Letters From Hades

Part One

By Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

Author's Notes: LFH deals with a very serious subject matter (Dissociative Identity Disorder, aka Multiple Personality Disorder), but it's also about the great strength that a human mind has under the worst of circumstances. It was a very long journey, including false starts and frustrations, but it is done now, and I owe my gratitude to all those who helped making it happen: My AAF ladies Orion, Lisa, MagPie, Stef & Melly who were always there for me when I was whining about getting stuck, and each of them contributed in their own ways. I'm glad to know you! My betas Xasphie, Lyn and Annie, being brave enough to take on this monster! Everyone who already sent feedback via SentinelAngst and other sources; it's very much appreciated! As writer's resources go, I need to mention Becky's transcripts page, and Starfox's gallery which make life in fandom a lot easier. A big hug & thank you to y'all!

Warnings: Not to be taken lightly. I tried to tell as much as necessary, as little as possible, but it is still a story that deals with a disorder resulting from child abuse and mind control in early age. Protect yourself. If you think this could trigger you in any way, you might not want to read it.

There are aspects in this story that could be seen as slashy, but since it has already been posted on a Gen list with the ListMom's okay (thank you, Dawn!), and there were no complains as far as I know, this is certainly not such a big deal.

At the end of the last part, you're going to find a list of the literature, for whom it may interest (-; Now, on with the show...

Letters From Hades By Demeter

Prologue

In 1978, a little girl stood in a courtroom, relating to the shocked audience and law personnel what had happened to her during her abduction. Her story was so horrible that some people in the room downright refused to believe it.

The charges stated that she and several other children had been abused and tortured regularly in a house that belonged to one of the town's best-known residents. She also described Satanic rituals being performed, in the course of which she and the others had been hurt. She cried when she spoke of the men in black robes who had cut her, raped her, and made her drink blood.

The accused man, Philip James, sat in his chair, staring at her the whole time. He was wearing a red buttoned-down shirt with a black tie.

There were others said to be involved, a lawyer and a policeman among them, but he'd been the one they all answered to, according to the girl's statement.

She never wavered in it.

~~~

1995, psychotherapist Virginia Franklin had to defend herself against accusations of malpractice. One of her patients, whom she was treating for Dissociative Identity Disorder, had begun to remember having been ritually abused as a child. When she filed charges against her parents, they, in return, charged the therapist, claiming she had planted those memories via hypnosis.

Both parties finally settled out of court; Franklin moved away while the woman broke contact with her parents. Her former client left the university after finishing her Masters and went to Cascade where she enrolled in a graduate program.

~~~

1999, after the news of two ritual murders became public, concerned citizens in Cascade kept calling the police department, claiming their neighbors were holding black masses. In one case, child abuse was reported.

As the news spread, many of them now wished they actually had some ancient protector with hyperactive senses, just like the media had publicized only a while ago.

***

Part One

"... somewhere, someone's conscience is like a burning bed, the flames are all around you, how you're gonna sleep again?"

Jon Bon Jovi, "August 7th, 4:15"

1

"I can't do this, Jim. I'm sorry, I just... can't."

I turn around in surprise, but he's already gone, fleeing from the nightmare image that's been drawn in front of us. It looks even ghastlier in the light of early dawn - one of the worst crime scenes I've ever seen in my career. If not the worst. His reaction is certainly understandable.

Last week, the first body had turned up; same MO. That's when we had still hoped it could be a one-time thing. I remember Sandburg telling us about the symbols that were cut into the dead woman's body, the way she had been tied to the tree - strangely detached, I had thought, but then chided myself. Wasn't so bad if he'd finally found a way to detach himself from the uglier aspects of our job, was it?

But that isn't like him anyway; Blair always has the big picture in mind, the fact that the victim has her own story, friends and family that'll mourn for her. I wish I could do more to keep him away from those sights, but that's wishful thinking. Wasn't even possible when he was 'just' an observer. These days, Sandburg's status isn't so clear. Is he going to the academy, could there be an alternative that would still allow us to work together? I don't have much power at the moment to make decisions for him. And he doesn't seem very inclined.

From over here, I can hear his heart racing.

Sighing, I take another look at the body, noticing the deep wounds caused by a sharp blade. There are other signs of abuse on the naked body that's so obscenely displayed against the trunk of the tree. There's no doubt now - we are dealing with yet another serial killer, and this particular bastard has satanic leanings.

At least, that's what Blair had said at the last crime scene, referring to the inverted cross and the pentagram. He's still within sight, so there's not much danger of me zoning. I turn up my sense of smell, trying to come up with - anything. The only thing I get is the slightly salty scent I associate with tears, and I decide to give it a break for the moment, leaving the scene to Forensics, as I walk back to him.

"Hey, Chief. You in there?"

He looks - I mean, I don't really know what it looks like, because I'm usually on the other side of this phenomenon, but from his description, I'd say 'zoned'. As I speak to him, he jumps ever so slightly, shaking his head. "Man, what a mess. I had hoped I'd never have to see anything like this again."

"Me too," I say truthfully, somewhat comforted by the fact he seems to be his old self. It's okay to be shaken by this. It's human. Doesn't mean something's wrong, and really, it's a bit funny that I should be worried about the status of Sandburg's sanity, when so much of mine depends on him.

All right, I take that back. Nothing has been funny in a long time, and given what happened here a few hours ago, it won't be for a while longer.

I rest a hand on his shoulder, easily detecting the minute tremors that are wracking his body. It's cold out here. My thoughts associate 'cold water'. And 'drowning'. He should be more careful.

"It's him again." Blair isn't asking.

"Looks that way. Come on, we'll get back to the station. There's nothing more for us to do around here."

He seems grateful to leave this place. So am I. Death and early morning are indeed a bad combination, and ever since the fountain, those scenes have started to feel oddly unreal. A self-defense measure of the mind, Blair would say.

Because sometimes I'm afraid that the happy ending was nothing more than a dream, and we're playing in our own version of 'The Sixth Sense'.

***

When we arrive at the bullpen, Simon waves us into his office immediately, his expression indicating nothing good. I can imagine his concern. Since the first body was found, there's been a wave of fear going through Cascade.

Megan and Joel handle calls from scared citizens almost full-time. Some just want to badmouth their neighbors, saying they hold black masses in their basements. Rafe and Brown, however, are following a lead that seems to hint at a case of child abuse. And then there's the fact we have another murder.

I bet the Mayor's not happy.

When I close the door behind us, Simon gestures for us to sit down. No coffee, no friendly banter - this is beyond serious. And I'm right.

He sighs. "You'd think they know it would be better for everyone if they let us do our fucking job. All right, I hope you've gotten a *little* closer to solving this case, because the day after tomorrow, ten o'clock sharp, DA Winters will be sitting here and wanting an update. Please tell me you have something to give him."

Beside me, Blair is silent, so it looks like I will be the bearer of the bad news.

"It's the same creep. The symbols resemble those on the other victim's body, there was the faint smell of sulfur, and I'd guess he used the same knife to cut her up. Raped her, too. Forensics will have to confirm that, but I'm pretty sure she was alive through all of it."

"Any traces?" Simon asks curtly.

"With a little luck," I say, angry at myself at the same moment. We need much more than a little luck here. What good are these senses anyway when they can't help me to nail the perp before he strikes again? And make no mistake, he will, if we don't find him first.

"That's what I was afraid of." Simon stares solemnly at the newspaper on his desk for a moment. 'Satanic Cults in Cascade?'. It's Don Hass at his worst again. Wonder where he's got his 'inside information' from this time.

"Okay, boys, here's the plan. Winters wants something solid, a lead, an arrest, whatever. And in addition to that, he wants information. Hass is making everyone in the city panic, and Winters is asking for some hard facts, statistics, something about who these people are and what they do... I thought you might be interested in doing a little research, Sandburg."

There's silence for a moment.

I realize Blair seems to be far away, and give him a gentle nudge with my elbow. "Hey, what do you think?"

Second time this day, I mentally file away.

"Um, sorry, Simon, I guess I was a little distracted." He's obviously embarrassed.

The captain, however, has seen the photos of the first crime scene, too. Even though we're all under lots of pressure, he's sympathetic. "I wish, every once in a while, somebody would listen to me," he grumbles, but not unfriendly, and he explains again. "You want that job or not?"

"Oh, sure," Blair says at once. "No problem at all." I can hear the relief in his voice. Actually, I think it's a good idea, too. That way, he can help us with the case, doing what he knows best. These times, when nothing is really for certain, it's surely a great offer. And make no mistake, with a high profile case like this, it's also a hint at what our future will look like. If Sandburg does a good job, and I know he will, the Chief will be more inclined to cut us some more slack.

All in all a satisfying prospect - if only we had more on the killer.

***

Blair doesn't waste any time at all. As soon as we get home, he powers up the laptop and starts searching the web for preliminary information. Before I start making dinner - my night to cook, and Sandburg seems to have fallen in a trance in front of the website anyway - I get us both a beer from the fridge.

Taking a look over his shoulder, I read, 'Inside the devil's house - why we cannot bear to believe'. There are alleged eyewitness reports and comments from psychiatrists and investigators. Bottom line is that those narratives are so gruesome that most people prefer to believe they were entirely made up.

Well, I don't have many illusions about what people do to other people, and I don't think children invent stories about being burned with torches, and worse. Blair looks up at me with a troubled gaze, and I just know he's thinking the same.

With this case we're going to stir up lots of dirt.

"Those people should be hanged," he says darkly, and that's another unlike-Blair thing to do, but I don't pay attention, I'm agreeing with him too much here. I take a close look, unable to ignore his exhaustion. It speaks of more than this day; there's a lot we're busy trying to put behind us at the moment.

"Come on, take a break," I urge. "This stuff won't go anywhere."

"Unfortunately, you're right," Blair agrees, getting up to join me in the kitchen after he's accepted the bottle. "Why not."

It almost makes me smile when our fingers touch for a moment longer than necessary. We really are that old married couple people keep joking about - without the sex, mind you. There is comfort in those little gestures and their familiarity though, and the hope that we will get it right after all.

