For Our Sins
By: Lucy Hale
Simon Banks had a headache. Being awake since three in the morning fielding phone calls did that to him. Two of his men missing didn't help.
Jim Ellison slammed into his office without bothering to knock. "Son of a bitch!"
Henri Brown followed a little more sedately, but no less worried. "Anything, Cap?"
Simon shook his head with a frown. "No sign of the car, no one saw them at that bar they were supposedly going to." He looked between the two men. "Are you sure they didn't just change their plans and go somewhere else? Maybe get to drunk to make it home?"
"Absolutely not. Blair knows I would kill him if he did something stupid like that."
Simon glanced over at Henri.
Brown offered a tight smile. "Rafe knows Jim would kill him if he let Blair do something stupid like that." it was a feeble attempt to lighten the air, but Simon knew it was also a definite negative answer.
He wasn't surprised. He didn't know much about Rafe's partying habits, but Blair Sandburg knew without doubt to call Jim if any change in schedule happened.
"I should have known," Jim fumed, trying to bury his fear under anger. "As soon as Sandburg said they were taking that piece of shit Volvo, I should have known something was going to happen."
"Hey, don't even focus on that right now. Let's just find them. Why don't you two go out and look for the car? Check any other places they liked to go to. Any old haunts. If we get anything here, I'll call you."
The first thing he felt was dizzy. That struck him as funny because he was sprawled face-down on the ground. Who gets dizzy sprawled on the ground?
Well, he did, apparently.
Next thing he noticed was that he was cold, and his head hurt. His limbs felt too heavy to move and his eyes didn't want to open. He was hungry. There was something digging into his leg. His nose was itching.
Now having thoroughly explored himself, he decided there were worse ways to wake up. It went without saying that there were much, much better ways to wake up, but it could have been worse. He supposed. He wasn't tied up, there were no bones broken (he hoped). He wasn't dead.
There. See? It could have been worse. He could have woken up dead.
All right, lame humor was still functioning properly. Next he checked to see if his memory would serve him.
Last thing he remembered....they were driving down some dark road, using hastily-scrawled directions to try and find a new club that had opened somewhere near the marina. They were making jokes about how dark and scary it was there, and making bets on when the Volvo would break down and leave them stranded.
And then there was a crash, and the sudden jar of another car hitting them. After that, things got kind of fuzzy. He couldn't remember the other car, or who had been in it, or where exactly the accident had happened.
He remembered just enough to not help him at all. Why wasn't he surprised?
And where was... A muffled groan sounded out, right on cue, from somewhere above his head.
With a low, profane mantra going through his head, he forced himself to opened his eyes. Once that minor miracle was accomplished, he twisted his head over towards the direction of the noise. Being eye-level to the ground, he didn't see much.
Then the groan sounded again, and he realized he wasn't imagining things, the voice really was coming from over his head. So he tilted his head back and lifted his eyes off the ground.
And every ounce of black humor dropped from his thoughts. The image that met his eyes pulsed over him like the flash of a camera, and he knew that the picture would be caught in still-frame in his mind for the rest of his life.
/Holy Christ./ Rafe thought to himself, since he didn't have the energy to say it out loud.
Jim and Henri went down to the garage in silence, both men too lost in fear and concern to say much of anything to each other.
Jim was in the truck and reaching over the unlock Henri's door when he noticed something stuck in the windshield wiper. He opened his door and snaked his arm around to grab it, then looked it over.
"Oh, my God."
Henri was immediately alert. He had never heard quite that note of shock and fear in the stoic Ellison's voice before, and he came in closer to look at the paper.
Picture, he corrected himself a second later.
And a second after that, he was stiff, gasping in a breath.
Blair Sandburg. He was tied to...there were... Boards. Two wooden boards, one longer, one shorter, meeting in a T shape. The boards were apparently nailed to the wall behind them and the bottom of the longer one was maybe three feet off the ground.
And tied to those boards was Blair. His wrists tied to the cross section of the T, his ankles bound so his feet could rest on a small support. He was unconscious. Or worse. His head was flopped to the side, his hair falling around his head.
Henri took the picture from Jim's frozen hand and turned it over. On the back was a neatly worded message:
It takes a person at least two days
to suffocate this way. Slowly and painfully.
Stay by your phone, Ellison. We'll be in touch.
Jim grabbed the picture back from him and opened his door, leaving the truck and starting back upstairs without a word.
Henri followed him more slowly. He watched Jim move -- not stiffly. He was almost fluid. Stalking. Already eager to go after these people. Henri was certain of two things right then:
One, Jim Ellison would hunt these bastards down, and all cliches aside, they would regret the day they thought up this little plan.
