Primality Part II  

 

Blair stood a foot away from the glass wall, looking through the two-way mirror at Jim and Woo in the interrogation room. He focused on taking slow, deep breaths, making a diligent effort to calm the rage of emotions that swelled in his chest: anger, fear, embarrassment... He stared at the thin young man seated at the table. Under any other circumstances, Blair wouldn't have given the kid even a second glance. He looked fairly normal, like someone's kid. Heck, he was someone's kid. So was Charles Manson, Blair mused, suppressing the shiver that threatened to slither down his spine.

The kid seated at that table, though, was no innocent. He was a vicious monster who had taken pleasure in torturing Blair. Sandburg flashed on Woo's face, standing over him with a self-satisfied smear. He closed his eyes, remembering Woo's cold eyes at the high school when he'd looked at Blair and asked, "Was it good for you?"

What the hell was that supposed to mean? He clenched his eyes tight, forbidding his mind to ponder the thing his heart feared. There was no evidence of sexual abuse. Jim's words replayed in Blair's thoughts, echoing through his skull.

No. He opened his eyes and spun on his heels, walking out of the interrogation area and toward the bathroom. He needed to get away.... find a small pocket of solitude and just block the world out. He'd have preferred somewhere a bit more private than the restroom, like maybe the dark side of the moon, but, unfortunately, the men's room was his only option at the moment.

He pushed open the door, releasing a small breath when he saw that the restroom was vacant. Quickly, he scuttled into the stall, slamming the door shut and slapping the lock closed. Then he lowered the lid of the toilet and sat down, pulling his legs up. He wrapped his arms around his legs and buried his head in his lap, his eyes closed. His position was hardly one conducive to meditation, but it wasn't really meditation he sought. What he really wanted to do was find a nice, dark hole somewhere, crawl into it, and never, ever come out.



"Have you seen Sandburg," Simon asked Rafe, standing in front of the young detective's desk.

Rafe looked up from his computer screen and shook his head. "Last I saw, he went into the interrogation room with Jim."

Simon frowned. "Well, he's not there now. Thanks."

Rafe nodded. "How's it going in there, anyway," he inquired.

Simon sighed. "Jim's doing a real number on the kid. His lawyer hasn't arrived yet, but, fortunately, the kid hasn't opted for the silent treatment."

Rafe shook his head. "It sometimes amazes me how stupid these criminals are. Last week Brown and I interrogated a suspected car thief. We were able to pin two counts of grand theft auto on him, and he was nice enough to inform us that he'd really stolen ten more cars we didn't know about."

Simon grunted. "Yeah, if we can get this kid to confess, Sandburg may not ever have to step foot in a courtroom."

Rafe nodded solemnly. "I understand." He shook his head. "This has to be hard on the kid. It's amazing how together he is. I mean, he's back at work and helping track down the guys that did this to him. A real professional. If it were me, I don't... " He looked away momentarily. "Well, I just don't know if I'd be able to keep it together. I'd probably try to rip the guy's heart out with my bare hands."

Yeah, well the kid's a good actor when he needs to be, Simon thought, but left the words unspoken. "Well, anyway, keep an eye out for him. If you see him, send him in my office."

"Yes, Sir," Rafe replied.

That said, Simon walked out of the bullpen and into the men's room. He was just about to head into one of the open stalls when the faint sound of distressed breathing reached his ears. He looked at one of the closed stalls, then bent down to see if there were any feet visible inside. He didn't see any shoes, so he shifted his gaze to peek briefly through the crack at the edge of the stall door, not wanting to intrude on anyone's privacy but somewhat concerned about the occupant inside.

He caught sight of long dark curls and a hunched figure seated on the toilet. He took a deep breath. Sandburg. He should have known. Looks like this acting job of his is harder than it appears. He stepped in front of the stall and knocked softly door.

"Sandburg?"

Silence.

"I know you're in there. You okay?"

A shaky voice answered him. "Yes, Captain."

Simon bit the inside of his cheek, unsure as to whether he should leave Sandburg alone or stay and offer comfort. Damn, this was never my department. I'm not a shrink. As he listened to Sandburg's ragged breathing, he mentally kicked himself for his pathetic complaints. Sandburg may indeed need a shrink. Hell, the kid probably needed a shrink on a good day, he mused, realizing even as he formed the thought that his own mental jibe at the kid was only a defense mechanism against the emotional severity of the situation. However, it was really for Sandburg to decide whether he needed to talk to a professional. At the moment, though, the kid definitely needed a friend.... and Simon hoped that Sandburg counted him as a friend.

"You don't sound okay, Sandburg," Simon observed. "And I've got a sneaking suspicion that you're not using the facilities."

There was brief pause. Then Blair said, "I'd just like to be alone for a bit, if you don't mind, Sir."

Sir? Okay, something's definitely wrong, but what the hell am I supposed to do? "Look, Sandburg, why don't you go home? Come on out, and I'll give you a lift."

"No, Sir. I'm fine."

Simon sighed. Why do I get stuck with all the stubborn ones? "Get your ass out here, Sandburg. I'm taking you home." There, that ought to do it.... show the kid a bit of authority.

Simon heard Blair take a deep, shaky breath, and he peered through the crack to look at the huddled figure on the toilet.

"Leave me alone, Simon... Please," Blair pleaded.

"Not until you come out."

What the hell am I doing, anyway? Maybe the kid just needs a little space... He clenched his jaw, suppressing a tired sigh. Normally, he'd just shrug and walk away, figuring that anyone in Blair's situation would just need to be left alone to sort out their own demons. However, something told him that, today, Blair needed NOT to be left alone. He didn't think the kid was a danger to himself, but he figured Sandburg had been too alone lately... left in a cold, dark room for a week. What the kid needed now was friends.

"Damnit, Simon, just leave me alone!"

Simon bunched one hand into a fist. "Okay, fine. If you insist on staying in there, I'll stay out here," he said. Just as soon as I make sure no one interrupts us.

