A Rampart to the Mind

Written by Annie & Lyn
Cover by Patt
Artwork by Lisa, Romanse, Nicci, Patt & Peter

Jim pulled his truck up onto the soft shoulder of the road as his cell phone rang. "Ellison," he said quickly as he thumbed the call button.

"Jim, hi, Jack here."

"Yeah, Jack, you got something for me?" Jim unconsciously held his breath while he waited for the answer.

"Yeah," the other cop replied. "Look, Jim, I went out to see Bill West, Collins ex-partner. He didn't want to talk to me at first but I got him to open up by telling him it wasn't an official visit. The thing he was really scared of though, was that Collins would find out he told me anything."

"Why?" Jim asked, nervousness beginning to tendril through his gut again. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and clenched his jaw tightly.

"Bill says Collins is a bad cop. When they were on the job together, Collins had a nasty habit of beating the crap out of anyone he didn't like. And Jim, his likes had nothing to do with what the perp had done. West says Collins is a racist and a bigot. He'd do a number on anyone they picked up who was black, or Jewish, or gay. Stuff like that. Nothing bad enough to kill, just enough for it to hurt." Jack stopped and Jim could hear him sigh.

"There's more," Jim stated, extending his hearing until he could hear Phillips' heartbeat. It was a lot faster than it should have been. "Jack? What else?" he pushed.

"The last night Bill worked, the night he got shot, he and Collins picked up this young guy for soliciting. Bill said it was a clear case of entrapment but the kid didn't give them any trouble. Got in the car nice as you please and kept his mouth shut. Anyway, instead of driving back to the station, Collins took a side turn into an alley, dragged the kid out by his hair and started beating the crap out of him. West tried to pull him off. He said he'd seen Collins lose it before but not like this. He was sure this time the kid was gonna end up dead. Collins tossed the kid to the ground and was kicking him, really laying into him, and screaming that he was a filthy faggot. Finally, West got Collins off the kid and the boy got up and tried to run off but he was hurt pretty bad. He didn't get far before Collins pulled out his gun and fired at him." Jim could hear the horror in his old friend's voice. "Anyway, Bill West saw it coming and tackled the boy, taking Dean Collins' bullet. Just before he passed out, he saw Collins give the kid a wad of money and tell him to take off. When West came round in the hospital the next day, Dean was sitting at his bedside. He told Bill he knows where his kids go to school and leaves the thought hanging, you know what I mean?" Jack said, sounding disgusted.

"Yeah." Jim sighed. The whole story had left a bad taste in his mouth. "Why didn't West report what had happened to IA?" he asked.

"Jim, West is terrified of Collins. He told me the guy's whacked in the head, but Collins had a good arrest record and none of the perps ever put in a complaint - other than the usual cries of police brutality - so, considering who the perps were, nobody down here bothered to investigate. The perps never took it any further. So, anyway, West decided to throw in his badge and get the hell out of Dodge. He moved houses. Shit, Jim, the guy was so scared when I turned up on his doorstep, asking about his old partner; I tell you, I thought he was gonna have a heart attack," Jack said, his voice softening in remembered sympathy. "After we talked, he told me he was sick to death of being scared, that he was gonna do what he should've done in the first place and get Collins off the force. His son wants to go to the Academy next year and West couldn't stand the thought his kid might end up working anywhere near Collins." Jack paused, then went on, "You going to tell me what this is all about, Jim? I'm gonna draft a report to IA about all this soon as I get back to the office. Anything you can add to it?"

"Not yet," Jim said, "But there might be. I'll call you back and let you know if there's anything."

"Sure, Jim, will do. I'll speak to you soon. Take it easy, buddy."

Jim stared at his phone for a moment. Maybe he could call Blair, warn him about Collins. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. The guy hadn't done anything yet to Sandburg apart from a little roughhousing. He'd told Blair he trusted him to handle things. Blair had certainly shown he was capable of looking after himself in the past. Jim looked at his watch. Blair would be in class now anyway. He tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and took off back onto the road, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. He drove fast but carefully, his mind centered on only one thing - getting to Blair.

"Shit!" He was late again! He'd stayed up most of the night - another infraction of Jim's rules but what Jim didn't know wouldn't hurt him - finding out what he could about dreams and psychic phenomena. The voices Blair had been hearing over the past couple of weeks had freaked him out more than he cared to admit. He'd wondered if it was linked somehow to reviving Jim on the mountain, but a careful search through his research notes, which out of unconscious habit he'd brought with him, had left him with nothing. He'd spent an inordinate amount of wasted time, trawling through Internet sites of dream analysis before he realized they would be of no use. He hadn't dreamed the voices after all. He'd actually heard them. That realization had sent a shiver up his spine. There was certainly some valid information in psychic phenomena - auditory psychics who heard voices rather than seeing people or scenes - but a depressing voice in his mind also whispered mental illness, schizophrenia, for instance. Was that it? Had all the stress finally unhinged him? He'd certainly had his share of mental anguish over the past few months. There'd been times when he'd felt like he was hanging onto his sanity by the skin of his teeth, and then there were the dreams. Even the physical symptoms like loss of appetite were documented, there for him to see in black and white. He'd know though, wouldn't he, if he was going crazy? He stared at himself in the mirror as though he might see some indication of it in his reflection.

He groaned and turned away from the sight of his weary face, the dark circles beneath his eyes accentuated by the stark pallor of his cheeks. "You are nuts, Sandburg," he muttered.

Blair hurriedly tried to zip up his pants. He froze when he came dangerously close to catching his dick in the zipper. He paused for a moment, taking a much needed cleansing breath of air then zipped up his fly - carefully this time - and pulled his hair hastily back into its customary ponytail. There would be time to do it properly in the cab. He reached for his keycard, remembering his car keys wouldn't be needed today, He'd had trouble getting his rental car to start two mornings in a row but both times when he'd called out the mechanic from the rental company, the surly man had been unable to find much wrong. A dropped wire, he'd suggested rather lamely. When the car had refused to start again on the third morning, Blair had given up and sent the car back, deciding that being on time for his final few days was more important than having the luxury of a car of his own.

