GOLDEN ECHOES
Production No. CVT507

written by:
Carolyn

edited by: Melanie and Kimberly


Central Precinct, 6:37 PM

"Free at last," Blair sighed as he made his way down in the elevator from Major Crime to the parking garage.

Settling himself behind the wheel of his Volvo, he started it up and headed out into the after-work traffic. As he drove, his mind wandered over the case he and Jim had been working on. Four students from nearby colleges had been found dead over the past week, apparently of drug overdoses. The coroners' reports had indicated that the drug had similarities to both cocaine and PCP, but was stronger and more pure than most 'designer' drugs. From the interrogation of friends and family of the deceased, it seemed that two of the students had been first time users, the others only engaging in casual drug use.

Unfortunately, Major Crime was nowhere near a breakthrough on the operation. Narcotics had handed over the case when the death toll had risen to four. Both departments had put their collective heads together, but had come up with little to go on. The lack of long-term drug habits for the deceased students made leads by association difficult. All four had been outgoing enough to have casual contact with hundreds of other students, none of whom knew anything about where they had gotten the drugs, or were keeping silent about what they knew.

Blair had spent the day going over the students' school records and transcripts of the interviews of their close friends and family. Nothing had jumped out at him. After ten straight hours, he had given up and packed the case files into his backpack, determined to start over in the more comfortable setting of the loft and hopefully find something that the glaring overhead lights and busy din of the office had prevented him from seeing.

Several blocks from home, his racing mind geared more towards the loft than the station, he remembered his plan to stop for groceries on the way home. Turning left instead of right at the next intersection, he drove to the nearest Safeway and began trekking up and down the aisles.

He was hefting a twelve-pack of his favorite microbrew into his cart when a familiar voice caught his attention. Farther down the aisle near the low-priced beer, a group of kids were pooling their cash and haggling over which brand to buy. Blair doubted that a single one of them was 21, but trusted the cashier to card them and refuse their purchase.

Standing slightly apart from the others, though, was Daryl Banks. He rolled his cart towards the group, smiling at the captain's son.

"Hey Daryl, how's things?"

After a guilty jump, the young man's eyes narrowed and a definite sneer twisted his mouth. He jutted out his chin and defiantly glared at Blair.

"No business of yours, man."

Startled, Blair raised his hands, palms out.

"Hey, take it easy. Sorry I asked." Puzzled, he moved his cart past the pack of glaring youths and turned down the next aisle. Before he was out of earshot he heard Daryl muttering about him being one of his mom's weird friends.

Blair decided that Daryl was probably joining a fraternity and that it was 'be an ass to anyone you meet' day when the young man himself strode around the corner and hurried over towards him. Blair greeted him neutrally.

"Blair, I'm so sorry," Daryl said sincerely.

"What's with the attitude?"

"I can't talk about it here. I told them you might give me some money, though. That's why I'm over here."

Blair handed over a ten to the nervous young man, who turned to watch as the group of boys passed the end of the aisle.

"We're going for some chips. Hurry it up, Banks," the tallest of the bunch growled. Correcting his earlier assessment, Blair decided that one was at least 21, if not older. Blair could feel the lecture on 'the negative influence of fraternities which hazed their neophytes prior to membership' on the tip of his tongue and barely held it in check as the young man began speaking.

"Where the heck is my Dad? I left a whole bunch of messages this afternoon, but I haven't heard back from him."

"He's on surveillance right now with Jim. Believe it or not, he asked for it specially. It's all he's cleared for out of the office until his leg heals fully."

"How come he hasn't returned my calls?"

"Well, that reason has a name, Booker Billings. He's filling in for Rhonda while she's on vacation. Someone majorly screwed up on the vacation scheduling, so half the administrative personnel are gone, too. Rhonda's sister is getting married, though, so Simon couldn't ask her to change her week off. He's stuck with Booker until she gets back next week. To make matters worse, somehow the guy got your Dad's cell phone account cancelled and hasn't managed to requisition a new one for three days."

"Booker? Why does that name sound familiar?"

"You know, 'Booker Billings from Booking'. He insists on answering the phone like that when he's on duty. I crack up every time I hear it. Just once I wish someone would just say 'Book him, Booker.' It would make the guy's day! He's great at his own job, but can't seem to get Rhonda's down pat. Messages in particular. Simon's missed messages from the Mayor and Commissioner, too, so you're in good company."

"Great, just great," Daryl sighed.

"Besides, Booker usually works the night shift, so he's always yawning and begging coffee off us. Your Dad is about ready to fly to California, forcibly remove Rhonda from the wedding party and bring her back to her desk."

"Aww, man, he wouldn't go that far." His face became thoughtful. "I'd watch yourself, though. He might have you riding her desk before the end of the week."

"He already tried that. Jim talked him out of it. At least I think they talked. Your Dad suggested it, and they went into his office to 'talk' about it and both came out about five minutes later. Simon was all red-faced and Jim was grinning smugly. He won't tell me what favor he cashed in, but it worked. So your Dad is stuck with Booker."

"I can't believe his parents actually called him that."

"I know what you mean. I suggested we call him BB to make it easier, but Jim says it sounds too much like an endearment, and refuses." Both Blair and Daryl laughed at that, earning an ugly stare from the big kid, who had come around the corner into their aisle again with several bags of snacks and his cohorts in tow.

Blair glanced uneasily at the scowling youth, who was thankfully far enough down the aisle to avoid hearing what they said

"Well, Rhonda's either going to have her remaining vacation days rescinded or get a big fat raise when she gets back," Blair continued softly. "We'll have to wait and see. The bottom line is, your Dad practically threatened Jim to let him in on the stakeout and bumped me off to do it."

"That's too bad," Daryl said absently.

Misunderstanding, Blair continued. "No skin off my back. I get regular sleep hours and a nice quiet loft at night."

"So Dad and Jim are gonna be gone all night?"

"Yeah, looks like."

"Oh." Daryl knit his brows in thought. "Are you going out tonight?"

"Probably not." Blair grinned and sighed in pleasure. "I get the loft all to myself for the Jags game tonight without a roommate who insists on checking CNN at every commercial break." Blair raised his eyebrows and grinned.

"Banks! You coming?" the tall kid barked.

Blair noted how Daryl stiffened and blushed as he turned to face his friends.

Friends? I don't think so. I'm getting a real bad vibe, here.

"Yeah, one more second," he called out, then looked solemnly at Blair. "So you'll be home tonight?" The hopefulness in that glance was not lost on the former grad student.

"Yes, I will," he said firmly. You bet your ass I will, and whatever is going on, we'll take care of it. "We'll talk then, okay?" He looked firmly into the younger Banks' eyes. His meaning was not lost on the young man.

"Listen Blair, I can't explain now, but I don't want them to know you're a cop, or my Dad either."

Every alarm bell the detective possessed began ringing at the same moment but he nodded nonetheless. He'd get the answers he wanted tonight. His back to the boys, Daryl released his held breath and smiled. Dropping the smile and assuming a more disinterested countenance, he strutted back to stand in the group of boys.

"Later, man," he called and waved absently over his shoulder.

"Definitely," Blair whispered and then walked away to finish his shopping, his concern for Daryl growing with every minute.


The Loft, 8:41 PM

Blair was pacing the living room when the expected knock finally sounded on the door.

Arriving home after shopping, he spent some time going over the files he had brought home with him from the office. After a while, he moved into the kitchen for some food, but his concern for the captain's son left him with no desire to prepare anything elaborate. Spying a chunk of sharp cheddar cheese and a plate of leftover grilled jalapenos, he grabbed them, a knife, and a box of crackers and carried them to where the files still lay on the coffee table.

By 8:00 p.m., his hunger was appeased and the files would no longer hold his interest, concern for Daryl Banks overriding all else. Even the Jags game failed as a distraction. In the middle of the second quarter, he shut off the TV in frustration. He stood up, stretched, and began pacing. Finally, he heard the knock and quickly ushered a very agitated Daryl inside.

After settling the captain's son on the couch, he urged Daryl to tell him what had him so jumpy.


Jim's Truck, 8:55 PM

"...so then she dropped the towel and held out her wrists for the handcuffs. I thought Stiller was going to have an aneurysm, his face was so red."

Simon Banks' laughter echoed through the interior of the vehicle in which he and Jim had been sitting for the past six hours. It startled the Sentinel, who had tuned in to his captain's words often enough to nod now and then, keeping up the pretense that he was engrossed in this often-told tale. He barked out a short laugh, but his hesitation was noticed by his companion.

"Come on, Ellison, you're not zoning on me, are you?" he asked with a chuckle. His words were only half joking, though. This Sentinel business was a huge advantage at times, but the worry that his best detective would go catatonic at an inopportune time always lingered in the back of his mind.

The guilty flush which spread over Jim's face answered Simon's question for him.

"I can't be that boring, can I?" he asked with a wry grin.

"Well, to be honest, sir, I've heard all your stories." Jim immediately regretted his words when he saw the hurt expression on his friend's face.

"Look, Simon, I'm sorry..." he began.

"No, Jim, you're right." The tall black man exhaled deeply. "Thing is, I've heard all my stories before, and I'm bored too. I never thought I would say this, but I kind of miss Sandburg."

"You know, in all the time I've spent with him, I don't think he's ever told the same story twice."

"You're kidding me, right?" Simon's eyebrows were raised in disbelief.

"Nope. I can't figure out how someone his age could have fit in so much travel and adventure, while still spending enough time in school to have almost gotten a doctorate. I have a theory, though."

"What is it?"

"I'm pretty certain that he's given up sleep."

Both men's laughter was genuine this time.

"No way, Jim, everybody's got to sleep sometime."

"Oh, I agree with you, but I've only actually seen him asleep six or seven times since he moved in with me. Ahh, but one time I remember very clearly," he added, chuckling at the memory. "Do you remember when you sicced those 'True Crime' reporters on my tail?"

"How could I forget? You remind me every time we have an argument."

Jim snorted at that but continued speaking, realizing that the tension between the men had been broken, and that they were truly enjoying themselves now, despite the monotony of the surveillance. Sandburg's magic was at work, even in his absence. Jim couldn't remember a time when the younger man had failed to amuse him with his tales of both fact and wonder. Jim had no idea where fact ended and the embellishments began, but the result was a definite lack of boredom.

"You want to talk about red faced? You should have seen Sandburg, standing there in his boxers while I'm holding a gun on those reporters. The poor kid was not one minute out of his bed, probably not even awake yet, and there's a camera in his face. I almost felt sorry for him..."


The Loft, 9:23 PM

"You're kidding me, right?" Blair asked incredulously.

"No way, man, I would not kid about something like this."

"No, no, I believe you about what you saw. What I'd like to know is why you didn't talk to your Dad sooner. Dammit, Daryl, you're mixed up in something way out of your league."

"Look, Blair, if I thought you were going to give me a speech I would've waited to talk to my Dad," Daryl shot right back. "He's gonna kill me as it is, but I really thought I could help him out, prove to him that I'm not the little kid whose diapers he changed. Yeah, I know it was dangerous," he said quickly, holding up his hands to stall any further protest from Blair, "but if I thought it was all that bad, I wouldn't have done anything. I was just trying to help, man."

Blair felt his anger dissipating. Daryl's earnest attempts to help, his begging understanding from the older, more experienced man reminded him too much of the time he had tried to assist his then-new partner in solving the case of the yellow-scarf murders. He had gone to Club Doom without Jim's consent and had managed to catch a break for them. They were unlucky in that their murderer was one step ahead of them until the end, but he could still feel the buzz of excitement he'd experienced as he had shared his findings with Simon and Jim. How could he fault Daryl for trying to help?

The young man in question was attending the University of Washington in Cascade while living at home with his Mom. He had considered other schools, farther away, but most of his friends had stayed local, and where better to study criminal justice than in the city where your father is a police captain? He had begun his freshman curriculum by taking several prerequisite classes, one of which included a Chemistry class where he had met the boys from the supermarket. Daryl's attempt to work on a lab project after hours had landed him in the middle of some dubious chemistry being performed by the other students. Instead of panicking, he had feigned disinterest and befriended the group over the course of several weeks while trying to learn more about the clearly illegal activities in which they were involved. All the while, he was careful to make sure none of the boys knew who his father was. The leader of the group, Kevin Douglas, who had snarled at Blair in the supermarket, had been acting very jumpy for the past few days. Daryl believed that something was about to go down, and had finally decided to alert his father. Booker Billings' incompetence had thwarted Daryl's efforts at a face to face meeting.

