Throwaways

By Lyn and Annie

Cover by Ankaree

Art by Romanse, Annie and Lyn

ACT ONE

It had been a brutal few weeks, Jim thought as he wearily followed his exhausted partner into the apartment. Hanging his jacket up on the coat hook, he held out his hand for Blair's and hung it alongside his own. If he'd left it to Blair, it would probably have ended on the floor on top of his backpack.

Blair loped into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, slouching against the door and blinking dazedly at the contents inside. "Beer?" he asked, "or water?"

Jim thought for a moment. He must be tired if it took that much mental power to decide. "Beer," he finally said.

Blair emerged with two beers in hand, twisted off the caps and handed one to Jim. He took a long swallow of his own and wiped the froth from his mouth with his shirtsleeve. "Bad day."

"Bad week… bad month," Jim commiserated. He took Blair's hand and led him over to the couch, pushed him down onto the cushions then sat beside him. He drained half his beer in one gulp, then set it on the coffee table in front of him. "You wanted to discuss the latest homicide?"

He really wasn't up to it himself. The last thing he wanted to do right now was talk about the two young boys who'd been discovered in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, sexually abused, tortured, their broken, dead bodies cast aside when the sick fuck who'd kidnapped them got tired of his games. He knew though that the crimes were playing on Blair's mind, knew Blair had slept even less than he had for the last couple of weeks, had felt him tossing and turning, heard the disjointed muttering, woken him from a nightmare or three. There had been no visions to aid them this time, just the awful specter of bloody, brutalized bodies and the absolute hopelessness of knowing they had no clues, no comfort to offer the grieving families, and the dread certainty that he'd strike again.

Blair put his own bottle on the table and turned into Jim's ready embrace, resting his head on Jim's chest and twining their hands together. He stroked his free hand along Jim's chest. "Do you mind?"

"I don't mind."

"It's gonna be more me thinking out loud than anything. I don't have anything solid to go on."

Jim kissed the top of Blair's head. "Go for it. Do your profiling thing."

"Not much of a profile," Blair said around a yawn. "Okay. We have two dead teenagers. All were runaways, all living on the street, working as rentboys, definite drug use by one of them. All died from massive blood loss from being raped with a blunt instrument of some kind." He stopped then and Jim waited a moment then nudged him.

"We don't have to do this now," he said.

"No, I need to. Just… just give me a minute." Blair's voice was muffled as he pressed his face against Jim's shirt and took a couple of slow, deep breaths. After a moment, he straightened slightly. "Okay. The first boy had been missing for two days, the second, a week but Dan says neither of them had been dead for longer than twelve or so hours when they were found."

Jim thought about that. "He's keeping them somewhere."

"Yeah, but where?" Blair sat up and stared at Jim. "He's torturing them, sticking objects up their asses and nobody hears anything?"

"We know they both had large amounts of sedatives in their bloodstreams. And if he's taking them somewhere deserted, a warehouse, maybe, like Lash -"

Blair went visibly pale at the mention of the serial killer's name. He thumped Jim's chest lightly. "Let's not go there."

"Sorry." He stretched and yawned. "Look, we're both beat and we're just going in circles here. How about we get some sleep and talk about it tomorrow?"

"We're going to interview those registered sex offenders tomorrow, right?" Blair held out a hand as Jim stood and allowed his lover to pull him to his feet.

"Yeah." Jim turned Blair toward the stairs and gave him a push to get him moving. "Never top of my wish list, talking to those slimes."

"You never know, we might get a break."

~o0o~

Upstairs, Jim pushed Blair back to lie against the pillows, smiling as his lover sprawled out bonelessly. Reaching down, Jim quickly stripped Blair's clothes from his body then undressed himself.

Pulling open the bedside drawer, he found a small bottle of lightly scented massage oil and poured a small amount into his hands, sneezing then quickly dialing down his sense of smell at Blair's whispered command. He urged Blair over onto his stomach and, climbing onto the bed, began to stroke his broad hands across the tense muscles of the other man’s back. He allowed his fingers to knead gently at the nape of Blair’s neck, not being able to resist leaning in to deposit a soft kiss there. He took his attention lower, stroking firmly across the small of Blair’s back and down over each firm, muscled ass cheek, then along the length of each leg, before gently fondling the ball of each foot.

Placing a hand on Blair’s hip, Jim encouraged the relaxed man to turn to his stomach and straddled Blair's body before pouring more oil into his hands and repeating the performance on Blair’s front. He couldn’t help noticing Blair’s erection hardening at the attention, despite his lover’s exhausted state.

Finally Blair spoke. "Thanks for letting me talk the case through. I know it's just as tough on you every time we get a call that there's another boy been found but I don't know I'll ever be able to shelve it away and deal with it later, like you do."

"It's not easy, Chief. I've had my share of nightmares lately too."

"I know. I didn't mean it to sound like you were an uncaring, heartless bastard -"

"You didn't," Jim assured him.

Blair smiled at him. "I love you."

"Ditto." Jim pushed Blair back and continued his ministrations, pausing only when a soft snore emanated from the lax body below him. He dialed up his sight. Blair was asleep, his eyes still framed with shadows of exhaustion but his brow finally free of the furrows of sadness that had haunted him for the past month. He looked at peace with himself and the world. He looked… beautiful, Jim decided. It was not a word he would normally attribute to a male lover, he knew, but in this case it was entirely appropriate.

Jim leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to Blair’s full lips. "Pleasant dreams tonight, Chief."

~o0o~

Jim awoke to something wet swiping down his foot, the sensation so delightful that it made his toes curl. As he stretched languorously, said toes were enveloped in a moist cavern and given a thorough tongue bath.

"Mm," he managed to get out. "Nice."

Blair's riotous curls appeared from the foot of the bed, a wide grin in place. "My thanks for last night," he said. He shimmied up Jim's body, his torso skimming along knees, thighs, cock and abdomen until he was face to face, then he bestowed a soft, lingering kiss on Jim's lips that made them tingle. "Good morning."

Jim fisted one hand gently into Blair's hair and pulled him back in for a more thorough mapping of his sweet-tasting mouth. "You've been up already," he noted, surprised. "You taste like toothpaste."

"Yeah, well, your senses are always spiking a little first thing in the morning," Blair said with a shrug. "My guess is you need a little time awake before you can manage control." He winked rakishly before sliding back down to devour a hard nipple. "Didn't you ever wonder why I'm such a morning sex person?" he asked around a mouthful.

Jim arched up into the sweet torture, his breath catching, sweat already breaking out on his brow as Blair's hand slipped down between their bodies and he scraped a fingernail along Jim’s already weeping erection. "Didn't want to ask," he panted, pushing his hips up to get more contact with the maddening hand. "You might have thought I was complaining and stopped."

Blair released Jim's nipple with a satisfied slurp and slid further down his lover's taut body, the hair on his chest igniting fire in Jim's groin as it scraped against Jim's hypersensitive skin. A hot tongue teased up his erection, tearing a moan from his throat.

Blair's head appeared once more from below his belly. "I take it you don't want me to stop?"

"You do and I swear I'll kill you, Sandburg."

Blair shrugged before descending on Jim's balls like a starving man. "Just checking," he mumbled.

Jim felt him push against the backs of his thighs and lifted his legs readily, bringing his knees up toward his head and holding himself open to Blair's loving. The first swipe of wet tongue over his pucker had him bucking into the air, his breath gone.

