INNOCENCE LOST

By: Lyn

Feedback to: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

Author’s website: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com

Previously published in 'Blended Spirits 1. Available from AllGen Press.

Many thanks to Beth and everyone at AllGen Press, and to Corinna Hansen for the wonderful artwork.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Di Meo, Bilson, Petfly etc. This is a work of fanfiction, written for my own and others’ enjoyment. No money has been paid for this story and no copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Drama, H/C, extreme Angst.

RATING: PG (V) (L)

WARNINGS: Some disturbing content (Death of a pregnant woman and child).

 

Innocence Lost

Blair Sandburg stepped from the elevator and promptly landed flat on his rear, the air pushed from his lungs with an audible whoosh as a child-sized missile impacted his stomach.

"Hey!" he said as he grabbed hold of the struggling bundle by the scruff of its neck and the seat of its pants. "Slow down, huh?"

"Matthew Williams, you get back here right now and behave yourself." A young woman’s voice came from just inside the entrance to Major Crimes and Blair heard her make a whispered apology to his partner. "I’m so sorry, Detective Ellison. They’re not normally this highly strung."

"Maybe it’s the shock of the robbery." Jim’s voice sounded strained and Blair suppressed a snort of laughter.

Blair got to his feet and unhanded his pint-sized attacker as a young, heavily pregnant woman came into view, a blonde, curly-headed moppet perched on one hip. Blair dusted himself off then reached out a hand as another small blur whizzed by him, headed for the still open elevator. "Whoa, easy there, little buddy. I don’t think your mom’s going to be too happy if she has to search the entire precinct for you."

"I’m so very sorry," the young woman said. "He didn’t hurt you, did he?"

"No. I’m fine." Blair looked up and grinned as a harried looking Jim Ellison strode toward them. "Hey, Jim."

Jim grunted and glared at the two tow-headed little tykes now eyeing them shyly from behind their mother’s legs. He gestured for them all to return to the bullpen, then when the woman had settled the children once more, he turned back to Blair. "Chief, this is Mrs. Williams. She was in the store when it was robbed this morning. I’m just finishing off her statement. This is my partner, Blair Sandburg."

Mrs. Williams extended her hand and smiled sweetly at Blair. "Please, call me Patty. These are my children." Reaching down, she tousled the hair of the twins seated at her feet. "These two you’ve met. Matt and Paul, my little terrors." Jiggling the giggling toddler on her lap, she said, "This is Amy and over there is Davy."

Blair had not even noticed the fourth child who sat quietly in Blair’s seat, his dark curly head bent low over a book.

"Davy, say hello to Mr. Sandburg."

The boy looked up and pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose before smiling shyly. "Hello, Mr. Sandburg," he parroted obediently.

Blair grinned back. "Hey, Davy. How are you doing?"

Jim lowered himself back into his chair with a sigh and Blair tried to hide his grin. The detective had badly sprained his ankle three days ago chasing an escaped prisoner and he was on desk duty until the end of the week. Blair knew Jim was keen to get back on the street and chasing a bunch of hyper-active kids around was probably not doing his ankle or his attitude any good.

"Hey, Jim. Tell you what. Why don’t I take the kids to the break room? Maybe we can find some milk and cookies?"

Jim smiled gratefully at him. "That’d be great, Chief. The sooner we get done here, the sooner Mrs. Williams can take her brood home."

"Thank you," Patty said. "Are you sure? They’re quite a handful. Unfortunately, we don’t have any family in town and my husband works night shift."

"They’ll be fine," Blair assured her. He held out his hands to Amy. "Hey there, princess. Let’s go see if we can find where Captain Taggart hides all the best cookies."

Amy smiled happily and scooted into his outstretched arms, placing one chubby thumb into her rosebud mouth.

"Davy? You watch the twins for me, all right?"

"Yes, mom." Davy pushed himself off the chair and held a hand out to each of his brothers. "Come on, Matty, Paul. Mr. Sandburg’s going to get you a cookie."

Blair grinned and ushered the little group out the door.

Jim relaxed back into his chair and finished taking Patty’s statement, then held the pen out for her to sign the paper. As she reached for the pen, he leaned forward and grasped her hand. "You’ve got some nasty bruises there," he said, gently turning her hand over, his sentinel sight easily picking up the pattern of fingers in the marks. "Did this happen this morning?"

"No," Patty replied quickly. She pulled her hand from his and reached again for the pen. "I banged it on something yesterday."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim motioned behind him for Patty to wait, then poked his head around the door of the break room. Blair sat on one chair with a sleeping Amy on his lap. The twins were perched on the table in front of him, and Davy sat to one side. All three boys appeared to listening to the anthropologist with rapt attention.

Feeling eyes upon him, Blair looked up smiling. "Hi, Jim. You all done?"

Jim nodded and ushered Patty into the room where the squealing toddlers rushed to her, both clamoring to be picked up at once.

"I hope they weren’t any trouble, Mr. Sandburg," Patty said, taking the slumbering baby from his arms and shushing the other two.

"They were great and it’s Blair. I’ve been telling them some stories about some of the animals I’ve seen on my travels."

"Blair’s an anthropologist at Rainier University," Jim explained. "Hope you haven’t supplied them with any nightmare material, Chief."

"Nah, Jim. Davy here is the real whiz kid. Puts me to shame with the stuff he knows." He slung a friendly arm around the boy’s shoulders and smiled down at him.

"He’s always got his nose in a book," Patty laughed. "I’m amazed sometimes that he notices anything going on around him."

"I know the feeling," Jim replied drily. "If you’ll wait here a minute, I’ll get Officer Sanchez to give you a ride home. Thank you for your assistance today. You were very helpful."

Patty and Blair sat and chatted easily for the few minutes it took Jim to find Peggy Sanchez, then Blair bid his charges goodbye and followed Jim back to the bullpen.

"I tell you, Jim, that woman deserves a medal," Blair said as he sat down in his chair with a sigh of relief.

0~0~0~0~0

Saturday morning dawned bright and with hardly a cloud in sight. Blair decided to take advantage of the fine weather and Jim’s resumed physical activity.

"Jim, it’s time we did some retesting of your senses. How about an hour or two in the park and I’ll buy lunch."

"Sandburg, it’s a perfectly good day. Why do you want to ruin it by doing tests?" Jim asked.

