SUPAY

By

D.L. Witherspoon

It was the scent of blood that caught his attention. Acrid, yet sweet--cloying even. It drew him inside the dark space, a place he knew he should avoid. It was as if there were signs all over, shouting to him in flashing colors to run away. Yet the blood called and he followed.

It was garish. Too red to be real. He knew that, knew how dark, how nearly black blood truly was. But he knew that this too was blood. He dipped a finger into one of the rivulets that crawled down the walls. There was a certain viscosity to the liquid, a weight that was unlike any other. Definitely blood. Why? Whose? Where?

The blood began to rain from the ceiling. He stood, drenched, his nose wrinkling as the blood ran down the bridge and curved into his nostrils. His tongue lapped briefly at his bottom lip. He knew he should be disgusted as the metallic sensation burned along his taste buds. His stomach should have grumbled as it leaked down his throat. Instead, he found himself savoring the flavor. He turned his face upward and opened his mouth.

The blood stopped. Sated, he walked deeper into the darkness, drawn this time by curiosity. Which quickly changed to wariness. Something was wrong, but he didn't know what. He concentrated, focusing only on that which he didn't know, that which was foreign, alien. His heartbeat raced, and adrenalin fueled his search. There was an intruder. Not close, but too near. Peripheral, but inching toward, not away.

He pushed harder, desperate and near panic. A whimper escaped clenched teeth. Oh, God. He recognized it, knew its evil, knew its stench. Knew that it wanted his territory, would kill to rip it away from him. No. It didn't just want his territory, it wanted him. Had searched for him. Had scoured the earth, leaving a bloody trail in its passion to seek him out. One taste had initiated an obsession, and just as he had drunk eagerly of the life-giving elixir it, too, hungered. It wanted more, needed more, needed all.

He was scared, the shiver wracking his body confirming the fear, the utter dread of what was coming for him. He wanted to run, but the blood in his belly held him in place, tugging him toward it. No! He tried to vomit, but the blood was a solid mass inside him, a squirming, living mass whose will was greater than his own. He was trapped, lost, helpless. It was there, and it was going to get him and devour him, from the inside and outside. In horrified fascination, he watched as a red limb poked its way out of his belly and reached out to embrace its mother/father/creator.

With a jerk, he stumbled into the maw of the Evil Dark.

*****

Jim Ellison woke as soon as his body made contact with the floor. Stunned for a few seconds, he tried to figure out what happened. As soon as he came up with the theory he'd fallen out of bed, he quickly checked to see if his housemate had noticed the thud, but Blair's even breathing downstairs told him that his secret was safe. Damn. Almost forty and falling out of bed. What next? Adult diapers?

Shaking his head, he crawled back into bed, noticing that the spot was still warm. In fact, there were a lot of warm spots in his bed. He must have been tossing all over the place. Nightmare, apparently. He frowned, trying to recall it. Apparently not another one about a murder. He always remembered those in Technicolor detail. Naked body. Crumpled… broken. Skin gray, waxy, bloodless. No. Definitely not one of the usual nightmares that had plagued him for the past six months.

So, something new. How thoughtful of his psyche. A case? His past? Well, that was a wide-open field, wasn't it? Deciding he would remember when he remembered, Jim adjusted the covers and tried to go back to sleep.

*****

"I want you two to take over the waterfront robberies," Simon said as Jim and Blair entered his office. "Rafe and Brown are going to be coordinating the security for the Viracocha crusade, so I'm farming out their current cases." He handed them a file. "Here are their notes. Not much, but the last robbery was only a couple of days ago."

"We're on it," Jim said. "Come on, Chief."

Blair looked at Jim curiously as they settled at their desks. "I think you surprised the captain by being so cooperative."

"Anything's better than babysitting a cult leader. I wanted to get out of there before Simon decided we'd be better at it than Rafe and Brown."

"Considering you just called Father Viracocha a cult leader, I'd have to say Simon made the right choice in Rafe and Brown."

Jim shrugged. "If it looks like a cult and chants like a cult…."

"Vichama Viracocha is a Catholic in belief, Jim, a product of a Jesuit upbringing in South America. He just uses meditation as prayer instead of the standard 'get down on your knees and wail' approach. He believes in opening one's self to hearing God's word as opposed to talking and never listening."

"Uh-huh."

Blair shook his head. "After all the time you've used meditation, I thought you were becoming open to the idea, Jim. You certainly seem comfortable with it."

"I am. And it's true, you can 'hear' better with that kind of concentration, but that doesn't mean Viracocha isn't heading some cult."

"You're just a born cynic."

"Thanks for the compliment. Now, let's see what the waterfront has that's so attractive to robbers."

*****

I'm coming for you.

Jim forced his eyes to open. He was in the truck, Blair sitting beside him. A stakeout of the waterfront. He must have drifted off. Damn, the nightmares were starting to affect his work.

"Jim, man, what is it? You sense something?" Blair asked, his eyes scanning the scene before them.

"No. Must have been a sensory glitch or something," he nimbly lied.

"You've been on high alert for three nights in a row. Maybe we should back off and come at this from another angle," Blair suggested.

Jim shrugged. "Maybe you're right. Let's just finish out the shift and then we'll see."

Can no longer run. Can no longer hide.

"What is it, Jim?"

Jim jerked his head around toward Blair. "Huh?"

"You stiffened. What is it?"

Jim scanned the scene, looking for an excuse. There. A flicker of something. "At ten o'clock. A flashlight, I think."

Blair laid his hand on Jim's arm. "Focus, man."

Jim forced the vestiges of the nightmare out of his mind and concentrated. He quickly pinpointed the anomaly. "Call it in, Chief. Silent approach."