Blair's hands clamped down on his hips. "Dial it down, man. Just a fraction. I want you to come in me."

The words themselves were almost enough to make him erupt but Jim gritted his teeth and managed with short panting breaths to pull his sense of touch back. He waited, suddenly feeling foolish as he lay with his ass in the air, his hole suddenly chilled from the cool air drifting across the wetness of Blair's saliva.

"Very nice," Blair whispered. He looked at Jim and once again, a wide grin lit up his face. It was something that Jim knew he would never tire of seeing - Blair happy.

Blair leaned in again and began to ghost across Jim's ass with feather-light touches of his tongue, and just when Jim thought he’d explode, he stopped, reaching up to fist Jim's erection with slow, firm strokes. "Want to give you a little bit of everything today, Jim," he said.

Lowering his head once more, the ends of his hair brushed enticingly over Jim's balls as he went down on Jim and began to suck his cock voraciously. His tongue made a slow journey up one side then his teeth took over, raking down until they reached Jim's sac. He continued to suck Jim for long minutes, bringing him to the brink of orgasm, pulling his mouth away at just the right moment, leaving Jim gasping like a grounded fish. Jim’s balls and cock ached and he was sure he was going to explode.

"Blair, please."

"Okay, no more teasing," Blair replied, a note of reluctance evident in his voice. He leaned sideways to open the drawer of the bedside stand and took a condom from the drawer. Tearing the package, he rolled the rubber over Jim's cock and bestowed a soft kiss to the head of the sheathed penis before grasping Jim's shoulders and rolling them both so that now he lay on his back on the bed with Jim hovering over him. He lifted his legs and placed his feet over Jim's shoulders.

"When did you get so strong?" Jim growled, rubbing his hands appreciatively over Blair's firmly muscled arms.

Blair shrugged. "Bill Ryan showed me a few things in the gym," he answered laconically. As Jim's hands tightened possessively on him, he smiled. "Easy, big guy. Bill's got to be like a hundred years old, man."

Jim leaned in and nuzzled at Blair's throat. "You like old men, Sandburg," he said. "You like me."

"Oh yeah, that's right, I do. Maybe I'll give old Bill a phone call, see what he's doing on the weekend." He collapsed in laughter as Jim nipped his neck lightly and trailed a tickling finger along his ribs. Blair sobered after a moment and looked up at Jim seriously. "I love you, Jim."

"I love you, Chief." Jim found the lube and slicked his fingers then pushed one inside his lover. Blair arched up at the pleasant, familiar sensation, then as Jim pushed further inward, rubbing against Blair’s prostate, he urged himself back onto Jim's hand, pressing until Jim's palm lay flush against his ass cheeks. He began to move back and forth, fucking himself slowly at first but then with more vigor as Jim inserted a second then finally a third finger into his ass, scissoring and rotating them. This much preparation wasn't necessary anymore but Jim was determined to extend the foreplay for as long as he could, enjoying the relaxed lovemaking.

Jim wrapped a hand around Blair's erection at the same moment as he withdrew his fingers and replaced them with his cock. Pushing gently, he breached the still firm ring of muscle and immediately felt Blair's channel clutch at him, its hot velvet grasp pulling a moan from his throat.

"Now, Jim, now." Blair was already bearing down on him, then arching up into his stroking hand, his body slick and gleaming with sweat as he rode the shaft impaling him. Muttered approval spilled from his trembling lips as his body writhed.

Jim grasped Blair's ankles and moved them from his shoulders, pushing himself away slightly from Blair's body and changing the angle of his thrusts so that he stroked against Blair's prostate over and over. "That's it. Come for me," Jim urged as Blair cried out when a particularly hard thrust had him pushed up almost onto his shoulders, and still he bore down hard as though he was trying to get all of Jim inside him.

Feeling his orgasm surging up from his cock to obliterate all rational thought, Jim leaned in closer, needing to get as deep as he could. He stroked faster until with a strangled cry, he froze as his coming all but paralyzed him and he felt his semen gush into the condom. Distantly, he registered Blair's passage clenching spasmodically around his cock, and his lover came in a rush over his hand.

Jim pulled out and slumped to one side, his hands reaching instantly to draw Blair to him, enveloping the still shuddering young man in the warmth of his arms. He placed a soft kiss on Blair's brow before turning him in his arms so that they were spooned together, back to chest, cock to ass. Jim stroked a loving hand down Blair's back, soothing the heaving breaths, gentling Blair until he lay boneless, sprawled against him, eyes heavy once more with the bliss of completion.

Then the ringing of the phone broke the contented silence.

"Damn!" Jim was up immediately, grabbing the receiver from its cradle. "Ellison. Yes, Simon." He listened for a moment then spoke again. "Be there in a half hour." Hanging up the phone, he looked at Blair, the frown back on his face.

Blair sat up and reached for his robe. "Troy Cotton," he said.

"Yeah." Jim scrubbed a hand through his hair, enormously disappointed. "Hiker found his body. The ME's on his way."

~o0o~

Blair stood at Jim's side, desperately trying to avert his gaze from the examination being performed by Dan Wolfe. It was a part of police work he knew he'd never get used to. Even after all this time, the mere thought of accompanying Jim to the morgue set his stomach roiling. He had to get past it though. Jim had already scouted out the area where Troy Cotton's body had been found and had come up with nothing. Blair knew it was now his turn to perform the job he'd been trained to do, and he couldn't do that with his head and imagination concentrated on the horrific things that had been done to the young man before and after death.

"Hey, Dan," Jim greeted the Medical Examiner. "What have you got for us?"

Dan looked up from recording his findings in a small tape recorder. "Nothing new, I'm afraid, guys."

"Hey, Blair." He indicated a stool set just inside the doorway of the autopsy room and Blair took it with a grateful smile.

Even from here though, he could see the black sutures that closed the autopsy incision standing out starkly against the almost translucent skin of the body. Troy, he reminded himself. Poor kid's still got a name even if he's dead.

Dan was talking again, indicating marks on the boy's body to Jim, who stood next to the table. Blair pulled his attention back to the task at hand. "Same cause of death?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so," Dan said. "Massive loss of blood, caused by something - and I'm thinking a beer bottle - being inserted into the anus. Numerous signs of torture: cigarette burns, rope burns, whip marks on the back…" He sighed and shook his head, reaching out to run a gentle hand down the side of the boy's face. "I'm still waiting on the blood work up. I'll get it to you as soon as I can."

"Okay, thanks, Dan," Jim said. "Come on, Chief, let's check out the pedophile sheet."

"The victim's parents are here," Dan said. "I told them I'd be out to talk to them shortly."

Blair stood. "As much as I hate it, it wouldn't hurt for us to speak to them, Jim. Might give us something."

Jim nodded. "At least they're here. The first two victims' parents seemed relieved to have them gone."

"Some people just shouldn't be parents," Dan observed sadly. "Let Mr. and Mrs. Cotton know they'll be able to see Troy in about twenty minutes."

On the way to the waiting room, Blair stopped at the break room and poured coffee into two cups. He placed them on a tray and added a small jug of milk and a couple of sachets of sugar. Lifting the tray, he nodded to Jim. "I'm about as ready as I'll ever be. Lead the way."

