Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Pet Fly Productions. Thank you to Wolfpup for sifting through this to make it error free. And for the comments and guidance, too. I won't mention how demanding she is. Oh, but then I guess I just did! : )
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He only felt slightly guilty about deliberately disobeying his mother. She treated him like a little kid. He was almost sixteen! She had to start realizing he wasn't her baby anymore. Daryl Banks stood at a bus stop on a deserted street, arguing with himself. His mom had always warned him about sticking to the parts of town he knew and not going anywhere without telling her first. But she had been so unreasonable. It was just a card shop! So what if it was in a rougher part of town? It wasn't all that far from the university and he'd be going there anyway in a couple of years. He could even see the tops of the buildings from where he stood. What was the deal? He angrily kicked at a stone. Nothing had happened. He'd gone to the store... bought the basketball card he had wanted...needed... End of story. He was going to just get on the bus and head home. No one even had to know he went. He still felt guilty. Jamming the card into his jacket pocket, he debated about telling her everything when he got home.
"You are such a momma's boy, Banks!" he growled to himself. "You tell her and she's gonna tell Dad. And then you are dead meat, man."
A sound from across the street broke into his thoughts. Three men were coming out of a coffee shop. One of them was struggling to get away. Daryl could hear him pleading with them from where he stood. The guy was being shoved into the alley beside the shop. Daryl tried to look away. It was none of his business. He was already in enough trouble for just being there.
"No! Wait! I...I can explain!" The scream came from the alley. Then silence. Daryl stood rooted to the spot, his heart pounding . He knew he should get out of there. Call the police. But he couldn't move. He saw two of the men step from the shadows of the alley. One of them was covered in blood. The front of his shirt was soaked in it, the bright red standing out against the pale shirt. A jacket was quickly zipped up to cover the mess but Daryl had seen enough. He thought he was going to be sick. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened. Suddenly, one of the men pointed at him and grabbed the other man's arm.
"Hey! That kid!" They both started across the street.
Finally, the fear that had kept Daryl anchored to the spot turned into panic. He took off down the street looking for a place to hide or a store he could duck into. Why hadn't he noticed how many of the buildings were vacant? He had nowhere to go! He saw the campus clock tower and knew he had only one chance. Blair would help him. Risking a glance behind him, he saw that the men had separated. Only one was chasing him. He looked around frantically for the second man and saw him running the other way. He was heading for the only car that stood on the empty street. Daryl knew he had to make it to the university grounds. It was his only chance. His breath started to come in painful wheezes. His legs pumped automatically. But it gave him hope. If he was getting tired, so was the other guy. Daryl was younger and faster. He would make it! The squeal of tires reached his ears as he forced more speed from his already tiring legs. He rounded a corner and made his way onto campus.
"Okay, so that's it for today. Make sure you get those outlines handed in Monday morning. Have a good weekend everyone." Blair Sandburg waited until the last student had left the lecture hall and then stretched. He thought he could hear every bone in his body snap as it went into place. It felt so good. The weekend! He was going to take it, too. No school work, no police work. He didn't care what tactics Jim would use to get him into the station. He would resist. Two solid days of nothing to do but relax.
Sandburg gathered up his books and notes and stuffed them into his backpack. He grabbed his jacket and looked around him. Satisfied he had everything, he started for the parking lot. No need to go back to his office. Damn! The groceries he had picked up for that night's dinner were still sitting on his desk. He was going to have to go back.
It was late Friday afternoon and the corridors of the building were deserted. Blair wasn't sure how he was always lucky enough to pull the late lecture on a Friday, but he really didn't mind. Too much. The dimmed lights and quiet were calming. Reaching for the keys to his office, he heard a hoarse shout.
Sandburg turned towards the sound just as a blur of denim threw itself into his arms.
"Daryl?" The kid was shaking and hanging on to him for dear life. "Daryl, what's wrong? What're you doing here?" He put his hands on the boy's shoulders and took a step back to look into the teenager's eyes. Seeing the terror, there he quickly drew him back into a hug. "Hey, hey c'mon." Blair hugged him tightly. "Tell me what happened."
The boy was sobbing. His hands were digging into Blair's back. "You gotta help me! They know I saw it! Please Blair! They're gonna kill me!"
Still not certain what was going on, but alarmed enough at Daryl's words, Sandburg finished unlocking and opening his office. The anthropologist pulled Daryl in after him and quietly closed the door. He heard the echoing of running footsteps in the stairwell. Bringing a finger to his lips, he motioned for Daryl to be silent. As the sound became more distant, he let out the breath he had been holding and leaned against the door. Gently steering the teen to a chair, he made him sit.
Crouched down in front of the chair, Blair tried to find out what was going on. "Okay Daryl, it sounds like they've headed in the other direction. You've got to tell me what happened so I can figure out how to help you. Who's going to kill you?" He kept his voice soft.
Daryl's eyes were glued to the door, as if waiting for the men that chased him to come bursting in at any minute. "Those two guys. They saw me after they killed that guy in the alley! They chased me. I...I thought they were gonna catch me but I got away. They...they had a car and they saw me running here. They followed me in here but I lost them. I thought I had." He slipped off the chair and into Blair's embrace. "All I wanted to do was get to you. I knew you would help me. But maybe I got you into trouble now." He started to cry harder. "I'm sorry Blair!"
The poor kid was hysterical and Sandburg wasn't sure how much of the story he could believe. Daryl had stumbled onto a murder? It didn't seem likely. But then Blair rolled his eyes. How could Sandburg doubt the kid, when he was the ultimate trouble magnet. How many dangerous situations had he walked into in the past three years?
Blair sat there holding the younger Banks, waiting for the sounds of crying to fade. When they did, he shifted around to grab the phone, the movement causing Daryl to only hold on tighter.
"Shhhh, it's okay. I'm not going anywhere." He brought his hand up to rub the boy's back. "I just want to get the phone. We'll get Jim to come and pick us up and then we'll go and talk to your Dad." Reaching for his backpack, which was nearer, he took out his cell phone.
"Hello." Blair whispered a heartfelt thank you when his friend picked up.
"Jim, glad you're there man. I've got a problem and I think I'm going to need your help." He could almost hear the Sentinel's jaw clench.
"What's wrong, Chief? You okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay. It's Daryl. He's here with me at the university and I think he's managed to walk into some serious trouble.
"Daryl? What's he doing there? What kind of trouble?"
"If I've got it all straight, he witnessed a murder. The killers spotted him and he ran here. They followed him, Jim. I think he lost them. I heard them take off in another direction. I don't want to take any chances, though."
"Just sit tight, Chief. I can have a unit down there in a few minutes."
"I don't know if that's necessary. It sounds pretty quiet out there right now. I think we're safe enough until you can get here. If things change I'll call 911."
"Blair, I don't think that's such a good idea. What if..."
"Daryl's really spooked by this, Jim." Sandburg interrupted. "I don't know how he'll handle all the commotion. We'll be okay. Just hurry."
"I'm on my way, Chief. Just stay put."
"You got it, man." Blair closed the phone and turned his attention to the teen.
"Jim's on his way, Daryl. We'll just sit tight 'til he gets here." When he got no response, he looked down to see that the boy had fallen asleep. The terror and running had exhausted him.
Sandburg hugged him closer and tried to let the rhythm of Daryl's breathing calm his jangled nerves. He could really feel for the kid, having been in the same situation himself so many times. Usually it was Jim offering the comfort of an embrace. A Guide didn't have the resources of a Sentinel, but his instinct to protect was just as strong. With a gentle swipe, he brushed away the tears that streamed down Daryl's face. He would keep Simon's son safe.
A quiet knock at the door startled Blair. He sat motionless, listening, and let out a sigh of relief when he heard Jim's whispered "Chief?"
Ellison stood outside the office, listening to the sounds from within. He could hear his friend and another slightly faster heartbeat. The sound of rustling was followed by a small gasp.
"It's alright Daryl," Blair soothed. "It's Jim."
Seconds later the door was opened and Jim was greeted by a much relieved Sandburg and a terrified teenager. Daryl still had his arms wrapped tightly around the anthropologist. The detective reached out to put a comforting arm around the boy but Daryl shrank back.
Blair answered his friend's questioning look. "He's really freaked out Jim. I'm kind of worried about him. He hasn't said a word since before I called you. Maybe we should take him to the hospital."
"No, please." It was almost a whimper. "I want my Dad."
A wave of sympathy crossed Ellison's face. "Okay Daryl. We'll go see your dad." He looked at Blair. "I told Simon to meet us at the station. It would have taken him too long to get here. He must be having a fit about now. I didn't give him many details."
Blair nodded. "Can you grab my pack and jacket? They're by the chair. I'm assuming that the coast is clear?" He raised an eyebrow at the Sentinel.
"All clear, Chief. Whoever they were, they're long gone."
Simon Banks paced the inside of his office. He now knew how many steps it took to cross it. He even knew the number of tiles that covered the floor. Ellison had been very vague about what was going on. Only that it was important for the captain to meet him at the station. He looked out across the squad room to the door, willing the detective to get there sooner. Simon had a bad feeling about this. If it had been police work, Jim would have told him about it over the phone. If it had been about Sandburg, he was sure Jim would have said so. This could only mean one thing. It was about something very close to him. He had tried to call Joan but got no answer. She and Daryl were probably out grocery shopping. It seemed to be their Friday ritual. Surely Joan would have called him if something was wrong.
"Dammit Ellison. Where are you?" The words had barely left his mouth when he saw the detective, Sandburg and his son walk in. Daryl was clinging to Sandburg, obviously upset. It took all of Simon's willpower to not run over and yank the boy out of the anthropologist's arms. Banks saw Jim shake his head no as he started to make his way toward them. He stepped back into the office and waited, never taking his eyes off Daryl.
As the three entered the office, Simon reached out to his son. Daryl seemed unaware of the gesture and reluctant to release his hold on Sandburg. Bewildered, Simon turned to Ellison.
"Jim, what's happened?" He needed to hold his son. He wanted to be able to wipe away the fear he saw written on Daryl's face.
