Notes: This is Debbie's Moonridge 2007 story. Thank you for bidding, waiting patiently and then going along with the changes. Hope you enjoy.

Thanks to Xasphie for the quick and efficient beta. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.

In this story, I played a bit with the fact that actor Dennis Christopher played both TS's David Lash and the archetypal serial killer Jack-of-all-trades in 'Profiler'. This is a crossover, but focusing on The Sentinel.

Past Pains

By Demeter

Chapter 1

Watching Samantha Waters at a crime scene was always such a pleasure, he thought, wiping his slightly sweaty palms on his jeans. He loved that look of concentration on her face the moment the hunt began. Turning towards his high-tech equipment , he took a look at the body he could see clearly on the screen. As he did so, a momentary flash of anger distracted him.

The killer was an amateur. A lousy copycat, no character, no style he could claim his own.

It came as no surprise when the camera showed him two familiar figures: Detective James Ellison, Cascade's top detective had worked with Sam on the Murray case. That was before Blair Sandburg, the civilian observer had entered the picture.

Jack leaned back in his chair, smiling, his anger forgotten as he remembered. Now Murray, he definitely had his own style. The newspapers had called him the 'caretaker' and it was the one that the bloody beginner was trying to imitate now. To Jack, George Murray was some kind of brother, a kindred spirit. His smile grew wider. So was David Lash. "Well, you're not my type," he said aloud to the young man with the long curly hair who seemed to be just the tiniest bit disturbed by the condition of the body, "but I can certainly understand what he saw in you."

He had learned many interesting facts about the unlikely partners since then. This was going to be exciting to follow.

Besides... as good as those like-minded had been, you couldn't ignore that Jack was superior to all of them. After all, unlike Murray and Lash, *he* was still alive.

He blew a kiss at the last image of Sam, and then shut down the computer.

***

"I'm sorry about this, Chief."

"Not your fault, man. You warned me about it." Blair mustered a small smile for Jim's benefit. The conversation seemed kind of pointless anyway. Whether he liked it or not, they had been assigned to this case for a reason, and that's why there was no time to worry about things like personal delicacies. Jim needed him. No two ways around it. And considering Jim had saved his life a little more than two weeks ago, well, this was the least he could do.

And he hadn't been the only one to puke his guts out after facing the one-week-old body.

Jim looked kind of nauseated himself, but that wasn't much of a surprise if you thought about how this had to have smelled to him. "Dial it down," he whispered. "Now start with sight, okay?"

There had been an anonymous call leading them to the corpse in the cabin cellar. The victim lay on a grimy mattress, surrounded by small jars that contained residuals of an unidentifiable substance; mold had already grown over it. Must have been food in them, Blair mused, shuddering. What a shitty way to spend your last days.

Jim picked up one of those jars with a gloved hand and examined it. The look of disgust on his face turned to surprise.

"You got something? What is it, Jim?"

Before Jim had the chance to answer, a woman came rushing towards them. She was tall, long blond hair captured in a French roll. Her gray coat was open, revealing a navy blue suit. And she looked too much like... oh no. Her appearance screamed 'Fed', and in his few weeks' experience of working with the police department, Blair had also learned that they were not particularly welcome as far as the locals were concerned.

"Jim Ellison," she said, smiling as she reached out her hand for greeting. "Seems like messy crime scenes are the only places we ever meet."

Now, *that* sounded interesting.

Blair found his curiosity dimmed, however, when Jim introduced them, smiling back at her.

"Sam, it's good to see you - despite the circumstances. You haven't met my partner, Blair Sandburg. Chief, this is Samantha Waters, the FBI profiler who will work with us on the case."

***

Okay. That went well.

"Nice to meet you," Blair had said hastily, casting a quick, incredulous glance at Jim and then he added, "Damn it. I forgot. I'm supposed to meet one of my students in half an hour. See you later."

Yeah, maybe it was a bit thoughtless to expect him to just stay cool, given the disaster that happened the last time when they were supposed to have been assisted by an FBI profiler. Maybe Sandburg was still a bit shaken by said profiler turning out to be their killer that had already laid his greedy eyes on him. Jim felt the anger flare again as he thought of those last moments of David Lash's life. Given the terror he'd brought into people's lives, //into my partner's life//, his end had come way too easy.

Only a few weeks later, there was another killer on the loose in Cascade. And taking in Sam's slightly confused expression now, Jim realized he had an explanation to make.

"You heard about the Lash case? Would have been right up your alley."

Her eyes widened. "That civilian observer you rescued... it was him? I'm sorry. How long have you two been working together?"

Jim could tell that besides the empathy, he had now awakened her curiosity. That had not been the plan. He shrugged. "A couple of months. Now, have you taken a look at the scene? Murray all over again, isn't it?"

Sam nodded solemnly. "Looks that way. Seems like he's got an admirer, even five years later."

They'd been examining the room once more, searching for anything that could tell them just how specific the killer's knowledge was on Murray's MO. Besides using a cabin in the woods, chaining the victim to the wall on a mattress, and feeding them baby food. This victim had been male; that much Jim could determine; everything else he would have to leave to Dan Wolf and the forensics team. But his guess was that he had been smothered with a pillow, just like Murray's victims.

Except for the one that had gotten away.

***

It was stupid, really, Blair thought, as he closed the door of his office behind him. Just a short- circuit reaction. Jim knew Dr. Waters; chances were good she'd not turn out to be another psychopath masquerading as an FBI forensic psychiatrist.

He couldn't go and panic every time something reminded him of that case; the Sentinel study, his dream, depended on it. After relating the details of the new case to both of them, even Simon had asked if he was up to it. What was he supposed to have answered?

It wasn't like he didn't have doubts. Susan Frasier had been dead just a few hours when they found her in the tub, and wasn't that thought enough to make his heart race again? The victim today... Better not go there, it made his stomach clench painfully just to think about thinking of it. This was his baptism of fire, the getting back on the horse after the fall. Lash was dead; he had seen it when they brought his body out of the warehouse. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to be afraid - if it translated into more caution the next time they got close to a killer.

The ring of his phone startled him out of his thoughts.

"Your meeting's over already?" Jim asked lightly, giving no indication that he'd seen through the lie. Which he most likely had.

"Well, yeah. Everything okay? Do you want me to come in this afternoon?" A little paperwork; he was all for that. It was safe.

"I don't think that's necessary. Chief..." He paused a little. "I'd like to have Sam over for dinner tonight. That okay with you?"

So much for the hope that maybe he hadn't noticed that Blair had freaked a little during the introduction. "That's fine with me, man. Wait a minute... as in it's a date? Uh, okay, don't worry, I can be stuck here for much longer!"

Jim's chuckle sounded indulgent. "No, it's not a date. We want to go over the case again. I know you've got a lot to do, but could you join us? At eight?"