~o0o~

"Mr. and Mrs. Cotton," Blair said as he entered the room, "I'm Detective Blair Sandburg and this is my partner, Jim Ellison." He waved them back into their seats when they stood. "First of all, I want to say how very sorry we are for your loss."

"You're sorry, are you?" Cotton stood anyway, shaking off his wife's hand. "If you're that sorry, how about you find the bastard that did this to our boy?"

Blair set the tray on the coffee table and grasped Mr. Cotton's shoulder. "That's why we're here. We need to talk to you about Troy. The more you can tell us about him, the better our chances for catching the murderer."

Cotton faced him down for a moment, then seemed to deflate and nodded. He sat back at his wife's side, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing roughly at his eyes. "Troy was a good boy," he said, his voice quavering. "We brought him and his sister up right."

"I'm sure you did," Jim said. He poured the coffee and handed a cup to each of the parents, leaving the interview to Blair, knowing how much better Blair was at this, how he could draw out even the most uncommunicative person and have them talking a mile a minute in no time.

Blair sat at Mrs. Cotton's side and took her hand. "Tell me about Troy. What happened the night he disappeared."

"That's the thing," Mrs. Cotton said. She gave her husband a stricken look and he handed his handkerchief to her as tears began to course down her cheeks. "Nothing happened. Troy had a friend over for dinner. Fred offered to drive him home but he said he'd catch the bus. Troy walked him to the stop and never came home."

"What's his friend's name?" Jim asked.

"Daniel, Daniel Kelly, but the police already interviewed him. He said the last time he saw Troy, he was walking back toward home."

"That's okay," Blair said. "If we need to talk with him again, we will." He leaned forward. "Had Troy ever run away?"

"No!" Mr. Cotton stood and began to pace the small room. "No! I told you, he was a good boy."

"Sometimes, when kids are growing up, they want more than parents think they should have," Blair said. He smiled gently at Cotton. "I'm sure I gave my mom her share of grey hairs, thinking I was old enough to do things she knew I wasn't."

Mr. Cotton shook his head. "Sometimes I worried we were too close, Troy and I. That he wanted to spend too much time with me and not enough with his friends, but we never fought, not enough for him to want to leave."

Blair nodded. "Okay. That's fine. We just need to cover every base here. Did Troy ever go to nightclubs?"

Mrs. Cotton shook her head. "He wasn't old enough. Besides, he preferred his sport and his studies."

"Okay." Blair stood and shook the parents' hands. "Again, we're sorry for your loss. We'll stay in touch and let you know if there are any developments."

Mr. Cotton covered Blair's hand with both of his own, his cheeks once more wet with tears. "Just find the animal who did this. Promise me that."

Blair nodded gravely. "We will."

~o0o~

Blair slumped down in his desk chair and stared over at Jim. "What now?"

Jim turned on his computer and motioned for Blair to do the same. "Grunt work," he replied. "Let's check out the sex offenders list. See if we come up with anyone who rings a bell."

An hour later, Blair straightened in his seat. "Jim, I might have something."

Standing, Jim walked over and stood behind his partner, studying the computer screen. "What?"

Blair tapped a finger on the screen. "Michael James Williams. He has a sex offence record as long as your arm. Ten years ago, he was convicted of kidnapping a teenage boy and keeping him imprisoned for two days, raping him before dumping him on a deserted road. The victim had sedatives in his blood… Jim," he looked up at his partner, his eyes hopeful, "this could be our guy."

"Could," Jim said, not wanting to get Blair's hopes up that it could be this easy. "Where did he pick the kid up?"

Blair scrolled down the screen. "Kid was a runaway, raising cash selling drugs and pimping himself. Williams met him at Cinders. That's the same club the first two boys disappeared from!"

"Not Troy Cotton though," Jim said.

"But he's changed his M.O. already," Blair countered. He looked down at his notes. "If it's him, he was drugging and raping them, then releasing them. Now he's got bolder. He's keeping them for an increasing period of time and now he's killing them."

"Troy Cotton disappeared on the way back from the bus stop."

"Victim of opportunity," Blair said. "Jim, we have to check this guy out." He paused a moment and Jim could almost hear the cogs turning in his brain. "But we can't let him know we're onto him. It's Friday night. Let's head over to Cinders."

Jim quirked an eyebrow at Blair. "You sure. If he's changed his M. O. though…"

"Like I said, Troy might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time," Blair explained. "That doesn't mean Williams won't frequent his old haunts to pick up more victims."

Jim straightened and pulled Blair's chair back. "Okay, Chief, you're the expert here. Cinders is a gay club, right?" At Blair's nod, he smiled. "Not as though we won't fit in."

~o0o~

The pounding music set up a resounding matching tattoo inside Jim's head almost from the moment they walked into the club. Strobing lights made it difficult for him to focus enough to see where he was going and he decided immediately that this had been a very bad idea. He turned to say just that to Sandburg but his partner grabbed his arm and led him over to a table in the corner where the light at least was less brilliant. Blair sat beside him and placed a hand on his arm, squeezing lightly.

"Dial it down a bit, Jim," he said right in Jim's ear. "Sorry, I didn't think… Maybe I should have brought H or Rafe with me. You want some water?"

Jim shook his head and waved away the offer. Even with his hearing lowered, just concentrating on their surroundings was taking more effort than he cared to admit. It was another twenty mind numbing minutes before they saw him.

"Williams," Blair said, indicating the middle-aged, balding man who was skirting the edge of the dancing crowd. Even from here, Jim could see the predatory gleam in the man's eyes. "Now what?" Blair's voice held an edge of… excitement, not nerves, Jim realized and that made him a little sad. He's one of us now. No longer on the outside looking in, trying to fit in and make like a cop. "Jim?" Blair shook his shoulder and he blinked, brought himself back to full focus with an effort.

"Sorry." Jim rubbed at an ear. "Damn music. Nothing we can do except watch him. We can hope he finds someone he likes, follow him, try to catch him in the act."

Blair looked discomfited by that and Jim realized that there was a part of the former Blair that no amount of police work would ever change. "I'm going to get a bottle of water," Blair said, standing and fidgeting in his pocket for change. "You sure you don't want a drink?"

"No." Jim's kept his gaze on Williams, watching as he worked the crowd of young men. The man's eyes were almost reptilian as he stalked his prey, pudgy hands reaching out from time to time to squeeze a tight, denim-clad ass, or to stroke across a thin, hairless chest. They had their murderer, of that Jim was certain, even without evidence, cop instincts were often right on the money, and it made him antsy waiting but he knew they had no choice. Jim wasn't going to take any chance of Williams walking free. He searched the crowded bar area for Blair and saw him talking to a young man near the dance floor. The two seemed deep in conversation but Jim couldn't risk dialing up his hearing to hear what they were saying. He looked back at the dance floor and realized Williams was gone. "Shit!"

He stood, making his way quickly over to his partner. "Blair…"

Blair looked up at him, his eyes over-bright, one hand resting on the young boy's arm. "Give me a minute." He turned his attention back to the boy. "All I'm saying is if the cops raid this place, you're gonna be spending a night or two in Juvie."

The boy gave Jim an overtly nasty glare. "So, you a cop?" he asked Blair.

"Yeah, Blair Sandburg."

"Sandburg!" Jim hissed. He grabbed Blair's arm and dragged him a little away. "You want to blow our cover?"

