Twelve Steps to Insanity by LilyK

Twelve Steps to Insanity - LilyK

The jangling of the telephone interrupted Jim Ellison's sleep. He groaned and gently extracted himself from his lover's clinging arms and legs. Groggily reaching for the receiver, he sighed tiredly.

“Ellison.”

“Jim, it's Simon. I need you and Sandburg at the station.”

“Simon, it's our day off. Remember? That means Blair and I do not work today.”

“It's important.”

Jim sighed again. Simon's clipped tone conveyed anger and disgust, but Jim knew it wasn't directed at them. Something bad had happened. “Okay. Give us an hour.”

“Make it forty-five minutes.”

“Right, sir.” Hanging up, Jim briefly snuggled down against Blair's warm body.

“What's up?” Blair muttered, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Man, I feel like I just closed my eyes.”

“I know, babe,” Jim said quietly, bestowing a warm kiss on one of Blair's closed eyelids. After kissing the other lid, he added, “Simon sounded -- strange. Something's up.”

“Okay. Okay. But I have to take a shower and have at least one cup of coffee.”

“Deal. You shower first and I'll fix breakfast.”

Blair raised his head and teasingly glared at his lover. “No way!” he growled. “We'll shower together or I'm not leaving this bed.”

“You're not, are you?” Jim answered. “We'll see about that.”

Soon, the sounds of laughter and mock wrestling echoed through the loft as the men playfully tussled. Blair finally pinned Jim to the mattress. Leaning down, he kissed his lover's lips.

“I let you win,” Jim said with a wicked grin.

Blair laughed. “I know.”

“Come on, Chief. Work beckons.”

With a theatrical groan, Blair slipped from his lover's warm embrace and rose, grabbing clean underwear and socks from the dresser for both of them.

“Grab my grey sweater, will you?” Blair asked while Jim pulled jeans from the chest of drawers for Blair, and his dark blue khakis from the closet for himself.

“Got it. It's cold out. Think I'll wear my blue cable knit.”

“I love that sweater on you,” Blair said, kissing Jim's upper arm as he walked by.

“I love nothing on you.”

Blair laughed. “Love you, too. Don't forget your shoes.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“Dork.”

Laughing, the men went to shower.

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Jim Ellison stared at the bagged evidence that Simon had handed him the moment he walked into the captain's office.

“Sir?” Jim stared down at the magazine tightly sealed in the plastic evidence bag. The letters danced before his eyes. NEWS Magazine. Jim's own face stared back at him, not once but twice, and the title of the piece which was already etched in his mind, read, Beyond the Call: G.I. Survives Jungle Ordeal. “What the hell's going on?”

Simon sat at his desk and blew a smoke ring. “There was an explosion at a lumber mill in Westview last night. Luckily, the night watchman was at the other end of the building when it blew, and the explosion caused minimal damage. Forensics found that magazine at the scene. And this e-mail came in just a few hours ago.” Simon pushed a piece of paper toward Jim.

Jim sat staring at the paper for a long moment until Blair reached out and snagged it from the desk.

“Simon, what's this?” Blair asked. Reading the signature line, he added, “The Switchman? Is Sarris loose?” He skimmed the e-mail again. “Addressed to James Ellison. The e-mails. The magazine. The explosion at a lumber mill. This is like a bad dream being replayed.”

“No shit,” Simon muttered, swiveling to pour coffee. He automatically poured cups for Jim and Blair, fixed them to both men's likings and passed them over without comment. “The bomb squad says the device was the same type Sarris used previously. I'm having Forensics check it over right now.”

“Thanks.” Blair smiled and nodded, taking the cup from Simon's hand.

“Jim?” Simon held out a cup for Jim.

“What? Sorry, sir. I just don't get it.” Jim absentmindedly took the cup and sipped. “Sarris is locked up. So why a copycat?”

“That's what I'd like to know, so you and Sandburg are officially on this case.”

Blair slid to the edge of his seat. “Do you think that's a good idea? After all, it looks like Jim's personally involved...”

“Save it, Chief. I can handle it.” Setting down his coffee cup, Jim rose and walked to the window. Hands clasped behind his back, he turned to look outside. “It's a nice day outside,” he mused. Turning and walking toward the door, he added, “Let's get to work, partner.”

Blair rose with a smile and followed.

---------------------------------------------

“So do you think somebody's out for you?” Blair asked as he read through the last few pages of the original “The Switchman” file.

“Hard to say. It's obviously a copycat,” Jim said. “Why bother is the thing I don't understand. Forensics didn't find anything to connect this case to the original one. Why copy something like this?” Jim scrolled through the latest useless information to his Nexus search about copycat cases with similarities to “The Switchman” in other parts of the country.

“To mess with your head? You do have a few enemies out there, you know.”

Jim snorted. “Yeah. I know.” With a sigh, he closed the program and shut down his computer. “This is getting us nowhere. No leads. Nothing to go on. The computer search is a dead end.”

“No prints on the magazine, either,” Blair added. “And Serena said they didn't have much luck out at the lumber yard other than the explosive was the same type that Sarris used previously.”

“You want some dinner?”

“I could eat.” Blair rose and stretched his back.

Jim rose also and chuckled, ruffling Blair's hair. “Chinese or Italian?”

“Italian. I want one of those stuffed calzones from Ricco's.”

“Your treat.”

Blair pulled his coat from the rack and handed Jim his jacket. “Mine? No way, man. I treated last time.”

Jim thanked Blair with a smile, then raised an eyebrow. Walking toward the elevators, he groused, “Last time? Last time I paid for vegetable egg foo yong and broccoli beef from China Garden. You had the guy put extra mushrooms in the egg foo yong. Remember?”

Blair hit the elevator button. “No, last time I paid for Mexican from La Hacienda. You had that big taco salad with extra cheese. Now do you remember?”

“Your mind is fried, Chief. That was two times ago.”

The elevator doors slid open and both men entered, still arguing affably as the doors closed.

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The night was starless and moonless. Blair sat quietly in the truck shivering in his heavy jacket while Jim paced in front of it.

“You okay?” Jim asked. When their gazes met, he gave Blair a faint smile.

“I'm good. Did you notice that these empty buildings look like giants with their eyes covered? I get the feeling that they're watching, waiting to snatch the unwary passer-by.” Jim raised an eyebrow, making Blair shrug. “I know they're empty buildings with broken windows, Jim, but still, it's kind of creep-”

When Jim abruptly stopped his pacing and cocked his head, Blair knew he had heard something. Popping open his door, he hopped out.

“Somebody's coming,” Jim said.

“Yeah. I figured.” Blair huddled into his coat and moved closer to Jim.

“Cold, Chief?”

“No, just... I don't know. Déjà vu, I think. It's kind of like-”

The black motorcycle roared around a corner and approached their position, cutting off Blair's words. The operator stopped directly in front of the pair and flipped up his visor. The stern face of Nat Walley broke into a crooked smile.

“Ellison, Sandburg,” Walley acknowledged.

“Walley,” Jim said while Blair nodded and smiled a greeting. “What do you have?”

Reaching into his jacket, Walley passed Jim an envelope. “This tells the whole story. Some schmuck is determined to get his unlawful share of the airport trucking-”

Jim's hand moved to Walley's shoulder, stopping his explanations. The faint click of a rifle being cocked reached the Sentinel's sensitive ears and the red glow of a laser sight dancing on Walley's chest made Jim's stomach churn. He quickly shoved Walley sideways, bike and all. Not waiting to see if the man fell out of the way of the heavy motorcycle, he turned and grabbed his partner, throwing Blair to the ground and covering Blair's body with his own. Jim didn't waste seconds trying to call out. Fear had wrapped itself around his throat, closing it tightly.

A muffled sound brought Jim's head up and his vision kicked in. He saw a man's face in a vacant warehouse window far down the block, barely lit by the glow of a half-dead street light. Pale. Dark hair. Black turtleneck. Tommy Juno? Even as Jim's brain registered the face, his mind questioned what he saw. The face disappeared, and Jim sprung into action. He raced to Walley's side and fell to his knees beside the undercover detective, sure he would find the man dead.

“Nat! Are you okay?” Jim asked while Blair knelt down on Walley's other side.

