Mixed Messages by Lyn

Mixed Messages - Lyn

The cobweb at the very corner of the living room ceiling floated softly on the draft from the fireplace. Blair watched it, its tendrils swaying as though in response to a special piece of music, its gossamer catching the sparks of the flames. Jim would hate it, Blair decided and chose to savor the performance for himself and not mention it to the man who rested against him, one arm wrapped possessively around his waist, his head on Blair's lap, his slightly open mouth blowing hot puffs of air onto Blair's stomach.

Jim would have them on a spring-cleaning mission that would totally destroy Blair's plans for a lazy, romantic weekend. Blair rested his head against the back of the couch and sorted through the jukebox in his mind for the one tune that fit the dance of the spider's web.

That Jim had not noticed the cobweb in the corner was testament to the comfortable existence they had with each other since meeting three months before. If Jim Ellison, neat-freak, had eyes only for Blair Sandburg and not the odd cobweb decorating the loft, then he must be supremely happy. Ditto, Blair thought happily, shifting slightly on the couch, careful not to disturb the man slumbering on his lap.

The two men were now partners at work as well as at home. Blair had an observer's pass at the PD with a cover story that he was studying closed societies as part of his anthropology degree.

Jim had managed to convince his superior, Captain Simon Banks, that Blair could help the sentinel control his senses and bring him out of the zone-outs that still plagued him when he focused on one sense too much. They were working on obliterating them entirely but it was slow, sometimes frustrating, going.

More importantly, Jim had encouraged Blair to apply to the university to study for his degree in Anthropology, the subject that was still so important to him. He'd sat for and gained a scholarship and Jim had taken him out to dinner. In front of the entire restaurant, the detective presented him with a new laptop computer to replace the one that had been stolen. Blair had almost kissed him there and then but found the patience to wait until they got home. Dinner was, however, eaten in great haste with more than one lascivious glance and double-entendre exchanged.

The icing on the cake had been Megan and Molly's new relationship. Though shy, Molly had fallen in love with the tall, dark-haired Australian at first sight. Forthright Megan had, surprisingly, been more cautious, though obviously interested. She sensed Molly's naivete and did not want to scare the young woman off by coming on too strongly.

The romance had blossomed slowly and Jim and Blair were helping Molly move into Megan's apartment the following month and then Blair's childhood dream was coming true. They planned to exchange vows in front of family and friends and honeymoon in Mexico.

A sudden tapping at the front door shattered Blair's concentration and he lifted Jim's limp wrist to squint at his watch. 11pm. Too late for religious callers or the Avon lady. He chuckled softly at his own inane joke as he jostled the sleeping behemoth on his lap. "Jim? Come on, man. There's someone at the door."

"Hmm? What?" Jim managed to open one eye and sit up, rubbing wearily at his face. "What's going on, Chief?"

Blair stood and padded to the door, looking though the peephole. "We have visitors," he said. "Some sentinel you are."

"Hey, I had a long day," Jim protested.

"Yeah, yeah." Blair waved away his excuses and opened the door quickly. "Molly? What's wrong? Is everything all right?" Reaching out, Blair pulled the young woman into the apartment and closed the door behind her.

Molly looked awful. Black rings of what appeared to be mascara framed her eyes. It had also dribbled down her cheeks, leaving dark trails on her pale skin. Her eyes were bloodshot and her nose was red. She turned to Blair and erupted into a noisy sob that shook her shoulders. Worried, Blair gathered her to him and led her to the couch. Jim sat forward and took her hand.

"Molly, what happened?" Jim asked.

"We had a fight," Molly sobbed. "I walked out on her."

"Oh," Blair said reaching out to take the crying woman's other hand. "Your mom?"

Molly shook her head, then took the tissue that Jim offered her with a grateful smile and blew her nose. "Me and Megan."

"Oh," Jim said. He squeezed Molly's hand, then stood up. "Look, Blair, I um, have an early start in the morning so I might..." He gestured toward the stairs.

"Okay. I'll be up in a while."

Jim nodded and leaned down to kiss Molly on the top of her head. "I hope you work things out, Molly. Blair's a real good listener."

Molly smiled through her tears. "Thank you, Jim."

Ten minutes later, Blair and Molly sat beside each other on the couch, nursing cups of soothing herbal tea. Blair placed his hand over Molly's. "So, what happened to you two? You guys were the perfect 'love at first sight' duo."

Molly blew on a tendril of steam that curled from her cup and sighed. "Mom and I had an argument about me and Megan seeing each other. She thinks it's unnatural for two women, well, you know. Anyway, I was so angry when Megan picked me up tonight. I told her what mom said and Blair, she looked so hurt that I wanted to cry, but then she said that she agreed with my mom." Molly burst into a fresh round of tears.

"What?" Blair was finding it hard to imagine a feisty Megan Conner passively accepting a judgement such as that.

"Well, she said she understood where my mom was coming from and it was just because my mom loved me and cared about me."

"Well, I'm sure Megan was right there," Blair said cautiously.

"Anyway it just went from bad to worse with me saying that if my mom loved me, she'd be happy I found someone and Megan saying I was being too hard on her and then I said she sounded like she was trying to break up with me and Megan said if I thought that, then I could leave whenever I wanted and so...and so I did." With that pronouncement, Molly burst into a loud wail that Blair was sure would have Jim tearing down the stairs, gun in hand and then she collapsed into Blair's sympathetic arms.

A half-hour later, Blair finally had Molly calmed and reasonably coherent. He walked her to the door and kissed her mascara-smudged cheek. "Are you sure you don't want to wash up before you go see Megan?" he asked, wiping gently at her face with a thumb.

Molly shook her head and hugged him before opening the door. "I'll get more sympathy points this way. Thanks, sweetie. You're the best friend a girl could have."

"You're welcome. But remember, next knock-down drag-out that Jim and I have, you're the referee."

Molly giggled and shook her head. "You and Jim fight? Never. I'll talk to you tomorrow." She waved and walked down the stairs.

