Familiar Stranger

by Annabelle Leigh

"Tell me again."

"I— I love you."

"Oh, God. You're so sweet, baby. Say it. Say it."

"Love you."

"You're so hard," the larger man said, reaching around to stroke the other's stiff cock.

The curly haired man whimpered.

"Tell me," the big man commanded.

"I'm— I'm hard," the younger man answered.

"Who does this to you, baby? Who makes you this hard? Tell me."

"You do," the smaller man said, his voice soft and tremulous.

"You're so pretty, baby. So tight. So good." He stroked his hands over the younger man's shoulders, down his back, to his hips, taking them in his hands, holding them steady as he fucked the young man hard and deep.

The young man moaned, ducked his head, let his long hair fall into his face.

"Oh, yeah. You just love this, don't you? There's nothing you love more than getting your sweet ass fucked."

A soft cry escaped the young man.

"Say it!" the big man demanded.

"I love it."

"Love what, baby?"

"I love getting my ass fucked," the young man answered, his voice cracking.

"Oh, yeah. You sure do. I don't know why you had to go and betray me the way you did. We were always so good together. You shouldn't have done it. You know you shouldn't have. If you weren't such a filthy, disloyal little slut, I wouldn't have to punish you. I wouldn't have to be so rough."

The big man's thrusts grew increasingly hard and vicious.

"Please, don't!" the young man begged.

He could feel the delicate tissues inside him tearing, and the pain was unbearable. His vision started to gray around the edges, but he struggled to stay alert. The rapist had said he would do it again if he passed out. He had said he wanted him to experience every moment of pleasure. The bastard. In the background of his mind, the young man could sense his own fury, huddled in a corner, desperate and seething. But it stayed carefully tucked away. It wasn't safe to let it out. There was still the knife and the threat of another assault, so there really was no way to fight back. The best he could hope for was to survive.

When the man had first forced his way inside him, a part of him had detached, like he was floating above himself somehow. That part of him considered what he could have done differently, something, anything, that might have prevented this. But it had all happened so fast. He'd never even noticed there was anyone behind him. He hadn't seen or heard anything. Just suddenly, there was the cold metal press of the knife's blade against his throat, a steel-strong arm grabbing him from behind, the rapist's voice in his ear, ordering him to the ground.

He couldn't get past the idea that there ought to have been some kind of warning, that he should have had some sense that something was about to happen. But there hadn't been anything. One minute, he'd been cutting through the alley, a short cut to where he'd parked his car. The next, he was on his hands and knees on the filthy pavement, being violated in every sense of the word. The other man wasn't just raping him; he was using his body against him. He played with him, made him hard against his will. He forced him to talk dirty, to tell him he loved him, threatening to rape him a second time if he didn't obey.

He'd never even seen the bastard's face.

"Oh, God," he sobbed.

The rapist laughed, and the young man could feel the grotesque rumble of the man's amusement along his back. The big man fondled his cock and balls with more determination.

"You're so close now," the rapist taunted, jerking his cock harder, moving faster and faster inside him.

He felt a sick shame in the pit of his stomach. He was close. He was going to come while this was being done to him. He couldn't help it. The tears ran down his face.

He spasmed in the rapist's hand, and in that moment, the threat of the knife was no longer the most terrifying thing. In fact, there was a part of him that wanted to die, because nothing could be worse than living with this.

His completion turned the rapist on even more. He could feel the man's huge cock swelling inside him, hurting him. The rapist began thrusting wildly, brutally, his body jerking and seizing, lurching forward violently as he came, ramming his cock even further into him. He felt like he was being ripped apart, like his manhood was being stolen from him.

He knew he'd never be the same again.

When it was over, the rapist slumped heavily against his back. His arms trembled as he struggled to bear the man's weight, afraid not to.

The man stroked his hair back from his face and whispered into his ear, "Before you start telling people about us, baby, think about how you just came on my cock. Is that something you really want everybody knowing? That you got off on taking it up the ass."

He shook his head and fought back the tears.

The man laughed. "I didn't think so. So it stays between us, like it should, right?"

He nodded vehemently.

"Good," the man said and abruptly pulled out, which hurt terribly, as much, if not more, than the entry had.

