Blair Sandburg returned to consciousness slowly, becoming aware of a faint buzz humming through his head. From past experiences, he knew shaking his head to rid himself of the irritating noise would only cause more pain, so he remained still. Blackness blanketed his world until he managed to slit his eyes open. At first, all he could see was a dim glow with bleary shapes in the background. Opening his eyes a little wider, he discovered a room. From his position on the floor, the room tilted at a sickening angle. It was a little disconcerting and made his stomach roll with nausea, and he quickly shut his eyes, not ready for that particular ride yet. He sent a command out from his brain for his fingers to move and felt elated when the digits twitched, relieved he still had control over some small part of his body.
Cautiously, he spread his hands flat against the floor, and the cold, slightly damp feel of concrete pressed beneath his palms. Shifting his head just a little, he felt grit rub beneath his cheek, and he groaned at the small irritation. Pushing against the concrete, he raised himself off the floor. Pain slammed into him like a bat between the eyes, and he closed his eyes tightly, steadying himself by locking his elbows and leaning on the strength of his arms. When equilibrium returned, he shifted to his knees and slowly opened his eyes again.
The plain room remained; he'd half hoped he'd been dreaming, suffering hallucinations from a bad hangover. But, one: he didn't usually drink enough to bring about a hangover, and he certainly couldn't remember getting drunk last night; and two: the last thing he remembered was walking to his car after a late night session of grading exams. Squinting his eyes as he struggled through his last memories, Blair sifted through the events of last night.
Promising himself to give a multiple choice test the next time he presented his students with a five chapter exam, Blair placed the last blue book on the dangerously swaying stack and patted it with pleasure. Finally! He was finished. Not bothering to straighten his desk, he gathered up his backpack and keys and left the office, locking the door on his way out. As he left the building, he rolled his shoulders, trying to work out the tension that had convinced his muscles to bunch together in one unhappy huddle behind his neck. Relishing the idea of a hot shower to pound away some of the strain, he didn't notice the person trailing behind him. Instead, he made his way through the dark parking lot, dangerously oblivious of his surroundings.
As he bent to put his key in the Volvo's door, the car's window displayed a distorted reflection of a face. Working with the police for the past two and a half years had made him more aware of the violent crimes that could occur when hapless people became victims in a moment of unguarded carelessness. He should have been more cautious, keeping his eyes open for suspicious characters, *especially* given his propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he hadn't been cautious. Not this time. Not when it mattered.
Fear pumped adrenaline through his veins, and he quickly swung his backpack around, hoping to catch the person behind him by surprise. A cloth clamped over his nose and mouth before he could defend himself. Unwilling sleep weakened his knees, and he felt himself collapsing against his attacker. The chloroformed- soaked cloth was removed before he was totally unconscious, and the person holding him pressed his face close, the hot breath sending shivers of revulsion down his spine that followed him into dark oblivion.
"Welcome to hell, Mr. Sandburg."
Remembering the voice, Blair looked up, relieved to find he was still alone. A solitary cot stood against one wall, its mattress thin and faded, looking very uncomfortable on the simple wooden frame. Four plain, gray, cinder-blocked walls surrounded him, each identical in their boring lack of detail. The only door in the room was to his right, and it contained a small, square window in its upper half. Bracing one hand on his knee, he stood up slowly, struggling past the fog in his brain to force obedience from a body that demanded rest. He shuffled over to the window, but he found he could just peer over the bottom edge. Cursing his height, he considered pulling the cot over to use as a stand, but lacking both strength and motivation, he sighed and moved to slump down on the mattress.
"Hello? I'm awake now. Is anybody out there?" His voice sounded weak even to his own ears. Sitting up to encourage himself to be a little more aggressive, he cleared his throat and called out again. "Hello? Can we get on with this?"
Whether it was an answer to his question or his timing was just that good, Blair didn't know, but a scream shattered the silence. Jumping to his feet when he recognized the voice behind the horrible shriek, he stumbled to the door, frightened out of his mind. He grabbed the doorknob, pulling and twisting it frantically in his terror, slapping one hand against its hard surface, futilely demanding it to open.
"Jim! Oh god, Jim! JIM!" He squeezed his eyes shut against the image the scream conjured in his mind. The cry rose to a gut-clenching wail, then faded to a hoarse whisper before stopping altogether. He held his breath in anticipation of another, and let the air out of his lungs in a mighty whoosh when there was no repeat of the scream. The doorknob beneath his hand turned, and he stepped back, expecting a beaten and bloody Jim to be thrown in.
Though he wanted to see his friend, no matter what his condition, he was sorely disappointed when a man he didn't know stepped into the room.
"Mr. Sandburg, move into the center of the room, please." The man was tall and reedy. His beige suit hung on him like an old sheet, formless and devoid of character or style.
"Where's Jim?" Chest heaving with the adrenaline rush of fright, eyes wide with nervousness, Blair stayed where he was.
"Move back, Mr. Sandburg, or I'll have you moved."
The words were gibberish. None of them sounded like an answer to his question. Confused and anxious for his friend, Blair took a step forward.
Immediately, two men rushed into the room behind his first visitor. They were shorter than the first man, but still taller than Blair. Their faces were serious masks of concentration as they bore down on Blair and grabbed his arms. He struggled, allowing his fear to morph into anger, lending him strength to fight, when normally he would have succumbed to their obviously more powerful might. He kicked out blindly, thrusting his head forward, trying to butt one of the men, but fell far short of his goal. The defeat only added fuel to his fire, and he wrenched his arms, pulling against the strong hands that enclosed around his biceps like bands of steel. Weariness caught up with him long before rational thinking, and he finally slumped in their hold, head hanging in failure and exhaustion.
"Secure him to the bed." The words registered in his tired brain just as he was placed forcibly on the bed. He felt rough leather encircle his wrists, binding them to the cot's wooden frame. It was too late to struggle, but he tried anyway, more out of a need to show rebellion than from actually believing he could break away. More bands tightened around his ankles and he was totally helpless, bucking weakly against the lumpy mattress at his back. As the last of his energy dissipated, he stopped, panting from exertion as he stared defiantly up at his captor.
