A/N: This is a story – written between 1995 and 2004 - that used to be on an old geocities site that became defunct several years ago – I rediscovered it, did some minimal editing, and decided to re-post it onto .
A Sharing of Strength
= Thursday 7:20 p.m. =
"Chief, you in?" Jim Ellison pushed the door closed with one foot, his arms full of groceries and file folders. Staggering into the kitchen, he dumped the whole lot onto the table and called out again. "Blair?"
Again, there was no response. Concerned, Jim slowly dialed up his hearing, listening for a familiar soft heartbeat. Nothing. Frowning, Jim sorted out the groceries, gathered the folders and headed for the living room.
The answering machine's light blinked at him. Pressing the play button, he listened, his frown deepening at the weariness in his friend's voice. ""Jim, hey, listen man. I've got some work I need to catch up on here at the University, so I won't be home until late. Catch ya later."
Ellison gave a resigned sigh; he'd been looking forward to running some theories on their latest case with Blair. The young anthropologist had an uncanny knack of discovering hidden connections and in guessing if a particular lead would get them anywhere. 'The kids' been running ragged all week, between the Police Department and Rainer, I'm amazed he has any energy left at all.' He vowed that he'd get the younger man to relax a bit the following weekend. 'I'll take him fishing or something. A few days away will do us both a world of good.' That decided, the detective made a simple meal for himself, then stretched out on the couch, flipping through the files he'd brought home. The quiet of the room, the meal, and the busy day he'd just been through all conspired together against him. In half an hour, he was fast asleep.
It was cold. That was the first thing he noticed. An insidious cold that found the chinks in his clothing and seeped in, slowly stealing away vital body warmth, leaving behind numbness. The second thing he noticed was the rain. It dripped upon him incessantly from the open window, blurring his vision. He raised a hand to wipe at his eyes and found the liquid warm and sticky. In shock, he stared at a hand now smeared with blood. He shifted in sudden fright, struggling against the strap that had him pinned in place. Pain radiated from his leg and chest with such intensity that he was instantly swept back into oblivion.
Jim Ellison woke with a start, scattering papers as the files fell from their place on his chest. He'd never experienced a dream so vivid. He shivered with remembered cold, his leg and chest aching in sympathy. 'Man, that was some dream.' He ran his hands over his face and leaned back into the couch. 'It was like I was really there. The pain felt so real, and the shock of what was happening, that was real, too.' He drew in a shuddering breath, trying to rid himself of the dream. But flashes kept echoing in his mind. Unable to relax, he began analyzing them, wondering why his subconscious had used those particular images, but no reason presented itself.
The clock by the television read 12:17 a.m. He'd made a lot of noise waking and hoped he hadn't disturbed his friend. Jim expanded his sense of hearing, listening intently. There was no sound; the loft was empty. 'Guess the kid's working really late tonight.'
A sudden unease swept over the detective, even more worrying as it seemed unjustified. His hand landed on the receiver at the same moment a low rumbling growl reached his ears. Fingers punching numbers by memory, Jim turned to find himself face to face with his spirit guide. The large black panther glared at him, green eyes locked onto his. The University switchboard's automated answering service grated on his ears, but connected him to the office of one Blair Sandburg. The answering machine picked up on the third ring. "Chief, you in?" Ellison's voice was sharp with worry. "Pick up the phone, kid." He waited, then hung up and tried Blair's cell phone. He hung up the phone when there was no response and cursed softly. "I don't like this."
The panther roared its agreement, flicked its tail and sprang out the window out into the rain.
Ellison took a step after the great cat, when another echo of the dream flashed through his mind. Freezing the scene in his memory, he noticed how slender and small the hands in the dream had been, and sudden, startling, stomach-churning recognition flooded him. 'Blair, I was dreaming about Blair.' "Hold on, chief. I'm coming." Grabbing up his jacket and gun, Ellison raced out into the storm after the panther.
= Thursday 11:57 p.m. =
Blair Sandburg struggled to open his eyes, but they were glued shut with something thick and sticky. Rubbing carefully, he felt the substance crumble and flake off allowing him to force his eyes open. He stared a moment, his brain slowly registering the dried blood on his hand. Raising his gaze and focusing on his surroundings proved difficult, everything seemed determined to spin and waver, making him nauseous.
Eyes closed, he took a deep breath to center himself, and instantly regretted it as his chest flared up in pain, almost sending him back into unconsciousness. 'Easy, slow shallow breaths. Oh, ouch.'
He waited until the pain regressed to a more tolerable level, and his head no longer felt like it was going to do a Linda Blair impression, before opening his eyes to assess the situation.
His car was in a bog of some sort, resting on its passenger's side, though a sneeze could send it toppling upside down. From what he could see, the only reason the car hadn't filled with water was because the glass hadn't broken on that side. 'Thank God for small blessings.' He, Blair, was hanging from his seat belt, the strap biting painfully into his abdomen, shoulder and neck. His chest burned with each breath and Blair feared he'd broken a few ribs. The blood on his left temple and the goose egg the size of a plum gave a possible explanation for the broken window, but he couldn't tell what was wrong with his left leg. It felt numb, but he could feel the blood trickling down and soaking into his pant leg. He tried to see around the steering wheel and dashboard but only succeeded in making himself extremely nauseous. He gulped desperately, trying to keep his gorge down. Finally, he regained enough control and he tried to remember how he had gotten into this predicament.
Blair spent a few fruitless hours in his office trying to work on his grades and lesson plans, as well as research for his paper, but a nagging headache kept him from being able to focus properly. He threw his arms up in frustration and weariness, even though it was only eight-twenty. 'Forget this, man. I can't do this tonight.'
Angry with the work, angry at himself, the anthropologist packed up his gear, stomped to his car and drove off away from the University and back to the loft he shared with his partner, Jim Ellison.
The rain made visibility minimal, at best. Losing part of his anger as he struggled to remain on the slippery road, Blair became aware of an electric blue 4x4 truck crowding close to his tail. "Back off, man," Blair muttered. "This is NOT the time or place for this macho crap." Cautiously, Blair let up on the gas, and drifted a bit to the right, giving the other vehicle room to pass. With a honk, the truck sped up and moved around Blair's tiny compact car. Soon it was out of sight and Sandburg resumed his previous speed.
Less than five minutes later, another honk caught his attention. A pair of headlights shone through the rain before him. 'Is he…? Holy…! He's on the wrong side of the road!' The oncoming vehicle was on a collision course. 'And he doesn't look like he's gonna slow or swerve, either!'
Frantically, Blair cranked the steering wheel to the right, hoping to clear the rapidly approaching vehicle. Two low, horribly familiar popping noises startled him and he ducked instinctively, flinching in terror as the driver's side window shattered, sending shards flying. In his panic, he barely noticed the line of pain that now creased his temple. The wheel jerked in his hands as the same offending electric blue truck plowed into the backend of his car. Losing control, the car plowed off the road and into the bushes and trees that lined the road. He applied the brakes, and for one brief moment, Blair thought he'd regained control over the situation, but then his luck asserted itself. The car slid sideways as the embankment sloped steeply. With a strangled scream, Blair clutched the steering wheel as the car flipped over. As it rolled upwards and began its second rotation, Blair felt his head hit the doorframe, and oblivion overtook him.
'Well, this is certainly a fine mess you've gotten yourself into,' Blair berated himself, more to keep from giving into panic than through any sincerity. It wasn't his fault that someone wanted to play live-action bumper cars.
He gingerly felt his head. A long, painful gash extended for about three inches alongside his head, just above his left ear. 'Almost had my name on it, didn't it?' The flippancy didn't help. He was still terrified. His leg had begun to regain feeling and the young man wasn't sure he was happy about that. The numbness might have been frightening, but the pain was almost unbearable. He could tell it was bleeding again and worried about blood loss. He giggled hysterically, 'You don't do something soon, and you're going to freeze to death first, Blair.' As the night progressed, it had gotten colder and colder. The young man could see his breath fog out in front of him.
A sudden thought struck him. 'What if that psycho comes back to finish the job?' Struggling against a panic attack, he closed his eyes until he was calmer. 'Okay. I just have to unbuckle myself and perhaps I can slide out of the window.' Putting actions to thoughts, he shifted his weight in order to release the restraints, but the sudden movement put pressure on his ribs, agony spiking in his chest. He actually felt a rib give, accompanied by a sickening crack and the young man passed out once more.
= Friday 2:00 a.m. =
Ellison was at the point of panic. Not only had he still not found Blair, but the Sentinel had almost lost himself in a zone twice. The rain dampening his abilities and, he admitted, his concentration was shot. He needed his Guide. Jim had the sinking feeling that time was running out.
He took the corners wide, too concerned about his partner to slow down. A part of his mind tried to warn him that if he were in an accident he'd be no help to Blair at all. He was only marginally aware of the traffic around him, narrowly missing an electric blue truck as he barreled down the street. At intersections he used his senses to keep him on the trail of his spirit guide.
Jim knew that Blair had an established route when coming home for the University, and the panther was now backtracking that route. 'I'll come round the corner and see his car coming down the road and he'll laugh at my paranoid overprotectiveness.' But deep inside, Jim knew neither of them would be laughing anytime soon.
Shaking himself from those morbid thoughts, Jim scanned the road and came to a screeching halt. The panther was standing in the middle of the road, staring to the left. Jim followed its intense gaze and spotted a gray wolf contemplating them both silently for a moment before it turned to disappear into the bushes.
Instantly, Jim was out of the truck and plunging into the foliage. The wolf now his guide, Ellison noticed with increased uneasiness the damage done to the bushes and trees. Opening his senses, he detected the hot tang taste/smell of spilled motor oil and break fluid.