Two, the image of Blair Sandburg being...crucified...would be in his nightmares for a long time.
Standing had been such a major event, hard won and long in coming, that Rafe was almost disappointed when strains of the Hallellujah Chorus didn't come blasting out of the walls.
He leaned on awkwardly stacked crates for support as he made his way to the wall where his friend was...hung. Blair was still unconconcious, and Rafe didn't know whether that was a good thing or not. Sure he wanted Blair to wake up, but not stretched out like he was. With everything else the poor guy had gone through since Rafe had known him, this was just another nightmare for him to have.
Rafe berated himself for progressing so slowly. If it was Jim here, he'd probably have Blair down already, damn it.
He steeled himself and broke away from the supports he was clutching. A wave of dizziness struck him, but he rode it out. His feet slid on the floor as he made his way to Blair, and only a glance told him he wouldn't be able to reach Blair's arms from the floor. His feet were at chest level.
His eyes went back to the crates and he slowly stumbled his way over. He tried to pull one down from the stack, but it didn't budge. Christ, what were these thing full of, anyway? He scanned the rest of the room, but that was all there was. Crates. There must have been crates blocking whatever door they'd come through, because he sure as hell didn't see a way out.
He had to rest for a minute. His limbs felt ten times heavier than normal, and he was sweating with the effort of staying on his feet. What was wrong with him, anyway? He'd been knocked out a couple of times before. It wasn't exactly the most pleasant experience, but it never left him feeling like gravity was suddenly pulling at him harder or something.
He made his way achingly slowly back to his friend. He could at least get those ropes off his feet. Give Blair a fighting chance if whoever had done this came back. The anthropologist could fight like a devil if he was forced into it.
His mind flashed on something, and a memory came back to him. They were driving. Somebody had rear-ended them. He remembered that much already. But now other images came back to him. All four doors of the car behind them had opened, and the men coming out didn't look happy. Rafe and Blair debating for a moment whether to get out of the car or not. The choice taken out of their hands when a hard...something...a bat! Had come crashing through Blair's window and a hand snaked through and unlocked the door.
Rafe had pulled his gun, but they had Blair out of the car and in their hands before he could use it. He remembered the flash of a knife, being told to step out of the car through the driver's door. He remembered Blair kicking and fighting and trying like hell to get loose. Rafe was ordered to drop the gun. Blair told him not to. He did it, of course.
He remembered briefly seeing the flash of something that looked like a needle. A syringe. And then one of the men behind him, the baseball player, apparently, had moved quickly...
That was it. Blackness after that. But Rafe could feel the welt on the back of his head where he must have been hit.
He ignored it, reaching Blair's side and tugging at the ropes thoughtfully. The syringe was what he flashed back to. They had been going to Blair with it. Had they injected the guy with something? That would explain why he was still unconscious. Rafe couldn't see any major injuries anywhere.
Blair must have been telepathic, even unconscious. The moment Rafe found himself worrying why he wasn't awake yet, the observer let out a groan and his head flopped to the other side.
Rafe took a step back, dreading this moment. The kid was going to panic. Rafe knew he sure as hell would if it was him. Jim should be here. Jim would get him down, would be able to reassure him. Damn it.
Blair murmured under his breath as his eyes slowly blinked open. He immediately took in the room around them, and then looked down at himself. He briefly tests the ropes tying his hands, and let out another small groan. His head dropped to his chest, but for some reason that must have hurt him or something, because he jerked back up a second later. His blue eyes took it all in, and he summed it all up in one grand sweeping statement. "Shit."
"Blair? 'm gonna get ya down, 'kay?" Rafe was surprised when a heavy mouth slurred the words that were so clear in his head.
Blair's eyes went to him, standing to the side, and he seemed to brighten. "Rafe!"
"'m gonna fig'r somethin out, don worry." Rafe slid his feet over to the ropes, but his hands were clumsier than usual.
"Rafe?" Blair's voice had lot it's brightness. "You feeling okay?"
Rafe laughed faintly. "Don worry bout me. Wonder why they tied y'up like this?" He frowned at the ropes, and went at them again with heavy hands.
"Oh, man." Blair watched his erratic movements with a frown. They must have shot Rafe up with whatever they'd used on him. But he wasn't feeling so out of it. Maybe he'd slept off most of the effects. Or maybe being tied up like this, he could devote more brain power to talking and thinking. Hmm. "In the first generation AD, this was how they tied up criminals sentanced to death," he explained, more to make sure his brain was still functioning than to answer Rafe's question. "See, the way I'm tied, once my legs start getting tired and I can't hold myself up, I'll sag. And the way my hands are tied, it puts so much pressure on my chest that I can't breathe. Eventually, a few days, I'd guess, I won't be able to hold myself up at all." He was pleased at the detachment he seemed to have over this. "If they wanted a man to die quickly, they'd nail him up. Then the blood loss would speed up exhaustion."