Bank's distress was obvious and Blair leaned down to talk quietly to the teen. "Hey, Daryl. We're here and I think your Dad could use a hug about now." The boy looked up at him, confused and scared. It was heartwrenching. With what he hoped was a reassuring smile, Sandburg tried again. "Daryl, you're safe now. Your Dad's here."
The younger Banks turned his head and seemed to notice, for the first time, that his father was there. He hesitated and then flung himself into his father's arms. Blair shivered slightly as the warmth of that constant embrace was suddenly removed. He smiled to himself when he felt Jim move closer, ever the Blessed Protector.
Simon looked over the boy's head at the two men standing across from him. "Somebody want to tell me what's going on?" But it was Daryl who spoke first.
"Dad, I saw it. I saw it! They killed a guy. In an alley." He started to cry. "I'm sorry Dad. I know I shouldn't have been there. But I needed that basketball card and this store was the only one that had it. I'm sorry." He cried harder. "I was so scared. I thought they were gonna kill me."
Simon's eyes widened with shock and he tightened his hold on his son. "It's okay son. You're okay now. No one's going to hurt you. I'm here." He lead his son to a chair and sat next to him. "You've got to tell me everything Daryl. Where did this all happen?"
The eyes that looked into Simon's face were tortured. Throwing his arms around his father's neck, Daryl sobbed, "I can't Dad. Not now. I don't want to talk about it now." His body shook. "Please Dad. I wanna go home."
Feeling helpless, Simon could only nod. "We'll go home." He stood up, pulling the boy up with him.
"Jim? Can you tell me what's going on?" Banks knew his son needed to go home but he needed more answers. Daryl had witnessed a murder?
"I'm going to run it through Homicide, to see if anything's been reported. Blair has an idea of where this might have happened. I'll let you know what we find out. Just take him home, Simon. Let us worry about the rest." Jim laid a hand on his captain's shoulder.
Banks glanced at Sandburg when Jim mentioned his knowing some information. The young man hadn't spoken a word, except to Daryl. He wondered how the anthropologist fit into all of this. With a sigh, he realized he would have to wait for his answers. He needed to get his son home. He draped an arm around the boy's shoulders and steered him towards the door.
"C'mon, Daryl. Your Mom's probably frantic by now." But Daryl broke free of his father and went to hug Blair.
"I knew you'd help me. Thanks, Blair."
Simon was touched by the affection he saw in Sandburg's face as he returned the hug. He still didn't know the details, but was now certain that, somehow, he owed the man for his son being returned to him safely.
"Anytime Daryl. I'm just glad I was there." He glanced up at Simon as he steered the boy back to his father. The look of gratitude on the captain's face spoke louder than any words ever could, making him blush slightly. He gave the man an embarrassed smile.
Simon reached out to tap Blair lightly on the arm. "Not as glad as I am, Sandburg." He turned and left the office with his son in tow.
Ellison turned to his partner, who was perched on the conference table. Blair was still watching father and son as they walked to the elevator, his expression definitely wistful.
"You okay, Chief?" Jim wasn't sure what he had missed to cause his friend to look so lost.
Sandburg seemed to shake himself. "Sorry big guy, were you talking to me?"
Whatever the detective thought he saw in his Guide's face seemed to have disappeared, so he let the question drop. He made a mental note to ask Sandburg about it when the time felt right.
"Yeah, I said we'd better get going. We'll head down to Homicide and see if they have anything. Daryl could be in a lot of trouble if those men ever figure out who he is."
Sandburg hopped off the table and followed his friend out the door. It hadn't occurred to him that a danger still existed for the kid. He was home, safe with his dad, where he should be. He thought their only job now was to solve the murder. Blair sighed and shook his head, wondering if he would ever be able to get his mind around police work.
The coppery smell of blood assaulted the Sentinel's senses as soon as he and Blair got out of the truck. Their trip to Homicide had turned up nothing. No murder had been reported and the overworked department didn't seem too anxious to take on another dead body. Ellison had taken that as his cue to do a little investigating on his own.
"Something definitely happened around here Chief. The smell of blood is fairly strong." Jim tried to ignore the slight nausea the heightened smell always brought with it. "So how do you know about this card shop anyway? You never cease to amaze me Professor." The two started down the street.
Blair grinned up at his friend and at the use of the nickname. "Oh it's a sad story Jim," he said, his smile not quite reaching his eyes. "It was back in my starving student days, when I first moved here." He pushed at the hair that had strayed into his eyes. "One of Naomi's friends, Bernie, had given me this hockey card. Told me it was a real collector's item and that I should hang on to it. And I did, for years. I was curious about it and checked it out and the guy hadn't lied to me. It was worth a lot of money! I never figured out why he even gave it to me. I always liked Bernie. Guess he liked me too." There was that longing again. A quick flicker through the younger man's eyes, but not quick enough to be missed by the detective. "Anyways, I had hit a real low. I was broke, had no idea how to get in touch with Naomi to see if I could crash with her for a while, I was pretty close to desperate. And then I remembered the card. So I brought it down to the shop and asked the guy what he would give me for it." He slapped his partner on the arm, reliving the excitement of the moment. "You will never guess what he offered me for it!"
"Okay, Chief, I believe you. I will never guess. What did he offer?" Ellison couldn't help smiling. "A couple hundred?"
Blair laughed. "Not even close, Jim. He gave me fifteen hundred dollars for it! Can you believe it? I felt like I had hit the jackpot in Las Vegas! That card saved me, man."
Ellison let out a low whistle. "That is a lot of money. What was it? A Bobby Orr rookie card?"
Blair got a strange look on his face. "Yeah...how'd you know?"
Jim just smiled. "I always wanted to find one. And when I did, I couldn't afford the asking price." The smile left his face as he nodded towards an alley. "Down this way, Chief."
Blair prepared himself for what he knew would not be a pretty sight. The body would have been lying there for a couple of hours now. Even though the weather was cool it wouldn't have slowed the death process. He was thankful for the darkness of the alley, hoping that it would be deep enough. Taking a deep breath, he followed behind the detective.
Two men nervously sat in front of a large mahogany desk. The older one, with a jacket tightly zipped over his soiled shirt, knew they had blown it. The hit had gone down without a hitch. Harper, the jerk, had agreed to meet with them at the coffee shop, ignorant of the trouble he was in. Moving him out of there and into the alley had been no problem. The shop owner had been persuaded to turn a blind eye with the offer of a generous donation and the place had been empty. Everything had gone smoothly until they spotted that kid across the street. He sighed to himself. How could they have missed that? Time to face the music.
"Let me get this straight, there was a witness. A kid. You let the kid get away?" The man's voice was a low rumble. Even the size of the desk couldn't hide the massiveness of the person who sat behind it. He slammed a boulder sized fist down onto the desk top and stood, becoming even more intimidating. His face was flushed in anger. Both men visibly shrank into their chairs.
"The kid was just there when we came outta the alley. We didn't see him before that." The younger man was shaking. "But we'll find him. We've got a lead on who he is."
"That's encouraging gentlemen. What exactly is this lead?" He smiled humourlessly at them.
"We heard him yell out to somebody when he was at the university. We're gonna go back there on Monday and find this guy. He'll tell us where we can find the kid."
"You had both better pray that Monday isn't too late. I want that witness dead. The next time I see you, I want to hear that this little fiasco has been corrected. You promised me a nice, neat little package and that is exactly what I expect to get." His voice went cold. "If I take any grief on this, you can be assured, gentlemen, that it will be nothing compared to what happens to you two." He sat back down. "Now get out of here."
"Keep to my left Blair, close to the wall. There's a lot of blood back here. Don't want you stepping in it." Sentinel vision cut through the inky blackness of the alley. "I want to get a better look at this guy, Sandburg, so I'm going to turn on the flashlight. Just wanted to warn you."
Blair's voice was a choked whisper. "Okay, thanks for the warning, Jim." He hated this and braced himself for whatever gruesome scene would be revealed.
The light snapped on and Ellison's reaction was immediate, once again letting out a low whistle. "Well, well. Cascade's finest isn't going to be too broken up about this one." He crouched down next to the body, carefully avoiding the dark pool that surrounded the head.
"Who is it Jim?" Sandburg stepped forward and rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. Curiosity outweighing his revulsion, he peered down at the body. "Oh man, what a mess."
A small chuckle reached the anthropologist's ears. "Gary Harper was never a pretty sight. Having his throat slit hasn't improved on that any." The detective stood up. "Let's go. We better call in a forensics team and the coroner. I can't see anything here to give us any clues."
Blair looked up at his friend. "Since you recognized this guy right away, should I assume that this means big trouble for Daryl? This isn't just some fight that got out of hand is it?"
"Gary Harper wasn't one of the really big fish, Sandburg. But let's just say that he was big enough. Hopefully this is because he crossed someone and not a shift in power. If that's the case, this could just be the first of a long line of killings." He sighed. "Either way, Daryl's in a lot of trouble. We better let Simon know."
Banks' frayed nerves finally snapped. His ex-wife's shrill voice had turned his already aching head into a painful throb. "This has nothing to do with my job, Joan! My being a police offer has not endangered our son!" He kept his voice to a low snarl, not wanting to upset or waken Daryl. "For some reason Daryl was down around the university and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you want to start laying blame here, I'd like to know why my son was there in the first place. And why you didn't know anything about it! You're the guardian of record." Simon knew that was a low blow but his anger had grown to almost uncontrollable proportions. He heard a knock at the door.
"Look Joan, there's someone at the door, I'm going to let Daryl sleep a bit and then I'll bring him home. I don't think it's a good idea for you to come over right now. We both need to cool down. The kid's upset enough without our exploding in front of him."
Simon resisted the urge to slam the phone down and went to answer the door.
"Dr. Andrews, thank you for coming so soon. Daryl's had quite a shock, I'd just like you to check him over. Maybe give him something to calm him down." Banks took the man's coat and threw it on a nearby chair. "He's already had a nightmare about this."
Andrews smiled at his old friend. "Relax Simon. It'll probably help your son if you do. Now where is he and I'll have a look."
The captain led the way to his bedroom. Pausing outside the closed door, he took a deep breath and affected a calm he didn't feel. Rapping lightly on the frame before entering, he softly called out to his son. "Daryl? Dr. Anderson's here."