Jim waited outside the truck, using the night air to clear his head completely. When Blair joined him, he nodded, and they went in.

*****

Jim leaned back in his chair while Blair crossed the room to the shared printer. Their reports were done. All they needed to do was sign them and, finally, they could go home. Home to bed. Home to sleep. Home to…dream. Dead bodies? The creepy voice? The one that was so bad he couldn't remember? He shuddered and sat up.

"You guys are here early," Brown said as he and Rafe strolled into the bullpen.

"Actually, we're here late," Jim said, not even trying to hide his yawn. "Put down the waterfront robberies last night."

"Another successful case for the Dynamic Duo, huh? Aiming for a career high this season?" Brown asked.

"All I'm aiming for is my bed," Jim said, watching Blair head toward them. "Done deal, Chief?"

"Done deal. A couple of John Hancocks, and we're out of here. Hey, guys! Aren't you here early?"

"Father Viracocha arrives today. Just want to run a couple of last minute security checks," Rafe replied.

"Viracocha's private security helping or hindering?" Blair asked curiously.

Brown shrugged. "They're a hard bunch to figure out. Viracocha brought them all from South America with him, so I guess it's understandable that they do things differently."

"Differently how?"

"When we run security, it mainly focuses on securing the facility. They take security much more personally, focusing on Viracocha and Viracocha only. So we really haven't had a clash with them."

"What's the local buzz? Think there're going to be any problems?"

"Just the usual paparazzi, and the sheer number of people who follow this guy. The Cascade Arena is sold out for all three nights."

"Isn't that unusual, for a South American priest to have such a huge U.S. following?" Jim asked, deciding to join the discussion despite a sudden desire to flee the room. What the hell is that all about? "From what I've heard, even the Southern Baptists are flocking to his crusades, and I know they aren't particularly tolerant of Catholicism."

Brown shrugged. "Boy got game, I guess."

Blair laughed, and Rafe frowned. "You did--not--just explain away the appeal of one of the greatest religious leaders of the twenty-first century as 'boy got game'?" Rafe exclaimed with a shudder. "Why am I partnered with this Philistine?"

"Well, since your name's not David, I guess you're stuck with me," Brown retorted.

Rafe shook his head. "Now that the waterfront case is done, don't you guys want to help us out, maybe add a little culture to the Cascade P.D. contingency?"

Blair faked a shocked look. "But, Rafe, we wear flannel!"

"But you don't go around saying Father Viracocha has 'game' either."

Jim was sure Viracocha had 'game.' That was his main problem with the man. "Sorry, Rafe, but the only place I'm going to give culture is my bed."

"Word," Blair agreed. "You're on your own with the Philistine, my friend. And, hey, Brown--go, Phillies!"

Brown laughed. "I hear ya, Hair Boy."

"Is it baseball season already?" Captain Banks asked, stepping into the bullpen in time to hear the last part of Blair's remark.

"Only if they're using slingshots," Blair replied, and the four detectives burst into laughter.

"I missed something, didn't I?"

"Not much, Simon," Jim answered, taking pity on his friend. "Sandburg and I are just punchy from the long night, and Brown and Rafe are just--well, sir…"

Simon nodded. "The Cascade Police Department takes what it can get," he said, smirking at the single-finger salute Jim was getting from his fellow officers. "Just got back from the D.A.'s office. The A.D.A. is pleased. You and Sandburg can sign out. Rafe, Brown, in my office. Let's make sure today is going to be as thrill-less as possible."

Jim grabbed his jacket. "Let's go, Chief, before the captain changes his mind."

"He wouldn't," Blair began. He paused and looked in the direction of the office. "Last one to the parking lot is a rotten egg!"

*****

You are mine.

Jim sighed and took a swig from his bottle of water. He craved a beer, maybe even something stronger, but alcohol would only lower his mental barriers and he needed all the shielding he could get.

"You up already?" Blair padded barefoot out to the balcony and collapsed in the Adirondack chair beside Jim's. "Was it the light? Did you wear your sleep mask?"

Tried it and panicked at the darkness. "Just couldn't sleep long, Chief."

"Well, with the case solved, we should get back on a regular diurnal schedule."

I await our reunion.

Day. Night. Didn't matter to the voice in his head anymore. "You teaching your late class today?"

"Yeah. That's why I'm up. Just wanted to go over the material one more time. You want to tell me what's going on?"

Jim jumped as Blair deftly changed topics. "What do you mean?"

"You're not sleeping. You space out in the middle of conversations. You're as jumpy as a long tail cat in a room of rockers. Take your pick of symptoms, man."

Your blood sings to me, rich and full.

"I've been having dreams."

"Nightmares?" Blair guessed.

"Dead people. Specific dead people but I can't see their faces."

"You talk to Dan?"

Jim nodded. The medical examiner hadn't thought twice about the odd questions, but all his answers had been negative. "Looks like they're just stupid dreams, Chief."

"Or maybe they haven't happened yet. Is that why you're so on edge? You're waiting for something to happen?"

Jim felt the plastic bottle bend beneath his fingers. It would be so easy to just nod, and Blair would murmur some sympathetic words and wouldn't ask any more questions. But he knew Blair should know what was going on. The last time he'd kept quiet about something, Blair had ended up dead. "Someone is talking to me. In my head." Sounded worse aloud.

"You mean, you're hearing someone talking to you from somewhere in the city? Nice filtering," Blair replied eagerly.

"No, Chief. Someone's in my head, saying things to me." He saw Blair's eagerness subside into worry.

"What's this person saying, Jim?"

"Obsessive stuff."

"Obsessive stuff?"

Jim nodded. "'I'm coming for you.' 'You are mine.' Obsessive stuff."