The trail extended beyond the steep drop where the side of the road dipped to meet the bog below. Looking down, Jim found Blair's beetle-like car lying on its passenger's side at the bottom of the embankment. 'Please, oh God, please let him be all right.'
He scrambled down the hill, almost falling into the bog in his haste. Bracing himself against one of the trees, he peered into the interior, heart in his throat. Blair hung unconscious from the seat belt. Blood sluggishly dripped along his left temple and across his pale bruise-besmudged face. "Chief?" Jim bellowed, but received no response. "Blair!" The young Guide didn't move. Careful not to disturb the remaining glass in the window, Jim reached into the car and tentatively touched Blair's throat. His heightened touch confirmed what he had heard: Blair's heart beat, though it was faint and erratic. The young man's breathing was strained and labored, an ominous gurgling at the tail end of each breath.
Easing away, Jim heaved an unconscious sigh of relief. 'He's alive. Thank the Lord.' Pulling out his cell phone, he activated it and barked, "This is Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department. I need an ambulance two miles north out of town on Vine Street, heading for the University. Car forced off the road and down an embankment. Driver's unconscious and unresponsive. Head wound is evident, I haven't moved him to discover any other injuries."
Putting the phone away he returned to the car, ignoring the mud that sucked at his shoes. As much as it galled him to stand by helplessly, Jim knew that at this time, anything he tried would only hurt Blair even further. He would have to wait for the paramedics to extract his friend from the car. 'But I can let him know he isn't alone.' He resolved to wait it out by talking to his partner when a low sound caught his attention. A low moaning had begun. "Chief? Chief, is that you?" Ellison scrambled back to the window before realizing his mistake. The noise wasn't coming from his partner but from the distressed glass and metal of the window buried in the mud.
So far, the mud and water of the bog had been kept out of the car solely by luck. But now that luck failed. The additional weight of the concerned detective was too much. With a screeching snap, the window fractured and separated from the frame. Water began flooding in, shifting the car's delicate balance and it began to slowly tilt onto its roof. Jim frantically tugged at the door, but the accident had jammed it, making it impossible to open. Working quickly and carefully, Ellison cleared the last of the glass from the window and pulled his pocketknife. With a silent prayer, he clambered onto the car and maneuvered the top half of his large frame through the window. He snaked an arm around Blair, securing the young man against the car seat to keep him from falling face first into the water as he sawed through the seat belt with the knife. As the belt gave way, Jim heard Blair's strained breathing ease slightly.
Tossing the knife away, Ellison firmly, but as gently as he could, grasped Blair with his other arm and shifted on the car to find the leverage he needed to pull the young man out. To his horror, he felt ribs move beneath the thin shirt, and Blair's breathing hitched as the pain was felt. "I've gotcha, kid." he murmured, "Hang on." With strength born of desperation, Jim hauled Blair's unresponsive body out of the seat and through the car window. He was glad the kid was unconscious and prayed his manhandling didn't cause any more damage to his friend. He was acutely aware of Blair's breathing and heart rate spiking wildly as Jim lifted him out of and away from the car and the treacherous bog. "Shh, it's okay, Chief. You're going to be okay." He wasn't sure if Blair could hear him, but was relieved when the heart rate slowed to a more normal level though his breathing remained strained.
Taking off his coat, he wrapped it around Sandburg's shivering form and checked his injuries. 'Left leg's a mess, head wound, ribs. God, Chief, what the hell happened?' "Hang in there, Chief. You hear me? Help's on the way. You just stay with me." Jim gently brushed Blair's matted hair away, eyes darkening at the sight of his pale blood stained face. Then he froze as his fingers felt a familiar gritty substance around and in the wound. Lifting his fingers to his nose, Jim felt his rage increase at the scent of gunpowder. 'I'll kill them,' he raged inwardly. 'Whoever did this will wish they'd never been born when I'm through with them!' He clenched his fists tight, trying to regain some control. An eerie, sucking noise behind him sent him whirling about to face the bog. An air pocket had forced its way out of the car. Glancing at the demolished vehicle, which was now half way submerged in the bog and sinking rapidly, Ellison shivered. 'That was too close.'
Returning his attention to Blair, Jim came face to face with the wolf. The young Shaman's spirit guide stood protectively beside the unconscious man's head. The black panther stood in a similar position near Blair's feet. Both animals stared intently at the Sentinel, then upward towards the road. Expanding his senses, Jim could just detect the sound of sirens heading in his direction and he smiled slightly in relief. "I'll be right back, Chief. Sounds like the cavalry has arrived." He nodded at the two spirit guides, trusting them to keep Blair safe until he could bring back help. With one last look at the young anthropologist, Jim scrambled up the embankment to wave down the ambulance.
= Friday 5:18 a.m. =
Captain Simon Banks entered County Mercy Hospital and was directed to the waiting room where his finest detective was wearing a hole in the floor with his frantic pacing. "I came as soon as I could. What happened?" Simon demanded. Since joining the precinct as an observer, Blair Sandburg had gained the trust and friendship of many in the department and now Captain Banks wanted – needed the facts.
Ellison shook his head, still pacing with an almost animalistic intensity, his hands clenched tightly into fists. "He was in a car accident. The car flipped down an embankment."
"Dear Lord," Simon breathed, his face paling.
Ellison growled low in his throat. "That isn't all. Someone took a potshot at him. Grazed his skull. He's in surgery now. I don't know the full extent of his injuries, but they're bad, Simon. Real bad."
Reigning back his own anger, Simon heard the flatness in the detective's voice as the man tried to distance himself emotionally. Banks placed a hand on Jim's shoulder, halting his progress and gaining his attention. "We'll find out soon enough. Sit down. Wearing yourself out won't do you or Blair any good." As expected, the anthropologist's name had an almost magical effect on Ellison. The Sentinel sank into one of the uncomfortable hospital chairs with a soft moan.
The two settled to wait and Banks cast about for something to say that would draw the other man out of the shell he was pulling himself into. "Were you able to contact Blair's mom?"
The younger man shook his head, his answer short and curt. "Last I hear, Naomi was in the Himalayas. No phones. I left a few messages at her last known address, but there's no telling when she'll get them."
Simon nodded. Naomi Sandburg was notorious for her itchy feet, a condition Blair had inherited though not to the same intensity. From what her son had mentioned, Naomi was practically phobic about staying in any one place for too long. She was always on some trip or another; either out of curiosity – so much like her son – or out of some spiritual need. She tried to let Blair know her whereabouts, but sudden offers to exotic locations would frequently crop up and she'd be off. It had sounded like an interesting way to live, but Simon wished the woman were more accessible. 'Especially now.'
At that moment, a doctor made his presence known. "Are you here for Blair Sandburg?"
Jim surged to his feet, a hopeful expression on his face. "How is he? Will he be all right?"
The doctor sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I'll be honest. It's lucky you found him when you did. His injuries are such that he wouldn't have lasted the night without proper care."
The doctor grimaced as both large men paled with shock. He continued. "He's in a serious but stable condition. He has four broken ribs. One of those had broken into several pieces causing internal damage. A shard pierced his lung, causing it to fill with blood. Another shard was dangerously close to his heart. Surgery was successful; the shards have been removed and the lung drained. He has a compound fracture of his lower left leg. We've reset it, but it will take a lot of physical therapy before he'll have full use of the limb again. Luckily, no nerve damage occurred."
Jim's eyes narrowed and he spoke with a voice rough with grief. "What else?"
Simon wasn't surprised at the startled look on the doctor's face. Jim could frequently tell when someone was not telling the whole truth, it was a Sentinel thing. When it came to his partner's well-being, Ellison could be very tenacious in getting his questions answered.
"We have him on antibiotics to combat pneumonia. The weather coupled with a prior cold and the shock of the accident brought his resistance down. His left shoulder was separated due to strain and pressure from the seat belt and he has deep bruising along his abdomen. What concerns me is the head trauma. Was he aware at all when you discovered him?"
Jim shook his head and Simon placed a hand on the detective's shoulder, lending him support.
The doctor sighed. "He has a severe concussion, but he was lucky; there's a fracture, but no swelling of the brain or build up of fluids. Unfortunately, we won't know if any brain damage was sustained until he wakes."
Both men heard the underlying comment, 'If he wakes.'
"When can we see him?" Through his connection on Jim's shoulder, Simon could feel him trembling.
"I'll have one of the nurses escort you to his room once we have him settled."
"Thank you doctor."
= Friday 7:32 a.m. =
'He looks so fragile.' Both men had the same thought when finally allowed access to Blair's room. Wires and tubes of all sorts connected the young man to a variety of machinery. A heart monitor was in one corner, an IV holding some type of clear liquid ran into his right hand, and a nose tube for oxygen had been set up, helping the young man breath until his lungs had completely cleared.
Ellison took the chair next to the bed and, mindful of the IV, took up Sandburg's small hand in his large ones. Simon hovered near the foot of the bed, trying desperately not to allow his horror and shock over the observer's appearance to show. Though Blair's face was no longer marred with blood, the entire left temple area was an ugly black and blue bruise, puffy and tender looking. Another bruise covering the left shoulder and part of the neck dived under his hospital gown.
'If he hadn't been wearing his seat belt…' Simon jerked his thoughts away from that line of thought, aware that it was probably the only thing that had saved Blair's life. One look at Jim showed the detective had already come to that conclusion. Jim's eyes flickered across his friend, noting each cut and bruise.
"Jim," Simon called softly. "Let me give you a ride home. You should get some rest. He won't be awake for some time."
He wasn't surprised when Jim shook his head. "I'm staying." Experience told Simon that nothing short of a direct order would get the Sentinel to leave his Guide before he was sure the young man was going to be all right. 'And even then, he might not obey.' Jim interrupted his thoughts.
"Thanks anyway, Simon. You should go home before Daryl gets worried."
