Is it October? Gee, isn't there some Holiday in October? I wouldn't know, as I don't celebrate these things...
but I guess there must be because all the Sentinel pages have ghosts, witches, bats and other scaaary things on them.
Anyway, being that I don't celebrate whatever holiday this is -- oh wait, is it Halloween? -- I wouldn't think about writing
a Halloween story. Nope not me. Sorry, you're not getting a scary Halloween story out of me. No way.  Just forget it.
 
This Story Has Not Been Beta-Read
Whispers in the Night
By DawnC

 
Blair walked into the loft, turning on the light and heading straight for his room. He cast a brief glance at the answering machine on his way, noting that no new messages waited. It was just after sunset, and Jim had said he wouldn't be home until after eight. With his backpack in one hand and a box in the other, Blair headed for his room. He tossed the backpack at the foot of his bed and placed the box carefully on his desk. The box contained a mask estimated to be over one thousand years old. Dr. Marcus at the University had asked Blair to determine the mask's probable origins and, even though that wasn't his area of expertise, the anthropologist had agreed.

With a tired sigh, Blair headed for the refrigerator, grabbing a cold beer from the door. He rolled his shoulders as he headed for the couch, hoping to work out some of the tension that had accumulated during the day. He plopped himself down on the couch and grabbed the remote control, flicking on the television set.

As it was mid-October, an old Dracula movie played on AMC, and Blair sat back, tossing the remote back on the table. With a contented sigh, Blair sank back into the cushions and took a sip of his beer. He gave into a yawn, suddenly realizing just how heavy his eyelids felt.

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

Blair awoke to silence. He opened his eyes, encountering darkness. Blinking, he straightened, his eyes scanning the darkened room. Soft light filtered in from outside the balcony, casting an eerie glow to the interior of the loft. The television and lights were off, and Blair glanced up the stairs toward Jim's bedroom, figuring that the detective must have come home and turned off the lights and television.

Stifling another yawn, Blair rose from the couch, just then noticing that his full beer bottle was sitting on the coffee table. He frowned. There was no coaster beneath the bottle, and he didn't remember placing the bottle on the table. Jim certainly wouldn't have placed the bottle on his precious coffee table without a coaster.

With a shake of his head, Blair grabbed the bottle and headed back to the kitchen. He poured the beer into the sink and tossed the bottle in the recycle bin underneath. Glancing at the clock on the VCR, he noted the time at 8:30 p.m. The next thing he noticed was the blinking light on the answering machine. Furrowing his brow, he walked over to the machine. He hadn't heard the phone ring or the answering machine pick up, and he normally wasn't that heavy of a sleeper.

He pressed the button and heard Jim's voice emanate from the tiny speakers. "Blair. Jim. I'm running a bit late and probably won't be home until after nine. Talk to ya later, buddy."

The crease in Blair's brow deepened, and he glanced back up at Jim's room. He couldn't see if Jim occupied the bed, so, trying to be as quiet as possible, he slowly climbed the stairs. Halfway up he could tell that Jim's bed was still made, and there was no sign that the Sentinel had ever come home.

Well who turned off the lights and the television? Could there have been a power outage? He frowned. No, the VCR clock hadn't been blinking when he looked at it, and the answering machine obviously hadn't been subjected to a power outage.

Too weird, he thought, but decided to shrug off the odd occurrences. Walking back down the stairs, he glanced at the front door, noting with satisfaction that the chain was locked. With a subtle shrug and a tired sigh, he headed to his room... and froze halfway there. Slowly, he turned his gaze back to the front door, his chest tight. He had not locked the chain after coming home, of that he was sure.

A shiver ran down his spine, and his hands became cold. Oh man... He swallowed, frozen with a fear born of imagination and nightmares. The loft was dark and silent, and the quiet blackness began to press against him. The air seemed heavy, and he found it difficult to breathe. A tingling sensation on the back of his neck gave him the distinct impression of being watched, and he had the sudden notion that if he moved, the thing he imagined lurking somewhere in the darkness just behind him would jump out and...

He shook his head. You're being stupid, he told himself. Then realization hit him. The bathroom! Oh how stupid could he be? If the lights and television were off, and the chain was locked, then Jim must have come home... and if Jim wasn't in his room, he was probably in the bathroom. He took a deep breath. Okay, so he didn't hear anybody in the bathroom, but maybe Jim was just being quiet.

Forcing himself to move he walked to the wall, quickly hitting the light switch. The loft remained dark, bathed in the soft light from outside. He inhaled another slow, deep breath. Okay, so the lights didn't work. No big deal, probably just a fuse, or something. Isn't that what they always think in horror movies before the psycho jumps out and --

A shrill ringing pierced the silence and Blair jumped two feet in the air as his heart shot into his throat. It took his brain a second to realize that the sound had been the ringing of the telephone. A second ring promptly followed that realization and Blair almost burst into laughter at the absurdity of it all.

Stifling an hysterical giggle, he rushed over to the phone and snatched the receiver off the hook. "Hello?"

"Blair, I'm on my way home. I'm gonna stop and pick up some Chinese food. You want anything?"

Jim? Blair stood rigidly in the living room, turning his head slowly to glance down the dark hall toward the bathroom. Okay, so I'm alone, but somehow things that I never touched got moved.

"Blair? You there?"

He swallowed. "Uh, yeah, Jim. Sorry."

"You okay?"

"Uh-huh." His voice sounded uncertain even to his own ears.

"Uh... okay. I'll be home in about half an hour. You sure you're okay? You sound a bit strange."

"I'm fine, Jim." Just hurry home.
 
 "All right. So do you want me to pick you up anything?"

"Huh? Oh... No, that's okay. Thanks," Blair said.

"Okay then. See ya in a few. Bye."

"Bye."

Blair hung up the phone, casting another furtive glance down the black hallway. Think real hard, Sandburg... Did you lock that chain on your way in? He closed his eyes, focusing on the memory of his actions after he'd closed the door. No, he hadn't locked the chain. He was absolutely positive of that.

Okay, let's take stock here. No lights. No T.V. Beer bottle where it shouldn't be. Chain locked when it shouldn't be. Weirdness all around. He picked up the receiver and hit the autodial for Jim's cell phone, then quickly changed his mind and hung up before it rang. What would he say? "Hurry up, Jim. I'm home alone and it's dark and the lights are out and the chain's on the door, but I didn't lock it, and I don't see or hear anybody in the loft, but I'm scared shitless and I'm thinking the boogeyman's gonna get me." Nope. Calling Jim wasn't a very good idea, and he'd likely just feel foolish afterwards. Of course, if something did happen and there was a psycho in the loft, he'd feel even stupider for not calling Jim... stupid and dead. Very dead.

He took another deep breath. This is ridiculous! He decided he needed some fresh air. Quickly, he strode over to the balcony and opened the doors, stepping out into the cool night. Closing the doors behind him, he leaned on the railing, gazing out over the city lights. A hint of wetness touched the air, promising rain. He inhaled a lung full of the crisp Washington atmosphere, and closed his eyes, focusing on the soft sound of cars on the not-so-distant highway.

He stayed there for several minutes until, finally, it started to rain. Opening his eyes, he managed a small smile. It was amazing what a bit of fresh air could do for one's perspective. He must have locked the chain... or maybe he'd walked in his sleep. Granted, he'd never done such a thing before, but there was a first time for everything.

He turned around to head back into the loft when he spotted a thin figure in white standing on the other side of the glass doors, inside the loft. His heart did a cartwheel in his chest, and he held his breath, standing transfixed on the balcony. The figure was tall and thin with wispy white hair, and it seemed to exist in the shadow. He blinked, and, in an instant, the figure was gone. He blinked again, but it didn't return.

The rain increased its fervor, but he didn't notice. He stood like a statue, too afraid to move. Every muscle in his body was frozen, locked in place with adrenaline. He suddenly knew how it felt to be a deer frozen in headlights -- knowing danger approached, but unable to move a muscle to avert it.

He stood there for a while until the burning in his lungs reminded him to breath. Taking in a greedy gulp of air, he backed up against the railing, wanting to put as much distant between himself and the balcony doors as possible. He didn't know what to do. He had seen the figure in the loft. He couldn't be sure if it had been a man or woman... but it had been there, and then, in an instant, it wasn't there. A part of his brain urged him to go into the loft, to prove the absurdity a fallacy. The other larger part of his brain demanded that he stay right where he was. If he didn't move, he'd be safe. Sure, keep telling yourself that, Blair. It's not like bad guys don't know how to open doors... and spirits... He refused to complete the thought. Sure, he believed in a spirit world... especially after having studied Sentinels for so long, but this... well, this was just plain different. This was enough to taunt his sanity.