"It’ll be fun. Trust me."

Jim snorted.

"All right. One hour of tests and I’ll still spring for lunch," Blair wheedled, then he raised a finger in admonition. "Not Wonderburger."

"I can choose anything I want except Wonderburger?" Jim asked.

"Within reason, man," Blair answered carefully. "I still have rent to pay."

"Mr. Tubesteak, then."

"Oh, come on, Jim."

"Okay," Jim said sulkily. "Guess I’ll stay here and catch a game on the TV."

"All right," Blair capitulated. "Mr. Tubesteak. Can we go now before the weather realizes we’re in Cascade and starts to rain?"

Jim threw him his jacket. "Just waiting on you, Chief."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim had to admit that it was pleasant to escape the confines of indoors for an hour or two, even if it meant submitting to Blair’s tests. They strolled along the wide pathway skirting the lake and Jim listened to Blair’s cheerful prattle with half an ear and played games with himself by extending his hearing ahead to detect footsteps approaching, guessing how many people they’d pass.

A veritable cacophony of footfalls assaulted his ears and then happily chattering voices made themselves known. He ushered Blair to the side of the path, expecting to meet a crowd of people coming the other way, and smiled when they rounded the corner and came upon Patty Williams and her four children.

"Hello again," she said, smiling cheerily at them.

Both men greeted the little family group, exchanging guarded looks at the large bruise marring one side of Patty’s face.

Blair motioned at Patty’s face with one hand as Amy toddled over and commandeered the other. He looked down and smiled at her, stroking her soft curls. "Hey, sweetheart. Looks like you’ve been in the wars, Patty."

Patty rubbed the bruise softly. "I fell over the cat."

Davy looked quickly at his mother then back at the ground. "We don’t have a cat," he said softly.

Patty blushed and tousled Davy’s hair. "The neighbor’s cat," she amended.

Blair was about to say more but Amy spoke up then. "Bear? Story? Swing?"

Patty bent down and picked the baby up. "Not today, sweetie. Blair’s busy."

"No. I don’t mind," Blair said quickly. "There are some swings just around the corner." He motioned imperceptibly to Patty with his head and winked at Jim. "Come on, kids. I’ll race you." With that, he took Amy into his arms and headed up the path at a slow jog, allowing Davy and the twins to stay just ahead of him.

"What can I say," Jim said, smiling at Patty. "He’s just a big kid himself."

"He’s wonderful," Patty replied, then blushed. "Not that I’ve… Oh dear, that didn’t come out very well, did it? What I meant was he’s a very nice guy and the kids think he’s wonderful. That’s all they could talk about the other night when they got home. Blair said this and Blair said that. Drove their father mad…." She stopped suddenly and swallowed nervously.

The two walked in silence for a minute or two then stopped at the edge of the playground watching Blair push first one child, then another on the swings.

"My husband, Eddie works the night shift," Patty began. "He’s a process worker at a factory. I bring the kids here so he can sleep."

"He hits you, doesn’t he?" Jim asked gently.

Patty looked up at the detective. "He doesn’t mean it. He’s in and out of work; sometimes it all gets too much for him. He keeps promising he’ll stop drinking when things get better."

"Why don’t you leave?"

"I tried to last year. He still found us. Promised everything was going to change once we moved here to Cascade and he found this job. Now, they’re laying people off and he’s worried it will be his turn soon."

"You could have him charged with assault," Jim pressed.

"I can’t," Patty said. "He’d kill me."

"We could give you protection."

Patty shook her head resolutely. "I can’t." She looked at her watch and sighed. "I must go. Amy’s due for a nap and Eddie will wonder where we are. It was nice to see you both again." She called to the children and gathered them up then with a final thank you to Blair, the family walked back the way they had come.

Jim watched as Blair blew Amy a final kiss before the little group disappeared from view. He reached over and ruffled Blair’s curls. "Maybe you should think about settling down, Sandburg. Is that your biological clock I hear ticking?"

Blair aimed a solid whack to the back of Jim’s head. "Very funny, Jim." The smile faded from his face and he turned to face the detective. "Davy insisted his mom fell over the cat. He’s scared of his dad, though. Says he gets angry a lot lately and he gets drunk."

Jim nodded. "I asked Patty about it. She didn’t deny he hits her. Says she tried to leave but he found her. He's really a good guy, he's just stressed, yada, yada, yada."

Jim turned toward the Mr. Tubesteak van. "Come on, Sandburg, time to ante up." He stopped and looked back at Blair when he realized his partner wasn’t following him. "What?"

Blair shrugged his shoulders. "I don’t know. Can’t you do something?"

Jim shook his head. "Not if she won’t press charges." He walked on for a few seconds then turned back to Blair in exasperation. "Sandburg! Will you come on? A deal’s a deal and I’m starving."

Blair pulled out his wallet and threw it at him. "Here. I’m not hungry. I’ll meet you back at the truck."

0~0~0~0~0

Patty knew that Ed had been drinking the minute she traipsed tiredly in the door, a sleeping Amy draped over her shoulder. Her legs ached at carrying the extra weight of her pregnancy and she was looking forward to giving birth in two months’ time.

Eddie squinted at her angrily through his alcohol induced haze and then turned to the children. "Go to your room," he slurred.

"Mommy?" Davy turned panicked eyes to his mother then ducked as Eddie swung a fist. Patty took the advantage and hurried past her husband to the children’s bedroom where she bent and laid Amy in a crib in the far corner.

The twins seemed unaware of the tense drama unfolding and climbed happily onto their shared double bed.

"We been to see Bear, Dad," Matty piped up cheerily as he bounced on the bed in high spirits. "Bear pushed me on the swing."

"Me too," Paul chimed in.

Eddie rounded on his cowering wife, his face a mask of rage. "I knew it. You’ve been seeing that teacher again."

"We ran into him in the park, Eddie. He pushed the boys on the swing, that’s all."

Eddie leaned in close to her and Patty gagged on the sour stench of cheap whisky. "How long have you been seeing him?" Eddie hissed.

"I’m not seeing anyone. He was being nice to the kids, that’s all. You’re drunk."