"S'nice of 'em." Rafe's normal tone would probably have been dripping with sarcasm, but now he just sounded flat.
"Do you have any idea where we are, Rafe?"
"No. Warehouse. Lotsa crates."
Blair felt the ropes around his ankles give suddenly, and he pulled his feet free one at a time, bringing them back down to rest on the wooden support quickly. "Thanks, man."
Rafe was grinning in triumph, holding the rope. "No problem."
The grin vanished. His face screwed up in thought. "Gotta get yer hands. Move a crate."
Blair watched him drag his feet slowly over to a stack of large crates. He grinned. Maybe this wouldn't be as hard as they thought. As long as no one came in, anyway. If those nut cases returned, they'd probably knock Rafe out again.
Rafe tugged at the top crate, chest level with him, but it didn't move. He mumbled something Blair couldn't hear, and tugged again. The crate slid half an inch towards him.
Blair frowned. Great. He wondered how long they'd been here. Surely Jim was looking for them. Right? Well, if it was after two he would be. Knowing Jim, he'd have woken Simon up and had him at the station running communications as half the cops in the city spread out to look for them.
It was reassuring to have a partner so paranoid.
He licked dry lips and looked around the room. All the crates looked the same. They were probably two feet long, foot and a half wide. And judging by Rafe's movements, they were heavy. Damn.
Man, he was thirsty.
Rafe succeeded in sliding the crate halfway off the one beneath it before he had to stop and rest. His muscles felt like jelly. His arms were quivering. Either these things were full of lead shot or he was out of shape.
It occurred to Rafe suddenly that he was thirstier than he'd ever been in his entire life. His mouth was bone dry. He looked around the room, but there was nothing but crates. No water anywhere.
Once he started thinking about it, he couldn't stop. He tugged the crate some more, his mind on waterfalls and pools and huge glasses of icy cold water. He should have been saying something to reassure Blair, but it took too much energy to talk and move at the same time.
He forced himself to focus, pushing his trembling muscles to the max, he grabbed the crate and heaved. It slid reluctantly off the one below it, and was suddenly in Rafe's arms. A second later it was on the floor, barely missing Rafe's foot.
The wood split when it hit the cement ground, and the crate he would have used to stand on was now splintered boards. Rafe cursed in his mind.
He heard the voice, and a minute later it filtered through and he turned.
Blair was watching him closely. "Can you see what's in the box?"
Rafe turned again without answering and dropped down to a crouch, tugging the wood away. There were three flat burlap bags inside the crate. Rafe tugged at one, opening the top. He looked inside then turned to Blair. "Coffee."
Rafe nodded. He turned and dug his hand into the bag, splling coffee beans onto the floor. Fishing around for a minute, he found what he was looking for. He pulled out a smallish bag of white powder and grinned triumphantly.
Blair had to hold back a curse. Drug dealers. Great. Just what he needed to make his Saturday night a success. Tied up against a wall, held hostage by a bunch of drug dealers. And Rafe was over there grinning like he'd just found the key to the universe.
He tried to swallow dryly. Whatever it was that had been pumped into their sytems when they were attacked, it wasn't coke. He was already sagging on his feet, he realized. His breathing was coming out, but with some effort.
Straightening, he swallowed again, trying to get some moisture to his throat. "Rafe?"
The young detective beamed over at him.
"If they're drug dealers, they'll never leave us alive. You know that, right?"
The grin faded. "Oh. Yeah. S'pose."
Blair could feel the beginnings of panic coming over him slowly. He had to get down. He wouldn't last a day up there, as tired as he felt. And Rafe wasn't being much of a help.
Come on, Jim. Please, man, I do not want to spend the last hours of my life suffocating, tacked up on a wall like some display. Please come.
Jim sat by the phone, immovable, staring. His eyes were blazing, but the rest of him was a statue.
Henri sat at his own desk, trying absently to get some work done. He shot a glance over at Jim every thirty seconds. And then his eyes would drift over to the empty desk across from him. He'd go back to looking at the same file he'd been looking at all morning and try to concentrate, but son he'd just look over at Jim again, then back to his partner's desk.
Rafe. Dammit, would it have been too much to ask for these assholes to at least have mentioned him? They knew Rafe had been with Blair. If these guys had simply killed him and taken Blair, Henri wasn't going to let them off. The only bright side he could see right now was that at least Jim was angry enough to help him hide the bodies.