***

2

//...he was struggling and screaming, but they tied him down to the stone altar...//

//... poured blood over her body...//

//... made them kill...//

With a shaky hand, I take off my glasses, rubbing my eyes wearily. Two a.m. already. I've been at this way too long. The dossier for DA Winters is almost done, just short of a few finishing touches. I should be in bed, but it's hard to let go of all those images; the material is as addictive as it is horrifying.

The devil really exists, only he doesn't have a tail and a cloven hoof. He comes in tailored suits as well as in the-guy-next-door disguise, and makes a fortune from the misery of God knows how many children worldwide.

It's all a big, confusing kaleidoscope; openly operating Satanic groups that claim to be law-abiding, and then porn rings that use Satanic rituals in order to scare the hell out of their victims, literally.

This newest case has to be the worst I've seen while working with Jim - if that doesn't say a lot - it makes people like Lash and Kincaid look like mild-mannered deviants.

I hope the sound of my thudding heartbeat won't wake Jim; it certainly sounds loud enough to me, as I review the disturbing knowledge we have so far. Both victims in their early twenties, living alone. Both of them had been found naked. On their bodies, drawn in blood and cut into the skin, inverted crosses. Pentagrams, too. The memory makes me shudder, and for a split-second, there's a thin veil of crimson red before my eyes.

God. No wonder there's a near panic in Cascade - I sure feel scared.

Of course I'm thrilled that Simon has entrusted me with such an important task, and that Jim is backing me up on it despite the conflicts we won't talk about - like Alex. Like the dissertation, and what's going to come out of it.

It's quite a compliment to be given this task, so I got careless, didn't really consider what I'd be letting myself into. It feels like I'm getting sucked deeper into that dark ghastly world by the minute. Child abuse. Mind control. It makes me want to cry one minute, then thrash something the next.

Children don't make up those things, no fucking way. There's an anger building inside of me threatening to suffocate me, of the kind I've rarely known myself capable. It's just that with those kind of crimes, there's no room left for justification. No human should be *able* to do such things.

Things that, most likely, have been going on in Cascade, too.

Two women have already been murdered. How many *children*?

"Sandburg!"

Jim sounds annoyed, but at that moment, I'm infinitely glad to hear his voice, pulling me back into the present.

A vague pain registers with me, and I look down, surprised, to find I've pierced my thumb with the sharp pencil I've been holding. For such a small wound, an astonishing amount of blood has gathered, dripping onto the pristine white sheet in front of me.

"Jim? What's wrong?" I ask, feeling slightly dizzy at the sight of my own blood.

Or maybe it's really just the result of this reading - //'they cut into the skin of his thighs and then...'// I shake myself to ban the images that come with that thought. I really should be in bed by now, but I'm afraid it will all follow me into my sleep.

"What's wrong?" Jim has tied his robe and comes down the stairs, his expression incredulous as he shakes his head at me.

"I could smell blood and-- What the hell have you been doing?"

"Oh... that." I shut down the computer, carefully closing the lid with my left hand. "Just a minor accident. Man, I'm wiped." I'm a mess, actually. I'm so tired I could cry, and a look at my watch tells me that it's a shocking four a.m. The familiar unsettling feeling takes hold of me, making my heart beat even faster, which Jim misinterprets.

"I can see that, Chief," he says gently. "Why don't you go to bed?"

"I will." I stare at the laptop again, then at the paper sheet I've stained with my blood.

"The dossier still?"

"Yeah."

Jim is sighing, which says more than actual words would have. Right, same old story, you've got to learn to separate yourself; only three years of being 'just an observer' apparently haven't done the trick. How would 'Detective Sandburg' do? It's impossible, but I haven't had the guts yet to tell him that - or anybody else for that matter.

"It's almost done; I just need to go over it once more. Then we can..." Talk, I almost said, about all the things unsaid and what Alex and the vision really meant, and the fact I died and you brought me back, for starters. "Anyway, you're right. I really need to sleep," I admit.

Coward, I tell myself silently.

We say goodnight, and I decide to clean up the table tomorrow, well, today actually, but after a few hours of sleep. I make a beeline for the kitchen sink to wash the blood off from my hand.

"Chief?"

I spin around to see Jim holding up a strip of Band-Aid. "There you go. And, no more accidents tonight, minor or otherwise, okay?"

"I got you, man." I feel myself smile which seems like the first time since forever. Definitely a good sign. Everything is going to be all right in the end. Isn't it always?

***

"Why are you doing this?" Tony writes in the diary, the tip of the pen almost tearing the paper. "You are ruining everything. We can't go there! Stop it while you still can!" The diary is one means, but he has others if Blair isn't willing to listen.

Tony's imperative is to protect, and that's what he will do. At all costs, with every ally available.

***

I spend the morning in a confused haze. Jim has already gone which means I should get up off my ass and get to the station right now.

Vaguely, I remember that we're supposed to talk to Rafe and Brown about a possible link between our cases. I got out of bed around seven. Now it's almost ten, and I'm busy fighting the beginnings of a panic attack, but hell, no, I can't afford that now, not ever.

Jim is relying on me, and I want it to stay that way.

That 'problem' stands in the way, though... it had become almost manageable, but it seems like my trip to the underworld has opened the floodgates again; those episodes are becoming longer and occur more frequently. I honestly don't remember *not* securing the file with my dissertation before I left Naomi alone at the loft that day.

Too much I don't remember, and you know what's the worst thing about it? Jim has been right all along. I did betray him. Oh, not willingly, more out of a lack of alternatives, but it's betrayal all the same.

Because it would be even harder to come home and admit you didn't remember half of the day.

Vaguely, I wish there was somebody, anybody out there I could talk to, but then again, I've been living with this so long, I'll probably cope. Even though, at times, I wonder whether it would change everything if I could finally fulfill what it was Incacha expected of me when he passed on his legacy.

I lied when I said that there are no Sentinels. I did not lie when I told the world I'm a fraud.

***

Those pictures, they scare me. Somewhere, a child was crying.

It wasn't just a picture. There'll be more.

No, don't say that.

I know.

The crying continued, a lost and lonely sound.

***

"Excuse me, but you look terrible."

Kerry breathed a deep sigh of relief. Molly. She was friendly, understanding. A bit on the superficial side, too, but that was okay for now. She needed some comfort badly.

"Feel that way, too. Look, Molly, if you've got the time, maybe we could have a coffee? I'm starving for something sinfully sweet." Kerry had a pleasant soft-toned voice, hard to resist. She played that familiar effect to the max. "Please..."

Molly smiled at her. "I could use a break..."

Somewhere deeper, a child's fears were being placated. No bad images for today.

***

Jim is in a particularly pissy mood when I arrive. "It's nice of you to show up finally," he sneers, and I'm mentally scrabbling for anything to explain myself, when Rafe takes me side.

"Would you lay off the act, Ellison," he says exasperatedly. "It's not our fault. Simon had to call in the Feds. I can't see why it's such a catastrophe that Blair missed the autopsy."

A cold feeling of dread slices through me. What? I must have said it out loud, because Rafe turns to me with a tired expression. "You remember our case, the girl who the neighbors said had been abused?"

I nod, keeping my mouth shut, but inside, a voice begs, I don't want to hear this.

"She's dead," he says, looking as though he's trying hard to stay calm, but I can tell he's angry. "We brought in the parents half an hour ago."

"Oh, no." It's all I can say. I've been afraid something like this might happen since I started researching the subject. And it's not over yet. "Look, I'm sorry I'm late, but..."

Jim stops me with a dismissing gesture. "It's fine, as long as you're on time tomorrow. H and Brian will be talking to the parents. You coming?"

I decide it's best to play things low-key for the moment; my conscience is as guilty as could be anyway.

Jill Clayton's parents had claimed she was abducted, but the neighbors said otherwise, and as we walk down the corridor, Jim tells me that there's evidence against the parents. Like the marks of long-time abuse on the girl's body; like fibers from the carpet in the house under her fingernails. Yet, there's no evidence suggesting that she didn't die in that house.

Now the Feds are going to join in on the investigation - every one of us hates this case already. Hopefully, it will all be over soon.

***

3

The woman is crying uncontrollably, claiming again and again that they're innocent, that their daughter had been abducted and it was the kidnappers who laid her dead body onto the porch.

Rafe and Henri try from all possible angles. They don't get anywhere. Melissa Clayton's heartbeat is all over the place, but there's not much I can derive from that - her only child has been killed. No one would stay calm in this situation.

Maybe it's Sandburg's dossier that makes me remain suspicious. There are too many child molesters out there who, on the outside, lead perfectly normal lives, not giving anything away as to their sick ways. And most of the time, it happens within the family. It takes a child a lot of pain and crying to make neighbors guess something might not be right - often too late. The damage is done.

Besides, I find Blair remarkably calm, as I take a moment to tune into *his* vitals. I have no idea what's up with him lately, but I certainly intend to find out, and soon. After we've found this killer.

"Mrs. Clayton," Rafe asks kindly, "Did you ever have any interest in the occult?"

"Why are you asking?" she sniffles. "What's that got to do with anything?"

Behind me, I can almost feel Blair tense up. That's something I can understand. We have seen what's been done to the women, and that was horrible enough. According to the neighbor, Mr. Harrington, there were meetings that took place in Clayton's cellar, where people wore black robes and did some strange chanting.

Dan Wolf promised to have results by this afternoon, at the latest. Then we'll know the exact details of Jill's ordeal. My suspicion is, he'll find that she most likely never left the house - my fear is that he'll find the MO will be the same.

"It's that earring you're wearing, the pentagram. I wondered if you were aware of the symbolism," Rafe continues.

I can see her eyes narrow, as her face takes on an expression that doesn't quite fit with the grieving mother image, only for a split-second. "It's just jewelry, okay? Excuse me if I don't care much for small -talk at the moment. Why don't you just find the monster who killed my daughter?"

I am so focused on their interaction I almost don't hear Blair leaving the room, shutting the door behind him softly.

Rafe gives Mrs. Clayton a friendly, if shark-like smile. "We will," he assures her. "Believe me, we will."

***

I find him outside the observation area, his heart beating rapidly, and I'm beginning to question the wisdom of asking Blair to do that report. What we're dealing with here differs from normal police work, even in Major Crimes, and the dimension of what is going to be uncovered is not yet clear.

"Don't tell me. She's lying. I could feel it." His words sound so hopeless; it makes me wish I'd excluded him from this case right from the start.

