.

"Rafe!"

A familiar voice cut through his despair, and he raised his head, opening his eyes just enough to make out several blurred figures around him.

"Brown?" His heart thudded with hope.

"Yeah, right here, baby." Hands held him, tugging at the ropes, and soon he was free, cradled against a warm chest.

"You're gonna be okay," another voice soothed. Ellison? He tried to focus on the faces above him, but his vision faded, and he succumbed to the darkness.

 


Epilogue...

"I'll raise you ten," Sandburg said, his brow furrowed in concentration as he stared at the cards in his hand. He shifted a bit in the bed, his fingers tapping absently against the rail.

"Ten bucks? Whoa. That's too rich for my blood," Simon crooned mockingly, forced to hold his cards with one hand because of the sling immobilizing his other arm. "You sure about that Sandburg?"

Blair narrowed his eyes at the Captain. "Yeah, well when the department starts paying me, then I'll bet more."

"In that case, maybe you'd better lower it to five," Simon suggested, breaking into a grin.

"Well, I'm out, anyway," Rafe's tired voice cut n. "With the drugs they've got me on, I'd better quit before I lose anymore."

Jim chuckled, his eyes passing over the three patients, doing a critical scan of each. He paused a moment to examine Rafe, grateful that the young man was still alive. Fortunately, he'd questioned Chapel right after the man had come out of surgery, and the drugs had loosened his tongue. It had taken less than five minutes to extract Rafe's location from him.

"Actually, I think it's time all of you turned in," Jim suggested.

He glanced at his watch, then looked at Blair, noting the lines of exhaustion in his friend's face, even though Blair's eyes remained bright. The kid had pulled out most of his stitches when he'd dived for the floor, and he now sported a new set. Unfortunately, the doctor had discovered an infection in the area, and had decided to keep him a little longer for observation. This time, much to Jim's surprise, Blair hadn't protested, though now, as he watched Blair gain the upperhand on his two drugged companions, he knew why.

Rafe. He wants to keep an eye on him -- be around in case Rafe needs him. Hell, maybe Blair needs Rafe, too... Needs to have someone else to talk things over with, someone who's been through the same thing and come out alive.

Jim nibbled at his lower lip. Darn, the kid was having fun, but if the doctor found out about their little side activity, he'd probably bar him from the room. It had been hard enough to arrange a private room that the three men could share during visiting hours, and Jim didn't want to push his luck by encouraging illegal gambling in the hospital.  Besides, the kid needed rest. Rafe needed rest. Even Simon needed rest, but he wasn't about to order his Captain to bed... not unless he wanted to find himself going over old case reports for the next three weeks.

"Awww. Come on, Jim. I'm fine," Blair insisted, then turned his gaze to the young detective. "But, Rafe, man, you look beat. Want us to call the nurse and have them wheel you back to your room?"

Rafe shook his head, a tired smile tweaking his lips. "Nah. I can rest as easily here as I can there." The smile faded slightly, and he looked back down at his cards. "Besides, I kind of like the company."

Blair glanced at Jim, his eyes laced with worry, and Jim knew exactly what was going through his young partner's head. The grad student looked back at Rafe, setting his own cards face-down on the bed tray.

"Rafe?" Blair inquired.

The detective looked up, his eyes tinged with red. "Yeah, Sandburg?"

"I could use the company, too, man." His eyes conveyed a silent message: I've been there, too. I know what you're feeling.

Rafe accepted the reassurance with a small nod and a faint smile. "Thanks, Blair."

Jim and Simon exchanged glances, both reading the worry in the other's eyes.

Jim decided a change of subject was in order. "So, Chief, what was that you said to Megan? Choof off?"

Blair nodded, a shy smile playing at his lips. "Yeah, uh, it's Australian slang. It means 'leave.' You know, as in 'duck.'"

Jim smiled, impressed. "Ah, I see. Guess I'll have to get you to teach me some more Australian slang... Good work, by the way."

Blair almost blushed, looking quickly back down at his cards. "Uh, thanks."

"But if you ever do that again, Chief, I'll use your head as a basketball. Got it?"

When Blair looked back up at the Sentinel, it was obvious what he thought of the threat. "Of course, Jim. I got it."

Jim pursed his lips. He knew that tone -- it was the one Blair used when he meant the exact opposite of what he'd said. Uh-huh. Sure, Chief. He was about to open his mouth for a retort when the door swung inward suddenly.

"Hey, Rafe! Hairboy!" Brown greeted happily.

"Captain, how are you doing?" Taggart asked.

All three patients broke into huge grins, and, moments later, Taggart and Brown were dealt into the game. Jim kept his ears tuned to the hall, ready to warn his fellow rule-breakers should the watch nurse make an appearance. However, he soon got so wrapped up in the game, and the accompanying laughter, that he didn't see the nurse peek through the door window... and he missed the huge smile on her face just before she turned away and resumed her trek down the hall.

 


 

The End

Thanks again to Hephaistos for betaing this story, and to Ruby for the drawing of Fitz, which she graciously did for the rescue, asking only that I write this story. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it! *grin*