Note: Contains spoilers for The Girl Next DoorK.

(The Girl Next Door)
-- by Mackie

Transcript of Witness Interview

Name of Witness: Sandburg, Blair
Interview Conducted by: Brown, Henri (Detective, JG, Major Crimes, Central Precinct)
Others Present: Blanding, William (Patrol Officer, Cascade PD)

Q: Are you aware this interview is being recorded?
A: Yes.
Q: Did you receive an oral and written statement concerning your rights?
A: Yes. Am I in trouble?
Q: We just have to make sure we dot all the "I's" here, Blair, so none of the facts get confused. Did you understand your rights?
A: Yes. Am I being questioned as a suspect or as a witness?
Q: Would that make a difference?
A: (long pause) I don't know. Maybe.
Q: OK, then you're being interviewed as a witness. If you say anything I think might be incriminating, I'll tell you, and then you can decide if you want to continue. Is that all right?
A: (long pause) I didn't do anything wrong.
Q: That's what we're going to prove, OK?
A: OK.
Q: How did you meet Iris Johnson?
A: I never knew her last name.
Q: She's had a few, but that's the most official one. How did you meet her?
A: I let her out of the trunk of her car.
Q: What?
A: I'd just pulled into a parking space by the loft, and I heard a noise coming from the back of the car next to mine. I opened the trunk, and there she was.
Q: How did she get there?
A: She said she and her boyfriend had argued, and he'd put her in there.
Q: Do you know the boyfriend's name?
A: Not then. I figure she meant Chance. I met him later.
Q: OK. What is your relationship with Iris Johnson?
A: We don't have a relationship.
Q: Your connection, then. What happened after you got her out of the trunk of her car?
A: Oh. She was moving into an apartment across the street. Her water hadn't been turned on yet. She asked if she could take a shower at my place -- I mean, Jim's place -- you know, the loft.
Q: And did she?
A: Yeah. Is Jim gonna read this?
Q: I don't know. Probably. Why?
A: Then be sure to put in that I cleaned the bathroom afterward.
Q: Why? Did she leave a mess?
A: No. Jim's just kind of -- fussy -- about stuff like that.
(Detective Brown laughs)
Q: OK. Go on.
A: I helped her move some boxes into her place, and we grabbed some fast food, and that was it for the night. The next morning, early, we were kind of back and forth between her place and the loft. They'd turned the water on, and she had a leaky faucet in her sink. Jim had been on an all-night stakeout, and he needed to get some sleep, so she left.
Q: That's it?
A: Pretty much for the day, yeah. I offered to fix her dinner that night, and she accepted.
Q: What happened at dinner?
A: Nothing. She called and cancelled. Her car had been towed and she was stuck downtown. I offered to pick her up.
Q: Did you?
A: Yeah. That's how the whole mess got started.
Q: Are you OK, Blair?
A: (long pause) Yeah. It just felt like I climbed onto the world's scariest roller coaster and then couldn't get off it.
(And Jim's never going to let me forget it. For a man with such lousy luck with women, he sure likes to make fun of my love life. Now I'm gonna to have to listen to his jokes about Iris, and I'm gonna to have to smile and agree with him -- not that I probably don't deserve it, but what the hell, I spent nearly twenty-four hours scared out of my wits, and all he's gonna remember is my bad choice for a date....)
Q: You want some coffee or water or something?
A: No. Let's get this over with.
Q: OK. You picked her up downtown. Then what?
A: She needed to make a quick stop. It was at a convenience store out in Seymour Heights. She was going to meet a friend inside, and asked me to wait in the car. Parkman came up and opened the passenger door -- startled the heck out of me -- but he said he'd thought I was someone else. Then he went back to his car. A minute later Chance came out of the store and went over to meet him.
Q: Did you know either Parkman or Chance?
A: No, not then. Iris came out next and told me to start the car, but she didn't get in. That's when I heard a shot from behind me. I thought Chance was mugging Parkman or something, and I yelled for Iris to get in the car. Only she knew what was going down, of course. Chance came running over and jumped in the back seat. Then Iris got in. Chance shoved a gun at me and ordered me to drive, so I did.
Q: When did you realize what they'd done?
A: I asked, and Iris said they'd just ripped off a drug dealer named Artie Parkman for a half-million in uncut heroine.
Q: Did you see the drugs?
A: Not until later. Right then, all I saw was a big leather bag.
Q: Did Iris have a gun?
A: Oh, yeah. She pulled it out and jabbed it in my ribs.
Q: Why?
A: I don't know. I guess I was getting a little freaked, and she wanted to make sure I was paying attention.
(Freaked? Man, I can't blame this one on anybody else. I walked into it with my eyes wide open. It didn't have anything to do with Jim, or a current case, or anything like that. It was just a case of John Q Public taking an unexpected detour to the Twilight Zone. And you know what scared me most of all, Henri? No one had a clue I was in trouble; no one would know to look for me. I'd never felt so goddamned alone....)
Q: Where did you go next?
A: We drove south on 97 for awhile. Iris kept trying to call someone on her cellphone -- I found out later it was her brother, Rob -- but she couldn't reach him. She didn't get through to him until the next morning.
Q: Where did you spend the night?
