Primality   

It was an initiation event. A training exercise. A strike against the police force. It was like nothing Blair had ever imagined...



Sandburg had been missing a week. Jim lowered his head onto the desk, closing tired eyes. God. One week without a clue. Without a trace. His mind flashed back to that day. Sandburg had taken a break from paperwork and offered to pick up some dinner at the deli down the street. He never came back. There were no witnesses... no one who remembered seeing him. Now, one week later, Jim still had no idea what had happened to his partner.

God, just let him be okay. His chest tightened. Let me find him alive. That's all I ask. He clenched his jaw. He was a man with five heightened senses, a sentinel... the Sentinel of the Great City.... He was nothing. What the hell good were his abilities now? He couldn't even find his own partner... his friend. He clenched his eyes shut. He had failed Sandburg.



Blair's world consisted of darkness and pain. He lay on a cold, hard floor. His mouth and throat felt dry, and he hadn't had a drop of water for awhile... he didn't know exactly how long. The hunger pains that had assaulted his stomach no longer bothered him, and he was greatful for that one small respite.

A growl pierced the darkness, sending a bolt of fear through Blair's chest. Not again. A door opened, flooding the room with harsh light. Blair released a whimper and slammed his eyes shut. The smell of freshly cooked beef wafted to his nostrils, reminding his stomach that it had become derelict in its duty. Renewed hunger pains shot through his midsection, and he brought his hands around his torso, curling into a ball. Please... A thud hit the floor, and the door slammed shut, drenching the room once again in darkness. The growling increased, followed by nauseating crunching sounds. Please...  I just want some food.

Blair shared his dark prison with another creature -- an emaciated canine beast that claimed all food thrown into the cell as its own. Blair vaguely wondered why he was still alive. Why didn't the creature just kill him? Blair opened his eyes, peering into the darkness. A pair of golden eyes hung in the darkness, staring at him with an eery, incandescent glow... like golden fire. Blair closed his eyes again, blocking out the demonic vision. Fortunately, the creature stayed far away from him, except when food was thrown in. In those times, the creature became vicious, and Blair learned to keep quiet and still during the creature's feeding.



"Jim?"

The detective raised his head off the desk, looking into the concerned dark eyes of his Captain. Had he fallen asleep? How long had he been sitting there?

"Go home," Simon suggested, his voice gentle.

Jim shook his head. "There's nothing for me to do there," he said.

Simon sighed. "Jim, you've been going for over twenty-four hours straight. If you don't get some sleep soon, you'll drop. Now go home. That's an order. I'll even drive you."

Jim closed his eyes and dropped his head back to the desk. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Jim? Come on," Simon insisted. "You said it earlier yourself... your senses are going in and out, and you're having problems concentrating. You're exhausted. You're not going to do Sandburg any good in your present condition."

Jim released a tired sigh. "Okay," he said.

Hurried footsteps sounded in the hall, then burst into the bullpen of Major Crimes.

"Jim! Captain! We've found him!"

Ellison's head snapped up to see Brown standing in the doorway, panting heavily.

"What?" Jim's heart leapt into his throat, and he stared disbelievingly at his fellow detective.

"Sandburg's been dumped outside in the alley," Brown explained. He looked at Jim with pained eyes. "Jim... you better get down there. He's not in good shape."

Jim exploded out of his seat, flying past Brown as he stretched his hearing outward, hoping his senses wouldn't betray him. It took him several seconds, but he finally heard the sounds of the hushed commotion on the street below. He ran down seven flights of stairs, bursting through the ground floors like a Mack truck. He headed straight for the outer doors, following the sounds that would lead him to his guide. He searched for Sandburg's heartbeat, but there were too many people outside, and he was just too tired to filter out all the competing sounds.

He skidded to a halt in the alley and saw a group of men and women -- some cops, some civilians -- huddled in a circle. Panting heavily, Jim inched forward, pushing his way through the crowd. What he saw stole his breath. On the ground in front of him lay a gaunt, filthy, bloodied figure with long brown curls.

Jesus Christ... Jim moved forward slowly, crouching next to the man.

"Don't touch him," a voice said, and Jim turned around to see a young woman standing behind him. "He screams when you touch him."

Jim clenched his jaw and nodded, turning back to the emaciated figure in front of him.

"Chief?"

Sandburg whimpered, curling himself into a tight ball.

"Dear God."

Jim turned around to see Simon standing in front of the crowd, peering at Sandburg, horror in his eyes.

Jim turned back to his partner. His heart felt like it would burst, but he forced his voice calm. "Sandburg, it's me. It's Jim."

Slowly, Blair's eyes opened, and he stared at Jim in fearful disbelief. "J-Jim?"

Jim mustered the largest, warmest smile he could manage. "Yeah, Chief. It's me. You're safe now, but you need to let us help you. Okay?"

Blair blinked, but remained silent. Jim swallowed, then slowly reached out a hand. Blair's wide eyes followed Jim's movement, and, the moment Jim's hand touched Blair's arm, the young man erupted into a fit of terror, screaming hoarsely as he scuttled backward.

Jim immediately withdrew his outstreched hand, cursing inwardly at his own folly. "Shhh... Blair. It's okay," he soothed, raising his voice to compete with Blair's raspy screams. "Chief... Shhh.... No one's gonna hurt you. It's okay. I promise. Trust me, okay?"

"No. No. No," Blair chanted, his arms wrapped around his legs in a gesture of sheer terror.

Sirens sounded in the distance, and Jim closed his eyes. The ambulance... God, how are we gonna get him on the stretcher?

"Blair," Jim began. "You're hurt. You need to let me help you. Okay, buddy?"

Blair's whimpered monologue quieted, and he lifted his eyes to look at Jim.

"I'm here to help you, Blair. Will you let me touch you," Jim asked.

Blair cringed backward.

Jim clenched his jaw, taking a deep breath. "Chief, I need you to let me help you. Please..."

Slowly, Blair uncoiled himself, but his gaze remained wary. Jim reached out his hand once again, but stopped it mid-air, inches away from Blair.

"Come on, Chief. Take my hand."

Blair's eyes focused on Jim's outstretched hand. Both men remained perfectly still for several seconds. The sirens became louder, but Blair didn't seem to notice. Slowly, Sandburg reached out with his own shaky hand.

"That's it, Blair. Let me help you. Take my hand," Jim encouraged.

Blair's fingers wrapped around Jim's hand, and the sentinel closed his own fingers, engulging Blair's hand with his own. "That's good, Chief."

Blair looked up into Jim's face, his eyes wet. "Jim?"

Jim nodded. "It's okay, Chief. I'm here now."

Slowly, Jim scooted forward and, this time, Blair mimicked the gesture, moving closer to the sentinel. With a sigh of relief, Jim scooped Blair into his arms, holding the small man against his chest as he renewed his soothing litany of words.

"It's okay, Chief. I've got you. I'm right here. You're safe."

A few seconds later, the ambulance arrived. The crowd parted to allow the two EMT's through. One of the paramedics knelt down next to the two men and gave Blair a critical once-over.

"What happened," he asked.

Jim shook his head. "I don't know. He's been missing for a week, and we found him a few minutes ago here in the alley."

Blair moaned softly, and Jim whispered reassuringly in his ear. "Shhh... It's okay, Blair."

"I need you to let go of him, Sir," the paramedic instructed. "Can you lay him down for us?"

After a brief hesitation, Jim nodded. Blair's breathing and heartrate indicated sleep, and the sentinel hoped he could shift his weight from beneath Blair without waking the younger man.

"Be careful with him," Jim warned. "He's scared, and there's no telling what he's been through. If you touch him, you could provoke a reaction."

"Well, we're going to have to touch him, I'm afraid," the other paramedic, a young woman, stated as she placed a rectangular orange box on the ground.

Carefully, Jim eased backward, lowering Blair's head and shoulders to the ground. The anthropologist released a low moan, turning his head to one side. Jim brushed a few strands of Blair's curly hair out of his face, and leaned over him, whispering softly.

The paramedics set to work, taking pulse, respiration, and blood pressure measurements. Blair barely stirred through the examination, but, when the two EMT's lifted him onto the stretcher, his body stiffened suddenly, and, with a scream, he kicked outward, catching the male EMT in the jaw.

"Shit!" The man stumbled backward, dropping Blair's legs.

Jim sprung to action, pulling Blair away from the remaining paramedic and engulfing him in a firm but careful embrace, pinning Blair's arms to his sides.  "Chief, calm down. Listen to me. It's Jim. You're okay. No one's going to hurt you."

Blair bucked wildly, seemingly oblvious to Jim's presence.

"No! Leave me alone," he yelled, then he went limp and his voice lowered to a soft whimper. "Please... no... no more... please..."

"Has he been given any drugs," the woman EMT asked sharply.

Jim looked up at her, his eyes glinting with irritation. "I told you... I don't know!"

She looked at her partner, who stood a few feet away, gingerly rubbing his jaw. "I don't want to risk giving him a sedative," she said.

Her partner nodded, then looked at Jim. "Can you get him onto the stretcher, ya think?"

Jim nodded, then carefully lifted his injured partner as he spoke soft words of reassurance, hoping his voice would keep Blair relatively calm. Mindful of Blair's visible -- and invisible -- assortment of injuries, Jim careful lowered his unresisting guide onto the stretcher, fastening the staps securely around his battered body.



Jim sat next to Blair's hospital bed, finally afforded the opportunity to get a better look at his partner's injuries. Blair had been cleaned, bandaged, and hooked up to a variety of machines. There was an angry bruise on the right side of his face, rising from his cheek to his eye. The doctor had informed Jim that Blair had sustained cracked ribs and a concussion. The attending physician had ordered a priority tox screen for Sandburg, and they were now awaiting the results. Jim inhaled a slow, deep breath. What the hell had happened to Sandburg? Who had taken him, and why?