"I think you're right," I say, carefully venturing further into hazardous territory. "Look, Chief, maybe you should take a rain check on this. It's ugly already, and there's no saying where it'll end."

"Don't worry about me," Blair says, but it doesn't sound very convincing. "I'll be okay." The flat tone tells me otherwise.

I want to object, but at that moment, Megan enters the room. "There you are. We found something very interesting on Mr. Clayton's background check."

***

"I am a warrior!" Clayton shouts, jumping up from his chair, slamming his palms on the table.

The outburst comes unexpectedly; until now, he's been friendly, even a bit shy like his wife. The truth, however, could be that they're both severely disturbed. Simon has sent Blair and me to interrogate Nathan Clayton, while Rafe and H are still occupied with his wife.

Before we went in, Megan informed us that Clayton's father has a number of different aliases, one of them, Philip James, who was the leader of a criminal Satanic group in the Midwestern area in the late seventies, the "School Of Satan". The couple are looking more guilty by the minute.

When asked about his father, Clayton simply explodes.

That's not the only surprise, though.

"You bastard! You killed her! All of them, I know it." Blair's words, spoken in an angry tone, don't really make sense, but before I can intervene, Clayton answers, obviously making sense of them.

"You are inferior," he returns with so much venom in his voice, it makes even my blood run cold. "Like the others were. Mere pages. And a traitor, too. Your punishment will come for sure."

"And you are sick! You enjoyed..."

"Stop it," I say firmly. "We'll take a break here. Come on." I almost have to physically force Sandburg out of the room, before we're faced with charges.

***

"What the hell was that about, Chief?"

Blair looks at me like someone who just woke from a bad dream he doesn't quite remember. I soon realize that's exactly what it is.

"Why are we here?" he asks, confused. "Aren't we supposed to interrogate the guy?"

I have to fight a surge of fear; he really doesn't know what just happened, how can that be? For so long I have been secretly afraid, that the fountain will come back to haunt us, even though every doctor we've seen has assured us that there was no brain damage. But where do these 'episodes' come from, then? And does this strange conversation have anything to do with the case?

"Jim?" I've been drifting, and he's sounding concerned now. I have to smile; some things never change.

I relate his own words, and Clayton's, from some minutes ago to him, and Blair frowns. "You sure about that? Um, okay, of course you are. I'm sorry I ruined it. I don't know what came over me."

"You didn't ruin it. The strange thing was, he answered to your words. I'm positive he is guilty, but what did you mean by all of them? What did he mean? He called you a page - and a traitor. "

Blair simply shrugs.

Maybe we're on to something bigger here. And maybe, I think, the cold feeling returning, he should really see another doctor soon.

***

What happens the next day, though, is definitely dampening the empathy. I called Blair in the morning, since he got to bed so late, I was kind of worried he'd oversleep - and he'd been kind of annoyed about it, assuring me he'd be there in time for the meeting.

I couldn't get anything more out of him regarding Clayton; Blair just said that members of those hierarchically structured groups, like terrorists, consider everyone not on their side a traitor. When I had asked him why he'd thought Clayton had killed the other women, he simply stopped talking.

However, it's not what's foremost on my mind as I listen to the DA's tirade.

"You've told me what a valuable asset that civilian consultant has been to your unit, and especially in this case. I could start to believe you... well, if he was actually present to convince me of his genius."

Winters' voice is dripping with sarcasm. Simon chooses to ignore this rather obvious impression when he answers, "I'm very sorry about that. We'd better start right now." His words are accompanied by a pointed look at me, a reminder that I'll hear the captain's opinion later.

*I'm* annoyed now and begin to contemplate ways to get back at Sandburg as a revenge for when I'll have to sit through the same old arguments. Hell, he knew this meeting was important; we have hardly talked about anything else in the past thirty hours.

Blair even seemed eager to get it over with, understandably, and spent the wee hours of the morning digging deep into the subject. I've only seen bits and pieces of it so far, but if only part of it is happening here in Cascade, the department has a big problem. It already has, anyway - there are the murders, one victim a child, Clayton's obvious ties to Satanic communities.

Sandburg said something about the destructive legacy of transgenerational violence. But why isn't he here?

At least, we have something to give to the DA, because Dan's report confirms Clayton's guilt. There is no evidence that the girl could have been killed anywhere other than in the Clayton's house, and lots of evidence for earlier abuse. Melissa Clayton has broken down, claiming it was an accident, but she still denies any connection with Satanic groups. According to her renewed statement, Clayton had hit the girl when she wouldn't stop crying, and she fell, hitting her head. Makes you want to strangle him, for sure, but I can't shake the feeling that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

After another ten minutes, Winters leaves, mumbling something unfriendly under his breath about the efficiency of the CPD's organization. Simon, in no better mood, grumbles, "Now get out, everybody, I believe you have work to do. Not you, Ellison."

Megan gives me a sympathetic grin before she closes the door behind her, and I sit down again, resigned to the dressing down I'm going to get. Just remember, Chief, revenge is sweet... I hold up my hands in a placating gesture. "I know, Simon..."

It's not so much that I'm mad, well, I am - but worried, too, and I have this itchy feeling I should be out there, searching or him. Looking after my partner. For now, however, I am stuck here, but I will make sure another doctor is going to get involved.

***

I don't trust my eyes, when I drive home a few hours later, passing a Wonderburger restaurant on the way. I've been tempted - but all occupation with food is gone abruptly - when I see Sandburg at one of the tables, chatting up a girl I remember is a TA at Rainier.

Has he gone nuts? I know, I should think before I do anything; Blair isn't that irresponsible, there has got to be an explanation, but rational thought flees when I walk up to them and he greets me with a smile.

What is he doing in this joint anyway, he who always lectures me on healthy nutrition?

"Hey, Jim. You remember Julie?"

"Damn it, Sandburg, what the hell were you thinking?"

They both jump at my words, which I find utterly satisfying. I just can't believe this. "Are you aware that you just embarrassed the whole Major Crimes unit? I relied on you here! Seems that was a bad mistake!"

For all my concern, he's spent the time on a fucking date?

I rave on, aware that people from neighboring tables are watching. Julie gets up and says good-bye, her expression showing irritation. That's good. I'm irritated, too. Whatever may have happened between us, however difficult it is at the moment, Blair knew how much depended on his presentation. Probably, his future with the Cascade PD. Does he care so little?

When I ask him about that, he gets up, too, his eyes ablaze with something like - if I didn't know better, I would have said - anger? Where do you get off, Chief?

"That was uncalled for, Jim," he says. "If you're pissed off at me for some reason I can't fathom yet, you don't have to storm in like this and make a scene in public. Right?"

He sounds like a stranger. I'm speechless. "What?" I manage finally.

There's a minute change in his expression, I can't describe it, but then it's Blair Sandburg again, and he stares at me in shock. "The meeting... God, Jim, don't tell me I missed it!"

I slump down onto one of the chairs, feeling defeated. I have no idea how to deal with this, whatever it is we're talking about.

The most disturbing thing about it is that he's truthful, and Blair hasn't simply forgotten the time. He's looking around, shivering, and the unsettling thought comes to mind that he probably doesn't know how he got here

Which doesn't solve the problem at hand.

"You need a ride?" I ask. Still unnerved, with myself, with him, with this thing I can't grasp. "You know, Sandburg, if you wanted out, there are easier ways to accomplish it."

I see his face fall at my words, and almost regret them, but we have to face the truth someday. Life as we knew it is most definitely - over.

***

We haven't talked much this evening. For now, I've let Blair off the hook, even though I think it's absolutely impossible he simply forgot. He's genuinely embarrassed, but I let it go the moment I realized I've behaved like a petulant child, too.

This is not just about him - my thoughts keep going back to the moment Simon confirmed there was a possibility of getting Sandburg into the academy in order to make him my official partner. It seemed like the perfect solution, and I was just - so happy - about it, it was hard to deal with the fact that he probably wasn't.

And even now, I have to admit that my outburst was more a reaction to how he's been endangering his position with the PD than what it means for the progress of this case.

***

4

Julie has always been one of Brad's favorite friends; one you could have fun with, even if she's a bit on the crazy side. Brad is unaware as to why it's so important to meet her this morning, but when she calls, he doesn't hesitate. He whistles as he gets on the bus to meet her. He really likes Julie.

She stands in front of the fast food restaurant, waving, her long black hair shining in the sunlight.

They hug. "Hey," she says. "Glad you could come. Haven't seen you in some time."

He smiles back at her. "I always have time for you. Let's go inside."

There's a dark, angsty feeling trying to get hold of him, but Brad pushes it back. It doesn't belong to him.

Julie is a good friend, and he doesn't want to lose her friendship.

***

When Jim goes out to get some dinner neither of us really cares much about at the moment, I make a decision.

I've been thinking about this long and hard. The evidence is gathering; I can't deny that. Besides, I'm only a hair's breadth away from getting kicked out of this gig for good. Jim hasn't said it in so many words, but even though he tried to understand, his disappointment was so palpable, I swear it made the temperature in the loft drop several degrees.

Not that I can't understand him. He and Simon trusted me with this presentation, and I completely blew it by - but that's exactly the problem, isn't it? I don't even remember what I did, that time is lost like all those other hours and minutes before. Sometimes, before I hooked up with Jim, it could be days. Add to that, the image of a five-year-old girl who has been killed by her own father, Nathan Clayton, and two other yet unsolved murders.

I sit with my back against the brick wall, staring out at the lights of the city, feeling tears gather in my eyes. Fool I've been, to think this little 'problem' would simply disappear. I clutch the phone in my hands, the numbers on the small slip of paper blurring before my eyes. I pray that the number will be still the same, if not, I have no idea what I'm going to do.

It's about time; I need answers, but at the same time, I'm scared as hell of what they could be. In any case, I cannot deal with this alone any longer.

I dial, then nervously wait for the phone to be answered, miles away.

"Hello?"

The voice sounds, strangely, just the way I remember it, even though the woman it belongs to, is pushing fifty now. She'd been in her early thirties when I had first met her. I'd been scared then, too, even though I can't reach far enough to fully understand why. The memories I have of my childhood are surprisingly sketchy - and I haven't found the courage yet to take a good look at what it could mean - but there was lots of moving around, sometimes welcomed, sometimes dreaded.

