Upside Down

by Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

 

Note: This story is kind of old, one of my first attempts at writing TS fanfiction, but fortunately, my betas are fearless (-: Thanks, Annie & Xasphie!

Feedback is much appreciated!

 

'I know exactly what you are, lady,' said the male voice in a manner that you could possibly interpret as threatening. The other occupant of the room, however, wasn't the least bit intimidated.

'And I know what you are, too. Welcome to the jungle,' she replied in her best ice-cold voice that always made an impression on witnesses.

Blair Sandburg made a hasty retreat from the District's Attorney's office door, silently grateful for his presence of mind, because in the next instant, it was slammed open, and a tall dark-haired man stormed out of the room, not even sparing him a glance.

Alex appeared in the doorway. She leaned against the wood, a content smile playing over her lips. "If he does that again, he'll get an Apprehended Violence Order." She was all cool beauty with her blond hair made up into a French roll, cornflower blue eyes sparkling with the anticipated triumph; he knew that expression well.

"Who was that?" Blair asked, making a mental note to ask her about the jungle comment later.

"Work," she explained curtly, motioning for him to follow her into the office. Once he had closed the door behind them, she reached for a file from her desk and handed it to him. "Here. Don't worry, you're going to get to know him really well."

+++++++++

Alexis Barnes had an astonishing conviction rate. She'd been successful for the majority of her career, a combination of hard work and the right connections, but all of that seemed to go down when her heightened senses had come online for the first time. It was terrifying, because she didn't have any control then, and didn't even know what was happening to her.

A witness' perfume or aftershave would be so intense to her, she felt like she was going to gag. Sometimes her own voice sounded much too loud in her own ears, and somehow metallic. Her favorite clothes suddenly felt scratchy and uncomfortable, and more than once she had to resist the urge to strip right there in the middle of the courtroom. And those headaches; they were hell.

There was another side to this phenomenon though.

At times, she could easily overhear conversations outside the room which had sometimes helped to turn a witness, or get information about what the defense lawyer's strategies were. She'd seen evidence overseen by the forensics that made a whole case turn around.

But with the course of time, the disadvantages outweighed the benefits; she couldn't cope with the sensual onslaught anymore. Then she had had to quit working.

When her doctor admitted her to a sanatorium, she knew her life as she knew it was over, and she began to hate. Her troubled senses, that was a given, but the hate, directed at everyone from the nurses to the fellow patients, helped her cope. Nobody there could really help her; sedatives only dulled her perception.

Until she met a young anthropologist by the name of Blair Sandburg, who was doing a study in said sanatorium, and happened to know more about enhanced senses than any of those damned doctors she'd seen.

+++++++++

The woman he was working with these days had nothing on the desperate Alex he'd met then, so consumed by her anger, frustration and - fear. During her time in the sanatorium, she'd had a lot of time to ask herself what it all meant, and everything seemed to tell her she was going crazy.

When Blair had read her file for the first time, everything seemed to tell him he was about to find his Holy Grail.

He had, as he told her later, found a magnitude of documented cases on people with one or two heightened senses, but never with all five of them. He'd become fascinated by the subject a long time ago, as an undergraduate, when he first read the legend of the Sentinel, an ancient idea of a watchman and protector.

Alex was the living proof of the legend, and gradually, he managed to convince her of that fact, working with her until she could get the sensory spikes under control. Eventually, her condition improved drastically, and she could be released.

But there was more to it.

As the legend suggested, every Sentinel had a companion, someone to watch his back - or hers, for that matter - for a variety of reasons. For Alex, the most important one was that she could get back to her job and do it even better than before, because with Blair's help, she learned to use her senses as she pleased. She could identify a liar by hearing the increase of the heart rate, among other amazing things.

Blair had not only found the fulfillment of a life's dream, but also a subject for his doctoral thesis. Alex had agreed that he could study her in return for helping her with her senses, a curse that had turned out to be a blessing for both of them.

So, besides working on his doctorate and teaching classes at Rainier University from where the regular money came, Blair was making sure that Alex could function properly on the job. They had worked out some cover story to explain his presence; officially, his dissertation subject was a study of "The modern court and its origins in ancient tribunals". Of course, the secret couldn't be revealed without jeopardizing her future.

A Sentinel, in his original role, had ensured the protection of the tribe, using his enhanced senses to identify approaching enemies, and sense changes in the weather among other things. It was amazing to see that Alex had indeed chosen a profession that guaranteed a lot of good for many people, because she helped put criminals behind bars. At first, Blair had been delighted with those coincidences, or aptly fitting pieces, whatever.

Lately, he'd been feeling a little disappointed, discovering that she seemed to care more about the personal gain, and the adrenaline rush that came in the wake of winning. On the other hand, he couldn't have asked for more, could he?

The last case had ended with the conviction of a man who had murdered two children and wouldn't see the light of day in this life. It was only the winning that mattered to Alex who'd been taking pleasure in calling Blair naive.

And now the new case. A man had been shot, execution style. James Ellison, private investigator and former police officer, stood accused, because said man had planted the car bomb that had killed both Ellison's wife and daughter two years ago.

Maybe Blair was just that, naive, but part of him sympathized with the man.

+++++++++

"They couldn't place him at the scene at first, but there's new evidence. This time he's going down." Alex was right in her element, her eyes blue fire.

"I don't know if that's such a good thing," Blair muttered to himself, aware that she'd understood every word from across the room. He'd finished reading the important parts of the file. Sure, if everybody was allowed to take justice into their own hands, society would be the proverbial jungle indeed.

But still... the bomber by the name of Dawson Quinn had made a deal with the DA, turning in some ex-CIA gone criminal, and subsequently served a ridiculously short time. After being released, he went straight to Lima. Ellison had tracked him down, then chased him back up to Cascade. It was in this city that the brutal murder had taken place.

"Don't even say it," Alex advised coolly. "It's what most people would only consider, but he actually did it. And it's not like he killed him right away, he carefully planned the whole event. I want people to know that I don't tolerate self justice from the people of my city."

*My City.* The Sentinel watching over her territory. Alex had taken a liking to that part, even if she mostly thought of the origins as romantic and sentimental. Blair decided that leaving it alone for the moment would be the smartest thing, so she went on to another subject. "You're seeing Ally for lunch again?"

"Her name's Megan," he corrected, faintly amused, "and, yes, I'll see her later. Why?"

His friend Megan Connor was well proportioned and had nothing on the anorexic TV lawyer, but Alex kept going with the joke because she didn't like Megan.

"You're clever. You tell me why."

"Wait a minute, you're not saying she's advocating Ellison?" Blair immediately saw trouble coming. It wasn't the first time this situation had occurred, but this was such a high profile case he just knew that between the press, Alex and Megan, he'd have to be very careful who to tell what.

Alex, however, seemed to be enjoying herself. "Right," she said with a smirk. "I knew you were clever. And together, we're downright invincible."

+++++++++

Nothing wrong with that when you're talking child molesters and cold-blooded murderers. Alex had all the right instincts, not to mention the senses to find their weakness, corner them and tear even the sharpest attorney's strategy to pieces. She was really good at that, and Blair had been able to make a contribution over the years, not just helping her with her senses. His own background and the knowledge that came with it about how people ticked, had often helped to break a case and make them walk out of the room as winners.

He just couldn't understand what had her so possessed with the Ellison case, because that was the impression he got after going through all the details with her. She had such an overwhelming desire to connect him with the murder, it was downright scary.

On top of it, Megan was Ellison's attorney. Could things get any more complicated? he thought, irritated, as he pushed open the doors of the little Chinese restaurant he and Megan had chosen for lunch.

She was already waiting for him. "Hi there. I'm glad you could escape the Black Widow's web for a while," she said with a mischievous smile. Megan didn't like Alex either.

So far, Blair had miraculously managed to handle both their friendship and his working with the D.A., yet he couldn't help but wonder if this new case would change everything. There were so many questions left unanswered besides the likely truth that a man took revenge for the murder of his family.

"Ah, come on, she's not that bad," he said finally, wondering why it sounded so lame.

"Sure, and the sun rises in the West. Sandy, I'm afraid you won't learn until it hurts you."

"Stop that. You're scaring me here." He laughed, but it sounded forced. It was stupid. He'd known Alex for two years now, only a little less than Megan who, a few years ago, had left her home downunder to join the law firm of Banks & Co.

Before she could answer, her cell phone rang, and she smiled apologetically. "I should have turned off that damn thing. It can only mean my lunch break is over." She listened to the caller for a moment, then Megan cursed in her best Australian slang. "Of course. I'll be there in ten. Do nothing until I'm there, okay?"

"You have to go," Blair observed. "It's your new client, isn't it? He showed up in Alex's office this morning."

She groaned. "Does that man ever listen? Whatever. Yeah, I'm afraid I must go. Another time, okay?"

"Hey, sure." Blair hugged her briefly, then she hastily left. He was becoming really curious about meeting James Ellison who seemed to be keeping lots of people very busy these days.

