Author's Notes: This was originally posted to the Sentinel Angst list, since then it has been expanded and beta'd. I would like to thank my Beta Spacepixell for the wonderful job.
Warning: This story does contain child abuse
The Panther was running for the sheer joy of it, around and over various obstacles. Suddenly the Panther came to a halt and sniffed the air; positive that he had caught a whiff of something that did not belong in his jungle.
The Panther's lips pulled back in a snarl and a low growl built up in the back of his throat. Invaders! In his Jungle and stinking with the scent of madness. Listening, the Panther quickly located the sounds made by the Interlopers and sped off in their direction. This was his Jungle to protect and all invaders would be dealt with swiftly.
Running, the Panther thought he heard sounds of distress also coming from the direction he was traveling in and he felt a great need to go faster. The Panther knew deep in his soul that he had to get there, if he failed something terrible would happen.
In a short time the Panther burst into a clearing and let loose with a heart-stopping roar that stunned the Invaders long enough for the Panther to get a clear look at them. There were six Jackals surrounding a small furred animal that let out whimpering noises and tried to crawl out from underneath the Jackals. Before the small creature could get far the female Jackal grabbed him by the scruff and a much battered wolf cub was revealed to the Panther.
Meanwhile the other five jackals had spread out to try to surround the Panther. Grasping that he was surrounded the Panther leaped on the Jackal to his right and knocked the animal into another scavenger. Using them as a springboard he leaped at the one between him and the She- Jackal carrying the wolf cub and ripped his throat out. Looking up he was momentarily startled to find the cub's blue eyes staring at him, almost pleading with him to take him from the jackals. The Panther's slight distraction was all the remaining four Jackals needed and they all leaped and piled onto the Panther taking him down with their shear weight. Just as the jaws of the lead Jackal were headed toward his throat the Panther heard the mournful cry of a wolf mourning the loss of his pack.
Detective James Ellison bolted upright in his bed as he suddenly awakened from yet another disturbing dream. Mopping the sweat from his face he quietly slid out of bed and walked downstairs to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. After drinking the whole glass down thirstily despite the odd taste, he braced his arms against the sink and leaned his weight on his arms and wondered what he was going to do, as it seemed he was going slowly nuts. Moments later two arms reached around his waist and a smaller body leaned into his back.
"Sorry I woke you, I was trying to be quiet," Jim said.
"Don't worry Jimmy. It was you being gone that woke me."
Jim turned to look at his wife's worried face. "I do love you Caro."
"But you can't tell me what is wrong," Caroline said pushing away from her husband angrily and turning to go back upstairs.
"Caro wait," Jim said, grabbing her arm. "It's not like that, I don't know what is wrong. It's like, I don't know!" Throwing his hands up in the air Jim stalked over to the couch and sat down resting his head in the palms of his hands.
Caroline slowly crossed the room and reached out to touch Jim's shoulders. "Don't worry Jimmy, what ever it is we will figure it out. All you have to do is trust me; I love you and want to help you. I married you didn't I?" Caroline said with a smile at the last.
"I just feel like, like there is something I should be doing, and I'm afraid it is driving me nuts, " Jim said after sitting quietly for a few moments. Raising his head he looked at the concerned countenance of his wife and realized no matter how he was raised and had dealt with problems he had to open up now. What kind of husband would he be if he couldn't confide in his wife? A small smile grew on his face as he came to a revelation, this wonderful woman who had married him could take anything, she was his match for stubborn. As long as he wanted her in his life she would be there for him. That is as long as he did not shut her out. Reaching back he grabbed Caroline by the waist and pulled her squealing over the back of the couch.
"What was that for you big bully?" she asked hitting him lightly on the shoulder.
"Caroline, I love you and I am very glad I was smart enough to marry you," Jim said staring seriously into her eyes.
"I know you do Jim, you just have to learn to remember I do love you too," she said quietly. "Tell me what is wrong, please?"
"I think I'm going crazy, no wait, just hear me out Caroline," Jim said raising his finger to her lips to hush her. "I constantly have this feeling that I should be doing something, that there is something I have to do or something bad will happen. I feel, feel like I'm needed I guess. It is all very confusing; it is almost a compulsion it is so strong. I just know I need to find him."
"Who Jim?" Caroline asked quietly.
"Who what Caro?" Jim asked looking confused.
"Who is it you have to find?" she asked slowly fearing she would break the spell that seemed to have fallen over Jim as he talked.
Blair Sandburg peeked out from behind the couch he was hiding behind and watched his mom, Naomi, and her friends. He didn't like her new boyfriend Jack. There was something about Jack that terrified the nine-year-old, what exactly Blair was not sure but the brown-haired man made him feel icky. He had tried to tell Naomi that Jack and his friends were not exactly nice people; but she had told him it would mess with his Karma if he kept sending out negative vibes about her boyfriends.
Blair wondered what kind of Karma Jack was getting for being the cause of bad vibes but quickly gave up on that line of thought as he confused himself more than Naomi ever had.
After several hours Blair figured that all six of them were stoned enough not to notice anything for hours, at least till noon. Still, he was very quiet as he snuck out of the house and went out the broken window in the bathroom instead of the front door.
Once outside he swung his backpack on and started walking. Dawn was still a few hours away and it was chilly but the sky was clear and Blair had been in much worse conditions than this in his life following Naomi all over the world for all her different causes.