The teen was curled up on the bed, covers wrapped tightly around him. Simon's heart went out to his son at the sight of it. He wished he could erase the last few hours and make things "all better". It had been so easy to do when Daryl had been a small boy but became harder with each year. Fears and anxieties could no longer be easily explained away. His son was a young adult, living in a hard adult world. Love, support and a sense of security were all Simon could offer. They suddenly didn't seem like enough.
Ellison and Sandburg left the murder scene as soon as the coroner and forensic team arrived. As they had waited, Jim had once again scanned the area using his heightened senses. Blair had walked him through the ritual, helping his partner to focus and find the most minute detail. The exercise had given them no clues. No bloody footprint. No telling button ripped from a shirt in a struggle and clutched tightly in a death grip. Nothing. All that had been left was a body frozen in rigor mortis. It's neck slashed so deeply that the muscle and cartilage lay exposed.
Detective and police observer had gone from store to store hoping to find someone who would be able to offer some information. No one had heard anything. No one remembered seeing three men in the coffee shop. Another dead end.
"Finding out who did this isn't going to be easy, Chief." Jim looked over to where Blair sat in the passenger's seat. "The usual procedure of tracking down enemies or someone who might have a grudge isn't going to work. If we take that approach, we may as well get the phone book and start with the a's." He turned the Ford into the parking lot of Simon's apartment building.
Blair unbuckled his seatbelt. "So where do we start then, Jim?" He had already accepted the fact that they would be taking on this investigation. He didn't like the idea of going up against a group that sounded too much like organized crime. He liked to think of movies like the Godfather and the Yakusa as sort of grim fairytales. He groaned inwardly at his own pun. "You really think they're going to go after Daryl? How are they going to find him? They don't know who he is."
"Don't kid yourself Sandburg. If they want to find him, they will."
Blair sighed. "I was afraid you were going to say that."
The two rode up to the tenth floor in silence. Sandburg could almost hear the gears working in his partner's mind from where he stood. They had a dead body and a list of suspects that nearly matched the population of Cascade. It wasn't going to be easy. Add on to that, the fact that a young boy, they were both fond of, stood at the middle of it all and the grisly murder became that much more nightmarish. No one knew better than a cop just how dangerous the whole situation was. Blair imagined that Simon was going to chew through a lot of cigars before this one was over. He looked up as the bell announced the floor. Jim was staring at him.
"You're being awfully quiet Chief." Ellison's forehead creased with concern. "Something bothering you?"
"This whole thing is bothering me, Jim. Daryl's just a kid. How's he going to handle it all?" He stepped from the car. "He was so scared, man. I'd hate to see it change him."
The detective followed the younger man down the hall to Simon's apartment, struck by the familiarity of Blair's words. He had often worried about the effects of some of the horrors his friend had been witness to, if they might one day change his Guide. He draped an arm around the anthropologist's shoulders.
"With friends who care, he'll get through it. We'll just make sure of that."
Simon stood waiting for them at the door to his apartment. He looked tired as he ushered them in.
"What did you find? Was there a body?" He kept his voice low.
Ellison nodded grimly. "Gary Harper."
Banks' eyes squeezed shut. "Shit. You mean this was a hit, not just some random murder." He looked to the room where his son slept. "You know what this means don't you?"
Ellison just nodded but Blair needed some explaining. "No, I don't know. What are you two talking about?" He turned to his partner for an answer.
"We're going to have to put Daryl somewhere safe. Whoever commissioned the hit is not going to want to leave a witness walking around. And that means he's going to have to stay hidden until we can solve this thing."
Simon groaned. "His mother's going to love this. She already thinks that I'm somehow responsible. Just wait until she finds out that she can't be with her son." He rubbed his tired eyes. "And how do I explain this to Daryl without sending him into a panic?"
Blair leaned back into the couch, his eyes going from one man to the other. "Shit," he sighed. "And when this comes to trial?"
Jim nodded sadly, "Daryl will have to testify."
"But," Blair argued, "no one even knows he saw anything except us. Can't we at least spare him the ordeal of having to testify?"
"God help me." Simon's voice shook. "That thought crossed my mind too. But we can't do that. Not just because we're sworn officers of the law and are required by duty to follow the rules. If keeping quiet meant keeping my son safe, you know what you could do with the rules." He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "But how can I order around the clock surveillance for Daryl without admitting what's happened? And like it or not, he's going to need the protection. Two professional killers know what my son saw."
Simon got up to use the phone. "I'm going to call in a couple of favours for the weekend. I'll keep Daryl here with me. I can get a couple of men I trust to help me keep an eye on this place." He paused before punching in a number. "Find these guys, Jim."
"We will, sir. We'll check back with you later, Simon." He and Sandburg headed for the door.
Banks put down the phone. "Sandburg...Blair, wait." He walked over and gave the surprised man a quick hug. "Daryl told me some about what happened today. Thank God you were there."
"I didn't really do much." He felt uncomfortable with the praise.
"You kept him sane, Blair. He told me how terrified he was and that as soon as he found you he knew he would be alright. You took care of him. He's home and he's safe. I don't know how I can ever thank you for that."
"You don't have to, really." He could feel the heat of his blush. "I'm just glad I was there."
Jim looked across the kitchen table at his friend. Sandburg seemed to be contemplating the piece of lettuce that was perched at the end of his fork. The kid was just too quiet.
"Okay Chief, out with it. What's bothering you? I know that you're upset about Daryl, but I get the feeling there's more to this."
Blair knew what Jim was talking about and considered lying, to evade the feelings that had suddenly surfaced. Thinking better of it, he decided to go with the truth. He chewed at the side of his mouth, trying to gauge just how much truth to go with. All of it. Jim would understand.
"Something just struck me today. It's probably always been there, but I guess I just didn't want to really look at it. A lot of feelings that I never let myself feel. At least not for a long time."
"Simon and Daryl, right?" Ellison could finally identify the look he had seen on his Guide's face when they were in Banks' office.
Sandburg's eyes widened and he grinned. "We're going to have to test a heightened sixth sense if you keep this up, Jim." He stared down at his dinner plate, pushing more lettuce around. "It was that obvious?"
"For me, it was."
Blair just nodded, keeping his head down. "I've always told myself that never having a dad wasn't a big deal. My life was always full of people. Naomi is a great mom. But, you know, it just wasn't the same. I remember seeing other kids and their dads and wondering what it would be like. And after a while, when I realized that was never going to happen for me, I stopped wondering and told myself it didn't matter." He raised his eyes to meet his friend's.
"But today?" Jim prodded.
"Today, seeing the two of them, it just brought it all home again. Weird, huh? I mean I'm way past needing a father. But it just reminded me of all the times when I was growing up that I needed someone that solid in my life." He smiled a melancholy smile. "As much as I love my Mom, solid isn't really a word I could ever use to describe her. But she did her best." He shrugged his shoulders and took a deep breath. "That's it."
"I thought that might have been it. I wish I knew what I could say or do to help, Chief. I know that it must hurt at times." It wasn't often that Blair shared his innermost thoughts. Jim wanted to show him the right amount of sympathy without it sounding like pity.
"Hey, you do plenty man." Blair grinned. "That's probably why I even let myself think about this now. I felt like I could. Like I said, I don't need a dad, but having a big brother and Blessed Protector is great. I guess I'm just feeling a little off because of all of this stuff with Daryl." He got up and brought his plate to the sink. "Thanks for listening, Jim. I gotta get going."
Ellison stayed sitting at the table long minutes after Sandburg had left for his date. The remark had been so fleeting that he had almost missed it. Brothers. He liked the sound of that. Grinning, he started to clear away the dinner dishes. Brothers.
Joel Taggert shifted his weight from one foot to the other, patiently waiting for one of the men to get off the phone. It was early Saturday morning and he looked like he hadn't slept. Or if he had, it was in the clothes he was still wearing.
Blair was first to put down the phone. He smiled up at the rumpled captain. "Good morning. Out partying last night?" He raised an eyebrow.
Taggert laughed. "All nighters are long gone, kid. No, I spent the night at Simon's on the couch."
The playfulness left Blair's face. "How's Daryl? Did he manage to sleep at all? He was really out of it last night when I was there."
"Doc must have given him something to sleep. He slept right through. Wish he had given something to Simon. The man talked my ear off all night. Poor guy needed the release. With everything that happened to Daryl and then the huge blowout he had with Joan." Joel suddenly looked guilty. "Ah, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that."
"It's okay, the captain told us he expected as much when he called his ex-wife."
Ellison had finished his conversation and sat grinning at Taggert's dishevelled appearance. "Out partying last night, Joel?"
Both Sandburg and Taggert laughed. "I just asked him that Jim!"
Joel snorted. "You two spend way too much time together. And to answer you both, no, no party. The only reason I'm here is to offer you my help. Is there something I can do?"
Jim thought a second before replying. "After you get some sleep maybe you could run the mug books out to Simon. Who knows, maybe the guys are locals and we have them on record. It would make life easier if that were the case."
"Sounds like a good plan." The explosives expert stifled a yawn. "I'll do it as soon as I shower and change. What will you two be up to? I know that Simon is going to ask."
"The only thing we can do right now. We're checking on known acquaintances of Harper and seeing if we can dig up a little dirt. With any luck this is a retaliation murder. Somebody's bound to know about it. So far though, not too many people on the street even know he's dead. If this was a hit, it was a very quiet one."
Joel nodded. "Sounds like you've got it covered. If you need help running down any of those leads, just let me know. I think Simon wants to keep this as quiet as possible for as long as he can. Can't blame him. He's just trying to protect his son." He looked at Blair. "Nice work yesterday, Sandburg. Banks couldn't say enough about what you did."
Ellison took a drink of coffee before growling, "Don't let it go to your head Sandburg. Once the shock wears off, I'm sure the captain will come to his senses." But he couldn't hold the scowl and his face broke into a grin.
The younger man held up both hands. "Hey, I have no delusions. I'm just going to enjoy this while I can."