"No problem," he said quickly. "See you later."

***

So, the second encounter between Sam Waters and Blair Sandburg wasn't as dramatic, Jim registered with some relief. The timing couldn't have been worse; and Simon was aware of that, too, but at the same time it was the display of Jim's abilities that had convinced his boss to give them this case.

He had expressed doubts about Blair's role in that partnership then; so it was all the more important everything worked itself out now.

Not surprisingly though, after he and Samantha had overcome that first hurdle, they had discovered some common interests, and Blair listened with fascination as Sam told him about her training as a profiler. It was something, Jim imagined, Blair would be good at, too.

"So, the MO was exactly the same?" Blair asked, after they had cleared the table.

"I think we have something different already," Jim said. It was something that had come to him after reading Murray's report once more this afternoon. He couldn't be 100 percent sure with the condition of the body they'd found, but he was quite confident Dan would confirm his assessment. "If I'm right," Blair was rolling his eyes a little at his words, "if I'm right, the victim's taken quite a lot of physical abuse. With Murray, we never found any signs, and he claimed he just wanted them for company," he remembered with a snort. "One hell of a way to socialize."

"He said they were all alone, with no friends. He was taking care of them." Sam hadn't changed a bit. When she got into those headcase's minds, it was almost like she had a zone-out herself, the difference being that she could pull herself back from it. "You're right, he never treated them violently, except for when he killed them."

"And how exactly can you determine that? You weren't there!"

They both looked at Blair in surprise.

"Chaining someone up in a dirty, dark room, forcing baby food down their throat and telling them he was their friend - that's not violence to you?"

"Of course it is. We were just making a distinction from the physical abuse," Sam said quietly.

"Right. Sorry." He held up his hands as if to ward off any further argument. "You're right. It's just creepy, you know."

"Yes, it is," she ascertained, casting a quick, questioning glance at Jim.

He shook his head. This was probably enough shop-talk for the evening. It was a bad idea, all of this, having Blair work with him on a serial murder case just a few weeks after Lash. Hell, it was too early for him. He used to be able to distance himself easier after wrapping up an investigation, push aside the anger and not get too close to the victim's grief.

Sam got the hint and started telling stories about her daughter, Chloe, without ever mentioning her own living nightmare, Jack-of-all-trades. Within a short time, the atmosphere got less laden. Blair told them about his mother who had raised him single, too; they'd traveled a lot when he was a child, and soon he and Sam launched into a discussion about family. Jim didn't feel inclined to join in, instead he rather preferred to watch the two of them, an old acquaintance and a new friend, interact with each other.

It could have been nice if any of them could have forgotten about the reason that had brought them together in the first place, then and now.

***

Chapter 2

Five years ago

Women were often warned not to take the short-cut that led from behind the university towards the apartment complex a few blocks away, but the well-meant advice was hardly ever taken seriously by the many students heading back to their homes after a late class, female or male. Everybody knew the stories about muggings and an attempted rape in the past year. They were to be ignored as long as it hadn't happened to someone you knew.

Neither did Blair Sandburg care that night when he was walking home after a get-together with some friends to celebrate the end of the semester, and hadn't it been a successful one for him? At the age of twenty-one, he was now holding an M. A. in anthropology. In a bar near campus, he'd been spending some time with fellow students he wouldn't see for several months; as they'd be heading off home or to their respective holiday destinations.

Blair had chosen to stay in Cascade this time, looking forward to a rare visit from his mother. He hadn't seen *her* for almost a year now. Naomi Sandburg had been traveling a lot for as long as he could remember; while his studies had required a longer stay in Cascade, she was nowhere near settling down. She would arrive in three days, plenty of time to think about what would come afterwards.

He had everything - and somehow nothing.

He'd written his Master's thesis on Sentinels, a kind of tribal watchmen that the early explorer Sir Richard Burton had described in his works. Those warriors were said to have all of their senses enhanced which gave them an advantage in perceiving the approach of enemies, or changes in the weather and a magnitude of fantastic things more. Abilities that guaranteed the welfare of the tribe.

When it really started, he couldn't say, but somewhere along the line, Blair had become infatuated with the legend which grew into a deep longing to find such a person, one which grew stronger with each word of his thesis.

Problem was, as much as the temptation was, nobody had ever done it before. Sure, he had found lots of documented cases where enhanced senses were mentioned. Two or three. Those were people who worked for perfume or coffee companies. He'd found evidence of such abilities in patients with mental disorders, like schizophrenia. Sometimes, when people lost their vision, they'd develop an excellent sense of touch or hearing. All that was fascinating in itself, but it wasn't what he was searching for, because they didn't have *all five*.

And this seemed to be the end of the line, because if he didn't find a subject real soon, this would be the end of his studies on Sentinels. He wasn't ready to give up that dream yet.

So lost in thought, Blair never noticed that he'd picked up a shadow right from the moment he'd left the university building. All dressed in black, the figure blended in with the large trees, moving almost soundlessly, until they had almost reached the gate.

"Excuse me?"

At the sound of a voice, Blair was startled from his melancholic musings. He spun around and had only a split-second to let himself fear what he saw. A bright flash exploding before his eyes, the pain hitting immediately.

And then nothing.

***

10 months later

23-year-old Theresa Kaufman had been hoping for a quiet evening on her own. Tomorrow was her day off from work, she was up-to-date with her obligations at the university, and her boyfriend was out of town. So, at about ten p.m. she sat in the living room, watching a movie a friend had recommended, a hot chocolate in front of her.

A couple of minutes later, an insistent knocking at the door put an end to the peace and quiet.

She considered simply ignoring it, but it didn't stop, and so she got up with a sigh, picking up a large flashlight just in case. The safety chain still in place, she opened the door. Outside in the hallway, it was pitch dark, so at first she couldn't see anything. Then she looked down and gasped in shock.

"Oh my God. Oh my God," she repeated once more, then removed the chain to let in the man who looked ready to pass out. Theresa reached out to help him inside, forcing herself to stay calm now that it was clear it was no criminal who'd paid her this late visit.

"Blair! What the hell happened to you?"

***

In the soft light of her living room, he looked even worse. She knew she had to do something, but where to start? Theresa almost passed out herself when she saw that his hands were bloody, up to the sleeves of his dirty shirt. Blood and dirt, in his clothes, his hair. For a moment, she couldn't help but stare. Gradually though, she concentrated on the necessities, and made him sit down on her couch first.

"I'm calling an ambulance and the police," she said firmly.

"No!" he cried out, the first word he had spoken so far, making her take a step back.

Theresa sat down beside her former boyfriend, laying her hand on his. By now, she was almost trembling as hard as he was. "You need a doctor," she said softly.

"No. No police, and no doctor. Please."

"But..."

