Memory's Prisoner

By: Lyn

 

EMAIL: Lyn

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly etc. This story was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thank you Annie and Tate as always for the beta. Several people asked if A Merging of Souls would have a sequel. For a long time, I didn't think it would and then this idea happened along.

An explanation is needed here as some people thought I based the Vidoqc Society on the TV show, Cold Case. I haven't seen that yet though it is due to screen here soon and I'm looking forward to seeing it. The Vidocq Society is a real group of law enforcement professionals, some retired, some still active officers or scientists. There are eighty-two members - one for each year that Vidocq was alive. The society is named after Eugène-François Vidocq, a Frenchman who was both a convicted criminal and a prominent, early member of the organization that evolved into the Sûreté. The group was begun by William Fleischer, a former FBI chief. This group actively investigates cold cases, many of which are twenty to thirty years old, both at the request of families and law enforcement agencies. The group is privately funded and operates out of Philadelphia.

For Delilah in support of Friends of Garett and The Moonridge Auction.

 

 

"Hey, Jim. H, how you doing, man?" Blair grinned a greeting to his partner and gave Henri Brown a high five as Brown passed him on the way out of the bullpen.

"Hairboy!" Brown said in return. "I'm good, man. You ready for me to win back my money Friday night?"

Blair snorted and shook his head. "Not gonna happen. Me and Jim are planning a long summer vacation cruise from what I get off you and Simon every week."

Henri grinned and gave Blair a good-natured whack to his head. "I can feel my luck changing, so beware, Sandburg." Giving a wave, he wandered off in the direction of the break room.

Blair continued on over to Jim's desk, waiting a moment when Jim, with the phone to his ear, held up a hand in a staying motion.

"Yeah, okay, we'll be there in twenty." Hanging up the receiver, Jim turned to Blair. "Don't hang up your jacket, Sandburg. We've got a murder scene to go look at."

"Why isn't Homicide handling it?" Blair asked as he slung his backpack over his shoulder and accompanied Jim to the door.

Jim gave his partner a quick sidelong glance. "Bill Fleischer asked for us."

Blair felt the familiar mix of dread and excitement stir at the mention of the Vidoqc Society's president's name. The Vidoqc Society was a group of mostly ex-law enforcement agents who delved into cold cases, trying to solve the riddles of victims' deaths when the cases remained unsolved. Since Blair's visions had begun a few months before, he and Jim had occasionally used his gift to augment Jim's enhanced senses to solve cases but it had been hit and miss. The 'gift' it seemed, was not a sure thing, there whenever Blair needed it. Blair's memory of his vision of Incacha came to mind and he wondered if the Chopec Shaman was guiding him still, deciding which cases needed the added advantage of his visions.

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair shook himself from his reverie at Jim's question. He smiled at the detective. "Yeah, just wondering why Bill would ask for us on this one." He followed Jim to the elevator and stepped inside.

Jim shrugged as he pressed the button for the parking garage. "I don't have all the details yet but this was a cold case the society was looking into as a favor for a friend of the victim. Teenager who disappeared ten years ago. While Jim Hollis was looking into the disappearance, a skeleton with a bullet hole in its head was discovered in the crawl space of the house where the boy had lived before he disappeared."

Blair shivered. "Oh, man, that's creepy. You mean people were living in that house, going on with their lives and all the time this poor kid was down there…" He felt a sudden surge of queasiness and shook himself mentally. Pushing the horrifying image away, he followed Jim to the truck and climbed in. Moments later they were on their way.

~o0o~

Oh God, oh God. This couldn't be right. Blair's arms wrapped protectively around his chest as he stared at the house in front of them. So long. It had been so long ago. He'd forgotten all about it. How could he have forgotten?

"You coming, Chief or you want me to handle this one on my own?"

Jim's voice startled Blair and he jumped. He nodded his head slowly and reached for the door handle. Sliding out of his seat, he hurried to catch up with Jim, still eyeing the house apprehensively. He reached out and snagged Jim's arm, slowing the detective's pace. "Are you sure this is the right place?"

Jim waved a hand. "You see the cop cars and the yellow tape, Chief?"

"Yeah." Blair pushed past Jim, reaching out and pushing open the gate… and staggered back into Jim as a flood of sensation overwhelmed him. Pain… fear… rage… sorrow… A haze of red crowded his vision and he felt his legs give out. Strong arms captured his and hauled him upright and through the maelstrom of emotion, he heard Jim's voice, low but full of concern. He felt Jim's breath, warm on his face and he concentrated on the nearness of his partner, sucking in lungfuls of air until the world stopped spinning and the ground was once more solid beneath his feet.

"Sandburg? What's wrong?" Jim's worried face was inches from his own. Blair lifted his hand and wiped the cold sweat from his brow. "I'm okay, I think. I… felt something."

Jim raised his eyebrows in question. This had never happened before. Until now, Blair had always needed Jim's contact to act as a conduit to the visions he saw. A headache flared suddenly behind Blair's eyes and he winced. He placed his hand on Jim's chest and pushed lightly, needing some distance, feeling suffocated. "Jim, I know this place, and I think I know the victim."

"Detective?"

Jim glanced over his shoulder at an approaching patrolman and waved him away. "Be right there. Give us a minute." Glancing back at Blair, Jim nodded. "Talk to me, Chief."

~o0o~

They went back to the truck to get out of the biting wind after Jim had spoken briefly with Serena Chang, the chief of Forensics. Jim settled himself behind the wheel, then turned to his partner. "All right, Sandburg. Start at the beginning."

Blair frowned and bit his lower lip, thinking back, trying to put it all in order. He still couldn't believe he'd forgotten about Jamie. They'd been friends, after all, not close, not like he was with Jim but friends nonetheless.

"Chief?"

Jim's voice interrupted his musing. He took a breath and blew it out. "Okay. We met in high school. I was a nerd who regularly got beat up every lunchtime by the football jocks, except Jamie. Jamie walked into the bathroom one day just as they were about to dunk me headfirst into the toilet bowl." Jim snorted but quickly schooled his features to seriousness when Blair gave him a mock glare. "Anyway, he told them to back off and they did. After that, I had my own personal bodyguard. I tutored him in Math and History and he watched my back. He came to school one day with a split lip and a black eye. Apparently his mom had moved in with a new guy and he and Jamie didn't get on. I knew how that felt. He used to come over to my place sometimes after school. I only ever went to Jamie's house once to help him with his homework. His stepfather, Bill…" Blair paused a moment, lost in thought then looked up and snapped his fingers. "Bill, that was his name! I’ve been trying to remember and it just wouldn’t come to me. Anyway," he continued, "Bill made fun of me, of my hair, my clothes, called me a runt. At school, anyone who did that to me, Jamie would have got in their face, but with Bill, he just kept quiet and told me to go. Naomi got real worked up about what was happening with Jamie. She saw the bruises a few times. She wanted to report Jamie's step-dad to the authorities." At Jim's raised eyebrow, he gave a small chuckle. "Yeah, I know but mom was never averse to using the authorities when it suited her."

He leaned back and stared out the window at the house, watching the yellow tape flutter in the wind. "Anyway, a few days after that, he stopped coming to school and I went over to his house. His mom told me he and his step-dad had a huge fight and Jamie had run away."

"Which we know now might not have been true."

"Yeah. God, Jim, how could someone do that to their own child, stepson or not. Just… shoot him and bury him under your own house."

"There's no evidence yet," Jim reminded him. "That why Bill Fleischer asked us to take it on. I mean we don't even know for sure that the body is Jamie's. Serena's going to run a check for dental records as soon as we're done here and they can take the skeleton back to the morgue."

"I just never believed he'd run away. If he had, I knew he'd come to me. He knew Naomi would have taken him in." Blair sat up and reached for the door handle. "Let's go do our thing. We'll concentrate on using your senses for now. If you pick anything up… any belongings, we can try to get something later, at home." He disliked doing this vision thing in public. No matter how many times they did it, the visions were always terrifying and often horrendous, something Blair knew he'd never become hardened to. Having an audience to his shivering and trembling, and sometimes tears would only make it worse. Climbing out of the truck, he forced his thoughts of Jamie to the back of his mind and concentrated on the task at hand.

~o0o~

"Fuck! This isn't working!" Blair abruptly pulled his hand from Jim's and slumped back against the couch. Raising one hand, he knuckled his eyes, pressing in an attempt to ease the pain growing in his head.