Blair waved back and shut the door. Yawning widely, he tidied up the teacups and turned off the lights before padding upstairs to bed. Stripping his clothes off quickly, he crawled gratefully into Jim's waiting arms and after a slow, deep kiss, turned to his side and shifted back so that Jim's cock nestled in the haven of his ass.

"Everything okay?" Jim asked sleepily, rubbing a casual hand over Blair's hip.

"Yeah, they'll figure it out," Blair replied, his mouth already slow as sleep took him.

0~0~0~0~0

The phone call, coming as it did at 7 o'clock the following morning, shattered Blair's perfect world. He'd just shuddered through a slow, easy orgasm, Jim's cock still convulsing gently within him when the phone rang. Blair cursed softly as he shifted to allow Jim to withdraw and then rolled over to pick up the receiver.

"Hello, this is Blair."

"Blair. It's Megan. Is Molly there?"

Blair sat up and placed a hand on Jim's arm as the older man swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Hi, Megan. No, she left around midnight. Said she was coming straight over to see you. Maybe she went to her mom's seeing it was late."

Megan's voice broke on a whisper. "I already called her. She's not there. Oh God, Blair, where could she be?"

"Okay, okay. Calm down. We'll find her. Look, I'm going to come over there. Give me twenty minutes, all right?"

"All right." Megan gave in then to her distress and began to cry quietly. Blair spent several more minutes calming her, then hung up the phone. He looked over at Jim. "Do you need me at the station this morning?"

"No, it's fine, Chief. Look, if you get too worried about Molly, let me know. We can put out a missing persons report."

Blair leaned over and wrapped his arms around Jim's neck, then pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Thanks. You're the best."

The phone rang again and Blair jumped up and headed downstairs to the shower. "Your turn."

Scant minutes later Jim pulled open the shower screen and leaned in to give his partner a kiss. "I've got to go, babe. Looks like we've got another abduction."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

Jim shook his head. "Come in after you've seen Megan and tracked down Molly."

"Okay, see you later." Blair blew him a sudsy kiss and Jim smiled.

0~0~0~0~0

"Look, calm down, Megan, this is not helping," Blair said firmly as he pulled his distraught friend's hand away from the steering wheel.

"We haven't checked down there yet," Megan said, pointing toward Holden Park, her distress making her voice tremble.

"We will," Blair assured her. "Let's just check out that coffee shop she likes so much and then we'll check the park."

"This is all my fault," the nurse sobbed as she covered her face with her hands. "I practically told her to leave. Oh God, Sandy, what am I going to do? I don't think I can live without her."

"We'll find her. It's going to be fine. Damn!" Blair cursed as his cell phone rang. He steered the car into a parking space, then fumbled for the phone in his backpack. "Hello? Oh, hey, Jim. No. No sign of her yet. We're just going to check the park. Well, sure, if it's that important, of course I'll come. Okay. I'll see you in ten."

Blair shut off the phone and looked at Megan. "I have to go help Jim with something, so I'll drop you off..."

"We can't stop looking now!" Megan cried. "I just know something bad has happened to her."

Blair reached out and took her trembling hand. "You don't know that. Now, listen. I'm going to drop you home and go see Jim. Molly's probably waiting outside your front door right now feeling guilty for worrying you."

"She has her own key," Megan replied miserably.

Blair blew out a slow breath. "I'll be back in an hour. If she hasn't been in touch by then, we'll go look some more. In the meantime, phone her friends. See if anyone has seen her. Okay?" He squeezed her fingers when there was no response. "Megan?"

She nodded finally, her hair covering the abject sorrow on her face. "Okay," she croaked. Blair nodded and started the car, then backed out of the parking space.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair made his way quickly into the precinct after dropping Megan off at her apartment. He still wasn't entirely comfortable with coming here. Several officers looked disdainfully at him and a few had muttered lewd comments about his relationship with Jim, one or two going so far as to push him around a little if he happened to pass them in the corridor. He hadn't told Jim, figuring he was big enough to look after himself. It wasn't the first time, and probably wouldn't be the last that people had looked down at him.

Walking into the bullpen, he smiled a greeting at his lover that faltered when he saw the solemn look on Jim's face. "Hey, Jim. What's up?"

Jim stepped toward him, one hand outstretched and Blair's heart began to beat triple time in his chest before he could say a word.

"What? Jim?"

Jim steered him into a chair then hitched a hip onto the corner of the desk. "A woman was seen being forced into a car last night at around midnight. The description matches Molly."

Blair shook his head vehemently. "No, it can't have been her. She was with us. She was going back to Megan." He thought up a dozen different reasons it couldn't be Molly but Jim's face told him otherwise.

"I'm sorry, Chief. Her key-chain was found on the road. I recognized it as the one you gave her."

"I should have taken her home."

Jim stood and dropped to his knees in front of Blair. "No, don't go there, Chief. This is not your fault."

Blair was beyond hearing him. "This is all my fault. Why didn't I walk her to her car? Oh God, Jim, how am I going tell Megan and her mom?"

"Her mom already knows and I've asked Sally Murphy to go down and talk to Megan. Get a statement."

"You don't think Megan had something to do with this?" When Jim didn't reply, Blair grabbed frantically for his hand. 'Jim, Megan loves Molly. It's got to be this other guy."

Jim nodded. "I'm afraid that's what I think too, Blair but we have to cover all the bases here. I'm going to ask Henri to take a statement from you, too. You were the last of her friends to see Molly before she disappeared."

Blair nodded slowly. "Jim? The other two women who were abducted by this guy..."

"Both were found dead two days later," Jim finished for him. As Blair bent his head and wept, Jim reached for him, settling the shuddering body against his chest and cupping his head in one broad hand. "We'll find her," he whispered. "I promise."

"Oh, how sweet."

Blair's head shot up at the sarcastic words and he tried to surreptitiously wipe the tears from his cheek with his shirtsleeve. Alan Tucker stood in the doorway, hands on hips and a sardonic grin on his pudgy face.

Jim and Tucker had history going way back, though all Blair knew was Tucker had sloppily compromised evidence leading to a child rapist walking free. Two months later, the man had raped and killed a second child.