"I'll be fine," Blair insisted, his hoarse voice belying his words.

"What happened to you?"

He looked at his bloody hands, then up to her, his eyes haunted.

"I d-don't know," he whispered.

***

Theresa felt she had no reason not to believe his words. Some more gentle prodding revealed that he was afraid of what a police investigation might bring to light, and as the evening went on, she, too, began to think that it was a good idea to keep quiet about this. Even though she was no expert, she was quite sure that he'd had an extremely traumatic experience; there was no way to tell what exactly it was, though the blood definitely wasn't all his, and therefore it was possible that involving the police or even a doctor could cause him problems.

He didn't seem to be injured save for some healed cuts and faded bruises, so she decided to go along with his wishes. After she'd put some water on the stove to boil, she prepared a bath for him.

When she reached out to help him get rid of his dirty clothes, Blair pulled back from her touch.

"No." He wouldn't look at her, and Theresa was all the more alarmed.

"You can hardly stand. I just want to make sure you don't hurt yourself."

"I can do this myself." The shaking grew more pronounced. Knowing she'd just lost another argument, she nodded.

"I'll be just outside the door, okay? Just holler if you need anything. Everything's gonna be okay," she added as an afterthought, touching his arm lightly, before she went to make some tea, and heat the leftovers of her dinner. Theresa hoped she wasn't just making empty promises.

***

The time after the death of his partner, Jack Pendergrast, was not one Jim particularly wanted to remember. He'd been depressed, choleric as well, just mad at the world in general; the people around him gladly kept their distance and he didn't want it any other way. Working alone was fine with him, and after having been assigned to the 'Caretaker' case, he was extremely annoyed when Captain Banks announced that he would have an FBI profiler from a task force in Atlanta by his side. They'd had murders with the same MO.

"Oh, come on," he protested. "Sir, I'm getting close. He's even called me, bragging to me on the phone! I don't need some Fed telling me about the bad childhood that bastard's had."

"I believe I have a little more to contribute than that," she'd said then, having been standing quietly in the corner of the room behind him. Her tone was calm, but the annoyance came through clearly. Right. That was mutual.

"I'm sorry you don't want to hear this, Ms...?"

"Samantha Waters."

They shook hands, both of them rather reluctantly. "Ms. Waters, but that line of argument isn't exactly new to me."

Behind them, he could hear Simon groan quietly, and Jim's guess was that he wouldn't stay quiet much longer. Waters seemed to be perfectly capable of taking care of herself though.

"Wow," she said. "And you could tell without even knowing my name. Now that we have the fun part behind us, why don't we start working on the case?"

This time, he could have sworn he'd heard Simon snicker.

"That's a brilliant idea," he replied, his sarcasm making absolutely no impression on the FBI profiler.

They went back to the crime scenes together, and even if Jim didn't openly admit it, he was impressed by the way Sam focused on what had been left behind, psychic-like, putting together a picture puzzle piece by puzzle piece.

Left in absolute quiet, she got glimpses of the killer's mind.

One more investigator with a special talent.

***

For some time, Theresa had been extremely annoyed with Blair. They had a good relationship going, or so she thought, everything seemed to be just perfect. But everything abruptly changed once he got his Master's. She hadn't been able to accompany him to the party that was traditionally held at the end of the semester because she'd been out of town for a job interview, and after she returned, he'd never called.

She knew that he had to be home, expecting his mother to visit him, and she had honestly been excited about getting to know Naomi Sandburg, the free-spirited woman who had been ready to raise a child single at the age of sixteen.

None of it had ever happened. Blair had just disappeared into nowhere, his mother never arrived, and at some point, Theresa had wondered if he'd been lying to her all the time.

After sulking for a couple of weeks in which nothing turned up as to his whereabouts, Theresa decided to get on with life, and found herself a new boyfriend. Whose clothes she had just left by the bathtub for Blair to wear.

***

"Your boyfriend's?" he asked with a tired smile.

She blushed a little. "It's been almost a year... I had no idea where you'd gone..."

"It's okay. I understand."

Theresa watched him warily, the way he moved, so unlike the man she had known before. The utter exhaustion he showed was rather scary. No sign of the seemingly boundless energy she'd always admired so much. Whatever he'd been through in the past ten months, it was a miracle he'd mustered the strength to make it to her door.

Having bathed and shaved, he almost looked his usual self, but the loss of weight was unmistakable. He had to be really hungry.

Pushing away her own disturbing thoughts, she offered, "You can still share my bed. If you promise to behave, that is."

That got her a small smile. It was all she could ask for.

***

//... Waking up. Waking up to hopelessness. Pain. Cold.

As it had been for as long as he could remember.

Forever...//

Bolting upright in the unfamiliar bed, Blair was finally awake, unable to shake the undefined but intense nightmares yet. Wrapping the sheets tightly around himself, he tried to make sense of the scenery around him; the room was decorated in what was mostly a shock of pink and violet, a definite female imprint. Theresa Kaufman's apartment.

Just how did he get here? She'd said it had been ten months.

<flash> Running. Running for my life...

The vague image sent a bright jolt of pain through his skull, and he pressed both hands against his temples, unable to suppress a pained moan. When he took them away, he noticed for the first time the bandages that covered his left hand and both wrists. Theresa had tended to his wounds yesterday, but he had no idea how he got them. Only the fear that came with contemplating the possibilities...

"Hey. You're awake."

She looked like she didn't know what else to say, but Blair couldn't really help her out. He was still trying to understand what could have happened to make him lose nearly a year of his life, because everything that went back further than nearly collapsing on her doorstep was just a big gaping hole in his memory.

"Thank you," he said, realizing what she'd just done for him without having any viable information about what he had done in that time.

"No problem. I'll have breakfast ready in a few. If you want to take a shower, there are towels and more fresh clothes in the bathroom."

Hot water. Solid food. This time, he was afraid for a moment this could just be one of those too-good-to-be-true dreams.

***

They were finally closing in on the bastard. The pine needles, the half-molten key that belonged to a cabin in the woods, the baby food. All the pieces came together, and as much as he would have liked to ignore that, Sam Waters' strange intuition had helped a lot.

Jim didn't want to think too much about how near perfect their work together had been; her hunches and his ability to find evidence to what she was seeing, with senses too precise to be normal. Well, whatever. They were on to him; the clerk in the grocery store had given them a good description, and they had an APB out on the man's car.

After years of the cat-and-mouse game, it would all be over tonight.

The man the press had called 'The Caretaker', harshly ironic, had ended the lives of four victims that they knew about. He would kidnap them, then keep them tied up in the room they had now located, feeding them baby food for months before he laid his eyes on another one that 'needed' his care. Then he struck again, bored by the prior victim who was then sentenced to death. He had taunted the police, calling the headquarters in both Cascade and Atlanta.

