The Devil You Know: Part 4

The sound of the door opening startled him. Shit, he'd fallen asleep! Blair scrambled to his feet in panic, grabbing his ribs when they stabbed him, and flattened himself against the wall in Simon's room. It was dark; he couldn't see a damned thing, and this was not the time to be blind. A light went on in the living room. It stretched into the hall, but didn't touch Blair. Small favors.

"Sandburg? You awake?"

Simon. Thank God. Blair remembered to breathe. He stepped into the light; it blinded him, and he made his way down the hall to the living room from memory, eyes squeezed nearly shut. It hurt, but hey, so did everything else.

"Sorry about the lights, Simon. I fell asleep again."

"Not a problem, Sandburg."

"Jesus."

A low, quiet voice, one he knew too well. Blair's eyes snapped wide, showing him Simon, keys still in hand; and behind him, staring at Blair in the best imitation of horror he'd ever seen, Jim Ellison. Blair fixed his gaze on the Captain.

"What's he doing here?"

"I invited him," Banks answered. "You two need to talk."

Talk? God! Blair shook his head, unable to reply. Jim took a step toward him, hand outstretched, and he jerked back.

"Stay away from me!"

"Blair--"

"No!"

"Sandburg, listen to me." Simon was using his reasonable voice. "What happened to you was bad. You need friends to help you deal with it, and Jim's about the best friend you've got."

Blair stared at him. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"Sandburg, you've got to--"

"Don't tell me what to do!" Blair shouted. "I don't work for you! I never did." His jacket was lying on the floor, where he'd dropped it that afternoon. He snatched it up and headed for the door. "Thanks for letting me crash here, Captain. I'll see you sometime."

Jim stepped in front of him. "You're not getting out of here until we talk, Chief."

Blair looked up, meeting Jim's eyes for the first time. He saw nothing there but concern. Anger burned in him. "Get out of my way!"

"No."

"Damn you, you bastard, move!"

He tried to go around. Jim grabbed his arm, and he lost it. Rage and fear exploded in him, and he fought like a madman, kicking, punching, even biting. He screamed the whole time, but he couldn't remember what he said, he only knew that he couldn't bear any more of the lies and the pain, that he had to stop it now. He didn't plan it, he didn't even know what he was doing. His hand closed on metal, ripped it free; he wrenched away from the hands that were trying to subdue him, trying to hold him so they could hurt him again; tore away and almost fell, but kept his feet somehow, and raised the gun in both hands, pointing it at Jim Ellison's stomach. Jim held his hands away from his body, and went very still.

"You don't want to do this, Chief."

"Sure I do, Jim," Blair replied, bitterly replaying the nightmare he'd been reliving over and over. "I've wanted to do this for a long time. Two whole days."

"Sandburg." Blair could see Simon out of the corner of his eye. "Put the gun down."

"Sorry, Captain. Guess you'll have to do some paperwork."

"For God's sake, Sandburg, Jim's your friend!"

"He's not my friend! He was never my friend!" Blair knew he was screaming again, but he couldn't stop, he couldn't control anything he said or did. "Don't you get it, Simon? He's the one who did this to me!"

"What?"

Ellison was shaking his head, his face white. "No. Blair, no. It wasn't me."

"Yes it was! And you tried it again last night, only Simon came home and you had to take off before you were done. You said--you said we'd finish another time. But there won't be another time, you son of a bitch. You're never going to touch me again."

Jim looked to Banks. "Simon. Simon, I don't know what's going on, but I swear it wasn't me. You've known me for four years. You know I'd never do anything like this."

"Shut up!" Blair shouted. "Shut up, you lying bastard!"

"Sandburg." Simon began to edge closer to Jim. "This isn't the way to handle it."

"Stay where you are!"

Simon shook his head, and kept moving. "Uh-uh. No way, Sandburg. If you shoot Jim, you'll go down for murder. I'm not going to let that happen. Not to you. And not to him." Simon stepped in front of Jim. "Put the gun down, Sandburg."

"You don't believe me."

"Sandburg, I don't know what I believe. But I promise you, I'll find out the truth. If Jim did this, he'll go down for it."

"No he won't. He's a cop, and he's your friend. You'll believe whatever he tells you. You already do." Tears blinded him. Simon and Jim were just blurs. He tried not to let the tears fall, but he couldn't hold them back. He'd lost everything. Even his chance for revenge. All he could do now was put an end to the pain. "I knew you wouldn't believe me. Why should you? I'm just the kid, the pain in the ass with the smart mouth and the wild ideas, Ellison's little puppy-dog." Banks started to say something, but Blair cut him off. "No, it's okay, Simon. I always knew what you thought of me, I was just grateful that you let me hang around anyway. Now you won't have to put up with me anymore. You and Jim can go back to being regular cops, and I'll go back to...." Blair shrugged, smiling. "Wherever it is we all come from. Guess I'll find out, in a minute."