"Obsessive stuff." Blair was quiet for a few minutes. "Could it be another ghost?"

A shrug. "How the hell do I know? Between listening to the voice, drinking blood, and dodging the Evil Dark, my opinion is highly suspect."

"Dark evil?"

He shook his head. "Evil Dark. Capital letters."

"It's a title?" Blair asked, looking confused and his worry was almost fear.

"Title. Description. There is darkness all around, but this is a special patch of darkness. Darker than dark and pure evil."

"Hence, Evil Dark."

"Exactly."

Blair blinked and tousled his hair absently. "Maybe you should ask Simon for some time off."

I shall possess you and you will belong to me fully.

Jim snorted at Blair's less than subtle hint that he thought Jim was going nuts. Subtlety was not necessary. "I'm going to. He's not going to like it; having Brown and Rafe on the Viracocha crusade has the unit shorthanded. But even the best captain can't schedule when one of his detectives is going to go insane."

"You're not insane, Jim," Blair said quickly. "Overworked, maybe. Or it could be some new sensory event. You experienced psychometry when you were investigating Alex Barnes. You talked to a ghost just a few weeks ago. This--voice--you're hearing, it could be real. You could be 'hearing' on a different frequency and someone is talking to you. Don't be so old school. In the past, everything not 'normal' was called insane."

"If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…"

"It could be a platypus or a misguided swan."

"Hey, Chief?"

"Yeah?"

"How's life on your planet?"

Blair grinned. "I'm going to class. Meet back here for dinner?"

"Sure, Chief."

*****

"Ellison! Just the detective I was looking for," Jim heard as he walked into the bullpen.

"Considering I'm supposed to have the rest of the day off, it's lucky for you I happen to be in the wrong place at the right time, Captain."

"Ha ha. Step into my office, please."

Jim nodded since that was where he was headed in the first place. He saw that Simon was holding a folder, and he hoped the captain wasn't thinking about assigning him to a new case. That would make getting time off harder, and he really didn't want to give Simon an ultimatum.

"What's this?" Simon asked as soon as the door closed.

"You want me to ask or do you want me to read it from where I'm standing? I can do either."

Simon snorted and sat, indicating Jim should do the same thing. "This is a background check on the premier religious leader of today, a background check you requested. Why?"

Jim shrugged. "We're working his security. I just thought it might be good to see if there were any known problem areas."

"It's not your case."

"You've always promoted a team mentality here in Major Crime."

"Stop using my words against me," Simon retorted, resignation in the sigh that followed.

"Stop acting like checking up on Super Priest is a crime."

Simon pushed his glasses up to a more comfortable seat on his nose. "What do you know about him?"

"You're the one with the report."

"And you're the one with the attitude from Day One. Normally, you would have been heading the security detail, but you tensed up as soon as I mentioned his name. You two have a run in down in South America? Did he tick off your tribe or something?"

He stole you. You belonged to me. You belong to me. Never give you up. Never give up. Waited. Waiting. Not long.

"Ellison!"

Jim jerked and blinked at Simon. "I didn't know Viracocha when I was in Peru."

"So why are you acting so squirrelly about him?"

A shrug. "Something about him just sets off my internal alarm system."

Simon peered at him skeptically. "Uh-huh. Well, the Cascade Police Department frowns upon making unnecessary inquiries into the lives of private--and extremely prominent--visitors to our fair city. If you don't have anything concrete on Viracocha, I want you to drop this."

"Fine. I'm here to ask you for time off anyway."

Simon's jaw dropped open. "Well, that's unexpected. How about the first week of next month?"

"How about now?"

Simon shook his head. "Although you're a senior officer, you're still required to give me at least a week's notice, you know."

"And you know that I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important."

The captain gave him a shrewd look. "Sandburg in trouble?"

"No."

"Your dad or brother? An old acquaintance?"

"Why does someone have to be in trouble for me to request some vacation time?" Simon stared. "Fine. I'm the one in trouble," Jim admitted.

"Your senses?"

"Probably." Another stare. "Sandburg's devising some tests."

"This can't wait?"

Mine, mine, mine, mine.

"I don't think that's advisable."

"What cases do you still have open? How far did you get in the carjackings on the east side?"

Jim stiffened as an odd scent tickled his nose. What was that? And why was it making him so uneasy? No, to be honest, it was scaring him silly. He stood and slowly turned toward the bullpen. As Blair had trained him, he sent his senses on a hunt. And they all centered on the elevator.

"Detective!" He turned to glare at his captain. "You want to tell me why you've un-holstered your weapon, Jim?" Simon asked a bit more gently.

Jim looked at the gun in his hand, then at Simon. "It's on the elevator."

"What's on the elevator, Jim?"

God, he hated that patient, "treat the fruitcake carefully" tone. Of course it didn't help that he knew he was sounding like a fruitcake. "Something bad." And now his vocabulary was that of a two-year-old. What the hell was happening to him?

"What the--"

He followed Simon's gaze out of the office and into the bullpen--where Brown, Rafe, and a stranger were just entering.

Jim's blood froze.

"Why have they brought him here?" Simon murmured.

Jim took a deep breath. "Viracocha," he hissed. The man looked up as if he'd heard him. Then he smiled.

Jim's blood went from freezing to boiling.

*****

"What the hell do you mean Jim has been arrested for assault!" Blair slammed the door to Simon's office. He took a deep breath, knowing part of his outburst was due to relief. The captain had scared him to death with his telephone call--"Come to the station. It's serious." An arrest was serious, but it was better than…

"Be glad it's not an attempted murder charge. It could have gone either way."

"Who?"

"Father Viracocha."

