After reading "Dealing" by Ismaro, my muse screamed it needed a followup to resolve all those unanswered questions. This is my attempt to solve the situation.

Rated R for mature themes and subject matter.
There are no fairy-tale endings here. (Though this might be right in line with the Brothers Grimm...have you ever read those things?)

This is an AU, folks, diverging from canon in The Girl Next Door just after Blair shows Jim and Simon Iris in the trunk of the Volvo, and before the tag with Jim, Simon and Joel eating the aphrodisiac dinner.

Spoilers for just about every episode in which Blair was injured or kidnapped.


By CarolROI

A Sequel to Dealing

Blair flexed his hands, trying to get rid of the faint tingling he could feel in his fingertips. The Velcro cuffs attaching his wrists to the rails of the hospital bed were padded, but too tight. He closed his eyes, fighting back despair. No one would tell him what was going on. He could only assume he was still under arrest for drug trafficking. He'd come out of surgery nearly twelve hours ago, and hadn't seen hide nor hair of Jim or Simon. In fact the only person from the PD he'd seen had been the uniform cop outside his door.

A knock on the door interrupted his dark thoughts. "Come in," he said, his voice hoarse.

A petite brunette in a tailored pantsuit and carrying a briefcase entered the room. "Hello, Blair. I don't know if you remember me, but I'm Rhonda's cousin, Carly Cavanaugh."

"I think I do remember you, from Rhonda's birthday party last year. You're a lawyer, right?"

Setting her briefcase down on the table, she moved to stand by the bed. "Yep, I'm a lawyer. I'd like to be your lawyer, if you'll let me. Rhonda said you were in quite a mess."

Blair couldn't meet her eyes, and he let his gaze travel to the other side of the room. After a long moment, he finally answered her. "You could say that, yes. I think I'm in a hell of a lot of trouble." Especially if Jim thought it was bad enough to arrest me. That thought sent his mind into a downward spiral, feelings of abandonment permeating him to the core. So this was what Jim really felt about him. He'd screwed up one time too many and had been finally hung out to dry. Becoming lost in those thoughts, he didn't hear Carly say anything else until she touched his arm.

"Blair, will you agree to let me represent you?"

"Huh? What? Yeah, it's just that..." He tried to gesture with his hands and was brought up short by the cuffs.

She looked down at his bonds and swore. "Jesus!" Turning on her heel, she stalked out of the room, collaring the uniform and forcing him to release Blair. "I don't care what your orders are, buddy. His fingers are turning blue! I'm this man's attorney, and I'm going to see to it that he receives humane treatment! He's just had surgery for god's sake, he's not going anywhere!"

When the cop had left the room again, she shut the door behind him, then took a seat, pulling the chair close to the bed. Removing a small tape recorder from her bag, she set it on the table, then focused her compassionate gaze on him. "I know you've been through a traumatic experience, Blair, and that talking about it, especially to a stranger, is going to be terribly painful. But I need to know every detail of what happened to you, so we can fight these false charges against you. I talked to the ADA before I came over here, and he's pretty confident he has an open and shut case, since Iris rolled over on you."

"Oh, god," Blair whispered, bringing his hands up to hide his face. This was like some long, horrible nightmare from which he couldn't awaken. Where was Jim? Where was Simon? He shifted in the bed, and gasped as pain shot through him.

Carly's hand grasped his. "Are you okay? Do you need me to call a nurse?"

"I'll be fine," he hissed between clenched teeth. "Just forgot for a moment, that's all." The pain faded to a steady, hot throbbing. He attempted to roll onto his side to relieve the pressure, and was embarrassed when Carly had to reach over and help him. Finding some extra pillows in the closet, she piled them behind his back to give him a little extra support.

"That any better?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah. Is there really any hope for me? If Iris testifies against me, I'm probably doomed. She's a great liar. She sure had me fooled."

Reaching through the rails of the bed, Carly patted his hand. "There's plenty of hope, Blair. Fortunately for us, the Cascade PD did just about everything wrong with your arrest. From what Rhonda told me, Det. Ellison knew you were a kidnapping victim almost from the moment he discovered your disappearance. He broke about every rule in the book by having you arrested. The cavity search you were subjected to was illegal. A cop has to have extreme cause to subject anyone to such a procedure, and then it can only be performed by a physician in a hospital, under a warrant from a judge. The way I see it, we have about a thousand legs to stand on." She gave him a smile. "Think you can tell me what happened now?"

Blair looked into her dark eyes and saw a steely determination there. For the first time in nearly 48 hours, he felt like he had someone on his side. "Can I have a drink of water first?"

"Sure." She grabbed the hospital issue sports type bottle from the bedside table and, filling it from the tap in the bathroom, she held it for him as he drank through the straw. She sat it within easy reach when he was done.

Taking a deep breath, Blair released it slowly, then repeated the action several more times, until he felt centered and some semblance of calm. At his nod, she turned on the recorder. "It all started with my car acting up..."

Carly strode through the halls of the Cascade PD, a grim smile on her face. She'd had a busy night, and an even busier morning before a judge. Since Blair would be in the hospital for a few more days, she'd arranged for his bail in absentia, and he was as of 9:00 that morning out of police custody. She'd then spent the rest of the morning filing a ton of motions, both in criminal and civil court. The Cascade PD and the City of Cascade were now being sued for false arrest among a myriad of other charges. The cop who had searched Blair had been charged with assault, and she was now about to serve the papers that gave her the most satisfaction.

She shook her head as she got onto the elevator for the ride up to the seventh floor of the PD. Ellison's treatment of the man who'd been his friend and roommate for nearly three years had left a foul taste in her mouth. Just the short time she'd spent with Blair taking his statement, and what Rhonda had told her about him, had convinced her he was a kind, compassionate soul who had not deserved the hand fate had dealt him.

She glanced down at the papers in her hand. It had taken all her debating skills to get Blair to agree to this. Despite Ellison's shoddy treatment of him, Blair had insisted that somehow it had all been a mistake, that Jim hadn't deliberately meant for him to be hurt. That might have been so, but in her mind, Ellison was a threat to her client, and she would take whatever steps she deemed necessary to deal with that threat. Besides, this would send a clear message to the ADA that she meant business. She had a meeting with him later that afternoon to discuss Blair's case.

Exiting the elevator, Carly walked into Major Crime. It was nearly lunch time, and the bullpen was all but deserted. The door to Simon Banks office was ajar, and she could hear voices from within. Approaching casually, she pretended to read the notice pinned to the wall next to the office, shamelessly eavesdropping.

She recognized Banks nasal rumble immediately. "Jim, come on. You've got to keep your head here. I know you blame yourself for what happened to the kid, but you can't just scoop him up and leave the country. That would make the two of you fugitives, and me responsible for hunting you down. Believe me, Jim, you don't want me to do that."

Ellison's voice was tight with emotion as he replied. "This is my fault, Simon. I thought it would be a big joke, teach Sandburg a lesson about picking up strange women if I arrested him. I never meant for him to be charged, or put through the hell he was."

Carly shook her head. Men! Even the mature ones couldn't remember to engage their brain before they acted. She rapped sharply on the glass of the door, then entered at Banks' "Come in!"

Her sharp eyes took in the scene at a glance. Banks sat behind his desk, rolling an unlit cigar that had seen better days between his fingers. Ellison was sprawled in a chair, looking like he hadn't bathed or slept in a week. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his expression pained. For moment, she almost felt sorry for him, almost thought that maybe he did regret what he'd done. Then the part of her that had graduated at the top of her class in law school reminded her that no matter how sorry he was, Ellison was responsible for the predicament her client was in. And her duty was to Blair Sandburg, not to Jim Ellison.

"Detective Ellison?" she asked.

"Yes." He made an attempt to sit up a bit straighter.

She handed him the folded sheet of paper. "Consider yourself served." Turning toward Captain Banks, she handed him a paper also.

"What in the hell is this!" Ellison sprang to his feet as he read the court order. "A restraining order? Who the hell do you think you are?"

Folding her arms across her chest, Carly glared at him. "I'm Carly Cavanaugh, Blair Sandburg's attorney. And like you said, that is a restraining order. You are to remain at least 50 feet away from my client at all times. Same goes for you, Captain Banks." She headed for the door.

"Wait a minute," Ellison called after her. "Does this mean I can't even visit Blair, see how he is?"

"Yes, Detective, that's exactly what that means. Once Blair is released from the hospital, I'll be contacting you to make arrangements to collect his things from your apartment."

"What!" He took a step toward her, his hands clenching into fists.

She poked a manicured finger at his chest. "Look, Ellison, if you really care about your friend, you will keep your damn mouth shut and do as you're told. I can get him out of this, but it's going to be at your expense. And frankly, I think that's a damn small price to pay for what you did." She looked from him to his captain. "Are we clear on this?"

