Sins of the Father

Written By Lyn

Cover by Romanse

Artwork by Lisa, Ankaree and Lyn

ACT ONE

"Naomi, please. We only just got home a month ago and you want to take off already?" Simon scrubbed a hand over his face in exasperation. "Give me a few weeks to get things squared away at work and I'll come with you."

Naomi turned and smiled at him, reaching out to run a hand down his cheek. "This is something I need to do on my own," she said comfortingly. "It's not you, I swear. Ask Blair. He knows, whenever I need to make a decision, I go away. Process."

Simon took her hand, turned it and kissed the palm. "Are you having second thoughts about us?'

"No," she replied too quickly. She sighed. "Maybe." At the disappointed look on his face, she hurried on, "It's a big decision. I've been on my own for so long. Able to just go wherever I want, when I want. I need to know I can do that and not have regrets later." She gave him a quick grin. "Are you so very sure of this... of us?"

Simon pulled her into his arms and took her mouth in a deep kiss. Pulling away finally, he said, "Does that answer your question?"

Naomi hugged him tightly. "Yes, it does." She pulled away and walked over to the kitchen window, staring out into the darkness. "Everything's happened so fast. I just need to be sure. I won't hurt you."

"Dad."

Both turned at the sound of Daryl's voice from the doorway.

"Hey, sweetie," Naomi greeted him. "How are you? I was hoping to see you before I left. Did you have a good Christmas with your mom?"

Daryl's eyes narrowed and he shrugged. "It was okay. I would have rather spent it here with my dad."

"Daryl," Simon interrupted before Naomi could reply, "I explained that to you. Your mom really wanted you to spend Christmas with her -"

"It's fine, okay?" Daryl cut in. He hefted his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. "I need to get some study done. I'm going to the library at Rainier."

"Sure, okay. Don't be late, all right?"

"I'm eighteen, Dad, not a little kid."

"And I'm still your father," Simon retorted. He sighed, reining in his impatience. "I guess I just forget sometimes how old you are. Drive carefully, okay?"

Daryl nodded then looked over at Naomi. "It was nice to see you, Ms. Sandburg."

"Naomi, please."

"See you later."

Simon watched him leave, a frown on his face. Naomi walked over and wrapped her arms about him. "It's just a phase," she reassured him. "He'll grow out of it."

"I've been waiting ten years for him to grow out of it," Simon grumped. He smiled down at her, brushing a strand of her red hair from her face. "I love you so much. Hurry back, all right?"

Naomi smiled, her eyes twinkling. "I will."

~o0o~

Daryl climbed into his car and hit the play button on the CD player, allowing the loud rhythmic beat of the music to wash over him. He backed out of the driveway and was only halfway down the road before he reached out and turned the sound off. The pounding music his father so hated was good when he needed to escape his frustration and anger. Tonight though, he needed to think.

He wasn't entirely sure what he was angry about anymore. He liked Ms. Sandburg - Naomi, he amended - a lot. She was pretty cool for an old lady and pretty as well. If she and his dad did end up getting married, Blair would be his brother. Step-brother, anyway. That brought a smile to his face.

He had to admit he'd been pissed to come home and find that his dad was seeing Blair's mom. In fact, had given her a ring, which had to mean it was pretty serious. No, that wasn't right. He wasn't pissed about that. After all, his mom had started dating again just a few months after she and his dad had divorced. It was the fact that he hadn't been told until it was done. He'd gone to see his mom for Christmas, his father had gone to his friend's cabin to spend the holiday with Jim, Blair, Blair's mom and Jim's dad and brother. His father sat him down his first night back and told him. He was in love with Naomi and he was hoping they'd get married.

Daryl hadn't known how to react. He'd merely shrugged, muttered "whatever" and gone into the kitchen to fix something to eat. His dad had followed, asking if he was okay with it, did he want to talk about it but he'd merely shaken his head and insisted it was cool. And it was... mostly. He just wished his dad had told him before they'd gone and made it semi-official. He hadn't spoken to Blair yet. He and Jim were pretty much back at work from the moment they got back, though Daryl's dad had mentioned something about a barbecue the following weekend.

Looked like that wouldn't happen now, with Naomi going off somewhere. Despite his misgivings over the relationship, Daryl knew that was what was bothering him the most. They'd only just got together and they were arguing already. Echoes of his parents shouting overlaid the more softly spoken words tonight and Daryl felt tears burn his eyes. He didn't think he could stand going through that again.

Shaking off his dark thoughts, he steered his car into an empty parking space near the university library, once again wishing his father had bought him a new car, instead of the second-hand model he currently drove. "You have to earn it, son," Daryl said in a credible imitation of his father's booming voice. Pulling his backpack from the seat beside him, he got out, locked the car and strode into the library.

She was here again. He'd been hoping she would be. He made his way over to the computer alcoves and sat down beside her. Waiting for the Internet to come up, he turned to look at her, hoping she'd notice him but her gaze remained fixed on the screen in front of her as her nimble fingers danced over the keyboard. Feeling brazen, Daryl edged one of her books off the corner of the desk with his elbow.

"Oh, sorry," he said.

That got her attention. She turned to him when the book hit the floor with a thud. "No biggie," she said.

They reached down at the same time to pick up the book and their fingers brushed. Daryl grabbed the book and lifted it, holding it out to her. "Here you go."

"Thanks." With that one word, her attention swiveled back to the screen and she giggled softly then typed something on the keyboard.

"I'm... I'm Daryl." He was glad of his dark skin when she turned and gave him a quick smile and he felt his cheeks heat.

"Marissa."

"Nice to meet you," he said but she was back to her computer, typing away industriously. Daryl sneaked a look and gave an inward sigh. Chat room. Figured. Seemed that was all girls were interested in these days.

~o0o~

Jim stroked one hand down Blair's bare back, savoring the feel of smooth skin beneath his enhanced touch. He flirted with sleep, the hypnotic rhythm of Blair's heartbeat and breathing relaxing him at last. He'd been wound tighter than a spring the last few days. They both had. Their caseload since their return from the cabin had been heavy and manpower was short in all departments due to a flu epidemic. The last case had been traumatic. A string of gas station robberies where the thieves had taken a particular delight in terrorizing their victims before shooting them in the head. They'd caught them in the end but again, Jim was reminded just how much Blair was sacrificing to remain as his partner. It had been tough for all of them but Blair had suffered the most, still unable to check his humanity at the door as Jim had preached to him so long ago.

The journey they'd embarked upon since Simon had thrown Blair the gold shield sometimes seemed impossible to believe, the stuff fantasy novels are made from. Jim had never really thought too deeply about what it meant when Incacha had passed the way of the shaman onto Blair. Despite his own fairly unique heightened senses, his experience at the fountain when he'd revived Blair and his encounter with Molly, a woman long dead, he still felt uneasy delving into the whys and wherefores of it all. That was the stuff he left to Sandburg who loved to explore the metaphysical aspects of Jim's senses. When the shaman sickness had manifested itself, Jim had no choice but to take a flying leap into the water and had discovered that, as Blair had said, it was nice. Though the cell phone case a few weeks ago had him rethinking that. He still jumped every time his phone rang.

