The Game

By: Kathy

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Enshrouded in shadows, he pressed back against the wall and retreated further within the concealing darkness. Even as he withdrew into the alley, his gaze never wavered from the object of his intense scrutiny. As his eyes tracked his opponent's every movement, a smile slowly spread across his face; the expression made him appear feral and ruthless. He stood in silence and watched until the adversary disappeared into the building. Eyes immediately rising to the third floor, he focused on the windows and waited for the forthcoming light. Breathe quickening, his smile grew as the anticipated illumination sprung to life and outlined the figure that came into view. His low chuckle disturbed the silence that filled the dirty, litter-strewn alley as he continued to watch the scene unfolding before him. His amusement grew as he saw the figure frantically move about the loft apartment. Raising his hand, he gave a quick two-finger salute. "Your move." Minutes later, as the sound of rapidly approaching sirens filled the night air, the mysterious figure had disappeared. The only indicator of his presence being the rapidly dissipating warm spot from where his back had pressed against the cold, hard wall.

Unaware of the silent voyeur below, the loft's single occupant stood by the table and stared down at the blood marring the otherwise pristine floor. Head unconsciously cocking to the side as the sound of sirens reached him, he let out a shaky breath. Walking past the horrific sight, he reached up a slightly trembling hand and unlocked the door. Even as he opened it, he leaned against the solid support. Then, as his knees buckled and gave out, he slowly sunk to the floor. Head leaning back to bang against the wood, he didn't even hear the approaching footsteps until a concerned, face appeared before him. Blinking rapidly, trying to shake off the lingering remnants of shock that were clouding his mind, he let out a pained gasp as everything snapped back into focus once again. "Simon, I... I..." Then, he surrendered to the shock once again and lapsed into silence.

Glancing back over his shoulder, Simon felt a tremor course through his body when he saw the taunting message that had been painted on the floor. Recognizing the familiar odor, he didn't need to wait for the forensic analysis to know that it had been written in blood. Attention returning to the man before him, he could only sit there in stunned silence. His daze interrupted by the sudden presence of someone beside him, Simon stared up and found Joel looking down at
him. "What?"

Concerned, eyes darting from one man to the other, Joel laid a hand on Simon's shoulder. "How is he?"

Having his own concerns, for his missing friend as well as the one before him, Simon shrugged. "I don't know, Joel. He's in shock, I think. Get me that afghan off the back of the couch, would you?"

Nodding, Joel went to retrieve the requested item. Returning, he draped it over the huddled form himself and then rested his hand on a tense shoulder. "Forensics is on the way and uniforms are already questioning the building's other residents. Brown and Rafe are taking a look around the loft but so far... Well, so far all we've found is the... on the floor, the... Well, you know."

"Yeah, I know." Releasing a heavy sigh, Simon gave Joel a strained smile. "Thanks."

"No problem." Joel gave the shoulder beneath his hand a soft pat and then took a step back. "Should we try moving him?"

Before Simon could respond the silent man before them shuddered violently before sagging back against the door. Then, two dazed, confused eyes came to rest on the crouching police captain. "Simon, what…" Trailing off, his gaze finding the gruesome note painted on the floor, he let out a strangled gasp. "Oh my God! Jim!" Sending out a silent prayer for his missing friend, Blair continued to stare at the terrifying challenge issued forth in what he instinctively knew to be his partner's blood. His lips barely moving, no sound escaped as he read, "Let the game begin, Professor."


***

Upon regaining consciousness, Jim's first thought was to wish that someone would knock him out again. When that didn't happen, he struggled to dial down the pain. Only marginally successful, he cracked open his eyes and hissed when the light struck them. Fighting down nausea, he took a few deep breaths as he let his eyes close again. Just when he was getting ready to make another attempt at taking a look at his surroundings, he heard the sound of a door opening. Tensing, he lay still and listened to the footsteps that approached him.

"C'mon, Detective, it's time to rise and shine. No time for naps right now, we've got things to do. Besides, I'm sure the Professor will be making his move soon and I want to be ready."

Giving up the pretense, Jim slowly opened his eyes. His anger allowing him to ignore the pain this time, he stared up at the man standing beside him. "Who are you and what do you want?"

Quickly dropping to the floor, the man sat down beside Jim. Placing an elbow on his knee, he propped his head in his hand and stared at the captured detective. "Well, I suppose you have to call me something, don't you? After all, we are going to be getting very close over the next few days. Very well then, you can call me … let's see, how about Chief. Yes, that will do just fine. I rather like it."

Breathing heavily, Jim struggled against the ropes bounding him. "Think again, creep. There's no way I'll ever call you that." Feeling the ropes cut into his wrists, Jim stopped moving. "I don't know what your game is, but…"

"Oh, you just said the magic word." Grinning, the man leaned over until his face was close to Jim's. "Game. I like games, don't you? I'm sure the Professor does. I've been looking forward to playing with him."

"If you so much as touch Sandburg, I'll…"

"No, no, no, my dear Detective." Slowly, the man drew back away from Jim and then reached over to retrieve the bag he had brought into the room with him. "You see," he said as he unzipped it and began to riffle through its contents, "I wouldn't dream of touching the Professor. After all, then he might not be able to play." After pulling out a stun gun, he tossed the bag aside again. "You, on the other hand, I have no problem with touching." Reaching over, he trailed the weapon along the side of Jim's face. Smiling at the resulting involuntary twitches, he stopped when it came to rest on the bound man's chest.

