Hush

By: Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

Summary: Blair finds the mutilated body of a dying child and after a couple of strange incidents, begins to believe he's being haunted by her restless soul.

Set after Warriors and before The Waiting Room.

Author's Notes: The first scene of this story was originally written as a snippet on Sentinel Angst by NorthernStarGirl. She said she had no plans to take the story further but welcomed anyone to do so. I emailed and asked if I could, as I thought it an intriguing beginning. She kindly agreed to write the rest of the story. Some parts of the first scene have since been re-written by me. Originally published in Tribal Lore 2 from DE Press.

So, thank you, Tracy, for writing such an intriguing beginning and allowing me to finish it my way. Thanks, as always to Annie for her stellar beta and support.

WARNING: The first scene deals with a child's murder and is quite disturbing, and somewhat graphic but is very pertinent to the rest of the story.

Nothing he'd ever experienced in his life could have prepared him for this. None of the life and death experiences he'd gone through since riding with Jim. None of the deaths of friend and foe alike hurt as badly as this did.

And the worst pain of all was knowing that there was nothing he could do to help her now. All he could do was sit with her and comfort her, knowing all along that she shouldn't be here at all, cast aside like an unwanted rag doll. She should be at home with her family, helping her mother cook dinner or playing with her toys.

He clutched her more tightly as her body cooled in his hands. Her smell, her fear, her blood and urine surrounded him. A lock of curly hair tickled his lips. Gently he began to rock, crooning in a wavering voice, a lullaby that her mother should be singing to her at bedtime tonight.

It's all right, he wanted to say. Jim will be here soon. Everything would be all right.

But of course it wouldn't.

~o0o~

Blair shifted the strap of his heavy backpack, full of mid-term papers, and shivered. The thin shirt he'd thrown on that morning when he and Jim had been pulled out of bed in the early hours provided little protection from the biting cold wind. The murder they had been called to had quickly been downgraded to a domestic, with the perpetrator, the victim's wife, swiftly arrested. And while Jim could return home to sleep, Blair had to traipse into Anthropology 101 and lead a debate on the social and ethical impacts of the Spanish conquest of South America.

By the time Blair had finished class, coaxed a nervous student through her mid-term crisis, pulled some books from the library and worked on his dissertation, he was cold, tired and not in the mood for more police work. It was for this reason that he took a left outside Rainier, cutting across the park on foot, then heading towards the loft, rather than toward the station.

He would later both regret that decision and spend his days thanking God he made it.

Halfway through the woody copse near the lake, he heard a sound. Small and weak, almost a mewing, and wondered if it was a kitten. He put his bag down and peered into the bushes, seeing nothing but leaves and dense undergrowth.

He knelt and made a `pu-pu-pu' noise with his lips, hoping to coax the creature out. The replying sound froze the blood in his veins.

"Ma… ma?"

His legs pulled him forward and he felt sharp twigs and branches bite into his hands as he pulled the bushes apart. He heard himself cry out when his hand touched softness and a tumble of brown curls caught his eye. Blair frantically pushed more branches back, some part of his mind registering the increasing odor of blood, and that the wetness soaking his knees was red.

He froze the moment he saw her. Nestled in the center hollow was a child - what should have been a child, but was now a grotesque parody. She was naked, bruised, one shoe still on her foot, a Big Bird Band-aid on her knee.

She had been stabbed brutally, many times. Blair stared, caught, frozen. He wanted to look away, but his eyes kept staring, taking everything in. The cloudy look in her blue eyes, the missing front tooth. The gasping, hitching movement of her chest.

Alive.

Oh God.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

Fumbling in his pocket for his phone, he dialed 911. His heart pounded frantically in his chest, and his lungs threatened to seize up completely, but he remained strangely calm on the phone, giving the nature of the call, the location, and stressing the urgent need for an ambulance, though he knew there was nothing that could be done to bring this child back from the brink of death. Then he tried to call Jim, but his thumb mashed hopelessly at the keys and he threw the phone away.

"Da… dee?"

Blair jumped at the sound, his head snapping around. Sightless eyes moved, dry lips hissed air, fingers flexed weakly.

She was dying. It was a miracle she was still clinging to life.

"Co... ld, daddy," she whispered.

Blair watched a shiver convulse her butchered frame. Her body's last ditch attempt to keep her warm, keep her alive just a moment longer.

"Daddy?" The hand twitched in his direction and he suddenly realized she knew he was there. That some part of her had heard him call for help, that the maleness of his voice had tugged her out of the haze. She thought he was her father.

A small part of him wondered what that would feel like.

The hand flexed and fell back. He watched it fight to rise again. Twitch, lift, flex, fall.

He didn't want to touch her. Didn't want to make this any more real than it was.

Twitch, lift, flex, fall.

"Plea… se."

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

Blair reached out to cup the fingers in his hand. Cold and numb and lifeless; she was dead already; her mind just hadn't learned that yet. A plaything for the Gods, this parody of life. He wanted no part in prolonging her agony. But he moved to cradle her just the same.

Her body felt slick and greasy, smelling strongly of blood and urine and bile. Her skin was clammy against his own, like a dead thing.

He looked into her face, really looked this time, seeing beyond the ugliness of her injuries. She wasn't more than six, with a round face smattered with freckles and a head of curls rivaling his own.

He wondered what her name was.

Not is. Was. Past tense.

She mumbled something, and her pupils dilated. Blair couldn't make out the word, but it sounded like "tired."

He put up his hand, gently closed those eyes, hating himself for doing it because he knew he was doing it for himself, for his own comfort. He couldn't bear to look any more.

"Shh," he whispered. "Go to sleep."

She made another mewing sound, and he began to rock her. She sighed slightly and the hitching sound of her breathing eased a little. Blair took a deep breath, his nose filled with the stench of death. He shivered and held her closer.

Her breathing was just gasps now. She wasn't fighting anymore. He pressed his forehead against hers, listening to the rattle of her uneven breaths, still rocking, rocking, rocking.

Blair heard humming inside him and he shivered. Then the melody whispered past his lips. "Hush little baby, don't say a word. Daddy's gonna buy you a mocking bird."

~o0o~

"Here." Something hard and warm was pushed into his hands. The mellow scent of a latte snapped him out of his thoughts and Blair looked up to focus on the man who'd put the coffee into his hands.

The uniformed cop looked vaguely familiar but the only image Blair's memory could dredge up right now was the little girl's. Red caught his eye and his gaze returned to the cup in his hands. Blood stained his fingers, turning brown and crusty. The sight was strangely unshocking, almost normal. How many times in the past year, since he'd met Jim, had his hands been coated in someone's blood? Before then, the only time he'd seen his fingers red had been when his correcting pen had leaked. Since then, he remembered clutching at his leg after he'd been shot; the memory so intense he could almost feel the pain again and the thought made him shudder, knowing the agony this tiny child must be suffering.

"Are you okay, sir?"

Blair lifted a bloodied finger to his lips. "Shhh…"

~o0o~

The call came in just as Jim was about to head home. Simon came out of his office, motioning Jim to follow him, his face troubled. "What's up, Simon?" Jim asked as he grabbed his jacket and followed the captain into the hallway. "It's not my rotation."

Simon glanced at him, then hit the button for the elevator. "Dispatch just got a 911 call from Sandburg at the university." He held up a staying hand at the stiffening of Jim's body. "He's okay. He found a child in the park. Not a lot of detail but it sounded bad."

They didn't speak once they were headed down to the parking garage, each man lost in his own thoughts, sorting what needed to be done once they were at the scene. Jim wondered how Blair would be coping. He'd seen a great deal more than he had probably bargained for when he signed on as a police observer a few years before. Had said, not all that long ago, when Jim suggested he go back to the halls of academia, that it would be akin to getting back on the merry go round after riding the roller coaster. But a child… Attacks on children were something that shook the strongest cop to his very core. He'd get through it, Jim knew, with help from Jim, some counseling and Blair's own strength.

Daylight was just beginning to fade by the time they reached the park that skirted Rainier University. Spotlights had been already set up around the perimeter of the crime scene, casting an eerie glow against the backdrop of the already darkening sky.