He still felt uneasy... Okay, he could admit to his fear of Blair's spirit walks, terrified that one time Blair might get lost in that other plane and be lost to him forever. But it appeared there needed to be this balance, that Blair needed to have one foot in each reality, as it were, and if that kept Blair healthy and beside him, it was a risk they had to take.

It had been an incredible journey, and despite his misgivings, it had led them home, led them to this, giving Jim the one thing he'd yearned for so long yet doubted he would ever have. Blair in his arms.

The object of his thoughts muttered something subvocally and turned to face him. Still deeply asleep, Blair managed to push Jim back to make room for himself then resituated his body so that his upper leg rested over Jim's, his head pillowed on Jim's chest. Settled again, Blair quieted.

Rafe and Megan were due back home the following week and that would take some of the strain off Jim and Blair. Jim wondered idly if they had plans for a family of their own, now they had Rafe's sister, Trina to care for. He wasn't sure how the headstrong teen would take to having a baby around, usurping her big brother's attention. The thought of that relationship turned Jim's thoughts to Simon... and Naomi. That match was as incongruous as Rafe and Connor's was 'natural.'

Naomi was a beautiful woman. Jim had certainly been taken in by her charm the first time he'd met her but the two were such diverse characters, their personalities miles apart, he still felt a certain amount of doubt that the relationship would work. It was none of his business, he decided. Blair had spoken to both of them while they were still up at the cabin and despite his own misgivings and his concern, had decided to let it go. Jim thought it was best he do the same.

"Still awake?" Blair's voice was hushed, sleepy and Jim smiled and ran a hand through Blair's hair, smoothing the silky strands that had snarled while he slept.

"Not really tired," he replied then shrugged. "Maybe too tired is a better way to put it."

Blair lifted his head and lightly tongued Jim's left nipple, sending a stirring of arousal to Jim's groin. "I know a great remedy for that." A hand strayed lower, down Jim's belly and Blair's fingers stroked lightly up and down Jim's cock.

"Sure, why not?" Jim said, his voice suddenly hoarse. "Can't hurt."

~o0o~

"Sandburg! My office!" The scowl on Simon's face was enough of a hint that all was not right with his world.

Blair gave Jim a quick glance and raised an eyebrow. Jim merely shrugged and motioned him toward the captain's office. Blair sidled past Simon and waited in front of the desk, standing for now. This appeared to be official business. "What's up, Captain?"

Simon moved to stand behind his desk and picked up a folder from his inbox, sliding it toward Blair. "Notice anything wrong with this?" he asked.

Blair opened the folder and scanned the front page. It was the report he'd typed up the previous day, detailing their latest arrest. "Ummm, no." He looked up at Simon, puzzled. "Sorry, I don't see -"

"You didn't initialize that error." Simon leaned over and tapped a finger next to a sentence that Blair had crossed out and reworded by hand.

"Oh, sorry." Grabbing a pen from the desk, Blair leaned over and corrected his mistake. He was startled when Simon didn't appear mollified by his action.

"Do you realize what a costly mistake that could have been, Sandburg?" Simon growled. "You've been a detective for how long now?"

Blair opened and shut his mouth a few times, aware he was doing a fair imitation of a grounded fish, equally aware, when Simon rushed on, that it had been a rhetorical question.

"If that had been picked up by White's lawyer, there could have been hell to pay."

"I know that. I'm sorry. It was late and we'd been on the street for the better part of a day -"

"I don't want excuses, Sandburg, just get it right next time. Understood?"

"Yes, sir." Blair resisted the urge to snap to attention and salute. "I'm sorry."

At Simon's dismissive nod, he turned and headed for the door.

"By the way," Simon continued, "if you need to contact your mother, she left this morning to fly to California. The usual place she goes. She said you knew it."

Blair spun around and stared at Simon in surprise. "What? Why? Did she say what's going on? Did you two have a fight?"

"No, we didn't have a fight, not that it's any of your business. She said she needed to think things over."

Blair couldn't stop the small smile from breaking out. "Yeah, well, that's mom. It'll be fine, Simon, she'll be back before you know it."

"We'll see. That's all."

Blair opened the door and headed out to his desk. He sat and shot his partner a 'don't ask' glare.

Jim did anyway. "What was all that about?"

"What? You didn't listen in?" He sighed at the hurt expression on Jim's face. "I'm sorry, man. Apparently mom's taken off to California to process and Simon's pissed about it. I guess, seeing I'm a Sandburg, it's my ass that's gonna get kicked."

Jim stood. "I'll go talk to him."

"No, don't." Blair reached out and snagged Jim's nearest hand. "Leave it, okay? He'll get over it." He frowned and muttered darkly, "If I could have caught her before she got on that plane, I'd tear her a new one myself."

Jim resumed his seat and stared at Blair for a moment. "You think she won't come back?"

"I don't know, man. I mean, every other time it's gotten close to a commitment, she's taken off. I thought this time would be different. I spoke to her at the cabin. Warned her not to hurt Simon. She seemed so sure about their relationship." He shrugged and turned to concentrate on his computer screen. "I just don't know."

"Sandburg?"

Blair looked up at the summons. Simon stood in the doorway to his office, looking somewhat chagrined. "I'm sorry, Blair," he said. "That was uncalled for."

Blair nodded. "Thanks, Si - sir. I'll try not to screw up again."

Simon shook his head. "You didn't. I did." And both men knew he wasn't talking about Blair's report.

~o0o~

Blair felt peaceful now, calm, his anger evaporating as he journeyed on. He was letting it go, having processed it, dealt with it and moved on. He remembered his last spirit walk when he'd overheard Naomi and Simon in the restaurant, had known he was eavesdropping but seemed unable to help himself from gravitating toward their voices. I'm letting it go, he told himself firmly.

He opened his eyes, taking a moment to center himself. The sky outside the balcony windows was dark, the only light inside the loft came from his meditation candles. Jim sat at the dining room able, reading the paper. Blair shook his head. Even after all this time, it still sometimes took him by surprise to see Jim sitting in the dark, reading as though it was broad daylight. He smiled and stretched his arms over his head, arching his back to loosen the joints.

Standing, he headed over to his lover and wrapped his arms around Jim's neck, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "What's got you so interested?" he asked. He scanned the newsprint but couldn't see much more than a blur without his glasses, which were around here... somewhere. He spotted them over on the kitchen counter but couldn't be bothered getting them. "Jim?" He prodded his partner with an elbow.

"What? Oh sorry." Jim turned his head slightly and smiled at him. "How was your meditation? Feeling calmer about your mother?"

Even at the mention of her name, some of Blair's ire resurfaced. He sighed. "I was... till just now."

"Sorry."

"Nah, it's okay." Blair shifted and moved to sit beside Jim. "It just burns me up. She was so sure about everything up at the cabin. She promised me she wouldn't hurt Simon's feelings. And then, like all the other times, she gets cold feet."

Jim reached out and squeezed his hand. "You're still worried she won't come back?"