+++++++++

"Okay." Megan sighed. "Now tell me exactly what happened." Her secretary, Rhonda, hardly ever lost her nerve, and her current state of nervousness was definitely unusual, indicating nothing good. This new client really meant a challenge - it seemed like whenever she turned her head, something unexpected was happening with him.

"I w-was just bringing him a coffee, and we watched that - rainbow. And suddenly, he was like this. Scary. You're sure we don't need an ambulance?"

At the moment, Megan wasn't sure about anything. Jim Ellison was still standing in front of the window, motionless like a statue, but still breathing, thank God. "Jim?" she tried, almost feeling Rhonda scowl behind her back. Nothing. "Sorry, I suppose you tried that before." Tentatively, she reached out and touched his arm.

"Now what?" Rhonda murmured. A little louder, she asked, "Has this happened before?"

"Not that I know of," Megan answered, her mind racing. Eventually, she went to the restroom, took a towel from the shelf and held it under the faucet. Rhonda's eyes grew wide as she watched. Again, she said, "You sure?"

"Rhonda, please shut up."

Resolutely, Megan walked over to the still unmoving man and held the dripping towel against his neck. At first she thought this attempt would be equally as futile, but all at once he shrank away from the cold wet sensation with a start.

"Damn, wha - Megan? What the hell are you doing?" Jim Ellison asked with true indignation, rubbing the damp collar of his shirt.

She slumped into the adjacent chair, inhaling deeply. "Right. That's a very good question. Next time you decide on a trip to the middle of nowhere, tell me about it first, will you?"

"What happened?" he asked curtly though she assumed he already knew.

Rhonda had quietly retreated from the room, and Megan explained why the secretary had called her. She still could hardly believe it, and was more than a little relieved that her client was back to normal. She didn't want to ponder what could happen if this occurred in the courtroom. "This is serious, Jim. Have you seen a doctor yet?"

He turned his gaze away from her, but not before she'd seen the pain in the pale blue eyes. "They can't explain this." He left it up to her to elaborate on the implications. Nothing physical. For the first time since she had met Jim, Megan could make out something like defeat in his composure. He was scared, and seeing that so clearly in a man who hardly gave anything away when it came to emotions, ever, it was scary in itself.

"So what were you doing?" she asked softly.

He shrugged. "I don't know, just looking at this rainbow, when your secretary said how amazing the colors were... I have no idea. Gwen used to love rainbows," he added almost like a second thought, with a sad smile.

Megan waited, not trusting her voice.

Little Gwen had only been seven years old. She honestly believed that Jim was innocent, but at this moment, Megan would have understood, had he really done what he was accused of.

Jim seemed to have read her thoughts. He faced her again before he said, his voice calm but determined, "I sure wish I'd killed that bastard, but I didn't. I really hope they're gonna find whoever did it in the end, so I can thank him."

"So let's see to that."

+++++++++

"Hey, are you listening to me?" Alex asked, making no attempt to hide her annoyance.

The handsome dark-haired man made a show out of turning around from the window where he'd been watching Barnes' consultant, an interest in his eyes that *he* didn't attempt to hide, and that made her nervous because she couldn't quite categorize it. Any way, letting him get too friendly with Blair Sandburg was no good to her plans.

"Sure, darling. What's up, you jealous?" Lee Brackett smiled at her. He was enjoying himself, no question.

"Crap," she spat out. "I know you're quite fascinated with this Sentinel stuff, but don't let it go to your head. What I, what we're doing here is important, I hope you've set your priorities straight."

Alex was angry, something that made her dangerous as well as incredibly gorgeous. Lee Brackett, ex-CIA, now an important member of the DA's current agenda, was sure he could handle both. He shrugged, nonchalantly. "No need to worry. Everything's under control here." He knew she was probably monitoring him, which he found a bit unnerving, but that was part of the deal he'd made and only one more challenge. Brackett reached out to touch her face, running his thumb over the smooth lips, but she pulled away, still angry.

"Not now. We've got work to do."

"Alright, alright." He held up his hands in mock defeat. This thing was going to be much more exciting than he'd thought, and certainly worth the risk he was taking.

+++++++++

Alex was good, but so was Megan, which meant Ellison was still a free man and he would be at least until the end of the trial. Alex was fuming, and Blair thought it wasn't a good idea to let her know he was going to meet the Australian lawyer.

Rhonda wasn't sitting in her usual space, so he assumed he would find Megan having lunch in her office as well. Blair knocked and opened the door to be faced with the person he'd become so curious about lately. "Mr. Ellison... I didn't expect to see you here."

"That much I figured," Ellison replied with a smirk. "And you're Catwoman's side-kick, right?"

Blair was startled for a moment that Megan's client knew him, but then he realized that Ellison had to remember him from the day they met in front of Alex's office. He wondered briefly why everyone around him was so quick with nicknames. "Actually, more like Robin, I hope. I'd like to think I'm one of the good guys." He'd barely said it when he realized how it had to sound to someone who was accused of murder. "I didn't, uh, mean it like that," he hurried to apologize, but Jim Ellison just smiled indulgently.

"But you don't seem too worried about being here, very much unlike Alex. Why's that?"

That was indeed a good question. He leaned against the edge of Megan's desk, unconsciously running a hand through his hair. "Um... I'm trying to get the complete picture, you know? It's hard to lose someone you love, especially like that--"

"You don't know shit!" Jim cut him off sharply. "And get this, I don't need pity! Not from you, not from anybody!"

"Okay, okay. I just meant... never mind. Forget it."

"Whatever. Megan's back, she's talking to Rhonda outside, so I suggest you leave now, before anyone gets the wrong idea."

"I don't hear her," Blair said, surprised. It was nearly impossible. The double strength door of Megan's office was supposed to make sure that conversations were kept confidential - both ways - so how...?

Jim's expression was that of intense concentration. "Ever wondered what Rhonda's thinking about you?" he asked, suddenly grinning.

"You're kidding me, man."

"No, really. I wouldn't have thought..."

Blair never got to know what Jim meant because at that moment, an ambulance's horn blasted in the distance, barely audible to him, but Ellison obviously felt differently, as he covered his ears with his hands, his face suddenly a mask of pain.

For a split-second, Blair just froze, caught off guard by the extreme reaction he hadn't expected, but then he fell into the pattern that had proven successful with Alex. He did it without thinking, as if acting on auto-pilot.

He moved slowly, cautiously, as he gripped Ellison's wrists, gently urging him to uncover ears that seemed extraordinarily sensitive. There was some resistance, but eventually, Jim obeyed.

"Listen to me. Listen to my voice only, you can block out the other sounds," Blair said calmly, even though he could barely hide his excitement. His hand, now on the other man's shoulder to ground him, was shaking lightly.

"No! Too loud... it hurts."

"Yeah, I bet - but you can do it. Just try to relax."

Gradually, the lines of pain disappeared, and with them some of the tension Blair could feel clearly under his hand. "That's it."

They sat in silence for a while, both stunned for different reasons. Jim spoke first.

"How the hell did you do that?" The harsh tone belied his astonishment.

"Experience," Blair replied, equally as amazed.

+++++++++

Sandburg had waited for him until his appointment with Megan was over. He seemed a bit jumpy, but Jim just assumed that it came with being employed by someone like Alex Barnes, all the more since he was helping the main suspect in her latest high profile case.

Half an hour later, Jim's mind was still spinning. Partly from the multitude of information Sandburg had left him, partly from trying to find out where it all fit in the greater picture. When Alex made that jungle comment, how much had she known about his condition-

Gift.

Sentinel.

He smiled to himself, a genuine smile, something he'd hardly bothered with recently. Not psychosis. He wasn't losing his mind. It was ironic though that the one person who seemed to be able to help him was working for Barnes. It all came down to her, again.

So the real question was, if Alex didn't already know, would he, the consultant, tell her?

Why would she use an anthropology grad student as a consultant anyway?

It wasn't rational, but he couldn't imagine the student being involved in the felonies Jim suspected Alex of. Like being involved with Quinn. Where had her influence begun? Questions that might never be answered because while the lead was getting cold, he was facing murder charges. For some time after his family had been killed, Jim couldn't have cared less about what happened to him, but other people had wound up being involved. Innocent ones like little Gwen and Margaret.

So he still had a reason to fight.

All the more now that he knew he most likely wasn't going to end up in the loony bin because of the strange sensations and the episodes Sandburg called 'zone-outs'. So the strange urge he felt to get the young man out of Alex's claws was obviously some kind of self-preservation.

What else would it be?

+++++++++

He hadn't really lied, just a little omission of certain subjects. Like the companion thing. Blair was pacing in Alex's office, without her present, and finally sitting down at her desk. He was almost sure, no, scratch that, very sure he wouldn't mention to her that Jim Ellison was a Sentinel, too. Another little omission. It didn't really hurt anyone, as it wasn't connected to the case - or was it?

Nervously, he shifted the papers on the desk in front of him back and forth.

He had already found a Sentinel. A miracle, given the chances, but here he had another one, and wasn't it just the right time, him being disappointed with Alex and more than a little spooked by her attitude? But he couldn't just ignore the responsibility he had already taken on; and Ellison was the suspect in a murder case, after all.