"Maybe you're trying too hard," Jim said in that patient tone that lately annoyed the hell out of Blair for a reason he couldn't fathom.

"Trying too hard?" Impatience churned Blair's gut, sizzling up his spine to explode in a nimbus of agony behind his eyes. "Fuck, Jim, this guy was a friend of mine! If I should ever be able to use this gift for good, it's now." He stood and strode over to the balcony windows, looking out at the dismal rainy night.

"Maybe it's me," Jim said quietly. "Maybe I'm not trying hard enough."

Blair spun around. "Why wouldn't you be? Are you saying you're not?"

Jim sighed and mirrored Blair's actions from moments before, rubbing at his eyes. "I'm just saying it's been a tough week, and having this case thrown at us, when it's personal for you might mean it's going to be more difficult. Maybe we should ask Bill to hand it to someone else…"

"What? No way!" Blair said forcefully. He stopped and slowly shook his head. "Sorry," he said softly. "I didn't mean that the way it came out. I don't know what's the matter with me." He returned to the couch and sat back down next to his partner. Leaning forward, he picked up the initialized key ring and clutched it tightly in his hand. Serena had phoned just moments before to confirm that dental records had identified the skeleton as Jamie Sheridan. Blair hadn't needed the confirmation. Jim had found Jamie's key ring in the remains of the jeans the body still wore and somehow Blair had known anyway. "We've never had this problem before. Why now?"

"I don't know, Chief. Maybe because it's personal. Jamie Sheridan was a friend of yours. Maybe that's cluttering your mind."

Blair sat forward and rested his head in his hands. "We'd been told he'd run away and as much as I didn't want to believe it, he had reason."

Jim reached out and stroked down Blair's back, calming and soothing him. "What made you suspicious?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know really. His mom was kinda weird anyway but when I went to see her that day, it was like she didn't care. Like she was glad he was gone."

"They obviously had a lot of problems. Maybe she was just glad he'd gotten away." He frowned when Blair rubbed his forehead again. "You have another headache?"

Blair debated lying but dismissed the thought just as quickly. Sentinel senses could pick up every nuance of pain, regardless how well he hid it. "Yeah," he puffed out, feeling enormously weary. "I'll be fine. I took some Tylenol, it just hasn't kicked in yet."

"You see someone at the clinic yet?"

Impatience surged again, causing Blair's head to pound. "In case you hadn't noticed, Jim, we've been a little busy -"

"Doesn't mean you should neglect your health." Jim's voice was even with just a hint of an edge to the words. "You're no good to anyone if you're sick."

"I know that!" Blair snapped. A look of apology washed over his face at the same time as nausea rose up. He stood jerkily. "Sorry. I didn't mean that." He clamped a hand over his mouth and turned toward the bathroom. "Gonna-" Tasting bile in his mouth, he ran, just barely making it before he emptied that night's dinner into the bowl.

Sitting back after the vomiting had eased, he gratefully accepted the damp cloth from Jim and wiped his face. Standing, he turned on the faucet and rinsed out his mouth before sidling past Jim and heading for the living room.

"Maybe we should call it a night," Jim suggested, following him. "You got anything on in the morning?"

Blair started to shake his head then thought better of it. "No classes. Office hours tomorrow afternoon."

"Make an appointment at the clinic then."

"Jesus, Jim!" Blair turned and glared at his partner. "I'm a grown man. If I think I need to see a doctor, I will. My eyesight's been acting up a little lately. I probably just need a new prescription for my glasses."

"Then go get one." Jim sounded as weary as Blair felt.

"Fine." As abruptly as it had appeared, Blair's anger disappeared. He slumped onto the couch. "What did Serena say about the bullet they found in the skull?"

".22, Jamie's stepdad holds a license for a gun of the same caliber." Jim sat on the edge of the coffee table opposite Blair.

"We going to go talk to him?"

Jim nodded and stood. "Tomorrow. For now I'm gonna head to bed. Why don't you do the same. Maybe we'll do better tomorrow. Good night, Sandburg." Turning, he headed to the front door to check the locks then made his way upstairs.

~o0o~

Bleary brown eyes, bloodshot and red-rimmed, glared at him, the fury in them as hard as steel. "You little shit," he slurred. "Always fucking things up between your mother and me."

"You hurt her." The voice was small and tremulous.

"She deserved it! Always in my face about getting a job. Why should I, huh?" He took a couple of shuffling steps forward. "You're not my fucking kid. You're nobody's kid. You're a bastard." A hand raised up, the fingers closing to form a fist.

"I'll tell."

"You do that and they'll take you away. You'll never see your precious mother again… and you know what?" The angry face came closer and the boy gagged on the overpowering sour stench of alcohol. "Maybe while you're gone, I'll kill her. Shut her damn whining up for good."

The boy turned to run as the fist came down and screamed as it smashed brutally into his back. He staggered and almost fell, smacking his head resoundingly against the wall and felt a booted foot kick him in the back of the leg. The manic shouting behind him drowned out his own cries….

Blair surged up from the bed with a scream lodged in his throat. He gasped for breath, his heart pounding, then slumped forward when his panicked gaze took in the familiar and comforting darkened surroundings of his bedroom. Shakily, he pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his aching, sweaty head on them. He heard Jim's footsteps padding hurriedly down the stairs and reached out to switch on the bedside light. "I'm okay," he called out hoarsely as soon as Jim appeared in the doorway.

Jim studied him for a moment then nodded and came in, seating himself on the edge of the bed. "Vision?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah. I don't think I've ever had one this clear before. No brief flashes of sensation. It was like watching the whole thing playing out in front of me, like I was there."

"What did you see?"

"A guy, big, drunk yelling at me… Jamie. He accused him of causing trouble with Jamie's mom. Said Jamie'd get sent away if he told anyone. He said…" Blair's voice faltered and he felt something cool pressed into his hand. Lifting his head, he saw it was a glass of water and he nodded gratefully at his partner before taking a few sips. Then he went on. "He said while he was gone, he'd kill Jamie's mother. Then I… he turned to run, and the guy punched him and kicked him. He was screaming… That's when I woke up."

"Did you see the man's face?" Jim asked.

Blair thought about that. "Not really, no. It was more an impression of who he was. Like I said, he was big, he towered over Jamie, and he was drunk, angry."

"Okay." Jim stood. "You gonna be able to get back to sleep?"

Blair shook his head. "I doubt it." He reached out and pulled his notebook and pen from the bedside cupboard. "I might do some study notes for my class. That's bound to put me to sleep."

"Okay. Try to get some rest, all right?"

"I will. Thanks, Jim."

~o0o~

Blair's headache was still there when he woke the next morning and it was all he could do to get out of bed. Grumbling about pushy sentinels with a mother hen complex who insisted he go see an optometrist when he could have been sleeping in instead, Blair made a pot of strong coffee and picked up the phone.

An hour and a half later, he was walking into his optometrist's office, having been lucky enough to catch a canceled appointment.

"Blair, how are you?" David Scott greeted Blair with a smile and an outstretched hand.

"I'm good, David. I think I need a new prescription though."

"All right then." The optometrist waved Blair to the examination chair. "Let's take a look." Ten minutes later, he pushed back his chair with a small frown on his face. "Well, your sight has certainly deteriorated since the last time I saw you, particularly in the right eye. The optic nerve looks a little swollen too. I think you need to get checked out by a neurosurgeon. I'll give you a referral. Let's get this new prescription written up and you can be on your way. It'll take a few days to come through and until then I don't want you overstraining your eyes, all right?"

Blair frowned. "What does that mean exactly, that the optic nerve is swollen?"

"It could mean any number of things," David replied. He reached out and patted Blair's knee. "It may be something minor but that's why I want you checked out. To be certain."

"Okay." Blair's cell phone rang and he flashed an apologetic smile at the optometrist as he fished it out of his pocket. "Sandburg."

"Hey, Chief. You get your eyes checked out?" Jim asked.

Blair rolled his eyes. "Yes, mom. I'm just about to leave. You need something?"

"If you've got some time free, I thought you'd like to join me while I interrogate Bill Walker. See if we can shake anything loose."

"You bet! I'll be there in thirty."

"See you then."

Hanging up the phone, Blair stood and accepted the prescription from David.

