Disclaimer: See main page.

Written: Copyright July 2000 MaBrown. All rights reserved.

Rating: PG-13.

Author's note: Special thanks to my betas, Ruth and Beth for an outstanding job, taking what was once a snippet, and helping turn it into a full length dramatic adventure!!

Running Man
by MaBrown



Faster and faster, no... no don't stop. Can't stop now, they'll kill me this time... I know they will.

Keep moving, gotta keep moving. No one knows I'm gone yet. Man, I hope the guy I hit over the head isn't hurt too badly. He hit the floor so hard, but I can't stay any longer... I gotta get out!

Faster and faster, keep running, keep moving.

Wait, I think I hear something in the distance. Oh god, they can't have found out already?

No, no this doesn't leave me enough time... c-can't focus. NO!! Take deep breaths. This is not time to panic, I'll panic if they catch me.

Gotta take a deep breath...

And RUN!!!

Faster and faster, ducking behind the discarded boxes, hiding behind the eerie mannequins who are the silent observers to my torment. If only one of those lifeless bodies could lend me a hand,

Wait, I hear something, oh no--the dogs, they've brought out the dogs. Those cursed dogs!

They aren't playing around this time, they mean to kill me for sure. Gotta get OUT of here!

Run now, faster, chest hurts so bad, can't think about that now though. Must run, run faster. Don't want the dogs to catch up with me.

Wait... there's the opening. The small hole in the wall. I can see the moonlight shining through. That's my road to freedom, that's my road back to life.

The dogs are getting so close, so much closer. I began to slip though the boxes and discarded whatnots on my way to that blessed whole in the wall, the opening that will lead me to my salvation.

Wait a minute, what's that weird red dot dancing along the walls... OH NO!


Oh man, I'm hit. As if everything else wasn't bad enough, I'm hit. Oh man, my leg... god it hurts!! Oh man, gotta take a deep breath... Breathe!! Become one with the pain, must become one with... Man, screw that new age crap, this HURTS!!

Can't let that stop me, the opening, so close, I can't stay here anymore--got to get out--Man, I've got to get OUT!!!

"Mr. Sandburg, there's no use running, we know you're hurt. The dogs can smell the blood, save yourself the pain and come back now like a good little guide."

NO!!! I won't listen to that voice, that stupid, idiotic voice. Why must he always use a bull horn, I'll be hearing that feedback in my nightmares for the rest of my life, however long that turns out to be. Almost there--man this pain SUCKS!! Can't think about it, must go forwar. Won't go back. CAN'T go back.

Almost there... FREEDOM!!

The wind hits my face as I stumble out into the chilly night air. The sweat on my brow dries so quickly it sets me off on a bad case of the shakes. I stumble forward blindly, moving as fast as my injured leg will allow me.

I still hear the dogs, can FEEL them on my trail. Can't let them find me, gotta get home. Getting tired. So tired.


Man I miss you, don't wish you were here though. That's why they wanted me, so they could have you. But I never gave you up. NEVER!!

Okay--having trouble breathing now, so tired. The dogs--I--can still hear them. Wait--wh-what was that noise?

Sounds like an explosion, maybe everything blew up. Good riddance!!! I hope they all burn in hell.

Think I'll lay down now, don't hear the dogs anymore. Tired, so tired. Leg isn't even hurting anymore. That's not good is it?? Oh well, too tired to care. Nap time.

Ground feels good, cool to my fevered face, must rest now. So tired, so very very tired.

Something's grabbing at me, shaking me. Wh... what is it??

OH NO!!! They've found me; I shouldn't have fallen asleep!! Got to get away, oh please let me get away.

I WON'T let them take me back, NEVER! I'll die before I let that happen. LET--ME--GO!!

"BLAIR! Blair please calm down, it's Jim. Please Blair, it's Jim, it's okay now. You're safe; you're safe now."

That voice --I know that voice don't I?? Jim!!! Oh man, man am I glad to hear you!! Lord how I've wanted to hear your voice these last few months.

Hearing your voice, now that means I'm safe doesn't it? It means this nightmare is finally over.

"Blair... I'm so sorry that we didn't find..."

Didn't what?? Oh man, I'm so tired, can't hear Jim anymore, must be too tired to listen. Think I'll just close my eyes, everything's fine now. I'm safe. I made it out that blessed hole in the wall and into the night, I found my freedom. I found my sentinel. I can stop running now...

I'm safe.

I'm tired. So tired.

It's been how long now?? How long since my guide fell of the face of the earth? Three months, twelve weeks of living hell and no matter how hard I try, I can't escape it.

Blair's gone. Snatched away in the middle of the night while he was leaving Rainer. How many times have I told him to be careful. Too naive for his own good. Everytime I tell him to be careful, all I get is--'lay off on the mother hen act, man--I got it covered man--I'm cool Jim, nothing is gonna happen to me.'

Yeah, nothing all right. Nothing but getting kidnapped, because you can't remember to keep a stupid cell phone on you to call in case something suspicious is going down...

Wait... that's no good. I can't be angry with him, I'm angry with myself. I should have protected him, kept him safe. I should have known that some evil force was seeking him out. My visions have warned me other times, why didn't they send me a message this time. Why the silent treatment!!!! Why now for god's sake when I need the visions most, why do they abandon me? Useless sentinel crap!! I have it up to hear with this enhanced crap--never comes through for me when I need it...never!

Two days after Sandburg disappeared, the letters started. Little notes dropped off at the precinct, at Blair's office at Rainier, at my home... correction, our home. Little notes that were kind enough to let me know that Blair was being held against his will... that he was being tortured... denied food and water... because of me! All because of ME! The notes mentioned my sentinel abilities... someone knew... somebody knew all about me. We had no name of the villain behind it all for weeks until we caught a two bit crook looking to make a plea-bargain.

He claimed he'd been working for some major player by the name of Granchesky, and that this character had asked him to help nab Blair. Something about a little payback for past wrongs done to him by one Jim Ellison... me. Said he knew I was different... that I was a sentinel. They wanted Blair because they knew he was the guide... the only means of controlling me. Without Blair, Granchesky figured I'd lose my edge... and eventually my sanity.

Blair was just a tool in his plot for revenge. The only problem was this... I had NO idea who Granchesky was. No idea at all.

Which made this whole mess even more bizarre.

I thought I was going to kill somebody! Why did they need him, the notes said that they knew I was a sentinel... if they knew I was a sentinel... why didn't they take me?!

NO... I can't think about this right now. My mind is fried, I'm too tired. I just need to stop thinking for awhile... maybe...

"Jim, you're not zoning on me are you?"

I'm gonna try my best not to bite Simon's head off here. I know he's just as frustrated with this situation as I am, but I swear if he asks me if I'm zoning one more time, I'm gonna...


"What?!?!" I hiss, secretly pleased as Simon flinches, slightly guilty for barking at the man like that.

"Look Simon, I'm sorry. I just hope that this time, we find him. I don't know how much more of this 'hide and seek' game I can play. It's been THREE months, and we aren't any closer now that we were at first at finding Blair."

I try to ignore the 'poor guy' look Simon is giving me right now. I know everyone means well, and I know that they honestly don't know how to act around me anymore, but I cannot stand being pitied all the time. I need no one's pity, I need my guide.

"Jim, I know this is rough, heck I miss the little guy too..."

Little guy. Huh, man, that sets me off right there!

"Look Simon, that 'little guy' is MY guide, MY partner, and MY friend. He's the only one that cared enough to stick by me through all the crap that's come our way lately. And I refuse to hear Blair referred to as 'that little guy'! Got that?" I growl it my most intimidating way, I'm really ticked off right now and Simon is the best target around.

"Man Jim, chill buddy all right. I didn't mean any disrespect. I'm worried, heck we're all worried about you man. Look, Granchesky's informant turned the info over to us. Since he's facing life in prison versus helping us find Blair, I'm inclined to think he's telling the truth."

He better be, because if he's not, and Blair's not at the warehouse complex like that rat informant swears he is, I'm going straight back to Cascade and pull that guy's liver out of his throat. And believe me, thanks to my wonderful 'covert ops' training, I'd be able to do it in under sixty seconds... flat.

I decided to ignore Simon's weak attempt to placate my anger, and turn to gaze out the truck's window. That's right, I'm not driving, Simon is. Something about my not being stable enough to handle operating heavy machinery right now.

Yeah... whatever.

I rest my face on the cool glass of the truck's window, wishing that the coldness were somehow able to ease the aching of my heart. Sometimes I swear the loss hurts so badly, so intensely, I think I'm going to lose my mind. Just fade away with the madness... becoming lost... like my guide.

God Blair! Where the heck ARE you?? I let my eyes slide closed, and extend my hearing as far as it will go. We are almost to the warehouse, surely if Blair IS in there, I'll hear him. I'll hear that darn metronome I've missed so badly the last few months.

Simon evidently takes my closed eyes as a signal to leave me to myself. For that I'm thankful. I'm tired of talking, tired of putting on the 'I'm dealing with the loss just fine, thank you' mask that I've had to wear for so long now. I'm ready to take it off and put on my 'thank god, we found him!' mask.

I'm extending my hearing as far as it can go, which thanks to Blair's tutelage, is extremely far.

The silence in the truck's cab is soothing, calming. Providing me with an anchor as I stretch my sense of hearing farther than out than ever before. I hope I don't zone... Simon's not to good with the sentinel stuff. Who knows when he'd finally be able to pull me out of...

Wait... I'm picking something up! It can't be... can it? Oh man it is!!!

That blessed sound. That sound that has haunted me all this time. Man, I didn't realize how much I've missed it.

It's Blair!! Blair is here, and he's ALIVE!

"Simon, he's here. HE'S HERE!!"

I can barely hear Simon's whoop of joy over the pounding of my heart as I home in on the wonderful sound of Blair's. It's strong... and... lord, it's racing.

Good grief, if it doesn't slow down, the kid is going to have a massive heart attack.

The moment the truck stops its forward motion, I'm out the passenger door.


We are all moving now. Spreading through the warehouse like a hidden virus, leaching into all the nooks and crannies this huge place has, hidden from the filth that has claimed it as home for the last three months. Using this home to torture my guide.

I look over to Simon and gesture silently that I'm heading forward. I sense that Blair is in the back of the building, and he's moving swiftly. Simon acknowledges my signal, and gives me the go ahead. He knows how important this is to me... that I must be the one to find Blair. I must make up for failing him three months ago, for allowing him to be taken away from his home, and his life.

Moving along silently in the dark warehouse, I track Blair's movements. His heart is racing and his breathing sounds choppy, but right now both sounds are sweet music to my ears. He is alive and that is all that matter to me right now. Everything else can wait.

I continue my silent search as I move through the darkness. It is at times like this that I feel closest to the jaguar; silent and strong, hunting my prey, readying myself for the kill. Believe me, if I have anything to do with it, there will be a kill made here tonight.

Wait... I hear something else. I focus my eyes in the direction of this new sound, and spot somebody high up in the rafters. Zeroing in on the suspect, I realize he's got his sight trained on someone. His gun is held tightly, a red light streaming forth from the deadly weapon. I can even see the beads of sweat piling up on his filthy brow. Somehow I know he's trained on Blair. Without a second thought I take aim and shoot. Not fast enough it seems as I hear his weapon sound off, and then my hearing registers a sound of pain from my guide. I immediately disregard the sound of the marksman hitting the ground as I focus on finding my guide.

I piggyback my sight on my hearing and finally... finally I find my guide. He's too far away for me to be able to let him know I'm near without alerting the enemy. I can tell he is hurt. Even in the darkness I can easily see the weight he's lost, the slump in his shoulders, the minute tremors only my sentinel eyes can bear witness to. All because of me, because of my sentinel abilities.

I'm moving quickly now... running, struggling to reach my guide. So many obstacles are in my way. Discarded boxes, trash,... faceless mannequins who seem to laugh at my misfortune as I run past. God... how big is this place anyway? It'll be morning before I can reach him.

Blair's holding his leg and limping away towards... what is that? A hole. A darn hole in the wall. How the heck he found that in this huge place I'll never know, but at least he has a way out now. At least he can escape.

Wait.. I'm picking up on something else. Twelve heartbeats moving towards my wounded partner. Odd, some of the hearts are beating far more rapidly. Wait a minute, my sense of smell is picking up on a heavy canine scent. Switching my focus back to my hearing I realize I'm picking up on four men and according to the rapid heartbeats and the heavy scent, eight dogs.

Wait... I can see the men now, all four of them. Four men hunting searching for my guide. Hunting him as if he were mere prey.

Oh no!!

They've spotted him. Each man is holding two huge Rottweilers, dogs that are obviously trained to kill, focused on my unarmed guide.

I don't think so.

I stealthily move up behind the first of the four men, gun aimed and ready. In the distance I can hear Simon and various members of the swat team moving in. The four men don't stand a chance in hell.

I return my attention to my guide, pleased to see that he has almost made it to freedom. I hate that I'm still too far away to help him.

Wait a minute... maybe I can help him in a different way.

Watching my guide as he exits out of the hole and into the dark night, I turn my wrath on the remaining men in the building. I'm going to make sure NO one hurts him again.

It's covert ops time.

The explosion nearly deafens me as I stumble away from the crumbling building. Seems some of our resident 'bad guys' couldn't take the heat so to speak. They've evidently opted for the kamikaze routine instead of facing the swat team like men. So instead of the standoff I usually face in these situations I find my dodging small bombs that have started going off like some sick take on the fourth of July. Without my guide, I almost lose myself in the vicious assault on my senses.

I scan for Simon as I'm exiting the building. As I pick up on the sound of his voice, I knowhe's fine. Especially when I hear him bellowing and shouting to the members of the swat team who are still in one piece.

There was a familiar scent in the air inside the warehouse. It's been nagging at me, taunting me to remember its origin. I probably could remember if my guide was by my side. I need to stop worrying about that scent.

