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Prisoner X: A Sequel

by ljc

6/05



Summary: This takes place after TSbBS. Blair is a cop, and Starkville Prison is far from their memories.



Warnings: Blair owies, and angst all around. And bad words. And spoilers for Prisoner X (of course), Cypher, and The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. Rated PG13.



Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. All stories are written with the love of the show in mind. No money is being made. All stories are property of the author.



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With his eyes closed he could feel his hair being lightly tousled by the southerly breeze. He reveled in the warm embrace of the sun. He let his mind drift in that warmer clime ...



“whaat?” ...



“Sandburg, wake up. Come on, we have to get back to work Chief,” said an impatient sounding Jim. Jim Ellison, Detective in the Major Crime Department of Cascade, Washington, ex-Army Ranger, was a no nonsense kind of partner, but he was also friend and sentinel of Blair Sandburg, ex-grad student, now Detective, and guide of said sentinel.



Blair cracked one eye open and answered, “You couldn't let me pretend I was on a deserted island in the South Pacific? Pretty girls in native dress? Man, now that was a daydream.”



“Well, enough daydreaming Lothario. The real world awaits us both right now,” Jim tapped his friend on the back of the head, a signal that Blair understood from long friendship. It meant that Jim was in a playful mood ... and really, Jim 'hated' to do it ... but he was being the grown-up and dragging his charge off to do his duty. But his charge, Blair, was quite grown up, thank you very much, and he well knew his duty, but 'allowed' Jim to tease him anyway.



Back in the bullpen and at their desks, work resumed with a routine round of greetings to fellow detectives until duty took them on a round of interviews that lasted into the early evening. Witnesses were often hard to catch up with during the day.



<>



Back at the station, Jim dropped Blair off at his car.



“Hey Jim, I think we're out of coffee, milk, bread ... Anything else you can think of?” asked Blair.



“Sounds right. If you're going to pick them up on the way home, why don't I stop for pizza and beer?” asked Jim. “It's already late, and I don't want to go home and cook.”



“Sounds good, man. I'm starving. See you at home,” Blair was headed to his Volvo with a grin and a wave of his hand, bouncing with barely suppressed energy even at the end of a long day.



<>-<>



Jim put the pizza in the oven to keep warm, grabbed a beer and grabbed the remote to surf a bit while waiting for Sandburg. He finally settled on Headline News for a quick update of the day. It was too late, or too early, for one of the local news broadcasts. When the news started to cycle through again Jim glanced at the clock. <Come on Sandburg, what did you do, find a pretty girl to work your charm on?> Jim thought. He was starving and the pizza wasn't going to last much longer in the oven. He'd just start without him. He set the table with the basics and removed the pizza and sat down to eat. He made it through a couple of pieces, but his unease was growing. Where was that kid anyway? It doesn't take all night to get groceries, even if he made more than one stop.



Jim paced the loft apartment, checking his watch frequently, for the next hour. Apprehension turned the pizza to lead in his stomach. Blair was in trouble. He hadn't wanted to believe it, but dread overwhelmed him. It was a feeling he knew well from his acquaintance with Blair, his partner and his guide. He tried his cellphone. There was no answer.



He wanted to call Simon. But he knew that unless there was evidence of foul play 'Captain' Banks would insist on a little legwork before he'd let Jim put out an APB for someone missing only a few hours, even if it was Blair 'Trouble Magnet' Sandburg.



Jim went to Blair's room and grabbed his hairbrush then stood gripping it, hand tightly around the bristles to anchor touch, then brought it to his chest to anchor smell as he piggy-backed his sight and hearing and let them roam. He stood on the balcony, looking past the bus stop, six blocks that way. Nothing. Then toward the market that Blair usually used on the way home. No Volvo stranded on the street. Down Prospect St. practically to the docks. Nothing unusual. He let them wander throughout their building, and down the last street past the little park they frequented often. No sign.



He called the market that Blair would have gone to. No one had seen him come in. He called the bakery and the food co-op near the market that Blair also frequented. No dice. He called some of their friends, and only succeeded in spreading worry wherever he called. He hated it but he called Cascade General and Sisters of Charity and Mid-Coast Medical. He even called Dispatch to see if Blair had been sidetracked by some case along the way home, and had failed to call him.



