Phew, finally! I thought this story was never going to be finished. The dang blasted stubborn story critters just refused to work any faster. What is a story critter? Just picture fuzzy little hamsters wearing tiny round glasses while running around on those rodent exercise wheels. That's what my imagination came up with or a muse. Oh well, I guess the critters are the only kind of muse that would be comfortable in the fluff that my brain has become.

Assorted thanks and hugs and stuff:

This story would never have been posted if it weren't for Karin the fearless and mighty Beta Queen. Thanks bunches and great big hugs for your patience, encouragement, and kind but honest advice. I really do appreciate all the time and effort you put into this. And uhm, sorry about forgetting all those commas. I'll have to make sure the critters learn the basics of grammar and punctuation before the next story. I owe you one in a BIG way! :)

Thanks and hugs also to Angie, Wendy, Brenda, Katie, Lora, and Lee for nudging me along when I got stuck and for providing the kind words and praise to keep the hamsters happy. Thanks to Angie for coming up with the title. And, of course, I can't forget Chris, for being kind enough to make room at her wonderful website for my stories.

The feedback statement:

All feedback, positive and constructive, is welcome. Send flames if it'll make you happy -- I have a delete button and I'm not afraid to use it. ;) If you enjoy this story and would like to see another one, it's in the works. But remember, the hamsters feed off of Sentinel episodes and smarm. The more new eps and fanfiction, the faster the critters turn those wheels. If you really really liked the story, you could do me a huge favor and write a letter or send an e-mail to help get The Sentinel back on the air as soon as possible.

Oh and yes, I did leave room for a sequel to this story, but I have no plans to start one anytime in the near or even kinda distant future. So, if anyone feels the urge to pick up where this story leaves off - have at it.

Okay, now on to the disclaimer kinda stuff:

Disclaimer # 1: Most of these characters belong to Pet Fly and Paramount. I'm just borrowing for a wee bit of fun. I promise to love, honor, and cherish Blair...Whoops, that's another fantasy all together. Ahem, I promise to return the guys in fairly decent shape when the story critters are finished playing with them. Since I'm not making any money off of this story, I would like to ask the nice folks at Paramount and Pet Fly to please not sue me. If you do decide to sue, the only things you'll end up with are: Mikey The Magnificent Carrot Muncher (horse), Barney Of The Very Rumbly Purr (kitty cat), Her Hissiness Queen Growchie (spiny-tailed iguana), and Winston The Wonderful (rat). The critters also come with two jobs to pay for their assorted necessities, treats, and toys.

Disclaimer # 2: No Blairs, Jims, or Simons were actually harmed in the making of this Senfic story. That's fake blood, honest.

All right, I'm almost through with this intro thingie. Really. Just be patient with me, I tend to ramble on a bit. :) Here come the warnings:

Yep, there's Blair owies in this one. And yep yep yep, there's lots of angst, hurt/comfort, and smarm. So, it that's not your cup of tea, the delete button is located in an easily accessible site. I'd probably rate this story PG-13 for violence and swearing. And nope, this is not a death story. There are a few tense sections for Blair, but a happy ending is guaranteed.

If I forgot anything in this long and boring intro, please just blame UPN or the story critters or something. There's enough stress in my life already. :)

Reply to: USCGSnipe@aol.com

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Angst, h/c, smarm, and Blair owies

Between Life and Death

Tab

********************
This was Paradise. A peaceful tropical island; complete with lush vegetation, white sand, blue ocean, and beautiful, scantily-clad women who were busily attending to his every need...

A harsh ringing in his ear jerked Blair out of his dream and back into his cluttered office at the University. With a groan, as stiff muscles complained, Blair picked up the phone.

"...llo?"

//"You planning on coming home tonight, Chief?"//

"Hmmmm? What?" Blinking and rubbing his eyes, Blair tried to make sense of the words.

Jim Ellison, Major Crimes Detective and Cascade's very own Sentinel, chuckled as he listened to his young partner's sleepy mumbling. //"Wake up Sandburg. How much work do you have left to do?"//

"im?" After gulping a mouthful of the cold, stale coffee from the mug on his desk, Blair tried again. "Jim? Oh man, what time is it? Wait, why are you calling this late? Is everything all right?"

//"I was about to ask you the same question. You about ready to come home and get some sleep? We have to be at the station pretty early tomorrow morning, or this morning, depending on how you want to look at it."//

"Just have a couple of tests left to grade before I can leave. Tom's coming back tomorrow so this'll be the last late night. I should be home in about an hour."

//"Well, try to be quiet when you come in. I'm going back to bed."// The Sentinel knew that he really wouldn't sleep soundly until his Guide came home. The late hours that Blair had been keeping for the past couple of weeks were hard on both men. //"Drive carefully. See you in the morning."//

"All right, Jim. 'Night."

Blair Sandburg; Student, Teaching Fellow, Anthropologist, Police Observer, and the Sentinel's very own Guide, picked up his pen and sighed wearily. He was almost caught up with all the backlogged work that had accumulated in the last two weeks. Finally.

The energetic grad student usually juggled his hectic schedule with power to spare. But two weeks ago, another Teaching Fellow, Thomas Kliene, had taken a leave of absence to be with his parents after his father had suffered a mild heart attack. Blair had offered to cover his classes until the young man returned. Tom was not only a friend, but had also covered for him several times in the past.

Unfortunately, in order to keep up with the extra work, Blair had to stay up later and later--pushing himself to the point of near exhaustion. He'd barely had six hours of sleep in the last three days. And he knew that Jim hadn't fared much better. Much like a worried parent, the older man only slept fitfully until he knew that his Guide was safe at home.

Ordinarily, Blair would have left the university by ten, bringing his remaining work home to finish. The grad student had come to enjoy working at the loft. While he was fond of his office in Hargrove Hall, the loft provided more warmth and brighter light than the tiny little basement room. Besides, he was able to keep an eye on Jim while enjoying the luxury of fresh coffee, hot meals, and a bathroom; all within a few steps from the comfortable couch where he usually chose to study.

Unfortunately, this just wasn't possible while he was filling in for Tom. There were now just too many textbooks and reference materials to lug back and forth between the loft and university. So, most every night of the past two weeks, Blair had stayed at the university, working late into the night, sometimes staying so long that he barely had time to run home and shower before rushing back to get to class on time.

Thankfully, Tom had called just that morning to tell Blair that he would be back tomorrow. His father was well on his way to recovery after the double bypass that had saved his life. Just one more night. And then I can get back into my normal routine. The thought cheered the tired young man, giving him the required energy to finish the remaining work.

Finally, at 2:00 a.m., the last test was graded. Blair stacked them neatly on his desk for Tom to find in the morning and stuffed the books he'd need for his own studies into his worn backpack. Slinging it over his shoulder, he flipped the light, locked the door, and walked out of Hargrove Hall.

He was halfway across the parking lot before his tired brain registered how cold it was. Reaching down to zip his coat, he realized that he left it back in his office. Man, I must be more out of it than I thought, Blair mused ruefully. The young man paused a minute, trying to decide if it were worth the effort to go back for it.

Blair didn't notice the man emerging from the shadows until the pain seared through his body. He didn't feel himself fall to the ground and he was not aware of the way his body twitched slightly in response to the electrical current discharged by the tazer the man held.

He was, however, aware of the sensation of fear as the man reached towards him again. And then, he knew nothing at all.
********************
The sound of crying slowly pulled Blair back to consciousness. Choking back a moan, he started to look for the source of the soft sobbing. Panic suddenly clawed at his heart when he realized that he couldn't see.

Oh my God! I'm blind!

The terror eased only slightly once he realized that he wasn't blind, only blindfolded. Blair struggled frantically with the cuffs binding his hands behind his back, growing almost hysterical in his need to remove the offending cloth blocking his vision. He squirmed around on the cold floor, trying to get to his feet, but discovered that his ankles were also bound.

Oh, man...Jim, where are you? I'm in some serious trouble here!

The frightened young man continued to fight the restrains long after he realized that he couldn't free himself. Even the warm blood he could feel dripping from his abused wrists didn't deter him from the useless attempts at escape. Later, he would not remember how long he struggled, nor what brought him back to his senses. Laying still for a moment, except for the shivering that racked through his cold, frightened body, Blair tried to understand what had happened. He remembered leaving his office and making his way to the parking lot. His memory was a black wall after that.

Focusing on his breathing, he managed to slow the ragged panting back to a deep rhythmic pattern which in turn slowed the furious beating of his heart and allowed cramped muscles to loosen. Just as he had taught his Sentinel, the Guide relaxed and centered himself. Taking a final cleansing breath, he allowed his mind to open, seeking the memories lurking behind the seemingly solid wall in his mind.

The image of a big man lunging at him from the shadows, and the pain that had followed, threatened to send him back into the panic he had just emerged from. Blair shuddered and managed to rein in the fear, still feeling it, but able to function through it.

The sobbing he'd heard earlier had decreased to quiet whimpering and occasional sniffles. Blair raised his head cautiously and whispered, "Hello? Are you OK?"

The soft sobbing stopped abruptly and a familiar voice replied, "Wh...who's there? You better let me go or my Dad's gonna tear you apart. He's a cop you know."

Damn, what's he doing here? "Daryl? It's Blair, are you hurt?"

"Blair, is it really you? What's happening, why are we..." the teenager's words stopped suddenly, replaced by a gasp of pain and a hoarse, agonized cry.

"Daryl, what's going on? Answer me!" A soft, frightened whimper was the only response. "What the hell happened? Come on man, talk to me!"

"Shut up over there before you piss me off. You only get to talk when I tell you to."

Blair felt a shiver run down his spine at the sound of the rough bass voice--a voice that belonged in a nightmare. It was a fitting analogy: he knew instinctively that it belonged to the man from the shadows. Although he would have preferred to comply with the man's wishes, the grad student knew that he had to draw the threat away from Daryl.

"Hey, what'd you do to him? Why don't you leave him alone and pick on someone your own size." There was no answer, and for a minute he thought that the man had left.

That hope was dashed by the sudden searing pain in his side. Blair had never felt pain like that before, not even getting shot could compare to it.

"I said shut up! You don't talk to each other, you don't ask questions, you don't even think too loudly. Got it?" The question was punctuated by another jolt of agony, this time in the leg.

Blair couldn't help but cry out at the unexpected, unknown torture. God, what is that?  He tensed, waiting for the pain to return.

"Got the idea yet, pal?" The voice was right next to his ear now and rough hands pulled at his sore wrists. "How long did it take you to learn that you're not gonna slip out of these handcuffs, huh?" When Blair remained silent, the grip on one of his wrists tightened until he was sure that the bones were being crushed. "When I ask you a question, you answer me. Understand?" The words were followed by another painful squeeze to the already bruised limb.

"Yeah, I got it." Blair was barely able to bite back a plea for mercy. He had no intention of giving the unknown man that kind of satisfaction and it wouldn't do any good anyway.

"Well, just to remind you of the rules..."

A burning pain shot through the young man's body again, causing him to cry out his hurt and terror. "God, what is that? Stop!" Blair tried to curl into himself, remembering too late the rule about not speaking.

The man rested his hand on Blair's shoulder, chuckling softly as the anthropologist flinched. "Oh this old thing? Just a little cattle prod I picked up from somewhere. Won't do too much damage, but I bet it hurts like hell. See?" The man jabbed his helpless prisoner again and laughed sadistically at the resulting scream. "Good, make sure you scream like that when we call Ellison, it should give him a real wakeup call."

Blair lay as still as he could, even after the man's footsteps had faded away. A million questions spiraled in his head, making him dizzy. What did Jim have to do with this? Why had he and Daryl been taken? Who was this man? And what had he meant by that last statement? Lots of questions, but no answers.

Blair prayed that Daryl was still OK. And, sending a silent plea to whatever God was listening, Blair prayed for Jim to find them.
********************
Perhaps it was the silence that awoke the Sentinel from his uneasy rest. He was immediately aware that his Guide had not come home. The loft was cold and hollow without the warmth and energy of his roommate.

Struck with the abrupt realization that his life would be empty without Blair, Jim was assaulted by a surge of unexplained panic.

For a moment he lay there, with his eyes still closed, wondering if it were the dreams that blackened his thoughts. Scenes of darkness and fear, men lurking in shadows, and cries of pain had plagued his mind throughout the few hours that he had been sleeping. Not really dreams, more like disjointed images. A warning of sorts, but of what, he wasn't sure.

The insistant ringing of the phone jarred him from his morbid thoughts. Must be the kid, he probably fell asleep at his desk right after we hung up last night. He tried to convince himself of this even though, somewhere deep inside, he knew that it wasn't true.

"Hello?"

//"Detective Ellison? Sorry if I woke you. I wouldn't have called you this early, but I have some information you might find interesting."//

The man on the other end of the line sounded anything but sorry. In fact, the voice had a smug tone to it that caused Jim's jaw to clench.

"It better be pretty damn interesting for you to be calling me at..." Jim blinked at the clock by his bed, "5:00 in the morning."

//"Maybe I'd better call back later...I wouldn't want you to miss any of the details because you weren't fully awake."//

Confused by the unexpected flash of rage the voice provoked, the detective struggled to keep his voice somewhat courteous. It was almost as if this voice were a part of the strange, half-remembered dreams that had troubled him.

"Look, I have somewhere to be in a couple of hours so why don't you just get to the..."

The words died in his throat, strangled to silence by an overwhelming feeling of dread. Jim suddenly knew that this man was somehow responsible for Blair not coming home. The Sentinel could sense his Guide's fear and pain for an instant. The rage he had struggled to contain threatened to blind him in a haze of red.

"Where's my partner?" he hissed.

//"Well, aren't you a clever cop."// A low chuckle followed the sarcastic words. //"He's fine for the moment. Well, as fine as can be expected."//

"What do you want?" The words were not much more than a growl.

//"I'll tell you everything you need to know. But first, I want you to call Banks. Tell him that Steve Russo says, 'payback's a bitch'. You tell him to get his sorry ass over there in 30 minutes or his son's going to get hurt real bad. Than you both wait by the phone like good little piggies until I get around to calling you back. No traces and no other cops. Someone will be watching and if I even think you might be screwing with me, the kid and the hippie won't live to regret it. Understand?"//

"Russo? Do I know you?"

//"You don't get to ask the questions, Ellison. Your partner already found that out the hard way. Don't make me repeat the lesson. Just tell me whether you understand what you need to do."//

"I understand." It took all of Jim's control to say those words and nothing else. But he knew that Russo had access to both Blair and his Captain's son. He couldn't afford to anger this man.

//"Just to make sure that you don't forget who's in charge here, I have a little demonstration for you."//

There was the sound of a door being opened, Jim could hear the squeak of a rusty hinge.

And then the pain-filled cry of his Guide ripped through the phone and stabbed right into his heart. "Oh my God! Sandburg!"

//"I thought that would get your full attention, detective. That's all you get for now. You'd better make sure Banks is on time because I don't think your partner wants to go through that again."//

"What the hell did you do to him? Russo!" But the man had already hung up.
********************
Simon was reading the morning paper and enjoying a cop of dark roast coffee in the kitchen when the phone rang. Although he was tempted to let the answering machine pick it up, he crossed into the living room and answered it himself.

"Hel..."

That was the only thing he could get out of his mouth before a high-pitched hysterical voice started screaming in his ear.

"Who is this? Wait a min... Whoa now, slow down..." It was his ex-wife, Joan. Simon tried to keep his own voice calm and soothing while trying to think of what he could have done to make her this upset.

//"OH MY GOD, OH GOD! SIMON, HE'S GONE! I DON'T KNOW..."//

"Who's gone? Just calm down a minute and tell me..."

//"DARYL'S GONE!"//

"What?" He really wasn't sure what had gotten into the woman. What did she mean, Daryl was gone? It was only 5 in the morning and his son was not known to be an early riser.

//"I don't know where he is."// the distraught woman was quieter now, but sobbing so hard that it was still hard to understand her words. //"I went into his room to wake him for school and he just wasn't there. The room was freezing, the window was left wide open."//

Oh Lord! Simon had to concentrate hard to keep from panicking right alone with his ex-wife. "Do you think he may have run away? " He just couldn't allow himself to believe that his son would have left home. Although the boy could be rebellious at times, taking off like that just didn't seem like something he would do.