He could feel something warm and sticky running down the backs of his thighs, and he thought it must be the man's come leaking from his ass, the ultimate humiliation. But then he remembered the cool, rubbery feel of latex against his skin just before the rape had begun, and he realized the man had worn a condom. For a moment, he felt enormously relieved, that at least he wouldn't get a disease on top of being brutalized. But then it dawned on him that it must be his own blood running down his legs. That sent a whole other fear coursing through him, that he might not even make it out of the alleyway alive.

The man stood up, and he could hear him zipping his pants. He collapsed onto the filthy, littered pavement, his back heaving with sobs. He knew he should look around, steal a glimpse of the perpetrator, so he would have something to tell the police. But the threat of the knife, and even worse, the possibility of being raped again, kept his eyes obediently focused on the ground.

"That was so good wasn't it, baby? I bet that's the best sex you ever had."

He closed his eyes tightly, his self-respect rebelling, making its last stand. He wasn't going to say it. He wasn't.

"Tell me," the rapist barked, impatiently.

He remained silent, the tears streaming down his face. He could feel the man stirring angrily behind him.

"You must need another round to consider. Huh, baby? You want to go again? 'Cause you're so pretty. You make me so hot. Just thinking about how you came while I was fucking you is making me hard all over again. Oh, yeah. You're making me so horny. You must really want it bad, huh, sweetheart? You ready to have your ass plowed again?"

He cried harder, so hard his whole body shook.

"Tell me!" the rapist screamed.

"It was the best," he managed to choke out through the tears.

"The best what, baby?"

"It was the best sex I ever had," he said, thoroughly defeated, not just humiliated, but broken.

The rapist laughed. "Thanks, Chief. It was good for me, too."

He could hear the crunch of broken glass under the rapist's feet as he walked away down the alley. The arrogant son of a bitch didn't even bother to hurry, trusting that he would be too terrified to sneak a glance at him, which he was. The bastard whistled cheerfully as he went, as if the rape had put him in a really good mood.

The young man sobbed brokenly. He knew he should pick himself off the ground, pull his pants up, get out of the alley, find help. But his mind was clenched with shock, and he just lay there amid the garbage, his body wracked by pain, his safety, his peace of mind, his very sense of self shattered beyond all recognition.

Blair balanced the book on his crossed legs and tried to concentrate. It was hard going. Sitting on his bed just reminded him how tired he was, how very much he'd like to stretch out and sleep for, oh, about a hundred years. His neighbors, a married couple he'd privately dubbed the "screaming crazies," were having yet another go at each other, and that didn't exactly make studying any easier. Then there was the fact that it was cold in the apartment, much, much colder than he liked it. But oil prices had skyrocketed, and heat was expensive. So he'd turned the thermostat way back to economize.

And maybe, he could have handled all of that, if the faucet in the kitchen wasn't still leaking despite his efforts to fix it. He'd called and called and called the landlord about it, but he always got the machine and the man never called him back. //Landlord, my ass. Slumlord is more like it.// He was trying to make his peace with the constant, grating sound of the dripping. But that was difficult, since the kitchen was no more than three or four paces from the bedroom or living room or anywhere else in the tiny apartment. There was nowhere to go to get away from the constant, torturous noise.

He squinted at the page and tried to force himself to focus. He had to finish reading this article, along with several others, and summarize them in time for class the next day. At this rate, he would be up half the night. Again.

Not that he was complaining, not really. After the press conference and denouncing his work as a fraud and the positively blaring publicity over the whole mess, it was one of God's less minor miracles that a school, any school, had admitted him into their Ph.D. program. Barton College was certainly no Ivy League, and it didn't have Rainier's resources. But it was an institution of higher education, and they had let him into their forensic psychology program. He was grateful for that—very, very grateful, in fact.

Not that he had any illusions, particularly, about how he'd been admitted. That had been Naomi's doing, a function of her guilt. Barton's Chancellor, David Stockwell, just happened to be one of the many men Naomi had been involved with over the years. They'd parted on amicable terms. In fact, Blair was pretty sure the guy was still in love with her. So, after much explaining and convincing and just plain flirting on Naomi's part, he'd finally agreed to see what he could do to help her son.

