Sequel to THE KEY which you should read before this. Cause it won't make much sense unless you do.
Thanks for Shallan's great beta, any mistakes left are my fault.
The guys aren't mine, no money made here.
|| means handwritten -- ~ means song lyrics. Not as confusing as it seems, you'll see.
Rated R for violence and language and mention of past child abuse. Blair's a cop, but it doesn't really matter to the story.
"NO DAMN IT!" Blair had had enough of Jim's inveigling and whining. "You are in no shape..."
"The doctors said I could." Jim's tone was that of an adolescent wheedling for the car keys.
Two could play that game. Blair fought down a grin and put on his most paternal voice. "If 'The Doctors' said you could jump off a cliff, would you do that, too?"
"God... Chief... you're giving me flashbacks here." Jim pretended to shudder as he laughed.
"Well, we are not going up to that cabin." Blair stalked to the kitchen and Jim followed in his wheelchair.
"Look, I can't do much therapy until these casts come off and that's more than two weeks away." Jim grumbled with just a touch of whining as he glared at the twin blue casts on his legs. "My lungs are almost back to normal."
"Almost!" Blair refused to forget that Jim was almost dead from pneumonia just weeks before.
"And you read the letter from the lawyer. The whole house is wheelchair accessible. It's just sitting there empty."
"How you can think of going to that place -- after what happened there -- I don't know?" Blair still cringed at the memory of finding the hospital bed, with it's heavy restraints and blood spattered mattress. She almost killed you, the tormented thoughts haunted the young man. Those men nearly beat you to death.
"And for the hundredth time -- How can you stand living in the loft -- with all the shit that's gone down here?" Jim refused to lose this argument. He was so bored with the daily routine that he feared it might actually be fatal. "We have the time off."
Blair had been forced to take a longer sick leave when he'd developed a nasty infection from the bullet wound in his shoulder. The long swim he'd taken in the chilly lake water hadn't helped either. Now, it was just a matter of finishing a final round of antibiotics. He felt better, almost back to normal, and a trip to the country would be nice. But not to that cabin. "No!"
"But it belongs to us. It's a pretty place -- what I saw of it."
"Was that while they were torturing you?" Blair asked sarcastically.
"My God, Jim." Blair swallowed at the thought of his friend, beaten, broken, and dying from hypothermia in the freezing water of a stone cistern. Samantha had ordered it done. Sam, the woman he'd adored from the first time he saw her in the lab at the station. The woman who had chosen to destroy him in the cruelest possible manner.
She had killed three women. Strangled them and left his DNA on their bodies. His semen. It had been an almost perfect frame.
And it wasn't even about him at all. It all stemmed from a sick attachment to Jim. She wanted to punish Jim by sending Blair to prison forever.
Jim, who bore an eerie resemblance to her abusive monster of a father. Jim who never noticed how eager the young woman seemed to please him. Who just assumed that it was Blair who made her face light up when they came in the room.
Ellison could see the horror and guilt on his partners face. "I don't remember much. Just that I thought you were dead. Sam seemed sorry about that. She told me she personally killed the man who shot you."
"Oh, that makes me feel so much better." The young man's blue eyes darkened with emotion. "How could I have been so wrong about her?"
"She fooled everyone. The brass, the department shrinks. Me. But I think she was afraid of you."
"She was afraid she was falling in love with you. That's why all the bitchy behavior and mean tricks." Jim shrugged, and shook his head. "You were probably the only normal relationship she ever had. All the other guys in her life were daddy-clones."
"That bastard. When I think of him making her..."
"She was a murderer." Jim hated it that Blair felt sorry for her. "She murdered three innocent women."
"I know, Jim."
Jim hated it even more when his guide felt guilty. "So when do we leave?"
"This is about that damn key?" When Sam had left Jim to die, she'd hung a key around his neck. No one could find the lock that it fit.
"So I'm curious? So what."
"I'm a detective. They pay me to be nosey."
"You have two broken legs."
"And a real cool wheelchair."
"And you both are staying in the loft." Blair started to serve dinner. "I'm not going near that cabin, that lake or that mountain, so forget about it. That is my Last Word on the subject." Blair made a decisive gesture that declared the conversation over.
"Well you can't drive, so tell me where to turn." Blair gripped the steering wheel and scowled at the narrow mountain road. He couldn't believe he was doing this. "Stop bitching about me getting lost and just read the damn map."
"Sure, Chief." Jim smiled happily. "You need this vacation, you know. You're kinda stressed out."
"Tell. Me. Where. To. Turn."
"Right there." Jim was pointing at an exit as they whizzed past it. "Gee, Sandburg! And YOU yell at me about grinding MY teeth."
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this." Blair climbed out of the borrowed sedan at the Capshaw Marina. It was here that he'd been rescued by a dog and a bunch of boating enthusiasts. He was barely conscious at the time, lasting only long enough to ask for help for Jim, before passing out. Now, he had returned to the scene of the crime. "I'll gas up the car. You stay put."
Jim turned in the seat and easily lifted his lightweight wheelchair from behind the seat. He was rolling up the ramp to the rustic country store before Blair knew he was missing. "I'll just pick up a few necessities," he shouted back as he entered the store.
Because this trip was so not his idea -- Blair shoved Jim's debit card through the scanner, and pumped the fuel as he groused. "I know your idea of necessities. Twinkies. Beer. Doughnuts. And that hideous hot chocolate mix, in the little envelopes."
It was no use following him into the store. Even in a wheelchair Jim could leave him in the dust. It had to be the Sentinel genes. Jim recovered from injuries faster than anyone he'd ever seen. He could maneuver that fancy chair of his as if it were an extension of his own body. Even the cuts and bruises from the beating were fading fast.
His own wound still hurt when he strained it. His dislocated thumb would ache fiercely at night, but he kept quiet about that. No point making Jim feel guilty about that now. Blair grinned a slightly evil grin. I'll save it for when I want him to do something he doesn't want to do. Then I'll make him feel guilty.
The half-facetious thought gave him a twinge of conscience. Sometimes, he was afraid he was becoming too manipulative. "It's for his own good." He muttered to himself as he finished washing off the bug spotted windshield. Then as he waited for his partner, he looked out over the smooth expanse of blue lake.
I swam across that, he thought wonderingly. Somehow, I made it to this marina.
"What's for my own good?" Jim's voice behind him made him jump a foot. He whirled and looked down at the grinning man, whose lap was piled with plastic shopping bags. There were at least four more hanging from the handgrips behind him.
"Keeping you out of grocery stores." Blair said as soon as he could speak. He peeked inside the gaping bags. "My God! Four kinds of snack cakes? Steaks, pork chops and bacon? Apple pie, two kinds of ice cream and marshmallows? Marshmallows?"
"For the hot chocolate mix."
"I packed enough food for two weeks, Jim."
"Blair-food." Since his partner made no move to help, Jim unloaded his booty into the back seat as he tried to explain. "I've eaten nothing but your cooking for weeks. And honest to God, Chief, it's not that ya can't cook, cause ya can, but I'm going into junk food withdrawal, here."
"You've been eating sugar already, haven't you." Blair could see the signs. Sure enough, there was a box of doughnuts already opened, sticking out of one of the bags. "Aha!"
"They're homemade buttermilk, Chief." Jim offered in his own defense. "With powdered sugar."
"Just get in the car," Blair said, his tone resigned. Jim was not the best patient at any time. Lately though, 'bored adolescent' had replaced 'wounded bear' as his primary attitude. It was an improvement. But just a tiny one.
"Brandy!" A woman's voice called from the docks seconds before a creamy gold blur raced toward Blair. A large yellow Labrador Retriever slid to a stop and began to wag its tail and the rest of it's body too.
Jim tensed for an instant ready to protect his friend. Then he saw the madly wagging tail and the goofy doggy grin. The big animal lowered her head to her front paws as if to lay down. But her tail was still high in the air and it almost looked as if she was bowing in greeting. "Friend of yours, Chief?"
"I'm not sure..." Blair's words were interrupted by the arrival of a young woman of about seventeen, carrying a leash.
"Brandy!" She fastened the leash on the joyous runaway. "She won't hurt you. She just likes people." The young blond woman looked closer at Blair. "Ohymgod. It's you. The cop she fished out of the lake. Wow. It sure is nice to see you doing OK, I mean you didn't look too hot that day when you just, like, conked out after you told us about your friend, and like, I thought you were dead, well, first I thought you were like, a crook, because of the cuffs, but then you asked..."
"Miss!" Jim got her attention. "I take it that this is the dog that saved Blair."
His partner was kneeling on the ground petting said dog, who seemed about to expire from sheer joy. "Yeah, Jim." He ran his hands over the sleek dog and hooked one hand under the thick collar. "I sort of remember. She saved my life."
The girl looked from one man to another. "You must be the other guy. The one he was so worried about. I'm Lisa Capshaw. My Granddad owns this marina."
"Jim Ellison." Jim offered his hand, gesturing to the younger man still petting the adoring dog. "And that's my friend, Blair Sandburg."
"You ARE the other guy. Kewl. I heard they rescued his bud, but that things looked kinda harsh."
Jim looked at Blair hoping for -- if not rescue -- at least a translator. "Yes... well... things were 'kinda harsh' for a while, but I'm much better now."
"Kewl." She looked at the lake shore and a young man standing there. "We got to go now, Brad's gonna freak. Come on, Brandy."
The dog was reluctant to leave Blair and go with Lisa, and Jim couldn't find it in his heart to blame her. It took Blair standing and whispering, "go," for her to leave his side.
As Sandburg and Lisa said their good-byes, Jim touched the dog's velvet nose and ran sensitive fingers between the intelligent dark gold eyes. "Good work, he whispered, one guardian to another.
Jim looked at the cabin Sam had left them. Of course, she hadn't expected either of them to live to inherit it.
Still it was a beautiful place.
Hardly a cabin, it was a log house with a steep roof and a mostly glass front. The second floor had a long balcony running the width of the place.
He remembered the inventory the lawyer had sent them. Three bedrooms, two baths, and a huge common room downstairs with the kitchen at one end. Cabin. Yeah.
It sat above the lake, nestled at the base of a mountain. The slope had been artfully planted with trees and flowers to simulate a natural meadow.
The truck-trailer where he and Blair had been held prisoner was gone. The local sheriff had assured him of it when he'd called to take a statement. He'd also mentioned removing the hospital bed.
"Well, we're here!" Blair was back in grumpy guide mode.
For a few seconds, Jim fought the urge to tell him to turn around. To leave this place. "It's just a house." He said as much to himself as to Blair. "No better or worse than any other house."
Blair was having none of it. "This place gives me the willies."
"Is that a specific Shaman term?" Jim opened his door and set the chair out onto the stone driveway.
"It's a Naomi term." Blair looked at the cabin closely. "And she was always right when she said it. If she ignored The Willies, she always regretted it."
"Oh, well then." Jim chuckled as he got out of the car and swung himself into the wheelchair. "If you decide to burn sage, warn me. OK?"
"If ever a place needed it's aura cleansed." Blair looked up at the dark windows and felt a chill despite the warm summer sun.
"It's a safe place." Jim's voice had taken on a strange tone. Oddly bitter and angry.