//"I don't know, we had a fight last night over some homework he hadn't finished. But he didn't seem that upset about it before he went to bed."//

He was about to reply when the phone beeped, signaling another call. At first, he was going to ignore it. What could be more important than finding out where his son had run off to? But some instinct nagged at him to take the call. "Hang on a minute, I'll be right back."

Switching to the other line, he all but shouted his terse greeting, "Banks!"

//"Simon, we have a serious problem here."//

"Jim? Look, I can't talk right now. Daryl's run away." Just saying the words caused his heart to constrict in anguish.

//"Sir, I don't know how I should put this..."// Jim hesitated, and Simon couldn't help but cringe, wondering what had the detective so upset. //"Someone named Steve Russo called. He has Blair and he says that Daryl's with him too."//

"WHAT?" Simon racked his brain for a moment trying to remember someone named Russo. And then, "Oh God, Oh Lord, no." There was no stopping the tears this time. "Is my son ok? If that bastard hurt my boy...wait, you said he's got Sandburg too?"

//"Yeah, I just got off the phone with him. He said that you needed to get here by 5:30 and that we were to wait by the phone for further instructions."// Simon took a deep breath, dreading what Jim would say next. //"Sir, he said that we weren't to report this. If we do, he promised to kill them both."//

"We have to call this in, Jim. You know that!" Simon could feel the beginning of a massive headache building up between his eyes. He was obligated to report the kidnappings, knew that not doing so could get both Jim and himself in very serious trouble. But the father in him couldn't bring himself to do anything that might jeopardize his son's life. "Listen, just hold tight for a few minutes. I'll be there as soon as I can."

Without waiting for a reply, Simon hung up and connected back to his ex-wife, still not knowing what to say to her. "Joan? Are you still there?"

//"Simon? Where did you go? What took you so long?"// She was still crying, but sounded much calmer.

"Sorry I took so long. I think I know where Daryl is, I'm going to go talk to him. I promise that he'll be home by tomorrow morning. Just sit tight, I'll keep you up to date."

//"What, you expect me to just sit here while you..."//

"Listen, everything's going to be just fine. I'll bring him home as soon as I can. You just have to trust me. I need you to stay by the phone and wait for my call."

He hated lying to his son's mother. But he couldn't risk his boy's life by calling this in as a kidnapping; Russo was capable of extreme violence and the man had a grudge against him. Simon was determined to do anything and everything in his power to keep Daryl safe. He was willing to lie, cheat, steal; anything to save his son.
********************
Heavy footsteps brought Blair out of the uneasy doze he had settled into. Trembling slightly, he tensed as the steps stopped somewhere close by. The young man lay completely still, hardly daring to breath, hoping that the man would just go away.

"Guess we've made them wait long enough. Let's give the cops a call."

Blair started at the loud voice. He hadn't realized that the man was that close. Instinctively curling to protect himself, the young man clenched his jaw, determined not to cry out from the pain that he was sure would come.

The phone was picked up midway through the first ring.

//"Ellison."//

"Hello cop, sorry to keep you waiting so long. I got hungry and decided to get some breakfast before I called."

//"It's 9:30, you were supposed to call at 5:30!"//

Russo smiled at the fury in the detective's voice. He loved having the advantage over the two cops. " There's a little place about two blocks south of you; man, have they got great pancakes. Bet your friend is feeling a little hungry too." Russo knelt and slapped his hand down on Blair's shoulder, grinning when he felt the young man flinch away from his touch. "Well, Sandburg, you hungry?"

Not giving his captive a chance to respond, the cruel man jabbed him with the cattle prod, glad that the detective could hear the resulting cry over the phone.

//"Damn it, Russo..."//

"You're partner's pretty stupid; you know that Ellison?" He snarled his hand in Blair's curl's and jerked the grad student's head up sharply, "When I ask you a question, you answer. Now, are. you. hungry?"

Russo's smile broadened at the sight of the younger man's pale face and the quaver in Blair's voice as he choked out a gasping "No..."

"Yeah, well that's good. 'Cause it's going to be awhile before you get anything to eat. But don't say I didn't offer." Ellison's voice screamed in the earpiece, but he ignored the furious detective's shouted threats and questions. Russo released Blair's hair and patted his shoulder again before moving to Daryl. "What about you, boy? You hungry?"

"N..no." Daryl managed to stammer out his reply quickly, but it still didn't stop the man from using the cattle prod. The boy screamed in pain and terror.

"Leave him alone you bastard!" Blair shouted.

Russo just laughed at Blair's attempt to distract him. "Hey, is Banks listening?"

Simon's voice growled over the phone, //"What do you want, Russo? Where's my boy?"//

Using the prod again, Russo grinned cruelly at Daryl's shriek of pain. He wasn't sure what amused him more, the son's cry or his father's bellow of rage. "Easy there Banks, you don't want to make me mad right now. I don't think your son would like to see me get angry."

//"Look, you can have anything you want. Just let my boy go. He has nothing to do with this."// Simon's voice wavered just a bit. "Don't you remember, Banks? I told you I'd get you back for arresting my little brother. Did you know that he's been in jail for ten years? Do you even care about what Bobby has had to go through in that place? Don't you pigs think that maybe he's suffered long enough now? You're lucky I haven't torn your son apart."

//"So what is it you want, Russo?"// Jim snarled his question.

"Bobby is being transported from Garnard State Prison to Foxborough tomorrow afternoon. I want you two to make sure that the transport team doesn't get there. You bring me my brother and I'll let Sandburg and the boy live."

//"How the hell..."// Simon's question was cut off by Jim's abrupt answer.

//"You'll get what you want, Russo. But you'd better take good care of my partner and Simon's son. If anything happens to those two, I'll kill both you and your brother."//

Russo cleared his throat, trying to mask the sudden unease that the detective had caused. The Sentinel's voice was pure ice. "You have all the information you need for now. I'll be in touch tomorrow morning." He hung up without waiting for a reply and turned his attention back to his captives.

"I have to leave for a while. I suppose I should let you two use the bathroom. We don't want any unfortunate accidents." Pulling out a wicked looking hunting knife, he swiftly cut through the ropes binding Blair's ankles together. "Let's go, get up. Remember, no talking." Russo yanked the younger man's arm brutally when he staggered. "Move it, I don't have all day."

The grad student was led, still blindfolded, into a filthy bathroom. Once there, the handcuffs and the blindfold were removed. "You got two minutes. Better make it quick."

While Blair relieved himself, the large man fiddled with something from the medicine cabinet. As soon as the young man finished, his captor reached over and grabbed his arm, pulling him over to the sink.

"Don't want you going anywhere or making any trouble so I'm just gonna give you something to help you relax." Russo pushed the anthropologist's sleeve back and plunged a needle into his arm before the young man knew what was happening. Ignoring the soft cry of protest, he swiftly handcuffed and blindfolded his captive once again.

Blair was already starting to feel dizzy and disoriented by the time he was led back into the room and shoved to the floor. His clouded mind only vaguely registered a shrill cry of fear. He was unconscious before Russo returned with an equally drugged Daryl Banks.
********************
"SON OF A BITCH!" Simon hurled his coffee mug against the wall, smashing it.

"Hey, just take it easy for a minute, Captain." Jim used his most soothing voice, hoping to calm the near-homicidal man in front of him. "We'll get them back."

"Russo's a dead man. I'll tear his heart out. The bastard thinks he can just walk right in and take my son. He'll die for touching my boy..." Simon vowed, pacing like a caged animal.

The detective gave up on trying to calm his friend and just watched, knowing that Simon would soon settle down on his own. Jim had done much the same thing after his first conversation with Steven Russo. Managing to stay calm until after he had finished making the call to Simon, the Sentinel had stalked through the loft, blinded by rage at the man who had dared to harm his Guide and taking his frustrations out on anything and everything in his path.

After the adrenaline had worn off, Jim had found himself downstairs on the couch just staring at nothing. He wasn't used to feeling so helpless. It had torn him apart to hear his partner scream in pain, knowing that there was no way for him to help his frightened young friend.

Simon abruptly stopped pacing. He looked at Jim with haunted eyes. "My God, he's hurting my baby..." The big man turned away quickly, but not before the detective saw tears trailing down his friends cheeks.

Jim blinked the moisture out of his own eyes before he answered his Captain. "We'll get them back, Simon. I swear that we'll get there in time."

Simon made no reply for several moments as he struggled to regain his composure. Finally he spoke, the soft words sounding much louder after the absolute silence.

"I need to tell you about Steven and Bobby Russo. It's only right that you know the whole story."

"Why don't you have a seat, Sir? I'll pour you another cup of coffee."

"Ah, about that... I'm really sor..."

"No need, Simon. I understand, already been there and done that myself this morning." Jim grimaced as he thought about the mess he'd made of his bedroom.

Simon sat down in the couch across from Jim and stared into space for a moment. The Sentinel could almost hear the older man's whirling thoughts. The shaken Captain gladly accepted the fresh cup of coffee his friend held out and took a gulp of the hot liquid before speaking.

"It was right before you joined the force. Both of the Russo brothers had been a nuisance to us for a while. Steven was considered to be the hot-head of the two. He had a history of arrests for assault--beating up his girl friends, mostly. We suspected that he was the one responsible for a liquor store break-in and the murder of the young man who was working there at the time. But, there was never enough evidence to convict him for that.

"On the other hand, Bobby Russo wasn't believed to be dangerous. He was mainly hauled in for petty thefts and drunk and disorderly charges. Truth be told, I always figured that Steven would be the one who would end up in jail for life. His little brother just didn't seem the type."

Simon paused for a moment and Jim saw a look of pain flash across his friend's face.

"That changed when two officers, Frank Miller and Daryl Hanson, stopped Bobby for a traffic violation one night. Without any provocation, he pulled out a gun and shot Miller in the face. Hanson returned fire but Bobby got him in the stomach with a lucky shot. Hanson was on the radio calling for help when Russo walked over to him and shot him in the throat. That cold-hearted bastard left him to choke to death on his own blood. Frank Miller was due to retire in two months. And Daryl Hanson, one of my best friends and my son's Godfather, left a wife and two children behind.

"I took charge of the investigation. It was a pretty easy case actually. Bobby had left the gun at the scene. The only fingerprints on the weapon were his. And we found a bag of heroin and a used needle when we searched his car. I was the one who put the cuffs on Russo, and I'll admit that I took some satisfaction in arresting the bastard. Steven had to be restrained when I hauled Bobby out to the car.

"The Prosecutor decided to make an example out of Russo. We were able to get the tape of the radio call admitted as evidence. When it was played at the trial, it was very convincing; Officer Hanson could clearly be heard pleading for his life before the gun went off. After that, there was only the sound of a good cop dying slowly. There wasn't a dry eye in the jury by the time the tape ended, and Bobby Russo got a life sentence for each officer he had killed.

"After the trial was over, Steven came up to me and said that he would find a way to pay me back for going after his baby brother. He held me completely responsible for Bobby's arrest. But, soon after that, he disappeared and I figured that was the end of it. I guess I was wrong."

Jim sat back and digested what his Captain had told him. Just the thought of setting the cop killer free made his stomach turn, but he was willing to do even that to keep his partner safe.

Simon shook his head grimly. "Listen Jim, I don't know why he chose you and Sandburg to include in this, but I'm sorry. You know that he intends to kill them, right? He won't just hand them over to us even if we could get his brother out of jail."

"We'll deal with that part later, Sir. Let's just work on a plan to get Bobby out for now."

"How are we supposed to do that if we can't even report the kidnappings?"

"Hear me out a minute, Simon. Will the Commissioner allow us to take over the transport without making a lot of noise about it?"

"He won't like it, but he'll authorize it if we give him a good reason."

"All right, tell him that we suspect Russo's brother will try something while Bobby's being transferred. Just let him know that we don't want a lot of attention drawn to this. Make him think that we want to catch Steven in the act. You and I will act as the guards, only instead of taking him to Foxborough, we'll just take a little detour."

"Jim, what the Hell are you thinking?" Simon stared at his detective in shock. "I'll have to explain to the Commissioner what's going on. We'll just have to hope that he allows us to use Russo's brother as bait, and that he keeps this whole mess to himself."

"And what if he doesn't, Sir? I can't take that chance. WE can't take that chance."

Simon drew in a sharp breath and took a hard look at the Sentinel. There was no mistaking the grim determination in those cold blue eyes. "So you want us to just play this thing through without any authorization? What if this all goes down wrong? We won't have any backup. Hell Jim, we're the ones that the police are going to be looking for."

"We're going to have to make this work. I don't like it any more than you do, but hopefully, we'll be able to get Blair and Daryl out of this mess. I don't give a damn what else happens." Jim clenched his jaw and rubbed a hand over his face, suddenly feeling far too old for this. There was no way they could risk asking for authorization; if it were denied, both his partner and his Captain's son were as good as dead. And he just couldn't take that chance.

Jim sighed and closed his tired eyes. "Daryl and Blair are depending on us."

"I just want to make sure you know what you're getting into, Jim. You know that we'll probably both lose our jobs and could do jail time as well, depending on how this goes down."

"Yeah, I'm hoping that we'll get off easy because of the circumstances, but I'm willing to take whatever risk I have to."

"All right, Jim. Finish telling me this plan of yours." Simon knew that it would hurt to lose his job. He had no idea how he would survive it financially. But, it would hurt more to stand by and let Russo kill his son.

"Once we hand his brother over to Russo, we'll follow them from a distance until they lead us right to Blair and Daryl."

"How are we supposed to follow them without being seen?"

"I can keep track of them, Simon. They won't even know that we're there."

"Damn it Jim, I don't like this. I feel like a dirty cop." Simon grimaced and resumed his earlier pacing.

"Yeah, I know. But we don't have a choice."
********************
It wouldn't be long now. Things were definitely looking up for Steven Russo. Finally, after ten long years, he would be getting the two things he wanted most: his baby brother, Bobby, was about to be set free; and he was going to get his revenge on Simon Banks, the man responsible for all of his problems.

Steve brought the binoculars to his eyes again, hoping for a glimpse of the Police Captain who had dared to mess with the Russos. He could just barely make him out, sitting at his desk like some sort of bigshot. He was willing to bet that the bastard wasn't feeling like too much of a bigshot right about now. The pig was probably shaking in his shoes, wondering what Steven Russo was going to do to his boy.

Steve knew that Bobby had never meant to kill those two cops. They hadn't had any business pulling him over anyway; damn pigs didn't know when to leave a person alone. Besides, Bobby was only twenty years old at the time it happened and had been pretty stoned out on heroin. He'd made a mistake, but Steve knew that it wasn't right to keep him locked up for so long. It was only cops he'd killed and they were a nuisance at the best of times, always poking into someone else's business.

And Simon Banks was the worst of them. It had been Banks who had busted into the apartment the two brothers had shared, hauling Bobby out like some common low-life. Banks who had acted like the shooting was a deliberate thing instead of the mistake he knew it to be. And Banks had been the one to provide the tape at the trial, the one of the dying cop calling for backup. That had been what pushed the damn jury to be so hard on his little brother. And through it all, Steve just knew that Banks had sat back and gloated while they sentenced his brother to hard time for the rest of his life -- knew that the cop had enjoyed seeing Bobby put away to be forgotten.

Well, who's holding all the card now, Banks? Me. You're going to learn just what regret and retribution really mean, pig!

He had told the cop that he would pay him back, but apparently, Banks hadn't believed him. Steve himself had almost given up on extracting his revenge. Killing the man didn't seem like enough -- the cop couldn't hurt if he was dead. So, he had decided to take the cop's son. Had even made plans to do it, but then things had gone wrong for him yet again.

He never should have thought about holding up that liquor store in Seattle. Of course, if the bitch clerk hadn't run her mouth he wouldn't have had to hit her like that either. He'd served the seven year sentence, and had spent five more months watching, waiting, planning. Looking for the opening that he needed.

The time for his revenge had come due when he learned that his brother was going to be transferred to a new prison. He had gone to visit Bobby and they had made plans to bust the younger man out while he was being moved.

At first, Steve had decided to hold up the transport himself, but than he decided to kill two birds with one stone. He would find a way to make Simon Banks do it for him.

So, Steve had started to follow Banks. He had been tailing him quietly on and off for over a month. He had even managed to get into an empty office space in the building across the street from the cop's office. He often stayed there for hours, watching the man he had sworn revenge on and forming his plans, detail by detail.

