Redemption Part 3

"You comfortable?" Jim grabbed another throw pillow and held it awkwardly against his chest. "Do you need --?"

"No, Jim, I don't need another pillow. I'm fine." Blair shifted on the couch, his right arm in a sling, and smiled up at his partner. "Really. You can stop doing the guilt thing... again."

Jim raised his eyebrows and tossed the pillow back to its place on the couch. "I'm not --"

The phone rang, cutting off his reply. Quickly, he moved into the kitchen and snatched up the cordless. "Ellison.... Yes, He's right here. Hold on." Walking back to the living room, he held the phone out to Blair. "Chancellor Edwards."

Sandburg looked up at him skeptically. "Oh? Did she say what she wants?"

Jim shrugged. "Nope."

Blair took the phone. "Hello?"

//"Doctor Sandburg, how are you feeling?"//

"Fine, Chancellor. Thank you.... Yeah, I'll be there. Okay. Good-bye." He hung up the phone and placed it on the coffee table, twisting around to look at Jim. He was grinning like a madman and well aware of it, but he couldn't help himself. "She called to tell me my *new* office is ready. It's bigger than my old one and, get this, it's got a private bathroom!"

Jim grinned, his eyebrows climbing almost to his hairline. "Wow. Impressive."

"Tell me about it. So, can we go?"

"What? Now?"

Blair's head bobbed eagerly. "Yeah, man. Now! I've got tons of books in storage. I can put them all back--"

Jim held up his hands. "Whoa, Chief. You've got a bad shoulder, remember?"

Blair sighed and rolled his eyes. "Fine. *You* can put them all back on the shelves and then *I'll* treat you to lunch."

Jim cocked his head, his stomach growling at the suggestion. "Lunch?"

"Yep."

"Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, Chief, but you haven't gotten a paycheck yet."

Blair's grin widened. "I have an advance check waiting. Courtesy of *your* law firm. Apparently that was in the contract, but with all that fine print, I must have missed it. You chose wisely, my friend. Those lawyers are fantastic. Must cost a fortune, I bet, but  don't you worry, I'll pay the bill just as soon as I can. Now, you want to go with me or shall I drive myself, one-handed, to my *new* office."

Jim chuckled, shaking his head. "Breathe, Sandburg."

"I'm breathing!" He struggled to his feet, swaying a bit, but grinning wildly. "Now, let's go. Come on!" He raised his good arm dramatically and headed for his jacket hanging on the coat rack.

Jim sighed melodramatically. "Okay *fine,* Chief, but if you're paying, does that mean you get to choose the place?"

Blair seemed to consider that for a moment, his eyes drifting toward the ceiling. "Uhhh... Well, I'll tell you what. You do the hard manual labor that requires two good arms, and I'll let you pick. And I realize I may be taking my life into my hands, here, but, what the heck, if psychos haven't done me in yet, I suppose bad food isn't going to. I hope."

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

Jim released an impressed whistle the moment Edwards left them alone. "Nice." The Chancellor had personally shown them to the office and exchanged a few words with Blair, then excused herself, leaving rather hastily.

Blair nodded, his eyes bright as he spun in a slow circle in the center of the office. "Yeah. Wow."

A spacious *cherry* wood desk sat near one wall with a Pentium III computer. A bookshelf lined the entire section of one wall, climbing all the way to the ceiling. The smoke-colored carpet was brand new and *very* plush. Blair had the urge to take off his shoes and socks and just *walk* on the luxurious fibers.

Best of all, a large bay window took up the wall to the left of the doorway.

"They're really laying it on thick for you, Chief."

"Actually, man, I think they're doing this to keep *you* happy. You have this intimidation thing going on, in case you haven't noticed."

Jim raised one eyebrow. "Me? Intimidating. Surely you jest."

Blair chuckled. "Yeah. Uh-huh. Anyway, so where do you want to go to lunch, my brawny Blessed Protector Dude?"

Jim raised his other eyebrow. "Well, my little nutty professor *dude,* after I get your books in here, I was thinking along the lines of Wonderburger." He eyed Blair critically.

"Gee. How did I know you were going to choose Wonderburger?"

Jim shrugged. "Because you're an official genius, shortie."

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

Jim carried the first box back to the office. Damn, the thing was *heavy.*

*What's he got in here? The entire Encylopedia Britannica Series?*

The door to Blair's office remained partially open, so he pushed his way inside and, with a grunt, placed the box on the floor. Then he straightened with an audible sigh and rubbed his back.

"Damn, Chief, you've got ---" He stopped midsentence as he took in the sight before him. His lips twitched and he crossed his arms over his chest, then leaned against the doorjamb.

Sandburg sat on the bench that jutted from the wall just below the generous bay window, his legs stretched out before him. His shoes and socks rested haphazardly in the corner, and his bare feet sank into the carpet, his toes wiggling in the plush material. His head was tilted back, his hair hanging loose, and his eyes were closed. Gentle sunlight streamed in through the window to fall on his face. A slight, contented smile touched his lips.

He looked happy... and several years younger. The lines of worry and stress that had taken up residence on his face, framing his eyes and carving an almost-permanent path in his brow, no longer existed.

He took in a slow, deep breath, then opened his eyes to look at Jim. His smile widened, but a hint of wetness touched his eyes. "Did I thank you, Jim?" His smile faded, and his face grew serious.

Jim glided into the office and closed the door, then moved to the bay window to stand in front of his friend. "You don't have to, Chief."

Blair swallowed, his eyes flaring red, and he looked out the window. "Yeah, I do. No one... No one's ever done anything like this for me before." He turned his eyes back to Jim. "I know what it meant for you to do this. I know what you gave up."

Jim slid his hand around Blair's neck and gave his friend a firm squeeze. "Just returning the favor, partner."

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

"How are you feeling today, Alex?"

The Sentinel glared at him. "You tell me, Doctor."

Kapler inspected the restraints around her wrists. "Are these too tight?"

Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. Then, her expression softened and she offered a small, tantalizing smile. "Yes, a little."

Kapler returned her smile. "Well, I'll just loosen them a bit for you."

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

Blair leaned back in his chair and placed his feet up on the desk. *Wow.* He let his eyes drift over the spacious office. The bay window let in the soft, morning light. It was early, but he wanted to get his office organized.

*Gotta start off right, after all.*

*I'm Dr. Sandburg. Wow.* He grinned. Then chuckled. "Dr. Sandburg." That was going to be such a great pick-up line with the women. He reached out and pretended to shake hands with an imaginary brunette. "Hello. I'm Dr. Sandburg."

"Hello."

He nearly fell backward out of the chair, but caught himself in time. Looking at the newcomer, his jaw fell open and any icy fist gripped his heart. *Not again.*

He lowered his legs slowly from the desk. "Alex."

Her hair was pulled back, and she wore jeans and a heavy, wool jacket that looked two sizes too big. "Dr. Sandburg, sorry I didn't make an appointment, but I know you'll see me, anyway."

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

Jim booted up his computer, sipping his morning cup of coffee. His stomach churned uneasily, and he grimaced, glancing down at the brown liquid. Maybe he'd made it *too* strong. With a sigh, he placed the mug on the corner of his desk and glanced at the empty chair to his right.

He'd dropped Sandburg off at the university, since Blair still had his arm in a sling and couldn't manage the stick shift of his Volvo. He grinned, thinking about Blair in his new office -- back in his element.

The telephone rang and he snatched up the receiver. "Ellison."

"This is Doctor Kapler. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Detective. Alex Barnes escaped. I've just discovered her absence, so I'm not sure how long she's been out. The last duty nurse checked on her around 10 p.m. last night, so --"

"I'll call you back." Jim didn't need to hear the rest. He knew where Alex was going. Quickly ending the connection, he dialed Sandburg's office phone. It rang... Once. Twice. "Come on, Chief." Three times. Four. The voice mail answered.

"Damnit." Next he tried Blair's cell phone. No answer. He slammed the receiver down and bolted from his chair, breaking into a run toward Simon's office.

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

Blair winced at the pain shooting threw his right shoulder. Alex had tied his arms tightly behind his back and draped his black leather jacket over his shoulder to hide the bindings. He walked stiffly beside the Sentinel. She kept one arm wrapped around his waist as though she were his girlfriend, but beneath his jacket she held a *very* sharp scalpel against his side.