There were times when Blair thought that perhaps he ought to have refused an offer of help obtained through his mother's wiles, as a matter of pride or something. But when it had come, he'd just bailed on being a cop, and his back had been up against the wall. Pride, it seemed, was yet another thing he couldn't afford.

Looking back on it now, he probably should have known better than to have even attempted the Police Academy. If his world hadn't been lying in shattered scraps at his feet, if Simon hadn't held that shiny shield out to him like some kind of consolation prize, if Jim hadn't looked at him with just that particular expression in his eyes, he probably wouldn't have. He would have done the sane thing, smiled, thanked them, explained the hundred and four reasons why it would never work out, why it just wasn't for him.

It was almost funny, in retrospect, that the gun turned out to be the least of his problems. No, not funny. Frightening. He'd scared the shit out of himself, in fact. There was something fierce and more than a little bitter brewing inside him the whole time he'd been at the academy. Whenever he'd picked up the gun, he could feel that bitterness flowing hotly through his veins. He would shoot at the target, and it felt like he was trying to gun down recent history. It was as if he was taking aim at his own carelessness at ever having used Jim's name in his dissertation, at Naomi's pig-headed conviction that she always knew what was best for him, at Chancellor Edwards' self-righteous disdain, at the way his so-called friends had run like hell at the first whiff of scandal, at the energy and ingenuity his fellow cadets put into harassing him, like it was a full-time job. That's what had always guided his hand and his eye and his brain whenever he'd fired his weapon, and so his aim was deadly, every time.

Hell, he was at the top of his class in marksmanship. It was fucking terrifying.

But even that wouldn't have been enough to make him stop. Jim had given him this chance. Jim and Simon. He was determined not to let them down. The prospect of working with Jim was the only thing he had left, the only shred of his old life still intact. He clung to it with both hands. Whenever things got really bad, he would close his eyes and imagine being a detective alongside Jim, and that image became his compass. He used it to steer by.

Then one day, he was coming into the locker room at the academy, lagging behind the others a little, so he wouldn't have to feel so self-conscious about being left out of their camaraderie. As he'd rounded the corner of the entrance way, just before stepping into the open room, he heard someone say, "But why would he still want that shithead for a partner?"

He froze. Of course, he knew who they were talking about, and so he lingered there and listened, unseen.

"Maybe there's more going on than we know about," someone else suggested.

"Like what?" a voice asked.

"What if it's true?"

"Do you think?"

"Ellison never beat the shit out of him like anyone would have under the circumstances. Instead, he gets the little prick into the academy. He lets the guy go on living with him. From what my older brother who's down at the precinct tells me, they're still the best of friends. Everybody is always careful not to say one bad word against Sandburg, at least not where Ellison can hear them. Explain that to me."

"So maybe it is true."


"You mean—"

"Maybe they're fags."

Someone snorted. "Not Ellison. Have you seen that guy? He's so not a fairy. I mean, Sandburg? Sure, I could see it. But Ellison's ex-military."

"It's not like they don't have fags in the military, Burke."

"I know. But you'd have to meet the guy. Trust me. He's no queer."

"So, shit! Maybe he is a— What did the little prick call him?"

"A Sentinel."

"Fuckin' A."

"You know, it kind of makes sense. Sandburg must have said the whole thing was a fraud to try to cover for Ellison. So, maybe he's not the shit we think he is?"

"He still sold out a friend. Changing his mind after the damage was already done doesn't make him any less an asshole."

"I don't know—"

"Shhh! He wasn't that far behind us. He's gonna hear."

"Hey, don't tell me to shut up."

"I wouldn't have to if you had half a brain of your own."

"You want a piece of me? Then bring it on, big man."

"Okay, then. Get ready to get the shit beaten out of you."

The uproar from the ensuing scuffle and the instructors breaking it up provided enough of a diversion for him to slip into the locker room, quickly gather up his stuff and get the hell out of there. He'd never gone back.

Afterwards, all he could think was that he should have guessed. He should have realized that people would always wonder, especially if he remained such an intimate part of Jim's life. That meant his sacrifice was largely in vain. He was out of a career, and Jim still wasn't protected. He couldn't stand that. The next day, he'd started looking for an apartment. It had taken a little over a week to find something he could afford, which was actually pretty miraculous considering he was completely broke.

