A Merging of Souls

By: Lyn

 

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EMAIL: Lyn

 

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

RATING: PG

AUTHOR'S NOTES: When I first got the idea for this story, I immediately wrote to Lois Balzer to ask her permission to introduce Frank Black by alluding to his involvement with Jim and Blair in 'No Center Line'. For me, that would be more in keeping with where I am planning to take this story. She willingly agreed, which of course meant I had to go back and reread 'No Center Line'. Such a chore… not. The Vidocq Society does exist. It was created by two former members of the FBI and consists of 82 former and current law enforcement officers, including pathologists, forensics personnel and police officers who investigate cold cases and try to bring the perpetrators to justice.

BETAED BY: Annie and Tate. Thanks again, guys.

Set after SenToo, and after the events of 'No Center Line' and 'And Dream That I Am Home Again.'

No Center Line can be found at Lois' website or through Wolfpup's Den.

For Lois with thanks.

 

Blair closed his eyes, blocking out the sight of the corpse at his feet, but it had already seeped into his memory, joining others he thought had finally been laid to rest. Throats slashed and gaping, stained with red like open, screaming mouths, the smell of death overwhelming him, suffocating him. He couldn't breathe, couldn't…

Something touched his shoulder, dragging him back to the present and he sucked in a tortured gasp of air. He knew without opening his eyes that it was Jim. Attempting to compose himself, he turned his head and looked at his partner.

A small frown creased the bridge of Jim's nose. "You all right?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah," Blair rasped, knowing he'd not convinced Jim at all, but his partner merely nodded.

"Almost done here. You want to go back to the truck and wait?"

Blair shook his head. "You might need me." He gave Jim what he hoped was a confident smile but it felt strained on his face.

"Okay." Jim crouched down and after a moment's hesitation, Blair copied his action. He kept his gaze firmly on Jim and tried not to look at the murdered woman. "I need to take a closer look at the blood," Jim said, his voice muted. "I thought I saw…" His voice trailed off and Blair knew Jim was dialing up his sight. Placing a hand in the small of Jim's back, Blair waited for his partner to speak. He didn't know if his touch grounded Jim really, but it was a familiar gesture now and Jim certainly seemed to appreciate it.

"There!" Jim said triumphantly. "I thought there was-" He sat back on his haunches and nodded in satisfaction. "There's a partial shoe print in the blood. It might not get us anything but it's worth a shot. You want to get Forensics over here, make sure they get a picture of that?"

"Sure." Blair stood and turned, ducking under the police tape and hurried toward Serena Chang, the head of Forensics.

"Hey, Blair." Serena gave Blair a friendly smile. "Pretty bad, they tell me."

Blair nodded, forcing himself not to shudder. "Woman in her mid-thirties, looks like she was headed home from the market. We've got ID, Brown and Rafe have gone to notify the family. Throat…" His voice cracked and he coughed then tried again. "Throat slashed. Jim's picked up a partial shoe print in the blood."

Serena nodded and picked up her bag and camera. "Lead the way."

By the time they got back to the alley where the woman's body had been discovered, Jim was standing, gazing around at the crates and refuse that littered the area. He pointed out the shoe print to Serena, then walked slowly toward the dumpster situated at the far end.

"You got something else?" Blair asked, picking up his pace to catch up with his partner.

Jim shrugged. "Just wondered if the murderer tossed the weapon." He grasped the rim of the dumpster and swung himself up and over the edge, landing with a rustle and squelch that had him grimacing.

"I don't think you should go in there," Blair suddenly blurted, his heart was hammering in his chest and he felt a cold sweat break out on his brow.

"Why not? Gotta do a thorough search, Chief."

Blair shook his head and backed away slightly, the flashback taking him by surprise. Bodies, dead but still warm, slick with blood, crowded in on him…The stench was putrid, the silence deafening…

"Blair!"

His gaze snapped toward Jim who was half out of the dumpster, one leg dangling over the side. Blair took a shaky breath.

"Sorry," he whispered. He held up a hand, trying to stop it trembling. "I'm okay. Did you find anything?"

"No." Jim shook his head, then looked back into the dumpster. "Wait a minute." Leaning in so that his head disappeared from view, causing Blair's heart rate to sky rocket once more, he searched for a second or two, then re-emerged, one gloved hand held aloft. Clutched in that hand was a wicked looking broad bladed knife. "Probably wiped clean but it's something."

Throat suddenly dry, Blair nodded and waited for Jim to jump down and join him. Jim's hand once again found his shoulder as they headed back toward Serena and Blair leaned unashamedly into its warmth.

"How you doing, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Cold," Blair replied. "About back there, sorry. Kind of ambushed me. I thought I was past all of that."

Jim's fingers squeezed, massaging gently. "It'll get better. Do you want to tell me what you remembered?"

"The ditch," Blair whispered.

"Oh."

"We done here?" Blair asked hopefully as they ducked under the police tape and headed for the truck.

Jim shook his head. "I've got to go write this up." He gazed thoughtfully at Blair for a moment. "Why don't I drop you off at home. You can get dinner started. I'll phone if I'm going to be late."

Blair was about to protest but stopped himself. The truth was, he felt awful. Despite having been home from Seattle for six weeks now, he still felt drained and emotionally fragile from his experiences. The physical reminders were gone; the awful pink cast removed from his ankle, his bruises and cuts healed, but the emotional baggage from his ordeal of being kidnapped and beaten… and raped, then discarded, thrown into a truck full of decaying bodies was far from being dealt with. Blair wondered if he'd ever truly be over it.

The thought of a restful afternoon at home, perhaps some meditation to rid himself of the horrifying memories this case was bringing back, was appealing. Finally, he nodded. "Thanks, that'd be great."

Jim smiled, looking relieved and clapped him on the back before walking around to the driver's side of the truck and climbing in.

~o0o~

Back at the loft, Blair gathered together his meditation candles and carried them out into the living room. He cleared some space, shifting the coffee table away from the couch so he could sit comfortably on the floor. He tried to keep his mind clear as he set everything up but at the back of his mind was a vivid recollection of how it had felt to lie in that ditch with Evan, the dead bodies crowding in on them, still warm, still bleeding…

"Enough!" he admonished loudly, hoping to dispel the memories. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm. When he felt like he was back in control, he walked out into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator. He rolled the cold plastic over his forehead, sighing as it cooled his sweaty brow. Maybe he was coming down with something. At the murder scene, he'd felt chilled to the bone, now he was too hot. Getting sick was not an option right now, he told himself firmly. After the drowning, and the broken leg in Seattle, he had no time left to spare for illness.

Opening the bottle, he drank several mouthfuls of the refreshing liquid then capped it and placed it on the counter. He set up the sound system, loading a couple of tribal CDs and turning the volume to midway. He lit the candles, inhaling the pleasant soothing scent, then sat cross-legged in front of them. Closing his eyes, he began to regulate his breathing and center himself.

Flash! Silver edged in red, the blade swinging down, glinting in the light.

Blair gasped, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. He shook his head as though by doing so he could rid himself of the visions. He waited a moment, his head bowed as he focused inward and urged his mind to clear. When he felt he was ready, he began again. The tribal drums in the background swelled around him, creating a masking effect from any outside stimuli, and at last, Blair felt himself drifting toward tranquility.