Picking a direction at random Blair started walking, wondering if he would find a library this time before Jack found him. It would be nice if he could have a few hours with some book, and it would well be worth the beating Jack would deliver for leaving the house.
Even better would be if a truancy officer caught him. Blair smiled at the thought of Officer Emily who had caught him wandering the streets in Waco, Texas. He had gotten to attend school for seven months there before Naomi had moved on. Blair frowned remembering that it was shortly after they had left that Naomi had met Jack and become involved in his cause, whatever it was. All Blair knew about it was sometimes he had to walk a package into big buildings and leave it for the receptionist.
Oh well, no need to dwell on unhappy thoughts. He was free for now and was going to make the best of it. Picking up his pace Blair headed toward the downtown district of Cascade.
Eight o'clock in the morning found Jim Ellison leaving his loft apartment headed to work. He didn't know how, but he knew that somehow today was going to change the rest of his life.
This feeling was still with him when he walked into work with a feeling of expectation. Exactly what he was expecting he didn't know, just that it was all somehow connected to all the dreams he'd been having lately. After his late night talk with Caroline, Jim was feeling more at ease than he had for quite a while. He still didn't know what was going on with him, but for the first time Jim felt that he could handle whatever it was that life was throwing at him. That is as long as Caroline stuck by him. Jim smiled as he thought about his incredible wife. Caroline made him feel as if one day he would be able to rejoin the human race. Jim gave a small chuckle, that is if he had ever been a part of it.
Deciding this wasn't getting him anywhere Jim took the top file off the pile on the corner of his desk and began working on his backlog of paper work. It was several hours later that Jim came up for air. Feeling his vertebrae crack when he stood and stretched Jim decided he deserved a break and headed toward the break room to get something to eat before hitting the paperwork again.
Walking back he was surprised to see a young boy sitting at his desk. Taking a good look at him Jim guessed him to be about seven or eight. Too skinny, dressed in torn jeans, a stained T-shirt, and a worn jacket two sizes too large the boy was sitting very still clutching a worn backpack, carefully watching the other occupants of the room. Altogether he was not the picture of a healthy well cared for child. Only his eyes kept Jim from wondering if he was a street child.
Kneeling down next to the chair Jim addressed the little boy. "Hey, what's your name?"
Okay, that was helpful, so Jim tried again. "What are you doing here Blair?"
Jim shook his head not sure if he should be angry or amused. Looking into the earnest blue eyes staring at him he decided to go with amused.
"Who are you waiting for?" Jim asked deciding that he would be able to get more information from an adult.
"Cappin Joel, are YOU the truancy officer?" Blair asked with hopeful blue eyes.
"No, I'm Jim, a detective." Jim answered glad to get more than a one-word answer at last, but worried as to why the Bomb Squad Captain would bring a young boy here.
"Why don't you draw something for me here," Jim said handing him a pencil and the scratch pad from his desk, trying to ignore the tugging he felt on his heart, "and I'll be right back." Standing up Jim walked toward his captain's office and knocked, betting that Taggart would be in there. Hearing the okay to enter Jim was treated to the sight of two of the most respected captains on the force being dressed down by a short, matronly woman who had to be seventy if she was a day.
"Um, Captain what's with the boy at my desk?" Jim asked not sure anymore if he wanted to be in here. The lady reminded him of one of his grade school teachers.
"Sit down Ellison, this might take a while." Banks said waving at the chairs.
Jim took a seat and waved off Banks' offer of coffee. "Would anybody care to tell me why Blair is sitting out at my desk?" Jim asked when it seemed like no one was going to say anything. "This isn't the kind of place you see kids very often. He isn't a witness is he?" Jim said stiffening; the thought of the curly headed youngster having witnessed a Major Crime disturbed him more than he normally would be.
"Well, if your Captain would DO something the poor dear wouldn't have to be sitting in a police station. The little dear is too young to be in a place like this," said the older woman.
Banks sighed and waved to Joel to answer Jim's question, not wishing to get into another verbal battle.
"No Jim, Blair isn't a witness," Joel said, but continued when the woman stiffened in apparent anger, "at least not yet."
"Jim allow me to introduce Mrs. Jacqueline Day-Stewart. She is a librarian at Cascade Public Library. Mrs. Stewart, this is Detective James Ellison." Joel said.
"Nice to meet you Mrs. Stewart." Jim said shaking her hand.
"Oh please Detective, just call me Jackie. Everyone does, even when my dear Scot was still alive nobody called me Mrs. Stewart, " Jackie said smiling at Jim.
"All right then, Jackie," Jim said smiling, already liking the older woman.
"You see Jim," Joel said trying to get back to the point. "Jackie brought Blair to my attention when I stopped at the library to pick up a book. She is concerned that Blair might be neglected, even abused. When he couldn't tell us where he lived I offered to bring him to the station."
"Sit down and be quiet young man and let an old lady speak," Jackie said scowling at both captains. "That goes for you too Simon, oh don't look at me that way. I remember you, you used to take your girlfriends into the natural history section to make out."
At this Simon fell back into his seat, mouth open in shock. Ignoring the snickering from the other two men in the office Simon waved toward Jackie, pretending to give her permission to speak as if she wouldn't just talk over him anyway. Possible revealing other embarrassing childhood indiscretions.