Deciding that his son was definitely the key to controlling Banks, Steve had come up with a plan to kidnap the boy. It would serve the pig right. Put him in his place a little.

Taking the other one had only occurred to him two weeks ago. He had followed Simon and his son to a basketball game where they met up with a cop named Ellison and his roommate, a short, hippie-looking guy named Sandburg. It was obvious that Ellison and Banks were good friends. It was even more obvious that Sanburg and Ellison were close, very much like brothers.

The young man, Sandburg, sort of reminded the elder Russo of his little brother before prison had hardened him. In fact, he had almost decided to leave the kid out of it, thinking that he was so much like Bobby. But Detective James Ellison could either be a dangerous opponent or a willing flunky. It would hinge on the bargaining chip that Steve used. In the end, he had decided to take the Police Observer.

Taking Sandburg was almost too easy. All Steve had had to do was follow him around a little and learn something about him. That was easy enough to do, as the grad-student was quite popular at the University. When the cop's partner walked out to his car the night before, he never even noticed Russo, waiting for him in the darkest part of the parking lot. Steve had brought him down before Blair had even had a chance to cry out. So easy.

Bank's brat was a little more of a challenge. He wasn't happy about it, but Steve had no other choice than to go into the kid's own bedroom at his mother's house. Thankfully, although the little bastard had kicked and scratched, the rag pressed over his mouth and nose had muffled his cries until the drug had time to take affect.

He didn't mind hurting Daryl. It was only right that the boy pay for his father's sins. But he felt a bit uneasy when he had to hurt the detective's partner. There was something about Ellison that spooked him; and Steve didn't scare easily.

Russo shook off the fear--this was his baby brother's life they were dealing with, and he would do anything to free Bobby and exact his revenge. When the time was right, Blair Sandburg would die right along with Daryl Banks. Hurting Banks and his cop friend would feel so good.

Steve glanced at his watch and grimaced. It was almost 3:00 PM. The prisoners would be waking up pretty soon. He decided to go check on things and give them another dose of the sedative to keep them quiet. Yeah, and then get some dinner. Hell, maybe even a movie. A gloating sneer spread across Russo's face at the thought of enjoying himself while Banks and Ellison tore their hair out. After all he didn't have to hurry. He was holding all the aces.

Exiting the empty office, he walked briskly down to the dirty brown van parked at the corner. The man hummed tunelessly to himself as he rumbled off in a cloud of gray exhaust. Life was good, by this time tomorrow, his brother and he would be on their way out of Cascade.

The engine rattled persistently, and Steve winced and made a mental note to fix the damn van before he and Bobby tried to drive down to Mexico in it.
********************
It was the cold seeping into his body from the bare cement floor that gradually brought Blair back to awareness. He didn't know what time it was or how long he had been lying there. He only knew that he was stiff, sore, and sick. The young man's muscles had stiffened from being held in one position for so long. Whenever he did move, even slightly, vicious cramps would shoot through his back and shoulders. His stomach fluttered uncomfortably, either from hunger or nausea, he wasn't sure which and didn't really care at the moment. To top it all off, he was extremely thirsty. Whatever the man had injected him with made his mouth feel as though it had been stuffed with cotton.

Trying not to dwell on his discomfort and thirst, the police observer lay still, attempting to center himself and regain control of his whirling thoughts. But the absolute silence unnerved him, causing his concentration to shift to the negative images flashing through his mind. He saw Russo killing Daryl while he lay here, helpless to stop it. Another image of the teenager in terrible pain, waiting for help that never came haunted him. And then Blair thought of the man, standing over him with the damn cattle prod, ready to strike.

For a moment, the anthropologist almost called out to Daryl, needing to reassure himself that the teenager was all right; needing to hear something other than the silence and his own rapidly beating heart. But the threat of punishment froze the words in his throat.

Fear had become his whole world. If only he could see! The blindfold added to the terror until he felt as though it were a vice, squeezing the air from his lungs.

Oh Jim, where are you? Help me, Please!

Blair knew that his 'Blessed Protector' would search every building in Cascade if that's what it took to find his missing Guide. And that knowledge was the only thing that kept the young man from falling apart. He had to hold it together, for Daryl's sake, until his trusted friend could come and take them home.

It felt like he had been awake for hours, but it may have only been moments, when he heard a door opening and heavy footsteps coming closer. Blair felt himself start to tremble uncontrollably; if the man had returned then that would mean more pain. And he just wasn't sure that he could take any more without losing the fragile measure of control he had managed, up to now, to retain.

But, maybe it wasn't the man, maybe his 'Blessed Protector' had found them at last. Unable to stop himself, the young Guide raised his head slightly and whispered for his Sentinel.

"J...Jim?"

His only answer was explosive pain and his own scream, shattering the silence.

"Damn Sandburg, for some college hotshot, you're pretty stupid. How many times do I have to explain the rules before you learn to keep your mouth shut?" Russo emphasized his question with a swift, harsh kick to the young man's side.

Blair groaned and curled in on himself. Closing his eyes tightly beneath the blindfold, he tried to prepare for whatever pain would come next. Feeling a hand clamp down on his arm, the anthropologist tensed and started to resist until the grip tightened in warning.

The young man stopped struggling and allowed himself to be pulled into a sitting position. He was unable to contain his moan of agony as tortured muscles cramped mercilessly. Something was pushed against his lips. He clamped his mouth shut and twisted his head away, afraid that the man was trying to force him to ingest some sort of drug or poison. Like Lash had.

"Now knock that off." Russo grabbed a handful of his captive's long, curly hair and yanked sharply. "Do you want some water or not?"

Blair didn't even hear the question. He was reliving his most frightening nightmare, the one that had woken him night after night, for weeks after he had been rescued from Lash's lair. In the dream, he couldn't move and Lash was pushing a vial against his lips, forcing bitter liquid down his throat. Every night he had awakened at that point, crying out and choking. And every night, Jim had come down and stayed with him, tucking him back under the covers, pushing his sweat-matted curls away from his face, and speaking quietly until he had been lulled back to sleep.

But Jim wasn't there to wake him now; he was all alone in his nightmare. Blair fought, twisting his head back and forth until the man abruptly shifted his grip to the hair at the nape of his neck, effectively restraining any further movement. The young man clenched his teeth and pressed his lips together stubbornly, more afraid of what the man was trying to force him to drink than he was of the punishment he was sure to receive for resisting.

"Nnnnnn..."

"All right, you little son of a bitch, remember that you asked for this." Russo snarled and backhanded Blair before yanking his head back still further. He really didn't care whether or not his prisoner got a drink, but the younger man's stubborn resistance sparked his temper. Ramming his fist into his captive's stomach, hard enough to knock the wind out of him, Russo smiled in grim satisfaction as the young man opened his mouth in an attempt to recover his breath.

Blair gasped and tried to call out to Jim, but he only inhaled liquid. He gurgled and choked, desperate for air as the man continued to pour the water down his throat. Finally, when he was sure that he was going to drown, he was pushed roughly back to the ground. Drawing his knees up for protection, he coughed the water out of his lungs and drew in great gulps of air.

Russo looked down at the police observer, huddled in a miserable ball at his feet, and made a conscious effort to calm himself down. It would be stupid to kill the detective's partner before Bobby was released. But it had angered him to know that the smaller, younger man had the nerve to fight him. Steven Russo was not a man that liked to be challenged.

He stooped down, swiftly cut through the ropes binding his captive's ankles, and hauled Blair to his feet. "Come on! Time to go to the bathroom and then I'm gonna give you something that'll take the fight out of you." He dragged the unresisting young man to the bathroom, pulling him roughly when he stumbled or tripped.

Blair moaned hoarsely as the edge of the sink connected with the tender new bruises on his ribcage. The handcuffs and blindfold were removed before he was shoved toward the toilet at the far end of the filthy bathroom. Mildly surprised to see Russo instead of Lash, the young man stared in horrified fascination as the man prepared a syringe full of clear liquid.

"Hurry up, if you're gonna go, do it now. This is your last chance for a while and I don't want to have to clean up any accidents." The man waited impatiently for Blair to finish and than motioned for him to move back to the sink. "Hold out your arm." When the young man hesitated, Russo grabbed him by the collar and shoved him face-first into the wall. "Give me your arm. Now!"

Blair felt the sting of the needle sinking into his upper arm. He kept his hands on the wall as the man had instructed, breathing deeply, fighting the renewed sense of panic that flooded through him. The insidious lure of the drug as it hit his bloodstream almost seemed to help, although he knew it was a false salvation.

And then Russo started to put the blindfold back in place. The fragile hold Blair had managed to gain on his panic snapped. As Russo started to tighten the knot he let out a low wail of pure anguish and threw himself violently backward toward his captor.

Before the bigger man could react, a foot connected hard with his left knee. Off balance, he let Blair go as he hopped about on one leg. The frightened captive tore the blindfold from his eyes before twisting quickly, the movement enough to knock Russo to the ground.

For a second, everything seemed to stop. Steven Russo was stunned that the smaller man could have brought him down. He could feel his anger rising. Blair seemed rooted to the spot, staring at him with wild, unfocused eyes.

"YOU LITTLE BASTARD! I'M GONNA KILL YOU!"

At the bellow of rage, Blair blinked and pulled out of his daze. He was free! Bolting for the door, the young man slammed it shut behind him just as his captor started to rise. Glancing wildly around the room, he spotted a junk-filled metal utility shelf leaning unsteadily next to the bathroom door. As Russo started to emerge from the bathroom, Blair shoved the shelf as hard as he could, watching dazedly while the whole thing toppled onto the big, angry man. Then he slid to the floor and closed his eyes as the world spun around him.

Although it would have been nice to be still and rest for a while, Blair knew that he had forgotten something important. There was something that he needed to do before he could sleep. Racking his exhausted and drug-fogged mind, the young man tried to remember what is was that he needed to remember.

DARYL! Haffta get Daryl out of here.

The police observer opened bleary eyes and scanned the room. He knew that he needed to get the teenager to safety, but he didn't have a clue as to where Russo was keeping him. A soft groan to the left of him caught his attention. Turning his head, almost expecting to see the object of his scattered thoughts, he was momentarily confused by the image before him.

Trapped under the scattered heap of metal and garbage, Russo was beginning to stir. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear the strange fog that had collected there, Blair climbed unsteadily to his feet and backed away from the big man.

As his torturer attempted to rise, the young man turned and stumbled down a short hallway. The first of two doors in the narrow corridor revealed a small room, bare except for a rat scurrying for cover in the corner. Blair sagged against the doorframe for a moment, struggling to find the energy to continue the search for his friend.

"SON OF A BITCH! YOU'RE A DEAD MAN, SANDBURG!"

With Russo's bellow of rage urging him on, the young man tried the next door. This room was also bare; but there, facedown in one corner of the long room, lay the object of Blair's frantic search. Hearing Daryl's frightened whimpers, the drugged anthropologist managed to shake off some of his fatigue and stumbled to the teenager's side.

"Easy Daryl. I'm here now, everything's going to be okay." Kneeling next to the boy, Blair whispered soothingly while fumbling with the ropes holding the teenager's ankles. His hands shook, making the task frustratingly slow.

"Blair? Is that you? Where's...where's..." Daryl kept his voice down to a whisper also, fearing his captor's return. Feeling the knots come free, the boy struggled to sit.

"Easy, just take it easy." Blair let his friend lean against him for a few seconds while he busied himself with removing the blindfold. "Sorry, but I can't do anything about the handcuffs. I think Russo has the key." His words were slurred and run together, as the drug in his system started to take over.

Daryl blinked and waited for his eyes to adjust to the light, before turning to look at his savior. What he saw worried him. His friend was white as a ghost and his eyes were glazed and dull. Blair's hands shook noticeably and he seemed to be struggling to stay awake. "Hey man, are you okay? You don't look so hot."

"I'll be s'okay. Guy gave me somethin'... but I'm 'wake. We gotta go find Jim, need him to help us. Kay?" Even drugged, the Guide's first instinct was to seek his Sentinel. Jim would be able to protect them and he could sleep, unafraid. Just barely able to stand, Blair somehow managed to clumsily pull Daryl to his feet.

Daryl watched his friend sway, hardly able to stand let alone walk. "Here, put your hand on my shoulder and lean on me a little. Yeah, like that."

A loud crash echoed from down the hall as the two of them staggered through the door. They moved unsteadily in the opposite direction from where Blair had left Russo, heading toward a flight of stairs at the end of the hallway.

Daryl glanced once behind them and shivered. The man was at the end of the hallway, moving relentlessly forward. "Hurry up, he's coming." Blair was barely able to manage a slow, shuffling walk and, even limping, Russo was starting to catch up.

"Come on man, you've got to step up now. That's it, keep going." Reaching the stairs, the teenager urged his friend on, but knew that they would never make it to safety before their captor caught up with them.

As they reached the small landing where the stairs turned, Blair stumbled and fell to his knees. When Daryl stopped beside him, the anthropologist gestured toward the top of the stairs.

"GO! Try to find a way out."

The teenager hesitated, determined not to leave his friend to the mercy of the madman who was already at the foot of the stairs.

"GO ON! Get outta here. Fin' Jim, tell him I need his help. He can protect you..." Blair's eyes closed as his words trailed off.

Daryl knew that he no longer had a choice. He couldn't get his friend to open his eyes anymore. Russo was almost on top of them and he needed to get help. "I'm sorry Blair, please be okay. I'll get help, I promise." Turning, he bolted awkwardly up the rest of the stairs.

Pausing at the top, Daryl quickly glanced around before running to a door that looked as though it would lead him outside. He turned to fumble with the doorknob, his hands still cuffed behind him.

Russo reached the landing and glanced down at Blair's still form. The angry man continued on, leaving the detective's partner where he lay, believing him too doped up to be a threat. Russo was wrong.

Blair forced his eyes open, knowing that he needed to help Daryl escape. Both of their lives depended on it. With the last of his energy, he reached up and grabbed the larger man's ankle, pulling Russo's foot out from under him. Russo was forced to shift his full weight onto his bad knee. He cried out in pain as it buckled beneath him. Falling backwards, he crashed into Blair. Both men tumbled down the stairs in a tangle of limbs.

Landing heavily on his smaller captive, the bigger man lifted himself and started up the stairs again. Russo needed to get to the boy before he managed to find his way out. With his swollen knee, the desperate man knew that he would have no chance of catching up to the teenager once he was outside the building.

Reaching the top of the staircase, he caught a glimpse of the boy, just before Daryl managed to open the door and stagger to freedom. "NOOOO! GET BACK HERE BOY..." Limping, he ran to the door in time to watch as the teenager raced across the vacant lot that lay between the empty warehouse and the road. Starting to follow the boy, the man only took a few painful steps before he realized that there was no way he'd be able to catch up.

In a blind rage, Steven Russo pounded down the stairs to retrieve his remaining captive, who lay in a motionless heap at the bottom of the steps. Now that his chances of getting revenge on Simon Banks were ruined, he had only one thing left on his mind; killing Blair Sandburg.

"You little son of bitch! You really screwed up now." Steve punctuated each phrase with a hard kick to his helpless captive's side. "I'm gonna make you sorry. I told you not to mess with me..." It was all gone now, Bobby would remain in jail and Simon Banks would forget that the Russos ever existed.

Delivering another vicous kick, the big man slowly got himself under control. Maybe, he could still manage to save his brother. After all, he still had the detective's partner. That had to be worth something. Stooping, he took a better look at the young man at his feet, checking to see how serious the anthropologist's injuries were.

A combination of the drug and the blow to his head at the bottom of the stairs had rendered Blair unconscious. The just-delivered kicks had done some damage, there was definitely at least one broken rib, but Russo was pretty sure that the young man would live. At least long enough to provide the needed incentive to force Detective Ellison to free his brother.

There was no time to lose, they had to get out of there before Daryl's escape brought the police. Sure that his captive was in no condition to attempt escape, Russo started down the hall to retrieve his things.

It only took a few moments for him to gather what he needed and take it upstairs to the van. Grabbing a pair of handcuffs, Russo hurried back down toward Blair.

"Come on sleeping beauty, time to wake up now." He slapped the young man several times, hard. "Let's go, we don't have much time."

