Dark, Silent Night
Part 6

"Sandburg!" Jim rounded the corner after the two young men.

Richard ducked into an alley, and Blair followed close behind. Jim ran after them, panting and pumping his legs hard. The alley turned out to be a dead end facing a scrap yard, and a chain-link fence hung between the two buildings, blocking access to the yard.

"Richard, wait!" Sandburg slid to a halt as the boy bounced off the fence and spun around, crouching in a defensive posture. "It's okay. We don't want to hurt you."

"Back off!" A knife appeared in Richard's hand, and he swung it wildly at Blair.

Jim moved quickly. He didn't want to draw his gun. Shooting the boy was not an option at this point. The kid was hurting and confused... but Sandburg's safety remained the priority. He slid past Sandburg, skidding along the blacktop and swiping his feet beneath Richard's legs. The boy went down hard, but Jim was prepared. He caught the kid, grabbing the knife-wielding arm first and twisting the wrist to disarm him.

"Let me go!" Richard bucked, his legs and free arm flailing as he struggled to escape.

"Take it easy!" Jim wrapped his arms around the boy. He almost had him subdued when another body slammed into him and broke his grip.

"You let him go! Don't you hurt him!"

Richard scampered away, grabbing the knife and taking off. Jim rolled to his feet as Sandburg made another rush toward him. He'd been totally unprepared for Blair's attack, but he didn't have time to think about the situation. He twisted away from the younger man, then, as Blair rushed past, threw his arms around him.

"Chief, easy!"

"Let me go! Don't you hurt him!"

Jim tightened his hold and fell backward against the brick building, then slid to the ground, bringing his partner with him. "It's okay. It's okay." He closed his eyes and spoke softly into Blair's ear, content to let the young man exhaust himself.

His chest ached as he maintained his hold, his arms quivering with the strain. He knew too well what Sandburg was going through. He'd felt the rage that went along with remembering. He'd battled the feelings of helplessness and guilt that accompanied failure.... Failure to save a life, even at no fault of his own.... The rage that went along with being human and having those limitations shoved in your face.

Finally, Blair tired, his strength giving out suddenly, and he sagged against Jim, his breaths coming in quick, shallow gulps.

"You with me now, Chief?"

He waited several seconds for Blair's breathing to calm. Finally, the young man nodded slowly. "S-Sorry."

"It's okay." He loosened his hold, the muscles in his arms screaming with relief. "Tell me what just happened. What did you remember?"

Blair swallowed, remaining slouched against Jim's chest. "I... I don't know what happened. I just..." He shook his head. "I remembered yelling, but he wouldn't stop. I tried... I couldn't get away. I couldn't do anything. But it's like a dream. I can't get it solid in my mind. I... I just got so angry. I thought..." He shook his head again. "I'm sorry, Jim. I don't know. I'm sorry."

"It'll come, bit by bit. Don't try to force it right now." He shifted to the left, and Blair leaned forward, letting him up.  "Come on, Chief. Let's get off the cold ground." He grabbed Sandburg's arm and helped the young man to his feet.

Blair didn't look at him, keeping his head forward and his gaze low. Jim took a moment to study his friend. The kid hadn't slept in far too long, and exhaustion was evident in paleness of his face and the dark, sunken area below his eyes.

Blair's eyes flickered briefly up. "What about Richard?"

"We know where he lives. Right now, I'm getting you home. Then I'll pay a visit to the kid's parents."

Jim placed a palm on Blair's back and guided him out of the alley. He turned the corner, heading back to the truck, when he spotted a crowd a block past his vehicle. His gut twisted, and he stopped, focusing his vision on the disturbance ahead. Zooming in, he caught a glimpse through the mass of bodies and saw Balentine laying motionless on the sidewalk, a pool of blood expanding beneath him.

"Damn."

"What is it?"

Jim glanced at Blair and took a deep breath. How the hell had Richard caught up with Balentine? The asshole should have been long gone.

And now he likely had a homicide to deal with, and Richard Baynor was the prime suspect.

Blair touched his arm. "Jim, what is it?"

"Bad news, Chief." He hurried forward. "Balentine's dead, and I'm gonna have to track Baynor down and bring him in."

"Jim..."

Jim approached the crowd and flashed his badge. "Back off, people!"

He pushed his way through the mass of bodies and knelt down beside Balentine. His ears told him the man had no pulse, but he felt for one anyway since he had an audience.