It was still early, so there were very few people on campus. Still, he'd passed one other faculty member and had hoped the man would recognize Alex, but he hadn't. He'd just smiled, nodded, and walked on by.

His eyes darted around the parking lot as they emerged from the building. Maybe he could make a run for it. The scalpel pressed harder into his side, and he gasped.

"Don't try it." She slid her arm more completely around him, the scalpel held painfully beneath his navel.

His mind raced. He had to think of something. It was broad daylight. If he yelled for help, would she really kill him? He didn't know. She wasn't exactly working with a full deck. Her circuits were fried, her behavior unpredictable.

But it was daylight. He glanced at her. She wasn't wincing against the sunlight. In Sierre Verde, her senses had been totally out of control, leaving her helpless.

"How are your senses?" he asked. After all, she wanted his help. Maybe he could get her talking and find out a bit of useful information.

The scalpel pressed deeper into his flesh, and he was sure it had sliced through his thin shirt.

"They go in and out." She steered him toward the left. "When they're in, it hurts. Everything's out of control. When they're out, they're out. Nothing. I can't control it. That's what you're going to help me with."

"So, they're out now?" He glanced at her.

She nodded. "Yeah. They're mostly out. Most of the time." He felt her tense beside him and he gritted his teeth as the scalpel shifted against his skin. She didn't seem to notice. "I need them back." She turned her gaze to him, her eyes flat and lifeless. "You're going to help me."

He swallowed. "I... I, uh, think I can." He forced his voice steady. He had to placate her. If she got angry, there was no telling what she'd do. "I called Dr. Kapler and asked about you. I was trying to help you, Alex."

She nodded. "I heard that. I heard you call." Her eyes hardened. "But he didn't listen."

Blair took a deep breath. He didn't want to direct her anger toward Kapler and thereby endanger the man -- if he was still alive. "He just doesn't know about Sentinels."

"But you do."

He nodded. "Yes, I do."

She stopped next to a silver station wagon and reached into her jacket, withdrew a set of keys. Opening the passenger side, she shoved him into the seat, hit the lock, and then closed the door.

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

Jim, Simon, and Megan stood in Sandburg's office. Blair's backpack lay on the floor near the desk, partially covered by the sling for his bad arm, but his jacket and keys were gone. The office itself looked undisturbed -- neater, in fact, than Sandburg's previous office. There were no signs of a struggle.

But Jim knew his partner had not left willingly. Blair almost always took his backpack with him, and, when they'd arrived, Blair's office door had been hanging open. Sandburg would never leave his office so unsecured.

Despite the cold feeling in his gut, Jim took solace in his partner's disappearance. When he'd first arrived at the university, he'd been almost certain he'd find Blair floating face-down in the fountain -- just like that day one year ago. His knees had almost given out when he realized Sandburg wasn't there.

Blair was gone, which meant he was most likely still alive. Alex needed him to help her with her senses, so she needed him alive and functional. Fortunately, that also meant she couldn't hurt him too badly or he wouldn't be useful to her.

That was Jim's theory, at least. He hoped it proved true. Now, all he had to do was find Alex and Blair.

*Where would she take him?* He had no idea. *If I were in her shoes, where would I go?*

She'd want someplace isolated, where they'd be unlikely to draw attention. She and Sandburg were, after all, relatively famous now. Their faces were likely to be recognized by someone if they traveled in public.

"Anything, Jim?"

He glanced at Simon and shook his head. "No, sir. It's clean." As soon as he said the words, a glint of something on the carpet caught his eyes. He took a few steps forward and stooped to retrieve it.

"What do you got?"

Jim looked at his captain and held the golden strand up in the light. "A blond hair. Alex's."

Megan peered at the proffered evidence. "Could be. Could also be anybody else's. Cleaning lady. Who knows?"

Jim shook his head. It was Alex's hair. He knew it without a doubt. "It's hers. I can sense it."

He rose to his feet, his mind racing forward. By itself, the strand of hair gave them little help in finding Sandburg. What they needed was a solid lead, but they had nothing.

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

"Sit."

Blair complied wordlessly, dropping to the edge of the mattress. They'd stopped at an old motel on the outskirts of the city. Alex had paid for the room in cash. He wondered where she'd obtained her resources -- the money, the car, the handcuffs. He didn't have to wonder too hard, though. She'd likely stolen them, but what he did wonder was whether she'd left the her victims alive.

He had cooperated with her up until this point. When she'd paid for the room, he'd thought about yelling at the clerk to call the police at the same time he made a break for it, but Alex seemed to know what he'd been thinking. She'd smiled sweetly, leaned into him and whispered in his ear, "If you try anything, I'll slit the clerk's throat and then come after you. You won't get very far."

He didn't know whether she'd actually hurt the clerk, but he didn't put it past her. He also knew for a fact he wouldn't get very far. His hands were still restrained behind his back and the hotel sat on a lonely, rural road. The motel itself was very small, with only three rooms. It had looked practically deserted, and Blair wondered how it even stayed in business. He figured the owner lived in the place and used the three rooms to supplement his income or pay for the mortgage.

At any rate, help was very far away.

She leaned around him to slide the key into his cuffs, and he forced himself to remain relaxed. If he tensed, he'd tip her off. The moment his hands were free, he could make his move. She was skilled at hand-to-hand combat and, even so, he had only one good arm. He knew his chances of overpowering her were slim, but he had to try. And at least now there was no clerk in the immediate vicinity to fall victim to her wrath.

Again, she seemed to read his mind, or maybe his thoughts were just predictable. She had to know he'd be thinking of escape. At any rate, she didn't give him the chance. As she unlocked the cuff around his right wrist, she held the scalpel against his jugular. She didn't say anything. She didn't need to. The action spoke louder than words ever could.

"Slide back."

With a deep breath, he obeyed. She slid the handcuffs around the bar of the bed's backboard and slapped the loose cuff around his right wrist, effectively securing him to the bed.

Taking a step back, she inspected her handiwork. He was not in a comfortable position. Half slouched on the mattress, the backboard bit into his spine, and the jostling had reawakened the throbbing in his right shoulder.

"You'll keep." She threw herself on the other bed and grabbed the remote for the small television anchored to the far wall. "I wonder if we've made the news yet."

Blair wondered whether the clerk would recognize them when the news story aired. Surely his disappearance had to merit some airtime. He glanced at Alex, wondering if that thought had occurred to her. All the clerk had to do was make one phone call and the net would close around her.

Alex watched the afternoon news for about ten minutes, but there was no mention of his disappearance. When the commercials aired, she looked over at him and smiled. "Don't go anywhere." Then she rose from the bed, walked to the door, and left the room.

Blair tugged at the backboard, but his right shoulder protested. *Where is she going?* His heart sank. Where *could* she go. There really was only one place… One thing… One loose end…

His chest clutched with panic and his struggles became frantic. He kicked and yanked and tugged and even screamed, but she walked in less than ten minutes later, silencing him with a look. He sank back to the mattress as she locked the door.

"All done." With a satisfied smile, she flashed the bloodied scalpel for him to see and then set it gently on top of the bureau beneath the television. "I turned on the NO VACANCY sign. I checked the two other rooms. All empty. I don't think he'll be discovered for at least a couple of days. Tomorrow we'll head out, or maybe the next day. I'll decide later. I think know just the place where you and I can work without interruption."

Blair closed his eyes, trembling inside. He had to do something and do it fast before she killed anyone else.

The other mattress creaked, and Alex's voice jarred him out of his misery. "Don't look so down. It was fast. He didn't suffer."

Blair swallowed hard as Alex turned her attention back to the television. He forced his attention on the evening news and tried not to think about the innocent clerk laying dead somewhere nearby.

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

Jim's head throbbed. He closed his eyes and ran a hand over his face. Sandburg had been missing for eight hours and they had no clue where Alex had taken him.

"Jim."

He looked up to see his captain standing on the other side of the desk. "Yes, sir?"

"I was thinking…"

Jim raised his eyebrows. Simon looked unusually anxious. "Yes?'

"Last time with Alex, you seemed to be able to sense her presence. In Sierra Verde, you said you were drawn to her. At the press conference, it looked as though you sensed her presence before she showed up."

Jim nodded. "I sensed her before. At the press conference, I didn't see the jaguar until right before she entered. Before Sierra Verde, when she was in Cascade, I sensed her almost all the time. After the temple, she lost her ability to function as a true Sentinel. She had her senses, but they were out of control. Her curse." He shook his head. "It's kind of like static, now. If she's real close, I guess I can sense her. Or maybe her abilities go in and out and, if she's close enough, I can sense her when she's 'IN.' I'm really not sure. Does that make any sense?"

