Familiar Stranger

(Part Five)

The first time Jim woke up it was his because of his senses. Something was registering with them, something that wasn't quite right. His eyes shot open. It was still dark outside. He listened and tried to get his bearings. The loft was quiet and still, nothing out of place. And then his sense of touch chimed in, and he realized what was amiss. Blair wasn't curled up beside him anymore. Instead, he was sitting up in bed, his legs twisted into a position that looked downright painful to Jim, his eyes closed, his chest moving deeply with his breath. He was obviously trying to meditate, but Jim could tell from the sound of his vitals that the attempt wasn't particularly successful.

"Are you sorry?" he asked, softly.

Blair's eyes flew open. "Jim, no. Of course not."

"You're panicking."

"No, I'm--"

"You are too, Chief. I know what that smells like. And this is it."

He watched Blair's throat muscles move as he swallowed hard.

"You can tell me," he assured him.

"I-- In the middle of the night-- I just started imagining what would happen if we can't find this shithead."

"We're going to find him, Blair."

Blair nodded. "I know. I really do. It's just--"

"You've been so busy trying to reassure me that you didn't leave any room for your own feelings." Jim marveled as the words came out of mouth. His partner had definitely rubbed off on him.

Blair wrapped his arms around himself. "I guess I went into denial or something. I couldn't bear to think about the possibilities. I just wanted everything to be okay."

Jim nodded. "I know how that is."

"I guess it had to back up on me sometime."

Jim leaned over and kissed his bare shoulder. "I know I was the one who was freaking out before, but you were right when you said that we've faced hard shit before. There's no reason we can't handle this now."

Blair clutched his hand. "I don't want you to go to prison."

"That's not going to happen."

"I just kept picturing what would happen to you. A cop behind bars. They'd kill you."

"They put ex-cops in special lockup for just that reason."

"Solitary? That drives people insane. And with your senses?" Blair shuddered. "That would be way beyond cruel." Blair shook his head. "I'm not going to let them take you, man. I'm not."

"Hey." Jim gathered him into his arms and maneuvered him so that they were lying side by side again. "I appreciate the sentiment, but if they come to arrest me, I don't want you getting involved or getting hurt. They have to do their jobs. We'll fight it the right way, in court. Okay? Agreed?"

Blair's arms went tightly around his waist, and he buried his face in his chest. "Okay," he mumbled.

Jim kissed the top of his head. "It's the only way, Chief."

"I hate it."

"I know. Me, too."

"So let's do something. Let's find this asshole. So it doesn't come to that."

"I'm all for that. The only question is how."

"I thought of something," Blair ventured.

"What?" And then he saw Blair's expression, and he went cold all over. "No. Absolutely not."

"It might draw him out."

"We're not using you for bait, Blair. Over my cold, cold dead body."

"I'm the only connection we have to this guy. It's the only way."

"You've seen the files. You've read the medical reports. You know what he does to these men. What if we set a trap for this bastard and something goes wrong? Are you really willing to take that chance? To risk being brutalized? Raped? Hell, he stabbed the last victim. He could kill you."


Jim shook his head vehemently. "No! I'm not willing to risk it. I'd hate my guts forever if you got hurt trying to help me."

"And I'd hate my guts if I didn't do everything I could to save you."

An irrational flash of possessiveness shot through him, and he tightened his hold on Blair's body. "He can't have you. He can't, damn it!"

"He's not going to get me. You'll be there to protect me."

"I don't think I can do this."

"It might be our only hope of catching this guy. If that's the case, then we have to do it. That's really all there is to it."

He sighed. "Blair-- It's four in the morning. Could we talk about this in the morning when we can both think clearly?"

Blair snuggled against him. "Okay. But I'm not going to change my mind."

He kissed Blair's forehead. "Tomorrow. Okay?" he said.


He could feel Blair's pulse slowing down. He was already falling asleep again.

"I love you," he said.

"Love ya, too, Jim," Blair murmured drowsily.


The next time he woke up it was because someone was pounding on the front door.

"Chief," he said softly.

But when he turned onto his side, he found Blair already awake, his eyes wide and dark and stricken. "Do you think it's--"

"I can't imagine who else it would be."

"Oh, shit!" Blair said, his face turning pale. "I've got to get out of here. This is going to look-- Fuck! That's what I get for saying no one would ever know."

"Ellison! Open up!" Simon's raised voice came through the door.

"I'm so sorry," Blair said, in the most heartbreaking voice Jim thought he'd ever heard.

He shook his head. "Not your fault." He kissed Blair gently on the lips. "It'll be okay. Just stay here. Hopefully they don't have a search warrant, and they won't come up here."

Blair nodded, and Jim got up.

"Coming!" he yelled to the cops on the other side of the door as he hurriedly pulled on a pair of pants.

He jogged down the stairs and headed for the door. The sound of Blair's heart beat pounded in his ears. He opened the door. Simon pushed past him into the loft, followed by Megan, Rafe, Benson and the new guy Walters.

If the circumstances had been less grave, he probably would have found it funny. Five officers, just to take him in. What the hell were they expecting? A shootout? A hostage situation?

"What took you so long?" Simon asked him.

"I was sleeping," he said.

Simon regarded him skeptically. "I never knew you were such a sound sleeper."

"I never knew you were interested," he shot back.

"I'm sure you know why we're here. The lab results came back," Simon advised him. "The DNA is a match for the victim's. They found a partial on the knife. It matches your thumb print. I'm afraid I have to take you into custody."

Jim nodded. "I just need to grab a shirt."

He took a step toward the stairs, but Simon put out a hand to stop him. "Rafe?" he said. "Go upstairs and get Jim something to wear."

"You've got to be kidding," Jim protested. "Can't I just--"

Simon shook his head. "You keep your weapon up there."

"Oh, come on," he said.

He could hear Blair's vitals going crazy.

"Rafe," Simon said, motioning with his head.

Busted. Damn it.

"Wait a minute, Rafe," Jim said. "Blair?" he called upstairs. "Can you bring me down a shirt?"