A: We drove around for awhile, finally ended up on 35 East, I think. We were well out of Cascade, I know that much. Anyway, they made me park off the road out of sight under some trees. I must have slept off and on, but Iris kept trying to call her brother, and Chance kept making stupid remarks about how he was going to spend all the money he got for the heroine.
(To be really truthful here, Henri, sleep was mostly "off". I'd been kidnapped by a sociopathic girl and her moronic boyfriend. His brain was so fried and his temper so hair-trigger, I never knew what was going to set him off. I might have been able to reason with Iris, as long as she could see something in it for herself, but Chance was too unpredictable. I had so much adrenaline pumping through my blood, my nerves were trying to jump right through my skin. Do you know how sick you feel with all that fear surging through your system? I need some food here, Henri, you know that? My stomach is doing backflips, so I don't know if I could keep it down, but I feel like shit, and you just keep asking me all these stupid questions....)
Q: What happened after that?
A: The next morning, Iris reached her brother, said something about making the deal. Chance got a cell call, too, but I don't know who it was from. It made him nervous, though, and he decided to drive.
Q: You were still on 35 East?
A: Yeah. We were going to meet Rob somewhere out there. That's when we passed the cop.
Q: Do you know why he pursued the Volvo?
A: No, I figured Chance must have been speeding or something. But there was an overturned school bus. I told Chance we had to stop to help, but he thought I was joking. He blew right by it. I knew the cop would stop, though, and he did.
Q: Did that upset you?
A: No, he had to help the kids, but I really thought the whole thing was finally going to be over then...and it wasn't.
Q: Did you think anyone knew you were missing or had been kidnapped?
A: Why should they? Jim was on another all-night stakeout. When he got home, he'd figure I was either at the University or maybe over at Iris' place. He'd have no reason to think anything was wrong. (Pause) How did he figure it out, anyway?
Q: He can answer that question for you, OK?
A: Oh, yeah...sorry.
Q: Did you get to Rob's place?
A: No. I mean, I guess they did -- Iris and Chance -- but I didn't. (Long pause)
Q: Blair?
A: What?
Q: Why didn't you get to Rob's place?
A: The Volvo stalled out. That's when I tried to convince them it was all over.
Q: What happened?
A: Chance got pissed off at me -- sorry, can I say "pissed off"?
Q: Whatever you say will be transcribed exactly.
A: Oh. Sorry.
Q: That's OK, the secretary's heard worse. What happened when you pissed off Chance?
A: He ordered me out of the car.
Q: That's it?
A: (answer unintelligible)
Q: Blair, I didn't understand you.
A: (pause) He was going to kill me.
(Long pause)
Q: Uh -- why didn't he?
A: Iris stopped him. She said it wouldn't be smart to leave a body for the cops to find.
(Do you know what it feels like to think you're gonna die in the next second, Henri? I was lying on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and this madman with a gun was going to kill me. I was sure I was going to wind up as John Doe Number two-hundred-and-two at the county morgue. Just another dead body dumped in a ditch. Jim wouldn't find out until my prints went through the system. I'd've been dead a day, maybe longer, before he ever knew. How would that make him feel? How would I feel if the positions were reversed, if I knew I'd been carrying on with my normal life not knowing that someone I cared about had been murdered and his body dumped in the middle of nowhere? And right then, I was so sure I was gonna die, and I was scared and angry...angry because no one should have to die like that, I would've been killed because I picked the wrong girl to ask over for dinner....)
Q: You need to stop for awhile, Blair?
A: No, damnit, just get it over with. Sorry, Henri.
Q: That's OK. I'm not enjoying this either. So, Iris convinced Chance not to kill you?
A: Partly. And there was a car coming. I think Chance got scared. He said it was Parkman. I didn't realize the significance of that until after they'd left. Stupid Volvo started first time. Guess I'm glad it did.
Q: Why?
A: Why? Because no matter how a confrontation between Chance and Parkman turned out, one or the other would have killed me so there wouldn't be a witness.
Q: When did you realize who Parkman was?
A: When he pulled up, I saw he was the guy from the store, the drug dealer Chance and Iris had ripped off.
Q: You say he pulled up. By that, you mean he stopped?
A: Yeah. He had a gun and ordered me to get in his car.
Q: Why?
A: (pause) I guess he figured he could use me as a bargaining chip or something.
Q: Chance and Iris had left you on the side of the road. How could you be a bargaining chip?
A: I don't know.
Q: Blair, it's OK. Calm down.
A: Sorry. I'm not used to this. (laughs) It's almost as bad as a dissertation review.
Q: I know it's hard. What did Parkman say to you?
A: He said if he didn't get his stuff back, he was going to kill me.
Q: Did you believe him?
A: (long pause) Yeah...but I figured he was going to kill me whether he got his stuff back or not.
Q: Did you tell him where Iris was going?
A: I didn't know. I mean, I knew they were going to meet Rob, but I didn't know where Rob was.
Q: OK, so you and Parkman drove around?
A: He stopped at a rest area on the Chelton Highway.
Q: What did he do there?
A: He dragged me out of the car and put his gun against my chest. He said -- uh -- he said --
