Letters From Hades

Part Two

By Demeter

gothJulieLFHsmall.jpg (31630 bytes)

***

Part Two

"...where nobody cries, and no one's getting out of here alive..." Bon Jovi, "Dry County"

9

"Can you believe it? I mean, what he said, that there wasn't..." I stumble on the words, but I just have to ask. It would be too good to be true, after all the vague clues, to find out that the worst isn't true, just like Blair suggested a few minutes ago.

I want him to be right, and I want Ocean to give us absolution on the subject. Of course, nothing is ever that easy.

She shrugs. "There's no short answer to this. If you have some time...?"

While we wait for Blair to return from some errands he had to do - and I can confirm it was really Blair, because I'd checked with all my senses dialed up - Ocean tells me a bit about her life. That, and how she'd come to accumulate all the knowledge she could about a disorder called Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder.

Nothing personal about Blair or Naomi though; she's strict as far as that is concerned, and as much as I'm dying to get information here, it's exactly what makes her pass the test with me. Even with all these years in between, she is still a true friend to Blair - and that's why I trust her.

Ocean tells me how she did lots of research and training after Blair and Naomi left; and how she had learned to recognize similar symptoms in some of her clients over the years.

"There are still a fair number of psychiatrists who think the alters are induced by therapists who want to bind their clients for a long time. I don't think so. I've seen clients with MPD later, and there are all kinds of neurobiological evidence. I've also met Putnam, Wilbur and others," she says - apparently names I should know, but I don't - "taking many classes, and I know what to look for. You know about the memory lapses, and you understand the differences between the alters better than anyone else, because you can use your senses to differentiate between them. The children, the adults - I'm sure you've seen the girl, too. That'll be a great help."

A great responsibility, too. My head is spinning, my mind still in denial about where this is going to lead. For the past, for our future.

"Is it always... something sexual that leads to this?"

"Mostly," she admits. "We can't say for sure yet, and of course the uncovering of details is never the first step. But I haven't met any multiple who has not gone through hell. It's the mind's last resort, in order to survive."

It doesn't work, I can't think about this in theory. As I'm trying to acknowledge the dimension of the horror we've only just got a pale impression of, I feel like reality is shifting. It's been an obligation before to find this killer, especially when the victimization of children came to light - but this is something entirely different from doing my job as a detective.

Whatever happened in detail, and part of me still hopes it won't be necessary for either of us to uncover it all, Ocean has given me enough information to determine that someone made my Guide's childhood a living hell.

That someone, and everyone involved in it, will have to pay. I have never been so sure of anything.

Ocean looks at me calmly, obviously sensing my resolve. "I've been waiting a long time for this day to come," she says, and that's all that has to be said.

***

Later that day, we can't keep stalling any longer. Ocean's warnings are very vivid in my mind, but Blair has all but begged me to let him come with me to the station, and I can't help but acknowledge his side, too - we didn't have the time to talk about it much, but something like that incident with the DA can't happen again, if Blair wants to keep his consultant status.

Not that it's the most important thing right now, but it gives us something to concentrate on while reality seems to have dissolved around us since Ocean's arrival. It isn't her fault, but everything she said still seems so -- unreal. But I know what I've seen.

Everybody seems kind of subdued as we arrive. Figures; this case seems to alter something in all of us. We've seen our share of violence and abuse, but dealing with the systematic programming of children through means like the ones we're talking about here - it's on a different scale.

Multiple Personality Disorder - excessive as this sounds, it isn't the worst part of it. A psychological disorder, there's got to be a cure for it. Something. It's the knowledge of what usually leads to this that is unbearable.

"A 'call back' program, that's what it's called," Blair explains, now calm and confident. "It's likely that there are other cult members in the area who are responsible for activating them - it's not like James and Clayton could do it all on their own."

Drennan nods to his words. "Right, especially since James must have lost not just a few contacts during his time in prison."

"We should go over the list of the callers again, and cross check them with the names of those involved in James' case in the seventies," Megan suggests.

"Good idea." Drennan sighs. "I wish we could talk to the Clement girl - she's the only one still alive, and she can't give us anything. We'd really need someone who's seen the inside of this particular cult, and is ready to work with us, unlike Clayton. Someone who can share all the gory details on James' sick ways. That'd do him in for good."

I see the shadow of another alter, as Blair struggles with his composure at her words. "Believe me, no one really wants to know that," he says, and I can only agree.

***

Megan's idea was right on the money: One of the places where black masses have allegedly been held belongs to a Joe Wright -- interestingly enough, the same man was a witness in the earlier trial against James, and very much responsible for the cult leader's incarceration.

It will certainly be worth paying him a visit.

A simple interview, can't be that dangerous; I guiltily try to justify it to myself. No strange occurrences yet, except for that one vague moment, Blair has been himself, and I think we can risk it.

Listen to me, playing the shrink here. It's just that taking it step by step seems the best solution at the moment, and that's what we're going to do.

***

It all seems so utterly normal as we drive to Wright's house, and still I'm playing with fire. Ocean seems competent, sure, but I still wonder if there can be an alternative interpretation. Don't get me wrong, surely we can't ignore that something must have happened. And that the someone who's responsible for this, will still have to answer to me.

The men with the knives.

If they're not James' creeps with their black robes and the horrible rituals, we'd be a lot better off.

For now... I take a moment to check into Blair's vitals, all blessedly familiar. Not to be taken for granted. It's familiar, too, that he sees through me.

His smile is a bit weary. "I'm here, don't worry." Leaning back in his seat, he continues, "I've been thinking. Isn't it strange that a man who helped get James behind bars would now hold black masses in his cellar? There must be something behind this. Either the neighbor has it in it for him, or--"

I mentally follow his line of thought, but let him finish the sentence. It's a moment too good to miss, for Blair, to know that I value his ideas - for me, the hope that there is part of the life we've shared left.

"The statement against James was some kind of battle for power, about who was the number one in the cult."

There's an awful thought in this, and I hope he hasn't seen it yet. "The report says that he was a neighbor, having just moved into the house, and called the police a couple of times because of children crying."

"No one cries in a house like this. The consequences would be even worse. And you don't get to hope that the neighbors notice, because you stop hoping altogether."

I give him a quick sideways glance.

"That's what I've read, anyway. They've got them so much under control, those kids act like marionettes. It's what they do, breaking their will, with tried methods based on learning theory." Blair sighs. "I promise I won't let you down with this case, but man, I'll be glad when it's over. This is making me sick."

"Yeah, me too," I say.

***

The neighbor who had called about Wright had reported a group of people, wearing black robes and masks - devils, goats and the like. He'd passed the house while walking his dog.

Blair has read parts of the statement to me on the way, "They'd covered the windows with some black material, but there was one small corner left. I was scared as hell, and I later realized that the dog must have been attracted by the smell of blood."

Surprisingly, Joe Wright is only in his late thirties, so he was about early twenties when making that crucial statement about James - what does that mean for our theory? He's well-built, with wavy dark hair. Wearing a suit and tie, he seems just ready to leave the house, a two story bungalow-style building.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he says cheerfully. "How may I help you?"

I introduce Blair and myself, and the congenial smile slips a little, disappearing altogether when he hears the reason for our visit.

"Do I look like someone who's engaging in some kind of primitive religion? Haven't you guys got any criminals to catch?"

"So you don't mind showing us your cellar rooms?" I ask, unimpressed. Outwardly, Wright seems very cool, but his heart starts beating faster the moment he knows that we're with the police. Satanist or not, the guy sure has something to hide.

"Of course I mind. See, Detective, unless you can show me a warrant, I'd rather not have you wasting my time any longer, is that understood?"

"Just one more question, Mr. Wright, and we won't be bothering you any longer. You were a witness in the case against Philip James in, what was it, 1978? Did James try to contact you after that?"

"Why should he? I helped to put the guy in prison, I see no reason why he'd want to socialize."

"He claimed you were part of the circle, didn't he?" Blair interjects. Where did he get that from, I wonder. I don't think it was in the report.

Wright shoots him an annoyed look, then turns back to me. "Again, Detective Ellison, I don't have any interest in any deity. I'm an atheist, if that's of any interest for you. And if you don't leave my house right now, I'll file charges for trespassing."

I take a deep breath, dialing everything further up, and then I almost gag, so overwhelming is the smell I can almost taste it --

-- blood.

***

10

I wonder if Jim can smell danger. That's how this situation feels to me, and I can tell that he's just picked up something with his senses, something that I can't perceive. However, I do feel the air getting thicker in the room.

"Mr. Wright, I want to see that cellar room right now," Jim says, and somehow I know, before it happens, that Wright has a weapon in that drawer.

He backs away slowly, towards the open window that's only a couple of feet above the ground. "Don't come any closer," he warns. A quick jump, and he's outside; we follow him and find ourselves, all of a sudden, in some kind of garden with Wright nowhere to be seen.

This is beyond weird - how could he have disappeared like this?

Even though it's a sunny, warm day, I shiver. "Can you hear his heartbeat?" I ask.

Jim shakes his head grimly. "I don't know, there's something -- distracting. Damn!" he swears.

"Concentrate. He can't have gotten that far."

There's a pained expression on Jim's face as he says, "I can't get anything over that --" He hesitates for a split-second, obviously trying to gauge if I can handle the information. "Smell. Blood, some of it fresh, but not all of it. It's like in layers somewhere in this compound. Call for back-up - we've got to turn this place upside down."

***

"You are ridiculous," the voice of the Master booms. "You think you can take my place? Think again. You're a High Priest, and you're never going to get beyond that."

The boy sits in a corner beside the door, listening to the words that don't makes any sense to him, but he's memorizing them anyway. The two men fighting inside don't hear or see him; it's because he's learned to be nearly invisible, like a ghost. A ghost feels no pain, just floats above when things get too bad.

Learning everything they say is important, it's what Tony always says. Because someday, somebody will listen to them.