Simon smiled, but his eyes betrayed exhaustion and a hint of confusion. "Sort of… No, not really."

Jim sighed and leaned back in his chair. "If Sandburg were here, he'd be able to explain it."

Simon's smile dropped. "I know." He leaned forward a bit. "I was wondering if you could try to sense her now. Maybe track her."

Jim shrugged. "I'm not getting anything." He cocked his head, an idea forming. "What did you have in mind?"

"Maybe we could drive around and see if you pick up any ancy feelings."

Jim nodded approvingly. It was a long shot, but right now they had no leads. "Maybe."

"We'll have our cell phones. If anything new comes up, I'll have Joel inform us immediately. In the meantime, this might be our best shot of finding Sandburg before Alex gets too far away."

Jim closed his eyes, his head feeling thick and heavy on his shoulders. "If she hasn't already."

~~~~~~~~~~~

Soft snoring rumbled through the dark, cramped hotel room. Blair's back ached, his muscles stiff from maintaining such an awkward position on the bed. An annoying pressure on his bladder told him he'd have to go to the bathroom soon -- one way or the other.

He glanced over at the other bed. Alex lay curled on her side, facing him. She seemed deeply asleep, her eyelids fluttering as she dreamed. Blair's gaze drifted longingly to the telephone on the small table between the two beds. If only he could reach it somehow, but his arms were restrained securely to the backboard and, from his slouched position, he had very little maneuvering room.

Maybe, just maybe, he could reach the phone with his legs, but he doubted he'd be able to do it without waking Alex. He glanced at her again. She did seem to be sleeping soundly and, if her sentinel senses were off-line, *maybe* she wouldn't hear him.

He looked down at his sneakers and, using his feet, slipped them off. Then, using his toes, he managed to work off his socks one at a time. His eyes kept darting to Alex, making sure she was still asleep. Fortunately, she gave no signs of stirring.

*Okay, you can do this, Sandburg.* He shifted on the mattress, the cuffs digging painfully into his wrists. His right shoulder protested the strain as he twisted his body toward the phone. Bending his knee, he shifted even further to the right, using his right foot to grab the cord.

Holding his breath and glancing at Alex to make sure she was still sound asleep, his toes found the spiraled wire and he gentle -- very gently -- lifted the receiver, then brought it in a long arc back to the bed.

His lungs screamed, reminding him to breath again as he dropped the receiver onto his lap.

Now, all he had to do was dial. Piece of cake. Not!

He debated briefly *who* he should call. 911? It would certainly be simpler and he'd have a sure bet of getting a hold of someone. Also, the 911 call would be certain to go through without any special motel phone restrictions.

But the response time would be slower. If he called Jim, he might not even get a hold of him. Maybe the motel even barred toll calls or required some special way to dial out. But if he *did* get a hold of Jim, the Sentinel would be on his way at top speed in an instant.

No, 911 would have to do. Problem is, he didn't know *exactly* where he was. He knew what road he was on, but he didn't know the name or address of the motel. Still, they'd *have* to find this place. It was the only structure on the road for miles.

Looking again at Alex sleeping peacefully on the other bed, he crossed his left leg over his right, the phone sliding up toward his groin, and stretched his left foot toward the phone so he'd be in a better position to dial.

Thank *GOD* it was a push-button phone and not one of those old rotaries. He used his big toe to push the "9" button, then he pushed "1-1." The receiver was now cupped against his navel and threatening to topple to the floor, so he quickly shifted back around and lowered himself as much as he could toward the mouthpiece.

He heard the dispatcher's faint voice drift from the earpiece and he glanced at Alex. She gave no signs of waking.

"Hello?" He kept his voice at a whisper, hoping the operator heard him. "This is Blair Sandburg. I'm in a motel off of highway 12. I've been kidnapped by Alex Barnes. Please send some units here. Contact Jim Ellison and Simon Banks of the Cascade PD, Major Crime."

"Sir, can you speak up please?"

Blair took a deep breath. Damn. Damn. Damn. If he talked any louder he'd be sure to wake Alex. Still, he had to try. He raised his voice a notch. "This is Blair Sandburg. I've been kidnapped by -"

The other mattress squeaked, but before Blair could look up, something hard slammed into the side of his head and sent the room spinning. Then Alex was on top of him, screaming at him, her face contorted with rage, but his head was throbbing and he couldn't make out her words.

Her hand contacted his cheek, whipping his head to the right, and black dots danced across his vision. She grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, forcing him to look at her, though there appeared to be three of her and all three looked really pissed.

Jumbles of her words broke through the buzz of pain in his head, and he flinched from the unrestrained rage in her voice.

"You're mine! You hear me? You do what *I* say!"

He swallowed hard, a wave of nausea rolling over him. "Alex, please…"

Another stinging slap silence him. "Shut up! Now we're leaving. I don't want to hear another word out of your mouth!"

She slid off of him, grabbed the phone, and threw it against the wall, ripping the cord from the jack. Blair closed his eyes, his heart pounding, and tried to quell the throbbing in his head.

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

"This isn't getting us anywhere Simon."

The captain sighed tiredly. "I guess you're right. Time to turn back."

Jim nodded, rubbing his temple as he glanced at the clock on the dashboard. 3 a.m. They had been driving aimlessly for hours, but he hadn't gotten any "itchy" feelings and he still was no closer to figuring out where Alex had taken Sandburg.

It would be so much easier if the black cat or even the spotted jaguar would make an appearance. Wasn't the spirit guide supposed to *guide?* So where the hell was it?

Simon's cell phone rang and the captain took one hand off the wheel to pull the device out of his jacket and flip it open. "Banks here.... When? On our way!"He hung up the phone and stuffed it back in his pocket.

Jim recognized the sudden adrenaline spike in his captain. "What's going on?"

The older man took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Jim. His eyes were lined with exhaustion, but there was a sudden alertness to his face. "That was Joel. A 911 operator logged an almost unintelligible call from Sandburg."

Jim straightened suddenly, his chest tight. "When? Where?"

Simon reached over Jim and popped open his glove compartment, then grabbed the dome light and stuck it on the dash. "His voice was low so they had to use the computer to enhance it. It came in fifteen minutes ago. Sandburg said he was in a motel off highway twelve, but then there's some screaming. Alex, I assume. Sounds of some kind of struggle or assault."

"Fifteen minutes?" Jim's stomach churned and he fidgeted in the narrow seat. "Damn, Simon. We'll never get there in time. It's at least another fifteen minutes away. Any idea even *where* on highway 12?"

The captain shook his head. "Nope. Joel said he'll call us back in a few minutes. Rafe's searching for all motels off the highway. Shouldn't be too many. It's pretty rural out that way."

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

A slow, steady pain pounded in Blair's skull, and his vision kept going in and out, blurring sporadically. Alex shoved him outside and the icy night air slapped against his face. His hands were still cuffed behind his back, and he stumbled forward as Alex prodded him from behind. His bare feet scraped against the cold blacktop, but he managed to stay upright.

He apparently wasn't fast enough for her, because she grabbed his collar and moved ahead of him, practically dragging him along. He stumbled again and almost lost his footing, but she yanked his collar upward, which halted his fall long enough for him to get his feet under him.

She glanced back at him, her eyes narrowed and angry. "Move it." With another yank, she pulled him toward the motel office.

All he could do was try to keep up. His head continued to throb relentlessly, and he couldn't think straight. She'd hit him pretty hard, and he could still smell the nauseating stench of blood mixed with sweat. He didn't know whether the head wound was still bleeding, but he felt a sticky wetness on his neck.

God, all he wanted to do was throw up and crawl in a hole and wait for Jim to find him. He did *not* feel well.

She pushed her way into the office and moved quickly around the desk. Blair blinked again as his vision wavered. A stench slammed into him, turning his stomach, and he had to close his eyes and will himself not to start heaving. He knew that odor. He'd smelled it plenty of times before at crime scenes.

He tried desperately not to think about the clerk. There was nothing he could do about it now, anyway, and he needed to keep his emotions in check and figure out a way to escape.

Not that he could do much thinking at the moment. His head was killing him and the waves of nausea weren't easing.

She released him and he sagged against the counter and opened his eyes. Alex had a key in her hand and placed it in the cash register, then opened the drawer. Quickly, she stuffed the cash into her coat pockets.

"Okay, we're out of here." She grabbed him by the collar again and pulled him outside. Her hand gripped the keys as she headed to the station wagon. "You shouldn't have tried that. You shouldn't have done it. You shouldn't have made me mad." She was babbling, her voice rising higher and higher.

Blair shivered as he listened to her rant, reminded by the touch of hysteria in her voice that she was insane. He knew that, although she needed him, she could easily kill him in a fit of rage. Sure, once she came back to her "senses" she might regret doing so, but that wouldn't help him any. He'd still be dead.