Taking a deep breath, Blair turned his body on the couch to face his friend.

"I'm not mad at you, Daryl. To tell you the truth, I know just how you feel," he said with a chuckle. "I'm glad you told me what was up, but I really think we ought to call your Dad and Jim and tell them what you told me."

"I'm down with that, man," Daryl said with a nervous laugh. For a moment, all of Blair's anxiety returned full-force. Despite his efforts to remain brave in front of the new detective, Daryl was scared to death of the new 'friends' he had made. He had been held captive twice by terrorists, been abducted by drug runners in Peru, and dealt bravely with his father's numerous life-threatening injuries, but he was only eighteen years old. His life should be filled with classes and girlfriends and nights out with his real friends, not subterfuge with the criminal element on campus. Blair reached over and gripped Daryl's shoulder tightly and grinned broadly.

"We'll take care of it, Daryl. You can count on that."

A bright, easier smile graced the younger man's face as he let out a gusty sigh.

"Thanks, Blair. I knew I could count on you."

"Detective Sandburg, at your service." Blair winked as he saluted Daryl then strode for the phone. The sooner Jim and Simon were here, the sooner all of Daryl's fears could be laid to rest.


Apartment on Vesey Street, 9:30 PM

At the same time, in an apartment across town, three young men were gathered around a dirty kitchen table strewn with books, empty beer cans, old pizza boxes and loose papers. One boy was slumped down on the table top, oblivious to the tension passing between his companions. The oldest boy lit a cigarette and fixed the attentive young man across the table from him with a steely gaze as he took a long drag.

"You're sure you took care of it?"

"I told you ten times already, Kevin, it's done."

"And he doesn't know that we know all about him?"

"No way, man, we've all been playing it cool."

"You better not be lying to me. You know what happened to the last person who lied to me, don't you?"

"Chill out, man. Banks is history. He'll never know what hit him. We did him just like we did Roger. Don't you trust me?"

"I don't trust anyone."

"Hey..."

"Shut up and let me think. The boss is counting on us to hold up our end of this operation, and I can't think with you jabbering at me. As long as Banks and his pig daddy are out of the picture, we might be able to pull this off, so he'd better be out of the picture."

"I told you..."

"Yeah, I know. Get me another beer, will you?" As the other boy moved to comply, he took another long drag on his cigarette, blowing the smoke smoothly into the dim light above the table.

"Nighty-night, Banks," he murmured to himself as a slow grin spread across his face.


The Loft, 9:40 PM

"So exactly what look are you going for there, Blair?"

"What do you mean?"

The mood in the loft had been elevated by the imminent arrival of the two seasoned detectives. After a cursory explanation from his partner, Jim had agreed to inform the captain of what was happening and call for relief. As soon as the next shift arrived, they would head straight for the loft.

Blair and Daryl were considerably more relaxed now as they watched the after-game commentary for the Jags' win over the 76'ers.

"Your hair, man. It's looking pretty shiny lately."

Blair ran a self-conscious hand through his curls, which were at a difficult stage of growing back. Despite his efforts, his hair tended to stick out at odd angles until he had resorted to hair gel to keep it in a semblance of order.

"It's growing back more slowly this time," he replied, a bit petulantly.

"Yeah, well, if this detective thing doesn't pan out, you could join the circus. Wouldn't even need a wig."

"Ha, ha, ha," Blair replied evenly. "You must be taking lessons from your father. You've clearly been spending too much time with him if you've picked up the 'tease Sandburg' vibe from him."

"Ain't that the truth. He only had me to pick on while you were away at the academy. Payback's a bitch, man."

Blair groaned and rose to his feet.

"You want something to drink, funny man?"

"No thanks, man, I've got my own." Daryl reached into his backpack and pulled out a bottle of fruit juice. Blair pulled it from his hands and nodded as he read the label on the container of Odwalla 'Serious Energy'. The juices were widely available on most Pacific Northwest college campuses, as they had been at Rainier. The former grad student felt a pang of momentary regret as he recalled the many nights he had dashed to the student cafeteria before closing to snag a bottle or two of the healthy drinks before beginning long nights of study or grading. He quashed the memories and smiled at his younger friend as he authoritatively read the label aloud.

"'Serious Energy's' unique energy source comes from a combination of reishi and cordyceps mycelium two members of the mushroom family well known in Asia for their ability to provide sustained energy throughout the day. Also featuring ginseng, green tea and gotu kola, Serious Energy adds punch to the palate in an infusion of apple, orange, ginger, passionfruit, and lime juices.' Man, Daryl, I probably drank five of these a day my last year at school. Your Dad can't have had that much negative influence over you if you're drinking this stuff."

"Oh, come on, he's not that bad."

"Daryl, have you ever seen what he eats? He's almost as bad as Jim. Just yesterday his entire lunch consisted of a bag a Fritos and a can of Coke. I can't even remember the last time he had a salad instead of a basket of fries at Wonder Burger. You know, with all the hours he puts in and at his age, it would really do him good to start thinking differently about what he puts into his body..."

The younger man rolled his eyes at Blair's oft-repeated recitation of the benefits of eating healthy. Daryl knew it was mostly for show. He had seen the young detective match his Dad fry for fry at times, and the vending machine at the station had provided many a meal during long days of work. An algae shake every morning didn't count as being a health nut in his book. He grinned and decided to both silence Blair's lecture and prove his affinity for healthy things, reaching over to grab a grilled pepper from the plate still lying on the coffee table. He popped it whole into his mouth and chewed pronouncedly, a 'look, look, I'm eating something green' expression adorning his face.

Blair did, indeed, stop his lecture mid-word as a wide grin broke across his face. Wordlessly, he shook the juice bottle vigorously and waited patiently, the beverage extended towards Daryl, waiting for his taste buds to react. His grin turned to loud laughter as the expected reaction took place. The smug look on Daryl's face turned abruptly into one of panic as the fiery kick of the jalapeno seeds assaulted his mouth, bringing tears to his eyes. His forehead broke out in a sweat and he began coughing harshly. He grabbed fiercely at the offered bottle of juice. Daryl chugged nearly half the contents, then theatrically wiped his sleeve across his mouth, sending a watery glare towards his still-laughing friend.

"God! What was that?"

"A jalapeno pepper, with the seeds. You're supposed to clean them out before eating them."

"Now you tell me," he replied weakly, coughing a few more times to clear his burning throat.

"Try eating some crackers. They'll cut the burning better than the juice."

"Cool," Daryl replied. Before his hand reached the cutting board, though, he paused and shook his head, as though trying to clear his vision.

"Man, those sure pack a punch. I'm starting to feel dizzy, here."

"Hey, hey, sit back. Here," Blair murmured, handing Daryl several crackers and pushing him to lean back against the couch.

"Back off!" the young man shouted suddenly, his hands batting away Blair's assistance. "Just... leave me alone." Hands up in a placating gesture, Blair moved over to sit on the other couch. Must be embarrassed, Blair thought. He grabbed the remote control and flipped stations until he found a rerun of "Homicide: Life On The Streets" being shown on Court TV. Hoping the excellent show would grab Daryl's attention like it always seemed to grab his own, he dropped the remote onto the empty cushion next to him and turned his attention to the screen. He was worried about his young friend, but determined to give him a chance to get over the embarrassment of his reaction to the pepper. After watching Pembleton work his magic in 'The Box', for a full ten minutes, he glanced over to see how his companion was faring as a commercial filled the screen.

Daryl was sweating more noticeably now, and still panting for breath. Blair watched him stuff several more crackers into his mouth, washing them down with the remainder of the Odwalla. After depositing the bottle onto the table, he lay back and covered his eyes with both hands.

"Are you okay?" Blair asked softly. In reply, Daryl stood shakily and pointed his finger in the older man's direction.

"I told you to quit bugging me, man, and I mean it. Quit. Bugging. Me." He swung around and faced the couch, both hands now wrapped around his middle. A slight groan broke past his tightly clenched jaw.

"Daryl, it's okay, man. Just sit back down and relax, okay?" Blair moved quickly over to his captain's son, now concerned that he was suffering an allergic reaction to the pepper. The moment his hand touched Daryl's shoulder, though, the boy exploded.

"Get your fucking hands off me, you fucking freak!" A rough shove sent Blair stumbling towards the balcony doors. Before he could catch his balance fully, the enraged youth was at his side, pulling his shoulder and turning him around to face him. A flash of metal caught his glance and he sprang back, but not before he felt a stinging pain sear across his abdomen. Confusion warred with anger as he darted away from Daryl and into the kitchen. Placing the island between them, he took a good look at the young man.

Daryl's pupils were widely dilated, his breath came in pants, and sweat covered his face. His hands were shaking as they alternately wiped the sweat from his brow and clumsily clutched at the front of his shirt, the cheese knife still in his grip. Blair was prepared to dart to either side should the young man make a move, but Daryl seemed to need the support of the kitchen island.

"Daryl, you need to put the knife down, man, and tell me what's wrong," Blair began. It was an effort to calm his racing emotions and speak evenly to the clearly distressed young man. "We need to figure out what's happening, here, but I need you to put down the knife first. You don't want to hurt me, I know that. Just take a deep breath and let the knife go. You can do it, Daryl. Just let it go."

After a few more tense minutes, the knife finally dropped from Daryl's hand and onto the floor with a clatter. He was staring at the stove top now, tears streaming down his face, his restless hands splayed across the counter.

"Daryl? Talk to me, man. What's the matter?" No response. Blair moved slowly, not wanting to provoke another attack, one arm wrapped around the bleeding gash on his abdomen. He moved to Daryl's side, waiting for another outburst, pleased that none came.

"Daryl, tell me what's wrong."

"Blair?" the teen replied weakly as he slumped down, his head lowering to rest against the cool tiles of the counter top.

"Yeah, it's me. You just hang on, I'm going to call an ambulance." Blair paused to clasp Daryl's shoulder, a gesture meant for comfort and assurance.

"No! Noooo!" The teen swung into action, swinging his hands around grabbing at Blair's shirt. The older man braced his legs as he had been taught at the academy and sought to use Daryl's momentum against him, hoping to subdue him before he could hurt either of them further. His grip was not sufficient to hold the enraged youth, though. Still holding on to each other, they overbalanced and landed hard on the floor. Blair's head smacked heavily against the hardwood floor, stunning him. Daryl quickly scrambled on top of the dazed detective and wrapped his hands around Blair's throat. The detective immediately raised his own hands and grabbed at the teen's wrists, pulling futilely against the pressure cutting off his air supply. Blair saw no recognition in Daryl's contorted features and began struggling in earnest. He bucked and twisted to no avail, then tried to wriggle a knee up between their bodies, hoping to shove his attacker off. With a growl, Daryl began shaking Blair's head in his grip, bouncing his head off the floor as the stranglehold grew tighter. With black spots forming behind his eyes and a sense of lethargy overcoming him at the lack of oxygen, Blair tried to strike out at Daryl's face, now willing to inflict any sort of damage to get him to release his hold.

Just as he was about to lose consciousness, he heard, as though from a great distance, a loud crash reverberate through the loft, then suddenly the pressure was gone. He rolled to his side, gasping in great breaths of air and moaning loudly at the intense pain it caused. One hand moved to his wounded stomach, the other up to his throat. He half expected it to have molded into the shape of Daryl's hands, like clay that was squeezed roughly, but smooth skin met his questing fingers.

He heard Jim shouting something, and suddenly there was a cell phone in his hand. Jim? Cell phone? He looked blearily over to where his partner knelt next to Daryl's now-immobile body, and focused hard to hear what Jim was saying over the roaring in his ears. Ahh, 911. Okay Jim, can do. He shoved himself up to a seated position, emitting another groan as his wounded stomach protested. He dialed carefully with shaking fingers and croaked out the address. He glanced over and saw Jim with his head down on Daryl's chest, then watched as he began CPR. Daryl's breathing and heartbeat had stopped.

With a supreme effort, Blair dragged himself over to kneel on the other side of the teen. When Jim stopped the chest compressions to move up and breathe again into Daryl's mouth for him, Blair took over the task.


