Disclaimer: All characters who have appeared in the UPN-TV series, "The Sentinel" are the properties of UPN and Pet Fly Productions. All original characters belong to the author. No infringement on the rights held by any to "The Sentinel" characters, name or stories is intended. No money is changing hands or profit being made on this story.

Rated PG-13 for strong language and violence.

Author's Comments: This story would be considerably less than it is were it not for my extraordinary beta readers. This is dedicated to them: Holly, Gabrielle, Wendy, Laurie and Karin. THANK YOU my dears! A big thank you as well to Wolfpup. Her site has brought me so much reading pleasure, it is an honor to have my story there among the "greats" in Sentinel fiction. *g* And lastly, to Savannah and Jasmine, who bring me inspiration and joy.

Feedback may be sent to Crideon@aol.com



Jim hated kidnapping cases. But mostly, he hated how they affected his partner.

They were both already physically and mentally exhausted -- Blair from juggling his teaching duties and classes with his promise to back up Jim whenever he was needed; and Jim from an exceptionally heavy case load. Half the precinct seemed to be home sick with a nasty strain of spring flu making its way through the city. Although Jim would never admit it to anyone, he was certain the strange teas Blair had brewed and forced on him accounted for them remaining unaffected by the virus thus far.

He had planned to take off the upcoming week of Blair's semester break and get out of town for a much-needed vacation with his partner, when the news came in of their latest case. It was one that hit both of them especially hard.

Jenna Rowlings, the daughter of Washington State's senator Richard Rowlings and his second wife Katherine had, in her six years, toured around the state with her parents and had been featured in magazine articles about the young Republican senator and his loving, beautiful family. Her father had run a brilliant campaign, unseating the incumbent and capturing the hearts of the public -- his primary platform was lowering the crime rate. He had appealed to the voters' weariness of the gun and drug smuggling that plagued the state's larger cities -- of which Cascade was one -- and presented a strong plan of action to rectify the situation. In doing so, he earned the respect and the votes of a majority of the populace, as well as the members of the Cascade P.D.

Once elected, Richard Rowlings lit the Senate on fire with his exciting personality and progressive views. It was evident that he doted on his wife and only child. He and Katherine had decided to make the transition to Washington, D.C. easy on Jenna and planned for her to complete her school year in Cascade. Senator Rowlings took an apartment in Washington and flew home nearly every weekend to be with his family.

Katherine Rowlings was an active member of the Cascade community. A former high school teacher, she now spent much of her time speaking out against drug use and underage drinking, as well as encouraging kids to stay in school. She used the fees from her many speaking engagements to help fund a shelter for the homeless. She was expected to continue her crusades on a national scale when she joined her husband in Washington, D.C. Yet, despite the demand for her services, she made sure her days were flexible enough to spend as much time with Jenna as possible.

Now, some psycho had decided that Jenna Rowlings was to be the catalyst for the imminent, albeit unwilling, change in Senator Rowlings' policy on gun control. Jim was sure the perpetrator was unaware of the irony his example created -- this incident being a clear reason that the Senator was right on track in demanding stricter laws and longer waiting periods before issuing licenses. Senator Rowlings also wanted longer sentences imposed on the gun smugglers who supplied the drug traffickers regularly setting up shop in "The Most Dangerous City In America," as Jim liked to call his hometown of Cascade, Washington.

Jenna had been abducted while on her way to school. Her mother was due to speak at a MADD brunch and had asked Robert Higgins, her childhood friend and one of her many hard-working volunteers, to drop her daughter off. His car was found several hours later in an alley halfway between the school and their home. Robert was now in intensive care at Cascade General. The kidnappers had bludgeoned him through the driver's side window when he stopped at a red light, then drove his car out of sight and left him for dead. Any hopes that it was a carjacking gone wrong were dashed when the school confirmed that Jenna had never arrived for class, and she was nowhere to be found.

Unless Robert could identify his attackers when he woke -- if he woke -- Major Crimes had little to go on at this point. Jim and Blair were on the scene within a half hour of the car being found by a patrolman. After an initial sweep of the area, which brought them nothing, they had headed to Jenna's school. At the school, they had interviewed every staff member and each of Jenna's classmates. No one knew a thing, and they weren't lying. Jim had closely monitored each heartbeat as he and Blair had questioned them. Exhausting that option, they had gone back to the vehicle and were scouring it and the area around it for clues when a call came in on Jim's cell phone.

"Ellison," Jim barked into the phone. He had developed a raging headache from the tightened focus he had been maintaining with his senses and wanted to make sure the person on the other end of the phone knew he wasn't interested in small talk right now. Resisting Blair's repeated urges that he take a break, the detective had pressed himself to the limit, certain he could find something if he tried hard enough. Jim looked around him quickly and located Blair. He was leaning against a squad car a few yards away, looking down into the paper cup of water in his hands. He was close enough to monitor the detective for zone-outs, but out of his personal space, a place Jim usually welcomed him into. Blair had moved away from him after Jim had let loose a particularly scathing string of expletives, most of them directed at the anthropologist and his inability to do anything but harass him. Jim felt a flush of shame at his friend's bowed head; he would have some major apologizing to do later. His frustration, exhaustion, and headache were not Blair's doing, and he hoped the younger man would understand that it was his own stress and not the presence of his Guide which set the detective off.

"Jim, I need you and Sandburg to come over to the Rowlings' house, ASAP."

"Did you find something, Simon?" Jim hoped he didn't sound as desperate as he felt.

"A ransom note was delivered a few minutes ago. We have the delivery boy here. I was hoping you could. . ."

"We'll be right there, sir." He disconnected the line and raced for his truck. "Sandburg, come on!"

The ransom note laid out the obscene demands of Jenna's captors. When the Senate convened five days hence, Senator Rowlings was to publicly denounce the crime bill for which he had worked so hard and which was soon to come up for a senatorial vote. Mrs. Rowlings was not to accept any further speaking engagements and was to cancel all those currently scheduled. Her "poisoning the minds of today's youth" would not be tolerated further. Once her captors were certain their initial demands had been met, Jenna would be released to them for the sum of four million dollars. The final paragraph of the note explained in explicit detail just what would happen to the little girl if any attempt was made to inform the media or the FBI of their situation.

The boy who had delivered the note was a neighbor. He had found the letter taped to his back door when he arrived home from school, and when he noticed it was addressed to the Rowlings, he had brought it over. Neither he nor his family was able to give the detectives any more information than that. No fingerprints were found on the note, and the typeface was a common one. Katherine Rowlings bordered on the inconsolable. She remained calm as she answered the hundreds of questions she was asked by the detectives from Major Crimes, but it was clear she was devastated. Her hands gripped the arms of the chair in which she was seated, only unclenching to brush away the tears that fell regularly.

Jim stood next to Simon, listening to his captain's questions and adding some of his own. He had nearly forgotten about his partner when Blair entered the room and walked over to stand beside Mrs. Rowlings. He held a cup in his hands, which he gently pushed into the woman's hands. He rested his hand on her shoulder and gave a light squeeze and an encouraging smile.

"I thought you could use a cup of tea to calm your nerves." She smiled warmly at him and brought the cup up to her lips, her hands shaking as she did so.

"Thanks, Blair. I'm glad you and Jim could be here."

"There's no place else we would be right now," he replied, smiling at her again before turning away. Glancing pointedly at Simon and Jim, he steered them away from the distraught woman and lowered his voice before speaking.

"I think you guys should take a break here. You've been asking her questions for almost three hours now, and she's just about to lose it."

"Sandburg, we barely have a leg to stand on in this case, and you want us to stop?" Simon's frustration was exacerbated by the fact that Mrs. Rowlings allowed no smoking in her home. His cigars were locked in the glove compartment of his car, and sorely missed. He looked over at his detective for an ally. "Jim. . .?"

Jim looked thoughtfully at his partner, then back towards Katherine Rowlings. He had noticed the increased paleness of her face as the interview went on, and with his hearing could easily hear the tiny sobs she was barely controlling.

"Blair's right." His declaration was met by two startled gasps. "Let's give her some time to come to grips with what's happened. Why don't you stay and talk to her, Chief. Simon and I will be outside if you need us."

Blair looked incredulously at his partner while ignoring the splutters coming from Simon. He hadn't expected such quick acquiescence. His face must have betrayed his inner thoughts, as Jim ruffled his hair and grinned at him.

"You're the people person here, Darwin. Don't say I never listen to you." Cuffing him lightly on the side of the head, he smiled as he led his protesting captain out the front door, intending to find one of the hidden cigars and calm his captain down.

Well, it wasn't an apology, but it's all I can do right now, he thought.

The skies over Cascade had gifted the city with a breathtaking sunset. Jim contemplated the gloriously colored horizon as he mulled over what had just happened in the Rowlings' living room.

Jim couldn't explain to his captain why he had agreed so readily to Blair's suggestion. He couldn't explain it himself, so why did Simon think he was going to understand? He figured it was a combination of stress, exhaustion, and major guilt. If the questioning had been getting them anywhere, he wouldn't have been as susceptible to that pleading look his partner had given him with those damn eyes of his; but it was clear Mrs. Rowlings played no part in her daughter's disappearance. The Senator would be arriving shortly, and the interrogations would begin again.

With a sigh, Jim realized Blair knew that as well as he did. He had verbally flayed his partner not four hours ago, but the kid was still looking out for him. Sure, Katherine Rowlings needed a break, but so did Jim and Simon. He should have learned by now not to underestimate the frantic bundle of energy that was his best friend. He would add his thanks to the ever-growing list of things he needed to discuss with Blair when they were alone. It would come right after apologizing for being an ass this afternoon, and right before praising him for putting up with such a grouchy detective night and day. And speaking of grouchy...

"Come on, Simon. I know you have your cigars stashed out here somewhere. No reason we can't enjoy this break, too." Jim had to laugh at the abashed look that covered his captain's face and followed him to his car.

Inside the house, Blair pulled up a chair next to Mrs. Rowlings'. They didn't speak further except for Mrs. Rowlings' quiet thanks to him for the tea. Blair was about to get up and refill her cup when Katherine's personal assistant entered the room.

Andrea Reynolds had worked for Katherine Rowlings for little under a year, but was very good at what she did. Blair had listened to her cancel her boss' speaking engagements earlier while he was passing through the study and had been impressed with her efficiency and discretion. She had arranged for the private plane now carrying the Senator home to Cascade, as well as keeping tabs on Robert Higgins' prognosis with frequent calls to Cascade General. She had led Brown and Rafe through the house as they searched for clues and provided up-to-date photographs of Jenna for them. She had even procured two boxes of tissues for the sniffling detectives, who were still recovering from the flu. Her competent presence allowed Jim and Simon to focus on their interrogation of Katherine.

Blair also noticed what an attractive woman she was. He smiled a greeting to her, and she nodded her head before addressing Mrs. Rowlings.

"Richard's plane just landed. He should be here in about half an hour. I sent a car to get him, and Detective Brown arranged a police escort for him."

"Thank you, Andrea." Looking at Blair and then back to her assistant, Katherine smiled wryly. "I'm going to go upstairs and freshen up a little. If Richard sees me looking like this, he'll imagine the worst." She swept her hands out as she spoke, and a little sob escaped her throat.

"Do you need some help?" Andrea asked.

"No, Andrea, I'll be okay. Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done today." She hugged the younger woman briefly before heading up the stairs.

Andrea let out a long sigh and turned to Blair.

"Do you want some coffee? I just made it."

"No thanks, I just had some tea." Blair noticed the crestfallen look which appeared on her face at his rejection. Guessing at its reason, he added quickly, "but if you're up for some company while you enjoy your coffee, I'm happy to oblige."

A smile broke across her face, and Blair knew he had done the right thing. He really wanted to go outside and check on Jim, but Jim had Simon with him, and Andrea needed a little support after the hellish day they had all shared. Taking his hand, she led him into the kitchen.

Blair found himself really enjoying her company and ended up drinking a cup of coffee after all. They chatted about everything except the kidnapping. Blair told her about his teaching fellowship and she spoke of the excitement of working for a Senator's wife. Andrea commended the efforts of the Cascade P.D. and made Blair blush when she lavished most of her praise on him personally. Despite his attempts to convince her that Jim and Simon and the other detectives were the ones making all the progress, she insisted that his efforts would surely solve this case.

Had he been slightly less tired, he would have caught on to her flirtations sooner.

Once he did, though, he managed to insert a few trademark Sandburg smiles and a good bit of flirting of his own before their mood turned somber at the thought of Jenna and her predicament.

After the promised half hour, Senator Rowlings arrived. Blair went to help Jim and Simon with his questioning, but not before exchanging phone numbers with Andrea and agreeing to meet her for dinner soon.

Four hours later, Jim was convinced that Richard Rowlings, like his wife, was uninvolved with his daughter's kidnapping. He had readily agreed to follow any instructions the kidnappers gave -- he just wanted his little girl back safely.

After a restless night's sleep, Jim and Blair were up at dawn. They shared a quick breakfast at the loft and a silent drive to the station, each lost in his own thoughts. Their whole day was spent at the precinct, examining and then re-examining the backgrounds and interviews of each member of Katherine's staff of volunteers and the teaching staff of Jenna's school, which Rafe and Brown were painstakingly accumulating over the course of the day, as well as any public records that existed on the senator's peers. Deeper background checks would have alerted the FBI and likely caused trouble with Jenna's captors. The families of Jenna's classmates and her neighbors were also checked out, as well as any recent parolees who may have had a history of kidnapping or a motive to do so now. There were simply too many possibilities to narrow their search by much.

They lunched on candy bars from the break room vending machines and snapped at each other often as the day passed and their frustrations grew. They still had no leads, and Jenna had been missing for almost 36 hours. The kidnappers hadn't made any further contact after the initial note. Apparently, they were content to wait to see how Senator Rowlings addressed the Senate -- and that was still four days away.

Tired, and more than a little dejected, Blair and Jim headed back to the loft well after dark, stopping only to pick up sandwiches and a six pack of beer from a local deli.

After tossing his backpack into his room and pulling on a pair of sweats, Blair joined Jim at the table. They ate quickly and silently, appeasing their hunger and trying to wind down from their long, fruitless day. Blair finished first, and rolled up the waxed paper from his sandwich. He tossed it towards the trash can, watching it arc through the kitchen and land in the bucket, the soft swish of the lid rolling back into place a testament to his perfect aim. He raised his arms in victory and grinned at his partner.

"Two points, man. Let's see you beat that," Blair challenged.

Jim raised his eyebrows and regarded his grinning partner coolly.

"Me? Go up against the best aim in the Northwest? Uh uh, partner, you win." Shaking his head, he rose and walked to the trash, depositing his own wrapper and placing his empty beer bottle in the recycle bin while Blair preened and made cheering sounds. He grabbed a fresh beer from the refrigerator and turned to continue their banter when he noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine. He walked past his partner on his way to the phone, playfully batting at his head.

"I bet this is your message from Orvelle Wallace, begging you to come and play for the Jags."

"Yeah, I'm holding out for $3.2 million. He must have finally caved," quipped his still grinning friend.

"Did you remember to include the clause about supporting your poor, aging partner with your untold riches?"

"Of course, man. Shady Acres Retirement Community has a room waiting with your name on it."

Jim rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed. He knew he wouldn't get the best of Blair tonight, and just pressed the play button on the machine.

Hi Blair, this is Andrea Reynolds. Umm, is everything okay? I called the station earlier today and spoke to Jim and asked him to tell you to call me. I was really hoping we could go out to dinner tonight. I even made reservations at Donatello's, but I never heard from you. I hope you're not mad about anything. I thought we hit it off yesterday, but, umm, whatever. I'm going to go to bed early. I'll, uh. . . maybe I'll call you at the station tomorrow. Bye.

As the call progressed, Jim felt the calm established by their teasing disintegrate. He turned to face his roommate, red-faced.

"Oops." Clever, Ellison, really clever. No wonder Blair wins every battle of wits. You're practically unarmed.

"Oops?" Blair's tone was level, but there was a sharp glint of anger in his blue eyes.

"I forgot."

"You forgot."

"Yes, I forgot. It was a crazy day, Blair, you know that -- you were there."

