Familiar Stranger

(Part Two)

Blair put down the paper and blinked in disbelief. It was hard to process exactly how out-of-the-know he'd been about what was happening around him. He'd been so busy that even just reading the newspaper seemed like too much of a luxury. Not to mention that after digesting hundreds of pages of rather dry journal articles, reading didn't exactly strike him as a recreational activity. When he did have a rare free moment, he went for a walk or to the gym, something to get his blood moving and his mind off his work. He didn't own a television, so obviously he never caught the local news. His associations with his professors and fellow students and co-workers at the bookstore were all strictly business-like. He couldn't remember the last time he'd just chatted with someone.

So he really hadn't had any clue there was a serial rapist on the rampage in the city.

Or that Jim was working the case. Although if he had known about the crimes, he could have put two and two together and deduced that Jim would be the lead investigator. After all, who else would they put in charge of such a high profile case?

But he hadn't known. He was having a little trouble getting past that. Not just because it made him feel totally disconnected from what was happening in the world, which it did. But because this was something incredibly significant going on in Jim's world, and he wasn't part of it. He wasn't helping. Hell, he wasn't even fucking aware of it.

That bugged the shit out of him.

He picked up the paper again and scoured the article for details, something, anything, that would shed some light on how Jim was doing. Of course, there was nothing. Just the dry facts, edited and sanitized for the media. He'd have to be Charlie Spring to glean the information he wanted from it. Things like if Jim was sleeping and dealing with his stress okay, not just ignoring it the way he usually did if left to his own devices. Or if someone had insisted that he take at least a little time off to keep his head clear. If he had picked up anything useful with his senses. If his senses were online and functioning okay. If they were close to a break in the case. If he could help them with anything.

He put the paper back down. Stop thinking about it. That's not what you do anymore. And there's a reason for it.

He picked up the laptop and balanced it on his knees. He opened the file that contained his paper and started to edit it.

I could call. Just to make sure nothing's gone screwy with his senses.

He sat the laptop back down and scooted off the bed. He drifted over to the phone. He had a responsibility to protect Jim, but he also had a duty to guide him. The more emotional and stressful things became the more likely his senses were to go on the fritz. This case had to be a pressure cooker. He could just call, check in, make sure everything was going all right, that there hadn't been any problems. It couldn't hurt.

He picked up the receiver.

But you made Simon promise he'd call if anything went wrong with Jim's senses. If Jim needed your help, you would have heard from him.

He hesitated.

What's changed in the past six months? Nothing. It's still too dangerous for you to be part of Jim's life. You're just going to have to get used to being left out of things. Worrying about his senses is just an excuse. And there's always going to be some high profile case. You can't go calling him or running over to see him every time you see his name in the newspaper.

He placed the phone back in its cradle.

"Fuck," he said out loud. "I just really fucking hate this."

He sighed heavily and went back to sit on his bed. He eyed the laptop, but didn't pick it up again. He knew it was useless to try to get any more work done. Unless…

Maybe there was a way he could help Jim, without compromising his safety.

He picked up the paper and reread the article. Only this time he took notes. His targets are always men, young men. Probably men that he finds sexually attractive. He definitely has homosexual inclinations, although he may have trouble admitting it to himself. If he has been involved in a gay relationship, he's stayed closeted, and the roles were probably pretty rigid and stereotyped. He was always dominant, perhaps even violent. Looking and feeling like he's in control is important to him.

He frowned and searched himself for other impressions. It happened in public, so the perpetrator is pretty brazen. He probably has an inflated sense of his own abilities. He believes he's special, not like other people, invincible, a superman. Blair picked up the laptop and went online to search for articles on the previous incidents. He found nearly a dozen and read through them all. All the victims were attacked from behind. He was able to sneak up on them without them hearing him. He typed the word "stealthy" into his profile. And there were no witnesses in any of the cases, despite the fact that all the attacks were in public and one even in broad daylight. He typed "well-organized" and put an asterisk next to it.

The reports say the perp had a knife, but none of the victims was seriously injured. So he threatens them with the knife, but he never has to use it. He overpowered his victims without it. He wrote down "confident" and "physically strong." And then he added "manipulative?" So, bottom line, what is the perp getting out of these crimes? Of course, it's power. That's what all rapists want. But what kind of power is this guy into? He typed the word "why" and a string of question marks. He'd need more details about what the rapist said and did with his victims to be able to flesh out that question.

Okay, then let's try another tact. Who is this guy? White male. Serial rapists tend to strike within their own ethnic group. He's precise and confident. He's careful. That indicates someone a little older. Plus, the victims are in their late twenties, early thirties. With his control issues, he'd definitely pick men who are younger than he is. So, he's probably late thirties, early forties. He has issues with his sexuality and difficulty in his relationships. Although he desperately wants to connect, his need to dominate others ends up driving people away. His last relationship probably ended badly, perhaps with violence or at least a strong sense of estrangement.

When he's not in a sexual relationship, he's a lone wolf. Probably has few, if any, friends. He doesn't deal well with authority. There's probably an unstable employment history, frequent job changes, disciplinary action at work. However, in his personal life, he is highly organized and extremely disciplined. Quite possibly ex-military.