He grabbed his backpack and headed for the stairs at a run. A forgotten untied shoelace tripped him halfway down and he wobbled uncertainly, grasping hold of the stair rail a split second before he plunged down the entire flight, the unexpected action causing pain to flare viciously in his back. "Fuck!" he swore loudly.

"Hmm - mm."

Blair looked up to see a disgruntled, well-built man frown at him as he passed him on the way up the stairs. Blair flushed and mumbled an embarrassed apology. This was turning out to be a really bad week.

He hurried down the rest of the stairs and headed for the front door of the hotel, relieved to find a cab at the curb and no one else in sight. Climbing in, he gave his destination to the driver and sat back, breathing heavily. Only two more days to go.

"Good of you to join us, Detective Sandburg," Agent Russell said as Blair hurried into the classroom.

Blair dropped his eyes at the expected low laughter from the class. "Sorry, sir." He made his way over to a vacant seat, groaning inwardly when he realized he'd have to sit next to Dean Collins again. Collins' partner, Perry Davis had taken to sitting at the back for the past couple of days and Blair wondered if the two had argued again.

Collins barely glanced at him. "Sandburg," he said.

"Morning, Dean," Blair replied, pretending not to notice Collins' wince at the use of his first name. The strange thing was that Collins seemed to have decided that baiting Blair was no fun anymore. There had been no nasty remarks thrown Blair's way, no surreptitious shoving or tripping for the last few days. Just a resigned sort of acceptance that Blair was here. Granted, they weren't exactly bosom buddies but the guy seemed to be making an earnest effort to be… not friendly, exactly, but harmless - and that was creeping Blair out way more than having Collins throwing rude comments or trying to toss him down a flight of stairs. It just didn't seem to be a natural state for the taciturn cop. Blair smiled a little, remembering that Jim hadn't exactly welcomed him with open arms at their first meeting, although they'd become good friends faster than Blair had expected. But this total turnaround with Collins just made Blair uneasy. He glanced around at the assembled class, wondering if someone had gone to Agent Russell with their concerns regarding Collins' attitude toward Blair. That thought made him more uncomfortable. It was bad enough Jim going all Blessed Protector on him whenever he got himself into a scrape. He'd vowed that he'd attend this course and do well, make Jim and Simon's trust in his ability worthwhile.

Opening his notebook, Blair decided it didn't really matter. If it meant he could spend the final few days of the course free from harassment, then he was happy with that.

"All right, everyone," Agent Russell said, pulling Blair's attention back to the lecture. "Let's start reviewing what we've learned over the past three and a half weeks."

The classroom was deserted by the time Blair finally closed his book. As was often the case, he'd become engrossed in his reading, scarcely acknowledging the goodbyes from his classmates and absently taking a raincheck on the offer of a drink at a local bar with his friends. The book Ann Rule had recommended to him had been riveting reading and it was only with reluctance and a promise to himself that he'd finish it over dinner that he finally put it down.

He stood and stretched, working the kinks out of muscles knotted from being bent over and stationary for so long, then grabbed his backpack and placed the book inside. He reached for his keys, but remembered he no longer had a car. Glancing up at the clock on the wall, he hoped he wouldn't have too much trouble finding a cab at this busy hour.

"You still here?" a voice asked from the doorway.

"Just leaving." Blair gave Agent Russell a rueful shrug. "Got caught up in my reading. It's a nasty habit of mine."

Russell smiled and nodded. "Not a bad habit to have if you're a profiler." He walked alongside Blair to the elevator and punched the down button, ushering Blair inside when the doors immediately opened. "I'm on my way out, too." He waited until the doors closed before speaking again. "I just finished up the profiles I got you people to do. Yours was pretty impressive, if controversial."

Blair swallowed nervously. "I didn't mean for it to sound so negative. If you want me to re-do it - "

Russell waved the suggestion away. "You completed the assignment exactly as you were asked to do. You were told to give your impressions of your assigned subject. There's no right or wrong answer as such. The actual mark was scored on how well you were able to do a profile that was concise and easy for your colleagues working a case to understand so they'd know what kind of UNSUB they might be looking for. You achieved that admirably."


The doors opened and both men stepped out.

"You need a ride?" Russell asked. "I heard your car was off the road."

"Only if you're headed in the same direction. If not, I'll take a cab."

"Might be difficult at this time of night," Russell said. "I'm actually heading the other way but it'll only take a few minutes to drop you off first -"

Blair shook his head. "No, it's fine. You go. Maybe I'll go grab something to eat first. Let the traffic calm down."

"If you're sure?" Russell nodded at Blair's affirmative. "All right then. See you in the morning. Bright and early," he warned, pointing a finger at Blair. "Don't forget you're doing another ride-along with some of the patrol boys."

"I won't be late," Blair promised, mentally reminding himself to set his alarm clock a half-hour early. "Good night, sir." He headed out the exit doors and stood for a moment, debating on where to go to grab a bite to eat. Remembering a small, cozy diner a few blocks away, he trotted down the steps, figuring he could finish his book while he ate, then get to bed early. Looking forward to a relaxing evening, he didn't notice the man who stepped up beside him and matched him step for step until he spoke.

"You heading back to the hotel, Sandburg?"

Blair jumped, then slowed down, dread twisting his stomach when he recognized the voice. "Oh, hey, Dean." Again there was that dissatisfied curling of Collins' lips. "Just grabbing a bite to eat. Got some research I want to do," he added, hoping to discourage the other man from bothering him for too long.

"Mind if I join you?" Collins' asked. At Blair's obviously startled look, he shrugged. "You were pretty tight with that writer - what was her name again?"

Blair stared at him for a moment, nonplussed by the chatty approach. "Umm… Rule. Ann Rule."

Collins nodded, looking thoughtful. "Right." He looked across the street. "So, you heading to that diner?"

