Sleep had left his mind foggy, the residual drowsiness covering him like a blanket, clothing him in its warmth. Shifting slightly, he groaned when he felt his muscles protest after being roused from their inactivity. He had been working at his desk, opting to stay at the university after having asked the security guard to do more frequent sweeps of the area, figuring he'd be marginally safer in his locked office with an on-duty security guard than at home in an empty loft. 

Before starting the last test, he'd decided to rest his eyes for just a minute. Yeah, sure, Sandburg. When you gonna learn, man? Remembering he had planned to get home before Jim returned from his stake out, he groaned. God, Jim is gonna kill me. A big yawn broke out, and he stretched, enjoying the feeling of loosening muscles.  

Blinking, Blair sat up. Early morning sunlight was peeking in through the window. Yawning again, he rubbed his face with both hands, trying to push away the sleepiness. He heard a faint chuckle, which immediately snapped him to alertness.  

Turning in the direction of the sound, his eyes automatically focused on the woman he hadn't seen face-to-face in a long time, and had, in fact, hoped to never see again. The only time in the past year that he had seen the apparition in front of him was when she visited his dreamscape, staining his sleep with nightmares of water and pain, torturing his mind in ways he never spoke of, not even to Jim.

Jim! Oh man, was he okay? Did she get to him? Had she hurt him?

"Hey, baby. You really need a better lock on that door."

<<FLASH>>

He was sitting in his office, the early morning light washing across the room. His body, mind, and soul ached with the pain caused by the tension, anger, and distrust that existed between Jim and himself. The door opened and she walked in. She raised one arm, a pistol held tightly in her hand, and aimed its muzzle at him.

<<FLASH>>

Blair came back to the present suddenly. He was in his office, it was early morning, and she was there. He shuddered slightly.  

That voice. That smile. How could someone this beautiful instill such a feeling of near-rabid fear that Blair could barely think? He knew he should move, should act, should do something, but he stayed still, captivated while the early morning sun cast shadows and light across her face and shimmered in the strands of her long blonde hair. The alternating strokes of light and shadow distorted her image, adding to the surreal ambiance permeating the room. It was eerily similar to that day -- the day she had killed him.  

"Kind of like déjà vu, don't you think?" She again broke the silence, waving one hand around the room.

Blair jolted slightly as she seemed to voice his very thoughts.

"I guess that, since this is a different office, it throws things off a bit. It's nice, though," she said, looking around at the artifacts and journals, the books and paintings with which he had made the office his own. "It suits you."  

He tensed, stiffening in his chair, as Alex started moving slowly toward him, finally leaning back to escape her touch. The whole scene was like a waking nightmare from which he could not awaken.

She seemed to pick up on his fear and made an effort to calm herself. Succeeding somewhat, she took a deep breath and spoke soothingly to him. "No, baby. Don't worry; it'll be different this time. You'll see. I know I made some mistakes before, but…" Alex again slowly moved closer, her hands held up in a non-threatening manner. "I'm here to make up for all of that. See, I didn't realize how important you were before. But I've been there, I've seen it, and I know now. You're the key to my salvation, Blair Sandburg. And I won't make the same mistake twice."  

She stopped in front of the desk, only a few feet away from Blair. She touched his desk, running her fingers over the fine grain of the dark mahogany wood. A sad smile flitted across her pale face and disappeared again.  

Blair continued to watch her, nearly fascinated by her soothing litany of words and her hypnotic gaze. A part of him was screaming to get up, get out, get away, but his body seemed frozen in place.  

The creature of his nightmares spoke again. "See, it works sometimes. Not like it used to, though. I get flashes. And, oh, those flashes make me miss it so much, so very much. And with these flashes come pain and you don't want to see me like that, do you, Blair?"  

He continued to stare at her, silent.  