One of the folders escaped from the pile and sent papers sailing in all directions to the floor. //Oh damn.// Alex had a temper, and though it was rarely directed at him, Blair knew for sure that she'd get mad because of this. He could only hope he'd be able to get it all in order again before she came back.

As he knelt on the floor, collecting the papers, he tried not to read, knowing she trusted him, but one particular name caught his attention. 'D. Quinn'. The post-it note was attached to a larger sheet with a paper clip, the other piece being a statement of account. $20000, remitted to Ronald Fresno. For a moment he just stared at the papers, not believing what they represented. Then he checked his watch, reassuring himself that he still had at least twenty minutes before Alex showed up.

Desperate to make it appear untouched, Blair couldn't be completely certain that he had re-stacked the sheets in the correct order, and he gulped in horror as he reshuffled the papers one final time, and tore a small corner from one of the cover sheets.

Now Alex would know for sure that he'd seen those papers.

New evidence out of the blue - and she had said something about a new witness, as well as a large sum of money paid to this man regarding Quinn... Blair was determined to find out what that meant, not even allowing himself one moment to think of the danger he was probably placing himself in.

Priorities were about to change.

+++++++++

"Thank God you're there. You know, I tried to call Megan, but she isn't around. I left a message, but that was, like, hours ago, and I really think you both should know this..."

"Breathe, Chief," Jim Ellison said amusedly, interrupting the flow of words. "What happened?"

While he listened to the story, amusement was rapidly replaced by worry. He wasn't even sure where that came from. This was the news he'd been awaiting forever; Alex couldn't already know. "Listen, stay where you are, and lock the door. I'll be there in twenty."

When he started the engine, he was still wrestling with the ghosts of the past - that dreaded feeling of déjà-vu, when he stood on the porch of his house, watching Margaret and Gwen buckling their seatbelts in the car. That moment he'd smelled the explosives, at least he now knew for sure it hadn't been his imagination - and he had shouted. It was too late, the car had exploded in a fireball, taking their lives, and wrecking his own life as well.

He was afraid to fail again.

+++++++++

Lock the door, alright. Only that wasn't really much comfort when you tried to go up against people who could pay $20,000 for murder. And where would they look for him first? At his home - which was where he'd run to, before Barnes had returned to her office. //Damn.// Not surprisingly, Blair felt more than a little trapped, and he decided to call Jim again to tell him they'd better meet somewhere halfway.

Putting his coat on, he dialed, but Jim didn't answer his phone. Briefly, he thought about calling 911, but what if it was all one big misunderstanding? That would be so embarrassing. No, it was better to wait for Jim; he was a former police detective, after all, and he'd surely have an idea how to deal with this.

He shuddered, not sure if it was really that cold, or if it was some kind of foreboding... he shouldn't be waiting here, practically expecting something bad to happen. He'd retreat to his car; from there he'd see Jim when he arrived. Yeah, that was a better idea.

With a little more confidence, Blair opened the door and stepped outside, relieved to see nothing and no one out of the ordinary. His car was, as usual, parked in front of the warehouse he'd partly rented. It offered at least an opportunity for escape if any unwanted guests showed up. And what a euphemism that was, really. So Alex wasn't the poster child for altruism and protecting the tribe after all, but accepting that the woman he'd worked with for two years was probably involved in several major crimes - that was something else altogether.

'Sometimes I can't believe how naive you are.'

She'd known and counted on it all the time.

+++++++++

Megan couldn't believe it. She had spent hours digging into dusty files, giving her all to make her case waterproof, but in the end it could have proven to be a fatal mistake. In the archive, she had had to turn off her cell phone, and when she finally entered her home, bone-tired, the blinking of the answering machine called to her instincts.

//Not now, please.//

But before the tape even ended, she was on the phone to a friend of hers who was, fortunately, the lead investigator in Jim's case. The rush of adrenaline was rapidly chasing away the fatigue.

'This is Detective Rafe, Major Crimes.'

"Brian," she said breathlessly. "I need your help."

+++++++++

While she was on the way to meet Rafe, her cell phone rang. Impatiently tapping her fingers on the steering wheel when she had to stop at a red light, she answered. And then she cursed, all her worries confirmed instantly. "Damn it! That shouldn't have happened." Forcing herself to calm down, she went on, "I want to see you in my office, now."

"There's no time for a situation report. We all know who's behind this, and I'm going after her."

Jim Ellison's tone didn't leave much room for negotiation. Of course, Megan was used to his ways by now, and she had still to advocate him. "Listen, Blair's my friend. I do worry, and I appreciate your help, but if you get yourself arrested, it won't get us anywhere. Do you understand me?"

"Nothing wrong with my hearing," he muttered with a dry laugh, then reluctantly agreed. "Alright. See you there," then he hung up.

Megan could only hope he wouldn't change his mind once more. The last thing they needed now was a perfect opportunity for Alex to add some more charges and, at the same time, create a diversion from her own crimes. Megan didn't even want to think about what this could mean for Blair.

//Damn it, you're not a cop//, she thought, suddenly angry. //Couldn't you leave this to someone who is?//

+++++++++

Only a few more steps. Yes, this was really a good idea, he assured himself. Now - where were the car keys? Just a minute ago he'd picked them up and put them... //Come. On.// An article he'd read a few days ago came to mind; it was about the advice often given to women to have the keys at hand by the time they reach their car or apartment, because it could save their life in an attempted assault.

Right. Here they were, in the pocket of his coat, just where he'd put them.

But sometimes even that didn't help, the article had said, Blair remembered, as someone grabbed him from behind.

Oh no, not when he'd already gotten this far. Some people murdered for much less than $20,000, and he had no desire to end up yet another proof of that sad truth. He struggled and kicked, briefly surprising the other man, because he obviously hadn't expected much of a fight. His elbow struck the man's abdomen, and the angry shout of pain was a relief, but only for a short time. Before Blair could even think of getting away, his head was slammed against the side of the car, connecting solidly with the doorframe of the driver's door.

For a short moment, he was just stunned, then, with the bright white light exploding in his head came the pain, brutal and all-consuming. The motion was repeated ruthlessly, and then the pain rescinded as he succumbed to blessed darkness.

+++++++++

God, it *hurt*. If that wasn't enough to make him nauseated as hell, Blair realized with dread that the ground was moving. He felt seasick, and the jackhammer in his skull did nothing to encourage him to open his eyes to his surroundings.

"I think he's coming to," he heard someone say, a male voice. There was another one; they both laughed. "Must have a hard skull." Foe, not friend, definitely. Shit, even thinking hurt. He longed for the blackness to embrace him once more.

It didn't happen.

A foot savagely nudged his side, and he couldn't help but curl up against the new pain. When he eventually opened his eyes, his vision was blurry for a moment. Not that there was much to see; they were in the back of a van, he noticed - that's where the unnerving movement came from. With him, there were two men who looked everything like the bad guys from a B-movie, bulky figures, automatic weapons and attitude.

"Good morning, sunshine," one of them snickered. "Had a nice nap?"

Was this really Alex's doing or had it a completely different meaning? Blair tried to sit up only to have his stomach rebel again, the pounding in his head growing stronger, and he held his head with both hands, groaning.

Whoever was behind this, it meant they still had some use for him. Otherwise they would have killed him right away. In his time working with Alex, Blair had learnt more about the criminal mind than he ever intended to, so that much he could tell.

//Just where do I go from here?//

"Hey, punk, I'm talking to you."

Well, Blair hadn't thought they'd expected him to answer anyway. This line of thought was rudely interrupted, when a greasy fist grasped his hair, a sharp yank bringing back the bright lightning of pain. The laughter grew in intensity, disturbingly loud like it might be to a - Sentinel.

Gritting his teeth against the painful sensations, Blair thought of Jim Ellison. //Man, I could use some help here.// Somehow, he felt comforted just by imagining that the other Sentinel would do something about this mess, if only to prove his own innocence in the murder of Quinn.

Maybe he should have told him about the companion thing anyway.

+++++++++

Jim had arrived shortly after Megan and Rafe met in the parking lot of Banks and Co.

"You sure this is a good idea?" Rafe asked with a doubtful glance in Ellison's direction. As the lead investigator, it was quite risky for him to be seen with the main suspect. Hell, he knew this was risky for Megan too, but a friend of hers was apparently in danger. What was he supposed to do?

"For all we know, Sandburg's life is at stake here." Cold blue eyes met his. "So why don't you worry about protocol later?"

Of course, the man knew a thing or two about police work, too. Since Jim had been working out of a different precinct, they had never met before Ellison became the main suspect in this case, but Rafe had done his homework. He knew that Jim and his partner at that time had an almost magical solve rate. And for all *he* knew, the investigation was about to be taken over. Megan had mentioned something about the surprising rapport her client had developed with her friend right away.

He cleared his throat. "Okay then. What do we have? I sent a forensics team over to where Sandburg lives. You sure he hasn't just taken off? Got cold feet?"

