No Surrender
A prequel to saraid's "Panther Tales" series

by Firefly


Note: This is only a taste of the novella it took me nearly four years to write. Barbara, Dayspring, DCPriestess, Susan -- thank you. You kept me going and in places hoisted me over the rocks when I needed. It is to you that I dedicate my New Year's offering this year.

To the rest of you out there, I finished this story in November after nearly four exhausting years. It is set to be published by Skeeter Press Slash in February/March 2003 in time for Senticon. While the story is ultimately slash, the part I am sharing with you all is not. For the strictly genners, I think, I hope I've left it at a good stopping point for you. The rest of you, I hope I'll wet your appetite enough to want to order the zine when it's available. ;-)


Sanctuary

Cursing under his breath, Simon shuffled toward the door, tying the sash on his robe. The bell rang twice more in rapid succession, and he growled. The clock on the living room wall only confirmed what he already knew. It was two oíclock in the fucking morning. Simon yanked open the door. "This had better--" Sputtering to a stop, he stared at the apparitions before him. Seconds passed.
"My. God. Jim?"

"Simon." The voice was barely above a whisper and cracked like old parchment.

Simon continued to stare in mute shock. The bald, wild-eyed wraith of a man standing on his doorstep bore little resemblance to the Jim Ellison he had last seen ten months ago. Nearly a year since his best detective had vanished without a trace. It felt like a lifetime. Steven Ellison lay unconscious in his brotherís arms. Simon took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart. His eyes flicked to the pitiful figure plastered to Jimís side, face buried in the back of Ellisonís shoulder, claw-like hands wrapped tightly in the grimy hospital scrubs the bigger man wore. Even bald and rail thin, Simon knew it was Blair Sandburg.

"My God, Jim, where have you been?" He was only half aware he'd spoken out loud.

"Please?"

The barely whispered plea broke Simon out of his stupor, and he surged forward to assist them into the house. Not wanting to jostle the injured man in Jimís arms, he moved to take charge of Sandburg. Blair cringed away from his touch and fastened himself all the more tightly to Jim. Simon glanced up at Jim. Ellison managed a tiny shake of his head. Not knowing what else to do, Simon stepped back through the door and held it as wide as it would go.

Jim stumbled over the threshold with his burdens. Thinking quickly, Simon shut and locked the door, gently took hold of Ellisonís elbow, and steered them to the spare bedroom. "Hold on, Iím going to turn on the lamp." Leaving them just inside the room, Simon rushed to the bedside table and flicked on the lamp. Blair and Jim flinched, but he suspected it was more from the noise of the switch than the light itself.

"Go ahead and lay Steven on the bed, Jim." Banks watched as Jim moved to lay his brother down, hampered by Sandburgís tenacious hold. "Sandburg, why donít you let go of your partner now?"

Trembling, the smaller man pressed himself even closer to Jim's back.

"No," Jim said quickly, "heís all right, Simon."

Simon subsided. He was amazed at how willingly Jim seemed to accept the clinging anthropologist. A million questions danced in Simonís head, but now was not the time. He turned his attention to the supine form on the bed, and gasped. Stevenís face, arms, and hands were covered with burns, blistered and oozing. "Jim, he needs a hospital!"

Wild, ice-blue eyes met his. "No! No, hospital!"

"But, Jim--"

"No hospitals," Jim said adamantly. By now, the silent figure behind him was trembling uncontrollably. Ellison reached back and gently pulled the younger man under his arm, tucking him closer to his side.

Simon stared at the obviously frightened men, just beginning to imagine what they might have endured in the past ten months. Ellison had various cuts and abrasions on his face and bare arms, and was definitely under-nourished, but Sandburg was barely more than a skeleton. His hands were like bony claws where they clutched Jimís scrub shirt. His shaved head bore evidence of recent surgical scars, as well as less identifiable scars. On what Simon could see of the bare arms, more scars and burns were evident. My God, what happened to you? "Jim, Steven needs a doctor. You all do."

Jim stood rigid for several seconds, then he seemed to deflate, unconsciously cupping Blairís skull, obviously trying to soothe the terrified man. "I know, Simon," he whispered hoarsely. "But no hospitals."

"All right, Jim. No hospital," Simon agreed reluctantly. He was surprised when Jim spoke again.

"They might be looking for us. They might already know where we are."

"Whoís they, Jim?" Simon asked gently, sensing he was treading a fine line between shock and rationality.

Jim shrugged, pulling the smaller man closer to him, if that was possible. He kissed the top of Blairís head, closing his eyes. "Scientists."

"Shit. So you're saying someone found out about your abilities and decided to use you as a guinea pig?"

"Worse."

Simon stared at the gaunt caricatures of men before him. He wanted to deny such a thing was possible, but he had the proof in front of him. God, he hated this. Sighing heavily, he rubbed a hand over his face as he considered the problem. Okay, no hospital, which also meant no clinic or doctorís office. That meant it would have to be someone who was willing to come here, who they could trust to keep their presence, their very existence, secret. "Would you let me call Dan Wolf? Iím sure heíd be willing to help."

