Disclaimer: The Sentinel is owned in toto by Paramount and Pet Fly and was created by Bilison and DeMeo. All the guys and gals from the Cascade PD are theirs and were merely borrowed. The bad guy and minor bit players are mine. No money was made from this.
Warnings: This one is on the gruesome side so... R for content.
Thanks: To my beta Toni Rae.... all errors are mine.
This takes place during the summer after Sentinel Too and before the rest of season 4.
Mal, my apologies, I've teased you with bits and pieces of this since the day after S2P1 aired. It's done, finally. Sorry for all the delays.
Comments to: Ronnee
The Sentinel sprang awake, pistol in hand, searching with all five senses for the intruder. The only heartbeat he heard was his partner's. It was racing, nearly out of control. The only scents were those that belonged in the loft, his own scent and that of the man screaming in his room downstairs. Even knowing they were alone in the loft, he kept the pistol at ready in his hand, as he vaulted down the stairs and into Blair's room.
The police observer and anthropologist was pressed into the corner of his bed. His eyes were wide, seeing something the keen-eyed Sentinel could not. His fear was vivid in its intensity. His voice cracked, as he cried out, no longer able to scream.
"No! No! No! Nonononononono!"
"Blair!" Jim's voice was soft as clicked safety on the pistol and set it on the floor. The younger man ignored him, staring through the darkness. With careful moves, the big man reached across the book-strewn bed to his friend's side. When he touched the smaller man's arm, he barely had time to realize his mistake as Blair attacked.
"Let go!" Blair's scream was panicked.
The audible fear in his Guide's voice distracted the Sentinel. A blurred movement caught his attention, turning his head as the young man threw a right cross into Jim's side. He barely blocked the following blow. Jim deflected several blows, talking to his friend, trying to break through his panic without using force. Finally, after several painful blows, he had to give up on that course of action and he moved, using every bit of his skill to take his partner down.
With one hand, Jim grabbed Blair's wrist, forcing the smaller man to turn. His other arm, he rapidly wrapped around his friend, pinning Blair's arms to his sides. Shifting his grip, he then drew the other man back, against his chest. The Sentinel sighed as his partner kept struggling wildly, forcing him to use all of his strength in an attempt to hold the Guide still.
"Leggo!" The voice was still panicked, still frightened, but now the Sentinel realized that the voice was wrong. Its tone was wrong, the inflection off. This was not his Guide speaking.
"Blair! What the h--- is going on?" He growled, laying his cheek on the other's head. As the scent of his Guide's shampoo filled his nostrils the room dimmed and then disappeared.
The hallway was wide for a house; the thought struck Jim as odd as he took in the set of pictures on the wall. They showed a large, happy family, playing and laughing, none of the pictures quite the staid sober pictures that were normally on display in such a formal entryway. Each and every photo showed a deep love between the members. That had to be why the fact the glistening, dripping red liquid that was splattered across them made him shudder. Internal alarms were rapidly and loudly expressing their disquiet.
It took him a moment to recognize the paint. It was the exact shade of blood. But it didn't smell like blood, or paint either. In fact it didn't smell at all. Curious, Jim reached out a hand to touch it. Just before his finger reached the shiny liquid, Blair's hand grabbed his, pulling it down and away from the wall.
Pale, his Guide was way too pale in the odd lighting here. He frowned, looking his Guide over. As he scrutinized the familiar face, it changed. For the second time, the brilliant blue eyes looked at, past, and through him with little recognition. Before he could finish the thought, he found his arms filled again. For a split second the Sentinel wondered about this… was this real or was the loft the dream? But his Guide was more important than that brief idea.
The younger man was pressed firmly back against his chest, shaking his head as his lips moved silently. The very actions proved that this still was not his Guide, not his partner. For a split second he saw, another person. For a moment, he could have sworn that pressed against him was a child's frail body, not the 5'8" wiry body of his Guide. Then the figure shrugged, stepping away and becoming Blair again… the intensely curious, insatiably seeking explanation young man who refused to allow himself to be daunted by anyone or anything.
Blair stepped further into the bloody hallway, resolutely refusing to look at walls or the liquid patterns there. From the look on his face, Jim guessed he could hear something, something the Sentinel couldn't. He followed his partner; not caring if this was a dream, a nightmare or worse. There was no way he was letting Blair out of sight. Alex Barnes had taught him that lesson, engraved it so deeply into the Sentinel's psyche that it was part and parcel of who he was.
They came to a stop at a set of stairs that led off to the upper level of the house. Dark, shining liquid pooled on the floor in front of them as it lazily trickled down the stairs and soaked into the carpet. A young woman cowered in the corner of the hall, obviously having fallen or been tossed down the stairs. Her wide brown eyes were dazed from pain and blood loss. A gloved hand reached through them to grab her hair, pulling her face up into the light. Her eyes focused past them with fear and then she saw them. She turned her eyes to them, momentarily meeting the Sentinel's eyes, hope and something else, some emotion he didn't recognize crossed her face.
"Shaman! Guardian! Protect...!" She called out, but he barely heard it as a whisper. He never saw her lips move, but her voice burned in his ears. Jim reached out, his hand passing ineffectively through the arm holding her. He tried again, his movement echoed by his Guide's as they tried to free her from the vicious grip that lifted her from the floor. Both of their hands swept through the woman and her captor's arm like the shadowy flicker a person walking through the beam of a film projector. Knowing he couldn't stop what was coming, he grabbed Blair, whirling him away from the vision. The sentinel's eyes held the woman's as the light in them faded away. He never noticed the tears of frustrated pain that streaked his cheek as she died – he had been unable to protect her.
Jim felt his Guide tremble under his hand and he tried forcing the smaller man to a safer position behind his larger body. Blair's strong fingers wrapped themselves around his hands, stilling the movement. The younger man's head turned slowly, recognition that had been so absent in the loft lighting the wide turquoise eyes. He glanced behind them and winced, closing his eyes and burying them against the Sentinel's shoulder as he denied what he had seen.
At that moment, it hit him. The meaning of the hands that had appeared to pass right through them... they were not alone. There were others here… maybe other victims still trying to escape, maybe only the killer. He couldn't ignore the possibility that this was more than a dream. Slowly, shifting his Guide so that he was leaning on his back, the Sentinel turned. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as he saw the destruction. Bodies lay head to toe, forming a line down the hall. Blood ran, like wet streamers, down the walls, dripping obscenely. In a doorway, a body lay, half hidden by the door, it's eyes still open with the fear that had been echoed by the dying woman. He looked around, realizing that the killer was missing, or at least he couldn't see him.
He glimpsed something moving out of the corner of his eye. Instinctively, the Sentinel whirled, keeping his Guide behind him. He felt the tension in the smaller man as kept his body tucked behind that of the Sentinel, forehead resting on his back as the Guide tried to deny the images that he'd seen. Every sense was alert as the door to the next room slowly and silently swing shut, the killer was gone, unseen and unheard. He stepped forward, trying to hear beyond the closed door.
He breathed in deeply, searching for the scent of the killer, listening for his movements. He could not smell anything, not even the scent of the blood that filled the room, that should have overwhelmed him but didn't. He tried to focus his hearing and realized that except for the woman's words he had heard nothing from the time he'd found himself in the bloody hallway.
The Sentinel could not even hear the sound of his Guide's heartbeat. He felt panic rise in himself as he stretched his hearing, trying to find the missing beat, stretched his sense of smell, seeking the scent of his partner. Silence and absolute nothingness met his attempts. He turned, ignoring the blood spattered walls, the bodies lying under his feet, the fact that he was not on the ground but seemed to be above the floor, none of that mattered. He had to find his Guide.
Warm hands grabbed his cheeks, forcing him to look down into the deep blue eyes he feared lost. The hands continued tugging at him until his forehead met that of his Guide. Instantly the silent words sprang to life, the 'Guide' voice soothing the panic and fear, melting them away. "Easy, man. I'm right here. Don't zone, not now, not here. I need you here, with me. That's it, Jim. Breathe in and dial those senses down. Come on, follow my voice. I'm right here."
The relief on his Guide's face reflected his own feelings. Jim pulled back and the moment he broke contact with Blair the silence returned. He knew that the shock of the silence was echoed in his eyes as the younger man reached for him. The moment they came into contact, the senses came back on-line and understanding dawned. Careful to keep his hand in contact with his Guide's, Jim pulled him into a relieved embrace. The rapid heartbeat echoed in his ears and his fingertips as he let his sense of touch confirm the other man's presence.
"Ease up a little, Jim. Let me breathe." The voice in his ears held the sound of Blair's shuddering breath and the mildly amused tone of the anthropologist. As the younger man's presence locked itself back into place with the Sentinel's senses, the blood covered walls faded from view.
Jim opened his eyes and found himself back in Blair's room. He was sprawled across the book-strewn bed, pinning Sandburg down. The pale, shadowed face stared up at him and a smile lit the dark blue eyes. Gently gripping his friend's arms, he rolled, bringing himself into a sitting position.
Blair did not resist as Jim pulled his Guide into his lap. The Sentinel closed his eyes, allowing his senses to range across him, reassuring himself that they were safe, together in the loft. He had to be certain that they were both real this time, not part of some vision.
His arms were locked around the younger man, cradling him close. One arm was bracing his spine, allowing his hand to cradle Blair's head, the fingers buried deeply in the younger man's silky curls. Each strand seemed to twine and grab at his fingers, almost as if they were confirming his presence.
He breathed in deeply, relishing the scent of his Guide. The sweet light scent of Blair's all-natural shampoo and conditioner that clung to the young man's hair. The layer of harsh, acrid sweat, made bitter by the fear and terror of the nightmare. The musky scent that was Blair, the scent that was a mixture of skin, sweat, soap, and spices reassured him. The faint scent of blood tickled his nose. He briefly wondered if Blair had managed to draw blood during their brief struggle, but decided to ignore it as he continued his sensory sweep.
He listened, noting the slight whisper of Blair's lungs as they relaxed, panic receding. He heard the heavy drum roll of his Guide's heart, slowing and calming into its normal rhythm. Heard the soft swishing as blood circulated through the vessels that still throbbed under his fingertips.
They sat for long quiet minutes, neither man moving, neither speaking. Just a few months ago, they would have denied this moment, but now they let it be. The bond between the Sentinel and the Guide, the bond they had both fought and denied for so long, reestablishing itself. The quiet sense of each other's presence strengthened, becoming more vivid, more noticeable. Between them ran silent emotions, long unsaid, racing through the bond as they struggled to reassure each other and themselves that they were alive and safe.
Finally, Blair spoke, shuddering. "That was a really bad trip, man."
"Had many good trips, Chief?" Jim's voice was wry, as he looked down at his friend.
Blair shook his head as his mind began racing through their experiences. He was going to need a whole new notebook for this. This was definitely not something he'd ever imagined occurring between Sentinel and Guide. More things to research, more tests, more data to...
"Hey, Chief, don't you zone on me." Jim's words forced Blair's eyes open. He was staring down into the anthropology student's face, trying to read what was going on in the other man's mind. Sometimes it didn't take much to figure the younger man out, but other times he couldn't make heads or tails of the thoughts there. The only thing he could be sure of was that Blair would always ready to help him with his senses.
"Sorry, man. I just started thinking about the nightmare, and the fact that you joined it. I wonder if that's normal for a Sentinel." Blair had studied Sentinels for most of life; ever since the day he'd found a monograph of Sir Richard Burton's, which described them. The Sentinel was a protector, one armed with a genetic advantage, that of extraordinary senses. In modern days, Sentinels were rare. Very rare. Blair had managed to find people with one or two hyperactive senses but only one with all five. And now it looked like the police detective had six hyperactive senses. "Did you see the same thing I did? Or did you zone on something else? I wonder what a dream you can zone on means?"
Blair's words and thoughts froze as Jim moved, eyes narrowing. His eyes followed the finger Jim used as he traced a line on the younger man's chest. A line that shouldn't have been there -- but was. A line that proved they had shared no ordinary nightmare.
"Um, Chief..." Pale blue eyes looked shocked, as they stared at him from a pale, tense face. The planes of Jim's face were stark and the muscle of his jaw was working furiously. The finger gently scrubbed at one of the small rusty brown spots that stained his T-shirt. Jim's voice was low and rasped at Blair's ears as he continued, "are you sure it was a dream?"
"Aw..." Blair turned pale and bolted from the room. Bare moments later Jim heard the shower turn on and a body dash into the water. With a sigh he glanced down and noticed for the first time that his own chest had the same red-brown stains. Only there were more of them, from several different sources.
"Shit!" He growled and headed for his room to get clean clothes. He paused at the bathroom door to yell, "Hurry up, Sandburg!"
Wet and bedraggled looking, Sandburg stepped out of the shower. He gratefully accepted the towel Jim handed him before stepping into the water. Dark blue eyes stared into the mirror trying to match the face to the emotions so vividly showing.
"Jim?" His voice was low, but not too low for the Sentinel to hear above the sound of the water.
"If both of us had blood on us, were we there?"
The water shut off and the big man came out, grabbing a towel. His eyes caught Blair's in the mirror. He winced at the pain and desperation there. Neither of them wanted to accept the possibility that the dream could have been real and they could have been there when it happened. But neither of them could dismiss the possibility either.
"I don't know, Chief. I just don't know."
Blair's shoulders slumped and he turned away. Jim reached out and grabbed him, pulling him back into a hard embrace. He rested his chin on the wet curls, breathing in the herbal scent of the shampoo. Distantly he felt his Guide's hands grab his forearms and hold on tightly. Their eyes met in the mirror, speaking volumes that neither man wanted to say aloud.
"How long until we find out?" The other man's voice was raw and tired sounding.
"It depends on when the bodies are found, Chief." He sighed. "It might not be until several days from now."
"We can't leave them there. There has to be something we can do. They deserve more than to . . ." He slid into silence, staring into the mirror. After a few moments, Blair's eyes darkened, his pupils widening. Jim could feel him tremble as a new thought flickered across the expressive face.
"We know where it happened. We saw the stack of mail. Any one of the pieces, they would have the address them." The smaller frame shivered. "I can help you get the . . . "
Jim placed a finger on the moving lips, silencing his friend. He spoke softly, worry edging his voice. "First, we get dressed, Chief. I don't want you getting sick again."
Blair's eyes flickered, noticing for the first time that a very wet, naked Sentinel was holding him to his chest. He also noticed for the first time that he was only wearing a towel. The look Jim gave him in the mirror was ambiguous, filled with concern and . . . what, fear, worry? Whatever it was, it was enough. He closed his eyes, not seeing the pale eyes narrow as he shivered again. Eyes still closed, he reluctantly released the bigger man's arms, which just as slowly and reluctantly unwound from his chest.
He reopened his eyes to see that Jim had stepped back. The older man's normal stoic facade watched him in the mirror as he wrapped a towel around his waist. Blair swallowed the words he was about to say and fled to his room.
