Title: Pretender's Quest- Sequel to Steel Doors and Cement Walls

Author: BuffyAngel68

E-mail: vg68@msn.com

Rating: G

Summary: The best-laid plans just may set Jarod free and forever change the lives of a few very special people.

Notes: This is going to be a series of short X-overs. Even if you normally hate this type of story, please hang in. All questions from the original long, long (but well worth reading) story will eventually be answered and I really think this bunch of pieces will be fun. I know I had fun trying to work in nine different universes! Feedback isn't required, but how can I know when I suck demon farts if noone tells me?

BTW: Yes I have slightly messed with Sentinel canon as far as Blair's childhood goes. As far as I'm concerned he should have grown up the way I describe here, only taking occasional trips with his mom. He was practically an army brat for goodness sakes and not every child (especially sensitive ones like Blair) can handle that. The show made it obvious he had issues about that life and his mom. I've given Naomi a sister so Blair would have someone to give him some stability. Deal with it, okay? Thanks.

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((( ((((

As they sat together around the kitchen table in the Seacouver house where so much had changed in all their lives over the past few weeks, Jarod and Methos finished a sparse breakfast while the older man studied a sheaf of stapled papers Jarod had typed out the night before. Sipping at a fresh cup of herbal tea, Jarod pushed away the remains of his food and gazed critically at Methos, hoping for a positive response to his ideas.

"Well. Not bad, Jarod. Not bad at all. You really thought this out. Beautiful strategy for keeping them off your trail. Every time they latch onto one of your stings anywhere in the country, most likely it won't be you. How many candidate names have you got so far?"

"Only ten or twelve. I'm sure some of them will turn me on to others they've heard about."

"Probably. I hate to see you go, son, but this is brilliant. You're gonna have a ball. Some of these people sound.... really interesting. I applaud the name change too by the way. Kyle Paxson. Son of peace. Marvelous tribute to your brother and your new direction in the world."

"That's what I intended. Noone will know that but you and Duncan of course. Where is he, anyway? He promised you'd both sit with me in the den and explain some of the things on that video tape I found."

Laughing, Methos rose and retreated with his coffee in hand.

"Oh, no. That porno was his, not mine and if you want a lecture series on it, you'll get it from Macleod when he gets back from the beach! He lit the fuse on this atom bomb and I'm staying well away from ground zero! Where are you headed first?"

"Not too far away. The first candidate just lives up in Cascade......"

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((( (((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

"Three veggie burgers, two baked potatoes with everything.... the organic Caesar salad and a double thick chocolate shake, please."

Amused at the unusual order of the man two or three customers in front of him, Blair Sandburg chuckled quietly to himself and began to surreptitiously study the man's reflection in the glass over the raised menu board. To his surprise the man was well built, but on the thin side, telling Blair that either he didn't eat like that all the time, or he played at least four different sports, and daily, to burn it off.

When the stranger received his food, the somber face broke into an open, utterly guileless smile that made Sandburg's heart lurch in his chest and immediately drew him in. Though his reaction frightened him a little, Blair gave in to what his mind was telling him to do and spoke as the dark haired young man passed him on the way to find a seat.



"I... I'm really sorry.... I have no idea why I'm.... would you mind if I joined you.... for lunch I mean?"

Pausing, the man surveyed him briefly, seeming to be reading his expression, then smiled again, more lightly this time.

"No. I wouldn't mind at all. I'll be over there."

"In the far corner?"

"Right."

"Give me ten minutes?"

"Sure."

Once he'd been given his meal, Blair moved out of the path of other customers and stopped, gripping his tray tightly and wondering what the hell he thought he was doing. Drawing a deep breath, he caught a whiff of adventure in the air, surrendered to it and made his way to the table in the far corner.

"Uh... hi. The names Blair. Blair Sandburg."

"Kyle Paxson." the other offered as Blair set his tray on the table, slid the chair out an inch or two, then pulled it back under him as he sat down.

"So, Blair Sandburg. What can I do for you today?"

"Huh? Oh... I swear I've never done something like.... wow. Let me explain. I'm a professor of anthropology at the local university. Faces are a big part of the study and.... yours just.... intrigued me incredibly. When you smiled at the cashier.... oh, man. I sound like an idiot of the first order. I'm sorry. Really, sorry. Okay. I'll quit apologizing and just slink away, now." Blair mumbled, rising to leave and find a hole to jump into.

Swiftly, Jarod laid a gentle hand on Blair's wrist. He gazed up at him only for a second or two, but spoke volumes in that brief moment. Blair hesitated, and then resumed his seat.

"Relax. You decided to make a connection. Even if neither of us knows what it is yet, there was a reason. Don't leave before we find out."

"Yeah.... Yeah, I suppose you're right. So, why are you in town, Mr. Paxson? This isn't exactly Seattle or L.A."

"No, it isn't. Best reason I know of for being here and not there. I'm a recruiter.... sort of."

"Really? That's so cool. What corporation?" Blair asked through a mouthful of fajita, finally comfortable enough to begin his own lunch.

"Not corporate. I'm a.... private contractor. And what do you do when you aren't teaching?"

"I'm a consultant to the police department. My.... mmm.... sorry. My roommate's a cop." he explained, wiping a dollop of picante sauce from his lip with a napkin. "A detective, actually."

"Really. Maybe the three of us could get together while I'm here. I'd love to meet him too."

"Sounds great. Between both jobs I don't have much free time, but.... Shoot!" he exclaimed, catching a glimpse of the time on his watch. "I have to be back at school in twenty minutes! Before we met...."

"You were planning on take-out. It's alright. I understand. Here's my card. I'll be in town all week. Call if you and your partner have a night free."

"Definitely. Here's our home number..... and my cell." Blair told him, scribbling rapidly on a clean napkin then gathering his tray. "If it isn't me who answers, it'll be my best friend Jim Ellison. You probably won't get more than three words out of him, but don't let him get away with it. Make him talk to you. Enjoy your lunch and your time in Cascade. It's a beautiful area. Bye."

"Goodbye, Mr. Sandburg."

"Blair. Please, it's Blair." he corrected as he headed out the door with his lunch in a paper sack.

{Yes. Beautiful and lucky too, it seems. My first day in town, I walk into a cafe and meet the partner of the man I came here to find. What are the odds of that? Thanks for lending me your spirit guide, Methos. Let's just hope it keeps working.}

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((



Three days later, Blair found the encounter in the cafe still persisting in the back of his mind, unwilling to leave his thoughts or allow him his normal level of focus. The wind swept his hair back off his shoulders as he and his partner stood on the roof of their building, but he barely noticed that or anything outside of his own head until Jim spoke sharply to him, pulling him away from his reverie.

"Yo, Sandburg. Are we doing this or what?"

"Hmmm? Oh. Right. Sorry. That guy I told you about? I can't stop thinking about him, wondering if he'll really call."

"You're obsessing. If he wants to, he will. He's probably got his own stuff to do. Let's get on with this so I can have breakfast."

"Of course. Let's try piggybacking your sense of smell on your hearing."

"What good's that ever gonna do me or anyone else?"

"Certain explosives have a distinctive odor. Your ears will tell you where it is, your nose might give you a better idea what it is."

"Makes sense." Jim mused, his eyes closing as he centered himself, his breathing slowing and deepening as he gathered energy for the task Blair had set for him; choosing any apartment in the building across the street and letting his ultra-sensitive body go to work. "Some morning show on T.V. ...... doing a stupid celebrity interview or something. Mmmm. Yeah. Bacon. Western omelets.... with jalapenos if I know my peppers. Man, I'm way too hungry for this. We can finish after I eat, okay Chief?" Jim said, heading for the roof door.

"Jim? Hey! One more! Jim! Just because I had the sense to eat before we came up here..... it's not like I can do this by myself....."