This time, the victim would live, Jim vowed.

Jim looked over to the passenger seat where Sam sat, appearing calm, but her heart was going way too fast to confirm the picture. "That was good work, Sam," he said. "We'll get him this time."

She offered a small smile. "That cooperation worked better than we both thought it would, didn't it?"

He grinned. "You could say that."

***

Resignation. Disappointment. *Anger*. As they neared the cabin, finding the vehicle in question outside, Jim could tell without checking that there was only one person in those rooms, and that one probably wouldn't be alive for much longer. Damn. He and Sam both drew their weapons, and he took the lead.

Eventually, they found the room. Jim kneeled down by the man who, from the looks of it, had been stabbed several times. He was alive, but barely. He also matched the description they had been given. Sam had already called for an ambulance and the Forensics Unit, and they shared a look of barely disguised satisfaction.

The victim had escaped. The Caretaker's last victim ever.

A few minutes later, while the man was being transported to Cascade General, Jim and Sam examined the room where the kidnapper had held his victims for almost three years.

"He was angry," Sam spoke up. She had that same distant look that he was now familiar with. "Too angry to see clearly. The kidnappings weren't enough anymore, the scenarios didn't satisfy him anymore, but he was unable to take it to the next stage." She crouched down by the metal ring bolted into the wall. A rusty chain ended in a blood-stained cuff that lay on a dirty mattress.

"He opened the cuff, but he underestimated the victim," Jim added.

"Yes. They fought for... a knife? He never killed like this before. Maybe it belonged to the victim. If only we could find him."

"Do you think he wants to be found?"

Sam's doubtful expression mirrored exactly what he felt.

***

Dr. Eli Stoddard had read the lead article of today's newspaper twice, then folded the paper neatly and put it back on his desk, as he did every morning. He frowned as Don Haas' phrases clung in his mind, "Cascade: Serial killer central". "What is it about this city that attracts evil like no other?"

What is it about Blair Sandburg, he wondered, who always seems to be in thicket of things lately? First Lash. He didn't know the details and didn't wish to, but the information from the media had been vivid enough to give him an idea. Yet, Blair had returned, determined as ever to write *that* dissertation, the idea of quitting unthinkable, 'no way, man'. Back at the side of Detective Ellison who was investigating the recent murders.

James Ellison, The Sentinel. They hadn't discussed it openly, yet, something that would be inevitable sometime in the future, but he had been able to put the pieces together easily.

Hence the strong motivation, and still Eli found it a little surprising that Blair didn't back down from that new case. It was all too reminiscent of his recent ordeal, not to mention the gruesome facts of this particular murder. Eli remembered the Murray case all too well, as one of the victims had been his student. And then there was this other memory...

//A teacher as gifted as well as successful, Eli Stoddard had seen the potential in the teenage Blair Sandburg, and he'd had some ideas about how to help it come along. At first, everything seemed to work itself out nicely. They even formed the beginnings of a friendship until, shortly after receiving his Master's, Blair seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. He didn't show up to any of his classes, never called, nobody heard anything about him. Trying to reach his only relative, his mother Naomi - it soon turned out to be a lost cause.

Eli had even tried to involve the police, telling his story to an overworked officer who gave him no illusion about what could be done about the disappearance of a student who wasn't even family.

He spent some time being pissed off as well, because even though he didn't want to believe it, it was perfectly possible that Blair had thrown it all away freely, just taken off, detached with love, so to speak. Then he wanted to believe it, after a couple of months. The alternatives were just too bad to think about.

Life went on, and a good ten months later, he sat in his office, waiting for a student that had scheduled an appointment. "Come in," he called, reaching for his coffee mug to take a sip when the door opened and in came--

Blair Sandburg.

Eli's jaws dropped and so almost did the coffee mug.

"What the hell--" Pent-up anger, uncertainty, and also relief were all mixed in this admittedly inappropriate greeting.

Blair closed the door behind him and leaned against it, all done with slow deliberate movements. As if he had to remember how to do something that mundane, eyes studying the wooden floor intently as he asked, "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

//A minute?// They hadn't seen each other for almost a year, and he wanted to do small-talk. //Oh no//, Eli thought. //You're not getting away that easily.//

"Where the hell have you been?" He wanted to hug that damn boy, and slap him at the same time, but the way had Blair flinched at his words told him that neither idea was good, so he forced himself to calm down and gestured to the unoccupied chair.

"Ah, I'm sorry. Of course we can talk. We have to talk, even. Have a seat. Coffee?"

"Yes. Thanks."

"Are you okay? You don't..." Look so good, he'd wanted to say, but was interrupted by another knock, and the student peeking inside. "Dr. Stoddard, I know I'm late, I'm sorry, but..."

"It's okay, Ms. Duncan," Eli said quickly. "*I* am sorry, my dear. I'm afraid we have to reschedule; something came up. How about tomorrow, same time? That okay with you?"

The young woman agreed and retreated from the room, but not before she'd cast a curious glance at his visitor.

"So, Blair. What happened? And I don't want to hear you just disappeared without good reason. I'm glad to see you though." And that was the truth even though the man sitting in the chair across from him didn't resemble the one he remembered very much, even if he looked like him.

Having wrapped the coffee cup in slightly shaking hands, Blair looked like someone who was desperately fighting the urge to look over his shoulder. Blue eyes mirroring a knowledge of something disturbing that hadn't been there before.

"What can I do?" Eli asked, his voice softer now.

"I... I can't tell you what happened, because I don't really know. But I need your help."//

***

After Theresa's boyfriend returned, it was just the time to try and get his life back. Not that the guy wasn't sympathetic, even a lot more so than most other guys would be if their girlfriend's ex suddenly appeared on the doorstep, literally having nowhere else to go. It was just that Blair felt like he could hide there forever, and if he didn't manage to drag his ass outside the mess he'd gotten himself into, he probably never would.

Of course, his landlord had found another tenant for the apartment, with most of his stuff in storage, not that there was much. Shamefully, he had borrowed some money from Theresa and Marc to buy some clothes and food and whatever the hell you needed when you came back to a little more than nothing. He'd need a job, and a place to live, and the one person who could possibly help would probably be too pissed off at him to do anything... but it was the only chance he had.

It was strange, being outside, among other people, on a rare sunny day in Cascade. After the darkness and silence and the general blackness that was his memory of the last ten months, the colors around him seemed awfully bright, hurting his eyes, background noises too loud and oppressive. He had to laugh as the irony struck him - that was probably the way a Sentinel on overload would feel.

And then he fought the impulse to cry. He'd been searching for a Sentinel, his life's dream.

Instead, a nightmare had found him.