Jim watched the play of muscles as the younger man left the bathroom. Blair had finally begun to regain the weight he'd lost in the hospital. The Guide had taken a long time to heal since the disastrous May morning he'd found him face down in the university fountain. Alex Barnes, renegade Sentinel, thief and murderer had come so close to killing his partner. Too close for the Sentinel to risk his friend to another bout of pneumonia.
He slowly rubbed the towel across his chest, focusing on controlling his reaction to the speeding heartbeat, the scent of fear, and the muttered curses. This was not the time for him to lose control; neither of them needed an uncontrolled Sentinel running loose through Cascade. The faintest threat to Blair could easily break through the older man's ironclad emotions and he had the feeling that would bring even more danger down on their heads.
Emotions carefully checked, senses focused on his Guide, Jim pulled on his sweats and headed for the living room.
"Coffee, man?" Blair's voice came from the kitchen. "It's almost ready."
"Thanks." He accepted the offered mug and leaned against the counter, watching the other man. His stillness was in direct opposition to the other's restless movements. Blair waited impatiently for the teakettle to boil, choosing tea, a mug, a spoon. Finally, Jim grabbed the mug, gently prying it from the cold fingers. "Go sit down, I'll do it."
"Are you sure, man?"
"Sandburg, sit!" He growled softly, his eyes as gentle as his voice. The younger man nodded and went to the couch. Jim stretched his hearing, listening to the quiet nervous muttering of his Guide as he fixed the tea. Chamomile, maybe it would help calm the other man.
"Here you go, Chief." He handed Blair the mug and sat down beside him. Taking a swallow of his coffee he waited patiently.
Blair turned on the couch, facing his friend. Dark blue eyes measured the older man as he sipped his tea. Whatever he found there seemed to reassure him because the tension left the hunched shoulders. Slowly, he set aside the mug and reached for Jim's coffee. He set that mug aside too.
"Ready, man?" Blair's voice had deepened, becoming the 'Guide' voice that Jim could never ignore. It was almost as if the very genetics that made him a Sentinel made him listen to Blair's instructions when spoken in that tone. "Breathe in, slowly, Jim. Relax as you breathe out. Concentrate on breathing . . . "
Jim's eyes closed, as he obeyed the quiet commands. He let the tension seep out of him, listening to the deep, calm voice...
"I want to narrow the focus of your sight Jim. Look at the table, the one just inside the door. Look at the stack of mail there, can you see the address?"
In his mind's eye, he saw the table. A simple wooden affair, a lot like the one just inside the loft. The stack of mail on the table drew his attention. The address on the top letter seemed to leap out at him, begging for him to read it aloud. "123 Cressida Court."
"That's great. Come on back, man." Blair's voice pulled him back into focus.
He opened his eyes as the phone rang. Reflexively, he grabbed it out of Blair's hand and answered, ignoring the rolled eyes. "Ellison."
"Jim," Simon's voice was tired. "We've got a really bad case. I need you here, but leave the kid at home."
"He goes with me, Simon." Jim's voice turned icy, as the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. The very thought of leaving Blair behind put every instinct in him on alert. "That is not negotiable."
"Not this time, Ellison." The big captain's tone was almost pleading. "He doesn't need to see this. It's a blood bath."
The detective glanced over at his quiet partner. Briefly, he closed his eyes, not wanting to say the next words. "123 Cressida, sir?"
"How . . .?" Even over the phone, Jim could hear the shock and disbelief in Simon's voice. Then he heard the soft quiet curses as the other man pulled himself back into focus. "I don't want to know. Just get over here."
Blair began to say something, but Jim waved him to silence, focusing on Simon's words. Something about the killer being interrupted by a pair of teenagers. "Yes, sir. Are they all right? Yeah, they probably are. Who's with them? Megan? No, I doubt that too, sir. We'll be there."
Blair watched, as the detective took jotted down some notes, nodding absently to the phone. After a moment, he decided he needed to get dressed. There was no way he was going to let Jim handle this case on his own. As he stood and headed for his room, a hand grabbed his arm. He met the concerned blue eyes. He gestured to his sweats, mouthing, "I'll be back in a minute."
"We'll be there." Jim clicked the phone off and nodded to him. Part of him was slightly startled that Jim didn't try to convince him to stay at the loft. But all the bigger man said was, "We'll leave in five."
Jim pulled the truck to a stop in front of a two-story house. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles lit up the street. Neighbors and reporters huddled in the sparse light of the few streetlights. Several members of the forensics department could be seen going over a car parked in the grass in front of the house.
"What a madhouse." Blair whispered taking in the sight.
Jim grunted, eyes scanning the scattered groups of people. "I want to check out the car first, Chief."
They met Henri Brown at the candy apple red sports car. A forensics team was carefully measuring gouges in the car's doors and roof.
"Jim, Hairboy." Brown's greeting was unusually tense.
"Brown?" Jim's greeting was curious, his eyes focused on his coworker.
"I'm off the case." Unusually tense, he almost looked sullen, until the flashing lights illuminated the fury in his eyes. "I know the family inside. They moved in last month, Sherri really likes them. They go to our church."
"Aw, man. That sucks." Blair stepped closer to the detective, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Did anyone... I mean..."
"Their little girl is fine. She ran across the park to my house as soon as she saw the guy with the knife." Brown eyes promised dire retribution. He gestured to the car, indicating the technicians working on it. "Her cousin managed to get back in the car and laid on the horn. It saved their lives. He couldn't get inside it. Cracked one of the windows, but couldn't force the door. I think I'm going to get one of these for my wife."
Blair nodded, accepting the comment for what it was, a means of release. This had struck too close to home for the detective to ignore. With part of his attention he watched as Jim and the forensics team went over the damaged car. The quiet words he spoke were for both men, Henri because he needed the comfort and reassurance, Jim as a focus to keep his senses in line. "Are you and Sherri all right? I know some people at Rainier… I can give them a call and get someone out here to talk to her, keep her company, help her with the baby, that kind of thing. This is a pretty tough time for something like this to happen."
"Thanks, Hairboy. She's already got someone with her. They'll be fine." The smile was back in place, slightly shaky but present. "I know you want to join Jim and he's waiting for you before he goes over to the house... You don't want to make him wait too long."
"Anytime, H. Anytime." Blair reassured the other man. As far as he was concerned the men and women of Major Crimes were his Sentinel's back up and therefore his responsibility. If he could help them, he would.
"I'm heading for the hospital. Simon has assigned Joel and me to keep an eye on the girls." Henri explained quietly. He looked over at the technician who was pointing out a crack in the windshield to Jim and shuddered. "It was too close."
"Are they going to be okay?"
"Shock mainly. Mandy had to be sedated. Simon was worried that whoever did this," the detective's voice cracked. He straightened and tried again, "whoever did this would go after them because they saw his face."
"We'll catch him, Henri." Jim's quiet statement was filled with certainty. There was no way the Sentinel was going to allow this kind of thing to go unpunished.
H looked at the older detective, read the decision in Ellison's eyes and his shoulders relaxed slightly. Knowing Cascade's best was on the case was a relief and a hope at the same time. "I know you will, Jim."
"Who's with Sheri and Lashon?" The older detective asked, a worried frown forming between his eyes.
"There's a patrol car outside and one of the ladies from Vice is inside with them." Henri Brown had to shiver. Even in the middle of all the chaos, Jim knew just what was at stake. The murderer could have tracked the escaped victim to Brown's house. The fact that he had asked about them reassured H. Everyone in the PD was worried over his family's safety. Between all the volunteers and the assigned officers, currently his house had almost as many cops in it as the bullpen on a slow day
"They'll be safe then." Jim turned his head, looking towards the house. "Simon is going to be looking for us. Come on, Chief."
Blair had to admit to himself that he was filled with trepidation about going into the house. Trepidation? Why didn't he just tell himself the truth... he simply didn't want to go inside and see if it was as bad as his vision of it? The warmth of Jim's hand on his shoulder made him look up.
"Chief, if you want to sit this one out, I'll understand." There was no censure there, only understanding. "It's going to be bad."
"I've already seen it, Jim." His voice was quiet, strained. The pale eyes looking at him were pained and unhappy before they looked away. "I'm already involved and I want to finish... I want help you catch this guy."
The Sentinel's eyes flickered over him and he knew that the other man was measuring him. Reading him with all of his senses, judging his state of mind, his resolution, and his determination as well as his fear, anxiety, and worry. After a moment, Jim nodded solemnly. "Stick close to me, Chief."
"Not a problem, man."
The front door of the house was closed, a set of keys still hanging from the deadbolt. Beside it, Rafe stood guard. The young detective was pale, leaning most of his weight on the doorframe. A single tear was drying on his cheek, others were pooled in his eyes, unshed. The dapper detective's trousers were spattered with rusty stains. He looked up at their approach.
"Rafe?" Blair's voice was quiet, trying not to startle the other man.
"It's really bad in there, Sandburg. You might want to stay out here." There was absolutely no expression in Rafe's voice.
The graduate student, police observer, and anthropologist frowned. He knew it was going to be bad, but sometimes he got tired of being coddled by the rest of the Major Crimes team. Mentally he began preparing to defend himself and his right to go inside to the other man. Then the smell hit him. He paled, his gorge rising.
Beside him, Jim shuddered. He rapidly began dialing down his sense of smell. Even from the outside, the place smelled of death. He barely felt Sandburg's hand as it touched his back, breaking the zone before it began. He fought for control, his senses steadying slowly. His voice was hoarse when he finally spoke. "Chief, please stay out here with Rafe."
"He's right, Sandburg." Captain Simon Banks' voice came from the now open doorway. The big man was pale and he staggered slightly, tripping on the lintel. As he shut the door behind him, the heavy scent of blood and death flooded the porch area. "You do not want to go in there until after the coroner removes the bodies."
"Simon, Jim can't go in there alone." Blair was strained, his face pale. The nightmare had been bad enough. This was worse. Knowing he wasn't going to wake up and find out that this was all just a dream was much, much worse. The smell alone was enough to make him ill. There was no way he was letting his Sentinel in there without a Guide to prevent him from zoning.
"Blair." The soft, gentle tone Simon used made all three of them look at him. The fact that he had used the observer's first name did not go unnoticed by any of them. "I'll be going in with Ellison. You are staying out here with Rafe."
"No way, man. I'm Jim's partner. I need to be there with him."
"Rafe, you will keep Sandburg out here. If you have to use cuffs on him, do it." There was no give in the deep, resonating command.
"I don't need a baby-sitter." Blair folded his arms across his chest, glaring at the three taller men.
"Let me put it this way, Sandburg. You are not a cop. The chief of police and the mayor have both reminded me of this fact. That means it's time for me to remind you that you are not a cop. Because of the incident on campus," even Simon found it hard to refer to the fact that technically Blair Sandburg had died. Alex Barnes had murdered him. Only the fact that Ellison had refused to give up on his Guide had brought the younger man back to the living. "I have been given orders to keep you strictly in the role of observer. I am also under strict orders to keep you out of dangerous situations and the news for the summer. That means you will not be going into this building until we are certain it is clear. Do you understand me?"
Blair threw up his hands in disgust. "Great! And how am I supposed to help from out here?"
Jim pulled him to the side and spoke quietly, "Take it easy, Chief. It's not Simon's idea. It's orders from above. I'll keep an ear tuned to you while I'm inside."
Blair looked over at the two policemen. A very uncomfortable expression was on Rafe's face, but he did look determined. In his hands he held a pair of regulation handcuffs. He threw up his hands in disgust. "Okay, okay. I'll stay out here with Rafe."
"How many have been inside?" Jim asked quietly as he pulled on a pair of gloves.
"All in all, five people have been inside, not including the killer. One patrolman started to enter and backed out when he realized the extent of the carnage. I was at Joel's when the call for back up, ambulances, and coroner wagons went out. We got here a few minutes after Brown sealed off the front door." Simon's voice trailed off as he opened the door. "Homicide handed it over after they did a fast sweep for survivors. There were no survivors inside."
Simon and Jim slowly entered the house. Both men swallowed at the sight before them. The entry was covered in rusty red. It looked like a child had thrown a temper tantrum with a bucket of paint. The Sentinel nudged his sense of smell farther down, into the negative numbers.
Jim recognized the front hallway with its row of bodies. Each had been laid touching the wall, head against the feet of the next, hand crossed primly at its waist. Other than the deep wounds, the bodies had not been disturbed. The killer had straightened their clothes and arranged them neatly, almost reverently.
Blood from the bodies had soaked into the carpet, still a deep red that was slowly turning brown as it dried. Streamers of rusty red-brown patterned the wall above the row of bodies. It looked like a grotesque parody of party streamers and banners. In places the blood had been splattered so thickly that it was still wet, dripping slowly down the walls to form puddles at the baseboard.
Jim looked around, noticing inconsistencies from the vision he had shared with Blair. Things had been moved and were in different positions from what he had seen. Suddenly he stiffened, his head tilting as he focused, concentrating on his hearing. Behind him, Simon reached out and touched his shoulder, trying to get his attention. He shook his head as he headed for the stairs.
There he paused, looking to the side. Although there was blood against the wall there was something missing. The woman he had seen in the vision, the one he had watched die, was out of place. He knew where she had fallen, but that wasn't where her body lay. And it wasn't placed neatly along the hallway with the others. She had been moved… or had she moved, trying to escape? For a moment he wondered if he had been mistaken about her death, but then his sight adjusted itself and he saw the wound. It was the same...
"Jim?" Simon's voice was worried. The captain obviously didn't like quiet pause or the introspective look on his detective's face. "What is it?"
"It's different, sir. This is not the way I... saw it?" The softly spoken words were curious, almost shocked. The meaning of them didn't escape Simon's notice, but before he could comment, the detective continued. "This isn't what we saw. It's been changed."
"Jim, this just happened. How could you have seen it before?" Banks' eyes were wide, as he waited for an answer. "Is it a Sentinel thing?"
"You really don't want to know, Simon." The pale man growled, listening to something else again. It took him a moment to realize what it was. Someone was moving in the house. He heard faint, rapid heartbeats and the soft sibilant sound a muted whisper. With a swift, smooth move he pulled his gun, turning to face the stairs again. "We're the only cops in here, right? And you said there were no survivors in the house?"
The big captain froze before slowly turning towards the stairs. He nodded, tightening his hold on his own weapon. "The house was empty when we did a sweep for survivors."
Behind them the front door opened. Simon spun, weapon leveling at the incoming person. Without saying a word, Jim stepped to the side, his back covering his captain's. He kept his weapon trained on the darkened stairway, his ears focused on the sounds in the upper floor.
The red-haired woman froze, smile faltering at the sight of the two grim faced men. Cassie backed up, eyes wide, hands spread to show that they were empty. The words she was about to say were swallowed as she recognized the protective stance of the two men.