Blair nodded before he thought better of it. Sharing the evening with his nemesis was not on his list of fun things to do. Collins nodded back. "Okay, let's go. We can share a cab back to the hotel later." He headed toward the street at a trot, leaving Blair standing flat-footed, staring after him. After a moment's hesitation, Blair followed him.

Collins slowed to an easy stroll once he reached the pavement on the other side. "So, this writer, Ann Rule, you think they were doing it?"

"Huh?" Blair glanced at the other man, puzzled. He'd been so caught up in his thoughts, wondering where the heck the real Dean Collins was, and where the aliens had hidden the pod, that he missed the question.

Collins rolled his eyes, a glimmer of his old self showing through. "Bundy and her. You think they were doing it?" he repeated.

"I don't think that's any of our business," Blair said evenly, "but no. They were just friends."

Collins nodded thoughtfully. "Why didn't he kill her?"

"She wasn't the type," Blair said absently. "Bundy murdered young women who resembled his ex-fiancee. Young, long brown hair, slim, pretty. It was like he was experiencing killing her over and over for what she had done to him." He stopped, realizing suddenly that they'd walked right past the diner and were standing at the mouth of an alley. The street looked decidedly deserted of passersby. He felt unaccountably nervous. "We missed the diner," he said. He turned back the way they had come but Collins reached out and grabbed his arm in a bruising grip. "Hey!" Blair shouted. "What the hell are you doing, man?" He struggled to escape but Collins held fast.

Collins gave him an evil smile. "I told you. I just want to talk."

Blair tried again to pull away. "Let me go then and we'll talk," he said evenly, trying not to let his fear show. His heart pounded painfully against his ribs.

"Not out here." Collins yanked on Blair's arm suddenly, dragging him into the darkened alley. He slammed Blair hard against the brick wall and Blair fought to keep his feet. A muscled forearm swept up and pressed hard against Blair's throat, almost cutting off his airway. Blair struggled furiously to no avail. Collins had muscle and weight to his advantage.

This is nuts! Blair got his knee between Collins' legs and pushed - hard. It was like trying to move a mountain. Collins leaned in, his face contorted in anger, his breath puffing hot in Blair's face. Collins is nuts, Blair realized with a sudden sinking certainty. He attempted to shove his knee up into Collins' balls but strong thighs kept his leg prisoner.

Collins' mouth twisted into a parody of a smile. "You trying to turn me on, Sandburg? I don't swing that way, you filthy faggot."

Blair's head snapped back, the back of his skull contacting the bricks with a thud as a meaty fist slammed Blair's cheek.

"Why'd you write that shit about me, huh?" Collins demanded.

Blair tried to blink the stars from his vision. His head rang and nausea surged. "How'd you know what I wrote?" he gasped past the grip on his throat. "You sneak a look?"

Collins slammed him back against the wall again, then shook him like a recalcitrant puppy. "You should know all about cheating, fraud!" he spat. He leaned in closer, spittle spraying Blair's face as he spoke. "I'm gonna teach you a lesson, freak. Nobody does shit like that to me."

Dread fueled Blair's adrenaline and he kicked out as hard as he could, finally releasing Collins' death grip on his throat. He ducked and twisted under Collins' arm, spinning rapidly to face his attacker… and whooped for air, doubling over as Collins' fist caught him in the stomach. He felt himself sagging and staggered drunkenly against the wall, using its support to get his legs back under him. Come on, Sandburg, he urged himself. Use those self-defense moves Jim taught you before this guy turns you into mincemeat. He glanced quickly toward the entrance to the alley, hoping someone might have been alerted to his plight by the sounds of the struggle, but there was no one in sight. Turning back to face Collins, he saw the other man give a menacing smile.

"Guess your boyfriend's too far away to come to your rescue this time." Collins moved in for the kill.

Jim's worry deepened with every mile he drove toward Seattle. A phone call to Blair's hotel elicited the information that his partner had not checked for the evening, despite the fact that his lectures would have finished some hours before. He tried to tell himself that Blair was probably holed up in a bookstore somewhere or out having a drink with his newfound friends, but dreadful certainty nagged at him and he pressed the accelerator to the floor. Without pondering his inexplicable concerns further, Jim headed straight for the PD. Throwing the handbrake on, Jim jumped out of the cab of the truck and raced for the entrance, fumbling for his ID as he went. He flashed it at the astonished desk sergeant and snapped out his question. "I'm looking for Detective Blair Sandburg. He's here doing the profiling course. Have you seen him?"

The sergeant nodded and Jim was once more amazed at how quickly Sandburg seemed to get to know people, and vice versa. "Left about twenty minutes ago. Didn't see which way he went though."

Jim nodded a thanks and ran back through the entrance doors. He stood at the top of the steps, momentarily flummoxed. Which way? He took a slow, steadying breath and sent his senses outward… He cringed as sounds, smells and sights overwhelmed him. Focus, damn it! More carefully this time, he concentrated on just hearing, knowing that Blair would most likely be invisible to even sentinel sight after twenty minutes. Nothing. "Damn it!"

Jim trotted down the steps and stood on the sidewalk, torn. Left or right. Making a decision, somehow feeling he was headed the right way, he began to walk and sent his hearing out ahead. He listened carefully, discarding the chatter of passersby and the raised voice of an inebriated patron in a bar along the way.

"You won't get away with this…"


Jim took off at a run in the direction of his partner's voice. The sounds of a struggle, of something crashing tinnily to the ground came to him, as well as the sound of Blair's heart, pounding rapidly, and his breath gasping from over-exerted lungs. Almost there.

Jim skidded around the corner of the next alleyway and stopped dead, relief swamping him. He sagged against the brick wall, feeling his legs turn to jello. His partner stood just a few feet away, his chest heaving, blood snaking in a thin rivulet down his cheek. One hand was fisted in the shirt collar of a well-muscled man, who lolled in Blair's grasp, his eyes at half-mast. As Jim watched, the man's own fist came up, aimed at Blair's head. Before he could shout a warning, Blair's other hand snapped up, lightning fast and delivered an uppercut to the man's chin.