Eddie grabbed hold of Patty’s bruised wrist, ignoring her cry of pain and began to drag her from the room. "You’re going behind my back, screwing him. Wouldn’t be surprised if this little bastard is his." He smacked her hard in the stomach as he spoke and pulled her up by her hair when she doubled over in pain. "I’m gonna have to teach you a lesson again, aren’t I?"

Patty turned terrified eyes to Davy. "Look after the others, Davy. No matter what happens, you stay in here."

Davy nodded, his trembling features white with fear, then he clambered onto the bed and gathered his little brothers close, placing his hands firmly over their ears.

0~0~0~0~0

The mood inside the truck was morose as Jim drove home. Blair slumped in the passenger seat, his legs pulled up under his chin, his body angled so that he was staring blindly out at the passing landscape. Once inside the loft, Jim decided to make the most of what was left of a rare day off. He picked up the newspaper and a soda and strolled out to the balcony where he made himself comfortable on an outdoor chair.

Blair went to the kitchen and cooked. Jim was going to say something to him about how it seemed vaguely hypocritical to say you weren’t hungry and then cook enough food to feed a small country. He bit his tongue when he saw the haunted worried expression on his partner’s face. When Blair needed to think things over, he cooked. Jim tried not to think things over at all. He was a big fan of pragmatism, what’s done is done and all that.

By the time the afternoon had become chilly enough to lure Jim back inside to the couch and a basketball game on TV, Blair seemed to have overcome his earlier funk and set about making dips and veggie sticks. Jim didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. Blair seemed still to be deep in thought and rather distracted and Jim was pretty sure he knew why. He knew that tomorrow would find Blair with some excuse to head back to the park in the hope of running into Patty Williams again.

Jim decided to try and take his partner’s mind off the unpleasantness, at least for a short time. He smiled as Blair set down a colorful tray of vegetables and dip.

"How about you grab some chips and a couple of beers, Chief and we’ll make a night of it?"

Blair looked up and returned the grin with a half-hearted one of his own.

"All right. That’d be good."

The phone rang as Blair made it halfway back to the living room with two bottles of beer in one hand and a bowl in the other. A large bag of potato chips swung from his teeth. He stopped and looked at Jim, who sighed and picked up the receiver.

"Ellison. Hi, Simon. Okay, we’ll be right there."

He hung up the phone and looked back at his partner, giving a resigned shrug. With a muffled growl, Blair did an about face and marched the drinks and munchies back to the kitchen. By the time he’d put everything back in its rightful place, Jim was waiting at the door with his jacket.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim felt a cold shudder run through him as he and Sandburg exited the truck and ducked under the yellow police tape that surrounded the small rundown house. He opened the rickety metal gate, its rusty squeak grating on his already raw nerves and ushered Blair through, then took the lead once more.

He saw Blair avert his eyes from burly Sergeant Joe Bailey who brushed by them as though they were invisible and rushed to empty his stomach on the sole, spindly rose bush adorning the otherwise sparse garden.

"Maybe you should wait in the truck, Chief," Jim suggested softly, knowing the answer before it was spoken.

"I’ll be fine."

They flashed their badges at the young uniformed officer who stood sentry duty at the front door, his face strained and white and his Adam’s apple bobbing convulsively.

As soon as Jim swung open the door, the stench of blood and death hit him full in the face and he gagged violently.

"Dial it down, Jim."

Blair’s hand was warm on his back, grounding him and he nodded imperceptibly and fought to find the dial. Feeling more in control, he led the way into the brightly-lit entrance hall, catching Blair’s arm as the anthropologist tripped over an unseen obstacle.

"You okay?"

Blair nodded and Jim could see the tension in his partner’s face and fisted hands, Blair’s breath coming in tight little puffs through clenched jaws as he looked down to see what he had tripped on and picked up a small blue roller skate.

"Jim!"

Ellison looked up to see Captain Simon Banks come striding through from the back area of the house.

"What have we got, sir?"

Simon shook his head sadly and led the way through to the kitchen. "Not good, Jim. Neighbor says he heard yelling and screaming going on most of the afternoon but took no notice because it was a common occurrence. He called the police when he heard gunshots."

Jim knelt down beside the sheet-covered body on the linoleum floor and looked up at the captain. "Why us, sir? I mean, shouldn’t Homicide be handling this?"

"They asked for you to be called in. It appears you took this woman’s statement after the last grocery store robbery. They’re concerned that perhaps it was a payback."

Jim looked back down at the body next to him, seeing for the first time the swelling belly beneath the blood soaked sheet. He slowly pulled back the covering from the dead woman’s face and looked sadly into the staring eyes of Patty Williams, her chest covered in blood. "What about the husband?"

"He works nights. A uniformed officer has gone to pick him up."

"I have a feeling he won’t be there."

"Oh God!"

The voice came from behind him and he looked up to see Blair backing away from the dreadful sight, a shaking hand covering his mouth. He shuffled further backwards and rammed into a kitchen chair, almost losing his balance.

"Blair…"

Suddenly, the remaining color drained from Blair’s face and his eyes widened.

"Oh God!" he whispered, his sight still fixed on Patty’s bruised and bloody body. "The kids." With that shocked announcement, Sandburg whirled and ran from the room.

"I’ll fill you in later, Simon. We need to get an APB out on Ed Williams." Jim straightened quickly and with an apologetic look at his captain, crossed the floor in a couple of long strides, following Blair’s running footsteps to the back of the house.

"Jim."

The name was whispered but to Jim, even with his hearing dialed down, it sounded like a shout. He saw two darkened rooms that ran off either side of the hallway that led to the back of the house and he hesitated for a moment until he heard a choked sob come from the bedroom on the right.

Jim turned into the doorway just as Blair stumbled to a crib placed in the far corner of the room. A small nightlight next to the beds gave off a dim yellowish glow that cast elongated shadows through the room.

Jim watched Blair reach out a shaking hand toward the empty crib. Then he started forward quickly as Blair’s knees buckled and he collapsed soundlessly to the floor.

Jim knelt at his partner’s side and called his name softly.

"Blair? You with me, buddy?"

Blair nodded his head and extended a hand toward Jim. "Where are the kids?"

"They’ve been taken next door to the neighbor, I think."

"That’s good," Blair whispered. His breathing was slowing now, his heart rate calming.

Jim studied him for a moment. "Maybe you should just sit for a minute. Get your breath back."