Flash! A mouth, ruby red, wide open in a rictus of agony. Flash! A spurting of blood, splashing heat on his hand. Flash! A voice, hard-edged and angry. "Die, bitch!"

Blair's eyes snapped open and he stared around in panic at the familiar surroundings. "Die!" said the voice in his head, and he jerked back, knocking the coffee table with his leg. A candle teetered on the edge then fell, flaring as it hit the floor.

"Shit!" Without thinking, Blair reached out with one hand and patted the small flame with his hand before it could take hold and singe the rug. Heat seared his palm, causing a tendril of agony to streak through his fingers. "Ow!!" Blair cupped his hand against his chest and stood, stamping at the smoking patch on the living room rug. Satisfied the flame was out, he grimaced at the small but obvious scorch mark before the pain in his hand reminded him of his injury. Cursing loudly, he hurried into the bathroom and turned on the cold faucet, before placing his hand beneath the cooling spray.

It took several minutes for the burning to recede to a comfortable level and when it had, Blair took a closer look at the injury. Several blisters dotted the palm of his hand, the flesh surrounding them, looking dark red and swollen. Sighing, Blair pulled open the cabinet door and awkwardly fished out the first aid kit. With some difficulty, he managed to smear some cream over the palm of his hand then wrapped it in gauze. Finished, and feeling the burn beginning to heat up once more, the throbbing keeping a rapid pace with his heart, Blair went out to clean up the mess.

Staring down at the burn mark on the rug, he wondered if it would be possible to scrub it clean. Squatting down, he gingerly rubbed his fingers over the stain, relieved to see there did not appear to be any holes in the woven backing beneath. Getting up, he went into the kitchen and found the cleaning supplies he needed, then set to work.

~o0o~

Jim could smell the smoke the minute he opened the front door. "You kill another toaster, Sandburg?"

There was no reply to his query but his sensitive ears picked up Blair's voice coming faintly from the living room. After hanging up his jacket, Jim looked over to see Blair hunched over the living room rug, a bucket of soapy water beside him.

"Sandburg?" Jim walked over and crouched at his partner's side but Blair didn't appear to notice him.

"Shut up… shut up… shut up," Blair muttered, his words keeping time with the scrubbing of the rug.

Jim saw the gauze bandage loosely wrapped around Blair's right hand, the end dangling free, the material wet and tinged with pink. Reaching out, he placed his own hand over Blair's, stilling his movements. "Blair, what's going on?" he asked quietly.

Blair finally seemed to notice his presence. He sat back on his heels and gave a sigh. "Jim? I'm so sorry, man. I didn't mean for it to happen. I'll buy a new rug."

"Settle down, Chief." Jim took a look at the spot Blair had been scrubbing. "It doesn't look too bad. You want to tell me what happened?"

Blair looked at him then and Jim could see his eyes were red-rimmed and a little swollen. "I knocked over a candle," Blair explained. His voice sounded a little hoarse. "I'm sorry. I was meditating and I jumped and -"

"What made you jump?" Jim asked. "Another flashback?"

Blair nodded, looking miserable. "Just startled me. If it's too bad, I'll buy a new rug…" He sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face, stopping to stare at the bandage on his hand as though just seeing it for the first time.

"Don't worry about it," Jim said. "Looks like you sustained more damage than the rug." He held out a hand and helped Blair to his feet. "Why don't you let me take a look at that?"

Blair nodded and allowed Jim to lead him over to the dining table. He sat and rested his hand on the tabletop, watching dispiritedly as Jim unwrapped the gauze and grimaced in sympathy at the blisters on his palm.

"Let me go get some fresh bandages for this, Chief," Jim said, heading for the bathroom. "It doesn't look too bad, but you need to prevent it getting infected," he added over his shoulder.

~o0o~

Blair yawned as Jim secured a piece of tape to the bandage and patted his hand. "I didn't get dinner cooked yet," he said.

"That's okay. Why don't I whip up a stir fry while you put the cleaning things away."

"What about…?"

"It'll be fine," Jim assured him. "I can barely see it." He sat back down at the table and looked Blair squarely in the eye. "You want to tell me everything that happened?"

Blair looked away. "I told you. I had a flashback and knocked the candle over."

"I mean the rest of it," Jim replied. "The last time you messed up my rug by spilling an algae shake all over it, you just shrugged and said, "Chill out, Jim. It'll come out."

"This -"

Jim held up a finger and continued. "And when I came home, you were chanting, "Shut up," while you scrubbed the rug. Who were you telling to shut up?"

"No one," Blair said. "Just… I could hear this voice in my head and…. It was just the flashback, Jim."

Jim frowned. "What was the voice saying?"

Blair studied the bandage on his hand and picked at the edge. "Die, bitch," he whispered.

"Did Jurgen say that to you in Seattle?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't… I don't remember. Probably." He rubbed his forehead. "I've got a headache. I think I'll go to bed."

"Okay. You want some tea, some pain pills?"

Blair shook his head and stood. He smiled at Jim, suddenly feeling incredibly weary. "Just sleep. I'll be fine."

~o0o~

Jim made himself a stir-fry, refrigerating the leftovers in case Blair was hungry later. Then he changed into a tee shirt and boxers, covered up with his robe and slumped in front of the TV, half-heartedly watching the news, drifting off into a fitful sleep as the weather report came on.

Blair's screams woke him. Only half-awake, he stumbled into the spare room and switched on the light. Blair was already sitting up, his head drooping, his arms wrapped around his heaving chest. Sweat glistened on his brow and his tee shirt and sheets were redolent with the scent of it.

"Blair?"

Blair looked up and gave Jim a wan, shaky smile. "I'm okay," he assured Jim. "Just a nightmare."

Jim settled himself on the edge of the futon and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. "Same as before?" he asked.

Blair shook his head then scooted back down, covering his eyes with his arm. "Not really. I keep hearing that voice again… and I'm not seeing the guys in the ditch or in the truck." His lowered his arm and looked at Jim, his eyes fearful. "I'm seeing her. The woman who was murdered."

"You're just getting the two mixed up," Jim said. "It's not that long since -"

Blair shook his head. "No, it's as though -" He swallowed convulsively and his hand reached out for Jim's, gripping it tightly. "It's like I'm the one who killed her."

A thought tickled the edge of Jim's memory but he couldn't grasp it before it was gone again. "Well, we all know that didn't happen, Chief. Do you want to see someone? A therapist, or a counselor?"

"Maybe."

"Do you want to tell me about your dream?"

Blair shuddered and shook his head. "Not right now. It's all pretty mixed up anyway. Just flashes."

"Okay." Jim smiled as Blair yawned widely. "You want to try to go back to sleep?"

"Yeah."

Jim picked up an edge of the sheet and shook it then grimaced. "These sheets are pretty damp, Chief. Why don't you go have a wash, freshen up, I'll change these."

"I can do it," Blair offered. He rolled out of the bed and stood, swaying a little.

"If I do it, we'll both get back to bed that much quicker," Jim reasoned.

Blair appeared to think it over then nodded and headed for the bathroom. By the time he came back, Jim had efficiently stripped the futon and tucked fresh sheets over the mattress.

"Thanks, man," Blair smiled. Climbing into his bed, he rolled onto his side then reached again for Jim's hand. "Would you mind -"

Jim pulled off his robe and lifted back the covers. "Scoot over, Chief."

"Thanks, Jim."