The Loft, 10:02 PM

Jim had walked into a nightmare. As he and the hobbling Simon strode into the apartment building's hallway, the sound of Daryl's scream had sent him running. He had ignored Simon's demands for an explanation and had taken the stairs three at a time, leaving his bewildered captain to wait for the elevator. He burst through the door, looking for intruders, but instead found the teen straddling his partner, doing his best to choke him to death. Just as he was about to manhandle him off Blair, Daryl collapsed on his own. The detective pulled him sideways so he wouldn't crush the now gasping Sandburg, and examined him quickly. From what little he had seen, the teen had obviously been delusional and violent. A sharp memory assaulted him, and for a split second, he found himself staring down the barrel of his own service revolver, his frightened and delusional partner at the other end of it. No designer drug clouded his vision this time, and it was clear to him that Daryl had somehow been drugged.

Abandoning the ramifications that train of thought exposed, he turned his full attention on keeping his captain's son alive and getting help for his injured partner. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and was about to call for the paramedics when Daryl quit breathing and his heart stopped. Another glance at Blair showed him his roommate was coming around. Daryl needed help now, so he thrust the phone at his dazed partner and told him to call 911, having to repeat it twice before Blair complied, all the while cursing himself that he needed the wounded man's assistance. Simon had only just entered the elevator on the ground floor.

He began CPR, checking the teen's airway and tilting his neck back before starting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, after which he began chest compressions. He gratefully saw Blair resume his place at Daryl's chest as he moved back up to his mouth to breathe for him again. The captain's son was in serious trouble, but if Blair was helping out, then his partner probably wasn't hurt too badly. He was grateful he hadn't had to make a choice between them. He breathed twice into Daryl's mouth, then paused to see if the teen resumed breathing on his own when the attack hit him.

He rocked back away from Daryl and began to cough and choke. The fiery taste of the jalapeno pepper still lingering in the youth's mouth burned through his own and set his eyes to watering. He vaguely heard Sandburg growl at him to get control of himself as he wheezed, clapping his hands over his mouth and blinking his streaming eyes. In his heightened emotional state at seeing his friend's son attempting to kill his partner, he must have engaged his other senses as well, taste among them.

Jim watched helplessly through fiercely watering eyes as his partner moved to continue mouth-to-mouth, but the choking cry of distress Blair emitted as his damaged throat tried to bring in enough air to breathe life into Daryl was all Jim needed to gain full control of the dials and ease the younger man aside. Despite the blood staining the front of Blair's shirt, he valiantly continued the chest compressions on Daryl.

"What the hell is... oh my God! Daryl!"

Jim felt the thud of Simon's knees hitting the floor beside his unconscious son and absently thought it must have hurt his still-healing leg. Simon eased Blair's hands away from Daryl and placed his own hands on his son's chest, resuming the rhythmic compressions with barely a pause.

"What happened? What's the matter with my boy?" he asked frantically.

"I don't know," replied Blair miserably, his voice cracking with each word. "He was fine, then just freaked out. I thought he was having an allergic reaction, but then he attacked me."

"Attacked you? Christ almighty, what the hell happened?" Blair remained silent. There was little he could say to alleviate Simon's fear and concern, and the pain in his throat made any long explanations impossible right now.

"Simon, stop for a minute, I think he's responding."

Sure enough, Daryl's chest began to rise and fall on its own. Jim pressed his fingers against the carotid artery in his neck, and nodded to confirm the weak but present pulse. Simon placed his hands on either side of his son's face, his thumbs stroking away the beaded sweat and tear tracks.

"I hear the ambulance pulling up. I'll go bring the paramedics up here," Jim stated as he jogged towards the door.

"Ahh, my sweet boy. You've got to be okay, Daryl," Simon whispered to his son. "Fight hard. Whatever's happening to you, you've got to fight it hard!"


Blair inched closer to his captain and laid a supportive hand on his back. Simon glanced quickly at him in acknowledgment before returning his gaze to his son's too-still form.

"Sandburg, I need to know. Did he... I mean, how did he seem... Ahh, hell."

Blair understood what Simon was trying to ask him. Was it possible that Daryl had taken drugs on purpose? Every fiber of his being was screaming that there was no way the responsible, intelligent young man could have made such a stupid choice. But this same responsible, intelligent young man had been trying his hardest to kill him mere minutes ago. Simon needed reassurances right now that Blair could not give him.

"I don't know, Simon. I honestly don't know."

The captain glared at his newest detective, whether in anger at his non-answer or at the overall situation, Blair didn't know. He was spared from that painful gaze by the arrival of the EMTs, gear in tow. He shuffled back out of their way as they began working on Daryl. Simon remained by his son's side, staying out of the way of the paramedics, but maintaining physical contact with his ailing child.

Blair's view of the surreal scene was disturbed by his partner kneeling down in front of him, his hands full of medical supplies.

"I told them I'd check you out myself," Jim murmured as he deposited the supplies on the floor then eased Blair down onto his back. The pulling on his stomach caused him to flinch and automatically raise his knees to ease the strain. Jim carefully pushed his shirt aside and pulled up the bloodied t-shirt underneath. His touch was gentle as he cleansed the wound of blood with antiseptic-soaked gauze.

"This doesn't look too deep. Maybe needs a few stitches, but you'll live." Blair smiled at his partner's quip while Jim covered the wound with clean gauze. The smile faded, however, when Jim's fingers moved over the bruises on his neck. His hands moved up to cover Jim's but stopped short of pulling the hands away.

"Sorry, Chief. I know it hurts, but I want to feel for any damage here."

Blair closed his eyes and nodded, his hands dropping to his sides in acquiescence. After a few gentle palpations, Jim removed his hands and sat back on his heels. The EMTs had completed their preparations and were ready to transport Daryl to the hospital. Jim moved over to assist Simon up off the floor.

"Go with them, Simon. You just take care of Daryl, and I'll handle everything else," Jim said gravely.

"Thanks, Jim. Sandburg?" The tall captain looked over to where the former grad student still lay on the floor, concern evident in his glance.

"I'll be fine, Simon," Blair replied, smiling through the pain for the captain's sake.

"Good. I want to talk to you, but later." At a nod from Blair, he turned and hobbled from the loft, his limp much more pronounced now. As Jim was helping Blair up off the floor and into a chair at the table, they both heard the ambulance sirens wail as it sped into the night. Blair lay his head down on his folded arms on the table, the shock of his injuries and the bizarre events of the evening finally catching up to him. Jim grabbed the blanket from the back of the couch and covered him up, lingering to tuck it around his partner before taking action again.

After rummaging in Blair's room for a clean shirt and helping him change into it, Jim first called the station, then called Henri Brown at home, giving him a brief explanation of what had occurred and asking that he come to the loft to personally oversee the forensic investigation.

That accomplished, he guided his friend down to the truck and helped him settle in the passenger seat. After revving the engine to life, the troubled partners followed the same route to Mercy Hospital that the ambulance had taken mere minutes before.


Mercy Hospital Emergency Room, 10:36 PM

Jim pushed aside the curtains surrounding the bed in the ER where his partner lay. A doctor was just knotting the last of the six stitches he had needed to close the deep end of the gash to his abdomen. The cut looked far less impressive now than it had at the loft, to Jim's relief. After flashing his badge, the sentinel pulled a chair up beside the bed and sat watching as the wound was bandaged and taped. After a quick inspection of the bruises on Blair's throat, the doctor left, indicating he would return once some test results came back.

"How're you feeling, Chief?"

"Stupid," Blair whispered.

"Why?"

"Jim." Blair's voice broke on the first word but he swallowed hard, grimacing as he did so, and continued speaking, his words barely above a whisper. "In the academy, we were taught ways to subdue a violent suspect, whether that person was drunk, high, enraged or just plain bigger than yourself. Not to mention the training I went through on breaking a chokehold. All that went out the window tonight, man. One minute I'm chatting with my friend, the next I'm flat on my back losing consciousness. I keep replaying what happening in my mind, and I'm seeing at least five different ways I could have restrained him before either of us got hurt. How much worse would it have been for Daryl if he woke up to discover he'd killed me, huh?"

Jim didn't know what to say for a moment. He had come into the room fully intending to ask Blair the facts about what had happened, hoping to set aside the emotional aspects of the incident for later. He realized that he was more adept at 'checking his emotions at the door' than his partner was, but now was not the time for that speech.

"I know you're upset about this, Chief, but we need to focus on figuring out what happened so we can have some answers for Daryl when he does wake up. Training or not, you were attacked in your own home by someone you trusted. Right from the start you were at a disadvantage. Besides, you were hurt. I don't think anyone could be counted on to be at their best with a knife wound and a concussion."

"I know you're right, but I still feel stupid," he blew out a frustrated sigh as he shook his head firmly, as though banishing his thoughts. "Thanks for showing up when you did. Things could have been a lot worse, huh?"

"Yeah."

They remained silent for a few moments, Blair with his eyes shut, breathing slowly in and out, Jim staring at the small black stitches holding the wound on his partner's abdomen closed.

"You ready to tell me everything that happened?"

"Yeah, okay."

Jim pulled a small notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket. It was time to get some answers. He'd help Blair work through the emotions of the case later. Now it was time for policework.


ICU Waiting Room, 11:17 PM

"I'm pretty sure he was dosed, Simon. From what Blair told me, I don't think he did this on purpose."

"I know that, Jim," Simon replied sharply. Too sharply. His quick exhalation of breath as he turned away confirmed to Jim that his captain had been secretly despairing that his son had taken the drugs purposely.

Jim had discovered his captain sitting wearily in the ICU's waiting room. The large cup of coffee Jim had bought for him earlier remained untouched at his side. Simon had little information to share of Daryl's condition, except that it was too soon to tell whether he would recover fully, if at all. Simon had attempted to contact his ex-wife Joan, but settled on leaving an urgent message on her answering machine. It was likely she had been out for the evening, and Jim knew that Simon did not relish the thought of explaining that their son had OD'ed on an unknown substance, and could possibly die or suffer permanent brain damage. The captain would be allowed brief visits with his son, and now sat waiting for the nurse to come and tell him he was able to head into the room and sit with his child.

"How's Sandburg?" Simon asked as he turned back to face the detective.

"He'll be fine. They needed six stitches to close the cut on his abdomen, and they're monitoring him to make sure his throat doesn't swell up further, but he should recover fully."

"Good. Daryl would hate it if he'd really hurt Blair."

"Sandburg was saying the same thing. He's pretty upset about what happened, and beating himself up over what he could have done differently."

"Him and me both," was the captain's whispered answer. Jim doubted Simon consciously realized he could hear him, and let the comment pass.

"What was he able to tell you about what Daryl said?"

"Basically, Daryl walked in on something suspicious at the university's chemistry lab a few weeks ago and decided to do some investigation of his own before he talked to you. The students appeared to be using the lab for something besides classwork. Blair gave me the names of the students Daryl suspected, and I have Taggart running them through the computer as we speak. First thing tomorrow, I'll head over to campus and get their records. Hopefully we can locate them and find out just what they're involved in." Jim paused for a moment. "And find out why Daryl was targeted, but I think we know that already."

"Because of me," Simon replied with a painful sigh.

"Simon..." Jim began.

"Don't even start, Ellison. My child is lying in that room fighting for his life because of who I am. He was so damned determined to prove himself to me that he placed himself in danger. How the hell can I live with myself if he doesn't make it?"

"He'll make it, Simon. You have to believe that."

"Why did he think he needed to prove himself to me?" Simon continued as though Jim hadn't spoken. "I love that boy more than my own life! He could discover the cure for cancer or lay about the house like a bum, and I would still love him just the same. Didn't he know that?" Simon stood unsteadily and began laboriously pacing in front of Jim, dragging his still-healing leg as he walked.

"I've worked my whole life to make this city a safe place for my child to grow up in. I sent him to good schools, maintained a civil relationship with his mother for his sake, and tried to be there whenever he needed me. I tell him all the time that I love him, Jim, that I'm proud of him, but still he needs to do some crazy thing like this to prove what?"

"I think he's more like you than you know, Simon," Jim said softly.

"What?" The captain lowered his frame into his seat again, the burst of energy gone.

"He's a Banks. He sees the kind of man his father is and wants to be just like him. Of course he knows you love him, but he's not a baby anymore. I can't see him lying around the house any more than I can picture you doing it. Making good grades and returning your love isn't enough for him. He's got that Banks stubbornness without a doubt."

"He does, doesn't he," Simon replied with a smile.