"Play?" Conscious of the weapon that was pressed against him, Jim tried to brace himself for what was sure to come. But even as he prepared himself for the anticipated agony, his main concern was for his partner. "What are you talking about and what does all this have to do with Sandburg?"

"Isn't that so touching. Such concern for your … what do you call him? Partner? Seems rather inadequate a term, don't you think? Though I suppose it will have to do. As for what he has to do with all of this … like I said, I just want to play a game with him. With you too, I suppose. After all, you're a necessary component. He wouldn't play unless the prize was worth the effort. Are you? Worth the effort, I mean?" Keeping the stun gun pressed against Jim's chest, the man reached his other hand into the bag.

Eyes drawn to the bag, Jim waited to see what would emerge this time. Expecting another weapon, he was surprised to see a remote being pulled out instead. He turned to look towards the direction in which the other man pointed the remote and was surprised to see a collection of electronic equipment. Unable to look away, his eyes remained locked on the television when it turned on and a picture of his partner appeared on the screen. Instantly knowing what he was
about to see, Jim inwardly cringed as the sound of Blair's speech washed over him. "Why are you showing me this? Turning it off!"

"What's the matter, Detective? You should find it reassuring. I did." After turning off the television, the man set the remote down on the floor. "I mean, it was after watching this press conference that I knew how to get the Professor to play. It seems there isn't anything that he wouldn't do for you, Detective. And that makes for a very interesting game. I mean, how far would the Professor go to save you? I already know what he would sacrifice of himself, but what about others? Would he take another life to save yours? Would he place another life in jeopardy to save yours? Oh, this will be a very interesting game. To see the lengths he will go to in order to save his partner. Or should I say to save his Sentinel."

When Jim turned to stare at him, the man laughed. "That's right. I know everything. And what you are, what you are to the Professor, will only make this so much more enjoyable. But for now, I must prepare my next move." Then, he discharged the stun gun and watched as the resulting shock caused Jim's body to jerk uncontrollably. Finally moving away, he smiled when the unconscious detective slumped over. "Yes, this is going to be so much fun."

* * *

Having finally managed to get Blair up from the floor and into a seat, Simon was now brewing some tea for the stunned young man. After pouring the boiling water into a mug, Simon reached for a tea bag and placed it in as well. Then, he carried it over to the table and set it down in front of Blair. As he sat down himself, Simon looked over to where Serena was kneeling down to take a sample of the blood. "Do you have any idea what it means?"

Before answering, Blair reached out and grabbed the mug of tea. Sagging slightly as the warmth penetrated his cold hands, he stared down at the dark liquid and let out a small gasp when it seemed to turn to blood for an instant. Blinking his eyes, he shook his head when he looked back at the mug and found it filled with nothing but tea again. "I don't know. A challenge, maybe. It doesn't really matter right now. The important thing is that whoever this guy is, he's got Jim and..."

"Hold it right there, Sandburg," Simon interrupted. "We don't know that this has anything to do with Jim. I sent Rafe and Brown out to try and track him down. Until they find out something or until we hear something, we can't be sure that Jim has been grabbed."

"I'm sure." Pushing the mug aside, not wanting to drink the tea now, Blair turned to look at Simon. "Rafe and Brown won’t find Jim. After he got out of court early today, he called me to say that he was going to come by here and grab a quick shower before making a run to the grocery store." A slight smile on his face, Blair added, "He was going to make spaghetti tonight and he needed some ingredients for that special sauce of his. He… um… he knows how much I like it. Anyway, I was just getting ready to leave the gym when he called. I offered to stop by the store but he said that he’d go." Blair looked over at Simon and let out a small chuckle. "After all this time, he still won’t tell me what’s in it." Clearing his throat, blinking back the moisture in his eyes, Blair started down at the table again. "The gym is on the other side of town so I figured he’d already be gone by the time I got home. I wasn’t too worried when he wasn’t here, but then I saw the… saw the bl… saw the floor." Releasing his grip on the mug, Blair ran a hand through his hair. "Something is wrong. Jim is somewhere and he's hurt. And this message, whatever it means, is connected to his disappearance. You can't tell me that you don't know that, Simon. Evidence or no evidence, you know that just as well as I do."

"Alright, if this does have something to do with Jim, then give me something to go on, Sandburg."

"How am I supposed to do that?"

Waving a hand towards the message, Simon kept his focus on Blair. "That little note over there is addressed to Professor. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a reference to you."

"Yeah, well in case you've forgotten, I'm not a professor," Blair retorted. "And I'd say that right now, after everything that's happened, the odds of my ever becoming one are pretty non-existent."

Before Simon could respond, a soft, "That's for sure," sounded in the room. Turning in the direction the remark has come from, Simon glared at the small group of uniformed officers gathered by the balcony. "Which one of you said that?" When no one answered, he stood up and went over to the three men. "I asked a question and I expect an answer, gentlemen. Now, which one of you said that?"

"I did, Sir," one of the officers stated as he took a step forward. Directing a sneer Blair's way, he stared in contempt at the shaken man. "First he causes all that trouble with all of his lies and now Ellison, a good cop, is maybe missing because of that fraud. How much more shit is this department supposed to take because of him anyway? We all know your plans for him. I can’t believe you actually think he can be one of us. Wanting to be a cop when he should be behind bars? He's a..."