"What do you want? Who are you?" Answers, dammit, he needed answers!
"I need information, Mr. Sandburg. Information that you have."
"Who are you?" Anger was a good disguise for fear and Blair used it to cover his.
"My name is unimportant, but you may call me Mr. Blackwell."
"What do you want? What have you done with Jim?"
"It's simple, really. An associate of yours, Dr. Warren, has been arrested and detained by your government for questioning. He's been accused of selling military secrets to a small third world country. I've been hired by that country, Mr. Sandburg, to retrieve the very secrets Dr. Warren is accused of stealing. He was unable to actually sell them, due to his capture. That makes the party that hired me very uneasy."
"But . . . what's that got to do with me?"
"We're had Dr. Warren under surveillance for quite some time. He was seen in your company on several occasions in the past month, and we're very curious indeed why he would single you out."
Blair chuckled dryly. "You've got the wrong man. I was proctoring some exams for Dr. Warren. He said he had to be out of town on business most of the week and I've done it for him several times."
"I don't believe you. I have several means at my disposal for getting the answers I need from you. We'll torture you, of course, but first, I thought I'd try an indirect approach."
The tall man disdainfully snapped his fingers, and one of the subordinates nodded, then left the room. A moment later, Jim's tortured scream ripped anew through the room, and Blair wailed in helpless protest.
"No! No, stop! Don't hurt him!" His own scream rose and joined that of his partner's in a howl of despair.
It finally ended, and Blair's tormentor leaned down until his shadow crossed the young man, shrouding him like an evil omen, blanketing him with his dark shade. "You *will* give me what I want, Mr. Sandburg, or your partner will suffer the consequences." Finishing with his decree, he straightened up, then gestured for his other henchman to follow him out the room.
"No! No wait! What do you want? Tell me what you want!" Blair's shouts were ignored. The door slammed and a click signaled the lock sliding into place. Blair sobbed, frustration leaving him feeling sick with helplessness. Something he could have never imagined was taking place, and he shriveled inside with the truth that faced him. The tables had been turned on him; Jim was being hurt because of him. It had always been the other way around, and he wondered how Jim ever handled it, knowing Blair had been hurt because of the detective's job. Now that things were seen from a reverse angle, he didn't know if he could endure the pain, the wretched agony of knowing he was responsible for Jim's torture. Desperation clutched at him, and he gave himself over to it, losing himself to the sharp raw iciness that tore at his heart. He vowed to give the tall man whatever information he asked for, as soon as he returned.
"Come back!" His scream mocked him, echoing back from the cold stone walls. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know!" Sobs hiccuped through the room as he waited for his pleas to be answered. Exhausted by the intense mental anguish that assaulted him, he was unaware of the moment he fell into sleep. His body ached, demanding rest, and his head lolled over on the faded mattress as he sank into oblivious unconsciousness, finding solace in a senseless state of sleep.
Jim Ellison had been walking toward the loft after work, more than seven hours ago, when something had pricked him in the back of the neck. Reaching up immediately, he'd felt a dart, then dropped bonelessly to the ground as the tranquilizer quickly took affect.
He'd woken up tied to a chair and blindfolded. Extending his senses beyond the confines of his room, he'd located several heartbeats, and recognized one as belonging to his partner. His captors had left him alone until about an hour ago, when they'd entered the room silently. He'd kept still, allowing them to make the first move, when there had been a whistling sound, and something had connected violently with the top of his left foot. Unprepared for the pain, he screamed, shocked at the agony that shot through his foot and up his leg. Pain and nausea encompassed his whole being, demanding his total attention, and he didn't realize he was alone again until the agony faded enough for him to notice the silence.
Calling to mind the dials as Blair taught him, he concentrated on turning the pain down and became frustrated when his efforts didn't work right away. Closing his eyes beneath the blindfold, he slowed his breathing, focusing his body past the pain into a more calm state before trying the pain dial again. This time it worked, and a blessed numbness began at his toes and spread through his foot, then up his leg.
Moving the injured foot cautiously, he realized it was broken, but not smashed like he'd originally feared. He began working on his bonds and the blindfold. The rough ropes chaffed his wrists, but he continued to worry them, feeling the cords loosen little by little. His perseverance paid off as the blindfold slid down his face, giving him a clear view of the room just as he freed his hands.
A scream tore through the building, shocking him with its intensity. After a moment, he realized it was his own scream from when his foot had been broken: a recording. Then, the voice of his Guide screamed out, and the anguish and pain he heard in the shriek nearly brought him to his knees. Limping cautiously to the door, he concentrated for a moment, checking for guards. Certain the hallway was empty, he opened the door and moved into the corridor.
Judging from what he could hear, Blair was just down the hall, surrounded by several heartbeats. Focusing his hearing, he sensed Blair and another man talking. Sandburg's heartbeat was elevated but he wasn't crying out in pain, so he wasn't being tortured. This didn't mean violence didn't lie ahead for his friend, but for the moment, Blair seemed to be unharmed.
Other voices drifted toward him, and he knew the risk of being discovered if he didn't move. Despair slammed into him when he realized what he'd have to do. Knowing his recapture wouldn't do Blair any good didn't soothe his need to help the young man, or ease the anguish his decision caused. Turning stiffly, as if fighting his body for control, Ellison limped down the hall, away from the voice and heartbeat of his friend. He located an exit and left the building, silently breathing a promise to his partner that he'd return soon, then disappeared into the blackness of the night.
"What do you mean, he got away?"
O'Reily swallowed, knowing he looked like an ignorant fool in front of Mr. Blackwell, and he knew how dangerous failure on his part could be.
"I'm sorry sir. We left him for a minute, and when we came back, he was gone, the door left open, the ropes on the floor."
"You idiot! How could a man with a broken foot get past you? Never mind, just go find him, for god's sake. This could ruin everything! We'll have to move on to plan B."
"Yes, sir. Do you want me to go prepare the prisoner?" O'Reily asked eagerly.
"Yes, dammit," the taller man sneered, disgusted with his minion's perverse eagerness. "But first, send Doyle and Wallace after Ellison. I knew the man was good, but obviously, I still underestimated him."