Jim was silent for a long time, idly rubbing his partnerís stubbled head. Reluctantly, he nodded. "All right." The gaze he turned to Simon made the captainís throat tighten. God, Jim. What did it take to put that terror in your eyes, my friend? Do I want to know? Can you tell me? What is that lurking behind the terror I see?


For the second time that night, Simon found himself opening his front door. This time, however, his visitor was expected.

"Dan, thanks for coming so quickly."

The medical examiner nodded slightly. "So whatís the big emergency that had you dragging me over here in the middle of the night, without explanation?"

"Iíll show you. Come in. You didnít notice anyone following you, did you?" Simon ushered Wolf inside, glanced up and down the dark street, then shut the door.

Dan was looking at him with an arched eyebrow. "No, I didnít notice anyone. Whatís going on, Simon? Why are you acting so spooked?"

"Later. Right now I need to show you why youíre here," the captain said, leading Dan down the hall to the guest room. Before he opened the door, he added quietly, "Prepare yourself, Dan."

With that little bit of warning, Simon opened the door and led the way inside. He shivered slightly when icy blue eyes tracked his entrance with unnerving intensity. While they waited for the doctorís arrival, Jim and Blair had moved to the other side of the double bed. Now, Jim lay with the silent and trembling young man curled into his chest, an arm looped protectively around Blairís back.

Simon tore his eyes away from those blue lasers.

"I can see why you warned me," Wolf said, in the quiet, deliberate way he had.

Jim's intense gaze fastened on the medical examiner.

"Hello, Jim. Blair." Dan moved closer to the bed and knelt beside Stevenís unconscious form. Setting down the medical bag heíd brought with him, he opened it. "What do I need to know?" he asked, pulling on a pair of vinyl gloves.

Simon didnít miss the flinch from the other two men, and judging by Danís pause, Wolf hadnít either. What horrors were you subjected to that have both of you flinching from the most common things? Banks stood back, listening and watching. After three glasses of water, Jim's voice was still hoarse, but no longer cracked.

"He was trapped in the fire. He can't feel his legs anymore."

Dan nodded, beginning to examine the younger Ellison.

"What fire, Jim?" Simon asked quietly.

"The one we escaped from."

Simon rolled his eyes at Jim's glib response, then realized he wasn't trying to be funny. Before he could think of how to rephrase the question, Dan interrupted.

"Did you go to a hospital before coming here?"

A moment's silence passed. Finally, "Yeah."

"And they discharged you?"

"No. We left."

"You left?" Simon barked, immediately regretting his tone when Blair began to tremble again. Ellison shot him a glare that could have stripped paint, as Blair attempted to burrow into his partner. Just as quickly as it had flared, the rage died, overridden by the fear. Simon was left staring.

"We couldn't stay. I--We couldn't risk it."

"So you just walked out of the hospital? In your condition?"

"More or less."

"How did you get here?"

"Took a car."

"You stole a car?" Simon sputtered.

Jim met his gaze unflinchingly. "Desperate measures, sir."

"Where were you?"

Another shrug. "I just headed west, and eventually found my way back to Cascade."

"How long?"

"What?"

"How long did it take you to get here?"

"I'm not sure. Two, three days. I don't know."

Simon sighed, wondering what to do next.

"We shouldn't have come here."

The resigned, quavering voice brought Banks back from his thoughts. He wasn't sure if Jim meant "here" as in Cascade, or "here" as in his home. "Jim, we're friends. I would hope that you'd come to me for help."

"But we've put you in danger by coming here, Simon." Jim paused, absently caressing Blair's scalp, before continuing tiredly, "We didn't know where else to go, or who to turn to."

"Why would I be in danger?"

Blue eyes fastened on him again. "They might figure we'd come back here. Like a lemming, I came back to the one place they're sure to look." The blue eyes squeezed shut in anguish.

"You're not talking about the scientists, now, are you?"

Silence.

"Jim, do you know who was behind this?"

Jim opened his eyes again, but remained stubbornly silent. Banks, however, saw the answer he feared in their depths. Jim knew all right. His eyes could no longer hide the horror and betrayal he felt, along with something else. Simon now had a name for the unidentified something he'd seen there earlier. Rage.

"Don't worry about that now, Jim. I'm glad you came. We need to concentrate on getting you well."

Jim grimaced, looking down at the man curled against his chest. "I don't know if that's possible anymore, Simon."

A chill raced down the captain's spine. He got the feeling Jim wasn't talking merely about their physical condition. "Jim, don't give up now. Not after you've come this far."

The other man looked up, a tiny smile touching his lips. "No surrender, huh?"

Simon nodded. "That's right. No surrender. You've reached sanctuary, so the only thing you need to surrender is your fear."

Jim gazed at him for a long moment. "Do you mean that, Simon? Now that we've come here, we've put you in danger, too. If they find us, find you...."