It's not important right now.

Blair. I must find him. He's hurt, and I hate it when he's been hurt. I should have been ther. I'm the sentinel. I should have been able to protect him.

Stop it, Ellison. This pity party is getting you nowhere fast, so suck it up and forget it. You've got more important things to concern yourself with right now.

Like where the heck is Blair. I feel so frustrated right now. I know I need to calm down and focus. Just focus.

I keep my hearing half tuned on the chaos behind me as I stagger forward, continuing my desperate search for my guide. I know without a doubt that he couldn't have gotten far. That leg wound has to be killing him. Not that Blair couldn't handle it if it was. He's a lot stronger than most people realize; he knows how to suck in the pain when necessary.

I sometimes wish he wouldn't do that. Okay, I wish he wouldn't do that period.

Behind me the flurry of activity continues, almost like background music for my search. Expletives uttered from injured men shower around me in the darkness, lending a surreal feel to this moment.

Simon's calling my name, but I don't answer him. I can't.

My mind has shut down. I've just found Blair, after three long months of searching and hoping. Waiting and praying.

I've found him.

I snap out of my shock and rush towards him. He's lying crumpled on the ground like a ragdoll who's been carelessly tossed aside, broken and forgotten.

Man, my hands are shaking so badly as I kneel down beside him. The moonlight casts an eerie glow about him, making his already pale skin seem translucent. I swallow past a huge lump that has appeared out of nowhere in my throat, as I gently touch his arm.

It's as if all my senses suddenly go on four-alarm status. Sights, sounds, touch. All go haywire at once. I almost lose myself in the intense overload, floating along without anchor.

(thump-thump thump-thump)


What is that? Wait. I shake my head as I come back to myself, realizing the sound that has pulled me from my zone is my guide's heartbeat.

Steady and strong, assuring me that... yes, he is safe.

Much calmer now, I locate the wound on his leg, relieved to see it's just a deep graze. I snatch off my light jacket and quickly tie it around the wound. The bleeding has already slowed down considerably, but I'd rather err on the side of caution.

I gently probe the rest of my guide's body to determine if there are any more injuries. I am not pleased to note the weight loss. Blair has always been slender, but now he is gaunt. I try to ignore the churning in my stomach as I feel his ribs through his threadbare shirt.

Satisfied that the leg injury is his main concern for the moment, I gently shake the thin shoulders in an attempt to rouse Blair. Softly I call his name, urging him to leave his slumber and join the land of the living. I don't want to speak too loudly and startle him. I can't help but feel the need to be as gentle as possible with him.

After a few moments, Blair begins to stir. He roughly shoves my arms away, mumbling nonsense. Suddenly his heart rate jumps through the roof, as he violently comes awake.

"No... stop. NO!! No more! NO!!"

He keeps fighting me. My pleas fall on deaf ears as he continues to struggle.

I'm failing again, and this failure is the worst imaginable for a sentinel.

I can't reach my guide... he doesn't know me.

He's still lost to me.

Ignoring the fearful pain I'm feeling in my gut, I gently grab hold of Blair's arms as they thrash around to keep him from hurting himself. I continue calling his name, hoping my voice will finally make it through the panic that seems to have a hold on him.

Slowly his struggles cease and I hear his heart rate steady a bit. I watch as his eyes finally focus on my face and he realizes who I am. A slow, easy smile crosses his thin features as he fuzzily gazes up at me. The look in his eyes strikes me as odd. In the midst of all the chaos going on around us, his gaze registers peace. Somehow my guide has found peace.

Relief washes over me in waves as I struggle to voice my sorrow at failing him.

"Blair... I'm so sorry I didn't find you sooner. That I let you down..." My voice breaks as I realize my guide has passed out on me. He's finally succumbed to his injury and fragile health. I scan him again briefly, partly to assure myself he's okay and partly because I've missed doing it so much these last few months. His heart is beating strong and his breathing sounds surprisingly clear. These things seem to calm me, as I feel a little of Blair's new found peace seep into my weary soul.

In the distance I hear the blessed sounds of sirens heading in our direction. I know Simon has called them. Somehow instinctively he must know I've found my guide.

I leave my hand resting on Blair's chest as I wait for the paramedics to arrive. I need this small connection right now. I need to feel the tangible evidence that Blair is back.

That my guide is safe.

As I leave the comforting dream world that I've inhabited for what seems like an eternity, the first thing I'm aware of is softness.

I'm lying on something soft and warm, things that are very reassuring to me. I'm covered by something warm and heavy, pressing me gently into the softness beneath me. I lie in this cocoon of comfort not yet ready to open my eyes and face reality.

Can you blame me? My last glimpse of the real world was snatched from my nightmares and I'm not too keen on visiting that place just yet.

I shift slightly inside my precious cocoon, sighing contentedly. I feel myself beginning to doze again when a soft, familiar voice calls me back to the place I'm hiding from.

"Blair. Come on buddy, wake up. You've kept us all waiting long enough. Time to rise, and shine." the voice playfully entreats me.

My sleepy mind realizes that it is my sentinel's voice that's calling to me and my eyes automatically respond, as always, to the gentle command.

Once the sleepy haze clears from my eyes, I see my sentinel and my heart breaks at the sight of him.

Jim. He's so thin. What happened to him? Has he been sick, or hurt? He looks like he's aged ten years. My mind struggles to remember what happened to him... to me.

I try to speak to him, to ask him what has happened, but my throat refuses to let the words pass. Instead all I manage is a pitiful squawk in his direction. He interprets this to mean I'm thirsty, and immediately I find myself sucking on an ice chip. The relief to my throat is heaven sent and I send him a weak smile in thanks.

Suddenly I'm feeling tired, so tired. But there is so much I need to ask, so much I need to tell Jim. As I gaze at him, my hazy mind begins to sharpen and images from the last few months come crashing back into focus.

As my mind clears just a little, I remember now what I had wanted to make sure Jim knew in case I was ever found. Something he must know, so I've got to find the strength to tell him. I struggle to push the words past my tight throat, rejoicing slightly when my efforts are finally rewarded.

"J'm, hav to tell you" Good grief, is that my voice? Man, I sound awful. I am given another ice chip, which I greedily suck on, helping to relieve the growing discomfort I'm becoming more aware of as time passes.

Jim leans over, me shaking his head with an exasperated smile on his chiseled face. "Just rest, buddy. Whatever it is you can tell me later."

Okay, here we go. I don't have the energy to argue with my partner when he's in blessed protector overdrive. So I do what comes naturally for me. I ignore him.

"No... tell you now. Granchesky is... is... Brackett. He's Brackett. He's back." Finally having completed my small mission, I allow myself to succumb to the waiting darkness, eager to return to my pleasant dreamscape.

I barely register the fact that my guide is falling back to sleep as his words have left me utterly stunned.

Granchesky is... Brackett??

How? What? When? Brackett?

Okay, I need to calm down. My thoughts are rambling and I'm feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the whammy my friend just laid on me. I hadn't even taken time to figure out who Granchesky was once I'd found Blair back at the warehouse. All that had been on my mind was getting my guide back to safety and medical help. In the 12 hours since Blair had been brought here to the hospital, I had done nothing but watch and wait. The doctor's prognosis had been good. The gunshot wound had just been a graze and had been treated with antibiotics and bandaged. Plus, my guide was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration. Both problems were being taken care of by pumping him full of fluids through an IV, which also included a vitamin/mineral complex. He was also being encouraged to eat a balanced diet, which was something my guide apparently hadn't done in a very long time. With all this on my mind, I hadn't been able to see past the present. And now the past was coming back to haunt me.

Lee Brackett is back. I thought the creep was still in federal lock down, but I should know better than that. How many crooks have I chased down and help to put away behind bars only to find out later that they had somehow escaped. Or were set free by dubious forces, more than likely.

Sighing, I gaze down at my sleeping partner, confusion causing conflicting emotions to run through my troubled mind. So that's who had been holding Blair hostage all this time... Brackett. Since I can easily tell my guide's resting peacefully again, I get up from my well-worn spot next to his hospital bed and walk over to the small widow across the room.

I reach out to touch the cool glass of the window in an effort to somehow ground myself. The small gesture helps remind me that I am actually in the here and now, and not lost in the whirlwind of someone else's imagination.

Realizing the seriousness of the situation, I leave my guide and step into the hallway. I have questions that need answering and there is only one man who can get the ball rolling. Simon Banks.

With one last weary glance at my resting friend, I shut the door softly to his room and head for the nearest exit. Not waiting for the elevators, I take the stairs. Somehow I feel the need for physical activity, to clear my mind and help sharpen my senses.

After taking the ten flights of stairs down to the hospital lobby, I head out the front door and onto the pavement. I quickly whip out my cell phone and dial the captain's numbers.

A few moments later the familiar gruff voice of my friend answers the line.


"Simon, it's Jim. We've got a problem."

It's been several days since my injured partner stumbled back into my life and dropped the bombshell on me that Brackett was behind his kidnapping. A lot has transpired in that short period of time.

As I had expected, Simon was none too happy with the news that Brackett was back. Once he got over his initial sputtering and bellowing, he calmed down a bit and got down to business. After getting in touch with a few of his buddies over at the FBI, we were informed, late of course, that Brackett had indeed escaped several months, earlier and had disappeared without a trace.

Surprise, surprise. Never fails, does it? We police officers bag and catch 'em, and the idiot Feds let 'em go.

Thanks to Blair's positive ID on the culprit, a serious manhunt had been put into action. Manpower had been pulled from all the departments within the Cascade precinct to assist in the search for Brackett. The FBI, more than likely ashamed at their failure, had sent in two federal agents to assist us on the case. Agents Fielding and Crumb had shown up in Major Crimes the day after I called Simon from the hospital. Talk about your fast response time.

Wonder why it took them so long to let us know the creep was loose. Something just didn't seem to add up in that particular equation.

I'd been so wrapped up in worrying about my guide that first day or so, that I hadn't even bothered to think about what had happened that night at the warehouse. Simon filled me in after reminding me he had already told me these things the day we found Blair. Guess I must have been too preoccupied to hear him. Since I'm a sentinel, Simon really didn't buy that excuse. But he told me again anyway.

Apparently Brackett somehow knew we were headed into the area a good ten minutes before we arrived. How I don't know, maybe he had some fancy gadget he used to detect us. Or maybe he had an informer planted within our men, helping to keep tabs on us. The latter thought did nothing to ease my mind. Brackett then alerted the six men he had working with him about our impending arrival. They began setting the timers on a few well-placed bombs hidden around the large building. Unfortunately for them, my resourceful guide used that distraction to attempt his escape. Having disabled one of the men by battering him upside the head with a chair, Blair had tried to get free. The rest of the story I knew well enough, having lived through it. Blair had gotten shot while making a break for it, and I had shot and wounded the gunman. Then I'd spotted the four men and their attack dogs closing in on my guide. I'd gone after them and had managed to take down one of them, but before I could turn my attention to the remaining three, the bombs had started going off.

But none of this information did us any good. It still didn't tell us where Brackett had gone. None of the three surviving henchmen were of any help. Two of the men claimed to have no knowledge as to Brackett's whereabouts, while the third man was in the ICU ward of the hospital. He still hadn't regained consciousness.

Despite the flurry of activity going on around him, Blair remained blissfully unaware of it all. He'd slept the first three days straight through apparently too worn out from his ordeal to keep his eyes open. Plus, I believe that for the first time in a long while, my guide felt safe enough to rest. I couldn't blame him for sleeping so much, lord knows he needed it.

A day or so later, Blair had finally been awake enough to fill us in a little on what had happened to him in those three months he had been missing. It was an odd story to say the least. Frightening if you wanted to say the most.

I'm sitting on the hospital bed watching everyone pretend to be comfortable around me. It's kind of funny, really; I mean what do I expect? Heck, no one's seen or heard from me in over three months, then I suddenly pop up. So what did I honestly expect of them? I don't know, guess I'm feeling a little disconnected from it all. It's like I'm back... but I'm not. I feel something is missing but I can't put my finger on what it is. All I know is that I feel hollow and empty inside. I'd thought the feeling would go away once I was surrounded by my family and friends, but it hasn't, it's gotten worse. Maybe I should give it time, I mean I've only been in the hospital for about four days now. I'll probably feel better when I get home. I hate hospitals.

The sound of an impatiently clearing throat draws me from my thoughts. I look up and see one of the FBI agents waiting rather impatiently for me to begin. I don't know why he's in such a hurry; I'm the one spilling my guts here. Maybe he's got a hot date.

"It's all right, Blair, we're ready whenever you are," Jim assures me, drawing my attention away from the glaring agent.

Blair. I don't think Jim's called me Chief once since I've been back. I miss it, miss it a lot. Maybe that's one of the reasons I don't feel like I'm really back. My own sentinel is acting differently around me. Sighing, I smile weakly at my friend and nod. Poor Jim, I think he looks worse than when I first woke up. I take it he's not too happy to hear about Brackett's return. Of course judging by Simon's scowl, he's not thrilled either. Well, neither was I.

There really isn't as much to tell as everyone would like to think, but I begin my tale of abduction anyway. At least it will break the tense silence hanging like a heavy fog in the small room.

"Okay, um, I was leaving the university after meeting with a student to discuss his failing grade. It wasn't that late, I think it was around 3pm or so. Anyway, as I got near my car, a young kid came over asking if I could help him out. He looked like he was only about twelve or thirteen. Said he was lost and needed help finding a payphone to call his parents."

I pause for a minute as I remember how dumb I had been. What would a kid be doing 'lost' on a university campus anyway? Trust me to fall for the old 'help me, I'm lost' routine. I must have 'kick me' written somewhere on my back. As I start to talk again, my voice seems to shake just a little. I ignore it and continue.