Jim's eyes drifted over Sandburg's sleeping form. Blair's brow was creased in an ever-present expression of pain and his face was pale and thin. Blair looked as though he'd lost several pounds in a very short period of time. Bruises covered his body, marring his face, arms, chest, torso, and legs. Jim had seen the marks when the ER doctors had examined him, and the evident brutality with which they had been inflicted caused a feeling of hot rage to flare in the sentinel's chest.

Burns, from both electricity and fire, were evident on Blair's hands, arms, and chest. Jim eyes drifted to Blair's bandaged right arm, where the doctor had stitched up a deep laceration consistent with a dog bite.

The door opened, and Jim looked up to see Doctor Cound, an older man with grey hair, enter the room.

"Hello, Detective," the doctor began. "How are you feeling?"

Jim shrugged. "Fine. I'm not the one in the hospital bed, Doctor."

Doctor Cound walked to Blair's bed, giving the machines a quick glance. He then turned to Jim and said, "We've gotten the results of the tox screen back. We found moderate levels of a substance known as Atropine Sulfate. Unfortunately, it's an extremely toxic substance.  It acts as a competitive acetylcholine inhibitor at the receptor site. Side effects include dryness and soreness of mucous membranes, blurred vision, urinary retention, severe hallucinations, retrograde amnesia lasting several hours to several days.  Ingestion of large amounts can result in brain damage, but, fortunately, there's no indication that Mr. Sandburg received such a dose."

Jim clenched his jaw and gazed at the doctor with angry eyes. "What does this mean?"

The doctor sighed. "It means that Mr. Sandburg might be extremely disoriented when he wakes up. He may not remember what happened to him.... at least not at first. His memory will probably return in a few days, and, as I'm sure you can imagine, that probably won't be a pleasant experience for him. The return of his memory will likely return little by little, so that he gets isolated fragments of his memory back. He won't be able to integrate them, and that will most likely lead to severe emotional and behavioral consequences."

Jim gripped the sides of his chair, his knuckles white. "Such as?"

"Well, it's hard to say. I've already called in a psych consult on Sandburg's case. Atropine Sulfate affects memory differently in different people. There's really no way to tell what Mr. Sandburg went through during the time he was missing. Those memories are, obviously, not going to be pleasant. -- that much is obvious. How unpleasant those memories, and how quickly they return are, at this stage, unpredictable."

Jim nodded tersely. "Thank you, Doctor."

"You're welcome, Detective," he said. "You look like you could use some rest. Why don't you go home? I'll call you as soon as Mr. Sandburg's condition changes."

Jim shook his head. "Thanks, Doctor, but I'd like to stay here." He looked back at Sandburg. "He needs me here."

After a brief silence, Doctor Cound sighed and said, "Very well, then. I'll have someone bring you in some coffee, if you like. You can sleep in the empty bed over there." He indicated the hospital bed against the far wall.

Jim nodded. "Thanks."

Doctor Cound left, and, a few minutes later, the door opened again to admit Simon Banks.

"How's he doing," Simon asked, indicated Sandburg's sleeping form with a jerk of his chin as he placed two cups of coffee on the bureau next to Sandburg's bed.

Jim sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. "I'm not sure," he said, shaking his head. "Fortunately, his injuries aren't life-threatening, but he's been drugged. The doc says it was a highly toxic hallucinogen, and he expects Sandburg's memory to be affected."

Simon shook his head. "Damn. Who the hell could have done this?"

Jim raised his head to meet Simon's gaze. "I have no idea, Sir. I've been over every past case of mine within the past five years, and nothing pops up." He clenched his jaw and shifted his gaze to the bed. "He was kidnapped, tortured, and drugged... and it seems the only hope of catching whoever's responsible rests with Sandburg."

"Only he may not remember it?"

Jim nodded. "The doctor expects any memory loss to be temporary, so at least that's something," Jim muttered.

"Has he woken up yet?"

Jim shook his head. "Not really... not since the ambulance. He's malnourished, dehydrated, exhausted, and he's running a fever." He raised one hand to rub his temple. "Who the hell would do this?"

"I don't know, Jim," Simon sighed, "but I promise you everyone's working double time to find out. Forensics went over that alley with a fine-toothed comb, but the scene was just too compromised, and they're sifting through it all now."

A soft moan escaped Sandburg's throat, and both men turned to look at the young man.

"Chief?"

Sandburg made a low, unintellible noise and turned his head away from Jim's voice.

"Come on, Blair. It's me, Jim. You're okay. You're in a hospital."

Blair's eyelids fluttered opened. He released a soft cry and immediately clenched his eyes shut, raising his hands to shield his face from the lights. Simon moved quickly to turn off the lights, leaving the room bathed in the soft glow from the hallway.

"It's okay, Blair. The lights are off," Simon said.

Blair cracked his eyelids open a fraction, then, slowly, opened them the rest of the way.

"Hey, Chief." Jim forced a tiny smile. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

Blair furrowed his brow and looked from Jim to Simon, a touch of uncertainty in his eyes. Jim glanced anxiously at his captain, then looked back at Blair. Cautiously, Ellison reached up and, for a few seconds, let his hand hover inches from Sandburg's arm. He heard the young man's heart rate shoot up and saw him wince. Slowly, Jim lowered his arm.

"I'm not going to hurt you, Blair," Jim reassured him. "You're safe here." He swallowed, peering critically into Sandburg's troubled blue eyes. "You remember me, don't you?" He struggled to keep his voice steady. Sandburg had recognized him in the alley... hadn't he? Or had Blair simply been repeating the name Jim himself had voiced?

Blair's eyes fell to the two styrofoam cups on the bureau, and Jim followed his gaze.

"You want some water, Chief?"

Sandburg nodded, his gaze fixed on the two cups.

"Okay," Jim said, rising from his chair and grabbing one of the cups.

He walked into the bathroom, dumped the coffee into the sink, and re-filled the cup with water. He opened the tiny drawer under the sink and saw a box of sealed straws. He snatched one out of the box and unwrapped it, placing it in the cup.

As he walked back into the room, he noticed Sandburg's eyes lock onto the cup in his hand. Jim walked over to the bed, and slowly lowered the straw to Blair's lips, keeping his movements slow and smooth to avoid startling his distressed partner.

Sandburg raised shaking hands to the cup, hesitating briefly before grabbing the styrofoam. He pulled the cup out of Jim's grasp and gazed warily at the two men as he ignored the straw and greedily swallowed the cool liquid.

"Take it easy, Chief," Jim said as he grabbed the cup, pulling it away from Sandburg's lips.

Blair howled, slapping the cup away from Jim and flinging himself off the bed, ripping the IV catheter and chest electrodes off in the process. He yelped when he hit the floor, and scurried into the corner, cradling his ribs with his arms and curling into a ball.

"Jesus," Simon exclaimed.

Jim rushed forward, then caught himself and stopped just before reaching Blair. Slowly, with his hands at his sides, he knelt down. Two sets of footsteps hurried into the room, and the lights flicked on. Blair cried out and clenched his eyes shut.

"What happened," a female voice inquired.

"Damnit, turn those lights off," Jim hissed, keeping his eyes focused on Blair. The lights immediately flicked back off. "I'm sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to scare you. Just take it easy, buddy. Okay?"

Sandburg's eyes opened and he looked wide-eyed over Jim's shoulder, pressing himself further into the corner, releasing a low whimper. Jim turned around and glared at the two people behind him - a nurse and an orderly.

"Move back," Jim said. "You're scaring him."

His tone left no room for argument, and the two people complied quickly.

"I'll get the doctor," the nurse said, then hurried out of the room.

Jim turned back to Blair. "Okay, Chief... I know you're hurt and scared right now, but I need you to calm down and let me help you. Will you let me help you back into bed?"

Blair creased his eyebrows and peered at Jim with wide, skeptical eyes. A fist clenched around Jim's heart as he gazed into the terrified pair of eyes staring back at him. He desperately hoped that Blair's hysteria was just a temporary reaction to the drug still lingering in the young man's system. He didn't dare dwell on the thought that Blair had been so severely traumatized by his experiences that he no longer recognized his friends.

Blair continued to stare silently at Jim, his eyes betraying a mixture of fear and confusion. Jim heard the doctor approaching in the hallway, and he glanced back at Simon, mouthing the words 'no lights' before turning back to Sandburg. He didn't want to be interrupted again by the sudden flood of flourescent lights.

"Blair, you know me, remember? Jim? Your blessed protector?" Some blessed protector, he added silently.

The fear in Blair's eyes slowly melted to hazy recognition. His bottom lip began to quiver, and his eyes welled with tears. "J-Jim?" His voice was soft and hoarse, barely a whisper.

The sentinel nodded. "Yeah, that's right, Chief."

Doctor Cound took that moment to rush into the room, but, thankfully the lights stayed off. Jim turned his head to see Simon with his hand over the light switch and Doctor Cound squinting down at him and Blair.

"What happened," Doctor Cound asked.

Jim raised a finger to his lips, silently hushing the doctor. Cound looked momentarily abashed, but recovered quickly. Simon placed a hand on the older man's elbow and gestured outside. The doctor followed Simon into the hall, and the orderly followed.

Jim turned back to Blair, who was now staring at the men in the hallway.

"Chief?"

Blue eyes drifted back to Jim.

"Do you know who I am, Blair?"

After a brief hesitation, Blair nodded.

Jim smiled, breathing a sigh of relief. "Good. That's good." He took a deep breath. "Do you trust me?"

Slowly, Blair nodded.

"Are you afraid of me."

Again, Blair nodded.

Jim clenched his jaw. Time for a little test...

"Do you know your name?"

Blair nodded.

"Is your name Joel?'

Blair furrowed his brow, then shook his head.

Jim closed his eyes briefly. Okay, so Blair was responsive, not just nodding an affirmative to every answer. Jim opened his eyes again and flashed a brief, reassuring smile.

