Genre: Well, that's a bit complicated, but I vote for Gen. Please read the warning to find out why you could have a different opinion...

Warning: Dealing with the aftereffects of Stockholm Syndrome. So that's where the complication comes in - does a 'relationship' borne out of these circumstances really count as slash? I don't think so - in my opinion, slash means a *consensual* relationship between two people of the same gender, therefore I would label this story as Gen. On the other hand, if you consider all sexual acts, same gender as slash, you could argue... Anyway, it's all off-screen and in the past, but you've been warned. If you're a 'Gen only' reader, you may not want to read.

Summary: Jim did not make it to the roof of the PD in time. One year later finally, Major Crimes can apprehend the Sunrise Patriots - and also free Blair from the terrorists' clutches. A second chance?

Betaed by Xasphie. Thank you!

From the Ashes By Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

 

Prologue

Kincaid was staring at him.

Blair had been trying to pretend not to notice, but he was sure the other man saw through him. Psychopaths were always good at reading people, that's what his professor in abnormal psych had said anyway. Not that Blair had that much experience, though in his opinion, the two of them, Sarris and Kincaid, were more than enough for a lifetime, and possibly there wouldn't be any more.

Psychopaths. Experiences. Days to live.

He tried hard to ignore that, too. Now there was nothing anymore that he could effectively do, his mind was beginning to take protective measures. Already the scenery around him had taken to a nightmarish, but blessedly unreal-feeling quality, and still, it was impossible to ignore, the gaze on him obtrusive like an unwanted touch. Almost against his will, he raised his head a little, not wanting to meet those cold brutal eyes, at the same time filled with a morbid kind of curiosity - and recoiled from what he saw.

While the two other men in the 'copter were laughing and talking, generally just boasting to each other about the victory, Kincaid's attention seemed to be solely focused on his hostage.

He smiled.

It was the moment when Blair realized that there were worse fates than a quick execution.

***

I

Frustration. Guilt and grief, all of them were brought to the surface all too easily when Detective Jim Ellison shared one minute of silence with his colleagues, in memory of the six co-workers that had been killed during the siege at the police station exactly one year ago. They had done all they possibly could to prevent more blood from being shed, to free the remaining hostages and capture the perps, but the price remained high.

There were the six deaths, the injured, and then there was the still unclear fate of Blair Sandburg.

If he'd gotten to the roof just a little bit earlier, if he had brought him to the station another day... Rationally knowing that there had been no way he could have prevented this attack, Jim still felt guilty, personally responsible for what had happened. Even though the Cascade PD had managed to disable large parts of Kincaid's militia, there were those who had remained at the mysterious Camp Liberty, and of course their leader himself; as long as that didn't change, they would be able to function, and function they did.

There had been at least two bombings in the past year that were attributed to the Sunrise Patriots. More people hurt and dead, and Jim had made a promise to all of them. The next time he and the terrorist met, Kincaid wouldn't come out of it alive.

As for the man who'd taught him so much in such a short time, Jim only hoped he was still alive. At times, it was more than he dared to hope.

***

Then, for the first time, a member of the Sunrise Patriots was ready to turn in his companions. He was twenty-five, and the men he'd come to trust with his life had just executed his little nineteen-year-old brother for disobeying. It was something that couldn't be tolerated in groups like this, with their rigid hierarchy, but for Steven Martin, it had opened his eyes for the very first time.

It wasn't that which had changed his mind so fast or that he didn't still believe in much of their polemics, but he wanted somebody to pay for Alan's death, and not sacrifice himself in the process.

He was going to give them Kincaid on a silver platter, and Jim was not about to waste that opportunity. Martin gave them details about the location and the security of their camp, and a task force was put together in record time.

Then Jim had asked him about Sandburg. For the first time during the interrogation - interview, as he'd come freely, but those were only semantics now - the other man seemed unsure. "I haven't seen him much," he offered eventually. "Mostly, he stays close to Garrett."

Those words brought immeasurable relief, because they meant that Blair was still alive. At the same time, they were the confession of Jim's worst nightmares. "What do you mean by that?" he asked harshly, leaning into Martin's personal space, even though he could imagine too clearly. One more reason to kill the terrorists' leader.

Martin shrugged even though it wasn't hard to tell he was pretending. "As I said, we hardly get to see him. He's joined us on one or two missions, but those times I wasn't around. Why are you so interested in him?" he asked, a glint appearing in his eye.

Jim gave him a cold smile though barely managing to hide his inner turmoil. "I'm asking the questions here. And I know you've been lying, so why should we trust you on the other things you've told us? Tell us one reason we shouldn't just put you away for good, let you share with one of your old Patriot buddies?"

The man blanched and that's when Jim knew he was ready to tell the truth. He'd easily discovered him lying before by the increase of his heartbeat. Something Sandburg had taught him. Finally, Jim would be able to keep his promise.

Soon.

***

They could have had a glorious future, with Jim gaining absolute control over his senses, and Sandburg, well, he'd hinted very early on that the Sentinel story would likely bring him fame and fortune. It had been a nice daydream. It had been too good to be true.

The reality was the eruption of gunfire in the compound, within minutes there were injured on both sides, more so on the Patriots' side since they had been taken by surprise. On the other hand, a cop's life was nothing to the terrorists, and they didn't mind giving their own life for the cause, but not before they had taken as many as possible of their 'enemies' with them.

Amongst the chaos, Jim moved, silently, deadly, in advantage because of his enhanced night vision. There was fighting in and outside the camp though his colleagues were moving in, gaining the upper hand. He reached out with his hearing, eager for the voice he was planning to silence forever, cautious though.

At a moment like this, he couldn't afford to fall into a zone-out.

He wouldn't come out of it alive.

Just a bit farther, there it was, 'you stupid bastards, you'll never take me alive...'

Then another voice he recognized, answering "I wouldn't count on it."

That was Brian Rafe, one of the younger detectives who hadn't been with the CPD at the time of the siege, but he'd given the chase for the terrorists a lot of time as well, having been hired from Chicago out of a task force that specialized in counter-terrorism. Jim hurried closer to the scene of the showdown, the promise he'd made still on his mind.

Sudden gunfire made him wince, an outcry, "No!", a pained gasp, and when he finally reached the temporary home of the wanted terrorist leader, he caught his breath for a moment, but then, with the sureness of experience and professionalism, Jim pushed his own emotions aside and raised his weapon.

"I wouldn't do that, Chief," he said calmly.

Kincaid was dead. Jim would later allow himself to feel relieved about that fact, a grim satisfaction even, because today's operation most likely meant the end of the Sunrise Patriots, as their brutal but charismatic leader had been the thread that held them together. On the ground, a few feet away from him, lay Detective Rafe, obviously not mortally wounded, but in pain from the gunshot wound in his right leg.

The man still holding a gun on him was Blair Sandburg.