Jim wouldn't elaborate further and Blair wasn't sure he wanted to know. Though he was becoming somewhat accustomed to the unpleasant side of police work, attacks against children was something Blair didn't think he'd ever get used to. Feeling Jim tense as he stood, Blair reached out a hand and rested it on Jim's forearm. "Leave it, Jim. Not now."

Jim glared at Tucker for a long moment, the nerve in his jaw twitching madly, then abruptly he relaxed. "What do you want, Alan?"

Tucker held out a file folder. "Forensic evidence from the last abduction. Not much to go on." His gaze swung to Blair. "Hear you were the last one to see her alive, Sandburg. Does that make you a suspect?"

"Why, you..." This time Blair was too late to stop Jim as the detective balled his fists and stepped threateningly toward the other cop. Tucker wisely beat a retreat into the hallway with his hands raised defensively.

"Hey, only kidding here, Jimbo. Just repeating what's doing the rounds in the break room."

"Yeah? Well, you'd be doing yourself a favor by steering clear of the break room and the gossip," Jim ground out. "Do your health and your weight a whole lot of good."

Leaning in, Tucker tossed the folder so that it landed on the edge of Henri's desk and left quickly. Standing somewhat shakily, Blair crossed to the desk and picked up the folder. Opening it, he scanned it quickly then grabbed his jacket and backpack up from where they sat on the floor.

"Let's go. We need to get out to the scene for you to take another look before the evidence is compromised." He paused for a moment and blinked away the image of Molly's tear-stained face. "If he sticks to his M.O, we've got just under two days to find her."

0~0~0~0~0

Molly pulled experimentally at the chains that held her captive, though she knew her efforts were futile. Turning her head to the side, she noticed there were no windows in the room and she was unable to distinguish anything more than vague shapes.

She remembered nothing of getting here. Her last memories were of the darkened interior of a car, the offer of a ride in a hoarse whisper and the hair standing up on the back of her neck at the sound. There had been a fleeting familiarity of the voice and then overwhelming terror as he suddenly steered his car in front of her and jumped from the front seat, his agility belying his build.

As she turned to run, a long arm snaked out and wrapped around her throat, snapping her head back painfully. Before she could open her mouth to scream, a foul-smelling cloth was clamped over her face and she inhaled a lung-full of something that made her head swim.

As he lifted her petite body easily and carried her to the rear of his car, she tried to fight him, one flailing arm grasping hold of the rim of the trunk, trying to prevent him putting her inside. Far too easily, he uncurled her fingers and dropped her with a bone-numbing thump. As she struggled to sit up and pull his restraining hands away, she heard him curse faintly and looked up in time to see a fist heading straight for her face. The next thing she remembered was waking up here, chained to the bed.

She wasn't sure how long she'd been here or even how long she'd actually been awake. Her right cheekbone ached from the blow she'd taken and the eye above felt tight and swollen. The corners of her mouth stung from a gag tied too tightly and the manner in which her body was stretched out to the four-corners of the bed meant she couldn't draw a deep breath.

Footsteps at the door whipped her head in that direction and she felt her heart begin to pound, her breath coming in short, frightened gasps that made her hands and feet tingle. 'OHGODOHGODOHGOD... ...Mom! I want my mom!'

0~0~0~0~0

Blair huddled further into his jacket as he followed closely behind Jim while the detective walked slowly along Prospect Avenue. The sun was shining and it was an uncharacteristically warm day but he felt inexplicably cold. He shivered and stopped for a moment, scanning the area, hoping for a clue to where Molly was. Not for the first time, he envied Jim his sentinel senses.

"Blair? You all right?"

Jim's concerned voice broke into his reverie and he looked up to find Jim squatting by the side of the road, watching him with concern. "Did you find something?" Blair asked hopefully.

"Maybe."

As Blair ran to join him, Jim reached into the gutter grating and hooked a small card out with his fingers. He flattened out the damp cardboard and brought it closer, studying it carefully.

"What is it?"

"Blood."

"Oh God."

"Don't jump to conclusions, Chief. We'll get it tested."

Blair squinted at the writing on the card over Jim's shoulder.

"Petrie Chemists and Analysis Laboratories."

"Mean anything to you?" Jim asked, fishing a plastic bag from his pocket and dropping the card inside.

"Actually, it does," Blair replied. "I can't think why though." He looked hopefully at Jim. "Anything else?"

Jim scanned the road again then walked back a few feet and crouched down. He pointed at the black skid marks on the road. "Looks like he stopped in one hell of a hurry. We've got photos of the tread. I've got Henri running it but I don't think..." He broke off as his gaze wandered back to the gutter. He held out his hand. "You got another plastic bag there, Chief."

Blair pulled one from his pocket and opened it, watching as Jim dropped part of a shoe heel inside. "You think that's from the kidnapper?"

Jim stood, dropping an arm about Blair's shoulders. "Anything and everything, Chief. You never know what might be important." He frowned as Blair shivered again and snuggled closer into his body. "You're shaking. Let's get back to the station and drop this stuff off. You can type up your statement and we'll go talk to Megan."

Blair couldn't resist looking down at his watch. "Jim..."

"Try not to think about it."

"How can I not think about it?" Blair exploded from Jim's grasp and strode to the truck. He slammed his fist against the door and as pain shot up his arm, he gritted his teeth and spun to face Jim. "We've got a day to find her before this animal kills her! We've spent a fucking morning, man, and what have we got to on? A business card and a piece of a shoe heel which might not have anything to do with the kidnapper. Fuck!"

He turned back to the truck and began to slam his fist again and again into the door, the impact keeping time with his curses. He was only vaguely aware of a strong arm halting his self-destructive action and pulling him around. Jim cupped his throbbing hand against his chest and rubbed it gently. "Remember what I said, anything and everything."

Blair glared at him for a moment, his heart pounding in his chest and his breathing coming in strangled gasps as he tried to breathe past the lump in his throat. "What if he's killed her already?"

Jim reached past him and unlocked the passenger door. "The last two women weren't killed until a few hours before they were found. As far as I can tell, there's no reason for him to change his M.O." He turned back to Blair as he climbed into the driver's seat and started the ignition. "You're the observer here. You tell me."