Jim allowed Blair to pillow his head on Jim's chest then wrapped an arm around the other man's shoulders. Wrinkling his nose at the odor of sweat wafting up from Blair's unruly curls, he dialed down his sense of smell and gave Blair's body a reassuring squeeze. "Get some sleep, Chief. We'll figure it out in the morning."

~o0o~

Waking with the dawn, as was his custom, Jim carefully maneuvered himself from beneath Blair and headed out into the kitchen. He organized the coffee then went into the bathroom for a shower, pulling his tee shirt away from his skin and pulling a face at the damp drool spot on the front. By the time he had poured his coffee and started scrambling eggs, Blair was shuffling out of his room, yawning widely and scratching absently at his chest.

"Good morning," Jim greeted his partner. "How did you sleep?"

Blair smiled at him. "Pretty good. No more nightmares."

"Glad to hear it," Jim said, waving the spatula in the direction of the bathroom. "Get a move on, Chief. We've got an early start. I want to check in and see what Forensics have come up with."

Jim waited until they were in the truck on their way to the station before he broached the subject of Blair's flashbacks again. "You want to explain what you meant last night when you said it was like you killed that woman?"

Blair stared at him for a long moment before replying. "It's like I could see what he saw as he was killing her."

Jim nodded slowly. "What did you feel?"

"Rage," Blair said immediately. "And… euphoria. A thrill." His face blushed red and he looked down at his lap, fiddling with the gauze around his hand. "What's happening to me, Jim?"

"I'm not sure," Jim replied. "We'll figure it out, Chief. Do you remember Frank Black?"

"From Seattle?" Blair asked, glancing up at him. "The profiler guy? Sure." He paused for a moment, mulling Jim's words over then his eyes widened. "You think…? But why now, Jim? I mean I've never had this happen before."

Jim held up a hand. "Settle down, Chief. It might be nothing. It still might be that you're flashing back to your own memories and confusing them with this woman because of the nature of her injuries. I just thought because of Black's own experiences, he might be able to give us a clue about how to handle it." He pulled into a space in the parking garage and climbed out, waiting for Blair to join him. "Let's go check in with Forensics and then we'll take it from there."

~o0o~

The evidence gathered so far was pretty much a dead end. The shoe print in the blood had been only a half print and the knife had been wiped clean. The woman had been identified as Susan Miller, aged 35, married, no children. She worked at the all night market just a few blocks from where she'd been murdered.

A raised voice drew Jim and Blair's attention to the corridor outside the bullpen. "I don't have time for this," a man said. "I'll be late for work."

"I'm sure you know that finding your wife's murderer is more important than being late for work, Mr. Miller," Simon soothed as he entered the bullpen accompanied by a heavy-set sullen looking man, dressed in work overalls. "Why don't you call your boss and explain everything to him." He led the man over to Jim's desk. "This is Detective Ellison. I'll get him to take your statement regarding your wife's last known whereabouts and any other relevant information you might have." He picked up the phone and handed it to Mr. Miller. "We'll leave you alone while you call your boss." He motioned Jim and Blair into his office with a shake of his head.

"Captain?" Jim gave Miller a studied look as he and Blair followed Simon who stopped in the open doorway to his office.

"I don't know, Jim. There's something hinky about this guy. When he was notified of his wife's death yesterday, he refused to come into the morgue to identify her at first. Now he's too busy to answer some questions and he doesn't seem exactly upset by the news. See what you can get out of him."

"Yes, sir." Jim turned and walked back to his desk, slowing when Blair pulled at his sleeve.

"Get a baseline of his heart rate and breathing, Jim, then you can see if he's lying about anything," Blair whispered softly.

Jim grinned tolerantly. "I got it, Chief. We've done this before a time or two, remember?"

Blair nodded, looking chagrined. "Right, sorry. You want me to do something else while you talk to him?"

Jim thought for a moment. "Actually, yeah. Hey, H." Jim waved the burly detective over then patted Blair on the shoulder. "You got time to go talk to the Millers' neighbors?"

"Sure thing, man," Henri agreed.

"Take Blair with you," Jim said. "Let's see if we can find out what kind of people we're dealing with here."

Henri grinned and slapped Blair on the back. "You got it. Come on, Hairboy."

Blair shot a look at Jim, his brow creased. "You sure?"

"You're an observer," Jim said. "Go observe. See what you can pick up."

~o0o~

There were two reasons Jim wanted Blair out of the way for a short time. Firstly, he was concerned that the re-hashing of the evidence of Susan Miller's murder was likely to cause more flashbacks to surface and he wanted to spare Blair any embarrassment. Secondly, he wanted time to phone Frank Black. Remembering what the profiler had told Jim in Seattle - that he saw and sometimes felt what the murderer did, Jim wanted to find out whether what Blair claimed to be experiencing was possible.

The experiences Blair had suffered at the hands of Jurgen and his men would be enough to cause any man to suffer a nervous breakdown but Blair had seemed to recover well, especially after the mystical spirit journey they'd taken together after returning to Cascade. Jim had taken Blair's pain and fear into himself to give his partner the respite he needed to heal. They'd both thought it was behind them.

Taking a seat at his desk, Jim smiled and offered a hand to Mr. Miller, who ignored it and glared belligerently at him. "I'm sorry for your loss," Jim said anyway. "What can you tell me about your wife, Mr. Miller?"

Miller shrugged. "Ain't no loss," he said laconically. "She wasn't exactly pure as the driven snow, if you get my drift."

"I'm not sure that I do," Jim replied. He'd increased his hearing as Blair had suggested and now had a base reading on the man's vitals, while he was calm.

Miller shrugged. "She screwed around, you know? She came home two weeks ago and tells me she's taking on the night manager's job. Less money, she says, but better opportunities down the track. Like I'm some kind of fool."

"Why didn't you believe her?" Jim asked, taking notes. "Did you have reason to believe she was unfaithful?"

"I knew," Miller stated flatly. "She was my wife. If a man don't know when his wife is screwing around, he ain't got no business being married to the bitch." He looked at his watch. "I'm gonna be late for work."

"Just a couple more questions. Where were you when your wife was working last night?"

"Home," Miller said immediately and Jim heard a marked increase in the man's heart rate. A fine line of sweat broke out on Miller's top lip and he licked at it. "Watching the game."

"Oh yeah? I missed it," Jim said casually. "Who won?"

Miller tapped the newspaper sitting on Jim's desk. "Read about it. I dunno. I fell asleep."

"Anyone else at home with you?"

"No." Miller leaned forward and suddenly his voice became aggressive, his heartbeat pounding in Jim's ears. "You accusing me of killing my wife?"

"Did you?" Jim asked equably.

"No!" Miller stood, pushing the chair back so violently it fell to the ground with a crash. "I gotta go or I'll lose my job."

Jim nodded. "Thanks for your time, Mr. Miller. We'll be in touch. Again, I'm sorry for your loss."

"Yeah." Miller turned on his heel and stalked from the room.

Jim watched him go then sighed and shook his head. Simon was right. There was something definitely hinky about the guy. Reaching for his desk phone, Jim looked up Frank Black's number and dialed it.

~o0o~

Jim had just hung up from Black when the phone rang. Picking up the receiver, he identified himself and smiled when he heard Blair's voice on the other end, the slightly rushed manner of his words indicated his guide was excited about something. "Hey, Chief. How'd you go with the neighbors?"

"I'll tell you one thing, man," Blair replied, "Mr. Harry Miller was not well-liked in his apartment building."