Q: Settle down, Blair. It's OK. (long pause as witness becomes agitated) Officer Blanding, could we get some water in here?
(Officer Blanding leaves the interview room.)
Q: Are you OK? You want me to get a doctor?
A: No, thanks, Henri. I just got a little queasy there for a minute. (Pause) Where's Jim?
Q: He's interviewing Iris. Would you prefer he ask you these questions?
A: No. (Pause) No. That's OK.
(Officer Blanding returns)
Q: Thanks.
A: Thanks.
Q: Feeling better?
A: Yeah.
Q: Ready to continue?
A: (Pause) I guess.
Q: What happened at the rest stop? You said Parkman put his gun against your chest.
A: Yeah. He said I had three seconds to tell him where Iris and Chance had gone.
Q: But you didn't know.
A: No, I didn't know.
Q: What did Parkman do?
(long pause)
A: (answer whispered, unintelligible)
Q: Sorry, Blair, you have to speak up. What did he do?
A: He pulled the trigger.
(Long pause)
Q: I'm sorry, Blair. Maybe I should get Jim --
A: No, damnit, I'm all right. It's just that -- it's just that you can't play Russian roulette with a pistol, right? Either it has a loaded clip or it doesn't. Shit -- don't write down that I said "clip", OK? Jim says it's a "magazine", and he gets pissed when someone refers to it as a clip. Anyway, either the magazine is loaded or it isn't, so I figured Parkman was going to blow a hole in my chest. But the gun was empty! The damn thing was empty! I should have just hit him then and run, but I was frozen there, you know? I couldn't fucking move -- oh, shit, don't let them hear that, the secretary, I mean, she shouldn't have to hear me say "fucking", all right? I'm sorry (rest unintelligible)
Q: Blair, it's OK. I'm gonna go get Jim.
A: (shout) No.
Q: Blair?
A: I'm OK. Just give me a minute. Don't get Jim, OK? I can get through this. I don't need him to hold my hand, and it would embarrass the hell out of him if he thought he had to.
(Oh, man, don't lose it now. You've come this far, you can't fall apart. It's just that, you know, I really, really thought I was dead. Parkman was so cold, so vicious. I never for a second thought he was bluffing. I've only been that afraid one other time in my life, and that was with Lash, and I don't want to go there either, damnit, so pull it together! I'm shaking so bad, Henri's got to see it. It's humiliating, falling apart like this, he's gonna think I'm a real chicken shit. And Jim's gonna read this; he 's gonna know I had a panic attack. Damn, why do they have to record this? Can't I just fall apart in private, with a little dignity? At least reading it, he won't hear the tremor in my voice....)
Q: OK. Let's take a break. You want some more water? You knocked your glass over.
A: Sorry. Yes, I'd like some more water, please.
(Officer Blanding leaves the interview room. No questions are asked until he returns)
A: Thanks.
Q: You feel up to continuing?
A: Yeah. That was just one of the worst parts of a really shitty day, you know? I'm sorry. Can we change that to "really bad day"?
Q: It's on the tape.
A: I'm gonna owe that secretary a box of chocolates and some flowers. (pause) It won't be Rhonda who transcribes the tape, will it?
Q: No.
A: Good.
Q: What happened with Parkman?
A: Sorry. Uh, he put a loaded magazine in his pistol and held it against my chest again.
Q: He threatened to kill you?
A: Yeah, only I guess I convinced him I really didn't know where Iris and Chance had gone.
Q: What did he do?
A: He locked me in the men's room and called Iris to make a deal concerning the drugs.
Q: What sort of deal?
A: I don't know.
Q: OK. Then what happened?
A: He unlocked the restroom door. I don't know if he was going to let me out or shoot me, but I got away and ran for it.
Q: How did you get away?
A: I broke a piece of wood off the mirror frame and swung at the gun.
Q: Did he go down?
A: Yeah. The wood had some nails in it. I guess I stuck him pretty good.
Q: And then you ran.
A: Yeah. There were some railroad tracks, so I followed them. I don't know how far I ran, or even if Parkman came after me. I found a road and tried to flag down a semi, but it didn't stop.
Q: What did you do then?
A: Nothing. Iris and her brother were in my Volvo right behind the rig. They stopped and Iris pulled her gun on me and told me to get in the car.
Q: Which you did.
A: She fanned a slug past my ear to convince me she'd shoot if I didn't do like she said. What was I supposed to do?
Q: Blair, they're just questions to fill in the blanks. I'm not criticizing, OK?
A: OK. I'm sorry, Henri.
Q: So you think Iris was willing to kill you?
Q: Blair?
A: I don't know. There were two times I was convinced she was going to shoot me, and that was one of them, but when I think back on it, I'm just not sure, you know? I mean, I know she's in a lot of trouble after today, but I really can't say for sure if she would have shot me or not. I'd like to believe she wouldn't have done it.
Q: So you got in the car.
A: Yeah.
Q: Sorry. (Pause) Anyway, what happened after you got in the car with Iris and Rob?
A: We went to the train station. Iris planned to have us do a Midnight Express re-enactment and tape the drugs to our bodies so we could smuggle them into Canada. I told her it was a stupid idea, but Rob seemed to think it sounded OK.
Q: What happened?
A: While that whole fiasco was going on, I managed to get the gun away from Iris, used it to cold-cock Rob, and had Iris tape his wrists and ankles. Then I had her put the drugs back in the bag.
Q: Where were you while this was going on?
A: A janitor's room -- you know, mops and trash bags and stuff.