The sound of flesh against flesh can be heard, the Master punishing the High Priest with a hard slap, and the boy cringes. Someday -- but how long will it be until that day comes?

***

Next thing I know, I'm still standing in the same spot, all alone now, still clutching the phone in my hand. Where is Jim? Have I called for backup already?

Damn it, I can see the truth in Ocean's worries clearly in a moment like this.

"Hey, Jim," I whisper, knowing that it won't be a problem for him to hear. "I'm sorry, man, but it seems like I lost a few minutes here. No, I don't want to hear, 'told you so'. I wonder if you found anything?"

I wait for a few moments; nothing happens.

As I take a closer look, I see the open door - it belongs to a garden shed or something. I feel my fingertips tingling, a vague sense of sickness. I'm not sure where it's coming from - but I need to go there. I just know.

I'm drawn closer as if by some invisible power - hell, maybe it's just common sense telling me that must be where they went, and indeed, there are stairs leading to a lower level. The feeling of sickness is getting more intense, and for a moment, the urge is to turn and run as fast as I can, but I don't.

Cautiously easing down those stairs under a trap-door, I now hear a voice, and what it says doesn't bode for anything good.

"I wouldn't count on your partner here, I hear he's well on his way to the psych ward." Wright laughs, and I shiver, thinking that sound can only be described as demonic.

***

'Oh man', Tony quotes silently. As if I was trained for this kind of shit, but that's exactly what Jim is in deep now, and we've got to do something. They might have to shoot Wright, who has somehow gained the upper hand on Jim, standing over him with his weapon poised.

So Blair has to take a backseat here, because he'd hesitate even with a worthless bastard like Wright.

Tony inches closer to the scene, Jim's lost gun tightly clutched in his hands. Oh, right, does he know the man they were going to interview! Acting all shocked about his neighbors' activities, he had tears in his eyes as he reported his observations in court. Actually, Joe Wright had been one of the worst.

There is lots of blood and broken glass. Tony staggers, for an instant unable to distinguish between past and present. He can't afford that, too much depends on him now.

He can feel Ben close by, which is probably a good thing. He can be difficult at times, but sure as hell, Ben doesn't take shit from anyone.

"Freeze," he yells, surprising both himself and Wright with the strength of his voice.

Jim is slumped against the far wall, a bruise already forming on his right temple.

"You can't arrest me," Wright sneers, and Tony walks closer, holding the weapon steady.

"I can still make a civilian arrest, you asshole," he shoots back, and indeed, Wright is distracted for an instant, enough for Jim to react and kick the weapon right out of the man's hand.

"Good work, partner," he says while cuffing Wright, and it isn't until now that Tony really takes in the surroundings, the cellar room with all those metal rings bolted into the walls and floor, chains, and the freezer.

His vision begins to blur as he tries hard not to imagine what could be in it.

Nothing we haven't dealt with before, Ben says dryly. Relax. Job's done.

***

There were no body parts in the freezer. The thought feels like it doesn't belong to me, why would I think that anyway? But it's enough to make my heart start racing again. Oh, what a shitty day, one in an endless row, that is.

Jim has done only a quick scan, but then left the scene to Forensics, and I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that I was not myself all day as we had hoped... Thank God, he wasn't seriously injured - the blood and the glass came from jars that had been destroyed in the fight.

Yeah, you got that right, blood in glass containers. Those were in the fridge, and some had been left to thaw on a table in the room. The guy had had a fucking blood bank in there.

I don't know why that moment, but much later, when we're sitting in Simon's office, going over some papers from Wright's house, it all comes crushing down on me, my hands starting to shake. The hero act I did today, isn't the least bit of a consolation when I can't even remember it. Must have been quite cool - me, threatening Wright with an arrest, while a part of me had been scared shitless at first sight of him.

A part of me, right.

"We'll have to turn over the ground in the compound," Simon tells us solemnly. "With all that blood, there's no saying what we're going to find. The lab just called. They say it'll take days to go through all the evidence collected so far."

Jim gives me a quick look - radar's on; while I find it annoying most of the time, it's rather comforting now. True enough, as he says, "Sorry, Simon, I think I need to take a break, just for a few minutes. I can still smell that blood."

***

Don't hurt Lily. Please don't.

***

Simon has stepped outside for a moment, and I can't help but smile despite my pitiful state. Not so easy to say 'no' when Jim is taking charge, especially when he's in Sentinel mode. He hands me a mug with coffee, very hot and --

Whoa. I almost gag at the sweet taste. "You want to poison me, man? Just how much sugar is in it?"

"As much as you need," he says. "Now drink."

Very slowly, the cold inside abates, leaving an inexplicable restlessness in its wake. Something's unfinished here. Wright had taken those jars out of the freezer, why?

I flip through the sheets we have taken from Wright's house, but nothing comes to mind, no indication as to why he had stored various samples of human and animal blood in his house.

"He isn't talking, and he's behaving damn smug. Just as Clayton is. They're up to something. But what?"

I wonder if Jim's question is as rhetorical as we both pretend it is. It gets harder each day to ignore the hints.

"I don't know. The next ritual day would be Halloween. Why would he take out those samples today? There's no point in that - unless they wanted to use them. Fuckers don't always need a reason to hurt someone."

Jim gives me a surprised look - or wondering if it's me using those words. I do. Every time I think about what these people do, have done here in Cascade, it makes me want to jump out of my skin. There's not a swear word strong enough to suit them.

"It'll stop," he says. "Any way."

It sounds like a promise to me.

***

It doesn't look like we're going to get home anytime soon. Ocean would like to start making appointments, a therapy plan, but much more important than solving the riddles of my lunatic self, is shutting down this weird stuff going on in Cascade.

Getting James locked up forever, so he can't hurt another child.

I just mustn't allow myself to wonder what he's doing at this very moment.

After a knock on the door, Serena enters the room. She's looking straight at me, sighing, as she says, "Thank God you're still there. Not good for my ego, that's for sure, but I could really use your help here. Blair - about that password-cracking code you told me --"

Jim raises his eyebrows in what seems to be amusement, and I shrug. Sure haven't used this thing in any illegal ways, even though I could have, and if it helps... "No problem. Jim, this shouldn't take too long, be right back in a few minutes."

He just nods, but I can guess the unsaid words. He's so relieved whenever I act my usual self, that it's always a reminder of those other, weird personas. But it's not their time. Not yet. Determinedly, I go to follow Serena to her lab.

***

The transition was made the moment they walked through the door.

***

Tony was about to have a nervous breakdown. He could handle the bad guys, sure, that's why he was the protector. He did not have Blair's knack for computers though, and he wasn't sure he wanted to see what was on Wright's secret files -- none of them really wanted it, but if James didn't get caught, the nightmare would never be over. There were probably names, pictures - right.

There was the Keeper of the Sluices to build a barrier between him and the children, or Leila, or Brad who shouldn't have to deal with this either - and Kerry to take care of them for the moment. Tony would be able to get by, if only he'd find that damned password. But it was of no use; he had to admit it - Blair was the only one who could do it.

***

I look at Serena who seems a bit unnerved, sure, she's in a hurry to get this done, but is it my fault if she can't find the solution with her training? I've only been here for a few minutes, right?

"Go get a coffee," I suggest. "I'll be fine."

She's giving me a doubtful look, but shrugs eventually. "Whatever. Can't get worse anyway." With those cryptic words, she leaves me alone, and I get to work. Wright or whoever has secured the files knew damn well what he was doing - of course, I think bitterly, if all of these people's crimes could be proven in the end, most of them wouldn't see the light of day anymore, and some of them would face the death sentence.

Unfortunately, that's a big 'if', because they know how to cover their tracks, programming and torturing their victims into silence when they don't kill them, and don't forget, cultists or other organized abusers are being found in all social classes - also, in law enforcement.

The air in the lab, despite air-conditioning, feels stifling; it's giving me a headache, but I don't give up. I owe it to the two women, to Jill, and Marsha. And I owe it to myself. Whatever it turns out to be in the end; I need to know that I'm still functioning, and that I'm worth the paycheck from the Cascade Police Department.

The minutes tick by; Serena hasn't returned yet. God, I really want to go home. Maybe I could call Ocean on the way home, or we could bring some take-out--

And then I crack it. The thought of food is pushed to the background rapidly as the pictures load one by one. From all my research, I should know what to expect, but this is too much. I'm staring at the screen, paralyzed, my mind just as much as my body.

No one should be seeing this. No one should be doing these things. But they happen.

I know.

***

11

I've found some time to talk to Simon, and I can see he's worried. About us not making enough progress in the case. Not making enough progress, the story of our lives these days. I know that I've got to fill him in at some point, but not yet, not before Blair and I have determined the 'where' and 'when'.

I'm well aware that I'm already walking a thin line here, but there's hope as long as 'the others' are kept at bay, bizarre as the concept might be. We'll find a way. It's nothing in comparison to the fountain, when I thought for a moment that it would all be over.

After a while, Drennan joins us, and I guiltily admit that I lost some time there myself when I suddenly realize that Blair has been gone for more than half an hour.

I can hear Serena standing next to Rhonda's desk, the Forensics Chief chatting with Simon's secretary about women things. I block them out again, getting up to go and look after my partner.

***

What I see on the screen is enough to make my stomach churn. I've handled a few cases of child abuse before, and they always alter something in you; you can't consciously think about it and not want the ones responsible to pay. It's with those cases that it's most difficult to follow the rules, and most important, because it's your only chance at getting those bastards arrested and to trial.

Nothing I've ever seen before could have prepared me for this - evidence.

It's bad enough what adults do to other adults. This -- I'm stunned for a moment. About how far a greed for power can go. I've read it in Blair's dossier; they start the programming very early so they get total control over the victims, create an obedient shell. With violence, bloodshed, mutilation, repeated rape, all of that at an early age.

