I've been reading murder and mayhem cases all week. This should let you know a little about the content here. It's not too graphic, but a bit disturbing send feedback, or... or... well, you don't wanna know! <G>

~~~~~~~
M.O.
~~~~~~~

Jim stood like a rock, his eyes stone, his jaw tight. Picture after picture. He tossed them on Simon's desk.

Joseph Maren, 15, caucasian. Nude body found 1 mile off the freeway. Ligature marks around the neck and ankles. Bruised and beaten. Neck crushed with blunt object. Evidence of sexual activity.

Ralph Sommers, 18, caucasian. Nude body found in a ditch along the freeway. Ligature marks around the neck and wrists. Bruised and beaten. Neck crushed with blunt object. Evidence of sexual activity.

Daniel Syden, 19, caucasian. Fully clothed body found in alley half a mile from the freeway. Ligature marks around the neck and wrists. Bruised and beaten. Neck crushed with blunt object. Evidence of sexual activity.

Jonathan Barnell, 17, caucasian. Nude body found off freeway exit ramp. Ligature marks around neck and wrists. Bruised and beaten. Strangled. Evidence of sexual activity.

Blair Sandburg, 29, caucasian. Missing.

Simon looked at the scattered pictures on his desk, his face grim. "He's too old, Jim."

"He's a mark. Look at them all. Long, dark hair. Lean build. Fair skin. Average height."

"There's no evidence --"

"He's got him. Goddamnit, Simon, that bastard's got him. Just like Lash." He shook his head and jerked toward the window. "This can't happen again. It can't."

"It's only been three hours."

"He's not in his office. He missed his class. He's not answering his cell phone. He's not at the loft. His car is at the university."

Simon leaned his elbows on the desk and rubbed his hands beneath his glasses. "Maybe some other psycho got him." It was a whisper. Almost a prayer.

*Any* other psycho would be preferable to the guy the media had dubbed the "Freeway Killer."

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

Blair's heart hadn't slowed down since he'd been literally swept off his feet at the corner deli shop near the university. Now here he was still in the same white van with the gray carpet. His ankles were bound by rope and his arms tied behind his back.

And he knew who his kidnappers were. He knew what was going to happen to him. Oh God, he knew... He'd worked on the damn case with Jim. He'd seen the boys' bodies, poured through the photographs...

*Oh God, oh God, oh God.*

He had only a rough idea of how long he'd been on the floor. Two -- maybe three -- hours. There were only two guys. One driving, the other sitting and watching. The driver didn't seem to be much of a threat - slight build and a "hands off" attitude. The other guy...

Blair shivered.

The other guy was big. His stringy brown hair came down to his shoulders and fell in a veil over icy green eyes. He'd been the one to reach out and grab Blair, throwing him to the floor as the van sped off with a screech of rubber.

Blair's jaw still hurt from where it had made contact with the man's fist. It had happened in the fight. The guy had been all over him and Blair had kicked and hit and bucked and done everything in his power to get the hell away. But he hadn't. His assailant was just too big and had finally just pulled back his fist and put an end to it. Blair didn't think he'd blacked out for very long, but he sure as hell wished he had.

The driver glanced over his shoulder. "Here we are." The van slowed. Blair's heart sped.

The large man smiled. "Nice and quiet. You can scream all you want."

Blair forced himself to look away from his captor's dark, hungry stare. He eyed the door, noting the lock. IT was engaged, but it was one of those older van models with the sliding mechanism. If he could just...