Q: OK, so you had Iris bind Rob with tape. What did you do next?
A: I held the gun on her, took the bag, and we started back into the terminal.
Q: Why didn't you tie her up with Rob and get help?
Q: Blair?
A: That was stupid, wasn't it? I thought about it a minute later, when I realized I was holding the gun on her. I mean, some well-meaning security guard could have shot me to save the 'damsel in distress', you know? So I stuck the gun in my waistband. After that, I guess Iris could have gotten away from me anytime, but she probably still wanted the heroine.
Q: Where were you going?
A: I just wanted to get to a phone and call Jim or somebody who would know who the hell I was and not ask a bunch of stupid questions trying to make me sound like the bad guy.
Q: Is that what you think I'm doing?
A: No. I didn't mean to make it sound like that, Henri. I meant the security guards at the train station, or the county cops. I didn't know Jim and Simon had figured out what had happened and were trying to find me. I figured I was still on my own.
(On my own. I was in full panic mode, if you really have to know. I was beyond thinking clearly or making any sense of anything. I figured even a sentinel, even my very own Blessed Protector, didn't stand a chance of finding me, even if he knew by then I was missing and maybe in trouble. I was abso-tively, posi-lutely on my own, or so I thought, and I have never in my life felt so completely alone and cut off. Right then, I really didn't care if Iris got away with the drugs. I just needed to call someone -- well, I needed to call Jim. I needed to hear a friendly voice, even a sarcastic one, to tell me everything was going to be OK....)
Q: OK. Did you get to a phone?
A: No. Parkman had followed us. He got the drop on us, took Iris' gun and his bag of drugs. Then we went out back to a loading dock.
Q: You want to take another break? You sound pretty tired.
A: I am tired, but we're almost through, I think. (Pause) Or are we?
Q: If you're almost done with your statement, then, yeah, this part is almost over.
A: This part?
Q: Blair --
A: OK, OK. Sorry.
Q: What happened on the loading dock?
A: Iris was trying to make a deal with Parkman. They'd get her brother, and the three of them would smuggle the drugs into Canada and use Rob's contacts to sell the stuff.
Q: What about you?
A: They didn't offer to cut me in on the deal.
Q: Blair, I wasn't implying--
A: I know, I know. I just really hate this.
Q: OK. What did they plan to do with you?
A: Parkman handed Iris his pistol. She was supposed to kill me.
Q: Did you believe she was going to shoot you?
A: Yeah. At the time, I believed it. I don't know if I believe it now.
Q: What happened?
A: Jim showed up. He shot the gun out of her hand.
Q: Really?
A: Yeah. He's a helluva shot.
Q: Yeah, so I've heard. OK, so Jim showed up.
A: Yeah. Parkman took off one direction, Iris picked up the heroine and took off in another direction. Jim went after Parkman and told me to go after Iris.
(Yeah, here's Jim to the rescue. "Forget the seven-course meals," he says. Gee, thanks, Jim, I'm fine, thanks for asking. I mean, I didn't expect you to gush or anything, you were still in full sentinel/cop mode or something and on the scent like a hound on a fox. But a little concern would have been appreciated, you know. I mean, you would have asked a total stranger if he was all right, wouldn't you? Instead, you crack wise and tell me to go catch Iris. I don't know why, but I'm starting to feel really pissed off here, Jim. You can be such an asshole sometimes....)
Q: Did he have reason to think Iris might have another weapon?
Q: Blair?
A: I don't know. You'll have to ask Jim.
Q: Fair enough. OK, you went after Iris.
A: Yeah. She went back to my car and put the drugs in the trunk.
Q: What did you do?
A: I put her in with the bag.
Q: Yeah? I'm impressed.
A: Well, like I told Jim and Simon -- my mom taught me to always put things back where I found them.
(Detective Brown laughs)
(Glad to see the calm, cool exterior is back in place. I wasn't so sure at the train station, but Jim and Simon were watching, so I couldn't just disintegrate into a puddle, could I? I'd never felt so relieved in all my life -- not even with Lash, because I'd been kinda doped up -- but I realized I hadn't been alone out there; Jim had been following me. Henri, you can't imagine what that relief felt like -- all the hours of fear and tension draining away. Problem was, I was too giddy to feel anything else for awhile. I felt like I was standing in the portal between the Iris Zone and the real world, and I didn't quite know how to step back to the other side. The roller coaster had finally stopped, but I was too numb to climb back to solid ground. I guess it's that numbness that got me back to Cascade without coming unglued, got me through this damned interview....shit, Henri, I'm so tired....)
Q: OK. Is that it?
A: That's it.
Q: Can you think of anything you'd like to add?
A: No. That's everything. Can I go home now?
Q: I don't know. Let me check with the Captain. You wait here, OK? Would you like some more water, maybe some coffee?
A: No, thanks. How about the men's room, or is that off limits?
Q: No, you can go to the bathroom. Officer Blanding will escort you.
A: Henri --
Q: Blair, I trust you. Everyone here trusts you. But this case is going to be reviewed by people who don't know you at all. We've got to keep it official. OK?
A: OK.
Q: OK. Interview concluded at eighteen-twenty-three hours and tape turned off.