He turned around and walked out of the restroom, keeping one eye on the bathroom door. Quickly, he walked over to Jim's desk, scribbled a "DO NOT ENTER!" note on a large sheet of paper, and ripped off a piece of tape. Simon snatched the newspaper off of Jim's desk and walked back to the restroom. He slapped the note on the outside of the door and pushed his way back inside.

With an exaggerated sigh, he slid down the door, effectively blocking the entrance, and sat down on the floor. Clearing his throat, he shook the newspaper open, then skimmed the sports section.

"Well, it looks like the Jags won 6-2 against Oakland," Simon remarked.

"That's yesterday's paper," Blair informed him. "Some detective skills you've got for a police Captain."

What? Simon frowned, glancing at the top of the page at the date. Smart ass. "Well what the hell is Ellison doing with yesterday's paper?"

"I guess he was a bit too busy to notice," Sandburg replied.

Simon gave himself another mental kick. Yep, doing great, Captain Banks. "Well, anyway, I didn't get to see the game."

"Neither did I. Neither did Jim." Sandburg's voice held a tinge of anger.

Simon suppressed a small smile. Anger. Now we're getting somewhere.

"So you read the paper?"

"Is this somehow important, Simon?"

"It says there's a chance of rain tomorrow," Banks informed the anthropologist.

"We live in Washington, Simon. That's not news."

Simon paged through the newspaper, finally stopping at a little article in the HEALTH AND SCIENCE Section. "Hmmnn. It says here that scientists discovered that a rare plant in the South American may harbor a potential ingredient useful in combating certain types of cancer."

He skimmed the rest of the article, waiting for Sandburg to say something. When no response was forthcoming, he continued. "Well, anyway, I thought it was interesting. Aren't you into natural remedies?"

"I'm also into peace and quiet," Blair retorted.

"You? That's a laugh."

"With all due respect, Sir... Go to hell."

Simon's smile resurfaced, and he held the newspaper over his face just in case Sandburg was spying on him. "That's no way to talk to your Captain, Sandburg," he admonished, his tone low but harsh.

"I'm not a cop, remember?"

"You're still a member of this department, and that requires that you exercise a certain decorum," Banks replied. "I won't take any attitude from you."

The stall door flung open, and Sandburg bolted out, storming over to Simon and snatching the paper out of his hand. "I don't have to take anything from YOU! All I wanted was to be left alone! Where the hell do you get off coming in here and telling me what I can and can't do? 'Get out here, Sandburg,'" he mimicked. "'Go home, Sandburg!' Well here's a newsflash for you," he said, waving the paper in the air, "I'm an adult! I can do whatever the hell I damn well please!"

Simon stared calmly up at Sandburg, waiting for the young man's tirade to exhaust itself.

"Now get the hell out of my way, Simon! You wanted me out of the stall, I'm out," Sandburg continued. "Happy now?"

Simon slowly inhaled a lungful of air, then released it. He pushed himself onto his feet, towering over the smaller man. He fixed a stern gaze at Sandburg, then asked, "Who are you mad at?"

Sandburg rolled his eyes and threw his hands into the air as though confronted with the most idiotic question imaginable. "You! I'm angry at you! I asked you to leave me alone. Was that so hard?"

Simon folded his arms in front of his chest. "Somehow, I don't think it's me you're made at."

Sandburg clenched his jaw, staring daggers at Simon. "If you think you're going to pull some psychology on me, forget it. I minored in psych, remember?"

Simon nodded. "Yeah, I remember," he replied, meeting Sandburg's cold glare. "I also remember a few other things about you... Like the time you risked your life for me and Daryl in Peru. Then you traipsed through the jungle after a maniac with automatic weapons to save my life. I also seem to remember you helping a certain bomb squad captain confront his fears so that he could perform his duty. You've also managed to turn a one-time pain-in-the-ass detective by the name of James Ellison into one of my best cops and best friends," he said, his gaze softening. He unfolded his arms and placed a gentle hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "So why don't you explain to me why you're so willing to offer help, but so reluctant to accept it?"

Sandburg lowered his gaze, the anger in his eyes melting to embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Simon. It's... uh... not that I don't appreciate the concern. It's just that... well..."

"I haven't exactly been the picture of sensitivity around you, and you don't feel comfortable opening up to me," Simon finished.

Blair shook his head, still refusing to meet Simon's gaze. "No, Simon, you've been a great friend. Really."

Simon sighed. "Listen to me, Sandburg. You and I aren't exactly... well... let's just say I've had my doubts that you're even from this planet," he said, softening his words with a smile, though he wasn't even sure Sandburg saw the gesture. "But I do consider you a friend, and a valuable member of this department. I know I come across a bit rough sometimes, but I don't want that to stop you from coming to me if something's bothering you... and I sure as hell hope you don't think I'm not willing to help you through this." There, I said it. He took a deep breath. That admission used up every amount of sentimental candor he had allocated for the entire season.

Blair raised his eyes, staring at Simon in delighted astonishment. "Th-Thanks, Simon," he stammered. "That means a lot to me."

Banks smiled warmly, patting Blair's shoulder. "So can we get out of here? I think it conceivable that someone may want to use the restroom soon," he said. "Let me drive you to the loft?"

Blair shook his head. "Really, Simon. I'm okay. I'll just wait for Jim," he said.

Simon plastered a scowl on his face. "Sandburg, are we going to have to go all through this ag--?

Blair raised his hands quickly in a placating gesture. "Okay! Okay!" He managed a brief chuckle. "You win. I'll go home."

"Good." He pushed open the door and gave Blair a gentle push into the hall. "Let's just go write that partner of yours a note." He tore the note off the door and crinkled it into a ball. "Wouldn't want him blowing a fuse when he can't find you."

Blair nodded. "Okay."

Blair followed Simon to Jim's desk and tossed the old newspaper in the trashcan right behind the crinkled piece of paper. Simon scribbled a note on a yellow post-it and stuck the note on the monitor screen.

"Okay," the Captain said, turning back to Blair. "Let's go."