"That's enough!" At Simon's yell, the man quickly took a step back to stand beside his fellow officers. Trying to stay calm, knowing that he needed to wait until after they found Jim and then deal with this attitude towards Blair, Simon gave each of the officers a glare. "I don't want to hear anymore of that crap from any of you, is that understood?" Waiting until each man had acknowledged the order, Simon then continued, "As for Sandburg, I consider him to be a member of my department and I won't tolerate any disrespect or harassment towards him. Whatever your personal feelings may be, you just make sure that you keep them away from the job."

"Yes, Sir," the officers mumbled.

"Good. Now get out there and start canvassing the building," Simon ordered. "Interview the neighbors and see if anyone saw anything." After watching the officers leave, Simon went back over to Blair. "Sorry about that, Sandburg."

"About what?" Blair asked as he looked up at Simon. "They were just telling the truth. Hell, I bet most cops feel the same way. I told Jim..."

"Told Jim what?"

"Nothing, just forget it. Right now we just need to find him." Blair stood up and walked over to where Serena was still examining the message.

Having pointedly ignored the conversation occurring in the loft, Serena looked up and gave Blair a small smile as he came to stand beside her. "Like you already know, it is blood. But until I can get back to the lab, I can't tell you whether or not it's Jim's."

Squatting down, Blair stared at the blood. "It is Jim's blood." Ignoring the look that passed between Serena and Simon, Blair continued to study the note left on the floor. "Jim is going to be so pissed when he sees this. I need to try and get the blood up before it soaks into the wood anymore than it already has. I need…" Trailing off, Blair looked over at Simon. "Can I clean this up, Simon? You know how Jim is about things like this. He'll… This needs to be gone before he gets back. I need…"

Peeling off the latex gloves she was wearing, Serena laid a hand on Blair's arm. "I'm sorry but we can't clean it up just yet. We haven't finished examining the area and we still need to get some pictures. But I promise you, Blair, as soon as we're done I'll have someone clean it up. You won't even know it was there."

"I'll know," Blair whispered before looking over at Serena. "But, thanks. I'd appreciate that a lot." When Serena gave his arm a gentle squeeze and then moved her hand away, Blair returned his attention to the message. Trying to push aside his feelings for the moment, knowing that his partner's safety was at stake, Blair concentrated on the meaning behind the words. "He addressed it to Professor. But did he mean it as an insult or as a compliment? Is he acknowledging someone he views as an equal or is he ridiculing someone he views as a impostor?"

"Blair?"

Hearing the concerned tone, Blair reassured, "I'm okay, Serena. Just thinking out loud."

Joining them, being careful to avoid stepping in the blood, Simon asked, "And what have you come up with?"

"That someone has a very sick idea of what's supposed to be fun." Looking up at Simon, Blair added, "Whoever this guy is, he wants to play a game. Like you said, it’s pretty likely he left this little note for me. Maybe he saw the press conference. I don't know. What I do know, or what I suspect, is that he wants to play a game and he wants to play it with me."

"How does Jim fit into all of this?" Simon mused. "Incentive for you to play this little game?"

Blair stood up but kept his eyes on the floor. "That and he’s probably the prize. If I win, Jim will be released. If I lose... Well, I guess I don't have to tell you what happens then."

"Jim is dead."

"Yeah." Remaining where he stood, Blair began looking around the room. His eyes landed on a picture of him and Jim. Seeing his partner’s … his Sentinel’s… smiling face, Blair was determined to get his friend back. "But that's not going to happen. I won't lose."

"Really? How can you be so sure of that?" Simon shivered when two slightly crazed eyes turned his way. Frozen in place by that unsettling gaze, he could only stand and listen as Blair answered his question.

Smiling, his feral expression matching the one that had appeared on his unknown opponent's face earlier that evening, Blair replied, "This guy's not the only one that likes to play games." Then, as he once again stared down at the message inked in his partner’s blood, Blair knew that nothing would stop him from finding Jim and the man responsible for this. And after he’d found them, he’d make sure that person would pay for ever having dared to harm his Sentinel.

Alarmed by the sudden change in the younger man's mood, Simon started to say something. But, after one look at the attention they were drawing from the forensics personnel, he grabbed Blair's arm and steered him over to his room. Once inside, Simon released the hold on Blair.

Rubbing his arm, Blair looked over at Simon. "What's going on?"

"I was hoping you could tell me that." Seeing Blair's puzzled expression, Simon elaborated. "What in the hell is going on with you, Sandburg? One minute you're worried about Jim finding blood on the floor and the next you're making some kind of vow of vengeance against this lunatic, whoever he is."

Frantically, Blair began to pace the small confines of his room. Hands waving, his breathing was ragged as he made one small circuit of the area and immediately began another. "I don't know, Simon. It's like…"

"Like what?"

"I'm just so… so angry … and guilty," Blair confessed.

"Yeah, but that's nothing new." When Blair stopped and turned to look at him, Simon explained, "I remember how you were when your friend Roy was killed. You were so set on finding out who killed him, so determined to see his killer brought to justice. But then, even though you might have gotten obsessed…"

"Obsessed!" Blair exclaimed. "God, Simon, Roy had just been killed and you guys were determined to blame Jamie for it. I wasn't obsessed, I just knew that Jamie would have never killed his brother. But you and Jim just wouldn't listen to me."

"Yeah, we were wrong about Jamie," Simon agreed. "But my point is that even though you got caught up in that investigation, you still managed to keep your emotions under control. For the most part, at least. Right now though, you're going from one extreme to the other. If you want to find Jim, you're going to have to keep your head together. Do you understand me?"