He reread the last paragraph and frowned. Something wasn't quite coming through. And then it struck him.

The dominance and the aggression are all masks for a fundamental insecurity. It's almost like he's two people--the outward, confident persona and the inner, repressed self that's terrified of his own sexuality, that sees it as a weakness. When he rapes his victims, he's trying to assert who he is, to show that he's the outward persona, not the inner self that he's so ashamed of.

Identity is a core issue for him, and it has been for a long time. He most likely comes from a rigid family background where homosexuality was despised and stereotypical masculinity was prized. His father was a cold, domineering, inflexible parent, perhaps even cruel, perhaps violent. He tried to instill his values in his son, demanded that he be strong and macho, and this set up a fundamental conflict inside the perpetrator. He wanted to win his father's approval. He's tried to be the kind of man his father wanted him to be, even if it was only on an unconscious level. But he also couldn't deny his sexual orientation, something his father viewed as weak and feminine. He's probably been able to manage this conflict by taking a dominant role in his relationships, but somehow this delicate balance must have been upset.

He considered the possibilities.

Perhaps he was raped himself? Maybe look for men recently released from custody who were raped in prison Or maybe the violation wasn't physical but emotional. He needs to call the shots with the men he's involved with, to be on top, both literally and figuratively. So maybe his most recent sexual partner rebelled against his domination? Maybe he stood up for himself and ended the relationship. That could have been the precipitating event that started the rapes. The perpetrator lost control in his relationship, so he went out looking for strangers to dominate to try to restore the sense of himself as a man in charge, to shore up his own self-image.

He read over the profile and nodded to himself.

And that's why he never uses the knife. It's merely a symbol of his power. It's more satisfying for him to use his physical strength and the sense of menace he's able to project to subdue his victims. He's trying to prove he's somebody by bending other men to his will and forcing sex on them.

"Okay," Blair said to himself, out loud. "I think this is the best I can do with what I know."

He bit his lip and considered his options. He could e-mail these thoughts to Simon and maybe see if he could get additional information out of him. Or he could try exploring a few avenues on his own.

The perp is probably drawn to places where gay men tend to hang out, but not places that are exclusively gay. He doesn't want to make it obvious that he's interested in guys, if he even admits it to himself. He feels out of control in social situations. Other people find him awkward and overbearing. So he probably hangs back and watches. Although not necessarily targeting victims. It doesn't appear that he specifically goes after gay men. He must have some other criteria for that, something I can't figure out from the newspaper accounts alone.

He added that to the profile.

It's envy that drives him out to the clubs. He goes to watch other people enjoying what he can't have himself. That fuels his bitterness, and the need to rape begins to build again. The attacks are coming more frequently, so the perp's anger must be escalating.

There was one place in town that matched Blair's idea of where the perpetrator might hang out, The Starlight. It attracted a diverse crowd of straights, gays and lesbians. Maybe people down there would recall someone fitting the description he'd outlined in his profile who'd started coming around in the last few weeks, someone who'd been acting strangely.

He looked at the phone and thought about calling Jim. No. You made a decision. It was the right one. You have to abide by it.

He saved the document with his profile in it and shut down the laptop. He quickly changed into a pair of black jeans and a blue silk shirt, his club-hopping outfit that hadn't seen much action lately. He grabbed his jacket and keys, and headed out.

What could it hurt to check into it myself?

He'd thought the last one was IT. But it wasn't. Again. And the disappointment ate at him, leaving him more angry and more bitter. Every time, it seemed so good, so right. They were back together again, the way they should be. Chief wasn't just sorry. He was chastened, begging forgiveness with his body, falling to his hands and knees, spreading his thighs, so sweet and submissive while they made love. And something had seemed to flow through him from Chief's body, something that would keep him safe, like a magic spell, scaring away the demons.

But then, later, after it was over and he'd gone on with his regular life, the pain had come roaring back. He'd been trying to work when the agony had hit him in the gut like somebody's fist. The monsters had returned with a vengeance, eating away at his insides again. He'd nearly doubled over with the force of it, as their rageful mouths consumed him. And they'd all had the gall to stare, those stupid people he worked with. It seemed they were always doing that, looking at him like he was a freak or something. He hated them, hated their eyes. He couldn't count the number of times in a day he would sit at his desk and think about how he could take his knife and make sure they never stared at him ever again.

Today, though, the pain was too unbearable for him to think about anything else. It was getting worse each time, and it wouldn't be long before it tore him apart from the inside out. Not unless he found IT, the antidote, the charm. When he found the right one, there wouldn't be any pain any more, not ever again. He'd be beyond that, beyond everything and everyone.

He'd be perfected, at last. Invulnerable.

So he'd just have to go on searching. It was dark out now, and soon, they'd all be going out to look for a good time. And he'd be there, too, also looking for something, only what he needed was salvation.

Before the demons devoured him for good.

The music was so loud as Blair walked through the door into the Starlight that it seemed more like a seismic event than a song. He pushed his way through the crowd to the bar and squeezed onto a vacant bar stool.

The bartender looked in his direction, and he said, "Beer. Whatever's on tap."

The guy nodded, poured him a glass and set it in front of him. Blair handed him a twenty. When the bartender came back with change, he put it down as a tip.

