There was a quiet knock on the door. "Hey, Chief, you gonna sleep all day?"
"I'm up," Blair mumbled into the pillow. "I'm up." Reluctantly he rolled over and forced his legs to come out from under the warm blankets and search for the floor. "I'm up." He heard Jim chuckle softly and walk back down the hallway. Blair took several deep breaths, forcing his mind awake, then pushed off the bed and padded barefoot to the shower. Several minutes under a steaming hot spray finished clearing the fog from his head, and reminded his stomach that he hadn't eaten well in the last few days. When he got back to the bedroom, he found one of Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirts on top of his pile of clothes. He didn't hesitate, but pulled it on gratefully. Maybe after this, he'd learn to keep some clothes in his car as well, just in case. When he was dressed, he returned to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee, listening to Katie's laughter ring out from the floor above. Jim's voice joined hers while Blair scooped up some eggs and sat down. One cup of coffee, and half a plate of eggs filled his still-unimpressed stomach, so he gave up eating more and did the dishes, then cleaned up the counter and returned the kitchen to Katie's usual spotless style.
"Hey, look who's up." Jim came down the stairs, followed by Clive. They were both still smiling from some shared joke, and Blair detected a hint of Jim's infamous sideways grin.
"Good morning." Blair reached up with one hand and pushed his still damp hair out of his face. "Jim, what time do we get out of here?"
"Supply plane comes back around 2 P.M., same one that brought you out here," Clive said. "Leaves plenty of time for some fishing."
"Fishing?" Blair glanced from one man to the other.
"Yeah, fishing," Jim said. "Maybe if we bring a couple of salmon back, the Captain will be in a more forgiving mood."
Blair rolled his eyes. Oh God, he'd forgotten. Jim's reprimand had been mild, compared to what Simon was liable to dish out. And he deserved it. He deserved every bit of it, having run off like that. He was flattered to think Simon would muster out half the force to locate him, but now, Blair was going to have to apologize, and pray Simon's anger would diffuse quickly, for Jim's sake if not his own.
"You comin'?" Jim asked.
Blair shook his head, pursing his lips for emphasis. "Nope, not me, man. It's cold out there. Besides, sitting in a little boat, with the two of you, and nothing to do but wait...no thanks."
Jim laughed again, slapping Blair on the back as he passed by. "Your loss, Chief."
"Yeah, my loss." He shook his head and watched Clive and Jim gather up some gear, then walk happily out the door. Blair followed as far as the landing, watching them walk down the pier and load their gear and themselves into Clive's 14ft, aluminum fishing boat. As they started the engine, Blair looked out over the bay, gazing at the small array of fishing and pleasure boats visible in the channel. After watching Jim and Clive join them in the favored pattern, he turned and walked back inside. Katie was curled up on one of the couches, feet pulled up underneath her, a large hardbacked book in her lap. She looked up when he entered, and smiled.
"Can I get you anything?"
"No, Katie, thanks. I'm just gonna take a walk." He passed through the room and went out the side door.
Puffin Island was small, but beautiful. Surrounded by rocks, tall evergreens, and the most magnificent stretch of water there was. Blair inhaled deeply, letting the salt water fill his nose, willing it to penetrate his mind. Last night's sleep, coupled with his getting through Jim's anger relatively unscathed, was giving him a more hopeful outlook. Beverly would get a second trial underway as soon as she could. Of course, that probably meant Blair would be forced to take the stand again, but at least now he knew what to expect. And, he knew he could get through it. Thank God David Lash had died. Blair wasn't sure he could have taken the stand in that case, either. Telling people he knew about these incidents was hard, too hard. Telling a room full of strangers, jurors and judges, was one of the hardest things Blair had ever done. Even his own mother had no idea her only son had nearly been the 5th Cascade victim of a serial killer. Or that he had once been shot by an international hit man while undercover for Jim. And he certainly hadn't told her about the Golden incident. He knew Jim had tried to call her, when he feared for Blair's life in the hospital all those hours, but she was out of the country, and by the time Blair heard from her again via postcard, the entire episode was in the past.
But now...now he knew he could do it again, if he had to. Blair reached the far end of the island, even walking slowly and enjoying the view, in less than 15 minutes. He stopped and looked out over the water, squinting a little against the glare of sun off crystal blue water. Occasionally a pleasure boat passed close enough for its occupants to examine the private island, and wave to the lone man on the hill above them. Blair tried to pick out Clive and Jim in the distant group of circling fishermen, but they were too far offshore to easily identify. Jim's sweatshirt was a welcome addition against the chill coming off the waters, but Blair decided he'd had enough nature walking. It was time for more coffee.
