Disclaimer: We don't own them, we just snatched them when nobody was looking. We'll give them back... eventually.

This has been a great experience! Thanks to Shy for being such a great writing partner - and letting me do all the killing. It helped to round out my days. Also thanks to Brenda for such a quick and thorough beta! Always up to the challenge! ~ Sue

~*~

If it hadn't been for Brenda's fast betaing services, it would've been another month before this sucker was posted. I appreciate it much!

And to Sue--what a cool partner! I think we complemented each other pretty well. I hope everybody enjoys reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it! ~ Shy

DISCIPLINED BREAKDOWN

Sue Pokorny and Shycat

********************

Daniel Talbot leaned against the back wall of the class room, watching in silent amazement as his friend, Blair Sandburg, weaved his spell amongst the fifth period social sciences class. Blair talked about anthropology with a passion very few were lucky enough to ever experience. The young minds before him sat in awed wonder, obviously enthralled by his lecture.

Actually, a few of the young ladies seemed to be enthralled by the long haired anthropologist himself. Mike smiled and shook his head. Sandburg always did have a way with the ladies--that obviously translated to highschool girls as well! Mike turned his attention back to the man at the front of the room who was now fielding questions from the students.

"Yeah," Blair responded to a question. "There is danger, and some anthropologists have been killed in the field--though usually by accidents. Contrary to the impression given by cartoons that show cannibals boiling their visitors, there's very rarely danger from the natives." He paused, waiting out the student's soft laughter. " But on the whole, anthropologists have been treated with a remarkable degree of kindness and tolerance. Of course, we do have our frustrations--like when we have to tangle with bureaucratic obstacles such as getting funds, visas and permits--and sometimes just getting there can be an adventure in itself."

Blair nodded at a young man in the front row.

"Do you enjoy the fieldwork?" he asked.

Blair nodded. "I love it. But, keep in mind, sometimes the physical demands of fieldwork can be extreme. Your fieldwork could be among nomadic jungle groups, as among the Siriono and Penan; or in arctic environments, as among the Eskimos and Lapps; or in places of war, such as Iran, Algeria, or Vietnam. Or even among such groups as the Mafia and street gangs of L.A."

Another question, this time from a girl near the rear of the classroom.

"What do you think is the most important part of anthropology?"

Blair thought for a moment before answering. "I think the most important part may also be the hardest: remembering that you are there to take part and observe without becoming an actual part of the community. There's always that tug to just 'go native'." His eyebrows rose up and down as his fingers traced quotation marks in the air. "The reason is that most cultures have their attractions. In modern society, most of us lead our lives narrowly--doing our jobs or going to school--just carrying out our routines. We actively participate in group life only part-time and after-hours, so to speak. In fieldwork, an anthropologist strives to participate in the native group full-time--to immerse himself in the culture in an attempt to learn all he can. This can be exhilarating and it's not hard to get pulled in. But the job of the anthropologist is not merely to experience or even join the group, but to analyze and understand it. That means walking a fine line between participant and observer, of being both inside and outside at the same time."

Before another question could be voiced, the bell rang, eliciting a groan from the class.

"Okay, everybody," Daniel said loudly, moving towards the front of the room. "That's all for today. Let's thank Mr. Sandburg for coming here today. I'm sure we all learned quite a bit from his talk."

The students applauded as they gathered up their books and began to exit the room.

Daniel extended his hand and shook his friend's, a wide grin playing on his face. "I'd say you were a hit," he said. "You had them eating out of the palm of your hand, as usual." Daniel had always marveled at the ease with which his young friend could captivate a classroom full of students.

Blair returned the smile, absently pushing a stray curl behind his ear. "They seemed more interested than most of my Intro students yesterday."

"Right," Daniel snorted. "You probably started talking about mating practices of the Sewani tribe and pulled them right back in."

"Actually, that's tomorrow's lecture," Blair grinned.

The last of the students, a young lady of admirable qualities, finally filed out, throwing a glance and a smile over her shoulder. Blair took a deep breath, his eyebrows arching high as he shook his head. "Girls did not look like that when I was in high school," he sighed.

"Times change," Daniel agreed. "I have the next period free and I seem to recall you saying something about going one-on-one on the basketball court," he challenged, abruptly changing the subject. He gathered up his briefcase and threw an arm across the shorter man's shoulder. " Shall I show you the way?" he asked, steering Blair into the hallway. "You still have that incredible three-point shot?"

********************

The game was intense, but the camaraderie between the two men overshadowed the competitiveness.

"That's game!" Blair shouted as the ball swooshed through the hoop. He held up both arms and smiled triumphantly. "Sandburg does it again!" he teased, throwing in a few breathy crowd noises for good measure.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Daniel griped good-naturedly. He retrieved the ball and joined his friend on the bleachers. Blair handed him a towel and a bottle of water. "Where in the world did you pick up that spin move?" Daniel asked as he unscrewed the lid. " You never did that in college."

"Did you like that?" Blair's grin was infectious. "I learned that from the great Orvelle Wallace himself, man." He feinted to his left, dribbling an imaginary basketball.

"You know Orvelle Wallace?" Daniel asked skeptically.

"Mm-hnn," Blair responded, completing the spin move with an air shot into the bleachers. His eyes lit up and he started rocking lightly on the balls of his feet. "There was this case Jim and I were working on - actually two cases, but the first one was really cool! Orvelle was being framed for this murder and I was the only one that believed that he was innocent, so I--"

"Whoa, Columbo!" Daniel smiled. He indicated his watch with a nod of his head. "I'd love to hear all about it, but I've got a student meeting in about five minutes. What do you say we meet tomorrow for dinner? My treat."

Blair's eyebrows shot up at the invitation. "Your treat?" he asked.

Daniel shrugged. "It's the least I can do after you spent your entire day entertaining my kids."

"Deal!"

Daniel grabbed up his case and slapped his friend on the back. "Great. Come on, I know a shortcut back to the main campus." He directed his young friend through the swinging doors at the side of the gymnasium, down a short hallway and through another set of heavier doors marked "Locker room." Two steps inside the doors, both men froze.

Before them, lying crumpled on the floor was a young man. He was leaning up against the lockers, his head slumped to the right and his arms hanging loosely at his sides. Blood matted his hair from a wound on his head, running down the left side of his face and forming a small crimson pool on the floor. He stared straight ahead, his eyes vacant and lifeless.

Blair knew he was dead.

"Oh my God!" Daniel's trembling voice forced Blair to act.

The anthropologist moved slowly across the room to crouch down next to the young man. Placing a shaking hand against the student's neck, he felt for a pulse. As he expected, he found nothing.

"Daniel," he said, trying to force the shock out of his own voice. "Call 911." He stood and turned to face the teacher whose face was a dismal shade of greenish-white. Blair knew exactly how he felt.

"Is he..." Daniel couldn't finish the quiet question, nor could he take his eyes off the body in front of him.

"Yeah," Blair responded. He moved back over to stand in front of Daniel, effectively blocking the teacher's view. Pulling out his own cell phone, he quickly dialed emergency and identified himself as a police observer. After informing the 911 operator, he carefully laid a hand on his friend's shoulder and steered him out of the locker room.

********************

The victim was not much older than his own son and Simon Banks felt no relief that Daryl did not attend this school. An eighteen year old boy had been viciously murdered and Simon knew that the killer could very likely be one of his class mates. His skin prickled at the thought. He rubbed his eyes, pushing his wire-framed glasses up as he did, trying to keep his thoughts from straying. There was no point in hiding the disgust on his face, no one else in the locker room did. Even James Ellison, hard ass detective, was ill at ease. Kids getting killed in their own schools was becoming far too common and there was no reason for any of them to accept this with good grace.

Jim was inspecting the body, hoping to catch any evidence forensics may have missed. Even through gloves, Jim's hyperactive senses would be able to catch details no other human being could. His fingers combed through blood-matted hair, pressing against the pulpy, fractured skull. In the background, Simon heard officers talking, searching for clues, clanging through lockers, trying to find something, anything to help them in this case.

Rafe and Brown had taken Blair and his friend into the gymnasium for questioning. Blair had held up admirably under the stress of their unexpected finding, but Daniel Talbot was a sickly pallor and trembling. Not used to death, Simon thought. And there was no reason he should be as a high school teacher. He might need--

"I've found something, Captain."

Simon blinked, jerking back to himself. "What is it, detective?"

"Splinters of wood embedded into the skull." Jim looked around the locker room. "Where's Serena?"

"She's out speaking with one of the officers."

Jim turned his attentions back to the corpse. "She needs to take a sample of this." He stood up, pulling the gloves off as he did. "I hate having to do this in a school."

"Tell me about it." Simon gazed upon the body. Instead he saw his son there. "We'll get this person."

Jim nodded, eyes still riveted on the corpse. "You better believe it." He focused on Simon. "I'm going to look for Blair. Remember to let Serena know about the splinters."

Simon nodded and watched his detective leave the locker room, once again letting his thoughts stray to the kid's death and the amazement that schools were unsafe anymore.

********************

"His name was Jerrit Knight. Not exactly the brightest of kids, but he was pretty popular. He played football and basketball. Was looking to go to Washington State on a football scholarship." Daniel stared at a button on his cotton shirt as he tugged at it.

Brown pressed his lips together. He and his partner exchanged sidelong glances. Rafe scribbled something into the notebook as Brown asked, "What about enemies?"

Daniel shook his head, fidgeting in his chair. Blair placed a hand on his shoulder and Daniel smiled appreciatively at him, though it faded quickly. "I've never really been very involved in student affairs. I could give you names of people I've seen him hanging around."

"That would help," Brown assured him.

The teacher rattled off names and Rafe scribbled them down, nodding when he finished. Brown nudged his partner and pointed at Daniel. He was trembling and his skin was a sickly pallor. Neither detective wanted to push the teacher when he was reacting so badly to finding the murdered teenager.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Talbot," said Rafe, closing the notebook and shoving it into his pants pocket.

Daniel nodded, but did not look up. He continued to pick at the shirt button.

"We'll talk to you later, Blair," Brown said, keeping his voice low.

Blair nodded at him and soon he and Daniel were alone in the auditorium. "How do you feel?"

"Sick," Daniel muttered. "I can't get the picture out of my head."

"Take deep breaths," Blair ordered. "Try not to think of it."

Daniel shook his head. "Yeah, easier said than done. I can't believe this happened. Damn, I can't believe it!"

It was hard for Blair to accept too, but he instilled his faith in a certain person and for that he knew the killer would not go free. "Jim will find whoever it is. I know he will."

"You have a lot of faith in him."

"He's saved my life more than once. He's the best."

********************

Jim could hear his partner's soft voice as he approached the gym. He winced slightly as Sandburg expressed his assurance that Jim would indeed capture whoever was responsible for this tragedy. The detective was a little apprehensive at times about the amount of faith Blair put in his abilities. It was a lot to have to live up to. But Sandburg's unwavering confidence along with his ability to keep Jim focused on what was important had, more than once, been enough to tip the scales in their favor. From the determination he could sense in Blair's voice now, Jim could tell that this time would be no different.