"Jim, let me worry about that. You're my friends. I have no idea what was done to you, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out it was something horrible. If I can provide the sanctuary and sense of security you need while you heal, then let me. We'll worry about the rest later."

Ellison continued to look at him. Simon thought he saw just a little of the fear fade from Jim's eyes.

"Thank you."

Simon smiled. "You're welcome. Now, the first thing I can do for that security, is to take care of that car. Where'd you leave it?"

"A couple of blocks down the street."

"Keys in it?"

A nod.

"Okay, I'm going to go make some phone calls. I'll be back in a few minutes." Simon turned toward the door, then stopped and looked back at his friend and former detective. "And Jim, it'd probably be best not to listen."

Jim quirked an eyebrow, but nodded in understanding.


"Well," Dan said sometime later, placing the last bandage over a wound, "none of the burns are too serious. Most are minor second-degree, and with proper care should heal without scarring within a couple of weeks. The deeper second-degree burns will require a bit more care, and probably some further attention after theyíve healed. The paralysis is what really worries me. Without x-rays or a CAT scan, I canít tell how extensive the injury is."

"The spinal cord is severed."

"How do you know that?" Dan asked.

"At the, uh, hospital, I heard the doctor tell him two vertebrae were crushed in his lower back."

"In that case, I definitely want x-rays. Heíll need surgery to remove the bone fragments to prevent further injury."

There was a long moment of expectant silence.

"How soon?"

"How soon what, Jim?"

"How soon will he need surgery?"

"Obviously the sooner the better. The more heís moved, the greater the risk of one of those bone fragments migrating into the liver or some other organ."

More silence. Simon watched his once stalwart detective battle his inner fears.

"Can you do the surgery?"

It was Danís turn to be silent. "I could, though itís been a long time since I've worked on a live one. But, I donít have the facilities, Jim. Besides the equipment necessary, I donít have an anesthesiologist."

"Jim." A new voice filled the room. Three pairs of eyes turned to the now conscious younger Ellison.

"Steven?"

"It's okay, bro. If I need surgery, I'll go."

"But...."

Steven met his brother's concerned gaze. "I can do this. I'm not as recognizable as you or Blair. We can pick a private hospital, and give me an alias. It'll be all right."

"Even so, someone could still recognize you."

"So we dye my hair and eyebrows black. I've lost weight. No one will know who I am. It'll work, bro. It has to."

Jim's jaw muscle bounced and twitched. Only after he noticed it, did Simon realize that action was the first familiar response he'd seen Jim make.

"While you think it over, why don't you let me check you out, Jim?" Dan interjected quietly, already moving around to the other side of the bed.

Jim sat up, Blair coming with him, and reluctantly allowed Dan to look him over. The doctor worked around Blair, carefully avoiding touching him, and Simon realized that the Native American seemed to understand the unspoken command "do not touch" better than he did. Why, Sandburg? Why are you clinging so desperately to Jim? Why haven't you spoken?

"Jim, what happened?" Simon asked quietly.

Jim met his gaze. Simon nearly gasped at the sadness he saw in the blue depths. But it wasn't Jim who answered.

"They were tortured, Captain Banks."

Simon turned his attention to Steven expectantly. He wasn't surprised to see Jim's expression turn icy and the jaw muscle protrude.

"And you weren't?" Jim inquired gruffly.

"Not like you." Steven's voice roughened with emotion. "My worst torture was having to listen to you and Blair scream."

Simon didn't like the horrors his mind conjured at that confession.

The younger Ellison turned to Banks again. "You know how experiments have a control sample?"

Simon nodded.

"I was the control. They did a few tests on me, but for the most part they left me alone." Now Steven dropped his gaze to the blankets, plucking nervously at the fuzz. "I just went hungry."

Simon felt queasy. He looked at Jim. Ellison's face was stony, his attention wholly on Dan's ministrations.

"Jim?" He put all the feeling and concern he could muster into that single word.

Slowly, the former detective raised his head, meeting Simon's gaze once more. The lurking rage was stronger, and Simon suppressed a shiver.

"They did things to Blair.Ö" Jim trailed off, turning away, unable to finish.

Simon closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, Jim was back to watching the M.E.

"And what about you, Jim?" he asked softly.

Silence greeted him. He waited a few more minutes, but wasn't surprised when Jim refused to answer. Sighing, he let the issue drop for the time being, not sure he even wanted to know.

Dan finished dressing the last cut on Jim's arm. Without straightening from his crouch, he looked at Blair. Nothing was said for a long moment while he studied the young man.

"Blair?" Wolf said gently.

The silent man shivered.

"Will you let me check you over?"

More shivering.

"Those burns on your arms and face really need to be attended to. May I?"

There was no acknowledgment of any kind from Blair. Finally, Dan looked up at Jim questioningly. Jim nodded faintly, acquiescing.