Jim Ellison held up a hand as Megan was about to come back with an angry retort. "We're sure," he said, calmly, though Rafe could clearly feel the tension practically radiating off the man. "This is what your forensics team oversaw." He handed the detective an evidence bag.

"How did you get that?" Rafe asked incredulously.

Megan's eyes widened as she remembered reading earlier papers Blair had written based on the assumptions of a man named Richard Burton.

+++++++++

A cruel grin distorted the man's handsome features as he watched from yet another window, witnessing the arrival of his employees and their charge. So, everything had happened according to the plan; he hadn't expected anything else. After all, he wasn't known for choosing fools to work for him.

He, too, had come to know what Alex was like when she felt the rush of triumph, knew it up close and personal. Mr. Know-it-all wasn't quite so cocky anymore; in fact he looked rather miserable.

He would deal with him later; they had just bought themselves some time. Enough to enjoy Alex's good mood a little longer.

+++++++++++

Too late.

Too late once more.

The certainty felt numbing for a moment, but Jim angrily pushed the hands of helplessness away, having felt helpless and yet accepting it for much too long. There had to be something left to do this time. Blair had said that he left Megan a message. So someone else was in on the secret.

If they'd meant to kill Sandburg, he would have surely found the body right here at the warehouse, but to Jim's infinite relief that wasn't the case. He watched the forensics people examine the building as well as the abandoned car, and when they were on the other side of the grounds, he slipped under the yellow tape, doing a quick check of the car himself.

He thought about the strange events of the day, walking past the university with Blair. Listening to the younger man's animated chatter as he told him something about 'smelling the roses'. At first, he had refused what he thought of as ridiculous, but quickly realized that he actually could separate smells from a considerable distance.

Amazed, then. Aghast now.

It was blood.

Sandburg's blood, that much he was sure of.

It was the strangest thing to experience this certainty about what had always seemed particles of an indefinable mass of sensory input assaulting him. A single, separable smell. And then more. A long curly hair stuck to the car frame above the driver's door. Not sure if he could actually come up with anything, but hopeful of doing so, he'd brought a pair of tweezers and the inevitable evidence bag.

Megan had a friend with the Cascade police department who would certainly be able to make sense of all this.

Quietly, he retreated from the crime scene again, to call his lawyer. Next on the list would be a visit to Alex's.

Blair Sandburg was still alive, and Jim was determined to make sure that it stayed that way. Nothing else really made sense.

+++++++++

They had gathered some ideas, which included taking a look at Fresno's likely rap sheet as well as into Alex's property - which would hopefully lead them to the place where they had taken Blair.

But all of that took some time, and when they were finally coming up with something, Alex made an appearance at Megan's office that had all the hallmarks of an Oscar-worthy performance. Practically shoving Rhonda aside as the secretary tried to hold her back, Alex rushed into the office, not even bothering with a greeting.

"Tell me, has your client lost his mind right now? What possessed him to kidnap my consultant?"

Alex was furious. She was also a brilliant actress, and if Megan hadn't known that, she would have felt tempted to believe the other woman. She was all righteous anger as she did her act.

"Oh, great," Megan said sarcastically. "Why not find another thing to blame him for. Great tactic, Ms. Barnes. Just don't expect it to hold up in court. My client has no business with your employees."

"Oh, my employees is it now? And there I was foolish, enough to think you care about Blair, too, but obviously your *client*," the word was spat, "comes first. Wait until we have another murder with the same MO on our hands. A bullet to the head, remember?"

Megan came around from behind her desk, glaring at the DA. "I'll tell you something," she said, her voice dripping equal venom in return. "If *you* don't stop harassing me and my client, guess who'll be arrested real soon? Just think about it."

"You wouldn't..." Alex slowly shook her head, giving a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "He's going to drag you down with him. Just like he always did with the people he loved," she said cryptically, before turning to leave.

+++++++++

"I guess it's time to act now."

Megan jumped at the sight of her client in front of her. Just how had he come in without her noticing anyway? "If you're expecting me to play a part in this, you'd better not give me a heart attack anytime soon. Just how did you... ah, don't bother."

She hadn't had the time yet to look into the data that Blair had given her early on in their friendship, when she had asked him for something from his field of study, purely out of interest. Jim Ellison. Alex Barnes. A lot of things suddenly made much more sense, and she was determined to ask Blair if, no, when they found him. Trying not to think of the less encouraging possibilities, she blinked away the threatening tears and slid back into professional mode.

"Rafe just called. Now this is interesting. Alex owned a small house outside Cascade that has recently been sold to Fresno... the bad news is, there's no evidence to tie her to Blair's disappearance yet. Which means no search warrant. They're going to question her, of course, but..."

"It's not enough. And we don't have that much time. I'm afraid, Sandburg doesn't have that much time," he added, softer.

She sighed. "What the hell are we going to do? Alex is hell-bent on telling everyone it was you!"

"I figured," Jim said calmly.

"That's all you have to say?"

"Actually, I do have some ideas about that. It's better if I don't come here for a while. In the meantime, dig up what you can about Fresno and how he's tied to Alex, okay?"

"Aye, sir," Megan replied with a sigh. "You going to disappear in the meantime?"

"Something like that. Just trust me, okay?"

"Oh, well. What choice do I have?"

They shared a sad smile, then she watched him leave. Unbidden, the image of a creature of prey came to her mind. If Blair was still alive, //now scratch that, surely he is//, Jim was certainly his best chance. For the first time, there was a shadow of doubt cast over her till now unwavering certainty that he had not taken revenge on the murder of his family.

But she didn't want to consider that right now. He would probably save her friend's life, and she would contribute what she could.

+++++++++

It wasn't until the man was turning slightly bluish that he caved in. "Alright, alright. It's true, she gave me the money and sold me that damn house, but I don't know where she is right now! You gotta believe me!" he whined, as he struggled to get enough air into his lungs to finish the sentence.

"Then you'd better tell the truth."

Finding Fresno had been ridiculously easy. They had been too sure of themselves, downright arrogant in fact, until Sandburg had stirred up a hornet's nest by finding the account statement. For a man who had committed a murder in cold blood, Fresno was behaving remarkably cowardly when somebody else held all the cards.

"They're going to kill me!"

Criminals from the hired goon department often weren't that big on logic either. Jim had had his experiences with that, both as a cop and recently, as a private investigator. He pressed his weapon a little harder against the man's throat. "They, or me, doesn't matter that much to me. I'm asking only one more time. Who. Are. They?" Apparently having decided that a possible later was better compared to a certain sooner, Fresno chose to answer, "Somebody who wanted Quinn dead, because he knew too much. Barnes teamed up with him because they had some common interests... some scientific stuff I don't know about!"

"Go on."

"His name is Brackett - Lee Brackett."

Jim staggered backwards, releasing his hold on the man for a moment. Lucky for him Fresno needed time to catch his breath as well. //Margaret...// He'd always suspected that Quinn had been only one part in a bigger scheme. There was the latest case he'd been working on as a detective; a B&E at a military hangar where the prototype of a new kind of tactical aircraft was kept, the investigations leading them straight to CIA headquarters. Lee Brackett had been one of the main witnesses.

And then the bomb had been planted under Margaret's car.

He wished he could tell Megan about this, but with Alex having already acted, he couldn't risk contacting her. Then again, she was capable and would do what she could from her side; that was a small consolation.

The rest - that was up to him now.

Back then, all those years ago, there was no way they could have gotten a search warrant, and that would probably be the case today as well. He would have to find other means to get into the place where Brackett and Barnes most likely were holding the young man he was eager to save. They had already destroyed his family; he would not let them take anybody else's life.

It had to end now.

+++++++++

"Alex thought it was better to kill you right away, but I convinced her that we still have some use for you."

Blair's mind tried to put together those unsettling words with the appearance of the man before him. A stylish haircut, an expensive-looking suit, probably equally expensive shoes, though he didn't check, because looking down would aggravate the nausea for sure - and that congenial smile, as if they were sharing a joke he hadn't quite understood yet.

A joke this was definitely not. He could easily tell by the man's gun. Or the dried blood on his own face, as he tentatively reached up to touch the wound. //Ouch.//

"That's very generous of you," Blair said, and it didn't sound the least bit sarcastic. He was so not in the position for sarcasm. "And you did that because...?"

"Oh, I'm just as excited as you are to see the legend at work. As for Alex, she's brilliant, there's no denying that, but she tends to overestimate herself. From what I can tell, you've helped her a lot, but the deal isn't one she could sign herself out anytime soon. As long as we don't have an oversupply of Guides - I take it that's what you are - the most logical thing is for her to keep working with you."

Blair stared at him for a moment, finding no indication that the other man was mocking him, trying to comprehend what all this was supposed to mean.

"So I've been working with her for about two years, and she used it to - what? Take out people that were displeasing her? You can't just kill me. There are people who know about Fresno and what she paid him for. They will put it together!"