The cop in me is already considering the pragmatic side; as ghastly as this is, it's a good thing Blair has managed to crack these files; there's bound to be information that brings us closer to James.

Instead of this, I'm saying, "How are you?" And that's really most important to me.

Blair turns to me, the shock still visible in his red-rimmed eyes. As well as the determination.

"I'm okay," he says, even though it's obviously not the case. "But we need to find them. Soon. Some of these kids might still be alive."

Some of these kids might still be alive, growing up to become adults with a psychological condition called 'Multiple Personality Disorder'.

God, yes, we are going to find them, and with them the ones who created this real life horror scenario. Maybe there'll be even an old Covert ops contact I can revive...

For the moment, however, it's another thing I need to do. "Come on; you've done a great job, now let Serena do the rest. We've been here way too long anyway." Not arguing, Blair gets up from his chair, and I just draw him close.

It's what we both need this moment, the reassurance that life will go on, anyway. Even with that threat from the past still hanging over our heads. Even then.

***

"I'd know. I can't believe that you can survive those things and not know they've happened to you. A single incident, yes. But not something that went on for months or years. I know, I have read about it, but it cannot apply to me!"

It cannot.

I feel the same way about it, but I've done a little homework in the meantime, talked to Ocean again. Feeling guilty, because it seems to be prying into Blair's private life, but both Ocean and Blair - she was empathetic, he just shrugged - said that this was publicly available information.

And I hate being in the dark in for such an important matter - which is, at the moment, literally all that matters.

You don't get MPD, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, what the shrinks call it these days, from a parent that hit you, or neglected you, or even sexually abused you, as a rule. This is always the point where I pray that Ocean might have overlooked something, even though I've seen the evidence, experienced it with all my senses. Things have had to be the worst anyone can imagine, from an early age not after three, for a constant amount of time. Months, years.

"It's not really forgotten," Ocean says. "Some of the alters hold the information. We will get there, not overnight, but there is a way."

Easy for her to say. She hasn't seen those pictures, of victims beaten, cut, used like some object you discard once it's done the purpose.

Children.

"We can try and contact Naomi," I suggest. "She can surely help with establishing a timeline."

"I don't know, I'd rather leave her out of it," Blair says quickly.

Ocean takes my side though. "It's a good idea. She will have some answers for you."

"Yeah, but do I want them?"

There's resignation in Blair's eyes, and I know what he's meaning to say. Right now, he's caught in a bad place, knowing that something must have happened, something no one would really want to deal with, but not knowing makes him just as crazy.

***

With the help of those files, three arrests can be made within the next forty-eight hours. It means long days of interrogations; not that the name of James is ever mentioned. It's a consoling thought that these three, a drug dealer, a businessman and a lawyer, will go down anyway.

But we're under pressure, because everyone of us knows, there will be another murder.

And then, a warning is sent to us.

We had dinner at a restaurant after work and enter the lobby at about 9:30. I immediately know that something isn't right, or maybe I'm just paranoid, having brought the smell of Wright's blood samples with me from the station even after a couple of days?

There is blood - somewhere in this building, close to our apartment.

"Call for backup," I tell Blair. "Someone might have broken in. And stay here until they come."

"Forget about it," he says, and I know exactly which part he refers to.

"Okay then, but stay behind me."

Tony grins wryly. "Always, man," he says.

***

For the second time in a short time, I'm aghast by the vehemence, the pure evil of the adversaries we are up against. I hold up my hand to indicate to Blair - Tony, whoever - to stay back, and he simply nods, having gotten a little green at the sight.

As much as I'd like to turn around and come back after a CSU has been over the place and cleared the scene, I need to take a look. Where is Ocean? Has she been inside the apartment all the time? I've been so occupied with Blair and the possible connection to James' group that I never thought she could be at risk, too.

Ignoring my own disgust, and the lingering nausea, I step inside the apartment. Nothing out of the ordinary here. The answering machine is blinking, and I take a look - no print on the button, so I press it instead, relief flooding me when I hear Ocean's voice, "Sorry, guys, can't make it for coffee, there was an emergency at the clinic. I'll call again, take care."

All right. I take a deep breath, already opening my senses for hints at a possible intruder, but no, no one's been in here who doesn't belong; they brought tools and everything else they needed with them, and stayed outside the loft. Their message -- we can come inside any time we want to.

I walk back into the hallway, once again shuddering at the sight of what has been done to our front door.

There's a dead cat, blood smeared all around it, and the words, BACK OFF.

***

"Come on, buddy. Let's get away from here."

There's a moment of unadulterated panic when I realize I might not get this frightened child that's cowering in the corner, covering his face with his hands, back to grown-up Blair Sandburg until the Forensics arrive. I don't want to have to explain.

Okay, we've come to a point where we can't deny anymore, but is it too much to ask for that the secret is kept for a while longer? Of all people, I know about the importance of keeping secrets.

He's whispering something over and over again, and I start when I finally manage to decipher his words. "I didn't do it. You must b'lieve me, I didn't do it."

"Of course you didn't," I acknowledge, wondering about the meaning. "Those were some very bad people, but they aren't here anymore. Billy?" I ask, feeling foolish, not knowing what else to say.

"No, it's Kevin. I didn't hurt the kitten," he claims, clinging to me, and all I can do is to hold on. God. I know Ocean can't make things right overnight, but I only hope she can keep them from getting worse. What does it mean that all those children are coming out now?

I find myself wishing that at least Tony could take charge - it's unsettling that he's kind of in love with me, but it's even harder to deal with these children that have been hurt so badly. Sadly, there's no doubt anymore.

"I know. I know, buddy." I get up from the floor, pulling him up with me, and then gently steer him away from the sights and the smells of the cat that has been nailed to the front door.

***

"Hopefully you pissed them off enough so they make a mistake. It's time we got these creeps off the streets," Simon comments, his casual attitude clearly faked, even though, of course, no one but me would know.

"They wore gloves, I can still smell the latex - but maybe we'll be lucky and there'll be some DNA to compare to what we've found at Wright's. Wright and his blood bank, the porn sites, and James - they're all linked together. If only we could get one of them to talk. Well, I'd have some ideas how."

"I'm sure." Simon sighs. "Hell, I'd be the first one to agree. If I imagine anybody did this to --" He doesn't finish the sentence. This case has made all of us quite a bit superstitious - saying things out loud could manifest them. I'm struck by a sudden and irrational surge of anger, because there's no 'if' for us; 'things like these' might have been done to Blair - and I never even suspected anything.

What the hell does that say about me?

Blair, besides, is back to himself, seeming a bit confused as he's obviously missing time again, but we can deal with that later. He's carefully listening to what is said, trying to fill in the blanks himself. I don't want him to be faced with that horrible sight for the second, or third time, so I suggest we spend the night out.

While I go get a few things, I leave Blair with Simon for a moment, hoping that for once, nothing spectacular will happen.

***

We stop at a grocery store on the way to get some things needed for an overnight trip - to my surprise, Blair wants to stay in the car. He's been silent all the way, but I guess that's to be expected. All day long, from the seemingly harmless interview at Wright's, we've been fooling ourselves. Something's got to give - and we need to find a way to give credit to the changes. Surely Blair can still consult for the department - but at the moment, I don't want him out in the field. Ocean's right; it's much too dangerous.

We're having a late-night coffee at a nearby restaurant. Blair does not remember seeing the cat.

"Tony, you say? It's creepy. I don't remember a thing about it. It's blank."

"He likes black clothes, and silver jewelry."

There's something eerie about the fact I know more about this guy than Blair himself. I still hesitate at giving him the whole truth.

Blair shakes his head, looking tired and defeated. "Hell, I've read things like this before, I just never thought -- Jim, what exactly was it Incacha said to you before he died? About me being a shaman?"

I'm a bit startled at this non-sequitur, but try to answer truthfully. "Just what I translated to you at that time. There wasn't anything more."

Blair sighs. "I was hoping to find a relation there -- you know, they say the symptoms of MPD have a lot in common with what a shaman in training is going through. Maybe we don't have to find anything in my childhood - and it's all related to something I've overlooked - something I should have done."

Oh, how much I'd wish for that to be true. It sounds so simple in comparison. "Maybe," I just say, but I read the doubts I can't hide in his gaze as well.

***

It's late when we return to the motel and finally settle in. There's yet another shock waiting for me; when I'm just about to go to sleep, Blair emerges from the bathroom, wearing a red and blue striped pajama, with Superman printed on it. Speechless, I just stare at him for a moment. Did Blair really wait in the car as he said he would?

"Can I sleep in your bed tonight?" he asks, and this time, I recognize Billy's voice, and the lighter blue of his eyes. Nine years old. What happened when Blair was nine?

I hesitate, for obvious reasons. This boy is so scared, there's no saying what he associates with sleeping in a grown man's bed. I'd rather not make things even more complicated. "Look, your bed is right over there. It's not that far away."

No such luck. His eyes grow bright, and he whispers, "I'm scared," barely audible even to me. "Don't want to be all alone. Someone hurt the kitty. It's to warn us. We were not to say anything, and they are watching us."

I can't stand this any longer. "Okay then. It's no problem. You know it's safe, don't you?" With me. I feel the need to reassure both him and myself. And yes, I have noticed the difference of perspective. The other child, Kevin, obviously younger than Billy, needed to emphasize that it didn't have anything to do with the murdered cat. I still wonder about that.

Billy smiles as he crawls under the cover. "Yes, I know. Tony says you're a hard-ass, but nice. What is a hard-ass?"

"Nothing important," I mutter, drawing the sheets over both of us.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, I'm amazed at this display of trust, and it gives me a tiny bit of hope we will get through this, too. I have to believe it. Still, there are many riddles that still need to be solved, and there's one more when Blair - Billy - snuggles close, whispering, "Tony says you're not like Dad."