"Perfectly," Banks replied. "Isn't that right, Jim?"

"Yes, sir," he replied obediently, but he didn't look happy about it.

Tough. She wasn't there to make his day. "I'll be in touch." With that, Carly strode out of the office, her mind already reviewing the presentation she was going to make to the ADA.

Barbara Kitteredge set her briefcase down on the conference table with a thump. "There better not be any problem with the Johnson plea bargain, Francis. We had that all agreed last night."

ADA Francis Swanson stirred cream into his coffee nervously. "I'm not the one who called this meeting. Sandburg's lawyer did. I'm assuming Sandburg wants to cooperate. After all, his friends had him dead to rights. Who better to know if he'd been dealing drugs than the cops he lived and worked with, right?"

Barbara dropped into a chair. "Well, I don't like it. I smell trouble."

The office door opened and closed as Carly Cavanaugh breezed into the room. "Sorry I'm late, Barbara, Francis. I've had a very busy morning. Lots of motions and lawsuits to file, you know."

Kitteredge swore. "Shit. You're representing Sandburg?"

Carly grinned. "I always knew you were smart, Barb. And I think you know you can kiss your deal with Francis goodbye."

"Ms. Cavanaugh, I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. You have some evidence that proves Sandburg is innocent?" Swanson spoke up.

"I think the both of you knew Blair was innocent of the charges from the get-go. I don't blame you for jumping at a deal for your client, Barbara. If I were you, I would have done the same thing. The problem is you took advantage of the fact that Francis has only been in Cascade a few months. He doesn't know what a well-respected member of the community Mr. Sandburg is, or that even as a civilian observer, he's been an invaluable help to Major Crimes in solving many tough cases. He's never been arrested in his life. Whereas your client has a rap sheet a mile long, and is widely known to the police and the judicial system as a pathological liar. She can accuse Sandburg all she wants. No judge or jury is going to believe her." Carly casually took a seat and folded her hands on the table.

ADA Swanson spilled coffee on his tie. "Damn it! You knew all this, Barb?"

Barbara curled her hand into a fist. "Of course I did. My job is to look out for my client, not do your job for you, Francis."

The ADA swabbed at the spot on his silk Ralph Lauren neckwear, buying time while he tried to think of a way to cover his ass.

"Buzzzzz. Time's up, Francis," Carly said. "Here's what you're going to do. Any and all charges against my client are going to be dropped. He gets a public apology and an expression of sincere concern about the ordeal he went through while under arrest. In return, I'll make sure the District Attorney's office is left out of the lawsuit I'm filing on Mr. Sandburg's behalf against the city of Cascade." She got to her feet. "Any other questions?"

"What about my client?" Barbara asked.

Carly shrugged. "Let a jury decide. But since Francis now knows the truth, I wouldn't count on any favors from him, since Blair Sandburg is going to be his star witness. If I were you, I'd have Iris plead guilty on the drug charges in exchange for getting the kidnapping and attempted murder charges dropped. But that's just me." She headed for the door. "Keep me informed, Francis. My client is perfectly willing to answer any and all questions regarding Ms. Johnson."

The door opened and she swept out. There was silence between the two attorneys for a few minutes, then they both spoke at once. "We'll plead on the drug charges--"

"No deal. I'm going to pin attempted murder on Ms. Johnson. She's going to go away for a long time."

They stared at each other, nostrils flaring, fists clenched, then said in unison, "I'll see you in court."

Rhonda looked up from her seat at Blair's bedside as the door to the hospital room opened. Her cousin stood silhouetted in the doorway, a grin on her face. She glanced toward the sleeping man in the bed, and her expression turned to one of concern. Getting to her feet, Rhonda joined Carly in the hallway.

"How's he doing?" Carly asked.

Rhonda shrugged. "As well as can be, I guess. Depressed, frightened, hurting. Better now that the cop's gone."

Leaning against the wall, Carly chewed her lip in the childhood gesture her cousin knew meant she was deep in thought. "Well, I have some good news," she finally said. "All the charges against Blair have been dropped, and the DA's office will be sending someone tomorrow to take down Blair's statement about Ms. Johnson."

"What about the PD? And that son of a bitch who damn near raped Blair in lockup?"

Carly raised an eyebrow at her. "Strong language coming from you."

"Well, just because I work there doesn't mean I have to agree with everything that goes on. He's going to be punished, right?" She didn't add, "And Ellison and Banks, too." She didn't have to.

"Sergeant Freemore and the officer who performed the search on Blair are suspended without pay until IA's investigation is complete. As for Detective Ellison and Captain Banks, I served them with restraining orders this morning, and when I called to talk to Sheila Irwin, her secretary said she was busy interrogating them." The smile on her lips held a trace of satisfaction.

Her cousin breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad. I'd hate to think they'd get away with what they did."

Carly shook her head. "I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen. Those wheels are in motion." She moved to stare through the open doorway at Blair. "Now it's time to help him."

Rhonda squeezed the lawyer's shoulder. "He's done it to you, too, hasn't he?"

Brown eyes met Rhonda's blue ones. "What do you mean?"

"He has this affect on women. Every one of them he meets either wants to kiss him, or kill him. I've been under his spell for years. Too bad I was already married when I met him. But you're not." She grinned.

"Oooh, you're evil, Rhonda, way evil. You should have been the lawyer." With a small sigh, she turned her gaze back on Blair. "But you're right. I am sucked in. When you first called me, I thought, 'hey, I'll pull a few strings, get him out of the bogus charges, be on my way'. Now I have to do whatever I can to help him get well, to make sure he's healthy and whole, in mind, heart and body." She pinned a glare on Rhonda. "But if you repeat that to anyone, I will have to kill you."

Rhonda gave her cousin a hug. "I knew you were the right person to call."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll send you the bill." Disentangling herself, Carly said, "Look, I have a ton of phone calls to make but I'm going to send someone by to see him, someone who can help." She headed down the hallway with a wave.

Rhonda watched her go, then reentered Blair's room as she heard him waking up. Hopefully her good news would raise his spirits.

Blair stared at the ceiling above his bed, counting the holes in the tiles in a vain attempt to go back to sleep. Rhonda had left an hour or so ago after telling him he was a free man. That news had loosened the knot of dread in his stomach a tiny bit, but he still felt like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, that the DA's office would realize they made a mistake, and he would wind up back in jail. He shivered. He couldn't go through that again.

His arrest by the two people he'd thought of as his closest friends had been such a shock that he'd been in a daze all through booking. He'd kept expecting Jim to show up and tell him it was all a joke, right up until the moment he'd been taken into a small room and told to undress. His mind had shut down then, and the details of everything between that moment, and waking up in the hospital were hazy, liking he was looking at them through wavy glass. But the glass was starting to clear, and the memories were coming back in sharp, jagged fragments. Hands holding him down as he struggled, parting his legs, entering his body, then everything was pain and cruel laughter. Comments were made about his physique, his genitals, about how tight he was, about how Jim didn't seem to use his boytoy too frequently.

Tears seeped between closed eyelids as he clasped his hands to his ears, but he couldn't shut out the mocking voices. "Jim, help me, Jim!" he remembered screaming, or perhaps it had been a whisper, but either way, his blessed protector had never appeared, his sentinel ears deaf to his guide's pleas.

Hours later Ellison had finally shown up and taken Blair to Simon's office. He remembered hearing them talk about calling for an ambulance as he'd shivered on Simon's couch. Nothing had made much sense then; his only thought had been to make himself as small a target as possible, that if they didn't notice him, they wouldn't hurt him. Rhonda had been there, covering him with a blanket as Jim and Simon argued, something about interviewing Iris and why she was more important than he was. As frightened as he had been, he'd still wanted Jim with him, though he couldn't voice that need in his shocked state. When Jim and Simon had left the room, he'd felt his whole world collapse.

Rolling onto his side, Blair buried his face in his pillow, his hands twisting in the rough material of his blanket, a muffled whimper escaping his lips. God, he hated this, hated being afraid, hated feeling helpless. Even the long hours spent being bounced from Iris to Parkman and back again hadn't frightened him as much as this horrible feeling of being alone, of being discarded like a broken doll.

He felt a warm hand come to rest on his shoulder, and his heart soared. Jim! Jim had come at last! "Jim?" he asked, rolling toward the touch.

"Sorry, Blair. It's just me, Carly."

He peered up into her concerned eyes, then realized just what he must look like. Blair scrubbed at his face with his hands, wiping away the remnants of tears, then fumbled for the bed controls. Carly took them from him gently, and raised the head of the bed so he was sitting. They stared at each other uncomfortably for a few moments, then she pulled the chair Rhonda had been using earlier over to the bed and sat down.

"Oh, hey, you just missed Rhonda. She left a little bit ago," Blair said, desperate to break the awkward silence.