"That was just a test. Your name is Blair. You remember that?"

Blair nodded.

Jim was becoming uncomfortable in his crouched position, and he shifted his weight, plopping down onto his rear and sitting cross-legged in front of his partner.

"Say something, Chief" Jim asked, trying to mask his concern over Blair's uncharacteristic silence.

Blair raised a hand to his throat. "Dry," he croaked.

One edge of Jim's mouth lifted upward. "That's all? You want some more water?"

Blair nodded.

Jim rose and grabbed Simon's cup of coffee from the bureau. He disappeared into the bathroom, keeping his ears tuned to Blair, and rinsed out the cup. He then filled it with water and returned to the room. As Blair hadn't seemed inclined to use the straw last time, Jim figured it would be pointless to get another one. Slowly, he walked over to the huddled figure of his partner and knelt down, handing Blair the cup of water.

Hesitantly, Blair took the cup from Jim's hand.

"Now go easy, Blair, okay. Drink it slow. Understand?"

Blair nodded, raising the cup to his lips. He took a few tentative sips, his eyes locked on Jim.

"That's good, Chief. Keep it slow..."

Blair took more sips, slowly draining the cup of its contents. When he was finished, Jim reached out and held his hand open. Blair reached out with shaking hands and surrendered the cup to the sentinel.

"Good, Blair. You did real good," Jim reassured him, setting the cup aside. "Now, can you answer a question?"

Blair remained silent.

Jim decided to forge ahead, anyway. "Are you afraid I'm going to hurt you?"

Blair shook his head.

"But you're afraid of me?"

Blair nodded.

"Why," Jim asked.

Blair bit his lower lip and glanced down at the floor. "Don't know... what's real," he whispered.

Suddenly it all became clear to Jim. The hallucinogen Blair had been given must have put him through hell. There was no telling what kind of visions the kid had been subjected to.. or was still being subjected to. Sandburg wasn't so much afraid of Jim as he was afraid that Jim was just another hallucination.

"That water was real, wasn't it, Chief?"

Blair's eyes fell to the empty cup in Jim's hand. Slowly, the young man nodded.

"And I gave you the water, right?"

Again, Blair nodded.

"I know things are confusing for you right now, but I am real," Jim said.  "This hospital is real. No one can hurt you anymore, Chief."

Blair raised his eyes, looking at Jim with wide eyes. Jim forced his own gaze steady, hoping he could convey a quiet sense of reassurance to his traumatized partner.

"Hungry," Blair croaked, pressing himself further into the corner as if expecting a retaliation for his request.

Jim offered a slight smile. "Okay, Blair, I'll get you something to eat... Just a little, though, okay? I don't think you're stomach's quite ready for anything heavy."

Blair remained silent, staring almost skeptically at the detective.

"I'm gonna stand up now and go tell them to bring you something, okay," Jim informed Blair, not wanting to startle the kid with sudden movements.

Blair didn't respond, so Jim slowly raised himself off the floor, using even steps as he walked backward toward the door, keeping his gaze fixed on Sandburg. Jim reached behind him, turned the doorknob, and glanced at Simon and the doctor in the hallway.

"Can you bring him something to eat? Something that'll be easy on his stomach," Jim asked the doctor.

Doctor Cound frowned, then peered over Jim's shoulder at the small figure huddled into the corner. "Well, I suppose some Jell-O or pudding--"

"Uh, I was thinking more along the lines of soup," Jim said.

The doctor nodded. "Okay, that'll work. I'll have one of the volunteers bring him something. Meanwhile, don't let him out of your sight, okay?"

Jim nodded. "Thanks, Doc."

Cound turned on his heels and hurried down the hall.

Simon walked over to the open doorway and glanced at Sandburg, who was still huddled in the corner staring at the two men.

"Christ, Jim," Simon whispered, "what the hell happened to him?"

Jim shook his head. "You know as much as I do Simon. He was kidnapped, tortured, and drugged." He clenched his jaw, his eyes blazing. "I want these guys, Simon."

Simon nodded tersely. "Everyone's on it, Jim, you know that."

The detective glanced at Sandburg. "I know. I just wish I were able to do something."

Simon placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Sandburg needs you here, Jim." He glanced at the young anthropologist. "Right now it looks like you're the only one he trusts.... And even if you could leave, there's no way I'd let you in on this one, Jim. You're way too close, and you know it."

"It's a moot point anyway, Captain. I can't leave him here. Just look at him" Jim said, waving a hand in Sandburg's direction. "He's..." His throat caught and he clenched one hand into a tight fist. "I've seen this kind of thing before in the army... men tortured and reduced to feral animals, but, God," he closed his eyes, raising one hand to squeeze the bridge of his nose, "Sandburg...."

Simon gave Jim's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Sandburg's a lot more resilient than we give him credit for, Jim."

Jim nodded, glancing back at Sandburg and smiling slightly when he noticed the young man had fallen asleep in the corner. "I guess we'll have to wait and see how he is once the drug is out of his system."

A few minutes later, a nurse arrived carrying a tray loaded with two steaming cups of coffee and a tall styrofoam cup filled with soup. Jim thanked her and took the tray. The aroma of the soup indicated chicken and he set the tray down on the bureau next to the hospital bed. He handed Simon his cup of coffee and then raised the spoon and took a sip of the soup, testing to make sure it wasn't hot enough to burn Sandburg's mouth.

Simon walked back into the hallway and closed the door. Jim approached Sandburg slowly, not wanting to startle the young man from his sleep. The sentinel stopped several feet from his young partner and crouched down onto the floor, trying to make his figure less intimidating.

"Blair," he whispered.

Sandburg gave no response. Jim briefly thought about letting Sandburg sleep, but he couldn't very well leave the kid on the floor, and any attempt to move him would likely be met with a violent reaction.

"Come on, Chief, I've got your soup," Jim said, raising his voice a fraction.

Sandburg jerked and his eyes snapped open, immediately focusing on the cup in Jim's hand.

Jim smiled. "Want some soup?"

Blair stretched his neck out, sniffing the air. Jim suppressed a frown as he watched his partner. Blair's gesture gave the impression of an animal sniffing out an unfamiliar scent in the wild.

Ellison stretched his arms out slowly, holding the soup in front of him. "Here you go, partner."

Blair tilted his head, looking back and forth between the cup and Jim's eyes as though doubtful of Jim's intentions. Jim cocked his head, listening to Blair's heartbeat, finding it much too fast.

"It's okay, Blair. I'm not going to hurt you, remember," Jim reassured him. "You wanted some food, right?"

Hesitantly, Blair nodded, but he made no move to retrieve the cup. Jim clenched his jaw, unsure how to proceed. He didn't know why Blair was suddenly unwilling to take the cup. Sandburg had grabbed the water out of his hands earlier, so why was the kid suddenly apprehensive again?

Cautiously, Jim lowered the cup onto the floor, then backed slowly away, stopping when his back hit the bed. Sandburg watched Jim silently for a few minutes, then inched forward toward the soup. Jim remained perfectly still. Blair reached out one shaking hand and wrapped it around the cup. That accomplished, he scurried back to the corner, spilling some of the warm liquid on his chest.

"Try to take it slow, Chief," Jim said. "Your stomach's not going to expecting that."

Blair seemed oblivious to Jim's instructions. He sniffed the food tentatively, than raised the cup to his lips and took a small sip. The reaction was almost electric. Blair's heartrate skyrocketed and his whole body tensed as he set to the task of devouring the warm soup. He took large, greedy gulps, occasionally glancing up at Jim as if to reassure himself that the man hadn't moved.

Jim frowned. So much for taking it slow, he thought. He didn't know how Blair's stomach would handle the sudden onslaught, but he hoped the kid would keep the soup down. As Blair got to the last of the soup, he stuck his fingers into the cup and scooped out a few pieces of chicken, hastily popping them into his mouth. He peered into the cup almost regretfully, then dropped it onto the floor. He began to scoot along the wall, keeping his eyes locked on the Sentinel as if unsure of what would happen next. Blair continued to put distance between himself and Jim, moving slowly along the floor until he reached the far corner. Jim watched Blair silently, holding every voluntary muscle in his body still. He looked like a statue, chiseled in flesh, as he crouched stiffly on the floor.

Blair curled up on the floor, and, apparently satisfied that Jim presented no threat, closed his eyes and fell immediately into a deep sleep.



As he shuffled off the last vestiges of darkness, he became aware of a tremendous, throbbing pain in his head. Slowly, he ascended to consciousness, becoming aware of different sensations. First, he felt the pain. It pounded in his skull and slithered through his arms and legs. Next, he became aware of an incredible dryness in his mouth and throat, awakening within him a sudden, intense yearning for water. He opened his mouth, attempting to lick his lips, but his mouth seemed entirely devoid of saliva. Instead, an almost silent groan escaped his throat.

His next sensation was that of sound. It reverberated in his skull, hitting him with the force of a jack-hammer. He turned his head away from the sound, willing it to disappear. He vaguely recognized it as a voice, but the sound was too distant and distorted for him to recognize with any level of certainty.

He felt a light pressure on his forehead, and, instinctively, his body stiffened. The contact brought the sound into focus, though, and he squeezed his eyelids tight, pushing back the pain in his skull as he listened to the rhythmic voice.

"It's okay, Chief. You're safe. Everything's going to be just fine."

The pain in his skull dulled a fraction as hazy recognition wormed its way into his consciousness. He knew that voice. It was a good voice... something he could trust. His body relaxed and he turned his head back toward the sound, seeking it out as though it were a life bouey in a vast sea of darkness.

The darkness lifted, and a blurry cascade of shapes and colors teased his vision. He blinked, and, gradually, the image directly in front of him melted into focus. A hot pang of emotion flared in his chest as he stared at the gentle blue eyes above him.

