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AUTHOR'S NOTES: Okay, here 'tis, the sequel to Presumed Guilty.
A huge thankyou to SPOOKY, who got info for me, when I didn't have the time, and fed my ego. Thankyou to my listsibs at SA List, for your encouragement, support, kudos and friendship.
"It's about friendship"
' "What is more important than knowledge?" asked the mind.
"Caring and seeing with the heart," answered the soul.'
DISCLAIMERS: Jim, Blair, Simon and all other characters from The Sentinel belong to DiMeo, Bilson, Petfly and themselves. I have made no money from this story and no copyright infringement is intended. Don't sue, all I can offer are my children.
CATEGORY: Drama, Part two of series.
RATING: PG-13 (V) (L)
Jim Ellison made his way down the stairs from his bedroom, shrugging a sweater over his head to ward off the early morning chill. He made his way to the kitchen and turned on the coffeepot then leant back against the counter and stretched. He straightened as he saw his partner sitting deep in thought on the balcony. Blair was dressed only in sweat pants and a T-shirt, a long forgotten half-full cup of tea sat on the deck next to his bare feet. Jim quickly filled two mugs with hot coffee and set them on the dining room table.
Moving to the balcony, he snagged the small rug from the back of the couch and went outside to join his friend. Jim casually tossed the blanket over Blair's head. "You're going to catch your death out here, Chief," he joked.
He was totally unprepared for the reaction. Blair jumped from the chair as if shot and brought his hands up to protect his body as he spun around. His eyes were wide and staring, his breath coming in panicked, agitated gasps and Jim's Sentinel hearing picked up the staccato hammering of his heart.
"God, Chief, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," Jim said, extending his hand to the frightened man.
Blair appeared not to hear him. He stumbled backward toward the balcony wall, knocking the cup over as he went. His breathing became more labored and he faltered, his knees buckling. Jim moved swiftly to his side, snaking a strong arm about Blair's waist. "Easy, buddy, I've got you."
The two moved back inside, Blair's heart rate and respiration slowly returning to a somewhat more normal rhythm. Jim got Blair settled at the dining room table then returned to the balcony for the afghan. He placed it around Blair's shoulders, fondly ruffling the cold, damp curls before seating himself and wrapping his large hands around the comforting warmth of the coffee mug.
It had been just over three months since Blair's ordeal at the hands of David North, a belligerent, vicious FBI agent. Blair was falsely accused of the attempted kidnapping of a little girl and had been beaten by North and then by several prisoners in a holding cell. Jim had hoped the nightmares were gone for good.
"Do you want to tell me what that was all about, Chief?" Jim asked.
Blair still appeared to be a little distant and Jim grew more concerned as the silence went on.
"What? Oh, sorry Jim. "Blair looked up, smiled tiredly and scrubbed at his red rimmed eyes. "I just had trouble sleeping. I couldn't stop thinking about North and Richard Merrick. Guess I zoned, man."
You know I won't let North get anywhere near you again, don't you?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, I know that, Jim. He'd be crazy to try anything anyway, seeing he's under investigation."
"I guess it's just that we've met a few crazies in our time together. Why would he risk losing his job, going to prison to do that to me?"
"Merrick's under investigation too, for bribery, remember. Maybe he offered North enough money not to need his job, to get out of the country," Jim answered.
Blair looked up, his eyes haunted. "If you hadn't come when you did "
"But I did," Jim retorted. "Come on, Chief, you can't sit around here moping all day. We've got work to do."
An hour later, as the two men headed for the door, the phone rang. Blair bounded back to answer it, while Jim waited, impatiently jangling his keys.
"Hello? Hello?" Blair shrugged and hung up the phone. "No answer, weird."
"Probably just a wrong number," Jim said as they walked down the stairs.
"Yeah, maybe, but it's happened a few times in the last few days," Blair replied, his brow furrowing.
"Maybe it's a shy girlfriend," Jim suggested, grinning.
"Oh man, none of my girlfriends are shy," Blair shot back.
"Yeah, Chief, don't I know it," Jim chuckled, ducking as Blair aimed a light whack at the back of his head.
"I was thinking, big guy, at lunchtime we could head over to the fish markets," Blair said as he buckled himself into the passenger seat.
"Why would we want to do that?" Jim asked suspiciously.
"I've got this test in mind, to see how much your sense of smell can differentiate, like different types of seafood," Blair said.
"You are seriously flawed, you know that, Sandburg?" Jim rolled his eyes and reversed out of the parking space, pleased that the somber mood of earlier had dissipated.
Blair pushed back his chair and stretched extravagantly. He looked over at his partner, still poring over a stack of reports. "Coffee, Jim?" he asked.
Jim looked up. "If you're getting it, Sandburg."
Blair glared with mock severity and strolled off to the break room, stopping on the way to chat with Henri Brown.