The captain nodded heavily. "I'll clear things with the hospital staff so that you can stay with him. Let me know if there are any changes." Jim agreed and Simon left the two men.
= Friday 9:28 p.m. =
There was nothing but cold and pain. Uncontrollable shivers wracked his body. Leg, chest and head throbbed in time of the pounding of his heart.
Everything was so dark. He couldn't see anything. Where was he? Why was he here? Where was everyone? Had they left him alone in this dark void to die?
A whimper of fear and pain escaped his lips.
Jim woke with a start as feelings of loneliness and fright coursed through him. He frowned, wondering at the strange dream but was distracted by a small whimper from his Guide. The young man was moving restlessly in his sleep, brow creased in a frown. Another whimper tore at Ellison's heart. He reached over and carefully picked up Sandburg's hand. "It's okay, Chief," he rumbled. "You're safe. Nothing's going to hurt you here. Relax."
He continued with the soft flow of words until the younger man quieted, brow smoothing as he drifted deeper into sleep. "That's right, Chief. Just sleep. Everything will be fine."
A warm presence arrived out of the darkness; turning the inky blackness into a more neutral gray. A familiar voice spoke words that, while not entirely understood, were soothing. Latching onto the presence, he relaxed, heartened at not being alone. He wrapped the warmth around him, allowing it to accompany him down into sleep.
= Sunday 5:43 p.m. =
Simon returned to the hospital fighting back against a rage that had taken hold of him. Chomping at his unlit cigar, he took the stairs up to Sandburg's room, not relishing breaking the news to Ellison. By the time he reached the fourth floor, he had calmed enough that he felt he could have a rational discussion, and, hopefully, be able to contain his detective's initial wrath. He took a deep breath, put his cigar into his pocket and moved down to Blair's room.
"Jim." He spoke softly, hating to wake the man, but the information was important.
The detective woke with a start, instantly on alert. Glancing at Sandburg, he assessed the young man's condition before focusing on Simon. "Captain? Something wrong?"
A nurse walked in at that time. She smiled apologetically. "I just have to record his vitals and give him his medication."
"Take a walk with me." Simon jerked his head towards the hallway. 'No reason to disturb the kid.' Once outside, he explained. "I had Sandburg's car pulled out of the bog and had forensics take a look at it. Wanted to see exactly what had caused the accident." Apparently, something showed on his face. Jim's eyes narrowed dangerously and his voice resembled a growl. "Tell me."
"You were right, we found a bullet in the driver's side headrest. Another was found embedded in the door, but it seems that whomever did this wasn't willing to let the bullets do the job. Skid marks on the road and an impact area on the car show that the person hit Blair, deliberately sending him off the road."
"And what is being done about it?" Jim's cold rage chilled Simon.
"Forensics is going over everything with a fine-toothed comb. So far, there haven't been any leads, but I'm certain we'll find something. We just have to let the experts do their jobs."
Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "I suppose it's too much to ask that we have a witness?" Simon glanced at the room they had just exited and Jim's eyes widened in shock. "Blair?"
Simon shrugged. "He's the only one who really knows what happened. I'm putting an officer on his door, just in case whoever did this tries to finish the job. When he comes around we'll ask him what he remembers about the incident." A flash of … fear? … crossed Ellison's face. "What is it?"
"I overheard some of the doctors talking. They're concerned. They think that…" Jim swallowed painfully blue eyes filled the despair. "That if Blair doesn't wake soon, he might … might not wake at all."
= Saturday 11:28 p.m. =
Jim had finally been persuaded to go home for some rest, and only because Simon had sworn he would stay with Blair for the duration and call the instant there was any change in the young man's condition. He stood under the shower head, letting the water pound down on him, the steam filling his senses, clearing his head. The shower eased the last of the tension out of his back, chest, arms and legs and he felt warm for the first time since pulling his partner from the sinking car.
Pulling his robe closed, he shuffled towards the stairs to his bedroom, intent on some rest when the phone's shrill tones startled him. Racing for the phone, praying for the best, he gasped out. "Ellison."
"Jim! It's so lovely to hear you, my dear." Naomi Sandburg's bright voice filtered through the receiver. "The mountains were absolutely breathtaking and now I'm taking a breather from them, if you will. I'm seriously considering coming to Cascade for a visit. May I speak with Blair?" Before he could respond, she was speaking again, her rapid conversation leaving him breathless. "I know this is rather sudden and I hope I'm not intruding, but I'm currently back in the good old United States, you know, to visit some dear friends but since I'm in the nearby area I thought that I could come over for a short visit. If now isn't convenient, well, I will be around for the next month or so, we can find a time that works for you.
Jim was silent, unable to find the words to tell the vivacious woman that her only child was dying in the hospital. 'No,' he interrupted himself forcefully. 'He's not going to die. Don't even think such thoughts, Ellison. Blair needs you, so don't you give up on him. You can't fall apart now.'
He cleared his throat and found his voice. "Naomi…" He hesitated, drawing in a shaky breath.
"What's wrong?" Naomi's voice was low and tense, but Jim was struck by her certainty that something was indeed wrong. Then she gasped, "It's Blair, isn't it? Something's happened to him."
Jim could only wonder at her guess, 'Must be some kind of mother's intuition.' "He's at the hospital. There was a car crash." He paused again. "It – it doesn't look good. He hasn't regained consciousness and the doctor's aren't very optimistic. How soon can you get here?"
He didn't doubt that she would drop everything to come, and she didn't rebuke him for the assumption; the question had almost been unnecessary.
"I won't be able to catch a flight, everything's closed down here due to fog. I can be there in eight hours, driving. Which hospital?"
A sudden hard edge came to her voice. "How did it happen?"
Jim sighed, running a hand over his face in fatigue. "Hit and run. We don't have any suspects, though forensics is working on the scene as we speak. Blair's the only one who can tell us what really happened, and…" he trailed off, miserable.
Her voice softened, but Jim could hear the tremulous quality and the silent plea in the words. "Who's with him now? He isn't alone, is he?"
He shook his head, forgetting that she couldn't see him. "Simon's watching him while I got some things from the loft."
"Simon's a good man, and so are you, Jim. I'm so glad my son has friends such as you." She paused and Jim swore he heard her sniffle. "Get some rest, Jim. You sound exhausted. Take care of yourself so you can take care of my son. Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jim straightened automatically at the command from his Guide's mother.
"I'll see you in six hours. And you better not think I won't know if you don't get some sleep. I'm serious about this, Jim. Something's going on and I have a feeling you're going to need all the energy you can get." She hung up before Jim could respond to her odd statement.
Returning the phone to its cradle, Jim climbed the stairs to his bedroom, his mind going over his conversation with Naomi. 'Had Blair ever mentioned his mom's uncanny "awareness" of what is going on around her? I mean, first, she calls just when we were trying so hard to contact her, then she knows Blair was in trouble, then that warning. What's going on?'
He settled into bed, sure that sleep would be long in coming. Within moments, he was fast asleep.
= Sunday 2:15 a.m. =
The presence near him was different this time, older, and still warm, but not as close. The deep voice spoke in soothing tones, keeping the darkness momentarily at bay.
But on the edge of hearing, a cold, hate-filled voice was chanting and a chill bit deep. Off in the distance, the darkness began to solidify, taking on a humanoid form. Dark eyes glinted malevolently at him, the hunger within them chilling. Claws extended from the misshapen hands, scything through the air lazily as the creature waited for the warm presence to leave.
He shivered; aware that if he were alone, there would be no protection from the creature. Though, even that was no guarantee. 'What can I do?' Carefully lowering himself into a lotus position, he began thinking of a way to defeat this creature of darkness before it decided to attack.
'Perhaps I can use this presence as a weapon. I was able to draw the other one around me last time, can I do it again?' His effort yielded nothing but a weariness and mild headache that throbbed in time with his heart. 'Why didn't it work?' His memory recalled the feel of the other presence and he noticed the distinct differences. 'Ah, although this one is a friend, he's not close enough, nor strong enough for me to use. The other presence is like my other half, compliments me where I am lacking and vice versa. I'll have to wait and pray he arrives soon.'
Simon stopped talking suddenly, putting one hand to his head as a wave of dizziness rushed over him. 'Whoa, what was that? Must be more tired than I thought. Glad Jim went home, though. If I'm this exhausted, I can't imagine how he's feeling.'
He glanced down at the young man lying in the hospital bed and continued his one-sided conversation. "I'm not used to talking this much when you're around, kid. It's usually the other way around, me listening, trying to pretend I know what you're talking about, while you spout off a virtual dissertation about how ancient tribal customs can still be applied to modern day life, or some such nonsense." He chuckled, then sobered. "I hope you can hear me, Sandburg. Don't give up on us, kid. Jim needs you; hell, the entire department would be lost without you. I don't think you know just how much we depend on you, or how much you contribute, both professionally and personally."
The large man cocked his head at a sound outside the door, relaxing as the footsteps continued down the hall. He didn't know why he was so nervous, maybe because there was nothing he could do about either Blair's condition or discovering the culprit who put him there. He tightened his grip on the young man's hand. "You need to open your eyes, kid. You've got a lot of people on this side very anxious about you. You can't let them down. You need to wake up and soon. We don't want to lose you."
He could hear the words, this time actually understand what they were trying to tell him. He knew what he had to do, but he was too weak. The accident had taken a lot out of him. The dark creature blocked his way home, taunting him in an ancient language he vaguely recognized. 'Peru, I have a feeling this thing came from Peru. But what is it exactly? And why is it here?' He sat quietly, regaining his strength little by little, but knew that even at his peak it wouldn't be enough. He needed his other half and he needed it now.
= Sunday 5:30 a.m. =
Jim returned to the hospital a few hours later. Simon glanced up at him, dark circles visible against his dark skin. "Sleep well?"