When Jim's phone rang, it set off a set of movement all over the office. Simon jerked out of his door and came over; Henri leaped over to the desk. Joel picked up his phone and cued the trace.
Jim simply held himself calmly. "Ellison."
"You get our note?"
"Yeah, asshole. I got it. What do you want?"
"Temper, temper. No need for name calling."
Jim shut his eyes, clenching the phone so tightly his knuckles were white. "Just tell me what you want."
"Easy. We want you to sit on your ass for the next few days. We want you to go home and forget you're a cop for a week. You play nice and stay home, and we'll deliver your partner back to you safe."
"You know I can't do that." Jim reached out with his hearing, but it only took him a moment to realize that Blair was nowhere around. There was only one heartbeat.
"You'll have to. You don't, we leave the kid hanging there until he dies. You got me?"
Jim opened his eyes and saw Henri's pleading face. He bit back the angry response he had planned. "What about the other officer?"
"He's of no concern to us. He'll share your partner's fate. Unless you need proof that we're serious. We can deliver this other man to you, if you don't believe out intentions. We'll send a piece to the station, a piece to your home, a piece to his own partner. Would you like that?"
"You hurt either one of them, we'll find you. I promise you that."
"I see. You do seem to need more convincing."
"Wait." "We'll be in contact, Ellison."
"Wait!" Jim heard the click and hung up furiously. "Son of a bitch."
Simon turned to Joel. "Get anything?"
"If we'd had a few more seconds," Joel answered with a frown.
Simon turned back to Jim. "What did he say?"
"Just standard threats. They want me to stay home for a week, or they'll kill Blair and Rafe."
Henri was visibly forcing himself to be calm. "So these guys have something going down this week they don't want you to find out about. And if they targeted you purposely, it must be some case you're already on."
Jim grabbed at the files on his desk. He divided the pile and gave half to Henri. "Let's get to work."
Blair's eyes were starting to shut again against his will. He struggled to keep them open, but the room around them was dark now, and it wasn't like he could walk around to keep himself awake.
"S'matter?" Blair flinched. Rafe hadn't gotten any better the last few hours. The drug should have been out of his system by now, but he was still slurring his words and moving slowly. "Talk to me. I need to stay awake."
"Oh. Okay. Whaddaya wanna talk 'bout?"
Blair almost smiled. "It really doesn't matter to me. Just talk. Tell me why you became a cop."
"Yeah. You don't exactly look like cop material."
"Uh huh. And you do?"
"Okay. Well. I dunno. it just kinda happened. I was goin to Rainier, workin to pay my way, and one day it just stopped makin sense, you know? I didn' like my classes, didn' like my job. I woulda graduated and done somethin I hated fer the resta my life. So I left. I was gonna join the Army."
Blair laughed. "You?" From whereever he was in the room, it sounded like Rafe was smiling. "I know. But I decided on the Academy. Rest is hist'ry."
"What were you going to school for, anyway?"
"Engineering. My dad wanted me to take over the fam'ly business, and all that."
"What did he say when you dropped out?"
"Nuthin. Hasn't said a word to me since."
Blair's smile dropped. "I'm sorry, man. That's rough."
"Yeah, well. Maybe he was right. I shoulda had you outta here by now. Jim woulda. I'm not so great a cop."
Blair opened his mouth to protest, but sudden noise somewhere below him caught his attention. "What are you doing?"
"Gotta get ya out, Blair."
Blair heard the now-familiar sound of Rafe struggling to get one of the crates to move. "Don't wear yourself out, man. If you've got the same drugs in you I have you've got to be wiped out. Wait until tomorrow." He spoke the words without much energy. His legs were starting to sag again and he wasn't sure he'd be much good in the morning. He didn't think he'd be dead -- adrenaline and life-threatening situations did a lot to help keep a body going. But he'd be worn out.
"If yer wiped out, you won't be able to hold yourself up," Rafe said, seemingly reading the observer's thoughts.
"Not for long."
Rafe muttered something that sounded like 'so there', and the scraping noise started again.
It stopped a minute later. "Drugs?"
"What?" Blair squinted through the darkness, wishing he could see his friend. "They gave us drugs?"
"Yeah. At least I think they gave them to you. It sure sounds like it. Why do you think you're so out of it right now?"
"Didn't know..." Rafe fell silent.
Blair sighed into the darkness. "Keep talking, Rafe. I don't want to fall asleep."
"Maybe you should. Need yer sleep. Could ya do it without..."