"I just don't know and I don't know how long I can take being Simon's whipping boy because I'm her son."

"He did apologize," Jim reminded him.

"Yeah," Blair agreed glumly, "but can you imagine how he'll react if she says she's changed her mind?"

"Let's worry about that if it happens," Jim said. He pushed the paper away, reminding Blair of Jim's earlier absorption with it.

"What got your interest so much that you didn't even hear me?" he asked.

"Missing girl. Third one in two weeks."

"And?" Blair prompted. Sometimes, when one of Jim's hunches was niggling at him, it was like extracting a tooth.

"Dunno. Just that the girls have similar looks." He shrugged and yawned.

"Do they suspect kidnapping?"

"Nope. All of the girls had problems at home, one had run away before." Jim stood and headed for the bathroom. "Just a niggle at the back of my mind. It'll come to me. You coming to bed?"

"In a while. Got some profiling notes I have to finish up for Vice on that case they've been working."

"Don't burn the midnight oil, Chief," Jim advised. "If you want to stay in Simon's good books, you don't want to be late tomorrow."

"Gotcha."

~o0o~

Daryl had fully intended to go straight home after his classes but the way his father had been acting since Naomi had left didn't make it seem an attractive option. He and his father had always had a rocky relationship, especially since Daryl had reached his teenage years and started deciding that he was entitled to have a choice in his decisions. He knew his father loved him, could even accept that was the reason his dad was so strict with him, but it didn't help to ease the impatience he felt at being constantly treated like he was five years old.

University was proving harder than he thought and he sometimes wished his dad would have let him just join the PD like he'd wanted. Still, he couldn't stop him, if he really wanted to. He planned on giving it until the end of the year and if things hadn't improved, he'd drop out. He'd thought of asking Blair for some tutoring but he always seemed so busy these days, what with working Jim and doing the profiling thing too. Daryl still found it strange to think of Blair as a cop. He just didn't fit the part. Then he thought back to the times he and Blair had run afoul of Kincaid and revised his thinking somewhat. Blair had certainly handled both incidents exactly as Daryl figured a cop would.

Once he walked in the door of the coffee shop, he was glad he'd decided to make a detour. Marissa, the girl from the library was sitting at one of the booths - alone. She was chatting on her cell phone but hung up when Daryl approached. Daryl smiled at her, feeling self-conscious and gave her a small wave. "Hi, Marissa. How are you?"

She smiled back at him and motioned him to a seat. "I'm fine. You're... not stalking me or something, are you?"

Daryl shook his head. "No! I would never - I mean, you're sure pretty enough to - but no." He sighed and wished the ground would swallow him up. "I sound like an idiot," he said forlornly.

"My fault," Marissa said. "I embarrassed you. I've seen you around campus." She smiled and Daryl thought again how very pretty she was. "I've noticed you looking at me."

"I didn't mean anything by it," Daryl blurted out. "I mean... you're really pretty and..." He trailed off but brightened when she reached out and squeezed his hand.

"It's okay," she reassured him. "It's nice to know you think I'm pretty."

"Can I buy you a coffee or a hot chocolate?"

"I'd like that," she replied then looked at her watch, "but I'm meeting someone in a few minutes."

Daryl felt disappointed. "Boyfriend?"

Marissa shook her head. "Not really. Not yet anyway. Just someone I met in a chat room. We're meeting for the first time tonight." She shrugged. "See how things go."

"That's kinda dangerous, isn't it?" Daryl blurted out. "I mean, you shouldn't go alone. My dad's a cop and -"

Marissa stood. "There he is now." Daryl looked to where she was pointing outside. A white van stood at the curb and a young man, about his own age, stood beside it. "I have to go. It was nice seeing you again, Daryl."

"Yeah, you too."

She walked a step or two away then turned and came back. Leaning close to Daryl, she spoke in a low voice. "Promise me something?" When Daryl nodded, she continued. "Don't tell anyone about this." Daryl opened his mouth, about to protest and she rushed on. "My folks are really strict. If they even knew I was here, I'd be grounded for a year." She looked at him beseechingly. "Please?" She smiled, her eyes twinkling. "And if it doesn't work out, I might just let you buy me that hot chocolate."

Daryl nodded. "Sure, okay. Just be careful, all right?"

Marissa straightened and gave him a wave. "You're so sweet."

He watched her walk out to the van and shake the stranger's hand then climb into the vehicle. Feeling depressed, Daryl got up and headed out himself. With the mood he was in, he doubted anything his father said could upset him. He stood on the pavement and watched the van pull out into the traffic. A sudden surge of disquiet seized him and he squinted at what he could see of the license plate, committing it to memory.

 

ACT TWO

Detective Peter Chamberlain of the Missing Persons Unit suppressed a sigh as he looked at the worried-looking couple seated across from him. "Folks, I know you're worried about your daughter but -"

The distraught woman opposite leaned forward, still clutching her husband's arm. "Please don't tell us we need to wait twenty-fours hours to report her missing. She's a good girl. She never stays out all night without telling me where she's going." She slumped back in her seat, mopping at fresh tears with a tissue. "I'm her mother. Mothers know. She's in some kind of trouble."

Chamberlain handed her a fresh tissue from the box on his desk. "Mrs. Collins, ma'am, I'm not suggesting you wait twenty-four hours. I'm happy to take the information now. All I'm saying is, with the number of reports of missing kids we get everyday, unless we have some kind of evidence that your daughter may have come to some harm, I don't have enough manpower to send a team out looking for her right now. If she hasn't returned home in a day or so, I'll put my people onto it. In the meantime, you can help me out by checking with all her friends, see if you can find out where she was last night -"

"We've spoken with all her friends," Ray Collins said. "A couple of her girlfriends were with her at Rainier until about 4 yesterday. She said she was going straight home. She didn't arrive and nobody's heard from her since."

"Did you argue with her about anything lately? Maybe she's just angry and wants to teach you a lesson." Chamberlain smiled a little. "My daughter's done that to me once or twice. A few hours later, she's turned up, safe and sound, all full of apologies and begging me not to ground her."

"She's a good girl," Ray insisted. "Sometimes, my wife thinks I'm too strict with her but these days..." He shook his head. "It's just not safe out on the streets for a young girl."

"I agree with you," Chamberlain said. "Did you argue about that?"

"A few times," Collins admitted. "The other night she wanted to go to a concert with her friends. It was out of town and on a school night. I said no. We argued and I took away her computer for a week for backchatting me. She wasn't very happy about that but I thought things were okay between us now."

"Okay." Chamberlain picked up a pen and pulled a report form toward him. "Let me get all the details down. I promise you if she's not back by tomorrow morning, I'll put someone right on it. You keep checking with her friends. What's your daughter's name?"

"Marissa. Marissa Collins."

~o0o~

Chelsea Brown turned away from her whispered conversation with her friends when Daryl walked into the cafeteria. "Daryl! Did you hear about Marissa?" she squealed.

Daryl frowned. "Who?"

Chelsea rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't try the innocent act on me. We all know you've been acting like a lovesick puppy every time you see her."