"After talking to the guy, I can understand the feeling. So, give already."

He heard Blair take a breath and also picked up a faint chuckle from Henri. "The neighbors say that Miller and his wife fought a lot. The police were called on at least three occasions but each time, though Susan Miller was obviously beaten, she refused to press charges. They had financial problems - the word is that Miller had a hefty gambling problem. That's the reason Mrs. Miller took the night job. According to the lady who lives next door, Susan Miller told her she had the chance of a promotion and more money in a few months, if she was prepared to take on the night manager's job."

"Ties in with what Miller told me," Jim said. "Though he didn't believe she was actually working. He believed she was seeing someone else."

"The neighbor says Miller was insanely jealous, though she didn't believe Mrs. Miller was having an affair. She said she wasn't the type."

"It takes all kinds, Sandburg."

"I know," Blair agreed. His voice became a little halting. "I just get the feeling that she wasn't…"

"Why?" Jim asked.

"Just a feeling. Anyway, Miller had been bragging about getting some real money soon and then he'd been moving out of the dump, as he called it."

"All right," Jim nodded and made a note, "when you get here, why don't you find out if Miller or his wife had any life insurance. I'll see what I can find out about his gambling debts."

"Great. We'll be there in about ten."

"Good work, Chief."

"Thanks. Um… anything else?"

"I spoke to Frank Black. He was intrigued by what's been happening with you, to say the least. He's in Seattle to see someone. He'd like to call by tonight then get back to Seattle tomorrow. He has to be back in Washington the day after."

"Okay." Blair sounded hesitant.

"You sure?" Jim asked.

"Yeah. If it means I can get to the bottom of this, I'm all for it."

"See you in a few minutes." Jim hung up the phone and pushed back his chair, going over his conversation with Frank Black in his head. The profiler had been very interested but guarded by what Jim had told him about Blair's flashbacks or visions, whatever the heck they were. His own visions had always been there, he said, even as a child, and he told Jim, his smoky voice a bare whisper, that it seemed his daughter, Jordan had inherited the same gift. Gift. Jim sighed and scrubbed at his face. What a thing for a child to have to endure, even if she didn't yet grasp the full import of her visions.

Picking up his desk phone again, Jim dialed an extension number and set to work getting as much information on Harry Miller as he could.

~o0o~

Blair had been back in the PD for two hours working solidly on both Jim's computer and the phone, trying to get further information on the Millers' financial situation when he let out a whoop. Jim gave him a mock glare from the corner of his eye as several heads in the office went up and one or two detectives frowned in Sandburg's direction.

"What you got?" Jim asked.

"Pay dirt," Blair replied, grinning. "Harry Miller didn't go straight to work this morning. He called into his insurance agent and put in a claim for his wife's life insurance. Fifty thousand dollars."

Jim grinned. "Good work."

Blair held up a hand. "There's more. He was out of work for about a year before he got this job a month ago. According to Susan Miller's boss, she took the job to make ends meet and she was such a good worker, he offered her the night manager's job and an eventual promotion because he knew she needed the money and because he liked her."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Any hint of an affair?"

Blair shook his head, his curls whipping around his face. "No way, man, her boss is like seventy years old. Anyway, he also said that Miller was ticked that his wife had a better job than he did, made him feel less of a man or something."

"More motive but it's still circumstantial, Chief. We've got to find a way to place him at the scene."

"I don't think he did it for the money," Blair said suddenly. "I think he did it because he enjoyed hurting her and it escalated to killing her."

"Because he thought she was having an affair."

Blair shrugged but looked doubtful. "I think that was just his excuse. If you look at the police reports, his violence was getting worse. Each time the cops were called in, she was a little more banged up." He scanned the file in front of him. "Second time, she had a broken wrist. Told the cops she fell in the bathroom. The time after that, she had bruising around her throat."

"What about the insurance policy?"

"Well, the money won't hurt," Blair replied thoughtfully. "I mean he's up to his neck in gambling debts, and if he killed her, he's not going to hang around and wait for us to figure it out."

"Okay," Jim said. "Then we have to find something. DNA, maybe. I'll check the fingernail scrapings Serena's done."

"Detective Ellison?" Both men looked up as someone spoke from the doorway. A young woman with dark hair and a ready smile stood, holding a large plastic bag. "Serena in Forensics said you wanted to see Susan Miller's personal belongings?"

Jim nodded and held out a hand. "Thanks…" he peered at her badge "… Linda."

Linda smiled and left. Blair grinned again. "Down, boy," he joked. "She's not your type, Jim."

"How do you know what my type is, Sandburg?"

"She's not a redhead." Blair ducked the expected swat to his head. "Not the hair, man." He leaned forward as Jim emptied the bag onto his desk. "What have we got?"

Jim sifted slowly through the items. "Usual stuff a woman carries in her bag, I guess. Purse, lipstick, ID…"

"She was a pretty lady," Blair said softly, his earlier humor gone. He picked up the ID and studied the face frozen in time then glanced over at the chain Jim held in his hand. It was attached to a small silver medallion, the edges flecked with dried blood. Suddenly he reached out and clasped his own hand around Jim's so tightly that Jim could feel the edges of the medallion dig into his palm.

Just as quickly, Blair gasped and staggered back, his legs tangling with the chair and sending him to the floor.

"Shit!" Jim jumped up and squatted down beside Blair. Blair's face was white, his breath was heaving and Jim could easily hear the pounding of his partner's heart. Reaching out, he laid a hand on Blair's shaking shoulder. "You all right?" At Blair's nod, he held out a hand and helped the other man to his feet, settling him back in his chair. "What was that all about?"

Blair closed his eyes for a moment, visibly struggling to regain his composure. Finally he looked up at Jim. "Just a hunch. It's hers," he said again. "It got ripped… ripped off when he…" His voice trailed off. He stood. "When is Frank coming?"

Jim glanced at his watch. "Couple of hours. Why?"

"I need to go to the bathroom. Are we finished here?"

"You are," Jim said firmly. "I'm taking you home to get some rest-"

Blair shook his head. "I need to check up on some things - in my notes. Can you sign those out till tomorrow?" He pointed to the medallion.

"I'll put a call into Serena," Jim said. "Want to tell me why?"

"Frank sees things when he touches something that belongs to the victim. Let's see if he can pick something up."

"You want to tell me what you saw?" Jim asked.

"When we see Frank. I'm gonna go…" He waved a still shaky hand toward the door.

Jim nodded. "I'll go fill Simon in on what we have so far."

~o0o~

Blair had just finished cooking dinner when there was a knock at the door. He glanced toward the bathroom as he walked to the door, unsure why he suddenly felt nervous. He could hear the water still flowing which meant Jim wouldn't be out for a little while yet. Opening the door, he smiled tentatively at Frank Black.

"Hello, Mr. Black, it's good to see you again. Come on in. Jim'll be out of the shower in just a minute."

Black nodded and stepped inside, holding out his hand in greeting. As Blair took it in his own, he said in that odd raspy voice that held nothing but kindness, "Blair, it's good to see you too. And it's Frank, please."

Blair nodded and led the way into the living room, motioning for Frank to take a seat in the armchair opposite the couch.

"How have you been, Blair?" Frank asked, sitting forward and clasping his hands on his knees. His eyes still held that focused look that Blair remembered from Seattle but instead of the questions he'd seen then, now there was nothing but concern in the dark eyes.