Blair muttered an obscenity. Considering Jim's opinions about the priest, the assault charge probably wasn't a mistake. Especially since Jim was on edge because of the voice he'd been hearing. He sat with a sigh. "Jim was supposed to be here asking you for time off."

"That's exactly what he was doing."

Blair frowned. "Viracocha was here? Why?"

Simon shrugged. "Brown and Rafe said that he insisted on seeing where they worked."

Something about that bothered Blair slightly. Why would the good father want to see a police station? Curiosity, he supposed, but… "What happened?"

"Viracocha came into the bullpen, smiled at Jim, and Jim went for his throat. It took all three of us--Rafe, Brown, and me--to pull him off."

"Where was Viracocha's private security?"

"Downstairs. I guess they thought he'd be safe here at the department."

The feeling of wrongness was growing. "What kind of smile?"

Simon blinked. "What?"

"What kind of smile did Viracocha give Jim?"

Simon shook his head. "I know what you're trying to do, Sandburg, but we can't rationalize away what Jim has done. Something was off with him--you know it and so did he. Why was he asking for time off?"

He trusted Simon, but not enough to give him something that he might have to admit to under oath. Not something that could come back and bite Jim on the butt. "It's been a while since he had some time off. And even when he had a vacation, he ended up working through it."

Simon was silent for a moment. "Familiar."

"Huh?"

"Viracocha's smile. It was like he was familiar with Jim, that he was smiling especially for Jim. Which can't be right, because I asked Jim if they'd met before, maybe like down in South America. He said he hadn't met the man but something about him turned on an internal alarm."

Blair threw his head back and searched the ceiling for answers. "You know Jim is rarely wrong when he gets these hunches."

"I know you nearly ended up dead the last time he started acting so antsy."

"I'm starting to wonder if we're looking at this backward."

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe Jim doesn't know Viracocha, but maybe Viracocha knows Jim."

"Pure speculation, Sandburg."

"Maybe. But will you concede that it is possible that Viracocha came down to the station just to see Jim?"

"Anything's possible, but… You think this has something to do with Peru?"

"Could be."

"Think Viracocha knows about Jim? I mean, about what he can do? If he saw him interacting with the tribe or heard the tribe speak of his abilities… But why wouldn't Jim remember? Or was he lying to me?" Simon mused.

"There's a lot about his time in Peru that Jim has actively forgotten."

"Like he did the murder of his childhood friend?"

Blair nodded. "Makes me wonder what exactly went on down there. What kind of trauma does it take to make a grown man, a man trained to withstand the latest interrogation techniques, repress his memories?" He shuddered as possibilities flitted through his mind. "But that's neither here nor there. We need to concentrate on what's happening to Jim now. We need to find out what it is about Viracocha that's setting Jim off. He's got it under control better, or at least I thought he did, than he had when Alex Barnes showed up."

"Could it be the same problem? Could Viracocha be a sentinel?" Simon asked.

"I don't know." Jim's short temper was similar, but hearing the voice was different. Maybe the two weren't connected. Or maybe they were. He sighed. The problem was complicated, complex, and more than likely, convoluted. Why couldn't Jim ever do simple? "We need to run a background check on Vira--" He stopped as Simon held up a folder. "I'm impressed."

"Don't be. Jim made the request a week ago. It somehow got re-routed to me. I was giving Jim grief about it right before he asked for time off."

Blair heard the guilt in the captain's voice and looked up from the report. "Jim never takes what you say seriously anyway." He gulped when he saw Simon's eyes narrow dangerously. "I mean, he's good about separating your job from you, Simon. He understands that sometimes his friend has to be his captain."

"Whatever," Simon said, looking slightly appeased. "No use scanning that report closely. It has a certain paucity of information, especially for the time Viracocha was in South America."

Blair nodded and continued reading. At the end of the report, he tossed it absently onto the desk. "Useless," he sneered.

"What part of 'paucity of information' didn't you get?" Simon asked blandly.

"Yeah, well, I was looking for stuff you weren't. But there's no way I can tell if Viracocha has experienced anything that can even remotely be construed as a sentinel event."

"Sentinel event? Why can't you scientists ever talk in plain English?"

"I spend a lot of my time reading cop reports, so I don't think you want to go there, Simon." He flashed the captain a quick grin. "So, when can I see Jim?"

"After he finishes in booking which, hopefully, will be five minutes before night court starts."

Blair nodded. The Cascade cops were looking after their own. The less time Jim spent with the general criminal population, the better. "Think he'll get released on his own recognizance?"

"There's a good possibility. Still, I'd see about bail arrangements just in case."

"Done. Benny B. has a list of Jim's assets and all I have to do is get the appropriate amount of cash from the Bail Fund."

"Bail Fund? Jesus, the man is anal. Thought you were supposed to be curing him of that."

"Hey, the Bail Fund is for me, too, so no way am I biting the hand that gets my butt out of jail," Blair said with a smile. "And speaking of my anal partner, this background check probably isn't the only one he's run. While we wait for night court, I'm going to go through his computer files."

"All right. I'll let you know when it's time to go to the Justice Building."

*****

"So, you find something?"

Blair nodded as he walked down the hall toward the courtroom, his stride easily matching the captain's thanks to walking beside Jim so often. "He has inquiries out to every city the Viracocha tour has stopped in."

"What kind of inquiries?"

"Any unsolved crimes."

"And I thought you were pulling straw out of your butt, but he sounds even more desperate to find something on Viracocha." Simon shook his head. "I hope you gentlemen actually find something, because the mayor is going to have my ass if any of this gets out."