"Jim?" Blair had the grocery bags with the ice cream in them in his hands. He walked around to look at his partner. "Safe place?" It was what Samantha had called it. When her sick bastard of a father had married the owner's teenaged daughter, Sam had been left here with her step- grandmother. It was probably the only time in her life she'd been happy. "Safe?"
Jim shook himself and looked at Blair. "Well, except for all the murders." He rolled toward the front door. "Come on. We don't want that ice cream to melt."
"You," Blair laughed as he shook his head, "are one sick pup."
There was an elevator.
Just a little wrought iron cage, and a lift, large enough for a wheel chair.
"This is so, cool." Jim was as happy as a kid with a new toy.
"You aren't getting me on it."
"Come on, Chief." Jim was already inside the thing.
It had a three foot high rail around it, with a gate at the front. It sat in a decorative iron enclosure behind the staircase, which was probably why Blair missed it the first time he'd been here. "I don't remember seeing that."
"Simon told me you were about half-dead when you insisted on looking for me." Jim was rolling back and forth on the ornate grill work that made up the floor.
"Nah." Blair grinned as he walked toward the kitchen. "I was only one-quarter dead. Found your soggy ass anyway."
"Did I ever thank you for that? You know -- get all gushy and tell you how much it meant and all?"
"Consider it said."
"OK." Blair's voice echoed from inside the huge stainless steel refrigerator. "Jim... when we sell this place, can we keep this fridge?"
"You sound like you're in love, Chief."
"Crushed ice, Jim."
"Slushies? On tap?" Jim left the elevator to investigate the latest discovery. "Snow cones?"
"No more thirty year old antique clanking and wheezing in the night." Blair grinned as he backed away, gesturing toward the brushed metal behemoth like a 'Price is Right' girl.
"But that old icebox is a classic."
"We'll find it a good home, Jim. On a farm."
Jim laughed, relieved that Blair seemed relaxed and had accepted their presence in this house. "Let's unload the car. If you want, you can pile everything in my lap."
"Oh, how about just the sharp, heavy stuff?" Blair grinned wickedly.
"On second thought, I'll just park myself on the sofa, and you can use the empty chair to transport everything."
It took him three trips to haul everything inside. By that time, Jim had discovered that the only thing electrical working in the house was the fridge. "Blair..." Jim punched at the remote. "The TV isn't working."
"Chief Abrams said they turned off most of the breakers." Blair found the fuse box in the kitchen, behind the back door. All the neatly labeled breakers were flipped but one. He used the side of his hand to push both rows to the 'on' position.
He didn't mention it to Jim, but Dan Abrams also had the blood stained hospital bed removed and all traces of violence had been scoured away. The local Chief had taken it personally that a killer had been in his pastoral jurisdiction. And that two of the intended victims had been fellow cops.
He could hear the crackle of static coming from the living room area. "Blair! I can only find two channels."
"The horror!" Blair feigned distress.
Trust Jim, he thought testily I should have told Abrams to never mind deep-sixing the gruesome shit. Just bring a satellite dish.
"Get serious." Jim sounded aggrieved. "The only thing on are soap operas. One channel's from Canada!"
Blair said nothing as he started to take the suitcases upstairs.
"Why don't you leave them on the chair and use the elevator." Jim pointed to the fancy lift.
Because his shoulder was still stiff and his thumb ached from the long drive, Blair took him up on it. He rolled the chair inside, shut the gate and, reaching through the lacy iron bars, and pushed the up button. "Bring your chair back in a minute."
"There's room for you to ride up too," Jim watched as Blair trotted up the stairs.
"Uh uh. I saw a scary show when I was a kid. A little old lady got trapped in an elevator just like that." He beat the lift to the second floor.
Blair took a moment to look around. The master bedroom was empty. Blair shuddered as he looked out of the glass doors to the lake beyond. He backed out of the room and closed the door.
The other room with access to the balcony was smaller, with a full sized bed. It also had it's own door to the bathroom. He put Jim's suitcase and shaving kit here. Jim liked open, airy spaces as much as he liked small and cozy.
The back bedroom was narrow. It had a twin bed, a dresser and a desk. It would do. He'd be right across the hall from Jim. His partner would never admit it, but he hadn't totally recovered from his ordeal.
After he distributed the bedding and towels, he pushed the chair back into the lift. Sending it down, he ran down the steps and returned it to its owner.
"Maureen O'Sullivan?" Jim asked as Blair slumped onto the couch next to him.
"Olivia De Havilland." Blair didn't miss a beat. "I was only eight, but it seemed pretty scary."
"You make my bed?"
"Nah. You'd just tear it apart and remake it."
"Well, you always put the sheets on backwards and upside down."
"Sheets don't have a backward. And it doesn't matter which side you use."
"This from a man who sleeps between two furry blankets. In the summer."
"There is no summer in Cascade."
The temperature dropped in the mountains as soon as the sun went down. Jim was happily ensconced in his dust free, freshly Windexed and vacuumed room, tucked into his perfectly made bed. When Blair sarcastically bounced a quarter off the top sheet, Jim caught it out of the air and pocketed it.
In his own room, Blair tossed his Marvin the Martian blanket on the bed along with the larger one with the Wolf on it. Shivering despite his flannel pants and sweatshirt, he dove between them.
Go to sleep, he ordered himself. You drank a whole pot of Sleepytime tea. That usually knocks you on your ass. So sleep already.
Yeah. That worked.
Deep slow breaths.
Don't think about where you are. Don't think about that room up the hall. That room where two goons tortured and beat Jim half to death. Where the same two goons were murdered themselves.
Deep slow breaths. Deep slow breaths.
Don't think about the lake. So deep and cold and dark. Don't think about the small jagged root that was all that saved you from drowning. Again.
"You OK, Chief?"
"Sure," Blair answered breathlessly as Jim's voice calmed him. "Strange bed... that's all."
"Since when does sleeping in strange beds bother you, Romeo."
He knew Jim was trying to tease him out of his latest dark mood. As he had been for weeks, he played along. "Hey Jim?"
"When you get lucky, I mean when you go to a woman's apartment, do you inspect the bed? Make sure all the corners are regulation?"
"They're usually so impatient we never make it to the bed."
Blair let a hoot of laughter escape. Every so often his sometimes uptight friend would surprise him. "G'night Jim."
"Night John Boy."
Blair slept undisturbed until music awoke him.
~Unforgettable... that's what you are.~
The lovely tones on Nat King Cole came in on the night air. Jim had left one of the balcony doors ajar, and the doors between the rooms were open.
Chief Abrams had told them that the other two cabins on the mountain were usually empty. The music must be coming from across the lake. Some quirk of geography, perhaps.
~How the thought of you does things to me.~
He almost got up and went into Jim's room. Odd that it didn't wake him, too.
~That someone, so unforgettable, thinks that I am unforgettable, too.~
The song ended on a clear pure note, fading until only the sounds of nature remained.
Blair curled into a tight ball and pulled his blankets up until only his hair remained uncovered.
"Jim, if we find what that key opens, can we go home?" Blair cleared the table after breakfast.
"What's with you? Does this place spook you that badly?"
"No! I'm OK." Blair refused to admit anything was wrong. If Jim could stand being here, so could he. "It's just... TWO CHANNELS, JIM!"
"Right Chief. I see your point. Let's handle this like any case. We'll devote some serious time and energy to solving the key thing -- and whatever turns up -- we'll head home in a few days."
"My partner." Blair spoke to the ceiling. "Torture and murder doesn't faze him. But Canadian soaps send him running for the comforts of home."
"Just get those file boxes, Sandburg. The sooner we figure this out, the sooner you can pack up the car, strap the refrigerator to the roof, and drive home."
"...strap you to the roof." Blair mumbled as he went to retrieve the two file boxes.
Jim watched as his partner as he carried the boxes to the table. He was muttering but, for once, the Sentinel didn't hear. He hadn't told Sandburg, but his senses had been wildly uneven since the kidnapping.
Every so often he'd hear a sentence or see something with perfect clarity. Then he'd be bombarded with sensations until he found Blair and used his physical presence to ground himself.
Maybe it was, that he had accepted his Guide's death, and because of that, his own.
Perhaps it was because he was so helpless in this damn chair.
Maybe it was just a reaction to all the medicine they'd pumped into him.
Whatever it was, he was forced to turn all the dials down to normal, and keep them there. Whenever he tried to focus on anything, including Blair, the world dissolved into a nauseating blur.
Hell. Last night it took the kid almost having a full blown panic attack to get his attention.
He couldn't tell Blair. Not yet. He was afraid. He was afraid to tell the kid that the senses might be gone for good. That he'd thrown his career, his life, away for nothing.
He was just afraid.
So he joked and teased and hoped Blair wouldn't notice. Maybe the senses would come back when he got on his feet. Or when he solved this stupid mystery.
Blair dumped the contents of the first box onto the table. "The sooner we start, the sooner we're done." With Simon and Megan's help -- and some heavy duty copying by Rhonda -- they had copies of most of the evidence in the case.
On top of the pile were folders filled with copies of Samantha's diaries. "You sure you want to do this, Chief?" Whatever she'd done, Blair had loved this woman once. "I can plow through this alone."
"Just hand me something." Blair took a folder and started to read. "I can handle it."
"That FUCK!" Blair threw the third folder he'd read across the room, where it burst in a cloud of paper. "She was just a little kid!"
"Time to take a break." Jim pushed away from the table and went to the kitchen. He returned with two beers and tossed one to his partner.
Blair ripped open the can and let the foam roll down over his hand. "After his divorce, when he started, you know... He manipulated her into feeling like it was her fault. That there was something wrong with her."
"It's a common trick." Jim's quiet voice was sad. "Abusive parents often use the, 'I wouldn't HAVE to do this, if you were a better kid' routine."
"It's just inconceivable."
"To you, Chief. Your mom gave you unconditional love." As infuriating as Jim sometimes found the beautiful woman, he envied Blair his mother. Even though she was painfully young and on her own, Naomi kept her son close and raised him to be a fine man. Sometimes, Blair made his childhood seem like one long romp, but Jim knew better. Children don't grow up as brilliant and loving as his Guide in a vacuum. Naomi might be a colossal flake, but she was also a good mother. Once more Jim reminded him, "You were lucky."
"Yeah." Blair scooped up the papers and returned them to their folder. "It's just so damn sad. One line she's writing how much she loves him. The next page is filled with plans for getting early admission to the university so she can escape."
"Then he blows his brains out the day she left for college." Jim waved a copy of the police file he'd just started reading. "This guy makes my dad look like Bill Cosby."
"This guy makes me glad I don't have a dad." Blair shuddered, as his mood lightened a little.
There was a knock on the door and when Blair opened it, Brandy the dog bounded in. She was followed by an older man in jeans and a tee shirt. "Brandy. Wait until you're asked in."
Brandy ignored him and bounded over to Blair where she all but knocked him down with her enthusiastic greeting. "She's always welcome." He laughed and held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg... this is my friend Jim Ellison."
"Jack Capshaw." The man shook their hands vigorously. "My granddaughter told me you were here and I thought I'd stop by and see if you needed anything."