His eyes picked up a dark figure moving inside the loft, and he shrank back against the brick rail. Oh man. Why did these things happen to him. Was he cosmically jinxed? The figure approached the glass doors, and Blair's heart rate skyrocketed. There was no where for him to go. Brilliant, he told himself, casting an anxious glance at the ground three stories below.

The door opened and Blair whipped his head around, his eyes wide.

"Chief, what the hell are you doing out here in rain?"

Blair's knees nearly buckled, and grasped onto the rail for support. "Jim? Oh man," he sighed, his shoulders sagging with relief. "Just do me a favor."

Jim narrowed his gaze. "What? What's going on?"

"Check out the loft man -- with your senses. Just... Just tell me that it's empty... that there's no one in there," Blair pleaded, hating the sound of fear in his voice.

Jim stiffened, immediately withdrawing his gun and cocking his head. Slowly, he turned back around, walking into the loft. "What happened," he asked, his voice barely loud enough for Blair to hear.

Sandburg forced himself to move, walking a foot behind the Sentinel, grateful to be getting out of the rain. "I'm not sure," he whispered. "I came home and weird things started happening, then I thought I saw... no I saw someone standing in the living room."

"Well, I don't hear anybody," Jim said, walking toward Blair's bedroom. "What did the person look like?"

Blair swallowed. "Uh, well, he - or she, I couldn't tell - had a white gown on and long wispy white hair... or maybe really light blonde hair."

Jim stopped in his tracks and turned around to look at Blair. "A white gown and white hair?"

Blair nodded.

"Sandburg, if this is your idea of a pre-halloween joke--?"

Blair raised his hands quickly. "No way, man. I swear, I saw someone in here."

Jim sighed and turned back around. "It sounds quiet." He pushed open the french doors to Blair's bedroom and stuck his head inside. "I don't see or hear anybody," he said.

Jim spent the next ten minutes searching the loft. He checked the bathroom, the closets, and his own room upstairs. Finally, he walked back down to the living room where Blair was seated stiffly on the couch.

Returning his gun to its holster, he sat on the arm of the side chair and said, "Well, no one's here now."

Blair furrowed his brow. "How'd you get in, Jim?"

"What do you mean? I used my key."

Blair shook his head, his face a shade paler. "The chain was locked."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "You sure about that? It wasn't locked when I came home."

Blair nodded. "Positive. I know because I distinctly remember NOT locking it. I fell asleep on the couch and, when I woke up, the lights and T.V. were off and the chain on the door was locked. That's what freaked me out. Now you're saying it wasn't locked and I know I didn't touch it. Oh, and, by the way, the lights don't work at all."

Jim stood and walked over the light switch, flipping it on. Soft light flooded the room, and Jim looked at Blair skeptically. "Uh-huh. No lights, eh?"

Blair shot off the couch and approached Jim. "Oh come on. I can't believe this. I swear man, they were totally out a few minutes ago."

Jim sighed, heading toward his room. "Whatever, Sandburg. Ha. Ha. Very funny. I suppose I'll have to suffer through these pranks for the rest of the month."

Blair followed close on Jim's heels. "Jim, I'm not lying. This isn't a joke. I swear to you, man, someone was in here. I saw him... or her. And I swear that chain was locked."

Jim stopped and turned around to look at Blair, his expression uncertain. "You're serious? I mean it, Sandburg. No jokes. Tell me the truth."

"That is the truth!"

After a brief hesitation, Jim nodded. "Okay, tomorrow we'll report this to Simon. Right now I'll check the loft and make sure everything's locked up. Then I'm going to bed. You should, too. You look like hell."

Sandburg released a shaky breath and nodded. "Okay... If you're sure the loft is safe, that is."

Jim nodded. "Just you and me here, buddy."

Blair managed a shaky smile. "Thanks, Jim."

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

Blair shifted beneath the covers. He just couldn't seem to fall asleep, and the two or three times he had managed to drift off, he'd woken up a few minutes later. He sighed, turning over to glance at the clock on his bureau. 3:00 a.m. He knew the reason for his insomnia: every time he closed his eyes he saw that white ghostly figure standing in the loft. It didn't help that the streetlight from outside was casting a very soft but eerie light to the interior of his room.

Deciding that remaining in bed was pointless, Blair tossed the covers off and slid out of bed, shuffling into the kitchen. Working as quietly as he could, he filled the tea kettle with water and placed it on the burner, setting the flame to medium. Then he walked into the bathroom, quickly doing his business. He turned on the water in the sink and washed his hands, gazing at his reflection in the mirror. Tired blue eyes stared back at him, and he stifled a yawn. He definitely needed to get some sleep. He looked back down at the basin and turned off the water. Then, he quickly dried his hands, casting a final glance at his reflection before leaving.

For a split second, he could have sworn soulless black eyes stared back at him from the mirror, but, upon a double take, he saw only the clear blue eyes he expected. Not again. He shook his head. This is NOT happening. He decided against the tea. He should just get back into bed and force himself to sleep.

He walked over to the stove and shut off the flame, then returned to his room, settling into his bed. He pulled the covers up to his chin, ignoring the pringling sensation of fear that tickled the back of his neck. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to take deep, regular breaths. After several seconds, he felt his body relaxing and noted with warm satisfaction that he was beginning to drift off to sleep.

Something tickled the bottom of his feet, and he jerked awake, pulling his legs up sharply in surprise. The instant adrenaline rush caused him to break out in a sudden sweat, and he threw the covers off, scurrying up to the top of the bed as he stared intently at the base of the futon mattress. The darkness surrounded him, allowing his eyes to decipher only vague forms. What he thought he saw rising over the edge of the mattress toward him sent a paralyzing wave of terror coursing through his veins, and he suddenly knew exactly what people meant when they said their "blood ran cold."

A wispy mop of white hair ascended, rising over the edge of the mattress. Gradually, a pair of pinkish eyes were revealed, followed by a thin nose and blood red lips. He could make out the detail of that face in astonishing clarity, almost as though it possessed a light of its own.

Blair opened his mouth, though his throat felt so tight he doubted sound would be possible. Jim, he mouthed. He swallowed, his eyes locked on the ascending figure. He could now see the thing's chest, and the white gown that it wore.

"Jim," he managed to say, his voice barely a whisper.

Silence. The thing stood at full height at the base of the bed.

"Jim. Help," he croaked, a fraction louder. God, why couldn't he scream?

A slice of panic shot through his chest. Was Jim wearing the white nose earplugs?

The thing smiled, revealing fluorescent white teeth. It's eyes seemed to glow.

God, I must be dreaming... either dreaming or crazy... oh God, let me just be crazy, because if I'm awake and sane, then that thing is real and...

The figure seemed to shimmer, and then, in the span of a heartbeat it had moved closer. Blair blinked, and the thing was even closer, inches from his face. He shrank back against the wall, his blood thundering in his ears.

Jim!

He couldn't scream. He couldn't yell. He couldn't talk. Oh God, Jim, help me. Wake up. Wake up, goddamnit!

He closed his eyes, clenching them tight. He felt a coldness against his face. Mustering bravado he didn't know he had, he opened his mouth and poured every ounce of faith and courage into forming one desperate, ear-shattering plea.

"JIM!!!"

A muffled crash sounded from outside his room, and three seconds later bright light tickled his eyelids.

"Sandburg! What is it? What's wrong?" Jim's frantic voice filled the room, causing a floor of relief so great in the young anthropologist that he thought he might crumble in a heap of tears right there.

Blair forced his eyes open and saw his bare-chested partner standing in the center of the room. Jim held his gun rigidly at his side, the barrel pointed at the floor.

"Sandburg?" Jim looked around, bewildered, obviously alert and searching for signs of danger. "What is it?"

Blair sagged, falling onto his rear on the mattress. He was literally shaking like a leaf, and his heart pounded so fiercely that he thought it would burst through the wall of his chest.

Jim's thumb set the safety on his firearm and he set the gun down carefully on the desk. Then, he walked over to Blair, stopping to stand at the edge of the bed. Slowly, he lowered himself onto the mattress and placed a firm hand on Blair's shoulder.