***

//Take deep breaths. Find your center.//

No, damn it, it didn't work, the darkness felt like a giant weight on his chest, suffocating him. Frantically, Blair fumbled for the switch of the lamp, finally found it, and a warm glow illuminated the corner of the room, almost making him sob with relief. He had to stop this shit - only none of the psych courses told him how.

Blair leaned back against the wall, shuddering as he now felt the t-shirt he was wearing cling wetly to his skin. Running both hands through his hair, he found that damp, too.

For a moment, he did nothing than focus all his concentration on his breathing until he'd dragged himself back from the edge of fainting, then the aftermath of the panic attack crashed over him, and the shakes started.

When would this ever end?

Eli, too, had tried to convince him he should go and talk to the police, better even, a therapist. Blair had been biding his time and promised he'd consider those options if he really was unable to make it on his own. Meanwhile, his old mentor had been pulling some strings to get him enrolled back into the doctoral program he never had the chance to start before, and helped him make contact with a student who was leaving Cascade after graduation and needed someone to take over his apartment.

Of course, Dr. Stoddard didn't know that said 'apartment' was part of a warehouse in an area that wasn't one of the better parts in Cascade. Blair felt relatively, strangely safe there. Comforted even by the wide, open space.

He didn't tell his mentor about the occasional panic attacks either.

***

Chapter 3

present

Jim had been lying awake for quite some time now, contemplating what he was going to do. Listening to the quiet sobs muffled by a pillow, impossible to ignore all the same. Maybe some weeks ago he might have been able to sleep through it. However, since the moment he got that 911 message on his pager, his senses seemed to be sharpened, focused, mainly in relation to the man who had no idea what he was getting himself into by becoming Jim's partner.

While the rational part of his mind argued that post-traumatic stress was a fact of human life and there was absolutely nothing wrong with offering comfort, he still wasn't sure. They hadn't known each other for long.

Ah, damn. He couldn't just keep listening, and feeling like some kind of voyeur.

Getting out of bed quickly, he put on a shirt and some sweats, then made his way down the stairs.

He had opened the curtain with barely a sound, but surprisingly, Blair had sensed him anyway.

"Go away," he said. "Turn down your hearing. Pretend it never happened, if you're my friend."

Now that did sound familiar, and Jim couldn't help but smile a little at the attempt. Maybe it didn't matter at all that they hadn't had that much time to get to know each other yet. The decision had been taken out of their hands anyway by the last near-tragedy.

He sat down on the edge of the bed. Blair still had his back turned to him, and Jim placed a hand on one trembling shoulder. Despite all his earlier protests, Blair leaned into the touch.

"I thought I was through with this shit. Seeing that... guy all chained up, that brought everything back."

"That's not surprising. It was a bad idea all along. Maybe you should stay away from the station for a while until this is over."

"But I can't!"

Blair sat up, raking one hand through his hair in a frustrated gesture. "What if you zone? You remember what happened last time?"

"I do. I just have to be careful."

"Even if that worked, I don't think I can just choose the cases I like, and stay away whenever I want to. Simon and Carolyn think I can't handle this, and I'll be out. Everyone was quick enough to assume I had leaked the information on Lash to the press."

"Not everyone," Jim said, which got him a hesitant smile in answer. "Take at least a day off, think about it. I'll tell Simon you're all tied up at the university."

"Which won't even be a lie. Thank you, man."

***

Jack was a busy man these days. Of course, he was always keeping tabs on Sam, something that required lots of time and focus. Oh, he was motivated, sure. There would come the day when she would be his, and every day was a step closer to that aim.

Lately though, he'd been distracted a little, and it all came down to that damn copycat. At first, Jack had wanted nothing more than to sit back and enjoy watching, but as time went on, he felt like it was his duty to interfere. He owed it to his brothers of the soul, George, and David.

Jack smiled in anticipation, at the figure captured on the screen.

"Hey, man," he said in a mocking tone. "Looks like we're finally getting to know each other."

Wasn't life good?

***

"I must admit I'm surprised," Sam said. "You told me you'd never work with a partner again, if it could be avoided."

They were sitting together in the break room for a short coffee break, doing some more catching up. "People change," Jim offered vaguely. He found his thoughts going back to the other night, wondering how long these new arrangements might last. Simon hadn't been too happy about Blair's absence today. "I thought he was going to help you with whatever it is you need him for," had been his words.

Jim didn't want any more changes. He had to admit to himself he missed Sandburg; strange to realize how close they'd grown in such a short time. And there was no denying that they'd done good work together, even though with the last few cases, Blair had taken too many risks in Jim's opinion.

"Yeah, maybe." She seemed to accept the fact she wouldn't get any more information from him. "I've been wondering if there's any connection. You know, between these killings and the victim that was never found. Maybe someone's trying to tie up the loose ends."

Jim had thought about that, too. "If that's true, he probably feels obliged. We already know he's more violent. It's bound to get worse."

Which meant they didn't have much time.

***

Blair picked up the coffee mug with a sigh, not needing to taste to determine the coffee in it had already turned cold. He was supposed to get some work done, of course, to have this day off from the station was a kind of a gift from Jim, and he'd better use the time.

He couldn't stop his thoughts from drifting, though. That body in the dark cellar - it would have been enough material for nightmares, but it was getting even worse. For a moment he couldn't see his own hand holding the mug, but a shaking one clutching a sticky jar with a sweet, squashy substance in it.

Vision - hallucination -

Memory?

Ah, nonsense, Blair berated himself, firmly. Just because there was a time in his life of which he'd had hardly any memory, it didn't necessarily mean there was a connection to the man who their current perp wanted to copy.

Stupid, all this reading about serial killers was making him way paranoid.

He stared into the black fluid for a moment, as if there at the bottom of the mug, he could find all the solutions for his present problems; the necessity to be Jim's back-up, when he couldn't even think of what had happened to the victims. He remembered a woman that Naomi, his mother, once knew. She claimed she could read the future from the palm of your hand, that, and from tealeaves.

Naomi didn't have any idea to what extent he was working with the police yet, and Blair wasn't looking forward to the day she found out. She would so not be pleased about that. Well, to be honest, at the moment, Blair wasn't too happy with it himself.

But it was that or skip the Sentinel project, and that was the one thing he wouldn't do, not a chance.

***

When at a crime scene, Sam didn't want to have anyone near, and she needed quiet. Then she got flashes of the killer's point of view; her disturbing, but useful gift had often helped to track down serial killers. Jim thought that it couldn't be much more disturbing than being able to smell death from a mile away. They had gone back to the house, both of them uncomfortably reminded of the time they worked under pressure to find the 'Caretaker'.

The autopsy had confirmed Jim's guess - like Murray's victims, this one had been smothered.

"But it's different, he wants to - punish? Murray murdered when he got tired of them, but this one - he is angry. He wants the one who got away."

"So it would be better if we find him, too," Jim concluded.