"Is he dead?" someone asked.

Jim looked up at the faces hovering over him. "Did anyone see what happened?"

For several seconds, no one answered. Then a stout man with a round face and glasses stepped forward. "I don't think so. I'm the one who found him laying here, but there was no one around. I ran into the bar over there and yelled for someone to dial 911."

Jim rose to his feet. "Your name, sir?"

"Kevin Riecher."

An older woman took a step forward. "Probably a mugging, huh? Someone got stabbed just last week around the corner because some punks wanted his wallet. You guys gonna finally put more patrols cars out here?"

"Yep, that's probably what happened.."

Jim's head snapped around to see Blair staring down at the body.

"A mugging, right, Jim?" Sandburg gazed at him, his eyes steady.

Jim straightened, giving his partner a hard look. Mentally, he went over the evidence. No witnesses... Would Baynor be stupid enough to dump the knife somewhere in the area with his fingerprints all over it? Unless forensics turned up the murder weapon, all they had on Baynor was suspicion. Not enough to bring charges.

Of course, he could still bring the kid into custody and work on him. Odds were Richard would crack. He was just a kid, and no doubt scared and confused. It wouldn't take much for Jim to get the truth out of him.

But then the boy would stand trial for murder, and a mother and father would lose their last remaining child.

~~~~~~~~

The ride to the Baynor's house seemed to take forever. Blair insisted on accompanying Jim. He sat stiffly in the passenger seat, his jaw tight as he gazed out the window.

Finally, Jim pulled the truck in front of the modest, two-story home.

"He got what he deserved." Blair turned to look at him. "Is it really going to serve justice to put their only son in jail? Richard isn't a danger to anyone else. He needs help. He's hurting. He's not a bad kid."

Jim turned off the engine. "I know."

"Balentine killed a little boy, and the justice system gave him bail and put him back on the streets. And... And you said it yourself. His confession was thrown out. Without my being able to give the right testimony, he could've gone free. He would've hurt another kid. What do they expect? Richard's just human. He lost a brother, and he sought revenge." He paused to take a deep breath. "Put yourself in his shoes. You're not a cop, just a kid who lost your only brother. Can you say you wouldn't do the same thing?"

Jim swallowed hard and kept his gaze on the dashboard, his fingers gripping the wheel. He knew why Richard Baynor had killed Balentine. He even understood it at a level that almost frightened him. Balentine was scum who didn't deserve to keep breathing after the lives he had taken.

And if Blair had died, too...

He jerked his hands away from the wheel and pushed the door open. "Baynor knew what he was doing, Sandburg. Now he has to face the consequences."

Blair unbuckled his seat belt and leaned closer to Jim. "Oh come on, man. You know you could look the other way on this one. You've got no hard evidence. Unless that knife turns up or he gives a confession, you've got nothing. You could write it off as a mugging. Balentine's dead and justice has been served. What's so wrong about that?"

Jim took a deep breath, trying not to loose his cool. "I know you're real close to this, Sandburg, but I'm still surprised at you. You're telling me to lie on a police report and let a murderer go free just because you feel sorry for the kid and feel guilty because you couldn't save his little brother. You're feeling responsible here, but you're not. Balentine is. And Richard is. But they both knew what they were doing."

"Oh get off it! I don't need you to tell me how I'm feeling, and I don't need to hear this self-righteous crap. You sit there and tell me that if Balentine had done those things --" His voice cracked and he swallowed quickly. "If... If he had raped Steven and then been responsible for his death -- and then it looked like he'd go free -- that you wouldn't be out there wanting to kill the guy? You've come close to that before, Jim, and then it wasn't even your own brother."

Jim leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. He couldn't argue with Sandburg. The younger man was right. He'd almost lost it with Kincaid and Freeman. When the Chopec had gone after Cyclops oil, he'd found himself defending them. He'd broken the rules by not taking Incacha into custody.

And, when it came right down to the truth, Balentine had gotten what he deserved. Justice had been served, and the tax payers hadn't even had to foot the bill.

But he was a cop, and he'd given an oath to uphold the law. And what if the Richard was over the edge? What if he hurt someone else?

"Look..." His cell phone rang, cutting off his reply, and he snatched the phone out of his jacket and flipped it open. "Ellison."

"Jim, bad news." Simon's grim voice put him on alert.

"What is it?"