That left a visual search. He drove straight to the market. Blair's car was there, his backpack in the front seat, and the car locked. But no Blair. He didn't wait any longer. He called Simon with his request. It had now been almost three hours since he'd seen Blair. The APB was approved.



<>



At the market, forensics personnel went over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Anything could be the clue that set them on the right path. But which clue? Of course, Jim went over everything too. It seemed that no one had touched the car that Jim couldn't account for, and the area around it was a microcosm of city odors and debris. No scuff marks. No signs of a struggle. No tire tracks. And even though it had been fairly early when Blair arrived, there were apparently no witnesses that had seen anything amiss.



Waiting was not a skill the ex-Army Ranger/detective/sentinel had learned well. To a protector, action was the answer of choice. But there was no action to take. No direction to go. No clue that took Jim's notice. No sighting. No Blair.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Blair sat staring into the dark. He knew he was inside, somewhere. He thought it must still be night, or else it was just very dark in here. He couldn't hear anything, like voices, or even traffic. He could hear house kinds of noises, maybe appliances like water heaters and pumps, and a furnace came on and off at intervals. Traffic noises would have helped give him some sense of location.



He tried a few deep breaths to keep calm. He tried twisting his hands in their shackles again, only succeeding in hurting the raw spots some more. But he couldn't help it. He felt claustrophobic in the dark and not being able to move.



He tried to remember how he got here, but it was a blank. He had a headache but couldn't feel any sore spots. He was a little nauseous, so maybe he was drugged.



A door opened above him, letting a sliver of blinding light bring tears to his eyes. He struggled to focus on the figure standing in that light, but he moved no closer. It was weird, the guy just stood there for maybe five minutes, then raised a bottle to his lips and took a couple of slow drinks and continued to stare a bit longer before turning away and closing the door.



Blair shivered. He was relieved and yet really confused. That was someone with an agenda. With Blair's luck the guy was a real nutcase. Maybe he wanted revenge, but he didn't seem in a hurry for it. Blair shivered again in dread.



<>-<>-<>-<>



The Major Crimes Department had gathered to lend their considerable support to the search for their colleague. Old cases were sifted through, both Blair's and Jim's, and those where teamwork by the whole department was fundamental to the investigation.



Other Detectives were loaned to Major Crimes. More than one balked at going over files from Blair's observer days. Captain Banks left no doubt in any of their minds that Blair Sandburg was a 'good cop', even then. Blair would have been extremely surprised and embarrassed by the outpouring of support from Major Crimes and other departments. Especially by such overt and vocal support as Simon's. Jim wasn't.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Blair woke again hours later and struggled into a new position against the cold, damp wall. He gasped in fright when he saw the man in the shadows on the stairs. He couldn't see him clearly but there was at least some light from thin basement windows that he hadn't been able to see during the night. That little bit of light gave his spirits a boost. It offered possibilities of escape, of attracting attention, of being able to find a weapon or a way of escaping his bonds. But first he had to get through this confrontation. What did this guy want?



His throat was dry and he knew he wouldn't be able to speak loudly, but he cleared his throat to give it a try, “What do you want with me man?” He was right, his voice was raspy but he tried again, “Why? Who are you? What do you want?”



The guy just sat on the stair, again staring and not saying anything. He brought a drippingly cold bottle of water to his lips to drink slowly. Tauntingly. Blair couldn't keep from staring at the water. He wasn't sure how long he'd been here. Only a night? And he was so thirsty. Well, he hadn't had any food or drink since lunch. Not good. He could guess the game, but not the reason. He'd like to know how long this joker intended it to go on. And he'd really like to know why.



<>



The day wore on for Blair. It was a beautiful day, what he could see of it. Last night he'd franticly searched his pockets as best he could for anything that might have been of use. What he wouldn't give for his Swiss army knife, or his backpack. The guy had even taken his belt, jacket and outer shirt. Blair couldn't see them here in the basement. He hoped the silent jerk with the water bottle hadn't just tossed everything.