The kidnapper glanced at his partner. Blair rolled to his knees and launched himself at the door. He angled his shoulder and hit the metal lock square on, sending a bright flare of pain into the bone. The door swung open and he sailed through the air as the van dropped from beneath him. He slammed into the blacktop, a squeal rattling his eardrums as the
pungent odor of burnt rubber assaulted him.

~~~~~~~
Blair rolled several burning feet, the world somersaulting around him. He caught moving glimpses of his captor jumping from the van and bouncing toward him. Finally, he came to a stop, his arms, legs, and back screaming with hot pain.

"Son of a bitch!" The large man barreling toward him looked really, really pissed.

Blair rocked back and brought his legs up just as the man lunged at him. He used momentum to follow through, sending his assailant careening over him in an arc to land hard on the pavement.

He heard a sickening *crunch* and the man lay still. A deep voice shouted something unintelligible, then the van screamed into action, flying from the scene to make a hasty retreat down the empty road.

Blair was a mass of pain, but he rolled onto his stomach to look at his abandoned abductor. *Out cold.* He nearly sobbed with relief. Part of him wondered if the man was really *just* unconscious. He hoped so. He tried not to think about what the awful sound he heard *could* have been.

Moving slowly, he inched and squirmed his way over to his motionless captor. Pain flared with each movement, but he dared not stop. If the man *was* simply unconscious, he might come to soon.

Several agonizing seconds later, he reached his destination and dropped his head on the guy's chest. Exhaustion tugged at him, making him feel heavy and amplifying each twinge of pain.

*Pockets.* He'd heard a phone ring a while back in the van, so he prayed the serial killer had a cell phone on him.

Rolling onto his back, he began the slow, painful process of searching the pockets. He met with success nearly ten minutes later when his hand wrapped around the cool, rectangular object.

Dialing was no problem. Three little buttons. He felt his way to the "9" and pressed it once, then to the "1" button and pressed it twice. Then he rolled back to his stomach, his right shoulder flaring with pain. His vision blurred and his stomach revolted, but he closed his eyes and yelled into the small mouthpiece.

"My name is Blair Sandburg! Call James Ellison at the Cascade PD." He stopped to breathe, his chest tight, then repeated the plea. He looked around, hoping to find a clue to his location, but he the road was narrow and isolated, with no street signs in sight.

Dropping his head on the man's side, he kept up a mantra, describing his location the best he could, hoping the operator was relaying his message to Jim. His voice eventually faltered and he felt himself drifting, but he had no energy left with which to fight and he surrendered effortlessly to the beckoning darkness.

~~~
Jim paced in front of Simon's desk. "I'm going to do another sweep of the university. There has to be something!"

"We've --" The phone rang, cutting off Simon's reply. He snatched up the receiver quickly, his eyes flashing with a mixture of annoyance and hope. "Banks... What? When?" He glanced up and Jim automatically extended his hearing, *knowing* the call had to do with Sandburg.

//"... caller no longer responds, but I'll play back the recording. Trace in progress, sir."//

Simon tensed. "Go ahead."

A brief pause followed, then Blair's voice rang clear over the hum of background noise. //"My name is Blair Sandburg! Call James Ellison at the Cascade PD."// He was panting hard, his tone laced with pain.

Jim took an instinctive step toward the desk, feeling the irrational urge to snatch the phone out of his captain's hand and talk to the voice on the other line, even though he knew it was just a recording.

//"I... I don't know where I am. A road. There's nothing around. Please, please, just fwd me to Jim Ellison or Simon Banks. I was kidnapped by the Freeway Serial Killer, I think. He's unconscious now, but I don't know for how long. I can't move."// The voice began to grow weaker. //"Just call Jim. He'll find me, please. Jim Ellison. Major Crimes.// Finally, the words faded away, leaving Jim with a cold, hollow feeling in his stomach, but at least Blair was *alive,* or had been... *No, he's alive."

A click brought his attention back to the phone line and he heard the dispatcher's voice. //"Trace completed, sir. Location 50 miles south of Cascade off Highway Five..."//