"If Jim's got the wiggins, it's for a reason. We'll find it and--" Blair hushed as Simon opened the door to the courtroom. Court was already in session, but Blair knew Jim was still in the prisoners' waiting area, fourth on the night's docket.

"The State versus James Ellison--simple assault," the bailiff read.

Blair looked at the profile of his partner, noting the rigid jaw and military-precise stance. He'd seen Jim like this before. Jim wasn't repentant, just prepared to accept whatever penalty assessed for doing what he deemed was right. That convinced Blair more than anything that there was more to Father Viracocha than met the casual eye.

Jim flinched and Blair searched the room for stimuli. There. Viracocha was entering the back of the courtroom. The priest was alone. Odd for a man under tight security, for a man who was recently assaulted. Blair focused on Jim again, smiling wryly at how all this court rigmarole had become routine to him. Too many hours spent waiting on Jim to testify or watching the outcome of a case that he'd helped Jim with. He'd even caught himself watching the Court Channel last week.

"The defense asks that the defendant be released on his own recognizance. He is a dedicated servant to this court and will not present a flight risk."

The judge nodded. "What says the State?" she asked the assistant D.A.

"We have no objection, your honor."

Blair smiled. Looked like Benny B. wasn't getting any profit from Jim tonight. He glanced around at Viracocha, wondering how he felt about his assaulter getting to walk so easily. The man had his head bowed, and his lips were moving. Was he praying for Jim's soul or something?

"Order in the court!"

Blair turned his head when he heard the shout from the judge. Jim was on his feet, glaring at Viracocha. Even as the gavel banged, he was shouting at the priest--in fluent Quechua. The bailiff approached, brandishing handcuffs, as Jim stepped toward the gallery. Quick to recognize trouble, the man had also signaled for backup, and as soon as the other bailiff arrived, Jim was slammed face down onto the defense's table and his hands cuffed. He was still yelling in Quechua. And Viracocha was still praying.

The judge banged the gavel over and over again until Jim stopped yelling. Blair winced, knowing the clacking sound was probably deteriorating whatever control Jim had left.

"Detective, instead of carting you off to jail for contempt of my court," the judge said, her face red, "I am hereby ordering you to a mandatory 72-hour evaluation at the Conover Psychiatric Facility. Bailiff, get this man out of my court!"

"I hope I won't have to get a tetanus shot."

Blair blinked at Simon, then glanced down to see his hand clamped tightly around the captain's arm. Oh. "Sorry, man. But I just cut my nails, so you should be safe. I need to talk to Jim."

"We both do," Simon agreed. They left the courtroom, ignoring the whispers and stares of the people who knew who they were, knew why they had been there. "They're probably taking Jim back to the holding cell. It'll take a while to arrange transport to Conover. Wait here and I'll see what's going on."

"Wouldn't it be easier if I went with you?"

Simon shook his head. "Sandburg, Major Crime might treat you like a cop, but you're just a civilian in the eyes of everyone else. Just let me do my thing and then you can do yours, okay?"

Blair nodded and plopped down on a bench in the hallway. Ten minutes later and way quicker than Blair had expected, Simon returned. That probably wasn't good. "Captain?"

"Jim's already on his way to Conover. They were doing another transfer and decided to double up."

"So we have to drive all the way out to Conover tonight?"

Simon gave him an apologetic look. "Conover puts its patients--"

"Inmates," Blair corrected.

"Conover patients are put into solitary confinement for their first twenty-four hours. It's supposed to get them acclimated to the facility quicker. Not even a court order would get us in to see Jim before the twenty-four hours are up."

Blair raked his fingers through his hair. "They won't medicate him, will they? I have a feeling Jim and psychotropic drugs would be a really bad mix."

"He's just being evaluated, so I doubt they'll be handing out drugs. But if they do, I'm sure they'll check his medical records first. Malpractice is the last thing a state agency wants to be hit with in this age of budget cuts."

"Is it okay if I hang out in the office for the rest of this shift? I want to check to see if Jim got any replies to his inquiries about Viracocha."

Simon looked at him grimly. "Now you're saying the name with the same surliness Jim did. I think you two need some time apart."

"Well, thanks to the judge, we have three days of it," Blair pointed out dryly.

"It wasn't undeserved, Sandburg. Jim lost it in there."

"Because of Viracocha. I'm convinced he was there just to set Jim off."

Simon snorted. "Give me proof of that. Hell, just give me proof of whatever the hell it is Jim thinks the man is guilty of. Because, at the moment, I'm inclined to agree with the judge's decision."

"Jim's not crazy."

"Prove it."

*****

"Proof."

Simon looked at the handful of papers Sandburg thrust in front of him as the captain walked into the Major Crime bullpen. Then he looked at Sandburg. "Tell me you haven't been here all night."

Blair rubbed his eyes. "Just read the papers."

Simon signaled for Blair to join him in his office. He started toward the coffeemaker, knowing he needed it as much as Blair. Although he'd left the office, he hadn't rested well knowing one of his officers was in Conover. No, not just one of his officers, but a friend.

"You read. I'll do the coffee," Blair ordered.

Simon sighed and read through the printouts of emails and faxes of reports. It was-- "Shit."

"Exactly."

"Why hadn't anyone--"

"Because you had to be looking for a pattern to see it."

"Still, it's not--"

"Oh, come on, Simon."

The captain opened his mouth, then shut it. Sandburg was right; even without the details, the picture was pretty clear. At every stop of the Viracocha tour, two bodies had been found. Mainly prostitutes and the homeless. All bled out from esophageal and stomach tears. No external signs of trauma or drugs found in the victims' systems, which seemed to indicate that the damage didn't come from an assault.

What was really curious, however, was that most of the blood lost couldn't be found.