Right after he signed the lease, he went back to the loft and packed up all his stuff. He tried not to worry too much that he didn't have a job or any real clue what to do with his life now that he wasn't going to be an anthropologist or a detective. He kept reminding himself that he was doing what he had to do to keep Jim safe. He'd fucked that up once. He wasn't going to let it happen again.

Still, though, he couldn't help remembering the look on Jim's face when he came home from work and found him carrying out the last box to his car. There was shock, then pain, then betrayal, and then finally that grim, closed-off blankness that was Jim's way of dealing with the unbearable, the way he'd looked when Danny Choi was shot and Lila died in his arms. That had made him feel like a shit. He hadn't even told Jim that he'd quit the academy. He'd still been getting up every morning just like he was still enrolled, only he'd gone apartment hunting instead.

He was a little surprised that one of his instructors hadn't called Jim or Simon about his absence, if only to gloat a little. Looks like your little hippie fraud wanna-be couldn't cut it. But, then again, they probably hadn't cared enough even to bother that much about him. They were probably just relieved he was gone. Hell, they probably threw a damned party that first day when he failed to show up.

Blair knew it was really a fucking rotten thing to do, to lay all this on Jim without any warning. But he'd needed him off balance, or he wasn't sure he would have been able to go through with it. And it had worked, too, like a charm. Jim had just stood there frozen to the spot, staring at him, open-mouthed, while he'd repeated the speech he'd been rehearsing. It's not really working out, you know? Just too much water under the bridge, I guess. Let's keep in touch, huh? Cold. Heartless. One big lie. Jim had still been staring at him, looking like somebody had punched him in the gut, as he'd quietly closed the door and walked out on everything that meant anything to him.

Two days later, David Stockwell had called with his offer of help, and Blair had felt like the Fates were trying to tell him something, to assure him that he'd done the right thing. He'd closed one door, and here was another one opening. Of course, he'd still needed to go before the admissions committee to explain what happened, the whole truth, except the one piece of it that he would never admit to anyone, under any circumstances. He told them that he had never actually submitted his dissertation, that he'd never intended to, that it had been sent to a publisher without his knowledge, that the publisher had released excerpts of it expressly against his wishes. He told them that he was very, very sorry to have done anything that even gave the appearance of academic misconduct.

They had listened politely, and he'd thought that probably wasn't a very good sign. So he could not have been more surprised when he received notification of his acceptance. Later on, he found out that Sid Graham had sent a letter corroborating his version of the events, more of Naomi's arm-twisting, and probably a little pants-shitting on the publisher's part over the possibility of a law suit.

The committee had also contacted Simon about his work with the department, and Simon had sent a letter outlining Blair's contributions and accomplishments. It was still a little freaky to him that the deciding factor in his favor had been his work on the Lash case. Apparently, the committee had been impressed that Blair had accurately profiled the killer, even if he had almost become the psycho's next victim.

When they'd offered him a place in their program, he'd gratefully accepted it, not with any illusions, just happy to have the chance. Not surprisingly, his advisor had made it clear in their first meeting that he had serious reservations about Blair's ethics. The professor informed him that he should expect to work three times as hard as anyone else if he wanted the degree, that he'd be watched like a hawk, kept on a very short leash, to make sure he didn't backslide into any of his old habits. He'd sat there and listened and nodded. He was no stranger to all-nighters and hard work, and he was getting used to people treating him like a cheat and a liar.

Truthfully, the extra work had proven to be a godsend. What else did he have to do, really? His life was empty, except for school and the hours he put in at the used bookstore run by another of Naomi's old friends. Not many of the people he used to hang out with had stuck with him. His former colleagues at Rainier outright shunned him. After Naomi had done what she could to fix the damage, she'd taken off on one of her retreats, and he hadn't heard from her since then, which hurt, although it didn't exactly surprise him. His mother wasn't good with guilt. She tended to disappear until she'd worked her way through it. Not surprisingly, he'd also fallen out of contact with the people down at the PD. He wasn't sure he could have looked any of them in the eye after dropping out of the academy. Plus, they were really Jim's friends, anyway.

And he wasn't part of Jim's life, anymore. He couldn't be, couldn't take that risk. Maybe when the whole thing faded from people's memories, it would be safe enough to go back again. If he still could go back. If Jim still wanted him around. Jim hadn't tried to contact him, not once the whole time he'd been gone, even though Blair was sure he could have found him if he'd really wanted to. Hell, his number was in the damned book. So maybe Jim was done with him, for good.

