The Devil You Know: Part 5

The ride back to the loft was quiet. Blair stared out the window, or down at his hands, and didn't talk, didn't say a single word. Jim could hear his rapid heartbeat, his shaky breathing: the kid was scared, and he didn't know what to say to reassure him. He wasn't good at this kind of thing, never had been. Blair was the talker, not him. Granted, he'd talked more to Blair than he ever had to anyone in his life, but that was because the kid kept asking his damned questions all the time, and the only way to shut him up was to answer them. He'd never reciprocated. Hell, he'd never even thought about it. Blair asked the questions, he provided the answers. That was how it worked. He didn't like it, but he was willing to give the kid his answers in exchange for help with his Sentinel abilities. Blair had never needed his help before. Not with something like this. Sure, he'd saved Blair's ass a few times--more than a few--but that had always been physical, stuff he was good at. Nothing that happened to him had ever affected Blair like this. Even when that psycho Lash got him, he'd been fine the next day, just shaken it off like it was no big deal. But this was different. He'd seen Blair upset before, but he'd never seen him like he had last night. If he hadn't taken the gun away from him, Blair would be dead. He was better now, now that he knew it hadn't been Jim who attacked him, but he was still on edge, and it didn't take much to push him over. Jim was afraid to say anything to him. He wasn't sure he could deal with a hysterical Blair, knew he couldn't stand to see tears in those damn puppy-dog eyes again. He didn't have the words to help, and he couldn't touch him. He'd never realized how often he touched Blair, until Simon warned him not to do it and he kept having to stop himself. He'd had the training, he knew it was because of the rape, that Blair probably wouldn't be able to handle any man touching him for a while, maybe for a long time. But it made him feel like his line of communication had been cut.

Jim's hands tightened on the steering wheel. He was going to find the sick bastard who'd done this to Blair, and when he did, he was going to smash the guy's face into the dirt. As long as he didn't kill him, Simon would look the other way. It might not help Blair, but it would sure as hell make him feel better. He only hoped that this guy got in prison exactly what he'd given Blair, and worse.

Jim parked the truck, and got out. Blair jumped out the other side, wincing when he hit the asphalt. He started to grab his ribs, and stopped, letting his hand fall to his side. They entered the building together, and started up the stairs.

"Hey, Tough Guy," Jim said. "You're allowed to acknowledge that it hurts."

"You wouldn't," Blair countered.

"What am I, your role model all of a sudden? I told you my arm hurt, that time that Angie Ferris shot me."

"Only after I pulled it out of you."

"Consider yourself pulled."

"Okay, it hurts," Blair snapped. "Happy now?" He moved up the stairs ahead of Jim, muttering. "Simon wants me to be a stoic, he wants me to whine. Hold it in, Sandburg. Let it out, Sandburg. Why can't they make up their minds?"

Jim shook his head, grinning. Blair knew damn well he could hear every word. Sandburg waited for him to open the door, and followed him in. Jim tossed his keys onto the table, hung his jacket on a hook, and held his hand out for Blair's. The kid didn't even notice. He walked forward a few steps, and stopped, staring at the floor beside the couch. Brown curls hid his face, the face that was so badly bruised there was hardly an inch of skin that wasn't purple or black. He didn't move or speak; he just stood there, heart pounding, with God knew what going through his head. Jim reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, remembered, and clenched his fist.

"I'm sorry, kid. I should've been here."

Blair looked at him, and there was something missing from his eyes. "Don't try to take this on, Jim. It's not your fault."

"I'm a Sentinel."

"So? I'm Jewish. Does that make me responsible for every crime committed by a Jew?" His gaze went back to the floor. "You know, my father doesn't believe there is such a thing as a Sentinel. He thinks it's just another story Burton brought back, like the Arabian Nights." A smile ghosted across his face. "He can't stand the sight of me. I'm the only failure he's ever had. Guess he'd be even more proud of me now, huh?"

"You have a father?"

Blair's eyebrows rose. "No, Jim, I was created in a lab."

Jim controlled the urge to smack him. That wouldn't help right now. "You never mentioned him before."

"You never asked."

"He sounds like an asshole."

The smile again. "Yeah, well. He is." Blair turned away finally, and headed toward his room. "I'm going to bed."

"Blair." Jim called after him, and he stopped. "We'll get this guy."

"He's a Sentinel."

"So am I."

"He's smart."

"So are you."

Blair looked at him then, azure eyes wide. "You really think so?"

"I wouldn't work with you if I didn't. We'll get him, Blair."

"How?"

"Easy. We'll put an APB out on us."

Shaking his head, Blair disappeared into his room. His voice floated back to Jim, quiet, but well within Sentinel hearing range. "That's the dumbest idea I ever heard."





Jim was standing at the kitchen counter eating breakfast when Blair wandered out of his room, barefoot, wearing only rumpled silk boxers, a bandage wrapped around his ribs. He pushed his hair out of his face with one hand, and stifled a yawn, wincing, with the other.

