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Scully turned and left the office to tell Mulder the change in plans, practically walking into Ellen as she left. Skinner's secretary skillfully maneuvered around the agent, then informed her boss, "Mr. Smith is on the phone for you, sir," and quickly left the office.

Skinner took a deep breath to calm his rage, then picked up the phone. He wanted to make this short and sweet--the things he had to say to that foul black-lunged nightmare he wanted to say directly to his face, not over the phone.

The cigarette-smoking man sounded far too cheerful for his own good. "Ah, Mr. Skinner, what can I do for you today?"

It took every ounce of military discipline not to chew the man out over the phone. He made his demands brief and to the point. "I need to see you. The Reflecting Pool. One hour, or I tell Mulder exactly what you did to Agent Scully, and you'll probably be finding a bullet in your head sometime around midnight."

The man on the other end of the phone knew a threat when he heard one, and what he had just heard was not a threat. It was a promise. "Very well, then. One hour." *click*

Skinner hung up his end of the phone and sighed. He had promised Jim Ellison that he would keep their secret, and help him, 'should anything happen.' He had broken far too many promises to the soldier in the past. It was time he finally kept one.

*****

Scully charged into the office and sat down just as Mulder got off the phone. Before she could say anything, Mulder informed her, "I just got off the phone with Byers. Apparently, the night of Jim's abduction, there were all the standard bright lights, flying saucer reports, etc., that come with your standard abduction story. But this time, he also found out that the majority of the reports have the 'flying saucer' heading west over Cascade toward the mountains. They also found reports of several military transport trains 'with top secret cargo' heading in the same direction. The Gunmen suggested that we fly out tonight and start the search. They'll drive the truck to Washington and meet us there in a couple of days."

Since Mulder was forced to take a breath, Scully was able to catch him, informing him, "we're going to be on a flight leaving later this afternoon. We can't write up a 302 on this one, so Skinner's filling out paid leave-of-absence forms for the three of us."

Mulder caught the last part of her statement. "The three of us?"

"Skinner's coming with us. He feels he owes Jim after the whole Washington Towers incident."

"Sounds good to me." Mulder turned on the speakerphone and dialed the number for the Cascade PD he had taken from Jim Ellison's business card.

*****

Blair heard Jim's phone ring for the first time since he had sent the e-mail to Washington. He answered the phone, "Jim Ellison's line, this is Blair."

In their basement office, both agents answered, "Hi Blair!"

Blair's mood brightened considerably, which got Simon's attention immediately. "Hi guys! Did you get my e-mail?"

Solemnly, Mulder replied, "yeah, we did. How're you holding up?"

"It ain't easy, that's for sure. So what do you guys think?"

Scully replied, anger coloring her voice, "we have a pretty good idea of who took Jim, Blair."

[So this _is_ about covert ops,] thought Blair. He could barely keep the anger out of his own voice as he asked, "Does this have anything to do with our meeting with your boss?"

Scully replied, "I don't think so. Skinner's agreed to help us with the search, even putting the three of us on paid leaves-of-absence to do it. Also, as I left his office, I heard him telling his secretary to put a man on the phone who I believe is the real culprit behind Jim's abduction. My guess is he was planning to shake this man down for information, though knowing the man in question, I doubt Skinner will get anything useful from him." Mulder gave Scully a questioning look with his eyes, and one look from her told him exactly who it was that Skinner was talking to. The agent banged his fist on the table in frustration as Scully continued, "we'll be on a flight to Cascade later this afternoon. I'll let you know the flight information as soon as we get it."

Blair asked, "have you talked to the Gunmen about what happened?"

Mulder was about to nod, then realized that he was on the phone. "We have. They're driving the truck out to Cascade, and should meet us there in a few days. Have you heard from Jim yet?"

Blair tried once more to reach out telepathically to his partner, only to hear silence at the other end. "Nothing yet. He's still unconscious."

Scully replied, "trust me, Blair. Knowing the men who took Jim, that may be in his best interests for now."

Blair wondered why Scully was being so cryptic, then decided he would ask her about it later. "So you'll call me as soon as you get the flight information?"

Both agents replied, "we promise."

Mulder then concluded the call, "see you soon, Blair. Hang in there--we'll find him."

"Thanks, guys. See you soon." *click*

The second Blair was off the phone Simon was on his case. "Sandburg, I need to see you in my office _now_."

The two men walked into Simon's office and the captain closed the door. Before Blair could say a word, Simon demanded, "that was _not_ a conversation between people who worked together once and haven't seen each other in a year. Now exactly _what_ is going on here?"

Blair sighed and sat down. Evidently, he was going to have quite a bit of explaining to do.

*****

Washington, D.C.

Reflecting Pool

10:00 am

It had been an unusually cold spring in Washington, and Skinner wished, not for the first time, that he had a little hair to keep the top of his head warm. Those casual thoughts were banished from his mind, however, as a short, gray-haired old man walked up to him like he owned the world. For, in his mind, he believed he truly did own the world.

The older man stomped his Morley cigarette on the ground and promptly lit a new one as he greeted the Assistant Director. It was clear from the tone in his voice that he was not happy to be meeting with the younger man. "So, Mr. Skinner, what is so important that you feel the need to drag me out here in the middle of the day with thinly veiled threats?"

The ex-soldier kept his voice on an even keel. "I think you know who we're here about. Where is he?"