"The little dear came in first thing this morning. In fact he was waiting for the library to open. Now while we aren't in a particularly bad area it is still not someplace for a small boy to be alone at that time of day," Jackie said. "Now Mr. Tibble was not sure about letting the boy in considering how he looked, but I set him straight. As long as they obey the rules every person is allowed to use the CPL. I should know, I have been working there since I was sixteen. The poor dear though stayed all morning, and he never ate. I was terrified that he would pass out. Finally I asked when his parents were going to pick him up and he told me that his mother's boyfriend would start looking for him once he woke up and got over his hangover and how glad he was that he found the library because it was worth any beating. That is when I went and got Captain Taggart, and I said I would come with them to the station to make sure you took proper care of the boy."
All three men stared at Jackie in something resembling shock, not understanding how someone so old could say so much so quickly. Finally Jim recovered enough from his shock to say something.
"Well, that explains why you brought Blair to the station but not to my desk."
"The officer that Captain Taggart introduced me to said that this was not a job for the police, that Social Services must be contacted. Well I don't think so, that little boy is in some major trouble so I brought him up here to Major Crimes, but your captain won't do anything." Jackie said glaring daggers at Simon.
"Mrs. Stew--" Simon began but quickly caught himself when he saw her glare, "Jackie, as things stand I can't do much of anything. Maybe once we can find the boy's guardians but this isn't a Major Crime."
"That little boy being beat isn't a major crime? Then what is it?" demanded Jackie.
"That isn't what I meant. If you will just calm down, I will have Detective Ellison take care of the boy while I contact Social Services," Simon said wearily.
"Fine," Jackie said. "That will have to do for now but I want that boy in protective custody or something."
Just then Jim stood and threw open the door and said, "Well, it doesn't make much difference at the moment, he's gone."
At this announcement everyone quickly left the office to see for themselves. Jim walked over to his desk and picked up a piece of paper.
"What do you have there Jim?" asked Joel.
"A note from Blair, I told him to draw me a picture. He says that he is sorry but he really needs to head back to the house before Jack gets too mad and would I please say bye to Captain Joel," Jim said unfolding the picture.
Ignoring the others for a moment Jim simply stared at the childish drawing. It was of a large black cat in a jungle with a small wolf cub in-between the cat's front paws. How could the boy have known, or was Jim going crazy?
A startled gasp brought Jim's attention back to the others.
"That boy just up and left? You need to find him Detective, he said he didn't know where home was, who knows how long he could wander the street," Jackie said upset.
"Don't worry Jackie, I'll find him," Jim said before turning to Simon. "Sir, I'm going to go and try to find him. If you would give me any information you have on the boy and call down to the front desk to see if they can stop him from leaving if he hasn't already I'd appreciate it."
"Fine Ellison, you don't have anything major at the moment do you?" Simon asked.
"No, the Feds haven't sent over all the info on the bombings yet," Jim answered.
"Could you get a uniform to take Jackie's statement incase we need it in the future as well? I have a bad feeling about this," Jim said.
"I'll take care of that Jim," Joel said taking Jackie's arm he led her toward an interrogation room.
Jim got his coat and started toward the elevators wondering why he felt such a strong need to find the boy, as well as how his dream could come to be featured in a child's drawing.
Blair continued to walk away from the police station while wondering why he felt compelled to draw the detective a picture of what he saw in his dreams. After all, the dreams with the Panther were special, he never told anyone about them. Even though they were different species Blair just knew that the Panther was the Wolf's dad. Some nights, when Naomi was tripping and Jack had tired of hitting him Blair pretended that he was the Wolf and that his dad the Panther would always take care of him and protect him.
Even though he felt dead tired, Blair was afraid that if he stopped to rest he would be unable to continue. He figured that sooner or later he would see a land mark he remembered and find his way back to the house or Jack would finally find him. Blair couldn't figure out why Jack got so angry every time Blair left wherever it was they were staying when he seemed to hate him so. Naomi had never had any problem with him wandering around; in fact she said it was a sign of a free spirit. Altogether the only time Jack was ever nice to him was when he wanted Blair to do something, and the only time he seemed to want Blair to do something was when he delivered packages to people, usually in big buildings.
For the life of him Blair could not figure out what Naomi saw in Jack, normally by now she would have left Jack as well as the four other men. Though staying with Jack didn't mean they weren't traveling still. In fact they were traveling more now than they had ever before, but not for the same reasons. Blair couldn't remember the last time that Naomi had dragged him to a protest or told him to throw rotten food at the fascist pigs.
Driving down the road slowly Jim wondered what he was thinking, how could he find one small child in a city this large? So far he had had no luck, and was beginning to get frustrated. Despite this he couldn't stop looking for Blair. He was out there somewhere and Jim just knew that Blair needed his help and that he needed it soon.
Turning a corner without even being aware of it, Jim suddenly slammed on his brakes. Seeing Blair walking on the sidewalk filled Jim with relief and a giddy happiness. Hearing the honking behind him Jim pulled forward and parked before jumping out and running back to where Blair was standing watching him.
"Blair why did you leave? What were you thinking walking around the city by yourself?" Jim said barely able to stop himself from grabbing Blair by the shoulders and shaking him for putting himself in danger.