A soft smile crossed Carly's lips. "Yeah, I know. I was here a couple hours ago and talked to her. You were asleep. Did she tell you the DA's dropped all the charges against you?" He nodded. "Good." Her expression turned serious, and she leaned forward, resting her hands on the railing of the bed. "I'm going to be straight with you, Blair. This isn't over yet, not by a long shot. In the next few days, there's going to be a lot of people who need to talk to you, to ask you questions about what happened to you. I know you told me you couldn't remember much of what happened after you were arrested, but anything you can come up with will be helpful. I also know remembering is probably going to be very painful, and having to go over your story again and again is going to be upsetting."

Blair felt the blood draining from his face. "I already gave you my statement last night. Isn't that enough?"

She shook her head, and reached over the bed rail to take his hand. Her fingers were hot against his frozen ones. "That was just an unofficial statement to your lawyer, enough so that I could get the ball rolling, could set things in motion to get you free. The DA's office is going to send someone tomorrow morning to take your official statement regarding your kidnapping by Iris Johnson."

Swallowing hard, he asked, "What if I refuse to give a statement? What if I just want to let it go, to forget anything ever happened?"

"Well, you could do that. But without your testimony, Iris will probably go free. Or the DA could perceive your lack of cooperation as meaning you actually were Iris' accomplice and not her victim. They could reinstate the charges against you, and I'm really sure you don't want that. It won't be that hard, Blair. I'll be there the whole time, and I'll tell you what questions you can and cannot answer."

"Okay." But he heard his voice quaver on the single word.

"I've also spoken with Sheila Irwin of the PD's Internal Affairs office. She told me she knows you very well, and is planning on taking your statement herself. Once again, I will be here every step of the way."

"What about Jim? And Simon? Are they under investigation? I don't want them to get in trouble because of me..." He felt a small spark of anger at his own words, underneath the layers of pain. They were the reason he was here, the reason all this was going on. Why did he feel like he had to protect them?

Her thumb stoked soothingly over the knuckles of the hand she was still holding. "We talked about this last night, but you might have still been a little foggy from the anesthetic. What Detective Ellison and Captain Banks did yesterday was against every regulation in the police handbook. Yes, they are under investigation. They arrested someone they knew had been the victim of a violent crime. They put you in a situation where you were physically assaulted, then delayed in getting you treatment. Just because they're your friends doesn't mean they don't need to be held accountable for their actions. That's why we're suing the police department, and why we had those restraining orders issued. Until everyone's had a chance to explain themselves to both the DA's office and IA, it's best if you don't have any contact with them. You understand that, don't you?"

"I--kind of. This is so hard, Carly. I mean, Jim's my best friend. I want so badly to be able to talk to him, to have him help me through this, and then I keep having to remind myself he's the whole reason I'm here in the first place. I just don't understand how this happened. I don't know if I ever will."

A knock on the door interrupted his speech. A tall, slim woman in her mid-forties, wearing a lab coat and carrying a clipboard, stood there. "Ah, Dr. Olivet. I was hoping I'd be here when you showed up." Carly got to her feet and shook hands with the woman as she approached Blair's bed. "Blair, this is Dr. Elizabeth Olivet. She's a psychiatrist who specializes in helping victims of violence."

Dr. Olivet held out her hand to Blair, and he shook it tentatively. "I appreciate her calling you, but I'm not really sure I need to talk to you. I mean, I've been kidnapped before and never talked with a shrink."

Carly stared at him. "You've been kidnapped before?"

Blair got an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Yeah, a couple of times. First time was David Lash."

"The serial killer?" Carly's voice jumped an octave. "And you didn't receive any counseling after that experience?" He shook his head. She turned an interesting shade of scarlet, and he watched as a long shudder ran through her. "Beth, could you and Blair spend some time getting acquainted? I need to make some phone calls."

"Sure, Carly." Dr. Olivet took the seat the lawyer had vacated.

Carly leaned over Blair and squeezed his shoulder. "Look, Blair, humor me, okay? Just talk to her. I'm betting it will make you feel better." Then she strode out of the room, her back stiff.

Dr. Olivet clicked a pen, and settled the clipboard in her lap. "So, Blair, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started working with the police?"

Sighing, Blair answered, "I'm an anthropologist working on my doctorate at Rainier..."

Sheila Irwin entered the bar and glanced around. Spotting her party in a booth, she waved an acknowledgment, then detoured by the bar. Beer in hand, she crossed the room and slid onto the bench opposite the attorney. She eyed the plate of nachos in the center of the table longingly.

"Go ahead and dig in. I ordered enough for both of us, since I was starving. Haven't eaten since this morning."

"Thanks." Sheila inhaled several of the fried tortillas loaded down with meat, beans, cheese and jalapenos. Heaven. Washing them down with a large swallow of the cold beer, she finally said, "So, Carly, I wasn't expecting to talk to you again until tomorrow afternoon. What's so urgent that it couldn't wait until then?"

"This thing with Blair Sandburg. I'm really worried about him. Beth Olivet's talking to him now, and I'll get her take on the situation later, but the more I learn about this arrangement he had with Ellison, the less I like it." She caught the eye of the waitress and indicated she wanted another beer.

Sheila leaned back against the hard wood of the booth. "You know, that's bothered me for a long time, too. I only investigated Ellison twice before, when the car of his old partner turned up with a dead body in the trunk, and again when he claimed to have witnessed a man falling to his death from a police helicopter. Both times I really didn't buy that Sandburg was studying the thin blue line bit. But their relationship seemed to work to the PD's advantage and I didn't push it, though it was very borderline regarding regs. Are you saying I should have looked deeper?"

The lawyer shrugged and sipped at her fresh beer. "I don't know, Sheila. Hindsight is always 20-20. Did you know he's been in quite a few violent altercations over the years due to his involvement with the PD? This thing with Iris Johnson wasn't the first." Pulling out a legal pad, she set it on the table. "I phoned my cousin, Rhonda, before I called you, and got a rundown of the highlights." She read from the list.

"1. Was a passenger on the tour bus the Switchman nearly blew up.
2. Held hostage by Sunrise Patriots.
3. Kidnapped and nearly killed by serial murderer David Lash. Was chosen by Lash because he met Blair at the PD while posing as Dr. Tony Bates. Saved at the last moment by Ellison.
4. Went undercover at Ellison's request to get close to Victor Curasco's daughter. Ended up held prisoner and was moments away from death when Ellison showed up--"

"What! Ellison asked a civilian to go undercover? What idiot in IA let that one slide by?" Sheila set her bottle down on the table with a thump, and yanked out a pad of paper. She jotted a couple notes, then looked back up at Carly. "Go on. I can tell by the look in your eyes there's more."

Clearing her throat, Carly read, "5. Was shot posing as a prostitute's client while helping Ellison catch Klaus Zeller. Fortunately, he was wearing a vest.
6. Went under cover as a car thief in a poorly thought out sting that ended with Sandburg's mother taken hostage.
7. Kidnapped and held hostage a second time by members of the Curasco crime family.
8. Nearly died from an overdose of the drug Golden, ingested on a slice of pizza delivered to Major Crime.
9. And finally, shot in the leg last year by Dawson Quinn. Sandburg was partnered with Ellison in the caravan transferring Quinn. Quinn, as you know, escaped. Blair was shot as Ellison attempted to apprehend him."

Sheila looked up at Carly. "Jesus. I had no idea."

The attorney swallowed a mouthful of nachos, then added, "And that doesn't include the trouble Sandburg managed to get into on his own time, or at Rainier. The thing that burns me up, though, is that for all the trauma he's been through, the Cascade PD has never once offered counseling, or compensated him for his medical bills. Nor have they seen fit to put him on the payroll in any capacity, be it advisor, or consultant or whatever."

Sheila scribbled frantically on her paper, then looked up at her. "I can see I'm going to be burning the midnight oil tonight. I'm going to have to pull and review every case Blair worked with Ellison." She sighed. "This is just a mess, Carly, and it's going to get worse. I did the preliminary questioning of Ellison and Banks today, and I knew then they're not going to make it through this thing with their careers intact." She ate some more nachos and finished her beer, then sighed again. "You know what really bugs me? Jim is a good cop. He *cares*, he really does. He just doesn't know how to follow the rules. And it's not that he's violent, or that he abuses his power, he just doesn't think things through. He's so focused on getting the job done, on putting the bad guys away, that he doesn't see that in his own way, he's just as bad as they are."

Carly snagged the last nacho. "So where does Banks fit into this? Did he just turn a blind eye to Ellison's methods because he got results? Or did he encourage him to use whatever means necessary, at the expense of Blair Sandburg?"

The IA officer shrugged. "I don't know. Yet. But that's my worry, not yours. You worry about getting Blair out of those bogus charges, and I'll make sure it never happens again to anyone." She looked at the remains of their shared dinner. "You buying?"