"I don't think so." Blair frowned. Experimentally he relaxed the muscles in his legs and sagged down. A tightness spread over his arms and chest, and his breathing grew labored. He straightened again a minute later and shuddered. "No. No sleep."
"Damn. 'm sorry." Blair opened his mouth to respond, but a sudden crack sounded beneath him, and he felt a shift by his feet.
"Wha was that?"
"I don't know." Blair shifted his feet awkwardly on the small wooden support.
There was another crack, and the small piece of wood holding him up gave way, clattering to the floor somewhere beneath him.
Blair found himself being strectched again, his arms bearing all his weight. He sucked in a harsh breath with some difficulty, wheezing. It felt like a hand had suddenly reached inside of him and was squeezing his lungs, unwilling to open them enough to let him take a full breath.
"Blair? Blair, what's going on?"
Panic set in, and Blair gasped for air. He opened his mouth to try to communicate with Rafe, but the air was squeezed from him, and he couldn't say a word.
Rafe made his way blindly to his friend's side. "Blair? Say somethin."
The sound of gasping half-breaths was the only thing he could hear, and Rafe finally found the wooden beam with his hands. "Blair?" He reached out and found shoes dangling in the air, and his heart jumped. "Oh shit. Where's..." Something knocked against his foot, and he realized the support had come off. Blair was suffocating.
His sluggish brain was working overtime, and he grabbed the dangling feet and turning himself around, backing up to the wall and letting Blair's feet rest on his shoulders.
Blair straightened thankfully, sucking in lungs full of cool, sweet air. After a few breaths he was able to clear his throat enough to talk. "Thanks."
Rafe didn't answer, trying to think. If he had to hold Blair up, there was no way he was going to be able to get him down. If only he could move enough crates over to let Blair rest on...
But he couldn't. All his activity earlier had worn him out. He was sleepy, his muscles were almost useless. Oh, God. Now they both had to stay awake and alert to keep Blair alive. And awake and alert were not two words he'd use to describe himself right then.
He thought back to those crates. Full of coffee and drugs. Two stimulants. God, he would kill for a grinder and a cup of hot water. But no, the coffee was useless.
A thought pierced the clouds in his brain, but he rejected it instantly. It returned stubbornly.
"Yeah?" Blair was still breathing somewhat heavily, but the panic had died down to just plain fear.
"There was another reason I dropped outta college. I tell ya that?"
"I don't think so." Blair was obviously confused now.
Rafe stared out into the blackness, shifting slightly under Blair's weight. "I kinda had a bit of a drug problem."
Blair stayed silent, wondering where this was going.
"I was never arrested or anything. My mom found out, made me quit. Worst few weeksa my life. But when it was over I thanked 'er."
Blair swallowed, his throat more gravelly than ever after trying to force in air. "A lot of students get in to stuff like that," he said quietly, his voice purposely matter-of-fact.
"Yeah. That was the thing. I was workin all the time, never got a lotta sleep, y'know? It kept me awake. Kept me strong."
Blair could hear the thoughtful note in Rafe's voice, and he frowned. "It also killed brain cells, man. The highs are good, but the lows can kill you."
Beneath him, Rafe laughed quietly. "I know. I heard it all back then."
There was a long silence. Blair shifted, taking deep, calming breaths. It was actually more comfortable balancing on Rafe's shoulders. He was higher up, so the weight was taken off his arms, and he could twist them enough to get blood circulating back past the ropes. He didn't want to think about the kind of strange picture they'd make if anyone came in, but he was relaxing again like this.
"I'm still here, man."
Rafe gave another faint laugh. "Trust me, my shoulders realize that." He paused, the humor draining from his voice. Replaced by a near-nervousness. "Blair, when you were chokin a few minutes ago, could you make any sounds at all?"
Blair trembled slightly, sucking in another deep breath. "No."
"What are you thinking, Rafe?"
"I'm thinkin you still have the same problem. We gotta get you down."
"I wouldn't protest." Blair kept his voice light.
"I gotta get some of those crates over here."
"No!" Blair couldn't stop the hoarse protest. "No. You leave, I'll start choking again. Please, man, I can stay awake. We can stay awake, right?"
There was no answer. "Rafe, come on! I'll stop breathing! I can't do that. It takes forever to move those things. I can't last that long without you here! You're weak, you're tired." He swallowed. "Come on, Rafe. They'll come get us out soon. Jim and Henri will find us, you know they will."
"May not find us in time," Rafe said quietly.
"Sure they will! They always do, somehow. Trust me, man, I'm used to this kind of thing happening. Jim always gets here in time."
"Blair? I can't...can't just wait fer you to die."
"Rafe, please!" Blair could hear the utter fear in his own voice, but was powerless to change it. "Please! Just stay here. We'll figure something else out, okay? I can get my hands free or something."
