This one might be a bit intense for some readers. Rated R. There's no slash, just violence, strong language, and a hint of sexually-explicit material.

I n f e r n o

Blair's heart stopped momentarily when he heard the gunshot and saw Jim's body convulse briefly, then teeter over the edge of the roof.

"NO!" Blair flung himself through the doorway of the stairwell, panting heavily from his five-flight marathon.

The gunman turned, and Blair rolled just as the man's hand squeezed the trigger. With speed born of adrenaline and desperation, Blair shot to his feet and tackled the man. The gun flew out of the larger man's hand, sliding along the cement as both men fell in a twisted heap of arms and legs, with Blair landing on top of the perpetrator. The man's arm shifted, pushing upward into Blair's ribcage. The young man gasped as a sudden pain flared through his right side. He found himself falling backwards, and glanced with anguished eyes to the spot on the ledge where Jim had fallen. He tore his gaze away from the ledge and rolled swiftly toward the gun. His hands clasped the hard metal of the barrel, and he twisted his body to bring the gun around.

For an instant, time froze. The large man had risen to his feet, and now stood over Blair, his eyes blazing with anger.

"FREEZE!" Blair hoped he sounded convincing enough as he stared at the furious figure above him.

"Your partner's dead, asshole."

"Go to hell!" Jim. God Jim, I'm sorry. Don't be dead. Please Don't be dead.

"You gonna shoot me?"

Blair swallowed, tightening his grip on the gun. "Try me," he said, his voice low.

The man smiled and raised his hand. It was then that Blair saw the bloody hunter's knife. He stared at the blade, watching red drops slide along the edge of the metal before succumbing to gravity. His eyes followed a few of the red spheres as they descended through the air, finally landing with a soft splat against the white cement.

Who's blood, he wondered.

"Cascade PD. Drop the knife!"

Blair flinched, nearly pulling the trigger in surprise. He turned to see Simon, Rafe, and Brown crouched near the stairwell, their guns aimed on the looming figure above him. The man cocked his head, a slow smile forming on his lips. He raised the knife higher.

"Put it down," Simon bellowed.

The knife arched downward suddenly, toward Blair's chest. Blair shifted the gun, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger. The gun recoiled painfully, sending a sliver of pain through his wrist. Four gunshots sounded simultaneously. Blair felt a warm spray of wetness on his face, then something heavy slammed into him.

"Sandburg!"

The weight on his chest lifted, and he felt himself being shaken. He opened his eyes to see Captain Simon banks kneeling next to him. The larger man held Blair's shoulders, shaking him gently.

"Thank god...."

The reality of the situation assaulted him like a fist in his gut. He leapt to his feet and scrambled to the edge. "Jim!" His chest tightened as he peered over the edge. For a brief moment, he thought his eyes betrayed him. He blinked, sending hot tears down his cheeks.

"Get the medics up here now," Simon ordered.

Blair sighed and fell against the ledge. "Thank God."

He kept his eyes focused on the limp figure of the sentinel, sprawled a few feet below on the fire escape, his chest protected by a black bullet-proof vest. Blair felt a hand on his arm and found himself being pulled to his feet. He turned to see anxious dark eyes peering at him.

"Sandburg, you okay," Simon asked, inspecting the young man with a critical gaze.

It took Blair a moment to register the question, then he looked down at his shirt and jeans, just then realizing that they were covered in blood. Suddenly, the coppery stench assaulted him, and he looked up at Simon with frightened, pained eyes.

"I shot him," he whispered. Then the ground slammed into him, sending him reeling into darkness.


Jim smelled Simon's cigar several moments before his Captain opened the door and walked into the room.

"How is he," Simon asked, sans cigar.

Must be in his clothes, Jim thought as gazed up at his friend.

"Jim?" Simon reached out and put a hand on the detective's shoulder. "How's Sandburg?"

Jim blinked. "Oh, he's going to be fine," he muttered, turning back to look at his pale, sleeping friend.

Simon released a long sigh. "That's a relief." He grabbed a spare chair from the opposite wall and pulled it over to Blair's bed. "I don't think he even realized he'd been stabbed," he commented, sinking into the softy vinyl seat.

Jim closed his eyes and brought his hands up to rub his face. "I wish he'd just do as he's told for once."

Simon managed a small chuckle. "If he did, he wouldn't be Sandburg.... and you probably wouldn't be alive right now."

Jim swallowed and looked over at Blair. The young man's face looked pale, but peaceful, and Jim reached out to brush a stray curl away from his partner's face.

"You know, half the guys think I'm lying. Hell, I have trouble believing it myself. Imagine... one unarmed anthropologist tackling a 6'2" two-hundred and seventy pound gun-wielding maniac? The kid never ceases to amaze me," Simon remarked.

"Sometimes I think he believes he's immortal," Jim sighed.

"Not at all like you, of course."

Jim's blue eyes flashed with irritation, then, as he took in Simon's fatherly gaze, he allowed himself a small smile. "Don't let him hear you say that, Sir," Jim said, indicating Sandburg with a jerk of his head. "He'll think you approve of such behavior."

"Too late," came a soft, raspy voice.

Both men turned to look at Sandburg, who stared at Jim with tired blue eyes. "You okay?"

Simon grunted. "Figures."

Jim smiled reassuringly. "I should be asking you that question, Chief."

Blair's mouth twitched with the beginnings of a smile. "I'll take that as a yes," he said, his voice barely audible.

Jim patted Blair gently on the shoulder. "I don't know whether to hug you or strangle you, Sandburg."

Blair grimaced. "Neither. I hurt too much."

Jim's eyes darkened, and he squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Hey, just rest now."

Blair shifted his gaze to look at Simon. "Is he dead?"

Slowly, Simon nodded. "Yeah, Sandburg, he's dead."

Blair closed his eyes, his face loosing all hint of color. "I killed him," he whispered.

"No you didn't, Sandburg."

Blair's eyes shot open.

"Your bullet took him in the shoulder. Me, Rafe, and Brown fired on him at the same time. We killed him. Your bullet alone would have simply wounded him," Simon explained, his voice uncharacteristically gentle.

Blair took a deep breath, wincing slightly. His eyes drifted toward Jim, and he held the sentinel's firm gaze for several seconds before releasing a shaky sigh. He closed his eyes and sank into the pillow. "You're telling me the truth, Simon?"

"Sandburg, if you're suggesting I'd lie about something like this just to spare your feelings, you'd better reconsider. I won't have any of my men calling me a liar to my face, no matter how doped up they are."

"Sorry," Blair mumbled.

"You'd better be. Now I don't want you --"

"He's asleep, Simon," Jim informed the Captain.

Banks looked at Jim, his severe expression softening as he took in the exhausted lines of his friend's face. "Figures he'd take the easy way out," he remarked. "I suggest you do the same, Jim."

Jim's brow furrowed. "Sir?"

"Get some sleep, Ellison. Go Home."

Jim shook his head. "No, Sir. I'll stay here for a little while longer."

Simon rose from the chair. "Jim, you're exhausted. Blair's out for the count. He won't know one way or the other, and he certainly wouldn't want you making yourself sick standing vigil over him like some over-zealous--"

"Blessed protector," Jim finished. He lowered his head to stare at the white tile on the floor. "Some blessed protector. I'm the ex-special forces cop with heightened senses, and he ends up saving my butt on that roof." He swallowed. "I let him down, Simon. He's my partner, and I let that guy get the drop on me. He never should have had to take on Parker alone like that."

"Listen to me, Jim, Sandburg knows the risks involved with this kind of work. You do your best to protect him, but, sentinel or not, you're only human. Besides," he continued, "the kid did pretty good for himself up there."

Jim looked up at Simon, a tiny smile touching his lips. "Yeah, he did, didn't he?"

Simon gave a brief, curt nod. "Damn right he did. Now, about changing the subject -- don't. Go back to the loft, get some sleep, take a shower, then get your butt back here and give Sandburg your infamous 'next time do as I tell you' speech. Okay?"

Jim suppressed a grin, opting to nod obediently instead. "Yes, Sir. Whatever you say, Sir."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "Good. Now Get."


Two days later...

Jim opened the loft door and reached out to put a hand on Blair's arm. Gently, he guided the young man inside, tossed the keys in the basket, and closed the door.

"Want something to eat?"

Blair nodded, slipping out of Jim's grasp as he headed to the couch. "Yeah, thanks," he said, settling into the cushions as he stifled a yawn.

"Soup? Sandwich? Chile?"

Blair propped his legs up on the coffee table. "Whatever, Jim," he replied, waving a hand absently in the air as he grabbed the remote.

"Decisive, aren't we?"

Blair craned his neck to look back at Jim, a silly grin plastered on his face. "Hey, man, if you want to start smothering me with attention, be my guest. I'm tired of fighting you. You tied my shoes at the hospital, buttoned my shirt, made me wear this jacket even though it's, like, 65 degrees outside, buckled me into the truck, and watched me like a hawk the whole way up here."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Well, you're still wearing the jacket."

Blair shrugged. "Okay so I'm a little chilly."

Jim grinned. "Somehow, 'See I told you so,' seems vaguely appropriate here."

Blair made a show of turning his attention back to the television screen as he pressed the power button on the remote control. He flicked the channel passed several talk shows, finally settling on an old Incredible Hulk re-run on the Sci-Fi channel.

"I'll make you some soup," Jim informed him. "Now, do you want Chicken or Clam Chowder?"

"How 'bout some chile? I'm waaay to hungry for soup, man. That hospital food is nothing."

"Now you have a preference? Two seconds ago you could care less."

"And some tea, please," Blair added. "The herbal tea in the green box. Could you put a squeeze of lemon in it, too?"

A brief pause. "Sure, Chief."

"Oh and can you get my laptop?"

"Aren't you supposed to be relaxing in front of the television," Jim asked, grabbing two cans of Chile from the cabinet.

Blair gazed absently at the television. "I can relax in front of my laptop just as well. Besides, I've seen this episode."

"I see."

"Oh, and can you get me my walkman?"

"Sure."

"And a pillow, if you don't mind. These couch cushions aren't quite supporting my back."

"Okay, no problem."

Blair kept his face away from Jim, staring intently at the television, as the grin spread across his face. "And a blanket, too, please."

"Anything else?"

Blair's grin widened, and he barely suppressed a chuckle. This was so much fun. "Uh.... no, that should be it for now, though I was wondering if you could stop by my office later today and grab some papers... you know, since I need to be resting, and all."

Blair was totally unprepared for the swift slap on the back of his head. He hunched his shoulders and brought his hands up to cover his head. "Hey! What's that for?" He turned his head, putting on his best expression of innocence. "You can't go beating up on the sick and injured, man. It's just not cool."

"That's for trying to play me. Are you through milking this," Jim asked.

Blair grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "Hey, you asked for it, man."

"Yeah, well, I'll feed you, make your tea, but then you're going to bed, Chief. Playtime is over," Jim said.

"Excuse me? I thought I had some first amendment rights here? Besides, I got plenty of rest at the hospital."

Jim folded his arms across his chest and gazed critically at his young partner. "Oh? How many phone numbers did you manage to rustle up?'

Blair blushed, lowering his gaze briefly. "Three."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "And you call that resting?" He pointed to the bedroom. "Dinner, then bed."

"Hey, that's what I was hoping for with the phone numbers."

Jim gave him another swat on the head, then turned back to the kitchen. "Keep it up, Chief. With your track record, two out of the three will be psychotic killers."

Blair narrowed his gaze. "That is SO unfair, man. Shall I submit their names to you so you can run a criminal background check on them?"

Jim threw Blair a deadly glare. "I thought those pain killers were supposed to make you drowsy? Maybe we should just up your dosage."

Blair turned his attention back to the screen, where a large green man was battling a tank. "Oh man, you just had to go and say that, didn't you?" He emphasized the last word with a yawn.

Jim put the tea kettle on the burner and dumped the chili in a pot, setting both flames to medium. "Just stay awake long enough to eat. Okay, Chief?"

"'Kay," Blair muttered, sinking into the couch. Five minutes later, he fell into a deep slumber.


Several Days Later....

"Don't forget to read chapter 6 for Monday," Sandburg said, dismissing the class with a wave of his hand. "Have a nice weekend. Don't throw any wild parties without me."

The students chuckled as they rushed past the podium. He watched them file out the door, a smile on his face. When he saw a figure in black flutter across the doorway, his smile faded. He kept his gaze trained to the doorway, waiting to see if the figure returned. He wasn't quite sure why the brief vision had unnerved him, but it had seemed vaguely familiar. As the students continued to file out of the classroom, a man stepped into view. Blair's heart skipped into overdrive as he stared at the grinning figure in the black trenchcoat. Parker. Blair closed his eyes, swallowed, and tried to get a grip on fear. It can't be him. He's dead. When he opened his eyes again, Parker was gone, and Blair found himself standing alone in the empty classroom.

Taking a deep breath, he walked over to his backpack and fished out the cell phone. He flipped it open and kept his hand over the speedial. With a fearful glance at the doorway, he swung the backpack over his shoulder, grimacing as a sharp pain pierced his tender side. Cautiously, he took a few steps toward the hall. He saw students dash past the classroom, and he took two more steps toward his destination. What can he do to me here? There's too many people. With that thought, he squared his shoulders and dashed through the doorway. He skidded to a halt in the hallway, looking around frantically. There was no sign of Parker. He breathed a sigh of relief and closed his cell phone, tossing it over his shoulder into his open backpack. God, I must be losing it.

He walked with hurried steps to his Volvo and hopped inside, locking the door and glancing over his shoulder toward the backseat as he tossed the backpack on the floor. His hand shook as he inserted the key in the ignition, and he closed his eyes, taking several deep, slow breaths. He'd felt exactly this way the first time he'd spotted Lash in the car window that night. His chest felt tight and the back of his neck tingled, sending a chill down his spine. He continued his breathing exercises for several seconds before his shaking subsided. With a sigh, he opened his eyes and turned the ignition. The Volvo revved to life, and he slammed down on the accelerator, driving a little too fast toward the loft.


Jim sat on the couch, semi-mesmorized by the evening newscast. His trance-like state was interrupted when a familiar sound reached his sensitive ears. He listened to the frantic heartbeat and hurried steps of his Guide in the hallway outside. In an instant, he was at the front door, his brow creased with concern. Blair was scared, that much was obvious. Or maybe he just decided to take the stairs up. That would explain the rapid heartrate and hurried steps. He felt the tension leave his shoulders with that single, logical thought. He took the chain off and opened the door. Sandburg held his key in front of him, looking up suddenly as the door swung open. He took a step back, his eyes wide. Jim noticed tiny beads of perspiration on his partner's forehead. Immediately, the tension returned, and Jim reached out to place a hand on Blair's shoulder.

"What's wrong, Chief?"

Blair breathed a visible sigh of relief, his shoulders slumping as he walked passed Jim. He tossed the keys into the basket and dropped his backpack by the door just before making a bee-line for the couch.

Jim eyed the discarded backpack critically. If Blair was so blatantly disregarding the houserules, something must be up... and it couldn't be good. Cautiously, Jim walked over to the couch, sitting on the adjacent armchair as he faced Blair.

"What's wrong," he asked again.

Blair ran one hand over his face, then looked at Jim. The lines around his mouth seemed etched with worry, and his eyes held a hint of fear. He swallowed. "Jim, Parker's dead, right?"

Jim stiffened. "Yeah, Blair, he's dead."

Blair gazed skeptically at the sentinel. "You're sure? I mean, you're absolutely sure?"

Jim nodded, his eyebrows creasing. "Yes, I'm sure. I saw them cart the body away. He had four bullet holes in him. No heartbeat. Nothing. He's at the morgue right now."

Blair buried his face in his hands. "Oh man, this isn't good."

Now Jim was thoroughly confused. It wasn't good that Parker, the man who'd killed five women, was laying dead on a slab downtown? Jim eyed his sullen partner, noting the pale complexion, rapid heartbeat, irregular breathing, and tiny tremors that wracked his shoulders. Blair couldn't be blaming himself for this, could he? Simon had already explained it to him.

"Chief, you know this isn't your fault. Your bullet took him in the right shoulder. He died because three other bullets found more critical marks."

Blair shook his head, raising his head to look at Jim. "No, you don't get it. It's not that...."

"What then?" Jim raised his hands in front of him, palms up, in what he hoped was an encouraging gesture.

Blair cleared his throat, sinking back against the cushion. "I know how this is gonna sound, man, but...well...." his voice trailed off and he closed his eyes briefly.

"But what, Chief?" Come on, spill it, Sandburg, Jim thought.

"I saw him today." He fixed anxious blue eyes on his partner. "At least, I thought I saw him. He was at the university, just outside my classroom. At first I got a glimpse of him dashing past the doorway, then he stepped right into view." He shuttered, taking a deep breath. "He just stood their, grinning at me. It was eerie, man."

Jim met Blair's gaze with calm, steady eyes. Inside, his heart pounded fiercely against his chest, but outside he maintained an air of calm confidence. Slowly, he reached out a put a hand on Blair's shoulder.

"Listen, Chief, you know you've been under a lot of stress lately--"

Blair raised his hand, shaking off Jim's touch. "I know! Don't you think I thought about that? This... Jim, this was so real. I mean, there's no way around it, either he was there, or I was hallucinating. This is no case of mistaken identity. I didn't just spot some student or prof in a black trenchcoat who had a passing resemblance to Parker. This was him. He stood in the doorway for, like, several seconds... Right there in front of me." He raised one hand to rub his eyes. "So either I"m starting to see things that aren't there, or Parker's stalking me. Neither scenario really appeals to me, Jim."

Jim's face could have been etched in stone, but, when he spoke, his voice was gentle. "We can go down to the morgue tonight if you want?"

Blair stopped breathing for a moment as he stared at Jim. Finally, he released the breath and nodded. "Okay," he said, his voice carrying a hint of uncertainty. "Let's go."

As the two men rose to their feet, Blair muttered so softly that Jim's sensitive ears had to strain to make out the words. "I can do this," the young man reassured himself.


The attendant pulled the slab out, exposing the body of Anthony Parker. Blair's heart skipped a beat when he looked at the slack face of the corpse on the table. The man's dark hair gave sharp contrast to the pale skin on his square face. That was definitely Parker, no doubt about it. That was exactly the same man he'd seen on the roof... and then outside his classroom a few days later. He closed his eyes. So I'm crazy. I feel SO much better now. He felt a pressure on his shoulder and opened his eyes to see Jim peering at him critically.

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair nodded, not trusting his voice.

Jim turned to the attendant and nodded. "Thanks, Jeffrey. Sorry to trouble you."

"Not a problem, Ellison. I don't get much company down here this late," he replied.

Jim gave Blair's shoulder a slight squeeze. "You ready?"