"Blair?"

Sandburg noted the deep concern in his friend's eyes and felt compelled to ease Jim's worries. He forced a tiny smile on his lips. "Hey Jim," he rasped, his voice barely audible to his own ears.

Jim closed his eyes and sank into the chair next to the bed, releasing a long sigh. "Thank God," he whispered, then opened his eyes and plastered a wide smile on his face. "You had me worried there, buddy."

Blair creased his brow. Worried? What happened? He turned his head and took in his surroundings. He was in a hospital room, hooked up to machines. He glanced down at his arms, and the crease in his brow grew more pronounced when he saw the leather straps around his wrists.

He looked back up at Jim, confusion in his eyes. "What happened?" His eyelids felt heavy, and he struggled to keep them open.

Jim reached over and placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Blair's eyelids floated closed as he tried to recall his last clear memory. His mind brought forth the image of a dark windowless room, but, try as he did, he couldn't remember anything about the room or if, in fact, it actually even existed. He opened his mouth to speak. A room... I remember a room... dark and cold... He thought he'd spoken the words out loud, but he didn't hear any sound emerge from his throat.

Jim's voice floated into his waning consciousness like a distant echo. "We can talk about it later, Chief. You rest now."



Ellison tossed his keys into the basket by the door and walked into the loft, heading straight for the bathroom. Simon had offered to stay with Sandburg for a couple of hours so Jim could run home to grab a shower and change into a clean pair of clothes.

He slipped out of his clothes and turned on the water, adjusting the temperature until satisfied that it was hot enough to sooth the tension in his back and shoulders. He remained under the soothing stream for nearly fifteen minutes, letting the hot tingling water massage his back. He closed his eyes, and his thoughts automatically wandered to Sandburg, causing the slowly fading tension in his shoulder to return with a sudden vengeance. He clenched his jaw, hating the absolute feeling of helplessness that had plagued him since Sandburg's disappearance a little over a week ago. Someone, or some group, had kidnapped his partner, tortured him, and then, apparently, released him. Jim didn't even know exactly what had happened to Blair, though he had a pretty good idea after seeing the ugly collection of wounds on his friend's body. He clenched his jaw tighter at that thought, pushing the images out of him mind, denying the memory of Sandburg sitting crouched in the hospital room like a wild animal.

Finally, he shut off the water, slipped out of the shower, and dried himself off. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he dashed upstairs, slipped into a pair of jeans and a shirt, and ran back down to Sandburg's room. He stuffed a few things into a small duffel bag: the walkman, some tapes, and a few clean clothes. He then went into the bathroom and emerged with Sandburg's toothbrush. Five minutes later, he was out the door and on his way back to the hospital.



A soft, muffled sound woke Simon, and he opened his eyes, immediately straightening in his chair. Sandburg rested in the hospital bed, his face pale and gaunt. A soft moan escaped Blair's throat, and his brow furrowed as though he were in pain.

"Sandburg," Simon's deep voice resonated through the small hospital room. "Hey, you okay?"

Blair's eyes remained closed, but he cringed away from Simon's voice, pressing himself into the mattress.

Simon cursed silently, reminding himself that he needed to keep his tone soft and reassuring. "Blair, it's okay. It's me, Simon."

Simon suddenly found himself wishing Jim would hurry back from the loft, though he knew his detective needed a shower, a hot meal, and a good night's sleep. Jim had told him that Sandburg seemed more coherent the last time he'd woken up, but Simon suspected that was probably due, in part, to Jim's presence. Simon just didn't know how to deal with Sandburg. Should he touch him? Try to reassure him? Or would that just provoke a violent reaction? He gazed at the leather straps binding Blair's arms to the bed and felt his stomach twist into a knot. Jesus. The kid didn't deserve this... any of it. He didn't deserve to be put in the line of fire on a daily basis, and he definitely didn't deserve to be the target of every psycho and terrorist in the western hemisphere.

Sandburg released another low moan, and Simon bit the inside of his cheek as he listened to the soft, tormented sound. "Jesus, kid, what happened to you," he whispered.  He reached out a hand and laid it gently on Blair's arm. "Hey, it's okay. You're safe now. Jim'll be back soon."

Blair pulled away, struggling against the restraints. The pained crease in his brow grew more pronounced, and he released a small whimper. "No, please..." He jerked his head to the side. "Don't..."

Simon grabbed the rail with his free hand, gripping it tightly. With his other hand, he squeezed Blair's arm gently. "Shhhh. It's okay, Blair. Come on, wake up now."

Blair jerked away. His eyes snapped opened and fixed on Simon's anxious face. The Captain forced a smile and patted Blair's arm gently.

"Hey there, Sandburg. Take it easy now. You're okay," Simon reassured him softly.

Blair looked momentarily uncertain, but, after a few seconds, the crease in his brow melted and his body relaxed. "Simon?"

Banks breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah. Nice of you to join the living."

Blair looked down at the hand on his arm, then at the leather strap bound around his wrist. He looked at his other arm, raising it to tug against the restraint.

"Don't worry, Sandburg, that's just a precaution. Now that you're... uh... awake and coherent, I'm sure the doctor will have them removed," Banks said.
 
Blair nodded, looking back up at Simon. "Where's Jim?"

"He's back at the loft. I told him to go home and get cleaned up. I'm sure he'll be back soon."

Blair closed his eyes and nodded tiredly. "Good."

"Do you remember who did this, Sandburg," Simon asked. He hated to bother the kid about his ordeal, but if they didn't get information soon, their chances of apprehending the men responsible would diminish greatly.

Blair opened his eyes to gaze at Simon. "Huh?"

Simon suppressed a sigh. Great. His memory still hasn't returned. He raised a hand to rub his temple. Not only did these bastards almost kill Sandburg, they might get away with it. Hell, they might do it to someone else.

"Simon?"

Banks forced a small smile. "It's okay, kid. I was hoping you could tell me who did this to you."

"What happened," he asked, his voice raspy and strained.

"Do you remember anything," Simon prodded.

Blair shook his head. "No. Just a room."

"A room?"

"Dark and cold," Blair added, sounding much too tired.

Simon gave Blair's arm another gentle pat. "Okay. We can talk about it later -- if you remember anything else, that is. Right now, you need to rest."

Blair managed one more brief nod before falling back to sleep.



He awoke sometime later to a throbbing in his head accompanied by the soft sound of voices.

"His physical injuries are healing nicely. Fortunately, the burns should leave only minimal scarring."

"What about the drugs they gave him?" Blair recognized the voice, and it filled him with a warm sense of security.

"Latest blood tests show only trace amounts."

"His memory?"

"We can't be sure. According to the usual time window, the drug's amnesic affects should be wearing off, but, like I said, each person is different."

He tried to lift his eyelids, but they felt as though they were taped shut -- refusing to budge. He opened his mouth and released a small groan. He felt an immediate pressure on his forehead, and, once again, struggled to open his eyes.

"Chief? You awake?"

Blair swallowed, hoping to wet his throat enough to speak. He managed a small croak. "Jim?"

"Yeah, partner. I'm right here."

"Mr. Sandburg, I'm Doctor Zimmerman. I'm going to look into your eyes. Okay?"

The doctor's words didn't fully penetrate the fog surrounding Blair's consciousness, but he recognized the tone as one of gentle authority. The pressure lifted from his forehead, replaced by a hand on his face, then his right eyelid was pushed upward. A bright light filled his vision, causing a spike of pain to shoot into his brain. He released an involuntary yelp and clenched his eye shut, turning his head away from the offending instrument.
 
An angry voice reached his ears, but it sounded muffled and distant to his ears. His head spun. Images and sounds assaulted his consicousness: A room. A light. A syringe. The low growl of an angry animal.  A metallic, menacing object arching downward toward him.

He flinched away from the imaginary object as it made its descent. Ghostly tendrils of pain touched his chest and shoulders, and he tried to raise his hands to ward off the imagined attack. However, his arms remained at his sides, and he pulled against the bindings that held him. Panic clutched his chest, making it difficult to breath. He felt a hand on his chest, pushing him down.

"No..." He tried to raise his hands once again to push away the intruder, but the restraints prevented the motion. Fear and frustration rose within him, and he increased his struggles.

"Chief, it's okay." Jim's voice pierced the thick cloud of fear that fogged Blair's mind, and he latched onto the sound. "Sshhh.... No one's going to hurt you. Just calm down."

By a monumental act of will, Blair forced his eyelids open. A blurry figure loomed above him, and his heart nearly jumped into his throat.

"Easy, Sandburg. Just take it easy, buddy," the figure instructed.

Blair blinked. The blurry image solidified and Jim's face came into focus. Relief flooded Blair's system, quenching the adrenaline that raged through his veins and sucking the strength out of his muscles. He sagged against the mattress, his hair matted with sweat. Gentle tremors racked his body, and the fear quickly melted, replaced by tearful disbelief.

"Jim," he croaked, his eyes wet and pleading. "Please... " He tugged on the restraints. "Please get me out of here."

Jim glanced briefly up at the doctor before returning his gaze to Sandburg. "I wish I could, buddy, but you've gotta stay here a bit longer."

Blair shook his head. No. No way. He tugged on the restraints once again as the fear threatened to flare up again. "No, please, Jim. Help me, please. Don't let them... Don't..." His breathing started to come in pained gasps, and he yanked his arms angrily upward, snapping the bindings tight. "Don't do this to me. Please..."

Jim placed a gentle, restraining hand on Blair's chest. "Okay, Blair. Just take it easy, please. I'll see what I can do." He glanced up at the doctor as Blair fell back against the bed. "When can he go home, doctor," Jim asked.

Blair turned his gaze to the tall man in the white lab coat standing a few feet to his left. The man sighed and said. "Maybe in a day."