"Jim, can I see you for a minute?" Simon Banks, the police captain, poked his head out of his office.
Jim nodded and got to his feet.
Simon was perched on the edge of his desk as Jim entered and he motioned the detective to a chair. "Coffee?" he offered.
"No thanks, sir, Sandburg's gone to make some," Jim answered.
"How's the kid doing, Jim?" the captain asked, his dark brown eyes watching Blair as he kidded with Brown.
"Pretty good, I think. His physical injuries have healed well and the doctor doesn't need to see him again. He still has the occasional nightmare, but they're lessening. He was in a real funk this morning though. When I got up, I found him sitting out on the balcony, looked like he'd been out there for at least a couple of hours and he was a little disoriented when I went out to get him. But he's started devising more tests for me now so I think he's on his way back to being the Sandburg we know and love."
"That's good, that's good," Simon said, walking over to stare out the window.
Jim eyed his captain quizzically. "Simon, we've known each other a long time. What's bothering you?"
The captain sighed and looked at his hands before turning to the detective. "I just heard from downstairs that Merrick's been down there, ranting and raving about slapping a counter suit on Blair for assault."
"What? Assault on who?" Jim jumped to his feet.
"On Merrick's daughter. Look, Jim it won't stick. I think he's just trying to wind Sandburg up. Probably hoping he won't testify against North," Simon replied. "He's only talking at the moment, Jim. Let's not mention it to Sandburg unless we have to."
"Yeah, you're probably right, sir. Blair doesn't need the extra stress right now," Jim agreed.
Blair had taken coffee orders for Rafe and Brown as well and busied himself in the break room with water and cups. He heard movement behind him and turned to find a well-dressed older man, standing in the doorway, watching him. The man had gray hair and looked to be about fifty, but he had the build of a footballer and obviously still kept himself fit.
"Can I help you?" Blair asked, smiling easily at the stranger.
"Blair Sandburg?" the man asked, moving further into the room.
Suddenly nervous, Blair stepped away until he found himself backed up against the wall.
The man advanced on him and stood, towering over him. "My name is Richard Merrick. Do you realize the damage you have done to my family, Sandburg?"
Blair swallowed convulsively and held up his hands. "Look, Mr. Merrick, I'm sure you don't need any further trouble."
"I've lost my daughter and my granddaughter, thanks to you, not to mention my reputation and I intend to see you pay for that, Sandburg."
"You listen to me, Merrick, if it wasn't for me, your granddaughter would probably be dead, instead of in foster care," Blair yelled. He felt his air cut off suddenly and struggled to breathe as Merrick grabbed him by the throat and slammed him up against the wall.
"Put him down, you son of a bitch or I'll break you in half."
Blair closed his eyes in relief at the familiar voice. The hand moved from his bruised throat and then he felt himself falling. He hit the floor with a thud and lay still for a moment, stunned. As he came to his senses and struggled to sit, he felt a hand on his arm guiding him to lean against the wall. He looked up to stare into worried blue eyes.
"Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked.
Blair still felt a little too shocked to speak, so he merely nodded. He looked past Jim to see Rafe and Henri manhandling a blustering Merrick from the room.
"You'll hear from my lawyers, all of you."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Rafe said dryly.
Blair forced his gaze back to Jim and pasted a wan smile on his face. "I'm okay, he just startled me."
Simon extended a hand to help him up and he smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Simon." He felt impossibly weak and shaky and he wavered slightly as he stood.
"Easy, Chief, " Jim said, placing an arm about his shoulders "You sure you're okay?"
"Really, I'm fine, just a bit shook up," he said. His throat felt raw and bruised and his back ached from being thrown against the wall. Suddenly he pushed away from both men as unexpected nausea rose up in waves. "Sorry, gonna ." He ran from the room and after a worried look exchanged with Simon, Jim strode after him.
Blair ran for the nearest stall and collapsed to his knees as the nausea overwhelmed him. As the retching finally eased, he became aware of a large hand gently stroking his back. Slowly, he maneuvered himself to sit on the floor and rested his head on his knees. Jim left him for a moment, then returned with a damp towel. He knelt down next to his partner and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
Blair simply nodded, his throat was on fire from the added assault of vomiting and he was exhausted to the depths of his soul.
"I think you should get checked out, buddy," Jim said, worriedly.
"Jim, I'm fine," Blair croaked, as he tried to smile. "Maybe not fine, but I'll be okay. I just want to go home, please?"
Jim studied him closely. Blair's face was still pale and Jim could detect the fine tremor in his hands that indicated the kid had had a nasty shock. Eventually he nodded and patted Blair's shoulder. "I'll go clear it with Simon and give you a ride home."
Blair smiled and accepted his offer of help to stand. "Thanks, man. It'll be okay."