"Ask you a question?"

The young blonde arched an eyebrow at him and smiled. "My phone number?"

Blair smiled back. "A tempting offer. But tonight I'm more in need of information."

The bartender sighed dramatically. "Ah, well. Can't blame a guy for trying. So what do you want to know, honey?"

"Any new trolls hanging around? A big guy, strong build, maybe military looking, late thirties or early forties? He would have started coming in the last couple of weeks or so."

The young man frowned. "Yeah. You know, I think there has been somebody like that. Kind of an asshole. He got into a shoving match with some guy he thought was looking at him the wrong way." The bartender rolled his eyes. "I mean, if you're sensitive about that kind of thing, why come here? There are plenty of spots in town where the good, old boys will happily beat the shit out of any queer or anyone they mistake for one who makes the mistake of stopping in for a drink. I just don't get people sometimes. Either be gay or don't be gay. But get over the conflict already. That's what I say."

Blair nodded in agreement. "You know what, though? That really sounds like the guy I'm looking for."

"Honey, what on earth for? You could do a hell of a lot better than some homophobic, self- loathing faggot. Even if he is a hotty. I mean, who needs that kind of trouble? You know what I mean?"

"It's not personal. It's business. Could you tell me what he looks like?"

"Well, like you said, he's tall, buff, looks like he's got a stick up his butt, so maybe he was in the army or something. Short, dark hair. Pretty good looking, if you like them stern and chiseled." The bartender laughed. "And who doesn't, really? Oh, and he has blue eyes. Really striking."

Blair listened carefully, tucking the details away in his memory. "Thanks, man. That really helps."

The young man smiled. "No problem. And, hey, if your business with him doesn't come to anything, you hurry on back. I'm sure I can find a way to keep you occupied." He winked naughtily and went back to pouring drinks.

Blair smiled to himself and downed the rest of his beer. God, it's been too long. He'd forgotten how alive he could feel from just a simple flirtation. I really have to start getting out more. This "no human contact" thing really sucks.

He set his glass down and scanned the room. He didn't spot anyone resembling the bartender's description right offhand, but then the dance floor was packed and dark and the strobe lights were going crazy. It was hard to make out anyone in particular. Maybe if Jim were here.

He shook his head. Don't even go there.

He stood up from the barstool and started to make his way through the crowd again.

I'll just have to check the place out the old-fashioned way.

He stood in the shadows and watched the young man. Just the way he slid through the crowd, the bodies parting to let him through, as if they knew, they knew. That he was IT. Or the way he tilted his head when he stopped to talk to someone, the hair falling back from his face, exposing the long, pale curve of his throat, the skin practically gleaming under the twinkling lights. Or his smile, how one corner of that luxurious mouth turned up just a little bit more than the other, giving him an irresistible, lopsided charm. And most especially how his body moved, undulating in time to the music, as he stood at the edge of the crowd, surveying his options. His hips shimmied and swivelled, as if someone was taking him from behind, moving inside him, riding him like a sensual stallion.

Oh, yes. He was definitely the one. His Chief.

And soon, he would feel that magnificent body surging and swaying beneath him. And the heat of their union would be enough to extinguish the monsters that fed off him, once and for all.

"Hey there, wild thing," a silky voice whispered against Blair's ear, causing him to jump.

He turned to find one absolute God-of-a-man standing next to him, tall and handsome and smiling. At him, no less.

"Sorry." The man looked a little sheepish. "I didn't mean to sneak up on you like that."

"Nah, man. No problem."

"I have to admit something," the man said, his voice low and confessional.

Blair raised an eyebrow. "Do you, now?"

The man nodded, with a look of playful abashment on his face.

'And that confession would be?" Blair asked.

"That I've been watching you."

"Oh, really?"

"Mmm-hmm. I've been watching you and wondering why someone so delicious is standing all by himself, not dancing."

"I guess no one's made me the right offer."

"I'm offering," the man said, his voice sultry and insinuating. Blair could feel it traveling like a tease all the way down his body.

He knew this wasn't why he'd come to the club, but he'd already spent a good hour looking around and talking to people, to no avail. And now, here was opportunity knocking on his door, and it had been so long since that had happened. And he felt like a starving man being served a sensual feast.

He licked his lips at the thought.

"Can I take that as a "yes"?" the man asked, humor sparkling in his blue eyes.

"Yes," Blair said, feeling a little out of breath.

The man smiled. "Good, then."

He led him onto the dance floor. Blair twined his arms around his neck, and the man cupped his bottom and pulled him close. Their hips pressed and rocked against each other as they moved sensually together in time to the sinuous Latin beat.

"You feel so good," the man whispered against his neck.

The warm tickle of his breath went straight to Blair's cock.

He could feel the man smile against his skin. "I must feel pretty good, too, huh?"

"Yeah," Blair said, suddenly feeling a little shy.

The man seemed to pick up on that. He pulled back, enough to be able to look him in the eye. "Hey, there. Feeling good, well— There's nothing wrong with that, now is there?"

Blair shook his head, and the man smiled. "Good," he said.

And then he kissed him, open-mouthed and passionate, and Blair responded like a man who hadn't been kissed in way too long, which was exactly what he was. The man began to kiss along his jaw and then behind his ear and down his neck.