Turning to follow his partner, Blair's grousing was interrupted by the faint buzzing of his cell phone. Excited, wanting badly for this to be the call he'd been expecting, he

fumbled it from his pocket and hit the talk button.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Blair. It's Kyle Paxson. I hope this isn't a bad time. Not interrupting breakfast, am I?"

"Not mine." he replied under his breath.

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, nothing. No it's a great time. I ate hours ago. How are you?"

"Fine. I was hoping today would be a good day to come and visit you and Jim."

"Really? Well.... it is actually. He's on second shift this month and my lecture got canceled, so.... yeah. Come ahead. 852 Prospect. I'll wait down on street level for you and show you up when you get here."

"Great. Say, ten-thirty?"

"See you then. Bye."

"Good-bye."

Slapping his phone closed, Blair did a small leap and a dance step and rushed down to the apartment to tell his partner the good news.

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((



Just before the agreed on time, Blair stood at the curb in front of the apartment building, thumbs hooked into the front pockets of his jeans, fingers drumming nervously on his thighs. His expression was a far cry from the happiness he'd felt just after his conversation with Jarod. When he'd gotten back down to the loft, Jim had reminded him that they'd planned some personal time between breakfast and lunch that day.

Over the past few weeks, he and Jim had been making use of some of their free time to trade off hypnosis sessions. He was helping Jim focus and explore his sensory abilities and Jim, after learning the basic techniques, was trying to help him get past his powerful phobia of all things medical. So far, Jim seemed to be the only one getting anywhere. He was becoming stronger and more confident in the use and control of his talent while Blair only got more frustrated.

They had tried every trick he knew and even a few begged and borrowed from a friend of his in the psych department at the university, but his only progress was backwards. Nothing had enabled him to move past the solid blackness that hid the truth behind his overwhelming fear of being in, or sometimes even near, a hospital.

Lost inside his own head once again, Blair failed to realize when his guest pulled up to the curb, got out of his car and walked up beside him. A gentle touch on his arm resulted in a leap that landed him a few feet further down the sidewalk and brought an easy smile to the other mans face.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't want to disturb you, but...."

"No. It's... it's okay Mr. Paxson. Really. I guess I went wandering in here again." he told him, tapping his temple. "I do that a lot."

"Kyle, and I understand perfectly. I do it myself..... quite often."

"Thanks. Why don't we head up? Jim really wants to meet you. We might have to cut it a little shorter than I thought when we talked though. In my excitement, I forgot Jim and I had something planned..... something personal."

"I won't ask." Jarod chuckled. "I'm strictly a ladies man, but live and let live, you know?"

"What?! Oh.... Oh, no! I didn't mean..... Neither of us is gay! Jim and I both have.... difficult things we need to work on. I showed him the basics of hypnosis and we've been taking turns helping each other in our off hours."

As they reached the third floor landing and approached the loft, Jarod was silent, watching Blair unlock the door. After a moment or two though, he put the sudden impulse he'd just been struck by into words, not quite sure why he felt compelled to speak the thought, but knowing it was right to do so.

"Would you mind if I stayed and observed? I won't say a word or interfere in any way, I promise you that."

"It wouldn't be a good idea." Blair responded as they moved inside and he shut the door quietly behind them.

"I should explain. Before I became a recruiter full time, I was a psychotherapist. I'm still licensed as a matter of fact. It really helps in what I'm doing now to be able to read the people I interview, to sense what they're thinking but not telling me. You get the idea."

"Yeah. I think I do." Blair murmured as he turned to face the other man.

{It is my turn, so Jim wouldn't be risking exposure or anything. Maybe an expert could even help me make some headway, or at least figure out why I haven't gotten anywhere up to now.} "I wouldn't mind.... I guess. I'd even kinda welcome an objective set of eyes and ears, but it'll be up to Jim. Walk easy with him at first, okay? Bein' a cop he's.... careful about strangers."

"He was military too?"

"Yeah. How did you know?"

"I didn't. The posture gave me a hint. He also throws off a "mess with me and I'll step on your head" aura you could feel ten miles away."

"I never thought of it that way.... but you're right. He does. We've both been through the mill more than once. We always pull each other out before the water gets too rough. That's what made us so tight and what keeps us together..... and I have no idea why I'm telling you this. Sorry, man...."

"It's okay. People do. I listen, give them feedback if they seem to want or need it."

"One of the curses of being a therapist, huh?"

"I don't see it that way. If I didn't want to help people..."

"You wouldn't have become one in the first place." Blair finished for him, laughing.

"Right."

When Blair moved off to join Jim in the kitchen, Jarod hung back, studying the tall man sipping coffee at the table as he paged slowly through a thick file folder. Almost immediately the other noticed the scrutiny and raised his eyes.

Abruptly, Jarod had to steady himself as Ellison's gaze locked onto him and pinned him in place as effectively as any laser beam. He endured the unsettling sensation of being scanned and appraised for several seconds, greatly relieved when Jim turned his attention back in Blair's direction and said something softly to him.

"Kyle? It's okay. He's done with the silent interrogation bit. You're acceptable to talk to his majesty."

Throwing Blair a look that clearly threatened bodily harm if the cracks continued, Jim rose halfway out of his chair and extended his hand as Jarod finally entered the kitchen. Greetings dispensed with, he dropped back to his seat and resumed perusing the file. Jarod took a chair himself, still reeling slightly from the intensity of the once-over he'd just been given. "He does it to everybody he meets for the first time. It's a ritual, now. My theory is it's the hair. If he'd let it grow out a little, maybe he'd loosen up."

"Sandburg...."

"Alright. I know. Could you maybe let the work go for a minute, though? We need to ask you something."

"We?"

"Yeah. I told Kyle the visit might have to be short. He asked why and I explained about the hypnosis. Turns out he's a recruiter and a psycho- therapist.... since I'm up to bat this time, I thought...."

"I don't think so. I'm sorry, Mr...."

"Paxson."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Paxson, but I've only been doing this a few weeks. I'm not ready to have a pro hangin' out while.... I'm nervous enough as it is. You understand."

"Of course."

Rolling his mug of tea back and forth on his fingertips, Blair focused on the rippling liquid surface, trying to suppress his roiling emotions enough to speak.

"Jim.... it isn't you, man. I told you, you're doin' fine. It's me. I'm at a dead end, and I.... if he can see something..... figure out where I keep goin' wrong, then maybe....."

Reaching out, Jim laid his hand on top of Blair's and stopped the motion of the cup, his expression slowly opening, softening. Watching closely, Jarod caught a glimpse of the bond the two shared and hoped he would be privileged to see more.

"It could be me. I do the best I can, but I'm new at this stuff. I know you're frustrated, Chief....."

Quickly, Jim looked from Blair to Jarod and back. "Okay. If you think he might be able to give us any ideas on what else to try.... he can stay."

A smile blossoming on Blair's face again; he looked up at Jim, gratitude shining from every pore.

"Thanks, Jim. I mean.... just thanks."

"Hey, if it helps, any humiliation I suffer will be more than worth it. Coffee, Kyle?"

"Herbal tea, if you have it."

Jumping up, Blair rushed to the cabinets and threw one open.

"Forty-eight different blends, some home-made. Take your pick."

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

Almost two hours later, Jarod sat in one of the kitchen chairs a few feet behind the couch watching Blair and Jim work and stunned by the amount of trust and faith he could sense flowing between the two. He had never experienced anything like it. To him, it seemed the two men were parts of a whole, two halves of one spirit who both knew they had found their place.

Feeling Blair had had enough for a while, he caught Jim's eye and tilted his head toward the kitchen. The other acknowledged the signal and turned back to bring his partner out.