"Yes, Jim, I was there. I saw the hundreds of pieces of paper on your desk, not one of which was used to write down a simple message." Jim raised his hands, palms forward.

"Look, Blair, I'm sorry. She called just before I went to meet you in Records. I figured I'd walk right down and tell you but Rafe and Brown interrupted me in the hallway and it went right out of my head."

"Why didn't you write it down?"

"I don't know, Sandburg, can we just drop it?" he snapped. Jim knew he had made a mistake as he watched Blair's face get redder.

"Dammit, Jim, how could you do this to me? I really wanted to go out with her!" He pushed his chair back and began pacing through the apartment, words of disdain flowing out of his mouth as he moved.

Jim Ellison kept his mouth shut. He knew he had screwed up, but he also knew that Blair needed to blow off some steam before they could come to that conclusion together. Despite the earlier levity, both of them were still stressed and edgy. The detective was not going to get into a pissing contest with his partner when they were both upset. If he learned anything from his marriage to Carolyn, it was never to take cheap shots at someone when they were angry. Some things, once said, simply could not be taken back.

Sipping his beer, he moved to the living room and sat on the couch. Once there, he forced himself to keep his eyes on the distressed young man before him, who was doing his damnedest to bore a hole through the carpet with his pacing.

"Andrea Reynolds is, like, the most amazing woman. She's smart, she's beautiful, she's successful, she's unattached right now, and she came right out yesterday and said she is very interested in me. In me, Jim. So I give her my number, she actually calls me, and what do you do Jim? You screw it up! Oh, no, Jim Ellison can't bother to write the message down, he of the unfailing memory. Noooooo, of course he'll remember, but guess what, buddy, you blew it!" Blair jabbed a finger in Jim's chest to make his point.

Jim schooled his features to calmness, silently using the anthropologist's own words to still his irritation. I am calm. I. . . Am. . . Calm he repeated in his head. His entire body radiated calmness, or so he thought.

"And don't think I can't see that jaw of yours working."

Damn. His jaw always did have a mind of its own. His dentist was going to kill him if he didn't learn to stop clenching it. Sighing internally, he focused his attention back on his roommate.

". . . so whatever it is you want to say, you can save it. I am not in the mood for platitudes tonight. Man, I am so pissed at you!" Blair moved away from Jim now, pacing into the kitchen, around the island and back toward the couch, where his partner sat, beer in hand and contrite expression on his face, jaw notwithstanding. With a final sound of disgust, he stormed through the living room to the patio doors and continued out into the night air.

Bracing his hands on the railing, Blair forced himself to take several deep breaths.

Jim sat and silently contemplated his roommate for a few minutes. The events of the past few days had been traumatic, but also enlightening. He was proud of the way Blair had handled himself at the Rowlings' yesterday, and the normally mind-numbing task of sorting through background checks and profiles was made much more pleasant by having his partner at his side. Jim always appreciated having Blair's sharp mind around during days like this one -- hell, he appreciated it every day. So why didn't he tell him that more often? Instead of praising his efforts, he had snapped out his agitation at his partner all day and forgotten to give him a message that was clearly important to him.

'You always hurt the ones you love.' The words to the old song flashed in his mind and he nodded to himself at the truth they held. He could let down his guard with Blair, let the real Jim Ellison shine through -- it just so happened the real Jim Ellison had been an asshole lately. He trusted Blair implicitly and treasured his friendship -- he couldn't ask for a better partner. More than that, though, the debt he owed the younger man for saving his sanity, for helping him control and hone his enhanced senses... words simply couldn't express his gratitude. But he knew he had to try.

Gazing out onto the balcony, Jim could see that Blair's posture was still rigid, so he decided to give him a few more minutes alone.

Ahhh, Blair, I know it's not easy to be my partner, my Guide, Shaman to my Sentinel. Not to mention the obligations you have to Rainier as teacher, as well as student. It doesn't leave you a whole lot of time to just be a man. You would have been able to let go of all your other facets with Andrea. Why am I so afraid that you'll like that freedom too much and decide on that route over being with me? Jim shook his head abruptly. This mental conversation was going places he didn't want to go tonight, and he didn't have the luxury of self-pity right now. Blair needed him.

He walked to the refrigerator and pulled out two fresh beers. Mentally bracing himself in case he hadn't given Blair enough time to lose his anger, he strode out onto the balcony and stood next to his partner. Blair accepted the beer from Jim, but didn't speak. After a few more minutes of silence and a big sigh, Blair turned towards him.

"Jim, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that."

"No, you shouldn't have," he replied with a smile to take the bite out of his words. "Just like I shouldn't have bitten your head off when we were examining the car yesterday. I know you were trying to help me, and I was behaving like a complete ass. I proved your point for you. Next time, I'll take a break before I get too stressed out to speak civilly to my partner. The same goes for my attitude today." He took a deep breath and continued. "As for the message from Andrea, I have no excuse. I was caught up in the background checks, and it just slipped my mind. I'm really sorry. I know now how important it was to you, and I blew it. I hope you will accept my apology...for everything."

Blair looked at his roommate and stifled the urge to grin. Hell, he was ready to burst out in song! It wasn't often that Jim Ellison came right out and apologized -- calling himself an ass, no less! Well, he had been an ass, but for him to admit it! Blair allowed a half-smile to show on his face.

"Apology accepted, big guy. Now, if only I could get you to let up on the house rules, my life would be nirvana."

Jim grinned and cuffed his partner on the side of the head, holding himself back from pulling him into an embrace. He wasn't sure what he had done to deserve such a friend and partner as Blair Sandburg, but he'd happily go on doing it to keep him at his side. Carolyn would have picked up a piece of firewood and bashed him with it if he had treated her the way he had treated Blair these past few days, apology or no apology. Instead, his Guide had forgiven him and then lightened the mood, lifting the burden of guilt Jim had been carrying with two sentences.

"Don't press your luck, Chief, the house rules stay," he said, and turned to look out at the night-clad city Blair had been contemplating before he had interrupted him.

They stood in companionable silence for a while, each sipping his beer, knowing there was more that needed to be spoken of.

"Blair?" Jim began. "Do you want to talk about what's really bothering you?"

Blair turned to face his partner, strong emotions playing across his face, none of them pleasant ones.

"Jenna," he whispered, turning back again to the cityscape. "She's out there somewhere, definitely scared, maybe hurt, with God only knows who trying to bargain with her life. I mean, she's just a kid! Kids shouldn't have to worry about things like this."

Neither should grad students thought Jim. Especially ones who feel as deeply as you do. He placed his hand on Blair's shoulder, pleased when he heard the younger man sigh and lean slightly into the hand.

"I know," Jim said simply.

"I can still see her face, you know, when we met her before. Remember?"

"Yeah, I do."

Six Months Earlier

"No way, Chief, I am not spending the equivalent of a week's paycheck on a tent I will only use three or four times a year."

"Wow, man, did you get a raise or something? Last time I checked, you didn't make this much in a week!"

Jim rolled his eyes heavenward and walked away from the tent that had excited his partner. "It's just an expression, Sandburg, but the answer is still no. Why don't we look down this way?" Jim continued to grumble under his breath about the outrageous prices for camping equipment when a strange sound caught his attention. Moving towards it, he was halfway down the row of less expensive tents, when he realized Blair had not followed him. He walked back to see him coming out of the high-priced tent, an expression of wonder on his face.

"Hey, Chief, come here a minute."

"Jim, you're not gonna believe this. That tent actually has a built-in strip for an electrical hookup. You just attach a car battery and voila! -- lights, heater, TV, electric stove, the works! Total luxury, man!" At Jim's pointed stare, he quieted. "What is it, Jim?"

"I hear something."

"Well, we are in a mall, Jim. Lots of sounds here, big guy." Blair's waggled eyebrows and grin clearly failed to impress his partner, who continued to stare at him until Blair's grin faded.

"Um, is it something with your senses?" he asked.

"Yeah. It's coming from inside one of the tents over there." He pointed to a row of much smaller tents, behind the more deluxe models. He walked towards the sound, Blair following close behind. "I think it's a child."

"Like a baby?"

"No, like a little girl. She's crying."

"Aw, man, you think she's lost?"

"Probably. It's this one," he whispered, not wanting to startle the tent's occupant. "Why don't you go in there? You're much better at these kinds of things."

Blair grinned up at his partner. "I seem to recall you getting along quite well with Stacy."

"Sandburg..." The warning growl was met with a light laugh.

"Okay, okay, I'm going in, but why don't you wait a minute. You can get a good look at her, then try to find out who lost her."

"Sandburg..." This time, it was a sigh. Blair was getting more impressed with the number of emotions Jim could put into that one word. But he'd have to save that train of thought for later. The "Sandburg" sigh would soon revert back to the "Sandburg" growl and would then undoubtedly escalate from there to the "Sandburg" bark. Of course, the "Sandburg" bellow was also a well-used favorite of Jim's.

"What are you grinning about?"

"I'll tell you some other time. Ready?" Jim nodded, then watched as Blair crouched down and made a knocking sound as he rapped on the soft door to the tent.

"Hellooooooo," he sing-songed. "Anybody home?" His words were met with a sniffle. Glancing once up at Jim, he continued. "Is the lady of the tent home?"

Jim grinned at Blair's variation of the standard door-to-door sales tactic.

Hesitantly, a small hand unzipped the tent, and Blair stared into tear-filled eyes.

"Who are you?" The voice was soft, but determined.

"My name's Blair, nice to meet you." He extended his hand to her, and waited as she shifted the stuffed animal she had been clutching to one arm, then reached out to firmly shake his hand. He smiled at the efficiency in her gesture.

"This is my partner, Jim, he's a police officer."

The girl was wary until Jim showed her his badge. Something about the way she studied it before giving it a satisfied nod made him think she was familiar with badges. He looked at Blair, who returned a questioning gaze.

"Did you get lost or did you just decide you liked this room better than your own?" Blair asked.

She sniffled again. "I got separated from my mom, and I got scared." Blair scooted a bit closer to her as he nodded in understanding.

"That happened to me once. I was so afraid I thought I'd squeeze the stuffing out of my teddy bear. My mom found me though, and Jim and I will help you find your mom."

She nodded, and pulled her stuffed unicorn closer to her body.

"Would you mind if I came in and sat with you for a while?" Blair noticed her glance in Jim's direction and quickly continued. "Jim'll stay outside. He's way too tall to fit in here, anyway." He grinned at her and saw a ghost of a smile flitter across her face. Jim sighed and moved away slightly as Blair crawled in and sat cross-legged next to the girl.

"He can be our guard," she said firmly, causing Blair to start. This little girl was definitely familiar with the concept of security.

Blair looked at her for permission before he reached out to touch her toy.

"What's your unicorn's name?"


"That's a pretty name for a pretty unicorn."

She giggled. "He's not pretty, he's handsome."

Blair put his hand on his heart and nodded to Magic. "My apologies, kind sir, you are a magnificent example of a unicorn."

With a smile, she held him out to Blair, who petted the soft mane. "Do you feel like you can tell me your name?"

Staring into his eyes, Blair felt as if she were trying to read his heart. "My name is Jenna Rowlings."

Jim took a deep breath as he heard Blair do the same. He called a salesperson over and got the number for the mall office. Pulling out his cell phone, he dialed the office, gave his name and badge number, and informed them that he had found Jenna. He heard Blair chatting with the young girl about teddy bears and unicorns, making her laugh when he conferred seriously with Magic about his opinion on the subject. Within minutes, there were Secret Service agents discreetly swarming the area, and Katherine Rowlings was hugging Jenna tightly to her body. Andrea Reynolds stood off to the side, watching the scene, her eyes lingering on Blair's face as he watched the mother and daughter.

Breaking away, Jenna ran over to Blair and tugged on his jacket. Crouching down, he was surprised when she held out the unicorn to him.

"Magic likes you. I think you should take him." There was a wistful sadness in her eyes as she handed him over.

Blair took the unicorn, surprising Jim for a moment. The younger man scratched the unicorn behind his ears, rubbed his mane, and then handed him back to the little girl.

"Do you think you could take care of him for me? I don't really know what to feed unicorns or how to take proper care of them."

Jenna smiled as she took the unicorn back and hugged him. "I'll take care of him and play with him, and you can come over to see him whenever you want to, okay?"

"It's a deal," Blair replied, and held out his hand for her to shake.

Instead, Jenna threw herself at Blair, wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. For a moment, he teetered on his heels, but then wrapped his arms around the little girl and hugged her back.

"Okay, Jenna. You and Magic stick close to your mom, now."

"We will." Jenna clasped Katherine's hand, swinging it as she looked up at her mother. Katherine Rowlings smiled at Jim and Blair.

"Thank you, Detectives, for finding and taking care of my daughter."

Both men smiled, and Jim nodded toward Jenna. "It was our pleasure, Mrs. Rowlings."

Two more beautiful smiles from the Rowlings women, and they were swept away by Secret Service agents. Andrea followed behind them, after giving Blair a lingering glance and a speculative smile.


Blair shivered as a gust of cold air swept across the balcony, raising goose bumps on his skin. He didn't want to think about anything anymore. He was tired, and knew Jim must be, too.

"Hey Jim, what do you say we call it a night?"

"Good idea, Chief."

They made their way back into the apartment, and Blair took his and Jim's empty beer bottles to the recycle bin. At the door to his room, Blair turned and was comforted as he watched Jim lock the balcony doors, then check the locks on the front and back doors to the loft, a routine he followed every night. Jim noticed his partner's gaze and the smile on his face and grinned back, confused.

"What is it?"

Blair stood for a moment, meeting Jim's eyes, wondering if he could put into words how he was feeling. He was apprehensive about what tomorrow might bring with the kidnapping, but right at that moment he felt safe, cared for, and at peace. Jim's simple act of securing their home gave him a centered calmness that he knew would carry him into restful sleep. Right then, he likened Jim's presence to a walking, talking, gun-carrying teddy bear -- one that would probably turn into a grizzly with an attitude if he knew how his roommate perceived him. Blair decided he would definitely keep this train of thought to himself. His grin widened.

"Nothing, man. Good night."

Jim didn't question Blair, although he felt there was more to that beguiling smile than good night wishes. He caught Blair's shoulder in a quick squeeze as he passed him on his way to the bathroom.

"Good night, Chief."

Before he fell asleep, Blair found himself running through the argument he'd had with Jim, dispelling the peace which had settled over him just minutes earlier. He felt foolish for reacting so strongly over the missed chance for dinner with Andrea. Sure, he was attracted to her, but not so much that he should have torn into Jim like he did. Jim had forgiven him, but Blair just couldn't let it go just yet. He was feeling too guilty.

At some point -- he wasn't sure when it had happened -- Jim had become more important to him than anything. And that certainly included Andrea Reynolds.

Blair sighed and chalked his outburst up to exhaustion and apprehension. He and Jim had another long day ahead of them tomorrow, hopefully one that would net them some answers, and he was determined to do everything he could to help his partner. Jim's senses were their edge, and once they had a lead to follow, he was confident they could end this ordeal, for Jenna and for themselves.

He rolled to his side and made himself more comfortable, burrowing further under the blankets. He brought into his mind the image of his solid, capable roommate, guarding his home and his dreams, letting the vision lull him to sleep. He would talk to Andrea in the morning and let her know that dinner would have to wait until after the case was solved. His Sentinel needed him to be 100%, and he wasn't going to let him down.

So it was with a great deal of reluctance, the next afternoon, that Blair found himself driving down a winding road in a heavily wooded area about an hour and a half north of the city, heading towards a meeting with Andrea Reynolds. The sky was darkened by clouds and a light rain fell steadily, as it had all day.

Halfway through the afternoon, she had called him, crying and begging him to come and meet her at her family's cabin in the Cascade National Forest. She told him Mrs. Rowlings had given her the next few days off, and that she was going crazy with distress over Jenna's kidnapping and her inability to help in any way. A little R&R at the cabin had sounded like a good idea, but now she wanted to get back to Cascade.