"No. We're fine." Blair sat on the floor and let himself be nuzzled and snuffled. "Jim bought enough food to last us through the winter."
"Can I offer you a cold drink, sir?" Jim rolled his eyes at his friend and his latest 'blessed protector'.
"Jack, please." The older man grinned at him. "I'd take one of those beers." He waited until Jim returned. "You know that dog doesn't just take to strangers. Not a mean bone in her body, but she's pretty much a one man dog."
"But she saved Sandburg's life. I think that means he belongs to her now." Jim saw his chance to ask a few questions. "Have you lived around here for a while?"
"Lord, yes. All my life."
"Did you know the people who lived in this house?"
"The Collins. Yeah, I knew Janice Collins. Her and her little girl moved up here after her husband died. Angela. That was the girls name." He pointed at a large photo on the wall. It was of a beautiful young girl with strawberry blond hair. "She was a strange dreamy kinda kid. Liked black-and-white movies and old fashioned songs."
"Do you remember Angela's husband?"
"Cage. Good name for him. Belonged in one. He turned that girls head. Came up here on a fishing trip, conned that child into running away with him."
"What did her mother do?" Jim studied the photo and tried not to grind his teeth.
"Janice told me, Angela called her from the Islands. Begged her to accept the fact that they were married."
"And his daughter?"
"Cage asked Janice -- never met the woman, mind you -- if the child could come here to stay. Can you imagine that?"
"Samantha." Blair spoke up from the floor. Brandy had fallen asleep across his lap. "Mrs. Collins must have been nice to her."
"Janice was a soft touch alright. Too soft. She should have shot that man."
"What happened after Angela left him?" Blair asked quietly.
She came home. Ran from him. I'll say this, she faced him down and refused to come back. Twenty-two years old, and she made him back down." The older man chuckled at the memory before he turned serious again. "He took the child, though. Broke Janice's heart. Hearing that child scream as he dragged her away."
"God." Blair looked away. "Someone should have stopped him."
"It was a few months later, Janice had the stroke. Angela stayed on for a while -- but her mom being in the hospital -- it was too much for her I guess. She disappeared, ran away again. Janice kinda stopped trying after that."
The silence grew oppressive in the room. With a dramatic groan, the dog stood and went to the door. She scratched the wood and whined plaintively.
"Brandy!" Jack snapped sharply.
Blair opened the door, but after stepping outside, the dog paced back in. She put her head under Jack's knee and tried to make him stand. "Well I guess she's telling me I better shut up and go home."
Still whining, the Labrador went to Blair and caught his sleeve in her teeth. She began backing toward the door, tugging the sleeve down over his hand. "Hey!" He laughed as he tugged back.
"She wants to take you home with her, Chief." Jim laughed as the dog tried to herd them outside.
"Last time she acted like this, we had a trembler." Jack walked outside and hooked a leash on the big dog. Blair extracted his damp sleeve and they said goodbye.
The man walked away, with the dog looking back mournfully. At the road, she turned and did something very strange. She raised her head toward the sky and howled.
~Unforgettable, in every way.~
The music woke Blair and he reached for his glasses, before he realized he was sleeping in them.
~And forever more, that's how you'll stay.~
He stepped into his shoes and crossed the hall. Jim was still sleeping. How could he not hear that?
He started to put his hand on Jim's shoulder, to wake him.
There was something about this music. It was almost subliminal. It drew him.
Blair went downstairs and the music got louder. Still it seemed to be coming from nowhere.
~But, my darling, it's incredible~
The cellar. It seemed to be coming from the cellar.
He opened the cellar door and flipped on the light. The cellar was filled with spider webs and the stairs looked rickety, still he took the first step.
And the light went out.
Slam! Blair was back in the kitchen, with the door closed before the bulb went completely dim.
"And this is something we can investigate tomorrow."
~Thinks that I am unforgettable too.~
The song ended and Blair started back up the wide shadowed stair case.
On the top step, something caught his foot making him grab for the railing. Whatever it was, caught between his feet and made him pitch backwards into the dark.
"Jim!" he shouted. Then, the only sound was of a body hitting the hardwood floor far below.
Jim almost fell out of bed as Blair shouted his name.
"Sandburg!" He called as he levered himself into the wheelchair. He tried to move before he was set and almost overturned. "Blair!"
Banging his elbow on the frame as he careened out the bedroom door -- he paused long enough to notice that the room across the hall was empty -- then continued down the hall.
"SANDBURG!" Jim looked down at his friend sprawled on the floor at the foot of the stairs. He tried to hear a heartbeat, a breath, anything.
Jim fought the absurd impulse to dive down the stairs, casts and all. Instead he took one last look at the figure in the shadows, before going to the elevator. "I'm coming, Chief."
The little iron box creaked and hummed as it took several lifetimes to reach the ground floor. "Be there in a second, Sandburg." He kept talking to Blair in the hopes it would assure him that he was not alone. He'd long ago discovered that his friend disliked being alone.
"I'm coming, Chief." Jim's wheelchair hadn't quite stopped when he let himself slide from the seat and tumble to the floor next to Blair. His partner was lying face up, but now he was shuddering. "Stay still. Don't move... you could be hurt."
"nnnneeeeeeeeehhhhhh...breathe...." Blair pushed off the floor. "Air..." He fought his way to a sitting position.
"Careful." Jim supported him as he got his breath. "Here. You just got the wind knocked out of you."
"Are you hurt?"
"Hell yyyes." Blair was still gasping for air. "Body....broke...."
"Calm down. Just take deep breaths." Jim ran his fingers over his friend's back and shoulders, trying futilely to check for injuries. "I think I better call an ambulance."
"No! I'm OK." Blair pulled away, and tried to stand. "Really... I wasn't unconscious. Just stunned. My glasses?" The glasses were found, one lens cracked and the wire frames twisted.
"I'll get you your back-up pair."
Jim had noticed that his partner was wearing his glasses most of the time now.
"Those were my back-up pair."
"Sit still, I said. You could be hurt."
"I'm ok. I caught the railing some." Blair cradled his left hand and flexed his fingers. "Sprained my wrist a little. Fingers are messed up."
"You jammed a couple." Jim gently straightened the second and third fingers and pulled slightly. When Blair hissed in pain he paused and massaged the whole hand, easing the worst of the discomfort. "Are you really OK?"
This time when Blair tried to stand he succeeded -- with Jim's help -- and stood wobbly. "I want to see what the hell I tripped over."
"Chief?" Jim watched helplessly as his friend pulled away and started back up the stairs. "You should use the elevator." Switching on the main lights, he rolled up to the bottom step and watched Blair's slow assent.
"What the hell?" the young man's voice echoed down the staircase. "JIM! Get up here!"
Jim was already on his way to the lift. Even with his hearing dialed to three, he could hear the steady stream of obscenity from the top of the stairs.
Blair was sitting on the hall floor, looking at Jim's fishing rod. It was still resting between the spindles on either side of the top step. "Jim... Someone put that thing there. I put your fishing stuff down at the other end of the hall."
Broken legs or not, Jim had insisted on bringing his fishing gear. "You're sure?"
"Jim." The exasperation could clearly be heard in his voice. "Yeah I'm sure. Just like I'm sure it wasn't there when I went downstairs five minutes ago."
"But, who?" Jim looked down at his friend, in horror. "It wasn't me. I didn't..."
"I know that, Jim." Those words were spoken with an almost insulted, angry tone, that made Jim regret more than ever his own past mistrust. "There's something wrong here. It's this place. It isn't right."
"Look. If it wasn't me and it wasn't you." Jim pinned him with a glare. "Then there had to be someone in the house." Jim went to his room and got his robe, and his new automatic from under his pillow. "I didn't even grab this thing. My God! I really am losing my edge."
The Sentinel checked every room, tested every window and then went down stairs and did the same. The basement door was open slightly. Jim frowned and locked it. It would have to wait until morning.
Back upstairs, he made Blair lie down and fashioned some makeshift icepacks for his wrist and the bruise on his knee.
"Jim. Earlier, there was this music." Now that the adrenaline high was gone, his voice was slurred with weariness. "And you didn't hear it. You didn't hear anything?"
"Just go to sleep." Jim made sure he could see the doorway and the window in the back bedroom and turned his senses up as high as he dared. He felt better here. Safe. He covered his friend with his furry throw and waited for the dawn.
"Simon? Oh, hi. This is Blair. I was wondering if you could do me a big favor?"
"Sandburg. Is something wrong?"
"What makes you think... OK, I did sort of fall down the stairs, and my glasses got broken, and I lost the other ones when we got kidnapped, so..."
"Are you hurt?"
"No. I'm fine -- well, kinda sore -- but I was wondering if you might come up a little sooner. I know you were going to come up this weekend, but I was wondering..."
"Slow down." Simon snapped gruffly. "You don't sound fine."
"No, I just wondered if you'd pick up my new glasses on your way." Blair told him the address of his optometrist
"I've got a meeting with the Chief tomorrow. I guess I could leave day after tomorrow."
"Sure. That would be good." Blair didn't speak for a long moment.
"Is there something going on? Something I should know about?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Well, bye Simon. See you."
"Day after tomorrow. Goodbye."
Blair looked over at Jim. He was sprawled on the sofa, sound asleep after spending the night keeping watch.
The table was still covered with piles of paper and Blair thought about getting some work done. The lack of glasses made that more difficult.
He'd already read all of Samantha's journals, the last ending with her last romantic break-up in Seattle. The evidence of her deteriorating mental condition was sad, but baffling.
She was obsessed with recreating her relationship with her father. She would select a man who physically resembled her father. A good man who she thought would take care of her, not use and hurt her. But her neurotic behavior and desperation would inevitably drive him away.
Blair had been the one exception and it still hurt him to realize that she had loved him. As much as she could love anyone.
Still, as unstable as she had been, he had a hard time accepting that the brilliant young woman was a mass murder. It was a fact. But it still seemed as though there was something missing.
Blair found the light bulbs in the kitchen cupboard. He thought about taking Jim's gun, but that would probably wake him and then he would object to Blair's planned excursion to the cellar.
"I should have brought my own damn gun."
Juggling the light bulb and a claw hammer, he unlocked the basement door and peered into the cellar. Switching the hammer to his good hand, and holding it in what he hoped was a menacing fashion, he walked gingerly down the steps.
Pale watery light from two small windows lit the low subterranean room. The only things he could see were a furnace and a pump. The washer and dryer were in an alcove off the kitchen.
Mold grew on the stone walls and it took only a single glance to see that the cellar was under only a quarter of the house. He found the light when it hit him in the forehead. He caught the swinging wire and changed the exposed bulb.
The small windows were painted shut and hadn't been opened for decades. There was no door to the outside.
"Well this was a dead end." Blair ducked under a dusty cob web and started up the stairs.
~Unforgettable, that's what you are.~
"Shit!" Blair turned and faced the empty room.
~Unforgettable, though near or far....~
The music faded as he got hold of his nerves. "Oh hell." He went back into the cellar. "Time for a closer look."
This room had been searched several times. What he thought he was going to find -- even if he could see -- he didn't know.