"Anyway, I let the kid use my cell phone and offered to wait with him for his parents to arrive. He makes the call and about fifteen minutes later, up pulls this huge Ford Expedition. The driver got out of the car to get his son, or so I thought at the time. The guy comes over and pats his son on the shoulder and slips something into his hand. Next thing I know the kid runs off leaving me alone with this guy. I remember turning to say something to the man, but... e-everything went dark after that. I-I woke up in a room and d-didn't know where I was. Then m-men came in and the g-guy f-from before, he was there. H-he t-told me... told me it was time to p-pay. I... I can't..."

Okay, my heart's beginning to race and I feel like I'm running in some sort of marathon. Oh man, not now! I can't have a panic attack now! Besides, I'm home. I'm safe. Nothing can hurt me anymore, right? RIGHT? Oh, man, this is so not good. I can't think, can't think. No air, there IS no air.

I can barely hear Jim's voice over the thundering in my chest and the raspy breathing echoing in the room. I hear the sound of footsteps stomping out of the room and of a door slamming shut and can only assume it's the Feds. They must be p.o'd. Big deal.

Jim is trying to calm me down and I try to listen. My mind feels like mush and I can't think right. I know I need to center my breathing but I can't. I'm too spaced out to remember how. Don't want to think, can't think. Then I'll remember, don't want to remember. Why are they making me remember? It's over. It's all over now. I'm safe, right? I'm safe aren't I?

"J-Jim," I barely rasp out. Man, I can't stop shaking. My mind suddenly makes a connection that sends me into a further state of shock. They are asking me to remember because they haven't found Brackett. He's gone again. He's gone.

No no no nonononono!!

"Easy, Chief, easy. We can finish later, just breathe for me. Just breathe." Jim sounds worried. Maybe he should be. I'm not feeling so hot right now myself.

The blackness is creeping in on me and I recognize it. My dreamscape is calling, and I can't refuse its lure. I'm barely aware of my sentinel screaming my name as I slide happily away into oblivion's waiting arms.

The first thing I am aware of as I emerge from my blessed refuge is the sound of Jim's voice gently pleading with me to wake up. My mind is still fuzzy as I try to understand what he means. Wake up from what? Why? What was going on? Oh... yeah... I remember. Panic attack.

"Blair, buddy. C'mon, you know I know you're awake." Jim's voice sounds pretty insistent. I'm a little too busy to pay attention to him right now, though. I'm gearing up to have a major pity party. I can't believe what just happened.

I feel the telltale red heat of a flush creep up my face as memory of what transpired floods through my mind. Man, I freaked. How embarrassing is that? I totally lost it in front of the Feds. Great, just great. Could my life possibly get any worse? Wait a minute, Naomi's not here to fawn all over me. Guess it could get worse.

"Blair, I'm not kidding; you're scaring me here. Open your eyes. Please." Great, using the old "you're scaring me" routine. Funny thing is it always works. Terrific, now I have to respond and face the music.

Sighing, I open my eyes, and am instantly confronted by two ice-blue orbs. Man, sometimes it seems like Jim is staring right through me when he looks at me like that. I don't want him to see what's going on inside right now. I don't even want to see what's going on. I turn my eyes away from that intense gaze and pull at a stray string on the blanket.

"How long," I ask. Man, my voice sounds hoarse. Hope I wasn't screaming when I freaked out.

I hear a soft puff of air escape my friend before he answers. "Only a few minutes. You just had a panic attack and fainted. Completely understandable under the circumstances, buddy. Doctor came in and checked you over, said that you were fine."

I snort at that comment. Yeah, I'm fine all right. Let's see how fine Jim or Simon would be in my shoes. Bet they wouldn't flake out. That thought does nothing to help my bruised self-esteem. Then I remember something. I remember hearing Jim screaming before I passed out.

"I heard you scream." I turn to look at Jim finally, needing to see his expression as he explains his actions.

Jim reddens slightly and looks away. I see I'm not the only one embarrassed around here. A few moments pass before he finally answers.

"I... I got scared." What? Jim scared? And admitting it? "When you panicked, y-you turned so pale and... and your heart was racing so fast, I thought you were getting ready to have a heart attack. When you passed out, I swear... I thought..." Jim's words trail off as his voice breaks suspiciously.

Realization hits me like a ton of bricks. He thought I was dying. He's still scared. Way to go, Blair, you made it worse. How in the world are we both going to handle this if we're still scared? Correction, make that petrified.

Not knowing how to answer his words without making him more uncomfortable than he already is, I change the subject.

"What happened to the Feds, and Simon?" Do I even want to know?

"They're in the visitor's lounge. Simon says they want to finish this, but I told him it was up to you. Suggested maybe you should wait a bit. There's no need to rush this, Blair." Easy for you to say, Jim. You haven't spent the last three months at the Roach Ramada Inn, courtesy of one Lee Brackett. An all expense paid trip straight to hell.

The words escape from my lips before I can stop them. "No. We finish it today. Now."

Jim's head whips in my direction so fast, I actually feel a light breeze brush against my face. "What?!?! Are you out of your mind?"

Okay, here we go.

"No, Blair. You barely handled it the first time. You're not well, you need to be resting. There is no need to do this now. I'm going out there and tell them they can take their interrogation and..." He's ranting. Better stop him now before he blows a gasket, or breaks something. And I'm too tired to pick up the pieces.

"JIM!" My voice cuts through his angry tirade and he pauses, turning that unnerving gaze my way again.

I start off softer this time, using my guide voice. The one I save for reasoning with an unreasonable sentinel. Which can be way too often.

"Jim, this is my decision. I want this over with now. Not later, now. I don't want to have to keep remembering what happened any longer than necessary. Please. You didn't go through it, I did." I pause as I watch my words sink in. He lowers his head as his shoulders slump down, the ultimate posture of defeat.

Sighing, I continue. "Please. I'll be all right this time. Promise. I just... just got a little spooked, but I'm ready now." I hope.

Jim pierces me with another stare, as if reading me. I know what he's doing. He's checking to see if I'm lying. He seems generally disappointed when he realizes I'm being truthful. He runs a hand over his face, suddenly looking way older than his years.

"Fine. Let's get it over with, so you can get back to resting." And with that parting comment, he's out the door.

Closing my eyes, I lean back into the stiff pillow underneath my head. Suddenly I feel drained, as if every part of my body has lost it's will to function. Aftermath of a panic attack will do that to you. I ought to know. I've suffered enough of them.

I must have dozed off for a few moments 'cause the next thing I know Jim is shaking my shoulder telling me they're ready to begin.

Great. Let's get this show on the road.

I watch sullenly from my bed, as Jim walks Simon and the agents out. I can tell the agents weren't too happy with my earlier performance. Who cares? At least I finally managed to finish telling them my story, even after my disastrous panic attack. Not sure I could have gone through with it if Jim and Simon hadn't been in the room with me. I hated for Jim to have to hear what happened to me. I don't think he's handling any of this too well. He looked like he was going to blow a gasket the whole time I was talking. I honestly don't think he wanted to know. You know the saying... ignorance is bliss.

Not that the story was all that exciting. Just depressing. Endless days and nights spent in a small windowless room, watching the endless parade of rodents and insects dance across the filthy floor. Days and nights of my voice screaming out in defiance, demanding to know who was in charge and why I was being held. The only sign I was given to let me know that I wasn't the only person left on the face of the earth was the raggedy food tray that would get shoved under my door periodically. It took me awhile to figure out they were drugging it. The fact that I kept falling asleep right after I ate was one big clue. Another clue was these psychedelic dreams I'd have, felt like I was flying. That part wasn't so bad. The final 'clue' was the fact that when I would wake up, I'd sometimes be in a different, windowless room. It scared me to death at the time to think I might never know WHY I was kidnapped, that my existence would forever consist of gray walls and feisty rats. Time began to run together and lose all meaning for me. I was shocked when Jim later told me that I'd been missing for only three months. Seemed much longer, like a lifetime.

After awhile, I was finally let out of the room. Thug #1 then blindfolded me, led me down a dark hallway and shoved me into another room. Thug #2 tied me to a chair while the first creep watched. My memory gets fuzzy around this part, why I'm not sure. Maybe it was the drugs they were giving me at the time. Maybe it was the blow to the head that thug #2 decided to give me for the heck of it. Who knows?

I do remember this, that's when I was introduced to this Granchesky character. The man who single-handedly made my life a waking nightmare for the remainder of my stay in that wretched place. Jim tells me it was a warehouse. Can you believe that? They held me in a big warehouse. No wonder I got so cozy with the rat population.

I don't remember much of what was done to me, and that alone scares me to death. I just barely remember the day I realized who Granchesky really was. I think the drugs they gave me messed with my mind. Maybe they blurred my vision, or made me see things that weren't really there. I don't know. I just know one day I looked at the man and saw him clearly for the first time. Saw that Granchesky was Brackett and knew I was in deep trouble. The next day, at least I think it was the next day, I woke up and decided I was going to escape. I couldn't take anymore. I couldn't bear one more night of hearing those blasted rats scurrying around underneath my bed. Couldn't take another day of not knowing what the weather was like outside because I didn't have any windows. Couldn't take another day of fighting with the rats for a piece of my drugged food. Couldn't take the walls closing in on me, slowly robbing me of my sanity. Couldn't take not knowing what was happening back home, and whether anyone even knew I was alive.

So I made a break for it, and the rest, as they say, is history. Here I am safe in my bed, staring out of the small hospital window. Gazing at the dark storm clouds gathering in the skyline, I realize they match my mood. Dark and stormy.

Wonder when I'll get back to being myself? Or did Brackett succeed in taking that away from me?

I don't know. I'm tired of thinking. I did my duty, I told my story. I'm through with it all.

I turn over in the bed, ignoring my wounded leg's protest, and close my eyes. Sleep is a wonderful haven when your world's a mess. Your dreams can be anything you make them, and right now I need to be some place far away. Some place even Brackett can't touch. Some place that's mine.

The phone's shrill ring disturbs me from my beauty sleep. Angrily I yank it off its cradle and hiss into the receiver.


"S-sorry, M-Mr. Brackett. I-I'm calling just l-like you told me t-to. You know in c-case anything goes d-down."

Oh, for crying out loud! It has to be Davie!! Of ALL the idiots who could've called me, it just HAS to be Davie. At three in the morning no less! And great, he's nervous. He always stutters when he gets nervous. I HATE it when he stutters. I know he knows that I'm not a happy camper right now. Especially since he's already broken 2 of my 3 cardinal rules. One... don't call me after 1 a.m. Two... don't call me by my last name. Good thing for him he hasn't hit number three yet.

"Davie, calm down. You know I can't understand you when you get all squirrelly. Now... I hope you have a real good reason for calling me this late. A REAL good reason."

I shift on my silk sheets and move into an upright position. Rubbing my hands over my face, I feel the slight incision marks along my jaw line. Still can't believe I actually went though with getting plastic surgery done, only to end up looking like my brother. Paid that creep doctor just to make me look like an older version of myself. Well... that's a mistake HE won't be making again.

"I-it is, s-sir, I p-promise y-you."

I swear his stuttering is going to drive me absolutely insane!


"S-s-sorry. S-s-sorry I-I..."

I am NOT going to lose it here. I am going to remain calm. I will NOT kill Davie. I've GOT to get better help.

"Davie (sigh), I'm sorry. Calm down and tell me what is wrong."

I listen as he takes several deep breaths to calm himself. Evidently my more pleasant tone of voice does the trick. As soon as I hear him speak, he sounds more like his normal boot licking self.

"Okay, here's the deal. That Sandblock creep fingered you. He knows that you are Granchesky and he's told the cops. He recognized you somehow boss... what are we going to do?"

Ooookay. We have a slight problem. No need to panic yet. I've already anticipated this scenario, thanks to the idiot surgeon. Never let it be said I'm not prepared.

"Is that it? Not a problem. We simply go to plan B. That's what all the joy juice we pumped him full of was for. Remember plan B, Davie?"

"Y-yeah. I-I remember. I guess you want me to proceed with it?" Davie's nervous again. Why?

"Not yet. Hold off, I'll call you when I'm ready to go forward."

"O-okay, boss." There's that stutter again. Hmmm.

"Oh, and Davie?"

"Yes, b-boss?"

"Don't EVER call me this late again if you know what's good for you. Being my distant cousin won't mean a thing, got it?"

"G-g-got it. S-s-sorry."

Maybe I need to start watching Davie a little more closely. As they say, family is usually the first one to stab ya in the back.

Staring out of the truck window, I idly watch the trees flash by. Jim is driving what seems like 100 miles an hour again, evidently in a rush to get me home. Guess I can't blame him. I'm kinda excited about the prospect myself.

Home. There's a word that nearly lost meaning for me while I was... away. I thought I'd never get to see the loft again. Never again get to slide my key in the door, hearing the familiar click as I enter the only place I've ever truly thought of as home. Never thought I'd get to sit around with the guys again, drinking beer and watching a Jags game. Home.

No, never thought I'd be going back. Kind of gave up hope as time went on. Figured life would be just me and the rats. Those blasted rats. Crawling... moving around constantly... their long black bodies writhing across the floor... moving towards my food. Just thinking about them turns my stomach. I think I've managed to acquire a new phobia. If I never see another one of the filthy creatures, it'll be too soon.

"Hey, Blair, you holding up okay there, buddy? I know ya gotta be happy about heading back." Jim's voice sounds so hopeful as it cuts though my morbid thoughts; it almost pushes me over the edge. What does he think, that I'm going to snap all of a sudden? That I'm going to have a nuclear melt down? Look out below boys... he's gonna blow!

"Blair? You all right?" Jim actually lets off the gas a little, as he glances at me from the corner of his eyes. Man, he must really be spooked.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I paste on my happy fake voice, the one he could always see through. Maybe after three months, he's forgotten how to tell when I'm obfuscating.

"Cut the crap, Blair. What's wrong," Shoot, he can still tell.

"Just tired Jim." That's it. Go for the sympathy play. "Guess I'm just not up to my usual par."