Blair recognized the question for what it was - a ploy to take his mind off the more frightening aspects of the case - and mentally thanked Jim for it. He ran through the facts they'd gleaned from the previous cases and what they had on Molly's kidnapping.

"I can't see he'd be feeling threatened in any way yet," he answered finally as Jim steered out onto the road and drove past their apartment building. "So, no, his M.O. shouldn't change." He didn't verbalize the 'yet' but a quick glance in his direction from Jim told him the detective had thought of it too.

0~0~0~0~0

Molly tried to sink further into the mattress as the door to her prison slowly opened, letting in a sliver of light from beyond momentarily before it was quietly shut. She squinted into the dimness trying vainly to see her attacker, yet at the same time, dreading the sight.

He leaned down and flicked on the bedside lamp next to the bed, swiftly angling the beam away from her face as she scrunched up her eyes. The bed banged against the wall as he stepped closer and stroked a finger down her quivering cheek. She tried not to shy away from the icy touch but her skin crawled. As he leaned down and smiled into her face, she gagged at the foul stench of his breath.

"Hello, Molly." The man that stood before the terrified young woman was a familiar figure. Tall and thin with mousy brown hair that looked in dire need of shampoo, the man gnawed insistently at a reddened, soggy thumb and habitually pushed his thick black-framed glasses up his nose with the other.

Molly gasped around the gag in shock. Frantically, she shook her head from side to side making urgent noises beneath the cloth. Reaching in, her kidnapper pushed a finger beneath the gag so that it pressed between her lips and she felt bile surge up the back of her throat at the oily taste of it. Resolutely, she swallowed it back down and tried to breathe deeply through her nose.

Raising a finger on his other hand in admonition, he pulled the gag slightly away from her mouth and she winced as it pulled at hairs caught in the knot.

"Now you be a good girl and don't scream and I'll take this off. You be a naughty girl and make a noise and I'll...let's just say you won't like what I have to do."

Molly nodded vehemently and drew in gulping breaths of air as he pulled the gag down so that it hung around her neck. "Nigel? What are you doing? What's this all about?"

Nigel smiled, showing yellowed, tombstone teeth and chucked her playfully under the chin. "Now, Molly, don't play coy with me. I think you already know."

"No, I don't." Molly struggled angrily against the chains, her hysteria overwhelming her common sense. "Now let me go! Now! You stupid, sick pervert! Let me go!"

Nigel stepped back away from the bed, his face paling at Molly's words. Then his mouth thinned into a tight line and he shook his head. "No. No. No! No!! This isn't the way it's meant to happen. You have to stop."

One skinny arm snaked out and slipped the gag back over Molly's mouth, silencing her protests. Nigel smiled and nodded then, his chewed thumb seeking solace in his mouth once more.

"That's right," he crooned. "That's better. It'll be good, you'll see." He turned and began to pace from the bed to the door and back again. "All those times I asked you out and you said no. I could see you didn't mean it. I saw the way you looked at me. Every time you called me up to your apartment to fix the faucet or that sticking window and you gave me cookies. Peanut crisp cookies because you knew they were my favorite."

Molly screamed at him through the gag, trying to make him understand. *No! Don't you see I was just trying to be kind? I felt sorry for you. Not that, never that.*

He spun on his heel and crossed the few feet to the bed and crouched down so that he was in her face, his foul breath wafting over her. "I know how they laughed at me behind my back. Called me names. Just like the others. 'Nigel-No-Friends they called me. All the time, they were pretending to be nice to me and laughing behind my back. In the hospital, the doctor promised me if I took the little blue pills that the voices would stop but they just messed with my head. I couldn't think straight, couldn't hear what people were saying about me. And I had to hear them so I could be ready when they tried to get me and lock me away again." His hand went again to stroke down her cheek, this time trailing slowly down the line of her neck and tracing delicately over her breasts.

She swallowed convulsively and fought not to buck the unwanted touch from her body. Her breath came in convulsive tortured gasps and she thought she would suffocate.

He didn't seem to notice her terror as he lowered himself now to sit on the edge of the bed, one fingertip idly stroking across a nipple, smiling as it hardened beneath his touch. "You can't help yourself," he breathed. "You want me. He tried to turn you against me. I heard Sandburg tell you not to be so friendly with me. You were always so sweet and innocent until he twisted you, had you going out with that whore, that abomination. I tried to forget you, you know. There were others who wanted me but they led me on and then they mocked me too. I'm glad now they're gone. They were seconds, cast-offs, not worth the time I took to kill them but it doesn't matter now because you're here."

Molly shook her head, her muffled noises insistent and he sighed and pushed the gag down once more. She tried to wipe her cheeks against the pillow, surprised when he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and brushed away the tears and mucus that dripped from her nose.

"Nigel, please," Molly begged. "You don't understand. I didn't mean to lead you on. I was just trying to be friendly." Her voice grew soft and gentle. "Why don't you let me go now? I promise I won't tell anyone and we can just go back to being friends, all right?"

Nigel shook his head. "You say that now because you don't know me very well but you'll learn to love me. I'm really very nice when you get to know me. I want to show you something."

Putting a hand in his pocket, Nigel pulled out a key and set to work on unlocking her chains. Molly's hopes rose. As the last cuff fell away from her wrists, he helped her to sit up and she wavered at the momentary dizziness.

"Close your eyes."

She obeyed him nervously, her heart pounding wildly in her chest, her ears desperately trying to track his movements.

"Okay. You can look now."

Molly opened her eyes and looked around in astonishment. He'd turned on the main lights in the apartment. The room was decorated in bright colors and fabrics of sky-blues and sunshine yellows. A cheerful gingham tablecloth covered a small, round table, the plump chair cushions in a matching fabric. A tall cedar dresser stood against one wall, with boldly patterned platters and cups lining its shelves. Her eyes bulged as she spied the wooden cot sitting in the opposite corner.

Her unbelieving gaze slid back to Nigel, who stood in the center of the room on a brightly colored circular rug, a shy, hopeful expression on his acne-scarred face.