"Yeah, I'll spring for it. It'll show up eventually in the bill the PD will end up paying to compensate Blair for his pain and suffering." She reached across the table and shook the other woman's hand. "Thanks, Sheila. I knew I could count on you to do the right thing."

Sheila returned the firm grip. "Well, cops like Ellison make us all look bad." Putting her notebook away, she got to her feet. "I'll call if we need to reschedule tomorrow. Night, Carly." Resigning herself to a sleepless night, she left the bar and headed back to work.

Jim sat in the chair on the balcony, staring out into the night. He'd been there ever since he'd gotten home, save for the few minutes he'd spent on the phone to the hospital. At least Cavanaugh had allowed him that much. According to the nurse he'd spoken to, Sandburg was doing as well as could be expected, whatever that meant.

He rubbed his temples. His head was killing him. He knew it was probably because he hadn't eaten anything for almost two days, but he couldn't keep anything down. He kept thinking of Blair, and that awful moment in the hallway of the PD, when he'd seen Swanson and Kitteredge shaking hands. His friend, his guide, had almost gone to prison because of him. Thank god, Cavanaugh hadn't let that happen. The restraining order he could deal with. Once this was all over, once he was certain Blair was no longer in danger of going to jail, he was sure Blair would have it lifted. Then things could go back to the way they were.

Who the hell are you kidding, Ellison? Nothing's ever going to be the same. Nothing.

He flashed back to that afternoon, and his session with Sheila Irwin.

"You thought there was something off about Iris Johnson right from the start, didn't you?" Irwin leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.

"Yes. Just a gut instinct, a cop's instinct. I thought I'd seen her before."

"And had you?"

"I think so, yes. I found her mugshot in the computer."

"How did that make you feel? Did you feel angry?"

"I don't--"

"Were you angry at Iris? No, of course not. She was a criminal. She was doing what criminals do. And you hadn't warned her. But you warned Blair, didn't you? You told him how you felt about Iris."

Jim nodded. "Yes, I told him I thought she was trouble. Most of his girlfriends are trouble."

"How did it make you feel, then, when you knew Sandburg was involved in the situation at the convenience store? Were you angry?"

"More confused. I didn't know what had happened then."

"When did you know what had happened?" She crossed to the table in the center of the room and referred to Jim's report. "According to this, you knew Blair was in trouble after you talked to the employee at the convenience store."

Jim rubbed his hands on his thighs. Where was she going with this? "I suspected that yes. The clerk said he heard a shot, and we found traces of heroin in the parking lot."

"So at that point, you really didn't know if Blair was alive or not?"

Jim shook his head. "No, the clerk saw him driving the car. I was certain he was alive."

"But a shot had been fired. Blair could have been hurt. And it had been hours since the incident."

"I had no evidence that was the case. I put an APB out on the car."

"But you still didn't know he'd been kidnapped, did you?"

"No. But Blair wouldn't have aided in a crime willingly."

The smile that crossed Irwin's face was vicious. "Then why in the hell did you arrest him, Ellison? That's what I can't figure out. You say that Blair wouldn't have willingly committed a crime, yet when you caught up with him, *after* you'd questioned Iris' accomplice, and knew Blair had been the victim of a kidnapping, after you'd stopped Iris from killing him, after you told him to apprehend his *kidnapper*, you arrested him. Why is that, Detective?"

Jim stared at the scarred surface of the wooden table, unable to meet her eyes. Why had he done it? He knew the reason, but it was too hard to admit it to himself, let alone her. "I don't know," he finally answered.

The impact of her fist on the table was as loud as a gunshot. He jumped, tipping the chair over, scrambling to his feet to avoid going over with it. "That's not good enough, Ellison!"

"I don't know!" he yelled back.

Irwin rounded the table, a panther stalking her prey. "Let me lay out a theory for you. You were pissed because Blair didn't listen to you. He ran off with Iris, and ended up in trouble. He went through twenty-four hours of hell, never knowing if his next breath would be his last. And just when he's staring down the barrel of a gun, looking death in the eye, you show up with one of your last minute rescues. And instead of looking after him, of making sure he was okay, that he wasn't hurt, you arrested him because you were still pissed!"

He shook his head.

She stabbed her finger at him to emphasize her words, stopping it a millimeter from his chest. "You were scared. You'd realized by then just how close you'd come to losing him, and instead of offering him comfort, you decided to punish him for scaring you. Kind of like the parent who smacks their child for running into the street and just missing getting hit by a car. Well, you wanna know something, Ellison? You are not Blair Sandburg's parent!"

Jim pressed his back tighter against the wall, wishing he could disappear into it, could escape her painful words. "It wasn't like that," he began, then realized he was only lying to himself. She could easily read the truth in his eyes. He'd been terrified that when he'd caught up with Iris his guide would be dead. And the relief he'd felt once he'd found him whole and unharmed had slipped so easily into anger at Blair for putting him through that gut-wrenching terror.

"Then what was it like, Ellison? Because I can't think of any other reason you would put him through that. I can't think of any other reason you'd so flagrantly disregard every procedure in the book."

His shoulders slumped, and Jim ran a shaking hand over his face. "It was just a joke. I just wanted to show him what could happen if he kept picking up strange women..." he whispered.

"You have a very sick sense of humor." She stepped back and snapped off the recorder. "I think we're through for now."

Jim stumbled out of the interrogation room, heading to the mens' room where he spend a long time dry heaving.

With a low moan, Jim leaned over and hung his head. The hand that dropped onto his shoulder startled him, and he glanced toward his captain, who occupied the chair next to him. "Don't feel you have to take all the blame, Jim. I went along with the idea, too."

Jim snorted. "I don't know what I was thinking, Simon, though some of the things Sheila said to me today come close to defining how I felt. She said I was acting like Sandburg's parent, punishing him because he frightened me, because I was scared of how close I came to losing him."

Banks nodded. "She said about the same thing to me. And it's a familiar feeling, one I have every time Daryl does something dangerous, or fool-hardy. It's a natural reaction to almost losing someone you care about. But what we fail to realize, as parents, and as friends, is that it's *our* problem, not theirs. Blair isn't responsible for the fear we both felt when we finally found out what had happened to him, we were. It was *our* fear, based on our emotional attachment to him. The ordeal he went through wasn't his fault, though we punished him like it was."

"And in turn thrust him from one nightmare into another." Jim rubbed at his eyes. "I'll never forgive myself for this, Simon. I wouldn't blame Blair if he can't forgive me, either."

The hand resting on Jim's shoulder gave it a squeeze. "I've got to be going, Jim, but if you need to talk later tonight, you know my number." The tall man got to his feet. "Time for me to go home and face the music. Though how I'm going to explain to Daryl I was responsible for Blair being hurt, I don't know." With those words, Simon entered the loft, then exited through the front door.

Jim remained on the balcony, staring out into the night, searching for the answer to his questions.

Carly was just pulling her car into her garage when her cell phone rang. Slipping the earpiece into her ear, she hit the on button. "Cavanaugh."

"Carly, it's Beth Olivet. Thought you would want to hear my impressions of Blair Sandburg tonight."

The lawyer got out of her car and headed into her house. "You got that right. Give me a second, will you? I just walked in the door." Dropping her keys on the kitchen counter, she grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge on her way to the living room. Depositing her briefcase on the sofa, she kicked off her shoes, then opened the glass doors to her patio. Stepping outside, she stretched, then took a couple of cleansing breaths. Leaning on the railing surrounding the deck, she gazed out at the twinkling lights of Cascade below her. "Okay, my mind is clear. Give me what you've got." She cracked the top of her water open.

"Okay. I want to make sure you realize this is just a preliminary interview--"

"I know, I know. I just want to know what kind of state of mind he's going to be in tomorrow. If those interviews are going to be too hard on him, then I want to know, so I can reschedule."

Beth's voice came through clearly. "That's why I enjoy working with you. You always put your clients first."

"Enough with the flattery, Beth."

The other woman laughed, then continued. "Mr. Sandburg's reactions can be classified as typical for this type of violent assault. He's alternately depressed and angry, and feeling betrayed. One moment he wants to forget it happened, the next he's determined to get justice. That's to be expected. What I did find unusual is his relationship with the Cascade PD."

Carly hastily swallowed her mouthful of water. "Oh, how so?"

"Blair is an anthropologist who asked to ride along with Ellison for a research paper. That was two years ago--"

"Isn't that a little long?"

"Yes. He's been riding with Ellison ever since, acting as his partner."

"Like an unofficial member of the PD, Major Crime in particular, is how Rhonda put it."

"Exactly, and therein lies part of the problem. In my opinion, Blair Sandburg is a well-adjusted, well- rounded individual, not lacking in self-confidence. He's a good anthropologist, and he knows it. He doesn't have any problems at the university, and from what I understand from talking to some people there, is well-liked and thought of as being on the 'fast track'."

"I hear a 'but' in there someplace."