"You're so beautiful, wild thing. Your hair and that sweet mouth, the way you taste and the way you move. So, so good."

"Mmm," Blair murmured and tightened his arms around the man's neck. He rubbed his erection against the man's hip.

Blair had left the top three buttons of his shirt undone, and the man eased the silk to the side to expose his right nipple, the one with the ring threaded through it. It felt remarkably revealing, as if he were dancing naked in front of all these people. His cock leaped at the notion, burning against the man's body.

"Oh, yeah," the man said, with a big smile. "So you like showing off a little." He pressed a soft, light kiss above the naked nipple. "You like that people can see you, huh?"

Blair moaned and arched his back, silently begging for more.

The man whispered in his ear, "I like that people can see you, too. I like that everyone here can watch me do this." He licked across Blair's nipple with a broad swipe.

Blair's body jerked with the sensation. "Fuck!"

The man kissed him again, a long, sweltering give and take of tongues and teeth and lips. While they kissed, he unbuttoned Blair's shirt the rest of the way and tenderly touched both nipples, stroking them reverently until they were hard and aching.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it, wild thing?" the man asked him, as he tugged gently on the nipple ring, sending sparks all the way up Blair's spine. "It's been way too long since anyone's paid these absolutely gorgeous nipples the proper respect."

Blair could only stare up at him and blink, lost in the eroticism of the man's touch.

"I know. I know," the man crooned. "It's been too long since anyone paid the right kind of attention to this big, beautiful thing, either."

He teasingly squeezed Blair's hard cock through his jeans.

"Shit!" Blair's body bucked up into the touch.

"How 'bout it , wild thing? Let me show you just how good you can feel. Let me worship this gorgeous, fuckable body of yours. Huh?"

Blair could feel the telltale tightening in his belly. But it had been so long since he'd done this. The prospect of Jim smelling another man on him had been way too nerve-wracking, so he'd gone without guys while he was living in the loft. Now, though, there was nothing to worry about on that score. He was completely free to do as he pleased. So far, it was the only up side he'd found to living alone.

He nodded. "Yeah," he said, his throat dry with want.

The man smiled at him, brilliantly, his whole face lighting up. "Come with me," he said and held out his hand.

For a moment, he had to hesitate. That's what years of working with cops had done to him. He couldn't just go off in peace to fuck happily in some sort-of-private public place. He had to think about all the things he could be charged with—lewd and obscene behavior, creating a public nuisance, indecent exposure. But, fuck, he wasn't working with the cops anymore. He was just Blair Sandburg, private citizen. Blair Sandburg, lonely, horny grad student.

He took the guy's hand. "Let's go."

He held the young man's hips in his hands and thrust in and out, with long, deep, hard strokes.

"You fucker!" the young man screamed at him.

"Shut up!"

"Go to hell!"

He changed the angle of penetration, to make each thrust a punishment.

The young man moaned in pain. "God, stop. It hurts. It hurts."

"Tell me how much you like it."

The young man shook his head. "Bite me," he said, insolently, although the agony was clear in his voice.

"Tell me you love me, Chief. Don't make me hurt you worse."

"I don't love you. I hate you, you fucking pig!"

He pulled the young man's hair sharply, turning his head to the side, and bit down hard on the soft, vulnerable skin at the base of his neck.

"Ahhhhh!" the young man howled.

"Tell me."

"Why are you doing this?" the young man sobbed. "You didn't have to. I would have given it to you, man. Willingly."

"You're such a filthy little whore. So disloyal. I had to show you. Punish you. I have to make you give me what I need."

"Fuckin' psycho."

He reached around the young man's body and squeezed his balls cruelly. The young man shrieked and writhed in pain.

He fondled the young man's cock. It was still half hard, despite the torment he'd just inflicted on his balls.

"Oh, I think you like it all right, Chief. Your dick's getting hard in my hand."

"Asshole!" the young man spat out. "So what? My dick's hard. Hitler could touch my dick, and I'd get hard. That's what dicks do. You think if you make me hard it means I like this? You think if you make me come it means I love you? Guess again, psycho! I hate your sick, perverted, pathetic guts."

"Shut up! Shut up!"

He fucked him viciously, and the young man finally went quiet, breathing too hard now to talk. He liked it better that way, without the constant reminder that he'd made yet another mistake, that this wasn't IT, either. He had to finish what he'd started, and he preferred to do it with just the sound of his own panting in his ears, the slapping of his balls against the young man's ass, the occasional little whimper of pain coming from the body beneath him.

He jerked the young man's cock expertly, and he could soon feel the onset of his orgasm.

"I hate you!" the young man said tearfully, as he came.

That triggered his own climax, but there wasn't any satisfaction in it. It was just mechanical, no union, no salvation. In the distance, he could hear the demons stirring, relentless and hungry.

The young man collapsed beneath his weight, and he pulled out brutally, tearing him.

"Fuck!" the young man cried out. "Fuck you!"

He rammed his knee into the young man's back and held the knife against the side of his face.

"You tell anybody about this, and I'll come back for you. I'll give you a repeat performance that will put this one to shame. Only next time, I won't leave you in once piece. Got it?"

The young man sobbed and nodded.