He couldn't see anything now. It didn't matter. There wasn't anything he wanted to see. Blair lifted the gun until he felt the muzzle under his chin. He'd never fired one of these before, but it couldn't be too hard. All he had to do was squeeze--

A body hurtled into him, knocking him to the floor. The gun went off, but it wasn't beneath his chin anymore, and he didn't know where the bullet went. The gun was twisted from his hands. He heard it hit the floor somewhere, then someone was hauling him to his feet and shaking him so hard that his head was snapping back and forth and his ribs were screaming at him, and he couldn't breathe.

"Goddammit, Sandburg, what the hell's the matter with you? Don't you ever do that again!"

"Jim. Jim! Let him go! He's already hurt, you're only making it worse!"

"Oh my God. Oh my God."

The shaking stopped. A second pair of hands took him from the first and led him someplace where they made him sit. That was the last thing he knew for a long time.





Blair was lying on the couch in Simon's living room. He felt the fabric beneath his hands, saw the ceiling overhead, knew he was there, but felt like he wasn't, like nothing was real. The pain was gone, inside and out. He was just--numb.

Simon was sitting in the chair across from him. He couldn't see anyone else. Panic pierced the fog, and he struggled up to his elbows, looking around wildly. "Where's--"

"It's okay, Sandburg. Jim's gone."

Blair lay down again. The numbness came back, and he didn't fight it. "You let him go." He waved a hand to stop Simon's explanation. "Don't worry about it, I knew you would. I mean, the only evidence you've got is my word, and that's worth exactly nothing against a cop's."

"Wrong, Sandburg. We've got other evidence."

"Like what?"

Simon hesitated, then set his features in the stern mask he assumed when he wasn't comfortable with the subject. "Semen. Ellison's getting his DNA tested tomorrow, to see if it's a match. If it is, I will personally lock him up and do my damnedest to make sure he never sees the light of day."

"But you don't think it will match."

"Sandburg, I don't know. But I'm not going to lie to you, I hope it doesn't."

Blair sighed. "At least you're honest."

"What about you? How do you want it to come out?"

"Me?" Blair stared at the ceiling. "If it's a match, a man I thought was my friend--wasn't. And if it isn't, it still happened, but my mind's so warped that it replaced the real attacker with Jim." A tear slipped out of one eye, sliding down into his hair. "You tell me, Simon. What am I supposed to hope for?"







"How can I tell him, Simon? He's going to have enough trouble dealing with the results. How can I tell him that?"

Blair opened his eyes. A streetlight shone through the window, giving him enough light to see shapes and shadows. That was Jim's voice. Simon had said he was gone, but he wasn't, he--

Get it together, Sandburg. That was yesterday. A whole day had gone by since, a day he'd mostly spent sleeping, helped along by the painkillers Simon doled out to him. Simon wouldn't let him have the bottle; guess the Captain was afraid he'd try od'ing. There were no razor blades in the bathroom, either, and there'd been a uniformed officer here all day, to keep an eye on him. Couldn't blame Simon. Blair knew he'd scared the Captain last night. He'd scared himself. And the fear hadn't gone away.

Simon said something Blair couldn't catch. Jim didn't answer. No use putting it off. Blair sat up and reached for his jeans, pulled them on, and made his way barefoot down the hall to the living room. Jim stood at the far end of the room, watching him come. Simon was on the couch, nursing a cup of coffee.

"Sorry, Chief," Jim said. "Didn't mean to wake you."

Blair fixed his gaze on the carpet. "You got the test results: no match, right?"

"Right."

Blair glanced up, but he couldn't meet the pale blue eyes. Shaking his head, he spread his empty hands. "I don't know what to say."

"There's a first time for everything, Sandburg."

He almost laughed, then his eyes welled up. Oh God, he was going to cry again. Why couldn't he control himself? Why'd he have to be so--so-- Dammit, he couldn't even think of words, never mind say them! "Jim," he blurted. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Blair."

"No, it's not! You're my friend, and I--"

"Blair, it's okay."

"You don't understand! I know you didn't--you didn't do this. But my memory still says you did. Somehow, my mind substituted you for the one who attacked me. And I can't tell the difference. There's something really wrong with me...."

"Sandburg," Simon said quietly. "You were brutally attacked. Something like that affects your mind just as much as your body."

"But I blamed Jim. Why would I do that?" Blair looked up, to see Simon and Jim exchanging glances. "What? What is it?"

"Nothing, Chief," Jim said.

"No, you know something. Something you don't want to tell me. What is it?"