His plans for the window were useless for now. The backyard was well-overgrown. No one appeared to hear his strained calls for help. The 'jerk' didn't even bother to try to shut him up.



The basement was spotless. How weird was that? Jim would have approved, being a dyed-in-the-wool neatfreak. His thoughts of Jim made him bite his lip in anguish.



Blair knew the big guy was probably frantic, and even Simon and the other detectives had probably been working for hours trying to find a clue. At least that thought made him feel a little better. They had to know. They had to be searching. Wait. Did this guy have Jim somewhere too? No no no. Don't even go there Sandburg. Don't borrow trouble. Jim has to be free. He has to. Blair consciously tried to calm his breathing. Thoughts like that got him nowhere. He'd be better off working on his own escape plan, if he could come up with one.



The 'jerk' appeared hours later. He sat at the top of the stairs this time. Blair hoped he enjoyed the 'view'. After the previous yells for help, when he tried to speak this time he could barely make a sound. His frustration drove him to struggle futilely at his shackles.



The 'jerk' actually chuckled. Then he pulled out another bottle and slowly drank it almost empty, then tossed it casually to the bottom of the stairs, nearly in reach of Blair's feet. Blair could only watch as the last of the water drained onto the floor.



Blair shuddered in anger, but bit his tongue. Trying to yell or scream at the guy would only hurt his throat and would just be playing into his game. The guy just taunted from a distance, never giving Blair a chance for any type of retaliation or escape. He could only wait. He did his best to ignore that nearly empty bottle while he grew weaker.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Jim, meanwhile, was doing his frantic, sentinel best to find a clue. It seemed that his best hope was a witness. He questioned everyone in the market. Then everyone they remembered seeing.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Blair's night had been short and uncomfortable. Shackled as he was, he couldn't lay down. The cuffs wrapped around a pipe in the corner of the basement. He could only lean one way or the other, but it helped a little that he could straighten or curl up his legs. Blair thought he could have stood a bit, but a cross pipe wouldn't have let him stand up all the way, so he didn't bother, except to severely test it's strength. He had been a day and a half without food or water and he was shivering away what energy he had left. He rocked slightly as he huddled with his legs up, trying to keep warm. It was a losing battle.



The sun was up and he was finally feeling sleepy. He didn't know if that was a good thing or not. He couldn't relax enough to sleep last night. It was funny ... he was used to camping and expeditions where he came upon all types of animals. Heck, in his old warehouse, the vermin were as big as cats. Yet, here, in the dark, in a cleared basement, little noises had assaulted his nerves all night long. Only with the dawning of day did he regain some of his calm. At least in the light he could tell if the 'jerk' was watching.



The 'jerk' appeared at about midday. He slowly came down the stairs to sit at the bottom this time. He looked vaguely familiar. Where had he seen him? Where? It had to be important to remember, right? Blair wracked his muzzy memory for any hint but came up empty. Then the man walked right up to Blair.



He chuckled a deep bass belly laugh, “Hey Teach. You're looking kinda bad. And ya smell worse. I can take care of that for you. We wouldn't want this to end too soon, now would we?” Then he strolled back upstairs.



Blair was confused. Teach? He remembered all of his older students from his time teaching at the University. He was always excited to be able to help someone eager to advance themselves and to learn new things. He didn't remember him from the University. Where? Teach? He heard the guy making more noises than he remembered from the previous days. That had him worried. When the guy brought his 'supplies' back down the stairs, Blair gulped and gave one half-hearted pull on his chains, but his wrists were raw and bloodied, swollen and infected.



The 'jerk' rolled out a garden hose and laid out soap, towels, and blankets. “Come on Teach, get out of those clothes. All the way, now. You need a good scrubbing.”



Blair started a mini-panic attack as he flashed to David Lash's father and his story of 'little Davy' and his 'ma'.



The 'jerk' stopped a moment to watch the struggles of his captive. No chuckles this time. He said angrily, “Teach, I'm not gonna jump your bones. You're not my type. I had enough of that type of diversion elsewhere. Just strip, then I'll hose you down. Come on, you might even get a bit of water out of this hose to drink. Now, move it. This won't take long, then you can have your new home all to yourself for awhile.”