They walked over to the elevator and Simon pressed the DOWN button. A few seconds later, the doors opened to reveal two asian men. One of the men had gray hair and glasses, and was dressed in a suit. The other man was young, with short hair. He wore ripped jeans and an oversized blue and white shirt.

Blair inhaled sharply, taking a step backward. Simon glanced at the young anthropologist, then looked suspiciously back at the two men in the elevator. The younger man stared at Sandburg in momentary shock, then an almost imperceptible smile touched his lips.

Simon straightened, glaring at the two men. "May I ask where you two gentleman are heading?"

The older man looked at Banks and nodded. "We are looking for a Detective Ellison."

"I see," Simon said. "You are?"

"My son is Eric Woo. I received a phone call saying he'd been arrested."

Woo? Shit. Simon tilted his head and looked at the younger man. "And who is this," he asked.

"My other son, Jason."

Simon clenched his jaw. "I see." He looked over at Sandburg, noting that the young man had lost a great deal of color in his face. "Sandburg?"

Blair's eyes lingered on Jason for several seconds before turning to Simon. He took another step away from the elevator. "I think he's one of them," he whispered, glancing back at the young asian man.

Jason stepped out of the elevator and approached Blair. Simon stepped swiftly in front of the young man, blocking his progress. "Just a moment, Mr. Woo." He glanced briefly back at Blair. "Just how sure are you, Sandburg?"

Sandburg stood behind Simon, his eyes locked on Jason. "Positive," he said, a slight tremor in his voice.

Jason smiled, cocking his head. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a cigarette, placing it deftly between his lips. Then he reached into his pocket one more time and retrieved a bronze lighter with an engraved dragon on the side. He flipped the top open and flicked the flame on, keeping his eyes locked with Sandburg's as he lit the cigarette.

What the hell? Simon looked back at Sandburg, alarmed to see that the observer's face had turned an even paler shade of white.

"May I ask you a question, Sandburg," Jason inquired coolly.

Sandburg stared intently at the lighter, his body rigid.

Jason smiled, apparently pleased with the effect he was having on Sandburg. "How do you feel about dogs?"

Simon could scarcely believe the audacity of the kid. Jason acted like he owned the place. Hell, he practically admitted to being involved with Blair's kidnapping and torture.

Jason flicked the lighter off and closed the lid. He held the item admiringly in the air. "Do you like this lighter? It was a present from my uncle in China." He moved the lighter closer to Sandburg, but the anthropologist backed away quickly.

Simon snatched the lighter out of Jason's hand. "Jason Woo, please turn around and place your hands on the wall--"

Jason looked at Simon and smiled. "You haven't been formally introduced to my father. John Woo, special ambassador of cultural relations for the Republic of China."

Simon's mouth dropped open. Son of a bitch.

"What?" Blair's voice sounded strained with disbelief.

John Woo stepped out of the elevator and glanced back and forth between Simon and Blair. "What is going on here? What has my son been arrested for, and why have you asked Jason to place his hands on the wall? You have no authority to arrest any member of my family. My position clearly grants my sons--"

"Diplomatic immunity," Simon finished.

 "Hey, Captain, Woo's info just came over the fax!"

Simon turned to see Rafe standing in the hallway waving sheets of paper in the air. The Captain scowled, grabbing Blair's arm and pulling him toward Rafe.

"You're never going to believe this, Sir," Rafe began.

"Eric Woo's father is an ambassador with diplomatic immunity," Banks said, glancing back at the two asian men.

Rafe creased his brow, looking over Simon's shoulder to the two men near the elevator. "Uh... yeah, how'd you..."

Simon jabbed a finger at the two men. "That's Mr. Woo. Now go get Ellison and tell him to bring Eric up here now!"

Rafe nodded hastily. "Yes, Captain." He rushed back into the bullpen.

Jason walked up to Simon and held out his hand. "Mind if I have my lighter back?"

Simon took a deep breath, then handed the lighter back to Jason. The young man accepted it, bowing his head in mock-gratitude. "Thanks." Jason turned back to Sandburg. "It's been fun," he sneered. "Really fun. Maybe we can do this again sometime... maybe next time I'll invite that sweet little tart you hang out with at the university."

Sandburg exploded, his fist connecting with Jason's jaw before Simon even had time to blink. In a whir of motion, Blair and Jason flew to the floor, with Sandburg on top.

"You son of a bitch!" Sandburg said, raising his fist to deliver another punch.

Jason grabbed Sandburg's collar and sent the young man into a hard roll onto the floor. Sandburg gasped, one arm going to his ribs, but he recovered quickly, springing to his feet just as Jason rose to his. The commotion had attracted a small group of officers from Major crimes, and Brown stood against one wall, ready to restrain Blair.

"Sandburg!" Simon rushed forward to grab Blair, but the anthropologist spun out of his grasp, flinging himself back at Jason.

"Stop him," John Woo yelled. "Get him off of my son!"

Brown leapt forward, grabbing Blair's arm and pulling him away from Jason. Rafe appeared instantly on Sandburg's other side, helping his partner hold the struggling young man.

"Get off of me!" Sandburg bucked backward, throwing the two men off balance.

The three men crumbled to the floor in a heap of limps, but Sandburg was faster than both Rafe and Brown, propelling himself off the floor and back at Jason. He was stopped short, however, by the towering figure of James Ellison.

Jim's arms wrapped around Blair's chest, holding the young man in a tight grip. "Sandburg, calm down! What the hell's going on?"

Simon blinked, gazing at Jim in relief. He hadn't even seen the detective arrive, but he was damn glad Jim had such good timing. Eric Woo was also present, his hands cuffed behind his back as he stood uncertainly behind his father.

"You're not gonna let them go! You can't," Blair yelled.

Jim kept his hold on Blair, but shifted to send an inquisitive glance in Simon's direction. "What the hell's he talking about, Sir?"

John Woo stepped forward. "I'm Eric's father, and Eric has diplomatic immunity against prosecution," he explained.

