This is an AU set during Sentinel, Too. I wondered, "What if Alex couldn't kill Blair?" This is the result.

Rated: R

The Stockholm Syndrome

By CarolROI

Part 1

Tugging his gloves on, he crouched in the bushes, patiently waiting for the signal. He quickly ran through his mental checklist, assuring himself he had all the items he would need to complete his mission. His blue eyes took in every detail of his surroundings, making sure nothing had changed in the ten minutes he had been waiting. He heard a door to the darkened building open, and a figure stepped outside. A match flared in the post midnight blackness, briefly illuminating the guard's face. Once the match sputtered out, only the faint red glow from the end of his cigarette betrayed his presence.

Damn. The microphone in his ear came to life. "Okay, babe, taking control of security cams in three, two, one. We have control."

"Drea, I've got problems," he answered. "Asshole's taking a smoke break at my entrance. Standing down until further notice."

"Roger that."

There was silence between the partners for five long minutes. Finally the guard flipped his butt into the night and re-entered the museum. "Give me a couple to make sure he's gone, then tell me when." He counted the seconds down silently.

"All clear, go for it, babe."

He ran across the lawn in a low crouch, his dark clothing easily blending with the shadows as he made it to the building's wall. His pick and sensitive touch made quick work of the lock on the alarm cover. Pulling a couple of alligator leads from his belt pouch, he jumped the proper connections, then slid the cover closed. "Alarm's bypassed. Heading in."

"Enter on my command. Setting off gas canisters now."

He slipped around the side of the museum and into the doorway, picking the lock as he waited for the go ahead. His partner's confident voice came through his earpiece again. "Guards are down. Think you can make it in under ten?" she teased.

"I'm not trying to beat your record," he answered back, slipping a small gas mask over his nose and mouth. "Entering perimeter." Cracking the door open, he eased inside. He took a few seconds to reacquaint himself with the familiar layout of the building, then headed directly for the room he wanted, the display of Chinitez relics.

Entering the darkened room, he began to cross to the dimly lit display case. So intent was he on the prize, a priceless gold and turquoise ceremonial mask, that he never noticed the body on the floor. Snagging his toe on the unconscious man's leg, he pitched over the body onto his hands and knees. "Shit!"


"Don't know, I just tripped over something... somebody... I have a bad feeling about this." He leaned over the man, his penlight illuminating his face. Recognition was a fist in the gut. "Oh, damn it... " he breathed.

Drea's voice was anxious. "What is it, babe?"

"Jim, oh my god, it's Jim... "

"Get a hold of yourself. We knew this was a possibility; let it go, complete the mission."

Drawing in a shuddering breath, he said, "The mission, yeah, the mission." He had started to rise when a choking sound from the man on the floor stopped him. Bending down again, he could hear the sentinel's labored breathing. "Oh, shit, shit! Drea! He's having a reaction to the gas; he can't breathe! I've got to... " God, what should he do, what could he do?

The voice in his ear was gentle, yet commanding. "Abort, babe, abort. Can you get him outside?"

Grabbing the tall man by the ankles, he started to drag him toward the exit he'd come in. "Yeah, yeah, heading for the exit now."

"I'm coming to get you."

"No, no, Drea, stay put, I'll let you know if I need you." Pushing the door open with his back, he hauled the cop out onto the sidewalk. "Come on, man, don't do this to me. Breathe, damn you!"

His curses were rewarded by a cough from the other man, who then moaned, and tried to sit up. "Take it easy, Jim, take some slow deep breaths for me. In for three, and out for three."

Jim Ellison's head was pounding, his lungs were on fire, his throat raw, and for not the first time in a year, he was imagining his guide's voice. Forcing his eyes open, he found himself staring into a familiar face, bearded now, the hair hidden under a dark cap, and the face blackened, but the eyes were the ones he saw in his dreams. "Blair?" This couldn't be happening.

The younger man rocked back on his heels, muscles tensing for the dash to the van. "Gotta go, man." He started to rise, and the sentinel grabbed his arm. Panicking, Blair tried to pull away.

"Let him go, Detective." Drea, god, Drea, why couldn't you stay in the truck?

Jim knew that voice, heard it every time he closed his eyes; she was his only nightmare. In one swift move, he pulled his gun and fired in the direction of her voice.

"Nooooo!" his guide's scream ripped through his skull, as his fist slammed into his face. Everything went black.

Shaking off the cop's now limp grasp, Blair sprinted across the grass, dropping to his knees beside the crumpled form of his partner. "Drea, honey, Drea, can you hear me?"

"Chest hurts... babe... help me... " Her frightened blue eyes looked up at him. "It's bad, Blair, it's bad... oh!" Gasping, she clutched at her swollen abdomen. "No, no, not now... "

Holding on to his love with one hand, Blair yanked out his cell phone, pressed 9-1-1 and send. "Operator, I need an ambulance at the back of Rainier University Museum of Anthropology. I have a pregnant woman down with a gunshot wound to the chest." Tucking the phone between his head and shoulder he put both hands over the heavily bleeding wound. "Hurry, please, hurry."

Rainier Campus, Hargrove Hall, One year ago

Blair sat at his desk waiting. He would come, he knew he would. What they had was too important for Jim not to get past the pain Blair had caused him. Not telling Jim about Alex right away had been wrong, he knew now. But how was he to know she was a criminal? He'd only been trying to help her. He looked up as his office door opened. "Alex."

She stood there for a moment, a gun in her hand, her expression unreadable. Finally she pointed it at him, and his hands automatically came up in a show of compliance. "If it hadn't been for you, I never would have understood what I really am. I owe you that." She paused, then continued, "You wanna know how I really got the sentinel senses? Solitary confinement in prison. Thought I was going crazy. It wasn't until I met you, I realized what I'd become." Her voice was sad, almost resigned.

"And look how you used this gift. What a waste... " he breathed, not knowing what else to say, how to sway her from whatever decision she'd made.

A look of determination crossed her face, but her voice was filled with soft regret. "This is the one thing I really didn't want to do, but I can't leave you alive." Pulling back the slide on the gun, she chambered a cartridge. "Come on, Blair, get up."

He rose to his feet shakily, his heart in his throat making it difficult to breathe. "Alex--" he began as he walked past her into the hallway.

"Just shut up, okay?" She marched him down the corridor, gun shoved tight against his back. Up the stairs and out of the building they went, across the drive to the fountain.

The anthropologist came to a halt, his knees against the low wall surrounding the pool, his back to her. For a long moment, he waited, feeling her presence behind him, yet she made no move to kill him. "Oh, come on, Alex, if you're gonna shoot me, shoot me already!"

Her hand darted up to grasp the back of his neck, shoving him forward, into the water. He struggled as his face went under, but her grip was too strong, and he couldn't break free. Just as Blair felt like his lungs were going to explode, he was yanked out of the water by his hair. Coughing and gagging, he leaned against the low stone bench for support, feeling the hold on his head turn into a half caress. When he finally looked to the side, he found Alex kneeling next to him, her eyes wet with tears and full of pain.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have, I don't know what I was thinking." She stood, gesturing with the ever-present gun. "Get up, Blair."

