Disclaimer: No one bought the bad guys so far, so I used them once more.

Warnings: The same as in 'The Hunger'. Still deals with bulimia and child abuse - know your boundaries.

Thank you's: Annie & Xasphie for the great beta, as always. One of these days, I'm going to learn how to place my adverbs, among other things (-: ; and every remaining mistake to be found is, of course, mine.

Feedback is very welcome.

 

The Devil's Whisper

 

By Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

 

Prologue

"He said that's what all good daddies do. That asshole dared to say he loved me."

She was angry, which was a good sign. I supposed.

When my hands had started shaking, I held them together in my lap, tightly, hoping no one would notice. Chances were I'd succeed, because everybody's attention was on her, and that's how I hoped it would stay.

"He'd come to my room, every other night when Mom was working late, and I used to pretend that I was asleep, but it was never..."

Oh God. I didn't want to hear this. By now, I was shaking all over, and to my horror, I felt tears in my eyes. Please, not now. It was her story to tell, not mine, and she was in control while relating it to the group, so it was unacceptable for me to be losing it here.

Get. A. Grip.

"...any help, so I started pretending I wasn't really there, but one time, I was hurt bad and then..."

I pressed both hands against my mouth, unable to hold in those miserable sobs that just seemed to come out of nowhere. This was sad, no denying that, but I've heard and seen sad before, only recently. Still, I couldn't stop crying. I was simply swept away by a grief so overwhelming that all I could do was jump from my chair and leave the room. Without looking, I just knew that everybody was looking at me now.

If I'd stayed, I'd have driven myself right into a panic attack. Even so, I wasn't far from it.

***

Chapter 1, Survival

 

One week had come and passed in a blur. We had to tell Simon what was going on, of course; and that I wouldn't be available for a couple of months. Much to his credit, he was nothing but supportive and understanding.

"You take all the time you need to heal, son," he'd said. "Hell, we've been waiting so long for you to become a cop, we can wait a little longer now. I still want you on this team, and Ellison... I don't think anyone else could put up with him in the long run."

"Hey," Jim had complained from the kitchen where he was preparing dinner for the three of us, "I heard that."

"That's because I meant you to," Simon grumbled.

It was almost like the old days if there hadn't been this omnipresent subject hanging over our heads. It was there in how Jim pretended to not watch me eat. Whenever we had been eating together, he'd found a way to distract me from the automatic response, but he couldn't be there all the time.

And there was more I had to think about. I was glad about the faith Simon put in me; still, I wasn't too sure if I'd go back to being a cop. I just couldn't make that decision yet.

"So." Simon, once again, startled me from my thoughts. "You've found a clinic already?"

*That* almost hadn't happened. Jim began to relate some details of our search, in which we hadn't come up with a perfect solution, but a compromise that was, hopefully, acceptable for both of us.

I knew to be able to succeed in the end, I had to concentrate on the therapy solely, but I wouldn't be able to do that out of driving range, in case Jim needed me. Sure, he'd been handling his senses just fine for quite a while now, but you never knew, right?

Some clinics didn't allow any outside contact to their patients throughout the entire therapy, and that was simply not possible. Scratch the ones who didn't have any mixed groups (for nothing much had changed as to the demography of bulimia, and I wasn't too sure about taking part in an otherwise all-women group). In the end, we found a clinic which was about a hundred miles away from Cascade, had mixed gender groups and didn't permit outside contact for the first two weeks.

We had visited the Patterson Clinic along with two others, and finally decided on this one. I'd go tomorrow, and I was scared shitless, getting more so by the minute.

Jim seemed to have honed into my state of mind, because after dinner, he apologized to Simon, saying that there were some things left for us to take care of, and that he'd keep him updated.

Simon patted my shoulder before he left, wishing me well, and I suspected he would have liked to hug me, but was afraid I'd start crying in the face of so much sentimentality.

Which was very good judgment.

***

Those critical two weeks had almost passed by the time this particular 'incident' had happened.

There were always two therapists with the group, Catherine Andrews, the more experienced psychiatrist, and Allan Jackson, Ph.D., her younger colleague. He was about my age, and even though it was certainly not his fault, I always felt challenged by him. He had, apparently without any drama, accomplished what I'd always dreamed of, those magical three letters after his name.

I know it wasn't very rational. I had simply made different choices, but it was still the way I felt.

That day, Catherine had sent Allan to look after me following my abrupt escape. I stood in the hallway by the open window, trying to get my breath back, and having managed that, I immediately snapped at him,

"I don't need a babysitter."

It sounded miserable as could be; I just couldn't stop the flow of tears, well aware that it wasn't only Ann's past that had caused it. I couldn't stop the images either, and they brought back visions of Bryant with the girl.

Now.

Then.

"Just checking," he said, not fazed by my lack of manners. "It's always hard to listen when people are telling their stories."

"No one else got hysterical, did they?" I sniffed.

I was pissed off, at myself, for losing control once again, and at him, because this, him being the professional, me the patient, it just felt... wrong. I had minored in psych once, after all. That seemed like light-years away.

"I don't think it left anybody untouched," Allan countered. He looked at his wristwatch. "There's only five minutes left anyway. You don't have to go back in. Here, take this." He was handing me a tissue, and I accepted it with a thanks. "If there's anything you want to talk about, Catherine and I are both free for the rest of the day. Feel free to drop by if you need to."

I forced a smile for his sake. "Thanks again, but that's not necessary. Just caught me off guard, that's all."

"Good." I couldn't say if he was buying my act, but he let me off the hook anyway. "See you tomorrow, then."

"Yeah. Take care, man."

I returned to my room, utterly relieved to find it empty. Of course, I'd been living in rather close quarters with Jim for quite a while, but that hadn't exactly prepared me for the experience of sharing with a stranger once more. Other than one brief opportunity when I had been sharing a dorm room with a guy who kept partying all night throughout the semester - which led to me moving into the warehouse eventually - there were some even less friendly memories from back in school.

Brandon wasn't so bad, but he was in fact only eighteen years old and there wasn't much we had in common, except we'd both screwed up our lives and needed this place to help us get it back together.

I lay down on my bed, hands behind my head, and stared at the ceiling, trying to figure out what had caused the embarrassing crying fit.

Could be that the last case Jim and I had worked on was the serial killing and abuse of three little girls, a fourth almost falling victim to the perpetrator. There. Maybe I was getting a little distance when I was able to use such rather neutral terms.

Or maybe not.

According to Cindy Palmer's parents, I was a hero; they'd even come to visit me at the hospital. The girl had been chatting away endlessly, never standing still, testimony to how she was still shaken from her experience - but she had *not* been abused like the others, thank God for that.

I had been able to help.

That time.

As that thought came to my mind, the shakes started again. I had been so focused on not throwing up while Jim was around, and when we were searching for the right clinic, that I didn't have any time to take a good look at the memory that had surfaced during my captivity. Of course I had given my statement, and couldn't avoid mentioning that I had been Bryant's patient once, but somehow, this detail had slipped my mind. Again.

The question remained - Who was that girl?

I had been thirteen years old, way old enough to understand what was going on, and act, when I'd seen her with the man who'd turned out to be a serial killer. Only because I couldn't bear to understand, I'd shoved the memory deep down into my subconscious instead, probably prolonging her suffering.

I shuddered. Was she even still alive?

There was no use in talking this through with one of the therapists; what I needed was to turn back time and undo it all. I needed Jim who'd remember to counter my self-reproach with one of my own lines about letting the past go.

Damn it.

***

"You will do just fine," Jim had said confidently, one of those days that were filled with a raging uncertainty, before I went. "That is, if you don't try to smuggle that algae stuff onto the menu. Then they might throw you out on your ass."

"Really?"

I didn't think it was possible, but I had to laugh at his words, and he smiled, proud of himself, no doubt about that. I didn't tell him that in the past few weeks the algae shake had long since given way to breakfast orgies worse than those committed by a dozen cops in a bakery.

"I know that."

"What about you? Will you be okay for two weeks?"

Well, ten to twelve weeks actually, but it was those first two that still had me worried. Strange - come to think of it, I don't think we've spent two weeks apart ever since we moved in together. No wonder people speculated about the true nature of our relationship.

"You're not to worry about anything. Simon and Connor will have it covered." He grimaced a little, probably thinking of methods they would use to bring him out of a zone-out, if necessary. "There's only one thing you need to concentrate on."

"Thank you," I said seriously.

Didn't they always say that things had to get worse before they got better? If that was the truth, we had definitely earned ourselves a break.

***

I felt a little lightheaded during the drive which I attributed to not having eaten much, for the sake of not throwing up - but I found out there were other reasons. When Jim parked the truck in the parking lot of the clinic, the air inside seemed to get thinner rapidly, and I was starting to gasp for breath.

Alright then, at least that was familiar.

Jim produced a paper bag from god-knew where and held it steady for me to breathe into. "Jesus, Sandburg," he said, not without affection, "it's not like you're going to prison."

He was right, of course, but that was not how I felt. Two weeks. Whatever problems ancient Guides might have had, I was quite sure they didn't require three months worth of therapy, and that was only the time at the clinic. And it started with two weeks of absolutely no contact with anyone outside. I couldn't even begin to say how much that scared me.

"Not much of a difference, believe me," I said when I could breathe again. "Gluttony. It's a mortal sin."

Jim was looking at me intently as if to estimate if I was joking - or not. "You're not being punished."

"Yeah, right. I'll go inside now, before I change my mind."

***

"So - thanks for the ride. We... we'll see each other in two weeks, then."

My throat was tightening; and I had the childish impulse to ask him to just take me away from this place. We were standing at the counter, waiting for the clerk to return with a nurse who would show me around. Last chance to flee.

"Alright. The ladies are coming back," Jim said. "And behave yourself."

Right, that was just like him, to throw in a crack like that, beware if the situation got all too emotional. I didn't mind. I just didn't really want to stay here.

After having greeted the nurse, he just squeezed my shoulder briefly, and it was probably a good thing that he didn't hug me, because if he had, I didn't know if I'd been able to let go.

All of a sudden, the reality was clouded with a memory, of Naomi, standing in some doorway, with her bags packed, saying one of those many temporary good-byes.

"Mr. Sandburg?"

The nurse's voice jolted me back to the present, but I still felt six years old, all alone in the world. I straightened my shoulders. By now, I should be old enough to understand the concept of object permanence. I'd see Jim again soon. Fourteen days - and counting.

***

Attending the first session of group therapy was, if you asked me, a disaster. Not because of the therapists, or the other patients, but hell, I didn't think I could go anywhere with this. It was all because of me, because, I realized with horror, I had built my life on lies.

//My dissertation is on police subcultures.//

//Jim's a researcher and I'm helping him out with a project on human behavior.//

//I never doubted that Naomi loved me.//

//There are no Sentinels.//

//I haven't thrown up since I got out of the hospital.//

I'd gotten my wish, the group was indeed mixed in gender and age. While everybody introduced themselves, I found myself envying them. They didn't have to carefully censor their stories, because nothing much could happen if they told the whole truth; the therapists had heard it all and then some.

It made me wonder how many of them had seen the press conference.

***

It felt really strange, having so little to do, and it was frightening, too. Being the new person - another familiar, uncomfortable state - I kept to myself except for the group sessions, and I had way too much time to think.

I'd been lucky to have people in my life who'd gone to great lengths to protect me. It was the reason I was still alive. And years ago, Naomi hadn't hesitated when I said I couldn't stand Bryant anymore, never even asking for a reason.

How could I have forgotten?

The first evening, I wanted to grab the nearest phone and ask Jim to find out about that girl, trace Bryant's records up to that time. I had failed her once, so I felt it was my responsibility to make sure she would not be forgotten. Maybe others, now adult women, would come forward.

God, what had I done?

I hadn't heard the door open, so I jumped when suddenly Brandon was standing before me, asking if I was coming to dinner. We'd only met a couple of days ago, but I could already tell he was slightly unnerved. What a great start.

***

I couldn't sleep.

I hadn't even begun to deal with how close I'd come to getting killed, again. No, I had to start at the beginning this time, make sense of it all.

That afternoon, before dinner, I had my first session with Dr. Andrews, which mostly consisted of biographic anamnesis; telling the story of my life so far.

I told her I'd had a happy childhood because that was the truth. I couldn't give her the vaguest recollections about grandparents or my father because I hadn't met either of them, but I could tell her a lot about Naomi, whose rules, if you could call them that, had always made for a nice utopia. Even if they were often a little unpractical in the real world. Not everybody was that tolerant and accepting.

I don't mean to say I don't appreciate the values she taught me, no, I'm very grateful for that. And we made up a real family unit, weren't missing anything.

'Nothing at all?' Bryant had asked all those years ago. 'You were never worried when she took off on her own?'

It was strange how I hadn't thought of that time for much of my adult life, but bits and pieces were now rising to the surface again. Maybe it was that excruciating pain when he'd almost stabbed me to death only a couple of weeks ago, that had put me in some trance-like state and irreversibly lifted the veil hanging over those memories.

Fast forward.

High school, therapy, college, graduate school - and that's where the big lies began.