"Hmmmm..." Blair shook his head groggily, and tried to open heavy eyes. His whole body hurt.

"Get up, come on hurry up." Hauling the smaller man to his feet, Russo snapped the cuffs on the grad student's wrists. Holding the young man up by the back of his shirt, the big man limped up the stairs and outside to his van, dragging his prisoner along. He shoved Blair into the back of the van, where the young man immediately slipped back into unconsciousness.
********************
Daryl stumbled and fell just outside the abandoned warehouse that had been his prison. Lurching to his feet he continued on, through the trash-littered vacant lot. The lengthening shadows told him that it was just past sunset but the boy wasn't sure what day it was anymore, or how long he'd been a prisoner.

Have to get out of here. Have to find help.

Having heard Russo's angry shout, Daryl knew that he was enraged enough to kill. The boy was tormented by images of what the man might be doing to his friend. Blair had very possibly given his own life to help him escape.

"Oof." The young man tripped again, falling facedown on rough asphalt. He had reached the road, but the few cars driving by did not seem inclined to stop. He lay there a moment, expecting to be grabbed at any moment by a rough hand. Expecting a cruel voice, the one that would forever haunt his dreams, to tell him that Blair was dead and now it was his turn. When the touch didn't come, he rolled clumsily back to his feet and continued on across a set of traintracks, before coming to a narrow alley.

The alley looked dark and dangerous, the kind of place where people could get mugged or worse. For a moment, Daryl was tempted to find another escape route, but there was no one here to help him and he needed to put more distance between himself and the crazy man who had kidnapped him.

Taking a deep breath, he ran on through the alley, which, thankfully, was nearly empty. An old wino was leaning against a dumpster, but Daryl didn't even pause next to him. Praying that he might find help, the young man ran faster as he reached the end of the alley. He was running so fast, in fact, that he never saw the station wagon that he ran straight in front of.

A blaring horn and the screaming of tires skidding on asphalt caused him to lose his footing once again. Falling to his knees, Daryl huddled in front of the vehicle, finally just too terrified to do anything more than cry.

"DAMN! Are you crazy, kid?" The voice, although angry, was not Russo's and Daryl only cried harder upon hearing it; this time in relief.

Dan Thomas, an electrician, stared in amazement at the huddled figure only inches from his front bumper. Only moments before, he had been lost in comtemplation of dinner after a hard day's work. Now, he stared in amazement at the boy that he had almost run down. Lowering his voice in an attempt to calm the frightened teenager he said, "Easy there son. I didn't mean to scare you, but you ran right out in front of me and... Good God, are you handcuffed?"

Daryl looked up and saw a man in his early fifties standing over him. Although the man was gruff-looking and had a loud voice, his eyes were kind and held only concern.

"P..p.pplease, help me?" The weakly whispered words were both a question and a plea for mercy. "I need my Dad. I was kidnapped and...but I got away...my friend, the guy still has him...I want my Daddy..."

"Hang on, boy. Just take it easy, you're gonna be all right. I'm going to get you to a hospital and then we'll find your father." The man eased his hand onto the hysterical teenager's shoulder, trying not to scare him further. "Can you stand, son? There we go, nice and slow."

Gently pulling the unresisting boy up and over to his car, Dan suppressed the urge to ask the questions swirling in his mind. Had the young man been injured? Where was this friend he kept mumbling about? Who had taken the boy, and what had they done to him? "Just relax now, you're safe. I won't let anyone hurt you anymore."

A tiny voice answered his soothing reassurances. "Thank you. M..my Dad's name is Simon. Simon Banks. He's a police Captain. Please, help me find my Dad."

After assisting the boy into the car, Dan ran over to the other side and slid behind the wheel. Cranking the stubborn old vehicle to life, he turned his car in the opposite direction, heading toward Cascade General Hospital. Dinner would have to wait, he had to help this child.
********************
"Easy son, everything's okay now."

The gentle, loving voice had to be a dream. Daryl was sure that he would wake to find himself still bound and blindfolded in a cold, frightening place. Still, the voice soothed him, almost convinced him that his father was here with him.

"That's it sweetheart. Just rest, I'm right here. You're safe." Simon kept his voice low and gentle. Although he was eager to talk to his son, he knew that the boy needed to rest. Now that he was sure that Daryl was safe, he was almost willing to wait for the sedative that the doctor had given his son to wear off.

Watching Daryl sleep, Simon was almost convinced that everything really was okay. But he knew that Jim was pacing the waiting room, desperate for information about his still missing partner. As long as Blair was gone, things were far from fine.

There was also the matter of what he was going to tell the Commissioner. The man who had rescued Daryl had, of course, called the police. Now, the entire precinct knew that his son had been kidnapped and held hostage. The Commissioner was furious that the incident hadn't been reported. And the man hadn't even learned about Russo's other captive yet, the civilian police observer to Major Crimes.

Having to explain why they hadn't reported the kidnappings was not going to be easy. The Captain knew that he would have to tell his superior that he had been planning to use Bobby Russo as bait without permission. He could lie, but he had never been one to take the easiest way out of things, and besides, he owed both the Commissioner and his own men the truth. It could potentially cost him his position as Captain and at the very least, there would be some disciplinary action. Simon was determined to shield his detective from as much as he could, feeling that it was his responsibility to face the repercussions, since he was Jim's superior.

If they weren't able to find Blair, alive and in one piece, then whatever punishment was handed to Jim wouldn't matter anyway. The detective would be as good as dead too.

The Sentinel was naturally protective of his Guide, Simon had witnessed that during the incident with Lash. Blair had been taken from the loft by the serial killer and it had looked like there was no hope of finding him before Lash killed him. The Captain had watched while the Sentinel focused entirely on saving his young Guide, willing even to risk his own life to spare Blair's. Afterward, Simon had seen how the younger man's nightmares had affected the detective, the clenched jaw and dark circles under sleep-deprived eyes evidence of Jim's torment each time his friend had suffered another nightmare or sleepless night because of what Lash had put him through.

And the Captain had watched that protectiveness grow in Jim. Whether it was the Sentinel's natural instinct to protect the Guide or because the young man had become like a little brother to the lonely detective, Simon wasn't sure. They even joked about it sometimes, as though it were merely a simple matter of Blair's ability to get himself into trouble that triggered Jim's need to keep his friend safe.

But Simon knew that if Blair were to be killed, his best detective would no longer be fit to carry a badge. He most likely would end up eating a bullet from his own service revolver.

Caught up in his troubling thoughts, Simon didn't notice that Daryl's eyelids fluttered for a brief second. But the small whisper from his son cast all other thoughts from the worried father's head.

"D...dad?" Daryl still didn't open his eyes. He wasn't going to risk that until he was sure that he wasn't just having a dream. "Is that you?"

"Daryl? Yeah son, it's me. Dad's here now and everything going to be fine." Simon kissed the small hand that he held before continuing, "You're safe now. Just rest for as long as you need to."

Finally opening his eyes, Daryl responded weakly, "Where am I? How did I get here?"

He closed his eyes again, trying to remember how he had managed to leave the cold, dark prison he had been kept in. He gasped as the memories flooded back. The man! Blair! His friend had somehow managed to free him, but had been left behind. What had the man, Russo, done to Blair? And then running away, so afraid and almost being hit by that car. There was another man, but this one was nice to him, a Dan somebody or other who had helped him when he couldn't go on anymore. He started to breathe heavily, panting for oxygen as though he couldn't get enough, while tears leaked from closed eyes.

"Daryl? Easy son, it's all right now. Just try to relax, I'm going to get the doctor." Simon started to rise, but was stopped by his son's grip.

"No! Dad, Blair's still there!" The young man was sobbing hard now, "The guy, Russo, he's gonna hurt him for helping me get away. You gotta stop him. Please, Dad, don't let the man hurt him." Daryl gripped his father's arm tighter and tried to stop sobbing.

"Just calm down now! We're going to find Blair soon." Simon didn't consider it a lie, he hoped with all his heart that they would be able to find the young man.

"Simon, I'm sorry to interrupt, Sir, but I heard Daryl's voice and..." Jim peeked his head around the door, hating himself for intruding on his friend's reunion with his son. But needing to find out what had happened to his partner.

"JIM!" Daryl sat up suddenly, ignoring the rush of dizziness that resulted. Resisting his father's efforts to push him back down, he continued in a rush of words and tears, "Blair, the man still has him. He sounded really mad when I got away, I think he's going to hurt him and..."

"Just calm down now, son." Simon turned to glare at his detective. He understood the hell his friend was going through, but he couldn't bare to see his son so tormented. "Jim, please. He's not up to this yet..."

Jim was turning to go, jaw clenched tightly in an effort to prevent himself from blasting his Captain. He understood that Simon was only doing what he felt was best, and he knew that if the situation were reversed, he would most likely be acting the same way.

"No, wait. Jim, I need to tell you!" Daryl called out, his choked gasp stopping the Sentinel in mid-step. "The guy, he was doing something to hurt Blair. I don't know what, but I could hear him shouting and it sounded like the man was hitting him. And then Blair started choking like he couldn't breathe or something. After a few minutes, I think the man took him to the bathroom where he drugged me before. I don't know how, but Blair managed to get away from him. He came back for me, untied my ankles and took off the blindfold so I could see."

Daryl paused and took several deep breathes before continuing. "He was...there was something wrong with him. I think maybe he was drugged with that stuff that the man gave me before. And then we heard the man coming and we ran. Blair fell when we were going up the stairs, he wouldn't get back up! I tried to make him get back up, but my hands were still cuffed and I couldn't get him to open his eyes..."

"Whoa, easy now." Jim walked to the bed and patted the sobbing teenager's shoulder. "Just calm down. Take a few deep breaths."

"H...he said that I needed to find my way out. He told me to find you and that you'd be able to save him. Please, you gotta find him! I think the guy's gonna hurt him if you don't get there soon!"

Ignoring Simon's look of warning, Jim gently pressed for answers. "Do you remember how you got to the road where Mr. Thomas found you?"

"I ran from the building through a field and across some train tracks. There was an alley a few yards down the road and I ran through that to find help, but I fell in front of the car and than this guy, not Russo someone else, said that he'd help me. But I don't remember anything else." Daryl was finding that his eyes didn't want to stay open. Although he wanted to help Detective Ellison find Blair, he just couldn't seem to focus anymore.

"That's fine, you did just fine." Simon enveloped his son in a protective hug and glared once again at his friend.

But Jim only patted the boy's shoulder gently and said quietly, "Thank you, Daryl. I promise you that I'll get Blair out of there safely." He turned to go. "I'm going to go back and have another look around, Simon. Now that I know what direction Daryl ran, maybe I'll find something."

Simon would have told him to take back up, but the detective had already left the room. And besides, the Captain knew that Jim wouldn't listen. He'd seen the look in his friend's eyes when Daryl had told them what he remembered. The Sentinel was going to look for his Guide, and the man who had dared to take him.

"Dad? Can you stay with me for awhile? Please?" Daryl yawned and tried to fight off the sudden over-whelming need for sleep.

"Just close your eyes, son. I'll be here when you wake up." Simon turned his attention fully back to his son, determined to protect the boy from the nightmares that threatened his rest.
********************
The drive to the area where Daryl had been found took only twenty minutes, but it felt as though it took a lifetime to the anxious Sentinel. Each minute lost was another that his Guide was forced to endure God only knew what. Jim was being torn apart by images of a helpless Blair being tortured by Russo.

Just hang on, Buddy. I'm almost there.

Finally arriving next to the narrow alley that Daryl had described, Jim parked his truck and took a look around. He'd found nothing when he'd checked the location earlier, but now he had a direction to follow. The alley was short, perhaps only a little more than the length of a football field, and using his heightened vision, he could clearly see the traintracks the boy had run across. After checking his service revolver, the detective trotted briskly through the dark alley. He had decided to leave the truck, assuming that Russo would be able to recognize it, and unwilling to take any chances at this point.

Crossing the street after clearing the alley, Jim paused at the tracks to have another look around. Most of the warehouses along the quiet street were in fairly decent shape, obviously still in use. But there were a few delapitated, deserted buildings in a row across from a trash-strewn vacant lot. It was in one of these building that Russo had most likely been keeping his prisoners.

Using his enhanced hearing, Jim focused in on each of the deserted buildings. He found and blocked out the various everyday noises of the city, the tiny creaks and groans made by the rotted wood and crumbling foundations of buildings long discarded, even the various scurrying and scuttling sounds made by the animals, birds, and insects that had taken refuge in the empty warehouses. Each sound was quickly identified and forgotten as the Sentinel sought out the familiar, comforting beat of his Guide's heart.

He continued to search for the sound long after he knew that Blair was no longer there, if he was alive at all.

With a knot in his stomach and a hole where his heart should have been, Jim made his way across the field toward the abandoned buildings, still searching for something, anything, that would tell him where to find his partner.

As he approached the first building, something tickled gently at his awareness and he paused, testing the area with each of his five senses. Pushed beyond concern of a zone-out, the desperate man used each of his senses to the limit. First sight, then sound, finally he came to scent.

There! Just a hint of something familiar. Something that smelled faintly herbal, just a touch of leather, and something musty - old but well-cared for, different from the mold clinging to the cracks in the wall in front of him. And underlying it all, a wisp of something that was just Blair; a smell that Jim recognized immediately as uniquely belonging to his partner. He had been here!

Anxious to find out, yet terrified of what he might learn; the Detective walked into the dark, neglected building. Drawing his gun, even though he knew that there was no one there, he crossed the large room, the scent of his friend leading him to the far corner.

Blair's backpack lay bunched against the wall, where it had been carelessly discarded and forgotten.

Kneeling next to it, Jim quickly identified the scents that had led him here. The leather was the backback itself, the smell of herbs still lingering from where the young man's hair had brushed against it. And the strange musty scent was the aging books that had been stuffed inside. Almost reverently, he examined each book and paper, hoping for answers that he didn't find. Sighing, he laid everything back into the backpack and lifted it as he continued his search of the room.

The familiar metalic scent of blood drew his attention to the narrow staircase to his left. With his heart in his throat, Jim crossed over and stared down at the foot of the stairs. A few tiny splashes of blood, Blair's blood, haphazardly dotted the cement floor. The bright redness both fascinated and repulsed him and the Sentinel was unable to stop himself from centering completely on the small splashes. Everything else faded from his awareness as Jim hovered on the edge of the impending zone-out.

The ringing of his cell phone brought him back from the zone. Surprised, Jim gasped as he reached for the phone in his pocket.

"Ellison!" He barked the greeting, believing it to be Simon and hoping to discourage his Captain from asking about Blair.

Instead, it was the smug voice of Steven Russo that answered. "Well well, Detective. I was wondering when you were going to show up. Took you longer than I expected."

Jim exploded. "WHERE IS HE YOU SON OF A B..."

"Ah ah ah. I would be very careful how you speak to me, cop. Unless you don't care what happens to your poor little partner here. Are you surprised? Did you think that I would have already killed him for messing with my plans?"

"Let me talk to Blair!" Jim started back towards the door, realizing that if Russo knew he was there, then the man was most likely watching him while they talked. But from where?

The man continued on, as though Jim hadn't spoken. "I was going to, you know. Kill him, I mean. In fact, I started to. But then I got to thinking, you still might be useful. So, for now, he's alive. Gonna be awful sorry he messed with me though." The man's laugh was devoid of any real emotion.

"If you hurt him..." It was an effort to bite back his angry retort. But as long as the man still held his friend, Jim couldn't afford make him angry.

"What? If I hurt him, what do you think you're going to do about it?" Russo snarled, "I'll tell you what I think you should do, Detective. I think you should get your ass back to your truck and drive back to your little apartment. You need to get some rest if you're going to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when you bust my brother loose."

"You'll get your brother back. But only if I'm sure that Blair's still alive. I want to talk to him now!" Jim could hear his partner's heartbeat over the phone, but he needed to reassure himself that his Guide's condition was stable.

"Oh all right, you can talk to him for 30 seconds. Say what you gotta say fast, 'cause I'm timing this." Jim heard the man muttering in the background, "Hey buddy, You awake yet? Got someone on the line who wants to talk to you."

The Sentinel clenched his jaw tightly as he heard the sound of a fist striking flesh and the muffled groan of his partner. "Chief, buddy are you there?"