Blair had tried to get her to meet him in town, but she told him that when she had gone up to the cabin, a sharp rock in the driveway had flattened her tire, and now she had no way of getting back to the city, her spare having also been flattened a few months back. While she berated herself for being so stupid as to forget to get the tire fixed, Blair told her he would come and get her.

Andrea had quieted almost instantly and thanked him for being so kind to her. Again, she mentioned the connection she felt with him that day at the Rowlings' home, causing a blush to creep over his face, a blush noticed by his partner, who had returned to the desk they shared.

Blair mouthed 'Andrea' to Jim while pointing at the receiver, and rolled his eyes at the dark look his partner threw him. Pulling a pad of paper over from Jim's side of the desk, he scribbled the directions she gave him and promised he'd be on his way soon. He thought he heard her emit a sob as he was hanging up the phone, and hoped she wasn't too upset when he got there. Somehow, the thought of comforting Andrea had lost some of its appeal over the past two days. He looked up to see Jim standing over him, the Sentinel's arms crossed over his chest, and understood why.

"Cut it out, you idiot!" Andrea hissed at the man standing next to her as she clicked off her cell phone, slapping at his hand.

"Come on, baby, you know you love it," the tall, dark-haired man crooned into her neck as he ran his hands freely over her body, stopping to pinch her again, making her squeal in frustration and pull away from him.

"Trevor, I was on the goddamned phone with the cop's partner. It would be really great if I'm trying to sound distraught and then start giggling in the middle of a sob."

"Sorry, baby. How 'bout I make it up to you?" He moved closer and slung his arms around her hips, pulling her close until their bodies were flush, a leer covering his face.

"Not now, Trevor. We need to go and pick up Chuck." She pulled away from him and gestured towards one of the cabin's doors. "Go tell Edward to keep an eye on the kid and to hang on to Blair when he gets here. I need to go and put a hole in one of my tires."

"What? What if we need your car later on?"

"I have a spare, Trevor, don't worry. I told Blair that I needed him to get me because my tire went flat." She poked a finger in his chest. "Which you would have heard if you had been listening and not copping a feel at the time."

Trevor grinned unashamedly for a moment before knitting his brows in confusion.

"How come we need to hang on to this Blair character?"

"He's Detective Ellison's partner and we need to get the two of them off the case. The other idiots can be manipulated, but these guys worry me. They're too good. Ellison will figure this thing out soon, I know he will. So, darling," she punctuated the endearment with a quick kiss, "we hang on to his partner and give him a little incentive to back off until the Senator makes an ass of himself and we get rich. Detective Ellison will be so worried about his buddy that he'll be sure to back off this case" They grinned at each other for a minute.

"Weren't you gonna have dinner with him or something?" At Trevor's question, Andrea got angry.

"The two of them stayed late at work instead -- probably getting closer to pinning this on me. He never even called me back. I had Chuck at Donatello's all night, waiting to grab him, too. Waste of time, that was," she spat.

"He disappears up here and Ellison's gonna know that you're in on this."

"Relax. Once we've got him, we'll dump his car. There are some nice tight curves and sharp drop offs on the road that leads up here. We'll make it look like he disappeared before he got here. I'll even make another call and talk to Ellison about how worried I am that Blair hasn't made it yet. Play damsel in distress."

"You do that and you're gonna bring the cop to our doorstep."

"You'll be on the move with the kid and Blair by then. I didn't plan to sit the whole thing out here. It's too risky. I've got another spot picked out where we can wait out the Senator's announcement. It's nice and private. And there's no way for anyone to tie it to me. Now, go and talk to Edward, I'll be outside. Oh, and toss some crackers in to the kid, she must be getting hungry."

Blair squinted at the battered sign which hung at the junction of two barely paved roads and re-checked the directions. Turning onto the road on the left and continuing on, he let his mind wander to the day he had spent with Jim.

Arriving at the station around 7:30 a.m., they had scoured through each of the files on the people closest to the Rowlings family. All day, Jim kept mentioning a nagging suspicion that he was missing something. After reviewing the statements of all the people involved, he discovered he was right.

"Hey Chief, do you have Andrea's statement?"

"What?" Blair lifted his gaze from the copy of the ransom note he had been studying to regard his partner.

"Andrea Reynolds' statement. Do you have it?" Blair shifted through the pile of folders in front of him on the desk.

"No, I don't." His face turned thoughtful for a moment. "You know, Jim, I don't remember seeing it yesterday, either. Where did you put it after you took it?"

"I didn't take a statement from her, Sandburg. Simon did."

"Does he have it?"

"I don't know why he would, but I hope so." Jim checked his watch before continuing. "He's still at a meeting with the Mayor and won't be back until later this afternoon, probably. Damn, I thought I had something here."

"What? Tell me." Blair moved his chair closer to Jim's.

"Okay." Jim took a quick sip of his coffee before continuing. "Whoever grabbed Jenna had to have had some pretty specific information about where and when she would be dropped off for school. Mrs. Rowlings' schedule was anything but routine, and different people took Jenna to school on different days. The route they would take to get there was never exactly the same, either, and none of it was deserted. That would make it difficult, but not impossible, to make the grab, but only if they knew exactly who was taking her that morning, and the route he or she would take."

"That makes sense, Jim. So who is on your list?"

"Well, I started out by listing who couldn't have known -- and that includes all of Senator Rowlings' colleagues. I'm not saying they couldn't be involved, but Washington D.C. is too far away to monitor a schedule. There's got to be someone locally. As for Jenna's teachers and classmates, they aren't privy to her means of getting to school, which is when the grab took place. So that leaves someone close to Mrs. Rowlings.

"I wanted to see Andrea's statement so we could take a look at who besides herself had access to Mrs. Rowlings' schedule that day. I'd also like to have a look at Ms. Reynolds' background check. I don't remember seeing it yesterday, either."

"You don't think she's involved, Jim, do you?"

"Blair, she was in the best position to assist the kidnappers, whether she meant to or not. I'm not saying she had anything to do with it, but I want you to be careful if you do end up going out to dinner with her before this whole thing is wrapped up."

"Jim..." The detective cut off his partner's protest with a hand.

"Humor me, Chief. These guys are sick enough to use a six year old girl to get what they want. We don't know that they will stop at that. And if Ms. Reynolds is involved in some way, I'd rather you not get hurt by all this."

Blair had nothing to say to that, so he simply nodded. After a pointed look in Blair's direction, Jim rose, stretched and headed towards the break room with his empty coffee cup. Blair went back to studying the ransom note in his hands. He couldn't help but chafe a bit at Jim's overprotective attitude towards him, but knew that trouble had found him often enough to warrant that concern. He was musing over the whereabouts of Andrea Reynolds' statement when the phone rang.

Speak of the devil.

Of course, Jim was less than pleased that Blair would be making the trip, and with a suspect, no less. It took a bit of wrangling, but with the promise that his cell phone was charged and in his backpack, and the incentive that he might learn some more from Andrea on the ride home, Jim relented.

Blair made a quick stop at a gas station to fill his gas tank and grab a bottle of water and snacks for the ride, then he was on his way.

About an hour after Blair had left to pick up Andrea, Jim saw Simon stride through the bullpen and enter his office, shutting the door forcefully behind him. Any time his captain had to meet with the Mayor, he became edgy. The fact that a senator's child was missing and no apparent progress had been made by his department made him more ill-tempered than usual. Jim wondered sometimes how hard it must be for a man with a cop's instincts and mentality, like Simon, to deal with the bureaucracy involved in his position of captain. Days like this one were becoming too frequent, and the strain on his friend was noticeable.

Jim looked down at the list on his desk, and decided to brave the captain's mood to get some answers. He walked to Simon's door and knocked before entering.

Simon was emptying the grounds from his morning pot of coffee into the waste basket while perusing his flavor options for the afternoon pot. He looked up briefly at Jim and waved him into a seat while he measured out scoops of ground coffee and poured water from a gallon jug into his machine. Leaning back in his chair as the machine began its work, he looked at Jim and sighed.

"Tell me why I agreed to take the captain's exam, Jim, will you?"

"Because you're the best man for the job, sir," Jim said honestly.

"Suck up," Simon replied with a grin. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ellison, I need it today after the meeting I just had."

Jim decided to ignore Simon's obvious desire to complain about the stresses of his position, and instead focused on his own job.

"Sorry to hear about your morning, sir, but I need to know if you have Andrea Reynolds' statement."

"Why would I have Andrea Reynolds' statement? You and Sandburg are the point men for all the paperwork in this case. If you two don't have it, it doesn't exist."

"Didn't you take her statement at the Rowlings' house the other day?"

"I assigned Brown and Rafe to take everyone's statements except Mr. and Mrs. Rowlings. You and I handled those." Simon glanced out to the bullpen and spotted Henri Brown and called him in.

"Do you have Andrea Reynolds' statement, H?" Jim asked him. "Blair and I have been looking for it all morning, and since you and Rafe handled her questioning, I thought you might still have the file." Brown furrowed his brow in concentration for a moment before answering.

"She told me you took it, so Rafe and I never talked to her."

"Dammit!" Henri and Simon were startled by the sudden shout from Jim. The Sentinel stood up and grabbed Simon's phone, dialing Blair's cell phone as he spoke to the other men in the room.

"Blair got a call from Andrea asking him to come meet her at some cabin up north of town. I don't want him up there until we figure out what Andrea is hiding."

"Wait a minute, Jim. Aren't you jumping to conclusions here? Maybe Ms. Reynolds thought we were going to speak to her after we finished with the Rowlings."

"I don't think so, sir. Think about it. She knew exactly where and when Jenna would be on her way to school that morning. We have no background check on her, and everyone else looks clean. She stays close enough to keep tabs on what we're doing for days, but now she's up at some remote cabin? I have a really bad feeling about this." He listened to the receiver for a minute before slamming the phone back down.

"Dammit, he's out of cell range. I should have known the connections are spotty up there." Jim strode from the office and grabbed his jacket from behind his chair. He pulled open his second desk drawer and pulled out his backup revolver, affixing it to his ankle holster while ignoring the demands from Simon that he stop what he was doing. Seeing the notepad Blair had used to write down the directions to the cabin, he stuffed that into his jacket pocket before turning to face his protesting captain.

"Simon, this is Blair Sandburg we're talking about. Anyone else and I'd be listening attentively to you, but you know how he finds trouble, and this sounds like trouble to me."

"All right, all right. I'll trust your instincts on this one. Do you want backup?"

Any answer Jim might have made was silenced as Rhonda called out to Simon excitedly.

"Captain Banks, Rafe is on the phone from the Rowlings' house. He says the kidnappers just called in, and they were able to complete a trace."


"About an hour southwest of here, a town called Peller's Gap."

"Tell him we're on our way and to stay at the house in case they decide to call again. Get the specifics on the trace for me. I'll call you from the road." Simon ran to this office and grabbed his coat. After donning it and checking his shoulder holster, he stopped in front of Jim's desk and met his detective's eyes.

"Are you coming, Ellison?"

"Do I have a choice?" Jim snapped. If Simon was irritated at the tone in his detective's voice, he didn't show it. The captain pursed his lips and looked long and hard into Jim's determined face.

"I'd like to have my best detective along with me, but chances are his attention would be elsewhere, am I right?"

"You're right, sir." Jim felt a small flicker of hope uncurl in his belly.

"Then you'd better go find your partner, but keep your cell phone with you!" he shouted at Jim's retreating form. He let out his hundredth sigh of the day and turned to Detective Brown.

"Tell me why I agreed to take the captain's exam, Henri, will you?"

Blair slowed the Volvo while still on the road near the entrance to the Reynolds' driveway. Through the scattering of trees, he could see the effects of a ruined rear tire on the sleek red sports car parked there, the car sat on a definite angle. Deciding not to risk any of the tires on his Volvo -- which cost him enough already simply on upkeep -- he barely pulled off the road before stopping the car and engaging the emergency brake.

"Must have been a hell of a rock," he muttered as he turned the car off. He sat for a minute, searching through his backpack for a stick of gum. He was serious about not starting anything with Andrea while the case was still going on, but even he could still taste the onions he had on his sandwich at lunch. Finding the gum, he unwrapped it, popped it in his mouth and took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself to comfort the distraught woman he knew he would find in the cabin. He reached for his backpack, but before his hand closed around the strap, a sudden movement near the back of the cabin caught his attention.

The screen from a small window was pushed to the ground moments before a small body emerged from the same window. A body which looked strikingly like that of Jenna Rowlings. What the hell?

Blair abandoned his backpack and raced from his car, following her as she dashed into the trees. She was fast, but he was faster, and caught up to her about fifty feet from the cabin, which was now partially obscured by the thick forest. He caught her around the waist and held her against him while she struggled, kicking and writhing violently.

"No! Let me go! I don't want to go back with you! Let me go!" She continued to flail in his grasp, even as he spoke to her.

"Jenna, calm down, it's Blair, ow!" he cried out as her heel caught him hard on the side of his knee. Pulling her tighter against him, he continued his litany of words, hoping she recognized him soon. "Jenna, it's Blair Sandburg, I met you when you and Magic got lost in the mall. We sat in a tent and waited while my partner found your Mom, remember? Please, Jenna, stop fighting and look at me. I'm not going to hurt you, it's okay, it's okay."

Something in his words or in his tone got through to the little girl, and she raised a timid face to his, peering over her shoulder through her long blonde hair, now loosened from its holder and hanging in disarray about her face.

"Blair?" she asked tentatively.

"Yeah, it's me."

"Oh, Blair!" she cried out and twisted around to face him, wrapping her arms around his waist and holding on tightly. She began to cry as words spilled from her.

"I know I'm supposed to stay there while my Mom and Dad are away, but that man is so mean and he scares me, and I was hoping someone else would come and mind me, and I thought I could run into the woods and run home from here. Andrea's gonna be so mad at me when she finds out I'm not in my room, but her friends are really mean to me, and I just want to go home." Her voice broke and she began to cry harder.

"It's okay now, sweetie, I'm here and I'll take you home. Don't cry, Jenna, I'm here." He soothed her with words and caresses, rubbing her back as she cried. Her grip on his waist tightened and she let out a cry when he tried to loosen her hold enough to crouch down next to her, but he succeeded, and wrapped her in a firmer embrace, still speaking words of comfort. After a few more minutes, her tears abated somewhat, and he ventured a question.

"Jenna, can you tell me why you're here?" Blair dreaded the answer he knew was forthcoming.

"Andrea and some of her friends told me I needed to stay here while my Mom and Dad went on vacation." Good. At least she doesn't know why she's really here.

"How many friends does she have?"

"Two. Trevor and Edward. She talks about someone named Chuck, but he doesn't come here to mind me when she goes on errands."

"Is she on an errand now?"

"Yes. She left Edward to mind me, and Trevor went with her. She's gonna be mad at me if I'm not in my room when she gets back." Jenna began to cry again, and Blair pulled her against his shoulder, hugging her tightly.

"It's okay, honey, I'm going to take you home. Your Mom and Dad are back, and they can't wait to see you. I'll let Andrea know that I took care of you and she won't be mad at you at all."

Even as he spoke calmly to the little girl, the sickening realization that Andrea was involved in the kidnapping hit him like a blow. Jim had been right. All that feigned concern, and she was the one behind those horrifying details of what would happen to Jenna if cooperation was not given. The sandwich he had eaten for lunch churned in his stomach. Pulling his thoughts away from everything but the child crying in his arms, he focused his mind on getting her to safety and worrying about his warped judge of character later.

At least Jenna seemed unhurt. He ran his hands over her arms and down her legs, murmuring soothing words as he did so, and softly asking her if they had hurt her at all. He pulled her face gently away from his chest and looked into her tear-filled eyes.

"No, I'm okay. Just hungry."

He smiled at her and pressed an impulsive kiss to her forehead. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the candy bar he had bought at the gas station. She tore into it hungrily.

While she ate, he made small circles on her back with his hand and examined their situation. All they needed to do was creep back to his car and they would be on their way home. Once they were in cell range, he would call Jim and then take Jenna home. Now, to get to the car without alerting the goon in the cabin. Turning his attention back to the cabin, he watched a very pissed off man burst through the front door, gun drawn.

Dammit. Too late.