“I'm okay,” Walley muttered. “What the hell happened?” He sat up and haphazardly wiped his dirty hands on his pants.

“Sniper,” Jim said to Walley before turning to look directly at Blair. “It was Tommy Juno.”

“No!' When Jim nodded, Blair's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “Well, fuck.”

---------------------------------------------

“What do you think's going on, Jim?” Simon asked tersely. “Somebody yanking your chain?”

Jim shrugged. “Can't say, Captain. Nobody's making any noise on the street. It's probably just coincidence.” Blair raised an eyebrow, but Jim held up his hand. “Don't get all cosmic on me, Chief. I know your feelings about coincidences, but they do happen sometimes.”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Sure, man. Whatever.”

“So what do we have?” Simon asked.

Jim rubbed at his forehead. “Nothing! No prints. No witnesses, except for me of course. No shell casings. The place was clean, Simon. There weren't even any footprints in the dust on the damned floor of the office where I saw the face in the window!”

“Whoa, Jim. Settle down,” Blair said soothingly.

Jim glared at Blair's efforts to calm him. “I'll settle down when I figure this out,” he snapped.

A sharp knock followed by Simon's office door swinging open forestalled further conversation. Joel Taggart entered and waved a paper.

“You have to see this, Simon.”

Reaching out, Simon took the paper and after a few moments perusal, handed it to Jim, who took it and started to read. Blair rose and read over Jim's shoulder. When Jim finished, he tossed the paper onto Simon's desk.

“Now I'm ready to believe that this is just too coincidental,” Jim groused. “What the hell is going on?” Rising, Jim headed for the door with Blair at his heels. He grabbed both of their coats from the coat rack and tossed Blair's to him. Silently, he shrugged into his jacket and quickly headed toward the elevator.

“Hey, man. Slow down,” Blair called.

Jim punched the button for the elevator car and crossed his arms. When Blair reached Jim's side, he gave his partner a sidelong glance. “You might want to sit this one out, Chief.”

“No way. I'm your partner, remember?”

“But you're not a-” Jim stopped and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “Sorry, Blair. I don't think you need to see this. You went through enough when it – first happened.”

“I'm going with you. You need me. Besides, if I'm going to the Academy, I'd better learn to get used to this.”

The elevator doors opened and the men boarded. “Okay. Your decision.” Jim gave Blair a half-hearted smile. “You're a good partner.”

When the doors shut, Blair moved closer to Jim, giving him a small shrug and a shy smile. Jim pulled his partner into a one-armed hug and patted his cheek.

The drive to Anthol Street was made in silence. Jim and Blair showed their identification to the officer standing guard over the crime scene and they slipped under the tape. The first thing Jim heard was the dripping of water. He shivered as a strange feeling that he had been through all of this before prickled the back of his neck. Déjà vu, just as Blair had experienced before. As he got closer to the bathroom, he sifted through the various scents that wafted to his nose. Then he smelled it. Water mixed with algae, rotting vegetation, fish and... Concentrating, he isolated a particular scent long buried in his subconscious. Pond water contaminated with duck waste.

Alfred's Pond.

Jim's arm reached out and stopped Blair before they got to the bathroom door. “Chief...”

Blair swallowed and nodded.

“You sure?”

Nodding again, Blair took three steps forward into the bathroom with Jim closely behind him, his hand firmly latched onto Blair's shoulder.

Jim looked around Blair and saw the body – of a department store mannequin. It was female, nude, and arranged to lie in the bathtub. Its eyes were painted wide open and frightened. The fake hair of the long, black wig tumbled over the “victim's” shoulders and the yellow scarf wrapped around its neck stood out brightly against the white porcelain.

“He was here,” Blair whispered. “He was here. God, this is so sick! Why, Jim? Why would anybody do this?”

Jim put both hands on Blair's shoulders and turned him away from the scene. “You know he's dead!” Jim said through clenched teeth. “I shot the bastard myself. Five times!”

Blair shook his head. “But Jim, this is exactly like we found Susan Frazier. Do you sense anything that would indicate that it was – Lash?”

Jim sighed. “Not Lash, exactly, but the water in the tub. It's from Alfred's Pond.”

Blair shivered. “And the yellow scarf, of course.”

“Somebody's fucking with my head. So far, nobody's been killed, even though numerous people died in the original crimes. Even this...” Jim's hand waved toward the tub. “A mannequin? What am I missing? Why is this even happening?”

“Maybe it's not you, Jim. Maybe it's me.”

Jim shook his head. “I don't think so, Chief. I think somebody's sending me a message, and I just don't seem to be able to get the gist of it. Not yet anyway.”

Not yet willing to further discuss his hunch, Blair muttered, “Sure, whatever.”

“Let's go. Forensics needs access and I need to get out of here. I'm starting to get a headache.”

Blair looked into Jim's face, seeing the tension lines around his mouth and eyes. “Oh, man. Sorry. I should have noticed.”

“Not your fault. I'm just a bit tired after the last couple of days.”

“A hot meal might help. We've skipped too many of those lately.”

Jim put his hand against the small of Blair's back, guiding him through the apartment and toward the truck. The light, familiar touch grounded Jim's senses, and he huffed out a cleansing breath, willing his headache to recede. With his Guide close, the headache began to fade.

-----------------------------------------------

“Now what, Simon?” Ellison said shortly.

“Excuse me?” Simon bristled at Jim's harsh tone.

“Sorry, sir. It's just... Sorry, Captain.” Jim stood stiffly in front of the captain's desk.

“Jim, I'm not any happier about this than you are, but there's been another -- copycat.”

Jim didn't want to ask. He really just wanted to take Blair and hide out somewhere. Far away. Finally, he said testily, “What is it this time, sir?”

“This is not my fault, Jim.”

“I know, Simon. I'm sorry. It's just that this is starting to get old.”

“And you think I don't know it?”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. What's happened?”

Simon sighed. “You need to head down to the Greyhound Bus Station on Crenshaw. A ten-year old boy went into the men's room and came out screaming. Somebody apparently stuffed a mannequin dressed as a monk into one of the stalls. Its face was smashed in. I've sent the forensics team over already but you and Sandburg need to go and do...” Simon waved a hand haphazardly in the air, “...whatever you and he do to check this out.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim said with a resigned sigh. “Right away.”

------------------------------------------

“Forensics said there wasn't anything special about the red paint he used to simulate blood,” Blair observed.

“And the monk's habit was clean. Nothing that Serena could find after she did an inch by inch inspection.” Jim hit the elevator button for the sixth floor.

“I just don't get it. There should be something. A hair. A fingerprint. We haven't had a decent clue to go on. The odds of any perp not leaving a single clue are astronomical. Besides.-”

Before Blair could finish, Jim interrupted by saying, “Besides, I'm getting really pissed.”

Blair smiled. “It will be okay. I just need to work harder.”

“You, Chief? Why's that? This is my case, and I'm the one who should be able to get a handle on it. You're not a-" Jim paused. He'd almost said the thing that Blair hated hearing. You're not a cop. Although it was technically true, Jim knew Blair had more experience than most of the rookies on the force, and when he started the Academy in a few weeks, he'd be on his way to being legitimate. Then Jim wouldn't be able to tell him to wait in the truck.

“Now what?” Blair asked tensely.

Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder. “You're not responsible. I'm the senior member of this team. I should be able to use these damned senses and figure this out!”

“You're not Superman. You're just a Sentinel. Besides, the scenes are so clean you'd think...” Blair's words faded.

Jim waited a few moments before he prompted, “Think what?”

Blair shook his head. “What? Oh, right. You'd think that whoever is doing this knew you were a Sentinel.”

“Or he just doesn't want to leave any DNA behind as evidence.”

“True,” Blair responded. “He could be just being extra careful.”

The elevator doors opened, and the two men made their way into the bullpen.

“Ellison! My office, please!” Simon called from behind his desk.

“What's up, Captain?” Jim asked from the doorway.

“The diving crew just pulled a car out of the river. It's a 1957 Studebaker and there was a department store dummy, wearing glasses, I might add, in the trunk with two bullet holes in its head. Wedged under the spare tire was a Walther pistol. Any of this sound familiar?”

