Summary of The Girl Next Door: Blair meets a young woman, Iris, who is moving into the same apartment building. One evening, Iris calls him for a "lift home" because her car broke down. Blair obliges, but soon finds out that Iris needed his car to use in the commission of a crime. Iris and her male cohort kidnap Blair and steal his Volvo while they run from a rival drug dealer, Parkman, who is intent on doing them harm.

Because of the super-unoriginal title, saying "Warning! Spoilers for The Girl Next Door" seems somewhat stupid *grin* But you are hereby warned. :-)

Epilogue to
The Girl Next Door

Two days. It had been two days since they'd found Blair Sandburg and arrested Iris and her associates.

Two very quiet days. After the dinner with Simon and Joel, Sandburg had mumbled an excuse and disappeared into his room, but even though the lights were out and the interior quiet, Jim knew his loftmate wasn't sleeping. His sensitive ears told him that Blair's heart rate and breathing were much too fast for sleep.

Obviously, Blair had been troubled. He'd put forth a good act for the sake of Simon and Joel, but it was quite apparent that the day's events had affected him badly. After his colleagues had left, Jim had knocked twice on Blair's door, but he'd gotten a mumbled, "Not now, Jim," and decided that perhaps Sandburg just needed some space to wind down from his experience.

When Jim had risen the next morning, Sandburg was gone, presumably getting an early start at the university. But Jim hadn't seen him since. He'd heard Blair come home sometime around 3 a.m. that night, but when he'd woken up a few hours later, Blair had been gone.

It was now just after two in the morning, and once again, Jim was laying in bed half-asleep, waiting for Blair to come home. Twenty minutes later, he gave up on sleep altogether and slid out of bed, shuffling down the stairs. He grabbed the cordless and dialed Blair's office number. After several rings, the voice mail picked up, and Jim ended the connection.