Jim listened tensely as she relayed the precise location. The second the last word left her mouth, he was out the door at a full run.

~~~~~
He heard a voice. It sounded deep, with the ring of authority, and it pulled him out of the thick, black fog and into the unwelcome arms of bright, hot pain.

He groaned. Or maybe he screamed. He wasn't sure. All he really knew was that he hurt. His head pounded and his shoulder throbbed. His arms and legs felt on fire, and a deep, steady ache burned in his back.

The voice seemed to grow louder, drumming a beat in his skull. Then something soft slid around his neck. He thought he heard the cry of sirens, but his head hurt so badly he couldn't focus on anything but the pain.

The voice persisted. *Jim?* His eyelids felt glued closed, but he managed to open them just enough to see a blurry figure looming over him. The long, thin hair that framed the face told him instantly it wasn't Jim.

Then the thing around his neck tightened, trapping the air in his lungs, and suddenly the voice broke through the cloud of pain to ring crystal clear in his head.

"... just horny, goddamnit. Stupid fuck, Sam, I'll kill you right after I kill this bastard."

Blair's lungs burned, overriding all his other pains, and he bucked wildly, his eyes wide open and staring straight into the enraged, twisted face of his captor. He was dying. Right here, right now. No cavalry would come to save the day this time. Would Jim find his nude,
bruised body tossed in a ditch somewhere?

The burning in his chest radiated outward until it became the only sensation...

And then there was nothing at all.

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

Jim slammed on the breaks and jumped out of the truck just as Simon's sedan and two police cruisers screeched to a halt next to his vehicle. His hearing extended, he heard every word the man said. His vision zoomed ahead, and what he saw sent him spiraling into a fiery hell of pure, all-consuming rage.

The killer hunched bare-chested over Blair, strangling him with a thin, white T-Shirt. Blair spasmed violently, then went limp.

He drew his gun and rushed forward. "PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR NOW!" He closed the distance quickly, ramming the gun inches behind the man's head. "NOW!"

The killer hesitated, keeping his back to Ellison as he slowly raised
his arms.

"BEHIND YOUR HEAD!"

The man obeyed. Three uniformed officers descended upon him and, in seconds, had him cuffed face-first on the ground. Jim dropped to his knees next to his unconscious partner. Blair's jeans and flannel shirt were torn, revealing dirty, red scrapes on the underlying skin. Jim winced in sympathy and focused his sensitive ears as he pressed his fingers along the side of Blair's neck. *There* was the heartbeat. It pulsed weakly against his fingers and beat softly in his ears.

But Blair wasn't breathing. "Come on, Chief." He tossed the T-shirt aside and titled Sandburg's head back, pinching his nose as he covered the younger man's mouth with his own. In, out. In, out. *Come on, come on..."

"Let us through!" Two blue-clad paramedics dropped next to him and Jim reluctantly pulled back just as Blair came to life with a sudden, unexpected gasp.

Then he went wild.

"We need some help!" The paramedics threw themselves on top of Blair, trying to keep him immobile so he wouldn't hurt himself further.

"Back off a minute," Jim barked, thrusting himself between the two EMT's.

Blair was literally convulsing on the ground, screaming incoherently. Free from the paramedics, he used his bound legs to push himself away, his eyes wide and his pupils so large they almost swallowed the surrounding blue.

"Blair, it's me. Easy, Chief. You're okay." He moved forward as Blair backed away, then reached out and grabbed his partner's face in his hands. "Relax, Blair. Relax. Look at me. It's Jim. I'm right here. You're safe." He kept his voice low and soothing and, finally, his words began to have an affect.

Blair stopped fighting and sagged against the blacktop, his panic giving way to tremors. "Oh God, Jim," he croaked, his voice faint and raspy. "He... Where--?"

"We got him, Chief. He's being led to a squad car in handcuffs."

That, apparently, was all Blair needed to hear, because he nodded weakly just before his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell limp against the pavement.


~~~~~~~~~~


Jim needed a police escort just to get from the hospital to the loft. Once the press had found out the Freeway Killer's last victim had survived and caused the notorious psycho to be caught, they had been all over the hospital. When they'd found out the survivor was the same man who had survived Cascade's last serial killer, Lash, the story had exploded
nationwide.

Blair remained oblivious to it all. Hunched in the passenger seat of Jim's truck, his head pillowed against the window by a jacket, Blair snored peacefully. Jim spared a glance at his young friend. Head, legs, and arms bandaged, shoulder wrapped and arm in a sling, Sandburg had gotten through the ordeal relatively unscathed. Total damages addded up to one concussion, some bruises on his neck and back, a few scrapes from road burn, and a dislocated shoulder that had popped back in before the EMT's even got to him.

Jim turned his attention back to the road. Megan's car led the way. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he spotted Rafe and Brown in the sedan behind him. He knew Simon and Joel had already gone ahead to clear the loft of any eager reporters.

Fortunately, the drive proved uneventful. Pulling up in front of the loft, Jim hopped out and trotted around to the passenger side. Carefully, he opened the door, knowing Blair was leaning on the window. Sandburg shifted as the door opened, sliding toward the sidewalk, but Jim placed his hand on Blair's chest and held him securely in the cab as he opened the door all the way.

The other cars parked and their inhabitants exited. Jim remained only vaguely aware of Megan, Brown, and Rafe behind him as he gently maneuvered his sleeping partner to a more workable position.

Brown moved forward. "Need some help?"

Jim flashed a smile as he slid his arms beneath Blair and lifted him off the seat.. "Nah. I think I got it. Have to be careful of his shoulder, so this is a one-man job."

The three detectives followed him into the loft and rode the elevator up to the third floor. Blair didn't stir during the jostling, and Jim began to wonder just how many drugs they'd given him at the hospital.

Megan ran ahead and opened the door, finding it unlocked. Jim heard Simon and Joel greet her inside the loft. He shifted to the side to get through the doorway with Blair. His arms were getting *really* tired and he headed straight for the couch, depositing his sleeping partner carefully on the cushions. Then he pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and tucked it around Blair.

He looked up to see five pairs of eyes staring at him. "What?"

Simon smiled and shook his head. "Nothing." He closed the door and strolled over to the fridge to retrieve a beer. "You got some calls. We let the answering maching pick them up. All reporters."