Jim stayed close to his partner's side as they alighted from the truck. He'd kept his hearing on Blair's heartbeat and breathing all the way home, and was relieved that both were almost back to normal. The young guide was still pale and shaken and Jim was determined that Richard Merrick would pay for his abuse.
They entered the elevator and Blair leaned back against the wall, his eyes closed. "Quit hovering. I'm fine," he said, not opening his eyes.
"You're going to press charges against this bastard, Sandburg."
Blair's eyes opened at that. "No, Jim, I'm not." He put his hands up, forestalling any further argument. "I'm really tired, big guy, just leave it, okay? I wish it would all just go away."
"I'll leave it for now, Chief, but it's not going to go away," Jim said gently.
Blair sighed and followed Jim down the hallway to the loft. He was taken by surprise when Jim stopped and pushed him against the wall, a finger to his lips.
"Jim?" he whispered.
Jim raised a hand to silence him and cocked his head, extending his hearing into the loft. Blair saw now that the door to the apartment stood slightly ajar. Signaling Blair to wait outside, Jim pulled out his gun and crept slowly through the doorway. He stopped stock still in shock. "Oh God."
"Jim, what is it? Are you okay?" Blair hurried forward, colliding with the broad back of his sentinel. "Oh man," Blair whispered.
The apartment was a shambles. Books, papers, torn clothing and broken artifacts littered the floor and tables.
Jim moved swiftly through the loft. "Whoever did this is gone," he said, pulling his cellphone from his pocket. He spoke to Simon, requesting backup and a Forensics team as he watched Blair move through the rooms in a daze.
"Don't touch anything," he called to him.
Blair nodded and then turned to him with a stricken look on his face. "It's me. Everything here that's been destroyed is mine." He stared down at the remains of a mask that had once adorned the wall of the living room and a single tear tracked down his cheek. "It's me."
Simon finished getting a brief report from the forensics officer and then moved to sit opposite the two men. "There's not a lot to go on. The lock was forced and they may have a partial print from the outer handle. They'll let me know as soon as they get anything."
Jim nodded and looked sideways at his partner. Blair looked worn out and even paler than when they had first arrived home. The younger man winced slightly as he got up and walked into the kitchen, collecting a broom and a garbage bag.
"Sandburg? What are you doing?" Jim asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Is it okay if I clean it all up now? Simon?"
Simon's heart went out to him; the kid looked out on his feet. "Yeah, it's fine, Sandburg Blair," he said.
Jim got up and took the broom from Blair's hands. "You're exhausted. Go get some sleep. We'll clean it up in the morning. It'll wait." He turned Blair in the direction of his room and gave him a gentle push. "Get some rest, Chief."
Blair walked slowly toward his room, his shoulders hunched. Suddenly his breath hitched and he leaned against the doorframe as he bent to pick up something from the floor.
Jim hurried to his side. "You alright?"
Blair said nothing but handed the object to him and shuffled into the bedroom. Jim heard him sink onto the bed, then muffled sobs began. "My fault, all my fault."
Jim looked down at the object he held in his hands. It was a photo frame or at least it had been. Jim recognized the photo as one Simon had taken on a camping trip a year or so before. Blair and Jim holding onto a large fish, grinning happily into the camera, arms wrapped around each other's shoulders. Blair's face had been torn from the photo.
Jim walked back to the kitchen and placed the photo on the counter, he'd arrange a new print and frame in the morning. He scrubbed his hands tiredly through his cropped hair. "Coffee, Simon?"
"No thanks, Jim. I've got get back to the precinct, put in a report. Any ideas who may have done this?" Simon replied.
"They seem to be targeting Sandburg, sir." Jim answered. "He said he's had a few phantom phone calls over the past couple of days, but it wouldn't be the first time some crazy's gone after him as revenge against me." Jim closed his eyes as a vision of Blair stricken by the drug Golden flashed into his mind. "Merrick, maybe? He was pretty pissed with Blair this afternoon."
"I'll check Merrick's movements and also place a twenty four hour guard on the loft." Simon said. Jim started to protest but Simon held up a silencing hand. "Just humor me, okay, Jim. What can I say? The kid grows on you," he smiled.
Jim nodded, smiling back. "Can you let yourself out? I want to check on Blair."
Simon nodded and picking up his coat, headed for the door.
Jim picked his way through the debris and stood at the doorway to Blair's room. He dialed up his sight and saw that his partner was sleeping, albeit restlessly, on top of the bedclothes. As quietly as he could, he moved over to the bed and lifted Blair's legs, pulling the blankets up and over his body.
Blair murmured softly and twisted away from Jim's hands. Jim spoke soft assurances and noted the fine lines of worry that creased his friend's brow. Deciding that he didn't want to be too far from Blair tonight, he collected a pillow and blanket from his room and after taking a couple of pain killers for the headache pounding at his skull, curled up on the couch.