Jim ducked his head, feeling guilty for sleeping when he should have been with his partner. "Yes, sir. Any changes?"
Simon shook his head and rose from his seat stretching out stiff and sore muscles. "A nurse changed his IV and administered some more medication, but that's been the extent of it. I've just about talked myself hoarse." The large man paused, "I'm glad you got the chance to rest, Jim. God knows, you're going to need your energy."
Jim froze at the familiar phrasing. "Why do you say that?"
Simon shrugged. "I've never noticed how draining it can be just sitting beside someone, waiting."
"Naomi called a few hours ago. She's on her way here." He decided to keep her warning and his own uneasiness to himself for the time being.
Simon shook his head, unsurprised. "Sounds like her timing is as impeccable as always." He gave Blair's hand a final squeeze, then heaved himself to his feet, vacating the seat for Jim. "I'm going to the station, see if anything has developed, then get some shut eye myself." He paused, then placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "When he wakes up, let him know we're all pulling for him."
"I will, Captain. Thank you." Jim watched the big man leave before settling down beside Blair.
= Sunday 6:14 a.m. =
Simon stubbed out his cigar and turned, almost knocking someone over. "Excuse me." He reached out to steady the figure.
"No, it was my fault, I wasn't looking…" the woman trailed off when she looked up at him, recognition in her eyes. "Captain Banks." The greeting was tinged with exhaustion and relief.
Simon blinked. "Naomi. Jim told me he'd finally gotten a hold of you. I'm glad you got here so quickly."
A brief wry smile graced her features. "It's amazing how quickly one can move with fear and panic as motivators." Her voice was overly bright, as were her eyes.
"Come, I was just about to go back up to Blair's room." He escorted her towards the elevators.
She leaned up against the corner of the elevator, arms wrapped around herself as if cold. "How is he?"
Banks sighed heavily, unsure how to answer the silent plea for reassurance. "I assume Jim told you about the accident?" Naomi nodded. "He's out of immediate danger, the doctors were able to stabilize him. The broken ribs and legs will heal. They have him on antibiotics for pneumonia."
He paused and Naomi grasped his wrist, her small hand barely reaching all the way around. "And?"
"He's in a coma, Naomi. He hasn't wakened, and doctors fear that he might not." He stuttered to a halt at her disbelieving gasp. "I – I'm sorry."
She straightened up a sudden blaze of anger burning away her tears. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Simon. It's that poor excuse for a human who did this to my son who should be sorry. And believe me, if I ever get my hands on him, he'll wish he'd never been born!"
Her intensity shocked him. 'Though it shouldn't,' he thought after a moment's deliberation. 'I would feel exactly the same way if it were Daryl lying in that bed.'
Banks opened the door, escorting Naomi in under Jim's vigilant eye. The detective rose from his seat. "Naomi." His voice was gruff. She embraced him, whispering his name, then turned to her son, gently caressing his face.
= Sunday 9:13 p.m. =
Simon's cell phone went off. "Banks." He listened and his eyes widened slightly, his lips twisting in a predatory smile. "You did? Excellent. Find him and bring him in for questioning. I'll tell Ellison the news." He put the phone away and turned to Jim. "Detective, walk with me."
Jim looked at him curiously, lightly squeezed Naomi's shoulder, and followed the older man out into the hall.
"We've got a break. Forensics was able to pull electric blue paint fragments from Sandburg's vehicle. We checked the Department of Motor Vehicles database. The color is unusual enough that we were able to find a match. It was a custom job. Suspect is a Miller Franks, mid thirties," he paused before dropping his bombshell, "taking courses at Rainier."
"Any reason why he went after Blair?" Ellison asked.
"Franks was enrolled in one of Sandburg's classes last semester, um… 'Rituals of the Ancients' I think the title was. Seems the man didn't so as well as he'd hoped in the class. He's managed to get As and Bs in previous courses but Sandburg landed him with a D. The man lost funding; he needed that course for his certification. It's probably what sent the man over the edge."
"Is he in custody?" Ellison's fists were clenched.
"Unfortunately, no. The vehicle was discovered inside the suspect's garage. The dent had been inexpertly banged out, but the evidence shows it was his vehicle that ran Blair off the road. He wasn't at home, so we're checking the area out. We do know that he has a permit for a .45, which matches the bullets found in Sandburg's car. I hope to have him down at the station by this evening."
Jim smiled, but there was a hard edge to it. "Thank you, Simon. This really means a lot to me."
"Blair's one of us. He's family and everyone at the precinct would agree: you don't mess with family."
Jim was about to respond when he paled, whirling back to his partner's room.
The two men burst in to find Naomi slumped across her son's chest.
Naomi was only partially aware that Jim and Simon had left the room; her eyes were for her son and her son only. "Oh, Blair," she whispered as she gently brushed his curly hair away from his face, careful of the bandages on his left temple. He looked so much younger than his twenty-eight years would suggest. Her eyes filled with tears as she located one injury after another..
He was very pale, the bruises brilliant across his skin. The only sounds were the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor and his slow shallow breathing, punctuated by a soft wheezing. She wrapped her hands around one of his, and frowned. 'He's freezing.' Using slow gentle circles, she warmed his hand in her own, kissed it, then reached across to do the same with the other when suddenly she felt dizzy, as if all her energy were being sucked away. A low moan escaped her lips before darkness claimed her.
The dark creature chuckled cruelly. True, it was unable to harm him as long as someone was with him, but it could trap him here. He'd already spent too much time in this place, and the doorway he needed to leave by was getting smaller and smaller as time passed.
His heart leapt with joy; his other half was here, his Sentinel. But all too soon, that comforting presence left again to be replaced by another. At first, the Guide was too frustrated by the turn of event to pay much mind to this new presence. But a soft voice caught his attention and he found himself responding to it. Without thought, he drew the familiar presence to him, surprised at how easy it was.
Naomi Sandburg blinked rapidly to dispel the sudden dizziness that had claimed her only to find herself staring about in disbelief. 'Where am I?' A gray empty expanse greeted her sight.
A soft voice from behind caught her attention. "Mom?"
Pivoting, her eyes widened at the sight of her son standing uninjured before her. "Blair," she whispered. "Oh, baby." She wrapped her arms around him, needed to feel him to assure herself that he was fine and really there. "Oh, Blair, you had me so scared." She pulled away a bit, staring into blue eyes that mirrored her own. "Where are we?"
Blair shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure. I think we might be in my mind, but I always pictured it being a lot more cluttered than this." He flashed a grin, but it died quickly. "I need your help, mom."
"What do you need?" There was no hesitancy in her voice or manner; she would do anything to protect her son.
"I have a bit of a problem," he smiled wryly at the understatement. He pointed at a doorway that was almost closed and Naomi saw – something – that seemed to be guarding the doorway. "That's my only way out of here, but I can't get to it. If I don't hurry, I might not be able to leave, ever." Both shuddered at the thought.
"How can I help?"
"Well, I wasn't sure it could be done, but your being here certainly dispelled that doubt. I need Jim. I can't defeat that," again he pointed at the shadowy being across the room from them, "on my own. When you go back, can you ask him to hold my hand? I can bring him here that way. I'm pretty sure that we can defeat it together."
Naomi stroked the side of her child's face and nodded. "What is that thing?" She shuddered again, but her horror was quickly being replaced by a white-hot anger. 'How dare this creature try to harm my son!'
"I – I think it's a soul eater; a minor demon from Peru. They prey on the injured, but can't do so in the presence of another, I think. Something about the extra energy being too much for it or something, but I'm not sure. I've been lucky so far. I've had someone by my side since the thing appeared. But if that doorway closes, it'll be free to attack, there's no way I could escape then."
Naomi felt another rush of anger and she glared at the shadow. So angry was she, the mother never even noticed the creature give the faintest of flinches. Then a nasty thought came to mind. "If that's the only way out, aren't I trapped here, too?"
He shook his head, light brown curls flying, a small smile gracing his features. "That's my exit." He pointed behind her, "That one's yours." She turned and saw a silver-edged doorway waiting for her. "Step through and you'll be back."
She studied the two doors noticing that the only differences between them were that Blair's was gray-edged and much smaller than her own. She looked around again, shivering slightly. "How did I get here, Blair?" She raised her hand to stop the rush of words she knew he would answer with. "Simply, please. I don't think I could digest your normal explanations."
He glanced uneasily at the creature, which appeared oblivious to Naomi's presence. "I knew you were there. Well," he corrected himself hastily, "I knew someone was out there. And that they were close to me. I could feel your energy, like heat from a wood stove. I just, kinda drew you in. It wouldn't have worked if you hadn't touched me."
Naomi nodded, then gave a start at the sudden pallor of her son's skin. He seemed to sag, looking smaller and vulnerable, and dark circles underscored his eyes. "Blair?" Her voice cracked slightly as she took his face between her hands and gently ran her thumbs along his cheeks in a gentle caress.
"I'm okay, mom. Just tired." Even his voice gave evidence to his weariness.
Naomi bit her lip, concerned. 'He can't hold out much longer.' Almost unconsciously, she began willing some of her strength to him and was rewarded by the sudden influx of color to his cheeks.
He straightened up, a measure of weariness leaving him. "How did you do that?" he stammered.
"I'm your mother," was her simple reply. She caught a glimpse of the dark creature out of the corner of her eye and she glared at it with rage. This time, she saw it rock back, as if slapped. The reaction gave her an idea. 'If I can physically effect that thing, perhaps I can do something to buy Blair some more time.' Concentrating hard, she pictured a block of energy, like a doorstop, to appear wedged beneath the door, effectively keeping it from closing any further...for now.
It was this last use of power that finally attracted the thing's attention. It glowered at her malevolently, and she shuddered as the cold gaze swept across her. Blair placed himself between the creature and his mother. "Go. Tell Jim what's happening."