Again, Blair nodded, turning away from the body. He followed Jim silently all the way to the truck. Both men slid into the truck and fastened their seatbelts. Finally, Blair turned to Jim, his stomach clenched in a knot.

"I'm sorry for dragging you out here like this."

Jim glanced over at his partner as he pulled the truck into the street. "It's okay, Sandburg." He flipped the turn signal on as he turned right at the intersection. "How are you holding up?"

Blair sighed, tilting his head back against the seat. "Oh just great. I'm not being stalked by a psycho, I'm going crazy. That makes me feel SO much better."
 
 Jim kept his eyes on the road, sparing only a brief glance at his partner. He reached over and patted Blair on the cheek. "You're no more crazy than usual, Chief."

Blair threw him an annoyed glance, but Jim continued. "Come on, so you thought you saw Parker. It doesn't mean you're loosing your mind. Sandburg, you shot a man and then nearly bled to death on the roof." His voice sounded strained with that last sentence. "This is a perfectly normal reaction."

Blair raised his head, looking at Jim hopefully. "You think? I mean, it was SO real. I couldn't have imagined it, could I?"

Jim shrugged. "You saw Parker's body with your own two eyes."

Blair swallowed, then nodded. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the seatback. "Man, maybe I need more sleep, or something."

"Try less caffeine," Jim suggested.


Blair followed Jim into the bullpen of Major Crimes. The two men hadn't even reached the desk when Captain Simon Banks threw open his office door and bellowed, "It's about time you two showed up. My office, now."

Blair looked anxiously up at Jim. "It's Saturday, we don't even have to be here," the anthropologist muttered.

Jim simply shrugged and headed for Simon's office. Both men entered the office warily. Jim took a seat in front of Simon's desk as Sandburg closed the door.

"What is it, Captain," Jim asked.

Sandburg leaned against the table, waiting for Simon to answer. The Captain picked up a manila folder from the corner of his desk and tossed it to Ellison. The detective opened it, scanning the contents carefully for a couple of seconds, then returned the folder to Simon's desk, his face impassive.

"A copycat?"

Simon shrugged, shaking his head. "That detail about the markings on the victim's feet wasn't released to the press, and only you, me, and the coroner actually know about it?"

Sandburg tilted his head. "What's going on? Who's copycatting what? What markings?"

Simon glanced at Sandburg, then at Jim, apparently waiting for the detective to fill in the anthropologist. Jim turned in his seat to look at his partner. "Each of the five women Parker murdered had a number tattooed on the bottom of her right foot, almost like a serial number." He paused for a moment, glancing quickly at Simon. "Apparently another body turned up last night. A young woman by the name of Andrea Carter. The MO fits Parker, and she has the tattoo on her foot, something a copycat shouldn't have found out about."

Blair's face paled and slid off the table, pacing to the window and back again. "Oh man," he said, raising his hands in the air. "This isn't happening. I mean, how can this be happening?"

Simon looked confused. "Calm down Sandburg. I mean, I know this kind of cruelty gets to you, but--"

Sandburg turned to Simon, glancing back and forth between Jim and the Captain. "This isn't a coincidence. I mean, come one, what are the odds. You said it yourself, there's no way a copycat could have found out about the tattoo."

Jim rose from the chair, walking over to Sandburg and placing a hand on the anxious man's shoulder. "Easy, Chief. We saw Parker's body last night. There's no way this is him."

"Would someone mind filling me in," Simon asked, his voice impatient.

Jim turned back to look at Simon. "Sandburg thought he saw Parker at the university yesterday."

Simon stood up. "What?" He walked around his desk to stand next to the two men. "That's impossible, Sandburg, Parker's body is in the morgue."

Sandburg slipped out of Jim's touch and began pacing the confines of the office, gesturing wildly with his arms. "I know what I saw, man. I mean, sure, at first I had my doubts, and then when Jim drove me to the morgue I thought for sure I was seeing things, but I wasn't. I mean, he stood right in front of me in broad daylight. He just stood there with this... this freaky smile on his face." He looked at Jim, then at Simon, his eyes pleading. "Come on, this new murder, that isn't a coincidence."

Simon crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the observer. "So what do you suggest, Sandburg? Parker's joined the ranks of the living dead?"

Blair shook his head. "No. Of course not. But..." He rubbed his brow, as though warding off a headache. After a second, he snapped his fingers and looked up at Jim. "Couldn't Parker have a brother? You know, a twin?"

Banks glanced skeptically at Ellison, then turned his attention back to Blair. "There's nothing in his file about a sibling, Sandburg."

Blair raised his hands toward the ceiling. "I know that, Captain. I'm talking about--"

"A long lost twin? Come on, Sandburg, that's a stretch. Besides, that would mean Parker was working with...." his voice trailed off just as Jim raised his head sharply.

"That would explain some things, Captain," Jim offered.

Banks sighed, pulling his glasses down on his nose to rub his eyes. "Yeah, yeah... maybe...."

Blair caught on immediately. "Like how Parker seemed to kidnap two women at the same time from opposite ends of town?"

Both Simon and Jim nodded grimly.

"I knew it!" Blair bounced on his toes. Suddenly, he realized the implications of the revelation and sank back against the table as his knees threatened to betray him.. "Oh man...."

Jim was at his Guide's side immediately. "Don't worry, Chief, he's not going to get near you."

Simon nodded. "I'll arrange protection for you, Sandburg."

Blair nodded absently, staring blankly at the carpet.

"I can protect him, Sir," Jim stated.

Banks shook his head. "Most of the time, yeah, but not even you can be with the kid twenty-four-seven, Jim. I mean, I do need you here when he's at the university."

Jim turned to Blair. "Can you take some time off?"

Blair looked up at Jim, his face etched with worry. "No. I've already lost too much time at the university."

"I'll talk to whoever--"

"No!" Blair interrupted. "I'm not taking off anymore time. I can't. It's my job, man."

"Okay, Sandburg," Simon began, "I'll have a plain-clothed officer with you at all times when you're at the university. The rest of the time, you're with Jim."

Blair nodded. "Thanks, Simon."

"Now I want you two to start digging into Parker's file... see if you can find any record of a brother."

Jim nodded, heading out of Simon's office. "Yes, Sir." He grabbed Blair by the elbow and guided him through the door. "Come on, Chief, you can do the computer work."


"I found it!"

Jim nearly jumped from his seat at Blair's exclamation. He looked up at the young man sitting at his computer, and rolled his chair around the desk so he could see the screen. "What have you got, Chief?"

Blair pointed to the screen. "Anthony Parker did have a twin, but it says here the infant died soon after birth. This was on June 12, 1969 at Atlantic City Hospital."

Jim tousled Blair's hair. "Good work, Chief. Let's get this info to Simon and then make a few phone calls."


"For those who haven't turned in the topic for your research paper, the deadline is tomorrow, 3 pm, my office," Sandburg finished. He glanced up at the clock as the students rose from their seats and headed out the door.

There was one man left seated in the classroom as the last student exited. Blair walked up to the dark man and smiled brightly. "So, Brown, what do you think about anthropology?"

Brown stood up and raised his arms over his head stretching. "It's been a long time since I've sat in a classroom like this. I don't miss it."

"Gee, thanks. I see my lecture had you rivetted."

Brown grinned sheepishly. "I didn't mean it like that. You do tell interesting stories. I wish I'd had more teachers like you when I was in school."

Blair blushed, quickly turning away. "Wanna get some lunch before we head off to the station?"

Brown nodded. "Sure. How 'bout Wonder Burger?"

Blair grimaced and turned back to the large detective. "What is it with you cops and junk food?"

"Hey, skinny butt, don't knock it. I'm definitely not going to eat at one of those tofu places Jim mentioned."

Blair raised his hands. "Okay, okay. Wonder Burger it is. I suppose it's the least I can do since you volunteered to babysit me. I'm sure I can find a nice chicken sandwich to eat."

Blair reached down to grab his backpack from the floor, but Brown beat him to it. "Nope. Jim told me not to let you carry this thing. Doc says you gotta take it easy with those stitches."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim's a bit uptight," he said, heading through the door with Brown at his heels.

The detective chuckled. "He also said you can be a real pain in the ass and that I had permission to whack you upside the head if you got out of line."

Blair threw the detective a deadly glare. "Did he also tell you when to feed and burp me?"

Brown roared with laughter. "You know, you're a lot funnier than I thought."

Blair cocked his head as he walked out of the building and into the warm spring sunlight. "So why did you volunteer for this?"

Brown shrugged, increasing his pace to move slightly ahead of Sandburg. "Hey, we all have a vested interest in keeping you healthy. Ellison was practically impossible to work with before you came into the picture. I mean, don't get me wrong, he was a great detective... it's just that..."

"I know, I know," Blair said. "I DO remember my first encounter with him."

Brown chuckled as he unlocked the passenger door of the blue sedan. His laughter was cut short as his body slammed forward into the car, followed a half a second later by the sharp sound of a gunshot. Blair jumped back as the detective slid to the ground, leaving a streak of red against the blue metal.

"Brown!" Blair lunged for the big detective, grabbing him by the shoulders as he looked frantically around the sparsely populated street for the source of the gunshot.

Quickly, he reached into his backpack and pulled out his cellphone. He speed dialed the station just as two students rushed up to the car.

"Hey, what was that? A gunshot? Oh my God, he's bleeding," a young blonde woman exclaimed as she stared at Brown's limp form.

"Get down," Blair yelled at them as he listened to the ringing on the other end of the line. He took off his flannel overshirt and pressed the material against the wound on Brown's shoulder.

"Ellison."

"Jim? Oh thank god. Listen Brown's been shot--"

"What? Sandburg? Are you alr--"

"I'm at the University. Get an ambulance. No, I'll call for one.. just get--"

Blair stopped in midsentence as he saw Parker round the corner at full speed, heading straight toward him. He froze, momentarily unsure what to do. He didn't want to leave Brown, but he sure as hell didn't want to get murdered by that psycho.

As soon as the two students saw the gunmen running toward them, they screamed and took off toward the campus building. Blair held the phone limply at his side, glacing between Brown and Parker. He couldn't take off and leave Brown alone, not when Parker could easily put a pullet in the detective's head on his way past the car. Coming to a decision, Blair dropped the phone on the blacktop, just behind Brown. Slowly, he stood up and put himself between Brown and Parker just as the killer skidded to a halt in front of him.

Parker raised the gun to Blair's throat, pinning the younger man's gaze with dark, narrow eyes. Blair swallowed, his heart pounding.

"You're with me," Parker stated, grabbing him by the collar. "You fucking killed my brother, and now you're going to pay for that little mistake."

The large man dragged him across the street toward a black Ford Explorer. He pinned Sandburg against the side of the car, then punched in the combination to the door lock.

"Black Ford Explorer, looks new," Blair mumbled softly, praying Jim could still hear him.

Parker either didn't hear Blair or chose to ignore him as he flung the door open, reached into the car, and pulled out a syringe. Blair eyed the long needle with wide eyes, and slammed his head back toward Parker. Unfortunately, Parker had a good eight inches on him, and Blair's head struck the man in his chin. Parker jerked slightly, but maintained his hold on Blair as he brought the syringe to the young man's neck. With one swift motion, he plunged the needle into the base of Blair's neck.

"No..." Blair croaked out that one word just before he succumbed to the thick darkness.


"Ellison!"

Jim felt himself being shaken. He blinked, realizing he was standing at his desk with the phone held to his ear. Reality slammed into him and dropped the phone as though it were a snake.

"Simon, Parker's got Blair. Brown's been shot. We're looking for a black, late model Ford Explorer," he told the Captain as he dashed through the outer doors of the bullpen.

"Damnit!" Simon ran after Jim, yelling on his way out. "Get all available units out there now, and call an ambulance," he bellowed, directing the order to no one and everyone in particular.

On the way to the truck, Jim kicked himself mentally. Damnit, he'd zoned out listening to Parker grab his partner. He'd heard every word, and listened as the two sets of footsteps pounded the pavement. He'd heard Blair struggle, then utter that one, soft word that tore through his chest like a knife. Damnit! Damnit! Damnit! Blair had called him for help and all he could do was zone out and waste precious seconds while that madman dragged his partner off to who-knows-where.


He floated in a sea of thick, cool molasses. His body felt numb, his mind trapped in a black, dense fog. He remained unaware of the passage of time, but, eventually, the fog thinned. Slowly, one by one, his senses came online. The first sense his brain registered was smell -- a horrible, nauseating stench. He tried to swallow the bile touching his throat, but his mouth was completely try.

The next sensation was touch, and he felt the sharp stinging of pinpricks all over his body -- almost maddening in their number and consistency.

An indiscriminate amount of time later, as he wallowed in the misery of the pain and stench, his brain decided to register sound. Several soft moans reached his ears -- sounds of misery that mirrored his own agony.

Next came more pain. The throbbing in his head made itself known, and he opened his mouth to echo the low moans around him.  He opened his eyes, blinking as blurred images swirled around him. His stomach rolled, threatening to send more bile upwards. Quickly, he closed his eyes, forcing himself to take slow, deep breaths. Several moments later, he opened his eyes again... and immediately wished he hadn't.

His vision, unfortunately, was much clearer as it took in the horrendous sights around him. He was in a large dark room with brick walls, very much like a dungeon. He held his breath as he stared at the other occupants of the dismal prison. Three young women, barely conscious, were chained to a pole jutting out from each wall. The women had been stripped down to their underwear, bare-chested and shivering. Each woman looked pale and sickly. He squinted, trying to pierce the gray darkness to see the scars he could just make out on their bodies. Burns? Cuts?

He closed his eyes. God. A sob threatened to escape his throat, and he clenched his jaw. Stay calm. Just stay calm. Jim will come. He heard, he'll come. He repeated the chant several times before raising the courage to open his eyes again. This time, he looked up, seeing that he was also chained to a pole jutting out from the wall. He looked down, noticing the cuffs around his ankles that tethered his legs to a metal ring in the floor. He was unclothed, except for his cotton boxers. His arms still felt numb, except for the pringling that threatened to bring pain as sensation returned to him.

As the fog continued to lift from his mind, he tried to remember the details of Parker's MO. Each woman had been kidnapped, tortured, and then killed, her body found about 36 hours after her reported disappearance. Each woman had been independent and professional. One, he remembered, had been a computer programmer.

Blair forced his eyes back to limp figures around him. The woman to his left hung unconscious, her head forward. The woman opposite of him also hung limply, but soft sobs shook her body. His heart dropped to his feet as he listened to her soft cries.

"Hey, can you hear me," he asked, his voice slurred. His tongue felt dry and heavy.

The woman gave no response.

"My name is Blair Sandburg. I'm a consultant for the Cascade Police Department."

Finally the woman lifted her head, staring at him with wet, green eyes. Blair gasped when he noticed the red, blistered burn on her left cheek, but he tried to keep the rest of his reaction in check.

"Who are you?" He kept his voice soft and steady, speaking slowly so his words came out distinct and clear.

The woman stared at him for several seconds. Then she blinked, her eyes filling with new tears. "April Savino."

"April, I want you to know that help is on its way. My partner knows I've been taken. I'm sure the entire police force is out there looking for us. They'll find us. It might take them a liitle while, but they will find us," he reassured the young woman.

The woman nodded. "You're a cop?"

"A police consultant. Not a cop. My partner is a detective in Major Crimes. He'll find us," he repeated, suddenly wondering who he was trying harder to convince, her or himself.

Suddenly, the door flew open and April cringed, releasing a startled sob. Blair whipped his head around, immediately regretting the action when the room spun wildly, sending his stomach into flip-flops. He closed his eyes briefly to combat the dizziness, then opened them to look at the intruder.

Parker stood in front of him, leering.

"Comfy?"

Blair's throat constricted.

"Nothing to say? Just as well. It's time to get the show on the road, so to speak," Parker said, a mad glint in his eyes.

The large man bent down, and it was then that Blair noticed the oversized briefcase at his feet. Parker snapped the case open, and Blair cringed when he caught site of the contents: two vials filled with clear liquid, a syringe, a small cattle prod, a blow torch, a leather whip, and a wicked-looking hunting knife.

Parker glanced up at Blair, an evil smile on his lips. He reached for the cattle prod, his hand wrapping around the smooth handle. He stood up, rising to his full height, and towered over Blair. Parker raised the instrument to Blair's chest, keeping it poised a few inches from the younger man's right shoulder.

"Let me see, is this where you shot my brother?"

Parker pressed the cattle prod hard against Blair's shoulder. Blair was totally unprepared for the intensity of sensation that assaulted him. The electricity spiked through his body, setting his nerves on fire. He arched his back and screamed, struggling convulsively against the bonds that held his wrists and ankles. An eternity later, the pain ceased suddenly. Blair's body lost all feeling, and he went limp, his head falling forward until his chin rested against his chest.

Paker patted Blair on the cheek. "Aw, come one. You can't check out now. We haven't even started."

Blair raised his head slowly, fixing angry blue eyes on the man in front of him. "You're insane. A fucking psycho," he whispered, his voice strained.

Parker smiled, dropping the cattle prod to the ground. He reached into the briefcase and withdrew the blow torch. Blair's eyes widened and, with renewed vigor, he struggled against the restraints.

"STAY AWAY FROM ME YOU HEADCASE!" His screams pierced the air loudly. He bucked wildly, trying desperately to free himself from the cuffs.

Parker grinned happily, baring his teeth, as he flicked the blow torch on. The narrow, blue-tipped flame flared to life. Parker waved the torch in front of Blair's face, laughing as the young man tried to back away from the flame. Slowly, he lowered the flame.

"Please, listen to me," Blair begged. "I didn't want to shoot your brother. I tried to save his life. I--"

"SHUT UP!"

Parker pressed the the flame into Sandburg's right side, directly onto his stitched wound. Blair's head shot back and he released a low, primal scream. Parker withdrew the flame quickly, giggling as Blair sagged forward, sobbing quietly.


"I'm so sorry, Ellison."

Jim patted Brown on his good shoulder. "It's not your fault. You took a bullet protecting him."

Simon cleared his throat. "I'm glad I haven't lost one of my detectives." He paused, glancing at the floor. "I'm damn sure Sandburg wouldn't have wanted you to die for him."

"Wouldn't want, Sir. You're talking about him like he's already dead," Jim snapped. "He's alive, and he's counting on us to find him."

Simon took a deep breath. "We've got every available man on the case, Jim. He dumped the Explorer in a parking garage, so we don't even know what car he's driving now. I know how hard this is for you, and God knows I don't want to lose the kid, but you've got to face the facts, Jim. It's been over 24 hours. We're working on a strict time limit here, based on Parker's MO. Our chances of finding--"

Jim raised his hands, storming toward the door. "I know what the chances are! We've got about 12 hours before we find Sandburg's body dumped in a park, or an alley, like yesterday's garbage. Twelve hours! And that means he's probably already been tortured." His voice cracked, and he looked away. "I'm going to find him, Sir," he stated, his jaw muscles tight.