"I have to try to find home. Jack is gonna be really mad, and my mom might be worried 'bout me," Blair said, not sure why Jim seemed worried about him.
Kneeling down on one leg and gently placing his hands on Blair's shoulders, Jim gave him a little shake. "You could have asked me short stuff," Jim said smiling at the face Blair made at being called short. "I really need to talk to your mom anyway. What say we look for your house together?"
"Okay 'Tective Jim, that sounds like fun," Blair said. Blair then leaned forward and whispered in Jim's ear. "You might not want ta talk ta Naomi though, she don't like pigs."
Jim managed to keep his expressions under control and asked evenly, "And you do Chief?"
"Sure do," Blair said, nodding his head making his messy curls bounce. "They make you go to school."
Jim got to his feet and allowed Blair to pull him toward his truck mulling over Blair's words. What kind of life had the boy led until now?
Two hours later they were still trying to find their way, using the landmarks Blair remembered. Jim had stopped at a deli for soup and sandwiches, not wanting to risk anything heavier in the too-thin boy's stomach. When they were finished, Jim had managed not to wince as Blair carefully wrapped up the last half of his sandwich and the extra cookie Jim had purchased on impulse and carefully add them to backpack he'd refused to leave behind in the truck.
The more time Jim spent with the little bundle of energy the more he liked him. The more time he spent listening to the boy's stories, the more sure he became that he could not leave Blair with his mother. Reading in between the lines Blair had not had an easy life, but the boy didn't seem to realize how wrong he was being treated. He just accepted it and went on. Well if Jim Ellison had anything to do with it Blair wouldn't have to accept anymore.
Jim had no intentions of leaving Blair with Naomi once they found her, mother or not. He'd already called Simon to let him know he'd take Blair back to the station as soon as he discovered where Blair's mother and her boyfriend were living. A woman that demanded her own child call her by her first name was seriously lacking in the maternal instincts department. Jim had no wish for Blair to witness the 'talk' he was planning on having with her over her mothering skills. Besides he had something special in mind for that boyfriend of hers, and an inquisitive nine-year old did not need to learn about such things no matter how mature he seemed.
Jim may not have had an ideal childhood, but his father had always known what he and his brother were up too, where they were and who they were with. He may not know a great deal about child raising but he knew that you did not treat a child like Blair the way his mother seemed too.
Deciding he needed gas, and maybe a snack or two Jim pulled up into a gas station. When he was finished pumping the gas Jim leaned into the truck and asked Blair if he wanted anything.
Blair bit his lip. 'Tective Jim had already been so nice to him. He'd bought him a whole lunch with soup and a sandwich and everything. He'd even gotten two whole cookies with chocolate chips and nuts. He didn't want to ask 'Tective Jim for anything more. Naomi always said the quickest way to wear out your welcome is to ask for material things, and he was hoping 'Tective Jim would become his friend.
Blair turned his best smile on. "No, thank you 'Tective Jim." He'd learned quickly to be polite to all adults. They might pinch him on the cheeks or pat his head, but it was better than some of the other things that could happen.
"Can I go to the bathroom? I really gotta go," Blair said and finished squirming in his seat. He really didn't but wasn't looking forward to waiting in the cold truck by himself.
Jim caught the lighting flash change of expressions on Blair's face, but decided not to push the young boy. Tapping on the edge of the truck, he popped the handle and opened the door. "Well then, hop out Pup, let's go inside to pay for the gas and then we'll stop by the restroom around the back. While we're in there we'll just see if anything in there catches your fancy and changes your mind."
Taking the large hand in his Blair silently followed the older man. He felt a warmth curl through his insides and wrap around his heart at being called Pup.
"Are you sure you don't want anything?" Jim asked the boy who'd been trying not to stare at some Twizzlers while they were waiting in line.
Blair was hungry again. He always seemed to be, but whenever he managed to have some food, he could only eat a little bit of it or he'd get sick. Throwing up was one of Blair's least favorite things to do, and Jack got so angry. Last time Blair had thrown up he felt too bad to get up and Jack had just let him lay there. Thinking he'd go into the restroom and eat one of the cookies and fill up on some water from the sink, he hopped about in place.
"Uh uh. But I hafta go." Blair tightened his legs together and gave a little wriggle.
Jim looked doubtful, he couldn't explain his reasoning, but he felt dread at the thought of Blair leaving his side, as if the moment he let Blair out of his sight something would happen to the bright boy.
"I promise I won't run off, if that's what you're worried about."
Looking at the eight people in front him, Jim knew that no nine-year-old could hold it for that long.
"Sure Chief, it's right over there," Jim said pointing. "When you're finished come right back and don't talk to anyone get it?"
"Got it," Blair said smiling.
"Good," Jim replied mussing up Blair's curls affectionately.
Jim monitored Blair's progress to the restroom until he disappeared behind the drab grey door around the side. On his way back to the line, Jim snagged a couple of root beers and the twizzlers Blair had been eyeing. When there were only two people left Jim's head snapped up and he growled deep in his throat.
Somehow just knowing that something was wrong with Blair, Jim ran outside toward the restrooms only to be confronted by empty stalls and one desolate backpack, its contents strewn across the grungy floor. Spinning around he quickly scanned the parking lot, only to come up with one of Blair's beat up Star Wars sneakers lying like a beacon on the now cold and wet concrete.