"Shouldn't this have raised flags of some kind?" Simon argued.

"Viracocha's tour stopped at big urban areas. You know what the crime rate is here in Cascade. How hard would we have tried to find out what was happening? The victims were throw-aways. No one cared."

"And the deaths stopped at two, each one in a different part of the city," Simon said softly. "We wouldn't have caught it either."

"Jim used Dan Wolf's name to contact a couple of medical examiners. It was from their replies that he spotted the pattern."

Simon laid the papers out on his desk. "This doesn't implicate Viracocha himself."

"But the dates implicate the tour. It's enough to open an investigation."

A statement; not a question. Sandburg was becoming quite the cop. "I'll have Brown and Rafe start asking around discreetly. Wonder if Dan is in his office yet."

"I've already spoken with him. No strange deaths here."

"Well, the tour just got here."

"And Viracocha is busy obsessing on Jim."

"I thought it was the other way around."

"Think about it, Captain. Every time Viracocha and Jim interacted, it was Viracocha who managed to be where Jim was, not vice-versa."

Damn. Sandburg was a cop. So the question was--why Jim? "Has to be connected to something down in South America. The missing blood could be part of a ritual."

Blair smiled. "Now you're thinking like me, Simon."

Simon jammed his glasses up into position. "We need to talk to Jim. Let me make a couple of calls. Maybe I can talk the judge into rescinding the observation order."

Blair nodded. "I'll just go write this--"

"No. You are going home and taking a nap. This is no longer speculation, but an active police investigation. Trust your fellow officers to do their jobs."

Blair looked as if to protest, but then got caught up in a yawn, and knew he was defeated. "Call me."

"I will." Simon watched Blair pack up his gear and leave the bullpen, then started to try and save his best detective's reputation.

*****

Blair hurried through his shower, towel-drying his hair roughly before dressing and racing out the door. Simon was due downstairs in exactly one minute, and he didn't want to be late. He didn't know what was going on. He'd had a long nap and was just finishing a sandwich when Simon called him.

"Sandburg, I'll pick you up in twenty minutes."

That was it. He hadn't had a chance to ask why he was being picked up or anything about how the effort to free Jim was coming along. It could be good news; they could be going to get Jim from Conover. But there was something in the captain's voice. Worry. Or fear. Blair paled and took the steps instead of waiting on the elevator.

The Chrysler sedan drove up to the curb and Blair got inside. "Just tell me," he demanded, too anxious to sit through the meaningless reassurance he knew he was about to receive.

"They tried to sedate Jim at Conover. It didn't go--well."

"What do you mean by that?" Blair said calmly. He knew it was said calmly because it took a lot of effort to do so.

"He's in a coma."

Blair knew better than to go ape shit in a car with a police captain. Wasn't the smart thing to do, and he had to be smart at the moment--for Jim's sake. "They didn't read his medical file?"

"They read it."

Just didn't believe it. Thought it was hyperbole. Thought they knew better. Thought they knew Jim better than he did. Thought--

"You're going to break the window or your hand. Either would be a mistake."

Blair pulled his fist back, vaguely realizing it had been just a millimeter away from contact with the passenger-side window. He took several deep breaths, thankful for the years of yoga training he'd had at his mother's side. "Maybe he's not in a coma. Maybe he's just zoned," he said as the thought struck him.

"Maybe."

The rest of the drive to Conover was made in silence.

*****

"Can I see Jim?" Blair was tired of the--he pulled his watch out of his pocket--thirty minute "covering our asses" speech the administrator/warden of Conover was giving. He and Simon had been whisked into an office, plied with coffee and stale doughnuts, then forced to listen to all the bullshit about "taking every precaution" and "medicine isn't a precise science" and "we felt it was in the patient's best interest if we…" He'd had only a few hours of sleep out of the past twenty-four. He was missing a class he couldn't afford to miss. And he was scared out of his mind because these idiots had put Jim INTO A COMA. He really didn't need this.

"Mr. Sandburg, as Mr. Ellison's next-of-kin on record, of course you can see him. As soon as his priest--"

"His what!" No, no, no, this couldn't be happening.

"Father Viracocha," the nervously smiling idiot said. "Mr. Ellison certainly has friends in high places, doesn't he?"

Blair didn't remember standing. He didn't remember grabbing the administrator by the tie. He didn't remember shaking the man. But he did remember saying, "You will take me to Jim now!"

The administrator looked toward the police captain for help. But Simon was bent over, retrieving his backup piece from his ankle. Blair smirked as he let the administrator go. So that was why Simon had cheerfully handed over his weapon while sidestepping the metal detector at the entrance.

"What are we waiting for?" Simon barked.

The administrator started yelling for the guards to open the doors to the restricted areas.

*****

Jim vainly stared at the body lying so lax on the bed. His body. Too pale. Hair receding much too rapidly. Solid muscle definition, though. Of course that wasn't doing him any good, considering his current condition. Body and soul really should be occupying the same space, right?

He looked at the machinery hooked up to his corporeal self. He'd tried to warn them. He'd tried to escape the injection. But this was a maximum security facility, complete with guards/goons. He sighed. Blair was going to be pissed.

Jim glanced at the door when he heard footsteps approaching. Shock didn't cover how he felt when Viracocha was escorted into his room. Anger was his immediate reaction, quickly followed by pure, gut-wrenching fear.

"Would you mind leaving us alone?" Viracocha said. "Poor Detective Ellison is in dire need of immediate divine intervention."

No!

It was obvious no one could hear him.

I can hear you.

Viracocha looked straight at him--and smiled.

Jim moved between his body and Viracocha as the escort left.

What do you want with me?

I want what's mine.

I have nothing that's yours.