When O'Reily just stood nodding stupidly, Blackwell angrily shoved him away.
The man left, running down the hall to do his biding.
"Well, Mr. Sandburg, looks like you'll be the one screaming after all," Blackwell whispered, then stepped into his office to prepare himself for the upcoming session with his prisoner.
The compound was simple, located in the middle of a large expanse of trees. There was one main building, housing the cell where Jim had been held, and where Blair was now a prisoner, and a smaller building to the right, containing the power generator. Lights shined from two windows on the side of the main structure, and Jim assumed those were offices or private quarters, since his cell hadn't included a window.
He sat concealed in the bushy weeds and thick shrubbery that grew wild around the compound. Ripping strips from the bottom of his tee shirt, he wrapped his foot tightly. Brushing his fingertips lightly across the top of his injury, he found several breaks. Walking was extremely painful, but he pushed the discomfort aside, knowing he had to concentrate on rescuing his partner.
He'd heard the recording of his scream several times, and knew the sound was being used to torment Blair. He hoped the recording proved they were still using psychological torture and hadn't resorted to physical torture yet. He'd gone through past cases in his head, searching for a motive to explain this kidnapping and torture, but he'd come up with a blank. The voice he'd heard talking with Blair was a stranger, no one he recognized, and he worried that they'd fallen into the hands of a psychotic killer who perhaps wanted revenge against the police in general. Brushing those dismal thoughts aside, he concentrated his senses on his surroundings.
Securing the last strip of his shirt around his injury, he grimaced with pain as he forced his swollen foot into his boot. He wanted to explore the area, make sure there weren't any guards in the surrounding trees, and then move back toward the buildings. Needing a weapon, he knew he had to find a guard and overpower him. In top condition, he'd have no problem, but with his injured foot, he'd have to be more cautious. Knowing Blair was being held and possibly tortured just yards away filled him with helpless rage. He clenched his fists, riding out the emotion until his breathing calmed down and he could control his impulse to storm the compound and destroy every obstacle in his path to rescue his partner. He didn't let go of the anger, just pushed it aside and let it fuel his strength, buoying him as he rose to a crouching stance and moved into the woods, the tree's shadows laying across his back like camouflage. The darkness opened up and accepted him, hiding the Sentinel in its embrace.
The scream woke him up. Jim was in pain. Blair tried to sit up and run to his friend, but the restraints around his wrists and ankles effectively bound him to the bed. He tugged in vain, accomplishing nothing, only adding more pain to the trapped limbs. The scream died away, and Blair slumped back against the bed, feeling as if someone had reached into his chest and squeezed his heart.
"Oh Jim, man. I'm so sorry."
The door to his cell opened abruptly and the man who'd strapped him to the bed earlier came in. Blair immediately tensed, helpless if the man was there to hurt him. To his surprise, the man walked calmly over and unlocked the leather cuffs, then stood silently in the center of the room.
"It's time for phase one," he said.
What the hell does that mean? Blair thought, as he shifted his feet to the floor and stood up. Just as he straightened, the scream ripped through the room again. Shouting in frustration, Blair rushed toward the man, intending to get past him to the door and find Jim.
The subordinate was prepared for the attack and simply shifted to the side, cuffing Blair on the back as he rushed past, sending the young man to his knees.
Blair was back on his feet in an instant, adrenaline rushing through his bloodstream, fueling him with more guts than brains as he charged the man, a primal growl rumbling deep in his throat. A fist connected hard with his jaw, but anger dampened the pain, and Blair kept coming. He struck out blindly, not caring where he hit. Satisfaction bloomed in his heart when his fist smashed across the man's cheek. Ignoring the pain shooting through his knuckles, Blair struck out again, hoping to press his advantage. He swung at the man's head, but his fist touched only air as the minion ducked and drove his fist into Blair's unprotected stomach. Doubling over with the pain, Blair was unprepared as the man punched him again, hitting him hard in the ribs. Air whooshed out of his lungs, and he was left helpless when a fist exploded against his cheekbone.
He dropped to the floor and grimaced in pain when the man kicked him in the belly. Blair rolled away, then grabbed the cot to pull himself to his feet. He stood panting heavily for a minute, hands clasped protectively to his abdomen, and watched his adversary cross the room. Swaying with dizziness and nausea, he was unprepared when the man rushed him again, pushing him roughly against the cot. The back of his knees pressed against the wooden frame for an instant and he swung his arms back for balance, then helplessly plopped down on the thin mattress.
The man grabbed his shirt and pulled him roughly to his feet, then slung him across the room. Blair fell and slid across the floor, rolling to a stop against the far corner. Disoriented, he was hardly aware as he was lifted and pressed against the hard cinderblocks at his back. His tormentor punched him hard in the stomach, smashing him violently against the wall, then he was hit again in the belly, and once across the jaw. Only then was he was allowed to slide to the floor, where he collapsed to lay on his side.
Through the incredible pain throbbing in his body, Blair heard the door open and shut, and knew he was alone. Jim's scream rang out again, echoing through the room. Shouting hoarsely, Blair pressed his hands to his ears, the pain of hearing his friend scream overriding the physical pain assaulting his body. Moaning, he listened to the oppressive silence that followed as the scream died away. He shifted to his knees, but pain gripped a tight band across his abdomen. With a groan, he passed out, falling back to the floor.
Someone grabbed his arm and jerked him off the floor. The rough treatment and resulting stabs of pain through his stomach and ribs shocked him awake. Grunting in protest, he flinched weakly from the grasp. He opened his eyes as he was shoved onto the cot. While he'd been unconscious, the bed had been moved to the center of the room. His wrists and ankles were again secured in the restraints. He tugged against his bonds half-heartedly, not really aware enough to fight in earnest.
Cold steel touched his belly and brought him instantly awake.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded in alarm, watching as his T-shirt was scissored from hem to neck. Then the sleeves were sliced open, and the garment was tugged out from under him. Oblivious to Blair's struggles to shy away from the sharp point of the scissors, the man continued to work silently. When a cart was rolled closer and Blair saw the razor on the top shelf, he began pulling against the restraints in earnest, jarring the small cot with his efforts.
