KEY TO MY SOUL

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@gmail.com

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

CATEGORY: Drama, AU.

RATING: M.

WARNINGS: Mention of rape, violence, language.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: This story is rough on the emotions but not graphic. I love to put Blair at his most vulnerable and Jim at his most protective. This was originally written as a slash fic but someone asked me if I could rewrite it as a gen fic and I was curious to discover if I could write about the bond that Sentinel and Guide share. Here's the result.

I hope you enjoy it.

"Ellison? My office."

Detective Jim Ellison looked up at his captain’s summons and closed the report he’d been working on. He pushed his tall frame away from the desk with a sigh and stood, twisting his back to rid himself of the knots there. Entering the captain’s office, Jim eyed the young man seated in front of the desk. The captain looked up and spoke as Jim shut the door.

"Jim, this is Detective Scott Wilson from Missing Persons."

The younger detective stood and extended a hand, as Jim looked him over appraisingly. Scott Wilson was on the short side for a cop, and of a wiry build. His brown curls were cut close to his head and his face held a friendly, pleasant smile, his entire demeanor that of fresh-faced enthusiasm. Jim took the hand proffered to him and shook it quickly before turning back to the captain.

"What’s up, sir?"

Simon Banks motioned his detective to a seat before he spoke. "Detective Wilson has been investigating what appears to be a series of unusual missing persons cases. I’ll let him tell you himself."

Scott Wilson cleared his throat and straightened his tie. "I’ve been working in Missing Persons here at the PD for six months now, Detective. There has been a spate of reported missing persons over that time that appear to be, let’s say, suspicious, for want of a better word." Jim nodded, impatient for the man to get to the point. "Anyway, these people seem to share some striking similarities. They are young males, mid-twenties, generally in situations where it is not unexpected for them to disappear for reasonably long periods of time. It’s usually a month or two before anyone comes forward to lodge a report. By then, the trail is pretty cold. So far, twelve young men have disappeared in the past six months. Only one has surfaced again."

Jim sat in silence for a moment, analyzing the detective’s story before he formulated his questions. "Do we have photos, background?"

Scott Wilson nodded and picked up a folder from the desk in front of him. He flipped it open and held it out to Jim. The detective took it and pulled the photos from the pocket within, spreading the pictures out over the captain’s desk. The men were all similar in looks and build, all young, their bodies not unlike the young detective sitting opposite him now, all attractive, fresh-faced, innocent-looking. One face stood out from the others and Jim picked the photo up, studying the smiling face intently. "What can you tell me about this one?"

Scott leaned forward slightly to check out the photograph and then sat back. "He was the last one. His name is Blair Sandburg. He’s a graduate student at Rainier University. He’s studying anthropology. He’s twenty-five, unmarried, no family here in Cascade, except his mother. She travels a lot. He went missing a month ago. He also travels a lot due to his studies, visits various archeological and anthropological digs here and in South America and Mexico. Plus, he and his mother moved around a lot when he was younger. It wasn’t unusual for him to simply tire of living where he was and move on. No one became suspicious until summer break ended and he didn’t show up for class. According to his mother and his friends, there is no way that he would abandon his studies."

Jim mulled over the information. He flipped quickly through the remaining pictures but his attention kept returning unerringly to the young man with long curls, two earrings in one ear and a wide smile on his face.

"Okay," Jim said finally, looking at his captain. "What’s this got to do with Major Crime?"

Captain Simon Banks took over the narrative then. "One week ago, a young man walked into Cascade General Hospital. He had been beaten, starved and raped. His name is David Martin and he is one of Detective Wilson’s missing men. The story he told police seemed to be too bizarre to be believed at first. When his name was flagged on a missing person report, Detective Wilson was contacted. It appears that there is a slave-market operating in Cascade. Seems whoever runs this operation moves around a lot. They kidnap young men off the street, men who are not going to be missed for some time, and sell them to the highest bidder to be used as sex-slaves and prostitutes." Simon looked sickened by the words but he continued. "When the heat gets a little too much, they move on."

"They must know that this guy got away," Jim said. "Surely, they won’t hang around now."

Scott Wilson sat forward, his hands tightening on the folder he clutched. "I agree and that’s why I’m here. I want to catch these bastards before they can get away. The man who escaped has been unable to give us anything to work with, beyond what was done to him." The young detective looked uncomfortable. "He has no idea of where he was kept, except that it was a large warehouse and the men are kept in a large cellar of some kind. I received an anonymous tip that these guys are going to try to sell off what they can of their remaining cargo and kill what they can’t sell. Then they’ll move on to fresh pastures. I was also given the name of a bar where contact is made if you’re looking to buy."

"I’ll do it," Jim said instantly. He looked at the captain. "Set it up, Simon." He looked back at the other detective. "Any idea how long we have?"

Wilson shrugged and held out his hands. "Depends on how confident they are, I guess. This is a very polished operation, Detective. They appear to have been operating throughout the United States for close to three years now. The cops have come close before and they’ve always managed to elude capture. Maybe they have an inside connection."

Jim nodded and stood. "What’s the name of the bar. We can scope the place out tonight."

"Jim, I was thinking of sending in Brian Rafe."

"Why?" Jim asked instantly.

Simon stood and moved around the desk, ushering Jim toward the door. He turned back to the still-seated detective and smiled. "Excuse us, just for a minute, would you?"

The detective nodded and set about gathering up the photos from the desk. Simon turned to Jim as soon as they exited the office and closed the door. "Jim, I want you on the outside for this one. With your senses," he lowered his voice conspiratorially, "you can listen in, give us the signal when we need to move in. If they frisk Rafe, they won’t find anything. With you listening in, he won’t need to wear a wire."

Jim was already vehemently shaking his head as Simon spoke. "No," he answered firmly. "I want to be the one to go in. I’ve got the Vice experience. I need…Simon, I can’t explain it. I want to go in."

Simon looked at him quizzically. "Is it something to do with that kid?" he asked. "The one whose photo you were so interested in? Are you going to tell me that you have a thing for the kid?"

Jim blushed but stood his ground. "I can’t explain it, Simon, but as soon as I looked at that photo, I felt something." Jim sighed and scrubbed a hand through his cropped hair. "A link, an affinity. Not in a sexual way. Besides, I know these bars. I know the actions, the talk. I won’t raise suspicion. I can track these guys and still signal you when to come in."

Simon studied the other detective silently for a long moment, then nodded. "All right." He raised a finger in admonition. "But you follow my instructions to the letter. Is that clear, Detective?"

"Yes, sir, that's clear."

Simon nodded. "Good. But consider yourself warned all the same." He turned toward his office and opened the door. "All right. Let’s get this show on the road."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim Ellison toyed idly with his coaster as he waited for the pony-tailed young man to return with his drink. Some casual scouting by Jim’s sometime partner, Brian Rafe, had netted the information that Karl, said to be the second-in-command of the slave operation, would deal only with buyers directly. Rafe had passed the word that Jim was James Edwards, a wealthy businessman from Texas, looking for a toy or two.

Jim thought back to the young man whose photo had captivated him earlier that day. There was something familiar somehow about the face that had smiled back at him. Jim would have taken on the job anyway. He was a cop after all, and a good one at that, but there was something there that had pulled at him, as though the young man himself was begging for help. He sighed as he watched the comings and goings of the restaurant and wondered what suffering the young man was experiencing now, while people went about their business and pleasure, unaware of his existence.

Jim looked up as his drink was placed in front of him. He waited until the waiter turned to leave before speaking. "You give good service," the sentinel made a show of peering at the man’s badge, "Jose. I’d like to give you a little extra for your trouble." Jim pulled a thick wad of notes from his breast pocket and peeled off a fifty, pressing it into Jose’s hand.

Jose bowed slightly as his fingers curled over the notes. "Thank you, Senor."

Jim tightened his grip as the man made to pull away. "I’m looking to buy something special," he began. "A gift for a friend. I was told that you could get a message to Karl for me."

Jose’s eyes narrowed and he licked his lips. "We only sell food and drink here, Senor."

Jim peeled off a couple more notes and pushed them into the waiter’s sweating palm. "I hear that Karl has some interesting…wares for sale. A friend recommended him."

Jose shrugged. "I would not know, Senor. I am just a waiter." He shrugged. "And sometimes a messenger." He looked down at the cash still in Jim’s hand. "Karl prefers a retainer up front for good faith."

"How much?" Jim asked.

"$25,000," Jose answered.

"That’s a lot of good faith," Jim commented. "The goods would want to be first class."

"There are only one or two left of the particular items you’re after," Jose replied. "I have been told, though, that Karl has saved the best for last."

Jim pulled a business card with his false details printed on it and wrapped the remaining bank notes around it. "Tell Karl to call me, but make it soon. I’m leaving tomorrow night and I’d like to take my purchase with me."

"You don’t want to negotiate a price first?"

"If the goods are as good as you say, the price won’t matter," Jim said. "Once I see the merchandise for myself, if I decide to make the purchase, I want the gift packaged, ready to be shipped straight to my Lear jet. Tell Karl I don’t want damaged stock either."

Jose nodded. "Expect a call in two, maybe three hours."

0~0~0~0~0

The occupant of the dingy pit started as the heavy door concealing his prison was opened and a rickety ladder was lowered to the ground. Whimpering softly, the bedraggled man curled himself tightly into a ball on the ragged matting in dreaded anticipation of the torment about to start.

He moaned as a flashlight was shone onto his bruised and battered body and he dragged himself into a corner with difficulty as his captor picked up a long piece of metal and prodded him roughly.

"Get up, Thursday. You’re wanted."

The man who had spoken leaned over him and reached out an arm, grasping the trembling young man by the wrist and dragging him forward until he sprawled in front of him. He smiled evilly and turned to his partner. "We’ve got a few minutes. Let’s have a little fun with Thursday here."

The other man licked his lips. "You think we should? What if the boss finds out?"

"Who’s gonna tell the boss? Thursday here?" He leaned down and whispered in the young man’s ear. "You wouldn’t rat on us, Thursday, if we had a little fun, would you?"

The young man moaned softly but did not speak and his guard straightened and poked him once more with the pole. "Present!"

The prisoner struggled to his knees and placed his arms behind his back, crossing them at the wrists. He fought to stay upright, his frail, naked body shuddering with fatigue and chills. He closed his eyes tightly as a stray tear escaped and trickled down his cheek. He knew what came next.

"Attention!"

The young man surged up to his feet with extreme difficulty, the small effort exerted exhausting him already.

"Present!"

Again, he dropped to his knees, wincing as the concrete floor bit into his knees. The game went on for several more minutes. Both men were now participating in calling the commands and the young man knew he could not withstand much more. Finally, he could no longer raise himself from his knees and he lifted wide, saddened eyes to his captors, begging silently for a reprieve he knew would not come.

"Not fast enough, Thursday. You know what happens when you’re not fast enough."

"Please." The word was forced from a throat hoarse from disuse and even as he spoke, the young man knew his entreaties only served to fuel more enjoyment for the men.

"You know the rules, Thursday," the larger man said as he unbuckled his belt and drew it through the loops of his pants. "Take your position." He waited, flexing the belt in his hands, enjoying the shudders of fear that ran through his captive at the noise.

The prisoner turned slowly until he faced the wall, then leaned forward and bent until he rested on his hands and knees. He leaned forward until his forehead rested on the ground and waited for the first blow to fall. He flinched as the belt bit into his back and raised the first welt but he did not cry out. Tears dribbled down his dirty cheeks, leaving white tracks in their wake.

"That’s one, Thursday," the man intoned as he pulled his arm back for the next blow. The young man did not respond. His shoulders shook as silent tears fell, but inside his mind, he was chanting brokenly. "My name is Blair. My name is Blair," he whispered in time to the fall of the belt on his back.

"Hey, Andrews." A third voice summoned the men from above and Andrews stopped mid-stroke and looked up.

"Boss says to get a move on. Looks like he might have a buyer for Thursday coming in tomorrow. He wants to say good-bye properly, if you get my drift."

Andrews nodded and bent again to the man huddled on the floor in front of him. "So, this might be our last night together, Thursday. What a shame. I'm going to miss our little training sessions."

He trailed a hand down Blair’s back as he spoke, ignoring the shudder that went through the young man as his fingers touched the inflamed welts. Stroking lower, he forced his hand between Blair’s legs and squeezed hard, smiling at the soft moan of pain. "Might still be time later." Abruptly he stood and held a hand to his nose. "Not until you’ve been cleaned up though. Christ, you stink. Kelly, hose him down, then take him to the boss."

Kelly nodded and walked over to the hose that lay coiled a few feet away. "You know the drill, Thursday. Back in your corner."

Blair crawled awkwardly toward a corner of the pit, his hurting body screaming in protest at the action. He gasped as a spray of icy cold water assaulted him, raking over him in razor-sharp pellets. Blair huddled into a small tight ball and tried to escape the punishing flow, then the water was turned off and he was thrown a small scrap of cloth and ordered to dry himself. He did so as best he could, then dragged himself forward once more and knelt, his hands at the small of his back as handcuffs and a collar and lead were snapped into place.

A tug on the leash started him forward and he attempted to keep up with the fast pace of his captor, more than once stumbling to his knees and choking as the collar was pulled tight around his throat until he gained his feet. He looked down at the empty pit as he was pushed up the ladder. ‘I’m the last one,’ he thought to himself. ‘Please God, let me be the last.’

0~0~0~0~0

Jim pulled a cold beer from the fridge and walked slowly to the couch. He sat down, then frowned and leaned forward, pulling a cell phone from his pants pocket. He placed the phone on the coffee table and stared at it for a moment, willing it to ring. When it remained stubbornly silent, he sat back and took a long swallow of his beer. He had to be patient, he knew. Karl and his cronies would likely check Jim’s credentials first before making any attempt at contact.