***

But I didn't have any choice but to lie, did I? Not when there was still so much at stake. And the story wasn't so easily forgotten, as I'd learned soon enough. The therapists might have bought my obfuscation, or maybe they just thought that I had enough on my plate without making the dissertation a subject. Others had read the newspapers, too. It had been another hard day, trying to ignore food as best I could in order not to throw up. Trying not to think about the nameless girl I could have saved.

And on top of it all, it was that night that Brandon asked, "Did you really write your friend up as a superhero?"

"Why do you want to know?" I asked back without thinking. A wiser man would just have pretended to be asleep.

The bedsprings creaked a little as he turned around. Then he tossed the ball back, figuratively speaking. "Were you in love with him?"

Oh man. "Pardon me?" Please, no more complications of this kind. I just couldn't take any more.

"Ever since it was in the news, I've been wondering why anybody would do it, and that's the only explanation that seems to make sense."

Christ, the way he said it, it actually *did* make sense.

"It's not the case though. There's this... legend I initially wanted to write about." The practiced lie came smoothly. I might have been a mess right now, but I still got that covered. "About Sentinels. Only I didn't find one, and I got the chance to do my dissertation on subcultures instead, the police, in this case. The paper they published wasn't the real one."

"He wasn't mad at you?" Brandon asked incredulously.

I drew a deep breath, took a moment before answering, just so my voice wouldn't be shaking. "I don't mean to be rude, but I'd really like to sleep right now, okay?"

"No problem," he said with unmistakable disappointment. "Good night."

I certainly didn't have one, lying awake until the early morning hours, listening to my own breathing - and the rumbling of my stomach.

***

Useless details, that was all I could come up with. I sat in group therapy, wracking my brains once more. I remember she had blonde hair, tied back with a red ribbon that matched her dress. Looking exactly like his later victims.

It's that scene playing over and over again in my head. I was thirteen years old. Feeling pretty smug that day, because Naomi had promised that it'd be the last time that I'd have to see Bryant; that she'd find me a new therapist who would fit my needs better.

Anything, as long it was somewhere else.

I agreed with her on that.

I opened the door and...

But that's where it always went black. I couldn't say if he was angry with me, or shocked at being caught. Was it really that he just let me get out of there? Seemed odd, but it must have been that way, or Naomi would have told me about it, wouldn't she?

Much as I hated being locked away as I was, I had to admit I felt some relief that she wouldn't be able to contact me either. It was all too complicated at the moment. I didn't want to face her before I couldn't present some measurable success.

***

Two days. Forty-eight hours. That was the amount of time until Jim would come to visit and hopefully bring some sense of normalcy back into my life. On the run from those questions I couldn't solve, I'd done a lot of reading, masochistically, original Burton. Among others. Criminal psychology. Physically, I'd started feeling better a little as I slowly increased the rations without puking.

Yet.

It was group session again. This morning, we'd already talked, but Ann had waited until now to speak to me directly, with Dr. Andrews present. "I wanted to apologize," she said to me.

"To me?"

Ann Cross, the one who'd told the story that got me freaked earlier, was twenty-one, suffering from anorexia, with intermittent bulimic attacks. Guiltily, I realized that it was her diagnosis that had come to mind first; that, and not one of the other facts I knew about her, for example, her musical talent. This was exactly what we hated most, to be reduced to some paragraphs in a manual, to a disorder.

We did that ourselves just fine, by arranging our lives around it.

"Yeah," she confirmed. "I'm sorry if I - I don't know, hit a nerve or something."

By now, everybody else was listening attentively, including Dr. Andrews and Allan. "No. No, it's okay. I just..." I didn't want to have all that attention; those expectant looks.

It reminded me of the day I had the whole world listening to me. Or so it had seemed.

"It's alright."

She smiled. "Thanks. I've been worried about you all day."

I knew she was only trying to be nice, but I really wanted her to shut up now, before Dr. Andrews got any ideas. No more conflicts in these two days, thank you very much. I've had enough of them already.

***

Chapter 2, Out Of The Past

It was just like Naomi to decline the invitation to the loft and then show up when nobody expected her to. I didn't recognize her perfume until the moment she exited the elevator - losing your touch, aren't you, Ellison? - and I briefly contemplated not opening the door. But that was just one of those things we couldn't run from, the confrontation with her. Come to think of it, I had a couple of questions for Blair's mother, too, and maybe it was even better to handle this between the two of us.

We hugged each other like nothing had happened since the last time, but then she took a step backwards, looking at me with what seemed suspicion.

I have to admit I'd all forgotten about her. Blair probably hadn't, but he would have reminded me if he had really wanted to talk to her before going away, wouldn't he?

"I was worried," Naomi said. "Blair didn't sound so good over the phone."

At that moment, it took a hell of a lot self-restraint on my part not to shake her.

Sure, it was no doubt for the better she didn't know details of what had happened in the last few weeks, but that was... rich. I remembered that conversation clearly. She should have packed her bags then and come, taken the hint when Sandburg asked her to.

"Is he here?"

"No, he isn't. Why don't you come in and sit down, then I'll tell you everything."

Her eyes widened. "What aren't you telling me?"

Oh yeah. This was going to be a challenge.

***

I had filled those two weeks with enough work so I wouldn't have too much time to think. About all the things that could still go wrong in the future, and about this unnatural situation; the forced cessation of communication. Hell, it was probably a tried concept, and the shrinks surely knew what they were doing, but they didn't have any idea about our situation.

Yeah, wasn't I pathetic? Two. Weeks. You'd think it had to be possible.

I didn't even zone once, no vision, nothing out of the extraordinary, let alone mystical.

Right, the enemy we were up against wasn't of that world. And not knowing what was going on was slowly driving me crazy - so Naomi's visit was probably not that bad anyway, I guessed.

Something to distract me from the fact that there were still five days left.

***

"You knew that for what, weeks, and you didn't tell me?"

She was 'so not amused' about that. Of course, I had given her only a sketchy summary of what happened with Bryant, but that was not what she was talking about.

"What do you expect of me? Blair's an adult. I can't decide what he does or doesn't tell you. He asked you to come - you didn't. What more is there to say?"

Naomi sank onto the sofa, suddenly pale. "But if I had known... God, I've feared for so long that this would happen again."

"Now that it has, we'll have to deal with it somehow. Naomi - there's something else we'll have to talk about. The man we arrested, Dr. Bryant - Blair told us he was his patient once."

Must have been some devil whispering those words to me. She was still shocked that her nightmare had eventually come true; nowhere near able to face whatever implications lay here. But I couldn't let it be; those were my own fears needing to be placated.

I needed to know this was all just coincidence, Blair running up against Bryant again.

"Bryant?" Naomi asked, confused. "I think that was his name, yes, but I thought this was all about this janitor, Raines?"

Right. Raines. There was a lot that had to be cleared eventually. I realized I hadn't even offered her anything to drink yet, and when she agreed on a coffee, I was glad about the small respite. Then - we'd get right down to the bottom of things.

***

I had read about how an initial reduction of symptoms mostly happened very fast when patients came to a clinic; there were regular meals, none of the usual stress factors, nothing to distract from the actual problem.

The book also mentioned that after the first euphoria, there was often great distress when there was a relapse; the realization that all wasn't *that* easy anyway.

I had yet to wait for this to happen; for the moment, I allowed myself a little pride about having gotten through just another day without any incident. In the afternoon, I'd even taken a break from seclusion to spend time with some folks from my group - Ann; a twenty-year-old guy named Jack; and Kate who was about my age. We didn't talk about diagnoses - most of the time, you can actually see who it is who belongs to which group. Too much or too little or the pretence of normal; what you see is what you get.

Kate, a teacher, had been found out by her boyfriend; Ann and Jack were both students from Seattle. She didn't weigh half of what he did; they both had been in and out of different clinics for the better part of the past few years.

That's when I realized I really had to make this chance count, because that was something I just couldn't afford. Above all else, I was still a Sentinel's Guide. I could do this. I had to.

Not having thrown up for a couple of days, I was beginning to feel pretty cocky.

***

Naomi had calmed down considerably; she told me that her friend in Canada had invited her to stay for another month, and that she planned to do exactly that, so she'd be able to see her son as soon as soon as visitors were allowed.

She'd stay the weekend and then go back there.

To my relief, she didn't have any more bad news on Bryant. According to Naomi, she'd been working for a woman who owned a Bed and Breakfast back then; her employer recommended Bryant to Naomi when she was desperate for help.

I could sympathize with that.

The moment I walked in on Blair's nightmare scene... it's hard to express. I knew about Judith, Matty's sister. He had told me about her, years ago, and I just couldn't believe it. She was attractive, a successful student, engaged in various charitable organizations, seemed to lead the perfect life. Until one night he called me, in tears, to tell me that Judith had died.

Even then I didn't really get the picture.

I don't understand the whole dimension of this... disorder, even though there's a distinct image to it now. The psychiatrist at Cascade General told me how patients were ashamed of what they were doing, thinking that everybody around them, especially those most important to them, would be appalled.

I hope I've made it clear enough to Blair that this isn't the case.

***

It was quite silly, I thought as I filled out the form asking to be allowed to abstain from the meals for twenty-four hours, the way you had to do it when someone came to visit you and you wanted to spend time with them.

Mostly parents and spouses. I was waiting for Jim, of course, and after those two weeks, I seemed to be just as excited as some of the fifteen, sixteen-year-olds that were expecting their boyfriends.

Definitely silly.

He was waiting for me in the lobby, engaged in what seemed to be a polite conversation with one of the nurses, but the moment I came down the stairs, he turned to me with a genuine smile.

I had to be looking better.

Sure. For about three weeks now, nobody had been trying to kill me.

***

In almost four years, shared meals had often been a great comfort for me. Having someone to ask how your day was, to share the laughter, and the nightmares, too. Well, of course, Jim isn't someone to use many words, but our communication had worked very well, up to a certain point, when the water was rising and we still pretended it wasn't there at all.

No need to go there now; what I mean to say is that I'm way nervous about going out for lunch.

Sure, I'd gotten better. Some. Within the confines of the clinic, secluded from the real world, I had managed quite well for a while, and that meant nothing much. I was in the company of people who knew from their own experience what I was going through.

I still had to stand the test outside.

But first of all, we took a walk around the small town, eventually entering the park.

Life was suddenly, unexpectedly, slowing down, I realized. It felt unfamiliar, being off the roller-coaster, and I was sure feeling the vertigo after the ride.

"So, what's been going on?" I opted for a light tone. I was looking better, okay. I'd be feeling better, too, after we'd cleared up some things.

"Naomi came by for a weekend."

"Oh. Really."

I should have known that something like this would happen. It was just too much right after coming home from the hospital, and knowing I'd be going away for therapy, to deal with her as well.

The relapse of bulimia was one thing; pretending for her sake that this close call with Bryant didn't really happen - impossible, and I didn't want to her to lay it all on Jim once more.

"Really," Jim said. "I didn't know you hadn't told her." There was no accusation, just the stating of facts, and it made me hope.

"Sorry. Is she okay?"

"I think so. What about you?" Almost indiscernibly, he'd turned the tables on me.

"I'm okay. There's something I need to ask you though. Bryant - he's been interrogated, right? Did he... did he mention anything about the time I was his patient?"

Jim looked at me, clearly alarmed.

"Oh no, that's not what I...anyway, I think he might have abused other kids then. It's quite vague, but in that cabin..."

***

I don't want to talk about this, I realize. Not when everybody thinks I'm a hero, just because I simply was there at the right time with little Cindy. Will Jim still believe in me when he hears this?

The silence between us is loaded at that moment. Oh, right, we both still have to come to terms with what nearly happened; and with what *had* happened. But it's not like I have a choice, is it? I've been holding back for much too long.

"I remembered that girl. I saw him with her; I know I should have told you sooner, this might be important, but I thought the case against him should be waterproof anyway and--"

"Chief. Blair, hold on a second." Jim interrupts me, rather gently though.

I look away. "I never told anyone before."

There, it's out. No turning back. I'm shivering even though it's a sunny day, and that's ironically appropriate - it was a beautiful day the day Alex tried to kill me. And, if only for a short time, succeeded. "I know it's inexcusable," I add. That moment, the craving for a binge is stronger than it has been ever since I came here.

Pretend, if only for a moment...

"Why don't we sit down for a moment." Jim firmly steers me into the direction of the next bench, and it isn't until I slump down on it that I realize how dizzy I am.

Oh man. I really hope Jim won't attribute this to the true reason; the fact that I kept my breakfast rather sparse today. Over and over again, I think, it's always about you. You selfish...

"First of all, you're right, that case *is* waterproof. Bryant has confessed to the three murders, he tried to kill you, so he is going down anyway. We know all about Raines' involvement, too. Okay, what about the girl? What happened, and when?"

This is embarrassing. I've been waiting for this moment, an eternity as it seems, those two weeks, to talk to Jim. However, right now I want nothing but to curl up somewhere and...

"I surprised him. I guess he was just about to undress her and I walked in on him. Damn it, I must have known what he was about to do!"

Jim doesn't comment, but he casually drapes his arm over the back of the bench. Despite myself, I can't help but smile, if only for a brief moment. Those little gestures, I sure appreciate them.