Water to drink? And he was a mess, and he stunk. And his wrists needed cleaning. He could feel the beginnings of a fever. Blair fought to calm himself. He knew he was going to hate this but he really didn't have any choice. He began by kicking off his shoes. He started to panic again when the 'jerk' grabbed his pantlegs and pulled pants and underwear off in one pull. When he pulled out a knife, a very sharp knife, Blair plastered himself to the wall.



“This looks bad Teach, but I'm not going to uncuff you, so I'm going to cut your t-shirt off. Now hold still ... or I could slip,” he finished as he spun the lethal looking knife between his fingers.



When Blair was stripped, the hose was turned on and the 'jerk' threw him a washcloth and soap. Blair did the best he could, cuffed as he was. Then the guy turned the hose up forcefully so he could rinse off, with the water going down the basement drain. Blair tried to swallow as much water from the hose as he could, but he was shaking in earnest now from the cold of the water and the fear.



The 'jerk' turned off the water and stared at Blair for a couple of minutes, which made Blair shudder. The guy 'tsked' and hummed an off key tuneless line as he went back upstairs. He was back in a moment with a tube of ointment. He threw the towels to Blair to dry off, then told him to spread the antibiotic on his wrists. He left the blankets just out of reach.



“I'll be back Teach. When it's dry over in your corner you can have the blankets.” He walked backward toward the stairs, chuckling again. He turned and strolled up the stairs, whispering to himself until Blair couldn't hear him anymore, “Yeah Teach. It's going to be fun teaching you. You'll know now ... you'll know ....”



Blair leaned his cold and shivering body into the wall and curled up as tight as possible. The little bit of water he'd gotten had helped a little, and his wrists felt a little better for being cleaned and covered with the medicine. The 'jerk' must be crazy. He kept him prisoner but let him have ointment for his wrists. How long did he intend for this to go on? And with dread Blair wondered what came next.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Jim was going ballistic. Nothing. Not a clue. Where was Sandburg? Why? Who did this? No ransom. But no body either, which was the only good news so far.



<>-<>-<>-<>



The 'jerk' was in the mood to talk tonight as he sat near the middle of the stairway, “Your partner, he's a good cop. 'Detective of the Year', a coupla times, right? I suppose he's searchin' for you. Not going to find you. You know that don't you? I've been planning this out for a long time. I had lot's of time you know. No clues. I was really careful ... after all he's a sentinel right? Ha. What a joke! You were really something Teach. First a fraud, then a cop. That's a great punch line for the right joke. You really had me for a while. I really thought I could be something. You were teaching us, telling us that we could still make something of ourselves when we got out. Another great punchline. I should have known better. An ex-con is always an ex-con. Do you know what I was in for Teach? Punchline ... fraud.” Ha. Ha. Hahahaha.



Blair huddled in his blanket and rocked. Fraud. Fraud. Fraud. His nightmare turned back on him. Well at least now he knew the 'why'.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Jim watched from behind the mirrored glass of the interrogation room. This girl had seen something. Had seen Blair outside the market that night. She was a hooker and when she heard it was a cop that was missing ... well she had better things to do.



Jim became furious as he listened. It had been early evening when Blair disappeared. It had still been busy at the market. She'd seen a man talking to an animated, long-haired guy near the side entrance, which Jim knew was far from where Blair's car was parked. Then the man had thrown something in his face, dust it looked like. The long-haired guy had coughed, backstepped and then had collapsed. The other guy then threw him over his shoulder and walked off down the alley. She'd ducked down out of sight. She'd had no reason to get involved she said. That was all she seemed to know, and her vitals agreed.



Simon shook his shoulder, “Jim are you zoning, tell me you're not zoning. Damn it Ellison, why does Sandburg put up with this?”



Jim breathed deeply, relieving his Captain's anxiety.



“Don't ... do that again,” Simon ground out.



“Dust ... and the alley. Why didn't I know, Simon?” questioned Jim. He's my partner, my guide ... I have to get down to the market.”



