The shorter, long-haired man with the animated face and restless arms stood out amongst the tall, somber officers. The animated one hovered next to a taller man that had visited all three crime scenes so far.
Detective James Ellison.
Avian smiled. He was flattered they'd put Cascade's supposed best on the case. He'd researched the Detective enough to be impressed with his solve rate. At least, Avian mused, he had a worthy opponent, someone that could make the game fun.
He moved the binoculars once again to the detective's younger companion. Blair Sandburg. If his research was right, the young man was simply a student at the University. A tag along. He certainly showed enthusiasm, though. Avian almost envied his exuberance and obvious passion. He'd watched the Ellison-Sandburg duo quite intently over the last couple of weeks. The young man's arms were almost always in motion, and whenever he spoke, his mouth moved too quickly for Avian to decipher anything but the simplest of words.
Not that he was a skilled lip-reader, but he'd been observing from afar enough to improve his ability.
He watched as the young man moved closer to Ellison and batted him gently on the arm, leaning in to deliver a message he obviously didn't want the surrounding cops to hear. Ellison paused, his head tilted, and after a moment, gave a brief nod.
Avian's smile blossomed. He'd up the anty with his next victim. The game was afoot.
"This guy works clean," Jim Ellison muttered as he walked into the house for the second time and scanned the crime scene. "No prints, no shoe impressions." Jim shook his head. "Nobody's perfect, though.
There's gotta be SOMETHING." He'd been all through the area, both
inside and outside, and hadn't found any evidence that could point
the finger to a suspect.
Jim kept Blair in his peripheral vision as he walked carefully
around the small living room, cautious not to disturb potential
evidence, even though he was virtually certain the perp or perps had
left nothing of use behind. A ceramic lamp lay in pieces on the
laminate floor. A clump of golden hair, the ends stained red, were
stuck to the wall, along with a gruesome blood smear. The probable
victim, Leslianne Shelter, had long blonde hair, so Jim surmised
forensics would end up matching the bloodied clump of hair to her.
The rest of the house appeared clean and undisturbed. The only indication that this was a major crime came from the calling card left by Cascade's latest serial killer -- a happy face hovering above crossbones, drawn in blood, on the victim's front window.
Glancing at Blair, Jim noted the younger man's pale complexion and decided they'd gone over the crime scene well enough. His senses hadn't found anything noteworthy, and he'd been VERY thorough. If the calling card was genuine, this made victim number three of the Killjoy Serial Killer, so dubbed by the press.
"Let's get out of here," Jim stated matter-of-factly, turning sharply toward the doorway and grabbing Blair's elbow as he marched decidedly toward their exit. "We'll leave the rest to forensics."
"This guy will make a mistake, Jim," Blair said, walking closely at Jim's side. "You'll catch him."
Jim's jaw twitched as he stepped into the sunlight. "Maybe, but how many more people have to die before we do?" So far, they'd only found one of the killer's victims. That had been an unfortunate young man by the name of Jason Pacific. A cemetery attendant had noticed a fresh mound of dirt on the grounds that hadn't corresponded with a recent burial and reported the odd discover.
When they'd excavated the site, they'd found Mr. Pacific, buried in a coffin, his entire body wrapped in Ace bandages, eerily reminiscent of a mummy. If it hadn't been for the trademark happy face with crossbones scrawled in blood on the bandages covering the victim's head, they might never have connected the body to the Killjoy serial killer.
Withdrawing his keys from his pocket, Jim headed toward the blue and white Ford truck parked at the curb. He opened the passenger door for Sandburg, then walked around and slide behind the wheel, quickly glancing at his roommate. "Look, I know you have that paper to finish for tomorrow. You've done enough for tonight, Chief. I'll drop you home and head back to the station."
Blair eyed him, looking modestly guilty. "You sure, man? If you need me..."
Jim waved a hand in the air. "All I'll be doing is paperwork."
"Okay, thanks," Blair nodded. "I haven't had a lot of time to work on it, so it'll probably be an all-nighter for me. I'll try not to keep you up tonight typing."
"Don't worry about it. You got behind helping me. I'll wear those earplugs you gave me."