"Out, Welles! NOW!" At his furious bark, she dove back out the door. Simon knew he'd hear from her later. The infuriating woman was good at her job, but she kept forgetting that she was not a detective any more than Sandburg was a cop. He turned back to the other detective, asking, "How many do you hear?"
"There are three, maybe four heartbeats, sir." Jim whispered, his senses stretched to the fullest. It was hard to focus on the sounds. Whoever it was hadn't spoken since he'd noticed them and had barely moved, trying to escape detection. A faint, soft whimper made the oddities in his hearing click into place. Before Simon could take in the change in the Sentinel's stance, Jim was in motion.
Behind him, he could hear the captain's startled outcry as he raced up the stairs and down the hallway. Without even noticing what he was doing, Jim locked Simon's heartbeat and presence into his subconscious. He didn't want to loose track of the other man. Nor did he want to end up thinking the other man was an enemy sneaking up behind him.
As they approached the end of the hall, he slowed. Bringing up a hand to warn Simon that they were stopping, Jim slid to a silent stop beside a closed door. This area was far cleaner than the first floor. There were a few scattered drops of blood on the carpet, but it was nothing like what they'd seen in the entryway or the first floor hallway. He noticed abstractedly that his hand trembled faintly as he laid it on the balloon-covered door.
"Oh, lord, Jim! Please tell me there aren't any dead kids in there." Simon whispered, his dark face ashen. The thought that there had been children at home when the killer had struck made him feel ill. The possibility of finding small bodies in the room, laid out like the adults in the downstairs hallway, made him swallow convulsively. The only thing that could be worse would be to find wounded children and have them die before they could get them to Cascade General. He knew the odds were more on the side of finding the killer and more dead bodies than finding survivors. Simon found himself praying harder than anytime since Kincaide had held Darryl hostage… praying for survivors.
"Sir?" Ellison turned, as he heard the big man's heart begin racing. "Simon?'
"I'm okay, Jim. Let's go." He growled from between clenched teeth.
The Sentinel nodded and cautiously pushed the door open. A brightly colored, well-lit room met their eyes. Bunk beds occupied one wall, with an overturned crib leaning against another wall. Expecting the worst, Simon peered into the crib. He sighed in relief when he only found shredded linen.
The Sentinel knelt near a large stain. Someone had fought hard here. It only took him a moment to link the scent to the woman at the base of the stairs. He touched her improvised bat, a broken length of wood, with a gloved finger. It had broken against something. Jim fervently hoped she had done some damage protecting the children who had been here. He followed their scent to a door in far wall.
"Simon!" He called quietly. Gingerly, still tuning into the faint sounds of heartbeats, he opened the door. Jim motioned for the captain to follow him as he slipped into the closet. The clothing that had once hung neatly in the closet was a slashed mess, tangling his feet. He holstered his weapon and pulled open a small door in the far wall. As Simon settled at his back, he adjusted his sight for the darkness ahead of them.
The attic area was narrow and filled with boxes. Beyond the boxes, the Sentinel could hear the heartbeats speed up again. The two men crept forward, stopping at a door less entryway that separated the attic from the eaves.
The narrow crawl space extended the entire length of the house. Half hidden by the shadows, a pair of wide brown eyes stared at him, wincing at every move he made. The slant of the roof and the heavy wooden beams that held it up combined to form a tunnel that few fully-grown men could slip into. The edges of all the wooden beams within a far too long reach were ragged, scarred by a heavy bladed knife.
"Hi, guys. My name is Jim Ellison. I'm a police officer." He spoke softly, gently, trying to keep from scaring the wide-eyed boy any more than he already had. The scent of blood, not much, but fresh, tickled his sensitive nose. "Please, let us help you."
The pale face went even paler as the boy realized that he'd been spotted. He crept backwards, forcing an even smaller one back. Jim heard another muffled cry. One of the kids was hurt, but their movements kept him from seeing which one it was. He placed his shoulder against a wooden beam and pressed. It groaned, but held.
The boy backed away farther, tears leaking down his face. Jim focused his sight on the movements as he leaned down and picked up an object. It took Jim a split second to recognize the shape. Instantly, he dropped to the floor, knocking Simon down as he went.
"Ellison!" The big man growled, rolling to his knees.
"The boy has a pistol, sir." The Sentinel watched the boy from behind another of the heavy beams. "He must think..."
"Kid." Simon crept forward, interrupting his friend. "I'm Captain Simon Banks, Cascade police department."
The boy still held the gun, only now it pointed toward the floor. He was watching them, waiting, listening to Simon's deep voice. Simon lost track of his words as he spoke. He kept thinking about Darryl. He wondered how his son would hand this kind of situation. As the thought flashed through him, he knew he had to do something, anything to get the boy out safely. So he kept talking, pleading with the boy half hidden in the darkness.
Behind him, he vaguely heard Ellison whispering to someone. They had been there long enough that others had come looking. The voices sounded like Sandburg and Rafe and Taggart. His men were holding off the rest of the PD, giving him time to talk the boy down to safety.
Finally, as his throat became too dry to keep talking, the boy moved. With carefully exaggerated movements, he removed the clip from the pistol and made sure there were no bullets in the weapon. He pocketed the clip and tucked the pistol in his waistband. Still keeping his movements slow, the boy looked over his shoulder, obviously at some comment from the other child. Slowly, dragging a heavy box behind him, he crawled toward Simon.
"Where's your badge?" The boy paused just out of reach, panting. He stayed between the other child and the police officers. His voice was harsh -- tears, fear, and pain fighting for control.
Simon pulled his badge off of his belt and moved as if to toss it to the boy. He didn't move. Beside him the younger child moved, hands outspread, to ward off Simon's move.
"Sir, I think you had better slide it over to them." Ellison's voice was soft, not quite a whisper. Behind them, all the other officers had frozen at the sound of the boy's voice.
"Yeah." He agreed, throat tight as he leaned down and slid the badge across the rough wood floor.
The smaller child stepped around the box and grabbed the badge, before diving behind the older boy. Once he was safely hidden, he put the badge in the older one's hand. The two men watched silently as his fingers gracefully caressed it.
"It's okay, Charlie. They're for real." The boy's words made the other one relax. With a deep groan, the two boys got behind the box and shoved it into the main attic area. Once out of the eaves, the boy stood and limped forward. He stood between the officers and both Charlie and the box.
For the first time, Simon got a good look at them and he nearly cried at the sight. The older boy couldn't be more than twelve, thirteen on the outside – and a scrawny thirteen at that. The boy's once white jeans were filthy, coated with dust and dirt from the eaves. Wrapping from mid thigh to below his knee were torn, reddened scraps of material – rough bandages with stains that hinted at serious damage. The boy's face was pale, lined with pain, shock, and exhaustion. But it was his eyes that caught his attention. They were wide, fixed, and unseeing… not once did they quite focus on Simon or the men behind him.
"Jim, I want you to get a med kit and see if there's a good way to get these guys out of here. One that keeps them out of the hallway." Simon whispered quietly, before turning back to the children. "May I come over there, son?"
"Yes, sir." Light brown eyes looked at Simon, but they didn't meet his. The boy held out Simon's badge.
"Thank you, son." Simon could barely stand upright in the attic. He kept his moves slow and careful, fearing they would bolt back into the eaves. "May I take the pistol?"
At the boy's nod, he reached out and pulled the weapon from the boy's waistband. Half turning, he tossed it into Sandburg's waiting hands. The wry light in the younger man's eyes acknowledged that he knew Simon was going to lecture him later. Beside him, Jim held a medical kit. Turning back to the boy, he took the clip from his hand and slid it into his pocket.
"What's your name, son?" Simon spoke softly, watching the trembling boy carefully. Seeing the deepening pallor and the signs of shock, he reached out. With gentle hands, he helped the boy sit. "Let's get you sitting down."
"I'm Asa Meade." The boy leaned on Simon's side. After a moment, he reached out and pulled the cardboard box over to them. The other boy followed it, eyes fixed on Simon. An odd sound from the box made him sit straighter. Carefully he pulled open the flaps. Inside a small baby waved it's hand. Another was still sleeping. The weary voice continued. "This is my cousin, Charlie, his sister Sara and my sister Angelica. I promised Mom I'd keep them safe."
"You did a good job, Asa. A real good job." Simon picked up the cooing baby, cradling the frail body to his chest. Asa's fingers traced the little body, wrapping around her fist, fingering the bracelet around her wrist. At Simon's motion his men and the paramedics they had found for him approached. "Now it's our turn. You can rest."
At his words, the younger boy climbed up into his lap and laid his head on the big man's chest. The older boy leaned against his shoulder, losing his fight against exhaustion.
"Did my Mom get out, sir?"
Simon looked up to meet the quiet eyes of his chief detective. The sad blue eyes told him the probable answer. "I don't know, son. We're still checking."
As he entered the Major Crimes bullpen, Simon noted the brief but controlled movements of the men in the room. Rafe sat at Ellison's desk, talking quietly to Sandburg. The two young men had been shaken by the sheer ferocity of the murder scene and the thoroughness of the killer. Even after the removal of the bodies, the house had looked and smelled like a slaughterhouse.
They turned together to see who had just entered the bullpen. He looked around the empty room before crossing to his two youngest men. He looked them over, noting that both were still pale.
"How are you two holding up?" Simon's voice was gentler than normal. He had noticed the way they had startled when he had entered the room and knew that he needed to put in a call to the department shrink. They both would need some help handling this case. All of them would.
It wasn't every day that they were handed a case with this many dead. An entire family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, had died. Murdered in one single night. Only the youngest ones -- hidden away in a last ditch desperate attempt to save their lives – and the two teens returning from a late movie had survived. Six alive and fifteen dead, the stats alone were enough to make him cringe. The scene itself had hit the entire crew hard. He added it to his mental list of things to do.
"We're fine, sir." Rafe was quiet, most of his attention on the drawing he was making. It was more like a rough sketch, Simon noted. The pencil was slowly adding a bit of detail to the front hallway of the house that they just left.
"Where is the rest of the team?"
"Jim's down at the morgue with Dan." Blair's voice was a pale imitation of its normal warm vibrancy.
"H and Joel are at the hospital with the survivors." Rafe continued when Blair paused. Glancing at the sketch he nodded to himself before handing it to the observer. "Ellison thought that they might still be in danger. As soon as Asa gets out of surgery, they're moving the others to a safe house."
"Megan went to get more coffee." Blair commented quietly, studying the sketch.
Simon watched curiously as the two young men studied the paper. Without speaking, Rafe turned over the pencil and Blair began making changes in the sketch. The two then began talking about the latest baseball scores. Simon nearly asked them about it until he noticed their faces. The complete lack of expression was eerie. He glanced at the desk and noticed that there were several discarded sketches laying on it. He picked one up and frowned. Rafe had obviously begun each one, adding details that he had noticed and then been corrected by Sandburg. Details that didn't fit as neither of them had been in the house longer than it had taken to get the children out of the attic. After a few minutes, Blair handed the paper back to Rafe and the baseball topic was dropped. They were now discussing the puzzle of the killer's point of entry.
"Are there any leads yet?" He asked, wondering exactly what Sandburg had gotten Rafe to do.
"Well," The anthropologist turned his full attention on Simon. "I pulled up a couple of references from the Internet. I used Rafe's password to get access to the FBI's on-line database looking for similar murder cases from around the country. Depending on the point of entry, this one could be linked to two different serial killers or it could be completely independent."
Blair stood and began to pace, hands moving as he warmed to the subject. Briefly Simon's mind wandered. If Jim hadn't been successful in keeping Sandburg alive, he would have missed the young man. Between the near drowning and the pneumonia that developed from Blair's refusal to stay in the hospital, it had been too close. The Sentinel and Guide had somehow managed to cheat Death, keeping the Guide alive… barely.
It had taken over a week in ICU for the narrow escape to sink in for the observer. For once, Blair had actually listened to the doctors and followed their orders. Of course, the moment they released him from the hospital, he was back to normal. It had taken the combined efforts of Major Crimes to get him to rest as ordered.
Finally after a long recovery, Blair was healthy and back to his normal exuberant self. And with his health, so had the lives of Sandburg and Ellison returned to normal. It was as if Fate had been waiting for their partnership to recover from the near disaster. Only 48 hours after coming back to the station and this case had literally jumped into their laps. And knowing Ellison and his partner, they weren't about to let it go. Simon realized he had missed something and turned his attention back to the young man's voice.
"So, if it is the second serial killer, it's going to be bad. The guy has been around for at least fifteen years. He has been slowly crossing the country, hitting at least once in every state in a fairly straight line from here to New York City. And so far, there have been no survivors. The one witness was killed on the way to the police station, before he could give a more than a rough description. His police escort was killed too."
"How many deaths total, Blair?" Simon watched the younger man as he paused to look at the notes he had taken.
"Um, it doesn't say. It lists fourteen probable and another five possible. That's not including the six that were definitely the same guy. And each time it was the entire family, all the cousins and relatives, all during some kind of reunion or major family gathering." Blair had stopped, contemplating the lost lives. "The Fed's think that there were others that have never gotten on the list. At first it looks like the guy struck every other year. This one would make the fourth this year."
"I guess that means that the Fed's will be taking over." For once he didn't begrudge them a case. Simon didn't want any of his men on the case. They had had a hard enough year so far and didn't need this on top of everything else.
Rafe handed Blair the new sketch. Without saying a word, the anthropologist snagged his pencil and lightly added a few markings and wrote something on it. Even as Rafe began to speak, the young man handed the paper back to him. The detective blinked and then looked down at the sketch and then grabbed the others, flipping through them. The words he spoke were choked, breathless. "You knew them?"
"No." Blair was obviously puzzled, as was Simon. He looked over the sketches again, noting the things that the young detective had seen. The rooms were marked by name of the person who died in them, the bodies marked by name and small details added to the first few sketches, details Blair hadn't been inside those rooms to see, things that only the killer would know because forensics was still working on the site.
"But I didn't know them." The anthropologist's voice was tense as he looked at his notes.
Simon closed his eyes as he realized the headache that was about to come. Hoping the answer would be affirmative but fearing the negative, he asked, "Did Jim know them?"
"No." Ellison's voice startled all three men. Flinty eyes met Simon's, as the detective made his way to his partner's side. The forbidding look and the quick glance at Rafe was all Simon needed. It was one of the things he dreaded, something that involved Ellison's Sentinel senses.
Even as Simon watched, the closed look disappeared and Jim crouched beside his partner, one hand going to Blair's shoulder. "Hey, Chief. How are you holding up?"
"I've been better, Jim." Blair spoke softly, his eyes haunted. "I keep seeing all the blood and the bodies."
"Easy, Blair. Take a deep breath and release it slowly." Jim's hand slip up to grip his friend's neck. The measure of concern and worry in his voice was enough to make Simon do a double take. "We'll find the killer, and when we do, he'll go away for a long time."
"But that doesn't help them!"
"No, it doesn't. All we can do now is catch him or stop him." The Sentinel's voice was harsh, the cold light glittering in his eyes enough to make Rafe and Simon shiver.