His eyes flickered to Jim, then back to the dead body on the ground, his posture mirroring pure desolation. His hands held the 9mm steady though. "He didn't have to do that."

Jim had needed his enhanced hearing to understand the whispered words, but he'd heard them clearly, as well as the message behind them. "I'm sure he didn't mean to kill him. I'm sorry," he said, hoping it was the right thing to say. "Come on, let's end it right here. I don't want to hurt you, but you know that I'll have to if you don't drop that gun. Please. Blair."

He'd taken a step closer, which hadn't gone unnoticed with Sandburg, but there was no reaction other than a flinch at the mention of his own name. "You even hate guns," Jim ventured, which got him a wry smile.

"Seems like I have learned in the meantime, doesn't it? Not that it means anything right now."

The tone of his voice was enough indication as to what he was going to do, but Jim didn't wait that long. As soon as the gun wasn't aimed at his fellow officer anymore, he closed the distance between him and Sandburg, and wrestled the weapon out of his grip before Blair could direct it at himself.

Knowing that option had been taken from him, the younger man seemed to crumble. He wasn't resisting anymore, so Jim hesitated to put the cuffs on him just yet even though he knew that what happened perfectly justified the assumption that he had been more to the Patriots than just an unwilling hostage. One way or another, they'd have to find a way to sort this mess out real soon. There was already a blur of activity around them. Jim watched as the paramedics attended to Rafe, his partner Henri Brown beside them, and as he zoomed in on their faces, he could tell that his earlier assessment had been right, fortunately.

A part of him regretted that it wasn't him who'd taken out Kincaid as he had considered it a sort of personal mission this past year, but then again, what he'd done, was equally as important. It was the second chance he'd been longing for.

Beside him, Sandburg sat, huddled on the ground, hugging himself tightly as if to ward off a reality that was too overwhelming. Jim crouched down, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "It's going to be okay," he promised. "Man, I am so glad you're alive."

***

Captain Simon Banks had wanted to Jim to interrogate Kenneth McBride who was said to have been Kincaid's right hand for the longer part of the past six years, an explosives expert by profession, a sadist by inclination. He was also a cousin of the McBride they had managed to arrest after the siege. Steven Martin had told them that when they did the meticulous planning for their 'missions', Kincaid would approach the task with cold detachment while McBride found satisfaction in anticipating the killing.

//One hell of a team,// Jim thought ironically. He would have rather stayed close to Blair, but he also trusted his colleagues to possess enough sensitivity to deal with the situation correctly. They had studied the development of the Sunrise Patriots, and had some ideas of what happened to hostages that did make it alive to their camp.

As for making it out alive - that had never happened before.

Now, for the first time, they had the chance to put the terrorists away for a long time. Some of them, like McBride, wouldn't ever get out again.

***

Sleep was definitely overrated.

Jim had allowed himself a small coffee break. Leaning against the far wall, he was watching the next prisoner, a young man with long shabby hair, bound in a disheveled ponytail. His hands were shaking, and Jim could see beads of sweat forming on his temple.

Piece of cake, compared to McBride who hadn't given an inch until Jim had launched an attack on his ego, telling him how he'd heard Kincaid was planning to remove him. Had said he was becoming a liability, distancing himself more and more from the true cause in favor of personal gratification, his penchant for especially sadistic scenarios endangering them all. Things he had entrusted other Patriot members with. Once again, Steven Martin had been more than happy to conspire, and McBride couldn't control his anger any longer. "That son of a bitch! He needed me!"

One more, then he would get out of this madhouse long enough to get a hot shower, some real food and fresh air, not necessarily in that order, but definitely after he had checked on Sandburg. Once upon a time, they had planned so much, rudely interrupted, but now, they'd been given the chance for a new beginning.

His optimistic thoughts were stopped short when Simon entered the room, his face solemn, an urgency in his words as he said, "Jim. We have a situation."

***

"Where the hell could he get that razor from!"

Jim winced at the sound of his own voice, wishing he had the option to just turn things down. Certainly, it would have made things easier though it wouldn't have freed him of that profound feeling of defeat. He should have trusted his instinct all along, not let himself be separated from the real key figure of this drama.

It was pointless now, they'd have to deal with the facts as they were.

Most likely, Blair Sandburg wasn't just an innocent victim. The Stockholm Syndrome aside, he'd fired a shot at a police officer, with witnesses around. To protect a known terrorist leader.

And following his interview which didn't answer any questions because he simple refused to talk, he had slashed his wrists. An action obviously borne out of despair; he couldn't hope to have enough time for the plan to work in a police station. It made some fellow detectives think that maybe he wanted to play the pity card, but Jim refused to believe that.

And he would get to the bottom of this.

***

True, they had started out on rocky ground, but created an easy rapport very quickly, something that Jim had always found amazing, considering he was by no means a person who formed that kind of bond easily. Jim loved to have his space around him, and for sure, he needed lots of it. More than Carolyn, his ex-wife, could handle, and he couldn't really blame her. Now Sandburg, he hadn't been intimidated by the firm walls Ellison had erected around himself, had gone straight for them, in fact.

Funny there was so much to say about a guy he'd only known a few days before tragedy struck - or simple failure on Jim's part, whatever you wanted to call it - but those days had also been extraordinary. A promise.

Maybe, he hoped, something they could fall back on now.

At least in theory, it had sounded like a good idea. It wasn't until he could talk to Blair a few hours later, when Jim discovered that it wouldn't be that easy.

"Hey. How you doing?" he asked, then mentally scolded himself. Surely it had to be the lack of sleep responsible for him saying this to a guy who had just tried to take his life! He was just glad that the younger man had survived his ordeal. Coming to a moment in your life when you wanted to end it, Jim could understand about that. There'd be nightmares. In the end you lived with them, because it was better than not to live at all. They'd fade eventually.

"What do you want from me?" There was no mistaking the disdain in Blair's expression and in his voice as well, and it was another hint for Jim that a happy-ending was not about to come soon.

"Look, I'm really sorry you had to go through all this..." he began, but the other man waved him silent with a gesture of his hand.

"Yeah, right. So why are you really here?"

Jim remained where he was standing beside the chair, not sitting down, not getting any closer. It was clear that neither gesture would be welcomed, and with all those tribulations about to come up, he didn't want to make the situation any more difficult for Blair. This weird kind of trust, he wondered, maybe it didn't go both ways? Hell, it was too early to say.

"Okay. You know there are some questions we have to..."

"No."

"Chief, I'm not sure you understand the situation fully, *I* know you did what you had to do to survive, and that's enough for me and even Simon, but you'll still have to answer to some people. The Sunrise Patriots are a Federal matter, too, and I thought it would be easier if we started this together..."

"I said 'no'," Sandburg retorted stubbornly, and Jim felt the tension and worry of the last few hours - months, really - catch up with him, fueling the spark of anger.