I can't solve them all tonight, but I mentally file away each of them. There are going to be answers someday.

***

12

Tony wakes with the unsettling feeling of having forgotten something important. Not that anything is more important at the moment than protecting the children; he wasn't quick enough this time, some of them saw the cat and knew exactly what this message meant.

He isn't sure yet what to think of the fact that Blair is going to see Ocean for therapy - it'll take lots of time they don't really have, and even though Ocean doesn't plan to get them committed anytime soon, Tony is worried. Will she understand that she can't just make them go away?

With a sigh, he turns, can't help but smile at the sight of Jim sleeping beside him. Too bad that any step closer to what Tony wants so badly would put Blair's friendship with Jim at risk. But it was Billy needing the comfort last night, and so Tony had to put his own needs second.

And then, all of a sudden, he knows what he has forgotten. Damn it! Craig will be really pissed off with him.

***

Billy cries silently over the dead kitten that looked so much like the other one, that other time.

***

I hate my life. Or how would you, or anyone feel, if you woke up in your roommate's bed, not remembering how you got there, your face wet from tears you can't remember crying - the ugly pajamas I'm wearing notwithstanding.

I vaguely know what happened yesterday, probably in reaction to the arrests that have been made, the warning. Jim was adamant about not letting me see, and even if I don't want to be coddled, I'm kind of grateful. It sounds like a scene from a B-movie horror flick. And then I'm thinking that we have to have a new front door, because Jim will be able to smell the blood and other unpleasant things forever.

The thought helps a little - whatever happens, I'll still do my job as a Guide, and this is not all about me, after all.

I look over to where Jim is still sleeping, apparently comfortable with my sudden need for closeness, more than I am, actually - and I have to smile. I'm lucky to have a friend like him.

***

"I can't believe you're putting up with all this shit lately." I'm not whining; my statement is matter-of-fact. Jim is awake, and he doesn't seem surprised, so there must have been a scene leading to this that I'm not aware of. Jim and Ocean haven't told me in details, but they did give me an overview of alters having emerged already. Kerry, the woman. Tony, and the children. It's strange, like talking about different people. Yet, it seems that they're living inside of me.

It scares me to have so little control. The price to regain it seems unbearably high. Some day, all of them, all of me, will have to share their awareness - and their memories. I think I'd rather have them disappear, and with them the threats of the past. It isn't just in the past though; otherwise, we wouldn't be sharing a motel bed at the moment.

Jim regards me critically and then says with a shrug, "Well, Chief, your choice of clothes has been questionable under the best circumstances. And the little guy to whom the Superman pajamas belong is kind of cute."

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry at this comment, but the fact that either one seems to be allowed, helps me to get a grip finally. And that's what I really need now, because the subject I've got to approach will not be an easy one; already I can feel my face heating up. Damn, this is hard.

"It's so amazing that you can tell them apart already - while I still feel like a lousy liar. You were right all along. I did lie to you; then acted all insulted when you called me on it. I'm sorry, Jim."

"It's not your fault." I'm surprised at the pained tone in his voice. "And it's me who should be sorry. I should have noticed... something."

"You couldn't have unless you knew what to look for." I've checked some websites on the internet that are hosted by other - multiples. I shudder. It still feels like research to me, not something that applies to me, even though it can't be denied any longer.

We are silent for a moment. Really, we're a strange pair, I muse - discussing these things at early dawn, in bed together. I've never had a friend before who had been that sure of his masculinity to not feel a tiny bit freaked out by this situation, but what we have is way different.

Get this, I direct silently at James or whatever asshole might have been there in the shadows of the past, there's a part of me you didn't get.

"I wonder," Jim says, very casually, "Didn't Naomi ever give you any idea about who your father is?"

The question is so out of left field, it gives me a bit of vertigo, literally. And there's this unease, manifesting as a knot in my stomach that seems to grow. "Besides letting me think it was Timothy Leary? No. Why're you asking?"

He hesitates. I feel dizzy. What have those other parts already revealed?

"I know, I haven't exactly been honest with you, but I promise, I will, from now on, and I need the same from you. Please."

Jim frowns. "There's not much I can tell you. Tony and Billy seem to know about him." He tells me the words of the child alter, but I can't make any sense of them. We're back to square one; I should go and ask Naomi, but I can't do that at the moment. Have a few sessions with Ocean, clear up the chaos inside of me, okay. However, as far as I'm concerned, those deeper revelations can, and have to wait until James is behind bars.

Ocean has already warned me that she won't be doing any confronting work as long as there's still imminent danger. I'm not intending to push it. Yes, I sought the contact, but I never could have guessed what she would come up with.

That moment, the alarm Jim has set on the little clock on the bedside table, goes off, and I sigh. "You are sure you got the right time?"

He chuckles. "Unfortunately, yes. Come one, let's get some breakfast. There is no room service in this joint."

***

The girl was about five years old, sitting in the corner with the young cat in her arms. She was neatly dressed, her blonde hair bound in a ponytail with a yellow ribbon. The boy looked at her shyly, but she didn't seem to acknowledge him at all, just kept staring straight ahead.

"Little Jacob, this is your sister Lily."

The boy didn't care much. He didn't want to be here, and he didn't like the man who was leading him around. He seemed familiar. Hopefully, this time's visit would be over soon.

***

I manage to drive all the way to Olympia without losing any time; quite an accomplishment these days. Jim has promised that we'll have a new front door when I come back, and so he went to work while I headed out of town, having arrived at my destination just a few minutes ago. Ocean has kept the beach house, but stays at an apartment in town through the week.

I've told myself, nothing to be nervous about; I've seen a shrink's workplace before, and Ocean is a friend, after all. Usually, she said, that would create a conflict, but the fact that we haven't seen each other in nearly twenty years should be enough for her objectivity.

I'm guessing a different reason. I've been on a reading binge lately, not caring if any of this could make me - or the others - feel bad, because I'm desperate for the knowledge. Seems like in many cases like mine, there was often something like friendship evolving between client and therapist, and it didn't seem to be hindering the process.

Ocean's been doing the job for about twenty-five years; I'm trusting her to know what she's doing. This means I've finally accepted the verdict, doesn't it?

***

It's bad. No, it's worse than that; there was no way I could have prepared myself for how bad this is going. I can feel my face heating up when I tell Ocean for the umpteenth time, 'I don't know.'

I've always known that there are gaps in my memory - duh! - but I've made an art out of ignoring it, and with a few, directed questions, she's blowing down my house of cards. Before the age of three or four - nothing. Hell, who can remember that anyway?

The first years in school - I am sure, Naomi and I hardly ever stayed in one place for a whole year. "Didn't matter much," I say with a hint of spite. "I was a gifted child. I learned everything quickly."

Didn't we?

Just a thought. Not a voice from within. Still, I feel the cold sweat snaking down my spine.

Ocean smiles. "Yeah, I can remember. You'd read books in a few hours where other kids needed days. And you were sketching beautifully."

***

"Thank you." Kerry is pleased. She has always liked being around Ocean, her beautiful rooms with the lights and colors, and she's happy about the reunion. Ocean never yells.

And while the loft feels mostly safe, it has a more masculine feel to it, and Kerry can't really express herself there the way she would like to.

She takes a folder out of her bag, and opens it, revealing a picture of a sunrise over the Cascade mountains, drawn during a camping trip what seems like long ago. Jim had still been asleep, so she'd used the time. "I brought something for you. Just in case we can't pay you at some point, you could probably sell it."

"Thank you - Kerry," Ocean says, smiling, after she's taken a close look. She has read the signature in the corner, and Kerry is even happier - to be acknowledged, called by her name. "And I'd rather keep it, don't worry, we'll be ok."

They start talking, and Kerry senses the disquiet inside; Ben is angry, because he wants the silence to last, and deeper still, there are some who are scared of breaking the promise. But she wants to be seen, wants it so badly.

"What do you look like?" Ocean asks.

Kerry suppresses a sigh. Can't Ocean see her? However, she answers truthfully. "I've got blue eyes, and long blonde hair, it's going over my shoulders, see?"

Her fingers are touching Blair's long dark curls, but Kerry feels her own smooth strands.

Ocean looks thoughtfully. "You're aware that you're in a man's body, aren't you?"

Kerry's face falls. "Yes, but I try not to think about it. I let the boys handle stuff. I don't look into the mirror. I'm a coward."

"That must be very difficult for you," Ocean acknowledges. "I don't think you're a coward; in fact it's very brave to come here and talk to me. Look, Kerry, we've talked about what Blair and I have agreed on - it's just that in order to make it work, I'd like to hear the others' opinion, too, so no one will feel left out, you know?

"I can help. I can tell you who--"

***

"Will you shut up now?" Ben yells, noticing with some satisfaction that Ocean has jumped ever so slightly. "Don't get your hopes up too high, lady," he sneers. "The girl has a loose mouth, hell, somebody's got to watch her. It would be for the best if we forgot all this right now."

"And may I ask you who you are?" She's still friendly and interested, and it drives him crazy.

"None of your concern. You've already been manipulating Billy into telling, and he's so scared he's about to piss his pants. I tell ya, it stops right here!"

He brings his fist down on the table, but that didn't seem to faze the therapist. Oh yes, he knows her already, from those days in the beach house. How can she always stay so fucking calm?

"Right now, I think *you* are scaring him most," Ocean says coolly. Then her voice is getting softer. "It's time," she continues gently. "You've been bearing those secrets for so long, you shouldn't be alone with them anymore. No one can silence you any longer, and I promise, we'll be going slow. No rushing, no manipulating anyone."

He finds himself wanting to trust her. The realization is almost making Ben gag. Whenever they'd yielded to the demands of a soft-toned voice, the pain was even worse. No. More. The only pain he'll accept ever again is the one he's giving himself. Ben is quick, grabbing a paper clip from Ocean's desk and unfolding it, then he pierces his arm. At the first sight of the blood, he feels a little calmer...