One of the longer stays, for a little more than two years, was at a beach house in California.

Maybe she'll be able to help, clear the fog that seems to swirl around me lately. At that thought, I feel hope surge.

"Who's there?" She's not unfriendly, just a little bit irritated, and I realize I haven't spoken yet.

"Uh... hi, Ocean. It's me."

There's a pause, and for an anxious moment, I think that she is maybe not too happy about this call. I could have tried to find her much sooner, ask Naomi a few direct questions, but never bothered. Instead, I've waited for the moment when my world has come crumbling down on me, when I need her desperately.

It's been twenty years. No postcards or calls in between.

She could be offended.

"Blair? Is that you?"

Or maybe it's just that she needed a moment, too.

"My God," she says excitedly. "I've been trying to track you down ever since I saw that, sorry, piece of amateur theater on TV. What the hell is going on there?"

I close my eyes for a moment. It's so good to hear her voice. I can actually make myself believe that now everything will work out just fine. "Something has been going terribly wrong, I can't tell you over the phone. Could you... could you come?"

When Ocean speaks, it's with a kind of sad amusement. "So Cascade is it, right? It's not that I would know if you hadn't gotten yourself into trouble."

I start to apologize but she continues, her tone serious. "I meant it, I wanted to talk to you myself, because honestly, I don't believe for a second that you made that Sentinel story up."

Right. There's a lot more that's not okay here. "Ocean." I feel mortified about so much trust from someone I've kept out of my life for the greatest part of it. "You knew me when I was *ten* years old."

"Right," Ocean says, unfazed. "When are you expecting me?"

***

When I hang up the phone, it almost immediately rings. I pick up; there's a voice whispering, "The time is near."

"Hello? Who's there?" Annoyed, I hang up again, grimacing at the weirdo. Just what I need today.

Jim returns with dinner, and I feel oddly relieved not to be alone any longer. Before we settle down to eat though, the phone rings again. "For heaven's sake, go bother someone else!"

"I wish," Simon returns with weary amusement. "Blair, can I talk to Jim for a minute?"

"Uh, yes, of course. I'm sorry, Simon." I feel my face heat. "Had a crank call just a minute ago."

"It's okay," he says, and I pass the phone on to Jim, who's been shaking his head at me. I watch with anxious doubt as he's talking to Simon. Is that the end of my consultant status, is that why Simon is calling? And why hasn't he even mentioned my screw-up from today?

Jim's expression is impassive, as he answers. "I understand, sir. We'll be there in twenty."

I look at him expectantly, expecting anger, because this has got to be about me - but I'm wrong.

"Come on, Chief, we've got to go. There's been an attempted murder. This time, the victim's alive - for the moment."

***

"What monster would do anything like that?"

"You're saying you don't know?"

"It doesn't matter now," Tony returns calmly. "Will you be able to hold the children back?" He would prefer to do it himself, but he's proven to be competent in situations like this. The Master of the Sluices will back him up, as always, but he needs to know the children are safe.

"I will." He doesn't use many words.

"Good."

Tony is steeling himself for another bad sight. How he wished it could be the last time, but for sure, it won't be, and there's no point in wallowing over it. He knows the job he's got to do.

***

Blood everywhere.

On the floor, on the white sheets in the bedroom, and on the walls. I look at the splatters, thinking he must have slammed her head against the unyielding plaster several times.

Marsha Clement, a Rainier university student, age twenty-one. She's still alive, but hasn't woken from the coma she fell into sometime during her ordeal of almost having been beaten to death. On a bad day, I'd already be running for the front door, but somehow I manage.

The sight of this explosion of violence stuns me into silence, though.

The crime scene is in the vicinity of one of the compounds where Satanic rituals have been reported, not far from the other murder scenes. The assailant entered through the balcony door, leaving no prints behind, but the small apartment is a mess.

I wonder if this day can get any worse. It's not that I've ever met Marsha, who'll very likely suffer irreparable brain damage from the vicious beating she's taken. Still, the fact that she is, or had been, at Rainier, too, creates some sense of familiarity.

It could have been one of my friends. It could have been... No, now is not the right moment to think of when Lash broke down the door to the loft.

Blood in the hallway... I imagine that she almost got away from him.

Bad luck, almost isn't enough - Are you ready to die... because... I'm ready...

I think of Marsha, and that I could be very well in her place. The idea makes me shiver. Just how long was my brain without oxygen before Jim literally called me back to life?

***

The Master of the Sluices is doing all he can, but Tony can hear Kevin crying. The children are all afraid. He knows of the pain, and bits of the bloody scenario threaten to damage the sluices altogether.

***

Serena Chang has just joined us, stepping out of the kitchen. Her tone is curt and professional as always, but underlying, her unease comes across quite clearly. "We found this beside the body." She hands Jim a piece of paper already enclosed in an evidence bag.

Forget me not, is written in flourishing handwriting, the words framed by familiar symbols...

***

The crying sounds louder now.

"Don't you worry," Tony speaks up, trying not to let it show he's concerned. "It'll be okay."

***

A lab analysis still has to be done, but when I look at Jim questioningly, his short nod is all the answer I need. The realization leaves me nauseated for some reason I can't quite fathom; after all, it's just a small portion of what is smeared all over the pristine white sheets and the wooden floor, and still. Maybe it has to do with the research I've been doing.

Maybe I'm just about to reach my boundaries after three years of being 'just-an-observer'.

Forget me not. The author of that line has used the victim's blood.

The time is near.

"So it's the same guy who killed the other women?" I ask, trying not to think of those symbols. They seem to be screaming at me, though, making it harder each second to look at them, because I can't imagine what they're telling me - beyond the obvious, anyway.

"Seems likely," Jim agrees. "Those symbols there, Chief..."

"Some of those were cut into her body," Serena says. "Like with the other ones."

Don't tell anyone. I shake off the sudden, irrational thought and straighten my shoulders, trying hard not to imagine that. "I know. The pentagram and the inverted cross again. It's textbook. Even though I can't see her type being involved in that kind of stuff. Not a bit of black in here."

Lots of dark red though, from her blood smeared over carpet and floor, but I don't say that. As if in response to that, Jim has that look of pained concentration on his face, which tells me that he's busy dialing down his sense of smell.

I wish *I* could.

"I think, this time she knew him. That message is personal," I offer.

Jim agrees with me. "It definitely is. Maybe her friends, or parents can tell us more."

"You'd better hope that," Serena comments. "It's not looking good."

That, I think, letting my eyes wander over the random pattern of bloody smears and splashes, has to be the understatement of the year. I'm glad the ambulance had already gone by the time we arrived at the scene, so I didn't have to look at another battered body, near-dead-body.

My imagination, however, is more than capable of filling the blanks, thank you very much, and sometime later that night, I bolt from my bed, barely making it into the bathroom to get rid of dinner. It feels like purging. Of what, I can't say, but I manage to fall into an uneasy sleep after that, dreaming of black pits and red-golden fire.

Black is all around him. It has an oppressive quality, making it hard for the boy to breathe. He's huddling in the corner, his naked back making contact with the damp wall. He is shaking so hard, his teeth are clicking together, but he needs the point of orientation to remind himself that there is a way out of this cellar, stairs a few feet away that lead to a door, which can't be seen now, but it is there.

"Please, let me out." He tries those words out on his tongue, but they are mocking him; he knows that it won't happen anytime soon. The boy lets himself slip away...

***

5

Something's very wrong here. We should be moving in on the animal; instead he's taunting us, starting to leave messages. There's a certain increase in the frequency of crank calls, which makes me wonder. Marsha Clement is still alive; I don't think that's a coincidence, so either he'd planned to leave her exactly in this condition, or he was interrupted.

In that case, it could be we've overlooked something. He had to leave in a hurry. There has to be...

"Hey, long time, no see."

I look up into Alicia Drennan's smiling face. Agent Drennan, ATF. It could have been worse, really. I feel myself relax a little, as I get up to shake her hand. Behind my back, I can *feel* Blair grin.

Right, maybe we could resume the cooking sessions sometime. I'm only glad I don't have to deal with our friend Mulroney again. Maybe she can give us something that'll help us crack this case. I'm not too proud to accept help at this point - it's gotten way too far for my comfort, and I can't deny we haven't accomplished much yet.

"It's good to see you, too. How have you been?"

I hope better than we have recently, I add silently. I've decided that I'll ask Simon for half a day off tomorrow. Then Blair can see another doctor, and we can take a good look at what is really going on here.

"Okay," she says. "They got me a new partner. She's twenty-five, a real hotshot. I'm having fun."

"I can imagine."

When the small talk is done, we all gather in Simon's office in order to bring all the information we have to the table. As I relate Clayton's connection to Philip James and possible strings to current Satanic activities in Cascade, Drennan suddenly looks uncomfortable.

"James is not unknown to us," she says, gazing down at the folder in front of her.

Simon gives me a quizzical look, but I can only shrug. "Right. He was investigated and arrested in the late Seventies. With what we know about him, he sure passed a terrible legacy on to his son. We're still looking into possible connections between the group he was head of, and the current murders."

"There is one," Drennan admits. "Before I came here, I talked to a retired colleague who was the leading investigator in James' case. There was an anonymous caller leading them to the compound. Several children were freed, all of them showing signs of abuse and malnutrition. Some of the people arrested were their parents. Don't you think it's interesting that your current victim, Clement, was one of those children rescued that day?"

Interesting? I'd use another word, but we're not here to discuss the semantics of horror. "Have you interrogated James?" I query. "Any chance he might be orchestrating the murders from prison?"

"Worse. He escaped three months ago."

I am stunned for a moment. Then I jump up, almost knocking my chair over. "And you didn't deign to tell us about it?"

"I'd like to know about that myself," Simon adds, even though his eyes are warning me not to take it any further. Shaking my head, I sit back in the chair. It's always the same with the Feds. How naive of me to think this time would be different just because Drennan and I had some fun in my kitchen...

"What are you doing about it?"

"Chasing him halfway across the continent, so far. We didn't have any idea what he was up to, but it seems that is quite clear now. The question is, why Cascade? Even though his son is here, they haven't had contact in about twenty years. Nathan Clayton was taken away from the family when James was arrested."