Joel moved to stand behind the couch as the others took seats around the kitchen table. "How is he?"

With a sigh, Jim sank into the armchair. "Not too bad, considering. A minor concussion, a few scrapes and bruises. He dislocated his shoulder at some point, so they've immobilized it."

Simon took a quick swig of his beer. "Ehler hasn't been too forthcoming about his accomplice."

"Is that his name?" Jim hadn't had time to go down to the station and
nterrogate the man. Blair had remained in the hospital for twenty-four hours and Jim had been too busy making sure no reporters got passed hospital security to even think about leaving.

"Well, Sandburg's not going to be much help at the moment. They have him on sedatives, pain killers, and muscle relaxants."

Simon nodded and set his beer on the table. "DMV records show a 1979 white Ford van registered to him. We checked out his address and the landlord says he lives with another guy, but he didn't know the man's name. We've got the place staked out, but no one's showed. An APB's out on the van, but so far nothing's turned up."

A groan from the sofa interrupted the conversation. Blair shifted, rolling onto his left side and pressing his face against the back of the couch. He mumbled something unintelligible, then grew still again.

Jim focused on his partner's heartbeat, finding it slow and steady. A slight smile graced his lips and he looked back up at his captain. "He's going to be out for awhile, sir."

"I know, Jim. I don't think there'll be any more attacks now that we've got Ehler, but we'll need to find out something from Sandburg as soon as possible."

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

The pain hovered just beneath the surface of his awareness. Voices intruded upon the silence. He felt something soft to his left and shifted toward it, pressing his face against the solid warmth.

"He's going to be out for awhile, sir."

"I know, Jim. I don't think there'll be any more attacks now that we've got Ehler, but we'll need to find out something from Sandburg as soon as possible." A tone of urgency laced the voice.

*Simon?* //"...more attacks..."//

*Attacks?* He hovered on the edge of consciousness, but fleeting images played in his mind. A white van. A man with green eyes. *Dark* green eyes. Gray carpet.

//"Nice and quiet. You can scream all you want."//

*No... Jim.* He pressed himself harder against the soft warmth.

//"...more attacks..."//

Simon needed to know. Blair's tongue felt thick and pasty, but he forced it to work. "Green eyes."

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

Jim leaned forward. "Blair?" He heard the sudden increase in the young man's heartrate that signaled either the end of sleep or the beginning of a nightmare.

"Green eyes." Blair's voice was soft and muffled by the cushion and he didn't sound completely awake.

Simon rose from the table and walked quickly over to the couch. "Sandburg? Ehler? Your attacker had green eyes?"

"Hmmm-mmm."

"Was there a second person?'

"Hmmm-mmm. Driver. White van. Gray carpet."

"What did he look like? Do you know his name?"

"Gray Carpet. Smells bad."

"Blair?" Simon leaned over the back of the couch. "Can you tell me the second person's name?"

"Sam."

"That's good. Do you know his last name?"

A moan. Blair shifted deeper beneath the afghan.

Jim heard another jump in Blair's heartrate and rose from the couch. "I think that's enough for now, sir. He's obviously not very coherent. Tomorrow I'm sure he'll be in better condition to answer questions."

For a moment, Simon looked like he would protest, but then Joel interrupted. "He's right, captain. Let's leave Blair to his sleep. We've got Ehler. His was the only semen on the bodies, so let's just be happy we got the main guy for now."

Simon glanced at Joel, then back down at Blair. His expression softened and he nodded. "Yeah, okay." He looked up at Jim. "Whenever he's ready. Tomorrow would be nice, but it can wait another day or so, I guess."

Megan rose from her seat at the table. "We should get going. Don't want to overstay our welcome."

"Yeah, okay," Simon agreed. The others rose quickly and said their goodbye's. When they left, the loft was silent except for Blair's soft snoring.

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

Jim awoke to darkness. It took his eyes a second to adjust, but then the darkness seemed to dissipate and he saw the room clearly. He was still in the armchair, though he didn't remember actually falling asleep. Blair lay on the couch, his breathing strained, and Jim figured that was what had woken him.

Quickly, he rose from the chair and knelt next to his partner. "Blair?" He rested his hand on Sandburg's shoulder and shook him gently. "You okay? Come on, Chief, wake up."

Blair jerked awake with a gasp, his free hand coming up to clutch at his throat.

Jim leaned forward and Blair's heartrate skyrocketed.

"It's me, Chief. Jim. You're okay." He sometimes forgot how heightened his senses were compared to everyone else's. "I'm gonna turn on the light, okay?"