With a sigh, he dropped to the couch and dialed Blair's cell phone. Again, he got no answer. Frowning, he eyed the clock, even though he knew only a few minutes had passed since he'd gotten out of bed. Worry gnawed at his gut. Coming to a decision, he pushed himself to his feet and hurried up the stairs.

~~~~

If Blair wasn't at Rainier, Jim had no idea where he'd be, so he decided to try the university even though Blair hadn't answered his office phone. Most likely, the kid was face-down on his desk and dead to the world, probably having slept right through the ringing of his phones.

Jim spotted Blair's Volvo parked in a space outside of Hargrove. Due to the hour, the curbside was empty, so Jim parked his truck in front of the Volvo and headed up the stairs to Hargrove. He frowned when the front doors opened. At such a late hour, he'd expected the place to be locked up. It sure as hell wasn't safe for Sandburg to be working alone in his office at two-thirty in the morning.

Hurrying inside, he jogged to Blair's office, coming to a stop in front of the familiar door. He cracked it open and peered inside. A relieved sigh escaped him, followed by an amused smile. Sure enough, Blair was kissing his desk, the mop of curls on his head hiding his face.

Shaking his head fondly, Jim moved inside and closed the door behind him. He'd have to have a talk with Blair about proper after-hours security.

Jim perched himself on the edge of the desk. "Sandburg."

Soft snoring met him. Smiling, Jim leaned forward and gave Blair's shoulder a firm shake. "Come on, Chief..."

"Don't! No!" Blair was out of the chair before Jim's brain even registered the motion, his eyes wild as he slammed into the bookcase. He released a stifled yelp and brought an arm to his side, leaning hard against the shelves.

"Whoa! Blair, buddy, easy..."

Blair's eyes snapped to Jim, and he stayed tense for a moment longer before sagging against the bookcase. "Oh man." His legs gave out, and he slid quietly to the floor and pulled his knees up to his chest.

Jim dropped to Blair's side. "What was that all about?"

Dropping his head to his knees, Blair shrugged. "Just a dream"

"About Iris?"

A harsh chuckle escaped the young man. "Among other things."

"Hey, come on." Jim patted Blair's shoulder. "It's all over now. How 'bout we head home? You've been driving yourself into the ground these past couple of days."

Blair raised his head, and Jim was surprised to see anger in the kid's eyes.

"Go away, Jim. Right now, I just want to be here alone and do my work."

Jim stiffened, pulling back a fraction. "Sandburg, what's going on with you?"

Slowly, Blair rose to his feet, shrugging off Jim's assistance. "You want to know? Fine." He sank back into his chair and idly flipped through some bluebooks. "I'll tell you. You won't like it, but hell, you asked."

Jim raised his eyebrows, his back rigid. "Go ahead."

Blair finally looked up at him. "I'm just having a hard time dealing with all this, okay? Bad enough I'm kidnapped and held at gunpoint, playing musical captors, but I almost died, like, way too many times. Okay? Near death experiences aren't something I'm inclined to just bounce back from overnight. I looked down the barrel of a gun..." He swallowed, his words catching in his throat, and looked back at the bluebook before continuing. "I thought I was going to die. He even pulled the trigger once. But then, after all that, you show up. Man, it was like... Well, I can't even describe it. I've never been so happy to see anybody in my life... Well, except for when you came barging in after Lash, of course." He raised his gaze to Jim, his eyes angry again. "And you guys arrest me! You thought it was all some kind of a joke. Well, you know what, man? I'm not laughing. I was tired and hurting and I'd had a really, really crappy day, and then I get to top it off by being arrested, searched, booked, and held for four hours while you guys left my fate in the hands of the person who kidnapped me in the first place!" He rose from his chair. "What the hell would you have done if she hadn't corroborated my story?"

Jim sank slowly into the empty chair. He studied Blair a moment before forming a reply. The younger man looked exhausted, his face much too pale and his eyes rimmed with red.

"You were hurting?" Jim frowned. Out of all the things Blair had just said, that was the one thing that had jumped out at him, though he wasn't sure whether that was the thing he was supposed to have focused on. Certainly, Sandburg was looking for some kind of an apology... Hell, okay, he deserved an apology, but the fact that he and Simon didn't even think about getting Sandburg checked out by a doctor sat hard with him. What the hell had they been thinking?

Blair nodded. "Duh. Man, clue in. Didn't you read my statement?"

"I interviewed Iris..."

"Great." Blair leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "Real nice, Jim." He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "Just go, okay? I'm tired and I really don't want to get into this with you right now."

Jim pushed himself from the chair and moved over to Blair. "Where are you hurt?"

"I'm not hurt, Jim. I was hurt. It's healing now."

"Where?"

Blair's jaw hardened. "Read my statement."

Ouch. Jim took a step back, feeling about two inches tall. "Look, Chief..."

"No, you look." Blair swiveled in his chair to face Jim. "I told you I didn't want to get into this now." He gestured to the door. "So please just get the hell out of my office."

Jim staggered back a couple more steps. He'd never before heard such hard anger in Blair's voice -- it had an edge to it that sent an icy fist into Jim's gut. Sandburg was heading straight into a brick wall. Jim knew that because he'd hit that wall himself a few times.

Stupid. What was I thinking? I should've seen this coming...

"Blair."

"Get out. Now. "

Jim straightened, preparing for the forthcoming confrontation. "No. I'm not leaving unless you come with me. You need to sleep, Sandburg. Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

Blair shot to his feet and advanced on Jim. "It's none of your business, Ellison." He jabbed a fist toward Jim's chest for emphasis. "I'm all grown up. I can do what I want when I want, and I don't need you or anybody else telling me what to do! Now get out of my office." He pointed to the door again. "Out."

Jim didn't budge. "You're coming with me, Sandburg. I'm not leaving you here to have you drive home. Not in this condition. Have you gotten any sleep at all over the past two days?"

"Yes. I was sleeping, as a matter fact, before you got here."

Touché. "Face down kissing the desk? Why don't you just come home where you have a soft, warm bed?"

Anger warred with disbelief on Blair’s face. “Oh man, you’re a real piece of work.” He scrubbed a palm over his face and shook his head. “You don’t listen, do you? I don’t want to go home right now. I need some downtime, by myself, alone, far, far away from any and all cops, including and especially you. I’m staying here, getting my work done, and the only way you’re getting me out of here is by dragging me bodily, and if you do, I swear to God you’ll find yourself up on charges and on the wrong end of a lawsuit. Got it?”

Jim kept a stone face, though he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. Looking at the smoldering anger in Blair’s eyes, Jim took a step back, deciding to give Blair a bit more personal space. "Sandburg, I'm... Look, I'm sorry things went down the way they did. You know it was just standard procedure..."

"Bullshit. Probable cause for an arrest does not include heroin in my car when you had damn good reason to know that I was kidnapped and my car stolen, especially not when you told me to apprehend the suspect, who, I might add, you saw grab the bag of drugs and take off running moments before you ordered me, a civilian as you and Simon keep reminding me, to go after her."

Jim bit the inside of his cheek. Put that way, he had to admit there wasn't really much of a reason to arrest Sandburg. Hell, put that way, Sandburg could probably file and win a hefty lawsuit against the department.

"Okay, so maybe we... uh... stepped over the line a bit there. I'm sorry." Two "I'm sorries" within a five minute period was a record for him. Hell, he'd only apologized to Caroline twice during their entire marriage.

Blair wasn't swayed. "'I'm sorry' doesn't quite cut it, man--"

"Well what else do you want me to say?" He was getting angry now. "I can't go back and change it, and you living in your office isn't doing anything but giving you a crick in your neck and making me drive over here at--" he glanced at his watch, "-- two-thirty to drag your ass back home."

Blair stiffened, moving toward the door and opening it. "I didn't make you do anything, Ellison, and you have no right to drag me anywhere, unless you want to arrest me again. Now... Out."

Jim held his ground for a few moments, studying Blair's stiff, rigid figure and angry expression. Anything he said would simply escalate into an already more heated argument, so he decided to relent for now. "Fine. Will I see you at the station tomorrow... or rather, later today?"

"Two o'clock."

"Fine." He walked past Blair, wincing as the door slammed behind him.