Coming up behind him, Megan paused at the tone. She quietly set three mugs of coffee on her desk, deciding they were no longer needed.
"Jim?" Rafe's voice was soft, almost hesitant. He held out the set of drawings. "I didn't let Blair into the house until after the bodies were covered, but... he knew anyway."
The detective looked at the drawings and began cursing quietly. He stood and spread them out on his desk, shuffling through them. "Do we have the pictures from the scene yet?"
"Yeah, hold on." Blair's voice was slightly more animated, as he scrabbled through the papers on the desk. He pulled out a sealed envelope of pictures and handed them over to Jim.
Jim carefully laid the pictures next to the matching sketches. They were nearly identical. He focused on the photographs, ignoring the men around him. His fingers traced a faint pattern on the drawings and then tried to follow the pattern on the photos. "Are the fluoroscope results back?"
"Not yet." Rafe was bewildered.
"The drawing shows the outline of another body, right here. The picture... I can't quite make out the outline. I can't tell if something was really there or not. It almost looks like something or someone fairly small was dragged across here. But in Blair's sketch, it's obvious someone crawled through here."
"Jim, a sketch made by Blair is not evidence." Simon's voice was soft. Something was going on here - he knew it. It had to do with the fact that Ellison had known the address before the call last night. Something to do with the fact that Blair had known the placement of each body before going into the house.
"It's a possible clue, sir." The tall detective stood, grabbing his jacket. Behind him, Blair stood ready to follow his Sentinel.
"Let's go, Rafe. Someone needs to keep an eye on them." Megan grabbed her bag and followed the other two.
The captain took out a cigar as he watched his people walk out of the bullpen. Some days, he really regretted becoming a captain. Today, he thought, might be one of them.
Ellison and Sandburg stopped at the elevator just as the doors opened. Forensics officer Serena Chang, busily studying a set of photographs, walked into Ellison. Startled, she dropped the folder as she fought to catch her balance. Instantly, Jim's hands went to her waist, catching and supporting her as the photographs scattered.
"Are you all right, Serena?"
They spoke at the same time and froze. Serena blushed and looked away first. Beside them, Rafe and Blair had begun to pick up the photos. "I dropped your pictures."
"Jim?" Rafe held up one of the photos. The gray and sepia picture mirrored Blair's sketch, clearly defining another body on the carpet.
"How did Sandy know?" Megan's quiet question brought the Sentinel's head around. He shook his head, nodding towards Serena.
The detectives quickly murmured their thanks to the forensics tech and rushed into the elevator. They had a missing victim, one who had escaped after being wounded. Rafe began speaking into his cell phone as they rode down to the garage.
"There's a unit on its way over there. They'll meet us." The young detective relayed his information. "Captain Banks said he'll have Rhonda check the local clinics to see if the victim made it to help."
Jim stopped the truck in front of the house. He stared at it, heightening his senses. Inside he could hear only the quiet hum of the electrical appliances, no one was still there. At least, no one who still had a heartbeat. Even as he thought that, his sense of smell kicked in. allowing him to smell the scent of death. The thick odor, a mix of copper and bile and fear slammed into him, searing his senses. He rapidly tried to dial his senses back down as Blair reached over and grabbed his arm.
"Dial it down, man."
Jim took a deep breath, his senses slowly returning to normal. "Got it."
"Jim, are you sure you can handle this again?" The younger man's voice was soft, his eyes worried. "If it's this strong out here..."
"I'll be fine, Chief." Jim glanced at his Guide. He stared at the house, trying to prepare himself for what he was about to face. If the dream... vision... whatever it was hadn't happened this would be easier. He wouldn't be identifying with the victim. "You can stay out here with Rafe. Neither of you had an easy time of it last night."
"Um-hmm." Blair's voice was skeptical. He glanced over at the house and shuddered. Slowly he shook his head, sending his long hair swinging in denial. "No way, man. You are on the edge of a major zone here."
"Megan can keep an eye on me, Chief." Jim's voice was strained as he focused his guilt-ridden gaze on Blair. In the aftermath of the trip to Sierra Verde, they had discussed her being Blair's backup. After all, Blair had a lot of obligations he couldn't get out of at the university. But that wasn't the real reason Jim wanted Megan to work with him. This case was hitting them all hard, but Blair ... you could read the damage on his face. "You don't need this. You shouldn't even be here, be exposed to this."
"Jim, we've had this argument before. I am your Guide. I go where you go. It's my job to watch your back, not Megan's." Blair's voice growled through the truck's cab, burning in the Sentinel's sensitive ears. "No one else does my job, not if I can help it. It's not safe for you or anyone else. I'm here, so I go with you."
Jim looked over at his partner. The younger man was seething furiously. His fury communicated itself in his tone of voice and the rapid, jerky movements of his hands. The young man jumped out of the truck, slamming the door. He quickly stalked over to Rafe's car.
He dialed up his hearing to listen to the quiet conversation, as he climbed out of the truck. He hadn't meant to infuriate Blair, but once again it seemed that he had set him off. With a sigh, he headed for the other vehicle.
"Whoa! Sandy?" Megan's voice was startled, as she looked from the observer to the detective getting out of the truck. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, except for a certain stubborn, pig-headed cop. He thinks he can handle going into the house without my help." Blair's growled words brought both Megan and Rafe up short. "If he thought he could get away with it he'd go in alone."
"Take it easy, Chief." Jim spoke softly, as he approached the anthropologist. He placed a hand on Blair's shoulder, trying to explain, "I--"
"Don't patronize me!"
"Sandy! This is neither the time nor the place." Megan spoke quickly, as she noticed the approaching patrolmen. "It looks like the two of you still need to talk things through, but not here. Not now."
The observer nodded, turning away to glare at the house. He kept his eyes glued on the quiet looking building. It looked so peaceful. Only the fluttering yellow tape that glittered evilly in the early afternoon sunlight gave away the fact that it was not as peaceful as it seemed. If he didn't know better he wouldn't believe that this house had been the scene of such an atrocity.
"Jim? What's going on?" Megan's voice was soft. Behind her, Rafe was quietly explaining the situation to the patrolmen. They nodded, silently passing the observer as they headed for the backyard.
"You really don't want to know." The Sentinel kept his voice low. He watched Blair pace, as he tried to decide how much to tell the Australian inspector. "This is just hitting a little too close to home for both of us."
"Maybe Simon's right and you need off this case?" She suggested.
"No. We'll handle it." Jim turned away and walked over to his Guide. He laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder, relieved that he wasn't rebuffed. "Ready?"
The stench of death was strong, even before they entered the house. The heat of the day had made the mixed scents stronger. Early that morning it had been bad enough, but now it was far worse. As soon as the door was opened, Blair turned pale and Rafe nearly lost the coffee he had downed all morning.
"I thought is was bad this morning!" Rafe exclaimed.
"Heat makes it worse and today's been a scorcher." Jim explained, as he headed toward the back hallway. He compared the fluoroscope picture to the visible scene. Behind him, Blair whispered encouragement at a barely perceptible level.
"What are we looking for?" Megan asked quietly, "Besides traces of another victim?"
"Another kid," Blair's words were clipped, as he focused on his Sentinel. Maybe if he focused on his partner rather than their situation, it wouldn't hurt so much. He could feel their pain, hear their cries for mercy... He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to steady his breathing.
"Chief?" Jim's voice was soft, making Blair open his eyes. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Yeah." Blair whispered, forcing himself under control again.
Megan paled and swallowed compulsively. She had not wanted to hear that they were looking for another child. The ones they had found the first time they searched the house were a bad enough memory. Now, finding one that had been missed... She looked up at Rafe, when the detective placed a hand on her arm. She had missed his question. "What?"
"Are you okay, Megan?" He asked again.
Only Rafe's concern kept her from snapping at him. She nodded instead, relieved when he turned his attention back to the Sentinel. They watched him as he quietly found the trail in the dried blood on the carpet. A faint hand print on the bloody wall showed them where the child had slipped and fallen during his frantic flight.
Jim ignored both Rafe and Megan, tracking the faint impressions of frantic flight. In many places, footprints hid the trail. The victim's trail mixed up with the traces of police officers, coroners, forensics officers and paramedics. Blair's voice helped him focus past all the distracting other bits of information, holding him on the track of the child. He paused at a doorway and slowly closed the door. Then he swung it open again.
"Jim?" Blair asked as the detective stared at the door thoughtfully.
"He hid here, behind the door. I think he saw the whole thing." Jim's voice was rough. "He could see through the crack here, that's how he knew when he could run."
The Sentinel focused on the scent of the child. Here, it was separate from the other scents. Here the child had been fairly safe, he had stayed silent, his screams internal. And it clicked. The boy he had seen in Blair, the one who had watched and seen them in the vision. This was the one who had called his Guide, the one whose mental cries had pulled the shaman to this place. "He's special, Chief."
"I know." Blair's voice acknowledged what Jim had recognized. "Let's find him."
With a nod, Jim turned his attention back to trailing the child's progress through the house. Instinctively, he had crawled under tables, behind things, keeping out of sight of the madman who had killed so remorselessly. The trail led through the main rooms and out through the kitchen door.
As Jim and Blair followed the nearly invisible trail across the back porch, the two uniformed patrolmen joined Rafe and Megan. They watched, nearly awestricken as the Sentinel pointed to small bits of evidence, shoe impressions, spots of blood, broken branches.
"Where did he learn to do that?" One of the uniforms whispered.
Rafe shot a quick look at his colleague before muttering, "He's ex-covert ops. We can't tell you where he learned it."
Beside him, Megan fought a grin. At his quick glance, she nodded tersely. She couldn't tell Rafe the true story behind Jim's enhanced senses, so she was glad he had come up with something reasonable on his own.
Jim quickly led them across the yard, pausing to pick up a small stuffed bear that had been dropped under the picnic table. He absently patted it, cradling it thoughtfully for a long moment before he handed it to Blair.
"He hid from the man out here for a while. Then he ran." Jim didn't stop as he passed an empty doghouse. He pointed at the overturned water bowl and unclasped chain, letting his fingers rest against the flattened grass. "He let the dog go. I don't think it was conscious. Wounded or drugged, is my guess. The dog got up later and followed him."
The trail was clearer as they got farther from the house. Without the myriad of conflicting trails the Sentinel was able to follow faster. By the time the group reached the trees on the far end of the property, Jim was moving at a fast trot. He led them on a winding path to a clearing. The remains of a playhouse lay scattered in pieces.
"D***." One of the uniforms cursed at the destruction. "He beat us here!"
Jim shot the man a grim smile. "He missed here. It was empty. The boy was gone before the killer found the playhouse."
They watched as Jim leaped into a deep gully at the edge of the clearing, motioning them to stay put. The Sentinel knelt beside a little trickle of a stream. He let his eyes refocus, staring into a small indentation in the bank of the gully. It didn't look big enough for anyone, much less a child and his pet. But Jim could hear the frantic heartbeat of the one and the muffled growl of the other.
He didn't move, waiting patiently. The sunlight, even though it was filtered through the thick summer foliage, made him clearly visible to the hidden child. He could see the boy, arms wrapped around a large furred neck watching him. He inhaled, sorting through the scents. He smelled fear, freshly dug soil, sweat, tears, dried blood, but no fresh blood. He breathed a relieved sigh. The kid wasn't hurt badly so he could wait as long as it took for him to come out. He didn't need to go through the dog to get him.
A brief whisper was all the warning Sandburg gave him. Then his Guide knelt next to him, peering into the little cave. He moved over, giving his partner a better view of the cave and its occupants. The Sentinel didn't notice the bit of sunlight that flashed on his badge. The boy's breath caught. He gave a whispered command and then he was moving. Jim braced himself just in time. The small dirt clad figure hit hard, rocking the big man slightly. Trembling limbs wrapped themselves around the Sentinel, as the boy hid his face in Jim's chest.
Automatically, Jim's arms wrapped around the boy, hands holding him firmly in place as he whispered soothingly, "easy, kid. You're safe now. I won't let anybody hurt you."
With a relieved smile, Blair offered the teddy bear to his partner. Jim shifted the boy, taking the bear and gently placing it between them. The muffled exclamation, might have been a name but if it was, even the Sentinel's hearing couldn't make any sense out of it.
After several long minutes, the boy's trembling calmed enough that Jim felt comfortable enough to try really talking to him. "I'm Jim Ellison and I'm a police officer. This is my partner, Blair Sandburg."
The boy lifted his head long enough to peer through bleak eyes at the young man. Then he reburied his face in Jim's shirt and refused to look at the other officers when Jim introduced them.
"Can you tell me your name?" The boy shook his head, tightening his grip on Ellison's neck. "We need to take you the hospital so the doctors can take a look at you. Can you call the dog over?"
The boy's face appeared again. He looked from Blair to Jim before he nodded. In a cracked voice he called, "Thor. Come. Heel."
The dog that slowly emerged was huge. The heavy gray coat was filthy, covered with dirt from the tiny cave. Its slow movements only emphasized the muscles that moved under its coat. Intelligent brown eyes watched them from underneath bushy gray eyebrows.
"Whoa. That's a Russian Wolfhound." Rafe's soft comment made the boy's head turn. The open admiration for the animal brought a faint smile from the boy before it disappeared. "He's a handsome dog."
Suddenly, the dog turned, the hair on its neck stiffening. A faint scent of old blood came to Jim on the wind. He froze, turning to look into the woods on the other side of the gully. With one hand, he pushed Blair behind him. If he thought he could disentangle the arms wrapped around him, he would have passed the boy to him. Instead he backed up, forcing the observer to the gully wall.
Above them, the two uniforms pulled their weapons at the actions of the detective; at this point they were not about to ask any questions. Both were scanning the tree line, not quite sure what to expect. Rafe quickly knelt, offering his hand to Sandburg and pulled him up the bank. Beside him, Megan reached out for the boy.
"Come on, lad. We need to get out of here." She whispered.
The boy looked up and then at the trees behind him. Still clinging to his bear, he grabbed her arms, allowing her to pull him away from the Sentinel.
As soon as the boy was clear, both Thor and Jim scrambled up the side of the gully.
The moment that Jim was clear, the boy dove from Megan's arms. Instinctively, the Sentinel caught him in mid-leap. The boy ducked down against Jim's chest, refusing to look around again. Faintly, he whispered. "He's watching us."
The Sentinel stared into the trees, trying to see their silent watcher. He saw a brief glimpse of hair as the man dropped from sight. A moment later, he heard the sound of a motor and the squeal of tires as he escaped.
The ER doctor looked up as Ellison and his friends descended upon him. All four looked unusually grim and tense. He quickly glanced over them, noting that although they looked tired, there were no signs of the normal traumas. He focused on the figure huddling in the big detective's arms. Obviously the child was terrified, but not of the forbidding figure holding him. That made the doctor look the situation over again.