He walked stiffly out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

 


Blair's side raged with fire. His throat hurt, probably from the agonizing screams that it had been forced to sustain. The rest of his body felt numb. His mouth was intolerably dry, and he desperately wanted water.

"Blair?"

He heard the voice as a dim echo that reverberated through his skull.

"Blair?"

The voice was louder, more insistent. For some reason, he felt compelled to respond to it. His head felt heavy, like a lead weight against his chest. He didn't even have the energy to raise it.

"Hmmm," he muttered.

"Remember, you said your partner's gonna come for us? You remember?"

Partner? Jim? Oh Jim, where are you?

"You've gotta remember that, Blair. They're going to find us."

Jim's coming. He heard me. He's coming. He always comes. He found the strength to raise his head.

"That's it, Blair."

He saw April staring at him, eyes wide with concern. He should say something, shouldn't he? Somehow try to reassure her that things would be okay....

He forced a small smile on his lips. "He's coming," he rasped.

She smiled, tears spilling onto her cheeks. "Thank you," she whispered.

He blinked. What had he done to deserve her thanks? "For what?"

"For giving us hope," she replied, glancing at the two unconscious women on the adjacent walls.

Oh. For that. He could have almost laughed. Hope. How long had he been there? A day? Maybe more? Hell, his bladder had already betrayed him twice, but he'd long since grown insensitive to the small of urine, no longer able to distinguish it from the rest of the sickly stenches. He swallowed dryly. Time was running out. Face it, Sandburg, Jim's only human. He's just a sentinel, not a psychic. He's not going to find you in time.

He didn't dare voice his thoughts to April. Instead, he simply forced the smile wider and nodded. "He'll be here. Don't worry."

The door opened, and Sandburg flinched. Please, no more. Parker walked into the room, straight passed Sandburg. He stopped in front of the unconscious woman hanging to Blair's left. He grabbed a key from his pocket and unshackled her ankles. Then he unlocked the cuffs around her wrists, catching her as she fell. Silently, he hefted her over his shoulder and turned toward the door.

"What are you doing," Sandburg asked, his voice weak. "Leave her alone."

Parker smiled, barely sparing Blair a glance as he headed to the door. "Time to dispose of the garbage," he explained, kicking the door shut on his way out.

"No!" Sandburg struggled briefly against his restraints, painfully aware of his dire helplessness. Parker was going to kill her -- if she wasn't dead already -- and dump her body. There was nothing he could do to stop it. Softly, he began to cry.

 


Some time later, the door opened again. Parker stepped in, briefcase in hand. Blair gazed blankly at the black case, his chest tight. He really didn't think he could take another round of torment.

Parker set the briefcase next to Blair, flashing a smile at the young man. Blair closed his eyes. Just let me pass out. Is that too much to ask?

He heard the soft rustle of a chain and opened his eyes to see Parker removing the cuffs from the woman on the right. When the woman was freed from her restraints, Parker carried her limp body to the center of the room. She mumbled something incoherent, turning her head toward Blair, her eyes closed.

Parker dropped her to the floor and walked over to briefcase. He snapped it open and took out a  small bottle of rum. Blair stared at the clear liquid, wondering what Parker could do with the alcohol. The man held the bottle firmly in his hand while he unscrewed the cap. Then he walked back to the mumbling woman and poured half the contents over her body, covering her face, part of her chest, and her right thigh.

He looked over at Blair. "Play time," he said.

Blair felt the blood drain from his face. Parker walked toward him, slowly. He reached into the briefcase and withdrew the whip, holding it up in front of Blair's face.

"Take a look at this leather. Top quality, you know," he told Sandburg. He sniffed the handle. "Smell that? Real good stuff."

Blair realized he was trembling, and he felt his face grow hot with shame.

"Now, this is how it's going to be," Parker began. "I'm going to take you off of that pole and let you go over to Kristy there. You're going to do what I tell you, or I'll kill her." He put his hand inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a gun. "See this? This is to make sure you don't get any ideas... not that I think you have the strength to try anything, but it's better to be safe than sorry."

He walked over and closed the door, returning the gun to his pocket. Then he knelt down to the briefcase and removed a rag and a brown bottle filled with liquid. Blair couldn't see the label, so he had no idea what chemical Parker held in his hands. Parker opened the bottle and spilled some of the liquid on the rag. Blair reeled from the smell, reminded of his undergrad biology lab. Ether? Chloroform? Parker closed the bottle and rose to his feet. He stuffed the rag in Blair's face, holding it over his nose and mouth. Blair strained back, turning his head in an attempt to slip away from the rag. Parker grabbed his hair and held his head still, keeping the rag pressed firmly over his face.

Blair felt as though the ground had given way. His vision blurred and the room swayed. He felt horribly light-headed, almost nauseous. His eyelids felt very heavy, and darkness crept along the edges of his vision. His last thought before succumbing to the darkness was that he hoped he never woke up....

He didn't get his wish. He heard a voice speaking his name.

"Come on, Sandburg. Rise and shine."

God, how long had it been? It seemed like he'd only been out for a fraction of a second. With a groan, he opened his eyes. He was laying on top of the naked body of the woman Parker had called Kristy. He raised his head, glancing at April. She stared at him with sad, tired eyes.

"Good to see that you're back with us," Parker said. He stood against the empty wall, aiming the gun at Blair. In his other hand, he carried the whip. "That stuff only lasts for a few seconds after the rag's removed."

Blair pushed himself off the woman, rolling onto his back on the cold, hard floor.

"No, no, Blair. That's not what you're supposed to do."

Blair closed his eyes. "What do you want?"

"What do you think I want? I want you to slap her around, then rape her."

Blair felt like he'd suddenly been kicked in the gut. He looked up at Parker, his eyes pleading. "Please, don't do this..."

Parker chuckled. "You shot my brother. This is how you're going to pay for it. You think you're so innocent? Well I'm about to change that. I want you to have a taste of the darker side." He cocked his head and grinned. "Maybe you'll even like it."

"No..." Blair closed his eyes, shaking his head.

A loud crack pierced the air, and he felt a slice of agony across his shoulder. He cringed, curling himself into a ball.

"That's what the whip is for, Blair-Boy. Now move, or the next one who gets a taste of this thing is little Miss Muffet next to you."

Blair trembled, fighting the sob that threatened to escape his throat. He opened his eyes and looked at Kristy. He rolled over onto his stomach and, with shaking arms, lifted himself onto his knees.

"That's better," Parker commended him. "Now give her one good slap across the cheek."

Blair raised one trembling hand. Kristy moaned softly. He closed his eyes and slapped her gently on the cheek. The whip cracked again and he felt the rush of air next to his hand. Kristy yelped, and Blair opened his eyes to see the woman covering her her face with her hands, sobbing weakly.

"You bastard," he hissed, glaring at Parker. "You fucking, insane psycho!"

The whip cracked again, producing an angry red streak across Kristy's chest. She screamed, bringing her legs up and folding into the fetal position.

Blair felt a sharp pang in his chest. God, just shut up, Sandburg. Look what you did....

"Now, when I say slap her, I mean slap her. Do it like you mean it. Put some of those pathetic muscles behind it, boy," Parker insisted, shaking the whip for emphasis.

Blair nodded, grabbing Kristy by the shoulder and pulling her onto her back. God, forgive me. I don't know what else to do. His slapped her hard, and she yelped again, covering her already injured cheek with her hand.

"Again," Parker commanded.

Blair slapped her again.

"No... no more," she begged, crying weakly.

Blair clenched his jaw. He was going to be sick.

"Again!"

Blair turned away from Kristi and doubled over, gagging. He managed to vomit up some bile, which set his throat on fire.

Parker laughed. "You have such a weak stomach, boy. Now hit her again or I will!"

Blair turned back to Kristy, his face white as a corpse. He raised his hand again and back-handed her across the face. His own hand stung from the impact, and he winced, imagining what it must have felt like for Kristy.

The woman curled herself into a ball again and sobbed softly.

"That's good, Blair. Now do her."

Blair looked up at Parker, his mouth open.

"I said do her!"

Blair shook his head. "Please... please don't make me.... I can't....I'll do anything, anything you want, but not that...."

Parker stared at Blair for a few seconds, looking lost in thought. Finally, he shrugged. "Okay, fine. You don't have to rape her." He waved the gun toward the wall. "Move over there."

Blair pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. Slowly, he walked over the wall, willing his weak legs to support him long enough for him to reach his destination. When he reached the wall, he stretched out one hand to touch the cool brick, then collapsed against it.

Parker pulled a loose cigarette out of his jacket pocket and placed it between his lips. He then reached in and grabbed a bronze lighter from the same pocket. Casually, he flipped it open, lit the cigarrete and then tossed the open lighter onto Kristy's web body. Her flesh erupted in a blaze, and she howled insanely, writhing on the floor.

"NOOO!" Blair lunged forward, falling to the floor as he watched the flames engulf the screaming woman. He felt the heat against his cheeks and buried his face beneath his arms. "No, no, no..." he sobbed. "Oh God... Jim... I'm so sorry. Kristy, I'm sorry... Oh, God... "

Then it began to rain. Blair barely noticed. Finally, when he was thoroughly drenched, he looked up. The rain had stopped. The floor was soaked, almost flooded. Parker leaned against the adjacent wall, his clothes drenched, the cigarette no longer in his mouth. He kept the gun aimed at Blair as he glanced up at the ceiling.

"Betcha wouldn't have thought a place like this would have a sprinkler system, eh?"

Blair's heart pounded furiously in his chest. He turned his gaze onto the burned, unrecognizable figure of the woman on the floor. The stench of burnt flesh hit him full force, but, instead of gagging, he closed his eyes and screamed... screamed with rage, with grief... He screamed in agony at his own weakness. He screamed in denial of the horror around him. He screamed until his voice gave out, then he covered his head with his arms and sobbed.

 


Jim played a morbid hunch as he steered the truck down University Avenue. Three of Parker's victims had been dumped in alleys within five blocks of Ranier University. Two had been dumped in a park across town. The last one, found only a few hours ago, had been dumped in an alley two blocks from the police station, like a slap in the face to all the officers in Major Crimes.

Parker was making this personal. So, Jim parked his truck a block away from the university, his ears open to the sounds of the city around him. Maybe, just maybe, Parker would dump his next victim near Blair's place of work, like he had the others. This time, he figured, Parker would bring the body closer. He closed his eyes. He only hoped the body wasn't Blair's. I'm sorry, Chief. I've tried. There's no trace. Nothing. This was his only shot. He didn't exactly relish the prospect of waiting around helplessly for another victim, but he didn't see any other options. This was a final act of desperation on his part, and he prayed to God that it would pan out.

About an hour later, his wish came true... either that, or his nightmare. He heard Parker's low, mumbling voice.

"Oh, Blair-Boy, if you'd only listened, but, no, you had to take all the fun out of it--"

A car horn screamed, sending a flash of pain through his skull. His hands shot to his hears and he closed his eyes, almost turning down the dial on his hearing. Almost. Instead, he opened his eyes and ignored the pounding in his head. He started the engine and pulled the truck into the street, heading toward where he thought he'd heard Parker's voice. Blair... God forgive me if I'm too late...

Three minutes later his sentinal vision spotted a large man dressed in a trench coat, returning from an alley two and half blocks from the main campus building. His vision zoomed in on the man's face. Parker.

Jim grabbed his cell phone and dialed Simon's desk. Parker walked across the dimly-lit street to a beige sedan. He looked around briefly, then hopped in the drivers seat.

"Banks here."

"Simon, I've spotted Parker. I think he just dumped a body in the alley near the corner of Fifth and Sierra."

"Oh God, Jim... Who?"

Jim's voice was tight. "I don't know, Sir. I'm in pursuit. If I stop to check, I'll lose him."

"Go. I'll get backup on it and send a team to the alley."

He clenched his jaw. "Let me know what they find." Let me know who they find...

"As soon as I get that info, I'll dial your cell phone... turn it off if you're in a bad situation."

"Okay, Sir. He's turning south on University.... driving a beige Buick Skylark. License 4DWD23D2."

"Got it."

"Simon, I can follow him from a distance. If any cruisers get to close, they'll spook him..."

"Understood."

"Thank you, Captain. Call me when you get that info."

"I will."

Jim ended the connection and flipped the phone closed, tossing it on the passenger seat. He stayed several blocks behind Parker's car. About ten minutes later, the cell phone rang. He snatched it off the seat and flipped it open.

"Jim, the body in the alley is a woman's. We.. uh.. haven't been able to identify her yet."

Jim breathed a sigh of relief, almost hating himself for being relieved by the news. Sandburg was alive, but another woman had died because of his inability to track Parker. He clenched his jaw and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Parker wasn't going to get away from him now.

"Thank you, Simon," he muttered. "I'm still in pursuit. He's heading out of the city, southbound over the Bastrop bridge."

"There are three units behind you, Jim."

Jim glanced in his rear view mirror. In the distance, he saw headlights. He didn't risk using his sentinel vision to zoom in on the cars. He was sure those were the cruisers. Instead, he turned his gaze back to the car almost a mile in front of him. His own headlights were off and he hoped Parker couldn't see the lights on the cruisers.

"Simon, it's pretty deserted here. Have the cruisers turn off their lights."

"Okay, Ellison."

The Buick turned right on a dirt road. Jim slowed the truck, not wanting to get too close to Parker and risk being spotted. Even with his headlights out, there was a fairly bright moon out.

Jim turned the truck onto the dirt road, keeping his sight fixed on the car ahead of him.

"Jim?"

"I'm here."

"Don't you dare zone behind the wheel."

"I'm okay, Sir. He turned right on a small dirt road about a mile passed the bridge." Jim thought he saw something in the distance and stretched his vision out even further. "I see a house up ahead." That's gotta be it. Hang on, buddy, I'm coming.

 


A pungent odor slammed Blair to consciousness. He whipped his head away from the stinging scent and opened his eyes. He saw Parker standing in front of him, holding smelling salt in the air.

I'm still in hell, he thought. Why doesn't he just kill me and get it over with?

"Hello, Blair. Did you sleep well?"

Blair stared at his tormentor numbly, not daring to speak... not even sure if he possessed the strength to speak.

"Wanna try this again with April."

Blair felt the tears fall onto his cheeks. He looked at the limp body of April, her eyes closed. He saw fresh cuts on her torso.

"What did you do to her," he asked softly.

Parker smiled. "Just a little more fun and games before I dumped Kristy. You were out for the count."

Blair closed his eyes, biting back a retort.

He felt a stinging slap on his cheek, and his head whipped around from the force. He opened watery eyes and glards at Parker.

"You keep your eyes open until I tell you. Got that?"

Blair bit his lower lip, then nodded.

Parker relaxed visibly. "You're catching on." He knelt and snapped open the briefcase, pulling out a large bottle of tranparent, white liquid. He opened the cap and poured the liquid over Blair's head. Blair kept his eyes open, remembering Parker's instructions. He resisted the urge to struggle, letting the liquid stream down his face and chest. The liquid washed over the welt on his shoulder and slithered down to the burn on his side, setting each wound on fire. He bit his lip, stifling a scream. His eyes stung, and he blinked, trying desparately to keep them open. His eyes watered shamelessly in response. He opened his mouth, tasting the salty liquid.

Salt water, he realized. What's he going to do with...

His mind went blank when he saw Parker reach into the briefcase and remove the cattle prod.

Oh no.. not again... please, no more...

Parker raised the instrument to Blair's stomach. "Well, let's try this one more time before I kill you."

Parker pressed the stick into Sandburg's stomach and turned it on. Blair's body flared with agony, every nerve ending on fire. This was so much more intense than the last time, if such a thing were possible. He was vaguely aware of the sound of someone screaming. He didn't even realize it was him.

 


"Well, let's try this one more time before I kill you."

Jim cocked his head, honing in on Parker's location. He heard two heartbeats, one slow and steady, the other weak but fast. The crunch of gravel outside told him that backup had arrived. A deep, agonizing scream pierced his eardrums, and he instinctively covered his ears, almost falling to the ground at the suddenness of it. He didn't need sentinel ears to hear those screams. Then he realized there was only one person who could be making that sound, and he broke into a run.

He rounded a corner just as the screaming ceased, and his heart nearly stopped. He saw a door down the hallway and ran toward it, headless of danger. If Blair had stopped screaming... Oh God. He stretched his hearing out again and released a sigh when he heard the familiar patter of Blair's heartbeat, now alarmingly irregular.

Jim flew through the door and saw a staircase leading down. He followed it down into a dark basement.  His eyes immediately adjusted to the darkness. His nose picked up a mixed stench, and he quickly dialed down his sense of smell. He saw another door in the far wall, and he heard the two heartbeats coming from the other side of it. He raised his gun and plastered himself to the side of the door, against the wall. Cautiously, he reached out and tried the doorknob. It turned freely, and he pushed the door inward, moving with lightning speed as he flung himself into a roll and landed on one knee, gun poised on Parker, his eyes focused on the limp, wet body of his guide hanging from a pole in the wall.

"Cascade PD! Freeze!"

Parker whirled around, and Jim caught a glint of metal. He fired twice. The bullets slammed into Parker, sending him flying backward to the ground. He landed with a hard thud, his body perfectly still, his chest covered with blood. Jim listened for a heartbeat, finding Parker's to be weak and erratic. Overlaid with that sound was a more familiar one -- the alarmingly irregular rhythm of Sandburg's heart.

With a glance at the woman's body hanging on the opposite wall, Jim tucked the gun in his the waist-band of his jeans and shot to his feet, moving to Blair instantly. He reached one hand up and brushed the side of his partner's face. Blair cringed away from the touch, his eyes closed. The gesture hit the Sentinel like a knife through his heart.

"No..." His voice was low, barely a whisper. He began to cry quietly. "No more... "

The knife twisted in Jim's chest, and he clenched his jaw. "Easy, Chief. It's me. It's Jim."

Reluctantly, he moved away from Blair, crouching next to Parker's body. He searched the man's pocket, finding a set of keys in coat. Quickly, he rushed back to Blair, fumbling with the keys until he found the one that fit the cuffs around Blair's ankles. Once that was accomplished, he focused on the wrist cuffs. He found the right key on the second try, and opened the cuffs. Blair fell forward into Jim's arms, his body limp as a rag doll.

Jim cradled Blair in his arms, hearing the sound of footsteps descending the stairs.

"Easy, buddy. I've got you," he whispered to his unconscious partner.