"You...you have a child?"

Nigel giggled. "Not yet but we will soon. You told me how much you love babies. The others didn't understand what I had to offer them. I'm glad now they said no. They weren't right for me." He pointed to the framed photo of a severe-looking woman on the dresser. "My mother didn't like them She wouldn't stop shouting at me, harping at me. 'Nigel, get a job, a real job. Get yourself a decent woman, a family. You're going to end up back in that hospital.'" His hands stole to his ears and he placed his palms against them as though shuttering out the sound. "But you...I know she'll like you.

Molly edged her way to the side of the bed, keeping her eyes on Nigel as he rocked ever so slightly on his feet. "Where's your mother, Nigel? Maybe I could talk to her. Explain..."

His head snapped up and his gray eyes narrowed. "There's nothing to explain. She doesn't live here anyway. You can't leave either. You belong with me now."

At his final chilling pronouncement, Molly threw herself off the bed and launched herself bodily at the door. To her surprise, Nigel didn't attempt to stop her. In fact, he stayed where he was, smiling slightly and she realized all too quickly why as she turned the handle and pulled at the door. It wouldn't budge. Screaming, she pounded at it, then looking up saw the sliding bolt that had been installed at the uppermost edge of the doorjamb.

Sobbing hysterically, Molly slid to the floor, her fists still thumping her distress against the door. She did not fight as he gathered her up into his arms and carried her back to the bed.

She tensed as he wrapped the chains about her wrists and ankles once more and as he pulled the gag up over her mouth, she lunged forward, biting down ruthlessly on his hand. She tasted the coppery tang of blood as he screamed and pulled away, then one arm swung forward, snapping her head to the side as he planted a stinging slap against her cheek. Whimpering, he held his bleeding palm to his chest and glared at her.

"Now look what you made me do. I have a better way to make you behave. I'll have to teach you a lesson. If you don't have your friends hanging around influencing you, you'll settle down and work at our relationship. I want it to work, Molly. I know you do too. Let me see, who's first? You want to know who, don't you?"

He giggled again, the sound grating on Molly's ears like nails down a blackboard. "Blair," he said finally. "I'll bring you back something of his. All that hair, he won't miss a lock of it, will he? Won't need it if he's dead."

Molly's eyes widened in abject fear and she shook her head from side to side, screaming hoarsely through the gag. Her head shook in futile denial as Nigel turned away from her and slid open the bolt, walking out the door. Through her sobbing, she registered the turning of the key in the lock.

0~0~0~0~0

Alan Tucker stood up from Jim's seat as the two men entered the bullpen. "About time you got back," he grumbled. "Sandburg, you're with me."

Blair stood flat-footed as the large detective strode toward the elevators. "What?"

"What's going on, Tucker?" Jim asked.

"Homicide thinks Sandburg's girlfriend's kidnapping is linked to the two kidnapping/murders and want a statement from him."

"Detective Brown's taking Blair's statement," Jim replied stubbornly.

"Brown's busy, running known sex offenders through the computer. Homicide asked me to take Sandburg's statement."

"I thought Major Crime was handling..."

"I don't give a fuck what you thought, Ellison," Tucker exploded, his face reddening with anger. "I just do what my boss tells me to do. I suggest you do the same."

"I don't have to like it..."

"Jim!"

Ellison spun to find Simon standing in the open doorway of his office. "Homicide and Major Crime are working the case jointly. Just let Tucker take the statement, all right."

Blair placed a hand on Jim's arm before he could say anything else. "It's okay. I'll do anything that will help get Molly back."

Jim finally nodded. He pushed Blair gently toward the door. "I'll get this evidence down to Forensics, see what they come up with on the blood."

He stood and watched as Tucker ushered Blair into the elevator with a self-satisfied smirk then headed toward the stairs, unashamedly turning up his hearing as he went, finding and tuning in to Blair's heartbeat and voice.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair turned his face away and waved at the foul-smelling smoke from Tucker's cigar. "Do you have to smoke that thing in here?"

"I work here, Sandburg. I can do what I want."

Blair clasped his hands in front of him on the table and sighed. "Fine. Whatever. Can we get on with this?"

"In a hurry to get back to your boyfriend?" Tucker asked nastily.

Blair flashed him a look that dripped icicles. 'I'm in a hurry to get back and find my friend before this maniac kills her."

Tucker stared at him for a long moment, then set his cigar on the edge of an ashtray and pulled a folder toward him. Flipping it open, he scanned the pages inside then picked up a pen. "All right. When did you last see your girlfriend?"

"She left my apartment around 11.30 last night...and she isn't my girlfriend."

"Oh, that's right. You swing the other way. You and Ellison." He wiggled his eyebrows comically but it just made him look depraved. "What about this Molly Brown? She have a boyfriend?"

"She's in a relationship, yes. They'd have an argument which was why she'd come to see me."

"What's the name of her boyfriend?"

"Her partner's statement has already been taken." Blair stretched out a hand and riffled the pages of the file. "There," he said, tapping one. "That's Megan's statement."

"Oh, sorry. Must have missed it."

"All right. She tell you what she and the girlfriend argued about?" Again with the eyebrows accompanied this time by a lascivious grin.

Blair groaned and leaned back in his chair, scrubbing one hand over his face. It was going to be a long session.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim was back at his desk, running a check on the company whose business card he'd found in the gutter when Blair walked back in. Instantly concerned by the paleness of his partner's face, Jim stood immediately and guided Blair into a chair.

"Thanks," Blair whispered. He rested his arms on the desk in front of him and laid his head down on them. Jim rubbed a gentle hand down his back, disquieted by Blair's actions.

"What happened? Did he do something to you? That son of a bitch, if he so much as laid a finger on you..."

"Easy, big guy." Blair stopped Jim's ranting with a touch on his arm. He raised his head and smiled wanly. "I'm okay. It just went longer than I anticipated and Tucker smokes these big fat cigars that stink even more than Simon's." His nose wrinkled. "Anyway between the smell and the questions and worrying about Molly, I've got one hell of a headache."