With a yawn, Blair leaned back in his chair, the laptop screen glowing softly in the dim room. Removing his glasses, he rubbed his eyes and blinked at the tiny digits in the lower right hand corner of the screen that indicated the time.
Fuzzy numbers indicated it was just past 8 p.m.. Time for a break. He rose from his chair and headed toward the refrigerator. He had no idea when Jim would be home, but it was getting pretty late. Paperwork couldn't take THAT long.
Opening the fridge door, he leaned on it for a few seconds as he surveyed the contents of the appliance. Maybe he'd just cook a small meal or nuke something halfway healthy in the microwave. He didn't know what Jim's dinner plans would be, and he certainly didn't want to take time away from writing his paper to cook a full meal if Jim was just going to stop at Wonderburger on his way home.
Straightening, he closed the door and went to the phone, dialing Jim's cell phone.
Shutting down his computer, Jim rose from his chair and grabbed his jacket from the back just as a shrill ring pierced the quiet bullpen. Grabbing his phone from the desk, he flipped it open. "Ellison."
"Hey, Jim. I'm trying to decide what to do for dinner ."
"I'll just pick something up on the way home."
"Thought you might."
"You want me to get you anything?"
"Nah, I'm good. But for your own sake, try to make it healthier than Wonderburger, man. You're not getting any younger, you know."
"Cute, shortstuff. Did you finish your homework, Beav?"
"Ha. Ha. You're so original."
Jim smiled and shook his head. "I'll see you in a few, Chief. Should give you time to clean up whatever mess you've made."
"I'll try, but I don't think the couch is salvageable. See ya soon!"
The connection ended, and Jim gave into a brief chuckle as he slipped into his jacket and pocketed the phone. He made his way into the elevator and punched the button for the parking garage. A few moments later, the lift came to a halt and the doors opened with a ding. Grabbing his keys, he made his way to his truck, slid the key into the driver's side lock, and froze as his eyes noticed the flat front tire.
"Crap." Leaning down, he inspected the damage. A two-inch gash had pierced the rubber. It looked like a deliberate act. He rose, and it was then he noticed the back rear tire.
"Damnit!" Walking around the vehicle, he let out a sigh. At least the bastard, whoever it was, had only hit two of his tires. He couldn't make it home on his spare, though.
The police parking garage wasn't anywhere near as secure as it should be, unfortunately, so anyone could be the culprit. He only hoped the surveillance cameras could help them ID the guy.
It was late, however, and he really wasn't in the mood to deal with this now. He hated to bug Sandburg. The kid was already behind.
There were still a couple of guys left upstairs, so he hoped one of them would help. The elevator doors dinged again, and Jim turned around just as they opened, revealing the dark, imposing figure of his captain.
"Sir ." Jim hurried forward as Simon turned to his right, heading toward his own car.
Stopping, Simon pivoted toward him. "Hey, Jim, what's up?"
"I hate to bother you, but some jerk slashed two of my tires."
"Are you serious?" Simon hurried past him, obviously spotting the blue and white truck. Jim followed.
"Well, damn." Simon leaned forward as he surveyed the damage. "We have to secure this garage better. I'll be writing a memo in the morning." He looked up. "You want me to give you a ride home?"
Jim nodded gratefully. "If you wouldn't mind."
Blair smiled and shook his head as he hung up the phone. He suspected Jim would end up coming home with Wonderburger out of mere spite. A knock interrupted his thoughts. Hurrying to the door, he rose on his toes to look through the peephole and spotted a guy standing in the hallway carrying a clipboard.
With a sigh, he opened the door. "Yeah? What can I do for you?"
The man smiled, one hand hung casually in his jacket pocket while the other carried the clipboard. He had dark hair and brown eyes and looked to be somewhere in his early thirties. "I'm with a non profit organization ."
Suddenly, Blair found himself staring down the barrel of a gun, and he stopped breathing.
"And, I wonder if I could take a few moments of your time." The man smiled politely. "Care to invite me inside?" He didn't bother waiting for an answer as he moved forward, forcing Blair backward, the gun pointed solidly between Blair's eyes.
The intruder kicked the door closed. "Turn around."