"You think?" Brackett smirked. "If you're putting your faith in James Ellison, better think again. Now that you've disappeared, he's the main suspect. Both of you did very well playing into her hands. But don't let it be said we're not giving you enough time to think about it. Right now, Alex and I have our own hands full with proving that her murder suspect has a

reason to want the unfortunate consultant out of the way." He turned to leave. "See you soon."

The smile was friendly, but Blair wasn't fooled. As the man left him alone once again, the unsettling thoughts took over - Brackett didn't sound like they were acting on unexpected complications; it had to be a more far-reaching plan and Alex had played her part in it for some time, certainly ever since she'd been working on Jim's case. Maybe longer. Be sure to think of a way to deal with the side-kick when he finds out too much.

Caught up in the awe and enthusiasm of having found a true Sentinel, he'd been too easy.

Blair put his head into his hands and groaned, only partly because of the continuous pain. What had he enabled Alex to do?

Finding answers was one thing, living to tell the tale another, and for that he really had to get away from here. He braced himself against the wall; this time, the attempt to get up was met with success, if with a wave of vertigo. When it passed, he made his way to the door.

Not surprisingly, it was firmly shut, and did he really think they'd left him anything in the room he'd be able to use as a weapon?

Exhausted by the short inspection of his surroundings, Blair retreated back into his corner, sliding down against the wall, trying to get a handle on his breathing. Now was so not a time to panic. Megan knew. And Jim... in the few moments they had spent together, Blair had realized something, and with the discovery now came regret and guilt.

Talk about sins of omission. He had felt the connection, and tried to lie to himself. It was because Ellison was a Sentinel, the memory was still fresh so it had to feel more intense than those first days with Alex.

But what was Jim going to do?

And what would they expect of Blair in the meantime?

+++++++++

Lee Brackett wasn't a stupid man. It was easy to tell by the web he'd woven with Alex Barnes as a partner. Even assassins like Fresno and Quinn had gotten caught in it. From his own painful experiences, Jim was sure to never underestimate the man.

Knowledge he'd be using to his advantage.

The place would probably be packed with security, all the more reason why he couldn't just barge in. Jim smiled grimly to himself. Enter the enemy's territory. He could do that. He knew who he was dealing with, with regards to both Brackett and Alex, but maybe he was the one who'd come up with some tricks they weren't bargaining on.

He left the car at a friend's cabin, keeping in mind that everything within his range of vision would be well in Alex's as well. If they made it that far on the way back... But for now, he had to concentrate on the necessary steps; there was no use in nurturing doubts. Like the question of if he could actually use the senses to his advantage when Alex had two years of training over him. Like what he would find when he eventually arrived.

None of that was helping right now.

He had plans of the estate, made some years ago. They'd have to be enough; hearing and sight would have to assist. What he would have given for those senses some years ago when he and his former colleagues couldn't come up with a damned lead, and Brackett had politely asked them to leave his property.

It was almost funny, that kind of thinking, when just a few days ago he actually wanted to get rid of what Blair Sandburg called a gift. His thoughts went back to the conversation they'd had that day...

'I want to get rid of this thing, not figure out how it works.'

'Your abilities which were once latent and then suppressed, have been dredged up. Translation: You are back on line. And I haven't got a clue on how to turn them off. You're a monster, man, a human crime lab with organic surveillance equipment. What more could you want?'

'Control.'

'That's what we're here for. It's all about concentration.'

It was time to put the kid's advice to good use.

+++++++++

So far, it had been a disaster.

Only some hours after Lee Brackett had congratulated himself on his catch, he began to seriously doubt the benefits. According to the literature he'd had access to - which was just about anything written on Sentinels by Burton and Sandburg, plus some related sources, he'd set up some experiments.

Then Brackett had taken their captive to another room, where Alex was already waiting for them. There he had ordered Sandburg to sit in a chair and tied his hands behind his back. The kid wouldn't need his hands to guide, right?

Alex had grudgingly agreed when he had shown her the plans some days ago, saying they had better be important. He could sympathize. There was the Ellison case to consider, and this man, he knew, could always come up with a last minute surprise. Now that he and Sandburg had put too much information together, it had been time to pull the consultant out of the visible game.

But there was much more.

With Alex's abilities and Sandburg's assistance, the possibilities were near infinite. They could make a fortune.

Well, if only...

It would take a little longer to find the right method of persuasion. Blair Sandburg, being the bright person he was, could, of course, tell that this wasn't about enabling Alex to protect the world from all evil out there. He strictly refused to keep on with any kind of training for the Sentinel, and only intervened when she got a terrible headache.

She had been fuming then. "Bunch of amateurs," she'd yelled, meaning both of them, then stormed out of the room. Right, she had a few things to take care of. There was an arrest warrant issued for Ellison, and even if his lawyer had some friends with the Cascade PD, they wouldn't make it around the evidence they'd planted.

Hilarious. Those two men really met their fate when they found each other.

For now...

He glanced at their still unwilling assistant-to-be, who couldn't quite keep a little triumph from his face, stubborn, even though the guys had already done a number on him.

"That's too bad," he told Sandburg, who didn't flinch when he leaned closer into his personal space. Alex, however, would have surely been able to measure an increase in his heart rate. Very brave indeed. "I thought we could come to an understanding here, but now this is going to hurt. You wouldn't have it any other way."

"I do understand that you still need me," came the prompt retort.

Pretty cocky for a guy who had his hands tied behind his back. Brackett was confident he had the means to change that in time. It was all a matter of persuasion. "Whatever. I'll be back, and you better stay in that chair and not try anything. There's video surveillance."

+++++++++

Blair took a deep breath after Brackett had finally left him alone in the basement room. His headache had to match Alex's by now. The tests, visual and auditory with several devices, or better, the attempts to make him lead Alex through them, had been going on for hours. They had been served snacks and drinks in the meantime, but none of that for the unfortunate captive, of course.

It was a small victory, having gained that much time, but that victory was fragile.

He was tired, wanting nothing more than to go home and forget all about the dangerous knowledge he'd come to acquire, but that was illusionary, at best.

Megan and Jim.

Would they really be able to find him in time, before Alex and Brackett tried other ways of making him help them out with their plans to take over the world? Maybe it was better to start pretending...but how long could he do that? They were involved in a murder case. What future crimes of theirs had he been 'engaged' to make possible?

Somebody give me a pain dial, he thought miserably. Using the visualization and guided imagery he had taught Alex to control her senses. Those benefits would suit him just fine right now.

He jumped when Brackett returned to the room, his features set in a grim mask. Behind him, there were two of his goons. Blair couldn't help it, his eyes widened at the sight of the men who'd been in the back of the van with him.

"Look, man, I've thought about it. When Alex is back, we could try..." His heart was hammering. He really didn't want another round with those two.

Brackett laughed. "Yeah, we could. We'll give it another try tomorrow. Until then, Mike and Pete will keep you company. Maybe you'll find they have even better arguments, and tomorrow, we'll all be on the same page."

++++++++++

So far, the conditions had been on his side. In the distance, Jim had heard a car speeding away from the direction of Brackett's estate, and from the sound of the engine, he'd bet it was Alex's red Corvette. It was a new moon night, pitch dark, fine with Jim and his enhanced night vision.

No rain tonight, which was a novelty for Cascade and this month in particular, and that was good, too. He was still about two hours away from the estate, but the territory had already gotten rockier.

He made progress though, a black figure melting into the shadows around him.

+++++++++

Something was tickling the side of his face, warm and wet, almost more annoying than the pain. It wasn't just his head anymore, in fact, in his half-conscious state, Blair could hardly identify any part of his body that didn't hurt.

Nothing seemed to be broken which was a rather small comfort. Breathing was a bitch, indicating clearly that something wasn't quite right with his ribs. The jackhammer was back with a vengeance, and the funny double-vision images that occurred whenever he opened his eyes a fraction, screamed concussion.

And don't forget the deliberately placed kicks and blows. They had made it very clear that he was in for a few more similar sessions until Alex and Brackett were ready to proceed with their original plan.

He just didn't think he could take any more, and maybe this wasn't about the plan, after all. Maybe Alex had convinced her accomplice that she could manage to handle the senses on her own, so that they didn't need him anymore... The signs were all there. They still hadn't brought him any food, or anything to drink, and they had taken his clothes away. He couldn't bring himself to elaborate any further on the deeper meaning of that...

Shaking on the cold concrete floor and not seeing any sense in getting up, Blair just curled up further into himself - until he was startled aware by a sound that was dramatically out of place here. The roar of a large cat that seemed so near he felt the need to leave this pitiable position.

When Blair had managed to drag himself into a half-sitting position and opened his eyes again, the sound was joined by an image. A large cat, indeed, a black jaguar that sat in front of the door, wagging its tail and growling at him, none too friendly.

He blinked once, and it was gone.

Despite his desolate situation, Blair felt excited about the unexpected vision that surely wasn't a result of the likely concussion.

Alex's animal spirit was a spotted jaguar. Many tribal cultures believed in the existence of helpful spirits that appeared in the form of animals; it was part of the Sentinel legend, too, so Alex's visions hadn't surprised him. It couldn't be coincidence... there was another Sentinel in Cascade. Another jaguar, coming to him in this predicament.