"See Mary at the front desk. She'll organize it and let you know when you can pick them up." He studied Blair for a moment. "And don't forget to make that appointment. You might want to check out some new frames too, Blair. Those are looking a little beat up."

"That's what happens when you hang with cops," Blair chuckled. "Wonder if I can convince the captain to pay for them out of petty cash." With a wave, Blair left and made his way to the front desk.

He gaped in shock when Mary told him the total cost of his new spectacles. "On second thought," he said quietly, "maybe I'll just keep these frames."

"They're barely in one piece," Mary noted gently. "You can pay these off on a payment plan."

Blair sighed, mentally calculating the next month's debits and credits. "Yeah, fine, okay. Look, can you hold them for me for a couple of weeks? I have a grant coming in that should cover most of it."

The receptionist nodded. "That's fine. You have a nice day."

"You too." Blair gave her a wave and hurried out to his car. In moments, he was on his way to join Jim, his financial concerns and the neurosurgeon forgotten.

~o0o~

"Jim, hi!"

Jim looked up from his paperwork as Blair hurried into the bullpen. "Hi, Chief. You get your new glasses organized?"

"Yeah. There’s a bit of a delay on the lenses but it shouldn’t be more than a week," Blair obfuscated. He placed his backpack under the desk and stood, arms crossed over his chest, obviously expectant.

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong, Sandburg?"

"No, we’re still going to talk to Jamie’s stepfather, aren’t we?"

"Yeah, but we need to discuss it a little first. Sit down a minute."

Blair frowned. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing’s wrong, Sandburg," Jim growled. "The best tactic in police interrogation is to have all the information you can possibly use. Sometimes you can use it to get the perp off-center, make him tell you something you can use against him."

Blair appeared to consider that for a moment then nodded slowly. "Okay, that makes sense." He settled himself on the chair next to Jim. "So, what have we got?"

"You said you met Jamie’s stepfather once?"

"Yeah."

"Give me a rundown of your impressions from that day."

Blair looked at Jim, puzzled. "I already told you. The guy was a creep."

"But was he the type to shoot his stepson and bury him under the house?" When Blair paused, Jim pushed with more force, "Come on, Sandburg, we need something to go on here."

Blair looked startled at the vehemence in Jim’s tone. "What’s going on, Jim?"

Jim sighed and leaned back in his chair, the fingers of one hand idly riffling the papers in front of him. "Homicide thinks Bill and Jamie had an argument, that maybe Walker pulled his gun to threaten Jamie and they struggled. The gun went off, shooting Jamie in the head and Walker panicked. He buried Jamie in the crawl space, got rid of the gun, which he now claims to have lost when they moved out of the house, cleaned up and then convinced his wife that Jamie had run off. She was out on an errand at the time. She put in a missing persons' report which showed up nothing until now. He could claim it was an accident."

"Why not report it then? Why bury the body there, right under your feet? I mean, the smell…" Blair looked suddenly queasy then with obvious effort firmed his resolve. He was getting better at handling the gruesome side of police work, Jim thought and then realized he wasn’t sure that was a good thing. Blair was the conscience and reason in the partnership. He’d told Blair once you needed to check your emotions at the door in police work and to a point, that was true, but sometimes, seeing the human side, the emotions in a case could get you clues you might otherwise miss.

"Maybe he didn’t have time to dispose of the body elsewhere before Jamie’s mom came back. They moved out not long after Jamie disappeared," Jim said. "The most recent owners were checking the place with a view to fumigating it. When they looked into the crawlspace, they saw Jamie’s sneaker sticking up and went down for a closer look."

Blair shuddered visibly at that then his face took on a slightly unfocused look. "I know he beat Jamie up and he was a heavy drinker. He was mean…" His voice suddenly seemed very small. "I didn’t like him…" He remained staring off into space as though lost in some distant memory.

"Sandburg?" When Blair didn’t reply, Jim nudged him gently. "You with me, Chief?"

"What?" Blair jumped a little and then looked at Jim. "Oh, right. Sorry."

Jim frowned. "You see something else?"

Blair shook his head. "No, just remembering."

"Okay." Jim stood and motioned for Blair to do the same. "Walker’s in interrogation room two. We know he owned a gun the same caliber as the one that killed Jamie. The problem is he has an alibi for that day. Says he was at work and his boss verified it through wage records."

"Well, the time of death isn’t going to be real exact, is it?" Blair remarked, following Jim down the hallway. "I mean, I hadn’t seen Jamie for a few days before he disappeared."

"Unfortunately for us, Walker’s attendance records for work are clean up to two weeks before Jamie disappeared and he was right back at work the day after Jamie’s disappearance."

"Nighttime?" Blair suggested. "I mean he can’t have been working twenty four hours a day."

Jim grinned and slapped his partner on the back. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around, Sandburg. All right, let’s go see if we can shake something loose."

~o0o~

The man seated at the table in the interrogation room bore little resemblance to the man Blair remembered from ten years before. His once beefy body was now soft and pudgy. His face was heavily jowled, reddened in places from years of alcohol abuse, his eyes rheumy but hard. He looked up as Jim and Blair entered then sat back in his chair, throwing one arm across the back of it, assuming a nonchalant posture. "You find out who killed the kid yet?" he asked.

Jim shook his head. "Not yet. I’m Detective Ellison," he said as he took a seat opposite Walker. "This is my partner, Blair Sandburg."

Walker’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Blair who walked a few paces to the wall and leaned against it. "I know you?"

Blair started to nod then shook his head. "I don’t think so."

Walker shrugged and turned back to Jim. "Say what you gotta say and let me get out of here. I got a day off and I don’t plan on spending it cooped up in a police station."

"You’ve got several days off," Jim said conversationally. "I believe you’re between jobs at the moment, aren’t you?"

"So? What’s that got to do with anything?" He leaned forward, his voice belligerent. "I didn’t kill the kid. I couldn’t stand the little shit but I didn’t kill him."

"Why didn’t you like Jamie?" Blair asked from across the room.

Walker stared at Blair for a moment as though sizing him up. "He was in the way. Always whining. Wouldn’t do what I asked him to do. He smart-mouthed me too. Whenever I tried to get him to toe the line, his mother would always take his side and we’d end up fighting –"

"Did you hit him?" Blair asked, his voice soft.

"Yeah, once or twice. Never used to be a crime to discipline your kid," Walker grumbled. "Now all these new laws are turning kids into namby-pamby fags. When he got out of line, I’d give him a whack."

"Did you hit your wife during these arguments you had over Jamie?" Jim asked.

Walker shrugged, seeming unconcerned. "We'd fight, she’d throw something at me, I’d hit her. It happened. She never called the cops. She knew she deserved it."

Blair had taken a step forward. "Nobody deserves to be hit. Maybe she didn’t call the cops because she was afraid to."

Jim glanced up at Blair. The anthropologist’s entire body was radiating tension. Reaching out, he placed a warning hand on Blair’s arm and gave him a ‘let me handle this’ look. "What happened the day Jamie disappeared?"

Walker suddenly looked defensive and Jim extended his hearing, tuning in to the man's heartbeat.

"How would I know?" Walker said finally. "I told you I was at work." He glared directly at Jim but the detective could hear the man's heart racing.

"How did Jamie and his mother get on?" Jim asked.

Walker shrugged. "She stuck up for him all the time, like he was her golden-haired little boy, but they had their share of fights."

"Over what?"

"Like I cared," Walker shot back.

Jim leaned back in his seat and studied the man for a moment then slowly nodded. "All right, Mr. Walker, that's all for now. We'll be in touch," he added when the other man stood.

"Jim?"

Jim turned to look at Blair who was standing beside him with an incredulous look on his face. The detective shook his head and made a wait gesture with his hand. Once Walker had left the room, Jim addressed his partner. "I'm sorry, Sandburg. We've got nothing to go on yet. The guy has an alibi and although his heart rate sped up when I asked him what happened the day Jamie disappeared, I didn't get any other sense that he was lying."

Blair stalked over to the wall and stared at it. "So we just let him go."

"For now -"

"It's not right, Jim." Blair's voice rose higher in volume and Jim frowned then stood. "That bastard killed Jamie, I know he did. He hurt him and terrorized him and then he killed him." Before Jim could react, Blair raised a fist and smashed it into the wall then did it again. Jim made it to his side before his already bloody hand contacted a third time. Grasping Blair's hand by the wrist, Jim cradled it against his chest, his grip firm and constraining.