"Uh, sure, man." Blair's embarrassed voice floated down to them.

If the circumstances had been different, if he weren't about to be carted off to jail, if Blair being discovered in his bedroom wasn't the absolute worst thing that could have happened to him, then Jim might have found the reactions from his co-workers really quite funny. Simon actually turned pale, a feat for him. Rafe wouldn't meet his eye. Megan couldn't hide her smile, which was both pleased and smug. Benson and the Walters looked like they'd just been struck by lightening.

He could hear Blair scrambling into his clothes, and then a moment later, he came thudding down the steps. His shirt was unbuttoned, and his hair was flying wildly in all directions. There were marks on his neck, which he probably didn't realize, and his lips were red and a little swollen. He looked decidedly like a man who'd just been made love to, something which did not escape anyone's notice. Jim could feel Simon's eyes pointedly burning into him. Rafe stared at the carpet like it held the secrets of the universe. Megan looked like her face might break she was grinning so hard, and Jim was sure he heard her say to herself, "Way to go, Jimbo!" Benson and Walters made a good case for the notion that lightening could strike the same place twice.

Blair handed him the shirt. "Here you go, man."

"Thanks," he said, caressing Blair's hand reassuringly as he took the shirt from him, the folds of the fabric hiding the gesture from prying eyes.

He put on the shirt and buttoned it up.

"Put your hands behind your head," Simon instructed him.

Blair's eyes sparkled with fury. "You're going to handcuff him? You've got to be kidding. If you'd called, he would have surrendered himself. You know he didn't do this. You don't have to treat him like he's a fucking serial killer."

"It's procedure, Sandburg," Simon said, his voice tight and strained.

"Well, it fucking sucks, man."

"It's okay, Chief. I'll be all right."

He put his hands behind his head, the way he'd ordered countless perps to do in the past. It felt unreal to be on the other side of the experience.

"Rafe," Simon said.

Rafe pulled out his cuffs and stepped behind him.

"Sorry, Jim," he mumbled.

He shook his head. "It's okay."

"Jim Ellison," Simon addressed him. "You're under arrest for the rapes of Peter Carey, John Brubaker, Tucker Groden, David Bradford and Kyle Mayhew. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as I've explained them to you."

"You know I do," he said.

"Okay. Is there anything you'd like to say at this time?"

He shook his head.

"All right then. Take him out to the car."

"Wait," he said. "Just-- I need to--" He turned to Blair.

Blair's eyes were liquid and bright. "I'll call your father and Stephen," he promised. "We'll get you a good lawyer."

"It'll probably take a couple of hours for me to be processed through the system."

Blair nodded. "It's early. We should be able to get you out of there before you have to spend the night in jail."

"I'd appreciate that."

He looked longingly into Blair's eyes. Everything he wanted was so impossible: a kiss, a moment alone to say goodbye, just to be able to hold him one last time before they took him away.

"I know," Blair said softly, his eyes shining back at Jim, showing him that he understood, that he felt the same way.

He nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak.

"Soon," Blair said.

"Yeah, Chief." He tried to smile.

"Okay, Jim." Simon put a hand on his shoulder. "It's time to go."

"I'll just come down--" Blair started to say.

"It would be better if you stayed here, Blair," Simon told him.


"I don't think you should watch this," Simon said.

"He's right," Jim told Blair. "I'll see you at the arraignment."

He could see Blair's hesitation, but all he said was, "Okay, Jim. If that's what you want."

He nodded.

"Okay, Jim," Simon said.

He let Simon guide him toward the door.

"I love you," Blair whispered, under his breath, just for him.

He looked back over his shoulder. Blair's face was pale with sorrow.

"Me too, Chief," he said, his voice shaking despite himself. "Me too."

With one final glance at Blair, he let Simon steer him out of the loft, into the hallway. Rafe had already called the elevator, and Simon walked him into the car. He kept his hearing fastened on Blair, on his breathing and his pulse, the sound of his voice as he called his father and explained the whole mess. He listened to Blair the whole way down to the car, barely even noticing as Rafe issued the standard warning about watching his head as he got into the back seat of the patrol car. He clung to the sound of his lover, like it was something solid and substantial, something he could hold onto, a talisman of hope. He strained to hear him as the car drove down the first block and then the second. He listened intently until the last faint sound of Blair's voice got lost in the sheer volume of the world.

He sighed heavily and settled back against the seat. It was impossible not to notice that the uniform driving the car kept eying him in the rearview mirror, but he did his best to ignore him anyway. He had other things to concentrate on, like the fact that he'd never realized how uncomfortable it was to ride with your hands cuffed behind your back. In all the years he'd been putting suspects into police cars, he'd never once thought about the strain it put on the shoulders, how it made your hands go numb, how the handcuffs dug into your wrists.

Oddly enough, though, he was glad for the physical discomfort. It gave him something to focus on besides the bizarre turning of the tables that had put him on the other side of the bullet proof shield. It gave him something to think about other than the little smirk he could see in the mirror whenever his eyes accidentally met those of the other cop.

At the station, Simon and the other detectives escorted him from the car into the building. Everyone stopped and stared as they passed. He could hear whispering all around him. They think he's the one...I heard he did it...There's evidence... He kept his back stiff and his eyes focused straight ahead. It wasn't the first time they'd whispered things about him. At least, that's what he tried to tell himself.

Simon took care of the processing himself, and Jim was intensely grateful for that. He'd never imagined what it would be like to be fingerprinted and photographed and searched, the simple but pervasive humiliation of it all. From the first moment he stepped across the police station threshold in handcuffs, it felt as if his life as an individual, as Jim Ellison, was over, and his existence as a number in the system was only just beginning.

Thankfully, Simon was his friend, and he seemed to understand. He took care of everything quickly and professionally, without comment, without the small talk that would have felt like salt, stinging him. When he was finally finished all the necessary procedures, Simon walked him down to the holding cells, his pace deliberate, in no hurry, letting Jim relish his last few moments of comparative freedom.