Blair slowly released his breath. "Hey man "
The guy cocked the weapon. "Now."
"Okay, okay." Blair's heart hammered hard, and the air seemed to grow thicker as he complied. He had no idea who the intruder was, but he held onto the hope that Jim would be home very soon. He hated having his back to the guy, and the hairs on his neck and arms stood straight up, a shiver coursing down his spine as he listened the man's slow, calm breathing.
Then, a sharp pain exploded at the base of his skull, and he was barely aware of falling forward before everything went black.
"Thanks, sir." Jim stifled a yawn as he slid his key into the door. It had been a long day. He offered to thank Simon by splitting a beer with him, in deference to the fact he'd be driving home soon, and the Captain had eagerly accepted.
As he turned the key, he realized the door was already unlocked and frowned as he pushed it open. "Hey, Chief, what have I told you about "
He trailed off as he surveyed the room. His ears told him the loft was empty, but Blair's laptop sat open on the kitchen table.
"Maybe he stepped out to get something to eat?" Simon pushed the door closed behind him.
A familiar scent made Jim's gut churn. "I guess so," Jim's eyes scanning for the source of the odor, "but I offered to pick him up Captain ." Jim crouched down, his gut going cold as his eyes focused on the two small drops of blood on the wood floor behind the couch.
"I see it, Jim. Damn, what a night this is turning out to be."He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Blair's number. Seconds later, Jim heard a muffled ringing and turned toward the source of the noise Blair's backpack, resting on the floor beneath the coat rack.
Something red and out of place caught his eye, and as he looked up at the back of the door, his voice caught. He swallowed hard, bile rising to the back of his throat.
No. Not again.
"What is it, Jim? Oh God, no."
"We'd better get forensics here now," Jim said, his gaze never leaving the happy face and crossbones drawn in what looked like blood over the poster on the back of the door.
Blair woke up to a damp coldness and soft, muted scraping sounds. His head pounded, and as the memory of a gun returned to him, his heart slammed into panic, pounding furiously against his breastbone.
Breathing became difficult. He tried to move, but he couldn't. His arms and legs wouldn't budge. Slowly, he forced his eyes open, though they felt glued shut and he almost didn't have the willpower to make them open. The world, however, finally coalesced in a slit of dark shapes. Gradually, the narrowness widened, and he saw a face dark hair and charcoal eyes.
The man seemed to study him, staring silently, his expression somber.
Blair swallowed hard. "Wha--?" He'd barely opened his mouth when the man raised a finger to his lips, silently commanding him to keep quiet.
Blair blinked and tried to get a better sense of his surroundings. Things were still a little fuzzy, and the pain his head made it hard to think. It was dark, and the open sky lay above him, glittered with stars. The scent of fresh soil filled his nostrils, and he realized he was lying on his back, looking up from something that seemed much too much like a grave.
He whipped his head to the left, and the world seemed to tilt. His stomach churned, and he groaned, clenching his eyes tight and fighting the nausea. He'd moved his head too fast. Far, far too fast.
Slowly, he forced his eyes open again and saw only dirt. He was in the ground, wrapped in some kind of gauze that seemed to cover every inch of his body from his toes to his neck In a grave. And a madman was sitting above him, perched on the edge of the hole.
Blair decided keeping quiet wasn't in his best interest and screamed.
"You won't believe our luck." Simon rushed up to Jim's desk. "We got a call. A bunch of kids hanging out near a cemetery heard some screaming. They checked it out. Saw a guy leaning over an open grave. We can't be sure it's"
Jim was out of his seat and on his way to the elevators before Simon finished his sentence. He heard the Captain's hurried steps behind him and punched the DOWN arrow. The elevator seemed to take forever to arrive. Simon continued talking, telling him the address and how long ago the call came in. All information Jim logged that was telling him time was running out. An hour had already passed, thanks to a patrolman that had done a drive-by and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. The cemetery was another 20 minutes away, if they managed a clear run.
A lot could happen in an hour and twenty minutes.
The doors opened with a ding, and Ellison leapt inside, slapping the button to take them down to the garage.
"Whoever was screaming, Jim, was still alive," Simon stated softly.