Monday morning came with no developments in the case. None of the people contacted could come up with any motive for the murder. Ellison swore that if they had to go by what they heard, Gary Harper would have been next in line for the Nobel Peace Prize, if someone hadn't gotten it into his head to slit his throat. The lack of leads and the apparent willingness of Harper's associates to "help" only made the knot in the Sentinel's stomach grow tighter. The aroma of maple syrup, melting on the stack of pancakes that sat in front of him, had smelled so enticing moments earlier. But the more he thought about Harper's murder and what it could mean for both Daryl and Simon, the less appealing breakfast became.
"They're hiding something. Which means that there is definitely some power at play here. It sounds like everyone's been told to cooperate and say nothing."
"No kidding," Sandburg mumbled through a mouthful of pancake.
"So what do you think, Blair, are you going to be able to make it to the station today? I could really use your help." He hated to put pressure on his Guide, but he wanted to return, once again, to the crime scene. It would be his fourth stab at it. He just couldn't accept that there was nothing there for him to pick up on.
"You couldn't keep me out of this one if you tried, Jim. I'll be able to make it there by noon. Is that okay? I have to be at the U. for a meeting and a lecture this morning but I can reschedule my office hours for later in the week."
The meeting dragged. Sandburg couldn't wait to get out of there. He checked his watch against the wall clock for the twentieth time. He couldn't believe time could move so slowly. One of the teaching associates was droning on about the possible funding of an expedition to South America. He was startled to hear his name mentioned and looked at the speaker.
"I said, Mr. Sandburg, that you have some experience with the primitive areas of Peru and that perhaps you might be interested in the offer if we get the necessary funding."
"Oh, yes. It sounds great. I'd like to hear about it when things seem a little more definite." He hoped he sounded enthused and hadn't offended the man. His eyes strayed to the clock one more time. "I'm sorry but I'm going to have to excuse myself. I have an appointment scheduled and I don't want to keep them waiting. Thank you for including me in this Don, it sounds like a real opportunity." He gathered up his notebook and left.
Ooooh, I'm going to pay for that one, Sandburg thought as he jogged towards his office. He hadn't missed the annoyance in his colleague's face. Blair didn't think he would be getting any offers to go to Peru in the near future. He quickly dumped his books into his office and grabbed his flannel jacket. If traffic was kind, he'd be able to make it to the station a little after noon. He had been forced to park in the more remote parking lot that morning. With everyone turning up for the meeting, the small staff section near the anthropology building had been full by the time he got there. He spotted the shuttle to the parking area and waved it down.
Jim was surprised to see Simon in his office. He had expected his captain to be with his son. He rapped gently on the door before entering.
"Simon? How's Daryl?" He saw the redness around his captain's eyes and the tight line of his mouth.
"He's okay Jim. He's in giving his statement. Brown's taking it. We're still not making this official, but I thought I should have it on record. I'll just keep it in my desk until we need it." Banks sighed and rubbed at his temples. "He had a rough weekend. I told him about putting him into protective custody. He seemed to handle it really well. And then I found him huddled in a corner of the bathroom, crying." Simon hung his head down and massaged the tight muscles in his neck. "He is so scared Jim. And to be honest, so am I."
Ellison didn't know what to say. He knew he couldn't give his captain empty assurances about his son's safety. They had both seen too many witnesses disappear from supposedly safe houses. But if he couldn't give the man assurances, he could give him his word.
"I promise you, we'll find out who's behind this, Simon. We're all doing our best to make sure Daryl stays safe."
Banks sat back in his chair and stared out the window. "I know you are. And trust me, that knowledge is the only thing that is keeping me together right now. Daryl couldn't be anywhere safer than here in Cascade with us."
"Hey Blair!" Sandburg had left the shuttle bus and was heading for his car. He stopped to look to see who had called him. As he turned in the direction of the voice, an arm snaked around his neck from behind, choking him. He struggled to free himself when a fist pounded into his back. He gasped out in pain and felt himself being dragged into the trees that surrounded the lot. When they were well hidden, the arm loosened enough for him to breathe. But it still held him secure.
"What do you want?" The question came out in a painful wheeze. He still hadn't seen his attacker.
"I want the name of the kid. That's what I want." The breath that hit his face was hot and reeked of cigarettes, coffee and something rotting. Blair turned away from the smell.
"What kid?" Another punch to his lower back. This time harder.
"I don't have time for the games, Blair." His name was sneered. "The kid you helped on Friday."
"I don't know what you're talking about." He braced himself for another attack on his back and wasn't disappointed. It was followed by an ominous click and a switchblade was flashed in front of his face.
"Take a good look at this, 'cause the next time I get a stupid answer, it ain't gonna be my fist going into your back. Understand?"
Blair nodded, his mind racing for something to say to appease his attacker. He wouldn't give up Daryl, he knew that. But he didn't want to die, either.
"So let's try this again. What's the kid's name?"
Another voice spoke, startling Sandburg. He had been certain there was only the one. "Just cut 'im. It'll make 'im talk quicker." Blair caught the hint of an accent. It sounded a lot like one of his old friends from the east. New York? Brooklyn?
"Maybe my buddy's right. Maybe I should help you remember. Whaddya say, Blair?" The arm around his neck tightened, forcing him to gasp.
This time the fist that slammed into him brought him to his knees. He wasn't sure the spot could take much more abuse. He thought he tasted blood. A hand roughly pushed him to lie flat on his stomach, knocking the air from his lungs. As he tried to breathe in some air, he gagged. The foul stench of that breath was overpowering as the man leaned to whisper in his ear.
"I'm going to do just a little carving. You can scream all you like, there ain't nobody around. But while you're doin' that, try to remember the kid's name."
Blair felt his shirt and jacket being pulled up across his shoulders. He shivered against the cold breeze.
"Hold still now. You don't want me to cut too deep, do ya?" Blair just closed his eyes and waited.
"C'mon." New York sounded exasperated. "Just do it. We gotta get outta here before that bus comes back."
Blair felt the tip of the blade as it was dragged lightly across his back and then back again, this time going a little bit deeper. With each drag he felt it bite deeper into his skin. He clenched his jaw tight, not willing to give his attackers any satisfaction.
"Well, Blair? Thought of his name yet? And don't think you can lie to us, 'cause soon as you tell us, you're going to take us to him." He chuckled. "Last guy who lied to us isn't doing so well. But I guess you know all about that now, don't you."
With the last word the blade dug deep. Sandburg cried out as he felt his blood running down his side, leaving warm tracks on his cold skin.
"Talk to us, Blair." The knife ran lightly up his back and then was forced deeper once again. "Hmmm, you're startin' to lose a lot of blood here buddy. I don't think you wanna hold out on us much longer."
He knew they were going to kill him regardless of what he said. He stayed silent, hoping that the loss of blood would let him pass out soon. His back was on fire and he was finding it harder to concentrate.
New York spoke again. "Damn, someone's comin' this way."
Blair heard that and yelled out with all the strength he had left. A fist smashed into his cheek and foul breath warmed his ear.
"We're not finished yet. You've got a little secret to tell us. We'll be seeing ya."
Sandburg rolled over onto his side as he heard the two men run away. Through a grey haze he saw people running toward him. He wondered if it was too little too late as he lost consciousness.
"Ellison. Major Crimes."
"Detective Ellison, I'm glad you're there. My name's David Richards. I'm a student in Mr. Sandburg's class. He's been hurt." The man sounded winded, as if he'd been running.
"What happened David? Where are you?"
"I'm here at Ranier. The ambulance just left. Mr. Sandburg wanted to make sure that someone called you. He was pretty much in and out of it. It looked pretty bad. There was a lot of blood."
" Blood? What are you saying? He didn't have an accident?"
"No, he was attacked. There were two of them. It happened in the parking lot. Some of the guys and I were just going to catch the shuttle bus when we saw them running away. We didn't really get a good look at them."
"David, I want you and anyone else that saw these two men to come down and give a statement. Did they say which hospital?"
"General. And I'll make sure we all go down to the station."
Ellison grabbed his jacket and ran for the garage. He would probably make it to the hospital before the ambulance did.
Jim paced in front of the Emergency doors waiting for the ambulance. His heart was pounding so loudly that he barely heard the sirens as it approached. He watched as the stretcher was lifted from the back of the truck and tried to see through the mass of bodies that stood around his friend. He caught a flash of red and moaned out loud as Blair was wheeled by him. His partner lay on his stomach with pressure bandages covering his back. These had soaked through.
Ellison followed them closely down the corridor to the examination areas, focusing to hear what they were saying. A paramedic was talking quickly to one of the ER doctors.
"He's lost too much blood. He was already in shock when we got there. We started an IV to get his fluid levels back up. Lost him on the way here though."
Jim's heart stopped.
"But he came back on his own. The kid's definitely a fighter."
They wheeled the stretcher into one of the examination cubicles and Ellison automatically followed. A nurse stood her ground, holding him back with a firm grip on his arm.
"Detective Ellison? You're going to have to wait out here. I'll keep you informed. I promise."
Jim looked down to see the nurse that had been on duty the night Blair had been overdosed with Golden. She had come in often throughout that long night to check on them both.
"Please, I just want to see him."
"You know you can't do that." She smiled at him sadly. She remembered that night too. Remembered being touched by the depth of concern Ellison had for his friend. "Just let them do their job." She saw resignation in those blue eyes and gave the detective's arm a reassuring squeeze. "He's going to be alright. They're very good at what they do." She stepped back through the curtains.
The Sentinel remained outside the cubicle, listening.
Jim stood leaning against the wall opposite to where his Guide lay bleeding. He listened as doctors barked out orders, hearing the tenseness in their voices. It seemed to go on for hours. Checking his watch, he found that it had only been twenty minutes since they had wheeled Blair in. He ran a hand over his face. Twenty minutes, with each minute driving a cold shaft of ice deeper into his gut. He knew that Blair was alive, could hear the slow beating of his heart. Slow but steady. But the medics words had frightened him. They had lost him. Ellison slid down the wall to sit on the cold tile floor. Keeping part of his mind focused on the beating of his friend's heart, he did something he couldn't remember doing in a long time. Maybe he never had done it. He prayed.
A hand shook him roughly. "Detective?" The voice sounded concerned. "Detective, can you hear me?"
Ellison found himself still sitting on the floor in Emergency. He had zoned out. He snapped to alertness and was immediately on his feet, almost toppling the doctor as he did so.