Blair had the grace to look ashamed. "Sorry, didn't think. I just got involved in trying to convince Billy to leave before Williams gets his claws into him." He turned back to Billy. "All I'm saying is you leave now and no one needs to know you were here."

Billy didn't even take time to think the proposition over. "I'm out of here. Place is full of perverts anyway." He turned and sauntered off in the direction of the exit.

Jim threw up his hands in exasperation. He knew Sandburg wore his heart on his sleeve, knew he was terrified that Billy would go the way of the other victims… Jim wondered if Blair would ever truly be able to harden himself to the realities of police work, even after all he'd seen and done.

"Hey, Billy!" a voice called from behind.

Glancing over his shoulder, Jim saw Williams headed their way with a glass of beer in each hand. "Shit!" he swore. Grabbing Blair's arm, he dragged his protesting partner back to their table. "What the hell are you doing?" he hissed. Williams was standing flat-footed by the dance floor, looking angry.

"The kid's not even legal, Jim," Blair said. "If Williams got a hold of him -"

"That's what we want!"

Blair stared at him open-mouthed for a moment then a look of utter guilt flitted over his face and he slumped. "Sorry," he muttered. "I still can't think like a cop. I screwed this right up."

Jim's ire disappeared immediately. He patted Blair's shoulder. "No, it's okay. You were worried about the boy, I understand that." He glanced at his watch. "We'll watch him for another hour then get H and Rafe to take over outside."

Blair nodded but kept his gaze on the table. Jim grasped his hand and sat, urging Blair to do the same. He kept his eyes on Williams but didn't release Blair's hand. He had to admit it was good to be able to be close like this, out in public, even if they were on duty.

A half hour later, a dejected looking Williams left the club. Jim and Blair followed him but he headed straight to his apartment building and disappeared inside.

ACT TWO

Blair stared down morosely at the blank sheet of paper on his desk. He couldn't decide if he felt sicker about almost blowing their cover in the nightclub or about leaving Billy at Williams' mercy. He'd heaved a sigh of relief when Williams had left the club alone but the profiler in him had known that Billy's rejection would have pushed the killer closer to the edge. All he could do, he decided, was work up the best profile he could and then use it to catch the bastard before he got a chance to act again.

He started writing, backing up every point with explanations and detail. Even though he and Jim were positive Williams was their man, having an accurate profile to match him against when the case went to court, could only help.

A half-hour later he felt a warm hand on the back of his neck, massaging gently and turned around to find Jim standing behind him. "Hey, I didn't hear you come back," he said, stretching to get the kinks out of his muscles.

"You looked pretty involved in what you were doing," Jim replied as he hooked his chair over with his foot and sat down. "So… what are you doing?"

"Profile on this fucker," Blair said succinctly. He looked down at the crabbed handwriting that covered three-quarters of the page. "I've tried to write this as if I don't have any idea who the killer is, but, man, Jim, every single point fits Williams to a T."

Jim nodded. "That makes sense considering I'm pretty sure he's the perp. Can I read it?"

"Sure." Blair handed the paper to his partner and stood up. "I'm gonna go to the bathroom and grab something to eat from the machine. Want something?"

Jim grinned at him. "The usual," he said.

"Butterfinger's are not a food group, Jim," Blair replied.

"Hey, they've got carbs, right? Carbs is a food group."

"I give up," Blair muttered. "Okay, Butterfingers it is. I'll be back in a few."

Leaving the bullpen didn't have the effect Blair had hoped for. Instead of clearing his head, he simply found himself standing in front of the restroom mirror, going over and over the words he'd just written. He was missing something, he knew, but he just couldn't put his finger on what it was. It was there, tantalizingly out of reach and every time he thought he'd grasped it, it faded away and he was back at the beginning of his circuitous thoughts instead.

He sluiced his face with cold water and dried it off then headed back to the bullpen, detouring to the break room on the way to get snacks. Fortunately, there were still several Butterfinger bars hanging from the hooks of the machine and Blair pumped in enough change to get two for Jim, then chose a packet of dried fruit and nuts for himself. It wasn't much of a meal but his stomach had been churning on and off since the night before anyway so he figured it would do to boost his energy a little for now.

He tossed the bars to Jim as he walked through the doorway, smiling as Jim, eagle-eyed as ever, snatched them out of mid-air.

"Thanks," his partner mumbled around a hastily bitten-off mouthful of candy.

"You're welcome." Blair sat down in his own chair and opened his own snack. He picked at it desultorily while Jim wolfed his chocolate down while reading the profile.

"So, what do you think?" Blair asked finally. "Is it impersonal enough? I don't want the court thinking I wrote this with Williams in mind but the man's a classic homicidal pedophile. It's hard not to make him fit every point."

Jim nodded, wadding up his wrappers and dropping them neatly in the trash basket next to his desk. "It's good," he said. "Concise, clear explanations. You know you're good at this stuff, Chief."

"But? I hear a but in there, Jim."

Jim sighed loudly and turned so he was facing Blair. "This profile fits Williams perfectly, right up to the time he kidnapped Troy Cotton. What you're missing is why he changed his M.O. A good defence lawyer's going to say you have him pegged for the earlier murders but not for Troy's and unfortunately, we don't have any physical evidence for the earlier ones. There's a chance we might find something to tie him into Troy's if we can get a search warrant for his house. But I need something more than this." Jim held up the profile. "Think. Why did he change his M.O.?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't know. I've been going over it in my head till I can barely think straight. There had to be a reason-"

"Blair, listen, what if Williams didn't kill Troy-" Jim held up his hand as Blair began to interrupt. "Hear me out, okay? Troy's murder could have been done by a copycat, someone who knew what Williams had done in the past and decided to take it a step further. Pick up a kid from a good home, not a street kid nobody would miss-"

Blair shook his head. "I don't believe that, Jim. Williams escalated. He wanted something more-" Blair stopped. "It can't be that simple," he said. He paused a moment, thinking.

"What can't be?" Jim asked.

"It is that simple. I can't believe I didn't see it before. Don't you see, man? Killing street kids was too easy. Who cared if a couple of them went missing and turned up dead? Sure, the cops sniffed around a bit but it died down in the media pretty fast. But if you take a kid from a good home, who has parents who care about him, and who keep on the cops' backs to find out what happened to their son, what does the killer get?" He sighed impatiently as Jim shrugged. "Attention. The one thing people like Williams need."

"How does that help us?"

"Maybe it'll slow him down enough to give us time to find the evidence. Hopefully he'll want to take the time to savor his notoriety before he moves onto a new target."

"Evidence? What evidence?" Jim asked skeptically.

Blair looked at him hopefully. "Any chance of finding a sympathetic judge to give us a warrant to search Williams' house based on what we've already got?"

Jim clicked his fingers. "I know just the guy. Judge Martin owes me a favor. I'll get it typed up now and take it over to him."

Blair grinned. "Good. While you're doing that, I'll go out and get us some real lunch."

Jim poked him in the chest teasingly. "Okay, but make sure you get real meat on mine. Save the tofu for yourself."

~oOo~

Judge Daniel Martin looked up from the paperwork on his desk as Jim was ushered into his office. "Jim, it's good to see you. It's been a long time." He stood and held out his hand, grasping Jim's firmly then nodding him towards the chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat." He sat back down and gave Jim an inquiring look. "What can I do for you?"