"Why didn't you get me up?" he asked, padding to the refrigerator for juice.

"What for? You're not going anywhere."

Blair frowned, still not quite awake. "You said we're going to get this guy. Does 'we' mean just you all of a sudden?"

"Breathe, Sandburg."

"Huh?"

"Come on, a nice, deep breath. You know the drill."

Blair gave Jim an "And he thinks I'm weird" look, but did as he was told. As his lungs filled, Jim watched his jaw clench, and his face go pale under the bruises, but he didn't make a sound. When he let the breath out, Blair was shaking. Jim looked him straight in the eye.

"When you can do that without hurting, then you can come with me. Until then, you stay here and rest."

"But I want to help," Blair protested. "How am I supposed to do that here?"

"You just keep thinking, Sandburg. That's what you do best," Jim told him, adding in an undertone, "God help us."

"I heard that."

Jim hid his grin behind his coffee mug. He heard footsteps approaching, then a knock at the door. Blair froze, terror flashing through his eyes. Jim pretended not to see.

"That'd be Connelly," he said, moving to the door. "He'll be--"

"My babysitter," Blair interrupted.

"Yep. And you'll have one every day until this is over, so get used to it, Junior." He opened the door, and motioned the uniformed officer inside. "Come on in, Steve. You know Blair Sandburg?"

"Yes, sir." Connelly nodded at Blair. "Mr. Sandburg."

Blair gave Jim a pained look. Sandburg and Connelly were about the same age, but Connelly was an ex-Marine, still real military in outlook. He and the neo-hippie anthropologist ought to see eye to eye on just about nothing. Jim hoped Blair had more sense than to spend the day playing "make fun of the stiff and see if he notices". It wasn't real smart to antagonize the guy who was supposed to be keeping you alive.

Damn, his watch. Jim ran upstairs to get it. To his surprise, Blair followed him. The incident of four days ago tugged at his mind, but he forced it out with a shake of his head. That hadn't been Blair. Sandburg was looking around the room, taking everything in. He was sure Blair--the real Blair--hadn't been up here more than twice since he first moved in.

"What's up, Ch--Blair?" Jim prodded, cursing himself when Blair flinched at the nickname.

"I need to tell you something."

"And you don't want Connelly to hear?" Blair nodded. "Go ahead."

"You're going to think I'm crazy."

"Sandburg, I already do. Come on, spill it."

"I've been having these dreams."

"Nightmares? Blair, that's natural."

"No. I mean, I know, but these are different. I had the first one right before it happened."

"Before? Are you sure? You've been on those painkillers, maybe you're confused."

"No, man, I'm sure. I was dreaming, and he woke me up, pounding on the door. The dreams are all the same. They're these medieval, fairy tale things where I'm a wizard, and these ogres are storming the castle, and they capture me, and-- In the last dream, the King of the Ogres turned into you. And then he killed me."

Jim thought he understood. "Blair, nothing's going to happen to you. I know you're scared, but I'm going to find this guy."

"No, listen. Jim, I think the dreams are warnings. I think someone--or something--is trying to communicate with me."

Jim nodded. "What makes you think that?"

"Don't humor me!" Blair snapped. "I knew you'd think I was crazy. You're just like--" Blair raked his hair back, pacing. "Forget it. Just forget it, okay?"

Jim wanted to grab him, knew he couldn't. "Blair, I'm not your father."

Blair stopped, hands in his hair, staring back at him like he'd let out some terrible secret. He closed his eyes, sighing. "I know, man. Sorry. Sometimes I just get tired of nobody taking me seriously."

"Sandburg, I'm listening. Tell me why you think these dreams are warnings."

"It's the panther."

The Peruvian jungle filled Jim's vision. The jungle, and a panther behind Blair, golden eyes meeting his. "Panther?"

"Yeah, it's been in every dream, looking at me. And when--when the other guy was--when he was here, I saw it. Not for real, I mean, it was just in my mind, but it was there. Remember the panther you saw in Peru? I think--I think it's the same panther, but now it's trying to communicate with me, to warn me about this other Sentinel, and--" Blair checked himself, shoulders slumping. "And now you really think I'm crazy, don't you?"

Panther shifted, became a man, told him he had to choose. He'd never told Blair about it. It was too personal, too private. And there had been the fear that Sandburg would think he was nuts. "No. I don't think you're crazy. I think you're right."

"You do?"

"Yeah. Look, Blair, if you see this panther again, do what he tells you."

"You're serious. You really believe me?"

"I really believe you."

"Why? I mean, no one else would."

"No one else has seen the panther. Trust him, Blair. He's on our side."

Blair nodded. "Okay, man."

"Good. I've gotta get to work. You going to be okay with Connelly?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Mr. Military? Yeah."

Jim started down the stairs, Blair on his heels. "Take it easy on him."

"Sure."

"I mean it."

"Okay, okay. You know, Jim, sometimes I think you don't trust me."