He was so damn tired of all this being jerked back and forth between one sentinel and the other. "Please, Alex, please, just kill me, okay? I can't take much more of this shit."

Shaking her head, she grabbed him under the arm and lifted him off the ground. "Come on, Blair, we have to get out of here!" Hauling him across the parking lot to her car, she shoved him in the passenger side and forced him to slide across the seat until he was behind the wheel. Tossing the keys at him, she commanded, "Drive!"

He shook his head, droplets of water pelting them both. "Alex, it's over. Give yourself up, give back the nerve gas."

"I can't! Damn you, just drive!" She poked him with the gun, and he reluctantly stuck the keys in the ignition, and started the engine. Putting the car into drive, he pulled out of the parking lot just as the first rays of dawn were beginning to peek over the horizon.

The '69 blue and white Ford pickup slid to a halt in front of Hargrove Hall, several police cars right behind it. Jim leapt out of the truck, and was dashing up the steps to the building, when something poked at his subconscious. Turn around, it said, and he followed the order, but saw only a peaceful fountain bubbling away merrily, the rising sun glittering on its surface. Shrugging off the feeling of déjà vu, he entered the building, followed by most of Major Crimes. Clattering down the stairs to his partner's office, he called out, "Sandburg!" There was no answer.

Flinging the door to the office open, he found nothing out of the ordinary. No signs of a struggle, no papers out of place, the chair pushed back from the desk slightly, as if the anthropologist had just gotten up. Yet there was something, not something he could see or hear but-- Closing his eyes, he inhaled slowly, separating the individual scents in the room. Dust, mold, books, wood, leather, stale coffee, Blair, fear. His eyes snapped open and he gasped. Whose fear? Blair's, his mind immediately answered. Fear of what? He concentrated again, finding underneath the layers of everyday living the musky odor he'd come to associate with Alex, and the familiar mixture of gun oil and sulfur.

The vision hit him like the head rush one got when standing up too quickly. Alex, in the office, pointing a gun at his partner shifted violently to Blair's terrified expression as his head was held under water. Shaking off the images, Ellison pushed past his captain and Connor and raced up the stairs. Plunging through the door, he stood once again in the sunshine of what promised to be a beautiful day in Cascade.

Slowly he crossed the driveway to the fountain, looking for a sign, a clue, anything that might prove or disprove his vision. Reaching the edge of the fountain, Jim looked down into the shallow water. Amid the jumble of coins and leafy debris, a silver ring winked at him. Scooping it out with his fingers, he examined it, immediately recognizing it as one of Blair's earrings. He had been here; he had been in the water. But where was he now? And was he still alive?

"Where to?" Blair asked, as he pulled out into the suburbs surrounding Rainier's campus.

Alex stared at him for a moment, then said, "You're wet."

"Um, yeah, from the little impromptu swim I took in the fountain, remember?"

She rubbed her brow. Her head hurt. "Where's your stuff?"

"My what?"

"Your stuff. You said your roommate kicked you out and you were staying at a hotel. What hotel?" At his blank expression she leaned over him, checking his pockets.

"Hey, whoa, ow! I'm trying to drive, Alex!"

She sat back up, her efforts rewarded with one hotel key and a pocketknife. She tossed the knife up in the air and caught it. "Naughty, naughty. You were holding out on me. But I'll over look it this time." Dangling the key in front of his nose, she said, "Drive. Here."

Fifteen minutes later, Blair parked outside room 17 at the Friendship Inn. Alex gazed up at the sign thoughtfully. "Were you hoping it would bring you luck?" she finally asked softly. His grip on the steering wheel tightened enough to turn his knuckles white, but he remained silent. Opening the door, she climbed out of the car. "Come on, out this side. Don't want you to get any ideas about running away."

Dutifully he slid over and out. She handed him the key and he unlocked the door, flipping on the lights. She forced him to enter in front of her. "Sit down on the bed, on your hands. Thank you," she said as he complied. Opening the door to the bathroom, Alex peered inside the small, windowless room. "Okay, go get dried off and put some other clothes on. Then gather all your stuff up." Crossing back to the room's only exit, she leaned against the door, folding her arms over her chest, the gun held loosely in her left hand.

Grabbing a change of clothes from his duffle bag, Blair entered the bathroom, closing the door partway behind him. Stripping out of his soaked jacket, shirt and jeans, he toweled off rapidly and redressed, wondering the whole time what in the hell Alex was thinking. She didn't need a hostage, and he would only slow her down. He grinned at himself in the mirror, yep, that was an idea. Maybe he could stall long enough for Jim to get here. Only Jim didn't know there was anything wrong. Jim just wanted Blair's sorry ass out of his life. Turning on the faucet, he splashed water on his face, feeling the stinging behind his eyelids ease a little.

"Come on, Blair, we don't have all day." Grabbing his toiletry things from the counter, he re-entered the bedroom and dumped them in his bag. "Call the front desk." She pointed at the phone. "Tell them you're checking out."

He did as he was told, then picked up his bag and left the hotel room in front of her, then turned to shut the door. They crossed the few steps to the car, and his stuff was thrown into the backseat. Once again, he got in the passenger side of the car and slid across into the driver's seat. Alex climbed in a few seconds later, having retrieved something from her bag on the floor of the rear seat. She handed him the keys, which he stuck in the ignition, then Blair put both hands back on the wheel in plain sight.

Snik-snik. Alex straightened back up and tucked her gun into the glovebox. "There, that should be a little easier on both of us, hmm?"

Blair glanced down at the handcuffs connecting his wrist to the steering wheel, fear doing a clog dance in his stomach. "Well, come on, start the car. We've got a long drive ahead of us. Head for the interstate." After a moment's brief hesitation, when nothing vaguely resembling an escape plan came to mind, Blair turned the car on and pulled out of the parking lot.

Simon Banks watched anxiously as his best friend went over the cheap hotel room with his senses. He kept his eyes on Jim, but his ears were listening intently to the questions Connor was asking the night manager.

"About what time did Mr. Sandburg return last night?"

The man took the noxious cigar out of his mouth and gestured with it. "Didn't come back last night."

Megan cocked an eyebrow at him. "Then who took Mr. Sandburg's things?"

"He did, when he checked out this morning." The cigar went back in his mouth, and he puffed smoke in the Inspector's direction.

Sighing, Megan tried again. "And what time, this morning, was that?"

"I'd say 'bout 5:30, give or take 15 minutes. Didn't bring the key up to the desk, just called from his room, said he was checking out, and to leave the charge on his credit card."

She waved a cloud of smoke away. "Was he alone, do you know? Anyone with him? What kind of car did he leave in?"

The manager scratched the fringe of hair covering his scalp. "I looked out when I heard a car start up. It was Mr. Sandburg in one of those big trucks everyone's driving nowadays. There was a blond lady with him."

Finally! Megan pulled out the mug shot of Alex Barnes. "Could this be the woman you saw?"

"Yep, that's her." Megan continued to question the man as Simon went inside to share the bad news with Jim. He found him in the bathroom, staring at his reflection in the mirror.

"The manager says Alex was with Sandburg."