The creature took a few steps towards the two humans, slashing its claws and baring its fangs at them. It looked furious. "I won't leave you to fight that thing by yourself."
Blair shot off a phrase in another language at the creature that caused it to slow only lightly. "You can't help me at all if you die here. Go!" he yelled.
Understanding the logic, but not liking it one bit – after all, Naomi Sandburg was never one to turn her back on someone in need, and this was her son! – she dived for the doorway. Her last glimpse of this other plane of existence was of her son standing, arms akimbo, between herself and the creature.
= Sunday 9:14 p.m. =
Jim rushed to Naomi's side, his heart pounding in his chest. Her own heart beat slowly, eerily synchronized with her son's. "Naomi!" When she didn't respond, the Sentinel felt panic flutter in his chest. 'I can't lose both of them. If something happens to her, Sandburg will be devastated.'
His hand was a hairsbreadth away from closing on Naomi's shoulder to shake her back to consciousness when the older woman gave a gasp, her heart racing. She sat up quickly, startling Jim and Simon with the movement. Her gaze was unfocused as she stared frantically around the room; Jim had a feeling she wasn't really seeing them. "Naomi? What's wrong? What happened?" He shook his head at Simon who was about to press the nurse's button.
He placed a hand on her back, trying to steady her before she fell from her chair. Her eyes latched onto his own with an intensity that took him aback. Rage, fear and an odd satisfaction deepened her blue eyes to almost black. "Listen," she said, gesturing to where Blair lay silent on the bed. "You have to help him."
Simon spoke up softly, misunderstanding her urgency, his voice low with concern. "The doctor's are already doing everything they can, Naomi."
She ignored him, focusing only on Ellison. She clutched at his shirt as she began to tremble, reminding him of Blair when the younger man was trying to draw physical support from him. "Naomi, tell me what's going on?"
A shudder raced through her form and she took a breath to steady herself. "He needs your help, Jim." Her tone was of utter seriousness and he felt himself automatically switching into Sentinel mode in order to protect his Guide. "I don't know how, but he talked to me, brought me to…someplace. There's this…this creature threatening Blair. He said it was a soul stealer or something. Jim, he can't defeat it by himself, he needs you."
He unconsciously straightened at the unspoken command. "What do I have to do?"
Naomi sagged in relief and gave a watery smile. Jim realized she'd prepared herself for his disbelief – that she had actually marshaled a measure of strength in case she needed to convince him she was telling the truth, and he inwardly winced that she thought she needed to. "Hold his hand. Let him know you're here. He'll do the rest."
She moved and he settled himself in the chair, taking a deep breath in preparation for whatever would happen next. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. Simon was frowning, but his eyes showed only his support and concern. "I don't know what you're trying to do here, but be careful, Jim. Bring the kid back in one piece."
"Yes, sir," Jim smiled then took up Blair's hand. "Okay, Chief. I'm here. I want to help, so let me in."
A few years ago, James Ellison would have scoffed at the very idea of holding someone's hand in the hopes they would somehow communicate with him. In fact, back then, he would have had absolutely nothing to do with people like Blair and Naomi unless it was to arrest them. But then his senses went AWOL and he would have found himself spending the rest of his days in a padded room if not for one irrepressible anthropologist who had one day pretended to be a doctor just for the opportunity to help him control his wayward senses. From there, the young man had somehow found a way into the life and heart of Detective Jim Ellison, a fact Jim couldn't and wouldn't deny. 'He would do this for me, how can I do any less.'
He felt a wave of dizziness and shut his eyes.
A sudden silence greeted his eyes; none of the normal hospital sounds could be heard. Opening his eyes, he found himself in a gray void. It stretched out for as far as he could see in every direction. A black-edged door was at his back and he instinctively knew that this was his way home. Across from him, nearly closed, was a gray-edged door. 'Blair's,' he thought. A block of golden energy had been shoved in as a doorstop, but Jim didn't now how long it would last.
Ellison swiveled his head around, trying to locate his friend and the creature that was holding him prisoner. There was nothing. A cold lump formed in the pit of his stomach. "Chief? Chief, where are you?" There was an echoing silence. 'Where is he?'
Nervous about zoning out without his Guide to help him, but determined to find his partner, Ellison opened his senses.
At first, all he noticed was the roaring of his own blood in his ears; tuning that out, he thought he could hear the sounds of a struggle somewhere off to his right. Piggy backing the sound with his sight, he could just make out two figures fighting ferociously in the distance. Without hesitation, he began running towards the two combatants, knowing that one was his friend and the other his foe. As he watched, the smaller of the two figures was thrown violently backwards, landing heavily on his back. Focusing, Ellison picked up his pace.
An inky black humanoid-shaped creature was attacking Blair with abandon. The young man blocked and ducked, but Jim could see that Blair was exhausted, barely able to remain out of reach of the faster and stronger entity. Jim reached the pair just as the creature landed a vicious backhand across Blair's face. The anthropologist dropped heavily to the floor, panting in pain and exertion, but was able to swing his foot out and connect with the back of the creature's legs, sweeping it to the ground.
Jim was too far away and could only watch helplessly as the creature crawled over to Blair and latched its hands around the young man's throat. "NOOOOO!" The yell startled the entity and seemed to galvanize Blair. With a flurry of movement he swung his legs inward between himself and the creature and shoved outward with all his strength tossing the thing off and away from him.
Jim helped his shaky Guide to his feet. Almost instantly, Jim could detect a change occur in his friend. Blair's rapid heartbeat slowed to a more normal level, his ragged breathing smoothed out, and he straightened from a pain-filled hunch. The deep scratches on arms, neck and cheek from the demon's claws stopped bleeding and disappeared as Jim felt energy flow from himself to his friend.
Dark blue eyes looked up into his own light blue ones with gratitude and relief shining in them. "Thanks, Jim," came the quiet voice. Jim nodded, confused to what had just happened. 'But if it helps Blair come back to us, then I'm not complaining.'
Both Simon and Naomi watched with held breaths as Jim sank deeper into the chair, unresponsive to the real world. At first, it seemed nothing was happening. Then, Naomi breathed a sigh of relief as many of the pain lines in her son's face eased. Simon relaxed as well when the kid's heart rate evened out to a steady beat.
Without a word, Simon stationed himself at the door to keep out any unwelcomed intrusions while Naomi sat on the edge of the bed keeping an eye on her son and his Sentinel. Both prayed the two would be back soon.
Jim stared at the thing that writhed on the floor in its fury. "What is that thing, Chief?"
Blair's teeth scored his lower lip as he also stared at the creature; he answered almost absently. "Demon from Peru. They prey on the week, devouring their victim's souls." He fell quiet and Jim recognized the smaller man's expression as one he wore when trying to puzzle something out. "Damn," came the soft whisper. Jim wanted to ask 'What?' but didn't want his friend to lose his chain of thought. "Someone must really hate me."
The quiet certainty filled Jim with dread and he hesitated before asking, "Why do you say that, Chief?"
Unconsciously, Blair fell into his lecture mode. "Documentation on soul eaters is minimal but I found mention of them in a book on Shamanistic rituals, I forget which at the moment."
Jim was getting impatient; never taking his eyes off the entity that now lay still. 'How can it be destroyed?' he wanted to yell, but he waited.
"It's a curse."
That got his attention. "A what!"
"A curse. I read that the only way to bring one of those things over is to open the doorway and set it upon someone. They need a physical representation of the person, like a fingernail clipping or lock of hair, anything personal to mark the one as prey. Once they've claimed their victim, they return to their original plane of existence, if you will." He paused, staring hard at the creature which lay still, as if listening. "Under normal circumstances, I would be dead by now."
Ellison felt a chill of fear at the thought, unconsciously tightening his grip on his Guide's shoulder. "Why?" He wasn't sure if he meant why wasn't Blair dead or why this wasn't considered normal circumstances.
Blair shrugged. "Dunno. Must have ticked someone off pretty bad." He paused as the creature hissed, then continued. "What bothers me, is whoever did this not only has the knowledge but the power, too. You can't bring one of these over just by reading some incantations in a book. But the summoner doesn't have any control."
"How can you tell?"
The young man jerked his head at the entity. "Cause otherwise that thing would have kept at me until I was dead. It only attacked initially because Naomi started throwing energy around. It isn't hungry yet. The things are linked with their summoner, allowing the shaman in control to feel everything it feels as it makes its kill. The shaman can direct the demon to do exactly what he or she wants, but in this case, the shaman has no idea what to do with the demon other than set it out after me." He shrugged. "Eventually, the thing will get hungry enough to hunt me on its own, but for now, it's self-directed, not under any specific outer control, so it's ignoring us." The thing shifted, flexing its claws. Blair flashed a nervous grin. "To a point."
Not really understanding, the Sentinel came right to the point. "How do we destroy it?" He felt pretty sure the demon would keep hounding his partner until one of them died; even if Blair made it back through the doorway. But time was slipping past them and both knew it would soon run out.
Blair was shaking his head slowly and Jim could see the exhaustion hanging on the young man. "Can't destroy it, only send it home and there are only three ways I know of. One, it takes it's intended victim. Me." Jim was shaking his head, but Blair just shrugged. "Not my favorite option either. Two, it gets sent back to its summoner and takes him." This time, it was Blair who shook his head. "I don't like that one either. The guy might be my enemy, but everyone deserves another chance. If his soul is eaten…that's it. Done. Finished. Kaput. Cycles of lives is over, man, and I won't do that."
Jim sighed, aware that his friend would not be moved on this. "What's the third option, Chief?"
"That whoever the summoner is voluntarily ends the curse. Too bad we don't know who it is."