Letting out a sigh, Blair walked over and sat on his bed. "I understand, Simon. But there's something that you have to realize."

"What's that?"

"Before, when Roy was killed…"

"Yeah?"

"That time, I had Jim to help me." Placing his elbows on his knees, Blair buried his face in his hands. The next time he spoke, his words were muffled. "I mean the talk that you and I had helped me a lot and I really appreciated it. But, when I was really starting to let it all get to me, Jim was the one that helped me keep everything in perspective. This time… Well, this time, he's not here."

"No, he's not," Simon replied. "But I am, Blair. So if you feel yourself getting out of control, if you feel like you're getting overwhelmed, come to me."

"Thanks, Simon," Blair whispered. "I may take you up on that because right now… I just feel… God! I can't even describe it. There's all these emotions running around inside of me and I don't know if I can keep it together long enough to find Jim. I'm so… I'm angry and I feel so guilty. All those times when I was grabbed, I never understood why Jim would feel so guilty about it. It wasn't his fault. I never blamed him for any of it. But right now, I can't help thinking that this is all because of me. That Jim is there somewhere, going through who knows what, all because of me. It's tearing me up, Simon."

After walking over to the bed, Simon reached down, pushed some books out of the way and then sat down beside the distraught younger man. Placing his arm around Blair's shoulder, Simon gave him a little squeeze. "Like I said, right now you've just go to push all of that aside."

"Don't you think that I know that? Check your emotions at the door. That's what Jim told me." Finally looking up, Blair turned to face Simon. "And normally I'd be able to. I've gotten pretty good at doing that over the past couple of years. But this time, this time it's Jim."

"I know, Blair. I feel the same way."

"I know you do, Simon. Jim is your friend too. But for me, it's more than that. I mean, Jim he's my… my… He's my Sentinel."

Unnerved by Blair's words, Simon withdrew his arm and stood up. "Is this one of those things that I don't want to know about?"

"I don't know," Blair replied. "All I know is that since the press conference, things seem different. I seem different. I can't explain it. I don't understand it myself."

"Have you talked to Jim about this?"

"Not yet," Blair answered. "I've been meaning to but… Well, I just didn't know how to tell him. How to describe it to him."

Reaching up a hand, Simon squeezed his eyes shut as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, Blair, whatever this is, you and Jim can talk about it later. For right now, let's just find him."

"All right." Standing up, Blair hesitated for a few seconds before speaking again. "I just hope we find him in time. When I think about what he's probably going through…"

"You can't think like that." Lowering his hand, Simon met Blair's eyes. "Yeah, if the blood out there is Jim's…"

"It is."

"…then we know that he has been injured in some way," Simon finished, ignoring the interruption. "But we don't know to what extent. It could just be a minor injury. And for all we know, this kidnapper may not have hurt Jim any more."

"I hope you're right, Simon."

"So do I." Simon walked over to the door and stopped to look at Blair. "Let's get back out there and see if they've found out anything else. Maybe one of the uniforms had some luck and one of your neighbors saw something."

"All right." Blair walked over to Simon and started to pass by when the captain placed his arm in front of the younger man. "What?"

"About those officers," Simon said. "If anything like that happens again, I want you to tell me about it."

"Yeah, sure," Blair agreed, even though he had no intention of doing what Simon had asked. "Whatever you say, Simon."

"Blair…" Simon began but stopped when the younger man brushed by him and then opened the door. Watching as Blair walked back over to stand by the message, Simon began to suspect that what had happened earlier might not have been the first time Blair faced the hostility and scorn of what were going to be his fellow officers. Wondering if they were ever going to stop feeling the affects of that press conference, Simon went to join Blair.

"There's something that we're missing," Blair announced when Simon came over to stand beside him.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, this guy wants to play a game."

"Yeah? So?"

"So part of this game would seem to be the chase." Though he remained in place, Blair began to look around the room. Eyes scanning every inch of the loft, Blair started to turn in circles.

"What are you looking for?"

"I'm guessing that this guy left some kind of clue. I mean he wants to play so you'd think that he'd leave something for us to go on, something to get the game going." Stilling his movements, Blair looked down at the message. "This, well this just seems kind of like a taunt, don't you think? Just something to make us want to go along with this sick bastard."

"And we need to find the first clue to get the game underway?"

"Yeah," Blair confirmed as he began to survey the room again. "We just need to…" Blair trailed off as his eyes came to rest on the VCR. "Hey, the VCR."

"What about it?" Simon asked as the looked towards the television.

"It's flashing twelve."

"So?" Came Simon exasperated response.

"Jim hates it when that thing flashes like that," Blair explained. "Whenever something happens and we lose power, he always keeps bugging me until I set the clock again. That thing never flashes very long. Trust me on that."

"Maybe something happened earlier," Simon rationalized. "It doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"But maybe it does," Blair countered as he walked over to the television. After he knelt down and took a closer look at the machine, he turned a grim looking smile Simon's way. "There's a tape in it."

Not understanding the significance of that, Simon shrugged. "So what?"

"I can't stand for a tape to be left in the VCR. Jim knows that. We both always make sure that we take the tape out whenever we're done watching something. We never leave one in there."

When Blair reached out a hand towards the VCR, Simon ordered, "Stop, Sandburg." Motioning towards one of the technicians, he explained, "We need to dust it for prints first. It's a long shot, but there's always a chance that this guy screwed up."