"Blair. Is he going to be okay?" He looked past the doctor into the small cubicle. "Can I see him now?"
"He's going to be just fine." The doctor assured him. "We had to do a little stitching here and there and he's been given some whole blood. He was dangerously close to bleeding to death. Those students found him none too soon." He sighed. "I don't know the last time I saw such a sadistic attack. Whoever did this wanted to inflict a lot of pain."
"Is there any permanent damage?" Jim was almost afraid to listen to the answer.
The doctor smiled. "No surprisingly enough, there isn't . Except for a few puncture wounds and deep cuts that needed stitching, the damage was minimal. He's going to be in some pain, his whole back will be quite sensitive for a few days. But we can control that with mild painkillers. He's also got some deep bruising in the kidney area. Took a lot of punches. We checked for any internal bleeding, there was a trace of it, but nothing to worry about. It'll heal. He's got a nasty gash on his cheek. Looks like a ring may have done that. Hard to say." He saw the look on the detective's face. "I know it sounds like a long list. But he's going to be just fine. Once he's finished with the last transfusion and we get his blood pressure up to a healthy standard, he can go home. He's a little sleepy right now, but why don't you go on in to see him."
Jim didn't need any urging and was through the curtains before the doctor had finished speaking. He stepped quietly up to the bed, Blair seemed to be asleep. His partner's face was so pale, the deep brown of his hair accentuating the pallor. There were traces of pain, leaving dark semi-circles of colour under his eyes. He looked exhausted.
Leaning against the bedrail, watching his partner sleep, the reality of what the doctor had told him sank deeper. He could have lost his best friend. He had almost bled to death, alone, in some damn parking lot. Every emotion he had kept bottled up, while waiting out in the hallway, suddenly surged forward. The anxiety that he had felt, and the fear of not knowing, formed a hard ball in his chest. He sighed and closed his eyes as he thought about how fragile the spark of life really was.
"Don't start writing the eulogy yet, Jim. The doctors say I'm gonna live." The voice was weak and the blue eyes still hazy from pain and sedatives, but the slightly crooked grin was all Sandburg.
Ellison couldn't trust himself to speak and only nodded. He could feel tears of relief threaten.
"Jim? You okay?" Blair had laid his hand on his friend's arm. It was cold and Jim covered it with his own.
"Yeah, I'm okay." He smiled. "Now." He studied the younger man's face, deciding whether or not to ask what had happened. He looked too tired and worn out, the questions could wait.
"It's okay, you can ask me." Sandburg was fairly sure he knew what the pensive look on his friend's face was all about. "The attack, it was about Harper's murder. They know I know about..." He was afraid to say Daryl's name aloud. "The witness. They wanted me to name him."
"How? How could they know about you and not...?"
"He called out my name in the hallway, Jim. I didn't even remember that until they grabbed me." A twinge in his back made him wince. "I don't think they know my full name. The one with the knife just kept calling me Blair."
"Did you get a good look at them Chief? Do you think you could pick them out of a line up?"
Blair took in a deep breath, wincing again at the sharp pain. "I didn't see them. They were always behind me. I wanted to. I tried to look. I thought if I could identify them then it would take some of the heat off of ..." His fist pounded the bed in frustration and looked away. "But they had me pinned down. I couldn't move."
"Hey." Ellison cupped his hand around the back of his partner's neck, forcing Blair to look at him. "It's a good thing you didn't see them. Don't beat yourself up about this. If you had, the last thing they would have done was let you live. They weren't going to leave two witnesses."
"I know, I know. Just not thinking straight yet, I guess." He sighed and was silent, debating if he should bring something up. "You haven't asked me."
Jim looked puzzled. "Haven't asked you what, Chief?"
Blair's voice was quiet. "If I told them. You haven't asked me."
"I don't have to, Sandburg." His hand moved up from his Guide's neck to his cheek, carefully avoiding the angry red cut, he smiled. "I know you."
The detective was forced out of the examining room when a doctor returned to check on his partner. After listening in and hearing the doctor confirm what he already knew, that Blair was definitely going to be alright, he went to find a phone and call Simon.
"We have a problem, sir. It has to do with Harper. Can you meet me at the loft in about an hour? I should be back there by then." He had heard his friend's curse when he mentioned Harper.
"Can't you tell me what this is all about, Jim? I don't know that I can take many more surprises." Banks sounded tired. "I'll be bringing Daryl with me. I'm not ready to let him out of my sight yet."
Ellison knew his captain was not going to like what he had to say and braced himself for the argument. "I don't want you to do that, sir. Let him stay there, you have enough people you can trust."
"Listen Ellison, that is not acceptable, he's coming with me." Jim could picture Simon sitting at his desk, the cigar clenched angrily between his teeth. "That's all we're going to say on the matter."
"Trust me here, sir. You know I wouldn't insist if I didn't think it was important. It is not a good idea." He waited, hoping Simon would see it his way.
"Alright, dammit, I'll trust you." Banks' tone was threatening. "Just know that if anything, anything happens while I'm away from him, it's your head."
"I understand that sir," he sighed with relief. "And thank you."
"An hour then. And where the hell are you calling me from? What's all that noise in the background?"
Jim spotted the doctor leaving Blair's room. "The hospital. I've got to go. I'll see you in an hour." He hung up before he heard a goodbye and chased after the man, calling him to get his attention.
"Ah, Detective Ellison. Mr. Sandburg seems to be doing quite well. I don't see any reason why he can't be taken home. His blood pressure is at the low end of normal, but that will improve with time and rest. He's very anxious to get out of here, " the doctor chuckled. "It will take a few minutes to get the paperwork in order and I thought that, in the meantime, you might want to see about getting him a shirt or sweater to wear. I'm afraid the one he was wearing was destroyed when we had to cut it off him."
"I'll do that. Is there anything that I need to know? Medication? Special orders? You better tell me, he won't."
"I'm going to fill a prescription for him for painkillers. He only needs to take them if he wants to. Everyone handles pain in their own way and Blair was telling me about some herbal remedies he'd like to try. That's perfectly fine, but I'll send these along...just in case. As for special instructions. Just not to get the stitches wet and he has to return in a week or so to get then out. And that's it." He turned to leave. "Come back for him in about ten minutes, he should be ready to leave."
Simon sighed, for what seemed like the thousandth time since the whole thing began. "Daryl, please listen. You will be perfectly safe here. Joel's going to stay with you every minute while I'm gone. And I won't be gone that long."
"But why can't I go with you, Dad? I don't want to stay here by myself." Daryl looked nervously around the room. "I won't get in the way. I'll do everything you tell me to." He fixed his father with pleading eyes. "Please Dad."
Banks hated Ellison at that moment. "You can't Daryl. You have to trust me on this. If I thought it was safe for you to be there, then you would be coming with me."
Daryl was on his feet and holding tightly onto Simon's suit jacket. "If it's not safe, don't go!" The police captain could have kicked himself. Just add a little more anxiety for the kid, Banks.
"It's going to be okay Daryl, Jim's going to meet me. It'll be fine." He hugged his son to him. "Now I better go. The sooner I leave, the sooner I'm back. You just do everything Joel tells you." He looked over to where Taggert sat.
"Don't worry Simon. We'll be just fine. I'm going to teach Daryl how to diffuse a bomb." Joel laughed.
Daryl pulled away from his father and stared at the other man, trying to decide if he was joking. "Really?"
Taggert nodded. "Really." He pointed a thumb at the door. "Let's move."
Daryl took a step and then stopped to look at his father. "You'll be careful? And you'll come and get me as soon as you get back?"
Simon smiled. "Yes to both questions."
"Okay then." He turned and left with Taggert.
"This had damn well better be important, Ellison, " he growled to an empty room.
Banks waited impatiently at the door to the loft, his anger growing by the minute. Finally the door opened and he was greeted by Blair.
"Hi Captain. C'mon in." Sandburg stepped back to let the man pass.
Simon just nodded curtly and made his way to the living room. He stopped in mid-step and turned to look at Sandburg. "What happened to your face?" And then he remembered Jim saying he had called from the hospital. "Are you alright?" He looked harder at the young man, noticing his face looked pale and drawn. "No, you're not, are you?"
"I'm okay." Blair smiled. "Really." He went to the stove to take the steaming kettle from it. "I was just going to make myself a cup of tea. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Beer?"
"Some answers would be good, Sandburg. Where's your partner? He said he wanted to talk to me about the Harper murder. And I got the impression he didn't want to do it over the phone."
"He'll be back in a minute." His hand shook as he lifted the kettle. Simon was beside him, taking it from him.
"Here, let me do that before you burn yourself. Go sit down." He frowned. "Looks like lie down might be a better idea." He poured some of the steaming water over the tea in the pot and glanced back at the anthropologist. Blair had accepted the help without a fuss and was being uncharacteristically quiet. "What happened, Sandburg?" He set the tea down on the table.
"The two men who Daryl saw...they tracked me down at the university. I guess they must have heard Daryl call out my name. I didn't remember him doing that." He looked at his hands and wished they would stop shaking. He wasn't really sure he had the strength to tell the whole story.
Simon slowly sat down across from Blair. "Go on, son." He poured some tea into a mug and pushed it across the table to Sandburg.
Blair sighed. "I was going to my car. I had promised I would help Jim this afternoon. We had a few leads to follow up on." He breathed in deeply. I don't want to talk about this Simon. "I had to park in the lot that is at the far end of campus and it was deserted. They were waiting for me. They must have been following me all morning, waiting for the right spot." He looked up at Simon, hoping that he would tell him to stop. But the captain just nodded for him to continue. "They grabbed me from behind. I never saw them. And then...."
"And then they beat him and pretty much tortured him. Heard enough Simon?" Jim's voice was ice. He walked over to the table and rested a hand on Blair's shoulder. "How you doing, Chief?"
"I'm okay. Just tired. Since you're here now, I'm going to lie down for a while." Sandburg got up carefully from the chair. "Jim will tell you the rest."
Ellison watched as his friend walked to his room, closing the doors behind him. Forcing himself to relax, he turned back to his captain. He took the chair Blair had just vacated and continued. "They wanted him to tell them about Daryl of course. One of them used a knife. I still haven't seen what they did. I only know what the doctor told me. The kid came really close to bleeding to death. Some students interrupted them, thank God."