Ellison and his partner, Sandburg, were regulars. Everyone in the emergency department knew them. They knew that neither man liked being in the hospital. Hell, they had started a trend. None of the detectives from the Major Crimes Department liked staying in the hospital. It took all of the doctor's persuasion to keep the patient there. Now when one member of that group was admitted, his or her partner was in the room during most of the stay. And the rest of the group visited like clockwork during visiting hours. Someone had even commented that the Vice and Narcotics squads had picked up the trend, to the entire hospital's dismay.
A slight clicking sound made the doctor look down. A huge dog was walking calmly at Sandburg's side. What the? The doctor knew they didn't own a dog. In fact, he would have sworn Ellison was as allergic to dogs as he was to everything else. He started to say something but caught the detective's warning headshake.
"Ellison. Your captain said you were on the way here." A nurse met the group and began leading them back to a cubicle. "I'm putting you here. This is the only door to the room. About the dog..."
"He stays." Ellison growled quietly, as the child began to struggle. The grim expression disappeared as he leaned down to whisper to the boy. "We're not taking Thor away. We'll only be here long enough for the doctors to look at you and then we'll take you somewhere safe."
The doctor glanced at the nurse and shrugged. The business-like way that Rafe and Connor settled themselves at either side of the doorway, as well as the warning they had already received from security, settled the matter. They would take care of the patient and get the group out as fast as possible. They just hoped there was no reason to admit the boy.
Simon glared at his paperwork and sighed. If it weren't so late he would be heading for his ex-wife's house to hug Darryl. After reading through the preliminary reports on this case, he really wanted to see his family… to make sure they were safe.
Of seven witnesses to the murders on Cressida, there were no good descriptions. The two teenagers had been too frightened to note anything except blood and the knife in the killer's hand. The boy, Charley, was steadfastly refusing to speak to anyone, clinging silently to his older cousins. Asa could only describe the man's voice, his blind eyes tearing in frustration as he pounded on his hospital bed at his inability to help them. That left Tim. Tim, who had hidden all night in his cave with Thor, who was too young to give a good description to the police artist, but he'd tried.
The vague description and a name, a name Tim said the killer had kept calling out as he hunted through the woods. That was all they had. It wasn't nearly enough.
He stood, heading for the door. Maybe things would look brighter in the morning. Maybe the Sentinel and Guide would pull one of their near miracles out and solve everything before the killer could strike again. And maybe Simon should buy himself a lottery ticket. He was more likely to become an instant millionaire than for this case to be solved so easily. From the twisting of his gut, he knew things were only going to get worse.
Blair muttered slightly in his sleep, fighting the commanding pull of his dream. With soft, deceptively gentle hands it pulled at him, calling him to it. The more he resisted, the more urgent the whispering voice in his mind became. He heard the low growl of a dog and opened his eyes, dropping fully into the dream.
He stood in a stairwell, staring at two faces he recognized. The eyes were staring back at him, unseeing and flat in death. A doctor and a nurse he had met only earlier that day lay dead on the landing, blood pooling around them before cascading, like a macabre waterfall down the stairs towards the stunned young man. Even as he watched, the flow began to lose momentum, puddling on the step above him. He looked up at the faces that seemed to be watching his every thought again. This time he noticed something above the bodies; a sign on the otherwise pristine wall was painted with a ribbon of thrown blood. It didn't quite obscure the words, Fifth Floor, Pediatrics.
Blair knew what he had to do; he had to stop the killer. From hard earned experience working with Jim, he could tell that the killer had only left moments ago. As he began to climb the blood-covered stairs to the landing, he yelled a name.
The Sentinel began to wake the moment he heard his Guide's heart rate begin to rise. It was an instinctive response to the stress of the past twenty-four hours. The tension from the shared vision, the confrontation with Simon at the murder scene, the anthropologist's guilt ridden response to the deaths of the family members, the chase through the woods, and the resulting trip to the hospital with the last survivor had been hard on the younger man.
Once the ER doctor cleared their charge, Jim and Blair had escorted the boy to the safe house where the rest of the children had been hidden. Tim had taken one look at his cousins and hurled himself at them, crying out their names joyfully. The two teens had curled up on the floor, hugging Tim between them. It wasn't long before Charley joined them, all four crying and rocking together. As soon as they managed to get them all calmed down with Henri Brown and Felicia Sanders, as well as a pair of uniforms as their guards, the detective had dragged his exhausted partner home. After being bullied into eating, it didn't take long for the younger man to begin drifting off.
For the first few hours of waiting for a nightmare, the Sentinel had been content to stand guard downstairs while half paying attention to the Jags game on TV. Once the game was over and there were no excuses left, he had remained on the couch, waiting for the inevitable. Even though his eyes were closed in sleep, his senses were all extended and locked on his Guide, waiting. Beside him on the couch, his spirit guide's eyes gleamed, as it kept vigil with him.
Before Blair could call him, the hitch in his breathing had the Sentinel awake and on the move. The sound of his name, whispered desperately by the sleeping man, met him at the open French doors. Even in the dim room, the Sentinel could see his Guide's pained expression. A low, whimpering growl made him glance down and he caught a fleeting glimpse of Blair's elusive spirit guide as it darted under the bed. He crossed the room, reaching instinctively for his Guide's shoulders.
"Chief, wake up. It's a nightmare. It's over." His words were spoken quietly, as he reached up with one hand to gently hit the younger man's cheek. His vision misted over, becoming tinged with red.
He stood on a set of industrial steps, his Guide climbing them above him. His senses were off, locked out in this red tinted world. He reached out and grabbed Blair's arm, pulling him to a halt as he took in their surroundings.
A few steps above them lay two bodies; limbs sprawled at the odd angles death often gave the dying. The doctor's hands and arms were slashed; protective wounds, the detective in him noted impassively. The depth of the wounds bore testimony to the sharply edged blade that killed him. A single red stain blossomed in the middle of his chest; his death had been quick with that strike. The nurse had fared better, he noted, still dispassionate in his observation. He doubted she even knew she had been attacked. Her eyes and face were almost peaceful, as they stared at him. It was her blood, arcing from the one and only blow she had received that had sprayed the wall. The names embroidered on their white, hospital issue jackets made him look up, frowning at their familiarity. That was when he noted the sign beside the heavy fire door and he finally understood why his Guide was tugging impatiently at the hand wrapped around his wrist. He eased his grip, letting go as Blair's eyes turned to him.
//Stay behind me. // He signaled Blair, hoping the younger man would understand the unspoken message. At the curt nod, Jim reached for the door, only to have his hand pass through it. He shot a surprised glance at his partner before stepping through the door.
A still silence greeted Jim. The hallway seemed deserted, the dim red tinted light showed no movement. Where he would normally be distracted by the constant noises endemic to a hospital, there was no sound, not even the near silent burbling of air and falling dust motes to be heard. He reeled for a moment before the anchoring heat of his Guide's hand registered at his back. Instantly, the soft, comforting sound of Blair's heart anchored his hearing. He glanced at the younger man, mouthing his thanks.
Behind Blair's pale face, a red pattern splattered the cracked wall. The imprint of a skull stood out all too visibly to the Sentinel's eyesight. He looked down to see the ruined remains of a uniformed security guard lying stiffly against the wall. The bruised face was unrecognizable, too battered even for him to identify. A gun lay not far from the body, safety still engaged.
Blair pale hand tugged at his, impatient to move forward. Jim looked at the anthropologist, noting the pale, determined face and nodded. They both knew where the psycho who had done this was heading, but neither man was about to move without the other. Somehow even the thought of becoming separated from his Guide in this red-tinted world was enough to make Jim's stomach curdle.
Together, Sentinel slightly ahead of Guide, they headed down the wide corridor, following a trail of splattered blood droplets. Jim's eyes flickered from side to side, peering into rooms as they passed and noting that there were no children to be seen through the open doors. The man they were tracking was determined and knew exactly where he was going. The trail of blood they were following headed directly towards the room where Asa Meade was staying.
Just before arriving at the Asa's room, they passed the nurses' station and Jim paused. Beside him, Blair halted too. A pale nurse, one hand clutching her stomach, was whispering into a telephone. Her lips moved, making no sound that either man could hear, but it was obvious she was calling for help. Jim smiled grimly to himself -- backup was on the way. He noticed distantly that her eyes stared past and through them.
Jim turned, speeding his footsteps, hoping against hope that somehow he would manage to stop the killer. How he planned to do it, he had no idea. Somehow, he knew he had to find a way.
A movement caught his attention and he turned. A nurse ran from a room, eyes wide with fear. In her arms she cradled a toddler protectively against her hip. She pushed a bassinet holding two tiny babies in front of her. At her side an older child in a wheel chair barely kept up. With quick, jerky movements, the nurse shoved the bassinet into a crowded freight elevator. Without pausing in her movements, she set the toddler in the wheelchair with the other child and hooked an IV to the wheelchair's metal hook.
As she did, the faces of several of the older children went pale as they began to scream. The nurse slammed her hand back against the control panel of the elevator. Then she turned, straightening herself and blocking the still open door. Even though obviously frightened, she was determined to protect her charges and give them a chance at escape.
Without seeming to move, the Sentinel stationed himself between the nurse and the thing approaching her. He could feel Blair's presence beside him and knew that his Guide would refuse to leave even if it was possible. Jim began to turn around, half hoping to see the attacker, but found his feet frozen in place. He glanced over to see by the despairing look on Blair's face that the younger man was also unable to turn. Then a blood-covered knife appeared to slice through Blair's body. Jim swallowed thickly, knowing that once again, the killer was behind them, attacking through their insubstantial forms.
The nurse dodged the first slash of the knife. A heavily gloved hand grabbed her wrist, making her mouth open in pain. But she fought back, pulling herself out of reach of the knife and kicking towards her attacker. The elevator doors closed behind her. She gave it a grateful glance, her attention wavering from the attacker. The knife withdrew and came in lower. This time it connected. As the nurse sank to the floor, the knife paused in midair. It swooped and waved through both Blair and Jim's bodies. The Sentinel felt a cold, icy sensation fill him as the knife pulled back through his chest. Then it appeared again, this time directly in front of Blair's throat as the killer tried to slice into the young man.
Instinct kicking in, Jim grabbed Blair's arm, trying to get him to dubious safety. The killer knew they were there. He didn't know if the man could see them or just somehow knew that there were two witnesses present. Beneath his hand, he felt Blair's pulse racing, the blood pounding through the veins under his fingertips. The sudden shock of realization that his Guide might be in danger, brought the Sentinel around in a half circle. No one stood there. In the time it had taken him to break free of the paralysis that kept them from seeing the killer's face, the man had vanished. The hallway was deserted except for the bodies of two uniformed policemen beside Asa Meade's open doorway.
Jim's eyes focused on the eyes of a man he had worked with since he'd joined the Cascade PD. Without pausing, the detective ran down the hallway. Crouching beside Ed Wilson, he tried to stop the blood flowing from the wound. His hand passed through the wound, coming back coated with his friend's blood. Wilson looked up at him curiously, eyes focusing on Jim's. A wry smile crossed his pain-wracked face.
"Ellison? Did you get the bastard?" The whisper sounded in his head as the light died in Wilson's eyes.
Jim tightened his focus on his friend, trying to find the traces of the man he knew. Around him, the rest of the world dimmed. He kicked the dial higher, raging against himself as he tried to find a sign that Wilson was still alive.
"Jim? Come on, man. Listen to my voice and come back." Blair pleaded, voice ragged with pain and dread. He crouched beside the other man, one hand stroking Jim's jaw, trying to get his attention. Time had stretched long, as the Guide begged for the Sentinel to break out of the zone. He thought for a moment that he felt Jim stir, but there was no other movement to confirm his hope. "Jim, please. You have to come back."
The sound of deep voice behind him made Blair jump. He turned to see a huge shadow looming in his doorway. He barely stopped a yell, as he realized that the shadowy figure was the big police captain. Where had Simon come from? When had he arrived?
Beside him, Jim moved rapidly. He reached out, grabbing Blair's arm and pushing him down onto the floor. As he did that, he placed himself between Blair and the looming figure, swaying as he did so.
"Easy, Jim. It's only Simon." Blair heard the relief in his own voice. As the Sentinel swayed, he sat up to steady him. Then he reached for the bedside lamp, quietly warning Jim before turning it on. "Close your eyes for a minute."
"What happened here, Sandburg?" Simon's face was grim, as he surveyed the scene.
Blair didn't want to deal with the captain on top of the vision and Jim's zone. He let his hand rest on his Sentinel's back, whispering, "Jim? Are you all the way back?" There was no response and he repeated it, a little louder. That time he got a slight response, as Jim stiffened and cast a vague, confused look over his shoulder before looking down at his hands.
Simon's voice was much softer as it spoke again, asking gently, "Sandburg? What happened?"
Blair looked at Jim and shrugged. He really didn't want to explain this to Jim's boss. It was bad enough just trying to understand it himself. The idea of finding an explanation that both Jim and Simon would accept made his head hurt. He focused his attention on Jim, trying to dismiss the question.
"Jim? Are you okay, man?" He asked quietly.
The Sentinel still stared at his hands, face dazed. For a long moment, Blair feared that he had zoned again. Then Jim looked up, eyes haunted as he held up his blood coated hands so Blair could see them. "I don't know, Chief."
"Go take a shower, I'll talk to Simon, okay?" Blair kept his voice calm and controlled. He had hoped it was a nightmare, not another vision. He'd known from the onset it was real, but his mind had wanted to deny it. He shot the captain a glare. He knew it wasn't the big man's fault but it didn't matter, he was available. To his surprise the other man frowned but said nothing and began backing away from the doorway.
Jim nodded, his face a pale mask. With Blair's help, he stood before heading to his loft bedroom. When Jim stumbled, Blair grabbed him and turned him towards the bathroom. "I'll get you some fresh clothes, man."
He knew Simon watched from the living room as the Guide raced up the steps, grabbed clean clothes for his Sentinel and then waited outside the bathroom door long enough to make sure the Sentinel made it safely into the shower before turning to face the police captain.
He glanced down at himself, realizing for the first time that he was still clad in the boxers and T-shirt that he had fallen asleep in. He shook his head; he really needed to get dressed before they had this talk. "Let me get dressed and then I'll tell you what I know."
"I'll be waiting." The grim words made him shoot a questioning glance at the captain. Simon's whole body seemed tense, his face was closed with something bordering on fury and hurt. Blair sighed; it was going to be a long night.
It only took a moment for him to pull on a pair of pants and a sweater. Simon was standing in front of the balcony doors, waiting impatiently. Blair dragged his hand over his face, exhaustion dragging at his bones.
"I'm not sure where to start..." he began quietly.
"How about you tell me why you haven't answered the phone for the past two hours?" Simon's voice was cold.