"Isn't he stable? Can't I take him home? I'll stay with him twenty-four-seven and give him whatever medications you prescribe," Jim suggested.

The doctor shook his head. "I'd really like to keep him here for observation. As you can see, he's hardly psychologically fit."

"I'm leaving," Blair interjected angrily, raising his head off the pillow. "You can't keep me here! I'm not crazy. I don't want you anywhere near me." He pulled once again at his restraints. "Let me out of here! Get these things off of me. You can't keep me here!"

Jim pushed him gently back against the mattress. "Sandburg, just take it easy, okay. Those restraints are for your own good. I promise we'll remove them just as soon you calm down."

Blair shook his head. "I haven't done anything... I... " He closed his eyes, trying to grasp onto the fragment of a memory. "They... "

"Who, Chief," Jim prodded, a sudden urgency in his voice. "Who's they?"

Blair bit his lower lip, trying to focus on the ghostly memory. "They... They tied me up." He opened his eyes and gazed tearfully up at Jim. "Please just get me out of here. I can't stand being... tied up like this. I don't want... I can't... Please...Please don't let them touch me, anymore. It hurts. It always hurts." His voice sounded vaguely hysterical even to his own ears, but he didn't care. He just knew he needed to get out of the white room, out of the restraints... away from the white man in the white coat with the sterile instruments.

Jim clenched his jaw and looked up at the doctor. "Okay, you heard him. There's no court order keeping him here."

"Detective Ellison, I strongly urge against--"

"I've noted your opinion, Doctor. If he's not in any physical danger, I'll take him home. He's been through enough already."

After a brief hesitation, the doctor nodded. "Okay. There's not much I can do to stop you from taking Mr. Sandburg home. I'll give you a prescription sedative and some pain killers. Have him take them as needed, but don't exceed the dosage on the labels. Okay?"

Jim nodded. The doctor reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a pad of letterhead paper. He scribbled the prescriptions onto the pad and tore off the sheet, handing it to Jim.

"Thanks, Doctor," Jim said, then looked back down at Sandburg. "Okay, if I take off these restraints, you promise to behave yourself?"

Blair nodded quickly. "Yeah, yeah," he promised, his voice hoarse. "Just get them off of me."



Jim guided Blair through the door of the loft, absently tossing the keys in the basket as Simon closed the door behind him. With one arm placed carefully aroung Blair's shoulders and his other hand on the younger man's arm, he steered his unsteady partner toward the couch.

"Easy now," Jim said as he lowered Blair onto the cushions. "Those ribs of yours are still pretty delicate, I bet."

Blair nodded briefly, then tilted his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. Jim tossed a worried look over at Simon, who raised his eyebrows as if asking a silent question. Jim guessed the nature of Simon's unasked question: Are you sure bringing Sandburg home was a good idea? Jim shrugged. No, he wasn't sure. He only knew that Sandburg had begged him for help, and Jim just couldn't refuse the kid... not after what he'd been through.

The detective walked into the kitchen, grabbed a glass, and moved to the refrigerator. He opened the door and gazed at the selection of beverages, trying to decide the best thing to give his partner. Water? Juice? He bit his lip thoughfully. Perhaps he should make some tea. Blair had an impressive assortment of herbal teas in the cabinet, and he could probably use something warm and soothing. He glanced back at Sandburg, noting the slouched shoulders and shallow breathing. With a sigh, he straightened and closed the refrigerator. Sandburg had fallen asleep, and, though the kid needed to keep liquids in his body after being dehydrated for so long, he probably needed the sleep more.

"Has he remembered anything yet," Simon whispered, glancing at Sandburg's sleeping figure.

Jim shrugged one shoulder. "A little, I think. He mentioned some stuff in the hospital, but it wasn't very specific, and he looked like he wasn't all that clear on the memories... whatever they were."

"What did he say," Simon prodded.

Jim plopped himself down at the kitchen table and brought one hand up to squeeze the bridge of his nose, releasing a long, slow sigh. "He said something about 'them' tying him up... hurting him."

"That's it?"

Jim nodded.

Simon inhaled a deep breath. "Damn. The kid better remember something soon, or these guys are gonna go scott-free."

Jim's head snapped up and he glared at Simon. "I realize that, but I don't want to push him; and, with all due respect, Sir, I don't want you pushing him to remember, either. The doctor says it'll come on its own.... and we've got to be ready to do a little spin control when it does come."

Simon nodded. "I didn't mean to suggest otherwise, Jim. It's just that I don't want these guys, whoever they are, out on the street. I sure as hell don't want to find out they've done... whatever they did to Sandburg... to someone else."

Jim lowered his head, rubbing his eyes. "I know, Captain. The doctor says we can reasonably expect Sandburg's memories to return within a day, but he doesn't know if he'll remember everything. There may be some permanent gaps in his memory."  He raised his head and stared at Sandburg thoughtfully. "I almost hope, for his sake, that he doesn't remember."

Simon glanced back at Sandburg, staring silently at him for several seconds. Then, a shrill ringing pierced the tense silence, and the effect on Sandburg was electric. He jerked upright, flinging himself off the couch in a single fluid motion. One arm curled immediately around his ribs, cradling the injured area protectively. Another ring sliced the air, and Sandburg flinched visibly, backing up toward the wall. Jim leapt from his seat in a blur of motion.

"They're coming," Blair yelled, looking around wildly. "Oh no... no. no. no" He backed into the wall. "Not again."

Jim grabbed the phone off the hook and flung it toward Simon. Banks caught it deftly and raised it to his ear, keeping his gaze locked on Sandburg.

"Easy, Chief," Jim said, approaching his distraught partner slowly.

"Who is it," Simon barked, his voice low.

Sandburg moved away from Jim, sliding against the wall toward the balcony, his breathing heavy and his heart pounding loudly in his chest. He shook his head frantically. "No. Oh please, Jim..." He raised his hands over his ears and slid down the wall, crouching alongside the balcony doors. "Please don't let it start again. Don't let them come for me."

Jim covered the distance between himself and his partner in three long strides, dropping alongside Sandburg and grabbing his shoulders. "Listen to me, Sandburg. You're safe here. Nothing's going to harm you. No one's going to come for you. I promise."

Blair closed his eyes and curled tighter into a ball, his back against the wall. "The bell," he said, rocking back and forth. "There was a bell."

Jim reached down and pulled Sandburg into a careful embrace, "Shhh.. It's over now, Blair. You're safe."

"First the bell. Then the pain. Always." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "No more, Jim. Please, I can't take anymore."

Jim clenched his jaw, staring at Simon with hard eyes that vowed vengeance. "No more, Chief. No more," he vowed, his gentle tone contrasting sharply with the fire in his blue eyes.



Jim walked out of Sandburg's room, closing the french doors with a tired sigh.

"How is he," Simon asked.

Jim looked at the anxious face of his Captain and shook his head, his shoulders hunched with fatigue. "I don't know. He's sleeping now, but I had to give him a sedative to calm him down."

Banks shifted on the couch, hanging one hand over the back so he was facing Jim. "You want me to stay here tonight and help you with him?"

Jim managed a small smile, but shook his head. "Thanks, Simon, but no. He'll be out for awhile, and you need to go home and rest."

"It's no trouble, Jim."

"Just go home, Simon," Jim said, holding his smile a second longer before letting it fade. "You've already helped a lot."

Simon rose from the couch, shaking his head. "I don't know how you do it, Jim," he said. "I think that's the hardest thing I've ever had to witness... seeing Sandburg so... so..."

Jim nodded. "I know, Simon."

"You think he'll be okay.... I mean, in time?"

Jim sighed, walking back to the kitchen table and sinking into a chair. "I hope so." He placed his hands on the table and rested his forehead on his fists. "I've never heard of the drug they gave him, and I encountered a lot of serious toxins in the military, but Doctor Zimmerman assures me it's some pretty serious stuff. A powerful hallucinogen, lethal in even small doses... and capable of causing brain damage." He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. "I just hope it hasn't permanently affected him... and whatever they did to him..." He clenched his eyes tight, shaking his head. "I don't even want to think about what they might have done to him."

"Is he still under the influence of the drug," Simon asked.

Jim shrugged. "He's got trace amounts in his system, but considering how powerful it is, that's enough to affect him."

"How long til it's completely out of his system."

"Probably another twenty-four hours," Jim replied.

"And then there's a possibility of his memories coming back full-force?"

Jim raised his head, casting a warning glance at Simon. "Like I said, Sir, there's no way to tell until and unless it happens. Zimmerman said he'll probably get his memories back in pieces."

Simon sighed. "Like what just happened?"

Jim nodded.

"Poor kid," Simon muttered. "These bastards are going down. That's for sure... with or without Sandburg's help."

Jim's mouth twitched upward in a slight smile, but it held no mirth, and the dangerous glint in his eyes sent a shiver down Simon's spine.

"Yes, they are," Jim stated, his voice flat.

Simon looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Uh, Jim..."

"I know. I'm off of this one," Jim said.

"You're too close."

"Of course, Sir."

Simon narrowed his eyes. "I mean totally off, Jim. No digging around on your own."

Jim raised one eyebrow. "I have to stay with Sandburg, Sir, remember?"

Simon nodded skeptically. "Uh-huh. I remember, but I also know that look of yours. You're not going to let this thing drop."

"I'll stay out of it, Sir... for now."

Simon rose from the couch. "Jim," he warned, "You're out of it until I say otherwise. Got it?"

Jim expression seemed cast in stone as he gazed at Simon. "Whatever you say, Sir."

Simon took a few steps toward the kitchen table. "Damnit, Jim, don't you even think of copping this stoic routine with me. You step out of line, and I'll have to put you on suspension. You're way too close to this... having you involved would be like leaving a loaded gun on a playground."