"Thirty seconds, Blair. 'm gonna go for thirty seconds, okay?"
"No, man. Come on. Please don't."
"'m sorry. Take a deep breath."
His eyes shut, forcing out a few tears of pure fear. "Thirty seconds. Please." He drew in the deepest breath he could. Rafe was gone from beneath him an instant later, and the weight was back on his arms. He fought the urge to panic, holding the air inside of him, his eyes staying shut against the pain and fear. Oh God let him come back soon. Thirty seconds, please God please please please.
There were thumps below him, but he couldn't focus on any of it. He couldn't keep the breath in, and he released it slowly, little by little, feeling his lungs collapse around the escaping air. Finally it was gone and he tried to take another deep breath, but couldn't. All he could manage was a faint gasp that let in too little. He gasped in again and again, desperate. The sudden image came to him that he was hanging there on that wall like a fish hanging off a hook. He now knew what that fish must feel like, its gills working overtime, but nothing coming in. Slowly suffocating, second by second.
And then Rafe was there again, grabbing his feet and sliding beneath them.
Blair straightened, sucking in air, shuddering.
"Are you okay?" Rafe asked him loudly after a minute.
"Yeah," Blair managed to get out. "Just...remind me never to go fishing with Jim and Simon again."
Rafe laughed. "Sure, no problem."
"And don't do that again."
"I don't think I can promise you that one, bud. I'll try not to be gone so long, but I'm going to have to do it again if we're going to get you down."
Blair started shaking, fighting down another wave of panic. "Oh, man."
"I know, Blair. But look, we're going to come through just fine, you know? Our super partners will come charging to the rescue. I just can't have them finding me and a corpse." Rafe giggled. "So I'm gonna go again, okay? Just for a few seconds. Take a breath?"
Blair hardly had time to breathe in again before the support was gone, and he was left dangling. It was only slightly easier to hide the panic, and he could hear something moving around beneath him. There was a loud rumbling sound, like dragging, and then Rafe was back.
Blair straightened and breathed in again. He hadn't been gone so long, and Blair had fought off panic enough to not gasp. He only took a second to get back in control. "Yeah. Actually I did. What are you doing?"
"Moving crates. You know, I think I can almost see now. Is it lighter in here or am I turning in to Jim?" Rafe laughed again.
Blair froze. "Uh."
"It's no secret your partner is Clark Kent, okay Blair? He just doesn't have to put on tights to be able to see through walls and stuff."
Blair laughed faintly, nervous for more than one reason. "Whatever, man."
Rafe was sounding far more happy about this situation than he should have been. As a matter of fact... "Hey, man, those drugs wearing off? You're not slurring any more."
Another laugh came from down below. "Wearing off?" Rafe giggled.
"Are you okay?"
"I can smell coffee, Blair. Can you smell that? I hate that smell. I hate coffee."
Blair swallowed, his thoughts working, sure something was wrong. "You drink it all the time."
"Nah, not me. Henri's like a vacuum with the stuff, but I can't stand it."
"Rafe, what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing at all. Everything's A-OK. Now breathe, Blair, I gotta take off again."
Blair obeyed, his mind screaming at him not to panic, Rafe would be back, everything was fine.
He concentrated more on the noise, and heard the familiar scrape of two crates sliding apart. To his surprise, the sound was actually quick, and he could hear Rafe grunt and take a few halting steps back towards him. There was another grunt and a thump, and Rafe returned to support him again. Blair breathed out and in again.
"Rafe?" he asked after a minute.
"Are you carrying those crates?"
"You know a better way to get them over here? Two down, pal. I'll give you another minute then get another one. Shouldn't take too long to work this out." Rafe inhaled loudly through his nose.
Blair frowned in the darkness. His friend's voice was all wrong, loud and careless. He kept laughing, he was suddenly full of energy...
Horror struck Blair so fast it was almost like he was suffocating again for a second. "Rafe?"
"You are, apparently. You're high as a kite, aren't you?"
Rafe giggled again. "You noticed? Darn, now you're gonna call my mommy, right?"
"You...that bag of cocaine...you...?"
"You're quick. No wonder they've got you observing us."
"Oh, damn, Rafe." No wonder he was energetic. No wonder he was suddenly moving those crates without even feeling the pain of it.
"Don't worry about me, pal. We have to get you down from here, that's all that matters now."
Blair obeyed barely fast enough before Rafe was gone again. His thoughts were spinning so much he managed to forget to be scared as he dangled there.
Rafe lugged another crate over, and took his place beneath Blair again. "One more, Blair. Then you've got a permanent foot rest."