Blair leaned back. "But we need to see…"

"We will," Simon reassured. "After it's dusted we'll get the tape, take it down it the station and take a look at it. We need to check in anyway. I sent Joel back there earlier. He and Megan are looking into Jim's past cases, the ones that you worked with him, on the chance that this is some kind of revenge thing. Rafe and Henri are probably back there by now and I'll have them start checking similar MO's. Maybe this guy has done this before and there's some kind of record on it. We've got to check every angle on this one."

"Yeah, but while we're doing that, what will this guy be doing?" Blair asked. "The longer we delay, the longer this guy has Jim."

"I know that, Sandburg. But if we want to get Jim back, then we've got to be thorough. It could be our only chance of finding him."

Blair let out a sigh as his shoulders sagged. "I just have a bad feeling about this, Simon. A very bad feeling."

Not knowing what to say, especially since he had the same feeling, Simon stood and watched as the VCR was dusted. He could only hope that once they were able to view the tape it would somehow lead them to their missing friend.

After the VCR had been dusted, the technician ejected the tape and dusted it as well. Having found some prints, he carefully lifted them all. When he was done, he looked toward Simon, who gave him a nod. While Blair stood by and watched, the man pulled out a plastic bag and started to put the tape in it. Meanwhile, the captain turned to Serena and said, "Sandburg and I will be heading to the station now."

Looking around the loft, gauging how much longer they would need to finish gathering evidence, Serena said, "We're going to be here a little bit longer but I'll lock up when we leave and make sure that the loft is secure."

"Thanks, Serena," Simon replied. "I'll assign an officer to stand guard at the door after you leave. I want to make sure that Sandburg doesn't come home to any more surprises."

In response to Simon's words, Serena turned to look at Blair. "Yeah. I'll also arrange for this to be cleaned up," she said as she pointed down at the floor.

Simon nodded. "I know that Blair and Jim will appreciate that. Hopefully we'll be able to find something on that damn tape. Sandburg seems to think we will."

"Before watching it, be sure to take it down to forensics and have a copy made," Serena instructed. "They might be able to pull something useful from the tape. Something that may escape your notice."

"I'll do that," Simon agreed. After giving Serena a final nod, Simon walked over to Blair. "Let's go, Sandburg."

Tape in hand, Blair gave Serena a small wave goodbye before following after Simon. Once they were outside the loft, Simon said, "I want to check in with the officers before we go and see if they've found out anything. Do you want to go wait in my car? I shouldn't be long."

"No, I want to go with you," Blair answered. "If they did find out something, I want to know about it right away."

"Fine."

Starting on the third floor, they stopped when they located the officer who was canvassing that floor. Seeing the two men approach, Officer Patterson closed his notepad and looked up at them. "Captain."

"Patterson, what have you found out?"

"Nothing much, Sir," Patterson answered as he pointedly kept his attention on Simon and ignored Blair. "Seems the people across from Ellison's place aren't home and the others said that they didn't see or hear anything."

"Oh, c'mon," Blair exclaimed. "Someone had to have seen something."

"Perhaps you'd like to interview them yourselves, Detective."

"Can the attitude, Officer," Simon ordered.

"But, Sir…"

"I don't want to hear it," the irate captain interrupted. "If you're through here then get back to Ellison and Sandburg's. After forensics finishes up, I want you to stand guard outside the apartment. I don't want anyone getting in there again. And when the people across the hall show up, you can get a statement from them."

"Yes, Sir." After giving Simon a stiff nod, the officer walked off.

Simon stared until the man had turned the corner and disappeared from view. "Let's go talk to the other two officers."

After questioning the other two officers, Simon and Blair were disappointed to find out that neither of them had anything to report either. Simon ordered them to canvas the surrounding neighborhood in the hopes that someone had seen Jim being taken from the building. Then, he and Blair left to go to the station.

***

Once they arrived at the police department, Simon sent Blair on up to Major Crimes while he went down to drop the tape off at Forensics. Having handed off the tape and instructed them to make it a top priority, Simon went up to join Blair.

Seated at Jim's desk, Blair looked up as Simon entered the bullpen. "Well?"

"I left the tape and told them to put a rush on it," the captain answered as he walked over to the desk. "As soon as they're done, someone will bring it up."

"And until then we just have to wait?"

"No, we're going to see what the others have found out." Simon walked over to Rhonda. "Where are Taggert and Conner?"

"I told them they could use your office," Rhonda answered, concern evident in her voice. "They needed a quiet place to work. I hope that was okay."

"It's fine," Simon reassured. Then, he turned towards Blair. "C'mon, Sandburg."

After Blair had joined him, Simon opened the door and ushered the younger man inside. Following behind Blair, the captain stopped just inside the office and took in the scene before him. Seated at the table in his office, Megan and Joel were engrossed in the scattered files lying on it. "What have you got?"

After exchanging a glance with Megan, Joel cleared his throat as he turned to face the two men. "So far … nothing."

Dejected, Blair walked over to a chair and sat down. "What now?"

"Joel and Conner keep looking," Simon answered. "I’m going to go see if Rafe and Brown are back yet. Then, when forensics is done with that tape, we'll watch it and see if we can pick up anything from it."

"What about me?" Blair asked. "What'll I do?"

"Help go through these files," Simon suggested. "Maybe you'll catch something that Joel and Conner might miss."

Blair reached over and pulled one of the files towards him. "Fine, but I don't think this is going to do any good. I've got a feeling that this guy isn't in any of these files."