"Witnesses reported a kid who jumped off a bridge about ten blocks from where you found Balentine. A team just pulled the body. It's Richard Baynor."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gary Baynor staggered out of the morgue, his face pasty. He stopped and leaned heavily against the wall, his grim eyes rising slowly to meet his wife's teary gaze. Slowly, he nodded his head.

"Oh God." His wife fell against him, and he wrapped his arms around her, letting her cry against his shoulder as he released tears of his own.

Jim closed his eyes briefly, then turned to see Sandburg hovering in the far corner, his shoulders hunched and the lines in his face even deeper than they were just a few hours ago. The young man looked beyond exhausted. He should have dropped well over a day ago, but something inside him seemed determined not to give into sleep.

Jim walked up to his partner, glancing quickly at the clock hanging on the wall. "It's past midnight, Chief. Time to go home."

Blair's red-rimmed eyes stared sadly at the grief-stricken couple. Slowly, he nodded. "I guess so."

Jim draped an arm across Blair's shoulder and turned toward the elevators. "How 'bout we stop for a late night snack on the way home?"

"'Mmm-hmm..." Blair leaned heavily against him, and Jim tensed to support his partner.

"You doing okay?" The weight suddenly increased, pushing Jim toward the wall, and he staggered a few steps before compensating. He managed to get his arms around Blair's chest before the young man crashed to the floor.

Carefully, he lowered Blair the rest of the way, laying him on his back on the cold tile. He did a quick scan of Sandburg's vitals with his senses, finding the kid's heartbeat and respiration somewhat slow, but otherwise unalarming. Placing a quick hand on Blair's forehead, he felt a slight fever, but again, it was nothing to be concerned about.

"Okay, Sleeping Beauty, let's get you home." He yanked Blair's arms up and tucked his shoulders. With a grunt, he pulled Blair over his shoulder and struggled to his feet, then carried his burden to the elevator.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Yes, Doctor Gardner. Tomorrow afternoon should be fine. I'll check with Sandburg when he wakes up to confirm..."

Blair opened his eyes, his forehead crinkling. Yellow pipes crisscrossed overhead, and it took him a moment to recognize the familiar ceiling above his bed. Funny... He didn't remember actually going to bed.

He lowered his chin toward his chest and looked at the French doors. One hung a few inches open, and although he couldn't see Jim, the Sentinel's voice drifted clearly into the small room.

"That won't be a problem... Thank you, Doctor. I'll wake him up before then, if I have to."

Blair sat up slowly. The covers slid off his chest, and he realized he was still wearing the blue T-shirt he'd had on beneath his flannel during the day. He swung his legs over the edge of the mattress, then paused a moment, giving into a long, deep yawn. His eyes teared from the deep inhalation, but it felt good, and he felt more rested than he had in a very long time. Finally, he pushed himself off the bed and shuffled into the living room.

Jim was just hanging up the phone, and he turned as Blair made his way to the kitchen.

"Hey, Chief. Welcome back to the land of the living."

Blair gave into another yawn. "How'd I get to bed?"

"You kind of conked out on me at the station. I packed you in the truck and carried you into your room... even tucked you in, Junior."

Blair's raised an eyebrow, his cheeks growing hot. "You didn't."

Chuckling, Jim made his way over to the refrigerator. "Don't worry about it. I still respect you."

"Funny." Lowering himself into one of the chairs around the dining table, he managed a small smile. "So was that Doctor Gardner on the phone?"

"Yes, it was." Jim opened the refrigerator and pulled out a loaf of bread and a package of lunch meat. "You hungry? You slept for over a day, so I'm guessing you are."

Blair's jaw dropped open. "What?" He glanced at the clock. "Are you telling me it's... what? Thursday morning?"

"Yep. So you want cheese on your sandwich?"

"Uh, no thanks. What did Doctor Gardner have to say?"

"You have an appointment for tomorrow at 2 p.m., if that's okay."

Blair's eyes narrowed. "What for? Why'd you make an appointment for me?'

Jim closed the refrigerator and turned around, leaning back against the counter. "'Are you gonna play this game, Chief?'

Blair sighed. "Okay, I'll go. I--" His brow furrowed and his face suddenly went white. "Jim?"

In two strides, the detective was at the table. "What is it?'

"Did Richard... It wasn't a dream, was it?"

Jim dropped into a chair. "I'm sorry, Blair. It wasn't a dream. He jumped off the Lanig Bridge the other night."

Blair leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face. "Oh God. His poor parents... losing another son... and like that. God."

"I know." The older man sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "At least Balentine can't hurt anybody ever again."

Blair nodded. "And I guess this means I can do the hypnosis thing with Doctor Gardner now, right?"

"If you want. Your appointment is tomorrow. It's your call."

"I want to do it."