"But for all his belief in himself as an anthropologist, he's spending a great deal of time in a world where he doesn't have much confidence in himself, as an unofficial police officer. Blair looks up to Detective Ellison with a kind of awe. I wouldn't call it idolatry, but Ellison's opinion is important to him, as is Captain Banks'. I asked him about that list of cases you gave me that he was involved in, and when we were discussing his kidnapping by David Lash, he said that Jim told him he 'did everything right.' He was very proud of that."

Carly could kind of see where this was heading. "Is the reverse true also?"

Beth sighed. "Yes. His self-confidence regarding his work with the PD is buoyed by praise from Ellison and Banks. It takes a nose-dive when he believes he's made a mistake in their eyes. And all of this is brought on by his non-position with the PD. He's a part of the team when it suits them, and invisible when it doesn't."

Crossing the patio, Carly took a seat at the end of a chaise lounge. "Oh man! So because Ellison and Banks arrested him, he thinks he did something terribly wrong, that he deserved what happened to him!?"

"Partially, yes. His self-esteem isn't so low that he can't see that what happened to him was wrong, but a part of him feels like he brought it on himself."

Carly ran a hand through her hair. "Shit." She sighed. "Okay, thanks, Beth. At least that gives me an idea of what he might do tomorrow." She was silent for a moment. "Hey, did you talk to him at all about therapy?"

"Yes. He said he'd think about it. Maybe you could talk him into it. I'd be willing to take him on as a patient, or if he's not comfortable with me, I can recommend someone."

"I'll speak to him about it. Thanks again, Beth. Goodnight." She disconnected the call with a beep, and fought the urge to hurl her cell phone off the mountain. Damn Ellison and Banks! Damn them to hell!

He was in the blue-green hell of the jungle, kneeling in the dirt. In front of him lay the tracks of a wolf, overlaid by those of a jaguar. The cat was stalking the canine. The growl of the big cat reached his ears, and he stood, then dashed through the underbrush, a gnawing ache in his gut urging him to hurry.

Snarls and hissing grew louder, and through the trees he could see the wolf facing off against the jag. Hurry, hurry, his mind screamed, but it was as if his legs were rooted to the ground.

He watched in horror as the black jaguar bowled the wolf over then pounced on him, massive jaws closing on the tender throat, the wolf emitting a sharp whine as fangs ripped through flesh. The cat raised his head then, the silver wolf hanging limp in his mouth. Spying the man, he dropped his prey, blood dripping from his muzzle. Red-rimmed yellow eyes met tortured blue ones.

He remembered the weapon in his hands. Raising the primitive crossbow, he took aim and let the slender arrow fly. With a dull thud it buried itself deep in the cat's side. The animal staggered, then went down.

The hunter entered the clearing. In place of the wolf lay a naked man, long hair spilling over his shoulders, his thighs covered in bloody claw marks, his throat torn away. Sightless eyes stared up at him, silently asking, "Why?"

The black jaguar was gone, but the arrow remained--protruding from the hunter's chest. He fell to his knees, a scream of pain and grief issuing from his throat. Then everything faded to black.

Jerking awake, Jim stared at the ceiling, breathing heavily, the sheets clammy and wet against his skin. God, he didn't need another round of spirit visions. Last time, he'd lost his heightened senses. Jim froze at that thought. He ran through them quickly, hearing, sight, scent, taste, and touch. Normal! All of them normal, just like before, when Incacha had died. He'd killed the jaguar in his dreams then, too. Shit, he had to talk to Sandburg. Sandburg would know what to do. But Sandburg wasn't here, might never be here not to think about that.

He rolled over in the bed, wondering how in the hell he'd managed to end up there. Last thing he remembered was Simon leaving... A series of sharp raps came from downstairs and he realized someone was at the door. He squinted at the clock. 8 am. Clambering to his feet, he headed down the stairs. "I'm coming! Hold your horses!" he yelled.

Crossing the loft he flung open the door. Carly Cavanaugh stood in the hallway in a crisply pressed suit, looking ready to impress a jury. His jury, he couldn't help but think.

"Detective Ellison. Sorry about not calling, but I just spoke with Blair's doctor. She's possibly going to release him later today, and I thought I should bring him some clothes. I was on this side of town, so I decided to stop by. I hope I haven't inconvenienced you." One eyebrow raised as she gave him an appraising look.

It took Jim a long moment to get his mind past the fact that Blair was going to leave the hospital. "Um, no, no trouble at all. I was just, uh, sleeping--" He glanced down at himself. He was clad only in a pair of boxer shorts. "Uh, why don't you come in, and I'll put on something more appropriate, and then I'll get some of Blair's things for you."

Stepping back, he opened the door wider to let her into the loft. She walked into the living area, her sharp eyes darting around the open space. Excusing himself, Jim went upstairs and threw on some jeans and a shirt. When he came back down, he found Carly by the bookcase, a picture frame in her hands. She turned around at his approach.

Jim felt he had to explain the photo. In it, he had one arm around Sandburg's neck while with the other hand he was pulling his hair. Blair had an exaggerated look of terror on his face. "Simon gave his son, Daryl, a new camera for his birthday, and we were fooling around for him."

She set the picture gently back on the shelf. "Ah, yes, boys will be boys."

Jim thought he detected a note of derision in her voice. "Look, Cavanaugh, no matter what you think, Blair's my partner, my friend. I would never hurt him deliberately--"

She stared up at him, her gaze flat and cold. "I'd hate to see how you treat your enemies, then. Can we just get on with this? I'm due at the hospital by nine for Blair's interview with the district attorney."

Jim bit back his sarcastic reply and nodded curtly. "I'll just be a minute." Entering Blair's room, he rifled through the drawers and the closet, selecting enough clothes for a couple days, then headed to the bathroom for his toiletry things. He packed everything in an oversize gym bag and presented it to her.

Taking it from him, she said, "Thank you for your cooperation. Depending on how things go today, we may be by tonight to pick up the rest of his belongings. I'll call you." Turning her back on him, Carly headed for the door.

Jim could contain himself no longer. He grabbed her by the arm. "Who in the hell do you think you are, lady, waltzing in here and moving Blair out on a whim? This is his home, has been his home for almost three years. You can't just shove three years into some boxes and take them someplace else and make it a home--"

Carly stood her ground, her voice low and dangerous. "I'm Blair's lawyer, the person he's appointed to look out for his best interests during this time." She glanced pointedly at his fingers digging into her arm. "And it's very apparent to me that it's in his best interest to be as far away from you as possible." She pulled her limb free from his grasp. "Though if you object to packing up his things, I have another suggestion for you. *You* move out and let Blair stay here."

Jim stared at her angrily, his jaw muscle spasming.

"That's what I thought. Like I said, I'll call you." Crossing to the door, she left.

He glared after her for several long minutes, then ran a hand over his face. He was home on unpaid suspension. Guess he should make himself useful and start packing.

The knock on his hospital room door made Blair look up from pushing his breakfast around on the tray. "Hey, Carly," he said.

"Hey, Blair." She gave him a smile, then entered, holding up a gym bag. "Stopped by the loft and got you some clothes."

Pushing the table holding his breakfast remains aside, he replied, "Thanks. Did you talk to Jim?"

She set the bag holding his clothes in the closet before answering. "Yes, I talked to him. I told him if you got out today, and you were up to it, we might come by to get the rest of your stuff. He wasn't happy about it, but he doesn't have much choice but to cooperate with us." She sat down in the chair next to the bed and began digging in her briefcase.

Blair played with a loose thread on his blanket. "Is this really necessary, Carly? The whole restraining order thing? I mean, I really just want to go home."

She looked up at him. "We can drop it if you want, but let me ask you one question first. Do you trust him?"

He chewed his lip for a long moment, then said, "I don't know anymore."

Leaning forward, Carly touched his arm gently. "I think you should be sure about your answer to that question before you go back. Now, we need to think about making arrangements for a place for you to stay once you leave here. Do you have any friends or family you could stay with until you get a place of your own?"

Blair opened his mouth to answer, then shut it slowly. Finally, he said, "No. All the names that come to mind are my fri--people from the station." He was beginning to realize how much of his life had been wrapped up with the members of Major Crime and the Cascade Police Department. The people who had betrayed him at the first hint of impropriety, who had been so quick to believe he was dirty, after nearly three years among them...

Carly's next comment interrupted his depressing thoughts. "I have a guest house you can use for as long as you need to. It's not very big, but it'll have to do, I guess."

A wave of relief washed over Blair. The thought of having to spend a week or two in a motel wasn't very appealing and would probably bankrupt him. "I'll pay rent," he stated firmly.

She smiled at him. "I wouldn't expect any less of you. Whatever you were paying Detective Ellison is fine."