"He was mad at me, man, tried not to let it show, but I knew. Red-faced, practically vibrating under that polite exterior. He let her go then, because it was time for my session. That was the last time I ever saw him, because Naomi and I moved away shortly after that."

And now I've surprised myself. This is the first time I have a vague recall of what his reaction was; the flicker of an image, Bryant's face reddened with anger, but the tone of his voice overtly friendly.

"You were scared. Maybe you couldn't really see the situation for what it was--"

I snort at that. "Right. I was thirteen, for Christ's sake!"

"Did he threaten you?" he asks, his eyes narrowing. There's something very comfortingly predictable about Jim; Megan had told me how Bryant almost hadn't lived to confess the atrocities he'd committed. Comforting, but complicated as well. He could have gotten in a lot of trouble over this, and I don't want to be the one responsible for it.

"Maybe, I don't know that. Still, I should have... well, I didn't. That's why I need your help. You could probably find out what happened to her. If she..."

Abruptly, I'm feeling sick. "...is still alive. Maybe there is something I can do..."

Jim looks at me doubtfully, and I'm inwardly cringing at the words I expect to hear. Right. As if I could ever make up for that.

No way.

"I could try and find out about her, yes, though I'm not sure of any success. So, let's assume we find her - you don't think anybody holds you responsible? You were a child yourself!"

I simply shake my head, unable to speak. I know what he's trying to do, but it's not what I deserve.

***

I think we live on two different planets at the moment. Whatever I say, it's not enough; Sandburg's still convinced whatever happened to that nameless girl is his responsibility. Hell, he almost lost his life in the process of saving one of Bryant's would-be victims, so why can't he give it a rest?

On the other hand, and it's nothing I could tell him now, I'm intensely relieved. Naomi almost drove me mad, not knowing, not wanting to know, claiming she had no idea of any felony of Bryant's. I know I scared her, but it couldn't be helped; I was so frantic for answers myself.

We had talked about Raines, too, and we could determine some of the timeline. Accusations had been made in the late 1970s, when he was a young man.

Same elementary school only about twenty years later, he'd been fired because of stealing money and got away with probation, but then again, Raines didn't need that income anyway, because he'd already teamed up with grade A psychopath Gary Bryant.

He should have never gotten his hands on Tammy Stevens or any other girl, with the allegations that had already been made back then.

There was one thing Naomi and I had silently agreed on. She told me how she'd been trying to determine if Raines had ever gotten close to Blair, and it was understood how we both felt about that possibility. There'd been murder in her eyes.

Here in the present--

It seems like, thank God, our worst fears are not to be confirmed.

What's a case of misplaced guilt against this?

***

Despite all that misery, I have to gape at the sight of the hotel room. Jim has chosen one of the best hotels in town. It's been a while since I've been exposed to such luxury. Every now and then I tend to forget that the guy doesn't exactly share my own chaotic financial situation...

No, I can't stand to think about that right now.

I step towards the large window, taking in the nice panoramic view of the mountains in the distance.

"You're crazy," I say, turning around.

Jim shrugs, a little self-consciously. "It's a small town; many clinics with patients who have visitors. It was either that, or the youth hostel in the next town. I'm not that financially challenged."

"It's nice. Thank you."

"It's no big deal, Sandburg, okay?"

Whoa. I guess this is getting a little too mushy for Jim's comfort?

For the first time in a long time I feel like I could actually get a handle on things. One step at a time. "So," I say with a grin, "Is there a Jacuzzi, too?"

***

Somewhere in my mind, my own screams still echo.

I think of that as I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, once again examining the healing process of multiple stab wounds, some only shallow cuts, two of them more serious, having required stitches.

If I hadn't been there, he would have done the same to Cindy Palmer - and more than that.

Shit, if I don't come out within the next five minutes, Jim will start to worry. I know he frowned at how little I ate at dinner, but he hadn't said anything, God bless him.

My thoughts wander back to Bryant and the cabin, as they always do when I'm confronted with the result of his actions; when I confront myself every night, like a ritual.

Even Lash hadn't left me feeling this - I didn't know, contaminated, dirty somehow.

This sick pleasure he derived from pushing the knife deeper, penetrating skin and muscle, the way it was turning him on, was like... I can't even think of the word.

"Blair, you okay in there?" Jim calls somewhat anxiously, and it's only now that I'm aware of my racing heart.

Damn it, get yourself together now, I'm berating myself, tearing my gaze away from the mirror image. It's over, and it's not important at the moment anyway. Focus on what really matters: Bryant's early victims.

***

I hardly recognized Ann when I met her in the hallway, shoulders slumped, barely greeting me at all, tears she wasn't trying to hide staining her gaunt face.

When I asked her what had happened, she simply told me to leave her alone.

Brandon explained it to me that night, what everybody else already knew. Instead of gaining weight like she should have, Ann had lost half a pound. Doesn't sound much, but her BMI had dropped to 12-point-something.

"So she's one step away from the hospital. That means she'll be tube-fed," he added. "I've had it done once, and let me tell you, man, it really sucks."

"I can imagine."

For a moment, I felt this anger I knew to be irrational, at the therapists, the medics, the world in general. We were all adults, so what right did they have?

All of us were trying hard. There was no need for threats of being forced--

Alright, that was the point. Being forced to.

While I was still contemplating my reaction to that, Brandon asked, "So, how was your date?"

I groaned. "It. Was Not. A..."

"Yeah, yeah." He snickered. "I mean, how was your day out of prison?"

"Very good." Jim had promised to dig a little deeper into Bryant's past, back to when he had his practice in Spokane, and to call me when he found something out.

I had managed to avoid an attack in the expensive hotel, and I was starting to feel human again; so that was indeed very good, wasn't it?

***

Chapter 3, Deep Water

 

Blair had introduced me to a couple of patients from his group. Sure, I was glad all seemed to be going reasonably well, and that he had found somebody who could understand what he was going through, more than I'd ever be able to, and still...

I guess I hid my shock well. This kid, Brandon, and some of the others I'd seen, looked barely alive, walking skeletons. There was Kate, like Judith had been, like Blair, young and attractive, but I'd already taken a glimpse into that particular form of hell. And Jack who surely had to suffer many a stare and hazing from people who didn't understand that there was more to this severe form of obesity than a lack of control.

Truth be told, there was a time when I would have thought exactly the same.

As I drove back from the clinic, back into a completely different reality, my mind was still reeling.

I guess I realized then why Blair had been afraid of going to a clinic: Here, he couldn't pretend for a minute that it wasn't all that bad.

Neither could I.

Briefly, I had contemplated paying Bryant a visit and asking him about the girl that Sandburg was so occupied with, but one look from Simon when I told him about it, convinced me that it was a bad idea.

And he was right.

I don't think I could have kept calm when he would surely brag about it, and I didn't want to give him any excuse for getting off any easier.

More than that, I wondered what would happen if I ever found her.

***

There is no pulse.

The skin is still warm, but I've seen enough in my time with Jim to determine that it is too late to help her.

The way her body is twisted leaves no doubt: Her death was painful -- long-suffering.

I sink down to my knees, aware that somebody's screaming.

And then I realize it's me.

***

Chasing robbers in the day, working through the material confiscated from Bryant at night, I sure keep myself occupied, and I have to, in order to ignore how silent it has become at the loft. I might have said things to Blair like 'You are always in my face', tuned out his chatting at times, complained on and on, but the truth is, I miss him.

Eight weeks to go, at least. I can tell they're going to be damn long.

Sure, I *could* call, but we only talked two days ago, and I want him to concentrate on therapy, not wonder if my senses are okay, which they are not entirely, by the way.

Tonight, Simon took pity on me, and invited me over for dinner.

We managed to talk about the latest Jags game, the current case and Daryl's career plans for a while. It was only a matter of time, though, until the subject of Bryant and Raines crept back into the conversation, unbidden, but obtrusive; details that I hadn't shared with Naomi.

What happened when Bryant was interrogated, when Raines finally realized that lying wouldn't help him anymore - I won't forget that so soon. I just have to take one look at Connor and know that she has her own nightmares about what's in the interrogation protocols.

They'd taken turns choosing their victims, Raines had explained. He didn't, like Bryant, have a particular interest in the killing, but yes, he liked little girls... Mostly. 'Your partner, Sandburg? He was a cute child, back then in the seventies. Those big blue eyes... too bad I never got to try.'

Megan and I had shared a look, silently sharing the helpless rage we couldn't afford to show; Raines knew and enjoyed that bit of power he had over us.

I wanted to break every single bone in the bastard's body, and I was certain that Connor would have gladly helped.

That afternoon, my senses had been sharp and precise, but at night, I had suffered a headache that was worse than anything I'd had in years.

"You talk to Blair about that?" Simon asked, and I scowled at him.

"Like he needs that now. No, this case has made it all worse anyway; I wanted to spare him the details."

Simon didn't look convinced. "He's also been one of the investigating detectives on this case, so don't be surprised if you have to answer some questions later on."

Before I had to deal with more of his uncomfortable but true statements, my cell phone rang.

"Ellison, I thought you had that damn thing turned off," Simon said, annoyed.

I flipped it open and answered. The voice on the other side of the line was barely recognizable; I had no problems, however, identifying the heartbeat, and I all but jumped up from my chair.

"Chief? What's going on?"

***

"Hey, I'm alright. I'm a detective. Besides, I've seen more dead bodies in the past three years than you could ever imagine."

I was embarrassed to find myself a hair's breadth away from crying, again. I didn't know what was happening to me lately; you would have thought that coming back from the dead makes you somehow stronger, more capable of dealing with those times when the road got rough.

That was not the direction *I* had taken from there, and it was like that moment Ann had talked about her childhood, a dam had been broken, laying open a vulnerability of my own that I never wanted to acknowledge.

I had kept it together in the outside world as long as I could binge and puke in secrecy, managed not to cross that line, but now that I didn't have the familiar habit to fall back on, it wasn't working anymore.

Maybe I could reason this time with the fact that, a few minutes ago, I had found Ann's body. Obviously, she hadn't been ready to accept that she would have been transferred to the hospital the next day.

***

"I'll be there in two hours maximum," Jim had promised; and I really had had to make myself presentable. I had washed my face, practiced in front of the mirror to chase the horrified expression off my face, no need to scare Jim. Good thinking, because...

"You found the body, Mr..."

"Sandburg." I spun around at the sound of a familiar voice, and for a moment, he seemed to be as baffled as I was. Just my luck. I had hoped we'd never cross paths again, but obviously, that wish of mine wasn't granted. Figures!

"Martin." What else could I've said? It is so not good to see you?

He gave me a calculating look, trying hard to hide the sneer. "Blair Sandburg. What a surprise to meet you here." Not, the tone of his voice conveyed.

I straightened my shoulders, hoping it wouldn't show too much that I had cried over Ann's death. Well, I didn't know who had called the police, but I was honestly surprised. My first guess had been that she'd poisoned herself.

Yes, it had looked like she suffered, but when you're abusing your body on a daily basis, you come to a point when there's pretty much no limit.

"So, what happened?" He wanted professional. Okay. I could do that.

"She was upset because she was going to be transferred to a hospital tomorrow morning." Martin's expression told me that he actually had no idea what I was talking about. "I wanted to talk to her after dinner, went to her room - she had the single room this week - and I found her dead. I touched her carotid, of course, in order to find out if she was still alive."

I was quite prepared for him suspecting me, but apparently Martin didn't believe me capable of anything like this.

He projected an unmistakable air of disdain as he looked around, taking in the groups of patients that had been forming.

"So what's up? Captain Banks sent you on an undercover job in this freak show?" He snickered at his own words. "Or you're one of them?"

"God, just shut up," I snapped at him, which induced a casually dressed guy with startling blue eyes and dark hair that was graying at the temples to take a step closer to us.

"What's the problem?" he asked, directing the question at Martin.

"Oh, nothing. We went to the academy together; I just didn't know that Blair had a problem..." The little shit was actually enjoying the situation. "By the way," Martin said, "this is Phil Holden; my partner."

"Why don't we go over this again?" Holden suggested.

I just wanted out of there.

***

I told them about my initial suspicion, that Ann had committed suicide because of her fear of getting tube-fed, which made Martin grimace. "That's disgusting," he muttered to himself, but loud enough for me to hear.

"Stop that! You don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about, so why don't you shut the fuck up!"

"Screw you," he shot back, giving me a shove. I shoved back, that's when Holden intervened, "Hey!" he bellowed. "Someone just died here, so could you two try not to turn this into a kindergarten?"

God, I was tired. Holden didn't seem as bad as Martin was, but he wanted answers as well. What could I ever tell them? I looked down at my feet when I told them that I 'must have screamed' which had attracted one of the doctors who must have called the police.

Then the door was opened and shut again firmly.

"Come on, Chief, we're out of here."

I could have fainted with relief.

My hero; always in time for the last-minute rescue. Sometimes, even from myself.

***

"I'm afraid that's not so... James Ellison?"

"Phil." I was startled for a moment; Holden had been a good friend of Jack Pendergrast's. He'd been divorced, too, and had left Cascade soon after that; I hadn't heard anything of him since then. Well, if anything, the case seemed to be in good hands, at least. "What are you doing here?"