And he'd already died once. It was cold then, too, just like now. She yanked him forward again, and he stumbled, but found his momentum halted by a solid object that slammed into his chest. He blinked as the world spun, and he saw the blurred, wavering image of the station wagon directly in front of him.

Oh God, he really didn't feel well at all. He felt himself sliding down the cool metal, and the pain in his head faded as darkness claimed him.

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

"This has to be it." Simon parked the sedan in the nearly-vacant parking lot of the tiny motel.

Jim extended his hearing, but encountered no heartbeats except his and Simon's. A single automobile occupied the lot -- a small, brown Dodge hatchback.

"There's no one here, sir."

Simon turned off the engine and opened his door. "You sure? What about a clerk?"

Jim shook his head. "No one."

"Damn." Simon slid out of the car as Jim opened his door and did the same.

A few dark drops nearly invisible against the blacktop caught Jim's eye. His sensitive vision compensated for the darkness and he recognized the blotches immediately.

"Blood, Captain." Moving forward, he stooped over the spots and inhaled a deep breath. He caught a very faint whiff of Blair's shampoo and his heart skipped a beat. "They were here, sir. Recently. They can't be too far ahead." He straightened, extending his senses further -- listening. The night was exceptionally quiet, the motel nestled far away from the city. He thought he heard a faint rumble in the distant -- a car engine?

"We've got to move, sir!" Even as he said it, he saw the darker blotches on the pavement. Crouching again, he swiped his hands on the liquid to confirm what his nose already told him. "Transmission fluid."

"And skid marks." Simon crouched next to him, pointing to the fresh pattern.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, they look fresh." He stood again. "I can track them." He pointed to the south. "The vehicle's left a trail of fluid."

Simon's face lit up suddenly and he nodded. "Let's go then. Black and whites are on the way here. You call it in, I'll drive."

Quickly, the two men headed back to the sedan and took off in pursuit.

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

Pain.

Something hard scraped along his back. It felt like sandpaper, rough and *very* unpleasant. There was also a guy with a jackhammer pounding away in his skull.

And he was cold.

He swallowed. His mouth was dry. Slowly, various sensations made themselves known. There was a pressure near his neck. His right shoulder was slightly elevated and throbbing with heat. It was the only part of him that was warm.

His eyelids were closed, so he tried to lift them. Sluggishly, they complied. At least, he *thought* they did, but the darkness hadn't gone away.

No. Wait. There was black with speckles of light. And shadows. Dark shadows flying overhead... No, not shadows. Leaves. Tree tops.

He was moving. He shifted his gaze upward and saw Alex leaning over him. She had the material of his shirt bunched in her hands as she dragged him over the ground.

So that's what the sandpaper was. The pebbles and rocks.

Ouch.

He was not having a good day.

She seemed to realize suddenly that he was awake. Her eyes met his and a slow smile formed on her lips. "How are you feeling?" Her voice was strained and slightly breathless as she pulled him along.

He felt like crap. Too crappy to respond, as a matter of fact.

"I know what to do." Her smile broadened. "I did some research before going to Sierra Verde, you know. I found your files. I dug deeper. I learned some things about Guides and Sentinels. I *know* you can help me get my senses back and under control. You just have to be willing. I can take care of that."

A cold slithered down Blair's spine. What the hell did she mean by that?

"Don't worry." She seemed to sense his discomfort. "It's going to be okay. I think you'll *like* this."

Yeah, right. He needed to escape... somehow. He realized he couldn't feel his arms, but he knew they were still handcuffed behind his back. Which meant they were probably all scraped up, but at least they were numb. Having the full weight of his body on them for who knows how long must have cut off the circulation. Oh, it would be hell when the pins and needles started.

She stopped and released him, and his shoulders dropped limply to the ground. Okay. Enough was enough. If he could *just* get his body to cooperate, he *might* be able to catch her off-guard.

*Okay, on the count of three... Get ready legs... One... Two... Three!* He rolled onto his stomach and swung his legs around, knocking her off her feet. She let out a startled cry as she crumpled. His head spun, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself to his feet.

Run!

He took off. He could barely see anything in the darkness and his head felt like it was ready to topple off his shoulders. He stumbled several times, his feet feeling like blocks of ice. The pounding in his head picked up beat, throbbing in tune with his heart. He pushed himself harder, swerving like a drunk as he continued his mad dash.

He had no idea where he was or where he was going. He just ran.

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

"I hear her, sir."

Simon glanced anxiously at the detective. "How far?"

"Less than a mile, I'm guessing. She's talking, but I can't hear Blair." He cocked his head and listened, pushing his hearing further. "Wait... Sounds like someone fell." His fingers drummed on his knee, betraying his anxiety. "Damn. We've got to hurry, Simon. I think he's running from her."

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

*C'mon, c'mon, you can do it.* Blair's legs felt like Jell-O, and his head hurt so badly he was sure he was on the verge of an aneurysm.

He was running blind. Two seconds later, he slammed into something hard and bounced, landing on his back and crushing his bound arms.

Ouch. Somewhere, a bell was ringing. Or was it buzzing?

"You shouldn't have run."

Alex. Her voice sounded cold and flat. Blair closed his eyes. He couldn't go any further. He'd tried, and he'd failed. Whatever happened now, happened.

He felt her hands grab the front of his shirt and then her breath brushed against his cheek. "There's this ritual I read about when I was doing my research. Very ancient. Very primitive. It's a bonding thing." Her fingers plucked open the top button of his shirt. "I've been in that hospital for so long." One by one, she unfastened his buttons. "This can be pleasant."

Blair opened his eyes, tensing beneath the weight of her body. "Alex, what are you doing?" He had a pretty good idea, but he'd rather she just beat the shit out of him.

She smiled sweetly at him as she slid her hands beneath his thin undershirt. "You won't resist me after this." Her lips brushed against his. He turned away.

"Alex, get off of me. This isn't going to happen." He tried to make his voice steady and strong, but it came out sounding shaky and weak. The ringing in his ears hadn't subsided and he felt like he was going to throw up.

Her hands moved to his pants and she popped open the button, then pulled the zipper down. "Oh, yes it will."

He squirmed and twisted, feeling her hand slide beneath his boxers. "Alex, stop." He tried to buck -- to throw her off-balance -- but he had no strength left. His head felt heavy and his legs seemed anchored to the ground. He doubted he could even stay conscious for the act. Maybe that was better.

"You won't be asking me to stop in a little bit." Her lips closed over his and he did the only thing he could.

He bit her.

She howled and pulled back clamping her hand over her mouth. Then her eyes flashed dangerously and he realized she was back in her Jekyll persona.

"Damn you!" Her hands came down, slapping him, punching him, her rage making her strong.

He could do nothing but lay there and take it, fighting against the pull of unconsciousness, until she spent her fury.

Then she went limp as a ragdoll and rolled off him, curling on her side on the ground. Her hands came up to cradle her head, and she rocked back and forth. "Hurts. It hurts. Help me, please. It hurts."

Blair swallowed, tasting blood in his mouth. His stomach churned. He was in no shape to help anyone. He turned his head to look at her, but between his blurred vision and the darkness all he could make out was her shadowy figure.

Her senses had slammed back online, debilitating her. But for how long?

"Alex," he rasped, wincing as he rolled onto his left side and struggled to his knees. The world swayed and he would have thrown up if he had anything in his stomach.

She curled closer to him. "Please... hurts... I'm sorry...."

His chest tightened. Damn, after all she had done to him, how could he still feel sorry for her? "Alex. Take deep breaths. Keep your eyes closed. Picture the dials in your head."

"Those don't work!" she screamed, then winced and curled into a tighter ball. "Hurts. Hurts. Hurts..." Her voice grew steadily harder until she sounded almost angry. She opened her eyes finally and looked up at him, and he flinched from the naked accusation he saw there.

"Alex?" He struggled to his feet, his gut telling him to run.

"You can't help me." She said it as though it were an epiphany, and he knew he was now a dead man.

"Alex, I tried. You did this to yourself in the temple."

"No." She uncurled from her position. "It's you and him. This all started because of you."

He didn't wait for her to get to her feet. He turned and ran... or tried to. His legs felt like blocks of cement and his skull pounded. He didn't know how fast he was moving, but he pushed ahead, hoping it would be fast enough, knowing it probably wouldn't be.

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

"Damn, Ellison, I can't see a thing without the flashlight."

"Just hang onto my shoulder, sir. I don't need the light and she'll see it."

"Assuming she can't hear us."

"Depends on whether her senses are in or out and, if they're in, she probably won't have any control over --" He stopped suddenly, and Simon bumped into him.

"What--"

"Just a minute, sir." He cocked his head. He heard heavy footsteps, half-dragging, half running. Ragged breathing. Frantic heartbeat. "It's Blair. He's heading this way." He heard more solid footsteps a bit farther back. "And Alex is chasing him."