“For God's sake, Simon,” Jim said angrily, stalking over to his captain's desk. With his hands on his hips, he added, “Somebody's fucking with me one time too many!”

“Whoa, man. Slow down,” Blair said. “Let's think this through.”

“Chief, there's nothing to think through. Somebody's asking to have his head removed! I'm tired of this – game!” Jim's hands flew up and his jaw muscle twitched. “This is just too much!”

Simon put up a hand. “Settle down, Jim.”

“Don't you dare tell me to settle down!”

Blair put a hand on Jim's arm. “You're overreacting. Besides, any time something emotional happened to me, you always told me to settle down or take it easy.”

“This is different,” Jim growled.

“Why? Because it's you and not me?” Blair asked testily. “Why are there two sets of rules, one for you and one for me? You can go off half-cocked and I can't?”

“What in the hell are you blabbering about, Chief?” Jim scowled down at his partner.

“Nothing, man. Absolutely nothing.” Blair turned and left the office without looking back.

“What's wrong with the kid?” Simon asked.

“Damned if I know,” Jim muttered. Turning his attention back to Simon, he said, “I'm tired of this. If this is somebody's idea of a joke, I'm not amused.”

“So far, nobody's been killed, but there have been several major crimes committed. This isn't any sort of joke as far as I'm concerned. You need to get a handle on this and fast, Jim. I've managed to keep this out of the papers, but if this should hit the news... Well, you know what will happen. They'll drag up everything about that Sentinel shit that happened back then, and your face will once again be plastered all over the five o'clock news. You know it took months for it to die down the last time.”

“You're preaching to the choir, Captain. I want this stopped as much as you do.” Jim's hearing kicked in, and he listened to Blair's unhappy muttering for a moment before he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I'm on it, Simon.” Giving his captain a terse nod, he went to find his partner.

---------------------------------------------

“Chief?”

“Yeah?” Blair poured coffee into a chipped cup, added cream and sugar, then carried his cup over to the break room table. Sitting down, he picked up his pen and started writing on the yellow pad at his right hand.

“You okay?”

“I'm fine,” Blair said.

“You don't sound fine. You sound -- irritated.”

“No big deal,” he muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing, Jim.”

“I'm going down to the evidence garage and take a look at the car they dragged out of the water.”

“Okay. I have some work to do so I'll catch up with you later.” Blair didn't raise his head, but waved a hand toward Jim, seemingly dismissing him. He never interrupted his note-taking.

Jim started to protest, but Blair's abrupt dismissal of him irked him for some reason. Without another word and feeling as if he had done something wrong, he left.

-------------------------------------------------

Jim's fruitless examination of the car did nothing to help relieve the feeling of irritation that prickled at his spine. First, somebody was fucking with his head, running around Cascade and waving his past in his face. Then, Blair acts like he's the injured party in the copycat debacle, and now, as if that weren't enough, he had another headache. With an irritated sigh, Jim planted his hands on the desk and leaned down.

“I'm going home,” Jim growled.

“Fine.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing. Right.” Jim straightened up and started to leave, but the slump of Blair's shoulders caused him pause. “Chief?” he said softly.

“Yeah?” Blair finally raised his head from the keyboard and looked up.

“Let's go home,” Jim said quietly. “I need to – spend some time with you. Okay?”

Blair saw Jim's sincerity and his heart thumped in his chest. “Okay, Jim.” Rising, he grabbed his coat. Slipping into the sleeves as he walked beside his partner, he said, “Sorry I was a bit of a grouch earlier.”

Jim smiled. “It's okay. I know it's been kind of rough. I'm sorry I've been a little short today, too."

Blair nodded and gave Jim a small smile. “You hungry?”

“Starving.”

“I bought stuff for burritos the other day. You want to go home and have dinner?”

“Yeah, I do.” With a smile, Jim moved closer to his partner. “And after dinner, you can tell me what you're working on so diligently.”

Blair cast Jim a sidelong glance. “Really?”

“Yes, Einstein. Really.”

“Okay. Cool. I have some theories about these copycats.”

“After dinner, Chief. My head can't take much more right now. And my stomach isn't much happier.”

Sympathetically, Blair nodded. “Right. After dinner. It's a date.”

--------------------------------------------------

Jim Ellison settled into the soft bed with a deep sigh.

“Tired?” Blair asked.

“Yes. I'm beat.” Jim fluffed his pillow and snuggled down. “What has you so involved?” he asked, pointing to the yellow tablet in Blair's hands.

“Doing a profile.”

“Of...?”

“The person committing the copycats.” Blair wrote another line before he turned to Jim. “I've been thinking...”

Jim held up his hand. “You're a little out of your element, aren't you?”

“Why? I've told you for years that a police investigation isn't all that much different than an anthropologist's research or an archaeologist's excavation.”

“So you have.” Jim yawned widely, covering his mouth with his hand.

“Do not start with the yawning,” Blair said, yawning himself and rubbing his eyes. “You know it's contagious, and I want to work on this a while longer.” He lay down next to his partner and held the yellow pad up in front of his face. “I've made two columns. Pros and Cons. Similarities and differences. Whys and why nots.” He pointed to the neatly made tables. When Jim didn't respond, Blair glanced over at his lover. Jim's eyes were closed and he was already starting to snore softly. “Sleep tight, man.” Blair kissed Jim's cheek and started to reread his notes. His eyes soon closed and in minutes, he was deeply asleep also.

---------------------------------------------------

“So tell me about this profile,” Jim asked, sipping his second cup of coffee. The eggs and toast settled comfortably in his stomach and the telephone hadn't rung this morning. So far, so good.

Blair stirred a dollop of French vanilla into his coffee. “I've tried to do what the pros do: put myself into the perp's head. Man, it's hard. Your own thoughts and feelings about right and wrong interfere. It's hard to try and think like somebody who might not have a conscience or who's plain evil.” Blair stopped and took a sip of the hot brew. “So, I've been thinking about what's been going on. See?” He pointed to a list on the top of the paper. “The crimes are actually being committed in chronological order. The Switchman copycat was the first, the Tommy Juno duplicate second, and so on.”

“Okay. So?”

“Didn't you notice that none of the crimes are from before you met me? All of the copycats are from afterward.”

Jim's brow wrinkled for a moment before he nodded. “Yeah, you're right. Good point. Then what?”

Blair's thoughts were interrupted by the phone's ring. Blair groaned and rose, grabbing the receiver while Jim theatrically covered his ears.

“Blair Sandburg.”

“Sandburg, it's Simon. I need you and Jim to head over to The Lux Hotel. We've had a call...”

When Simon paused, Blair sighed. “Don't tell me.”

“Just get over there. I've sent Joel to secure the scene.”

“On our way.” Hanging up, Blair looked over at his partner. “Hey, man, we have to go to work.”

Jim rose and sighed. “Yeah, I know. I heard.”

“Can't keep out the crap, even with your ears covered, can you?” Blair said sympathetically.

“It's my burden and my curse,” Jim replied dramatically, holding his hand over his heart.

Blair laughed. “At least you're keeping your sense of humor.”

Jim shrugged and checked his pistol. “I had a good night's sleep. I had a filling breakfast. I have you to spend the day with. What more could I ask for?”

“A boring week?”

“That would be good, Chief.” Jim pulled on his jacket. “Get your keys.”

“Oh, right. Thanks.”

“Blair?”

Blair stopped and looked into his lover's face. “Yeah?”

Jim shrugged. Leaning down, he kissed his lover. Finally breaking away after a long moment, he murmured, “Thanks. I needed that.”

Blair smiled. “Any time, man. Just ask.”

-------------------------------------------

Blair sighed tiredly as he typed the latest report. At The Lux Hotel, they'd found nothing surprising, unfortunately. On the balcony of one of the rooms, they had examined the male mannequin with a single bullet hole through its chest. A video camera lay beside the victim; the tape was conveniently gone. With a shake of his head, Blair reviewed the facts and clues, or lack thereof, and was almost finished when he looked up to see Jim enter the bullpen.

“Hey, man,” Blair said when Jim walked over to the desk. “I'm almost finished and then we can get out of here.”