"Huh?" Blair stopped in mid-stride. Slowly he turned and glanced at the glowing numbers on the stereo. He blinked, squinting as they came into focus. "Oh, shit! It took two hours to break the zone?" Panic struck instantly as he realized what that meant. "Simon, the hospital! The killer is after Asa. We've got to get over there. Maybe we can --"
"Asa's safe, Sandburg. A nurse was in the room when the commotion started. She got him out through the adjoining room and into a linen closet while the uniforms delayed the killer." Simon's voice was almost gentle, as he took in the panicked motions. "How did you know what happened?"
"We saw it happen, Simon." Jim's voice came from the bathroom door. The tall man strode into the living room, pausing in front of Blair. He laid a comforting hand on the younger man's shoulder and squeezed gently. "You okay, Chief?"
"Yeah." Blair swallowed thickly. He let his eyes scan Jim's face, taking in the tired lines and the pain still reflected in the pale blue eyes. It took a moment but he managed to give the detective a faint smile.
"Do you want to explain your statement?" Simon's voice broke through their silent communication.
"I, um, had a dream, a vision, of what happened." Blair refused to look directly at Simon. "I know you don't believe in--"
"Wait a minute, Sandburg. Why am I only hearing this now? Why didn't one of you say something yesterday?" Simon glared at them, his face puzzled.
Jim shrugged. "It was a pretty bad scene, sir. Until we got to the house, neither of us knew it was anything more than a dream. And visions are not legal evidence."
"Are you saying both of you saw the same thing?"
"Pretty much the same. I mean, we haven't really had time to compare notes," Blair answered. "After all, yesterday we were pretty busy. I kind of crashed as soon as we got home, so we didn't talk about this evening either. As far as I can tell, it seems to be some kind of Sentinel thing."
"You're wrong about that, Chief. It's a Guide thing." Jim spoke quietly. Blair turned wide eyes toward him, asking silent questions. "Both times, I came in to check on you because I thought you were having a nightmare. As soon as I tried to wake you, I was there too. As soon as I zoned, the vision ended. Even in a trance you knew I needed you and you came out of it."
"Oh." Blair nodded thoughtfully. "I wonder if I can find any kind of reference to this. There's got to be something, somewhere that relates to this."
"So, you're saying that both of you saw what happened at the hospital?" Simon growled quietly.
Simon nodded. "If it was anyone but you, Jim, I wouldn't believe it. I don't want to believe it now."
"Did Wilson make it?" As Jim asked the question, his jaw muscles tensed.
"I'm sorry, Jim." The tone answered his question.
"Damn it! If I hadn't zoned maybe we would have gotten a good look at the killer." Jim stalked over to the balcony.
"Jim, come on, man! It's not your fault. You can't control these visions. I'm not even sure if I can control them!" Blair's frustration made his voice hard, bitter. "I'm not prepared for this! So how can you be?"
Simon looked from one man to the other, not wanting to understand the words he was hearing. But needing to make sense of the conversation, he forced himself to ask, "If you saw these as visions, you can't affect what's happening. Can you?"
The young anthropologist turned haunted eyes to the police captain. "May be we can, Simon. At the house on Cressida..." he paused, swallowing thickly. "Asa's aunt, Sylvie Meade Tolliver, saw us. She tried to tell us about the kids hiding in the attic. And this time Officer Wilson, he talked to Jim. Both times, we brought back blood with us."
"Blood?" Simon's eyes went wide as he realized exactly what Sandburg was saying. "You brought blood back from the sites of the murders?"
"Yeah." Jim answered. His eyes were focused on his Guide, thoughts hidden as he watched the younger man pace. "What is it, Chief?"
"Jim, when Mrs. Tolliver spoke, was it before or after?" He made a slashing motion with his hand, not quite meeting his Sentinel's eyes.
"It was before the blow that killed her... but she would have died anyway." Jim spoke thoughtfully, understanding where his partner was going. "She knew it. So did I."
"As much as this conversation fascinates me, gentlemen." Simon broke into their conversation. "I have a scene that needs Jim's attention. Sandburg, do you think you can handle it?"
Blair nodded and darted into his room. The Sentinel could hear him muttering to himself as he hunted through his books. Jim listened as several things were moved and the muttering broke to a faint 'found it!'. Then the observer was back in the living room, familiar backpack adorning his shoulder and a long missing spark in his eyes. For the first time since his murder at Alex Barnes' hands six weeks ago, the Blair Sandburg he had first met was back.
"I've read about people on the verge of death having psychic episodes before." Blair was talking quickly, hands moving to punctuate his words. "This sounds like something similar. I mean, we weren't really there, not on the physical plane. We were there on the spiritual one... kind of like a dream walk or an out of body experience..."
"Sandburg." Simon's voice interrupted as they headed for the door.
Blue eyes looked up and he paused, waiting for the Captain's comment, a question impatiently bubbling in them.
"I don't want to know. This is something about Sentinels and Guides that I just don't want to know." There was a small curl on the big man's lips, just enough for them to know he didn't really mean it. "It's more information than this captain needs. Once you have it all figured out, tell me in simple words, leaving out the metaphysics, okay? "
"Yes, sir." Blair bounced as he headed down the stairs, the two police detectives following him.
"It's good to see him back, Jim." Simon's words were met by the Sentinel's nod.
"I just wish the circumstances were better."
Rafe met them at the elevator bay on the hospital's main floor. The young detective smiled in relief when he saw the three of them.
"You're all right? Good." The slight accent on the man's soft words only emphasized his worry about his friends.
"Sorry about that, Rafe." Blair explained hurriedly. "I forgot to recharge the cell phone and with the main phone's ringer turned down, we slept right through Simon's call."
Rafe looked at them closely before shrugging. "As long as that crazy didn't come after you like he did the kid, I guess it doesn't matter."
Jim glanced over at Simon. He recognized the look. Their coworker might not accept Blair's explanation, but he wasn't questioning it. He missed the slight change in the younger detective's expression as he hit the button for the floor below pediatrics without being told.
"Anything different?" Simon asked his lead detective quietly. The entire pediatrics floor was a low level buzz of working police officers and other personnel. They had taken over the physician's lounge as a temporary command post while they coordinated the investigation. Real sandwiches were silently delivered at Sandburg's request for something healthy for the officers on duty. While the surviving nurses were quietly interviewed, Simon made himself a note to thank the anthropologist.
Jim looked up from his notepad, his eyes bloodshot and shook his head. "You'd have to ask Sandburg. I'm not the one who can answer that question. I only know what I saw in the vision matches this perfectly."
"What about evidence?" Simon regretted the question the moment it left his lips.
"Too much blood for me to get a handle on. I knew Carl and Ed, Blair says that only makes it harder on me." He turned to check on his partner and paused.
Rafe was placing a blanket across Blair's shoulders and shooing the uniformed officers away from the sleeping figure. The younger detective looked down at the sleeper for a moment before he carefully picked up a pile of sketches and headed for Jim and Simon.
"This is what we've got so far, sir." Rafe's voice was flat, denying the questions his eyes kept sending the older men. "Blair noted a few things that forensics might have missed. I can finish the sketches with him later."
Simon looked from his top detective to his youngest detective. It was obvious that the one was barely able to keep his questions in check. Things were rapidly coming to a head and he didn't know how much longer he would be able to keep Rafe from asking hard questions about Jim's Sentinel abilities. He closed his eyes briefly, yielding to his exhaustion.
"Take the kid home, Jim." He made a command decision, not wanting to handle this now.
"Sir." The look on the Sentinel's face was one of frustration. But Simon wasn't about to let him get away with arguing.
"How much sleep has the kid gotten since this began?"
"Since this thing started..." Jim thought for a long moment. "Today is Saturday, right?"
"Have either of you gotten any sleep?" Rafe blurted out, eyes widening.
"We had just gotten home from the Peterson case when the massacre at Cressida happened. That was Thursday night. Maybe a couple of hours, sir." Jim looked at the coffee cup in his hand, bewildered.
Simon sighed. He looked at his own cup... cold. And it was unusually good coffee. He didn't know how Sandburg did it. When they needed a place to work without disrupting the hospital staff any more than the murders already had, the kid charmed one of the nurses into finding them the key to the physician's lounge. Then he talked her into arranging for real coffee and mugs brought up from the doctors' private stash. That wasn't including charming the cafeteria to deliver food at this hour.
"And if I know you, you got even less." He growled at the Sentinel. "Take him home. Get some sleep. I don't want to see you until noon."
Jim looked over at Blair and nodded. The anthropologist was snoring softly, his head pillowed on his arm amidst a pile of witness statements. "Yes, sir."
"Jim? Do I need to arrange for a patrol car to drive you home?" Simon was worried by the lack of resistance.
"No. I know when I'm too tired to be of any use." With that, the other man stood and walked over to the small table. He gently shook Sandburg's shoulder. "Chief? Come on, we're going home."
Simon couldn't hear the muttered response but it brought a chuckle from Jim, as he helped his partner get to his feet. He watched as the two men left the room. It was only then that he realized Rafe was still standing next to him. He turned and saw a thoughtful look on the detective's face before it vanished.
"Do you have anything for me, Detective?"
"I think you might want to send a patrol their way, sir." Rafe's comment was soft, but it made Simon freeze.
"Jim's too tired. He should be alright, but..." The younger man blushed. "They're both too tired and they could..."
"It's a good idea. I think I'll do it." Simon reached for his cell phone as his pager went off.
All around the room, Major Crime's detectives' pagers echoed his. They all grabbed cell phones and called in, eyes widening as they received an address. In the doorway to the lounge, the Sentinel cursed succinctly and turned to race down the hall, his Guide a few steps behind him. Barely stopping to grab their papers and notes, the contingent of police officers and detectives bolted from the room. Hospital staff scattered, eyes widening at the sight of their grim faces. Someone grabbed a phone and called the ER, warning them that there might be more incoming wounded.
"Anything Inspector?" Simon glanced at Megan who shook her head.
"No, sir. None of the neighbors saw anything or they're not answering the door." She shook her head.
Simon frowned as he looked around the small apartment. The window leading from the fire escape was shattered inwards, the bed destroyed by the psycho who had broken in. He looked at the bedroom door. The center panel was in splinters -- long, jagged cuts showing where the man had used his knife to cut through it. Slowly, the captain followed the path of destruction to the front door. At least this time there were no dead bodies.
"Jim?" He asked quietly.
"He's with the witness and the paramedics. She wouldn't let go of his hand." Megan shrugged, understanding how having someone familiar might help the poor woman. "She'll be all right though. There's an officer already arranged to stay with her and a unit is going to follow the ambulance to the hospital. She's our first real witness."
"I want you with her, Connor. As soon as the doctors let us, I want her moved to a safe house." Simon was thinking aloud. "I want 'round the clock protection for her."
Megan nodded and turned to leave.
"Connor?" She paused. "If anything… strange happens... call me."
She nodded but didn't ask.
As she left, Simon noticed Jim and Blair entering the apartment. If he thought they had looked tired earlier, they both looked completely exhausted now. He went over to meet them.
"How is your friend?"
"Terrified." Blair whispered, taking in the destruction around them. "Oh, man."
"How bad was she hurt?"
"She broke her leg falling down the steps, but Angie will be fine -- eventually." The anthropologist sighed. "I'm just glad she saw him before he saw her."
"If she hadn't seen him, Chief, we'd probably be dead." Jim spoke grimly, as he walked through the apartment. He paused at the broken window and looked up to the next landing. Serena and one of her technicians were carefully inspecting the frame leading into Blair's room.
Simon stiffened and looked up to the next level, realizing what that meant. "He was trying for your apartment?"
"Yes, sir. Angie heard him go up the fire escape. She knows we don't go up that way, so she called 911. While she was still on the phone, he came back down and broke in her window. She says he was screaming for her to get off the phone." Jim turned and went back into the living room. He paused at the overturned phone table. "She was here, on the phone with the 911 operator. The bedroom door was closed. She hadn't turned on any lights. How did he know?"
"Why didn't anyone else call it in?" Simon wondered quietly.
"On this floor... Not many people are here right now." Blair commented wryly. "The Fergusons are on vacation in Maui, apartments 203 and 205 are empty thanks to a broken water pipe in 303. The only other apartment that might -- "
Jim was moving before Blair could finish the thought. Behind him, fellow officers -- detectives, forensics, and uniforms -- drew weapons and followed. The Sentinel paused at the door marked 201 and knocked gently. There was no response.
"Mimi? Sergey? Stefan?" Jim called as he knocked again. There was no answer from inside. Blair held out a key, hand trembling slightly. The older man took it and carefully unlocked the door. He glanced behind him and took a quick look at the hallway full of armed officers. "There should be a woman and her two sons in here. They should have answered when you came by earlier."
Grim faced, Jim slowly opened the door. From the look of the apartment, their visitor had not been a friendly person. Furniture was over-turned and broken knick-knacks littered the floor. Jim moved to the side, clearing the doorway and flipped on the overhead light. The balcony door stood wide open.
The other officers slowly filed into the apartment, spreading out to search through the destruction. A soft, muffled sound brought the Sentinel's head around. He raised the dial on his hearing and headed for the back room. He could hear three frantic heartbeats. He stopped just outside the bedroom door. The marks of a heavy knife scarred the wooden door. But it was still intact.
"Mimi? It's Jim Ellison." He spoke softly to the door, laying his hand on the doorknob. From the inside he could hear a relieved sob. "Can I come in?"
The loud sound of a piece of furniture being moved reverberated in the apartment. Then the door flew open and two small boys threw themselves onto his legs. A moment later, a wide-eyed woman was in the doorway. She took one look at the armed policemen filling her apartment and paled. Jim quickly holstered his pistol and extended his hand. "Come on, Mimi. Let's get you out of here."
Tearfully, she took his hand and let him draw her close. She buried her head against Jim's chest. He frowned at the unfamiliar words that were muffled against his chest, wishing he knew enough Georgian to understand her. He tried to move but was immobilized by the three people clinging to him.
"Chief? I think I need some help here." Jim looked at his Guide helplessly. The young man knelt beside him and began whisper to the boys. After a moment, two blond heads turned to face him.
"Rafe?" Blair didn't even raise his voice. The other detective had been at Blair's side from the moment weapons had been drawn. He introduced one of the little boys. "This is Stefan. Stefan, this is my friend Rafe. He's going to help us get you and the family to a nice safe place."
The boy nodded and faced Rafe. Slowly, glancing back at his mother and Jim for permission, he took the young detective's hand. Beside him, his brother let himself be drawn into Blair's arms.
"Sir? I think we're going to need another safe house." Jim caught Simon's attention.
"Captain Banks? We have something." Serena's voice came from the hallway. She followed the trail of police officers into the apartment and frowned at the mess the killer had left behind. "Another attack?"
Simon looked from one person to the other. "Rafe, get this family to the station until we find a place to put them. I'll call Joel and see if Ellison and Sandburg can stay at his place tonight. Serena, I want this apartment checked for prints."
Both nodded and went to carry out his orders. Simon looked at the bedroom door again. So far, this maniac was staying a leap ahead of them -- but he had missed his last two targets. Maybe they would get him before he struck again.