Jim doesn't reply. Instead his foot becomes leaden again, as the truck races down the street at a break neck pace. Sighing, I turn to look back out the window. If I blur my vision just right, all I see is a big cloud of green as we speed merrily along our way.

I watch almost impatiently as Blair walks slowly towards the door to the loft. I guess I've dreamed of this moment for so long, I'm kind of anxious to get past it. I struggle not to let my irritation show. I have no reason for the emotion. I'm just tense, maybe this Brackett thing is getting to me more than I realize. I feel like something is off kilter. I can't shake this uneasy feeling I've had since Blair returned. This impending sense of doom that seems to lurk around every corner of my mind. Seems like I've felt something similar before, but I've got a mental block as to what it was.

I stifle a sigh as I watch Blair standing in front of the door, just staring at it. Even though he spent over a week in the hospital, he still looks unhealthy. I know his leg has to be bothering him, he limped all the way up here. I'd better be sure to get him to take his pain pills.

"Jim, I don't have a key." Blair's soft voice awakens me from my musings. Darn. I knew that.

"Sorry, buddy... I forgot. Here." I open the door, mentally kicking my own butt for forgetting the obvious. What is wrong with me?

I feel a soft touch on my arm and turn my gaze towards my guide. In the pale sunshine snaking its way across the loft, Blair looks otherworldly. Something about that sets alarms off in my head.

"You okay, Jim?" He's worried about me? This kid never ceases to amaze me. His eyes seem so intensely blue they almost glow. What is going on here? I smile as I turn away and shake my head, hoping to clear out whatever's troubling me.

"Fine, buddy, just fine. Why don't you sit down before you drop? I'll get your things situated." What things would that be, the clothes on his back, his pain pills? Not like he has any luggage. Wasn't like he was gone on a nice vacation trip to the Bahamas.

"Jim." The quiet tone carries the weight of the world in that one word. I stop my trek towards the kitchen and turn to look at him. He's still standing, watching my movements. Why won't he sit down?

"Take a load off, Blair, I know you're beat. Said so yourself." My voice trails off as I see the look on his face. Apparently I've screwed up somehow, because the walls just came crashing down in front of those two brilliant blue orbs. His eyes now seem flat, almost grey.

Sighing, he smiles weakly. Gesturing towards his bedroom, he looks back at me sadly. "Think I'm just going to go crash Jim. You're right, I am tired. Don't think I need that pill. Leg's doing all right." With an awkward wave, he limps into his room.

No. This is NOT right. Blair's home and we're both acting like somebody has died. Someone almost did die; a nagging little voice in my head reminds me. Shrugging off the unwanted reminder, I stride quickly towards my guide's room.

Blair is just sitting there on the bed, looking so lost and alone. I stand next to him and place a gentle hand on his shoulder. As he looks up, I see how red his eyes are becoming. Ah, Blair.

Without any hesitation, I kneel down in front of my best friend and gather him into my arms, feeling my throat constrict as his sobs finally make their way out.

"S'okay, buddy. You're safe now. No one's gonna hurt you again. Trust me. No one." My words sound foreboding even to my ears, but I mean them. No one will ever take Blair and hurt him again. They'll have to go through me first.

I feel Blair nod sluggishly against my chest as he pulls away. Reluctantly, I let him go. He pats my arm gently, and tosses me one of those half smiles that always charms the socks off the girls. Among other things.

"Thanks. Sorry about that. I... I just feel outta sorts. I'm just..."

"Tired. I know, Chief," I interrupt. Pushing him down until he's lying flat on the bed, I squeeze his shoulder. "It's fine to be out of sorts. I think you've earned it. Just sleep. I'll have something hot and hearty ready for you to eat when you wake up. How's that sound?" The smile that lights up Blair's face could rival the sun at it's brightest. I must have finally said something right.

"Sounds good, Jim." Nodding, I get up to leave. I'm almost to the door when a quiet sentence almost manages to set my world right.

"It's good to be home, Jim. And thank you... thank you for calling me Chief again. I... I needed that." Turning back around, I see that the glow is back in his eyes. Yep, I didn't put my foot in my mouth this time.

"Not a problem, Chief. It's good to have you back. Real good."

My pleasant dream of Cindy Crawford serving me a big, fat, juicy Wonderburger is abruptly cut short as a strange sound disturbs my rest. Years of covert ops training come to the fore as I am quickly on my feet, retrieving my gun from its resting-place beneath my pillow. Shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, I open my senses fully to find the source of the noise. Instantly I recognize my Guide's accelerated heart rate and ragged breathing. Nightmare.

I can sense no other presence in the loft, so I return my gun to its hiding place and quickly head down the stairs to Blair's room. The rustling sound coming from his room is really starting to unnerve me as I near Blair's door. What the heck is he doing at this time of night? Softly, I knock on his door and call his name. I think he's awake, but I'm not sure. I don't want to startle him, especially on his first night back home.

I receive no answer to my query, only a cessation in the rustling noises. Frowning, I open the door only to be shocked by what I find. Blair is kneeling down, rooting around under his bed for something. What I don't know. Something about his actionssuggests to me that he isn't as awake as I thought, so I decide to proceed with extreme caution.

"Hey, buddy. What's going on?" Blair doesn't even acknowledge my words, just keeps digging around under his bed.

"Blair?" I try again, hoping to snap him out of this dream-like state peacefully. No such luck. He continues his fervent search, apparently still unaware of my presence in the room.

Thinking he might respond better to touch, I kneel down next to him and gently shake his closest shoulder.

"Hey Chief, why don't we call it a night? Here, let me help you back to..."

I don't even get to finish my sentence before I catch sight of something whizzing by my face. Instinctively, I duck, and just barely miss getting whacked upside my head by Blair's flailing arm. A low growl begins rumbling from deep within my friend's throat, signaling to me that I have a MAJOR problem on my hands.

I quickly back away from Blair with my hands raised high in a placating gesture. Apparently satisfied with my retreat, he returns to rummaging under his bed. Sighing, I try again to reach him verbally.

"Sorry, buddy. Didn't mean to startle you. Just wanted to help. What's... what's going on, Chief? What are you looking for?" I ask softly, attempting to mimic Blair's Guide voice. Yes, I know he uses that tone on me to calm me down. I'm hoping it'll work on him. Otherwise, I'm at a loss how to handle this, whatever this is.

Blair pins me with an odd stare, looking right through me, past the wall behind me, far out into recent memories creeping up in his nightmares, haunting him. He stays still for a moment before returning to his previous activity. This time, though, it's accompanied by mumbling, clueing me in on what is going on in his tortured mind.

"R-rats. Smell 'em. Makin' noise again. Can't sleep... too noisy. Find it... gonna kill it this time. Hate 'em. Stupid rats!" His mumbled phrases become clearer as his agitation increases. His movements are jerky, and in the pale moonlight I can easily see the fine lines of pain marking his thin face. His leg, oh man. He's got to be hurting, kneeling down there like that.

"Blair, hey buddy." This time he does look at me, I think he might even recognize me. Maybe I can get him back into bed, maybe even back into a normal sleep.

"Jim?" he replies softly, stopping his erratic movements. "Can you see 'em? Making noise... I'm tired, Jim. Need sleep... can't 'cause they keep rustlin' around under there." He dreamily gestures towards the floor under his bed. Aww, Chief. Brackett's even gotten to your dreams.

"Tell you what, Blair. You lie back down, and I'll take care of them for you. All the rats, okay, buddy?"

Blair frowns at me fuzzily, pinning me in place with that odd stare. Oh, no, don't tell me he's drifting again. Suddenly he nods sluggishly, and slowly attempts to rise from the floor.

"Okay, Jim. You take care of it. I'm gonna crash. Tired, very tired." he mumbles. I reach out to help him up, and support him as he sways slightly. Suddenly he leans heavily against me and I realize he's out like a light. Sighing wearily, I slowly ease him into the bed, laying him down. He begins to snore lightly as he slips back into a more peaceful rest. Standing there in the still room, I watch him sleep, flashing back to the many restless nights I came into this room. Wondering if my friend would be found, and if he'd ever sleep in his own bed again. If he was even alive. Wondering how I was going to tell Naomi that her baby was never coming home.

Aware that my thoughts are threatening to lead me down a road promising a night of insomnia, I reluctantly leave my Guide's room and head to my own bed.

Passing by the balcony windows, I find myself inexplicably drawn by the moonlight. Pausing by the balcony's door, I place my hand on the cool glass, allowing the chilling sensation to creep its way into my soul. Something other than Blair's night terror is bothering me, as if that wasn't enough. That 'off' feeling is back, worse than before. My stubborn mental block won't let me see into my memory bank, leaving me at a loss to explain my unease. The feeling is growing steadily and I feel the hairs on my neck rise. I yank the door open and stride purposefully out onto the balcony. My senses are extended as far as they'll go, diligently searching for the cause of my torment. I know I'm courting the possibility of a zone out, but I don't care. Something's out there and I need to find it. I MUST find it.

Searching for several minutes, I find nothing out of the ordinary in the nightlife surrounding the loft. Frustrated at myself for being so jumpy, I head back inside, closing the door firmly behind me. The feeling hasn't abated completely and I'm still on edge. Wearily, I trudge back upstairs and climb slowly into bed.

Rest, I need rest. That's all that's wrong. I've been so tense for so long, I've forgotten how to relax. I just need to remember that Blair is safe now and nothing is wrong. Brackett WILL be caught, if I have anything to do with it. Wait a minute, what do I mean IF? Now I KNOW I'm exhausted, thinking 'if'. I WILL have everything to do with the creep getting caught.

Feeling a renewed sense of purpose, I slide down under the covers and doze off into a fitful sleep. Things will look better in the morning.

I look to my right, at the blond who's busy watching the building far off in the distance, and shake my head in disbelief. After all that's gone down between her and those two guys, I'm surprised she's playing things so out in the open. I should know better than to be here with her, but I can't help myself. As much as she gets on my nerves, I must admit I find her to be slightly interesting. Nuts, but interesting. I prefer the low-key method of watching the enemy. Of course, MY methods usually work like a charm. I'm almost always able to get what I need without anyone being able to finger me later. That's the creed I live by, leave no witnesses. Keep the job clean and neat.

Blondie turns and sees me eyeing her and returns my stare, her blue eyes boring a hole right through my soul. I hate it when she does that to me; makes me uncomfortable. I do NOT like being made to feel that way. I quickly look away, effectively ending the impromptu staring contest as I look toward the building.

I hear her laugh softly. I pretend to ignore her as she moves closer to me.

"Give it up, Lee, baby. You need to relax. Everything's fine." I feel a soft hand come to rest on my shoulder and jerk away. I can't help it; she gives me the creeps. In fact, if it weren't for her 'special' abilities, she wouldn't even be here.

"Might I remind you that you're here for one reason only? After that, I want nothing more to do with you. Your debt will have been paid in full," I coldly inform her. I cannot WAIT until I'm rid of her. What Ellison ever saw in this woman is beyond me, especially considering what she'd done to him. Of course, Ellison never struck me as the brains in that operation. Ha, that thought makes me chuckle a little.

"Fine by me, lover boy," she whispers seductively as she heads back to the car. I watch her open the passenger door, then slowly get in. She seems more off than usual. Wonder if it's time for her meds. Wonder if she'll take them without a fight this time. Maybe I'll just tie her up again. It's easier that way.

Suddenly feeling rather irritated, I follow her, getting into the driver's side of the Expedition. "Why did you need to come here, anyway?" I ask as I gun the engine and proceed to head down the dark, deserted road. "What purpose did this little excursion serve, other than to almost get us nailed?"

Her throaty laugh at my words fuels my rising irritation as I continue driving down the poorly lit street. Choosing to ignore her amusement, I struggle to see the road clearly, widening my eyes as if that would help. Great, why is it so dark, anyway?

I hear her chuckle just before she places her slim hand on mine, gently brushing her fingers across the steering wheel.

"Shoulda let me drive, handsome. You know I can see better in this darkness than you could ever hope to." Fuming, I snatch my hand away from hers, then grab hold of her wrist. Squeezing it as hard as I can without breaking it, I give her a quick glance.

"Just remember, your life is currently in my hands. Once false move and that's it. There'll be no mental institution for you to hide inside of this time. Just a nice, cozy plot... six feet deep."

My words have the desired effect, as she snatches her wrist away from my grip and stares moodily out the window.

Her petulance doesn't last long, because a moment later, she's once again leaning my way. Yep, think I'm gonna have to sedate and tie her up tonight.

I gotta get better help.

The bullpen's steady buzz of activity acts like soothing white noise for my fractured senses. It's been a week since Blair came home from the hospital, and every night has been the same. Night terrors about rats... about that time he spent in that blasted warehouse. Neither of us is getting much sleep, and I'm beginning to feel at my wit's end. Every time I try to talk to Blair about what's going on with him, he clams up. Doesn't want to talk about it, tells me to back off, let him handle things his own way. Yeah, he's handling things all right. Holed up in his room like some hermit, refusing to talk, barely answering me if I ask him a question. Won't take phone calls from concerned friends.

That's another thing that's got me bugged. Sandburg doesn't want to see anybody. No one from school, and no one from Major Crimes. I've explained things away to the guys at the station, told 'em Blair's still a little shaken, needs time to re-adjust to being back home. Guess that's not far from the truth, but I still feel bad. I know Blair needs his friends around him right now, but he's insistent on shutting everyone out. Simon suggested sending Blair to see a shrink. Yeah, right, I can just SEE how well that idea's going to go over.

I begin rubbing at a sore spot on my neck. I've been so tense lately, I keep waking up with a 'crick' in my neck, usually due to a night spent tossing and turning. Or saving Blair from those 'blasted' rats! Man, I'm tense, tired... worn out... frustrated... did I mention tense?