Drawing in a long, shuddering breath, Jim slowly turned his head to meet his captain's eyes. "I didn't even know where he was staying. If Blair hadn't given you the name and address of this place, we'd still be trying to find it. And even with that info, we were too late!" He swept his hand across the countertop, knocking the cellophane wrapped plastic drinking cups to the floor. "Damn it, Simon, this is all my fault!"

"Jim, you had no idea she would go after Sandburg--" Simon began.

"That's just it, Simon, I did know, I just didn't recognize what I was seeing." He swore again. "Shit, that whole thing at the foundry was a setup, to draw me out, to kill me so she could take Blair. When that didn't work, she took him anyway."

"To help her with her senses?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't know, I don't know. Maybe, or maybe she just thinks he knows too much about her and wants to get rid of him"

Connor appeared behind Captain Banks. "Sir, the manager says they turned right when they left the parking lot. They could be headed to the airport."

"Or the freeway, or the docks, or to Canada. Airport security is already on the lookout for them." Simon's radio crackled. "Jim, I've got to take this. You gonna be okay here?"

Jim nodded, and Connor and Simon walked outside the hotel room. Taking a seat on the side of the tub, Jim leaned his head in his hands. "God, Blair, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He looked down at the plastic cup on the floor, the hotel's logo taunting him. 'Friendship Inn, the Friendly Place to Stay in Cascade'. "Some kind of friend I've been to you, huh, Blair." Grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes, he stood up and headed outside to go over the manager's story one more time.

Blair yawned mightily, and tried to focus on the road. They'd been driving steadily southward since dawn, stopping only for gas and to use the restroom. That had been--humiliating was the word that came to mind, that and degrading. The gas station had one unisex bathroom, and Alex hadn't wanted to let him out of her sight. At least she'd turned her back while he'd taken care of business.

Another four hours had passed in silence, save for her telling him which interchange to take. He'd tried thinking of an escape plan, but hadn't been able to come up with much besides crashing the car, yeah, right, just release that nerve gas over half of Washington state, Blair, and getting pulled over by the police for speeding. That scenario led to a high-speed chase, crashing the car, and spreading nerve gas all over the state again. Driving while handcuffed had taken some getting used to, but he'd managed. Only now his lack of sleep was catching up with him. The tires on the passenger side rumbled as they slipped off the edge of the road again.

Alex grabbed for the dashboard. "Jesus, Blair, watch where you're going!"

"Sorry," he mumbled, "I'm having a hard time staying awake. Can't we pull over at a rest stop or something so I can sleep a little? Or you can drive if you want to keep going, but I'm probably going to get us killed if I go on much longer."

She took a good look at him, noting the dark circles under his eyes, and the exhaustion on his face. She wasn't feeling too wonderful herself. They were hundreds of miles from Cascade, and no one, not even her partner, Carl, knew just how she was getting to their rendezvous. Some food, a good night's rest, and an early start in the morning would keep them on schedule. "Okay, next exit you see with a hotel, you pull off."

Three miles later, Blair turned off the interstate, and after driving for a couple miles on a side road, came to a small town. He pulled into the parking lot of another Friendship Inn, too tired to even chuckle over the irony that was his life. Once again they did their little getting out of the car dance, and he stood quietly by her side as she checked them in as Mr. and Mrs. Brian Brown, paying cash for one night's lodging.

Once inside the room, Alex checked it out thoroughly, pleased that there were no windows in the bathroom. Turning back to Blair, she said, "Lie down on the bed and get comfortable, then put your hands over your head."

It took him a moment, but he figured out where she was going with this, so he removed his jacket and shoes and complied. She leaned over him, the muzzle of the gun resting against his chest as she handcuffed him to the headboard. That done, she sat down next to him on the edge of the bed, sticking the gun in the waistband of her jeans. She looked at him for a long time, wondering why it bothered her so to see him so helpless, why it felt wrong to her.

"Alex," he said softly, "are you going to stare at me all night, or do you have some definite plan in mind?" Uh, oh, Sandburg, do you really want her to have a definite plan?

Giving him a pat on the stomach, she rose and walked into the bathroom, talking as she went. "I'm going to go to the Italian place across the street and get us something to eat. What would you like?" she asked, as she returned carrying a washrag and a hand towel.

He eyed the articles in her hand suspiciously. "Just spaghetti, and a salad, low fat dressing, ranch, if they have it." He didn't think he'd be able to eat much, but he knew he needed to keep his strength up.

She sat down on the bed again. "Drink?"

"Bottled water's fine."

"Okay. Now, open up," she said, grasping his chin firmly and stuffing the washcloth in his mouth, despite his struggles. When she was done, he was rasping loudly through his nose, and his wrists were red from twisting in the handcuffs. He closed his eyes to try and calm himself, feeling tears slip out from under his lashes.

He felt her hand rest lightly on his heaving chest, and her voice was almost soothing in his ear. "Easy, babe, easy. I'm sorry I had to do this, but I don't want you screaming for the cops while I'm gone, okay?"

Blinking away the liquid in his eyes, he nodded slowly. Alex wiped his face gently with the towel, then tied it around his head to hold the gag in place. "I'll be back in 15 minutes, tops. Just stay cool, okay?" Again, Blair nodded, and she pressed her hand to his cheek for a moment before she grabbed her purse and left the hotel room.

Simon hung up the phone and turned his attention to the man pacing his office like a caged animal. "Jim, would you please sit down, you're giving me a headache."

Ellison paused in front of his captain's desk. "Damn it, Simon, I feel so helpless. Sandburg is out there somewhere with that... that bitch, and I have no idea of where to begin to look for him!"

Leaning back in his chair, the older man removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I know how you feel, but we're doing everything we can. The Feds are looking for her, and we have an APB out with a description of the SUV they were driving. We'll find them, Jim, it'll just take time."

Clenching his jaw, Jim inhaled sharply, then said, "I don't know if Sandburg has that much time left." He was turning to leave when Simon's phone rang again.

"Banks. What? Damn it, yes, we'll be right down." Replacing the receiver, he stood up. "That was the harbor patrol. They just fished a body out of the water. They think it might be Sandburg." Moving swiftly around his desk, he caught his friend's arm as he sagged against the door jam. "Jim, damn it, pull it together. Let's not jump to any conclusions. The body's on its way to the morgue now. Come on, I'll drive you." Grabbing his coat, he maneuvered the detective across the bullpen and out the door, ignoring the curious glances they received.

Blair lay quietly on the bed, his arms stretched over his head, the handcuffs connecting his wrists threaded around the slat in the headboard. He'd tried rubbing his face against his arm to get the gag off, but Alex had known what she was doing. Think calm thoughts, he told himself, just let this go. You're not going to suffocate. Whoops, shouldn't have gone there. His breathing and heartrate began to speed up again. Okay, what's the worst thing that could happen? She could just leave you here, and the maid would find you in the morning, or she could come back, shoot you, and then the maid would find you in the morning. Stop it, stop it, stop it! What is wrong with you, man?

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think. What am I going to do? How am I going to get out of this? If she unlocks these cuffs when she comes back, I could rush her. And get shot. But what if you got away? What would you do then? Run, find a phone, tell someone. And have her follow you and shoot whomever you went to for help? Damn it, why couldn't he come up with a plan? Oh, and let's not forget the nerve gas. She could just stand there in the parking lot and threaten to open it if he didn't come crawling back to her.