"I want to help you! Are you even getting that?" Just another notch, and surely a nurse would come and chase him out of the room. Blair didn't seem impressed though.

"Don't bother."

"I see. So you actually want to go to prison for the attempted murder of a police detective? Maybe with one of your patriot buddies as a cell mate?"

Jim realized what he'd said only a moment later, too abashed to even try and find words for an apology. The same thing he'd threatened Steven Martin with before, driven by the need to bring down Kincaid and his terrorist group. To get Blair out of their clutches.

"Just leave me alone, will you? I don't care what happens. I'm way beyond caring about anything, so let it go."

Frustrated and disappointed, Jim eventually left the room. He'd have another talk with Martin, and McBride if necessary, but he just wasn't planning on giving up.

First of all, however, he went to check on his colleague, Brian Rafe. He would be okay, but was rather pissed off since he'd have to stay for a couple of days. The big bust, the one he'd been coming to Cascade for, had gone down, and he wouldn't be there for the important interrogations.

"Hello there," Jim said, forcing his own frustration aside. "H not keeping you company?"

"He would have. I had to chase him out," Rafe explained, his mood improving a little.

Jim could imagine. It was always the same with partners. The closeness was one of the good things, but dangerous at the same time. You cared too much.

"Heard you cracked that McBride guy today. Congratulations."

"Thanks. You also heard... about Sandburg?"

Rafe made a face. "Sure I did. If he'd been just a bit more clever, we both wouldn't be here now. That's not how I imagined to meet your legendary would-be partner."

From a distance Jim could hear a nurse approaching. He guessed the time he'd have before she'd come to this room, and decided to cut to the chase. "Why do you think he shot you?"

"Well, nobody knows since he won't talk. Beats me." The detective shrugged.

"Try and guess."

"To protect himself? Or protect Kincaid?" Jim frowned at that. "Come on, Jim, you know that as well as I do. A hostage situation lasting that long... it has to mess with a person's mind. We have only a pale idea of what really happened, and in the end he probably felt more threatened by us than by Kincaid himself."

Of course, Jim knew all that. And he'd hoped it wouldn't be that way, that severe, that they could have simply picked up where they'd left the last time. Doing a little research and stuff. Talk about naive. "Look, Rafe, I know you're kind of annoyed about being here, and not part of the interrogations, so I thought..."

"Jim, you're not serious!"

"...you could maybe talk to him?"

"One, that's anything but proper procedure. Two, whatever Taggart and the others told me about how brave he was in there, the guy's still taken a shot at me, and hell, yes, that does annoy me. So give me one good reason why I should be wanting to help save his reputation... ah, Jim, no. That look doesn't suit you, you are *not* a puppy dog eyes guy."

"C'mon. Brian, help me out here."

"Save it!"

"I'd owe you big time. I would... do your paperwork for two weeks."

Rafe stared at him, obviously having a hard time stifling a grin. None of them liked paperwork, but Jim Ellison's hate of it was quite well-known within the MCU. "Three weeks," he challenged.

"Two and a half, then."

"Deal."

"Thank you. You're a good man, Rafe."

"Don't I know it," the other detective mumbled, then added quickly, "Even if I don't get him to talk, you'll still do the paperwork?"

He didn't really get any answer. Perfect timing, Jim thought with a somewhat evil grin, as the nurse entered the room and immediately began to lecture him about visiting hours being long over. "Good night," he said, whistling to himself under his breath as he walked down the corridor.

It couldn't be that hard now, could it?

***

//Get to it. You're motivated. You're good.//

//You're about to risk your job.// Detective Rafe tried to distract himself from those rather dire thoughts with the sheer amazement that always gripped him when considering some facts about his co-worker, James Ellison. Not everybody in the department knew the truth, only the captain and a handful of other members of Major Crimes. Rafe often felt like Jim wouldn't have told anybody freely, but they were working closely together, and so a certain level of trust was inevitable, even if Jim didn't have a regular partner.

Enhances senses, that's what they called it. Ellison could hear and see better than the average human, the same went for his tactile responses. That was the official line for the initiates, but Rafe had often wondered if there was more to it. The point was, those super senses had a downside, and that's why the Captain had insisted that at least a few of the colleagues, trusted members of their unit, should know. When Jim concentrated on one of those senses too much, he'd have something like a complete black-out, they had explained it to him, that's why he needed someone to watch his back.

One more reason why they shouldn't do it, but Ellison seemed very serious about saving Sandburg, and since he'd come to respect the man as a colleague and friend, Rafe had agreed.

//And don't forget, no paperwork for two and a half weeks.//

The room next to Sandburg's was empty, and Jim would be listening in from there. How to explain to anyone if he blacked out there... Rafe wasn't looking forward to the idea. "I'm still not sure this will work. Shouldn't we let a psychiatrist handle this?"

"You'll be fine."

"If you say so."

***

The man in the hospital bed had been in a light sleep that was disturbed by the arrival of his visitor. Rafe tried to go back and recall the night of the bust. Even as Blair Sandburg held the gun on him, he hadn't conveyed any of the contempt he was practically radiating now. He'd been scared as hell - chances were he still was, though the way he was trying to cope would bring him even more trouble if he didn't come around anytime soon.

"Good morning, Mr. Sandburg," he said.

"It probably is for you," came the prompt answer, sarcasm over thin-veiled exhaustion. "You going to arrest me?"

Rafe thought of all the stories he'd already heard about this man whom his co-workers had known for what, less than a week? "That's quite an idea. We should try and see who can run faster, me with my crutches or you with your IV line."

Truth was, he wasn't so pissed off anymore. He'd spent years working with people on both sides of the fence, perpetrators and victims of terrorism, and in between in those gray zones with former believers who wanted to start a new life, like Steven Martin, and those who had converted. He'd had Henri bring him his laptop and checked sources on the web, too. Starting out as a hostage, Sandburg might have formed something like a bond with Kincaid, but there'd sure been a price to pay.

All in all, Jim was giving him a great chance here.

He looked at Sandburg who had averted his face at Rafe's comment, trying to hide the resemblance of a smile. "So what is it? Ellison sent you?"

"True, it was his idea, but he isn't my superior. I wanted to talk to you myself."

"If you were expecting an apology, forget about it. You... you killed Garrett." There was a hitch in his breath.

"Yes, I did."

***

In the room next door, Jim winced at the informal use of the terrorist leader's name. What kind of brainwashing techniques had he used on the intelligent young man he'd known a little more than a year ago? His own days as a Covert ops operative in the Army left him with an idea, but he couldn't go there now.

Instead, he concentrated on the conversation in the other room, his hand on the wooden surface of the door to keep from zoning.

'It's not like I wanted to, I can assure you. What I've been working for the past few years is to get Garrett Kincaid into an interrogation room, in front of a jury and then into jail for the rest of his life,' he clearly heard Rafe say.

'That's supposed to make me feel better?'