Daryl felt his cheeks burn. He shrugged. "So?"

"She's missing!" Chelsea stood and walked around to face Daryl. "Her folks called me this morning. She didn't come home last night. Personally, I think she ran away. Her folks were just so controlling. They wouldn't let her go with us to the concert last week and when she argued with her dad about it, he took away her PC. What a drag."

Daryl felt his heart pounding in his chest. Oh God! He'd warned her! He thought back to the night before, trying to remember the young man standing by the van but he'd been so absorbed in his own feelings of rejection at the time, he hadn't really looked. Tall, lanky, about the same age as he was, dark skin, short-cropped hair. Looking like about a couple of hundred other black guys in Cascade.

"Are you sure she's missing?" he asked. "I mean, she could be home by now."

Chelsea shook her head. "I just phoned her mom to see if she was back. They've just put in a missing person report with the cops. Hey, your dad's a cop. Why not ask him?"

Daryl shook his head. He put his tray down on the table behind him, his appetite gone. "Different department. Besides, we don't talk about his work stuff much." ‘Don't talk much at all lately.’ He waved a hand vaguely at the exit. "I gotta go."

He didn't wait for her response, hurrying out the door, almost knocking down several students in his rush. What now? He should tell his dad. Tell him what he'd seen... but he'd promised Marissa. But what if she was in danger? What if she was lying somewhere, hurt or raped... or dead?

His stomach churned violently at the very thought and with his mind made up, he ran for his car and headed toward the PD.

~o0o~

"Dad?" Daryl tapped on the partly open door of his father's office. He gave Jim and Blair a nervous nod when both men turned in their chairs and smiled at him.

His father looked up from perusing the papers on his desk and didn't quite hide his irritation. "Thought you had a class this morning, son. Can it wait? We'll be done in about ten minutes."

Daryl took a step into the room. "No, it can't wait. It - It's about a girl who went missing last night. Marissa Collins. I think... I think I might have seen something."

Simon gaped at him, the report forgotten. "What girl? What are you talking about?"

Daryl felt a hand on his arm and realized Blair was standing beside him, ushering him into a seat. "Sit down, man, before you fall down. Then you can tell us about Marissa."

Daryl nodded and allowed himself to be pushed into Blair's vacated chair.

Jim leaned forward and rested a hand on Daryl's knee. "Start from the beginning, Daryl. Who's Marissa?"

"She's this girl from Rainier. I... I like her. I've seen her a few times around the university and at the library. Last night, I ran into her at the coffee shop." He looked at Blair. "You know, Marty's."

Blair nodded and glanced at Jim, then Simon. "It's a local hangout for the new kids. Less threatening." He looked back at Daryl. "Go on."

Daryl looked down at his hands, twisting them in his lap. "I asked her if I could buy her a hot chocolate and we talked for a while but then she said she was meeting someone."

"Who?" Blair asked.

"Just someone she met in a chatroom. She left with a guy in a van."

"Why didn't you try to stop her?" Simon's voice boomed through the room and Daryl jerked in his seat.

"I tried but she wouldn't listen."

"Why didn't you tell me about this last night?" Simon asked.

Daryl shot him a glare. "Because she made me promise not to tell anyone. She said her parents are real strict and I know how that goes." At the taken aback look on his father's face, Daryl deflated somewhat. "Because we don't talk much about anything lately and I figured you wouldn't be interested."

There was a heavy silence in the room then Simon spoke again. "You're right, Daryl, and I'm sorry." He walked around his desk and squatted down in front of Daryl, reaching out to pat his shoulder. "You okay?"

Daryl nodded, his throat closed up and feeling close to tears. "What if -" He broke off and cleared his throat before trying again. "What if she's hurt... or dead?"

"Let's not jump to conclusions until we see what we have, son." Simon stood and looked at Jim and Blair. "You two, get down to Missing Persons, see if there's a report on this girl then see what you can come up with."

"Yes, sir." Jim led the way to the door then stopped and looked back at Daryl. "Daryl? Think over last night and the other times you've talked to Marissa. Tell your dad everything you can remember. Even the slightest detail could be important."

"I'll get a description of the kid she met and the van," Simon added.

~o0o~

Jim was silent on the way down to Missing Persons and Blair knew the thoughtful look on his partner's face indicated Jim had a hunch about something. "You going to share?" he asked as they stepped out of the elevator and headed down the hall.

"Huh?" Jim looked puzzled for a moment then nodded. "Just something about this case - and, remember the girl who went missing last week?"

"Yeah. And?" Blair prompted.

Jim shrugged. "It'll come to me. Three girls missing up to last week. I keep getting the feeling there's a common thread there, if we can find it."

~o0o~

Blair sat back in his chair and removed his spectacles before rubbing at his temples. They'd been going through every minute detail of all teenaged girls who'd gone missing from Cascade in the past year. Some had already turned up safe and sound, some had been discovered alive, but refusing to be reunited with their parents. Several were living on the streets, using drugs and turning to prostitution to feed their habits. The whole picture created in his mind's eye was making his stomach churn. There were twelve girls still unaccounted for and Blair was sure that somewhere in that list, there had to be some consistencies that linked at least some of them together.

He'd set up a profile sheet and was now cross-referencing the reports on each girl but it was slow going and he was beginning to develop a headache. He felt a strong hand massage the nape of his neck and he sighed in pleasure, working his head back and forth to increase the benefit of Jim's nimble fingers. "Thanks, man. That feels great."

"Time to finish it up for tonight," Jim said. "Maybe we'll find something tomorrow when we're fresh."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Blair agreed. He stared down at the reports scattered over his desk, disappointed. He leaned closer then snatched up his glasses and put them on. "Wait a minute." He glanced over at Jim, grinning. "Wait a minute! I think I might have something here."

Jim leaned forward, scanning the reports on Blair's desk with keen eyes. "What?"

Blair was already heading for Simon's office. He turned back momentarily to Jim, holding up one finger. "Hold that thought for just a second."

Tapping on Simon's door, Blair opened it and stuck his head in without waiting for the invitation to enter. He gave Simon a wry, apologetic smile when the captain looked up and frowned at him. "Sorry, Captain," he said, "I'll remember one day." Without waiting for Simon to respond, he rushed on. "Didn't Daryl mention something about the Collins girl being interested in the Net, specifically chat rooms?"

Simon nodded. "Yeah, he did. Daryl said he tried to warn her not to go with the guy alone but she wouldn't listen." He shook his head, looking guilty. "Poor kid's devastated. He thinks he should have done more."

"Nothing he could have done," Blair said. "Did he get a good look at the guy?"

"Not really... Nothing to raise his suspicions at the time. He did get a partial of the license plate though."

Blair grinned. "Like father, like son, huh?"

The frown returned. "Don't start putting ideas in his head again about becoming a cop, Sandburg."

Blair held up both hands in a placating gesture. "Not going there, Captain." He held out one hand for Daryl's statement. "I'll get started tracking the license plate."

Walking out to his desk, Blair gave Jim a thumbs-up. "I think we have a link to at least five of the missing girls." Tapping the missing persons reports with his finger, he said, "Check it out. Hobbies - likes chatting on the Internet with friends."