"Okay. You stay here until I'm gone. You keep your eyes on the ground, or I'll cut them out. Understand me?"

He nodded again.


He shifted his weight to get up, but suddenly, stupidly, the young man lunged for the knife.

"Bitch!" he screamed and lashed out with the blade, catching him in the shoulder.

"Ahhh! Fuck! You asshole! You fucking stabbed me. Help! Somebody help me!" the young man hollered, his voice so loud it was nearly ear-splitting.

He scrambled to his feet and ran, his heart pounding violently. He could hear a soft rustling, like dry leaves, coming from behind him. He knew it was the demons.

Blair tried to smooth the wrinkles out of his shirt a little as he walked down the alley to his car. He sighed to himself, sated for the moment, although not particularly satisfied. That's just the way it was with stranger sex, sometimes. The pick-up was all finesse and sweet talk, but the fucking itself was strictly no frills, furtive and way too fast.

He'd gone upstairs with his God-of-a-man, to the third floor where there were sofas and large, comfortable chairs and quiet, out-of-the-way niches and no lights. Couples were making out everywhere, every permutation of men and women and everything in-between. They'd found a spot on one of the sofas, and then the man's tongue was down his throat and his hands in his pants. Not that this hadn't been the point, but the guy was on him so fast and so hungrily it was like he was being consumed.

The guy had fondled his cock and then quickly pulled his pants down and turned him over. He was still trying to find a comfortable position on the sofa cushions when he'd felt the guy's hands on his cheeks, spreading them apart, a slick finger pressing inside him. The guy had quickly lubed and opened him, and then he'd felt him settling between his thighs.

"Condom," he'd insisted.

"Yeah, I know."

And then he'd felt the cool, slick touch of latex against his butt, and then pressure against his hole. And then the guy had been inside him.

It had been a long time, and he really had forgotten how much it could hurt. His God-of-a-man was well endowed, and he didn't give him enough time to get used to being filled and stretched before beginning to fuck him. So, there had been more pain than was absolutely necessary.

Still, though, as he'd felt the guy's dick sliding in and out of him, he'd remembered why he liked this, how it made him feel complete—connected and wanted—as weird as that might be.

If only it hadn't been so brief. The guy had fisted his cock and fucked him vigorously, and they'd both come quickly. Afterwards, the man had handed him a tissue, and he'd tried to clean up. They'd both pulled their pants back up and rebuttoned their shirts. The man had kissed him one last time, thanked him for the fuck and left. He'd sat there a moment longer before getting up to go himself.

As Blair walked along on the way to his car, he realized that the disappointing part wasn't the sex, not really. It had been fine. They'd both gotten off, and that was the goal, after all. It's just that he was getting too old for faceless fucks. He didn't want some stranger whose name he didn't even know going down on him in a toilet stall. He wanted what this guy tonight had promised and then failed to deliver. He wanted someone who would go slow, touch him in all his special, sexy places, someone who would get to know his body so well he'd be able to teach him new things about his own anatomy. Someone with whom he could return the favor.

He wanted to share his life and his bed and his heart. He wanted to love and be loved. He wanted to come with his lover's name on his lips.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes at himself. When did you become such a sap? A part of him started to answer, but he quickly shut it off. Shit! Never mind. Don't even go there.

There was something that sounded like glass crunching under foot behind him, and he whirled around. But there was no one there.

It's nothing. You're just jumpy. Don't be a wuss, he told himself.

But he started walking more quickly anyway.

He hurried to the end of the alley and turned right, in the direction of his car. A hand caught his wrist from behind and yanked him around.

"Get the fuck off me!" He started to kick and struggle.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" an angry voice demanded.

He went instantly still.

"What do you think you're doing scaring the shit out of me like that?" he asked, fixing Jim with his best pissed off look. "What are you doing here?"

"I think I ought to be asking you that, Sandburg."

Jim held his eye, and he swallowed hard. Uh, well, Jim, I was butting into your business and getting fucked by some guy whose name I didn't even bother to ask. He wasn't sure which answer he was more afraid of giving.

"I'm, uh— You know, it's the weekend."

"Uh-huh," Jim said, sounding unconvinced. "Then how come when I was interviewing the bartender about the case I'm working he told me that there had already been someone in there asking questions. And how come the person he described sounds exactly like you."

He sighed. "Okay, okay. So I was asking a few questions. I read about this serial rape case, and I had a few ideas that I wanted to check out."

"Stay out of it, Sandburg."

"I just wanted to help," he insisted.

"Well, you don't do that any more. Remember?"

Blair flinched. "I know that, Jim," he said, quietly. "I just thought—"

"There's someone really dangerous out here. You ought to have better sense by now than to get yourself caught up in something like this. And what the hell are you doing in a deserted alley? Don't you read the newspapers? You fit the profile of his victims. You have to be more careful, Blair."

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Chief. Be safe. Okay? I mean, you know better than to—" Jim suddenly froze. "What the hell—" he leaned in closer, and Blair realized he was sniffing him. "Shit! You— You were—"

Blair blanched. "Look, Jim, it's not— I mean, don't get—"

"You picked somebody up? I can't believe you. Are you trying to get yourself raped?"

Blair drew back. "Hey, man, that's really offensive."