"Calm down, Chief. It's okay. Just tell me what's wrong." Gentle blue eyes prodded Blair, seeking out the truth. "Did you have a nightmare?"

Blair shook his head, barely able to find his voice. "Under the bed," he croaked.

Jim frowned, his eyes skeptical. To his credit, though, he said nothing and leaned over the side of the futon, looking at the floor beneath. After a moment, he came back up and locked eyes with Sandburg.

"There's nothing there, Blair," he said.

Blair had had enough. He pushed himself off the bed, and, uttering a brief prayer to every deity he'd ever read about, opened his closet door. To his relief, the white figure was nowhere to be seen. He snatched up his large duffel bag and threw it on the bed, then opened the top drawer of his bureau, embarrassed to realize that his hand was shaking violently.

"Sorry, man, but I'm outta here," he said, his voice unsteady.

Jim shot to his feet. "What?! What the hell's going on here, Sandburg?"

Blair grabbed a handful of underwear and stuffed it in the duffel bag, but Jim closed the drawer quickly. "You wanna tell me what happened?"

He paced back to the bureau, then threw open the second drawer, grabbing two pairs of jeans. "It was back. That thing," he explained, stuffing the jeans in his bag.

"Thing? The intruder, you mean?"

Blair shook his head. "It's not a he or a she. It's a thing. It's real, but it's not," he babbled, talking so quickly he could barely understand his own words. He strode back to the bureau and opened another drawer, grabbing a random handful of shirts.

"Sandburg, you're not making sense."

Blair's head shot up and he threw Jim a hurt glance. "I don't care if you don't believe me. I'm not sleeping here."

Jim reached out and took Blair's arm, pulling the young man back to the bed. With firm hands, he grabbed Blair's shoulders and pushed him down onto the futon.

"Just wait a second, Chief," Jim said, his voice suddenly gentle. "You're in no condition to drive. Your heart's going a mile a minute and you're on the verge of hyperventilating."

Blair said nothing, focusing instead on getting his heart rate and breathing under control.

"Take a few slow, deep breaths and tell me exactly what happened," Jim instructed.

Blair closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. I am calm, he told himself. After a few more seconds of impromptu meditation, he opened his eyes and told Jim about the encounter with the thing... whatever it was. About the only thing Blair was sure of is that the thing wasn't human.

Jim sat in silence, listening to Blair's story with a neutral expression. Finally, when Sandburg finished his account, Jim sat quietly for a moment, then grabbed the duffel bag and began returning the contents to the appropriate drawers.

"I'm not saying one way or the other if I believe you, Chief," Jim said, glancing briefly at his partner. "You do know what a waking dream is, don't you?"

Anger flared in Blair's chest, but he nodded. "Yes, I know what it is," he said, his voice harsh.

"It's nearly 3:30 in the morning, Chief," Jim said matter-of-factly. "You want to find a hotel, do it tomorrow. Tonight, sleep in your bed. I'll stay right here if you want. I'll bring my pillow and blankets and sleep on the floor."

Blair felt his face grow hot. "You don't have to baby-sit me, Jim. I'm not a two year-old who thinks the boogeyman is under his bed. I saw something. It wasn't a dream. It was real. It was right in front of me. It came toward me. It practically touched me," he spoke with confidence, but in the back of his mind a whisper of doubt dampened that conviction.

Jim's argument did make a certain amount of sense. He had been drifting off to sleep, and he'd seen the thing almost immediately after 'waking up'; but, the waking dream theory didn't explain the strange events of a few hours before when he'd seen the thing standing in the loft. It didn't explain how the chain had been locked and then unlocked, or how the lights and t.v. had been turned off.

Jim nodded. "Whatever you say," he replied. "If it was here, it's gone now. If you're telling the truth, then I wanna be here to catch it. Okay?"

Blair recognized the tone in Jim's voice, and he didn't like it. "Don't patronize me, man."
 
Jim shook his head and sighed. "I'm not patronizing you, Sandburg. You say you saw something, I obviously didn't hear anything, so, instead of having you trek out to a hotel at this ungodly hour, I'll stay here on the floor. I've slept in a lot worst places in the army. This is nothing."

Blair's expression softened. "You sure you don't mind? You don't think I'm a spineless coward," he said, offering an almost imperceptible smile.

Jim tilted his head, a smile touching his eyes. "You're a quivering bowl of Jell-O, Sandburg. I knew that the moment you pushed me under the garbage truck."

Blair smiled. "Thanks, Jim."

"Okay then," Jim said, slapping Blair on the knees and rising to his feet. "I'll grab my sleeping bag and pillow and come back. You going to be okay here for a few minutes?"

Blair flushed, nodding. "Yeah. No problem."

Jim disappeared through the french doors, returning a few minutes later with his sleeping bag and pillow. He tossed his pillow on the floor and unrolled the bag next to Blair's bed.

"Get your butt in bed and I'll turn out the lights," Jim said.

Blair chuckled and scampered beneath his covers. "Cool. This is like a sleepover," he said, trying to make light of the situation.

Jim chuckled. "Yeah, the operative word being sleep... so no talking. Got that?"

Blair nodded quickly. "Just make sure you don't snore, man."

Jim scowled at him just before he turned off the light. "I don't snore." Then he walked back to his sleeping back and settled himself in for the night, laying on his back and closing his eyes.

Blair shifted onto his side, gazing at Jim. A slow smile found its way to Blair's lips as he pondered the definite advantages to having an ex-special forces army ranger Sentinel cop for a roommate. Blair gave into a tired yawn and and closed his eyes, reflecting on just how well the term Sentinel described James Ellison, a modern watchman.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair awoke sometime later, opening his eyes and turning his head to glance at the clock on his bureau. 4:30 a.m. He glanced down at the floor, suddenly alarmed when he saw the empty sleeping bag. His alarm quickly faded, however, when his rational mind took over and realized that even Sentinels needed bathroom breaks. Or maybe he just got tired of sleeping on the floor and went back to his own bed. No, he realized immediately. Jim wouldn't abandon his "post".

He rolled onto his back, and caught sight of a dark figure standing in his doorway. He froze, his heart in his throat. Slowly, he raised his head, taking a good look at the large man.

He let go of the breath he was holding when he realized it was his partner. "Jim?"

Ellison stood stiffly in the doorway, unmoving, one hand hanging rigidly at his side and the other behind his back in a vague military stance.

The lack of response from the Sentinel set off alarm bells in Blair's brain, and the anthropologist sat up. "Jim, man, what's wrong?"

Jim remained motionless, dressed only in his white boxers, and stared intently at Sandburg.

Blair's heart began to race and he pushed himself to his feet. Had Jim zoned? Slowly, Blair approached Jim, laying a hand on the larger man's shoulder.

"Jim, come on, snap out of it," he said, giving the detective a firm shake.

Jim cocked his head, fixing Blair with a quizzical look that sent slivers of dread down the anthropologist's spine. The arm behind Ellison's back rose slowly, revealing a small steak knife.

Blair could barely believe his eyes, and he backed up quickly, away from the Sentinel. "Jim, man, hey, come on, snap out of it. It's me. It's Blair."

A soft, menacing smile touched Ellison's lips, and he walked toward Blair, holding the knife poised in the air. Blair hesitated only a moment, his eyes locked on the clean blade. Then a surge of adrenaline spurred him into action, and he spun around, flying toward the fire escape access. His hand closed around the knob at the exact moment a searing pain pierced his shoulder.

He screamed, feeling himself being yanked backward. He fell, hitting his head hard on the wood floor. Jim stood above him, his face impassive, as the knife sailed downward toward Blair's chest.

"No, Jim! Oh God!" Blair closed his eyes just as the blade found its mark.

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

Soft light touched Jim's eyelids, pulling him gently from his slumber. He opened his eyes and shifted onto his side, shaking off the vague vestiges of a disturbing dream. He realized he was in his own bed, and his brow creased in confusion. How the hell had he gotten back to his room? He frowned, suddenly remembering a piece of the elusive dream. He was standing over Blair holding a bloody knife. That image sent a shiver through him, and he clenched his jaw, pushing the horrific image out of his mind. Sandburg's ghost tale last night must have affected him more than he realized. He shook his head, making a mental note to tell Simon about Sandburg's allegations. Succumbing to a slow yawn, he noticed an odd taste to the air, and closed his mouth to inhale a deep breath. The stench of blood assaulted his nostrils, and he nearly gagged. His heart kicked into overdrive. Blair. With lightning speed, he flung the covers off his body. That's when he saw the dried blood covering his chest and boxers.