When Jenna heard the bellow of rage from the man, she paled and threw her arms around Blair's neck, hugging him fiercely. He held her close and thanked all the gods he had ever heard of that they were hidden in the woods when he heard the first gun shots. He tucked Jenna into his chest and turned her back to the tree, shielding her as the gunfire continued. His brain told him that the bullets were not directed at them, but his body still jumped at each blast of metal hitting metal.

Oh God, he's shooting up my car! Jenna remained thankfully quiet throughout, even though Blair felt like screaming like a madman and running wildly through the trees. To his horror, the man actually stopped and reloaded before letting loose another round of shots into the Volvo.

At last, the deafening noises stopped, and he found he could breathe again.

Jim stopped his truck dead in the middle of the winding road and jerked open his door. Running into the center of the pavement, he listened. He had been driving with his senses wide open, courting a zone-out that would probably find his '69 Ford wrapped around a tree and himself a bloody, albeit unaware, mess. Pushing away the negative thoughts, he focused his attention as Blair had taught him and just listened.

Yes, there it was again. Gunshots. Not close, but definitely there... in the direction he was heading... where Blair was. Shit

Vaulting back into the cab of his truck, he looked again at the directions he had gleaned from running his sensitive fingers over the notepad Blair had used when Andrea had called. Without his partner to help him, it had taken longer than he hoped to make sense of the light indentations on the page. He was still a ways from the cabin, and it seemed like his suspicions had been correct. And Blair was now in the middle of it.

The gunshots continued, and he prayed that meant his partner had eluded them -- whoever 'they' were. What if there were more than a few? His cell phone was as useless as Blair's had been in this part of the forest, but he wouldn't think of delaying his arrival to go back for help. He hadn't thrived in Covert Ops for nothing. Being outnumbered was not a new thing for him, and with his partner's life at risk, not to mention Jenna's, he would call on every tactic he had ever learned to get them home safely.

Jaw clenched, he threw the truck into gear and drove as fast as he dared on the winding, wooded road.

Blair risked a look towards his car and felt his stomach drop to his toes. Both front tires were flat, steaming water was pouring through the grille from his punctured radiator, and the front windshield was shattered, along with most of the glass in the car, it seemed. He tried not to imagine the damage that firepower could have done to his body, or worse, to Jenna's, and reached down to grasp her hand. She was wearing a turtleneck and a heavy sweatshirt with her jeans -- the same clothes she had been wearing when she was taken, he noted angrily -- so keeping her warm wouldn't be a problem too soon. Holding his finger across his lips, he leaned close to her.

"Jenna, we're going to have to get out of here on foot. When I tell you to, I want you to run as fast as you can in that direction," he whispered, pointing south. "I'll be right behind you, but no matter what, I need you to keep running until you get to another cabin. When you get there, call the police." He recalled seeing paths cut into the woods from the main road as he drove to the cabin, which he assumed had been driveways. Hopefully, one of the cabins would contain a working phone.

"I want to stay with you, Blair."

"I know, honey, I'll be right behind you. Edward is a little too mad to talk to right now, and we need to get away from here, okay? Please, Jenna. Please promise me you'll run as fast as you can and not stop until you reach another cabin. I'm just going to try and distract Edward. You said he was the only one here, right?"


"So you'll run when I say?" He nodded encouragingly at her, willing her to obey him.

"Okay." She squeezed his hand and looked gravely into his face with absolute trust.

Blair felt his heart constrict and looked away quickly before his emotions rose too much. He had to make sure she was safe -- this whole mess would be worth it if she was safe.

Glancing around him, he found a rock that was rounded enough for what he planned. Holding it in his right hand and tossing it slowly to gauge its weight, he eased Jenna behind him as he crouched behind the tree. Seeing another slightly larger rock, he pocketed it.

They waited.

Edward Centorini was pissed. He had fucked up... fucked up big time. Andrea and Trevor were counting on him to keep track of one stinking little brat, one who was supposedly locked up tight in an inescapable room. How hard could that be?

They hadn't said a word about letting her take a piss or not -- he had thought nothing of allowing it, and the brat had escaped. Little shit had climbed right through the window. And he had fallen asleep while waiting for her to finish. Jesus, how the hell long did he think it took kids to go?

If his legs hadn't slipped off the chair, he wouldn't even have known. That was almost more embarrassing than losing the kid. Of course, running out to the driveway and seeing that green Volvo there had spiked his already searing rage. Now he had to get her back and take out the hippie before Andrea and Trevor got back with Chuck. It had felt good to blast the guy's car to scrap metal, there's no way he'd be driving away any time soon. The guy wasn't in the car when he shot it up, which meant he was out there somewhere with the kid.


Edward kicked at the ruined front end of the Volvo as he bellowed, wondering how he was going to fix this damn mess he was in. As if in answer to his thought, he saw movement in the woods.

"Ha! Got you, you little fucker," he muttered just before the rock struck his eye.


Blair allowed himself a shout of victory as he took off running after Jenna. True to her word, she had bolted as soon as he told her to move. His aim with the rock was as true as it had always been, he just hoped that goon stayed down long enough for him and Jenna to make good their escape.

The bellow of pain and outrage he heard a few moments later, combined with the crashing footsteps in the woods behind him, crushed those hopes.

A gun shot rang out, and he flinched, ducking instinctively as he ran. He wove around the foliage while pulling the second rock from his pocket. He could never make the throw while running, so he started looking for cover. More shots rang out, and he swore one passed not three inches from his head. Shit, shit, shit!

His heart flip-flopped as he saw Jenna hesitate momentarily ahead of him, then take off faster than before.

Good girl he thought, as he spotted a slight rise in the forest floor to his left where three wide evergreens formed a natural pocket of cover.

He threw himself into the trees and turned to see his target. The guy was only twenty yards from where he was and raising his gun towards his own, now stationary, target.

With a shout, Blair hurled the rock as hard as he could, knowing the asshole would stay down this time if his aim was true. The moment the rock left his hand, he started running again. He heard another gunshot at almost the same moment as a solid, satisfying thunk -- a rock-hitting-flesh kind of thunk. He didn't need to see the man to know he was down for the count and then some.

He was two steps away from the ring of trees when his feet slipped out from under him and he went down hard, sliding a few feet in the wet leaves and mud. Scrambling to his feet, he felt the beginnings of a cramp in his lower back, but ignored it in favor of catching up with Jenna, who was now nearly fifty yards ahead of him. Hell, his legs and side were cramped from this mad dash, why not his back too? He fell twice more, and he saw Jenna picking herself up a few times, still well in front of him. He wanted to call out to her, to tell her to slow down a little and wait for him, but knew they needed to get as far away from Andrea's cabin as possible before he would allow himself to rest. So he continued to run.

The cramping was growing worse, and his hand pressed tightly to his lower back did little to stop it. He heaved air into his lungs as he ran, hoping to allay any further cramps. Stumbling through some bushes, he just missed plowing into Jenna. He steadied himself against a tree and turned to watch behind them for any signs of pursuit.

"You okay?" he managed between panting breaths.

"I think so. I'm all wet, Blair."

"Me, too. But I know I saw some cabins farther down this way. We can get dried off when we get to one, but if we stop now, there's a good chance Andrea and her other friends will find us out here."

Jenna's brown eyes widened noticeably, and a shudder ran through her small body, so Blair impulsively reached out to hug her close to him. He held on until his breathing was slowed and the cramping in his back had lessened.

"Don't worry, kiddo, I won't let anything happen to you. No matter what, I swear nothing is going to happen to you."

Jenna's arms tightened their hold around his waist, and he gasped at the pain that caused. She pulled away quickly.

"Blair?" Jenna held out her hand towards him. The hand that had been gripping his back. It was coated with something dark and sticky... blood. Oh God.

Simon checked one more time with the members of his SWAT team, pleased with their response. Everyone was ready. As he chewed his unlit cigar, he wished that Jim had decided to come along with them. Having someone who could hear heartbeats from three houses down would have been helpful on this operation.

Recalling where Jim was headed at the moment, he hoped the detective took it easy on Sandburg when he caught up to his partner. Blair had worked his way into the captain's heart as surely as he had the Sentinel's. Just because the kid was always trying to comfort the people around him -- suspects, no less -- didn't make him a bad partner. He was a very good one, in fact. He had everything but the badge and the weapons training, the latter of which Simon was secretly trying to amend.

After a final look through his binoculars, he signaled his men to move in.

He hoped this didn't take too long. If this turned into a siege, he'd be hard pressed to assure the media it was only a training exercise.

Jim slowed his truck to a crawl as he approached the turnoff to the driveway where he could see Blair's car parked. Blair's decimated car. Fingers of ice clutched at his heart as he viewed the damage that had been done to his partner's car. He pulled his truck to the side of the driveway a few feet from the road. Pulling out his gun, he crept from the seat and opened his senses.

He could smell the radiator fluid which pooled beneath the ruined vehicle, and the scent of spent bullets. At least two full rounds from a semi-automatic had been used, he guessed. He listened for heartbeats and found none. He jogged to the cabin and entered. Whoever had been staying here had no thought for housekeeping. The remnants of several meals lay on the counters of the kitchen while dirty pots and pans littered the sink. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, he dialed down his sense of smell and moved away from the kitchen. There was a television in the living room, still on and showing a soccer match. Filtering out the sound of the raucous commentary, Jim continued to search the cabin.

There were three bedrooms. The first two he checked held adults' clothing and toiletries. He recognized Andrea's perfume, and noted two distinct aftershaves. Okay, so there's at least three of them.

On the door to the third bedroom, he could see the recently installed padlock device, now unfastened, on the outside. Opening the door, he saw a rumpled bed on which sat a stuffed toy, but no other signs of occupancy. He moved over to the bed and picked up the stuffed unicorn, remembering the animal's name.

"Where are Jenna and Blair, Magic?" he whispered to the toy. Magic didn't answer him. He laid him back on the bed and left the room.

He entered the bathroom, noticing immediately the missing screen. Bending out the window, he saw footprints in the mud -- child-sized footprints -- and ran quickly through the cabin and out into the darkening evening. Judging by the rainfall, the footprints couldn't be more than an hour, hour and a half old. Pulling out his cell phone, he cursed aloud at the now very familiar "out of cell range" message.

He followed the small footprints until they were met by a larger pair. Blair. Jim was suddenly grateful for the anthropologist's insistence that Jim accompany him on the shopping trip during which he had picked them out. Blair had gushed about the superb tread on those particular hiking boots, and showed them to his less-than-enthralled partner. He could still see Blair's laughing eyes as he informed Jim that jealousy was a very ugly emotion.

Jim smiled at the memory as he followed the tread marks through the woods. He expanded his hearing, and was surprised to pick up a slowed heartbeat. A heartbeat that was definitely not his partner's. He traced the sound to an inert form lying in the leaves. Turning the man over, he noted the large bruises on the man's face.

"Best aim in the Northwest strikes again," he said aloud to the unconscious man as he cuffed his hands behind his back, pride for his resourceful partner swelling in his chest. He found the man's gun and emptied the clip, pocketing the bullets and leaving the gun a few feet away from the kidnapper.

He decided to leave the man where he was. Even if he did wake up, the cuffs would keep him out of further trouble. He needed to find Blair and Jenna. Rising from his crouch, he moved slowly through the woods until he spotted the two sets of footprints again. They had been running.

An area of crushed leaves caught his attention. Or rather, what he smelled mixed with those leaves caused those frigid fingers to clutch again at his heart. He smelled blood. There wasn't a lot if it, but it was definitely there. He quickened his pace, following the trail of footprints interspersed now with small droplets of blood. Blair was hurt. He was still moving, but he was definitely hurt.

Hang on buddy, I'm coming.

"You did good, Chuckie baby," purred Andrea, grinning at the man seated in the back of Trevor's car. "Those cops will be crawling around that house in Peller's Gap for a good long time before they figure this one out."

Trevor, driving carefully in the rainy weather, saw the cabin before them and his smile disappeared. "Uh, I wouldn't be popping that champagne cork so soon, hon."

"Why...?" Andrea trailed off when she saw the truck she recognized as belonging to Jim and the shot up Volvo she knew belonged to Blair. "Oh, crap..." she whispered. Then, before Trevor had pulled their car to a complete stop, Andrea flung open the door and leaped out.

"Andrea!" Trevor shouted after her.

Andrea ignored him and ran into the cabin, mindless of the fact that Jim or Blair might be waiting for her. Trevor and Chuck followed right behind her. She ran into the room where they had kept Jenna.

"She's gone!" she cried.

"What?" Trevor said incredulously.

Chuck quickly checked out the rest of the cabin. "Edward's gone too."

Trevor muttered a curse under his breath, pulled out his gun and checked the clip. "This is great, Andrea, just great!"

"Shut up, Trevor and help me figure out what to do." She began swiftly pacing the cabin. "Their cars are here, so they didn't drive away unless... fuck!"

"What?" Chuck ventured, not at all happy at the sudden turn of events.

"They wouldn't need their cars if they drove off in police cars."

"Andrea, calm the hell down," Trevor warned. "There's no other tire marks in the driveway, I would have noticed them. They have to be somewhere in the woods. All we need to do is look for footprints in the mud and follow them."

"Why wouldn't they take the truck and drive away?" Chuck asked.

"Blair probably got here first, sprung the kid and took off. Then the cop showed up and followed them. We can take them," he insisted, brandishing his gun. "Let's just go get them."

"Where's Edward?"

"I have no idea. If he ran into the cop, he's dead meat, though."

"Fuck," Chuck replied eloquently.

"I don't see why we have to go traipsing through the woods," Andrea whined, eager to turn the conversation away from their contemplation of Edward's fate. "Why don't we get back in the car and just drive down the road. They would probably head back towards town, anyway, and the road is the quickest way there."

"Fine, let's just go already," Trevor insisted. "The longer we wait here, the better chance they have of getting the kid out of these woods and ruining everything. We can still get her back and collect our money. We'll all laugh about this when we're in Mexico."

Chuck checked the ammunition in his own weapon and they headed back outside. Trevor paused to feel the hood of Jim's truck.

"It's still warm. They can't be too far ahead of us. If we get to the fork in the road, we'll get out and start searching back through the woods. We'll get them, you'll see," he added for the still glowering Andrea.

"I distinctly remember telling you three fucking times to stop and fill the goddamned tank," Andrea shouted at the two men who were fiddling unsuccessfully under the hood of the car.

"The wires are just wet. It'll start. Just shut your mouth and get out of my face, Andrea," Trevor replied.

"Umm, the wires look fine Trev. Andrea's right. We're out of gas, buddy," Chuck said quietly.

In reply, Trevor violently slammed the hood down and smashed his fist onto the wet metal, denting it.

"What do you want to do now, Miss Know-It-All?"

"We split up and search the woods, just like we would have done if we made it to the fork. We haven't seen any signs of them yet, so they're probably in front of us. Chuck, you head back to the cabin. Fix the flat on my car and find us." She glanced up at the darkening sky. "We're not crawling with cops, so they haven't contacted anyone. I'll bet my share of the money that they'll hole up in a cabin with the brat for the night. We just need to find out which one they're in and pay them a little visit."

It was the angry muttering that clued Jim in to the fact that he was not alone in this stretch of woods. Just about anyone, Sentinel or not, could have heard the man crashing through the trees, cursing loudly as he stomped out his obvious frustration.

"Fucking Andrea, fucking Trevor, and god-damned fucking Edward! Stupid asses, all of them. How the fuck am I supposed to get the frigging car and find them somewhere in the fucking forest. Good going, Andrea, I'll just tool around until your little sports number runs out of gas, too. Fucking candy-ass car, fucking whore bitch. Right, like they're going to even look for the kid. They're probably screwing each others' brains out under a fucking tree right now, rain be damned. Fucking rain!"

Jim almost hated to ruin the man's angry ruminations, as they had provided him with a better understanding of what he was up against. Andrea had one man with her -- Trevor -- and they were not aware yet of Edward's situation. Jim was pretty sure that was the man who lay cuffed back near Andrea's cabin. Once he took care of this clown, he only had two people to deal with, and if this poor soul was right, they would likely give him the night to find his partner and Jenna. And he would find them. The darkness was no more a hindrance to him than the rain that continued to pour down. Buoyed by the thought that this would soon be over, he stepped into the man's path, holding his shield for the man to see, and training his gun on the man's chest.