Dinner was over, finally. The three cops enjoyed an after-dinner beer while Blair refused all offers of help to clean up after the meal. If Jim noticed Blair's withdrawal into silence, he didn't mention it then; he wouldn't have brought it up in front of the others anyway.

When the dishes had been washed and put aside to drip dry, Blair just said goodnight to everyone and retreated toward his room.

"You OK, Chief?" Jim asked.

Hey, you finally got around to asking, Blair thought with uncharacteristic bitterness. "Yeah, I'm just tired. See you in the morning." He shut the bedroom door firmly behind him.

"Guess we ought to call it a night, too," Simon commented a moment later. He gestured toward the file folder on the coffee tale. "What's that?"

"Brown gave me the transcript of Sandburg's statement," Jim answered, feeling a twinge of unease because he didn't know why Brown had bothered to give it to him this evening instead of waiting until tomorrow.

"Another chapter in the continuing misadventures of Blair Sandburg," Taggart chuckled, heading toward the door with Simon.

"Yeah," Jim said, but his smile was a little forced.

After he'd seen the two detectives out the door and locked up behind them, Jim sprawled on the sofa and opened the file folder, determined to find what Brown -- or perhaps Blair -- needed him to see.

"What can happen in one night?" It was one of those innocent questions that should never be asked -- the answer can be terrifying, the fine line between life and death measured in a connected series of minor coincidences:

If Rafe and Brown hadn't been conducting an interview out in Seymour Heights around 10p.m.; if they hadn't decided to answer a 9-1-1 call at a local convenience store reporting an altercation in the parking lot with one shot fired (certainly not a case for Major Crime, but the report of a gunshot immediately erased the lines of responsibility; the nearest unit always responded to a shooting); if the local cops hadn't been tied up with a multiple-injury traffic collision and asked the detectives to hold onto the store's surveillance tape and witness statement until the following day; if Rafe hadn't left the surveillance tape in Simon's office after looking at it; if Simon hadn't been curious the next morning and watched it; if he hadn't recognized Iris on the tape from Jim's search through the criminal database the day before....