Hurrying toward the group of people standing in a half circle within the yellow police ribbon, Jim scanned the faces for Sandburg but couldn't see him until he was almost on top of him. Blair was huddled on the ground, his knees pushed up against his chest, a drooping cup of coffee held precariously in one bloodstained, shaking hand. The other hand was clutched around a smaller, equally bloodstained one. Jim couldn't see the child. Her body had already been covered with the plastic shroud used to package the dead for transport to the morgue.

"Christ," he heard Simon mutter from behind him.

Jim flashed his ID at Detective Hollis, receiving a nod of recognition in return, then pushed past the group to kneel beside his partner. "Sandburg? Blair?"

There was no response initially, then Blair lifted his head and looked at him. Setting the cup down on the ground with exaggerated care, he lifted a finger to his lips. "Shh," he whispered. "She's sleeping now."

"That's all we've been able to get out of him," Hollis said. "We need a statement, Jim. This one's bad. And the ME needs to get the child to the morgue but he won't let go of her hand."

Jim nodded. He glanced up. "Simon, you want to clear the immediate area for just a few minutes then Hollis can bring in his men and the CSU people."

"All right," Simon said in reply, "let's get everyone back for a few minutes."

Jim didn't wait to see if the order was obeyed, turning his attention back to Blair. The younger man's face was ashen, smears of blood stood out starkly on his cheek and forehead. His face was devoid of any expression, his eyes staring blankly at Jim as though he did not recognize him. Shock, Jim diagnosed. Looking down at the blood that seeped onto the ground and stained the knees of Blair's jeans, smelling the sickly stench of vomit, urine and death, Jim fought not to gag and inched his olfactory sense down a couple of notches. Some other scent tickled his nose, familiar but it was so faint and his attention so focused on Blair that he couldn't pin it down.

"Blair," he said again. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"She's sleeping now," Blair whispered. "She was frightened before but I held her and sang to her and she went to sleep."

"That's good," Jim soothed. It was obvious he'd get little of importance out of Blair until the shock wore off. Blair shivered suddenly and Jim noted he only wore the thin shirt he'd had on when they'd been called out earlier that morning. Now it was caked in dried blood. Shrugging out of his jacket, he placed it over Blair's shoulders. Blair gave a soft sigh of contentment and snuggled into the warmth. His right hand however still clung to that of the dead child. "Think you can stand up?" Jim asked, holding out a hand. "Let's get out of the cold, huh? Get something warm to drink."

"I can't." Blair shook his head. "She thinks I'm her daddy. She'll get upset if I leave."

Someone knelt down on the other side of the child and Jim recognized Dan Wolfe, the medical examiner. Dan rested a hand on Blair's shoulder and squeezed gently. "I'll take care of her, Blair," he said gently. "She needs to come with me now, so I can get her back to her family."

Blair's eyes seemed to clear a little and he nodded slowly. "Are her parents here?"

Dan shook his head. "We think we know who she is though. Will you let me take her now?"

Blair nodded. "Okay." Gently, he disengaged his hand from the child's then carefully pulled back the shroud just enough to reveal her face. "It's okay," he said. "Dan will take you to your mom and dad." With those words, he tried to stand but his legs would not hold him. Jim reached down and levered him up, allowing Blair to sag against him for a moment.

"Think you can walk to the ambulance?" Jim asked.

"I'm okay," Blair protested, his voice sounding slurred. "Not hurt."

"Let's get them to just check you out, all right?" Jim reasoned. "You've had a bad shock."

He felt Blair shake his head from side to side. "Let's go home," Blair said. He looked up at Jim then, deep sorrow evident on his pale face, tears glistening in his deep blue eyes. "She's dead, isn't she?"

"Yes, she is."

Blair seemed to find some inner strength then. He pushed away from Jim, standing on shaky legs. He held out his hands, examining them in the glare from the lights. "I need to talk to Homicide then. I didn't see anything except the child but maybe…"

"Let the medics check you out," Jim insisted. "Then if you feel up to it, we'll go to the station and you can give your statement. Okay?"

Blair nodded, his attention now on Dan as the big man lifted the tiny child into his arms and carried her to the morgue van. "Okay."

~o0o~

By the time they reached the PD, Blair seemed to have regained some of his equilibrium. On the drive over, he'd been almost non-verbal, his eyes staring unfocused at the front windshield; his thoughts obviously turned inward; his reply to Jim's question if he was okay to go through with his statement, monosyllabic.

Jim suggested they go first to the locker room so Blair could shower and change into a clean set of clothes he kept in Jim's locker and Blair agreed. Toweling himself dry, Blair looked questioningly at Jim when the detective bagged up his soiled clothes.

"Forensics will need them," Jim replied calmly. "It's all evidence, Sandburg."

"Oh, okay." With his eyes downcast away from the offensive items, Blair finished dressing and readied himself for his interview.

Heading upstairs, they were ushered immediately into an interrogation room and when Jim raised his eyebrows in silent query to the location, Hollis pulled him aside to speak with him briefly. "It's been a busy night," the Homicide detective explained. "I thought he might feel more comfortable in here."

"Fair enough," Jim replied. "Thanks."

Blair seated himself at the table and Jim took the chair beside him. Hollis arranged his papers and pens neatly in front of him before speaking. "All right, Mr. Sandburg -"

"Blair." Blair's voice was soft.

"I'm sorry, what?" Hollis asked.

"You can call me Blair."

Hollis nodded. "Okay. Blair, can you tell me what happened this afternoon?"

"I was at the university," Blair began. "I finished my work there and headed for home. I was planning on meeting Jim here at the station but I was tired, so I decided to go straight home. I took a shortcut across the park -"

"What time was that?" Hollis asked, looking up from his notepad.

"Umm, I'm not sure," Blair replied. "Around four thirty, I guess."

Hollis nodded. "Okay, go on."

"I cut across the park and I heard something - a sound. I thought it might be a kitten but when I got closer, I saw… I saw…" Blair glanced at Jim, his eyes huge in a white face. Tears pooled then flowed down his cheeks.

Leaning forward, Jim ran a soothing hand down Blair's back and grasped Blair's nearest hand with the other. "It's all right, Chief, just take it slowly."

Blair shook his head and reached up with his free hand to wipe at his cheeks. "No, it's not all right. Someone… someone tortured that little girl and left her there to die… alone."

"She wasn't alone, buddy," Jim said softly. "You were with her." He looked over at Hollis. "Look, why don't we do this in the morning? Blair's in shock and -"

"No." Blair swiped once more at his cheeks and then stared at Jim for a long moment. "I want to do it now. I'll be… okay. Just give me a minute."

"Can I get you some water, maybe coffee?' Hollis asked.

"Water would be good, thanks."

Hollis gestured to the uniformed officer who stood silently by the door. The officer stepped out and returned a few minutes later with a pitcher of water and a small stack of glasses. Jim poured Blair a glass, noting his shaking hands and patted Blair's back when he gave him a small smile of gratitude before taking several sips of the water.

"Thank you," Blair said. "Okay, I heard the noise but when I got closer, I could see her, lying behind some bushes. She - she called out for her daddy so I held her while I waited for the ambulance to show up."

"So she was alive when you found her?" Hollis asked.

"Yeah, just barely, I think." Blair looked at Jim. "Do you think she was in pain, Jim? She said she was cold but I can't bear to think that she was hurting."

Jim shook his head. "I think she was so close to death that she wasn't really registering anything by then."

Blair nodded. "That's… that's good." He looked up at Hollis. "Can I go now?"

"Just a couple more questions." Hollis took a few moments to read through his notes. "Okay, you left the university at four thirty, you say." At Blair's nod, he continued. "Did anyone see you leave?"

Blair's brow furrowed in puzzlement but Jim tensed and sat forward. He knew where the questioning was leading. "Hollis, what are you getting at?" he asked.

Hollis shrugged. "Standard question, Jim, you know that."

"I don't -" Blair began then he gave a small gasp. "You think that I - that I did that to that little girl?" The chair legs squeaked against the tiled floor as he surged up from the table. Hollis waved away the officer who'd straightened at his post, his hand going to his holstered weapon.

"Blair, calm down," Hollis said firmly. "We have to eliminate everyone who's at a crime scene, you know that. You've been working with Jim for long enough to know the routine."