God, Jim, if there ever was a time I would kiss your ugly puss, it would be right after you break the door down and untie me. Jim. Damn, do you even know I'm missing? Do you even care? Oh, fuck, now he was tearing up again, and couldn't breathe. Calm, stay calm. His heart was pounding so loudly he could hear the blood rushing in his ears, and all he could see were black spots in front of his eyes.

The door to the room opened and closed swiftly, and he heard something hit the floor. Hands tore the towel away from his face, and yanked the gag out of his mouth. He gulped in great swallows of air, feeling his wrists being released from the cuffs. Someone helped him into a sitting position, and he leaned forward, feeling the blood rush to his head. Jim, oh Jim, thank god, thank god...

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry... " That wasn't Jim's voice. Opening his eyes, Blair looked up to find Alex bending over him, her hands on his shoulders, her expression... frightened? "I'm sorry, Blair, I'm sorry. I thought you would be okay for a few minutes, and then I heard your heart pounding from all the way across the street and... and... I had to get back here." Her hands dropped to her sides and she took a step back, shaking her head as if she couldn't believe what she'd just said.

Blair couldn't believe it either. She'd heard his distress and come running? That didn't make any sense, this whole thing didn't make any sense. Scooting back against the headboard, he pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around them, resting his forehead against his knees. What in the hell was going on with him? With her for that matter?

Alex stared down at him for a long moment, wanting to touch him, wanting to reassure herself he was okay. She reached her hand out tentatively, then paused it in midair, her fingers inches from his tangled curls. Slowly she tightened them into a fist, digging her nails into her palm, trying to break the grip of whatever this was that had come over her. She finally succeeded by turning away and going to pick up the food she'd dropped to the floor in her haste to get to him.

Placing the styrofoam carton, bottle of water, and plastic fork on the table beside the bed, she retreated to the small desk on the other side of the room to eat her dinner.

Breathe, just breathe, Ellison. He leaned against the wall of the parking garage, relief flooding his body. It hadn't been Blair, it hadn't been Blair. He ran a shaking hand over his face, then bent over, resting his hands on his knees.

"Jim, you okay?"

"No, no, Simon, I'm not okay. That was too close, too close." He closed his eyes, still seeing the pale features of the young man lying on the stainless steel table. Same build, same age, same dark hair, but not Sandburg, thank god, not Sandburg.

Simon approached the sentinel, laying a comforting hand on his back. "Jim, it's late. Go on home, get some rest. We'll start fresh in the morning."

Turning his head, Jim opened his mouth to say something, when the rug was suddenly pulled out from under him. Sounds assaulted his ears, and he clutched his hands to his head, dropping to his knees on the concrete. He scrambled for the dials, trying to turn his hearing down, succeeding only after several excruciating moments of effort. He felt Simon's hands on his arms, and Jim looked up into his worried eyes. "It's okay, sir. I'm fine, just fine." He shrugged off the other man's help and got to his feet.

"You--are--not--fine, Jim," he said, punctuating his words with a forefinger in Jim's chest. "What in the hell was that?"

Jim shook his head slowly, feeling a headache building. "Sensory spike. I haven't had one of those since--" His next words caught in this throat, choking him. "Since I met Sandburg."

"Come on, Jim, let me take you home," Simon said, thinking if he got the sentinel safely tucked in for the night, he could head back down to the station, and burn up the phone lines, searching for any trace of the man that had wormed his way into both their hearts.

Blair put the half-empty carton down on his lap, tossing the fork inside, then closing the lid and setting it aside. He turned his gaze to Alex, as she crossed the small room toward him. "All done?" He nodded. Picking up the carton, she threw it in the trashcan by the door. "Ready for some sleep?"

"I guess so," he replied, wondering how they were going to accomplish that with one bed, and her need to keep him from escaping while she slept. Maybe he could talk to her now, convince her that if she let him go, he wouldn't turn her in. "Alex." She quit digging in her overnight bag and gave him her full attention. Blair gave her his best smile, and said, "Why don't you just let me go? I mean, I must be seriously cramping your style. You're used to working alone, and I'm just getting in the way." Aw, Sandburg, that was stupid, stupid. Just give her a reason to kill you.

She shook her head. "I can't do that." She went back to what she had been doing.

Puzzled at her response, or rather her lack there of, he asked, "Why?"

Shrugging, she replied, "I don't know." She glanced at him. "You wanna take a shower tonight?"

He felt like they were speaking two different languages, but a shower? That sounded like heaven. "Um, yeah, okay." He got up off the bed slowly, careful not to make any threatening moves, since her gun was still tucked in the back of her jeans, within easy reach. Grabbing his toiletry case, a T-shirt and some sweats, he entered the bathroom and closed the door.

Man, this was too weird, like he was living in some kind of nightmare. She couldn't let him go, or, he was beginning to suspect, kill him, but she didn't know why. And her reaction when she'd come in earlier, and found him having a panic attack--that was so--so--Jim. His head shot up from where he'd been bent over the sink, and he stared at his reflection in the mirror. Oh, fuck. How could he have been so stupid? Alex was a Sentinel; he was a guide. But how much influence did that have on the dynamic between them and how much was their own personalities? He hadn't come up with any answers by the time he'd finished his shower.

He re-entered the bedroom to find her already under the covers, leaning with her back against the headboard, the gun across her lap. She was playing with the handcuffs. An irrational surge of fear shot through him, and she glanced at him sharply, her senses picking up on his uneasiness. "It's okay," she said softly, "I'm not going to hurt you, or hook you to the bed again. I'm not a monster, I know you're afraid."

"Alex, please, I just want to go home." When had he started shaking? She patted the space next to her, and when he didn't take his place quickly enough, her hand closed over the butt of her gun. He climbed on to the bed, holding out his hands obediently as she snapped the cuffs closed around his wrists. Lying down on his side with his back to her, he closed his eyes as she turned out the light.

He felt her moving around on the mattress, then nearly jumped out of his skin as her arm went around his waist. "Take it easy," her voice said in his ear, "I just want some advance warning if you decide to get up in the middle of the night." She hadn't come right out and said it, but the threat was there. Blair closed his eyes again, trying to relax in this strange and frightening situation. Exhaustion finally overpowered his fears, and he slept.

Jim drove aimlessly through the night. Simon had dropped him off at the loft, and he had tried to get some rest, honestly he had, but he'd had the dream again, the one where he'd shot the wolf with the arrow, only there was a new twist to it this time. The injured wolf had morphed into Blair, and the spotted jaguar had slunk out of the jungle to crouch beside him. She had touched her muzzle to his face, and Blair had become the wolf again, getting to his feet and trotting off into the jungle at the jag's side.

He shook himself out of the memory, and took a look around. Somehow he'd ended up outside Alex's apartment. Pulling the truck over to the curb, he switched off the ignition. He stared at the building for a while, finally going with the urge to visit her home again.