"Excuse me, Detective Ellison?" A nasal voice blasts through my internal dialogue. Irritated at having been disturbed, I look up to see who the interrupter is. Great, one of the Feds. Joy of joys, to what DO I owe this honor?

"What?" Guess I could be a little more pleasant. Yeah... right.

"S-sorry, sir. Remember me? Agent Crumb, David Crumb." He looks at me with this hopeful expression, not realizing I could care less WHO he is.

"Yeah, I remember. I repeat... what?" Crumb looks a bit flustered as he shifts around nervously on his feet.

"I-I just stopped by to ask if Mr. Sandbank has remembered anything else that could prove useful in capturing B-Brackett. Maybe he's remembered some small detail that might pin down where Brackett c-could be hiding." Huh? He wants to know if Blair's remembered anything? Okay, I'm po'd. Jerk can't even get Blair's name right.

"Look, pal, Mr. Sand-BURG has told you everything there is to know. Now I don't know WHY you decided to come up and ask ME about this a full WEEK after my partner got out of the hospital, but you're barking up the wrong tree. You're a Federal Agent, figure it out. It's you bonehead's fault Brackett got out in the first place. Don't come around here expecting US to clean up your idiotic mistakes." I feel my body trembling with barely suppressed rage. How DARE this idiot come in here and ask me such a stupid question. Blair's been through enough. I'm not asking him about anything. The FBI should learn to hold on to their prisoners instead of letting them magically 'slip' away.

"JIM!" A hostile sounding voice cuts through the red haze of my anger and I'm jerked around to face my fuming captain.

"What's going on here, and WHY is there yelling taking place in my once peaceful office? Well?" Simon is giving me one of those 'cut the crap' looks that usually mean I am headed for a serious dressing-down if I don't squash my anger.

The idiot agent just shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders, apparently trying to feign innocence. Instead he just looks stupid. Man, my thoughts are way too fractious right now. What is going on with me? I can't stand feeling so on edge all the time. If something doesn't give soon, I'm gonna snap!

Taking a deep breath, I finally calm down enough to answer Simon's question. "Nothing is going on 'sir'. Just a little disagreement. I apologize for the disturbance." Simon gives me a look that says he's not buying one word of my little apology. I know what's coming next.

"Gentlemen, my office. NOW!"

Staring at the ceiling, I realize it's probably way past time to do a little spring-cleaning. Of course, I have no intention of doing anything of the sort right this moment. I'd rather lounge around in my bed and continue reveling in my on-going pity party. I've gotten quite good at it lately, just lie here in bed and sleep. Doesn't take any actual forethought or effort, just lie in bed, sleeping the time away.

Of course, this new outlook on life I've recently acquired seems to be irritating Jim. Not that I'm particularly concerned about that right now. But the signs are all there. The moodiness, slamming of various doors and inanimate objects, muffled curses that spring forth when I don't answer his questions as fast as he'd like me to. Yep, classic Ellison temper tantrum.

Wait a minute, these negative thoughts are getting me nowhere. Time for a change in scenery. Slowly I sit up in bed and swing my legs around, placing my bare feet on the cold, hard floor. The chilling sensation snaps me to a more alert frame of mind, and I rub at my eyes, trying to remove the last traces of sleep. Sighing softly, I gaze out into the loft and feel the icy pang of regret snake its way into the pit of my stomach. My room seems so dark and confining as I peer through the doorway out into the brightly-lit loft. For some reason though, I like the dark now.

Why am I so scared to go out there? Why do I keep hanging out in this dark space, almost like I'm afraid of the light? Maybe that's it, maybe on top of the rat phobia, I'm now scared of light. Maybe Brackett has turned me into a vampire. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But then I've been feeling a little crazy for a while now. For a long time.

I miss feeling sane, feeling normal. I miss being in control of my thoughts, my dreams, and my outlook on life. I wish I could remember exactly when I crossed over to the dark side, but time still doesn't hold much meaning for me. At least, not like it used to.

I need to get out of this room, maybe even out of the loft. I haven't been anywhere since I got home, just stayed here in my little haven. As much as I've enjoyed hiding out, I know it's time to get myself back on track. I need to face the world again. I need to face the light.

Feeling more inspired than I have in a while, I finally get up from the bed and exit the room. The bright sunshine streams through the loft's windows, practically blinding me, as I stand wrapped in its warm embrace. I close my eyes against the searing brightness and allow myself the luxury of a little impromptu sunbathing, feeling my tense muscles relax as the sun works its special charm.

Didn't I read somewhere that depressed persons respond well to light therapy? It's true; at least, I want to believe it is. I lose track of time again as I stand in the light feeling it momentarily chase away my depression, leaving me feeling only a little blue. The sun finally moves on and the healing light bids me farewell. Sighing deeply, I reluctantly move from my spot on the floor, and gaze towards the kitchen. Deciding I'm not hungry, I instead head to the bathroom. If I'm going to actually leave the loft, I guess I'd better not scare the native folk. Better shower and clean up.

Thirty minutes later finds me showered and shaved, feeling more human than I've felt in a long time. Wiping the steam from the bathroom mirror, I gaze at my reflection, taking time to really look at myself. I must admit I'm a little surprised at what I find. I knew I had lost weight, but I had no idea I looked so thin. Man, I don't think I've looked like this since I was what... thirteen or so? Hesitantly, I reach up and touch my face. My fingers glide across my jawbone, and I shake my head a little sadly at how far the bone protrudes. No wonder Jim's been having fits when I won't eat. I look like an anorexia victim. I need to eat. I don't think I can afford to get much smaller.

I move my attention away from my face and look at my hair. I don't think I've truly paid attention to how long it's gotten. Guess I've had a lot of other things on my mind. Man, I'm surprised Jim hasn't complained, but then, why would he? He never has before. Grabbing the wide-tooth comb I use to work out the tangles, I rake through the mass of hair, smoothing it out into a more presentable look. My hair now reaches far past my shoulders, snaking its way towards the middle of my back. Geesh, I think I'm a little overdue for a hair cut. I decide I don't want to fight with my hair all day, so I pull it back into a thick ponytail and call it decent.

I exit the bathroom and go to grab my keys from their spot in the basket. Jim replaced my keys, and I have yet to use them. As I pick the keys up, I feel a little giddy. It's been so long since I've gone out by myself. I don't know where to go, or what to do. I decide to just go with the flow, heading out wherever my thoughts take me. Maybe I'll head to the park, or better yet, I'll go get food and cook Jim dinner. Laughing, I picture the look on Jim's face, when he comes home to find his roommate the hermit has actually left the house and cooked. The prospect alone is worth the effort.

I grab a note pad and pen, and jot a quick note letting Jim know where I've gone, just in case he comes home early. Leaving the note in the key basket, I grab a light jacket, shrugging it on as I walk to the door.

Opening the door, my world falters... as does the once steady beat of my heart.

NO! It can't be, oh please... not her... NONONONO!!!!

"Hi, baby," the blond monster standing across from me whispers. "Miss me?" She smiles wickedly when I can't find my voice to answer her. Laughing, she moves a little closer. "Nah, didn't think so. Just got one word for you, baby..."

She leans even closer to me, and I find that I'm paralyzed and can't move. The only conscious thought I can form is the one word of denial that keeps echoing hollowly through my frozen mind.


She places her hand against my chest, smiling as she feels the pounding of my heart. I feel her hot, heavy breath brush against my face as her mouth nears my ear.

"One word, baby... Jaguar."

At that word, my vision fades, and the world spins as I plummet down and descend into madness.

Simon isn't looking so thrilled right now, so I decide to play the role of obedient employee. It won't do me any good to antagonize the man anymore than he already is. Agent Crumb has evidently figured this out for himself, as he quietly enters Simon's office and takes his place next to me. I've worked with Simon more than long enough to know when to play it cool. I'm just not sure how long I can keep it together. I'm feeling more agitated with each passing minute.

Something about this agent is setting me off. The smell of him seems to overwhelm my senses, making me nauseous. His nasal voice and nervous manner irritate me to the point of driving me insane. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise in a familiar warning sensation that is signaling to me that something is not right. My senses keep spiking on and off, especially whenever I get close to the creep.

Simon's sharp voice cuts through my thoughts and snapping me back to the present.

"If you're through daydreaming, detective, maybe you and your buddy here can explain to me what was just going on out in the bullpen." Simon crosses his arms across his chest, letting me know he isn't in the mood for any bull. I just pull my stoic routine. I don't trust myself to speak right now.

Agent Crumb shifts uncomfortably on his feet, looking everywhere around the room, avoiding Simon's glare. This little act of avoidance nearly causes me to lose what patience I have left.

"S-sorry Captain Banks. I guess I just caught Ellison here off guard. It was a simple misunderstanding." Just as Crumb finishes speaking, my sense of hearing spikes so sharply, that the pain of the involuntary action nearly bowls me over. Suddenly the only thing I can hear is the sound of Crumb's pounding heart. It's beating so fast, it's practically tripping over itself in an effort to keep up the frantic pace. I feel myself becoming filled with the essence that is Crumb, and it further fuels my ire.

Oh, that just does it! A little misunderstanding? I'll show him a little misunderstanding!! A smaller voice inside my head warns me that I'm being irrational, but I ignore that little voice, and throw it in a padded room, merrily tossing away the key.

"YOU idiotic, insensitive, son of a ... , where do you get off calling this a misunderstanding?! I got your misunderstanding right here..." I advance towards Crumb, not entirely sure myself what exactly it is I'm intending to do to the man. I just know that whatever it is, it's going to be very painful. I'm so angry that the world has taken on the color red, a fitting match for my rage. The on edge sensation has magnified to painful proportions, and I feel overwhelmed by a feeling that there is a threat to my guide. In fact, I strongly suspect Crumb has something to do with it.

Crumb backs away from my advance, practically falling over a chair in his haste to stay away from me. He's nervous about something, so nervous he's about to fly apart. And his current state of anxiety has more behind it than just my intentions of hurting him. Though I have been told I can paint a pretty intimidating portrait when I want to. I right now I want to... badly.

I can smell his fear... and the stench of his dishonesty. Both are making my blood boil. I move another step towards him and feel a pair of large hands grab me from behind. Simon's voice wafts through the haze of my anger, but I don't understand the words. All I understand is the need to get my hands on Crumb. I shrug away from Simon's grasp and glare at Crumb. I'm getting ready to renew my pursuit when something odd catches my attention. I'm picking up a familiar scent. It's the same smell from the warehouse where I found Blair. What is going on here?

Suddenly the spike ends, and I realize that Simon is speaking to me again. Okay, make that yelling.

"Jim! JIM! Are you ok??" My captain has suddenly lost his gruffness and has deftly slipped into the role of friend. He reaches toward me and grabs hold of my arm as I start to sway a little. I shake my head, trying to clear away the dizziness that is merely the prelude to what promises to be one wicked migraine. Simon pushes me into one of the chairs in front of his desk, keeping a restraining hand on my shoulder while I try to get myself together.

The dizziness passes and I gently shrug out of Simon's grasp, nodding my head in an attempt to reassure him that I'm fine now. The expression on his face tells me that he's not buying this routine either. His eyes narrow in a rather good imitation of one of Blair's classic 'cut the crap' expressions. Simon studies me for a moment longer before returning his attention to the silent Agent standing behind me.

"Agent Crumb, would you excuse us a minute?" I can hear Crumb's heart beat even faster as a slight swoosh in the air indicates his nod in the affirmative. A moment later he is gone, leaving me alone with my concerned captain.

"Jim, what just happened? One moment you're screaming at Crumb and attempting to dismember the man, the next minute you're about to pass out. And you're still not looking so good. Care to tell me what's going on? Is this about Blair?" Simon's voice has lost its edge and has taken on a soft quality that he rarely uses unless he is really worried. When I take too long to answer, Simon kneels down in front of me and places a comforting hand on my shoulder. I need that small gesture right now. Suddenly I feel drained and exhausted, my previous anger fading to a faint glow.

"Jim, I gotta tell you, my friend. This is reminding me of another situation not so long ago, and it's worrying me. And the only reason you're not on your way to riding a bicycle, patrolling the park, is what I think might be going on." Simon pauses, evidently unsure how to voice what is on his mind. Finally he looks at me and plunges forward.

"Jim, this is just like when Alex showed up. Your short temper, violent behavior. Snapping at coworkers, just like before. Has someone else showed up, another sentinel that you and Blair have forgotten to tell me about?" Simon asks, his face suddenly aged by the lines of worry creasing his forehead.

Still I can't find the voice to answer him, because I've just realized the truth myself. How could I have been so blind, so deaf and so dumb!! Alex... that conniving she-devil is back. The scent, that's the scent I've been picking up. How could I not remember her smell? How could I have blocked that memory so easily from my mind? The little voice inside the padded room is telling me it's because of my guilt. I tell it to shut up as I grab Simon's phone. Hastily I dial home, just knowing Blair is there, hiding in his bedroom as usual. I've got to warn him. I've got to let him know his murderer is back.

The phone just keeps ringing and ringing. The answering machine finally kicks on and I hear a voice that has been haunting me in my nightmares for months.

"Jim, baby, we gotta do lunch. I know you're calling for Blair because you FINALLY figured out I was in town. What's the matter baby? You losing your touch?? Huh, losing the ability to control it all since your Guide's been reduced to a quivering, useless mass of flesh? Don't worry baby, I got it all under control. You'll be seeing Blair soon, promise."

With a throaty laugh that sends my stomach lurching, Alex's impromptu greeting ends. I shakily hang up the phone. Again I hear Simon's voice calling to me, demanding to know what just happened, and why I'm as white as a sheet. I can't tell him that I've failed my Guide again, that Blair's gone. That the monster has him.

Suddenly my senses spike again, and I hear the sound of that thundering heart moving away from my desk. Without a moment's hesitation, I'm out the door and after Crumb. The agent takes one look at me as he's sneaking out the door and breaks into a full run. That's fine by me. The chase is on.