‘Only one or two left.’ The words had haunted him on the drive back to the loft. What if it wasn’t Blair Sandburg? What if Blair had already been sold or killed. Jim shook his head to banish the thoughts. Whoever the remaining young men were, if he could save even one and put these animals away, it would be worthwhile, he knew. He still couldn't figure out what drew him to the young man he'd seen in the photo at the police station. It wasn't a sexual attraction, that he was sure. Jim was a heterosexual man with a dating list as long as his arm. The idea didn't repulse him in any way. He simply knew the attraction was something else.

He started as the phone rang. He dropped his beer quickly to the table and picked up the phone, thumbing it on. "Edwards," he announced. He listened carefully to the instructions on the other end of the phone, wondering whether to extend his hearing and listen for background clues, then discarded the idea just as quickly. He couldn’t risk a zone-out now. "Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow at the restaurant," the detective answered. Jim hung up the phone and sat back with a sigh. ‘Finally,’ he thought. ‘Now we take these bastards down.’ Leaning forward, he picked up the cordless phone and dialed his captain’s number.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair stumbled a little as he was pushed inside the small office area. He reached out a hand and steadied himself against the wall, then stood silently, trembling in fearful apprehension. He knew what happened here, though he had not been here before now. The others had been brought to the office before they went away. One by one they had been leashed and dragged off and Blair had heard their cries of fear and pain. He had huddled in the corner of the pit, his hands clamped tightly over his ears but still their agony could be heard and then they would disappear forever.

They had all come to know each other in the time that Blair had been captive here. Though they had begun as strangers, their mutual terrors and torture had made them brothers, of the heart, at least. At night, when the warehouse was quiet, they would whisper to each other, talking of family and friends, of hopes and dreams until the guards climbed down into the pit and prodded or beat them into silence. They would pass on messages of love for family and friends, in the hope that one of them might escape their prison. And David had, though they had no idea whether he was alive or dead. In the two days since his escape, there had been hurried packing up of equipment and then Blair’s friends had begun to rapidly disappear. One by one, the guards had come for them; they would be dragged out and leashed, then hauled away, never to return, only their screams of pain and cries for help echoing in Blair’s head. Then it was completely silent, save for the soft sobbing of those left behind.

Movement to his right startled him and he shrank away from the man who walked slowly toward him. The man was truly repulsive, tall and fat, with a thick scar that ran through one sightless eye and ended at the corner of his mouth. "So, here you are, Thursday. I’ve been saving you for last. I’ve always done that, you know. Saved the best for last," the man said conversationally, as he circled Blair, one beady eye raking greedily over Blair’s trembling body.

He snaked a hand out suddenly and Blair jumped. "Don’t be afraid, Thursday. We’re going to get to know each other a little before you go to your new owner."

"No, please," Blair whispered. "Don’t hurt me." The blow that came staggered him and he raised a hand to his stinging cheek.

"You dare to speak without permission," the man shouted, his German accent growing thicker seemingly in proportion to his anger. He raked the papers that lay scattered on the desk to the ground and hooked a fist into Blair’s matted curls, dragging him forward until he lay bent forward over the desk. He strode to the other side of the desk and grabbed Blair’s hands, unlocking the cuffs and then shackling them to the far legs. Blair moaned softly as his shoulders were stretched to their limits, the muscles screaming in protest. Then the man returned to stand behind him, kicking roughly at Blair’s legs until they were forced apart.

Blair screamed as the attack began in earnest, fear and pain merging into a solid world of agony. He fought to get away, ignoring the crushing weight of the wood against his belly. Suddenly, the pressure within him was gone, leaving behind a fiery burning ache and Blair lowered his head to the desk, sobbing in exhaustion and fright.

Distantly, he heard the fat man summon someone else into the room and he flinched, as the cuffs were unlocked from his hands. Collapsing to the floor, he curled himself into a tight ball of misery and began to rock, his lips moving soundlessly.

"I’m going to take a shower," Blair heard the fat man say above him. "We have a potential buyer for Thursday. He’ll be here tomorrow night. Take him back to the pit and get him cleaned up."

Blair shuddered as a none too gentle boot dug into his ribs. "So, can I have a taste?" the other man asked.

"No!" The boss stopped in the doorway and pointed at the welts that crisscrossed the young man’s back. "Looks like you already had your fun." With that, he turned and stalked from the room.

"Come on, you little shit." Andrews hooked a hand beneath Blair’s shoulder and hauled the silent man to his feet, steering him out the door and back to his prison. He grimaced distastefully at the blood that trickled down the back of Blair's legs. "Looks like he really made the most of his time with you, Thursday. Last one always gets it good."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim watched as Jose, the waiter from the previous night, approached his table, his demeanor wheedling and deferential. Jim smiled grimly to himself. Rafe must have really spun them a tall tale. His partner had a bent for the dramatic, more suited to being on the stage than in a police station. Still, it was working to Jim’s advantage now.

"Senor," Jose bowed. "If you would follow me."

Jim nodded and drained the coffee from his cup before rising to his feet. "Where are we going?"

Jose shook his head. "I have my instructions. There is a driver waiting for you. That is where my responsibility ends."

"Fine," Jim answered. "I don’t need any screw ups on this. I’ve got a reputation to consider." He followed the waiter to the rear of the restaurant, then through the busy kitchen and out the back door. A car was in the alleyway, its engine idling and the rear door open. Jim turned to speak to the waiter but Jose was nowhere to be seen, though the detective’s extended hearing could hear his heartbeat receding back into the depths of the restaurant. "Don’t go to sleep on me now, Simon," Jim whispered, praying that the miniscule microphone inserted in the collar of his shirt was picking up his words. "We’re on our way."

He bent and climbed into the back seat of the limousine and looked around curiously as the car pulled out of the alley. The interior was in total darkness, not a hindrance for a sentinel and Jim dialed up his sight to compensate. He turned slightly in his seat and looked through the tinted rear window, watching the surveillance van disappear from view and hoping that Simon would stick to the game plan. They had already assumed that Jim would be ferried to the buy site and had decided that the surveillance team would remain at the restaurant until Jim told them he had arrived. Then they would track his location, courtesy of the tracking device concealed in his jacket lining.

Jim turned back to face the front and surveyed the driver’s section. The dividing panel was tinted also and Jim could not make out more than a shadow, even with his heightened sight. A voice crackled through the intercom, its tone strangely computerized. "There is a blindfold on the seat next to you. Please put it on."

Jim picked up the black scarf and fingered it but hesitated a moment. "I don’t know about this."

The car pulled to the side of the road and the voice spoke again. "The choice is entirely yours, Mr. Edwards. Stay or go."

Jim tied the scarf over his eyes and sat back, stretching one arm casually over the back of the seat. He extended his hearing in an attempt to track the car’s progress through the streets of Cascade. After around twenty minutes, he felt the car stop once more and sat up in expectation as the door opened and a hand was hooked under his arm. "Here so soon?" he asked, using the code words for the rest of the team to begin tracking his whereabouts. "I was just getting comfortable."

The hand tightened on his arm. "No talking."

Jim shrugged and allowed himself to be helped from the car. The moment he heard doors closing behind him, he whipped off the blindfold and looked around, blinking rapidly to dispel the darkness from his vision. A tall man stood in front of him and held out a hand. "Mr. Edwards. It’s a pleasure to do business with you. My contacts reveal you have exquisite taste in the finer things in life. I hope that what I have here will impress you. I am Karl. Come."

He indicated the way to the rear of the vast warehouse and strode off. Jim followed closely behind, desperately dialing up his sight and hearing to get an indication of how many people were in the building. Six, he thought, at least six. He had no idea of course, if that number included the captive men or even if they were inside the structure.

He was led into a large office and shown to a seat. Karl waved a hand at the decanters on the desk. "Help yourself to a drink. I’ll only be a minute."

Jim nodded his thanks and reached for a bottle. He mixed a drink then sat, nursing it in his hands, extending his senses once more through the building. His eyes took in the video camera placed on a tripod in the corner of the room. Cameras could mean microphones as well so he decided to maintain radio silence for the time being. He looked up as the door opened once more and Karl came back into the room. He approached the table and poured a shot of scotch into a tumbler.

"Where’s the boss?" Jim asked idly.

"He had to leave," Karl replied. "Urgent business elsewhere. I just need to make this last sale and then I’ll be joining him." He downed the drink in one swallow then placed the glass back on the desk.

‘Damn,’ Jim thought but he carefully schooled his features not to show his disappointment.

"I handle the financial details. Now, let me show you what we have on offer tonight." He clapped his hands and another man entered the room, holding a leash in one hand. He tugged on the leash when there appeared to be some resistance and with a choking cry, a pathetic creature stumbled into the room. The young man was painfully thin; his naked body shivering from either cold or fear, probably both, Jim decided. His arms and legs bore numerous bruises and abrasions as did his bony torso and his dark curls tumbled in filthy disarray about his shoulders. Blair.

Jim took a step toward the trembling young man but stopped when Blair whimpered softly and stepped backwards, stumbling over his own feet and choking violently as the collar around his throat stopped his fall abruptly.

"Get up, Thursday."

The man holding the leash jerked it hard and the young man staggered back to his feet. His eyes widened in fearful apprehension as he watched Jim’s approach and the detective fought to keep his outward appearance casual and clinical. Jim slowly stretched out a hand and laid it on the young man’s face, tilting his head up toward him.

"He is indeed a beauty, is he not?" Karl asked and Jim could only nod mutely. Jim allowed his gaze to rake over the man and felt his blood begin to boil in anger as he took in the evidence of abuse that the captive had suffered.

"He is well-endowed, despite his small stature," Karl said. "I am sure he could give pleasure for many hours."

Jim pointed at the collar and swallowed down his nausea as the scent of Blair's terror rose up around him. "Get that off him," he ordered.

Karl regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded and the man with the leash bent to remove the choker from the young man's bruised throat. Jim stepped closer to the frightened man and cupped his face once more in his hand. "What’s your name?"

"We call him Thursday, that’s the day he was picked up," Karl offered and Jim spared him a glare before returning his gaze to the man before him.

"I asked him."

Blair swallowed convulsively and spoke softly, his frightened eyes darting from Jim to Karl. "My name…my name is Bl…" He cowered as the leash man raised the strap and placed it lightly on his shoulder. "My name is Thursday," he said finally around a sob.

"Hmm," Jim muttered. "I’ll have to think of something better for you later." He glared at Karl. "I said I didn’t want him damaged."

Karl shrugged nonchalantly. "He needed to be taught a lesson. Are you interested or not? I don’t have all night and I’ve had other offers."

‘I’ll just bet you have,’ Jim thought, looking at Karl with barely disguised disgust. The detective cocked his head as though thinking, in reality listening to the sounds of cars pulling up outside. He reached into his pocket slowly. "I think we have a deal," he said. "Let’s see, $25,000 down payment. What do you say to another $25?"

Karl shook his head. "The boss is thinking more along the lines of another $75"

Jim pretended to consider the offer, his heart beginning to race as he heard the footsteps that were suddenly pounding in their direction. "Sorry, think I’ll turn you down," he replied as the office door burst open and Simon, Rafe and several other officers stood in the doorway, weapons raised to cover the men inside the room.

"Cascade PD," Simon bawled. "Everyone, stay right where you are."

The leash man turned and made a run for the other side of the office where there was another door and suddenly chaos erupted as the lights went out all over the warehouse. Sparks from gunfire sizzled in the blackness and Jim dove to the side as red-hot fire burned along his forearm. He dialed up his sight and spotted Karl crawling toward the door, behind the leash man.

"Simon, far side, cover me," he whispered urgently to the captain. He waited until Simon nodded and then followed the two fleeing men. The door led to another larger room in the warehouse and Jim kept to the wall, hoping that the packing crates stacked there would provide some cover from the other men. He heard a creaking sound to his right that sounded like a door being opened but before he could take a look, movement to his right snapped his attention back and he saw Karl emerge from the shadows, a handgun leveled at him. Jim pulled his own revolver from its ankle holster and dived and fired in the same moment. Karl staggered slightly as a large red spot blossomed on his forehead, then he fell forward and did not move again. Suddenly the lights were on again and Jim stood and looked back toward the office as Rafe called his name.

"Did you get them?"

Jim shook his head, then moved to the dead man’s side, kicking the gun from his hand. "One of them."

Rafe nodded. "There are reinforcements outside. I doubt he’ll get past them. Where’s the kid?"

Jim cursed. Looking around, he could find no sign of Blair. "Shit! I don’t know. I lost track of him when you guys burst in."

"He won’t have gotten far," Rafe began to say but Jim silenced him with his hand. The detective stood still in the vast space and extended his hearing. From the far end of the warehouse, he detected a racing heartbeat and quiet muffled sobs. Jim held a finger to his lips as Simon appeared from the office doorway, his mouth opened to speak. Pointing with his hand in the direction of the sounds, Jim holstered his weapon and walked slowly toward them.

He stopped dead in his tracks at the sight before him. Directly below him was a pit, much like those used by mechanics, only this one was a great deal larger. Looking around, Jim spied a ladder and quickly lowered it to the floor below. He took a careful look around as he climbed down the steps. The pit was strewn with a few old, thin blankets and several hoses lay neatly wound up in coils in one corner. Blair was huddled into the far corner. His body was curled into a tight ball, his thin arms cradled up around his head as he rocked rapidly to and fro.

"Oh, Jesus." Simon’s voice was loud in his ear and caused Jim to jump. He dialed down his hearing as he crouched and slowly approached the terrified young man. He extended one hand out and waited until Blair’s movements stopped. The detective’s nose wrinkled at the pungent odor of urine and looking down, he realized that Blair had lost control of his bladder in his fright and now lay in a small puddle of his own waste. Dialing down his scent at the fetid odors emanating from the pit, Jim spoke softly.

"Blair? My name is Jim and I’m a police officer. I’ve come to take you home."

The young man resumed his rocking and muttering. Concentrating, Jim could hear him chanting one phrase over and over. "My name is Blair. My name is Blair."

Jim crawled a little closer, finally able to touch the other man’s shoulder. Blair recoiled from his touch and he lifted his hand, moving it so that it wavered just above the young man’s trembling shoulder. "Blair? Come on, Chief. Let’s get you home to your family."