"Am I that transparent?" Jim asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"Hey, you don't call, you don't write… Sam asked about you just the other day as a matter of fact. Wondered if I'd seen you recently."

"How is Sam? Man, he's gotta be eighteen now, right?" Jim shook his head. "Sorry, Dan, I've been busy. Time gets away-"

"You're preaching to the choir, Jim." Martin leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "I heard about what happened with you and your friend, Sandburg, of course. I'm glad to see you've managed to put it behind you and get on with your career. Sandburg's a cop now, too, isn't he?"

"Yeah, he's my official partner now." Jim smiled. "He's a damned good cop actually."

"Well, that'd be a given considering he's been unofficially partnering Cascade's Police Officer of the Year for a few years now. I'd say you've probably taught him plenty."

"He's taught me at least as much," Jim replied. "Blair was a natural from day one. He's a born investigator and with his background in anthropology, he can read people better than I can. He's a profiler now," he finished, unable to keep the pride from his voice.

Martin nodded. "I've heard good things about him. I have wondered about the senses thing, though. Is it true?"

Jim shook his head. "I have better than average eyesight and hearing but there are a lot of people in the world like me," he replied, deflecting the question casually. "Look, Dan, I need a favor."

"Ask and if I can do it, I will. You know that, Jim."

"I need a search warrant for the house of a guy called Michael Williams. We suspect he's behind the murder of three young boys-"

Martin held up a hand to stop him. "I'm very aware of the case. God, when I heard about the first two boys, it was shocking enough. But then for a kid like Troy Cotton to end up the same way-"

"You knew Troy?" Jim asked.

Martin shook his head. "Only from what I've read in the papers. He seemed to come from a decent home with parents who cared about him. I couldn't help thinking it could have been Sam..."

"Yeah. So… Will you give me the warrant?" Jim asked.

"What evidence have you got on the guy?"

Jim shrugged. "Not a lot. He's got a history of pedophilia and he was a suspect in the murder of a young boy ten years ago."

"That's it? Jim, that's not enough for a search warrant and you know it." Martin stood and paced across to stand in front of the huge windows that looked out on the Cascade skyline.

"I know it's him," Jim replied firmly. "If I can get into his house, I know I can find the evidence we need to at least bring him in." He stood as well and walked over to stand in front of Martin. "Dan, you know my instincts are good. It was my instincts that helped me find Sam in time, remember?"

"No fair bringing my son into this, Ellison," Martin said flatly.

"When I found Sam before the kidnappers killed him, you told me you owed me a favor, anything I wanted," Jim said, his tone matching Martin's. "I haven't asked you for anything since then, Dan, but now I'm calling in the marker."

Martin sighed. " Give me the warrant."

Jim grinned and handed it over.

Martin read it through then signed it. "I hope like hell you're right about this, Jim," he said. "I don't want this coming back to bite either one of us on the ass somewhere down the line."

Jim took the proffered paper and pocketed it. He shook Martin's hand firmly. "It won't," he said. "Tell Sam I said hi and I'll call by and take him out to a game as soon as this slime's behind bars."

"Damn straight you will," Martin replied, waving him off. "You can take me too."

~oOo~

Blair sauntered along the sidewalk, casually swinging the paper sacks containing his and Jim's sandwiches from one hand. He couldn't help smiling as he thought about managing to finally get one over on Jim 'Junkfood is my middle name' Ellison after all. He'd gotten his partner a sandwich with real meat. There was no reason Jim had to know the meat was extra-lean ham though Blair wondered if the wholemeal bread would give the game away. He shrugged mentally. If Jim complained, he'd remind him that he was only keeping him in good fighting trim for all those late night lovemaking sessions they were both so fond of.

"Detective Sandburg!"

Blair turned and groaned as he saw Don Haas bearing down on him, a cameraman and soundman at his back. He turned back toward the PD and sped up his steps, hoping he could beat them inside the doors.

"Detective!"

Blair stopped as he felt his elbow grasped, and turned to face the reporter. "Mr. Haas. What can I do for you?"

"Do you have any leads on who killed Troy Cotton?" Haas asked, shoving his microphone in front of Blair's mouth.

Blair shook his head. "There's been more than one victim," he said tersely.

Haas shrugged. "The other two were throwaways, street kids. Nobody even knew them."

"Somebody knew them," Blair replied hotly. "Their names were Jake Edwards and Tom Murray. My partner and I knew them after we saw what the sick bastard who killed them left for us to find. It's a tragedy that Troy Cotton died but the deaths of Jake and Tom were just as horrendous and deserve just as much justice." He turned and looked into the camera, letting his anger build to a peak. "You can't hide forever. We know who you are and we're going to find you and stop you. We won't let you hurt anyone else. Keep looking over your shoulder, you sick bastard, because one day soon you're gonna turn around and find me breathing down your neck."

~oOo~

"Hey, Jim, get in here, man."

Jim detoured from his way to his desk and followed Henri Brown into the break room. "What's up, H?"

Henri shook his head and grinned. "Sandburg's on TV again. Hairboy's turning into a genuine media star."

"What!" Jim hastened his footsteps and then pulled to a stop in front of the portable television set atop the bench.

Jim watched as Blair looked into the camera, his blue eyes flashing fire.

"You can't hide forever. We know who you are and we're going to find you and stop you. We won't let you hurt anyone else. Keep looking over your shoulder, you sick bastard, because one day soon you're gonna turn around and find me breathing down your neck."

Jim turned away from the screen as the reporter closed out the report. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Shit!" he said feelingly.

Henri patted his shoulder. "Kid's got guts, Jim."

"Yeah." Jim nodded. 'And when he gets back here, I'm gonna tear him a new one for this.'

"Hey, Jim, got your sandwich."

Jim spun around at the sound of Blair's voice. "Would you mind giving us some privacy, H?" he asked, his voice even. "I need to talk to Blair alone."

H nodded agreeably, patting Blair on the shoulder as he left the room. "You need to get yourself one of those agents, Hairboy. Get yourself on Oprah."

"Maybe one day, H. Hey, Jim, what's up?" he asked as Henri closed the break room door shut.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Jim asked angrily.

"What?" Blair put the sacks down on the table and began pulling the sandwiches out. He held Jim's up. "Real meat, man."

Jim snatched the sandwich from his hand and tossed it down on the table. "What the hell were you doing getting in Williams' face like that? Baiting him."

"Look, Haas cornered me on my way back here and pissed me off by saying Jake and Tom were nobodies." Blair shook his head and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I was giving Williams what he wants," he said evenly.

Jim blew out a breath. "You should have asked me first," he said.

"Asked you? I thought we were equal partners."

"We are, but I've got more experience dealing with stuff like this. You should have discussed it with me first."

"I didn't have a chance. Haas ambushed me and I reacted," Blair replied tersely. "Overreacted," he amended. "You're right. I'm sorry."

Jim patted him on the head gently, ruffling his hair. "It's okay, Chief. Sometimes you just still think like a civilian, instead of a cop." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the search warrant, waggling it victoriously in the air. "I got it," he said as he turned and headed for the door.

"Great! I'm right behind you, man." Blair picked up Jim's sandwich and stuffed it back into the sack. "We can eat in the truck on the way."

Jim shook his head as he turned around. "You stay here."

"No way. You might need me," Blair said quickly, shaking his head.