Blair stared at Hollis for a long moment then nodded. He remained standing, though his entire body shook. "No one saw me leave," he said finally. "I worked alone in my office until four thirty then I left."

"You didn't talk to anyone, see any students on your way out?" Hollis pressed.

"I helped a student with some study problems around three then I worked on my dissertation for an hour or so after that. The building was pretty deserted when I left but someone might have seen me walk by."

Hollis nodded. "Okay, that's fine. We'll look into it. Once the ME can give us some idea of when she was attacked, we'll probably be ruling you out anyway."

"So I can go?" Blair asked.

"You can go," Hollis affirmed. "If I need anything else, I'll give you a call."

"Thank you."

Blair waited for Jim to stand then walked to the door with Jim close behind. The detective kept a supportive hand on Blair's back. Blair turned suddenly at the door. "Her name. Do you know her name?"

Hollis looked again at his notes. "Parents ID'd her when we were on our way here. Emily Jackson. She was seven."

Blair nodded. "Thank you."

~o0o~

By the time they made it back to the loft, both men were exhausted. Blair shambled in behind Jim, heading straight for the kitchen, and started preparing a cup of tea. Jim stood and watched him for a moment then shook himself from his almost fugue state and began locking up the loft for the night. "It's been a long day," he said as Blair settled himself on the couch. "Why don't you head for bed as soon as you finish your tea?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't think I could sleep right now. I might… Would you mind if I meditated for a while?"

"No problem." Jim felt strangely reluctant to leave Blair alone. He seated himself next to his partner. "I think I'll just sit here a while. I'm too tired to drag myself up the stairs."

Blair nodded then stood and went off in search of his candles and CDs. "Did you pick up anything at the scene, from your senses?" he asked as he settled himself on the floor in front of the coffee table.

"Not really," Jim replied. "I have to admit I was too focused on how you were doing -"

"I'm sorry," Blair whispered.

"For what?"

"If I'd held it together more, I could have helped you, guided you."

Jim leaned forward and squeezed Blair's shoulder. "After what you'd just been through, you were in no shape to do anything." He thought a moment. "I did pick up on something. It seemed to be coming from the girl's clothes but the other smells were so overpowering, I couldn't put my finger on it. It seemed kind of familiar."

Blair looked over his shoulder at Jim, his brow furrowed. "Like what?"

Jim waved the question away and rubbed at his tired eyes. "I don't know. I'll get the report from Dan in the morning. See if they picked up any trace evidence." He patted Blair's head then gestured toward the candles. "Concentrate."

Blair turned back to his meditation and the loft became silent. Jim felt himself finally drifting toward a light sleep, the soothing tones of the ocean music in the background, a hypnotic back note.

~o0o~

Blair wasn't sure what brought him out of his meditative state but when he opened his eyes, she was there, standing in front of him. Her form wavered a little, almost but not quite blinking out. Her auburn curls were tangled, her body still stained with blood but where the wounds had been was unmarred skin. "Emily," he breathed.

Her bottom lip trembled and a fat tear ran down her cheek. "I want my daddy," she wailed, her voice as reed-thin as it had been when he'd first discovered her.

With his heart pounding a rapid tattoo in his chest, Blair rose from the floor and walked toward her. "Emily? It's okay."

She shook her head mournfully. "No, it's not. I was bad."

"No - no. You weren't bad," Blair replied gently, but he was talking to empty air. The child - vision, for that was what it must have been, was gone.

"Blair?" Jim's voice came from behind him and Blair turned on shaky legs. Jim looked half-asleep, his hair mussed. "You okay?"

Blair nodded slowly. "Yeah, I'm okay."

~o0o~

He could see the deep slash wounds in her body, could smell the rank stench of her blood and urine in the air. Her soft, barely-there cries resounded deafeningly against his eardrums.

"No!" With a gasp, Blair shot up and looked around wildly, then relaxed as he recognized the familiar dim surroundings of his bedroom.

Glancing at the clock, he sighed and climbed out of bed, going to the bathroom to relieve himself. He looked like shit, he decided. His face was still pasty-white, dark rings stark beneath red-rimmed eyes, his hair a wild mass of snarls. He tried not to think about what he'd seen earlier that evening. It had been a dream, that was all. Rather than meditating, he'd fallen asleep and relived the nightmare of Emily, just as he had a moment ago. Turning toward the sink, a flash of movement in the mirror caught his eye and he caught a brief glimpse of Emily's face, still tear-streaked and forlorn.

Shaken, he backed out of the bathroom and headed back to his bedroom, switching on the light as he stepped inside. He spent the remainder of the night, huddled on his bed, watching his room lighten with the dawn and thinking of the poor little girl whose life had been cut short so brutally, vowing to her that he would help find whoever had murdered her.

~o0o~

Jim was in the kitchen, pouring coffee when Blair walked out of his room the following morning. "Breakfast will be ready in a few," he said. He pointed to the table. "I went down to the bakery and got some of those banana bran muffins you like so much."

Normally the aroma of the freshly baked treats would have Blair salivating, but this morning his stomach churned at the thought of food. "Not really hungry," he said.

Jim walked over and placed a glass of orange juice on the table at Blair's place. "Have some juice at least," he encouraged.

Blair nodded apathetically and sat, lifting the glass and taking a few sips. The cold liquid was refreshing on his throat.

"I heard you moving around last night," Jim went on as he carried a plate of eggs and bacon over and sat opposite his partner. "You sleep all right?"

Blair shrugged. "I had a few nightmares."

"To be expected. What are you doing today?"

"I have office hours this morning and a lecture this afternoon."

"You sure you feel up to going to the university?" Jim asked, studying him closely.

"I'm fine." Blair finished his drink and stood, walking by Jim to take his glass into the kitchen; but was stopped short when Jim grabbed his arm, pulling him to a halt. The detective leaned forward toward Blair and sniffed. "What's that smell?" he asked.

Blair lifted the top of his t-shirt and smelled it. It was clean, fresh out of his dresser. "I can't smell anything," he said.

Jim shook his head. "It's on you, and it's familiar…" He thought for a moment then clicked his fingers. "Same smell I picked up at the murder scene yesterday."

"Yeah?" Blair sniffed again then shrugged. "Sorry, I can't smell anything."

"Probably just from your contact with the girl last night." Jim dismissed the thought and turned back to his breakfast.

"Well, considering I've had a shower since then, that's pretty good."

Jim merely shrugged and continued eating and Blair took the hint, knowing this wasn't the time for a third degree on just how much Jim could smell if he really concentrated. He filed the information away for later study and went into the kitchen to rinse out his glass then headed back to his bedroom to get ready for the day. Finished with his morning ablutions and packing a few last minute things into his backpack, he headed out and went to grab his car keys from the basket before belatedly remembering that his car was still in the shop and he couldn't pick it up until later that day.

"I'll drop you off at the university," Jim said, apparently reading his mind.

Blair smiled and nodded. "Thanks." He waited by the front door while Jim got ready, his thoughts going back over what had occurred the night before. He shivered, remembering Emily's plaintive cry for her daddy and her belief that she had done something wrong. Unshed tears stung his eyes and he rubbed at them with the back of one hand. Another hand, large and warm, squeezed his shoulder gently and he looked up to see Jim standing beside him, a worried frown creasing his forehead.

"You okay?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded. "I will be."

"I could arrange for you to see a counselor at the PD if you want," Jim offered but Blair shook his head.

"We have a counselor at the university. If I think I need to, I'll speak to him."

As Jim reached out to open the door, Blair said, "Can you talk to Dan today? See… See what they discovered from the autopsy."

"I'll call you as soon as I find out anything," Jim agreed.

"Thanks." Blair took a last look around the apartment, certain there was something he'd forgotten, then dismissed it and followed his partner to the elevator.

~o0o~

"How's it going, Chief?" Jim asked as soon as Blair answered his phone.

"Fine." Jim didn't believe that for a minute. He could hear the weariness in Sandburg's voice and wondered for a moment if he shouldn't tell Blair what the autopsy on Emily Jackson had revealed; but before he could evade the issue, Blair spoke up again. "What did Dan find?"

Jim shuffled the papers on his desk, slotting Emily Jackson's autopsy report at the front. "Cause of death was pretty obvious," he began. "Death caused by loss of blood from slash wounds to the chest and abdomen." He continued to read for a moment, aware of the heavy silence from the receiver. "Dan thought the wounds were a little odd -"

"Odd?" Blair broke in. "How?"