"We talked about this before."

"I know, I know," Blair replied. "Cover all the angles." Then, he turned his attention to the file.

Leaving the others to their study of the files, Simon went in search of Brown and Rafe only to have them walk into the bullpen just as he exited his office. Seeing the dejected looks on their faces, he knew they hadn't discovered anything. "So, I take it you didn't have any luck in finding Jim."

Frustrated, Rafe took off his coat and threw it down on a desk. "I just don't understand it, Captain. It's like he just vanished into thin air."

"That's right, Sir," Henri concurred. "We went to the courthouse and spoke with Beverly Sanchez. She said that the case was delayed because the judge issued a continuance. But by the time that happened, they'd already wasted most of the day in court while the defense attorney convinced the judge to issue it. I guess that Jim headed on home after leaving the courthouse."

"Yeah, I had told him to not bother coming in after court," Simon informed the detectives. "Told him that I'd call if we needed him for anything."

Looking into the captain's office, seeing Blair and the others through the open blinds, Henri asked, "How's Hairboy holding up?"

"About how any of us would be if our partner were missing," Simon answered. "Right now, he's helping Conner and Taggert go over some of Jim's old cases."

"Do you really think that there's a connection there?" Rafe asked.

"Hell, I don't know. But I'm willing to try anything if it'll lead us to Jim."

"Um… Sir…" Rafe began.

"What is it?" Simon asked when the detective hesitated.

"On our way up here… Well, we heard some talk about a message," Rafe said.

"There was a message left at the loft," Simon confirmed. "It said, 'Let the game begin, Professor'."

"Professor?" Henri once again looked over at Blair. "You think it was meant for Hairboy."

"Yeah, I do." Fixing both men with an intense look, Simon added, "And it was written in blood."

The partners exchanged an uneasy glance before facing their captain again. It was Henri who voiced the question for them. "Was it Jim's blood?"

"Serena took a sample. As soon as she can get back here and analyze it, we'll know for sure."

"But do you think it's Jim's blood?" Henri persisted.

Simon looked towards Blair as he replied. "Yeah, I do. But more importantly, Sandburg is sure of it."

"How…"

Holding up a hand, Simon brought a halt to the question. "It doesn't matter. Right now, I need you two to do a little checking for me. See if there are any cases with a similar MO. A person abducted and a challenge left behind. Any crimes where someone was challenged to a game like this."

"We'll take a look, Captain," Henri replied. "Just let Hairboy know that he's not alone and that we'll do whatever it takes to get Jim back."

"I will, Brown." While Simon watched the two detectives went over to their desks and turned on their computers. Within minutes, they were immersed in their search.

Sending up a silent prayer for Jim, Simon stared back towards his office. Just as he grabbed the doorknob, a harried looking man entered the bullpen and rushed over to him.

"Sir," the slightly out of breath man said, "I've got that tape for you."

"That was fast." Simon accepted the tape and clenched his hand around it.

"The tape wasn't very long," the technician explained. "We're getting ready to examine the original and see if we can pull anything off of it."

"You haven't watched it yet?"

"No yet, Sir," the man replied. "We wanted to get a copy to you as soon as possible. As soon as I get back down to forensics, we'll take a look at it. Hopefully, there'll be something on it that will give you a lead on Detective Ellison's whereabouts."

"Let me know if you find anything."

"Yes, Sir." Then the technician left the bullpen.

Taking a deep breath, trying to decide if he should view it in private before showing it to Blair, Simon studied the tape he held. Coming to a decision, hoping it was the right one, Simon opened the door and walked into his office.

Looking up as the door opened, Blair dropped the file he had been holding when he saw the tape in Simon's hand. "Is that it?"

"Yes, it is."

"Put it on," Blair ordered.

"Sandburg, maybe you should let me take a look at it first in private. We don't know…"

"Just put on the damn tape," Blair interrupted, his emotion-filled voice sounding hoarse. "Please!"

Wordlessly, Simon walked to the back of his office and turned on the television. Then, after one final look Blair's way, he put on the tape.

At the front of the room, Blair sat and watched Simon's every movement. Taking a deep breath, dread filling him, he clenched his hands into fists. Not even noticing when his fingernails penetrated the flesh of his palms, he didn't feel the blood trailing down his hands as the snow cleared and a picture formed on the screen.

When an image finally appear, it was of a man in a mask. Attentively, Blair leaned forward as the figure began to speak. "Well, well, Professor, I see you found my first clue. Very impressive. I can already tell that you are going to be a worthy and challenging opponent. Now, since I'm sure that you've seen my little note, I'm sure you know what this is about. Simply put, I want to play a game with you, Professor."

"Son of a bitch," Blair muttered when a lull came in the speech.

Then, as the image on the screen changed, a voice-over sounded as moments from Blair's press conference were played. "Up until I saw this, I was undecided about which of you to take. Judging by your history together, I knew that Detective Ellison would play along if your kidnapping were used as incentive. After all, he's played before when you were the prize, hasn't he?" Then the image shifted again and a picture of David Lash appeared. "Even though he wasn't aware of it, Lash issued a challenge when he took you. A challenge that Detective Ellison not only accepted but won as well. Though when you're dealing with a damaged intellect such as Lash one can't really view it as much of a victory."

When the masked figure once again appeared on the screen, Blair felt an incredible sense of rage fill him. For an instant, his surroundings seemed to fade away and he could swear he heard the distant sound of a wolf howling mixed with the pained cries of a large cat. Shaking his head, becoming aware of the room around him again, Blair tuned into the tape as the voice started up again.