Blair smiled, even if that hurt, too. This could only mean that help was on the way. It had been a good choice to refuse to help them after all.

Just as he thought this, the door opened.

Mike and Pete were back.

+++++++++

The roar had startled him, even more so the feline that crossed his path, seemingly coming out of the blue. Before he could even think of reaching for his weapon, it took off into the jungle--

No, the woods, of course, where did that come from? Jim's thoughts went back to Peru for a moment, the relentless chase for Quinn, something tugging at his memory... There was no time for this now, but the animal seemed to have a good sense of direction. It was leading him straight to Brackett's estate.

Jim followed.

Heartbeats. There were six - no, seven, he corrected himself, pausing as the Brackett estate came into view. And one of the heartbeats was Sandburg's, too fast and erratic with fear, most likely. To his surprise, Jim realized that he'd known before checking those cues. He just knew.

Something else to explore later.

Right now, comparing the distances allowed him to guess where everyone was. The heartbeats from the basement level were logically more muffled; that's where he had to go. Bypassing the cameras of course, and the laser alarm. The closer he got, the sharper his senses seemed to become.

Jim was a little concerned about using them non-stop like he was doing it now. The last time the lines had been open for that long, he'd gotten the headache from hell. Given the current situation; the chance to get Sandburg out of here alive and, as a by-product, restore his own reputation, he'd take the risk. Only it should not happen before they were at least back at his friend's cabin, where he'd parked the car.

Then he could 'consult the expert' about his senses.

+++++++++

When the door opened once more, he couldn't believe it. Not this soon...

"No," he whispered. "Stop it. Please. I... I'll help." Blair hoped they had heard him, because his words weren't really more than a rasped plea. Two years of his life... How could anybody be that stupid? If he lived until tomorrow, it would be all about gaining more time; he'd try to pretend.

But he couldn't object to their requests any longer.

"Good, that's what I'm counting on." The voice didn't belong to any of his captors, it was warmer, it was...

"Oh my God."

A gentle hand touched the side of his face. "Nice to see you again, too." Blair could hear the smile in his, Jim's voice. He wasn't imagining it. The Sentinel had come for him.

"We should save the pleasantries for later, though. It won't take them long to notice that the guard isn't answering. Can you sit up?"

Probably not, but he was going to do it anyway. It was one step in getting away from here, and that thought certainly gave him lots of motivation. As Jim supported him by a firm hold on his shoulders, Blair felt a sudden rush of self-consciousness, despite the pain, caused by the absence of his clothes. It was blessedly ignored by his companion, who was all business.

'The guard isn't answering.' What did that mean?

"Good, put these on first."

Blair felt more than he saw Jim give him the clothes; pants, a sweatshirt, socks and even a pair of shoes. The smell that clung to them was unsettlingly familiar. They stank of smoke. Mike had been smoking... he began to tremble as his palms and soles throbbed with the renewed memory of the hot ashes burning the sensitive skin...

"Hey! You still with me?" Behind the sharp tone, Blair could hear the concern, helping him focus on the task at hand again. So it was Mike's clothes or nothing at all. It required some teamwork, but eventually, he was scantily dressed. The shoes didn't quite fit, too tight, where his swollen feet were a mass of pain from the cigarettes that had been stubbed against his flesh.

"No offense, but right now I really wish I was anywhere else. Don't get me wrong, I am, like, so happy you're here, I think you know what I mean..."

"I got it, Chief," Jim said with a chuckle, helping him up.

Blair suppressed a cry as his body rebelled against the movement, and a multitude of injuries blasted him with the full force of their pain. He was so desperate to get out of there, and he was willing himself to follow his Sentinel, taking Jim's outstretched hand for support. //Mind over matter,// he chanted internally. //If you want out of here, you have to move.// He steeled himself against the pain, and offered the faintest of reassuring grins to his liberator.

But shit, those shoes were real tight. "You got a car ready, too?"

++++++++++

The hallway was dimly lit, which was no problem for Jim at all. Scanning the expanse of dark walls, he found it safe to take the same way out. He turned to Blair behind him when he heard the shocked gasp.

Blair had almost stumbled over the lifeless form of the goon who had been standing guard outside the room, and was now dressed only in his underwear. Blair raised troubled eyes at his rescuer. "Is he--"

Jim shook his head. "Come on, we've got to keep moving." No, he wasn't dead. But almost. It was as if some boundary he hadn't been aware of, had been shattered when he smelled both the young man's blood, and his fear, on Brackett's minion. In the last moment, common sense had won. They had to get away from the estate as soon as possible, and there was still the murder charge hanging over his head.

Add to that the kidnapping of Blair Sandburg, he thought grimly.

No, he wouldn't give Barnes and Brackett any more advantages. They would finally have to pay. He tuned into the elevated heartbeat next to him; in the darkness of the basement's hallway he could easily see the lines of pain in Blair's face.

He didn't have time for more than a cursory check; since their time was running out, and he couldn't readily identify any broken bones, Jim had decided the best solution was to make a run for it. Well, they were not actually running, and he felt the anger burning once again.

What the hell was wrong with those two; Alex Barnes and Lee Brackett who considered the world their personal giant chessboard?

"Thank God," the voice pulled him back from his unsettling thoughts, and it took Jim a moment to realize Blair was referring to the unconscious man. "I guess we both have enough trouble on our hands as it is. Say, how did you get here anyway? Alex said she was going to frame you for..."

That's when Jim interrupted the flow of words with a hand over his mouth; in the near distance, he heard footsteps approaching. They held themselves pressed against the wall until it was clear that the man was going back in a direction away from where they were.

"Sorry. He could have headed our way."

+++++++++

"No harm done," Blair murmured, trying to ignore the leather of the shoes biting into his skin. There was really no time to lament when they were so close to getting away. Jim had to have a plan on how to get the two of them safely away from here.

He had found Dawson Quinn in Peru, then tracked him back up to Cascade.

They reached a staircase that lead to the first floor, and Jim took a moment to scan the surroundings with his hearing. When his face began to blank out, Blair who had closed his eyes for just a second, recognized the signs just a moment too late.

"Oh no, now's a really bad moment. How am I going to..." He was no stranger to this phenomenon. With the pain he was in, Blair was barely fully coherent himself, but everything depended on him right now. Since he had taught Alex control early after the surfacing of her senses, she hardly did this any more, but he had experienced it a couple of times.

The zone-out factor.

Improvise. Right. Both of their lives depended on it. "I need you to come back to me right now," Blair said in the calm, but firm tone that always seemed to work on Alex. "Follow my voice – come on back." He put one hand on Jim's back, remembering how that touch had been helpful with the sensory spike they'd dealt with in Megan's office.

It took about five minutes to bring Jim out of the zone. The five longest minutes of his life.

The pained expression on his face confirmed to Blair that episodes like this had happened before. With no one around to explain or understand them, there could have been only disturbing interpretations. In the short time they'd known each other, they hadn't had the time to cover this subject.

"Now you see why I want to get rid of this thing... but, wow," Jim said, amazed. "No one did that before without involving either hurting me or the use of cold water.

"Anyway, I think they've discovered that the guard isn't answering. So let's get out of here." He turned to Blair once more, a look of barely concealed astonishment still on his face. "Thanks."

"You're welcome, man."

For a minute or so, Blair had been distracted from both the pain and the fact that they could still get killed here. It was working, and so amazingly natural. It had taken much longer for him and Alex to build a working relationship, and it had never been more than that.

It seemed that right now, anything ought to be possible.

+++++++++

They were only just about halfway to the cabin, and already Jim could hear the angry voices of the men that made up the search party. He could even see their flashlights, tiny spots in the darkness, still far away, but they had dogs with them. With Sandburg's clothes, they could pick up the trail, unless...

It would take them quite a while to find the bridge that Jim had crossed on his way here. If they went straight through the river, the dogs would lose their trail. He blocked the voices and barks out for an instant, focusing on the expanse of water before him. The last few weeks had been uncharacteristically warm for the North-Western climate; it had made the water level sink considerably. Still, the river couldn't be trusted completely; there could be torrents even his enhanced senses couldn't make out. He would have given it a try without even thinking twice, but there were Sandburg's injuries to consider. Although Jim had been holding the bulk of his weight, when Sandburg was barely able to walk, the kid seemed exhausted. Well, it was the river or trying to outrun Brackett's employees. Not much of a chance.

The voices were getting closer.

"What d'ya say we shake them off right now?" Jim said, trying to sound optimistic.

Blair's eyes widened as he realized what Jim was suggesting, and his heart rate sped up. "You think we can do this without ending up drowning? I can't see a thing!"

"Don't you worry." Jim smiled even though he knew his companion couldn't see it. "I can."

++++++++++

In the cabin, the first thing Jim did was start a fire in the fireplace, then he gathered all the supplies for a first aid treatment in the bathroom. Blair sat in the armchair by the fire, staring wearily into the flames, pain and exhaustion visible in his features even without Sentinel sight.