"What we don't need is Williams' lawyer slapping you with a suit for harassment after doing your little '60 Minutes' thing with Haas just now," Jim replied firmly.

Blair dropped his head. "Yeah, okay. I'm really sorry, man."

"It's okay. Stay here. Finish up the profile. It'll help in court when we finally put this bastard where he belongs."

~oOo~

Blair flopped down dejectedly into his chair when Jim left. He'd screwed up big time, he knew, even if Jim had tried to put the best spin on it. He picked up Troy Cotton's file and opened it, shuffling through it. A list of Troy's classmates from the year before caught his eye and he pulled it out, skimming down the page. Any one of these kids could have ended up dead instead of Troy, if his theory about Williams was correct.

David James.

Alex Harrison.

Brett Daniels.

Billy Connors.

Blair stopped and read the name again. Billy Connors. He thumbed back through the folder until he found Troy's class photo and scanned the youthful faces until he found the one he was looking for.

Jesus! Billy Connors was Williams' target from the nightclub.

Blair hauled the phone over and dialed the high school's number. "Hi, this is Detective Blair Sandburg of the Cascade PD," he said when someone answered. "I realize you can't give out any personal information over the phone but can you tell me if you have a student named Billy Connors registered?"

"Just a moment, Detective. I'll check. I think he was in Troy Cotton's class."

Blair waited, his hand gripping the phone tightly.

"Billy was in Troy's class but he dropped out of school at the end of last semester," the woman told him.

"Thanks. You've been a great help." Blair hung the phone up and lowered his head to the desk. After a moment or two, he sat up and picked up the profile on Williams he'd begun and read it over.

Damn it! What if he’d been wrong about why Williams had changed his target? What if Williams was still fixated on street kids and had seen Troy with Billy and thought he was homeless.

Blair scrubbed a hand through his hair. If he had been wrong, the kids on the street were still at risk from the killer, more so now because the cops had shifted their focus to the schools and sportsfields that kids like Troy frequented. There wasn’t enough manpower for them to watch the streets as well… He reached over, snagged a post it note and scrawled a quick note to Jim.

Jim

Found a connection between Billy and Troy. Gone to talk to Billy.

Blair

P.S. Yes, mom, I’ll be careful.

He pulled a mugshot of Williams from the file and put it in his pocket. He could at least show Williams' photo around while he was at it, warn the kids to steer clear of him. He sighed as he headed down in the elevator. That wasn’t very cop-like behavior either. After all, Williams was technically innocent but Blair had no intention of letting the creep hurt anyone else, if there was any way at all he could prevent it.

~oOo~

"Hey, you know where Billy Connors is?" Blair called to a boy who was sitting slumped on the steps of an apartment building he passed.

The boy stood and shrugged. "Why do you want to know? You a cop?"

"Well, yeah, I am," Blair replied, wondering what gave him away, "but Billy’s not in trouble. I just need to talk to him."

"How much is it worth?" the kid asked, moving across to stand in front of Blair.

"Here." He pulled a twenty dollar bill from his wallet and watched the kid’s eyes go wide.

"Billy’s up on Murchison, panhandling." The boy crumpled the money in his fist and turned and ran, as if afraid Blair would snatch the money back.

Blair shook his head as he watched him, then he turned back and headed towards Murchison Street. He was under no real illusion that the money would be used for food but he could hope.

He spotted Billy lounging against the wall of an alley and called his name as he stepped onto the crosswalk. He had to step back quickly as a dark car careened around the corner and skidded to a tire-screeching halt in front of him.

Blair swallowed dryly as the passenger door swung open and he saw Michael Williams, leaning across the seat, a gun aimed unwaveringly at Blair’s chest.

"Get in the car, Mr. Sandburg," the killer said, a mirthless smile stretching his mouth.

Blair shook his head and tried to reach cautiously for his own weapon. He groaned inwardly as he caught sight of Billy, heading towards them at a run.

Williams saw the boy too and moved the gun so it was now pointing at the kid. "Get in please, or I’ll have to shoot young Billy there. You know I’ll do it."

Blair held his hands up. "All right," he said in what he hoped was a calm tone. "Leave the boy alone."

He climbed into the car and closed the door behind him.

ACT THREE

Blair slapped frantically at the door handle to no avail. Williams cast a quick sidelong glance at him as he gunned the engine and accelerated onto the road. "Childproof locks," he said, a note of smug satisfaction in his voice.

Blair shimmied over until he was firmly pressed against the door, keeping his eyes on Williams. "Why are you doing this?"

A nasty smile upturned Williams' thin lips. "Because I like you."

Blair shook his head. "I'm not your type," he said decisively. "Too old. You like boys, Williams." He knew he was running off at the mouth in his panic but figured it was safer to keep talking, keep Williams focused on that. That way he might have a chance to attract some attention to his plight or escape. There were traffic lights coming up. Maybe he could… He allowed one hand to drift toward his holster.

Williams' hand whipped up and his handgun smashed into the side of Blair's face, slamming him hard against the passenger window. His vision greyed out and he could feel warm wetness dripping down his cheek. Dimly, he realized the car had stopped. Williams patted at Blair's chest and pulled his weapon from its holster, checked the safety and tossed it onto the rear seat. He loomed over Blair, his blurred features menacing. "You talk too fucking much." The hand came up again and Blair tried to rear away from the gun clutched in it. It swung down, impacting his skull and agony exploded for a split second before the lights went out.

~o0o~

At least he wasn't dead - yet, Blair decided, trying to put a positive spin on things and keep his panic at bay. He hurt way too much. He'd woken some time ago, his thoughts piecemeal, finally coalescing into muzzy memories of going down to find Billy, of Williams ordering him into a car at gunpoint… and then nothing until he'd woken up here. He still had no idea where here was.

Once more he had to struggle to stay calm as his breath quickened and he gagged on the filthy rag stuffed into his mouth and secured behind his head, remembering coming to, finding he had been stripped naked and was tied spread-eagled, to a bed. His fear ambushed him and bile surged up his throat, threatening to choke him. He drew in a strangled breath and tried to cough but his inhalation of much needed air drew acid with it, and for a horrible moment, he thought he was going to die right now, choking on his own vomit. His body convulsed in the throes of oxygen starvation, then a fist clamped in his hair, and his head was forced to one side. Blair was grateful for even this small reprieve. The rag was torn from his mouth, ripping hair from his scalp and skin from his lips but he ignored those small pains and dragged in a greedy breath.

"Idiot!" Williams said, smacking Blair's face hard. "Coulda choked before we even get to have some fun."

Blair wheezed, trying to calm his breathing and dispel the lightheadedness. He took a chance and opened his mouth to yell, but Williams obviously guessed what was coming and before Blair could take advantage of the situation, he smashed one fist brutally into Blair's mouth, splitting his upper lip, before grabbing the gag and pulling it over Blair's head once more. He stepped back and gave Blair an evil smile.

Blair refused to cower from the menace in the man's face. Instead, he glared back, putting as much defiance and venom into his stare as he could. He almost lost his composure though when Williams chuckled and dug in his pocket. Williams raised a hypodermic to his lips and pulled the cap off with his teeth. Panic overwhelmed Blair then and he fought desperately against his bonds, his screamed protests muffled by the gag. His right arm was turned roughly. Williams sought out the vein with apparent practiced ease and plunged the needle in. Blair felt cold snake up his arm and almost instantly, heat flooded his body, sweat breaking out on his brow.