If all of those little threads hadn't woven themselves together....

Blair Sandburg would have been a cold corpse in a trash heap behind the county railway station by the following afternoon.

Jim hadn't been unduly worried at first. It had been more of a case of 'what's he gotten himself into this time?' It wasn't until he'd gone to the convenience store and found evidence of a drug deal gone sour that he'd confronted the possibility Blair might really be in danger. After that, he'd felt a moment of panic, because he'd had no idea where to begin. Then the answer seemed obvious -- Iris, all of her known associates and suspected contacts. Maybe something would shake loose and he'd have an idea where to begin looking for his partner. Unless it was already too late, of, that was a possibility he refused to consider. She was wild, but she hadn't seemed homicidal. The unidentified suspect on the surveillance tape was another matter, as was the other man who had been in the parking lot when the shot had been fired. Which was the drug dealer and which the drug buyer? Or was there a scenario Jim hadn't considered yet?

The APB on the Volvo had produced results before Jim and Simon left Seymour Heights. Highway 35 East? Talk about the back of beyond. That was county jurisdiction, mostly agriculture or undeveloped, a vast tract of land with numerous small unincorporated towns and byways. If a person knew those back roads well enough, he could avoid detection with ease. Jim figured they had one shot at catching the Volvo, and he didn't waste any time getting on the road, Simon following right behind him.

The overturned bus had been another shock. Jim had stopped because he'd seen the county cop car. He'd stormed over, determined to find out why the hell the officer had abandoned pursuit of the Volvo, and only then realized he was staring at the wreck of a school bus, with frightened and injured children inside. He'd been so focused on the hunt for Blair, he'd missed seeing what was right in front of his eyes. Naturally, he'd had to help, much as his instincts had urged him to push onward. When the firemen and paramedics had finally arrived to mop up the situation, Jim had stared down the empty highway, reaching outward with his senses to find any trace of his partner. But even though he'd abandoned all caution and risked a zone out, he'd found no sign of Blair anywhere. That was when fear had settled in his gut like a bad case of indigestion.

It hadn't just been fear for his partner, although that had been the major cause of his anxiety. No, one of Jim's biggest fears, one he rarely admitted even to himself, was that someday his best wouldn't be good enough, and someone would die. If that day came today, the cost of his failure would be too high; he didn't know if he had the strength to pay it. So he had to find Sandburg alive; there was no other option.

And it had been close. When Jim had detected Blair's voice at the train station and rushed off to find him, he'd been shocked to see Iris pointing a gun, ready to kill. He'd had only a heartbeat to raise his own weapon and save his partner.

Too close. Entirely too close.

In those next few seconds, when Iris and Parkman had fled, Jim's relief that Blair was safe had been almost overwhelming. The release of tension expressed itself as fond exasperation, which had been tempered with a need to capture the two fugitives. Blair had appeared unharmed, even eager to join the chase, so Jim had continued after Parkman, leaving Blair to handle Iris.

Had that been a mistake? Of course, he realized now. What if Iris had been armed? Would Jim have asked any other kidnap victim to take part in the capture of his own kidnappers? The idea was laughable.

Jim closed the transcript with a sigh. He'd had no concept of the horrors his partner had endured. Blair had been kidnapped three times in less than twenty-four hours -- four times if you counted the train station when Parkman had taken him hostage. He'd been on the brink of death three times (Jim was not so willing as Blair to show sympathy toward Iris on the subject of whether or not she would have committed murder), and he'd been threatened more times than Jim could count from reading the report.

And he'd obviously felt no one knew of his predicament. How could he know about Jim's probe into Iris' background, or the fortuitous route of the store's surveillance tape into Simon's hands? No, the kid had every reason to believe no one had the least suspicion he was in danger. That fact alone must have been terrifying.

What had Jim done to give aid and comfort after the ordeal was finally over? He'd allowed Blair to fix a gourmet meal and wash the dishes. Hadn't that been special? Jim berated himself angrily. No wonder Blair's good humor had rung so falsely -- he'd been pissed as hell, justifiably so.

But he was sleeping now. Maybe it would be better for Jim to wait until morning to gather up the threads of his guilty thoughts. No, he wanted to get it over with; he had to get it over with, or he'd never get any sleep himself tonight.