In the ensuing silence, his cell phone rang. It was Simon, informing them that a young woman working as a cashier in a supermarket in Cascade, remembered a man who'd purchased abnormally large quantities of baby food recently.

If they were lucky, it hadn't been just a father wanting to stockpile for the rest of the year.

***

Jack smiled to himself as he watched the man crossing the street. Finally, he'd found the amateur. He had seen him buying the baby food. He'd already been in his apartment, shaking his head at the many articles about the Caretaker, the prints of pictures of the victims.

//You are not one of us. And that's why I need to get rid of you.//

After that, it would be time to fulfill the Caretaker's legacy. Jack would be happy to step in.

Now, however, he had a job to do. He checked the contents of the bag before he left his hideaway. All there. Now let the fun begin.

The fact that Sam would fail this time made the deal even sweeter.

Chapter 4

1991

At first, he'd believed it to be a nightmare, but one by one, he was met with facts that were as disturbing as they were real. The headache, for one; no way it could hurt so bad if this were a dream. It was cold and dark, drafty in the room, and he shivered. No blanket, and the cold of the ground seemed to be seeping through the mattress he was lying on right into his bones.

Bolting upright, his heart began to pound as he realized that his right wrist was cuffed to the wall, the chain length only a few inches.

"Is there anybody? Help me!"

"You don't need to yell," an amused voice said close beside him, enforcing his terror. "I'm right here."

***

Present

When he was aware enough for conscious action, the first thing Blair did was punch the wall with his fist. The pain was somewhat distracting from the lingering nightmare images, but it didn't stop the hot tears on his face, and he hoped Jim wouldn't come down again.

The last occasion had been embarrassing enough.

He'd wondered if everything would have turned out differently if he'd gone to the police, or had sought therapeutic help. At that time, however, neither of those things had been an option; he had been too mortified about the blank spots in his memory, too terrified of what could have been uncovered.

The man who had forced him to eat the sickly sweet mush - and after a while, he didn't resist anymore because it was all he got - was dead. He was no danger anymore, and neither was the copycat.

Everyone was on alert, and the whole crap that had happened with Lash had just been a lot of bad luck. It wouldn't happen again. So why didn't the nightmares stop?

***

"Cascade Police! Open the door!"

There was no one in the apartment; Jim knew before he kicked the door open. When they went inside, along the narrow hallway and into the bedroom, it was crystal clear that they'd found the place where the copycat lived.

"It's him," Sam said, probably only to break the silence, because it was obvious.

The walls were almost covered with reports on the Caretaker, pictures, yellowish newspaper reports, pictures of the victims. And newer pictures of young men, chained to a ring in the wall, eyes wide with terror.

"Yeah," Jim said, already scanning the room with his senses, willing them to find something to bring this case to an end already. Something about how Blair reacted to this case, didn't sit right with him, and that didn't have to do with Lash. "Lucky for us he forgot to pay that parking ticket."

He saw Sam's eyes glazing over a bit, and knew she was getting something again.

Keeping quiet, Jim waited.

***

Blair was deep in thought as he left Eli Stoddard's office. He owed the man a lot; without him, he wouldn't have been able to regain his life so soon after the abrupt absence from it for several months.

He had a point saying that Blair carried a lot of unresolved issues with him, and that they could potentially raise their ugly heads now and then even with cases that weren't as close to the Caretaker's as this one. But what was the solution?

Sam and Jim worked well together, very intuitively, but she'd be leaving for Atlanta soon; and honestly, Blair wasn't willing to give up his life's dream so soon.

He snorted at the memory of telling Simon on his first day exactly what he imagined the ride-along to be like. Gathering evidence; that sounded misleadingly harmless. No thoughts of dead bodies or madmen in his face.

He wouldn't let the past dictate his future, though. Eli had also said that if he chose to go through with it, his dissertation would be in the range of the revolutionary. Blair wanted to get there so much, because reaching a goal like that, he figured, would help erase the shadows, and the images lurking in them. Of a man whispering to him, touching him softly and telling him he was his friend.

These days, Blair had a real friend, and he wasn't about to let him down.

***

Sam was back to reality quickly, shaking her head. She was pale. "It felt for a moment as if he killed in here." she said with a shudder. "Somehow, it doesn't make sense."

Jim had to agree with her. "I don't think he ever killed off his usual site."

They left the scene to Forensics finally, taking a look around the building. Across the street there was a park, dense bushes separating the area from the apartment complex. The grass was flattened here; probably a shortcut for residents.

From, Jim could see the pictures on the wall through the half-drawn blinds; he guessed that no one else could; Warren Lydecker, that was the man's name, would have been more careful.

"Let's go to the station and see if can find out some more about him. You want to come over for dinner later?"

Sam smiled. "I'd love to."

***

The keys fell from his hand, and Blair screamed in utter terror as the nightmare came alive.

No.

It couldn't be. Jim had assured him that Lash was dead, yet the man had risen behind him from the backseat, covering his mouth with a hand.

He wouldn't forget that grin, those eyes, for the rest of his life. Not that it looked like there was much left of it.

"You don't think you'd ever get away from me, did you?" The smile deepened, while Lash put some pressure on a spot on his neck, cutting off his air supply further, until his vision started to gray out.

The all-consuming fear did the rest.

***

Jim looked at his watch with a frown. He'd called Blair on his cell phone briefly, informing him about the new development, and he'd wanted to be there for dinner. It was now a quarter to nine, and Jim was trying not act like a worried mother around Sam. Except that he was worried.

"Why don't you call him again?" Sam suggested. "Maybe something came up. If you want, we could drive by the university. I'm not that starved."

Jim cast her a grateful look. "I'm trying not to be paranoid, but..."

"Go ahead. I understand."

She didn't say what they were probably both thinking, better to be paranoid than to be too late.

***

When he came to, it was to his very personal inferno.

Too familiar. Lash's leering face. The shackles around his wrist. And the mocking voice, saying, "Why don't you take just a spoonful? I know you haven't eaten since breakfast."

Holding out the spoon with the yellowish gooey substance on it.

Memory and present blending together. Lurching forward and throwing up was all Blair could do, the painful clenching of his stomach seemingly going on forever. It hurt even more with his throat bruised and sore.

He fell back against the mattress, shaking so hard his teeth were chattering.

"I really hate to see one of my friends suffering." Lash had stepped around the mess carefully, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Now - eat your dinner."

"No!"

Blair yanked at the restraint, a desperate, futile attempt, then turned his face away, as fingers gripped his chin, digging in cruelly. His mind was racing, trying to find escape that seemed impossible, Lash, Murray, it was too much. He could only be tough and defiant for so long, and the boundary had long since been crossed.

Going slack in his captor's grip, Blair allowed the spoon to slip past his lips. The taste almost made him hurl again.