Williams tossed the syringe away and placed a meaty hand over Blair's mouth, pressing inexorably until black spots danced in front of his eyes and his lungs once more screamed for air. Blair felt himself weakening and just when unconsciousness would have taken him, Williams removed his hand, leaving him gasping like a fish out of water, exhausted, all fight gone.

He could feel the pull of the drug now as well, a sense of lethargy creeping over him. His eyelids were weighted and he let them drift closed, uncaring of the hand that trailed down his naked, sweaty body and cupped his genitals, stroked between his thighs.

"Gonna have a lot of fun before I'm done," Williams whispered, his voice taking on a soothing tone. "Wonder if you'll scream as loud as those boys did."

~o0o~

"Why are you harassing my boy again?" Irma Williams said hotly. "Seems every time he gets settled, you pigs are at him again!" She spat at the ground between Jim's feet and he grimaced.

"We have a warrant to search the premises, Mrs. Williams," he told her, indicating the paper she held in one thin hand.

"I tear it up, you got nothing!" she sneered.

"We'll just be back with another one. Now, step aside please." Jim waited until she did so then stepped into the hall of the ramshackle house and immediately dialed down his sense of smell as an overpowering odor of something fetid hit his nostrils. Maybe he should have brought Sandburg with him, after all. "Where's your son?" he asked.

"Out," she replied shortly. She pushed past him roughly and headed toward the rear of the house then turned and shook an admonishing finger at him. "You wreck anything, you pay for it."

"Gonna be hard to tell," H snickered softly as he walked past Jim and up the stairs.

"I'll start down here," Jim offered, following Mrs. Williams, not entirely certain the woman wouldn't attempt to get rid of any evidence that might be there.

Mrs. Williams turned into a dark, tiny kitchenette and immediately a multitude of cats, all mangy and rheumy, swarmed around her legs. At least he knew where the smell came from, Jim realized, when he spied an overflowing litter box in one corner of the kitchen. His eyes watered and he clamped a hand over his nose before stepping into the bathroom further up the hall. He'd get H or one of the uniforms to check out the kitchen.

The bathroom was as dark as the kitchen had been, and Jim snapped on gloves before dialing up his sight. The only light came from a tiny, barred, filthy window on the opposite wall and the light bulb hanging from the ceiling had blown. Jim took his time, examining first the bathroom cabinet then the shower stall, coming up empty on both. He was about to head upstairs to help Brown check out the bedrooms when something caught his eye.

The tiles came halfway down the wall, a dirty cream color, yellowed by tobacco stains, the grouting a dingy brown. One tile looked odd though, as though the sealant had been dug out and never replaced. Jim pulled his keys from his pocket and carefully ran it around the edge. The tile gave easily and Jim levered it out. Peering into the tiny space, he saw two pill bottles and a clear vial. Pulling them out, he allowed a small smile of success. Each of the pill bottles were for powerful sedatives, each had been prescribed for Michael Williams and were the same drugs that had been found in the dead boys' bloodstreams. The vial was labeled morphine. Though the label had been partially picked off, Jim could make out the name Cascade General. All three boys had traces of morphine in their blood as well.

He placed the bottles in an evidence bag and backed out of the bathroom, heading for the stairs.

An hour later they called a halt, having discovered nothing more except a receipt for a storage space in the Cascade warehouse area. Jim made his way downstairs, returned Mrs. Williams' sour glare with a curt nod and headed back to the PD.

He felt somewhat guilty at having left Blair behind, although he knew he'd been right to do so. He didn't want to get this close to putting Williams behind bars, only to have the murderer walk on a technicality. But after all the hard work Blair had put into the profile, and knowing just how badly the boys' deaths had affected him, Jim knew it was only right Blair should be there when Williams was arrested. They had one more stop to make, then they'd sit down and put it all together, make sure they could nail the bastard properly. He hoped the storage space Williams had rented might contain trophies from the boys' murders. The profile Blair had built of the guy made it a pretty sure bet.

~o0o~

Blair was nowhere to be seen when Jim walked into the bullpen and he was caught unawares by a frisson of unease. He sat down at his desk and was about to pull out his cellphone in an attempt to locate his errant partner when a yellow post-it note stuck to his computer monitor caught his eye. Reading it quickly, Jim cursed and stood. It seemed even after their heated words earlier, Blair still didn't get that procedure needed to be followed. He vowed when he caught up with Sandburg, he really was going to tear him a new one. He was about to head back out the door when his desk phone rang. Snatching it up, he started in immediately. "Sandburg! Where the hell are you?"

There was a moment's silence on the other end, then an unfamiliar voice spoke. "Detective Ellison?"

"Speaking. Who's this?"

"Billy… Billy Connors. I… ah… spoke to Blair at Cinders last night."

"What can I do for you, Billy?"

"I saw Blair today, down on Murchison."

"What did he want to talk to you about?"

"I don't know. A car pulled up and that guy from the nightclub, Mike, was in it. I started to go over to it but Blair waved me away. I think… Mike had a gun."

Oh God. Jim reined in his worry. "All right. Thanks, Billy. Listen, I need you to stay where you are. I'm gonna get a patrol car to come pick you up. I might need to talk to you again, get a statement."

"No way, man!" Billy protested. "You send uniforms down here, my brothers are gonna think I'm a snitch." He paused for a moment. "I'll meet you there on one condition."

"What's that?" Jim asked, his impatience climbing, wanting nothing than to get out and start looking for Blair.

"You don't tell anyone you saw me. You don't talk to my folks or anything."

"Billy -"

"No! That's the deal. I'm only calling you because your friend got me out of a bind. I heard about Troy today. We got a deal or what?"

"Yeah, we got a deal. If I'm not here when you get here, you wait for me, understand?"

"I will."

Slamming down the phone, Jim paused only long enough to apprise Simon of the situation and ask for back-up to meet him at the storage company, then he hurried down to his car. He had no idea where to begin looking for Blair. He hoped the storage locker was a starting point.

~o0o~

Blair didn't think he'd ever felt this sick before. He'd have to talk to Jim, find out who the hell had spiked his drink. He never drank to extremes, at least not since he'd been the new guy at the university and trying to prove he wasn't a geek.

"Good, you're awake," a voice said from beside him, and his reality came crashing back. "Now we can get down to business."

Blair's heart threatened to beat its way out of his chest. He watched Williams casually light a cigarette then stand and walk to the foot of the bed.

"You're a pain in the neck, Detective," Williams said. "Think you're so smart with your fancy college words, threatening to take me out." He smirked and took a pull on his cigarette. "Proved I was smarter than you, didn't I? Taking that namby-pamby mommy's boy right out in the open? I tell you, I never heard anyone scream like he did when I shoved that beer bottle up his ass. Wonder how you'll take it. You ever take something up the ass, Detective?"

Blair moaned, but the gag muffled his anguish. Oh god, Jim, where are you? I'm sorry. I should have listened to you!

"First, though," Williams took a long pull on his cigarette then blew on the glowing end, "first we're gonna have some fun."

The cigarette touched the ball of Blair's foot and he screamed.

~O0O~

Blair didn't know how long the torture lasted, only that he passed out and was slapped back to consciousness to re-live it over and over again. Williams had lit another cigarette and pressed it against Blair's shoulder, laughing out loud when tears ran down Blair's cheeks and he writhed away from the agony. Distantly, Blair heard an absurdly cheerful chiming of bells and Williams cursed and turned away, grinding the cigarette beneath his boot.