"Freeze, Cascade P.D. Put your hands where I can see them, now!" Jim quickly tucked his shield back into his pocket as he watched the man's face change. His angry expression transformed from one of shock to reckless determination. He swung his arm around and pointed his gun, already in his hand, toward the detective.

Jim did not hesitate, and Chuck never got a chance to pull the trigger before Jim's bullet found its target.

Stooping to check for a pulse he knew he would not find, Jim took Chuck's gun and added its clip to that belonging to Edward. He left the body where it lay. Forensics would take care of everything once he found Blair and Jenna and got them to a place where his damned cell phone would work. Besides, if Andrea and Trevor were anywhere nearby, they would surely have heard the gunshot. If they weren't aware of his presence in the woods before this, they would be now -- as soon as they found this man's corpse. He briefly considered hiding the body, but instead chose to try and find Blair and Jenna first, and worry about Andrea and Trevor later.

Rising to his feet, he moved back to where he had last seen evidence of his partner's escape through the trees. Concentrating on the tiny drops of blood interspersed through the fading footprints and wet leaves, he continued south. He had been travelling slowly for nearly twenty minutes when he stumbled on a slippery patch of leaves and landed hard on his hands and knees. He looked at the cuts on his palms, and wondered fleetingly why they didn't hurt at all. He brushed the blood and dirt onto his pants legs and kept walking, his eyes and nose telling him -- to the exclusion of all else -- that he was on the right trail.

One minute, he was focusing closely on another tiny drop of his Guide's precious blood, the next a blinding pain shot through the back of his skull. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.

"Fucking cop," Trevor spat out, tossing aside the branch he had used to strike the detective and pulled out his gun, aiming at the Sentinel's head.

"No way Trevor," Andrea said quickly, pushing the gun up and away from the prone man. "We don't kill anyone, especially not a police officer. That's what we agreed when we started this."

Trevor met her gaze and held it, his eyes telling her what he thought of her rules. With a final glare, he stuffed his gun into his waistband and crouched down beside Jim. He picked up the service revolver which lay beside the unconscious man's hand, tucked that next to his own and stood.

"I told you I heard a gun shot, Andrea."

"No you didn't, Trevor, that was thunder. You and Chuck are such fucking sissies. He probably wet his pants on the way back to get the car." Andrea looked up at the sky and then back down to the unconscious detective lying in the leaves, ignoring the glare that Trevor was sending her way.

"Let's get out of this fucking rain."

Blair wiped his sodden hair back from his eyes to better appraise the cabin in front of them and gave Jenna's hand a squeeze.

"I bet we'll get into this one," he said lightly, hoping his words were true. He was beginning to find the thought of simply collapsing under a tree appealing. The three cabins they had already passed had all been soundly locked and shuttered. He would have broken a window pane in a heartbeat had one been exposed, and his attempts to pick the locks had proved futile. Meanwhile, the rain had grown steadily harder as daylight waned.

Jenna was just as wet as he was, but had maintained her steady pace throughout their cold and increasingly dark hike. She nodded at his words and smiled up at him.

"I sure hope so. I'm getting cold."

On their trek through the woods, Blair had carefully explained to Jenna that Andrea and her friends would probably be very angry at them for leaving the cabin, and that if they appeared, she was to stay behind Blair and let him talk to them. He didn't want her afraid, just cautious. Thankfully, they had seen no sign of any pursuit.

Breaking into the cabin was easier than he thought it would be. Easy as pie in fact, since the back door was unlocked. He discovered the reason for that almost immediately. A large portion of the roof over the bedroom had collapsed, and it appeared that this rainfall wasn't the first the king-sized bed had seen this season, judging from the smell of mildew. Why lock an unusable cabin?

The living area was a little better. An old couch dominated the small room. It sagged badly on one side, but was dry and smelled much better than the bed. A small table with two old wooden chairs was pushed to one side of the room. A season's worth of wood had been stacked against the far wall, along with a few months of old newspapers. Blair ignored the fiery pain in his back as he knelt shakily to start a fire. Jenna watched him from the place she had taken on the sagging side of the couch. He might have laughed to see her, muddied sneakers sticking up almost higher than her face, except that her face was filled with fear.

Once the flames had taken hold of the seasoned wood, he pulled Jenna closer to the fire's warmth and moved to the bathroom. He turned the tap and let the water run until the brownish traces were gone. After plugging the drain, he let the tub fill with hot water.

Rifling around in the dry portions of the bedroom produced two sets of clothes that, while not perfect fits, would be far better than the mud-encrusted, water-logged clothes they currently wore. He found clean towels, as well as an armload of blankets in a closet, and brought them out to the living area, where Jenna remained huddled by the fire.

"Jen, we need to get you warmed up. I know you're practically grown up, but I think a bath would be a good idea right now. Okay?"

"My mom still gives me baths," she whispered.

"Good. Why don't you hop in there, and I'll leave you to it. I found you some clothes to wear while we wait for yours to dry. They'll probably be a little big, but they're warm." He led her into the bathroom, pausing long enough to see her begin to untie her sneakers before closing the door. A few minutes later, he heard gentle splashes.

Moving to the kitchen, he repeated the routine with the water from the sink to clear the brown residue and filled the basin with scalding water. After gingerly removing his coat and flannel shirt, he tugged at the back of his t-shirt to pry the cloth away from the drying blood covering the wound in his back. Despite his tightly clenched teeth and deep breaths, a strangled moan escaped him as he tried to pull the garment off. Lowering his head to the edge of the sink, he waited for the sudden dizziness and nausea to pass. After several minutes, he tried again, this time succeeding in removing his shirt before again leaning over and pressing his face into a towel to keep from crying out in pain.

Breathe, Sandburg, breathe.

The surge of adrenaline that had seen him through his and Jenna's ordeal in the woods and into the cabin was long gone. With this realization came the certainty that unless he contacted Jim or Simon -- hell, anyone -- soon, not only was Jenna in danger of being recaptured by Andrea and her flunkies, he was a dead man.

Breathe, dammit. Calm yourself down and breathe!

The cabin didn't have a phone. His cell phone was in his backpack, which was still on the passenger seat of his Volvo.

The Volvo which that goon shot to hell before pumping a bullet into me, a bullet probably meant for Jenna, which might have missed her then, but which won't miss from point-blank range when they come crashing into this cabin once they find it, and of course they're gonna find it, I mean, I found it and I have a fucking bullet in my back and a scared little girl depending on me and no phone and no gun and no Blessed Protector and dammit, Jim, you can show up any time now, before those guys show up and shoot me and shoot Jenna and we both die and...


Too late, Blair realized that he was breathing. Only way too fast. Shit. Panic attack. Big time panic attack!

He sank to his knees on the floor of the kitchen, wrapping his arms around his bare torso and lowering his head to his chest. His frenzied breathing continued. Rocking back and forth, he willed himself to relax.

"I can't see a thing in this rain, Andrea. Why don't we stop for the night?" They were standing a few yards away from a well-secured cabin. There were no signs of anyone having been nearby, but the heavy rain would have washed any footprints away within minutes.

Andrea ran her hands through her wet hair and sighed loudly.

"They probably stopped somewhere, huh?"

"Yeah, of course they did. We'll have plenty of time to track them down in the morning, now that cop's out of the way. Look, we're cold and wet, and I have a sure fire way of getting us warmed up nice and quick, if you know what I mean." He winked at her and ran his hands possessively over her body.

"Think you can get us into a cabin?" she asked, pulling his hips to meet hers.

"Watch me baby," he replied and kissed her, hard.

He pulled her hand into his and led her to the front door of the cabin. Within minutes, he had shot through the lock and pulled his lusty partner through the door, closing the door behind them with a kick.

Blair felt small, cool hands making soothing circles on his shoulders and a voice murmuring soft words when he had calmed down. It was Jenna, fresh from her bath. He kept his eyes shut and allowed the comfort to continue for a few minutes, needing the compassion Jenna was showing him to banish his earlier panic. After a final deep breath, he raised himself up from his crouched position and turned to face her.

What would have been skin-tight stretchy pants and a cut-off sweatshirt on an adult woman were oversized on the six year old. Jenna had stuffed the too-long pants into too-big socks so they formed a bulge around her ankles. The sweatshirt didn't seem to be that bad of a fit, though, and only needed a little cuffing around her wrists. Her long hair was damp, but she had combed it back away from her face. It would dry quickly by the fire. Her face was still flushed from her bath, and held a look of concern.

"Are you okay now, Blair?" she asked gravely.

Blair felt another rush of emotions. He marveled at how bravely this little girl had acted under such adverse conditions, and silently thanked her parents for raising such a great kid. Not for the first time that night, he took strength from his little companion. I WILL keep you safe, Jenna, I swear it, he vowed.

"I'll be fine, sweetie, thanks."

"Your back's all bloody."

Damn. I didn't want her to see that. "Don't worry, I'll get it cleaned up in no time. Why don't you go sit by the fire and let your hair dry?"

"Do you need some help?"

Blair hesitated for a split second, all the time it took him to remind himself that she was only six years old, and had been through enough without having to help treat a gunshot wound on top of it all.

"No, I can handle it. You go sit by the fire and I'll be out there soon."

"Okay." He watched her walk to the couch and resume her place on the deeply sagging cushion before turning his attention back to his own care. Bolstered by the desire to remain calm in front of Jenna, he clenched his jaw and made himself breathe as evenly as possible as he swiped the clean cloth across his bloodied lower back. He was encouraged by the fact that he was still functioning, and that he could manage the pain -- hopefully this meant his wound was not too serious. After tearing up a flat sheet for bandages, he called Jenna in to help him wrap the cloth tightly around his torso.

He then spent several painful minutes in the bathroom trying to change into the clean clothes he had found for himself. He discovered that attempting to pull off his jeans without re-opening the wound was next to impossible, so he simply pulled on the clean shirt. His jeans were nearly dry now, anyway.

As he buttoned the oversized oxford, he let his mind wander over the likely scenarios for how this dilemma would work itself out. He trusted Jim to find him and Jenna, but could Jim get here before Andrea and the other two men did? Unlikely. The distance from downtown Cascade played against them. Not to mention the fact that Jim had no idea where 'here' was.

There was no way he and Jenna could go any farther in the woods tonight. They were both exhausted and unless his body learned to spontaneously heal itself overnight, he was pretty much out of commission as far as feats of strength and endurance were concerned -- so much for finding another cabin with a phone in it. They simply had to stay put in this cabin and hold on as long as they could. Food was a problem, but there was plenty of water and firewood. The heavy rain and darkness would probably keep their pursuers away until morning, but it was anything goes after that.

Sighing deeply, Blair exited the bathroom and walked into the living room... the empty living room. Frowning, he moved into the kitchen, and found it was empty, too. Pushing down his panic, he strode to the bedroom, only to find it, too, was vacant. All the windows in the bedroom were closed, locked and unbroken. The door was shut and the heavy, rusted lock was in place. There was no way Jenna could have opened the door herself, unless...

Feeling his stomach drop to his toes, Blair walked back into the living room with his hands held in front of him. Better safe than sorry, he figured. He made it to the center of the room without hearing a thing. No guns cocking, no demands shouted, no maniacal laughter. Nothing.

He lowered his hands, now feeling intensely paranoid. He checked the front door and found that it, too, was locked securely. None of the windows had been breached, either. It was possible that someone had managed to climb in through the damaged roof, but surely he would have heard something. For one hysterical second, Blair contemplated looking up the chimney to see if Jenna had flown away like a bird. He shook his head firmly and turned back to the room.

"Jen?" he called quietly. There was no answer. His fear was being replaced by outright terror when he noticed that the previously sagging end of the old couch was decidedly more firm than when he had entered the bathroom. Squinting, he walked over to the couch and pressed down on the cushion with his hands. Relief flooded through him as the couch emitted a delighted squeal and began shifting.

From underneath the couch, Jenna emerged, a brilliant smile on her face. "Oh, Blair, I found the best hiding place!"

"Jenna, you scared the hell out of me!" Blair cried before he could stop himself. He watched the smile fade from Jenna's face, and big tears form in her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I just wanted to see if I could fool you. I didn't mean to scare you, please don't be mad at me."

Blair crouched down to her level and pulled her into a fierce hug, ignoring the flaring pain in his back. "Oh, sweetie, I didn't mean to yell at you. I'm sorry, Jen. But you really did scare me. I thought Andrea found us, and I didn't know what I was going to do."

"That's why I wanted to find a good place to hide. Now all we have to do is find a place for you and we can wait until my Dad finds us." Her face, shining with tears, was hopeful. Blair grinned at her and tousled her hair.

"Did I ever tell you that you're the smartest little girl I know?" Jenna sniffled and hugged Blair gently, keeping her arms around his shoulders. Blair pulled away from her and stood up, gasping with the effort. He stumbled over to the edge of the couch and sat on the arm.

"So, how do we make sure nobody sits on you and wrecks this hiding place?"

"I didn't think of that, yet," she answered with a frown. "But I can squeeze in between the wooden slats on the bottom of the couch, so even if someone lifts it up, they won't see me."

"That's great, Jen. What do you say we put my wet shirt and towel on the cushion? It'll make it too damp to sit on, but they aren't wet enough to soak down and get you wet."

Jenna grinned up at Blair, her dimples showing clearly. "Did I ever tell you that you're the smartest grown-up I know?"

At Blair's incredulous look, she quickly amended, "except for my Mom and Dad, of course." They both grinned widely at each other.

"Of course. And thanks for the vote of confidence. Now, I think it's time for us to get some rest."

"But we need to find a hiding place for you, Blair."

"I'll think about it when we're resting," he told her. He was desperate to lie down. He was starting to feel light-headed and nauseous again.

Jenna laid out the blankets in front of the hearth and salvaged one not-too-mildewy pillow from the bedroom while Blair built up the fire. Sweating from the exertion and from fighting against the growing pain in his back, Blair eased himself down onto the hard floor and did his best to get comfortable on his side. Jenna slid under the blankets in front of him and moved back until she was nestled against his chest, her head under his chin. He tucked his arm over her small body and did his best not to groan in pain at the loss of support to his injury.

"Is your back really sore?" Jenna asked him after a few minutes of silence.

"Yeah," he answered. Please, Jim. Please hurry up and find us.

"Once, when I was playing in the park with my Mom and Dad, I cut my foot on some glass. While my Dad went to get the car, my Mom stroked my hand to keep my mind off how much it hurt." As she spoke, Jenna's small hand began a soft caress on his forearm. He closed his eyes tightly and tried to focus on the soothing movements. He breathed in and out, emptying his mind of everything except the small strokes.

When he opened his eyes again, the morning sun was streaming into his eyes.

Closer to Andrea's cabin, the morning sun nearly blinded Jim Ellison as he opened his eyes.

His head was pounding a merciless beat as he rolled over and tried to recall how he had ended up lying on the ground in the middle of the woods. He tested his senses one at a time, saving his vision for last -- none of them seemed to be working very well. When the pale dawn light failed to cause blinding agony as it had when he first woke, he raised himself up to a seated position and took stock of his physical condition.

A huge lump, sticky with blood, stood out from the back of his head, attesting to the fact that he had fallen, or been struck. His muscles were stiff from lying on the damp ground in an awkward position all night. His gun was missing from his shoulder holster, but a quick check at his ankle revealed his backup revolver, still in place. Still confused, he looked around him for his partner. He rarely spent time away from Blair these days, so assumed that he would be nearby.

The memories of the past seventy-two hours came crashing on him at once. The unconscious man, the dead man he had left in the woods and Blair's decimated car were foremost in his mind. Those, and the fact that he still had two perps running around in the forest somewhere -- one of whom had nearly ventilated his skull -- drove him to his feet, cursing.

He managed two steps before he crashed back down, face-first, to the forest floor.

Resting his aching head on his forearms, he scanned around him with his hearing for any signs that he wasn't alone. Aside from animals and birds, he heard nothing. He was aware that his efforts resulted in only slightly better than normal hearing, and he once again concentrated on controlling the throbbing in his head.