What the hell? He shot out of bed, flying toward the stairs, but the image he saw on the living room floor below stopped him dead in his tracks.

His throat constricted, and a pang of pain twisted in his chest at the sight of Blair sprawled on the floor behind the couch. One of Blair's hands was outstretched, as though he'd been reaching for the phone. Now, however, he laid limply on the floor in a pool of  blood, some of which was dried while the rest was still fresh. There was a dried trail of blood leading from Blair's room to his limp body in the living room.

Oh Jesus, Dear God no...

He forced himself to move, taking the stairs two at a time. He tried to listen for a heartbeat, but he was unable to gain control of his Sentinel hearing. He fell on his knees next to Blair, almost afraid to check for a pulse. Swallowing the painful lump in his throat, he extended his hand, feeling the side of Blair's neck...

... and nearly collapsed with relief when he felt the faint rhythm.

"Oh God, Blair, hang on." He reached forward, grabbing the cordless phone off the end table and dialed 911.

As he listened to the line ring, his medic training kicked in and he cursed himself for not acting faster. Rising to his feet, he ran into the bathroom and grabbed the two towels hanging on the rack. Hurrying back to his partner, he relayed the information to the operator as he put pressure on the obvious stab wound in Blair's shoulder. The pile of blood on the floor indicated more severe wounds, and, gently, Jim turned Blair over onto his back, keeping the towel pressed as best he could against the young man's shoulder.

He gasped when he saw the deadly pallor of Blair's face, and the color drained from his own when his eyes took in the nasty gash on the right side of his partner's chest. Working quickly and methodically, he grabbed the other towel and pressed it firmly onto the wound, fighting back the sting of tears in his eyes. What the hell had happened? He glanced back down at his own bloody body and swallowed, refusing to contemplate the facts suggested by the evidence.

He looked back up at Blair's pale face and, gently, brushed a few strand of curls out of the young man's face. "Hang on, Chief. Just hang on."

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

Jim sat in the hard chair in the hospital waiting room, his shoulders hunched as he stared vacantly at the floor. After the ambulance had carted Blair away, Jim had taken a quick shower, washing the dried blood off of his body. He'd watched with detached horror as the red liquid swirled down the drain. Then, moving like a robot, he'd climbed the stairs to his room, gotten dressed, and driven himself to the hospital.

"Jim?"

Ellison looked up into the concerned face of his Captain. Jim took a deep breath, knowing that if he attempted to speak right away, his voice would betray him. After a brief pause, he said, "Hi, Simon."

Banks took the empty chair next to Jim. "What happened?"

Jim returned his gaze to the floor. "I woke up and saw blood all over my body. When I went downstairs...." He closed his eyes, clenching his jaw at the horrific image. "I saw him lying on the ground. There was blood everywhere. I think he was reaching for the phone when he passed out."

Simon remained silent for several seconds, then said, "You didn't hear anything?"

Jim shook his head.

"You were covered with blood?"

He nodded.

"Any of it yours?"

Jim shook his head.

Simon took a deep breath. "Did you find the weapon?"

"I didn't look," Jim said, his voice low. "I didn't see a knife, though."

"Do you have any idea how you got covered with blood?"

Jim shook his head, opening his eyes. "No. Yesterday Sandburg mentioned something about seeing an intruder in the loft. He woke up last night and claimed he'd seen the same intruder standing at the foot of his bed. I slept in his room on the floor after that, but, when I woke up this morning, I was in my own bed covered with blood. I don't remember how I got in my bed. I don't even remember waking up after I fell asleep in his room." He took a deep breath. "I do remember what I thought was a piece of a dream," he said, his voice strained. "I was standing over him with a knife. He begg--" His voice cracked and he clenched his eyes shut. He couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't tell Simon that Blair had begged him to stop.

Simon sighed. "Oh, Jim. This doesn't look good."

"I know, Simon." He finally opened his eyes and looked at Banks. "Arrest me, but please, Sir, let me see how he's doing first. I just need to make sure--"

Simon raised one hand. "Let's wait to see what Sandburg says when he wakes up, then we'll go from there."

Jim pretended not to notice the unspoken if in Simon's statement.

"I already sent forensics over to the loft," Simon added, "so it's best just to hold off until we get their report, anyway."

A few minutes later, Jim's head snapped up when he heard footsteps approaching. A grey-haired doctor with round glasses walked up to the two men.

"James Ellison?"

Jim and Simon both rose to their feet, but Jim spoke. "I'm Ellison."

The doctor smiled, extending his hand. Jim shook the man's hand absently, his mind incapable of focusing on traditional pleasantries.

"Mr. Sandburg is going to be absolutely fine," he said.

Jim's shoulders sagged as he breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

"The wounds weren't that deep, fortunately," the doctor continued. "His main problem was loss of blood and infection. We gave him blood and plasma transfusions and put him on antibiotics. He's completely out of the woods and should make a full recovery. However, we're going to keep him here overnight to watch for signs of bacterial infection. Barring any complications, he can go home tomorrow morning."

Jim swallowed, painfully aware of Simon's eyes on him but unable to meet his Captain's gaze. The word home struck a tender chord in Jim's chest. Jesus, would Blair want to go anywhere near Jim or the loft ever again?

Jim squared his shoulder, his eyes the only indication of the turmoil afflicting his soul. "Can I see him?"

The Doctor nodded. "Only for a few minutes, though."

"I need to go, too," Simon said, his voice soft.

Jim finally glanced at his Captain, nodding. He knew what Simon meant: he couldn't let Jim see Blair alone, unguarded.

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

Jim stood next to Blair's bed, gazing down at the still, pale face of his friend. Blair's right arm was strapped to his side, hidden by bandages beneath the hospital gown. His shoulder was equally covered with a thick wrappings. Simon stood near the door, giving the detective as much space as he could. The soft beeping of the heart monitor filled the room, accompanied by the steady rhythm of Blair's breathing, a rhythm that was detectable only to Jim's sensitive ears.

"Oh Blair..." His voice trailed off. What could he say?

Blair's forehead creased, and the beeping of the heart monitor increased. Then, all of a sudden, the beeping skyrocketed in frequency and Blair released a low plea, "No, Jim..." His eyes shot open, and his body jerked.

Blair's eyes locked with Jim's and he inhaled sharply, his eyes wide with with fear. He pushed himself into the mattress, releasing a hiss of pain caused by the movement.

Jim took a step back, his face stone but his eyes tortured. "It's okay, Blair," he said, his voice rough with emotion. Then the Sentinel turned pained eyes onto his Captain.

Simon held Jim's gaze for only a moment before walking up to Sandburg's bed. Banks placed a hand on Jim's shoulder and gently pulled the man behind him.

"I'll be in the hall," Jim croaked, then lowered his head, turning his face away from the two men. "I'm sorry," he whispered just before ducking into the hall.

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

When Blair had opened his eyes to see Jim standing over him, his heart had leapt in his throat. His mind flashed on the image of the knife sailing down toward his chest, followed by a searing pain. It took his brain a few seconds to realize that he was in a hospital, and that Jim wasn't holding a knife.

But when Jim had spoken, the pain in his voice sent a shiver down Blair's spine. The young man had never heard such a quality in Jim's voice, and he hoped he never heard it again. He knew, without a doubt, that he was now dealing with his friend, Jim, and not the man that had attacked him last night.

It wasn't until Jim left the room that Blair found his voice. "Wait, Jim," he pleaded, his voice barely above a whisper.

Just outside Blair's door, visible through the glass window, Jim froze, his back rigid.

Simon placed a hand on the bed rail. "Sandburg, I'll be right back. Just try to relax."

Simon turned to leave. Blair struggled to sit up, but a wave of pain shot through his chest, and the room spun. He fell back against the mattress, his breath coming in short, shallow gasps. He waited several long moments until the pain subsided, then he raised his head, looking into the hallway. His throat constricted at the sight of Jim, with his hands behind his back, being handcuffed by Simon.

Oh no. Blair gritted his teeth and pushed himself into a sitting position. The room spun once again, but he closed his eyes, feeling for the railing and lowering it carefully. Then he opened his eyes again, tore the IV and chest electrodes off of his body, and slid out of bed.