Two uniformed officers burst through the door, guns drawn. When their eyes took in the scene before them, their faces went white. One staggered backward, out of sight. Jim heard the man retch several times. It was only then that Jim allowed himself to really look at his surroundings. The large, brick room had all the characteristics of a dungeon. The woman on the opposite wall was dead, of that he had no doubt. She was covered in filth and blood, and the right side of her face had been burned. Her head hung in front of her, eyes closed. Jim closed his eyes, struggling to gain control of the rage that threatened to overtake him. He took several deep breaths, keeping the dial on his sense of smell turned almost completely off.

"Detective Ellison, the ambulance just arrived."

Jim opened his eyes to look at the young uniformed officer staring down at him, a radio in his hand. Ellison frowned. He hadn't even heard the cackle of communication over the radio. Absently, he nodded, then looked down at the fragile body in his arms. He struggled to keep his breathing steady as he scanned Blair's body with his eyes, taking in the injuries. Blair had an angry streak of red on his left shoulder, probably from a whip. His right side sported a large, blistery burn, and part of the skin had peeled away to reveal glimpses of fat and muscle tissue. Jim swallowed, clamping down on his emotions. He couldn't lose control here, not in front of his fellow officers... not when Blair needed him.

He closed his eyes and lowered his face to rest his chin on Blair's head. "You're going to be okay, Chief. Just stay with me. A little longer, buddy. Just a little longer." He tuned his ears once again to Blair's heartbeat, holding his breath as he listened to the fluttering beat of his guide's heart.

"GET THE MEDICS IN HERE NOW!" Jim tightened his hold on Blair. "Come on, Chief. Don't do this to me. Stay with me." He rocked the still figure in his arms gently, back and forth. "Hang on, Blair. Just a little bit longer."

The Emergency Medical Team burst through the doors. Two men rushed over to the woman hanging from the wall and two knelt down next to Jim and Blair.

"Excuse me, Sir," one of them said, a young woman. "We need you to let go of him."

Jim continued to rock Blair gently, muttering soft reassurances. The two paramedics gently grabbed Jim's arms and slid Blair out of his grasp. Jim trembled with the effort it took to relax his hold on Blair, almost releasing a short sob when he felt the warmth of his Guide leave his arms.

 


Ellison sat by Blair's bedside, holding his friend's hand in his own. Sandburg lay sleeping on the hospital bed, hooked up to the heartmonitor, a tube in his nose. His burn had been scrubbed clean and bandaged as the doctor's prepared to do a skin graph, growing a sheet of Blair's skin in the lab for use in the surgery.

Blair had been unconscious for six hours, not waking up once since they'd brought him here. Occasionally, he'd mutter in his sleep, usually either calling Jim's name or begging for the pain to stop. Each time, Jim would hold Blair's hand firmly and utter soothing words or reassurance.

The hospital door opened and Simon walked in. "How is he?"

Jim turned to look at his Captain. "The same. He hasn't regained consciousness yet."

Simon nodded. "This was too damn close."

Jim nodded, his throat tight. "You should have seen it, Simon... Seen the way he was hanging there, limp, drenched in salt water and sweat. I touched his face and he flinched away." He swallowed. "That basement... it looked like a dungeon. They were chained up like animals, smelling like blood and urine." He closed his eyes. "It was hell... It could have been a scene right out of Dante's Inferno."

Simon patted the detective on the shoulder. "The important thing is that he's alive. He'll pull through this."

Jim opened his eyes and stared uncertainly up at his Captain. "You don't know that, Simon." He sighed. "He was tortured... probably watched those women die...."

"Jim," Simon began, his voice low. "I wanted to wait to tell you this, but--"

Jim's head shot up. "What?"

Simon took a deep breath. "We found a video tape."

Jim stiffened.

"There was a hidden camera hooked up to the basement, voice activated. Anything above fifteen decibals activated it, and it had a remote switch. Parker could activate and deactive it whenever he came and went," the Captain explained.

Jim's balled his free hand into a fist. "Have you watched it?"

Simon nodded. "Part of it."

Jim's blue eyes flashed with an indescribable emotion. "And?"

Simon closed his eyes, bringing one hand up to rub his forehead. "It's bad. The worst I've ever seen... or could have even imagined."

"I need to see it," Jim stated, his voice flat.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Simon countered.

"I need to see what Parker did to him. I need to be ready to help him when he wakes up."

Simon sighed. "You need to stay here. Don't you want to be here when he comes to?"

Jim closed his eyes and nodded. Bring me a copy of the tape here. I'll view it privately in one of the administrative rooms here. I'm sure the hospital will okay that. If he wakes up, I'll be right around the corner."

"Jim you don't want to view that thing here," Simon protested.

"No one will see it but me. I'll be locked in a private room."

"Jim," Simon sighed. "I can't let you see it. Not yet, anyway. Maybe later when this isn't so fresh. Right now, trust me, Jim, it'll kill you to watch it. I had to shut it off a halfway through to spill my guts in the men's room."

Jim stared blankly ahead, fixing his gaze on the wall. "Blair lived it," he said, his voice low. "I have to know what I'll be dealing with once he wakes up.... psychologically." He took a deep breath and finally turned his gaze to Simon. "I was in Covert Ops, Sir. I've seen all kinds of torture. This won't be anything new."

Simon inhaled a deep breath. "Listen, Jim. This is different. This is Sandburg we're talking about. You don't want those images etched on your brain."

Jim clenched his jaw, the muscles in his neck taut. "I have to, Simon. I have to know. Please."

Several seconds of silence hung in the air as Simon studied Jim's impassive face. Finally, he nodded. "Okay, but I'll be with you. God knows I don't want to watch another second of that video, but I'm not going to let you go through that alone."

"You don't have to, Sir."

"That's non-negotiable Ellison. Take it or leave it."

Jim nodded. "Thank you, Simon. Let's get this over with as soon as possible."

 


Jim sat rigidly in the chair as Simon popped the video into the VCR.

"This is about five hours long. Some of the sound isn't very decipherable, but you might be able to use those ears of yours to figure it out." Banks turned on the television and VCR and pressed the PLAY button. Then he took a seat next to Ellison in the cramped office belonging to Dr. Bailey, who fortunately wasn't due back on shift for another ten hours.

The basement flickered into view on the screen. The camera was fixed on Blair, who hung limply against the wall, his hands cuffed to the pole above his head. Jim could see the doorway to Blair's left, and an unconscious woman hung to Blair's right. Parker walked through the door, looking straight at the camera. An evil grin spread across his face.

"Hello to the fine men and woman of the Cascade Police Department, and, particularly, to Detectives Ellison, Rafe, and Brown. Oh, and of course I mustn't forget Captain Simon Banks. This is a little 'thank you' gift to all of you for putting four bullet holes in my brother. I must warn you, this film is rated... well, off the scale. I sincerely hope you haven't eaten within the past couple of hours."

The image flickered, indicating that the camera had been shut off, then reactivated. It remained focused on Blair, but Parker was no longer in the room. Blair was now awake, and the camera cut in with the young man speaking.

"-- Can you hear me," Blair asked, his voice slurred. He stared at someone off-camera, probably the woman who had been chained to the wall opposite him.

"My name is Blair Sandburg. I'm a consultant for the Cascade Police Department."

He saw Blair gasp. "Who are you?" He kept his voice soft and steady, speaking slowly so his words came out distinct and clear.

Sevaral seconds of silence, then, "April Savino."

"April, I want you to know that help is on its way. My partner knows I've been taken. I'm sure the entire police force is out there looking for us. They'll find us. It might take them a liitle while, but they will find us," he reassured the young woman.

Jim's felt a tight pressure clamp over his heart. I'm sorry it wasn't sooner, Chief.

The woman spoke. "You're a cop?"

"A police consultant. Not a cop. My partner is a detective in Major Crimes. He'll find us," Blair repeated.

Suddenly the door flew open and Parker walked in, carrying a large, black briefcase. He walked over to Blair and set the briefcase down.

"Comfy?"

Blair remained silent.

"Nothing to say? Just as well. It's time to get the show on the road, so to speak," Parker said.

The large man bent down, snapping the case open. Blair cringed visibly when as he gazed down at the contents.

Parker glanced up at Blair, an evil smile on his lips. He reached for the cattle prod, his hand wrapping around the smooth handle. He stood up, rising to his full height, and towered over Blair. He raised the instrument to Blair's chest, keeping it poised a few inches from the younger man's right shoulder.

"Let me see, is this where you shot my brother?"

Parker pressed the cattle prod hard against Blair's shoulder. Sandburg arched his back and screamed, struggling convulsively against the bonds that held his wrists and ankles. A minute later, Parker pulled the instrument away from Blair, and the young man went limp, his head falling forward until his chin rested against his chest.

Paker patted Blair on the cheek. "Aw, come one. You can't check out now. We haven't even started."

Blair raised his head slowly, fixing angry blue eyes on the man in front of him. "You're insane. A fucking psycho," he whispered, his voice strained.

Simon looked over at Jim, the detective's gaze fixed on the screen in front of him, his head tilted slightly. "Could you make that out?"

Jim nodded. "Blair called him a psycho."

Simon nodded, allowing himself a small smile before turning his attention back to the screen.

Parker smiled, dropping the cattle prod to the ground. He reached into the briefcase and withdrew the blow torch. Blair's eyes widened and, with renewed vigor, he struggled against the restraints.

"STAY AWAY FROM ME YOU HEADCASE!" His screams pierced the air loudly. He bucked wildly, trying desperately to free himself from the cuffs.

Parker grinned happily, baring his teeth, as he turned on the blow torch. The narrow, blue-tipped flame flared to life. Parker waved the torch in front of Blair's face, laughing as the young man tried to back away from the flame. Slowly, Parker lowered the flame.

"Please, listen to me," Blair begged. "I didn't want to shoot your brother. I tried to save his life. I--"

"SHUT UP!"

Parker pressed the the flame into Sandburg's right side. Blair's head shot back and he released a low, primal scream. Parker withdrew the flame quickly, giggling as Blair sagged forward, sobbing quietly.

Simon glanced at Jim, who sat stiff as a statue in the chair, his hands clenched into fists on his lap, knuckles white.
 


Five hours later, the tape came to a fuzzy end. The two men sat in shocked silence, staring blankly at the screen. Finally, Simon grabbed the remote from the desk and turned the power off on both the TV and VCR. He looked over at Jim, whose face looked deathly pale, and laid a gentle hand on the detective's shoulder.

"You okay, Jim," Simon whispered.

Jim didn't move. "I need to be alone for a moment."

Simon nodded and quietly walked out the door. Jim sat alone in the small office. He leaned forward, buried his face in his hands, and cried.

 


Jim found himself once again sitting at Blair's bedside. The hospital door opened and he looked up.

"Hey, how's the kid?" Brown walked over to the bed, his arm in a sling, and placed a hand on the bed rail.

Jim gazed blankly at the detective. "He'll pull through."

Brown smiled. "I knew he would. The kid's a fighter."

Jim nodded, turning his eyes back to Blair.

"You okay, Ellison? Is there anything I can do?"

Jim shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I volunteered to protect him, and I let Parker get to him. I--"

"It's not your fault." It's my fault.

"Well, when he wakes up, let him know... well, tell him I said I'm sorry."

Jim nodded. "Go home, Brown."

"Okay, Ellison. Try to get some sleep. You look exhausted."

Jim nodded. "Thanks." He didn't think he'd ever sleep again, not after watching that video.

Brown left and and Jim sat silently for a long time, gazing steadily at his guide's sleeping face. Blair looked so peaceful sleeping there, and Jim could almost imagine that the past couple of days never happened. His fantasy was quickly shattered when Blair's face contorted suddenly and the young man released a single muffled sob.

Jim bolted from the chair and grabbed his Guide's hand. "Easy, Chief. You're okay. I'm right here."

Blair's eyes fluttered open. He stared up at Jim, his expression blank. Slowly, recognition filled his eyes. He looked down at Jim's hand, then back up at the face of his Blessed Protector. He began to tremble gently. His heartrate escalated, echoed by the beeping of the heartmonitor.

Jim placed his free hand on Blair's forehead, brushing away a stray curl. "Hey, Blair. It's okay. You're safe now."

"April?" His voice was soft and unsteady.

Jim looked away for a fraction of a second. "Don't worry about that now."

"No...." His trembling grew more violent. The beeping of the heartmonitor grew more frantic.

"Shhh... Take it easy, Chief. I'm right here," Jim soothed.

Apparently the kind tone was more than Blair could take and he gave into the grief and fear so visibly etched on his face. He burst into tears, shaking uncontrollably, tightening his grip on Jim's hand. Jim quickly lowered the rail and sat on the edge of the bed, scooping Blair into a gentle but firm embrace. Blair buried his face in Jim's chest, grabbing the fabric of the larger man's shirt in his white, trembling hands. His cries escalated to sobbing, angry screams, muffled by Jim's chest.

The Sentinel kept his arms wrapped around his Guide, offering protection and comfort. "That's it. Let it go, Blair. You're safe here."

 


The Next Day...

Jim paced the length of the waiting room, his jaw clenched.

"Sit down, Ellison, you're making everyone nervous," Simon suggested.

Jim looked over at his Captain, who was seated awkwardly in one of the hard orange chairs against the wall. Then he scanned the anxious faces of the other detectives from Major Crimes: Taggart, Rafe, and Brown.

Taggart nodded, patting the empty seat next to him. "Take a break, Jim. They'll let us know as soon as their finished."

Jim took a deep breath, then nodded, walking over to the chair and collapsing into it. He tilted his head back against the wall and stared at the ceiling. "What's taking them so long?"

"It's only been a couple of hours, Jim. It's a skin graph, you can't expect them to be in and out just like that," Simon offered.

Jim closed his eyes, releasing a tired sigh. God, he was exhausted. He hadn't slept in.... well, he couldn't remember. He desperately wanted to tune his hearing to the operating room, but he knew in his sleep-deprived state he was primed for a zone-out, and he didn't want to risk one in front of his co-workers.

A few hours later, a doctor emerged for the double doors down the hall. She walked quickly over to the waiting room, straightening her aqua scrub shirt and slipping her head covering off, tucking it in the pocket on the leg of her scrubs. Jim rose immediately, meeting her halfway, followed closely by four large men.

"How's Sandburg," Jim asked quickly.

She smiled, and Jim felt the knot in his stomach relax.

"The surgery went very well," she informed him. "Mr. Sandburg's in recovery and we'll keep an eye on him for an hour or so before returning him to his r--"

"Can I see him?"

She tilted her head. "Normally we only let family in, but you are listed as next of kin on his chart." She nodded. "Okay, follow me, but I can only let you in for a few minutes."

Jim nodded. "Thank you, Doctor." He turned to the four men behind him. "I'll be back soon."

Jim followed the doctor to a large room filled with a row of beds against opposite walls. Most of the patients were semi-conscious, though some looked barely alive. Jim swallowed, his jaw muscles tight. He immediately honed in on the dark mass of curls a few beds down on his right, and hurried his steps.

Blair was conscious, but his face looked deathly pale, and his eyelids rested half-closed. Jim approached the side of Blair's bed and placed a hand on the young man's uninjured shoulder.

"Hey, Chief."

Blair's raised tired eyelids to look at Jim. He raised one hand and rubbed his throat.

"You want some water," Jim asked.

Blair nodded.

Jim turned to one of the nurses attending to a patient on the opposite wall. "Excuse me, ma'am, could I get some water for him."

The nurse looked up and glanced at Blair. She nodded. "He can only have a few sips for now. Once he's a bit more awake, he can have more."

She pulled her patient's blanket up to his chin and headed off. "I'll be back with the water," she told Jim, glancing over her shoulder.

Jim nodded his thanks, then looked back down at Blair. "It's on it's way, buddy."

A minute later, the nurse returned, handing a styrofoam cup and a straw to the detective. Jim took it gratefully and placed the straw between Blair's lips.

"Easy, now. Just a few sips," Jim instructed.

Blair took several greedy gulps, and on the fourth one, Jim took the cup away.

"More," Blair croaked.

Jim shook his head. "In a little bit. Once you're more awake."

"I'm awake."

"In a little bit," Jim repeated.

Blair closed his eyes, drifting into a fragile sleep. The doctor walked up to Blair's bed and looked at Jim. "Once he's shaken off a bit of the anaesthesia, we'll transfer him back to his room." She pulled a penlight from her shirt pocket and reached down to open one of Blair's eyelids. Then she shined the light in his pupils.

Blair flinched back, pressing into the pillow as he turned his head to the side and clamped his eyes closed. "No," he mumbled hoarsely. "Don't..."

Jim pressed his hand down on Blair's forehead and leaned closer to his partner. "It's okay, Blair. It's Jim. I'm right here. No one's going to hurt you."

"Mr. Sandburg, it's okay. I'm Doctor Kapler. You're in a hospital," the woman said, her tone cool and professional.

"No more," Blair rasped.

Jim threw the woman an annoyed glance, quickly turning his attention back to Sandburg. "No more, Chief. I promise. You're safe. Open your eyes. Come on, Blair, open your eyes."

Blair's eyelids floated up.

"That's it, Chief."

Blair focused on Jim's face, his eyes growing wet. "Stay."

Jim grabbed Blair's hand. "I'm right here. I won't go anywhere, I promise."

"Uh, Mr. Ellison--"

Jim snapped his head up, fixing the doctor with a cold glare. "I'm staying," he stated. "He needs me here."

Doctor Kapler looked momentarily uncertain, then nodded. Jim relaxed.

"Thank you," he said. "Could you tell the men in the waiting room that I'll be staying here?"

"Sure, I'll send a volunteer out to let them know."

 


Jim wheeled the chair around to the side of the bed and patted the seat. "Come on, Chief. Hospital policy."

Blair fastened the last button on his blue shirt and slid off the bed, wordlessly easing himself into the chair. That, more than anything, worried Jim. It wasn't like Blair to be so quiet and sullen. He should be complaining -- eager to go home and indignant at having to use the wheelchair when he was 'perfectly capable of walking'. These past few days, however, Blair had been reduced to one word answers and brief, curt phrases.

Jim tried to reassure himself that this was a normal reaction to the trauma his partner had experienced. He should be grateful Blair was at least coherent and composed. Only when the young man slept did he lose control and allow the nightmare to resurface. Jim made sure he was there everytime, waking his Guide from the night terrors and calming his tremors with soft, soothing words.

Banks had made an appointment for each of them with the department psychologist. Jim was scheduled to see her tomorrow morning, and Blair would go the following afternoon. The detective hadn't yet mentioned the appointment to his partner. He didn't quite know how Blair would react and he wanted to wait until they were home at the loft before broaching the subject.

Jim wheeled the chair into the vacant elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. After a brief hesitation, the elevator doors slid closed.

"All the guys at the station are anxious to see you," Jim said.

Blair remained silent, gazing solemnly at the floor.

"Brown asks about you every day."