Any further conversation was postponed by the arrival of the team from the DA's office. Giving them a statement about his twenty-four hours with Iris was easy. Blair had had plenty of practice spelling out all the details of his kidnapping. Finally, three hours later, they left with promises to contact Carly if they had any follow-up questions for him.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Blair leaned back against his pillows, shifting his position gingerly. Though Dr. Abrams had assured him his injuries were healing normally, he was still sore. Didn't help any that the pain always brought with it a flashback to the helplessness and humiliation he'd experienced. He felt Carly's eyes on him. "I'm fine," he lied.

"Sure you are. And I'd love to delve into how *fine* you are in more detail, but Sheila Irwin is going to be here soon, and I want to know exactly what you're going to tell her."

Blair inhaled slowly, then studied the ceiling as he exhaled. "I don't know. There are still things I don't remember--"

Carly leaned forward in her seat. "Don't remember, or won't remember?"

He felt as if she'd just slapped him. "What in the hell is that supposed to mean?"

She sighed. "I'm sorry, Blair. That wasn't the best way to put it. I guess what I mean is are you going to tell the truth? Or are you going to give Sheila the same kind of creative story-telling that ended up in Ellison's police reports?"

"I didn't lie in those reports," Blair said defensively, feeling his face grow hot.

Carly pulled a folder out of her attaché case. "Not technically, no. You downplayed things, left things out." She opened the file. "I grilled Rhonda for the scoop on most of the cases you worked with Ellison in which you were either kidnapped or injured. Take this one for example. In your second case involving the Curasco crime family, you were kidnapped and held hostage on Gustavo's adopted son's yacht. Yet there's no mention of your presence at all in the details of the gun battle and subsequent arrest of Curasco. Care to explain that?"

Blair twitched nervously. "I didn't contribute anything to the wrap up of the case. I spent most of that time lying on the deck unconscious. There was no reason to put that in the report."

"What about the out and out lie in the report about the first Curasco case? It says here you stated that you became involved with Maya Curasco on your own, when the truth is Ellison asked you to get close to her."

He looked out the window. "What are you driving at?" he asked finally.

"I want to know if you're going to lie for Ellison this time. Because if you are, then I'm out of here, and you're on your own." Her words were harsh, but her tone was compassionate.

Maybe he should just tell her to go, that this wasn't worth it, that he wanted to forget Iris, and Jim closing the handcuffs around his wrists, and Simon telling him he was under arrest, and the nameless, faceless cop who'd told him to take off his clothes and bend over--

"Blair! Blair!" Carly was in his face, her hands on his shoulders. "Breathe, damn it!"

Gasping, he inhaled loudly, then shuddered. What in the hell was wrong with him? Post-traumatic stress, his brain supplied helpfully. Flashback. He pushed her gently away. "I'm fine. I'm okay. Just---got lost there for a moment."

She sat back down. "Do you remember what I asked you? It won't do you any good to lie at this point anyway. What they did to you is already on record. You can't deny it happened, no matter how much you want to."

For a moment Blair was sure she could read his mind. Then he nodded slowly. "I promise I won't lie to Sheila."

"Did someone say my name?" Sheila Irwin stood in the doorway. "You guys ready for me?"

Blair swallowed nervously. "As I'll ever be, I guess."

The IA investigator entered the room, closing the door behind her. After setting up her tape recorder, she took a seat. "Why don't you just start at the beginning, Blair, and if there's something I need clarified, I'll stop you."

He repeated the story he'd told the DA, about meeting Iris, and the scene at the convenience store, and suddenly finding himself a hostage. He got up to the part at the train station, with Iris holding the gun on him, and Parkman urging her to shoot. "And then there was this shot, and the gun went flying out of Iris' hand, and Jim was there and Parkman was shooting and everyone was running. He told me to go after Iris, then he went in the direction Parkman did."

Sheila held up a finger to indicate she had a question. "So Jim comes to your rescue, doesn't ask if you're hurt, and tells you to go get Iris?"

Blair nodded. "Yes. I don't know what happened with Jim, but I caught up with Iris in the parking lot. She was trying to get away in my car. I locked her in the trunk, and drove around to the front and waited for Jim and Simon."

"And what happened when they returned?"

"I told them I had Iris, and went around and opened the trunk and showed them. They thought it was pretty funny." A trace of a smile played on his lips as he remembered Iris lying there, her head cushioned on the bag of heroin. Jim and Simon had laughed at the sight. Then they had arrested him.

"What happened then, Blair?"

He shook his head, trying to clear the images from his mind. ", then backup showed up. Simon said something about he was sorry, but he had to arrest me, and then Jim was putting his cuffs on me." He squeezed his eyes shut. "They put me in the back of the squad car with Iris, and drove us to the station."

He felt Carly's fingers wrapping around his hand as Sheila asked, "What happened once you got to the station?"

Blinking back tears, Blair lifted his gaze to the ceiling, squeezing Carly's hand tightly. "I was taken to booking. They took my name, address, all that stuff, then I was fingerprinted and photographed." He stopped, unable to go on.

"It's okay, Blair," he heard Carly saying. "You're safe now. You need to tell us what happened."

Blair took his time, taking several long, calming breaths before he continued. "After...after I was photographed, this cop, I think his name was Jones, but I can't be sure, he, uh, he took me in this little room, and told me to undress. I think I kind of laughed at him. I mean, I thought it was all a big joke, that Jim was mad at me for getting involved with Iris--"

"Did Jim get mad at you often?"

Blair blinked at Sheila, his train of thought derailed by her interruption. "I--no, no more than anyone gets mad at anyone, I guess. Why?"

"I just want to know if Jim played tricks like this often. Did he like to 'get even' so to speak."

"I don't--I--well, he's kind of a sore loser. And Jim can carry a grudge. I don't know what you want."

Sheila smiled at him. "That's okay, Blair. You're doing fine. Now you were saying that Officer Jones took you aside and told you to undress. What did you do?"

"I, uh, I just stood there, then when he told me again, I figured out he wasn't kidding. So, I--I got undressed." He could feel Carly's fingers rubbing his, keeping him from getting lost in the memories.

"What did Jones do then?"

"He, um, he had me bend over this table, and cuffed my hands to this ring, so I couldn't move." Blair focused on his breathing again, knowing he was on the verge of a panic attack. He could get through this, he could. "Then he, uh, he went looking for drugs. Inside me." Carly made a little noise, and Blair knew he was crushing her fingers, but he couldn't let go.

"Was there anyone else there? Any witnesses?" Sheila's voice was soft.

Blair squeezed his eyes shut tightly. "I don't know. I don't know! I couldn't see, because he was behind me, and I was trying to block out what he was doing, and I wanted Jim..." He wrapped his arms around his waist and doubled over. He was going to be sick. That was all he needed, to be sick in front of IA and his lawyer and have them know what a wuss he was--

Hands rubbed his back soothingly. "Concentrate on breathing, Blair. Don't think of anything else. Just breathe."

Slowly, slowly, the voices in his head drifted away, shut up, let him alone. "You okay to go on, Blair?" he heard Sheila ask.

He sat up carefully. "Yeah. I think so." Carly remained standing next to the bed, her hands on his shoulders.

"Try to remember, Blair. Was there anyone else in the room? Did you hear anyone talking with Jones?"

"I--yeah, I think I heard him talking to someone. They were making jokes, talking about me." He felt his face grow hot. "Making lewd comments..." he whispered. "Saying it was about time Ellison quit putting up with the hippie and tossed him in jail where he belonged. But I don't know who it was." He finally met Sheila's eyes.

"Okay, Blair, we're almost done. Can you remember how long it was before Ellison came to get you?"

He shrugged. "Not for sure. It felt like hours, but I was pretty out of it then. Everything until I woke up here in the hospital is pretty much a blur."

"You don't need anything more, do you , Sheila?" Carly asked.

Irwin shook her head and turned off the tape recorder. "No, that's enough for now. I'll have this typed up, and someone will bring it by for you to sign, okay, Blair?"

He nodded, and Sheila stepped over to the bed, taking his hand in hers and giving it a squeeze. "Thank you for being so honest with me. I know this was a very difficult thing for you to do. Take care of yourself, okay?"

"Okay," he managed to croak out, then she gathered up her things and left. He turned to Carly. "Um, can I be alone for a while? I have some thinking I need to do."

She picked up her attaché. "Sure. I'll just go call the office, and see if I can track down your doctor, see if you can get out of here today." She gave him a smile. "It's going to be okay, Blair."

He watched her leave, wondering if he would ever be okay again.

Ripping another piece of tape off the roll, Jim sealed the box shut. He taped the list of contents on the outside, then sat back on his knees and regarded his handiwork. He had nearly all of Blair's things packed, the breakable objects carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and packed with biodegradable cornstarch peanuts. They cost a hell of a lot more than the styrofoam ones, but Blair could just dump them down the sink with some water when he unpacked, and Jim thought that was good for at least one brownie point. God knew he needed all he could get.