He tried not to think about that too much. He couldn't get through his days if he did. Instead, he focused on his perfect vision of the future. He'd earn the credentials he needed, and then he could rejoin Jim on the force, as his permanent and official partner, the way he'd always wanted, only not as cop, but as a profiler. Despite everything that had happened, Jim was still his compass, and he was still steering by him.

He sighed heavily and went back to work. He had a long night ahead of him.

Jim squinted at the report he was trying to read. His head hurt from the effort, and it still didn't make any sense. Not for the first time, he wondered if he was the only one who was counting. Fifteen days straight working on this case without a break. Three weeks since the string of serial rapes had begun. A month since the newest detective had started working with them, someone who wasn't Blair. Six months to the day since Sandburg had moved out.

He looked around the bullpen. All the other detectives were absorbed with what they were doing. Nobody else seemed to be counting, at all. It was just him.

Even though he was tired, he didn't really mind the hours. Being at loose ends was not his friend right now. It suited him to have a schedule so hectic that all he could manage was to come home, throw himself into bed and wake up a few hours later only to shower and trudge back to the station. Otherwise, he would just have been rattling around in the loft by himself, and nothing depressed him more than that. Better to be busy, to stay focused on the job, to not think about it.

Although, of course, he did think about it. Or, more precisely, he obsessed over it, over why. He'd really thought everything was going to be all right, that they'd weathered the worst of it. He'd tried to tell Blair, to get the words out, even though it felt like the syllables and his feelings kept getting caught in his throat. You're the best partner I've ever had. He really thought that Blair understood, that he'd forgiven him. He seemed to be making it okay at the academy. Hell, he was at the top of his damned class. Jim had even allowed himself the occasional small, smug moment of satisfaction. It was just as he'd always thought. Blair was a natural.

Hey, man, what can I say? I guess it's just not working out. That's what he'd come home to that night, Blair's dismissive shrug and the disappearing boxes and the encroaching emptiness.

And he was left with just the question: Why?

Maybe because I ruined everything for him. How's that for an explanation? If he lived to be a thousand years old, he would always remember Blair's face, the way his voice faltered as he said those words: "My thesis, The Sentinel, is a fraud." Hell. It still made his throat hurt, just thinking about it.

I should have known. I should have trusted. That's what he always thought whenever he replayed the whole disaster in his mind. But there had been this part of him, the cold place where his nightmares were born, that had really been so terrified that Blair had let the dissertation leak out on purpose. He wanted to believe that Blair would never do that to him. But when he measured it out, when he put the millions and the fame on one side of the scales and his friendship on the other, it just didn't come out in his favor. Why would anyone choose him over all that?

Then he'd watched Blair throw away his whole life in that press conference, and he'd felt the worst kind of shame, sitting there in the pit of his stomach like a stone or a judgement. He hadn't even believed, and Blair had rescued him anyway. How the hell could he possibly deserve something like that? Maybe I didn't. Maybe that's why he left.

And there was the whole fiasco with the academy. Jim still didn't really understand what had happened, what the hell had gone wrong. He'd even gone down there and talked to some of the instructors, the ones with whom he was on good terms. They all told the same story. Blair was doing well, brilliantly, in fact. He wasn't Mr. Popularity, but he seemed to be handling the flack from his fellow cadets well enough. Everyone at the academy seemed genuinely perplexed about why he'd dropped out, although none of them appeared particularly sorry. That had left Jim feeling like maybe it was better that Blair had quit. No matter what Blair did, no matter how well he performed, he'd been discredited from the very start. There was simply no way for him to make it work out, no matter how hard he tried or how much he achieved. And Jim had been so unfair ever to have expected it of him.

Maybe he just got sick and tired of trying to contort himself to fit into my world. Maybe he just needed a break from me and all my shit.