"Trust me, it's not nearly as offensive as getting your ass torn open by a vicious psychopath."

Blair felt himself turning red.

"Look, I don't care what you do, who you fuck. All right? It's your life," Jim said. "But until we break this case, don't go out picking up strangers, okay? It's not safe. And stay out of the damned alleys. And pay attention to who's behind you, for God's sake."

Blair crossed his arms over his chest. "Do you have any other orders while you're telling me what to do and how to live my life?"

"Yeah, actually, I do. Stay the fuck out of this investigation. And I mean that. I don't want to have to haul your ass downtown for obstructing justice, but I will. In a heartbeat."

Jim turned sharply on his heel and walked away. Blair stared after him, not sure if he should be hurt, worried or furious.

It was nearly four in the morning. Jim had only been asleep an hour or so when he got the call that there had been another attack. He rubbed his temples as he stepped through the double doors into the hospital's emergency room. He was tired as hell, and his head was killing him.

He showed his badge to the woman behind the desk. "I'm looking for a man who was brought in by paramedics a little while ago. Assault victim."

"He's in exam room one, but you'll need to check with Dr. Wylie first. He's still in with the patient."

Jim nodded. "Thanks. Which way?"

"Right down the hall and then to the left." She pointed.

Jim smiled. "I appreciate your help."

She smiled back at him. "No problem, detective."

Jim followed her directions and waited outside the room for the doctor to come out.

When the door finally opened, he stepped forward. "Excuse me? Dr. Wylie?"

The man turned. "Yes?"

Jim held up his badge. "I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade PD. I'm here investigating the assault. They told me at the front desk that you were the victim's physician. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to speak with him?"

"We just finished stitching up his arm. He's kind of groggy."

"He was stabbed?"

The doctor nodded. "In the shoulder. Twenty stitches."

"But he's going to be all right?"

"Yeah. He should be. Could you come back tomorrow though? I'd really like him to rest now. He's been through a lot."

"By tomorrow the trail may be cold. It would really help us catch this guy if I could just ask a few questions now."


"I'll just be a minute."

"I suppose so," the doctor said, reluctantly. "But try not to upset him too much. I don't want him to get agitated and pull his stitches."

"I understand. Thanks, doc."

"Here's right in there." The doctor motioned with his head.

Jim nodded. He pushed the door open and stepped inside the doorway. And then he froze. Shit! No! The man was lying with his arm crooked over his eyes, but the hair-- And the jawline-- And the mouth-- No. No. No! Damn it. No! He stared at the body huddled beneath the blanket, familiar size, familiar build. I should never have left him there. Oh, God. I should have walked him to the damned car. I should have waited until he drove off, until I knew he was safe. Oh, God. Chief.

"Jim?" A soft voice came from behind him.

He whirled around.

Blair stood behind him in the doorframe, looking slightly guilty, shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. "Look, I know you said to stay out of it. But I heard the news flash on the radio, and I just thought--"

He grabbed Blair by the shoulders. "Are you all right?"

Blair looked startled. "Yeah, man. I'm fine. Why?"

"I thought--" He swallowed hard. And then he shook his head. "Just thank God. That's all. Thank God."

"Are you okay, man?"

"I'm fine. It's just-- I'm just glad you're here. Okay?"

Blair's face brightened. "Okay, man. I'm not going to argue with that. So what's the deal? What's our next move?"

Jim sighed. "Look, Chief, you can't--"

"What did you say?" an agitated voice asked from inside the room.

Jim turned to the man. He was sitting up in bed, staring at him.

"Sir, I'm sorry we disturbed you. My name is--"

"What did you just call him?" the man demanded, his voice rising angrily.

Jim looked at Blair, who had followed him into the room.

"Chief?" Jim said, uncertainly.

The man pressed himself back against the head board. "Get away from me! Get out! You bastard. Don't you fucking come near me. Help! Somebody help me!"

"Please try to calm down. I'm with the police. I just need to--"

Jim took a step forward, and the man screamed in terror.

"Please," Jim said. "I'm not who you--"

"First you rape me, you bastard! And now what? You come down here to get a good look at your handiwork? Fucker!" The man looked to Blair, wild-eyed with fury and fear. "Get him away from me. Please, God. Don't let him touch me. Please."

Jim stared at him, open-mouthed, speechless. He felt Blair's hand on his arm, pulling him toward the door.

"I know this must all have been very confusing and hard," Blair said, in his most soothing voice. "But you have Detective Ellison confused with the man who attacked you. I promise you're in no danger here. We're going to leave you alone now, so we don't upset you any further. Okay?"

"He called me Chief," the young man said to Blair, tears in his eyes. "He kept calling me Chief." Tears ran down his face.

Jim stared at the young man, frozen and uncomprehending. Blair pushed him back into the hall and closed the door. But he couldn't look away. He stared at the wood grain of the door, until the pattern started swirling around his rattled brain.


He heard Blair calling him, but he still couldn't look away.


And then Blair's hands were on his arms, shaking him, and he finally snapped out of it.

"He thought it was me," he said, shakily.

"He's upset right now. In pain. Medicated. Maybe something about you reminded him of the rapist. That happens with rape trauma. Even the smallest thing can trigger a flashback."