Jim's face registered his surprise, and Sandburg took advantage of the sentinel's confusion, slipping down out of Jim's hold and launching himself back at Jason.

"You're not getting anywhere near her," Blair yelled, tackling Jason.

As the two young men fell to the floor, Jim rushed forward, grabbing the back of Blair's collar and yanking the young man to his feet. "Easy, Chief," he said, his voice firm but understanding. He delivered Sandburg over to Rafe and Brown. "Hold him this time," Jim said.

Brown nodded, wrapping a strong arm around Sandburg's shoulder while Rafe held onto Blair's arm. "Come on, Blair. Just take it easy," Brown said, guiding Blair toward the bullpen.

John Woo picked himself up off the floor, rubbing his jaw. He glared at Sandburg, but a mocking smile touched his lips. "I want him arrested for battery, officers," he said.

Jim walked up to Jason Woo, stopping only inches from the younger man. The large detective peered down at the kid with cold, angry eyes. "I suggest you turn around and leave. Now," he said, his voice low enough for only father and son to hear.

The elder Woo grabbed his son's arm. "Let's go!" He shot a look at his younger son, then glanced at Ellison. "The cuffs, please."

"Uncuff him, Jim," Banks ordered.

Jim flashed fiery eyes at his Captain, then, slowly, his back rigid, turned back to Eric Woo and removed the cuffs. Eric rubbed his wrists in relief as he followed his father to the elevators. The doors opened immediately and the three men stepped inside, the father whispering harshly to his sons as the doors closed.

"You're just gonna let them go," Blair protested. "How can you? You heard him! He threatened me and JoAnn."

Jim clenched his jaw, barely able to meet Sandburg's angry gaze. "She's your girlfriend, right?"

Blair shook his head. "No, but we dated. Jim, this is ridiculous! You can't just let them walk out of here!" He tried to pull out of Brown's grasp, but the large detective kept his grip tight.

"Come on, calm down, Blair," Brown said. "I know it stinks, but there's nothing we can do."

Jim nodded at Brown. "Let him go."

With a skeptical look, Brown released his hold on Blair. Jim reached forward and grabbed Blair's arm, pulling him into the bullpen. "Now just calm down, Chief. We'll figure out something."

Blair yanked out of Jim's grasp and began pacing angrily in front of the detective's desk. "You'll figure something out? Jesus, Jim, those guys almost killed me! Maybe they've done it before! Hell, he threatened to do it again, and you're saying there's nothing you can do about it?" He flung his hands in the air, jerking his arms furiously. "This is bogus! You promised, Jim! We got them, and you just let them go. What the hell am I supposed to do? Huh?!"

The bullpen was silent, all eyes focused on the furious anthropologist. Banks' eyes held barely restrained fury, and Brown simply stood quietly at his desk, gazing at Sandburg in sympathy.

Jim stood like a statue at the side of the desk, watching Blair intently. "I didn't say there was nothing we could do. Obviously we can't arrest them, but they'll most likely be sent back to China. That's usually the way these things work."

Blair jabbed a finger in the air toward Jim. "That's not good enough!" He spun around, and, in an unexpected fit of rage, swept his arms over Jim's desk, sending a stack of papers and various office supplies crashing to the floor. "Go to hell!" He turned around and fixed a furious glare at Simon. "You can all just go to hell!" Then he threw his hands in the air and stormed out of the bullpen.



Two hours later, Jim figured Sandburg had had enough time to cool off. Sitting at his desk, he picked up the phone and dialed the loft. The machine answered, and he bypassed the message by hitting the star key.

"Sandburg, are you there? Pick up!" He waited, not expecting Blair to be at the loft, but hoping he would be nevertheless. "Come on, Chief, this is important." He waited a few more seconds, then, with a sigh, ended the connection and dialed Blair's office. Four rings sounded, then the voice mail picked up.

"Damn."

He slammed the phone down, took a deep breath, then picked up the receiver again and dialed Blair's cell phone. He waited six rings before hanging up the phone. He placed his hands on top of his desk and pushed himself to his feet, the dull ache in his neck and shoulders reminding him that it had been a very long day.

He walked to Simon's office and knocked on the door.

"Come in, Jim," Banks instructed.

Jim walked into the office, closing the door behind him.

"Have you heard from Sandburg," Simon asked.

Jim shook his head. "No, Sir. If you don't mind, I'd like to take off a bit early."

Simon waved one hand in the air. "Go ahead. I've ordered extra patrols around the university and the loft. I've also contacted the embassy and started official proceedings on this thing."

Jim nodded. "Thank you, Sir."

Banks pulled his glasses off his face and dropped them on his desk, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "This stinks, Jim."

"I know, Simon."

Simon looked up, fixing the Sentinel with a critical gaze. "You seem awfully calm about this... considering."

Jim's eyes turned to stone. "Considering what?"

Simon leaned back in his chair. "Considering your temperament."

"Don't you mean considering the fact that I'd promised Sandburg that if and when we found the guys, they'd be put away for a good long time?"

Simon shook his head, taking a deep breath as he rose from his desk. "Don't start this, Jim. All of us here feel the exact same way. We're cops, and Sandburg's one of our own. You think I like sitting back and letting those guys walk out of here?"

Jim shook his head, lowering his gaze. "No, Sir."

Simon waved a hand toward the door. "Go find Sandburg before he gets himself into trouble."

Jim nodded. "Thanks, Captain." He spun around and rushed out of Simon's office.



Four hours later, Jim returned to the loft, exhausted. He'd driven all around the city searching for Sandburg. He'd been to the university and loft twice, he'd searched the local parks, he'd toured the museums and libraries, and he'd even driven aimlessly around the city, searching the streets with his ears and eyes for some sign of his partner. Sandburg, it seemed, had done a great job of disappearing.