Ducking under the crime scene tape, he entered the blasted remains of the other sentinel's territory. He wandered around for a few minutes, carefully extending his senses, trying to figure out what had drawn him here. A chair caught his eye, and he slowly laid his hands on the smoke damaged back. Immediately he got a vision of a man in the apartment with Alex, a man with a distinctive pockmarked face. The image dissolved to Alex standing in a doorway, through which could be glimpsed a beach. As the scene unfolded, Blair entered the frame, his hand going to her shoulder, supporting her as she utilized her senses. Jim snatched his hands back as though they'd been burned.

He felt himself trembling, and he recognized the emotion as rage. How dare he, how dare he help her! A low growl escaped his lips, and he stalked out of the apartment. The sentinel managed to calm down somewhat by the time he reached the Ford. No matter what he thought he saw in the vision, it at least it confirmed that Sandburg was still alive. Swinging up into the cab, he started the engine and headed for the station. If he had to, he would get a sketch artist out of bed; he was certain the man he'd seen in the vision was the key to finding Alex and Blair.

The sounds of someone in extreme distress woke Blair from a dreamless sleep. He was disoriented for a moment, then he moved his arm, and the weight of the handcuffs on his wrists brought his situation rushing back to him. The noise reached his ears again, and Blair rolled over to find Alex in the throes of a nightmare. She was tangled in the sheets, her face and hair soaked with sweat, her body trembling.

This was his chance! His chance to escape! Blair knew from living with Jim that nothing short of a train wreck or a guide's interference would bring the sentinel out of whatever vision lay behind her closed eyes. Slipping off the bed, he padded silently across the room, trying to remember where she'd put the keys to the truck. If he could find the keys, he could take the truck and the nerve gas it contained and drive to the nearest police station.

His fingers had just closed around the precious pieces of metal when Alex's indistinct mumblings became words. "No, don't--you can't hurt him--no--" Blair paused in front of the door. Come on man, open the door, get out, run! Her words became heart-wrenching screams. "Nooo! Blair!"

Somehow he found himself on the bed next to her, his bound hands gripping her shoulder gently, his voice dropping into the soothing guide timbre. "Alex, Alex, it's okay. You're having a dream. It's time to wake up now. Come back, follow my voice back." She came out of it swinging, and he wasn't quick enough. Her clenched fist caught him in the right eye, and Blair tumbled off the end of the mattress, hitting the floor hard enough to knock the wind out of him.

He lay there, dazed, trying to draw a full breath, hearing another thud, and what sounded like muffled sobs coming from the other side of the bed. Slowly, Blair sat up, his head ringing. "Alex? Alex, you okay?"

More crying sounds and then a pleading "Blair--help me--please--make it stop--"

Crawling around the end of the bed, he found her lying on the floor, curled into a tight, shaking ball. "It's all right, it's gonna be all right," he whispered, his hands going to her shoulder once again, feeling her trembling ease under his light touch. "Take a deep breath, then let it out really slowly, let all the bad things go." He sat there, talking to her, helping her get her senses, her panic, under control.

Finally, she sat up, leaning back against the mattress, staring at him. He scooted away until he felt the wall at his back, and returned her startled gaze. What had he just done? He could have escaped; he could have gotten away. He buried his face in his hands. He heard her get to her feet, cross the room, and return, but didn't lift his head to look.

There was a soft click, and the handcuffs fell away from his wrists. Her fingers wrapped around his, pulling his hands away from his face. "Oh, shit, did I do that to you?" Fingertips traced the rapidly swelling skin under his eye. "Ice, we need some ice." Standing swiftly, she grabbed the plastic ice bucket off the dresser, and left the room.

Alone, Blair shoved both hands in his hair. What was happening to him? Why hadn't he run? Why was he just sitting here now? What was this overwhelming need he felt to stay here, with her? Oh, man, Jim, if you were here, you'd be telling me I'd finally slipped off the deep end.

The door opened, and a few seconds later, Alex was on her knees beside him, towel-wrapped ice being pressed gently to his eye. Her hand under his chin supported his head, and Blair felt himself getting lost in that touch, in the power of her presence. He closed his eyes for just a second, and when he opened them, he was no longer in a ratty hotel room in a nameless town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. A tropical rainforest rose around him and right in front of him stood the towering remains of an ancient temple, its stones crumbling, the foliage overrunning it, but it was the most magnificent sight he'd ever seen. He blinked once in amazement, and it was gone.

Startled, he gasped and jerked, smacking the back of his head against the wall. "Ow!"

Fingers ran lightly through his hair, checking for bruises. "Relax, babe, I'm trying to fix it, not make it worse."

He realized she was picking up on his suddenly racing heart, thinking it was from fear. "Alex, Alex, I saw it! I saw it!" She stopped her fussing and met his excited eyes. "I saw the temple, the temple of the Sentinel!"

"Carl Hettinger?" Simon was seated on the edge of the conference table in his office, staring at the mug shot and police record of said man. He raised his eyes to look at the unnaturally subdued sentinel, well, subdued after last night's frantic worry.

Seated on the windowsill, Jim peered out the glass, not meeting Simon's eyes as he spoke. "I had seen him, and then had an artist's rendering run through the Feds database and it spit out a name."

Simon read from the file. "Hettinger--international weapons trafficking, known to have contact with South American drug lords Carlos Arguillo, Zaqua Caesaro. And you saw this man with Alex Barnes?"

Jim's reply was matter of fact. "Yeah, at her apartment."

"Why didn't you mention this before?" Simon glared at his friend.

The detective avoided answering the question. "Simon, this guy is known to have traveled to Sierra Verde twice in the last three months. Now, Arguillo operates out of the same region. I think that's where we're going to find Alex and the nerve toxin."

"And Sandburg?"

Again the sentinel skirted around the question. "My senses are doing weird things, Simon. I'm... seeing things." He finally met his superior's eyes, trying to convey with a look what he couldn't verbalize.

Simon blinked in astonishment. "You got all this from a vision?"

"Yeah, I got a clear mental image of her talking to him." He gestured at the file in Simon's hands. "Then I saw a beach."

"A beach in Sierra Verde?" Simon's tone was sarcastic.

Jim turned haunted eyes to his friend. "That's exactly what I'm saying, Simon. And there's more."

"What do you mean, there's more?" And do I really want to know?

Sighing, Jim looked back out at the steadily pouring rain. He finally said, "I saw Alex, and Blair."

"That's great news, Jim! That means he's alive!" Setting the file down on the table, he approached the other man, who should have been more excited by the news. "Okay, what is it you're not telling me?"

Jim pressed his palm to the cold glass, and his next words were almost a whisper. "He's working with her, Simon."

Stunned, unable to find any words to comfort his friend, Simon simply laid a hand on his shoulder and hoped that would be enough.

Alex stared at Blair for a moment, then put his hand in place of hers on the ice pack, and got to her feet. Crossing the room to her bag, she started pulling out clothes and putting them on.

"Alex? What is it? What's going on?" Blair was confused, which, he realized, seemed to be the normal state of affairs for him lately.

She glanced at him as she pulled on a pair of jeans. "I'm getting out of here."

"It's three o'clock in the morning! Why do you... " Wait a minute, wait a minute, she'd said, 'I' not 'we'. His heart started pounding again, and he felt light-headed. That meant she didn't need him anymore, that meant he was expendable, that meant--

"Stop it, stop it!" She was holding her hands to her head; her eyes squeezed shut in pain.