"That's why I need you. I need you to fix this, and you will." Her voice, which had been soft and gentle as she tried to explain her need to him, dropped into a tone of rock-hard assurance at the last two words. Her gaze pinned the young man as surely as her pistol had the last time they had met like this.  

~~~~&~~~~

Jim cursed silently as he tried calling Blair on the cell again. How could a soon-to-be professor, someone who would graduate with highest honors, the "cream of the intellectual crop," consistently forget to charge his phone batteries? Maybe this fell into one of those "law of averages" things Sandburg was always going on about. Whatever it was, Jim Ellison was one worried and angry man. He had told Sandburg it wasn't safe to go anywhere alone, and yet that was exactly what the knucklehead had done. The constant sound of the ringing phone infiltrated his thoughts, reminding him of the growing urgency of the situation.  

Sighing, he hung up the phone with more force than necessary, ignoring the raised eyebrows of his captain. "No answer, I take it?" Simon inquired.  

"No, no answer."  

Standing, Simon carefully picked up and checked his weapon, tucking it into his holster when he was satisfied it was in readiness. He nodded towards the door. “Shall we?”  

Grabbing his keys off the counter, Jim turned a determined face to his friend. "She's with him now, I know it." Walking to the front door, Jim paused for a moment. When he looked at his captain, his eyes were troubled and his voice deadly. "They're at the university, they've got to be."  

~~~~&~~~~

Blair swallowed deeply, pleading silently for his racing heart to slow its galloping pace. The fog that had permeated his brain in response to Alex’s appearance and subsequent monologue was beginning to lift. Now, as he continued to listen to Alex's fractured ranting, he could feel a burning hatred rising from deep within him. How dare she! What the hell did she think he would do for her now? Did she actually believe that he would help her? After what she'd done to him, there was no chance in hell of that happening.

<<FLASH>>

"This is the one thing I really didn't want to do, but I can't leave you alive."

<<FLASH>>

Blair suddenly stood up, leaning over the desk and shoving her hand off its polished surface. He stood there, shaking with rage, as she stepped back a foot or two, crossed her arms, and pinned him with a glare. Her eyes were narrowed as she studied him.  

"I'm not going to help you, Alex." His voice was hot with anger and shaking with determination.

Alex stared at him in disbelief, and he shook his head in amazement; the woman could not believe that he was refusing her! He watched as his words seemed to finally sink in, and she flinched slightly. Her shocked expression gave way to one of cold wrath, and her posture changed slightly as she appeared to make a decision. Her expression now similar to threatening thunderclouds, she reached into her pocket and started to withdraw her gun.  

An unexpected knock at the door interrupted her.  

"Blair?" called Denise as she knocked once and entered the office, a sheaf of papers cradled in one arm and a bright smile on her face. "I was hoping you'd be here. I got those questions back from…" she let her voice trail away as she saw the two people in the room. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you had company."

Blair could see that Denise recognized Alex, probably from the photographs she had seen on television, if not from Blair's warnings alone. She was obviously hoping to get away and call for help when she tried to back out the door. Her smile faltered as the tall, blonde woman turned toward her.  Denise swallowed nervously.  

Alex whipped her gun the rest of the way out of her pocket and pointed it at the TA. "I'd rather you stayed. I think it would help Blair's… concentration." She motioned Denise inside with the weapon. "Close the door, quietly. Don't try anything. I'm not afraid to kill… right, Blair?" Her voice was low, threatening.

Denise slowly closed the door and set the papers down on the table next to her. She raised her hands and stood still, looking back and forth between Blair and the woman who was holding a gun on her. “My, graduate school is more exciting than I had expected,” she said, humor dancing around the edges of her fear. Blair stared at her, his eyes wide in shock at her moxy.

Ignoring Denise’s statement, Alex walked slowly around Denise, eyeing her with what almost seemed to be jealousy. "Now, what do we have here?" she sneered, looking at Blair. "A new playmate?"  

"Leave her out of this, Alex." Blair moved from behind the desk and circled around Alex until he was standing between the two women. He faced Alex so that he was shielding the TA from the gun. "She's no one, and doesn't have anything to do with this."

Denise made a sound of protest at being referred to as "no one," but Blair ignored her and kept going. There was no way he would let Alex hurt anyone else.  

"I'm the only one that can help you, Alex. You know that. No one else knows what you're going through, do they?" Blair saw with satisfaction that her attention was focused on him, rather than on Denise. He continued, speaking in the low, soothing voice he often used to calm Jim. "Dr. Feinberg never helped to relieve any of the pain, did he?"  

Alex slowly shook her head, her expression now one of despair and desolation. The gun drooped slightly in her hand.  