"You know I am sorry about this, don't you?" Simon asked, quietly.

"Yeah, I do."

"The two of you figure out anything?"

"Not anything that's going to get me out of here just yet."

"I haven't stopped working on it, either. I just want you to know that."

"I appreciate it."

Down in the holding area, Simon signed the appropriate forms, and the sergeant on duty took custody of him. He walked him to a cell, motioned him inside, locked it behind him and then removed the cuffs through the bars.

"Your lawyer should be here soon," Simon said.

He nodded. "Yeah. Blair was calling my father as we were leaving."

"I'm sure your father will get somebody good."

"Yeah. I'm sure he will."

"Well, I guess I'd better be going. I have to file the report, so you can have your arraignment."

He nodded. "I'll see ya, Simon."

"Yeah, Jim," Simon said, his voice solemn. "See ya."

He watched Simon walk back down the hall and listened to the outer door clang heavily closed behind him. He looked around the cell, not that there was much to take in, a spare cot, the worn blanket, a few stains on the floor. He sat down on the thin, lumpy mattress and stared into space. This was the last place he'd ever expected to be, and he didn't quite know what to do with himself.

Not that he hadn't been in a cell before. But this was so much different than his experience at Starkville. The bars and the cinderblocks and the stale, leftover stink of ruined lives were all like omens. It was as if he could see his future foreclosing right in front of his eyes, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. He was powerless--no, worse than that--impotent, and that fed a sour, simmering rage deep inside him. He was beginning to understand the hatred and the brutality that had so mystified and appalled him while he'd been undercover in prison. All he could do now was wait, and it was the kind of waiting that desiccated souls, that after a while could turn even healthy minds dark and stagnant.

He could withstand hours or days or even weeks of it. But what about years? Decades? Forever? How could he--how could anyone--withstand the slow and meaningless erosion of a life?

He shook his head violently. Thirty-nine years, and you pick now to get maudlin. Maybe it's good to be in touch with your feelings when you're at home with Blair, but you need to get a grip here, now. Focus. Be strong. It's not fair to make Blair bear all the burden, to keep picking up your pieces. Think about him. Hold it together for him.

Just the fact that he needed to give himself this little speech amazed him. Blair really had changed him, in ways he hadn't even realized until now, until this crisis. When he was in Peru, he had known that he was terrified, but it was as if he was seeing that terror at a great distance, the way scientists scrutinized galaxies on the other side of the universe. And then when Carolyn had left him, he knew nothing had ever hurt so badly, but it was as if the pain was buried so far inside him, under so much rubble that he couldn't quite touch it. He had preferred it that way. It made it easier to get through the days, even if it didn't exactly make him feel like he was among the living.

But then Blair had happened along, and nothing had ever been more surprising than the way Jim wanted to know him, to feel him. And that wasn't possible with his heart trapped beneath a glacier. An emotional life didn't come with a faucet. He couldn't just turn it on and turn it off again when it didn't suit him. He couldn't protect himself, couldn't be hermetically sealed behind a set of steel doors, and let Blair register with him, let Blair touch him. If he cut off the pain and the scary shit, then he cut off Blair. And as time went on, that became more and more unacceptable.

When Blair left him, he had desperately wished he could go back to the old stoicism. He'd even tried. But he couldn't manage it. He was devastated, and he couldn't pretend otherwise. And now, he was really pretty damned scared, and he couldn't pretend about that, either. And yet, despite everything he'd learned, there was still a lingering part of him that missed his old sense of imperviousness, even though he realized it had always been an illusion. No one who was fully human could be impervious. The two things just didn't go together. But he did miss the familiar sense of comfort that came with the illusion that nothing could hurt him. He felt way too splayed open right now.

I just wish I was with Blair.

He wondered what Blair was doing, if he was okay. He would most likely have gone over to his father's house or to Stephen's office. The three of them would gather somewhere and plot their strategy. His family. That made him smile, despite the bleakness of his circumstances. He couldn't imagine a more unlikely group if he tried, and yet, picturing them gave him a warm feeling, even if things were far from perfect. Even if he still hadn't completely forgiven his father. Even though he and Stephen were only just starting to know one another again. Even though he and Blair-- well, it was really just the beginning of everything for them.

At least, he hoped it was.

It would be interesting to see how his father and Stephen adjusted to the news. When this was all over, he would sit down with them both and tell them about Blair. It wasn't something he was willing to hide. And if they wanted to be part of his life the way they said they did, then accepting Blair and his place in his life was part of it, too. He figured Stephen would probably be cool about it, maybe even happy for him. His father-- well, at least years of experience had cushioned him against disappointments delivered by his father's hands.

"Hey, Ellison." The duty sergeant's gruff voice interrupted his thoughts. "Your lawyer's here to see you."

Jim nodded and got up. He stood at the front of the cell by the bars, with his back turned so the sergeant could fasten the cuffs.

When he was properly secured, the other cop unlocked the door and swung it open. "Come on," he said.

Jim let him steer him out of the cell and along the corridor. Rafe was waiting outside the holding area, signing his name to the paperwork. He handed the sergeant the clipboard back, and the sergeant opened the heavy outer door.

"He's all yours," the sergeant told Rafe.

"Thanks, Carlson," Rafe said.

"Hey, Ellison," Carlson called to him, as they walked away.

"Yeah?" He looked over his shoulder.

"Not everybody thinks you did this. Just so you know."

Carlson's face was serious and sincere, and Jim found the man's confidence in him strangely touching. He and Carlson barely knew each other.

"Thanks," he told the other cop.

Carlson nodded. And then Rafe tugged on his sleeve, and he turned back around and let Rafe lead him to the conference room where he'd meet with his lawyer. Rafe led him inside, unlocked one cuff and fastened it to the table. It was standard procedure, but it made him feel chained, like an animal, even more trapped than just being in the cell.

"Uh," Rafe stammered.

"It's okay," Jim said.

"No, I just-- It's not only Carlson. I just want you to know that."

