Letters From Hades

Part 6

By Demeter

"Trust youself. Trust the process (...). The shattered soul will heal."

Kathy Steele, Sitting With The Shattered Soul (in: Reaching For The Light, by Emily Rose)

41

Returning from a crime scene, a bank that was robbed this morning, I have to admit I find this part of the job a welcome distraction from the horror case that's fortunately behind us now. We've found prints; colleagues at Major Crimes are already working on identification; there's an APB out on the car that the teller could describe quite well - no one dead.

Good shots by the observation camera; shouldn't take us long to catch these clowns. Days like these, you've got to love the job.

Still, I can't settle down; I don't know what it is that still makes me restless despite the fact that I've seen Ben write reassurances into the diary. In any case, I'll see Blair in the afternoon; he'll be coming in to give me a hand with the paperwork like old days, and I'm probably going to feel better after I've seen him. We've spent so much time together lately, it feels downright strange not to hang out together the whole day.

I'm one block away from the station when the vision slams into me -- the blue jungle, the wolf lying on the ground, whimpering in pain, and beside him, there's - Incacha? He's sitting next to the animal, stroking its back. When he looks up at me, his gaze is sad.

Wait a minute...

Incacha is dead. No. This can't be, I would have known, I would have... I hit the gas, not caring about the angry shouts and blaring horns behind me. I manage to try both Blair's cell phone and the loft, but he doesn't answer.

I drive by the station, and make a turn. I'll go to the loft first. Simon will certainly understand my priorities here.

***

Blair is not at home. There's no sign of a fight or a hurried departure either, which is a small comfort. I go into his room, for a moment trying to calm myself with the sensory information of him that's in here. I know it's weird, but it really helps.

There's the open diary lying on the desk, and I wrestle with my guilty conscience, but not for long.

Those visions didn't come for nothing; there's always a meaning behind them. And maybe there's something in here that'll give me a hint.

I promised not to cut the body anymore, Ben wrote. I kept the promise. But today, we'll turn the tables on him. Today, he's going to know pain. I'm going to go to his cell and kill him.

Damn it! I don't think it has anything to do with the vision, but in any case, this is bad news. I've got to find Blair, and ASAP. It's true, we managed to cover up the fact that he took a shot at James' minion, and just recently, Simon helped me out of the mess I had created for myself - but there's nothing we can do if Ben puts these words into action, understandable, as it would be.

I should have gone right where I'd headed to first - the station. I hope I'll get there before Blair does.

***

"Megan, have you seen Blair?"

She looks at me quizzically. "I thought Sandy was coming in this afternoon."

"So he's not here?"

"Jim," Connor says patiently, "you'd hear his heartbeat if he was anywhere in the building, and you're asking me? I haven't seen him all day."

"All right. Thanks anyway."

She just shrugs as I head for Simon's office.

***

He's on the phone; something important obviously, as he's shaking his head at me, rolling his eyes, which is more for the person on the other side of the line - the mayor. Sorry, this can't wait.

"Simon, it's important. Has Blair been here?"

"Listen," Simon says with a sigh, "why don't I call you back? We just had some important information on a case coming in, I'm sorry. Now, Jim," he directs at me after having hung up, "this had better be good. I thought Blair knew you were out on a case this morning, and that he was supposed to come in this afternoon. What's the matter?"

"I don't know, I -- I've had a vision."

After all this time, I can tell Simon still hasn't quite got used to this phenomenon, as his rising heartbeat shows he's uncomfortable.

"About Sandburg?"

"Yes." I tell him about what I'd read in the diary, and he shakes his head.

"You know, don't you think all these horrible things you've seen are starting to catch up with you? James is going to get transferred today. At least where the present is concerned, it's over. Marsha Clement has talked, best she can. There's enough evidence, and Blair, as smart as he is, won't be able to walk into a maximum security prison with a gun."

"I know that, Simon, but--" I shake my head in a frustrated gesture. If he's right -- am I really starting to see things?

"I just want to be sure we're not heading for disaster. I'm going to see James, and--" I hold up my hand as I sense that Simon's about to protest. "I won't break his nose again, even though the thought is... tempting. This is about something more important."

Simon nods. "Glad you finally got it."

***

As we're nearing the cell, the feeling of foreboding just grows stronger. It's rooted in the fact that the prisoner's heartbeat seems to sound strange to me - no, not strange. Unfamiliar.