Jim didn't answer Blair's greeting but stalked over to Simon's office and peered through the window. After glancing into the empty office, he walked back over to his desk before making his way over to Rhonda's. He also failed to respond to Rhonda's greeting. Knowing that Jim was not normally a rude man, Blair's hackles rose for some reason. He started to rise from his chair while he watched his partner nervously pace from Rhonda's desk to the hallway door and back yet again to his own desk.

Coming from behind his desk, Blair asked, “Jim, what's wrong?”

Jim minutely shook his head and blinked before he glanced at his partner. “What? Nothing. What could be wrong?” Again, Jim walked quickly to the doorway and back to his desk. “Why? Does it look like something's wrong? I can't imagine... I'm fine. Really. I'm good.” Wringing his hands, Jim retraced his steps to the doorway once more. “I feel fine. Just fine.”

Blair planted himself in Jim's return path. “Jim, slow down. Something's wrong with you. Look at me.”

Jim quickly eluded his partner. Walking backwards away from Blair, he held out his arms wide. “I'm fine. Good. Just... Let's do something! I'm tired of sitting around and waiting for the next thing to happen. I'm ready to get this show on the road. What should we do next? Come on, Chief. We need to save the world!”

Blair quickly moved forward and latched onto Jim's upper arms. Staring into his partner's lightly sweating face, he sucked in a shocked breath. “Did you take something? Anything? What did you eat or drink?”

Vehemently shaking his head, Jim shouted, “No! Why? I'm not in the mood for twenty questions. Now get out of my way.” He put his hands against Blair's chest, and for a second, Blair thought Jim was actually going to shove him.

Blair scanned Jim's face intently. Trying to radiate calmness, he said carefully, “Jim, I need you to sit down.”

“Don't want to sit down. I want to... I need to do something!”

“Henri!” Blair called, his grip on Jim's arms tightening. “Do me a big favor? Get everybody out of the room for a few minutes, and then come back and give me a hand. I need to get Jim to the hospital. I think he's been drugged.”

“What?” Henri rose from his desk. “What's wrong?”

“I think he's having some sort of – allergic reaction. Please, Henri.”

Responding to Blair's request, Henri hurried over to the other people occupying desks and spoke to them in hushed tones. They all rose and left the room quietly. Once the room was clear, Henri came over.

“Did you see him eat or drink anything in the last little while?" Blair asked.

“He was having a snack in the break room while you went down to talk to Serena. I saw him eating pizza.”

“Do you know where it came from?”

“Not a clue. Do you think it was tampered with?”

Trying to pry Blair's fingers from around his arm, Jim twisted in his grasp. “Come on, Chief. I'm getting tired of this. I don't need you stopping me! Now let go!”

Henri asked, “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

“No. He's not thinking straight. He'll never go with the paramedics.”

“I could find Simon,” Henri said.

“If you could drive us to the hospital, I think that would be better.”

“Sure. Let me help you get him to the parking garage.”

“Thanks. Let's hurry.” Focusing on Jim, Blair said softly, “Please, calm down.”

“Don't want to calm down,” Jim groused. He tried to pull away. “Want to go outside and-.”

Before Blair could say or do anything else, Jim let out a strange sound, almost like a growl, and forced Blair to the floor. Blair fell backward with a thump and grunted when Jim landed on top of him.

Jim's hand covered Blair's mouth. “Shhh. We don't want them to find us.” When Blair mumbled from behind Jim's fingers, Jim hissed, “Quiet!”

“Jim? Hey, Jim. Come on. Let me help you up. You're hurting Blair.”

“No! Get down! They're coming!” Jim shouted.

"Jim, buddy, listen to me. It's just Rhonda and Rafe. You know them. Why don't I tell them to go away? See, they're leaving.”

Blair wiggled, struggling to push Jim's hand away. He watched, helpless, when Jim called out, "Quick! Lock the door!"

Henri put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Listen to me, Jimbo. We have to go to the hospital. Blair's... Blair's sick.”

“He is?” Jim asked, looking suddenly confused. He looked down at Blair, who nodded.

“Yeah. He has a stomach ache. Might be appendicitis. Do you think we can get him to the hospital? I'll drive, and you can sit in the back with him? How does that sound?”

“Blair, are you sick?” Jim demanded. “Why didn't you tell me? I'll take care of you. I'll always take care of you.” His hand slid from Blair's mouth, and he rose. “Are you sick?” he repeated.

Blair huffed out a quick breath. “Yeah, I'm feeling kind of – bad. Can you help me up?” Blair took the hand that Jim held out, and he was pulled quickly to his feet. Before he could take another breath, Jim's strong hands turned him and his arm quickly wrapped around Blair's waist, pressing his back firmly against Jim's chest.

When Henri took a step toward Jim, Jim shouted, “Stay away! He's sick!”

Henri took another step forward, smiling and nodding. “Yes, I know. We need to get him to the hospital. Why don't you help me get him to my car and you can go with him? That will work, won't it, Jim?”

“I'll take care of him!” Jim repeated.

Blair wrapped his hands around Jim's arm. “Jim, man, I think I'm going to be sick. Do you think you could help me get to Henri's car?”

“I'll carry you,” Jim said.

Before Blair could protest, Jim scooped Blair from the floor and strode over to the elevator. The doors slid open, and Simon Banks walked out.

“What the hell is going on?” Banks demanded.

“Blair's sick! Get out of the way!” Jim ordered.

Simon's eyes widened. “Excuse me?”

Blair held up a hand. “Captain, please. Jim's been dosed with something. Henri's driving us to the hospital. Could you get whatever food is left in the break room and have it tested for drugs? He's flying, and there's no telling when he'll crash. You know that Jim's not very good when he's been drugged.”

Simon gave Blair a knowing look. “Why didn't you call 911?” he demanded.

Jim growled at the harsh tone. “Don't yell at Blair! He's sick!”

Simon held up both hands. “Okay. Okay. Just calm down.” Glancing over Jim's shoulder, he then nodded to Henri. “Go. And call me as soon as you know what the hell's going on.”

“Yes, sir,” Henri said. “Could you ah, clear the way for us? I don't want any other distractions before we get to my car. And alert the ER at Cascade Memorial of the situation, sir.”

“Right.” Shaking his head, Simon hurried away.

Henri latched onto Jim's arm. “Come on, Jim. Let's get Blair fixed up.” He propelled both men into the elevator, across the parking garage and into the back seat of his car without any further encounters. Blair heard Henri's sigh of relief when he turned on the visor lights and siren before pulling out into the early morning traffic.

----------------------------------------------

With his cell phone set to vibrate, the gentle movement woke Blair with a small start. In a whisper, he answered, “Sandburg.”

“Hey, Sandburg. How is he?”

“Oh, hi, Simon. Better than last time you called. He's sleeping, finally. It took hours for the crap to get through his system. The doctors pumped him full of fluids. With his reactions to drugs, they didn't dare even consider anything to counteract whatever the hell it was. When he's awake, we'll be out of here.”

“Want to compare blood tests?”

“Amphetamine sulphate?”

“Bingo.”

Blair let out a wry chuckle. “Don't tell me. On the pizza, right?”

“Right.”

“Shades of Golden. Man, this is just too damned freaky.”

“No shit. You think this is another copycat? You're the one who was dosed with Golden from the pizza that time.”

“Yeah, but think about it. That pizza wasn't specifically intended for me that time. Those idiots didn't care who ate it. Same this time. Whoever did this, dropped that pizza in the break room and didn't care who took a piece. This time, it just happened to be Jim.”

“Yes, you're right. Good thinking, Sandburg.”

“Thanks, Captain. I'm just glad the dosage on the pizza was minimal, but with Jim... Well, you know how he is with drugs and his senses.”

“I know. Trust me. You sound tired.”

“I'll be okay. I'll be even better when we finally get home to our own-” Blair clamped his mouth closed. He'd almost said, “bed”. While Simon knew about their very private relationship, they made every effort not to push it into his face. He was definitely in the 'don't ask, don't tell' realm of things.

“It's okay, Sandburg. Take care of that big lug. I kind of like him.”

“Will do, Simon. Talk to you later.”

“I don't want to see or hear from either of you for forty-eight hours. You both deserve some down time.”