He checked the pump. Nothing. The furnace. Nothing. There was a piece of peg board on the top half of the inside wall. On the metal pegs hung two screw drivers, a couple of wrenches, a pair of pliers, and a work light. There was an empty hook where the hammer belonged.
Blair took down each tool in turn and examined it. The bulb in the work light looked strange. He unscrewed the new bulb and replaced it with the dark one from the work lamp.
Strange patterns of efflorescence appeared on the stones in the ultraviolet light. And on the side of the furnace was painted his name. Inside a sloppy valentine shaped heart.
"Still playing games, Sam?" Blair muttered as he exchanged the bulbs again. Grabbing the Phillips screwdriver, he went to work. Twenty minutes later, the metal casing of the oil burner was on the floor. On the firebox rested a flat metal box with a leather bound journal on top.
And a gallon can of solvent.
A simple booby trap. If anyone had turned on the heat, the can would have eventually exploded. Destroying the box and journal, and probably the house.
"Were you trying to kill me, Sam?" Blair lifted the can out cautiously, checking it for wires. Then he quickly removed the heavy document box. It was locked and he had a suspicion he'd just found what Jim's mystery key fit. "Or where you trying to leave me a message?"
The answer was in the journal. Setting the box on the step, he opened the cover. "Just one page."
||I think I'm going insane.||
It was the first line he read. Squinting at the slanting script, he sat on the step and lifted the book closer to his face. The spiders were forgotten.
Samantha had realized that her behavior in Seattle was over the line. After losing her job and alienating her latest lover, she resolved to return to her 'safe place'. To the step-grandmother, who had, for a few years offered refuge.
It had seemed to work. For a few days she had been content to spend time with the self- reliant Janice Collins. Then she found the older woman unconscious in her wheelchair, the victim of a final, catastrophic stroke.
Alone in the house, Sam had lost it completely.
The words were scrawled across an entire page like a scream.
||I wonder if it's possible to die of fear.||
||I woke up and he was sitting on the edge of my bed.||
||God. Help me.||
||He touched me.||
The handwriting became wilder as Sam lost all touch with reality. What had begun as Sam's flowing script, was now, wild, childish printing, with only a few words scrawled on each page.
||Daddy says he still loves me. I'm still his best girl.||
||He says he forgives me.||
||He still makes me do things.||
||Daddy made me tell him about my boyfriends. He hated hearing about Blair.||
||I'll have to fix that. He made me see. I have to punish Blair.||
||Daddy loves me. He's the only one who ever loved me. We are blood.||
||He says he can make use of me because I'm blood.||
||Sometimes we sit in my car and watch Jim and Blair. Daddy likes Jim. He's our kind.||
||Maybe if I bring him Jim, he can use him to do the bad things, instead of me.||
||Maybe then he'll let me go.||
||But I still have to get rid of Blair. I can't kill him, so I tell daddy I have a better way. A more painful way to get rid of him. Daddy likes that.||
There were several blank pages. Then...
||EVERYTHING IS GOING WRONG.||
||Daddy is missing.||
||Jim and Blair escaped and one of those fools I hired, shot Blair. It was very easy to kill him for doing that.||
||I hate this. I hate being crazy.||
||I'll break Jim into pieces. Then, Daddy won't have him, after all.||
||Maybe someone will find this. I like to pretend that it will be Blair.||
||Or maybe it will all burn.||
||NO MORE SAFE PLACE||
The last words were literally gouged into the paper. Blair tried to digest what he had just read. She imagined her father was here, forcing her to murder. Possessing her because she was his, possessing...
And what did she mean about... blood?
Blair grabbed the box and pounded up the stairs. He logged on and his fingers flew over the keys on his laptop. He had done Jim's genealogy in the early days of their relationship.
He had to know.
This was ridiculous. It had to be. Sam was insane. They had discovered that the mentally ill could sometimes connect with spirits. And Sentinels. They could see 'that which remained'. They could see ghosts.
Jim saw ghosts. He even helped a dead model solve her own murder. But he would never let himself be used by someone, some thing so evil.
Jim felt so guilty -- just because he LOOKED like the creep -- that Blair hadn't even tried to find out if there was any blood connection.
Peering at the screen he found no links between the Cage and Ellison family. Blair breathed a sigh of relief. The resemblance between Jim and James Sanderson Cage was a fluke. A fluke that caused a half dozen deaths.
The name gleamed on the flat screen. Blair leaned even closer and traced the lines.
Jim's great grandmother, and Cage's grandmother were sisters. Sandersons.
"What you got there, Chief?
Blair moved his laptop over the journal as his heart seemed to be trying to escape from his body. "I found something Sam hid in the cellar. I think it's what your key fits." He pushed the metal box toward his partner.
While Jim searched for the envelope holding the key, Blair continued, "Jim, I'm going to pack up the car and we're going back to Cascade. Today."
"Sandburg?" Jim's tone was absent as he turned the plain little key and opened the box, the smiley face lanyard coiled around his wrist. "Yeah. Sure. Whatever."
The sky was darkening as Blair made trip after trip to the car. There was going to be a storm. It didn't matter, because they would be gone long before it hit.
Jim shrugged as he laid aside the cassette tape. It was Nat King Cole's greatest hits.
The box held legal documents, all over a decade old. Angela Cage's divorce papers. Letters from a lawyer about a custody inquiry, for the minor child, Samantha.
Good girl, Angela, Jim thought. You tried to get her away from that bastard. There was also a request for a protection order against James Cage. He was not one to let go easily.
The lawyer had discouraged her custody suit, but she hadn't accepted it. There were also reports from private detectives.
Just suspicions in the early ones, sickening photos in the last. Angela had all the ammo she needed to get Cage's daughter away from him.
At the bottom was a Power of Attorney for her mother. It must have been after the stroke.
Also in the envelope was a letter. A note really.
||If I am found dead, know that James Cage killed me. He came to the hospital today and threatened me. He said the only way he'd leave Samantha alone was if I came back.
I reported him, but the police don't believe me. They say he was in his office all day. His staff swears to it.
I found these photos in the mail when I got home. That detective tried to reach me but I've been at the hospital for weeks. After I show the police these, he won't bother anyone again.||
That was it. Jim returned the letter to the box and closed it.
She never got to the police. Jim knew instinctively that this wasn't a woman who would run away from her hospitalized mother.
Cage killed her.
Sam must have found these papers and, in some moment of sanity, wanted them to be discovered.
Jim went to the phone.
"You told us Cage committed suicide. Shot himself?"
"Yeah Jim. Same as her, barrel under the chin."
"OK. That's all I needed to know."
"Both barrels actually. He used a shotgun." A long moment of silence followed Simon's words. "Jim... you there?"
Jim shuffled through the papers to find the one he'd missed. The report of James Cage's suicide over ten years before. "How did they ID him?"
"His house, his clothes, his wallet, his handwritten suicide note." Simon answered as Jim read the same information.
"Prints?" Jim could find no mention of fingerprints.
"I don't think they were on file, Jim. What the hell's going on?"
"I have to check something. Call you back, Simon." He hung up as Simon shouted something.
Jack Capshaw had left his number when he'd invited Jim to go fishing. Jim punched in the numbers.
"Mr. Capshaw? It's Jim Ellison."
"Ready to catch some fish, Jim?"
"No, sir. I wanted to ask a question."
"Is there someone else living up here? Are the other two houses empty?"
"Mostly. Far one's sat empty for awhile. Closer one belongs to some fellow, real loner. He comes up once in a while, but you never see him."
"What does he look like?"
"Big fellow, shaggy beard, never got a real good look. I...."
There was silence as the call was cut off. Jim tapped the button, then listened again, but there was no dial tone. All he could hear was the rumble of distant thunder echoing through the mountains.
Sandburg came in looking more than a little wild. "Jim, I tried to start the car. It won't start. I mean someone pulled the wires. It's totally trashed."
"Calm down." Jim caught the flash of terror in the dark blue eyes. It took a lot to scare his friend this badly. "Breathe."
Blair fumbled with the light switch. Nothing. The room was bathed in the fading light as the storm approached. "Powers out. Oh, God!"
"Quit saying that!" Jim was annoyed at the look Blair was giving him. It was almost wary.
"Come on. I'll push you. We can get on the road and make it to the marina."
"Chief, that's a couple of miles and it's getting dark," Jim turned and smacked at his partner to keep from being wheeled out the door, "Stop pushing me. It's going to rain, and I just got over pneumonia."
"But we have to leave, Jim."
"I've got a gun. You'd have one too, if you'd remembered to bring it."
"But nothing. We hold up right here." Jim cradled the heavy automatic in his hand and noticed his friend's panicked look. "You'll be safe with me."
"But we have to get out of here."
"Jim! We HAVE to get out of here!" Blair could detect the fear in his own voice. Jim just sat there looking preoccupied, holding that stupid metal box.
"Look, Chief. There's a lot of stuff going on. Stuff I don't have time to go into right now. Just help me out here." Jim rolled to the door and started to close it.
Blair felt like he was losing his mind. Was this what had driven Sam over the edge. How would he handle it, if Cage was using Jim. If Jim tried to hurt him. Again.
He hadn't said the words. Even to himself. It was too wild to even consider. That Jim had gotten up in the middle of the night, and set a potentially lethal trap at the top of the stairs.
Yeah, Sandburg. Then he -- casts and all -- hopped back into bed and went back to sleep.
But if it was someone else, Jim would have heard them -- heard something.
If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, is the solution.
Oh good, genius. Now you start channeling Sherlock Holmes.
"I'm going to walk to the Marina. Why don't you let me have that gun." Blair actually had no intention of leaving Jim alone. He would just feel safer with the weapon in his hand.
"No! You aren't going anywhere." Jim pulled him away from the door and locked it.
Blair rubbed the wrist that was grabbed and backed away. "OK, Jim. I'll just go lock the back door."
"It's locked." Jim snapped angrily, his pale blue eyes hot with anger. "Damn it, Sandburg. Just listen for once. He has a way in. I don't want him to hurt you, too"
"Cage. Come on, Sandburg. There's no time." Did Jim know how insane he sounded? And panicky? Jim didn't 'do' panic, not ever.
Blair lit the small candle on the coffee table and looked at his friend in the weak flickering light. Edging toward the cellar entrance, he briefly considered locking himself behind the heavy door. "Jim," Blair used his calmest voice. "Cage is dead."
"No! He's been here all along. Help me get upstairs." Jim grasped the banister and heaved himself out of the chair. He sat on the steps and scooted up to the third tread. "We'll have the high ground, it will be easier to defend."
"Someone will come. We'll just hold out till then."
"Jim?" Blair wanted to believe that Jim was, well, Jim. But, the Sentinel didn't sound right, his voice was almost frantic.
"Sandburg! Get your ass over here!" There was a brilliant flash of lightning at the same instant as an earsplitting clap of thunder.
Jim barely flinched.
Jim was still trying to process all the information he'd learned in the last few minutes. He had never felt this helpless. He couldn't walk, or use his senses. He couldn't protect Blair.
And now his friend was acting like he was losing his mind. First he wanted to take the gun and walk to the marina. The image of Blair stumbling around in the rain and dark without his glasses was terrifying enough -- even without the possibility of a lurking killer. He'd probably fall into the lake again.