Blair raised his head, glancing back at Jim. "He's okay?"

Jim nodded. "He's fine. He's still in a sling, which has earned him a nice, lazy vacation."

Blair swallowed, then turned his gaze back to the floor. "I"m sorry. You were right, I shouldn't have gone back to work."

Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Don't go there, Chief. You were right, you get paid for your university work. You needed to be there."

"It wasn't worth Brown's life."

"Brown's alive. He's fine. He's more worried about you." Jim sighed. "He feels guilty for letting you down."

"He didn't."

"I know. You can tell him that when you see him, Chief"

"Okay."

Jim shook his head, giving Blair's shoulder a final squeeze. He desperately wanted to see Blair smile again, hear the chuckle in his voice, see the glint of mirth in his eyes. The Sentinel's thoughts were interrupted when the elevator doors slid open.

"Hairboy!"

Jim forced a smile on his face as he wheeled Blair to the group of men rushing forward. Brown and Simon led the way, and Blair raised his eyes to greet the smiling faces.

"Brown..." Blair raised his gaze to look at the grinning detective, and his face immediately lit up as a broad smile touched his lips.

There's the old Sandburg. Jim found his own forced smile suddenly growing wider and more sincere. He looked at Brown, silently promising to put the man at the top of his Christmas list next year, right after Sandburg, of course.

Brown reached out to ruffle Blair's hair. "It's really good to see you."

Blair glanced at the detective's sling. "How's the shoulder?"

Brown shrugged his good shoulder. "Hey, just another war wound to woo the ladies with."

Sandburg chuckled. "I can give you some obfuscation tips, if you like."

The detective laughed. "You are the master."

Sandburg held his smile a moment longer, then it faded slowly. His eyes grew more serious as he gazed at Brown. "You're really okay?"

Brown nodded, glancing up at Jim. "Yeah, I'm fine. It probably looked a lot worst than it is."

Blair glanced at the floor. "It did... all that blood... I thought..."

"Hey," Brown interrupted. "I'm fine. I'm just sorry I let him get to you, kid. I screwed up. I--"

Sandburg raised his hands. "Hey, this isn't your fault. It's mine. I'm the one who insisted on going to the university in the first place. If I hadn't been so... so... stupid, you never would have gotten shot." He swallowed, gazing humbly down at the floor.

Brown looked questioningly up at Jim, who glanced at Simon, who looked down at Sandburg.

"Sandburg, you're not the first person in the history of this nation to need police protection," Simon began. "You handled yourself pretty good out there. You kept your head, you attended to Brown -- even though you should have just gotten the hell out of there -- and you gave Jim the description of Parker's car."

Blair kept his gaze pinned to the floor. "Thanks, Captain," he said, his voice flat.

Simon cast an anxious glance in Jim's direction. The detective shook his head and then looked down at Blair, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Chief. Let's get you home."



 

Jim smiled warmly. "Feel good to be home, Chief?"

Blair walked stiffly through the loft door, limping slightly from the pain in his side.  "No, I'd rather be back in the dungeon," he snapped, heading toward the couch.

Jim's smile melted and he clenched his jaw. Blair's anger was sudden and unwarranted, and he didn't quite no how to deal with the young man. Sandburg had been through an extraordinarily traumatic experience, one that even someone with his own type of military experience would have a hard time dealing with. Sandburg, however, was a sensitive scholar with a kind heart and an empathic nature. How could such a gentle soul assimilate such cruelty without losing itself to the darker aspects of human nature?

Sandburg lowered himself onto the couch. Jim tuned his ears into his partner's heartbeat, finding it a bit too fast. Blair reached forward carefully to grab the remote control, and it was then that Jim noticed his partner's shaking hands. Taking a deep breath, he moved to the couch, sitting next to Sandburg.

Blair looked over at him, his eyes saying what his mouth obviously couldn't. Jim accepted the silent apology and leaned back.

"Are you hungry?"

Blair shook his head, gazing at the blank television screen.

Jim sighed. "Chief.... " Where should he start? What should he say? "Look at me."

After a slight delay, Blair turned his head and fixed solemn blue eyes on the detective.

"What can I do?" Jim resisted the urge to reach and place a hand on Blair's shoulder. He'd done that a lot over the past few days and he wanted Sandburg to make the first move this time.

Blair looked away quickly, shaking his head.

"Come on, Chief. Let me help."

Blair shifted away from Jim's intense gaze, hiding his face and slumping his shoulders. "I can't do this right now," he whispered.

"Why? Because you're afraid of losing control? You're afraid of showing your emotions in front of me?" Jim took another deep breath. "You're safe here. You know that, don't you? It's okay to let your defenses down, lean on me for some help."

Blair inhaled a slow, ragged breath. "It's too much. I don't know how... I can't... think about it. Being here..." he raised his hands to indicate the loft, his voice trailing off.

"What? Being here makes you feel what," Jim prompted.

Blair began to shake, his breathing becoming fast and shallow. He was starting to hyperventilate.

"What, Chief," Jim asked again.

"It's like a dream," he said softly.

"Tell me about it... please," Jim encouraged him.

"Being here... well... I just didn't think I'd see it again. I'm afraid..." once again, his voice trailed off.

"What are you afraid of, Blair?"

"Please leave me alone, Jim."

"Not an option."

Blair stood up quickly, gasping with the pain it obviously caused. He gazed at his bedroom doors, seemingly unsure of himself. Finally, he walked over to them and disappeared into his room. Jim heard the lock engage, and he frowned. This wasn't the way he'd planned his partner's homecoming.

 


Jim stayed up most of the night listening to Blair move around in his room. He heard the the rustling of covers, the soft scraping of pen against paper, and the clacking of keys on the laptop. Occasionally, Blair would make his way to the kitchen, boil some water, and make himself a cup of tea. Several times Jim was tempted to get out of bed and talk to Blair, tell him to get some sleep and take it easy. He decided, however, that it would probably be best to give his Guide some privacy for the moment. He'd speak with the psychologist in a few hours, and then maybe he'd have a better idea about how to help Blair recover. He knew his roommate was going through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that much was obvious, and Jim had dealt with that particular condition enough times to prepare himself for what was to come. However, he'd always dealt with that in military situations, never on a personal basis... well, not counting his own experiences in Peru. Blair was different. He wasn't military. He was a guide, an anthropologist, and, by all rights, a shaman. Jim knew how to put a clamp on his emotions and block out unpleasant memories -- it was something he had become very good at doing, until Sandburg came along and gave him a taste of life again.
 
Finally, at about 5:00 am, Jim heard a muffled thunk, followed by soft snoring. He smiled. Finally. Blair had probably fallen asleep on top of his laptop. Jim pushed the covers away and slid out of bed. He walked down the stairs in his boxers and scanned the living room and kitchen, finding them both devoid of his guide. He shuffled over to the bedroom and, carefully, opened the door, trying to make as little noise as possible. Peeking his head inside, he spotted Blair hunched over a book on his desk, fast asleep.

He glanced over at the bed. The covers were a bit rumpled, but it was obvious Blair hadn't slept in the bed. He debated carrying Sandburg to the bed, but didn't want to risk waking the young man. However, looking over at his roommate, he knew Blair would wake up with several unpleasant kinks in his neck and back if he remained in that position for any length of time.

He listened to his partner's heartbeat, trying to decide on the depth of Blair's slumber. He found the rhythm slow and steady, deciding that it would probably be safe to move the young man. He cocked his head and stretched his hearing even further, listening to the heartbeat. When he'd found Blair, that rhythm had been dangerously irregular, and he listened to it now, trying to find even the slightest hint of arhythmia. To his relief, the beat sounded strong and regular. Th-thump. Th-thump. Th-thump.

Some indeterminate amount of time later he snapped to awareness when he heard the soft mumbling of his Guide's voice.

"Help..."

Blair was sitting straight up in his chair, his eyes open.

"Chief? You okay?"

Blair raised his hands in front him, turning his head away from the sound. "No. Don't touch me! Get away!"

Jim glided over to Blair, grabbing the anthropologist's arms. "Hey, Chief, it's me. You're okay."

Blair's leg shot out, catching Jim in the groin, and he flung himself backward, toppling the chair. "NO!" He rolled to his feet and dashed past Jim, who lay doubled over on the floor, clutching the offended area.

"Goddamnit," the Sentinel hissed through clenched teeth.

He heard the front door open and close, and his heart leapt to his throat. What the hell just happened? He pushed the pain aside and rose to his feet, careening toward the door in an awkward run. When he flung the living room door open, he saw Blair standing near the elevator, looking around with wide, fearful eyes, obviously disoriented. The sentinel noticed beads of sweat on Sandburg's forehead, and a few curls lay wet against his forehead.

Jim moved out into the hallway, his hands slightly raised at his sides. "Hey, Chief," he said, his tone light and reassuring.

Blair looked at him curiously. "Jim?" Blair surveyed his surroundings uncertainly. "What happened? How did I get out here?"

Jim breathed a sigh of relief. "You were sleep walking." He took a few steps closer to Blair, reaching his hand out in invitation. "Come on back inside, Chief."

Blair gazed down at Jim's open palm and, cautiously, reached out to take the hand in his own. He raised his gaze to meet Jim's. "Sleepwalking?"

Jim nodded.

"I've never done that before," he stated, his voice tinged with fear.

"It's okay," Jim said as he guided Blair back into the loft. "It's just the stress."

Jim locked the front door and settled Blair onto the couch. "You want some tea?"

Blair shook his head. "No thanks."

"Do you remember the dream?"

Blair shrugged, leaning back to gaze up at the ceiling. "No, not really."

"Not really?"

Blair closed his eyes. "All I remember is Parker coming at me."

Jim figured as much. With a controlled sigh, he said, "Listen, Blair, Simon's made us both appointments with the department psychologist."

Blair lifted his head and fixed his blue eyes on Jim's. "Nice of him to ask me first."

"It's department policy."

"I'm not a cop, remember."

Jim shook his head. "You're a member of the department."

Blair swallowed and rose from the couch, heading back to his room. "I'm not ready." He didn't bother to look back as he closed the door behind him.

Jim rubbed his eyes with one hand. This was not going the way he'd hoped.

 


"So this is the first time that you've seen him sleepwalk," Doctor Judith Carrows asked.

Jim nodded, resting both hands on the arms of the brown leather chair. "Yes. Even with all the other scares he's had, he's never done this before."

Doctor Carrows scribbled briefly onto her notepad. "It sounds like a night terror, otherwise known as pavor nocturnus."

"Yes, I've heard of those."

"The normal sleep cycle involves distinct stages from light drowsiness to deep sleep. REM, rapid eye movement, sleep is a different type of sleep, where the eyes move rapidly and vivid dreaming is most common. During a night, there will be
several cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. Night terror occurs during Stage 3 and Stage 4 sleep, deep sleep. The cause is unknown but night terrors are commonly associated with periods of emotional tension, stress, or
conflict," she explained. "Night terrors are most common in preadolescent boys, but they can also occur in adults, obviously. Sometimes they're genetic, and give people life-long problems. Other times they happen once or twice in a person's life, and many times people don't remember them the next morning. Usually, there's not much cause for alarm. With everything Mr. Sandburg has experienced lately, this is to be expected. He may or may not have more. If he does, you'll find that he might just go back to sleep. Othertimes he might be difficult to rouse fully. You can expect the feeling of terror to continue even after he's fully awake, and he may be difficult to comfort, especially since he's never experienced this type of sleep disorder before. Night terrors can be extremely vivid dreams, and it may be difficult for you to tell if he's fully awake when he's in the midst of one. If he does keep having them, you'll want to make sure his room or secure. I had a patient that fell out of a second story window during one of her night terrors."

Jim listened to her lecture calmly. He had expected Blair to have nightmares, but not to this extent. If he had to secure the room to prevent Blair from hurting himself, that would only serve to fuel his Guide's guilt and anxiety. He wanted Blair to trust him, not to shut himself off thinking that Jim considered him a danger.

"What should I do if he has another one," Jim asked.

"In many cases, comfort and reassurance are the only treatment required. Benzodiazepine medications used at bedtime will often reduce the incidence of night terrors; however, medication is not usually recommended to treat this disorder." She sighed. "Just keep an eye on him. When I see him tomorrow, I'll discuss this with him. He may view it as a sign of emotional weakness, especially in light of his recent trauma. You're going to have reassure him that his night terrors are a sleep disorder caused by the trauma, not an indication of weakness."

Jim nodded. "That's something else I wanted to speak with you about."

She looked at him expectantly, and Jim continued. "I told Sandburg about his appointment with you, but I'm not sure I'll be able to get him to come."

"I see," she remarked. "When did you tell him this?"

"Last night after his night terror."

She nodded. "You have to understand, Mr. Ellison, that Blair probably wasn't in his most rational frame of mind at that point. Like I said, the feeling of terror associated with these dreams often stays with the person even when they become fully awake. When you mentioned his appointment with me, he probably transferred his fear to the idea of seeing a therapist, probably as a sign of further emotional weakness." She paused to take a breath. "Why don't you have another talk with him today? If he's still hostile to the idea, perhaps he'll agree to at least talk with me over the phone. I may be able to convince him to change his mind." She jotted something down on her notepad and then looked back up at Ellison. "He is aware that this is an order from Captain Banks, isn't he?"

Jim nodded. "He wasn't to thrilled with that either."

"Of course," she said. "He's was at the mercy of another person for almost two days. Feeling in control is going to be very important to him now."

"Okay. I think I can help him with that."

She smiled reassuringly. "Good. He's going to need a lot of support from you... and that brings me to another topic."

He raised his eyebrows expectantly. "Yes?"

"You," she stated. "We've spent the past fourty minutes talking about Blair, but I'd like to know how this is affecting you."

Jim sighed, reaching up to rub his face. He didn't particularly like opening his feelings up to strangers, even ones with degrees. He certainly couldn't explain the sentinel-guide aspect of his relationship with Blair, and how the nature of that relationship led him to feel like he'd failed Blair. He was supposedly genetically predisposed to protect, according to both Blair and Incacha, but he seemed to be doing a lousy job of it lately.

Yep, it was going to be a long twenty minutes.

 


When Jim returned home from Dr. Carrows' office at 11:30 am, he listened for Sandburg's heartbeat as he made his way to the kitchen. He found the familiar sound coming from the bedroom and walked over to the doors, knocking gently.

"Come in, Jim."

Jim smiled and opened the doors, finding Blair sitting lotus-style in the middle of his room. Jim surveyed the surroundings. The laptop, along with several books and papers, were strewn over Blair's desk. A pile of clothes littered the far corner, and his bed covers looked like a whirlwind had hit them. What he noticed, in particular, was the lack of aromatic candles and music, something Blair always used to accompany his meditation sessions.

"Hey partner, what's up," Jim asked casually.

Blair gazed up at him calmly. "Just trying to clear my head."

"Where's that jungle music you usually listen to?"

"I needed some quiet."

Jim nodded as if in understanding. He decided to change the subject. "Wanna get some lunch?"

Blair shook his head.

"My treat."

"No thanks, Jim," Blair said, closing his eyes as if returning to his meditative state.

"Did you eat anything today?"

"No."

"How 'bout yesterday?" He already knew the answer to that question.

"No," Blair repeated flatly.

"I'd really like it if you accompanied me to lunch, Chief."

Blair opened his eyes and gazed at the detective. "Why?"

Jim sighed. He felt like he was talking to a stranger. Blair's eyes lacked their normal fire, and his voice sounded uncharacteristically apathetic. "I'm having some problems I'd like to talk to you about," he lied.

A flicker of emotion touched Blair's face, and his eyes finally lit up. "Oh?" He rose to his feet. "Okay. Let me just put on some shoes."

Jim suppressed a smile. At least his Guide was still in there, somewhere. All he had to do was hint at a problem with his sentinel abilities, and Blair would put the world on hold without a second thought. Unfortunately, Jim suddenly realized that now he'd actually have to come up with a problem.... which would probably lead to a barrage of tests. Oh hell, he thought, but then he realized he hadn't specifically mentioned a problem with his senses. He almost grinned.

 


The waitress set the plates down in front of the two men. Blair looked down at his veggie pita sandwich as Jim poured ketchup over and around his fries. Blair took a sip of water, then looked up at Jim.

"So what's the problem?"

Jim popped a fry in his mouth, chewed quickly, and swallowed. "Well, uh," he stammered, then grabbed his glass, taking a sip of the soda. Make it a long sip, Ellison, he told himself as his brain went into overdrive trying to think up a convincing problem that didn't involve his senses. He'd spent most of the drive over trying to come up with something, but, for some reason, he was having a problem constructing a story.

"Well," Blair prompted.

Jim set his glance down. "Promise you won't laugh."

Blair tilted his head. "You know me better than that. Come on, what is it?"

He took a deep breath. "Well, uh, it's with one of the guys at the station."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "Who?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't think I should say, just yet."

Blair shrugged and took a bit of his pita, waving Jim to continue.

"This... person... well, he's a pretty valuable commodity around the station. Simon's concerned about him and wants me to talk to him."

Blair's eyes flashed with suspicion.

Jim shrugged, continuing unfettered. "You know this isn't really my department, so I was wondering if you could talk to him, Chief."

Blair relaxed visibly, allowing a smile to touch his lips. "Sure, no problem. But you kinda have to tell me who he is first."

Jim nodded. "I will, but first let me tell you the problem, get your spin on it, and then you tell me if you think you can help him."

Blair nodded. "Okay. Go on."

Jim sighed, rubbing his palms together. He was giving new meaning to the term 'winging it'. "Okay, the problem is that this person's wife was attacked recently. He's been having a hard time dealing with it, and he's been pretty much of a mess around the station. He wants to get his wife into counseling. I'm not sure what's going on with that, but, from what I hear, she refuses. Simon ordered him to see the department psychologist, and he did, but he's still feeling angry and guilty. I think he feels responsible for his wife's injuries... you know, being a cop and not being able to protect her."

"That's a normal reaction," Blair stated.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, but this is such a sensitive subject, I don't know what to say to the guy. I mean, he has to get his wife into counseling if both of them are going to start healing."

Blair raised his eyebrows, and fixed Jim with a stone glare. "Is that so?"

"Uh-huh," Jim confirmed. "You helped Joel out when he lost the nerve to do his job, and I thought you might have some words of advice here. I mean, maybe you could arrange to meet with the.... guy... and his wife."

Blair shrugged, his eyes narrow. "Maybe the woman has a right to a little privacy. Maybe all she needs is time... This isn't really any of my business."

Shit, Jim thought, he figured it out already. Not like I was all that subtle...

"I see. That doesn't sound like something you would have said a month ago."

Blair shrugged, pushing his plate, and the half-eaten pita on it, away from him. "A lot has happened since then."