“Thanks. You'll get no argument from me.” Blair heard Simon's quiet chuckle as he disconnected, and he smiled himself. After reassuring himself that his lover was still asleep, Blair stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed his arms across his chest. With a tired sigh, his eyes closed and he grabbed a few z's.

----------------------------------------------

The gods of reason must have been smiling on Jim and Blair because they actually did manage to get their forty-eight hours of R and R before the telephone rang yet again.

After seeing Simon's private number on the caller ID, Jim answered with a resigned, “Ellison.”

“It's Simon. You doing better?”

“Yes, sir. Thanks.”

“Can you handle a call?”

Jim hesitated barely a second before he said, “Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

With a roll of his eyes, Jim chuckled. “What's up?”

“I don't even like to say this, but we have another one.”

“Great. Where do you want us?”

“Thanks, Jim. I don't know what I'd do without you.”

With the string of copycats very fresh in Jim's mind, echoes of Dawson Quinn rang in his head. All you need is a cape, Ellison. “And Sandburg,” Jim reminded his captain.

“Of course. Goes without saying. I need you both to head on over to Rainier University. See the chief of security.”

“Oh, God. Okay, Simon,” Jim said. “I guess it's time to get back to work.”

------------------------------------------

“This is getting old. Really old, really fast.” Blair crouched down beside the latest “victim”. The male mannequin was dressed in workmen's clothes. Its “skin” was covered with what was made to look like spider bites. Blair looked around, expecting to see Alec Summers hovering in the background, wearing his helmet and his roller blades. “Jim, man, do you sense anything?”

“I'm 'incensed', Chief,” Jim said wryly. “Trust me on that. Other than that, no. I smell fiberglass. The bites are some sort of plastic and latex. There's paint. Nothing unusual.”

“Okay. Don't strain yourself. You're still not a hundred percent from your little drug trip.”

“I'm good. I just feel a bit tired.”

“Are you finished here?”

“Yeah. Let's go home.”

Blair rose and absentmindedly brushed his hands together. “I'll drive. You do look beat.”

Jim gave his partner a lopsided smile. “Thanks, Chief. You're a real pal.”

Blair shrugged. “You want to hear more about my profile?” he asked as they walked toward Jim's truck.

“Sure. Shoot.” Jim moved closer to his lover and allowed their shoulders to brush. At the light touch, he let out a small sigh.

Blair saw the tired look on Jim's face. “Hey, it'll keep. Let's drive over to Manny's Deli and get some homemade soup. You need a hot meal.”

“Okay."

Seeing the fatigue edged around Jim's eyes, Blair buried the excitement about his amateur profiling endeavors and concentrated on his partner.

---------------------------------------------

“So, tell me,” Jim said. “What's your take?” Rubbing a dry towel on his wet hair, he grinned at his lover, who was already snuggled down in their warm bed. “Give me the lowdown.”

Pushing his glasses up his nose, Blair smiled. “Well, I'm just guessing here. I tried to put myself into the perp's mind. You know, like the pros do. Man, I saw the best show on profilers on BBC America a few months ago. It was damned creepy the way this guy got into the serial killer's mind. He was great!”

Jim crawled into bed beside Blair. “Which show was that? I don't remember seeing it.”

“You weren't home when I watched it. It was called Wire in the Blood. Very dramatic. Anyway, I thought about it, and this is what I came up with. The perp is a man, young. That's not hard to imagine because most crimes are committed by guys, anyway.” Blair shrugged at Jim's raised eyebrow. “It's true. The stats prove it. He's very well organized, obviously. Each scene was well-planned in advance, and he's researched thoroughly. They were well-executed, and he was extremely careful about not leaving any clues behind.” Looking down the page, Blair chewed his lower lip. “Okay. He's somebody with enough time and money to do the research. Maybe a trust-fund baby. The guy's very smart, and his attention to detail is astounding.”

“But what's the motive, Chief?”

“I'm working on that. They're not crimes of passion. These are more for getting attention, I think. I'd go so far as to say whoever it is wants to impress me.”

“Why you? Why not me?”

“Just a hunch. I think somebody's trying to send me a message.” Running a hand through his still-damp hair, he added, “I'm just guessing here.”

“Don't forget the access. He has to have been able to get into the files at the PD. How else would he know about so many of the details of each crime?"

“True,” Blair conceded. “He must have computer hacking skills.” Blair made a few more notes before he added, “But he's not out to hurt anybody.”

“He's a criminal. Don't forget that.”

Blair nodded slowly. “Yeah, I know, but... I don't think he's out to commit crimes. Does that make sense?”

Jim yawned. “No. A criminal is a criminal.”

“Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.”

Jim punched his pillow and lay down. “Don't start feeling compassionate for the jerk. He's going down.”

Blair pulled off his glasses and put them on the nightstand, along with his pen and pad of paper. “I know he's going down, it's just that I don't think he's your usual run of the mill perp.” Turning out the light, he added, “I know I'm missing something.”

“Yeah, about ten hours sleep.”

Blair chuckled. “Night.”

Jim placed a kiss on Blair's forehead. “Night, Chief.”

----------------------------------------------

Jim and Blair didn't bother taking off their coats when they reported in the next afternoon. Instead, they walked directly into Simon Bank's office.

“Where's today's ah, dead body, Simon?” Jim asked, unable to keep the exasperation from his tone.

“At the Cascade Sports Arena,” Simon answered, his voice just as exasperated.

Blair rolled his eyes. “Don't tell me. A mannequin. A black male mannequin.”

“In the men's shower?” Jim guessed. “Do you want us to check it out?”

“Of course! I want you two to check it out and to figure this out! I'm tired of wasting my officers' time on this – mess! I want the damned perp caught, and I want him caught today!”

“Captain, Jim and I are doing the best we can.”

Simon groaned, rubbing at his forehead. "Sorry. Yeah, I know. It's just--”

“--frustrating?” Jim offered. “Exasperating? Irritating?”

Simon glared again. “Out!”

Blair tugged on Jim's shirt. “Come on, man. I need a cup of coffee before we do this yet again.”

And yet again, this copycat was as frustrating as the others. No clues; no leads; and no progress toward finding the perp. Thankfully, things were quiet for a full twenty-four hours before the copycat criminal struck again.

---------------------------------------------

Standing a few feet away from the latest "victim" Blair shivered, chewing on his lower lip. He wasn't really cold, he realized, just freaked out to be back in the same parking lot where they had found Warren Chapel's first victim. Even the thought of the criminal still gave him the creeps. With a resigned shake of his head, he looked toward his partner. Blair saw Jim's sudden reaction: his head turned, tilted slightly, and he stood very still. He put a firm hand on Jim's arm and asked, “What is it?”

“I smell something...” Walking in a circle, Jim sniffed lightly. “I know that scent, it's just...” Shaking his head, Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can't place it.”

“Hey, man. Relax. Let it happen. You know you can't force it.” Blair looked around the parking lot. “Let's walk it in a grid. Focus on the smell and store it for recall later. Right now, just catalogue it. We'll try connecting the smell to its source later.”

“Right.” Jim walked around the “victim”, a white male store dummy dressed in an expensive Italian business suit, complete with tasseled loafers. He hunkered down next to the body and touched the mannequin's throat with two fingertips. Pulling them to his face, he sniffed lightly. “He crushed the windpipe before putting a single slug into the chest.”

“Did you sort out the smell?”

“Not yet.” Jim rose and scanned the area. “Something's different.” Rolling the body over, Jim read the headlines on the newspaper under the mannequin. DA Blows Case – Mob Boss Walks.

“What?” Blair's hand touched Jim's upper arm. “Focus. What's different.”

“Somebody's watching.”

“Can you tell where they are?”

Jim circled the body and stood, gaze flicking right, then left. His concentration was broken when the cell phone in his jacket started to ring. “Damn. It's gone.” Yanking the phone out, Jim hit the 'on' button.

“Ellison... Right away, sir.” Snapping the phone closed, Jim grimaced.

“What?”

“Let's go, Chief.” Jim strode off, his long legs taking him quickly toward his vehicle.

“Jim, man. Slow down.”

Jim turned and with a hand on his partner's shoulder, he said, “Listen. I want you to catch a ride back to the precinct with one of the black and whites.”