He had to grab the young man out of the doorway where he stood silhouetted and vulnerable. What the hell was wrong with him?
Every instinct urged Jim away from the ground floor with its huge windows and open spaces. There was only one way up to the second floor and from there, he could hold off an army if he had to.
If only Blair would co-operate. He looked like a wild animal, on the verge of flight. His friend was standing in front of the basement door as if he wanted to run, but was unsure of which way to go.
Jim scooted up another step and shouted over the rumbling thunder. "Sandburg, I could use some help here." His strength had returned somewhat after his illness, but he still tired too easily.
"Jim, Sam thought she saw her father here. She said he used her, made her strangle those women." Blair stopped, his voice was rushed and nervous. "We know that ghosts exist. That you can see them, well, I think he may be using you, too."
"You think I'm possessed!" Jim roared as his partner recoiled back against the basement door. Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm down. "You have to trust me, Chief. I found out some things that make me suspect Cage faked his own death."
"If someone had come into this house, you would have heard them." Blair was speaking to him like a child. "There's something wrong with you, Jim. You aren't acting like you."
"My senses have been 'out of whack' since the kidnapping. I didn't want to tell you." Jim knew it was time to tell the whole truth, so he took another deep breath and continued quickly. "I didn't want to tell you that you pissed your whole life away to protect something that might not exist anymore."
"This is about my dissertation?" Blair straitened and shook his head incredulously. "I lied to protect you. Not the Sentinel stuff."
"Look -- Chief -- I guess I don't deserve your trust. Not after all the crap I've pulled over the years." Jim released the clip and emptied the chamber of his weapon. Tossing Blair the clip he slid the empty automatic across the hardwood floor toward his partner. "Now can we get our asses somewhere safe?"
In the darkness of the cellar a latch was released. The pegboard swung away from the stone wall, it's sound smothered by the cacophony of the storm. A burly form squirmed out of the blackness of the crawlspace and dropped to the floor. With the sureness and speed of familiarity the figure crossed to the stairs.
Blair lifted the gun and replaced the clip. He felt like a fool. This was Jim. Jim who regretted his past mistrust so much that he lied to the police in front of God, Simon and everyone to protect his partner. Jim, who this time, never doubted his Guide's innocence, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
"Sorry Jim." Blair felt his face flush. "I... guess I had a Naomi Moment." He held the gun by its barrel and extended it toward his friend as he took a step forward. "Let's get up those steps."
Jim started to grin and then his face went still. An aspect of concentration, that Blair hadn't seen for a long time, crossed the handsome face. He was listening. "Chief. Get away from..."
It was the last sound Blair heard as a cold current of air hit his back an instant before someone large and heavy tackled him.
Blair was offering him the weapon, a gesture of trust that made him smile. It was as if he were awakening from a bad dream. A dream where he lost his way, and was without his beacon, his guide.
It was the sound of a key turning. Piggybacking his sight on the sound he saw the barrel of the deadbolt turn and the cellar door start to open behind Blair.
"Chief. Get away from there." Even as the words left his lips, the tall figure exploded from the dark cellar and slammed his friend to the floor. The young man fell hard, his forehead connecting with the pine floorboards.
Jim launched himself at the intruder, forgetting the fact that he couldn't walk. As he fell, he caught the man's jacket front and wrestled him to the ground. He didn't need the flashes of lightning to tell him that it was James Sanderson Cage.
If he'd grown a beard, it was gone now. His hair was long and wild around a face that was weirdly familiar. The eyes were a deep green, glittering in the darkness. The face was gaunt, the strong bone structure making the man look older than his years.
He was also completely insane. To Jim's reawakened senses, the man reeked of panic and fury. It was reminiscent of his battle with Lash. Violent, almost demonic strength combined with a complete disregard for pain. All Jim's training and agility was needed to simply survive that encounter and now he was hampered by the casts. Using his legs, the intruder twisted and pinned the encumbered detective beneath his hulking frame.
"You're not me. You're not me. I'm me. You can't have her... only me... not you, not him." Cage kept muttering as he pounded relentlessly on Jim's sides. The blows were unfocused but incredibly forceful. Jim was hampered by the casts and the just healed broken ribs that the huge, bony fists were battering.
When he returned the blows, they seemed to have little effect on the older man. His stamina almost depleted, Jim forced his arms to lift and his hands to clutch at the man's throat. He concentrated every ounce of his remaining strength on trying to crush the man's trachea.
Rearing up, Cage slammed his fists into Jim's unprotected face. Then he scuttled over the semi-conscious detective's body, and picked up the fallen pistol. "There is only one me. You can't be me. I have to..." The big man mumbled the words in a flat monotone. "I have to..." Standing, he pointed the automatic at Jim's face and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the hammer falling on an empty chamber echoed through the large room. To Jim it sounded like the latch on a coffin about to close. He struggled to move, knowing that any action he took would come too late.
Cage just ginned maniacally and jacketed a round into the chamber. "She thought that YOU were a better ME... than ME." He pointed the weapon again. As he struggled to rise, Jim could only watch as the madman's finger tightened on the trigger.
A blur of flannel and hair flew across the room and slammed into the man. Staggering, Cage turned the weapon away and began to struggle with Blair.
Blair had awakened to the weird muttering and the unmistakable sound of fists striking flesh. He scrambled to his knees as Cage picked up Jim's gun and pulled the trigger. Despite the fact that his nose was bleeding and his eyes were even blurrier than usual, he launched himself off the floor at the man.
Anger lent power to his blows as Blair pounded the man who caused all the horror of the past months. It felt good to have a flesh and blood monster to fight. The gentle Shaman rarely gave the darkness in his soul free-rein, but this man deserved to suffer. He deserved to die.
The tall man was forced away from Jim as Blair unleashed a frenzied series of punches. When Cage tried to raise the pistol, the young detective grasped his wrist and a deadly dance began.
The older man was extremely strong, but Blair had learned a few tricks at the academy. He stepped closer and turned to one side in the effort to use his leg against the man's wrist. His fellow cadets had jokingly dubbed this maneuver 'The Classic Mannix Disarm'.
It probably would have worked.
Blair was almost out of the line of fire when the gun went off. He felt the punch of the bullet's impact as it hit his side. The smell of gunpowder and scorched cotton sickened him and the strength left his arms. His hands clutched at the wet, rapidly spreading warmth at his side as he staggered back.
"BLAIR!" Jim's voice was filled with rage as he dragged himself forward on his hands and tried to attack Cage. The hand with the pistol in it slashed down and the Sentinel fell and was still.
His knees buckling, Blair crumpled to the floor at his friend's side. When Cage raised the pistol again, he pointed it at Jim.
"NO!" The young detective angled his own body trying to defend the fallen Sentinel. "He's your blood. He's a Sanderson, like you."
"My blood. Not a mongrel like you." Cage cuffed the weakened young man aside and grabbed Jim's wrist. "He's broken. He can't hurt me." He dragged Jim to the cellar door and heaved him down the stairs.
Blair flinched as he heard the hollow thumps of the casts hitting the steps and hoped Jim's hard head would protect him this time. Cage locked the door and turned, his burning gaze falling on the helpless man. "You belong with the dead. You and my faithless whore of a daughter."
Mumbling an insane litany in which the most prominent words were 'bastard', 'queer' and 'Jew', he shambled toward Blair. With one hand on his collar, and one on the back of his belt, he lifted the smaller man effortlessly.
At least Jim is alive, Blair thought as he struggled to remain conscious. Please... let him be alive. The large man tossed him off the porch and he struck the concrete drive once before tumbling to the muddy grass beyond.
For once Blair didn't mind the rain as it spattered on his face and soaked his hair. It's touch felt oddly comforting and familiar as he drifted into oblivion.
Cage stood on the porch and reveled in the thunder and lightning. It made him feel good.
He was forgetting something.
He walked back inside and lifted the candle, grinning at it's feeble, flickering light. Turning to the sofa, he tipped the tiny cup and let wax trickle on the pillow. Setting the flame to the fabric, he watched as the fire grew in vigor and power until he had to step back.
Like the lightning -- it made him feel powerful.
Returning to the storm, he lifted the mongrel boy, the slight body reminding him of a broken doll. Smiling, he headed for the woods.
Simon Banks had made the trip in just over an hour by using the sirens most of the way. The storm struck just as he turned up the private road to the cabin. The slashing rain and the utter darkness made it almost impossible to see. He was almost on top of the red pick-up before he saw it.
Fishtailing, he slammed on the brakes, almost ending up in the trees. A rangy, gray-haired man walked around the truck he'd almost hit and waved. Pulling his ball cap lower over his face, Simon grabbed his flashlight and cautiously stepped out of his car.
"I'm Jack Capshaw." The stranger pulling his windbreaker tightly around his neck as he got closer.
"Captain Simon Banks. My friends are staying up there." He pointed up the hill toward the unseen cabin.
"Jim and Blair? I was headed up that way myself. Had a call from Jim and, well something's wrong up there." Capshaw gestured for Simon to follow. "This stopped me cold though." A huge pine tree lay across the graveled road.
Simon batted the limbs aside, trying to reach the trunk. For his trouble he got his hands scratched and a few pine needles up his nose. "How big is this thing?"
"Too big for us to move. That's for sure."
Capshaw opened the door of his truck and a large yellow dog bounded out. "Come on Brandy-girl, I guess we walk from here."
Simon watched as the dog ignored him and stared into the trees. He could hear her rumbling growl over the storm. Suddenly the animal raced into the woods, disappearing silently into the darkness.
"BRANDY!" The older man shouted after the animal as it vanished.
"Let's go, sir." Simon gestured with the police issue flashlight he carried. He turned on his emergency lights and left the key in the ignition. "She's probably just scared of the thunder."
"Not Brandy, she likes storms." Capshaw shrugged and followed Simon around the tree. "She'll most likely be up there waiting for us. She's real fond of Blair."
Simon let a deep chuckle escape. "Typical female. They all have a soft spot where he's concerned."
Jim dreamed that he was sleeping on Sandburg's futon.
And it was even more uncomfortable than it looked.
He tried to get up and realized he was lying face down on open stairs. His head was pointing down and he was held in place by one of his casts, hooked over a tread. This -- as his roommate would say -- sucked.
Then he smelled the smoke. Hot streamers of dirty gray poured under the door and collected above him.
Twisting his leg to free it, he thudded down the remaining steps, catching most of his weight on his arms. He needed to get out of here, and not just because of the fire. He'd seen the bullet hit Blair. Cage had taken his injured partner and couldn't be allowed to keep him. Jim needed to find his friend.
The basement was pitch dark, but when he cautiously turned his 'vision dial' to seven, he could see. What he saw wasn't encouraging. Tiny, barred windows that even Sandburg would have a hard time squeezing through. A dismantled furnace. A pump. A pegboard with a few tools on it.
And a gallon of paint thinner.
Choking on the smoke as it grew thicker, Jim looked grimly at the metal can.
"Just what I need. Flammable liquids."
He considered trying to access the water in the pump reservoir, but all the water in the world wouldn't help him if, no, when the house fell in on him. Besides, he needed to get out and help Blair.