The morning dawned as dark as Blair's mood and he crawled from his bed stiff and sore from his run in with Merrick the day before. He made his way to the bathroom, but stopped in surprise in the living room, wondering whether he'd dreamt the previous night's events. The apartment was spotless, not a trace of mess remained.
"Hey Chief, eggs for breakfast?" Jim called from the kitchen.
"Um, I'm not really hungry. Jim? What Where " he gestured around the room.
Jim waved a dismissive hand. "I didn't think you needed to deal with it. Go take shower, breakfast will be ready in ten."
After an almost silent breakfast, which Blair mostly pushed around his plate, the two men left the loft.
"Do you want to ride in with me, Sandburg?" Jim asked.
"Sure," Blair answered distractedly.
The trip to the precinct was made in silence with Blair dozing against the passenger door and Jim casting worried glances at his partner.
As they got out of the truck in the garage, Jim put a restraining hand on Blair's arm. "Are you sure you're up to a day in here, Chief?"
Blair shrugged "It's not as if I've got anywhere else to be." Seeing the hurt on his partner's face, he stopped and faced him. "I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't mean that." He wrapped his arms around his lean body as a shiver ran through him. "I'm still trying to process it all. Let's talk about it at lunch. I'm freezing down here."
Suddenly Jim snapped his fingers. "You go on ahead, I've left something in the truck."
Blair nodded and headed slowly for the elevator, his thoughts tumbling over each other. He really wished he had never walked past that damn car, then he stopped, mentally shaking himself. What was he thinking? If he hadn't walked past the car when he did, the baby could be dead now. He ran a weary hand through his unruly curls. 'God, what a mess.'
Jim trotted back to the truck and retrieved the torn photo and its negative from the glovebox and turned back to catch up with Blair. Halfway to the elevator, a high pitched deafening ringing assaulted his ears and he stopped, clutching his head. He scrunched his eyes up as the noise threatened to cleave his brain in two. As though in slow motion, he saw Blair turn toward him, saw his mouth moving, saw him turn his head toward the back of the parking garage, saw his eyes widen in shock. Jim moved to follow Blair's line of sight and saw the van bearing down on him before he had a chance to react.
"Jim, no!" Blair yelled in horror and watched, frozen to the spot as Jim's body hit the van's grille with a dull thud and then somersaulted in the air before sliding to rest like a rag doll up against the concrete wall.
Blair ran toward the silent body on shaking legs, his breath coming in strangled gasps. He knelt next to his still partner and pulled his cellphone from his backpack with shaking hands. "Jim?" he whispered, wiping the blood away from his partner's face with trembling fingers. He was so absorbed in his friend's plight, he didn't notice the van reversing back toward him with a squeal of tires and only turned in time to register a flash of metal and an explosion of pain as the gun butt crashed into his temple. He collapsed across his unconscious Sentinel, and then strong arms gripped him and dragged him into the van. The door slammed shut and the vehicle screamed out of the garage to be swallowed up by the city traffic.
Jim Ellison regained consciousness painfully, he had a full orchestra playing in his head, he was sure and the deep, loud voice demanding his attention wasn't helping at all. Suddenly, everything returned in a rush and he would have sat up, if not for the strong hands holding him down.
"Easy, Jim, just lay back and relax. It's Simon," the voice said.
Jim relaxed against the hands restraining him and slowly opened his eyes. "Simon, what happened? Where's Blair?" he asked hoarsely.
"Okay, one question at a time. You're in the ER at Cascade General. Rafe found you unconscious in the garage at the precinct. Blair wasn't with you." Simon said quickly. "Look, I'm going to wait outside while the doctor checks you out."
Jim forced himself into a sitting position, trying to ignore the dizziness and nausea and the ringing in his ears that threatened to engulf him. "Simon, where's Blair?"
The big police captain sighed and turned back to the detective. "We couldn't find Blair, Jim. His backpack and cell phone were next to you but..." Simon raised his hands in defeat.
"Get my clothes" Jim said, swinging his legs off the gurney, groaning as the ringing stepped up in crescendo. He vaguely heard another voice murmuring and a hand on his shoulder pressing him back into the pillows. He had to concentrate to hear what the doctor was saying.
"You may have a concussion, detective. Definitely three cracked ribs, I'd like to keep you overnight."
"No," Jim said firmly. "My partner's in trouble, Doc. I'll be okay."
The doctor hesitated for a moment, then seeing the resigned look from Simon, nodded. "I'll get the nurse to bring you some anti-inflammatory tablets, they'll help reduce the inflammation and pain without making you drowsy. I don't want to compromise any concussion you may have."
The doctor turned to Simon. "Keep a close eye on him, Captain. If he suffers blurred vision, nausea or vomiting, bring him straight back to the ER."