"You don't need to hear it."

"Yes I do. We're talking about my sanity here. Jim, tell me. Please."

Jim looked to Simon again. "First, I want you to sit down and tell me everything you remember about that night."

Blair perched on the edge of an armchair. For a long moment, he couldn't speak, couldn't find the words--or the courage--to tell the older men what had been done to him. Jim and Simon waited, giving him the time he needed. Finally, he began to speak. His voice was low, and toneless. It failed him several times, and more than once tears threatened, but he fought them back, staring at his hands so he wouldn't have to look at Jim or Simon. He told them all he remembered, what Jim--his attacker--had said, what he'd done. Some things, he left out. Some things, he couldn't bring himself to say, not to anyone. When he was finished, there was silence, unbroken until Blair raised his head and looked directly into Jim's eyes.

"Your turn."

"Okay." Jim sighed. "Okay, Chief. This is what I remember, same night. I got off duty, and came home. You were there, grading papers or something, I don't know. When I went upstairs to change, you followed me up to my bedroom and--came on to me."

Blair just stared, unable to speak. Turning bright red, Jim continued.

"You said you wanted to see if my Sentinel abilities extended to sex. I said no, but you didn't listen. I had to push you off. You got mad, and stormed out of the loft."

Blair shook his head. "No. No, I couldn't have--I don't--I'd remember if I--Oh, God." He bowed his head into his hands. "God. You're saying that's why I thought you did it. That I was mad at you for--rejecting me, so when I got--when I was attacked, I blamed you for it."

"It's a possibility."

Blair sat unmoving, trying to absorb what he'd been told, to make it fit with what he remembered. Was he that crazy? Had he really come on to Jim, then run out into the night and gotten himself raped? And then blocked it all out and twisted reality to blame Jim for what happened?

"No." Blair raised his head. "No, it doesn't make sense."

"Blair--"

"No, listen, Jim. When I left, did you hear me drive away?"

"No. You were on foot."

"So I ran out of the loft, got attacked, then came back and got my car to drive to the hospital? It doesn't make any sense. And what about the blood you found? When you pushed me off, did you hit me?"

"No! I wouldn't-- Wait a minute. The car." Jim closed his eyes. Blair could see his pupils shifting from side to side beneath his lids. "It's not there." Jim opened his eyes. "When I got home, the Corvair wasn't in the lot. But if you were already gone--"

"Then who was waiting for you in the loft?" Blair finished.

"And who did you let in before I got there?" Jim echoed.

"Hold on," Simon protested. "Are you actually thinking of doubles?"

"Had to be," Jim said.

"But who would pretend to be you or Sandburg? And why would they want to? And how could they be so good that you two were completely fooled? Especially you, Jim. You should've noticed something."

"Maybe you did," Blair said. "And you just don't remember."

Jim shook his head. "Whoever it was, he looked and sounded just like you."

Blair bounced to his feet and began to pace. His ribs didn't like it, but he ignored them. His mind was racing. There had to be something, some difference that Jim would have sensed, even if he didn't realize it. His pacing brought him closer to Jim and Simon, and he caught the odor of Simon's coffee.

"Smell!"

"What?"

"Yeah! Come on, Jim, everyone has his or her own scent, you know that. You should be able to distinguish between them. You can smell me now, can't you?"

"Yeah. When's the last time you had a shower?"

Blair ignored that. "So think. Relax. Breathe, you know the drill." Jim sat down and obediently closed his eyes. Blair moved closer, but still kept some distance between them. "Okay, now, remember that night. Remember--uh--the guy you thought was me. From what you said, he was plenty close enough for you to get a good whiff. Smell him again. Is it my scent?"

Jim opened his eyes. "No. No, it's completely different. It wasn't you, Blair."

"Great!" Blair pushed his hair back with both hands. "Great...."

His voice broke. Blair turned away, tears filling his eyes. God, not again! He heard Jim move behind him, but he couldn't face him. He tensed, expecting to feel Jim's hand on his shoulder, not certain what he'd do if he did. But Jim didn't touch him.

"You all right, Sandburg?"

"Yeah." God! Why couldn't he control himself? Jim hadn't hurt him. He wasn't crazy. He should be happy. "Yeah, I--um--I just haven't been real good the last couple of days, you know?" He was not going to tell Jim how scared he'd been. He wiped his eyes with a shaking hand. "Shit, I hate this!"

"It's okay, Blair," Jim said. "You've had a rough time."

"Sure. Like you've ever cried in your life."

"Me? Hell, no, crying's for sissies."

Blair looked at him. "Thanks a lot."

Jim grinned. "You set yourself up for that one, Chief."

"Yeah," Blair growled, forced to agree. He wiped his eyes again. "Um--Jim, could you not call me that for a while?"