Blair finally looked up at those words, his face streaked with tears, mucus and grime. "Mom?" he whispered.

Jim’s heart clenched and he nodded. "Yes. We’ll take you to your mom."

A shaky hand finally reached out and scraped fingers closed around his. Jim gently pulled the younger man toward him, startled when Blair’s arms wrapped around him and the frightened man burrowed into his embrace. He allowed himself to hold the young man for a moment, then stood, pulling Blair up with him.

"I’m sorry. I’m ruining your jacket." Blair’s voice sounded hoarse and weak.

"It’s not a problem, Chief." Jim swung the thin body into his arms as Blair’s knees suddenly buckled beneath him and he collapsed with a soft grunt. He nodded his gratitude as Rafe pulled off his jacket and draped it over the shivering body. "Medics?"

"Outside," Rafe said. "Let me give you a hand."

Jim shook his head and began to walk toward the exit. "It’s fine. I’ve got him."

The detective finally agreed to some help when it became apparent that he'd be unable to carry the unconscious man up the ladder by himself. Rafe hurried outside to get the Emergency Technicians who quickly strapped Blair onto a stretcher and then hauled him up into the warehouse. Once outside, he released his unconscious bundle to the care of the paramedics, then climbed in beside them as they loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance, his steely glare brooking no argument. Simon sighed and nodded. "I’ll tie everything up here and meet you at the hospital. Find out how long before we can talk to the kid. The head honcho got away?"

Jim nodded and turned his attention back to the slight, still body on the stretcher as the doors were shut and the ambulance pulled out.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim looked up from his seat on the bed in the trauma room as the door was pushed open and Simon stepped inside. The captain nodded at the white bandage encircling Jim’s forearm. "You all right?"

Jim nodded and got down from the bed. "Yeah. Just a scratch. How’s the kid?"

"I haven’t heard anything yet. I think they’re still checking him out. We picked up everyone who was in the warehouse, except the mastermind. Once this victim is up to it, we need to get a statement. The other perps aren’t talking and Sandburg may be the only witness who can give us a description of this guy."

"What about the first victim?"

Simon sighed and lowered himself into a seat. "David Martin committed suicide this morning, Jim. His mother found his body in his bedroom. He overdosed. Left a note saying he couldn’t live with the memories. Shit!" He slammed his hand down onto the bedside cabinet. "Sometimes, I hate this job."

"Yeah." Suddenly, Jim went completely still, his head cocked slightly to one side.

"Jim? Jim?" Simon stood quickly and stepped to the detective’s side. He wasn’t sure, but Jim had suffered weird fade-outs of consciousness before, brought on by overextending his enhanced senses. He wondered if this was another. It was becoming more and more difficult to wake him up. As he placed a hand on Jim’s shoulder, the detective shuddered, then headed for the door. "Blair’s awake and he’s panicking."

Simon quickly followed the other man out of the trauma room and up the corridor. By the time, they reached an exam room, three doors up, Jim didn’t need sentinel senses to hear the chaos erupting within. Several raised voices mingled with the rattle and crash of a number of metallic objects and a keening wail of protest.

Jim stormed through the door and went straight to the bed. Blair sat hunched in one corner of the gurney, bony legs bent up to his chin and his hands wrapped securely about his knees. Simon could see his body shuddering violently through the thin hospital gown that covered him. The captain wrinkled his nose at the strong odor of sweat, blood and urine that emanated from the young man. An IV was inserted in the back of one hand - its tubing stretched to its limit across the bed and metal stirrups were attached to the foot. A large male nurse stood at the side of the bed nearest Blair, a set of restraining straps swinging from his hand as he gripped Blair’s forearm tightly with the other. From the corner of the room, a doctor and a second nurse emerged, the doctor holding a filled syringe. "Okay, Mike, Chris, hold him tight."

The two nurses nodded and reached forward, trying desperately to keep a hold of the now frantically struggling man. Jim stayed them with an upraised hand and a primal growl. As all three stopped their actions in surprise, Jim turned to glare at the doctor. "What the hell are you doing?"

"You would be?" The doctor stepped closer and eyed Jim as one would a particularly interesting bug.

"Detective Jim Ellison. This man is in my protective custody. Now, what the hell are you doing?"

"I’m Dr. Dan Brady. I need to do a rape kit on this man as ordered by your captain here." The doctor glanced at Simon briefly then his eyes swung back to Jim. "Blair has been through some severe trauma. I’d like to give him a sedative to keep him calm while I do the exam."

"I can keep him calm," Jim said. He reached a hand back and held it out toward Blair. Almost immediately, the terrified crying stopped and a shaky hand closed around Jim’s fingers.

The doctor watched for a moment, then nodded to the nurses. "Okay, Mike. You can go. Chris, I’ll need your help with this. You want to go set up while I administer the sedative?"

The nurse nodded and headed over to the cupboards along the wall. Jim took a step backward so that his body blanketed Blair’s from the doctor. "I said I can keep him calm."

The doctor nodded. "Fine. He’s in severe pain right now, both from the beatings he’s endured and the rape. He’s also half-starved, badly dehydrated and exhausted. I still want him to have the sedative so he can get some rest. Switch off for awhile. Plenty of time for him to think about all of this tomorrow. He’s going to have nightmares enough, Detective." The doctor’s dark brown eyes were kind. Jim wondered why he hadn’t noticed that before. He nodded and turned back to Blair.

"Hey there, Chief. Remember me?" Blair nodded slowly, one hand reaching up to brush his matted curls from his face. "Good. That’s good," Jim said, smiling. "Will you let the doctor give you this medicine. He’s going to put it into your IV, so there won’t even be a stick. Right?" The last said to the doctor.

Dan Brady nodded and stepped around Jim to look at Blair. "It’s just something to take the pain away, Blair and let you get some rest."

Blair shook his head. "No," he whispered hoarsely. "No drugs please. I don’t want to dream."

"How about if I stay with you while you get some rest? If I see you’re dreaming, I’ll wake you up," Jim suggested. "How about that? You’re exhausted and sick, you need to rest."

The young man hesitated a moment, then acquiesced. He allowed Jim to lay him back against the pillow, watching apprehensively as the drug was injected into his IV port. Within seconds, he was almost asleep, his breathing calm, his gaze never leaving Jim’s face.

Jim leaned over so that his face was close to Blair’s. "The doctor needs to take a look at you, Blair. We know you were raped and he wants to check to see if you’re hurt down there. It would also help us to find the man responsible if we can get a semen sample. Is that all right with you?"

Blair nodded once more then turned his face to stare pointedly at Simon. The captain took the hint. "I’ve got to get back to the station, Jim. Let me know as soon as you get anything."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim brushed an unruly strand of hair from Blair’s face and stood up, massaging his aching back. The rape examination had taken some time. There was no semen to collect, the rapist had obviously worn a condom but there was plentiful evidence of forced intercourse. Then the doctor had done a more extensive examination of Blair’s body. He kept up a running commentary as he did so, knowing that Blair was deeply asleep and would not be distressed by the details.

"He’s got some deep bruising to his rectum and anus, Detective and some tearing. I don’t think they’ll require sutures, though they’ll cause him some pain for a while." The doctor straightened and proceeded to examine the rest of Blair’s body. "He was beaten with a belt at some stage recently. He has severe bruising and some minor cuts to his back as well as to his throat." The doctor ran a gentle finger around the darkened patches of skin. "He’s also running a fever and his lungs are congested." He looked up at Jim and knuckled his reddened eyes. "All up, he’s been beaten and abused in the worst possible way." He sighed. "You probably see worse than I do, Detective. What makes people turn into animals, do you suppose?" He absently stroked Blair’s creased brow as he spoke.

Jim shrugged and gave an answering sigh. "You got me, Doc. Look, I’ve got to go to the station and write up my report on this. Has Blair’s mother been notified?"

The doctor nodded. "She’s on her way in."

"Okay. I’ll be back as quickly as I can." He walked from the head of the bed and stood at the side, looking down at the slumbering man. With no conscious thought, he reached out and took Blair’s lax hand, squeezing it softly. He smiled at the doctor. "Sometimes they get to you."

Turning away, he nodded his thanks and walked to the door. As he pushed it open, a woman rushed past him and hurried to Blair’s side.

"Blair? Can you hear me, sweetie? It’s mom."

"He’s been heavily sedated, Mrs. Sandburg," Dan Brady said as he stepped up to the woman and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Here, why don’t you sit down and I’ll explain his condition to you?"

The woman nodded and clutched her flowing green coat about her shoulders as she sat. She looked questioningly at Jim and the detective stepped toward her. "I’m Detective Jim Ellison, Mrs. Sandburg."

The slim woman took his proffered hand and shook it. "It’s Ms, actually. Are you the officer who found Blair?"

"Yes, ma’am, I am," Jim answered.

"Then I owe you my undying gratitude." She smiled widely and stood, then to Jim’s surprise, wrapped her arms about him and hugged him soundly, before pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. "I had almost given up hope," she said, as she wiped a stray tear from her cheek and sat back down to clutch at her son’s hand. "Almost."

"I was just doing my job," Jim answered and winced at the bland words. He turned back to the doctor. "I’ll be back later today. Could you get someone to call me if Blair wakes up?"

"Of course." Doctor Brady turned to Blair’s mother. "There’ll be a nurse coming in shortly to clean Blair up, give him a sponge bath, so he can rest more comfortably."

"I can do that," Naomi said.

Dan Brady nodded. "Fine. I’ll get the nurse to leave the things with you. When I come back, I’ll explain his treatment and condition to you."

Naomi shook her head firmly. "No drugs. Blair wouldn’t want them. Only homeopathic treatments."

"Mrs. Sandburg, Blair has a mild pneumonia on top of his injuries. If it isn’t treated with antibiotics, his condition could become life-threatening."

"Then so be it, doctor. Blair is my son. I don’t want him having chemicals pushed into his body. I’m sure there are plenty of homeopathic treatments out there that will do the job just as well, with less side effects."

Jim stepped forward. "Mrs. Sandburg, I’m sure you only want the best for your son. Blair’s an adult, why don’t you let him make the decision when he wakes up."

Naomi closed her mouth with an audible snap, but nodded and turned back to Blair, taking one pale hand in hers.

Dan Brady escorted Jim from the room, leaving mother and son alone. "Thanks for your support," the doctor said to the detective. "The last thing that young man needs right now is an opportune infection."

Jim shook the doctor’s hand. "Do me a favor. Keep him on the antibiotics at least until he wakes up and can decide for himself."

0~0~0~0~0

In the end, Jim got caught up interviewing Richard Andrews, the man who had led Blair into the warehouse office on a leash and Simon arranged for Henri Brown and Brian Rafe to take Blair’s statement. Jim was disappointed not to be seeing the young man to whom he felt such a strong connection as soon as he’d hoped, but his commitment to putting away the animals that had harmed Blair and probably murdered several other young men, outweighed his personal wishes.

Andrews had little to say for himself, even Jim’s menacing presence did little to push the man into a confession. More likely, Jim thought, that Andrews was more afraid of his boss than he was of the cops.

Henri and Rafe returned with Blair’s statement, though it was sketchy to say the least. "I don’t know, man," Henri said, scratching his head. "It was like he was scared of us. He just kept saying he couldn’t remember. I couldn’t even get him to look at me."

"He’s got good reason to be afraid," Simon said. He looked at Jim. "Why don’t you give it another shot tomorrow, Jim. Kid seemed to take a shine to you."

Jim allowed a small smile to tug at his lips. "Sure, Captain. I’ll head over there first thing."

0~0~0~0~0

"I’m sorry, detective," Dr. Dan Brady said. "Mr. Sandburg signed himself out early this morning AMA. I tried to convince him to stay a day or two longer, but he refused. Though I have to admit, I think Mrs. Sandburg’s stance on antibiotics had a lot to do with it. She did appear to pressure him into leaving. Insisted she could take better care of him if he was in a familiar environment. Ordinarily, I’d agree, but in his weakened condition, well, let’s just hope he continues the meds."

"I’ll speak to him about it," Jim answered. "Do you have an address for him?"

The doctor nodded and turned to the files. "He was going to stay with his mother for a couple of days, I think. He has a follow-up appointment to see me in a week and he really should seek some counseling. He’s suffered substantial trauma, both physical and emotional. He was very upset after learning that the other victim had committed suicide."

He scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to Jim. "You might want to encourage him in that direction as well. He seems to trust you."

"I’ll see what I can do."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair shuffled slowly from the bedroom to the couch and sat down gingerly. He tried to suppress a moan as his actions awoke sharp pain deep within his body, knowing that if his mother heard him, she’d be hovering again. Blair loved his mother dearly, had missed her terribly during the long days and nights of his captivity and had pushed away any thought that he might not see her again. Right now though, he couldn’t bear to be touched. The feel of anyone near him awoke terrifying images of rough hands that hit and bruised and groped, faces that leered and spewed epithets and abuse at him. Except for one.

Blair had hoped when he awoke once more in the hospital that the big detective would be seated at his side, as he had promised. Instead, Naomi had leaned over him, smothering him with kisses, causing him to shudder violently as he forced himself not to push her away. The man whose presence he yearned for, whose large gentle hands invoked a feeling of safety and security was gone. Blair had bitten down his bitter disappointment, realizing that Jim had probably only stayed in the hope of getting more information from him. Blair had obviously misread the man’s concern.

In the wake of his hurt, coupled with the sorrow he felt when he heard that David was dead by his own hand, he allowed Naomi to discharge him from the hospital. Numbly, he followed his mother out the door, the kindly doctor’s entreaties to stay longer falling on deaf ears. He pushed the bottle of pills Dan Brady thrust at him into the pocket of his jacket and nodded his thanks.