Simon nodded. "Don't worry, doctor, we've had to do this often enough for Sandburg " he stopped and swallowed hard, looking at the bruised face of his friend. "I'll wait outside for you to get dressed."
Jim nodded and reached for his shirt.
Blair woke to freezing cold and a raging headache. Slowly he tried to open his eyes, groaning as the light sent piercing needles of pain through his head and vaguely aware that only one eye was opening, the other seemingly glued shut. The mere effort of opening his eyes exhausted him and he looked around slowly. He appeared to be laying on something soft and damp, his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs bound with rough thick rope that made his bare ankles itch. 'Where are my shoes?' he thought, then looked down at his body. His clothes were gone, save for his boxers, which explained the bone chilling cold coursing through his body.
"Hello, is there anybody here?" he called His voice appeared to bounce off the walls and he struggled to sit up to check out his surroundings. Light glowed dully from a couple of battery operated lanterns sitting on the sandy floor and water gleamed on the rough hewn rock walls. 'A cave? I'm in a cave? Where?' he thought.
"Good, you're awake," a female voice said from behind him and he scrabbled to push himself around to face her.
"Who are you?" he asked warily, squinting in the dim light.
"Oh, Blair, I'm disappointed you don't remember me. I thought I meant more to you than that."
Blair shook his head, and then a fragment of memory nudged its way through the layers of his aching brain.
Suddenly the woman stepped forward, her shadow looming over him. "Perhaps this will remind you," she whispered.
Blair caught a blur of movement from the corner of his eye as something hard slammed into the side of his head, threatening to tip him headlong into blackness again. He flopped bonelessly onto his side, gasping at the throbbing in his temple and fighting to hold down the bile that rose in his throat. A rough hand caught his hair and wrenched him upright, forcing his head back.
"Well, well, the hippie's awake. Don't tell me you started without me, sweetheart," a familiar voice said.
Blair's eyes widened in shock as he recognized the face leering into his, then screamed in agony, his body arching into an involuntary seizure that threatened to snap his spine, as a tazer was triggered against his neck. The voltage combined with his earlier injuries to topple him over the edge and he collapsed in a heap on the wet sand.
Jim Ellison paced the bullpen racking his brain for any clues that would lead to his partner's whereabouts. Simon watched him wearily from the doorway of his office. "Will you sit down for a while, Jim. You're wearing me out and it can't be doing your headache any good." He paused "We'll find him."
Jim stopped and turned to him. "I just feel so useless waiting here."
Simon nodded. "I understand that. Any more thoughts on who this could be?"
Jim shook his head "We've gone through all the perp records " he suddenly doubled up, his hands going to his ears. "Oh God, not again," he groaned
Simon was at his side in an instant. "What is it?" He quickly hooked a foot around the leg of a chair and pulled it over, pushing the detective into it. "Jim, what's wrong? Do you need a doctor?"
Jim was still hunched over, clutching his ears, but shook his head. "Ringing in my ears, can't hear properly, can't dial it up, ringing just gets louder." He looked up at Simon, his face pale and damp with sweat. "All I can hear is this damn ringing."
"I think we should get you back to the hospital," Simon said, "You're no good to Sandburg if you collapse."
Before Jim could argue, Henri Brown rushed through the door. "Captain, Jim, I just got word from Conner and Rafe. They went over to talk to Merrick."
"And?" Simon asked, a heavy feeling beginning to settle in his stomach. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"They found Merrick in his den, shot dead. Forensics is on the way."
Jim was already on his feet, pushing Simon's restraining hand from his shoulder. "I've got a bad feeling about this, sir. Let's go over there, I'll see what I can pick up."
'Jim fine." Simon threw up his hands in resignation and jogged to catch up with the detective who was already striding from the room.
"Blair, come on, wake up for me. Blair?" the voice was soft but insistent, matching the light tapping against his cheek and Blair moaned, opening swollen eyes.
"Sorry, freak, not Jim, only me again," the voice growled harshly. "I don't think supercop will be coming to your rescue this time. Can't believe he just stood there and let me hit him with the van. Reflexes must be all shot."
Blair jerked away from the voice, realizing with a start that his hands were cuffed to a hook above his head. "North? What? I don't understand," Blair gabbled.
"Oh, I think it's all coming together for you now, Sandburg." The FBI agent motioned to his side and the woman Blair had seen earlier stepped up and snaked an arm around North's neck. "You remember Ms. Merrick, don't you? Samantha is not very happy with you, Blair. See, when you interfered, not only did the authorities take away her daughter, but also Daddy cut off her very generous allowance. You got something you want to say to the hippie, sweetie?"
Samantha Merrick nibbled delicately on one perfectly manicured fingernail, then nodded. North grabbed a handful of Blair's hair and dragged him up from his knees. A hard fist exploded in the observer's gut and he doubled over, fighting for breath. The hand caught his hair again and his stomach muscles cramped viciously, bringing with it an onslaught of nausea.