Before he had a chance to chicken out, he went into Blair's room, sat down on the edge of the bed, and shook his partner's shoulder through the tangle of bedcovers.

"Wake up, Chief."

Blair couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was finally back in his own bed, sleeping for the first time in too many hours, and someone was telling him to wake up. "Jim?" he mumbled. "What is it?"

"Are you all right?"

Blair managed to open his eyes a bit. His brain felt foggy, and his voice was raspy from sleep. "You woke me up to ask me if I'm all right?"

"Yeah. Well, no."

Well, maybe there had been a good reason..."Was I having a nightmare or something?"

"No, nothing like that."

Finally, Blair approached a reasonable state of irritable awareness. "Then what's wrong?" Damn, but he was tired. Why didn't Jim just get to the point?

"I wanted to apologize." Jim sounded uncomfortable with the admission.

"What for?" Blair didn't like the way that came out, so he turned it around. "I mean, for what?" That didn't sound any better.

"For being a jerk."

OK, Jim was a jerk for waking him up. Blair wasn't feeling exactly charitable at the moment. "You're going to have to be a little more specific."

Jim actually chuckled. "Specifically, for being a jerk today."

Finally, Blair was awake enough to realize Jim was being serious. "Today? You followed me all over Washington and saved my life."

"No, after that."

Now that he'd started, Jim seemed to be having a tough time getting to the heart of whatever was bothering him, so Blair took a wild stab. "You said it yourself -- the job wasn't over. What were you going to do? Let Iris and Parkman get away while you stopped to give me a hug or something? I didn't expect that." It would have been appreciated, but I didn't expect it.

Jim looked confused for a moment, as if surprised Blair might have thought that was an issue. "No." He shook his head. "Shit. I'm not making any sense. Go back to sleep."

"Too late, Partner," Blair countered, rolling over and sitting up. "You started this; now, we're going to finish it."

Jim ran a hand through his hair, a nervous habit when he was uncertain or confused. "OK. I mean after it was all over."

"Damnit, Jim, I'm not up to playing twenty questions right now. What do you think happened after it was all over?"

The harshness in Blair's tone surprised to them both, and Jim started to get up rather than let his own temper flare. A hand on his arm stopped him. "Jim, I'm sorry. It's been a really bad day, OK? I'm tired, and I really don't know where this conversation is going, and that bothers me a bit. OK?"

"OK, yeah," Jim answered, settling down again. "After it was all over, I was so damned relieved that you were safe and OK that I forgot what you'd been through. You seemed so cool and together -- the way you caught Iris, all the kidding around."

"Yeah, so?"

"So you were a kidnap victim, damnit." Jim sounded angry with himself. "We should have treated you like any other kidnap victim -- taken you to a doctor, bought you a cup of coffee or something, made sure -- " he trailed off awkwardly, and shook his head in frustration.

Blair smiled, finally feeling some of his own anger dissipating. "Made sure of what?" he asked, although he was certain -- or maybe he just hoped -- he knew where Jim's awkward ramble was finally going to take him.

Jim couldn't say it yet, so he skirted the answer and approached it from another direction. "You know, after we've worked hard on a case -- any case, but especially something like a kidnapping -- when it's over, and it's turned out OK, we release the tension by making jokes."

"That's pretty normal. I heard Henri make a joke about my 'date from hell'."

"Yeah, that's what I mean," Jim said, grateful Blair understood. "Simon was with me through the whole thing; he was really worried. When he had you booked and fingerprinted and all, I know I said it was all just procedure, but it wasn't. We never should have done that, not unless Iris or Chance implicated you. I just think Simon was so damn glad it worked out OK, and he was irritated with you because you'd made him worry so much, so the whole stupid thing was just his way of getting even."

I figured that out, Jim, I'm not as blind to normal police procedure as you sometimes think. But revenge can be sweet, or have you already forgotten the date puree? "Yeah, I kind of wondered about that."

"And you toughed it out. Then we stuck you in Simon's office for four hours."

"Was that some kind of coping mechanism thing, too?"

Jim smiled slightly. "No. We needed to question Iris and the others. We wanted to make sure they cleared you of any involvement with the drugs."

"Then that was OK."

Jim grimaced. "You're not making this any easier, you know."

"You're apologizing. I don't intend to make it easy."

Jim looked at Blair in the soft light from the lamp and saw only understanding. "Except you already know."

"Doesn't change the fact that I want to hear you say it." Blair wasn't going to let him off the hook.

Jim floundered for more explanation. "And then you made us that incredible gourmet meal. I didn't even realize until a little while ago that you didn't eat anything. You must have been running on sheer nerves, and I never even saw it."