Jim quickly scanned the pages then gave Blair a smile. "Good work, Chief. It's a small break but it is a break."

~o0o~

Blair groaned and rubbed a hand over his face. Jim looked up from perusing the missing girls' reports and glanced over at him. He reached out and squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Come on, Chief. It's almost two AM. Let's call it a night."

Blair looked longingly at the computer screen then sighed and nodded. He powered down the computer and pushed back his chair. "Do you realize how many white vans there are with the partial plate that Daryl got?"

Jim hazarded a knowledgeable guess. "Hundreds?"

"At least."

They grabbed their jackets from the hooks and headed for the parking garage. Inside the truck, Blair made himself comfortable by curling up on the seat, his head pillowed against the window.

"Don't get too comfortable, Sandburg," Jim said. "I'm not carrying your skinny ass up in the elevator."

Blair nudged him with an elbow. "Skinny ass? That's not what you say when we're in bed."

"You're right. It's a very fine ass." Jim smiled. "Maybe I could check it out tonight, see if it's as fine as I remember."

Blair tried to stifle a yawn and failed. "Raincheck?" he suggested. "I want to go back in early and get started on the license numbers again."

Jim caught Blair's yawn and nodded. "Definitely raincheck."

~o0o~

Marissa shied away as a plastic plate of congealed food was placed in front of her. The man who’d put it there sidled closer to her.

"Eat up, girlie. You're gonna need your strength." He licked his lips while his gaze traveled lasciviously over her lithe young body.

"I'm - I'm not hungry. Can I go home now?"

The man shook his head. "Not for a while. Besides from what you've been saying to Brett, seems to me you'd be glad to get away from home."

Marissa's eyes filled with tears. "That's not true! I want to go home - right now!"

"Shut up!" The man raised a hand and Marissa flinched back against the grimy wall of the cellar she was in, her hand coming up to shield her face.

"Dad!" Brett hurried down the stone steps and rushed over to grasp the man's arm. "Leave her alone!"

His father's hand clenched into a fist, striking Brett hard across the cheek and sending him to the floor. Scrambling back, Brett stared wide-eyed at his father. "What are you doing? She said she wants to go home. I'll take her." He stood on shaking legs and held a hand out to Marissa. "I'm sorry. I'll take you home."

Marissa went to stand but Brett's father rounded on her. "Sit down!" He whirled back to glare at Brett. "You! Get upstairs. I'll deal with you in a minute."

Marissa's heart pounded as Brett sidled along the wall toward the stairs. "Please!" she begged. "Don't leave me here."

Brett's eyes were wide, his face a mask of shock and fear. "It'll be okay," he said in a broken whisper. "I made a mistake. I'll explain it to my dad and then I'll take you home."

~o0o~

Brett watched anxiously as his father paced the small, grubby kitchen. "I'm telling you, I was wrong. She said she hated her parents. I thought she really wanted to get away, like the other girls." He looked pleadingly at his father. "It'll be okay. I'll just take her home and I'll make her promise not to tell anyone."

Harry Mathews rounded on Brett, his eyes flashing, his mouth set in a grim line. "How dumb are you?" he sneered. He took a swig from the bottle of scotch in his hand. "Always said you were stupid. You think she's gonna go home and pretend like nothing ever happened?"

"She will," Brett vowed. "If I ask her to."

Harry's hand raised again, ready to strike but he overbalanced and fell against the table, sending a plate and a coffee mug to the ground. Glaring at the mess, he cursed. "Clean it up. I'm going to bed."

"What about Marissa?"

Harry stared at Brett for a long moment, his eyes narrowing. "Tell you what," he replied, the softness of his tone, a stark contrast to his anger a moment before, "if she still wants to go home in a few days, I'll take her myself."

"Tomorrow?" Brett bargained though he shrank back, staying out of range of his father's wayward fist. "Tomorrow, okay?"

His father didn't reply, instead, weaving his way unsteadily toward the bedroom in back. "Dad? Those other girls... You took them to Canada, right?"

"What do you think?" He turned and pointed a wavering finger at Brett. "Just you remember, anything comes of this, you rounded these girls up in the first place."

~o0o~

With his heart in his mouth, Brett waited until loud snores could be heard from the bedroom he shared with his father, then he crept back down the steps to the cellar. Marissa sat, huddled into the corner, sobbing quietly.

"Marissa?"

She jumped when he whispered her name and plastered herself against the wall, her hands held up in front of her. "Leave me alone, please! I want to go home."

"I'm taking you home," Brett said, "but you have to be real quiet."

"Why?" Marissa wiped at her eyes. "Why did you do this?"

"I thought -" Brett scrubbed a hand over his face. "You said you hated your folks, that you wanted to leave -"

"I didn't mean it."

"I didn't know that," Brett protested. "My dad worked out a way to get girls who wanted to leave home up to Canada, where they can make a new life. When you said what you did about your folks, I thought this is what you wanted."

"What other girls?" Marissa asked.

Brett shrugged. "I met this girl in a chat room. She was having it tough at home. Her father was raping her, her mother didn't care. I got her out of there and my dad took her to Canada."

"Are you sure that's where she is?"

"Yeah, he told me."

"Then why won't he let me leave? If you really believe that, why are you sneaking me out of here?"

Brett's uncertainty surged. Had he really believed his father at all? Had he just been turning a blind eye to what was really going on, out of fear? "Let's go," he said as he helped her up. "Stay quiet."

They were halfway up the stairs when Harry's shadow loomed from above. "You little shit!" he roared. He was barreling down the stairs before the two teens had a chance to react. Brett knew there was nowhere to go. Harry's meaty fist flailed out and caught him on the side of the head as he turned and tried to push Marissa back down the stairs ahead of him. His head snapped back and his vision grayed. He felt himself falling, heard Marissa's terrified screams as he hit the stairs and bounced against the wall. He was unconscious before he reached the cellar floor.

 

ACT THREE

Jim and Blair were on their way into the PD when Jim got a call from Simon that two bodies had been found in the woods on the outskirts of Cascade. Sharing a grim look with his partner, Jim did a U-turn and headed toward the site as fast as he could.

Dan Wolfe was already there when they arrived and Blair wondered for a moment how the gentle man could stand to deal with this for so long. Every time he thought he was getting a handle on his emotions, the very next case seemed to still have him doubting his ability to harden his heart against the senseless loss of valuable lives.

"What have we got, Dan?" Jim asked as he crouched down beside the first of two plastic-shrouded forms.

"Two bodies - skeletal remains, actually. I can't be sure until I post them but I'd say both are female, probably mid-teens."

Blair shook his head sadly and looked at Jim. "Any chance this is related to the other girls?"

Jim stood and ranged his gaze around the heavily wooded area. "Seems unlikely, Chief. The girls we're focusing on have only been missing a few weeks."

"Still..." Blair began. He let out a sigh and rubbed his hands over his face. "I don't know, man. I just have a feeling about this."

"And we all know your 'feelings' should be listened to," Dan put in, giving Blair a smile. "Why don't you share with us?"