Laying the ice down, Blair got up from his position on the floor and went to her, leading her to the bed, forcing her to sit down. "Alex, relax, relax. Don't try and push through it right now, you're tired. Just pull it back, turn down the dial." When he felt the tension leave her, he asked, "What happened? What triggered the spike?"

Lifting her head, her tired blue eyes met his. "You. You were afraid, and your heart started racing, and it was so loud, and I knew you were afraid of me." Her hand flew up to cover her mouth, and tears slid down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs for a moment, but she pushed away his attempts to comfort her. Drawing in a long breath, she finally spoke again. "I can't hurt you, Blair. I don't know why. I tried, at the fountain, but there was this voice inside my head, like the voice I hear in my dreams, telling me that it's the Sentinel's duty to protect the Guide. I don't know what a guide is, but I know it has something to do with you--and every time I hurt you, or make you afraid, it's like I feel what you feel, magnified a hundred times."

The anthropologist stared at her, a million theories flashing through his mind, most of them being discarded, but one in particular seemed feasible, almost logical, almost natural. What if a Sentinel's guide couldn't just be anybody off the street? What if it was really Guide, with a capital 'G' instead of a lower case one? What if a Guide was as genetically different as a Sentinel, and they were specifically designed to work in tandem, as a team, as one unit, not as Sentinel and geeky guy chasing after him taking notes and shoving him under garbage trucks when he zoned?

"Oh, man!" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet and beginning to pace, his thoughts tumbling over each other in his eagerness to share his breakthrough with her. "Alex, Alex, I'm a guide, I mean I'm a Guide! What you're experiencing is perfectly natural. What I'm feeling is normal, is supposed to be the way a Sentinel/Guide pair interact. Oh, man, I thought I was going crazy because I couldn't escape when I had the chance--"

Alex frowned. "You were trying to escape?"

He waved his hands placatingly. "But I couldn't, don't you see? You needed me, and my instincts wouldn't let me abandon you! Just as your instincts wouldn't let you really hurt me! Oh, wow, Jim is really going to freak when he hears this!" Jim... shit... this would not be what he wanted to hear. Being told he had a genetic need for a Guide would not go over well with "Mr. I-Don't-Need-Anyone-Else-To-Define-Me".

At the mention of Ellison's name, Alex had risen and started dressing again. "Alex, talk to me. What is it? What's making you feel you have to leave right now, and leave me behind?"

Stopping what she was doing, she looked at him, struggling to put into words what she was feeling. "Because if I leave you behind, you'll be safe."

Blair grabbed her hand and squeezed it, his expression earnest and eager. "Why? Something must have triggered it, something I said, the temple! I told you I saw the temple and you freaked!"

Wolf running through the jungle. Warrior with painted skin notching an arrow to a bow. Drawing the arrow back, letting it fly, shooting the wolf. The wolf shifting into Blair. Blair was hurt, dying--"No!" Alex backed away from Blair. "I won't let him kill you, I won't! And he can't, if you stay here."

Someone wanted to kill him? "Who, Alex, who wants to kill me?" he asked anxiously.

"Your friend, the other Sentinel, Detective Ellison."

Simon set a mug of coffee down in front of Jim. "When was the last time you ate something?" he asked the sentinel. Jim rubbed his eyes tiredly, and tried to focus on the map of Sierra Verde spread out on the conference table. "Or slept?"

"I got a couple hours in last night, before...." His words trailed off and he clenched his jaw.

"Before what? Before you had this vision of Blair and Alex together? Come on, Jim. How much stock can you put in that anyway? You don't know the back story, all you got was one tiny glimpse of them together, or is there still something else you're leaving out?"

Pushing his chair back from the table violently, Jim stalked over to the window and stared out. "It just--turns my stomach. She nearly killed me at the foundry. If it hadn't been for Connor showing up when she did--"

The captain pulled a cigar out of his pocket, and rolled it between his fingers, observing the lines of tension in his friend's back. "Jim, Sandburg doesn't know that."

"Well, he should be able to figure it out! He's read her rap sheet; that security guard she shot is still in the hospital. He's intelligent, he's resourceful, he should be trying to figure out some way to get away from her, not help her, for christ's sake!"

Simon considered his next words carefully, then decided it didn't matter if Jim didn't like what he had to say, he needed to hear it. "Have you stopped to think about the fact that you brought this on yourself?"

Jim whirled around, his eyes flashing dangerously. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the conversation you had with Sandburg a little over 36 hours ago, right out there." He gestured toward the bullpen. "The one where you told him you couldn't trust him, that maybe he should seek out someone else to write about, that you didn't need his help. You practically pushed him into her arms, Jim."

Ellison's eyes closed, the dream of the previous night running through his mind. He shot the wolf, and she healed him. Turning his back on his friend, he said, so low that the other man had to strain to hear him, "I know, Simon, I know."

"Jim--Jim's trying to kill me?" Blair's knees suddenly felt weak, and he grabbed for the edge of the dresser.

Alex's hand on his elbow steadied him. "That's what I was dreaming about when you woke me up. I was in the jungle and I saw a wolf running. Your friend was a warrior, who shot the wolf with an arrow, and the wolf turned into you." Her fingers under his chin lifted his face so his eyes met hers. "I can't let that happen." She struggled for the words to express what else she was feeling.

He interrupted her before she found them. "It already has, Alex." It was her turn to pull him over to the bed and sit him down.

"What are you talking about?"

Blair leaned his elbows on his knees, and dug his fingers into his hair. "Last night, a couple hours before you came to my office, Jim told me that he couldn't trust me, because I helped you, and didn't tell him about you. He told me to find someone else to write about, like I even give a damn about that stupid dissertation. He told me he didn't need my help to find out who he was." The guide wrapped his arms around his stomach, wondering if the pain in his gut was the result of the spiritual arrow the sentinel had shot him with.

He felt Alex's hands rest tentatively on his knees, and her words, when they came, were soft and hesitant. "I'm sorry. It's hard for me to imagine what that kind of a relationship would be like--but from your reaction, I can tell he hurt you very much." He nodded dumbly, and she touched his head gently as she straightened up. He looked up to find her sliding her feet into her shoes.

"Don't tell me you're still going to leave?"

She shouldered her bag. "I have to." Snagging the keys from where he'd left them in the middle of the bed, she grabbed her gun from underneath the pillow and tucked it into her purse. She turned to find him standing in front of the door.

"I can't let you do this, Alex." She stared at him in disbelief. "Look, just listen to me for second. I know you can't tell me where you're going, but obviously it's dangerous if you want to leave me behind."

Tossing her head in irritation, she said sarcastically, "Yeah, it's dangerous. I'm going to meet my partner, who's already told me he's looking to get rid of me. And his method of changing partners leaves a lot to be desired." She made a gun with her forefinger and thumb and pointed it at her temple.

Blair grabbed her hand and yanked it down. "That's why you need me then, to watch your back, to protect you, to keep you safe."

Her eyes widened, and she took a step back from him, a soft little sob her only articulation. "Alex, what's the matter? What'd I say?"