"Shit! Oww!" Blair dropped the now unconscious man unceremoniously to the ground and shook his hand, grimacing in pain.

"How many times have I told you, Chief, if you pull the punch, you'll end up hurting yourself. You have to follow through."

Blair froze then turned to stare at his partner. "Jim? What…" Words seemed to desert him and his face paled.

Managing to dredge up some strength, Jim pushed off the wall and made it to his partner before the other man could hit the ground. Holding onto Blair's arm, he hoisted him upward to rest against his own, admittedly still trembling body. "You all right, Sandburg?"

Blair didn't look up, content to pillow his forehead on Jim's chest but he nodded. "A little worse for wear but yeah, I'm okay."

"Can you stand up?" Jim asked.

Blair pulled away slightly and stood for a moment. He brushed a hand through his hair, winced in obvious pain then lightly touched the cut on his cheek. Finally he looked up at Jim and gave him a tremulous smile. "I'm okay," he said, his voice raspy.

Jim grimaced at the nasty shiner already darkening over Blair's left eye. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and his cuffs from his belt. He indicated Collins who was stirring on the ground behind them, groaning and reaching up to cup his jaw. "You want to cuff him and read him his rights while I call for backup?"

Blair looked surprised. "Cuff him? Jim, I don't think -"

Jim cut him off. "Assault of a police officer," he said tersely, "and there are other charges pending. Attempted murder of a police officer, for starters, his previous partner." Blair's eyes widened at that. "I'll explain it later after we get this scum into lockup and get you checked out at the hospital."

"I'm fine," Blair protested automatically.

Jim shook his head, brooking no argument. "It's a no-brainer, Darwin. You're going to the hospital, even if I have to carry you in there."

It was testament to Blair's exhaustion and obvious pain that he didn't argue further. Instead he turned his attention to Collins, expertly cuffing the man's hands behind his back. He searched him and relieved him of his sidearm - Jim noticed Blair shudder visibly at that discovery - and tried not to think himself about what the outcome might have been if Sandburg hadn't managed to get the upper hand.

Collins was ranting, hateful, filthy epithets spewing from his split lips. Blair was steadfastly ignoring him, reading the Miranda rights to his prisoner in a firm voice. Jim watched the uniformed officers take charge of the prisoner, then wrapped a supporting arm around his partner's waist, turning toward the entrance to the alley. The world righted itself at the contact and he breathed deeply, allowing Blair's proximity to calm him further. "Hospital," he said decisively, "then you can give your statement."

"And then?" Blair looked at him, smiling, though his face was still too pale for Jim's liking.

"Then… bed," Jim replied.

Blair nudged him then pulled away, mindful of the people surrounding them. "I like the sound of that," he whispered.

"To sleep," Jim ordered, then added, "tonight anyway."

Photo Manip by Patt Rose

"Mister Sandburg?"

Both Blair and Jim looked up as a tall dark-haired man in a white lab-coat entered the cubicle they'd been shown into. A nurse had taken Blair's vitals, weighed him - in case any medication was ordered, she'd explained with a smile - then cleaned the cut on his cheek and left, telling them the doctor would be along shortly.

Blair raised his hand in acknowledgment though he figured the doctor could tell who the patient was just from looking at him. "That's me," he said. "I'm fine, though, really. Just a couple of cuts and bruises -"

"I'm sure you, are, Mister Sandburg. But, the hospital insists I actually examine people in order to get paid, and as my kids like eating, I guess I'd better do just that. I'm Rick Mason, by the way, one of the ER residents."

Jim threw Blair a knowing smile then settled back in his chair to await the doctor's verdict.

"Um, Mister Sandburg - "

"It's Blair, please."

"Blair, perhaps your friend would like to wait outside," the doctor suggested.

Blair shook his head even as Jim began to rise to his feet. "No, that's okay. I don't mind if he stays. He's my partner. He'll want to put everything in his report anyway and this way it saves me telling it twice."

Jim stood anyway and extended his hand, which the doctor shook. "Detective Jim Ellison," he said before sitting down again.

Doctor Mason probed gently around Blair's swollen eye then tested his vision. "Any blurring of your sight?" he asked.

Blair shook his head, wincing a little as his head began to ache again. He smiled ruefully. "Note to self - don't move head suddenly," he said.

"Bad headache?' Mason asked.

"Not too bad. More just a dull pain when I move too quickly. Ow!"

"Sorry." The doctor smiled as he moved his fingers away from the gash on Blair's cheek. "You don't need stitches, some butterfly closures should do the job."

"Good," Blair said in a relieved voice.

The doctor ghosted his hands over Blair's ribs, frowning a little as he went. "You take any hits to the ribs?" he asked.

Blair shrugged, winced again and grinned apologetically. "A couple, I guess. It all happened pretty quickly. My ribs don't hurt much though. Just feel a little bruised, is all."

Mason nodded and straightened. "They feel okay. You'll probably be a bit stiff and sore in the morning though. You can use some liniment, if you want. How much do you usually weigh, Blair?"

Blair saw Jim straighten in his chair and sighed inaudibly. Jim was forever telling him he needed to eat more regularly and now it seemed the good doctor was going to give him more ammunition for that particular argument. "Um, around one-sixty, one-sixty-five pounds," he said finally.

"Why? What's wrong?" Jim asked, leaning forward now, fixing the doctor with a gimlet look.

"Maybe nothing," Doctor Mason replied. "Blair, you only weigh around a hundred and fifty pounds at the moment - "

"What?" Jim blurted out, looking shocked.

"Perhaps you should wait outside for a while, Detective -"

Jim shook his head firmly. "Blair wanted me to stay," he said mutinously. He glanced at Blair, who nodded resignedly at him.

"All right. Have you had any other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anything like that?' Mason asked.

Blair shook his head. "No. Look, I've been doing this profiling course and parts of it were really physical plus we'd just come off a pretty heavy case not long before I came to Seattle. I was pretty stressed for a while and probably haven't been eating right -"

"Probably, Chief?" Jim queried, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah, okay, I haven't been eating right for a while but I promise I'll do better, okay? I feel fine, really. I'm a little tired, I admit but that's about all." Blair looked pleadingly at the doctor.