"Investigating a murder." He smirked. "I take it this is not a coincidence? You always had good instincts, but I don't think even you could have heard about this already."

The younger detective who was with him looked impatient and a little disappointed. He seemed familiar, but I couldn't place him yet.

"Sandburg called me. He's my partner," I said, aware of the way Holden raised his eyebrows. He didn't let his surprise show much; I had to give him that. "I see," he said rather neutrally, then introduced the younger man.

Now I could place him.

Martin Davenport. During his time at the academy, Blair had never openly complained about anyone, too determined to do it all on his own, but it wasn't like he couldn't obfuscate *that* well.

It had taken a lot self-restraint on my part to stay away, not to intervene, because it was understood that would have only made things worse. The temptation had been there; and now it made sense; this tension between them. Davenport was one of those guys who had given him trouble.

"So now that we've put the niceties behind us, can we get back to work?" he queried, and Holden was rolling his eyes.

***

Finally, they had left, and I accompanied Blair back to his room, reluctant to leave him here alone; even though I rationally knew there wasn't any alternative. The psychiatrist had already cut us more slack than she would have with anyone else, since we were with the police, too.

"I'm sorry about Ann," I said for the first time. "You got along quite well, didn't you?"

He shrugged. "She was in my group, yes. Who would have thought anybody would get murdered here?"

"You could come to the hotel with me," I offered, hoping he'd say yes. I didn't really believe that anybody was out there murdering people with eating disorders; and maybe Holden and Davenport would find that it had been a suicide after all, but still...

Blair smiled tiredly. "I don't want to know what everybody's going to think; they're already wondering. You're bad for my reputation, man."

"What reputation?" I returned, which got the desired effect.

Laughing a little, Blair shook his head. "I should really go inside now, try and get some sleep. By the way, who did you blackmail to let us observe the autopsy?"

Us, right. I still wasn't sure that this was a good idea, but Blair had claimed there was more than enough time, since, due to some interviews that still had to be done, tomorrow's group therapy had been postponed.

I wasn't worried about time. It was my fault anyway, because I just couldn't say no when he asked me.

"By the way, thanks for coming."

"No problem. See you tomorrow morning then?"

"I guess so."

Intuitively, I took a step forward, and with a tired sigh, he leaned against me. I held on for a moment, grateful for this small measure of peace in the midst of yet another crisis.

Surely, the death of a fellow patient wouldn't be easy on any of the others; my concern, however, was how this would influence the outcome of Blair's therapy.

***

"Are you going to be sick?" Jim demanded, his no-nonsense tone very effective.

Stop thinking about this. The effect had been very much like the first autopsy I ever had to watch; and I never really got used to this part of the job.

Here in the hallway in front of the entrance to the morgue, I finally managed to get myself together, after all, Martin and Holden would be here in a minute, and I couldn't let them see how shaken I really was.

Couldn't make Jim worry any more that he already was.

"No, I'm okay." As long as I kept directing my concentration solely on the moment. A look at my wristwatch told me it was almost 10.30. "I've got to go back anyway, before Dr. Andrews realizes that--"

"What?"

Whoa. Once in a while, I should actually think before I talk?

"You never mentioned to her what you were doing this morning, did you?"

"Well, I..."

"I should have known. Why the hell did I ever agree to this, can you tell me that?" Jim had never been this angry with me since that last close call; there was something in the choice of his words that hurt, and made me angry as well.

"Because it was important. What if you had zoned in front of all those people?"

"I didn't zone, did I? That's not the point anyway."

"So what is the point? You're afraid of what I'm going to do? I really don't need to be *disordered* to lose my dinner after that!"

Jim relented very quickly which told me my words had hit home with him. Hell, I knew what I was doing. It was scary to think that this was a glimpse at how he wanted our partnership to evolve. I couldn't be a good partner, let alone a guide, from a safe distance, but there's where Jim wanted me.

"Okay," he said, his calmness only on the surface. "We wait for those two, and then I'll drive you back. It's your life."

***

I was still pondering those not so cryptic words when I was back in group therapy an hour later. Dr. Andrews had taken one look around, taking in the gathering of shell-shocked, teary-eyed people (well, I wasn't exactly teary-eyed and shell-shocked anymore; so maybe I was finally learning this separating thing).

"I know we cannot just go on like nothing has happened," she said. "Let's just start with a quick round of statements; and then today, we talk about what you find important."

I kept my answer as short and non-committal as I could get away with; what could I tell them? Just an hour ago, I saw how they cut her up? The police's guess is she was killed by an overdose of a yet unidentified substance?

I don't think anybody would want to be in my mind right now.

I didn't want to be there either.

***

"...and I told this guy, no way!"

I hadn't zoned, just drifted a little. Phil and I had gone for lunch together while Davenport had stayed, chatting up the female medical examiner. I wasn't really in the right mood for any catching up; my thoughts were still with the case and the implications that lay in it for my partner. I felt guilty for having agreed to letting him come to the autopsy in the first place.

Ann Cross had been murdered, there wasn't much doubt about it. There was evidence, some of it only visible with Sentinel sight, like the very light bruises on her arms and wrists. Evidence that somebody had held her down her while administering the poison or whatever the hell the substance was.

My guess was the perp had first given her some substance that would render her pliant and unresisting; and then forced her to take a second that had actually killed her. But why?

"Are you listening to me at all?" Phil asked, shaking his head between amusement and exasperation.

"Sorry about that. What did you say?"

"Well, when did you tune out?"

"Tell me about Davenport," I said, not really knowing why.

Holden frowned at that. "You met him, what more is there to say? The guy could work on his social skills, that's for sure. He's a good cop though; hopefully experience will shape him up eventually. What about you? You and Pendergrast worked well together - this Sandburg guy is quite a contrast. I won't even start about all the hearsay, but he *is* a patient in that clinic, right?"

"So what?" I snapped back at him, and he held up his hands in mock defense .

"I was just wondering, okay? I heard about that case you two just cracked. Must have been tough."

I didn't answer straight away. He was right, of course. In the end, it was all about getting the job done; making sure that people like Raines and Bryant got locked away forever, or at least kept away from society. Until that is accomplished... There's a reason why security is taken so seriously in trials against child molesters. It's because people want to tear them to pieces.

"It always is when children are involved," I said finally, and Phil nodded.

I was glad when Davenport finally deigned to join us. I hadn't really come to terms with quite a few aspects of our last case.

And I still didn't have any information on the girl Blair wanted me to find.

***

It wouldn't leave me alone; the images of this morning, the almost argument I'd had with Jim, and somewhere in the back of my mind, the nagging worry that he could still turn his back on me anytime soon. I knew it wasn't fair or even rational, but that's the way I felt.

Brandon sat beside me, chatting with Jack across the table. There could have just as easily been a brick wall separating them from me.

I also knew what would happen after I'd eaten the sandwich. It wasn't that I had easy access to enough food for a proper binge, but tonight, dinner would be enough.

I had thought of this as a catharsis once; knew, of course, that I was only fooling myself. And still...

I ate slowly, anticipating the moment when I could leave the room, be alone with my miserable self for a moment. Just once. Just once.

I was aware of my heart starting to beat faster, as I stood up and pushed my chair back. "I'm tired," I told Brandon who looked at me questioningly. "I think I'm going to turn in soon."

"Alright. I'll come in half an hour."

Good. That would be more than enough time.

***

When he came back to our room, I was in bed already, pretending to sleep and hating myself.

***

The other morning, during creative therapy, Jim called me. The therapist, a middle-aged woman by the name of Francine Nolan, frowned at me, and I knew I'd hear something later about not turning cells off during therapy.

I didn't care.

Jim informed me about the official outcome of the autopsy; it was just like he'd suggested; one drug had been used to made her pliant, then an overdose of strychnine had killed Ann who had most likely been awake, but unable to escape her murderer.

That last part he didn't need to tell me, I had seen the horror on her face; she hadn't gone peacefully.

"Shit," I said, "That's like the death penalty."

"Usually, it's not done like that," Jim returned dryly.

"Yeah, but the symbolism! Maybe the perp is telling us something here, that he wanted to punish her for something, for..."

Because, in fact, she had been killing herself, slowly, in a process that had begun over seven years ago; that had been the onset of her anorexia. Or maybe I was just about to go crazy.

"Chief, you still there?"

"Yeah, I'm..."

Oh man. I did so not need this, but when I looked up, I saw Dr. Andrews coming in my direction. Damn.

"Jim, I'm in the midst of a creative approach towards my problem, I'll call you later, okay?" I'd disconnected the call before Dr. Andrews spoke.

"Blair," she said, keeping her voice neutral, but I just knew I wouldn't like what she was going to tell me. "Shouldn't you be inside?"

"In a minute." I was eager to escape; of course she had no idea what I had done the other morning.

"Okay, but could you meet me in my office at two?"

I looked at her questioningly, and she clarified, "When you wanted to go to town yesterday, I okayed it because I assumed you were going to meet your friend which would have been alright with me. I didn't think that meeting would take place in a morgue?"

So I got busted. "I'm sorry, I thought you'd never allow it and I needed to be there... who told you anyway?"

Dr. Andrews looked at me intently. "Detective Davenport was quite worried about you. I think we should talk about this, but not now. If you're free at two...?"

I was going to kill him!

"Sure, no problem."

***

That afternoon found me sitting my room, sulking.

Dr. Andrews had me, as empathetically as she was supposed to, given me a piece of her mind and reminded me that I was officially on sick leave for a reason, which meant - no trips to any morgue whatsoever.

There was nothing I could have told her to justify my actions. My Sentinel needed me to back him up? Come on. For all she knew, that was a story I had invented. I didn't actually want her to think I was hallucinating.

She had said that I'd have to make a decision, did I want to continue the therapy - or not?

These days, I wasn't so sure what the answer was.

***

Chapter 4, Fear-based Responses

 

"What's making this so complicated? You've got the year, an approximate day and her age."

"Chief, that guy was a child psychiatrist. There was more than one girl of that age in Bryant's practice in 1982. I'm sorry," I say finally, knowing it sounds too damn much like an excuse. "This is slow going; I don't have all the data here."

"We should meet. I think I could steal myself away for a moment..."

"I'm not sure if that's a good idea."

"I am. Any news on Ann?" There's a longer pause. He laughs nervously. "Why, did you find the perp already while I was stuck here trying to define my bulimia in creative terms?"

I don't like the tone of his voice; once upon a time Sandburg had been much more accepting of these things, not so - jaded. I know I should stop meddling with the task he's got to do there, but here it is, this case, anyway, and I've discovered a certain detail that could make it a little more complicated.

"Not really. I just stumbled over the interesting fact that her mother's maiden name is Davenport. Ann was Martin Davenport's cousin."

***

"I was embarrassed about it, okay? That's why I didn't tell anyone I was related to her."

Davenport seems a bit worried to be drawn into the center of attention, but what he's spouting off here, is still cold. That girl just died and all he's worried about is that now everybody will know Ann Cross was family.

Phil and I share a look; he's rolling his eyes. He's reacting that way quite often where his younger partner is concerned.

Unbidden, I think about Blair and his devotion to finding Bryant's earlier victim, not really sure why it comes to mind at that moment. I push it aside, intent on getting to the bottom of things here.

"Really."

"Oh come on," he says, trying to act nonchalant, but I can see he's sweating. "You of all people should know what I'm talking about."

"Should I?" Something in my voice must have tipped Phil, because he throws me a warning glance. Hell, I don't think Martin murdered his cousin. Right now, Davenport simply annoys the hell out of me.

He leans back in his chair, shaking his head. "What's the world coming to, huh? They let frauds into the academy now. But I guess that career's over before it started anyway, isn't it?"

"Leave it, Martin," Phil intervenes now. "None of your business."

Davenport sulks over it, but he quits making allusions. Which is a good thing, I suppose, because I came really close to slugging him here. Back to the matter at hand. It's all too muddled anyway; the search I've been asked to do, at the back of my mind; interfering with a case that's not really mine (I guess Simon would have a word or two to say about it) - and this guy here.

"How well did you know Ann anyway? Anything that can maybe help us find her killer?"

He shrugs, his heart rate a little more settled now. "She'd been living in Seattle, but I hardly saw her in the past few years. I didn't exactly want to be seen with her either."

Here goes nothing, I realize.

And it's not my business anyway, in fact he and Phil are supposed to solve the case, but I don't like the way Blair has gotten on the periphery of this. It's like parts of a puzzle that don't fit together yet.

I ask Phil to keep me informed and then leave to meet Blair who has, as promised, sneaked away. He's not going to be happy that I don't have any news for him.

***

Jim and I meet in a small restaurant a few blocks away from the clinic, and first off, I don't ask him about that strange coincidence with Martin, but what's foremost on my mind.

He admits that with the past few days, the search has been going slow.

"Did you even try?"

I can barely hide my disappointment. Well, disappointment, my ass, it's more like the tip of the iceberg, while underneath, everything seems to be falling apart.

Ann's death and the images from the autopsy that come back in nightmares, almost having pushed aside my obsession with the girl, now an adult woman, who I need to be found. But only almost; I just can't believe that Jim hasn't made any progress there.