"Jim?" The voice was slurred and pain-filled. But Jim could have cried from the relief of hearing Blair's voice.

"Just take it easy, Chief. I'm going to get you out of this soon. I promise."

"Kay." There was a short pause and then, "Jim, where's Daryl, did you find..." A sharp cry of pain nearly deafened the Sentinel, who had his hearing turned up to monitor his Guide.

"Chief? Blair!" The detective charged through the door leading outside and scanned the area, looking for any sign of Russo.

"That's all you get for now, cop. If you ever want to talk to him again, you'd better bring me Bobby. I'll call you sometime tonight to let you know where we'll be making the trade. When I get my brother back, than you can have your partner in one piece. Oh, and make sure Banks is with you too. I got some things to settle with him."

Russo hung up before Jim could reply and started his van. Steve had been watching the cop ever since he had emerged from the alley. Now, he lowered his binoculars and prepared to drive off. He never even noticed the detective's piercing stare as he drove away.

Jim watched Russo drive away, helpless to stop the man from leaving. Watching until the van drove out of sight, the Sentinel made a silent promise to his Guide that he would save him. And he made a promise to Blair's captor that if anything happened to the young man, there would be hell to pay.

The engine in the van rattled persistently and Jim wondered absently how the man could stand the noise, it would surely have given the Sentinel a massive headache to listen to that for any length of time.
********************
With the hated blindfold firmly back in place, there was no way to tell whether he was awake or only having a terrible nightmare. The cold, hard ground that he lay on and his constant shivers felt real enough. But the confusing memories and images that tumbled through his aching head made it impossible for Blair to know for sure what was a dream and what was reality.

Lash had been there, he remembered that. The killer had come back and tried to make him drink something, just like before. And this time, Jim hadn't been there to stop Lash from hurting him.

Why hadn't his Sentinel come for him?

No. Lash hadn't been there, there was no way that the killer could have returned. Five bullets from his 'Blessed Protector' had sent the evil man to hell where he belonged. But then who had been tormenting him?

Russo, now he remembered. A man named Steven Russo had taken him for a reason that Blair couldn't recall. Something about a brother and Simon. The young man wasn't sure how long he had been a captive, but it seemed like Jim should have shown up by now.

He was sure of one thing--the pain was definitely real. Blair was certain of that, because no nightmare could feel this bad. Everything hurt; every bone and muscle in the young man's battered body throbbed. If that was not enough, his head pounded and his throat felt raw. No matter how still he lay there or how much he tried to meditate, the anthropologist could not find even a moment of relief.

Trying to take a deep breath, he couldn't contain his moan as a searing pain shot through his side. For a moment, Blair was sure that he was suffocating. Panic-stricken, he struggled for air. After several long minutes of sheer agony, the young man realized that as long as he attempted only shallow breaths, the pain - although barely - was endurable.

"You up yet?" The cold, cruel voice spoke from somewhere near him and Blair cried out weakly when a rough nudge connected with his tender ribs.

His small sound of distress only made Russo laugh. "I'll take that as a yes."

Helpless to defend himself, Blair lay there, resigned to whatever torture his captor had in store for him.

"Not very talkative huh?" Russo nudged his prisoner again. Blair could easily imagine a grin filling the man's face at his agonized reaction. "You know, I was going to kill you for all the trouble you caused. But, I need you alive for a little while longer. Doesn't mean that you have to be comfortable though."

The jolt of electricity from the cattle prod caused the young man to cry out again. The injured ribs provided a twin agony that shot through his body as he instinctively jerked away from the source of the torture. Unable to do anything to stop either pain, Blair curled himself into a ball and prayed silently for the torment to stop.

At least Daryl had managed to escape. Knowing that the boy was safe was worth all of the pain and fear. Now, all the Guide had to do, was wait for his Sentinel to come.

But please Jim, hurry. I really want to go home now.

As if reading his mind, the man continued his one-way conversation. "It was all for nothing you know. All you managed to do was piss me off and get Bank's little bastard killed."

No, the man had to be wrong; Daryl had to be alive.

But the taunting words continued, drilling into Blair's heart. "I bet you thought the brat made it out, didn't you? Well guess what, Pal... He never even got near the door before I cut his heart out. You should have seen the look in his eyes when he watched me make the first cut."

"NO! YOU'RE LYING!" The cattle prod silenced the rest of his words.

"It didn't have to happen that way. The kid could have been home tomorrow if you hadn't tried to escape. But you had to try to play hero, didn't you? The kid paid for your mistake with his life. It wasn't a complete loss though. At least I got even with Banks. I left a little gift on his doorstep while you were sleeping. I figured he would be glad to get his boy's heart back, especially since it'll take a miracle to find the rest of the body."

Anything else the man may have said was lost as despair claimed him. Oh God, please no. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Blair knew that Simon would never be able to forgive him, not that he expected his friend to. His own stupid mistake had cost the man's son his life.

The pinch of the needle sliding into his arm went unnoticed by the young man, as did the tears dampening his blindfold.

The Guide's last thought before losing consciousness was of what his Sentinel would think. His friend would attempt to smooth over his guilt by saying that it was an accident. But Blair would never believe that, and he was pretty sure that Jim really wouldn't either.
********************
Maybe he was considered the Sentinel of the Great City, but he felt as though he were only an empty shell without Blair there to Guide him.

Jim leaned against the balcony railing, staring intently at a sleeping Cascade spread out before him; as if by looking long enough, he might be able to see where his missing partner was being kept. But the city gave no answers to his questions and eventually the tired man turned and entered the Loft, locking out the darkness behind him.

Russo had called several hours earlier, instructing Jim and Simon to bring his younger brother to a quiet rest area several miles out of Cascade by 5:00 PM. Although he had been unable to speak directly to his partner, the detective had heard the beating of his friend's heart over the phone, reassuring him that the anthropologist still lived.

But it was tearing Jim apart to know that Blair was out there somewhere in the darkness, hurting and afraid. What good was a 'Blessed Protector' if he couldn't be there to stop the pain and soothe away the fear?

Although exhausted, the detective knew that he would be unable to sleep until he was sure that Blair was safe and comfortable. Giving up any hope of rest, he prowled the loft, pacing like a caged animal. Waiting for morning to come.

Simon would be calling sometime in the morning to tell Jim what the Commissioner had decided to do. When he had found out about the unreported kidnappings and the plan to use the younger Russo to bait the older brother, the Commissioner had been surprisingly understanding. That wasn't to say that their superior officer wasn't angry. He had let his police Captain know, in no uncertain terms, that their conduct would result in disciplinary action.

The Commissioner had yet to come to a decision as to whether or not Simon and Jim would be allowed to carry out their plan, if in fact, he allowed them to remain on the case at all. But their superior had promised to take all of the facts into consideration and give them his answer in the morning. The hours crawled by like years to the worried detective. His best friend's life depended on what his superior decided to do.

To make matters worse, the computer search that Jim had done on the van had turned up nothing useful. It was frustrating; his senses enabled him to get a clear description of the van, right down to the liscense plate number. But what good where his senses if they couldn't save his Guide? There was no way he could put out an APB, it would just be too risky.

Damn it Chief, when (he refused to even consider the word 'if') we get out of this, I'm never letting you out of my sight again.

Jim almost smiled as he thought of how Blair would react to being told that he could never go anywhere or do anything without his friend being present. The detective knew that he would never be able to steal his partner's freedom like that. But, Blair Sandburg was in for some serious hovering over by his 'Blessed Protector' when Jim finally got him home.

And the Sentinel would bring his Guide home. Or die trying.
********************
The Guide lay on his side, too weak to defend himself from the beating being administered by his captor. Over and over he was kicked and punched by Russo while the big man laughed, taking pleasure in his prisoner's pain. Slowly suffocating from the blood that poured from his mouth and nose, Blair turned his head and looked over at the friend he had trusted, the 'Blessed Protector' who had let him down. His eyes cried out the question that he no longer had the breath to voice.

"Why didn't you come for me?"

The 'Blessed Protector' stood in the corner of the room, watching as the man beat his Guide to death. Unable to move, he could only stand there and cry as his partner's heart finally ceased to beat. A faint ringing in his ears seemed to grow louder once Blair's pain-filled eyes closed, condemning the Sentinel to a life that would be lived without meaning or purpose now that the Guide had gone on without him.

Laughing as he delivered one last kick to the dead man at his feet, Russo turned and said, "Hey cop, you gonna answer the phone?"

Jim awoke with tears streaming down his face as the phone rang for a third time. Leaping up from his roommate's rumpled bed, the exhausted man rushed into the living room to grab the phone, praying that it was Simon with good news.

"Yeah?" Jim's voice was barely a croak, as he struggled to catch his breath and ignore the ominous rolling of his stomach.

//"Jim? What's wrong, are you okay?"// Simon's worried voice boomed into the detective's sensitive ear, making him wince and nearly drop the phone as he hurriedly turned down his hearing.

After clearing his throat, Jim tried for a more normal tone of voice. "I'm fine, Sir, just got something stuck in my throat." Like my heart.

//"You sound like shit. Did you manage to get any sleep at all last night?"//

The clock on the microwave read 8:30 a.m. "Yeah, yeah, just woke up actually." Jim didn't feel that it was necessary to mention that he had only managed two hours of sleep before the nightmare, and the phone, woke him. The detective also didn't think that he needed to tell his superior about falling asleep on Blair's bed.

Jim had paced restlessly throughout the long night, too worried about his missing partner to relax. As the sun had risen to light the darkened loft, he had found himself drawn to Blair's bedroom. Soothed by the familiar scent of his Guide, the Sentinel had curled onto the narrow bed and closed his eyes, slipping into an uneasy rest.

//"....are you still there? JIM!!"//

Pulled abruptly back to the present, the detective realized that he had tuned his Captain out completely. "Sorry, Sir, could you repeat that last part? I didn't quite catch it." The nightmare had shaken him more than he cared to admit, even to himself.

//"Jim, you haven't heard a damn word I've said, have you?"// Simon was clearly irritated. The Police Captain had reached the end of his patience after being on his own emotional rollercoaster for the past 24 plus hours. He had not slept more than a few hours either, electing instead to sit by his son's hospital bed and guard him from his nightmares.

And the morning had not started off well. His ears were still ringing from the 'conversation' he'd had with his ex-wife as he left the hospital to get ready for his meeting with the Commissioner. Her anger was perfectly understandable, he had deliberately misled her about Daryl's disappearance. So, managing to bite back the angry words that he wanted to retaliate with, he had just quietly stood there and tolerated the tongue-lashing until she had finished speaking her mind.

Then it was off to see his superior officer, who had been sure to read Simon the riot act for not following police procedure.

The only thing that had gone well for the tired Captain was his Commissioner's decision to allow Major Crimes to continue on with the Russo case. And, for now at least, Simon was still in charge of his department. The Commissioner had post-poned any disciplinary action until the young police observer was found.

All in all, even though he could understand Jim's fear and distraction, Simon was just not in the mood to deal with the worried detective's frazzled nerves. Besides, Sandburg would never forgive him if something happened to Jim because the detective was too tired and worried to do his job properly. //"Look, Jim...maybe you shouldn't be on this case. You don't sound like you're up to it."//

"WHAT!" Jim blinked in shock. How could his Captain even suggest that he just stay there and do nothing while Russo still had his partner? Although he wanted to scream, the detective kept his voice down, using a tone Blair had once described as his very best 'when I'm through, they'll never find the body' voice. "I am going to find Blair, Simon. I don't give a damn what the Commissioner says and, frankly, Sir, I don't care what you say either. I have to do this, with or without you."

Although he didn't care for the tone of voice his detective was using, Simon knew that Jim meant what he said -- he would continue to work the case, with or without backup. And the Captain knew that he would do the same to retrieve the police observer that he had grown so fond of and that he owed so much to. Heaving a sigh, he decided to cut his friend a little slack. //"Listen, Jim..."//

"No, you listen, Captain. Blair risked his life to save Daryl and now you want to just throw me off this case when he needs me most?" The nightmare images flashed through Jim's imagination, making him shudder with fear and rage. "Just who the Hell..."

The detective clenched his jaw tightly and stopped his words, determined to salvage his friendship with Simon. Getting angry wouldn't help to convince his Captain that he was able to continue working the case. In a softer, calmer voice he continued. "Please Simon, I need to do this. I'm his best chance and you know it."

Hearing the desperation in Jim's voice, Simon decided to let him off the hook quickly. //"I was about to tell you that I'm keeping you on the case. And I'm going to be your backup."//

"Captain, I'm perfectly capable..." Jim stopped and blinked. He had been prepared to argue, expecting at least a little resistance after the tantrum he had just thrown. "What did you just say?"

//"Hell, Jim, do you really think I don't understand what you're going through? Russo had my son too. Just because Daryl's safe doesn't mean that this is finished for me. Blair means a lot to me, too. You should know that by now. And you're right, I owe him for saving my boy's life."//

"The Commissioner, did he okay this?" Maybe, just maybe, things would turn out all right after all. The detective felt the faint hope seep into him, banishing the nightmare images from his mind. He still had a chance to save his partner.

//"Yeah, Major Crimes is officially working this case now. The Commissioner called for a media blackout to help ensure Blair's safety, and we've been given permission to use Bobby as the bait to catch his brother."// Simon hesitated a moment before continuing, //"We'll get the kid back Jim, I promise."//

"Oh God, Simon this is... I've been..." Jim paused and collected his scattered thoughts. "I'm sorry, Sir, I was out of line. I had no right to..."

//"It's forgiven, Jim. Listen, the Commissioner isn't through with us yet, I'm afraid. He's going to wait and see how this all goes down before he makes his final decision on disciplinary action. I don't think we'll lose our jobs, but I'm not certain of that."// Simon hated to worry his friend further, but decided that Jim deserved to hear the truth. //"We will both at least be suspended for a day or so. I tried to keep you out of it, but the Commissioner was adamant that we both be disciplined for not following procedure. I'm sorry."//

"Don't be, Sir. It's not important right now. If I lose my job, well, there'll be others. The only thing that matters now is getting Blair back safely."

//"All right, the plan has changed a bit. We're going to stage a holdup of the transport vehicle. Bobby Russo most likely knows something about this whole situation, so this will make it seem more realistic. Brown and Rafe will be posing as the guards. Taggert and McGuire will set up surveillance on the park where we meet, they'll be our main backup. Any questions so far?"//

"No, but I might think of some later."

Simon rolled his eyes. Of course his detective would have questions. The man would drive everyone insane before he was satisfied that everything would go down without a hitch.

//"Look, why don't we deal with this a little later. Meet me at the station this afternoon. Better get there around 1:00, that gives us some time to get ready and review the plan. Until then, I want you to rest up. You need some sleep if you're going to be any use to Sandburg at all. I don't want to have to worry about pulling you out of a zone-out because you're too tired to focus properly."//

Simon, expecting an argument, continued in his sternest voice, //"This is not up for debate, detective. You will be rested when you get to the station or I'll put you're ass in protective custody and work this case without you."//

Jim wisely didn't argue; knowing that Simon meant what he said. "Yes, Sir. And, thanks."

After hanging up, the detective wandered back into his partner's room and stared at the rumpled bed. Hesitating only a minute, the exhausted man approached the bed and lay back down, hugging a pillow tightly. Closing his bloodshot eyes, Jim allowed the lingering traces of Blair guide him back to sleep.

This time, there were no nightmares.
********************
Although the day had started out to be warm and sunny, it had grown gray and chilly by afternoon. The light drizzle that had started an hour earlier, showed no signs of stopping.

Parked at the shoulder of the quiet, winding road, Jim and Simon waited impatiently for the prison transport van that they planned to intercept. The two men were silent, each of them lost in his own thoughts.

Simon longed to light the cigar clamped between his teeth, but refrained, knowing that Jim's sensitive nose would object. Shifting in his seat and sighing, the Captain glanced quickly at his best detective.

Jim's face revealed nothing and Simon could only guess at what he was feeling. The expression, or lack of, reminded the Captain of how things had once been between them. There was a time when the two men were barely tolerant of each other, mere acquaintances at the best of times.

But that was before a certain anthropologist had bounced into the middle of things. At first, Simon had been sure that the young man who annoyed him so much would never be more than a first-rate pain in the butt.