Jim shot out of the chair, his eyes blazing. "I'll give you and the guys a week to come up with some solid leads. After that, I'll do what I have to. I'm not letting these guys get away.. and you know I've got the edge here, Simon. You either catch them, or I'll go out there and hunt them down myself... probable cause and warrants be damned."

Simon straightened, using his full height to accent his words. "You listen to me, Detective Ellison," he growled. "You will NOT dictate ultimates to me. You got that? Don't think for a moment that I won't suspend you, and if you remain bent on taking the law into your own hands, I'll have you placed in lock-up for your own good. Got it?"

Jim clenched his jaw. "You can go home now, Captain."

Simon stormed over to the Jim, slapping his hands onto the table top. "Damnit, Jim, why do you have to be so goddamned stubborn!"

Jim met Simon's angry glare with one of his own. "You said it Simon. You wanna know how I'm dealing with seeing our normally happy and exuberant anthropologist cowering on the floor? I'm thinking about what those bastards are gonna get once I get my hands on them. That's the thing that keeps me together."

Simon's gaze softened infinistesimally. "You're upset now, I know, but don't go doing anything stupid, Jim. Sandburg needs you here, not in jail. You're his partner and best friend. You owe him your life, Ellison, so you'd better damn well stick around and help him through this hell."

Simon's words seemed to hit a chord with Ellison, and he lowered his eyes a fraction. "I owe it to him to find the son of a bitches who created this hell for him."

"Fine, then answer one question," Simon said.

Jim looked up expectantly at his Captain.

"You tell me what the kid's gonna do if you're in jail? Who's gonna be there for him when he needs help? What if he has a nightmare? Flashbacks? How's he gonna feel knowing you went to jail for something that happened to him?"

"That's more than one question, Simon," Jim pointed out stonily.

"I can fucking count, Ellison, thank you very much," Simon retorted.

Jim raised his eyebrows, his eyes softening. "Okay, Sir. You made your point."

Simon released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Good. Now I'm staying here tonight on the couch. No argument. Got that?"

Jim nodded, one edge of his mouth turning upward. "Yes, Sir." He tilted his head, then added, "But if you snore, I'm tossing you out into the hall."



Jim awoke suddenly, automatically focusing his hearing on his partner downstairs. The loft was quiet, but Blair's fast, shallow breathing reverberated in his ears like a drum. Silently, he slipped out of bed, walking down the stairs in his white boxers. Simon rested in a deep sleep on the couch, covered with a knitted comforter.

Jim walked quietly passed his Captain, stopping just in front of Blair's door. Carefully, he turned the knob, inching the door open to peak inside. Blair's bed covers were rumpled, but the bed itself was empty. Jim's heart leapt into his throat, and he honed in on the ragged breathing, frowning when he realized it was, indeed, coming from inside the room.

He tip-toed inside, scanning the dark room with his vision. Blair was nowhere to be seen. He tilted his head, listening, and his eyes drifted to the closed closet door on the far wall.

"Blair?" His whispery voice barely disturbed the quiet night. He received no answer, and, wondering if he'd spoken too low for Blair to hear, raised the volume a notch and tried again. "Blair? Are you okay?"

Again, no answer, but the breathing became more panicked. Jim stretched his hearing farther, picking up the rapid heart beat of his friend. Cautiously, he walked toward the closet.

"Blair, I'm going to open the closet door now." He wasn't exactly sure what he'd find inside, but he braced himself by taking a deep breath. Then he reached out, turned the knob, and swung the door open.

What he saw caused his stomach to drop to his feet. Blair sat huddled on the floor, tucked away in the corner. His knees were pulled against his chest with his head buried in his lap. Blair's arms encircled his legs, allowing him to pull himself into a tight ball. Violent tremors racked his body, but he remained otherwise motionless.

"Blair?"

Sandburg flinched, folding in on himself, though Jim would have thought it impossible for Blair to make himself any smaller, especially considering his bandaged ribs. A tiny whimper escaped the shaking, huddled figure, and Jim closed his eyes briefly, taking in another deep breath to calm the tide of sorrow and anger that threatened to spill over his control. When he opened his eyes again, he felt more in control of his emotions.

Slowly, Jim knelt down, his body only inches from Sandburg's. "Shhhh, Blair, it's okay."

Blair flinched again, his whimpers rising to an hysterical wail.

"Shhhh-Shhh," Jim soothed.

He glanced over his shoulder when he heard Simon groan and rise from the couch. A few seconds later, Simon stood in the doorway to Sandburg's room, squinting through the darkness at Jim.

"Keep the light off, Simon," Jim requested, turning his attention back to Sandburg.

Simon nodded. "What's going on?" His voice was low, concerned.

Blair's hysterical wail faded to a soft whimper once again, and he began to rock back and forth gently.

"Blair, buddy, talk to me," Jim pleaded. "What's wrong? Are you remembering something? Did you have a nightmare? What is it?"

Blair remained unresponsive, continuing to rock back and forth as he whimpered softly.

Jim felt a hollow pang fill his chest, slowly rising to the level of a twisting pain that felt like a knife in his heart. He reached out with one hand, letting it fall softly on Blair's shoulder. Blair cringed back, pushing himself into the corner.

Jim decided to go for broke. He had to pierce the grip of whatever terror held Blair in its clutches, and if that required force, so be it. Swiftly, he pulled Blair away from the wall, encompassing the young man in a firm but careful bear-hug that effectively pinned his partner's hands at his sides. Blair's whimpers rose to terror-stricken sobs, and he struggled in Jim's arms, his eyes clenched shut and his face matted with sweat. Tears streamed down his cheeks, falling onto Jim's arms like drops of fire.

"Listen to my voice, Blair. You're okay. I've got you. I'm right here." Gently, he rocked Blair back and forth, mimicking the young man's earlier motion.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and tilted his head back to look at Simon.

"You need some help getting him to bed," Simon asked.

Jim shook his head. "No. Thank you, Simon, but we'll stay here for awhile."

After a brief hesitation, Simon nodded, then quietly backed out of the room. Jim rested his chin on top of Sandburg's head, cradling his shaking partner protectively. The muscles in his jaw bulged, and his eyes narrowed to slits as he listened to Blair's soft whimpers. What kind of monster could do such a thing? He closed his eyes. He knew. He knew what kind of monsters existed in the world. At one time, he might have been called one. The fact that such ugliness had touched Sandburg set his blood on fire. Blair was the epitome of goodness... a compassionate, empathic soul filled with warmth and optimism. Jim was the sentinel. It was his job to protect Blair from the evil of the world. He sighed. Okay, so he knew he couldn't always protect Sandburg. He couldn't be with his partner twenty-four hours a day, and Blair was, after all, a grown man. However, that didn't change the nature of their relationship. Jim was the warrior... the necessary evil, on occasion. Blair was the good one.... all good. One hundred percent. Not an evil bone his body. Such goodness was a true rarity in the universe, and it had to be preserved. It shone like a fiery star in a dark, cold universe, providing light and warmth, reaching out to give the gift of life to an otherwise barren cosmos.

"Shhh," Jim whispered.

Blair was just that - a precious gem. The proverbial ray of light in a dark world. Sometimes he forgot that, Jim realized. On a day-to-day basis, he took Blair for granted. The kid was always there, at his side, facing the demons with steadfast courage and unwaivering loyalty.

"You're safe, Blair. I'm right here. I've got you," he reassured his partner.

Eventually, Blair's struggles ceased, and Jim loosened his hold a fraction. A few heartbeats later, Sandburg's tears died, and he hung limply in Jim's arms, his head foreward against his chest.

Jim listened to his partner's breathing, satisfied that it was approaching normal. He felt the thrum of Sandburg's heartbeat against his chest, and the steady pulse vibrated through his body. His own heartbeat fell into sync with the strong, steadying rhythm of Sandburg's heart, and, instinctively, he tightened his grip on his friend. He might not be able to protect Sandburg all the time, but he could protect him tonight.



Blair slammed into awareness, escaping the dark clutches of an indistinct terror that gripped his soul. Phantom memories teased at his brain, crumbling to dust before he could get a grip on them. A tight pressure weighed on his chest, and he found his arms pinned to his sides. He dimly realized that his body was shaking uncontrollably, as though he'd just come off the high of an adrenaline rush. He blinked, but the darkness around him remained thick and unyielding. Momentary panic clutched his chest, and he tried to twist out of the grip of whatever vice trapped him.

"Shhh. It's okay, Chief. Are you with me?"

Jim.... It was then that he became aware of the other sensations enveloping him. A solid warmth pressed against his back, wrapping soothing tendrils around his chest. Suddenly the pressure seemed comforting rather than threatening, and he leaned back into the warm, safe cocoon.

"Where....?" He blinked, trying to see through the darkness.

"You're in your room, Sandburg," Jim's voice whispered behind him.

My room? He blinked again, and, slowly, shadowy images fell into his vision: clothes hanging, a pair of shoes on the floor, the serpent-like shape what was probably a belt. He was in his closet, he realized. What the hell was he doing in the closet with Jim?

"What happened?" His voice was low and hoarse.

"You had a flashback, I think," Jim explained.

Blair closed his eyes. A flashback? He strained his memory, trying to push past the black wall to gain a peek at the images lurking in the back of his mind. He knew they were there, just beyond reach. They seemed closer now than they had ever before, and, just a like a vague dream, he knew that if he just relaxed and let his mind wander, the images would eventually present themselves. Part of him feared the truth of those hidden memories, but the stronger part of his mind sought them out, knowing that his dreams would never find peace until he confronted the memories.

"You okay," Jim asked.

Blair didn't know if he was even remotely okay, but he knew that his legs were jello and his spine had turned to spaghetti. There was no way he was moving. At the moment, he needed to stay exactly where he was, on the floor, with Jim as his anchor.

The sentinel seemed to sense his unspoken need, because his arms tightened briefly and he said, "Just let me know when you're ready to get up. Take all the time you need."