Blair continued, moving slowly toward her. "None of the doctors could stop your suffering, the headaches, the sensory spikes. Everything they tried failed."  

The woman nodded. Earlier, her words had held him captive. Now, she seemed mesmerized by his voice.

He spoke again as he took another step toward her and toward the weapon that threatened him and Denise. "That's why you came to me, isn't it? I'm your last chance. Alex," he waited until he was sure her full attention was on him. "I won't help you if you hurt anyone. You need to let her go. Then we can talk, you and I."  

Alex had been listening to the gentle, calming voice, falling into his words. But now she remembered his refusal to help, and she realized what he was trying to do. She shook her head sharply, cursing. "No! You won't do this to me! You are going to help me." She deliberately raised her pistol up until it pointed at Denise. A sly smile twisted her lips. "And you won't have a choice," she drawled. Her demeanor had again changed; she was now self-assured, cold, and determined.  

Blair moved again, stepping in front of the gun that was pointing at Denise. "You're wrong. I do have a choice, Alex. I will not help you. Think about it… if you kill her, then what? You'll threaten to kill me, too? As I recall, you already did that once, and it didn't help you, did it?"  

Alex lowered her arm and said, "You're absolutely right, Blair."  

Blair felt a moment of hope, which quickly disappeared as he remembered just who he was dealing with. Suspicion narrowed his eyes as Alex smiled triumphantly at him. 

"We're going to do something different. Let's go. You first, Blair." She glanced at Denise and gestured for her to follow Blair out the door.  

The young man hesitated for a moment, but with the gun aimed at Denise, he had no choice. He stepped toward the door and started turning the handle.  

Denise turned to follow him, trying not to show her fear, but unable to disguise it totally. Alex grabbed her arm and pulled her close, raising the gun up to her head.  

Blair saw the motion over his shoulder and watched, stupefied, as Alex brought her gun down upon the back of Denise's head, hurtling her into unconsciousness. He shouted angrily at Alex, going down on one knee and checking his assistant over. 

Pulse and breathing okay, no massive amounts of blood. She seemed to be all right, just out cold.

Alex chuckled above him. "Well, you said I couldn't kill her. I didn't. Don't worry, my tender-hearted guide, she'll be fine." Her voice held amusement, but her actions revealed only anger and determination. She grabbed Blair by his hair and forced him to stand up. "No more stalling! Let's go!" she yelled, giving him a shove in the direction of the door, pressing the gun tightly against his ribs.

On the long walk out of the building, Blair tried to think of something -- anything -- he could do to get the gun away fromm her. Jim, man, where are you? I could really use your help about now. This is just too freaky, man. 

With a dreadful feeling of inevitability, Blair knew that their path was going to take them past The Fountain. She seemed to realize it, too, slowing slightly when the sparkling water came into view.  

As she forced him down the path toward the parking lot, he was overcome with his memories of the last time, when she had drowned him.  

<<FLASH>>

A gun prodded him in the back until his feet were against the base of the fountain. Fear of what she was going to do, despair at the loss of his friendship with Jim, anger and frustration and sadness welled up inside him. He stood there, staring numbly at the water.

<<FLASH>>

He unknowingly stumbled to a halt, staring at the water. She stopped behind him.  

<<FLASH>>

Sharp pain in the back of his head. The sparkling water exploded in white light. Falling, falling. Water, cold, darkness, can't breathe oh God Jim where are you oh God no...

<<FLASH>>

No! He didn't want to be here, to do this all over again. He'd lived through it once, and he didn't think he could do it again. He shook his head to force out the images that were traveling across his mind's eye, but it didn't work. The pictures kept moving by at greater and greater speeds, threatening to throw him directly back into that hell.

<<FLASH>>    

Darkness, no hope, water, no breath, no sentinel, no use in living anymore. Cold. Silence. Death.

<<FLASH>>

Then a part of him rebelled against his helplessness and fear. He wouldn't let her do this again. 

No way. 

The snap of a twig caught Alex's attention, and she jerked the gun sharply to the right. The weapon discharged, though whether intentionally or accidentally, Blair couldn't tell. He heard a sharp yell and spun around just as Denise hit the ground.