"Enough, Sandburg!" Glancing down at Blair's hand, he saw the knuckles were split, swelling and bruising already forming. "What the hell is wrong with you lately?"

Blair glared at him and tore his hand away. "What's wrong with me?" he asked. "What's wrong with you? You just let that bastard walk out of here! He hurt me and now you just let him go."

It took a moment for the words to register, then Jim said, "Wait a minute, Chief. What do you mean he hurt you?"

Blair blinked slowly at him. "Jamie," he said slowly. "I mean he hurt Jamie."

Jim studied Blair closely. His face was pale and sweaty, and his eyes looked slightly glazed, his forehead creased with obvious pain. "Let me take a look at your hand, Chief. Make sure you haven't broken any bones."

Blair dropped his gaze to his hand, touching the swelling flesh with a finger. "It's fine," but Jim merely held out his own hand in a mute command. Sighing, Blair did as he'd been asked.

Gently Jim ran his sensitive fingers over the bruising then nodded. "No breaks," he said finally. "Let's get some ice on it and bandage up those cuts."

Shepherding Blair in front of him, Jim led the way to the break room and pulled out the first aid kit.

"What now?" Blair asked as Jim taped the gauze down.

"We work at finding some evidence to tie Walker to the crime," Jim replied.

"How?" Blair's voice was steadier though soft, his color returning.

Jim held up two fingers. "With good old fashioned police work," he said, "and using our special skills to see if we can come up with something. You had that vision last night. Maybe it's opened up the pathway."

~o0o~

Blair settled himself on the floor and leaned back against the couch. Jim sat above and in front of him, on the edge of the coffee table, leaning forward slightly, Jamie’s key ring clutched tightly in one hand. "There’s one thing I wanted to ask you before we get started," Jim said.

Blair had just closed in eyes in preparation to taking a few cleansing breaths to center himself but he opened them and looked up at Jim. "What's that?"

"Up to now you've always needed my connection in order to see anything. With this case, you've experienced sensations at the murder site and visions while you were asleep. Neither time have you been in contact with me."

Blair thought about it for a moment then shrugged. "I don't know, Jim. Maybe I needed that connection initially, like a conduit… Maybe it's like you with your senses." He dropped his gaze to his lap and picked absently at the ragged threads surrounding a hole in his jeans. "These days you don't need me at all to guide you."

"That's not true!" Jim said forcefully. He reached out and cupped Blair's chin, lifting Blair's head so that they stared into each other's eyes. "Every time these senses throw me for a loop, you always manage to figure it out, get me back on track."

Blair gave him a grateful smile. "So I'm guessing I shouldn't hand in my resignation any time soon."

"Not in this lifetime." Jim held out his hand, the keys from the ring dangling between his fingers. "You ready to give this another shot?"

Blair screwed up his face. "I really hate this part, man. I mean, we've had three successes out of five so far and even with the two murders we couldn't help with, I think the victims' families were really grateful, just knowing their loved ones hadn't been forgotten. When we get it right, it just feels so good, you know?"

Jim nodded in understanding. He'd experienced the highs and lows, the frustration and satisfaction of investigative work for a long time now.

"I hate the visions," Blair said softly. "The anger and fear, the violence. I don't think I'll ever get used to it."

"We stop whenever you say so," Jim said just as quietly. "That's the agreement we have with Bill Fleischer. Anytime you feel you can't go on, we stop."

"I know but I don't think we can. I think that's part of what Incacha was telling me in that vision. That we're a part of each other now. In a sense, we’re both guides." He smiled at Jim. "Quid pro quo."

Jim nodded. "Just like it's been from the beginning. Maybe that's what Incacha has been telling us both. That my senses are just part of a bigger plan."

Blair shook his head. "You're getting really philosophical in your old age, man. Naomi is never going to believe it." He shook himself and reached out, closing his hand over Jim's. "I'm ready."

~o0o~

Jim's back ached from leaning forward and staying in one position for too long but he didn't dare move. There was something strange going on here. Usually, even in the depths of a vision, Blair's body seemed to move, flinching and tensing, relaxing and shaking in reaction to what he was seeing.

This time, Blair was almost completely motionless. His eyes moved rapidly beneath his lids and perspiration beaded his forehead and upper lip. His face was pale, his hands knotted into fists on his lap but he was totally still. He hardly seemed to be breathing and that thought gave Jim a moment of panic. He had just reached out to touch Blair's shoulder, when Blair stiffened and his eyes snapped open.

"Oh God," Blair gasped. He collapsed to his side on the floor and curled into a ball, rocking violently, his uninjured hand thumping his head as though by doing so, he could knock the vision from his memory.

"Blair?" Jim knelt at his partner's side and rested a hand on Blair's shoulder, his hearing extended to catalogue Blair's vitals. The anthropologist's heart was racing, and his breathing was shaky. At Jim's touch, he ceased his rocking and rolled onto his back, suddenly boneless. A tear escaped from one eye, dribbling across his cheek to disappear into his hair. With a trembling hand, Blair swiped at his face then looked up at Jim with sorrowful eyes.

"His mother," he whispered. "It wasn't Bill Walker at all. His mom… sh…shot him. I saw it all."

~o0o~

Jim placed a cup of tea on the dining table in front of Blair, squeezing the other man's shoulder as he moved past to sit next to him. "Okay," he said. "Tell me what you saw."

Blair's forehead creased with concentration and he closed his eyes, replaying the vision in his head. "This was more like I usually get. Flashes. Not whole scenes. Jamie and his mother were arguing. She was really pissed. She and Bill had a fight and Bill hit her. She blamed Jamie, saying if he'd do what Bill asked, Bill wouldn't get drunk and take it out on her. There - there was a lot of shouting. She pulled the gun and told Jamie she'd kill him if he didn't get out of the house. They struggled. The gun went off."

"That's it?" Jim asked in the silence that followed.

Blair nodded, too overcome with emotion to speak. He rubbed his eyes. His headache was coming back and his vision was blurry.

Jim leaned back in his chair. "The mother claims she was out on an errand, and got home after Bill did. Bill told her Jamie had left."

"Are there any witnesses to where she was?"

Jim shook his head. "Initially there were no suspicions of foul play and after Jamie's body was found, we focused solely on Bill Walker."

"Maybe he's covering for her," Blair added. "Maybe that's what you picked up on when you said his heart rate picked up."

"Could be. Why do you suppose he'd do that?" Jim asked. "Didn't seem to be a whole lot of love in the relationship."

"I don't know!" Blair stood and shoved back his chair, his impatience catching him by surprise. Jim, too, if his expression was anything to go by. "Maybe he was just happy Jamie was out of the picture. I don't know."

"Why don't we call it a night?" Jim suggested. "We can talk to Jamie's mom in the morning."

"Why not now?"

"Because it's late and you look lousy. If we're going to do this right, I need you at your best."

"Jim -"

Jim shook his head firmly, putting an end to the conversation. "And before we go talk with Ms. Sheridan, I want to take another look at the crawl space."

"We already did that," Blair said, not liking the idea of returning to the confined space where Jamie had been discovered.

"I might find some evidence that will tie Jamie's mother to being down there."

"It's worth a shot, I guess," Blair concurred. "I'm going to take a shower. Okay?"

Jim stood. "I'll lock up. See you in the morning, Chief."

~o0o~

Blair closed his journal with a sigh. The writing was too blurred for him to read and his headache still throbbed behind his stinging eyes. He set the book aside on his bedside table and lay back, clasping his hands behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling.

He thought back to the optometrist's words. What exactly did it mean if his optic nerve was swollen? Blair wasn't stupid. His mind easily supplied the worst case scenario. He could be going blind. Would he still have visions if he were blind? How would he backup Jim if he couldn't see what was happening, couldn't tell if Jim was zoning? Would Jim want him around if he was of no use. He snorted at that one. He was becoming way too maudlin. He and Jim were friends now, closer than friends. Even if Blair could no longer guide him, there was no way Jim would throw Blair out on the streets.

Instead of offering comfort, that thought just brought him full circle. Blair groaned and rolled to his side, punching his pillow into a more comfortable shape. He forced himself to think of other, less dire reasons for his problem. Too many hours spent in Jim's truck on stakeouts, scribbling notes by just the cab light. That was probably it. He'd leave telling Jim for now. No use both of them being worried if all he needed was a new pair of glasses. Once the case was wrapped up, he'd make the appointment for the neurosurgeon, and if nothing untoward was found, Jim would never need know.