Blair thought for a moment, trying to get his thoughts in some order. "Okay. Two bodies here already, though obviously at least a year old, right?" He looked to Dan for confirmation and when the M. E. nodded, he continued. "When we were checking the missing persons reports, we found probably a dozen girls who all matched the more recent disappearances, and some of them have been missing for at least a year or longer."

Jim nodded. "Serial killer. So, they could be connected after all." He looked at Blair. "Daryl thought the kid Marissa met was about his age. Starting early on his career?"

Blair shrugged. "Dahmer killed his first victim when he was barely a kid himself. It's believed that Bundy might have too. Henry Lee Lucas -"

"Yeah, I got it, Chief. Let us know when the post-mortem results are in, would you, Dan?" Jim grabbed Blair's arm and led him a short distance away. "You seem to have more than just a feeling about this case. Can you sense anything?"

Blair looked at his partner, puzzled. "Huh?" Then he got the gist of Jim's question. "Oh. No, no visions, no dreams, just a hunch. You?"

Jim's confused look matched Blair's from a second before and Blair nudged his partner in exasperation. "You're the sentinel," he said. "Can you sense anything."

"Oh, right." Jim nodded in understanding. Looking around, he began to walk slowly around the area, stopping every now and then, the familiar tilt of his head, indicating he was focusing on one of his senses.

Blair rested a hand on Jim's arm. "Don't go too deep, man," he said softly. "Look for disturbed earth, new foliage. Smell..." He thought a moment. "Decay, I guess." His stomach churned a little at the very thought of what Jim was enduring.

They worked through the area slowly for an hour, stopping every so often to examine patches of earth that looked as though they might have been dug into but were coming up empty. Jim was starting to look strained, the usual result of an in-depth workout of his senses. Blair tripped on something partly buried in the ground at the same time as Jim called out a warning. "Look out, Blair!"

Blair looked down, one foot raised precariously and swallowed convulsively. "Oh god!" A small hand showed through a patch of overgrown bush, the fingers outstretched as though beckoning for help. Pushing down his nausea, Blair gave Jim a horrified look then turned to call back to the crime units still at the scene. "Find!"

Carefully, he knelt down and began to gently brush the earth away from the exposed hand.

"Easy, Chief," Jim advised him. "Don't disturb any evidence."

Blair looked up at him. "Trust me, Jim, I know what I'm doing. This used to be my job, remember." He felt a twinge of regret at his words when Jim frowned and glanced away briefly. Even now, it only took a few words to revisit the guilt over the dissertation. With a small sigh, he turned back to his task. There was a tiny, dirt-encrusted ring on the fourth finger of the hand and the memory came to Blair immediately: Brittany Fredericks. Her mother had described the ring Brittany had been given by her grandmother on her last birthday.

~o0o~

Blair sat near the door of the autopsy room and averted his gaze from the in-progress post mortem being performed by Dan Wolfe. He didn't know any of these girls, having been absent from Rainier for over a year now, but that didn't make it any easier to look upon the bodies. Decomposition on all the bodies meant that DNA and dental records would be needed for ID but it also meant that none of the four girls discovered so far could be Marissa.

Dan straightened and pulled off his gloves, depositing them in the trash before walking over to wash his hands. "Same as the other three. Strangled and raped. The rape's impossible to verify on the skeletal remains but it's a safe bet. We might get DNA from these remains, if we're lucky."

"Thanks, Dan." Jim rested a hand on Blair's shoulder and Blair took comfort from the gesture. "Let's go, Chief. I want you to keep looking into the van license plates and see if you can track down who the Collins girl chatted to on the Net."

"What about you?" Blair asked as they got into the elevator and headed for Major Crime.

"Someone has to inform the parents as soon as the identifications are complete."

"I'll come with you," Blair said.

Jim shook his head. "You keep on the van. Brown and I can handle the IDs."

~o0o~

Again, it was a long day of cross-referencing and Blair was ready to shout in frustration when a call finally came in from Records. After listening to the report, Blair hung up and rested his head in his hands.

"Sandburg?"

He looked up at Jim's voice and gave his partner a weary smile. "I think we may have hit paydirt. Records were cross-checking the owners of all the vans with any priors. They found several but one in particular, a Harry Mathews, aka Henry Martin, had priors for sexual assault on two young girls."

Jim grabbed his jacket and tossed Blair his. "Let's go pay him a visit."

~o0o~

The front door to the ramshackle shack, set on the outskirts of Cascade, hung open. Motioning to two of the uniformed officers accompanying them to go around the back, Jim pulled his weapon and waited for Blair to do the same, before pushing the door wide open and stepping to the side. Nothing moved within. Jim entered, followed closely by Blair and the remaining officers. They quickly swept through the rooms in a practiced routine.

"Jim!" Blair motioned to a door on the far wall of the kitchen. It probably led down to the cellar. Jim nodded as Blair opened the door.

"Careful."

"God!"

At the exclamation from his partner, and the sound of clattering footsteps descending, Jim hurried to the cellar door. Blair was already bending over a huddled form at the bottom. "Sandburg, get back."

Blair glanced up at him. "It's just a kid. He's hurt."

Before either man could react, the body lying prone, launched into action. A fist lashed out, catching Blair on the side of the face and he stumbled back, his weapon flying out of his hand.

Jim reacted swiftly but by the time he hit the bottom step, the attacker had Blair flat on the ground. His hands were fisted in Sandburg's hair as he rhythmically slammed Blair's head onto the unforgiving concrete floor.

Jim launched himself, grabbing the shirt collar of the man who was attempting to crush his partner's skull. He dragged him up and slammed him face-first against the wall. The boy - and Jim could see now that he was a teenager - sagged downward, sobbing loudly. Spotting blood snaking down the side of the boy's face, Jim loosened his hold slightly. He turned back to check on Blair. "Sandburg! You okay?"

Blair was sitting up, his head cradled in both hands. "Think so," he muttered.

"Ellison?" a voice called from above.

"Get down here," Jim called, "and radio for an ambulance." He waited until the officer had taken custody of the boy then hurried to Blair's side. Gently, he rested a hand on Blair's shoulder and tipped his head up carefully with the other. "You sure you're okay?"

Blair's eyes were crinkled in pain and he was as white as a sheet. "Headache," he whispered. "Bad."

"I'm not surprised." Jim ran his hand over the back of Blair's skull, wincing at the large lump already forming but relieved to find no blood. "Ambulance is on its way."

"I'm okay." Blair looked over at the boy, who sat silently on the bottom step, still crying softly. He reached out and grasped Jim's hand, levering himself up. He wavered for a moment then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Releasing Jim's hand, he walked over to the boy. "Who are you?" he asked.

The boy spoke without looking up. "Brett. Brett Mathews."

"Where's Marissa Collins, Brett?"

Brett looked up then, his eyes swimming with tears. "He took her. I tried to get her home but... he took her."

"Who?"

"My... my dad."

Jim stepped up to stand at Blair's side. Sandburg was on his feet but he looked none too steady. "How long ago?"