Blair had his back to the door as Jim entered the spacious room, but turned as the detective closed the space between them. One glance at the haunted expression reflected from his guide's deep blue eyes turned Jim's Blessed Protector switch on full force.

"How are you doing, Chief?" he asked, putting a hand on Blair's shoulder. He could feel the slight tremors beneath the t-shirt and squeezed slightly in support.

Blair smiled somberly at him, some of the despondency lifting from his expressive face at his partner's arrival.

"I'm okay, Jim," he responded in a low voice. He turned to the man sitting on the bleachers behind him. "This is my friend, Daniel Talbot. Daniel this is my partner, Jim Ellison."

Daniel stood and shook the detective's hand, his attempt at a smile resembling more of a grimace. "I've heard a lot about you, Detective," he said. Daniel's voice was still shaky and he had to clear his throat a few times before continuing. "Blair seems to have quite a bit of faith in you."

Jim glanced fondly at his partner, whose concerned attention remained on the teacher.

"We will find whoever did this, Mr. Talbot," Jim assured him. "Have you given your statement to the officers?"

"Rafe and H talked to us," Blair answered for him. "Daniel gave them names of a few of the victim's friends we can talk to."

"I'll get the list from Rafe." Jim assured his partner. Jim took a moment to study the obviously distressed teacher, taking note of Daniel's quick heartrate and respiration. "I'll have an officer take you home if you'd like."

Daniel took a deep, shaking breath and forced himself to stand straight. "No," he said. "That won't be necessary. I'll be alright."

"Daniel--"

"Really, Blair," the teacher assured his smaller friend. This time the slight smile reached his eyes, warmed by the concern his friend was showing. "I'll be fine. I just need some time to process all this."

Blair studied his friend's face for a moment, seemingly satisfied with what he saw.

"Okay," he agreed, placing a hand on the other man's forearm. "But if you need anything, you'll let me know?"

Daniel assured him he would call if he needed to, and , after reminding Blair that they still had plans for dinner the following evening, bid farewell to them both.

"How are you doing, Chief?" Jim asked once the teacher had left the gym. He scanned the anthropologist quickly with his senses, noting the slight acceleration of his heartbeat. He knew that Sandburg had been holding it together for the sake of his friend. But he knew Blair, and he was sure that finding the body had been as hard on the grad student as it had been on Daniel Talbot.

"I'm fine, Jim," Blair assured him. He took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead where a headache was threatening to erupt. "This kind of thing shouldn't happen in a school," he snapped, angrily pushing a stray curl behind his ear. "It shouldn't happen anywhere, but especially not a school."

"I know, Chief," Jim replied. "I'm sorry." He understood that his partner's irritation wasn't directed at him, but felt the need to apologize anyway. "We'll get whoever did this."

Blair nodded, the fury in his eyes matching the unnatural coldness of his voice. "You're damn right we will."

********************

Jim sat on the edge of the couch, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasped firmly together in front of him. He glanced at the old fashioned grandfather clock nestled in the corner of the living room and sighed, trying to keep his impatience at bay as another minute ticked by. Mrs. Madison had gone upstairs only a short while ago to get her son, Cody.

She had informed them that Cody had been terribly distraught over the death of his friend Jerrit Knight. Word must have spread quickly at the school because Mrs. Madison had explained that Cody had come straight home after learning of the tragedy. They had been best friends since grade school and Cody was, understandably, having a hard time dealing with the news. Jim had convinced her that it was necessary to ask Cody a few questions in order to further the investigation. She had finally relented, asking the detective and his partner to wait in the living room while she went upstairs to retrieve her son.

Jim looked over his right shoulder where Blair stood motionless, staring out of the large picture window. The young man had not spoken much since leaving the high school. Jim had kept his hearing tuned to his guide's heartbeat. The familiar rhythm had remained at a slightly accelerated level, indicating that the anthropologist's anger had not diminished. Jim was not surprised. Blair had become adept at handling most of the things he had been forced to witness on a day to day basis as Jim's partner--at least on the surface. The younger man was still plagued by nightmares from time to time, but he had learned to handle it. Jim sometimes regretted that his partner had been forced to accept the cold reality that came with police work, but he also admired Sandburg's resiliency and ability to continually look for the good in people. According to Blair, nothing was completely black and white, if you looked hard enough, you could always find shades of grey.

Footsteps on the stairs brought Jim's attention back to the present. He stood as Mrs. Madison approached, leading an obviously nervous young man with short cropped blonde hair and red rimmed eyes.

"Cody," Mrs. Madison addressed her son. "This is Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg. They would like to ask you a few questions about Jerrit."

Cody nodded and glanced from Jim to Blair, his brow furrowing a bit as he recognized the anthropologist. "You spoke in Mr. Talbot's class today, right?"

Blair moved around the end of the couch to stand next to Jim. "Yeah. You were in second period, right?"

Cody nodded, pleased that the anthropologist had remembered him. "I really enjoyed your lecture," Cody told him, his earlier apprehension abating somewhat as Sandburg managed to work his magic.

Jim was content to wait and watch, knowing they would get more from the young man if he was relaxed. He smiled at Mrs. Madison, whose relief and gratitude was apparent on her face.

"My mom said you were with the police?" Cody asked. He glanced at Jim, some of his apprehension returning.

Blair directed the boy to sit beside him on the couch. "I'm kind of a consultant to the department," he explained. "We need a little information about Jerrit. You know things like who he hung around with, anyone who might have had a beef with him, things like that. Do you think you're up to answering a few questions?"

Cody nodded slowly. "I think so." He ducked his head at the mention of his friend's name.

Blair had seen the tears well up in the young man's eyes and laid a light hand on his shoulder.

"I know it's hard, Cody," he said softly. "But we really need your help."

Cody swallowed hard and nodded. He wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt and looked at Jim with determination. "What do you want to know?"

Jim took a seat on the chair facing the couch and opened his notebook.

"Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt Jerrit?"

Cody thought for a moment before shaking his head. "No. Not really. Jerrit's a pretty easy going guy. Everybody likes him."

Jim nodded. He wondered if the kid knew he was still talking about his friend in the present tense.

"Do you know if Jerrit had any arguments with anyone lately?" Blair asked.

"No," Cody answered. "Unless you count Karra. But that was over two weeks ago. I'm sure she's over it by now."

"Who's Karra?" Jim asked. He scanned his notes, but did not find the name on his list.

"Karra Velasquz," Cody explained. "She and Jerrit were going out for a while. Not for very long, though. She went all schitzo on him and he broke it off."

Blair and Jim exchanged looks. "What do you mean? What happened?"

"She just got all possessive and stuff," Cody answered the detective's question. "Jer just didn't want to deal with her, so he told her it was over. She didn't take it very well at first. She would show up after practice or wait for him at his locker between classes. But she must've taken the hint, 'cause after a few days she backed off."

Jim nodded and jotted a few things down in his notebook.

"Can you think of anything else?"

Cody shook his head, the tears once again threatening. "Like I said. Jerrit's a great guy."

Jim couldn't look at Cody. Instead, he kept it business. "Do you know where Karra Velasquez lives?"

"Yeah. She lives on Gaines Drive. 7601. It's the small, gray house." He shrugged one shoulder. "Karra lives with just her mom. They don't really have a lot of money."

Jim scribbled down the address, closed his notebook and stood, motioning for his partner to follow suit. "Thank you, Cody. I know that must have been difficult for you." He pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to the young man. "If you think of anything else, give me call."

"Yes, sir." Cody said, accepting the card. He smiled at Blair, who gave him a pat on the arm before standing and following his partner out the door.

They walked down the front steps of the porch towards the truck which was parked against the curb. "So," Blair said as he climbed into the pickup. "What now?"

Jim placed the key in the ignition and started the truck, glancing behind his shoulder before pulling out into the suburban street. "Now, we have a chat with Miss Velasquez..."

********************

Cody would not have had to say a thing for it to be apparent to Jim and Blair that Karra and her mother did not have much money. The neighborhood was cramped by the houses built in close quarters and cars parked in driveways and the side of the road. Someone several houses down was playing rap music ten times too loud. Or that was what Jim thought. If they weren't here to interview Velasquez he'd have been tempted to call in the complaint for disturbing the peace. There was no car in the driveway in the house Cody had said Karra lived at.

"Is anyone home?" Blair asked, as Jim pulled into the driveway.

Jim turned off the truck then tilted his head to the side. "One person. Music's playing." He made a face. "More rap. Must be Miss Velasquez."

Blair chuckled as he got out of the truck, knowing Jim's disdain for "modern" music.

A young woman, appearing around the age of seventeen, dark hair and eyes, and light mocha-colored skin, answered the door. The door only opened partially, kept in place by a chain. Through the small opening her eyes passed between Blair and Jim. "Can I help you?"

Jim showed her his badge, giving her time to inspect it carefully. "I'm Detective James Ellison with the Cascade PD." He motioned to Blair. "This is my partner, Blair Sandburg."

Her eyes widened and her voice trembled. "What happened? Is it my mom?" Her heart sped up slightly.

"I was informed that you knew a Mr. Jerrit Knight. Is this true?"

She nodded, still keeping the door chained, but showing no signs of backing off. "Yeah. We went out for a while. Is he ..." She swallowed. "Is he okay?"

Jim sighed, closing his eyes, trying to brace himself. He'd done this many times in his career, but it never became easier. "Miss Velasquez, I'm very sorry. Mr. Knight was found dead on the high school campus this afternoon."

She shook her head, eyes misting over. "No ... no. That, that can't be true. I just saw him today. Just this morning. He was fine."

"He was murdered." He hated this part.

Tears slid down her cheeks. "Shit," she whispered. "I can't believe it."

"I'm sorry, ma'am." He really hated this part. "I know this may be too soon, but I was wondering if we could ask you a few questions?"

"Uh. Um. It's kind of sudden, you know?"

"I know, ma'am. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. We want to bring Mr. Knight's killer to justice and you may be able to help."

She nodded. "Right. Yeah." She unhooked the chain and opened the door, allowing Jim and Blair into the house. There was little furniture, the walls were a dull white, and on a coffee table beside a very worn-looking couch were several half-empty liquor bottles. She looked over at them when she noticed Jim and Blair staring at them. "Um, my mom sometimes needs a drink or two to calm her nerves. It's not a big deal."

Jim bit the inside of his cheek. Not a big deal, so she said. He wasn't sure about that, but he didn't want to bring it up at this moment. Miss Velasquez had enough on her mind as it was.

She ushered them towards the couch, flinging plastic bags, clothes, and magazines off of it. "Sit here. Are you okay?" She looked directly at Blair, as if for the first time seeing him. She smiled a little. "You're Mr. Sandburg--rom Mr. Talbot's class. You were very good. I didn't even know what anthropology was until today."

Blair returned her smile. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

Karra settled herself onto a chair that sat diagonal from the couch.

Jim had his notebook pulled out now. "How long were you and Mr. Knight 'going out'?"