Jim walked up to where Joel and Simon were examining the contents of Blair's backpack on the countertop of the now evacuated GatorJiffy. He'd called them immediately after he called in an alert to dispatch. An APB had been set out on the missing boy, but Jim didn't have much hope of finding him that way.
Simon turned, chewing on the unlit cigar he held. "Anything?"
"Not a damn thing, sir." Jim removed his Jags cap and ran a hand across his head in frustration. "No one saw anything and it's too wet outside for me to tell what direction he was taken in. I scanned six blocks in every direction."
Jim stopped his report as Caroline walked into the store. "Who called you?" he asked as he gratefully accepted Caroline's quick hug.
"I did," Simon interrupted. "Forensics needs to run a complete sweep of this place."
"Your missing flower-child just became a major crime." Two pairs of questioning eyes turned in Simon's direction. "Joel and I found this in the kid's stuff."
Joel handed over the papers he had been carefully placing into evidence bags. "It's a detailed schematic of some homemade bombs," the Captain of the Bomb Squad explained.
"What?" Caroline laid a restraining hand on Jim's arm at his incredulous bellow.
"I'm afraid so Jim. Blair was using it as a book-cover. But more important is what the kid was using as a bookmark. It was a list." Joel paused significantly. "A list of several large businesses and corporations both here in Cascade and in other cities. The ones in other cities are those that have been bombed by that extremist group the FBI was sending us information on."
"Dammit! I knew he was bad news."
All present were shocked at Jim's apparent turn around. "You can't believe that boy had anything to do with those terrorist attacks?" Joel asked in disbelief.
"No! Not Blair. Jack. His mother's boyfriend, and probably his mother too. Did I tell you his mother asked him to call her by her first name? The pair of them don't deserve Blair."
Simon took control of the situation before Jim could begin one of his infamous rants. He'd rarely seen Ellison become personally involved in one of his cases, but when he did the streets of Cascade trembled.
Ordering Jim to escort Caroline and her forensics team to the last place Blair had been, Joel and he turned to assist the uniformed officer being harassed at the edge of the property by the irate GatorJiffy manager.
That night when he went home Jim felt like breaking something. Preferably something expensive that would make a satisfying crash. He couldn't figure out why the disappearance of Blair made him so angry. And not just his disappearance but the little they had been able to piece together about the boy's history and the bombers.
The bombers attacked mostly large corporations. At first all the targets had something to do with the environment, but later bombings targeted all sorts of large businesses. The fact that investigators had been unable to locate how the bombs had entered the buildings made the case even harder to crack.
So far all the bombs had been small and different triggering mechanisms had been used. At first the bombers had used mostly timers that had been set to go off after hours, but later pressure sensitive bombs that exploded when opened had begun to appear. The diagram found in Blair's pack had been a schematic for one of the timers.
Luckily no one had been killed yet but the pressure trigger bombs had seriously injured over twenty people. If Blair was really involved he could be in a great deal of danger. For the moment Jim chose to ignore why the well being of one small boy seemed to encompass his thoughts. For someone he had just met Blair seemed to be so important to him. As long as he ignored it he didn't have to look too closely at his own actions and see how irrational they appeared to others. After all he was quite good at that.
Hearing Caroline coming up, Jim headed to the kitchen to begin dinner. Early in their marriage he had discovered that his wife was down right dangerous in the kitchen. If he had not smelled that the chicken had gone bad during one particularly hard case he would have been laid up for days with food poisoning.
When she finally came in seven minutes later he already had the meat browning for hamburger helper and was getting the rest of what he needed out. Walking across the room, Jim gave her a big hug and just hung on for a minute soaking up her presence, reminding himself that there were good things in this world.
"Talk to me Jim," Caroline said.
"I don't understand it Caro," Jim said sounding lost. "I have to find him. I don't know why but I do, and some how I have the feeling that I don't have much time."
Turning to walk back into the kitchen he said, "Sorry, I sound nuts don't I?"
Grabbing his arm Caroline said, "No you don't Jim. I don't understand what is going on but I believe you and I'll help you find him."
Jim smiled the rest of the evening. Somehow he had a feeling that everything would turn out right. That night when he dreamed it was of the Panther playing with the rowdy little Wolf pup.
Blair, stretched to his limit in order to duck his head underneath the water faucet, found himself being lifted into the air. He started to let out a startled yell only to find a rough hand gripping half his face. As he felt himself carried outside, he began to kick in order to get away. Cole, one of Jack's friends, grabbed Blair's feet so forcibly one of his shoes flew off. Letting his body go limp Blair was able to look over his shoulder and see that it was Jack that held him.
Ignoring the young boy he held, Jack got both of them into a waiting rust bucket of a car and motioned for the driver to go. Jack continued to be quiet the whole ride back to the rented house despite Blair's many attempts to get him to say something. Once inside the house though this changed.
Blair was only three feet into the house when the first blow caught him on the back of his head causing him to fall forward onto his knees. A second blow to his head knocked him the rest of the way onto the floor where he was kicked twice in the legs and once in the stomach. Blair tried to crawl away but was stopped when Jack and Cole grabbed him and began stripping him out of his shirt and pants.
"And just were did you think you were going you little bastard?" Cole asked as he held Blair still.
"Lemme go!" Blair yelled twisting in the grip of the large man. "Naomi! I want Naomi!"