"Ten minutes, maybe. Headed toward the woods. Red pickup."

"Okay." Jim looked at Blair. "I'm gonna go after him."

"Let's do it."

Jim shook his head. "Stay here with the kid. See what you can get out of him. When that ambulance gets here, get yourself checked out."

"Jim -"

"I'll take Mercer and Donelli with me."

Jim headed up the stairs at a run, before Blair had a chance to argue. Heading for his truck, with the uniforms following behind, Jim barked orders for an APB on Mathews into his radio.

~o0o~

Tires screaming in protest, Jim rounded the sharp bend in the road and then stood on the brakes, almost slamming his head into the windshield as the truck came to an abrupt stop.

Mathews stood at the side of his red pickup, his hands locked around the throat of a young girl who struggled in his grip, screaming for help. From here, Jim could see the rear of the truck had jammed in a ditch on the side of the road. Mathews glanced up and his eyes widened. As Jim opened his door, his weapon aimed at Mathews, Harry grabbed the girl and spun her, pushing her toward Jim.

"Police! Stop!" Jim shouted.

The girl collapsed against him and Jim struggled with her, trying to get her behind him and still keep a bead on Mathews. "You're okay. You're okay," Jim reassured her but she clung to him like a limpet and by the time Jim managed to extricate himself from her death-like grip, Mathews had vanished into the brush.

Wailing sirens announced the arrival of the cruiser and Jim helped the girl over to the officers, leaving her in their care. He stepped back to the pickup and focused his hearing, ranging it out in the direction he thought Mathews had gone.

A rhythmic, rapid lub-dub came to his ears, accompanied by muffled crying. Jim's lips curled upward in a small smile of success. Striding into the undergrowth, he found Mathews hiding behind a nearby tree. The killer was huddled in on himself, trembling in fear. Jim reached down and hauled the blubbering man up by one arm. "Not much of a monster now, are you?" he said sarcastically.

He strode back to the uniforms, half-dragging Mathews behind him and flung him at Mercer. "Read him his rights and take him downtown."

He looked down at Marissa, who sat on the front passenger seat of the cruiser, quiet now, no doubt in shock. Jim hunkered down to squat beside her. "Marissa? I'm Detective Ellison. Are you hurt?"

Marissa's hand reached up to rub gently at her neck. "He... he tried to..." Her voice trailed off and she burst into fresh tears.

Jim patted her arm. "Okay. We'll get you checked out at the hospital."

She looked at him, her eyes wide and red-rimmed. "Brett? Did you find Brett?"

Jim nodded, still unsure of where the kid fit into all this. "He's okay."

~o0o~

Blair's head was really pounding now and nausea churned his stomach. He resisted the urge to rest his head in his hands as he sat down opposite Brett Mathews in the interrogation room. They'd both been checked out by the paramedics at the scene and pronounced bruised and shaken but otherwise okay. Brett had a small gauze square taped to the side of his head, protecting the gash caused by his fall down the cellar steps. He sported a black eye that he said he'd gotten when Harry hit him when he tried to help Marissa escape. Quiet and respectful, he hardly seemed a serial killer or even the accomplice of one.

Blair rested his folded hands on the table and spoke to the teen. "I'm Detective Blair Sandburg. You are...?"

"I told you," the boy whispered, "Brett Mathews, only -" He broke off and looked at the door.

"Only what?" Blair asked.

Brett shook his head. "Doesn't matter." He turned his gaze on Blair then. "Marissa's okay?"

Blair nodded. "She's with her folks, getting checked out at the hospital. She's gonna be fine." He paused a moment then spoke again. "Brett, the other girls..."

Tears welled instantly in Brett's eyes. "I didn't know. He said... he said we were helping them get away from bad situations. He's a preacher, you know, only he works as a postman right now, because we had to leave Idaho but I thought - He said we were helping them."

Blair felt sick at the mention of Idaho. He made a mental note to check for missing girls there as soon as he was done with Brett. "You know now that wasn't true, don't you?"

Brett nodded.

"Did you..." Blair swallowed. It was at times like this he really hated this job. "Did you do anything to the girls? Or help your dad to get rid of the bodies?"

Brett's eyes widened and he pushed himself up and away from the table. "What? No! I could never... I didn't -"

The officer on guard tensed, his hand going to his weapon but Blair waved him back. "Okay, Brett. Calm down." The door opened and Blair saw Jim standing in the doorway. Ellison motioned him into the corridor.

"You sure you're all right?" Jim asked as soon as Blair joined him.

"The headache from hell but I'll be okay," Blair assured him. He glanced back at Brett. "I think the kid's telling the truth, Jim. I don't think he had any idea of what Mathews was up to."

"That's for the DA to decide, I guess," Jim said. "Got a call from Forensics. They found souvenirs at Mathew's shack. A couple of items have already been identified as belonging to the dead girls."

Blair closed his eyes against the horror of it. "We need to check out Idaho for missing girls too and anywhere else Mathews might have been before he came to Cascade."

"I'll get on it," Jim said. "You done here?"

"In a few minutes. I'll see you in the bullpen in a while."

"Okay."

Blair watched Jim leave then walked back into the interrogation room and stood in front of Brett. Taking his arm, he led the unresisting boy back to the table and gently pushed him into a chair. Taking a seat beside him, he spoke again. "Let's talk about you for a minute, all right? Did your dad ever hurt you before today?"

Brett shrugged. "Sometimes, when he drank too much or lost his job. He got angry when we had to leave Idaho because the school was asking about my records. Said it was my fault. When we came here, he said I couldn't go to school anymore."

"What about your school records?"

Brett seemed to surrender at that point. His shoulders slumped as he turned to stare at Blair and tears ran down his cheeks. "He's not my dad. I think... I think he took me. A long time ago, when I was coming home from school."

 

ACT FOUR

Blair stared aghast at the distraught boy seated beside him. "What do you mean, he took you? Was he a friend of your family? Your uncle?"

Brett shook his head then shrugged his shoulders. "He told me he was. He said my mom had a bad accident and my folks wanted him to look after me for a while. He said we were going on an adventure." He reached up and rubbed at the square of gauze on his head. "I don't remember much about that. Seemed I was always tired, always sleeping. I think he drugged me. Later, he said my mom had died and my dad couldn't look after me anymore. He said my dad didn't want me."

Blair couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Do you remember anything from before... Your name? Did he change your name?"

Brett nodded but before he could reply, the door swung open and Blair looked over his shoulder to see Detective Joe Chase standing in the doorway. The portly, grey-haired cop had his arms crossed over his expansive chest and a disgruntled look on his face. "What are you up to, Sandburg?"

Blair stood and faced the detective. "Interviewing the witness."

Chase gave Brett a quick glance. "This is a homicide case, Detective, you should know that. Besides, kid's not a witness, he's a suspect."

Blair shot Chase a glare of equal contempt. "Captain Banks assigned the case to my partner and me, Chase. Up to now, we've done all the work on it. If you have a problem with that, take it up with my captain."