Blair stared at the blood running down the stairwell, shaking his head in fear as it approached him. He didn't want to know what was up there. He didn't want to get any closer. But he couldn't not go. He had to find out who had met with the killer this time.
The stairs were familiar. It only took him a moment to place them, this was the back entrance to 852 Prospect. The blood covering the walls had thrown him for a moment. But he knew these stairs -- he saw them every day. They led to the condo he shared with Jim.
The slight tackiness of the stair made him look down. The blood had reached him and was coating his tennis shoes. He swallowed convulsively, looking away. Jim should be here, but for some reason his Sentinel wasn't in front of him. He didn't want to know what that portended. This wasn't like the other visions... and that scared him.
Soft brown eyes, dulled with death met his gaze as he slowly climbed the stairs. Angie, her laughing smile obscenely turned into a scream of silent terror lay on the second floor landing. Her hands were reaching out, begging for help that never arrived. Blair felt the tears burn his eyes.
He bent down and shut her eyes, whispering a prayer as he did so. That's when he noticed the blood creeping under the stairwell door. No, his mind cried. Don't open the door. You don't want to know. His hand disobeyed and pulled it open. Slowly his eyes followed the path of the blood until they reached the body lying protectively in front of an open apartment door. When he saw the face of the dead man, he began to scream in denial.
A light flared to life, blinding him. Hands reached for him, shaking him. "Sandburg! Wake up!"
"Jim? What happened?" Joel's voice echoed in Blair's ears as he opened his eyes warily.
He stared at Jim, not quite believing what he was seeing. His Sentinel met his eyes, worry and pain lining his face. Blair reached out, letting his hand touch Jim's cheek. "You're not dead?"
"It was a nightmare, Chief." The words were grim, but there was an underlying relief in Jim's voice.
"Oh, man. It was so real." Blair looked around the room, dimly remembering Monica Taggart showing him the room earlier. The nightmare still echoed in his mind and he looked at Jim again. For a moment, he thought he saw blood on the Sentinel's skin and panic flared again. "You were dead. Everyone was dead. I saw you. I touched you and you were dead."
A woman pushed her way through the small crowd of teenagers in the hall and gently shoved Jim over. Deep brown eyes met his, as she held a warm cup to his lips. She commanded softly. "Drink this, honey."
"Go ahead, it'll help." Jim confirmed the command and Blair found himself obeying.
"Aghhh. What is this?" He spluttered as the drink burned on its way down.
She smiled mysteriously and winked. "Something to make you calmer." She stood up and went to Joel's side. "I'm going back to bed. Don't let him stay up too much longer. He needs his sleep."
"I'll make sure he gets some sleep, Mrs. Taggart." Jim replied respectfully. She nodded at his comment and left. "It's okay, Joel. I can take care of this."
"If you need anything, Jim. Just let us know." Joel spoke softly, eyes watching as the detective wrapped a blanket around Blair's shivering shoulders.
"I will, Joel. Thanks." Jim focused his attention on his Guide as the older man closed the door. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I was in the stairs and Angie was dead. She hadn't gotten away." Blair looked out the window, barely noticing the faint signs of sunrise. He began rocking on the bed as he remembered the dream. "There was blood on my shoes and it kept coming. So I opened the door. You were dead -- just lying in front of Mimi's door. I could see inside the apartment and Simon was there. So was Megan and Rafe and Brown and Joel and ... I could bodies everywhere and they all belonged to Major Crimes." Blair's voice broke and tears began tracing their way down his face. His words slurred, as the drink began to take affect. "I touched you and your head moved... but you were dead and the panther was there, crying. My hands were coated with your blood."
"It was only a dream, Chief. A nightmare." Jim whispered, his arm coming around Blair and pulling him close. The Sentinel rocked in time with his Guide, sharing the younger man's fear and pain. "It wasn't one of those visions. It didn't happen. You don't have my blood on you."
Wearily, Blair nodded, eyes fluttering closed. "Don't leave me, please. I'm afraid if you leave, you'll die."
Wordlessly, Jim's eyes widened. He whispered a promise to stay until Blair woke up.
A few moments later, when Joel checked the room, both men were asleep. The sight of them, curled side-by-side brought a smile to the gray haired captain's face. He quietly closed the door and went to tell his wife that they were fine. Behind him a pair of gray-blue eyes opened briefly before closing again, satisfied that there was no threat to his Guide.
"Well, you two look better." Simon greeted his men, as they entered the conference room.
Blair nodded, eyes locked on the bulletin board where Megan was pinning an artist's sketch beside a picture of the house on Cressida. He slowly walked over to stare at it. "Is this the guy?"
"Yes. Both of your friends gave very good descriptions." Megan answered. "How are you doing, Sandy?"
"Okay." He met her eyes, letting her see he really was going to be all right. "I can handle it."
"You know I'm here if you need anything, right?" Her voice was soft. "We all are."
"I know." He answered. "Where are Rafe and Henri?"
"Rafe just went home. Henri is at the airport, escorting his family and Joel's to their flights out of town. Simon decided that since this guy managed to find your place, he might track down some of the other's too." Megan sighed. "The state police are getting some of the other detective's families to safety. This case is a mess."
"Yeah, I know." Blair muttered thoughtfully. "How did he find out where we live?"
Megan shook her head. "Rafe and I are convinced the guy is psychic... that he knew you where you lived and that the girl was on the phone. Brown thinks I'm a bit loopy."
Blair looked at her, mind whirling with possibilities. "Well, that would be one explanation for it."
"Sandy, do you really think the captain or even Jim would buy that one?"
"Not yet." He turned away from the board and went to a pile of files. "Has anyone located the kid's relatives yet? I mean, they can't have lost everyone."
"No, but we found out that the parents all worked for the same company in DC. They came to Cascade for a vacation -- to see their parents who had just moved to Cascade and to see if they could locate a good site for a new division of the company. The head of the company is on his way here." Megan handed him a piece of paper. Blair stared at the logo. "That's part of the reason why Rafe thinks the guy is psychic."
"Oh man." The logo on the paper was a pictograph for Ra... the all-seeing eye. "This says it's a research company. So what do they research?"
"It's classified." Megan grinned at him. "I wonder what that means?"
Blair rolled his eyes and began reading the information in the file.
"Sorry, we're late, Simon." Jim kept an eye on Blair, as he headed for Megan's bulletin board. When he saw that the younger man was going to be occupied for a few minutes, Jim stepped into Simon's office and helped himself to the captain's coffee. It tasted as good as it smelled, he sighed appreciatively and silently refilled Simon's outstretched mug.
"Joel told me about the nightmare." Simon glanced over at the anthropologist. "Is he doing okay?"
"Yeah. The case is getting to him." Jim sighed. "Any leads?"
"Serena took the tip of a hunting blade out of Blair's window frame. She got three full prints from it and the window frame. She said she wants the name of the company you used to put in the new security features." Simon grinned, as Jim's head shot up to look at him. "One of the windows cracked but didn't break through. Even if your neighbor hadn't called it in, he might not have gotten into the loft."
A grim smile crept over the Sentinel's face. "Good. It's a new company, owned by one of Kelso's friends. It's expensive but worth every penny."
"I want their name too. I'm going to pass it along to Sergeant. Howard. He'll get the word around." Simon smiled. "The guy is going to get real busy."
"Any matches on the prints?"
"Not yet. We're still waiting for a hit on the computers." Simon looked over at the busily working detectives. "We contacted the company the victims worked for. It's a family run research group working for the government. The chief executive chartered a plane and will be here soon. I've got a pair of uniforms waiting for him at the airport."
"Great." Jim groaned. "He's going to blame us for not catching the man."
"No. Actually, he was only worried about his family." Simon handed a cup of coffee to Jim. "This isn't the first time they've had problems like this. From what little we've gotten on them, the last disaster was at their head office – it left four family members dead. All information on it is classified. Now the only ones left are the kids and the one flying out here."
"What kind of a company is it?"
"Some kind of government research." The captain waved his secretary over as she entered the room.
"Mr. Johnson is here. He brought papers for the custody of the children, sir." The blond woman smiled sympathetically at the captain's grimace. She nodded at Jim, keeping her eyes focused on her frowning boss. "Should I have him wait in my office or bring him in here."
"Just bring him here, Rhonda." Simon sighed. "He might as well see the whole show."
A moment later, she returned leading a slim, well-dressed man into the room. Even though he wasn't quite as tall as the majority of the detectives in the room, he seemed to dominate the area. He looked around curiously and then his eyes locked on Simon.
"Captain Banks." The man offered his hand, "I'm Sam Johnson, Director of Sight Research."
"I'm sorry we have to meet like this." Simon shook the man's hand. He was a bit surprised that the other man only shook his hand, not trying any of the power tactics he'd met with from other DC executive types. "I understand you came prepared to get custody of the children?"
"Your detective said you were looking for family. That means some kind of accident and my foster parents must be incapacitated. I'm the only one who wasn't in Cascade." The man's pale gray eyes were haunted. He ran his hand through his dark hair. "Please tell me they are okay. No one would tell me over the phone."
"Mr. Johnson, maybe we should move this conversation to my office." Simon began. The man paled.
"No. I don't want it sugar coated. Please, just tell me. What happened?" The man's voice broke and for a second his eyes were so filled with pain that Simon nearly backed away. Then the pain was gone; the man's eyes were shuttered.
"Mr. Johnson, I hate to break this to you... but several members of the family were killed." Simon paused as the man sank into a chair. The man waved for him to continue. "I'm afraid that all of the adults in the house died."
"Oh, my God." Dismay and shock reflected on his face. "All of them? But... then the nightmares came true?"
Jim shot Simon a startled glance and turned to face Johnson. "Mr. Johnson, my name is Detective Ellison. I'm heading the investigation into the deaths of your family. What nightmares are you talking about?"
"My nephew, Timmy, he's been having nightmares about everyone dying." Johnson frowned to himself. "We tried to get more information from him... tried to figure out what he was seeing but it wasn't clear. He couldn't remember the nightmares."
"Mr. Johnson, exactly what kind of research is your company doing?" Jim's question was gentle as he noted that the other man was shaking.
"We have a government grant to research psychic phenomena." The room went completely silent as the detectives digested the information. "We were trying to find a way to really measure people who claim to be able to see the future. There has been a higher than normal percentage of recorded correct predictions in the past few generations. The first surveys on psychic phenomena were taken in the twenties. When we did a survey of the country a few years ago, we noted that there seems to be a correlation between that and the acceptance of gifts among family members. The more acceptance within the psychic's family the higher the percentage of correct predictions."
"Do you think there could be any connection between your company's research and the attack on your family?" Jim asked quietly.
"It wasn't an accident was it?"
"No, it wasn't."
"If it's the same psycho who's been killing other families with the gifts, no." Johnson answered, his eyes icy. "Every year another family, one known to have a valid gift of some sort, dies. No survivors to carry on the gift. We all know it. That's why none of the people we study use their real names any more. I've been trying to convince the FBI that the link they're looking for is the fact that the victims are psychic." The man sighed angrily. "The FBI thinks the whole idea is preposterous and that I'm a crackpot on the subject."
"Psychic? As in able to see the future and know what is coming?" Jim shook his head in disbelief. "If they were psychic why didn't they get out of the way of the killer? Or trap him? If they knew he was coming, why did they let him kill them and their families?"
"No. Psychic doesn't mean they can see clearly. Not the future. No one can see the future. Sometimes a person gets a glimpse of a possibility but that's rare. That's where predictions come from, but there are too many variables to accurately see the future. Some psychics can look at someone and they know there's something medically wrong. A few... they feel things, see things that happened in the past. No mind benders or fire starters… they don't really exist, not like they do in movies and books. But there are several types of psychic. Each type is distinct and different. It seems to run very strongly in some family groups." Johnson shook his head. "I want to see my family."
"We can take you to the safe house where the children are. Asa was the only one who was hurt, but he's recovering at the safe house too." Simon explained quietly. "The others are unhurt but this has affected them pretty strongly."
"I understand, Captain." There was a grimness to the man's voice that made Simon's hair stand on end. "I was the only survivor of a drug bust that went wrong when I was a kid. I know what it's like to be a survivor. I know what they'll be going through. They're all I have left."
Simon nodded. He turned to his detective. "Jim? I want you and Blair to meet us at the safe house."
"We'll be there, sir."
The safe house looked ordinary from the street. Jim looked around neighborhood, noting the silent officers watching them from the second story window of the house across the street. Nowhere was there any sign of potential trouble, no one was on the street to notice them either. He looked over at Simon and nodded.
Moving quickly, Captain Banks led Johnson to the front door. Jim followed them, keeping his senses dialed higher than normal. Behind him, Blair whispered softly, encouraging the Sentinel to keep him from zoning. As soon as they were inside the house, both men relaxed slightly. .
"Uncle Sam!" The two teen-aged girls threw themselves at the man. Just a few steps behind them, the younger children joined in, mobbing Johnson.
The police officers watched as the man seemed to draw strength in the face of their fear and begin comforting them, hugging them back, and answering their rapid questions.
"Well, I guess he really is family." Blair commented wryly.
"If he's family why wasn't he with the family on Thursday?" Jim muttered darkly.
"Coincidence?" Blair offered.
"I don't believe in coincidence, Chief."
"I don't either, gentlemen." Simon joined their conversation. "I want you to check out his story."
Jim nodded and turned to leave. A small hand grabbed his and tugged. He looked down to see the soft, sad eyes of the boy he'd rescued from the forest.
"Be careful. Arlo is still out there." Timmy whispered, voice trembling. The big dog crowded close, trying to comfort him. "He's looking for you too now. I can feel him looking."
"His name is Arlo?" Jim crouched down to face the boy.
The boy nodded. "He told me I couldn't get away from Arlo. He was mad at me."
"You didn't deserve that, Timmy. You did the right thing by running." Jim reassured him. After a long moment, the boy nodded and turned rejoining his now silent family. The haunted looks on their faces reminded him of Johnson's comment that Timmy had dreamed about the deaths before they happened. He met the man's eyes and saw that knowledge there. The killer was still hunting them.
"So how did the killer know where Ellison lives?" Rafe asked his partner quietly.
"I don't know. Mandy's little cousin said he saw the killer trying to reach Blair in a dream." The smile that normally graced Henri's face was gone. He shivered slightly. "It gives me the heebee geebies. The boy is a good kid but then he looks at you and you'd swear he's seeing into your soul. He told me to get Sherri and our daughter to her mother's house. So I did. Taggart sent Monica and the kids with them."
"I told you, their parents studied paranormal senses. Why shouldn't the kid be psychic too? How else would he have known to hide before the killer arrived?" Rafe argued softly. "It would also explain why all of the adults in the family work for a psychic research group."
"Next you'll be telling me you believe in ghosts!" Henri scoffed.