His legs threatened to betray him, but he was determined to make it to the hall. There was no way he could let Simon arrest Jim. He stumbled toward the hall, catching himself on the door frame. Simon and Jim both spun around, and Blair wondered vaguely why Jim hadn't heard him approach.

"Jesus, Sandburg!" Simon forgot all about Jim and rushed forward, wrapping strong but gentle arms around Blair's torso. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Get your ass back in bed."

Jim turned to face Blair, his hands cuffed behind his back. He remained silent, keeping a respectable distance away from Blair.

"He didn't do it, Simon," Blair blurted.

"What?" Both Simon and Jim spoke at once, their voices betraying a mixture of disbelief and relief.

At that moment, two nurses and a doctor came running down the hall, sliding to a halt near the three men. "Mr. Sandburg," the nurse began, "what's going on here? Why are you out of bed? You just sent our entire station on alert!"

Blair ignored the hospital staff, too focused on trying to save Jim's life and career to deal with such trivialities.

"Come on, let's get you back in bed," the Doctor said, wrapping an arm carefully around his torso.

"NO!" Blair pulled away, nearly falling to the floor as his head spun. Hands caught him, steadied him, and he looked up to see Simon and the doctor supporting him.

"Just let me finish," Blair pleaded, resisting the arms that tried to guide him to his bed.

Blair knew he couldn't tell the truth. Something had either possessed Jim last night, or caused him to zone in some weird way. However, that wasn't something he could tell Simon. If Blair told the truth, Simon would have to take Jim into custody. Possession just wasn't a defense to murder, and, with Jim's senses being secret, neither was zoning. So, Blair opted to tell the most bullshit-seat-of-his-pants lie that he had ever manufactured in his life, and he had absolutely no idea what that lie would be.

He decided to wing it. "Jim was sleeping on the floor in my room. Some guys broke into the loft. Before I knew it, they were on top of us. I think one of them put a rag over Jim's mouth... and then he passed out. They started saying how they were going to get Jim back for something. I tried to fight, but they were REALLY big."

He sagged suddenly, his voice giving way as the room did another cartwheel. Strong arms kept him from falling, and he found himself being guided back to the bed. A few seconds later he was on his back with the covers tucked under his chin. He must have passed out for a moment, because he found himself opening his eyes to see Simon standing above him. The Doctor and nurses were nowhere to be seen. Blair blinked, trying to focus on the Captain, who looked llike little more than a dark blur.

"They... Two of them carried Jim upstairs. I don't remember what happened next, but I do remember one of them stabbing me," Blair finished, nearly gasping from the exertion.

Simon placed a gentle hand on Blair's good shoulder. "Blair, if you're covering for Jim--"

"I'm not covering for Jim," he said, trying to raise his voice but failing miserably.

Simon nodded. "Okay, kid. Just calm down. How many were there?"

"Uh... four, I think. I didn't see their faces. It was too dark."

Finally, Jim stepped forward. Blair blinked as he tried to focus his eyes on the Sentinel. After a few seconds, Jim's face came into focus, and Blair almost wished his vision hadn't cleared. He could have sworn he saw a glimpse of hell in Jim's blue eyes.

"I remember it, Blair," Jim said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I remember standing over you with the knife."

Blair blinked. He hadn't expected Jim to remember anything, not if his theory was true. Still, he was determined to stick to his story. "So what? You were out of it, your subconscious took over. Your dream was probably nothing more than a manifestation of your guilt over not being able to stop those guys."

Jim clenched his jaw. He did not look convinced. "Nice story, Sandburg, but don't cover for me." He turned away briefly. "How the hell can you cover for me, anyway," he said, a hint of anger in his voice. "I know what I did, and you know what I did. No one broke into the loft. There was nothing out of place when I woke up this morning. The chain was locked. I woke up covered with blood, and I bet when Simon gets forensics down to the loft, they'll find a bloody knife with my fingerprints all over it."

Blair sighed. "Well, duh, Jim. You live there, you're likely to have picked up a steak knife, and those guys were trying to frame you. They wanted revenge. They placed your fingerprints on the knife and smeared some of my blood on you."

Jim's eyes were stone. "How many guys were there?"

"Four," Blair answered quickly.

"How did they get in if the chain was locked and there is no other sign of a break-in," Jim asked.

"How the hell should I know," Blair retorted. "You two are the detectives."

Simon sighed. "I think I've heard enough," he said. "Sandburg, this is serious. Filing a false police report is a crime."

"It's the truth," Blair insisted.

Simon placed both hands on the rail and leaned over Blair, his eyes dark. "Sandburg, look me in the eye and tell me that four guys broke into the loft and did this to you."

Blair met Simon's intense gaze with sure eyes. When he spoke, his voice was rock steady. "Simon, four guys broke into the loft and attacked Jim and me. I swear it."

"You're lying," Jim said. "Your pupils are dilated and your heartrate's way up there."

"I'm on drugs, remember," Blair responded. "And forgive me for being just a bit freaked out here. Last night wasn't the best night of my life, in case you forgot."

Simon sighed, raising one hand to rub his eyes. "Sandburg, when forensics gets down there, they'll figure out the truth."

Blair set his chin and fixed confident eyes on the Captain. "That's my story, Simon. It's NOT going to change, no matter what forensics finds." Though is voice was lined with fatigue, his message was clear, and both men understood it perfectly. Since neither Simon nor Jim seemed inclined to buy into Blair's story, Sandburg settled for letting them know that his official statement would absolve Jim of any culpability, no matter what the evidence suggested.

Jim shook his head sadly. "Blair..."

"Simon, you can uncuff him," Blair interrupted hastily.

After a brief hesitation, Simon withdrew the keys and uncuffed Jim's hands. For several long seconds, nobody said a word. The silence was thick, almost palpable.

Finally, Blair cleared his throat and said, "Uh, Simon, could you give Jim and me a moment alone?"

Simon glanced at Jim, then back at Blair, offering a slight nod. "Okay, but I'll be right out in the hall."

Blair managed a tiny, grateful smile. "Thanks."

He watched Simon leave and close the door, then he turned his attention to Jim. The Sentinel stood like a statue next to the bed, his eyes downcast and his shoulders hunched.

"Jim," Blair begun, fighting against the drowsiness that threatened to cloud his mind and his voice. "Look at me."

Slowly, Jim raised his head, meeting Blair's steady gaze.

"Pull up a chair. We need to talk."

Wordlessly, Jim complied.

Blair took a deep breath, using the moment to gather his thoughts. He intended to stick to his "intruder" story about last night, but he couldn't ignore the issue of Jim's "black-out", for lack of a better term. He had to find out what caused it. Blair did not believe that the strange occurrences preceding Jim's attack were coincidental. No, the two were related, somehow, and Blair intended to find out how. He had to make sure it didn't happen again... both for his sake and Jim's.

"Blair?"

Blair's eyes snapped open. He hadn't even realized they'd drifted closed. "Sorry," he mumbled, forcing his eyes to remain open. "I have to tell you what really happened last night," he said, his voice slightly slurred. "It was last night, right?

Jim nodded, but said nothing.

"If I tell you, you've gotta promise to let me finish before you interrupt. Okay?"

Again Jim nodded.

"And you can't freak out on some..." he was about to say 'guilt trip,' but decided against it. "Just promise me you won't freak out."

Jim remained silent.

"Come on, Jim," Blair pleaded, annoyed at how heavy his eyelids felt. "If you don't promise me, I'm not going to tell you."

"I promise," Jim said.

Blair stifled a yawn, continuing. "Okay."

"But Simon should hear this," Jim said.

Blair shook his head, realizing that was a mistake when the room swirled. "Oh man," he moaned.

Jim was out of his chair in an instant. "You okay, Chief? Do you want me to get the doctor?"

Blair closed his eyes, pushing down the sudden feeling of nauseousness that rose in his stomach. "No," he croaked. "I'm okay." He focused on his breathing for several seconds, and, slowly, the queasiness in his stomach abated. "Sit down," he urged.

Wordlessly, Jim sank back into the chair.