Blair sagged against the arm of the couch and nodded. "Jim..." He closed his eyes and pulled the afghan over his shoulders. "Yeah, okay."

Jim leaned over and flicked on the small lamp on the end table. Soft light bathed the end of the couch, cascading over Blair's head and shoulders, and it was then Jim noticed just how pale his friend looked.

"Your throat hurt?" He couldn't think of anything else to say, but the words sounded lame even to his own ears.

Blair shifted lower on the sofa, the afghan rising to his chin. He kept his gaze low so it looked almost as if his eyelids were closed. "Yeah, a little. I... I was dreaming about it. I woke up and heard his voice."

Jim tensed, but kept quiet. He knew Blair needed to talk about his near-death and, this time, he was going to listen.

"I thought it was you at first. Then something tightened around my throat and I knew... I mean, I didn't think... " He swallowed hard. "We were in the middle of nowhere. There was no one around. I thought for sure I was going to die and you'd find my body alongside a road somewhere just like all the others."

Jim didn't know how to respond. Even beneath the afghan, he could see the young man's shivers. Blair *had* almost died -- again. The platitudes were getting old. Words wouldn't change anything.

The vision came to him - so sudden and unexpected it stole his breath. Blair going limp, the T-shirt held tight around his neck. The same feeling of rage he'd felt back then hit him now.

*If we'd been one minute later, Blair would be dead right now.*

One minute -- the difference between a future with Sandburg and a life alone.

Blair rolled toward the back cushions. "Sorry, man. You can go back to sleep."

Jim raised his eyebrows, confused by Blair's abrupt change in demeanor. Didn't he want to talk about this? Then it hit him. He'd taken too long to respond, and Blair must've mistook that silence for annoyance or fatigue.

*Damn.* By trying *not* to screw up, he'd still managed to screw up. "Move, Blair."

"Huh?" Sandburg rolled back to look at him.

"I said move." He smiled. "I'd like to sit there, if you don't mind."

"Oh, right. Sorry for hogging the couch, I'll go in my room." He started to struggle up, working to extricate himself from the afghan, but he was moving slow and having only one good arm hampered his efforts.

Jim slid his arm beneath Blair's back and helped him sit up. Then he sank onto the cushion and placed a restraining arm on Blair's shoulder as the younger man tried to stand.

"What is it, Jim?" Blair blinked at him, his eyes still clouded with fatigue -- or maybe medication.

"There's a trick I learned in the army to help me sleep after... Well, after a busy day."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "What?"

Jim grabbed the small pillow from the corner of the sofa beneath his arm and dropped it on his lap, giving it a gentle pat. "Lay down here, Chief."

Sandburg tilted his head skeptically. "You want me to lay on your lap?"

Jim smiled. "Yep."

After a brief hesitation, Blair pulled the afghan tighter around his body and sank onto his back, resting his head on the pillow. "Okay, now what?"

"Now close your eyes."

His eyelids closed. "Okay."

"Give me a word that rhymes with cat."

Blair opened his eyes, his brow furrowed. "Excuse me?"

Jim released a long-suffering sigh, brushing his fingers back over Blair's eyelids to prod them closed. "Just do what I say, will ya?"

One side of Blair's lips quirked upward, but he closed his eyes. "Fine. Brat."

"Now give me a word that rhymes with dog."

"Log."

"Train."

"Brain."

"Chair."

"Hair."

"Girl."

"Hurl."

Jim chuckled. "Gross, Sandburg. Real, gross."

"Hey, man, this is *your* game."

"Shut up and give me a word that rhymes with plane."

"Rain."

"Tree."

"Free."

"Boat."

"Coat."

"Truck."

"Luck - as in what I need when you're driving it."

"Smartass."

"Lard ass."

"That doesn't rhyme."

"Cut me some slack, here, I'm on drugs."

"Drug."

"Lug."

"Tongue."

"Hung."

"Fun."

"Bun."

The game continued for another five minutes before Blair's answers began to fade, his response time growing longer and longer until, finally, he didn't answer at all. Jim looked down at Blair's relaxed, peaceful face and listened to the gentle rhythm of his breathing.

"Goodnight, Chief," he whispered, then tilted his head back against the couch and closed his eyes.

He'd have a kink in his neck by morning, but it'd be worth it. All the rage and worry he'd felt from the time he'd figured out Blair was missing seemed to disappear as he focused on his partner's steady heartbeat and slow breathing. He fell asleep before he could contemplate
that realization further.
 

~~~ The End ~~~~~

Send Feedback. Please oh please!