"Um, a few weeks I think." The smile had disappeared and she began wringing her hands, staring down at them glumly.

"Who broke up with whom?"

Her head snapped up, tears glistening in her eyes. "Why? Am I a suspect?"

"No, no, ma'am," Jim hastily reassured her. "I just need to collect all of the facts. No one is under suspicion at this time. It helps the investigation if we can find out as much about the victim as possible."

Karra settled down and nodded carefully, as if testing the words in her mind. "Okay." She took in a shuddery breath. "He broke up with me. I guess things just didn't work out. For a while I was really broke up about it, but I got over it. Still--" she shrugged--"I never wanted something like this to happen to him. I still cared about him."

Jim nodded, writing down notes as he asked, "Do you know anyone who may have wanted to hurt Mr. Knight?"

"Ummm..." She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes. She looked up at Jim again, meeting his gaze. "I really don't know who would have it in for, Jerrit. I'm sorry. I guess I'm not being much help."

"I have one more question I'd like to ask you." He paused, but she remained silent. "Were you at school all day today?"

She nodded. "I was in class until 2:45... After that I had to catch my bus."

Jim jotted something down. He rose from the couch, slipping the notebook into his pocket, then slid out a card, handing it to her as she got up as well. "This is my number. If you remember anything please don't hesitate to call. I may also have other questions for you."

She nodded, the frown still attached to her face. "I understand. I hope I could help." She wiped at her eyes. "This is so overwhelming. I guess you'll have to give me a while to digest it anyway." She gave him a weak smile and they shook hands. She looked at Blair and gripped his hand warmly. "It was nice seeing you again, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair gave her a reassuring smile. "I wish it could have been under better circumstances. If you ever need someone to talk to about this, just to vent steam, call Jim and have him get a hold of me."

"Thanks. That's great of you." She followed them to the door and stood just inside the house, with the door partly open until Jim had backed completely out of the driveway.

********************

"Okay, Jim," Blair said carefully. "Spill it." Jim had been unusually silent since leaving Karra Velasquez' house and Blair had waited patietly for his partner to voice whatever was on his mind.

"Spill what?" Jim asked, making a right turn on Madison. He glanced innocently at the anthropologist, and was met with a look of reproach. "Okay," he sighed."There was just something about Karra Velasquez that didn't ring true." He had been trying to come up with a reason for the uneasy feeling he had gotten while speaking with the young woman but had so far not been able to pinpoint the problem. Her reaction had been text book--shock, tears, confusion. All appropriate responses to the situation. Then why did Jim have a nagging feeling that it was more of an act than a genuine reaction?

"Developing an enhanced sixth sense there, big guy?" Blair chided. When Jim threw him an exasperated look, he simply shrugged. "She was probably just shocked, man. We just told her her ex-boyfriend was murdered. Besides, you can come across as rather intimidating when you're doing your Joe Friday impersonation."

Jim shook his head and made a left turn. "I was monitoring her heartbeat, Chief. It was accelerated from the time she opened the door until we left. When I mentioned that Jerrit Knight was murdered, it didn't fluctuate. It was like she already knew."

"Maybe she got the news from someone at school," Blair suggested. "You know how fast something like this can spread."

Jim was still shaking his head, his forehead furrowed in concentration. "Then why put on the act at all? Why not just tell us she had already heard."

"She was scared, Jim. She's just a kid."

Jim sighed and rubbed his neck. "Yeah, maybe you're right." He had to admit that it would have been difficult for someone of Karra's size to take out a kid as big as Jerrit Knight. It would be like Sandburg wrestling with Hulk Hogan. He knew that the scenario wasn't entirely impossible. He had seen Blair take on men a lot bigger than himself and come out victorious by using his wits and razor sharp mind, so he was not about to write off any suspect just because of size or, for that matter, gender. But he had to admit that Blair did have a point. Maybe she was just scared. Jim mentally shrugged, deciding to trust his partner's instincts and give the girl the benefit of the doubt... for now. Unfortunately, that put them right back to square one. No suspects. Not even a hint as to who might have wanted to see Jerrit Knight dead.

********************

"Hey, Jim!"

Ellison turned towards the familiar voice of Henri Brown just as he stepped through the doors of Major Crimes.

"Serena wants to see you. She said to meet her in the lab."

Jim thanked him and changed direction, motioning for Blair to follow him back into the elevator.

Serena looked up as soon as the detective and his partner entered the lab. She immediately motioned them over to the far side of the room, taking a seat on a stool in front of a long counter and picking up a stapled report.

"Hi, Serena," Jim greeted her. "You have something for me?"

"I think so. I checked the fibers that were imbedded in the skull." She handed Jim the report and a small bag containing a few blood stained fragments. She leaned back and folded her arms as the detective scanned the small type, his partner scooting up to read around his shoulder. "They seem to be a type of processed wood. Ash to be specific."

"Ash?" Jim asked absently.

"Mm hmm. Whatever the murder weapon was, it was definately made out of wood."

"Like maybe a baseball bat?" Blair suggested, his mind working quickly in an attempt to connect this new information with the victim.

"That would fit," Jim agreed. "Jerrit Knight was found in the locker room. The school would keep most of the athletic equipment somewhere near there. If our suspect was smart enough, he would have been able to slip the murder weapon back in with the other equipment."

"Kind of a hide-in-plain-sight approach?"

Jim nodded. "I think we'd better head back to the school, Chief. If we can find the murder weapon, we just may have ourselves a lead."

********************

Blair opened the small plastic bag and held it out to his partner.

"Okay, Jim," he said, his voice low and smooth in what he had come to regard as his "guide tone." "Just close your eyes and let your sense of smell take over." He waited a moment while the Sentinel relaxed, obeying the young man's directions without hesitation. Since it was considered a crime scene in an on-going investigation, the locker room had been taped off and considered off limits to the students and staff.

Noting the detective's now relaxed demeanor, Blair carefully layed a light hand on his partner's arm to ground him and instructed him to inhale the scents from the bag. Jim complied, his brow furrowing suddenly.

"What is it?" Blair asked, concerned.

"Blood," Jim answered, a look of distaste crossing his chiseled features.

"Just filter it out," Blair instructed, never changing the soft tone of his voice. "You know how. Categorize it and ignore it."

The Sentinel's expression eased as he complied with his guide's directive.

"Okay," Blair continued. "Can you smell the wood?"

"Yes."

"Good. Focus on that." He reached up and pulled the bag away. "Now I need you to concentrate on that scent."

Jim rasied his head, his eyes closed in concentration. Suddenly he turned and marched towards a caged room hidden behind the far row of lockers. Opening the wire door, they were met by a large assortment of sports equipment layed out on the rows of shelving which were built into the walls of the small room. There were more than a dozen bats stacked vertically against a stand in the middle of the shelves. There were only three wooden bats, the rest being of the newer aluminum variety. Blair waited quietly, watching as his partner carefully examined the bats. Jim shook his head slightly and Blair let out a sigh of dissapointment.

"Maybe we're going about this wrong," he said partially to himself. "Jim, try focusing on the scent of the blood. See if you can detect it anywhere in this room."

Jim nodded silently and closed his eyes again. Suddenly his head jerked up and he opened his eyes. He moved back into the shadows of the room. walking slowly to the rear wall and kneeled down. Pulling a hankerchief from his pocket, he reached out with it and extracted an old wooden bat from underneath the last set of shelves.

"Can you tell if it's the murder weapon?" Blair asked softly. Even after all the years he had been working with Jim, he still found himself amazed at what the Sentinel's senses could do.

Jim squinted in the faint light, letting his eyesight focus on the smooth surface of the bat. He allowed himself a satisfied smile when his vision picked up the faint traces of blood embedded in the wood.

"I think we just found that lead, Chief."

********************

Simon sat at his desk, listening patiently to his detective. Ellison stood stiffly--part of his army training, Simon had always guessed--and gave a brief rundown of what they had discovered. Clashing with the calm, controlled detective was Blair Sandburg, who was characteristically bouncing on his heels and watching his partner intently. A hint of admiration sparkled in the anthropologist's eyes.

"After Serena checked the prints, we ran them through our data base. His name is Martin Holland. He served some time in a juvenile detection facility for aggravated assault on a fellow student."

Simon raised his eyebrows. "Kid's already got a past record, huh? I thought that sort of thing was supposed to get him expelled from school?"

"His lawyer managed to get the charges dismissed. His school records are actually commendable. Before the juvy offense he was never even sent to detention, never showed up to school late, missed at the most two days of school in the year. He was suspended for the remaining school year and they made him start his senior year over. He was supposed to graduate last year."

Simon pursed his lips as he tossed this through his mind. So the offense had taken place within the last year. Aggravated assault. Fingerprints on the murder weapon. Angry more than likely at being pushed back in school. "I think you better talk with this kid, Jim. Watch him carefully."

Jim nodded. "Yes, sir. Come on, Chief. Looks like we're actually getting somewhere now."

Blair bounced a couple more times for good measure, then followed his partner out of the office. Simon noted with some amusement that Blair had been restraining himself the entire time. He didn't blame the kid one bit. He was relieved to finally have a break in the case too. His nerves had been shot since finding the murder victim and at night the only thing he could think was, 'That could've been Daryl.'

********************

Martin Holland's address took them to a neighborhood only a block away from Karra Velasquez's home. It was also run down and overcrowded. The '69 Ford pulled behind a compact Escort that had to be at least fifteen years old.

The distance between Karra's house and Martin's was marked and noted in Ellison's mental file cabinet, but Blair was the one to voice it.

"I wonder if Martin Holland and Karra Velasquez know each other."

Jim turned the truck off and they both watched the house, as if it might spring to life. "It's possible. Guess we'll have to find out."

A small, nervous looking woman answered the door. She peered through thick-framed glasses at them, her eyes narrowing as Jim flashed his badge and introduced himself and his partner.

"What's this about?" she demanded, eyes twitching back and forth between them.

"We were hoping we could talk to you and your son. A young man at your son's high school was murdered."

A small gasp escaped her and she raised a slender hand to her mouth. "Oh no. But what does this have to do with us?"

"Your son's fingerprints were found on the murder weapon."

It was moments like these, just like the ones with Cody and Karra, that made Jim ever question his decision to become a cop. Dangerous criminals he could handle. Hanging off the railings of a bucking helicopter he could handle. Being shot at, diving off cliffs into raging rivers, chasing desperate suspects in his precious truck through crowded streets (sometimes through sidewalks, too), he could handle. However, telling someone the worst possible news and watching them break into tears as they struggled to remain calm, was definitely the worst part of the job.

"He couldn't have," Mrs. Martin pleaded between catches of breath. She removed her glasses, wiped at her eyes, and sniffed. "He's not a bad kid. Really. Oh. Um. Please come in."

She opened the door wider and they stepped in. Like the Velasquez's, it was small and sparse, but unlike theirs it was kept neatly. No liquor bottles littered the coffee tables and no clothes and magazines were strewn about. She motioned them to the kitchen.