She shook her head slowly, fighting not to cry. "No one's one's ever wanted to...take care of me, to protect me. I've always been alone." She lost the battle, and the tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

Wrapping his arms around her, Blair pulled her into a gentle hug. "It's okay, it's okay. We're both tired and on edge, and vulnerable. Let's get couple hours more sleep, and take a fresh look at things in the morning, okay?" He felt her nod her head against his shoulder, and he took her bag and set it back down on the dresser as she undressed again. Gathering the covers from where they had fallen on the floor, he climbed back in bed, tucking them both in.

Flipping off the bedside light, Blair lay on his back next to her, suddenly having mixed feelings about what he was doing. Alex was a criminal, he reminded himself, a thief with a propensity toward violence, and...and...She inched closer to him on the mattress, and he lifted his arm, feeling her tuck in against his side, a happy little sigh escaping her lips as she closed her eyes.

Blair blinked away the sudden dampness in his eyes. Jim, man, I'm sorry. I don't know what's happening here, and I never meant to hurt you, but she needs me in a way you never did. I'm a Guide now, and maybe, just maybe I can help her, not only with her senses, but in turning her life around. That would be worth it, wouldn't it? To help her become what she was meant to be, a Sentinel, a protector of the tribe instead of an outcast from it. He felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Yeah, that would be worth it.

The small plane hit another patch of turbulence, and Blair grabbed for Alex's hand, nearly stabbing her with the pen he was also clutching. "Hey, watch it, babe. I thought a Guide was supposed to protect the Sentinel, not spear them with writing implements." She gave him a warm smile. "Relax, it's only a couple more hours."

"A couple more hours! Alex, maybe you didn't understand me when I told you this before: I'm afraid of heights, really high heights, like airplane heights--"

She gave his arm a squeeze. "We'll be fine. Right, Paco?"

The pilot didn't move his eyes from the instrument panel. "Si, senorita, everything is a-okay."

"You better pray it is, with what we're carrying," Blair muttered under his breath, "or say goodbye to a big part of the rainforest."

She poked him in the side. "Keep your morbid thoughts to yourself. Go back to writing your letter, get your mind off the storm."

Sighing, Blair did as he was told, re-reading the first part of what was rapidly becoming a novel.

Dear Jim ,

Well, that was debatable. Jim was still dear to him, but was he still dear to Jim? Probably not, certainly not if he ever got to read this letter. More morbid thoughts...what was he doing? Oh, the letter!

Well, I've been gone for three days now. Have you noticed I'm missing yet? Part of me hopes you have, and part of me wants to spare you that pain, or really the pain I imagine you must be feeling if you've put two and two together, and figured out Alex kidnapped me. Which she did, but I'm not kidnapped any more, I'm kind of willingly going along for the ride now.

And it's turned out to be a really interesting trip. Alex is...complex. A lot like you, really. Makes me wonder what a Sentinel without a seriously fucked up childhood would be like. Probably amazing... not that the two of you aren't amazing, but, well, I can't help but feel your life experiences have maybe stunted your potential. Anyway, it was a really long drive to Tijuana. I know, I drove most of the way. And once Alex and I came to an understanding, and I'll get into that later, we talked, and talked, mostly about the Sentinel stuff.

Like you, she'd had heightened senses from childhood, and a traumatic event caused her to repress them at about 6 or 7. She couldn't really remember the exact age, but with a little bit of coaching from me, she could access the memory of what happened. That really wasn't the direction we were heading in, it just kind of came out. Seems her natural parents were members of a very small strict fundamentalist religious sect, woman's place is in the home, spare the rod, spoil the child kind of thing, no tolerance for anyone or anything that was beyond their realm of right. Now imagine being born into that world with heightened senses. When she started showing signs of being "different", they tried to beat her senses out of her, sometimes locking her in a closet for days, which, ironically, only strengthened them. After several years of trying that and failing, they, in their wisdom, decided she was possessed. My god, Jim, they tied a six-year-old girl to a bed and performed an exorcism on her!

And like everything else they'd tried, it failed to make her senses disappear. Her parents finally managed that when they turned their "problem child" over to Child Welfare Services. The trauma of being torn from the only home she'd ever known, as horrible as it was, buried those senses so deep it took solitary confinement in prison to force them out again.

Anyway, after CWS took over her case, she was shuffled from foster home to foster home, and I'm suspecting more often than not abused. But as she told me, "It was kind of comforting, because that's where I came from, that's what I understood. I didn't do too well in those families that talked about love. I mean, what's there to love about me?" I started bawling then, just listening to her talk about herself that way. I'm trying to help her, I really am, but I think it might take a lifetime to make her see that she really is worth loving.

I just read over that last sentence, and I realize you must be thinking I've lost my mind. That's what I thought too, until it hit me the first night on the road, what I am, what my purpose in life is. Hold on to your socks, Jim, cause this is gonna knock them right off. I'm a Guide. Not a guide, but a Guide. I'm like you and Alex, in that I'm different from everybody else. I can hear you right now, saying, "You just figuring that out now, Chief?" Well, yeah, I guess so. There's some ancient, mysterious, genetic synchronicity between Sentinels and Guides. They are necessary to each other's existence. Just how, I haven't figured out yet, but I know there's certain lines we can't cross. Like Alex couldn't hurt me, and when I had the chance, I couldn't leave her, not when she needs my help.

But I'm getting off track here a little bit. Anyway, the rest of Alex's life can pretty much be gleaned from her police record. In and out of juvie, then worked her way up to women's prisons in Oregon and California. That's where she met her current partner, a shady lawyer with South American connections, who saw the potential a person with heightened senses would have as a high-tech thief. He got her sentence shortened, and once she was out, she began working for him. But now, he seems to see her as more of a liability than an asset, and, we've come to the conclusion, is looking for a way to get rid of her.

Which brings me to the reason my handwriting is so horrible. I'm in this little tin can, flying over these mountainous rainforests, and like it does in a rainforest, it's raining, and the turbulence is terrible. And, I have to admit, I'm scared shitless, not just about this flight, but about what I've done with the rest of my life. I'm aiding and abetting now, Jim. There's no way a judge and jury are going to buy the hostage thing if we get caught. I've helped transport stolen US government property across state lines, and national borders. I'm heading to a meeting with a man who wants Alex dead, and whatever drug lord he's dealing with.

And like the hopeless optimist I am, I talked Alex into running toward trouble instead of away from it. We have a plan, not a very complicated one, but dangerous of course. Wouldn't want to screw up the track record, now would we? I told her she was crazy when she agreed to go along with it, told her she was a bad influence on me. And she told me she thought it was the other way around, that I was a good influence on her. Anyway, we're going to try to get out of this alive, but if it doesn't happen, then hopefully this letter will find its way to your hands.

I just wanted to make sure you know, Jim, that you were a hell of a lot more than a research subject to me. Despite our differences, we became friends, best friends, almost brothers, and I thought we could weather anything. I guess I was wrong. I'm not looking to lay the blame anywhere, Jim, but if I was, I'd have to lay it on my own shoulders. Not for helping Alex, no matter how I look at that, I can't see I did anything wrong. Yeah, not telling you was wrong, not looking closer at the things going on between us was wrong. And that was my fault, because I didn't know what I was. I didn't know that there were all kinds of instinctual things going on with me too. I hadn't even considered the possibility that I, as the Guide, was as important a part of the equation as the Sentinel, and maybe part of the reason for that lies with you. Not anything I think you did consciously, maybe I just was so in awe of what you are, that I kind of lost sight of my own contributions.