You are mine. You don't remember?

Remember what?

Me.

I don't know you.

The interloper called me Supay.

A blinding light ripped through Jim's head. He gasped and sank to his knees. Supay. Devil. Incacha chanting, saving…him from--

A dark form hovered over the last of his men. The others were tucked into the soft ground, a gaping hole already prepared for the remaining man who was slowly succumbing to internal injuries. Was the shadowy shape Death? Had he caught him in the act? Suddenly angry, he reached out, spinning the figure around. Found himself looking at-- There was a black--well, face for lack of a better word. It was at face level and rounded like a face, but it wasn't made of skin and Jim wasn't sure it was solid. A pair of eyes, black, too, with no whites; only distinct from the face by the way they shimmered, like wind-driven waves on a lake beneath a winter moon. Red, red lips. Icy hands touching his cheeks, holding him in place as the red, red lips descended toward him. Pressure against his mouth, prickling, tingling. Something forcing its way between his lips. Not a tongue. Something thick and coppery and serpentine. Gagging, choking as it reached his throat and pushed past. Burning, tearing. He felt himself weakening. The black enveloped him. Cold, so cold.

Fight, Enqueri. Your destiny awaits.

Warmth. A hand on his back. Encouraging words whispered against his ear. Other words spat at the thing invading him. It was distracted and he took advantage of the opportunity, wrenching himself back and pushing the thing away from him. It ripped out of him with a sick, wet gurgle. He bent over, tainted blood gushing from him, draining from his mouth. The encouraging whispers continued until the flood was just a trickle, a drop, nothing. He looked up and the thing, Supay, lay curled across from him. A long, dark red tube undulated from its mouth. The protrusion was covered with barbed filaments that waved and wiggled, blindly seeking.

Send it away, Enqueri.

Jim held out his hand.

Go!

It turned to black ash and dissipated in the breeze.

Jim looked at the man still rubbing his back. His face was painted red, but his eyes were kind.

Thank you.

I am Incacha. We have been waiting for you.

Jim raised his head as the pain receded and looked at the being the world knew as Father Viracocha.

I am not yours.

Viracocha walked straight through Jim and to the bedside.

I remember how you tasted, how warm your blood was, how sweet it sang inside me. I have traveled two continents in this ugly, rotting flesh to take back what that shaman took from me.

Jim reached for Viracocha as Viracocha reached for the Jim on the bed. Jim's hand went through Supay's arm and the devil looked at Jim with a grin. Then the greenish eyes turned black and the tan skin dried, shriveled, and flaked off, revealing a yellowed skeleton. The bones exploded into a fine white powder and Supay was fully in the room. Black as a void with the remembered red, red lips that parted as a tube--abattoir red and wetly glistening--extended itself. Angling so Jim could watch, Supay bent over the still form, and Jim cringed as the slick conduit slithered between the dry, cracked, lifeless lips of his body.

No! Fight!

It took him a second to realize there was nothing inside the body to protest, to repel the invader. When the realization hit him, he tried to force his spectral body back into the tangible one, but the horror of watching Supay all but rape him kept him too distracted to do anything but yell wildly and ineffectively.

Focus, Jim.

Jim blinked. Not Incacha's voice. Blair's. He felt a peace reaching for him, and he knew Blair was near. His partner. His backup. He plunged headfirst into the peace and felt himself sink into his body. The pain was excruciating. He couldn't breathe. His eyes were open but the only thing he could see was the void that was Supay. The sound of his rapidly beating heart thundered in his ears.

Not his heart. Blair's. Blair was close. If Supay got Blair… Jim pushed at Supay. Pop. Jim ignored the sharp burns as the embedded barbs tore loose from his soft inner flesh, only to grab and catch and rip again and again. Power flowed through his body, the power to repel Supay as he had in the jungle, but it was taking too long. Blair was too near.

Jim released the jaguar that clawed beneath his skin. He felt the changes in his body, felt the formation of teeth longer and sharper than his own. He bit down. A high, keening wail nearly deafened him, and the darkness hovering over him jerked back. The fierce feline clamped his jaws tighter.

Something tore, and the darkness fell away.

With the effort he'd give to the removal of a hairball, the jaguar spat out the remains of the pulsating tube and glared at the dark form lying on the floor, bleeding copiously from the gaping hole of its mouth, its red, red lips concrete gray. With a graceful leap from the bed, the jaguar hit the floor and paced to its prey. Raising a wide paw, the jaguar swiped at the point where a normal being would have a throat. More blood pooled onto the yellowed tile. The darkness began to disintegrate, breaking down into a platinum ash.

Jim became human again.

The door flew open. The corridor lights illuminated Blair as he stood in the doorway. Behind him stood Simon with gun at the ready, and a man in a really bad suit.

*****

"Jim!" Blair had eyes for one thing only--Jim on the floor, surrounded by and covered in blood. "Get help," he ordered, shoving back at the administrator while rushing toward Jim.

Four years of working with the police department made him stop at the edge of the blood and figure out a way to get to Jim without disturbing the evidence. Jim coughed and spat out more blood. Blair ignored the evidence and knelt beside his partner. "Jim?" he said softly, gripping the hard shoulder beneath the lightly patterned hospital gown.

Before Jim could answer, Simon was standing protectively over them. "Where's Viracocha, Jim?" the captain asked as he scanned the room.

"There," Jim rasped.

They followed his eyes to the odd lump of gray ash.

"Jesus Christ," Simon swore.

Jim gave a painful sounding chuckle. "Ac--actually, the opposing team."

"Shit."

Blair nodded, in total agreement with the sentiment. "Jim, we need to get you back in bed and--"

Jim shuddered. "No. Not that bed."