Undeterred by his victim's attempts to escape, the subordinate calmly reached for Blair's arm and gripped it, sterilizing a spot on the inside of the forearm with an alcohol-soaked piece of gauze.
"Time for phase two, Mr. Sandburg," he said quietly, staring intently into the helpless man's eyes.
"No wait! What are you giving me?"
Ignoring the impassioned plea, the man reached for a syringe and set the needle tip against Blair's skin.
Knowing what was coming next did nothing to prepare him for the shock of the needle sliding into his arm and Blair ground his teeth against the unpleasant sensation. He felt his muscles relax immediately, and knew he'd been given a sedative. It wasn't powerful enough to send him into unconsciousness, but he lay in helpless submission while his tormentor shaved small patches of hair off his chest, then meticulously cleaned away the stray hairs. A soft moan rumbled through his throat, as Blair lay vulnerable, unable to push away the cold hands touching him.
Small electrodes were attached by sticky round pads to the freshly shaven areas on his chest and belly. His tormentor rubbed his victim's skin almost tenderly as he smoothed the pads, touching more than the simple task required. Blair shut his eyes quickly, the only way he could escape. Blocking out the leering face bent over him was a relief, but did nothing to numb him from the feel of the stranger's hands on his body. With a sigh, the man finally removed his touch, and Blair opened his eyes to assure himself his tormentor wasn't reaching for him again. The man gathered all the long wires trailing from the electrodes and twisted them together in one thick strand, then attached it, along with what looked like one end of a short cable, to a car battery that sat on top of the cart.
The man left.
Blair shivered in the cold room, whether from the temperature or fear, he wasn't sure. The remembered revulsion of cold hands touching his belly made him feel nauseous. He'd tried to convince Blackwell that he didn't have any information, but the man obviously didn't believe him. How far were they willing to go to extract information he didn't have? If the electrodes and car battery were any indication, they were prepared to go a long way.
Had Jim escaped? They were left torturing Blair because their first avenue of torment was no longer available?
Right on cue, the scream shattered the quiet. His friend sounded like he was in terrible torment, and Blair was forced to listen in silence this time, still paralyzed by the sedative, waiting for that last, coarse wail that ended the shriek. Tears filled his eyes, overflowing to slide down his face, his own anguish forgotten in the face of his friend's pain.
As the sound died away, Blair realized he'd been anticipating the hoarse shriek at the end. The scream was the same, every time. It had to be a recording. Maybe Jim had escaped after all. The thought warmed him, the heat of reassurance stealing past the frigid cold of helplessness, supplying him with confidence to hang on until Jim could come get him.
His confidence shattered and blew away when the door opened again, and the man in the bad suit walked in. Realizing the sedative had worn off, he turned his head to look at his captor.
"I told you the truth, dammit!" Blackwell calmly walked over and looked down at him. "Haven't you been listening? I don't know anything about Dr. Warren's work. Torturing me won't change that fact!" Anger was a good disguise for fear, and Blair used it to cover his. He watched as the man walked over to the battery and slipped on insulated gloves. He felt sweat break out under his arms, and cold anticipation pimpled his skin with goose bumps. Nausea returned to roll through him and fear cramped his belly.
"Please! Why don't you believe me? I--" Before he could continue, Mr. Blackwell casually touched the free end of the cable to the positive terminal on the car battery, completing the circuit.
Hot energy shot through him and Blair's body arched sharply off the mattress. A scream clawed its out of his tense throat and hissed between his clenched teeth as he rode the tide of incredible pain, trembling in tight agony. The shock lasted for less than a second, though his heart felt like it would explode with pressure as he was suspended in an eternity of torment. When it was over, his body flopped heavily back to the cot, causing the small frame to bounce and creak as his weight settled onto it. He squeezed his eyes shut against the involuntary tears that threatened to leak past the lids and dragged in huge gulps of air as if he'd held his breath for impossible hours.
He tasted blood, and realized he'd bitten the side of his tongue.
"Did you like that, Mr. Sandburg?" he heard Blackwell ask dimly through the buzzing in his head. "That was only a taste, of course; you'll receive the full course before the night is over, I'll wager. You seem like the sort of man who'd be stubborn, choosing death over disloyalty."
"Wh--" Blair swallowed against the dryness in his throat. It felt as if every bit of moisture had been sucked from his body. Even the tears swimming in his eyes refused to pool enough to slide down his face. "I don't understand what you want." His voice weak and tired, Blair struggled to express his confusion to the man.
Blackwell frowned down at the young man for several seconds, then looked up and nodded at one of his assistants. The other man left the room, and within moments, Jim's scream of pain blasted through the room. Blair's reaction did not please Blackwell. The young man lay still, listening carefully to the shriek, and when it died away with a pitiful moan, a smile drifted across his face as he closed his eyes in gratitude.
"Hearing your friend in pain amuses you?"
Not thinking about the implications of his knowledge, Blair opened his eyes and answered, "No, hearing a *recording* of my friend in pain bothers me some, but I've gotten used to it now. Jim got away, didn't he?"
Blackwell reached for the cable and Blair tensed in anticipation and screamed, "NO!"
The end was tapped against the battery terminal three times, and electricity jerked his body like lightening bolts, bringing a storm of fiery pain as muscles all over his body cramped with the staccato shocks. The pain focused on the points where the electrodes connected to his body, at his chest and abdomen, then radiated out to spread in wanton agony throughout his limbs and tissues. He felt his back arch with the jolts, bowing him off the mattress and throwing him back down. He was helpless against his body's reaction to the stimulation. It seemed to go on forever, but lasted only seconds, then he was falling back to the cot, unconscious.
"Yes, Mr. Sandburg, your friend got away. But you won't be so lucky." Blackwell turned and gestured to his assistant. They left the room, locking the door behind them. There was still plenty of time to get the information he wanted before the shock treatment would do permanent damage to his subject.