"Chief," he began softly, "why don't you let Dan take a look at you? Please?"

The hand clutched in the front of Jim's scrub shirt tightened, but relaxed slightly after a moment. Jim nodded to the doctor.

"Thank you, Blair. I'll be as gentle as I can," Dan soothed, slowly extending his hands. "I'm going to touch you now, don't be afraid."

The moment Dan's hand brushed against the young man's arm, Blair's head came back, his mouth open in a silent scream. Jim gasped, swaying drunkenly, as Blair scuttled behind Ellison's back.

Simon just stood staring, his gaze flicking from one man to the next and back again. Wolf calmly settled back on his heels and waited while Jim gently coaxed his partner into relaxing his death grip.

Simon finally managed to find his voice. "What was that all about?"

His eyes not wavering from Jim and Blair, Dan answered, "I believe my touch hurt him."

"What?"

Wolf nodded. "You've noticed how Blair shies away from anyone touching him."

"Yeah, but I thought that was because he was afraid of being hurt."

"He is afraid of being hurt. Terrified actually, but not just in the way you think," Dan said. "Jim, when I touched him just now, you felt something, what was it?

Jim spared a glance, still speaking soothingly to his partner. "Pain. No, not pain really." Ellison's brow creased. "It was like, like I got this flash--this impression of pain, but it wasn't really physical."

Simon watched Dan nod, seeming to eye them speculatively. He wondered what was going through the Native American's head. He hoped it wasn't anything to do with anything esoteric, like visions or ESP or something weird like that. Simon was a practical man, grounded firmly in the logical. The sentinel stuff, and by extension, Sandburg's obscure anthropological knowledge, was as close to the mystical as he'd ever allowed himself to get. However, he had the sinking suspicion all that would soon change.

"You want to give me a clue here, Dan?"

Wolf glanced at Simon, but studied Blair thoughtfully as the younger man was coaxed out from behind Ellison and crawled into Jim's lap.

"I think I have an idea what's going on with him, but I want to observe him and do a little research before I say anything definite."

Simon sighed wearily. "Can't you at least give us a hint?"

The M.E. shook his head. "Simon, I'd really rather wait until I know more."

Reluctantly, Simon nodded, watching as Dan returned his full attention to the silent man now curled in Jim's lap.

"Blair, I promise, I won't touch you if I don't have to, but you do need to be examined." The young man shivered, but didn't move from his spot. "I'm sure Jim can check you over as well as I can. Would that be all right with you?"

For answer, Blair pulled at Jim's shirt. The interpretation was clear, and the others smiled.

Blair didn't offer any resistance, but neither did he help as Jim examined him, staying in as much contact with the bigger man as he could. With painstaking care, guided by occasional instructions from Dan, Jim tended his partner's various wounds. In the course of his poking and prodding, Jim discovered Blair had two cracked ribs and a sprained wrist. Because of bloody abrasions on both wrists and ankles, the sprained appendage could only be lightly wrapped.

Simon shook his head as wound after wound was revealed on Sandburg's rail-thin body. Most were half healed, and beneath the healing injuries, he could see the scars of many others, silent testament to the ordeal this young man must have endured.

"Chief, I need to look at your face now."

Banks snapped his attention back to them. Only as Jim asked, did Simon realize he hadn't had a clear view of Blair's face since they'd gotten there. Sandburg had been keeping it firmly pressed in his partner's shoulder. Now, very slowly, Blair turned his head. Jim crooned to his partner while he gently ministered to the bruises and burns, dropping a kiss on the top of Blair's head while he did so. Simon's attention was drawn to red, radiating burns around Sandburg's eyes, and he realized that not once had he seen a hint of blue. His concern grew.

"Blair, can you open your eyes? You've got some nasty burns there, and I want to check your pupils," Dan said quietly.

Very slowly, Blair's lids peeled back to reveal deep blue orbs almost obscured by bloodshot whites. Blair blinked rapidly, and even from where he was standing Simon could see his eyes begin to water profusely. Eventually, the reflexive blinking subsided as the irritation eased, but Sandburg made no attempt to look around.

Frowning slightly, the M.E. moved in to get a closer look, but stopped when Blair cringed. Jim's free arm joined the other already embracing his partner.

"Blair, I'm going to shine a light into your eyes. I'm not going to touch you, okay?" After several moments, when Blair hadn't moved, Dan leaned in again. Blair tensed, but didn't so much as twitch.

Dan flicked his pen light in front of one eye, then the other. His expression was neutral when he finally sat back on his heels. He studied Blair, not saying a word for a moment. "You can't see, can you, Blair?"

"What?" Simon exclaimed.

Dan cast a glance at Simon, as Blair's eyes slid shut. "Blair is blind."

Jim closed his eyes and swallowed, his arms tightening around Blair.

"Oh, God," Steven whispered.

"It looks like flash burns. Whatever it was, he must have been right in front of it when it happened."

Steven cast a regretful glance at Blair. "He was pulling me out of the fire, when a barrel exploded right next to us. He and I were both thrown clear."