I promise I won't make the same mistake with Alex. I can't afford to. It would get us killed.

I guess that's about it. Our pilot tells me we'll be landing to refuel shortly, and if I get up enough nerve, I'll stick a stamp on this and drop it in the mailbox.

Blair twirled the pen nervously in his fingers for a moment, then scrawled, Love, Blair , at the bottom. Alex leaned over and said above the noise of the engine, "All done?"

He nodded, his pain-filled eyes meeting hers. Her fingers wound with his, and she squeezed reassuringly. "It's okay. You aren't alone; neither of us is alone any more."

He leaned his forehead against her shoulder as the plane's wheels touched the ground. "Goodbye, Jim," he breathed.

Jim Ellison walked out of the local estacion de policia, his long legs carrying him back toward the hotel at a rapid pace. Simon lengthened his stride to catch up. "Jim. Jim!" Catching the other man's arm, he pulled him to a stop. "Hold on a second. What in the hell's up with you?"

"Ortega was lying, Simon. He knows something about Hettinger, and Arguillo. God! I can't believe we're wasting time like this! Alex is here; I can feel it! And if she's here, then Sandburg is too."

Simon let go of his arm, and they proceeded at a slower pace. "Are you sure Ortega was lying, Jim? After all, your senses haven't exactly been firing on all cylinders lately." He was referring to the five separate occasions he had caught the sentinel either zoning, or experiencing a sensory spike, in the 96 hours since Blair had gone missing. He was beginning to seriously worry about his friend, and he was starting to think that the only reason Jim Ellison had held it together for the past four years was because of one person, Blair Sandburg.

"Yes, Simon, he was lying. I didn't need heightened senses to read his body language. He was nervous, couldn't look us in the eye, and the news that someone's smuggled nerve gas into his jurisdiction didn't seem to upset him a bit. I'll lay you odds he's on Arguillo's payroll."

"You may be right there, Jim. But where does that leave us?" He opened the side door to the hotel, and they headed for the stairwell.

"I want to check out Arguillo's compound. Maybe find out if the nerve gas has been delivered yet. If it hasn't, maybe we can get a lead on Hettinger, Alex and Sandburg if they try to arrange a drop off."

They rounded the corner of the stairwell, and were confronted by the sight of a familiar figure leaning over the twisted body of a man at the bottom of the stairs. "Connor!" Simon barked. "What are you doing here, and what in the hell happened to him?"

Inspector Megan Connor looked up from trying to find a pulse. "I don't know, sir. I heard a noise outside my room, some shouting, though I couldn't make out the words, and then I heard him fall. I was--indecent, and by the time I pulled something on, whoever else was out here was gone."

Jim knelt beside her, feeling for a pulse at the neck, and finding none. Rolling the man onto his back, he looked up at his superior in surprise. "It's Hettinger. His neck's broken, and--" he examined the man's hands, "there's powder burns on his right hand. Did you hear any shots, Connor?" He glanced around, but couldn't find a gun.

She shook her head. "No, but it could have been silenced." She opened his suit jacket, intending to search his pockets. Instead she rocked back slightly at the sight of a fresh bloodstain on the front of his shirt. "Bugger! I thought he just fell or was pushed. Didn't realize he'd been shot."

Ellison leaned over, examining the stain more closely. "He wasn't, there's no bullet hole in the shirt, and no wound. This is someone else's blood." Without really intending to, he took a deep breath and was lost in a whirlwind of images.

Hettinger, screaming at Alex, Blair visible behind her. A gun being fired. Alex dropping to the ground. A blur of motion, another shot, and two bodies tumbling down the stairs, only one of them getting to their feet. A curly haired anthropologist rose from the tangle, one hand clutching his side, crimson blood spilling over his fingers as he ascended the stairs--

"JIM!" His captain's roar and solid shaking brought him out of the zone.

Bringing a hand to his aching head, Ellison winced. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! They were here, Simon! We just missed them, they were here!" Leaping to his feet, he took the stairs two at a time, registering the bloody handprint on the rail, and the spatters of blood on the concrete floor of the hallway. He followed the trail to a door halfway down. Not bothering with knocking, he yanked out his weapon and kicked it open.

It was empty, but in some disarray, as if the occupants had left in a hurry. More bloodstains adorned the carpet in front of the door, and blood-spotted towels were tossed on the bed. Picking one up, he sniffed it. Damn, they were both injured.

"Jim? What did you find?" Simon stood in the doorway, his keen eyes taking in the room. "Connor's gone to get Ortega, not that that'll do us a hell of a lot of good, if he's working for Arguillo, and this is his work."

Ellison shook his head. "No, Arguillo had no part in this. I saw bits and pieces of what happened. Hettinger shot Alex, and Sandburg...." The image of his friend, his guide, trying to stem the flow of his own blood flooded his mind. He shrugged it off with a curse. "Damn it. Keep it together, Ellison." He met Banks' eyes again. "Sandburg went after him, they both took a header down the stairs, and Hettinger got another shot off. Blair's hurt, I don't know how badly, so's Alex."

Simon ran a hand over his close cropped hair. "Aw, damn it." He slammed his fist against the door in what for him was an uncharacteristic outburst. Shaking his hand ruefully, he gazed around the room again. "They didn't have time to take everything with them, there's gotta be a clue to where they would be headed in here somewhere." He walked over to the dresser and started yanking open drawers.

Jim crossed to the table that stood in front of the open door to the small balcony. Through it he could see the long wooden form of a pier, and a beach dotted with palm trees. Another flash of memory caught him by surprise. Alex leaning against the door jam, concentrating on a conversation that was taking place on a boat tied up to the pier. Blair stood beside her, his hand lightly rubbing her shoulder, supporting his partner. Jim came back to the present with a gasp.

"You okay, Jim?" he heard his captain ask.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay. Just seeing some things I'd rather not...." His voice trailed off as he looked down at a map lying on the table, a map of the jungle surrounding the village, with the locations of the local ruins clearly marked. Lifting the map up, he found a drawing of a pyramidal temple, a carving in the shape of an eye prominent on its side.

Again he felt himself falling into a vision, helpless to stop it. Alex and Blair racing through the jungle, looking back over their shoulders, dodging bullets. Climbing the steps of the ancient ruin, they joined hands, then placed the palms of their free hands, her left, his right, on either side of the eye. A door opened, and they disappeared inside.

"Jimbo? Ellison? Are you there?"

This time it was Connor pulling him back, and he blinked once, then his eyes focused again on the drawing. "Simon, come here." When the other man had moved to stand beside them, Jim pointed at the picture. "This is where we'll find them. This is where they're headed. It's calling to them."

Connor looked swiftly from one man to the other, her expression confused, but she held her tongue.

"Can you find it, Jim?" Simon asked.

The sentinel nodded. "It's calling to me, too."

Part 2
Immortal Cascade