The woods were dark and silent, providing excellent cover as Jim moved closer to the building. He could hear five men searching for him almost three miles away, their voices carelessly loud in their frustration as they searched for their missing prisoner. Two separate hearts beat in a calm rhythm much closer, from just outside the building. Circling around, he spotted one guard near the door where he'd escaped. The other guard was closer, right in front of him. Jim moved toward him like a shadow and stole behind him before the guard even realized he was there. One hard right to the man's jaw, and he was out.
Ellison hefted the body over his shoulder with a grunt and melted back into the thicker growth around the compound. Undressing the man quickly, he slipped on the borrowed clothes and began an inventory of the weapons he'd found. After securing a gag in place and tightening the guard's arms behind him with handcuffs, Jim returned to the compound in his disguise. Putting his full weight on his injured foot sent pain radiating up his leg. The cramp was hard to ignore, but he forced himself to walk without a limp, unwilling to call any undue attention to himself. He had no idea if the person in charge knew the guards on sight or not, so he walked with confidence, trying to look as if he belonged.
Jim froze when the other guard straightened and moved away from the building.
"Reynolds, I'm going on patrol," the man mumbled, not even turning to look at Jim.
Ellison growled a generic, " 'K," which seemed to satisfy the man. The guard moved off around the building.
Making sure no one else was around, Jim stopped at the door. He focused his hearing and finally located his Guide's heartbeat. Blair's pulse was erratic and too fast. He frowned, angry for not finding a way to take Blair with him the first time he'd escaped. Pushing aside his guilt, he entered the building, silently reassuring his partner help was on the way.
Groaning as he returned to consciousness, Blair became aware of aches and pains assaulting him in every bone, joint, and muscle. He opened his eyes and remembered where he was. Tugging his arms weakly, he discovered he was still tied to the bed. The door to his cell opened and Blackwell returned, along with two of his minions.
"Oh god, not again . . . I don't know what you want!"
Blackwell moved fast, wrapping his fingers around Blair's throat and pressing firmly. "You'll find I don't have much patience, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair began gagging, struggling for breath, and Blackwell let go, moving back to the cart beside the bed. He ignored his prisoner as Blair struggled to pull air into his lungs. "Now, where were we? Oh yes, I believe you were about to give me the information Dr. Warren gave you."
"He didn't give me any information!" Blair shouted hoarsely, his breath panting in frustration at the stubborn man. "All I did was proctor some exams for him, I told you! No, wait--!"
The current was connected, and Blair thrashed helplessly in the onslaught of the shock, unable to control his body. His eyes locked on the ceiling, then rolled back in his head as he felt his body go rigid with pain, the cords in his neck straining with tension as his body froze in a graceful arch, curving off the mattress. He was unable to scream, yell or cry; he was no longer in control of his body. Unconsciousness came for him and he submitted, sinking into oblivion before Blackwell cut the current. Blair fell back to the mattress, fingers twitching as nerve endings continued to react to a phantom electrical charge.
Blackwell and his minions left the room.
Jim stepped quietly into the building. A well-lit corridor stretched in front of him, unbroken by windows or doors. He took a step and froze, holding his breath. A man's scream echoed through the compound, and it took only an instant for him to realize it was Blair. The scream ended abruptly, and he recklessly extended his hearing, searching for Sandburg's heart beat. After a second of panic, he managed to locate a skipping beat that he identified as Blair's. Breathing again in relief, Ellison realized he was still standing exposed in the corridor and he quickly moved forward, looking for a hiding place.
Apparently, all but two of the guards had been sent out to search for him, which would work to his advantage. He came to a bend in the corridor and followed it around to where it stopped at a door. The window set in the top showed him an empty hallway, which he entered as he moved deeper into the building. The greater need to find Blair almost canceled out the need for caution. Knowing Blair was in pain and he'd left him here filled him with self loathing that he choked down, concentrating his energy on stealth, drawing closer to Sandburg. He faced another corridor; this one ended at a junction leading to the right and left. Listening carefully he heard Blair's heartbeat several feet down the corridor to the right. Following the beat he came to another door. He glanced through the window to see a long hall with several doors down its length. Turning the doorknob slowly, he inched into the corridor. Hearing voices growing louder in one of the rooms, he checked the first door he came to and slipped inside. He kept the light off and listened to the voices down the hall. A door opened and the men carried their conversation into the hall.
"Sandburg's awake. What's the latest update from the men searching for Ellison?" The voice sounded authoritative, but Jim didn't recognize to whom it belonged, confirming his suspicions that this incident had nothing to do with any of his current cases.
"They haven't found him yet, sir. They've widened the search, thinking he'll head for the highway, ten miles to the east."
"How could he possibly know about the highway? He was drugged before we brought him here." The man sounded irritated, and Jim smiled grimly, knowing he'd faked a pretty good trail to make it appear as if he'd indeed headed for the highway.
"I don't know. Maybe he recognized the area once he was outside the compound."
"Doesn't matter. He can die out there for all I care. He wasn't the important one, anyway. Time for another session with Mr. Sandburg."
The voices receded as they moved away from Jim's hiding place. When he heard a door open and close, he quickly moved out into the corridor again and made his way down the hall. He stopped to hide in another room right next to Blair's and waited.
Someone slapped him on the cheek and he woke up with a gasp. Blair opened his eyes. Blackwell was leaning over him, and he tried to pull away from the man. Blackwell grinned at him wickedly when he saw the fear in his victim's eyes.
"Shall we try this again, Mr. Sandburg?" He slipped on the insulated gloves. Noticing he had Blair's full attention, Blackwell tucked the gloves more snugly between his fingers and watched as the young man shivered.
Blair pulled his shoulders in tight, attempting to shrink into the thin mattress. Fear tightened his stomach, and he quivered with morbid anticipation. Sweat broke out across his body and he felt quick breaths pump through his lungs. He had no idea what long-time exposure to an electrical current could do to the human body, but he knew it couldn't be good.
When Blackwell picked up the end of the cable and held it just above the battery's terminal, Blair shouted desperately, "Wait! Let me think! God, give me a minute here, you're not giving me a chance!"
Realizing the young man's rising agitation could only work to his advantage, Blackwell kept the cable where it was, hovering just short of contact, and turned his attention back to Sandburg.