For the first time since the whole mess had begun, Rafe looked him in the eye, and Jim understood why he'd been acting so uncomfortably. It wasn't what he'd thought. Rafe didn't think he'd done it. Rafe felt guilty, for being part of the investigation that had landed him in jail.

"Thanks, Rafe," he said. "That means--" He shook his head. "I can't even tell you."

Rafe put a hand on his shoulder. "Your lawyer should be here soon. You want a soda or something?"

He shook his head. "Just-- Could you--"


"If I don't get bail, could you look out for Blair for me? He's-- There's just no telling what he might do to try to prove my innocence, and I'm afraid it'll make him a target. Hell, the way this asshole thinks--" His jaw tightened. "Blair could already be in danger."

"Sure, Jim. No problem. I'll look out for Blair. We all will."

"Thanks, Rafe. Thanks. Really."

"Blair's one of us, Jim. We're not going to let anything happen to him."

"I appreciate that," he said, his voice scratchy and emotional.

There was noise outside the door, and then Kirby Anderson, his father's lawyer, breezed into the room.

"Good morning, Jim. How are you? Did they treat you okay? I hope you haven't been the target of any unpleasantness?" he asked, frowning, his voice disapproving.

Rafe bristled. "We wouldn't let that happen."

"I'm fine," Jim told his lawyer.

Anderson nodded. "Good. I'm glad to hear it." He turned to Rafe. "That'll be all or now, detective," he said, dismissively. "I need to confer with my client privately. If we need anything else, we'll call you."

Rafe turned red. "Fine," he said, tightly, clearly offended by the man's tone.

On he way out, he let the door slam loudly behind him. Fortunately, Jim had his hearing dialed down to a normal level, a precaution against zoning out while he was in lock up, without Blair anywhere nearby to help him.

Anderson sat down and opened his brief case. Jim scrutinized him. He reminded him a little of his father. The same grey hair, the same impeccable wardrobe. The same air of hauteur. Jim shook his head. He might not have met the man before today, but he was exactly what he would have pictured for his father's lawyer.

"So, Jim, you know I don't specialize in criminal law," the man said. "Most of my work is on the corporate side."

He nodded. "Yeah. I know you and my dad have had a lot of business dealings."

"Right. But our firm does have several excellent criminal defenders. I personally recommend Elena Martin. She's very, very good, and I'm from the old school. So if I'm suggesting a lady lawyer, then you can trust me that she's the best. Elena was finishing up another matter in court this morning, so I'll be handling your arraignment. She'll take over after that, if you agree to her as your counsel."

"How much--"

Anderson waved him off. "Your father's taking care of everything."

"I don't want him to--"

"He's your father, and he wants to. But it's your life and your case, so if you don't want our firm representing you, that's completely up to you."

"No, no. I guess-- If you say she's good."

"Great, then. Okay, so I've scheduled the arraignment. It's in half an hour."

"So soon? How--"

The lawyer smiled. "You don't practice law in this city for twenty-five years without a few people owing you favors. And I owe your father a couple. So there's no reason to worry, Jim. We're going to take good care of you. I promise."

"Do you think I'll get bail?"

"Are you kidding? I'm asking for ROR."

"Release on my own recognizance? On a charge like this?"

"With a cop as decorated as you are? With the highest arrest rate in the city? With evidence that's as circumstantial and flimsy as a sheet of toilet paper? I think we've got a shot. We're going before Judge Allen. He's friendly toward the police. And if we don't get ROR, I'm sure we'll get bail of some kind. Your father's prepared to put up the money. One way or another, we'll have you out of here today."

"I hope you're right."

"Chin up, Jim. We've got a fight ahead of us, but we've got plenty of ammunition. Do you have any leads on who this prick might be?"

He shook his head. "Not, really. Only in the abstract. My part-- My former partner has developed a profile of who we think we're looking for."

"That's good. Your former partner-- That's Blair Sandburg, right?"


"He's part of their theory from what I've gleaned."

Jim nodded. "They think it's because of him that I--"

"Mmm. But you and Mr. Sandburg aren't involved that way?"

He blushed.

"Oh," the lawyer said.

"It's recent," he said, defensively. "Very recent. Since this whole mess started."

Anderson perked up. "So you started an intimate relationship after you'd been accused, but you hadn't been involved before?"

"Right," Jim said, his skin hot, an uncomfortable tightening in his stomach.

Everything with Blair was so new and so important it felt like being cut open and having his insides put on display to talk about the details of their connection.

"Do people know about this change in your relationship?" the lawyer asked.

Jim blushed again. "Yeah, I'm afraid so. Blair was-- The police saw him in my apartment when they came to arrest me. It was apparent that we'd--" He waved his hand in the air, figuring the other man would get the point.

"Well, well."

"Look, I know it was the stupidest thing I could possibly--"

"Maybe not."

"What?" He stared at his lawyer in surprise.

"Would Mr. Sandburg be willing to testify on your behalf? That you were never involved before? That you only began sleeping together after you had already been accused?"

Jim frowned. "Yeah, I'm sure he would. But how would that help?"

"He's not afraid of you. He was so confident that you're innocent that he became romantically involved with you. He's the crux of the prosecution's case, and he knows you're innocent. And he'll get up on the witness stand and swear to it under oath. Obviously, strategy will be Elena's call. But this could be good news for us."

"I'm hoping we can find the perp before there's a trial, so we don't have to get up on the witness stand and be grilled about the details of our personal lives."

"I understand, Jim. Honestly, I do. But we have to be prepared for every possibility." He checked his watch. "It's getting close to time. We should head over to the courthouse. Officer?" he called.

Rafe appeared in the doorway. "Yeah?"

"Can you transport my client over to the courthouse? It's time for his arraignment."


"I'll meet you over there," the lawyer told him.

He nodded. Rafe uncuffed him from the table and recuffed his hands behind his back.

"I'll go over to the courthouse with you myself," Rafe told him.

"I appreciate that."