"Maybe he wanted Nathan to come back. And Marsha, too."

I turn to Blair, finding him alarmingly pale, though his voice is steady.

"What makes you think that?" Drennan wants to know.

For a split second, he looks like he's going to run from the room, but I'm mistaken. Blair sits up straighter in the chair, as he explains, "That's the way those groups operate. Sometimes they call former members back to the cult, by activating a program that's been set a long time ago, in their childhood. My guess is that James is trying to rebuild the 'School Of Satan'."

"Then we're nowhere near finished with Clayton, don't you think?"

Oh, I don't want to hear this. I want to forget that strange interaction between Sandburg and Clayton and not think about what it means, but anyway - we still have to talk about that appointment with another doctor, and it's going to be tonight.

Lost in my thoughts, I miss her next sentence, but the meaning becomes quite clear, as she says, insisting, "Why don't we just give it a shot? You know more about those groups than any of us."

Simon looks dubious.

Blair - shocked.

I'm sympathetic. I don't want him near Clayton again, either.

***

Tony's job has always been in the protection business, especially in relationships. Without his okay, nothing will ever happen in that department; he's responsible for safeguarding the outer boundaries, and it shows not only in his behavior, but in his clothes. All dressed in black, he communicates, 'Beware if you get too close'.

He invites those who are safe, and pushes back the dangerous. Best he can. Tony has always been one of the first to sense danger - and act on it.

Jim Ellison is safe, he has decided that long ago, which made it even harder to understand Alex. He'd wanted to avoid her under all circumstances, but things had happened that were not under Tony's control. Flashes of being in the hospital, uncertainty about the origin of various pains had eventually convinced him that it was important to take some safety measures.

Especially now that they'd have to face Nathan, the warrior, once more.

***

"Hey there."

"Hey," I say distractedly, as I put aside the novel I've been reading. Funny how attractive fiction can become when your own life is getting too strange. Even more so that I should take the time during this case that seems to grow heads like the mythical Hydra, but it's just one means of distraction.

We talked about making an appointment at Cascade General, and then at length about the supervised meeting Blair will have with Clayton tomorrow. Sandburg, by the way, has his own means of distraction: He's promised to cook.

"Dinner ready?" I ask.

There's a small pause, and I look up, *really* look at him then. "Whoa. You got a date tonight you forgot to tell me about?" Sandburg certainly looks the part with those tight-fitting black clothes and the shiny black boots, silver jewelry rounding up the outfit. Whatever that means for dinner.

Strange, it's not the kind of style Blair usually favors, and why did he change anyway when we weren't planning to go out? What really has me stunned is the fact that his eyes are... green? No, I must be mistaken. Maybe I just fell asleep on the couch and am dreaming, or the way the light falls - I dial up my vision, but the result's the same.

"Are you wearing contacts?" I ask incredulously. I usually smell the cleaning fluid on people who do. In this case - nada.

Blair looks just as surprised at the question. "What for? My sight is 20/20. Anyway," he continues, ignoring that I'm gaping at him, "There's something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"Tryin' to escape from kitchen duties?"

"Silly," Blair says. He reaches up a hand to cup my cheek, then runs the other one down my chest in a rather intimate caress. Smiling, as if this was way familiar between us.

Well, it's not. Backing out of the touch hurriedly, I wonder what the hell could be the right words to say here. Where is this coming from anyway? No doubt, Blair has been acting strange ever since this hellish case started, and previous memory lapses and unusual behavior fit right with this - but what exactly is 'this'?

Not to mention this is a different thing altogether.

"Look, Chief, I don't think this is a good idea."

"I do," is the simple answer, and then Blair, or maybe the stranger who has taken over his body once again, leans in for a kiss. When my confused reaction is to simply step back, he explains, "Not so many people have been good to me, and if they are, they usually want something from me. But that's okay, Jim; I want you too." He leans forward to rest his forehead against my collarbone, his breath feeling hot even through the layers of clothing. What the hell...

"I'm sorry, I..."

"Come on, you won't regret it. I promise. Think about it. Something like this must have been on Burton's mind, too. Writing about Sentinels, and then all that erotic stuff..."

"Blair!" I'm way out of my league here, but have the small hope that he's still in there, and will come forward if I say it just loud enough. And my prayers are being answered, thank God.

"I'm right here, man. No need to yell at me." Seeming oblivious to our earlier interaction, Blair takes a look at his watch, flinching slightly. "I'm really sorry though, I forgot about the time. Would it be okay if we go out tonight? I just need to change."

I don't bother to protest, and I'm still clueless as to what's going on when Blair comes out of his room again, this time blessedly familiar from his clothes to his demeanor to the - blue eyes. But, just maybe, I've been mistaken here. Perfectly possible, right?

I dread the moment when we will have to talk about this, too.

***

I've made several attempts so far, but haven't had the guts yet to tell him he's been coming on to me. With a little distance, I'm honestly beginning to doubt my own perception - and as the evening proceeds, I decide it's probably not particularly important, but only part of the problem. Three murders and an attempted one so far. I have the hope that we'll stop running around in circles as soon as we've solved whatever this is that's going on. We get back to the subject of tomorrow's schedule then. To my surprise, Blair doesn't even object to going to the hospital.

"We can take the rest of the day off. Simon won't like it, and Drennan won't like it either, but I think we really need some answers here."

"Probably." Blair shrugs. "I just don't want to think about it now, okay? Tomorrow's going to be a crappy day as it is anyway."

I can only agree.

***

The closer we get to the hospital, I realize more and more that Blair, in fact, hates going there, though he hasn't really said it aloud, but today's incident doesn't really leave any choice for either of us. We've managed to keep our colleagues in the dark for the moment, as much in the dark as we are ourselves, but it can't go on like this for much longer.

This appointment is some kind of no-return point, and we're both aware of it.

At least we know Dr. Grant already, so this will hopefully not last forever - it's already been a very long day. Grant starts with detailed questions about the start and extent of the memory lapses, then he suggests some tests. A blood test, too. Blair has gone through the procedure endless times during too many hospital stays, but this time, something's different. When Dr. Grant prepares the syringe, I see his eyes glaze over.

I don't alert the doctor, just stare with a mixture of fascination and unease. The color of Blair's eyes changes ever so slightly, to a lighter blue.

"No!" he shrieks when Grant turns to him.

The sound is more that of a child crying out in terror than something coming from a grown man's voice, startling me and the doctor alike.

"No drugs. Drugs are bad for you. No, please, leave me alone!"

"He just wants to draw some blood, for testing. It's safe. You're safe here," I repeat, acting on instinct, surely not out of having any fucking idea of what's going on here. One of too many times. But this time, there's a physician around - he's bound to have some answers, isn't he?

"He's having a flashback," I add - but from what? Not that there aren't plenty of different nightmares to pick from, but it really boggles the mind. Lash? He seemed to have gotten over that so well. The Golden Fire People? Doesn't explain why he's acting like a frightened child. What if there's really a connection to... I abort the thought firmly. Now is not the time.

Dr. Grant even manages not to sound sarcastic as he says, "I can see that for myself, thanks, Detective."

Blair still has his hands held up as if to ward off an attack. "No," he whispers, the despair in his voice heart-wrenching.

"Come on, Chief, you don't think I'd let anybody hurt you?"

You did before, hovers as an unspoken whisper between us.

Dr. Grant takes over now, and I'm nothing if not relieved. So he's seeing for himself why we are here. "Blair, can you understand me? Blair? You're safe here. You're in the hospital. There's no one in the room but Jim, you and me. It's safe to be here."

A moment later, his eyes are back to their normal cerulean blue. Blair shakes himself. "Can we get this over with now?" he asks, extending his arm to the doctor who doesn't quite hide his surprise. But he does pick up his jaw from the floor and begin the blood withdrawal.

Fortunately, there are no further interruptions, and we've learned something as we all but stumble into the truck later that evening. So far, Dr. Grant has found no indication that there's any physical reason for Sandburg's memory lapses, some of the results still pending.

Grant has suggested seeing a psychiatrist, something Blair has agreed to, tight-lipped, but he hasn't said anything about it yet.

We go home, tired, not much the wiser.

***

6

This morning, all I want to do is to stay in bed. I haven't slept much. Whenever I manage to drift, there's Philip James' face. Jim and I have talked about this new development intensively; he's told me that nobody could make me go and see Clayton again if I don't want to, and he added something not so nice about Drennan, but it's not enough. If I can do anything to help here, I must do it, no two ways around it. We've got to get this monster off the streets. Which doesn't mean I'm not scared.

Jim has also insisted on going to the hospital, and I agreed, but only because I know they won't come up with anything physical. It has to do with this other thing; and maybe I'm just losing my mind anyway; it certainly feels that way as we're going down to Clayton's holding cell. My heart is hammering, enough to alert Jim who sends concerned sideways glances my way; my palms are sweating.

I've faced more than one crazy murderer before - so what the hell am I afraid of?

I have to remind myself, of course, that his father, Philip James, is the worse evil. Clayton has done something absolutely unforgivable, but combined with what I know from the reports and my own research, James has killed and programmed children in the name of his cult, his own sick pursuit of power, many times.

He'll continue to do that if we don't stop him. I'm motivated.

Only deep inside, I feel like a helpless child facing an omnipotent beast.

That, I don't tell Jim.

***

Stay in the present. Don't slip away.

"You," Clayton greets me hatefully, and I find it hard to keep myself from flinching.

My voice, however, is surprisingly steady, as I address him. "You seem to think we've met before, Mr. Clayton. I can assure you, that is not the case. But the last time, you said something about punishment, and the hierarchy of your group. I'd like to hear a bit more."

Behind Clayton's back, Jim gives me a reassuring nod, and I manage to relax some. After all, this isn't the X-Files. Nothing bad can happen to me here - except for the poisoning effect on my aura, as Naomi would say. With what this man has done, he's giving off seriously bad vibes.

There's silence.

Then he shouts, "You are not entitled, don't you get it, you moron?"

Jim takes a warning step closer, but I shake my head 'no, don't intervene'.