The chill of the damp leaves was seeping into his wet clothes as he lay, desperately battling for control of his body so he could continue his search for Blair and Jenna. Calling on the discipline drilled into him by the Army, he rose to his feet and started walking. His pace was not swift, but it moved him where he needed to be. Towards his partner.

After a short distance, he found himself leaning against a tree, sliding to sit in the dirt before he could stop himself. Another string of curses crossed his lips, weaker now, and before he could tell his traitorous body to stop, darkness took him again.

"Jenna, wake up, honey." Blair shook the little girl gently, pleased when she stirred immediately.

"It's morning, Jen, time to wake up." The little girl sighed and rolled over to look up at him with sleepy eyes. A huge yawn split her face as she nodded. Pulling away from him, she stretched her arms above her head, giggling when she noticed the sweatshirt had lost its cuffs in the night and her hands were hidden, despite the stretch. Blair returned her grin for a moment before the gravity of their situation hit him full force.

Taking a deep breath, he rolled onto his stomach and painfully raised himself up onto his hands and knees. He crept to the couch and used the sturdy arm to lever his aching body up off the floor. By now, Jenna had finished cuffing her sleeves, and followed him as he shuffled into the kitchen. Dizzy from those small efforts, he leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths to manage the pain in his back.

Without a word, Jenna walked to the sink and turned on the tap. After the water had run for a minute, she filled two glasses and held one out to Blair, who smiled his thanks. He sipped gratefully at the cold liquid, watching as Jenna did the same. Once finished, he placed the glass in the sink and moved to the living room windows.

His watch had stopped sometime last night, but judging by the light, it was a few hours past dawn -- much later than he had intended to sleep -- and the rain had stopped. He hoped their trail had been washed away in the storm from the night before, but even without obvious clues, it would not be long before the cabin was found. The room was cold, but the smoke from a fire would quickly give away their location.

They had nothing to do but wait.

Jenna crept up beside him, and he put his arm over her shoulder, squeezing it.

"I wish we had some breakfast, Blair."

"Me too, sweetie, me too." They stood together, silently watching the woods for movement. Blair knew he should broach the subject of what might happen if... no, when Andrea and her friends found the cabin, but he didn't want to scare Jenna any more than he had to. Almost as if she read his thoughts, she brought up the subject herself.

"We didn't find a hiding place for you yet, Blair. Do you want to look for one now?" Her trusting face was raised to his.

"Umm, Jen, I don't think there's anyplace for me to hide here. I was thinking of trying to talk to them when they got here."

"Then why did we run away from Edward?"

"Edward was too angry to talk to yesterday, so I had to hit him with that rock before he could hurt you."

"He hurt you, Blair."

"I know," he replied softly. His whole body was reminding him of how badly that bastard had hurt him. He felt the beginnings of a fever coursing through his body, heating his skin. He squeezed the small shoulder again and returned his gaze to the woods. A flash of color and movement caught his eye. For a moment, he imagined it might be Jim, but Jim didn't own a red parka. Andrea did, though, and she wasn't alone. Suppressing a gasp, he steered the girl away from the window and back into the living area.

"Jenna, it's time for you to climb into the couch." Jenna's face reddened and he watched her lower lip begin to tremble. Pulling her into an embrace, he rubbed her back gently as he spoke.

"I want you to stay under there, no matter what happens, okay? There's a chance that Andrea will be just as mad as Edward was. I'm hoping she won't be, but just in case she is, you might hear some pretty rotten things." He tightened his hold.

"But whatever happens, Jenna, stay there. Please, stay there. Don't make a sound, and whatever you do, don't come out. Okay?" He tilted her head up until her eyes met his.


"Thank you, Jen." He gave her shoulder a final squeeze and released her. She moved to the couch and paused before she crawled under, looking back at him uncertainly.

Blair smiled and made a shooing motion with his hands, then watched as she disappeared. A moment later, the sodden clothes on the sagging cushion moved up to become flush with the rest of the couch.

After painfully resuming his position on the blankets on the floor, he watched with slitted eyes as Andrea and a man he didn't know peered into the living room windows. He quickly shut his eyes and concentrated on evening out his breathing, feigning sleep. Fear churned in his gut as he heard them circle around the cabin and shoot the lock off the back door. Well, no use pretending I'm asleep now, he thought as they entered the room.

He rolled slowly onto his back and looked up into the barrel of a gun. Jim's gun. Oh God, no.

"Hello, Blair," Andrea said sweetly, an evil smile on her face.

"I swear I haven't seen her since she left your cabin, man. We got separated in the woods. How many times do I have to tell you?" Blair knew he'd get another hard slap for his surliness, but he was getting really tired of this and really scared that they would proceed to Stage Two of prisoner interrogation, one that surely involved more serious bodily harm. He dully realized that his smart-ass mouth was probably hastening said Stage Two, but was beyond caring.

After hauling him to his feet, Andrea had removed the makeshift bandages from his torso and clicked her tongue at the blood-soaked cloth. It had not taken too much effort on their parts to get him tied to one of the rickety wooden chairs in the center of the room, his energy having long been spent. He wondered why they bothered to tie his hands at all. Didn't they see how weak he was? He wasn't sure he could even stand, let alone overpower them and sprint for help through the trees.

They've been watching too many old movies, he decided with a mental shrug. A real shrug would have been painful. Hell, breathing was painful right now. Maybe he would pass out soon, and they would leave him alone.

Of course, once he was unconscious, Andrea and Trevor would probably search the cabin more thoroughly and find Jenna. She stood a much better chance of remaining a secret if he could keep these two occupied until Jim could find them. If Jim could find them...

Dammit, he had to stop thinking like that! Of course Jim would find them. He wouldn't let a pesky thing like being bludgeoned in the woods and having his gun stolen keep him from rescuing his partner, would he? Andrea had confessed earlier to him that she and Trevor had come upon his partner in the woods and taken him out with a tree branch, so any help Blair expected to get from him would not be coming. She hinted casually that Trevor had a hell of a swing, and hoped that killing a cop wouldn't be added to the long list of his crimes.

He pushed his despair that Jim might be dead as far down as he could and concentrated on the reason for his being here. Shaking his head to clear away the lingering ringing in his ears from Andrea's rough slap, Blair calmly faced her again.

"Look, Blair, I know you're lying. You wouldn't just drop in here for a nap without knowing that the little brat is somewhere safe. So this means you know where she is. So let's try this again. Where is Jenna Rowlings?"

"I told you, Andrea, I don't..."

This time she hit him with her fist. He tasted blood in his mouth, and worked his jaw hesitantly, unsure if she was strong enough to break it.

"This is getting us nowhere, Andrea, why don't you let me try?" The man he now knew as Trevor cracked his knuckles and grinned as he approached Blair.

Shit. Here comes Stage Two.

Pausing to lean against a tree, Jim stopped moving long enough for the forest to stop spinning. He could clearly make out two fresh sets of footprints -- Andrea's and Trevor's -- and cursed again his stupidity for letting them get the drop on him last night. Once the spinning ceased and the nausea had abated, he pushed himself away from the tree and shambled on through the woods.

Thankfully, he had only been unconscious for about an hour, and once he had awakened, he was determined to continue until he found Blair.

His hearing was cutting in and out. He had heard raised voices -- one of which he recognized as Andrea's -- when he had focused a few minutes ago. His vision was more reliable, though, and his destination was clear. A smallish cabin lay only a few hundred yards from where he was. He approached it as stealthily as he could, knowing they probably wouldn't be expecting him, but not willing to endanger Blair and Jenna if they were keeping watch. When he could get a clear view into the windows at the front of the structure, what he saw brought him to a halt.

White hot anger tore through his body, and he let it. The flames of rage met their peak as he watched Andrea step aside and the man approach his bound partner.

Jim Ellison smiled ferally when felt the rage turn, as he knew it would, into ice. His head still throbbed and his senses were less than 100%, but the frozen calm which filled him was what he needed to get him through what needed to be done.

One deep breath later, he was circling to the back of the cabin, sliding the ruined door open and creeping into the bedroom, the hunter stalking his prey.

"Tell me... where the... stupid... girl is... you... God... damned... hippie!" Each word uttered was punctuated by a glancing blow to his midsection. Blair gasped at the searing pain, hard-pressed to do more than moan as his tormentor continued to assault him.

Trevor grabbed a fistful of hair and yanked Blair's face up to meet his eyes. "Are you listening to me, you stupid asshole? Where the fuck is she?" Another backhand. More blood to be spit out. A few precious breaths of air before his hair was pulled again. Harder, this time.

"Look here, pal, Andrea found her sneakers under the sink in the bathroom. We know she was here. Are you gonna tell us where the kid is now, or are you gonna deny you know anything? We'll find her either way -- it's either gonna be really easy on you or really painful. Whaddaya say?"

Blair's eyes, clenched tightly against the agony burning through his body, opened slowly. Gathering as large a breath as he dared, he spit into Trevor's face.

An animalistic howl of rage tore from the taller man, and before Andrea could stop him, he brought his fist up hard into Blair's chin. Blair felt the chair begin to topple, felt himself falling towards the floor, but before the jolt of his body meeting hard wood could register, he was unconscious.

"What the fuck did you do that for, you stupid shit?" Jim recognized Andrea's voice.

"I was trying to scare him into talking. You know, the 'make the pain stop please, I'll tell you anything' kind of scared."

Jim moved closer to the living room door, cursing the dizziness that still assailed him. His head injury was starting to feel worse.

"Well, you scared him right out of conscious thought, Einstein. You were just supposed to slap him around, like I was doing, not bash him in two. He was already hurt, we just had to wait him out."

"Didn't you ever see Rocky II? Mickey yells 'the body, Rock, the body!' That's what hurts the most, Andrea. He would've caved in a few more minutes."

Andrea snorted in disgust and rolled her eyes dramatically.

"You are one pathetic sack of shit, Trevor. I haven't got the slightest clue right now why I thought you'd be of any use whatsoever here. You're a hothead and a fool. And I can't believe you just quoted a fucking Sylvester Stallone movie to me! How the fuck do you propose we get information out of a dead man?"

No, he's not dead. If he was, you would be too right now, you bitch. Jim crept ever closer to the doorway into the living area.

Just give me a few more minutes to get these damned dials working and I'll take them out, partner. Hang in there.

"We don't even need him to find her. She has no shoes on, and she's six. Why we didn't just waste this hippie and go after her in the woods I'll never know."

"There's no way he'd let a six year old shoeless girl go running into the woods, you idiot. He knows where she is, I could see it in his eyes. Before you knocked him out, that is. We'll talk to him again when he wakes up. Right now, you and I are going to sit tight until Chuck gets here with transportation. The lazy shit is probably still sleeping."

Oops, sorry, Andrea, Chuck's sleeping all right, but won't be waking up -- ever. You just sit here and wait, though.

"What are you doing, Andrea?"

"I'm untying him. He's not going anywhere."

"Leave him be. This way, I'll know he's not going anywhere."

"Since when are you in charge, Trevor? This is my game... has been from the start. If you don't like the way I'm doing things, then take a hike. Literally."

"No way, babe. I've invested too much in this to get out now. That little kid can ID me, and so can your boyfriend here. I'm not leaving until this is done."

"Get out, Trevor."

"Sorry, Andrea, you're stuck with me."

"Get your hands off me! Get the fuck away from me!"

They're fighting, good. Jim heard a cracking slap and the sound of a body hitting the floor. He chanced a glance around the doorway to see Trevor standing over Andrea's prone form.

"Now who's in charge? Huh? I'll get to the bottom of this, you'll see." Trevor strode to where Blair was lying amid the ruined chair and untied ropes. He roughly pulled him upright and leaned him against the couch.

"Wake up, hippie." Blair's head lolled forward, and Trevor caught his hair, pulling his head back to face him. "I said wake the fuck up!" Jim heard a slap, then another. He heard Blair's respiration and heart rate increase, and knew he was coming around. He took a deep breath and shook his head slightly. The dizziness and nausea were at manageable levels. Time to end this crap.

"Freeze! Cascade PD!" He entered the room with his gun pointed squarely at Trevor's chest. The man released Blair and rose from his crouched position. His hands were at his hips.

"Put your hands over your head. Now!"

Andrea had been right. Trevor was a hothead and a fool. He managed to clasp his hand around the gun in the back of his waistband, pull it free and point it at the detective before Jim's bullet tore through his heart and ended his hot-headed, foolish life. After taking quick stock of Blair's vitals, Jim pulled the dead man into the bedroom and covered him with what he thought was the man's own coat. Dragging the unconscious Andrea into the bedroom as well, he propped her up next to the damp, mildewy bed and cuffed her to it, threading the metal links through the heavy wooden frame. He spent another few seconds securing a gag to Andrea's mouth. If she woke up before help arrived, he didn't want her to disturb Blair or Jenna with her screeching.

Moving back into the living room, Jim knelt beside Blair on the floor. He eased him down to lie on the blankets and ran sensitive hands over him to check his injuries.

"Jim." His name emerged slurred through Blair's bruised jaw and bloodied mouth, but the detective sighed with relief at Blair's recognition.

"You came," the younger man whispered.

"I'm here, partner. I'm here."

Jim ran his fingers across Blair's ribs, detecting small fractures beneath the badly bruised skin and muscle of his left side. He wished for a moment that Trevor was still alive so he could thoroughly beat the crap out of the man before pumping a few dozen bullets into his miserable body. Pushing that thought away, he focused his attention back on his friend's battered frame. His mouth was cut up and still bleeding slightly. Bruises darkened most of the left side of his face, swelling his eye shut. His nose was swollen and bloody, but didn't feel broken.

Blair moaned and arched his back as Jim eased a torn piece of his shirt across the blood streaks on his face.

"Relax, Chief. Be still so I can clean you up a little."

As Jim slid the cloth across Blair's cheekbone, the younger man arched up again, and tried to roll onto his side. Jim froze for a moment, remembering the blood trail he had alternately thanked and cursed as he raced through the woods. Tossing the bloodied rag aside, he gently eased Blair onto his uninjured right side, pulling the ripped shirt away from his back.

"Jesus, Blair. Oh, Christ."

Blair whimpered and tried ineffectually to pull away from the hand that now pressed a second piece of cloth against the much more serious, still bleeding wound.

"Oh, buddy, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."


"I know, kid, I know. Just relax now, Blair, let me help you." Jim pulled the shirt off his partner's shoulders and tore it up as quickly as he could. Wadding up a portion of it, he used the rest to tie the cloth around Blair's torso, hoping to keep the bleeding to a minimum while he found something to bandage it more thoroughly. Reaching over to the couch, he grabbed one of the pillows and placed it under his partner's head.

He raced through the cabin, finding some sheets, and brought them into the kitchen. He ran the hot water until even his turned-down senses flinched at the heat. Bringing the linens and a pan of water to his friend's side, he knelt and after removing the temporary bandage, began to clean the reddened skin surrounding the bullet wound.

Blair arched his back and flailed violently away from the Sentinel's touch. He cried out incoherently and tried to pull himself across the floor. Jim held him still with his arms and legs until he cleaned away the worst of the blood and grime. Blair still struggled, but his body was too weak to break free from his friend's hold. Jim bandaged the area as best he could and then pushed the bloodied water away. The cuts to his face needed attention too, but Jim was loathe to cause the younger man further pain. He wrapped one of the cleaner blankets around Blair, pulled his partner into his arms and simply held him close, rocking him, murmuring soothing words and rubbing his back, avoiding the bandaged area as he stroked the fevered skin. Blair's gasping cries soon lessened, and his motions slowed.

"It's okay now, Blair, it's okay. I'm all done, buddy. You can rest now."

Jim continued to rock his partner as he pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and dialed Simon's number, almost whooping with joy when the call went through. His captain had been frantic with worry. The Peller's Gap lead had been a ruse, and after returning to the station, all Simon's attempts to contact or locate Jim and Blair had been unsuccessful. He had been readying the men and women of Major Crimes for a sweep of the woods at that moment.