"Okay. Time to find your peaceful place. Go there now. In a minute I'll begin to bring you back up to the light. Drifting in the warm water, breathing easily, let the tension and stress go. Let it float out of your body, let it float away. Good. Counting back from five. When I reach one, you'll be fully awake and aware, feeling refreshed and remembering everything that's passed between us. Five; floating upward now, slowly up. Four; coming up at just the right speed, breathing gently. Three; closer to the surface, the light's getting brighter. Two; rising to the light, you can almost touch it now. One. Welcome back, buddy."

"Must be break time." Blair grunted, stretching his neck. "Damn. We'll have to supplement that instruction about the tension and stress. It's having less and less effect."

Turning Blair to face away from him, Jim vigorously massaged from the shoulders up through the back of his guides' neck then back down. "Ohh. Better. Thanks, man."

"Anytime. Stay here and stretch a little. I'll be back."

Blair grunted his assent and his disappointment with another failed attempt as he slowly pulled his left hand around to the right side of his body. Jim rose stiffly and walked back into the kitchen where Jarod waited for him. "So? Anything?"

"Several things. How long have you been working with him on this phobia?"

"I don't know. Six weeks, maybe."

"And he's never gotten any further than where he is now?"

"Not an inch. If you've figured something out, spill it. Is it me? Am I using the wrong words or am I backing off when I should push...."

"No. Your technique is fine. It just won't work in this case."

"What are you saying, that it's him?"

"In a way. He trusts you completely, detective. He couldn't be any more open to your suggestions and instructions if he tried. You still can't get through. That tells me there's something else going on here."

"Like what?"

"Like this blackness he's trying to fight his way through is artificial."

"Artificial. You mean he didn't create this.... black wall he keeps talking about?"

"Exactly. Someone else put it there and only they, and Blair, hold the key to pulling it down."

"But if he has the solution to it, why...."

"Think about standing on the beach and heaving a sea shell as hard as you can out into the ocean. How easy would it be to find it? His subconscious is about as deep and wide as that ocean and we're probably talking about trying to find one, maybe two specific words. It could take minutes or it could take years."

"Or it might never happen."

"And the deeper you dig, the more dangerous it is for the one under hypnosis. Do you really want to know what lives at the bottom of your subconscious?"

"Probably something that would make Godzilla look like a day at Disneyland."

"Probably."

"I don't get this. It's not like Blair's a CIA spy or an alien abductee or anything. He isn't holdin' state secrets or the blueprints to a nuclear missile in his head."

"Nothing but the truth behind his iatrophobia. It doesn't make much sense to me either, but then phobias rarely do."

"I've just been trying to get him through to the source of his fear so he can get past it, but if I even say the word hospital or doctor while he's under he shuts down so completely I have trouble even bringing him out."

"I understand. Unusual.... He has to be told about this, detective. That's the only thing there's no question about."

"Jim. Call me Jim, okay?"

"Sorry. Jim. If you'd rather I...."

"No. I'll do it. How, I don't know.... but I'll think of something. I always do."

"Be straightforward. Just tell him."

Shooting Jarod a swift, dubious, expression, Jim moved back and reclaimed his seat beside Blair.

"I don't like that expression, Jim. What did Kyle say? Did he see something? Does he know why this is happening?"

"Yeah, he thinks so, Chief. The problem isn't you or me. Well, not exactly anyway. He..... he seems to think this block you're fighting is artificial, not something you created. Someone else put this so-called 'black wall" in your head."



"You can't be serious. That's..... Oh, no, no, no. That's just ridiculous..... Kyle?"

Dragging his chair a little closer, Jarod tried his best to expand on Jims' basic description.

"It's the only explanation that fits. As strange as it sounds, someone doesn't want you to understand why you fear hospitals so deeply. The block appears to be very powerful. You may not be able to break it..... ever."

Hopelessness beginning to crack the edges of the desire he'd held to so strongly for so many months, Blair steadied himself, then gazed up at Jarod, voicing his last chance at finding real peace.

"But you can?"

"No. What I mean is, I won't even try. I promised both of you that I wouldn't interfere. I've broken that already. I have no right to go any further...."

"Even if I ask? Hell with it, I am asking. Please. Help me."

Gazing from Blair to Jim, Jarod found fires blazing hotly in the older man's eyes; fires of passionate caring and a powerful need to shield his younger partner from any more pain, sorrow or frustration.

"If you're both sure you want this..... there is one thing I could try. I won't guarantee anything."

"Are you positive.... that someone else did this to me?" Blair asked, his eyes on Jim, his hands shaking almost imperceptibly.

"As badly as you want this, if you'd hidden this memory from yourself, I have to believe you'd have uncovered it by now, or at least part of it. Yes. I'm positive."

"Then do it. You can't possibly be any less successful than we were."

"I agree." Jim acceded. "Anything is better than going nowhere. I'll follow whatever directions you give me to the letter. Just tell me what to do."

"Okay. Blair. Are you too tired to go on now? Do you want to wait until tomorrow or the next day?"

"Forget that. I'm a little tired, but most of what's wearin' me out is fightin' the stupid memory block. Get me through it.... and trust me, the last thing I'll be ready to do is sleep."

"Let's hope I can help then. Go ahead and put him back under, Jim."

"Me? I thought this was your show from here on in."

"You've been the one working with him all this time. It's your voice, your intonation he responds to. Go on."

Once Blair was deeply hypnotized, Jim gave Blair a command that allowed him to hear and answer Jarod's questions and directives as well as those given by his partner.

"Blair. This is Kyle. Can you hear and understand me?"

"Perfectly."

"Good. Tell me where you are."

"The loft. Jim's apartment."

"How are you feeling right now?"

"Not so good. Tense, worried."

"Can you identify the source of those feelings?"

"I haven't been able to make any progress in my sessions with Jim. I thought this would be so easy when we started, but.... it's nothing but a mess."

"How so? What caused it to become a mess?"

"I don't know.... I just.... don't know. I kept coming up against this wall that I couldn't get past. It made me so.... so mad.... and scared." Blair responded, becoming visibly upset as he voiced the loss of control he still felt when discussing his failure at breaching the memory block.

Seeing how disturbed the younger man was, Jarod calmed him with a common technique he'd learned long ago.

"Where do you feel safest, Blair? Where is the one place noone can hurt you?"

"With Jim.... anywhere with Jim. He's my best friend..... Blessed Protector. I'm always safe with Jim."

Jarod shot Jim a brief upraised eyebrow at the unfamiliar term, but the other was utterly focused on Blair and took no notice.

"I want you to picture yourself standing in a small room, Blair. It's painted light blue. The whole room, every surface, is light blue. Jim is standing right beside you in this room. When things get too frightening or painful this is where you go, alright? This room is safe and calming. It's easy to breathe in the blue room. There's noone here but you and Jim. You're safe here."

"I see it. I understand."

"Good. Are you ready to leave here for a while?"

"I can come back?" Blair asked quickly, panic rising in his voice.

"Of course you can, if things get really scary, but for now we have work to do. Are you ready?"

"Yeah. Okay."

"Great. Take me to the black wall, Blair. I know it's hard, but I need your help. You're at the wall, standing at the base of it. Tell me when you're there."

"No..... "

"It's okay. Be strong, Blair. You can do this."

"I.... I'm there. I don't wanna be....."

"I know. You said it's totally black, like looking into a night sky without stars or a moon. If you can't use your sight to describe it then use your other senses. What do you smell, taste, hear..... give me everything you can."

"No! I can't. It hurts! It hurts.... don't make me do that...."

"What hurts, Blair? Tell me."

"Looking at it.... thinking about it..... my head hurts.... I want to go away..... go to the blue...."

"Not yet, Blair. Stay with me for a minute, okay?"