Rafe led him down the hallway to the back elevator that they always used when transporting suspects. They went down to the parking garage, and the van was already waiting. Rafe loaded him into the back seat and secured the cuffs to one of the bars designed for that purpose. Then he hopped into the passenger seat in front, and the driver headed for the courthouse.

Once there, Rafe unlocked him again and helped him out of the van. They went up the back elevator at the courthouse. There were small cells just off the elevator. The guard on duty unlocked the cell, and he stepped inside. The guard locked him in.

"I'll wait until they call you," Rafe said. "Just in case--" he broke off, with a guilty look.

He doesn't want to say in case I don't get bail.

"Thanks, Rafe. I appreciate it."

"No problem, Jim."

Jim sat down on the bench in the cell. The guard on duty eyed him and Rafe, clearly curious about what was going on, why a detective would take such trouble with a perp. Rafe was quiet, studiously ignoring the guy's glances. Jim tried to imagine he was elsewhere--in the mountains, at home curled up in bed, at the beach surfing and sunning--somewhere, anywhere, that he could be free. Free and with Blair.

Fortunately, the wait was brief.

A court officer came back and said, "Get Ellison ready. They're just about to call his case."

The guard nodded and moved to unlock his cell door. The man took him by the arm and steered him out the doors, down the hall, to the court room. Once inside, the guard took the cuffs off him and motioned for him to sit down at the defense table. His lawyer was already there, making notes on a legal pad.

"I'm glad to see you," he whispered to the man.

Anderson nodded. "Just take it easy. Everything should be okay."

Jim turned around and searched the room for Blair. He found him sitting about halfway back beside his father. They both smiled at him, and he nodded, relieved to see them.

"Court is now in session," the judge's assistant announced. "All rise. The honorable Herbert M. Allen presiding."

They all stood, and the judge entered and took his place on the bench.

"What's our first matter of business, Mr. Smithson?" the judge asked his assistant.

"The People vs. James Ellison. Arraignment."

"Thank you, Mr. Smithson. Counsel?"

The district attorney rose, a young man, not someone Jim recognized, certainly no one he'd ever worked with. That was probably the point. They wouldn't have put someone like Beverley on the case, afraid she'd be too lenient.

"Mr. Ellison is charged with a string of extremely serious sex crimes, all of a particularly violent and brutal nature. He's already attacked five men that we know of, and he clearly constitutes a danger to society. The people respectfully ask that bail be denied."

His own lawyer stood up. "Detective Ellison is a highly decorated police officer, with the highest arrest rate in this city. He's twice been named Cop of the Year in the last five years. He is well known in the community, has strong ties here and poses no flight risk. Far from a danger to society, he has done more than his fair share to keep the people of Cascade safe. I would beg your honor not to compound the grave injustice that's already been done to my client, having his name sullied on the basis of flimsy circumstantial evidence, by denying bail. I respectfully ask that my client be released on his own recognizance, based on his exemplary performance on the police force."

"Your honor, he's accused of a string of vicious serial rapes. One victim has already been stabbed. We can't take a chance on more people being hurt," the district attorney argued.

"There's no evidence--" his attorney protested.

"There's plenty of evidence," the DA insisted. "Including physical evidence that ties the defendant to the crime scene and the victim."

"Correction. There's physical evidence that ties two of my client's possessions to the crime. Possessions that happen to have been stolen, quite possibly with the intention of framing him. There's nothing to tie my client himself to the crime--no DNA, no blood, no hairs, no nothing."

"Your honor--" the DA contested.

"Enough," the judge said. "This is an arraignment. We're not here to try the case. Let's leave an examination of the evidence for the trial." The judge looked at Jim. "I have to say that I'm very sorry to have you come before me under these circumstances, Detective Ellison. This is not how I like to see Cascade's finest. But based on my prior knowledge of your character and your work on the police force, I deem you to be neither a flight risk nor a danger to society. Therefore, I'm releasing you on your own recognizance until such time as a trial date can be set. I trust that I will see you back here again for your court appearance."

"Of course, your honor," Jim said, gratefully.

"Very well. The defendant is released on his own recognizance," the judge pronounced.

Jim exhaled, and it suddenly felt like he'd been holding his breath ever since he'd left the loft.

He turned to his lawyer and extended his hand. "Thank you."

Anderson smiled at him and shook his hand. "You're welcome. But don't thank me too much just yet. That was the easy part. Now we have to figure out who the hell is framing you and prepare for trial. I set up a meeting for you with Elena in the morning. You'll need to get started right away preparing a defense."

He nodded. "Thanks."

His lawyer gathered his papers into his briefcase, closed it up and stood up to make his way out of the court room. Jim followed him, scanning the crowd. He spotted Blair coming toward him, along with his father.

"Chief," he said, hoping somehow that one word would convey everything he felt, things that were impossible to say or do in front of his father and the lawyer and all the strangers who were staring at them with the same morbid fascination that caused rubbernecking delays out on the highway.

"Are you okay, man?" Blair asked, his voice deep with concern.

He nodded. "Maybe a little worse for wear. But basically okay." He turned to his father. "Thanks for coming, Dad. And for getting the lawyer."

"Of course, of course," his father said. "I just don't understand, Jimmy. How could anyone possibly think you would do something like this?"

He could see fear and confusion in his father's face, and it shook him a little. The iron man from his childhood really was gone, and in his place was someone who showed his vulnerabilities.

He put a hand on his father's shoulder. "I don't understand it completely myself, Dad. But did Blair explain the situation?"

His father nodded. "The person who's doing this is fixated on you and--" He glanced over at Blair. "That's why he took your things and used them to commit his crimes."

"That about sums it up."

"We have to find out who's doing this," his father said, the old steel coming back to his voice, just the way Jim remembered it from his childhood. "What can I do to help, Jimmy?"

He shook his head. "You've already helped me out with the lawyer. I really appreciate that, Dad."

"You're my son, Jim. I am going to get you through this." And then he looked to Blair. "We all will."

Jim stared at his father for a minute. Sometimes, it seemed like he was two entirely different people--the hard ass William Ellison from the past and the kind, gentler present day version.