They had returned to Naomi’s apartment, stopping on the way for herbs that Naomi was sure would aid his healing more efficiently than the antibiotics and sedatives prescribed by the hospital. By the time they arrived home, Blair was boneless with fatigue. He eyed the shower yearningly, wondering sadly if he would ever truly feel clean again. In the end, his exhaustion won out and he sprawled fully clothed on his mother’s bed and allowed deep and blessedly dreamless sleep to claim him.

He stretched out carefully onto his side now on the couch and watched Naomi as she flittered around the tiny apartment, humming softly to herself. Allowing his gaze to idly sweep the room, Blair’s eyes settled on a bulging suitcase, sitting just inside his mother’s bedroom door. "Are you going somewhere?" he asked.

Naomi stilled her movements and turned toward her son, schooling her features as she did so. "No. Where would I be going?"

"That’s what I asked you," Blair countered as he squirmed and tried to find a comfortable position.

"Are you in pain, sweetie?" his mother asked anxiously. "How about some tea? I’m sure I’ve got something here that’s better for you than those chemicals the doctor wants to push into you. I’ll burn some sage too. Maybe we could meditate together. Find some healing vibes." She smiled brightly as she hurried off to the tiny kitchen, stopping only when Blair called to her once more.

"Mom, I asked you a question," Blair said. "Where were you going?"

Naomi sighed and crossed to the couch, where she sat down beside him. She took his hand in hers before she spoke. "You were missing for just over a month," she whispered. "I didn’t think there was anything left for me here anymore."

"You gave up?" Blair felt a deep sorrow tug at his heart. Tears stung the back of his eyes but he blinked them away.

"No! Not really. I went to see Charlie Spring, my psychic friend. He said he couldn’t feel you."

"I was only ten miles away." Blair forced the words past the lump in his throat.

"Everyone kept telling me there was no hope, Charlie, the cops. I wanted to believe you were still alive. Everything here reminded me of you. I thought if I went away for awhile, somewhere peaceful, I could refresh my spirit. Come back renewed and start looking for you again. I would never have given up on you, Blair. You have to believe me."

Blair reached up and brushed the solitary tear that dribbled down his mother’s cheek. "I know," he whispered. "I missed you, mom."

Naomi gave him a watery smile and fumbled in her pocket for a handkerchief. "It’s all in the past now. You’re home where you belong." She was silent for a long moment and Blair prompted her.

"Mom?"

"Why did you get into that car? I just find it so hard to believe that you willingly climbed into that car with those men."

"It was just a guy, mom," Blair answered tiredly. They’d already had this conversation a dozen times. "I told you, he was a just a guy. He saw I was having trouble with my car and offered me a ride to the nearest gas station. He didn’t have ‘rapist’ tattooed on his forehead. I had no reason to think anything would happen."

Naomi looked down and smoothed the edge of the couch. "You know that I’ve never had a problem with anyone's sexual orientation. I raised you to be tolerant and respectful to all people. It’s not that they were men, it’s just…You fought hard, didn’t you, Blair? I always thought I would die first before I would ever let anyone do that to me."

It took him a moment before he truly realized what she was saying and then he surged up on the seat, pushing her to her feet and ignoring the wave of agony that pulsed through him from his feet to his skull at the movement.

Naomi looked at him in shock. "Blair?"

Blair staggered to his feet and shook off her supporting hand even as the floor rolled over in a nauseating wave. Pushing away from her cloying embrace, he staggered to the bathroom and dropped to his knees, retching violently. His energy and the contents of his stomach spent, Blair sagged against the cool porcelain of the toilet and fought to catch his breath.

His mother’s comments shook him to his core. It was not something he had considered until now. He had not fought, he realized. He had not thought there was any point in fighting, save to hasten his death. Fresh retching doubled him over once more as a thought came unbidden to his mind. Was that what Naomi would have preferred? A dead, virginal son, rather than one alive but soiled?

Faint voices from the other room brought him back to himself and he reached up to snag a washcloth from the hand basin, wiping it over his sweaty face. Pushing himself to his feet, he stood for a moment, holding tightly to the basin as his balance wavered. Looking into the mirror, he closed his eyes at the image that greeted him. It was not a face he recognized.

He took a moment more to collect himself, then opened the door and stepped out into the other room. The tall detective from the night before sat on the armchair that faced the bathroom door and stood up as Blair exited. As the detective stepped toward him, hand outstretched, Blair felt a shudder of fear run through him. He backed away until he was pressed against the door behind him. Trembling, lost in his memory, he held up a staying hand and shook his head.

"No," he whispered tremulously. "Please don’t hurt me anymore."

"Mr. Sandburg? Blair? It’s me, Jim. Do you remember me?"

The words washed over Blair but he was already caught up in the flashback, his ears hearing one thing, but his eyes seeing only a large menacing figure lurching toward him. A warm hand suddenly clasped his own and he started at the touch then slid down the door to puddle on the floor in a boneless heap. Then the detective was kneeling at his side and Blair was reaching out to him, his hands going automatically around the broad shoulders to clutch convulsively in the big man’s shirt.

He tried to focus on the soothing words that Jim spoke but his mind could not comprehend their meaning, only knowing that they offered comfort and protection. After what seemed hours, he felt cried out and sat back wearily, leaning his head against the door. "I’m sorry," he said as he took the tissues his mother offered, keeping a few to mop at her own tears.

"No problem," Jim said as he got to his feet and lowered a hand toward him. Blair accepted the offer and levered himself painfully up. Grateful for the detective’s supporting arm about his waist, the young man limped slowly to the couch.

"Detective Ellison needs to ask you some more questions, sweetie," Naomi said. "I’ll make some tea."

Blair nodded tiredly and waited for his mother to disappear into the kitchen alcove before turning to the detective. "I really am sorry, detective. I don’t know what came over me."

Jim waved away his apology. "Flashbacks aren’t uncommon, after what you’ve been through, Mr. Sandburg. Seeing me again probably triggered the memory."

Blair nodded, then pointed to a large wet spot on Jim’s shirt. "I ruined your shirt again."

Jim looked at the spot and brushed at it absently with his fingers. "I’ve got other shirts," he replied, smiling gently. The two men observed each other for a moment, then Jim mentally shook himself. "My captain asked me to come and see if you can add anymore to the statement you gave Detective Brown last night."

Blair pulled himself upright on the couch, wincing as he did so. "Oh, right. I thought… You weren’t there when I woke up," Blair said, aware that he sounded like a petulant child. "I thought perhaps you got everything you needed." He massaged at the growing headache between his eyes. "What did you want to know?"

"Anything you can remember from the night you were kidnapped until you were freed," Jim said, pulling a small notebook and pen from his breast pocket. "Anything that will put these animals away before they can hurt anyone else."

Blair looked away and fixed his eyes on the far wall. "I’m not sure how much of what I remember is real," he began. "I was on my way home from a party. It was summer break and one of my fellow TA’s got engaged. My car broke down and I decided to hitch a ride the rest of the way home." He glanced at Jim with chagrin. "I’ve heard all the lectures and nothing’s ever happened…" He broke off suddenly, a lump threatening to choke him.

"Go on."

Blair took a deep breath to compose himself. "A car stopped. The driver asked me if I wanted a ride to a gas station. I got in. I have a vague memory of a cloth or something being held over my face, of not being able to breathe." He swallowed, the memory dredging up a cloying, sickening smell that caused his stomach to churn again. "I don’t remember anything until I woke up. In the pit." He heard his mother’s indrawn breath and raised his voice to her. "Naomi? I could really use some juice. Would you mind going to the store?"

Blair's mother bustled in with a laden tea tray and set it on the coffee table. "No, of course I don’t mind. I’ll just get my purse." Returning from the bedroom, she pressed a quick kiss to her son’s forehead. "You have a fever. I told you those antibiotics will do nothing but poison your system."

Blair smiled tiredly at her. "That’s why I need the juice." She nodded at Jim and left the apartment.

"Can you describe the man in the car?"

"What?" Blair started at the question, realizing belatedly that his attention had wandered, his fatigued brain was beginning to shut down. "Sorry. Yes, it was Andrews, the man who…" He broke off again and motioned to the bruises circling his throat with a finger.

Jim nodded. "Okay. What about the others at the warehouse?"

"Not much," Blair answered. His head was beginning to throb with the beginnings of a migraine and he lay back once more and closed his eyes. "We, the other guys who were taken and I, used to talk together at night, try to figure out ways to escape. We gave each other messages to pass on to our families, so they wouldn’t give up hope. So they’d keep looking for us." Tears began to overflow his eyes once more and he wiped at them ineffectually with his palm. "They put sedatives in the water. After a while, you were so thirsty you didn’t care. It was good to escape for a bit."

"What about the man who raped you? Can you describe him?"

Blair eased open his heavy eyelids. The detective still sat on the armchair opposite him, his gaze unwaveringly on the notepad in front of him. Wincing at the light that streamed in through the window opposite, Blair closed his eyes once more. "He was tall, as tall as you, but fat, really fat. He had a scar," Blair demonstrated with one finger, then wiped impatiently as another tear ran down his cheek. "It ran through his eye to his mouth."

"Did he," Jim’s voice seemed to waver slightly. "Did he threaten you? Hurt you?"

"He handcuffed me to his desk and raped me. That hurt." Blair’s voice broke on the words and he sat up abruptly. He doubled over as the pain in his head reached a new crescendo and he could not suppress the moan that was torn from his lips.

The detective’s hand was suddenly on his back, the big man leaning over him. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?"

Blair shook his head vehemently and immediately regretted it. "I’m fine," he ground out through clenched teeth. He stared at Jim for a moment. "Why did you come?" he asked finally.

"I needed to get your statement," Jim replied.

"That's all?"

"I don't understand what you're asking," Jim said.

Blair dropped his gaze to the floor and pushed away from Jim's touch. "I thought…I feel a connection to you somehow. I'm not entirely sure how to explain it."

Jim straightened and moved away from the young man. Seeing Blair's features pale even further as he struggled to maintain his composure, Jim decided that this was not the right time to admit that he'd felt a similar bond. "Sorry, I just needed to get your statement."

Blair nodded minutely. "I'm really not feeling very well. Would you mind leaving?"

"Can I get something for you? Did the doctor give you something for pain?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head once more and staggered to his feet. "If I think of anything, I’ll phone your captain."

Jim pulled a small card from his pocket and pressed it into Blair’s hand, squeezing his fingers lightly for a moment. "This is my business card," he said. "It’s got my work and cell phone number on it, as well as my home number. Please, don’t hesitate to call, if you need anything."

"Thank you," Blair managed to get out as he fought off another round of nausea. He staggered toward the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind him. Faintly, over his retching, he heard the front door slam shut.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim finished reading through Blair’s statement and pushed back his chair with a sigh. He looked up as Simon Banks came into the bullpen and headed toward his desk. "Did you get anything more out of the kid?" Simon asked as he sat on the corner of the desk.

Jim scrubbed a hand tiredly through his hair and shook his head. "Not much. It was Andrews who picked him up. He was chloroformed when he got into the car. They were kept drugged a lot of the time that they were in the pit. Fed occasionally and given some water, that he thinks was drugged. My guess would be to keep them weak and sedated, so there’d be no escape attempts."

"Except for David Martin," Simon added.

"Yeah. Anyway, they were kept in the pit pretty much all the time until they were sold or killed. Blair told his mother that the guards raped some if they got too noisy. He claims he was only raped by the head guy. He was able to give us a decent description. I’ve got Henri running it through records now. No name, of course. That’s about it. He’s sick, Simon. He was running a fever and his lungs sound awful. His mom’s into all this alternative medicine. Doesn’t want him taking the meds. Plus, he’s suffering some flashbacks."

"You’re worried about him."

Of course, I’m worried about him, Simon. He’s …he’s…"

"He’s what?"

Jim stood up and walked over to pour himself a cup of coffee. "I don’t know," he answered finally. "He’s different, special somehow. I just feel drawn to him."

"You hardly know him."

"I keep getting the feeling that it's linked to my senses somehow," Jim tried to explain then shaking his head, he tossed the report back onto the desk and rubbed at his stinging eyes.

Simon stood and pressed a hand to Jim’s shoulder. "Come on," he said. At Jim’s questioning look, he pointed to his office. "My coffee’s better than the crap they brew out here."

Simon sat back and studied the detective sitting opposite him. Jim Ellison was something of an enigma, even after five years working side by side with him. His heightened senses were even more of a mystery to the captain. Jim claimed his senses had become heightened during his time with the Army Rangers after a helicopter crash in Peru had left him, the sole survivor, stranded in the jungles for eighteen months, though he had vague memories of using his senses as a child. A somewhat primitive tribe of people known as the Chopec had taken him in and Jim said that their Shaman had guided him in honing his senses. Jim’s hypersenses had become a valuable tool since Jim had joined the police force, though it was a closely-kept secret, known only to Jim, Simon and Detective Brian Rafe, Jim’s sometime partner on the job.

Jim was an aloof and private man, though he and Simon had become close friends very quickly. He tended to be almost paranoid in shielding his personal life from the scrutiny of even his closest comrades on the force, though Simon had managed to chisel small scraps of information out of the detective over the occasional beer in front of a basketball game.

Jim had married Carolyn Plummer, a forensic specialist with the Cascade PD when he had first returned to the States and joined the police force. It was, Jim said later, a spectacular mistake. "After all the weird shit that had happened to me," he told Simon, "I needed something normal to hang on to."

Simon drained the dregs of his coffee and reached over to pick up the phone. "Call him," he said, offering the receiver to Jim. "I need to be somewhere else for a couple of minutes." When Jim hesitated, he pushed the receiver into his hand. "Call," he ordered. "Even if it’s just to make sure he’s not any sicker than he was. Then maybe you can get back on track."

Finally, Jim nodded and accepted the phone. He pulled a scrap of paper from his breast pocket and, as Simon left the room and shut the door, began to dial.

When Simon returned, the detective was still seated at the desk and the phone receiver had been returned to its cradle. Simon shut the door and walked over to stand at Jim's side. "Everything all right?" the captain asked.