Reaching over, Jarod grasped Jims' hands and placed them around Blair's. "Can you feel that?"

"Someone's holding my hands."

"That's right. Picture a car gas gauge and put it just at the edge of your vision. Jim is holding your hands, Blair. He's here for you to draw strength from when you need it. If it hurts, give him the pain. If you're scared, think about him talking to you, comforting you and it won't be so bad anymore, but if the gauge goes too far toward the empty mark, you have to tell me so we can stop, alright?"

"I understand."

"Very good. Now, face the wall, Blair. Look up at it. Remember you can give Jim the pain and the fear. He won't let anything happen to you and he won't leave you. Let him be strong for you."

Blair whimpered softly, but his chin tilted up as if there were a real surface in front of him.

"Hurts.... it's too hard, man. I can't do this...."

"Yes, you can. Use the connection to Jim. Let him take it away."

It took several minutes before Blair's brow smoothed and he began to relax, but by that point Jim's expression said he was in dire need of a handful of buffered aspirin and a straight scotch to wash them down. When Jarod silently questioned him, he only mouthed that the session should continue and refocused on Blair.

"Try again, Blair. This time you'll be able to look at the wall without pain."

"I'm scared...."

"I know. It's okay to be frightened but you have the power here. Take control of the fear. Are you looking at the wall?"

"Yeah. Man, this is so hard...."

"You're safe here, remember. Everything's alright. Try again for your other senses. Tell me."

Abruptly, Blair's nose wrinkled and he pushed back into the couch cushions a little.

"Ughhh! I hate that.... get it away!"

"What is it you don't like?"

"The smell.... antiseptic, alcohol.... ahhhh.... that's nasty! Damn....."

"It's okay. You don't smell it anymore. It's totally gone. Alright?

"Yeah. It's gone."

"Good. Go to the next sense."

"Nothing there.... or there. This place is totally silent and all I feel is Jim's hands. My mouth tastes... metallic almost. Like I bit my tongue. I hate it when I do that. I always have to drink and drink anything I can get my hands on until I don't taste it anymore."

"Okay. Let's go to the blue room for a minute and take a rest. Peaceful and relaxed, completely at ease. No fear, no stress. Becoming very quiet, your mind is becoming quiet, breathing becoming quiet, heart-rate slowing to normal....."

The three men sat silent and still until Jarod's watch told him a full five minutes had passed. "How do you feel, Blair?"

"Much better. I'm really relaxed."

"That's good. It's time to come out for a while. We'll come back here when we're finished, I promise. It's dark around you again, but the wall is far away. This darkness feels good, calming. I want you to look down a few inches in front of your feet. You're standing at the top of a well-lit flight of stairs. All you can see is this first set of steps, but you can tell it goes on farther than that, down and down. There are ten steps in each flight, including the landing. When I tell you to start, I want you to move slowly down the first set of steps, counting them out loud and stopping on the landing until you're instructed to continue. As you move down, you'll remain relaxed and calm and the answer to the following question will become clearer. What is the key? Do you understand everything I've told you?"

"Yes. I understand."

"Excellent. Begin now."

When Blair reached ten and stopped counting, Jarod prompted him. "What is the key?"

Receiving no response, he sent him down the next flight, and the next, and the next, but still got nothing. About to begin the ninth set of steps, Jarod realized nothing was changing. He decided to finish there and go no deeper, pulling Blair back to the blue room and letting Jim bring him out from there. Blair, however, pleasantly surprised him.

"What is the key?"

"The key is simpatico."

Mildly shocked, Jarod's back straightened and his voice held excitement for the first time in nearly forty minutes.

"Listen very carefully, Blair. When I tell you to begin, I want you to turn and start back up the stairs, taking the key and your relaxed, calm state with you. This time, as you reach each landing you can start up the next flight on your own. Tell me when you reach the darkness at the top."

Ten minutes later, Blair spoke up.

"I'm here."

"Do you still have the key?"

"Yes."

"Very good. The stairs are gone now, but they'll return the next time we need them. I want you to move back to the wall, Blair. I know it's hard but you can do it. Relaxed.... and calm. Are you there?"

Though his face betrayed his fear and his words shook, Blair responded.

"Yes."

"Alright. Now lay your hands on the wall."

"No! Don't make me let go! I'll die if I let go!"

"You won't die and you won't lose the connection. Picture him standing right there with you, his hands on your shoulders. Then just let go."

Scribbling a fast note on a pad from the coffee table, Jarod held it up for Jim to read.

ONCE HE'S ABLE TO LET GO, SWITCH YOUR HANDS TO HIS SHOULDERS, BUT DO IT FAST SO THERE'S AS LITTLE LAG TIME AS POSSIBLE. HAVE TO KEEP HIM FEELING SAFE.

Smiling grimly, Jim nodded his understanding. "When you're ready, let go of his hands. You can do it, Blair. You need your hands free. Be brave. Be strong, just like Jim is, like he's shown you how to be. Make him proud of you, Blair. Prove to him you understand what he's taught you. C'mon. That's it. Good. Right. A little more...."

Glancing away from Blair momentarily, Jarod looked to Jim and found the fires in the blue eyes had turned into ice and every ounce of it was being driven in his direction. He met the others' gaze with all the confidence he didn't possess, held it for a long moment, then scribbled something else on the note, held it aloft again and refocused on his subject.

TALK TO HIM. REASSURE HIM YOU DIDN'T JUST VANISH.

"Chief? I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere. Do what he says. Lay your hands on the wall." Jim told him, his hands now gripping Blair's shoulders firmly.

"Okay. I.... I did it." Blair replied, palms lifted in reality as well as in his mind.

"Good job. Breathe deeply and slowly. Close your eyes. In a minute you're going to use the key to bring down this wall. You'll keep your eyes tightly shut until I instruct you to open them. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Alright. Use the key, Blair. Speak it aloud."

"Simpatico."

Blair lurched slightly forward as if he'd lost his balance then began to panic utterly, flailing and kicking, his breathing so wild that Jim was barely able to control him and both he and Jarod feared the young man would hyperventilate.

"Oh God.... oh no.... I don't wanna be here! Let me out! Oh God, oh God..... Help me! Jim! No,.... no,no,no,no.... Not here.... not again! God save me, please....."

"Come out to the blue room, Blair. You aren't in that frightening place anymore. The blue room. Do you hear me? The blue room. Come out, Blair. Come to the blue room and be safe." Jarod pleaded, unable to breathe properly himself until he saw Blair begin to relax, at which point he let Jim take control and escaped to the farthest point in the apartment he could reach without leaving the loft entirely or entering Blair's room.

Jim calmed Blair for another few minutes, then brought him out of the hypnosis, wrapping his arms tightly around his young friend, cradling and verbally soothing him down from his intensely terrified state. Like Jarod, he knew something had gone very wrong, but while the newcomer hid in the kitchen blaming himself, Jim's thoughts traveled another track.

"Paxson."

"Please... you have a right to hate me. Just know.... I'm.... so sorry. I never meant.... I have to leave." he choked out, heading for the door.

"Stop. Come here and sit down."

"I can't.... Not after what I just did...."



"What you did was something.... I couldn't have. You knew how to pull him out of wherever he was. You saved his sanity, most likely. Now.... come back and sit. Please."

Reluctantly, guilt still dragging his heart practically to the floor, Jarod returned and dropped into the straight-backed kitchen chair. "Will he be alright?"

"I think so. It was only a few seconds. We pulled him out quickly. He should be fine. It will take time to recover fully. For now, just keep reassuring him. Ground him in where he really is, the fact that you're still here."



"Look at me, Chief. C'mon, partner. Say my name, recite the alphabet in Mayan, call me an ass for agreeing to this.... anything. Just show me some signs of life."