"He's stubborn enough to fight this, and win. If only so you can chew him out when he wakes up."

"Oh, I think I'll take it easy on him for a day or so. But as soon as he's better, that child of mine is going to thank the Lord I don't believe in spankings." Both men shared a chuckle, the tension of waiting eased somewhat by thoughts of a healthy Daryl being lectured by his relieved but furious father.

"This waiting is the worst part," Simon declared after several more minutes had passed in silence. The momentary peace was replaced again with agitation "Why wasn't I there for my son when he needed me? I just wish there was something I could do now!"

"You're doing it, Simon. You're here for Daryl, and when he wakes up, you're going to do whatever it takes to help him get past this. We've been here before, remember?"

Simon's stricken look told Jim that he, too, recalled the golden incident.

"Blair bounced back, eventually, and Daryl will too. He's got his parents and two very concerned friends waiting to help him however we can. And you've got someone who's been in your shoes available to talk to you whenever you need it." Jim reached over and gripped his friend's arm. "I mean it, Simon. Whatever you need, you tell me."

"I just need my son to wake up, Jim. Anything that comes after that, we'll handle it. I just really need my boy to wake up."

"Mr. Banks?" The ICU nurse stood in the doorway to the waiting room, clipboard in hand. "You can go back in now, but only for ten minutes."

Jim stood up and offered a hand to his captain, helping him stand and walking with him into the main corridor.

"I'm heading in to the station now to check on how things are going. Blair's going to be down in the ER for a while under observation, but I'll be back to pick him up in a few hours. I'll check in with you then."

"Good. Thanks," the captain answered distractedly. Simon's attention was already on the still figure visible now through the glass.

Jim watched him walk unsteadily into the room and sit heavily in the chair at his son's bedside. After a moment of watching the naked grief on his friend's face, he turned and strode purposefully down towards the stairs, intent on getting some answers.


Forensic Lab, 11:50 PM

"For once, I'm glad you're on the swing shift rotation, Serena," Jim called out as he entered the forensics laboratory. Several plastic bags were strewn across a long table in the middle of the room, with gloved technicians sifting through them. The detective recognized the contents as coming from the loft. He was glad he didn't have to stress the importance of this investigation to anyone. The well-known veteran technician in charge ensured the timely and accurate analysis of the foodstuffs which were the likely cause of Daryl's near- OD.

Serena Chang looked up from where she sat hunched over a petri dish and smiled at the detective.

"Been missing me, huh?" she asked.

"You bet. Have you discovered anything yet?"

"As much as I appreciate your faith in me, we've only had this stuff for a half hour. We've just started sorting out the best possibilities. You're welcome to help out." She waved a hand in the direction of the table and bent back to study the contents of the dish.

Jim wandered over to a cabinet and pulled out a set of gloves. Once he had donned them, he joined the group by the bags. Recalling what Sandburg had told him about the earlier events, he rummaged about until he found the plastic bag containing the Odwalla bottle. Zooming in with Sentinel vision, he examined the plastic container for needle marks. Up near the top of the bottle, in a spot which would have been virtually hidden by the cap, he found what he had been looking for.

"Serena, check this out. Tell me what you see."

The forensics technician held the bottle in her hands and peered closely at the spot Jim indicated with his finger. After a few moments of scrutiny, she reached over and grabbed a magnifying glass. This time, she was able to spot the needle mark. She raised her eyebrows questioningly at the detective, but he quickly looked away.

Let him keep his secrets, she thought. He makes my lab look good with finds like this.

"Barry," she called out to one of her assistants. "I want you to check out the contents of this bottle immediately. Detective Ellison has a hunch."

Jim thought that Barry was grinning a bit too widely as he accepted the proffered bottle from his boss, but decided to ignore it. He trusted Serena, and knew she trusted her team. For all he knew, Connor may have convinced them that he was psychic.

After discovering another unopened bottle of the Odwalla and several suspect candy bars in Daryl's backpack, Jim left the Forensics Lab and headed upstairs to his desk, intent on looking up the names of the students Blair had recalled. It would be several hours before the ER doctors would release his partner, and he was determined to make good use of the time, all the while trying to erase the vision of his captain's grief- stricken face from his mind.


Mercy Hospital ICU, 2:15 AM

Jim strode purposefully down the corridors of the ICU wing of Mercy Hospital, heading for the room the ER staff had indicated. Blair had earlier been released from observation and told the nurses to send Jim up to Daryl's room when he arrived to pick him up. It was late, and he wanted to get his partner home for some rest before they tackled the case the next day.

A sharp memory assaulted Jim as he paused in the doorway to Daryl's hospital room. It was in a room very much like this one that he had sat by his partner's side, waiting for him to waken from his drug-induced coma after he was dosed with Golden. Blair sat in a chair beside Daryl's bed, his eyes moving from his friend's face to the tubes and wires keeping him alive. One arm was wrapped around his torso, the other twisted aimlessly at the corner of the sheet. The detective watched his partner shake his head as he let out a deep sigh, and moved forward into the room to stand next to the chair.

"Hey, Chief, how're you feeling?"

"Jim. Hi," Blair replied wearily, his voice sounding raspy and raw. He ran a hand over his eyes, rubbing at them as though to wake himself up before continuing. "I'm okay. No concussion. My throat's going to be sore for a few days, but the swelling's not too bad. They let me leave the ER about an hour ago and I came right up here."

"And Daryl?"

"Preliminary lab results indicate the drug matches the stuff that the coroner found in the other kids. Since Daryl apparently ingested it rather than having shot it up or snorted it, the doctors are 'guardedly optimistic,'" he raised his hands and made quote marks at the phrase, "that his body can work it out of his system before it fries his brain. Bottom line is, they're not sure which way it'll go right now. Simon took Joan out for some air. She's not taking this well at all."

"How's Simon doing?"

"I think he's in shock, or on autopilot. He's been pretty cool so far, 'keeping the faith' he says, but there's something in his eyes... something that tells me he's holding on to a very thin rope right now." Blair turned his attention back to the bed and its occupant. "I just wish he would wake up."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Jim chuckled at that. Blair glanced at him sharply, not understanding his sudden mirth.

"That's exactly what I remember saying to Simon," Jim said softly. He moved closer to the bed and laid a hand on Daryl's forehead, sliding it down to rest on the young man's shoulder.

"Is this what it was like for you?" Blair asked.

Wordlessly, Jim moved away from Daryl to stand behind his partner's chair and reached around to cover his partner's eyes with his hands.

"Listen to the respirator, Blair. Hear the hiss, the click? Now the heart monitor. Monotonous, isn't it? And doesn't tell you a thing about how he's doing, what he's feeling. Reach out with your hands, now. Can you feel how cold Daryl's skin feels? Can you tell what the expression is on his face with your hands? Can you tell if he's close to waking up or about to slip away forever?"

With a soft gasp, Blair pulled Jim's hands away from his eyes and stood up to face his partner.

"That's how helpless I felt when you were lying there, Blair."

Several moments passed as the men held each other's gazes, distress and understanding flowing between them. Finally, Blair nodded at his friend. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but stopped and simply nodded again. Jim reached up and clasped Blair's shoulder, squeezing it lightly. The former grad student reached up and covered the hand with his own for a moment.

"I can hear Simon down the hall with Joan. They're heading back here, so it looks like your shift is over. Let's go home, partner."

After a brief conversation with Simon and Joan, the men headed out to the truck and back to the loft. Throughout the ride home, their emotions remained too high to have a fruitful discussion about what happened. The heavy silence followed them into the loft. After eating a very late dinner of scrambled eggs, each man headed off to bed, both equally resolved to tackle the case in the morning.


The Loft, 7:04 AM

The next morning saw the two detectives out of bed and ready for action far earlier than their late night might have dictated under normal circumstances. While eating a quick breakfast of toast at the loft, Blair took his antibiotics and pain pills without a word of encouragement from his partner. The ring of bruises around his neck had darkened considerably during the short night's sleep, but the autumn weather had turned brisk, so a turtleneck under his flannel shirt hid the signs of his struggle with Daryl. The strain in his voice was harder to hide, though. Despite gargling several times and drinking a cup of hot tea with honey, his voice emerged as a raspy croak. Any other day, Jim might have persuaded his still-hurting partner to stay at home and rest, but he needed Blair's help. They had to find out who had dosed Daryl, and check out the teen's suspicions about the chemistry students being tied to the new drug on the streets of Cascade.

When Blair returned to the bathroom for another go with the medicated gargle, Jim had placed a call to the ICU desk at Mercy and discovered that there was no change in Daryl's condition. Simon and Joan had not left the hospital, but the nursing staff -- acquainted with the captain from previous visits -- were looking out for them and promised to call Jim should they need anything.

After that he dialed Henri Brown's cell phone, and found out he was already at the station, going over Blair's statement. He had attempted to track the students down at their respective dorms and apartments, but none of the boys could be found. Rafe had called the university for emergency contact information on the boys, but was told the records could not be opened until the department secretary arrived at 8:30 that morning. They had logged on to the university's website, found some dorm addresses for the students and had been knocking on doors since 5:00 AM. Aside from some ticked off co-eds, they had found little to go on. Their attempts to work with the campus police had been fruitless thus far, as the night staff was comprised of student volunteers. Only one lead had surfaced when a former dormmate of one student had shared a possible new address for one of the boys. Jim agreed that he and Blair should head over there immediately.

"Ready to hit the road, partner?" Jim asked as Blair exited the bathroom with a pained look on his face.

"Sure, where to?" he croaked, and Jim winced right along with him.

"Brown dug up a possible address for one of the boys, Stuart Djanovic. His former roommate said he moved out a few months ago, but they never updated the university website."

"Rainier was just as bad. I'm probably still listed in the freshman dorms." The voice was a little stronger, but Jim could see the strain around Blair's mouth as he smiled. They donned their coats and Blair moved towards the door. Jim detoured back into the kitchen, though, and grabbed the prescription bottles which sat next to the sink, tucking them into his partner's pocket as he exited.

"We're in for a long day, Chief," he said.

"I know," Blair replied softly as he locked the door behind them.


Devonshire Street, 7:26 AM

"If you're looking for Stuart, he's gone. Got himself evicted last week."

Jim looked over at the middle-aged woman who stood on the porch of the house next to the one where he and Blair had been knocking just moments before. She stood wrapped in a bathrobe, with a steaming mug of coffee in her hands.

"Stuart Djanovic?" Jim asked.

"That's the one. Worst tenant I ever had. Good luck to you if he owes you money. That boy never gave us a dime after the initial deposit. Are you debt collectors?"

"No, Cascade PD," Jim replied, holding up his shield as Blair did the same. They walked across the lawn and stood at the foot of the stairs of the woman's house. "I'm Jim Ellison and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. May we ask you a few questions?"

"Certainly. Would you like to come in? It's too cold out to be standing around in a bathrobe."

The detectives followed the woman into her kitchen where she poured them each a cup of coffee before seating herself as well.

"I'm Mary Delaney. My husband Robert and I own the house next door, which used to belong to his parents."

"When did you rent it to Stuart Djanovic?"

"Three months ago. Is he in trouble? Lord, I hope so. Such a nasty young man. Robert had several of his cousins come by the day we kicked that little twerp out of the house. They all brought their softball gear-- bats and such-- and stood there looking mean, just in case that boy decided he wanted to stick around."

At Jim and Blair's raised eyebrows, she quickly continued.

"Oh, dear, I hope I didn't just get my husband in trouble. He'd never harm anyone, just wanted to make sure that piece of filth was out of the neighborhood."

"It's okay, Mrs. Delaney. We're more interested in where Mr. Djanovic might be right now than in your means of eviction. I would suggest you involve the police if something like that happens again."

"Oh, I doubt it will come to that. Robert's sister is thinking of moving up this way from Sacramento, and we've offered the place to her. If Robert ever tried raising a hand to her, he'd draw back a bloody stump. Not that she's dangerous or anything, but growing up with six brothers, she learned how to take care of herself. Nope, no more college students for me. I've learned my lesson. Can I get you some more coffee?"

"No thank you, Ma'am. Can you tell us where Mr. Djanovic went?" Blair asked, his voice breaking on every other word.

"Oh, you poor thing! Is it bronchitis? Laryngitis? You should be home in bed with a warm cloth on that throat of yours. You know, I have some wonderfully soothing tea I could make for you. Let me see where I put those teabags." Mary Delaney jumped up from the table, pulled out a step stool and was rummaging through the cabinets above her stove before either man could blink. Blair sent a measured look at his partner as they listened to her mumbling about her husband's penchant for rearranging her things.