After relaying their location and stressing the need for an ambulance, he gave Simon a very brief description of their situation. His captain said he would try to get help there as soon as he could, but given the remoteness of the cabin, his team would probably get there before any other emergency personnel. Jim thanked Simon and ended the call.

Jim thought of building a pallet and dragging Blair closer to the road and the coming ambulance. But he knew that even if he wasn't still dizzy from the blow to his head, rain was still threatening, and Blair wasn't the only person he had to watch over.

Throughout his ministrations, Jim had listened to the heartbeat emanating from beneath the battered sofa. When Blair was crying out in pain, he heard soft answering sobs from Jenna. He thought about coaxing her out of her hiding place, but his hearing told him she was unhurt, only scared, and seeing Blair's condition might just frighten her more. He decided to let her emerge on her own, hopefully when her father arrived with Simon.

"Jenna, it's Jim Ellison, Blair's friend. I met you at the mall when you were camping out with Blair. Remember?" He spoke softly, and heard her heartbeat slow as she registered his words. "I called my boss, who's with your Dad, and they're on their way here. You don't have to come out until your Dad gets here, but I wanted to tell you that everything is going to be okay now." Jim hugged Blair closer to him as he spoke, willing his words to be the truth.

His own head still throbbed. He could feel the uncomfortable residue of dried blood on his scalp, and considered pulling the pan of water over to clean it up. But Blair was still restless, and Jim wanted to hold him and keep him from hurting himself further. Besides, he counted the irritation a small price to pay for having been so foolish as to allow Trevor to sneak up on him.

The realization of how much he needed his partner and Guide was driven home yet again. He had been concentrating far too keenly on tracking the blood drops when the man was able to strike him. Hell, a lightning bolt could have struck not two feet from him and he wouldn't have noticed it -- he was that close to a total zone out when Andrea and Trevor had found him. His senses were more of a liability to him without Blair helping him use them to their fullest and watching his back. If Blair wasn't around to help him, he didn't know what he would do.

Chiding himself for his train of thought, he eased himself over to lean against the edge of the couch, closed his eyes and focussed in on Blair's heartbeat.

"Stay there... don't come out... no..."

Jim woke from his doze as Blair moved restlessly in his arms, speaking slurredly as he writhed.


"She's here, Blair. Everything's okay now. Simon is coming and everything is okay." He held his hand on Blair's forehead, guessing his temperature to be well over 100 degrees. Brushing a hand through his partner's hair in a soothing motion, he held on tightly to the anthropologist, hoping to keep him from re-opening the bullet wound in his back.

Blair's ramblings did not lessen, even as Jim sought to calm the younger man. He pushed at the arms which held him and cried out incoherently now. A glance at his watch told the Sentinel that help was still at least an hour away. He had decided to try and get Blair into a cold bath when he noticed movement from under the couch. Jenna.

She sat blinking in the bright morning light for a moment, regarding Jim and surveying the scene in front of her. Jim noted her ill-fitting clothes and disheveled hair, and might have smiled at the sight at any other time. He opened his mouth to offer her words of comfort, but the calm yet determined look on her face stopped anything he might have said.

She crawled over to sit next to Blair, wriggling under Jim's arm as she did so. She curled her legs under her and laid her cheek on Jim's chest. Reaching over Jim's arm which still held his restless friend, she began a slow stroking movement on Blair's forearm while speaking softly to him.

Jim looked on in wonder as the tender ministrations of the child calmed his partner's movements and sighed aloud when Blair slipped into quiet unconsciousness. Jenna quieted her words and clung to the detective now, although her hand still moved along Blair's arm. Jim took up the task of speaking softly to both of them now, letting two steady heartbeats soothe his own frantic heart.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, Simon, Senator Rowlings and a host of Major Crimes personnel finally arrived at the cabin.

The waiting room was hot. Simon knew that hospitals were kept warmer than most other buildings, but this was ridiculous. He could feel the sweat beading on the back of his neck and trickling down his shirt as he sat and waited for the doctors to come back with some news on Sandburg's condition. Jim seemed unaffected. Well, unaffected by the heat anyway. His rigid posture and fierce countenance were testament to the fact that he was very upset by the happenings of the past few days, and handling them in trademark Ellison style. The man turned into a virtual stone when his emotions were at their highest, and nobody but Blair ever seemed willing to approach the Sentinel when he presented this face to the world... nobody but Blair. Sighing softly, Simon turned his attention away from his detective and rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen the tightly bunched muscles there.

Simon removed his glasses, stuffed them into a shirt pocket and lowered his head into his hands. As he felt the tension in his neck ease, he rubbed his fingers over and over his eyes, vainly attempting to banish the lost sleep of the night before.

He had spent most of the night at the decoy stakeout -- a decoy Andrea and Trevor had concocted with the help of their friend Chuck, who had apparently placed the fake call from Peller's Gap. That Trevor and Chuck were now dead and the other two in custody was a little satisfaction in an otherwise unsatisfactory case. That bitch and her flunkies had played the whole team from Major Crime for fools. He didn't care how mentally unbalanced she was, he wanted to see her stand trial and pay for her crimes. If it wasn't for Blair and Jim, this case might have ended tragically. While he and most of his men were busy in the tiny town, Simon's favorite observer/anthropologist had been out acting the hero.

Acting? Hell, he was a hero! Simon thought fiercely as he massaged his temples. Blair had stumbled into a situation for which he had never been trained, but had handled it as well as could be expected. He had gotten Jenna away from her kidnappers, even managing to take one of them out in the process. He had taken care of Jenna, comforting her and keeping her safe, while distracting her abductors and waiting for the cavalry -- namely Jim -- to arrive. That he had distracted them by suffering at their hands did not sit well with the police captain at all.

At times like this, all the dictates about closed societies and official statuses meant absolutely nothing. Blair Sandburg was one of his own, and Simon was going to stay in this waiting room until he knew that the young man was going to be okay, or until it was time to pick up the shattered pieces of Jim Ellison if the news was anything but that.

He wouldn't forget for a very long time the image of Jim Ellison he saw as he entered the cabin. Jim had still been dazed from his encounter with the tree branch, but was protectively cradling his unconscious partner in his arms and murmuring soothing words to him. That Jenna Rowlings was also in his embrace seemed an afterthought. All of the Sentinel's attentions were on Blair, where they remained while the paramedics treated the younger man and until he was lifted into the ambulance. Simon had felt momentary panic when the EMT told Jim there was no room in the ambulance for him, but his detective had simply nodded and then shot Simon a look so desperate, it had the captain digging for his car keys and quickly turning over the crime scene to one of his senior men.

The ride to the hospital was silent. Simon drove as close to the ambulance as he dared, knowing full well the other occupant of the car was focusing every one of his senses on the vehicle in front of them. Simon knew Jim was tempting a zone out by remaining so open to outside stimulus -- he had learned that much from Blair over the years -- but there was nothing that would prevent Jim's actions, so Simon simply kept watch over Jim, usurping Blair's position only until the observer could take back his rightful place.

Upon arrival, they were allowed to wait outside the ER room where Blair was being evaluated, and got a brief glimpse of him when they wheeled his gurney towards the elevators. Blair needed surgery to remove the bullet lodged in his back and repair the damage it had caused.

Although the nurses were sympathetic to Jim and Simon's pleas for information, none of them would know anything concrete until the surgery was over. There was nothing they could do but wait -- and pray.

Jim settled himself in the chair at Blair's bedside, having just convinced Simon to leave him where he was and to stop pestering him to go back to the loft and rest. One of these days, Simon would find out that it was next to impossible for Jim to sleep in the loft when Blair was not there. The Sentinel received enough ribbing from his captain about his unlikely roommate as it was -- if he knew that little tidbit of information, Jim's life would become hell. Policemen were notorious pranksters, and captains the worst of the lot.

After spending time in the recovery room after the successful surgery on his back, Blair had been moved into a private room. Time in ICU had not been necessary, to Jim's relief. He was thankful he didn't have to spend 50 minutes of every hour concentrating through the glass doors to monitor his friend's condition, it would have resulted in a larger headache than the one he already had. The lingering effects of the blow to his head were dissipating, but only because he kept the use of his senses to a minimum.

Stretching his arm out to lay against Blair's, he closed his eyes and dozed while waiting for his friend to wake.

Blair stirred restlessly, troubled by dreams even in his medicated state. Jim tried gently stroking his hair and shoulders, to no avail. The detective had slept for about six hours, and full night now blanketed the city of Cascade. His partner had not awakened yet, and something was troubling him. Blair arms reached out -- away from Jim -- seeking something in his sleep. Something that wasn't there.

An inspiration struck the Sentinel. Jim brushed his hand across his partner's forehead a final time and left the room, heading for the lobby. He completed his transaction as quickly as possible and headed back upstairs within ten minutes. Blair was still murmuring in his sleep, still reaching out. Jim glanced at his impulsive purchase and smiled. The teddy bear -- well dog, actually -- was about two feet high, covered in soft white fur, and the only thing the gift shop had slightly resembling a six year old girl. Jim placed the stuffed animal in Blair's arms, pushing it until it rested softly against his chest and stomach.

Blair stilled his movements and wrapped his arms around the dog, pulling it tighter against his chest. He slowly curved one knee, then the other up until they rested against the furry feet of his charge, his healing body providing a sheltering cave for the little girl whose safety was still in his unconscious thoughts. The dog's soft head fit neatly under his chin, and Jim couldn't hold back his smile as Blair rubbed his cheek against the softness, breathing in deeply as he did so. With an audible sigh, his sleep became more peaceful, his heart rate and respiration lowering as he drifted deeper into healing slumber.

Jim made sure the IV linked to his hand was unhindered by his partner's embrace and settled again into the chair. A few minutes later, a nurse came to check on Blair and smiled as she noticed his bedmate. Jim blushed furiously and tried to think a reasonable explanation for why a grown man was clutching a stuffed dog in his sleep. The nurse took in his agitated face and spoke softly to him.

"If I thought it would help Mr. Sandburg rest, I would crawl into bed with him myself," she said with a grin. She took no notice of the wicked smile on the detective's face as she finished checking his partner's vitals. Blair's night nurse had to be nearly sixty years old. His partner would be pleased to know that his appeal to the opposite sex did not waver -- despite the fact that he was post-op, hooked up to multiple medical devices and wrapped around a stuffed toy like a four year old.

Jim murmured a "thank you" as she left the room, pleased that this kind woman had buoyed his spirits. For the first time since this case began, he felt himself starting to truly relax. A glance at Blair told him that his partner would sleep for some time.

"Good dog," he said softly, reaching over to stroke the animal's soft fur. Resting his hand on Blair's arm, he let himself drift into a half-sleep, staying alert to any changes that might occur in his sleeping Guide, but welcoming the rest he knew his body needed.

"Hey partner, welcome back."

Blair raised his eyes to the man at his bedside. He had been slow to open his eyes, but had been conscious long enough for his memory to provide him with the reason he was in the hospital and to discover that he didn't feel at all bad. Medicated to the gills, perhaps, but in no pain whatsoever. He had a thousand questions for his partner, most revolving around Jenna. Where was she? Was she okay? Did he dream Jim's arrival at the cabin? Were Andrea and the others in custody or still at large? Was anyone else hurt? And why was he hugging a stuffed animal?

When his eyes focused clearly on Jim's face, relief flooded through him. He knew that smile on Jim's face.

It was a very special smile, brought out only on very rare occasions. He had witnessed it each time he awakened during his hospital stays and once when he had surprised Jim with extremely hard to come by Jags playoff tickets for his birthday. The most memorable time that smile had been directed at the anthropologist, though, was when Blair had told Jim he turned down the expedition to Borneo, and formally declared his friendship for the first time. As it had on that day, and the others, Jim's smile warmed his partner to his toes.

Oh, Jim smiled all the time, but there always seemed to be the hint of a smirk on his face when he did. This smile, however, not only lit up his eyes, but his whole body to the point where he practically glowed. And Blair had never been so happy to see that look on his partner's face. It meant that everything was okay. Any questions he had could wait until later. He tried to clasp the hand which held his, but knew he didn't manage much of a squeeze. Jim felt his effort though, and the smile grew impossibly brighter. A dopey half-smile in return to Jim's blinding one was all he could manage before keeping his eyes open proved too much of a burden.

He heard Jim assure him again that all was well, Jenna was safe and Andrea and the others were no longer a threat. Right, Jim, like you'd be grinning like that if there was anything wrong, he thought, too tired to open his eyes again, but not yet asleep. To his surprise, Jim continued to speak to him.

"Ahh, Chief, what am I going to do with you? Huh?" Blair heard Jim settle a bit in the chair and gently unclasp his hand from the anthropologist's. He thought Jim ran his hands over his face -- his sigh sounded slightly muffled. Blair kept still and silent as Jim continued to speak.

"You're the best damn partner a man could ask for, but every time you put yourself in danger because of me, it kills me a little inside. Sometimes I don't know why it is you stay with me but, Jesus, Blair, if you left I don't know what I would do. You're my friend, my Guide, my partner. You trusted me and I let you down. I'm supposed to protect you from danger, and here we are again, with you in the hospital bed and me having to watch you pay for my mistake."

Blair felt Jim's hand clasp his own again, and covered his startlement by lightly moaning and shifting in bed, ostensibly in sleep. The anthropologist figured Jim must not be using any of his senses to monitor him, or he would surely know his partner was awake, and able to hear his bedside confession. Jim was quiet for a few more minutes, then spoke softly.

"I'm proud of you, buddy. You were brave and resourceful out there in those woods. Even hurt, you kept Jenna safe. Simon and all the guys are still talking about how well you did. Jenna is home sleeping in her own bed tonight because of you. I only wish you could be back at the loft with me." Another sigh. If Blair thought he could stay awake long enough to reassure his obviously distressed partner, he might have opened his eyes and tried to do so, but any conversation that important would have to wait until he could do more than yawn in Jim's face.

"You just sleep now, Blair. Sleep and get well. I'll be here when you wake up."

And he was. When Blair awakened the next morning, feeling a little stronger and a lot less bleary, Jim and that radiant smile were waiting for him.

"It's good to see you back, kid. It's high time you woke up and got Jim back in line." Simon Banks had arrived at lunch time, bringing a sandwich and some soup for Jim, and a huge arrangement of fresh flowers for Blair from the members of Major Crimes.

Blair looked closely but saw no sign of derision on the captain's face, just genuine affection with a trace of concern.

Blair wasn't sure when he would stop expecting Simon to yell "joke" after saying something nice to him. He had been on the outside of things, so to speak, for so long that being fully accepted as part of Simon's team still hadn't registered fully in his brain. Blair smiled back at the captain as widely as his damaged mouth would allow.

"Thanks, Simon." Deciding that he would ride the captain's good mood as far as he could, he ventured to tease him a bit. "Good thing I woke up, too. I can see you failed to get Jim out of here for any length of time, judging by the look of him. I thought you had control over your detectives..."

Instead of a glare, a sigh, or even a roll of the eyes, Simon gifted Blair with a booming laugh.

"You have got to be kidding me, Sandburg. That man practically chains himself to your bedside anytime you're admitted, you know that." Simon continued to chuckle, pointedly ignoring Jim's glare in his direction.

The Sentinel knew his countenance wasn't going to silence his captain's laughter anytime soon -- it was hard to look intimidating when you were blushing. Besides, Simon was right. He glanced sheepishly at Blair, only to see a smile filled with pleasure and understanding on his partner's face. He reached out for the younger man's hand and squeezed it, assuring his partner that he knew that if their places were reversed, Blair would have done the same thing. They stayed that way, hands clasped, grinning sappily at each other, until Simon interrupted them.

"Heaven help me, but you two deserve one another." The sigh that Blair had half-expected earlier was brought out in full force now, as well as the patented Simon Banks Eye Roll.

"Do you have any new information to share with us about the case, captain?" Jim asked, and it was Blair's turn to sigh. He had hoped that they would keep the conversation light. He really wasn't in the mood to hear anything about Andrea, Trevor, or even Jenna right then.

"Both Andrea and Edward were denied bail at the arraignment this morning and are being held, pending the trial. The FBI stepped in to take over the prosecution, since it should have been their show all along, being a kidnapping. They aren't too angry with us, given the circumstances, but aside from giving statements and testifying when the trial takes place, we are off the case."