"There were what appeared to be hesitation cuts on the girl's chest, but those on her abdomen were deep, meant to kill."

Blair gave a sharp intake of breath. "God," he whispered, "who could be that angry with a seven year old child?"

"Headcase," Jim said absently, still scanning the report. "The wounds were made by an extremely sharp, large bladed knife, in a diagonal cross-shape…"

"Sounds almost sacrificial."

"Maybe, then again serial killers tend to use a particular M.O. when attacking their victims. Dan found a small amount of sticky matter under the child's fingernails and the same substance was found on the front of her dress -"

"She was naked when I found her," Blair said.

"Homicide found the clothes thrown behind a bush not far from where you found the girl. Dan's not sure what the substance is yet but he'll get back to me on it. No drag marks, but not enough blood at the scene to indicate she'd been killed there."

"So someone attacked her someplace else then carried her there and left her for dead," Blair said. There was a soft hitch in his voice. "What kind of animal -"

"Look, Chief, let's leave it with Homicide, okay?" Jim said. "We've got enough of our own cases to deal with and you've done all you could."

"It wasn't enough," Blair replied doggedly. "Do you need me this afternoon?"

"I can probably manage to interview a couple of witnesses on my own," Jim admitted.

"Good. There's someone I want to talk to and I have to pick up my car."

"Let Homicide handle it, Sandburg," Jim reiterated sternly.

"I will. Just someone at the university who makes a study of this kind of thing… He might be able to give us some ideas about the type of person we're looking for. I'll see you tonight."

"Your turn to cook," Jim put in hastily. He hoped getting Blair back into his normal routine would go some way to helping him recover from his ordeal.

"I won't forget," Blair promised.

~o0o~

Blair stood and shook the professor's outstretched hand. He felt enormously tired, as though a great weight was pressing him down. "Thank you for seeing me," he said.

"You look tired, Blair," the professor replied. "Go home and get some rest. This has been a very difficult experience for you but I know you'll feel better for having come to see me. Face your demons."

Blair rubbed at his forehead, trying to will away the migraine pounding at his temples. "Thank you," he said again.

Walking to the door, he opened it and was about to step out when the professor called his name. He looked back.

"Take care, Blair."

"I will."

~o0o~

Jim didn't think Blair was home when he arrived at the loft. His car was not in the parking lot and Jim was sure his partner had told him he was picking it up that afternoon. He was about to try Sandburg's cell phone when he saw it sitting on the kitchen counter. Picking it up, he shook his head when he saw the battery was flat. "One day, Sandburg…" he muttered. He plugged the phone into the charger and headed upstairs to get changed, but a soft sound stopped him. It sounded like a muffled sob and it was coming from the bathroom.

Jim tried the door but it was locked. He hammered on it. "Sandburg? You okay? Open the door." He heard only disjointed mutterings. Dialing up his senses, he staggered back as his nose was assailed by the overpowering coppery stench of blood. Wasting no time, Jim slammed his shoulder into the door and almost fell inside as it burst open. The scene that awaited him almost sent him into an instant zone.

Crimson daubed the sink and wall. Blair sat hunched up against the toilet, a razor blade that dripped blood onto his bare legs was clenched in one blood-soaked hand. A gaping wound was visible in the arm that drooped to the floor, blood oozing steadily from it. Blair's face was white, stained with tears and blood. He looked up at Jim, his face a mask of misery. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Oh God, Blair!" Jim hurried forward and caught Blair as the young man sagged forward. Laying him on the floor, Jim hurriedly pulled towels from the rail and wrapped Blair's wrist, applying as much pressure as he could to stem the bleeding. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Jim dialed 911 then sat beside Blair and opened up his senses to catalogue his partner's vital signs. They were weak but steady and Jim breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that meant he'd arrived in time to save Blair's life. Gently, he stroked a hand over Blair's sweat-soaked hair. "Why?" he asked. "Why'd you do this?"

Blair moaned and attempted to pull his wrist away from Jim's grasp, but Jim held firm and attempted to soothe the distraught man with calming words. Blair's eyes fluttered open. His pupils were mere pinpricks, his eyelids red and swollen from crying. Drugs? Jim wondered. What the fuck?

"Blair? Can you hear me?" Blair's eyes tracked to Jim's face and Jim pasted on a reassuring smile. "What happened, Chief? Talk to me, huh?"

"I'm sorry," Blair sobbed. "I did it. I killed Emily."

Jim had no time to react to the shocking statement before a loud knocking sounded at the front door and at his shout, the paramedics rushed in. Jim could only stand by helplessly and watch as Blair's wounds were dressed, an IV was set up, and he was transferred to a gurney to be rushed to the hospital. Jim followed them in the truck, taking a moment to phone Simon and apprise him of the situation before turning on his mars light and siren and following the ambulance to its destination.

~o0o~

Pounding footsteps interrupted Jim's dark musings and he looked up to see Simon hurrying toward him. Jim stood and met the captain halfway.

"Did I hear you right?" Simon said, his dark face mirroring the shock that Jim felt. "Sandburg said he killed that child?"

Jim sagged back onto the nearest available chair. "That's what he said before he passed out." He shook his head. "He believes he did it, but there's no way."

Simon lowered himself into the seat beside Jim. He stole a quick glance at the closed trauma room door across the hall. "Why would he say that? If he didn't do it, Jim -"

"I know Blair and so do you," Jim interrupted, "he didn't do it, Simon."

Simon scrubbed a hand over his face. "Then why say it? And why the suicide attempt?" He sighed. "I spoke to Hollis from Homicide. He hasn't been able to come up with anyone who saw Blair after his office hours."

Jim surged up from the chair. "Come on, Simon, this is Blair we're talking about! There's more to it than that."

"What?"

Jim strode over to the trauma room and placed his hand flat against the door. "His eyes were wrong. His pupils were constricted -"

Simon stood and walked over to join him. "Drugs?" he asked in surprise. "You think he was on something?"

"I think he was given something."

Simon shook his head. "That doesn't make sense, Jim. Who would give Sandburg drugs and how would that convince him that he'd murdered that little girl?"

Jim shrugged, feeling helpless but knowing that somehow his hunch was right. "I asked the doctor to run a tox screen."

"All right, let's start at the beginning -" Before he could continue, the door to the trauma room swung open and a doctor dressed in scrubs stepped out.

Jim closed his eyes for a moment to shut out the sight of the blood that spattered the doctor's shirt. Blair's blood.

"Detective Ellison," the doctor led the way back to the chairs, "your friend got here in time. He's going to be fine, physically anyway."

"Thank God," Simon whispered. He held his hand out to the doctor. "I'm Captain Banks, Cascade PD. What can you tell us?"

The doctor ushered both men to sit before continuing. "The wounds in Blair's left wrist were deep but only required suturing. There was no damage to tendons or nerves. He lost a substantial amount of blood and he's being given a transfusion now." He looked at Jim. "The tox screen results aren't back yet; but even so, unless he was given some kind of hallucinogenic drug, I can't see how it would cause Mr. Sandburg's mental condition nor his attempted suicide. I've arranged for a psych consult. At the moment, he's withdrawn and almost non-verbal."

"Can I see him?" Jim asked.

The doctor shook his head. "He said that he doesn't want to see anyone. I'm sorry."

"But I'm his partner," Jim protested. "Let me talk to him for a minute. It's important we find out what happened!"

"I'm sorry," the doctor reiterated. "Let him rest tonight and tomorrow -"

"No!" Jim said forcefully.

Simon held up a hand to stay Jim's protests, then turned to the doctor. "I'm afraid he's going to have to see me if he's in any condition to talk. Mr. Sandburg confessed to a serious crime and I need to get a statement from him."

The doctor nodded. "He's stable and up to a few questions but I'd ask that you not get him upset. He's emotionally fragile right now."

"I'm his friend too," Simon said. "I just want to help him." He turned to Jim. "Give him time, Jim. He'll come around." He walked across and pushed open the door to the trauma room.

~o0o~

Blair was huddled under the blankets, facing away from the door when Simon entered the room. "I said I don't want to see anybody," he said, not turning. His voice sounded thick with tears.