Blair lifted horrified eyes to his and shook his head vehemently. "No. I need to get out of here."

Jim nodded and helped his partner from the floor. Blair’s legs still seemed reluctant to hold him up and he clung to Jim as the detective slung an arm about his shoulders and helped him from the room. Jim saw Blair’s eyes track over the double bed standing against the opposite wall and heard his shuddering breath.

"I’m so sorry you had to see this, Chief."

Blair nodded minutely and as they reached the front of the house, he took a deep breath and pulled himself from Jim’s support. He walked out of the house ahead of Jim on shaky legs and continued on until Joe Bailey called Jim back.

"Just thought you should know, detective, they found another body out back. Looks like a boy, about 7 or 8 years of age. It appears he was shot while trying to get away."

"Oh God," Blair said, his voice breaking. "I thought the kids were all okay."

Joe Bailey shrugged and rubbed at his tired eyes. "We thought there were only three kids, not counting the one she was pregnant with. The Medical examiner thinks there may have been a chance of saving that one, if we’d gotten here in time. Sorry. Do you know who the dead boy would be?"

" His name is Davy Williams and he’s 9 years old," Blair said.

Blair looked up at Jim, tears finally brimming in his eyes. "He said he was always getting teased, because he was small for his age. Just like me," he whispered. "Just like me."

Jim placed his hand in the small of Blair’s back and steered him toward the truck. Opening the passenger door, he watched his partner climb in and then slump forward until his forehead rested against the dashboard. "Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked quietly. "Because if you are, I should really… I need to explain to Simon what’s going on, make sure they get an APB out on Williams if he’s not at work."

Blair was already nodding his head before he finished speaking. "I’m okay," he answered softly.

Jim reached up and squeezed Blair’s trembling shoulder, his own hand shaking. "Whoever did this, we’ll get them."

Blair nodded again. "I know."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair sat up and watched as Jim strode back through the gate and entered the house, looking back once. Blair raised a hand in response, knowing that Jim could see him. His gaze slid over to Sergeant Bailey who had begun to organize several uniformed officers into what appeared to be a search group. Blair watched as the men fastidiously combed every section of the front yard, bending low under the rose bush and kneeling to shine flashlights under the house. He saw one man pull something out from under the house and sat up, his interest piqued. It was an old teddy bear that had obviously seen better days, one ear was torn off and its fur was matted and dirty. The officer looked at it for a moment then threw it to one side and Blair’s heart clenched and his stomach spasmed at the same time.

Fumbling with the door handle, he thought for a terrible second that he was going to throw up all over the pristine interior of Jim’s truck. Then the door was swinging away and he jumped from the cab, landing awkwardly on the side of his foot. Pain tore up his leg and then his foot went heavy and numb as he struggled to limp to the gutter before he emptied his stomach in painful heaves.

By the time, he was done, his chest and stomach muscles ached and his throat burned. He stayed for a moment, hunched over; fighting to catch his breath then straightened up and hobbled back to the truck. Getting back in, he turned on the ignition and waited a moment before switching on the heat, leaning forward to allow his cold sweating face to soak up the warmth. He reached for the radio dial and switched that on as well, allowing the soft soothing tones of a blues guitar to fill the cab, lending a sense of normality to the atmosphere. He switched it off just as quickly, suddenly aware that things would never feel normal again. He wrapped his arms around himself, beginning to shiver and feeling as though the cold was seeping from the inside out.

Suddenly, inexplicably and unreasonably fearful, Blair peered through the fogged windscreen, wiping the moisture away with the cuff of his jacket. He felt bereft, neglected, and gave an audible sigh of relief that became a sob as he saw Jim exit the front door of the house and stride quickly toward the truck.

Blair watched Jim climb into the cab. The detective sat staring forward through the windshield, his hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel. "Eddie Williams didn’t turn up for work tonight,’ he said softly.

Blair sighed and leaned his head back against the headrest, closing his eyes. He felt exhausted and nauseous, his stomach still churning. "Why?" he murmured.

"Sandburg. Blair…"

Blair reached out a hand and squeezed Jim’s arm. "I know," he said. "Can we go home now?"

"Yeah. It’s Homicide’s case now but Simon’s going to call if there’s any developments."

"What about Patty and Davy? I mean, who’s going to organize the funeral?"

"They located a sister in Seattle. She’s on her way here."

"Okay. I’d like to go to the funeral. I mean, I know we didn’t really know them but…"

"If you want, we can go. Might be worth seeing if Williams shows up. It’s happened before, with Lash."

Blair had a flash of memory, chains and yellow scarves. Who am I now? He shivered again. Lash. "Thanks for reminding me," he said, finally looking over at Jim.

"Shit, Sandburg. I’m sorry."

Blair sat up in his seat and shook his head. "It’s all right. Let’s just go home."

0~0~0~0~0

The day of the funeral was chilly and gray, and Jim had almost suggested to Blair that he stay at home. The deaths of Patty and Davy and her unborn baby had hit them both hard, and Blair had moped around the loft for most of the past few days showing little interest in anything.

He hadn’t come into the station to help Jim at all since the murders. Though he was still teaching and then studying into the small hours, more often than not. Jim would come out at 3am to find him staring off into space. If he told him to go to bed, Blair did just that, without a single argument. Jim knew the anthropologist wasn’t sleeping though, and he had to admit he was having a hard time doing so himself, the specter of tiny bloody bodies haunting his dreams.

Blair came out of his room dressed in a dark blue suit that Jim had never seen before. He’d borrowed a necktie from Jim and his hair was held back with a leather band. His face was pale and there were dark smudges under his eyes from lack of sleep. He looked older but Jim wasn’t sure if that was the effect of the clothes or the events of the past few days.

Blair smiled over at his partner and brushed at the shoulders of his suit jacket. "You ready?"

Jim nodded and picked up his keys.

0~0~0~0~0

The attendance at the short graveside service was small. Jim remembered Patty telling him that they had no family in town. Jim and Blair paid their respects to Patty’s sister, a thin, older woman whose tears flowed constantly as she spoke. She had arranged to take the surviving children home with her after the funeral. The two coffins were laid side by side, Davy’s small white casket a stark reminder of his youth.

Jim ushered Blair to the back row of seats, noting the strain evident on his partner’s face as they took their seats for the service.