Jim sank onto the couch, leaning back against the arm of the sofa and swinging his legs onto the cushions. God, he was tired. His body screamed for sleep, but his mind raged with furious concern for his partner. Where the hell was Sandburg? He closed his eyes. If you're not back here in the next few hours, I'm having Simon put out an APB on you, Chief. A small but vocal part of his mind nagged at him, screaming that Jason Woo had already made good on his promise. Jim clenched his jaw and released a muttered curse. There was no way Woo would get his hands on Sandburg. The spotlight was now on him and his family, and Jim was sure the embassy would have either have them sent back to China or waive Jason and Eric's immunity. The Woo family was probably already getting a whiff of the shit hitting the fan.



Sunlight poured through the balcony doors, ticking the Sentinel's eyelids. With a groan, Jim opened his eyes. He blinked, momentarily disoriented. Then sudden realization slammed into him, and he bolted off the couch, extending his hearing throughout the loft. He frowned when he encountered only silence. Though he knew Blair's room to be empty, he walked over and opened the french doors, peering inside. His frown deepened when he saw that Blair's bed hadn't been slept in.

Damn. He'd hoped that maybe, just maybe, he'd been so tired last night that he'd slept through Sandburg's arrival. He dashed into the kitchen and grabbed the phone, dialing Simon's office.

"Banks," the Captain answered.

"Simon, Blair didn't come home last night," Jim informed the Captain. "I'm going to try his cell and office phone, and, if I don't get hold of him, I'll take a trip to the university. If none of that pans out--"

"I'll put an A.P.B. out on him," Simon finished.

"Thanks, Simon."



Having tried Blair's office and cell phone numbers, Jim now walked through the doors of the anthropology building at the University. He cocked his head, stretching his hearing outward for the tell-tale signs of his guide. He didn't think he'd find Blair at the university since the anthropologist's classes were covered for the next week. Still, Jim had nowhere else to look, and he figured that he might at least have a chance of finding Sandburg hunched over his desk in his office.

Unfortunately, he heard no signs of Sandburg. Finally arriving in front of Sandburg's door, he peered through the glass, finding the office empty. Releasing a sigh, he turned back around and headed back to the truck. He knew Sandburg wasn't teaching any classes, as he didn't hear either his Guide's voice or heartbeat. Truth be told, he hadn't even needed to check the office visually, but he'd engaged in the useless gesture nevertheless. Sometimes, seeing really was believing.

He yanked out his cell phone and hit the autodial for Simon's office.

Two rings sounded, then, "Banks."

"Yeah, Captain. Still no sign of Sandburg."

Banks sighed. "Okay. I'll post the A.P.B."

"Thanks, Simon."



 Jim threw his keys into the basket and walked into the kitchen, absently rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. He opened the refrigerator and was just about to grab a beer when a soft, familiar beat reached his ears. He straightened immediately and shot a glance at the closed doors of Sandburg's room. He breathed a sigh or relief. Finally, Sandburg was home and, from the sound of things, sleeping soundly. He walked over to the phone and dialed Simon's number.

The moment Banks picked up the line, Jim said, "Cancel the A.P.B., Simon. Blair's home."

"Well it's about damn time," the Captain growled. "I hope you make it clear how much of a pain in the ass he's been," Simon added, but his tone held a hint of compassion.

"He's sleeping now," Jim informed the Captain, "And considering how little sleep he's gotten over the past couple of days, I'm inclined to leave him be for the time being."

"Okay," Simon acknowledged, sighing. "This is one hell of a mess."

Jim nodded. "That it is, Sir."



Some hours later, Jim found himself beginning to doze off on the couch. Flickering images from the television screen cast a soft glow to the dim room. A low scraping noise intruded upon the silence, and Ellison's head jerked up at the unexpected sound. Automatically, he tuned his hearing to his surroundings, hearing soft footsteps shuffle across the hall and into the bathroom.

Jim glanced at the clock on the VCR. It was just after five O'clock in the evening. As if on cue, his stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon. He frowned at that thought, wondering exactly when Blair had eaten last. Sandburg was still weak from his ordeal, and the doctor had made it clear that the young man was to drink plenty of fluids and eat light, regular meals. Okay, so the bacon and eggs Simon had cooked hadn't been exactly light, but Sandburg had managed to handle them well.

Jim heard the soft spray of the shower. With a yawn, he rose from the couch and headed toward the kitchen. Searching the cabinets, he settled on some low-sodium vegetable soup. This should fill the doctor's prescription, he thought. He grabbed a pot and dumped the contents of the can into it, then turned the flame to medium.

Fifteen minutes later, the shower turned off. A few minutes after that, Jim heard the bathroom door open and soft footsteps shuffle back into the room. He sighed. It was time to do his thing, but he really didn't relish the thought. He simply didn't have the energy for an argument, and, truthfully, he didn't have the heart to come down on his partner for taking off without a word. Sandburg had been through far too much already, and Jim didn't want to be the cause of any more unpleasantness for his guide.

Jim lowered the flame on the burner and walked over to the french doors. He tapped the glass lightly with his knuckles. "Sandburg? Can I come in."

He was met with silence.

He lowered his hand and tried the door, relieved to find it unlocked. Slowly, he pushed it open, peeking his head inside. The covers on Blair's bed were rumpled, and Jim could make out Sandburg's motionless form beneath the thick comforter.

"Blair?" He stepped inside, walking over to the bed. Gently, he reached down, placing his hand on what he hoped was Blair's shoulder and giving the young man a gentle shake. "Come on. There's some soup for you on the stove."

One arm snaked out from underneath the comforter to bat Jim's hand away. Blair moaned something unintelligible, then shifted deeper beneath the covers. Jim frowned, realizing from that brief contact that Blair's body temperature was too high. He grabbed the comforter and pulled it down. Blair laid curled on his side, still wet form his shower. He was dressed in a pair of white boxers, and rested with his back to Jim. He released an angry grumble and reached an arm down to pull the comforter back over his body. Jim grabbed the blanket and tossed it off the bed. The sentinel then reached down and felt Blair's forehead.