"Sandburg… Blair, it's me, Simon."

"I don't want to talk to anyone," Blair reiterated.

Simon pulled a chair up to the bedside and sat anyway. "You don't have a choice, Blair," he said gently. "You confessed to a murder. I have no choice but to investigate that."

Blair finally moved, rolling onto his back. There was an IV in one hand and the other was heavily swathed in bandages. Reaching up with his injured hand, he swiped at his cheeks then hissed in pain. Simon pulled a tissue from the box on the examination table and handed it to him.

"Thanks," Blair whispered. He mopped at his face then dropped his hand to the blanket and stared at the ceiling. His face looked gray, his eyes red-rimmed and puffy. "I don't - don't remember doing it; but if I said I did, I must have, right?"

"Not necessarily," Simon replied. He thought a moment. "What's the last thing you remember doing today?"

Blair's brow furrowed. "Having breakfast with Jim -" Another tear slipped down his cheek. "He must hate me, Simon."

Simon reached out and gently squeezed Blair's hand. "No, he doesn't hate you, and neither do I."

"I hate me," Blair muttered brokenly. "How could I - do - that to a little girl? Why would I -"

"You didn't, Chief."

Simon looked around in surprise. He'd been so wrapped up in Sandburg's grief, he hadn't heard Jim enter the room. Jim walked over to the bed and sat on the edge, reaching out to push a lock of hair away from Blair's eyes.

"You don't know that," Blair said.

"I do," Jim said firmly. He touched Blair's bandaged wrist gently then lifted the hand and turned it outwards. Carefully he ran a single finger up Blair's arm. "There," he said, sounding triumphant, his finger resting over the inside of Blair's elbow. He leaned over, studying the area. "I can see the needle mark."

"Needle mark?" Blair sounded confused. "Someone drugged me?"

Jim nodded. "Doc just got the tox screen back. You were given a mild sedative, enough to make you drowsy and confused."

"But why? And how would that make me think I killed Emily?"

"I don't know yet," Jim admitted, "but I'm going to find out. When I spoke to you earlier today, you said you had something you wanted to look into. Can you remember what that was?"

Blair shook his head. Simon leaned forward. "Come on, Sandburg, think!"

Blair shot him a despairing look. "I am trying! I am! It's just…" He trailed off and appeared to be thinking hard. "Professor Colby," he said slowly. "I went to see Professor Colby. He's one of the sociology professors here."

"Why?" Jim asked.

"He studies cults. There were rumors earlier this year that he'd started one up amongst his students as some kind of weird experiment in human behavior. The university looked into it but nothing was proven. There was talk though, of dead animals - cats and dogs, butchered and turning up in the woods at the rear of the university." He shuddered and if at all possible turned even paler. "I don't feel so good."

"Easy, you're okay," Jim soothed. "Take a couple of deep breaths, buddy. That's it." He reached for a tumbler of water sitting on the table and held the straw in the glass to Blair's lips. "Take a couple of sips. That's good," he said when Blair complied. Once Blair waved away the water, Jim stood. "How about you get some rest, Chief?" He turned to Simon. "Sir, would you mind waiting here with Blair? Talk to the psychiatrist. If I'm right, Blair doesn't need a shrink, he needs protection."

"Where are you going?" Blair asked.

"To have a chat with your Professor Colby."

~o0o~

It was now late afternoon and the hospital was silent, save for the muffled beeping of machines up the corridor. Blair had been moved, against his protests, into a ward on the fourth floor. He'd insisted that he was okay to go home, that he felt fine, had even argued that the drug he'd been given proved somehow that he hadn't meant to kill himself, that he hadn't murdered Emily. The doctor had merely made shushing motions and warned him against getting too worked up in his already emotional state and insisted that he stay overnight.

Jim had left to see Professor Colby and while Blair still could not remember anything of his visit there, he felt an undeniable fear for his partner. Simon had sided with the doctor, going so far as to place a uniformed officer on the door of Blair's room, for Blair's safety, he assured the observer, but Blair couldn't help thinking that deep down, no matter what Jim said, they still thought of him as a killer.

The room was chilly and the thin blankets covering him did nothing to keep out the cold. He tried to sleep but his thoughts went round and round, muddling everything up and making him more unsure than ever about what had happened.

"Blair?"

He kept his eyes closed, recognizing the child's voice and not wanting to see.

"S'okay," she said and he felt a tiny hand, as chilled as he felt, placed over his own. "Poor Blair. You've got a boo-boo."

"Emily?" His eyes refused to obey his commands to stay closed and he opened them to see her standing over him. She was dressed now in a bright pink sundress, a bow of matching color tying up her hair.

She smiled at him. "I found my daddy. He's sad but it will all be better soon. Thank you for helping me."

"I didn't - I didn't help you." Blair felt tears sting his eyes.

Emily nodded solemnly. "Yes, you did. You sang to me." Her face grew sad. "I was bad," she said, tears suddenly spilling over onto her cheeks. "I'm sorry."

Blair surged up in the bed, unmindful of the IV or his wound. "No, Emily! You weren't bad. Emily?" He looked around the dim room but she was gone. Lying back down, he ran a shaky hand through his hair. What the hell was going on with him? Had he totally lost his mind?

~o0o~

"Thank you for seeing me, Professor," Jim said as he followed Richard Colby into his office.

"It's no bother, Detective," the professor replied, seating himself in an armchair and motioning for Jim to do the same.

Jim waved away the offer and allowed his gaze to wander around the large room, taking in the diplomas adorning the walls and the heavily loaded bookcase opposite. "I believe Blair Sandburg came to see you today."

The professor nodded. "He did indeed. He was rather distressed."

"About what?"

"Why, that poor child, of course." Colby tutt-tutted and shook his head. "A dreadful thing."

Jim nodded. "Yes, it was. Can you tell me what you and Blair talked about?"

"He wanted my advice." Colby waved a vague hand at his diplomas. "I'm an expert in cults. He wanted to know if I thought the child's murder could have been done as some sort of sacrificial rite."

"And?" Jim prompted.

Colby shrugged. "And I told him it was a possibility but that I'd need to see more. Without seeing a forensic report of the nature of the wounds, I wasn't prepared to guess."

"Then?"

Colby shrugged. "Then he left." He sat forward, curious eyes pinning Jim. "Why do you ask, Detective?"

"Just routine questions, Professor. Thanks for your time." Jim turned to leave but turned at the door. "You say you study cults?"

"Yes."

"You ever think any of your students might be taking their 'studies' a little too seriously?"

"If you're asking if I think any of my students are capable of murdering a child in such a barbaric manner, then no." Colby stood. "Mr. Sandburg and I were colleagues, not friends. He didn't approve of my teaching methods, nor I of his, but we were colleagues and I considered him to be a brilliant scholar. I wish half my students were as dedicated as he is to his studies." He chuckled. "It would make my job much easier."

"There was talk of an experiment you conducted…" Jim went on.

Colby's eyes blazed angrily for a brief moment and Jim realized he'd touched a nerve. "An experiment, as you said," the professor said. "Studying indoctrination and whether a person's basic personality and mental state might make them more amenable to that." He raised his hands then lowered them. "We came to no clear conclusion." He rolled his eyes. "Students," he added as though by way of explanation.

"I believe you were told to halt the study," Jim said.

"Not at all," Colby said earnestly. "There was some apprehension from the powers that be; but after an investigation, it was concluded - and rightfully so - that nothing untoward was going on."

Jim stared at the man for a long moment then reached down and picked up a model car, an old style racing car, from the desk. "A hobby of yours?" he asked as casually as he could.

"My son's," the professor replied. He offered no further information but Jim stored that bit away for later.

"Thanks for your time," Jim said, placing the car back down.

"No problem at all, Detective. I hope I was of some assistance."

Jim nodded and opened the door, stepping into the hallway. He was halfway down the stairs when he heard someone call his name. He stopped and looked back. A young man with a brush cut not unlike his own hurried toward him. Reaching Jim, he grabbed his arm and made to pull him down to the next landing. After a moment's hesitation, Jim shook the kid's hand free and followed him.

"I need to talk to you," the boy hissed. He looked around, his face filled with tension, sweat beading his upper lip. "Not here," he said finally. "Come on."