I had thought it was possible, to work through my problems here, and end up with a perspective, an idea of what I'm going to do with my life. Leave the past behind and all that shit.

"Of course I tried."

Jim seems to be mildly offended, but I can't care at the moment; it's too important. "So?"

He sighs. "There are a few candidates. We could try and track them down."

"Then why don't you do that?"

"Because I've still got work to do? And I've spent the better part of the last two days around here, since you were asking me to? Come on, Chief, don't you think that you should, just maybe, let it go?"

I stare at him incredulously. I'm relying on him here! Since I can't do anything from inside the clinic, I absolutely believed that he was going to do it. It is too vital to me.

"I know it's hard with all that has happened, but you really should concentrate on getting better here, shouldn't you?"

"But I can't..." I realize that Jim doesn't really understand what I mean. It was exactly the point, finding her, what I needed to make all this work.

I'm scared as hell of it, granted, but I just can't pretend that she never existed, I can't!

And the conversation with Dr. Andrews I wanted to tell him about? Oh, he's not going to like this. I sink back in my chair and wonder how I am going to tell him. She said something about decisions. Alright. I could make a decision, right here and now --

"I've been thinking... maybe this isn't going to work anyway?"

"What? I thought you said you've stopped, uh... doing that. That you've been eating regularly. Are you telling me now it isn't..."

I knew this was going to be strenuous!

"I haven't been lying to you," I clarify. It has stopped. Mostly, right? That one time was just... I don't know. It doesn't matter. "It's just that... I don't know if I'm going to finish here."

Now it's his turn to stare at me. I remember the expression well.

//What the hell did you do? What the hell did you do?//

Not again.

This is not his decision to make. I turn away from his gaze, from the verbal reproach I'm expecting. "It isn't working," I say desperately. "Don't you see that?"

He's shaking his head, disbelieving, but he doesn't say anything.

"Dr. Andrews said it herself - there are too many distractions right now. Maybe if I just give it a little more time, start anew in a few months..."

"And you think *that* is going to work? Get real, Sandburg!"

Can't he see I've tried? It is impossible, because there's no therapist on earth I could tell the whole truth to, one that could really go down to the river with me.

"Jim... I'm sorry."

"Yeah, right. I'm sorry, too," he says, closing the gates of communication again, letting me guess what he really thinks about it. Actually, I know. I've seen all the different displays of his that mask unwanted emotion.

"Maybe it was a mistake to come here anyway; this case is none of my business, and you're right, it's been nothing but a distraction so far. You should be occupied with other things, and I'm no help here. So - I guess I'm going home tonight."

"But..." I don't want him to go.

"I'll drive you back to the clinic."

"Can't we talk about this?"

But he's already off to the counter, paying for our meal. I wonder if I made a mistake telling him that I'm thinking about quitting the therapy. That's just like Jim when he thinks somebody's deceiving him, regardless of the fact that it is indeed my life and my problem we're talking about here.

But I don't know how I'm going to do this without his support anyway.

***

This is impossible.

I guess I'm not doing such a bad job restraining myself, staying calm and reasonable, while what I really want is to shake some sense into my Guide.

This therapy should have been a chance, a decision to live. After a couple of weeks, Sandburg is ready to give it up again. It makes me want to hit something. Thinking once more of that night when Matty called me about Judith's death, I grip the steering wheel tighter.

I know my silence unnerves Blair, but what's there to say that hasn't been said before?

If he starts this crap again - it's like a prolonged suicide, and hell if I'm going to sit by and watch him do that.

"You know, you don't have to be a cop if you don't want to. You don't even have to keep on living with me." I really don't know why I said that. For any reason other than having a mean streak, that is.

Blair's eyes widen at my words, but he keeps his voice level. "You want me to move out?" he asks, his quickening heartbeat betraying the calmness of his voice.

Shrugging, I say, "Whatever works best for you - or makes you stay with the goddamn therapy. I think that's most important now, isn't it?"

Right. I wanted to be supportive, to be there all the way. Not for a minute would I have guessed he'd drop out before finishing those ten weeks. It'd hurt, yes, but I'd rather break off any contact for the rest of the time than risk his life again. It's just not worth it.

Maybe it was there all the time - that I'd rather be *out of the way *.

"Well, I'll think about it," he says quietly, then, suddenly, looks at me, clearly alarmed. "You weren't meaning this as an ultimatum?"

Like, finish, or I'll throw you out again? Just great. "You don't get it, do you?" We've arrived at the clinic, and I can't help but feel glad about it. I don't want to say any more.

"What about the girl?" he insists. "You're going to tell me if you find anything out?"

I say yes, not really knowing if I mean it or not, and from his gaze I can tell he's seen through me. Doesn't matter if he's mad at me.

Hell, the only thing I want is for him to stay alive.

***

It's Physical Activity in the afternoon, usually one of the best parts of the schedule. The woman who's leading the exercises has a pleasant, soft-toned voice with a certain firmness though. Would make a good Guide, too, I had thought, when I'd first met her.

Today, however, I can't concentrate at all.

Of course, Jim had a point there with what he'd said the night before. I never really wanted to be a cop, that's true. As to our living arrangements, Dr. Andrews was quite surprised to hear that we're *not* a couple. Go figure! Of course, she doesn't know half the truth, but we get that reaction quite often.

And maybe it's really time for me to finally grow up and find a place to live on my own; Jim is handling his senses fine. He doesn't need me to be around all the time.

I've known this for quite some time, so why does that thought make my throat all close up?

Maybe it's the way we finally approached the subject. On top of that, I've pissed him off for good this time. Man, will I ever stop screwing this up?

A few more of the group are unable to concentrate today, 'not quite there', so Emily Ward, the therapist, suggests a relaxation exercise at the end.

I don't really want to close my eyes and relax at the moment, worried this could amount to something embarrassing once more, but I do it anyway. I haven't practiced meditation for all those years for nothing; I'm actually quite good at this.

It doesn't take long for the images to come.

***

//Life had been okay, basically, when I stayed with the Deckers while Mom was in Louisiana meeting some friends of hers. I got along quite well with Sylvie and her little brother Darren. Jane Decker was another single Mom, so Naomi had trusted her to look after me, and she was doing it pretty well.

The only downside to this was that I had more classes than Sylvie and Darren, due to a special program for gifted children. Jane drove her own kids home from school before work, then would come for me on her break, but that was unpredictable sometimes, and it could mean I'd have to wait up to an hour after classes were over.

I'd hated that waiting.

It was okay when I was alone, but very often, there were older kids hanging around in the afternoon, and one particular group had decided it would be much more fun picking on a younger child.//

Well, that sounds quite neutral so far, doesn't it? Maybe because I don't really want to take a good look at the anger that's underneath, the adult one, and a child's feeling of hated helplessness, or the rest of the story.

But I have to, or it is going to drive me crazy.

//I admit it, I had fantasized about a protector that would get me out of that. Sure I wanted to do it myself in the first place - but when there's four of them and they're all stronger than you, there's not much of a point in trying to defend yourself, you know? Telling Jane, or any of the teachers, was out of the question. I was so ashamed I couldn't handle this on my own.//

Oh man. I wish I could lock myself up here in my room; it would be too embarrassing if anybody came in now.

Why is all of this coming back now?

Don't stall.

Just do it, go there.

//One day, it happened.

I had been suffering from an upset stomach all day, since breakfast when Jane had said, 'I'm sorry, I'll be a little later today'. I couldn't stay inside the rooms of the school either. There was literally nowhere to run.

It always started with the mocking and name-calling. Shoving, pinching, and sometimes kicking, but when there were bruises left, they were always in places where they would be hidden under clothes.

God, I hoped Naomi would be back soon. She would never let me wait any more than a few minutes.

Other than that, I just wished it to be over quick, just get it over with, sit in Jane's car and pretend it never happened, glad no one noticed yet again.

Until...

"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?" an angry voice had demanded, and they let go of me instantly. I didn't remember any of their faces, or their names clearly, just average boys - but I knew that voice.

It belonged to the janitor, Mr. Raines.//

Stop it, I chant in my mind. Just stop. But the inner movie doesn't obey me. It refuses to be silenced again, ever.

//Helping me up, he worriedly asked, "Are you okay?"

I nodded yes, too mortified to speak. I thought he was going to mock me for letting them treat me like this, but he surprised me.

"They've done this before, haven't they? I know those guys. They're one step away from getting thrown out of school, and frankly, it would be for the better. What are you doing here at this time anyway? Your Mom's not coming to get you?"

No contempt, no reproach in his voice; I was utterly relieved about that. "Mom's not here at the moment." I told him that I was staying with Jane, and that she couldn't come before five o'clock.

Raines shook his head incredulously. "And she couldn't find anybody else?"

"Please, don't tell her."//

I close my eyes, remembering the smile he gave me. Shuddering. He must have said something like...

// It's our secret, then? Alright with me. But you can't stay alone here all the time. Do you want to wait with me? I could make you a hot chocolate, too."

Well, I had been told not to accept any offers from strangers, but Mr. Raines was no stranger, of course; I saw him every day at school. He had a small house on the grounds of the school; it wasn't far and we'd be able to see when Jane arrived.//

I stand up from the bed, starting to pace back and forth in the room between the two beds. No, that cannot be, I must be mistaken. A few weeks ago, I hardly remembered Raines. Why is all this so clear now?

Damn it, that's not the path I wanted to go. I wanted to remember about Bryant and the girl, not this, not another 'maybe'.

I feel like I'm crumbling from the inside, all those good intentions rendered meaningless right now, if that memory leads me where I think it will.

I'll bring this to an end, I promise myself.

And then I'll probably go and buy a truckload of food.

***

Maybe I'm just trying to distract myself from the fact that I've just made a big mistake here, but the thoughts of Ann Cross and her relation to Martin Davenport don't let me go. He was so damn condescending about it, as if her death didn't count.

A punishment; Blair had compared the way she'd died to a death sentence.

For the 'disgrace' she had caused the family?

Driving home, I call Megan who has meanwhile taken over the search for Bryant's yet nameless earlier victim. God bless her; she hasn't even demanded an explanation.

***

//"Drink slowly, it's hot," Raines said, still smiling, as he held out the cup for me. It was good, very sweet with cream on top of it. I felt better already, since he'd been so nice about it. Maybe I should tell Jane anyway.

"You know, they're just jealous of you. They're just big, dumb guys, and that's all they'll ever be. You, however, are smart."

He's ruffling my hair with his hand, and I'm reveling in this gesture and the appreciation I believe it means...//

It's all in slow motion, how he took the cup from me, remembering that I was so sleepy all of a sudden, and he said, "Why don't you lie down for a moment until your friend comes," and then...

***

Fragments.

I can't find a bridge between the gaps.

The flow of memories is tapering off; there are only bits and pieces; Jane, who's shaking me when I all but fall asleep in the backseat. Her worried gaze, and her voice, a little shrill when she announces that we're going to go to the hospital.//

No.

I don't even realize I say it over and over again, because that can mean only one thing.

***

After dinner, I sneak away once more, knowing exactly where I want to go. There's a little store in town called 'Sweet Candy' and that's all you can buy there, from chocolate to cotton candy and everything in between. It's a bulimic's Garden of Eden.

***

I've reached Cascade, but I don't really want to go home to the empty loft.

At the station, I find Megan, still working on the files of Bryant's earlier clients. Determined. Blair would appreciate that, I think with a guilty conscience, and still, I was right, wasn't I? I might not have found the right words, but it's true, I can't keep on interfering with his therapy.

Neither of us can really work on the Cross case.

"Hey." Connor's giving me a tired smile. "I thought you had the rest of the week off."

"So did you, if I'm remembering correctly. Thanks for your help, by the way."

Slight surprise flickers over her face. Yeah, I guess I deserved that. Worrying about Blair, the things that happened, and those that might have, I can't have been the easiest person to work with.

"No problem," she returns. "How's Sandy?"

I shrug. "Alright, considering."

She's giving me a sharp pointed look, but lets it slide.

I feel defensive anyway. "He sure didn't expect somebody to be murdered in the clinic. Nobody did."

"Certainly not. Tell him I'll call on the weekend."

Megan knows the truth as well. She'd dealt with it very much the way she did with finding out about the Sentinel thing; pragmatic detachment and a good amount of empathy as well, no over-dramatizing. I wouldn't say this aloud, but we're lucky to have her.

Impatiently, she rakes a hand through her hair. I'm startled, the gesture reminding me of Sandburg. Maybe I should call him. Apologize.

"What are we needing this for anyway? I thought there's no doubt Bryant's going down."

"There isn't. It's just that..." I'm trying not to choke on the words. Or simply stalling, as I wonder how much to tell her. Not that you can get much past her, as we've learned before. Megan looks hard at the screen for a moment, then turns to me again.

"You're looking for witnesses from the time this nutcase was Sandy's therapist, right?"

I lean against the edge of the desk, taking a deep breath. "Not witnesses. Blair thinks that *he* might have witnessed something, and he's worried about the possible victim."

She sighs. "Do you know how many clients he treated in 1982?" Megan pushes back the chair, its wheels making a screeching noise that rings in my ears. "Shit, Jim, there are still days I wished we could have just killed him. Even if it would have been too good for him, better to lock him away with the general population. They'll surely find out what he did."