'Probably it won't. I just wanted you to know the truth. It wasn't about revenge. Sure, he's killed policemen over the years, about a dozen that we know of, and you surely remember there were some at the CPD...'

'Stop,' Blair said shakily. 'I don't want to hear about this.'

'I didn't know any of them personally. Not like it was with you and Jim. So it was probably for the best I made that shot, because the others here, who knew you, they really were so worried about you, worked so hard to get you out... they'd be suspected, I bet.'

Silence.

"I was told you were going to work with Jim?"

Come on, Chief, Jim urged silently. It's not too late.

The scrape of a chair was to be heard, and Rafe sat down before he asked, "Could you tell me a little more? I was just curious how an anthropology grad student comes to take an interest in police procedures."

Damn, he was good.

"It has to do with his senses, right?"

The answer was a shocked gasp, and a hurried explanation, "Local subcultures, that's what it was called, man. And that was like, light-years ago. Dead and gone." He laughed bitterly. "Dead and gone indeed. Sorry, Detective..."

"Rafe."

"Detective Rafe, you're wasting your time here. Yeah, maybe it's all been bad luck, but that's the way it is now, and there is nothing left for me. Not of my former life, or the one I had the past year. Might as well face the facts."

Jim gripped the door handle, hard, barely keeping himself from bursting into the room. It was unbearable, this utter helplessness.

"We can help you."

"It would have been a great help if you'd shot *me* instead."

***

Blair further refused to cooperate, but he got help from other unexpected, and sometimes unintended sources. There was the psychiatrist the court had commissioned; according to her report, he was fit for trial. It was also very obvious, she explained when called to the witness' stand, that he had suffered a serious psychological trauma, something that had to be taken into consideration. She also explained about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and the Stockholm syndrome.

He had snorted at that remark, but his feigned nonchalance was clearly belied by his pale complexion and the nervousness, the shaking hands.

Then there was the statement by McBride.

While it was more than enough to make Jim want to throttle the man, McBride gave further evidence that all Sandburg had done was to try and survive under the most unfortunate circumstances. He'd also taken part in, as Steven Martin had put it, 'one or two missions', but that had mostly to do with espionage, and he hadn't been anywhere near when a murder had taken place.

"You don't think that Garrett would have trusted him that far? That guy? He would have pissed his pants before pulling the trigger!" McBride laughed at his own pun. He seemed to feel comfortable with the audience, disregarding his lawyer who was all but rolling his eyes.

The prosecutor didn't; in fact he was very interested in what the terrorist had to say. "So I guess you had the situation mostly under control, knew everyone under your command. What do you think, did Mr. Sandburg want to kill Detective Rafe?"

Blair sat, staring straight ahead, as he listened to the other witnesses. He still didn't seem to care what was happening to him.

McBride's statement was ever so helpful, "Even if he wanted to, he doesn't have the balls to do it."

***

So far, so good - the next problem that presented itself was that Blair literally had nowhere to go; what he'd had of a normal life before, a job and an apartment, were all gone. In Jim's assessment, he didn't seem willing or capable to make those decisions at the moment, so he came up with a solution that would probably satisfy everyone - except for the man himself.

"What, you're my probation officer now?" Blair had asked in a scathing voice, when confronted with Jim's idea.

"Not quite, Chief. You're free to go wherever you want; it's just a roof over your head until you find something else." Not even the fact that he'd be in over his head in paperwork for the next few weeks, could have put a dent to Jim's good mood. It had all worked out in the end, and even if Blair still wasn't talking about anything in relation to Kincaid, they were now free to start over again.

***

"Why the hell do you have your phone turned off? I thought something might have happened," the captain said exasperatedly.

"I'm off duty, remember? And you did reach me on the cell phone, so what's the big deal here?"

Jim wisely did not mention that in fact it hadn't been him who'd turned off the phone. On the other end of the line, his superior's voice now sounded sympathetic. "I just wanted to make sure you're both okay, right? Sandburg might not be a danger to you, and I know that you trust him, but you can't ignore what he's been through."

Very true. "And what are you suggesting? Sending a shrink over? He didn't want any counseling besides the lady from the court. I can sympathize."

"Very well. Just remember, Jim, we're on your side here. If you need any help..."

"Thanks, Simon."

***

He found Blair in the spare room, predictably, lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling. He hadn't done much else in the few days he'd spent at Jim's apartment.

"Don't you want to come out?"

"What's so exciting out there?"

"I don't know - dinner?"

The joke didn't do anything to chase the sullen expression from his temporary roommate's face, and with a sigh, Jim stepped closer and sat down on the bed. "Somebody been bothering you?"

Blair didn't look at him, but he moved closer to the wall ever so slightly. The feeling of being trapped still came easily, as it seemed.

"Half of them offer me money to write my autobiography, others call me a traitor to my country. I'm famous, man. I'm the male version of Patty Hearst."

That's what he had thought. Sandburg's story had more than one reporter and ghostwriter hoping for the ultimate career breakthrough. "They'll cool down eventually. Look, I know it's impossible to just get on with life as if nothing ever happened, and I'm not talking about a job or anything at the moment - but it might be a first step to come into the kitchen and have dinner with me. What do you say?"

For the first time since Jim had entered the room, Blair sat up to look at him wearily. He looked different, more mature - or jaded - than Jim remembered him, but there was no denying it was a knowledge that had been forced on him.

"I loved him," Blair said unexpectedly. "I wished he would have stopped the killing, and I did call the police about Rainier that other time, but I also loved him. He was good to me."

There was a lot Jim would have liked to say to this, but he didn't, knowing this was an important moment. He'd been bothering the department psychiatrist, Dr. Arlene Davis who he'd happened to be dating a while ago, endlessly, and she'd told him to encourage it if Blair was ready to talk about his experiences, even if his perception was still crooked. He needed an outlet - proper judgment could wait.

"Aren't you disgusted about it? Everybody else is."

"I find it hard to understand," Jim admitted. //Truth is, I don't understand it at all. Kincaid was a cold-blooded killer, and the things he forced you to do make me want to dig up that bastard and shoot him myself.//

"Whatever. You said something about dinner?"

Blinds closed again. For now. Jim got up again. "In a minute. Why don't you set the table in the meantime?"

***

"Do *you* enjoy it?" Blair asked a while later.

"Enjoy what?"

"The power you have over me."

"I don't have any power over you. You're free to go if you want to. I just thought with what history we have, it would be okay with you until get your feet back under you... Is that how you see it?"

It was hard, much harder than a year ago, to read Blair, but it wasn't so difficult to miss how he still seemed to cringe if someone got irritated around him. In fact, he seemed to waver between uncaring and terrified.

"Isn't it that way? Without your help I could have ended up in jail. If Garrett hadn't wanted me, I would have been dead. Very similar principle to me."