Jim watched the kid for a moment then trailed him along the corridor toward the exit. Once outside, the young man seemed to relax somewhat. He indicated a quiet out of the way corner of the building and strode there, waiting somewhat impatiently for Jim to join him.

Jim cut to the chase. "What's this about?"

"Blair," the young man said. "Mr. Sandburg. He didn't kill that little girl."

Jim raised an eyebrow, determined not to get overly excited until he heard what the kid had to say. "And you know this how?" he asked. The boy hesitated a moment and Jim prompted, "What's your name?"

"Matt. Matt Cole. Look," Matt leaned closer, "Blair wouldn't do anything like that. It wasn't him, I know it wasn't."

Jim sighed, disappointed. He knew Blair wasn't responsible for the child's murder, but if all this kid had to offer was a conviction matching his own, they were nowhere. "Did you see him on the day of the murder?" he asked.

Matt nodded.

"What time?"

Matt shrugged. "Around two and then again at about 4.30."

"Did you speak to him?" Jim asked.

"The first time, yeah. I don't think he heard me though. He looked preoccupied." Matt grinned suddenly. "He's like that."

"Yeah, I know. What's got you so spooked?" Jim asked suddenly. His sensitive hearing detected the rise in the kid's heart rate at the question. "What do you know about the girl's murder?" he pressed. "Were you involved somehow?" He cursed his pushing when panic flittered over Matt's round face. He knew the kid was going to close up.

Matt shook his head vigorously. "Nothing." He backed away, his hands held up in a gesture of denial. "No way, man! I just… know it wasn't Blair."

Patience spent, Jim closed in on the young man. "Then tell me what you do know," he growled. "Blair's got a possible murder charge hanging over his head unless I can get some answers."

Matt's attention suddenly drifted away from Jim. He stared over the cop's shoulder and swallowed visibly. "I have to go," he muttered. "I can't be seen talking to you." He pushed past Jim then stopped and looked back. "That little experiment Professor Colby had going? It never ended." With that, he hurried away.

Jim stood and watched him go, wondering where he could get some more information on Professor Colby. Maybe Suzanne Tomaki would have what he needed. He was about to head for his truck when he heard Colby call out to Matt Cole. Pressing himself against the bricks of the building, Jim inched up his hearing and listened.

"Matthew, I do hope the talk I'm hearing of you dropping my class isn't true," Colby said.

"I… I haven't decided, Professor," Jim heard Matt reply. He could hear the trembling in the kid's voice. "It's just I didn't do that well last semester and thought I'd stick to my better subjects."

"Now that would be a shame." Colby's voice took on a silky tone. "I thought you showed great promise, my boy. A little extra tutelage and we'll have those grades up in no time."

"I'll think about it, Professor," Matt replied. "I have to go. I'll be late to class."

"Of course. Think about what I said, Matthew. I'd hate to lose you."

~o0o~

Blair paced the living room of the apartment from wall to wall. Though still tired and washed out from his ordeal and the sedation he'd been given at the hospital, he seemed unable to settle down. Jim had picked him up from the hospital and dropped him off an hour before but had been champing at the bit to get to the station and check something out. When Blair questioned him about it, the detective had been uncharacteristically evasive. Blair suspected Jim was concerned whatever information he had gleaned would only upset Blair more in his still emotionally fragile state. The problem was, worrying about what Jim had discovered was only serving to jangle Blair's nerves even more. He still felt enormous guilt at not being able to do more for Emily when he'd found her, and the regular appearances of her spirit indicated she was still unsettled and not ready to move on to wherever spirits went.

Blair had always kept an open mind about ghosts and apparitions, his analytical mind tending to search for more rational explanations, but he'd seen enough in his anthropological studies to know that they were accepted and acknowledged in many cultures, and he couldn't deny what he'd seen with his own eyes. After his attempted suicide though, whether forced upon him chemically or not, he was not ready yet to disclose Emily's appearances to Jim. The last thing he needed right now was to be shipped back to the psychiatric unit for therapy.

He couldn't stay here, doing nothing, though. Jim had discovered something at the university, Blair was sure of that. Perhaps he could find out more to help in the search for Emily's killer if he went back there. He could talk to a few of Professor Colby's students. They'd be more likely to be open with him than with Jim. Mind made up, he grabbed his keys and headed for the elevator. His wrist still ached pretty badly and he massaged it gingerly on the way down. The doctor had prescribed painkillers but he was loathed to take them with so much still to be discovered… and he was sure he didn't want the nightmares returning.

He was out of the front door of the apartment building before he remembered the patrol Jim had left on watch. Walking over to the car, he gave the officer in the driver's seat a nod of recognition. "Hey, Andy, I need to go over to the university."

Andy gave him a critical once over. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, Blair. You don't look too good and Detective Ellison said he wanted you to stay here, get some rest."

"Look, I'm happy for you to take me there," Blair said. "I'm just going to go to my office, speak to a couple of students then come back here."

Andy didn't look convinced. He glanced at his partner who shrugged, then reached out for the radio mic. "Let me just check with Detective Ellison -"

"I already did," Blair interrupted. He opened the back door of the patrol car and slid in. "He said as long as you guys come with me, it's fine."

Andy studied him in the rear view mirror for a moment then nodded. "Okay. Let's roll."

~o0o~

Blair had left the two officers sitting in the foyer of Hargrove Hall, explaining that he'd let them know should he be leaving his office. All he really planned to do was check into the rumors surrounding Professor Colby and pull up records on some of his students. He could do all of that from his office. If he was honest with himself, the trip from the loft to the university had taken more out of him than he cared to admit.

He'd just powered up his laptop when there was a knock at the door. "Come in," he called.

Matt Cole poked his head around the door. "Hey, Mr. Sandburg. Kathy told me you were in. Can I - Can I talk to you?"

Blair turned off his computer and motioned the young man in. "Sure. What can I do for you?"

Matt stepped inside and stood in front of Blair's desk. He shifted from foot to foot, looking decidedly nervous.

"Matt?" Blair prompted.

"I'm glad you're okay," Matt blurted out. He licked at his lips. "I know you wouldn't have hurt that little girl -"

Blair leaned forward. "Do you know who did?"

"No!" Matt looked away. "No," he repeated softly, "but I've seen some things."

"Like what?"

Matt opened his mouth to speak; but before he could reply, there was another knock at the door. Blair sighed and issued another invitation to enter. He was surprised to see Andy Martin open the door. He wore a disapproving look.

"Andy, what's up?"

"Detective Ellison radioed us. Said he needs to speak with you, and wondered why you weren't at home." Blair gave the officer a sheepish look. "Anyway, he's heading over here after he's finished at the PD. Said you're to stay put until he gets here."

"I'm not going anywhere," Blair said. He turned back to Matt. "You want to talk some more? My partner -"

"No!" Matt looked distinctly pale. Sweat beaded his upper lip. "It's nothing."

Blair thought for a moment. Matt looked about to collapse and Blair was sure the young man knew more than he was letting on. He looked at Andy. "Can you wait outside for a few minutes? This is a private conversation."

Andy looked concerned but nodded. "Okay." He left, closing the door behind him. Blair turned his attention back to Matt. "Come on, man, I know you're scared but whoever did this needs to be punished. Tell me what you've seen."

Matt stared at him for a long moment as though trying to come to a decision. "I could show you… but you can't bring the cops. Not yet."

"How?" He thought a moment, weighing his options. Matt was a good kid, a straight A student who had never been in trouble on campus. Emily's parents needed closure on their daughter's murder and Blair hoped, if they could find whoever was responsible for the child's horrific death, that he too might be able to move on. "Where?" he finally asked.

"In the park, not far from where you found her."

Blair nodded. "Okay." Grabbing a pen and a piece of paper, he scribbled a note for Jim then motioned to the rear of his office. "There's an exit at the back."

Matt nodded, looking relieved. "Thank you."

~o0o~

Blair averted his eyes as they passed by the place in the park where he'd found little Emily. Torn pieces of yellow police tape still fluttered in the breeze, though the area was no longer cordoned off. He felt bile rise up his throat at just the memory of the horror that had occurred in this place and stopped, leaning against a tree for support, unable to go on.