Cage had gotten in somehow. Sitting on the floor, Jim studied the small space and tried to see some clue as to how. The smoke danced around the cobwebs on the ceiling. It coiled and swirled around the stone walls and disappeared into each little hole on the peg board.
Jim snapped out of his near-zone and scuttled over to the inside wall of the cellar. The peg board only came down half way, but the stones were fairly rough and he was able to find handholds to drag himself to a standing position. Sort of.
His battered head was spinning with the effort and standing on the non-walking type casts was next to impossible. He speculated -- not for the first time -- that Blair had conspired with the doctors to use these things to keep him off his feet while his ribs healed.
Jim drew back his fist and punched through the thin, perforated Masonite. Fortunately, he was right and there was no stone wall behind it. The smoke drafted through the hole and into the crawl space beyond. It was the way out.
The rest of the board was quickly torn away as the heat began to send needles of pain into Jim's shoulders. When he looked up, it was to see rippling sheets of flame skimming the underside of the hardwood floor. "Shit!" He grunted as he struggled to hoist himself into the comparative coolness of the crawlway.
Grateful for all the hours spent lifting weights, he used every ounce of upper body strength to drag himself over the moist, hard packed dirt. He had to scramble. The fire was spreading rapidly and the smoke was becoming increasingly dense.
Staying low, Jim crawled on his belly toward the far side of the house. Suddenly the ground fell away from under him and he dropped into a shallow depression.
Death. The smell surrounded him, blocking out even the smoke. Long ago death. He had fallen into a grave. Only the head and torso were exposed completely, but it was enough.
He'd found Angela Cage.
His hand was resting on dirty hair that had once been strawberry blond. He pushed away, and shuddered as he felt the hair separate from the rotting flesh. Trying not to touch the corpse more than he had to, he climbed out of the grave.
Jim scrambled wildly toward the back of the house, following a faint current of air that promised life. Once there he came up against a solid wall of stone.
'Filter out the smoke.' He could almost hear Blair saying it. 'Filter out everything but the fresh air. Follow the air to safety.'
Cool air tickled his fingertips and he pushed the flat stone out of the way. Thick shrubbery hid the opening and he had to slither under it to escape.
But, he was out.
The night was as bright as day, lit up by the fire. "BLAIR!" He called, as he lay on the wet grass. "BLAIR!" He tried to move, to find his guide, but his body had been pushed to the limit of its endurance. He collapsed and let the darkness swallow him.
Blair shook his head as awareness came back with a jolt. He was sitting cross-legged on a huge rock in a shadowed glade. The lake was crystal blue in the sunlight. It was somehow familiar, even though he knew he'd never been here before.
I don't think I'm in Washington anymore.
Turning, he saw a slender little girl of nine or ten, sitting on a blanket, surrounded by books. He recognized her from the photo in the files.
She smiled, then ducked her head shyly, letting her long dark hair hide her face. "Do you like my special place? No one knows it's here."
"I get to stay here all the time, now." She returned to her books. "If you want to stay, you can. I'll read you a story."
He looked down sadly at the little girl. He wished he'd known her when they were children. They would have been kindred souls. "Maybe later, OK?"
"OK." The child/spirit flopped onto her stomach and was instantly lost in the world of her book.
A vague melody carried on the warm breeze made him turn toward the trees. A ravishingly beautiful young woman stood there. Her long red-gold hair fell in shining curls around velvet skin. She smiled and gestured for him to come closer.
It was Angela Cage, and he knew, somehow that she, too, was an apparition. In fact, he was beginning to wonder if he was dead. "Hello?"
"This has to end now, Blair." Her voice was musical, but with a steely edge. "James Cage has to end -- now!"
"What happened to you? They said you disappeared."
"My mother was in the hospital. How could I leave?" The exquisite blue eyes were bright with tears. "I tried to protect Samantha, but he was her father. We had no rights." Her expression hardened. "But I finally 'had' him. I had all the evidence I needed. He drove up as I was leaving. He hit me. Killed me."
"And you've been here all along?"
"All these years. He buried the truth when he buried me. I could make him hear me sometimes. I would play my favorite song and torment him. When Samantha came back, all grown up, I thought 'this is my chance'. I used the song to lead her to my grave in the crawlspace. She was very smart about such things."
"Sam was a forensics expert."
"But her mind was distracted. He buried the evidence with me and she couldn't handle the photos she found there. James had been watching her, and used her illness to take advantage. She thought he was dead, you see. And when he touched her, it drove her mad."
"He made her do horrible things." Blair looked back over his shoulder at the innocent child. "Is she safe, here?"
"I'll look after her, from now on. No matter what."
"I'm glad." Blair smiled at her determined tone.
"But you can't stay here." She walked purposefully toward him. "You have to wake up, or he'll kill you too."
She wore jeans and a tee shirt, her bare feet almost hidden by the emerald grass. Blair wondered about that. Wasn't a ghost supposed to flutter around in a translucent nightie.
"I said you have to go." Her hand brushed his cheek and he was swept back into the darkness. "I'm sorry."
She should be sorry, Blair thought as he returned to reality. This hurt. A lot. And he was wet, and cold and laying in the mud. The lightning cast an eerie greenish light across the lake, and it took a moment to realize that he was in the same tree bordered glade.
Only it was night, it was raining, and the only other person here was a maniac, busily digging what looked like a grave.
Blair tried and failed to stand. Well, that didn't work, he thought as he almost blacked out again. He lifted himself onto his elbows and inched backwards over the wet grass.
"My Angela thought she could get away." He could hear Cage ranting. "Little bitch was going to the cops. I had to kill her."
Blair dug in his heels and scooted back a little faster.
"Janice was half dead. She never knew her baby was home all along. But, Angie kept playing that damn song over and over until I took to visiting her." The big man lifted his head and looked at Blair. "Where you going, boy?" He lifted the shovel and stalked toward the helpless young man. "You think I'd let you live? After you screwed that crazy slut daughter of mine?"
Try to reach him, Blair lectured himself. Control the conversation. Keep your head. "Screw you!" he shouted against the storm. "you baby raping son of a..."
Blair ducked and rolled as the shovel whizzed over his head.
"You're going to die in pieces." Cage raised the long-handled shovel like an ax. Blair was trying to decide which way to roll next, when a flash of gold streaked past and hit Cage in the chest.
It was hard to equate the snarling creature with the raised hackles and the gleaming teeth, with the loveable Brandy. She straddled the older man's chest and savaged his right wrist as he screamed.
Blair used the last of his energy trying for the shovel, but before he could grab it Cage threw the dog aside and staggered to his feet. Injured, Brandy limped to Blair's side and growled menacingly, her head lower than her shoulders and her teeth bared.
Cage took the heavy automatic out of his belt and pointed it down at them. "Mongrels."
"JIM! BLAIR!" Simon raced toward the inferno. The house was totally engulfed by the time he got there. He started to run to the door, when Capshaw grabbed him and wrestled him back.
"If they're in there, it's too late." There was a series of distant metallic wails as the fire department in the village across the lake was roused. "Someone saw the fire. There'll be help here real soon."
Simon knew he was right. But his friends were there and it tore at him to do nothing. "JIM?" His powerful voice boomed above the storm. "BLAIR? WHERE ARE YOU?"
His only answer was the howl of the wind and the rumble of the thunder. Then he saw the car on the far side of the drive. Unlocked, it was fully loaded and ready to go, the keys still in the ignition. Simon pondered this mystery for a moment before trying to start the engine. Nothing.
Taking the flashlight again he began to search the lawn around the house. "ELLISON! SANDBURG!"
He found Jim in the grass at the back of the house. He'd obviously escaped from the fire. There was a scorch on his shoulder and patches of reddened flesh on his neck and arms. His hands and face were battered as if he'd been in a battle. Of most concern was an ugly gash above his left ear that probably explained his unconscious state.
Jack Capshaw offered his jacket to cover the still form. He voiced the question Simon was afraid to ask. "Where's Blair?"
Jim stirred and muttered, "Blair?"
"Jim. Stay put." Simon tried to keep Jim from sitting up. "Where's Sandburg?"
"Cage, he has him. He took him." Jim tried to sit up and fell back again. "Help me stand up, Simon."
"Jim your legs are in casts. You can't walk."
"Please?" Jim held out a hand to the two tall men.
"Maybe we could get him to the car. Out of this rain." Jack looked at Simon meaningfully.
It hadn't been that long ago that Jim was almost lost to pneumonia. Simon prayed that he wasn't making some injury worse as he knelt and took Jim's arm over his shoulders.
Capshaw did the same and the two tall men almost carried Jim to the car.
Placing his friend in the passenger seat, he levered the seat back into a semi-reclining position. His hand hit something very soft and furry in the back seat. Sandburg's ever present fuzzy blankets. He covered the shivering man with both of them, tucking them around him. Jim lowered his face to the soft fleece and breathed deeply. "Blair." The name left his lips as a sigh of entreaty, before he slumped against Simon.
The music came from the trees all around them. A saturating, unwavering sound that seemed to flow into the body through flesh and bone.
~Unforgettable, that's what you are.~
"Angie?" Cage turned and pointed the weapon into the trees.
Blair watched as Cage fired at the sound. The rolling thunder swallowed the sound of the shots as the big man leapt onto the flat rock and fired in the direction of the music.
Forgotten, Blair started to back away again. The slick, muddy grass made it easier to slide on his back toward the trees. He felt a tug on his shirt collar as the dog used her teeth to tug him away from the clearing. A definite dip caused him to roll into the tree line. As he and Brandy tumbled together, he heard a pained yelp just before his injured side slammed into the rough bark of a pine. Then there was only blackness.
"Sandburg! Where the hell are we?"
"Hey, Jim." Blair walked out into the warm sunlight of a late summer day. "This place is, ahh, like, a spirit plane. I'm guessing we're both about half dead."
"Is Cage here?"
"Last I saw him, he was shooting at his late wife, Angela." He stepped away as Jim grabbed him and tried to examine his side. "Here -- I'm OK." Blair gestured at Jim's legs and feet.
Jim took a few experimental steps and grinned. "Well, hell." Jim flushed slightly as a small hand slipped into his and he realised there was a child here. "Who are you?"
"It's Samantha, Jim." Blair stroked her hair fondly.
"Yeah, Daddy." She giggled as she pulled Jim to the center of the clearing. "Come on, read me a story."
Jim looked at Blair, who shrugged and shook his head and whispered. "Can you blame her for preferring you?"
The tall man knelt and looked into the child's adoring eyes for a moment. "Maybe later. OK... Princess?"
"Sure." She kissed his cheek and returned to her books.
"Blair? What the fu-- heck is going on?" Jim's hushed tone was filled with consternation.
"Maybe it's because she's a suicide. Or that she was so far gone at the end. But she's like a butterfly trapped in amber. She exists only in this place, in this one happy moment."
"Like I know?" Blair whispered back to his partner. "If it's hell or purgatory, it's a pretty merciful one."
"Did I tell you Simon arrived at the cabin?" Jim asked his friend absently as he tried to take in all that he had seen. "I think the cavalry should be on its way."
"So you're safe. That's good." Blair breathed a sigh of relief.
"They'll find you too."