Just as he turned to head back to the station, something hard slammed into his jaw, spinning him around and sending him crashing face down to the hard ground, dazed and unable to move for a second. One second seemed to be all his attacker needed. Before Blair could comprehend that he had just been slugged, rough hands grabbed his, wrenching them both behind him while a knee pressed into his back.
Oh God! Not again! Not here! Blair struggled for all he was worth, desperate not to fall victim again, but helpless against the wire that was being wrapped around both wrists and the full force of Lee Brackett's knee pressing hard into his upper back, pinning him to the ground.
"Miss me, Chief?"
The knee forcing itself into Blair's back increased its pressure, and he cried out from the pain.
Lee reached down after securing Blair's hands, and grabbed one handful of shirt, and another of hair, lifting Blair to his feet.
"Damn you!" Blair spat, pulling against the hands that held him. God, he'd been so stupid in running, he hadn't even considered that a man like Brackett could find anyone he wanted to. And Blair had led him straight here. Straight to---Oh God, Katie! "If you've hurt anyone..."
"You'll what?" Brackett asked. Blair struggled again, desperately trying to pull away, get farther away. Lee just tightened his grip on Blair's hair and pulled him close, wrapping his other hand around Blair's throat and tightening it. "You know, I'm surprised. I would have thought someone who guided a Sentinel like Jim Ellison would be a little smarter. I guess there aren't any qualifications for being a sidekick, huh?"
"Damn you!" Blair could barely speak, could barely breathe with the pressure on his throat.
"You've said that already, Chief." He released the hand holding Blair's neck and pulled a gun from his pants, placing it against Blair's now sore throat.
God, it wasn't enough to fall victim to this man more than once, but to have him use Jim's own phrasing to taunt him like this, was more than Blair could take. He couldn't go through this again. Never again. He'd rather die, right here, right now, than go through anything Lee Brackett might have in mind. But what the hell could he do? He had become a victim again, and he was once again helpless. Somewhere in the distance, Blair heard motors, sounds other than the boats. The supply plane? Was that how he was planning to get away? And what about Katie? What had he done to her? Shit, where was Jim?
"Let's go inside, it's cold out here." The hand that held a fistful of Blair's hair remained where it was. Lee used his body to push Blair forward, towards the building, and Katie.
Blair tried to fight, tried not to walk forward, but just like before, he was helpless against the stronger man. His head was being forced slightly upward by the hand holding his hair, so he stumbled over rocks and tree roots that he couldn't see. His heart was racing, as was his mind. There had to be a way---there had to be something he could do.
"It won't work this time." Blair said, trying to look down as they approached a tree so he wouldn't fall over the exposed roots.
The hand holding him suddenly released, grabbing his arm and spinning him around. Before Blair could react, he was slammed up hard against the tree and Brackett's arm was pressing into his throat with increasing pressure. "Oh? And what makes you say that?" Blair struggled to breathe against the pressure on his windpipe. "You didn't trust Ellison when he told you this was all over, did you, Sandburg?"
Blair could feel himself beginning to pass out, then the arm relaxed and he gasped in air. The hand returned to his hair, grabbing a handful and slamming his head back against the tree. Blair tried not to cry out, but suddenly there was a pain in his right side where Brackett's gun was pressing in.
"It was so easy last time, taking you down right outside Ellison's own home. Keeping you downstairs, right below him. Injecting you with my favorite relic of the cold war. Did you enjoy that? 'Cause I've got more."
Oh God...Oh God not again! He couldn't go through that nightmare again.
"What makes you think you and Ellison can win this time?" Brackett released Blair's hair and spun him around again, forcing him once more towards the building with a hand on the back of his head.
He couldn't let this happen---not again! The wire holding his wrists together was biting into the skin, and the hand clutching his hair was relentless in its hold, as was the force pushing him forward. The side door opened to the research station's middle level, but Lee pushed him around to the back, so that they would enter through the basement level sliding glass doors.
Brackett shoved Blair hard against the wall, pressing his face against the wood, then reached down with his gun hand and opened the door, pushing it wide enough to shove him through, and follow. "Let's go." He forced Blair towards the stairs. "Up."
Blair started up the stairs, his head spinning with fear and desperation. He had to stop him...he had to do something. Something. Before the staircase began its first turn, Blair did the only thing he could, he threw himself back, knocking both himself and Brackett down the steps to the floor. What he was going to do next, he didn't consider...and it didn't matter. Even as he rolled over, Brackett was up and grabbing for his shirt again.