I've gotten used to identifying the bastard's heartbeat, ever since we had this eerie, one-sided dialogue. Most of the time, I'd used this knowledge to assure myself of a safe distance between him and Blair - so it's quite clear to me that the man in this cell, lying on his cot with his back turned to us, is not James.

He appears honestly startled when I drag him up. "Where is he? Where the hell is he?"

"Who?" he asks, while I'm vaguely aware of Simon cursing, and punching numbers into his cell.

"You know who!" Now his heartbeat rises, but it's hard to tell the reason.

"No, I don't! This cop told me I was supposed to go into this cell. Not draw any attention to myself. I did what he said. Now what's the matter?"

I must have paled at his words. God. Somehow I'd always hoped that Sidney Walker would remain the only one involved on the police force. Bad enough he's Blair's father, but -- our department, too?

"Which cop? Describe him to us," Simon demands, aware of my state of mind.

The prisoner, a man who's indeed close to James in age, height and general looks, gives us a shrug. "Do I know one cop from another? He was young," he hastily adds as I'm giving him a shake. "Short dark hair, dark eyes. Wait. Wait, there's something. I think another one we passed on the way called him by his name. Reggie or something. I thought it was quite strange for his age, and wondered if it was some kind of nickname."

"Reggie," I repeat to Simon, "That's Peters, his name is Reginald. What does he have to do with the transfer?"

"Bad news," Simon answers grimly. "Absolutely nothing."

"I remember something else!" the prisoner calls after us as we're already halfway across the hallway. "That guy had a tattoo on his wrist, right under his watch, but it slipped, and I saw the image. It was one of those five-pointed stars, what do you call them?"

Simon and I share a shocked look. He's talking about a pentagram, of course. Peters has been working for the CPD for roughly four years.

***

Peters' partner says he hasn't seen the guy all day, and I believe him. The heartbeat remains steady, and Tom Watson has never hidden the fact that he disliked being partnered with Peters, something everyone around could easily understand.

When Blair returned to the station after the press conference, it was people like Peters who fueled the fires of innuendo, and of course, he was always one of the first to pick up some of the more lurid rumors about us. Not that I ever cared - but it all fits now.

I wonder, has he helped James before? Fed him information?

And worse, are there more?

James on the loose, a co-worker, if not the most well-liked one, involved, and Blair unreachable -- those are the signs of a catastrophe in the making.

***

42

You PROMISED! NEVER AGAIN!

There is chaos inside. The only way we could take that turn, in a direction that was supposed to lead to healing in small steps - integration or what the hell ever you want to call it - was the assurance that we'd never see him again. That he'd never be able to touch us again.

But he has, mindlessly beating up on me while Nathan holds me up, a loyal follower to his father, and what's worse, I almost welcome the pain. Because as much as my skin is crawling at the touch, I know it still can get worse.

I want out of here. I want to go home. Where is the gun? Where you left it, you idiot. Which gun? The one we're going to kill him with. I'm scared. I don't want to die. He's going to hurt us more. I told you so! If you hadn't betrayed the secret...Ah, shut up about the Goddamn secret, Tony shoots back. It isn't why we're here now. Kerry cries silently. Billy has drawn back into the farthest corner of the mind, watching with shock. Man, this is not happening! I can't... Shut up! Who do you think you are? This is damnation. I'm so scared. HELP!

"What do you want? What -- more?" I taste blood, close to gagging on it.

Why can't Jim hear what's going on?

James is grinning as he leans over me. "This is so much fun, Jacob. While you were researching us, we were researching you, and your friend, of course. And I made my contact in the department get me one of those little devices that neutralize his senses." He leans even closer, his eyes boring into me.

Little Jacob is whimpering loudly, inside, but I don't know how much longer I can keep him there.

"I'm thinking he will be inconsolable when he finds your body - or what parts we leave for him."

I spit at him, gagging again, but I can feel that Ben is pleased. He would have done the same if he were out, but so far, they've stayed behind, and I'm not sure why. This is definitely a situation I'd love to block out, and damn it, James is right, I don't want Jim to find my body in here -- the sight would haunt him for the rest of his life.

We're not dead yet.

I'm just not too sure how far we are from it...

As he delivers another punch to my stomach I slump forward, and Nathan fists a hand in my hair, forcing me upward.