***

I'm staring in shock at the blood on my left arm, the bent paperclip falling from my senseless fingers, cluttering to the floor.

Ocean takes a deep breath, smiling a bit shakily. "That's good," she says. "I was just wondering how to get it from you. Let me get you a Band-Aid."

I'm still sitting there, dumbfounded, when she returns with the Band-Aid and a mug of coffee. That woman can read my mind, I swear. A shot of caffeine is desperately needed; I feel like I'm inside of a fog that's just slightly clearing. The last thing I recall is trying to piece together some scarce snapshots of the past, and Ocean had recommended keeping a diary, so I'd get an idea of what the others think, and do.

Ben. Kerry again.

"Seems like she's a witty person," I try to joke, but I can't ignore it. There's this black space inside of me, and once there's light on it, horrible things will be seen. I'm not stupid; I've read about the reasons why people hurt themselves. While I've never consciously thought of it as a solution, this Ben character seems to think otherwise.

You don't get this crazy from falling off the swing as a child.

"Yeah, she is. I think Ben is concerned about the children, but it's important that he expresses his concern differently. Blair, have you ever found you've hurt yourself before, not knowing how it had happened?"

I shake my head quickly. The pencil incident, when I was working on the dossier notwithstanding, but it didn't have to do with -- did it? "Not that I know. I'm really not into pain. Don't worry about that."

She nods. "Will you be okay to drive?" she asks, and it isn't until then that I realize the time is almost over. It's feeling strange, and I can't help but being unnerved. Hey guys, this is *my* therapy I'm paying for! What's more, I don't want to be alone yet. I have to think of the boy with 'Superman' on his pajamas..

"Sure," I tell her. "Why not?" I give the answer myself. It wouldn't be a good idea to put one of the kids behind a wheel, now, would it?

Somebody give me back my life.

***

13

I saw the carpenter first thing before work; he should be done by now.

Something has been bothering me all day - besides worrying about Blair who should be driving home from Olympia right now, but that's not really it. Those pictures we found at Wright's - not one of us really wanted to look at them closely, but we had to, compare them to missing children's files, all that.

Serena Chang slams doors down in the lab, muttering to herself. I know she's got a daughter herself.

Megan and Drennan are in the break room, but not really taking a break as this subject follows each of us around, everywhere.

There's something at the back of my mind, but I can't grasp it, damn it! Following intuition rather than logic, I decide that I'm going to have to talk to someone. Again. He's bound to know about places where those kids are being held - because he was one of them, too, once.

***

Nathan Clayton's eyes dart around nervously as I enter the room, as if he's sensing I won't leave this room without getting answers this time. He watches me as I disable the video camera, then step closer and take a seat across from him, wordlessly.

After a couple of long minutes that have him squirming, I say, "Hello, Nathan."

He doesn't answer to my greeting. Instead, he asks, "So where is Little Jacob?"

I almost jump over the table and punch him; I hate it when he calls Blair by that name, implying he knows something that I don't. It puts all my instincts on alert, and what's more, I can't stand the familiarity and intimacy that lies within. I don't want to think of any relation between Blair and the son of Philip James.

"None of your business," I say coldly. "For now, you're dealing with me. And if I were you, I'd be worrying more about myself." I'm giving him a conspirational smile. "I'm offering you the chance to save your ass here. Use your brains, Nathan."

His eyes have cleared a bit, as he shrugs. "Death doesn't scare me, Detective."

"But wouldn't you want to avoid it if you could? You know the way it's gonna be. Either Wright turns on you, or you are first. The latter would be better for you. I'm sure your attorney has been keeping you informed, so what did he need all the blood for?"

"Blood..." Clayton's eyes glaze over again, as he repeats the word reverently. "Ask the little traitor," he says abruptly. "Ask Little Jacob. He can tell you."

"I'm asking you, Nathan." I stay cool, impassive on the outside, while behind that facade, I want to pretend I've never heard that. The closer we get to nailing James and his sick bunch, the more we're also confronted with a truth that seems overwhelming. The kids on those pictures... No, I can't go there now.

"Didn't he tell you about the holidays?" Clayton queries. "Halloween will be next. There's a new coven in Cascade; I think you must have almost figured that out yourself. There's a lot to plan for the big event. The sacrifice."

And then he really opens up, starts telling me details about what will be done on that day, not long from now, and the scenario he describes is so close to what we've found in those files that the urge to do bodily harm to this man is strong again.

He tells me about the course of the event; the invocation of the evil spirit, the petition made to it, the sacrifice given. If that sacrifice isn't killed, it's suffering in any unthinkable way. Thanks will be given, and then there's the usual orgy. I can tell he is not lying. He has taken part in rituals like that.

Clayton might have been a victim, too, but he's also participated in this shit only recently, and he murdered a five-year-old girl, his own daughter.

Forgive me if I can't spare him any sympathy.

He gives me more and more details, obviously enjoying the situation. "There's going to be more," he says. "This time, no one's going to stop the Master. He's come back to claim what is rightfully his. Lots of blood will be shed. When the boundaries between this world and the other are opened, the traitors will pay and be shared at the feast."

"Where is your father?" I press. "You have seen him since he escaped, haven't you? It wasn't in a dream. He came to you and made you kill your daughter, isn't that true?"

"I will be there when he reclaims his place. I will be there when justice is finally done. There's going to be one more sign before it happens. Five, and then another five. You won't be able to stop him."

I'm so focused on trying to decipher his cryptic words and separate them from the real information in them, that I start when he begins to laugh. It's creepy.

"What's so funny?"

The grin is wiped off his face in an instant. "No one is innocent," he says darkly.

"What do you mean by that?"

He stares at me intently. "No one who survived on the dark side is innocent. Keep that in mind, Detective."

***

After that conversation, I badly need a coffee. Scratch that, I think I need another life. The worst thing is, I'm beginning to doubt my senses here, because I cannot separate the information he gave me from his insinuations about Blair. It's crystal clear what he meant to say with those last words; many kids in those cults are forced to hurt others, perpetrate a crime, in fact - it's one way in which the adults make them dependent.

I wonder about all those possible coincidences, James escaping from prison, opening up the new 'coven' in Cascade of all places, where not only his son Nathan and former victim Marsha Clement live, but also Blair.

What does it all mean?

Drennan joins me after a few minutes, and I bring her up to date as to the plans for Halloween, as far as Clayton has revealed them to me.

"Bastards," she swears. "I don't get it. We are running around in circles while they're planning the next murder! My boss gave me the riot act last night, and what's worse, he was right to. I want this damn case closed."

"Don't you worry, that's what I want, too. Let's go get Connor and Taggart and take a look at those callers' lists. We found Wright that way. Maybe there's more."

"You want to google Halloween? Forget it, I did that already. You find the pages of each teen playing Wiccan, if you're lucky, not to mention there's a whole toy industry behind it. Where's our consultant anyway? He's bound to have some ideas."

Right, Blair should be back from Olympia already, but he really needs a break from all this crap, much more than we all do anyway. Ocean keeps warning us that we are walking a fine line here, that every bit of information could be triggering those disastrous memories that are still buried.

On the other hand, we need James off the streets - any way. If we don't achieve that, there'll never be that kind of safety Ocean requests for confrontation, and that thought is unacceptable.

I call Blair on his cell.

***

"The term Halloween is short for 'All-hallow-even', as it is the evening before 'All Hallows' Day'. It was a day of religious festivities in northern European pagan traditions, until it was later given a Christian interpretation. It's associated with the occult, as one of those times of the year when the spiritual world can make contact with the physical world. That's when magic is most potent, or at least that is what is believed. Halloween is also known in Irish Gaelic as Samhain Night. The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, 'End of Summer', when the dead revisit the mortal world. There'd be large communal bonfires to ward off evil spirits."

Blair shrugs a bit self-consciously. "I didn't think you were interested in that part."

"So far, you have given us valuable information in understanding how these creeps work and think." Drennan's voice has gotten unusually soft; I wonder how much she's already guessed? We are sitting in the conference room, again going over the lists of the people who have claimed their neighbors are practicing Satanism including the use of animal sacrifices after the first two murders.

Those two women couldn't be identified. It's as if they never existed. Maybe they had been born into a cult. Maybe they had been on the run?

"Clayton said there will be human sacrifices. How is that connected to Wiccan beliefs?" I'm confused. I met a woman before who told me she was practicing Wicca, and she was anything but a sadistic murderer of the kind we're dealing with here.

"It isn't. Like Lammas, or the solstices, lots of these Pagan holidays have been perverted by some cults. Not even all of the perps actually believe in Satan or any evil deity, for that matter. It's just part of their strategy. They use Jewish or Christian holidays just as well - in fact they're happy for every opportunity to harm their victims."

Listening to Blair, I could have been fooled for a moment. I've always been impressed by that vast knowledge of his, about this closed society or that. But some of these things didn't come from books.

"Sometimes children are told that they've died and been reborn as Satan's children. My guess is that they probably use 'dead coming to visit' images too. Anything to scare them shitless."

The words, spoken in a light tone, are unexpected, and make my stomach churn. One look at Drennan tells me that she's feeling the same, while Blair seems unfazed. Well, certainly not Blair. He'd never talk so casually about something like this, would he? This isn't some legend. According to Clayton, it's going to happen in Cascade, on October 31st.

"'Five, and then five', you said? The pentagram has five peaks," Blair continues. "There have been three murders so far, and one attempted. The clues Clayton was talking about must be in there somewhere."

The tone has changed again, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe I'm starting to see ghosts - of course, this research is probably also helpful in distancing. I shouldn't make more of it, not see alters everywhere - I've kept some notes though, on advice from Ocean.

Drennan looks at me quizzically, then she says, "Okay, guys. Let's find them."