"Not too smart, Chief."
Blair looked up just as the fist slammed into his gut, doubling him over in pain. Brackett pulled his head back up and punched him again...forcing all of the air from his lungs and leaving Blair coughing, unable to cry out. He waited for another strike, but it didn't come. There was blood in his mouth, but with the stabbing pain in his gut, Blair wasn't sure if the blood was from his split lip, or if he had coughed it up. The room was spinning...what he could see of it while doubled over and gasping. It was too fast. It was all happening too fast.
"Now, you ready to walk up the stairs, or do I leave you down here and find the woman myself?" Brackett pulled him back to his feet and shoved Blair once again onto the staircase.
Before Blair could open his mouth to shout, to warn Katie and get her out before this madman found her, Brackett's hand released his hair and clamped down over his mouth. "One word, and she dies."
Blair knew he meant it. Brackett wouldn't hesitate to kill. Even when he'd forced Jim to help him get on that covert base, instead of knocking out the gate-guard, as Jim had done, Brackett had been prepared to kill the innocent man. Being held close to his captor by the hand on his mouth made it difficult to walk up the circular staircase that led to the living level. Blair prayed Katie would hear them, and somehow sense danger. She had to. She had to have heard the struggle downstairs. They were nearly at the top now, and Blair strained to see the floor above, to try and catch sight of Katie, and warn her somehow. Brackett's gun was pressed hard into Blair's right side, and the hand that was over his mouth moved once again to the back of his head, taking a fistful of hair. They were at the top now, and no sign of Katie.
"Where is she? Huh?" Brackett pulled Blair to a stop a few feet from the stairwell, shoving the gun roughly into his side.
"Who?" Blair asked, praying to God Katie had realized what was happening and run outside, anywhere.
"Don't get smart with me, Chief," Brackett spat out. "Call her."
"Go to hell." He couldn't believe he was saying that, but he knew---he knew there was no way he was going to go through what Lee Brackett had done to him before...not again.
"Maybe I should finish you here, and take her with me instead. Would you like that?" Brackett released his hold and pushed Blair forward, spinning him around as he did so. When Blair was facing him, Lee reached out for his shirt and raised the gun to Blair's head. "Call her."
Blair said nothing. Brackett would kill him, he knew. Kill him, then go after Jim. But, if Blair could somehow stall for time...time for Jim to realize what was happening, and take Brackett out, maybe Katie would be safe. If he called her, would she be killed outright? And if he didn't, would Brackett kill him, and go looking for her? Oh God, he couldn't go through this again...Brackett had to kill him this time...he had to.
Lee shook his head, smiling in a menacing way. "You just don't know when to listen, do you, Chief?"
God, if he calls me Chief once more... "I'm not playing your games anymore," Blair said. "Jim should have killed you when he had the chance." He paused. "I should have killed you."
Brackett laughed shortly, and with no humor. "Ellison won't kill if there's another way, he's too moral for that. And you...you just haven't got what it takes." He put the gun back into his belt and reached into his shirt pocket, withdrawing a syringe. "But I do."
God, no! Blair's blood suddenly ran cold---ice cold. He wanted desperately to run, but he was frozen with fear, and couldn't take his eyes from the syringe Brackett was holding. All the fear, the pain, the helplessness came rushing back, and he was unable to stop what was about to happen. Jim...please.
"It won't work this time," Blair said, his voice shaking. He could feel his heart threatening to pound right out of his chest. Oh God, he couldn't take his eyes off that needle. "Jim's here. He'll finish it this time." Please, Jim, don't let this happen...not again!
A sudden noise from upstairs startled them both. Brackett looked up quickly, and Blair made his move. It was stupid, and fruitless considering the situation, but it was the only thing he could do, and his terror drove him to it. When Lee took his eyes off him, Blair lunged forward, slamming into Brackett and forcing them both to the floor. When they hit, Brackett's gun went off, sending a bullet to smash harmlessly into a kitchen cupboard. Blair desperately tried to roll over and get to his feet before his attacker, to get away from that needle, but with both hands wired together behind his back, his balance was thrown off. He made it as far as his knees before the fist slammed into his cheek, knocking him again to the floor, where he lay stunned and trying to catch his breath. Katie was upstairs. Brackett would kill her. There was no way off the upper level except for the stairs that led down to where they were now. Blair tried to force his legs up, tried to raise himself up, to do...something. If she was up there, she had the phone. He had just gotten his chest off the floor when he felt the hands on his back, pulling him up by the shirt. Blair's attempt to pull away was hampered by his dizziness from the blow, and Brackett had no trouble spinning him back around to face him.