“Jim, Blair was carried down that alley. How much trace of him would there be? Do you think you could track him after all this time? We'll head over to the market, but first, get the forensics report. Maybe the dust showed up in the debris we collected and we can get someone tracing it. Go!” said Simon, hoping the errand would calm Jim and get his mind working and not just worrying about his friend.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Blair hung on fuzzily to the question he needed to ask as he waited for the 'jerk' to return. After the guy gave him a blanket Blair was ready, “The sentinel thing was a fraud. Why take the trouble to make all these plans, get rid of the clues? Why try so hard to fool a 'sentinel' that doesn't exist?”



The 'jerk' sat munching on a big juicy orange, pulling sections off and letting the juice drip to the steps below him. “Well Teach, just knew you had a good detective for a partner. I saw him working at the prison. Didn't want to take chances. I do not want to go back to Starkville.” He hate filled eyes toward Blair as he continued, “But I wanted the uppity 'Teach' to learn that he didn't know what the hell he was talking about. People like 'you' get off. You got off ... you fraud! People like me, we just have to take it. No time off for good behavior, no probation for this first timer. Hey, guess what! No Detective's gold shield for me either, fraud! Just years stuck in that hell hole!” With that he dropped his orange and strode to Blair, punching him in the face, kicking him over and over in the legs, back, side and stomach till darkness ended the beating, at least in his own awareness.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Everyone knew Jim was overtired and overstressed , but he was also a damn good cop, with a partner missing who would be better described as a brother. No one wanted to be the obstacle in his path. When he requested their report, they just produced a form to sign to release it, and Jim was off. A drug had been detected in trace amounts from near the side entrance, quick acting, no lasting side-effects ... that was good news. Easy to obtain since it was for human and animal use ... that was bad news. Simon was quick to send teams to track down purchasers, but it was going to be slow going.



Simon accompanied Jim when he returned to the market. It had been nearly two days but Jim now knew exactly where to search. Simon stayed close, and watched, hoping for another sentinel miracle. Watching Jim because Blair expected him to, and watching just for Blair's sake.



Jim was amazing. He still found traces of the drug blown into the cracks in the pavement. There was a blustery wind building that presaged a soaking rain. Simon knew they didn't have much time. He coached Jim to piggy-back sight and smell, as Blair had coached him. Jim finally picked up a trace of Blair and the drug that lingered in the less trafficed alley. And the scent of a ... man. It was familiar to Jim, but he couldn't pinpoint his identity. Simon tried his best to 'guide' Jim as he focused on Blair's scent and the drug. That would have to be enough for now, before the rain took that chance away.



<>-<>-<>-<>



The morning dawned cold and rainy, with a blustery wind that rattled the basement's windows until Blair awoke. The 'jerk' ignored him for most of that day. That was alright with Blair. But later ....



Blair didn't move. He didn't want to. He was shivering, from fever this time. His wrists ached. He thought one of those achy wrists was broken now. He thought about his wrists a lot. It took his mind off his ribs. It hurt to breathe and to move his legs. One of his eyes was nearly swollen shut, but there was nothing he wanted to see anyway ... well except for Jim, or a paramedic, or a big glass of water, or a big juicy steak ... heck, he'd take green jello right now. He swallowed painfully. He was dizzy, but couldn't reason why. His stomach growled, but it hurt so much anyway, that being hungry was minor stuff.



The 'jerk' was back, silent and staring. Blair started to worry when he started rambling, “Sorry Teach. I got a little crazy there. It's probably not your fault I got the short end of the stick on that fraud charge. Maybe I've been a little crazy all along. I never gave much thought to what happened after I got my revenge. I didn't want to kill you but I think maybe I don't have any choice. I only wanted you to get a taste of a convict's life. Locked up. No friends. No help. No matter where you turn. But I feel kinda bad about beating you up. You never hurt me yourself. It just seemed you flaunted your good fortune to us in Starkville when you were doing the same crime, but not doing the time .... just didn't seem fair .... I guess it drove me a little crazy, Teach .... It's been so hard this last year. It ain't easy for an ex-con to find a job, or even a half decent place to live. That's why I've been squatting in this house. Well ... I just wanted you to know I'm getting ready to head out. Your partner's a real determined man. He had to be to stick it out in Starkville. I figure he'll be after me till doomsday if he finds out who did this to his partner. He's one scary man, even if he isn't a sentinel. So I can't leave any clues ... or ... witnesses. I'm sorry ... I figure I have to set fire to this place to be safe. It's been for sale for a long time. Did I tell you I've been hiding out here for a while since I got no job and nowhere else to go? Maybe ... maybe that family can collect insurance on it ....” His rambling trailed off and maybe he actually regretted his decision. But not enough.