"Yes."

"By the way..."

I can tell from the tone of her voice it's not going to be anything good.

"Raines is now claiming he didn't know about the murders, can you believe that?"

To hear that was just what I needed at the end of this day.

***

The clerk had looked at me quizzically, but I cooked up some lame story he seemed to believe. "Kid's birthday," I told him. "My sister's turned seven, and invited all her friends."

Stupid. I'd been paying for the stuff, so why did I have to explain?

Just one more lie, if this one's rather inconsequential. As to what I'd been planning to do...

There were still shards of memory on the periphery of my thoughts, with sharp edges that cut into the carefully woven cocoon of repression, slowly ripping it to shreds.

//I'm not too sure, Jane had told the doctor. Just... just make sure everything's okay, right?

You're the mother?

No. His mother is... not available right now.//

And what had been revealed in the end? That's where my brain refused to cooperate, give up the last pieces of what was concealed. I wondered why Naomi hadn't called me yet, what she and Jim had been talking about when she'd stayed with him that weekend, and if he'd really told me the whole truth about Bryant and Raines' interrogations.

***

I couldn't just waltz back into the clinic with two bags full of candy, so I'd have to find another opportunity, but first I was going to call Naomi. No more avoidance; she had to give me answers, and right now. There was no way Jane Decker had kept this from her, whatever 'this' was.

Her voice sounded a notch too bright when I said hello.

"Sweetie. It's so good to hear from you. I wanted to call, but... I wasn't sure if it wasn't better to wait until you're through with the therapy, you know, no distractions... how are you?"

Just fine!

I held the phone a few inches away from my ear, staring at it. Just why was everybody suddenly so obsessed with 'not interfering with the therapy'? Especially those people I needed a statement from, not a 'professional abstinence'. That was for other people to worry about.

"I'm alright," I said, glad she couldn't see the phone shaking in my hand, testimony to the tension that tied up my nerves ever since the Physical Activity this afternoon had sent me straight into the flashback.

I'd managed to keep it from Ms. Ward, fortunately, but I'd come to the end of the line here.

"Listen, Mom, I need you to tell me something. You know when you took that trip to Louisiana, and I stayed with the Deckers?"

"Sure," she answered, cautiously, a hitch in her voice that was almost indiscernible for non-Sentinel ears. But I knew my mother, knew how she sounded when she was uncomfortable. "Why are you asking?"

"Why did Jane take me to the hospital, and what did they tell her?"

There's silence.

I feel like this tension is going to tear me apart, I want to scream at her to finally talk, not to leave me in the dark any longer, because I can't bear it anymore.

Please say that nothing ever happened.

"Hospital? I don't remember Jane saying anything about that. Are you sure you remember that correctly?"

She's my Mom, I love her, but at that moment, I wanted to yell at her.

"Yes, I am sure I remember it correctly," is all the answer I can give.

"Blair, sweetie," she says, and it sounds nearly as desperate as I feel, "my cell phone needs to be charged, and there's no phone in the house here. I'll call you as soon as possible, okay? Ask Jane in the meantime. Take care, I'll keep my fingers crossed that all goes well for you. I love you."

That does it.

I grab those bags, walk the few more steps to the small central station and find a small public restroom where I can lock myself in one of the stalls. It isn't a very amiable place, but I don't pay attention to the surroundings; the graffiti on the walls, shreds of toilet paper, and the used condom on the floor.

Part of me feels sickened, which almost make me laugh, because what I am going to do *is* revolting, to me, to anyone, even the therapists, though don't expect them to tell you that. Getting loose in your home doesn't really make it any better, does it?

And then I open the first packet.

***

The restraint of the past few weeks, the high hopes - all for nothing, wasn't it? I fall back into the old habits too easily, except that my body isn't used to them as much as before.

Throwing up hardly ever seemed that painful and onerous to me; it was just something I did reflexively.

Now I'm feeling like there are a couple of bricks filling my stomach, and I can't get them out, no matter how long I dry heave. I'm going to fucking suffocate in here.

And maybe it's better that way, so I'll never have to find out about the truth in detail.

***

I can't get up from the floor. The nausea hasn't abated any, and I shiver from the cold sweat that makes my clothes clammy, sticking to my body. A pounding headache is bouncing around inside my skull, the tears on my face mostly from that.

And every now and then I slip back into the image of Raines offering me a hot chocolate, stroking my hair, waiting for the drugs he'd put into the drink to kick in.

Somebody help me.

***

Chapter 5, Crossroads

 

We've narrowed it down to twelve. I wonder what Simon will say about it, when he finds out that we've practically set up a task force. Blair might have in mind to ask her for forgiveness, even if I think that's not the point here - Megan thinks more like I do; suggesting we check against unsolved murders of children in Spokane in the early eighties.

Still, I marvel at the relation of Davenport and Cross; wonder if there's a deeper meaning. But the facts haven't changed, it is still not my case. Maybe I'll call Phil again; maybe he knows more already.

"Why are you here?" Megan asks suddenly.

"Pardon me?"

"It is killing you not to be there. The case - I won't even start on about it. With what we're doing here, I see the sense of it, but you're right, that should be the work of a task force, because it's much bigger than finding one single woman. Why did you even come back?"

I take a sip from the coffee I'd gotten myself from the vending machine a few minutes ago, grimacing at the taste. It doesn't get any better with the late hour.

"He's thinking of quitting," I say.

"Fuck," she says, and I couldn't agree with her more.

***

"Crime's going slow in Cascade, huh?"

Phil is trying to cover it with a joke, but I can tell he's just a little bit annoyed by my call. Could be the fact that it's past midnight already, and I have nothing else to do but wonder if Connor was right, and I should be somewhere else.

"Just thought you maybe had something new."

"No, we haven't, okay? I said I'd inform you. If you want the truth, I don't see this going anywhere, and I have five other cases open as well. I'm sure you get the picture."

"Right." I'm quite surprised to hear he's ready to give up that soon. That's not the Phil Holden I used to know.

"Anything about the stuff he killed her with?"

I hear the rustle of clothing as he shrugs. "Staff says nothing is missing from what they're keeping in the clinic. The sedative is too common, and the strychnine could be from anywhere. We still don't know why anyone would want to kill the girl."

"What did you get from Forensics?" That sounds a little harsher than I had intended it to be. If this turns out to be another dead end - Blair won't take it well.

"Nothing out of the ordinary, so far. Your friend couldn't help us much, either."

I close my eyes for a moment. I'd almost forgotten that it was Blair who had found her. "What did you expect? He knew her for a couple of weeks. She's Davenport's cousin."

"I know, but you heard him. They hadn't talked for almost a year. What do *you* expect?"

"Not sure about that," I say truthfully, then end the conversation. Something about it strikes me as way wrong - but I can't put my finger on it just yet.

***

"Are you okay in there?" a concerned voice asks, and it takes me a while to realize someone's talking to me.

No, I'm not okay. Not at all. I was somehow hoping that this 'episode' would make me either forget altogether, or give me that last certainty - it didn't help any. In former times, I would get up, clear the table, brush my teeth, all of it in a matter of minutes, and nobody would ever realize what was going on.

A great pretender.

I can't do that anymore. I'm still feeling so nauseated, I think if I tried to get up, I'd only end up puking again.

"Can you hear me?"

I can't risk that someone could be calling for help - or worse, the police maybe. "Yeah, sure. I'm alright."

Eventually, I'm pulling myself up, using the toilet bowl as leverage, then open the door.

It's a young man, early twenties, and he stares at me a moment, then shakes himself out of his reverie. "Do you want me to call someone for you?" he asks, a little unsure.

Shit, I don't really need a social worker right now.

He takes a look at the empty cartons behind me, a flicker of confusion on his face. Yeah, right, I'm sure the circumstances led him to think I'm some junkie, and I'm certainly looking the part right now, but they don't retreat to a public toilet to *feed*.

I close the door behind me and lean against it, seeking support as the ground seems to sway under me, taking several deep breaths. The vertigo abates before he reaches out a steadying hand, and I pull away from his touch.

"No, thank you, I'm okay, and I have some place to go. Thanks."

Not that they'll be happy to see me, I think, wondering if I've ruined it all for good now.

Do I even care anymore?

***

The phone rings a couple of times, waking me, but before I make it down the stairs, the answer machine picks up.

"Hello, this is Kate Burdon calling from the Patterson clinic. I know it's late, but if it's possible, please call me back. With this number, you'll reach the phone in my room..."

Who the hell was Kate Burdon and why should I be calling her...?

Kate.

The one from Blair's group. Within a few seconds, I was down the stairs and calling the number she had given me.

***

I'd washed my face and tied my hair back, but you could still take one look at me and know...

I thought back to the moment when Ann talked about her family, and my own reaction. My desperate need to find the girl I thought I had failed. Was it really more than just avoidance of things I didn't want to see?

Oh, sure Bryant would have been angry with me at that time, but why worry, he obviously hadn't tried to kill me then, and he'd always chosen much younger kids for his victims anyway.

But Raines -

//It's our secret, then?//

And Mom needed to charge her fucking cell, while Jim thought we should give each other space...

I didn't want to be alone here.

I couldn't stand to tell this to anyone, any of it.

Hoping that I wouldn't meet anyone, I opened the double doors of the clinic's entrance - and ran straight into Allan Jackson.

"Blair," he said, stunned. "Where are *you* coming from?"

"From hell," I returned, and then hurried straight for the visitors' toilets.

***

I had been all but prepared to hear that something had happened to Blair - which was highly irrational, because why would she call me, and not a doctor? - that I needed a moment to understand what she really wanted from me.

"I might have seen something that's important. In relation to... the murder," she said hesitantly.

I wondered why she hadn't talked to Sandburg about it, still worried, but she gave me the answer herself. "I haven't seen Blair this evening, and anyway, I didn't want to bother him with it, since he's also in therapy here... I hoped you at least would take me seriously. I think that younger detective, Davenport, is involved somehow."

"You told Detective Holden already?"

"That's why I'm calling you," she said with frustration. "He thinks I'm imagining it or something. I saw Ann with Martin, just a couple of weeks ago. I didn't know that was the cousin she talked about sometimes, but I'm quite sure now."

"They met?" I recalled Davenport's statement that he didn't want to be seen with her. "Did you get what they were talking about, or why he came to visit her?"

"You won't think I'm crazy?"

"No. I promise." Damn it, say it already!

"I think Ann smuggled drugs out of the clinic. Anti-depressants, sedatives, that kind of thing. I think she sometimes also shared laxatives with other patients, for - you know."

For just a second, I thought about asking, then I understood.

"Are you sure? Those things are bound to be locked away in the clinic; she had to have had a key then."

"I don't know how, Detective," Kate said seriously. "I just hear Martin claims he's oh-so ashamed about her, but he's been here, and he went away with a couple of cartons that seemed to contain meds. I didn't put it together at first - but she was poisoned, right?"

So much for the fact that this wasn't my case anyway, and I should stay away from the Patterson clinic.

"That's right. Thanks for telling me; I'll talk to Detective Holden; we'll surely figure this out. And..."

"Yes?" she prompted when the pause became a little long.

"Nothing. Good night, Kate. I'll see you tomorrow."

Say hello to Blair for me. But that would have been a little pathetic, wouldn't it?

I really should apologize and tell him I didn't want him to move out at all.

***

Funny, I had always felt competitive around this guy. You wouldn't have guessed that from the way I behaved around him.

He only ever got to see the worst of me.

"What are you doing here at this time?" I asked, trying to distract him from my pitiful appearance. I guess Jackson had seen through me though - why else would he wait for me outside the door?

"I guess I just lost track of time a little. Could always work well at night, and the staff knows it."

I thought of a time when I worked nights, too. It was mostly a matter of circumstances, since between working with Jim at the station, my classes, and writing my dissertation, there wasn't much of an alternative. Still, it had made me feel competent, in control of things.

A feeling I seemed to have lost quite some time ago.

I wanted to tell him I just needed to sleep a little and all would look better in the morning, but at that moment, my stomach was clenching painfully, and I pressed both hands against my belly. Shit, I shouldn't have... well, 'shouldn't have' was a long list, with today's on top of it.

"I see. Come on, we'll go see Dr. Sheridan, he's on roster tonight."

"I don't need a doctor," I said angrily, but it sounded weak since I still hurt, and I felt like I was not entirely back in the present. //Janey, I'm so tired. Can't we just go home?//

"He'll prescribe you something for your stomach to settle. You'll sleep better. Come on."

***

He'd already done more than his share, but when we had left the doctor who had, thank God, not chosen this time to chide me for breaking the rules (that would probably come later), Allan accompanied me to my room.

I wanted to go home.

"I... I can't go in there, okay? He doesn't understand. He just doesn't know..."

Right, I was definitely falling apart at the seams here; wishing that Jim was here - and not. I didn't really want to know what he'd have to say about my recent self-made misery.

I imagined him to be calm and pragmatic about those memory fragments, and I really, really could use somebody to lean on - with yesterday's conversation though, I wasn't sure if he wanted to be that person, especially since I'd just demonstrated that the therapy was about to go to hell.

"I have an idea," Allan said.