I'd seen a different side of him, once, when he didn't carry out his Dad's commands so eagerly, and was punished for it, a pre-teen who didn't want to hurt a younger boy. Me. I'd sneaked some food into his room and got caught - with the result that both of us got to sit at the table, empty plates, while the others got to eat. For three days. I had collapsed on the way home from school and got to stay in the house, and the next time, Nathan did everything he was told to with cool detachment. Being praised.

Stop it. It's got to stop.

"Do... whatever you want," I force out, even though it's exactly what I'm so afraid of. "You can't win."

"No?" He smiles, tracing his fingers down my cheek; his smile widening when I cringe. "I think I have already won. You are mine. And even if I don't get out of this alive, I'll have you again. It will make everything worth-while, Little Jacob - and remember, part of me will be inside of you wherever you go. You can never get away from me."

I stare back at him, while inside, there's a war between resignation, fight, and a fear that makes me want to jump out of my crowded skin. "My name isn't Jacob," I say. "You never got it, you never got anything."

"Oh, it is, that was your father's idea," he says, self-satisfied. "But that girlie name your hippie slut mother gave you, does indeed--"

"Stop it!" I want to yell, but my voice isn't more than a hoarse croak. "Leave her out of this!"

"It does fit you. You're my biggest disappointment, Jacob, because you betrayed me. We were giving you a home, and you told on us."

Through the pain and fear of what is going to come yet, I feverishly try to decipher his words. What the hell is he talking about? I was a child. I was rescued. I never told anyone until I started to remember.

He leans close again. I'm forced to think of all the other times, as the images are mercifully vague, but my body remembers all too clearly, clenching in abhorrence. Being sick, hurting all the time. Vivid dreams of blood, and hands all over me, that had their origin in a horrible everyday reality. Hell, yes, I do remember. Inside, I can feel the adults trying to keep the children farther back. They're preparing for war again.

"Try those mind games all you want. You're nothing but a sick pervert."

"But there was magic in it, wasn't there?" He's opening the first button of my shirt, and I shrink back into the chair as far as I can go. When I blacked out for a moment, Clayton bound me there. I can't move. I'm going to go crazy if he--

"Magic? You don't know shit about magic!"

Thanks, Tony. Exactly what I wanted to say.

"No?" He's so close now, his cheek is touching mine, and I can't help it, I'm starting to retch, and it doesn't stop until I have tears in my eyes, and see stars as it's getting harder to breathe. If I had a gun in my hands now, I'd shoot him, and Clayton too, without any remorse.

Or I'm just going to let these tears flow and beg him not to go any further, but it won't help me. It never did.

"Don't you remember the dead man who we made come back? The look on your face when he got out of that coffin..."

The children, who believed him so easily, aren't there now. It's like I can feel inside and realize they're very far from this scene. Next - Brad, Zack and Leila. The adults close to the front.

Knowing this, I feel an astonishing calm settle over me. They're right there. For me. A phalanx.

"You killed a man, and made us all believe that it was him, but instead, it was your buddy, Joe Wright, wasn't it? You just enjoyed it more, when you played out one of your sick rituals. Magic?" I try to laugh, but it sounds more like a desperate sob. Who cares? It's important that he knows this:

"You said you did your homework too, so you must have known what happened at the university fountain. My drowning. I was dead, and Jim brought me back. You could never do anything like that. You never had that kind of power - and you have none over me anymore."

Where are those words coming from?

None of the adults that I'm aware of, have said them.

It's from deeper within, my voice darker than usual, and there's a certainty in it that I'm far from at the moment. Actually, I'm a mess, shaking and crying, clinging to the last shreds of my dignity as I, and those two men in the room with me, know where they're heading - and still.

"You have no power," I say again, not attempting to taunt him, as Tony did with David Lash back then. Wolf. It's time to make a decision. That's for the one who was so proud to make the others shut up. Are you with us?

"You'll see," he says, that brutal grin back in place, after he seemed almost startled for a moment. "You'll see how much power I have."

Everyone's holding on to each other tighter. Yes, the Punisher says. I'm with you.

***

43

"Naomi! What are you doing here?"

Damn, I don't need this. I don't want her here. I'll have to tell her that I failed once again, and this time with potentially fatal results. We have found Peters, but he refuses to talk. Drennan has joined us again.