Blair danced back as the entity suddenly lunged for his foot, taking him by surprise. Ellison kicked out, catching it in the head. It's screech sent shivers down both men's spine. Jim placed himself in front of his Guide, then responded. "Simon found the guy responsible."
"Who is it?"
"He's an anthropologist. Took one of your courses and got a D. Guess he took exception to it, Chief."
A flash of sadness mixed with annoyance crossed Blair's face as he warily watched the demon. "Name?"
"Miller Franks." Blair's eyes lit with recognition and the entity gave an eerie howl that denigrated to a hiss. The two moved back, as the creature grew stronger, slashing again at their feet. "This is getting old."
Blair had a gleam in his eye and a genuine grin graced his features for the first time since Jim found him. "How about a change in scenery?" Without a word of explanation, he grabbed Jim's arm.
This time, instead of an energy drain, Jim felt a sharing of power as Blair tapped into a hidden reservoir. The gray void around them rippled and shivered. Jim blinked and blinked again as he found himself in a jungle. Moist, steamy air filled his lungs, the call of birds and other more earthly creatures reached his ears. Glancing down at himself, he saw he was dressed in fatigues, the war paint of a Sentinel upon his arms and face, a quiver over his shoulder and a crossbow in hand. Turning, he saw Blair dressed in the trappings of a Shaman: loose tunic over cloth breeches cinched with a belt, a brown leather pouch hanging crosswise from one shoulder across his chest to rest on the opposite hip. He stared at his friend with a mixture of surprise and awe. "How'd you do that? I thought you were exhausted?"
The young Shaman flashed a grin. "I've learned that there's very little we can't do when linked together." He looked around and Jim could visibly see him relax to a certain degree. "I'm glad this worked. These are more comfortable surroundings." He strode over to the creature, which was now wrapped tightly in vines. "I don't know how long that'll hold it, but it should be long enough to get a fix on our Mr. Franks."
The creature howled again, its hissing convincing the two men that their guess had been correct. Keeping alert, but concerned about the time, Jim watched as Blair closed his eyes and extended one hand over the thing's head. A breeze whipped through the air, tugging playfully at Blair's curls. A yellow cord now stretched out from the creature to disappear into the jungle.
"What did you do?"
The young Shaman sagged a moment, flashing a grateful smile as Jim steadied him. "I think it's time we had to talk with Franks, don't you?" He laid his hands on the cord, wrapping his fingers tight around it.
The Sentinel joined his strength with his partner's and the two gave a mighty tug.
= Sunday 10:02 p.m. =
Miller Franks felt a strange pulling sensation centered on his chest, almost as if someone was tugging on an invisible rope. He stopped, one hand on his chest, fear rising. Was he having a heart attack? No, at thirty-five, he was too young for a heart attack. Too young for his life to be cut down in this way. He took good care of himself and was in great physical shape. A thought crossed his mind and he paused, still rubbing absently at his chest. Was this the price he had to pay for summoning a soul eater? It was possible, though he wasn't aware of a physical toll necessitated for this particular rite. Nothing he'd read indicated anything of the sort. When he had realized that Blair Sandburg had been discovered so quickly, and in fact survived the accident and was being treated at a hospital, he'd been enraged. On an impulse, he had used an ancient ritual he'd discovered during his studies while in Peru to summon forth a soul eater and he had sent it against the helpless young man. It had been almost a full day and still Miller could feel the link that had been created between him and the demon, telling him the creature had not yet finished with the Rainier teaching fellow. 'I wonder what's taking it so long?'
The sensation came again, stronger this time, and Miller cried out as darkness claimed him.
He felt earth beneath his cheek; the tickling of large leaves as the wind brushed them across his head and back. He opened his eyes and goggled at the beauty that surrounded him. Giant plants rose around him, flowers of varying hues and scents assaulted his senses. A red and green tinged bird cawed loudly before flying away, other animals making their quiet ways through the foliage. A humid mist hung over the jungle, sunlight tuning the air into a haze of gold on green. He struggled to his feet and noticed that instead of the blue button down shirt and black slacks he had been wearing he now had a red dyed tunic shirt and breeches of brown doeskin, his shoes replaced with slipper-style moccasins. A satchel hung from his shoulder, its sides decorated in a faintly nauseating pattern. Opening it curiously, he found it empty. 'What is going on here?'
A deep throaty growl on his right sent him spinning about so fast he nearly fell again. A large black panther was staring at him with eerily light blue eyes. It stalked closer to him and he drew back a step in fear. "Oh. My. God!"
The panther roared in response, baring ivory teeth. It crouched low, haunches twitching, as though in preparation to pounce and Miller pressed himself against a tree in terror. He looked frantically about, trying to find an escape or a weapon to fend off the beast. Spying a branch lying nearby, Miller gauged the distance and sprang for it. He landed a foot too short and scrambled for the piece of wood. The panther leapt and the terrified man screamed as three hundred pounds of cat landed on his back, smashing his face in the dirt. He could feel the beast's hot breath upon his neck and couldn't help the shudder that raced through him. He was only passingly aware that the cat had kept its claws sheathed, using pure brute force to keep him down.
A soft footfall beside his head caught his attention. A pair of handmade moccasin boots stood nearby, facing him. Slowly and painfully, Miller raised his gaze up green trousers, past a satchel that matched his own save that the beads and feathers created a pattern similar to a howling wolf, and a brown tunic cinched at the waist with a brown leather woven belt. A pair of paint-streaked arms crossed the chest, the whole body language one of relaxed watchfulness. Finally, Miller's gaze reached the face and he drew in a breath, a mixture of surprise and fear flowing through him. Dark blue eyes blazed in a solemn face. War paint crossed the forehead and down each cheek, matching the patterns on the arms. Curly brown hair was caught back with a leather thong. 'Sandburg,' Miller thought with some trepidation and shock.
The young man gestured, his face unreadable. "Let him up."
Confused, Miller felt his jaw drop when the panther removed it weight from his back and glided to the Shaman's side, never letting its piercing gaze leave him. Sandburg rested a hand on the great cat's head, staring down at him while he huddled on the floor. Rising shakily again to his feet, Miller stared down at the shorter man, taking some absurd comfort in the height difference. He tried to regain his mental equilibrium, reignite his anger, but the confusion he felt as to his whereabouts, the fear the panther produced in him, and the faint anger and sadness he saw in Sandburg's eyes defeated him.
The two men stared at one another for a long moment. A hissing sound at his left drew his attention and Miller reluctantly broke eye contact to look. He felt his face drain at the sight. A black, oily, humanoid creature was wrapped tightly by vines, as if the jungle itself were trying to contain such a monstrosity. It was a losing battle, the demon already had one hand free and was tearing frantically at the fibers holding its six-foot form. Sandburg's voice so close to his ear startled him. "It'll be loose soon. It's angry. Angry at me for imprisoning it. Angry at you for summoning it."
Miller knew that to be true, he could feel the entity's hatred for him growing even as he stood there.
"Only two things to do, Franks. One is to let it get loose and pray it'll go after me and not you. That's tricky gambling. I've got some protection, and you don't." The panther let out a growl in agreement. "Even if you did send this after me, I don't want to see either of our souls destroyed."
Miller heard the sincerity in the younger man's voice and knew he was getting more mercy than he probably deserved. The creature ripped more vines from its roots, straining to reach the three souls so close. Miller, Sandburg and the panther moved back a few steps. "You – you m-mentioned a s-second choice?" With his fear, his age-old habit of stuttering returned, he couldn't help it. Reading about a demon in a centuries old text was vastly different from having one of the things screaming in your face.
"Dismiss it. Say the counter rite. Sent it home before someone dies." They flinched as the demon yowled, tearing more vines from its body.
Miller frantically searched his memory, but kept coming up blank. Had he read the counter rite? Or was his fear blocking the memory? The creature yowled again, its screech echoing in their ears, sending goose bumps racing up both their arms and necks. "C-can't you d-dismiss it? S-surely you're p-powerful enough." He wasn't really sure what he was saying. He couldn't explain how Sandburg could have possibly become a Shaman, but the proof was undeniable, besides the clothing, Miller could practically "see" the power flowing from the man.
His hopes were dashed by the shake of the curly head. "Only the summoner can dismiss it. That means you."
"I d-don't know how! I n-never read th-that far!"
The creature lurched once more, now only one foot caught in the vines that trapped it. With a curse, Sandburg yanked Miller to one side as with a mighty tug, the entity broke free. The panther sprung forward, wrapping its forelegs around the creature and biting its neck while the Shamans struggled through the jungle away from the demon.
They jumped over fallen logs and sucking mud, ducked beneath hanging branches and cloying vines, and narrowly avoided suspended spider-webs and dangling snakes in their haste. Miller was huffing with exertion, he wasn't used to this kind of exercise. Adrenaline raced through his veins making him dizzy. Sandburg jumped a stream and asked, "Which book?"
"In which book did you read the incantation?"
Miller struggled to catch his breath as he ran beside Sandburg, a part of him astonished that the smaller man could even think clearly enough to talk, let alone find the breath to ask his questions. He, himself, had never been more terrified in his life and he found it difficult at first to remember. "Magic…Rituals…of the South…American Shamans…" he huffed. "Appendix…Miguel Sands…" he now gasped for breath, his chest burning from exertion. Little black spots floated across his vision and he quickly blinked them away. He thought he heard movement behind them in the jungle and pushed himself further, heartily sorry he'd ever summoned the damned thing.
"The 1848 version…" Sandburg ducked under a low hanging branch, "or the 1928 version?"
Miller answered, aware of the surprise in his voice. "1848. Read it?"
Sandburg nodded, then pointed off in a certain direction, plowing through the foliage. Miller followed and came to a sudden halt, the blood rushing in his ears, his heart thumping wildly, legs quivering in protest. He stared at the temple that graced the center of the clearing. It was clearly of Aztec design, in the low step-pyramid style. A small enclosure at the top would house the sacrificial altar, protecting it from the elements, 'And, hopefully, protect us, too.'