He pinched the skin between his eyebrows, as if that could help. He'd taken a handful of aspirin, and his head still throbbed. It didn't do anything to improve the situation, or his mood, that this most recent case was going absolutely nowhere. In the past three weeks, someone had been stalking and viciously raping young men in their late twenties and early thirties. The MO was the same in each case. He struck in a public place, attacked the men from behind, held a knife to their throats, forced them down to the ground and anally raped them. In each case, he'd used a condom, so there was no DNA. So far, they hadn't been able to recover much other physical evidence, either, at least nothing that was much help at this stage of the investigation. One of the victims had showered before going to the hospital. The rape kits on the other two turned up no hairs and only a few fibers, from common fabrics.

Other than the method of attack, there seemed to be few threads to tie the cases together. The victims were all roughly in the same age group, but there had little else in common. Two were blonde, while the other had dark hair. One was a graduate student at Rainier attacked as he was walking home from the library after it closed. Another, the manager of an electronics store at the mall, had been assaulted in the middle of the afternoon, in Memorial Park where he'd gone to spend his day off. The rapist had apparently been following him. When they came to an isolated part of the park, he'd attacked the man and dragged him into the bushes. The last victim was an investment banker with one of the firms downtown. He'd been assaulted in a public parking garage after working late one night.

They hadn't been able to find any witnesses to any of the attacks. The victims hadn't been able to shed much light on the crimes, either. Being raped brought up a lot of issues for men, and so they tended not to be especially forthcoming with details that might aid the investigation. To make it worse, they often encountered disbelief and even hostility from the people they initially turned to for help—doctors and their families and beat cops—and that made gaining their cooperation and trust even more difficult.

"Ellison!" Simon bellowed for him.

He sighed heavily and got up to see what his captain wanted.

"Sit down. Close the door," Simon said.

He settled into a chair and asked, "What's up, Captain?"

"We've had another one."


"Yeah, I know. It happened last night about ten o'clock. The victim's name is David Bradford. He's down at Cascade General right now. He suffered some internal injuries, but he's going to be all right. I need you to go down there and get his statement."

"I'm on it."

He stood up and headed for the door.

"And Jim?"


Simon's face was set and serious. "Let's catch this bastard, huh?"

He nodded solemnly. "Yeah."


At the hospital, he found David Bradford's doctor, Dr. Oliver. She told him that the man was still a little groggy from the medication they'd given him, but that he should be able to answer questions. She showed him into the man's room. He was lying on his side, facing the door. He looked to be in his late twenties. He was average size and build, with long, curly dark hair. He had no obvious wounds, no cuts or bruises, but his face was set in an expression of considerable pain.

"Mr. Bradford? This is Detective Ellison from the Cascade police department. He'd like to ask you some questions. Do you feel up to talking to him now?"

The man nodded, but he didn't look up.

"Try not to make it too long," Dr. Oliver advised him. "He really needs his rest."

"I'll be brief," he said, and the doctor left.

"Thank you, Mr. Bradford. I appreciate your talking to me," Jim told him, taking a seat in the chair by the bed. "I know you've been through a lot, and I don't want to make things any harder for you. But I do need to take your statement about what happened last night."

The young man nodded. "Okay," he said, shakily. "I understand."

"According to the preliminary report, the incident took place in an alley over near Warren?"

He nodded. "I went to dinner with some friends at the Tibetan place over on Clarke. I had to park a couple of blocks away. There's a short cut through the alley there. I was—" His voice caught.

"It's okay," Jim said. "Just take your time."

"I was cutting down the alley when he jumped me from behind. He had a knife." Tears ran down his face. "He forced me to the ground. I thought he was just going to take my wallet. But then he— He made me pull down my pants. And he—" He cried harder. "He assaulted me."

"I'm sorry to have to ask this, but I need the information for the report. The assault— There was anal penetration?"

The young man nodded, flushing deeply.


He shook his head.

"Did you see the man who did this to you? Can you describe him, Mr. Bradford?"

He shook his head. "He came at me from behind. I didn't even know there was anyone following me until—" The young man broke off, his voice choked.

"Did he say anything else?"

The man stared down at his hands, and Jim could hear his heart beat accelerate. "No," he said, softly.

"Do you think you'd recognize his voice if you heard it again?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I don't really think so. I kind of— I was in shock, you know?"

Jim nodded. "I understand," he said. "Is there anything else you can tell me that might help us catch the man who did this to you?"

He shook his head again.

"Are you sure? Maybe there was some small thing. Something you might not think is important. A lot of times that's just the break we're looking for."