Jim nodded, sighing. "Listen, Blair... okay, so I'm lousy at this. The truth is, the problem I'm having is with you."

Blair straightened, tense.

"You know I had the meeting with the psychologist today?"

Blair nodded.

"Well, she told me that what you experienced last night was a night terror."

"Last night?" Blair fixed bewildered eyes on his partner.

He doesn't remember? Jim took another deep breath. Okay, the doctor had warned him about this. "Last night, you had a nightmare. You ended up sleepwalking into the hall."

Jim heard Blair's heartrate spike, and the young man lowered his gaze. "I don't remember dreaming last night."

"I know," Jim said. "The doctor told me that people suffering from night terrors sometimes don't remember them the following morning. I'd thought you were awake when I guided you back into the loft, but I guess you weren't, at least not entirely."

"Oh," Blair muttered, keeping his gaze on the plate in front of him.

"I think you should talk to Doctor Carrows tomorrow," Jim stated firmly.

Blair shrugged. "Fine. Whatever."

Jim released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Thank you, Chief."

 


Blair sat in the worn leather chair, gazing expectantly at Dr. Carrows as he tapped one foot nervously on the light blue carpet.

"So you don't think you had any dreams last night?"

Blair shook his head. "I asked Jim if he heard anything and he said I was as quiet as a mouse."

Dr. Carrows shook her head. "How much sleep did you get last night?"

Blair shrugged, glancing at the mini tape recorder on the desk in front him. "Maybe a couple of hours."

She nodded. "What were you doing the rest of the time."

"Reading, catching up on some work, surfing the 'net."

"Are you having difficulty sleeping," she asked.

"Would you," he asked sarcastically.

She smiled sympathetically. "Yes, I believe I would."

"Look," he said, rising from the chair. "I'm sorry, but I just don't think this is doing any good. I know you're only doing your job, Doctor, but this really isn't what I need right now."

She stared at him calmly. "What do you need right now?"

Well, you walked into that one, he told himself. She gestured for him to sit back in the chair, and, reluctantly, he complied.

"You know, we've only got about fifteen more minutes left, and then you can go home and tell Jim you followed Banks' orders."

He forced a tiny smile. "Okay, I think I can stick it out for a few more minutes."

"Good," she said. "Now, do you want to tell me what you think you need right now?"

He rubbed the leather on the arm of the chair with his thumb, trying to feel the soft, worn lines in the material. "Time," he whispered.

"You have plenty of that," she said gently. "But what do you think will change between now and say, oh, three months from now?"

He shrugged, gazing at the arm of the chair as he continued to rub the leather absently. "I don't know. All I know is this whole thing is still too fresh in my mind. You weren't there. You didn't see those women."

"Do you want to tell me a bit about what happened to you there?"

He shook his head. "I can't really talk about."

"You can't? Or you don't want to?"

"Both," he snapped. "Why does everyone want me to talk about this? Sometimes it's better just to try and forget."

"You think you can do that."

He bit his lower lip and shook his head solemnly. "No."

"Have you given a statement yet?"

Blair shook his head. "I'm supposed to do that tomorrow."

"Why don't you tell me what you intend to say in your statement. It may help you get through it tomorrow."

Blair sighed. "Okay." He inhaled a lungful of air and released it slowly. "I had just finished a class and was heading off to lunch with Brown. We were outside by the car, talking, and I heard a gunshot. The next thing I knew, Brown was on the ground. I ducked, grabbed my cellphone, and tried to dial the station while keeping some pressure on Brown's wound. Two students saw what happened and came up to us. I think I got a hold of Jim, but then I saw Parker coming toward me. He had a gun in his hand, and the two students took off. I dropped the cell phone to the ground, trying to hide it behind Brown so Parker wouldn't spot it. Then Parker grabbed me and forced me over to his black explorer. He opened the front passenger door, reached in, and pulled out a syringe. He stabbed it into the base of my neck, near my shoulder," he paused to take breath. "The next thing I remember, I woke up in the basement. There were three women with me...." his voice trailed off.

"Go on, please."

"And then it started."

"What started?"

He swallowed and lowered his head, his curls falling forward to hide his face. "The torture. The pain. The killing." His voice sounded low and dangerously unsteady.

"Can you tell me specifically what happened?"

"No."

"Why? What are you afraid of?"

His head shot up and he fixed angry blue eyes on her. "I can't, okay? I'm not afraid--"

"You aren't?" She raised her eyebrows. "You're not afraid that maybe I'll think less of you once I know what happened. You're not afraid of losing control in front of me? Of crying? Of maybe getting so angry that you'll throw something? None of that frightens you?"

He swallowed. "Leave me alone. I don't want to talk about this. You can't force me to."

She shook her head. "No, I can't force you to talk about it if you don't want to, but, believe it or not, it will help you deal with the trauma if you give voice to it. If you try to keep it all inside, bury it, you won't be dealing with the pain; and you can't start the healing process until you let the pain and fear surface. Your emotions need to run their cycle, they need to be released and dealt with in a safe environment."

"I know. I took a few psych classes, doc. I know the spiel."

"Then you know it's the truth."

"I know what's true for me, Doctor."

"Why are you angry?"

He bolted from the chair, his heart racing. "BECAUSE I WAS KIDNAPPED AND TORTURED BY A PSYCHO!" He winced at the intensity of his own rage, and lowered his voice a fraction. "Because I watched three women tortured and killed! Because I didn't DO ANYTHING!" He stood next to the chair, shaking, glaring furiously at the doctor.

Doctor Carrows kept her face calm, taking the brunt of Sandburg's anger with professional detachment. "What do you think you should have done?"

He ran his hands through his hair, pacing the small confines of the office. "I don't know. I should have tried something. When he uncuffed me, and... and... I should have tried. I should have fought, but I was so tired and weak... I was afraid he would kill her," his voice cracked with emotion. "But he did that anyway, and I just stood by and watched."

"How did he kill her?"

Blair spun around, toward the door. "I'm sorry. I've got to get out of here... time's almost up anyway." He flung the door open and ran out of the office.

Blair found himself running full speed down the long hallway of the office building. He rounded a corner, not sure where he was heading, but hoping to find a bathroom or staircase, or anything that he could hide in, alone. He released a surprised yelp when he ran into a brick wall -- or at least, that's what he thought it was until he looked up and saw Jim's anxious eyes staring down at him.

"Sandburg? What's wrong?" Jim reached out, putting one hand on Blair's good shoulder and the other hand on his arm, carefully avoiding the welt across the younger man's shoulder.

Blair pulled away from Ellison, walking backwards, shaking his head. "Nothing. I just... need some space right now."

He turned away and walked quickly in the opposite direction, suppressing the urge to run as fast as his legs could carry him. He almost jumped out of his skin when he felt Jim's hand on his left arm.

"Wait just a minute, Chief."

"Not now, Jim. Please." Blair shrugged out of Jim's grasp and continued his brisk walk down the hall, back toward the office. He hoped he could find a restroom at the other end of the corridor.

Kristy... The image of the her burnt, gnarled corpse filled his mind's eye. He heard her screams, smelled the burning flesh. God... His stomach revolted and, no longer able to wait, he sprung himself into a mad dash toward the end of the hall, desperately searching every door and sign for a bathroom. Finally, at the very end of the hall, he found a door with the word "MEN" printed on it.

He flew into the bathroom and fell into an open stall, slamming the door behind him as he spilled the contents of his meager breakfast into the toilet.

"Blair? You okay," Jim's voice called.

Blair closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the cool porcelain. He reached out blindly, searching for the paper dispenser. His hand slammed into the roller and he yanked a handful of paper out, then wiped his mouth. He threw the toilet paper into the bowl, then reached up and hit the handle, pulling his head back when the toilet flushed, sending a tiny spray toward his face.

The stall door creaked open behind him, and he turned to see Jim peeking his head in, peering down. God, I must look pathetic. Blair turned his face away, burying his head in his arms as he leaned against the bowl.

"What happened," Jim asked softly.

Blair felt a hand on his shoulder and flinched, immediately regretting the involuntary action. What must he think of me?

"Chief?"

"Go, Jim. Leave me alone, please."

"Come on, Chief, let me help," Jim said, as close to pleading as he'd ever come.

"You can't. No one can," he muttered.

"I can try. You'd be there for me."

Blair's shoulders began to shake as he gave into the quiet sobs. Jim tightened his grip on Blair's shoulder, not sure if he should pull the man into an embrace. He wasn't sure what to do anymore. He'd seen the tape, and, without warning, the images crashed back into his consciousness, almost making him gasp with the suddenness of their brutality.

"It wasn't your fault, Blair."

"Yes it was," he gasped.

"He would have killed her anyway, Chief. You know that."

Suddenly, Blair's tears stopped, and his head rose slowly. He gazed at Jim, almost in horror.

Damn. Jim swallowed, forcing himself to meet Blair's accusing stare.

"How... How do you know about that? Has Parker regained consciousness?"

Jim hesitated for a few seconds. Finally, he said, "There was a tape."

Blair's face lost all color. Shaking, he rose to his feet. Jim was blocking his exit path, so, keeping his gaze on the floor, he said, "Please, move."

Jim stood his ground. "Blair, listen to me--"

"Who saw it?"

"Simon and myself, and the D.A."

"You saw.... Kristy?"

Jim nodded. "Yes. There was nothing you could have done."

"Really?" Blair finally met Jim's gaze. "What would you have done? Would you have let Parker humiliate you and then set that woman on fire?" Blair shook his head. New tears threatened to spill onto his cheeks. "Something tells me you would have handled it differently. You would have fought Parker... and won."

"Blair, you give me too much credit. I'm only human, just like you." He grabbed Sandburg's shoulders, taking care to avoid the welt on the left one. "There was nothing you could have done. Nothing."

Blair looked away. "If you say so." Then, with a burst of anger, he pushed past Jim and walked stiffly out of the men's room.

Jim leaned heavily against the wall and released a long, tired sigh.

 


Jim flicked the volume down on the television and glanced at the clock. It was almost 4 a.m., and he hadn't seen Blair since that morning at Doctor Carrows' office. After Blair had stormed out of the bathroom, Jim let him go, opting to speak with Doctor Carrows. He had waited almost an hour while she finished with a client, then met with her for ten minutes, trying to find out what had set Blair off. She refused to tell him the details of the session, which hadn't surprised him. However, she did offer him advice: be patient with Sandburg, and don't take anything personally. Like he needed a degree to figure that out.

Now, however, he questioned the wisdom of letting Blair storm off on his own. Sandburg had been distraught and guilt-ridden. He didn't even have a ride, and Jim wasn't quite sure how much money the kid had in his wallet. The detective had called Blair's office at the university several times, but was greeted each time by a recorded message.

Jim was just about ready to call Simon and suggest putting an APB out on the kid when he heard footsteps in the hall. A few seconds later, keys jangled in the lock and the door opened. Sandburg stepped in, glanced at Jim through the soft light from the television, and tossed his keys in the basket. He closed the door and headed straight for his room.

"Hold it," Jim said.

Blair froze halfway to his destination. "What is it?"

"Where were you?"

"Are you my father now?"

"Cut the crap, Sandburg. You had me worried."

"Well you can stop worrying. I'm fine. See." He took a few steps closer to his room.

"Stop goddamnit!"

Blair obeyed, his back facing Jim, rigid.

Jim rose from the couch but kept his position in the room. "You need help, Sandburg."

No response.

"Sooner or later, something's gotta give."

"I just need to be left alone for awhile. Is that too much to ask?" Blair remained perfectly still, his voice carefully guarded.

"Being left alone is the exact opposite of what you need. I know."

"You do, eh?"

"Yes, credit me with having gone through some serious trauma before."

Finally Blair turned to look at him. "I know you have," he said, his voice softer.

This time Jim took a few steps toward Blair. "So why won't you let me try to help?"

Blair sighed. "I'm really tired, Jim. I just wanna go to bed."

Jim studied his partner for several seconds, listening to the shallow breathing, accelerated heartrate, and taking in the puffy redness in his eyes and the slumped shoulders. Finally, he nodded. "Okay, Chief. I'll see you tomorrow."

Blair offered Jim a small, tired smile in thanks and walked into his room, closing the door behind himself.

 


Jim bolted out of bed, the loud crash ringing in his ears. He grabbed his gun from the dresser and flew down the stairs, his gun poised defensively.

"NOOO!!!" Jim reeled from the ear-piercing scream and the ensuing sound of glass breaking. Quickly, he turned down the dials and ran toward the source of the commotion: Sandburg's room.

He skidded to a halt just inside the double doors, momentarily stunned by the sight that greeted him. Blair seemed trapped in the midst of a wild rampage, screaming at the top of his lungs as he grabbed random items from his room and hurled them against the wall. Quickly, Jim removed the clip from his gun and set both on the desktop. Blair's next victim was a about to be his laptop, and Jim quickly sprung into action, grabbing the machine from Blair's hand and tossing it on the bed.

"NOOO! GODDAMNIT!!" Blair swung a right hook, which Jim ducked easily. The sentinel grabbed his guide in a bear hug and threw him to the ground.

"LEAVE ME ALONE YOU FUCKING PSYCHO!! NOOOO!"

"Sandburg!" Jim kept his partner locked in a crushing grip. "It's me. It's Jim. Wake up!"

"I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU! I'LL KILL YOU!"

Blair's furious rage suddenly collapsed into a fit of deep, gut-wrenching sobs, his screams mixed with fear and grief. "NO! NO! NO!"

Jim held Blair firmly, practically pinning the flailing young man to the floor with his body weight. He realized there was nothing he could say to break through Blair's hysteria, so he simply held him tight, letting Blair's rage exhaust itself while making sure his friend couldn't injure himself.

"Shhhh," Jim mumbled soothingly, not really aware of his own words. "It's okay. I've got you, buddy. You're safe. I'm right here."

After nearly ten minutes, Blair's screams quieted, his voice growing hoarse. A couple of minutes later, Sandburg lay limp in Jim's arms, sobbing uncontrollably.

"It's alright, Blair. You can let go. I'm right here."

"I didn't want to do it," Blair cried. "He made me. I didn't want to..."

"Shhh... I know, Chief. I know. It's not your fault."

"He killed her. God, he killed her. I didn't do it and he killed her!"

"You couldn't do it, Chief. He would have killed her anyway. You did the right thing."

"She was burning, screaming...."

"Shhh. It's okay," Jim reassured him.

"I could smell it, taste it...GOD!"

Jim clenched his eyes against the grotesque image. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm sorry I let him get to you."

"I can't make it stop, Jim."

"Shhh... Don't try. Just let it out."

Several more deep sobs wracked Blair's body, overwriting his words. Finally, after several seconds, his breathing settled. "Help me."

"I'm trying, Chief. I'm trying."

"Please...."

"I'm right here," Jim said.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

 


Later that morning, Jim rose from the couch just as the alarm on his watch sounded. He turned it off quickly and shuffled into the kitchen. He released a deep yawn, stretching his arms over his head to work out the kinks in his back. He grabbed the tea pot and glanced at Sandburg's room. Blair's night terror had been as intense as anything Jim could have expected. Blair had finally cried himself to sleep, and Jim had half-carried, half-dragged his partner to the bed. He wondered if Blair would remember the episode when he woke.

He filled the tea pot with water and placed it on the back burner, then he started the task of preparing eggs, bacon, and toast. With a glance at his watch, he realized he probably wouldn't have time for a shower. He and Sandburg were due to meet Simon at the station in an hour. That left him just enough time to prepare breakfast, wake Sandburg, scarf down the eggs, and get dressed. He might actually be able to fit in a five minute shower, depending on Blair's mood and how long it took the man to complete his own shower.

He should have set the alarm for earlier, but he had been so tired last night. As it was, he'd only managed a total of about two hours worth of sleep since yesterday.

When the eggs looked close to being finished, he lowered the flame and walked into Blair's room. His partner rested on the bed, curled in a ball.

"Blair?"

The young man mumbled something incoherent and stirred.

"Come on, Sandburg, time to wake up."

"Huh?" Blair's eyes blinked open.

"We've got to get to the station, remember? Breakfast's almost ready."

Blair closed his eyes. "'Kay."

Jim walked over to the bed and knelt down, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder. He shook his guide gently. "Come on. Get your butt out of bed."

Blair opened his eyes and gazed at Jim, annoyed. "What time is it?"

"Seven-Thirty."

Blair pushed off the covers and sat up, running his hands through his hair. "I'm tired," he moaned.

Blair started to yawn, then stopped the gesture mid-way when he noticed the chaotic state of his room. He looked back at Jim, his brow crinkled in concern. After a second, his expression changed to one of realization, and his face colored. He dropped his head suddenly, avoiding Jim's gaze.

"You remember what happened," Jim asked.

Blair nodded. "I'm really sorry, Jim."

The detective smiled. "It's okay, Blair." He sat down on the bed next to Sandburg. "It's more than okay. It's a good thing."

Blair raised his head, looking at the detective questioningly. "How's that? I trashed my room and woke you up."

"Do you remember what you said last night?"

Blair nodded. "Most of it, I think." He buried his face in his hands. "God, Kristy..."

Jim placed a hand on the back of Blair's neck. "Do you still think you're to blame for her death?"

In a move that both surprised and delighted the sentinel, Blair leaned against him.

"No," Blair mumbled. "I guess not." He kept his shoulders hunched and his hands over his face. "But maybe she would have died differently if I'd..." He trembled slightly.

"If you'd raped her? Did what Parker told you to?"

Blair lowered his hands to his legs and looked over at Jim. "I couldn't do that, Jim. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't fight him, and I couldn't save her."

Jim wrapped his arm around Blair. "I know, buddy. There are things out there beyond our control. I saw the tape, remember?" Blair stiffened. "I saw how it happened, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there was nothing you could have done to save her life."

"It's hard for me, you know."

"I know," Jim said.

"No, I mean.... knowing that you and Simon saw the tape." He swallowed. "I don't think I can face Simon, Jim."

"Blair, you have nothing to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, you have quite a lot to be proud of. I've seen seasoned military men crack under less stress than you endured. You kept your head, and you came out alive. You tried to help those women, and that's more than many people would have done in your shoes," Jim said.

Blair shifted slowly away from Jim. "Thanks, but that video... well, it's not a way I'd like people to see me."

"I know, Blair," Jim said, gently pulling Blair back toward him, grateful that the young man didn't resist. "We've kept that video as confidential as possible. Only people who absolutely need to view it have access to it. I wish I could burn it, but--"

"It's evidence, I know; but, hell, he's stuck in a coma in some hospital, barely alive. I don't really see how this tape does any good."

Jim sighed. He'd pondered similar thoughts himself. Still, if anything, it let them know how those women died.

"I want to see it," Blair said, his eyes downcast.

Jim straightened. No way. "That's not a good idea." Weren't those the very words Simon had used on him?