“No way! I'm your partner. When are you going to stop telling me to stay in the truck?” Blair crossed his arms and looked as defiant as possible.

Jim looked away before he turned back. “It's your decision, but I don't think you need to do this.”

“Do what?”

Jim shrugged and yanked open the door to the truck. Climbing in, he cranked the engine and barely waited until Blair was seated before he peeled out. His mouth was set in a thin line, and he was silent on the trip across town. When he pulled the truck to the side of a deserted road behind a black and white, he turned off the ignition and crossed his arms.

“Oh, man,” Blair whispered, looking around. “Please tell me this isn't where... God, I don't know if I can do this.”

“I told you to go back to the station.”

Blair swallowed hard and after taking in a deep breath, he slowly released it before he turned in his seat. “Listen. I'm in this for the long haul. The good, the bad... and the terrible.” Glancing around, he said, “This is where we found Roy.”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For trying to protect me.”

“It's what I'm supposed to do.”

Blair gave Jim a very small smile. “I love you, too.”

Jim gave Blair a sympathetic, loving glance. “I know,” he said.

-----------------------------------------------------

Simon poured fresh, hot coffee into three cups. Swiveling in his chair, he passed two of the cups over the desk to Jim and Blair. After grabbing his own cup, he settled back.

“So what do we have?” Simon asked.

Jim flipped open the folder in front of him. “The last crime scene involved a black male store mannequin, well dressed, found in a culvert on Route 25, about a mile from the I6 interchange. He had a blow to the head, and forensics found fragments of ivory embedded in the fiberglass.”

“Isn't that where you found Sweet Roy?” Simon asked sympathetically.

“Right, sir.”

“Sorry, Sandburg.”

“It's okay, Simon. I know we have to revisit the case. I'll be all right.”

Simon nodded. “Good man. So how many does this make?”

“Ten so far.” Jim sipped his coffee. “New blend?”

“Daryl brought it back from Costa Rica. Like it?”

“Very nice, sir. Rich and full bodied.” Jim glanced sideways at Blair. Seeing that his partner was ready to continue, he went on with his explanations. “Anyway, Blair thinks the perp is going for an even dozen.”

Simon raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Why's that?”

“It's a ritual, Simon. Almost like a serial killer. I think he's doing a twelve step program. When he reaches twelve, his goals will be accomplished.”

“And we'll all be nuts,” Jim muttered.

Simon gave Jim an irritated look and asked, “What are the goals?”

“Well, for one, he's trying to impress me. He definitely wants my attention.”

“Jim, is that your take also?”

Jim smiled. “I'm giving this one to Blair. He's the best person to figure this out. He's the closest thing to a profiler we have in the department, and I trust his judgment. If he says the guy wants his attention, then I buy it.”

Simon nodded. “Okay. What else, Sandburg?”

Blair's eyes widened. “You – believe me?”

Simon shrugged. “Yeah. If Jim says you're the best we've got, then I trust him.”

Blushing, Blair muttered, “Gee, thanks. That means a lot to me.”

“Sandburg, what else?” Simon groused with good nature.

Blair grinned. Opening his notebook, he said, “I think he's young, well educated and smart. He's very meticulous in executing these situations, but I don't think that's his usual MO. I'll bet his apartment is just like anybody else's: dishes in the sink, dirty clothes on the bedroom floor-”

“Maybe just like your place, Chief,” Jim interrupted. “Not mine.”

Chuckling, Blair shook his head and continued. “He's just being – careful for me. He wants me to prove myself; to give me a boost from the mess of – last year.” Blair shifted uneasily, still uncomfortable about discussing the dissertation mess. “I just wish I knew what I was supposed to do with the information. I know I'm missing something.”

“Maybe a rejected lover? Some sort of crush? Somebody from when you were at Rainier?” Simon asked. “Anybody who wanted to jump your bones and you brushed off?”

“I'm not sure, sir. I didn't date many guys when I was in school, and I'm sure this is a man.”

Jim hid his smile by taking a sip of coffee while Simon sputtered into his cup.

“You didn't date many guys? Am I to understand that you dated “some” guys, Sandburg?” Simon asked.

“Yes, sir. Occasionally. It wasn't until Jim that I was really serious about any guy in particular.”

Simon held up a hand. “Way too much information.”

Blair smiled, shrugging. “You asked.”

Simon rolled his eyes. “That I did. So, I take it we're not any closer to catching this – criminal?”

“The perp's intent isn't malicious, sir,” Blair mused.

“I don't care! He's wasting this department's valuable time and money! I want him caught and prosecuted!”

“Yes, sir,” Blair said. "So do I."

Jim rose. “We're on it, sir..”

“Good. Now get back to work so we can get some real police work done around here.”

“Thanks for the coffee, Captain.”

“Yeah, thanks, Captain.”

Simon gave his men a quick smile. “You're welcome. Now get to work.”

---------------------------------------------

A light sheen of sweat covered Jim's face, neck and chest. An errant drop trickled down the side of his face where a warm tongue lapped at the escaping moisture.

“God, Chief. You're going to kill me,” Jim murmured. He lay limply, sated from his lover's enthusiastic lovemaking. “But what a way to go.”

Blair chuckled softly, once again kissing Jim's reddened lips. His fingers lightly brushed the firm chest and hard stomach muscles, and he chuckled again when the skin twitched under his teasing touch.

“Anything else you need?” Blair asked invitingly.

Jim grinned foolishly. “Just you close to me. Love when you're next to me. Touching me. Loving me.”

Blair smiled. He adored a satisfied Jim Ellison. It was when Jim's defenses were down, and he let his loving and tender nature surface. It was when Jim whispered words of commitment, adoration and most importantly, desires.

“I love you.” Blair's lips kissed Jim's forehead and the bridge of his nose before he again explored his lover's mouth. After many minutes of light, teasing kisses, he pulled away and smiled, his hand cupping Jim's cheek. “You are so beautiful. I love making you come.”

Jim blushed under Blair's attentions. “You too, Chief.” Jim's hand reached up and he ran his fingers through the silky curls. “You're special. You know that, don't you? I don't know what I'd do without you.”

Blair smiled. “And you're...” His nose wrinkled. “... sweaty.” Laughing, Blair sloppily and noisily kissed Jim again before he asked, “You want to shower?”

Jim nodded. “And I'm starving!”

Blair rose and tugged Jim to his feet. Wrapping his arms around his lover's strong body, he leaned against Jim's chest and tucked his head under his chin. When Jim's arms circled his shoulders, he whispered, “I feel safe with you.”

They hugged for a long moment before Blair pulled away and smiled. “Let's order in. We can shower and have some chow. Then we can come back to bed.” Blair waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Jim laughed and patted his lover's ass. “That's what I like about you. You are a creature of your physical desires.”

When Blair's hand cupped Jim's balls, Jim's mouth fell open and he let out a small “oh!” Blair laughed. “Speaking of physical desires...”

“Screw the shower,” Jim growled, yanking Blair back onto the bed.

Laughing deeply, Blair said, “Besides, I have something very – filling that I think you'd like to have in your mouth.”

Grinning, Jim proceeded to eat his fill.

----------------------------------------------

Joel stopped in front of Jim's desk. “Morning, Jim.”

“Morning, Joel. What's up?”

“I took this call about six hours ago. I figured you and Blair had enough of this so I hope you don't mind. I was just trying to help. Besides, I worked on the original case with you so...” Joel said. .

“Hey, it's okay. Thanks. I appreciate the help.”

Joel smiled. “Good. You want me to run it down for you?”

“Yeah, that'd be good. Thanks.”

“The call came in about 12:45 am. You remember that house out on Long Point Road where Dennis Chung was murdered?”

Jim groaned. “Don't tell me.”

“Sorry, Jim,” Joel said.

“It's not your fault, Joel. Go ahead.” Jim leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.

“When I arrived, I observed a male department store mannequin with Oriental features lying on the hallway floor with a bullet hole in its body. It was the same MO as when Ventriss and his girlfriend killed Chung. It was damned strange how much it looked like the original crime scene, right down to the hole in the window.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Thanks, Joel. I appreciate your help.”