Blair flicked his eyes up at Simon.

"I'll see about getting another room and find out where that jackass ran off to." The captain left.

Blair felt Jim's muscles gathering purpose beneath his hand. "No, Jim, don't move. You have internal injuries." He remembered the M.E. reports he'd read, knew why Jim's voice was so rough, knew that Jim could still be dying inside.

"Supay," Jim whispered, lifting a finger toward Viracocha's remains. "Could--" he cleared his throat painfully-- "Could re-form."

"Now?" Blair asked, horrified.

"Years, last time."

Last time. So this was something from Jim's past. "What if we make it hard for him to get back together? I have friends just about everywhere. We can mail parts of him all over the world."

"I got--a buddy--at NASA," Jim said, his eyes lighting up.

"Yeah, we can send a pile of him on the next Mars probe or deep space mission. Let's see him come back from that," Blair said with an evil grin.

Jim tried to match the smile, but a shiver turned it into a grimace. Blair walked to the bed and grabbed the blanket folded down at the foot, hoping it was innocent of whatever had happened, that it wouldn't bring back memories for Jim. He draped it around Jim's shoulders, then draped himself, sharing his body heat with the shivering man.

That was the way Simon found them when he barreled in, followed by a doctor, nurse, two orderlies with a wheelchair, and the hapless administrator.

"He gonna be okay?" Simon asked as Jim was tucked into bed three rooms down.

"He's Jim," Blair replied.

"Yeah. I have to go and straighten all this mess out. Can I get you anything before I go?"

Blair nodded. "A box of envelopes and a lot of stamps." He was amused when Simon didn't even bother to ask. He knew the "old dogs and new tricks" adage was just a fallacy. "Other than that, we're okay, Simon."

And they were, Blair thought as he sat down beside Jim's bed and watched the I.V. replenish the precious fluid Jim had lost. The Evil Dark had once again been banished and the Sentinel slept. Now, his partner could do the same.

Epilogue

"So Viracocha found out Jim was piecing together his country-wide crime spree and first tried to discredit him, before going to Conover and attempting to kill him. When he failed, he went rabbit and is now a fugitive." Blair looked at Simon. "I'm impressed. Couldn't have come up with a better cover story myself. What about the staff at Conover?"

"Don't want an investigation. There's a lot wrong up there. I'm going to give it a while for this to calm down, then drop some hints to some federal friends of mine."

"Good. They could have killed Jim--first by drugging him, then by letting Viracocha in to see him."

"Don't you know I'm too stubborn to die, Chief?" Jim asked, coming down the stairs from his room.

"All I know is that you're too stubborn to follow the doctor's orders. You're supposed to stay in bed."

Jim adjusted his robe. "I'm fine. Besides, I wanted to talk to Simon."

"I could have gone up to see you, Jim."

"Don't encourage him, Simon," Jim said, sidestepping Blair. "You give Dan my message?"

Simon nodded. "He says you don't owe him lunch for borrowing his name to get information, but he's not about to turn down a free meal. Just let him know when."

"The feds aren't spending a lot looking for Viracocha, are they?"

"Don't worry; they're really not that interested in finding him. They don't want the hassle of trying such a well-known religious figure."

"Talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing."

"Here."

Jim scowled at the cup of tea Blair held out to him.

"Your throat is still bothering you; I can hear it," Blair said, returning the scowl and challenging Jim to deny the diagnosis.

Jim took the cup and sat on the sofa, a hand pressed against his abdomen betraying the pain he was still in. "Have I been fully cleared?"

"The judge had already rescinded the observation order, and because of the attack at Conover, she threw out the assault charges. As soon as you're cleared medically, you're good to go." Simon glanced at his watch. "And speaking of going, if I don't leave now, I'm going to miss the start of Daryl's game."

"Thanks for coming by."

"Not a problem, Jim. Don't let him bully you, Sandburg."

"Not a chance. Tell Daryl I'll try to make his next game."

Blair closed the door behind Simon and shook his head as he watched Jim carefully placing his legs up on the sofa. "That's not your bed."

"But close enough, right?"

Jim didn't have to bully him. He just had to add a certain plaintive note in his voice. "Only for an hour or so. Got it?"

"Got it." Jim reached around to tug at a pillow.

"Don't do that," Blair fussed, rearranging the pillow himself. "You don't want to tear your insides open again. Oh, and here, I got you something." Blair reached inside his pocket and brought out a small box.

"Shouldn't you be on one knee?" Jim teased.

"Cute, Jim."

Jim opened the box and pulled out a small medallion on a gold chain. "St. Christopher--the all-purpose protector saint. Trying to tell me something, Chief?"

"Nothing you don't already know. And yes, I have one, too. Stays in my pocket."

"I know." Jim held the medallion out to Blair. "Help me put it on."

Blair carefully tugged it over Jim's head. "Who knows? Maybe one day it'll become cliché-ish and stop a bullet or something."

"Doesn't matter. I don't need a patron saint."

"No?" Blair said sarcastically.

"No. Whenever I get into trouble, my guardian angels always show up."

"Angels? You would need more than one, wouldn't you?" Blair smiled and settled on the loveseat.

"Maybe in the past."

Their eyes locked and Blair understood every word Jim wasn't saying. He understood because he, too, had discovered that once you found the right guardian angel, one was truly enough.

"Go to sleep, Jim."

Jim slept.

Blair kept watch.

Darkness fled.

THE END

Author's Note

Supay: In Incan mythology, Supay was both the god of death and king of the underworld as well as a race of demons. In modern times, the word often applies to Satan.
~from Encyclopedia Mythica

Comments? D.L. Witherspoon