Blair lay gasping for breath, his chest heaving, rank sweat covering his body. Urine dampened the filthy mattress beneath him.

"What do you want, Ma?" he heard Williams say. "When? Shit! Yeah, yeah, okay. I'm gone. You remember, you ain't seen me." Turning back to Blair, Williams pushed the cell phone back into his pocket. "Looks like fun time's over. You and me are gonna take a drive to the mountains."

Blair flinched as Williams bent over him, freeing his hands and feet. There was no chance of escape, he knew that. His energy was gone and he was barely hanging onto consciousness.

Williams hauled him upright, snarling and lashing out at him when Blair's legs would not support him. Blair screamed in pain when his burned foot touched the ground, but Williams merely dragged him closer, supporting him against his body and headed for the exit door at the rear.

Blair flinched as bright sunlight assaulted his eyes, clamping them shut. Williams had a chokehold on his throat and he was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. Then the sweetest sound he'd ever heard:

"Stop right there, Williams. Cascade PD!"

"J- Jim?" The name was croaked out and Blair barely heard it himself.

Williams shook him like a rag doll and dragged him closer. He felt the muzzle of Williams' gun digging into the tender skin under his chin. "You let me go, cop, or I'll kill him."

There was a sudden explosion and something wet sprayed Blair's face. Williams jerked away from him, his hold loosening and Blair collapsed to the ground.

~o0o~

"Check him," Jim ordered Brown.

Uncaring of Williams's dead body, Jim rushed to Blair's side and carefully rolled him to his side to examine his injuries. Blair's face was marred with bruises and cuts, his upper lip split and still oozing, his naked body dirty and stinking of sweat and urine. Seeing the burn on his shoulder, Jim growled and wished he could shoot the fucker all over again. Gently, he lifted Blair's upper body and cradled him against his chest.

Blair was insensate, his head lolling limply against Jim's chest. A heavy coat was gently laid over Blair's naked body and Jim looked up into Henri's horrified gaze. "Thanks," he croaked out. "Get an ambulance here, H."

~o0o~

"He's going to be fine," Doctor Bill Saunders said, attempting to soothe an agitated Jim Ellison. "He's bruised, some minor cuts. The burn on his shoulder is fairly minor though the ones on his right foot are second degree and they're going to be painful for a while. Luckily, they'll heal. He won't need skin grafts. I'm keeping him overnight to allow him to rest and let the drugs dissipate from his system."

Jim looked down at the floor, seeming unable to meet the doctor's eyes. "Was he…? Was he…?"

Saunders reached out and patted Jim's shoulder. "No sexual assault. You can go sit with him. He's pretty sleepy but I think he'd appreciate the company."

Jim nodded and finally a small smile broke through. "Thanks, Doc."

~o0o~

Blair's eyes opened as soon as Jim crept into the room, though his eyelids drooped heavily. "Hey."

"Hey to you." Jim leaned forward and dropped a gentle kiss on Blair's cheek, mindful of the split lip. "How you feeling?"

"Like an idiot," Blair whispered. "Sometimes I wonder -"

"If you say you shouldn't be a cop, don't," Jim said firmly. "You followed a lead. You weren't to know Williams would go after you."

"Should have known," Blair replied. "I wrote the damn profile."

"But," Jim continued, pressing a gentle kiss to Blair's forehead, "if you ever go out on a lead again without your Blessed Protector, I'll kick your ass into next week."

Blair sketched a sloppy salute. "Gotcha. Williams? You got him, right? It all got kinda blurry at the end."

"I got him."

"Good." Blair nodded. He shook his head, huffing out a sigh. "I never thought I'd see the day when I'd say something like that."

"There are times I wish you'd never met me -"

"Don't!" Blair grabbed Jim's hand, squeezing it hard. "Don't you ever say that!"

"I just meant -" Jim began but Blair slapped him lightly on the chest.

"No, don't ever say that."

Jim leaned down and gently, very carefully, kissed Blair's mouth. "I'm sorry."

Blair smiled, oblivious to the bead of blood that welled from his split lip. Jim pulled a tissue from the box on the bedside table and dabbed at the cut, grinning when Blair yawned. "Go to sleep, Chief. I'll be right here."

"Go home. Get some rest."

"Won't," Jim assured him, "unless you're lying next to me."

"You're gonna be stiff tomorrow," Blair warned him, his eyes already closing.

"I don't mind."

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"The other boys - Tom and Jake. Someone should care, don't you think? Care enough to remember them."

Jim stroked a hand across Blair's brow, soothing him to sleep. "Yeah, Blair. Someone should."

EPILOGUE

"You sure you're up to this?" Jim asked, placing a supportive arm around Blair's shoulders as he handed him his crutches.

Blair winced as he turned his head to look up at him.

"Sorry," Jim said moving his hand to rest below the bandage he could feel under Blair's shirt. "Burn's still painful, hey?"

"It's not too bad, a little tender maybe."

He was still pale and Jim could see the shadowing of remnant bruising from where Williams had hit him. His lower lip was scabbed over and still looked sore to Sentinel eyes. He hooked the crutches beneath his armpits and balanced himself carefully, his bandaged foot kept clear of the ground. He gave Jim a faint smile. "Really, I'm fine," he said surely. He reached a hand up and squeezed Jim's gently. "I'll be better if we do this," he added.

Jim nodded his understanding then dropped his arm from Blair's shoulder and followed him to stand beside Troy Cotton's grave.

The memorial service for the slain boy had been sad and yet oddly uplifting as Troy's schoolfriends had spoken about him, praising him as the nicest kid in class.

"He just cared about everyone," his girlfriend, Jaimee, had said. "No matter who you were or what the problem was, Troy was there for you."

They'd played his favorite song, The Reason, and there wasn't a dry eye in the overflowing church by the time the service was over.

Jim had wiped at his own eyes fiercely before following Blair to the car to make the sad journey to the gravesite where Troy was laid to rest next to his grandparents.

He stayed close to Blair as Troy's parents came and shook hands with them after the interment, thanking them for catching Troy's killer; Mrs. Cotton clucking maternally over Blair's bruises and inviting them back to the house for something to eat.

Blair shook his head as he leaned forward and enclosed Troy's mother in a warm one-armed hug. "We have something else we need to do," he said.

Jim shook hands with Troy's parents, accepting their thanks, then walked with Blair to another part of the cemetery.

It was colder here somehow, the sky seeming more overcast than it had before and even as they reached their destination, a drifting rain began to fall. It was, Jim thought, as if Heaven was weeping for these lost children.

He stood back and watched as Blair limped slowly forward on his crutches and bent down to place a yellow rose and a sprig of rosemary in the small vases in front of the headstones.

"We'll remember you," Blair whispered, tracing a gentle finger over the names. "Rest in peace, Tom. Rest in peace, Jake."

Then he stood and rejoined Jim, allowing himself to be pulled into Jim's embrace. "Thanks for doing that for them, Jim," he said. "Maybe one day, their families will come and visit them."

"Maybe," Jim agreed, though he doubted it.

Jake and Tom were throwaways; kids nobody cared enough to get to know. He kissed the top of Blair's head. He knew them and Blair knew them. That would have to be enough.

The End

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