Let the hunt begin.

I feel like I'm swimming through a thick sea of molasses. Things feel disoriented, not connected. I can't think as clearly as I want to. I can't see either, can't feel anything. What has happened to me?? I've got to snap out of this. I can't panic yet. Maybe this is a nightmare that I'm going to wake up from any moment now. Something's blocking my efforts. What, I don't know. I know my body is moving, but I'm pretty sure it's not because of any conscious thought on my part.

I can hear muffled voices floating through my hazy thoughts, but I'm not entirely sure what they are saying. I want to break through this muddled mass of thoughts, but I feel so lethargic and despondent I can't muster up the bravado to try. Have I been drugged? I'm not sure, there aren't any golden fire people here. Now there's a thought I didn't need.

I think I might still be moving. I'm feeling air on my face and some type of warmth. I'm not sure. The muffled voices I'm hearing are getting louder, but not any clearer. I wish I could understand what's happening to me. Something tells me this isn't going to be good. Suddenly I hear one of the voices move closer to me.

"He's not under enough. I don't care what you think!! I'm going to make sure he doesn't surface any time soon." An angry male voice hisses inside my head.

Wake up from what? What is happening? What is going on?! I've got to break free of this. I can't stand this floating free fall I'm stuck in. I've got to wake up!! I feel myself begin to panic and the fear is almost stifling. I have no where to run since I'm stuck all alone inside my head. Trust me, my head isn't the best place to hang out in right now. Man, I can't take this!! What is happening to me!?!?!

"Sedate him, he's thrashing around. I TOLD YOU he wasn't under enough." The voice is back. What does he mean sedate? Wha... oh man, what did they give me? Really messed up now. Still scared. Need out.

"He's calm. Show time. What's the magic word, curly... jaguar!" hisses the mystery voice. The word echoes through my mind, right before everything shuts down.

My world fades to black.

Alex definitely has her disadvantages, the least of which is the fact that she is hard headed and doesn't listen. I guess the worst would be the fact that she is certifiably insane. Now, thanks to lady luck over there, I have a bumbling, useless pile of drugged Sandburg leaning on my shoulder. This truly puts a damper on my plans. Of course, that's what I get for sending a 'nut' to do a man's job. Well, that's a mistake I won't be making again.

I really needed Sandburg ready to perform, not sitting next to me, dead to the world. Wait a minute, what's that wet feeling? Great, there goes the new jacket. I shove Sandburg over and barely register the sound of his head making contact with the car window. Oh well, he can't feel it. Not yet, anyway. Wiping the drool off my shoulder, I mentally prepare to deal with Alex, something I'm beginning to enjoy less and less. I'm beginning to rethink my own sanity for busting her out of the loony bin in the first place. The whole point of this was for a little payback, with a little money making on the side. Plus a heavy dose of retribution in the mix.

Sandburg and Ellison owe me big time. No one deserves to be locked up in the Federal pen, no one. The things that go on in there... NO! I don't want that memory right now. I've got a full enough plate in front of me as it is.

Fortunately, Cousin Davie was all too happy to help. It's very convenient to have a member of the family that is employed by the Federal Government. How have we kept it hidden all this time? Pretty easily, the Feds aren't as smart as they'd like people to believe. How could they be? They let me slip right through their fingers, and one of their own made that possible, even if it was under duress. Yeah, I had to threaten his little girl's life. Hey, I've never claimed to be a saint. With the added persuasion of violence, always a useful tool, Davie quickly became a participant in my plans. Of course, the promise of a large monetary payoff has strengthened his loyalty. Too bad I'm not going to pay him. Like I said, I'm not applying for sainthood here.

Alex's nervous fidgeting is starting to grate on my nerves, but I have to push that emotion to the background and focus on the task at hand. I double check the vegetable sitting next to me to make sure he's really out. Seeing him so still unnerves me for a moment, so I check his pulse. It's there, a little slow, but thrumming right along. A faint fog has formed on the car window letting me know the kid is still breathing.

Good, time to move forward with the action.

Catching that Crumb creep has been a piece of cake. He was so nervous during his impromptu escape; he fell over a prostitute who was just being brought in as he was making a beeline for the door. Basically all I had to do was reach down and pick the idiot up off the floor. Easy pickings.

Now I sit across from the man in one of the interrogation rooms. He was sweating bullets and his heart rate is going through the roof. Briefly I entertain the idea that he might not live through the questioning, but I find I could care less. I've got a missing guide and questions. And I know that without a doubt he is the man with the answers. At first Simon didn't agree with me. In fact, my captain was convinced I'd finally lost my mind. It took a minute or two to calm Simon down. More like thirty minutes. He was fairly ballistic when he saw me take off after Crumb and ignore his command to 'stand down'. He'd reluctantly agreed to place Crumb in a room, so that I could explain what the fed had to do with my current state of mind. Once he'd been bought up to speed, Simon was gung ho for pumping the little rat for all the info he had. Simon thought it would be best to let the jerk stew in his own juices for a bit. I whole-heartedly agreed at the time, besides I had wanted to go by the loft and pick up any clues as to where Alex could have taken Blair.

There wasn't much left to pick up on. I was apparent to us that she hadn't broken in. I'd found the note that Blair had written for me and figured he must have been on his way out when he'd run into her. I'd read the note several times, my conflicting feelings about the short notes playing havoc with my emotions. Blair had actually made a step towards the land of the living. He was actually going to leave the loft, by himself no less. Part of me cheered him on for his returning sense of strength, and self-reliance. The rest of me condemned him for his thoughtlessness at leaving the loft alone, unprotected with Brackett on the loose. It was also obvious to Simon and I that Blair hadn't put up much of a struggle. Nothing in the loft had been tampered with, other than the answering machine. A forensics team was currently going over the loft, dusting for fingerprints, missing items, etc. I knew they would find nothing amiss, but I couldn't really push the issue. Didn't want to raise any undue suspicion about myself. I already have a few people looking at me sideways in the precinct as it is.

A racing heartbeat quickly draws my attention back to the present. Time to find out what little Davie Crumb has been hiding from us. I'd bet the farm that he knows exactly where Alex has taken Blair. And what she intends to do with him.

I struggle to resist the temptation to reach across the desk and strangle Crumb. The thought of feeling his neck bones give under my hands is almost intoxicating. I have to keep reminding myself that that action won't do Blair or me any good. I mean, it'll FEEL really good, but it won't accomplish a thing. I watch Crumb attempt to appear cool and calm, while on the inside I hear his heart beating a mile a minute. Actually the guy's not looking so good, getting paler by the minute. Sweats pouring off his face, making his skin glisten. Nope, this guy's definitely feeling the heat.

Good, got him right where I want the little...

"Jim, whenever you're ready to begin." Simon's voice interrupts my thought, thankfully snapping me out of my morbid mood. The look on his face tells me I'd better get with it, or I'm out of here. I can't afford to leave. Correction, I refuse to leave. My Guide is missing and this guy is gonna help me find him.

Let's get to it.

I lean forward, intent on giving the man before me one of my patented Ellison interrogations. I'm hoping to leave him shaking in his shoes. Before I even open my mouth, the creep starts talking.

"A-All right, I-I'll t-tell you everything y-you w-want t-to know. J-J-Just k-keep him away from me." Crumb looks over at me, gesturing in my direction. I hear Simon snort, apparently letting Crumb know he was definitely on his ownin regards to me.

I couldn't believe the creep was ready to spill his guts. I didn't even get a chance to try out any of my speech. Oh well, who cares, I'm finally going to find out what the heck is going on.

"O-Okay, this is the d-deal. B-Brackett's got S-Sandbag, and he's g-gonna use him t-to do a j-job that he's got s-set up. B-Big payoff t-too, if everything w-works out right." What?!?!? Brackett's involved in this, too? With Alex? What kind of sick crap has Blair landed in the middle of? I feel my pulse quicken as my stomach begins to churn. This is not good.

"Wait a minute, Brackett's involved now? I thought Alex was the one that took Blair? How in the world did those two hook up? And how does Blair fit into all of this? What exactly is it he needs to do in order for this to work? What is this 'job' exactly?" I knew I was bombarding the low-life with my questions, but I didn't care. I needed to know what was happening with my Guide, and patience was never my strong suit.

"I d-don't know why L-Lee got that tramp involved. Maybe it was just a little jab at you, to tweak you a bit. Throw you off your game. I-I think he's got a thing for her, personally. H-He claims it's because of her past, plus she'd be good at helping break Blair, I guess 'cause she's the one who k-killed him. S-Seeing her again seemed to really set the k-kid off, you know, k-kinda made him a little nutty. W-Which was just what L-Lee was hoping for. S-See, L-Lee needs him to be t-the f-fall g-guy, s-s-so he c-can get away from the job clean..." I can't take anymore of this. I'm about to lose my mind, and this guy's about to lose his life.

"WHAT JOB?!?!?" I yell, making even Simon jump a good ten feet in the air. Crumb jerks as if he's been hit, and I hear his heart rate shoot up to triple time. He's shaking visibly now, not caring whether any of us can see his fear. He shakily rubs his palms against his pants and the rubbing noise momentarily makes me nauseous.

"H-He's p-planning o-on c-c-coming h-here. H-He's coming after you, Ellison. This is p-payback. There are others out there that want you out of the picture. P-People who k-know about what went down in P-Peru. D-Didn't you ever wonder w-why your plane w-went d-down, or w-why you were the only one left alive?? Y-You were supposed to die along with t-t-the r-rest of your team, Ellison." He's rubbing his pants again, apparently he's got a bad case of sweaty palms. The noise doesn't even bother me this time. I'm too busy having a bad case of 'shock'.

I lean back into my seat, stunned and at a loss for words. Images from Peru come crashing back through my mind. The haunting sounds of my dying comrades fill my soul. I don't want to remember. I've suppressed these memories deep down with in myself for so long, I can't handle remembering right now. I don't want to remember... I don't want to see their faces.

Brackett... how could he be mixed up in this? What... no... who wanted us dead... and why?? I'm too confused... my mind's rebelling at these new pieces to the puzzle. The main problem at hand still exists... why Blair?

Somehow, finding my voice, I repeat the question, this time out loud. I'm surprised to find my voice isn't shaking.

"Why Blair?" Crumb looks down at his shaking hands as if they could somehow lead him out of the stressful situation he'd landed in. Or maybe he's just amazed at the amount of sweat coating his thick palms. Not finding whatever he's looking for, he finally looks up and sighs. When he speaks, his voice is calm and stutter free. Apparently Crumb realizes that there is no way out of this hole he's dug himself into. Might as well drag everyone else down with him. He looks directly at me as he continues.

"It really didn't matter how the job got done, as long as it GOT done. Unfortunately, Lee's my cousin and my family has a thing about honor amongst themselves. He contacted me from the pen and told me he had a job lined up and needed to get 'released' ASAP. I had help from the inside getting him out. No, I can't tell you who helped me, mainly because they are part of the group who ordered the hit on you." Crumb paused briefly, his torment evident by the ashen pallor of his face.

"They t-told me if I ever opened my mouth, my little girl was dead. I believe them. And even though I've hidden Anna, and her mother in a place no one will ever think to look, I know these guys will somehow find them. Lee threatened Anna too. So... I helped. I got Lee out and went along with his plans. He promised me a cut of the money he's going to get for taking you out. He gets a bonus for getting Blair to be the one to do the job. That's why we nabbed Blair in the first place. To brainwash him... get him to hate you enough to do the job."

Crumb looks back down at his hands, a dazed expression taking over his troubled features. When he looks up again, he appears lost, almost desolate.

"He w-wouldn't break. W-We thought at first we'd only need him for a f-few days, the guy looks like he'd break pretty easily under pressure. B-But he wouldn't budge. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Finally towards the end we got him pretty trained. He's supposed to come here to do the job. To take you out."

Simon and I sat in stunned silence. This was way past insane, bordering on bizarre. A secret organization that was behind my crash in Peru now wants me dead. And they hired Brackett for the job, springing him from prison. And Brackett, evidently a little too eager for this particular assignment, decides to get fancy by having my own Guide do the honors. This whole mess was just too crazy to even try to understand. But, why now? Why didn't these guys go after me long ago, right after I resurfaced in the states? Why wait all these years? Something about this smelled fishy.

Despite my shock at these revelations, I manage to find my voice, and ask the question that is plaguing me.

"Why now? Why didn't they just kill me when I got back to the states? Why after all these years?"

Crumb looks at me with an expression almost akin to pity. Pity? Why would he pity me? From the sounds of it, he is going to be the one needing a lot of pity when the guys in black find out he squealed.

"T-They didn't know about your abilities at that time. They didn't know that you had become a sentinel."

I barely register the sound of Simon's chair hitting the floor as my captain scrambles for the door, barking some unintelligible order. My world starts spinning and I am flying free fall. I feel myself slide away without an anchor as all my senses flare full force, spiking violently. I can't handle this overload, so I'm choosing the easy way out.

I slide into a zone, leaving this wretched reality behind.

Reluctantly, in degrees, I answer the call to return to the waking world. I can hear the sound of a commotion taking place all around me. Something bad must be going on. I know I know what it is, but I can't remember right now. I feel heavy, lethargic, out of touch with reality. Something must have happened to me, but what?

"Jim, buddy, c'mon!! I need you to snap outta this now!! Of all the times to zone, you pick now!" Simon's frightened voice floats through my hazy thoughts and pulls me even closer to awareness. "Jim... please! I need you awake now, Detective!!"

The forceful command finally snaps me out of the zone and I turn my head towards the sound of my Captain's voice. Blinking my eyes a few times to clear away the fuzziness, I find myself face to face with one seriously stressed looking Simon Banks.

"How long?" My voice sounds rough even to my own ears. Man, how long was I out?

Simon rubs a weary hand over his face and sighs, the rush of air from his lungs echoing deeply within my mind. I shake my head, hoping to clear away the last vestiges of the zone.