As for the whereabouts of James, and Blair, we still have no information. Still, there's no doubt that the disappearance of the two must be related.

"I went to the loft, and nobody was home." Blair's mother is looking pale, has probably worked through some sad truths as well.

"Look, Naomi, this is a bad moment. Why don't you come back--"

"This is about Blair, isn't it?" Her voice is getting slightly shrill on the last syllables. "What happened? I want the truth!"

"Look," I say after exchanging a meaningful look with Simon, "we don't know either. At the moment, I don't know where he is, but I swear I'm going to find him, and this doesn't have to mean anything. Up until now, the alters have been leading pretty much separate lives."

There's a hint of impatience ghosting over her face at the mention of alters. Blair having Dissociative Identity Disorder is still something hard for her to accept. I wonder if she and Ocean are through with talking, but don't want to ask. This is not the moment for this conversation.

"I want to stay here," she insists.

I want to protest, but Simon gets ahead of me and calls Rhonda. "Of course, Ms. Sandburg. Rhonda, would you please make some coffee for the two of you? You can use the coffeemaker in my office. Excuse us please; I need to talk to Jim."

When we're out of hearing range, he asks me, "Does Peters know where Philip James is?"

"Yes, sir. I'm sure he does."

With a sigh, Simon says, "I can't believe I'm doing this. All right, Jim, I want you to go back to him and make him give up that information. If James is on the run, and he has Blair with him, every minute counts. You get me?"

I just nod at him. It isn't like when I lost it with James. This isn't about the revenge I hunger for -- it's mere calculation.

***

Minutes later, Serena comes hastening into the room, interrupting what could have become painful for former Detective Reggie Peters. He's kind of grateful. I snap at her.

"What?"

"There's a problem with the observation cameras," she says breathlessly. "Someone created total chaos with the configuration. I think the creep is hiding somewhere in the building."

From the way Reggie's heartbeat doubles, I'm quite sure she's right.

I turn back to him. "And I think this creep does know where we're talking about, doesn't he?"

It's a good thing that Serena is here in the room with us, because my vision clouds, and there's the jungle again, Incacha, the injured wolf howling in pain --

When I'm back, I realize that the lights in the room are starting to flicker, and Peters looks like he's seen a ghost. I need a moment to collect myself, and then my senses are laser-sharp again, reaching out as though attracted by a magnetic source, and there it is:

The heartbeat.

A pained whisper.

"Jim."

"Jim, what are you...?"

I hold up a hand to silence her. "Quiet. I know where he is. Go get Simon, and call an ambulance."

Serena reacts quickly, while Peters just keeps staring at me.

***

Why the hell didn't I hear this happening, in the same building of all places? There's no time for regret though, as Simon and I are heading down the stairs to the ground level, focused on one single purpose.

"I'm calling you, Satan, my Master, to offer my sacrifice to you," the hated voice intones.

I can hear the switches, everyone's heartbeat fast and erratic, as James drones on. This is too much. I swear, this will stop. Once and for all, it will stop.

"Never. Not... your power."

Blair's voice is weak, but I still sense the resolve. "I am... a shaman. You're just trying to... disguise -- you sick --" The words are cut off abruptly by a dull sound and a scream that only I can hear, because the room is soundproof, but not to a Sentinel.

"He's here now, Little Jacob. He wants you."

Easy to understand how he managed to frighten children almost to death with phrases like this. And very intentionally, he did. It would be easy to give in to the lure of craziness that's looming at that thought, but I keep that thought back, just function, - a 'human crime lab with organic surveillance equipment', as Blair has once called me. There are no emotions. If there were, I'd barge right into the room and kill the cult leader with my bare hands.

But I can't, because too much is depending on us to do this right, and because there are two perps in the room, James, and his son, Nathan Clayton. I can identify them by their body heat, and their heartbeats, both of them much too close to Blair's. We need the element of surprise when we go in.

Whispering the information to Simon, I use my sense of touch to open the door with a card, almost soundlessly. The two killers inside don't hear me, too engrossed in their sick ways, as James is demanding,

"I want the one that we made to come out. I know you're there. Come here and give yourself to Satan. Come..."

The bile rises in my throat as I hear the arousal in his voice. We've got to stop him now.