~~~~~

Blair glanced at the clock. It was just past one o'clock, and he still had the grant proposal to finish. He blinked as he stared at the monitor and tried to make sense of the blurry squiggles on the screen. 

Oh man, I have been at this for far too long.

He was exhausted, having gotten very little sleep over the past few days... which was, admittedly, his own fault. No one told him he had to spend several virtually sleepless nights at his office, but insomnia seemed determined to keep him in its grip, and he had just wanted to get out of the loft and away from prying ears that would know just how little sleep he was getting.

With a sigh, he turned off the monitor and rose from his seat, deciding to head to the station a few minutes early. Although he wasn't particularly eager to see Jim, especially after their argument last night, he knew he couldn't avoid the man forever. And, to be fair, Jim had apologized. Granted, it wasn't the most heartfelt, on-your-knees apology he'd ever witnessed, but for a man like James Ellison, it was enough.

A knock sounded at his door, and he looked up from the monitor. He didn't get a chance to say a word before the door opened, admitting a man he hoped never to see again.

"Parkman."

Parkman closed the door and smiled at him. "Long time no see." He raised his arm, revealing a gun in his gloved hand. "We have some unfinished business."

Blair's hands automatically came up, and he stopped breathing, his eyes focused on the wide barrel pointed at his head. "What do you want?"

"To make sure you don't testify against me."

"Hey, man, I got no problem with that."

Parkman's smile widened. "I'm sure." He moved forward, going around the desk until he had the gun pressed firmly against Blair's forehead. "I don't have to tell you not to move or yell, do I?"

Blair closed his eyes. "N-No."

"Good. Keep those eyes closed, by the way."