"Do you know anything about your son's friends or enemies?" Jim asked before she could disappear to retrieve her son.

"No," she admitted, appearing embarrassed by the fact. "Marty is a very private kid. I don't know that he has very many friends, or that he makes any enemies."

"So he's not involved in any extra curricular activities at his school?"

"She nodded, staring at the table, absent mindedly thrumming her fingers against it. She showed no signs of either sitting down or taking off. "He's an equipment manager."

Blair and Jim exchanged looks. Jim's that of a proof being established and Blair's pained. Before they had met the mother, Blair had been excited at a break in the case. Now that he was faced with the tears he was beginning to doubt the kid's guilt.

'Don't get attached, Chief,' Jim silently warned his partner. He knew how easy Blair fell for people, how attached he became. But in this profession it just didn't work. They had to keep an open mind to all possibilities and all suspects.

Mrs. Holland glanced to the kitchen's open entryway. "Would you like to speak to Martin now?"

"Yes, ma'am." Jim nodded.

Jim or Blair said nothing to each other as they waited for Martin Holland to be brought to them. Blair had never been involved in a murder that had taken place on the high school campus and that the suspects were teenagers themselves didn't make matters any easier. Jim sensed that he'd have to talk this out with Blair later, but now was not the time.

Martin walked into the kitchen followed by his mother. He resembled her with the small frame, mousy face, and thick glasses. His hair hung down across his eyes and a silver earring glinted from his left ear lobe. His hands were fidgeting in front of him, sometimes wringing, sometimes rubbing his arms, but never staying still. And though he looked the part of the shy, nervous teenager his voice was deep and steady when he spoke.

"Mom says I'm a suspect in a murder. If I am, I guess I should know who was murdered."

"His name was Jerrit Knight. He was a senior. That would be your class, wouldn't it?"

"Now it is." There was no mistaking the bitterness. "So what's your evidence?"

"We found the murder weapon. Jerrit was killed with a bat. The fingerprints on it are yours."

Martin's face reddened and he looked ready to blow up at Jim until his mother placed a comforting arm on his shoulder. He glanced at her gratefully, then turned back to the detective, his control still intact. "Of course the fingerprints on the bat would be mine. I handle all of the sports equipment. That's my job. I handle it more than anyone else. In fact, before it was used to kill Jerrit I was probably the last one to have it. Did it ever occur to either one of you that I'm being framed?"

"It occurred," Jim stated calmly. No reason to rile the kid up. "What was your relationship to Jerrit?"

Martin shrugged in an offhand manner. "There was none. We barely got along as it was. He was the popular jock everyone liked with the pretty girl that he didn't deserve."

This caught both Jim and Blair's attention. Blair straightened in his seat and Jim leaned forward. "Karra Velasquez?"

Martin raised his eyebrows. "You know about her already? Yeah. Jerrit didn't deserve her. Karra was everything he didn't deserve. Beautiful, smart, and fun. But because she's poor like me, Jerrit wouldn't have anything to do with her. He's an asshole. I know it sounds bad for me to be saying this, but he deserved what he got."

This was a new tune to the song they were hearing so far. Everyone they had talked to so far had spoke highly of Jerrit. Now they were being presented with an entirely new light. Jim rose from his chair, Blair shadowing his movements. He reached out a hand, Mrs. Holland walked forward and took it. There was a slight tremble in her hand, but he could feel an inner strength in her. He didn't expect Martin to shake his hand, but the young man did. It was fierce and Jim sensed a challenge there.

Whether the challenge was to prove his innocence or to prove him to be the killer, Jim didn't know.

********************

They didn't get home until late that night. Jim kept a discreet eye on Blair. He didn't want his friend to know he was worried about him. Blair would go off on one of his 'Stop treating me like a kid' spiels. Jim would try to explain he wasn't trying to treat Blair like a kid. As the argument usually went, Blair would then demand to know why Jim felt such a strong compulsion to protect him from all that was wrong with the world. This was the part where Jim faltered and could never quite get an explanation out. Even he was at a loss to explain how an ex-Army Ranger, who had been long hardened to theatrocities man could inflict upon man had developed such a soft spot for one Blair Sandburg. He wouldn't admit it out loud, but there was always the strong need in him to protect Blair. It went way beyond protection from physical harm. It was pointless and ridiculous, but Jim wanted to protect Blair from everything.

He still couldn't get the scene from earlier this afternoon out of his head. Blair sitting in the gym with his friend, Daniel Talbot. The false attempt at bravado he had made. The slightly pale complexion. The trembling Blair had tried to hide.

Blair had wanted the killer just as much as the rest of them. But the suspects they were confronted with were now filed under Blair's 'Friendly Faces' folder. It was a large folder, Jim was sure. Even after being kidnapped by Iris and her boyfriend, Chance, Blair had been unable to blame her. She's young, he had said. So were the suspects in this murder.

Blair had already thrown his stuff into his bedroom and was now rifling through the refrigerator. Leftovers, more than likely. Jim couldn't imagine Blair wanting to cook after the day they'd had.

"Y'okay, Chief?" Jim plopped himself down on the sofa and fiddled with the remote control. He didn't turn the TV on.

"I'm fine, Jim."

'Nice try, Sandburg.' "What do you think of our suspects?"

"Suspects?" There was some banging in the kitchen (sounded like he was attacking the rotisserie chicken) and the refrigerator was slammed shut. "I thought Martin Holland was our only suspect."

"You don't think Karra Velasquez qualifies?"

"To be perfectly honest ... no, I don't."

There was a brief period of silence. "Is this where you're going to give me another 'Check your humanity at the door' speech? How can I, man?"

"I wasn't going to say anything like that."

"Maybe not, but you were thinking it. I know you were. I shouldn't let the fact that they're human, that they're just kids bother me. I don't want to believe that either one of them's a suspect."

"Which brings us back to square one." He said it calmly, but he knew the reaction it would elicit from Sandburg.

If he'd turned around to look at Blair, Jim imagined his young friend's lips would be set in a thin line, eyes narrowed, and hands working busily on whatever piece of food he'd decided to retrieve from the refrigerator. In other words, he knew Blair was pissed.

"It's just not right," Blair said. "They're kids." As if that were all the explanation in the world he needed.

Jim turned on the TV. He closed his eyes. "So was Jerrit Knight."

********************

Blair walked down the semi-deserted hallway, lost in a myriad of thoughts. He smiled absently at the few students he encountered, still trying to piece together all the pieces of information floating around in his head. He hated the fact that two of their main suspects were kids, but he also knew that Jim was right. No matter how unfair it seemed to focus the investigation on Karra Velasquez and Martin Holland, the greater injustice had been committed on Jerrit Knight. They owed it to the young man to find his killer - no matter to whom the trail might lead.

He had just spent the better part of the last hour going over the school transcripts of both Karra Velasquez and Martin Holland. It had taken quite a bit of maneuvering to convince the School Superintendent to allow them access to the transcripts. Since the transcripts had contained both academic records as well as profiles and reports from the school counselors and administrators, they should have had to get a court order before being allowed access. But a court order had not been necessary. The murder of a popular student on school grounds was not something that could be easily accepted and the school board had vowed to do whatever was necessary to help the police find the party responsible.

Blair had been surprised when Simon had asked him to go over the files. He had expected one of the department psychologists to be tagged for the job. Instead, Simon had summoned him into his office and explained that Blair's psychology degree, coupled with his status as a teacher and student at Rainier made him uniquely qualified to assess the information in the school files. Blair had started to disagree with the Captain, but Jim's words from the previous night had come back to him. He still couldn't believe that Karra was capable of murder, but they owed it to Jerrit Knight to do whatever they could, so he had agreed to look at the files.

Now he wished he hadn't.

Karra's file had been filled with conflicting reports from teachers and counselors. It was almost like they had been describing two entirely different people. The psychologist had written that she was prone to violent mood swings which stemmed from her less than idyllic home life. There were also reports of various injuries over the years which were explained as "accidents" --black eyes from walking into doors, a sprained wrist from falling on the stairs, bruises and cuts from other falls--classic signs of abuse.

Blair had barely been able to contain his rage as he read report after report, wondering why the school had never taken the initiative to contact the authorities over what was obviously a case of child abuse. His own nomadic childhood had not been perfect, but at least he had known that Naomi loved him. That she would always do whatever she could to protect him. Karra Velasquez, it seemed, had never had that kind of security. Her father had left when she was less than a year old and her mother seemed to take little interest in her daughter's life. According to the records, she had never attended one parent/teacher conference, and the few times she had responded to requests from the school, she had kept her participation to a minimum.

Blair had forced himself to read on, silently envying Jim his ability to keep his emotions in check. That was a feat he doubted he would ever be able to master.

Martin Holland's file proved just as depressing as Karra's. Up until his freshman year in high school, Martin had been a good student, pulling down mostly B's and the occasional A. He had been involved in band and was listed as an equipment manager for the Junior Varsity baseball and softball teams. While never a popular student, Martin seemed to have his own clique of friends and had kept out of trouble for the most part. Halfway through his freshman year, Martin's father had died. According to the newspaper report which was included in the file, Martin Holland, Sr. was a driver for a local trucking company who was on his way home from a long trip across country. According to police, Holland had fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed the center line, colliding head on with an oncoming van. Holland, as well as the family of four in the van had been killed on impact.

After his father's death, Martin Holland, Jr. had changed. Teachers reported him as belligerent and distracting in class. He had been suspended four times for violent behavior including a fight in the locker room with another student. His grades had dropped until he was barely managing Cs and Ds, and he had quit most of the extracurricular activities he had been involved in.

Blair had closed the files, having read enough. He was not allowed to take the files from school grounds, but had taken careful notes and had, he believed, enough information for the police to use in their investigation.

Now, as he neared the open door of Daniel's classroom, a familiar female voice tinged with anger, brought his thoughts back to the present.

"This is so not fair, Mr. Talbot!"

"I'm sorry, Karra." Daniel's voice was patient and soft. "But I warned you weeks ago that you were failing. I even gave you plenty of opportunities for extra-credit to save your grade."

"But I just didn't have the time! There was no way that I could--"

"I'm sorry, Karra." Daniel sounded tired. But his voice held a hint of finality.

"You can't do this to me. I won't let you!"

The explosion of the door outward startled Blair and he jumped back just in time to avoid colliding with a very pissed off Karra Velasquez.

"Whoa," he smiled, catching her arm just as much to restore his own precarious balance as the young woman's.

"Mr. Sandburg," she returned the smile. The hard lines of anger on her face were suddenly gone and he found himself looking into the sweet face of an angel. "I'm so sorry," Karra continued in a soft voice. "I'm so clumsy."

"No harm done," Blair stammered, unnerved by the girl's sudden swing of emotions. The venom that had been in her voice only seconds ago was entirely gone, replaced with a seductive innocence that Blair had seen employed by women much older.

Karra smiled and batted her long dark lashes and Blair took another step back, increasing the distance between them.

"Blair!"