"Get away from him!" I yell, ducking as James tosses the flashlight at us; the glass shatters on the floor. I can still track him, of course, aware that Simon has tackled Clayton who was trying to escape as well.

He won't get away this time. That's one thing I know for sure...

...and then a shot rings out.

Neither Simon nor I, or any of the perps has taken it. James' eyes widen dramatically, his mouth opens, but no words are coming out, just a spurt of blood.

Finally, I manage to switch on the light in the room to illuminate a ghostly pale Naomi standing in the doorway, still holding the gun in her hands that were surprisingly steady when she aimed at the man who had tortured her son. The gun... Damn it. She's been at the loft. It's the gun that belongs to Ben.

Naomi is trembling hard now. Her face is streaked with tears and traces of mascara, her slender body shaking all over. She's looking like she's about to faint any minute. "I couldn't..." she whispers. "I couldn't let him get away."

Behind her, Drennan enters the room, and before anyone of us can say anything, she gently pries Naomi's fingers from the weapon, then takes another shot at the dead man, the sound making all of us jump.

"There was a fight," she says calmly. "We had no choice but to shoot him, right, Captain? Jim? Ms. Sandburg, it's better to let us handle this. Okay?"

I doubt Naomi has heard a single word that was just said. And frankly, I don't care as I finally make my way into the corner of the room, where those freaks have tied Blair to the chair. At the sight of him, that mindless rage wants to erupt again, but I push it aside once more, as I carefully crouch down beside him.

Simon dragging Clayton who's fortunately rather out of it, outside, Drennan talking to Naomi softy, that's all background noise.

Blair is conscious, but just barely, his eyes on me as I hurry to get those ropes cut. "Hey, Chief. What do you say, we skip the paperwork and just go home?"

"Home... sounds good. No hospital?"

Assured that there's no frightened child out at the moment, I dare to reach out and stroke a damp strand of hair away from his face. My fingers come away damp and red, and I feel the tide rising again - but, no. It's not about my feelings.

"No cheating, buddy. Hospital first, then home."

Something flashes in his eyes, a hint of a lighter blue, and I think we're so close that moment, I can almost read his thoughts. "Don't worry. If they make you stay, I'll stay, too."

I have finally cut through all the ropes, relieved beyond imagination that James didn't have the time to complete the ritual he'd obviously been planning to stage. There's a pentagram drawn in chalk on the floor, around the chair. Julie had been raped before her death.

It's bad enough as it is, anyway - I can feel the heat emanating from various bruises all over his body. I don't dare think what today's shock has done to all the progress, and I'm surprised he's out so soon after it. That must be a good sign, though, right?

My knees touch something. I'm surprised to pick up broken bits of a little device that's very familiar to me... Oh damn it. That's why I couldn't hear anything. The moment it was destroyed, my enhanced hearing kicked in again.

"Broke it," he says with audible pride, though he can barely speak around the pain. "James... got mad."

His eyes stray to the still figure on the floor, a pool of blood to be seen beside it, and he shudders.

I change position so I can block his view of his dead tormentor. "You did good. He's gone now," I say. "Forever."

A light touch and a little tug on his arm is all it takes, I embrace him, and he holds on tight even though that has to enhance the pain, and I can feel his tears, hot and salty. There are some of my own, too, but it's good, so good to know that we've come in time.

***

Ocean has come to take care of Naomi who is not quite herself, quiet and subdued. She's the only other person except for the ones who were present, who'll know what happened. I still feel troubled about this outcome; it should have been one of us to take him out, not a woman who's already seen so much trauma in her life. She definitely does not need to be put through a trial - even if most likely, no court would actually convict her. Would they?

All that is clear between us is that we don't want to take the risk.

And it's nothing I want to burden Blair with, except that I know that one day, I'll have to tell him the truth.

***

44

I wake up in near dark, and there's nothing I can do about it; my heart is starting to race, even though I figure out pretty soon that I'm in my room. Too late.

"You all right?" Jim asks, and I can hear the exhaustion in his voice. Which is very close, by the way, and I realize that he's right next to me, stretched out on the cover, not close enough to make me feel crowded, but close enough to get the message across - the big bad panther is standing guard again. I want to smile, but to my dismay the tears just start falling again. I kept it together much better when it was Tony who had to do the hard jobs that occur in police work.

Tell me about it.

"I don't think I'll have a nervous breakdown in the next fifteen minutes."