"So, then, I think I've been mistaken. I was sure you had important knowledge, but you're nothing but bullshitting us here. You are indeed the psychotic creep who murdered his own daughter, and that's it. Pity, Clayton." He can't hear my rapid heartbeat like Jim can, and I'm pretty sure, Clayton buys my nonchalant act. I get up and turn around when his words stop me cold.

"So sure about that... little Jacob?"

It doesn't make sense. I've seen this man twice in my life, during his first interrogation, and just now. There's no way he can know about my middle name, and even if there were, why would it make me feel like I've been punched in the gut?

"Sorry," I say, and it's like there's a hand around my throat, slowly squeezing, - the time is near - "I don't know what you're talking about." It's hard to get enough air in for talking. Get a grip, I berate myself. I can't faint in here.

"Stupid idiot. I never understood why you were..." He mumbles the rest of it, unintelligibly but I'm sure Jim has gotten it. Dead certain, when I see him blanch. Uh-oh, that wasn't good. Another wave of dizziness hits me, but fortunately a few deep breaths make it pass.

I sit down across from Clayton and lean as close as I dare, determined to bring this to an end. "We know that you did it, and there's no doubt you'll be going down for it, but allow me one last question: What did you kill your daughter for? It wasn't a ritual day." That I know for sure, because it was part of my research. The groups that use Satan worship in the abuse of their victims sure are eclectic - they celebrate Pagan holidays like Halloween and solstices, but also use some Christian holidays, or Jewish, for that matter.

Sometimes, human sacrifices are made. Before they die, the victims suffer unbearably. "Did you do it just for the fun of it... Nathan?"

Withdrawing out of his personal space, I wait for another outburst. It doesn't come. Instead, his face darkens. I don't trust my eyes when I see tears leak out of his eyes. All show?

"Dad told me to in a dream," Clayton says matter-of-factly. "She had to take your place."

***

Between Clayton yelling at me like the maniac he is, and Jim informing me about the other lapses at the doctor's, now, I really want to crawl into bed and pull the blanket over my head, I think I'm entitled here.

No such luck.

When we enter the lobby of our apartment building, there's a woman sitting in one of the seats, reading a book, looking up as she hears us. My God. I would have recognized her anywhere. That hair color that seems to be a little of everything, now with the addition of surprisingly few gray streaks. Her startling blue-green eyes.

She has really come, and I'm so relieved at the realization, I feel tears prickling in my eyes.

I've completely forgotten to tell Jim about her visit.

"Blair," she says, a smile lighting up her face as she lays the book aside and gets up. We embrace, and she holds on tight for a moment. I take a deep breath as the urge to just break down and have a crying fit becomes too tempting. Those words from Clayton - I want to know them, and I don't. If Jim feels like he has to lie about them, there must be something bad.

"Hi, Ocean. I'm sorry, we've had such a bad day, I'm afraid I haven't even told Jim yet that you're coming." I turn to Jim, who's looking a little puzzled.

"This is Ocean, an old friend of Naomi's. Jim Ellison, my roommate."

They shake hands firmly, and I'm glad to sense an instant sympathy between them. Ocean is as attractive as my Mom is, but there's a certain calmness about her. She's the kind of person who can stand to be in the same place for years. She's got a strong spirituality, but wouldn't start burning herbs in other people's apartments, let alone move the furniture.

Oh yes, I'm convinced she and Jim will have an easier start than he had with Mom.

"I'll be staying in Cascade for a while, so if this is a bad time, I can come back another day," she offers, and that moment, I hope instantly Jim won't agree. The appointment at the hospital, Clayton, on top of everything else - I feel like I need to talk or I'm going to burst. I've missed her so much, and if I'm honest, I've always known she's got the key to my worst fears.

"No way," he says. "I was going to make some pasta, and there's enough for three. I'd never miss the chance to hear a story from Blair's past."

Oh, good. He's turned on the charm, and I can tell Ocean's not completely immune.

***

In many ways, it was a magical time, and remembering is an exciting journey. The beach house, Ocean teaching Mom self-defense moves, teaching me meditation - her dogs, and the books she gave me to read.

Looking back, it's like a good part of my identity was made in those two years. There are other memories, too, like Ocean and Naomi having a bad fight though I don't know what it was about, and then the night she and I stole ourselves away like thieves, but we don't talk about that now. Not within the first five minutes that Ocean is here.

We sit on the couch, reminiscing, while I know that Jim can hear every word in the kitchen, and I'm quite sure Ocean is aware of that, too - I have to fight the impulse to just lean against her.

"You could come and visit me sometime. I haven't changed much at the house," she says, her eyes taking in the surroundings with interest. I'm glad she hasn't said anything about the Sentinel story yet. She won't, until I ask her to talk about it. Ocean is way more discreet than Naomi.

"I'd love to. Whenever it is we've finished with this hellish case."

Her eyes narrow a bit. "I read the paper on my way here. It says there's a Satanic cult operating in Cascade?"

I shiver, wishing she hadn't said that. Wishing all of it would just go away. Jim has lied to me today. When I asked him about Clayton's comment, he claimed he hadn't understood him. Drennan wasn't too happy with the results of that conversation either. "I'd expected something to nail that bastard," she'd said disappointedly. "Instead, the guy is well on his way to a psych ward if he keeps up with that shit. Thanks anyway, Blair. It was worth a try."

What was that about Jill having to take *my* place?

Shaking myself, I remember Ocean is still waiting for an answer, and I shrug. "Sorry, I can't tell you much about the case, but unfortunately, it looks like that. We would have liked to keep the details from the public a little longer. Hass is frightening them out of their wits."

"What does Naomi say about your work with the police?"

"Don't ask."

"Oh, I don't know about that, Chief." Jim has joined us. "I think Naomi's come around mostly."

"Wait 'til her next visit when she finds out that--" I break off as it comes to mind that really nothing is clear yet. Yes, I'd like to keep on working with Jim. Any way. Any way but being a cop. I don't like guns, true, but that's not the ultimate reason. More like, I can't be trusted to carry one as long as we don't know the true reason for this... condition.

Ocean's expression is between interested and very worried, and from the things she has obviously picked up, she has reason to be. She doesn't know half of it, and I hope there'll be an opportunity to change that. If she can't help, I'm truly lost.

***

There's a picture in the diary Leila can't remember having drawn. The name 'Kerry' pops up in her mind, but she doesn't know who Kerry is, or what she's got to do with the picture in Leila's diary. "Ocean is here finally. Can we tell her now?"

Sweat is spreading on her face, her stomach hurts all of sudden, and she closes the book abruptly.

"You can't trust her," a dark voice says from deeper within. "You can't trust anybody."

***

My cell phone rings a few minutes before midnight. "Hello?" I say sleepily.

"Tony?" a deep male voice answers. "Hey, babe. Sorry I'm calling so late, but I just got home from the shift. You still remember our date tomorrow?"

I stare at the phone bemusedly. Pardon me?

"Sorry, wrong number. There's no Tony around."

The man sounds annoyed now. "Come on, it's too late for that kind of joke. I just wanted to say hi, and remind you. Sleep well. I still like you."

He hangs up, and I shake my head. At least something to make you smile on a horrible day - one in a seemingly endless row.

***

It's gotten late, and even though she's protested, we've offered Ocean a place to sleep on our couch. Maybe we can talk over breakfast, when Jim has left for work. At the moment, I'm just so tired, and maybe part of me still hopes that, as long as I keep ignoring the problem, it will go away miraculously.

It won't, of course, and there'll come the moment when we'll have to talk to Simon about my future with the PD. I'd like to do some consulting, but I'm afraid I've blown it completely, and then there's the fact that this seems to be one case we don't seem able to crack.

I see the same expression of frustration in Drennan's eyes already - and somehow I can't change the feeling that I'm partly responsible for the course of events, illogical as it may sound.

Tomorrow, I'll wait until Jim has gone to work and then have breakfast with Ocean - and I'll tell her everything I can. But until then, I have to survive another night.

***

"Shh, be quiet," Tony says gently.

"It's him," the small voice whimpers. "It's him, and he found us, just like he promised. Is he going to kill us?"

"No way." Tony's voice turns hard with these words. "I won't let him hurt you this time."

"I'm still afraid."

"I know." It's easy to see from the child's scrawl in the diary, and the fearful picture drawn in red, orange and black. It's nothing like Kerry's beaches and meadows. Tony turns the page while he hugs Kevin closer to him.

'I'll protect you, no matter what,' he writes. 'If I have to kill him first, then so be it.'

Exhausted by his tears, Kevin falls asleep, and Tony breathes a deep sigh.

He is afraid, too.

***

7

I can't sleep, I know, Sandburg can't, either; I can hear him writing something. It's understood that this is not about any test results Dr. Grant might still have for us. He's made it clear that until now there's no indication at all that could suggest the doctors could have overlooked anything. So this has nothing to do with the fountain - not directly, at least.

There's not much room for relief at the moment. What the hell is it with Blair and Clayton?

I never understood why you were Dad's favorite.

I grow all cold inside as I remember those words, the ones I lied about, saying I didn't get them. I did get them all right, and they haven't left me alone all day. Clayton isn't psychotic. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to determine that; there is surely something strange about him, but he knows what he's done, and that he's guilty of a capital crime.

Question - is there any relation between Blair and Philip James?

That's impossible. Impossible to think about, and no, absolutely no, I can't see Naomi ever having been involved with that kind of crap. What did Clayton ever mean? He did shut down after that second encounter, and refused to say anything else - except that Jill, his daughter, had taken Blair's place. How crazy is that? Oh, I want to believe the guy is just utterly nuts. If he's not...

I let my thoughts wander back to our visitor, Naomi's friend, Ocean. She's no doubt an interesting woman, and what's more, she reminds me of Incacha a lot. A doctor and psychiatrist, she's using shamanic techniques in her work. It's surely no coincidence Blair has invited her now. There's a thought I find quite reassuring - she knew Blair as a child. If there had been anything wrong, she'd know about it. There'll be answers eventually.

Today, I secretly checked Drennan's file, the one with the names of the children who were freed from James' compound that other time. Blair's name, thank God for that, was not on it.

***

The screams wake me from a deep sleep, and I bolt upright in bed. Oh hell, I've been waiting for this to happen. It's just too much, three senseless deaths already, and even with the new information from the FBI, we haven't gotten closer to James.