"What about your headaches, Blair and that cough you've had?" Jim interjected.

"I haven't had many headaches lately," Blair replied surely, "and they don't even last very long anymore and the cough seems to be almost gone too. I'm sure it was just tension from those cases we've been working since I joined the force. It's been a pretty heavy few months."

"Look, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. We'll get an x-ray of your skull, just to be sure we're not missing anything nasty that could pop up and bite you on the ass down the road somewhere. We'll take some basic blood tests and then if they come back okay, I'll release you. How's that sound?" Mason said.

Both detectives nodded, Blair rather more reluctantly than Jim.

Jim wandered outside the ER doors where he could use his cell phone to call his Captain. Blair had been taken to radiology after having blood taken, and Jim had decided that filling Simon in on what had happened was better than wearing a trench in the waiting room floor.

"Hey, Simon, it's Jim," he said as Banks answered.

"Jim, how's Blair? He okay? I got a call from Agent Russell. He told me most of what had happened. He sounded pretty impressed with Sandburg but he said you'd taken him to be checked out at the ER. Is he hurt?"

Jim grinned. "Yeah, well, I was pretty damn proud of Blair myself, Simon. He took Collins down like a real pro. He's not badly hurt, just a couple of bruises, a nice big shiner and a cut on his face. I'm sure he'll be fine. They're taking some x-rays just to be sure, so I thought I'd check in with you while I was waiting for him to finish up," Jim replied.

"You worn out your welcome in yet another ER, Ellison?" Banks asked and Jim could hear the smirk in his boss's voice.

"Yeah, well, you know me, Simon. I've never been big on the waiting around deal, especially when it comes to Blair."

"You heading back to Cascade?" Banks asked.

"In a couple of days," Jim replied. "Blair's due to finish up here in a day or so. I thought I'd stay here, spend what time I can with him when he's free then he can drive back with me. That okay with you?"

"Works for me," Banks replied. "I mean, you do realize there's pretty much nobody left standing for me to partner you with till Sandburg gets back anyway, don't you? It's probably safer for all of Major Crime this way. Have to admit, there are times when I'm surprised Blair's still around to tell the tale - Ah, shit, Jim, I'm sorry. You know what I meant." Simon sounded contrite.

"Yeah, unfortunately, I know exactly what you mean, Simon. It's okay. Blair's fine, I'm fine. I can't wait to get back home. Look, can you swing us some personal time when we get back, a few days maybe? The doc here says Blair's underweight -"

"I thought you said he was fine?" Banks almost yelled and Jim hid a smirk at the worry in the Captain's voice.

"I'm sure he is. I just think it'd be a good idea to let him slide into this new career of his a little more slowly than we let him when he joined the force. Give him some time to adjust, digest what he's learned on this course, that kind of thing," Jim said reassuringly.

"Yeah, you're probably right. We did push him pretty hard and with all the stuff that happened up on that mountain… Take two days, okay, that's about as long as I can spare you for but take it here in Cascade, just in case some psycho blows into town and I need to pick our new profiler's brains, all right?" Banks said agreeably.

"Thanks, man. I'd better go see if Blair's back yet. He won't be happy if he's kept here a minute longer than necessary. I'll see you when we get back."

"Okay, Jim. Have a safe trip back and tell the kid I'm proud of him, okay? He did real good."

Jim smiled as he thumbed the off button and headed back inside to check on Blair. Looked like his partner had crept in under the Captain's barbed wire defenses as well. Not that Banks would say too much of that to Blair's face. He probably didn't need to, Jim mused. Blair was pretty good at reading people anyway.

"Hey, Chief, how're you feeling?" Jim asked as he pushed through the curtained doorway to the cubicle and found Blair sitting on the edge of the gurney. Taking a quick recce around him with his senses, he knew they were not in any danger of being seen by anyone else and took advantage of the fact, pulling his lover into his arms and kissing his mouth gently. "Do you know how much I've missed doing that?" he asked.

Blair returned the kiss and traced a hand over Jim's rough cheek. "Me too, Jim. God, I've missed you. Let's get out of here, okay?"

"You can go in a few minutes, Blair."

Both men started guiltily and moved apart but the doctor simply smiled as he walked up to the bed.

"Okay, the skull series was fine. No new cracks in that hard noggin of yours and nothing else suspicious we could see, so it is possible your headaches are caused by stress. Your blood workup shows that your white cell count is a little on the high side, which could mean you're coming down with a bug of some sort or it could be a reaction to stress as well. My prescription is for you to eat better and more regularly, get some mild exercise but don't overdo it, and fresh air is always good. See your own doctor back in Cascade for a proper physical, just to rule out anything that could be lurking. Prevention's always better than cure, as my old granny used to say. Take Tylenol for the headaches. If that doesn't help, see your doctor right away. You wear glasses for reading, don't you?" Mason asked.

Blair nodded. "And for watching TV and driving."

"Might be an idea to get your prescription checked if you haven't done so recently. The headaches may be something as simple as eyestrain, especially as you said you've been doing some fairly intense studying recently," the doctor added. "Okay, you're good to go. Take care, Blair. You too, Detective."

Blair levered himself off the gurney, a huge grin lighting his face. "Thanks for everything, doc. Oh man, Jim, find my clothes, will you? I am so out of here."

Jim followed Blair into the hotel room and slung his overnight bag onto the bed. He sat on the bed with a sigh and eyed his lover with concern. "You okay?"

Blair stood just inside the door, looking slightly lost. He shrugged. "Yeah, just tired." Coming to a decision, he gestured toward the bathroom. "I'm gonna take a shower."

"All right." Jim picked up the room service menu from the bedside table then glanced at his watch. "Kitchen's still open. What do you want to eat?"

Blair paused in the bathroom doorway. "Actually I'm not that hungry…"

"That's not what I wanted to hear, Sandburg," Jim said with a mock growl.