"Pretty good, actually," Blair replied. "My ankle's pretty much healed. Just aches a bit when it rains, which, in Cascade is just about every day." He chuckled.

"Coming from Seattle I know just what you mean," Frank replied. "And Jim?"

"He's good, over-protective as ever but-"

"I heard that, Chief," Jim said from the bathroom doorway. Dressed in only a towel, he sketched a wave at Frank then gestured upstairs. "Glad you could make it. I'll just get changed."

"We were just about to eat. Care to join us?" Blair asked, as he turned toward the kitchen. "Let me get you a drink while we wait for Jim. Beer, wine, soda?"

"A beer would really hit the spot." Frank relaxed a little against his seat. "And dinner would be great."

"It's just spaghetti," Blair said. "Nothing special."

"Sandburg's spaghetti sauce is nothing short of miraculous," Jim called from upstairs.

Blair gave a shy, pleased smile and hurried into the kitchen to get the drinks. They made inconsequential chat over dinner, with Frank gleaning a few details from both men about the unusual spirit walk they'd taken when they'd returned home from Seattle, grinning at Blair's pronouncement that Harvey Leek was indeed a guide in training.

While Blair cleared the dishes, Jim and Frank took their coffee into the living room and waited for him to join them. Blair sat beside Jim on the couch, shuffling a little so that his entire side touched Jim's. Reaching out, Jim patted Blair's leg and then pulled the chain from the plastic bag.

"Give me the bare bones of the case but nothing more," Frank said.

"Female Caucasian," Jim began. "Mid-thirties. She was attacked on the way home from the market where she worked. No real leads, no witnesses."

"Why do you suspect the husband?" Frank asked, looking at Blair, who sat unnaturally still, only his hands moving as they wiped along his jeans. "Because of what Blair saw?"

Jim shook his head. "Simon thought the guy was suspicious. He didn't want to come in for an interview, didn't want to ID his wife's body. We did some digging and found he had some big gambling debts, he'd claimed a life insurance policy on his wife and there was a long history of domestic abuse."

Frank turned again to Blair, his voice soft and kind. "What did you see, Blair?"

There was a moment's pause as Blair still sat, staring into space, jumping when Jim nudged him. "Blair?"

"What?" Blair scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Oh. Sorry. I was just going through it, wondering if I really saw what I thought I did." He stood suddenly. "Jim was probably right. This case is so similar to what… what happened that I'm just…" His voice trailed away.

"Why don't you tell me what you saw," Frank said equably. "As you know, I'm sort of an expert on this kind of thing." He smiled and Blair imagined he could suddenly see the pain etched in every crease of the care-worn face. "If there's the slightest chance of catching this man-"

"How will this help?" Blair groaned. "It's not as though I can go into a court-room and tell a jury what I saw." He sketched quotation marks in the air for emphasis. "It'd get laughed out of court."

"But what you see might give Jim the clues he needs to find the evidence to convict," Frank replied, his voice still even. "Don't you think you owe that much to this poor woman?"

Blair stared at Frank for a long moment then slumped back onto the couch and covered his face with his hands. "I'm scared," he admitted quietly. "I don't want to see any more. I don't want to see her fear, feel her pain, his rage."

Frank reached forward and placed a hand over one of Blair's, drawing it down until it was on Blair's lap. "Then let's see if you can help her and put her to rest."

Blair looked up, his eyelashes wet with tears, and nodded. His hand shook slightly as he held it out. Jim placed the medallion on Blair's palm and waited, but after several minutes, Blair sighed and shook his head. "Nothing." He looked at Jim. "I don't understand. I'm sure -"

"Can I try something?" Frank interjected. At Blair's nod, he picked up the medallion and placed it in Jim's hand, ignoring for the moment both men's inquisitive looks. He reached out then and took Blair's hand, closing it over Jim's. He ducked back when Blair tensed suddenly, his eyes going wide with fright.

"Oh God," Blair rasped. His eyes were open, he knew but instead of the loft, he saw the alley where Susan Miller had been found.

Flash. "Where you been, bitch?"

Flash. A woman's eyes, at first filled with impatience and anger, changing to fear.

Flash. Rage blossomed. Rage so overwhelming it threatened to choke him.

Flash. "Die, bitch!" A hand reaching out, fisting in blonde hair, pulling back, exposing her throat. She tried to pull away, hands going to her throat and there was a glimmer of something flying away as her arm swung wide in reaction to the agony of the knife biting into her neck.

Flash. "Harry, no -" The words interrupted as the knife was drawn across her flesh.

Flash. Blood, ruby red, hot on his hand, spurting. Blair's heart pounded in his chest, threatening to burst from within.

Flash. A wave of elation passed over him as he looked down at the broken body at his feet, her mouth still open in a rictus of agony, her throat gaping, her frightened eyes open, staring at nothing.

"Sandburg! Blair!" Hands seized his shoulders and he flinched violently, surging up from the couch, one hand going to his mouth as nausea threatened.

"Oh God!" Blair saw Jim now, and Frank standing slightly behind the detective. Jim's face was as white as Blair imagined his to be. He turned away, running for the bathroom, already retching, his feet stumbling as his legs refused to hold him up.

~o0o~

An interminable time later, Blair sank back onto the bathroom floor and rested his head against the tiles at his back. A tap sounded at the door and he opened his eyes. "S'okay, Jim, you can come in."

The door opened and Jim stood in the doorway, looking ill at ease. Blair looked up from his perch on the floor and gave him a wan smile. "Hey."

The greeting seemed to un-freeze the detective and he crossed the floor in two quick strides, crouching at Blair's side, one hand reaching up to massage the back of Blair's tense neck. "You all right?"

Blair managed a nod then winced as a headache flared and began to throb violently. "I'm okay," he managed. "Just…" His voice trailed off but Jim nodded in understanding.

"I can imagine." He lowered his body down so that he sat beside his partner. "Jesus, Sandburg, I'm sorry."

Blair gave him a puzzled look. "What for?"

Jim sighed. "The way Frank explains it… Do you remember when we were in Seattle and Frank said that what he saw was amplified somehow by us?"

Blair nodded, licking dry lips. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the rest. Normally discussions of Jim's spirit world, his spirit animal whetted his thirst for more knowledge about the sentinel but he was involved in it too now. He might have told Jim after they had shared the vision at the fountain that the water was nice but this… this went too far the other way. Envisioning the cruelty men heaped upon one another, having it sneak up on him, ambushing his dreams and his life, Blair didn't think he could deal with it without going stark raving mad.

"Frank thinks that spirit journey we took when we came home has increased the connection between us. My sixth sense, or something in my heightened senses is picking up vibes and -"

"Vibes?" Blair grinned, despite the seriousness of the conversation and raised an eyebrow.

Jim rolled his eyes and cuffed Blair gently on the back of the head. "Or something and transmitting them through that connection to you."

Blair tried on a wry smile but knew it came out strained. "So now I'm an interpreter as well as a guide."

Jim snorted softly and shifted his hand so it rubbed Blair's back. "The thing I'm finding weird is me talking about all the existential stuff and not blinking an eye."

Blair chuckled but sobered quickly. "Jim, when I first met you, you asked me if I knew how you could turn your senses off, and I told you they were a gift." He looked up at Jim, aware of unshed tears stinging his eyes. "I don't want this, man. I don't want to see -" His voice cracked and he choked before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I don't want to see that any more. I don't think I can stand it."