"You've been zoned for over an hour," Simon states simply. I notice him cringe slightly, apparentlywaiting for some sort of Sentinel blowout. He doesn't have long to wait.

"Over an hour?!" Good lord, over an hour? We've lost an hour? I drop my suddenly heavy head into my shaking hands in an attempt to quell the rising panic I feel within me. Over an hour, zoned. Time wasted that could have been spent tracking Brackett and Alex. Time that could have been spent finding my Guide.

"Jim." Simon's soft plea breaks through my anxiety attack. "Jim, I need you to shake this off, man. We've got a serious situation on our hands here, and we need to figure out what to do. But first, are you all right? You were zoned a long time, and I was beginning to think I'd never get you out of it."

I nod absently as I stand up and start to pace. Simon's right, the crap has hit the fan and what we need to do now is to brainstorm. No, what I need right now is Blair. He's the one who is good at thinking fast on his feet. Wearily, I rub my aching forehead. This zone has left me feeling so drained. But I can't think about that right now. I've got work to do.

Looking at Simon, I gesture to the empty seat where Crumb was sitting. "Where is he?" For some reason, I'm too tired to even ask long questions. Short and to the point is the way I'm operating for now.

"Put him in the pen with a few choice prisoners." Simon notes the surprised look on my face and smirks. "Hey, the least I could do. Besides, if what he says is true, once the mystery men get hold of him, the holding cell will seem like paradise."

I nod and start pacing again. A knock at the door startles both Simon and I. Simon glances at me, frowning, apparently having noticed my surprise. I should have heard someone coming. Something's wrong with my senses.

Simon studies me a moment longer, then goes to answer the door. Joel steps into the room and casts a worried glance in my direction. Suddenly, I'm overwhelmed with the sound of his pounding heart, and it's all I can do to keep from losing it. Then, just as quickly as the spike started, it ends. I shake my head, hoping the futile motion will fix whatever's wrong.

All of a sudden, I feel someone shaking me and I realize it's Simon.

"Didn't you just hear what Joel said??" My negative response nearly causes my captain to have a stroke. Looking at me in shock, Simon barely manages to sputter, "Good god, man! Joel just said Blair is in the lobby, and he's got a gun... and a hostage."

Alex is in front of the Expedition, chewing nervously on her already ragged fingernails. I find the action nauseating, so I look away as I whip out my cell phone. Davie is late. Late is not good. Something has gone wrong. The hairs standing up on the back of my neck can easily testify to this fact. Call it a sixth sense, or a really good hunch. Something has gone down and stupid cousin Davie is in the middle of it. Suddenly, calling him doesn't seem like such a smart idea. He's inside that rat nest they call a precinct, and apparently the gig must be up. He's probably in there squealing his brains out. Great, just great.

I glance over at the slobbering mess of Sandburg, who's snoring away like a buzz saw. Between his snores, Davie's untimely absence and Alex's nail biting, I'm beginning to lose my patience. I feel my cell phone vibrate and realize that I'm getting a call.

Great. I have a feeling I know who this is. I really don't want to talk to them right now. All right, I don't want to talk to them ever. I hate the way they keep checking up on me. I'm not used to being shadowed so closely. Sighing, I answer the call. Better get it over with. I bet they know what's happened with Davie. Great.

"Night-eagle here." God, I hate my stupid code name.

"Night-eagle, this is Big Poppa here. I have a message for you from the upper ranks, straight from the head honcho himself." The voice on the line is smug, self-satisfied. I hate Big Poppa.

"Well, don't keep me in suspense. What is it?"

There is a slight pause before Big Poppa's voice comes back over the phone. When he speaks again, he sounds hesitant. "Abort the mission. It has been scrubbed."

WHAT?!?! Abort the mission, has this lunatic lost his freaking' mind?

"What?! I don't think so, pal! You're not going to cheat me out of my money so easily!" A snort on the other line cuts off my tirade, adding fuel to my fire.

"I don't think you're in any position to tell us anything, Brackett. The mission is to be scrubbed. You will be paid a partial amount for your contribution. I don't think 10 million deposited in a numbered Swiss bank account will be 'cheating you' at all. Do you? You'll also receive airline tickets to an undisclosed location far away from here. All arrangements have been made. You'll receive further instructions soon."

Sensing Poppa was about to hang up, I quickly ask a question. "What about Sandburg? You guys wanted them dead, what do you want done with him now?"

"Dope him up and drop him off somewhere, we don't care. But don't kill him. Sentinel and Guide are to be left alive. And get rid of the blond ambition, is that understood?" Before I could even answer, the line went dead. Disgusted, I cut off the connection and threw the phone down. Great! Just great. All this planning and time... for what? What had suddenly the head honcho's mind so quickly? Maybe I didn't want to know. Maybe I should just cut my losses and call it good. I want revenge, want it badly. But the payoff coming will be sweet enough... for now.

I'll just move my plans back a bit. Besides, I've spent all that wonderful one on one time with Sandburg, and I am NOT about to let it go to waste. I was able to find out all sorts of interesting and juicy tidbits. Not to mention the fact that I've got him trained now. Maybe I'll just wait till I'm safely hidden away on some tropical island resort, sipping on some fruity drink. Yeah, that sounds good. I'll wait until then, let everything die down a bit. Then I'll just make one little phone call to Blair Sandburg, say one little magic word, and let the chaos begin.

Smiling broadly now, I look at Alex, intent on filling her in, then I change my mind. She's a liability now, and a crazy one at that. Alex has become too much of a loose cannon for me to drag along. She's attractive, that's for sure, but beauty like that comes with too high a price tag. And I'm not willing to pay. She's outlived her usefulness. She helped break Sandburg, but that's about it. She's not even a full Sentinel anymore; her senses don't work half the time. So I can't sell her for anything on the black market. I've got no use for her. No, I won't tell her anything. We'll ditch Blair first, then I'll get rid of her and get the heck outta Dodge.

Reaching for the door handle, I feel a swish of air go by my face. Suddenly a spike of pain so violent assaults my head that I have no choice but to surrender. I follow the darkness willingly.

I listen as Brackett finishes up his little conversation, plotting my next course of action. I'm not feeling so hot, must be whatever they gave me to knock me out. I'm still rather sluggish, but I can't let that stop me now. I woke up a while ago, but decided to play possum, hoping to figure a way out of this mess. I struggle to keep my breathing slow and even, hoping to keep both Brackett and Alex fooled, making them think I'm still snoozing. I've even added drooling as a nice little effect. Hey, I'm desperate, and I'm willing to do anything to get out of this situation.

I realize there is something cold and metal against my right hand, which is resting on the car seat. I slowly move my fingers toward the object, though I doubt Brackett's noticing, since he's currently yelling at someone on the cell. I feel the barrel of a gun beneath my eager fingers, so I slowly maneuver the weapon, until it is in the palm of my hand. Brackett has just ended his call, and from the sounds of it, he's pretty pissed. Good, a pissed guy is usually an unobservant guy. I open my eyes to a slit and watch him turn to stare out the window. Whatever the call was about, it's got him thinking real hard. Some of his plans must have just fallen though. Well, so will another one.

Without stopping to take time to think about the possible repercussions of my action, I swing the barrel of the gun and land a blow to Brackett's left temple. He stiffens, then falls over against the window, a small trail of blood trickling down his face. He's out like a light.

One down, one to go.

Shakily, I look at Brackett's still, slumped form, feeling a righteous anger surge through my tightly constricted veins. This man has tormented me for the last few months of my life. He plunged me into a living hell so deep, so dark that I'd never thought I'd escape. But I did, and yet he dared to come back to haunt me further. But no more... no more.

I refuse to be anyone's pawn, refuse to be used against my Sentinel. I've played the fool long enough. It's time to turn the tables. Taking Brackett out wasn't as hard as one might think. His arrogance is an easy tool to use against him. He simply didn't think twice about laying his gun on the seat between us. He thought I was out for the count. Yeah... well, he thought wrong. You know what they say... pride goeth before a fall.

He almost had me again. When he uttered the code word, it sent chills down my spine. The fact that he would pick the name 'jaguar' was a serious affront to the Sentinel and Guide partnership. The drugs... the brainwashing... they almost worked. Almost... but not quite.

I glance at Alex, who is oblivious to the goings on in the back seat. She's sitting there, looking out of the passenger side widow, chewing madly on her fingernails. On closer inspection, I realize what's happened. She's zoned on something outside the car. Good, that makes the next part a lot easier.

Taking Brackett's gun, I knock the murdering wench across the base of her skull. She folds like a bad deck of cards, slumping over into the front seat. Never in my life did I think I'd strike a woman like that, but times change. No, correction, situations MAKE you change. No one will ever fault me for hitting the woman that killed me. She's lucky I'm not returning the favor. Not that the thought hasn't crossed my mind a time or two... or three.

Brackett's beginning to stir a bit, so I place the gun at his temple, while scanning the Expedition for something to secure Alex with. Frustratingly, I find nothing. Then inspiration strikes. Fishing around in one of my jeans' pockets, I find a couple of thick elastic bands, the kind I use to tie my hair back. YES! These babies will work just fine. My joy is short lived as I feel the man next to me stir again. Not wanting him to be awake just yet, I clobber him another one. Can't say I feel too bad about it.

He's out like a light again, so I push him forward and pull his hands behind his back. I use one of the ties to secure his hands. Tight fit, but who cares? His hands going numb is the last thing I'm worried about at the moment.

I push Brackett down onto the floorboard, making sure it'll be hard for him to move. Another inspiration strikes, so I exit the car, walking around to the other side, opening the door next to Brackett's feet. I start to bend down to tie his shoelaces together when I get an attack of the shakes. Man, whatever Brackett gave me is doing a number on my nerves. I'm feeling high-strung, wound up tight. My nerves keep humming and jumping. My earlier bravado is beginning to fade a bit, so I know I'd better get a move on. I'm not feeling as strong as I'd like to pretend.

I complete the task of tying Brackett's shoelaces together and shut the car door. Opening Alex's door, I proceed to secure her hands behind her back, again not caring about circulation. She can lose her hands for all I care. I move to her feet, only to find she's wearing sandals. Great. Oh well, I've got a gun. I can handle this.

I shut her door and walk around to the driver's side, getting in quickly while surveying the area. Dizziness washes over me again, and I lean against the steering wheel in an attempt to ground myself. My stomach's doing flip-flops, and I'm having a hard time dealing with the nausea. Breathing deeply, the disturbing sensations pass, and I'm able to focus on the task at hand. Looking around earlier, I realized Brackett had parked us several blocks away from the precinct. He must've figured he'd be far enough away from Jim to keep the big guy from realizing we were near. I think I overheard him mention something earlier about counting on Jim's senses cutting in and out. More than likely, he's right. Having Alex so near must be doing a number on poor Jim, even though she's not really a Sentinel anymore.

I reach for the keys, which are thankfully in the ignition, and start the car. Another case of the shakes sneaks up on me and I do my best to ride it out. I close my eyes again, suddenly feeling rather drained. This drug is messing me up and for a moment I worry about driving. I don't want to hurt anyone, well... other than these two idiots, that is. But I can't stay here. Brackett and Alex may be out for now, but it won't last long. And I'd rather not have an ex-Sentinel and an ex-CIA agent mad at me at the same time.

Gathering strength from somewhere deep within, I pull the Expedition out into traffic, and slowly make my way to safety.

I've got to find my Sentinel.

The drive to the precinct is short and relatively peaceful, lending an oddly surreal feeling to my current predicament, as my two captives remain unconscious. At least, I HOPE they're still out. They could be playing possum with me. Now there's a thought I don't need. My ill feeling is getting worse, and I don't think I have enough stamina left to try to take both of them on right now. Despite whatever animosity I'm feeling for the blond duo, I'm not prepared to take a life. I'd rather see them rot in jail. Much more poetic version of justice that way.

Gratefully, I spy the precinct in front of me and somehow manage to steer the large vehicle into the parking garage despite my increasing tremors. I spot a parking space and pull the car into place. Turning off the engine, I feel a twinge of apprehension deep in my gut. My instincts are screaming at me that this is not going to go down easy, and someone is going to get hurt. Just hope it isn't me.

Grabbing the keys, I stuff them in my pocket and reach for the gun I kept on my lap the entire ride over. I open my door and climb out of the car. To my relief, I'm able to stand up without too much dizziness. I shut the door, gazing at the two still forms in the Expedition. Part of my mind screams at me to leave them there and run for cover. I know I can't do that though. Somehow, Brackett will get loose, and come back to haunt me again. Or Alex will manage to get away, and probably commit some heinous crime. Either way, I'm going to have to take one of them with me. The question is, which one?

I risk a quick glance around the garage, wondering where the heck everyone could be. Any other time this place would be crawling with cops. Not this time, noooo... I'm on my own. Just peachy. Suddenly I remember something, and could just kick myself for forgetting it in the first place. Brackett's phone! I can use his phone to call Jim and they can just come down here and bag these two creeps up. Yes! Now, to find said phone, and get this show on the road.

I look through the back window, trying to see if I can spot the phone before I actually open the door. I don't want Brackett trying anything sneaky on me. I notice a faint buzzing sound as the light directly over me begins blinking on and off. Great. Now the light's probably getting ready to go out on me. Just what I need. I continue to scan for the cell phone, my previous apprehension turning into frustration as I don't see it anywhere. Belatedly, I realize that Bracket must have tucked the phone into his jacket, hidden in a pocket, out of my reach. So much for this particular brainstorm.

Resignedly, I yank open Brackett's door, totally unprepared for the charging figure that lunges at me full force. Both of us go crashing to the ground as the gun flies from my hand, sliding a few feet away. I feel Brackett push himself off me, and use that to my advantage. As soon as I feel a pocket of air between us, I ram my knee up hard, catching Brackett in a particularly sensitive spot. Brackett rolls off to the side, groaning as he holds on to the now throbbing area between his legs. My weight loss has made me bony, and my knee is no exception. Feeling that sharp bone flatten his privates has left Brackett quivering on the floor, in considerable pain. I quickly scoot away and grab the gun, aiming at the writhing man next to me on the floor.