~~~~~~~~~

"Okay, Blair, just relax."

"Easy for you to say." Blair off-set his remark with a shaky smile as he leaned back on the sofa. "You know, in all the therapy I've been through, this is the first time I've actually been on The Couch."

Doctor Gardner grinned. "Hey, it's better than the chair, isn't it?"

"Oh definitely."

Blair glanced at Jim who was actually seated in the chair. The Sentinel looked a bit uncomfortable, his expression guarded, but he offered a reassuring smile. "Comfy?"

"As I'll ever be, I guess." He looked back at the doctor. "So, let's get this show on the road."

Doctor Gardner nodded and leaned back in her chair. "Okay, close your eyes. I'm going to lead you through a series of relaxation exercises..."

~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim tried to appear relaxed as Doctor Gardner led Blair deeper into his relaxed, hypnotic state, but he couldn't help gripping the arms of the chair as he prepared himself for the next hour or so.

Gardner's voice remained steady and low. "Okay, Blair, now we're going to go back to that night. You're driving home from the university, and you see something dash in the road up ahead. What do you do?"

Blair lay with his eyes closed, looking more peaceful than Jim had seen him in long time. When the young man spoke, it was in a low, casual tone. "I pull the Volvo over and get out. I thought I saw him go into the alley, so that's where I head."

A silence followed his answer, and after a few seconds, the doctor prodded him. "And then what happens?"

"I don't see him, so I call out. There's a dumpster. That's probably where he is -- hiding. I walk closer to it, and I start to hear some crying. Then I see him. He's crouched near the dumpster, pressed up against the wall. A boy. He's got on only a T-shirt and underwear. He's gotta be freezing." Blair paused, his forehead creasing, disrupting the tranquility of his face.

"Go on, Blair. Remember, this is just a memory. It can't hurt you."

The lines in his forehead soothed. "He's scared. He says, 'Please. Please don't let him find me.' I'm crouched next to him, and I try to reassure him. I tell him I work with the police. It's okay. Nobody's going to hurt him. He raises his face to look at me. I think he believes me. I tell him I'm going to take him some place warm and get him some food, then he can tell me how he got out here all by himself. But his expression changes. He's afraid again. He looks up -- behind me. I start to make a move, but... but... " His brow crinkled again.

"It's okay. You're safe here. You're in control. Tell me what happens next."

"I... There's a sharp pain in the back of my head... Then... I hear crying, I think. Soft. No, hard? Sobbing? A phone's ringing. I open my eyes. Oh man, my head hurts. Bad. It's dark, but I can still hear the crying. I turn my head toward it. There are two shadows in the corner... figures. A large man. A boy. A deep voice says, 'Shut up!' Then the man hits the child..."

Jim remained rigidly still in the chair, listening, drawn into Blair's tale so deeply he lost all awareness of being in the psychiatrist's office and found himself in that dark room with his friend. He remained stiff and silent as Blair continued  relaying each detail of his abduction in a dream-like, sometimes trembling voice.

Sandburg's voice faltered when he began talking about his trip to the bathroom. He trembled visibly as he described Balentine's fondling. Bile rose in the back of Jim's throat as he imagined Balentine standing behind Blair, stroking his penis. God.

The scene in the loft's bathroom sprang unbidden in his mind, and he suddenly understood, with painful clarity, why Blair had reacted badly to the touch on his shoulder and the tug on his boxers. Jim closed his eyes, his stomach churning at the thought that he'd made Blair feel -- what? ashamed? afraid? -- in his own home. The bile rose higher, but he swallowed it quickly and focused on maintaining control.

He didn't realize he was tuned into Blair's heartbeat until he heard it jump. He tensed and opened his eyes to look at his friend. Sandburg's face had gone white, and his brow was once again furrowed with deep lines.

Blair's voice shook, his eyelids swelling with unshed tears. "I... I yell at him. I can't let him do it. It doesn't matter what he does to me. I can take it. But not a little boy. He won't listen to me. He tells Tommy to turn over on his... on his stomach. I yell at him, but he still doesn't listen. I'm screaming."