"Chief? Let me take a look?" Jim could sense him tense up without even touching him. "I'll be careful, I promise. But those wounds need to be disinfected."

"Can't you just shoot me first?" The last of Blair's energy seemed to leave him, and he sighed. "Never mind. Knock yourself out, man."

Keeping his promise as best he could, Jim was as careful as possible. The shoes came off first, then the socks that had been clinging to the burns. The wounds would heal eventually, but the cleaning and bandaging had to be painful. That much he could tell from the trembling and the ragged breathing; otherwise Blair was quiet save the occasional wince.

When he had come here initially, Jim had left a spare set of clothes, assuming the kid's clothes wouldn't be in good condition. Some things could be predicted where Brackett was concerned.

Right now, he was glad about this foresight. Bit by bit, he helped replace the wet clothes with clean ones, checking the visible wounds as he went. Most of them were, like the burns, superficial and there was no hint of internal bleeding from the beating for which he was infinitely grateful.

From what he was able to perceive, they could deal with until they reached the city again.

Finally, Jim brewed some tea and brought it to the living room with some Tylenol. "You okay? Considering, I mean," he added.

"I'll live; I guess I have to thank you for that. Other than that..." He bent forward to hold his head in his hands. "Oh, man, I don't even want to start thinking about what I helped her do. I always thought this was something beautiful. Protector of the tribe. God, I was such a fool."

Jim joined him by the fireplace. "For all you knew, she was the DA that put lots of scumbags behind bars," he said quietly.

Blair looked up with a disbelieving expression. "She almost put you behind bars."

"There is that."

Both men shared a regretful smile, thinking what they would have given to turn back time. "I wish I'd... you know, met you before."

"Me, too, Chief." But it hadn't happened that way; he couldn't help wondering if he could have saved Margaret and Gwen if - if what? If this strange thing with his senses had come online before? And why now? Finding himself on the edge of a zone once more, amazed that he was able to notice and stop it in time, he resigned himself to the fact that it would take more than this evening to answer the questions that had been accumulating over the years.

+++++++++

The evening had been taking unexpected turns when Blair came up with ideas for a better control of Jim's senses, things he had taught Alex in the faith of doing something good in the world. They had even laughed sometimes; for brief moments forgetting what lay just behind them - and ahead.

But when it came to the arrangements for the night, there was the fact that Jim's friend had bought this cabin as a wedding present for his wife and it only had one bedroom. When his companion blanched at the sight, Jim did his best to act nonchalant, but silently he cursed Alex, Brackett and everyone involved in their murderous schemes.

Sandburg hadn't even known anything about their criminal activities. He had simply been a pawn.

"You can try and get some sleep. I'll keep my eyes and ears open," Jim promised in an attempt to lighten the mood - there couldn't be anybody who could hear enemies approaching before he could.

He leaned back against the headboard, scanning the surroundings, finding them safe. Strange how easy this seemed all of sudden. No headache, yet. Blair was right - they should have met long ago.

He didn't have to look. His senses would have told him anyway that Blair wasn't sleeping even without the constant shivering that anyone could have perceived.

"You know, you wouldn't be that cold if you got a little bit closer."

"N-no, thanks. I'm f-fine." The sound of teeth clicking together said otherwise.

Jim frowned. He couldn't detect any signs of fever, and he knew this even with the distance between them. So it was most likely the aftermath of what had happened today, but disconcerting nonetheless.

"Oh, come on. It feels like the earth is shaking."

Blair turned to face him. "Wow, no one ever said that to me before," he quipped, but the stress was visible in his tired expression.

Jim studied him for a moment. "Did they..."

Blair shook his head for an answer.

For a moment, both men struggled with the emotions that came with the certainty the worst had been averted, though the danger had been imminent.

Jim was once again amazed by the strength of connection he felt toward the younger man. It wasn't something that came to him naturally. Some people were like that, but for him, it had been more comfortable most of the time to keep his distance, with co-workers, with friends. Only with Margaret had he let his guard down more than usual. He'd done his best to be a good father...but life had gotten in the way, and he'd concluded that he'd be better off in the future not letting anybody that close. Not ever again; it just didn't pay in the end.

"Good. You're going to be okay." As if for confirmation, he reached out to touch Blair's arm, contented when he noticed that his skin wasn't as chilled as before. He kept the contact for a moment, for his benefit, or his young friend's, he didn't really know or care which.

"Thanks to you, man. You know, I'd really like to... pay you back in some way. I'd like to teach you everything I taught Alex. Even if my dissertation is, like, *dead* right now, all the research can still do good. You remember what I told you about the legend? Burton mentioned the zones, and he said that every Sentinel had somebody helping him with his senses so he could control them and..."

Blair took a deep breath, stalling a little. He knew exactly what he was about to say, but would Jim really want to keep on working with him after he'd practically supported the people who murdered his family? What a damn mess. And what would happen with Alex?

"Are you saying you're volunteering for the job?"

Blair didn't hesitate. "Well, yeah, that's what I mean, if you can imagine..." He just felt like he had to do this, and if he didn't say it now, he might not dare at another time. What had once been a dream come true, had been turning into a real life nightmare. He was taking his chances.

"Never change a winning team, isn't that what they say?"

It was decided then.

+++++++++

The next day, they moved out shortly after breakfast, and while they were on the road, Jim called Rafe from his cell phone.

The detective groaned in exasperation. "Ellison, where the hell are you? Just so you know," he added, keeping his voice barely above a whisper, which indicated that it was probably not a good moment to talk about this at length, "There's a warrant out on you for kidnapping. Not that it's a surprise, but I really need you to work with me here."

"I will," Jim promised. "Meet me in an hour at Cascade General. There must be someone there you can trust to help without a fuss. Tell Megan to come, too. And, before I forget... there's someone who wants to say hello."

"Hi, Rafe," Blair greeted, taking the phone. He had met Megan's friend on a few occasions before. "I'm fine, considering. And I've got a few things to tell you about Alex."

The lightness of his tone faltered some as he mentioned his former boss, but then Jim took the cell phone back from him, maintaining the contact for a moment, then he ended the call.

They hadn't gotten much sleep last night. Jim could tell without looking at his companion that he was still in pain, tired, but he didn't complain, instead, he chattered endlessly about all the testing they were going to do, all the things that had given Alex an edge for quite a while.

"You know," Jim commented dryly, "I'm almost beginning to regret my decision."

Blair chuckled at that. "You're all heart, man."

++++++++++

When they reached Cascade General hospital, Megan and Rafe were waiting for them at the back entrance, with them an ER doctor and a nurse who would discreetly admit Blair.

The relief was written all over Megan's face, visible as well in the detective's expression even though he wasn't too happy about Jim taking charge once again. Once Blair was receiving attention, they all retreated to an empty room to discuss the strategies.

Rafe sighed. "I take it you didn't bring any evidence of Alex's and Brackett's involvement in all this. Did you see either of them there?"

"Sorry, I actually had something more important to do. Anyway, isn't that your job? It's Brackett's estate, damn it!"

"Can we prove it?"

"Would you cut that out now?" Megan interrupted the argument, shaking her head in exasperation. "We have to set them up. The question is, how?"

++++++++++

"I don't like it," she said, irritated. "I've pretty much relied on him for the last two years. What makes you think we've got everything under control here?"

Lee Brackett didn't need to be a Sentinel to know that Alex wasn't telling the whole truth. While she had no problems looking the other way while Brackett's employees were roughing her consultant up a little, disposing of Sandburg was something that didn't really sit well with her, for kind of sentimental reasons though she'd always claimed they weren't involved.

Well, truth was you couldn't probably get any more involved than a Sentinel and a Guide. Alex Barnes could kill in cold blood and had proven it. The fact she was reluctant here was quite remarkable. Brackett pursed his lips, regretting a little that there was no alternative. Business came first. "He hasn't been much help lately, has he?"

Alex shrugged. "Just make that damn call," she snapped, then stared straight ahead while he dialed the numbers.

++++++++++

"I don't believe this!" she said aloud to herself as she hurried along the hallway toward her office. Alex was so very angry it gave her the kind of headache she hadn't suffered for years. That's what she got from believing in Lee's talk that he only hired the best.

A bunch of fools they were, letting *one man* invade the territory and steal her Guide. She took a deep breath as she turned the key in the lock, trying to calm herself. She'd never seen it quite that way, the relationship she and Sandburg had had before. It was strictly work, and it had helped her gain considerable wealth while keeping the façade of a hard-working law-abiding person. Defending the law, in fact.

Sure, she hadn't been looking forward to the necessity of killing him, but Lee had been right in that; there wasn't any other way.

Only that the man in question had escaped, with the help of another Sentinel.

Alex had suspected right from the beginning; when she noticed Ellison set her instincts on edge. Now she was sure. Hands trembling with frustration at the unexpected course of events, she pushed the door open, only to be faced with...

++++++++++

"Blair." Alex smiled at him innocently as if she hadn't signed off each bruise he was wearing. Sadly, Blair remembered a time when he had admired her.

"Hi, Alex. I knew you'd come here eventually."