Over time though, he'd been forced to rethink his opinion of Jim's unofficial partner.

Under the Sandburg influence, the hardened detective had changed from the cold, reckless loner he had been. Now, Jim was one of the Captain's closest friends. His other one was the young police observer himself.

Beside his Captain, James Ellison looked like the perfect model of control. His face was frozen into a cold, expressionless mask. Ice-blue eyes scanned the road in front of him, searching for the vehicle that held Bobby Russo.

His Guide would have been able to see right through him.

Blair would have seen the twitch in his cheek and the way impatient fingers tapped lightly against a tense knee. And, armed only with his soothing, gentle voice, the young man would have been able to banish his Sentinel's tension as he had done a hundred times before.

But the fledgling Shaman wasn't able to be here now, and the Sentinel was acutely aware of the fear and rage that tried to burrow into his heart, threatening to rob him of his focus when he needed it most. He felt vulnerable and exposed without his precious Guide to watch his back and center his senses.

The detective clenched his jaw all the tighter and checked his watch for the third time in five minutes. His tone revealed only minor irritation as he broke the silence. "They're late. What the hell is taking them so long?"

"They should be here any minute." The burly Captain reached for the radio, needing to reassure himself that everything would go as planned. "Taggert, are you two in place?"

A familiar, good-natured voice crackled over the radio in reply, //"We're about set, Sir. We'll be ready for you."// Joel Taggert and the newest member of Major Crimes, Brian McGuire, were already at the rest area where the younger Russo brother would be exchanged for Blair. Hidden from sight, they were prepared to provide whatever backup would be needed, first to ensure the police observer's safety and then, if possible, to bring the Russos to justice. //"How're you two doing?"//

"Everything's set here. I just wanted to remind you that we're shutting off the radio before we get Russo in the car. I don't want him to suspect anything."

//"Captain, we went over this plan 20 times at least. I know you two are worried about the kid, but relax, everything's going to go down smooth. He'll be just fine."// The words were confident, but there was just the slightest bit of tension in the voice that betrayed the big man's own worries. Blair was important to him too.

Jim tensed beside Simon and murmured, "They're almost here, Captain."

"It's starting guys. Remember, once we get there, you two stay put until we're sure Sandburg's out of danger. Got it?"

//"No problem, Sir. Good luck."//

"Stay alert, we'll be there in about 20 minutes." Simon shut off the radio and started the car, preparing for the staged holdup. It had to be realistic enough to convince Bobby that they really intended to cooperate with his brother.

"Now, Simon," Jim hissed.

Scattering gravel, Simon pulled off the shoulder and directly into the path of the gray van just as it rounded the bend in front of them. Brakes squealed as the driver struggled to avoid a collision causing the vehicle to slide sideways. It was close, but the van skidded to a stop uncomfortably close to the side of the car blocking its path.

Breathing a sigh of relief, and making a mental note to talk to Brown about his driving abilities, Simon dove out of the car. Using his door as a shield, he drew his gun and fired a warning shot into the air. "Throw out your weapons!"

As planned, one of the "guards" returned fire, keeping the bullets aimed well above the Captain's head. Brown and Rafe, dressed as prison guards, were to put up a brief fight before giving up and handing over Russo.

Henri actually managed to fire off a couple shots before a rough hand slipped through the open window and grabbed his collar. He was suddenly looking at the barrel of a gun, aimed right between his eyes. "Both of you, drop your guns. Now!" Ellison's eyes showed no recognition or warmth and his voice was calm and deadly.

Gulping uneasily, Henri Brown complied with the demand. Rafe hesitated briefly before dropping his own weapon to the floor. They could trust Jim, he was a friend and a good cop. Brown kept reminding himself of that as he exited the van. Keeping his hands where they could be seen at all times, he joined his partner at the front of the vehicle.

"Put your hands on the van and don't move." Simon barked the command at his two men while glancing uneasily at Jim, disturbed by the murderous expression. The detective looked as if he would kill at the slightest provocation and, for a moment, the Captain wondered if his friend had gone over the edge.

Sensing the unease of the three men, Jim winked quickly and flashed a tiny grin before turning away to open the side door with the keys he'd fished from Rafe's pocket. He eyed the man in front of him, biting back a flash of rage as he silently unlocked the ankle chains on Russo's legs.

Bobby Russo was of average height and slightly on the lean side. His brown hair was pulled back into a greasy ponytail and his hazel eyes were hard and cruel. The baggy orange jumpsuit he wore emphasized a sallow, pock-marked complexion.

"Took you long enough, cop," Bobby smirked. He held out his hands, expecting Jim to remove the cuffs. Instead, he was hauled out of the vehicle by the furious detective and dragged over to the car. The younger man yelped in surprise at the rough treatment. "Hey, ease off and get these cuffs off of me, man."

"Shut up and get in the car. The cuffs stay on." Jim resisted the urge to wrap his hands around the scrawny neck in front of him, but it was an effort.

"Take it easy, Jim." Simon joined the two men at the car, grimacing in disgust at Russo. "This trash isn't worth it." He had left the two "guards" handcuffed to the van; making sure that there was enough mobility to allow Henri to free himself and his partner with the keys that had been slipped into his palm.

Abruptly releasing his captive, Jim climbed into the car, leaving his Captain to deal with the prisoner. "Let's go, we're running out of time."

After ushering Russo into the backseat of his car, Simon cranked the sedan to life. Seconds later, they were on their way, leaving Brown and Rafe to radio ahead to Joel.

Russo leaned forward between the front seats, grinning in smug satisfaction. "You did pretty good, Banks. I'll be sure to put a good word in with Steve when I see him. Your little boy must be awful important to you if you're willing to lose your job. Wonder if you'll do jail time? Now that would be some real justice."

"Shut up, Russo!" Barking the words, Simon thought about how he had held his son late into the night, listening to Daryl's halting account of his captivity. Long after the boy had fallen off to sleep he had sat there, tormented by the images his son's words had provided.

"Now is that any way to talk to me pig? Best be careful before little Jr. gets..." His words were cut off by the iron hand at his throat and Ellison's hate-filled eyes boring a hole into his own.

"Shut up, scum. Your brother screwed up and Daryl got away, but he still has my partner and I want him back. That's the only thing keeping you from a slow, painful death, so you'd better pray he takes good care of my friend." Jim tightened his hold, thinking about what his roommate had endured because of the garbage in front of him.

Laying a light hand on his detective's arm, Simon shook his head and spoke quietly, "Easy, Jim. Let's just worry about getting Blair back right now." The big man was grateful that he hadn't told Jim more of what Daryl had said. He'd been careful to keep the details vague, realizing that it would only be harder for the detective to control his anger and fear if he knew everything. As it was, Simon himself would have liked nothing more than to have joined his friend in choking the life out of the younger Russo brother.

Gasping for air, Bobby rubbed his neck and glared balefully at both men. "You think I'm afraid of you cops? You might want to be nice to me, since I have the real directions to the party. Wouldn't want to be late now would you? Your little partner's life could get pretty rough if we're not there on time."

"What are you talking about?"

If the younger Russo were a smart man, he would have been terrified at the rage in Jim's voice. But, he was not particularly intelligent and he continued on, enjoying his limited power over the two officers. "Steve didn't trust you not to have some kind of back up, so he switched the meeting place. I'll tell you where it is, if you ask me real nice."

Simon growled, "Just what are you trying to pull here, Russo?" Again, he laid his hand on Jim's arm and squeezed a bit to hold him back. "Easy, Jim...don't do anything you'll regret later."

"Yeah, pig, you don't want to mess with me," Bobby chuckled. "There's an old boatyard about four miles away from here. Turn right at the next light and go for about a mile. I'll tell you where to go when we get there." He settled back and laughed again, too stupid to realize that his chances of living were diminishing with every word he spoke.

But Simon knew how limited Jim's control would be at this point, and he also knew that Blair's life was the only thing that had stopped him from snapping Russo's neck already.

"Easy, detective...think of Sandburg." He murmured the words softly, not wanting the man in the back to overhear.

Beside him, Jim was silent and stone-faced. Damn, there goes our backup. It didn't matter though; no matter what, he would bring his partner home.
********************
The pain was incredible. Breathing was almost unbearable; each breath searing a fire through his broken and bruised ribs. The cold, hard floor offered no compassion to the young man lying blind and helpless. Each bruise throbbed and each racking shiver of cold sent knives of pain through cramped shoulder and back muscles. Blair hurt everywhere.

But it was nothing compared to the agony within his heart. The physical injuries would heal, if given time to. Not so for the pain he felt over losing Daryl. That ache would stay with him forever.

Blair shifted a bit, groaning quietly as muscles protested even that tiny movement. He knew that Jim would stop at nothing to rescue him; normally, that would have provided some small comfort. But even that was denied him. What could Jim do after all? His 'Blessed Protector' couldn't ease the pain or absolve the guilt he carried over Daryl's death.

And what would happen to them afterwards? Blair was sure that he would never be able to set foot in the bull pen again. Simon and the others would hate him; how could he blame them when he hated himself?

But any anger or hatred he endured would be nothing compared to facing Jim. Once, the young man, ever the scientist, had foolishly thought of the detective as only someone he could study; the Sentinel to support his thesis. The older man had seemed cold and stiff to him. A tiny laugh, more a whimper, escaped him as he thought about how much his opinion had changed.

Blair wasn't really sure when or how it had happened, but gradually, the detective had become the most important person in his world. So much more than a friend now: Jim was the father he'd never known, the big brother he'd always secretly wished for, the best friend he'd never had the chance to have as a child. And, Jim was the Sentinel that he'd gladly give his life for.

That would all change now.

Jim would look at him differently. The trust and acceptance that had once shone through the detective's eyes would be replaced with doubt and pity. Of course the older man would still care, and Blair was sure that there would always be a place for him in the loft that had become his home. But the grad. student knew that he wouldn't stay there; he would drift on, rootless and empty, as if he'd never met his Sentinel and found his place in life.

How could he stay? There would be no way for him to continue working with Jim. Not now, after killing Simon's son. Jim needed someone who would be able to watch his back. Blair would no longer be able to do that for him. The only thing he could do for his friend now was to find a new Guide to replace himself.

And then, even though it would cost him his soul, Blair would fade out, leaving behind his whole world. Because what good was a he to Jim now? The Sentinel would have lost all faith in his Guide.

Oh Jim, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. No tears accompanied Blair's lonely, pain-filled thoughts, there were none left to cry.
********************
Gravel crunched under the tires as Simon turned into the narrow, ruined driveway of the abandoned marina.

The boatyard had once catered to the high-class, but, as the surrounding area had declined, the luxurious yahts and sporty fishing boats had moved on and the marina had closed down. Now, all that remained were a few rickety boats that had been dry-docked and forgotten, left to rot in the sun and salt air. Broken bottles and trash littered the ground, left over by the teenagers who sometimes partied there.

The marina was situated near a rundown area known as "the docks". Most of the building located there were warehouses and storage buildings. There were a few crumbling houses scattered about, but they were mainly either condemned or being used to manufacture various drugs. Crime was prevalent and the Cascade PD was called to the area often, responding to reports of gunfire, muggings, and robberies.

Bobby Russo leaned forward in anticipation. Finally, after 10 long years he was a free man. "Well, we're right on time. That's real good, Steve will be pleased. Now, how 'bout taking these cuffs off?" The lanky young man smirked and held his hands up. "No telling what my brother'll do to your partner if he thinks I'm not being treated good."

Jim bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood and climbed out of the car, holding back the threats and curses as Simon unlocked the cuffs. There would be plenty of time to take care of the Russo brothers; after he made sure that Blair was safe. With that in mind, he started to scan the area, pushing each of his senses to the limit.

Blocking out anything that might interfere with the search for his partner, the Sentinel was oblivious to his Captain and Bobby, standing only a few feet behind him. An annoying rattle caught his attention for an instant, but he impatiently filtered out the noise.

"You still with me?" Recognizing the beginnings of a zone-out, Simon rested his hand on the detective's shoulder as he had seen Blair do before.

Jim didn't reply although he heard the whispered question and felt his Captain's large hand against his shoulder. Desperate to find his missing Guide, he pushed himself still further, searching for the sound of a heart that meant more to him than his own. So intent was he on his search that the Sentinel completely missed the sound of a gun being cocked.

The bullet that shattered the windshield next to Simon broke Jim's focus. Throwing himself at the larger man, he knocked his Captain to the ground as another bullet hit the right front tire. Bobby, taking advantage of the confusion, bolted for freedom; running toward the gunfire, knowing his brother would cover his back.

Jim and Simon crawled hastily behind the car, seeking shelter from the sniper's bullets. The Captain drew his own weapon, intending to return fire, but was stopped by the Detective's hand as it snapped forward and batted his arm down.

"What is it? Is the kid over there?" Simon lowered the gun, unwilling to take the risk of hitting the young police observer.

"No, Sir, but Steve Russo is the only one who knows where he is, if we kill him we won't have a chance in hell of finding Sandburg." He growled the words, furious at the Russos and terrified for his partner. Things couldn't look worse; they were without backup, being shot at by a lunatic with a grudge, and he was still no closer to rescuing his friend.

Bobby dodged behind the large rotted hull of an old fishing boat to find his brother waiting for him with open arms. The two men embraced briefly, before Steven turned away to fire several more shots, muttering distractedly. "Damn it! Come on, Banks, move out so I can get a clean shot off."

"Hey, man, I don't want to seem ungrateful, but let's get the hell out of here before more cops show up." The younger man shook his brother's arm, "Did you hear me? We gotta go, now."

Obsessed with having his revenge, Steve fired off another four shots before turning to face his little brother. "You don't understand, I've got to pay the bastard back for all he's done to us."

"Look, it's going to have to wait. We need to get going." Bobby turned away and jogged to the van, idling noisily behind the graffiti smeared building that had once been the yacht club for Cascade's finest. Steve hesitated a moment longer, staring hard at the car sheltering Simon Banks, before following his brother, limping slightly, still wincing at the pain in his knee.

Jim watched in fury while the two men sped through the back gate, squealing around the corner in a haze of dust. Simon had given up on the attempt to start the car and was now on the radio, shouting for backup. The Russos' laughter taunted the detective as he choked down the rage and despair that rose up within him. He focused in on the laughing voices and the annoying engine rattle, determined to track them as far as he could before they moved out of his range.
********************
Steven gripped the wheel of the van tightly, his knuckles white with the strain. "Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!"

The younger man stared at him and smirked a bit, "Uh, glad to see you too, bro."

"You just don't get it! I've been waiting to pay Banks back for a long time, I planned it out perfectly. Now the son of a bitch is just going to get away with what he's done." In the man's twisted mind, Simon was responsible for everything bad that had ever happened to the Russos. Pounding the dashboard hard enough to split the already cracked vinyl, he continued on in a snarl. "Like an idiot, I blew the first shot and then Ellison ruined everything. He pushed the bastard outta the way before I could get in another good shot."

Bobby would have enjoyed seeing the two cops die, every bit as much as he'd enjoyed killing the other two 10 years ago. But this time, he wasn't willing to risk his freedom for it. If the gunshots had attracted more police, he and his brother would have both ended up back in prison. "Look, Banks'll get what's coming to him another time. What goes around comes around - we'll have another chance at him one of these days."

His words had no effect on Steve. Consumed with hatred, he was thinking about how close he'd been to hurting Banks. And how, not once, but twice, things had gotten messed up for him. First, the pig's brat had escaped and then he went and screwed up a perfect shot that would have dropped the Captain instantly. But it wasn't his fault! Daryl's escape was all Sandburg's doing; the little hippie punk had taken him by surprise. And Ellison was responsible for denying him another shot at the man he wanted so badly to hurt.

"I'll make them pay, both of them are going to regret ever messing with my plans."

"Huh?" Bobby blinked in confusion, unsure of what to make of his brother's rambling.

"Ellison and his partner. They're the reason things didn't go the way they were supposed to. I'm going to make them both pay."

"Ellison? That's the other cop, right?" The smaller man rubbed his chin thoughtfully before continuing, "He tried to act all intimidating, shoving me around like I was just trash to him. I think maybe we should take it out on his partner, since Ellison's not around to take it out on."

"Oh, I got plans for Sandburg all right." Steven growled. "He's been nothing but a pain in the ass since I grabbed him."

"What do you have in mind, man?"