Oh Jesus. Jim fidgeted in his chair and scrubbed a hand over his face. He jerked in surprise when Sandburg arched violently.

"Hey, Balentine!" Blair's arms and legs flailed, his voice almost going hoarse from his screams. "I know you're name, man! I know who you are! Get over here you sick bastard!"

Doctor Gardner leaned forward, looking a shade paler. "Blair... Blair, listen to me. You're okay. It's okay. None of that is happening now. You're here in my office, safe. I'm going to start counting. When I get to three, you will be relaxed. One... "

Blair calmed marginally, his thrashing becoming less severe and his screams dropping a notch lower.

"Two..." Gardner kept her voice soothing and calm. "Three."

Blair stopped struggling and sagged back to the sofa. His chest huffed as he gulped for air, and thin ringlets of his hair lay plastered wet against the sides of his face. He was crying now, tears pouring from beneath his closed eyelids. His frantic breathing hitched with each sob.

"It's okay, Blair," the doctor continued. "Calm. You're calm. It's okay."

Blair shook his head and clenched his eyes. "No, not okay. He... He... I can't look at this. Please, please, I'm not seeing this. Not happening. It's not happening."

"Blair, listen to me." Doctor Gardner spoke in a more authoritative voice. "You're going to come out of this now. I'm going to count to three, and you're going to wake up, open your eyes, and remember everything you told me. One. Two. Three."

Blair's eyes sprang open. He inhaled a deep, shuddering breath and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the sofa. "God..." His gaze flickered briefly to Jim, then darted to Doctor Gardner. Suddenly, he lurched to his feet. "Bathroom..."

The doctor pointed quickly to the small door at the back of her office. "In there."

Blair bolted, staggering into the bathroom and slamming the door behind him. Immediately, muffled retching sounds filled the office.

Jim leaned forward to get to his feet, but the doctor held her hand up to stop him.

"Let him be right now."