Joel nodded. “Sure. Anything to help you out.” He turned to leave, but paused and asked, “You any closer to figuring this out?”

“I'm not sure.” At Joel's raised eyebrow, Jim said, “I've had a few clues. Blair's got a profile going. We just need to tie it all together.”

“If you need anything else, you just let me know.” Joel grinned. “You know I'd do anything for you and for Blair, too.”

Jim put a hand on Joel's shoulder. “I know. Thank you.”

Joel grinned before he nodded to Jim and went to his desk.

Jim sat down and thought about the string of copycats once more. He remembered the smell he'd detected the other day. Sitting back in his chair, he closed his eyes and retrieved the scent from his memory. He let his mind float along. The fragrance seemed to have a life of its own. It manifested itself as a misty haze and crept along in his mind's eye like fingers on a ghostly hand. His vision wavered and then cleared. He saw himself trotting up the steps of Rainier University's Anthropology Building. Pulling the left side of the double doors open, his vision self walked quickly down the hall and up the stairs to the second floor. At the door to Blair's office, he saw himself reach out and turn the handle. Then the door seemed to swing open of its own volition and he saw-

“Hey, man. What's up?”

Jim started. He blinked at the sudden brightness of the bullpen's fluorescent lights and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, man,” he muttered. “That was weird.”

“What's going on?” Blair asked. “Are you okay? Look at me? Are you drugged?”

Jim shook his head. “No, I was – free associating. Like you taught me. I followed the scent from the other day.” He paused.

“And...?” Blair encouraged.

“I was in your office at Rainier. You were talking to somebody, a guy. Then you interrupted me, and I lost it.”

“Shit!” Blair clamped a hand over his mouth and looked around. “Sorry. I didn't realize. I'm an idiot.”

Jim smiled. “No, you're just being Sandburg.”

Blair glared. “And what does that mean?”

Jim grinned. “You're impulsive. Enthusiastic. Tenacious. Talkative. Smart.” Jim's voice dropped and he added, “And damned sexy.”

Blair smacked Jim's arm. “You are such a dick,” he whispered. When Jim shrugged and grinned, Blair had to return the infectious smile. “So, do you think you can retrieve the memory again?”

“Yeah, I think so. Let's go someplace a little less public.”

“One of the interrogation rooms?”

“Yeah. Room four is free.”

“Let's do it.”

----------------------------------------------

“Okay, Jim. Relax. Take a couple of deep breaths. In and out. In and out. Do what you did before, let your mind connect the scent to your memory...”

Jim floated along, the retrieved scent almost a physical smell. He was back at Rainier and saw Blair's office door at the end of the hall. He concentrated and listened to the voices from behind the closed door.

“-want me to check your research?”

“No, I don't want you to check my research.” Papers shuffled before a male voice -- Blair -- said, "All right. Check my research.”

The first voice chuckled deeply and soon the clicking sounds of a keyboard filled Jim's ears.

Jim watched as the office door opened and Blair walked through. Focusing his vision on the person sitting at Blair's desk, Jim saw a familiar face. He moved closer, and the scent grew stronger. It wasn't coming from Blair, but emanated from Blair's companion. It was the same fragrance that he'd smelled on this same visitor three years ago. Back when Blair was trying to mentor the kid. It couldn't put a name to the scent, deodorant mixed with the guy's personal body markers, but it didn't matter. The mixture was unmistakable. To a working Sentinel, no two people smelled alike, even when they wore the same cologne, aftershave or any other product.

He knew who it was.

With a small start, Jim blinked and looked into his partner's concerned blue eyes.

“Hey, man. You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Did it work?” Blair asked.

“Yeah.”

“So spill it.”

“You're not going to like this.”

Blair's face paled. “Why? What's wrong? Who is it? You know, don't you? Tell me.”

Jim's lips tightened into a thin white line. He swallowed hard before he ground out, “Alec Summers.”

Blair rose. “No. It can't be! Why? He's not a mean or vindictive person. When he left Cascade, he was on the right track.”

Jim rose. With a hand on Blair's shoulder, he said, “Please, Chief. I'm sorry. I connected the scent from the scene with Alec.”

Blair's shoulders slumped. “I believe you, Jim. You know I trust your Sentinel abilities. It's just that...” He let out a defeated sigh.

“Look at me. I know you're disappointed, but we'll figure this out together. Okay?”

“Sure,” Blair said dejectedly. “I'm just really irritated, that's all. It was a rotten thing to do to us.”

“I know. Come on. Let's see if we can find the kid.”

After retrieving their jackets from the coat rack in the bullpen, the men made their way to Jim's truck. Blair walked sedately beside his partner. Jim couldn't help but keep an eye on his partner. He knew that Blair valued loyalty as much as he did, and that he was hurting now that they'd discovered who was behind the copycat crimes.

“You hungry?” Jim asked.

“Nah.”

“It's been a long time since lunch.”

“I'm not hungry. Okay?”

“Sure, Chief.”

Blair stopped and put a hand on Jim's arm. “I'm sorry.”

“No worries,” Jim quipped in his best Australian accent, making Blair roll his eyes and give a small smile. “I have an idea.”

“Oh?”

“The last copycat was the case with Ventriss, right?”

“Yeah. So?” Blair answered, climbing into Jim's truck.

“So I think the next copycat would be a case that we were involved with before the dissertation was released to the media.”

“Why's that?”

Jim turned the ignition. “Seat belt.” He waited until Blair buckled up before he pulled out of the parking space. “You said the perp – Alec wanted to impress you. Wanted to help you for some reason. I think that he's sending you a message that you're not being used to your full potential.”

“I don't know...”

“Hear me out here, Chief.”

“Okay, man. Go ahead.”

“It's been a while since the dissertation mess, and you're still riding along. I know you've said you want to go to the Academy, but only you and I have discussed it, so not even Simon knows about the final decision. I think Alec is giving you a push. He's showing you that you're wasting your talents tailing me and waiting in the truck. He's almost – affirming the notion that you should become a cop. With all the bells and whistles.” Jim fell silent and waited.

Blair chewed on his lower lip for a long moment before he said, “You're damned smart, Ellison.”

Jim felt a wash of relief. “You buy it?”

“Hook, line and sinker, man. I think you're right on.”

“Really?”

“You're a hell of a profiler.”

“It's because you're my partner. We're a team.”

“So now what?”

“What else happened during those last few months?”

Blair shrugged. “Alex Carter.”

Jim nodded. “Veronica.”

“Vince Deal?”

“Harry Conkle.”

Jim stopped at a red light. Blair looked over at Jim the same time Jim looked at Blair, and together they said, “Molly Charles!”

Jim nodded enthusiastically while Blair bounced in his seat.

“The apartment building was over on Lincoln and First.”

“I drove by it two weeks ago, and it was still boarded up.”

“That's a perfect copycat. Peter Willis was killed with a single knife wound to the chest. That's pretty easy to reenact.”

“Right.” Jim hit the visor lights and siren until they were two blocks away before he slowed down and turned off the signals. “If he's setting up, we don't want to tip him off.”

Blair nodded, hands clenched.

“It will be okay.”

“Whatever,” Blair muttered.

Jim's jaw twitched. He was angry at the person responsible for Blair's unhappiness and determined to solve this for once and for all so that they could get back to real police work. Pulling to the curb about a half a block away from the vacant building, Jim killed the engine and headlights. Cocking his head, he focused in on the empty structure.

“Anything?” Blair asked.

Jim held up a hand and listened for a few more seconds before he pulled his hearing back in and nodded. “Yeah. I hear somebody moving around. I smell paint.”

“Let's go and get this over with.” Blair started to open the door.

“You want to wait in the truck?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

Blair met Jim in the front of the truck and gave Jim a knowing glance.

“What?” Jim asked.

“You're not going to try to talk me out of going with you?”

“No. No more staying in the truck. From now on, you're beside me.”

Blair smiled. “That's the way it should be.”

“You're right. And we should have done it a long time ago.”

“Partner.” Blair tapped Jim's arm with his fist.

Jim smiled, returning the playful punch. "Partner.”

----------------------------------------------

“Hold it! Police!” Jim called out, leveling his pistol at the crouching figure in the dark hallway.