***

Serena looks doubtful, as we all enter the lab, but she opens up a map of Cascade on the screen. Then she overlays it with a drawn pentagram, and Blair hits a few keys.

The lines of the pentagram change in lengths, and with it the drawn figure. At first, nothing happens. He places it so that one peak directly touches Wright's address, and rotates it again. Some more attempts, and then we all see it.

I see that Blair has gone pale, and Serena shakes her head in disbelief. Drennan, however, speaks out - "Shit." And she's right. We should have come up with this earlier. The five peaks - three of them touch places we are already familiar with. The house of the Claytons. Marsha Clement's apartment. And Wright's house. The other two could stand for the unidentified women, but we can't say for certain. It could be people that are in danger still. We need to take a closer look - Drennan and I; I won't involve Blair in fieldwork at this point.

Hell, I can't forget about the boy in the Superman pajama -- the one thing I want to do at the moment is go home with him and try to ignore reality best I can, but it's impossible. The danger has come as close as the threshold of our home. And of course, I have to remember that Blair's still an adult; it might not be good for him to be on this case, but he can go home on his own.

"So," Drennan presses, "Are we going?"

"In a minute." I motion for Blair to follow me outside, and he does, giving me a weary look once we're alone.

"I'm dismissed, right?"

The accusation stings. "You know it's not that way. I trust you, and you saved my life with Wright. I'm just trying not to make it harder on you than necessary."

He shrugs, and I ask, "How was your session?"

Another shrug. "Okay, I guess. These guys and gals are going to be a piece of work."

"They - you will be fine. As for James - I will find him. Any way."

No two ways around it any longer; this is something between the two of us. That monster will be locked away forever, but not before I've had a word with him.

Green-eyed Tony smiles at me grimly. "We believe you," he says.

***

14

I suddenly feel the urge to go home, and immediately; it's not so much that I agree with Jim's assessment that I should be at home and resting - as Ocean said, I'm a highly functional multiple, right? - but that I need to do some detective work for myself, in my own life.

I drive inattentively, not drifting, but my thoughts occupied with them, Kerry, the woman, and Tony, and the others, the time thieves.

That's not what it's all about, and you know it.

Then would you tell me what it's all about, I angrily say to the voice in my head, because I don't have a fucking clue!

However, there's silence. Ocean says that someday, I'll be able to communicate with them, understand them better, and we'll share one conscious. I'd still prefer the alternative of Incacha telling me whatever the heck it is I am supposed to do as a shaman.

Literature says that if you ignore the calling, bad things can happen to you. Alex, the dissertation - it's enough. I'm ready to do whatever it takes to make it stop.

***

Okay now, where to begin?

I stand in front of my open wardrobe, shoving aside the clothes. I hardly ever wear black, and yet there are more shirts and jeans than I remember buying. Why would the guy stick to black anyway? I've read that many multiples can't stand black or red, because those colors were used in their programming.

This is different. I'm always on the front line, I've got to protect --

"Shut up," I yell, foolishly starting to pull the clothes out of the wardrobe, folded shirts, stuff from hangers; it's stupid, but I can't stop.

I knew I'd have to confront myself some day, but God, this is a shock. Black, I had expected. It has happened before that I've looked down at myself at some time of the day and can't remember putting on those clothes. But there are things that I could have never afforded - is one of them stealing something other than time, too?

In the very back of the wardrobe, there's a light blue shawl. It smells of a woman's perfume, and it doesn't belong to any woman I can remember having been in this room.

"No. No!" I don't even realize I'm saying it out loud. It's like a pressure from the inside, I know something's going to happen - why did I never bother to look?

Wrapped in the shawl, there's a book with a violet cover, a diary. Shoving aside the impulse to burn it in the fireplace, I open it. There's a name written on the first page, and it isn't my handwriting. The name is 'Leila'.

***

Not yet, Tony silently comments on Blair's request. The risk is too big at the moment. Ben is unaware that he has woken The Punisher, and with him another who's been silent for a long time, but keeps scaring the children with his tales of the hellfire.

Not to mention the fact that Tony is going to have to show up at work in an hour.

He is unsure about how much can be revealed for now, but someone knows the answer.

Wolf, are you there?

***

The air is smoky in here; it's loud, bits of laughter and conversation floating over to me like pieces of a cloud. Where am I?

There's a thin sheen of sweat spreading all over my body, as I try to fight the oncoming panic. Calm down, I try to tell myself, but it's useless. The loud voices, the laughter, the gloomy light in here, all in itself not threatening, but there's an underlying message I'm afraid to decipher.

I'm standing behind a counter in a bar, a glass in one hand, the ice shaker in the other.

I must be dreaming. There is no other explanation - well, there is, actually. Not again. Before I went home in order to hunt for clues of the others, I had promised Jim I'd make dinner. I guess I haven't kept the promise. There was something... a book...

"Hey, Tony!" The cheery voice and a hand on my back make me jump, and the glass falls from my hand, shattering on the floor. I stand there frozen, expecting someone to yell at me, but it doesn't happen.

"What's up with you tonight?" the man asks. Turning around, I can see that he's a few years older than me, neatly dressed in slacks, shirt and a tie. He's looking concerned now. "You're not getting sick, are you? Please, try to hang on for another half an hour. Betty will be in soon, she'll take over for you as promised."

He could have just as well spoken in Chinese to me. I have no idea who this guy is, or Betty - or what I am doing here anyway. Well, working, as it seems.

I take a deep breath, trying to calm my skittish heart. I'll figure it out, just like I will with Kerry's drawings. For the time being, there's no need to panic. I've done some bartending before, I can surely do this for half an hour. No need to tip them off.

One look at the clock over the counter tells me that it's nearly midnight. Damn it, almost six hours lost again. I look at the man again who's fortunately wearing a nametag: John Bradford. From the way he's been talking to me, I guess we're on a first name basis, and I take the risk.

"Sorry, John," I say. "I'll take care of this mess, and sure, I'll be fine for another half an hour. Can I make a quick call first?"

He shrugs. "No problem, go ahead."

***

"Where the hell are you?"

I hold the phone a few inches away from my ear. Jim of all people should know better than to yell at people like this! "Just wanted you to know I'm all right," I say, circumventing the question. I'm getting lots of practice in this lately. Yes, I also promised to be honest, but I guess I can try and explain it once I've gotten rid of John and Betty, whoever they are. "I'll be home in an hour I guess. Talk to you later, okay?"

"Chief, is really everything okay?" he asks, quite a few notches softer now, and I suddenly find it hard to speak around the lump in my throat. He does, he really cares. Sometimes I think I don't really deserve it.

"Promise," I say. "See you later."

While making the call, I have unobtrusively checked my surroundings in order to find out where everything is.

I've just finished cleaning up when a tall blond man, casually but certainly not cheaply dressed, walks over to the counter. Something about him seems familiar, but no surprise there, I can't place him. Go ahead, I tell myself. Do your job.

"Can I get you something?" I ask, smiling as I would have, if I had known why the hell I'd gotten myself this job.

The man smiles back at me. "No, thanks, babe," he tells me. "My fridge is filled; I even bought your favorite brand of beer even though I can't stand it."

"That's... nice. Thank you." It's the auto-pilot within who has just formed these words. Blair is just utterly speechless.

"You know what, give me a beer anyway, until you're finished here, and get yourself one, too." He draws a few bills from his wallet and lays them on the counter, talking on, about the shift he's got behind him, and how crazy it was. A doctor working in the ER, I combine quickly, listening carefully for more information. Like a name.

Once again, John proves to be helpful. As he walks by, surely checking if I've got myself together again, he greets the other guy. "Hi Craig. I take it you're here again because of the great beer?"

Craig grins at me. "Something like that," he says, and all of a sudden, I recognize the voice. It's the guy who called about the date a while ago. Seems like one of those inner people - dates guys. Can my life get any more complicated?

***

Tony's shift ended half an hour ago, and already he is well on his way to getting inebriated. He hates it when his own time is cut short; it disturbs the fragile equilibrium everyone of them is working for so hard, day by day, and what's more, despite Wolf's advice, he's worried that Blair will endanger this little niche Tony has carved out for himself.

The job, his affiliation with Craig -- the doctor is no Sentinel, of course, but Tony figures second-best will be better than being all alone.

"Can I please crash at your place?"

Certainly, there's a lot Craig wants to answer to that, he's heard that request more than once, and Tony knows he's really curious in a caring way, and he wants to talk, but that can't be done yet. Not with the turns the investigation is taking, or Blair beginning to realize that he didn't live the glorious and exciting childhood he'd believed in.

There's one thing that always helps to distract Craig; it's when Tony turns on the puppy dog eyes, half-drunk or not, Craig just can't resist. Not a chance in hell.

"Sure you can. I just don't understand why you don't want to tell your roommate about us. Is he a homophobe or what? And if he is, why the heck are you still living with him?"

"Don't you tell me how to live my life!" Tony returns sharply. "I told you I'm not going to discuss this with you."

"All right, all right." Craig holds up his hands in a placating gesture. "Can we go home now? I've got a 24- hours shift coming up, and I'd like to get a little sleep before that."

Tony smiles, reaching for Craig's hand on the table. "I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to make a scene."

"It's okay. Just let me pay and we're out of here."

Tony leans over to whisper, "It's on the house," his dangling silver earrings making a sizzling sound at the movement.

***

The temperature has dropped remarkably this evening, and Tony is shivering in his thin leather jacket. He is always cold, especially now that he's tired and still a little cranky.

Craig just puts an arm around his shoulders casually, drawing him a little closer as they walk to his car. He's parked it two blocks away, since it's a Friday night, always a busy night at the Twilight.

They walk in silence, and Tony feels uncomfortable, guessing that it's him who's making Craig this thoughtful, maybe wondering what he's gotten himself into. Time after time, Tony comes running to him, sharing his bed even, but any further intimacy is a taboo too hard to overcome. Translation: Impossible.