Maybe this will be the moment when we finally come clean with some facts, with a shrink right here in the house. I wouldn't even mind sharing some details of the case with her, if it helped. I don't know what it is about her, but I trust this woman.

As I silently descend the stairs, I see that Ocean is awake too, tying her robe. Our eyes meet, and she gives me a worried look. For a split-second I wonder - could it be that she has any idea what to make of the current symptoms?

"Get away from me!"

The tone makes me flinch, and I almost collide with Ocean who is standing right behind me. It's the same tone I've heard before, today, the child's voice. What's even more creepy - when I turn around, she looks sad, but not surprised. Just what does she know?

Opening the French doors, I find myself confronted with a heart-wrenching sight. Definitely not the competent, witty man I call my friend. I've done my best to ignore what I've seen at the doctor's office, but I can't forget this - Blair cowering in the corner, clutching the blanket to his chest.

"No," he pleads. "No. No." Not asleep anymore, but yet not here either.

"Come on, Blair, wake up," I say anyway. "It's just a dream." Is it? I've heard about a condition like this, where people can get out of their beds and move, but are still firmly wrapped up in the images from their nightmares. However, I've never seen this happen to Sandburg before.

I take another step forward, then crouch down in front of him, while Ocean has followed me into the room silently. For a moment, I feel there's an unspoken competition. Well, she might be a shrink, but this is my friend. He will recognize me.

"Blair?"

He's shaking his head, trembling, his eyes wide with what I recognize as fear. The same as today, when Dr. Grant was about to do the blood test. Blair came out of it then, it'll work out now.

"Please don't hit me," he whispers, almost indiscernibly, and this time, I cringe, hoping Ocean hasn't got equally good ears. What must she think about our relationship? But that's something we can clear up later, for now, back to the matter at hand.

"Nobody's going to hurt you. Promise. What has got you so scared?"

It feels like he's seeing right through me, and that must be the truth, seeing somebody else, but part of him is finding a way to the present, fortunately.

He just leans forward, and I don't even question it, or waste any thought on the spectator in the room, as I put my arms around him, holding on. I'm well aware of the fact that Blair will be quite embarrassed should he ever remember this, like all the other times before, but I feel like he needs that comfort right now, and I'm willing to give it.

There is nothing more left to say at the moment, except the question marks have just doubled.

***

It goes as I've predicted, at least for a while - "Can you tell me what we're doing cuddling on the floor in the dead of night? I've got to tell you, man, that's so not the stuff of my dreams."

Blair withdraws from my embrace hastily, trying to make a joke of it, but I can tell by his rapid heartbeat and the faint blush that he's mortified.

"Well, yeah, that's the point, the stuff of your dreams. What is going on in there? Is it the case?" I add.

He rolls his eyes at me as if to say, 'What else could there be?' But Dr. Grant hasn't recommended the psychiatrist for nothing.

"Can I talk to Blair alone for a moment?" Ocean asks quietly, as the ambience begins to get more awkward.

So, there can be no doubt anymore. She has an idea, and probably Sandburg's always been aware of that, or he wouldn't have called her. "Sure. Just call if you need me," I tell both of them.

***

For a few minutes, it's eerily quiet in there. I force myself not to listen even though I could. Even though there's a bad déjà-vu from when Blair asked me to leave him and Naomi to a private moment.

I pace on the upper floor, thinking that there has to be something we must change. Anything. Maybe we even have to give up this case, whatever it takes to get out of this nightmare.

As time passes by, I vaguely think of going to bed again, when the scream makes my blood run cold.

The sound of something breaking follows.

***

"You're lying!"

Fear has been replaced by rage; there are shards on the floor, but Ocean seems unharmed, and she remains calm.

"What's going on?" I ask, and she waves me silent.

"This is just what I know, what Naomi told--"

"It's not true!" Blair yells at her. Oh my, the neighbors will not be amused. "Why are you telling me these lies? Mom went to visit some friends. She came back to get me after a few weeks."

I shake my head. A few weeks - that's supposed to reassure anyone? My guess is that Blair wasn't even ten years old then. Surely I have no talking room where a good family system is concerned, but at least our mother didn't leave Steven and me with 'some friends'.

Ocean stands her ground. "Naomi said you were separated for one year. Why would she say something like that if it wasn't true?"

"No. She never left me alone for so long. Nothing ever happened."

"Blair, do you find yourself in a place sometimes not knowing how you got there?"

He shakes his head fervently.

"Are you losing time, people telling you something you did that you can't remember doing?"

"Shut up!"

I think it's time for some intervention. "Now, Blair, I don't think you should--"

"Who are you to tell me?"

Oh shit. I have not been mistaken. His eyes, blazing with anger, are *green*. "You let me down," he accuses. "You let me down when I needed you most. Both of you; get out of here now. Leave me alone!"

"No way. First we're going to dispose of the remains of - that," I point to the broken porcelain, "and then we talk. Tonight's as good - or bad - a moment as any. Blair, you know it can't go on this way."

"Why did you turn me down? I thought I meant something to you!"

"You do," I say, somewhat self-consciously, because I understand what he's talking about, but fortunately, Ocean doesn't know, "I just have no clue about what's going on here, and I need your help. Please."

There's another - shift, or whatever, I don't know how else to explain this, and Blair sits down on the bed, his expression mirroring my own confusion. Beneath it - despair.

"I can't believe this," he says tiredly. "The things I said--" Breaking off, he crouches down to gather the shards from the mug in his hands, then gets up.

"I'll take that," Ocean assures him.

"Chief, what the hell is up with you? Does *she* know?" I ask when she's left the room.

"Ask her. I've got a headache, and I'd rather be alone right now."

This time, I grant him his wish. I've got lots of questions for Ocean, and how could she nail the problem like this when they haven't seen each other for twenty years? The only explanation is, the 'problem' has existed for that long.

***

"Before you say anything, I want to tell you I've never..." That's one thing I just have to mention one more time.

Ocean smiles sadly. "Don't worry, that's one thing I'm sure of. Even if it didn't just look that way, I'm normally pretty good with people, and it's easy to tell that it's not that kind of relationship between the two of you. I know it's something else that makes him act this way."

"That much I've figured out. But can you tell me what's wrong with him? I must admit I'm at the end of my rope here."

"I can imagine. Look, I'm sure Blair trusts you, and that you're desperate for answers. I've been there myself. Please understand I need to ask him first before I share anything with you."

I sigh. Of course she's right, but I need to know what we're dealing with here. I feel like I can't do my job anymore the way it's expected of me with this 'thing' always hanging over our heads - and I'm scared for Blair. Scared like never before.

"Thank you for not listening in on us when you could have," Ocean says.

I look up, and the instant suspicion must have shown on my face, because she chuckles. "No, he hasn't told me. I caught that press conference on TV, and it didn't take much to figure it out from there."

"Yeah. I was afraid he threw it all away for nothing."

"No, I didn't mean *everybody* could figure it out. But basically, I'm the one to blame for everything... I gave Blair that book, 'The Sentinels of Paraguay'. I must admit at that time, I considered it a myth myself. I was wrong, obviously."

It's obvious as well what she's trying to say, but I've been waiting too long for anyone who could just give me a hint. And I know it's got to be her. Now. "We've been up half of the night already. Why don't you -"

That moment, Blair emerges from his room, looking tired, but defensive all the same.

"You know what, Ocean, I still think you're wrong, but if you want to tell Jim, I won't hold you back. I value you as a friend, but this is nonsense." He turns to me, shrugging, but I can tell by his increased heart rate that he's not that calm.

"The first shrink Naomi sent me to thought I was schizophrenic, the next one tried to instill the fear of God in me, but couldn't make me get rid of the panic attacks. Ocean was the only one I could trust - now she's losing it, too. Well, multiple personalities sound at least better than schizophrenia."

"Multiple... what?" I stare at her incredulously, shocked by more than just his last words. Blair has got a psychiatric history? Why didn't I know about it? I give the answer myself - because I didn't bother to ask when he revealed that he's got therapy experience. Still, this is too much.

"Lady, I don't know where you got your license from, but you're wrong. Seriously wrong. I suggest we forget about this and -"

"I told Naomi twenty years ago; that's when she terminated all contact and ran away. That time is lost now, but I'm afraid working on this case will do Blair more harm than good, and-"

"Blair is in the room, too," he interrupts darkly. "Really, I've got some problems at the moment, I'll be the first one to admit it, but this is way over the top. Ocean! It's me! You can't possibly think..."

And then it happens again, right before our eyes.

"Don't you understand, Ocean? We're scared. The men with the knives will find us. They are going to kill us all."

A feeling of cold dread takes hold of me, stronger than before, as I reach out with my senses, with all I've got, this time. The information is all wrong. The voice, again, is that of a child, now about eight to ten years old, and the heartbeat sounds more like what I know from my little niece than that of a grown man - especially one who is so familiar to me. I can't believe it.

I can't bear to - because I've read enough of Blair's dossier, and it says that developing multiple personalities is something that comes from severe sexual trauma mostly, prolonged, ritualistic abuse. No way.

"I do understand," she says warmly. "But nobody can hurt you here. We're just talking, and Jim and I won't let anything bad happen to you."

Blair seems thoughtful for a moment. "Promise?"

"We promise," Ocean confirms. "Can you tell me how old you are?"

"Nine," Blair whispers.

Wait a minute... He didn't just say...?

"What's your name?"

"It's Billy. We promised to never say anything. And we never did."

"I know, and we're not going to do anything to rush you or make you uncomfortable."

Nine-year-old Billy stares at her through Blair's wide eyes. My God.

How can she be so goddamn calm? She has nothing but a fleeting suspicion from twenty years ago! I feel like the air in the loft is getting thicker by the minute. If I was, just for a second, stupid enough to think she's right, what will that mean for us? Forget about the academy classes - what does it ever say about our relationship that I didn't notice anything? Me, the fucking Sentinel super-cop?

"Davy knew," he said, his eyes misting over. "Davy wanted to be me. And now it's all coming back. We saw the picture of Mr. James. We don't want to see him again. He'll hurt us."

Davy. David Lash. I swallow hard. But what's even worse, this child apparently knows Philip James. Just like Clayton has claimed. I shake my head, numb with shock. No. It can't be. Not Blair. His name was not on the list!