Blair sighed. "Choose for me. Something light though."

"You got it." Jim stretched out on the bed and picked up the phone, ordering a steak for himself and a grilled cheese sandwich for Blair, along with a bowl of chicken soup. That organized, he reached for the remote and found a basketball game on the TV. Settling in to watch the action, he kept his hearing on the bathroom, wanting to be alert to any hint of distress from Blair.

The hot water felt like a balm. Turning in a slow circle, Blair allowed the spray to pound against his sore muscles, relaxing them, wishing he could wash away the memories as easily. He couldn't understand it - had never understood how someone could be filled with so much hate for another person, simply because of their skin color, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. And to think this man had been in a position of trust. Blair wondered how many scared homeless kids who'd turned to prostitution just to survive had been subjected to Dean Collins' perverted brutality - and why the police department had allowed it to continue unchecked for so long. They had to have known, Blair thought. He'd had enough dealings with IA to know they were thorough in their investigations when they suspected they were dealing with a crooked cop. What about Perry, Collins' partner? Was he involved in beating kids too? How had Collins been able to cover his actions up for so long? Blair knew from Jim that most of Collins' victims hadn't reported the attacks and Blair understood why. The cops were more likely to believe one of their own over a junkie or prostitute. According to Jim's friend, Collins' previous partner had been so afraid of his family being hurt that he'd retired from the force without saying a word, till now, of what had occurred the night he'd been shot. Perry had only been Collins' partner for a couple of months. Chances were that Collins had been on his best behavior most of the time, for Perry's benefit. Davis was the senior detective, after all. It bothered Blair to think that Perry might have been caught up in something so sordid. He just didn't seem the type.

Blair reached out, grabbed his shampoo from the shower caddy and lathered up his hair, wincing a little when his fingers pressed against the sizable lump on the back of his head. Closing his eyes, he gave in to a deep yawn. He was beyond exhausted, too tired to think anymore, too weary to eat, though he knew he wasn't going to get away without making at least some attempt at dinner - not with Gestapo Jim standing over him, watching every bite he put into his mouth. Damn pushy sentinel.

His hand brushed over a particularly tender spot on his ribs and he sucked in a barely audible breath, certain Jim was hovering outside the door, keeping a close check on him.

Pervert! Filthy faggot!"

Blair staggered, stretching out a hand to the shower wall to support himself.

Collins was leaning in close; Blair could smell his sour breath. Curses spewed from the other cop's mouth, raining down upon Blair like physical blows. Blair struggled to escape the choking grasp on his throat. Finally free, he turned and ran, only vaguely aware of Collins' angry shout behind him. He stumbled as something heavy slammed into him and heard an explosion of sound as a gun fired. His body froze, his heart hammered as he waited for the pain to hit -

"Blair! You okay?"

Blair looked up, surprised to find himself huddled on the floor of the shower, water and shampoo running down his face. "Ow!" He blinked rapidly then rubbed at his eye when soap seeped into it, setting up a burning sting.

"Here, let me." Jim reached in and turned off the faucets then squatted beside him, wiping his face with a towel, patting gently at the bruised eye. That done, he pulled Blair up and looked him over critically. "You all right?"

Blair managed a nod.

"Your heart rate just went through the roof," Jim said. "What happened? Did you fall?" His hands were already ghosting over Blair's still trembling body, checking for injuries.

"Nightmare," Blair managed to croak out.

Jim stilled and raised an eyebrow. "In the shower? I know you're tired, Chief. I should have come in with you…"

Blair shook his head. Gently, he pushed Jim out of the alcove and turned the faucets back on. "Need to rinse my hair," he said in explanation.

Jim nodded and sat on the toilet lid. Blair was aware of his searching gaze, though both men remained silent until Blair was done. He stepped out and dried off, feeling chilled even though the air in the small room was thick with steam. Jim followed him out into the other room and sat on the bed, watching while Blair dressed in sweats.

"Dinner," Jim said when Blair was finished. "I know you haven't got much of an appetite but your stomach's growling. It's just a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup."

Blair nodded and sat down at the small dining table. "Thank you," he said as he dipped a spoon into the thick broth. He was hungrier than he realized; the soup and half the sandwich were gone before he felt full and sat back with a sigh.

"Come to bed," Jim said. He was lying back against the pillows, still fully dressed, but he held the covers open for Blair. Barely able to keep his eyes open, Blair climbed willingly into the bed and turned to let Jim take him in his arms. Jim brushed a kiss against his lips. "Missed you," he whispered.

"Me too."

"Tell me about your nightmare," Jim said.

Blair lay back, sighing when he felt Jim's hand begin a soothing hypnotic stroke across his brow, easing the headache that lingered. "Can't have been a nightmare. I was awake," he whispered, already almost asleep. "You told me about that kid who was there when Collins' partner got shot. Was playing on my mind, I guess. Just seemed so real."

"It's over," Jim said softly. Blair felt Jim's lips bestow a soft kiss to his forehead and then his mouth as he drifted off.

Photo Manip by Peter

Seattle was a nice enough place to visit, Blair thought as he picked up his backpack and followed Jim down the hallway to the elevator, but he had never been so glad to be going home as he was today. The piece of paper proclaiming him to be a certified profiler was tucked inside his bag, and Blair felt a satisfying sense of accomplishment that chased away the negative thoughts of his experience with Dean Collins. He'd missed out on his ride-along with Seattle's finest, but Agent Russell assured him that wasn't a concern, considering that's what he'd been doing for the past four years anyway.

Jim kept up a banal chatter about the weather on the way down to the lobby, but Blair was acutely aware of his lover's continued scrutiny. He reached out and grasped Jim's hand, squeezing it gently then leaned in for a quick kiss just before the doors opened. Perry Davis walked over to them as they exited, his handsome face troubled. "Blair…" He held out a hand and Blair shook it, then turned and introduced Jim, who merely scowled at the Tacoma detective. "I was wondering if I could talk to you before you left about…" He glanced quickly at Jim then looked back at Blair. "About Dean."