"But then, after I saw your little sacrifice, I knew which one of you I wanted to go up against. You see, I know, Professor. I know. And that, well that just makes this all the more interesting. I've made my opening move, Professor. Now, it's your turn." The figure on the screen started to turn away but then paused and glanced back at the camera. "Oh, I suppose you want something to call me. It's only natural to want to know your opponent's identity. Regretfully, I can't tell you my true name. That would only hasten the end of our little game. So, for now, you can call me … Moriarty." The man gave a smile and tipped an invisible hat. "I know this is rather cliched but … the game is afoot, Professor."

Then the man, Moriarty, walked out of the camera's range. The tape continued but only the room in which it was shot was visible. As he kept watching the screen, hoping that he might catch a brief glimpse of Jim, Blair leaned forward in his seat as something tugged at the back of his mind. Suddenly, he stood up and raced over to the television. Pushing past a stunned Simon, Blair reached out and hit the pause button before pointing at the screen. "I know where this was shot!"

Attention drawn to the blood that was dripping from the cupped palm, Simon turned to Joel. "Got get a first aid kit. Rhonda has one in her desk."

Confused, Blair watched as Joel left the room. When the door shut, he glanced over at Megan. Further puzzled by the sympathetic and concerned look she gave him, he turned to face Simon. "Didn't you hear me? I said that I know where this tape was filmed. We have to go. Maybe Jim is there. We could… We need to… I have to…"

Simon laid his hand on Blair's shoulder and brought a halt to the stammered words. "First, we need to get your hands taken care of. Then we'll talk about the tape."

"My hands? What are you…" Trailing off as he looked down at his hands, Blair winced when he saw the damage he had unknowingly inflicted on himself. "I didn't even…" Suddenly feeling shaky, Blair swayed. Before he could fall, Simon pulled out a seat and gently pushed him down into it.

Kneeling down next to the chair, Simon picked up one of Blair's hands and examined the bleeding palm. "You did quite a number here, Sandburg."

"It doesn't matter." Blair attempted to pull his hand away, but Simon easily maintained the hold on his wrist. "Look, Simon, that tape … I recognized the surroundings. It was made in my old warehouse. You remember it, the one that blew up. We have to get there."

"We will," Simon promised. "I'll go on and send Rafe and Brown to check it out while…"

"No!" Blair yelled. "I have to go there. It has to be me. I'm the one he wants to play this perverted game with so I'm the one that has to follow the clues. If he's watching and someone else shows up… Simon, he could feel that I've violated the rules or something. There's no telling what he'd do to Jim if I do something that he perceives to be cheating."

"Okay, okay." Simon looked up as the door to his office opened. Seeing Joel enter the room, he said, "Let's get your hands cleaned up and then we'll go. But I don't want you doing anything stupid once we get there. You'll do exactly what I tell you to do or so help me, I'll have you cuffed and sitting in the back of a squad car before you know what's happening. Are we clear?"

"Yeah. Just hurry it up so we can get out of here."

After nodding his thanks to Joel when the other man placed the first aid down on the table, Simon quickly opened it and began to take out gauze and antiseptic.

Eyes drawn back to the now darkened television screen, Blair let out a small hiss when Simon began to treat his hands.

***

This time when he awoke, Jim didn't attempt to open his eyes. Instead, he merely remained on the floor and bit back a groan as he suffered through the involuntary twitches and shudders that coursed through his body. Feeling the effects of the stun gun, effects that were amplified by his enhanced sense of touch, Jim's nerve endings felt as if they were on fire. Still trying to contain the moans that threatened to escape, he bit down on his lower lip. When the resulting blood dribbled into his mouth, his other senses spiraled out of control and he started to zone on the metallic taste.

Not fighting the alluring pull of the zone, Jim didn't struggle as he began to slip into the void. Soon, nothing of the outside world existed to him as he floated in the sensory haze. The taste of the blood expanded, pushing everything else aside until it was the only thing that existed to the sentinel. The cramping of his muscles, the coldness seeping into his body, the blood clotting on his torn wrists, the breath in his lungs growing shallow, his heartbeat becoming increasingly erratic, none of these things registered to him.

Just as he was almost completely lost, a new sensation began to register. At first, it was barely noticeable, easily ignored. But soon, it became more persistent and eventually grew in strength and frequency until it dragged him out of the painless existence. Desperately, he tried to cling to the rapidly evaporating remnants of the zone. As much as he struggled against it, he was brought out of the void and immersed in the world again. The taste of the blood faded away as his other senses were bombarded once more.

First, there was the coarseness of the ropes encircling his torn wrists. Then, his body jerked and quivered as his nerve endings registered again. Gasping he struggled against the ropes, this time uncaring of the moans that finally escaped. Wrestling with the dials, trying to bring the pain under control, his jaw clenched sporadically. Unable to get a fix on the dials, he gave up and simply rode out the ordeal.

Then, as the tremors passed and his body began to recover from the shock, the new sensation once again registered. A slight reoccurring pressure that seemed to be located in the vicinity of his abdomen. Forcing his eyes to open, staring at the ceiling, he winced as the weight of his body put pressure on his bond wrists. Taking a deep breath, he strained until he lifted his head up.

"Please don't strain anything on my account, Detective," his captor said. "Though is it nice to see you awake and aware again. I never imagined a stun gun would have such an extreme affect on you. Those senses must be as must of a curse as they are a blessing. Tell me, does having the Professor around really help you in dealing with them?"