Damn. He couldn't be absolutely sure, but he estimated the fever to be about one hundred and two. He glanced around the room, seeing Blair's jeans crumpled in the corner. He walked over to the jeans and picked them up, feeling the dirty, damp denim against his skin. Damp? He scowled when he remembered the forecast had called for rain last night. While he'd been sleeping on the couch, Blair had obviously been outside in the rain. Perfect. Just perfect. Damnit, kid, don't you have any sense?

He walked over to Blair's bureau and searched the drawers for warm clothes, finally settling on a pair of sweats. Then he went back over to Blair, who remained curled into a tight ball with the sheets wrapped around his body. Jim pulled the sheets down and grabbed Blair's arm, pulling him into a sitting position.

"Come on, Chief. Time to get up.

Blair groaned and cracked his eyelids open to squint at Jim. "Go away," he mumbled, sliding back down and burying himself in the damp sheets.

"You're wet and you're sick, not a good combination," Jim said, grabbing Blair's arm again. "Now get out of bed or I'll carry you." He pulled the young man back up.

This time, Blair didn't resist, but he didn't help either. He rested against the wall with his eyes closed. Jim slipped the sweatshirt over Blair's head and pulled his arms through the sleeves. Great, I'm acting like a surrogate father now, the sentinel mused.

Now that he had Blair's upper half dressed, he pondered how to get the sweatpants on the young man. Gently, he tugged on Blair's arm, urging him out of bed. "Come on, stand up, Chief."

Blair mumbled something that Jim couldn't make out. He gave his guide a firm shake. "Wake up, Sandburg!"

Blair's eyes opened a fraction, dull with fatigue. Jim eyed the younger man critically, then glanced at the prescription pills on the bureau.

"Did you take something?"

Blair closed his eyes. "Pain killer," he mumbled. "Now go away."

Jim narrowed his gaze. The pain killers, the doctor had said, also acted as a sedative, which meant Jim would have a near-impossible task of getting Blair out of the bed. "Serves you right. That tantrum of yours did a number on your ribs, I'm sure."

This time Blair's eyes snapped open, and he glared at the detective. "Get the hell out of my room and leave me alone." Then he slid back onto the mattress and curled beneath the sheets.

"Are you trying to catch pneumonia," Jim admonished, ignoring Blair's order. He grabbed Blair's arm and pulled him out of bed, swinging the smaller man's arm around his shoulders. He would have rather avoided using such physical force, especially in light of Blair's injured ribs, but the kid gave him no choice. "Come on, you can sleep on the couch and I'll put some dry sheets on your bed."

"Whatever," Blair said, his voice hazy with fatigue.

Jim guided Blair into the living room and eased him down onto the couch. He propped Blair's head and shoulders on the cushions of the arm and lifted the younger man's feet onto the couch. Then he grabbed the afghan from the back of the sofa and draped it over Blair, tucking it around his partner's body.

Jim walked back into the kitchen and turned off the flame. He grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and filled it halfway with the steaming broth. Then he snatched a spoon out of the strainer and brought the soup over to Blair.

"Come on, buddy, you need to eat this," Jim said, setting the bowl onto the coffee table.

The sentinel grabbed two pillows from the armchair and propped them behind Blair's shoulders so that the young man was placed in a near-sitting position. Then he sat on the edge of the couch and grabbed the bowl of soup, holding it in front of Blair's face. He waved the bowl under his guide's nose, hoping the aroma would tempt his partner to wake up long enough to ingest some the soup.

Blair opened one eye briefly to stare at Jim, then, slowly, his other eyelid floated open. He glanced down at the soup, then back up at Ellison, a touch of suspicion in his eyes. "Why're you being so nice?"

Jim cocked an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Blair pulled his arms out from under the blanket and took the bowl away from Jim. "You're not mad?" He gazed solemnly into the bowl as he fiddled with the spoon.

"Hell, yeah, I'm angry, Sandburg," Jim said, his voice harsher than he'd intended. "You storm out of the precinct and then disappear. I was out scouring the city, and Simon put an A.P.B. out on you. Now, you wanna tell me where the hell you've been?"

Blair shrugged. "Around."

"Around? You're gonna have to do better than that, Sandburg," Jim warned.

Blair raised angry eyes and said, "Last I heard, we lived in a free country. Just because I work with you doesn't give you the right to put out an A.P.B. out on me whenever you want to know where I am."

Jim clenched his jaw. "What the hell's wrong with you, Sandburg? What's with this attitude? You've had plenty of time to cool off--"

"Cool off?!" Blair leaned forward, clutching the hot bowl against his chest. "You think I should just get over it? You just let those guys walk and I'm supposed to grin and bear it? This whole thing sucks and, yeah, I'm angry! They didn't kidnap you. They didn't drug you, or torture you, or treat you like an animal. They didn't do God-knows-what-else to you... steal days from your life.. lock you in a cold, dark room... No. They did it to me and now you're saying there's not a damn thing I can do about it. How the HELL am I supposed to react?" He took a deep breath, glaring at Jim. "Please, I'd really like to know," he added sarcastically. "How would the great James Ellison handle it? Would you be laying on the damn couch clutching a bowl of soup?" He thrust the bowl back into Jim's hands and reached behind his head, tossing one of the pillows over the back of the couch. Then, with a final, angry look, he pulled the blanket over his head and slid lower toward the center of the couch. "Just leave me alone, Jim," he pleaded, his voice measurably softer. "I feel miserable and I just wanna go to sleep."

Jim sighed, gazing at the bowl of soup in his hands. "Okay, Blair. I'll leave you alone.... just as soon as you finish this soup."

"I'm not hungry," Blair mumbled.

"Yes you are, I heard your stomach growl," Jim countered. "When's the last time you ate?"

"Don't know," came the murmured reply.

"The doctor said to keep up your food and fluids, but you decided to take off for a day and get sick instead. Now get your head out from under that blanket and eat this damn soup before I force it down your throat!" For the love of God, why me, Jim wondered silently as he stared at the immobile lump beneath the blanket.