"No!" Blair's scream ripped from his throat with such force that it left a trail of pain behind. He watched in disbelieving horror as a small pool of blood formed beneath Denise's right shoulder.

He'd waited too long. He should never have let Alex take things so far. 

"No!" He spun back around, facing Alex, his heart thundering in his chest. He had no idea if Denise was still alive, but he wouldn't give Alex the chance to do any further harm -- not to Denise or anyone else.

His anger erupted, his hatred was released. His vision tinted red with anger. The thoughts flying through his mind were no longer rational.  

He spun around and faced Alex. "No! I will not let you do this! I will not help you, I will NOT!"  

Her eyes widened at his sudden outburst, and she cried out sharply, dropping the gun and grasping her head in pain. Blair’s loud, unexpected shouts had apparently overwhelmed her tenuous control, causing a painful spike in her hearing.  

Anger at what she had done to him the previous year, rage at having died at her hands, and the sense of helplessness he had had to endure as Denise lay fallen behind him all crashed over him, hijacking his mind, body, and soul. Shaking, he stared blankly at her as she shrieked in pain. This would be his only chance. Caught in the haze of his emotions, he lunged for the gun, but Alex flew toward him, knocking him to the ground, her face contorted with pain, making it obvious that she was only minimally recovered from the effects of the sensory spike.

As he hit the ground, he curled into an awkward roll away from Alex and used his momentum to push himself to his feet just as Alex delivered a sharp, backhanded blow to his cheek.

Blair barely felt the blow, driven by an unnameable force to stop this once and for all. To stop his fear, his regret, his pain. To stop her from ever hurting anyone again. “I won't let you do this, Alex! It ends here!” His voice was harsh, cracking like a whip through the early morning air.

Alex stumbled toward him, reaching toward his face with her nails, her lips drawn back in a snarl as she screamed at him.  

He bent down and drove his head into her stomach, shoving her down to the pavement. She fell back, landing hard and pulling him down on top of her. She rolled them both over quickly so that she straddled him, and pulled a fist back, ready to smash it into his face.  

Blair bucked wildly, forcing her off-balance enough that he could scoot out from under her and avoid the ill-aimed blow.  

She came back up from the ground like a wildcat, screaming and lunging at him, teeth and nails aiming at this source of frustration. He swiped her hands aside with one arm and struck her in the ribs with the other. She gasped and fell to her knees, leaning heavily against the edge of the fountain.  

The adrenaline flowing through Blair's bloodstream drove rational thought from his mind, hurling him into a primitive survival mode -- fight or flight -- and he was going to fight! He grabbed Alex by her upper arms and lifted her, pushing her forward until she was completely in the cold water, then grasped her by the neck and plunged her head under the water. Feeling none of the gentle compassion that had become his trademark, he tilted his head back as he held his tormentor under the water and howled loudly, a distant part of his mind feeling a warped sense of déjà vu as he did to her what she had done to him a year before.

~~~~&~~~~

Momentarily stunned by Blair's attack, Alex snapped to awareness as the hands closed around her neck and forced her under the cold water. Through water-covered eyes, she saw the normally sweet, peaceable Blair Sandburg as his face twisted into a mask of fury.

She clutched at his hands, trying to win her release, but his rage made him far too powerful. It was only moments before she had no alternative but to breathe in the water, giving herself over to the darkness.

At the moment of her surrender, the hands that had been holding her under suddenly loosened. She was hauled up, clear of the water. Her body violently forced water from her lungs as she collapsed on the cool grass.  

~~~~&~~~~

The sun sparkled through the water spraying from the fountain. Morning shadows stretched long over the grass. A blue and white pickup screeched to a stop and a tall, shorthaired, broad-shouldered man burst from the driver's side. He spotted a woman lying unconscious near the entrance of the building and ran toward her, automatically extending his hearing, focused only on her and the building that housed Blair's office. He picked up the sound of her steady heartbeat as well as the hum of two anxious voices from inside. One of the speakers mentioned hearing a gunshot, but the other seemed to think the noise had been a car backfiring.

Before Jim reached the fallen woman -- Denise? -- his ears caught the thundering rhythm of a frantic heart behind him. His insides went cold, and he tensed, turning toward the fountain. For an endless moment, he froze, trapped in a similar moment from the past. Then he rushed toward the two figures huddled by the hated fountain, determined to save Blair from the crazed woman who was trying to kill him again.