"Well," Blair interjected with a mischievous grin, "ghosts are a well documented phenomena. Every culture known to man has stories of ghosts -- the dead trying to warn living relatives of disaster, wanting vengeance, missing life. Why shouldn't he believe in ghosts? And why not believe in psychics? Remember, my mom's friend... Charlie was right about where the little girl was being held."
"Only after he led us on a wild goose chase, Chief." Jim added.
Henri rolled his eyes. "Exactly. Psychics are frauds and ghosts don't exist."
Rafe shook his head and smiled, shoving another paper into a large pile. "I think Blair might be right... there are some real psychics out there. Not all of them are frauds. Most are, but not all of them."
"Gentlemen, please tell me this is related to the case." Simon's interruption made them look up from their papers.
"It is." Blair answered. "We checked out Johnson's claim that the families being attacked were psychic. It made the pattern clear. In the original six cases, the ones the FBI has matching prints to link them together, every one of them had a palm reader in the family. No proof they were... really psychic, just that they claimed to be. After that the killer stopped leaving any prints." Blair pulled out a piece of paper and ran his finger down the list of cases. "Yeah, here it is... one person survived the attack, he was killed on the way to the local police station and so was his police escort. That was the last time any evidence was left behind. A week later police inventory came up missing the FBI's MO file for the killer. Seems the killer kept the officer's keys and helped himself to his spare uniform. Walked right in and stole everything they had on him... including the knife he'd left behind. Those prints match the ones Serena found on my window."
The detectives looked at each other, frowning at the killer's audacity. Blair continued, "The killer is smart, he learned from his mistake. Until Johnson's comment about only the gifted families, I didn't see it either. I found the link... he's right. The killer is going after entire families and eliminating them because of the gift. The one before he reached Cascade... the two men... father and son were renowned spiritual healers."
"So how does he track them down?" Simon asked quietly, looking from one man to another.
The three detectives winced. Sandburg frowned. "He'd have to be psychic, sir. There's no other way. That or he has access to something we don't. Most of these people were very careful not to be known as gifted."
"Then how did you find out they were?"
"I called my Mom. She knows all the real ones." Blair smiled and then caught himself. "I mean, she knew who they were. Knew that they had kind of disappeared... but didn't know what really happened to them. I asked her if she knew of anyone by the name Arlo. She said she didn't but she'd call me if Charlie called her about it."
Simon sighed. He didn't want Charlie in town again. The first two times had been bad enough.
"There's more, sir. In each and every case, he was inside the house before anyone knew it. He drugs them before he kills them," Jim looked at his notes. "According to this, all of the adults, except for Mrs. Tolliver, ate firehouse chili at dinner. The kids, including the teenagers ordered pizza from a local delivery place. The killer drugged the chili while it was being made."
"He was inside the house most of the day then." Rafe murmured growing pale. His partner nodded. They had been the ones to interview the two girls and both remembered Mandy commenting that her mother had started the chili in the morning so it would be perfectly spiced for dinner.
Blair turned to the computer and quickly tapped into the FBI database. "It's a match. The fourteen that were probably from the one killer all have that as part of the same MO… he always manages to get in and drug his victims before he kills them."
"But how does he get in the houses?" Megan asked quietly.
Everyone looked around the room, realizing that was still a puzzle they couldn't answer. A dangerous, unanswered question that left them with a possible hole in their security.
"What about the pizza delivery man?" Blair asked.
"Girl, age 17, 5'2", 110lbs and too scrawny to carry a 200 lb body down that narrow hallway and place it neatly against the foyer wall." Megan replied. "She was home by 10:30, both of her parents saw her come in… she joined them watching a pay-per-view movie. I checked with the cable company, the movie was ordered at 10 for the 10:30 showing."
"Any recent repair work?" One of the newer detectives asked.
"The door and window locks were new, installed by the two sons when their father bought the house." Rafe answered this one. "The original keys were on the victims' key rings hanging in the box in the kitchen."
"Maybe they left the doors unlocked because of all the family staying with them?"
"Mandy had to unlock the front door when the girls got back from the movies." Jim's comment reminded them. "So they had copies made of the keys and given to family members. That means copies could have been left anywhere."
"Or extra copies made." Brown sighed, making a note on his notepad.
"I want you men at the safe house by dark. If this man keeps to his record so far, he'll be going after the children soon after nightfall." Simon kept his voice calm. His people needed a break from the bullpen and it was getting late. "I want Sandburg inside the safe house at all times. Rafe, you and Brown can keep watch from the house across the street. Megan and Lance will be guarding the back entrance. Jim, you and Joel will be inside. Felicia and Catherine are going to be with the kids."
The detectives and Sandburg nodded before standing and heading out of the room. Simon watched them, wondering if any of them would get hurt this time. He hoped not.
Jim watched as Blair paced back and forth in front of the staircase. He glanced over at Joel and caught the older detective's amused grin.
"Sit down, Sandburg." The Sentinel growled for the fourth or fifth time.
"Sorry, Jim." The anthropologist replied. He perched on the flowery sofa for a moment before bounding up and pacing again. "I'm too anxious to sit still."
"We've noticed." Joel laughed at Jim's wry comment. "What's bothering you?"
"I don't know. It's like I can feel this Arlo guy watching us or waiting nearby." Blair frowned, turning in a half circle. "I just can't pin it down."
Jim froze at Blair's words. His Guide had seen the murders through visions... maybe he could feel the killer's approach. "Sit down, Chief. I want to try something."
"What?" Blair obeyed, sitting and watching his Sentinel approach.
"Remember all those meditation things you keep telling me about?" Jim glanced at Joel. The older man wasn't smiling anymore. He'd picked up on Jim's reaction and was watching them carefully. "I want you to try using one to relax. Maybe you can figure out what's bothering you."
Blair nodded thoughtfully, his eyes fastened on Jim's face. "But what about…?"
"I promise to keep an eye on you, okay?"
With that reassurance, the younger man began to rhythmically breathe in and out. He let his eyes close and as the two detectives watched, he slid into a trance.
"That was fast." Joel whispered, looking from Blair to Jim. "Is he normally that way?"
"No." Jim kept his eyes on Blair, monitoring the young man's breathing and heart rate. "I think he might be right and this guy is close by."
"You think Blair can sense him... like he's psychic or something?" Joel asked.
"Only sometimes, Joel." Jim muttered. He noticed that Blair's heart rate spiked. "Has everyone checked in?"
Joel picked up his walkie talkie and asked for a radio check. Silence met the request. "Rafe? Brown?" Joel turned wide eyes to meet Jim's. "Megan? Lance?" Only the normal static of the radio responded. "We've got trouble, Jim."
Jim nodded. He didn't dare touch Blair or he'd be trapped in the vision with his Guide and shaman. He turned to Joel. "Wake him up. I'll go upstairs and warn the others."
He heard Joel's shocked question but ignored it as he raced up the stairs. No matter how much he wanted to be with Blair... he couldn't. Not if he wanted Blair to live through this. For a brief moment, he wished he'd forced Blair to leave with Henri and Joel's families. Not that he would have had a chance at forcing Blair to leave Cascade. The young anthropologist was stubborn enough to fight anyone trying to separate the Guide from his Sentinel, even if it was for his own safety.
Blair stared at the shape approaching Megan. It gave him the creeps, knowing what he saw was really happening and that he couldn't do anything about it. Seeing the shadow sneaking up to the two detectives, he knew he had to do something. He tried to grab the man but he was shrugged off, his hands barely able to feel the man's shirt. He paused, surprised that he could affect the killer at all.
He saw a knife being pulled from a sheath.
"NO!" He yelled, grabbing the man's arm. The figure paused with a frown and looked around for him.
Suddenly a shadow appeared in front of him, a deep, soulless black shadow. It grinned at him. The knife rose slowly until it was over Megan's back. Blair rammed the shadow and the man stumbled, hitting her with the hilt across the back of her head. Megan dropped to the ground, unconscious.
Lance whirled, eyes wide at the sight of the man standing over Megan's prone body. The detective reached for his weapon as the man threw his knife. Blair leapt into the path of the knife, trying to block it. It flew into him, a slowly passing cold flame that made him gasp with pain. As he fell, Blair felt himself slam into the detective's body. He wasn't sure why he was partially solid in this vision but it was enough to knock his friend out of the way of the knife. Lance fell down the three garden steps, the knife grazing his temple. A heavy planter broke his tumble with a low snap. The hazel eyes glazed and slowly slid closed.
The killer gave a feral smile and went to retrieve his knife. He ignored Blair's ghostly presence, and returned to Megan's side. For several minutes he happily studied the woman lying at his feet. He traced his fingers over her high cheekbones, pondering her fate. Even as Blair tried to distract him, the man picked her up and slung her over his shoulder.
"Leave her alone!" Blair yelled, running beside the man's long strides.
"Arlo likes her. She shines a little. You shine too much." Dead black eyes stared at him before grinning madly. "I'll find you soon. You can't run from me. Then the shining will stop."
Blair gulped, eyes widening. He hadn't expected to be answered. He looked around, trying to find something to slow the killer down. The knife sliced through him, burning him again.
"Stay out of the way." Arlo snarled. "Or I cut her here and now. Then you will wear her blood like a robe of colors on your skin. Shining blood is so warm and dark and good. Yours will be mine."
Blair backed away, his hands spread wide. "She hasn't done anything to you. Let her go."
"The shine hurts. I don't like it." He dropped Megan to the ground and turned to stare at a car nearby. "More small shining people. But they cannot stop me."
Blair followed the man's gaze and recognized the car. He ran ahead of Arlo, trying to get the two detectives on stakeout to see him. For a moment, he thought Rafe saw him but then the young detective shook his head and frowned. Then a small bottle flew through the open car window. Before either Rafe or Brown could react, the fumes from the liquid inside it knocked them unconscious.
The man turned back to retrieve his prize. He carefully checked Megan and smiled happily when he saw that she was still unconscious. Hoisting her under his arm, he carried her towards the safe house.
"Soon, bright one. Soon the fire will go out and the darkness will remain."
"Jim! You've got to stop him!" Blair ran through the door. Inside he watched as Jim raced up the stairs, leaving Joel in the living room with his body. Blair froze. He was sitting on the couch in plain view of the front door. Behind him, he could feel the killer approaching the house.
Joel was shaking him, pleading for Blair to wake up and come out of his trance. Blair took a deep breath and dove through Joel. The older man stiffened, releasing his hold on Blair's shoulders and pulling away.
Blair told himself to apologize to Joel later, when things got calmer. He quickly arranged himself cross-legged on the couch, settling back against his body and closed his eyes. He focused on waking from the trance... it was self-induced so he should be able to wake up again.
"Joel, call Simon." Blair said quickly, opening his eyes. The darkness of the room confused him.
"Too late, Blair. The electric and phone wires were cut right after you went out." Joel pulled the younger man to his feet and pushed him back into a corner. "I called for help on my cell phone, but backup is going to be here too late to help."
"The killer knocked out Brian and H. I think Lance is dead." Blair whispered painfully. "I tried to stop him but... I couldn't do anything."
"Blair..." Joel paused, obviously trying to find something to say.
They heard a sound and then Jim whispered. "It's me. Where is he, Chief?"
"He was carrying Megan toward the back door. I ran to the front." Blair answered.
"How do you know?" Joel whispered.
Blair could feel the dark glee of the man suddenly seem closer. "He's inside."
Jim muttered a curse. "You really are linked to him aren't you?"
"He's insane, Jim." Blair tried to see through the darkness. But all he could see were shadowy outlines.
"Shh." Jim whispered.
"Hello, little light." The man's voice was deep, soft, and eerily echoed in Blair's ears and his mind. "Tell your friend to move out of the way and I might let him go. Not the big light one, but the other. I can't let the lights stay shining."
"Cascade PD. FREEZE!" Jim snarled as something went rolling into the room. Fumes exploded through the room, stealing the air from their lungs.
Blair heard the explosion of gunfire even as he felt the gas taking hold and bringing him down.
The quiet hum of machinery nearly overlaid the soft, steady heartbeat the Sentinel was focused on. He let himself drift closer to the sound, recognizing the chirruping gurgle of an IV drip. Slowly, carefully, with infinitesimal increments, the Sentinel let the dials begin to move.
He knew he was in the hospital. He just didn't remember why he was in the hospital. Jim thought about it for a moment before deciding the reason wasn't important. He let his sense of touch go up a notch and froze at the pain that blossomed.
Pain radiated from his arm -- a deep-seated ache that marked a broken bone. Pain also throbbed in his head. That pain he knew... it came from an overdose of gas. He'd felt it before while training in the army. He could also feel the muzzy feeling of drugs being used to combat the pain. He decided to let the pain dial be where it was.
He opened his eyes and glanced around the room. His eyes widened. He knew most of the men in the ward. Rafe and Brown lay side-by-side, sleeping on his left. On his right, Joel and Blair were sleeping soundly. He inhaled sharply as he realized they all had oxygen lines running across their faces. The cool, soothing whiff of his oxygen told its own tale.
He turned his head at the sound of approaching footsteps. Simon Banks did not look very happy, he decided. In fact, the older man looked like he had aged in the past few days. Jim frowned and cleared his throat.
"Simon?" He croaked. "What happened?"
The relieved smile on the captain's face startled Jim. He wondered briefly how bad things were as he took a sip from the straw Simon held to his lips. "You got him, Jim. And so did Joel, Felicia, and Tony. Arlo Rutherford won't be killing any more people."
"Why are we here?" The words were still more of a croak.
"Arlo left Megan on the back steps and got inside. Once he found you and Blair he threw that gas grenade. After you were gassed, you shot Arlo and passed out. Everyone got a pretty heavy dose of the gas before we could get you out of there. You fell on a table and broke your arm." Simon chuckled. "A few of the others broke bones and had other mishaps thanks to the gas. I'd better tell the doctor you're awake."
"Blair said Lance was dead." Jim had to know.
Simon frowned and shook his head. "I don't want to know how he knew that Lance was hurt. Broken collarbone and fractured arm, concussion, and a lot of stitches but he'll be fine in a month or so."
"How did he know where we were?" His voice rasped.
"The FBI found a police radio in his truck." Simon replied. "He was a locksmith, so he could easily get into his victims' homes. Before the feds closed the scene off, I saw a list on his dashboard, it had your father's name on it. Everything else about him is locked tight… the FBI slapped a pretty tight seal on this case. But Rutherford is dead. Not only did I check, but I watched Dan's autopsy. It was a righteous shoot."
Jim nodded, relieved. He needed to remember to talk to Joel about what had happened with Blair. He didn't want his friend to be cut off from one of his main supports at the station. He closed his eyes drowsily. He made a mental note to talk to Blair about getting some more information about these visions when they got released. He knew there was something else, something else he needed to remember. His eyes were just too heavy for him to think about it.
A weight on the bed made his eyes flicker open. The panther yawned at
him before laying its head on his hip. Jim closed his eyes and let the
darkness sweep over him. He was tired and the bed was actually comfortable.