"Why didn't you, do you think?" Blair asked mildly.

Jim was silent for awhile. "Because I was still in full cop mode, I guess. Because I couldn't face how absolutely terrified I was about how this day might have ended; I didn't have to think about how many times you were nearly killed."

"You must have read my statement."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I did. I wasn't sure about Iris, but I didn't know a damn thing about Chance or Rob. Either one of them might have been willing to commit murder. I didn't even know Parkman was in the equation until the train station. We pulled his jacket later -- narcotics has him figured in at least three homicides. God, when I think about all the unknowns, the number of ways things could have turned out differently, the dumb blind luck that got us through this OK -- " He stopped and shakily drew a breath.

Blair smiled, and his next words were spoken sincerely. "You pulled off a miracle, man. Don't be so hard on yourself. Don't you realize what an incredible thing you did? I thought I was all alone out there. I thought no one would even know I was missing, much less figure out what had happened, but you did it. You followed the trail and you found me. You saved my life. You're the best damn cop around."

Jim shook his head. "Thanks. But maybe I wasn't the best damn friend, right?"

Blair didn't answer, just waited for Jim to answer his own question.

And Jim knew it. He fidgeted with the edge of Blair's blanket for a minute. "All that stuff I said about cops needing a release valve after a tense case was true. What I didn't think about -- what didn't occur to me -- I mean...oh, shit." He stopped again and took a deep breath, trying to gather his thoughts. "Usually, after a case like this, a victim is either safely tucked away in the hospital under the care of doctors, or in cases with really happy endings, the victim gets sent home with family or friends, you know?" Very quietly, he added, "Except in this case, the friend you should have been sent home with was me."

OK, there it was. Blair smiled again and said gently, "Apology accepted."

Jim looked startled. "Just like that? No deep probing of the Ellison psyche?"

Blair ignored Jim's defensive retreat into sarcasm. "We are who we are, Jim. I accepted your emotional limitations a long time ago. That doesn't mean I wasn't angry with you today for keeping your guard up, for needing to keep your distance instead of thinking about what I might have needed just then. It just means I understood."

Jim's defensive edge vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "I'm really sorry I wasn't there for you."

"I know. I mean, I have more than a few emotional hang-ups myself, you know? Every now and again, our limitations are bound to collide, and one of us gets his feelings hurt." Blair grinned wryly. "Usually me, I admit, but in this case, I think I was justified in feeling angry toward you."

Jim smiled slightly and murmured, "I save his life, and still he complains."

Blair's expression went deadly serious. "Not about that, Jim. Never about that." He paused, looked away into the farthest shadows of his little room. "Never about that."

Jim frowned. "Is there something else I'm missing here, Chief?"

Blair shook his head, not wanting to get into any deeper details of his feelings of being lost and alone. "No. Just that I've always placed a heavy burden on you as the Sentinel, as my Blessed Protector, and you've always come through. Today, I didn't believe even you had a hope of finding me. But just when it counted most and I least expected it, you somehow managed to be there. You're some piece of work, you know that?"

"Dumb luck had a lot to do with it," Jim countered, uncomfortable with the praise. "Don't trade the Volvo, OK? With that oil leak, I could track you to the moon." He curled a fist and hit Blair lightly on the shoulder. "You're some piece of work yourself, you know."

"I am?" The compliment was unexpected.

"Yeah, you handled yourself pretty well out there. You talked when you could, fought when you had to, ran when you the chance. You never gave up."

"Well, yeah, but that's just because I intend to crawl off into a corner and have a quiet little nervous breakdown sometime soon."

"OK, I'll bring you breakfast."

"I won't be awake for breakfast."

"Brunch, lunch, dinner -- whatever. Just because you're having a nervous breakdown doesn't mean you can't eat."

Blair considered the offer. "Anything I want?"

Jim knew he was going to regret his answer. "Even smelly, moldy things from the back of the refrigerator, if that's what you want."

"Cool." Blair smiled in anticipation. "OK. I'll sleep on it, and then give you the menu."

Jim stood up. "I can hardly wait," he murmured. Abruptly, he caught Blair in a neck lock and knuckled the top of his head. "Just remember I'm bigger than you while you think about it."

Blair yelped in surprise and rubbed the top of his head. "OK -- nothing with six legs that are still moving."

Jim groaned. "I'm outta here. Good night."

Blair snuggled down into the covers. "Good night." He rubbed the sore spot on top of his head again. Well, maybe it wasn't a hug...but it was a start.



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