"Are their any holes in the case?" Blair asked anxiously.

"Not a one -- those two are going to jail for a long time. With the evidence we have stacked against them, the trial will practically be a formality. You can expect a visit from the prosecutor some time in the next few days for your statement, Blair. Your testimony will be critical."

Blair nodded gravely at Simon, dreading the thought of reliving his and Jenna's ordeal, but determined to see justice done.

"Andrea Reynolds is undergoing a psychological evaluation at Conover right now," Simon continued.

"She is one cold bitch, but she's not insane, captain" Jim insisted.

"You've got that right, Jim. The lawyers for the prosecution think the defense is grasping at straws." Simon pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "Andrea keeps asking to speak with the senator, but he has refused. There's gotta be a story there, but no one knows what it is, since she won't speak to anyone else, and he won't go near her."

"I don't blame him. I'd be happy if I never saw her again," Blair said quietly. Finally catching on to the anthropologist's somber mood, Simon glanced at Jim with eyebrows raised. Jim nodded towards the door.

"Well, it's time for me to get back to work. Blair, you take care of yourself and get better soon. You're already missed in the bullpen." He gripped Blair's shoulder, squeezing lightly as he continued.

"Call me if you need anything. *Especially* if you want me to come in and run Jim out of the hospital." He leaned closer to Blair and stage-whispered, "I know how the man can hover." Blair stifled the laughter that would hurt his injured ribs and nodded vigorously at Simon, his eyes dancing with mirth. Jim just shook his head and snorted.

"Ellison, I won't waste my breath and tell you to go home and rest, but at least have the nurses lend you a razor. You look like hell with all that stubble."

"Will do, captain," Jim replied, stroking his jaw to feel the growth for himself. He turned to see what Blair would add to Simon's teasing, but caught his partner in a deep yawn. Shooing the captain out of the room, Jim helped settle Blair in for a nap.

After eating a surprisingly edible dinner, Blair was pleased to see Jenna Rowlings and her parents enter his room. They had called earlier and asked if he was up for a visit. Although his medication still made him tired, the nap and his first real meal in days had energized him, and he happily agreed. Upon their arrival, Jim blocked the door for a few minutes and laid down some ground rules for the visitors -- no tight hugging, no making him laugh, no giving him any food, no playing with the medical equipment, and some other things that Blair didn't hear. Those had been drowned out by Jenna's laughter as he made outrageous faces at Jim behind his back. He quickly plastered an innocent expression on his face when Jim turned towards him, making the elder Rowlings break into chuckles, as well.

"Jim's way into rules," Blair explained as Jim finally waved them in. The Sentinel opened his mouth to protest, but closed it upon seeing the gleam in his roommate's eyes. He knew that look. He had seen it before each and every argument he had lost with the younger man. He simply shrugged, and sat in the corner to supervise while Jenna chatted happily with Blair.

The little girl was delighted with Blair's stuffed dog. After finding him behind the chair in the corner of the room -- where Jim had hidden him from Simon, saving himself and Blair from vicious teasing -- she happily reunited the dog with Blair, who asked Jenna to help pick a name for him. Magic was brought out of Jenna's backpack to share in the discussion, and after several suggestions were considered and discounted, they named him Lucky.

Jim had the misfortune to comment aloud at the inappropriate choice for the dog's name, as Blair was anything but lucky. Within moments, he found his face full of a ticked off little girl who was doing her damnedest to lecture him into an apology. He looked to Blair to help him, but his partner was giggling at the detective's chagrin at being bullied by a six year old girl. He was made to apologize three times, once each to Blair, Magic and of course to Lucky, before she stopped her tirade and rejoined Blair on the bed.

Exasperated, Jim looked at her parents and saw commiseration in their gazes. Apparently, the Rowlings' experienced this sort of thing often.

Before long, Jenna had the adults fighting back laughter as she spoke seriously to Lucky about the anthropologist's care. Jim didn't know what was more amusing: listening to the six year old; or watching Blair try to keep from laughing and hurting his ribs. Just as he decided to take pity on his partner and call a nurse in to up his pain meds, Senator Rowlings came over and stood before him.

"Can I speak to you in the hallway, detective?" Jim nodded, still smiling at Jenna's antics, and followed Richard into the hallway. They settled into two chairs which allowed them a view into the room. After pausing for a moment, the senator began to talk, keeping his eyes glued to the floor tiles as he spoke.

"I feel I owe you an explanation about why Andrea Reynolds was involved in the kidnapping. I'm afraid you're not going to like what I have to say."

"Go on," Jim replied cautiously, turning his attention away from Blair and towards the man shifting uncomfortably at his side.

"About three years ago, things were strained between Katherine and me. I don't even remember now what caused it all, but life was tough for a while. We eventually worked things out, moved past our issues, but when things were at their lowest, I had a brief affair... with Andrea Reynolds." Jim's gasp of incredulity was met with a quick nod from the senator. A thousand words of accusation and disdain waiting to spring from Jim's mouth were stopped only by his inability to keep any of them civil. He would not have a fight -- verbal or otherwise -- with the senator while the man's family and Blair were watching. Jim clenched his jaw and tried not to think of how good punching this man would feel.

Oblivious to the mental battle taking place beside him, Richard continued.

"Andrea wanted to be what Katherine is to me. Unfortunately, the appeal of being a governor's wife -- this was before I decided to run for the senate -- was stronger than anything she felt for me personally, and I knew that. I broke it off rather quickly. For me it had just been an escape from the problems in my marriage, just sex, but Andrea didn't let it go so easily.

"She harassed me for a few months after that, calling at odd hours, leaving me notes, showing up at my office, things like that. I considered a restraining order, but that would mean I would have to tell someone about the affair. I had successfully kept this from my wife, and wasn't willing to risk our marriage yet."

Coward, Jim thought fiercely.

"After those few months, Andrea dropped out of sight. I thought she had moved on, found somebody new, forgotten about me. I began to relax again, and started to plan my run for the senate.

"I stopped thinking about her at all after I got to D.C. I foolishly thought she was gone for good. It was then that I found out Katherine had hired her as her personal assistant. In the first few weeks, I never had a chance to talk to her without Katherine around. She never hinted that she knew me, never acted in anything but a completely professional manner. But she was just there -- handling things, making Katherine happy, scaring the life out of me every time I saw the two of them talking. When we did get a chance to speak alone, she acted as though she was over the whole affair, as though she hadn't made my life hell after it ended. She said she earnestly wanted to start her life over, and wasn't bothered by the fact that she was working for my wife, so why should I be?"

Jim rolled his eyes, glad the man beside him wasn't looking.

"God help me, but I fell for it. I was foolish to think that it would be that easy. Andrea is an obsessive woman, always has been. I should have known better. I just thought, if I played along, Katherine would never find out and my life might eventually go back to normal.

"You know, there was a time when I first discovered that Katherine had hired her when I thought I could tell my wife about the affair -- that I could end the charade -- but I couldn't do it. I still haven't told her. I was weak when I needed to be strong. I was so very stupid. And now my little girl and your partner are paying for my stupidity..."

The senator bowed his head into his hands and fought to control his emotions. Jim looked on, processing what the man had told him, but not attempting to offer any comfort. All he could think of was that if Richard Rowlings had confessed his affair to the detectives when they had questioned him, maybe his partner wouldn't be lying in the hospital room in front of them now.

Senator Rowlings had committed the biggest sin in Jim 's book. He had hurt Blair. Jim could have forgiven the man his pride and foolishness if his partner hadn't been the one to pay the price. But not so now. He was slightly comforted by the fact that Katherine would hear about her husband's actions when the reports were made public -- if not sooner -- and didn't envy Richard the hell she would make for him. That would certainly be worse than any physical pain Jim could inflict on him. He only hoped that Jenna would be spared the details of her father's behavior. Richard Rowlings would have to live with the fact that his daughter had been traumatized as well. Jim liked Katherine Rowlings a lot, and knew she would take care of her cherished little girl, despite her less than sensible husband.

The senator seemed to have gotten control of his emotions, and they both turned to where the most important people in their respective lives were. Jenna was still perched on the bed next to Blair, chatting away happily. Katherine sat in the chair beside the bed, smiling at her daughter. Jim noted the fatigue in Blair's eyes, and spoke to Richard.

"It's time for Blair to get some sleep," Jim said curtly.

"I think you're right." Before they could move into the room, though, Senator Rowlings caught Jim's arm. He held it for a moment as he took a deep breath. His face held embarrassment as he met Jim's eyes.

"Thank you, detective. For everything. And I'm sorry." After seeing Jim nod, he released the detective's arm, strode into the room and began the difficult process of luring Jenna away from Blair's side.

Jim mulled over what he had learned for a few moments before entering the room. He would have to tell Blair about the senator's revelation, but would wait until the younger man was feeling stronger. The physical and emotional toll of this case was high enough already for his partner, he saw no need to add to it tonight. He almost wished he could make Richard Rowlings face Blair and tell the tale himself. Knowing that Blair would probably downplay the senator's guilt and attempt to reassure the distraught father made up the detective's mind. Let the senator stew over Jim's silence. He deserved it, and Blair deserved to be told by a friend, not a jerk like Rowlings.

Fixing a glare to his face, Jim entered the room. Within minutes, the elder Rowlings' caught the detective's mood and hurried their little girl through her lengthy good-byes to Blair. Before departing, Jenna insisted on Jim crouching down so she could bestow a hug and kiss to him, as well, and it was that sweet gesture that finally cracked his granite expression. He hugged the tiny body back, and assured her that he would make sure Blair got better real soon, and yes, he would make sure Blair visited her soon, and no, he wouldn't let the stuffed dog talk too much and disturb Blair's sleep, and no, he didn't think there would be a problem if she wanted to visit Blair at his house, and of course, he knew how to make a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and no, he didn't know they were Blair's favorites...

Jim didn't envy the Rowlings' this bundle of energy. He kept smiling and answering Jenna's seemingly endless questions. His grin got wider as he made a sudden parallel to his own bundle of energy, now lying peacefully in the hospital bed and chuckling at Jim's attempts to remove Jenna's arms from his neck and steer her towards the door. Blair laughed out loud -- followed quickly by a groan of pain -- at Jim's shocked expression when Jenna placed a loud, sloppy kiss onto the Sentinel's forehead then held the sides of his face in her tiny hands.

"Take care of my friend, now, okay?" she asked him, deadly serious. Jim didn't have to force the equally serious expression onto his face.

"I will, Jenna, I promise." Just let anyone try and stop me.

"Good. Bye, Jim. Bye, Blair." At that, she strode from the room, her parents echoing her good-byes and following quickly. Jim rose up from his crouch and then fell heavily into the chair at Blair's bedside, wiping his forehead in a broad gesture and sighing dramatically.

"What I wouldn't give to introduce that kid to Simon at my next review. I bet she'd finally get me that raise I've been asking for."

Blair's peal of laughter was like balm on his soul.

A nurse entered the room shortly after the Rowlings had departed and gave Blair his final exam of the evening and administered to him a much-needed pain pill. Jim waited in the hall until she finished, and came back in as Blair was shifting on the bed, settling himself for the night. A flash of white fur under the sheets caught Jim's eye as he rounded the bed to assist his partner.

"You sleeping with the dog again?" Jim adjusted the pillow under his roommate's head as he spoke, secretly pleased his gift had been so well received.

"His name is Lucky, and yeah, he keeps me from rolling onto my stomach and hurting my ribs." Jim's answering smirk was ignored. "Besides, he's cool, Jim."


"Lucky is one majorly cool dog." Grinning, he gave the white head a loving pat.

"I see, so, sleeping with stuffed dogs is going to be the next craze sweeping today's youth, huh?"

"You bet, man, I am riding the crest of that wave." Jim smiled as his partner cuddled the dog closer to his chest, making himself more comfortable. "Don't worry, once my ribs heal, I'll retire him from nurse duty, maybe get him a stuffed poodle for company." Jim laughed out loud at that, and smoothed the covers around the two figures in the bed.

"Why don't you try to get some rest, now, Blair. Jenna definitely wore you out."

"Mmm, I'll try. Stay and talk to me for a while?"

"Sure." Jim settled himself into the chair by the bed, scooting it closer so he could rest an elbow on the mattress. They remained like that for a while, each finding comfort in the other's presence, content in the silence between them. It was Blair who spoke first.

"I heard what you said last night, you know." Jim startled a bit at that. He had assumed Blair was asleep while he was baring his soul to the younger man.

"You're wrong, you know," Blair continued.

"Wrong about what?"

"You're not responsible for what happens to me. Well, you are in a way, being a cop and all, but this whole mess was not your fault, and you shouldn't blame yourself every time something bad happens to me." Before Jim could open his mouth to speak, Blair raised his hand in a stopping gesture.

"Hear me out, Jim. You and I never really talked about this, so I'm not surprised you don't know how I feel." Jim closed his mouth, uncomfortable with the subject, but grudgingly respecting Blair's need to talk about it.

"When Incacha passed on to me the Way of the Shaman, I took it very seriously. It was like a sacred trust, given to me. Now, I know that it's your job as the Sentinel to guard the tribe, and mine as your partner to guard your back. But part of the understanding that I got from my experience with Incacha is that it's my tribe, too. You may be my primary responsibility most of the time, but I need to help where I can. In this case, it was Jenna who needed me, and I needed to be there for her, to live up to my part of the Sentinel bargain, so to speak."

"Blair, I know what you're saying, but I can't help but feel I let you down."

"You never let me down, Jim. Andrea fooled us both this time. Shit happens, man."

"Are those your words of wisdom for the day, Oh Great One?" Jim asked lightly, uncomfortable with Blair's easy dismissal of his failure.

"Yes, my son," Blair replied in a deep voice, making his friend smile. "Seriously, though, don't beat yourself up about this one, it got away from all of us, Simon included." They shared a groan at the guilt their captain must be feeling, guilt they would deal with later, together. "You'll just have to try harder to protect me next time the shit hits the fan, okay?"

"I should protect you from yourself, Romeo. You and any woman that gets within twenty paces of you and your grand notions of heroism." He moved his hand to cuff his partner on the side of the head, but instead found himself smoothing the hair back from Blair's forehead. "What would I do without you around, huh, Chief?" Jim's voice was thick with emotion.

"I intend for you to never have to figure that one out. I told you I'm not going anywhere, Jim."

"Good," Jim answered abruptly. "I can't do this Sentinel stuff without my Guide, you know." Blair let out a small sigh at that and closed his eyes briefly.

"You might try like hell to push me away sometimes, but like I just said, you're stuck with me." Blair reached out and took Jim's hand, squeezing it lightly. Jim hung on when Blair might have let go.

"Do you remember how scared I was when we first met? Every now and then I remember that fear, how lonely it felt to be the only person who could see and hear and feel the things that I did. There were times in the beginning when I thought I would always be alone with these Sentinel abilities. I know you don't have my heightened senses, Blair, but you do understand what I'm going through. You put your own life on hold to help save mine, and I don't think I ever told you how grateful I am for that. You saved me from my fear, from my loneliness. Now, with what happened with you and Incacha, I can't help but think we're tied together somehow, a Sentinel bond or something. When you put yourself in danger like you did, it's more than just yourself that you risk, it's me, too."

Blair met his best friend's gaze with understanding and regret. "I'm sorry, Jim," he whispered.

"It's okay now, Blair," Jim sighed, hearing the truth in his own words. "Everything's okay now."

"Yeah, it is." A small smile. "You do know that we're in this together, Jim. I can't promise I won't get into more scrapes, but you have my word that we are a team for the long haul. Get it, partner?" His emphasis on the last word was not lost on the detective, nor was the yawn that Blair tried to suppress.

"I do now, Chief, I do now." He smiled at his obviously sleepy friend. "Just let me take on the bad guys next time, huh?"

A sleepy mumble that vaguely sounded affirmative was his answer, along with a slight squeeze of the hand he realized was still held in his own.

Jim let out a deep sigh and repositioned himself in the chair. He fell asleep with his hand holding onto his future and a smile on his face.

The End.

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