Jim started at his voice, then looked up and shrugged. "He left. His mother said they had an argument and he said he was going back to his own place."

"Did she give you the address?"

Jim was silent for a moment. "No," he said slowly. "She said he’d been through enough and asked me to leave him alone."

Simon patted the detective’s shoulder sympathetically. "His home address will be in the report. Why don’t you…"

"No," Jim answered quickly.

Simon quirked an eyebrow. "That’s it? Just no?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah," Jim answered softly. "That’s it."

0~0~0~0~0

It was after 2am when Jim finally got home. He threw his keys into the basket by the front door and yawned widely. He considered going straight to bed but then opted to refresh himself with a shower first. Heading into the bathroom, he stripped off his clothes as he went, stuffing them into the laundry hamper behind the bathroom door. As soon as the water was hot, he stepped under the soothing spray, sighing softly in pleasure. Deciding to make the most of the experience, Jim dialed up his sense of touch slightly and let the pounding water massage his aching muscles and throbbing head.

He reached for a bar of soap and began to wash away the grime and sweat of the day, his mind drifting back once more to Blair. A memory tickled at the edges of his consciousness, something that Incacha, the Chopec shaman had told him when helping Jim hone his senses in Peru.

Incacha had called him Enqueri, and told him that Jim was a Sentinel and Jim had laughingly referred to the Shaman as his guide. Incacha had shaken his head soberly. "No, Enqueri, not me," he'd said in his native Quechua tongue. "I am but a substitute. When your true Guide comes, you will know it --here," touching Jim's head, "and here," one brown hand rested splayed over Jim's heart. Was that the connection? Jim wondered as he dried himself off. Was Blair his Guide?

His head was beginning to throb at the unending questions that reverberated in his brain. Not bothering with clothes, Jim wearily climbed the stairs to his bedroom and threw himself down on the cool sheets. He was asleep in seconds. The phone woke him after what seemed only minutes of blissful unawareness and he growled in frustration as he reached out a hand for the receiver. "Ellison."

There was no answer from the other end of the phone and after identifying himself twice more, Jim slammed the phone down in disgust and collapsed back onto his pillows. Less than two minutes later, the phone shrilled again and he picked it up, waiting a moment before identifying himself. "Ellison."

Nothing. He was just about to hang up once more, when his curiosity won out and he extended his hearing, hoping to hear something at the other end of the line. He heard small shuffling sounds at first and then the softest of ragged breathing accompanied by a frantic, hammering heartbeat. He sat up quickly in the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. "Blair? Is that you?"

He heard a gasp then a moan and he spoke again, reaching for clean clothes as he did so. "Blair? Where are you?"

"Home." The voice was so soft he almost missed it.

"Can you give me your address? Do you want me to come over?" There was a long silence at first and he waited, then spoke again. "Do you need an ambulance? Are you sick?"

"Come, please."

He was at the front door now, one hand scooping up his keys and cell phone. "Blair? I have to hang up this phone now, but I’ll be there soon. You just hang in there for me." He heard a soft, strangled cry as he thumbed the phone off. Running down the stairs to his truck, the detective opened his cell phone and called Major Crimes. He was able to quickly get Blair’s home address from Mary Kelly, one of the detectives working late and with a growing sense of unease, he steered his vehicle toward the warehouse district.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair huddled more closely into the corner of the vast warehouse space he called home. He wondered how long he would be incapacitated by the flashbacks that crept up unawares, whether he would be forever jumping at shadows and cowering in corners. He was past the flashback now and he felt slightly foolish. He knew he should get up and go to bed but the shadowed corners still loomed menacingly, tiny claws still skittered in the far reaches of the warehouse, beams still creaked and moaned with the wind.

He’d returned home after a disagreement with his mother had escalated into a blazing row. His head had still been pounding after the detective had left and Naomi had started in on him the minute she got back from the store. She insisted that he sounded like he was keeping information from the police and demanded to know why he was protecting those who had assaulted him. Blair tried to explain and failed. He couldn’t remember most of what had happened while he was at the warehouse. Perhaps his mind was blocking out the more terrible parts of his ordeal. That thought frightened him more than anything else did.

Blair knew deep down that most of Naomi’s anger was aimed at the men responsible for his kidnapping and rape. A more sensible part of him reasoned that he understood her rage and even her disappointment in him, that he had not fought to defend himself. He could imagine too, the utter helplessness she must have felt not knowing where he was, if he were still alive. The other, slightly hysterical side of him felt disgust in himself at his actions, or lack thereof and for his stupidity in accepting a ride from a total stranger. He felt anger too at Naomi for thinking that he somehow had encouraged the attack.

"You think I wanted this?" he’d shouted at her, one hand raking over the bruises that marred his face and body, the other hand going up to clutch at his pounding head.

"No, of course not, Blair," she’d said, her tears beginning anew. "I just meant that you must have at least tried to stop them. I know you would have."

Blair backed up as she stepped toward him. "Well, then, I guess you don’t really know me at all, Naomi,’ he said. He turned quickly and walked straight out the door, ignoring her tearful requests for him to return. He’d walked home, each step becoming agony as his abused body and throbbing head protested the enforced exercise. He staggered up the rickety stairs to the space he called home and collapsed, panting, on the old sofa in the living area, finally drifting off into a restless slumber.

When he awoke, it was dark outside and the area beyond his living space was cocooned in blackness. He got up and walked toward the kitchen area, intending to make himself some tea. His stomach rumbled and he wished suddenly that he hadn’t left Naomi’s. He knew there was no food in the place. Naomi told him that she had come over the week before he’d been found and cleaned out the cupboards and refrigerator. The small sharp pain in his stomach reminded him of the other warehouse where they’d wait for days to be fed a small bowl of rice or some bread and cheese. A soft scrabbling noise made him stop suddenly and his eyes grew wide as they roamed the darkened spaces, trying to locate the source of the noise. Something ran over his foot and he was back in the other warehouse, cowering in the corner of his prison as a rat scurried hungrily about, searching for scraps of food.

He’d managed now to crawl into a corner, his arms wrapped tightly about his knees as he stared out into the black space beyond and tried to make sense of the shadows that loomed above him. His hand felt along the coffee table next to him, looking for something with which to defend himself from his perceived tormentors and his fingers curled around the receiver of the phone. Managing to feel for the switch on the desk lamp that sat on the coffee table, he turned it on, the dismal orange glow not spilling further than his immediate area. Pulling the small square card from his pocket, he squinted at the tiny print. He couldn’t remember where his glasses were anymore. He ran a finger softly across the embossed name at the top of the card, then reached out a trembling finger to punch in the number listed below it.

When the gruff voice first spoke, he lost his nerve, his mind spiraling back to the first time he’d heard it. The large hand gently cupping his face while other, rougher hands pulled at him until they coaxed an unwilling erection from him. "What’s your name?" the voice asked and he fought to say the word until the leash floated gently down to lay across his shoulder, promising remembered horrors. He sobbed in frustration as his throat tightened and choked the words he needed to say. The phone disconnected abruptly in his ear and he moaned at the loss. Biting his lip, he forced his mind to stay in the reality of the present and resolutely pressed the redial button on the phone. Reassured now that his savior would come, Blair let the phone drop from his hand as he succumbed to his fever and exhaustion.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim parked the truck outside the darkened warehouse. He’d gotten Mary Kelly to check the address twice before making his way here. If the kid was suffering flashbacks, it was no small wonder, living here, not 5 miles away from where he’d been held. He made his way to the front door of the building and turned the door handle. It was locked. He took a step back and directed his gaze up. He could see light shining from one of the windows on the first floor. Everything else was shrouded in darkness. Jim searched for and found an intercom button and pressed it twice, then extended his hearing into the building as he waited.

He could hear a heartbeat, still fast but not racing as it had been, though the breathing was still ragged and caught occasionally as though someone were crying. Not someone. He knew it was Blair, though he had no idea how he knew. The intercom remained silent. Impatient and becoming more concerned, Jim stabbed at the button again.

"Who’s there?" The voice was hoarse and Jim could detect a faint wheeze behind the words.

"It’s me, Jim," he answered. "Jim Ellison."

"The door’s unlocked," Blair answered.

"No, I tried it," Jim said. "It’s locked."

"The lock’s broken. It just jams."

"Okay. I’ll try it again." Jim turned the knob again, this time putting his shoulder into the door and suddenly it gave, sending him stumbling into the warehouse. Just ahead of him, he could see a set of narrow, metal steps that led up to the next floor and a welcoming though dim shaft of light. Jim dialed up his sight and began to climb the stairs. He reached the top and looked around. The living area was defined by pallets of packing cases that had been formed to make three walls, leaving one side open facing the stairs. The room was sparsely furnished with a couch, a small rickety coffee table and in one corner, Jim could see a mattress on the floor, the covers neatly pulled up.

Movement from the corner alerted him to Blair’s whereabouts and he turned in that direction as he watched the young man pull himself up from the ground. Blair wavered slightly on his feet even though he kept one hand flat against the wall for balance. Jim took a couple of steps forward, then stopped remembering Blair’s panicked reaction earlier that day.

"Hey," he said softly. "You all right?"

Blair nodded and swiped a shaky hand quickly across his eyes and face, leaving a trail of moisture behind. "I’m sorry," he whispered. "I shouldn’t have called. I came home and there was a noise, something." He paused and cleared his throat. "Just a rat, I think, but suddenly I was back…there."

Jim shook his head and stepped into the living area. "It’s no problem. I’m glad you called."

Blair’s head came up at the last comment and he walked unsteadily to the couch and sat down. He leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. "If you’re hoping I’ve remembered something, I’m going to have to disappoint you."

Jim stepped into the living room and crouched in front of the bowed figure. "I was worried about you, that’s all. You were pretty sick this morning."

Blair smiled, a rare smile of genuine pleasure and Jim felt his heart lift at the sight. "May I?" The detective indicated a worn armchair opposite the couch.

Blair nodded. "Of course. I don’t have too many people that worry about me," he said. "It’s a nice feeling."

"I’m sure your mother…"

"Wishes I hadn’t screwed up her perfectly ordered life," Blair interrupted. He broke off to cough harshly and when it seemed he could not stop, Jim hurried to the tiny kitchen and found a tumbler. He filled it with water from the faucet, a quick search in the refrigerator showing it to be bare. He carried the glass back to Blair and sat beside him on the couch, one hand rubbing along the bony back in sympathy. He handed the drink to Blair but wrapped his own hand around the other man’s when it appeared Blair’s shaky grip would dump the entire contents in their laps. Finally, after several small sips and some spluttering chokes, the spasm subsided and Blair pushed the glass back toward Jim and laid his head in his hands once more. "Thanks," he wheezed.

Jim nodded and continued, unconsciously, to stroke Blair’s back. "Can I get anything else for you?" the detective asked. Hardly aware of what he was doing, he laid a gentle hand on Blair’s forehead. "You have a fever," he said. "Do you have some Tylenol or something."

Blair shook his head, then winced and moaned at the action and went back to holding his head. "Naomi cleaned the place out. I have a feeling she’d kind of given up on me."

Jim smiled sadly. "I can’t imagine that. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Could you give me a ride?" Blair asked. He sat back and leaned his head against the back of the couch, his eyes closing against the glare of the light.

"Sure. Where to?"

"Um, I’m not sure. God, my head hurts. I can’t think straight."

Jim reached out and began to massage Blair’s temple with his fingers. He saw the other man tense initially, then sigh and relax into the soothing touch.

"That’s nice," he whispered. "I don’t know where I can go. Naomi’s taken off somewhere to process everything. I’ll have to check and see…damn. Did I have a backpack with me?"

"When?"

"When you found me?"

"No, I don’t recall seeing one. Is there a problem?"

Blair sat up and Jim dropped his hand to his lap. "Any money I had was in my backpack, plus my credit card, and some research notes. Not that the notes matter. I’m going to be so far behind on my dissertation, I won’t finish it before the next millenium. I can’t concentrate anyway." He pounded the armrest of the sofa angrily. "Shit! I can’t stay here. I was hoping I could scrape up enough for a motel room. Maybe I could get the janitor to let me into my office."

"I’ve got a spare room at my place," Jim said. "You’re welcome to use it for as long as you need."

"You mean that? You don’t even know me."

Jim shrugged. "I know what I need to. You’re sick, alone and you need a bed for a few nights." He stood and held out a hand to Blair. "Why don't you let me help you pack some clothes."

Blair accepted Jim’s help and stood on still shaky legs. He smiled again, this time his blue eyes crinkled in pleasure. "Thank you, Jim."

0~0~0~0~0

As the truck disappeared up the road and turned onto the highway, a man broke away from the shadows and ran to a car parked at the rear of the warehouse. He climbed behind the wheel of the car and turned to look back at the fat man in the back seat. "He left with that cop."

"What cop?"

"Ellison. The one from the bust."

"Fool!" the big man spat. "You were too slow." He pulled a large cigar from his breast pocket and sniffed along its length. "Find out where he lives. I want that boy taken care of. Kill the cop while you’re at it."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair was asleep by the time they arrived back at the loft. Jim turned off the engine, then sat for a moment, studying the young man beside him. Blair’s sleep was not a peaceful one, Jim could see that by the way the young man’s eyes moved restlessly beneath the lids and he frowned and mumbled softly in his sleep. He was still pale, his skin almost translucent, a dark bruise standing out on his jaw in harsh contrast and Jim’s own jaw tightened when he remembered the welts that he’d seen covering Blair’s back that night in the warehouse. He was too thin, his bones jutting sharply against the soft flesh, his clothes hanging loosely on his frame.

Jim reached out a hand to wake the young man and then froze, one hand wavering just above Blair’s shoulder, feeling a faint crackle of static electricity tingle his fingertips. He moved his hand up to tangle gently in the dark curls, feeling their buttery silk glide through his fingers. He ghosted his hand along Blair’s brow, pleasantly surprised to see the frown there smooth out. He sat and studied the enigmatic young man beside him, wondering again at the link that seemed to bind them.