"I doubt it, Jim. Not in time anyway. Brandy and I are down in the trees somewhere." Blair gestured in the direction of the lake at the densely overgrown, tree covered hillside.
"We'll find you," Jim insisted almost angrily.
"Cage is still back there." Blair noticed for the first time that Angela was standing, almost hidden in the shadows, at the edge of the grove. "She saved me, but she can only distract him for so long."
"Then maybe we can help." Jim approached the woman and studied her. She was lost in deep concentration. Her lovely face was pale and her eyes were closed tight. "This Sentinel/Shaman stuff must mean something. We're here for some reason."
"Let's see." Blair's face grew determined as he took the woman's hand. He jerked as if an arc of power surged through the link. He closed his eyes as he reached for his friend's hand.
Jim took the proffered hand and flinched at the almost electric tingle he felt. Instinctively, he reached for Angela's hand to complete the circle. The feeling of power grew tenfold.
Even though his eyes were closed, he could see that he was in the same tree shaded clearing. But it was darkest night, lit only by jagged steamers of lightning. A tall madman stood on the slab of rock, brandishing a heavy automatic pistol.
The music swirled around him, almost deafening now. No longer recognizable, it was a cacophony of sound and fury that roared over every other sound. Jim felt Blair's hand almost crush his and looked over the woman's shoulder at Cage.
The hulking figure was hunched over, staring down at the wind whipped grass as the shadows crept closer. Even as they watched, the shadows took familiar forms. The wolf's fur was so wet that it appeared almost as black as it's companion. The large panther stayed close to the wolf as they moved in.
Cage saw them.
Jim remembered Blair saying that the mentally ill could, perhaps, see the same things as a Sentinel or a Shaman. He remembered being rather insulted.
Now, the only thing that mattered was keeping the monster from harming his guide further. He could feel the intensity, the determination of the other two in the link.
Cage had to be stopped.
It had to end.
The wild-eyed man pointed the weapon at the creatures as they snarled fiercely. He screamed something that was swallowed by the clamorous sounds of the storm/music. Jim could see his finger squeezing the trigger over and over in a futile attempt to kill the spirits that stalked him.
As the huge panther sprang onto the rock, Cage stumbled backwards. The wolf moved with the big cat like a shadow. The man backed away until he stepped off the edge. For a moment he fought for balance, his arms flailing desperately. Then he tumbled to the ground on the other side of the stone slab. The animals followed, fluidly leaping onto the fallen villain.
The ungodly screams that echoed through the clearing, drowned out everything else. Jim looked at Blair, and was surprised to see him close his eyes. The gentle young man made no effort to break the circle, or stop the carnage taking place. Jim dialed his hearing down and let his eyes drift shut. Justice, long denied and delayed, had been dealt out.
The warmth of the sun and the smell of summer wildflowers made him stir. His hand was lost to all feeling as it was crushed in his partners vise-like grasp. He gently lifted each of the tense fingertips until he could pull free. "Blair? Buddy?"
"What? What happened?" Blair shook himself and almost fell over. "Did we do it? Stop him?"
"Yeah, Chief. We stopped him."
"He's dead." Angela looked around wonderingly. "I know it. He just fell off the rock, and now he's dead?" Apparently Angela hadn't seen the spirit animals.
"Is that what happened, Jim?" Blair still seemed dazed, as if all his strength was gone. "Jim...?"
"He won't hurt anyone ever again." Jim supported his friend.
"Finally, it's over." Angela whispered as she looked around the sunny clearing and at the child immersed in her story books in the shade of the black granite boulder. "You both must go back now." She gazed intently at Blair. "He doesn't have much time."
"I wish I could do something for you..." Jim stopped as he realized how powerless he was here.
"We'll be fine now." She gave him a smile of breathtaking beauty and happiness. "You go and save your friend." Her fingers traced the hard line of his jaw as her other hand caressed Blair's cheek.
Jim closed his eyes and when he opened them again, someone was shining a flashlight in them.
"Mr. Ellison! Jim!" A paramedic was leaning over him.
Jim batted the flashlight away and growled. "Simon? Where's Simon?"
"Here, Jim. Let the paramedic help you, OK?"
"We have to find Blair. Do you have a an ambulance?" He pinned the young medic with a patented Ellison stare.
"Yes, Mr.... I mean Detective Ellison. We are going to load you up right now and you'll be at the hospital in a few minutes."
"Simon!" Jim's voice echoed in the car's interior.
Simon replaced the harried young man in the open doorway. "Let him take care of you." Simon ordered in his best official tone.
"The clearing where Samantha died? Can you find it?" Jim grabbed Simon's arm roughly. "Blair's there. He dying."
Simon sighed and looked distressed. "This is some of that Sentinel shit, isn't it?"
Jim nodded. "Get me there? Please?"
"Aww, hell!" Simon stood up and told the paramedic that they were taking a little detour on the way to the hospital.
The paramedic refused, pointing out that Jim was in no shape to go anywhere but straight to the emergency room.
The paramedic didn't stand a chance.
The ambulance followed a car full of volunteer firemen down the rutted logging road. Jack Capshaw and Simon stayed close to Jim in the back. He was loosely secured to a stretcher, sitting almost upright.
"I'm doing this under protest," the paramedic grumbled as he fretted over his patient. "And only because he promised to stay very still and let me start an IV."
"Are we there yet?" Jim growled angrily, trying to turn and look out the front windows. He hated being helpless more than anything. He wanted to find his friend and rescue him. Now.
Every instinct hummed as he fought the urge to smash the damn casts off his legs, tear open the ambulance doors and go find Blair.
"Don't even think about it, Ellison." Simon's voice was loud in his ear as the ambulance stopped. "We'll find the kid. You. Stay put!"
"Leave the doors open, so I can listen."
Simon and Jack disappeared, and Jim could hear Simon curse as he slid down a muddy path. He let his hearing range out, ahead of the searchers. He could hear the faint but familiar heartbeat, and a canine whimpering.
"We found someone!" It was a stranger's voice intruding on his thoughts. The other volunteer EMT. He heard it twice, as it was echoed instantly on the scratchy radio. "Holy crap! What killed this guy."
Cage. They'd found Cage.
"They're at the big rock." Jim grabbed the paramedic and shook him. "Tell them to walk a straight line toward the lake. Blair's down over the hill. In the woods."
The young man repeated the words and backed away as soon as Jim let him go. "Please, Detective Ellison, just stay calm..."
"Get down there. Take the basket stretcher and hurry. He's lost a lot of blood."
"Yes sir!" the man scrambled out of the vehicle, dragging the basket stretcher.
As he disappeared down the muddy path, Jim heard the Simon shout and the sheriff's voice came over the radio. He was requesting the stretcher. They'd found Blair. Thank God.
Simon and the others had fanned out and were preparing to search the woods. He'd never admit it, but seeing Cage's body had shaken him. The man's whole body was frozen in horror. His hands were like claws, shielding his face. His eyes and mouth were open wide with indescribable terror.
When Jim's instructions came over the walkie talkie, he ran toward the lake. "Sandburg!" Simon slid down the hill and crawled under the low branches.
His light shone on a light shape huddled against a tree trunk. It was a large dog laying with its head on Sandburg's chest. It whimpered and tried to stand as he approached. Wobbling forward on three legs, it collapsed at his feet.
Blair was soaked to the skin and pale beneath the dirt on his face. "Get the medic down here, now!" Simon tore off his jacket and covered the still form. His fingers found a weak pulse and he breathed a sigh of relief. "Hey, Kid."
"s'coldsimin." The small figure shivered weakly, startling the big man, who stripped off his shirt and added the warm fabric to his jacket.
"Get some blankets." Simon's voice boomed as everyone came running. "Hold on, Blair. Jim's waiting for you."
"j...jim?" The whisper was barely audible.
"He's OK. Just worried about you." Simon was pushed away from his friend by the paramedics. He sat back on his heels and spoke again -- mostly to himself. "He's OK."
Jim didn't really start breathing until his mud covered partner was next to him in the ambulance, delivered by a group of men almost as soggy as he was. As they got under way, the medics worked on Blair. Jim stretched out a long arm and brushed the wet curls off his guide's face. "You're safe now, Chief."
"Jim?" Only a Sentinel could hear the faint whisper.
Jim almost smiled. It was so... Blair. "She's OK." Jack and Simon were in the vehicle behind them. They had carried the injured dog out of the grove and already radioed ahead to the vet.
"Saved me. Good..." Blair's head tipped toward him, trapping Jim's fingers under his cheek. His eyes closed and he faded into unconsciousness again.
Jim sighed as he blocked out everything but his friend. I dropped the ball on this one, Chief, he thought sadly. I should never have dragged you up here. I shut you out. Kept the truth from you, until you thought I was possessed -- and what the hell was THAT about anyway?
And then there were the ghosts.
Jim didn't hate ghosts, the ones he'd met were mostly nice. But he hated the idea that he saw ghosts. It was one more Sentinel thing that set him apart from normal people.
Of course, Angela had saved Blair. That made Angela a very good ghost in Jim's eyes. And Brandy the Labrador -- she saved Blair too. Twice.
Hell! Everyone was doing his job.
Good thing too, since he'd blown it.
"Coffee. COF-FEEEE!" Blair wanted coffee. He needed coffee. His brain was fuzzy, he was having a hard time waking up, and he was sure he had to be somewhere soon. He was also pretty sure he was in a hospital, but his one attempt at looking around had made him puke. "Coffee!"
"No coffee, Chief. Ice chips."
Blair didn't open his eyes, but he knew it was Jim. I should be a detective -- no I AM a detective.
It was hilarious, but he didn't laugh.
He didn't laugh because he needed -- "Coffee! Need some coffee." What a beautiful word that was. Musical almost. "Coffeecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee." Yeah. It was pure music. "Euphonious, mellifluous and harmonious."
"Can't they give him something?" Simon's voice sounded exasperated.
"They did give him something. That's what's wrong with him." Jim didn't sound exasperated. He sounded amused?
"He's OK, right?" Simon sounded concerned now. "No infection?"
"Amazingly, no. Blood loss was the danger." Jim was looking at him as he spoke. He could feel it. "The bullet passed through his side, missed every thing vital, just took out most of his right love handle."
"I'm going to be lopsided. How can I go through life with only one love handle."
"Chicks love the handles." Blair moaned and tried to remember why he was so sad. "Coffee." He whimpered pitifully as he let sleep claim him. "No one will give me coffee."
Blair woke from yet another nap and looked for Jim. The Sentinel had been released from the hospital two days ago. Never the less, he spent most of his time here. Either lounging on the second bed in Blair's room, or in intensive therapy.
The doctors at the small hospital had removed the damaged casts and x-rayed Jim's legs. After consulting with his orthopedist in Cascade, they had settled on removable walking casts to replace them.
They were surprised at how rapidly the bones had mended.
Blair wasn't. He knew that the genetic advantages Jim possessed extended to physical stamina and health. Pity, that the trusty Guide didn't share in the fast healing/no scars, side of things.
"Oww!" He groaned as he rolled over and looked at the door. Now that he could eat normal food -- and that counted-out what the hospital served -- Jim usually brought him a 'care package' from the local cafe.