It's not like he isn't attracted to Craig, but it's just so damn difficult. It's not even Tony's job to deal with it, even though he's longing for a moment when he can just for once give up the responsibility. He knows though, that it's far from happening at the moment.

As a doctor, Craig surely has his suspicions. So far, he hasn't made any attempt to share them, and Tony is grateful for that.

"You're tired," Craig observes now. "So, shower and bed it is, right when we get home, okay?"

Tony smiles at him gratefully. "You're the least complicated person I know," he says, and truly means it as a compliment.

"Yeah, you know what they say - opposites attract." Craig says it with a smile which takes any possible sting out of his words.

***

He is probably thinking that this might be a good moment to be daring, so Craig carefully leans closer, and they kiss.

"Hey, you!" The sharp tone startles them out of their private moment. Figures. There are parts in Cascade where you can safely be who you are - and sometimes safety ends two blocks further.

"Don't like what you see? Why don't you look away?" Tony challenges, and Craig throws him an annoyed look. He's always the careful one, trying to avoid unwanted attention. Tony's just plain pissed off at the guys' attitude.

One of the men, the one who has called to them, is in his early sixties maybe, hair and beard gray, but there's still a hint of the original dark color. He isn't big, but carries an authority about him. The other one is younger, blond, built like someone who knows his way around a gym.

"Don't mind him," Craig says. "We don't want any trouble, okay? We're out of here, guys."

That's when he is spun around roughly by the blond man who still hasn't said a word. "I don't think so," the older man grins, coming closer. "Take care of him now," he orders his companion.

***

15

I'm wide awake, bolting upright on the couch where I had fallen asleep. The loft is dark; no second heartbeat in the apartment, so Blair hasn't returned yet. However, he's left a mess in his room, a pile of clothes right in the center of it. So what's going on, Tony having a boy's night out? Better not think about that. During the phone call, Blair sounded 'normal', but he said he'd be home in an hour, and that was about - three hours ago.

With the unmistakable threat that's been made to us, there's point in taking a risk. I get up - damn it, how could I even fall asleep? - and pick up the phone, almost jumping when it's starting to ring before I even dial.

It's Simon, and I know before he speaks that this can't be good news. I'm right.

"Jim, good, you're home. I need you to come here ASAP." In his voice I hear something that's very unusual for Simon, who's usually on top of a situation, taking charge. Now, he sounds confused. "It's about Sandburg - he's not hurt or anything," he adds quickly. "Acting strange though. And we've arrested someone who might be close to James."

"Tell me where," I say, trying not to think of the implications. Not hurt or anything. It's all that counts; what's another little 'coming-out' in return? Simon took the Sentinel thing quite well. He will survive.

***

"I don't know what happened. Can we please go home?" Blair asks shyly, while I'm trying to make sense of the scene around me. I turn to look at him closely, wondering who I'm really talking to now. I still don't know enough.

There's an ambulance; on the paramedics' stretcher, a man, tall and muscular, looking like some body-builder. He has been shot through the knee and keeps spitting obscenities. The attacker.

The other man has obviously been beaten up; he's got a bleeding nose and a split lip, but is still on his feet though he's obviously in pain. He's arguing with one of the paramedics, finally pulling away from her and walking over to us. How does Blair fit into this? Trying to help, no doubt.

"In a minute, Chief," I promise, almost as an afterthought, relating to his question.

The guy who's escaped from the paramedic talks directly to Blair, though, and I instantly know which of the alters he has met. "God, I'm glad you're all right. I won't be going to the hospital, so you could come with me."

So they know each other 'somehow'; Tony, I suppose. Blair looks at him, confused. I still can't determine who's 'out' now, and it's unnerving me.

I introduce myself to his 'date', or better, Tony's, and ask him what has happened, and Craig Thomas gives me a brief summary. "The older one got away," he says. "He was the creepier one, for sure. A strange pair."

"Who shot the guy?"

"Excuse me, I don't know. I was busy getting beaten up until a while ago. We're lucky somebody called the police."

"I agree." Shit, he's not telling the truth. And I strongly suspect that he's doing it to protect someone.

"Can we go now?" he addresses Blair again.

"I think I rather go home tonight." Blair obviously can't place him. It's an awkward moment. Craig Thomas shrugs, winces, and then says goodbye. "See ya, babe."

Or maybe not.

***

Tony picks up a weapon when he needs to. Ben loves the feel of cold steel in his hands, and he dreams of the day when they are going to kill James.

He's been carrying ever since Leila and Zack came, practicing hard, and becoming quite a good marksman. The confrontation with James has made him even more determined; the cult leader will have to pay for all the pain he caused the children.

They are not going to prison, though.

If they are ever found out after the deed, Ben will make sure to put an end to everything. For now, he's glad he could get rid of the weapon before the police arrived.

***

"I swear, tonight in that bar was the first time I saw him. I was going to go home, but then..."

He doesn't need to complete the sentence. Then the veil falls again, and another takes over. I think I'm going to have a word with Tony as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I'm quite sure Blair would not agree to some of his activities.

"It's okay. Do you know who shot that fellow over there?"

Blair shakes his head, shuddering. "He yelled that I did it, but that's crap. Just where would I get a gun from?"

A good question indeed. The officers who were first on the scene are familiar, and they soon deduced that there's probably a connection to the big case Major Crimes is investigating. Blair is known at the department for his objection to guns, so they probably let it go; after all the man had attacked Thomas and Blair first -- and still. I can smell the gunpowder on his hands.

No one is innocent.

I shake off the thought, dismissing it. And what if he did it? It's a good thing we caught this guy who seems to be not only a homophobic asshole, but also one of James' cronies. If Blair doesn't know what he's done, for the moment, that's even better. Right now, an IA investigation is the last thing we need.

Just why can't I stop feeling this jittery? Expecting more to come, that's it. "You're right, that's stupid. No one will believe it."

"Maybe I should call him - Craig, I mean. For all I know I've been dating him for whatever time. I think he was pretty disappointed."

He doesn't seem to be thinking too clearly tonight, which is not exactly surprising, with all that has happened. What good would it do to tell Thomas the truth? Would he even believe it?

"Wait until tomorrow. If you still feel like it, you can try and explain to him."

"Which is a very good cue." Simon has come to join us. "You guys have a lot to explain to me, and you know it."

I look at Blair, holding his gaze for a long time, watching the conflicting emotions flicker over his face. Scared, angry, bewildered at this request. This moment was bound to come.

"Not tonight, Simon," I finally make the decision for both of us. "We'll meet you tomorrow, first thing in the morning."

He's giving me a quizzical look, but nods. "All right. See you at seven-thirty."

After he's turned and walked a few steps away, Blair asks anxiously, "What did Simon want? He doesn't believe I shot the creep, does he?"

"No, Chief. He doesn't." I don't know what else to say.

***

I almost expect Billy to ask me to share my bed again, but he doesn't come out tonight. Just as well, I think, but my relief doesn't last for long.

I'm just about to ask Blair if he ever got dinner - come to think of it, I've seen it before that he was hungry when he'd eaten just a few moments ago - if one of the alters had a meal, it doesn't mean he knows about it.

When I come down from my bedroom, I find him sitting at the kitchen table, hands folded as in prayer. Listening to his words, I realize I'm in trouble. It doesn't just look like it.

"Deliver us from evil," he says it over and over again. Starting at the sound of my footsteps, he jumps up, staring at me, frightened. I hold up my hands to show I'm no threat.

"You can sit down," I say. "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you."

"Who are you?"

His eyes are wide, and I can smell his fear. Damn it, I should have expected something like this, not take for granted that all of the personalities know me.

"I'm Jim. This is the apartment we share. No need to be worried, you're at home here." I probably do not handle this right, but I don't know how to handle this at all. What ever I have taken for granted over the past few - years - seems to be crumbling before my eyes lately. "It's just that the others..."

Bad mistake.

"The others? They're the demons, right? The demons they put inside of us. I'm possessed. I knew it!" He rambles on, less and less aware of his surroundings, lost in his fear.

"No! I didn't mean it that way, I just meant--" But it's impossible, I can't reach him.

There's a reason why I've put Ocean's number first on the speed dial. I don't care that it's way after midnight; I have kind of an idea what to do about the kids even if I'm not entirely comfortable with them, but this...

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 answers the phone, assuring me that she's still up. And no, she hasn't met this religious alter yet, nor have any of the others told her about him. She says it's okay, even necessary to allow them their room, to speak out, as long as no one's hurting another. And reassurance is always good.

It sounds so easy when she says it - I am almost as panicked as the guy in my kitchen mumbling about demons who have invaded him. I don't want to interpret this now. Ocean advises that if it doesn't stop, I could carefully try and ask to speak to Blair. I suppress the urge to tell her to just get here and take matters into her own hands.

It is very quiet all of a sudden, and I hastily end the call.

Hoping that somehow, magically, everything has gotten back to normal, but it isn't Blair who looks up at me with that naked fear in his eyes.

"Are we going to burn in hell?" Kevin asks tearfully.

***

Neither of us got much sleep last night. Blair hides a yawn behind his hand, and I catch the look Simon is giving him, fondly exasperated, like father to son.

Like the father Blair would have deserved to have, but obviously didn't. I've made a decision - if he won't call Naomi, I'll do it. About his father - the guy could still be alive, and if I'm right, he'll have to face charges. Well, he'll have to face me first.

But before that can happen, we are going to confess to Simon; Blair and I agreed on this later last night. He will not be amused in his roles both as a friend, and superior.

This morning, Blair and I have talked about how we are going to do it. Get to it slowly, carefully.

Simon isn't fooled. "I know this is probably the worst case in Major Crimes history, but that doesn't really explain anything. Sandburg, I don't care who you date, but why did the creep we have down in holding say you shot him?"