"What's wrong? Everything's fine, Blair. Everything's super. We're gonna get out of this, you know? You and me. A couple of friends."
Blair opened his mouth to voice his protests, but shut it again. What good would it do? He couldn't sober Rafe up, and the appeal of having something permanent to lean on was too strong. "Just do it, Rafe."
"Alrighty. Big breath."
Blair obeyed. He listened to the familiar shift, grunt, and then thump right beside him, and suddenly Rafe grabbed his feet and moved them to the side. Blair felt the steady support of crates, and exhaled in relief. It was awkward, and would get uncomfortable fast, twisting his body like that. But he could breathe.
"Okay. Now I'm just gonna get some more over here so I can get up there and untie you." Rafe actually started humming as he worked, lugging the too-heavy crates over to Blair one at a time and positioning them beside the first ones.
"Shit! This has to be it!" Jim stared down at the file, looking over at the picture of Blair again darkly. It was obvious by the cement wall behind him that Blair was in some sort of a warehouse. And here was the file on suspected drug dealers working out of the warehouse district.
"You find something?" Henri came over quickly.
"I think so. It has to be these guys, but I don't know how I can get over there and find out which building he's got Blair stashed in. All I know is the warehouse district."
Henri frowned, thoughtful. "My wife drives a minivan."
Jim stared. "Did this turn in to a car commercial when I wasn't looking?"
Henri rolled his eyes. "No, look. I can go home and pick up the van, drive it back here. You stay low in the back; I'll drive us to the warehouse district. They'll never see you. You can use that psychic power of yours and track Blair down, right?"
Jim's eyes went to him, thoughtful. Sure he could use his hearing to find Blair, but he couldn't exactly tell Henri that.
Screw it. Finding Blair was definitely more important that keeping secrets. "Let's do it."
Rafe's breathing was getting harsh. Blair could hear it from where he was balanced up against the wall. "You okay, man?"
"For the tenth time, Blair, I'm super. Now shut up and let me work."
He wasn't super, Blair could tell. He had stopped his tuneless humming, he was moving more slowly, and that breathing was so loud it sounding like he was the one suffocating.
There was a loud groan as Rafe picked up another crate, and halfway back he dropped it. "Shit!"
Blair heard him turn around without a pause and use muscles that should have been useless to lift another crate. He stumbled and almost tripped over the broken one in his way, but eventually he made it over and dumped the box on top of the others he had there. "Perfect! Finally! You'll be down in no time, Blair."
Blair let out a sigh of relief, mingled with concern.
Rafe clamored up the crates awkwardly, grabbing Blair more than once to stay balanced as he reached the top. He felt over to Blair's left wrist and tugged at the ropes.
Blair squinted, and the faint lights coming from somewhere above him reflected off Rafe's glazed eyes. They were all Blair could see of the man, even though he was only a foot in front of him. He felt a sudden give in the rope, and he pulled his hand free quickly. His shoulder muscles protested the move, but he ignore it, too relieved to be free. "Oh, man. Rafe, thanks."
"No problem." Rafe turned to the other hand, his breathing nearly gasps.
It only took another minute to get Blair's other hand free, and Rafe grabbed him when he swayed, and lifted him, crouching to lower him to the ground effortlessly.
Blair felt the cement under his shoes and let out a huge sigh, fighting the urge to kiss the ground. He stumbled over to a couple of crates left in one stack and sat himself heavily, rubbing his sore wrists, massaging blood back into his hands.
He heard the stumbling of Rafe getting himself down and moving over to him. Rafe let out a loud breath and almost fell at Blair's feet, leaning up against the crates. "I think I'm gonna feel this in the morning."
Blair looked towards his voice. "Rafe, you shouldn't have done that."
"Why not? You're down, aren't you? I'm feeling better. Everything's better now." Rafe laughed faintly, the sound quieter than his harsh breathing. "Unless you're gonna arrest me for substance abuse."
"That's not funny, man. Listen to you. Something's wrong. And you know Simon's not gonna be happy about this."
"Ooooh." Rafe laughed again, but the sound faded. "I know. Shit, man, I'd forgotten how this feels, you know?"
"No!" Blair leaned forward earnestly. "I don't know. And you're going to forget again, you got me? I'm not turning you into a junkie over this, Rafe."
"Don't worry about it, kid. I'm fine."
"Yeah, yeah. You're great, I know." Blair frowned. "How the hell are we gonna explain this one, man?"
Rafe sighed and leaned back heavily. "I don't know, pal. Maybe they won't notice." He giggled faintly.