"We'll be laying low until late tonight, so we've got plenty of time." Glancing in the rear-view mirror, he scanned the back of the van, his eyes coming to rest on a yellow plastic jug. "Remember that time we fed the neighbor's dog antifreeze? It was bye-bye puppy, and it didn't look like a real nice way to go, with the convulsions and puking and all. I figure we can pour some of that antifreeze," He gestured to the container, "down the little punk's throat. Then we just sit back and watch the show, he should take a good long time to die. If he's still alive when we're ready to leave, we'll just slit his throat."

Steven pictured it out in his head; he wasn't able to hurt Simon Banks, but this would be almost as good. "Once we're out of Cascade, we can take a minute to call Ellison and tell him where to find his partner. He seems pretty worried about the kid, so this'll be like killing two birds with one stone. Sandburg will die for messing up my plans, and Ellison will have to live with it."

The younger man laughed, he'd always looked up to his brother. "I like the way you think, bro. This is going to be good!"

"Oh yeah." Greatly cheered up by their plans, Steve pulled the van around behind a ramshackle house only two blocks away from the marina. "Well, here we are, this is where we'll be spending our last few hours in Cascade. It isn't fancy, but no one can see the van from the road and the cops won't even think of looking for us so close to the boatyard."

"Well then lets get started. I want to meet Ellison's partner."
********************
"Jim? Oh no. Come on, don't do this to me now." Simon gripped his detective's shoulder a little tighter and raised his voice a notch. "Jim, snap out of it! Backup's going to be here in just a few minutes."

The Sentinel continued to track his enemies, ignoring Simon's pleas and threats. He had no hope of finding his partner now, but still Jim stood there, listening to the rattling van and the Russo brothers' voices. It was the only thing left that he could do.

He had failed his Guide.

Ever since he had first formed the partnership with Blair, Jim had feared that something like this would happen someday. The incident with Lash had only served to amplify that fear, and his need to protect the trouble-prone grad-student who had become his family.

It went beyond friendship or even family though. The bond between the two of them was ancient and instinctive. A Sentinel could not exist without his Guide to keep him focused; any more than a Guide could exist without his Sentinel there to support him.

Every word that the two brothers spoke ripped into his heart, as painful as any physical wound. The pain was almost blinding as he listened to their cruel plans for his partner. Blair wouldn't even be granted the mercy of an easy death. There would be several more hours of torment ahead for his young friend. Several more hours that he would search frantically without the faintest clue as to where his partner was.

I'm sorry buddy, I tried...

His thoughts trailed off as he realized that the van had stopped moving, although the voices continued to speak.

"DAMN IT, JIM! SNAP OUT OF IT!" Desperate to reach the detective, Simon raised his hand to deliver a hard slap.

"Shhhhh! They've stopped moving." Jim's voice was hoarse with unshed tears and just the faintest twinge of hope.

"Huh? Jim, are you..." The Captain blinked in confusion at the sudden awareness in his friend's gaze.

Pulling his attention back to the worried man in front of him Jim spoke quietly. "Simon, I can track them. Blair's with them, somewhere nearby..." Trailing off, he focused once again on the voices, pinpointing the direction they were coming from. And then he started to run.

"Jim, wait! Where?... What?... Awww Hell!" Simon started to follow his friend, tucking his cell phone into his pocket as he ran.

The Sentinel, caught up in the hunt, didn't reply. Dodging in front of a delivery truck, oblivious to the honking horn and screeching tires, he took the most direct route, over and around anything in his path.

"JIM! Are you nuts?" Simon bellowed as he followed across the street, flashing his badge irritably at the few motorists in his way. "Cascade PD Stop!"

Breathing hard, the big man continued to follow his friend; through a bramble-filled vacant lot, around a warehouse, and over a massive chain-link fence where he was brought to an abrupt halt as a bent link snagged his pants. Wincing, trying to ignore the ominous ripping sound, he pulled free and ran on, struggling to keep Jim in sight.

Jim leaped onto a dumpster and hoisted himself over a rickety wooden fence, dropping to the ground several houses away from the Russos' hideout. A low growl, more animal than human, escaped him as he caught sight of the van, parked behind a house that looked as though it had been condemned years ago.

"Jim...What's...going...on?" Panting, Simon stopped next to his detective, following his gaze to a familiar van. "Well, I'll be damned. How the Hell did you?..." The Captain stopped, deciding that he really didn't want to know. "Is Blair in there?" At Jim's nod he continued speaking. "Hang on a minute, let me call for backup."

Jim listened as the Russos approached his partner, laughing and joking in sick amusement at Blair's helplessness. A quiet whimper of pain jolted through him. Hang on buddy, I'm coming!

"No time to wait, Sir. We have to move in now."

Seeing the flash of anguish on his friend's face, Simon nodded. "All right, but be careful! You take the rear, I'll circle around to the front."

The Sentinel started forward quietly, keeping to the afternoon shadows. His eyes held a feral gleam as he moved stealthily forward, determined that nothing and no one would stand between him and his Guide any longer.

God help anyone who tried.
********************
The Russo brothers stared down at their helpless captive, laughing and joking as though they were merely playing a harmless game. The bedraggled young man lay curled in a ball at their feet, motionless and silent. He could have been mistaken for dead if it weren't for his shallow gasps for air.

Nudging the grad-student roughly with his foot, Bobby tried unsuccessfully to rouse him. "Well, this isn't going to be any fun if he's too doped up to notice. How much of that drug did you give him anyway?"

"I only used enough to keep him quiet. The miserable little bastard is probably just playing possum." Steve drew back his foot and kicked the young man sharply and then again, harder, when he didn't get the response he wanted. "Come on, wake up!"

The blow jolted through Blair's damaged ribs, forcing a quiet, resigned whimper from him. Shivering with cold and racked with pain, he lay as still as possible, wishing for the oblivion of sleep, unconsciousness, or even death. Anything would be preferable to the unrelenting hurt and fear.

Disappointed at his hostage's lack of response, Steve turned and picked up the cattle prod, handing it over to his brother. "Here, this should wake him up a little."

Unable to defend himself, or even see what lay in store for him, Blair prayed for the strength to endure whatever it might be. Seconds later, he started to scream, as unbearable agony ripped through him. "Oh God...stop...please!"

Bobby continued to torment the young man, jabbing him with the prod, laughing at his captive's distress and pain. "That sure woke you up some."

He stopped laughing when the door burst open, bouncing against the wall with the force of an enraged Sentinel's entrance.

In a haze of fury, the detective had stormed into the house and down the basement stairs, the noise of his entrance covered by his partner's cries of pain and Bobby's manic laughter. He had all but torn the heavy, locked door from it's hinges in his haste to get to Blair.

Neither brother had time to react to the unexpected intrusion before Jim fired his gun, wincing inwardly when he saw Blair flinch at the loud sound. Bobby screamed as the bullet entered his hand, causing him to drop the cattle prod.

"FREEZE!" Keeping his weapon trained on the two stunned brothers, the detective glanced down at the young man huddled on the cold, damp floor in front of them.

Protective instincts surged within him as Jim saw what had been done to Blair in the nearly forty-eight hours that he had been held hostage. The Sentinel listened to the rapidly beating heart and soft, pain-filled gasps, saw the dark bruise marring a filth-smudged cheek and the crusted blood where the handcuffs had bitten deep into swollen wrists, and he could smell his partner's terror.

Resisting the almost over-whelming urge to kill, Jim turned his attention back to the two men responsible for his Guide's distress. Catching sight of Steve's slow, shifting movements toward the gun lying on a garbage-cluttered table, he snarled, "Don't even think about it, Russo."

Staring at the detective for a moment, Steve tried to determine whether or not he had a chance of reaching his own gun before Jim could fire. The unwavering way that the detective held his gun and the rage in the cold blue eyes convinced the man to wait for a better opportunity. "Relax cop, I'm not going anywhere."

Sure that he had only imagined the familiar voice of his 'Blessed Protector', Blair whispered hoarsely, "J..j..im?" The grad-student cringed, trying to prepare himself for the punishment he knew he would receive for speaking.

"Yeah Chief, it's me." Although he longed to provide comfort to his friend, the Detective kept his tone neutral, needing to keep his emotions under control until he was sure that the threat to his partner was contained. "Take it easy, buddy. We'll have you out of here in just a few minutes."

Still unsure of what was happening, Blair just nodded slightly, too tired and sore to do anything else.

Quiet footsteps on the stairs, and the accompanying scent of cigars, alerted Jim to Simon's presence well before his Captain reached him. "About time you joined the party."

"The upstairs is clear. Joel and McGuire will be here any minute and Rafe and Brown are on their way." Captain Banks entered the room, glaring at the man who had hurt his son. Years of practice helped him keep his anger in check. His instincts were telling him to hurt the two cocky men in front of him, make them suffer like his boy had suffered. But Simon knew that he could not slide down to the Russos' level.

His face softened as he caught sight of Blair. Besides being a good friend to him, he now owed the young man for his son's life. Cursing under his breath, he focused his attention toward the men responsible for the the grad student's injuries. "Turn around you two, hands on the wall." The sooner the two brothers were secured and out of the way, the sooner they could take care of Sandburg.

Steven stared in shock at the Captain. This was the man responsible for everything that had ever gone wrong in his life. There was no way he could just let this man get away without punishment, not again. He lunged for the table, fingers reaching out toward the gun.

He heard his brother cry out for him to stop and the cops yelling for him to put his hands up, but he ignored them. All that mattered now was making Simon Banks pay for what had been done. Grasping the weapon he started to straighten, aiming for the police Captain's head.

Two gunshots rang out, and Steven dropped to the ground with two bullets in his chest. Blood poured from his mouth as his brother dropped to the ground beside him.

"Oh Bro, man why?" Bobby blinked the tears out of his eyes and reached for his brother's hand.

"Hhh...he deserves to pay." Steve whispered slowly. "No one messes with my baby brother."

"Hang on, man. Don't die on me now." Bobby gripped his brother's hand a little tighter, not noticing that Simon had moved behind him and quietly slid the gun, lying on the floor next to his fallen brother, out of his reach.

Steve coughed, sending more blood to bubble out of his mouth onto the ground. He hadn't managed to complete his revenge, but at least he'd been able to screw with Banks and the other detective for a little while.

The mortally injured man twisted his face into a bloody smirk as he thought about how he had managed to manipulate the two police officers. Steve Russo managed one last gurgling breath before his heart stopped beating.

"Oh no! Oh man, wake up, come on you can't die." Bobby's voice sounded strained, as if he were about to sob at any moment. Instead, he swiveled his head and stared at the two silent men who stood over him and his fallen brother. "You'll pay for this pigs!" He spat. "One day I'll make you all pay."

Simon thought he would have felt some satisfaction at seeing Russo die, but he was wrong. He only felt incredibly weary, and much too old. Laying his hand on Bobby's shoulder he spoke softly, "Come on, Russo. Hands behind your head." After snapping the cuffs on, the Captain assisted Bobby to his feet and led him out the door. "I'm going to take Russo and wait outside for Joel, I'll call an ambulance for Sandburg and another for..." He paused a moment, watching as Jim knelt carefully beside his young partner. "Is he going to be okay?"

Murmuring quiet words of reassurance, Jim rested his hand on his partner's shoulder.

Jim struggled to put more confidence into his voice than he felt as he answered his captain. "Yeah, he's going to be just fine. Aren't you, buddy?"

"I'll be back as soon as Taggert and McGuire get here." Simon allowed Bobby to take one last look at his fallen brother before escorting him upstairs to await transport. It was more than the brothers would have done for Jim had their plans for Blair been carried out.

Gently unlocking the cuffs restraining Blair's hands, the detective took no notice of his Captain's departure. He was entirely focused on the young man whom he loved like a brother. Jim carefully removed the restraints and the blindfold, wincing at each tiny moan that passed his friend's lips. "Just take it easy, Chief. I've got you."

The room was lit by only a single bare bulb, but the light was agonizingly bright to eyes that had been covered for so long. Blair twisted his head back and forth, frantically seeking shelter from the pain.

Careful of his friend's injuries, Jim gently settled him into a comforting embrace, pressing the young man's face against his shoulder to shield him from the light. "There, is that better?"

"Hurts...oh, Jim...it hurts..."

"I know buddy. It'll get better, just hang on." Using his enhanced senses, the detective began to rub Blair's back and shoulders, soothing away the painful cramps. He allowed himself a tiny smile as his partner sighed and relaxed against him. "Just hang on for me, the ambulance will be here any minute.

His 'Blessed Protector' had found him. Blair sank against the solid warmth of his friend, confident that Jim would keep him safe. But there was something he'd forgotten. Something that not even his Sentinel could fix. If he could only remember...

"Backup's here, Jim," Simon announced softly as he reentered the dingy basement room. He smiled softly as he observed his tough Detective tenderly caring for the police observer that they had grown so fond of. "How's he doing?"

Jim frowned as he felt Blair start to tense and pull away. "Easy, it's just Simon. No one's going to hurt you."

The Captain's gruff voice jolted through Blair's memory, reminding him that he was responsible for Daryl's death. He tried to pull away from the strong arms that held him, certain that Jim and Simon would never be able to forgive him. Unable to break away, he finally gave in and allowed his tears to fall, sobbing softly as he tried to explain. "Oh God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, please..."

"Whoa, take it easy, Chief. What's the matter?" Jim looked up at his Captain. His eyes were filled with desperation and tears of frustration slid down his own face at his helplessness to fix this new hurt. With a shaking voice he said, "Take a deep breath, Blair. I need you to tell me what's wrong. What do you need?"

"I killed him, Jim. I didn't mean to, but I killed him and I'm sorry, but you won't ever be able to forgive me... Simon I ...I know you must hate me and..." He struggled weakly, pulling away from his closest friend, keeping his head down to avoid the detective's eyes. "Let me go...I'll just go and you won't have to look at me, I'll be okay, you don't have to pretend." Blair rambled softly. Attempting to pull himself to his knees, he fell back weakly with a soft cry of pain.

"Easy Son." Simon rested his hand on the police observer's head, smoothing the tangled curls back from the tear-streaked face as he tried to make sense of the disjointed sentences the distraught young man had spoken. "What's wrong, Blair?"

"Daryl...I killed Daryl. Oh God, I'm s..." The halting voice choked off into tears.

"What are you talking about? Daryl's fine." Jim spoke soothingly as he gently, but firmly, gathered his injured friend back into his arms. "He's already been released from the hospital and he's home with his mother."

"No, I killed him. Russo told me. He sent you Daryl's heart, Simon. My fault, he said it was my fault 'cause I didn't follow the rules and..."

"BLAIR!" Using his most authoritative voice, ignoring Jim's glare, Simon continued, "Pay attention! Daryl is not dead! I wouldn't lie about something like that!"

The words finally penetrated the confused haze. Blair looked up at Jim, seeking reassurance that Simon was telling the truth. "He's alive? I didn't kill him?"

"He's fine, Chief. Everything's going to be just fine." The detective drew the trembling young man closer to himself in an attempt to warm him. "Just rest now." He smiled his gratitude as Simon removed his jacket and eased it over the police observer.

"I'm going to find out what's taking that damn ambulance so long." The Captain's voice was rough with emotion as he stared down at his two friends a moment longer, before turning and hurrying up the stairs.

Jim started to rock slowly as he felt his partner begin to relax against him again. "That's right, just rest. I'm here now. Everything's going to be okay."

The Sentinel rested his cheek against his Guide's soft curls. Finally able to believe that everything really was going to turn out just fine.
********************
The ER waiting room at Cascade General Hospital was filled to capacity. Noisy and uncomfortably warm, it was not a pleasant place for anyone to be that evening. But for a Sentinel, it was almost unbearable.

The metallic smell of blood mingled with the sickening scents of vomit, urine, and fear. A strong antiseptic, intended to mask the odor, merely added to the stench that assailed Jim.

Glaring lights washed harshly over the crowded room, exposing every crack and stain on the wall, floor, and vinyl chairs. The brightness burned his tired eyes and made his head throb.

Piercing sirens, crying babies, and beeping machines pounded at his eardrums. Somewhere down the hall, Jim could hear the ominous hissing of a respirator, bringing back memories of the long, fear-filled hours he'd spent at Blair's side after the young man had been dosed with Golden.