He started walking again, moving faster this time, tracking the harsh breathing of his partner. Jim's heart sped, pumping adrenaline through his bloodstream. He was close. Blair was just up ahead... as was Alex.

Moments later he saw Sandburg stumbling as he emerged from a close cropping of trees.

"Blair!" Jim broke into a run, leaving Simon momentarily behind.

Blair ran right into him, letting out a surprised cry and falling onto his rear. He scurried backward, using his legs to push himself, and blinked up at Jim. "Alex, don't. This won't..."

"Blair, it's me. It's Jim." He crouched in front of his friend, noting the glazed look in Blair's eyes and the dilation of his pupils. Concussion? "It's okay. Just --" His head snapped up. Alex was almost here. He slid his gun out of its holster and took the safety off.

Alex emerged from the trees a few seconds later, but she seemed oblivious to their presence. *So her senses are off-line.* She was downgraded to normal, which meant she was just as blind as Blair and Simon.

He waited for her, then rose to his feet at the last minute and slammed his fist into her face. She dropped to the ground with a solid thud, unconscious.

That was the easiest collar he had ever made. Perhaps he'd used a bit of excessive force, but he didn't want to waste time with her. Blair obviously needed medical attention. The young man still seemed uncertain, looking around and blinking as though trying to penetrate the darkness. His jeans were riding dangerously low on his hips, the zipper halfway down.

Jim frowned, wondering just *what* had happened. "Easy, Chief. Just hang on a moment."

Blair breathed an audible sigh of relief and sagged, curling onto his side. "Jim?"

"Yeah. Hold on, buddy." Jim withdrew his handcuffs and pulled Alex's arms behind her back, then slapped the cuffs around her wrists. She was now in the same position in which she'd put Blair.

"Jim? You got her?" Simon asked from behind.

"Yes, sir. All taken care of." He now turned his attention to his partner, moving slowly behind the young man.  The cuffs looked standard issue. When Alex had escaped from the hospital, she'd clubbed a guard, so he figured that's where she'd gotten the handcuffs. He tried his key on them and, to his delight, they opened and slid off.

Blair stayed unnaturally still, his arms hanging limp behind his back. Jim leaned forward, listening to his friend's slowing pulse.

"Blair?" He placed his palm on the young man's forehead. Sandburg was shivering, but his skin felt hot and sweaty. He glanced back at Simon, who now had the flashlight in his hand.

"I'm turning on the light," the captain warned.

Jim nodded, turning away from the captain to look back at Blair. "He's unconscious and he's got a fever, sir. We need to get him some help."

The beam flared to life, dancing over Blair and Jim and then darting to Alex's limp form. "Okay, you take care of the kid, I'll take care of her, but first, we'd better call this in. The black and whites should be at the motel by now -- not too far away." He yanked out his cell phone and made the call, his other hand keeping the beam on Alex.

Jim slid his hands beneath Blair and, with a grunt, lifted him. "I'm going to get him back to the car, sir. You think you can handle Alex on your own? I haven't searched her, so --"

Simon snorted. "I think I can manage, detective. Just take care of your partner."

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

The reporters hovered around the hospital entrance like vultures over a carcass, waiting for an opportunity to get their soundbytes. Jim wasn't sure how they found out so soon about Blair's rescue. The dawn sun had just barely broken the horizon, but the early hour didn't seem to deter any of the reporters.

He was content simply to remain in the hospital room and wait for his partner to wake up. The reporters could wait outside in the cold for as long as they liked. They weren't getting anywhere near Sandburg.

The media seemed ravenous for the story -- a showdown between Sentinels, a battle for a Guide. They were milking it for all it was worth. He and Blair were more famous now than they had been before. Even the New York Times had put the story on its front page.

And in all the chaos, Blair slept peacefully in the small hospital bed, the buzz of machinery humming in the background. He lay partially curled on his left side, his right arm once again immobilized by a sling. Fortunately, the shoulder wasn't too badly damaged. A little under twenty-four hours had passed since Alex kidnapped Blair, so Sandburg had only missed a few doses of his antibiotics. The staph infection had barely begun to grow again, but the doctor had ordered more intravenous antibiotics and the infection seemed to be fading, as was his fever.

As for the head wound, Blair had sustained only a minor concussion. He also had bruises along his jaw, chest, and ribs, but nothing serious. His feet, hands, and arms were a little scraped up, but they had been cleaned and bandaged. Other than that, he was simply a bit dehydrated, but that had been corrected with the IV.

The only thing left was exhaustion. Blair had been on the run with Alex for almost twenty-four hours straight, and he'd obviously had a rough time. Now, however, he slept peacefully, oblivious to the morning light filtering through the blinds.

Jim also felt the tug of fatigue, and it made his eyelids heavy. He felt himself nodding off when the click of the door brought his head up. Simon entered, followed by Joel and Megan.

The captain walked to the foot of the bed. "How's he doing?"

Jim stifled a yawn and ran his hand over his jaw, feeling the rough stubble that told him he needed a shave. "He's fine. Just sleeping."

Megan placed her hand on the bed rail and studied the young man. "Has he woken up at all?"

Jim shook his head. "No, not yet. He's exhausted, and he was a bit dehydrated when they brought him in. Doc says all he really needs right now is rest."

A soft moan pulled Jim's attention back to the bed. Blair's eyelids drifted open lazily, and he blinked a few times.

Jim leaned forward. "Hey, Chief. How're you feeling?"

A soft sigh was his only answer, and Blair's eyelids bobbed heavily, finally closing again. Then, suddenly, they sprang open and he jerked, muttering a single, frantic word. "Clerk."

"Easy there." Jim placed a hand on his friend's forehead and eased him back to the pillow. "It's okay."

"No." Blair shook his head, his eyes clouded and his voice thick with sleep. "Clerk. She killed him. Alex... She killed him. Nothing I could do... Tried... I should have tried sooner..."

Jim's gut twisted. *Damn.* The uniforms had found the dead clerk stuffed in a back room, his throat slit. He hoped Blair hadn't actually *witnessed* the gruesome act. "Shhh. There was nothing you could do, Chief. Just rest now."

With another half-murmured sigh, Blair shifted beneath the covers and fell quickly back to sleep.

The room remained silent for several seconds until they were sure Sandburg was completely under, then Simon spoke up, his voice a whisper. "We ran the plates of the station wagon Alex was driving. It was registered to a 'Joseph Hague.' We sent a uniform to the address listed with the DMV, but so far we haven't been able to locate him."

Jim leaned back in his chair, feeling a knot of fatigue forming between his shoulder blades. "Probably dead like the clerk."

The captain nodded grimly. "Probably. All we can do is wait for his body to turn up, if it ever does."

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

Jim walked the hall of the psych ward. Alex had been transferred back to Dr. Kapler's care and, supposedly, security had been increased. They still weren't sure *how* she'd managed to escape, but the hospital assured him they were doing everything possible to make certain she stayed put this time.

She was getting off easy. Her insanity allowed her to escape trial. She had been "insane" when she committed her recent batch of crimes, and she was too "insane" to stand trial, so she seemed to be legally covered at both ends. It was ridiculous.

But, he still had to question her and, hopefully, find out about the owner of the car she'd stolen. Where had she dumped the body, and had she killed anybody else besides Hague and the clerk?

Sandburg was still resting peacefully back at Cascade General, an hour away from this institution -- not *nearly* far enough away from Alex Barnes.

One of the nurses had told him Kapler was with Barnes, so Jim headed to her room. He needed to have a talk with both doctor and patient. The room was the last one in the long hallway, and he was several yards away when he heard Kapler's voice through the closed door.

//"What did you tell them, Alex?//

//"Nothing. And I won't say anything if you help me get out of here again."//

Jim stiffened, pausing in the hallway to listen further.

Kapler continued. //"I can't do that. At least not anytime soon, or they'll get suspicious."//

//"Don't you think my telling them you unfastened my restraints and walked out of the room will make them a bit suspicious?"//

//"You think they'd really believe you? You're insane. Besides, a little of this, and you won't be talking."//

//"You can't keep me sedated forever, Doctor. Besides, didn't Sandburg tell you that drugs don't work the same way on..."// Her voice faded, and Jim figured Kapler had plunged the sedative into her system.

Would the doctor kill her to keep her silent? Or was his greed stronger? She was, after all, the only other Sentinel in town and his only ticket to fame -- albeit meager fame. Without a living Sentinel, he had nothing.

He heard footsteps approach the door, and he quickly backpedalled down the halls and ducked into the staircase. He didn't want Kapler to know he'd heard the conversation. He listened as Kapler's feet pounded on the tile floor, then they stopped and the elevator dinged. He followed the elevator two floors down. Kapler appeared to be heading back to his office on the third floor.

Jim decided to wait a few minutes longer. He'd let Kapler get situated at his desk, then he'd make his appearance and pretend he hadn't heard a thing.

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