"We'll work it out, Chief," was all Jim could say, and though it was a platitude, Blair was grateful for the support in the words. "It might just be a temporary aberration from the little trip we took."

"Oh, man, I hope so," Blair said fervently. "Is Frank still here?"

"Yeah, I just made more coffee. You want some?"

Blair shook his head. "I've got a headache. I'm gonna crash, man. You want to tell Frank thanks for me?"

"Sure. I'll see what else he can tell me about this." Jim stood then gave Blair a hand up. Guiding the younger man from the bathroom, he squeezed Blair's shoulder briefly. "We'll get through this, Chief."

Blair smiled. "I know."

~o0o~

Jim settled back in his chair and took a sip of his coffee, observing Frank's craggy features over the rim of his cup. "How do you live with these visions?" he asked finally. "Your… gift?"

Frank raised a bushy eyebrow. "How do you?" he countered.

Jim set his cup down and smiled. "I have Blair. He guides me through it, calms things." He shrugged. "Softens the edges."

Frank nodded in understanding. "Your port in the storm. I envy you." His mouth pulled downward in sadness. "I just wish Jordan -"

"She has you," Jim said. "You can guide her through it the same way Blair does me."

"I wish I could shield her from it entirely. It's not right for a child to see what she does."

The two men sat in silence for some time, their thoughts on the loved ones who, this time, they could not protect.

~o0o~

Blair shifted uneasily in the bed, flashes of the gruesome nightmare returning to his subconscious, bringing him almost but not quite to the point of waking. "Don't do it. Don't do it," he muttered, shaking his head from side to side, shying away from the grim reality of his dream.

"You have begun to travel a new path, young one."

"Incacha?" Blair's eyes opened and he stared at the now familiar vista of the blue jungle that had taken the place of his bedroom and banished the ghostly visions of the alley.

The tribal shaman smiled at Blair. "It is a path you and your Sentinel will travel together. Do not fear it. Welcome it and it will become your greatest strength."

"I can't," Blair replied. His chest felt suddenly tight as he struggled to explain his fear. "I'm not strong enough -"

"Your Sentinel is your strength, just as you are his. Souls joined together now, for eternity. Much good will come of your gifts."

"I don't want -" Blair sat up, his chest heaving, sweat dribbling down his back, causing his tee shirt to stick uncomfortably to his skin. He looked around and saw only the darkened shadows of his room. Dropping his head to his chest, he took several deep, slow breaths then climbed out of bed and padded out into the living room.

Jim sat on the couch, staring pensively out the balcony windows to the world only he could see in the darkness beyond. Blair stepped around and sat beside his friend. "Frank's gone?" he asked.

"Yeah, he has to be back in Seattle tomorrow afternoon. Said he'd call tomorrow night."

Blair nodded. "He's a good guy." They sat in companionable silence for a time, each soaking up the nearness and comfort of the other. Finally Blair spoke, his voice a little hesitant. "Jim, could I…" He looked directly at his partner then. "I know it's late but I had another dream and I -"

"Spit it out, Darwin," Jim interrupted but his smile and affectionate ruffling of Blair's hair took the sting from the words.

"Could I have fifteen minutes?"

"C'mere." Jim tugged at Blair's arm until the younger man was lying down, his head pillowed on Jim's lap. Jim's hand kept up a reassuring caress on Blair's scalp, lulling him, nudging him toward sleep.

"My ankle is aching," Blair said sleepily. "Must be going to rain." He gave a small chuckle that bordered on a sob. "I should hire myself out. Not only can I see murders, but I can predict the weather at the same time. I could make a fortune." His thoughts drifted for a while before he managed to rouse himself. If he fell asleep, Jim was going to be pretty stiff and sore in the morning. "Juss… fifteen, Jim, okay?"

"Shh," was all Jim said but as he drifted off, Blair heard the comfort in Jim's voice.

~o0o~

Jim managed to usher a half-asleep Blair into his room about an hour later before climbing the stairs and crashing out himself. Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly after the vivid visions he had experienced the night before, Blair had no further nightmares, but when the phone woke them the following morning, Jim thought his partner still looked hollow-eyed and skittish. He reached the phone just as Blair came out of his room, running a hand through his unruly hair. "Ellison."

"Jim, it's Serena."

"What have you got, Serena?" Blair's eyes opened fully at the mention of the Forensic chief's name and he crossed the room to stand at Jim's side.

"Some good news, maybe. We found skin under Susan Miller's fingernails and did a DNA test but we haven't been able to come up with a match yet."

"What about the knife?"

"No luck there, it was wiped clean."

"Okay." Jim sighed then a thought struck him. "We'll be there in half an hour. Let's see if we can get a warrant to check Miller's DNA."

"Sounds good."

"Thanks." Jim hung up the receiver and turned to Blair. "Get a hustle on, Chief. There's something I want to check out."

~o0o~

Making their way slowly through the heavy rain, Blair settled back on the seat and eyed Jim speculatively. "You want to tell me what you've come up with?

Jim glanced over at him and shrugged. "Serena found skin under Susan Miller's nails, enough for a DNA type. Let's see if we can get a warrant for Miller."

Blair sat straight, his face becoming animated for the first time that morning. "To see if there's a match?"

"Maybe. Just don't get your hopes up, Chief. The judge might say we don't have enough evidence." Jim was silent for a moment as he navigated his way through traffic and into the parking garage. Turning off the ignition, he spoke again. "How are you feeling about the visions now?"

Blair stared out the front windscreen. "I want to catch this bastard, Jim, but I don't ever want to see… Incacha came to me last night. He said I was going to travel a new path and you'd be there with me."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Fits in with what Frank said about our connection. Maybe that's why you can only see what you do through me."

"Except that first time," Blair replied, opening his door and climbing out. "Maybe my connection is linked in a way to what happened in Seattle."

Jim came around the truck and joined Blair, placing an arm around his partner's shoulders. "So maybe when we get this asshole put away, everything will go back to what passes as normal for us."

Blair looked up at him, his eyes haunted once more. "I don't think so."

~o0o~

"What do you mean it's not enough?" Blair stared in outrage at Simon, his mouth open in disbelief. "Serena got DNA from the skin under Susan's nails! She scratched him when he… when he…" The words faded away and he felt his throat close up.

"I know what you're saying, Sandburg," Simon said, his voice laced with sympathy. "But it's all circumstantial. The DA doesn't think we have enough evidence and they don't want Miller walking on a technicality." Simon leaned back in his chair and fingered the unlit cigar on the desk in front of him.

Blair shook his head determinedly. "There has to be something else, Simon. I know he killed her."

"Chief." Jim reached out a hand and gripped Blair's arm, turning his partner toward him. "Simon's right. We need more than what we've got."

"I want to get this guy as much as you do, Sandburg," Simon said quietly, "so get me what I need to do it."

"I know it was him," Blair replied mulishly.

"No, you don't!" Simon retorted.

"Yes, I do!" Blair shot back. He glared at the captain then his energy seemed to desert him and he slumped into a chair. "I saw him do it."

Simon stared at him for a moment then looked at Jim. "More sentinel stuff?" he asked resignedly.