"He said the perp called him Chief."

"You're not the only person ever to use that term."

He looked at Blair earnestly. "It's not-- I wouldn't--"

"I know, Jim. I know."

"I just wouldn't want you to think--"

Blair shook his head. "I wouldn't."

"Detective Ellison." Simon was walking toward them, a plastic bag in his hand.

Megan and Rafe trailed after him.

"Simon, hey, I'm glad you're here," Jim said. "Look, we've got a problem--"

Simon cut him off with a wave of the hand. "I think you should wait until you hear what I have to tell you before you say anything further."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Blair asked.

Simon glanced over at Megan and Rafe. "Go see if you can get a statement from the victim." They both nodded and headed for the exam room, after throwing a look in Jim's direction.

Simon turned back to Blair. "So what do you think you're doing here, Sandburg?"

Blair's expression turned slightly sheepish. "Well, I thought maybe--"

"No, we do not need your help. Now I'd appreciate it if you'd go on home."

"I don't think so," Blair said.

Simon tried to stare him down, but Blair crossed his arms over his chest.

"This is a public place," he said. "I have every right to be here. And I'm not leaving until I've heard whatever it is that you have to say to Jim."

Simon sighed heavily. "Fine." He opened the plastic bag he was carrying and pulled out an evidence bag. "Does this look familiar?"

Jim stared at it in disbelief. "It looks like the shirt Blair gave me for my birthday the year before last," he finally said.

"We found it in a dumpster near the Starlight, not terribly far from where the victim was assaulted."

"Simon, please," Blair protested. "It's hardly a one-of-a-kind designer original. I got it at the mall. There were probably hundreds, even thousands of them sold in Cascade. And forget the rest of the country. It's a popular brand. Hell, there could be millions of them."

"With this?" Simon moved the shirt around inside the bag, so that they could see flecks of paint on the cuff.

Jim swallowed hard. "Oh," he said.

"Yeah," Simon said.

He had accidentally brushed up against the wall after they'd painted Blair's room last year. He'd never quite been able to get all the paint out. He'd complained about it every time he'd worn it. It annoyed him that he'd messed up his favorite shirt. And then it had gone missing, and he'd been really irritated.

"I haven't seen that since--" He shook his head. "I just thought I'd lost it in the wash."

"I'm afraid there's blood on it, too," Simon said. "We know the victim was stabbed. We'll run a sample of his blood for a DNA match. It would be helpful if we could also get a sample of your blood, Jim."

He nodded, numb. The whole thing felt like something out of a horror movie or a nightmare, the cold, sweat-soaking variety..

"You can't be serious about all this," Blair said.

"I'm afraid I am, Sandburg. We have witnesses that place Jim near the scene."

"I did go to the club," Jim admitted. "To run down a lead."

"Did you clear this with anyone?"

Jim shook his head. "I had a hunch. I looked into it."

"Ellison, this damned lone wolf routine of yours--" Simon shook his head.

Blair spoke up, "He was with me."

"Sandburg--" Simon said, sounding annoyed.

"I'm serious, man."

"I did run into him, sir," Jim said.

"What time?" Simon asked.

"I'm not sure--" Blair said. "After one, I think."

"It was about 1:30," Jim said. "I checked my watch after Blair left. I was getting tired and decided to take one last look around before heading home."

"The victim was attacked around 1:00," Simon said. "Where did you say you ran into Sandburg?"

"In the alley," Jim admitted. "Like I said I had a hunch. So I was checking out the area around the Starlight. I saw Blair walking away from the club down that deserted alleyway, and it concerned me."

"Jim was trying to look out for me," Blair said.

Simon rubbed his hands over his face. "I don't have to tell you how bad this looks, Ellison. It puts you at the scene right after the attack."

"He was with me," Blair insisted.

Simon shook his head. "Afterwards. That's no alibi."

"Alibi? Shit! Come on, Simon. You know Jim didn't do this," Blair declared, impassionedly.

Jim watched Simon for a reaction, but his face was as impassive as stone.

"Whatever I may think doesn't really matter. There's reasonable cause for suspicion. We have procedures that have to be followed," Simon said to Blair, and then he turned to Jim. "Obviously, you're off the case. You'll be suspended with half pay, pending further investigation."

"You can't do that!" Blair protested, his voice outraged.

"I don't like this either, Sandburg, but Jim's high profile. We can't afford even the appearance of a cover up."

"It's okay, Blair," Jim said. "This is standard procedure when there's a charge made against a police officer."

Blair stared at Simon. "What the hell kind of motive is he supposed to have for committing a crime like this?" he demanded.

"This is an official police investigation. I'm not at liberty to discuss it with you, Sandburg," Simon said, his voice serious and unyielding.

"What the hell--" Blair began.

Simon threw Jim a meaningful glance.

"Uh, Blair? Would you mind letting me finish up here with Simon by myself?"

Blair turned to him in surprise. "What?"

"I'll catch up to you later. I promise."


"Please, Blair."

Jim could tell Blair really didn't want to go, but he finally conceded, "Okay. If that's what you want."

"Thanks, Chie--" He winced. "Thanks."

"But I want to know what's going on, man. Okay? You will call me later, right?"