Matt, who'd been some way ahead, as though hellbent on his journey, stopped and looked back then trotted back to Blair's side. He touched Blair's shoulder. "You all right?"

"No." Blair closed his eyes and fought to quell the nausea. "Look, Matt, I think we should go back. Let my partner handle this."

"I can't let you do that," another voice said.

Blair looked up and stared right into the barrel of a handgun. Behind the steadily held weapon stood Professor Colby. The professor nodded at Matt. "Well done, Matthew. You've proved your worth. That A is looking like a definite possibility."

"Matt?" Blair pushed himself upright and took a step away from the two men, turning his horrified gaze on Matt. "What's going on? Did you - Was it you who - who killed that little girl?"

Matt didn't reply and his eyes had taken on a blank look.

"It wasn't Matthew," Colby said. "But you don't need to know anything else for now." He moved behind Blair and prodded him in the back with the gun. "Continue on, please, Mr. Sandburg. If you attempt to escape, I'll shoot Matthew and then you."

~o0o~

Jim sighed and rubbed at his burning eyes. A computer search had revealed nothing suspicious about Professor Colby or any of his students. Colby was a well-respected member of the community and Rainier. He was widowed with a son, Michael, and was a charter member of a couple of charitable organizations and an old school buddy of the mayor. Nothing…

A thought tickled the edge of Jim's memory. His brow furrowed as he strived to snag it. A smell. He pulled Emily's file from the stack on his desk and opened it to the autopsy page. Scanning the information quickly, he tapped a finger on one particular entry. The child's clothes had miniscule remnants of some type of glue, most likely model glue. The type used to build model airplanes… and cars.

"Shit!" Jim stood so forcefully, his chair fell back against the wall with a loud bang, startling everyone else in the room. Ignoring the frowns and muttering sent his way, Jim hurried over to Simon's office and opened the door without bothering to knock.

The reprimand died on Simon's lips at the look on Jim's face. "What have you got?"

"Colby's son, Michael -" He broke off abruptly. They didn't have time for this. "I'll explain on the way. We need back up at Rainier and an APB on Michael Colby."

Simon followed Jim to the elevator, barking orders at the detectives as he went. When the doors closed, he looked at Jim. "Sandburg?"

"He conned Andy Martin into taking him to the university. He's in his office. He should be safe enough there but I'll phone him on the way and warn him to stay put."

Once the elevator deposited them at the underground parking garage, Jim wasted no time running for his truck. Simon barely had time to climb inside before Jim floored the accelerator and peeled out onto the street.

~o0o~

"What do you mean he's not in his office?" Simon glanced over at Jim who uttered a curse. Jim's frown showed his anger at the news but Simon recognized the worry telegraphed in his eyes. "Maybe he just stepped out for a minute. Yeah, all right. Search the building and then the grounds. Find out if anyone's seen him."

Simon hung up his cell phone and turned to Jim. "He'll be okay. Probably just went to the bathroom or something."

Jim didn't reply but the tense set of his jaw and the way he urged his truck on even faster told Simon he wasn't buying it.

~o0o~

"Look, Professor, I don't know what's going on here but -" Blair's words were cut off as a hard shove in the back propelled him forward and through the doorway of the tiny gardener's equipment shed they'd arrived at.

Colby ignored him, though his gun never wavered from Blair. Stepping around Blair, he pulled a length of rope from the floor and tossed it to Matt. "Tie his hands behind his back, please, Matthew. Oh -" Pulling a cloth from his pocket, he handed that to the still silent student as well. " - gag him too."

Blair took a couple of steps back, away from Matt but came up against the closed door. Matt reached for him and spun him around, pushing him forcefully up against the door. Blair winced as his injured wrist was grabbed and pulled behind his back, followed by his uninjured one. "Matt, listen to me," he said in a low, urgent voice. "You've done nothing wrong yet, man. I can help you."

"I'm afraid Matthew is under a mixture of sedation and hypnotic suggestion," Colby said. "Much the same as I administered to you. If your partner hadn't returned home when he did, this whole mess would have been done with."

Blair gasped as Matt cinched the rope tightly around his wrists. He struggled automatically against the constraints and was certain he felt stitches pop. That thought was confirmed when he felt dampness beginning to soak the bandage around his wrist. Matt grabbed him by the arm and spun him back to face Colby. Blair's eyes widened when he realized there was a third person in the hut. A thin figure rose up from the darkened corner opposite and stepped over to Colby's side.

"Is it time yet?" he asked.

Colby favored the teenager with a fond smile. "Almost, Michael, almost." He turned his attention back to Blair. "My experiment wasn't supposed to go as far as it did. Once the rumors of a cult began to circulate at Rainier, I fully intended to close my little study group down, and I did so. Unfortunately, Michael wanted to take it a step further. By the time I realized what had occurred, it was too late to save the child. It was a tragic error of judgment on my part."

"Professor, please…" Blair watched Matt out of the corner of his eye as the mute student gathered the cloth in his hands and twisted the ends into ties. "We need to stop this now. You can explain to the police how you tried to stop it. He's a murderer, for God's sake! He needs help!"

"He's my son!" Colby thundered, his voice echoing off the tin walls. "I tried to help him years ago but the treatment went wrong. I will not allow him to be locked away in some mental institution for the rest of his life." He took a shuddering breath and reached out to stroke Michael's short blond hair. "He showed so much promise until the heroin unhinged his mind. My best student."

"What are you going to do?" Before he could say anything more, Blair was forced to his knees and the cloth was pushed into his mouth and tied securely at the back. His eyes watered when several strands of hair were caught up the knot. Task completed, Matt pushed Blair roughly down to sprawl in the dirt and then stood, hands hanging limply at his sides.

"Now I finish this once and for all so that suspicion never falls on myself or Michael. Matthew, go stand against the wall over there, would you?"

Matt obeyed the command and Colby reached over to the small table that stood against the wall and picked up a large knife. He handed it to his son, who grinned and fingered the sharp blade appreciatively.

"Michael will kill Matthew in precisely the same manner as he hurt that poor child. Then he'll finish the job on your wrists that your detective friend interrupted the other day. By the time your bodies are found, we'll be back home with alibis intact and the evidence pointing to you as the killer of both victims will be apparent."

Blair shook his head violently from side to side, screaming hoarsely into the gag to no avail. Nothing but a guttural, muffled sound came from his throat. He pulled futilely at the ropes on his wrists as he watched Michael slowly approach Matthew, who stood silently, no flicker of emotion on his face.

~o0o~

Jim glanced around Blair's empty office then gave Andy Martin a measured glare. "You didn't see him leave and he gave no indication he was going anywhere?"

Andy shook his head, looking discomfited. "I told him you were on your way and he was to stay put. He said he wasn't going anywhere."

"Looks like they used the rear fire escape," Simon called.

"He had a student with him," Andy added. "They must have left together."

"What student?" Jim asked.

Andy shrugged. "I didn't get a name. Blair said it was a personal matter. Tall, well-built, dark crew cut hair."

Jim thought a moment. "It could have been Matt Cole. I spoke to him earlier. He seemed to know more about this study group of Colby's than he'd tell me and he was seriously spooked by Colby."

"I'll get an APB out on Sandburg and Professor Colby," Simon said. He turned to Andy. "You and your partner scout around the university grounds. See if anybody's seen Sandburg or this Matt Cole." Once Andy left, he turned to Jim, who stood in front of Blair's cluttered desk, staring into space. "Jim? How about we see if this Professor Colby's in today?"

Jim shook his head. "He's got Blair, Simon, I know it." Looking down at the desk, Jim spotted the small, yellow post-it note stuck to the open page of Blair's journal. Snatching it up, he scanned it quickly then headed for the door at a run, almost bowling Simon over in the process. "They're headed for the park, sir. Contact Andy and his partner. Tell them to meet us where Blair found the girl."

"Jim?" Simon hurried to catch up with the detective. "How do you know?"

"I don't," Jim shot back over his shoulder, "but we have to start looking somewhere. Blair left a note, saying that Matt had evidence of the murder and was taking him to it."