Blair clenched his eyes against threatened tears. "Thanks, Jim," was the only reply he could manage.



The smell of bacon tickled Jim's nostrils, and he opened his eyes, inhaling a deep breath of the tempting aroma. He smiled and slid out from under the covers. Hastily, he grabbed a T-shirt from the top drawer and trotted down the stairs.

"Hey, Jim," Simon said, standing by the stove over a couple of sizzling frying pans.

"Simon, what are you doing?"

The Captain raised his eyebrows and looked at Jim as though he had just asked the most absurd question in the world. "What does it look like I'm doing?"

"Making breakfast?"

"I knew there was a reason they made you a detective," Simon quipped.

"Funny," Jim muttered. He shuffled into the kitchen and peered into the pan. "Thanks, Simon. This is really nice, but you didn't have to, you know."

"You had a late night last night," Simon said. "And I was up early, and hungry."

Simon turned off the flame and Jim grabbed glasses and plates from the cabinet, setting the table for three.

"How did everything go last night," Simon inquired, casting a furtive glance toward Sandburg's door as he dumped a pile of scrambled eggs onto two of the plates.

Jim's eyes flicked toward the french doors. "He fell asleep sometime around three," Jim said.

"What happened?" Simon grabbed the other pan and slid three pieces of bacon onto the plates. He returned the pan to the stove and covered the remaining food with lids.

"I think he had some sort of a flashback," Jim explained. "But he didn't seem to remember much about it once he came to."

Jim heard the rustling of covers in Sandburg's room, and cocked his head to listen to his partner's heartbeat, finding it elevated, but steady. Soft footsteps shuffled across wood, and the french doors opened to reveal a disheveled, pale anthropologist.

Both Jim and Simon stared at Sandburg critically as the young man walked into the kitchen, his arms wrapped in front of his body protectively. Simon cast a questioning gaze at Jim, but the sentinel's focus remained on his partner. Blair looked up briefly at the two men, then shuffled over to the kitchen table and slid quietly into one of the chairs.

Jim took a few steps toward Sandburg. "Blair?"

Blair swallowed, gazing solemnly at the empty plate in front of him. "I remember," he whispered.

Jim and Simon dropped into their seats, gazing at Sandburg expectantly.

"You wanna do this now, Sandburg," Simon asked.

Blair raised his head, and the look of fire in those blue eyes stole Jim's breath.  "Yes," Sandburg said, his voice flat. "Now."

"Okay, hold on," Jim stammered, rising from his chair and bolting up the stairs to his room. He returned a few seconds later with a micro-recorder and set it on the table in front of Sandburg. "Just take it slow, Blair," Jim prodded, sinking back into his chair.

Blair held Jim's gaze for a full three seconds before lowering his eyes back to the plate. "I was walking down the street toward the deli," he began, the hint of a tremor betraying his voice. "It had just gotten dark out, I think. This car pulled up next to me -- black or dark blue. It was something like an Explorer, an SUV with tinted windows. The doors on my side opened and two asian men jumped out. They grabbed me, held something over my face, and pulled me inside. The next thing I remember is waking up in a dark room.... cold. I'm not sure how long I was awake, but sometime later a loud bell sounded, then a door opened and light flooded the room. There was a chair in the center of the room, bolted to the floor." He closed his eyes, wrapping his arms tighter around his torso. "They dragged me into the chair and placed these shackles around my arms and legs... kinda like Lash did." He shivered, clenching his eyes tighter.

Jim clenched his jaw, his face stone, but his eyes fire.

Blair's brow creased in concentration. "They attached these wires to my... uh, chest. Then they told one of the guys to hit the juice, but it gets fuzzy after that. The next clear thing I remember is being back on the floor, in the dark. I don't know how much time had passed, but I remember feeling very hungry and thirsty. A little while later, the door opened and a styrofoam cup was placed on the floor. Someone also threw a small piece of meat into the room." He swallowed, taking a deep breath. "There wasn't a lot of water in the cup... at least I think it was water. I drank it, then pretty much devoured the meager piece of meat. Soon after that, things started to get weird. I remember flashes of images that don't make any sense. Dancing flames. People made out of ashes... Lash." He opened his eyes and glanced quickly up at Jim before returning his gaze to the table. "I guess that was the hallucinogen."

Jim and Simon remained quiet, waiting for Blair to continue. Jim listened to his partner's thundering heart, and debated whether he should get out of his chair and walk over to Blair -- maybe place a hand on his partner's shoulder to help ground him, comfort him, but he didn't want to risk interrupting Blair's monologue.

After a few seconds, Blair continued. "I remember feeling sick... worst than I've ever felt before. I thought it would kill me. I knew they had given me something, but I didn't know what. Then later, and again I have no idea how much time passed, the door opened and they threw another piece of meat inside. No water this time. Then I heard a snarl, and the door slammed shut. I crawled over to the food, but something slammed into me. I guess it was a dog. They probably starved and abused it to make it vicious. I didn't really get a good look at it, but it attacked me. The attack only lasted a few seconds, then it jumped off of me and went for the food. After that, I stayed in the corner and it left me alone. I think it was almost as afraid of me as I was of it. I dozed in and out, I guess, but I was jarred awake by the sound of another bell. The door opened again and the lights flooded on. They must have done something to the dog, because it laid unconscious in the corner. I could see that it was breathing, but if not for that, I'd have thought it was dead.

"They shackled me back to the chair. Then they called this young guy over, I think the same one they told to hit the juice earlier. They would hand him something, and bark an order, then the pain would start. I can't remember exactly what they did to me. I was kind of out of it, but I do remember the pain." His voice cracked and he shivered, taking a deep breath. "I don't even know how long it lasted. I think at one point they poured something down my throat. This time when they left, they kept me shackled in the chair. Sometime later, another bell sounded and they came back. I remember them shoving something hard into my mouth, but other than that, it's a complete blank. The next thing I remember is being back on the floor. The door opened again, they threw something into the room, and the dog went for it. I guess it was food, but I could barely even move." He took a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly. "Then I was on the floor in a white room, drinking something warm."

"That was the hospital," Jim said, his voice strained.

"Do you have any idea where they took you," Simon asked.

Blair shook his head, then he glanced at the recorder and said, "No. I have no idea."

"How about what they looked liked," Banks prodded.

Blair shrugged. "Just that they were all asian. I think the young one... the one that... he was the only one I remember that ever did anything directly to me. I can kind of see his face. It's long and thin, and he looks like he's between sixteen and eighteen. He has dark, straight hair -- down to his shoulders."

"Would you recognize him if you saw a mug shot," Jim asked.

Blair bit his lip, gazing silently down at the table for several long seconds. Finally, he nodded. "I think so." He looked up at Jim. "You never told me how long I was missing."

Jim glanced briefly at Simon, then looked back to Blair. "One week."

Blair's expression fluttered momentarily, marked by an indistinct emotion. "One week," he whispered, his gaze falling back to the table. "I don't remember nearly enough to fill a week."

"The doctor said there may be some permanent gaps in your memory," Jim explained.

Several tense momens of silence filled the air before Blair spoke. Finally, he murmured, "They could have done other stuff to me." His voice was whisper-soft. "Things I don't remember."

Jim rose from his chair and moved to the one nearest Blair. He reached out and rested a firm hand on his partner's shoulder. "There was no medical evidence of any... sexual abuse,"  Jim offered, his voice soft.

Blair's head snapped up as though he'd been slapped. He sprung out of his chair, out of Jim's grasp. The detective remained seated, motionless, letting Blair have his space. The young man glanced briefly at Simon, then back at Jim.

"I've gotta use the bathroom," Blair said, then hurried down the hall.

Jim heard the door slam, then water running. Simon released a long, shaky sigh. He reached out and flicked off the recorder.

"That was intense," the Captain said.

Jim nodded, rubbing his face with one hand. "I never should have let him walk to the deli."

"Now don't you start with that, Jim. There's no way you could have predicted this," Simon admonished.

Jim shook his head, unable to look his Captain in the eyes. "I knew it was getting dark. The station's not exactly in the best neighborhood. I should have told him to drive the truck, or ordered delivery. If I'd have done either of those things, this never would have happened to him."

"Jim, I'm going to tell you this only once. Lay off the self-pitying guilt trip and eat your breakfast," Simon commanded. "My cooking's pretty darn good, if I do say so myself."

Jim cocked an eyebrow at his Captain and managed a small smile. "They're cold."

With a long-suffering sigh, Simon rose from the table, grabbed the two plates, and popped them into the microwave. He set the timer for two minutes, then returned to the table.

Jim heard the bathroom door swing open, and Sandburg emerged from the hallway, practically running over to the table.

"I want these guys, Jim," he announced sharply, his eyes blazing. "I want them off the street! Put away!"

Jim rose from his chair, raising his hands in the air. "Easy, Chief. I know you do. So do I. We'll go--"

Sandburg waved his hands frantically in the air, pacing wildly in the kitchen and wincing slightly with each step. "You don't get it, Jim. They're out there somewhere, but I don't know who they are... not all of them, anyway. Just one guy. I could be standing next to one of them in line at the store, or, hell, they could even be at the university. I just... I just don't like the idea that they know who I am but I know nothing about them. I don't remember everything that happened, and they do. They know who I am, they know what they did to me, they know why they did it, and now they're out there... maybe planning on doing it again to me or someone else... maybe they're even watching me, you know, to see how their little 'project' or whatever turned out. What am I supposed to do? Look at every black or blue SUV and wonder if that's them? You know how many of those things are in the city? You know--"

Jim took two long strides toward Blair and placed his hands on the young man's shoulders, stopping him in his tracks. "Take it easy, Blair. Those ribs of yours aren't anywhere near healed yet."