"Stand up when the lady talks to you, hippie," North said.
Blair bit back a cry of pain and fought desperately to control the retching that threatened to overwhelm him. He wished fervently for the darkness to take him away again, but instead a vision of his Blessed Protector lying crumpled on the concrete floor of the garage swam into view. "Jim," he sobbed.
The woman stepped closer to Blair and ran a finger down his jaw, tracing the droplets of sweat trickling down his neck. She ran the nail back up to his cheek. "Did you like the surprise I left in your apartment?" she whispered throatily. "You took something from me, so I destroyed everything of yours I could find." Suddenly she raked her nails down his face and he struggled to pull away from the fire left in their wake. He felt the blood begin to flow slowly and bit his lips against the pain. "You're not a very nice man, Blair. You should have left Amy in the car."
Blair saw her reach for the tazer and swallowed convulsively. "Don't do this, Samantha. Stop it before it goes too far."
Samantha laughed bitterly. "That's what you should have done, you little creep. They took Amy and then Daddy took my allowance. Luckily David found a solution to my problems."
Blair thought quickly, he knew he had to keep her talking. "This isn't a solution," he said, his mouth dry.
"No, you're right, it's not." She triggered the tazer and watched as his body convulsed, a strangled groan torn from his spasming throat. "It's revenge."
Jim and Simon arrived at the Merrick estate as the body of Richard Merrick was being loaded into the coroner's wagon. Megan Conner met them at the front door. "Any news on Sandy, Jim?" she asked.
Jim shook his head, then winced as the movement jarred his brain and set the ringing at a new high. They followed Megan through the house, Jim straining to hear her voice through the deafening noise in his ears. Rafe sat at the dining room table taking a statement from a tiny Asian woman who sobbed quietly, twisting a damp handkerchief in trembling hands.
"That's the maid," Megan said, "She found the body."
Jim stepped into the den and looked around the room briefly. "Hey, Don," he called to the Forensics officer packing up his case in a corner of the room. "You done here?"
The officer acknowledged Jim and nodded. "All done for now, Jim"
The detective turned to Simon next. "Can you wait here, sir. Make sure no one comes in. It's getting hard to concentrate with this noise in my head."
Simon nodded and Jim waited for the other officers to leave the den before entering once more. He stood in the center of the room, trying to move past the noise in his head. "Isolate it and discard it." Blair's voice and he tried to swallow the lump that rose in his throat.
He tried to dial down his hearing completely but the ringing persisted unabated. Jim started to move slowly around the room, looking for anything that Forensics may have missed. Something in the carpet caught his eye and he bent to examine it. He rubbed at the plush carpet with his fingertips, sand. He recalled Megan indicating the maid and stood again to look more carefully around the den, the place was spotless.
A sudden muted commotion drew his attention to the doorway and he strode over angrily. "I thought I told you to stay away from me, Sanders. You've caused my partner enough trouble."
FBI Agent Sanders backed off slightly from the angry tirade but then squared his shoulders and glared back at the detective. "I think I can help you find your partner, Ellison."
Blair fought his way back to consciousness with a shudder and moaned softly.
"If I'd had my way, Sandburg, I would have just killed you straight up," North said to the shackled man huddled in front of him. "Samantha wanted to give you a going away present first."
He hauled Blair's battered body back up to lean against the rocks and leaned into his face. "Thing is, we needed the cash to get away and you almost ruined that with your little stunt when Merrick stopped Sam's allowance. Then we discovered that although Daddy had cut off her allowance, he hadn't changed his will. So poor Daddy got a bullet. We finish here and Sam will go back to play the grieving daughter, until the legal stuff's all tied up. You were all wrong about Merrick, he didn't bribe the Welfare authorities to cover up the incidents with the kid. Sam was with me each time. Daddy thought she had a drinking problem, and we had to keep our little liaison quiet because he didn't approve of me."
Blair's eyes were wide with shock and revulsion. "Jesus Christ, you're both sick. You left your daughter to choke strapped into a car seat and then you killed your own father?"
A massive blow crashed against his kneecap, and he arched back as the blinding pain shot down to his feet and then upward, to explode through his hip. He couldn't hold back the scream that was ripped from his throat and he collapsed in on himself, panting as echoes of the agony radiated through his entire body.
North stepped back, breathing heavily, swinging the nightstick from one hand to the other. "Watch your language in front of the lady, creep."
He looked over at Samantha, who was seated on a crate, her dark eyes alive with excitement. "Let me finish him now and I'll dump him out at sea."
"Soon, baby, soon," she whispered, walking over to North and nibbling at his ear. "Just let him hang there and hurt for a bit. I think you've got unfinished business with me first."
Jim barreled into Sanders, holding him against the wall.