"You got it." He remained rigid in the chair, hoping someone would knock at his door and offer a distraction. Hell, at this point he'd settle for his phone ringing. Something had to happen fast, though, or he wouldn't be alive for it to make much of a difference. 

"You've been a real pain in the ass."

Blair swallowed. "You're... You're not gonna shoot me here. The gunshot will draw attention. There are students all over the place."

"I thought I told you to be quiet." Parkman spoke with an eerie calmness. "Now, real slow, slip out of your flannel overshirt." He cocked the gun. "No sudden moves."

Blair took a deep breath, trying to get a grip on his terror. Slowly, he slid out of his shirt, all too aware of the feeling of the cold metal against his forehead. Parkman moved behind him, and the barrel of the gun lifted, then returned to the rear of his skull, pressing hard into the base.

"You can open your eyes now."

He did as he was told .

"On the desk you'll see a syringe and a piece of elastic. Tie the elastic around your left arm, take the syringe in your right hand, and empty the contents into your left arm."

Blair stared at the brownish liquid in the syringe's vial, and his heart dropped to his stomach. "No."

The pressure at the base of his skull lifted, and he heard a scraping sound, then the barrel came around to the front of his face and he saw the addition to the muzzle.

"Silencer. Now I can shoot you and no one will hear."

Blair swallowed hard. 

"You can die by a bullet or you can die having the trip of your life. Or look at it this way, a heroin overdose isn't a sure thing. Someone could find you in time. You could conceivably survive. I guarantee you won't survive a bullet to the brain. Take the elastic."

No. No. No. Blair didn't move. 

Parkman pressed the barrel against the base of Sandburg's skull and cocked the gun. "I'm not gonna say it again."

Blair reached out one shaking hand and grabbed the elastic. 

"Good boy. Now tie it around your arm."

I gotta do something. I can't let this happen. His eyes went to the door, and he prayed for someone to knock. All he needed was a moment's distraction. 

"Hurry up."

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Blair tied the elastic, using his teeth to hold one end.

"Good going. Now take the syringe."

"You don't have to do this." He closed his eyes. That sounded pathetic even to his ears.

Parkman simply laughed. "Yes, I do. Now quit stalling"

Blair forced his eyes back open and reached out slowly, taking the syringe in his right hand.

"Empty it into your vein."

He tensed. There was no way he was going to pump a vial full of heroin into his bloodstream. At least if he got shot, there'd be no question it was murder, and Parkman would likely be the prime suspect. 

Blair closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and flung himself sideways out of his chair at the same time he brought the plunger back, feeling it sink into something yielding. 

Parkman screamed, but caught himself quickly and settled for muffled curses. Blair yelled, hoping to draw attention as he made a mad dash for the door, but a heavy weight slammed into him from behind and sent him face first into the floor.

"Fine. You hit your head." 

Parkman grabbed Blair's hair, pulled his head back, and bashed his forehead into the floor, sending him into immediate darkness.

He came to on his back. His head throbbed, and he realized only a few seconds must have passed because Parkman was still there, straddling him, his face honed with intense concentration. 

A prick in Blair's left arm sent his heart into a panic, and he began to buck even as he felt the warm liquid snake up his vein. 

"Easy! Easy!" Parkman leaned forward, pressing one hand over Blair's mouth to muffle his cries for help. "Just let it work."

No! Blair's movements grew sluggish, and it felt like he was breathing molasses instead of air. His stomach churned, then revolted, and Parkman moved just in time for Blair to roll on his side and empty his lunch onto the floor.  

It couldn't end this way. He couldn't die without setting things straight with Jim... Not after that argument... He struggled to remember exactly what he'd said to Jim, but he couldn't focus. His brain was running slow... winding down... 