"I'm sorry."

"Mr. Bradford, I understand how difficult this is, how hard it is to talk about. But your full cooperation would really help us out. So we can catch this guy before he does this to someone else."

The man looked him directly in the eye for the first time. It gave Jim a shock. His eyes were large and round and dark blue, and for a moment, they reminded him so much of someone else's.

"I told you, Detective," the man said, firmly. "I don't know anything else. I can't help you."

Jim studied him a moment, the grim line of his mouth, his hands bunched into fists in the sheets. He listened to his thundering pulse. And then he nodded.

"I understand," he said. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Bradford. I'm sorry I had to bother you with questions right now. Of course, we'll keep you informed about the progress of our investigation. If you think of anything else, not matter how small or seemingly insignificant, I'd appreciate it if you'd give me a call. You can reach me at this number." He laid his business card on the bedside table.

"Okay. Thanks," the man said, not meeting his gaze.

Jim left him, but he could hear the man's soft sobs from the other side of the door. He closed his eyes and tried to pull himself together. Somehow, it didn't matter how many victims he interviewed. It never got any easier.

He spotted the doctor going over some charts at the nurse's station, and he approached her.

"Excuse me, Dr. Oliver?"

She looked up. "What can I do for you, Detective?"

"I was wondering if Mr. Bradford's clothes were bagged when he came in."

She nodded. "Of course. I was just about to send them over to your forensics department."

"If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to take a look at them first."

"Sure. Let me get them for you," she said and turned to one of the nurse's behind the desk. "April, could you get the clothes we bagged from Mr. Bradford for Detective Ellison?"

The nurse nodded. "They're right here," she said. "We're expecting the courier any minute."

She handed him the sealed bag. He examined the shirt through the plastic and found exactly what he'd expected.

"Okay, thanks," he said and smiled at the nurse as he handed the bag back to her.

"Do you need anything else, Detective?" the doctor asked.

He shook his head. "No. But thanks. I appreciate your cooperation."

"Anytime," Dr. Oliver said. "I just hope you find whoever is doing this and put them under the jail."

"You and me both," he said.


When he got back to the station, he headed directly for Simon's office to make his report.

"Any luck?" his Captain asked as he came through the door.

He shook his head. "Not really. Unfortunately, this victim was about as cooperative as all the rest."

"You'd think they'd be more eager to have this sicko off the streets." Simon sighed heavily. "So you think he threatened them?"

"Yeah. In a manner of speaking. I get the feeling this bastard is really into humiliation. It's not enough for him to rape his victims. He has to completely unman them."

"So, he— What? Taunts them? Makes them say they like it, that they asked for it?"

Jim nodded. "Probably. And he uses their bodies against them. There was semen on this last victim's shirt. Our guy always uses a condom."

Simon knitted his brows. "So, odds are it's the victim's own semen."

"Yeah. He makes them ejaculate while he's raping them, so they'll be less eager to cooperate with the police afterwards. He plants enough doubt in their minds that maybe they asked for it somehow or that they enjoyed it in some way, so they're too ashamed to tell anyone what really happened."

"He's a sick bastard, but he's clever."

"He probably plays it up, too, that he made them come. I'm sure he taunts them about it, about what people would think if they knew, to make doubly sure they'll keep quiet."

"That's part of his power, part of his control."

Jim nodded. "None of the victims was beaten or physically hurt, except for the internal damage from the penetration itself. He threatens them with the knife, but he's never had to use it. He's so good at fucking with their minds that he doesn't have to use the weapon."

Simon shook his head with disgust. "And with the victims so hesitant to tell us what really happened, we don't stand much of a chance of catching the asshole."

"I'm sure that's part of the plan, too."

"I want this guy, Jim."

"I know, sir."

"Go back over the physical evidence. Use some of that Sentinel magic of yours. See if there's something we missed."

He nodded and wished for the zillionth time that Blair was around to help him, to coach him through it.

Simon caught his eye. "You don't need Sandburg to be able to use your senses effectively, Jim. If Blair were here, he'd tell you the same thing."

Jim looked away.

Simon sighed. "Just give it your best shot, okay?"

"Okay," he said and got up to go back to his desk, not at all optimistic about how far his best shot would get them.

Familiar Stranger continued in Part Two.

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