"Is it permanent?" Jim asked before anyone else could speak.

Wolf nodded hesitantly. "The retinas are pretty badly burned. The pupils are unresponsive, which means the receptors aren't registering any light."

Simon looked at Blair sadly, only then noticing the silent tear tracks on the young man's cheeks. He swallowed back a sudden lump in his throat.

Jim reached up and gently brushed the tears away, bending low to whisper in Blair's ear. Whatever he said must have had the desired effect, because the young man turned and wrapped an arm around Jim's neck, once again burying his face. Jim straightened and dropped another tender kiss on Blair's shaven head.

Simon was finding Jim's tenderness and unconscious displays disconcerting. The two men had been as close as brothers for a long time, neither afraid to touch the other, but what Simon was witnessing tonight somehow felt--different. Shaking his head, he told himself it was simply due to the ordeal they had been through. Mentally shrugging, Simon turned his attention to Dan as the M.E. began to speak again.

"Are any of you allergic to Ampicillin?" When answers were negative, Dan continued. "I want to get his eyes rinsed and bandaged, then I'm going to give all of you a big shot of Ampicillin to get a jump on any infection. After that I'll get you on an oral antibiotic. As depressed as your systems are, I'm surprised none of you have developed a fever."

The Ellison brothers nodded in acknowledgment.

Wolf once more turned his attention to the silent figure curled in Jim's arms. "Blair, you know we need to take care of your eyes, before they can become infected. Will you let me do it? If we get you in the right position, I shouldn't have to touch you at all." While Dan waited for an answer, he looked up at Simon. "I'm going to need a couple of towels and a large bowl."

Simon left to retrieve the requested items.

After several moments, Blair eased his head away from Jim's chest and nodded almost infinitesimally.

"Okay. I think the best way to do this is if you lie on your side with your head over the edge of the bed. It'll be easier to flush your eyes out that way."

Simon returned as Dan finished outlining his intentions. He moved around to the other side of the bed, spreading one of the towels on the floor and setting the bowel down in the center of it. Silently, Simon stepped back and watched while Blair allowed himself to be maneuvered into the desired position.

For a moment, everything seemed fine. Blair lay quietly, if stiffly while Dan fished saline and bandages out of his bag, but when Jim began to pull away, Blair grasped frantically for the bigger man.

"Easy, Chief. Easy. I'm not leaving. I'm just getting out of Dan's way."

Blair shook his head violently, wrapping his bony hands tightly in Jim's shirt. Jim covered the grasping hands with his own. "Shh. It's okay, Chief. Shh. I'm right here," he soothed.

By now, Blair was trembling uncontrollably, nearly hyperventilating, although he made no noise. Showing no hesitation, Jim slid down behind Blair, quite literally wrapping himself around his partner, pulling the younger man in close to his chest. Throughout it all, Jim kept up a soft litany of reassurances.

Several minutes passed before Blair began to calm, more than twenty before his quaking quieted. Eventually, Jim coaxed him to move his head back over the side of the bed.

Dan worked quickly and efficiently, while Jim held and soothed Blair, occasionally nuzzling the younger man's neck. After flushing Blair's eyes with saline solution, he bandaged them, deftly avoiding skin-to-skin contact with the silent man. That accomplished, Dan gave them both a shot of Ampicillin. "There you go, all finished for now." Wolf gave Jim a nod, then began cleaning up.

By the time Dan finished, Ellison had succumbed to exhaustion. Blair had surrendered to sleep as well, albeit restless.

The captain and M.E. exchanged relieved looks.

Steven gave them a small, pain-filled smile. "I don't think he's slept since we escaped."

Simon wasn't surprised by this news. "Knowing Jim, the only reason he's sleeping now is because he feels relatively safe."

"Safe? It's a wonder any of us still knows what that feels like."

Simon studied his unexpected guests. "I'll do whatever I can to make sure you stay safe."

"I know you will, Captain. Jim obviously does too; otherwise, we'd probably still be driving."

"The important thing now is getting all of you well. And that includes getting you to a medical facility that can take care of your injuries. Have any preferences?"

"Yeah. Saint Elizabeth's. I'm on the board of directors there. I should be able to keep my admittance a secret."

"Wrong. Steven Ellison is on the board, or rather, was. Steven Ellison died in an explosion. Steven 'Ellers' is a wealthy businessman who insists on privacy."

Steven gazed at Simon for a long moment. A slow smile spread across his face. "Steven Ellers, huh? I like it."

"Good, because I think you're going to be living with it for a long time."

The smile faded. Steven nodded in agreement.

"Of course, the question now becomes, how do we get you there and how are we going to pay for it?"

"I don't know about the first, but the second I can cover. I have a Swiss bank account."

Banks stared at Jim's brother suspiciously. "And why do you have a Swiss bank account?"

"Lighten up, Captain. I'm a businessman. I do a lot of traveling. When I'm in another country it's easier to get to my money in Switzerland, than it is here."