Gradually, Blair looked up at Jim wearily, but with a wan smile working its way across his mouth.

"Name, rank or serial number. That's all I'm givin' up...."

"I'll take it. Damn, I'm glad you're okay. For a minute there...."

"I know. I wasn't sure I was ever gettin' out of that."

"Well, that's it for hypnosis. No more. I don't ever want to see you.... like that again. It's over."

"I can't let it be over, Jim. I have to understand what I saw. I only have half the truth. I can't live with that. If you don't want to be involved.... I'll understand, I guess, but I can't let this go now. If I do, I'll always be afraid. I'm sick of being afraid, Jim."

Despite fearing any advice he might toss out would be cruelly rejected out of hand, Jarod spoke up.

"I agree, as long as you're not planning on trying anymore right away. You're exhausted. Your mind and body both need at least one solid nights sleep and a good meal. Give yourself time to recover and begin to process what you've learned."

To his unending relief, and great surprise, Blair smiled over at him as well.

"Trust me, if my mind starts processing that.... sleep will be a long time coming."

"Your courage amazes me. Whatever was behind the block.... it obviously terrified you. How can you be smiling?"

"Jim. And I quote 'Courage is nothing more than being able to get back up one more time than you get knocked on your butt.' It may take awhile, but no matter what happens.... I'll always be okay as long as I can stand up one more time. Man! Food sounds like absolute heaven. Can we eat... like now?" Blair asked, his mind switching tracks as fast as ever as he gazed back to Jim for approval.

"Sure. You feel like staying for lunch, Kyle?"

When he seemed about to decline the offer, Blair spoke up.

"Please stay. I admit I didn't know about that separate room technique. I could have been lost in there and that was an ugly place to be lost, man. You saved me."

"I also got you there in the first place."

"Yeah, that too. I have at least part of the truth now and for that I owe you big-time. Stay? The night too.... if you don't mind. I mean.... nightmares are pretty much a guarantee tonight. Two friends are better than one, you know?"

Though Blair's reassurances didn't lessen his guilt by much, Jarod smiled lightly and agreed.

"Okay. The couch isn't too lumpy, I hope."

"Nah. It's actually pretty comfortable."

"Good. I'll go get a few things from my hotel and be right back."

Watching Blair move off to the bathroom to splash a little cold water on his face, Jarod took advantage of the opportunity and asked Jim a question he didn't want Blair to hear, then he left.

"Jim. When I suggested Blair give you his pain.... were you actually feeling it physically? I couldn't help but notice....."

"Yeah, I was. Freaked me out a little at the time. I think he was just holdin' my hand too tight. It's gone now, though."

"I thought as much." Jarod mumbled, strolling out the door and skipping down the stairs before Jim had a chance to question him.

Despite mutually agreeing on the hour they would all head to bed that night, the three men sat up an hour and a half beyond the curfew, talking, laughing and trying to avoid difficult subjects and the tension that went with them.

Eventually, Jim realized Blair was moments away from falling face first onto the table and ordered him to bed. Almost as tired, the other two were not far behind but, as Blair had predicted, rest was short lived for all.



Jarod rose and went to his side to comfort him after the first nightmare, but gave way to Jim the second time. When the sobs and screams faded, but Jim did not emerge, Jarod walked just to the door and saw Jim asleep on the floor by Blair's bed. He quickly, and silently, retreated to his couch. Blair did not wake again the rest of the night.

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

The following morning, after completing their morning necessities privately, Jim and Blair emerged much more alert and cheerful than either had been the previous day. When Blair spotted Jarod leaning against the wall near the door with his chin deeply sunk into his chest, he shot a glance at his partner that alerted him to damp his enthusiasm.

"You okay, Kyle?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I was just waiting for you both to be here so I could say good-bye. I need to be getting back to my hotel."

Striding swiftly to where the other stood, Jim laid a firm hand on Jarod's forearm and tilted his face up with the other hand.

"We only have one house rule for friends. Little white lies are still lies and they aren't welcome here."

Gently removing Jims' hands, Jarod met his gaze evenly as he replied.

"I'd like to consider you both friends, but what you don't know about me could fill a set of encyclopedias.... and put you in grave danger."

Smiling, Jim grasped both Jarod's arms this time. "I've been there before. You're in the inner circle now and you're not getting out, so you might as well tell the truth. What's bugging you?"

"I.... Something I thought Blair said last night.... after he woke up that first time. We may have something big to talk about later.... I need time and a little space to straighten it out in my head.... time to be absolutely sure before I say anything. I promise I'll be back."

"No, no, no. If you're holding back intel we have a right to, you spill it...."

Sensing the mule in Jim's personality preparing to surface, Blair stepped between Jarod and his partner, throwing Jarod a tight, apologetic, smile.

"I warned you. It's a cop thing. Go on. When you get back we'll sit down and we'll see.... what we see. Jim. Enough with the paranoia stuff, okay? Chill."

Silent, Jarod finally broke eye contact with Jim and moved out of the loft and down the stairs to his car.

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

When Jarod returned to the loft it was nearly four in the afternoon. He had spent the intervening hours driving around Cascade aimlessly, turning at random, trying to organize thoughts that insisted on drifting in and out of his head and refused to be pinned down. Several times he caught himself dialing Sydney's number out of sheer habit and had to force himself to close his cell phone and break the connection.

Eventually, he stopped and got directions to the nearest beach, drove there and parked. He walked to the waters edge, pondering the implications of the name he was now certain he'd heard Blair mumble the previous night as he emerged from his nightmare. Assessing the risk of revealing his true past to the two people waiting back at the apartment, he finally conceded that Blair's right to the truth far outweighed the tendency toward paranoia and secret-keeping at any cost that had been so deeply seared into his own mind and soul.

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

When Jarod reached the loft, Jim had already left for work, and with what he was afraid he had to tell Blair, it was almost a relief he'd only have to face one of the men at a time.

"Kyle. You didn't have to knock."

"Sorry. Habit, I guess. Come sit down at the table, Blair. We have some things to talk about."

"That's what you said earlier."

"I'm sorry I was gone so long. I had a lot to think through. Jim's at work?"

Bringing a cup of Jarod's preferred tea blend and his own mug to the table, Blair took the chair across from him, smiling lightly.

"Yeah. You look so serious. Are you really alright?"

"For now. I wanted to ask you a few questions. First; how much do you remember about the first nightmare you had last night?"

"Way too much."

"When I came in to try to help you get back to sleep, what was happening in the dream?"

"It's already faded, most of it anyway. I'm not really sure...."

"I understand that. Please try. It's very important."

"Okay. Man, I was so confused at first.... lost, you know? I didn't know if I was safe.... or still in that dungeon. I remember.... all of a sudden I wanted my folks so bad it was like my heart was bein' crushed. I got this weird feeling.... like I'd just been with them a minute before..... then this voice whispered that.... I wouldn't ever see them again. Hearing those words... it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. I've been shot, beaten, cut.... nothing has even come close to how bad that felt."

For a brief moment Jarod felt tears welling at the edges of his vision, but forced them back to their source.

"Do you remember what you were saying as you were waking up?"

"Wow. That's tough.... it's so blurry. I can hear myself saying something, screaming it. I yelled for my mom and dad..... threw in a few no's and please don'ts..... wait. Hold it. I've never... I don't know anybody named.... Jacob. That sounds almost right.... Doctor Jacob. That was it. What is this, Kyle? You look like you're about ready to fall apart."

"Make me a promise before I answer that."

"Okay. Whatever you want."

"Promise me you'll try to believe that every word I'm about to tell you is true."

"I'll try. Go on."

"I never intentionally deceived you or Jim. I couldn't trust.... I had no way of knowing you'd...... The place you wanted out of so badly during the session yesterday.... I know what it is. I spent my childhood and a large piece of my adulthood there. I think.... you might have been there too. Jacob... Doctor Jacob was the brother of the man who raised me...."