Blair kept his eyes closed, focusing all his energies on keeping both his stomach and voice steady. "Last night I told you I saw that thing... the intruder again, remember?" He didn't open his eyes to see if Jim acknowledged the question, but he figured Jim had to remember that incident. "I know you find this hard to believe, but I think what I saw last night was an apparition of some kind. I think it affected you. I remember waking up, and you weren't in your sleeping bag. I spotted you standing in the doorway. You didn't move and you didn't answer any of my questions. I got worried and thought you were zoned. When I tried to pull you out of it, you raised the knife you had behind your back. I tried to run, but you caught me." His voice began to drift as his consciousness waned. "You stabbed me in the shoulder and in the chest." His sleep-fogged mind related the incident candidly, too fatigued and clouded with drugs to focus on softening the facts. "Then you just stared at me. You dropped the knife and left my room. I tried to make it to the phone, but I guess... I think I passed out before I reached it." His voice was slurred now, barely intelligible. "It wasn't your fault, Jim. It was that thing. The loft isn't safe. We have to..." Sleep overcame him before he completed the sentence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Jim listened to Blair's monologue silently, aware that the young man was struggling to remain awake. He watched as Blair's eyelids drifted closed, then sat there for nearly a minute watching his partner sleep. He couldn't believe he'd almost killed Blair. Listening to Sandburg relate the details of the attack was one of the most painful experiences of his life, and yet Sandburg insisted that it hadn't been his fault. Jim wanted to believe that, but how could he? He had taken a knife and stabbed his partner not once but twice. He had plunged the blade into Blair's chest, ignoring his Guide's plea as he brought the knife down. He closed his eyes. God, he remembered that last part. He remembered standing over Blair, the smell of blood already in the air, as Sandburg gazed up at him with wide eyes and cried, "No, Jim. Oh God!"
 
His stomach twisted with queasy guilt, and he rose to his feet, swaggering toward the door. Once he reached the hallway, he leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, bringing his knees up. He folded his arms on top of his legs and buried his head in his arms. It was all too much to process. It was unreal. He had made it his business to protect Sandburg from harm, taken on the role of blessed protector that Blair had jokingly ascribed to him after the Lash incident. Only now the person Blair needed protecting from was him.

"Jim?"

Ellison looked up to see Simon towering above him, the edges of his dark eyes lined with concern.

"He told me the truth, Simon," he whispered.

There was no use lying about it. He couldn't just go back to the loft like nothing happened. He was a danger to everyone around him, and, most especially, to Blair. He almost wanted to believe Sandburg's possession story, but it was just too fantastic. Ghosts couldn't stand trial, and possession wasn't a defense to attempted murder.

Banks sat down on the floor next to Jim. "What happened?"

Jim took a deep breath before answering. "He said he woke up and saw me standing in his doorway. He thought I had zoned because I wasn't moving or responding to him. He tried to get me out of the zone, and that's when I attacked him. He said I had been holding a knife behind my back and I went after him with it. He tried to run, but I stabbed him in the back." His voice cracked, and he swallowed. "Then in the chest. Then I just dropped the knife and left the room. I guess I climbed back to my room and went to bed. Meanwhile--" he closed his eyes, "he was crawling toward the phone, trying to get help."

It was a long moment before Banks responded. "And you don't remember the attack?"

"Just the last part. I remember bringing the knife down toward his chest," Ellison replied, his voice tight.

"And Blair said he thought you were zoned?"

Jim nodded tiredly.

"So maybe you were zoned, or something. Maybe something set you off," Banks offered.

"It doesn't matter," Jim said, his voice tinged with defeat. "You have to arrest me. I'm obviously dangerous, and there's no way I'm taking him home with me tomorrow. He's going to need someone to look after him, just until he gets better, but he can't be around me."

Simon leaned his head back against the wall. "Jim, he refuses to point the finger at you. He's going to stick to that lie, and, even if forensics finds the knife with your fingerprints on it, that won't contradict his story. He's the only witness, since you say you don't remember, and, without his testimony, there's no case. Even if you 'confess' with that fragment of memory in your brain, it's not enough. Just like Blair says, it could have been a dream -- you're not even sure yourself."

"It wasn't a dream," Jim said.

"You only say that now in light of what's happened and what Blair told you, but when you woke up this morning, you thought it was a dream, right?"

"If you don't arrest me, I'll have to check myself into a psych ward," Jim said. "I blacked out and attacked Blair, and I'm not going to risk that happening again."

Banks sighed. "I don't know what to say, Jim. I can't say I disagree with you, but, at the same time, I know this wasn't your fault. Blair obviously doesn't blame you. How 'bout I stay over at the loft with you and Blair? Sandburg can try to figure out what caused your... uh... episode, and I'll be there to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Jim clenched his jaw. "And what if I end up killing you and Sandburg?"

Simon didn't have an answer for the Sentinel.

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

Blair felt like he was floating. Slowly, he ascended to consciousness, aware of the warmth surrounding him. His eyelids fluttered open, and he saw hazy fluorescent panels on the ceiling above. A vague feeling of anxiety clutched his chest at the unfamiliar sight, but his brain cleared and he remembered that he was in a hospital.

"Sandburg?"

Blair turned his head to see Simon sitting in a chair next to the bed. "Where's Jim?"

Simon looked distinctly uncomfortable. "He... he can't be here right now, but he told me to tell you to rest and not worry about him."

Blair didn't like the tone in Simon's voice. Something was wrong. "Where is he, Simon," he persisted. "You didn't arrest him, did you?" He lifted his head, attempting to sit up, but Banks placed a firm hand on his good shoulder and held him in place.

"No, I didn't arrest him."

Blair lowered his head back to the pillow, breathing a sigh of relief. "Where is he, then?"

"I can't tell you that right now, Blair. Later," Simon replied.

Now Blair knew something was wrong. He reached out with his good arm and grabbed the railing, pulling himself into a sitting position. Banks tried to push him back down, but apparently the larger man didn't want to risk hurting him because he didn't push very hard.

"Blair, lay down. You're in no shape to be getting out of bed," the Captain insisted, his voice strangely subdued.

"Not until you tell me where Jim is. What's happened? Come on, Simon, I know something's wrong."

Banks sighed, sliding one hand beneath his glasses to rub his eyes. "He's checked himself into a psychiatric hospital."

"WHAT?!"

Blair pushed the railing down and slid out of bed. He was no longer attached to the heartmonitor, but he still had the I.V. to deal with. Quickly, he untaped the line from his hand and pulled the catheter out, wincing when a small spurt of blood followed.

"Sandburg, damnit, get back in bed. You've been stabbed twice, in case you forgot," Banks ordered.

"No way," he said. "I'm out of here. I can't believe you let him do that, Simon. I told you he didn't--"

"He told me what you said, Sandburg," Banks informed him.

That seemed to stop Blair, but only for a moment. He turned his face away from the Captain, pulling out the top drawer of the bureau next to his bed, but it was empty.

"Where the hell are my clothes?"

"You don't have any," Banks said. "You came here in your shirt and boxers, and those are pretty unsalvageable."

Blair raised his head, his eyes blazing. "Fine," he snapped. "I'll walk out of here dressed like this if I have to."

"That'd be indecent exposure, Sandburg, and it's against the law."

Blair was fuming now, even though the room was starting to spin a bit. "Damnit, Simon, I can't stay here. The hospital can't hold me, and you can't stop me. I need to know where Jim went."

Banks shook his head. "He told me not to tell you."

"Screw him, he's crazy, remember, so what he says doesn't count," Blair said bitterly. "Tell me, Simon."

Simon shook his head. "I promised him."

Blair inhaled a slow, deep breath. "Listen to me, Simon. Listen very carefully. Jim is in a psychiatric hospital. He's not crazy. He had a problem with his senses, or something, and he zoned or blacked out. All they'll do to him in the hospital is pump him full of drugs, and, with his special sensitivity, that could kill him... or really make him crazy. Now cut the crap and tell me where his is, damnit. He's a sentinel, it's my job to take care of this and, damnit, pardon me for pointing this out, but you don't know jack about his senses and how they can affect him. I do. It's why you guys keep me around, remember?"

Simon looked genuinely astonished by Blair's outburst, and, after a brief hesitation, he nodded. "I'll get you some clothes."

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

Blair stormed up to the reception counter of Blue Falls Psychiatric Hospital... well, at least he made the effort to storm up to the counter. In fact, he sort of wobbled, and ended up having to grab onto the counter to support himself once he got there.

"Sandburg, are you all right," Simon asked from behind him.

"Yeah," Blair said, though, truthfully, he felt anything but all right. The pain killers were wearing off, and his back and shoulder were on fire.

The woman behind the counter looked up. "Can I help you, Sir?"

"I'm here to see James Ellison," he said.