Jim sank back to his chair, remaining silent as he listened to the sounds of distress coming from the bathroom.

~~~~~~~~~~

Blair flushed the mass that had been his meager lunch two hours earlier down the toilet. His knees hurt from pressing into the hard tile, and he fell back on his rear and leaned against the wall. He ran a shaky hand through his hair and brought his knees up, trying to stop the violent tremors that shook him.

He remembered everything in excruciating detail -- seeing Balentine on top of the boy, thrusting... He clenched his eyes shut and clasped his hands behind his head as he curled into himself. That was an image he wanted to forget. Why couldn't he have just let it go? Some things were better left forgotten.

And the explosion -- he remembered that, too. Hearing something behind him. Turning around just as the blast hit him. Tommy...

A choked sob erupted from him. "Oh God." Tommy had taken the brunt of the explosion, all because Blair had turned around and exposed the young boy to the full force of the blast.

He tried to shove it all out of his mind, but he couldn't, and now he had to go back out there and face them, knowing that when they looked at him, they'd be thinking about a little boy he had watched being molested... a little boy who had died in his arms because he had turned around instead of just running.

He really didn't want to leave his small sanctuary, but he couldn't stay in the bathroom forever, and the longer he stayed in the bathroom, the harder it would be when he finally ventured back out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim glanced at his watch. Sandburg had been in the bathroom for over twenty minutes. He'd kept his ears tuned to Blair, knowing he was invading the young man's privacy but unwilling to leave Blair completely alone with his demons.

Five minutes later, Jim decided to check more closely on his friend. He rose from his chair and turned toward the bathroom, but before he could take a step, the door opened and Sandburg leaned heavily against the frame. His eyes were puffy and rimmed with red, but the rest of his face was alarmingly white. His head hung low, and he seemed particularly interested in the plush carpet.

Jim stooped a little as he approached Blair so that he was closer to the younger man's eye level. "How are you doing, Chief?"

Blair shrugged, glancing up at Jim only briefly. He cleared his throat, and when he spoke, he sounded slightly hoarse. "Kinda sick, with a headache." His eyes darted to Gardner. "Thank you, doctor. I, uh, guess I've taken up a lot of your time. So..."

Gardner rose from her seat. "It's okay, Blair. I cleared my schedule for this session." She gestured to the couch. "You want to have a seat?"

Sandburg shook his head. "No. I'd just like to go home now."

"Mr. Sandburg, I think..."

"Thank you, Doctor," Blair interrupted. "But I'm really just going to head home."

"Okay." She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a small writing pad. "I'm going to prescribe you --"

"No, I'll be okay. I don't need anything to calm me down or help me sleep."

"You sure?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Thanks, anyway."

She sighed and moved around to the front of her desk, then leaned back against the edge. "Remembering isn't easy. The trauma you've experienced will take a long time to heal, so don't try to rush things. And I'd like to see you back here soon. Can we schedule another appointment for early next week?"

Blair cleared his throat again. "Yeah, sure."

"I want you to call me if you need to -- for any reason -- between now and then." She looked at Jim. "You, too."

Jim nodded, then reached out slowly, a bit of hesitation in his movements, and tugged lightly at Blair's sleeve. "You ready to go, buddy?"

"Uh-huh." He moved to the door, glancing briefly at Gardner. "Thanks again, Doctor."

She smiled softly, but he hurried out before she could reply.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim stopped the truck at the red light and glanced at his friend. "You hungry?"

Blair shot him an incredulous look, remaining hunched in the corner against the door.

"Okay." Jim tapped the steering wheel lightly. Blair had barely uttered a word since leaving the psychiatrist's office, and the silence was a bit unnerving. "How's your stomach feeling?"

Sandburg shrugged. "So-so."

"You want to talk --?"

"Not right now."

Jim frowned, easing off the brake and letting the truck inch forward. The light turned green, and he pressed on the accelerator, eager to get home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair stared up into the darkness, knowing any attempt to sleep would be useless. His brain wouldn't shut up. Guilt gnawed at him. Memories played over and over and over again in his mind. He closed his eyes, trying to think of something else -- anything else -- but the images refused to be banished.

Finally, he gave up and shot out of bed. He needed to get out of there. Maybe a walk in the cold air would clear his head. He'd never undressed, so he simply needed to put on his shoes. That accomplished, he hurried out of the room, grabbed his jacket and keys, and slipped quietly out of the loft.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim swung his legs over the edge of the mattress. He'd been laying awake for over an hour listening to the silence of the loft and Blair's steady heartbeat. He'd known the kid was awake, but he hadn't expected him to take off at -- he glanced at the clock on his bureau -- three a.m.

He dressed quickly and hurried down the stairs to the living room. His sensitive hearing tracked Blair on the ground floor, leaving the building. Footsteps slapped against the cement just outside. Soon, Sandburg would be out of range.

Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't bother going after his partner. Sandburg was a grown man, even if he was a bit eccentric. But circumstances weren't normal, and Cascade wasn't the safest place even during broad daylight, and Blair wasn't in the best frame of mind.

A coldness settled in Jim's gut. He hurried out of the loft, taking the stairs to the first floor. By the time he made it outside, Blair was nowhere to be seen. Jim heard the young man's footsteps, though -- a block ahead, just around the corner.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair huddled deeper in his jacket as he walked. He had no particular destination in mind, he simply kept moving, turning corners here and there, too busy trying to keep his thoughts away from other matters to focus much on where he was walking.

A drizzle started, and the cold, light mist coated his hair and stung his nose and earlobes. With a sigh, he slowed his steps, finally taking a good look around. His breath caught in his throat when he saw the large sign above the black wrought iron gate. Cedonia Community Cemetery.