"Jim, back off," Simon yelled, pulling at the detective's arms. Jim moved away from the agent and shrugged Simon's hands from him. "You'd better tell me everything you know, Sanders. Where's Blair?"
"Look, Ellison, I've only just come up to speed on this myself. It wasnt until I heard that Merrick had been murdered, I knew it had gone too far. I didnt know until I got here that Sandburg had been abducted. North threatened my family if I said anything about what had happened with Sandburg at the agency. I swear I didnt think hed go this far, I thought it was all talk."
"Thought what was all talk?" Ellisons glare was dangerous and Sanders swallowed nervously.
He seemed to suddenly deflate and sat down heavily on the couch. "He said he was going to make Sandburg disappear to make sure he couldn't testify." The agent rubbed his face wearily and looked up at Simon and Jim. "Everyone had Richard Merrick wrong. North has been having an affair with Merrick's daughter, Samantha. She paid him to frame your partner, just like she paid him to have the other abandonment and neglect charges glossed over. It was only when Sandburg rescued the baby that the files were flagged and certain people in the Child Protection Unit decided that their jobs and reputations were worth keeping."
"Where would he take Blair?" Simon asked.
"I don't know," Sanders replied.
Simon looked over at Jim. "Did you come up with anything in the den?"
Jim shrugged. "Maybe, it may mean nothing. Sand's been tracked into the carpet."
Sanders looked up suddenly. "Merrick has a house on the coast. I remember North telling me about it."
Jim was already halfway to the door before Simon could react. "We'll get an address on the way."
Blair's body shuddered with exhaustion and cold as he tried desperately to keep the weight off his injured leg, but remain upright to lessen the strain on his manacled wrists. "Jim's coming, Jim's coming," he whispered through cracked, bloodied lips.
He said it over and over and screwed his eyes shut as visions of his Sentinel's broken body pushed at his consciousness, not attempting to stifle the sobs that welled up from the depths of his despairing soul.
After what seemed to be a lifetime of agony, determination began to seep through the fog clouding Blair's thoughts. "Got to get away, got to." He forced himself upright and bit down hard on his lips to stifle the cry of agony as he was forced to push up on both legs in order to get his cuffed hands up and over the hook, securing him to the wall. Not a sound passed his lips, but he felt as though he was yelling his head off. Once free, he collapsed in a shaking heap on the cold sand and then began to slowly drag his broken body from the cave. He'd made it almost to the beach before his strength deserted him and he sagged to the ground, moaning continuously now as pain clawed at him. He felt rather than heard the feet approaching and knew instantly that his attempt to escape had been futile.
"Time to go for a boat ride, hippie," North said, savagely grabbing a fistful of hair. Blair cried out and tried to stay upright but his shattered knee refused to support his weight and he collapsed at North's feet, panting heavily. North grabbed at his handcuffed wrists and began to drag him bodily along the sand toward the pier.
Jim and Simon arrived at Merrick's weekender as Conner and Brown dragged a struggling woman to their car.
"This is Samantha Merrick, Simon. Caught her about to leave, says she was going back to the estate to arrange her father's funeral. The trunk of her car is packed with suitcases, looks like she was planning a long vacation," Megan said.
"Blair?" Jim asked, desperation choking his voice.
"Sorry, Jim, no sign of him and no indication he was ever here," Henri said.
Jim glared at Samantha "Where's my partner?"
"I've got nothing to say," she replied, lifting her chin defiantly "I want to talk to my lawyer."
"You'll get your lawyer when I'm good and ready, sweetheart," Megan said angrily.
"Jim." Simon put a hand on Ellison's shoulder. "Blair's not here. We'll go back to the station, put some pressure on the woman and try to track down North. Jim?"
The detective was still staring at the woman, seeming to zone. He focussed on Samantha's eyes. The pupils had grown large and she appeared to be looking past him. Jim spun around and dialed his sight up in an attempt to zero in on a series of caves set along the coastline at the base of rugged cliffs. What he saw set his heart hammering in his chest. He took off running toward the beach, yelling at Simon to follow. "It's North, he's got Blair."
Simon seemed momentarily startled then chased after the detective, calling behind to Conner to call for backup and an ambulance.
Jim could see them clearly now, the rogue agent had hauled Blair semi upright and was dragging him along the pier toward a boat. Blair's head lolled to one side like a broken doll and Jim feared the worst. He tried to extend his hearing to find his partner's heartbeat, but the ringing returned with a vengeance assaulting his senses and leaving him dizzy. North did not seem to notice him until he clattered onto the pier, then he looked up abruptly, pulling Blair up as a shield and bringing a gun up to jab cruelly at his head. Jim stood, legs astride, both hands steadying the weapon aimed at North.
"Give it up, North. It's over," he said.