***

"Why don't you just go home?"

It's not like he can do anything to change things for me. Nobody can. It is nice though, that he found me this room to sleep in. For emergencies, he says, and yes, I agree, this is one.

I've never heard of any concept like this, but I'm grateful I don't have to go back into the room I share with Brandon. Allan says that it has been used a couple of times before - there's a reason why they make the patients share, all part of the concepts, of course - but there are times when you simply need a break.

Maybe, I'm going to move on tonight. The question is, which direction.

I can't stand to have anybody around. I don't know what I'm going to do with myself either, but I don't need a witness for that, right?

"What brought this on?" Allan asks calmly.

'This', right. I didn't really have a chance to decide whether to tell him or the doctor what I did. They knew.

"Oh, I'm not sure. What about the fact somebody's been killed here in the clinic. Doesn't that make you want to puke?" All my carefully constructed hostility for him rushes to the surface. "What about that, huh?"

"It's horrible, yes, and it's affecting everyone. But you're a police officer, which I admire very much, by the way, so somehow I don't think that's the reason."

Staring at the ceiling while he takes a seat in one of the chairs, I wish I'd just told the guy to go and screw himself. I don't want company, and still... hell, I'm still too ashamed of how I reacted to those vague images from the past, how I could humiliate myself enough to go binge and puke in a place like the one I just came from.

//our secret... why don't you lie down for a moment... please, doctor, if you just take a look...//

I choose to direct the subject away from me. At least, that's what I'm trying to tell myself. "People like Ann's father - why the hell are they doing it?"

Something in his face softens. Allan contemplates my question for a moment. "To be honest, I have no idea. I've read books, sure, and know the theories, but I must admit I was never that interested in *this* side of the story. I never wanted to work with perpetrators. Somebody's got to do it, sure - but that's not me, fortunately.

"Power is a strong motivation, I guess," he sums it up.

"Yes." I think of Bryant and his knives. Seems like you can't always get away in time, can you?

"You talk about it when you're ready," Allan leaves that back door open for me. And then he slams it in my face, "It's your decision. But, remember, if you want to move on, there's no other way than right through it."

"Right through a pile of shit." I try to laugh, but quit abruptly when I'm about to cry once more. Fuck, my emotions are so far off the scale right now, I have no way of telling what happens next. "And Ann? What about her; do you think she moved on?"

Wiping my face, I'm annoyed to feel the wetness. I am making a fool out of myself here, again. Why can't it just stop?

"She probably would have. It is terrible what has happened. Kind of scares me myself; makes me angry, too. She was coming along, you know."

"By getting herself into the hospital?"

"A relapse doesn't have to be the end of the world."

Oh, he got me there. "You probably read about that guy we arrested, the one who murdered three children?"

Allan just nods.

"Well, he was my therapist when I was thirteen years old."

"I see."

"No, you don't. Not really. Do you... have a little more time?"

Silly me. This is going to be a very long night.

***

I'm wide awake as I see the figure materialize, as always, out of nothing. Staring into the eyes of my animal spirit, I implore it to give me the reason for its appearance.

Kate's call can't be responsible, can it? No, I'm actually not too surprised about what she told me. Phil seemed so totally uninterested in solving the case, no wonder if Davenport is really involved the way he seems to be.

I'd confront him with this information first thing tomorrow - and if that didn't help, then I'd have to talk to his captain.

And yeah, I'd talk to Blair and take it all back. Now that the case will be coming closer to an end, things will be more relaxed between us, too. I hope.

***

'Are you going to beg? Because I tell you, Blair, they all did.'

I'm cold all over when I realize that it wasn't really Bryant's idea at first to include me in the fantasy. It was Raines who told him about me in the first place, tickled his interest; Bryant himself had told me so.

Allan doesn't comment much; just listens, and it's exactly what I need now. Tomorrow, I'll probably have to face Dr. Andrews, and Dr. Sheridan as well, the physician and the psychiatrist playing good cop/bad cop, or something like that, but not now.

Obviously, I can't tell Allan about Jim being a Sentinel, but everything else is pretty much possible since it falls under patient confidentiality.

"That girl I remember - I wanted to find her so bad, but I'm afraid it was all, I don't know, some diversion, because I can't stand to look at the truth."

"But you still can't be sure, right? I mean, you said that your mother probably knows something, so there's only one way to find out."

Yeah, right. He doesn't know Naomi.

Swirls of an ugly emotion want to crawl out from wherever they have been hiding; get a grip, damn it! I'm really way beyond the age when you can hold your parents responsible for everything.

//Mom, do we really have to move again?//

When she had asked me, not so long ago, if I still love her, I said yes without thinking, and of course it's true, but probably I should have been more, I don't know, insistent about her not interfering with my affairs.

And yes, I should have been more insistent just a few hours ago, but that's complicated. I haven't been living with her for half of my life; we see each other maybe twice a year maximum - and still, settling conflicts openly, is dangerous.

From way back when all we had was each other, and it seems that in that aspect of our relationship, time has stood still.

"I know. Not let her get away one more time."

The pain which had almost faded thanks to the meds Dr. Sheridan had given me, flares again.

It'll hurt her, too, and I hate it that there's no other way.

***

Chapter 6, Reunion

 

Stopping at a red light, I take a look at the pile of files on the seat next me. It's early morning, I'm on my way to the Patterson clinic, and I'm determined to make up.

Not sure if it'll help any, but I have the records of twelve girls who had been Bryant's clients in early 1982, and were age six to nine then. The trick is *not* to think what might have happened to one, or each of them, because it makes me want to turn and pay the man a visit.

It's sickening, the whole set-up, with both of those whackos having worked for years in jobs where they had easy access to lots of children. How many might have been too scared to tell...

//Too bad I never got to try...//

Be glad, I direct to Raines in my mind. It's the reason you're still alive. This isn't heroics, it's a fact.

Maybe we will find her after all; but first I'm going to talk to Kate, and then find out how much Phil really knows about his partner.

***

In the morning, almost everybody else's mood was as bad as mine: We all knew and had agreed in the beginning, that the rooms could be searched at random intervals. Yeah, right, Jim. Not like prison at all.

Regularly, those 'raids' as we called them, turned up laxatives, diuretics and the kind. Today, Ann's stash had been found while cleaning out her room and it had everybody, including the staff, shocked, because there was no way she could have done this on her own.

I saw Martin and his partner briefly, but fortunately they didn't want to talk to me again. Good - I had other things on my mind. I wanted to call Jim, but was stalling at the same time, tired of all those misunderstandings, and expectations.

Worried about the future, scared out of my wits about the past, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to be around me right now.

When I talked to Dr. Andrews that morning, she had looked as exhausted as I felt. "Detective Davenport was always so worried about her," she said with a sigh. "For good reason, obviously. But as often as he visited her, he didn't seem to have noticed anything. I can't believe nobody noticed she practically used our pharmacy as a self-service shop."

Allan, who stood beside her, nodded. "It's hard to believe," he said. "How are you today?" he asked me.

With some effort, I actually managed to give him a smile. "Tired, of course. You kept me up all night."

He smiled back at me. "That's alright. Go and make that call; I'll be in my office today."

"I will," I promised him.

But first, I had something else to do.

***

I slipped into the room unnoticed. Wondering how the hell Ann had managed this; and then, all of a sudden, I could have cried with disappointment. I had really liked her. She'd been given a chance, and totally blown it.

//And what about you?!//

The silent question came promptly. Sometimes I hated my inner voice.

This was not about me though. I'd been stumbling over Dr. Andrews' words - why would Martin visit Ann when he was practically gloating about how embarrassed he was because of her? That didn't fit.

If it had only been for the stuff that's harmless to most people, something you can get over the counter in a pharmacy, but addictive to those with eating-disorders - it's not like anybody would murder for it. The other stuff, however, anti-depressants, must have been sold to customers outside the clinic. She would have needed an outside contact.

The ever-caring cousin?

I decided I was going to talk to him if he was still here.

And please indulge me if I was, in the midst of my own chaos, feeling a little smug about the prospect of finding Martin had been involved in this mess.

***

"If I wanted your help on a case, I would have asked you for it. Don't get on my nerves, Sandburg."

"That's Detective to you," I muttered. "You've been visiting Ann."

"Yeah, so? She was my cousin."

"One that you were ashamed of."

He shrugged. "That's none of your business anyway. Just go inside, will you?"

I took it one step further. Hell, there wasn't much he could do about it right now. There were people all around us. "Who do you think helped her get the stuff outside? The real drugs, I mean, not just the ones that make you lose weight."

Martin grimaced at that, but he seemed slightly nervous. "We got it covered. Now go, screw yourself, we can solve this case without you. Go!"

"Oh, I don't know about that," said someone behind me, very coolly. "Maybe Detective Sandburg can be helpful, after all."

It was Phil Holden - and Martin's expression told me that his arrival was not something good.

***

"How did you know about Ann's little side income anyway?" I asked her.

Kate looked away for a moment, and I understood. "Right," I spoke into the awkward silence.

"Only once," she said. "I had a bad argument with my boyfriend; he just didn't get it that I'm not a machine; as if there were just some screws that needed to be fastened, and I'd work like clockwork again. Therapy just doesn't work that way."

Well. I felt self-conscious, thinking of the argument I'd had with Blair.

"Okay. About Detective Davenport..." We had met outside the clinic in a small cafe, and Kate had just informed me that the police were back again, regarding the discovery of Ms. Cross' activities.

She looked at me seriously. "There's something I didn't dare to tell you over the phone, and I haven't told Detective Holden either. Martin has approached me. He wants me to..."

***

"It's over," Martin said desperately. "They found out; there's no way we can just continue. Kate isn't going to take over for Ann."

Holden looked at him sardonically. "Well, then there's only one way to solve it, isn't there?"

I had never seen Martin so upset. Well, he had reason to be. After Holden had pulled his weapon, cuffed me and ordered me to get into the car, I had kind of watched the scene with a funny sense of detachment.

Scared? I don't think so.

I had been scared when that knife-toting maniac proceeded with his plan to kill me slowly, while he was unzipping himself with one hand. Knowing the asshole had done the same to children.

I had been scared, all those years ago and just now, by the implications of that hospital visit Jane Decker had insisted on.

Now?

"You don't really think nobody will figure it out, do you?"

"Shut up," Holden snapped at me.

"It was too easy, really. Jim will know the truth after he sees Dr. Andrews. He'll come after you."

"So let him."

"What do you want with me anyway?"

"We could shoot you right now."

I didn't answer that, knowing that it wouldn't increase my chances of staying alive. I wasn't that suicidal.

On the outside, I stayed rather cool.

Inside, I was a mess. I'd come here for therapy, damn it, and I've had more than enough of crazed criminals that have my number.

Just - no more.

***

Dr. Andrews told me that I'd just missed Detective Holden by less than half an hour. She looked at me and Kate curiously.

"It's strange," she said. "I just talked to Blair about the whole thing this morning."

"Where is he?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing. He missed therapy this morning - I thought he was with you, Ms. Burdon." Her words caused Kate to blush, and I felt the obligation to defend her.

"She was helping me out in an important police matter. If you'll excuse me now."

I had to see Blair. Immediately.

***

On my knees on the damp concrete, hands still cuffed in front of me, behind me Martin with his gun, the scene still had an extremely surreal, if unsettling, quality.

Just a few minutes ago, Phil Holden had left us here after he'd told Martin what to do. It hadn't happened yet. Maybe he didn't hate me that much after all. He wasn't a psychopath like Bryant, just a guy too full of himself, and there was probably some way to talk him out of it.

I just felt so tired, and not entirely sure if I even wanted to try.

Not sure if it qualified as an excuse for the words that tumbled out of my mouth, "Leave it, you just don't have the balls."

"You so wild to find out, Sandburg?" he snarled, pressing the barrel of the weapon against the back of my head. But his hand was shaking, I could perceive that easily. Maybe living with Jim had sharpened my senses as well - if not my self-preservation.

"Fuck you," I returned, the thought springing to mind that at least I wouldn't have to call Naomi if he pulled the trigger right now.

***

Blair wasn't in his room, and he was nowhere to be seen on the clinic's site. A call to the police station revealed that neither Davenport nor Holden were in at the moment. Still, it could have all been a coincidence, if the jaguar hadn't appeared, even seeming to brush Kate as it passed by in a black flash.

She shivered, oblivious.

"You don't think they..."

She didn't have to complete that thought. Ann Cross had asked too many questions, too, and it had cost the young woman her life.

"Don't jump to conclusions yet," I warned her. "You'd better go back to the clinic. Thanks again for your help. I'll keep you informed."

***

Their captain wasn't in when I arrived at the precinct; there was a tall blonde woman sitting behind a desk, frowning over paperwork. She narrowed her eyes at me when I asked about Phil.

"I don't exactly keep track of those guys. Thank God I don't have to."

I introduced myself and flashed my badge. "Phil said he'd leave some papers on his desk for me. Would you mind telling me which one is his?"

It was grasping for straws, but just maybe...

"Not at all. It's over there. Help yourself." She returned to her work again.

***

"I know you don't like it, but I am still a cop. Wonder what your colleagues would think if you killed me - and, by the way, are you really stupid enough to believe Holden will take the fall for you?"