And, Jim realized, he caused equally as conflicting emotions in the people around him - Jim wasn't so sure if he should shake the younger man or hold him to make his point clear. He did none of that, though, but tried to keep his voice calm as he said, "Once upon a time we had a good thing going. This senses thing - I've never told you, but I felt better just with you being around. I was beginning to think it could be something good, as opposed to fearing I'd lose my mind, like before. After you were gone, I just kept things to a minimum. I could never handle them on my own the way I could during the Switchman case - and the day of the siege."

"Are you saying it was my fault I got myself caught in there?"

"No. I'm saying I still hope there's a chance for us to start over again."

Blair's eyes were bright, and full of hope, his heart-rate elevated, but he shook his head. "Come on. Being a police observer? Forget about that. I've shared the bed of a known terrorist, remember?"

"Because he raped you!" Even Jim was startled at the vehemence of his words.

"No! You have no idea what you're talking about!"

"Is that so?"

"Look, this is just - impossible. I'm grateful for all that you've done for me, I really am, and I hope I can someday pay you back." Fighting for his composure, and failing, Blair had all but jumped up, starting to pace. "This is just... it's not true."

"Then tell me what is true."

"Screw you," Blair said unexpectedly rudely. "You're not my shrink. And stop making me hope for things that'll never happen. I'm through with that, do you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, Chief," Jim muttered to himself after Blair had left the room.

***

The male version of Patty Hearst. That phrase had somehow stuck with Jim, and the next day he called Arlene to ask her for more information on Stockholm syndrome. Of course he'd seen before what it did to people, and he had some theoretical knowledge about how the identification with the aggressor worked, but it wasn't nearly enough if you lived with someone who was suffering through the aftermath of it.

So, for the next few days, he didn't try to get Blair to talk, but immersed himself in the literature Arlene had recommended. He didn't do it secretly, but Blair never mentioned it. At least they now regularly spent time together on the evenings.

***

One day he'd asked Blair to come with him to the station. Just as a visitor, maybe stay for a while why Jim was doing nothing more dangerous than paperwork. He was still hoping, but he guessed it would be difficult for Blair to be in this place again where his nightmare had begun. A police station, for God's sake, you'd think it had to be the safest place on earth.

That notion had proven to be bitterly untrue.

Today, however, nothing of the kind happened. When they'd entered the bullpen, Blair's heart had been beating like a jackhammer, but with everybody including the captain and Rafe, greeting him in such a friendly way, he soon settled down.

Things had changed anyway. Blair might still feel loyal to the late Kincaid, but he had completed his statement about other Sunrise patriots, especially in the planned bombing of Rainier university. He'd made tentative steps to the right side again, except he still refused to acknowledge that Kincaid had been, in fact, the worst of all.

Sometimes, Jim was a little scared that Blair would end up with a completely glorified version. They weren't there yet, and when he looked across to where his roommate - his Guide, because he still thought of him as that - was sitting next to him, helping out with the paperwork - he had hope. It was a good feeling.

***

The fragile peace lasted for another three weeks.

They had come back from a lunch break, and Blair was just about to leave while Rafe interviewed a suspect in a robbery. The man was in his late twenties, obviously drugged, and Rafe was on the way to an interrogation room with him when the alleged robber suddenly drew a knife, holding it on Blair.

"I'll kill him," he yelled. "You let me go, or I kill him. Put those guns away!"

He was serious about it, no doubt. Jim cursed himself for not having anticipated the man's intent. Slowly, he lowered his weapon; Rafe did the same.

The silence in the room was laden; everybody knew the suspect would never make it outside the building, and the man knew it too. "Stay away from me!" He pressed the blade harder against his captive's throat, drawing a crimson line of blood.

"Let him go," Jim said calmly. "We'll do what you say, but let him go. He is not a cop. You don't want to hurt him."

He could hardly hear anything over the racing of Blair's heart, and knew they had to act soon. If the robber ever made it into the stairwell, he'd kill his hostage. They hadn't come this far to let it end like this.

"Why should I care? Stay back! I swear, I'll cut his..."

Then he was distracted for just a split second as Rafe kicked the garbage can, and Jim used that moment to shoot the knife right out of the man's hand. It cluttered to the floor, and he was cuffed within seconds.

Jim turned to Blair who had ducked when the shot rang out, and was now leaning against the edge of the desk. He was looking dangerously pale, but forced a smile.

"You said you haven't been using your senses?" he whispered. "For that, you're pretty... accurate."

Then his body went slack.

***

Shock, the paramedic had said. Jim snorted at the memory; he could have determined that for himself. Otherwise, thank God, his friend wasn't injured except for the shallow cut where the knife had nicked his skin.

Simon had had no objections to the both of them getting home. In the car, Blair had been very silent, but when Jim suggested he lay down a bit, the realization of what happened seemed to catch up with him.

"No. No, I can't be alone right now. Please." He'd wrapped his arms around himself, starting to rock himself, and for a moment, Jim had felt way out of his league. It was true, he wasn't a shrink, not trained for situations like this - but he could try and be a friend.

His guess was this wasn't just about what had happened today. Blair's defenses were down, and more memories were seeping through than he could deal with at the moment.

"It's okay. I'll stay with you."

***

He'd accompanied Blair to his room, where he sat him down on the bed, then simply wrapped his arms around him, holding on tight. There was no resistance at all. "You're safe now. No one's going to hurt you."

For the first time, he felt like Blair truly believed him. It was a start.

He stayed long after Blair had fallen asleep, and was there in time to wake him from the nightmares.

***

"You saved my life today. Don't you think you should get a reward?"

Jim blinked at the image before him.

"It's okay. A win-win situation, don't you think?"

"No, it's not okay. I was doing my job. I don't expect you to do anything in return."

"What if I want to?" Blair asked, the sly look in his eyes not entirely serious. There was a kind of nervousness underneath, but still, he seemed serious. "It's not like it's so hard to imagine. I actually owe you a lot. You never gave up on me - and yes, I'd still like to help you with your senses, if you want me to. I -- I like being around you."

"I told you, I'd still like to work with you. But you don't owe me anything. This isn't Camp Liberty - God, what an awful pun. You do have choices now."

"I'm aware of that. What - if I'm attracted to you?"

"You aren't," Jim said, disbelieving. An instant later, he wondered. "Chief, I don't claim to have any answers at the moment. But I sure as hell don't expect any sexual favors for taking out that jerk today. Maybe we should have that conversation again when you've sorted out everything that's happened." Realizing this sounded a bit ambiguous, he hastened to add, "It's not that -- I mean, I'm not. It wouldn't bother me, but I don't want you to get up your hopes too high. Am I making any sense at all?"

"Guess so. Man, I'm such a mess right now. I'm sorry."

"No need to. I've had a few offers before; that's okay."

Those words had the desired effect - Blair smiled a little. Slipping back into a memory, as his gaze became unfocused. "He wasn't all bad, you know."