"Look, Davis -" Jim began, but Blair cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Sure." Blair turned to Jim. "Why don't you go put our stuff in the truck, man?" he suggested. "I want to say goodbye to the guys before I go anyway."

Jim hesitated a moment but, seeing the determined look on Blair's face, relented and nodded, then pulled Blair's backpack from his shoulder and strode away. "Don't be long," he called over his shoulder, "or you'll have to walk back to Cascade."

Blair grinned and then turned back to Perry. He gently touched his blackened eye. "It wasn't your fault, Perry," he said, "I just wonder -"

"How I missed it?" Perry finished for him, "or if I was involved in it too?"

Blair nodded. "How could you not have known?" he asked.

Perry shrugged. "When I first transferred to Tacoma, there were rumors around that Collins was a mean son of a bitch. That's why I got the duty of partnering him. Nobody else would, and I was the new guy. I also had seniority, so I guess they thought if Dean got out of line, I'd be able to control him." He paused for a moment then reached out and gripped Blair's shoulders lightly. "I swear to you I never saw him do anything like that and I was never involved…" He took a deep breath and dropped his hands then scrubbed them over his face. He looked as exhausted as Blair felt. "Dean lost it a couple of times, interviewing suspects. He never beat anybody up, but let's just say I wouldn't have wanted to be on the receiving end of one of his interrogations. It was hard to keep him from lashing out. The captain decided maybe sending him along to this profiling course was a good thing to do. I'd already applied for the course when I first moved to Tacoma. I guess they thought if he was profiling, they could keep him off the streets…"

Blair felt a surge of disgust at that. "Great. A profiler who's as much an animal as the perps he's tracking down." He shook his head. "I've got to go. Jim was only half-joking about making me walk back to Cascade." He stuck out his hand and shook Perry's. "You take care, man. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when you get back to Tacoma and face the IA guys. I've gone a few rounds with them myself."

Perry smiled a little. "I'll tell them everything I can. If it helps keep Dean in prison and prevents other cops from going down the same path, it'll be worth it. You take it easy, Blair. You're gonna be one hell of a profiler."

Having said his goodbyes to the rest of the class, gaining a kiss from Melanie and promises to stay in touch, Blair hurried out to the parking lot, chuckling when Jim gunned the engine as he climbed into the cab. "All right!" he exclaimed with satisfaction as he buckled his seatbelt, then leaned back with a dramatic sigh. "Home, James!"

Jim insisted Blair only take his backpack and go on ahead to unlock the door when they pulled up in front of the loft. When Blair looked as if he was about to argue, Jim leaned across and kissed him on the temple. "Go on up," he said, smiling a little. "I know you're still a bit stiff and sore from sitting in the truck for so long. I can manage this stuff on my own. I'll be right behind you. Go up and wait for me."

He watched Blair retrieve his backpack from the front floor well and pull out his keys, then he climbed out himself and gathered the rest of their bags. By the time he'd locked the truck and entered the lobby, the elevator was already on its way up to the third floor. Jim momentarily contemplated the stairs, but he could feel the weight of the bags he was carrying on his tired shoulders and decided to wait for the car to come back down. It had been a long and hectic few days, and Blair wasn't the only one who was exhausted.

The bell dinged and the elevator doors slid open. Jim pushed the bag at his feet across into the car with the tip of his shoe, then entered himself. Leaning up against the wall, he managed to hit the floor button with his elbow and rested his head against the wall as the elevator jerked its way up.

Jim could see the door to the loft was open as he walked toward it, though there was no sign of Blair. Extending his hearing, he located Blair's heartbeat upstairs, and heard the rustle of bedclothes being pulled back. At least he'd left the door open, so Jim headed on through and wearily bent down in front of the kitchen counter, letting the handles of the bags slide down his arms and over his hands to the floor. He stood up and stretched the kinks out of his spine, feeling the pull of tight muscles caused by driving for several hours straight.

He climbed the stairs and smiled at the sight of his lover already asleep in bed. Jim shed his clothes and slid under the covers, pulling Blair close. It was good to be home.

Blair woke early the next morning and, with a fond kiss to his sleeping lover's forehead, slipped out of bed and headed downstairs to shower. He was anxious to get on with the day, immensely glad to be back in Cascade and home with Jim. He was nervous about starting back at work, still uncertain whether even as a profiler, he'd be able to acquit himself well and uphold everyone's belief in him. Time would tell, he decided philosophically, and got on with beginning to plan his first day at home.

He was in the kitchen starting breakfast when he heard Jim coming down the stairs. For the first time in many weeks, Blair actually was a little hungry, and he'd prepared a virtual feast, knowing Jim would be starving.

"Hey, this looks good." Jim's arms encircled him from behind and Blair leaned his head back to rest it against his lover's chest.

"Well, I actually feel hungry this morning. Did we eat last night? I can't remember."

"I had a burger and you settled on some weird-looking salad that you picked at and ended up throwing in the trash."

"It was stale," Blair protested. "The lettuce had turned to mush."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Whatever. At least you're making up for it now."

Blair turned his head and gave Jim's bristled cheek a kiss, then gave an exaggerated grimace. "Go shower and shave," he ordered, "while I put the finishing touches to my special Sandburg scrambled eggs."

Jim gave a sloppy salute. "Yes, sir."

"And don't take too long," Blair called to Jim's disappearing back, "or I'll start without you."

Photo Manip by Nicci

Blair saw the note by the phone when he was clearing up the living room. He called out to Jim, who stuck his head through the balcony doors.

"What's up, Chief?"

Blair held the slip of paper up. "What's this about?" he asked. "It just says Blair - Jenny."

Jim slapped a hand to his forehead. "Shit! In all the excitement, I forgot. Jenny, Amber's friend?"

"What about her?"

"She was at the hospital day before yesterday. Her pimp beat her up."

Blair's face paled. "Is she… is she okay?"