"Yes, Mr. Sandburg? Have you remembered something?"
"I . . . I don't know exactly what you want," Blair hedged desperately, hoping to buy time. Anything to keep Blackwell from completing that damn circuit that would send him into torment again.
"Don't play games with me, young man. You would recognize instantly anything Dr. Warren told you as a government secret." His hand shifted lower and a tiny blue spark arched from the terminal to the cable before it was lifted again.
"Unnhhhh," the hoarse sound was forced out and Blair jerked on the cot as pain rocketed through his system too fast to acknowledge. Dread sat on his chest like a heavy demon, taunting him with the pain it offered in its open palm.
The shock was shorter this time and he came to himself in time to hear frantic shouts and grunts in the room. He opened his eyes to the sight of Jim swinging his fist hard into the side of Blackwell's head. The thin man crumbled, landing on top of his assistant, who already lay unconscious on the ground.
Ellison stood over the two bodies, chest heaving with anger; he looked as if he'd be willing to wait until the two men regained consciousness so he could hit them again. Blair groaned, and his attention snapped to his partner. Stepping over the defeated men, Ellison dropped to his knees beside the cot and pressed two fingers to Blair's neck. He could hear the beat with his heightened senses, but the slightly irregular rhythm had him worried. He pulled himself away from the hypnotic pulse and went to work removing the electrodes from Sandburg's chest and abdomen, grimacing at the blisters he uncovered. Quickly, he unbuckled the leather cuffs that held Sandburg to the bed.
The young man roused as he felt someone working on the restraints, and he mumbled in his half-unconscious state.
"Ssshhh. It's me, Blair. It's Jim. Stay still, I'll have you out of here soon." He realized electrocution wasn't the only torture his partner had endured when he noticed the bruises darkening along the side of Sandburg's jaw, ribs and stomach. Grimacing in sympathy, his jaw clenched in anger, he managed to work the cuffs free of Blair's wrists, then started on the ones at the young man's ankles.
"Jim?" His voice tremulous and a little hoarse from screaming, Blair shifted his head to look at the man kneeling by his side. Desperate to know the image wasn't a dream, he reached out and touched Jim's shoulder. The Sentinel turned toward him.
"Yeah, Blair. It's gonna be all right. Just hang on a little longer, and I'll have you free." The last cuff was released, and he moved back to Blair's head. "Okay, let's get you out of here."
Not waiting for help, Blair sat up quickly and pushed off the cot. His knees buckled, but Jim was there to catch him. His muscles spasmed all at once. Clenching his teeth to keep from crying out, he rode the wave of pain silently, gasping when the agony finally stopped and his muscles relaxed. He found himself leaning heavily against Jim and weakly pushed himself away.
"Take it easy, Chief." Ellison reached out for Blair's arm but the young man shook his head.
"Just get me out of here, man."
Ignoring his partner's reluctance to be touched, Jim gripped his arm firmly. Sandburg looked as if he could barely stand; he definitely wasn't up for a quick sprint through the building. Grimacing as the pain in his foot flared, he led the young man around the bodies and stepped to the door. Hoping the disturbance he'd caused hadn't alerted anyone, he moved cautiously into the corridor, unable to keep from limping now that his attention wasn't so focused on rescuing Sandburg.
"This way," he whispered, and they made their way toward a door that led to the outside. Breathing a sigh of relief when they stepped out of the building into the cool night air, Jim watched worriedly as Blair bent forward and braced his hands on his knees.
"Blair?" Jim placed his hand lightly on his friend's back, alarmed at the shudders he could see running through the smaller man.
"Just give me a second, okay?" The young man took several deep breaths, then straightened up, welcoming Ellison's touch this time. He began shivering as the damp air brushed against his skin, and Jim took a moment to pull off his shirt and drape it over his partner's shoulders. He still had the remnants of his tee shirt on underneath, and he was able to dial down his sense of touch so the cold wouldn't bother him.
Ellison smiled briefly, then asked, "Are you gonna be all right? There's a van we can use just around the corner of the building. Can you make it?"
"Yeah, I'll be okay," Blair answered, then nodded for Jim to lead the way.
Their escape was ridiculously easy. They made it to the van without incident. Blair waited patiently on the cold vinyl seat while Jim fiddled with the wires under the console. Less than five seconds later, there was a spark that made Blair flinch, and Jim grimaced at him in sympathy. The satisfying sound of the engine turning over purred through the darkness. Sitting up, Ellison gripped the wheel and shifted the vehicle into drive, easing away from the compound.
The road was unpaved and rutted, which made for an uncomfortably bumpy ride, but neither man complained, too caught up in their joy of leaving the torture behind to worry about such little inconveniences.
"Are they following us?" Blair asked a moment later. He watched as Jim tilted his head slightly and focused on the building behind them. Blair watched him closely, alert in case the Sentinel started to zone.
"Blackwell's just now alerting everyone." Jim's focus moved back to the road ahead. "Things are in an uproar back there. It'll probably take them awhile before they get organized enough to think about following us."
Satisfied, Blair sank back in his seat and sighed deeply, then winced and grabbed his side.
"Are you all right?" Jim glanced at his partner in concern, dividing his attention between the road and his passenger.
"Yeah," Blair answered breathlessly. "Forgot about the ribs," he groaned softly. "God, that hurts."
Ellison waited until Sandburg was breathing easier then asked him, "What did they want, Blair?"
"The leader called himself Mr. Blackwell. He accused me of accepting government secrets from Dr. Warren, another professor in the Anthropology Department."
"What?!" Jim's incredulous tone brought a weak smile to Blair's face.
"Yeah, man. First they were going to get me to talk by listening to . . . oh man! Jim!" Blair twisted sideways in his seat, ignoring the painful twinges in his sore ribs. "What did they do to you?" He reached over and gripped his friend's arm, eyes wide as he searched for visual signs of a beating. "I heard you scream, and I knew they were hurting you . . . "
Jim could hear the young man's heart beginning to race and he hastened to reassure his friend. "I'm all right, Chief. They broke my foot."
"What? Are you all right to drive?" Blair looked down at the floorboard, almost as if he expected to see a bloody pulp at the end of Jim's foot, but all he saw were ordinary boots.