"Yeah, but I didn't expect it of you."

He shrugged. "I've been thinking. And maybe you're right, with the talents you have, you could become much more than a successful DA. In fact, there's pretty much no limit to what you can do."

She wasn't fooled easily though, and kept standing with her back against the door, her stance wary.

"That's why you ran away with Ellison, huh?"

Blair leaned back into the chair, trying to convey nonchalance. Not so easy when you were hurting all over, and barely conscious from powerful medication. A flash of concern flickered over her attractive features, which he found ironic. "I didn't run away," he clarified. "I just wasn't too pleased with those one-sided conversations we've had recently. Face it, Alex, Brackett can never do for you what I did - and maybe, I could keep on doing it. Together, we're downright invincible - those were your words."

Now, her expression had changed to disdain. "Why should I believe you?"

"Because I'll give you what you wanted right from the beginning. Jim Ellison. He trusts me. And if you want to build your case against him, you'll need the statement from the unfortunate victim - me. Think about it, Alex. No one will know the truth."

"Why?" she demanded.

"You are my Sentinel. I'm your Guide. Neither of us can run away from that, if we're honest."

There were still doubts in her blue eyes, but Alex was definitely interested. "You're sure you won't feel guilty when we put Ellison behind bars? And Fresno? You know we have got to take care of him, make sure he doesn't talk."

"My place is with you."

"Alright then." Alex came closer, smiling at him. "I like this solution much better anyway," she said, leaning over the desk so she could kiss him. Reaching into her purse at the same time, she pulled out a small handgun and directed it at Blair. "...but you'll understand I still need some insurance."

++++++++++

"We got to move. Now!"

It had been a hazard, trying to bait Alex out, and Rafe had only very reluctantly agreed to it. Now they had everything recorded, Alex's admission of recently planned crimes, and as it seemed, she was trying to get away, taking her former consultant hostage once more.

"You stay here," he told Ellison who had joined them, where they were crouched behind unmarked cars. The look he got was one of incredulity. Predictably.

"I don't have time to discuss this with you now. Just. Stay."

++++++++++

Jim had no intention of playing bystander in this crucial situation. Moving behind the police lines, he was keeping an ear on the conversation between Blair and Alex. Blair was still trying to convince her he'd come freely.

Assuming that she'd have someone waiting for her, he scanned the surroundings, until he found what he was looking for; the reflection of a face in a shard of glass where someone had shattered a beer bottle. He turned around to see the man standing on the roof behind them: Lee Brackett. It didn't surprise Jim to find him on the front line; Brackett liked to take a calculated risk; and this could only mean that he planned on assisting Alex by helping shoot their way free.

Or maybe he was simply following his own agenda, already anticipating that he was meant to be thrown out of the game.

He had to be there on that roof before Brackett could act.

++++++++++

The bright shining sun added a surreal quality to the scenery, Blair thought as Alex was once again threatening him with a gun, this time with the police as a witness. She hadn't quite clarified if she was believing him or not, but the development here was... unsettling.

"There are too many out there," he said. "We'll never make it to your car. Maybe it would be better to give up and..."

"No way!" She gave him a hard push, which almost made him lose his balance, his pain-hazed world spinning around him uncontrollably. Vainly trying to regain his feet, he didn't realize what was going on. Blair's tentative grasp on his consciousness slackened, and he struggled to understand the events around him.

Alex screamed.

And then a shot rang out.

++++++++++

Jim had ignored the elevator and jogged up the stairs, three flights, until he came to the door that led to the roof. When he broke it down, it was at the same moment Brackett pulled the trigger.

Mission accomplished, he turned to Jim with a satisfied grin on his face.

"Seems like you're never in time, are you?"

It was enough to make Jim lunge at the other man, with only one thought on his mind - Brackett would finally pay for all he'd taken from him. If the bullet that had just been fired had found its mark... then there was only one way to solve this, and it meant that Brackett wouldn't make it down off this roof alive.

++++++++++

It had all happened so fast, there was no way Blair could make sense of the events of the past few minutes. One moment, Alex was pointing the gun at him, using him as a protective shield, the next she'd directed her attention to the roof of some house across the street, wincing when the sunlight had hurt her eyes.

That scream of hers, almost primal--

She'd moved so fast that it left him with a sense of vertigo, placing her body in front of his, and then--

//Oh my God!// Shell-shocked, Blair dropped to his knees beside the fallen Sentinel, becoming aware that the sticky wetness on his hands and arms was blood. Hers. Her eyes stared up at him with a mixture of surprise and fear. He hadn't known that Alex could be afraid of anything.

Yes, he was still aware of the fact she'd most likely taken his death into the bargain, if she'd considered it necessary, and that she had been involved in several other crimes.

Despite of all this, he found himself grasping her hand tightly, his voice awash with desperate determination as he told her, "Just hold on, do you hear me? Help is on the way. Come on, Alex!"

Her fingers weakly curled around his, her attempt to smile turning into a grimace of pain. She tried to speak, but couldn't around the blood that was bubbling up.

The sight made Blair turn cold inside. Whatever she had done, those were powerful instincts he just couldn't push aside. Now he knew; it was the shooter Alex had seen on the roof, and she had acted immediately: Protect the Guide.

It wasn't like all his considerations had been so wrong.

That had been an instinct *she* had been unable to fight, and she'd pay for it with her life, the gunshot wound she'd taken to the chest, fatal.

"No!" Blair couldn't accept what he rationally knew already. "No, you have to--"

Her grip slackened and her hand dropped back onto the sidewalk.

++++++++++

When they reached the roof, their work was almost done; all that was left to the police was to put cuffs on their perp.

"We *will* take it from here. Ellison, do you hear me?"

Rafe was sincerely relieved when he found that Lee Brackett was still alive. Somebody else wasn't, though, and he could read from Ellison's haunted gaze that he'd come to the wrong conclusion.

"Blair is alright," he said. "Alex was hit. She's dead."

++++++++++

//Alright is not what I would call this//, Jim thought as he approached the scene, finding Blair cradling Alex in his arms one last time, crying over the loss of the other Sentinel, her blood all over him.

So, at last, she'd done something good, sacrificing herself for the life of her Guide.

In that moment, Jim knew he would have done the same. Without even thinking.

"Hey, Chief," he said softly, as though not to startle the younger man who was still deeply immersed in his grief, looking lost when the coroner and his colleagues took Alex's body away.

"Strange, isn't it? Seems like she cared, after all."

"Yeah." Jim reached out a hand, and Blair accepted it gratefully, letting himself be pulled up.

Shuddering, he took a look at the blood stains on the sidewalk, and then at those drying on his hands. "I'm sorry, but I think I'm going to..."

Blair had shown a great deal of strength and courage throughout his entire ordeal, even been ready to go into this dangerous situation to assist the police and help prove Jim's innocence, something he hadn't been obliged to do, but he'd clearly reached the end of the line here. Jim had been waiting for this to happen, so he was ready when Blair just collapsed into his arms.

//That's okay. I care about you, too.//

++++++++++

Even though he'd just left the hospital a few hours ago and none of the blood was his, the paramedics still wanted to take a look; Detective Rafe had informed them that he would expect them for a statement first thing tomorrow morning; they'd said goodbye to Megan, and then they could finally leave.

Jim had offered to drive Blair home, if it was okay that they stopped just once on the way.

When he parked beside the wrought-iron gate, Blair immediately knew where he was going. Ellison hadn't asked him to come along, and he didn't offer, not wanting to impose. That, and he was ready to crash. Once at home, he'd sleep for three days straight.

Still, Blair couldn't help but feel the rush of emotion that came over him when he watched Jim walk down the pathway leading to his wife's and daughter's graves.

How he wished he could have been there before, *guiding*, maybe things would have turned out differently.

Well, he couldn't turn back time, much as he wished. However, there was something Blair could do now.

++++++++++

"It all finally makes sense, but I guess you know that already."

If she'd been alive, Margaret would have countered with some dry remark. They'd shared the same kind of humor. "I miss you so much," he said, meaning both of them, surprised to hear his voice almost breaking with those words. It was as if permitting himself to care for someone again, to live for something other than the hunt for his family's murderer, had brought the pain back, stronger than before since he'd never really allowed it.

It also meant he was still alive, something Jim hadn't been so sure of in the past few months.

Something was intruding on his contemplation, a sound, a... heartbeat.

He turned around to find Sandburg standing next to him, obviously feeling uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry, I know this is private... but, you know, you told me you never used your senses that much before, and there's so much I haven't told you yet... I was just worried you could be zoning."

Jim studied him for a moment, looking undeniably worse for wear, barely able to stay on his feet, but still worrying that his Sentinel could zone. That's what they were now, Sentinel and Guide; whatever ties lay in the past for each of them, they were in it together as from now on.

"It's alright," he said, attempting a smile. It felt good. He put an arm around Blair's shoulders as they made their way back to his car.

"Let's get home. Doc said you shouldn't be alone tonight anyway, and I have this spare room..."

It was time to let the healing begin...

THE END