"Well, it looks like I'm all out. Nasty flu season, this one is. Robert stayed home sick three days last week. Here, I'll write down the name of it for you and once you've carted that horrid young man off to jail, you can brew some up. It works wonders, I assure you."

"Mrs. Delaney, please, thank you for your concern, but it's really important that you tell us what you know about Stuart Djanovic." Blair's voice cracked as he spoke, bringing another round of concerned clucks from the woman.

"Yes, well, I don't know where he's moved to, but I do know that his mail stopped a few days after he left. Maybe the post office has a forwarding address for him?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Delaney. Would it be okay if someone stopped by later with some photos?" Jim asked. "It would help us out if you could identify anyone you might have seen going in and out of the apartment."

"I have some errands to run this morning after I get dressed, but I'll be home the rest of the day."

"Great. Either the two of us or someone else from our department will come around as soon as we have the pictures. Thanks again for your assistance." The detectives stood up and shrugged into their coats. Blair tossed back the last mouthful of his coffee and smiled his thanks as well.

"Oh, it was my pleasure. Now you," she said, tugging at Blair's collar to make sure it covered the back of his neck. "You'd better see to getting that tea I told you about. The flu is not something to mess around with. And a good warm scarf would do wonders, too. Maybe I could find one of Robert's..."

"No, no thank you, Mrs. Delaney. I just left mine in the truck. I'll be sure to put it on as soon as I get in." Blair ducked behind Jim as soon as the woman released him and headed for the door.

"I'll make sure he stays warm and takes his cold medicine. You know, I told him to bring his gloves today, but he wouldn't listen to me. These kids today..." Jim sighed and shook his head in commiseration with Mrs. Delaney who was nodding sagely. He needed to get out of there, though, before the laughter bubbling in his chest escaped. With another quick thank you, he strode down the stairs and headed for the truck where his partner was already belted in. A withering look was all he got for a greeting, and they were halfway down the block before Jim let his mirth show.

"Shall I feel your forehead for a temperature, Chief?"

"Drop dead, Jim. You touch my forehead and..." he smiled as he recalled Mrs. Delaney's words. "You'll draw back a bloody stump." Jim's laughter filled the truck.


University of Washington, Cascade, Chemistry Building, 8:43 AM

On the drive over to the campus of the University of Washington at Cascade, Jim had phoned the station and asked Brown to track down the forwarding address on Stuart Djanovic. Before they reached the campus, Henri called back to inform them that a post office box was the forwarding address and they were setting up discreet surveillance on it at that very moment. George Tellier, the captain from Narcotics, had been up in the bullpen several times that morning to confer with the Major Crime detectives on their new leads and to offer the support of his department. It was several of his men who were watching the mailbox, waiting for Stuart Djanovic to appear.

Earlier that morning, Jim had indicated that he wanted to question the chair of the Chemistry Department to see if he was familiar with any of the students they were investigating. Rafe's attempts to set up an official meeting for them with the man had been fruitless, but they decided to head over there anyway. They had little information about Professor Harold Byrnes other than he had been on the faculty at the university for three years. Once they received the promised download of information from the Registrar's office, they would have more to go on.

The department secretary seemed terrified by the appearance of two Major Crime detectives wishing to speak to her boss, but ushered them into his office nonetheless. They had a short wait while the man completed teaching his 8:00 class, but were promised that he was expected to be in his office at 9:00.

The chairs in which they sat were bathed in sunlight streaming in from the large windows spanning one entire wall of the room. The soft buzz of voices from classrooms down the hall and the clicking of a typewriter outside the door were the only distractions. Jim found himself starting to drift as they sat in the warmth of the sun, his partner seemingly in the same frame of mind, his eyes shut and his face peaceful.

The peacefulness was shattered abruptly by the appearance of Professor Harold Byrnes. The man was younger than Jim had expected, probably only in his mid-thirties. His thick dark hair was swept straight back off his head and cut short on the sides, lending a square aspect to the overall hairstyle. He was a bit taller than Jim, but rail-thin, and wore thick, unstylish glasses. He was dressed casually in jeans and a button-down shirt. A suit jacket was hung over one arm, and he clutched a stack of papers in his hand -- papers he began waving in the air as soon as he entered the room.

"What do you think you're doing in here?" he boomed. "Teresa! Teresa, get in here!"

The timid young woman who had let them into the office appeared at the door.

"What are these people doing in my office?" he demanded.

"They're the police, professor," she replied before Jim or Blair could speak. "They wanted to talk to you so I let them wait in here while you finished your class."

"Teresa, you're fired. Get out. No, wait, get me some coffee and then you're fired. Go!"

Both detectives' mouths dropped open in amazement as the girl dashed out of the office, tears brimming in her eyes.

"Now wait just a minute..." Blair began. Jim's hand on his arm ceased his words, but earned him a hard look from his angry partner.

"Who the hell are you? I'd like to see some identification or I'll call the campus police."

"I'm Detective Ellison of Major Crime, and this is my partner Detective Sandburg." Jim spoke in a controlled voice. He struggled not to let his instant dislike of this man hinder his need to do his job. "We need a few minutes of your time to ask you some questions about several of your students."

"Whatever for? None of my students would be needing the attention of the police."

"We're just following up on some information we received in connection with a crime that occurred last night."

"How am I to know what my students do on their personal time? I was home last night and received several phone calls from my colleagues. I can give you their names if you really feel it is necessary, but I have a very busy schedule and cannot spare the time right now. Teresa!"

The cringing girl crept into the office bearing a mug of coffee, but disappeared again as soon as she had laid it on the professor's desk.

"Professor Byrnes, this will only take a few minutes." Jim consciously unclenched the muscles in his hands which had been gripping the arms of the chair. He wished that Blair was more inclined to join in with the questioning. Since the professor had shouted at his secretary, his partner had simply glared at the man and showed no inclination to speak, despite the circumstances. The sentinel had hoped that the familiar atmosphere of a university would have made their job easier, albeit with Blair as a participant in the conversation. It looked like he would have to resort to his own wiles to get the man to talk. "We'll only take ten minutes of your time, then be on our way."

"Fine. Ten minutes. But I'd like your names again, and your badge numbers."

Jim calmly recited the information to the man and waited as he wrote it carefully onto a department notepad. Blair finally spoke up to give his name and badge number as well. As he wrote, the professor's eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a grimace.

"So this is what you ended up doing. I thought you would have at least moved out of state after the scandal," he said with a sneer.

"I beg your pardon?" Blair asked.

"I know who you are, Blair Sandburg. The chair of the chemistry department at Rainier and I speak regularly. You were the talk of the campus for weeks."

"Professor Byrnes, that has nothing to do with the reason we're here," Jim added quickly, not liking the direction the conversation had taken. "If you don't mind, I'd like to use the time to ask you some questions, not rehash old news."

"But I do mind. I was quite intrigued by the whole incident. How the members of the police force overcame the grievous evidence of this man's wrongdoing and allowed him a place in their ranks, I will never know."

"Professor, whatever happened in my past has no bearing on the case we're investigating right now. You can think of me what you will, but we're trying to find out where several of your students are. They might be in trouble, and we'd like to help them."

"I don't imagine that any student in his right mind would accept assistance from you, Detective Sandburg." The professor picked up his coffee cup and drank from it slowly, eyeing the two detectives over the brim.

"I'm sure you won't object if I ask you a few questions, then." Jim interjected.

"Object? I certainly do object, on several fronts. First of all you barge in here without an appointment, bringing that embarrassment to higher education with you, then you pepper me with useless questions. Detective, I most strenuously object."

Jim fought against the urge to roll his eyes and sigh. This man practically defined the term 'pompous windbag'. Jim was not fazed in the least by the man's grandstanding. Blair, however, had not taken his eyes from the far wall after the man's cutting remarks. The sentinel wanted more than anything to leave the stuffy office and take his clearly distressed partner with him, but they needed information. Jim decided to try another tactic.

"Can you tell me anything about several of your students, then?" He opened his notebook to reference the names Blair had given him the night before. "Kevin Douglas, Stuart Djanovic, and Paul Wills? We'd like to talk to them, but have been unable to contact them."

"Excellent boys, brilliant boys," the professor huffed. "Each of them earned no less than a 3.8 in my courses. The sheer honesty of their work was a wonder to behold."

Jim blanched at the not-so-subtle dig at his partner, and turned to look at the man at his side. Blair's face had turned red, and he was breathing sharply through his nose. Jim watched as he visibly got control of his emotions and launched his own line of questions.

"Professor Byrnes," he croaked out. "Putting aside the academic achievements of your students, can you tell us anything about where they might be? We're concerned that they've become involved in something dangerous and need to contact them."

"Academic achievement, or the lack thereof, is the truest measure of a man, Detective Sandburg." It was clear from the mocking tone what the professor thought of Blair's new career. "In these hallowed halls, a man's integrity is what keeps him afloat on the rushing stream that is higher learning. The pursuit of the truth in life and science on that stream requires a firm oar stroke and a sturdy boat. Those who falter run aground to follow more mundane paths."

Jim had had enough. It was clear that the two of them weren't going to get anywhere with the professor. The man's evasiveness was not enough evidence to bring him down to the station for questioning, and he could always send Megan and Joel down later to talk to him. Neither of them would prove an easy target for the man's vicious streak. Jim wished Blair was not hurting both physically and emotionally from the previous night's events. He would have enjoyed seeing his brilliant partner cut the windbag down to size. Right now, though, it was time for some damage control. He wanted to get Blair out of there before the vindictive professor could say any more hurtful things.

"Thank you for your time, Professor Byrnes," he said as he lay a supportive hand on his partner's shoulder. "Someone from the department will be in touch with you soon. If you think of anything that may help us, please call me at this number." He lay one of his cards on the blotter of the professor's desk and strode from the room, Blair a few steps behind him.

They didn't speak until they were in the truck and headed back towards the station.

"Well, that was ugly," Jim offered.

"Tell me about it," Blair replied with a sigh. He lay his head back against the headrest. "If he had been more subtle I might have believed all that crap he was slinging at me."

"So you're okay?"

"Believe it or not, yeah. I won't tell you it didn't hurt, but the guy was a total idiot. I have to respect someone's opinion in order to believe it, Jim. That speech was ludicrous, and he gets major points off for delivery. Besides, his imagery totally sucked, man. And what was up with that Frankenstein hair?"

Jim laughed aloud at that. Blair was more than okay if he was joking about the nasty confrontation. Jim knew there might be hard times ahead when their paths crossed with the academics who had been closer to his partner during his university days, but he knew the strong young man at his side would be just fine.


University of Washington, Cascade, Chemistry Building, 9:28 AM

"Why the hell were there just two detectives from the Cascade PD in my office? I thought you told me that no one would be able to identify who OD'ed that kid!" As soon as Byrnes had seen Jim and Blair drive out of the parking lot, he had picked up the phone and dialed frantically, all his cool composure gone now that the immediate threat had passed.

"Relax. That questioning stuff's SOP for the boys in blue. We'll all be long gone before they can connect the dots. Are we still heading out as planned?"

"No way am I sticking around for three days while my life is examined under a microscope. And you'd better watch out as well. They were asking about you and Stuart and Paul. Call the others. We're moving now. Recruit some muscle if you need to, but I want us out of here tonight. Do you hear me?"

"I'm all ears, professor. I'll give you a call when everything's set."

"Use the cell phone, and don't get cocky, do you hear me? You're in this as deep as me, so if I go down, you go, too."

"You really didn't mean to say that, did you, professor? If I think you ratted me out to save your ass, then we would have some issues between us, and you do not want us to have any issues. Understand?"

Byrnes swallowed hard. Kevin Douglas was more of a loose cannon than the other students he had worked with in the past. He'd have to make sure to 'terminate' this partnership as soon as was prudent, but in the meantime he needed him to get them out of town.

"I understand. Call me when everything is prepared." He hung up the phone quickly, not wanting to listen to anything more from his recalcitrant partner. His old connections in Los Angeles would clean up that particular loose end. If not, Byrnes thought he just might enjoy taking care of it himself.