There was something he was forgetting--laundry, that was it. He needed to take Blair's dirty clothes down to the basement and wash them. He'd already done the bedclothes, since the blankets took longest to dry, but Blair's things from the bathroom hamper along with what he'd been wearing when he'd been taken to the hospital were sitting in the laundry bag by the door.

The phone rang. Jim got to his feet, his knees creaking, reminding him he was just a few years shy of the big 4-0. He picked up the phone from the counter and punched it on. "Ellison."

"Detective, this is Carly Cavanaugh. Blair's out of the hospital, and we're on the way to the loft now. You're not going to be a problem, now are you?"

Jim bit back a growl. "No, I'm not going to be a *problem*. In fact, I have most of Blair's stuff packed, so you won't have to stay any longer than necessary."

"Good, we'll be there in about ten minutes." The line went dead. Hanging up the phone, Jim headed downstairs to retrieve the sheets and blankets.

He'd just finished packing the bed things when there was a knock at the door. Jim opened it to find Blair, Carly, and a tall, muscular female sheriff's deputy waiting in the hallway. They filed in, then stood for a moment, taking in the room, and each other. Jim hitched a shoulder in the direction of the deputy. "Is she really necessary?"

Cavanaugh nodded. "I want this to be strictly by the book, Ellison. I don't think you're going to try anything, but better safe than sorry."

Blair turned toward him then, his eyes wide at the changes in the loft. It was bare, almost stark. "We need to talk." He touched the lawyer on the arm. "I need to talk to Jim, alone. We'll be right in there." He cocked his head toward his room. "I'll yell like a banshee if I need you."

Cavanaugh nodded, and the sheriff gave Jim a look that said, "Just try something, buster. Just try it." Swallowing past the mountain in his throat, Jim followed Blair into the small room, and shut the french doors behind them.

Blair sat down gingerly on the bare futon mattress, and Jim was nearly overwhelmed with the vivid image of his guide being violated. It was all he could do to keep from vomiting. As it was, he clenched his fists so tight he could feel his nails cutting into his palms.

"Sit down, man, before I get a crick in my neck."

Remembering to breathe, Jim took a seat in the desk chair, wiping his suddenly sweaty palms against his jeans. "Chief," he started, then didn't know how to continue. He contemplated the floor for a few moments, then looked up at Blair. The anthropologist's hands were clasped together in his lap, the knuckles white, and Jim suspected his heart was racing. For a moment, he reached out with his hearing, tried to pick up that familiar sound, but there was nothing. He shook his head.

"What, Jim?"

"My senses are gone," he blurted out, then instantly regretted it. Can't even say you're sorry first, can you, Ellison? My sentinel abilities are nothing compared to what he's lost.

"I'm not surprised," Blair replied calmly.

That was news to Jim. "You're not?"

Blair shook his head, his curls swinging. "With great power comes great responsibility, man."

Jim frowned and shifted in his seat. "That's a line out of Spiderman, Sandburg."

The other man shrugged, the gesture disturbing and eloquent at the same time. "So? Doesn't make it any less true. A Sentinel isn't just a guy with heightened senses. He's the protector of the tribe, the watchman. It's his job to keep the members of the tribe safe." The color drained from Sandburg's face but Blair held Jim's gaze unflinchingly. "You failed in that duty, Jim."

The Sentinel had failed his Guide. Jim hung his head. "I'm sorry, Blair, I'm so sorry. I know it's no comfort, but I never meant this to happen, I never meant for you to be hurt...."

"I know you didn't, but I was hurt all the same. And I have a hard time seeing my friend in the man who would put me in that kind of situation, who would treat me with anger instead of compassion." Blair's voice was shaking. "Our friendship meant a lot to me, and I figured you felt the same way. Maybe I was wrong, maybe--"

"No! No, you weren't wrong! Your friendship is everything to me!" Jim could hear the desperation in his own voice. Please, Blair, please, don't throw it all away, give me a chance to make it up to you, he silently prayed.

Blair chewed his lip, his eyes darting around the nearly empty room. Finally they came to rest on Jim again. "I wish I could believe that, man. Maybe I can in time. Maybe in time we can start over. Hell, it might be better without the whole Sentinel/Guide/dissertation thing between us. But I have to have that time, Jim. I need time to process, to heal, to find myself again. Because right now, most of what I am is scared, of the world, of Iris, of Parkman, of the people at the PD, even of my friends, like Simon, and Henri and Rafe."

"Are you afraid of me?" Jim blurted out.

He was silent for a moment, then nodded. "I never thought I'd say this, but yes, I'm afraid of you. But most of all I'm afraid of me, afraid of the anger inside me. Afraid of what it'll do to me if I let it out. I have to find a way to deal with that part of me, Jim."

Jim clenched his jaw, fighting back his emotions. When he felt calm enough to speak again, he said, "Is the restraining order and the lawsuit against the PD your way of dealing?"

Blinking at him, Blair folded his arms across his chest. "For now, yes. It may sound stupid, but it makes me feel like I have some control, that I can stand up and say 'What happened to me was wrong,' and have people listen. This isn't about vengeance; I'm not out to punish you, if that's what you're thinking. I think you're managing that well enough on your own." He got to his feet and headed to the door. Pausing next to Jim, his hand dropped to the sentinel's shoulder. "I'm still your friend, I just have to take care of me right now. But if anything happens, and you need my help, call me."

Opening the doors, Blair walked out. Jim buried his face in his hands. He sat there for a long time, until they, and everything that had marked the anthropologist's presence in his life, were gone.

Arms piled high with boxes, Blair followed Carly from her driveway around the garage and down a narrow brick-paved path. It wound around a swimming pool through a well kept flower garden and ended at the front door of a cottage. Carly set her boxes down on the bench next to the door and dug some keys out of her pocket. Unlocking the door, she opened it and stepped inside. Blair followed.

"Just set those down anywhere," she said, flipping on the lights, and Blair got his first look at his new home.

She was right about it being small. It was one large room, actually, with a living area in the center of the room, a double bed in the corner, and a kitchenette along one wall. The bathroom he assumed was through the doorway next to the bed. Large windows let in plenty of light, and one wall held a large fireplace to ward off the chilly Cascade nights.

When he could finally speak, Blair said, "Carly, this is wonderful. I can't thank you enough."

Shrugging, she ran a hand through her short locks, then gestured at the sheet-covered furniture. "Sorry it's such a mess. No one's stayed here for about three years. The dust bunnies have got to be the size of elephants by now."

He gave her a grin. "Well, I have plenty of experience with cleaning." He felt his excitement dim at the memory of Jim and his house rules.

"Come on, let's get the rest of the boxes in before the sun goes down. Wouldn't want you to break an ankle trying to negotiate that path in the dark."

Thirty minutes later all of Blair's possessions were stacked inside the door. Carly glanced at her watch. "Oh, dang it. I meant to get keys made for you. Think you'll be okay here by yourself for a while? I'll run and get the keys and pick up dinner. That sound good?"

"Sure. I can get started in here. Get my clothes put away at least."

"Okay, I should be back in about an hour." The door closed behind her and Blair let out a sigh of relief. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy her company, or that he wasn't grateful for her help, but he'd had about enough close human interaction for one day.

That was an incongruous thought coming from an anthropologist, he mused. Needing to be alone. Tossing a box labeled 'summer clothes' on the bed, he began to unpack. Jim was so anal. He'd divided the box into sections, shirts in one corner, socks and underwear in another, pants in a third. Blair's hands twisted a t-shirt into knots as he blinked back tears. "I have to do this," he told himself fiercely. "I couldn't stay there."

It had taken damn near every drop of courage in him to even enter the loft, though he thought he'd hid it well. Jim certainly didn't know the toll it had taken of Blair just to sit in that room and talk to him. Or at least he hoped he didn't. Blair had caused Jim enough pain, and vice versa. Time to themselves to lick their wounds would do them both good.

The box now empty, Blair sat down on the floor and opened the laundry bag he'd picked up from next to the front door of the loft. Untying the cord holding it closed, he gasped at the smell. Christ, what was in there? Those gym socks that had been fermenting in the back of his closet? Reaching a hand inside, he pulled out a blue shirt. He was about to set it aside when something stopped him. Laying it across his leg, he ran a hand over the smooth fabric. This had been what he'd been wearing. He'd picked it because it heightened the blue in his eyes, and he'd wanted Iris to get lost in them, to get lost in him. Instead--

"Stupid, Sandburg! Just stupid!" Wadding the garment up, he threw it across the room. It would be a hell of a long time before he went on another date. Sighing, he reached into the laundry bag again, this time pulling out a pair of tan dockers.

He looked at them with a critical eye. Grass stains on the knees. Well, that was to be expected, what with all the running and falling he'd done trying to escape both Iris and Parkman. Holding them up, he turned them around. He felt his heart stop at the deep rust-colored stain. Blood. His blood.