"Naomi can't help you brat. You cost us a day in our plans," said Jack as he pulled his belt off. "Because of you we missed the CEO while your mother was whining all about her poor baby out in the city by himself. Well, I'll show you what happens to little boys who go out in the big city Blair my boy."
Finished with his short speech Jack grabbed Blair by the hair and proceeded to beat him with the belt. Eventually he let Blair drop onto the ground where he curled up into a ball as Jack continued hitting his back. Finally, Jack tired of this, once Blair stopped crying and just laid in a ball, and wandered into the kitchen where the rest of his friends where already shooting up.
About twenty minutes later Naomi drifted in through the front door already high. Totally overlooking her son lying on the floor sobbing she was guided into the kitchen by Joe and Dan who simply stepped over Blair. It was hours later before anybody took notice again of Blair who had cried himself to sleep on the floor in front of the door.
Walking out of the kitchen Tim stumbled over Blair's body waking him up.
"Get up boy," Tim said, prodding Blair with his toes. "You got packages to deliver in the morning so you better not sleep out here and then complain in the morning."
Giving the shivering body one last prod, Tim headed into the living room to collapse onto the couch. Wincing from the pain radiating from his entire body, Blair slowly crawled across the floor into the living room until he reached his pile of blankets behind the sagging sofa. Once there it was quite a while before he was able to fall back asleep.
Once slumbering, however, he dreamed of the Panther, and felt warm and safe. Underneath that however was a feeling that very soon it would be real instead of a dream.
Upon waking up Jim just knew that he had to find Blair today, that it was his only chance to help the boy that had somehow grabbed onto his heart with just one brief meeting. Rolling over he shook Caroline and then got out of bed. He wanted to get to the station early. Maybe once he was there he could think of some way to find Blair and soon.
"Jim, are you leaving already?" Caroline asked walking down the stars from the loft part of their apartment.
"Yeah, I wanted to get an early start this morning. I just have a feeling that if we don't find Blair soon something bad will happen," Jim said, getting his gun and holster.
"Don't you mean the bombers Jim?" Caroline asked with a small smile.
Jim just looked at her unsure of what to say. Finally Caroline let him off the hook and said, "Go find him Jim, if anyone can you can. That boy deserves someone putting him first."
Smiling Jim left for the station unaware of the Panther looking through the railing, smiling approvingly at him and Caroline.
"Get up boy, I said get up." Jack's voice as well as a boot to his already tender ribs dragged Blair from his fitful sleep.
"um up J'ck," Blair muttered curling into a ball to protect his ribs.
"Then get up and get dressed you lazy ass," Jack said kicking him once more just for the heck of it. "I need you to deliver some packages. They should have been delivered yesterday but you had to fuck that up didn't you?" After saying this Jack turned and left Blair to get up and take his clothes and head to the bathroom to get clean.
Whenever Jack had him deliver things he always insisted that Blair be clean and presentable. Moving slowly Blair was able to clean himself up and dress himself. Once finished he took some of Naomi's concealler and used it to hide as many of the bruises on his face as possible. Finished, he left the bathroom and went to get something to eat.
Blair had only enough time to get an apple before he was shuffled into the back of a van with several wrapped packages with names and addresses on them. As the van pulled away from the curb Blair thought he caught a glimpse of a scruffy gray wolf pup playing in front of his door. Shaking his head in denial, Blair scrunched back down in his seat to eat his apple before Jack decided to take it away.
Jim sat as his desk fingering some of the items from Blair's backpack and thinking there had to be some way to find the bomber's house. Blair had said he didn't know where it was but he had walked to the library so it stood to reason that it wasn't too far. Nothing had been found nearby though and as Joel had pointed out they had no idea how long Blair had been walking.
Manpower had been approved to stakeout all the companies found on the list in Blair's backpack. Teams had been in place since the night before. Jim had wanted to be in on the stakeouts, but Simon had overruled him and sent him home to clear his head. The evening with Caroline had helped him unwind, but he hadn't managed to completely relax.
Looking down at his messages Jim grimaced at the one from Redwood Enterprises. He hadn't talked to his father for over a decade, yet William Ellison had his secretary call Jim every quarter to keep him apprised of a company he had no interest in.
Simon leaned against the door to his office grimacing as he watched his best detective pick up the evidence bag containing the kid's book on Peruvian jungles for the twentieth time that morning. Ellison had refused to leave the items in the evidence room, claiming there was some clue there he could find if only he looked hard enough.
What Simon had gotten out of going through the items was a picture of a small lonely neglected boy. Simon could not understand how a parent could treat her own child like it seemed Blair was treated. Simon glanced at the report on his desk outlining the life of one Blair Jacob Sandburg, age nine. Reading through it this morning after Rhonda had delivered it, Simon had been disgusted at the story of neglect, drugs, and crime committed in the name of activism.
Knowing the stubborn man was of no use to him in such a state, Simon decided to go ahead and send Ellison to relieve one of the teams monitoring the targeted businesses. Might as well have someone who wanted to be there take on the boring duty.
Minutes later, Jim was on his way to Redwood Enterprises for the first time since he was a teenager. Even though he didn't relish the idea of running into his father, and in fact dreaded having anything to do with the company he was raised to take over one day, he had volunteered to be the one there. The reason was the same itchy feeling in the back of his head that he had been listening to the past few days.