"Nice try, Chief."
Damn him! Blair glared at Brackett, but before he could tell the man where he'd like to see him, a knee came up, slamming hard into his stomach and forcing every ounce of air violently from his lungs for the second time. Blair doubled over, and would have fallen had Brackett not still held him up. Oh God, get this over with!
an arm around Blair's throat and pulled him close again, presenting the syringe
he had retrieved from the floor. "I've got a new one to try out this time."
"Freeze!" Jim burst through the front door, gun already aimed midpoint between Lee's eyes. "Drop it." He never took his eyes off his target area. The sight of one man in a small power boat landing at the far side of the island had immediately set off each and every one of Jim's alarms. One quick focus on the lone figure climbing the rocks was more than enough to identify Lee Brackett. How he had gotten out of Cascade without several detectives and uniformed officers on his trail, he didn't know. And right now, that didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was stopping the man who seemed hell-bent on killing Blair.
"Not this time, Ellison." Brackett had dropped the syringe when he heard the door burst open, and drawn the gun, holding Blair as a shield between himself and Jim. "This time it ends, here and now."
Jim thought he'd have time. Time to find out what Brackett wanted to do, get him to taunt the two of them as he so dearly loved to do. Time to get a better shot, and take him out. But as Brackett finished his sentence, and cocked his gun, the trigger was already squeezing home. It was his nightmare all over again. He'd failed Blair, and the trial had fallen through the huge gaping holes known as the justice system. His partner had every right to hate him right now, hate him for failing to save him from this madman. And now he had no choice but to take a shot, and pray to God above his aim was true. Blair flinched the instant Brackett's gun cocked, and tried to push backwards, to knock the man off balance. At the same time, Jim took aim and fired, watching in gut-wrenching slow motion as the bullet flashed out of his gun, and slammed into---slammed into---who?
Both Blair and Lee fell to the floor. Neither one moved. Jim's heart stopped, he was sure of it. It was the nightmare. He had aimed at Lee, he knew it, he was sure. He saw the blood staining Blair's chest even as he ran to them both. Oh God---he'd done it--it was real!
"Blair!" He grabbed his partner, rolling him onto his back, off of Brackett. "Blair!"
"I'm okay." Blair tried to scramble to his feet, desperate to put distance between himself and Brackett.
Jim's relief nearly overwhelmed him as he realized it wasn't Blair's blood, but Brackett's, that had spread across his sweatshirt when the two of them fell together. He helped Blair to his feet and the younger man backed away, looking down at Brackett.
Jim turned and reached a hand out, feeling for a pulse he already knew wasn't there. He shook his head, then stood and walked to Blair. "He's dead, Chief." The Coast Guard boat Jim had seen approaching from the distance was landing at the dock in front of the center. He glanced up the stairs where Clive was now rushing to check on his wife. When he returned his gaze to Blair, he had to reach out quickly to steady the younger man. "Easy, easy, Chief. Are you hurt?" Quickly Jim examined Blair again, scanning his eyes for any sign of a serious injury.
Blair was shaking his head. "No, I'm okay. I just can't---Jim, are you sure?"
He was nearly in shock with relief. Jim took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "He's dead, Blair. He's dead. It's over." Numbly, Blair seemed to accept that, but he still couldn't take his eyes off Brackett's lifeless body, as if fearing it would suddenly re-animate. He was shaking uncontrollably. "It's okay, Blair, it's over." Jim pulled him close, holding his partner for a full minute, as much to reassure himself that his friend was alive as to ease Blair's fear that Brackett wasn't dead. He stood still, leaning into Jim, pressing his face into the larger man's shoulder, but unable to return the gesture with his hands still secured behind his back. Jim held him until the worst of the shaking subsided, and he could hear Simon coming up the landing. He released Blair and looked down at him. "Turn around." Jim could have walked around his friend to remove the crude restraints binding his wrists, but he knew if he could get Blair's eyes off his now dead tormentor, more the better.
Voices could be heard now, coming up the pier and the steps that led to the landing. Jim had recognized Simon's voice even before the boat docked.
"Ellison!" Simon burst through the front door, gun in hand.
"Over here, Captain," Jim called out. He had finished with the wire and Blair stood, rubbing his wrists, trying not to look back at the body.
"Jim, are you two all right?" Simon approached running, gun still drawn, until he spotted the body of Lee Brackett on the floor beside them. "Is he...?"