Blair shrugged out of Jim's grasp, his face scrunched with concern. "I just...." He threw his arms in the air and resumed his anxious pacing. "I just don't know how to get past this. If I can't remember everything, and I don't know who did it, how the hell am I supposed to go to work every day? It makes me feel...." He shook his head wildly, releasing an angry sigh.

"What, Chief," Jim prodded, glancing briefly at Simon. "How does it make you feel."

Blair continued shaking his head. "Nevermind. That's not the issue. The issue is they're out there, and they need to be stopped," he said.

Jim took a slow, deep breath. "Come on, Chief. I know this is hard on you, but you've gotta talk to me. How does this make you feel?"

"What are you, a shrink," Blair snapped, then quickly lowered his eyes, apparently regretting the comment immediately.

Jim clenched his jaw. Sandburg's sudden mood change worried him. He knew Blair had every right to be angry, and, actually, he was somewhat relieved to see Sandburg venting his feelings. Anger was a normal response to such trauma, and Blair's indignation was a refreshing change from the terror that had enveloped the younger man earlier. However, this anger seemed on the verge of hysteria, and Jim didn't quite know how to calm his partner.

"Listen, Blair," Jim began, "I may not be a psychiatrist, but I am your friend. You can either talk to me, or you can talk to a shrink... or both. Whatever you want, but I hope you trust me enough to confide in me."

Blair's expression immediately softened, and he gazed at Jim in unspoken apology. "I trust you, Jim. It's not that," he amended.

Simon cleared his throat. "If you'll excuse me, I need to use the restroom."

The microwave dinged, and Blair jumped, spinning around wildly. His eyes focused on the microwave, and, after a brief hesitation, he spun back around and resumed his angry pacing. "I'm tired of this! I'm tired of jumping at noises... bells... I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of not remembering! I was helpless for a week! And now it's like they've still got a part of me! I don't want to be helpless anymore! I want to go out there and get those bastards!"

Simon made his way into the hall with a brief glance back at Jim. The sentinel gave the retreating Captain a brief nod of thanks, then walked back over to Sandburg. He placed his hands on Blair's shoulders again, this time keeping his grip firm.

"Look at me, Blair," he said.

Blair raised his eyes to meet Jim's gaze.

"We are going to do everything in our power to get these guys, but, regardless, I want you to know that you are not alone in this," Jim said. "I understand you're angry. I know you're afraid. You don't know whether to scream or cry. I know all this because I've been right where you are now. Remember that, okay?"

Blair swallowed, then nodded. Jim felt a little of the tension leave his partner's shoulders, and he gave his guide a reassuring smile. "Are you okay now?"

Blair nodded again. "Yeah, Jim. Thanks."

"Just doing my job," he said, cuffing Blair gently on the cheek. "So do you think your stomach's up for some eggs? Simon made breakfast."

Blair smiled, then nodded. "Yeah, I think I can manage that. I haven't had a decent meal in over a week, after all."



That afternoon, Blair sat at Jim's desk in the bullpen of Major Crimes, looking at pages and pages of mug shots. When he'd first stepped through the doors of the bullpen, he'd been greeted by a flood of officers. Brown, Rafe, and Joel had crowded around him, welcoming him back and wishing him a speedy recovery. He'd felt a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, and even more uncomfortable being surrounded by several large men, but he'd smiled politely and thanked them all. Fortunately, Jim had recognized his discomfort and quickly extricated him from the small crowd.

As he stared at the picture of another asian man, he pulled his glasses of his face and rubbed his eyes. Not one of them had struck a chord with his memory. He released a sigh and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, kneading out the knot of tension at base.

"The sketch artist is ready for you, Blair."

Blair looked up to see Simon standing in front of the desk. "Okay," he acknowledged, rising from the chair.

Simon patted him on the shoulder and steered him toward the office. "I take it none of the mug shots panned out?"

Blair shook his head. "Sorry, Sir."

"Don't apologize, Sandburg. He may not even be in there," Banks replied.

Blair walked into Simon's office and Banks closed the door behind him. A young woman sat in a chair next to Simon's desk, holding a sketchbook in her hands. The woman looked up at Blair and Simon and smiled.

"Thank you for letting us use your office, Captain Banks," she said.

Banks waved a hand dismissively in the air. "I've got a meeting with the commissioner, so it's no problem." He glanced at Sandburg. "Just take your time, I should be held up for well over an hour."

Sandburg nodded. "Thanks, Simon."

Blair took his a seat next to the young sketch artist. She held out her hand, and Blair shook it.

"I'm Jane Esler," she said. "And you must be Blair Sandburg."

He nodded.

"Well, I'll leave you two alone," Simon said, making a hasty retreat out of his office.



Jim and Blair walked into the admissions office of the high school, stopping in front of the chest-high counter. A plump graying woman looked up and smiled. Jim had argued with Simon all morning, and, finally the Captain had agreed, against his better judgment, to allow Ellison in on the case.... as long as the detective promised to "behave himself."

"Can I help you gentlemen?"

Jim reached in his jacket and removed his badge, flashing it briefly. "I'm Detective James Ellison of the Cascade P.D.," he said, returning the badge to his pocket. "I called earlier about a young man that might possibly be a student here."

She nodded and rose from her chair. "Ah yes, I remember."

He reached into his other jacket pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, handing it to the woman. She unfolded the paper and gazed at the photocopy of the sketch.

"Do you recognize that boy," Jim asked.

"Uh, he looks a bit familiar, but it's hard to say," she replied.

"How many asian boys attend this school? Do you know off-hand if any have dark, shoulder-length hair," Jim prodded.

The woman gazed at the picture intently. "He looks a little like Eric Woo," she said, "but I can't be sure."

Jim heard Blair's heartrate spike, and he glanced at his partner, noting the deep lines of exhaustion etched around his friend's eyes.

With a slight frown, Jim turned back to the secretary. "May we speak with Eric Woo?"

She nodded. "Sure. Hold on and I'll have him called from class." She walked back to her desk, picked up the phone, and dialed a three-digit number. "Mrs. Owen?"

A few seconds passed, then a soft, high-pitched voice sounded over the speaker. "Yes?"

"Could you send Eric Woo to the office, please?"

"Sure thing."

The secretary ended the connection and walked back over to the counter, handing the sketch back to Ellison. "He'll be here shortly," she said.

With a grateful smile, Jim re-folded the paper and placed it back in his pocket. "Thank you very much." He slapped a hand on Blair's shoulder and guided him over to the chairs against the wall. "You okay?"

Blair nodded, dropping into one of the hard, blue chairs. "Yeah. Thanks."

They waited only a couple of minutes until Jim heard the soft patter of footsteps down the hall. A few seconds later, the office door opened and a young asian man walked in. He strolled over to the counter, oblivious to the two men seated in the chairs behind him. Jim studied Sandburg's face, taking note of the way the young man's wide eyes followed Woo to the counter.

"Yeah," he asked. "Somebody here called me?"

Blair gasped, quickly turning his head away from the young man. "That's him," he whispered quickly. "The voice..."

Jim rose from his seat, blocking the exit. "Mr. Woo?"

The young man spun around. When he spotted Blair, his eyes widened, and he backed into the counter. He glanced at Jim, tensing as though preparing to make a run for it.

Don't even try it kid, Jim thought. "Mr. Woo, I'm Detective Ellison," he said, once again flashing his badge. "Would you mind coming with me to the station? I have a few questions for you?"

Woo looked back over his shoulder at the secretary, then turned back to Jim, fixing the detective with an angry, defiant gaze. "No way. I don't have to go anywhere with you!"

"Perhaps I should call his parents," the secretary suggested.

Jim nodded. "That would be a good idea." He kept his eyes fixed on the young man. "Blair, I need you to take a good look at him and tell me if this is guy," he said.

He heard Blair inhale a deep breath, then say, "Yes, that's him, Jim. I'm sure of it."

A tiny smile tugged at Jim's lips, and he took a step toward the youg man. "Mr. Woo, please step over to the wall and place your hands above your head. You're under arrest."

"What?! This is bogus. You can't arrest me," the young man protested. "I don't know what he's told you," he said, jabbing a finger in Blair's direction, "but the hippie's lying."

"NOW! Place your hands above your head and face the wall," Jim ordered, causing the secretary to jump in surprise.

The kid took a step back, suddenly looking uncertain. After a brief hesitation, he turned around and placed his hands high on the wall. Jim approached the man cautiously. Just as he walked up behind the boy, Woo's elbow shot downward, clipping him in the side of the face.

"JIM!"

Fortunately, the kid didn't have much meat on his bones, and the blow barely phased the detective. Ellison grabbed Woo's arm and twisted it behind the kid's back.

"Ow! Hey man, you're gonna break my arm," the kid protested.

Jim slapped the handcuff around the kid's wrists. "Mr. Woo, you are under arrest for kidnapping and battery. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford and attorney, one will be appointed for you by the court. Do you understand these rights?"

"Fuck you," the kid spat.

Jim glanced over his shoulder at Blair, who stood against the door, his eyes locked on Eric Woo.

"Charming kid, huh, Chief?"

Blair blinked, his eyes shifting to Jim. "What?"

"Never mind," he said, pulling Woo away from the wall. Blair scrambled out of the way as Jim pushed the kid toward the door.

Woo fixed Blair with an angry glare on his way passed the observer. "Was it good for you," he hissed.

The color drained instantly from Blair's face, and Jim swung the door open quickly, pushing the kid into the hallway. "Keep talking, kid and we may not even have to go to trial."

Jim reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone, tossing it to Blair. "Call Brown for pick-up, Chief."

Sandburg hit the auto-dial, raising the phone to his ear. After a few seconds, he said. "Brown? Sandburg. We're at the high school and Jim's got one of the guys in custody. He wants to know if you can come and escort the kid to the station.... Okay... Thanks, man." Blair ended the connection, placing the phone in his own jacket pocket. "He said he'll be here in ten minutes."