"Yeah, right. If it was me, maybe they wouldn't notice." Blair smiled without humor.
Rafe sat up suddenly. "Speak of the devil."
"What?" Blair heard it a second later. Loud thumps against a wall surrounded by crates. He jumped up and went over, listening.
"Henri?" Blair jumped over the two crates he'd been sitting on and found the wall. He pounded on it. "Henri!"
"Yes!" came a triumphant crow from beyond the wall. "Hang on, Hairboy! Cavalry's coming!"
Blair beamed and turned to where Rafe should have been standing. "Hear that? Your partner came to the rescue after all!"
There was no answer. Blair moved awkwardly in the dark room, reaching the two crates. "Rafe?"
A sudden noise came from behind him, and light streamed in a thin line into the room. In the sudden dim light, Blair's eyes found Rafe sprawled on the floor a few feet away. "Damn! Oh man, Rafe, you okay?" He reached Rafe just as a familiar, much-welcomed voice rang out behind him.
"Chief! You two all right?"
"Jim, man, I'm glad to see you. We've gotta get Rafe some help."
"Rafe?" Jim was by his side in a flash. But...I thought..you were--"
"Yeah, I was. I'm okay, Jim."
Jim spared a moment to meet Blair's eyes, searching his expression. He let out a smile of relief. "Yeah, you are."
Blair smiled back slightly, and they turned their attention back to their friend.
Rafe woke up, blinking groggy eyes around him, his head throbbing painfully.
"Morning, partner." Henri appeared at his side, looking down at him warily. "How you feeling?"
"Like shit. I drink too much last night?" Rafe was surprised -- he hardly ever drank more than a few beers.
"Nope. This is a completely different vice."
Rafe met the dark eyes and frowned in confusion. "What do..." The memory flashed over him. Blair being trapped, him feeling so lethargic, and then making the decision to help by..."Oh, man. Is Blair okay? At least tell me I got Blair down all right?"
"He's fine. His wrists had to be bandaged, but that wasn't your fault. He told us what happened, Rafe. Everything."
Rafe groaned. "And they sent my own partner to arrest me? How fitting."
Henri actually smiled. "Nope. No arrests. Blair explained everything to Simon, Simon talked to the doctors. We're keeping this quiet, man. According to the statement Blair made, you did it all yourself, without chemical help. Simon's not real happy about it, considering we got there in time for Blair to have been saved without help, but he understands. In fact, Jim's so grateful you could probably weasel favors out of him for a few months."
Rafe returned the smile hesitantly. "Everything's really okay?"
"Yeah." Henri's smile faded. "I wish you'd told me, man. Blair said you used to have a problem. You could have said something."
Rafe was rescued from having to reply by the door opening behind them and two men strolling in. "Hey, Blair! How you feeling?"
"That should be my question, man."
Rafe sat up shakily. "I'm fine. Feels like the worst hangover of my life, but I'll live. What happened, anyway?"
"The doctors said that drug they dosed you with had some sort of reaction to the...uh, the other drug. Nothing too serious since we got you to the hospital in time."
"Oh." Rafe glanced back at Jim. "I hear you guys came in faster than I thought you would. I guess it was kind of pointless of me to do what I did."
To Rafe's surprise, Jim smiled. "No, not pointless. There was a chance we wouldn't have made it. I can't say any of us are very happy about this, but you're both alive. That's all that matters. Besides, I tried moving some of those crates when we were getting you out. Those things were heavy."
Rafe laughed. "Yeah, well. Past addictions aside, I didn't snort up for the fun of it. I knew what would happen." He looked over at Blair. "I'm just glad it worked. If I had lost focus, started laughing at the walls or something, you'd be gone."
Blair shrugged. "But you didn't. What happened happened. Let's just forget about it."
"And make damned sure it doesn't happen again," Henri added sternly.
"Seriously," Blair added. "I'm just glad you were there." His smile faded. "Being tied up there like that, it was..." He shuddered. "I don't know. It was bad."
Jim rested a hand on his shoulder. "It's over now," he said quietly.
"I know, man." Blair didn't look relieved, though. Neither of them did. The two roommates knew that at the very least, they had new fuel for their dreams at night. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
Henri broke the strained silence by clearing his throat. "So you ready to check out of here, Rafe? Jim's promised to buy us all dinner somewhere nice."
Rafe brightened. "Sounds good to me."
"As long as the place doesn't serve seafood," Blair added.
Three pairs of eyes turned to him questioningly. Blair shrugged. "I never even want to look at another fish."
There was silence. Blair looked around at his three friends, at the matching 'you're nuts' looks on their faces, and he grinned.
As always, a crisis had been averted and things were back to normal.