"I dialed the pain way down. It's fine."
"Jim, I don't know if that's such a good idea, man," Blair seemed to become agitated and his hands flew in the confined space as he gestured in the air. "You could be doing more damage to your foot. Shutting down your body's normal reaction to pain isn't always a good thing, y'know."
"Calm down, Chief. We're on our way to the hospital right now. I promise I'll get my foot tended to, okay?" Blair's heart was beating at an erratic pace, and the skipping rhythm was beginning to scare Jim. He needed to get his partner calmed down before he had a heart attack or something. The irregular beat was due to the shock torture, no doubt, and he gripped the steering wheel harder as he remembered hearing his partner's screams and his helplessness to stop it. "Just sit back, Sandburg, and breathe. I'm fine."
Giving him one more look as if to reassure himself, Blair finally settled back in his seat and closed his eyes. The first deep breath he took sent fiery pain stabbing through his side and stomach, and he gasped as he held his ribs protectively. He knew Jim was watching him, but he ignored his friend and concentrated on taking shorter breaths. Within moments, he found a rhythm, resolutely ignoring the memories of hot electricity racing through his body.
Jim monitored him as he drove, listening as his partner's breathing evened out to a regular, though shallow, pattern, and was relieved to hear Blair's heart settling into its familiar beat. The quiet only lasted a few seconds. A skip in his friend's heartbeat was his first clue, and he looked over at Blair to discover silent tears streaking shiny paths down the young man's face.
"Blair?" Panic gripped him when his roommate didn't answer right away, and he looked for a place to pull over.
The dirt track ended at a paved road, and Jim turned onto it, then pulled off to the shoulder. Focusing briefly on the compound several miles behind them, he realized they were in no danger of being caught, so he shifted the van into park and turned to his partner.
Blair had curled forward, his body shaking as his crying turned into deeper sobs. Without hesitation, Jim slid across the seat and pulled Sandburg close, tucking the slim form against his own, shielding him with his body. He'd wanted, needed to rescue Blair before Blackwell could continue the torture. That remembered feeling of helplessness reached out to him and he tightened his arms around the younger man. The crying lasted a few minutes, then stopped abruptly.
"Jim?" Blair sat up and looked around and Ellison shifted back when the disoriented young man pushed gently against him.
"I'm right here, Blair." The lost look on the young man's face filled him with an urge to pull him into his arms again, but he knew Blair would resist him now.
"Man, I don't know where that came from. You shouldn't have stopped."
Confused at Blair's erratic mood swings, Jim moved back behind the wheel and pulled the van back onto the road. When they were under way, he glanced at his partner.
"How do you feel, Chief?"
Wiping the tears from his face as if he'd just noticed them, Blair shrugged his shoulder. He still had his arms wrapped protectively around his stomach, and he grimaced a little with the movement. "I'm okay, I guess. How's your foot?"
"Numb. Why don't you try and go to sleep?" Jim suggested. "We're at least ten miles from the main highway, then probably about another hour outside of Cascade. I'll let you know when we get there."
Nodding amiably, Blair settled back again, leaning his head against the seat.
There were a few moments of silence, filled only with the hum of the motor and Blair's soft breathing that only the Sentinel could hear, then the young man sat up abruptly and turned to Ellison.
"Jim! I heard you screaming, what did they do to you?" He reached over and touched the older man's shoulder in concern.
"It's all right, Chief," Jim fought to keep the panic from his voice. "I hurt my foot, but it's not bad. Just relax, partner. You need to rest, okay?"
Reassured, Blair nodded and shifted back into his seat. He closed his eyes and drifted into a light doze, aided by the quiet in the van and the reassurance of the security of Jim's presence, blissfully ignorant of the worried glances thrown his way by the man sitting next to him.
Hoping the strange mood swings and short-term memory loss were temporary results from the shock treatment and not signs of more permanent injuries, Jim drove on.
Blair slept through most of the trip. He sat up quickly once, panting heavily in panic, one hand pressed to his ribs. Jim gripped his arm and spoke softly until he sat back and closed his eyes. He didn't waken again until Jim shook him lightly.
"We're here, Chief."
Blair moaned and turned his head, then opened his eyes wide and sat up quickly, reaching in surprised panic for his ribs.
"Jim?" he gasped, "Where--?"
"We're at the hospital. Wait a minute and I'll come around and help you." He waited to make sure Blair wouldn't move, then opened his door and limped around the van to the passenger's side. Opening Blair's door, he discovered the young man had slumped back, his arms still wrapped around his ribs as he sat staring ahead in a daze. He grimaced in sympathy when he glimpsed the small raw blisters scattered across the young man's chest and abdomen. He reached out and touched his partner's shoulder.
"Chief? Come on, let's get inside. Can you walk?"
A nurse appeared at Jim's elbow and he asked her for a wheel chair. After she left, he turned back to Sandburg to find the kid had turned to look at him with sleep glazed eyes.
With Jim's gentle urging, the young man exited the van. As soon as he stood, his knees buckled and he sagged weakly into Jim's arms. The older man threaded an arm under Sandburg's knees and lifted the limp body.
The nurse came running out with the wheel chair, but Jim shook his head and passed her to carry his friend into the emergency room. He felt Blair lift his arm and hook his hand around Jim's neck, clenching his fingers tightly in his tee shirt. Leaning down as he walked, Jim whispered against the top of his Guide's head, "It'll be all right, Blair. I promise no one's gonna hurt you." The young man relaxed enough to loosen his fingers.
Jim was directed into an exam room, where he laid Blair gently on one of the padded tables. He had one glimpse of Blair's pale face before his friend was surrounded by a flurry of activity as doctors and nurses began examining him. Blair's heart fluttered for a moment, then settled into a rhythm a little faster than normal. One of the doctors approached Jim, and he quietly described as best he could what Blair had been through, and the young man's distress after his ordeal. The doctor returned to his patient as one of the nurses touched Jim's arm, and he reluctantly pulled his attention from Blair, knowing his friend was well taken care of.
"Are you all right sir?"