For a moment, it looked like Chase was going to blow his stack, then with a muttered curse, he turned on his heel and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Blair pushed his discomfort of the moment aside for now. Chase was a creep who hadn't been shy in letting it be known that he thought frauds like Blair shouldn't be working in law enforcement. He turned back to Brett. "A name?" he asked again. "An address. Your folks' names."

"I think my name is Russell..." His forehead creased as he thought a moment. "I found a lunchbox one day with Spiderman on it. It had the name Russell Marshall on it. I think that's me."

"I'll need to check all of this out," Blair said carefully. He still had no idea if the boy was telling him the truth or not. "Did you ever try to get away?"

Brett averted his eyes. "I did once," he said in a small voice. "He beat me so bad." A tear escaped one eye and dribbled down his cheek. "The next day, we went to a Walmart. There was a little boy playing in the toy aisle all alone. My dad... Harry pointed him out, said if I ever tried again, he'd find another little boy to take. I didn't want him to do that."

"Did he ever touch you, Brett?"

"When I was younger." Brett's voice was very soft now. "When I got to be fourteen or so, he stopped. Said he didn't like the hair I was getting, the way I was growing up."

"Okay." Blair reached out and squeezed the boy's hand. "I need to go check some things out. Officer Reed is going to stay with you. He can get you a soda, maybe something to eat."

Brett nodded then turned his head to look at Blair. "I'm sorry - about those girls. If I'd known..."

Blair nodded. "We'll work it out."

~o0o~

Jim hung up the phone then looked over at Blair. "A six year old boy, Russell Marshall was kidnapped on his way home from school eleven years ago, from a suburb of Seattle. The boy was never found. The parents are on their way here with a police escort."

"So, it's him?"

Jim shrugged. "Too early to tell. There's a lot to get through. Tests, identification, not to mention, the boy's still being held as an accessory in the murders." He pushed back his chair and stood, not liking the pallor of Blair's face or the fine lines of tension around his eyes that indicated Blair's headache was still in full force. "Let's go home. There's nothing more we can do tonight."

~o0o~

The moment they arrived home, Blair headed out to the balcony. Jim watched him for a moment as he stood leaning against the wall, staring out at the darkened skyline. This one had been tough on everyone. Four young girls, lost to their families forever. A small, bright spark of hope was that Marissa Collins would recover from her ordeal and that Russell Marshall, if that was who he was, would return to the arms of his parents, who'd long since thought him dead.

Jim headed into the kitchen and put water on for tea then grabbed himself two beers from the fridge. Walking out to the balcony, he held one out to Blair then set it aside when his lover waved it away. "Tea's brewing," he said.

"Thanks," Blair whispered.

Placing his beer on the small table beside him, Jim wrapped his arms around Blair and drew him back against his chest. "Talk to me," he said.

Sighing, Blair brought his hands up and gripped Jim's. "The usual. Those poor girls, their families..."

Jim pressed a kiss to the nape of Blair's neck. "I wish I could say it'll get better. The only good thing to come out of it is that we caught the bastard. He won't do it again."

"Anything from Idaho?"

"They're looking into a couple of disappearances."

"And Brett," Blair continued, "or Russell, if that's who he is. God, how hard can it be for his parents to think he was dead, only to be told he's alive."

"At least they have him back," Jim added.

"Only to go visit him in a jail cell, not to mention the guilt he has to live with. I believe him," Blair said, turning within Jim's embrace. "I don't think he knew what was going on."

"Word is the DA is going to offer him a deal. He won't do any time." He pressed a soft kiss to Blair's lips. "It's getting cold. Come inside and let me warm you up."

~o0o~

His father was on the phone when Daryl walked into the house. He'd just returned from visiting Marissa, relieved to find she was recovering well from her ordeal. Her parents had treated Daryl like some kind of hero and while he'd been a little embarrassed by the attention, he had to admit, it had been kind of nice. He'd shyly asked Marissa out on a date the following weekend and she had, almost as shyly, accepted. Life was looking pretty good.

He stopped in the doorway of the living room and watched his dad pace in front of the windows. He didn't want to interrupt or eavesdrop but he wanted to speak to his dad now, to explain and apologize for his behavior in recent weeks.

He was about to head into his bedroom when his father spoke into the phone.

"Naomi, please reconsider. Why don't you come back and we'll talk things over... I can't leave right now. I have a job to do and we're short-staffed as it is." He paused a moment and listened then sighed. "Sounds like your mind's made up. Look, if you come back to Cascade, any time, give me a call. We can still have dinner as friends, right?" He hung up the phone and turned to stare out the window.

"Dad?"

"Not now, Daryl, all right?" his father said.

Crushed, Daryl turned to go then firmed his resolve and stopped. "Dad, I'm sorry."

His father turned to look at him. He looked tired, Daryl thought. Older. "What for, son?"

Daryl walked over to his father and, surprising himself, wrapped his arms around his dad's waist. "For being such a jerk, sometimes. Sorry that Naomi's not coming back."

After a moment, his dad's arms wrapped around him tightly. "Thank you, Daryl." His voice sounded rough. "I'm proud of you, son. You handled yourself well. If you hadn't gotten that license number, we may not have found Marissa in time." He released Daryl then and grasped his shoulders instead, leaning down a little to look Daryl in the eyes. "We've got each other, right? I know you're finding university tough and I think that's partly because your heart isn't in it. Give it till the end of the year, put everything you've got into it and if you still want to join the force, we'll talk about it again."

"I've been thinking about specializing," Daryl said. "Maybe profiling, like Blair."

His dad smiled at him. "I think Blair would be very proud to know that. Now, how about pizza for dinner? My treat."

Daryl smiled back. "You got a deal."

~o0o~

They stood by the bed, wrapped in an embrace. Blair's arms were wrapped around Jim's waist, one hand ghosted over Jim's bare chest, while the other cupped his boxer covered erection and stroked gently.

"Jesus, Blair!" Jim gasped and threw his head back against Blair's shoulder, arching up in an attempt to get more contact with Blair's hand. His own hand reached back and tugged at Blair's boxers, succeeding in only exposing his ass cheeks. Cupping one in his hand, he pulled his lover forward against him, feeling Blair's erection press against his ass.

"Love you," Blair whispered against his neck.

Jim turned in Blair's embrace and shifted them so Blair stood with his back to the bed. Jim gave him a gentle push and he sprawled inelegantly on the mattress, laughing.

Jim followed Blair down, blanketing his body with his own. He yanked at his boxers, leaving them dangling around one ankle in his haste then knelt up and tugged Blair's down as well before stretching out over his lover.

Blair thrust up as their cocks came into contact and Jim began a maddeningly slow glide against him, building the friction, urging Blair to completion, hoping that, at least for tonight, he could banish the despair and sorrow they both felt.

He couldn't change the way things were, couldn't protect Blair from the ugly realities of their jobs. This had been Blair's choice and one he'd made gladly but as long as at the end of the day they had this, had each other, they'd make it.

END

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to the entire crew at Thin Blue Line for their support, hard work and encouragement. What a talented, wonderful group of people you are. Thanks especially to Annie for her stellar beta.

Comments/Feedback: Lyn

 

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