Sandburg was racing for the building, taking the steps two at a time. Nearing the top, he turned and urged the older man on. "Come on, Franks."
Soon, the two lay panting at the base of the altar, the smooth stone at their backs. "Where…are we?"
"Peru, for all intents and purposes," Sandburg responded absently and Miller shot him a look wondering if he was being made fun of. The young man didn't notice. "Try to relax a bit. The panther will slow the demon down some. I've read the volume you mentioned, let me see if I can remember the incantation needed for getting rid of the demon."
The two fell silent. Miller was perfectly willing to allow the younger man – a Shaman, for God's sake! – find an answer out of this predicament. 'I wonder if he realizes that if it's between him and me, I'll choose me every time?' He studied the room; his eyes alight with interest. 'The wealth of knowledge here could be worth millions. I wonder if anyone's excavated before?' He stared at Sandburg, who sat with his eyes closed in concentration. 'He's very familiar with the whole place, but poorer than a church mouse, so I'll bet he hasn't bothered exploring this place. And he calls himself an anthropologist.' He suppressed a snort of contempt. Rising, he examined the walls, sucking a deep breath to find the wall paintings as bright and vibrant as if they'd just been painted. Raising a hand, he came within millimeters of touching a painting of a black panther when Sandburg's voice had him whipping around. He didn't notice the beast lash its tail once, then fall still again.
"I got it. Have a seat." The smaller man motioned for Miller to sit across form him. "I'll teach you the incantation in phrases, it's a bit long. Once you've got it, all you need to do is recite it all at once and the demon will be sent back to its own plane. Ready?"
Miller nodded into that smiling face, his own smile a thin mask. 'Yeah, I'll learn it,' he thought to himself. 'But it doesn't mean I'll recite it immediately, not if there's a chance that you'll be taken care of.' His original hatred for the young man had returned, he'd had months to dwell upon the cause for his hatred. The grade he'd received in what should have been an easy course had caused his application for certification to be denied and in the process he'd lost valuable funding and had to cancel his participation in the Brazilian expedition. Another ambitious anthropologist had taken his place and had gone on to discover an untouched burial chamber. The entire group had enthusiastically written their findings, which were now featured in at least half a dozen scientific journals. 'A position of fame that should have been mind, it hadn't been for Sandburg,' he reflected, bitterly. He conveniently pushed aside the knowledge that perhaps if he had attended any of the classes or taken any of the numerous offers for private tutoring the teaching fellow had given, then he might have passed. Miller needed someone to blame for his own failings, and Sandburg had been in the perfect position for that blame.
The two worked on the incantation, one eye and ear out for either the panther or the demon. Weird sounds echoed out of the jungle, causing both men to freeze periodically and check the perimeter carefully, always with no results. After a few pronunciation tips from Sandburg, Miller finally felt the rite "click," as the pieces fell together. All he had to do now was recite it.
Sensing he was ready, Sandburg rose and gestured for Miller to follow. "Remember, all the way through with no pauses or repeats, or it won't work." The two stood in the doorway of the temple overlooking the jungle. The sun was beginning to set, casting long shadows across the clearing. As the two shamans listened, they heard the animals fall silent until only the wind through the leaves could be heard.
A growling hiss from the edge of the jungle shattered the peace. Sandburg turned quickly, trying to spot the thing. Miller took advantage of the inattention. In a swift move, he shoved the young man, sending him tumbling down the steps to land in an unmoving heap at the base. A dark oily figure stagger-glided towards the fallen Shaman and Miler watched impassively, quiet satisfaction swelling within him. The creature reached a hand out, grasping the front of the downed man's tunic and lifted him slightly off the ground. The arm rose, claws extended for a killing blow and Miller began to smile.
He felt the smile curl into a frustrated sneer as a black blur sped out of the jungle with a defiant roar. It crossed the clearing and knocked the demon away from the semi-conscious man. The entity landed heavily upon the steps, its back to Miller who watched the confrontation with growing annoyance. The panther planted itself between the creature and its prey, spearing both demon and summoner with a piercing look. Miller was surprised at the intelligence that shone in those eyes and he shuddered involuntarily.
The entity yowled and Miller could feel its hunger, but he could also tell its previous encounter with the panther had taken its toll. It had no desire to fight the great cat again and so made no further moves towards Sandburg. It stood as if waiting for a signal. Miller snarled, "Well, don't just stand there. Do something."
At his voice, the demon turned and stared at him with cold, black, empty eyes. Miller shuddered and shuddered again as the hatred the creature felt for him flared across the link. With slow, deliberate steps, it turned away from the panther and Sandburg. Eyes fixed intently on his own, Miller felt strangely paralyzed as the demon practically flowed up the steps towards him.
He took an unconscious step back, away from the entity, and then another. The dark being filled the doorway, casting its shadow across the entire length of the room. Horror filled him when he realized he'd boxed himself in. Panic rose, clawing at his chest and throat, making it hard to breathe. A roaring rushed in his ears and his eyesight dimmed as the thing stalked him.
A sharp voice snapped him back to awareness. "The incantation, Franks! Say it, quick!" Sandburg had scrambled urgently up the steps, dark blue eyes fastened on his own as the young Shaman slumped to the floor in exhaustion, the panther insinuating itself between Sandburg and the other occupants in the room. "Take a deep breath and say it!"
Miller blinked, regaining some distance from his fright, his vision steadying. He darted towards the altar, placing the heavy stone block between him and it. Taking a deep breath, he rattled off the incantation, the words and accent threatening to twist in his mouth. The creature leapt over the stone with a howl and latched bone-cold fingers around his throat. An instant later, it popped out of existence, leaving a greasy wisp of smoke behind that quickly dissipated.
For a brief moment, all Miller could do was stare sightlessly at the spot where the being had been; half-exultant at exorcising the entity, half-incensed at the creature's failure to destroy the anthropologist. He stared over to where the young man lay gasping for breath. One hand curled around a loose stone in the altar, intent on bashing Sandburg's head in. Before he could take a single step forward, his surroundings disappeared.
Blair Sandburg sat on the top steps of the temple, face buried in his hands. He could feel the comforting warmth of the panther pressed against his back and hear the jungle as it slowly recovered from its intruders. The young man shuddered lightly, reaction to the "day's" events finally sinking in. Slowly, everything went dark.
= Sunday 11:35 p.m. =
Simon Banks leaned up against the door in an unconscious ploy to keep the staff out of the room. A nurse would be by soon to check on Blair's vital signs and administer medication and painkillers. He didn't know what would happen if Blair and Jim were disturbed before they were finished, and he had no intentions of finding out. Naomi sat on the edge of the bed, holding Blair's free hand. She was humming softly and Simon could feel his tense muscles begin to relax at the soothing tones, his headache diminishing. He couldn't quite place where he had heard it before. "That sounds so familiar."
Naomi blinked up at him, blue eyes red-rimmed with tears she refused to shed. "It's something I made up when Blair was younger. I always used to sing it when he was sick. It…seems to help calm and relax him." She ducked her head, busying herself by brushing the curls out of Blair's face.
Simon nodded in understanding; he'd done the same type of thing whenever his own son was ill. As the humming began again, Simon remembered where he'd heard the tune before. The last time Ellison had been in the hospital, Simon had gone in to visit. Sandburg had been humming under his breath, sharing a bit of comfort with his partner, but had quickly stopped when he'd noticed his Captain standing in the doorway.
"I hate this." The low admission held sorrow and a barely restrained rage that startled Simon. Naomi smoothed a wrinkle out of the bedsheets, carefully avoiding eye contact with the burly Captain. "It seems, every time I turn around, he's sick or injured. I…" she bit her lip. "He's all I have. I don't want to lose him."
"You won't." It was a reflexive phrase, one he knew was an empty promise, but Simon couldn't stand the pain in her voice. For all the teasing they gave Blair about his mother, she was genuinely respected in the precinct for bringing up such a remarkable individual.
She chuckled bitterly. "There is only one guarantee in life, Captain, and that is that it will eventually come to an end." She sighed, an unhappy sound and she played with the edge of the sheet, unraveling one of the threads. "He's come so close to death before."
Simon assumed she meant the fountain incident. Pushing himself off the door, he took a few steps forward until he was at her side, one hand on her shoulder for comfort. "Blair's a survivor. His determination and strength constantly surprise us. He'll pull out of this. Ellison won't let him give up."
Naomi glanced at the clasped hands and Simon felt some of the tension leave her. "I'll admit, I wasn't thrilled when Blair told me that he was a police observer." She chuckled wryly, shooting Simon a glance that was both amused and apologetic. "I thought I taught him better than that."
She continued. "I thought the whole idea was ridiculous and I was terrified something would happen to him." She paused, smoothing out another wrinkle and gently caressing her son's hand. "I'm afraid I approached the whole idea with a closed mind. Me, who always said you should try everything at least once before you discarded it." She paused again and when she continued her voice was softer. "I was especially close-minded about his friendship with Jim. All I could see was that here was a man who had a violent profession, a violent past. A man who seemed so cold and closed off to the world. I thought to myself, 'What could this man possibly offer Blair?' never thinking that perhaps it was Blair who had something to offer, that it was Blair that was needed by Jim." She turned her eyes towards Simon, a proud smile upon her face. "I've always known that my son was destined for a special task, I just never knew what that task was, and there were times I was afraid he wouldn't be able to fulfill the destiny I sensed waiting for him. Being Jim's friend must be it. I've seen their friendship grow, each helping the other settle down, even when it seemed everything conspired to break them apart. They're soulmates in every sense of the word. I've never seen him so happy as when he's talking about his work with Jim and your department."