"Yes. He's dead."
"Gave Randall the slip this morning. We figured he'd head out here, if he was half as good as they said he was."
"He was, Captain."
Simon walked over to stand next to the body lying behind the couch, and gazed down at him. "Thank God that's over with." He looked back up to Jim, then Blair. "Sandburg, you've got some explaining to do."
Jim nodded, smiling slightly as Simon turned to face Blair. He wasn't going to interfere with the Captain and his chastising of Jim's wayward partner, but he also kept a hand on his shoulder, unwilling to let go while he was still in a state of shock. Whatever scolding he received wouldn't change the fact that Blair was alive, they both were, and Lee Brackett wasn't. Jim looked at Blair, who was looking now at Simon. Standing there, in Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirt that was now stained in blood, with blood of his own trickling down an already swelling lip, large purple welt developing quickly on his right cheek. He was in obvious pain, and not just physical. Add to that, the look of shock and the desire to be sick still lingering on his face, and it was more than Simon could bear. And Jim knew it.
"We'll talk about this later," Simon said gruffly. Jim smiled again as Blair nodded sheepishly.
"Come on, Chief, let's get you cleaned up." Jim put a hand on Blair's back and gently propelled him away from Brackett's body, towards the waiting Katie and Clive.
"I've got a team already on its way out here, Jim."
"Thanks, Simon." The Captain stayed with the body, and was quickly joined by the two officers who had accompanied him on the boat. Jim and Blair reassured Katie that all was well. She insisted on fussing over Blair's split lip and bruises, but Jim refused, telling her and Clive to go upstairs where they wouldn't have to watch the team that was now surrounding the body. Jim's sweatshirt was removed and tossed into the laundry before Katie agreed to go upstairs. A few minutes later, a second Coast Guard cutter landed outside, crowding itself against the pier behind the first one. Jim left Simon and the others in the living room while he ushered Blair into the center's first aid room and gently pushed him down onto the edge of the lone bed. The living area, with Brackett's body and the officers preparing to bag him up, was visible from the room, so Jim shut the door. Blair was being too quiet, and he knew it wasn't just from the physical injuries. Suddenly he wrapped both arms around his stomach and leaned forward, rocking back and forth.
"Blair, it's all right." Jim quickly took him by the shoulders, thinking he was going to be sick. "It's all right, buddy. Do you need to be sick?" Blair just shook his head, but continued to rock slowly. "It's okay. Hey, partner, look at me." Jim waited until Blair could raise his head. "It's okay. Let me have a look at you." He let go of one shoulder so he could put a hand on his partner's chin, raising his face so he could examine the bruised cheek and split lip. "I wanna get this cleaned up." Jim stood, keeping one hand on Blair as he reached around the small room for some gauze and antiseptic. After gathering what he needed, he pulled the one chair up next to the bed and sat down facing his partner. "Talk to me, buddy. This isn't the time to clam up." He lifted Blair's chin again and gently began to dab the blood off his lip.
"Ow!" Blair hissed, but didn't pull away.
"Jim, how did you know he was here?" Blair's voice was still shaking.
"Clive and I were making our way around the island, and I saw a small boat land on the opposite side. I saw Brackett climbing the rocks up to where you were standing." He finished Blair's lip and examined the cheek. He couldn't voice the desperation he had felt, being unable to stop what he could see was about to happen, until he could get that small boat back to shore. The fear that had made that trip seem to take hours. The uncertainty of making it back in time to stop that madman. "Blair, I'm sorry."
He looked up at Jim, a puzzled expression on his face. "Jim..."
"No, Blair, I'm sorry." He had finished cleaning the bruised skin and now tossed the gauze into the sink. "I told you this would never happen again."
Blair shook his head slowly. "Jim, don't."
The combination of his friend's shaking voice, and his still shaking body, convinced Jim this topic needed to end. "Let me have a look." He gently pried Blair's arms away from his stomach and eased his shirt up. The bruises were spreading nicely across his abdomen, but none were near the ribs. With one hand on Blair's shoulder he pushed him back just enough to get him leaning on the wall behind him so Jim could examine the bruises. As carefully as he could, Jim applied his Medic training to determine if there were any serious injuries or signs of internal bleeding. Blair winced several times, but never once cried out or insisted Jim stop. "Okay, partner. I think you'll live." He smiled and pulled Blair's shirt back down, helping him sit back up straight again. "I think we should stay here tonight, if you think you can handle that."
Blair looked up and was about to answer
when the door opened slowly.
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