Major Crime Bull Pen, 9:59 AM

The atmosphere in the bullpen was grim when the two detectives arrived. The teeming mass of detectives from both Narcotics and Major Crime had been informed of the previous night's events, and the energy they were directing towards the case was palpable. Captain George Tellier was there, conferring with Henri Brown. He waved the detectives over as soon as he saw them.

"Detective Sandburg, how are you doing?" he asked. Blair had always liked the Narcotics captain. He was nearing fifty years old, but was in excellent physical shape. His department and Major Crime frequently crossed each other's paths amid investigations, but he and Simon always worked to make sure their detectives got along well, so their only grievances came from their long-standing rivalry in the interdepartmental softball games.

"I'm okay, sir," Blair replied.

"Glad to hear it. Let's move into Banks' office and review what we have so far."

An hour later, Blair was settled at his desk with the information the university had sent over, reviewing the students' transcripts while taking notes. Photos of the three students Daryl had named and Professor Byrnes were printed out. Copies were given to Taggart and Connor, who headed out to attempt to interview the professor and revisit Mrs. Delaney with the photos. Narcotics officers were dispatched to the current addresses of the suspected students with warrants for questioning them.

Jim was at his own desk, calling several of his snitches, and reviewing the information Serena had sent up after her all-nighter in the forensics lab. The test results on the Odwalla bottle confirmed that the juice Daryl drank had been dosed. The other unopened bottle had also been injected with the drug. Serena had matched the drug with the evidence she had gathered during the autopsies on the dead students. She had immediately forwarded her results to the hospital so that Daryl's treatment could be altered accordingly.

After over two hours of sifting through the files, Blair pulled out a clean piece of paper and began noting the similarities in the students' schedules. A pattern finally emerged. All three of the boys named by Daryl had participated in an advanced study group offered by Professor Harold Byrnes several semesters ago. Two of the victims had also been participants. Two of the group had transferred to schools out of state during the previous semester, and one had dropped out of school earlier in the year.

Jim was having a rather heated exchange with someone over the phone, so Blair called Henri over to share his findings. Together they went back over the files and confirmed the connection.

"Good work, there, Froggy." Henri grinned unashamedly as Blair rolled his eyes. The senior detective ruffled his short hair. "Can't call you Hairboy for a while yet, can we?"

"Lay off, man," Blair croaked out, batting Brown's hand away even as he chuckled at the newest nickname.

"Maybe Eileen down in Evidence will kiss you and turn you into a prince. Always thought she acted like a princess."

Blair laughed a bit harder at Henri's statement. Eileen Fobert was certainly beautiful enough to be a fairy- tale princess, but had the temperament of one of the evil stepsisters. Most men in the department had a perpetual crush on her, Blair included. Henri was called over to speak with Captain Tellier before he had a chance to tease Blair further.

Jim was still on the phone, so Blair called the last known phone number for one of the out-of-state students, a Roger Stanforth in Portland, Oregon. Twenty minutes later, he set the phone down, all the mirth from his exchange with Henri Brown long gone.

The student's mother had answered the phone and informed him that her son was currently in the ICU, in a coma after an apparent drug overdose. She told him that several of his former classmates from the UW Cascade had come visiting about a week ago, and that they had found their son unconscious in his room just two days earlier. Blair wrote down the name of the hospital and of the Narcotics detective from Portland who had questioned them after it was revealed the incident was drug-related.

Blair waved his partner over to him and shared the details of the call with him as well as the link he had discovered between the students and the professor.

"It looks like Stanforth might have had second thoughts about being involved," Jim said.

"I'm going to call the Portland police. Can you contact the hospital where Stanforth is and fill them in on what Serena found?"

"Will do, partner."

The police in Portland were immediately cooperative. The Narcotics detective promised to fax the toxicology reports they had received from the hospital up to Cascade, as well as revisit the student's home to search for more evidence. Blair asked them to review any evidence they had to see if Roger might have been dosed as Daryl had been. Whether Roger Stanforth was running away from the group in Cascade or setting up a satellite operation in Portland remained to be discovered. They could not be sure that Roger had not overdosed himself.

As he hung up the phone, he saw Joel Taggart and Megan Connor arrive back at the station. They carried with them several bags from a nearby deli. The sandwiches were pounced on eagerly by the hungry detectives. An impromptu case update was held around Megan's desk after the men and women had finished their lunch.

Professor Byrnes had cancelled his remaining classes and left for the day shortly after Jim and Blair had left the university. It had taken Joel and Megan a while to discover this, as the department secretary was nowhere to be found. Blair added angrily that Byrnes had fired her in front of them that morning. A run by his house had shown that the residence was unoccupied. No lights were on, the doorbell went unanswered, and the garage was empty. Tellier broke away from the group to assign a man to watch the house and inform them if the professor returned.

Taggert and Connor had experienced better luck with Mrs. Delaney. After plying them with freshly baked coffee cake and tea, she had positively identified the professor and the students as frequent visitors to their former tenant.

"She wanted to know if we were taking good care of you, Sandy," Megan said with a grin. "You certainly made a favorable impression on her."

"He's a regular Prince Charming, aren't you, Froggy?" Henri teased.

"Nope, more like Rumplestiltskin, since you can't seem to figure out what my real name is," Blair replied with a grin.

"Okay, folks, enough with the fairy tales," Tellier interrupted around the laughter from the group. "We've got some good information to go on here. Let's get the Big Bad Wolf in a holding cell before we live happily ever after, huh?"

The groans were much louder than the laughter had been.


Major Crime Bull Pen, 4:43 PM

Blair had spent his hours after lunch reviewing the information faxed up from Portland and speaking by phone with the other members of the chemistry department. A few knew of Professor Byrnes' advanced study group, but none had participated in it. Jim had been calling the other students' families, trying to get information on where they were currently living. All of them seemed to have been estranged from their parents for several years now, another similarity within the group, and another dead end. Detectives on campus had been casing the classrooms where they were expected to arrive for classes, but none had shown up.

Blair's attempts to reach the other out-of-state student, a Kristen Adams in Memphis, Tennessee, had been fruitless thus far. Her answering machine picked up each time he called. If she worked during the day, she would likely not have been at home, though. It had been about an hour since he had tried last, and nearing 7:00 Central time, but as he dialed the now-familiar numbers, a hand closed over his own and hung up the receiver. He looked up into the concerned face of his partner.

"Why don't you take a break, Sandburg, and make some tea?"

"I'm fine," Blair replied, but the harsh rasp of his voice told a different story.

"Look, I'll make the call for you. That throat's got to be hurting with all the talking you've been doing this afternoon."

Blair opened his mouth to protest further, but the resolute look on Jim's face changed his mind for him. With a grateful smile, he rose from his seat, handed the folder he had created for Kristen Adams to his partner and headed for the kitchen.

He purposely chose caffeinated tea, and the largest mug he could find. He found honey in the refrigerator and added it to the steaming hot tea. After filling up a mug with coffee for Jim and adding milk, he headed back to the bullpen.

As he set Jim's mug on the detective's desk, he saw his partner gesturing adamantly towards a pad of paper. The note read 'she wants a deal before she talks -- call the Memphis police now!' The girl's address was scribbled below the words. Blair listened with half an ear to Jim's assurances to Kristen Adams while he waited to be connected with the Memphis police. Their response matched Portland's. A squad car was dispatched to pick up Kristen Adams, and Blair had ended the call with promises to fax the pertinent information to them. Captain Tellier was filled in, and he agreed to coordinate the interrogation with the Memphis Narcotics division. Blair sipped at his tea while Jim kept Kristen on the phone, gaining a preliminary overview on what they had suspected all along. Blair read Jim's notes over his shoulder as he wrote. Professor Byrnes had cooked up a designer drug with his study group, and had been actively distributing it in the Cascade area. She had experienced an attack of conscience, as had Roger Stanforth, and they had each moved home, abandoning the operation. She had received threatening calls from Kevin Douglas and Paul Wills, and after hearing what had happened to Roger, was now afraid for her life.

Once the police arrived at her house and had taken her into custody, Jim ended the call. He turned to face his partner with a wide smile.

"We've got them, Sandburg. This was the break we were looking for. Good work, Chief."

"We still need some suspects to go with the charges, though," Blair replied.

"Hey, Jim, Frogman," Henri Brown shouted from across the bullpen. "Harris and Waters just picked up Stuart Djanovic at the post office. They'll be here with him in half an hour."

"Now what were you saying about suspects, Chief?" Jim asked with a laugh.


Major Crime Interrogation Room, 6:18 PM

Stuart Djanovic had been cooling his heels in the interrogation room for close to an hour while the detectives had gathered in Simon's office with Captain Tellier and reviewed what they had learned from Kristen Adams' statement to the Memphis police. She confirmed that Stuart had been deeply involved in the operation. Now, they needed the young man to tell them where to find the remainder of the group.

Jim entered the room and stood with his back against the two-way mirror. Captain Tellier and his partner were in the adjacent room, waiting to assist if needed. The entire team was energized by a call they had received from an exhausted but happy Simon Banks a few minutes earlier. Daryl was awake. The breathing tube had been removed and his son was sleeping soundly. He had been disoriented when he woke, but was able to answer the basic questions asked by his doctor. He was expected to make a complete recovery.

Jim found it easy to quash his elation as he regarded the young man seated at the small table in the middle of the room. Whether he had been the one to poison Daryl or not, he was at least partially responsible for four deaths, possibly linked to the OD of Roger Stanforth, and indirectly responsible for his partner's injuries.

"I'm getting old sitting in this stinking room. Where the hell is my lawyer?"

Jim didn't reply to the teen, but continued to stare at him. Stuart Djanovic was full of bravado at the moment, and the sentinel looked forward to cracking that. The kid was certainly getting increasingly uncomfortable under the silent detective's stare. Jim decided to wait him out for at least five more minutes before speaking.

"Isn't this where you're supposed to read me my rights?" the boy asked after two of those five minutes. He had attempted to stare down the detective, but broke eye contact quickly.

"How about a cigarette and some coffee? I have rights, you know!"

Jim just stared.

Stuart was squirming in his seat, his eyes darting around the room, when Jim finally broke his silence.

"You were read your rights by the officers who arrested you."

Stuart nearly came out of his chair. The panicked expression on his face was replaced quickly by one of indifference.

"I'm not talking to you until I get a lawyer. This is a violation of my civil rights. I was just checking my frigging mail and those thugs grabbed me."

"Those 'thugs' were Narcotics detectives, Mr. Djanovic, and they had a warrant for your arrest in connection with four murders and two attempted murders. They would have explained that to you as they were cuffing you."

Jim seated himself opposite the young man and leaned over, placing his chin on his clasped hands.

"You really want to take the full rap for this, Stuart? You sure you wouldn't rather tell us who else was involved and let them share the wealth?"

"Fuck you," Stuart spat, spinning in his chair to face the door. "I want a lawyer."

"There's one on the way up, now. Things'll get a bit more difficult then, though. We can have a nice quick conversation now and you'll be in a much better position when that lawyer does show up."

"I watch TV, man, I know what's going to happen. He shows up and I don't have to tell you a thing after that. That's what they always say. You just want to trick me into confessing to something I didn't do."

"Fine, when your lawyer gets here, you can ask what four counts of manslaughter and two counts of attempted manslaughter go for these days. We're talking at least eight to fifteen each. If the judge imposes maximum sentence, you may never see the light of day again."

"I didn't murder anyone. You have jack shit on me."

"That's in addition to the drug trafficking charges. And let's not forget possession with intent to distribute."

"You can't pin that crap on me. I told you, you have no idea what you're talking about."

"I should let you know we've already had a nice conversation with Kristen Adams, your old study partner. She had quite a story to tell us about what she was up to with you and your pals. She's prepared to name you as the mastermind behind the whole operation. She said the others were just going along with your plans. With her sworn testimony we'll have a pretty tight case."

"I didn't plan anything, man. Kristen's full of shit. The stupid bitch knows it was Kevin and the professor."

Jim leaned back in his chair and watched as the startled expression on Stuart's face changed to one of resignation.

"Fuck."

"Where are they, Mr. Djanovic?"


Major Crime Interrogation Observation Room, 6:51 PM

George Tellier watched with admiration as Jim masterfully coaxed information out of Stuart Djanovic. The young man's lawyer was sitting quietly at the teen's side as his client spilled his guts. Beverly Sanchez in the DA's office had been consulted and a deal was reached contingent upon Stuart's full cooperation with the ongoing investigation.