Blair worried a moment more about the 'jerk's' plans, but when he tried to move, the blackness swallowed the light, and he didn't have the strength to fight it.



<>-<>-<>-<>



Jim's tracking stint had ended near a suburban neighborhood when the rain had begun in earnest. He had no idea if he was close or not. Did the kidnapper have a vehicle waiting? Did he live near here? Did he have accomplices? Too many possibilities as this night ended. Dawn wasn't too far away.



He and Simon headed back to the station. Hoping for a new lead from the drug trace they were soon disappointed. Simon ordered him to his office couch for a two hour nap. “That's an order Jim. No negotiation. You're the sentinel. If the legwork on the drugs doesn't pan out we should know soon. If nothing turns up we'll need another plan. I'll set Joel and Megan on it now. You need some sleep. We're going to need you. Blair will need you. Go.”



And Jim, exhausted as he was almost turned in his badge and gun and refused. Almost. A lonely wolf howl made him freeze, and the warm bump of a black furred feline held him back. He waited for Simon to leave his office, then turned to the sentinel's and guide's personal spirit menagerie. He quickly turned to pull the curtains and ignored Simon's odd look.



He went to where the jaguar sat on the floor. His fingers brushed lightly through the thick black fur as he sat carefully on the couch. He watched the wolf as he stood with his feet on the window sill and stared northeast. Jim felt his rage grow as he thought, <They knew! Damn them! Why wait so long?> Jim laid back with a thump on the sofa when the wolf loped over, jumped up and pushed him flat. <Well, if this is where I'm supposed to be, then let it happen soon.>



He fought his frustration as he closed his eyes to concentrate and smooth his breathing out. He let the trance state that Blair could encourage with a few words and a tone of voice take over his consciousness. The alley appeared, the one by the market. Blair's scent, the dust, and the 'other's' scent. The track was followed in his memory till Blair and the dust were lost to him, but the other's ... it was a memory! But where, who ... when? It was ... Starkville. It was on Blair at Starkville, after his class for the inmates in the prison. It was Johnson. Charlie Johnson. He woke and the menagerie was gone. He leaped from the sofa and pulled Simon into his office, sputtering all the way, “Jim, what the ...”



“Simon, I don't have time to explain. It's a sentinel thing ... Charlie Johnson from Starkville Prison. He's got to be out. I have to know his whereabouts. Was he put on probation after release? There's got to be a location for him. Find him and I think we find Blair,” Jim pleaded.



Simon was less accepting, and exasperated at Jim's insistence, “Jim, Charlie Johnson? What kind of connection could he possibly have with Blair?”



“Simon, Blair taught a class at the prison. Charlie Johnson was in it. And I remember ... I caught his scent in that alley but didn't get the connection until now. Please Simon, there's no time ...”



Simon was dumbstruck, “Alright Jim.” And then, “Joel, Megan,” he bellowed. “Jim's come up with a connection. Listen to him, and find this guy.”



Jim gave the short version and left others to the paper chase. He went to stand at the window. Northeast. The alley track, it lead northeast, into an older suburban neighborhood. He turned to Simon at his desk, “Simon, we have to leave. Now.”



Simon grumbled as he grabbed up his coat and followed, “It would be nice to have a two second warning Ellison.”



<>-<>-<>-<>



The flames were just beginning to blossom as Charlie Johnson took a last look down the stairs. He didn't want to leave Teach but he didn't want to get caught and sent up again either. It would be a much longer sentence this time, maybe life, even if the cop actually lived. He tipped the kerosene can down the stairs, seeing it splash and then flash into flame. It was too late for Teach now. No one was going to get him out of that basement. He hurriedly grabbed his own jacket by the backdoor and fled into the late afternoon light, into the overgrown backyard.