"What did he tell them, Jim?" He hated asking it but needed to hear the answer.
"Nothing Simon. He didn't tell them anything." Ellison held his hand over the steam of the untouched tea, watching it, as it rose between his fingers. "He was going to let them kill him."
"My lord." Simon put his glasses on the table and massaged his temples. "That does it. We've got to get him, and Daryl, somewhere safe."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Blair's fairly certain they don't know his last name, but that's not going to be too hard to find out. They'll go after him again. Or somehow they'll make the connection between him and Daryl. That's why I didn't want you to bring Daryl. If they have found out where Blair lives, you might have walked right into it." He got up and put the cup and teapot into the sink. "I didn't want to leave him, but I knew you were on your way...He went to lean against the kitchen counter. "And," he smiled, "I think we may finally have a solid lead." One of the phone calls he had made earlier in the day had paid off. "A friend of Harper's knew about his meeting with those two men at the coffee shop. He also dropped a very interesting name."
Assistant District Attorney Bentley listened, his smile growing wider as each detail of the murder was revealed. "This is great. We actually have Patrick...Thomas...Murphy. Caught with his hands dirty." He clapped his own hands, rubbing them together. "Tell me that I haven't misunderstood Detective Ellison."
"No sir. We've learned that Murphy and Harper had a parting of the ways. Harper had made some contacts in Philadelphia and was planning to move Murphy out. Seems Murphy got wind of it and called in some family from New York. He had Harper removed."
"And we have witnesses that can testify to this?" He turned to Banks. "Your son is involved somehow?"
"My son saw the two men who murdered Harper as they came out of an alley. He saw them take Harper in. So yes, he's very involved. The men saw him too."
The ADA swiveled back to Ellison. "And how does your partner fit into all of this?"
"They know Sandburg helped Daryl and tried to get him to name Daryl. They didn't succeed but promised they would try again."
Bentley nodded and reached for the phone. "Grace? Could you come in here a minute, please?" The door opened almost immediately. "Grace, I need a list of available safehouses. Can you track that down for me?" After the young woman had left, he leaned forward and folded his arms on his desk. "So? When do I finally get the chance to nail that smug son of a bitch in court?" Ellison could never remember seeing a smile as predatory as the one that attorney wore.
Banks cleared his throat. "There is one small hitch."
Bentley rolled his eyes and rested his forehead on his arms. "I knew it." The words were muffled. He looked up at them. "All right, what's the hitch?"
"The man that knows about Murphy contracting the hit is in custody right now. In New York. He's connected to the same family as Murphy. From what I can tell he's cutting a deal with New York and is going to testify there."
The ADA smiled. "That's it? That's not a problem. I'll contact my pals in New York. I'm sure we can arrange something that will suit us both. After all, it seems we're after the same fish." A quiet knock interrupted them. Grace crossed the room and put a folder on his desk. Bentley looked up at her, raising an eyebrow. "That's an awfully thin folder Grace."
"Don't worry, there are a couple of good ones in there." She smiled warmly at Ellison as she left.
Bentley flipped open the file. "Alright gentlemen, let's see what the city of Cascade has to offer."
Blair stood in the middle of his room, looking at his suitcase. It sat empty on a chair. He had a sweater in his hand, but didn't look certain of what to do with it. Jim's hand reached around from behind him and gently took the piece of clothing.
"Blair, you okay? Need some help packing?" The detective neatly folded the sweater and put it in the suitcase. He turned at his friend's sigh.
"I'm sorry Jim." Blair went to sit on the edge of his bed. "I'm just so tired. I can't think." His whole body shook with the fatigue. "You can just leave that. I'll do it later. I just wanna lie down for a while."
"Okay, we can do this in the morning." Ellison walked over to his partner and pulled back the blankets on the bed. "Into bed with you then, Chief. We don't have to get an early start tomorrow, so you can sleep in."
Blair nodded and tried to pull his sweatshirt off. His back had stiffened and reaching over his head was impossible. He looked at his friend, apologetically. "I can't. I need some help." He leaned forward so Jim could easily peel the top off of him.
Jim took the edge of the sweatshirt in his hands and carefully pulled it up and over his friend's back. Each inch revealed the horrible slashes that crossed Blair's back. He could feel the heat pouring off them. He bit back the curse that came to his lips. Pulling the shirt over the younger man's head and down his arms, he found himself staring into painfilled eyes.
"Oh God. Blair, I am so sorry." He reached out tentatively to hold him, not knowing how to do it without causing him more pain. His friend looked so tired. "I...I don't want to hurt you."
"You couldn't." He swallowed back tears as he felt Jim's arms go around his shoulders. The horror of the day had been slowly catching up with him. It was as if he had spent it in a nightmare. Now he could take some strength from his friend and allow himself to deal with it.
Jim heard the first soft cry and held his friend closer. Blair's hands grabbed hold of his shirt. Ellison could feel his partner's fists pound against his back, as Blair fought against the tears. "Let it out, Chief. Don't hold it back." Agony filled sobs followed and Jim could feel the moisture of Blair's tears against his shoulder. He moved his hand up to cradle his friend's head, knowing his own tears weren't far behind. He had pushed the fear of nearly losing his best friend away, knowing he would have to face it eventually. But now, Blair was his only concern. Helping him was all that mattered.
Daryl was quiet. He sat in the back seat of a towncar with smoked grey windows. His father sat next to him.
"Dad?" He stared out the window. "This is scary. Why can't I just stay with you, like I have been?"
"You'll be safer this way, son. And I'll see you every day. This won't be too bad. You'll see."
The teenager sighed, not quite convinced. "Why aren't you going to be staying here with me all the time?" He shivered as they pulled into a garage and heard the garage door automatically close behind him. "I don't like this, Dad."
Simon tried to reassure the boy with a smile. "C'mon, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. You won't be stuck here with just cops to keep you company." Almost as if on cue, the door next to Daryl opened and Sandburg leaned into the car.
"Hey Daryl! Glad to see you, man. Thought I was going to have to spend all my time with Jim." He smirked. He stepped back to let Daryl out of the car. "You should see the set up they've got in there."
"Blair!" The younger Banks was out of the car and throwing a bear hug around Sandburg before his father could stop him. Simon saw Blair wince at the pressure on his back. "Nobody told me that you were going to be staying with me!"
"Couldn't leave you with a bunch of grim cops. That would be cruel and unusual punishment."
"Who's grim?" Ellison stood at the door to the house and answered Simon's questioning look. "Everything's secure, sir."
Blair and Daryl went into the house, with Blair rhyming off its selling features. Banks watched the two of them and smiled. It might just work out after all. Jim would protect his son's life, Sandburg would guard his son's emotional well being. He had a Sentinel and Guide looking out for his son.
P.T. Murphy's mood was as black as the Cascade evening. "Just what am I paying you boys for? It was only supposed to be a simple hit. You two came highly recommended." The Irish was brogue more pronounced in his anger. He spun a letter opener in his fingers. "Let me fill you in on some things that have come to my attention. First. The boy who witnessed the murder is the son of the captain of Major Crimes. And second. The man you roughed up a couple of days ago is the partner of a police detective." He got up and went to the bar that stood in the corner of his office.
"And, just to make it a little more interesting, the district attorney is very close to swearing out a warrant for my arrest." He folded his arms across his chest. "Now, I'm sure that you both remember the warning I gave you. If I go down, you go down." He poured three glasses of Irish Whiskey and placed them on a tray. "So I think it is in our mutual interest to speed things up a bit." He offered the drinks to the two men. "My source in the D.A's office has told me that our two witnesses are holed up somewhere in a safehouse. It's time to make them disappear. And then I can pay you your fee and you can retire to someplace warm for a while." He smiled down at the two men. "Shall we drink on it then?"
Both men nodded and swallowed the liquid. "Do you have the address of the safehouse?" New York asked.
"No. Unfortunately I don't. That will be up to you to find out. And don't go trying anything so obvious as beating it out of the boy's father or that cop. It won't work. You need to persuade someone that doesn't have such a close emotional tie."
"You mean we should...." New York began. But Murphy held up a hand to stop him.
"Surprise me. Do whatever you have to do, and do it quickly." He checked his watch. "I'm sorry gentlemen but I have a dinner engagement. Let me know when you have the location of the house. And don't do anything about the witnesses until you've talked to me first. Now, goodnight."
Daryl sat comfortably on the couch between Ellison and Sandburg, a bowl of popcorn on his lap. "Oh, this part is so cool! I love it when they go through the security x-ray." Total Recall had been the unanimous choice of the three.
Blair chuckled, "I like the part at the end when they get tossed out into the atmosphere. Gross"
Ellison sighed. "Do you two mind? I haven't seen this one yet." He glared at them and then laughed when they both said "Sorry, Jim" in unison. "Can you put it on pause for a minute? I want to take a look around."
Blair reached for the remote. "Want some help? I need to stretch my legs too." He started to get up.
"No that's okay Chief. I think Joel and I can handle it. I should relieve him anyway. Why don't you two just finish the movie. I can watch it later." Jim hadn't missed the return of the dark circles under his partner's eyes. The kid needed rest, both kids, Ellison smiled to himself as he left the room.
"Okay, Jim." Blair called after him, too tired to argue. "Just yell if you need me." He turned to Daryl. "You wanna watch the rest of this now or tomorrow with Jim? It's getting late."
The teen tried to keep his fear from his friend. "I'm not tired. I'll watch the rest of it now. I'm not sleepy." He could tell from the look on Sandburg's face that he had seen right through him.
"You're safe here Daryl. You know that, right?" He saw the boy nod. "Jim and I, and Joel, aren't going to let anything happen to you." He smiled. "It's not working is it? Tell you what. Get me a pillow and a blanket. You can stay up and watch movies all night and I'll sleep on the couch and keep you company."
The relief on Daryl's face was evident. "Thanks Blair." He dropped the bowl of popcorn into the anthropologist's lap and ran to the other room. "I'll be right back."
Blair grinned and caught the piece of popcorn, he had tossed into the air, with his mouth. It was good to have someone to worry about. It helped him take his mind off of his back and his attackers' threat.