"Are you sure you want to stay?" Jim leaned over and whispered in Blair’s ear.

Blair shook his head. "I’m not sure at all. I just know I need to do this."

"Okay."

Jim kept his eyes scanning the surrounding area of the cemetery as the service went on, and his ears on the heartbeat of his guide.

A sweet voiced choir of Davy’s classmates sang as the little coffin was lowered to join his mother’s. As the casket disappeared into the grave, it began to rain. Jim watched as Blair turned his face to the sky. It seemed even the heavens were weeping for Patty Williams and her babies.

Jim’s sentinel sight caught a slight movement some way off in a thick stand of sheltering trees. He dialed his sight up further and homed in on a man almost concealed by the thick trunks of the trees.

"I saw something. Wait here while I check it out." He handed Blair his cellphone. "Phone for some backup."

Blair nodded as Jim got up casually and strolled toward the exit. Moving quickly, he ducked behind a tree and made his way around to circle behind the shadowy figure. The rain was falling heavier now, making the grass slick underfoot. Jim cursed silently as his previously injured ankle slid out from under him and hot pain shot up his leg. He could see the man now from behind and was almost close enough to challenge him. The man suddenly turned and stared at him with shocked frightened eyes and Jim recognized Eddie Williams from the smiling family photo in the Williams’ home.

"Stay where you are. Cascade PD."

The man was off and running before Jim had the words out and the detective stumbled after him, feeling his ankle swelling rapidly in his shoe. Seeing Williams gaining ground on him, Jim attempted to increase his speed, his foot protesting every step. He stopped the pursuit as his foot gave way once more and stood, hands on knees, as he caught his breath. He heard movement behind him and looked up to see Blair approaching at a run.

"Jim! You all right?"

Jim nodded, feeling disgusted with himself. "My ankle gave out on me. He got away."

Blair slung a supporting arm around Jim’s shoulders and turned them toward the exit. Jim shrugged his arm free and began to hobble off. "I can manage," he said angrily.

Blair stopped and watched him a moment, then nodded and ran to catch up. "They’ll get him," he said.

Jim shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim swung open the door to the loft, surprised to find the apartment in darkness. He had seen Blair’s car parked in its usual spot outside and expected to find his partner curled up on the couch beside a glowing fire, grading his ever-present term papers.

He knew that Patty and Davy’s murders had deeply affected Blair, the grief going far deeper than any other crime that the observer had been involved in since pairing up with Jim. Jim knew that Blair had seen a lot of himself in Davy, the little 9-year-old with grown up responsibilities on his thin shoulders. Jim, too, had noticed the way Davy had jumped to his mother’s defense when necessary, and how he’d taken responsibility for his little brothers.

Blair’s childhood with a free-spirited mother had meant that he had needed to be independent at an early age. Though Naomi undoubtedly loved her son, her trips of enlightenment around the world had appeared to take precedence over caring for Blair. He, like Davy, had taken his refuge in books, the magic of history and anthropology becoming his own make-believe world.

Jim’s own childhood spoke of a different kind of neglect. His mother had left the family when Jim and his brother, Stephen were quite young. Sally, a sweet, diminutive Asian woman cared for the family. She doted on both boys but especially on Stephen who seemed to need a mother’s touch more than Jim did.

Though Jim’s father had never really talked about their mother’s abandonment, Jim had always held the uneasy belief that some of the blame should be placed on his then developing hypersenses. William Ellison had viewed Jim’s budding gift as a somewhat distasteful burden. A successful and well-to-do businessman, he had no wish for his son to be labeled a freak.

Left to his own devices, and with few friends, Jim had become a loner at an early age. His marriage had ended after a few brief months, though it seemed since their divorce, that Jim and Carolyn were better friends than they had ever been lovers.

Jim still had few friends, but the relationship he shared with Blair had become closer than friendship. The two men shared a deep, abiding brotherly love, and a bond that linked them as sentinel and guide. Blair wore himself out in order to fit in his studies, teaching commitments and still be available to help Jim with his senses. Jim, in return, protected his guide with a devotion reminiscent of a lioness guarding her cub. Blair put it more simply. He called Jim a mother hen.

Jim threw his keys into the basket on the sideboard and switched on the light. His sentinel sight had already detected his partner sitting huddled up on the couch in the darkness. Blair didn’t even blink as the lights came on in the loft. He still sat, staring into space, his hands wrapped about his knees.

"Sandburg? Hey buddy, what’s up?" Jim asked as he hung up his jacket and approached the silent man. As he got closer, he noticed that Blair’s clothes were soaking wet, as was his hair. He reached out a hand to his partner’s face and recoiled from the icy feel of his skin and its waxy appearance.

"Jesus, Sandburg. You’re freezing. What the hell happened?" Jim’s concern increased when Blair remained mute, still staring sightlessly ahead, his eyes half-closed.

Worry spurring his actions, Jim hurried into the bathroom and turned on the shower, waiting a few moments to adjust the temperature. He went back out to the living room and hauled the unresponsive man up on his feet, hurriedly taking his weight as Blair’s knees buckled under him. Half-dragging, half carrying his burden, he made it into the bathroom and deposited his partner under the warm spray of the shower.

Blair slid slowly down the tiles to sit on the floor, the water cascading about his head. Looking down at his own wet clothes, Jim gave up the fight and got into the shower as well, awkwardly stripping the cold clothing from his partner’s chilled skin. As the warm water hit bare flesh, Blair finally began to show signs of life. He began to shiver violently and wrapped his arms tightly about his torso.

Suddenly aware of his partner’s presence, he looked up in surprise as Jim rubbed a washcloth briskly over his skin.

"J-J-Jim? Wh-What happ-ppened?"

"You tell me, partner," Jim answered, not looking up from his task.

"I’m c-c-cold," Blair stuttered miserably.

"I’m not surprised," Jim answered sympathetically. Pleased with getting a reasonably lucid response from Blair, he stood up and turned off the shower, then helped the still shaking man to his feet and wrapped a thick bath towel about him. He sat him on the closed toilet lid and wrapped another towel about his dripping curls.

"Stay," he ordered, holding up one finger.

Blair nodded and burrowed further into the warmth of his coverings, color finally returning to his face.