Blair breathed a sigh of relief as Daniel stepped through the door. The teacher took in the nervous smile on his friend's face as well as the seductive one on Karra's and quickly drew a conclusion.

"Karra," he said sternly. "You know that there is no loitering on school grounds after hours."

Blair watched as Karra's eyes turned darker, the lines of her face hardening as she returned Daniel's stare.

"I was just leaving." She turned back to Blair, the innocence back in place. "Thanks again, Mr. Sandburg." Her eyes lingered on the anthropologist a moment longer before she turned and slowly walked down the corridor.

Daniel watched his friend, grinning at the obvious relief on his face as Karra turned a corner at the far end of the hall. "It must be hell to be so irresistible."

Blair glared at his friend,. He took a deep breath and unsuccessfully tried to contain a shudder.

"What the hell was that?"

"Don't tell me you never had a student hit on you."

"Well, yeah," Blair stammered, "But my students are adults, man. She's just a kid!"

Daniel laughed sadly and stared down the hallway where Karra had disappeared. "Some kids have to grow up a lot faster than others. That was just Karra's way of getting attention." Blair could detect the hint of sorrow in his voice. "It's sad, but sometimes these girls feel like using sex is their best option."

"Hell of an option," Blair commented.

Daniel nodded in agreement and changed the subject. "So what brings you back to these hallowed halls?"

"I was here doing some research for Jim. I just thought I'd drop by and see if we were still on for tonight. You did say you were buying, right?"

Daniel laughed and placed an arm around the shorter man's shoulders. "Not going to let me weasel out of that one, are you?"

"Not on your life."

"Well, then I guess we're on. Pick me up around 7:00"

********************

Blair clicked the 'print' button on the computer screen and anxiously looked up at the clock on the wall of the bullpen. If he hurried, he could still make it back to the loft and change before he picked up Daniel. He had arrived back at the station around 5:00 with the intention of writing up his report for Captain Banks so that he would have it for his meeting with the commissioner in the morning. He didn't know if what he had learned from the school files would be of any use to Simon or Jim, but he knew that they needed all the information they could find if they were going to have any chance of finding Jerrit Knight's killer.

"Ready to call it a night, Chief?"

Blair looked up into the tired eyes of his partner who had just exited the Captain's office after a long meeting. The two had been going over the evidence so that Simon could present a clear and concise picture of the case for the commissioner. The press had pounced on the story, drawing parallels with the cases in Colorado and Georgia that had recently been in the media spotlight, putting pressure of the commissioners office to resolve the case as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"I'm just waiting for the report to print, Jim." He glanced back up at the clock again and bounced a few times in the chair, urging the laser printer to hurry. " Has this thing always been this slow? I told Daniel I'd pick him up around 7:00"

Jim laughed and motioned for Blair to vacate the chair. "Why don't you go ahead. I'll wait for the reports. You two have a good time."

Blair could have kissed him. "Thanks, man," he said gratefully. He grabbed his coat and backpack before quickly moving toward the elevators. "Don't wait up!"

********************

Blair pulled into the driveway of the condo and parked the Volvo directly behind Daniel's silver Neon. Crosstown traffic had been light and he had managed to only be a little late. Walking past the well maintained shrubbery, Blair knocked on the door, humming the new song from Fastball that had just been playing on the radio.

As soon as he had left the station, his mood had started to lighten. He was really looking forward to this time with his old friend. They had a lot of good memories between the two of them and Blair was sure that Daniel needed a night away from the cold reality of the case as much as Blair did. He knocked on the door again, leaning forward to place his ear on the surface of the wood. It was times like this when the anthropologist really envied Jim's hyper senses.

"Daniel?" he called, craning his neck and looking up at the door, wishing he could see through it with some kind of x-ray vision. Another few moments of silence answered him. He walked back over to Daniel's car and placed a hand on the hood.

Cold.

Okay. Daniel usually left the school close to 4:30 or 5:00. That means the car would have been here for close to two hours. More than enough time for the engine to cool down. He could just be out in the neighborhood somewhere. Maybe he went for a walk and had lost track of time.

Blair couldn't bring himself to believe that. Daniel was more anal than Jim about schedules. No. He had told Blair to pick him up at 7:00. Barring some kind of emergency or natural disaster, Daniel would never stand his friend up.

Blair returned to the door and bent down, pulling a key from underneath a large rock behind the bushes. Daniel had always kept a spare key under a rock just outside the door in case of emergencies. Blair hoped that this one was a false alarm.

He slowly opened the door and poked his head into the front foyer of the condo.

"Daniel?" he called, his eyes searching the entry for any sign of movement. "Come on, man. This isn't funny."

Blair entered the condo and closed the door behind him. He took a few steps forward and craned his neck to see around the open archway to his right. What he saw made his heart stop.

The couch had been overturned as well as the end table. The ceramic lamp lay broken in pieces on the hard wood floor, papers and books strewn across the room in a haphazard pattern of destruction. His eyes finally came to rest on the still figure, lying in a pool of blood, the bottom part of his body hidden behind the over-stuffed recliner.

Part of Blair wanted to run to his friend, but another, more rational part knew that it was pointless. Daniel's glassy eyes stared straight ahead, dead and unseeing. A large wound on the left side of his head dripped blood into the growing pool that puddled beneath his head. Blair felt a tightness in his chest and forced himself to breathe. He moved into the room on rubbery legs and kneeled down next to his friend. With a shaking hand, he reached forward placing his fingers against Daniel's neck.

"Oh, God, no," he whispered softly. He sat down abruptly and simply stared at the lifeless body that had once been his friend. "I'm so sorry, Daniel."

He wiped the tears from his cheek and fumbled for his cell phone, hitting the speed dial for Jim's cell.

"Ellison."

"He's dead, Jim," Blair spoke in a flat tone, devoid of any emotion. He drew his knees up to his chest to ward off the cold he could feel beginning to seep into his body. "Daniel's dead."

********************

The lights blurred by. He was driving as fast he could and still be safe, but it wasn't fast enough. The shock and resignation in Blair's voice was more than he could take. Things had completely blown up in their face and neither one of them had been prepared. Most certainly not Blair.

But what exactly could he say? 'I'm sorry, Chief. I know he was a friend of yours'? Under the circumstances that reassurance would sound false and hollow. Something to mask the pain, not ease it. And Blair was in pain. Immense pain. He just didn't know it yet.

He pulled up to the condo, subconsciously pleased he had beat the emergency vehicles. They shouldn't be far behind, but he wanted a moment alone with Blair before the chaos sat in. He jumped out of the truck, already focused on the heartbeat inside the house. It was a little too fast, but under the circumstances that was understandable.

A few steps into the condo he was greeted with the mess Blair had seen only moments earlier - the overturned couch and end table, the broken lamp, the books and papers spread everywhere. Then his eyes alighted upon Blair and he momentarily forgot to breathe. The young man was sitting on the hard floor, his knees pulled close to his chest and his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. He rocked slightly, his eyes blankly staring at Daniel Talbot's lifeless body.

Jim crept forward, not wanting to startle his friend. "Chief?"

No answer.

"Hey, buddy. You with me?"

Still no reply.

He came up beside Blair and dropped to his knees. He placed a hand on Blair's shoulder and shook it. "Come on, kid. I think you better get up now."

The anthropologist suddenly came to life. He jerked, his eyelids fluttering and he grasped out with one arm, that instantly snatched Jim's shirt sleeve. He turned wide eyes on the detective, moisture gathering there, but still tinged with shock. The hand on Jim's arm squeezed harder, as if it were a support connecting him to reality.

"Jim ..." His voice broke. He tried to look at the body, but Jim stopped him by gripping him under the arms and helping him to his feet. He kept Blair's back to the corpse.

"It's okay, Blair. The rest will be along shortly. Why don't we go outside and get some fresh air?" He could hear the wail of sirens in the distance. It would be about one minute until they reached the condo.

Blair nodded, keeping his tight grip on Jim's arm. "Yeah. Good idea." His words were breathy, as if he'd been punched in the gut.

The cool air outside seemed to help a little. The initial shock was beginning to wear off and Jim wasn't really sure what to expect when the cold reality set in. Blair raked his shaking hands through his hair and began pacing back and forth, while Jim stood his distance, monitoring him carefully. The death of a friend would be terrible for anyone, but finding the friend's dead body would be traumatic. So far, Blair seemed to be handling it relatively well, but Jim knew that his friend was in for a very rough trip.

"Oh man. Oh man. He's dead. Oh god. I can't believe it. He's dead." Blair stopped pacing, turned and looked Jim straight in the eyes. He hugged himself as his entire frame shook with tremors. "He's dead, Jim. Why? Why would someone want to kill him? He's a high school teacher for God's sake. Why would anyone want to kill Daniel?"

Then Jim sensed it. He rushed forward just as Blair's knees gave and helped his younger friend sink to the ground.

Blair continued to talk as if not even aware of his surroundings. "Was it Karra? Or Martin? It must've been the same person who killed Jerrit. But it doesn't make sense." He twisted his head around to look at Jim who sat beside him on the driveway's pavement. And it was suddenly as if it all sank in. Finding Daniel's body, the murder that had been committed. His voice dropped down to a harsh whisper and a tear slid down his cheek, glistening by the neon light of the street lamps. "Jim. Daniel was murdered. He didn't deserve to die like that."

Because he had no words for Blair, because Daniel and Blair had been friends for so long, because Blair had to be the one to discover the body, Jim could only nod. And he wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders, hoping that Blair understood he didn't have to go through this alone.

He felt an arm wrap around his waist and looked down. Vivid blue eyes were staring into his own, shining with tears that did not fall. Blair understood perfectly.

********************

Jim finished briefing Serena and left the crime scene in her capable hands. Daniel's body had been bagged and was now being transported to the waiting coroner's wagon for transport to the morgue. Looking across the lawn, he focused on the small shape huddled in the front of the Ford. Blair was wrapped in a blanket, his large blue eyes following the stretcher as it made its way down the driveway to the curb by the waiting van.

Jim ran a hand over his face in frustration ad moved slowly toward the pickup. He watched as Blair continued to stare at the dark body bag, his eyes a mixture of pain, sorrow and cold shock. He had managed to get Blair back to the truck before the backup had appeared and had stayed with him until the EMTs had arrived. He smiled grimly at the medic who stood next to the open passenger door of the truck before directing his gaze to the silent occupant inside the cab.

"How's he doing?" Jim asked softly.

The EMT shrugged. "Okay, as far as I can tell." He, too turned to watch the subdued young man. "His vital signs seem okay, but I can't really get much out of him.He refuses to go to the hospital. Maybe you can talk some sense into him."

Jim nodded and stepped closer to the open door.

"Hey, buddy. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, Jim."

The detective was surprised at the cold edge in his partner's voice.

"Maybe you should let them take you to the hospital. Let them check you out--"

"I said I'm fine."

Jim took a deep breath and raised his eyebrows to the EMT, who clapped him lightly on the shoulder and nodded his understanding. He quietly moved away, leaving the detective to handle his young friend.