"Get up." I'm surprised I managed to sound calm as I said that. My insides are like jelly. That little impromptu scuffle has left me shaken. I need to find Jim, and soon. I don't think I can keep this up much longer.

Brackett merely glares at me, as he continues to lie on the floor. Anger rises up, quickly infusing my tired body with a new burst of energy. I'm next to Brackett in three quick strides, and before he knows what hit him, I kick him squarely in the chest.

"Get UP!" I say more forcefully, aiming the gun directly at his grimacing face. My patience is wearing thin, and the need to get to safety is starting to overwhelm me. I try to focus, to calm the rising hysteria, but I'm finding it hard. The drugs Brackett plied me with are still doing a number on me. A fact I'm sure hasn't escaped his attention.

Brackett groans as he rolls over on all fours then proceeds to stand up. He looks at me and sneers, apparently trying to appear unconcerned. Yeah, right. I've got a lethal weapon aimed at him, and he's not worried.

"So what are you gonna do now, Sandburg? You're a weak link, do you realize that? A weak, useless, spineless, wasted piece of ..." Brackett's derogatory rant is cut short as a well timed blow to his face stifles him. Looking rather shocked, he shuts up.

Gesturing towards the elevator a few rows away, I glare at him. "Get going." Brackett grunts as he turns, and begins walking towards the elevators. I hear a scraping sound as he walks, and I notice both his shoes are untied. Yep, he was a busy little beaver while I was driving. Guess my instincts were right. For once.

I keep the gun pressed into his back as we walk, my body tensed, my nerves on edge as I wait for him to make some move. I'm no fool, I know this guy is NOT going to go quietly into the den of lions. As we near the elevator, an idea pops into my frazzled mind.

"Pull down your pants." The look that crosses Brackett's face would have been wildly hilarious, but right now I'm a little too tired to laugh. Instead, I point the gun towards his lower half. "Now."

Brackett proceeds to turn all sorts of interesting shades of red before he manages to find his voice. Again the urge to laugh appears, as the man's voice cracks with something between fear and outrage.

"You want me to do WHAT?!?" He sputters.

"You heard me, down with them. No! Not your underwear too. Geesh!! That was NOT something I wanted to see. Just your pants, you idiot! And leave them down around your ankles. Good, now be still, or you're going to get popped again. Trust me, I'm in no mood for any of your crap right now." I walk around to the back of the seething man, and finding another rubber band in my other pants pocket, I resecure his hands. Then I yank his jacket down to his elbows so that his arms are completely useless to him. With a wicked grin plastered across my face, I again point to the elevator in front of us.

"Let's go." I swear I can actually see steam coming out of the man's ears as he shuffles over to the elevator. Once we're in front of the thing, I push the button that'll take me up to Major Crimes, and back to my Sentinel.

Brackett shuffles inside when the doors open, and I follow closely behind. Pushing the 'close' button with one hand while keeping the gun trained on him with the other, I notice his choice in underwear. Funny, I never figured him for a big 'Looney Tunes' fan, but hey, to each his own. I'm sure the all the boys in blue will get a big kick outta seeing Tweety Bird pasted all over his can.

Smiling rather evilly, I leer at the uncomfortable felon. "Hey... nice shorts."

The expletives that leave Brackett's mouth would put a seasoned sailor to shame.

Simon's words leave me dumbfounded, as I try to make sense out of them. Blair? Here, with a hostage?? Huh?? What... where... when... more importantly... how??

I feel Simon yank me towards the door, apparently sick of waiting for me to move on my own. As we quickly head onto the floor, I find I can't think. I guess I'm in shock, finding that I don't have to save Blair this time. Apparently, he's saved himself. The fact doesn't surprise me. Blair can most certainly take care of himself. It's just... I'm feeling overwhelmed to say the least, ecstatic at best.

We follow Taggert out into the hallway and towards the elevators, where I'm suddenly engulfed by the throbbing sound of my Guide's rapid heartbeat. My sight instantly follows the sound and there stands my once missing Guide, holding some guy hostage. Blair's got a gun trained on the man, who's standing rock still with his pants down around his ankles and his jacket pulled down behind his back, his face blushed a furious shade of red. Whoever this guy is, he's going to feel my wrath in a minute. Quickly I stride towards Blair, a little shocked at the fierceness I pick up in his glassy eyes. The man he's holding onto stiffens as he looks at me and I spare the hostage a quick glance, feeling an odd sense of deja vu as I pick up a familiar scent. Brackett, of course! No wonder Blair seems like a man possessed. Yeah, he's had a little work done to that face, but my sentinel sight easily reveals the truth, it's none other than Lee Brackett, the main character in all my recent nightmares. I swallow the deep anger I feel to concentrate on my Guide. Besides, it would serve no purpose for me to hurt the man here. I'll deal with him later, in private. My urgent need to check out my Guide is far more important. Everything else can wait.

Blair doesn't seem to notice me approaching. He's too focused on his captive. I walk up to the fuming duo and gently place my hand on Blair's shoulder, frowning at the minute tremors I feel coursing beneath his clothing. Blair jerks a little at the unexpected contact, then turns those oddly clouded blue eyes up to look at me. I do not like the dazed look in his eyes. A faint medicinal smell wafts from his breath. Drugs. The creep drugged my Guide. The urge to tear the man apart once again surfaces and I fight to stifle it. A soft smile crosses Blair's pale, sweat covered face as he chuckles hollowly.

"Hey, Jim. Been waiting awhile. What kept you?" The words are spoken softly, but my sentinel hearing easily detects the high level of exhaustion hiding beneath the flat humor. Without waiting for my reply, Blair finally releases his hold on the fuming man, shoving him toward me and hands me the gun. He leans against the wall, apparently having reached his threshold, and heaves a big sigh. At my nod, two waiting uniforms walk over and grab Brackett, leading him away. I halfheartedly listen to Simon bark out orders, clearing the hallway as only he can, as he follows Brackett down to be booked. A smile lights my face, as I overhear Simon order Brackett to be placed with Davie. Captain Banks can be decidedly ornery when he wants to be. My smile fades as I give my Guide a cursory examination, none too pleased with his current state of health. I'll be paying Brackett a little visit later. Alone.

The world shrinks down to only Blair and I, and I place my hands on his shoulders, giving them a soft squeeze. I really don't know how to put what I'm feeling into words. Relief is one thing; fury at this new ordeal is another. I finally speak, surprised at how rough my voice sounds. "Blair? Are you all right? I... I thought..." I find I can't finish speaking. My throat seems to want to close up on me. Besides, I don't want to give voice to my fears. There no longer is any need to. Blair is here, alive and safe. I swallow back the emotions I feel struggling to rise to the surface, and wait for my friend to answer me. I can break down privately later. My Guide needs me to be strong right now.

Blair looks worse than before. His skin is graying and his eyes are even glassier. He shakes his head sadly and pushes himself away from the wall. I'm overwhelmed again by the sound of his thundering heart, and my sense of smell spikes as I pick up on the sickly aroma of his sweat. I need to get him to the hospital now.

"Jus' dizzy. Tired, feel like I'm forgetting somthin'." I feel my heart begin to pound as his words begin to slur together. His heart rate is slowing down, and his breathing is growing more labored. He frowns again as he rubs at his temples, shaking his head as if to jar his memory. "Somthin' I need to tell you. Don remember wha it isss... whoa! Man I'm dizzy..." Okay, that's enough. First I need to sit him down, then call for an ambulance.

"Chief, maybe we ought to..." Before I can finish, Blair begins to tilt forward as he finally succumbs to his exhaustion. I catch him on the way down, and gently lower him to the floor. I scan his vitals, relieved to see his heart is still beating strongly, though still slower than I'd like. I look over my shoulder to yell for someone to get an ambulance, but Rafe signals from the doorway leading to Major Crimes that he's calling. I nod my thanks and return my focus to Blair. Just reunited and already we're headed back to one of my favorite places... the ER.

Sadly, some things never change.

Once again I find myself watching the scenery fly by as Jim speeds to get me home. This time, the homecoming won't be so melancholy. I'm actually ready to take on life again, after I get a little rest, of course. Fortunately, I didn't stay long at the hospital this time. That might have a lot to do with a certain ranting Sentinel I'm partnered with. I don't think he was up to my being out of his line of sight for more than thirty seconds at a time. The hospital staff got fed up with his hovering, and sent me home after only 48 hours of observation. Whatever drugs Brackett had given me had worn off by then and were working their way out of my system. I didn't argue about leaving early. I'm notoriously a bad patient anyway. I hate hospitals, which is why it's so ironic that I've chosen to work with a man whose very profession ensures several visits a year to the ER. Go figure.

I close my eyes briefly as the truck comes to a stop at a light. I listen to the idling engine, the sound causing me to think of the Expedition Brackett and Alex dragged me around in. Alex... now there's a name that still turns my stomach. Lucky for me I remembered to tell Jim she was tied up in the Expedition before the ambulance arrived. Wouldn't have wanted her to slip away, and spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, wondering when I'd see her again. Wondering whether I'd survive another encounter with the crazed woman. Fortunately, Alex was still in the vehicle when Joel and Henry went down with a few uniforms to check. She was still unconscious. Apparently, I'd hit her harder than I realized. Not that I feel all that bad about it. At least after I hit her, I didn't throw her in some water, leaving her to drown.

My eyes fly open as my thoughts threaten to lead me down a dark and purposely forgotten path. No, I won't think about that day, the day I drowned. I'm out of the hospital and finally on my way home for good, and I refuse to throw myself another pity party. I'll just think of this horrible experience as exactly what it was... a battle. A battle that I managed to win. I glance over at Jim, and am surprised to see a look of peace settling over his face. The worry lines are fading and I realize my earlier thought was wrong, not to mention selfish. I didn't win... WE won. My Sentinel is safe for now, thanks in part to Davie spilling the beans, and I for one intend to enjoy this particular reprieve. We don't seem to get many. Besides, I've missed out on a lot lately, and I miss my life. Brackett took it away for a while, but I got it back. He and his crooked cousin can rot in prison for all I care. And Alex can enjoy her lifetime pass at the loony bin. It'll be too soon if I NEVER see any of them again.

Jim must be picking up on my fractious thoughts, because I feel a feather light touch on my arm and hear him clear his throat in an all too familiar show of concern. I glance at him and smile briefly, hoping to ease his worrying a little bit. Of course, it doesn't work.

"Doing okay there, Chief?" The simple question is loaded with emotion. I know my Sentinel is asking about my welfare on several different levels, but he need not worry so much. I'll be fine, maybe not now, but soon. How could I not be okay when I'm going home? Going home to my soft bed covered in my own blankets, to fall asleep on my personal pillow. Going home to eat real food and watch a Jags game. Going home to a place I seem to have a hard time staying put in lately.

"Chief?" Jim's voices hitches a little and I berate myself for taking so long replying.

"I'll be fine, Jim, don't worry. I'll be just fine." I grace him with one of my face splitting grins as I realize I believe that. For the first time in a long while, longer than I care to remember, I believe those words will come true.

I'll be just fine.


I watch a slimy cockroach attempt to make a meal of my shoe for a few minutes. This is what my life has been reduced to, roaches eating my shoes. Well, I guess he isn't literally eating my shoe, but the wretched bug does seem to be fascinated with it. Rather interesting to watch, since I have nothing else going for me. Not in this beautiful four-walled abode I now reside in. Thanks to Ellison and Sandburg, I am once again public enemy number one, and my accommodations heartily attest to the fact. But that's okay, I'm just going to bide my time until my lucky number rolls around again.

Besides, I have so much more work to do. Since the jerks in black predictably decided to forget they even knew me, I guess I'm completely on my own. Of course, that's the way it should have been in the first place. I know better than to work with others. It's a mistake I won't be making again... ever.

Plus, how could I ever forget my favorite anthropologist and his Sentinel? My work with Blair Sandburg was brilliant, if I do say so myself. Sure, I know he figured out a way to overcome the brainwashing, but hey, nobody's perfect. I'll just have to try harder next time... much harder.

I've already taken care of little Davie. Poor Davie. He's not going to last too long in prison, I'm afraid once it gets out that he's an ex-federal agent. Especially when I flavor the grapevine with tales of his escapades getting half the population in here arrested. Of course it's all lies, but hey, he was so gracious as to run off at the mouth about me, I figure it's the least I can do to repay his loyalty.

I watch the cockroach crawl off my shoe and onto the floor. Without a second thought, I raise my foot and smash the life out of the vile thing. A smile crosses my face as I hear the crunching sound of the bug beneath my shoe. Kind of prophetic in a way, considering I plan to crush Ellison and Sandburg in a similar manner. That thought alone sends chills of excitement spiraling down my spine. I can't wait... can't wait at all to hear them beg. Such a pleasant thought. Besides, I owe Ellison for the little 'talking to' he gave me when no one was around. I rub at the still healing bruise on my jaw, wincing at the tender area. I run my tongue over the hole in my mouth that a tooth once happily called home. I wince again as a rush of cool air hits the aggravated nerve endings. Surprisingly, no one offered any dental services when the 'incident' happened. Yeah, I owe Ellison big time for that little display of police brutality. We'll see how much he enjoys it when the shoe's on the other foot.

That's one advantage of solitary confinement. Plenty of time for me to plan a course of action, to figure out exactly what I'm going to do once I get out of here. Time on my hands to dream of revenge. To dream of the day I have that Guide and his Sentinel working for me. Wouldn't that be something, to have a Sentinel under my command? You know what they say... revenge is sweet.

And I plan to make my revenge the sweetest of them all.

~ Finis ~

Return to Ma Brown's Reading Room