"Why don't we all go back to the loft?" Blair suggested. "We can go over our strategy and plot our next move."

His father rubbed his hands together. "Sounds good. Count me in."

"Dad--" he started to protest.

Blair touched his sleeve. "Let your father help," he said, quietly, for his ears only.

He hesitated. Blair shot him an insistent look.

"Okay," he finally said. "Let's go."

His father smiled, and Blair practically beamed. And, hell, he did need all the help he could get. The three of them made their way out of the court room.

"Hey, Ellison. Sandburg." Simon's voice boomed over the crowded hallway.

They turned, and Simon hurried down the corridor to them.

"I got ROR," he told his captain.

"I heard," Simon said. "That's great. But I'm actually here to see Blair."

Blair raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"I'm concerned about your safety. With the most recent--" Simon cleared his throat. "-- developments, it seems quite possible that you may become a target."

"I'm out now," Jim said. "I'll watch out for him."

Simon shook his head. "You've been charged, Jim. I can't leave him with you."

"What?!" Blair said. "You're trying to protect me from Jim? That's bullshit. And you know it."

"I don't understand," his father said, confused.

"After what we witnessed this morning, I don't have any choice. He has to come with us," Simon insisted, his voice unmovable.

"Witnessed what this morning?" his father asked.

"Like hell I have to come with you. I'm a civilian. I don't have to do anything I don't want to do. And I'm staying with Jim. End of story," Blair said, passionately.

"He's safer with me," Jim said.

"But, as I said before, you've been charged. So letting him stay with you isn't an option, especially not since--" He gave Jim a meaningful look.

"Let. You don't let me do anything," Blair declared.

"Are you saying that you honestly think I'd do something to hurt Blair?" Jim asked, an edge of outrage creeping into his voice.

"No. But I am saying that you shouldn't have--" Simon broke off, with a pointed glance at his father.

"Could you give us a minute?" Jim asked Blair and his father.

"This concerns me," Blair said, his jaw stubbornly set.


Blair crossed his arms over his chest.

"I really need your help here," he said, letting his voice slip down into the pleading range.

He could see the flicker of hesitation in Blair's eyes.


Blair let out his breath in exasperation. "Fine. But this doesn't mean I'm agreeing to go to any stupid safe house. Because I'm not."

He nodded. "I understand."

"Good," Blair said. Then he turned to his father. "Come on, Mr. Ellison. Let's give Jim and Simon a chance to talk, huh?"

"I still don't understand," his father said.

"I know," Blair said, as he walked him down the hall.

When they were out of earshot, Jim turned back to Simon. "Okay. So say whatever it is that you have to say to me."

"Fine. You shouldn't have slept with him. Not now. It's quite possibly the stupidest thing you've ever done."

Jim turned red. "Look, you don't have to like my lifestyle. But you have no right--"

"This has nothing to do with lifestyle, Ellison. I am not some homophobic beat cop. Hell, I knew about you and Jack pretty much from the beginning."

Jim stared at him.

"What? Do you think I'm blind? Or stupid?" Simon asked.

"You didn't say anything."

"Because you were a hothead back then, and I didn't think you'd like what I had to say."

"So you didn't approve."

"It had nothing to do with approval. I just didn't think it was a good idea. Not because you were both men. But because Jack was flippant down to his toenails and you take everything way too much to heart. And now, this thing with Sandburg? It's a terrible idea, again not because you're both men. But because you've gone and made him a target, even more so than he was before. This guy, whoever this asshole is, seems to know everything that goes on with you. What makes you think he's not going to find out about this? And how can you be sure that it won't send him over the edge? That it won't make him go after Blair and not just somebody who looks like him?"

Jim's throat constricted. He ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't think--"

"No, you didn't. So now's your chance to make up for that. I promise you that I won't let anything happen to Sandburg. We'll take him to the safe house, and we'll watch him until we find this asshole. But I need your support. I need you to encourage Blair to go along with the plan, to cooperate with us. Okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah. Okay."

"Good," Simon said.

They rejoined his father and Blair.


"No way, man. No fucking way."

"It's the only thing that's going to keep you safe," Jim said.

"That's bullshit! And you know it. I can't believe you let him talk you into this."

"I only have your best interest at heart, Sandburg," Simon insisted.

"It's in my best interest to stay with Jim."

"Not this time, Chief."

"This is a mistake," Blair said. "Remember what happened when we split up over Alex?"

Jim flinched. "That's a low blow."

"I didn't mean--" Blair sighed. "It's just a bad idea. Okay?"

"I made you a target," Jim said, softly.

Blair shook his head. "No. No!"

"How could you make Blair a target?" his father wanted to know.

"Dad, I--"

"I don't want to go," Blair declared.

"I know," Jim said.

"I could take you into protective custody," Simon advised him. "But I'd rather do this the easy way, Blair."

"But I need to help Jim catch this prick," Blair said, beginning to sound desperate.

"Let us take care of that," Simon said.

"You put him in jail," Blair said.

"Sandburg, you know I had no choice about that," Simon said, his voice beginning to rise.

"I just don't want to go," Blair said, pleadingly.

"But I need you to," Jim told him.

Blair blinked and swallowed hard. "Well--" He hesitated. "I guess. If that's really what you want-- "

Jim shook his head. "It's not what I want. But it is what I need. For you to be safe."

"Okay," Blair said, sadly.

"This is for the best, Sandburg," Simon said. "I promise you."

"Do I have to go now?" Blair asked.

Simon nodded. "The house is already arranged."

Blair looked to Jim, not sure what to do. Jim glanced at his father and then at Simon. And then the truth struck him. He really didn't care what they thought. There was only one important thing. He gathered his partner into his arms.

"I'm sorry," he whispered into Blair's ear. "But thank you."

Blair held onto him so hard his ribs hurt. "I really don't want to leave you."

"I know."

"I love you," he said, softly.

"I love you, too," Jim told him.

Reluctantly, he let Blair go.

"I'll see you soon," he said.