Numb, Blair was uncharacteristically silent throughout Jarod's greatly curtailed re-telling of his time at, and escape from, the Centre and of the years since. When the other finished his tale, Blair rose, walked to the sink and leaned heavily on the edge, breathing shallowly for a long time, his back to Jarod.

"Blair...."

"Wait. Just.... give me a second here. I accept what you told me about you.... but it makes no sense for me. They took you because you're a genius. I'm just me. I'm nothing special or different."

"What's your tested I.Q.?"

"240."

"You're how old?"

"29."

"How many other full professors at the university are that young?"

Blair hesitated, then tightly embraced denial for however long he could make it last, pushing away the truth Jarod was showing him.

"You're so wrong, man. You just have to be wrong. My I.Q. is irrelevant. I'm not like you. I'm just Jim Ellison's partner, I teach anthropology....."

Moving to Blair's side, Jarod pressed the question on him again.

"How many are that young?"

Sensing his grasp on denial slipping, Blair conceded the point and fell back on his well-remembered childhood.

"Only me, but you don't understand, Kyle. I remember my aunt, my parents, my brothers and my sister. I grew up in a normal town, I went to school, I had friends...."

"Some children were rescued. A woman named Catherine Parker managed to.... Blair? What's wrong?"

Unable to refuse the truth any longer, Blair's eyes widened and he clung to the counter for dear life as his knees buckled and would have dropped him to the floor if Jarod hadn't moved to support him.

"I heard that name.... yesterday, just before you made it all go away and brought me out.... someone was saying.... go... go home, Catherine..... stay out of it, Catherine..... Oh, God..... it can't be true.... no, God please, don't make it true...."

This time it was Jarod who held Blair as he sobbed and shook, struggling to erase the persistent, and all too vivid, images from his head.

"Shhh. You're alright. This is what's real now. Your life here with Jim, your work at the station and the university are real. It was so long ago..... they're just memories. They can't hurt you now."

Nearly carrying Blair, Jarod moved the younger man to the living room couch, then went back and microwaved their tea and returned with it. When the warmed mug was pressed into his hands, Blair began to calm, disbelief gradually being overridden by questions and concerns.

"So.... you think I was rescued. Is there any way to know how long...."

"Until I check the records? Not with any certainty. Think for a minute. Think about your childhood, any strange events you remember, even just vaguely...."

Sudden understanding of something flashing in Blair's eyes, Jarod encouraged the other when he seemed reluctant to voice it. "Go on. What is it?"

"It's nothing. At least I didn't think so at the time.... I was about twelve, I guess. I'd asked my aunt for some baby pictures for a school project. She didn't have anything to give me except one or two from the hospital when I was first born and about a dozen of me as a toddler. She claimed the rest were in albums that were destroyed along with some other stuff in a fire."

"How old were you in the toddler pictures?"

"Two.... maybe three."

"And when the pictures start again?"

"Seven... I think..... Oh... oh, man.... you mean I could have spent four years in that place?!"

To forestall another breakdown, Jarod grasped Blair's chin and turned the others' face toward his, making sure their eyes met and locked.

"I spent twenty-eight."

"Hey... man. I'm really sorry. I just.... I can't get my mind around this, you know?"

Smiling brightly, Jarod forced himself to ease up and focus on what the other needed instead of his own roiling emotions.

"Of course I do. It's me who should apologize. I tend to get possessive about my pain, like I'm the only one who was ever damaged this way, so only I have a right to scream and yell about how difficult my life was. Ten minutes in that hell would scar anyone for life. If we're right, you survived four years and came out with your spirit untouched, your soul intact and your heart still alive and whole enough..... that when you found a friend worthy of all of that, you still had it to give. You can be proud of that, Blair. Very proud."

Abruptly, Jarod felt as if he'd been caught in the crest of an enormous wave of joy, peace and gratitude. Drowning in the flood of sensation, he fought to breathe and pushed Blair away from him a bit.

"Kyle?"

"I'm fine.... Dear God.... I was right. I didn't think it was possible, but I was right...."

"Right about what? I don't understand."

"You will soon. Not now..... but soon. I have to be absolutely positive..... Would you be open to another hypnosis session? A very short one, I promise. It shouldn't take more than ten minutes.... we'll wait for Jim to get home, discuss it with him, of course...."

"Kyle, slow down. What are you talking about?"

"You'll see. What would you say to hot fudge sundaes? My treat."

"Everything but no, but wait...."

"Not now. Jim should be home around.... what, ten-thirty?"

"Yeah. Close to that."

"Good. First dinner, then a movie, then ice cream. Sound alright to you?" Jarod offered as he pulled Blair up and guided the confused young man toward the door.

Realizing he'd just have to wait to discover Jarod's secret, Blair surrendered to the promise of the evening.

"Sounds great. You like Mexican? I know this fantastic little place that makes the best chili con carne and enchiladas you ever had....."

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

Jarod and Blair didn't arrive back at the loft until almost eleven that night. They walked in to find Jim sitting tensely on the couch, really not watching the last of a basketball game on T.V.

As the two walked in, chatting and giggling, Jim stabbed the power button on the remote and rose to face the double sources of his current frustration.

"About time you got home. You've got classes all day tomorrow, chief, and after last night...."

"I remembered. We were just having so much fun, and I know I'll sleep tonight. I understand more about everything now, Jim; the memory block, the phobia, weird things I remember my parents telling me as a kid..... It all makes sense now. A bizarre kinda sense, but sense!" Blair announced happily.

"Put your feet back on the dirt for a minute, Chief."

Fixing Jarod with a look that said all that was necessary, Jim turned on their new friend. "I've been waiting on you, especially. Mind telling me what I'm guessing you already told him?"

"Of course. Can we go back in here and sit?"

Jim nodded tensely, but hesitated when Blair moved to follow them into the living room.

"You already heard this, chief. Hit the sack."

"Jim...."

"I mean it. You'll be fallin' asleep against the blackboard if you don't get some down time. Now, Sandburg."

His expression clearly showing his opinion of Jim's condescending attitude, Blair turned and stalked off into his room. Jim dropped to the couch and half turned his body toward Jarod and the back cushion as the other had done, tucking one leg close to him. "So? Talk."

"First of all, I have to clarify something. When you hear this, you're going to think I've lied to you. I haven't. I am a licensed therapist and a private recruiter; very private. I actually came to Cascade to meet you. Running into Blair in that restaurant was just.... I don't know. Call it fate or whatever you care to. I'm also what's called a Pretender. I was born with a genius level I.Q. and an eidetic memory. They allow me to do anything or become anyone I decide I want to. Any profession, any regional accent.... no limits or boundaries except the ones I impose on myself."

"Which are?"

"I won't kill unless someone else's life is in immediate danger. I try to only use the gift I was given to make a difference in the world, to help others and not for personal gain or greed."

"Good at the snow-jobs aren't you?"

"Excuse me?"

"No human being is beyond greed..... and you've killed at least once. Your eyes told me."

Jarod's expression hardened and he glared lasers at Jim until the other man was forced to turn his eyes down into his lap.

"I killed once, yes. The man was an international assassin and he was holding a gun to the head of a close friend of mine. As for the issue of greed, if you'll allow me to continue?"

"Yeah. Look I didn't mean...."

Jarod held up a hand briefly, then went on with his story.

"Because of this gift I was born with, I was stolen from my home as a young child and raised in a .... very evil place. They manipulated me and my abilities for their own purposes. They even took some of the projections and scenarios I gave them for preventing assassinations and terrorism.... and sold them to people who used them to create the death, destruction and fear I wanted to stop. All it took was enough money, and their consciences conveniently disappeared.... if they ever had any in the first place. When I take money from them, I keep only enough to make sure I can eat and to allow me to travel. The rest goes to the victims of the Centre and organizations like it and to legitimate charities. Does that satisfy your doubts, detective?"