Jim nodded. "Sure."

"All right then," Blair said, reluctantly. "I'll talk to you later."

Jim watched him walk away. When he was out of earshot, he asked Simon, "So what didn't you want to say in front of Sandburg?"

"We found something else besides the shirt." Simon took out another sealed evidence bag.


"I know you have a knife like this from that time the three of us went camping."

Jim shook his head. "It can't possibly be mine."

"You have your knife at home?"

"Yeah. Of course. I mean, I haven't gone camping lately. But I keep it down in the storage area with all the rest of my gear."

"So if you can produce it, we'll know this isn't yours. But--"


"There are prints on it. I'm taking it back to the lab to have them run."

"They're not mine, Simon. They can't be. I didn't fucking do this. I'm not a rapist. How can you even think--"

"I don't. I don't, Jim. But I have this evidence to contend with and--"


"You know the profile."


"Did it ever occur to you that it fits you to a tee?"

Jim's jaw worked overtime. "You think I have a-- What did the profile say again? A compulsive need for dominance? So you think I'm going out on some raping rampage to make myself feel like a man. Is that what you're saying?"

"You know how we didn't see any pattern to the victims at first? Well, have you noticed anything about the last three?"

Jim stared down at the floor. "They look alike."

"They look like Blair."

Jim shook his head in disbelief. "You can't mean--"

"I'm just telling you what everyone down at the station is thinking. And saying."

"But why? Why would I-- To Blair, of all people? No. No, damn it."

"People think there's bad blood between you."

"Because they mistakenly think that Blair sold me out. They don't know how he sacrificed his whole damned life to protect me. They don't know the truth. But you. You know. You have to know I would never want to hurt Blair."

Simon sighed. "There was a time when I wouldn't have hesitated about that. But I saw how you were with the kid during that whole Alex Barnes mess. I saw how you treated him after the whole Sentinel thing went public, before he covered for you at the press conference."


Simon held up his hand. "I know the Sentinel thing was causing you to freak out, but you were downright cruel to the kid. Not physically. I realize that. But you did hurt him. Pretty badly, too. So it's not like I've never seen you take your anger out on him. I have."

"I can't believe that's what you think of me."

"It's the truth about what I've observed. I've also seen what he means to you. I've seen you let him get close to you. I've seen you worry about him and protect him. I know how important he is to you. And that worries me, too."

"What are you talking about? He's my best friend, damn it, Simon. Of course, I care about him."

"He's your estranged best friend. Have you even spoken to him once in the six months he's been gone?"

He couldn't meet Simon's eye. "I didn't want to get in the way. After the whole press conference mess and the academy, he just-- I guess he needed to start a new life."

"You mean, he left you. You know what the profile says about that. The precipitating event is most likely the break up of a significant relationship."

"That's bullshit!" Jim clenched his jaw. "He got his own place. He's thirty years old. It's not like we were lovers. It's not like we ever thought about-- It just wasn't like that."

Simon shook his head. "Now isn't the time for lying, Jim. Not to me. Especially not to yourself. A lot of other people are going to ask you these same questions, people who have a lot less invested in believing you than I do." He paused, as if trying to frame his next question. "Do you think it's possible--"

"What? What?"

"You've repressed things before. Do you think you could have--" He waved his hand. "I don't know. Have gone into some kind of weird zone out? Done things you don't remember?"

Jim stared at him. "I can't believe you would--"

"I'm just asking if it's possible, Jim."

"Excuse me, sir," Megan interrupted, as she and Rafe came out of the exam room.

"What'd you get?" Simon asked them.

Megan eyed Jim.

"It's okay," Simon assured her. "Jim is already aware of the situation."

"Well, the victim didn't actually get a good look at his attacker. It was dark, and the guy's face was in the shadows. So he wasn't able to say for certain if it was--" She hesitated. "Jim or not. I'm sorry," she said to him.

He shook his head. "It's your job."

"He didn't think he could identify the voice, either," Rafe added. "But he did say the perp kept saying something about having to punish him for being disloyal. And he--" Rafe looked away from him. "The perp called him Chief. Repeatedly."

Jim stared at them both, dumbfounded. "It-- I swear to God--"

"It would be best if you didn't make any statements right now," Simon advised him. "Not without a lawyer present. We'll need you to come down to the station tomorrow for an official interview. Contact the Officer Defense department, so you'll have representation there."

"I don't need a lawyer, Simon. I didn't do this," he insisted.

"Jim, you've been on the force long enough to know that everybody needs a lawyer, innocent and guilty alike. Just do it. Call OD. Okay?"

He looked away and nodded.

"I don't want to see you at the station before then," Simon told him. "I mean that. And don't go trying to investigate this on your own. It's only going to look bad, like you're trying to interfere in the investigation because you have something to hide. Just go home. Get a lawyer. And let us do our jobs. Got it?"

"Yeah," he said, his throat tight and dry. "I got it."

"Good. Rafe, Megan, let's get this stuff down to the lab."

"See ya, Jim," Megan said, looking sorry for him.

"Yeah, see ya," Rafe said, awkwardly.

He watched the three of them walk down the hallway. It took several moments before he was able to make his own legs move.

Familiar Stranger continued in Part Three.

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