Laughter. Then a voice. "That's it." The room began to spin, and his body felt detached, floaty. His ribs didn't hurt anymore. The floor was moving. Like water. Was he on a raft? Wow.... The sky was so blue. It was quiet. So very quiet and peaceful. Jim would like it... 

~~~~~

Two o'clock came, then left, followed promptly by three o'clock, then four. When Blair was only half an hour past due, Jim figured the kid had gotten tied up with some university business. By the time his tardiness extended to a full hour, Jim wondered whether Blair's absence meant he was still pissed from last night's argument. Well, if the kid wanted to stew, Jim would let him stew.

By the time four o'clock rolled around, Jim's resolve faded to worry. Blair wasn't one to carry anger this far. If he wasn't going to show, he'd have called. Swiveling in his chair, Jim snatched up the phone and dialed Blair's office. Four rings later, the voice mail picked up. He left a quick message, then tried Sandburg's cell phone. Again, he got voice mail. Finally, he tried the loft, but the machine answered.

"Damnit, Chief." 

Blair might still be angry, but it wasn't like the kid to not show up without at least calling.  

"Hey, Ellison."

Jim looked up. "Yeah, H?"

"I just heard... Parkman made bail."

"What?" Jim was out of his seat, casting another glance at the clock. It was just past four o'clock, and Blair's absence was beginning to take on a whole new, darker meaning.

"Shit."

"What is it?"

Jim grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. "Sandburg's two hours past due." Without waiting for a response, he hurried out of the bullpen.

He made it to the university in just under ten minutes. He had no idea if he'd find Blair there, especially since the kid should've left over two hours ago, but it was the first and best place to start. If Parkman was after Sandburg, he'd have no trouble tracking the young man down at the university.

Jim parked the truck with the siren lights still flashing and bolted from the cab, hurrying up the stairs to the building. He ran to Blair's office and found it locked, but his sensitive ears picked up the sound of a faint, erratic heartbeat.

Taking a step back, he delivered a hard kick to the door, but it held. He was just about to deliver another one when a voice from behind stopped him. 

"Hey, what are you doing?"

He didn't bother looking back, just reached into his jacket, flashed his badge, and finished the kick. The door caved, and he rushed inside, then stopped in his tracks.

"Oh no."

Sandburg lay on the floor in front of his desk, limp and virtually motionless except for the shallow movement of his chest. His eyes lay half-mast, and his jaw was slack. His face was pasty white and covered with fine beads of perspiration. 

"Chief?" He dropped to his knees next to the young man while, with one hand, he whipped out his phone and dialed an ambulance. "Hold on, buddy." 

Even though his ears told him Blair's heart was still beating, he placed two fingers on the side of Blair's neck and felt the thready pulse. His eyes scanned for injury, but he saw none.

He gave instructions to the dispatcher while doing a quick visual sweep of the room. His eyes found the syringe laying near the desk, a small amount of muddy liquid in its vial.

~~~~~~

The familiar beeping filled the otherwise quiet room, almost mocking in its steady rhythm. The stench of antiseptic mixed with a myriad other indefinable smells permeated the air, and he tried to ignore the odors and the resulting queasy protests from his stomach.

The door opened slowly, and Jim looked up to see Simon enter hesitantly. The captain's gaze hovered over the young man in the bed for several seconds, then Simon slid inside and closed the door behind him.

"How is he?"

"Stable. He hasn't regained consciousness yet."

"We found a witness who saw Parkman leaving Sandburg's office at around one-thirty. No one else saw or heard anything."

"How could he just walk into Sandburg's office in the middle of the day, attack him, and walk out without anybody seeing or hearing anything?"

"Sandburg's office is located in a rather isolated hallway, and that door of his is pretty thick. One solid wood panel. No window."

"I take it Parkman hasn't been picked up yet?"

"Nope. We do have an APB out, and several officers are working on locating him. We found out where he got the heroin from that he used on Sandburg. The supplier had heard he'd been busted and figured the heat was too much, so he just gave Parkman a single packet and tried to get him out of there as fast as possible.  Fortunately, the stuff wasn't as pure as Parkman figured, which is probably why Sandburg's still alive."