Jim didn't bother mentioning how obvious that statement was, and how irrelevant. Was did not translate to is, and is was what mattered.
It was cold and damp. Blair lay entombed in darkness, panting, exhausted. He'd screamed and fought and kicked, but it had proven futile. The bandages held him securely, limiting his ability to fight, while the madman only laughed at his screams and finished the job, wrapping Blair's head with the last of the gauze. He was having a hard time breathing, his air restricted by the bandages covering his face. The sound of muted thumps, followed by pressure on his legs and torso, told him the end was near.
He gave it one last shot, bucking upward the best he could against the weight of the dirt and screaming the last of his strength, ignoring the pain of his abused vocal chords. He knew his hoarse scream was hopeless. It didn't have enough strength left, anymore, to do any good.
Tears welled behind his eyelids, and he collapsed against the cold soil as the killer continued to shovel dirt into the grave.
As much as Simon appreciated the need for haste, he was becoming concerned about his own safety as Jim once again yanked the steering wheel of Simon's sedan and sent it sliding around another sharp turn. Holding on to the hand grip in the passenger door as best he could, Simon gritted his teeth and shot a look at his Detective.
"We won't do anyone any good if we crash on the way." Why, oh why, had he let Jim drive?
He swallowed even as he asked the silent question. He knew why. Because a very precious life was at stake, and there were few people who could drive as well at high speeds as Jim even if the younger Detective was a bit crazy behind the wheel.
Jim didn't bother answering. He was running silently. Simon had decided, given the circumstances, he could overlook the violation of procedure, but there would be hell to pay if they hit something or, god forbid, someone.
"It's just up ahead." Jim didn't take his eyes off the road, but the truck slowed.
Faint sirens became audible as Jim pulled the car to the curb near the cemetery. The cavalry wasn't far behind, and they DID have sirens blaring. That meant, if anyone was still alive at the cemetery, they'd know police were in the vicinity.
Whether or not they'd automatically assume the sirens were for them, Simon couldn't say, but he knew they had no time to waste. "Wait up, Jim!" he hissed as he saw the detective start to scale the fence, backup be damned.
Jim hit the ground on the cemetary's side of the fence and crouched low, listening. His ears picked up a rhythmic, muted thumping noise and faint grunts. It sounded like someone shoveling dirt.
His insides went cold, and he withdrew his gun, springing into a full run. He was vaguely aware of footsteps behind him. The sirens were louder now, and his ears told him whoever was making the thumping noise had stopped and was now running.
He pushed himself harder, turning a corner toward the footsteps and where he thought the thumping noise had originated. It was nearly completely black in the cemetery, but the faint moonlight gave his sensitive eyes all they needed.
A harder thump and a soft curse behind him told him Simon wasn't fairing as well.
He spotted a fresh mount of dirt and a discarded shovel and skidded to a halt, falling to his knees next to the shovel. He tilted his head and heard a faint, fluttering heartbeat coming from below.
Ellison winced and looked up at his captain as he grabbed the shovel and started working. "He went East!" he snapped, working quickly to move the dirt. "I hear a heartbeat."
Simon's gaze dropped to mound of soil. "Jesus Christ."
Jim's ears told him the suspect was getting away. He was torn and forced into a quick decision. "Here." He thrust the shovel at Simon. "I can track him better than you can. Dig. And hurry." His voice broke on that last word, his throat going suddenly tight, and as soon as Simon's hands wrapped around the shovel, Jim took off.
Jim heard his prey stumble, and that gave him some hope. The suspect might have a head start, but Jim had the sensory advantage. He listened with a grim satisfaction as, yet again, the man fell over something and gave a muffled cry as he hit the ground hard. He focused his vision ahead, piercing the darkness to see a large man picking himself off the ground and breaking into a run.
Jim didn't have time to waste. He knew whoever was buried back in that grave didn't have a lot of time. Coming to a stop, he raised his gun. "Police!"
The man glanced behind him but kept running. "Stop or I'll fire!"
The suspect tripped over a headstone and landed flat on his face. Jim vaulted into a hard run and, just as the guy got to his feet, Jim was there, his foot lashing out to catch the man in the stomach. "I said freeze!" Jim looked down at the guy.