"I'm sorry, visiting hours are--"

She looked passed Blair's shoulder, her eyes wide. Blair turned around to see Banks holding his badge out for her inspection.

"This is urgent," Banks said.

She nodded. "Okay, one moment, please." She picked up the phone receiver and punched in three numbers. "Doctor Baylor, there are two officers here to speak with James Ellison.... uh-huh... They say it's urgent.... okay, I will." She hung up the phone and looked up at the two men. "If you'll have a seat, Doctor Baylor will be with you momentarily."

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

Blair sat at the table across from Ellison in the small visitor's room. "Did they give you any drugs?"

Jim shook his head, his jaw muscles taut.

"You're checking yourself out of here, Jim."

"Absolutely not," Jim said, his voice flat. He kept his gaze lowered to the table.

Blair placed his free hand flat on the table and glared at Jim. It was a battle of wills, and Blair knew just how powerful a force Jim's guilt would be, so he decided to bring out the heavy artillery early. He hated doing it, but he was pretty sure it would be the only way to get Jim out of the hospital.

"Don't you sit there and say 'no' to me," Blair said, his voice low. "You owe me, man, and you know it. You almost killed me, and now you turn tail and run."

Jim's head snapped up as though he'd been slapped.

Blair continued relentlessly. "I told you what happened, man. You think you're protecting me? Don't be stupid. You can choose not to believe me, fine, but you might as well carve my tombstone yourself. Man, I can't believe you. I've been there for you every step of the way. I've put my life on the line for you, and now when I need your help you turn your back on me."

Jim's eyes took on a strange haunted look. "Blair, I--"

"No, listen. I'm telling you there's something in the loft... some kind of presence. You don't believe in ghosts or spirits, fine. Tell that to your spirit guide, man. I'm telling you what I saw. That thing possessed you, and it can possess Simon, or Joel, or Rafe, or any other person you think will be safe with me. The only safe thing for you and me to do is to find out what--" His brow furrowed, and he seemed lost in thought for a moment.

Jim leaned forward, concerned. "Blair?"

"Oh man!" Blair slapped the table with his good hand, then regretted the action when the jarring motion sent a spike of pain through his chest and shoulder. "Ow. Ow," he hissed.

Jim's face took on a hurt look, like he'd just run over a puppy. "Are you okay?"

Blair nodded, moving past the pain to focus on his recent revelation. "The mask! Man, all this started when I brought that stupid mask home."

Jim's forehead creased with confusion. "What mask?"

"Doctor Marcus from the University loaned me the mask. He asked me to give an opinion on its probable origins. It all started then. You and I have to get back to the loft and get rid of that mask... after I do some research on it, and --"

"You're saying the mask is possessed, or something," Jim inquired.

"Yeah, man, it must have some kind of an evil spirit attached to it."

Jim looked extremely skeptical. "An evil spirit?"

Blair's expression hardened. "Don't start with me, Jim. Get your ass out of here and come help me. You don't have the right to say 'no' to me, not after last night."

Jim clenched his jaw, his expression hooded. He lowered his eyes, obviously unable to meet Blair's steady gaze. "Okay," he said, finally. "But Simon stays with us at all times."

Blair smiled brightly. "Okay. Thanks, Jim." He swallowed, feeling exceptionally pained at having to play on Jim's guilt in such a ruthless manner, but, damnit, it was for the man's own good. "Get dressed and Simon will drive us back to the loft."

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

Blair, Simon, and Jim walked into the loft, and Blair made a bee-line for his room. Outside, the sun hung low in the sky, for which Blair was grateful. He really wanted to deal with the mask before sunset. He knew it was completely irrational, but he felt a hell of a lot safer dealing with the mask in daylight. The night just made everything seem much more menacing.

Fortunately, the loft was clean. Blair glanced over his shoulder just as he approached the french doors, and he noticed Jim's eyes hone into the spot on the living room where Blair had passed out earlier. He wondered if the Sentinel's eyes detected traces of blood. He certainly hoped that whoever cleaned the loft had done a thorough job. He suspected he and Jim had Simon to thank for that little miracle.

"What did Forensics' find out," Jim asked, his face carved in stone.

Simon shook his head. "They came and cleaned up, but I haven't gotten their report yet," Simon replied.

Jim simply nodded, walking into Blair's room, and Simon followed on his heels. Sandburg stood in front of his desk, staring at the box on the top. It was still unopened, as he hadn't gotten around to examining it yet.

He looked up at the two men. "Here it is."

Jim stepped forward and grabbed the box. It was taped shut, so he carried it into the kitchen and retrieved a kitchen knife. It was when he raised the knife to slice open the top of the box that a small gasp froze his hand in mid-air. Jim's only noticeable reaction was the clenching of his jaw.

Slowly, the detective handed the box and the knife to Simon. "Here," he said simply, studiously avoiding Blair's gaze.

Blair stood in his doorway, his eyes locked on the knife. He hated himself for his reaction, and he knew his sharp gasp had not gone unnoticed by Jim. It had just all come back to him so fast, catching him off-guard. Seeing Jim standing there holding the knife had revived his memories of the attack, and the image of Jim towering over him as he plunged the knife downward flashed in Blair's mind.

Jim moved to the living room and plopped himself down on the couch, his back to the two men. Simon stood in the kitchen, holding the knife and the box motionless, as though he didn't quite know what to do with them. He looked at Blair, and the anthropologist knew his rising panic must have been evident on his face because Simon put the knife and the box down on the counter and walked over to him.

"Are you okay, Sandburg," Banks whispered.

Speechless, Blair simply nodded. Then he turned slowly and headed into his room. He pointedly refused to look at the place where Jim had stabbed him as he made his way to his bed. He carefully lowered himself onto the mattress, lying on his back. His shoulder and chest screamed with pain, and he closed his eyes. God, he was tired. Exhausted. He felt as though every ounce of energy had been drained from his body. He couldn't sleep, though. He needed to get rid of the mask before dark. There wasn't a second to spare.

Before he realized it, he had fallen asleep.

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

Simon sat down in the armchair next to the sofa. Jim stared straight ahead, his eyes focused on nothing in particular. His back was as rigid as a board and his jaw muscles stuck out like chords. He gave no indication whatsoever that he was aware of Simon's scrutiny.

"Jim, Sandburg..." His voice trailed off. He didn't quite know what to say. He knew Blair's reaction had devastated Ellison, though the stoic detective was doing a good job of shutting down his emotions. "Sandburg just needs some time. He trusts you, you know that. Hell, all this was his idea. He's not afraid of you, but he went through a rather horrifying experience--" Jim winced infinitesimally at that remark, and Simon cursed himself mentally. "It wasn't your fault. I believe Sandburg when he says something happened to you. I know you wouldn't ever intentionally do anything to hurt him, and so does he."

Jim didn't move, but his jaw muscles became even tighter, if such a thing were possible.

"Come on, Jim, the kid needs you." He paused, releasing a tired sigh. "Okay, answer me this: Did you want to kill him? Did you attack him on purpose and devise this 'amnesia' bit to cover up your culpability?"

Jim finally turned to look at Simon. "No," he said, his voice strained.

"Exactly. If you wanted to kill Sandburg and get away with it, you could have done a hell of a better job. So you didn't mean to do it, right? You had no control?"

"I had no control. I don't remember it, but that doesn't matter." His voice sounded flat and mechanical. "Sandburg almost died, and I'm the one responsible."

"Not according to Sandburg."

Jim's expression softened just a bit, and he shook his head. "And I don't understand that. I stabbed him in the back, literally, and he's defending me. He continues to stay, and he acts like he's concerned about my welfare."

"He is concerned about your welfare," Simon responded, exasperated. "Jesus, Jim, you should have heard him in the hospital. I've never heard that edge in his voice before. When I told him you had checked yourself into the psych hospital, he really laid into me. He was furious, and, beneath it all, I think he was scared out of his wits for you, not for himself."

Jim turned away, looking over his shoulder at the box on the kitchen counter. "We should do something with that. Sandburg thinks it's important to get rid of it."

Simon furrowed his brow. "So how does he think the mask figures into all this, anyway?"

Jim looked back at his Captain. He knew Banks would never buy into the ghost story, but, at the same time, if Sandburg's theory was correct -- and that was a big if -- then Simon needed to be on guard if he was going to be involved.

"He believes that the mask harbors an evil spirit," he stated flatly.

Simon's eyebrows raised almost to his hairline. "An evil spirit?"