Her smiled slipped away to be replaced by a pensive frown. "He hasn't told me everything that's happened to him, Blair's never liked to worry me. I guess that's something he'll never outgrow. He always downplays his injures when I call to see how he's doing, but I know he's been through a lot." She waved a hand around the room, indicating with the gesture how common the sight had become. "The thickness of his medical records tells me that much. I just wish…" she trailed off.
"I know." Simon squeezed her shoulder in sympathy. "The kid's always been more concerned about others than with his own well-being. Ready to throw himself in body and soul if it means helping someone. I'll admit, sometimes the way he seems to ignore his own safety for the sake of another worries me. But we've all become very fond of him at the precinct. He's one of us, no matter how strange that may sound. I swear to you, we'll watch out for him when he can't or won't watch out for himself. And if we can't instill a sense of self-preservation in the kid, you can be sure Jim will."
Naomi nodded gratefully and the two sat in companionable silence, the only sound being the gentle breathing of the two sleepers and the beeping of the heart monitor, which had finally slowed to a more natural rhythm.
= Sunday 11:35 p.m. =
The young Shaman had not moved when the black panther he half lay across changed back into its natural form and now Jim cradled his Guide in his arms, rocking the smaller man gently from his position at the top of the temple steps.
A mental image of a door made the Sentinel gasp in sudden remembrance. 'Man, I hope there's still time.' He gently tapped his friend's cheeks, trying to wake him. "Chief? Blair? Wake up buddy. We've got places to go and people to reassure."
He was rewarded when Blair opened his eyes a few tense moments later. "Hey," came the soft voice.
"Hey, yourself. You okay?"
Blair studied him for a moment, seriously thinking about it, then nodded. "Just tired. A little achy. You?"
"I'm fine, Chief. What would you say to getting out of here and going home?"
"I'm all for it." Jim helped Blair to his feet. Pale and a bit shaky, the young man nevertheless flashed a brilliant smile at his larger friend. "Thanks, man."
"You're welcome." Jim started down the steps. "We should get going, there's no telling how much time we have until that door of yours closes." He stopped when he realized Blair had made no move to follow. He turned to see the young man standing at the top of the steps, an odd look on his face, as if he were listening intently to something. Jim extended his hearing but detected nothing out of the ordinary. "Chief?"
"Humn?" Blair still had his head cocked in a listening manner and was smiling softly to himself. Concerned, Jim retraced his steps and took his friend's face in his hands, checking if there had been an injury he'd missed that was causing this strange behavior. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Blair's smile was more natural this time, easing some of Jim's worry. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just thought I heard…" he trailed off, shrugging. The smile disappeared and a calm acceptance filled his dark blue eyes as he stared at Jim. "The door's closed, Jim. Franks kept us here to long."
Jim opened his mouth to deny it, but another look at the certainty in his friend's eyes stopped him cold. In shock, he slowly sank down onto the steps, his mind blank. Blair followed suit, propping his elbows on his knee and his chin in his hand. His face was calm and thoughtful. Jim, on the other hand, was furious. How he wished he had Franks in front of him now. The man wouldn't know what had hit him. 'What do we do now?' Jim knew that he would not leave if Blair had to stay behind. 'I'm supposed to be protecting him, and I will, whether in the "real world" or here.'
The angle of sunlight shifted as the day progressed into night. Blair began muttering to himself, so softly that even his Sentinel hearing couldn't catch it. Suddenly, the Shaman snapped his fingers, a wide smile gracing his features. "That's it. We don't need the doors to get home."
"What are you talking about, Chief?" Jim was bewildered, wondering if his friend had lost it, but a small part of him sat up to take notice.
"If we were still in that gray void, we would have to use the doors, because that's the only way out of it. But we aren't there anymore; we made a transition into our spirit realm. A place where we don't need doors to enter and exit. We never have." Blair was bouncing where he sat in his excitement.
Jim shook his head, not really understanding, but willing to listen. "Then, how do we leave?"
"Like this." Blair waved his hand and everything went dark.
= Monday 12:01 a.m. =
Blair could hear his mother and Simon talking. Their conversation low so as not to disturb. His left hand lay in hers and she gently ran her thumb over the knuckles in a soothing rhythm, careful of the bandages and the IV stuck in his hand. His other arm hung over the edge of the bed, his hand engulfed in Jim's much larger one. He could hear the beeping of the heart monitor.
He stifled a moan while he took inventory, not ready to let anyone know he was awake yet. His head and face throbbed. His left shoulder felt like someone had yanked it off and shoved it in backwards. The pain he felt in his chest and left leg…he didn't even want to mention. But he welcomed the pain; it meant he was back where he belonged.
Jim's hand twitched and Blair knew the older man was waking. 'Guess I should open my eyes as well.' With what felt like a momentous effort, he managed to open and focus his eyes. At the same time, Jim opened his. The two looked at one another, silently conveying that yes, they had just had a major fight with a wicked shaman, and yes, they had won. Jim tilted his head and Blair nodded weakly in reply. Naomi gently brushed her fingers across his brow and along the side of his cheek. Blair leaned into it, too tired to do more than smile. He saw Simon nod a welcome to him and he drifted down into a restful, healing sleep.
= Sunday 11:05 p.m. =
Miller watched, stunned, as his surroundings wavered and shifted, the color and details bled away leaving behind a formless void. Both Sandburg and the panther had disappeared; he was alone. He yelled, desperate for a response, wondering where he was now, but he couldn't even hear his own voice in this place. Frightened, he waited.
Complete silence rivaled the darkness around him and he feared he would go mad if left here too long. Minutes passed, perhaps hours, if felt like years. Then a deep voice, the accent Central American in origin, sounded. It began as a low chant that wrapped around him becoming more intense, more…angry. It enfolded him, threatening to smother him in waves.
The voice stopped chanting suddenly, leaving him breathless and unbalanced. Though in pitch darkness, Miller knew, he knew! that something was watching him, scrutinizing him, peering into his very soul and finding him wanting.
Someone spoke, the voice a deep rumble. ~You, Miller Franks, you dare call upon the darkness without knowledge, nor thought, nor care of recompense or consequence. ~
Miller opened his mouth, but only a pitiful squeak emanated from his dry throat.
The voice became louder, reverberating, taking on a slight edge. ~You would set a demon upon the Shaman of the Great City and believe nothing would happen to you in response? ~
He felt his heart squeeze painfully at the utter contempt the voice held and he began to realize he was in serious trouble.
~A shaman's power you received, a gift passed down through the generations, to be used for the benefit of others. But you have proven yourself, both in thought and in deed, to be unworthy of those gifts and thus are they stripped from you. ~
A chill settled over him and he felt an emptiness in his soul when something he hadn't even been aware of possessing was taken from him.
~The knowledge you have is dangerous and your anger and hatred too strong. You shall have no recollection of your time in the spirit world, that is all I can do. ~
= Monday 12:01 a.m. =
Miller Franks opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor of the tiny kitchen, his head throbbing where it had hit the linoleum. One hand mechanically rubbed at his chest, his heart thumping uncomfortably. Before he could wonder how he'd gotten on the floor in the first place, the door to the hotel room he'd rented burst open and two police officers rushed in, weapons drawn.
Within moments, Miller had been hauled to his feet, handcuffed, Mirandanized, and led out of the hotel to the squad car waiting to take him to the station.
Ellison jogged up the stairs to the loft barely able to contain his glee. After nearly two weeks, Blair was finally being released from the hospital and was coming home. Naomi had stayed behind to sign her son out while Jim had gone ahead to make sure everything was ready for the young anthropologist's recovery. 'Good thing his room's on the first floor. He still tires quickly, he'd never be able to handle so many stairs.'
Jim quickly straightened the loft, making sure the numerous cards and get-well gifts from Blair's friends from the precinct and students and colleagues from the University were prominently displayed. 'The doctors wouldn't allow him any visitor because of the pneumonia, though we managed to sneak Daryl in. This will show him how much he's been missed.' No one missed Blair's presence more than Jim had. 'Simon's had me confined to my desk, afraid I'd zone if Sandburg wasn't with me. He was probably right. I always seem to concentrate better when the kid's around, even when he isn't deliberately trying to guide me through something. Ironic how he can calm me down when he's such a whirlwind himself.'
Jim thought back over the past two weeks. Miler Franks had at first been unwilling to admit to anything, even though all the evidence pointed right at him like large neon signs. 'I mean, come on. The paint found at the scene of the crime perfectly matched his truck's paint job; there was even a dent in the bumper that matched where he'd hit Blair's car. The ballistics test proved Frank's weapon was the one the shots had come from, and he still had the thing in his possession, how thick can you get?' The kicker had been the cut up photograph of Sandburg found on the coffee table of the hotel room, next to a small quantity of illegal substances. 'The ritual Blair told me about. Nasty stuff.'
Franks had clammed up, refusing to admit that any of the evidence had anything to do with him. Frustrated, Simon had called in Ellison to interrogate the suspect; sometimes all they needed was an increase in the intimidation factor to get them talking. Strangely enough, Franks had taken one look at Jim's cold light blue eyes and promptly began confessing everything. 'I don't understand what happened, it was almost as if he recognized me or something. Is that possible? But we're all glad we didn't have to waste any more time on him. With his confession, Blair won't have to testify.'
He put a pot of water on the stove for tea. A small smile flit across his face as his hearing picked up two familiar heartbeats. Smoothly crossing the floor, he opened the door, letting in a grateful Naomi and a tired Blair. Jim put his arm carefully around Blair's shoulders and steered the sleepy man towards his room. Blair, spotting the gifts and cards, froze, just staring, a soft bemused smile gracing his features. Dark blue eyes looked up into his and Jim could read the surprise and happiness written there. "Welcome home, Chief."