He looked in his mid-thirties, with dark hair and black eyes. He lay on his side, his hands around his stomach.
"On your face! Hands in back of your head, now!"
The suspect looked up at him, smiled, and then rolled away, lurching to his feet with a "fuck you."
Jim aimed and fired, his bullet hitting its mark. The man's leg buckled, sending him sprawling back to the ground. Jim used one hand to get his cuffs and, keeping his eyes trained on the suspect in case he reached for a weapon, moved forward.
Within half a minute, he had the guy handcuffed around a small tree. Wasting no more time, he slid his gun into its holster and ran back toward Simon and the grave. It took him only seconds, and he arrived to find the captain still shoveling while two officers, crouched on their knees, leaned over the edge of the grave and dug at the soil with their hands. Two more uniforms were running toward them, obviously having just arrived, and Jim directed them with a wave of his hand toward the suspect.
"He's cuffed around a tree," Jim shouted at them as he lurched forward toward the new hole.
The sound of the shovel hitting dirt changed suddenly, and Simon stopped, looking up. "Oh, hell. I hit something soft."
"Hold me." Jim dropped to his stomach and reached into the grave as two sets of hands grabbed his legs and eased him forward. He forced his hands through the loose dirt and felt something. It was a solid mass, but he couldn't find an arm or a leg so he pushed himself further into the ground, closing his eyes as his face hit the soil, and wrapped his arms around the figure. The killer's other victim, Jason Pacific, gave Jim a pretty good idea what he held. "Pull me up!"
They pulled, and he was suddenly yanked upward along with a large, mummy-like shape of a man wrapped in bandages. Jim carefully laid the figure on the ground as Simon and the uniforms huddled around. More sirens screamed in the distance.
Voices buzzed around him, but he tuned them all out, his ears focused on the silent figure before him.
No breathing. No heartbeat.
"No. No." He worked at the bandages on the head, his stomach lurching as his eyes spotted the skull and crossbones drawn over the bandages covering the victim's forehead.
The victim .
Jim knew it was Blair. It had to be. He unwrapped the bandages as quickly as he could. Simon slipped a hand beneath Blair's head, allowing Jim to work more quickly. Finally, a face became visible.
The sound of Simon sucking in a breath echoed like an explosion. Jim tilted Blair's head back and opened the limp man's mouth. Fortunately, the bandages had shielded him from much of the dirt, so it looked like he had a clear airway. His mouth closed around Blair's, and Jim breathed. Simon took a position near Blair's chest, and together, they worked on bringing the limp body back to life, alternating between filling Blair's lungs with air and pumping blood through Blair's heart.
"Where's the damn ambulance!" Simon shouted, his voice cracking as Jim forced air into Blair. "Someone go and make sure they can get in! Direct them!"
Suddenly, Blair coughed, and Jim pulled away. Another cough, so weak it barely counted as one, but it was the most beautiful sound Jim had ever heard. "Blair!" He leaned forward, tapping his friend's cheek. "Come on, Chief."
"Oh, thank you, God." Simon sighed, falling back on his rump.
Another cough, harder this time. And another. The sirens were loud now.
"Hey, hey, there, that's it," Jim urged, brushing a few curls away from Blair's eyelids as they eased open.
The blue eyes that met his were dazed and unfocused. They darted back and forth slowly, and Blair's head lulled to the side. He coughed several more times, hacking almost, and that seemed to bring him more awake.
His eyes widened, and his head rolled to the other side. Then, suddenly, he cried out, coughing again, and his shoulders jerked upward. The bandages constrained his movements, and he began to fight, weakly, his legs undulating and his head flailing.
"Easy, Blair! Easy!" Jim took Blair's head in his hands and forced Blair to look at him. "It's me. Easy, buddy. You're okay."
Blair's gaze finally focused on Jim, his brow creased with disbelief. His struggles died, and he was silent for several seconds. Then his eyes filled with tears and a hoarse, terrified sob rattled his entire body.
"It's okay," Jim said softly, pulling the young man against him. "You're okay, Chief. We got him. You're okay."