As he neared them, he realized with a shock that spiked from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet that the woman was in the water, and the person holding her down was his peace-loving guide. Blair -- optimistic, caring Blair -- was holding Alex by the neck, keeping her head under the water as her body weakened in its struggles against his grip. He lifted his face and howled in triumph.

Horror held Jim for interminable moments. Suddenly released from its hold, he lurched toward the two figures. He wasn't sure whether he was going to pull Alex out of the water… or help Blair hold her under. A detached, cold, almost clinical part of his mind realized that it wouldn't bother him in the least to help Blair rid their city of this psycho.  

Before Jim could make any decision, the decision was taken from him. Blair released a haunting cry that exploded into a violent sob of despair. He roared and yanked the woman out of the fountain, throwing her to the grass beside him and falling to his hands and knees. His head hung between his arms as another soul-wrenching sob tore from him. He stayed that way, breathing deeply, breath hitching, as he struggled visibly to calm his breathing and get control of himself.

Jim realized back-up had arrived when he saw Rafe and Megan rush to check on Denise. Confident the young woman was taken care of, Jim moved toward the only immediate threat -- Alex. She lay there coughing, her eyes closed, water spurting from her mouth with each spasm. As he reached her, stooping to quickly check her vital signs, her eyes opened and pure hatred poured out at him. 

"No! He's mine! You can't have him!" She winced as her own voice caused a spike in her hearing. 

Shaking his head at the dripping escapee hunched miserably on the ground before him and glaring with open hostility, Jim roughly rolled her onto her stomach and placed cuffs on her wrists.  

Catching sight of Simon headed toward him, Jim nodded at his captain, jerking his chin at Alex. 

Simon nodded back and hurried toward the prisoner. "I got her."

"Thanks, sir." Jim sprang to his feet and hurried toward Blair.

He knelt at Blair's side as the younger man pushed back so he was sitting on his heels. His hair, wet from the fountain water, hung around his face. His breathing was finally slowing to an almost normal level. His heart was no longer trying to break through his ribs. Jim slid a comforting arm around Blair's shoulders and glanced back at Simon, who watched from nearby.

"A blanket, Simon? He's freezing." 

Simon nodded and turned to ask one of the newly-arrived uniforms to fetch a blanket from her squad car. The officer nodded and trotted over to the growing fleet of emergency vehicles.

~~~~&~~~~  

News reporters armed with cameras, pens, video and audio equipment, and insistent voices, along with curious students, faculty, and other university staff members who had begun arriving for classes, swarmed around the area. They were held back by several police officers, who were valiantly trying to keep the aggressive press and milling onlookers away from the focus of the activity.

Blair remained huddled under the blanket Jim had wrapped around him, oblivious to the din around them. EMTs had checked Alex out, proclaiming her stable and not in imminent danger from her dunking in the fountain. They strapped her onto a gurney and slid it into the back of the waiting ambulance, then climbed in after it and pulled the rear doors shut.

Blair and Jim had seen Alex as she had been wheeled away. Her eyes had been vacant and staring -- it was way too reminiscent of the last time the sentinel and guide had seen her hauled away.

Blair felt Jim's arm tighten around him as a shudder ran through his chilled body. "You okay, buddy?" Jim asked softly. 

With a slightly sheepish grin, Blair nodded. Then he shifted and stood, still clutching the blanket around him.

Seeing that Blair was feeling better, and knowing his friend was somewhat embarrassed by the recent events, Jim decided a lighthearted approach might help relax Blair. He nodded in the direction of the departing ambulance, and said, "Pretty good collar, Rambo."

"Thanks," Blair mumbled, his face coloring slightly as he looked away.

"Hey, Chief, it's all right. Everything's okay now." Jim looked over as Simon approached them, then back at his partner.

Blair nodded shakily, glancing at his friend. "I just need to catch my breath." He closed his eyes and leaned against Jim. "You sure Denise is going to be okay?"

"Pretty sure. The bullet caught her in the arm, but went straight through. She'll be good as new in no time."

Blair released a long breath. "I'm glad. I don't think I could've lived with myself knowing she got hurt because of me."


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