The drugs were in an abandoned warehouse by the shipping docks. Professor Byrnes had some connections in LA, and they planned to move the entire shipment there tonight. The students were to receive their share of the Cascade profits and then never see or hear from the professor again. Kevin Douglas was going with Byrnes, though. It was Douglas who had been the students' leader. He had instructed Paul Wills to dose Roger Stanforth and Daryl Banks, and plans were made for Paul to head to Tennessee and deal with Kristen Adams after the drugs were moved. The boat Byrnes had hired was leaving some time after midnight.

"Sandburg, go gather the rest of the teams," Tellier said to the detective at his side. "Tell them to meet me in the conference room in fifteen minutes. We have some serious planning to do."


In the truck, on the way to the docks, 10:52 PM

"We're just about there. How're you holding up?" Jim asked the man seated beside him in the truck.

The long day of policework had Jim feeling tired, so he could only imagine how weary his still-recovering partner was. Jim had caught him holding his arm to his abdomen when he thought he was unobserved, and knew the prescription was merely taking the edge off the pain. The doctor had also advised him to refrain from talking whenever possible. Jim had rolled his eyes at that directive. 'Whenever possible' had provided too broad an opportunity for his friend to ignore the advice, since silence seemed all but impossible for the determined detective to maintain. The subsequent talking Blair had done that day, while crucial to the case, had pushed his voice to its limits. A weak rasp or a croak was the best he could muster at this point.

"I'm fine, Jim." It was a croak this time. "I'll do whatever I have to to get these guys."

"I know, Chief. We both will." As his partner sipped at the hot tea they had bought along the way, Jim found his thoughts wandering to the upcoming confrontation they would have at the abandoned docks. The confession from Stuart Djanovic had checked out. Cascade Energy had indicated that the electricity use for the warehouse had risen sharply in the past few weeks, and the Coast Guard had confirmed increased activity near the docks in question. The fact that they hadn't been used in years added to the supposition that something illegal was going down. Captain Tellier had sent two of his men to check out the warehouse, and confirmed the arrival two hours earlier of a car matching the one owned by Professor Byrnes. Three young men had entered the warehouse with him, but had not yet exited. The Coast Guard was standing by, and prepared to intercept the boat Stuart had named.

By all accounts, they should have the dirty professor and his proteges in cuffs before Jay Leno finished his monologue.

The soft slurp of the last drop of tea brought Jim's attention back to his partner, who was fingering the now-empty paper cup. Jim found himself nodding at the resolute expression on Blair's face. He might not be 100% physically at the moment, but his mental readiness was something which Jim never doubted. The fellow officer at his side was ready for battle.

These days, it was 'stay safe' instead of 'stay back,' 'how do you want to play it' instead of 'call it in and wait in the truck.' Not that he hadn't been sufficient backup before. Sandburg always managed to keep himself relatively whole, and to provide a timely assist when needed. But now Jim felt more confident that Blair could handle things with experience rather than sheer pluck. The academy training gave the younger man more confidence in his abilities, too. They both wanted this sting to go well, but for Blair it was more of a visceral need. His mistakes at the loft had taken a toll on his confidence. While not shattered, it had thinned a bit-- become a bit more fragile than it had been. Jim placed no blame whatsoever on his partner. He himself may not have fared better in such an emotionally charged incident. All he knew right now was that a successful bust tonight would go a long way toward helping Blair stop castigating himself for what had occurred.

He glanced at his watch as they came to a stop down the road from the warehouse. 11:00 PM. Thirty minutes until they moved in on the suspects. He had faith that Rafe and Brown had set up the perimeter and briefed the Narcotics officers on what their intentions were: approach the warehouse with a bullhorn, identify themselves as the police, and arrest everyone who came out. Nice and simple. He liked simple.

As he and Blair exited the vehicle, he got the first sense that 'simple' wasn't what they were in for. The section of the waterfront on which the warehouse was situated was quite run down. There were more streetlamps out than lit, making it difficult to navigate through the heaps of garbage strewn across the disintegrating pier. Broken glass bottles, junk-food wrappers, old tires, hypodermic needles, and used condoms lay amid shredded scraps of yellowed newspapers. The docks, where they could be seen through the trash, were liberally coated with algae from the seawater and the vestiges of the afternoon's rainfall, making their uneven surfaces dangerously slick. The constant battering from the sea had knocked several of the dock pylons into splinters and huge gaps could be seen where the planking should have been. The rain had stopped, but a heavy mist hung all around, dampening sound and chilling the air. To make matters worse, there was a sewage treatment plant about a quarter of a mile away, and the uncooperative winds were sending the disgusting scent of raw sewage straight in their direction.

The sentinel clamped down hard on his sense of smell even as Blair was opening his mouth to suggest a dial adjustment. With a grimace and a nod, he confirmed the adjustment and moved forward with his partner at his side, stopping only when they came upon the rest of the Major Crime contingent, Detectives Brown and Rafe among them.

Rafe's face looked a bit green as he whispered into his radio. He gave the newcomers a quick wave before resuming his conversation. Henri Brown, though, had unashamedly pinched his nose between his fingers.

"Man, this place stinks!" he exclaimed in a harsh whisper. "The guys in Narcotics must've been down here before, 'cause they made sure they got the upwind side of the warehouse. Insisted on it, even."

"They're probably still trying to get us back for whipping their butts in the Mayor's charity softball tournament," Blair contributed with a grin.

"Yeah? Well, that means we'll just whip their butts twice as good next year. Damn. If the visibility was better I'd pull out my hazmat gas mask."

"Good thing you don't have it on, since it would be harder to avoid the rats down here," Blair replied with a shudder as the three men shifted back to let a particularly large water rat scurry past them to disappear into the rubble on the opposite end of the walkway.

"Great," Henri moaned. "Just great. You two are sure this is the place that kid named?" A groan accompanied the nods from the two men. "Well then, let's go get these sons of bitches and get out of here. Damn!" He jumped back a full two feet as another rat, bigger than the last, scrabbled across the rotten planks and passed too close to his shoes.

"We're moving in closer," Jim informed him. "Tell Rafe to make sure the Narcotics guys know we're the leads on this one. We go in on my signal, and not sooner." He tapped at his earpiece. "I'll let you know when we're ready to go."

"You got it. Be safe, and you take it easy there, Frogman." Henri walked gingerly over to where Rafe still stood and gave the two men a thumbs up.

Jim wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders as they walked closer to their intended target, bending his face to speak softly in his ear.

"I'm going to do a quick scan. Give me a shove if any of those critters get close. Okay?"

"Got it," Blair replied with a quick grin and settled a hand on his partner's back.

The sentinel took a deep breath, pleased that his controls were steady and no repugnant scent reached his nostrils. After filtering out the slapping of the waves and the dull roar of the machinery in the sewage plant, he focused his hearing past the whispers of the officers and detectives and into the warehouse, listening for signs that the professor and his students were still present. Light streamed out from several windows in the warehouse where the boards had fallen off. The door was not closed all the way, and a bright triangle of light fell out onto the dirty pavement at the entrance. There. He heard voices. More voices than they had expected. Uh oh.

"Damn."

"What is it, Jim?" Blair rasped.

"Looks like the professor hired some extra help. I can hear at least fifteen people in there. Most of them are grumbling about what it takes to earn some book money these days. We need to get back to the others and let them know that the situation has changed."

Before they had walked two steps, however, all hell broke loose.

The piercing wail of a car alarm tore through the night, followed soon after by the sound of gunshots. Someone in the warehouse, or rather several someones, were firing indiscriminately out into the night at the perceived threat. Jim and Blair dove for cover behind a stack of old shipping pallets, and were soon joined by Henri Brown, who had taken off at a run towards them as soon as the alarm had gone off. Screams of terror could now be heard coming from inside the old building. The radio crackled to life as Tellier explained that a water rat had startled one of his men, making him collide with the professor's car and triggering the alarm. They were holding position now and not returning fire. They were unable to gauge the situation from their location and needed information fast.

Jim quickly told him that the professor had apparently hired some students to help him move the goods, and were likely unaware of what they had gotten into. The plan was to subdue everyone and take statements later, after they had neutralized the gunmen. Within moments, a side door to the warehouse burst open and several panicked students came darting out.

"This is the police. We have the area surrounded. Put your hands in the air now!"

It was the voice of Captain Tellier on the bullhorn, and all three detectives jumped up to intercept the fleeing students before they disappeared into the dark night. Jim happily noted that most stopped where they stood and raised their hands as instructed. Several other detectives with plastic hand ties appeared to pat down and secure the students. He shot a quick look at his partner, who was reading the young men and women their rights as Brown frisked and secured them. He was glad Blair was avoiding the strain of subduing the students. It was bad enough they had been on the go all day; any strenuous activity would have driven Blair past his physical limits.

Tellier's voice crackled to life on his earpiece, stating that he had Paul Wills in custody on the other side of the warehouse, as well as six other students, two of which had been relieved of weapons. Wills was screaming for a lawyer and refused to talk about anything. The other students were not sure how many in all had been in the warehouse that evening.

"Are we moving in, Ellison?" Tellier asked.

"Give me a minute," he replied in the microphone, then pulled the headset off.

Jim quickly scanned the interior of the warehouse with his hearing, trying to gauge the number of suspects remaining. He heard two distinct voices, only one of which he recognized. They were planning to leave by a back door, and one of them was working at the rusted lock with a crowbar. No officers from either Major Crime or Narcotics had been stationed at the back of the warehouse. So much for simple.

"Dammit!" he shouted just before taking off at a run.


The Warehouse, 11:24 PM

Blair saw the tell-tale tilt of his partner's head just before Jim ran towards the door to the warehouse. He pushed the two students he had just finished Mirandizing into the arms of a nearby Narcotics detective and looked around for Detective Brown.

"Henri! Jim's headed inside; I'm backing him up!" he shouted just before following his partner. He wrapped one arm around his middle and cursed the forgotten pain pill he was to have taken with his non- existent dinner.

The warehouse was lit up brightly, but huge stacks of empty crates littered the vast interior, lending a maze-like quality to the space. The dirt of the floor had been disturbed by numerous footprints, making his partner's route impossible to trace. He crept along the outside wall of the warehouse, listening intently for voices. After traversing half the length of the massive structure, he heard them.

"Drop the gun now, Professor Byrnes." It was Jim, and he was nearby.

He moved in towards the center of the space, detouring around the boxes while unholstering his gun. A movement to his left caught his attention. Someone else was stealthily moving towards where his partner and the professor were. Blair swung around and approached the unknown person from behind, moving as quietly as he could. He rounded a crate to find himself face to face with Kevin Douglas. He brought his gun up smoothly, the barrel practically touching the student's chest.

"Don't move a muscle," he ordered. A quick glance revealed a gun gripped tightly in the young man's hand. "And drop the gun." Kevin's eyes narrowed, and for a moment, it seemed as though he might try something stupid.

Suddenly, Blair heard movement behind him. He maintained his stance in front of the student, torn between the desire to turn and face this potential new adversary and the certainty that if he did so he would earn a bullet in the back from the young man in front of him. His view of Jim was obscured by crates. Could Jim have subdued the professor already and come to his aid? Were there more students in the warehouse? His back itched as a trickle of sweat made its way down between his shoulder blades. Still he maintained his position, praying that it was someone on his side who was moving closer.

"I believe the detective here told you to drop that gun, kid."

Blair allowed a smile to break out on his face. It was Henri. In the face of the two armed detectives, Kevin Douglas let the pistol drop from his hand. Blair nodded towards the middle of the warehouse before leaving Kevin in the capable hands of his fellow detective and moving towards where he had last heard Jim.

He skirted around a rusty old forklift and several more pallets of boxes before coming upon his partner and the professor caught in a standoff. The men were separated by about ten feet, and each had their gun aimed at the other. The professor might not know that Kevin Douglas was on his way out to a patrol car at the moment, but the sudden grin on his partner's face meant Jim knew that Blair was nearby.

"I'm at 3:00, Jim. Moving in now," he whispered.

Blair raised his own gun as he moved into the center of the room, at a right angle to the men.

"Drop your gun, Byrnes," he stated. "The warehouse is surrounded and all your students are in custody." The professor did not waver. "Including Kevin Douglas." That got a reaction. Both detectives saw the look of disbelief on the professor's face. Blair inched forward slowly, moving closer to Jim's side. Byrnes' eyes flickered over towards him, recognition dawning on exactly who was pointing a second gun at him. With a curse, Byrnes finally let his arms slacken and the gun drop to the floor. Blair moved forward and kicked the weapon aside while Jim kept his gun pointed at the professor.