Blair's whole body trembled, and Jim tightened his hold even as his senses swept over the shaking young man. Blair's breathing was a bit raspy and shallow, but otherwise steady, and his once silent heart was now beating strong and a little too fast. Jim didn't know what other injuries lurked beneath the bandages though, and he didn't want to think about where the victim had obtained the blood to draw the gruesome skull and crossbones on both the loft's door and the bandages covering Blair's head.
He heard footsteps pounding on the solid ground and looked up to see two blue-clad paramedics running toward them, pushing a stretcher piled with supplies.
"The cavalry's all here, Chief." Jim waited a moment longer before lowering Blair to the ground so they could work on getting the rest of the bandages off him as quickly and gently as possible. He'd make sure of that.
Jim shifted in the hard plastic chair and stared at the limp figure in the hospital bed. After a thorough exam, including x-rays, the doctor had given Jim good news. Blair had surprisingly few injuries resulting from his ordeal and should make a full recovery. The most worrisome issue had been the wound on the back of his skull, likely caused by a blunt object, and a wide gash on his right arm that Jim figured had probably been deliberately inflicted to provide the `ink' for the killer's gruesome artwork.
The door opened slowly and Simon stepped softly inside, easing the door closed behind him. "Hey, Jim."
Jim nodded at his captain.
"How's he doing?" Simon moved closer to the bed, his footsteps light and quiet.
"Pretty good. He was having a rough time, so they gave him a light sedative." Jim kept his voice low in deference to his sleeping partner. "They didn't want to give him anything stronger because of his head injury, but everything looks good. There's a gash on his arm that probably came from the knife the uniforms found on the killer. Other than those, he's got a couple of bruises, and his throat is pretty raw from screaming." He swallowed hard and leaned forward, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Also, there's a minor crack in one of his ribs. That probably resulted from our CPR."
Simon grimaced. "Sorry."
Jim shook his head. "Don't be. I'm sure he'd rather have a cracked rib than be dead."
A soft groan pulled their attention to the bed. Jim leaned forward in his chair and placed a hand on Blair's arm. "Hey, easy there." He looked up at Simon. "He's been in and out. Whenever he wakes up, it takes him a few seconds to get oriented."
Blair's eyes shot open as he gasped, his shoulders coming off the bed. Then he winced, his bandaged arm shifting closer to his cracked rib, as his gaze danced frantically around the dim room.
"Blair," Jim said firmly, placing a hand on Blair's chest and urging him to lay back, "it's okay. You're in the hospital."
Blair's eyes darted to Jim, and he relaxed suddenly, going limp against the mattress. "Jim " The word was faint and hoarse.
"They're going to let you out of here in another couple of hours, so just rest." Jim gave Blair's arm a soft squeeze. "Okay, buddy?"
Blair nodded even as his eyelids fluttered closed.
With a sigh, Jim sank back into his chair.
"How are YOU doing?" Simon asked.
Jim gave a half-hearted smile. "Just sorry I shot the bastard once in the leg rather than empty a clip into him."
A heavy silence hung in the air for a few seconds, then Simon cleared his throat. "We, uh, checked out the surveillance cameras monitoring the parking garage. The killer Avian Buey, by the way showed up. He's the one that slashed your tires."
Jim's jaw twitched, his eyes never leaving Blair. "He had this whole thing planned. I wonder how long he'd been watching us without us ever knowing?" He shook his head. "I should've picked up on him. I should've"
"Jim, you're not superman. Don't beat yourself up over this. It's not your fault. It's only one person's fault, and he's in custody now. He won't be hurting anyone ever again."
Jim released a soft sigh and leaned back in his chair. It had been a long, long day. He glanced up at the clock hanging on the far wall and noted that, technically, it was now the NEXT day. He was tired, and he didn't have the strength to argue with the captain.
"I'm going to go get some coffee." Simon moved toward the door. "You want me to bring you some?"
Jim nodded gratefully. "Thanks."
Three hours later, they were on their way home. Simon had kindly offered to drive, since Jim's truck was still in the police parking garage with two flat tires.