North shook his head and pulled Blair's unconscious body closer. "It's not over yet, Ellison. I've still got your little buddy here," he grinned.
Suddenly Blair's eyelids fluttered and he moaned softly. "J-Jim?"
"I'm right here, Chief. Take it easy," Jim soothed.
At the sound of his partner's voice, Blair gasped and struggled frantically to escape North's grip. As North looked down to regain his grasp on his struggling hostage, Jim wasted no time. The bullet took the FBI agent between the eyes and he was dead before his body hit the ground, landing heavily on Blair.
Jim rushed forward and pulled the dead body off his partner, not sparing it a second glance. Blair lay face down, his body shuddering and his breath coming in heaving gasps. Simon rushed up and dropped to his knees beside Jim just as the detective gently rolled his partner onto his back. The detective rocked back on his heels as he saw the bruises and vicious claw marks marring Blair's face. Blair moaned softly as the movement jarred his leg and Jim felt his anger explode as he took in the blackened swollen knee.
"Oh God, I'll get the paramedics up here, " Simon said. He whipped off his jacket and handed it to Jim to wrap around the shivering man.
Jim's hand gently stroked the damp curls away from Blair's bruised and bloodied face. "Hey there, Chief. Can you wake up for me?"
Blue eyes slowly opened and stared glassily for a moment before focussing on Jim's worried face. Blair's hand came up to weakly stroke Jim's cheek and he whispered his Blessed Protector's name.
"It's okay, buddy. You're going to be fine. It's all over," Jim said as he captured the hand in his.
"Knew you'd come, Jim," Blair said as exhaustion overtook him and he relaxed against the warmth and safety of his partner's chest.
"I'm afraid your partner's in for a long and painful recovery, Detective," Dr Macdonald said. "He's been severely beaten."
Jim nodded in understanding. "But he'll be okay, right?" he asked.
"He'll recover, yes. He has a severe concussion and his wrists and shoulder muscles are severely strained. His knee has been immobilized and will need physical therapy; he may not recover full use of it. He is also dehydrated and has a mild case of exposure. He's been given something for pain and is sleeping fitfully," the doctor replied.
The doctor ushered Jim and Simon into the room where Blair lay. The soft glow of a nightlight illuminated the bed and Jim moved immediately to his partner's side. The pallor of Blair's skin accentuated the dark bruises and scabbed scratches on his face. His eyes moved restlessly beneath shadowed lids and his body twisted away from the demons in his dreams.
Jim reached a hand over to curl Blair's fingers in his and rested the intertwined hands on the sleeping man's chest. He gently stroked the back of Blair's hand, trying to soothe the nightmarish visions obviously assaulting his friend. Blair calmed at his partner's touch and slowly opened eyes still filled with pain and weariness.
"Hey Jim," he whispered.
"How are you doing, partner?"
Blair considered the question for a moment. His knee throbbed incessantly and he felt a bone aching lethargy that he doubted a week of sleep would cure.
"Battered" he said, as he smiled weakly. He looked past Jim toward the door. "Simon, thanks for looking after the big guy for me."
Simon smiled and walked over to the bed. "Not an easy job, Sandburg. I'll be glad when you're back on your feet and you can take over. How are you doing, kid?"
"I'll be okay," Blair answered. "What happened to North and his girlfriend?"
"North is dead, Blair. I made sure of that," Jim said. "Samantha Merrick has been charged with her father's murder and the assault on you, not to mention kidnapping, breaking and entering and anything else Simon can think of. She's going to be behind bars for a long time."
Blair nodded, his eyes closing as he lost his battle against the fatigue overwhelming him.
The doctor poked his head in the door. "Detective, I thought you'd like to know that we discovered the ringing in your ears was due to the Ibuprofen you were taking. It's an uncommon side effect and does not generally affect people quite as severely as it did you. That could be due to your earlier concussion or you're just extraordinarily sensitive. I'd advise you to have it included on your medical case notes."
"Thanks, Doc, I'll do that," Jim said as the man left.
"Tests." The word was mumbled sleepily.
Jim turned back to his partner. "What's that, Chief?"
"Lots of tests," Blair muttered, though his eyes never opened. "See what else causes it, see if you can push your hearing past it, see "
Jim quietly hushed his guide back to sleep.
"Well, Jim, he's obviously recovering quicker than you realized." Simon laughed and slapped his detective on the shoulder. "I'm out of here. I'll leave you with the Professor and his tests."
"Thanks, Simon, I appreciate it," Jim said, grinning.
Jim sat down in the chair next to his partner's bed. Feeling something poke into his back, he leaned forward and extricated the forgotten object from his pocket. He rubbed his sleeve over the glass of the new photo frame and set it on the bedside locker. Then he reached over and rested his hand on that of his partner, allowing the familiar cadence of his guide's heartbeat to lull him to sleep.
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