"Chief," Jim began, hoping to be able to get through Blair's distress.

"Don't, Jim." Blair's voice was still hard and Jim could detect the repressed anger lying just beneath the carefully controlled surface. "Don't patronize me." He turned his head, blazing blue eyes staring defiantly up at his partner. "I don't need to be handled with kid gloves. I'm not going to fall to pieces like some piece of fragile china. I. Am. Fine."

Jim didn't flinch from the fiery gaze. He knew Blair was trying to handle this the only way he could, but he was not about to let the kid self destruct. He knew Blair well enough to know that he was blaming himself for his friend's death. Sandburg tended to take the responsibilities of the world on his shoulders. He probably believed that if he been here a few minutes earlier, he might have been able to stop what had happened--or at least keep his friend alive long enough for help to arrive. But Jim couldn't let the young man fall into that trap. Daniel Talbot was dead. There was nothing Blair could have done to stop it. Blair would have to understand that before Jim allowed him anywhere near this investigation.

"Yeah, you're doing just great, Chief." He returned Blair's stare, allowing the concern he felt to mix with the anger in his own tone. "I am not patronizing you. But you are not fine. You have just had one hell of a shock and I need to know that you are okay." His voice softened as he watched the anger in his friend's eyes start to waver. "I need you on this one, Sandburg, but I need you to be clear headed and rational. Can you do that?"

Blair blinked and his eyes suddenly took on a haunted look. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his anger draining away as he slumped back in the seat. "I just keep asking myself why? Why kill Daniel?"

"Maybe he knew something about the killer."

"Like what? I just spoke with him less than four hours ago, man. He didn't say anything."

Jim frowned. "You talked to him this afternoon?"

Blair nodded, his eyes returning to the now closed coroner's van. "Yeah, when I was at the school checking the student records. He was having some kind of argument with Karra Velasquez about her failing his class."

Jim's mind was shifting into high gear as he listened to his partner.

"So Karra and Daniel had an argument."

Blair shifted his eyes back to his partner, his own mind seeing the direction the detective was headed.

"Yeah, man, but it was just about a grade. You don't really think that Karra would murder Daniel over something as trivial as a stupid grade, do you?" He could see the suspicion in Jim's eyes. "Oh, come on, Jim," he said defensively. "Daniel wasn't exactly a huge guy, but he was no wimp. Karra's what, 5'2", 5'3"? There's no way she could've hit him hard enough to cause that much damage."

Jim agreed, but he still felt that Karra Velasquez was mixed up in this somehow. "Maybe," he acquiesced. He looked at his partner, trying to gauge the younger man's emotional state. "I need to go back in there and take a better look around. You up to it?"

Blair nodded, understanding his partner's implication. Jim needed to do a sweep using his senses and he needed his guide. "I'll be okay, Jim. Let's do it."

********************

The body had been removed from the scene, but the evidence of its presence still caused the anthropologist to blanche as he entered the living room. The pool of blood stained the floor near the recliner, a dark crimson pool spilling from the tape outline of Daniel's corpse. Blair squeezed his eyes closed and swallowed convulsively, trying to control his breathing as well as his queasy stomach. The vivid picture of Daniel's lifeless eyes, staring up from a pale, emotionless face flashed across his mind's eye eliciting a gasp from the anthropologist. He opened his eyes to find his partner looking at him in concern.

"I'm okay," he said quickly. He wrapped his arms around his torso and tried to contain a shudder. "Let's just get this over with."

Jim stared at him a moment longer before nodding and turning his attention to the room. He had examined the body while Blair was with the EMT and had ascertained that, like Jerrit Knight, death was caused by a blunt trauma to the head. A visual scan of the room turned up nothing out of the ordinary. Forensics had managed to pull a few prints off the table, but had not come up with much else. There had obviously been a struggle. The overturned furniture and the chaotic state of the room had partially convinced him that Blair was right about Karra. There was no way she could have taken on Daniel Talbot--at least not by herself.

Which left Martin Holland.

While the kid was no athlete, he was young and probably strong enough to have struggled with Daniel Talbot. His visual sweep brought his attention back to Blair who had kept his eyes carefully trained on the Sentinel, watching for any sign of a zone out. Jim suspected that the kid was just trying to escape from the reality around him--submerging himself in his role as guide to keep himself from thinking about the evening's events.

Blair gave him a quick smile to let him know that he was 'hanging in there' and Jim returned his attention to the scene. He stepped to his right and a sudden flash of light from beneath the curtains caught his attention. He moved silently across the room, kneeling down next to the transparent white material.

"What is it?"

Jim glanced back at his partner, somewhat relieved to see the familiar curiosity burning in Blair's eyes.

Jim reached out a gloved hand and carefully moved aside the flimsy curtain. There, in the shadows, reflecting the soft light of the room, lay a small silver earring. Jim picked the small piece of jewelry up and looked at it carefully, noting the tiny drop of dried blood on the post. "Looks like our killer forgot something." He pulled out a plastic evidence bag and dropped the tiny earring into it.

"Karra?" Blair asked softly.

Jim shook his head. "I remember seeing an earring like this on Martin Holland. From the looks of it, it was probably pulled out in the struggle." He stood and held the bag up for Blair to see. "There's some blood on the post. I'll have the lab type it and see if they can come up with a match."

"And if they do?"

"Then Martin Holland just went to the head of the class."

********************

'Shit. Oh shit.' Flashes of Daniel's body. The sightless, staring eyes. The blood pooled beneath the head. 'Get a grip, Blair. Just get a grip.'

Someone killed him. Someone murdered him. In cold blood. Dammit. He ground his eyes together, gripping the blankets surrounding him. Get a grip. He smothered his face into his pillow, trying to focus on its softness, trying to blank out the images, the memories, the eyes. Blindly, he clasped the pillow in his arms, squeezing it to his chest, again focusing on shoving out the images--why couldn't he forget? Cold sweat prickled his forehead and he could feel it trickling down his back, dampening his T-shirt. Stop it, he commanded himself. Every time he relaxed the eyes came back to him. Open, accusing. Accusing him. Stop it--stop it--stop it.

'It wasn't your fault. Don't blame yourself. It wasn't your fault.' No. He hadn't been the killer, but he could've saved Daniel. If he had shown up earlier. Maybe, just maybe Daniel would still be alive. 'Damn, I'm not going to cry. Jeezus, haven't I shed enough tears in my life?' His eyes remained clenched shut and he focused on his pillow's plushness, hanging onto it like a lifeline, imagining that in a way it was. It was his tangible support to the world, keeping him from plummeting back into the land of self-recrimination.

There was a sound from the French doors, someone was opening them, and he heard the whisper of cloth and muted footsteps approaching his futon bed.

"Chief?" came the quiet voice. It was tentative, as if unsure how to proceed.

"I'm fine, man," Blair answered, feeling just the opposite.

"Nightmares?"

How well Jim knew him. Ludicrous really. Living with a Sentinel could be such a bitch to privacy sometimes. "Something like that."

"You're blaming yourself, aren't you?"

Damn the guy was good. Kind of frustrating. Jim read him like a book in the times he wanted to keep his feelings to himself, and of course when he wanted to know Jim's innermost thoughts he could barely get it out with a crow bar. He didn't respond right away to the question. All the answer Jim needed.

"Don't, Chief."

Yeah. That was what he kept telling himself. Just ... don't.

"It wasn't your fault. I had a feeling you were gonna try to blame yourself for this one."

How astute. Blair pushed back his bitterness. Being mad at Jim wasn't going to help. Jim had nothing to do with what happened. He knew who he was really mad at. It wasn't Jim and it wasn't himself. "I think it's just easier to blame myself. If I blame myself then I don't have to blame the kid who killed him. Besides, Jim ... if I'd been earlier--"

"Sandburg--"

"You know it's true--"

"It's not--"

"But if I'd been--"

"That's enough." The finality left Blair speechless. "If you had been there when the killer showed up you might very well be dead yourself. What good would that have done Daniel? There was nothing you could've done, Blair." His voice softened. "You know that."

Blair poked an eye out from where he'd hidden his face in the pillow. Jim was kneeling beside the bed, watching him intently. "Yeah ... old habits die hard. So you really think it was Martin Holland?"

"Looks more and more like it all the time. I'm going to his house tomorrow. Simon should have a search warrant by tomorrow morning. Are you coming along?"

Blair pushed himself up with one hand. He propped himself up with his elbow. "You know I am, man."

"Don't let your emotions cloud your head."

Blair nodded. "Clear as a bell."

"And about as hollow too."

Blair glared at him. "Funny, Jim. Ha ha."

Jim swatted him playfully on the side of his head. "Are you gonna be able to sleep now?"

"Yeah. I think so. Thanks, man. You do a pretty good Jiminy Cricket routine. You know, let your conscience be your guide?"

Jim stood up. "Just don't expect me to start singing, 'If you wish upon a star'."

Blair grinned evilly. "Part I was looking forward to."

Jim shook his head, trying to hide a smile, failing miserably. "Go to sleep, Pinnochio."

Blair laughed, flopping his head onto his pillow. "I'm asleep."

Just before Jim closed the French doors behind him, Blair thought he heard a mutter: "Now to get him awake in the morning."

********************

The next morning, after picking up the search warrant from Simon, Jim drove to Martin's house. He was at least relieved that Blair had gotten a decent night's sleep after their little talk, but he knew how deeply this very moment was affecting Blair. Very likely Martin Holland was the one who had murdered Daniel Talbot. He was glad school was in session now as he didn't know how Blair would react around the teenager. The shock had slowly ebbed away and now in its place was a fine-tuned anger. If confronted with Martin right now, he knew Blair would probably thrust him into the unaccustomed place of peace maker.

The drive had been spent in silence. A couple times Jim had been tempted to ask how he was holding up, but not only was it an obvious question, Blair would probably blow up at him (again) for coddling. Blair was wound tighter than a jack-in-the-box. If someone prodded enough he'd snap and Jim wasn't going to be the one to test Blair's limits.

Mrs. Holland answered the door and when Jim showed her the search warrant and explained they had evidence suggesting Martin was the killer, she nearly fainted.

"We need to take a look at your son's room, ma'am."

She nodded mutely, opening the door to allow them in. She shut the door and without a word, walked down the short hall to the right of the kitchen. She pointed to the door, eyeing Jim sharply. The gaze made him uneasy, so he focused on the closed bedroom and opened the door.

Before the lights were flipped on, heightened eyesight gave him brief glimpses of a familiar face, several times over. When the lights flooded the room, he could only gawk.

"Dear God," Blair whispered from behind him.

His sentiments exactly.

The room was a veritable shrine to Karra Velasquez. Blown up pictures were plastered all over the walls. Small framed pictures were set upon every available surface. Candles burned dimly, giving the feel of an alter. It was like the kid worshiped her here.