"You're a good boy," Lash praised him, stroking a strand of hair from his face. The touch made him shudder even harder, and he bit his lips not to let any sound escape. "My best friend so far."

And even in his desolate state, half-mad with fear, Blair noticed the little detail that didn't fit at all; the small tattoo Lash was wearing in the palm of his hand: 'Sam'.

***

Blair's car wasn't sitting in the usual spot; his office was dark and empty. Jim was aware of Sam's concerned look. Right, from the few days she'd known Sandburg, she also knew they had reason to be nervous. There was no way he wouldn't have called -- if he could have done.

But Lash was dead, and so was the Caretaker's copycat, so there was no reason to go overboard here. Except...

There was a small jar sitting next to the coffee mug, like the one they had found at the crime scene; only this one was still full. Baby food.

***

Jack had been watching Lydecker from the third kill on, instantly disgusted by the man. He'd planned to do something about him right away, but then Ellison and Sandburg had appeared on the scene, and then, oh joy, so too hadSam.

He'd waited a little while longer, anticipating. For now, it was just as well if they thought it was Lydecker who had taken Sandburg. They'd find the copycat's body soon enough.

For now...

Sandburg didn't know yet that David had been his brother for real. Walking in Murray's footsteps was a real party as well --

The victim's fear... delicious.

***

His heart was racing so hard that he feared it would stop altogether sometime soon, the images flashing in his mind from further in the past now. Murray. Like Lash, he had killed before, and liked to boast about it, about his other friends who all turned so boring with time.

Always looking for 'the one.'

"I think you're it."

Touching, always touching, in a way that didn't seem sexual, but nevertheless made his skin crawl. Blair had spent hours in the shower trying to wash off the memory of that touch all those years ago, only that it was starting all over again.

He pressed his eyes shut against the sting of tears; it was all he could to save the last bit of dignity.

It didn't really matter if those hands belonged to Lash, or an impostor.

Drifting further away, there was the image of himself holding a knife in his hands, and Murray's eyes bulging suddenly...

***

They had driven to the cabin again. The smell hit Jim without warning; he'd hit the brakes at the very last moment, forcing himself to draw shallow breaths only. It couldn't be.

The body inside was a few days old, judging from the smell. No need to panic - yet.

When they entered the cabin, Sam grimaced, turning to him with a surprised look. "You still got it, haven't you? You smelled it from outside?"

Jim nodded grimly, momentarily not caring what she thought. They made their way down to the cellar where the victim had been found, already knowing as they hastened down the stairs that they'd be confronted with another body.

This one was in a bad condition - not much of a surprise, when you considered what the now half-empty bottle of household cleaner next to him had been used for.

The dead man was Warren Lydecker, the copycat killer.

***

"Did he kill himself? That's a horrible way to do it," Sam observed. "At the apartment..."

Jim held up his hand. "Quiet."

***

Behind his screen, Jack froze. He'd heard about the man's supernatural abilities, but he'd thought himself to be at a safe distance. Could Ellison really hear...

He cast a look at Sandburg, who stared back at him with too much defiance in his eyes. He'd been tense to the touch, sobbing when he thought Jack wasn't listening, but he wasn't broken. Yet. Jack decided that they were still safe in the maze of tunnels under the cabin; time to proceed.

This was a nice trial run for the time it would be Sam struggling against him, her beautiful eyes widening in fear as she realized that there was no escape.

***

No way. There was no way he could hear Sandburg's heartbeat in this cabin; it had to be his imagination. Only that the sound persisted.

A sudden, painful sound made him cover his ears - just Sam's cell phone, but with his hearing wide open like this, it sounded like a siren.

"Barry, this is not a good moment, I... oh my God. Are Chloe and Angel all right?" she asked, paling. "Yes. Hang on a minute."

Moments later, she showed Jim the display of the cell phone, the fax her boss had sent. //Don't you like my present, Sam?// the message said.

The image above made Jim's heart skip a beat. It was a picture of Blair; shackled and gagged just like the copycat's victim had been. His expression conveyed utter terror.

***

"Warren, he wanted you. I know he'd figured it out, that you were the kid that Murray took. Didn't do him a lot of good, 'cause I got to him first, and dumped half a bottle of cleaner down his throat." Lash's look-alike grinned at the memory. "Looks like I got to you first, too. Want to hear what I've got envisioned for you?"

No, Blair definitely didn't want to hear it, because he'd had more than enough of these experiences, having something forced down his throat, Murray, Lash. Sure, the man was a killer himself, but knowing your insides would be eaten away by acid, the pain... There was some small comfort in the fact that he hadn't anything left to throw up. The rest of the jar's content had come up when he remembered the way the knife sank into Murray's skin.

When the other man reached out a hand again, he flinched, and the impostor smiled. "So skittish. You got reason to be, right? Such a pretty one, always catching the eyes of those bad, bad men."

"Shut up!" Blair didn't care if it didn't sound too convincing. "Who are you anyway? Not Lash, because he hasn't got the Sam tattoo. Sam Waters, right? You're one of the weirdos she has profiled."

The man leaned close again, stroking Blair's cheek. "Not just one of them. I am the one."

When Blair realized what that meant, despair's embrace got even colder and tighter.

His kidnapper was Sam's nightmare, the brutal killer who'd been stalking her for years.

Jack-of-all-trades.

***

The sound didn't vanish. It was making Jim crazy, because he knew... but did he really?

"There must be something underneath this cellar."

The cell phone fell from Sam's hand and cluttered to the floor as another vision had gripped her. "They're somewhere around here."

***

Down in the tunnel, Jack was too occupied to follow the exchange between the police detective and the profiler.

***

Filter. Reach out again. Check the dials. Don't zone.

Sam followed Jim while he searched the cellar, for the barrier between him and Blair's heartbeat. She didn't know that, of course, but agreeing to the hypothesis that there had to be a hidden exit. They'd tested every single tile of the floor, then the wall. The entry was hidden in plain sight, not under any of the furniture they'd moved. The color only a slight difference from the rest of the dark gray wall, a difference only Jim could see.

They both had to duck to climb down the narrow stairs, but then found themselves in a wider tunnel.

"We should have brought a flashlight. Can you see anything?"

"I can see fine. Don't ask. Just stay close behind me," Jim said, and they both laughed nervously.

Then he reached out further with his hearing, and this time, he didn't just hear Blair's heartbeat, but his voice, too. The words made his blood run cold.

***

"George was one of the good ones. You took him away. Now I'm going to punish you the way you deserve it," Jack announced, raising the knife above Blair's head.

For so many years the memory had been surrounded by a haze; the knife Murray hadn't found and Blair had managed to hide in a brief moment when he hadn't been tied up. Murray had been an escalating killer, and he'd wanted to exert power in every way possible.