He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath of the night air. When he opened his eyes again, he made his decision. Grabbing the cold metal bars, he climbed over the gate and dropped to the ground. A sharp pain shot through his left leg, and he hissed, collapsing to the ground and massaging the now-healed stab wound. After a few moments, the pain subsided, and he rose to his feet, looking around quickly. Maybe he'd get caught trespassing. Maybe not. He didn't much care. His subconscious had brought him here, so he figured he needed to face something.

Making his way up a small hill, he stopped at the familiar headstone. He stared at the name, squinting through the darkness, and then took in the dates that spoke of too few years. For some reason, his and Thomas Baynor's paths had crossed. Had it been just random chance, or had there been some unseen hand guiding their meeting?

What were the odds of Tommy managing an escape and running into a police consultant? Blair knew the stats on child abductions. Very few ever ended well. If the children were ever found at all, they were usually found as corpses.

But Tommy had managed to escape. He'd tried to hide behind a dumpster. But Blair had seen him, stopped his car, kept the headlights on...

His knees weakened, and he sank to the ground. God, had he led Balentine to Tommy? Something between a laugh and sob bubbled from his throat, and he didn't even notice that the drizzle had turned to rain.

Oh Jesus, maybe he really was to blame. Forget what Jim said or what Doctor Gardner said. Could any of them say he hadn't directly or indirectly caused Tommy's death? First by shining a damn spotlight on the kid's hiding place, then by turning around and exposing him to the blast.

Sure, he hadn't intentionally meant harm to the kid. He'd only been trying to help. But the road to hell...

Another sob escaped him, and his hands dug into the soft, wet earth.

Oh what a stupid, STUPID idiot!

He leaned forward, hunched over his bent legs, and dug his hands deeper into the yielding soil, taking fistfuls of mud. An unexpected touch on his shoulder shot his heart into his throat, and he scrambled toward the headstone. His eyes went wide, and he blinked, trying to cut through the darkness to make out the identity of the figure crouched before him.

"It's okay, Chief. It's me."

Blair sagged against the headstone in relief, but his respite was short-lived. Shame warmed his cheeks, and he turned his head away, draping one arm over the tombstone for support.

"Hey, it's okay --"

Blair shook his head, a flicker of anger crossing his face. "No, it's not okay." He almost choked on the words, but brought his gaze up to meet Jim's. "Don't you see? It was my fault. I'm not just feeling survivor's guilt or whatever you and the doctor want to call it. Sometimes we do things and they really do get other people hurt, and... and... " He shook as he struggled with the words. "And I got him killed. I stopped my stupid car at the alley. I kept the lights on. I led him right to the boy! Then... then... the explosion. It's the truth, Jim, and God, but I don't know how.... How am I supposed to live with that? I can't." He shook his head angrily again. "I can't live with that! I was better off not knowing, not remembering. I wish... I'd wish I'd just left it alone, forgotten." He clenched his eyes briefly, then looked at Jim again. "And you knew. Why... Why didn't warn me? Why didn't you tell me just to let it go?"

Jim went rigid, his face masked by the darkness. "You know why," he said softly. "Your memory was coming back in bits and pieces whether you liked it or not. The hypnosis was your decision to make, and you knew it wouldn't be pleasant. You know you couldn't have gone on like that. Sooner or later, your memories would have come through on their own."

Blair dropped his gaze, his arm sliding from the headstone, quiet tears falling onto his cheeks just before being washed away by the rain.

Jim moved closer to him, wrapping a hand around the thick, wet material of Blair's jacket. "It wasn't your fault. You saw something in the road and you stopped. Should you have kept driving? Ignored it? Balentine would have found him anyway. The footprints led into the alley. As for the explosion, if you hadn't gotten free when you did, both of you would be dead now. If you'd never run across Tommy in that alley, he'd still be dead. You didn't cause his death, Chief. You simply couldn't stop it."

A sob tore from Blair's chest, and he leaned forward. Jim pulled him the rest of the way, bringing him into a rough embrace.

"It'll get easier with time, kid." Jim tightened his hold. "I swear."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"We've gotta get out of here." Jim pulled back and looked down at Blair. "Okay, Chief?"

"Yeah." Sandburg glanced up at him and nodded, the tip of his nose red from the chill.. "I'm freezing."

Jim rose to his feet, then helped Blair to his. The young man leaned a fraction to the right, keeping his weight off his left leg.

Jim frowned. "Leg bothering you?"

"A little. Guess I came down on it wrong when I jumped the fence."

"Can you walk?"

"Yeah."

Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow, studied his partner for a few seconds, then wrapped his arm around Blair's waist. "Just lean on me."

A brief smile touched Blair's lips. "Thanks."

"But I don't know how we're gonna get you over that gate."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim watched as Blair finally swung his left leg over the top of the gate. The climb had obviously been a painful one, because Jim could hear Blair's heart pounding and see the thin sheen of perspiration on his face.

Blair made a slow descent, favoring his injured leg greatly. He dropped the last two feet to the ground, landing on his good leg, and stumbled backward.

Jim caught Blair and brought him back to his feet. "You okay, Chief?"

Blair nodded, his face pale, but his nose red. His eyes still shone with the residue of his tears, but now lines of pain framed them. "Yeah." He rubbed his left thigh. "It just acts up when I do too much." He limped over to the curb and sank to his rear. "Oh man. How are we gonna get home?"

Jim reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out his cell phone. "Easy. I'll call a cab."

Blair managed something that vaguely resembled a cross between a grunt and a chuckle. "Shoulda figured you'd come prepared. Not like me."

Jim raised an eyebrow at that comment, but figured it was probably best to ignore it. He dialed information, asked for the telephone number of Yellow Cab, then opted for the extra charge to be automatically connected.