"Would you just *shut up*!" he snapped and hit me in the face, hard, the force of the blow making me lose my balance.

Martin clutched the weapon tighter. "Shut... up..."

***

Spinning around as the door burst open, Martin fired instantly.

Then he cried out in pain as the weapon was precisely shot out of his hand, and that could only mean one thing. I didn't have much time to feel relieved though, because Martin recovered quickly and dove for the gun.

I did the same, which was awkward with my bound hands, but I managed, rolling over and pointing the weapon at him.

"Freeze," I hissed.

Martin just laughed. "You wouldn't dare..."

"Try me."

I really hoped he wouldn't come any closer, although I had fired a weapon just a few weeks ago, and hadn't hesitated with Bryant, I certainly didn't want to do it again.

Taking his chances, Martin stepped closer.

But by then, the arresting team had already taken over; and Jim was by my side, helping me to sit upright. I didn't even want to question how he found me this time; that he had was enough for me.

"You okay - except for this?" He carefully touched the side of my face where a small trickle of blood had not yet dried, and I winced.

"No," I said truthfully, remembering the tasks that lay before me now, and I started shaking. "Shit, no, I'm not."

Lucky me, in situations like this, we can easily overcome those difficulties we tend to have in communication. Jim didn't question my assessment of the situation, just helped me up, opened the cuffs, and then pulled me close.

***

Chapter 7, Second Chance

 

Given everything that had happened, Dr. Andrews had suggested waiting another week before I started reality training. Those were the three days close to the end of your therapy when you went and tried to live in your usual environment, applying everything you were supposed to learn.

That would be fun.

Make sure you get regular meals on a regular basis, wow, that clever idea came from people who didn't know my life. Even when I had been into health food, I didn't really manage to cook at least once a day - then again, Allan said that the same argument came from the banker, the designer, the housewife as well as the manager - I got the picture. Right.

Anyway, I was glad when this time, Jim was really coming to take me home; and even if I had to go back, it would only be for another two weeks. One part of RT was finding a therapist for the subsequent time. With patterns so old, the story isn't over after three months of course.

Reality training, huh? A fellow patient had been murdered, my least favorite fellow cadet had turned out to be a crooked cop who'd almost killed me - how much more real could this get anyway?

There was one subject though that I still hadn't approached.

I had picked up the phone many times, but I just didn't have the courage.

And then Jim had told me that Raines was hoping for a lesser sentence, claiming he didn't know Bryant used to murder those kids they had both abused.

I would have to testify against him.

***

One morning, when I was just about to go down for breakfast, there was a knock on my door. "You expecting someone?" I called, and Brandon, who was still in the bathroom, called back, "Not that I know of. *I* haven't done anything."

I opened the door and --

"Mom!" We embraced, but not before I had seen those tears glistening in her eyes. Oh no. I'd rather have done this over the phone, it would get all too emotional anyway, I just couldn't fall apart in front of her; she'd think it was all her fault.

"Honey. It's good to see you," she whispered, still holding on to me. "I'm so sorry I didn't come earlier. I should have..."

"No. There wasn't anything you could have done. It's okay."

"It's not," Naomi insisted. "There's so much we have to talk about. I asked the doctor, and she said I could take you out for breakfast. Come, let's go somewhere quiet."

In public?

Oh my God.

"Alright. I'm really glad you came."

Well, it was at least half the truth.

***

I wasn't so sure if I was going to eat anything at all. We had to do this now; it was important for the case against Raines; if it could be made clear that their association went way back, and that he'd suggested to Bryant to try the murder ritual on someone he knew as a child... it would be more likely that his recent claims wouldn't be believed.

"You know, we never finished that conversation," I said after we had ordered, feeling all queasy inside. Any minute now, I'd know the truth.

"No, we didn't." She toyed with her serviette for a moment. "I called Jane Decker a few days ago. Just to hear it once more from her."

Noticing the small tremors that wracked her delicate frame, I knew I'd been right to fear for the worst. I still had this feeling of numbness crawling all over me, the scenery becoming slowly unreal.

"So what did she say?" My own voice sounded close to tears, and I cleared my throat hastily. "I need to know."

She nodded. "Yes, I realized that. I just wanted you to know that... you didn't ever tell anyone about what was going on at school. I never knew you were being harassed this way, or I wouldn't have gone... God..."

"Mom, would you please..."

"Okay." She swallowed hard. "I wasn't there, and I never forgave myself for that, so I've asked her many times. Janey always tells me that you fell asleep in the car, and she was worried because she couldn't wake you up. That's why she brought you to the hospital to get you checked out - the doc said you were okay, but they found something in your bloodstream. Called the police, but they couldn't tie it to Raines... anyway, she'd come to get you in time."

"What?"

I didn't even realize I had been standing up, raising my voice to the level that people from the neighboring tables were listening interestedly.

"Why the hell couldn't you tell me that over the phone?"

Naomi flinched. "I wasn't there at all... you could have been hurt and I wasn't there. You'd have every right to hate me."

Hate her?

My God.

I sank down into my chair again, not knowing if I was going to laugh or cry. Or be sick.

"That's why you never wanted to talk about Raines? Because you weren't there?"

She nodded, abashed. "I told Jim nothing ever happened. God, I didn't know it was actually about that. I thought you two had talked... oh honey. I'm so sorry."

//Nothing ever happened.//

With those words, all of a sudden, I felt like someone who'd just returned from the dead. The veil lifting, I could actually feel *myself' again. Not bad for a start, wasn't it? I believed she was telling the truth - and realizing what that meant for me, had me shaking with relief.

My worst nightmare had not come true.

***

We had done our homework thoroughly. Megan had turned up addresses from eight of the twelve potentials. One of them had committed suicide, one had been killed in an accident two years ago, and the other two had moved to different countries.

After the mess left by Davenport and Holden had been cleaned up, I didn't want to spring this on Blair immediately; and decided to wait until the reality training.

Today.

Whatever came out of it, at least we'd have some time to find out wherever it was we'd go from here.

***

When Naomi found out that Jim would be coming to take me home for a few days, she embraced me, excusing herself hastily. "I just wanted to clear this up; I don't think he'll be happy to hear about all the confusion I've caused once again," she said sadly.

"Oh Mom, you know nobody blames you, right?"

"Right," she returned, and kissed my cheek. "I really gotta go now, but I'll call. I promise."

Then she was gone, and I wondered if this visit, and that conversation we'd just had, were all a dream.

Or my whole life, for that matter.

***

I had been packing up my stuff with Brandon making wise-cracks all the time.

"You know," he said, honest admiration in his voice, "most of us are barely hanging on here. You've been solving a murder. That's way cool."

Way cool. Oh yes. "I'd be alright with not solving any murders for a while - but I guess that won't be happening soon, so maybe that's the way it should be." It was the truth. There was still a substantial amount in student loans to consider, and it was the most sensible decision to keep my job, but look for an alternative when I could really afford it.

Live with the realities, and not your notions of it; in the end, that was what therapy was all about, learning to make that fine distinction.

I wanted to try.

What I had done because of a notion, not reality, after my visit to 'Sweet Candy', was a warning I wouldn't readily forget.

***

So far I've made three serious attempts to get down to it, and tell Jim about Naomi's confession.

He doesn't know yet, doesn't even know there was ever a question, and I'm pretty nervous, as if I'm going to confess something myself - almost giddy. I think he attributes that to coming home.

Oh, right, it's not really the good news that makes up my nervousness, not all of it, at least.

It was all for nothing, anyway, the cost too high. Partly, I had been sulking because I thought Jim wouldn't continue with the search - which he had; those folders on the coffee table are proof enough. I haven't looked at them yet; at the moment, I'm still trying to adjust to the fact that I'm home.

Again.

Finally.

Safe.

I've been in my room, hands brushing surfaces as if to reassure myself of the solidity of things. Certainty. That, and I notice that Jim has dusted the surfaces, even the frames on the small window sill. The room smells fresh and clean.

It makes me smile to know he's been taking care of all this, waiting for me to return. At the moment he's cooking me dinner. "It will take a while," he announces. "Why don't you take a look at those files in the meantime?"

I sit down on the couch, staring at them for a moment before I pick up one of the folders and open it. Could-have-been-victims.

Adult women now.

I suddenly realize that it's ridiculous, really. Like I could walk up to each of them and say, 'hey, excuse me, did your therapist abuse you when you were a child, and some clueless teen walked in on it?' What if it was one of those who had moved far away - or worse, the one who committed suicide?

For the first time since this started, I realize I might never know.

Even if I found her, she might not remember. Might not want to be found at all.

Closing my eyes, I give in to the dark movie that's playing in my head...

//Ms. Decker, I suppose.// There had been a smile in Raines' voice. //I guess you're here to pick up the boy.// But he had cursed in a low voice just a second before opening the door to her.

Bryant, a long time ago, red-faced, barely keeping his anger under control for this last session; just a couple of weeks ago, his face illuminated by candle-light. Smearing the blood all over my body...

And Alex, cold water, regrets and fear of dying...

All those second chances... why?

"Hey. Chief."

My eyes snap open, and I'm startled, but in a good way, as I slowly find my way back to the present.

"You with me, buddy?" Jim asks, halfway between amused and worried.

I look at him wearing that stupid flowered apron, spoon still in his hand. I know he's been tuning into my heartbeat, finding it okay obviously. Internally, I review the other side that is there. Jim never really gave up on me, not even when I was actually *dead*. All the things he can do, he is simply amazing, and I am part of that, and that must be the reason why I'm still around, even though I've done some really stupid things lately.

"Jim," I say, and know this is the moment; I can't turn back now. "About Raines."

He sits down beside me, all seriousness now, and this must be a moment of historic dimensions, because he sets down the dripping spoon on the coffee table, without giving a second thought to stains, laying the apron aside, and directing all his attention at me.

The thought almost makes me laugh.

"He... tried. I remembered in therapy that he had drugged me once, you know, the other kids, they were older, and they used to pick on me, I was waiting for Mom's friend to come and get me, he... he helped me. And then gave me drugs in a hot chocolate."

I haven't even told Allan in so much detail.

"But she was there in time. In time," I repeat, only just understanding what kind of weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel drunk with the knowledge, and free.

"That's good," Jim says softly, the relief showing in his expression.

"Yes. But there was a time the other week when I wasn't sure, and..." I decide not to bring Naomi into this. What's the verdict except for poor communication? I'm not entirely innocent in this. "I bought two bags full of candy and locked myself up in a room at the station to puke," I blurt out, all in one breath.

I don't know what I had expected, reproach probably, because it happened at a time when we were not actually talking much, when I was obsessed with Bryant's former patients, and Jim with not 'interfering with my therapy'.

"I'm sorry. I wish you'd have called me."

"I wish I had."

"Come here," he says, and I just kind of lean into his embrace, just resting there, and this time, when I close my eyes, there's no movie; the bad whispers all silenced.

This is 'why'.

 

Epilogue

 

I fasten the blindfold carefully, whistling. He's still suspicious.

"I hope this is not how you're going to pay me back for the incident with the bad milk?"

We both have to laugh at that; I remember it vividly. It wasn't funny then, but to a spectator, it must have looked hilarious, me asking what was in the fourth cup, when he had only three prepared for the test.

"You really think I'd hold a grudge for that long?"

"Not sure about that," he grumbles, but obeys when I tell him to open his mouth.

"This is taste now, but it is also touch. There's also a texture to it, can you feel it?"

"Yeah," he says excitedly. "Man, I always thought it had to be gross, something you mostly suppressed. But it's more like... synaesthesia. Cool. This is good, Jim. What is it?"

"You tell me."

"Chicken, okay, and... peach? You've been reading cookbooks again, haven't you?"

"Next one. This is going to be dessert. One point per ingredient, Sandburg, so pay attention."

The sound of his laughter fills me with hope.

It is there, along with the bumps on the road ahead. It took awhile to find the right therapist. Testifying in the case against Bryant and Raines set us back some. Blair is still wondering about the girl he'd seen with Bryant, but has mostly accepted that this question is never likely to be answered.

Raines... when he said those words, //too bad I never got to try//, I'd never guessed how close it really was, and that is the stuff of nightmares, will be for a while longer--

Then again, only a couple of days ago, Blair was close to tears, then angry, claiming that he couldn't eat, not even a little bit, no way, and nothing helped. It's a decision that has to be made every day, and often, a struggle, but it gets better.

I had this idea, about letting him know a little bit about what it's like to be a Sentinel, on the good side, and it seemed to be a good one.

"Lemon, sugar, water... Jim?"

"Wrong," I deadpan.

"No, I mean... thank you," he says. "For always being there."

I contemplate several answers, feeling self-conscious and not a little ridiculous as I'm standing in my kitchen, misty-eyed, with this blind-folded guy who happens to be my best friend.

"Yeah. Come on," I say, cautiously taking off the cloth. "Dinner is ready."

His smile tells me he understands what I didn't say.

*It's because I want to.*

 

THE END

PS: I felt it wouldn't be very realistic to go and answer every single question raised in 'The Hunger', so I left the characters where I did - it's not like everything's perfect, but there is hope. This particular universe is closed now.