Jim just knew that if he was to have any chance of finding Blair he needed to listen to that feeling. If he ended up in the psyche ward so be it. He was going to do everything in his power to find Blair and help him.
Parking in the visitors parking area, warning bells started ringing when Jim saw the beat up old Chevy van parked illegally in the CEO's parking space. There was no way on earth that a vehicle in that condition could belong to William Ellison. Add in the guy in the front seat using binoculars to look into the building and Jim was definitely suspicious.
Jim was pulling out his cell phone to report the activity when he realized that the man in the van was not watching the building but the familiar curly headed boy entering it. Swearing Jim got on his radio and alerted the unmarked car on surveillance on the other side to keep an eye on the van and its occupants while he went after Blair.
Approaching from a side entrance the sight of the young boy carrying a plainly wrapped package while limping across the lobby tugged at Jim's heart. He quickly crossed the lobby and dropped his hand down onto Blair's shoulder. Startled Blair dropped the box and yelled, throwing his arms over his head as if he expected to be hit.
"Blair, its okay," Jim said gently turning him around to face him and getting down on one knee. "Remember me?"
"Detective Jim!" Blair said smiling brightly, "Ya found me!" Throwing his arms around the tall detective, Blair squeezed as much as his sore muscles would allow him too. He'd been so afraid he'd never see the tall man ever again, that he would disappear out of his life like so many others.
"Yes I did," Jim said. "Now I really need your help okay?"
"Well, I guess," Blair said nervously, looking out the glass windows.
"I need you to tell me about the cover on your Jungle Book," Jim said. "Where did you get it?"
"My pack." Blair bounced in anticipation. "You found it. I thought it was a goner."
"The cover, Blair." Jim reigned in the boy before his monologue gained too much momentum with a light squeeze to his shoulders. "Who gave it to you?"
Immediately Blair sobered, remembering his original duty. "I think it belonged to Jack." Blair glanced outside once again before looking toward the receptionist. "Is that it Detective Jim? I gotta give the lady the box. If I take much longer Jack is gonna be real mad, and I don want that, he's real mean when he's mad."
At this statement Jim grimaced with distaste. He could see the bruises on Blair's face under the makeup. Peering around Blair, Jim looked at the brown paper wrapped package and felt a sudden chill go through his body. Even though it was just a feeling Jim was sure that the package contained a bomb and that both he and Blair were in danger.
"Blair, I need you to come with me to the receptionist. Okay?" Jim said carefully picking up the package.
Blair nodded his head, his curls bobbing around his face.
"Okay, just one more thing. Can you tell me where Jack is?"
"Sure," Blair said. "He's out in the van waiting for me. He's gonna be real mad at me."
"Don't worry," Jim said pulling Blair forward to kiss his forehead. "I'll take care of you and keep him from hurting you again, kay?"
"Just like the Panther in my dream," Blair said turning and running across the lobby.
Jim remained motionless for a moment, startled at the revelation that Blair dreamed of a Panther like he did. Dismissing this as unimportant at the moment Jim walked toward the desk where Blair was waiting for him bouncing slightly. Despite the seriousness of the situation Jim had to smile at the sight.
"Ma'am," Jim said setting down the bomb and flipping his badge. "I'm a detective with the police department. I'm gonna need you to start evacuating the building through a back entrance."
"Why what's wrong Detective?" she asked fearfully.
"There is a very good chance there is a bomb in the building. Now I need you not to panic, can you do that for me?" Jim asked. The young woman straightened, consciously gathering her will, and nodded. One of the few things Jim could give his father credit for was the quality and professionalism of the people he employed, only the best for dear old Dad.
"I also need you to take Blair here and keep an eye on him. It is very important that you get him into the custody of the police as soon as they arrive okay?"
Once again she nodded. Grabbing Blair's arm, she turned to leave after giving a quick call to the security office on the second floor. They would divert everyone to the emergency exits that circumvented the lobby.
Satisfied that Blair would be taken care of, Jim deposited the bomb under the desk in the hopes that if it did go off before the bomb squad could take care of it. The desk and counter would contain the blast. Pulling out his cell Jim dialed Simon's number.
"Banks," Simon answered.
"Simon, I need back up at Redwood," Jim said. "I have the bombers in sight. As long as they don't try to leave I'll wait for back up. If they do though I'm taking them down. I also found Blair, he is with a receptionist, have the uniforms keep an eye out for them."
"Ellison you wait for backup do you hear me?" Simon said. "They are already en route, don't you pull one of your stunts."
"Yes sir, but I will not let them get away again," Jim answered. "And I'm going to need the bomb squad, I have a possible explosive stashed under the lobby counter."
Jim hung up before Simon could say anything and turned his cell off. Looking out the doors, Jim started cursing when he saw Jack's van start to pull out. Running toward the doors, Jim pulled his gun and prayed that they would not get away. Deep in his heart he swore that they would pay for what they had done to Blair.
Exiting the building at a run, Jim pulled out his gun and sighted the back tires of the fleeing van and fired. His second shot caught the right tires and caused the van to crash into a parked car. Once the van had come to a complete stop the doors were opened and five men and one woman got out and started running toward the left side of the building, the side connected to the main street of the business district.