"Forgive me if I can't share your assessment here."

"He didn't drug me or tie me down, you know. That was because he didn't have to."

"I'm so sorry," Jim said, not as an answer to the actual words, but to what lay beneath them. He pulled Blair close to him, not caring if the younger man's feelings for him went beyond friendship or not. It didn't matter at the moment.

They could only fight those ghosts of the past together.

***

Jim had told the truth; he wasn't actually fazed by the offer itself, that he could deal with - it was the circumstances under which it had been made that kept haunting him for days afterwards. He had to finally acknowledge that everything was not as easy as he would have liked it to be - understandingly, Blair hadn't shown any interest in coming back to the station after the latest incident.

Maybe Jim would have to come to terms with the idea that the future they'd once dreamed of wasn't possible anymore. Even Simon had been very reluctant about the notion that Sandburg could come back as an observer as originally planned. Banks might be a friend, but he was also a police captain who couldn't completely ignore what kind of press this would cause for sure.

Worse even, Jim felt that not only was this long-held goal slipping away, but also the chance to correct Blair's perception of his captor. As long as it was standing in the way, the status of their relationship would also be pending.

On a Friday evening after another long workday and a free weekend ahead, Jim had felt - not quite like drowning his sorrows, but the need to come down a little, and he'd called Blair and asked him to meet in a bar near the station.

They hadn't approached the subject of Kincaid in a few days, even though it kept hanging over their heads. Still, Jim was surprised when Blair asked him a seemingly casual question later that evening,

"I think you know some details from Garrett's biography, don't you?"

"Yes," Jim said, wary, since he couldn't imagine at the moment where Blair was intending to go with this.

"He told me some, too. You know, once, a few months back, I got really sick. Really bad flu bug - if it had been the others' call, I think they would have been more than happy to get rid of me, but he... he took care of me." There was a surprised quality to Blair's voice, as if he still couldn't understand why anybody would want to do it.

Jim had his own theories about it, but he just nodded. And it was hard not to intervene already at this point; he hated how Blair still saw some kind of benefactor in the terrorist. "So that was when he told you about his life?" Proud not to sound sarcastic here.

"Yeah. Strange, but we really had a lot in common."

This time, Jim wasn't quick enough to hide his reaction; his disbelief must have shown too clearly on his face.

Blair smiled sadly in response. "At first, I found it hard to believe, too, and it's not really an excuse for killing anyone - but I did understand a little more about where he was coming from. His mom raised him single, just like mine did - only that he had a little more bad luck than I had. Garrett had a younger brother. He got sick at the age of five, and died because the doctor at the hospital wouldn't treat him - their mother didn't have the money for insurance. Way to make you hate the establishment, isn't it?"

For seemingly long moments, Jim was searching for the right words to say to this.

He had indeed dug deep into the bastard's life story; so had Rafe before he joined the Major Crimes unit, and they had pieced together a pretty complete picture. Only there was no single mom; no little brother who'd fallen victim to an unjust world.

Garrett Kincaid was the only son of a wealthy businessman; had been conspicuous early in school because of his violent tendencies. Starting with torturing animals, later other students. Unfortunately, he was also highly intelligent and charismatic, always gathered a circle of followers around him. And whenever he'd gotten himself in trouble again, Daddy Kincaid paid for the expenses, for a while at least.

The younger Kincaid didn't care that much for politics; he was easily bored, and he found his thrills in inflicting terror on other people. But his intelligence gave him more means than the sheer brutality that he often used.

Damn it.

"He told you that?" Jim asked, stupidly, but he wasn't sure if the truth he'd just reflected on was one that Blair could really handle.

"I'm sure it's in your files, too. I really wish he would have used other means to make his point though - but that was one subject where I couldn't seem to reach him." With a sigh, Blair continued, "You might not want to hear this, but sometimes... I still miss him. He was different when we were alone."

Right, about that. Jim decided that sticking with the former subject would probably the lesser evil for now, because taking a closer look at the implications of Blair's words was just too much right now, fueling an anger he might have not been able to control. So, time to face the music. "I'm sorry, but he lied to you. Really. His parents were married, and rich. He didn't have any siblings."

"You mean--" Blair stared at him incredulously, then he shook his head. "I mean we met for the very first time there at the station, he couldn't know-- I'm sorry, but I don't believe you. I know he was no saint."

"That much is for sure. He was a psychopath even his teachers were afraid of, when he was a high school kid," Jim said bluntly.

"No! I know what you're up to, and I'm telling you, there's no point!" Shaking his head, Blair got up from the table. "No. I don't want to hear any more. I think I need some fresh air."

All Jim could do was to hastily pay the waitress, and follow his wayward charge.

***

"Leave me alone."

"I'm sorry. You'll have to deal with this sooner or later."

At this, Blair spun around angrily, almost colliding with Jim who had followed close behind. "I would have preferred later, okay? Like, never. I -- I just can't... forget about it. Never mind."

He walked on, so Jim did the same. "Where are you going?"

There was no answer.

"Come on, let's go home. My fault, I admit it. I won't mention it anymore."

"Don't make promises like that when you know you can't keep them."

"I'm sure it's hard, but there is another life for you. It isn't like those lies he told you are all for you to depend on."

Blair snorted at that. "You sound like a shrink, man."

"Whatever. Right now, I just want to go home, and you can keep on sulking out here, or come with me. Your choice."

Jim was fairly glad that Blair chose the latter. He wouldn't have dared to guess the alternative.

***

"All I'm asking is that he can sit in during the interview. Come on, Simon."

"I'm still not sure that's a good idea," the captain said, unconvinced. "Even if I okayed this, you're sure he can handle it?"

That, Jim wasn't sure of, but it was exactly the point. Blair was handling everything too well, and maybe there were some more drastic measures needed to make him understand the trap he was still caught in. A good talk over some beers obviously hadn't done the trick.

"We'll be fine," he said. "So...?"

"All right," Simon finally agreed. "But if you see any sign of trouble brewing, end it. I'm relying on you here, Jim."

"No problem, sir."

***

Blair had been reluctant when Jim asked him to come to the station, but he showed up in time for the interview of Alicia Jones.

"I feel really bad," the young woman said, her eyes bright. You could tell from her voice that she'd probably not made this decision easily. Her voice was rough from many tears. "I know that I probably shouldn't be here..."

"Please, Mrs. Jones, just tell me what happened. You're safe here."

Blair gave him a quizzical look, but Jim concentrated on the interview. He'd know soon enough what this was all about - maybe get mad again, but just maybe, Blair would understand why Jim had wanted him to sit in.

"I'm sure Eddie didn't mean to hurt me --" Her words didn't make much sense when you considered the black eye and the bruise on her jaw. "But when he hit the little one... I just couldn't let him do that." Now she was crying openly.

Blair's gaze was stormy. Anger, or sympathy, or fear, it was hard to tell.