With a long sigh, Jim scooped up a spoonful of the broth and held it above the bowl. Well, here goes nothing, he thought. I can't BELIEVE I'm going to do this. 

"Saaaaandbuuuurg," he sang. "Mmmmmnnnnnnnn. This is sooooo gooood." He began to make airplane noses. "Come on, you know you want some," he tempted, making more sound effects.

Blair peeked his head out from under the afghan and stared at Jim with narrow, suspicious eyes.

Jim waggled his eyebrows in imitation of his young partner. "Vrrrrmmmm. Vvrrrm-Vrrrmmm." He waved the spoon gently in front of Blair's eyes. "Open up, now," the detective prodded.

A crinkle touched the edges of Sandburg's eyes, and the young man gazed at Jim as though the sentinel had lost his mind. Jim simply smiled and continued waving the spoon in the air. "Come on, I made this 'specially for you," he said, taking on a tone one might use when speaking with a small child. "Vrrrmmmmm... It's comin' in for a landing," he said, swooping the spoon toward Blair's head and pulling it up at the last second.

Blair lowered the blanket so that his nose was now visible, but he kept his mouth covered. "You've finally lost it, man," the young man remarked.

Jim's smile broadened. Now there's a hint of the Sandburg I know. "Mmmmnnn.... good soup," he said, then swooped the spoon into his own mouth and swallowed the warm broth. He then dipped the spoon back into the soup and scooped up more broth. "Your turn, Chief," he said, holding the spoon in front of Blair's nose. "Is that a smile I see? Huh?"

Blair's eyes narrowed further. "You are such an asshole," he muttered, but his eyes betrayed the smile.

"Vvrrrrmmmm." He tightened his throat so that his words sound hollow and distant. "This is flight 182 requesting permission to land. Please prepare the runway."

A few chuckles escaped Blair's tenuous control, and he lowered the blanket beneat his chin, revealing a wide smile. "Cut it out man. You're scaring me."

Jim raised his eyebrows and lowered the spoon back into the broth, holding the bowl out toward Sandburg. "Now, here," he growled, "don't make me do that again."

Blair chuckled and slipped his arms out from under the blanket. Shaking his head, he took the bowl carefully out of Jim's hands. "You are one strange dude," he remarked.

Jim grunted. "You're the pot, I'm the kettle."

"Huh?" Sandburg looked as though he really was beginning to wonder about Jim's sanity.

Jim sighed and rolled his eyes. "That fever must have fried your brain," he said. "You calling me strange is like the pot calling the kettle black."

Sandburg breathed a sigh of relief and smiled sheepishly. "I'm eccentric," he said, picking up the spoon and swallowing a mouthful of soup. He closed his eyes briefly and swallowed another spoonful. "This is really good, Jim" he said, opening his eyes to stare appreciatively at the Sentinel. "Thanks."

Jim raised his hands in the air and glanced at the ceiling. "I finally get a thank you!" He looked back down at Sandburg and gently cuffed his partner on the side of the cheek. "Now be a good little anthropologist and finish the damn soup."

Blair nodded, embarassed. "Sorry for being such a jerk," he mumbled.

Jim placed a hand behind his ear and leaned closer to Sandburg. "What was that? I think my ears are acting up because I didn't quite hear what you said."

Blair narrowed his eyes. "I said I was sorry," he repeated.

Jim lowered his hand and smiled, pointing a finger at Sandburg. "Remember that next time you decide to take another five years off my life," he said.

Blair ducked his head behind the soup bowl. "Oh man, Jim. I'm really sorry. I know at your age you can't afford to lose those five years."

"Watch it, Junior," He said, reaching past the bowl to tug on Blair's earlobe.

Sandburg slapped his hand away and smiled. "Well if you insist on treating me like a two year old, I'll treat you like an old man."

Jim chuckled. "Quit your yappin' and finish the soup. I'll get you some orange juice."

Blair nodded, his smile fading. "Thanks, Jim. Really."

Jim rose from the couch and bowed his head a fraction. "You're welcome, Chief."



The sun was setting when Jim heard heavy footsteps in the hallway outside the loft. His nose picked up the faint scent of cigar smoke, and he glided over to the door and opened it.

Simon stood with his hand poised in the air, prepared to knock. "Damnit," he scowled. "I hate it when you do that."

Jim smiled, placing a finger over his lips. "Shhh." He pointed to the couch, where Blair slept heavily, motionless beneath the bunched folds of the afghan.

Simon nodded, stepping into the loft. Jim closed the door and followed Simon into the kitchen.

"How is he," Simon whispered.

"He managed to get himself sick. He's got a fever," Jim replied.

Simon sat down at the kitchen table and folded his hands in front of him. "Did he tell you where he's been?"

Jim shook his head. "I asked him, but he wasn't exactly amiable."

Simon raised his eyebrows. "Sandburg? Uppity? With you? I don't believe it!"

Jim plopped himself down in one of the chairs. "You really have to work on that sense of humor, Simon," he whispered, a smile touching his eyes.

Simon threw a glare in Jim's direction. "Well, the kid's got a mouth on him, that's for sure, but he's normally such an annoying ray of sunshine."

Jim chuckled. "That he is." He sighed. "Well, I think he'll be feeling better when he wakes up. I managed to get some soup and juice into him, and his fever doesn't seem to be getting any worst."

"That's a relief," Simon sighed. "The kid's been to hell and back more times than any man could fathom. The last thing he needs on top of everything else is to put that body of his through anymore grief."

Jim nodded almost imperceptibly and shifted in his chair, glancing back at the couch, though he couldn't see Sandburg from that angle. He'll be okay, he reassured himself, his mood suddenly turning serious as the week's events played in his mind. How many times had he come close to losing Blair? How many sleepless nights had he spent at Blair's bedside, in a hospital, listening to his Guide sleep and reassuring himself that, this time, Blair was okay...