All the force he possessed was used to hurl Charlie Johnson into the wall of the house. “Where is he? What did you do to him? Come on Johnson. Out with it? I could just leave you here to burn ... NO ...” Jim looked into the window at the blaze licking upward across the walls, the faded curtains curling and blackening, flames roaring up the stairwell ... hot and thunderously loud and churning out toxic smoke from the contents of the house and the kerosene. “Sandburg! Blair! Come on Chief. Where are you?” He threw Charlie Johnson in Simon's direction, who passed him off to their backups, Brown and Rafe. Jim headed for the door but Simon grabbed his arm, “Jim, not that way. Find another. Quickly. Look at me. You can do it Jim. Find him. He's your g...partner. Listen. You know what to listen for. Tune out the other stuff. Forget the fire. Come on Jim. Only you can do it. Blair needs you ....”



The magic words, “Blair needs you.” Words to focus by. The search was on. Gone were the fumes. Gone were the too bright flames. Blocking the roar and searching for that softest of sounds. A guide's gentle heart.



Jim flew to the basement window. Dropping to the ground he kicked it out with both feet, shoving broken glass through and out of his way he then dropped into the burning building. Down and below the smoke in the lower level, crawling to Blair. Swallowing hard as he perceived the ill treatment, and swearing retribution, he carefully gathered him into his arms but was stopped by the shackles, but not for long. Insane rage can move mountains, and this was just a couple of metal pipes. He didn't have time to check Blair's injuries, the fire was too close, too hot. He gently lifted him to the window swaddled in the blanket, where his friends pulled him and Jim to safety.



At a safe distance, Jim began to take stock of his friend's injuries. He was appalled, heartbroken at the cruelty of the torture. He was dangerously dehydrated, and oddly hypothermic coming from a burning house. He sighed his relief as he realized that Blair would be alright after the bones knit and the bruising and swelling faded. He clenched his jaw, not in anger, but in compassion.



Simon came to stand beside Jim after the paramedics started to prep Blair for transport. He spoke softly and worriedly, “Jim, I think we have a problem.”



Jim didn't look up, “Problem solved Simon. We found Blair. And we found the scum that did this. And he's going to pay.”



Simon stood with hands on hips. He sighed a mighty sigh as he tried to explain quietly, “Jim, the 'scum' saw us. Saw you find Sandburg. I think we have a problem.” Brown and Rafe looked on worriedly from beside their car.



Jim's scowl hardened as he looked at the perp, cuffed, in the back of Brown and Rafe's car. The perp, Charlie Johnson, stared back with an unreadable, half-crazed expression. Part bewilderment, part questioning, part unbelieving. And part remorse ... Jim thought.



Charlie Johnson, scum, 'jerk', made the longest most sincere speech of his life, in a near whisper, “I'm so sorry sentinel. I thought he was a fraud like me. But he isn't, never was, never like me, not at all. I'm so sorry. You gotta tell him. He meant everything he said there at Starkville. He encouraged us. He never lied to us. He only lied about you! You were the truth! And he lied to protect you. Took the fall for the man that was his friend ... You won't hear any of this again. I swear to you. I swear it to him most of all. I was wrong. Teach, he was never a fraud. Loyalty like that can't be bought. It's in him. You're a lucky son-of-a-bitch Ellison. You take care of Teach. He deserves a lot better than he got from me ... or from you,” Charlie Johnson had never spoken truer words in his whole life. He'd seen a miracle, a man who would give his life for another, a brother. He would not betray that miracle. It was too rare in any world, especially Charlie Johnson's.



Jim's tears ran freely down his chiseled-in-stone face. He'd never listened to a truer statement of fact in his life. He'd had a miracle beside him all these years, and still hadn't quite realized it's worth until he saw it in this man's eyes, heard it in this man's voice and words. He was lucky to have Blair Sandburg in his life, by his side, and backing him up. There was just no way to equal or repay that gift. He could only treasure it. Protect it.