Raising his eyes to meet Jarod's again, Jim sighed, looked down at his hands, then back up.

"I'm sorry. Blair calls that my inner cynic. Keeps tellin' me if I don't control it I'll lose every friend I ever had except him. He's probably right. I should've kept my mouth shut...."

"No. Actually.... I'm glad it came up. I suppose it was something you needed to know if we're ever going to trust each other."

"Yeah. When there's that much passion involved, you can pretty much guarantee the perp... person isn't lying to you. Go on, though. Tell me more about this.... Centre."

"I was there from age four until I was thirty-two. That's when I escaped. They've been searching for me ever since, even caught me a time or two, but I always manage to find a way out. The moment I was free I started realizing that there were people who needed what I could do, needed my skills to help them find justice for wrongs that someone else had done to them; wrongs they couldn't make right alone."

Sudden awareness flashed in Jim's eyes and a smile lit his features. "What?"

"Damn! That was you who saved that young guy in the Oregon mountains back a few years. I only ever believed half the things I heard from my connections up there. Some of 'em still think you're a myth. One or two are convinced you're a real life member of the 'Touched by an Angel' cast."

Jarod laughed lightly, though the sadness underlying it was evident.

"Trust me. I'm no angel."

"So you're helping people...."

"Yes, but a few months ago a good friend helped me see that every time I do it's a neon arrow for the people chasing me to follow. I saw that I can't do this alone anymore, not and expect to stay free. I started researching newspapers, interviewing and checking with a few sources I've developed over the years, and I created a list of candidates, people with enormous hearts, committed to helping those who can't help themselves, who also have... let's call it an aura of mystery. Rumors swirl around these people; they get things done noone else can, but noone ever knows how. They all, potentially, have gifts, a something.... special to contribute beyond their compassion and dedication."

For a moment, Jims' eyes narrowed as he gazed thoughtfully at Jarod.

"What did Blair tell you.... about me?"

"Only the basics. Cascade P.D., commendations enough to start a museum.... He's very proud of you, you know."

Jim's sudden raise of an eyebrow clearly said 'He is?' but he kept silent. "As I said though, you wouldn't have gotten on the list if there weren't.... talk. If you want to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle...."

"Not just yet. Finish the story. What does all this have to do with Blair and the crud he's goin' through?"

"A great deal. Last night, when I went in to him after that first nightmare.... he said a name as he was waking up. It shook me pretty badly."

"One you recognized?"

"Yes. Blair and I talked when I got back this afternoon and he realized there was a four-year gap in his early childhood when his parents have no pictures of him. I put that together with his phobia, his high I.Q. and the.... gift I think he might possess.... and came to the conclusion that the Centre had stolen him too, but only kept him a short time."

Tensely, Jarod waited for Jims' expression to close down, for his skeptical cops' nature to take over. When it didn't happen, he breathed a little easier.

"Hold on, here. That's crazy. They wouldn't release you, why would they...."

"Not released, rescued. The wife of a top official saw what was going on and began to secretly move the children out to safety. Unfortunately, she was murdered before.... before she could save all of them."

"Before she could save you, you mean."

"That's one way to put it. When I spoke this woman's name earlier, it broke loose a piece of memory for Blair. He recognized the name. I already suspected the truth. Seeing his reaction was just further confirmation. If you'll agree to help, Blair wants to go back under as soon as possible and try to retrieve the entire memory. Tomorrow if...."

"No! No way. Seein' him like that yesterday..... I thought maybe I'd lost him. I won't risk it."

"Fine." Jarod agreed, surprising Jim. "What timetable were you thinking of?"

"I don't know. A week sounds about right. He should be recharged and ready to face it by then."

"Okay. A week it is." Jarod replied, rising and digging in his pocket for his keys.

Jim half rose in response, calling after him.

"Stay. He needs you."

"No. He needs time with you and a return to his normal routine for a while. Blair has my number. If you feel like catching a game, doing some hiking.... or just talking, call me. I'll be close by."

"Kyle."

"Yes?"

"That's not your name, is it?"

"It is.... now. It was my brother's. Maybe you'll hear that story sometime."

"I hope so. Night."

"Good-night, detective."

"Detective is my job description. My name is Jim."

This brought a low chuckle from Jarod.

"I stand corrected. Good-night.... Jim."

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

The following Saturday night, the three men gathered once again in the loft apartment. The time they'd shared in the previous seven days had formed a deep bond of trust among them and, as they drew closer, Jim finally felt comfortable enough to give Jarod a demonstration of what he could do. Standing beside Jarod on the roof, Jim had stunned the younger man with the range of his senses and the control he could exert over them.

His time with Blair had been more limited, but they had grown even more in tune with each other than Jarod and Jim had, despite the younger man's constant attempts to drag out of Jarod the secret he was guarding.

Now, two days later, Jim sat on the far end of the couch, a pillow in his lap, Blair's head on the pillow. Blair was once again deeply under hypnosis and, as before, had been conditioned to responded to both men's voices so that no time would be wasted if he needed to be awakened quickly. Jim had laid one hand on Blair's forehead, the other grasped his guides left hand tightly. His own apprehension drawing the muscles of his shoulders and neck into tight achy bands, he rolled his shoulders a little as Jarod reaffirmed his instructions.

"Okay. Remember, Blair. No matter what you see or hear or experience, you're to remain as detached as you can. The images and sounds are memory, they can't hurt you anymore."

"Fly on the wall mode."

"Right. Very good. Let's come out of your safe space, now. You're nowhere at the moment, surrounded by nothing, suspended in mid-air. Can you feel that sensation?"

"Yeah. It's.... strange."

"I know. You'll be alright in a moment. Now, slowly allow the memory to reconstruct itself around you. Slowly..... slowly. When it's complete, it will begin to play itself out. You have the remote control in your hands. If you need to you can pause, rewind, fast-forward, whatever you choose to do."

"Okay. I... I think it's ready."

"Good. Look down and hit the play button and describe the scene to me as best you can."

For a moment, Blair's breathing sped up, but a few seconds of Jim stroking gently across his forehead and down his cheeks was all it took to calm him. Soon after, Blair began to speak.

"The poor kid.... he's nothin' but a baby and they got him locked down to a steel table with four-point restraints.... like he's a psychotic. He's so scared. His eyes are almost all white, like horses when they go crazy, but the edges are red..... Of course he's been cryin'. There are guys in lab coats everywhere.... like a nest of maggots.... the jackasses are just ignoring him, like he's a test tube or.... or a Bunsen burner instead of a kid. The only real light is over the table, but I can just see two guys in a far corner talkin'. Wait.... something's happening at the door, way off.... someone.... a woman is tryin' to get in.... but they won't let her. Damn. Hearing a female voice has got the kid cryin' again.... the two that were already near there take her out and slam the door. I need to rewind and change the focus."

"You have the controls. Do it."

"Okay. There... right there. Now up on the volume a little.... that's better."

"You're focusing on the two men all by themselves?"

"Yes."

"If you can, give me every word you hear them say. Verbatim."

Tilting his head as if listening intently, Blair looked slightly toward the back of the couch as he spoke for one man, slightly out into the room for the other. His eerily accurate reproduction of both voices chilled Jarod to his core, and the Pretender had a difficult time not blocking his ears or running out of the loft.



['No. I won't believe it until I have incontrovertible proof. This is the only way to get that proof.'

'You have no right to do this. I won't let you destroy him....'

'He may be your find Jacob, but this is my area of research. A little pain won't damage the boy permanently, and we'll have the confirmation we need.'