Blair puffed out a gasp as his nightmare awakened him, slowly opening drowsy blue eyes. He smiled in relief at the detective who sat staring at him, an almost glazed expression on his face. "Hey," Blair whispered. "Are we there? Sorry I drifted off." Jim didn’t answer, his gaze firmly fixed on Blair’s face and Blair tried again. "Jim?"

Worried when he again got no response, Blair sat up, abruptly pulling himself away from the detective’s hold. He waved a hand in front of Jim’s face, and getting no response, began to panic. At the same time, something tugged at his memory, though he could not quite bring it to the surface.

"Oh man," he whispered, rubbing a shaky hand over his face. "Jim, come on, man. You’ve got me seriously freaked here." He reached out and grasped hold of Jim’s hand. It was icy cold to his touch and he wrapped his fingers around the detective’s wrist, sighing in relief as a steady pulse thrummed against his fingertips. He raised his other hand to Jim’s face and stroked along the firm cheek and jawline. "Come on, Jim. Wherever you are, it’s time to come back."

Blair jumped as Jim suddenly drew in a sharp breath and blinked slowly several times. Blair watched him carefully for a moment. "Are you all right?"

Jim studied him for a moment as though trying to interpret the words, then nodded and rubbed at his eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I must be more tired than I realized."

"Glad it happened after you parked the truck," Blair answered. He opened his door and climbed down carefully, twinges of pain at the movement reminding him of his injuries. Jim waited at the curb with Blair’s duffel bag in his hand until Blair joined him, then led the way into the apartment building. Both men were silent as they got into the elevator, then Blair finally spoke up. "Does that happen often?"

"What?"

"That drifting off. What were you so focused on anyway?"

"You."

"What?"

Jim reddened. "Nothing. I…um…have these blackouts sometimes. I don’t know what causes them. I’ve seen a lot of doctors." He shrugged. "They don’t know anymore than I do. I’ve learned to live with it."

"You said you were focused on me," Blair pressed. "Are you attracted to me?"

"No, of course not…"

"But you can feel it, can't you?" Blair said softly. "The connection."

The elevator jerked to a halt before Jim could answer and the doors opened, revealing an elderly couple waiting outside. Jim exited first and held the door for the couple, then led the way to his apartment.

Blair stood awkwardly just inside the front door of the apartment as Jim carried his duffel bag into a small room that was located at the base of the stairs. The apartment was decorated sparsely but tastefully, the furniture obviously expensive. The stairs led to a loft bedroom and glass doors looked out onto a wide balcony with a view over the city.

"You have a nice place," Blair said as Jim came out of the bedroom.

"Thanks," Jim answered. "Come on in and sit down. Let me get you some Tylenol and some water. Or would you prefer juice?"

Blair shook his head as he lowered himself gingerly to the couch. "Water’s fine. You know, you can tell a lot about a person by studying their surroundings."

"Yeah? Well, this place won’t tell you much about me, I’m afraid. My ex-wife did the decorating." He held out two white tablets and a bottle of water.

"Your wife?" Blair broke off, feeling awkward. Naomi always said he spoke before he put his brain into gear. Quickly, he swallowed the pills and gratefully drank down the rest of the cold water.

"I said ex-wife, Chief." Jim smiled. "Just wasn't meant to be, I guess."

"I’m sorry."

Jim shrugged and sat down on the armchair opposite him. "Nothing to be sorry for. We’re still friends. Probably better friends now than we ever were when we were married."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Why did you offer me a place to stay?"

"Why not?" Jim said, looking uncomfortable. "You’re a nice guy and you had something awful happen to you. You need somewhere to stay until you’re better." He paused for a moment, then sat forward, clasping his hands on his lap. "I do feel some kind of connection to you, Blair but I'm not used to opening up to people. I've had some pretty strange experiences in my life and some of them I prefer not to share with anyone. I'm kind of uncomfortable with it. That's what screwed up my marriage. There were things that I couldn't share with Carolyn. So, until I figure out what's going on here, let's just leave it at that." He paused and Blair smiled slightly and nodded. "Why did you call me?" Jim asked.

"I feel something too, a bond with you, something. I thought it was just because you found me." Blair shrugged somewhat philosophically. "Maybe that's all it is, a blessed protector syndrome." Blair rubbed a hand through his hair and stifled a yawn. "Would you mind if I just went to bed? I’m really wiped."

"You should eat," Jim said. "Some soup, maybe."

"Maybe later," Blair answered, struggling to his feet. "Thanks for taking me in." He walked slowly into the spare bedroom and sank down onto the bed in relief. He felt lightheaded with exhaustion. He was asleep in minutes.

He woke to darkness and fought the scream that forced its way up his throat, threatening to squeeze past his clenched teeth. His hands fisted in the bed sheets and he tried to concentrate on the softness of the mattress beneath him, grounding him in the present. Sitting up, he blinked rapidly, attempting to distinguish the ominous shapes that loomed before him but then the blackness threatened to suffocate him and he threw himself from the bed, rushing quickly to the living room.

He stood in the center of the room for a moment with his arms wrapped tightly about his shivering body. A soft snore from above drew his gaze up to the loft bedroom and slowly he turned toward the staircase and made his way upstairs.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim wasn’t sure what woke him, but he sat up and rested his hand on his gun as he heard the soft padding of feet ascending the stairs. Dialing up his eyesight in the near- blackness, he released his grip on the weapon as he saw Blair’s curly head come into view. The other man stopped at the top of the stairs and stood quietly, shifting from one foot to the other, his arms wrapped tightly around his shivering body. He jumped when Jim spoke.

"Everything all right?" Jim’s heart missed a beat as Blair stumbled backwards and his flailing hand caught hold of the stair rail. "Shit! Are you okay?" The detective was at Blair’s side, one arm around the other man’s shoulders before he was even aware that he’d moved.

"I’m okay." Blair straightened from his crouch and pushed himself slightly away from Jim’s grasp. Jim acknowledged the movement and took a step back toward the bed. "I’m sorry I startled you," he said. "I should have turned on the light. I forgot I don’t need to."

Blair looked at him quizzically. "Why? You eat a lot of carrots or something?"

Jim shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Or something. Is there something you need?"

"What? Oh, no, I’m sorry I woke you up. I just…I can’t seem to get used to being alone anymore."

Jim noticed the young man’s shivering begin anew and he picked up his robe from the chair by the bed and draped it over Blair’s shoulders. The anthropologist huddled into the warmth and smiled his appreciation. "Thanks. Anyway, I’m sorry I disturbed you. I don’t even know why I came up here."

"I think you do," Jim whispered. He shook himself as he realized what he’d said. "There’s plenty of room here." He patted his bed. "If it’ll make you more comfortable, I can sleep over there in the chair."

Blair shook his head. "I couldn’t kick you out of your own bed."

"Then we’ll share it," Jim answered. When Blair hesitated, he climbed under the covers and scooted over to the far side. "It’s plenty big enough for two."

Blair grinned then and quickly made his way to the bed. He snuggled into the warmth left by Jim’s body and rolled to his side facing Jim. "Tell me more about yourself," he said.

"Not much to tell," Jim answered, laying his head on the pillow and smiling at the other man. "How about you? What are you studying?"

"Tribal guardians," Blair said around a yawn.

"Go to sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow."

Blair nodded and smiled, then turned to the opposite side. "Thanks. Good night."

"Good night, Blair."

The next time Jim awoke, Blair was moaning softly in his sleep, his heart pounding. Jim nervously placed his hand on Blair’s shoulder and patted awkwardly, trying to soothe the young man back to sleep. Blair reached up and seized Jim’s hand, wrapping it around his body and clasping it tightly before resting his cheek upon it. Thus comforted, his nightmare appeared to ease and he went back to sleep. Jim lay awake until dawn began to filter into the bedroom, then drifted off, anchored in a dreamy half-sleep by Blair’s steady heartbeat.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim awoke and found himself looking into a pair of azure eyes that appeared to be studying him intently. Blair smiled at him and sat up in the bed, scrubbing a hand through his tousled curls.

"Morning, Jim. I think that was the first real sleep that I’ve had since, well, in a very long time." He turned slowly so that he faced the detective. "Thank you, for all of this."

Jim smiled back. He couldn’t recall feeling this relaxed in a long time either. "You're welcome. You feel up to some breakfast?"

Blair appeared to ponder the question. "I promise whatever costs there are, I’ll pay you back as soon as I’m back on my feet and I can get some work or get back to teaching."

"We’ll work something out, Chief," Jim replied as he pulled back the covers and stood up. "Now, are you hungry?"

"Starved," Blair admitted. "Could I take a shower first?"

"Sure." Jim pressed a hand to Blair’s forehead. "Your fever’s almost gone. Looks like the antibiotics are working."

"Don’t tell Naomi, she’d have a fit." Blair’s voice broke on the words and he looked away. "Sorry," he said finally, his voice shaky. "You must think I’m a real wuss."

Jim reached out and squeezed Blair’s shoulder. "I think you’re incredibly brave and you have every right to be upset. Whatever you need to do to get through this, Blair, it’s all right with me."

"I miss her. We’ve never had an argument before."

"Do you want to phone her? You’re welcome to use the phone."

Blair shook his head. "She’ll get in touch when she’s ready. Detach with love and all that." He looked quickly at Jim. "Don’t get me wrong, she really is very nice."

Jim nodded and offered Blair his robe again. "Go take a shower. You like eggs?"

"Yeah, thanks."

0~0~0~0~0

"No. No. I swear to you, man. That’s the guy’s name. Sir Richard Burton, but he was an explorer, not an actor. Anyway, he discovered that these tribal guardians, what he called sentinels. They were chosen by the tribe to be the protectors because of this genetic advantage they had of having heightened senses…." Blair’s voice trailed off as he saw the humor on Jim’s face replaced by a frown. "Jim? What’s wrong?"

Jim leaned over the table and hissed in his face. "Are you yanking my chain here? How did you find out about that?"

Blair shook his head, at a loss to understand Jim’s anger, then slowed his movement as realization dawned. Eggs dropped from the fork halfway to his mouth and landed on the table. "Oh shit! Jim! The see in the dark thing, the zoneouts. How many?"

"What?"

"How many senses are heightened?"

Jim rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Seems like all of them." His eyes narrowed. "Why?"

Blair chortled. "Because I can help you, man. In fact, I’m probably the only person who can. You’re what I’ve been studying, Jim. You’re my Holy Grail!"

Jim eyed him suspiciously, causing Blair to look away, suddenly nervous. "What do you get out of it?" the detective asked.

"This isn’t a trade-off," Blair answered. "Not exactly." He held up a hand to forestall the expected comment. "Look, if you really do have five heightened senses," he felt a shiver go through him at the words, "then I am probably the only person in the world, or at least in Cascade who knows anything about it. I can help you learn to control them, so that you can use them to your benefit and so you can avoid the zoneout factor."

"The what?"

"The zoneout factor," Blair repeated patiently. "It’s what happens to you when you focus too much on one sense. You kind of overload. Like you did on me in the truck." He saw Jim’s face redden and reached over to pat his hand. "It’s okay. I’m cool with that. Now that I know about your senses, I figure you zoned on my heartbeat or my smell." He shrugged. "Something."

"Anyway," Jim continued. "Can you show me how to switch them off?"

"Switch them…" Blair was aghast. "What the fuck would you want to do that for? This is a gift, man. You can’t switch it off. But," he raised a hand again. "You can hone it to your advantage, with my help."

"Okay, I’ll bite," Jim replied, pushing back from the table. "What’s in it for you?"

"Like I told you, my dissertation is on tribal guardians." He pointed a finger at Jim. "Sentinels. I’ve studied hundreds of people with one or two heightened senses, but never anyone with all five. If I could study you," he saw Jim’s jaw clench but plunged on, "in return for helping you learn to control them, I mean that would be the pinnacle of my career."

"You want to study me?" Jim repeated. "Turn me into some kind of lab rat, a freak?"

"No!" Blair shouted, pushing up out of his chair. He grimaced as the sudden move pulled at his injuries and felt sweat break out cold on his heated skin as dizziness threatened to toss him to the floor. He sank back down into the chair and scrubbed a hand through his curls. "No. No one would need to know it was you. No names, totally anonymous. It’s routinely done. It wouldn’t raise any suspicion, except…"

"Except what?"

"Well, it’s a pretty amazing thing, you know." Blair tried to smile. "Superman, supercop." He grew thoughtful. "We could pull it off. We just have to be careful. This is just amazing, Jim. I mean what are the chances of me meeting you in a city this size?"

"Yeah, my thoughts exactly." The granite tone caused Blair to pause and he looked up at the other man.

"Oh no! Jim! If you think I set this up. No! How do you think I would have found out about you? I’ve been kind of out of circulation for a while." He felt an involuntary shudder go through him and fought off the flashback that threatened to engulf him. "Who else knows?"

"That’s what bothers me," Jim answered. "Only my captain and my partner, Rafe."

Blair swallowed past the lump choking his throat. He pushed back the chair and got unsteadily to his feet. "I’m sorry if you think that I would abuse your generosity. I’d better go. Thank you for your hospitality. I’ll just go pack my stuff. Tell Captain Banks if there is anything else he needs to know, he can contact me at the university." He turned toward the spare bedroom and walked into the room on shaky legs, ignoring Jim’s call for him to wait, his knees threatening to buckle at each step.

He heard the rapping at the front door as he stuffed his clothes back into the duffel bag. Raised voices made him pause and he wandered to the doorway of the room, his curiosity overtaking him. His eyes widened in shock as he saw Jim turn toward him in the very same instant that the stranger at the door raised his hand and slammed a gun brutally into the side of Jim’s head. The detective dropped like a stone, blood streaming from a gash above his eye.

"No!" Blair saw the gun lifted a second time, now with the barrel pointed at the downed man and the stranger’s finger began to tighten on the trigger. Blair was across the room, barreling into the gunman before he was aware that’s he’d moved.