Thinking about the multi-national business deals Steven used to be involved in, Simon could see the man's point. "All right, hopefully, whoever 'they' are don't know about this account. As for getting you to the hospital, I think we can use my car. Dan will go with you, while I stay here. How about it, Dan?"

While Simon and Steven talked, the doctor had prepared and administered another shot for the younger Ellison. Straightening, the M.E. said, "That should work. But before we do that, I should run to the pharmacy and get a few things."

Simon nodded. "Go. We'll be waiting."

Dan picked up his medical bag and turned to leave.

"Dan." Wolf looked back at the captain. "Be careful. Until we know more about what happened, or who might be after them, we need to be alert."

The M.E. indicated his agreement, and quietly left.


Dan returned a little over an hour later, bearing two plastic sacks from a twenty-four hour pharmacy. Leading him to the kitchen and helping unload the bags, Simon was surprised to find half a dozen bottles of Pedialite, along with a box of men's hair dye. A smaller sack among the bottles contained physician's samples of antibiotics and topical burn ointments.

Simon looked at Dan with a raised eyebrow. "Pedialite?"

"They're malnourished and extremely dehydrated. This is the fastest way to replace their electrolytes and other essential fluids, outside of an I.V., and somehow I doubt Blair would tolerate that, no matter what the reason."

Thinking about the once vibrant, enthusiastic grad student who now lay broken and silent in his partner's protective embrace, Simon gulped. "You have a point. What are you going to tell the hospital?"

Dan motioned for Simon to get the glasses, while he pulled out one of the bottles of electrolyte solution and broke the seal. He left it for Simon to pour as he located the ointments. "I'm going to tell them he was caught in a building explosion out of town. If they ask why he wasn't brought in by ambulance, I'll tell them he's a reclusive, distrustful man who called me because I'm his friend and personal physician. I am a qualified medical doctor, after all. That way, I think we can use my car without too much suspicion. I'd feel better with Steven on a gurney anyway."

Simon nodded. "Sounds like it might work." After a pause to finish pouring, he asked, "What do you think I should do with Jim and Blair? I thought of a safe house, but without going through the usual channels, that could be dangerous."

"Honestly, for the time being, they're probably safest right here. They'll need close supervision for the next few days, and after Steven is well enough to leave the hospital, they'll need a more permanent place to stay while they recover."

"Do you think what Jim said is true? Will they ever recover from this?"

"I can't answer that, Simon. Their physical wounds will heal, but as to the rest of it," Dan shrugged, "only time will tell."

With a reluctant nod of agreement, Simon picked up the glasses of liquid and followed the doctor back to the guest bedroom. Steven's eyes opened as they quietly entered.

"Drink this," Simon said, handing one of the glasses to Steven.

The younger Ellison took the glass and sniffed it cautiously.

"It's an electrolyte solution. You're all severely dehydrated. You need the fluids," Dan urged, setting the hair dye on the stand next to the bed.

Simon placed the other two glasses on the night table next to Jim, then reached out to wake his friend. Before Simon knew what was happening, his fingers were caught and twisted in a surprisingly strong grip. Any attempt to free himself sent shards of pain shooting up his arm.

"Jim!" he gasped.

Blue eyes snapped open. The pressure on his fingers instantly released.

Jim attempted to flee the bed, but Sandburg's frantic grappling stopped him. With a noisy exhalation, he laid back, his arm tightening briefly around Blair's shoulders. He closed his eyes and brought his free hand up to cover them. "God, Simon. I'm sorry," Jim whispered.

Simon shook his hand and inspected the fingers. Flexing them, he decided nothing had been broken. "It's all right, Jim. No damage done. I should have known better."

Jim dropped his hand and opened his eyes, gazing up at his former captain. "I guess the reflexes are intact, huh?"

"Yeah. Don't worry about it, Jim. With all your training and the hell you've been put through, I definitely should have known better. Here. Dan wants you to drink this. Sandburg, too."

Struggling to sit up, Jim accepted the glass Simon held out to him. Sniffing, he wrinkled his nose, but drank the contents without complaint. With a little effort he coaxed Blair into doing the same. Once finished, Jim settled back down, his partner still tucked firmly into his side.

Simon watched the pair get comfortable. Finally, his curiosity getting the best of him, he asked, "Why does he cling to you like that? I've never thought of Sandburg as fragile until now."

Jim glanced down at Blair, rubbing the smaller man's back, then looked up at Simon. "I don't really know. I think it has something to do with this bond we have. I gave up trying to separate us after the first few times. He got desperately violent each time, and almost hurt himself. Now I don't even try, and honestly, I feel better with him next to me. I think it gives us both a little sense of security, something that was definitely lacking in the lab. I suppose him not being able to see has something to do with it, too."

Simon silently agreed, wondering once more what horrors they had endured. One day, when all of this was a little less raw, he'd ask. But not tonight.