Feeling a little more at ease, Blair drifted to sleep, hoping his night would be free from dreams.

~o0o~

Any hope Jim had that Blair's nightmares might cease now he'd seen what had happened to Jamie was short-lived. Twice during the night, Blair woke, yelling and thrashing about in his bed. By morning, both men were exhausted and ragged. Jim was beginning to have serious doubts about continuing on with the case. Maybe now they could hand it over to Homicide. Blair furiously vetoed that idea.

"No way, Jim!" he said, shaking his head. "I want to follow this through. For Jamie. I'll be fine. I bet once we wrap this up, the nightmares will go."

Jim agreed reluctantly. He watched Blair now as the other man sat at the table, eating breakfast while scanning the newspaper. Blair was squinting at the pages and every now and then, he took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes.

"Your vision okay?" Jim asked, sitting down with his own plate of eggs and bacon.

"I guess I'm getting that new prescription none too soon." Blair pulled his glasses off once more and tossed them onto the table. He groaned when the frames bounced and one lens popped out.

"Relax," Jim chided, "I can fix them." He picked up the frames and lens. "When did you say your new glasses come in?"

Blair sighed. "Truth is, I can't afford them right now. I mean, I can probably scrape together enough for the lenses but the frames… That's the most expensive part of the deal."

"You can't keep wearing these," Jim said. He stood and went into the kitchen, pulling out a small case from one of the drawers. Locating the tiny screwdriver he needed, he dialed up his sight and set to work securing the lens back in place. "Why don't I float you a loan?" he suggested casually, not looking up.

"No, Jim, it's fine. I'll work something out."

"You need your eyesight clear, Chief. I need you sharp, not suffering from blurred vision and headaches. Let me pay for your prescription and a new set of frames and I'll tack the cost onto your share of the rent." He looked up and met Blair's eyes, holding out the repaired glasses. "What do you say?"

Blair nodded slowly. "Okay, thanks. I'll pay you back as soon as I can."

"I know."

~o0o~

Jim crouched down in the crawlspace where Jamie's body had been found and looked around carefully. The area around Jamie's skeleton had been carefully excavated, each inch of dirt sifted and examined microscopically. They'd found nothing besides the body and key ring and of course, the bullet in Jamie's skull.

"Anything?" Blair asked hopefully.

Jim could feel the tension in Blair's body, could smell the sour taint of nervousness that emanated from the anthropologist. Jim pointed to the far corner of the crawlspace. "Over there. It looks like the earth was disturbed there." He made his way over to the area he'd indicated and dug gently at the dirt with his hands. Several inches down, he recoiled, hastily dialing down his sense of smell at Blair's whispered command as the pungent odor of decay and blood seeped into his nostrils. Persevering with his search, his fingers touched the edge of some kind of cloth and he tugged on it, pulling it from its hiding place.

He held it up, allowing Blair to shine a flashlight on it. It was a woman's skirt, the front covered in old blood that had stiffened the material. Placing it inside a large plastic bag, Jim sat back on his haunches and stared at his partner. "Somehow, I doubt that belongs to Bill Walker." He dusted the dirt from his hands and led the way back to the steps that led up to the house. "Let's go see Ms. Sheridan."

~o0o~

May Sheridan gave Blair a piercing stare that made the hairs on his neck stand up. He tried not to shiver. After a moment, she shrugged, seeming to dismiss him and turned back to the stove to stir her stew. "I told you already," she said, directing her reply to Jim. "Jamie ran away."

"No, ma'am, he didn't," Jim replied. "We found Jamie's body in the crawlspace of your house. Now your husband has an alibi for that day but you don't."

"I was out, shopping," May replied. She glared at Blair again and stepped over to the coffeepot, pouring herself a cup of the steaming brew. She stood, glaring, the pot shaking slightly in her hand. "Why'd you come back?" she asked Blair.

Blair took a step closer to her, hoping to encourage her to reveal the secret she'd hidden all these years. Tears stung his eyes, his sight blurring as he struggled to come to terms with the reality of a mother murdering her only child. "I'm Jamie's friend," he said softly. "I wanted to help him."

May shook her head and backed up against the counter. The coffeepot drooped in her hand as though she'd forgotten she held it. "You shouldn't have come back," she muttered. "I don't know how many times I told you if you didn't fire him up arguing with him, he wouldn't come after me. I told you and told you."

Blair blinked. It seemed apparent that May was talking to Jamie. Blair knew he and the other boy had looked nothing alike but that fact was lost on May who seemed convinced her son had returned from the dead. "Why did you shoot Jamie?" he asked, taking another step closer to the confused woman.

"You shouldn't have come back," May said again. "Now it's gonna start all over again. I didn't want to hurt you but you wouldn't leave. It was the only way to make it stop."

"Ms. Sheridan," Jim took a step forward, one hand reaching behind him for his cuffs. Blair glanced at Jim and in the moment his attention wavered, May reacted.

"Sandburg, look out!" Blair turned back toward May but Jim's shouted warning came too late. The coffeepot swung up in a wide arc, catching Blair on the side of the head. Heat and pain exploded together, shooting sharply through his skull. He reared back, clawing at his face as the coffee burned a fiery swathe along his cheek.

He fell to the ground, clutching his head, barely aware of the struggle and shouts above him. Nausea surged and he flopped to his side, retching, then blessedly cold liquid flushed his face and he sucked in a tortured breath. He tried to move away when fingers touched his cheek, feeling like sandpaper against his skin and he moaned as agony sheared through his head. Darkness crowded out the spots dancing in his vision and he sagged back to the floor, unconscious.

~o0o~

Though the skin on Blair's right cheek was reddened and blistered, the paramedics had assured Jim that the burns there were relatively minor. Of more concern was Sandburg's mental state. He'd regained consciousness in the ambulance but seemed disoriented and confused, caught up once more in his visions of Jamie's abuse at the hands of his stepfather.

Blair's voice was off somehow. He sounded almost like a frightened child, begging for the pain to stop amidst heartfelt promises to be good.

Jim leaned forward as Blair's hand strayed up toward his face, and he muttered feverishly. The detective intercepted the flailing hand and pushed it down to rest on Blair's chest. At the same time, he gently grasped Blair's chin, carefully avoiding the gauze covered cheek and drew Blair's head to face him. "Chief! Blair! Take it easy. You're going to be fine."

Blair attempted to pull away in his distress and Jim tried once more to get through. "Sandburg! Look at me! It's Jim."

Blair's eyes finally fluttered open and he squinted up at Jim, his forehead creasing in obvious pain. "Ji… Jim? Wha… happened?"

Jim relaxed a little at the more coherent response from his partner. "May hit you with a coffeepot. Your cheek's a little burned but the medics say you're gonna be fine. Do you hurt anywhere else?"

Blair took a moment to respond. "Head. Killer headache… and my vision's blurry." He raised his free hand and waved it in front of his eyes. "Can't see too good."

"It's gonna be fine, Chief. We're just arriving at the hospital now." Sitting back, Jim watched as Blair's eyes drifted closed and he settled into a more natural sleep though his hand still twitched convulsively in Jim's grasp.

~o0o~

Unable to sit still, Jim prowled the waiting area while Blair was examined. After what seemed an interminable length of time, he saw a doctor exit the examination room and head toward him.

"Detective Ellison, I'm Doctor Barrett. Your partner is awake. He's got some superficial burns to his cheek as you know but of more concern when he first came in was his mental state."

"He was disorientated for a while in the ambulance," Jim confirmed.

The doctor led the way to a row of chairs and sat down. "He's conscious and alert now, oriented to place and time but we were concerned enough to do a CT scan. Has Blair been suffering from any visual problems, headaches, nausea?"

Jim's worry increased ten-fold. "He just got a new prescription for his glasses and he's had some headaches and vomiting. He suffers from migraines occasionally." He paused a moment, not sure if he wanted to ask the question foremost in his mind. "Did the CT scan pick up something?"

The doctor nodded. "There's a build up of scar tissue near the right optic nerve. It would explain Blair's vision problems and possibly the headaches. What's his mental state been like recently?"

"What do you mean?"

The doctor spread his hands. "Mood swings, a change in his usual personality, that sort of thing."