The stranger looked up as Blair shouted, his weapon moving with him but before he could react, Blair’s body hit him solidly, throwing him back against the doorframe. He heard his gun discharge, felt it buck in his hand and supported the boneless weight of his attacker as Blair sank to the floor with a soft gasp. Quickly, the gunman bent to check the small still figure lying crumpled over that of the larger man. He cursed softly as his fingers encountered the stickiness of fresh blood oozing from the young man’s upper arm. Reaching beneath him, he felt for a carotid pulse on the detective and found it pounding steadily.

Bending once more, he hoisted the unconscious anthropologist over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. Straightening, he brought his weapon to bear on the cop again but before he could squeeze the trigger, he heard a door open further up the corridor accompanied by the buzz of voices. Quickly, he hurried through the apartment into the bedroom the young man had appeared from. He pushed open the window that he knew led to the fire escape and rapidly made his way down, Blair’s arms flopping rhythmically against his back.

0~0~0~0~0

"Jim? Jim? Can you hear me? Open your eyes for me." The words buzzed around Jim’s ears, making his head pound with pain and he raised a hand to bat the annoyance away.

"Whu?"

"That’s it, Jim. Now, just open your eyes for me."

Jim cracked open his eyes and instantly wished he hadn’t as light blasted into them, causing his head to feel as though it was splitting in two. He felt hands beneath his shoulders that carefully assisted him to a sitting position and he swallowed down the nausea that surged with the movement as the room did a slow roll. "Simon? What the fuck hit me?" Shakily, he raised a hand to his head, wincing as it touched a tender spot. Pulling his hand away, he frowned down at the blood that covered his fingers.

"I was hoping you could tell me," Simon sighed from his position crouched next to the detective.

"Oh, God," Jim’s head shot up and then he groaned loudly as he clasped his head in both hands and slumped against his captain.

"Jim! What’s wrong?" Concerned, the captain lowered the detective back to the floor where he immediately curled into a tight ball, rocking slowly and clasping at his head. The captain raised his head and looked around wildly. "Where the hell are the paramedics?" He returned his attention to the prone detective. "Jim? Can you hear me?" He squeezed Jim’s shoulder but pulled back in shock as the detective moaned in obvious pain and flinched away from his touch.

"Sandburg," Jim finally managed to grind out against the agony that seemed to assault every nerve and sandpaper them raw. "Where’s Sandburg?"

Simon shook his head as he stood and made way for the paramedics. "He’s not here, Jim." He looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Are you saying he was here?"

"Yeah." Jim was careful not to move his head. "I brought him here last night. He was scared, sick. Someone came to the door, can’t remember much more."

Simon looked thoughtful. "There was blood on the floor. We just assumed it was yours. The neighbors heard a disturbance and came down to check. Found you unconscious in the doorway." The captain looked up and summoned Henri Brown over. "Get Forensics here, Brown. I want to know whose blood this is." He indicated the small puddle of smeared blood on the floor next to Jim.

Jim grunted and tried not to shy away as the paramedic shone a torch into his eyes. "Everything’s out of control, Simon," he whispered, hoping that the captain would understand his meaning. He struggled to rise but sank to the floor as a hand on his chest pushed him back.

"You need to be checked out at the hospital, Detective," the young paramedic said as he began to pack away his things. "You’ve got a concussion and that gash over your eye will need stitches."

Jim thought about arguing but another surge in his headache decided him against it. "Talk to Andrews," he said to Simon as he was helped onto a gurney. "He’s got to know something."

Simon nodded and watched as they wheeled the detective out the door.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair awoke to a gentle rocking rhythm that threatened to turn his stomach inside out. Moaning softly, he rolled to his side and pushed himself up on shaky arms, only to collapse screaming as red-hot agony burnt through his right arm. He lay face down for long moments, trying frantically to catch his breath. Gingerly, he felt his arm, shuddering as the bone shifted beneath his fingers. His upper arm was swathed in a thick coarse bandage of some kind, it felt like a towel. He felt something wet and sticky on the cloth and assumed it was blood. Then the memory of the attack in the loft came back vividly to him. Giving way to a sob of despair, he rolled carefully to his back and stared upwards into the darkness. Squinting, he looked down to see that his jacket and shoes had been removed, leaving him clad only in a tee-shirt and jeans. He shivered.

He heard the door open and scooted back against the far wall, biting down on his lip as the movement awoke the agony in his arm. His eyes widened and the color drained from his face as a large figure stood in the doorway, illuminated by the light from the other room. "Welcome back, Thursday," the fat man wheezed. "Looks like I get to keep you for my own pleasure after all."

Blair glared at the other man. "My name is Blair Sandburg," he said, his voice and limbs shaking in unison.

The fat man advanced on him and Blair plastered himself against the wall. "You’re getting ideas above your station, Thursday," Blair’s tormentor said. "We’ll have to beat that out of you." With an almost graceful movement that belied his bulk, he bent and placed a jug on the floor. "It’s only water," he said. "Drink. I’ll send someone in shortly to clean you up. I’m not having you in my bed smelling like you do."

"You’re not getting me in your bed, period, you freak," Blair spat at the man and then slammed backward, his head impacting the wall with a dull thud as the fat man lashed out with a fist and dealt him a blow across his cheek.

"Manners, Thursday, manners," the man admonished his cowering prisoner. He indicated the jug with a wave of a pudgy hand. "Drink." With that final instruction, he turned and exited the room.

Blair slid down to the floor and bent his knees up so that he could cradle his injured arm across them. He took a deep breath and eyed the jug of water apprehensively. He was thirsty but he remembered the drugged water from the warehouse and decided against drinking. He mind wandered to Jim and the awful image of the big man lying on the floor of the apartment, the blood streaming down the side of his face, his face ashen. "Don’t let him be dead," Blair muttered. "It'll be all my fault if he's dead."

Blair wiped impatiently at the tears that overflowed from his eyes. Nobody knew where he was, it was no use waiting around for someone to rescue him. The only thing he knew for sure was that this time he wasn’t going down without a fight. He let his gaze wander around the bare room. It was a storage room of some kind. There was only one exit. Shelves lined one wall, with sheets and towels stacked on various levels. The floor moved again beneath him awaking the nausea in his stomach and he leaned to one side to give into the sickness assaulting him.

Finally forcing down the dry heaves that threatened to tear up his throat, Blair lay back and forced himself to take slow, deep breaths. As he did so, something dug into the top of his thigh and he shifted, scrabbling in his jeans pocket, beginning to believe that, at last, he might have a fighting chance. He had to arch his hips up and dig deep into the secret pocket cut into his jeans but he smiled victoriously as his fingers closed around the little pocket knife his mother had given him for his bar mitzvah. Sitting up again, he pried the biggest blade from its sheath and clutched the handle tightly in a shaking fist.

Shuffling forward on his behind, Blair took up a position up against the door and shoved himself upright, using the wall for support. He closed his eyes briefly against the dizziness that surfaced, then gritted his teeth and settled in for the duration. This time, he vowed, he would fight, or die trying. He knew he wouldn’t survive a second ordeal.

0~0~0~0~0

Simon Banks slammed his fist against the wall of the observation room in frustration. Brian Rafe had been interviewing Damon Andrews for over an hour now and the man still hadn’t given up any information apart from his name. A blur passing the small window in the door caught the captain’s attention and he turned to glance into the interview room just as the door was thrown open and Jim Ellison barreled in. The big detective ignored his partner entirely, striding quickly up to the table and grasping Andrews by the throat before Rafe could guess his intentions.

Andrews’ eyes went wide in fear as he was lifted bodily from his chair and thrown across the room to land with a bone-shuddering jolt against the far wall. Before he could get up, Jim was in his face, one hand curled into the neck of the other man’s sweater as he dragged the thug to his feet and slammed him back into the wall again. The detective leaned in close, his breath puffing into Andrews’ wary face. "Where’s Sandburg?" Jim hissed.

Receiving no answer, Jim threw Andrews back again, ignoring the yelp of pain from the other man and shaking off the restraining hands that fought to pull him away. Turning slightly, Jim fixed Rafe with a feral glare. "This is between him and me," he ground out. "Go get yourself some coffee."

Rafe paused for a moment and as he turned to face his captain who was now standing in the open doorway. Simon indicated for Rafe to leave with a nod of his head. Once the younger detective left the room, Simon shut the door and returned to the observation booth. Sighing loudly at Jim’s actions, he pulled a cigar from his breast pocket and lit it. Settling back in the seat, the captain sat back to watch the drama unfold.

Jim didn’t acknowledge Rafe’s leaving, having eyes only for Andrews. He smiled evilly as he saw the man’s gaze flicker nervously away from him as a tongue came out to lick dry lips. "What’s the head guy’s name?"

Andrews shook his head, so Jim moved his hand from the collar of the man’s overalls to his throat. Applying a small amount of pressure, he slowly dragged Andrews’ up the wall until he was scrabbling with his toes to find purchase on the floor. His face reddened and both hands came up to lock around Jim’s.

"I asked you a question, dirt bag," Jim said. "Who’s the brains trust and where do I find him?"

Andrews pulled in a labored breath past the crushing fingers of Jim’s hand. "Kostas," he wheezed. "He’s got a boat out on the bay, that’s what I heard. That’s all I know, I swear."

"Name?" Jim slammed the man back again when he didn’t answer. "I said, name. Of the boat."

Andrews shook his head, then closed his eyes briefly. Opening them again, he swallowed convulsively as he looked into the almost black eyes of the detective. "Sea breeze, Sea Shell. Something like that."

Jim dropped the man to the ground, then spun on his heel, already aware of Simon entering the room. "Can we get a search on the marina? See if there’s a boat registered there by the name of Sea Breeze or Sea Shell?"

The captain signaled to the uniformed officer standing outside the door. "Take him back to holding." He turned to Jim and took hold of the man’s arm as the detective wavered slightly on his feet. "You all right?"

Jim gave a terse nod and headed determinedly toward the elevators. Simon didn’t look convinced. Several black stitches in the gash above Jim’s eye were a stark contrast to his ashen complexion.

"You don’t look okay," the captain said as he caught up to the other man. "You still having trouble with your senses?"

"A little," Jim admitted as he punched the button for the parking garage. "Just dropping in and out on me now and then."

"Look, why don’t we do this from my office?"

Jim shook his head, then grimaced at the flare of pain. "I’m gonna get this bastard, Simon, if it’s the last thing I do. He’s got to know it’s only a matter of time before we’re onto him. If we don’t move on this now, he and Sandburg will be long gone."

"Providing Sandburg’s still alive."

"He’s alive," Jim answered. At Simon’s inquiring look, he shrugged. "I just know. It’s like I can feel him or something."

As the men got off the elevator and headed toward Simon’s car, Jim spoke again. "There’s something else you should know. He knows about me."

Simon almost dropped his cigar in surprise. "You told him? Are you nuts?"

Jim shook his head. "He told me, actually. He studies people like me for his doctorate. He put two and two together and came up with four. He said he can help me control them, stop the zoneouts."

"The what?"

"The zoneouts." Jim waited until they were both seated in the car. "That thing where I drop out for a bit."

Simon steered the car out of the garage and onto the street. "Jim, what made you bring the kid back to your apartment? I mean you hardly know him.

"He stayed, like I told you, because he was sick and needed somewhere to go. I said some things to him this morning that I never should have. It's my fault Kostas got him again. I was so pissed off, I couldn't concentrate." He saw the frown on the captain’s face but pressed on. "We’ve got to find him, Simon."

Simon nodded and reached for the car radio. "We will. I've never seen you this wound up about anyone before. Is there something happening here that you're not telling me?"

Jim shook his head, then shrugged. "Blair says it has something to do with a primal imperative. It's like Cascade is my territory and I need to protect it and my tribe, the people of Cascade. Incacha told me once that every Sentinel needed a Guide and that when I met mine, I'd instinctively know." He looked at Simon. "That's what the connection is to Sandburg, the bond. He's my Guide."

Simon looked heavenwards. "I don't think I want to know."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair held his breath as the door to the storeroom swung open and prayed that the man entering couldn’t hear his wildly hammering heart.

"What the fuck?"

Blair acted the moment he saw the man’s arm reach out for the light switch. Stepping out from behind the door, he raised his arm and brought the pocket knife down in an arc toward the other man’s back.

The man turned at the last minute, his eyes growing wide as Blair’s knife plunged into his chest. One hand reached up to grasp at the handle of the blade still embedded in his chest. Then, with a burbling moan that spouted blood from his mouth, Blair’s attacker crumpled to the floor. Blair stood rooted to the spot, his eyes staring at the unresponsive man at his feet.

"Murray? Where are you? Kostas wants the little fag now."

Blair looked up in fright at the voice that floated down from above him somewhere. Swallowing hard, he bent and gritted his teeth as he pulled the blade from the other man’s body. He wiped it shakily on his jeans and then, poking his head out into the other room first to ensure the coast was clear, crept out of the storage room.

Looking around, it was apparent that he was on a large, luxurious yacht. He was standing now in the middle of a dining/galley area. Two narrow staircases sat at either end of the room. Craning his head slightly, Blair could see that the stairs nearest him led up to the outside. Hearing faint voices once more from above, the anthropologist looked around frantically. Finally, seeing a small broom cupboard behind the stairs, he scooted into the tiny space and scrunched himself in as tightly as he could, closing the door behind him. The confines of the cupboard pushed against his broken arm and Blair bit down hard on his lip to stall his cry of pain, oblivious to the blood that dribbled down his chin. He shifted so that he was hunched into a small quivering ball with his injured arm resting on his knees, his good arm wrapped tightly around his legs. As he heard the heavy sounds of feet descending the stairs, he willed himself to stay silent and still.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim got out of the car before it was fully stopped and hurried up the quay to where he could see the yacht at its moorings in the distance. The name ‘Sea Breeze’ was painted in large white scroll across its bow. Ducking behind a pile of containers, he waited for Simon to catch up, then carefully poked his head out from his hiding place and dialed up his sight. Almost instantly, a shaft of blinding pain assaulted him, threatening to cleave his skull in two, and he dropped to his knees, holding his head.