~~~~~~~~

Blair closed his eyes as Jim dialed the taxi. His leg was pounding, his feet were blocks of ice, and his earlobes and nose felt like they were on fire. Not that he could complain. He'd chosen to take off in the middle of a Cascade night, hop a graveyard fence, and become one with the mud.

Before, he'd been keyed up. Now he was just tired. Exhausted, actually. His head hurt from the flood of emotions he'd let loose, his nose was all stuffed up, and all he wanted to do was take a shower, crawl into bed, and not wake up for a long, long time.

He felt drained. He wasn't sure if he actually felt better, but he'd let open the floodgates and now he had no more to give. He just wanted sleep. Maybe things would look different in the morning, maybe then he'd be able to think over the things Jim had said and make sense of them. Maybe he'd even be able to believe them.

Jim's calm, sure voice droned on matter-of-factly behind him. "Yeah, I'd like a taxi dispatched to Cedonia Community Cemetery on, uh..." He zoomed in on the sign at the intersection several yards ahead. "Jefferson Ave....  Hello? Hello?"

Blair breathed a weak chuckle. "Jim, man, I don't think we're gonna find a cab willing to come to a cemetery at this hour. They probably figure it's a prank, and even if they don't, I'm sure they're not to eager to find out what kind of people would be at a cemetery in the middle of the night."

Jim sighed and sat next to Blair on the curb. "Simon it is then."

"He's gonna be pissed."

"He'll get over it."

Blair swallowed. He really didn't want to drag Simon out of bed. "He's uh... gonna want to know what we're doing out here..."

Jim looked at him and offered a small, understanding smile. "Don't worry. We'll obfuscate."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty minutes later, the beige sedan pulled up in front of the two men. The driver's window rolled down, and Simon yanked his cigar out of his mouth. "You mind telling me....?"

Jim shook his head subtly. "Thanks for picking us up, sir."

Simon caught the signal and sighed, glancing curiously as Sandburg, then gestured to the passenger door. "Well, hop on in."

Jim and Blair rose to their feet. Jim shuffled around to the passenger seat while Blair opened the rear door behind Simon, hesitating as he glanced down at his muddied clothes.

Simon twisted his head out the window to look at the young man. "Sandburg, forget about the upholstery and just get in. I'll deal with it later."

"Uh, okay." Blair quickly slid in and closed the door. "Sorry, Simon."

"It's no problem." The captain glanced questioningly at Jim in the seat next to him, obviously concerned by Blair's unusual contrition.

Again, Jim shook his head infinitesimally, sending a clear message -- Not now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair wanted to take a shower, but he was too exhausted to remain on his feet that long. The night's activities had left him drained and weak. His leg still ached, but he'd taken a pain pill a few minutes ago, and he expected it to knock him out completely.

He stumbled out of his clothes, and too tired to find a suitable pair of sweats, collapsed onto his bed and curled beneath the covers. His hair was still damp, but he didn't care. He buried against the pillow, on the edge of sleep. His mind played over the things Jim had said. Maybe the Sentinel was right. Maybe Tommy's death had been inevitable.

Blair shifted deeper beneath the covers, his body heavy with fatigue. He didn't have any more energy to devote to such heavy issues. All he knew for sure was that he'd tried to save the boy. He'd tried with everything he had. That, he supposed, was the only thing anybody could do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, do you want to tell me what's going on?" Simon drained half the coffee in his mug and set it on the kitchen table. He leaned back in his chair and looked expectantly at Jim seated across from him.

Jim glanced at the closed French doors and responded in a low voice. "Actually, I promised Sandburg I wouldn't go into details."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "I see. That's the cemetery where Thomas Baynor is buried, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

"Well, I'll leave it at that and you won't tell me about any trespassing that might have been going on." He swallowed the last of the coffee and rose from his chair. "Guess I'll be going now." His gaze shifted to the closed doors of the lower bedroom. "He going to be okay?"

Jim took a deep breath and rubbed his hands over his face, looking suddenly very weary. "Yeah, I think so.... In time."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
the end?