"Sandburg--" Jim shook a finger under the younger man's nose. Blair met his glare with wide-eyed innocence. "I'm going to work."

Jim grabbed his jacket and keys, and left the loft, mentally wishing Connelly good luck. He was going to need it.





The Ogre-King fingered his earrings. Held by the other ogres, he jerked his head away, trying to avoid the King's touch. The Ogre-King chuckled, and spoke to him with the voice of his friend.

"Where is your magic now, little wizard?"

"Gone." Taken from him. As the Ogre-King had taken the form of his friend. He looked beyond the ogre, to where the panther prowled. Golden eyes locked on his, imparting courage. "The form you wear is not yours. Show me your true face. Or are you afraid of a wizard with no power?"

"Afraid? Of you?"

The Ogre-King laughed again, and brushed a hand across his cheek. The King's features shifted, melted, stretched and lengthened, became a face that was both like and unlike that of the knight his friend. The eyes were brown instead of blue, deeper-set, and cruel. The cheeks were hollow, the bones more prominent, the mouth wider. The hair was black, tied at his neck in a short tail. The Ogre-King smiled.

"Now you have seen, little wizard. Now you must die."

The Ogre-King held in his hand a knife, the blade as long as his forearm. His struggles were useless. The Ogre-King took him by the hair, pulled his head back. He could no longer see the panther. He could see only the eyes of the Ogre-King, dark now with the joy of death. The blade slashed across his throat, and he saw his own blood spatter the Ogre-King's face.

Blair gasped awake, clutching his throat. It was whole, he knew it was, but he could still feel where the knife had cut, still see the blood spurting. He sat up, careful of his ribs, and tried to calm himself, slow his breathing and his heartbeat to something approaching normal. God, he hated these dreams. Sure, they were interesting, in a purely academic sense; maybe they were even useful. But if the panther was trying to communicate with him, couldn't it let him wake up before he died? And why didn't it ever do anything to help him? Jim seemed to have a lot of confidence in it, but he wasn't sure he did. Jim had said that, in his dream of the panther, Blair was gone. Maybe the panther didn't want to help him at all. Maybe it wanted to get rid of him.

Maybe he didn't want to think about it. He definitely didn't want to go to sleep again. He was sick of sleeping. He'd only retreated to his room because six hours cooped up with Officer Steve Connelly, the man who lived, breathed, and ate the book, had been more than he could stand. He'd tried to get along because Jim asked him to, but he could only take so much thinly-veiled contempt before the urge to show Connelly what a thick-headed jerk he was got so strong that he either had to get away from him or explode. Connelly might be a good cop, but he was a lousy babysitter. He also ate enough for three men. Not that it showed. He probably spent five hours a day working out. Not something Blair Sandburg would ever do.

"Want some coffee, Officer Connelly?" Blair asked, pouring himself a mug. "How about a donut?"

"You got any?"

"No." Blair grinned. "I just wanted to see if you'd go for it."

Connelly scowled, and muttered something under his breath. Blair's grin widened, but he left it alone. It was dark; Jim would be home soon,and Officer Steve would go back into his box, or wherever they kept plastic policemen at night.

The sound of a key in the lock stopped the mug halfway to Blair's mouth. Connelly stood, reaching for his gun. The door opened, and Jim walked in.

"Everything okay, Connelly?"

"Yes, sir." Connelly visibly relaxed. "All quiet."

"Good. You can go now."

"Yes, sir."

Connelly went to the door. Jim tossed his keys onto the table. A flash of color caught Blair's eye, the rainbow strands of woven cord that trailed from his keyring. His keyring. Not Jim's. "I'll use yours."

"Oh my God."

Jim held the door open for Connelly. "Something wrong, Chief?"

The panther leaped. The mug fell from Blair's numb fingers, shattered on the floor, coffee splashing everywhere. "You're not Jim Ellison. Connelly--"

Connelly started to turn, to go for his gun. Jim's double smashed the door into Connelly's face. He staggered, and the double clubbed him down. Connelly hit the floor and lay still. The double shut the door, and smiled.

"I've missed your ass, Chief."

The double moved toward him. Blair stood his ground, knowing he couldn't outrun Jim. But this wasn't Jim. Maybe he was slower, maybe--too late, he was too close now. Do something, Sandburg! Don't just stand here and wait to die.

Blair grabbed the coffeepot and flung the contents into the double's face. Screaming, the double clutched at his eyes. Blair dropped the coffeepot, and ran for the back door. Footsteps pounded behind him. A hand tangled in his hair, yanking him back, and an arm snaked around his neck, lifting him off his feet, cutting off his breath.

"Nice try, Chief," the double said in his ear. "But the coffee wasn't hot. Too bad."

Blair fought, but the double ignored his struggles, increasing the pressure on his throat. Fireworks burst in front of his eyes. He clawed at the arm, fighting now to breathe, heart slamming in his chest. He couldn't get any air, couldn't loosen the vise around his neck. The world went gray, edged with red. Then everything was black.

End Part 5

Part 6