He felt Simon’s hand on his shoulder as the captain hissed out his name. "Jim! Are you all right?"

It took him a moment, but eventually Jim was able to nod his head and straighten up. He dialed up his sight again and this time was rewarded with a close-up view of two men, pacing the perimeter of the yacht, automatic weapons at the ready. Taking a deep breath, Jim closed his eyes and focused his hearing next on the yacht. There were too many heartbeats for him to count, but he could hear angry shouting and running feet. He watched as one of the guards looked back over his shoulder toward a disembodied voice. "Kostas wants you to cast off now. The kid got loose. He killed Murray."

Jim felt his spirits lift at the words. Blair was alive and free somewhere. Turning to his captain, he quickly explained the situation. "I need you to cause a distraction of some kind," Jim said. "Buy me some time to get on the yacht."

Simon pressed the button on his cell phone and looked at his detective. "Back-up’s on the way. Seems the Narcotics squad has a vested interest in Nick Kostas too. They’ll be here in ten minutes."

"It’s too long, Simon," Jim balked. "Sandburg could be dead by then. He’s got nowhere to go and he’s the only one who can finger Kostas." With that, he was gone, Simon’s whispered command to wait falling on a rapidly retreating back.

Simon watched him go and cursed. "Shit! Just wait till we get back to the office, Ellison, I’m going to have you on desk duty for a month." With a muttered epithet, he quickly stripped off his suit jacket and stood up, making his way slowly toward the yacht and its wary guards. "Hi there," he called up to them. "Just out for a stroll and this lovely lady caught my eye. She’s quite a beauty. Mind if I ask you a little bit about her? What speed does she do on open water?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jim clamber onto some discarded containers and vault the railing onto the deck.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim pulled his weapon from its holster and risked a quick glance toward the guards at the opposite end of the yacht. He could hear them shouting at Simon now, telling him to leave and he smiled. He made his way toward the small wheel-house and crept up behind the unsuspecting man seated there. Jim had a hand over the man’s mouth, the other behind his head before the other knew he existed. A quick jerk of his hands in counter directions and the man dropped to the ground, dead.

Jim stepped further inside and made his way slowly down the stairs. He extended his hearing ahead of him, hoping to find the heartbeat he sought most, and was rewarded with a frantic pounding beat that appeared to come from below and behind him. He had no time to question how he knew it was Blair’s heartbeat that he was hearing. For now, he merely accepted that it was and followed the sound down to the bottom of the stairs.

Jim bent low, scanning the interior as he neared the lower level of the yacht, but there was no one in sight. He tried to extend his hearing out to locate the other members of the gang but Blair’s frantic heart drowned out all other sound and he couldn’t seem to lower the volume.

Quickly, he looked toward the back of the stairs and spotted the broom cupboard. Moving faster now, he hurried over and carefully opened the door. Kneeling, he extended one hand slowly and rested it on the shaking man’s shoulder. Blair flinched imperceptibly, then resumed his rocking. "Blair? It’s me, Jim. I’m going to get you out of there, all right?"

"Jim?" Blair’s voice was hoarse, his breathing ragged, but he did not look up.

"Yeah, Chief, it’s me." Jim did a quick scan of the other man’s condition, his nose wrinkling at the strong coppery scent of blood. "Where are you hurt?"

Blair finally looked up at him from his huddled position. His eyes were swollen and red, his face bruised and spattered with blood. "Arm," he said, his voice breaking on the word. "It hurts." He reached out a trembling hand and touched Jim’s face. "For real?" he asked.

Jim nodded. "I’m real. We’ve got to get you out of there, Chief and get you to safety. This yacht is going to be swarming with cops soon and I don’t want you caught in the cross-fire."

Carefully, the detective pushed an arm into the tiny space until he could anchor his hand under Blair’s shoulder and pull the young man toward him. Blair collapsed against him with a small cry of pain and then defiantly, pushed himself to his feet, wobbling dangerously. He placed his good arm in the small of his back and bent over once more. "My back hurts and my legs feel numb. I don’t know how far I can walk, Jim."

"Then, I’ll carry you," Jim answered. "I’m not letting you out of my sight again." The detective wrapped an arm about Blair’s shoulders and turned him toward the stairs.

"Well, isn’t that sweet?" Nick Kostas said as he raised his gun and centered it on Jim. "Only away from me for a few days and you’ve already found yourself another boyfriend, Thursday. I’m hurt."

"You can’t get away, Kostas." Jim cocked his head as he heard sirens in the distance. "This marina is alive with cops. You don’t have a chance."

"But that’s where you’re wrong, Detective," Kostas countered, an evil grin lighting his deformed features. "I don’t need chance. I’ve got you. Throw your gun into the corner there."

Jim hesitated a moment then did as he was told. "Let Blair go then. You don’t need him."

"Jim." The detective silenced the young man with a look.

"Thursday comes with me, detective. I still have uses for him."

"I can’t let you take him," Jim answered firmly. He took a step forward and shook off Blair’s restraining hand. "So, you’ll have to go through me to get to him."

Kostas brought the gun up higher. "Believe me, that can be arranged." He took a step back and indicated the stairs with his gun. "Up the stairs, both of you. Slowly."

Jim ushered Blair ahead of him, steadying the younger man when he appeared to stumble. The detective waited for a chance to disarm the fat man as they cleared the stairs and came up on deck, but Kostas was too quick for him, despite his large frame. The fat man reached out an arm, and grabbed a fistful of Blair’s hair, dragging the young man back to his side. Grounding the gun hard into Blair’s temple, Kostas moved toward the side of the yacht overlooking the marina, motioning Jim closer with a sideways movement of his head. "Tell them to stay where they are or you and the kid die."

Jim hesitated until a hard smack to Blair’s skull with the gun and a pained cry from the young man forced him to reconsider. "Simon. Tell everyone to hold their fire. Kostas has Blair."

He turned back to Kostas as he heard his captain’s frantic calls for a cease-fire. "Now what?"

"Now we wait until they agree to my safe passage out of here," Kostas answered. He dragged Blair up against him and moved to the other side of the yacht, indicating for Jim to follow. Jim looked around quickly. On this side, they were out of sight of the police on the pier and there was no way anyone could take a shot. The murderer smiled. "Guess I really don’t have any more use for young Thursday here. May as well kill him now." He raised the gun to Blair’s head once more as the young man’s eyes grew wide with fear.

"You do that, Kostas and you’ll have to kill me too," Jim vowed. "But I’ll make sure I take you with me."

Kostas swallowed nervously but he tried to laugh the comment off. "Just joking, Ellison. You must really have it bad for the little fag. You know, I didn’t think they allowed faggots in the police force. How times change. Still, I’ll tell you this much. You’re getting a mighty fine fuck, detective. Thursday has the tightest ass. It was my pleasure to break him in for you."

Finally, Kostas’ mouth gave Jim the opening he needed. As the fat man continued to taunt Jim, his gun hand began to sag. Blair seemed to read the intent in Jim’s eyes and with an almost imperceptible nod, he threw himself violently sideways, wrenching himself from the other man’s grasp. The young man’s balance was upset and compromised by loss of blood and shock and Jim watched in horror as Blair tipped over the railing. The young man flailed frantically for a hand-hold, then a scream was ripped from his throat as his injured arm slammed against the side of the yacht in his fall to the icy water below. Jim could hear him choking and spluttering, and see his arms windmilling wildly as he fought his way back to the surface.

0~0~0~0~0

Above him, Blair could see Jim and Kostas struggling over possession of the gun. Then a shot rang out and Kostas stiffened before falling backward out of his sight. Blair felt a shudder of relief pass through him and then his shivering began in earnest as the cold penetrated his clothes. He felt the weight of his water-logged jeans pull him under and he allowed himself to drift, his exhaustion finally catching up with him.

Just as his eyes shut and the water closed over his head, a large hand grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and hauled him back to the surface. He was pulled up against a firm expanse of chest, then turned onto his back. Looking up, he saw Jim’s concerned face above him and he smiled woozily.

"Jim? ‘Zat you?"

Jim nodded his head and began to tow the young man toward the marina. "Yeah, buddy, it’s me. Just relax, I’ll have you warmed up in no time."

Blair screwed up his face as his broken arm spasmed in the chill water. "Arm hurts."

"I know, Chief. We’re almost there."

Blair felt several hands catch hold of him and pull him upward. The movement caused the agony of his injuries to flare and blackness quickly descended, mercifully taking the pain with it.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim tried to straighten up in the hard plastic chair and wondered once more why hospital chairs had to be so damned uncomfortable. "So you won’t want to hang around too long and annoy the nurses," a voice said in his ear as a hand descended to his shoulder.

The detective looked up and smiled at the friendly face of Dr. Dan Mason, who stood in front of him, wearing a weary expression. "Hey, Doc. How’s he doing?"

"Let’s go get a cup of coffee," Dan said. "I don’t get many opportunities on this shift, so I've got to grab them while I can."

Jim nodded and the doctor led the detective to the end of the corridor and into a small alcove. Waving Jim to a seat, Dan poured two cups of coffee and handed one to the detective before sitting down with a contented sigh. He sipped at the steaming brew and closed his eyes for a moment in bliss. Finally, hearing Jim’s impatient foot-tapping, he took the hint and leaned forward.

"Sorry. Okay, here’s what we’ve got. Blair has a mild concussion, a fractured right upper arm caused by a bullet and a moderately infected wound from the same bullet. The slug passed straight through by the way, but the conditions he was kept in were far from sanitary, not to mention the delay in getting treatment and possibly some germs from the water. Speaking of the water, his lungs aren’t too bad, considering, although the IV antibiotics I’ve got him on for the arm infection will help that as well. He’s cold, exhausted, mildly dehydrated and scared as hell." He watched Jim’s jaw tightening with idle curiosity. "I bet your dental bills are through the roof." He shrugged when Jim ignored the comment. "Anyway, I’ve given him a sedative, which he argued against, plus some pain relief for the arm, but I’m heading home for some sleep and I wondered if you’d mind sitting with him, just in case he wakes up. It would help for him to have a friendly face nearby."

Jim was already on his feet and striding down the corridor before the doctor finished speaking. "Don't you want to know what room he's in," the doctor called after him.

Jim shook his head as he paused in front of the room that held his Guide. "Don't need to."

The doctor grinned, cracked an almighty yawn and went home to bed, knowing his patient was in good hands.

0~0~0~0~0

A slight shifting of Blair’s body alerted Jim to the fact that his charge was waking up and he hooked a foot around the base of his chair, scooting closer to the bed. He reached out one hand and clasped Blair’s, leaning forward so that he could examine the pale face more clearly. "Blair? You going to wake up for me?"

Blair’s face scrunched up as though in pain and a soft moan escaped his lips. Jim stroked the young man’s forehead, feeling ridiculously pleased with himself as the frown on Blair’s face disappeared. Slowly, blue eyes opened, then shut, and finally, opened again to wander slowly about the room before coming to rest on Jim’s face.

Blair blinked a couple of times, then raised a hand to rub at his eyes, frowning at the cast on his arm that reached to his armpit. Jim caught hold of the arm gently and lowered it back to the pillow at Blair’s side.

"Hey there," the detective whispered, pulling the covers more securely around Blair’s shoulders. "How are you feeling?"

Blair appeared to consider the question for a moment. "Numb," he said finally. "Glad to see you."

"Not half as glad as I am to see you." Jim stroked a hand across Blair's brow, his smile growing impossibly wider as Blair sighed happily and relaxed under his touch.

"When can I go home?"

"In a few days," Jim answered, continuing his mesmerizing stroke across Blair's forehead. "You’re a little banged up and you’ve got an infection in your arm. The doctor wants to keep you here until you’re feeling better."

Blair frowned but nodded. "You don't need to hang around, Jim. I understand now about why you don't want me around getting in your face. You don't have to worry about me telling anybody about your senses either. I promise I won't tell a soul, and as for my dissertation, I could probably find something else to study…"

"Sandburg, shut up!"

Blair's eyes snapped open again at the terse command but his face became puzzled when he saw the grin on Jim's face. "Are you familiar with closed societies?"

"Sure," Blair replied. "I've studied a few. I don't understand."

"That's officially what you're doing your dissertation on. Closed societies, such as the police force." He sighed at Blair's shake of his head. "That's your cover story so that you can get a ninety day observer's pass and ride-along with me. The closed societies' thing was Rafe's idea. Apparently, his sister studied anthropology."

"Oh." Blair nodded. "Why would you want me to ride-along with you?"

"That's where a Sentinel's Guide should be, isn't it?" Jim asked. "At his partner's side." He leaned forward and studied the younger man earnestly. "You help me control my senses so I can use them properly and in return, you get to study me for your degree." He held up a cautioning finger. "Nobody knows about this except you, me, Simon and Rafe. Okay? I don't want the bad guys knowing I have an edge and I don't want to be turned into some kind of comic book super-hero."

"For ninety days? I don't know if I can collate all the evidence I'll need in ninety days, Jim"

"I think the Guide's job is a permanent one, Chief. We just need to get you in there first. We'll worry about the rest when it comes up. So, what do you say?"

"You've got yourself a partner." Blair smiled happily as Jim shook his hand.

"I hope you don't mind. Me and a few of the guys moved your stuff."

"Why? Jim, you had no right to…"

"You're right and if you'd been in any shape to ask, I would have," the detective explained. "That spare room of mine is just sitting there getting dusty. I've fixed it up a little, put in a desk and chair. You can decorate it yourself when you feel better. I just feel that I need to keep you close for awhile."

Blair nodded sagely. "BPS."

"You calling me names, Chief?"

"Blessed Protector Syndrome," Blair explained. "It's a natural phenomenon. You know there's supposed to be a real Temple of the Sentinels down in Sierra Verde in Mexico. The Olmec…"

Jim sat back and relaxed and allowed the soothing tones of his Guide to wash over him.

FIN

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