And he most likely did. Martin Holland was obsessed. Jim stepped further into the room, overcoming his primary shock. A photo album laid in front of one framed picture, bordered by two small candles, on the lamp stand beside the bed. Unexplainable apprehension coursed through him as he reached for it, as if it were a rattlesnake poised to bite. He opened the album. More pictures. A lock of hair. Clippings from news papers where her name was highlighted, or her face was circled, yearbook pages, letters she had written. He examined them carefully and noted that they were not all addressed to Martin. Some were addressed to friends, two were to Jerrit Knight. He skimmed through one letter, which must've been written after their break up. Was Martin exacting revenge for what he felt were injustices committed against Karra?

After several minutes of searching, Jim had had enough. They went outside and he could tell Blair was relieved to be out of that room. He didn't say anything, but he was too. Still, it wasn't enough to convict Martin on. They needed solid evidence. Jim stood beside the truck, hand still on the door handle, a peculiar, out-of-place sensation running through him. His brows furrowed. Blair was already sitting in the truck, looking at him through the driver's side window.

"Jim? Are you okay?"

He looked up at Blair. "I'm sensing something, but I'm not sure what."

Blair slid out of the truck and joined Jim. "You hear something? Smell something? Is that what you mean?"

"I'm not...." He took a deep breath. His head shot up. "I smell blood."

Blair's eyes widened at the revelation. "Around here?"

Jim nodded, his face still drawn in concentration. He followed the scent, walking towards the garbage can still set beside the sidewalk. He reached inside, rifling through the contents and soon saw where the smell was originating from.

A trophy and it didn't take Sentinel senses to see the dried blood crusting it. The murder weapon that killed Daniel Talbot. Jim was positive if he turned that to Serena for analysis she would tell him exactly that.

"This is all the evidence we need." Blair stepped up beside him, looking into the garbage can himself. "This kid is certifiable. We're going down to the high school to pick him up. I'll have Simon send some backup."

Blair's Adam's apple dipped and he glanced at Jim. "I guess this is what I wanted. Daniel's murderer caught. So why don't I feel better?"

Jim clapped him on the shoulder. "It's hard to accept that kids can do this sort of thing. Yet, they do it all the time. It's just one of those things, Chief."

Blair shook his head, staring at the bloodstained trophy. "Doesn't make it any easier to deal with."

********************

They met two officers in the high school office, another unit sat outside. They didn't want to draw too much attention with cops inside the school. The principal was very agreeable to working with them. She had someone check through Martin's schedule and page him in his classroom. It was easiest to have him come down to the office from the prying eyes of his class peers. And if a commotion should be made only a few would have to witness it.

Karra Velasquez walked into the office carrying a folder. She handed it to the secretary behind the desk and turned to leave the office when her eyes settled on Blair and brightened.

"Hi, Mr. Sandburg. What are you doing here?"

At that moment Martin Holland walked into the office. As soon as he caught sight of Jim and the other two uniformed officers he went with his first instinct.

He ran.

Jim and the officers gave chase. Karra watched in startlement and Blair inwardly cringed at what she was witnessing. She was only the victim here and now she had to watch a friend being chased down and arrested. Her mouth hung slightly open as they watched through the large window that gave them a clear view of Jim tackling Martin. Martin swung at him, but his fist was easily caught. He was wrenched around and handcuffs were slapped on his wrists. The teenager struggled and even through the barrier separating the office from the large hall outside they could hear his curses.

"What are you doing?" Karra cried.

The two officers dragged Martin back into the office, followed closely by Jim. His face was grim.

Blair placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as she stared. "Karra, we found the murder weapon in Martin's room."

"Oh my God." She whirled to face Blair, her face blanched, dark eyes large, hands trembling. "It can't be." She covered her mouth with a hand.

Blair took her in a comforting hug as she began to sob. He patted her back, not knowing what he could say in the way of comfort. He looked over her shoulder at Jim. "I think I better take her home. She's in no condition to stay here. Not after all this crap."

Jim nodded his understanding. "I gotcha. Take the truck, I'll ride in with the patrol units." He removed the keys from his pocket and handed them to Blair. "Just do your thing, partner."

Blair clenched the keys in his hand. Jim left the office and Blair was left with Karra still hanging onto him.

"I've got you," he murmured. "Don't worry."

********************

Simon Banks stood rigidly, his arms folded across his chest, staring through the two way glass into the interrogation room. Martin Holland sat facing him, his hands nervously fidgeting on the table in front of him. Simon couldn't help but draw the parallels between Holland and his own son Daryl, and he shook his head,wondering how the world could have gone so wrong.

These were kids, for God's sake. Martin Holland was 18 years old. His whole life was ahead of him. He should be thinking about college right now--frat parties, grades and girls. Instead, he was sitting, handcuffed in an interrogation room, the prime suspect in a double homicide. It just wasn't right.

"Come on, Martin. Why not make this easier on yourself?" Jim circled the small room, coming to rest directly behind the young man.

"I told you. I didn't kill anyone." Martin kept his eyes on the detective in the mirror. He was trying to put up a brave front, but Jim could see the fear in his eyes and hear the hammering of his heart.

"We've got your prints on both of the murder weapons," Jim continued, starting another slow circuit around the room. "We know that you had some sick infatuation with Karra Velasquez. Is she the reason you did it? Were you trying to protect her?"

"Karra doesn't need anyone to protect her," Martin spat out. "She does just fine on her own."

Jim's eyebrows raised at the contemptuous tone of Holland's voice.

"Sounds like the honeymoon is over, huh Romeo?"

Martin just stared at his hands.

Jim pursed his lips and stared at the young man. He had been monitoring the kid with his senses since they had picked him up at the high school. He had sensed fear, but nothing more than what would be expected in the situation. His heartbeat had been fast but constant since they had begun the interrogation. Either Martin Holland was a very good liar or they really did have the wrong suspect.

Jim pulled a plastic evidence bag from his pocket and tossed it onto the table in front of Martin. He watched as recognition dawned in the kid's eyes, but his heartbeat remained steady.

"Is this your earring?"

Martin swallowed and took a deep, shaky breath before answering. "Maybe."

He jumped back quickly as Ellison's hands smacked the table in front of him and the detective leaned close over the surface. "Let's cut the crap, kid. We know this is yours. We've already matched the dried blood on the post to you. Would you like to know where we found it?" He didn't wait for an answer. "At Daniel Talbot's house. My guess is you struggled with him before you killed him. He must have pulled it out without you even knowing it."

"No!" Martin cried. The young man was shaking, but Jim didn't let up.

"Come on Martin. Admit it. You killed Jerrit Knight because he hurt Karra, right? And what about Daniel Talbot? He was threatening to flunk her. Did you kill him to protect her, Martin?"

"NO!" Martin screamed. Tears were now streaming down his cheeks, but he forced his eyes to meet the detective's and shook his head. "No. I didn't kill them. I loved Karra, but she--" He turned away, but not before Jim detected the hint of anger in his eyes.

A knock on the door pulled Ellison's attention away from the youth before him and he shifted his focus to see Dan Wolf poking his head into the room.

"Jim, can I see you a minute?"

Ellison sighed in exasperation, but nodded tightly. If Dan was interrupting an interrogation, he must have found something pretty important.

"What is it, Dan?" he asked once they were outside in the hallway. Simon had joined them and the three stood huddled together across from the interrogation room.

"I was on my way to lunch and I thought I'd deliver some interesting info to you in person. According to the reports from the scene, there was quite a mess, right? Furniture overturned, papers strewn about?"

Jim and Simon exchanged a confused glance.

"There was obviously a struggle, yeah," Jim responded not knowing where Dan was going with this.

"Maybe it was a little too obvious."

Simon shook his head. It was bad enough trying to decipher most of Sandburg's cryptic comments, he didn't need the rest of his officers taking lessons from the observer.

"In English, Dan," he said in a pained voice.

"You said it yourself, Captain. There was obviously a struggle, but I found no signs of it on the body."

"What?"

"No bruises, no cuts, no traces of skin under the nails. Nothing." Dan shrugged. "As far as I can tell, gentlemen, the head wound is the only mark on the body."

"If what you're saying is true, then the mess at the condo must have happened after Daniel Talbot was already dead," Simon surmised. "But why?"

Jim's eyes widened as the puzzle finally pieced itself together. "To throw suspicion off the real killer." At the puzzled looks of the other two men, Jim continued. "Think about it, Simon. We assumed it was Holland because of the struggle, right? If there was no struggle, there was no way that Martin Holland's earring could have been torn out at Daniel's house."

"Which means it must have been planted there." Simon concluded following Jim's line of thought. "But we've got his prints on both the murder weapons."

"He was the equipment manager for the baseball team, and the trophy was his. Of course his prints would be on both." Jim's eyes snapped up to meet the captain's. "He's been telling the truth, Simon. He's being set up. The bat, the trophy and now the earring. Someone want us to believe that Holland is guilty." A look of fear crossed his face and he turned abruptly, flying back through the door of the interrogation room with Simon close on his heels.

Martin cringed at the look of intensity now blazing in the detective's eyes.

"You're protecting her aren't you?"

Martin slid sideways in his chair, trying to put as much distance between himself and Ellison as possible.

"You said something earlier," Jim focused on the last few minutes of their conversation. "Something about Karra not needing anyone's help. What did you mean by that?"

Martin turned frightened eyes to the captain, but found no hope of rescue.

"I... she..." Martin stammered.

"Did Karra kill Daniel Talbot?"

"I... I don't know."

"Did she kill Jerrit Knight?"

"She..."

"Damnit! She's trying to set you up, man! Are you just going to sit there and let her get away with murder?"

"No!" Martin was openly crying now. "She didn't mean to do it. She just wanted him to give her another chance."

"Who? Jerrit Knight?"

Martin nodded and slumped back in the chair. "She begged him for another chance, but he just laughed at her. Told her that it was over. She was so upset. She just picked up the bat and hit him." Jim and Simon exchanged a look of surprise as Martin continued in a soft voice. "I was in the equipment room. They didn't know I was there. I couldn't believe that he could hurt her like that. If she felt that way about me...." He paused for a minute and leaned heavily on the table, his shoulders slumped in despair. "I picked up the bat after she left and tried to wipe it clean. Then I hid it in the equipment room." He looked up sadly at the detective. "That's why my prints were on it. I didn't think you would ever find it."

"What about Daniel Talbot?"

Martin shrugged. "Karra came to my house. She said she wanted me. I knew she was lying, but I wanted to believe her. She took my earring. Said she wanted to wear it--kind of like a promise ring or something. She was so beautiful. I had to go help my mom with the groceries and when I came back she was gone. That must have been how she got the trophy. I never even noticed that it was gone."

Simon looked at Jim, his eyebrows raised expectantly.

Jim nodded in response to the unasked question. As far as he could tell, Martin Holland was telling the truth.

Simon, opened the door and motioned for a uniform to escort the prisoner to a holding cell. Jim pulled his cell phone and hit the speed dial for Sandburg's phone. "Answer, damnit!" he growled after a few rings. On the fifth ring, he slammed the phone closed and pushed past Simon into the hall.

"Jim!" Simon yelled. "Where are you going?"