Blair pulled away again. "You saw it. Simon saw it. The D.A. saw it. I think I have a right to see it."

"God, Chief, why would you want to?"

"I need to know exactly what is... and isn't... on that tape."

Jim clenched his jaw. "Can you give it a few days? Think about it? Talk to Doctor Carrows about it?"

Blair sighed, raising a hand to scratch the back of his neck. "Okay, but it won't change my mind."

"I'm not asking you to change your mind, just to take a few days and think about it." He patted Blair on the knee. "Now get dressed and come out for breakfast. I smell the eggs burning."

Blair glanced at Jim, the tell-tale signs of a smile on his lips. "Okay, Dad."

 


"Just take it slow, Sandburg. If you need to take a break at any time, say so," Banks instructed the anthropologist.

Blair sat in the Captain's office with Jim and the District Attorney, an older man with graying hair and stern features. Sandburg had the chair closest to the window, and he used that position to keep his eyes focused on the building across the street. "Okay," he said, glancing only briefly back at Simon.

"What happened at the university?"

Blair told them everything he remembered, in as much detail as his mind could furnish. When he told them about the syringe, he glanced at Jim, trying to gauge the older man's expression. The detective sat with his jaw clenched, but his eyes conveyed sympathy and reassurance.

"Okay, so what do you remember after that," the D.A. asked.

Blair swallowed, returning his gaze to the window. "I woke up and saw the three women. Only one was conscious, the one directly opposite of me. I asked what her name was, and she said, 'April Savino'. I told her who I was, and that I worked with the police as an observer. I told her everything would be okay, that... that the police would find us."

Blair took a deep breath, then continued. "He came in then. He said something about me shooting his brother, then he removed a... " he swallowed, "... a cattle prod from his briefcase." Blair felt his breathing start to become erratic, and concentrated his efforts on taking deep, regular breaths. "He asked me if I'd shot his brother in the shoulder, then he turned the thing on and pressed it against my shoulder." Blair felt a distant pain in his hands and looked down, noticing with some surprise that his hands were clenched into tight fists. His nails dug into his palms, almost hard enough to draw blood.

"How long did he keep the cattle prod on you," the attorney asked.

"I don't know."

"Okay, then what happened?"

"Then he grabbed the torch and burned my side, where Parker had stabbed me," Blair answered. "I think I passed out at that point."

Blair related the rest of the story with eerie detachment, sitting like a statue in his chair as he gazed out the window. It wasn't until he came to the part about Kristy that his voice faultered.

"How did you know it was ether," the D.A asked.

"From my undergrad bio lab. It could have been chloroform, I'm not sure. I only know that it reminded me of what the class used to put the mice out with. I always refused to participate in those experiments," Blair said.

"So then what?"

"I woke up on top of her," he replied, his voice low. "He... He told me to beat her up, and then... " he closed his eyes, grabbing the arms of his chair tightly, his knuckles white.

"Then?"

"He wanted me to rape her," he finished.

"Did you?"

Blair's eyes shot open and he fixed the attorney with an indignant glare. "No." Just as suddenly, his gaze faultered. "I... I didn't want to hit her, but he had a gun... and a whip. At first he used the whip on me... hit my shoulder. Then he turned it on her. He struck her on the face with it. He said if I didn't hit her, he'd use the whip on her again."

"So you hit her?"

Blair nodded. "Yes." He pulled his gaze away from the window and buried his face in his hands. "Yes, I hit her."

"How hard?"

"Hard. He told me to."

"Then what?"

He raised his head, his eyes wet, and looked at the D.A. "You know what happened. You have the tape," he said, his voice tinged with anger.

"I'd like to hear it from you. What proceeded to happen after you hit her?"

Blair returned his gaze to the window. His entire body was tense, every muscle clenched tight as he struggled to retain control of his emotions. "He told me to rape her. I said I couldn't. He then told me to move away from her. I did. He then proceeded to set her body on fire." Blair felt himself shaking and hoped the other men in the room didn't notice.

"I think it's time for a break," Jim said.

Blair bit his lower lip. Leave it to Jim to notice.

"No," he said. "I just want to get this over with."

Simon nodded. "Okay, Blair. Go on, please."

Blair told them the rest of the story, speaking so fast that he practically gasped for air every thirty seconds or so. When he finished the story, he remained perfectly still, eyes focused on some point outside. He didn't dare meet Jim's gaze, though he could feel the older man's eyes on him.

 



 
An hour after the interview with the D.A., Blair sat at Jim's desk, filling out paperwork that had been neglected since the beginning of the Parker case. Jim had disappeared into Simon's office about ten minutes before, leaving Sandburg feeling awkwardly conspicuous in the bullpen. He swore he could feel eyes watching him. Once in awhile, he'd look up and catch a pair of eyes quickly glancing away. He decided not to look up anymore.

He didn't notice when a young woman approached the desk.

"Excuse me, are you Blair Sandburg?"

Blair looked up into a pair of large dark eyes on a face he thought he'd never see in person again. His gasped and flung himself out of the chair, backing against the wall. This can't be happening. I've lost it. God, I've finally lost it.

"Uh, I'm sorry," she stammered, taking a step back. "I'm --"

"Chief, what's going on here?"

Blair tore his eyes off the young woman, and glanced at Jim. He then noticed that everyone in the bullpen was staring at him and the young lady. The woman turned to look at Jim, and the detective's mouth dropped open.

"Miss Connors?" Jim gazed at the woman skeptically.

The woman nodded, turning back to Blair. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to scare you. I'm Karen Connors, Kristy's sister."

Sister? Blair blinked and took a long, slow breath. His heart pounded so fiercely he thought it might leap out of his chest.

"You're her twin sister," Blair asked, his voice unsteady. God, how many twins are there in Cascade?

Karen nodded. "Yes, I--"

"When did you get in town? Your parents told us you were in California, attending Mills."

Karen glanced back at Jim and nodded. "I was. I got back yesterday." She then turned her attention back to Blair, who hadn't moved from his position. "Mr. Sandburg, I just wanted to meet you. You were one of the last people to see my sister alive." She looked away momentarily, and, when she spoke again, her voice was rough. "That is, besides Parker."

Get a grip, Sandburg. Get a Grip... but, God, she looks just like her. How can I even look her in the eyes?

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Okay, he told himself, stop staring like an idiot and say something. "Uh... I'm very sorry about your sister." Good one. Real original.

She nodded, tears threatening her eyes. "I know you probably don't want to talk about this, and I'll understand if you want me to leave. I was just hoping you could tell me a few things about.... well, about how my sister died. The police just say she was burned to death, but they haven't given my family any details."

Blair swallowed. "I... uh... I really don't think you want to know the details."

"She was my sister... My twin sister, my best friend. I have to know what that... what Parker did to her."

Blair looked at Jim, then at Simon. Both men stared at him with dumb-founded, concerned expressions. Finallly, Jim spoke.

"Miss Connors, why don't we go somewhere a bit more private?"

She nodded. "Okay."

"How 'bout my office," Simon suggested.

"Okay, Captain." Jim turned to Blair. "You wanna do this, Chief?"

Blair suddenly felt light-headed, but he managed to nod hesitantly. He didn't really want to do this, but he figured he owed it to both Kristy and Karen.

The four people made their way to Simon's office, aware of all the curious stares in their direction. Simon shut the door behind him and closed the blinds, sealing off the office from the prying eyes of the officers in the bullpen.

"Please take a seat, Miss Connors," Simon suggested, pointing to one of the chairs by his desk. "You too, Sandburg."

Karen and Blair both took their seats. Jim leaned against the table in the back.

Karen turned to Blair. "So?"

Blair closed his eyes. How many times would he have to tell this story? He practiced one of his calming exercises and, after a few seconds, opened his eyes to look at Karen. He didn't really know how to soften the brutality of the story, so he decided to get it over with as quickly as possible. She could slap him, hug him, or spit in his face afterwards. He didn't really care, he just wanted it over with. As he began the story, he mentally braced himself for the worst possible reaction he could expect from her when he finished. She could break down crying, screaming obscenities at him and wish him dead instead of her sister. He was pretty sure he could handle that. If not, at least Jim was there to pick up the pieces when he fell apart.

He flew through the story, avoiding her horror-stricken gaze. Finally, when he finished, Karen rose from her chair, staring silently down at him. He kept his body still and rigid, bracing himself for the accusations he knew she would spit at him.

"Thank you," she whispered.

He looked up to see tears on her cheeks. "I'm sorry," he muttered.

"It wasn't your fault, you know."

He had no answer for her.

"I know how painful this was for you. I'll leave now. Thank you again," she said. "You've given me the truth. That's all I wanted."

She turned to leave, and Simon rose from his desk. "You have our sincerest condolences, Miss Connors."

Blair forced himself onto unsteady feet and said, "I'm sorry I couldn't do more for your sister."

Karen turned to him, her lip quivering. Finally, she flung herself into his arms. Blair nearly toppled backward, but caught himself in time. Initially, he kept his arms awkwardly out his sides, then, slowly, he raised them around her, holding her tight as she cried into his shoulder.

"Shhh," he whispered. He couldn't really say things were 'okay', so he didn't. He just held her, feeling his own tears hot against his cheeks.

After a few seconds, she pulled away, sniffling. "I'm sorry," she muttered, turning toward the door.

"Don't be," Blair said.

With her back to the three men, she nodded, then left the office. Blair gazed through the open doorway of the office, watching her retreating figure, his body numb. He didn't even feel the hand on his shoulder.

"You okay, Chief?"

Sure, he was okay. He was alive.... His knees buckled, and he suddenly found himself on the floor of Simon's office, cradled in Jim's arms, looking into a pair of anxious blue eyes.

 


Blair sat on the edge of the examination table, buttoning his shirt.

The young woman gazed at Sandburg disapprovingly. "Exhaustion and dehydration can become serious conditions faster than you think, Mr. Sandburg. I'm writing you a prescription for sleeping pills. I suggest you take one about an hour before bedtime if you think you might have trouble sleeping. I want you to drink three liters of liquid a day." She glanced at Jim, pointing her finger at the detective. "And I want YOU to make sure he starts eating properly."

Jim nodded humbly. "Yes, Doctor." He threw an irritated glare at Sandburg, who threw one right back.

"Can I go now," Blair asked.

The doctor handed him the prescription form and gestured to the door. "Go ahead. Try not to pay us another visit anytime soon, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair grinned sheepishly. "Believe me, this isn't my idea of the Hilton."

The doctor simply raised her eyebrows and turned on her heels, making a show of leaving the room as she muttered, "...should start putting a bed on reserve for that kid..."

Jim couldn't help smiling at that comment. However, as soon as he turned to face Sandburg, the smile faded.

"Let's go, Chief."

"No argument here," Blair said, hopping off the table.

Blair followed Jim silently out of the hospital. When they reached the truck, Jim unlocked the passenger door and helped Blair into the seat.

Sandburg shrugged off Jim's aid. "I'm can manage, Jim. Thanks," he said, his voice terse, but his eyes betraying a hint of gratitude.

Jim shook his head and closed the door, walking around to the driver's seat. He hopped in and started the engine. "I'm taking you out for a late lunch."

Blair looked at Jim and opened his mouth to protest, then obviously thought better of it when he saw Jim's expression. He clamped his mouth shut and turned to look out the window.

"Okay, where are we going," Blair asked.

Jim smiled, grateful that Sandburg hadn't given him a hard time. "You pick the place."

This time Blair smiled as he looked slyly over at the sentinel. "Really? Anywhere?"

"Within reason, of course."

Blair rubbed his hands together eagerly. "Okay, how 'bout Jupiters?"

Jim glanced worriedly over at Sandburg. "Not the place that actually has cow brains on the menu?"

Blair nodded. "You said anywhere."

Ellison sighed. "Fine, but if you order that, I'll make you wear it."

 


Jim tossed the keys in the basket and hung his coat on the rack as Blair made his way to the bedroom. "If I don't hear you sleeping soundly tonight, I'm picking up that prescription first thing in the morning," Jim said.

Blair glanced back at Jim as he opened the doors to his bedroom. "I'll sleep... and I already told you, I'm not taking any sleeping pills." He walked into his room and stopped dead center, looking around in amazement.

Jim found himself grinning broadly as he watched his partner survey the handiwork.

"What...? How...?" Blair turned to Jim, his jaw hanging open in awe.

"Simon and Brown stopped by and cleaned it up. They replaced what they could."

Blair pointed in the direction of his desk. "The chair? My desk organizer?" He spun on his heels, gesturing toward the bed. "My alarm clock?" He glanced back at Jim disbelievingly, a silly smile plastered on his face. "Simon and Brown did this?"

Jim nodded, feeling a little like a father at Christmas watching his son open presents. Okay, so Blair wasn't exactly a kid, and Jim definitely wasn't old enough to be his father... but damned if Blair didn't have that child-like glint in his eyes that made Jim feel a hundred years old sometimes.

"They snuck over while we were at the hospital. Brown and Simon figured you and I would probably both be too tired to deal with it."

Suddenly Blair's smile faultered. "You told them what happened?"

Jim raised his hands, his own smile fading. "Look, they were concerned about you. I mentioned that you were exhausted... hadn't gotten much sleep. I told them you had a nightmare last night and trashed your room. That's all."

"That's just about everything."

Jim shook his head. "I'm sorry if I did something I shouldn't have. They're your friends, and they were concerned about you. I didn't tell them anything that was said. Hell, Simon and Brown have both had their own nightmares, you know. They've worked some pretty bad cases over the years. It's nothing they didn't figure out themselves just by looking at you. God, Sandburg, you look like you hell. Check a mirror sometime."

Blair lowered his head, his smile returning. Jim found himself breathing a sigh of relief.

"It's okay, Jim. Remind me to thank them when I see them," Blair said.

 


One week later...

"You sure you want to do this, Chief? I still think it's a bad idea."

"I lived it. I think I can watch it on television," Blair responded.

"Sandburg, this really isn't necessary," Simon added. "Listen to Jim for once... "

Blair raised his hands. "Are you going to sit here lecturing me, or can I get the tape? It's five hours long, and I would like to get out of here at a reasonable hour."

"Watch the attitude, Sandburg," Simon cautioned. "I know how hard this is on you, and that's why I'm asking you not to do this. For crying out loud, you haven't even popped the thing in the VCR yet and you're already on edge."

Blair released a frustrated breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Of course I'm on edge! Jesus, you people seem to think I should just get over it like that." He snapped his fingers for emphasis. "Maybe you and Jim could, but I guess I'm not quite that strong. I don't just chuck my humanity out with the garbage and go on with life. I need to see this tape. I need to know what's on it, and if it happened the way I remember it." He glanced back and forth between Simon and Jim. The Captain looked ready to revoke his credentials on the spot. Jim, on the hand, looked exasperated and, perhaps, a bit embarassed. Oh just great, Jim, Blair thought. So now you're ashamed of me. Pardon me for being human.

Simon sighed and rose from his desk. "Listen, Sandburg, Jim and I could barely stomach that tape--"

"And that's something else! You think I like knowing the whole fucking world got front row seats to my humiliation? Where the hell do you get off, anyway? You think it's bad enough that he kidnapped me and tortured me, took away almost every shred of dignity I had? But NO, that's not even the half of it. Now he's managed to take away that little strand of dignity I managed to hold onto! I mean, it's okay to break down, crying and screaming, when you know everyone who ever witnessed it died and, maybe, just maybe, you can forget that you quivered like a coward begging some mad man to stop; but NO, then you find out that mad man made a fucking tape and sent it out like a goddamn trophy so every one you live and work with could see you at your oh-so finest hour! Screw that. And now you don't want ME to watch it? Fuck you! I HAVE MORE GODDAMNED RIGHT TO WATCH IT THAN EITHER OF YOU!" He turned to Jim. "And I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, Jim.... really, I mean, pardon my little temper tantrum here. It's not proper military decorum, I'm sure."

He spun on his heels and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him and leaving two stunned and bewildered men in his wake. His little spectacle hadn't gone unnoticed by the other officers in Major Crimes, and every person he passed suddenly became thoroughly engrossed in some trivial task.

 


Jim actually flinched when the door slammed shut. Thankfully, he'd dialed down his hearing when Sandburg's tirade first started, so the loud bang didn't slam into his skull like a sledgehammer.

"What the hell just happened?" Simon looked at Jim, chewing on the end of his cigar. "I've never heard Sandburg curse like that before, much less throw a tantrum."

Jim rubbed his temple. "He's still not sleeping very well, Sir. I can't get him to take the pills the doctor prescribed, and he's only keeping his appointments with the counselor because you ordered him to. At this point, I'm just happy I can get him to eat and drink."

Simon pulled his glasses off and tossed them on the desk. He sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Jim, I know the kid's been through hell lately, and I don't want to do this, but--"

"Don't revoke his credentials, Sir," Jim pleaded. "He's already feeling humiliated just knowing you and I saw that tape. If you take away his credentials, it'll make him think you don't trust him... don't respect him. He'll probably think it has to do with the what you saw on the tape."

Simon sat on the edge of his desk, looking very much like a man who'd just run over deer after taking his kid to see Bambi. "Sandburg's gotta know I respect him by now, Jim; but, I can't let him go in the field like this. Right now, all he's qualified to do is your paperwork."

"Then that's what he'll do. I haven't been taking him into the field anyway. He's been too busy catching up with university work to make much of an issue out it," Jim explained.

Simon grunted. "That won't last for long."

The detective nodded, cocking his head slightly. "Can we talk about this later, Sir, if you don't mind? Right now, I think I'd better track down Sandburg."

Simon nodded, waving him off. "Go on. Find him."

"Thank you, Sir," Jim said as he left the office.

Jim tracked his partner's heartbeat to the stairwell. He opened the doors and trotted down five flights of stairs before spotting Sandburg's hunched figure sitting on the steps, his head hanging forward with his hands clasped around the back of his neck.

Jim walked up behind Blair, not really sure what to say. Part of him wanted to shake the young man and scream some sense into him. Why was he fighting everyone? Why couldn't he follow doctor's orders? What the hell was he thinking talking to Captain Banks that way? The other part of him wanted to pull his Guide into a tight embrace and tell him that everything would be okay. Fortunately, Sandburg saved him the trouble of deciding which impulse to give into.

"Just take your gun and shoot me," Blair said.

Awww hell. Jim sank onto the step, wrapped a strong arm around his friend, and pulled him close. "You didn't embarrass me back there, Chief," he said. "But you were out-of-line with the Captain."

"I know," Blair muttered. "I just get so angry thinking about it, and then for him to say I shouldn't watch that video, like I'm incapable of deciding what's in my best interests..."

"If you insist on seeing the video, Simon will release it to you. He's just concerned, that's all. No one wants to see you hurt anymore."