Jim hurried out to the living room and started the fire, then went into Blair’s room to retrieve sweats and thick socks. Finally, he went to the kitchen and found a can of chicken soup that he emptied into a pan and set on the stove to heat.

By the time, he got back to the bathroom, Blair was on his feet. "I thought I told you to stay," Jim admonished.

"Sorry," Blair said and promptly sat back down.

That reaction worried Jim more than anything else did and he gently helped Blair up and steered him into the other room. Standing him in front of the fire, he indicated the clothes. "You get dressed. I’ll make us soup and then we’ll talk."

Blair stared blankly at him for a moment, then nodded.

Twenty minutes later, bodies warmed, bellies full of chicken soup, the two men sat side by side on the sofa.

"So," Jim began. "How was your day?"

"Blair shrugged. "I really don’t remember a lot of it."

"Do you remember how you got so wet?" Jim asked, turning so that he faced Blair. He watched his partner fiddle with the cord on his sweat pants.

"I decided to walk this morning. When I left the university, it was raining."

"Why didn’t you change your clothes, turn on the heat when you got home?"

Blair was silent for a long moment, back to staring into space.

Jim sighed. This was getting to be like pulling teeth and an unresponsive Sandburg was not normal. Usually, Jim would be begging him to be quiet, to stop with the questions already. The last couple of days had been a strain on them both. Jim was still angered with his inability to catch Eddie Williams and wrestled with guilty thoughts that perhaps he should have looked into Patty’s situation more closely when he first became aware of it. Even if the woman had refused help, Jim could have kept a close eye on the situation and perhaps stopped it before it got out of control.

He shook his head tiredly. His guilt would not help Patty or Davy now. All he could do was catch the man responsible. He forced his mind back to the problem immediately at hand and regarded his partner closely. "Sandburg?" Jim nudged him with his elbow and Blair jumped.

"What? Oh, sorry. Um, I don’t know. I walked home and while I was walking I got to thinking about Patty and Davy. How it wouldn’t matter any more to them what the weather was like, and I thought it shouldn’t matter to me either. Why should I be able to feel things and see things and experience things when he can’t." Blair was sobbing now, hot tears streaming down his cheeks. "He was just a little boy."

He stood suddenly and paced a few steps forward then turned back and abruptly punched Jim hard on the arm. "Why didn’t you do something?" he shouted. "Why?"

Jim recoiled from the punch in surprise. He stood up and caught Blair’s flailing hands. "Because there was nothing I could do without her permission. Because regardless of anything you or I did, she probably would have gone back to him anyway and it would have started again," he said flatly.

Blair closed his eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath and looked at him, nodding. "I know," he said. He reached up and rubbed gently at the red mark on Jim’s arm. "I’m sorry."

Jim shook his head. "I know where you’re coming from, Sandburg. You’re not saying anything I haven’t asked myself fifty times over."

Blair blushed. "It wasn’t your fault, Jim. There was nothing you could have done."

"Nor you," Jim added. "We’re both strung out. Why don’t you try to get some sleep. We’ve got a long day tomorrow."

Blair walked slowly to his room. "’Night, Jim."

"Goodnight, Sandburg." Jim walked slowly up the stairs to his bedroom. He lay awake and listened until he heard Blair’s breathing even into that of sleep. Relieved that the anthropologist was resting at last, Jim allowed his thoughts to move on. He did not sleep, though, the long night disturbed by images of small, bloody children and a father’s voice raised in anger.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair trudged tiredly up the stairs to the loft. He was tired, cold, and wet again after having to walk halfway across the university grounds to get to his car in the ever-present Cascade rain. He’d forgotten to take a jacket and had, for that matter left the most important parts of his lecture notes at home too. He sighed; the last few days had been a nightmare. Homicide had come no closer to catching up with Eddie Williams. They assumed he had left the state. Blair could not get his mind past the horrific crime and his dreams were filled with visions of bleeding children and Davy’s pale little face, begging him for help.

He knew Jim was not faring much better, still berating himself for letting Williams get away at the funeral service. Their few conversations had been stilted, both trying desperately to steer the conversation away from the murders and onto safer fare.

Both men had attempted to pull their lives back into order. He recalled a conversation they’d had once, Jim telling Blair that in order to be a good cop, you needed to check your humanity at the door. It was a hard thing to do where children were concerned, but he could now see the wisdom in the words. He was no use as Jim’s guide if he was falling apart at the seams.

For that reason, he’d left Rainier as soon as his lecture was over, deciding to turn in early and hoping to finally get some nightmare free sleep, so he’d be fresh the next day, ready to go to work with Jim.

He searched for his key in his pocket and rested his hand on the door as he did so, his tired mind not registering it swinging inward slightly. He realized with a thrill of fear that it was unlocked at the same time as pain exploded in his thigh and his leg collapsed beneath him. The pain was so intense, the weakness so complete, that he had to force himself not to pass out.

He gritted his teeth against the moan that found its way out and clutched at his leg, watching as blood seeped quickly through his fingers to pool on the ground beneath him. He saw then that he was lying partly out of the front door to the loft and willed himself to move backward in the hope of escaping his attacker. His body stubbornly refused to budge and he collapsed onto his back with another gasp of pain. He watched a dark figure loom menacingly over him as he tried to shrink into the floor.

"So you’re Sandburg," the voice slurred. "What the fuck did the little slut see in you?"

The man raised one leg and brought it down to rest on Blair’s bullet wound, even this small pressure causing him to moan softly in distress. The pressure increased, and Blair arched his back, screaming as the foot gouged hard into his injury, causing red-hot fire to claw at him. Just when he thought he would throw up from the agony of it, darkness encroached and consciousness mercifully fled.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair lifted his head slowly and looked blearily around his surroundings. He was sitting on the stairs in the loft with his back supported by the balustrade behind him, his hands tied tightly to the railings. A slight shift in his position brought remembered agony from his leg, and a low groan forced its way between his parched lips.

"So, you’re awake. Good. We can get on with things."

Eddie Williams sauntered up the stairs and leaned over him to check his bindings. Blair turned his face away from the alcohol-laden breath and fought back an almost overwhelming wave of nausea. He had a feeling his captor would not take kindly to being barfed on.

Williams moved back then and Blair flinched as he felt rough hands on his injured leg, then noticed the still oozing wound had been tightly bandaged with a towel.