"We think so, sir. Blair's been having these visions…"

Simon waved the words away. "You know as well as I do, visions aren't admissible in court… whether I believe Sandburg or not," he added, nodding at Blair, gaining a small smile of gratitude in return. "All right. Why don't you go talk to Mr. Miller? See if he'll voluntarily submit a blood sample for DNA testing for elimination purposes."

"Yes, sir. You coming, Chief or would you rather -"

"I'm coming." Blair jumped out of his seat and followed Jim to the door but stopped and looked back when Simon called his name.

"I want to know everything about this vision thing when you get back, understood?"

"Yes, Si - Captain."

"Bad enough having to dot every I and cross every t whenever Jim picks up clues nobody else can, without having you joining the party," Simon muttered.

~o0o~

Harry Miller stubbed out his cigarette and immediately lit up another one. "Don't like needles," he muttered through wreaths of smoke.

Jim coughed and waved away the pungent fumes. "We can just take a swab then."

Miller's eyes narrowed and his darkly stubbled jaw clenched. "You still trying to pin it on me? Why don't you get off your asses and go find out who really did it instead of chasing a grieving husband."

Blair snorted and stepped into the man's personal space in much the same way Jim had done to him that first day they'd met. "Grieving?" He shook his head. "You were glad to be rid of her. You did it, man. I know you did it. I saw you and what's more you enjoyed it!"

Jim took a step closer to the pair. "Sandburg," he said warningly. It usually took a lot to get Blair this fired up and he didn't want to be hauled over the carpet for police harassment. That would be just what Miller wanted. Both men seemed to have forgotten he was there.

Miller's eyes widened. "Saw me? There wasn't anyone -" He cut off whatever he was about to say and glared at the anthropologist. "You little shit!"

Blair turned to give Jim a small smile of triumph and Jim realized that Blair had hoped to get Miller to implicate himself. There was a flash of movement but before Jim could react, Blair was flung back as Miller's fist crashed into his jaw. He hit the wall behind him and slid to the floor, his head ringing, his vision graying out. Something hard impacted his chest and he curled around the pain, gasping for air. Dimly above him, he could hear shouting voices and the sounds of a scuffle. He shook his head and looked up in time to see a boot headed for his face. He ducked back and cried out as the foot slammed into his chest again. The air seemed to have been totally sucked out of the room and he panicked, trying desperately to drag in a breath, at the same time curling around the fiery agony in his chest. A hand touched his shoulder and he shrank away then relaxed into the support when he recognized Jim's voice.

"Sandburg! You with me, Chief?"

Blair groaned. "Yeah." He looked up and saw Miller seated on the bed, his hands cuffed behind him. "Hurts… to… breathe." He reached for Jim's hand and pushed himself to a sitting position despite Jim's order that he remain laying down. "I'll be okay," he insisted though he didn't entirely believe that for a minute. This felt as bad as it had when Zeller had shot him while he'd been wearing a bulletproof vest. His vision swam in and out but he was finally able to breathe, though in small gasps that pulled at his bruised ribs.

Jim had his cell phone out. "I'll call for paramedics -"

Blair raised a hand. "No, I'm okay."

Jim studied him carefully for a long moment and Blair sighed, allowing the sentinel to scan his vital signs thoroughly. Finally he nodded. "Okay but we're running by the hospital as soon as back-up gets here to take this jerk in." He paused a moment, winked at Blair and then looked over his shoulder at Miller. "You do want to press charges, don't you?"

Blair started to shake his head, then nodded. Jim was up to something and if he could hang onto his thoughts for longer than two seconds, he might figure out what it was. "Yeah."

Miller surged up from the bed. "You can't do that!" he protested. "He set me up, police harassment, that's what it is."

Jim stood and pushed Miller back down onto the bed. "Sandburg's not a police officer," he said. He nodded at the two uniformed officers coming up the hallway. "Looks like your ride's here. I'll be in to process him shortly," he added to the first officer, "and Mr. Sandburg will give me his statement then."

Cursing and casting venomous glances in Blair's direction, Miller was led out of the room.

"You think you can stand up?" Jim asked, hunkering down again in front of Blair.

"Not really but I'll give it a shot." Blair touched a finger to his lip, grimacing when he saw it was stained with blood. He groaned and clutched his chest as Jim levered him up. He leaned against the wall then allowed Jim to wrap an arm about his shoulders, and support him down the stairs and out to the truck.

"Stupid move, Chief," Jim said as he pulled away from the curb. "Miller calls us on harassment and we get pulled off the case and he gets away before we can get anything on him."

Blair slumped down in his seat, looking defeated. " I just wanted to get him fired up, see if he might slip up and say something."

"It was a good try, and we might still have something up our sleeves." Jim gave him a small smile and the detective's earlier actions came back to Blair.

"What are you up to?" he asked. He leaned his aching head against the cool side window and stared expectantly at his partner.

Jim fished a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Blair. "Don't bleed on the upholstery, Chief. That's a decent-sized gash in your lip."

Blair pressed the cloth obediently to his mouth and spoke, his voice now muffled and somewhat indistinct. "I don't need to go to the hospital, Jim and don't change the subject. What are you up to?"

Jim grinned then. "Just finding a legal way of obtaining Miller's DNA. And you're going to the hospital. You haven't seen yourself."

At that, Blair leaned forward and squinted into the rear vision mirror, grimacing at his bruised and battered features. "Ouch." He sighed, admitting defeat and returned to the conversation. "How will Miller being arrested help us?"

"Because," Jim replied, pulling into the hospital parking lot, "he won't get bailed until tomorrow and I noticed that the neighborhood's garbage collection is today."

Blair was puzzled. Maybe he had a concussion, because he just couldn't seem to follow what Jim was saying. He looked up, startled when Jim appeared at his side and helped him from the truck. He tried to stifle the groan of pain when the movement sent a knifing pain through his ribs.

"Miller's a heavy smoker," Jim continued conversationally as he steered Blair through the doors of the ER. "Once his garbage hits the pavement, it becomes public property and -"

"I got it!" Blair said triumphantly. He gasped as agony sheared through his chest and he felt the gash on his lip reopen, oozing blood down his chin. Groaning, he slumped against Jim. "Oh God."

"Easy." Jim lowered him carefully onto a chair and strode over to the desk. Ten minutes later, Blair was ushered into an exam room, prodded, poked, X-rayed, stitched up and pronounced good to go. His ribs were bruised but there were no fractures and Blair breathed a sigh of relief, knowing how overprotective Jim would become if there was any serious injury to his partner. He refused the offer of painkillers, determined now Jim had a plan in mind that might just nail Miller, that he wasn't going to be left at the loft, dozing on the couch.

"So," he said as he accepted Jim's help into the truck, "we grab Miller's garbage and go through it." His eyebrows drew together in a frown and he rubbed vexedly at his forehead, trying to will away the headache that still pounded in his skull. "Why?"

"Pick out some cigarette butts, and have them checked for saliva -"

"And DNA," Blair inserted.

Jim nodded. "You got it, Chief, and I want to take another look at the murder weapon.

"The knife was wiped clean," Blair said.

Jim glanced over at him and shrugged. "It looked like an ordinary kitchen knife. I'm just wondering if I might pick something up from under the handle."

Blair sat straight, his face becoming animated for the first time that morning. "Like skin or blood?"