Jim reached down and massaged Blair's hot scalp. "Migraine?"

Blair grimaced and nodded carefully. "I think it's heading that way. I'm feeling kind of queasy and the lights seem too bright."

Jim placed a hand under Blair's elbow and pulled him to his feet. "Come on. I'm taking you home." He cut off the expected protest with a firm shake of his head and reached out to pull both their jackets off the hook behind his desk. "No arguments. I'm waiting on an employee list being faxed through from Petrie's Laboratories. As soon as I drop you off, I'll run them through Records."

"What time is it?" Blair asked as they stepped into the elevator and headed down to the parking garage.

"One o'clock."

Blair simply nodded and leaned his head back against the wall of the elevator car. He closed his eyes. Jim thought he looked more tired than he'd ever seen him.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair trudged wearily in the door of the apartment building and groaned as he noted the 'Out of order' sign on the elevator door. Faintly, he thought he heard someone call his name and half-turned toward the exit, then waiting a moment and hearing nothing more, headed for the stairs. He climbed to the third floor slowly, his pounding head echoing every weary step he took.

As he rounded the landing on the third floor, an elongated shape detached itself from the shadows and he looked up, squinting against the blinding glare from the naked light bulb set on the wall. Blair stepped to the side to allow him to pass and felt a brief flicker of recognition as he saw the man side-on but before he could react, a hard shove against his shoulder sent him plummeting backward down the stairs.

Arms flailing desperately for something to stop his descent, Blair bounced down several steps, his head slamming painfully against the wall before the second floor landing halted his fall.

Through the pounding in his ears, Blair heard footsteps rapidly coming down the stairs toward him. As he struggled to sit up, using his right hand for leverage, a sharp pain shot up his arm. A hard boot caught him in the ribs, sending him back to the ground. A second kick grazed his cheek as he tried to roll away from the attack then another sank deep into his belly, stealing his ability to breathe.

Curled around the agony, Blair heard a distant voice call his name once more. As he struggled to pull in enough air to respond, he heard the footsteps continue down the stairs, the sound receding until there was nothing but silence and darkness.

0~0~0~0~0

Megan grimaced angrily at the man who pushed roughly past her as she opened the door to Jim and Blair's apartment building. Her mind on other more worrying things, she dismissed him after no more than a cursory glance and headed toward the elevator. Seeing the sign on the door, she made her way quickly to the stairwell and trotted upstairs.

She'd stayed at her apartment for several hours after Blair had dropped her off, phoning as many of Molly's friends that she could think of. Moping around and conjuring up terrifying scenes of Molly's tortured body. She'd been unable to take any more solitude and hurried to the Prospect apartment building in search of Molly's mom. Though she knew the woman did not approve of Molly's relationship with Megan, the Australian decided at this time, those who loved Molly the most could perhaps offer comfort to each other.

A huddled shape on the landing above her caused her to slow her step. She dropped back as the figure moaned and shifted slightly. Frightened but hopeful, Megan whispered her lover's name. "Molly?"

The figure muttered something unintelligible and flopped to its back, the head falling to the side facing Megan. The nurse screamed as she recognized Blair's bruised and bloody features. Her nursing training coming to the fore, despite her fear, Megan hurried up the remaining stairs and knelt at her friend's side.

Blair was only partly conscious, his eyes roamed restlessly as he mumbled incomprehensible words under his breath. Megan held a handful of tissues to a nasty gash along his right cheek as she fumbled in her bag for her phone.

As she began to dial 911, Blair's hand rose shakily to cover hers. "No," he grated out, his voice sounding tight with pain. "No ambulance."

"Sandy, I have to get help. You could be badly hurt."

"No," he repeated. "Call Jim."

Megan studied him carefully then quickly made the call. The shocked detective echoed her concerns but after pleading with Blair himself over the phone, he backed down and agreed to meet them at the hospital. By the time Megan hung up, Blair had managed to maneuver himself up to lean against the wall. He pressed the tissues to his still-bleeding cheek and wrapped his other arm tightly around his torso.

"Okay," Megan said. "Do you think you can stand up if I help you."

Blair nodded and gritted his teeth as Megan pulled him upright until he stood on shaky legs, leaning against her. She helped him limp down the stairs, each step echoed by Blair's painful grunts.

"Sandy, do you know who did this?' Megan asked as she sped toward Cascade General.

Blair opened his eyes briefly and stared at her dully. "No."

"I saw him," Megan said. "At least I saw who I think attacked you. I got a look at his face just for a minute."

Blair reached over and patted her leg clumsily. "That's good, Megan. Give Jim the description. It'll give him something to think about while he's waiting for me." He stiffened in the seat as she pulled up to the emergency entrance. "What's the time?"

"Three p.m. Why?"

Blair shook his head and fumbled for the door handle, almost falling out onto the blacktop as the door swung open. "Doesn't matter."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim was pacing in front of the reception desk when Megan helped Blair through the sliding doors. His face darkened with anger as he took in the bruises and blood on Blair's face and the way he wrapped one arm tightly around his ribs.

Jim crossed the space between them quickly and placed an arm around Blair's shoulders, a gentle hand under Blair's chin raising his face to the light. "Jesus, Blair. Did you get a look at the guy who did this?"

"Sorry, no. Megan thinks she did."

Jim nodded gratefully at the Australian and watched as Blair was led into a trauma room. "I'll be out in a minute to get a description. It's lucky you arrived when you did."

"Perhaps it was a mugging."

"Could have been," Jim mused. He glared at the diminutive nurse who stood in his path. "I'd like to check on my partner," he growled in his most intimidating manner.

The nurse however was unfazed. "After the doctor sees him." She poked her head around Jim's large frame. "Hey, Megan. You know where the coffee is. I suggest you get the detective a cup."

Megan nodded and linked her arm in Jim's. "Thanks, Millie. Come on, Jim. They'll get back to us as soon as they can."

In fact it was Blair who walked slowly out a half-hour later. A large bandage covered his cheek and his right wrist was wrapped in a stretch bandage. He still held his ribs protectively and Jim thought he looked even paler as he had when he first arrived. In his uninjured hand, he clutched a sheet of paper.