"I'm sure we'll find a solution there," Ocean says confidently. "Can I speak to Blair now, is that okay?"

"As I said, this is ridiculous," Blair says angrily. "I'm tired, and I'm going to bed. See you at breakfast." He spins around, leaving the room.

I keep standing in the same spot, wishing I'd just dreamed the whole scene. Maybe I could simply wake up and find my world still in order, no Philip James, no shaman-shrink uncovering horrific truths.

What are we going to do?

***

8

"You're a good little girl." The words didn't make any sense, but their accompanying laughter made the child freeze in fear. Vague and confusing bits of reality came back to her, but there was no possibility of putting them together. Even though the fear was nearly choking her, she didn't feel any pain. She couldn't feel anything at the moment but the loud sound of her own heartbeat.

***

Kerry is quiet and compliant all of the time, in order to keep people from yelling at her and the others, from hurting the children she feels she is responsible for. Sometimes it helps - more often, it does not.

That's why she feels more and more desperate, being crushed under the weight of failure. The only time Kerry is truly alive is whenever she gets her hands on a piece of paper and a crayon, and she can create a fantasy world where no one would ever be hurt.

***

"Magnificent!" the professor praises. "I wish you would change your mind about the exhibition." What exhibition? I blink, looking at the man who is disturbingly unfamiliar, then back at the drawing in front of me. I didn't draw it; that much is for sure. Ocean's words from last night come back to me - at least I think, hope, that it was last night - she'd surely say it was one of 'them'. I still think she has overstepped a line here - you just don't throw diagnoses like that at people you call friends - but it keeps getting harder to ignore the facts.

I am sitting in an art class at Seattle university, which I recognize because I've been here before. At the university, not in this class. Blair Sandburg has approximately as much art talent as any, let's say, six-year-old, but this piece of work is stunning.

It's signed, 'Kerry.'

"Thank you very much," I say, looking down at my hands. If I look hard enough, maybe there are still traces of paint, even though I've washed my hands with some urgency just - this morning, before Kerry drove to her art class. Her?

I hide my hands under the table as they're starting to shake. Where did that thought just come from?

It's ridiculous. Kerry is a woman's name. Maybe there has been a misunderstanding. Which would not explain why I am sitting in this class, for Christ's sake. Again, I look at the drawing, a shudder passing through me.

"I'm sorry, I don't feel so good. Can I go outside for a moment?"

***

I step into the men's room, taking a look at my horrified expression in the mirror. I suppress the urge to hyperventilate, and try to concentrate. Kerry.

It's almost as if I'm actually changing shape, to a smaller, slim figure, a weird and unsettling experience. I'm not the enemy. It's as if I hear someone talking for real, loud and clear. Impossible. Spooked, I all but run from the restroom.

Trying to deny once more.

***

From a phone booth, I call Ocean.

"Blair! I was wondering where you were."

I realize that if I tell her, she'll be even more convinced that her idea was right. Sorry, I can't do that now. "I just drove around a little, and no, didn't lose time." Blatantly lying, but I feel like I need to protect myself. I'm more upset by Ocean's suggestion than I want anyone, and her in particular, to know. It can't be. No way this is happening to me.

"Jim is off at work, right?"

She sighs. "He's been worried about you. Please call him. You just left this morning without letting anybody know where you were going... I'm sorry I've sprung this thing on you; it certainly wasn't the most professional way, but listen, you just can't keep working on this case. It's too dangerous either way."

"I'll call Jim," I promise. "Maybe we can all meet for lunch."

Then I hang up on her without the slightest bit of guilty conscience.

What am I going to do? I had hoped so much that Ocean could help, but what she offers is no simple explanation at all. Driving back to Cascade, I tell myself I can't afford to slip away once more; I'm supposed to meet Jim and Ocean in a few hours, and there's no telling what they're going to do if I don't show up.

Besides, I'm afraid to find out what could happen, where I could find myself.

It could be worse than an art class the next time.

***

There's one thing about this that's really bothering me: I'm not completely unfamiliar with the subject, and that's not because of the dossier I never had the chance to present. Back when Incacha saw in me whatever it was that made him pass the Way of the Shaman on to me, after the initial shock, I'd done lots of reading, to get an idea at least of what I was supposed to do.

Jim had dismissed my research the moment he found an article on the use of peyote on the coffee table, and asked me to drop it - I'd never really planned to experiment with drugs, but what has me more concerned is that there were comparisons to clinical descriptions of disorders.

Phenomena of trance, possession and others that resembled those found in the multiple personality disorder, right.

It doesn't mean a thing, I tell myself. I trust Ocean a lot, but she hasn't seen me in twenty years. She must be wrong.

***

"Let's assume just for a second that you're right. What do you suggest then? That I take unlimited sick leave? Am I going to have to be locked up in a psych ward, isn't that what usually happens to these people?" The voice sounds cold, disinterested. Don't feel.

Blair would have been all too emotional when it comes to this subject, but this alter knows it has to be dealt with. He doesn't deny the multiplicity, but he's the advocate of all those who fear they might be locked up - again. And, that this time, Ocean could play a part in it. They have to test her.

"A few of them," she admits, "but surely not you. Many multiples are highly functional, like you. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't be involved in this case."

"You're forgetting that there are not many alternatives for me. I've got to work."

"Yes, but --"

"You could take time out, Chief," Jim interrupts her, his posture making the alter suspicious. They still haven't gotten the truth from him about Clayton's words, and he suspects that it had to have been something destructive, or otherwise Jim wouldn't be so adamant about keeping the secret, even lying to them.

"I promise you we have it under control," he says, not missing the look Jim and Ocean share.

***

Little Jacob cries, knowing he'll be punished again. He has heard the words that Nathan, the warrior, has uttered in the interrogation room, and stiffened in fear at what they mean. There is no passage of time; it will always be now.

He's always been able to hear better than the others - able to understand the warning signs earliest. Certain voices, the sounds of heavy footsteps and rattling chains would make Little Jacob slip away, so he never knows what happens during the punishment.

He only knows the pain afterwards.

***

I try to ignore that my heart is beating loudly, and that Jim is probably really worried. "So," I try to speak lightly, "I'm here. Now tell me how have you come to this bizarre conclusion? I still don't understand it at all."

Just why is my vision blurring? And why are they, Jim and Ocean both, looking at me so strangely?

I look down at my plate, realizing it's half empty. Damn it. I can't remember anything after getting here, and the three of us beginning to talk. That's all. When have I eaten, and what? And why does my face feel all damp? Too many 'why's' here.

When Jim suggests that we take this home, I don't object.

***

It's raining outside.

I stare into the veil of many tiny drops, wondering what Jim is able to see in them. Not that he cares at the moment. I stand there, looking outside at the nocturnal city, wondering if there's any place left for me to hide. From the present moment. From a past I can't afford to acknowledge as mine, because if I do, I'd have to face the possibility that James was in it.

They told me that I was upset about the suggestion that I take a leave of absence, at least during this case. And then started crying.

I don't remember!

I can't do this, can't deal with it. There must be some explanation, just something other than this.

In the reflection of the windowpane, I see Jim coming closer, leaving me torn between very contradictory impulses. Turn to him and into the embrace he's surely willing to offer. Just stay here where I am, frozen. Run.

I don't do anything, just wait, and he cautiously puts a hand on my shoulder.

"I don't like this any more than you, Chief, but it's the first idea that's given us something to go with."

"Great idea," I say, now very conscious of the fact that my voice is shaking. "Look - things like these, they leave traces. People suddenly freak out or have a psychotic break. Can't hold a job. I'm not like that."

"No, you aren't," Ocean says gently. "But you need to learn to protect yourself, and staying on the case is not the way."

"Well, okay then!" I spin around, seeing the surprise in both of their gazes. "Let's just assume for I moment I go along with this. Jim, I need you to be honest with me. You heard what Clayton said. I need to know."

His expression is guarded now. "Why do you think--"

"Don't lie to me now. Please."

He looks at Ocean, and she nods. After a moment of hesitation, Jim caves and tells me the truth about what it was that Nathan Clayton found so hard to understand.

I knew it had to be bad, but the implication that lies in this statement is virtually opening up the ground under me, vertigo suddenly so strong that I'm glad for the hands that steady me. I lean into the support, what am I going to do? my only thought, and then there is none.

***

I find myself lying in my bed at early dawn. Looking around, I see specks of color on the nightstand, as if from crayons.

Kerry?

God, I've got to find a way to sort it all out, to determine what happens in those episodes - what's the sense of all this. It's the present I've got to deal with, and that's what I'm going to do. No matter what Ocean says, I need to be on the case. It gives me a focus, some sense of self-worth - and it's the only way I can stay Jim's partner, something I can't take for granted after pissing off Winters, albeit unintentionally.

And approach the subject scientifically. Whatever has happened, it can't have been as bad as the reports in my dossier, right? I have an IQ higher than average; I am working; I've had relationships.

There must be a way out of this, and the sooner we arrest James, the sooner I can find it.

***

"I'm willing to work with you here," I say. "But I can't just be idle and stay at home. No way."

Ocean looks relieved and worried at the same time. "I'm not sure if that is enough," she admits.

"Well, I am. I've been thinking -- well, maybe I have met James sometime in the past..." Hell, I wanted to do this casually, but it's really hard with the way Jim flinches at my words. "But it can't be like the things I've read about. Listen to me, there was never any sexual abuse. I'd know."

I'm testing her, sure, but she doesn't go for the bait. "Do you trust me?" she wants to know. "I wouldn't be insulted if you'd rather choose an experienced therapist from around here. Of course, we'd have to work out logistics, too. I have my practice over in Olympia, as you know. It could be worse, but that would still be quite an investment of time for you."

I laugh mirthlessly at her words. "Ocean, you might be a little crazy sometimes, but as far as shrinks are concerned, you're the only one left I trust."

Jim hands me a mug of coffee, offering a smile, but I hardly keep myself from sighing. I can feel his uncertainty, and if it's that far that he lets it show, it's obvious proof things are bad, really bad.

Me, however, I'm scared so much, this fear is choking me, but at least I have these two with me, which gives me a fair hope that not everything is going to break apart.

***

TonyLFHsigned.jpg (46148 bytes)