As if on schedule, Jim bumped open the doors and entered. He had a plastic bag dangling from his right wrist as he maneuvered through the wide doorway on his crutches.
Wearing the new sweats Simon bought him, he balanced awkwardly and sat the bag and it's Styrofoam box of food on the nightstand. Then he dropped into the worn leather armchair as if too exhausted to stand a moment more. Blair ignored the food and stared at his friend. He could see the lines around the tight mouth and the shadows below his eyes. "Jim. What the devil have you been doing?"
"You look like you've been run through the spin cycle."
"Jim. They don't push you that hard in therapy, do they?" Blair was ready to read someone the riot act. "You look exhausted. I mean you haven't really recovered from the pneumonia and then laying in the rain and getting thrown down a flight of stairs and crawling through a burning..."
"Whoa. Down, Chief." Jim grinned wearily. "Much as I'd like you to protect me from Becky, the ninety pound demon of physical therapy. I just went for a walk and overdid it."
"You can't walk. You are supposed to stay off your legs as much as possible and use the pool for therapy." Blair was sitting up now, forgetting his own discomfort in his worry for Jim. "You're pushing it, aren't you?"
"I need to get back on my feet. My cool new wheelchair burned up."
"Damn it all!" Blair snapped angrily, swinging his legs off the side of the bed. "What are you trying to prove?"
"That I can do my job!"
"Oh, for Christ's sake! No one expects you to do police work on broken legs!"
"Not that job!"
Blair opened his mouth, then closed it again, baffled. There was a deafening silence in the room. Jim had been acting strangely for days. If Blair was honest -- for months. Ever since the kidnapping that nearly killed them both and started this whole mess. "You mean being a Sentinel?"
"I mean, being your Sentinel."
"Is this because you didn't tell me about your senses going haywire -- and don't think we aren't going to have a long talk about that later -- because I understand how hard..."
"Shut up and breathe, Chief. I meant it's my fault you got hurt."
"Oh here we go!" Blair rolled his eyes and stood up awkwardly. "Jim, 'the earth revolves around me' Ellison. Famine in Ethiopia -- Jim's fault. Blair attracts deranged murderess -- Jim's fault again." The younger man looked down at his friend, briefly considering whacking him in the head with his own crutch. Nah, it would just break the crutch. "Jim. Nothing that happened was your fault."
"Nothing! You believed, against overwhelming evidence, that I was innocent when almost everyone else thought I was a murderer. When we were kidnapped, you got me out of that truck and gave me a chance to survive."
"But she did it because of me."
"Because you bore a slight physical resemblance to a monster." Blair hadn't told Jim that there was a distant family connection between him and James Cage. He never would. "Because Sam -- even in her insanity -- recognized a decent man and wanted to get closer to you."
"Back at the cabin, I didn't tell you that my senses were off line." Jim straightened in the chair. "I let him get in. I let him take you. Hell, you got shot protecting me."
"WE PROTECT EACH OTHER!" Blair leaned forward until his nose was inches from Jim's. "I am your partner. I am a cop. I am your Guide, Shaman, whatever. If you can't except that, then we aren't partners. We never were!"
"You shouldn't have to be a cop. You shouldn't have to do this shit."
Blair couldn't believe his ears. After all this time. After Jim and Simon and even William Ellison had rewritten history, and cleared his name. After they had made it possible for him to get his PHD. Hell, they'd turned him into a self sacrificing hero. He was the man who risked ruining his career to help catch an unstoppable hit man. One reporter had actually used the word noble. Noble, for cripes sake. "For the last time. I don't HAVE to be a cop. I chose to be. But only if I can be your partner. Equal partner."
"You do more than your share."
"At last he admits it." Blair almost laughed at the expression on Jim's face. He hadn't expected agreement. "And part of my job is taking care of you. If you cripple yourself trying to walk too soon, it'll make me feel real bad."
Jim breathed deeply, apparently relieved that the mood had lightened. "OK. If it makes you happy, I'll become a slacker. Sit around and eat Wonderburgers and watch Canadian soap operas."
"And guzzle beer?"
"Sure. Whatever it takes."
"Well, alright then. Since I'm up, I'm going to the bathroom." Now that he wasn't angry, he felt rather shaky. He shuffled across the room, his steps slow and careful.
"Need any help?"
"Oh I don't think so." Blair toddled a few more steps then turned. "What the heck could you do? Loan me a crutch?"
"I could call a nurse."
"That's OK. I've got to learn to do these things by myself." He was on the homestretch. Almost halfway there.
Jim grinned at the melodramatic language and answered in kind. "My hero."
The young man disappeared into the bath. "Don't listen. I can't do anything if you listen."
"Dials are at two, Bashful Bladder." Jim was laughing now as he stood carefully. "If you fall down, you can just lay there on the cold, hard tile floor."
When Blair came back, Jim was balanced on his crutches, arranging his lunch on the tray table. "I got you a turkey and Swiss club on rye. They had garden tomatoes, and boy are they good. I got some on the side cause they make the bread soggy otherwise." Jim held up a pint container. "Fresh fruit salad. Eat."
"Yes, mother." Blair ate.
"My lawyer called." Jim went to the empty bed a stretched out with satisfied groan. "He said that the insurance on the cabin was still in effect. We should eventually get a check for the full value."
When he said the amount Blair started to choke. "Holy cow! We're rich."
"And then there's the land. It stretches from the lake, halfway up the mountain."
Blair munched on his sandwich thoughtfully. Then he looked at his partner, his expression suddenly serious. "Jim. If you kept all the money, would you mind if we took the land, and, and..." It was rare for Blair to be at a loss for words.
"...donated it as a park or campground. In the murdered women's names." Jim seemed to be studying the ceiling tiles.
"Oh man!" Blair gaped at the smiling Ellison. "You got to stop doing that. Reading my mind is so NOT part of your job description."
"I just know you too well, Chief," Jim chuckled. "I thought we might get some materials donated. Get some cops to volunteer to build a few 'real' cabins. CPD Athletic league has a program to take underprivileged kids camping. And it could be someplace for cops and firemen to bring their families up for vacations? Sound good to you?"
"So what are you going to do with your half of the money?" Jim asked the beaming young man.
"Well," Blair took a bite of tomato and grinned. "School loans and credit cards paid off. New transmission. And one of those fridge's. With an ice maker."
"Of course. How about you?"
"I saw this thing at Lowe's. It makes unlimited hot water. On demand."
"It really exists?" Jim sounded so enraptured that Blair had to ask. "You're sure you didn't dream it?"
"Nope. I saw it with my own eyes."
"No. Hot water. As much as you want."
Blair chuckled and returned to his meal. After considering the situation for a while he shook his head. "We're pretty pathetic. A refrigerator and a water heater?"
"We could take a trip?" Jim offered with a shrug and a yawn.
"I think we've used up all our vacation, personal and sick days for the next couple years."
"Vacations never work out for us, anyway."
Blair fished a grape out of his fruit salad and popped it into his mouth. "Too true."
"Did I tell you Simon is coming to pick us up tomorrow?"
"They're kicking me out?"
"Reluctantly. After all, we are kinda local heroes." Because of them, Angela's body had been recovered and laid to rest next to her mother. And the people in the small community were relieved that a killer was no longer living among them.
"So, what time do we leave?" When there was no answer, Blair looked over at his partner. "Jim?"
His only answer was a loud snore.
Blair wouldn't have thought it possible, but Jim slept until Simon showed up the next morning. The nurse came in and covered him up, and he didn't even stir. It was as if he'd finally let himself relinquish control and relax.
The Sentinel had one overdeveloped sense that caused him more problems than any other. His overdeveloped sense of responsibility. Blair suspected that he would have to get in his face and scream 'it's not your fault' -- every so often -- for the next fifty years or so.
I wonder if ancient Shaman had this problem. If they had to shake their rattles and exorcise the demon of guilt from their Sentinels.
Of course, the ancient Sentinel probably then gathered up the rattles, polished them and stored them in the special rattle-rack he'd built.
Jim and Simon had gone to collect Jim's few belongings at the boarding house where he had ostensibly been staying. Blair used the time to wash up and shave, then change into the soft, old sweats that Simon brought him.
This time consuming and exhausting activity made him grateful for the wheelchair the nurse had waiting for him. Jim and Simon had his stuff packed up and already in the car.
Because they both seemed so anxious to leave, Blair leaned back in the chair and pronounced, rather grandly, "Home, James."
Jim wanted to leave this place. This hospital. This town. This place. And he never wanted to come back. He had come close to losing his friend, twice.
The evil he'd encountered here had worn a horribly familiar face. The seeds of all this suffering had been sewn years ago, when Angela's plan to save a tortured child where foiled by the very degenerate she sought to expose.
It was all so damned sad.
"Home, James," Blair said, in a gallant attempt at humor.
Jim looked down at the weary looking man in the wheelchair. He was thinner, with dark circles under his eyes and pained lines bracketing his mouth. "Sure, Chief." Jim forced a grin. "Simon. You want to do the honors."
Simon needed no encouragement and pushed the chair down the hall so fast that Jim had to virtually chase them on his crutches. By the time he got outside, Blair was busy getting kissed good-bye. By Brandy the dog. She was barely hobbled by the soft cast on her front leg as she bounced excitedly.
Jim and Simon exchanged pleasantries with Jack Capshaw. The older man had been a daily visitor at the hospital, and had struck up a friendship with all the detectives. Blair had asked to see Brandy too, but the usually considerate doctors drew the line at canine visitors.
It took Blair fifteen minutes to say goodbye to the wiggling, grinning dog. Then he let them load him into the blanket and pillow lined nest in the back seat of Simon's car. Jim sprawled in the passenger seat, already in the reclining position so he could reach Blair if necessary.
"Simon?" Blair's voice murmured quietly from the back seat. "Can we stop at that place? The clearing with the big rock?"
Jim silently filled in the rest of the description. The place where Samantha put Jim's service weapon under her chin and pulled the trigger. The place where, Blair and he killed...
Jim shook himself and finished the thought.
...where Cage had died of a heart attack. Blair didn't remember anything after he tumbled into the woods, and Jim had no intention of ever telling him what happened.
"No!" Jim set his jaw at its most stubborn angle.
"No!" Simon barked before softening his tone. "We need to get you home."
"Sandburg, you are not getting out of this car." Simon was in full 'captain mode' as he growled out the order.
"I don't want to. Just roll down the window."
They were parked on the gravel road overlooking the sun-dappled clearing. Tiny white wildflowers sparkled in the tall grass.
Blair was staring hard, straining to see or hear something. Jim turned and touched his arm. "Anything?
"Just for a second. I thought I heard music... but maybe I'm imagining it? Jim, would you try?"
Jim glanced at Simon before focusing all his attention on the glade. His austere features softened into a gentle smile. "I can't see them. But the child is there and Angela is looking after her. They, ah, it's real peaceful..."
Simon looked worriedly at his two best officers. He hated this stuff with a passion. Finally both men looked at their perturbed Captain.
Blair blinked rapidly and smiled. "I'm done here."
Jim leaned back and closed his eyes. "Take us home, Simon."
Simon, as he was wont to do lately, looked skyward and said, "thank you."
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