Four hours later, Jim arrived back at Cascade General and walked into Blair's room to find his partner awake and watching the news. Not surprisingly, the news stations were still harping on the Sentinel thing. Dr. Kapler was on the screen talking to a group of reporters about Alex Barnes. Apparently, Kapler was being much more accessible than either Jim or Blair.

Sandburg smiled at Jim and flicked off the television. "Good to see you, man."

Jim returned the smile and walked to the side of the bed. "Oh, I've been here. You were just doing your sleeping beauty impersonation at the time." He studied the young man, noting with a twinge of pleasure that Blair's eyes were bright and the color had returned to his cheeks. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine. A little sore, but the doctor says I can go home anytime. I was just waiting for you to show up."

Jim nodded. "Sorry, you could've called me. I was tied up talking with Kapler. I went to question him and Alex and, while I was there, I overhead a rather interesting conversation."

Blair's eyebrows rose. "Oh?"

"Kapler let Alex escape."

Blair straightened suddenly. "What? Why would he do that?"

"I'm not sure. I haven't confronted him about it yet. After listening in, I followed him to his office and pretended not to know anything. I asked him general questions, but didn't get any useful information. He'd sedated Alex, so I didn't get to talk to her.

"I called Simon on this, and we have a meeting with the D.A. in a couple of hours to figure out if what I heard would be admissible at trial. If it is, we have enough to get an arrest warrant. If it isn't, I'll have to dig up more evidence before we can bring him in. Apparently, the first hurdle is just getting the judge to issue the arrest warrant based on what I heard. Any other officer who overheard something like that would be able to get a warrant, but because I heard something no one else would have been able to hear, the D.A. isn't sure about the privacy thing. Anyway --"

He stopped talking when he realized Blair was no longer listening. Sandburg's eyes were focused blankly on the dark television screen, and his face had gone pale.

"Chief? You okay?"

Blair blinked and looked at him. The emptiness in his gaze shifted to anger. "Why would he do something like that? She killed that clerk! That guy would still be alive right now if Kapler hadn't let her go. He had to have known how dangerous she was. He's her doctor for chrissakes. I mean, he just let her go and didn't care who the hell got hurt? What kind of a doctor is he? And what could he have possibly hoped to gain?"

Jim shook his head. "I'm not sure. Maybe he knew Alex would go after you or me and he wanted to get rid of us. We are his competition, after all. He may think you stole his spotlight."

"That's ridiculous. His going public forced *us* to go public. The heat was already on you."

Jim shrugged. "Yeah, but without you, he's the only other 'authority' on Sentinels; and, without me, Alex is the only other known Sentinel."

Blair snorted. "He doesn't know a thing about Sentinels. If he did, he wouldn't be keeping Alex drugged and he sure as hell wouldn't have let her escape. Her senses aren't functional. If she came after you, she'd lose. As for me, she didn't seem too interested in killing me this time. She thought I could help her... until the end. Then she realized I couldn't do anything for her."

Jim nodded solemnly. "I know. He won't get away with it, though. We're onto him, now." Deciding it was time to change the subject, he forced a smile on his face and slapped a hand on Blair's good shoulder "So, Chief, do you want to get out of here, now, or what?"

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

"Okay, tell me exactly what happened. How did you overhear this conversation?" The assistant district attorney leaned back in her chair and awaited Ellison's reply.

Jim glanced anxiously at his Captain.  He was still uncomfortable talking about his abilities to near-strangers. "Well, I arrived on the sixth floor and as I was walking down the hall, I heard Kapler talking. He was in Alex Barnes room with the door closed."

"How far away were you?"

Jim shrugged. "Maybe forty feet."

"Was he talking in a normal voice? Shouting? Whispering?"

"He was speaking low, but he wasn't whispering."

The ADA nodded. "Okay." She grabbed a sheet of paper from her desk. "I got your fax relating the contents of the conversation. I think this will be viewed as a seizure along the lines of a wiretap. However, it was inadvertent. I'm thinking we can probably get it in under the 'Good Faith' exception." She sighed and shook her head. "Of course, if this goes to trial, we'll be treading on new legal ground."

Jim sighed, relieved. He *wanted* to get Kapler. That son of a bitch was *not* getting off.

Simon spoke up. "We need an arrest warrant."

The ADA nodded. "I'll give this information to the magistrate and see whether he'll issue one. The probable cause issue is a bit hairy b/c the seizure itself was without probable. Now we need probable cause for the arrest. However, in this case, because you inadvertently overheard the conversation and because the circumstances of Alex's escape are, in and of themselves, highly suspicious, I'm confident we've got enough for an arrest warrant. We'll bring him in, you interrogate him, see what you can get. We will need more evidence, however, if we hope to file charges and get a conviction."

Jim nodded. "We'll get it. You just get us that arrest warrant."

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

"The reporters are still out there?"

Jim nodded, walking alongside the wheelchair as the orderly pushed it toward the main doors.

"Looks like it." He glanced down at his partner and grimaced even as he stifled a smile.

Blair sure was a sight. On one hand, he seemed a bit rough around the edges, but, on the other hand, his sweats and padded feet made him look about sixteen years old.

Blair's feet had been bandaged and were now covered by thick, wool socks and slippers. Although he could walk on them, the cuts and abrasions still had some healing to do, and any pressure placed on them proved painful.

His wrists sported red rings from where the cuffs had bit into his skin, but they weren't severe enough to merit bandages. His right arm was still immoblized, but the doctor said the sling could go in the trash tomorrow.

Jim moved in front of the chair as they exited the hospital, placing himself between the mass of reporters and his still-healing partner.

"Mr. Ellison!" A lady shoved a mic in his face even as he pushed his was past her. Undeterred, she followed right alongside. "Can you comment--"

Another voice cut in. "Mr. Sandburg, what are your thoughts on the Nobel committee's decision?"

Jim stopped and turned to face the reporter, a middle-aged man with gray hair and round glasses. Before he could open his mouth, Sandburg spoke up.

"What decision?"

The mass of reporters clustered closer, the focus now on the injured anthropologist. The male reporter elaborated on his question. "Haven't you heard? The Nobel Committee is considering your nomination again."

Blair's eyes flashed to Jim, uncertain. Realizing the young man was *still* asking for permission, Jim forced a smile on his face and turned back to the reporter. "He's thrilled. Now, move aside and let us through." Without waiting for a response, he shoved his way through the group as the orderly pushed Blair close behind.

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

The ride to the loft was completed in relative silence. Jim was pretty sure he hadn't been tailed by any reporters, even though he was driving slow and taking turns carefully in deference to his partner.

He parked the truck in the lot and hopped out. Sandburg opened his own door and eased himself onto the sidewalk, using his good arm to brace himself against the seatback as he made his descent. Jim hurried to his partner's side and wrapped an arm around the young man's back for support as he kicked the door closed.

Grimacing, Blair hobbled along slowly as he leaned against Jim. "You know, I don't remember my feet hurting this much when I was running from Alex."

Jim pushed the building's front door open. "Adrenaline. And they were a touch frostbitten."

After getting up to the loft, he settled Blair on the couch and propped the young man's feet on the table, sliding a pillow underneath them. "You okay?"

Blair nodded, a smile touching his lips as he glanced back and forth between Jim and the pillow. "Yeah, I'm fine. I can walk, you know. Which means I can sit here without breaking your houserule number 252 about feet being on the table."

Jim grunted and patted his partner's knee. "Better take it while you can, Chief. Soon I'll be back to harping on you."

He moved to the kitchen and grabbed a beer, glancing at his watch. It was a little after five in the evening. Dinner time. He hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, and he was pretty sure Blair would be eager for something other than hospital food.

"Jim, about this Nobel thing..."

"Yeah?" Strolling back to the living room, he sat in the armchair, tipping the bottle neck toward Sandburg. "Congratulations, by the way."

Blair raised his eyebrows and shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "It's kind of weird, don't you think?."

"What is?"

"Everything. Doesn't this whole thing feel like a dream?"

Jim took a swallow of his beer. The cool liquid slid smoothly down his throat. "You mean, everything being out in the open? Our new celebrity?"

"No, I mean this whole colored tupperware thing. Duh! *Of course,* I mean this Sentinel thing being public."

Chuckling, Jim rested the beer bottle on his knee. "You'll get used to it."

Sandburg rolled his eyes. "I think I've demonstrated I can get used to *anything,* man. But what about you?'

Jim shrugged. "It's weird, yeah, but I've done the media thing before. After Peru, they were all over me. Eventually, it'll die down. It always does. Very few people even remember now that I was on the cover of *News.* If they did, I wouldn't have been able to make it undercover all these years."

Blair raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Hey, you might make the cover *again.* Only now  you have less hair."

Jim mocked a glare at his younger partner. "Or it might be you, but they'll probably have a problem fitting all your hair in the photo."