"I'm still not sure about this idea."

Jim's gaze was focused on Dan, who was on the other side of the bed with the box of hair dye in his hand.

"Jim, you don't want to risk injuring Steven any further, do you?"

"I know, I know. It's necessary. But I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of us being separated."

"Jim," Steven murmured, "I know how you feel. Really, I do, but it'll be all right. Doctor Wolf will be with me. If anything goes wrong, he'll let the captain know. That's the best we can do, for now."

Jim nodded once, reluctantly accepting the situation.

Dan quietly broke the ensuing silence. "Since this is going to require plenty of water, let's move Steven into the bathroom."

"Good idea," Simon answered, relieved to have some action to take, albeit small. He carefully picked up Jim's brother and carried him to the bathroom down the hall.

A half hour later Simon and Dan returned, with a much different looking Steven. Simon watched Jim's face closely and saw the minute relaxing of muscles. He knew then that Jim could accept their plan.

"I have to admit, the disguise is good. I imagine only your closest acquaintances would recognize you, " Jim said, as if reading Simon's thoughts.

"Thanks bro."

"We should get on with this, we're running out of night," Dan interjected.

"I'll be back in a few minutes." Simon waited for Jim to nod, then carried Steven from the room, Dan following.

They got the younger Ellison to the coroner's wagon, strapped to the gurney, and in the back of the car without any witnesses. Dan slipped into the driver's seat while Simon closed the tailgate.

"I'll keep you informed, Simon. It's going to be all right."

Simon nodded, patting the roof of the car. "Call me at work."

Wolf pulled away. The captain watched the station wagon move under the streetlights for a long moment, then turned and hurried back inside.

Simon paused in the kitchen long enough to pour more Pedialite, and took the glasses back to the bedroom. "They're away. I didn't notice anyone suspicious, or anyone watching."

Jim relaxed further into the pillows, sighing heavily. "Good."

"Is Blair awake?"

"No."

"Well, you should drink some more of this. Next time he's awake, get him to drink some, too." Simon held out one of the glasses until Jim took it and placed the other on the night table. He waited until Jim had taken a swallow before he spoke again. "Do you want me to fix you some soup or broth?"

Jim shook his head slightly. "Not right now."

Simon didn't argue, knowing exhaustion was probably taking precedence over hunger at the moment. "Um, do you think you two will be all right here by yourselves today? I think it'd be wise if I go in as normal. Maybe start making some quiet inquiries. That sort of thing. You can call me on my cell if you need me."

There was a moment's pause. "Yeah, we should be okay. Just be careful, all right?"

"I will, Jim. Trust me. Before I leave I'll fix some soup and put it in a thermos, so when you're ready to eat, you won't have to get up."

A smile quirked the corners of Jim's mouth. "Thanks, Simon."

Simon mirrored the gesture, straightening. "Get some rest, Jim. I'll check on you before I leave."

Jim nodded wearily, shifting a little to settle Blair more comfortably, then closed his eyes. He was asleep before Simon left the room.


"Hi, Dad!"

"Daryl. How was your day?" Simon greeted his son.

The teen shrugged. "It was cool. This is a nice place. Why'd you want me to meet you here?" Daryl took in the restaurant's facade.

"Because, I'm treating you to dinner. Can't a father treat his son to a nice meal?" Simon opened the door and motioned the young man inside.

"Sure. I'm just surprised, is all."

Simon didn't comment. They followed a waitress to a quiet, out of the way corner of the restaurant.

"Okay, Dad. What is it?"

"What?"

"I know you didn't just want to treat me to a nice dinner."

Simon glared at his son, but his expression soon softened. "You're right. I had a specific reason for bringing you here."

"I'm going to the academy, Dad. I thought we'd settled that."

"As much as I'd rather see you go to college first, yes, we've settled that." If only this was something as simple as that, son.

"Okay, if that's not what's bothering you, what is it?"

Simon waited to answer until after the waitress had taken their order. "I'm going away for a while." He cringed as he said the words. The realization had hit him the morning after they'd appeared at his door. He had been sitting in his office, making plans of how to get through the next few days, and he'd become aware that this was not a "few days" situation. Helping Jim and Blair would be a commitment--a huge one--perhaps a forever one.

Daryl looked at him in confusion. "Away? Where? For how long?"

Banks sighed. "I don't know where, and I don't know how long."

"Why?" Daryl exclaimed.

"Shh." Simon hurriedly motioned for his son to lower his voice.

"What's going on, Dad?"

"I'm going to be disappearing." Simon had turned the problem around and around in his head and had come up with just one solution. This was the only way.

"I don't understand. Why? Are you in some kind of trouble?"

"No, it's nothing like that." Simon paused. "It has to do with Jim and Blair."

"Dad?"

Simon met his son's worried gaze. He swallowed the lump in his throat. "They're alive, Daryl."

"You found them!"