"You have the right to remain silent," Blair began as he patted Byrnes down. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." He pulled his set of steel cuffs from his belt and encircled the professor's left wrist with one end. "You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense." The other cuff was secured around Byrnes' right wrist, arms behind his back. Blair spun the professor around and looked him in the eyes. "Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?"

Byrnes glared at the young detective as he nodded sharply.

Several of the members of the Narcotics team streamed into view, followed close behind by a forensics team. Captain Tellier personally escorted Byrnes out of the building.

Jim and Blair holstered their weapons as Brown came trotting over to them. He slapped Blair heartily on the shoulder.

"Good job, guys. Looks like our Frogman caught the Big Bad Wolf," Henri declared as Blair groaned.

"You'd better pick up some of that tea that Mrs. Delaney suggested. He's having way too much fun with this," Jim commented dryly as they walked out into the night.


Mercy Hospital, 6:40 PM

"Anyone here up for some good news?" Jim asked as he and Blair entered Daryl's hospital room.

The two men had returned home after the bust and slept soundly until ten the following morning. After a big breakfast, they had gone in to the station to begin their reports. A mid-afternoon phone call from Simon had indicated that a visit to the hospital would be welcomed later that evening. His son was fully awake now and recalled most of what had occurred at the loft. Daryl was extremely angry about what had happened, both to him and to Blair, but the captain wanted to give him some more time to deal with it himself before having the two concerned detectives visit.

"I told you I didn't want any visitors," Daryl snapped at his father as he rolled over on to his side to face the windows, his back to the new arrivals.

Simon sat wearily in a chair in the corner of the room, his leg elevated on a second chair. His ex-wife had finally gone home to get some rest, but the captain remained near his recovering son. He threw an exasperated glance at his detectives, seemingly too content with a live and angry son than willing to chastise him for his rudeness.

"Well, I'm listening," the captain declared.

"We heard from Beverly Sanchez late this afternoon. She's the Assistant DA, Daryl." Jim paused to see if his comment invoked a reaction from the teen, which it didn't. "She told us that Djanovic and Wills are climbing over each other to make deals and protect themselves to the point that she doesn't think Daryl will need to testify at all. Professor Byrnes and Kevin Douglas are keeping their mouths shut, but the physical evidence combined with the statements from Kristen Adams and the other two is damaging enough. They'll both be going to jail for a long time."

"Thank God," breathed Simon. "Did you hear that, Daryl? All you need to do is relax and get well now."

There was no response from the figure on the bed, but they could all see the tension in his shoulders.

"Daryl, why don't you sit up and join us? Jim and Blair came to see you, not to talk to me."

"Just leave me alone," the young man replied sharply.

"We could come back tomorrow if you're tired," Blair offered hesitantly.

"I'm not tired, I just want you to leave me the hell alone!"

"Daryl Banks, you watch your mouth. I did not raise you to speak like that."

"Maybe it's best if we go now. We'll come back tomorrow," Jim said.

"Don't bother yourself," the teen replied.

"Daryl!"

"No, Simon, it's okay," Blair spoke. His voice was stronger, but still had a raspy quality to it. "Daryl, you just let us know when you're up for a visit. You have the number at the loft. Call us when you're feeling better."

"Why are you doing this?" the young man shouted, rolling over to sit up and face the group. "What the hell's the matter with you? I can hear your voice, Blair, I see the bruises. What are you doing here?"

Blair stepped back instinctively from the harsh tone, bumping into his partner who stood right behind him.

"Daryl, we're here because we were worried about you," Blair responded softly. "We want to know that you're okay. No one's here to accuse you of anything."

"How can you not? I tried to kill you! How can you not blame me for that?"

"I don't blame you for anything. You were the victim, Daryl. You didn't know that drink was dosed."

"What's the matter with you? With all of you?" Daryl was well and truly agitated now, twisting the sheets in tightly clenched fists and shaking his head over and over.

"Son, I know how you must be feeling right now, but this is not the time to get upset," Simon added. "You need to concentrate on getting better."

"You have no idea how I feel!" The shout brought a nurse to the door, who was quickly ushered away by Jim. Blair remained standing in front of the bed, his eyes glued to Daryl's lowered head. Contrary to Daryl's words, he knew exactly how the young man felt. If anyone could get through to the teen, it was him. He had lived this nightmare before, and come through in one piece. Steeling himself to delve back into those horrible days after he had wakened from his own drug-induced coma to learn he had come close to killing himself and over twenty police officers -- one of which was his best friend -- he turned towards his captain.

"Simon, could you give us a few minutes here?" he asked.

Simon raised himself unsteadily to his feet and limped from the room. He paused at the door to look back at his son, who remained with his shoulders slumped and his head down. He shared a painful glance with his newest detective before leaving the room, closing the door behind him.

Blair settled himself on the edge of Daryl's bed. They sat quietly for a few minutes, each lost in his own thoughts. Eventually, Blair reached out a hand and laid it on the teen's shoulder, pleased when it was not shrugged away.

"Your Dad told you about what happened to me with the Golden, didn't he?"

He received a nod for an answer.

"After I woke up, Jim sat next to me and told me that he didn't blame me for what I did, that I was the victim, that I should concentrate on getting better and that we would deal with everything when I was well. You know what I told him?"

A head shake.

"I told him to leave me the hell alone. Sound familiar?"

Another nod.

"Well, you know Jim pretty well, and you can imagine how well that went over. The guy practically moved into my hospital room until he got me to talk about it. As soon as I was discharged, he gave me the number for the precinct shrink and asked me whether I wanted a morning or afternoon appointment. Never gave me the option to refuse. He barreled through every one of my reasons for leaving it alone and made me face what had happened head-on. I really hated him for a while after that."

Daryl remained silent, but some of the stiffness had left his body.

"We had some terrible arguments about the whole incident, but he never once said anything to make me think he blamed me for what happened, and eventually I realized that he was telling me the truth. He never blamed me, so after I beat myself up for a few weeks, I stopped blaming myself, too. The men who laced those pizzas with the drug were the bad guys, not me. Yeah, I did a really stupid thing, but everything turned out okay."

Daryl remained silent except for a soft sniffle.

"The same holds for you, Daryl. Professor Byrnes and Kevin Douglas and Paul Wills are the bad guys. Not you."

"It's not that easy, Blair. You make it sound like I can just apologize for what happened and then things will be fine and dandy again."

"No, it's not easy, but you can't pretend it didn't happen. I don't need an apology from you. I just need to know you'll be okay with this, that you won't go on beating yourself up over something you couldn't help."

"But I can't believe I did that to you. Why couldn't I stop that from happening?" Big tears formed in Daryl's deep brown eyes.

"Why not ask me why I couldn't stop it from happening?" Blair challenged. "God, Daryl, I'm supposed to be a trained police officer. I should have been able to subdue you before you laid a hand on me, but I screwed up. Why aren't you blaming me for this whole thing?"

"Because it wasn't your fault, it was mine. I freaked out and hurt you for no reason."

"No reason? You were dosed, Daryl, and that was some serious stuff they gave you. Four kids died after taking it, you know that."

"I didn't know those kids, I only know what I did-- what happened to me-- and I can't stand that I almost killed you."

"I'm right here, Daryl. I'm alive, and I'm okay. We got through it, man. Neither of us are going to list that as our finest moment, but it doesn't matter now. It's over, it's done, we got through it. You have to let it go and remember that we got through it."

"But I'm still there, Blair. Every time I close my eyes I can see it. I remember it all. I remember wanting you dead more than anything else." Daryl was crying in earnest now, hiccuping through his words. "How can you tell me to let it go?"

"Daryl, I've been there. Did you hear what I told you? I've been right where you are at this very moment. Scared, confused, hurting, not sure of how the people that you love and trust are going to look at you once they take a good long look at what you did."

The young man didn't respond, but tears continued to stream down his face.

"You didn't do this on purpose, Daryl. No one blames you for what happened. Especially not me. How could I possibly blame you when I've done exactly what you did? Your parents love you more than their own lives, and nothing that you do will ever change that. You're still my friend, and I promise you that we'll get past this. Anytime you want to talk about it, you call me. No one is going to cut you loose, man. We're here for you and will do whatever it takes to get you past this. You can't change it, but you can deal with it head on and eventually let it go."

"Have you really let it go?"

The red-rimmed eyes of the grieving teen in the bed bore into Blair's very soul, challenging him to speak the truth. Without hesitation, he answered.

"Yes, Daryl. I have."

Their eyes remained locked through several heartbeats, deep brown seeking hope from stormy blue. A trace of tears remained in Daryl's eyes, but a quick swipe from his hand brushed them away. After a final shuddering breath, he nodded and wiped at his eyes again.

"So they're in jail now?"

Blair held back from releasing his own breath in a sigh. He felt exhausted and energized at the same time. He knew Daryl had a long recovery period ahead of him, but there was a glimmer of hope in the maelstrom of emotions now.

"Yeah, they are, and they're not getting out anytime soon. All of them will be serving time. Beverly was not in the mood for leniency with this case."

"Good." Daryl looked thoughtfully at his friend for a few moments before continuing. "Are you really okay, Blair? Physically, I mean."

"I'm still a little sore, but I'll be fine in no time. Of course, wild midnight busts after sixteen hours of casework are definitely off my list of planned activities for the next few weeks. And I am never going down to the south docks again if I can help it."

"Was it bad?"

"It was awful. It reeked of garbage and sewage and God knows what else. The rats were the size of German Shepherds!"

"Gimme a break, man." Daryl rolled his eyes in a near-perfect imitation of his father, making Blair laugh.

"Okay, okay," he admitted. "Maybe not German Shepherds, but definitely Cairn Terriers. And those things were bold. Did you know that it was a rat that started the whole bust?"

"No way, what happened?"

"Well, it turns out that Addison from Narcotics is deathly afraid of rats. Why he was in on the surveillance is beyond me. Anyway, this monster rat runs past his foot and he jumps back into Professor Byrnes' car, setting off the car alarm, of course..."

Blair reveled in the laughter coming from the so recently anguished young man. Daryl's eyes looked less haunted now, and his whole attention was on the impromptu color commentary on what was probably going through Professor Byrnes' head as he was apprehended by the badge-and gun-toting formerly-disgraced grad student whom he had taunted so mercilessly the day before. Sharing his own personal triumph over the pompous teacher lifted Blair's spirits as well. Blair was attempting a truly bad imitation of Captain Tellier's dressing down of the hapless Detective Addison when Jim and Simon came strolling back into the hospital room, both with suspicious bulges under their coats.

Simon limped into the room while Jim scanned the hallway then closed the door. The new arrivals grinned broadly at each other then turned to regard the pair sitting on the bed. Blair caught Jim's gaze and held it, letting the smile on his face tell his partner the news that things were much better than they had been earlier. Jim gave him a brilliant smile in return, his pride in his compassionate partner evident. They would talk later, but now was the time to maintain the lightened mood.

"Why do you two look like you're up to something?" Blair asked with a half grin.

"Because we are," Jim answered proudly. He and Simon pulled several brown paper bags of take-out from under their coats and held them up like trophies.

"I decided my son needed something besides hospital food to speed his recovery," Simon announced as he set his bags on the rolling tray and moved it closer.

"Alright, Dad," Daryl exclaimed. "Do I smell what I think I smell?"

"All your favorites from El Torito. Beef tacos, chicken enchiladas, chili fries and nacho chips with salsa."

"Just what the doctor would kill us over if he knew we ordered," Jim added with a grin. "And before you open your mouth, Sandburg, we picked up some salads, too."

"Forget the salad, man, I love El Torito's chili fries. Did you ask for extra salsa?" Blair rummaged through the bags until he found what he was after, then stuffed several fries into his mouth and winked at Daryl as he chewed happily.

Jim and Simon shared a look which had Daryl laughing out loud before they, too, started pulling open the bags.

"I only have one request," Daryl said as they opened the boxes and laid them out on the tray.

"What's that?" Simon asked.

"No jalapenos on mine, please."

After a moment of stunned silence, Blair began to laugh, and was soon joined by the other men as Daryl beamed innocently from the bed.

the end