"Hey. What's happening?" Jim asked as he stood and hurried to meet his lover. "Aren't they going to keep you for observation or something?"

"Nah. Beds are at a premium with flu season." He tried a smile but Jim wasn't convinced. "I'm fine," he insisted. "Sprained wrist, four stitches and a couple of bruised ribs." He waved the paper at Jim. "Painkillers."

"Okay. I'll get Megan to take you out to the truck while I get them filled."

"Okay."

Megan watched as Blair slid a hand under the seatbelt to cushion where it rested against his sore ribs. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"

Blair nodded. "I'll be fine. Good as new in a couple of days. I'm a fast healer."

"I know. I remember." She paused for a moment. "Blair, do you think this attack could have had something to do with Molly's kidnapping?"

"Maybe," Blair replied slowly. "I don't see how though. Probably just some strung out junkie looking for a few dollars."

"Yeah. We're going to find her, aren't we?"

Blair's hand reached out to take hers and he lifted it to his lips, placing a gentle kiss on the back of it. "Yes, we are."

"Okay. I'm going to follow you back. Go see Molly's mom."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Blair asked.

"No, but I'm going to do it anyway."

"See you at home then."

0~0~0~0~0

On the way home, Jim filled Blair in with the disquieting news that the blood on the business card was Molly's. The detective saw Blair shrink into himself at the information. Reaching out, he stroked the backs of his fingers down Blair's cheek. "There's still time."

Blair nodded and stared straight ahead, seeing nothing. "I know."

To their surprise, the elevator was working again when they arrived back at the apartment building. Blair was just relieved he didn't have to climb the stairs in his present rough condition and stepped gratefully into the car, pressing the button for the third floor.

"Maybe the mugger put the sign on the elevator to make sure you took the stairs," Jim said.

Blair nodded tiredly. His headache was back and he felt exhausted. "Or maybe the janitor fixed it while we were away." The words tickled at his memory and he suddenly came to full wakefulness. "Oh God."

"What? What's wrong?" Jim had him by the shoulders, looking worriedly into his face.

Blair gave him a stricken look. "The janitor," he whispered hoarsely. "Nigel. I asked the owner about him when he hired him. His last job was as a janitor at a chemical place. He's pretty weird, man. He was always making excuses to go to Molly's apartment. She said he creeped her out but she felt sorry for him. Baked him cookies and stuff." Blair's eyes grew haunted. "I told her not to encourage him but I didn't think he'd do anything like this."

"He took over your apartment in the basement, didn't he?" Blair nodded and reached out to squeeze Megan's hand. "All right. I'm going down to see if he's home. Talk to him, maybe get a look inside." Jim had his cell phone out and was punching in numbers as he spoke. "You and Megan go back to the apartment and wait there."

"No."

"What do you mean no? Blair, you've just been beaten up."

"Yes, and I'm fine. You're going to need me with you."

"Blair. You're not fine. You can hardly stand up straight."

"Jim, please. You're just going to talk to him. I need to be there."

One look at Blair's stubborn face told Jim it was no use. He nodded. "All right, but you stay behind me. Got it?" He looked at Megan and handed her the phone. "Tell them you're phoning for me and that we need backup here now."

Megan nodded and stepped out of the elevator as it the doors slid open. "Be careful."

Jim hit the button for the basement and carefully extended his hearing. Blair, recognizing the familiar tilt of Jim's head, stepped closer to his partner and placed a broad hand in the small of Jim's back. "Don't overextend your hearing too far, man. I don't want you to zone."

As they stepped out of the elevator in the basement, Jim pulled Blair to the wall and crept closer to the janitor's door. Focusing inward, he detected a heartbeat then to his shock, a second, pounding rapidly. "Son of a bitch," he hissed.

"What?"

"There's a second heartbeat." He paused a moment as he heard a woman's frightened voice, pleading for help. "It's Molly, Chief. She's been right under our noses all along."

Pulling his handgun from his holster, Jim cocked it and then moved out in front of the door. Raising one foot, he slammed it hard against the wood. The door bounced violently but held. Molly's high-pitched scream echoed shatteringly against his sensitive eardrums and he gave the door another powerful kick. This time, it splintered at the edge and swung inward, hanging limply from the top hinge.

Jim threw himself through the doorway as a shot rang out and a bullet whizzed past his head. "Blair! Stay down!"

The cop came up onto one knee, gun held firmly in both hands as he brought it to bear on the janitor. "Put the weapon down," Jim ordered.

Nigel shook his head. "I can't do that, detective. You'll take me back to the hospital."

Jim's gun didn't waver. "Put the weapon down." He couldn't chance taking his eyes off Nigel but he cursed as Blair stepped just ahead of him, both hands held out to his sides. "Sandburg!" Jim warned.

"Hey, Nigel," Blair said softly. "Remember me? I like what you've done with the place."

"It's for Molly."

Blair nodded. "I'm sure she likes it a lot. Why don't you put the gun down so we can talk? Maybe we can help."

Nigel grimaced and shook his head. "You can't help. You're the problem. You turned Molly against me."

"I think you're just confused and lonely. I'd like to help you if I can." Jim could see the sweat that beaded Blair's face and dribbled down his neck.

"You want to take Molly away and put me in the hospital." His forehead furrowed in a frown. "I can't go back. They mess with my head and tie me up." He shook his head vehemently and the gun shook in his grasp. "I won't go back there."

"Sandburg! Get down!" Jim saw the upward movement of Nigel's gun and reached out one hand, snagging Blair's shirt and dragging him downward.

As Blair rolled to the side, allowing Jim a clear shot, Nigel brought the gun up under his own chin and pulled the trigger.

0~0~0~0~0

"Sandburg! What the hell do you think you're doing? Put that down."

"It's just a chair, Jim. Molly wants it out on the balcony."

Jim stepped forward and pulled the heavy wooden chair out of Blair's grasp. Rolling his eyes, he maneuvered it out the door and set it on the balcony. Crooking his finger at his lover, he waited until Blair walked out to join him before leaning in conspiratorially. "She's changed her mind three times now about where she wants it. What's the bet she'll want it shifted somewhere else before the day's out?"