Jim nodded. "Just go with it, Sir. He really believes it. I'm not so sure myself, but he does claim that all this weird stuff started the moment he brought the mask home."

"What do you mean?"

Jim sighed, leaning back against the cushions. "When he came home that night with the mask, he said he fell asleep on the couch. The lights and tv were on and, when he woke up, they were off. He also said that the chain, which he had not touched, was locked. When I came home, I found him standing outside in the rain on the balcony. His face was white as a sheet. He told me to check the apartment, said he saw an intruder with white hair. I didn't hear or see anybody. Later that night, I heard him scream my name. I bolted downstairs and he was drenched in sweat, pressed up against the wall. His heart was going a mile a minute. He said he saw the intruder again... at the foot of his bed, but he said he thought it was some kind of an apparition that time."

Simon leaned back. "This is out of my league, Jim. Ghosts don't factor into police work, and if I started buying into every Halloween story, the department's case record would be abysmal."

Jim nodded. "You don't have to believe it, Simon. Just go along with it. If Sandburg wants us to get rid of the mask, we'll get rid of the mask. It's the least I can do..." His voice trailed off and he looked away, rising from the couch. "And if, by some miracle, that mask is the source of all this, we need to get rid of it now." He looked toward Sandburg's room. "I hate to wake him up, though. He needs the sleep."

Simon got to his feet. "Well, if he's sleeping, let him be. I'll call Joel and see if he can stay with Sandburg for a little while. You and I can deal with the mask."

Jim looked at Simon. "And what do you suggest we do with it? This is Sandburg's area. It's not like we can snuff it off on someone else."

Simon sighed, nodding. "Okay, so we wake him up."

Jim gestured to Blair's room. "I think, under the circumstance, it would be best if you woke him up."

Simon gave Jim a curious look, but walked to Sandburg's room. He peeked his head through the french doors and, when he spotted the pale young man resting peacefully on the bed, he almost decided against waking him. Sandburg really did need some sleep.

Still, if they were to get rid of the mask tonight, they needed the kid awake. "Sandburg," Banks said.

Blair stirred, releasing a soft moan.

"Sandburg, wake up."

Blair eyelids fluttered open and he looked momentarily confused. Then his eyes focused on Simon and his expression relaxed. "Oh, Simon," he mumbled. "Did I fall asleep?"

Simon smiled. "Yeah, but you needed it. Jim and I need to know what to do with the mask."

Blair sat up, wincing slightly, and rose to his feet. "Oh." He released a tired yawn. "I'm not sure. We need to get it out of here tonight. I guess we should destroy it, but I'd hate to destroy university property without being one hundred percent sure that it's a danger." He walked up to Simon, and the larger man moved to allow Blair to pass. "I can't exactly give it back to Dr. Marcus is if it is dangerous."

"So what do we do," Jim asked, standing in the kitchen.

Blair seemed to ponder the question for a moment, then said, "I need to do some research."

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

Unfortunately, Blair's research took several hours. He surfed the net looking for information on masks, spirits, and ancient religions. Fortunately, he'd found what he was looking for. He was now almost sure that the mask was possessed and that it needed to be destroyed. He didn't even realize that darkness had fallen until he finished gathering the information and shut down his computer. Once the light from his screen died, he realized just how dark it was in the loft. Looking up at the two men asleep on the couch, he felt his fears flare up unexpectedly. The loft was dead silent, and the only only light came from the waning fire in the fireplace. Blair vaguely remembered Jim lighting the fire earlier, but he had been too engrossed in his research to pay attention.

He wanted to move, but he felt momentarily frozen in his seat, almost afraid to move. The box sat innocently on the kitchen counter next to the...

His heart leapt into his throat when he realized the knife was gone. He quickly looked back at the limp figures of Jim and Simon. They were asleep. He tried to tell himself that Jim or Simon had probably just put the knife away while Blair had been asleep, but the more primal part of his brain screamed otherwise.

He shook himself out of his stupor. He really was beginning to overreact. He'd been awake the whole time, nothing had happened to Jim or Simon. They had simply fallen asleep on the couch...

Just like Jim had fallen asleep on the floor in his room. Blair clenched his fist. What if the thing only possessed people when they slept? He swallowed, rising from his chair, and walked over to the couch.

"Jim. Simon," he said, his tight throat making his voice raspy.

Neither man stirred, and that scared Blair more than anything. Jim should have been awake instantly.

"Jim," he said louder.

Nothing.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. How stupid could he be? He should have just gotten rid of the damn mask when he first got home.

Reaching over the back of the couch, Blair grabbed Jim's shoulder and shook him hard. "Jim!"

Jim jerked awake, inhaling sharply. Blair released a sigh of relief.

"Oh man, you scared me, Jim."

Jim turned his head around to gaze up at Blair, and it was then that the anthropologist noticed the small smile on his partner's face.

Oh no.

Blair took a step back, away from Jim. This isn't happening. Not again.

Jim rose slowly off the couch, and, to Blair's dismay, the kitchen knife became visible in his right hand.

"Jim," Blair pleaded. "Snap out of it, man."

Jim walked around the couch, advancing on him, the knife hanging rigidly at his side.

"Simon! Simon wake up!" Blair screamed as loud as he could, but Simon didn't move.

Blair moved like lightning, ignoring the pain in his chest and back. He snatched the box off the counter and flung himself toward the fireplace. Jim intercepted him, grabbing his hair and flinging him backward onto the ground.

Pain like nothing he'd felt before sliced through Blair's chest and shoulder as he hit the ground. He screamed, and bright dots danced along the edges of his vision. Jim's towering figure came into view above him, and, without thinking, he brought his feet up, kicking Jim squarely in the groin.

Jim doubled over, gasping, and the knife dropped to the ground. Blair wasted no time. He rolled to his feet and snatched the box up from the floor. He was just about to toss it into the fireplace when a force grabbed him, spinning him around.

The thing stood before him, its white hair blazing like fire in the darkness. It smiled, an evil glint in its eyes. One of its white, fragile-looking hands reached outward, wrapping around Sandburg's throat. Blair found his oxygen supply being cut off as he was lifted off the ground. His feet dangled helplessly, and he tried to kick the thing, but his legs passed right through the apparition. Apparently, only the thing's hand was solid at the moment.

"You will be my next," the thing said, its voice low but as coarse as sandpaper.

Blair brought his hand up, prying at the immovable fingers clenched around his throat. "Wha-" He tried to speak, but all he could manage was a croak.

"I am Inguma," the thing said. Then it glided forward, pressing Blair against the wall. Blair closed his eyes as the thing's mouth covered his own. He felt an intense agony shoot through his body. His lungs felt like they collapsed as the air was literally sucked out of them.

Then, suddenly, the thing screamed horrendously and Blair found himself falling to the floor. He hit hard, barely aware of the impact, and, a second later, blackness overcame him.

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

When Blair awoke, he heard Jim's anxious voice. Gradually, the words began to make sense, and he realized Jim was calling for an ambulance.

He opened his eyes. "J-Jim?"

Instantly, Jim was at his side. Blair realized he was lying on the living room couch, with both Simon and Jim standing over him.

"Wha' happened," he croaked. God, his chest hurt. His throat hurt. Hell, his entire body hurt.

Jim placed a gentle hand on Blair's good shoulder. "I'm not sure, Chief," he said, handing the phone to Simon, who continued to relay the information to the dispatcher. "I woke up on the floor, and saw some... some thing attacking you. I threw the box in the fireplace, and then the thing screamed and vanished."

"Inguma," Blair croaked. "An evil Basque spirit of the night who strangles people in their sleep."

"What?"

"My research," he explained. "I found out about the mask." He closed his eyes. Talking hurt way too much.

Jim gave Blair's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "You're going to be okay, Chief. The medics are on their way."

Blair wanted to open his mouth and tell Jim he was fine, but he just couldn't muster the strength to do so. He descended toward sleep with the warm realization that Jim had finally seen the thing with his own eyes, and the Sentinel would have to believe him now -- which meant that Jim would have to let go of the guilt.

He was vaguely aware of something soft brushing a strand of hair away from his eyes. He managed a small smile before sleep completely claimed him.


~The End ~
 
Word of Advice: Never write a horror story alone in your room at night --
Especially not when you live with a sleek black cat that has a penchant for launching surprise attacks.
 
E-mail me or mosey on over to the main page and post your comments on the message board!