"He's been a little on edge," Jim replied. "We've been investigating a case that had a personal link for Blair. It's been tough." He didn't want to go into the subject of Blair's visions but knew he had to give as much information as he could. "He's had some nightmares regarding the case."

"Do you know if Blair was abused as a child?"

The question startled Jim. Naomi? He shook his head firmly. "I don't know for sure, but I don't think so. His mother loves him very much, and they're very close. Blair never knew his father, and I… We're best friends. I think he would have told me. Why do you ask?"

"The type of scarring I can see on the CT scan indicates repeated blunt force trauma to the same area."

"He's taken a few knocks to the head since he's been riding with me," Jim admitted. It had always been a bone of contention in the partnership, Blair being too close to the action and getting hurt too often. The thick medical file on the doctor's lap attested to that. Blair however would not be swayed from his conviction that he could hardly study Jim's abilities from a distance. They'd set down some ground rules, that Blair either adhered to or not, and they argued about, and left it at that.

The doctor shook his head. "These seem to be specifically to one particular part of the skull. It's doubtful that random blows over a few years would account for that. What's happened here is that those blows have caused tiny bleeds from the capillaries in the area and caused scarring that's pressing on the optic nerve. We see it now and then in child abuse cases."

"What do you do about it?"

"I'd like a neurosurgeon to see Blair. In most cases, it's relatively easy to trim away the scar tissue with a laser and reduce the pressure on the optic nerve."

"Risks?" Jim asked.

"There are always risks, Detective. Aside from the usual chances of complication from the anesthetic, infection and so on, there's a very small chance the optic nerve could be damaged irreparably, causing blindness."

"Have you told Blair?"

"I have. He'd like to speak to you."

Jim stood quickly. "Thank you."

~o0o~

Jim opened the door to the examination room as quietly as he could but Blair was obviously expecting him.

"Jim!" Blair painfully pushed himself up further against his pillows and beckoned his partner over.

Jim grimaced at the damage to Blair's face. Dark bruising bled down his cheek, disappearing beneath the gauze protecting the burns. Jim shook his head then seated himself on the side of the bed. "You've got to stop leading with your chin, Chief."

Blair nodded and picked at the edge of a fingernail. "Did the doctor tell you what they want to do?"

"Yeah." Jim reached out and grasped Blair's hand, squeezing gently. "It's gonna be fine, Chief. Though I have to admit I'm curious about what they're gonna find in the Sandburg zone."

Blair looked up and smiled weakly at that. "They're gonna shave my head," he said mournfully.

Jim reached out and tugged gently on a curly strand. "It'll grow back."

"I know." Blair closed his eyes. "The doctor asked me if I'd been abused as a kid, can you believe that?"

"Well, he said this type of injury is often seen in child abuse cases."

Blair opened his eyes and stared at Jim, wide-eyed. "I know, but come on, Jim, Naomi? She never so much as spanked me, man. Besides, if someone did something like that to me, I'd remember it, right?"

"You once told me you'd been in therapy most of your life," Jim remembered.

Blair shrugged. "That was just Naomi's deal, you know? Cleansing the soul, stuff like that."

"What about the nightmares?" Jim asked. "Not the visions," he clarified.

Blair started to shake his head then obviously thought better of it. "That was Jamie. It was just too close, with Jamie being a friend of mine. Are you saying you never had nightmares about your teammates from the chopper crash or Danny Choi… or Lila."

"Of course I have," Jim conceded. "Look, I'm just making sure all the bases are covered. Maybe this thing with Jamie was too close because the same thing happened to you," Jim suggested.

This time Blair did shake his head. "No!" He shifted lower in the bed and pulled the blankets up around his neck. "I would have remembered it. Naomi wouldn't have let anyone do that to me."

"Okay, Chief, settle down." Jim patted Blair's shoulder rhythmically until the tension beneath his hand dissipated. "Speaking of Naomi, you want me to phone her?"

"Yeah, I guess. She's in Chicago. The number's on my desk. Wait! No!" Blair turned over in the bed and looked up at Jim. "She'll just panic. I'll phone her when I get home."

"You should let her know, Chief -"

"No!" Blair's voice was tight with tension and his forehead creased with pain.

"All right." Jim stood. "Look, you get some rest. I have to go speak with Jamie's stepfather. There's a possibility he'll be charged with obstruction, if he knew that May killed Jamie. I'll call back tonight, see how you're doing."

Blair sighed, rubbed at his forehead then reached out and grabbed Jim's hand. "I'm sorry. I keep jumping down your throat and you're just trying to help."

"De nada, Sandburg. Get some rest."

~o0o~

Jim looked at Bill Walker in astonishment. "You're not denying covering up Jamie's death and not reporting it to the police?"

Walker leaned closer to his lawyer and conferred quietly with him for a moment. "Look, I didn't shoot the damn kid. Once he was dead, it was too late to go back and undo it. Besides the little shit had it coming."

"Mr. Walker!" his lawyer admonished.

"It's the truth," Walker replied sulkily. "Anyway, at first she told me he'd run away. It was only after he was found, she told me the truth."

"Why didn't you tell us then?" Jim asked.

Walker rolled his eyes as though the answer was obvious. "Because she'd done me a favor. I didn't care how she got rid of the kid, just so long as he was gone."

Jim took a deep breath and had a brief internal struggle not to reach across the table and beat Walker to a bloody pulp. "That'll be all, Mr. Walker. You'll be arraigned tomorrow morning. Until then, you'll be held in custody for obstruction of the law."

~o0o~

It was late by the time Jim got back to the hospital. He spoke briefly with the doctor Blair had seen in the ER, who had just been in to check on him. The neurosurgeon had been consulted and the surgery was scheduled for the following day.

"That's pretty soon, isn't it?" Jim asked, feeling alarmed.

"Doctor Freeling felt the pressure on the optic nerve to be reasonably severe. Too much prolonged pressure could damage the optic nerve and the surgery would be worthless."

Jim nodded. "I'll go see him, if that's all right."

"I prescribed a sedative to help him sleep," the doctor said. "He's understandably nervous about the surgery. If he's asleep, don't wake him."

~o0o~

Blair was asleep and Jim took a moment to simply watch his partner. With the bruising and burns, and the dark shadows under his eyes - the legacy of the past nights of disturbed sleep - Blair looked more vulnerable than Jim could ever remember. Blair had always been vocal, exuberant and dogged when he felt passionate about something. He'd faced a great deal of adversity in his time with Jim and always bounced back. Even when the visions had first manifested themselves, Blair had stuck it out, persevered because he felt it was a calling, a gift he could not deny. Now it seemed that the price might be too high.

Jim had a sudden guilty thought of calling Naomi against Blair's wishes and asking her somehow about Blair's childhood. He just as quickly dismissed the idea. Their partnership had always been based on trust. He had insisted on it from Blair at the beginning. He could hardly rescind that now.

When it seemed apparent that Blair would not wake, Jim stood and brushed a wayward strand of hair from Blair's face. "Take it easy, Chief," he whispered. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Blair stirred as though he'd heard the words, drowsy eyelids opening to blink groggily at Jim. He gave a lazy smile. "Hey. When did you get here?"

"A few minutes ago. I'm sorry I woke you."

Blair shook his head and waved a limp hand in the air. "With what they've given me, I'll be asleep again in no time. What happened with May?"

"Her lawyer's going for a temporary insanity plea."

Blair frowned. "That sucks, man."

"Yeah, at least Jamie can be laid to rest now. He's going to be buried alongside his grandfather."

"I'd like to pay my respects."

Jim nodded. "As soon as you're up to it, we'll go together."

"You gonna be here tomorrow?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, Chief," Jim replied with a smile. "I'm going home to hit the sack, so I can get back here bright and early in the morning."

"'Kay. 'Night, Jim."

~o0o~

When the phone rang at six am the following morning, Jim realized he'd been laying in bed, half-awake, staring at the ceiling for God knew how long. Grabbing the receiver, he identified himself while he grabbed his robe and headed downstairs for coffee.

"Jim, Simon. Fuller's been spotted in downtown Cascade. Word on the street is he's looking to make a buy."

Wayne Fuller was a big money drug peddler that Jim and Blair had been tailing for months. Jim's stomach tightened at the news but before he could say anything, Simon continued. "I know Sandburg's surgery is today but I need you in on this, Jim. I'm sorry."

"Captain -"

"There's nothing I can do about it," Simon interjected. "I agreed to this Vidocq thing only if it didn't interfere with your job here with the PD. Blair's going to be under anesthetic. He won't even know if you're there or not."