Voice hoarse, Jim asked, "What are you doing?" Then, he winced as the pressure increased.

Pulling the knife away from Jim's stomach, the man moved until he was peering down at the captive detective. "Now, now, that's not how we play the game. There are rules to be followed. And, of course, penalties to pay when those rules are not adhered to." When there was no response, the man reached down and patted Jim's cheek. Smiling at the resulting glare, he leaned even closer. "Perhaps one of the most important rules, for you anyway, is that you will answer any question I ask of you."

"And if I don't?"

"Well, then, you must pay the penalty," the man replied. "So I ask again, does having the Professor around really help you in dealing with your senses?"

"Go to hell. I'm not telling you anything."

"Very well, then, you merit a penalty."

Unable to prevent it, Jim screamed as a sudden pain shot up and down his leg. Thrashing around on the floor, he unknowingly knocked his captor backwards. Finally coming to a rest, now laying on his side, Jim started to draw up his legs but stopped when the movement created a new round of agony. Panting, he looked down and saw the handle of the knife that was now embedded in his leg. Just as the sight registered on his pain-clouded mind, a hand reached over and viciously yanked out the knife. Panting, Jim just stared as the man said, "That wasn't very smart, Detective. But at least now maybe you've learned to follow the rules."

"Now then, answer the question."

Still defiant, despite the agonizing wound to his leg, Jim merely glared at the other man. After bracing himself against the pain, determined not to break no matter what other torments might be inflicted, Jim clenched his jaw as his captor once again approached.

"Detective, there’s no need to make this so unpleasant." Fingering the knife, the man walked over and knelt down next to Jim. "Why are you are being so difficult? All I want is a little bit of information. That’s not too much to ask, now is it?"

"Listen up, you sick, sadistic piece of…" Jim let out a scream when the man reached out and squeezed his injured leg. Nearly blacking out, he panted harshly when the pressure finally lessened.

"Really, you are putting yourself through all of this for nothing. What does it hurt to answer a few questions?" Expectantly, the man stared at Jim and waited to see how the detective would respond this time. But before the anticipated rely could come, a soft ringing noise sounded. Letting out a frustrated sigh, the captor stood up. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone. "Yes, what is it?" As he listened to the caller for several seconds, his expression turned to one of annoyance. "Really? I wasn’t expecting him to find it so soon. Well, this certainly puts a crimp in my game plan. I’ll just have to adjust my strategy accordingly. See that you delay them for a few minutes." Glancing down at Jim, he stepped on the wounded leg and pressed down. Briefly, he smiled at the resulting moans but then a look of annoyance appeared on his face. "I don’t care how you do it, just do it!" Angrily, he snapped the phone closed and then knelt down again. "Looks like the Professor is even more astute an opponent then I originally thought. Just makes the game all the more challenging."

Having managed to bring the pain somewhat under control, Jim was able to hear the phone conversation. After the call had ended, he gave a derisive sounding chuckle. When his captor glared at him, he smirked. "You really are one stupid bastard, aren't you? Did you really think you were an equal for Sandburg? God, he's going to get a laugh out of that when I tell him."

"Just what makes you think that you're going to live long enough to tell him anything?"

"Because, unlike you, I know Sandburg."

Angered, the man leaned over, grabbed two fistfuls of Jim's shirt and hauled the injured man toward him. "I know the Professor. I've been watching…"

"Yeah, watching," Jim interrupted. "You really think that just watching will let you know the kind of person Sandburg is. Hell, I've been living with the guy for years now and I'm just now beginning to see who he really is. All this time, I had no idea … Sandburg will beat you at this perverted little game."

"You're sure of that, are you?"

Locking gazes with the other man; Jim's voice was strong with conviction when he replied, "Yeah, I'm sure of that. Just like I'm sure that you're going to regret ever messing with us. And you definitely picked the wrong one to challenge. Hell, I'd have let you off easy. I'd have just killed you after I found you. But Sandburg… Well, Sandburg will make you suffer first. You really did screw up there, Genius."

Unnerved by Jim's words, as well as by the unexpected acceleration of his plans, the captor was silent for a few seconds. Then, recovering from the brief moment of uncertainty, he stood. "I've got some things to do. After all, I must prepare for the Professor's arrival. I advise you to not attempt to escape. You wouldn't want to be dealt another penalty."

Lying still, Jim watched as the man turned away. "I swear, if anything happens to him I'll…"

"Spare me the trite attempts at intimidation, Detective. It demeans both of us." With those words, he walked away. Pausing by the doorway of the small room he was holding Jim in, he turned and said, "By the way, we never were properly introduced. I apologize for that since I was at fault. I know you want something to call me. Some form of address for when you issue those unimaginative threats and mediocre warnings. As I told the Professor, you may call me Moriarty."

"I don't give a rat's as…" Stopping when the meaning of those words registered, Jim stared at Moriarty. "What are you talking about? When did you speak to Sandburg?"

Instead of answering, Moriarty gave a small contemptuous smile and then left the room. After watching the door shut behind his captor, Jim grimaced as he started to twist his bound hands. Feeling the ropes loosen slightly as the wounds on his wrists re-opened and the resulting blood made his skin slick, Jim increased his efforts to get free. Starting to feel the effects of blood loss from the wound on his leg, he struggled to remain awake. But just as he managed to free himself, shock finally overcame him and he passed out.

***

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