He nodded. "It better be soon, man."

"We'll run you over to your apartment, Sandburg, so you can pick up your things," Simon said. "We should probably take off."

"Okay," Blair said. "Bye, Mr. Ellison."

"I'll see you soon, Blair," his father said.

"Bye, Jim," Blair said, his voice breaking.

"Bye, Chief." And then he turned to Simon. "Take good care of him."

"You know I will, Jim."

He watched them walk down the hall, and even though he knew he would see Blair again soon, he still felt cold inside, like it was the last time.

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and then his father said, "He'll be okay, Jimmy."

There was something in his father's eyes, something amazing. Understanding. There was no mistaking it.

"You know?" he asked.

"I figured. After I saw the two of you together a few times."

"And you don't-- I mean, I thought you'd be--"

"Judgmental? That's what I would have expected, too. And at first, I have to admit that it was a little hard to swallow. It's just not-- Well, it's not how I expected things to be. But then I got to thinking. The last thing I want is for you to end up alone like me. And when Blair gave that press conference-- Well, I could see that you never would be."

"I-- I don't really know what to say."

His father clapped him on the back. "What say we go back to your house and do that strategizing Blair suggested? Let's figure out how to catch the bad guy and get Blair out of that safe house before he goes crazy."

For practically the first time in his life, he smiled at his father with genuine pleasure. "Sounds like a plan, Dad."

He dropped the key for the third time. His hands shook so badly he couldn't get them to work right. He could feel the ground starting to tremble beneath his feet as he struggled to open his car door. They were getting closer with every passing moment. He could hear them, sense them. There was little time. If he didn't make his move, it would be all over. The demons would finally catch up to him. He would be torn apart by their cruel, clawed hands. He would be devoured by their starved, savage mouths. There would be nothing left of him.

He finally managed to fit the key into the lock and gratefully slid into the driver's seat. He felt some measure of relief inside the relative safety of the car. He slumped over the steering wheel listlessly, trying to catch his breath. He had been growing dangerously weak ever since he'd lost the connection with HIM.

It was his own fault, of course. He had allowed himself to be lured by fool's hope, by false idols. Prideful and arrogant, he had deluded himself into believing that he could find his own Chief. He had lost sight of the true prize, the real power.

He wouldn't make that same mistake again.

He forced himself to sit up straight and start the car. If only he still possessed HIS talismans. Then he would have the strength he needed. But the last false one had risen up against him, and he'd lost the magic while trying to make his escape. It was his punishment for the lack of courage he'd shown, not like a real man, not like HIM. He should never have settled for trying to find a substitute. He should have gone directly to the true source from the very beginning.

If he wanted HIS power, then he would have to take what he gave HIM the magic. He would have to possess HIS Chief.

Blair had learned many things in his long career as a student. One of the most important was: if you can't beat them, annoy them to death. It was his favorite strategy for dealing with things like unresponsive financial aid administrators, professors who kept promising to write recommendations, stubborn librarians hesitant to get the materials he needed. Persistence was a valuable tool. He used it well and often.

In this case, though, he had realized he was beaten the minute Jim caved in to Simon. When his Sentinel had gotten that bleak I'd kill myself if anything ever happened to you expression on his face, that had been the end of the discussion. There was nothing left to do but let Simon shuffle him off to his apartment to gather his things and then deliver him to the detectives who had already taken up their posts at the safe house.

Still, he didn't have to like it. So he'd sulked and complained and persisted in demanding to be taken back to Jim, just to make a point, driving Simon half crazy. If he had to be miserable, at least he wouldn't have to suffer alone. Persistence could also be a handy mode of retribution.

When they arrived at the safe house, he asked, "Where's my room?"

Rafe pointed. "Back there. On the right."

He nodded and carried his stuff into the bedroom. The safe house was standard issue, painfully suburban and unremarkable, the kind of place where you'd expect to find a wholesome family of four, rather than a protected witness. The bedroom had the usual matching set of furniture and no TV. He didn't really understand the point of that, as if somehow news from the outside world might make him bolt. I hate this shit, he thought.

He closed the door, threw his stuff on the bed and settled in, pointedly ignoring the people out in the living room. Friends or not, they were standing between him and Jim, and that pissed him off. He didn't particularly care that they had good intentions or were simply following orders. He was tired of other people always thinking they knew more about what was in his best interest than he did.

Eventually a knock came at the door.

"Uh, Blair?" Rafe called to him, tentatively.

"What?" he answered, his voice stony, not giving an inch.

"We're ordering pizza for lunch. You want that veggie pie you like so much from Tuscana?"


"You want something else?"


"Aren't you hungry?"


"Come on, Blair. You have to eat something."

"No, I don't."

He heard Rafe sigh heavily on the other side of the door. "Look, I know you're upset. But we're just trying to do our jobs here and look out for you. Give us a break, huh?"

"I don't want anything, okay?" If that's all, then I really need to finish up this paper," he said stubbornly.

Rafe sighed again. "Okay," he finally said. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure."

He listened as Rafe walked away. He had brought some food and a bottle of water in his bag. Let them deal with my sulking. It'll scare them off for a while, and that'll give me the time I need.

He sat down crossed legged on the bed and rested his back against the headboard. He pulled his lap top out of his bag. He dug down a little further and retrieved his cell phone, something he wasn't supposed to have, since it could be used to trace his location. Simon had searched his bag, a standard security procedure. But he'd learned a few things by now from working with the police. A little sleight of hand, and he was able to smuggle it in.

He plugged the phone into his laptop. This perp is too good at all this. He's way too practiced. This string of rapes couldn't possibly be his first set of crimes. Something had been bothering him about this case all along, and finally, on the drive over, he'd figured out that this was it. Now, he just needed to do some research to see if his instincts were on the money.

He knew from the case files that the cops had looked for crimes with a similar MO. But that was precisely why they hadn't found anything. The MO wasn't the unifying element. The perp derived his method of attack from the current object of his obsession. In this case, he was using Jim's hunting knife and stealing up on his victims in public in a covert-ops-like fashion. But if the perp had fixated on some other role model in another city, then the MO might be completely different.