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Blair had woken several times, but only for moments, and never being very lucid. His injuries were numerous but not critical. The doctors kept him sedated so his injuries could begin to heal, and his body could accept nourishment and hydration. Water and glucose would cure many of his bodies ills and aches, and clear his mind. And sedation would keep that muddled mind from thrashing around with broken ribs, wrist, and ankle. A win-win situation the doctors felt.



Jim just wanted his guide to feel better as fast as possible. He sat 'guard' duty to assure just that. He hadn't been a medic for nothing. It was quite useful in monitoring his friend and inducing quick and accurate care from the hospital staff. They didn't get away with leaving him with only one blanket; Blair got too cold. The medicines, for pain especially, were 'on time', exactly, or Jim went on a search and destroy mission. Well ... not destroy ... but 'to find and to encourage' more timely action in the future. With such accurate monitoring the patient was making a remarkable recovery. And Jim was pleased. And the hospital staff was relieved, and not just because Jim was such an attentive, and assertive, protector. They knew Jim could expect the same care from his partner.



Jim knew Blair would be waking for longer periods, starting probably within the hour. He went in search of a good cup of coffee. There had to be a decent one somewhere in this whole building, he could smell it, and Blair was getting a good big sample.



Blair woke alone today. He ached everywhere, and he itched under the casts. He sighed miserably as he tried to reach inside the wrist cast, to no avail. He tried shifting the ankle cast, with minor positive results. The itchy spots could sometimes be made to rub against the inside of the cast, and that helped. Then he tried to put it out of his mind.



Where was Jim? He knew he could have been called away for work since Blair was staying conscious more and longer. He was so glad to be able to stay awake for a while. Before, he'd drop off to sleep in the middle of a sentence. Today he could look around and ... get bored really fast. That must be a good sign.



But where was Jim? Sigh. He knew Jim. He'd be there as soon as he could. He stared at the bright new day and shuddered as he remembered those horrible nights in the dark, and the cold, and being hungry and so thirsty, and then the beating. Fraud. He was a fraud. The crazy 'jerk' was also a fraud. Blair shuddered again as that nightmare reasserted itself, bringing so many bad memories with it. He had known it would always haunt him. But this ... how was he ever going to get past this if even the ex-cons held it against him?



Jim came slamming through the door with a dangerously tilted coffee mug in his hand, “Sandburg, you're alright. Calm down. You're safe. I'm here buddy.” And as he waved the mug in front of his face, “And I come bearing coffee!”



Blair released a strained chuckle, then grabbed his sore stomach with the casted wrist, which caused a whooping gasp as it smashed into his tender mid-section.



Jim quickly set the mug on the side table and gathered Blair's casted wrist up in one hand and rubbed gently and soothingly on the sore stomach muscles until Blair unclenched and laid back with a sigh. He wearily grinned, “That coffee better be worth it Jim.”



“Only the best for my guide,” said Jim with a gentle smile.



Blair grinned as Jim propped him up, positioned the table over his lap and then used his hands to steady Blair's one good hand on the coffee mug.



“Charlie Johnson. You remember him Chief?” asked Jim.



“The 'jerk'? Yeah I remember him. I didn't know who he was at first so I just called him the 'jerk' ... just in my head. He was creepy. Please tell me he's crazy. Mostly he'd just stand and stare and drink water or eat where I'd be sure to see him. The 'jerk'!”



Blair tensed as he said, “Jim we have to talk, man. The guy was crazy, but he talked to me about being a fraud, and-and you being a sentinel. He said he didn't believe it, just that you were a really good cop, that's all. But we need to plan for the possibility that he might spill something in his statement or to someone ...”



Jim didn't have much luck cutting in on that long string of explanation by Blair but he did his best, “Blair, wait. Charlie is definitely going to spend some quality time in a sanitarium for his crimes. Maybe later some time in jail. We'll see how it works out. But Charlie had a few words for me Blair. He brought some truths home to me in a very pointed manner. I'll share them with you some day, when you're feeling better. Uh uh, no questions right now. You still have to give your statement and I want you to rest up before that. I won't forget to tell you Blair. It's important, but it can wait .... Doc said you could go home tomorrow, if someone can watch out for you 24/7. And that will be me, buddy. We'll have lots of time to talk. Yeah ....”



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finis