This time, again, Blair was okay. Not great, but okay. Given time, the ribs would heal, and the emotional scars would fade until only someone with Sentinel sight could distinguish their marks. The Sentinel tuned his sensitive hearing to the slow beat of Sandburg's heart, hearing the swoosh of blood as it flowed into and out the chambers. He thought he heard a slight irregularity in the beat, but, as he listened closer, the irregulatiry vanished. He closed his eyes, falling into the sound so suddenly that he was completely oblivious to the descent. Sandburg's heart. The sound of it was more familiar to him than anything he had ever known. He could almost picture that tireless organ beating steadfast in Blair's chest -- that precious keeper of life, guardian of the soul... Sandburg's soul. And how many trips to hell will it take before that soul darkens or the keeper tires?

Someone was shaking him, and he blinked.

"Jim?"

Ellison shook his head, looking over at Simon.

"You okay?"

Absently, Jim nodded, aware only that a question had been asked of him.

"Why don't you get some sleep," Simon suggested.

Jim blinked again, clearing his head. "Sleep?"

Simon nodded. "You look like you could use it."

Jim shook his head, resting his arms on the table and leaning forward. "No, I'll be okay," he said, yawning just as soon as the words left his mouth.

"Uh-huh." Simon shook his head disbelievingly. "You and Sandburg are quite a pair, you know that? You complain that he doesn't take care of himself, and then you turn around and give me the same grief he gives you."

Jim managed a small smile.

"But, with Jim, if you start making airplane noises, he's likely to slug you," came a soft mumble.

Both men turned their gazes toward the couch. A heap of curls came into view, followed by a pair of blue eyes as Sandburg peeked over the back of the couch at the two men. The young man grinned and yawned simultaneously, running a hand through his choatic curls.

"What was that," Simon asked, looking at Jim in bewilderment. "Airplane noises? What the hell's he talking about?"

"Nothing," Blair said, catching Jim's warning glare. "Sorry about the A.P.B. thing."

Simon scowled, but the expression didn't look sincere. He waved a hand in the air, and his face softened. "Don't worry about it, Sandburg," he said. "Just don't pull a stunt like that again. Okay?"

Blair nodded, his smile fading as he gave into another yawn. "'Kay," he replied. He blinked, his eyes wet and red around the edges. "
 
Jim rose from the table and walked over to his partner, placing a hand on the back of the couch. "How ya feelin', Chief?"

Blair sank back against the arm of the couch and pulled the afghan up to his chin. "Sleepy," he muttered. "Like I've slept for a week and could sleep for another one."

Jim leaned foreword and rested his palm against Blair's forehead, glancing absently up at the ceiling as he gauged Blair's temperature. "Seems like your fever's starting to break," he said, looking back down at Blair as he removed his hand from his guide's forehead.

Blair nodded, then grabbed onto the back of the couch with one hand and pulled himself into a sitting position. He looked at Simon, then back at Jim. "So, what about Woo? JoAnn?" His voice took on a sudden urgent plea. "Tell me you're not gonna let those guys get anywhere near her? Have you called her? Warned her?"

Simon stood up and walked over to the couch, standing to Jim's left. "Take it easy, Sandburg. Yes, I did have an officer speak with her, and I've upped the patrols around the university. I've also spoken with the embassy and the governor's office. Woo's two sons have been restricted to the embassy. However, because you've indicated there were more than two men involved with your abduction, I'm keeping the extra patrols on the university."

The concern on Blair's face melted to relief, and he dropped his head foreword to rest his head on the back of the couch. "Thanks, Simon," he said.

Blair eased his legs off the couch and pushed himself to his feet. He slid the sleeves of his sweatshirt up to his elbows and released another yawn. Glancing at Jim, he pointed to the hallway. "Thanks to all the 'fluids' you jammed down my throat, I now have to use the bathroom."

Jim raised his eyebrows and donned a condescending look. "Life's a bitch," he dead-panned.

Blair ignored Jim's comment and shuffled into the bathroom. He returned a few minutes later and sat down at the kitchen table where Jim and Simon engaged in conversation, each holding a beer bottle in their hand.

"So, did you find out anything about why they did what they did to me," Blair asked, looking between Simon and Jim.

Jim gazed through the lip of his beer bottle to the opaque liquid inside. "I think so," Jim said, tearing his eyes away from the bottle to meet Blair's expectant gaze. "When I was interrogating Eric, he mentioned it being some sort of a gang initiation thing. Apparently, there are a few asian gangs in Cascade, and, like most gangs, they are not only at war with each other but also with the police. I think that's why they picked you. They wanted to take a shot at the police, but I don't think they wanted to deal with a trained police officer," Jim explained, gazing at his partner apologetically.

So once again Blair's been hurt because of the work he does with me, Jim thought miserably. And what does he get out of it? A thesis straddled with 'conditions' of anonymity that he may not even live long enough to finish.

"We're working on finding out who the other members of the gang are," Simon added. "We think one or two of them may be students at Rainier."

Blair's eyes widened and he quickly looked away from the Captain. Jim straightened, leaning closer to Sandburg as he listened to the pounding of the young man's heart.

"Blair?" Jim set his beer down on the table and scooted his chair closer to Blair. "What's wrong?"

Blair inhaled a deep, shuddering breath and looked up at Jim. "I... I didn't think of that. I mean, I didn't really think that college students could be gang members. If they're at the university, and I have no idea who they are..." His voice cracked, and he swallowed, looking away. "Well, how can I go back? They could be anywhere, and I wouldn't know it. One of them might even be in one my classes."

"It's not usual, but, as you've seen, some of these kids have wealthy parents who practically force their kids to attend college," Simon remarked. "But we're looking into it, Sandburg. If there's even the smallest gang element at Rainier, we'll find it."

Blair sighed, nodding his head. "Thanks, Simon." He rose from the table and offered a small smile to the two men. "I'm gonna head to my room and do some reading," he said.

"Okay," Jim acknowledged. "Just yell if you need anything."

Blair nodded. "Okay. Thanks." He turned and shuffled back to his room, disappearing through the french doors.