"Where's your child now?" Jim asked gently.

"Over there." She pointed towards Rafe's desk where a woman in her late thirties sat, with a little girl on her lap, talking to the detective. "Lucia is from the woman's shelter; she accompanied me here. I didn't know where else to go!"

"It was the right thing to do, to protect both yourself and your child," Jim assured her. "So why did your husband get so mad anyway? Not that there's any justification for what he did,"

"I'm afraid he had reason to be. You know, he really likes his home tidy when he comes back from work, and Jeannie had been playing outside, so she was kind of dirty. I hadn't even put dinner on the table, and so--"

"Where is he now?"

"Still at work, I guess. Detective, I know you probably don't believe me, but I want to try this time. I can't believe he hit her-- I loved him. I really did."

Her words referred to previous times Jim had seen Alicia. Three times exactly. Eddie had shown up at the women's shelter with flowers, begging her for forgiveness, claiming that he'd be seeing a therapist. She'd gone back to him time and again, not because she was stupid or didn't know all his promises were truly bullshit - it was because she couldn't imagine any other life for herself.

Jim only hoped that the shock of her husband's latest outburst would precede a real change this time. "You deserve to live without fear," he said, meaning both the woman, and his Guide, hoping fervently he'd gotten the message across - in both cases.

***

"You could have warned me." Blair's voice sounded a bit shaky, but the accusation was clear.

"Well, interviews are a safe way to start when want to observe police work."

"Probably. This one was rough, though. Why the hell would she go back to him, time and again?"

"Yeah, why, Jim repeated meaningfully.

Blair stared into the coffee he'd just gotten himself from the vending machine. "You know, Jim, what you're doing is so obvious. And I'm telling you, it won't work."

"I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't pay her to tell the story or anything. It's damn real."

"Maybe. But you want me to believe that Garrett manipulated me - so, how is this different?"

The worst thing was that Jim didn't really have an answer; except that in his mind, maybe that his intentions were better ones compared to the terrorist's, who only had the enhancement of his own power in mind.

Jim didn't want that power. He wanted the ghost of Kincaid to leave them alone. "Maybe you're right," he said finally. "It's not my call. Let's forget about it."

The look Blair gave him was appropriately doubtful.

***

The seed of doubt was coming up finally. Even though he'd been hoping for it, Jim was skeptical sometimes. Blair had seen what had happened to Alicia, and Rafe had given him the dossier on Kincaid to read.

No little brother, just parents who had changed their names when it was clear that their son would follow his chosen path of terror and destruction no matter what. Kincaid's history of violence was minutely documented - still, Jim had to wonder what means of manipulation the terrorist had used to convince someone like Blair Sandburg that he was really just another victim of the system.

Confronted with the truth bit by bit, Blair seemed to be withdrawing again. Hell if Jim knew what was really on his mind; he simply wouldn't talk.

An idea had begun forming in Jim's mind, but he wasn't sure if he could actually go through with it. But maybe, it was the only chance.

***

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see. You know, you keep telling me that I'm getting it all wrong. So I thought I'd give you a chance to tell your story. The way you want to."

Blair was still looking at him, disbelieving. "Even if I thought that this would be of some worth, why can't we do it at home?"

"Just trust me." Jim really hope it was justified to ask for that trust, because he wasn't hundred percent sure his idea was really a good one, but it seemed to make sense in the light of the things he'd read. They'd headed out early but wouldn't arrive before noon.

The Sunrise Patriots sure had known how to cover their tracks, and they had moved their camp around if necessary, but for the past few years, the center of it had been a couple of cabins belonging to a late aunt of Kincaid, who, like her brother and sister-in-law, had denied any relation to the man. She hadn't used the cabins though, and Kincaid had not been about to share a tent like his humble followers. One of them was reserved for the higher-ups in his organization - and the other, the more luxurious one, belonged to him.

The closer they got to the area, the more silent Blair became. He stared out of the window sullenly, finally stating, "I know what you're up to."

"All right. I thought it would maybe do some good - for closure, if anything."

"What if I don't want to go? If I said, I can't do it, would you let it go?"

The question seemed more calculating than anything else, and Jim could easily guess the incentive behind it. There'd never been such a thing as saying 'no' to Kincaid, and Blair was testing the boundaries.

"I would. I don't think it's the case though," Jim said.

"You're right." Blair leaned back in his seat with a sigh. "Hell, if it makes you happy... I don't think I have any connection to that place any longer. I know, I knew him better than that, no matter how many dossiers you giving me to read, but - life goes on. Somehow."

Maybe Jim had been right, too, and today, they'd be able to close this chapter, and carry on.

***

Blair had told in his statement how he'd been held in the main cabin, allowed to walk around freely in the compound most of the time, but he never had much motivation to do that, given the leering glances, and the mumbling behind his back by the other men. It had been the safest thing to stay closer to Kincaid.

A safety for which he'd paid one hell of a price, but when would he ever acknowledge that? Jim wondered, as he held the door open for Sandburg, following him into the cabin.

Everything was dusted over, and dirty, making him sneeze, which brought him a sympathetic gaze from Blair. "Well, it was your idea, man. I suggest you don't breathe too deeply in here."

"Thanks for the tip, Chief."

There was a living room, big enough to hold conferences with the more important members. Individual tasks for missions had later been divided in a large tent they'd had for such occasions - in here was Kincaid's private space.

Jim found himself surprised at the many filled bookshelves. Had he just not noticed them the other time around?

"It's a shame, those books shouldn't be left here to rot. I was allowed to read them." There was a hitch in his breath. "Boggles the mind, doesn't it. A terrorist with education and good taste in literature."

They left the living room, entering a hallway from which five doors were leading to other rooms - a kitchen that Blair passed quickly, a bathroom, two guest bedrooms, and the master bedroom.

He hesitated a little in front of the door. Jim had been following closely.

"Nothing can happen to you, you know. You can leave it all here once and for all," he urged.

Heart starting to beat faster, Blair laid his hand on the doorknob. "It's not what you think," he hurried to explain. "I'm not scared to go in there. In fact, I wasn't safer anywhere else on the compound."

"Okay then."

Taking a deep breath, Blair finally opened the door. Once inside, he seemed relatively calm, calmer even than Jim who couldn't be in this room, look at its furniture, the bed, the two nightstands and the little lamps without thinking what had been happening in here.

It must have been rather homely once before the dust and dirt, which was cynical regarding its purpose. Garrett Kincaid had had good taste in furniture, too, if he hadn't kept the cabin the way his aunt had decorated and furnished. Which seemed unlikely; none of the things inside looked like a middle-aged woman had chosen them.

Blair seemed lost in deep thought, as he cautiously sat down on the side of the bed, disregarding the dirt. "He really tried his best to keep me safe," he insisted. "It's true."

"What happened when he wasn't able to -- keep you safe?"