The figure looked up. His head was hidden behind a ski mask so that only the eyes, nose and mouth were exposed. His body was covered with a workman's coverall and zipped to the neck. His hands were encased in surgical gloves and his shoes were enclosed in surgical booties. He was hunkered down over a department store mannequin, and a large can of paint and a bag from the local Wal-Mart sat on the floor beside the mannequin's head.

Even from his position, Blair recognized the blue eyes. He saw them widen with surprise.

The man threw up his hands. “Whoa! Don't shoot!”

Jim walked toward the man, gun aimed directly at him. “You're under arrest. Move away from the – body.”

When the man slowly rose and stepped over the mannequin, Blair moved up beside Jim.

“It's about damned time,” the guy said.

“Take off the hood. Very slowly,” Jim ordered.

Following orders, the man complied.

“Jim, please,” Blair said, touching Jim's gun arm lightly. “Put it away.” He took a step toward the perp. “Damn it, Alec,” he growled, taking in the familiar face, albeit three years older. He sighed, shaking his head. “It's about time? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he demanded, unable to keep the anger and disappointment from his voice. “What do you think you're doing?” He pointed to the mannequin lying behind Alec, with a knife sticking out of its stomach.

“Checking your research,” Alec said. “As usual,” he added smartly.

“What?” Blair said tensely, being sure to stay out of Jim's line of fire.

“At the rate you were going, you'd have followed around this schmuck for another ten years. I'm just fixing things.”

When Jim finally lowered his weapon, Blair walked closer to Alec. “You aren't making any sense.”

“Think about it. You wasted three years following Ellison around when you could have been doing great things. Expeditions. Publications. Seminars. Even teaching. Then when your dissertation gets blown out of the water, I figured you'd finally wise up and move on.”

Blair clenched his fists. “That's none of your business!”

Alec gave a contemptuous laugh. “Then you waste another what? Two years, shadowing Ellison? Since I didn't have anything else important to do, I decided to fix your sorry life. It worked, didn't it? You finally made a decision, didn't you?”

Blair took a step forward and glared. “What are you talking about?”

“You're going to the Academy. I'll bet a grand on it. Hell, it's about time.” Alec spread his hands, grinning. “I helped you along, that's all. Nobody was hurt.”

Jim said angrily, “You wasted my time, the department's time, and Blair's time. You sent us on a wild goose chase for absolutely no reason, other than you're an immature asshole.”

Rolling his eyes, Alec said sarcastically, “What do you see in this Neanderthal, Blair? There are lots of smart, good looking guys you could have had. Why'd you settle?”

“I didn't settle for anything!” Blair said. “You know you put Jim in the hospital? You could have really hurt somebody. And another thing. Jim's the best thing that ever happened to me!”

Alec started to laugh, making Blair glare even harder. “It's about time you finally realized that!”

“Again, you're not making any sense,” Jim said.

“Think about it, cop man. You and Blair are together, and it's all thanks to me.”

“Thanks to you?” Jim said tensely. “You're fucking insane.”

“Yeah, that's true. I'm on killer anti-depressants, so I can't argue with your diagnosis.”

Blair carefully examined Alec's face. He looked older than his years and his eyes were bloodshot. He was thinner than he'd been and looked plain miserable, now that Blair took a moment to notice. “What's wrong?”

Alec shrugged. “Nothing much. My folks got axed in a car wreck. No big deal.”

Blair's mouth fell open before he slowly closed it and put out a hand. “God, Alec. I'm so sorry.”

“Yeah, well. Such is life,” Alec said, shrugging again as if it didn't matter.

Blair didn't buy the uncaring attitude for one second. "Why didn't you call me?”

Alec's gaze met Blair's. “You were busy.”

“You know I'd have been happy to talk with you, man. You know it. I could have helped. You could have come and stayed with us.”

Alec gave a snicker. “Whatever.” They looked at each other for a moment before Alex said, “I know you would have helped.”

Jim pulled his cuffs from his back pocket. “I'm going to have to arrest you, Summers.”

Alec smiled and held out his hands. “Yeah, I know that too. Remember? I'm a genius.”

With a shake of his head, Jim holstered his weapon and snapped the cuffs around Alec's thin wrists. “You have the right to remain silent...”

“Save it. I'm confessing to my crime spree.”

“You're not taking this very seriously,” Jim said harshly.

Alec smiled. “My mission was successful. I'm sacrificing for my convictions.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Let's go.” He tugged on Alec's sleeve and headed out with Blair following. Jim cast his silent partner a worried glance. He knew that when Blair was quiet, it meant he was angry or upset, or both. Not that he blamed him. Blair spent a good bit of time with Alec before he'd left school to return home and to try to be a normal teenager. He knew how deeply hurt Blair was by this betrayal. Jim should see the pain etched on his partner's face. He was fuming at Alec when they reached his truck and he pushed Alec into the cab of the truck. As Blair stood and watched, Jim turned to him, leaned down and said quietly, “I'm here for you, Chief.”

Blair nodded, giving Jim a solemn look. “Thanks.”

“Let's get him processed.”

“Do you think... Would you mind if I just called a taxi and went home? I'm not feeling all that great.”

“No, Chief. In fact, that's a good idea. You look tired. I'll drop him off at the station and let the duty officer process him. I'll be home as quick as I can."

“Okay.”

Jim called for the taxi and once Blair was on his way, he silently drove Alec to the station. Ignoring Alec's attempts to chat on the drive, Jim handed him over to the duty officer after explaining the charges. Then he went home to comfort his hurting partner.

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Four weeks later---

Jim Ellison grinned as he entered the loft and saw his partner leaning against the kitchen counter with a huge smile on his face.

Jim's gaze met Blair's. “What?”

Blair walked up to Jim and removed the take-out bag stuffed with Chinese food from Jim's hands. He carefully placed the sack on the kitchen counter before turning back to his lover.

“You are awesome!” Blair said enthusiastically and flung his arms around Jim's waist.

Laughing, Jim returned the hug. “Thanks. I think. What's going on? It's not the Chinese, is it? I told you I'd bring home dinner.”

Blair laughed deeply. Gazing up into warm blue eyes, he wrapped a hand behind Jim's head and brought their lips together. After a deep kiss, he pulled back and smiled.

“Thanks for talking to the DA about Alec.”

“No big deal,” Jim said.

“Yeah, right. It's a big deal to me. Thank you.”

“Sure, Chief. For you, anything. Besides, I figured the kid needed a break, what with his folks gone and all.”

“Jim, you're a big softie.”

Jim gave Blair a shocked look. “Who, me? Do not repeat that in public. My reputation will be shot to hell.” When Blair just continued to smile, Jim rolled his eyes. “Listen, Alec confessed and I believed him when he told me he was sorry; that he hadn't considered the consequences, only the “game” as he called it. And since we caught him, he's been doing everything the counselor said. His probation officer is a hard ass, but he's a fair man. If Alec toes the line, things will work out.”

“He will, man. He promised.”

“I know you two have talked quite a bit the last few weeks, and I think he needed a second chance. You told me that you felt he was contrite, and I trust your judgment. He still has five years probation and at least a year of mandatory counseling to deal with. So we'll see how it all turns out.”

“He's very grateful. He called to tell me so, and made me promise to pass on his thanks.”

“He already thanked me once, but message received. Alec should be damned thankful for a friend like you. Most people would have kicked him in the ass and dropped him as a friend after the shit he put you through.” Jim ruffled Blair's hair.

“Hey, I'm not the only one who ran around like a maniac trying to figure it all out. He put you through a load of crap also. And I think he's awfully glad you consider yourself his friend."

Jim kissed Blair's forehead. “Okay, then. How about some supper?”

“I could eat,” Blair said smartly.

Jim grinned. “Me, too.” Giving his lover a hungry look, he snagged Blair in a bear hug and lifted his feet from the floor, kissing him soundly. “Think I'll start with you as an appetizer.”

Laughing, Blair returned Jim's kiss enthusiastically. “I'm all yours. Dinner is served.”

The End

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Notes: Thanks for Ankaree and Lyn for their help. Title art by Ankaree. A special thanks to the Mongeese who still love the boys. Originally published in The Sensual World 4 by Mkashef Enterprises (http://www.asidozines.com/).