"I could just swing by the hospital on my way in," Jim suggested. "Let Sandburg know I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Make it a phone call," Simon said firmly. "I need you here an hour ago." He paused then went on, his tone a little softer. "Jim, I know you're worried about the kid. So am I. As soon as this is wrapped up, I'll cut you loose. Brown and I can handle the paperwork."

Jim's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Thanks, Simon. I'm on my way."

~o0o~

Blair tried not to let his nervousness show as he was helped onto a gurney for the ride to surgery. Tears stung his eyes when he remembered the phone call from Jim earlier that morning. Not only was it the first time in the past few years that Jim wasn't at his side while he was in the hospital, it also meant that Jim was out on the street without Blair for backup. He was pretty sure that was worrying him more than the surgery. He thought about that for a moment while he tugged on the thin sheet and pulled it over his chest, trying to stop himself from shivering. On second thought, he was pretty sure both concerns were on a par.

He gazed longingly along the corridor as he was wheeled out of his room, hoping against hope to see Jim come barreling along, apologizing profusely for being late, but his prayer went unanswered. Just one more time, he thought. Let me see him just once more.

~o0o~

"Blair? Can you open your eyes for me? The surgery's over, everything went well."

Blair couldn't place the voice, though it was certainly pleasant and easy on the ears. He tried to do what the female voice had asked but his eyes remained stubbornly closed. His head throbbed with a fierce intensity and felt four sizes too big. He moaned hoarsely and jumped when coldness washed along his arm, bringing with it an almost immediate easing of the pain and a lethargy he could not fight.

"That will help with the pain, Blair," the voice soothed. "Just rest now."

Blair drifted, not quite asleep, an uneasiness keeping him from relaxing fully, a sense that something was missing, troubling his muddled thoughts.

There was a sudden flash of blinding white light and Blair winced as the dim throbbing in his head reached a sudden agonizing crescendo. A deep voice washed over him, soothing yet commanding.

"To be at peace in the future, you must confront your past."

"Incacha?" The name was a mere breath from Blair's lips. The light blinked out abruptly, leaving him in total darkness and he relaxed once more into twilight sleep.

Flash ~ The boy stood before him, his pale face upturned, a bruise marring one cheek. Huge, liquid blue eyes framed by a mop of unruly shoulder length curls, stared up at him defiantly, but the square chin quivered uncontrollably. He gave a feral grin, feeling a sense of supremacy.

The kid was small for his age, fine-boned but instead of feeling a compassionate protectiveness for the child, his heart surged with angry impatience. 'Puny,' his mind supplied.

"I'll tell," the boy whispered.

The kid's mother cooed over him, calling him baby and brushing her fingers through those damned girly curls. He'd want her in his bed, giving him some attention and she'd be curled up with the kid, reading him storybooks. Too much time for the kid, never enough for him.

His own father had never allowed him to be a snotty-nosed namby-pamby. He'd rough-housed with the kid, slapping him around a little, just to get a reaction, to make him fight back, to stand up for himself, but the kid just stood there mutely, fat tears running down his reddened cheeks.

"I'll tell," the boy said again, the words ending on a sob.

Fury blossomed, tingeing his vision red. His hand stretched out, reaching for the boy who turned to flee. Turned his back on him. His fist snarled in the long curls, dragging the boy toward him. The boy wailed, the sound grating on his ears and he slammed a punch into the kid's back, the force of it sending the child into the wall with a thump…

"Mama!" Blair's head exploded with pain. He gasped, trying to catch a breath but his lungs seemed to be held in a vice-like grip that would not release. He struggled against the hands that held him down, needing to escape the claustrophobia of his nightmare world but they pushed against him, sending him back into the haunted visions of his past.

~o0o~

Jim parked the car in the hospital parking lot and hurried toward the entrance. While they'd managed to catch Fuller red-handed, Jim's snitch was dead, murdered for his disloyalty, and Jim knew he had to take the blame for that. His mind hadn't been totally on the job. It was difficult to concentrate on the task at hand knowing your partner, your best friend was lying on an operating table, having a hole drilled in his skull.

Jim shuddered a little at the vivid image that thought dredged up and slowed his pace to a walk as he headed for the elevators. He'd phoned the hospital as soon as he'd left the PD, and had been told that Blair was in the ICU and resting comfortably.

Making his way along the corridor, unwanted memories came to mind - of Blair, after accidentally ingesting Golden, unconscious, intubated, struggling to survive, and of that other time, far more recently, when Alex had drowned Blair in the fountain and Jim had all but given up hope of his partner's survival. Blair had regained his strength each time, and returned to Jim's side, a little sadder and wiser for the experience, more determined than ever that his place was with his sentinel.

"Mama!"

Jim heard the shout as soon as he exited the elevator and knew without a doubt that it was Blair. Breaking into a run, Jim raced down the corridor and burst into the ICU.

Blair lay in the bed, his head swathed in bandages, tears streaking his face. He thrashed weakly against the hands that held him down. Beside the bed, a nurse drew something up into a syringe and injected it into the IV port. Within a few seconds, Blair's struggles died down, though he still gasped for breath, his chest heaving with the effort, his head shaking from side to side.

Jim stepped up to the bed, relieved when the doctor nodded at him and moved back. Placing his hands on either side of Blair's face, stilling the frantic movements, Jim called his partner's name. "Blair. Take it easy. You're safe."

There was no response and Blair's struggle to free himself increased again, though his strength was depleted by the stress of the surgery and the drugs administered. Concentrating, Jim attempted to do what he'd done not so long ago. Turning his thoughts within, he reached for the link they shared as sentinel and guide, and took Blair's fear into himself.

~o0o~

Through the terror that overwhelmed him, Blair felt a touch of comfort and safety. He relaxed, feeling the tension drain from him, the pain receding until it was a distant throb. He felt warm and safe, sleepy and at peace.

Something wet dripped onto his face and he forced his eyes open to see Jim bending over him, his cheeks wet with tears. Jim's fingers swiped at the moisture and Blair smiled. "Jim," he whispered and closed his eyes.

~o0o~

Jim felt Blair relax and straightened, keeping one hand on Blair's chest, the even, slow breaths beneath his hand reassuring him that Blair was sleeping peacefully. Jim's head ached from the intensity of Blair's fear… and his own anger and he felt sick to his stomach at the extent of Blair's suffering as a child.

He looked over at the doctor, who was taking Blair's pulse and nodding in satisfaction.

"I think he'll sleep for a while now," the doctor said. "His vitals are all settling back to normal."

"I'll stay with him," Jim said, making it a declaration.

The doctor nodded and indicated the chair by the wall. "Let the nurse know if you're concerned at all or when he wakes. I want to check his mental status once he's more alert."

Jim pulled the chair over to the bedside and sat, then reached out to take Blair's hand in his, wanting to reassure Blair of his presence. They would have to talk about all this once Blair felt up to it, but Jim felt some relief that the memories had been recovered. From here, Blair could heal, physically and emotionally.

~o0o~

Jim was drifting in a doze when he felt Blair's hand twitch in his. The other man had been sleeping deeply for almost four hours now, without a resurgence of the nightmares. Leaning forward, Jim studied Blair's face carefully, a relieved but tired smile upturning his mouth when Blair's eyes opened and focused somewhat blearily upon him.

"Hey, there, Chief," Jim said. "Have a good sleep?"

It seemed to take a moment for Blair to process the question then he nodded slightly. "No more nightmares," he said softly.

"That's good. Do you remember what happened before?" Jim asked.

Blair looked away and stared at the ceiling. "Kinda. It was Phil. I hardly even remember him. I was only four or five when mom and I moved in with him." He raised a hand to his head and gently traced the bandages there. "My head hurts."

Jim pressed the call button for the nurse. "The doctor will give you something for the pain. The good news is the surgery was a complete success, and the Sandburg zone is intact."

Blair gave Jim a wobbly smile. "That's good."

Jim took a deep breath. "Blair, can you tell me about Phil - about what he did to you?"

Blair gave an immediate and vehement shake of his head, gasping at the pain the movement caused. "I can't," he said. "I don't want to remember."

"It might be better if you do, so you can deal with it and put it behind you."

"Ask Naomi to tell you. I really don't remember that much anyway."

"Do you want to talk to someone?" Jim asked.