"I’ve got plans for you, Sandburg. Can’t have you bleeding to death on me. Yet."

Blair licked his dry lips and forced the question out. His tongue felt thick and unwieldy in his mouth and his weary brain struggled to supply the words. "Why?"

Williams stood and waved a hand about the loft. "Why am I here?"

Blair nodded and squeezed his eyes shut as tears leaked from the corners.

Williams shrugged. "I was going to just kill you outright before I left town for screwing my woman. Then I figured they’d have all the exits sewn up pretty tight. I decided that maybe I could use you as a bargaining chip to get me out of here. Davy told me you was a teacher at the university. I hung around till I spotted you and followed you back here. Easy." He grinned evilly. "I’ve spent my share of time in prison. Only useful thing it taught me was how to jimmy a lock."

Blair asked the question he feared the answer to. "Why did you kill them?"

"I didn’t mean to shoot her. Honest," Eddie said, then anger blazed in his eyes. "She just made me so angry. All she had to do was admit she was sleeping with you behind my back, admit the kid wasn’t mine. But she wouldn’t do it. I got the gun out to scare her a little and she tried to run. If she hadn’t made me so angry, nothing would have happened."

Blair shook his head. "She was telling you the truth," he whispered. "She wasn’t sleeping with me."

"Liar!"

His head snapped back as Williams swung a fist with brutal strength at his face, and he literally saw stars. He sat for a moment, panting heavily, aware of the blood dripping from his gashed cheek onto his shirt.

Blair forced himself to go on. "Why Davy?"

Williams turned and started to walk down the stairs, then stopped and looked back at his captive. "He saw everything. He tried to run out the back. I knew the others were too young to say anything. He wasn’t mine, you know? Patty already had him when we met. Little shit was nothing but trouble from the day I took him in."

Blair felt fresh tears sting his eyes but fought to stay silent. Williams continued to descend the stairs. "Time I put in a phone call to Detective Ellison."

"They won’t deal," Blair said.

Williams rushed back up the stairs and kneeled next to him. Grasping a handful of curls, he dragged Blair’s head back until he was forced to look at him. "You’d better pray they do, Sandburg. You’d better pray they do."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim Ellison snatched up the phone the instant it rang, eager for some respite from the mind-numbing paperwork he was forced to endure until his ankle was fully healed. He had been forced back onto desk duty for two extra days after wrenching his ankle chasing Eddie Williams.

‘Tomorrow,’ he told himself with satisfaction. ‘Then I’m going to do some digging into Eddie Williams’ background, see if Homicide missed anything and track the bastard down.’ He needed to have Sandburg back at his side. More importantly, he needed the old Sandburg back. He missed him.

There was a slight pause after he identified himself and he was about to hang up when a deep voice spoke.

"I have something of yours, detective."

"Who is this?"

"My name is Eddie Williams, and I want to offer you a deal."

Jim felt his heart clench at the words, dreading what was coming.

"I have Blair Sandburg here, and he’s very eager to see you. I need a ticket out of town. How about we deal?"

"Let me talk to him," Jim snapped, sweat already beading his forehead.

"Sorry, that’s not how we’re going to do it."

Jim gripped the receiver so hard, he was surprised it didn’t snap. "You listen to me, you son of a bitch. This is how it’s done. You give me something, I give you something. Otherwise no deal. Now let me talk to Sandburg."

There was muffled movement on the line and Jim dialed up his hearing. He could hear grunts of pain and something being moved or dragged and then the sound of heavy breathing over the line.

"J-Jim?"

Jim breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that his partner at least was still alive. "Sandburg. You all right?"

"Yeah, I’m all right." The voice was soft and full of pain.

"Where are you hurt? Sandburg? Sandburg?" There was no answer and Jim cursed loudly.

"So, you know he’s alive. Now, what can you offer me?" Williams asked.

"What do you want, Williams?"

"I think I’d like you to get your ass over to your apartment and give me a personal escort out of this stinking town."

"I’ll be there in ten minutes," Jim said. He hung up the phone as Simon rushed from his office.

"Jim? There’s been a report of shots fired at your apartment building."

Jim nodded and stood up, grabbing his jacket. "I know," he said as he headed for the stairs. "Come on, I’ll fill you in on the way."

Simon looked around the bullpen. "Rafe and Brown, you’re with us. Joel, hold the fort, will you?"

0~0~0~0~0

Simon looked over at Jim as they sped through the streets of Cascade. "So spill it, Jim. What’s going down?"

Jim kept his eyes on the road as he spoke, the madly twitching muscle in his jaw, the only outward sign of his tension. "Eddie Williams is holding Sandburg hostage at the loft. He wants me to get him out of the state."

"What!" Simon was shocked and not a little puzzled. "Why Sandburg, and how the hell did he know where you lived?"

Jim shook his head and steered the truck to a park around the corner from the loft. He looked over at his captain. "I don’t know why Sandburg, Simon. I guess he must have followed him or me home or something." He undid his seatbelt and opened the door of the truck. "Can you ask Henry and Rafe to stay behind us for now and sit tight? I’m going to scope things out."

Simon leaned over and placed a restraining hand on Jim’s arm. "If this is a hostage situation, we should let a negotiator handle it."

Jim shook his head vehemently. "Williams asked for me, sir. Sandburg’s injured but I don’t know how badly. I don’t want to take any chances with this. Williams could combust at any time. He’s stretched pretty thin. I’ve got an idea about how we can get to Williams but I’ve got to see how things lie first. We’ve got to give Sandburg a fighting chance, sir."

Simon sighed and scrubbed at his eyes. "All right, Jim. I’ll give you the lead on this one for now. You make sure you keep me fully appraised, is that clear?"

Jim smiled grimly. "Yes, sir."

Simon watched him walk to the corner and disappear around it, then reached for the radio.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair continued to work feverishly at his bonds, biting back the groans of pain as the rope bit deeply into his wrists. He felt lightheaded. His leg wound had begun to bleed through the bandage and Williams had not bothered to replace it. That alone had decided Blair’s mind for him. If Williams no longer cared if he bled to death or not, he was going to have to keep himself alive until Jim got there. He shivered violently, but was unsure whether the chill he felt was from his still wet clothes or shock, perhaps a combination of the two.