Jim went to stand beside Taggert in the front room of the small house. "Bucci checked in yet?" He stretched tired muscles. He could see the other officer sitting in an unmarked car a couple of houses down.
"Yeah, just. How're the kids doing?" He took a sip from an ice cold cup of coffee and grimaced. "Did you tell Daryl about Blair?"
Ellison shook his head no. "We both decided it would be best if Daryl just assumed Blair was here to help us look out for him. No need to add any extra pressure for the kid. And Blair was afraid that Daryl would feel guilty." He listened to the noises on the street. "He was already worried that he might have gotten Blair into trouble by going to him that night. Daryl did ask him about the cut on his face." Jim grinned. "Good thing Sandburg is such a good liar. He never missed a beat, told the kid one of his students was a little upset about a mark he had given him." He slapped Joel on the back. "Okay captain, time to call it a night. I'll wake you around 5:00. Sweet dreams."
He followed Taggert to the rear of the house, wanting to check on his partner and Daryl. He quietly peeked into the room. Daryl sat on the rug in front of the couch, leaning back against the cushions, his eyes glued to the television set. Blair was sound asleep behind him, one hand resting on the teen's shoulder.
Simon Banks stood at the fax machine, watching as the information slowly came across. NYPD had finally managed to match the descriptions of the two men with names from their files. Rafferty and Murdoch. The captain shuddered as he read the long sheets that accompanied the pictures. Two very sick killers and they were after his son. He went back to the phone and depressed the hold button.
"Okay Sandburg, I've got the information here. Now what do you want me to do with it?" He listened quietly as Blair explained how the captain could transmit the pictures. "Okay, got it. Now how exactly do I do that? I have to scan them? And then email them? Yeah, okay." He sighed and looked out at the bullpen. Now who would know about scanning? His eyes lit on the new guy, Henderson. He was always dropping hints to anyone that would listen about what a computer whiz he was. Now was his chance to prove it. He opened the door to the squad room and bellowed for Henderson.
Five minutes later, Simon was back on the phone to Sandburg. "Got it Blair. I'm sending it through now. Call me when you get it." Simon hit the send button, praying that they had the right men. They were getting closer.
Sandburg sat at his laptop waiting for the email message to arrive. Daryl sat beside him, staring at the screen, and Jim stood behind them both. The three of them had spent the last four days in hiding. The days had gone smoothly but both Blair and Ellison had noticed that Daryl became more withdrawn with each day. He missed his mother and father. Now he sat looking eagerly at the screen.
"So if it is those two guys, then that means you can find them. Right, Jim?" He looked at Jim, eyes wide with hope. "And then it'll be all over and I can go home." He slouched back in his chair. "All I wanted was that basketball card. I will never, never disobey my Mom and Dad again. I swear!"
Blair laughed to himself, but said nothing. He had made that silent promise to his mother too many times when he was growing up, to believe it. A metallic voice announced 'You have new mail'.
He glanced at the kid. "Are you ready Daryl? It may give you a jolt to see their faces again. I want to make sure you're prepared."
Daryl nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready." He swallowed nervously and felt Jim squeeze his shoulder. "Shouldn't we call my Dad?"
The detective handed him the phone. "Here you go, why don't you talk to him." Daryl smiled his thanks, took the phone and dialed.
"Hi Dad? We've got it. Blair's just opening it now. Hang on." The three sat quietly and watched as the faces took form on the screen. Jim could hear the shallow breathing and racing heart of the boy. It seemed to take forever for the pictures to download. Daryl gasped. "It's them, Dad! It's them!"
The two faces on the screen wore scowls that seemed threatening even in a virtual state. One man's mouth was open in a sneer and showed rotting teeth. Blair closed his eyes as he realized it had to be the one who had attacked him, thankful that he hadn't seen him that day. He was sure the face would now haunt him at night. Provided he would ever be able to sleep again, now that he had seen the man who had wielded the knife. He suddenly realized that Daryl was talking to him.
"This is great, Blair! Now my Dad can find them! It's going to be all over soon!" He jumped out of his chair. "I gotta go tell, Rafe!" He almost threw the phone at Jim, in his excitement.
"How you handling it, Chief?" Jim had sat down next to him, his conversation with Simon finished. "I know you warned Daryl about the jolt, but it must have been one for you too."
Blair gave him a weak smile. "Like you don't already know. My pulse go off the Richter scale? So will it be all over soon? You still have to track those guys down." Sandburg wished he could share the teenager's enthusiasm. He leaned his head into his hands. "I wish I could shake the feeling that everything was going to go very wrong before it's over."
Jim frowned. It wasn't like his partner to not see the up side. "You're just tired, Blair. Your Blessed Protector's here. What could go wrong?" He smiled, trying to lighten the mood.
His friend just looked at him and then sighed, "I really wish you hadn't said that." He saved the mail file to a disk and exited the program. "Whenever I think nothing could go wrong, that's usually when it falls apart." He snapped the lid closed on the laptop. "So what did Simon have to say?"
"Well everything stays pretty much the same here at our end. Simon's going to be putting out APB's on the two men and then is going over to the D.A's to see about getting arrest warrants for them. He wants to make sure he's got all the bases covered."
"And what about Murphy? I mean, he's the one who's really running this, isn't he?"
"The D.A's office in New York is working at getting a sworn statement from their informant. Bentley thinks that should be enough to bring Murphy in. By the time it hits the courts here, the trial in New York should be wrapping up. So soon as we get the statement, we take Murphy." Ellison noticed that his partner was looking pale again. "Chief, you feeling okay?"
"Sorry Jim, I don't mean to put a downer on all of this. I know this is the first real piece of news we've had to work on. I'm just tired. I want my life back." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "So, it's your turn to make supper. What's it going to be, big guy? And if you give in to Daryl and we have hamburgers again..."
Jim looked shocked. "But I thought you liked hamburgers?" He chuckled. "Okay, okay, I thought maybe stew, instead. We can use up some of the leftovers from a couple of days ago." He gently grabbed the back of Blair's head and gave it a shake. "It'll be over soon, Chief. You just have to hang in there." He stood up. "C'mon, you can help me clean the vegetables."
Assistant District Attorney Bentley looked up from the summation he was working on to check the time. His eyes blurred from the strain of overwork and he rubbed them for some relief. Blinking, he saw it was almost 11:00 p.m. With a tired sigh, he grabbed the mouse and backed out of the programs until he could shut down his computer. Getting up to stretch, he walked around the office, running his speech through his mind. He pictured the twelve jury members sitting before him.
The sound of a door closing in the outer office caught his attention. Security had just been up there and wasn't due to check back with him for another half hour. The attorney stopped and listened, hearing nothing.
"Just thinking too loud," he muttered to himself. He continued to pace around the room, practicing his summation speech. It had been an ugly rape trail that had been dragged out too long. He would be happy to see the end of it and felt confident that the victory would be his. Movement at his door stopped him again. From the shadows that showed beneath the door's rim, he could see that two people stood there. The building only employed one security guard. Panicking, he made a grab for the phone.
The door swung open and Bentley faced Rafferty and Murdoch. Rafferty grinned, his blackened teeth making the smile grotesque. He held up a locket and swung it out in front of him for Bentley to see. "Now I think you want to put down the phone. We have something very important to ask you."
Bentley thought he would be sick to his stomach. The locket belonged to his daughter. "What do you want? Where's my daughter?"
"She's safe and we'll let her go home, just as soon as you answer one little question." Rafferty stepped closer until he was almost standing toe to toe with the attorney. "Where are you hiding Daryl Banks?"
Bentley's heart sank. He had known as soon as the men entered the office what they wanted. He had almost toyed with the idea of playing the hero...until he saw the locket. He closed his eyes, his head down. He couldn't lie to himself. Or to them. He would sacrifice another man's son to save his daughter. There was no choice. He would die with that guilt.
"The file's in my briefcase." He went to reach for it, but Murdoch grabbed his arm.
"Just stay put. Gimme your keys, I'll open it." Murdoch held out a filthy hand.
Bentley's voice was emotionless. "I don't own a gun, if that's what you're worried about." He dropped the keys into the man's hand. The briefcase was soon snapped open.
"It's the green folder."
He heard Murdoch open the folder. The man's laugh was obscene. "It's here. We can go."
Rafferty smiled. "Thank you for cooperating. I suppose you would like the locket back, now?" He held it out to Bentley. "One last look before you die?"
The Assistant D.A. took the locket and opened it. His last breath was a sob. It wasn't his daughter's locket afterall, the inscription he had put inside was missing. His little girl was safe but Simon Banks' son was not.
The shrill ringing of the phone startled Banks awake. He automatically looked at the alarm clock. 11:40.
"Henderson, sir. I thought I better wake you. There's been a murder. It's the ADA."
"Bentley?" Simon's stomach rolled. The coincidence was just too much. "Tell me what you've got Henderson. Everything."
"It was a knife by the looks of it, sir. His briefcase is lying opened on the floor, it could have been robbery, but I doubt it. Lots of valuables not taken. It's either a grudge killing or the killer was looking for something."
Banks knew exactly what that something was. "Estimated time of death?"
He heard Henderson talking to someone else in the room. "Somewhere between 10:45 and 11:15 according to the security guard."
"Okay Henderson, you handle it from there. I'll talk to you later." He called dispatch, telling them to send every available unit to aid officers in need. His breath caught when dispatch reported that units were already on their way to the scene, answering a call of officer down.
"Blair, you look beat. Why don't you call it a night. I can do this myself."
"Let me help you, Jim. Now just relax. Start with your hearing. And let your sight follow if you find anything." Sentinel and Guide sat together in the living room. Blair almost sighed with relief. This was at least something normal. His life had been so upside down that every nerve felt raw. "Okay now, open up your hearing a little more. And a little more." He waited. "Everything as it should be?"
The detective's hand shot out to grab his partner's arm. "Shhh." He cocked his head, trying to identify the sound. Gun. Silencer. Three shots. "Shit." He used heightened sight to spot three men leaving the unmarked police car that stood at the end of the block. "Trouble Chief." He grabbed both of Blair's arms and held him firmly. "Now I want you to listen to me and do exactly as I say. There are three men. They've taken out the officer positioned up the street. I want you to get Daryl and stay in the bedroom he's been using. And put on those kevlar vests. Go wake Rafe and let him know what's going on. Tell him he's got to cover the back of the house."