Jim hadn't really intended to ask this question, but he realized all of a sudden that this was all it was coming down to. Whatever his motivation had been, Kincaid had obviously done Blair a favor when he kept them away from the general jerks in that group, but in order to value this so much, Blair had to have known the difference, had to be something there that had not been in his statement.

Blair looked at him, his gaze troubled. "I can show you," he said.

***

There was an exhausted well on the compound. It went town about 25 feet, little footholds forming a ladder for climbing down. "When we arrived at the Camp, Garrett had to go somewhere immediately, and he told the other ones to bring me to the cabin and lock me up in there."

"But they didn't."

"No." With a shudder, Blair turned away from the sight. "I have this phobia, you know. Fear of heights. It used to be worse, couldn't even climb ladders until a few years ago. For a while, it had seemed quite alright, but-- anyway, they kept me down there for a while. When Garrett returned, he was really mad. Look, this might not be an explanation to you, but there was at least somebody who cared. I couldn't ignore him."

I bet you couldn't, Jim thought grimly, and that was exactly in his plan. He didn't say it out loud though. It was becoming quite clear now what had happened - being kept in a cold and damp prison for a certain amount of days would mess with a person's mind, no doubt about it.

"How did they treat you?" Most of it was in the statement, but here, with the two of them at the scene of the crime, there might be another level of honesty possible. Not that the things Blair had told in court weren't true. Jim suspected they were largely understated.

Blair shrugged with a bitter laugh. "Besides the usual threats? They didn't treat me much at all. They got me water, sometimes food, and there was a bucket in one corner. A plastic cover in case it might rain."

"So it all changed when Kincaid returned?" They'd been walking away from the well, but Jim was reluctant to leave this place yet. He'd seen one side, the homely surroundings in which the terrorist had kept his captive. He needed the other side, too.

"Yes. Man, I was so sure I was going to die, and there he was offering me all those things I thought I'd never have again - a cooked meal, a shower, a bed to sleep in. He even apologized to me."

As always, approaching this subject was difficult. Hard to stay non-judgmental. "I suppose there was something human in him," Jim said finally.

Blair nodded, indicating he understood that was all the concession Jim could make.

"I think we can go back in a few, but before that, I'd like to see that well."

"What for?"

"You don't have to come. I'll just take a look, and then we can get back on the road."

What for, Jim couldn't really answer, just that maybe, hopefully, he'd find something that would make Blair see what had really happened to him.

***

It was damp and chilly down here; the ground, the walls - it was a wonder Sandburg hadn't caught pneumonia. A while meant how many days? How much time before he'd given up completely?

The rusty bucket still lay in the far corner. Jim imagined that Blair hadn't been the first prisoner the Sunrise Patriots had kept down here for whatever purpose - if he dialed up his senses far enough, he'd be able to sense the evidence, not that he really intended to.

Jim looked up to the seemingly small rectangle of light from the opening - when it was covered up, the occupant would be plunged into total darkness. With his hearing up high, Jim could hear other 'occupants' crawling and scurrying along the walls.

Until the sound turned into something else, white noise, and the world began to vanish...

***

"Man, you've just taken ten years off my life, and I do so not need this!"

Jim blinked, needing to moment to establish his surroundings, but then he remembered. On the other hand -- why? "I thought you had a fear of heights," he told Blair who was alarmingly pale.

"Well, I do. But you said a few minutes, and after twenty, I was starting to worry. You didn't answer, so I didn't really have a choice..."

He looked around the confined space, staggering slightly when his eyes fell on the bucket. "Oh man. I think I'm going to be sick, you think you can handle that?"

"You're not," Jim said firmly, grabbing his friend's shoulders and bodily steering him away from the sight. "Look at me."

"I am. Don't yell," Blair said weakly, his breathing still on the verge of hyperventilating.

"Okay. We are going to climb back up that ladder now. I'll be right behind you."

"I can't."

"Yes, you can. You made it down here, after all. Going up will be a piece of cake."

"If you say so... I'm not convinced."

The climbing up was slow, but they finally made it back to fresh air and solid ground. On the walk back to the truck, Blair was a bit shaky still, and very silent.

"Hey, thanks for the rescue," Jim said. It wasn't just something to lighten the mood. He still found it admirable that Blair had overcome his phobia in order to come down and look after Jim. Not that he liked to be a person who needed someone to look after him - but that was on another page.

"I didn't do much. You probably would have come out of the zone all by yourself."

"What if I hadn't? Come on, you did a great job."

"I was scared shitless. Now, then --" After a small, tension-laden pause he continued, "aren't you going to tell me how he used that, planned it right from the start? I wonder if you can prove it. And even if you can't - maybe it's the truth."

"You survived. That's what counts."

"I'm just -- so -- sick and disgusted with myself!"

Jim wanted to say something, but Blair just held up his hands as if to ward of any further words. "No!" Then he turned back to the cabin, his stride determined.

Jim followed him.

***

"I can't believe I fell for all your shit! I hate you! I HATE you!"

It wasn't what Jim had expected when he first had the idea of visiting the site of the camp, but finally, what he'd been hoping for, seemed to be happening. It was pretty clear *who* Blair was addressing here, as he ripped the dirty sheets off the bed, then slammed the lamp from the nightstand to the floor where it shattered.

Jim supposed that Kincaid's aunt, who legally still owned the place, wouldn't mind if one of her nephew's former victims needed a little exorcism. He'd heard she was going to let it be torn down anyway.

He waited calmly, until Blair's voice gave and he slumped down beside the bed, in the midst of the chaos, and cried.

Only then Jim went to sit down beside him and hold him close, the message clear even without any words: The comfort that he offered was for free, no strings attached, and in some way, it was a comfort to him as well, knowing that Blair trusted him that much now, enough to cling to Jim like he was the only hold in a once again crumbling world.

Jim simply held on, the smell of tears like a promise. Dr. Davis had believed they'd get there, but every now and then lately, he had harbored doubts -- not anymore.

It'll be okay. He didn't even need to say it.

Of course, the department shrink had also warned him that the breakthrough would only be the beginning of the journey, but that Jim could deal with. It was a beginning.

They stayed there on the dirty floor for a long time. No mourning of what had been lost, but an affirmation of what they still had, after all this.

In the silence, Blair said, "It took me awfully long to get there, didn't it? I can't believe you were that patient. It's not the way I remember you," half-joking.

"Well, Chief, I was motivated. I want *you* back - if you're still interested in that companion part, that is."

"I don't think I'm the same guy you met a year ago," Blair said ruefully.

"I'm alright with that. Neither am I."

"Can we go home now?"

It didn't seem like a non-sequitur at all. "Sure we can."

Kincaid hadn't won. He was dead and buried, in more than one sense of the word. And for the first time since he and his bunch had taken over the station, there was a future out there where they could continue what had been started over a year ago.

They'd make the best of it, and then some.

The End