Williams had rummaged through the refrigerator and drunk several beers and now sat on the couch watching him. Suddenly he stood and walked carefully up the stairs, his gait staggering slightly. "Really don’t need you any more. Ellison’s on his way. I may as well kill you now."

Blair’s heart began to race and he felt cold sweat break out on his brow. "Jim’ll know," he said, looking Eddie squarely in the eye. "If you kill me, he’ll know and you’ll never get out of here." His breath was forced from his lungs in a gasp as Williams lashed out with a foot and caught him brutally in the ribs. "Shut up. I didn’t tell you to talk."

Blair folded up around the pain in his chest and fought to catch his breath. He watched Eddie from under his lowered eyelashes as the man began to pace the living room. "Come on, Ellison," Williams muttered. "Where the fuck are you?"

0~0~0~0~0

Jim made his way quickly back to his truck and leaned in the window. "They’re both still up there, sir," he said to Simon.

"Can you tell what condition Sandburg’s in?" Simon asked.

Jim shook his head. "Not really. His heartrate’s up and it’s a little weak. I’m too far away to detect much. I’ve got an idea though."

"All right. Let’s hear it."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair held his breath as Williams produced a sharp knife. "Relax. Ellison’s here," Williams said, sawing through Blair’s bindings. Blair rubbed briskly at his bleeding wrists, and was taken by surprise as Eddie hauled him upwards, eliciting a spasm of agony that surged through his injured leg. His cry of pain was abruptly cut off as Williams wrapped a strong arm around his throat and dragged him down the stairs and into the middle of the living room.

There was total silence save for Blair’s gasping breaths as the two men waited, hearing the heavy footsteps ascend the stairs and approach the door.

"Throw your weapon in here first, cop," Williams ordered, pulling Blair up closer against his chest. Blair felt the muzzle of the gun dig painfully into his temple and then he saw Jim’s weapon tossed through the narrow opening of the door. "Say goodbye to your friend, Ellison," Williams whispered, tightening his finger on the trigger.

Blair’s heart pounded in his chest and dark spots danced at the edges of his vision as he fought to escape Williams’ grasp. The door was pushed open and Williams gaped in surprise. "You’re not Ellison!"

"I’m Ellison."

Williams whirled to face Jim who stood in the doorway of Blair’s room, his weapon aimed steadily at Eddie Williams’ head.

Blair fought to get air past the stranglehold on his throat. His leg throbbed from the effort of standing, and he could feel blood trickling down his thigh. Jim’s attention remained on Patty and Davy’s murderer. "Drop your gun, Williams. It’s over."

Williams regained his composure quickly and suddenly several things happened at once. Jim fired as Williams’ finger closed once more on the trigger and Blair found enough strength at the same time to wrench himself from the gunman’s grasp. He fell to the ground heavily, feeling pain lance through his leg and chest and then everything faded to black.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim’s attention was torn from Simon as the gurney carrying his partner was pushed out of the apartment building. Blair’s eyes were still closed, his features ashen under the oxygen mask strapped to his face. He moaned softly as the paramedics lowered the gurney to the ground and got him ready to transport to the hospital.

Jim reached down and gently squeezed Blair’s cold hand. "Take it easy, Chief," he said softly. "You’re on your way to the hospital."

Blair’s eyelids fluttered and then slowly opened, revealing dazed and reddened eyes. He looked up at Jim and winced as his leg was jostled. "Over?" he whispered.

"Yeah, buddy. It’s over."

Blair nodded, then closed his eyes; tears running down his bloody cheeks as his chest shuddered in silent sobs. "Sorry," he said, his breath coming in tight gulps. Jim could see he was desperately trying to rein in his emotions.

Jim leaned closer and stroked Blair’s sweat matted hair from his forehead. "Nothing to be sorry for, Chief. You’ve had a rough time."

Blair shook his head and reached for Jim’s hand. "Not for me," he hiccuped in sorrow. "For them, too late."

Jim closed his eyes briefly, conjuring up a picture of Patty Williams smiling and laughing with her children. "I know. I’m sorry, too."

"Detective? We need to transport him now." The paramedic began to push the gurney toward the waiting ambulance. Blair began to thrash about weakly, fighting the medic who tried to gently restrain him.

Jim hurried back to his side and replaced the oxygen mask that Blair was pushing away in his distress. "Leave the mask on, Sandburg. What do you need?"

Blair lay back, his energy exhausted and looked up at Jim, fighting to stay awake. "Come?" he asked.

Jim reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "Sure. Give me a minute."

Blair nodded and finally closed his eyes, giving in to the exhaustion and blood loss.

Jim approached Simon and waited as he finished giving instructions to Henry. "Uh, sir?"

Simon turned to him. "What are you still doing here, Ellison? Go with your partner."

Jim smiled his thanks. "Yes, sir."

He trotted back and swung himself up into the back of the ambulance, seating himself at Blair’s side. He reached out and began to rhythmically stroke Blair’s forehead. "Just relax, Chief. I’m right here."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair swung open the door of the truck and held his crutches out to Jim.

"Are you sure you want to do this now, Chief?" Jim eyed his partner with a barely disguised Blessed Protector look and Blair groaned.

"I’m fine. It’s on the way home from the hospital and I promise I’ll rest as soon as we get home."

Jim didn’t look convinced. Blair ignored the assessing gaze and pushed himself out of the passenger seat, landing on his good leg and smiling his thanks at Jim for the supporting arm around his shoulder. He took the crutches from the detective and took off over the still damp grass toward the graves set under the old tree.

He stopped in front of the double granite headstone and turned back to Jim, a smile warring with the tears that fell from his eyes. "Oh, Jim, this is beautiful. I’ve got to go see your dad, tell him thank you."

Jim shook his head and moved up to stand next to his guide. "No thanks necessary, Chief. He was happy to do it."

Blair’s fingers gently traced the etchings of roses in one corner of the headstone and then those of the books and toys in the other. "Sorry, Davy," he whispered.

Jim squeezed his shoulder then turned him back toward the truck. "Let’s go home. You need to rest that leg."

"I don’t know who was more surprised to see Simon standing in the doorway, Jim. Williams or me."

"I’ve got to admit, Chief, it’s the first time I’ve ever felt relieved that you forgot to lock the fire escape exit."

Blair grinned. "Me too, Jim, me too."

 

FIN

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