'If you know so much about empaths, then you should understand how fragile he is. At this age his ability is hardly formed.....'

'But it does exist.... or so you say. I won't go forward with him until I know for certain whether he is an empath, or whether you've deluded yourself once again.'

'You go forward?! If he is a natural empath, you're not getting your filthy hands on him. God only knows what that sick mind of yours could conjure up.... I'll see you dead first.'

'God doesn't live here, doctor. This place intimidates even him. The Triumvirate has already given me carte blanche with the boy.'

'That will change very quickly when I remind them of your failure with Timmy. Or perhaps I should reveal a few other pertinent facts I'm sure you'd rather they not learn. You won't touch this child, Raines, I swear by all.... What? It's Catherine. How did she....'

'The same way she always does. She can't be allowed to disturb the test.'

'I'll go.'

'We'll both go....']]]



"You did well, Blair. Time to back away and refocus on the little boy. Got it?"

"Yes."

Abruptly, silent tears began to slip down Blair's cheeks. "No.... make 'em stop that.... It's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest', man.... Make them stop!"

"What are you seeing, Blair? I don't understand."

"ECT, damn it! They're about to give that sweet little kid ECT! They got electrodes on his face, his hands.... all over him.... God, no! You have to make it stop...."

"You're alright, Blair. Come out to the blue room. Find the light blue room. Go there and take a rest for a while. Good. Breathe easy."

Jim brought Blair back up through the levels slowly, easing him back into normal awareness of the world around him. Blinking in the sudden resurgence of daylight, Blair raised his free hand to swipe the tears away and turned onto his side. Jim took the free hand as well, ignoring the dampness, wanting beyond anything else to comfort Blair, but knowing there really wasn't much he could do this time.

"That boy.... it was me. That was me.... How could they do that? What kind of sick, monstrous bastards would electro-shock a four year old child, especially one they suspected was....."

The true revelation of the day finally hitting him full-force, Blair popped up to a sitting position, a thousand watt smile transforming his features. As he spoke, he jumped from the couch and began to leap and dance, laughing madly. "Oh.... oh, my God. Kyle, man..... This is what you wouldn't tell me! It is, right? I have a gift. Oh boy, do I have a gift! Better than Christmas and my birthday put together!"

"Chief.... Chief! Will you cool it for a minute and explain why you're hoppin' around like a rabbit and chatterin' like a squirrell?"

With effort Blair held still, though his smile never abated and his entire body quivered with his excitement.

"Don't you see, Jim? I'm an empath! It explains everything; why we found each other, our connection.... I really am meant to be your guide. I must be. I'm supposed to be here!"

When Blair resumed his gyrations of joy, Jim gave up trying to communicate with him and turned, instead, to Jarod.

"Okay. What's an.... empath?"

"A very special, very rare person who knows what other people are feeling and can either reflect that back or reflect back what the person needs to feel. The other afternoon, in the kitchen with Blair.... I was very angry and upset. I can't stand knowing anyone else has endured what I have. Suddenly, this wave of peace and happiness just.... crashed over me. It was only a moment.... but it lasted days. If I concentrate, I can still feel a tiny tingle of it. Blair is a natural empath.... and a very strong one, all the stronger for not being aware of what he's doing or how."

Blair walked back to the couch and resumed his place between Jim and Jarod, tilting his head slightly in curiosity.

"Say that again."

"You're a very strong empath, Blair, but your ability is unconscious. You don't know you're doing it. Maybe, because it was allowed to grow out of your natural caring and concern for others and wasn't forced to develop artificially.... I'm not sure. There's so much I don't know...."

"But do you think it's something I can work on and make better now that I know?"

"No. I'd have to guess that would backfire. Just.... I don't know, keep your heart open, to strangers, to friends and I think your gift will get stronger and stronger. It might even develop into a healing ability someday. You'll just have to wait and see."

"Healing?! Wow! You really think so? That is so amazing! I can't believe all this is actually happening! It's all real and I'm really an empath and...."

"Chief. Take a breath before you pass out and nosedive into the coffee table. This.... group you're putting together, Kyle. What exactly are you asking?"

"A great deal. I need friends who are willing to help people, the way I do. Do I hear interest?"

"I'm still listening. How do you choose the ones you help?"

I watch the papers, the T.V. news..... you just know. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, or your stomach tightens suddenly. That's the one I investigate."

"And?"

"If I find something genuinely wrong, I use whatever resources I have to make it right."

"Yeah, but you've got some pretty considerable resources."

Smiling, Jarod one-upped Jim deftly.

"So do you."

For a long time, Jim simply studied Jarod's eyes and his world-weary face. Eventually, all his doubts and questions dissolved in the face of what he realized this incredible young man had taken on.

"You've got your first recruit. Chief?"

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I'm in."

"Thank you, both. You won't regret this. I promise you that."

"I know." Blair intoned softly, his eyes closing as he released Jim's grip and reached out to take Jarod's hands instead. Within moments, he began to cry again, his face twisting and head bowing with the weight of the sudden knowledge before he was able break the contact. Laying one hand along Jarod's cheek, Blair studied him soberly.

"How do you live with that, man? How do you.... keep it together? Nobody should have to carry pain like that. If you want me to try, I can.... take it away.... at least I think so...."

Lifting Blair's fingers away from his skin, Jarod smiled grimly as he folded the smaller hands within his own.

"No. You have your own burdens to shoulder. I've carried mine this long, a little longer won't make a difference. You should head to bed, Blair. You need rest. You've been through a tremendous amount of stress in the past week and a half." Jarod suggested, knowing it would be either ignored or rejected out of hand in favor of a celebration.

"Sleep? You have got to be kidding! I am way too wired to sleep right now..."

"I thought as much. I had to try. Pizza, beer and rented horror movies?"

"Now, you're talkin'! You will stay one more night?"

"If you don't mind. Jim?"

"No. Stay." he said, turning away to head up the stairs to his bedroom.

When he realized he'd almost grown used to Jims' reticence, Jarod chuckled, grabbed Blair and their coats and left to get the necessities for the party.

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((( (((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

TWO WEEKS LATER

'You've got mail.'

At the signal from his laptop computer, Jarod laid down the candidates list he'd been studying, stretched out a hand and opened the new message. Expecting an update from Blair, he was surprised to see Jim's name in the subject line.

*Kyle,

Just wanted to touch base. I'm not much on this techie stuff, but it's easier than talking and I guess I understand it okay. Blair remembered more since you left. The nightmares are getting worse, but we're working through it together, the way we do everything..



I wanted to thank you for keeping that little.... well, keeping it between us. I thought Sandburg always knew he was supposed to be my guide and all. What he said... I know, you knew how much that threw me. Thanks for keeping my tough guy rep in tact.

About the mission thing? I already heard of a case where maybe Blair and I could help. You were so right. Out of the three or four possibles I was lookin' at..... when I saw this one on the news, my whole body was charged, like with static electricity. I knew. It was a little eerie.

Blair says to say hi and thanks for what you did for him. He also says (hang on. He's dictating over running water while he does dishes and I can't hear) He says even with the scream dreams as he calls them, he's better off knowing the truth.

I think so too. I also think this is gonna be an amazing adventure for me and the Chief. We're already closer than ever, and I never believed that could be. You gave us both a great gift.

Best of it and look forward to

hearing from you,

Jim Ellison*

A tiny smile just touching his lips, Jarod saved the message in the same file where Sydney's were stored, closed the program and the computer. Retrieving the list, he checked off Jim's name at the top, added Blair's and starred them before his eyes moved to the next candidate on the list. No first name. Shrugging, he pulled out his maps to plan his route to Minnesota. He assumed the first name would turn up in further research. Everyone had a first name, didn't they?



END PART ONE