Jim quickly chased them but stopped dead when he came around the corner and saw the woman catching a running Blair who started screaming.
Carefully slipping out the door without being noticed, Blair felt a momentary pang of guilt but quickly squashed it. No matter what, he was not going to take the chance of being separated from 'Tective Jim. He had said that he would take care of Blair, but if he wasn't around 'Tective Jim might forget him. The answer was to find him and stay with him of course.
Now that he was outside, the question was where to go. Luckily this was answered for him when he heard the sound of gunshots. Figuring that it was 'Tective Jim doing cop things, Blair ran toward the sounds. As he rounded a particularly tall bush, though, he stopped in fright at the sight of Jack, Naomi, and the others running toward him. Jack yelling at him broke his paralysis and Blair started running toward the road hoping to get away.
Malnutrition and Jack's earlier beating slowed him down though, and Naomi was able to quickly catch him. Squirming wildly despite Naomi's yelling, Blair felt the first seeds of panic settling in his chest when he heard a familiar voice that meant safety yell drop the boy.
"Drop the boy and put your hands behind your heads," Jim said trying to cover all them, hyper aware of the two men flanking him. "You're all under arrest."
Seeing the two men flanking him, tensing, Jim acted, one leg coming up to viscously kick one man in the head. Ducking, Jim was able to dodge the punch thrown by the other man. The third man that came at him however was able to get in close, and both men began to grapple for Jim's gun. Finally the gun went off and Jim's opponent slumped to the ground, dead.
Before Jim was able to get up, though, he felt a gun pressed into the back of his head.
"Toss the gun," Jack said, shoving the gun harder into Jim's head.
Knowing he had to buy himself some time for his back up to arrive, Jim tossed his gun a few feet in front of him. The situation was far from ideal and Jim felt his stomach tighten at the thought of what would happen to Blair if he messed this up and got himself killed. At least there were no bystanders to the action, and as long as Jim could keep them out here in the open he and Blair might get out of this.
"Pick the gun up Naomi," Jack yelled at the redhead. "Now!" he yelled louder when Naomi hesitated. Keeping a firm grip on the wiggling Blair, Naomi leaned over and picked up the gun.
"Good girl Naomi, now take it and the brat over there," Jack said waving off to one side.
"Jack, Blair is not a brat, he is a sensitive and old spirit, and what are you doing with a gun? That will seriously mess up your karma. I am going to need so much sage tonight," Naomi prattled on ignoring the thunderous look on Jack's face.
"That kid is the reason we are in this situation, he must have tipped the cops off or something. Why else would the pig have talked to him?" Jack said getting upset and jittery. "That kid is just bad luck, you should have dumped him several cities back, heck I'll take care of him here."
"Leave the kid alone Jack," Jim growled in barely suppressed fury. "Touch him and I'll rip your arm off."
"Shut up," Jack said. "You too Naomi," he said to Naomi just as she opened her mouth to speak.
Ignoring everyone for a minute, he gestured to his three remaining buddies. "Get Carl's body and load it into one of those vans," Jack said, pointing to one of the company vans parked nearby.
"Got it Jack," Tom said moving to get the body.
"Get up pig," Jack growled.
Ignoring him Jim continued to stare straight ahead, hoping that Caroline would forgive him someday. He had come here trying to save Blair and now they were going to get away and take Blair with them, and once they were safe they would dump the cop dead in a ditch somewhere for the vultures to pick clean.
"I said get up," Jack said, hitting Jim across the back of his head.
"NO!" Blair screamed, trying to escape his mother's grip. "Leave him alone Jack, I'm the one that didn't give the lady the box."
"Shut up brat, I'll deal with you later," Jack yelled, taking his attention away from Jim for only a second. This however was long enough for Jim. Twisting, Jim kicked the gun out of Jack's hands, sending it flying into some dense bushes. Bringing his arms up, Jim was able to release his ankle gun as he rolled away. Seeing the furious man coming down on him, Jim fired blindly, the bullet shattering Jack's knee from only two feet away.
As if on cue, officers began coming around the corner and cruisers squealed to a stop on the road. Keeping his attention on Naomi, who was holding Blair and screaming curses at him, Jim waved them toward the unarmed bombers running toward the van they had begun to hotwire.
"Let him go lady," Jim ordered coldly.
"I will not let you pigs get your dirty hands on my sweet baby," she yelled, backing up toward a corner of the building.
"Naomi, momma please let me go, you're hurting me," Blair said quietly, his eyes glittering from unshed tears.
"NO!" yelled Naomi, turning and promptly running into Caroline's fist as she snuck up behind Naomi.
Finding himself free, Blair immediately ran toward Jim and buried his face into Jim's shoulder as the large man cradled him in comfort.
"It's okay Blair, you're safe now," Jim said to the sobbing boy.
"Don't wanna go back, wanna stay with you," Blair said, wrapping his arms even tighter around Jim's neck and bringing his legs up to wrap around Jim's waist.
Looking into the understanding eyes of his wife as she cuffed and hauled Naomi upright, Jim replied, "Don't worry, you will Chief." Looking down at the child wrapped around him and refusing to let go or even look as they took his mother away, Jim made a silent promise. No matter what it took, nobody would take Blair away from him.
Far off in the distance, a Wolf howled in joy as a Panther roared in triumph.
The end... for now at least.
Back to The Loft