Snapping his seat belt locked, Jim twisted to look back at Blair. Snuggled against the door behind Simon's seat, Blair's head was pillowed on Jim's jacket, braced by the window. The seatbelt crossed his check, doing virtually nothing to help keep the young man upright.
The car eased onto the road, and Jim turned back around and let his head fall back against the headrest. "Thanks, sir."
"Don't mention it." He was silent a moment longer. "I still think they should've kept him a bit longer."
Jim shrugged. "You know how it is. They need the bed space. He checked out fine. Besides, I'm sure he'll be more comfortable in his own bed shit!" Jim's head jerked away from the seat. "The door. I forgot all about it."
"Don't worry. Forensics was all over the place. I asked Robert if he wouldn't mind cleaning that up when they were done."
"Oh." Jim closed his eyes and rested his head again. "Thank you, sir. That helps.... A lot."
Twenty minutes later, they were home. Simon double-parked the car in front of a fire hydrant, and Jim eased out of his seat, then trotted around to Blair's side of the car, opened the door, and unsnapped his friend's seat belt.
"Nnn-huh?" Blair came awake with a jerk, and once again, his arm immediately cradles his ribs. "Jim?" He blinked up.
Jim smiled down at Blair and wrapped a hand around Blair's arm, gently pulling him upward. "You okay to walk, Chief? We're home."
Blair looked around, but his gaze remained largely unfocused. Finally, he nodded. Jim steered him to the curb while Simon locked the car, then quickly took his place on the other side of Blair, helping to keep the young man upright and steady.
Together, they maneuvered Blair into the elevator, then down the hall of the third floor and into his bedroom. Simon pulled back the covers while Jim eased Blair onto the mattress. Quickly, he removed the younger man's shoes, then draped the blankets over him while Simon padded quietly out of the room.
"Jim?" Blair's head came off the pillow, and his eyes focused solidly on Jim.
Blair swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Thank you."
Jim at on the edge of the mattress and patted Blair's knee. "You're welcome. How's your head?"
Blair sank back against his pillow. "Okay. A bit of a headache." His voice, still hoarse, wavered unsteadily.
"Not too bad."
"Okay." He gave Blair's leg another pat as he rose.
"Wait " Blair reached out and snagged Jim's sleeve, then looked down at his fingers and let go, his cheeks flushing.
"What is it?" Jim sat back down.
Blair coughed. "Uh. You, uh Are you going to the station to, you know Take care of stuff now?"
Recognizing the unspoken plea, a pang twisted in Jim's chest. He hated the look of fear in Blair's eyes and the quivering sound of his voice. He hated that there were crazy psychos like the Killjoy murderer, and he hated that he hadn't been there to stop the guy from getting to Blair.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he forced a smile on his face and gave Blair's leg a gentle squeeze. "No, Chief. I'm done for the night. I'll be right outside if you need anything. Okay?"
Blair swallowed again, then nodded. "Thanks, man. You should go get some sleep. I'm fine."
"I will." Pushing himself to his feet, Jim held his smile a moment longer. "And, just in case this didn't register before you were kind of out of it the guy's locked up. He won't be hurting anyone again."
Blair nodded and closed his eyes.
His smile fading, Jim ventured quietly out of the room. Simon stood by the door, holding it open. "How is he?"
"A bit shook up."
"You have tomorrow off. Take care of the kid."
Jim nodded. "Yes, sir."
Simon left, closing the door behind him, and Jim remained standing, surveying the loft. His eyes strayed to the back of the door. The poster had been removed, but he swore he could still see the faint skull and crossbones on the back of the door. Dropping his gaze to the floor, he easily spotted the slight discoloration in the wood where forensics had cleaned up the drops of Blair's blood.
Releasing a long breath, he walked to the door and locked it, fastening the chain, then moved to the couch, sank down on the cushion, and tilted his head back. He knew sleep wouldn't come for a while. At least, for tonight, Sandburg was safe in his room, and Jim vowed to do his best to keep him that way for many more nights to come.
THE ENDI really do appreciate feedback. Besides, it's been a long time since I've posted an honest-to-goodness Sentinel story of any significant length :) so, take pity. :) <