Mumbling something about his foot, he allowed her to lead him off to the side. While he was attended to, he asked another nurse to call his captain, and let him know he and Blair were at the hospital. He grunted softly as the boot was pulled from his foot. The limb was examined and x-rayed. He answered the questions with short sentences, keeping his senses tightly focused on Blair.
He was just limping out of the exam room with his new cast when Simon arrived. After a brief explanation to his captain, Jim went in search of Blair's doctor for an update on his partner. He found the young doctor at the nurse's station, scribbling on a patient's chart.
"Excuse me, Doctor?"
The young man glanced up from his work and immediately recognized Jim.
"Detective Ellison," he put the chart down and reached out to shake the bigger man's hand. "I'm Doctor Lewis. I'm sure you want to know how your partner's doing." After Jim's nod, the doctor led him and Simon slowly to a waiting area. "Mr. Sandburg will be fine, Detective. I recommend once he's released, he should stay home for at least a week. He needs time to heal, both mentally and physically. His ribs and abdomen are badly bruised, but nothing's broken."
"He experienced some mood swings on the way over here," Jim explained as he lowered himself carefully to one of the plain vinyl couches.
"That's to be expected," the doctor answered. "He'll also be overly emotional, and may experience slight memory loss for at least the next couple of days."
"Yeah, I noticed that too," Jim mumbled, then looked back at the young doctor. "Any lasting physical or mental effects?"
Doctor Lewis shook his head. "No, he's got a few minor blisters on his chest and abdomen. I've prescribed a light antibiotic cream, but those should heal without leaving any scars. His ribs and belly will be sore for a few weeks. Some of the bruises run pretty deep, but there shouldn't be any complications from those, either. From what I understand, Mr. Sandburg was subjected to 4 or 5 sessions of electric shock. The current stimulated his heart, disrupting his normal rhythms, but we could detect no damage to the muscle."
Jim sighed in relief.
The doctor continued, "We'll watch him closely for the next twenty-four hours, but I don't expect any complications. I'll release him tomorrow."
"Thank you, doctor," Jim said sincerely, and stood with the man to shake his hand warmly. "Is it all right if I sit with him?"
Dr. Lewis frowned slightly as he looked down at the new cast on Jim's foot. "You really need to rest, too, Detective."
"I can rest while I sit with him," Jim explained, and the doctor nodded in agreement.
"All right, it's your choice. He's in room 211."
Nodding his thanks as the doctor left, Jim turned to Simon.
Banks held up his hand. "I know, Jim. You want to stay here. I understand." He frowned. "I need to check in with Brown and find out how things are going with locating the compound where you and Sandburg were held. I'm sure with your description we'll have no problem. I'll let you know what we find. Want me to come back tomorrow and drive you and the kid home?"
"Thanks, Simon, I'd appreciate that," Jim said, then watched as his captain turned and left the hospital.
Hobbling on his unwieldy crutches, Jim made his way slowly down the hall to Blair's room. Entering room 211, he quietly limped over to the bed. Blair was asleep, but his brow was furrowed with a frown. His breathing seemed agitated to Jim, and he gently placed his hand on Sandburg's forehead. Instantly, the young man relaxed. His breathing evened out, and he opened his eyes.
"Hey," he said softly when he saw his visitor.
"Hey yourself," Jim answered, embarrassed a little as he withdrew his hand.
"You don't have to stay, Jim, you need your rest, too." Sandburg ignored his partner's unease and watched as he sat in a chair by the bed.
"I'll be fine right here. Why don't you close your eyes and get some sleep. The doctor said you can go home tomorrow."
"Sounds good," Blair said around a yawn, grinning sleepily at Jim. The grin turned into a frown as a dark memory intruded on his peacefulness. "This didn't have anything to do with you, Jim. It was my fault they hurt you." The memory of Ellison's scream ripping through his cell made him turn away with guilt.
"It wasn't your fault, Blair."
"How can you say that, man?" Blair turned back to Jim and shifted a little as he tried to sit up, but he grimaced as his tender ribs protested the movement.
"Stay still, Sandburg, I can hear you just as well when you're laying flat as I can when you're sitting up," Jim teased, urging his partner to lie down.
Blair stopped struggling and lay still, then asked quietly, "How did it feel, Jim, all those times I've been kidnapped or held hostage because I was your partner?" The question was soft, but his expression was serious, and his eyes held a longing to understand.
"God, Blair. It felt . . . I felt the same way I did tonight when I knew what they were doing to you but couldn't help you: out of control, helpless. The times you've been hurt because you're my partner . . . I knew if anything happened to you simply because you'd made the choice to work with me, I'd . . . I don't know what I'd do, Chief." Jim rubbed his hand across his face, scared of the despair that was creeping up on him. "Violence is a part of my job, but I never meant for that violence to reach out to you."
"Jim." Overcome with a need to help his Sentinel, Blair sat up, ignoring the sharp pains that shot through his sides.
Ellison stood up and helped his stubborn partner, then sat on the edge of the bed.
"I understand what you're saying," Blair continued. "When I heard you scream, it felt like it shattered something deep down inside of me. When I found out it was all happening because of me, and not some case we were working on, it just made it worse. I can't handle knowing you're hurting because of me." On impulse he grabbed the bigger man's wrist. Tightening his fingers, he felt Jim's pulse beating steadily against his grip.
Jim looked down and folded his hand around Blair's, noticing how easily he surrounded the smaller hand with his own. Under his fingers he felt both their heartbeats thumping in different rhythms, but the beats fit together like two lines of music creating a melody. He lifted his eyes to find his friend looking at him, and the corners of his mouth curled up gently in a smile.
"As long as you're there for me, Chief, I can get through anything," he whispered, and felt Blair's grip tighten.
"I'll always be there for you, Jim. As your Guide, your partner, but especially as your friend. I'll always be there."
Noticing Blair's eyes begin to droop, Ellison eased him back to the bed, then shifted to return to his chair while keeping his hand clamped firmly to his partner's. He listened as Sandburg drifted into a peaceful sleep, sitting quietly until the tandem beating of their hearts lulled him into sleep, too.
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN FANFIC