He began searching the databases of newspapers from nearby cities. He didn't have any real reason to think the perp had struck exclusively in the Northwest. It was just something his gut told him. So he started with Seattle, since it was the biggest city in the area. Blair suspected the perp would feel more comfortable in a large metropolitan environment where it would be easier to fade into the background.

He started with the date of the first attack in Cascade and worked his way backwards. Eventually, he hit pay dirt.

"Gotcha, asshole," he said to himself.

He ran a similar check on other surrounding cities and found another string of assaults in Spokane that aroused his suspicions. As he read through all the articles on the Spokane crimes, something else caught his attention, a human interest story on a local Spokane cop being honored by a gay and lesbian community organization.

"Oh, shit!"

The movie "Silence of the Lambs" began to play in Blair's thoughts. How do we learn to covet? he said out loud, mimicking Hannibal Lector's line. We covet what we see, he answered himself, picturing the look of revelation on Jody Foster's face when she'd spoken that line.

"Shit! Shit! Fuck! Damn!" he cursed as the light went on in his own head.

He hurriedly logged off his ISP and picked up the cell phone. He dialed. He got the machine and listened impatiently to the terse greeting. You've reached 555-4672. Leave a message.

"Hey, Jim. Pick up, man. It's import--"

"Blair?" Jim's urgent voice interrupted him. "Are you okay? Is there trouble? What the hell are you doing making a call out of a safe house? Who's in charge there? And what the hell are they thinking?"

"There's no trouble. And they're not actually letting me make this call. I smuggled in my cell phone. Look, I figured out--"

"Are you crazy? Your location can be traced that way, damn it."

Blair sighed heavily. ""I know that, Jim. But it's important. This guy, he's a--"

"Cop," Jim finished the sentence for him.

"You knew?" Blair asked, surprised Jim hadn't shared the information with him.

"Just figured it out. It's got to be. Who else would know so much about me? About our relationship? We haven't been together in the last six months. He would have had to pick up the info somewhere. I mean, even just the fact that I call you 'Chief.' Where did he hear that? Gossip around the station makes the most sense to me."

"They gossip about us?" Blair asked incredulously. "What do they say?"

"You don't want to know. Let's just say that up until very recently they had it all wrong."

"You mean they talk amongst themselves about how they think we're sleeping together?" Blair asked curiously, unable to keep his anthropologist's brain from wondering about the informal communication networks in hierarchical organizations.

"Chief, can we focus on catching the perp and getting you home?"

"Sorry, man. So are there any contenders? Any cops that joined the force lately?"

"Way too many. They've hired tons of new cops in the last six months. You know, what with the mayor's big community policing initiative. We've got new uniforms, detectives, administrators. Unfortunately, your average cop is going to fit the profile in at least a superficial way. I can't think of anybody who particularly stands out as a weirdo."

"You have to check the personnel records for anyone who previously worked in Spokane and Seattle. This guy has done this before."

"But we did a check for similar MOs, Chief. We got nothing."

"Yeah. That's the problem. The MO changes depending on who this guy is trying to emulate. He somehow got his hands on your knife, so that was the distinguishing characteristic of this string of rapes. But I found newspaper accounts of three unsolved attacks on men in Spokane two years ago. The guy broke into his victim's houses and threatened them with a gun. He wore a ski mask."

"What makes you think it's the same perp?"

"Around the same time that the rapes began, there was an article in the human interest section of the paper about a Spokane PD cop who was being honored by the local gay and lesbian anti-violence coalition. He was a highly decorated officer who'd come out officially and was living openly with his male lover. He was working with this community group to develop programs to help prevent violence against gays and lesbians in the area. That's exactly the kind of thing that would draw the perp's interest."

"And you think he was fixated on this guy the same way he's fixated on me now?"

"That's my guess. I'd bet anything this cop was a skier and missing a gun."

"And in Seattle?"

"There were two rapes a little more than a year ago. In both instances, the perp used handcuffs, as well as some kind of ligature around the neck to subdue the victims. The newspaper account said it might have been a neck tie."

"Son of a bitch."

"You said it. I couldn't find anything in the local press that indicated who his object of obsession might have been, but I just have this gut instinct, Jim. This is our guy."

"Only two rapes in Seattle, huh? Maybe he screwed up, came close to getting caught."

"Yeah. Or he might have found out that his role model wasn't actually gay. That might have been his mistake. Or he might just have had an attack of pride."

"Pride, Chief?" Jim asked skeptically.

"I don't think this guy wants to ride on anybody else's coat tails to solve his problems. It would make him feel more like a man if he could just deal with it himself. That's why the first victims here in Cascade didn't look like me, but like whoever betrayed him. He was trying to handle it on his own, with just your knife and shirt to make him feel powerful. But that wasn't enough. He decided that to truly have your power he had to have more of what belongs to you."

"You," Jim said softly.

"Yeah. That's why he moved onto attacking men who look like me, thinking somehow that would make him strong like you are. I have the feeling this is a new development from the crimes in the other cities. It's my guess the victims in these other assaults looked like whoever he's trying to get back at. He's decompensating. The old defense mechanisms aren't working, and he's getting desperate. I'd expect a flailing, last ditch effort to try to get it right."

"So what you're saying is that this sick, twisted bastard is about to blow?"

"Pretty much."

"Fuck! Look, Chief, I have to go down to the station and get this information to Simon. Who's at the safe house with you?"

"It's okay, man. It's Rafe and Megan."

"Thank God. Okay, you have to fill them in, Chief. I don't want any cops at the safe house we can't personally vouch for."

"I'll be fine, Jim."

"I have to make sure."

"I appreciate that," Blair said, fondly.

"I wish I was--"

"I know. I wish you were here, too."

"I love you, Chief."

"I love you, too."

"See ya soon?" Jim said hopefully.

Blair smiled. "I better, man."

Familiar Stranger continued in Part Six.

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