The older man raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Oh, is that all? Don't worry, Skinner. We'll return him after we're finished with him. Of course, I can't vouch for the condition he'll be in when we do return him…"

Skinner's anger was no longer confinable. It would be a cold day in Hell before he would let anyone he knew go through the things this man was implying they were going to do to James Ellison. That is, if they haven't started already. He grabbed the older man by the lapels and growled, "I have had _enough_ of your games, old man. _When_ we find Jim Ellison, you had better pray that we find him in one piece, because I will not be responsible for anything that might happen to you if we don't."

The older man practically laughed at the threat. "And what makes you think that you _will_ find him, Mr. Skinner? After all, isn't Agent Mulder still looking for his sister?"

[Okay, that's it,] thought Skinner. The Assistant Director did something that he had been waiting to do for fifteen years; something that the older man never thought the younger man would never have the courage to do.

He decked him.

Skinner landed two solid shots: a right jab to the stomach, followed by a left-handed uppercut to the man's jaw that was powerful enough to send the older man for a swim in the Reflecting Pool. Before the older man could get a chance to say or do anything in response, Skinner turned on his heels and walked back toward the Hoover Building.

The Assistant Director knew he hadn't heard the last of his evil black-lunged superior. [Well,] he thought briefly, [former superior.]

But for now, he could take great comfort in the fact that he was feeling the best he's felt about himself in years.

*****

Light.

That was the only thing that registered in Jim Ellison's mind as he slowly came back to consciousness. The light was so bright it hurt his eyes, so he closed his eyes and turned down the sensitivity of his vision the way Blair had taught him--

Blair.

Where was Blair?

He sat up quickly, only to experience a headache like none he had ever experienced before. He screamed in response to the excruciating pain.

He felt a pair of cold, unfamiliar hands grab his shoulders while a unfamiliar female voice tried to speak to him in a soothing, reassuring, tone. He flinched at the touch while the voice continued to soothe, "whoa, whoa, take it easy big guy! The drugs haven't worn off yet. Trust me, you don't want to make any sudden moves. Now take a deep breath, lie down and try to relax."

Even though the voice rang loudly in his ears, the tone was soothing enough that he was able to latch on to it, the same way he latched onto Blair's voice when he was in 'guide mode'. Jim drew in a deep breath, and let it out as instructed. Lying down dulled the pain enough that he was able to rein in control of his senses, and that's when he felt it.

The link.

It felt like it has been stretched thin, but it was definitely alive. He could feel the energy surging across it, and he latched onto that energy like a lifeline, repairing and strengthening the line until he could feel the connection as strong as he had felt it before. He sent a message through the link, trying to reach his guide. 'Blair?'

*****

Cascade Police Department

Major Crimes Division

March 23, 1997

noon

Blair had just finished explaining to Captain Banks how having two Sentinels around had helped them solve the Marcus Christopher murder case, and was about to get into meeting the Lone Gunmen at the Washington Towers when something that felt to him like a blast of energy knocked him off his chair. As he heard his Sentinel's voice echoing in his head, only one thought came to mind, and he told Simon as he got up off the floor, "Simon, it's Jim. He's awake." He then focused all his attention on his missing Sentinel. 'Jim? Are you all right?'

Jim thought about his previously aching head and replied, 'I think so. They pumped me full of some sort of weird sedative, I think. When I first woke up from it, my senses had gone haywire, and I had a monster headache. Lying down helped it, though.'

'Can you give us any clue as to where you are?'

Jim extended his hearing as far as he could, but he could hear no other human beings save for himself and the woman sharing his room. Unfortunately, though, he could also hear several pockets of white noise scattered about within range of his hearing. [Whoever these people are,] he thought to himself, [they seem to have at least some idea about my abilities. Either that, or they have a lot of secrets they're very protective about.]

From the echo the lights in the hall created, though, he could pick up one small clue. 'I'm sorry, chief. I can't hear anything. They have dozens of white-noise generators going, and I'm simply too tired to filter them out. From the echos in the hall, though, I'd say we were in some sort of underground bunker.'

Blair sighed. [An underground bunker? We might as well be looking for a Dr. Pepper in the middle of the Sahara.] Simon asked Blair, "has he seen anyone? Does he know who's holding him?"

Blair wasn't sure he needed to ask that question, but he did anyway. 'Have you seen anyone since you woke up, Jim?'

'There's a young woman who's in the same room I'm in. She's the only one I've seen since I woke up.'

Blair could tell the fatigue in the Sentinel's voice. He told Jim, 'just get some rest, Jim. Mulder and Scully are on their way here. They're bringing Skinner with them, and Byers, Langley and Frohike are driving cross-country with the truck. We'll get you out of there, Jim. I promise.'

'I know, chief. I know.' As his mind drifted to the half-consciousness of sleep, the voice of his spirit guide echoed in the back of his mind. "Rest well, Sentinel. I will protect you and the young ones until you are reunited. Always remember, Sentinel, your village still needs you..."

*****

Blair took the silence on the other end to mean that Jim had fallen asleep, so he pulled his awareness back fully to Simon's office and looked over to the concerned captain. "All he could tell me is that he thinks he's in an underground bunker, and that there's a young woman sharing his room. Whatever drug they pumped him full of was playing around with his mind and his senses too much to be able to tell me anything else."

Simon sighed. This case was getting worse by the minute. "Does he have any idea _who_ might be holding him?"

"No, but Agent Mulder and Agent Scully are pretty sure--that's the reason they're flying out here."

Simon raised an eyebrow in angry curiosity, "does this have anything to do with covert ops?"

Blair nodded.

Simon rested his head in his hands. The last time he had to deal with Covert ops he was dealt a plate of lies from the FBI that almost got his best detective killed. Even though Blair seemed to know these agents pretty well, he still hoped that this time, he wasn't going to have to bring home that same detective in a pine box because of the FBI.

*****

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