"Yep. Now why don't I drop you back at the loft -"

"No way, Jim." Blair shook his head vehemently then regretted it. "You can't let me be in on this to now and then shut me out." He looked at his partner pleadingly but there was none of the puppy dog look he used normally when he wanted to get his own way. He wanted this so badly, it physically hurt. Maybe seeing Miller put away would erase the awful nightmares and visions so that he could go back to being who he was. Blair Sandburg, anthropologist and guide.

"All right," Jim said. Pulling out his cell phone, he punched in a number and glanced over at his partner. "Let's arrange a garbage delivery and go check that knife."

~o0o~

Blair was vibrating with excitement as Jim bent over the kitchen knife with a screwdriver in hand. "Settle down, Chief," the detective said. "You're wound tighter than a spring here and your heart's about to pound its way through those bruised ribs of yours."

"Right, sorry." Blair took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "I'm fine," he added.

"Okay." Working carefully, Jim unscrewed the blade and pulled it out of the handle. Now came the tough part. He'd asked Serena to get all the forensic files they had so far on the case from her office, although it was more to get her out of the way so that he could use his senses if necessary to get what they needed. Enhancing his sight, he focused on the tiny particles of debris inside the handle.

"You got anything?"

Blair's voice drew him back from an almost zone and he shook his head to clear it. "Maybe. Hand me that sharp-pointed probe." Carefully Jim inserted the probe and dug out what he could.

"Anything?" Serena asked from the door.

"Let's hope so," Blair replied fervently.

Jim held out the slide on which he'd deposited the matter from the knife and Serena took it. "I'll let you know as soon as I have something," she said, giving Jim the file.

~o0o~

"Got it. Thanks, Serena." Jim gave Blair and Simon a thumbs up and hung up the phone. "The DNA from the butts in Miller's trash was a match to the skin under Susan Miller's nails and to tie it all into a nice neat bow, the skin particles under the knife handle came back with two separate DNA matches. One to Susan Miller and one to the cigarette butts."

"All right!" Blair punched a fist in the air that stretched his sore muscles and he relaxed carefully back into his chair, trying not to grin too widely lest he break open his stitches. He felt enormously weary and his body was beginning to demand that he take a painkiller or two. Resolutely, he ignored it. Just one more thing to do and then they could relax… maybe.

What if the visions remained? Did Incacha truly mean that he would now and forever see the horrific images of people being murdered in his head. He had to do some reading. There had to be a way out of this. He couldn't do it again. Couldn't see a terrified face before him, watch their last minutes alive, couldn't - "Sandburg? You all right, Chief."

He looked up into Jim's concerned blue eyes. "Yeah," he managed to get out. "Just thinking."

Jim nodded and squeezed his hand. "Miller got bail an hour ago. Why don't we grab that warrant for the blood test and go pay him a visit?"

~o0o~

"Well, that went well," Jim said, giving Blair a smile as they watched Miller being led to a patrol car for the trip back to the station.

"Yeah." Blair rubbed at his eyes. His headache was back, in monster proportions. "Can't help wishing he'd put up a fight though."

"That's my little peace-loving guppy," Jim joked, then frowned. "You okay?"

Blair shrugged. "Just a headache."

Jim started the truck. "Let's get you home."

"Sounds good." Blair rested his head against the window and tried to doze until the car radio squawked and startled him.

"This is David - one- five- two, go ahead," Jim said.

//Zero-three-two, First Bank of Cascade,// the dispatcher announced. //Security guard down. One hostage taken from scene.//

"On our way." Jim hung up the radio and looked over at Blair. "I could still drop you home," he suggested.

"This is important, man. I'll be fine."

Jim nodded then hit the lights and siren.

~o0o~

Compared to Susan Miller's bloody murder scene, this one was mild though no less awful. The security guard had been a thirty-five-year old man, married with three kids. He'd been shot in the chest as he'd gone for his sidearm. Unwilling to re-live the poor man's final hours, Blair waited outside while Jim watched the action on the security tape.

Jim came back out as the morgue attendants lifted the dead man onto a gurney and carried him toward the van. The guard's wallet slipped from the gurney to the ground and Jim stepped forward and picked it up. "Hang on, guys," he called after the attendants.

"Jim, wait." Blair's voice was low, his face was pale, his upper lip beaded lightly with sweat. "What about the hostage?"

"Nothing yet. Three masked men, we can only hope they'll let her go once they feel safe."

Blair bit his lip and tasted blood. "If we… if we can find out if they said anything… about where they were going while they were here… or at least see what one or more of them looked like…"

"You sure?"

"No," Blair replied shakily, "but I think I have to."

"All right." Jim looked around then led Blair back into the bank. "The manager's giving his statement outside. We can use his office."

~o0o~

"It's quite an honor, son. Bill Fleischer asked for you personally. Normally there's a waiting list a mile long to become a member of the Vidocq Society, but when Fleischer heard what Frank Black had to say about you two, it seems you were jumped to the front of the queue. What do you think?" Police Chief Warren looked soberly at Blair who in turn glanced at Jim.

"I am honored," Blair began, "but if this means me and Jim being split up or Jim not working for Major Crime any more…"

Jim shook his head. "That won't happen, Chief. Did you know that the Vidocq Society is a 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…"

Blair's eyes widened and his scabbed over lips pulled up into a teasing smile. "You've been using the 'Net. Will wonders never cease!"

Jim reached out and gave him a light cuff on the head. "I can read and research as good as you, Darwin. Anyway, these guys look into cold cases and try to solve them, using their specific expertise. It wouldn't take up all our time and we can say no to a case if we're involved in something else at the PD or if you need time for your studies. They think that your unique abilities might crack some of those cases."

"Our abilities, Jim." Blair said softly and glanced quickly at Simon and the police chief, but Warren didn't appear to have picked up the true meaning of Blair's words. While they had told the chief that Blair had developed some form of psychic ability, they had refused to elaborate on it or explain why Jim was essential to the equation. The police worked often with psychics so it was not an unusual scenario. It was testament, however to William Fleischer's pull in the department that Warren had accepted that brief explanation and not questioned it.

"I still need an answer, gentlemen," Warren said.

Blair looked at Jim, who nodded. Blair smiled and looked back at the chief. "I guess it's yes."

"Good." Warren nodded approvingly. "Good work on the armed robbery case too. Getting two of the perps and the hostage back unharmed is better than nothing. I'll let you go and pack. Your flight to Philadelphia leaves at seven PM."

~o0o~

Blair looked over at his partner seated next to him, his nose buried in a paperback. "This is pretty amazing, you know," he said, nervously rubbing his hands on his jeans. "I mean one minute I'm just an anthropology student, following you around, getting in everybody's way, the next, I'm being asked to join this elite group."

Jim looked up and grinned. "You were never just an anthropology student, Chief, though I admit you do have a knack of getting in the way…" He didn't bother to duck the whack he knew was coming. "You deserve this," he said, becoming serious. "If there's any good to come out of these visions, of what you go through every time you see something, it's knowing that you might bring some peace to the families of the victims."

Blair looked a little embarrassed by Jim's words. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have this gift," he said, "and it is a gift, Jim. I don't wish it gone like I did at first. If I can deal with this half as well as you do your senses, then I'll be satisfied. That's not to say I don't sometimes wish it hadn't happened but it's all tied up with the sentinel stuff and if I'm going to research that properly, I have to look at every aspect of it." He sat back in his seat and looked out the small window. "Guess this means we're even now, huh?" he said with a note of amusement in his voice. "Now we're true partners."

"I've never thought of us as anything else, Chief."

END