Jim grimaced, his eyes clouding with anger. "Great. I guess I should be thankful he didn't just put a bullet in Blair's head."

"A gunshot would've been heard, and it's obvious he was trying to make it look as though Sandburg OD'd on his own. That's probably why he chose the kid's office. If he could get in and out quietly, then when Sandburg was found in his office it'd look less like foul play because of the location and the time of the day."

"Prints?"

"Nope. He must've worn gloves."

Jim's anger flared, and he shifted uneasily in his chair. "I can't believe the judge gave that bastard bail."

"It happens, Jim. Too often." Simon sighed heavily and leaned against the closed door. "But we'll get him again, and after this, he's not going to be getting bail."

~~~~~~~

Blair was floating underwater. It was strange, though, because he could breathe. Dolphins were singing somewhere, their muffled, high-pitched noises punctuating the murky silence in a slow, steady rhythm.

A pressure gripped his left arm, just below his elbow, and a muffled voice spoke to him, but he couldn't make out the words.

He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids wouldn't cooperate. The pressure on his arm grew stronger, and he turned his head toward the voice -- or thought he did. He seemed to be spinning, and his stomach churned. He clenched his eyes tighter, and a moan escaped his throat.

The voice suddenly became clear, hovering just over his left ear. "Just relax. It's okay."

Parkman? Why was he still there? Maybe there wasn't enough heroin to kill him. Maybe Parkman was getting ready to start shooting.

"Relax, buddy..."

No. He opened his mouth and tried to call for help, but only a croak escaped. He tried again, and this time he managed something closer to a yell.

The pressure on his arm continued, and something touched his forehead. "It's okay, Chief. Take it easy."

Chief? Blair calmed, relaxing into the murky fog dulling his thoughts and senses.

He struggled again to open his eyes, and managed some success. The darkness lifted, revealing a dim grayness. A face floated above him, its with blue eyes pinched with concern.

Jim?

Jim smiled softly. "How are you feeling?"

Blair's head began to pound suddenly, and he closed his eyes, giving into another moan.

"Hang on. I'll call the doctor."

The pressure on Blair's arm disappeared, leaving him in a dark silence filled with the pounding in his skull. He reached out blindly, and his fingers hooked something soft and fuzzy. It tugged against his grip, then relented.

"What is it, Chief?"

Blair took a deep breath, keeping his eyes closed against the pounding. "Parkman?" The word rolled off his tongue, which felt too thick to form any meaningful sound.

"He was picked up an hour ago."

"Why...?"

"We think to stop you from testifying."

No. Blair's brow furrowed, and he focused on getting the question out. "Why am I still alive?"

Seconds of silence met his question. Then, Jim sighed and patted his arm. "At first we thought it was because the stuff he used on you wasn't as high quality as he thought, but now we know it's more likely because you didn't get the full dose. After we arrested him, we searched him and found a puncture mark on his right thigh. You managed to get some of the stuff into him. That saved your life, I'm sure."

"Oh..." There was something he had to say... something he remembered just before... just before... Oh yeah. "Sorry."

"Huh? For what?"

"Argument."

"Oh that." There was a sigh, then another squeeze of his arm. "Don't worry about it. It's all okay now."

"Not important anymore." He couldn't even remember why he'd been angry. Death was funny that way. It made you see what was real and what wasn't.

"No, it is important, and you had a right to be angry, but we don't need to discuss that right now. Okay?"

Blair forced his eyes open. Jim's face was still hovering over him. There was more apology in those eyes than he could ever remember seeing.

Blair swallowed, trying to wet his throat. "S'okay, Jim."

Jim's hand came up to rest on the top of Blair's head. "Are we really okay?"

Blair closed his eyes and nodded. "Yeah. Okay." He cracked a smile. "But I know you're only being so nice because I'm lying in this bed. It's the pity angle."

Jim chuckled and patted his head. "Work it while you can, Junior. Now, goodnight."

Night, Jim... He fell asleep with the warmth of Jim's palm on his head.

~~~~

The End