Simon saw the look of joy in his son's eyes and regretted that he was going to have to douse it. He'd known Jim and Blair's disappearance had hit Daryl hard, as hard as everyone else. He'd seen the sad looks the boy had thrown Jim's desk whenever he'd come into the station. Though after six months, the sorely missed detective had been replaced, it was still Jim's desk. Simon admitted in the silence of his own heart that he couldn't look at Jim's desk and not see his friend and best detective there, with Blair perpetually by his side. Bringing himself back to the present, he sighed deeply.

"Actually, son, they found me." Simon shuddered. He wondered if the impact of seeing them that night would ever fade. "They're alive...but they've been badly hurt."

"What happened to them?"

Simon shook his head. "I can't really tell you. Jim won't give me any details right now, but they were kidnapped, and the people who did this undoubtedly want them back. I'm--I'm going to help keep them from being taken again."

"Why'd these people take them?"

"To study them. I can't tell you why. I have to protect them. If they were to be captured again, it would kill them. I have to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening."

"Jim and Blair can't...?" Daryl trailed off.

Simon saw Daryl's confusion and guessed at it's cause. "Right now, they're in no condition to protect themselves." He paused, closing his eyes on the images that had been haunting him since he'd opened the door that night. "They may never be."

"Why? What happened to them?" Daryl asked again.

"They were tortured, son," he said baldly, hoping that would stop Daryl's questions. Whatever the young man envisioned would probably not be as bad as they had suffered.

Daryl swallowed. "Tortured? Are they--Are they in the hospital?"

Simon shook his head. "It's too dangerous." He wouldn't mention Steven. The less Daryl knew, the better.

"Poor Blair."

Simon nodded, understanding his son's sentiment. Daryl looked up to the grad student, who had become a kind of role model. The big man flashed on an image of Blair as he had been: vibrant, alive. Now he was broken; silent. Simon couldn't repress the shudder that raced down his spine. "Blair's suffered a great deal, Daryl," he whispered. "He isn't speaking. I don't know if he ever will again."

"So, you have to take some time out...until they get fixed, right?"

Warm brown eyes sought their counterparts. "They might never be fixed, son."

"What does that mean? You're never...?"

Tears sprang to Simon's eyes as he looked at his son. "I'm sorry, Daryl. You're my son, and I will always love you. I don't want to leave you, but Jim and Blair--they need me. I need to do this. Can you understand? Please?"

"No, I don't understand. I need you, too, Dad. How can you just leave?"

Simon squeezed his eyes shut. When next he met Daryl's angry gaze, he knew his expression was desperate. "Son, please? They have no one to take care of them. They--They can barely function. Jim can't go anywhere without Blair, and Blair can't tolerate people getting too close."

"I want to see them."

Simon shook his head. "That wouldn't be wise. Blair wouldn't want you to see him as he is now. Neither of them would. And seeing them could put you in danger, son. I won't risk that."

Daryl set his jaw, looking as though he would argue, but after a moment, he shook his head. "Why you, Dad? Why do you need to do this?"

The large man sighed deeply. "Because I'm their friend, and I'm the only one who can help them right now."

Daryl's mouth was set in an angry scowl, but he said nothing.

"Daryl, son, please try to understand. I can't just leave them like they are now. I--I don't think they'd survive."

The young man shrugged, refusing to look at Simon. "Fine. You're going to do it anyway. So do it."

"Daryl.... Remember Peru? Jim and Blair came all that way to rescue us."

"But they didn't give up their whole lives," Daryl pointed out accusingly.

"They could have," Simon said, gently reminding Daryl how easily all of them could have died.

"I still don't understand why it has to be you."

Simon closed his eyes. "Because I don't trust anyone else to do it."

Complete silence followed that statement.

When Simon finally opened his eyes, it was to see Daryl studying him. Seeing the resignation in his son's eyes, he wondered what his expression had revealed.

"Okay, Dad. I don't like it. In fact, I hate it, but after all the times they've helped us, I guess I shouldn't expect you to just let them fend for themselves. It's all about being able to live with yourself, right?"

Simon felt his eyes grow moist. He was so proud of his son, this man. "You can't say anything to anyone about this, including your mother."

Daryl smiled sadly. "I understand."

Simon leaned over the table, speaking with conviction, "Some day, we'll see each other again. Don't worry. I'll be keeping track of your progress. I'll know what you're up to. I'll know about your accomplishments. I'll know about your failures. So, just because I won't be here," Simon tapped the table, "I'll still be here," he touched his son's chest, "and here." He gently tapped Daryl's temple.

Daryl closed his eyes briefly. When he finally raised his head and met Simon's gaze again, his eyes were filled with sadness. "I'll miss you."

Simon reached out and clasped his son's neck. Squeezing gently, he said, "I'll miss you, too. This isn't forever, Daryl. I won't let it be forever. Okay?"

His son nodded, and reached up to grip his arm. "Okay."


So? Ready to like it or hate it? Want to lynch me? Let me know. firefly@blackjag.org