"A therapist?" Blair considered that for a moment. "Maybe later. I just want to forget."

"Okay." Jim tamped down his anger and desire to catch up with the monster who'd caused a small boy so much pain and fear. There would be time for that later, when Blair felt strong enough to cope with the memories. He looked up as a nurse entered the room. "I'm going to phone Simon. Let everyone know you're okay."

"'kay." Blair's eyes were drifting closed once more and after a final squeeze of his partner's hand, Jim left to find a place to use his cell phone.

His first call was to Simon, who was relieved to hear the good news, and apologetic at keeping Jim from Blair's side during this worrisome time. Hanging up, Jim dialed Naomi's number and waited for her to answer the phone. He was disappointed when the answering machine kicked in, a feeling of urgency to discover what had happened to Blair suddenly overwhelming him. He was relieved when the machine clicked off and Naomi's voice came through the phone. "Naomi, it's Jim."

"What's happened?" Naomi's voice was instantly concerned. "I've been feeling unsettled all day," she rushed on. "I tried to meditate but I just couldn't relax into it. It's Blair, isn't it?"

"He's okay, Naomi," Jim assured her. Why weren't you this worried twenty years ago, he thought angrily, when your boyfriend was beating the shit out of him? "He had a head injury. The doctor's operated to relieve the pressure but he's going to be just fine."

"I knew this was going to happen," she replied. "I warned him."

"This didn't happen on the job, Naomi," Jim said firmly. He sighed. "Well, it did, but - Look, it's a long story. Blair received a blow to his head from a suspect we were interviewing. When the doctors examined him, they found some scar tissue had built up in his brain that was putting pressure on his optic nerve -"

"Oh my God!" Naomi shrieked. "Where is he? Why didn't you call me right away?" she demanded.

"Blair didn't want me to," Jim said. "Look, the doctors believe that the scarring occurred over time, possibly when Blair was a child." He paused, suddenly unsure how to phrase the question he needed to ask. Finally, he settled for, "Do you know a guy called Phil? Were you ever in a relationship with someone by that name?"

Her sharp intake of breath supplied the answer. "Oh God," she whispered so softly that Jim had to dial up his hearing to hear her. "That was years ago. Blair was just a little boy. I thought - I thought he'd forgotten."

"He had," Jim replied. "We've been on a murder case - Jamie Sheridan. Blair knew him at school."

"I remember him. After what had happened to Blair, I wanted to help Jamie so badly," Naomi replied. "I saw the news reports on TV. That poor boy. Wait," she added, her voice suddenly harsh. "You don't think that I -? I'd never hurt Blair." Her voice dissolved suddenly in a flood of sobs. "I didn't know what was wrong with Blair. He'd gotten so quiet, hiding in his room from the moment Phil walked in the door. Phil - drank a lot. I saw the bruises, but all kids get bruises, right? I knew something was wrong but Blair wouldn't talk to me, and he clung to me, wanting stories all night when he should have been asleep. Wanting to sleep in bed with me. Phil didn't like that. I took Blair to a doctor. You might find that hard to believe, but it was Blair and I was desperate to find out what was wrong." She burst into another bout of soft crying.

Jim's legs felt suddenly weak and he sank down onto a nearby seat, waiting until Naomi had her tears under control. "What did the doctors say?" he asked.

"They couldn't find anything wrong with him. They said he was a very bright little boy who was just shy. I'd gotten a job at a diner, working evenings." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I came home early one night with a headache. Phil - Phil was beating Blair. He was punching him, slamming him head first into the wall, kicking him…" She broke down again.

"What did you do?" Jim asked, feeling sick.

"I attacked him, dragged him off Blair. We left a few minutes later. I didn't even bother to pack. Blair was bruised and terrified. He barely spoke for days, wouldn't let me out of his sight. I home-schooled him for a couple of years because he was too frightened to leave me. We left the state and I never saw Phil again. Eventually Blair seemed to forget about it and went back to his happy, loving ways. I thought he'd forgotten," she said again.

"The Sheridan case seems to have brought it back," Jim said. He felt enormously weary.

"I'm coming to see him," Naomi said firmly.

"Of course. Let me know your arrival time and I'll pick you up from the airport," Jim offered.

"I'll get a cab," Naomi said and her voice softened. "Stay with Blair until I get there. I don't want him to feel alone again."

"Okay."

"Jim… I'm sorry. For what I said. I know you care deeply for Blair. I know you try to protect him."

"Don't be sorry for that, Naomi," Jim said. He felt his anger returning. "Why the hell didn't you go to the police? I know how you feel about cops but this was your son."

"I was terrified Phil would find us," Naomi said. "We left and never went back."

Jim sighed. It was an oft-repeated defense. "I have to get back to Blair," he said. "I'll let him know you're coming."

"Tell him - Tell him I love him."

"I will."

~o0o~

One Week Later:

Jim watched anxiously as the doctor unwrapped the bandages from Blair's head and bent to examine the surgical wound. Jim hadn't spent a lot of time at the hospital during the day once he knew Blair was out of danger. Police work stopped for no one, and besides, he knew Blair and Naomi needed some quality time together to heal the wounds from the past. Blair had still not spoken much about his memories of his abuse and though Jim did not want to push him, he hoped that soon Blair would feel safe enough to speak of his ordeal.

Doctor Freeling stepped back from the bed, gathering up the bandages that had been dropped onto the bedside table and gave his patient a pat on the shoulder. "The wound has healed nicely, Blair. Your eyesight's almost back to normal and you haven't suffered any headaches for three days. I think it's time we sent you home so the nurses can get back to doing some work."

Blair grinned, blushing furiously when Naomi leaned forward and kissed the soft fuzz growing back on his skull. "Ma!" he complained. "Not in front of the guys."

Naomi smiled and patted his cheek. "I'm your mother, Blair. It's what mothers do." Leaning closer, she whispered into his ear, "Talk to someone you trust about this, baby. A therapist, maybe. Don't do what I did and push it back inside. It will just cause you more pain." She looked at her watch. "I have to go if I'm going to catch my plane." She stood and gathered her shawl about her shoulders, bestowing a final kiss to Blair's cheek before moving over to do the same to Jim. "Thank you," she whispered, wiping a tear from her cheek. "For keeping him safe for me."

Jim nodded. "Have a safe trip, Naomi. See you soon." He waited until the door closed behind her and the doctor before stepping over to the bed and sitting down on the side of it. "So, you ready to go home, Chief?"

Blair nodded enthusiastically and Jim couldn't restrain a chuckle. Blair looked so different with no wildly flying curls framing his face but the Blair Sandburg he knew and loved was back in full force.

"I was ready days ago, man," Blair said as he climbed out of the bed and reached for his clothes. "I have so much to catch up on. Term papers, research, an article for publication -"

"Dinner at any restaurant you want," Jim offered. "You've got to be sick of hospital food."

"You don't know the half of it," Blair replied, rolling his eyes, "but -" His hand strayed to his head, fingertips exploring the fuzz of hair. "Take out, maybe, from that new Thai restaurant. I don't think I'm up to being seen in public just yet."

"You could wear a bandana," Jim suggested. "But, hey, your treat, your choice. Thai, it is."

Blair nodded gratefully. He started toward the bathroom then turned back to his partner. "Thank you for being here with me, through all of this." He paused a moment, looking thoughtful. "When I'm ready, would you mind if I talk to you about Ph - Phil? I need to tell someone I trust."

"I was hoping you'd say that, Chief."

"Thank you." Blair grinned a familiar Sandburg grin. "If we hurry, we can sneak out before the nurse gets here with a wheelchair."

"Make the most of it, Sandburg," Jim shot back. "Maybe you'll get a few more phone numbers for your little black book."

Blair nodded slowly. "You know, you're right. Girls just can't resist a wounded hero." He ducked quickly into the bathroom before Jim could swat his backside. His voice floated through the closed door. "And don't think I'm sharing those numbers, man."

"Aw, Chief, I'm wounded," Jim shot back, enjoying the comfortable, welcome banter. "We could double-date."

Blair opened the door and poked his head out. "With your luck with women, they'd probably be murderers or something."

"Kettle - pot," Jim retorted.

Blair stuck his tongue out and retreated to the bathroom. Waiting for his partner to return, Jim wandered over to the window and stared out at the sunshine bathing the landscape. Yes, he decided. It was going to be a beautiful day.

END