~~~~~~~~~~~

Running.

It was dark and he was running, his pursuer only a few feet behind. The cold, night air bit into him, stinging his cheeks and bringing tears to his eyes. His chest felt tight, and he found it hard to breathe. Gasping and panting, he pushed himself forward.

The quick patter of footsteps pounded behind him, and he forced his legs to move faster.

The predator was getting closer.

Something whipped him in the face, and he stumbled through the brush. His stomach lurched to his throat, and he felt himself falling. With his hands bound behind his back, he had no way to break his fall and landed hard.

A hand grabbed the collar of his shirt and rolled him onto his back. A strange, silver light brightened the night and Blair blinked up at his pursuer.

Slowly, the details became visible. A tall, lean figure with short hair. A man. He heard a hollow, gurgling sound. Warm, wet drops plopped onto his face and he blinked again. His eyes continued to adjust and he finally realized who he was looking at.

And screamed.

The clerk grinned, his throat slit and spewing blood. His lips moved, but no words came out -- only that awful, horrible gurgling.

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

The pounding woke him. He identified the source immediately -- a heartbeat coming from the lower level. Blair's.

It was beating much too fast, tripping over itself, sounding dangerously close to crashing.

Jim threw the covers back and jumped out of bed, hurrying down the stairs. His sensitive eyesight adjusted to the darkness quickly and he headed straight for the back room.

"Sandburg?" He pushed open the French doors and saw Blair twisted in the covers, his face flushed and sweaty and his breathing strained.

Quickly, Jim yanked the covers off the young man and sat on the edge of the mattress. "Come on, wake up, Chief." Blair wasn't wearing his sling, but Jim made sure to grab the good shoulder as he gave his friend a firm shake.

"No! No!" Blair jerked awake, his arms flying in front of his face to protect himself. He looked directly at Jim, his eyes wide, and then yelped and scrambled into the corner.