"Have backup meet me at Karra Velasquez' address," he called over his shoulder as he raced for the elevators. "Sandburg's with her."

"Damn," Simon sighed as he took off toward the bullpen.

********************

Blair reached for the glass of lemonade, politely thanking Karra for the drink. She returned his smile and sat down on the couch next to him, crossing her legs and leaning back against the cushion. Blair sat on the edge of the old, flowered sofa, his elbows resting on his knees, the glass held firmly in both hands. He sipped the lemonade, idly wishing that he could jump through the large picture window that was located in the wall immediately behind the couch.

He looked at Karra and swallowed hard, feeling terribly uncomfortable with the flirtatious looks she was throwing his way. Geez, she's just a child. His eyes drifted to her shoulders, watching as her delicate fingers traced the neckline of her low cut, form fitting shirt.

"Um, is your mom going to be home soon?" Blair asked, tearing his eyes away from the young woman. Girl. She's just a girl.

"Mom sometimes works late," Karra responded, inching a bit closer on the couch. "And then she usually goes out afterwards. I'm not sure when she'll be home."

Blair nodded. He wanted to leave, but didn't want to leave Karra alone. Martin Holland was in custody now, but Karra had been pretty emotional at the school. He just didn't feel right leaving her here without someone to look out for her. He glanced nervously at the girl as she moved even closer. Blair could feel the heat from her body and took a swallow of the lemonade, suddenly choking as the liquid went down the wrong way.

"Are you okay?"

Blair coughed and nodded as he attempted to regain his composure. He wiped his watery eyes with his sleeve and raised his head to find Karra's face only inches from his own. He tried to breathe, only to find his nose filled with the scent of her perfume. Jasmine. His body began to react instinctively to her closeness and he forced himself up and away from the couch. Taking a few deep breaths to clear his head, he turned back to Karra and smiled nervously.

"Uh, Karra," he began. "I think we really need to talk here."

"I don't want to talk." She smiled. She slowly rose from the couch and moved toward him, her eyes hooded and her mouth open slightly. "Talking is so overrated."

"Sometimes," Blair stammered. "But it's something I'm really good at."

"I'm sure you're pretty good at other things, too." The corner of Karra's mouth lifted in a seductive smile and Blair took another step backwards as she continued to advance slowly. She pulled the barrette from her hair and gave her head a shake, allowing the long, ebony strands to cascade around her face and shoulders.

Blair could feel his chest begin to heave as he fought to remain calm. He swallowed again, trying to remember that this was a 17 year old child. No matter what his body was transmitting to his brain, there was no way he was going to allow anything to happen.

"Karra," he warned, retreating a few more steps. His back hit the far wall of the living room and Karra quickly moved forward, pinning him with her body. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears and he placed his hands on her arms, gently forcing her back. "Karra, no."

She pushed forward, shrugging out of his grasp and placing her hands on his chest. "Yes," she whispered. "You want me. I can tell." She traced her hands down his chest to his stomach, smiling as she felt the thrumming of his heart under her touch.

Blair leaned his head back, his arousal fighting with his sense of morality. He grabbed her wrists and held them together, pushing her away from him. "No," he said, firmly.

He watched as the emotions tumbled across her face--surprise, confusion, and, finally, anger. She tore her arms from his grip and stepped back, her dark eyes smoldering in response to his rejection. "You're just like the others," she hissed. "Momma warned me that you were all alike."

She turned and ran into the small kitchen that sat off to the left of the living room. Blair ran a hand through his hair, cursing himself for allowing the situation to get this far. "Karra," he called, moving toward the kitchen. "Talk to me. I can help."

"NO!" The scream startled him almost as much as the figure that flew from the doorway of the kitchen. He barely had time to recognize the glint of the knife she held high above her head before it swung down, catching him in a fiery streak of pain down the length of his left arm. He fell back against the coffee table, knocking everything on it to the floor.

"Shit!" Blair grabbed his arm with his right hand, feeling the warm blood ooze out and around his fingers. A quick glance at the wound showed his flannel shirt already stained from just below his shoulder to halfway between his wrist and elbow. He quickly slipped out of his shirt and wrapped it firmly around the arm, alarmed to see it magically turn red almost immediately.

He looked around frantically, his eyes coming to rest on Karra. The young woman stood calmly, a few feet from the kitchen doorway, staring at him. She didn't react when he pushed himself backwards along the carpet, not stopping until his back met the front wall of the house. Her eyes tracked him as he wedged himself into the corner made by the wall and the couch, directly beneath the indow. Once there, he leaned back, and clutched his arm tightly to his stomach.

"You killed Jerrit Knight."

Karra's expression didn't change. She continued to look at him, her eyes fill with a sad kind of remorse. "He should have loved me," she said softly. "All I wanted was for him to love me."

"And Daniel?" he whispered, already knowing the answer. Blair grieved for his friend, but, somehow, he couldn't find it in his heart to condemn the child before him.

"He wouldn't listen. They never listen. Momma was right. They just take what they want then they leave. Just like him."

Blair was struggling to focus. He knew he was going into shock from the blood loss but he had to keep her talking. He had left his cell phone in his jacket out in the truck, but there was a phone in the hall. If only he could get her to put down the knife.

"Just like who, Karra?"

"Daddy, of course." She responded as if he should know exactly whom she was talking about. "He left because of me. He just wanted momma. When I came along, he found someone else."

"Your mother told you that?"

"Momma said it was my fault he left. She said that sex is the only way we can get what we want from them. That's their weakness. Jerrit was weak. But then he didn't want me anymore, so it was time for him to go away. And Mr. Talbot, he didn't want me either. I told him I'd do whatever he wanted as long as he passed me. But he said no."

"So you made him go away, too?"

"Uh huh." She looked at him sadly. "Now you have to go away, Blair."

Blair shook his head and tried to push himself up off the floor. He made it as far as his knees before the black spots dancing in front of his eyes threatened to send him spiralling down into unconsciousness. He blinked, trying to clear his vision as Karra slowly crossed the room and sank to her knees before him.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I really liked you."

Blair tried to lift his arm to defend himself, but weakened by the blood loss, could only stare in fear as Karra lifted the knife slowly above her head.

********************

Jim turned the corner, the tires screeching as the department sedan took the curve on two wheels. He had let Blair have the truck to take Karra home from the school and had ridden in with the patrol units. Now, he wished he had listened to his gut instinct about Karra Velasquez and not left his sometimes too trusting partner alone with her. He recalled Blair's report concerning Karra's psychological state, stating that the girl was obviously a victim of abuse. She had killed at least one person because he had rejected her. Martin Holland was an eyewitness to Jerrit Knight's murder. While Karra could probably get off on a diminished capacity plea, the death of Daniel Talbot would not be so easily explained. He had forensics back at Talbot's condo, going over everything again with a fine tooth comb. If there was anything to incriminate Karra in Daniel's murder, they would find it.

He turned onto Gaines Drive and slammed on the brakes, the sedan jumping the curb and coming to a halt behind his blue and white pickup. Jumping from the cab, he ran toward the house, focusing his hearing on the voices inside.

"Now you have to go away, Blair. I'm sorry. I really liked you."

Through the large front window, Jim watched in horror as Karra lifted a bloodstained knife over her head. He felt the gun buck in his hand even before he was aware of having reached for it. The glass from the window rained down in a cascade of light as the bullet shattered the fragile material and continued into the room, knocking the knife from the startled girl's hands.

Jim hurried into the house, training his gun on Karra the moment he stepped through the front door.

"Freeze," he ordered.

Karra looked at him, desperately shifting her eyes from the gun to the knife which lay a few feet to her right.

"Don't, Karra."

Blair's quiet voice pulled her eyes back around and she looked at him somberly.

"You need help," he said, holding her eyes with his own. He steeled himself against the despair he saw in the dark pools and held out his good hand. "Let us help you."

Jim tensed as Karra looked down at the outstretched hand. He could hear Blair's heart and lungs working way too hard and he noticed the drops of blood falling from his hastily bandaged arm. His finger tightened on the trigger as Karra reached her own hand out, timidly laying it in Blair's.

Backup units had arrived and two uniformed officers entered the house, stopping when Jim motioned for them to wait.

Karra looked back at Blair and smiled, the tears smearing her mascara down her cheeks. "You won't go away?"

"No," he shook his head. "I won't go away." He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep the promise, but he knew that it was what she needed to hear.

Jim motioned the uniforms forward and they gently pulled Karra away from Blair and guided her out the door.

As soon as she was gone, Blair sat back heavily against the wall, his strength all but gone.

"How are you doing, buddy?" Jim asked, kneeling down in front of his partner. Blair's face was pale and his respiration was rapid, causing Jim to frown in concern.

"I've been better," Blair smiled weakly.

Jim carefully unwrapped the shirt, wincing when he saw the damage to his partner's arm. "Looks like you managed to nick yourself shaving, huh?"

Blair managed a chuckle. "I'm sticking to electric razors from now on." He looked up at his partner, a tired resignation in his eyes. "She killed them both, Jim."

"I know."

"She needs help."

"I know buddy. She'll get it. I promise."

Blair nodded and closed his eyes, trusting his partner's word. Jim moved a few feet away as the EMTs arrived and went to work assessing Blair's condition.

"Is he okay?"

Jim turned to the familiar voice, wondering when Simon had arrived on the scene. "She got his left arm with the knife," Jim responded. The EMTs had laid Blair down and were now wrapping his arm from shoulder to wrist. Jim and Simon waited while the medics prepared the anthropologist for transport to the hospital, then followed the gurney out of the house and into the chill of the early evening.

Karra Velasquez sat in the rear of one of the patrol cars, her hands cuffed behind her back and her sad eyes watching as the gurney made its way across the bumpy lawn to the waiting ambulance.

"She won't make it to trial," Jim said softly, his eyes glued to the frightened young girl. He was sure that she was guilty of both murders, but anyone could tell that Karra Velasquez would never be held accountable for her actions. Blair had been right about her. She was a lost soul who had desperately wanted someone--anyone--to care. She had taken two lives, and would very probably spend the rest of her life in an institution, but her life had been taken from her long ago. Perhaps that was the real tragedy.

"Probably not," Simon agreed. "We're still trying to locate her mother. But from what I understand, she doesn't take much of an interest in her daughter." Simon shook his head and sighed in disgust. The thought of any parent caring so little about their own child was enough to make him furious. How can a child learn to love, when no one ever takes the time to teach them what it's all about? Love, caring, discipline--every child needed to know that they could depend on someone to provide these basic needs. But when these guiding forces break down, a child is left alone and unprotected--even from themselves. It was an atrocity. Karra Velasquez was a victim, just like the others. If only someone, a friend, a teacher, would have taken the initiative and tried to give the girl some kind of guidance, maybe none of this would have ever happened. Karra Velasquez was not a monster. It was her parents who were the monsters. "How can anyone do that to their own child?"

Jim turned to the captain as the cruiser pulled away from the curb. "It takes all kinds, sir," he said sadly. "It takes all kinds."

The End

Let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you: Sue and Shycat