"What? Chief?"

Blair nodded. "He--the guy who--you know. He kept saying it."

"Sure, Ch--Blair. Sorry."

Simon stood up. "When you two are done apologizing to each other, you might want to start figuring out who's behind this. The idea of exact doubles is even less plausible than you being responsible for it yourselves."

He moved toward the kitchen. Blair started to follow. "But, Simon--"

Simon whirled. "Sit, Sandburg!"

Blair's eyebrows shot up in surprise. He took the nearest chair, giving Jim a "What'd I do?" look that elicited only a shrug. He never knew where he stood with Simon. He'd been staying in the man's apartment for three days, and he still didn't know. Jim got up and followed Simon into the kitchen, and nobody yelled at him to sit down. Blair could see Simon at the stove, could hear the two men talking. Their voices were too low for him to make out the words, but he knew it was about him. If only he had Sentinel hearing....

Blair shot to his feet and rushed into the kitchen. "Jim!"

Simon turned away from the stove, scowling. "I told you to sit down, Sandburg."

"I know, Captain, but this is important. Jim, you gotta listen to me."

"Okay, Blair, okay." Jim pulled a chair out from the table, and nodded toward it. "What is it?"

Blair took the hint, and held it in long enough to sit down again. He cast a nervous glance at Simon, and decided his chances were better with Jim. "Jim, the guy. He's a Sentinel."

Jim's eyes stared right through him. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. In the loft, he said he could hear my heartbeat."

"He could've been faking."

"I know, I know. But when he--when he was here, he heard Simon coming, long before anyone else would've. Anyone but you."

Jim shook his head. "Another Sentinel. Who looks just like me. How is that possible?"

"The Sentinel abilities are a genetic thing. Maybe you and this guy are so genetically similar that you look the same, too."

"What about the other guy? The one who looks like you? How do you explain him?"

"I don't know, man." Blair pushed the hair back from his face. "I don't understand any of this. Who are these guys? Why are they picking on me?"

Simon turned off the stove. "You wrote the paper."

"What?"

The Captain put a bowl of soup in front of Blair. "Eat that." He held a spoon in front of Blair's face, unmoving, until Blair took it from him and began to eat. "You wrote your Master's thesis on Sentinels. You're doing your doctoral dissertation on Jim. If these guys are Sentinels, maybe they don't like that. Maybe they don't want anyone to know about them."

"Then why didn't they just kill me?"

"Maybe they didn't think it was necessary."

"That's an awful lot of maybes, Simon," Jim said. "I can accept--barely--the possibility of a Sentinel who's a double for me. But a third Sentinel, who's a double for Blair?"

"Maybe your double hired a non-Sentinel, got him plastic surgery."

"What for? If all he wanted was to scare Blair off the Sentinel stuff, why bother with Blair's double?"

Simon shrugged. "To destroy Sandburg's credibility? Such as it is."

Blair opened his mouth to answer that crack, but decided another spoonful of soup was safer. Now that he'd put something in it, his stomach was beginning to realize that it hadn't been fed for three days. He hoped there was more soup.

Jim ran a hand through his buzz-cut. "I dunno, Simon. There's still something missing here."

"You mean besides an explanation that we have a hope in hell of convincing a DA is the truth?"

Jim and Simon went back and forth, trying to figure it all out. For once in his life, Blair didn't offer an opinion. He concentrated on eating until two bowls of soup and a couple dozen crackers were gone--Simon wouldn't let him have anything heavier--then sat quietly watching the older men argue about why someone was trying to ruin his life. After a while, he stopped listening. They didn't have any real answers, and he wasn't sure that it mattered. He just wanted it to stop. Jim's voice penetrated the daze.

"How are we supposed to find these guys?"

"That should be easy," Blair said. "Just put an APB out on us."

Jim and Simon exchanged disgusted looks.

"Get him out of here, Ellison," Simon ordered.

"Yes, sir. Come on, Sandburg, we're going home."

Home. Blair couldn't move. Jim looked puzzled for a moment. He reached for Blair's shoulder, but Blair flinched back, and he withdrew his hand hastily. Blair stared at the table, and felt himself blushing.

"Sorry."

"It wasn't me who kicked you out, Blair."

Or beat the shit out of you. Or raped you. "I know." Stupid. Get ahold of yourself, Sandburg. "Jim, if you wanted me out, you'd tell me, wouldn't you?"

He glanced up, to see Jim nodding. "I'd tell you. Come on, kid. The loft's too quiet without you there. I'm not used to it anymore."

"Really? You missed me?"

Jim scowled. "Don't push it, Sandburg."

Blair smiled, and didn't care that it hurt.

End Part 4

Part 5