"It's just me, Chief." Jim quickly reached over and flipped on the small table lamp.

~~~~~~~~

Blair blinked against the light, huffing like he'd just run a marathon. The clerk leaned toward him...

"Take it easy. You were dreaming. You're okay."

Jim's voice. Blair almost sobbed. It was just Jim.

Something warm and wet trickled down the bridge of his nose, and the nauseating scent of blood turned his stomach. Crying out in revulsion, he batted at his face and lunged off the bed, making a mad dash for the bathroom.

"Sandburg!"

He was vaguely aware of Jim following him, but he threw himself into the bathroom and slammed the door -- probably right in the Sentinel's face. Grabbing the edges of the sink, he looked into the mirror.

No blood. His knees weakened and he sank to the cold, tile floor.

It was just sweat, not blood. God, he was shaking like a scared puppy.

It was so real -- the clerk's blood on his face, the walking corpse grinning down at him, his eyes hungry -- like the guy wanted some kind of revenge for being dragged into Blair's nightmare.

An innocent murdered made for a very angry ghost.

He chuckled. Then laughed, tears springing to his eyes. He fell back against the tub, throwing himself to the hysteria. It felt so good, giving release to the pressure in his chest with an almost painful burst.

"Blair, I'm coming in." The door swung inward and Jim took a step inside the cramped bathroom, his gaze dropping to Blair. He looked baffled, his brow creased as he tried to make sense of things.

Then he crouched to the floor. Blair knew he looked foolish sitting there laughing, tears streaming down his face. He was probably the very picture of madness. If only he could break through the laughter long enough to explain how funny it all was. After all the psychos -- after Lash and Kincaid and Quinn and Alex -- it was some motel clerk with a slashed throat who haunted his dreams.

Or maybe it really was the ghost, coming after him when he slept, when he was vulnerable.

Oh God, he really was losing it.

"Hey, hey. It's okay."

Blair blinked at Jim, surprised by the unusual gentleness in the older man's voice. Then he realized he wasn't laughing anymore. He was crying. God, he was blubbering like a baby, but he couldn't stop. Oh hell, he really needed to get off the meds.

No, he *really* needed to stop seeing that clerk every time he closed his eyes. He'd rather see Alex. Or Lash. Or anybody else. But, God, please, not the clerk.

"I don't even know his name."

Jim cocked his head. "Who's name?"

Blair blinked. Had he said that out loud? Jim leaned forward and draped an arm across his shoulders.

"Oh man." Blair leaned into the embrace, closing his eyes and letting the chaos inside him spill out of his mouth. "The clerk. I don't know his name. He shouldn't have died, shouldn't have been there, didn't deserve it, and I don't even know his name. I don't know who he is or if he had a family or how she really killed him. Did she just slit his throat? Did he see it coming? Did he die fast or slow and did it hurt? Did he scream? Why didn't I do something sooner? At the university? Before she got that far! Why am I such a damn coward?  Why --?"

Jim tightened his hold. "Daren Wollard."

Blair stopped his babbling. "Huh?"

"His name was Daren Wollard. He was 37 years old. The only family he had was a sister who lives in Seattle and a cousin in Tacoma. He inherited the motel from his father, who died about ten years ago. The place now goes to his sister, but I think she's putting it up for sale. Simon spoke to her, told her what happened. She told him she was sorry for what happened to you and hoped Barnes got her due. She seems to have it straight, Chief. Alex is the murderer here. Alex takes the blame. Don't let her do this to you, Blair. Don't let her get inside your head. You did everything right, but you can't control other people. You're just human. Isn't that what you're always telling me? Or was that all just B.S.? No pun intended."

Blair couldn't help it. He smiled, sniffling quickly. His forehead rested against Jim's chest, and he pulled back to look up at his friend. "You know, I really wish Naomi had given me a name that didn't start with a 'B.'"

Jim grinned, but his eyes were soft. "I think she was just looking ahead."

"Funny." Blair sniffled again and looked away, eyeing the toilet paper. He probably looked like Rudolph. How embarrassing. "Sorry for spazzing. Don't know why that happened." Keeping his eyes away from Jim, he reached for the tissue and unrolled a handful.

"It's okay. I promise I'll still respect you in the morning."

Blair barked a laugh and blew his nose, then dropped the tissue in the toilet. "Thanks, Jim."

"You're welcome. Now, do you want to get back to bed?"

"Yeah, guess so."

The Sentinel rose to his feet, grabbing Blair's good arm and pulling him up. "Come on, then, Professor. I'll tuck you in."

"Shut up, man."

"You're kind of cute when you get testy."

"I'll show you cute..."

"You just did."

Blair rolled his eyes and pushed past Jim, muttering about respect as he shuffled back to his room. Inside, however, he was still shaking. He hoped the clerk would leave him alone for the rest of the night.

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

Simon chewed on his cigar and leaned back in his chair. "Kapler confessed and accepted the plea bargain."

Jim narrowed his eyes, not sure how to take the news. "The guy confessed?" He was almost disappointed. Bad enough Simon hadn't let him interrogate the doctor, but now to know the guy might be getting off easy... "What kind of bargain did he get?"

"Second degree manslaughter. Ten years."

Jim went still. His jaw twitched. "Ten years? With parole, he'll only end up with a few years."

Simon nodded. "I know, but that's the deal."

"And Alex?"

"She's now under the care of a different psychiatrist. The D.A.'s looking into this insanity thing. Part of determining she was insane had to do with her senses being out of control. They just thought she was delusional. Now, in light of the Sentinel revelations, they're having her re-examined."

Jim perked up. That was good news. "Does the D.A. think Barnes will end up standing trial?"

Simon shrugged. "She's not all that hopeful. Barnes still seems certifiable even without the senses. She has violent mood swings, and she seems to have a shaky grasp of reality, all of which Sandburg himself can testify to. They don't think she'll be competent to actually stand trial. If she should recover, that'd be a different story. That's what the new doc's gonna look into, so I've been told." The captain shrugged. "I guess it doesn't make that much difference. She's a prisoner either way. Actually, she's got less freedom in the psych ward than she would have in the pen."

"Yeah, I guess so." He rose from his chair. It wasn't the best news he could have hoped for, but right now it was the way things were. "Well, guess I'd better get back to work, sir."

Simon nodded, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "You do that, Detective."

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

Blair glanced at the clock hanging on the back wall of the lecture room. He was grinning like a fool, he knew. He tried to assume a more serious and scholarly expression now that he was an *official* professor, but he just couldn't get his facial muscles to cooperate, so he kept on grinning as the students settled into their seats.

God, he was *teaching* again! And, even better, he was teaching *anthropology.* *Somebody pinch me.*

He felt like jumping up and just letting go with the loudest, longest scream he could muster. He felt like dancing. Like singing. Like laughing. He was *high.* Jazzed. Stoked. Roaring to go.

He took a deep breath, making a huge effort to calm himself as he stood next to the podium. His arm no longer needed to be in the sling, but the doctor suggested he "take it easy" on the shoulder for a few weeks, which was *totally* fine. He could do that.

He looked out over the sea of faces. Many he recognized. Some he did not. The unfamiliar ones were probably incoming freshmen or transfer students.

And they were all looking at him with mixed expressions of awe and uncertainty. He realized he'd left as a disgrace. He'd disappointed a lot of people, including many of his students. That knowledge had hurt him *a lot.*

But here he was standing in front of a classroom again, with his reputation intact. He cleared his throat and forced the silly smile off his face. "Good morning, folks. As I hope you all know, this is Cultural Anthropology. The textbook for this course is --"

A hand raised in the third row -- a young woman with short, brown hair and hazel eyes. Blair recognized her from one of the prior courses he'd taught. He nodded at her. "Yes, Ms. Baker?"

She smiled warmly. "Welcome back, Doctor Sandburg."

A round of warm applause exploded from the students. Blair's grin resurfaced. Damn, just when he'd managed to get it under control. He felt himself blushing. Great, just great. *Way to gain that respect.* "Thank you. I --"

A male voice from the back row spoke up. "Are we going to talk about Sentinels in this class?"

Blair raised his eyebrows, his smile fading a bit. "No, not really. I suppose mention of them might come up, but it's not a topic I've listed on the syllabus."

"Can we talk a little about them?" A more timid female voice asked.

Blair's eyes searched the rows, but he couldn't locate the speaker. "Uh, well..."

"Have you really been nominated for the Nobel Prize?" a male student asked.

Blair sighed. "I think the committee's just talking about it right --"

"Can we have the Sentinel guy as a guest speaker?"

Blair took a deep breath. Okay, the discussion was getting out of his control. The students obviously had their minds set on the Sentinel business.

So why *shouldn't* he talk about it? It was all public now. He and Jim had nothing to hide. If he let them all get it out of their systems, maybe he'd actually be able to get them to focus on the official course subject matter.

Besides, Sentinels were a subject he *loved* to talk about. Straightening his shoulders, he leaned his good arm on the podium and adjusted his classes. "Okay, schedule revision." He grabbed the stack of syllabi from the podium and handed it to the young lady seated at the edge of the first row. "Please pass these along." Moving back to the podium, he stood in front of it and looked out at his students. "Day one. Scratch out introduction. I'll condense that into Wednesday's lecture. Today we'll be talking all about Sentinels."

Surprised and pleased murmurs answered his announcements, accompanied by the soft shuffling of papers and the scratching of pens.

~~~~~~~~~~~

*What a day for a daydream...* Blair whistled happily as he strolled into the loft and tossed his keys in the basket.

"Hey, Chief." Jim, dressed in his flowered apron, stood over the stove, stirring a mixture of something Blair couldn't quite identify. Meat sauce, maybe?

"Hello, Jim." Meandering into the kitchen, Blair looked around the Sentinel and peered into the pot, taking a deep breath. "Mmmmm. Smells good, honey." He tugged on the dangling ties of his friend's apron and then quickly scooted away as Jim spun around and swatted at him.

The look on the older man's face was priceless. Sheer astonishment. Then, his lips twitched. "Why are you in such a good mood?" He grabbed the large spoon from the pot and waved it in the air, showering Blair with tiny drops of sauce. "And if you ever call me 'honey' again I'll bust your nose, Chief. Got it?"

Blair laughed and wiped the wetness from his face. "Whatever you say, sweetie."

Jim raised his eyebrows, a smile tugging at his lips. "Okay, who's the unlucky girl this time?"

Blair mocked a gasp and slapped his hand over his heart. "You wound me, man. Don't you know by now I'm God's gift to women?"

Jim's smile grew. "Do the women know that?"

He winked. "I'm working on it."

Chuckling, the detective shook his head and turned back to the pot to resume his stirring. "Whatever, Romeo. Dinner's in ten, just so you know. Now go make yourself all pretty."

"Dude, I don't need to. I am already."

Jim groaned and glanced back at Blair. "You didn't accidentally take a double dose of your meds, did you?"

Rolling his eyes, Blair sighed. "No man, I'm just *happy.* Deliriously happy. I had the *best* day of teaching today." He turned to walk back to his room, but a tingling on the back of his neck made him glance over his shoulder. He saw Jim staring at him, his eyes crinkled with a soft smile.

Suddenly Blair stopped and turned around, a peculiar warmth filling his chest. Jim looked like a walking contradiction -- a muscle man ex-covert-ops army ranger Sentinel standing in the middle of the kitchen wearing a flowered apron and holding a sauce-covered spoon in his hand.

And Blair wouldn't trade Jim Ellison for anything. Not for a PhD, or a Nobel Prize, or three million dollars. He smiled, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat. "Thanks, man."

Jim tilted his head. "What glorious thing did I do this time?"

Blair's eyes twinkled. "You're a good guy, that's all. But don't worry, I promise not to tell anybody."

A subtle flash of surprise touched Jim's face, but it was soon replaced by a gentle, pleased smile. "You'd better not." He turned back around and resumed his stirring.

With a final, lingering look at his flower-decorated tough guy Blessed Protector, Blair spun on his heels and glided into his room, whistling the song in his head.

*What a day for a daydream. What a day for a daydreaming boy...*

~~~~~~ The End ~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Damnit, Spock, I'm a reader, not a writer! Besides, I don't have the time! I've got patients to attend to, damnit!"

"Doctor, it is illogical to spend countless hours reading and yet claim not to have 5.6524 seconds of spare time in which to send the author honest feedback so that she may increase your reading pleasure in the future."

"You know, I hate it when you start spouting logic."

"Yes, Doctor, I am well aware of your aversion to reason. I find it curious you chose a career in science. Perhaps you would have been better suited to the legal profession."

~~~~~

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