"I'm not sure. I'm sorry, Chief. I was in such a hurry to get to Seattle -"

Blair waved away the apology. "That's all right, man. You had other things on your mind." Decisively, he strode to the door and grabbed his car keys.

"Where are you going?" Jim asked, stepping inside and following him.

"To the hospital to check on Jenny."

Jim reached out and grasped his arm. "You're supposed to be resting," he said, "and you have to make an appointment to see your doctor."

"I will," Blair assured him. "I'll see Doctor Fraser later today."

Jim stared at him for a long moment then released his arm. "I'm gonna keep you to that."

Blair sat at Jenny's bedside and contemplated the sleeping girl's face. She was a pretty young woman but already, at only twenty-two, lines caused by hard living and drugs were beginning to age her. One eye was blackened, her lips split and one arm broken. She'd been lucky though. The doctor Blair had spoken to, said she'd recover with no permanent effects from the beating. As would her baby. Blair sighed. What a world to bring a child into.

Jenny moaned softly and opened her eyes, blinking drowsily at Blair before smiling and stretching out her good arm. "Hey, Blair," she said, her voice croaky. "Long time, no see."

Blair smiled back at her and took her hand, squeezing it gently. "Hey, Jen. I could think of better places to meet. How you feeling?"

"Sore," Jenny admitted. She pushed herself up on her pillows, grimacing and accepted Blair's help in getting settled. "Stupid."

"Why stupid?"

Jenny looked away from him. "Because I knew this guy was bad news but I went to him anyway."

"There's still time to get out, Jen," Blair replied. "You've got someone else to think about now."

Jenny's hand stole immediately to her stomach. "They told me the baby's okay but if I… if I don't quit the streets and the drugs, it won't be. I just… I don't know if I can. I'm not strong enough -"

"You wouldn't have made it this far on your own if you weren't strong," Blair interjected. He leaned forward and stroked a hand across her forehead. "I grew up without a father." He shrugged. "Didn't matter as long as I had my mom."

A tear slowly slipped down Jenny's bruised cheek. "I want this baby, I really do. I've wanted to be a mom since I was a little girl. I'm just not sure if I should. I mean how do I tell him or her what I did for a living? How can I bring up a baby when I can't even look after myself?"

"Let me help you," Blair said. "Let's get you better and into a rehab program. I'll pull some strings, see if I can get you a job. There are programs now in schools for pregnant girls who want to go back and finish their education. You're strong, Jen, I know you can do it with some support."

Jenny brushed away the dampness on her face. "And if I can't? What happens to my baby then?"

"Give her a chance at life first," Blair said. "Once she's here, I know you'll make the right choice."

Jenny raised an eyebrow. "She?"

Blair shrugged and grinned. "Just a feeling I have." In his mind's eye, he could see a chubby little girl with auburn curls and twinkling brown eyes, just like her mother's.

Jenny sighed and reached up to take his hand, turning it over and pressing a kiss to the palm. "What would us lambs do without you, Blair? Thank you."

Blair stood and leaned over to kiss Jenny's forehead. "You just concentrate on getting better. I'll look into some programs and come back to see you in a day or two. You need anything?"

Jenny shook her head. "A couple of the girls are coming in later."

"You take care."

"I will."

Jim could see Blair was troubled the moment he came back in through the apartment door. "Everything all right?" he asked, heading into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea.

Blair nodded. "Jenny's going to be all right," he said, following Jim into the kitchen. He busied himself getting mugs down from the cupboard. "She's pregnant but the baby's okay, too. I told her I'd look into some rehab programs for her. I just wish…" He trailed off and slumped dejectedly against the counter.

"Wish what?" Jim asked, taking Blair into his arms.

"Wish there was more I could do to stop these kids going onto the streets in the first place." He pulled away slightly and looked up at Jim. "No one is doing enough."

Jim smoothed the hair away from Blair's face. "I know," he said, "but you're doing a great job with these kids. They trust you and that means they'll come to you when they need help."

"I guess you're right."

"I'm always right," Jim replied. He kissed Blair slowly, savoring the taste of his lover. When he pulled away, he asked, "So, what did the doctor say?"

Blair looked puzzled for a moment. "Oh, that." He looked embarrassed. "By the time I finished visiting with Jenny, I missed my appointment. I had to reschedule." At the frown that formed on Jim's face, he added quickly, "It's fine, Jim, just a couple days. Besides, since I've been home, my headaches are gone and my appetite's back." He smiled. "I feel pretty good."

Jim kissed him again. "You taste pretty good too," he said. Then he pulled back and shook an admonishing finger at Blair. "But I will be taking you personally to your next doctor's appointment. You got that?"

Blair nodded. "Got it." He turned his attention to the kettle. "You want tea? I've got this amazing blend of -"

Jim watched him walk into the kitchen.

"Thanks, but no thanks, Chief, I'll stick to coffee." Jim shook his head. Some things never changed.

Jim sighed as he pulled Blair into his arms. "You feeling okay?" he asked, his breath stirring the wisps of hair on Blair's forehead to life.

"Yep. Must admit I'm feeling better now I'm home to stay. A little tired but I'm okay," Blair murmured, the vibrations of his voice tingling across Jim's skin. "Jim, I'm sorry about what happened that last weekend I came home and I'm sorry I didn't come home the next weekend. I was just embarrassed, I guess. I felt bad that you thought I wasn't in the mood, because I was, really -"

"Ssh." Jim's fingers covered Blair's lips gently. "Go to sleep. You do sleep, don't you, Chief?"

He could feel Blair smiling against his skin.

"Yeah, I do sleeping, Ellison."

"Then do it, Chief. Just sleep."

Photo Manip by Nicci

The Sentinel Slash Movies of the Month - A Rampart to the Mind - Written by Annie & Lyn - Cover by Patt Rose - Artwork by Lisa, Romanse, Nicci, Lorraine, Patt & Peter - Web design by Max D. - Thin Blue Line Productions (c) 2005

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many thanks to Starwatcher and Aouda Fogg for their invaluable insight and hard work in betaing this story.