~o0o~

Blair tried to scream out a protest as Colby's son, Michael advanced on the eerily calm Matt. The young student didn't flinch when Michael reached him and slowly ran the knife down his chest before slicing suddenly through the buttons of his shirt and pulling it from Matt's body. Blair's heart pounded in his chest. He couldn't watch this… Couldn't just kneel here and not try to stop it. He pulled again at his bonds, feeling blood soaking the bandage around his wrist at a steady rate.

Colby still stood by the table, his gun trained unwaveringly on Blair. Blair turned his attention on Colby, trying to will the man with his eyes to stop his son before another victim was sacrificed to Michael's bloodlust, but Colby merely stared at the awful tableau before him as though mesmerized.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word…"

Blair's head whipped around to the doorway as a child's voice rang out, the voice sweet and high-pitched, slightly off-key. Emily?

"Daddy's gonna buy you a mocking bird…"

~o0o~

Jim came to a halt next to the remains of the police tape that had isolated the place where Blair had found Emily. He concentrated, sending out a sensory net, hoping to find something of Blair in the myriad of small sounds and movements in the undergrowth and the noise of passersby enjoying the sunny day. He groaned and scrubbed a hand over his eyes, pulling back, attempting to center himself. His hearing kept getting dragged back to the footsteps he could hear pounding along the path behind them, to Simon's heavy breathing at his back. He needed to split his focus. After all this time it should come easily enough to him, but without Blair there to ground and guide him, coupled with his fear that he might be too late, it was proving almost impossible.

"Captain?"

Jim held up a hand, silencing Andy Martin's query as he arrived at the murder scene with his partner on his heels.

"Give us a minute," Simon ordered. He rested a hand on Jim's forearm. "Anything?"

Jim closed his eyes and extended his hearing, knowing he was risking a zone, hearing Blair in his mind, castigating him for doing something so stupid. Gladly, Chief, he said silently, you can chew me out all you want when I get you back.

Up ahead. A muffled sound, like someone in pain. Galvanized, Jim sprang into action, tearing headlong off the path and into the trees. "This way!" he shouted over his shoulder. He took no notice of whether the others could keep up or not. His sense of smell had tagged along on the tail of his hearing and he once again smelled the overpowering odor of blood.

~o0o~

Blair screamed a muffled protest through the gag. Had he really heard Emily? She was nowhere to be seen and no one else in the hut appeared to have heard her. His view of the awful scene before him seemed skewed somehow and he suddenly realized that he'd toppled forward. His cheek ached where he'd slammed into the concrete floor, unable to use his hands to break his fall.

He felt weak and nauseated, cold. So cold. A dribble of sweat snaked down from his forehead into his eye, burning it. He blinked rapidly, wishing desperately that he could wipe away the stinging. He shivered. And then he saw her.

Emily.

She was standing in front of Matt, facing her killer, looking as real as the day Blair had found her broken body in the park. Her face was smeared with blood and tears, her hair a tangled snarl of curls and the wounds on her tiny body gaped open, oozing blood.

Oh God!

Blair squeezed his eyes shut against the return of his nightmare then snapped them open again as an unearthly scream ripped through the silence. Michael Colby held the knife raised in his hand, as though ready to strike down again the child he'd already murdered.

Emily soundlessly stamped a tiny foot. "No! You're bad! Don't hurt anyone else!"

The hand holding the knife began to shake wildly and then dropped suddenly from Michael's fingers. "No!" he said in a horrified whisper. "You… You're dead! I had to sacrifice you!"

"Michael!" Professor Colby's voice boomed out in command. "Pick up the knife! Finish the job you've been sent to do!" There was no indication he could see or hear Emily. The gun in Colby's hand drooped as he fixed his bemused attention on his obviously terrified son.

Blair didn't hesitate. Dragging himself up laboriously onto his feet, biting back a scream of agony as the movement sent shards of fire through his wrist, Blair launched himself at the professor, slamming himself into the unaware man with the full force of his body. They fell together, landing in a tangled heap of arms and legs. Blair's head snapped back as Colby slammed the barrel of the gun into the side of his head. Through the encroaching blackness that threatened to overwhelm him, Blair heard an explosion of gunshots and a cacophony of shouting voices.

His arm was grabbed and he jerked away, jolting himself back to some semblance of consciousness.

"Easy, Chief. It's Jim. You're safe, buddy." He felt his upper body lifted and then he was being cradled against the support of Jim's knees. He could see Jim's worried face above him, blurred though it was, and tried to give him a smile but the darkness took him before he knew if he'd managed it.

A hand touched his cheek, small and warm, and tiny lips kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Blair," Emily whispered, "for bringing me home."

~o0o~

Blair was bored. Out of his skull, mind-numbingly frustrated. He'd been out of the hospital for two days now but had been ordered not to use his left hand at all until the stitches were removed in a week's time. Jim had taken the doctor's orders even further, setting him up with television remote, enough books and magazines, snacks and drinks to sink a battle ship, all neatly lined up on the coffee table, next to the couch, which had been made into a cozy, comfortable day bed.

"Don't move from this spot!" Jim had ordered sternly as he'd left for work.

"Jim -" Blair's protest died on his lips at the 'don't even try arguing with me - and you can put the puppy dog eyes away' glare Jim sent his way. "Fine," he groused, slumping under the covers and reaching for the remote. "See, I'm lying down. Not moving, sir!"

"Good." Jim gave him a smug grin. "If I find out you have, I'm sending Andy Martin here to sit on your ass, and trust me, Sandburg, he's as pissed off with you as I am for that stunt you pulled."

"I didn't have a choice!" Blair geared up for another go-around of their argument. He'd barely regained consciousness in the hospital before Jim had torn him a new one about his little escape act.

Jim held up a silencing hand. "We've done this to death, Sandburg." His face softened then and he walked over and sat on the edge of the couch. "I understand. I really do. I just…" He gave Blair a smile and reached out to tousle his hair. "I just have this overpowering instinct right now to keep you safe."

Blair's heart warmed at the admission from his usually stoic friend and he felt the tears that had never been too far from the surface since the day he'd found Emily, begin to appear once more. He swiped at his eyes with his good hand and turned what sounded dangerously close to a sob into an inelegant snort. He smiled back at Jim and shooed him away impatiently. "Well, go on. Out of here already, man. I have an appointment with the daytime soaps."

Jim hesitated a moment longer then nodded and left.

That had been yesterday and Blair had drifted through most of the day, still in a weary haze from blood loss, shock and exhaustion, but now he was feeling some of his energy returning, along with the boredom.

A knock at the door roused him from his mental whining and he got up and hurried to the door, relieved for any respite. Even a salesman was looking like a good prospect for company right now. He opened the door and smiled at the stranger standing there. "Hi, can I help you?"

The man held out a hand in greeting and Blair took it somewhat warily. "I'm Scott Jackson, Emily's dad."

"Oh. I - it's good to meet you," Blair replied, suddenly flustered, "I wish it were under better circumstances." He stepped back and waved the man into the apartment. "I'm so very sorry for your loss."

Scott nodded. "Thank you. Look, Mr. Sandburg, I know you were injured by the man… this nutcase, but I needed to ask you something. You were the last one to see my little girl alive…" His voice broke and tears glittered in his dark brown eyes.

"It's okay," Blair assured him, feeling his own pain welling up, threatening to choke him. He touched Scott's arm then led him over to the couch. "Let's sit." He sat on the coffee table, facing the distraught man and waited for him to compose himself enough to continue.

Finally, Scott looked up at him. "I can't get it out of my head what that monster did to her. I can't help thinking… Was she… Was she in pain?"

The tightness in Blair's chest increased. He shook his head, wanting desperately to ease the man's grief. "No, she didn't seem to be… She wasn't in any pain. She asked for you, so I held her, sang to her."

Scott reached out and grasped Blair's good hand, squeezing it tightly. "Thank you for everything you did for Emily." He stood. "I have to go. One other thing, Emily's school is holding a memorial service for her tomorrow. I wondered if you'd like to come?"

Blair smiled. "Thank you, I would like that very much."

Scott gave him a wan smile then reached out suddenly and pulled Blair into a hug. "Thank you," he whispered hoarsely, "for being there when I couldn't."

~o0o~

Blair gave Scott a final wave then closed the door. He turned, leaning against it, feeling weary and drained… and more at peace than he had been for some time. A voice whispered almost soundlessly in his ear and he smiled. "You're welcome, Emily."

END

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