Although he felt battered by the sights and sounds around him, Jim kept his senses turned as high as he was able; continuing to monitor the young Guide who meant so much to him. The knowledge that he was able to control his senses was the only thing keeping the Sentinel from over-loading. A tiny smile flashed across his face, relaxing the tense features for an instant, as he remembered how reluctant he'd been to try Blair's dial theory at first. It was a good thing his partner was more stubborn than he was. The anthropologist had managed to coax, trick, and bully him into focusing on imaginary dials, teaching him to turn his senses up and down as needed.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Jim heard what he'd been waiting for. Turning his senses down to a more tolerable level, he rose wearily, ignoring the pounding headache that had resulted from the barrage to his senses. Dodging around a small puddle of something suspicious, the detective made his way over to Simon who stood in the back of the crowded room, flanked by Joel, Rafe, Henry, and no less than five other detectives from Major Crimes.

"You should go home and get some rest, Sir. You look like hell."

The big Captain chuckled and growled back, "Yeah, well you don't look so hot either. Besides, I seem to remember you hanging around the hospital when Daryl was brought in."

Smiling, Jim asked, "How's he doing now?"

"I just called and talked to him about a half hour ago. He's still a little shaky, but he's going to be just fine. I'm going to get him some counseling though. God knows he'll need it." Simon pinched the bridge of his nose and pushed aside the illogical feelings of rage and fear that still rose within him whenever he thought about what had happened.

"Jim, were you able to hear any news?" The Captain asked his question in the smallest of whispers after glancing around to make sure that none of the other detectives were paying attention to them. "Is the kid going to be okay?"

"Yeah, I heard the doctor say that it looks like he'll make a full recovery. There don't appear to be any internal injuries and the only drug in his system appears to be the same sedative used on Daryl. I had to turn everything down after that, it was just too much going on at once."

"So, it looks like everything is going to turn out okay. Thank God!" Simon could feel the relief flow through him, easing the tension that had clenched his stomach in knots. "Listen Jim, maybe Sandburg should schedule a few sessions with the Department Counselor. I know he wasn't thrilled when we made him go after the whole thing with Lash, but I really want him to do this." Hesitating only slightly, unsure of how the detective would react, he voiced his next comment as carefully as possible. "You might want to consider making an appointment too."

"What?" Jim tried to laugh but the sound that emerged was too harsh to be considered amusement. "Look, I understand why you want Sandburg to go, he's been through hell. But I'm dealing with everything just fine." Aware that his voice had started to rise with each word, the detective made an effort to drop the volume before continuing. "I just don't understand why you think I'd need..."

Making the mistake of looking directly into his Superior's eyes, Jim was stopped by the compassion and understanding that he saw. For a moment he stood there with his mouth open, groping to find the right words. "I just don't think I need to do that, Sir. I'm okay with all of this." It was said quietly, without a trace of the anger that had originally colored his words.

The older man regarded his best detective for a silent moment, seeing the emotions that Jim tried so desperately to hold inside. The Captain understood what it was like to hold all the emotion deep within, remaining stoic and calm while something inside felt as though it were dying. He'd done it himself for many years, and still projected much of his gruff, no-nonsense exterior. But, in watching his son mature, he had learned that there was no shame or weakness in letting feelings show, or in letting someone know that you cared.

"I went ahead and made an appointment for myself. After coming so close to losing my son, I just think I may need a little help dealing with all of the leftover crap that I feel."

The Captain rested his hand against his silent friend's shoulder and continued in a gentle voice, "Jim, you almost lost Blair in all of this. He's your partner, but he's more to you too. Maybe it has something to do with your senses, I think you called him your Guide once. Hell, I don't know and it doesn't really matter what it is that makes the two of you so close. I only know that if Blair had been killed, I would have lost two good friends."

"That's..." Jim paused. What was he going to say; that it wasn't true? The young man he'd struggled so hard to find was more than a partner, friend, or even brother. Blair was the other half of his soul. And yes, he was certain that if the young man were to die then he wouldn't be able to go on. Even if by some miracle his body survived, there would be nothing left inside that could be identified as James Ellison.

A barely perceptible shudder ran through his body and Jim suddenly ached to be with his Guide. "I...We, that is, you might be right, Sir. It couldn't hurt to make an appointment or two with the shrink. If nothing else, at least Blair will accept being forced to go if he knows that I'm going too."

"Okay, I'll let Doctor Kelley know that you'll be calling her. And now, even if we don't get suspended, I want you to take a few days off. That's an order, not a suggestion. Sandburg will need your help for a couple days anyway and you look like you could use some down time."

"Hey, I will if you will." Jim kept his tone light, unwilling to bare any more of his heart in the middle of the crowded room.

"Just might do that. Maybe Daryl and I will go away this weekend."

"Look, why don't you and the rest of the guys go home. It's getting late and everyone's pretty whipped. Blair is going to be just fine, I'll tell him that you were all asking about him."

"Nah, I think I'll just wait around for bit. I'll go home once he's all settled in for the night. I'm going to head down to the cafeteria for few minutes to get a cup of coffee though. Want one?"

"Yeah, that sounds good, Sir. And Simon, thanks for..." Jim trailed off, unsure of what he wanted to say.

The older man understood though, because he only smiled slightly and turned toward the elevator. "Be back in a few minutes."
********************
They waited for another 30 minutes before the doctor came out. The time passed slowly for all of the detectives gathered there, waiting for news about one of their own. Knowing that Blair would be okay didn't make the waiting any less anxious for Jim, and he paced quietly in the crowded room, glancing at the clock every few minutes.

Finally, after what seemed a life-time to the worried detective, a harried looking doctor came out to greet them. He was almost grandfatherly in appearance and Jim had an absurd notion that the man bore a remarkable resemblance to Santa Claus. Seeing the underlying kindness in tired gray eyes, he relaxed, knowing that his partner was in good hands.

The poor doctor was immediately mobbed by the anxious detectives, all of whom were speaking at once.

"How's Sandburg?"

"Is Blair okay?"

"Hey, is Hairboy gonna pull through all right?"

"How's the kid look, Doc?"

The patient man held up a hand for silence. "Gentlemen, I'm Dr. Winston Quill. Now before I go any further, I want to apologize for making you wait so long. It's been a busy evening around here. Which one of you is Detective Ellison?"

Stepping forward Jim asked, "How is he?"

"Mr. Sandburg is a very lucky young man, although I doubt he's going to feel that way when he wakes up. There are two broken ribs, a mild concussion, and various scrapes and contusions. I also found a small amount of fluid in his lungs, but I don't think that will develop into a problem." Jim's face must have shown his dismay because Dr. Quill paused a moment and patted his arm sympathetically. "Don't look so alarmed, Detective Ellison, he's pretty much one big bruise right now, but he's going to make a full recovery."

"When will I be able to see him?"

"He's sleeping at the moment, and I'd like him to stay that way until morning if possible, but you're welcome to look in on him, Detective." Giving Jim a knowing look the doctor continued, "I've already heard of your reputation for giving the hospital staff a hard time concerning visitor regulations. So, to spare myself and the staff any trouble, I'm going to propose a compromise."

Jim had the good grace to blush at the doctor's words, remembering the times his partner had been hospitalized before. He'd always stayed right at his partner's bedside, ignoring the doctors and nurses who tried to make him leave. Simon chuckled behind him, coughing into his hand to cover the sound of amusement.

"Mr. Sandburg has been moved into a private room, as the Chief of Police requested. I've taken the liberty of having a cot brought into his room, which you may use tonight."

Holding up his hand, Dr. Quill efficiently cut off Jim's response. "I will allow you to stay the night only on the following conditions, Detective Ellison. In the morning, you will go home, shower, and rest. During the remainder of Mr. Sandburg's stay, you will observe any and all of our rules concerning visitation hours. Do I have your word?"

Feeling like a child who had been caught throwing spitballs in class, Jim nodded and mumbled, "Yes, Sir."

"Good. I don't want you to get sick on me. I need you well rested and healthy when that young man is released. He's going to need some help getting around for a while. Now, if there are no more questions, I'll show you to Mr. Sandburg's room. He's been moved to another floor."

Jim thanked his Captain and co-workers before following the doctor into the elevator.

The third floor still smelled like antiseptic, but the hall was blessedly quiet after the chaos of the ER waiting room. Blair's room was located five doors down from the nurses' station.

"Here we are." Dr. Quill spoke in a whisper to avoid disturbing the young man in the bed at the far end of the small room. He gently checked Blair's IV, explaining quietly, "He was very dehydrated, but the IV should take care of that. Now, I'll be going home in about an hour, but you can have the nurse page me if you need to. I don't think that will be necessary though, he should be fine for the night and I'll be back to check on him in the morning.

Jim walked over to the bed, and reached out a hand, needing to touch what he'd come so close to losing. He smoothed a few unruly curls back from Blair's forehead, frowning at the heat. "He feels feverish."

The doctor reassured, "Mr. Sandburg does have an elevated temperature, but it's really nothing to be concerned about." Indicating a cot positioned a few feet from the hospital bed he said, "You can sleep here. If you'd like to change, there's a hospital gown in the bathroom, which is located behind that door. Have a good night, Mr. Ellison. Get some rest." After patting Jim's arm one last time, the kindly doctor left to check on a few more patients before he went home to his own bed.

The Detective studied the battered face of his partner, noting each small scrape and bruise. He ran a gentle finger down the largest bruise that marred one flushed cheek, wincing in sympathy. Blair stirred and whimpered quietly in his sleep at the light touch, cringing in his sleep as though expecting to be hurt by someone.

"Easy buddy, no one's going to hurt you." Jim soothed quietly. "You're safe, just rest now."

The closed eyes fluttered and opened slightly at his soft words. "Jim?"

"Yeah, its me. Go back to sleep, Chief. Everything's all right."

"No, I need to tell you something." Blair struggled to stay awake, hoping to explain the emotions whirling in his foggy head. How frightened he'd been, not just for himself, but for the Sentinel who had almost been left without a Guide. He wanted to talk about what needed to be done if he should ever die; he needed to convince Jim to look for another person who could help him deal with his senses. And he wanted to thank his friend for chasing away all of the fear and despair that had been within him. "I...you..." His tired brain refused to find the right words to continue.

Grimacing at the hoarseness of his friend's voice, Jim put a hand over Blair's mouth, stopping his words. "Shhhh, no more talk tonight. I want you to rest." Smiling gently as the young man relaxed and drifted back into exhausted sleep, he moved his hand back to Blair's forehead and continued to murmur soothing words of comfort, "That's right, just sleep."

Blair leaned into the warmth of Jim's hand, grateful for the touch that made him feel so secure and safe. Uttering a small sigh of contentment, he sank back into a deep, dreamless sleep, sure that his 'Blessed Protector' would stand guard against the nightmares that lurked nearby. He'd have to remember to have a talk with Jim in the morning, just as soon as he could think a little more clearly.

The detective stood over his partner for another hour, watching Blair sleep. Finally, convinced that the young man was resting as comfortably as could be expected, he prepared himself for bed. Keeping his hearing focused on his friend, he hurriedly used the bathroom and washed his face and hands. Ignoring the paper gown hanging on a hook, he slipped off his shirt and shoes, leaving his jeans on.

Just before giving into his own exhaustion, the Sentinel leaned over and pressed a soft, grateful kiss against his cherished Guide's forehead, thanking God for keeping the young man safe.
********************
Blair leaned back and watched the sun set behind the city. The cold breeze felt good against his face, although he shivered a bit as the last of the sun's warmth left the balcony. Despite the chill that ran down his back, he wasn't quite ready to retreat into the warm loft, it was just so nice to be outside after spending the last five days in bed. Besides, Jim would be coming out to shoo him inside soon anyway. The older man had barely left his side in the past few days, not even going into work, since he'd been suspended for the week.

Blair couldn't recall much of the two days he'd spent in the hospital, just blurry bits and pieces; the sound of Simon's worried voice and the soft hands of one of the nurses who came to check on him. But he did remember that whenever he woke up, his 'Blessed Protector' was always nearby keeping watch, providing the security and comfort that he'd needed.

Even after Blair had been released, the detective had continued to fuss and hover over him, never showing the slightest hint of impatience or annoyance. And it was so nice to have someone to depend on. His body still hurt badly and the pain medication made him so tired.

And of course, there were the nightmares. Every night since he'd come home from the hospital, Blair had awoken from frightening dreams, drenched in sweat and shaking uncontrollably. And every night, his Sentinel had been there to comfort him, strong arms providing safe shelter from the shadows, while whispered reassurances soothed him back to sleep.

The young man shivered from more than just the cold as he thought about the images that he was sure to see again that night. When Jim had asked, Blair had only told him that the dreams were about Russo and sometimes Lash. And it was true, sometimes he did dream about the two men who had hurt him. But he'd made no mention of the most disturbing dreams, the ones where his Sentinel was lost and helpless because his Guide was no longer there for him.

Quietly monitoring his roommate for any signs of pain or discomfort, Jim saw the tiny shudder and started forward, snagging the warm afghan from the back of the couch.

"Hey, Chief, how are you doing out here?" Jim stopped at the door, reluctant to cross onto the balcony uninvited, but unwilling to allow Blair to remain out in the raw, winter evening much longer. "Why don't we go on inside before you turn into a popsicle."

Taking the faint smile on his partner's face for an invitation, Jim stepped out into the icy evening air, gently wrapping the blanket around the younger man's shoulders. "It's too cold for you to be out here." Frowning at the chill he could feel, the detective adjusted the afghan and started to rub Blair's arms, hoping to warm him.

Blair murmured, "Thanks Jim." Twisting slightly he stared up at the older man as if he were about to say more, but he only sighed deeply.

Sensing his partner's need, Jim spoke up, determined to fix whatever was wrong, "Talk to me, buddy. What's going on in that head of yours, hmmm?"

"I need you to tell me something." The voice was still quiet, but the tone was desperate. In a choked voice Blair continued, "If Russo had killed me, you would have been okay, right?" Seeing the shock and confusion in his friend's face he rushed on, "I mean, you would have found another Guide and..."

"What are you trying to ask me, Blair?" Jim managed to keep his voice calm, although his heart leaped to his throat at the thought of his roommate's death. "What do you need?"

"I...you, I need to know if you..." Blair sighed and ran a hand through his hair, unsure of how to continue. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. "I keep dreaming that you won't be able to...that you wouldn't live if I...if something happened, and I need you to promise me that that won't happen." The words were spoken in a jumble. "I know, it's pretty egotistical of me to think that your life depends on mine, kinda stupid really." He followed his words with a harsh laugh that could have been a sob and turned his head, unable to meet the detective's eyes.

"It's not stupid, Chief. I can't promise that I'll be okay without you because I wouldn't."

The shudder that racked through the shoulder under his hand had nothing to do with the temperature. "You're my Guide, Blair. I need you as much as you need me. The truth is, I don't think either one of us would be able to exist without the other." Embarrassed, Jim stopped.

The younger man turned to meet his friend's eyes again, stunned by the truth in the detective's words. It made sense, one Sentinel and one Guide, joined by an ancient bond of friendship and trust. "But what if... I mean Russo came so close, and..."

"I know." Jim's grip on the younger man's arm tightened enough to leave bruises, but Blair didn't flinch away. "All I can promise is that I'll always do everything in my power to keep you safe. That's going to have to be enough, Chief. It's all I can do."

Resting his own hand on top of his Sentinel's, the Guide spoke in a whisper, "And I'll do anything and everything to keep you safe too." He would have said more, but he was suddenly pulled into a fierce hug that he returned whole-heartedly.

Feeling the tremor of cold running through his partner, Jim broke the embrace. "Come on, let's go inside before you turn blue." Helping the younger man to stand he teased, "So, does that make you my 'Blessed Protector'?

Blair laughed, feeling the fear slide from his heart. As long as they looked out for each other, things would be fine. "Yeah, I've been taking lessons from this way over-protective cop. I think I can fill that role, man."

Chuckling, Jim lightly pushed the younger man into the warmth of the loft. "Just get your butt inside, Chief. Tell you what, lets order in some Chinese and rent a few videos. And you can treat, since I'm out a week's pay."

Laughing and joking, the two men hurried inside, shutting out the cold. Unseen by even Sentinel eyes, a sleek black jaguar watched them go, purring his approval.

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