He hadn't assaulted his earlier victims, Blair had learned much later, but that was where he was heading. Even though Blair's right hand was still shackled to the ring in the wall, he could reach his Swiss army knife with the left, while the killer's hands were all over him, and something had just snapped within.

Murray had collapsed on him eventually, and sobbing with every breath, he'd searched the man's pockets for the key of the cuff while the metal kept cutting into his own skin, and the killer's blood soaked the front of his shirt... He'd found it, dragged himself out from under the heavy body, and run.

Didn't stop until he'd made it to the road, where he'd hitched a ride back to the city. By the time Blair had collapsed on Theresa's doorstep, the memory of the man who had chosen him for his 'friend' was already mostly gone.

It was all very present now as Jack sank the knife into his side, and his body convulsed with the sudden, brutal pain, robbing him of the breath it would have taken to scream.

***

Chapter Five

"How is he?"

Jim had heard Sam's footsteps on the floor, but he didn't look up until she had entered the room, wearily rubbing his face.

"Lucky, the doc said. No major damage. It'll be painful, but... could have been worse." He couldn't believe how tired he sounded.

"Thank God," Sam breathed.

"Yeah."

They were silent, sharing the relief that was stronger than the sense of failure that had encompassed them ever since those moments that had passed in a blur. They had entered the room to find Blair nearly unconscious, the bloody knife on the floor. Found something to put pressure on the wound, and then, with a heavy heart, Jim had told Sam to stay with Blair as he went after the kidnapper, supposedly Jack-of-all-trades.

It was too late though. Jack had gotten away again.

However, if that was the price to pay so Blair could get out of this alive, Jim would gladly pay it. That, he didn't say aloud.

***

Time was a relative entity while he sat waiting, wondering how many things he didn't know about Blair Sandburg. He looked down at the hand that lay in his, the pulse beating under his fingers, and thought: //I know everything that counts.//

***

"Let's get this straight." Simon Banks shook his head. "Lydecker was the admirer of Murray, and this Jack character found him before we did, and took a liking to playing with their M.O. Plus, he looked exactly like Lash?"

"He did," Blair confirmed, shuddering. "I don't think I'll ever forget that face."

He seemed rather collected on the outside, but his racing heart was like a drumbeat in Jim's ears. No surprise there. It was bad enough to catch the eye of a serial killer once in one's life. This... was way too much for one person.

"That's right," he said, "and Jack got away from us, unfortunately the only one of those bastards who is not dead. I think that's enough for the statement now. Blair still needs his rest, and Sam needs to catch a plane."

"Thanks for reminding me, Detective." Simon sighed. "So that's it. Thank you, Blair. I know this must have been hard on you."

At that, Jim had a hard time stifling his smile. Simon was definitely getting used to having Blair around. At least one thing less to worry about.

***

When they got home, Blair slumped onto the couch right away, feeling incredibly cold. It was all from being totally exhausted; he couldn't sleep in the hospital, hadn't slept the night before because he'd been terrified of the things that could have come up at the interview.

About Murray, and how he'd died. He had wondered if Theresa still lived in the area or had long since moved far away, and if she would have been called as a witness, confirming that he'd come to her door that night, another man's blood all over him.

Lash, but not him, Jack-of-all-trades keeping the horrible memory right here in the present.

What kind of karma had he called upon himself? And had there really been any other chance to escape from Murray? It was so hard to say in retrospective.

He jumped when Jim appeared beside him, holding two steaming mugs. "I made coffee," he said, but for such a mundane statement, his gaze held a lot of regret.

//He knows,// Blair reflected with a surge of panic. //The dissertation, the new life, it's all over now. He knows that I killed a man.// "Thanks." He studied the floor intensely, avoiding that intent gaze.

"You know, when Sam and I closed the Murray case, we often wondered what had become of the one who got away."

Any moment now...

"All right. I know that you have to turn me in, and I want you to know I don't blame you. You're a police detective, it's your obligation to--"

"Chief, hold on a second, what are you talking about?"

Had he made a mistake? Had Jim been oblivious until now?

"I didn't mean to. I was just out of my mind, you know? He, he was stripping me naked, and there was the knife and I--" Great. Now he was hyperventilating, too.

"Blair." A warm hand cupped his cheek for an instant and then moved to his arm, staying there. Breathing became a little easier gradually, and he finally dared to look up.

"I'm not going to turn you in. What for, anyway? You defended yourself. And you're a damn strong person for coming out of all of this not only alive, but sane. You're a hero in my book, Chief."

"I didn't feel brave either time. I was scared out of my mind."

"Simply proves you're human."

This time, there was no embarrassment as he leaned forward into Jim's embrace, so very tired, and grateful for a place to rest. Jim didn't seem to mind either, he just held on, waiting for the words to come.

"I'm not sure if I can do it. I'll see that shrink Eli recommended, but-- Oh, and I'm very aware that the one week I was meaning to stay is long over, and I'm really sorry about it, but I will start looking for an apartment tomorrow. And I'll still help you with your senses, of course. I just don't know--"

"You take your time to sort it out. Meanwhile -- stay as long as you want to. I like things the way they are."

"Really?"

Blair pulled back to stare at his roommate, slack-jawed. The hope was almost too much to bear, bright and so different from the dark shadows that had tinged his life ever since he'd crossed the Caretaker's path. A home. Not a place to hide, but one to live in.

Jim gave him a grin, obviously happy that the distraction had worked. "Really. Of course we'll have to go over some things again, like bringing dates to the loft, or the towels you leave lying on the bathroom floor each morning, and, oh, right--"

"Jim, man!"

Jim ducked the playful punch, chuckling. "Don't you worry so much. We'll be fine."

For the first time in a long time, Blair could see the possibility.

Annoyingly, his vision was blurring again, but Jim's words were more than reassuring. "It's all right," he said. "So glad we found you in time," and it could have been imagination, but his voice sounded just a tiny bit rough.

***

Epilogue

"I thought we'd maybe come to visit you two." Sam's voice was level, a bit cheery even, but underneath, there was a trembling, revealing the latest traumas.

"That would be nice," Jim said. So many changes. Sam leaving the FBI to spend more time with her family, Angel and Chloe. Sam's friend and daughter would join them for the trip to Cascade.

Blair graduating from the academy, a Major Crimes detective, starting profiler's training the next spring.

And Jack-of-all-trades was demystified finally, David Lash's twin brother from whom he'd been separated at birth.

Time to breathe.

"Hey, Chief," he called. "Sam's on the phone."

He watched Blair as he was talking to her, mentally leafing through a photo album of memories as he did it, from working the Caretaker case with Sam, to that run-in with 'Dr. McKay', all the revelations in between, and now.

They'd done well conquering all those pains from the past.

On to a new chapter.

The End.