Blair pondered the wager. "What's on offer?"

"Loser scrubs the winner's back in the shower tonight."

"You're on." Sticking out his uninjured hand, Blair solemnly shook hands then burst out laughing. "Check it out, man."

Turning from the spectacular view over the city, Jim looked at Blair then followed his gaze inside where Megan and Molly were cosily ensconced on the couch. Molly sat between Megan's legs and arched her head up as Megan nuzzled lovingly at her neck. Megan whispered something in Molly's ear and the younger woman laughed happily.

It was good to see them both smile, Blair thought. Molly still bore faint yellowed bruises on her cheek and eye from Nigel's attack and seemed more reticent and quiet than she had before. Megan wouldn't let Molly out of her sight for a moment, insisting that she move in with her immediately instead of waiting until the following month. Molly had put up a token protest, winked at Blair and whispered something about sympathy points and packed up her gear.

Jim stepped up to stand beside him and he felt the detective's arm come around his waist. Blair pulled the warm body close to his side and they watched the other couple for a few more minutes before Jim shook his head and sighed. "Do you think they're going to notice if we leave?"

"Doubtful. They're worse than we are, Jim."

A knock on the door startled them all and Molly almost fell off the couch. Hurrying over, Megan looked through the peephole then turned back to Molly, giving her a startled look. "It's your mum," she whispered.

Molly straightened on the couch. "Oh God." She looked at Jim and Blair. "You guys aren't leaving, are you?"

"Well, we're done here..."

Another tap at the door drew their attention back to Megan. "Don't you think you'd better open it?" Jim suggested.

Megan took a deep breath and fixed a strained smile on her face. Flinging the door wide, she swallowed nervously. "Mrs. Brown! What a surprise! Um, you'll be wanting Molly. I'll get her."

"Actually, I wanted to see you both," Mrs. Brown replied. "May I come in?"

"What? Oh. Yes, please do." Megan stepped back and ushered the older woman into the apartment.

"Blair, Detective Ellison. It's nice to see you again. I was going to drop by your apartment and thank you for finding Molly."

Jim waved away the thanks. "All part of the job, Mrs. Brown."

"Hello, Molly."

"Hi, Mom. Are you okay?"

"Oh, you know. No use complaining, no one cares."

"I care," Molly blurted out and her mother's face softened.

"I know." She held out a pot filled with green ferns. "A little house warming gift for you both. Keep it watered." She smiled at Megan. "I hope you're better with plants than Molly is."

Molly walked over to Megan's side and clasped their hands together. "She's great with plants." She waved a hand to indicate the greenery on the balcony. "As you can see. Mom, if you've come to ask me to reconsider moving in, please don't. I don't want to have to choose between you and Megan."

"I wouldn't expect you to. I came to say you have my blessing. I may not be entirely comfortable with this idea and I don't know that I ever will, but when you were missing, it was obvious how much Megan loved you. I made a promise that if you came back to me safe and sound, I'd never argue with you again." She opened her arms and Molly stepped into her embrace. "I just want you to be happy."

Molly kissed her mother's cheek. "I am now, Mom."

"Ahh, we're gonna go," Blair said, giving a teary Megan a hug.

"You're not going to stay for dinner? There's plenty to go around."

"Thanks but we'll leave you guys to it. I'm sticky and sweaty and I need a shower." Blair wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at Jim.

Kisses and hugs were exchanged all round before the two men left. Just as the door closed, Jim snorted and Blair looked at him enquiringly.

"What?"

"Molly's mom just said they should move the chair inside."

"Guess we both lose then, huh?"

Jim gathered his lover into his arms and snaked a possessive hand over Blair's ass. "No way, babe. We both win."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair sighed as he stepped under the hot spray of water. "Oh, man. This is bliss."

He turned to look at Jim who stood leaning against the hand-basin watching him with a contented smile on his face. "You coming in?"

"You bet. Just enjoying the view."

Blair turned to face him and stroked a hand down his own chest and stomach before running a single finger along his already erect cock. "Like what you see?" he breathed.

It was enough. With a growl, Jim launched himself at a laughing Blair. Gathering his lover in a snug embrace, Jim nuzzled his neck while stroking his broad hands over Blair's sensitive nipples then down to scratch through his pubic hair. Fisting Blair's cock, he began to pump it slowly as he licked and kissed his way down Blair's back.

Blair widened his stance and rested his forehead against the tiles, trying not to thrust into Jim's hold, not wanting to come too soon. A finger trailed down his ass, rubbing gently at the pucker then slipped inside and stroked in and out in the same rhythm as the hand on his cock.

Panting, Blair writhed on Jim's finger, moaning when it was removed, then gasping and pushing into Jim's fist as a hot tongue replaced the digit. "Oh God! Oh God! Jim. Jim. Jim."

Blair gave up all resistance now and began to thrust back and forth. Just as he felt his orgasm building up from his toes, the tongue disappeared and Jim stood up. Blair felt the blunt tip of Jim's cock pressing against his ass, seeking entrance and he pushed his hips back, moaning as the large shaft slipped inside. Wrapping his free hand around Blair's waist, Jim drew him back to rest against his chest and thrust his pelvis forward so that his cock sank deeper, brushing firmly over Blair's prostate.

The intimate contact was all that was needed to push Blair over the precipice and he came with a shout of his lover's name, his convulsing channel wrenching Jim's orgasm from him.

The two stood melded together, Jim's hands stroking soothingly over Blair's heaving chest. Jim pressed a kiss to the back of Blair's neck then reached for the gel, smoothing the lather over Blair's back.

"I won?"

Jim grinned and skated his hand over the firm contours of his lover's ass, one finger reaching in to trail down the crevice. "I think we both won."

The end.

Thank the author! Back to Main Index ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A huge thank you as always to Patt, to Blue Tattoo for the gorgeous pics she shares so generously, to Lisa for letting me play in her playground and to Mary for the awesome beta.