"I know. I'm sorry I blew up like that."

"You know you've been having some pretty intense mood swings lately?"

Blair glanced at Jim, then nodded humbly.

"You need sleep, Sandburg. Take the pills, just for a couple of days."

"Jim--"

"For me, please. I need sleep to, you know."

Blair looked quickly away, his face turning red. "I'm sorry, Jim."

"Don't be sorry, Sandburg. Just take the damn pills," Jim said, his tone firm but affectionate.

"Okay," Blair relented. "Two nights."

"Deal." He squeezed Blair gently. "Now, do you really want to see that tape, Chief."

Blair sighed, shaking his head. "I really DON'T want to see it, Jim. I just feel that I need to."

"Why?"

"I already told you."

"Because you want to know what is and isn't on it?"

Blair nodded. "And I want to find out if my memory is accurate. There were times I wasn't thinking too clearly, you know."

"So how 'bout a transcript?"

Blair looked at him. "Huh? You mean someone else saw it and typed up a transcript?"

Jim shook his head "No, Chief. No one else saw it. I meant I'd watch it again and type up a transcript for you."

Blair shook his head. "I can't ask you to do that, man."

"It's okay, Blair."

"No," he said, his voice final.

Jim sighed. "What if I tell you what's on it?"

Blair bit his lip, gazing thoughtfully into space. "Actually, I'd rather not listen to you describe my torture, thank you very much."

The urge to shake Sandburg returned with a vengeance. "Well what do you suggest? You admitted that you don't want to watch it, and yet you've shot down all other alternative suggestions."

"I need to watch it, Jim. I already told you that."

"Look at me, Chief," Jim ordered.

Slowly, Blair turned his eyes and met Jim's gaze.

"Are you sure you're ready for this," the sentinal asked.

Blair remained quiet for a moment, his eyes providing Jim a glimpse into the terror that filled his soul. Finally, he shrugged. "No, I'm not sure, but I know I have to."

Jim clenched his jaw. "Okay. Do me one favor, then?"

"What?"

"Let me be there with you?"

"Afraid I'll go psycho?" Blair stared intensely at Jim, apparently analyzing the detective's expression.

Jim shook his head, meeting Blair's critical gaze confidently. "No, Chief." He sighed. "You don't get it, do you?"

Blair creased his brow. "What?"

"You remember when Brackett made us cross that mind field?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah. I almost needed a new pair of boxers after that."

"You walked right behind me, following my footsteps, looking after me. When I zoned and nearly fell, you caught me and pulled me back to reality."

"My life was on the line, too, you know," Blair pointed out. "I had no desire to have my body parts splattered in a hundred different directions."

"But don't you always watch my back? Don't you follow me into danger, risking your life to look after my welfare?"

Blair blushed, but nodded. "I guess so," he admitted, looking almost bashful.

"So why won't you let me do the same for you here? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, Chief, but I thought we had a partnership here?"

Blair looked quickly away, but Jim caught the glisten of tears in his eyes.

"We do, Jim," Blair said. "Thanks. I'm sorry for being such a pain in the ass."

Jim smiled. "What the hell am I going to do with you, Sandburg?" He pulled Blair into a tight hug, wrapping both arms around him. He listened to his Guide's steady heartbeat, letting the sound lull him into a sense of security, reminding him of how close he'd come to losing the soul it belonged to.

 


At the end of the day, Jim and Blair returned to the loft, tape in hand. Jim had checked out the tape from Evidence and convinced Simon to let him take it home, arguing that it would be better for Sandburg to view it in the safe, familiar confines of the loft... and if the kid happened to destroy any valuables during the viewing, at least it wouldn't be on the department's tab.

Blair plopped himself onto the sofa and stared nervously at the television. "Okay," he said. "Let's get it started."

Jim shook his head. He still couldn't believe he was going along with this insanity. Reluctantly, he walked over the VCR, popped the video in, and turned on the equipment. He yanked the remote control off the table and sat down next to Blair, pressing the PLAY button.

The T.V. screen flared to life and Jim looked over at Blair, noticing the stiff back, clenched jaw, and rapid respiration. And it hasn't even started yet, Jim thought, hoping he hadn't made a grave error in agreeing to let Sandburg watch the tape.

When Parker's face came on the screen, Blair flinched, but held his gaze. Jim looked at the man on the screen, thinking that if Parker ever woke up from the coma, he would personally finish the job he'd started and put the man out of everyone's misery.

Blair kept his gaze rooted firmly to the television during most of the video. He turned away only during the scenes depicting his torture, hiding his face from Jim as he pretended to study the plants out on the balcony.

Jim found himself affected more deeply by the second viewing than he had by the first one. Sitting here with Blair next to him, while he listened to the screams of agony and cries for help, stirred an intense fury within the Sentinel. When Blair called Jim's name during one of the sessions, Ellision finally snapped. He bolted off the couch, leaping over the coffee table and grabbing the television. With a fierce growl, he threw it against wall, watching with furious delight as the glass broke into several ragged pieces.

"JIM!"

Blair was at the sentinel's side in an instant, grabbing him by the shoulders.

"I should have RIPPED HIS GODDAMNED HEART out when I had the chance!"

"Jim, take it--"

"DON'T TELL ME TO TAKE IT EASY! I'm not--"

"It wasn't your fault, Jim," Blair yelled, trying to break through the sentinel's anger. "LISTEN to me!"

"It was my fault! Don't patronize me, Sandburg! I let him get to you!" The sentinel whirled around, searching for another target on which to vent his rage. "I LET THAT BASTARD--"

Blair grabbed Jim's elbow, trying to keep the enraged man from destroying something else. "NO, Jim," he countered, his voice loud but strangely soothing. "I knew you'd come. The whole time. I knew you'd come for me, and you did. I held onto that, and it kept me sane. It gave me hope. You didn't let me down, Jim. You came just in time, like you always do."

Blair's words broke through Jim's rage, piercing his ears with soothing clarity. His chest tightened, and he felt as though a hand had clamped around his heart. He looked at his Guide as if seeing him for the first time since finding him in that horrific basement, chained to the wall like an animal. He remembered Blair flinching away from his touch, begging for a reprieve from the pain. He remembered listening in agony as the precious rhythm of that strong heart faultered, weakened by extreme physical stress, it's own electric synchrony interrupted by an external current.

"God, Blair." Jim pulled his Guide into a rough embrace, taking the young man by surprise. "I'm sorry. This should never have happened."

He had almost been too late. Another few minutes, and he might have rescued a corpse. His breath caught in his throat with the realization. God, what would have happened to him if he'd lost Blair? He swallowed. How could he have become so dependent on another person? This person?

"Jim," Blair croaked. "Jim, it's okay. I'm here. I made it." He gasped for air. "Jim? Jim, man, I can't breathe."

Jim immediately released his hold on Blair. His face felt hot, and he glanced away in embarrasment. He looked at a piece of glass on the floor, his sentinel vision zooming in on the fine crevices along the edges. And you were worried about Sandburg losing it and breaking something...

"Well, it looks like we need a new television," Sandburg remarked, staring at the broken remains of the beloved machine.

Jim pulled his vision back to normal and turned to Blair, forcing a small grin. "Circuit City?"

Blair raised his eyebrows. "You mean now? Hey, can we get one with picture in picture?" His voice was light, but still a bit shaky.

Jim reached out and ruffled Blair's hair. "Only if you pay half."

"You broke the television, man. Geez, and you were worried about me. Kettle. Black. Ring a bell?"

Jim patted Sandburg affectionately on the cheek, then headed for the door, grabbing his coat and keys. "I'll treat you to dinner on the way back. I pick the place this time."

Blair glanced back at the television. "Sure, big guy, whatever you want."

 


Blair walked briskly ahead of Jim through the aisles of Circuit City, occasionally glancing back to see that the big detective was still with him. Of course he is, stupid, he could track you a mile away.

"Sandburg, you're like a kid in a candy store. I thought you hated this 'techno trash,'" Jim remarked, referring to the comment Blair had made the first time they'd met.

Blair finally came to a halt in front of a row of large, flickering television screens. "Hey man, that was just a line. Sure, I could definitely do without so much technology, and yeah, I'd take nature any day over an icky, crowded city, but, you gotta admit, it's fun being in a place like this. I could spend hours in their computer section, man. Way cool."

Jim grinned and shook his head. "Okay, let's keep it simple."

"Can I help you find anything, Sir," a red-clad salesman asked, glancing back and forth between Jim and Blair.

"Yeah, we're interested in a new television. Something around twenty-seven inches with picture in picture," Blair said.

Jim threw his partner a deadly glare, but Blair ignored it as he studied the information card at the base of a black, Magnavox television.

"Okay, well the model you're looking at now is a pretty good one, and it's on sale. It's programmable with a sleep and alarm function, and it's equipped with smart sound."

"What's that," Jim asked.

"It keeps the sound at a more consistent level, so that loud commercials don't blast you away," Blair explained quickly.

Jim glanced at the price sticker, then at Blair's face, the young man's eyes holding a hint of their old sparkle. Jim smiled and turned to the salesman. "Okay, fine. We'll take it."

"Okay, follow me and I'll write you up a ticket," the man said.

Jim nodded.

"Hey, man, I'll be right back," Blair said. "I'm gonna go check out their laptops." Even though there was no way he could afford a new computer right now, that didn't mean he couldn't play with a few of the cooler ones.

Jim sighed. "Fine, Sandburg, just don't get lost. It's a big store."

"Ha. Ha. You kill me." Sandburg took off, practically bouncing down the aisle.

Blair spotted the laptops a couple of aisles down and bounded over to the countertop displaying the compact machines. He strolled down the aisle, his eyes scanning the information cards below each computer. Finally, he stopped at the end of the aisle and studied the impressive-looking Toshiba in front of him. According to the card, it featured an MMX Pentium II processor, 200 MhZ. Blair admired the 12" color active matrix screen displaying a marine screensaver, complete with brightly colorful fish and swaying plants. He pressed a key and the screensaver dissolved to reveal the standard Windows desktop. He looked back down at the display card, noticing the standard 20 megs of RAM, upgradable to 80 Megs. Wow. A guy can dream, he mused. His own laptop was already maxed out on RAM, and it still needed more. With the way the computer industry moved these days, his laptop was practically obsolete.

A young boy passed Blair, bopping over to a display that featured an R2-D2 telephone and, a few feet down, a selection of universal remote controls. Blair met the boy's fleeting gaze and flashed a smile as the kid headed passed him. Shaking his head, Blair returned his attention to the computer in front of him. Aaah. The exuberance of youth, he thought, then smiled when he realized Jim probably entertained similar thoughts about him. That suddenly made the anthropologist aware of how close he was to his 30th birthday, and his breath caught momentarily. Wow. How did I get so old so fast? Soon he would be in that "don't trust anyone over 30" category, not that he really believed that statement. Jim, Simon, and of course, his mother, were all in that category, and they were all completely trustworthy. However, 30 was sort of a landmark year, signalling the end of youth, at least in Western society. Other cultures often marked that transition through right-of-passage rituals that usually happened once the youngster reached sexual maturity. Blair shivered. Youth was far too fleeting, and he wanted to hold onto it as long as possible. Of course, there was something to be said for the way people treated you when you looked older and wiser. With his long hair and linguistic habits, people rarely took him seriously. Usually, that didn't bother him too much, but it had sometimes made him feel out of place at the station.

The boy behind Blair made a high-pitched hissing noise, and Blair turned to see what the kid was getting into. Where were his parents, anyway? The kid waved a cylindrical object in the air, and Blair's heart leaped into his chest. He reeled backwards, reaching out to steady himself on the counter. His hand slid over the keyboard of one machine, nearly pushing the machine off the edge. Fortunately, the computer's short tether kept it anchored to the counter. Blair fell backwards, landing on his butt, his eyes focused on the object in the boy's hand. The kid stood frozen, the object poised in the air, looking fearfully at Blair.

Blair found himself crawling backward, unable to take his gaze from the harsh-looking instrument. The object was grey-black, marked with high-tech-looking features. It was then that Blair realized he was looking at a light-saber imitation, like that used by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

Sandburg closed his eyes momentarily, trying to get a reign on the terror that gripped his chest. He found himself unable to steady his breathing or calm his pounding heart, so he scrambled to his feet and put as much distance between himself and the kid as possible. He walked quickly -- almost running -- toward the front doors, barely able to suppress the instinct to break into a mad dash toward the exit.

He was only a few feet from the double glass doors when a hand clamped around his arm. Stifling a scream, he found himself being whipped around.

"Chief? What's wrong?"

Blair looked up into Jim's scrutinizing eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. He became slowly aware of the fact that he was shaking miserably, and his face colored instantly, hot with embarrassment.

"Noth--" He turned away. "S-Sorry, Jim. I just have to get some air."

Jim tucked a large piece of paper in his jean pocket and, with his hand still on Blair's arm, guided his friend toward the doors. Once outside, he released Blair and took a step back. Blair bent forward, resting his hands on his knees as he struggled to control his frantic breathing. Panic attack, just a panic attack, Blair told himself. Calm down. Easy breaths. Easy....

He felt a hand on his shoulder.

"What happened in there," Jim asked.

Blair looked up at his partner, then straigtened slowly, having gained some measurable control over his breathing. He shook his head. "Nothing. Just... " He turned away.

"What?"

"I just saw... There was this kid and he was playing with one of those star wars univeral remote controls. You know, the kind that look like a lightsaber?"

Jim nodded.

Blair ran his hands through his hair. "I just freaked, man. That's all. It looked like.... like the...." He swallowed leaning his forehead against the wall of the store. "God, I can't believe I did that. I probably scared the hell out of that poor kid."

Again, he felt the hand on his shoulder. "You thought it was a cattle prod," Jim asked.

Blair nodded, his head pressing into the cool brick. "Stupid, I know!" He slammed his fist against the wall, wincing at the bolt of pain it sent through his wrist.

Jim pulled him away from the wall, turning Blair around to face him. "Easy there, partner." He glanced around, lowering his voice. "You had a flashback, that's all. It happens to everyone who's been through something as traumatic as you have."

Blair sighed. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I know. Dr. Carrows went into detail on the subject." He shook his head. "It just took me by surprise, that's all." He decided the conversating was heading in a direction he didn't want it to go, so he decided to change the subject. "So, you got that T.V.?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, and don't think I don't recognize the fact that you're trying to change the subject."

Blair pulled away, leaning back against the wall. "How much do I owe you?"

Jim raised his eyebrows in surprise, then shook his head. "Nothing. I broke the television. I replace it."

"But it never would have happened if I hadn't insisted on watching the video tape."

Jim grabbed the back of Blair's neck, giving him a reassuring squeeze, as he pulled the younger man back toward the double glass doors. "Forget it, Chief. It actually felt good."

"You mean, like, therapeutic?"
 
Jim nodded. "Very."

Blair followed Jim back into the store, tilting his head slightly. "Hey, maybe I should try trashing the stereo next? We could get a better system... you know, one with a really cool cd changer and better editing features."

Jim threw Blair an amused glare. "I don't think it's in your budget, Chief."

Blair shrugged. "When you're a starving student, budgets have little meaning."

"That makes no sense whatsoever."

"I know. I figure those kind of remarks keep me from turning into one of you guys."

"One of us?"

"Old and out-of-touch," Blair explained.

Jim threw Sandburg a deadly look, his hand whipping out to smack Blair on the side of head.

"Ow! Man, you've really got to work through this aggression thing, Ellison."

"Keep it up, Junior, and you're walking home."

 


"Watch the fingers!" Blair backed into the loft, narrowly avoiding scraping his knuckles against the doorjam as he carried his end of the large box into the apartment.

The two men maneuvered the box into the living room and set it down next to the couch. The phone rang, and Jim trotted around the couch to grab the cordless.

"Ellison."

Simon's voice spoke into his ear. "Hey, Jim. How are you two?"

"Fine, Sir."

"Uh... How did Sandburg handle the tape."

Jim glanced at Sandburg, who was busy slicing open the box.

"Okay, Sir. What's up?"

"Parker died a few hours ago."

Jim stiffened. About time. "Thanks for letting me know."

"That saves Sandburg from ever having to testify. I'm sure he'll be relieved."

"Yes, Sir."

"Okay, okay. I get it. You're being careful around the kid. I'll see you tomorrow," Simon said.

"Thanks, Simon."

Jim hung up the phone and turned to Blair. The anthropologist looked up at him, his eyes inquisitive. "What did Simon want?"

Jim took a deep breath. "Parker died."

A flash of relief, mixed with anger, touched Blair's face, and he looked back down at the box, slicing through the last piece of tape holding the top together. "Oh."

"You okay?"

Blair looked up. "Sure. I mean, it's not like a surprise. The doctor's never expected him to pull through, and it's not like a lot of people will mourn his passing."

"It's okay to be relieved."

Blair looked back down at the box. "I'm not relieved." He closed his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was bitter. "I'm just sorry he died pumped full of drugs and in a hospital bed. He should have been awake and in pain, writhing on the floor... like Kristy." Blair finally opened his eyes and looked at Jim. "I never wanted to feel this way. You know, hate someone so much that I wanted him to die suffering. I almost hate myself for letting him do this to me." He sighed. "He was so full of hate... and anger... and now I'm like him in that way."

Jim moved over to Blair, sitting down on the arm of the couch. "Listen to me, Blair. You are NOTHING like Parker. He killed innocent people. He hurt you, almost killed you. You have every right to hate him. You saw first-hand what he did to those women."

Blair looked away quickly.

Jim continued. "You survived him. You kept your sanity and your compassion. You were stronger than him." Jim placed a hand on the side of Blair's face, one finger brushing against the pulse on Blair's neck, feeling it beat fast and steady. "I'm glad you're here, Chief." He smiled. "It's not like I can just look up 'Guide' in the yellow pages and call in a replacement."

Blair managed a small, forced smile. "Even if you could, just try finding someone to put up with your overbearing attitude and psycho house rules."

Jim batted Blair's cheek, pretending not to notice the wetness in his friend's eyes. "Oh? You think you're such a saint? Why do you think your last roommate ran off?"

Blair raised his eyebrows. "My last roommie?"

"Larry," Jim explained, referring to the monkey Blair had been using as a test subject when his warehouse blew up.

Blair scrunched his nose and patted the box. "I told you, man, too much violent television... he just snapped." He glanced at the broken remains of the old television still resting on the floor. "Hmmm.... that'd be a cool experiment?"

Jim rolled his eyes. God, not more tests. "What?"

Blair looked at him, a smile playing on his lips. "Seeing what affect prolonged exposure to the BARNEY show has on your psyche."

Jim pursed his lips and fixed Blair with steady eyes. "No mystery there, Chief. I practically live with him."

"Ouch, man. That's cruel."

 


The END