Then he was back there, in the cold little room, the voice telling him to undress. It was hard to undress with his hands cuffed. The cop had gotten angry and pushed him against the table, yanking his pants down. The room turned upside down then, and everything ran together, colors and sound and touch one dizzying kaleidoscope of sensation. Cruel laughter, and crueler hands. Had he struggled? Hands were all over him, holding him down, touching him, pinching and fondling and no! Not there! Please, god, not there!, burning, tearing...

And then nothing. The voice telling him to get dressed, to walk this way, the clanging as the cell door slammed shut, and the knowledge that Jim had sent him here, Jim had wanted this to happen....

Blair curled in on himself, the tears finally falling, the screams he'd swallowed before echoing in the confines of the cottage.

The knock at the door roused Jim from his partially inebriated slumber. His leg jerked, kicking the coffee table, and he heard the empty bottle of beer tip over the edge and shatter. Great. The knock turned to pounding. "I hear you! I hear you, goddamn it!" He got to his feet a tad unsteadily, cursing under his breath. Couldn't people leave him the fuck alone?!

His fingers fumbled with the deadbolt, then finally he threw the door open just as Sheila Irwin was about to knock again. Both of them took a step back in surprise. Jim recovered first. "What in the hell do you want?"

"I'm here to do you a favor, Ellison, so let me in." He stepped aside, and she swished past him impatiently, then came to a dead stop as she caught sight of the bare walls. "Sandburg's moved out?"

Heading for the kitchen, Jim shot back over his shoulder, "Yeah, what about it?" He opened the fridge. "Want a beer?"

"No thanks. Water would be nice." She leaned against the kitchen counter.

The detective hesitated for a moment, then grabbed two water bottles and handed one to her. "So what's this favor you want to do me?"

She popped the top on the bottle and took a drink, then set it down. "I'm here to give you a head's up about what's going on with IA's investigation. I turned my interviews in to my superiors an hour ago. They'll review them, then call a meeting with you to go over their findings. You'll want to have a lawyer with you. But I'm telling you now, OJ's dream team couldn't get you out of this."

Jim scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to wipe away the cobwebs in his brain. "So you're saying I'll be fired."

"You were expecting anything less?"

He shook his head. "No, not really. What about Simon?"

"Doesn't look good for him either. He's the one who's been signing off on all your less than stellar work."

Jim got a beer from the fridge. This kind of news wasn't going to go down well with just water. Twisting the cap off, he said, "Basically we're both screwed then. So why are you here? To gloat? I know you've had it in for me ever since Jack's disappearance."

Sheila snorted. "As if! Contrary to your inflated belief of your self-worth, the world doesn't revolve around you. And if you'd done your job the right way in the first place, we wouldn't be having this conversation, now would we?"

Sighing, Jim looked down at his feet. "Sorry. It's just we've never seen eye to eye. I figured you were here to rub my nose in my own mess."

She folded her arms across her chest. "If I thought you would learn something from it, I would have done that a long time ago. Look, Jim, there's a way to salvage something out of this dung pile. Are you going to listen to me or not?"

"I'm listening." He took a long pull on his beer.

"Resign from the force."

The alcohol went down the wrong way. "What?!" he managed to croak between splutters.

"You heard me. Resign before they have a chance to fire you. The brass will be willing to lay the blame squarely on you, and Captain Banks will get off with a warning to keep his detectives under control and a slap on the wrist. And by quitting, you can apply for a job elsewhere in law enforcement, if you can keep your damn nose clean."

"I'll have to think about it," he finally replied.

"Well don't think too long. They're going to move on this immediately, before the media gets wind of what actually happened. That way they can say they've taken care of the problem in house, and point out how swift they are to respond to civilian complaints." She picked up her purse and turned to leave.

"Sheila?" She glanced back at him. "Thanks. It's more than I deserve."

She gave him a tight smile. "Yeah, well, you had potential once, Ellison. I'd like to see you get another crack at it." Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a business card. "I have a friend who's looking for guys with your background who like the great outdoors. I think you'd do well to give him a call."

Taking the card, Jim walked her to the door. Once she'd left, he looked at it. "Lt. David Rutgers, Training/Recruitment/Accreditation, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife." Conservation officer....hmm...

Juggling the bags of Chinese plus the sack of cleaning supplies she'd picked up at the hardware while she was waiting for her keys to be made, Carly finally managed to get the door to the cottage open. The room was in shadow, the sun just setting beyond the bay. "Blair?"

A ragged cry answered her call. Setting her packages down, she rounded the corner of the sofa to find Blair curled into a ball on the floor, his whole body shaking with silent sobs. She knelt beside him, reaching out a hand to tentatively touch his shoulder, her eyes lighting on the bloodstained pants. "Oh, jesus, Blair. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left."

He looked up at her words, his blue eyes puffy and red, his cheeks wet, but she got the feeling that he really didn't see her. "It's okay, honey, it's okay." She rubbed his back in soothing, gentle circles, surprised that he even allowed her that much. After nearly thirty minutes the tension between his shoulder blades began to ease as the sobbing tapered off, and he scooted closer to her, pressing his back against her leg.

Twilight lengthened into full night, and Carly found herself leaning back against the couch, Blair's head resting on her thigh. She softly stroked his hair, whispering, "It will get better, Blair. I promise you, it will get better."

Exhausted, he finally slept, one hand clutching the hem of her T-shirt.

Eighteen Months Later

Blair guided the Chevy Tahoe through the winding roads of the wooded sub-division, glancing momentarily at the passenger sleeping in the seat next to him. He felt a smile cross his face, becoming an all out grin. Life was good. Different than what he'd imagined the fateful day he'd met Iris Johnson and slid for a brief, agonizing moment into hell, but it was good.

He had his doctorate now, had finally turned in that dissertation on the myth and the reality of tribal protectors. He'd had to make some changes, juggle things around, and had almost given up when he'd met Alex Barnes. He'd found her sitting at the side of the road, her car wrapped around a telephone pole. After a few minutes of talking to her, he knew she was a Sentinel. He'd been wiser for all his mistakes with Jim, and had called in some help in dealing with her. Beth Olivet had been a god send to the misguided young woman, and between the two of them they'd helped her learn to use her senses, and deal with their emotional impact on her life. That was something he'd strongly regretted not doing with Jim. He'd kept in touch with Alex after his paper had been submitted, and she was doing well as a rookie with the Cascade Fire Department.

He'd kept in contact with Jim as well, and though the man was no longer a Sentinel, he, too, seemed to be happier than Blair had ever seen him. Life as a conservation officer suited him, the long hours outdoors kept him physically fit, and the work was varied enough to keep his interest.

And Blair? Well, he was finally at peace with what had happened to him, thanks to his determination not to let the experience ruin his life, and some intense therapy. Jim had resigned, Simon had kept his job, Sergeant Freemore had been demoted, and the officer that had assaulted Blair had been fired and sentenced to prison. In exchange for keeping the details of the case from the media, the city of Cascade had settled out of court with Blair, for the sum of 1.5 million dollars, most of which Blair donated to groups that helped victims of violent crime and abuse.

His turn was coming up, and Blair shook off the memories of the past. It was time to look ahead. He had a teaching position at Washington State University, and was taking some courses in forensic anthropology. His unofficial tenure with the police had gotten under his skin, and now he was seriously getting involved in the investigative side of anthropology.

Pulling to a stop in the driveway, Blair turned off the truck. "Hey, sleepyhead, we're home." His partner mumbled something unintelligible. Getting out of the vehicle, Blair grabbed their suitcases from the back and headed for the front porch. Setting the bags down on the stoop, he unlocked the door and waited.

"Aren't you going to take those inside?"

He shook his head. "Got something I have to do first." Scooping the small woman into his arms, he carried her across the threshold. "Welcome home, Mrs. Sandburg."

Carly threaded her fingers through his hair, then kissed him. "Mrs. Sandburg. I like the sound of that."

The phone began to ring just as things were getting interesting. "Who knows we're back?" he growled.

"I'll get it, honey. You bring in the bags."

A few minutes later Blair walked into the kitchen to find his new bride still on the phone. "Okay, he's back. Here he is." She handed the phone to him. "It's Jim."

Putting the receiver to his ear, Blair said, "You must have ESP, man. We just walked in the door."

"Well, I hope your wife doesn't mind if I borrow you for a little while. Something's come up."

"Oh, really? What?"

Blair could hear the barely contained excitement in Jim's voice. "Tourist found a body in Cascade National Park. Been there a while by the looks of it. We could really use an anthropologist up here, to let us know if they stumbled across an old Native American burial site, or if it's more recent than that."

"How soon do you need me? Tomorrow morning okay?"

"Tomorrow's fine. He isn't going anywhere." Jim paused, then added, "And there's something else--my senses are back."


Immortal Cascade

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