Blair winces at that, but he straightens up in his chair. "All right. This is the truth. I don't remember. I never saw that there was a dead cat nailed to the front door, and oh, it wasn't really me who got Jim out of that predicament at Wright's. I'm seeing a therapist, Simon. She's saying I have multiple personality disorder."

There is silence in the room, which is not so silent to me.

I can tell that Simon is stunned. He's looking from Blair to me, as if he's expecting us to have played some joke on him - when he realizes that isn't the case, he starts to speak, "Excuse me, I..." Interrupting himself again. "I'm sorry to hear that. And I'm also glad you trusted me enough to tell me." He chooses his words carefully, like he's walking on thin ice with them. Which he is.

Blair laughs a bit uneasily. "Hell, don't be so shocked. There's no evil me jumping out at a moment's notice."

"I didn't mean that. I just -- never mind."

He doesn't have to say it. We have all learned a bit about the origin of such a disorder with this case, and I can imagine what he's thinking.

"Whatever. We thought that you needed to know, and now that we're over the sentimental part - I think we should confront Wright, Clayton and the other ones with the photos again; one of them is bound to talk. If we don't find the place where they are held before Halloween--"

Simon looks thoughtful for an instant, and it's almost as if I can read his thoughts - does he really know all this shit from personal experience? - feel the sadness radiating off of him.

"I've been thinking about that myself. You take Drennan, Rafe, Brown, Taggart and Connor and get to it. We will talk later, promise. I've got some more questions for you myself."

***

16

I've got a headache.

Simon might have let us off the hook easily, but that's because he was just too overwhelmed by the news - when he has time to think of it, he'll realize that there'll have to be consequences.

Like revoking my consultant's credentials. What am I going to do? Maybe I can keep Tony's bartending job, sell a few of Kerry's drawings. Damn it! They are not me. I don't want them, the memory they carry with them.

Granted, what I do remember of my childhood isn't much, but most of it is light and happy, lots of traveling, discovering myths, making new friends. Okay, there were a few schoolyard bullies, too, but lots of kids have to deal with them, and they don't become multiples.

I've been wracking my brain, but can't come up with anything, just a vague fear of what might be in the shadows, one that is growing the more I'm occupied with this subject. Oh, and then there's my history of panic attacks. I wish I'd never seen that first woman bound to a tree in a mock image of a crucification, or anything that came after that. Maybe I could have kept on pretending.

Maybe not.

I'll never know now.

***

Jim and I go to talk to the lawyer again, whose address was found on one of the CDs at Wright's. I notice with some satisfaction that he's not as sure as Clayton, or Wright. He's probably not as high up in the cult as the others are, and counting in that they are going to sacrifice him very literally.

His name is Donald Grays, and in his house the officers found lots of porn outside your regular over the counter stuff. Some cults believe there's a special magic in the sacrificing of children. Some don't even pretend - but in the end, it makes no difference for the child who's at the mercy of those people.

I feel my throat going tight, wishing I could do just what everybody's suggesting at the moment - take a time out. It's impossible, though.

Grays speaks up first. "I've got a wife and a family," he says, sounding truly desperate. "Not to mention my job - I just can't afford to be connected with this. I don't know how my name got on your evidence. I don't know any porn producers. You've got to believe me."

I want to puke.

Jim, however, stays friendly, on the surface. I know the tension beneath.

"Then you have nothing to fear, Mr. Grays. Whatever Mr. Wright or Mr. Clayton will tell us about you, there'll be no proof, right?"

"What did they say? I never took part in any murder." He's pale, sweating now; doesn't take a Sentinel to notice it.

Jim shares a small smile of triumph with me - that was almost too easy. "So you admit now that you know them? I didn't say anything about murder, but I'm sure you want to enlighten me."

Grays covers his face with both hands for a moment before he speaks. "Nathan is way crazy, I think it's because his father was a real sadist. I'm not like that! I never hurt any of them! In fact, I like --"

"That, we don't want to know."

The authority in Jim's voice, and the fact that his posture is that of a wildcat intending to attack its prey, makes Grays think twice about finishing the sentence, of which I'm glad.

"Tell us where those pictures were taken."

The man seems to be afraid, but he still tries to negotiate, "What are you offering me? I can't go to prison. They wouldn't understand - my life would be hell!"

I think Jim sitting next to me, the certainty that he's just as sick of Grays as I am, and that it's normal, is the only thing at the moment that's keeping me sane. One look at him tells me that he's feeling the same.

"Don't worry about your life, Grays," he says. "If you don't come around soon - I think you know the law well enough. Wright and Clayton are going to pin the murders on you, and you're going to be a dead man."

***

Ben holds his hands in his lap under the table. He's shaking with all the suppressed anger. He wants to kill this man with his bare hands, suffocate him, get rid of this human garbage.

Just the way he wanted to at another time, when all that rage couldn't go anywhere.

Not now.

But his time will come.

***

Zack is confused and afraid of all those voices in his head - some sound similar, and then there's the one repeating, 'the time is near'. That voice makes him all chilly inside.

What is he doing here in this dark, sparsely furnished room with these two men, who are they?

Listening to them for a while, Zack is barely able to breathe from the heavy fear; it's all around him, paralyzing him. Familiar. They talk about one of those dark places. Probably they are intending to bring him there, too... Closing his eyes, he hopes it'll all just go away - like before...

***

I start at Jim's suggestion that we take a break now, realizing that I must have missed quite a chunk of the conversation.

Outside the interrogation room he says, "He confessed. We are going to find those kids, Chief, I promise. While we do it, I want you to stay here. Please."

I'm too tired to argue. And honestly, I don't really want to see that place - there's no guarantee that any of the kids we saw on those CDs, tortured and abused, will still be alive. There's no time for an argument, either.

"Be careful, and stay with Megan. Good luck."

Jim seems surprised, but relieved that I don't try to talk him into letting me come. He squeezes my shoulder briefly, and then I find myself alone in the hallway, feeling restless, scared, and a little sick, not even knowing where it's coming from. Tendrils of a beginning panic snaking around my mind - what the hell does this mean?

I know this is going to be bad, but Jim has promised, and Megan surely is capable of handling the situation. It's not the perfect solution, but I do understand. I've taken it way far, but going to that place would be anything but healthy, and if we still want to have a future together, I've got to work with these facts, whether I like them or not.

I'm still feeling like I'm letting Jim down; like something horrible is about to happen. Something even more horrible than what we're already dealing with here, if that's even possible.

And part of me wanted to go there, see this living hell closed down once and for all.

***

I haven't been looking at any clocks on the wall, so I don't know how much time has passed when all of a sudden, I find myself back in the bullpen. Maybe I've just been drifting, lost in thought... maybe not. It's almost empty in here, very few detectives working on reports; Rhonda is sitting at her desk, smiling at me a little strained. Right, no one has been untouched.

Simon is in his office, too; he's waving for me to come in. Uh-oh. I'm guessing it's no coincidence that he chose to talk to me again with Jim not around? Well, whatever. I have to face the truth sooner or later, and now is as good a moment as any.

"Come in," he says, and there is silence for a moment as I sit down and he places a coffee mug in front of me. I have to suppress a smile, but feel sad at the same time. I'm going to miss this.

The first few minutes are spent with shoptalk; to ease into the real subject gently, I think.

Simon tells me that Drennan has requested back-up; this is going to be a large operation, and with a little luck, James will be caught this time. Which reminds me of the whole mess with Tony and his boyfriend that I wanted to call. James was there that night. I shudder. Why didn't that other me shoot him instead?

Life has been happening too fast recently; all that violence, the warning through the slaughtered animal, then the attack on Craig Thomas -- I don't seem to be able to catch up any longer. Hell, do I need a shrink! Jim is so right about leaving me behind; I can't function as a Guide these days; even if you count in that Megan's less experienced in the job, she's surely the better choice.

"About what you said this morning..." Simon finally begins. "I still don't understand a whole lot about this, but your dossier said clearly that there are reasons for -- this condition. First of all, I want to say I'm really sorry."

Yeah, fuck. Everybody in the department has read the damned dossier. I might have just as well given them my diary to read, right?

"Thank you. I understand there are going to be consequences," I say, tracing the rim of the coffee cup with my finger. "We've kept this from you for way too long."

"Yeah, you did," Simon agrees, and I'm kind of grateful for his honesty.

He shakes his head, "Doesn't look like you guys ever get a break - and consequently, I don't get one, either."

"I'm sorry, too. I think Megan will be doing great as Jim's partner, after all--"

"Not so fast, Sandburg. You're not being fired - since you've become involved with Jim's paperwork, my life has become a lot easier, and I'd really prefer for things to stay that way. You really trust this therapist?"

"Yes, I do."

Simon sighs, probably having hoped for an alternative interpretation. Don't we all?

"Okay then, here's the plan. I'm sure you know that you couldn't become a detective under these circumstances, but that was always more Jim's dream than yours - and so far, I see no reason why you can't stay on the team as a civilian consultant. As it is, you still are our expert on the subject."

"You're serious?"

A little voice inside still whispers, that can't be all. It can't be that easy. "I've read this book where a woman was meeting with police officers in order to educate them about what Multiple Personality Disorder means." I'm vaguely hopeful. "It seemed to be pretty helpful..."

Simon is looking worried, and I'm pretty sure it's not in relation to my improvised career plans.

"Really, most of what I know now is what others tell me. I can't tell you a horror story of my childhood, because I don't remember anything about it. I... I want to thank you. For not sending me home right away. I couldn't stand being useless now."

"You're not," Simon says firmly. "Believe it or not, you've got many friends here at the department, and they're working hard to get these bastards. If your knowledge can help them; even better. You are not alone in this."

"Thanks, but stop, please." I try to laugh, but it doesn't sound like that. "Or else I'm going to embarrass both of us."

He's about to answer, but then the phone rings, and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach just gets worse.

***