"But Jim, what if...?"
Ellison's voice was stern. "There are no "what if's" Blair. Get your cell phone and call it in. Now get moving. They're almost here."
Blair looked miserable. "Just be careful and don't worry about Daryl. I'll look after him." Flipping open the cell phone, he went to wake Rafe. That taken care of, he went to where Daryl was sleeping.
He heard the first of the gunfire as he helped Daryl into the bulletproof vest. It was followed by the sound of glass breaking. Sandburg was dying inside. He wanted to see if Jim was alright but knew he couldn't leave Simon's son alone. If they got by Jim and Rafe, he knew he would never be able to stop them. But whatever happened, Daryl wouldn't be alone. Gunfire was now coming from the front and back of the house. Where the hell was that backup?
"Blair?" Daryl's voice was a hoarse whisper. "What're we going to do?"
Sandburg saw the boy looking at him for reassurance. "We just have to wait it out until backup gets here." He looked around the room and mentally walked through the house to see if there was anywhere decent to hide. This room was going to be it. His eyes fell on the closet.
"Okay Daryl. I've got a plan. It's not a great one, but it may work. I want you to hide in that closet. Your suitcase is big enough for you to hide behind and in the dark, even if they look in, they're not going to see you right away. You're just going to look like a shadow or a pile of clothes." He dragged the boy to the door and opened it. A large crash sounded in the front hall. They're in the house. Blair pushed Daryl inside and handed him his kevlar vest. "Here put this around your head and neck. And stay down. Do not come out of there until one of us comes to get you. Got that?"
Daryl nodded. "But what about you Blair? What are you going to do?"
"We're going to try the shell game. I'm going to go to the other bedroom and open a window. Try to make them think we left that way. Cross your fingers, buddy. Now get down and stay down."
Blair quietly closed the door. He peered cautiously down the hall trying to see where everyone was. He spotted a body in the hallway and held his breath. New York. Sandburg breathed a sigh of relief. One down at least. He could only hope that Jim and Rafe were still alright. It was only a few steps to the next room, but the thought of taking them was almost terrifying. He knew he could stand next to Jim when bullets were flying and never flinch. Well hardly ever. His gaze flew down to where Jim was. Maybe he should...He looked back at the closed closet door. Daryl.
"C'mon, Sandburg," he sighed to himself. "The kid's counting on you." He made a dash for the other room. His heart was thundering and he hoped that Jim was more focused on the killers than him. That was all the detective needed. To be distracted. He crossed the room to the window, imagining everything that could go wrong. The window not opening, the killers finding Daryl's hiding place first. He released the window latch, and with a firm shove, opened it. With one hand he pushed out the screen and looked to the ground below. It was only a short drop. Six or seven feet. It occurred to him that he might be able to get Daryl out of the house safely by dropping him to the ground. He realized, as he stood there, that the house had suddenly gone quiet. No sounds of gunfire, no yelling. He was tempted to call out for Jim but knew his partner would come looking for him if it was safe. The sound of a creaking floorboard made him hold his breath.
"You and the kid trying to run away, Blair?" Rafferty. "But we're not done yet. Call the kid back, now!"
Sandburg slowly turned to face the man. "No." He saw the gun Rafferty held, expecting to see the knife. He strained to hear movement from the other rooms. Everything was so quiet. All he could hear was his breathing and that of Rafferty's. The fact that Rafferty had made it to where he and Daryl were hiding could only mean his best friend was either dead or too hurt to help him. And Rafe? What had happened to him? It all seemed hopeless.
"Call the kid back!" Rafferty's hands shook with anger, his finger gently pressing down on the trigger. His eyes narrowed. "Do it now, or you're dead."
The distant sound of sirens reached the room. Sandburg quickly glanced out the window just behind him. Maybe he could stall long enough for Simon to get there. Blair knew that Banks would be on his way. He looked back at Rafferty and saw that there would be no stalling. He held his breath and waited. He heard the floorboard creak again and thought he saw someone in the hall. Rafferty seemed to have missed the small noise, all of his attention on Blair.
"Say goodbye, Blair."
Sandburg's eyes widened in shock as he saw the trigger being pulled. The bullet caught him high in the chest on his right side. The impact sent him reeling backwards. As the back of his knees caught the low sill, he felt himself falling, smashing though wood and glass. Somehow, over the sound of breaking glass and the approaching sirens, he heard Jim call out his name. He landed heavily in the soft soil of the garden bed that surrounded the house. The pain in his chest was agony and he felt himself passing out, but Jim was alive and Daryl would be safe. Nothing else seemed to matter. He surrendered to the oblivion of unconsciousness.
Jim Ellison sat in ICU waiting for this friend to wake up. The nightmare, that had begun when he saw Rafferty shoot Blair, seemed like it would never end. He had been too late. As if in slow motion, he had seen the bullet leave the gun. Had seen Blair fall through the window to the ground below. With a snarl, the Sentinel had emptied his gun into Rafferty and then followed his Guide through that window. He had reached his friend's side just as his eyes had closed. Jim wasn't even sure if Blair knew he was there. Blair hadn't regained consciousness since. The doctors were confident, the nurses reassuring, but nothing would relieve his torment until Blair woke up. He leaned forward to rest his head and arms on the bed, his hand clutching his friend's wrist. The pulse that beat beneath his fingers seemed strong. He let that and the sound of Blair's breathing lull him to sleep.
Simon sat outside of Intensive Care. He and Daryl had maintained a two day vigil. The events of the previous days ran wildly through his mind. He had arrived to find Jim and Blair just outside the house. The kid had been lying on the ground, not moving, with Ellison bent over him. He remembered kneeling beside them, asking Jim if Blair was alive. He was sure the Sentinel had zoned out on him, he was so still. But Jim had nodded.
"He's alive, Simon." He held a blood soaked shirt to Sandburg's chest. "The ambulance?" Ellison had looked haggard.
"It's here Jim, they're coming." He had looked around him, searching for Daryl. He was nowhere to be seen and Banks had felt panic start to overtake him. Somehow his fear had registered with his friend.
"He's hiding in the house, Simon. I heard Blair tell him not to come out until one of us came to get him. He's in the closet of the room he was using." Jim looked up at him, not trying to hide his anguish. "He's safe. Blair promised me he would look after Daryl."
"I have to go get him, Jim. I'll be right back." He had to find his son.
Banks would never forget the sadness in his friend's eyes. "No Simon. Don't bring Daryl out here. Just in case...Blair wouldn't...I wouldn't..." Ellison's voice had choked and he left the rest unsaid. "Rafe needs help. He's out cold. Looks like he got hit from behind."
"I'll take care of him, don't worry. We'll see you and Blair back at the hospital." His friend's despair had made him hesitate. "Jim, he's going to make it." He had tried to sound convincing. "If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that Blair will do anything, if it means not letting you down."
Jim's reply had been a barely whispered, "I know."
That had been two day's ago. The emergency surgery had been successful with doctors' being cautiously optimistic. They had promised that Sandburg's chances increased with each hour. It had now been almost 48, but he still hadn't woken up. He sighed aloud and turned to gaze at his son. Daryl had insisted on staying at the hospital with him and Ellison. Joan hadn't been too happy about that, but the teenager had been adamant.
"Dad? Do you think he'll wake up soon?" Daryl hadn't taken his eyes off the door to ICU, waiting for Jim to come and tell them that Blair had regained consciousness. "It's been a long time."
Banks put an arm around his son and pulled him towards him. "He'll wake up Daryl. He knows we're here waiting for him."
Blair's eyes opened to a darkened room. A dim light shone from behind him. He had been in too many in the past three years to not recognize it as a hospital room. Muted beeps and hisses came from behind curtains that seemed to surround him on all sides. He saw intravenous bags hanging from poles on each side of him. He closed his eyes, trying to remember why he was there. It all returned in a flash, Rafferty, the gun, falling. He swallowed but his throat was dry. Seeing a pitcher of water on the stand next to the bed, he thought he would try to reach it. His hand was held immobile. He looked down to see why and smiled. He gently pulled his wrist out of his friend's grasp, ignoring the complaints coming from his shoulder and chest. His first instinct was to let Jim sleep. But he had been so sure he would never see his best friend again. He needed to talk to him. He silently apologized for being selfish and reached out to put his hand on Jim's shoulder.
"Jim?" He was surprised at how weak he sounded. Ellison's eyes opened slowly as he sat up and Blair was immediately sorry that he hadn't let him sleep. He looked exhausted. "Hey man. It's good to see you."
Jim blinked, not sure if he was dreaming. "Chief?" The exhaustion and worry that had lined his face suddenly disappeared. "You're awake!"
"I'm here." Blair smiled sleepily at the joy he saw in his friend's face. He had felt so awake a minute ago. "Could I have some water?" The dryness was starting to become a tickle and he was sure that coughing would not be a good idea.
Jim raised the bed and then held the straw to his partner's lips. "Just a sip now. Your throat's going to be a little raw." He watched as Blair drank and it was all he could do to stop himself from hugging him. "I've missed you buddy. Thought you might sleep til Christmas."
"Just might." It was becoming a struggle to keep his eyes open. "Everybody okay? Daryl? Rafe?"
"Rafe had a nasty knock on the head. But he's doing fine. He went home yesterday. Rafferty, Murdoch and Murphy are dead. You and Daryl are safe. In fact, Daryl and Simon are outside waiting to see you. I should let them and the doctor know that you're awake." He got up to leave. Blair grabbed his arm.
"Not yet, okay? Not ready for doctors, or anything, yet," he sighed. Jim sat carefully on the edge of the bed. "Just stay and talk to me until I fall asleep."
"Okay Chief," he whispered. "Just until you fall asleep." And he watched as Blair's eyes closed, his breathing becoming an easy rhythm. He moved from the bed and returned to the chair. He had understood Blair's need for peace. Jim folded his arms on the bed and rested his chin on them. He felt his own heart and breathing adjust to echo that of his Guide's. He sighed deeply and made himself more comfortable. He smiled as he felt Blair's hand come to rest on his arm. Everyone could wait until morning.