"That's good, then."

I try to piece together the last few hours, not too sure how we ended up here. Time is missing, but there are flashes of images between the gaps. Hospital. Dr. Grant asking me about the cuts, and Jim scolding him for it. "He's been held hostage by a sadistic killer. This is not the time."

I don't know if he was so convincing, or if the doctor simply shared his opinion in the end, but I was allowed to go home after a thorough check-up. That's all, someone else took over. The last few days, I had started to be almost always be able to figure out who was up front, and said something when I was sure I wasn't.

Before...

Like a flash, I can see those eyes again, all of a sudden. He's here now, Little Jacob. Time to get real. James is a man of a little less than average height, never had a very impressive stature, but whenever he said those words, time and again before the unspeakable followed, I believed him, because he could use his voice in a way that you couldn't escape it.

Unable to move, skin scraped from cold rough stone, tasting blood, how could I not? That was then. If he said it was the devil, Satan, who gave him permission - I couldn't object.

And today, I could have objected all I wanted to, if we hadn't managed to break the white noise generator, he would have still raped us within a pentagram drawn with white chalk. A matter of little time-- "Is he really dead?" Unless he is, James will come back for me. His biggest disappointment, as he said. He couldn't leave me alone.

"Yes, Chief, he is."

"Was Naomi there?" I'm not sure if I dreamed that.

Jim hesitates just a moment too long to pretend that all is well. "Ocean is with her," he says. "She'll be okay."

Shouldn't leave things lying around when Naomi is at the loft. Not the dissertation. Not the gun.

I bolt upright on the bed. What are you saying?

Ben grudgingly shares it with me, and I draw me knees up to my chest, to somehow control the shaking that has started with the flashback, growing stronger. I don't know how much more I can take, before I really go crazy. Hate to tell you, man. We already are. That's not a nice thing to say. I didn't mean to be nice. If he doesn't get it... Now, come on. Okay, okay. Sorry.

Mom.

Jim gently touches my shoulder. "I'm serious. She'll be fine. Between Drennan, Simon and me, no one will ever know."

I should get up. Call her. Be there for her. But all I can do is curl up on the bed again, shaking, feeling guilty for messing up her life again. "I've been nothing but trouble for her ever since the day I was born, have I?"

"Enough of that crap now!"

The vehemence behind his words startles me, upsetting the younger ones. "But I--"

"Did you give her the gun and tell her to shoot the freak?"

"No, but--"

"Did you have any say in that scheme your father played out when he had Naomi committed, and left you at James'?"

"You know damn well I didn't!" I'm yelling, too, now. How can he say this? How can he even think--

"And those weekends at Walker's? Was it your fault Naomi had to pack up and run away with you when you were three years old?"

"No! It wasn't -- it wasn't my fault, but--"

"No 'but', Chief," Jim says quietly. "It wasn't your fault, and that's all there is to say."

Rationally, I know that, but the rest of me isn't there yet. Not when I'm still in pain, and sick from that look in James' eyes, the feeling of contamination... "I'm sorry. You've been great and all, but it's me, I-- I just don't know if I'm going to make it."

There's a pause, and I halfway expect that I've really blown it this time, that Jim is going to be so fed up with the subject of me and the baggage I'm carrying.

And then he says,

"*I* know."

***

Tony lies in bed, painfully aware of the many bruises that the body he inhabits, bears. Also aware that it could have been much worse for them, and hell yes, he admits that Ocean's tactics were helpful. Of course, they wouldn't have let Blair stay outside if --

He shudders, grateful that 'if' didn't happen. Some kind of stunt that Ben pulled, toppling over the chair and breaking the white noise generator.

And then there was Wolf.

Tony, who has seen everyone else emerge, often wonders where the shaman came from, but Wolf has never told. Sometimes, Tony thinks he was there before the Alliance ever existed, maybe even before Blair was born. From another life? He snorts to himself. That would a Naomi-thing to think. Tony prefers a more pragmatic view on things.

It was Wolf who drew them back from death's door more than once, with Jim's help at the fountain; during the birth ritual, and then another time, when little Billy climbed up to the roof of James' house, wanting nothing but for the pain to end--

Somehow, he had always seemed to know that the promise written in that old book, by Sir Richard Burton, would come true one day.

Ironic only, that if all of it comes true, Tony won't be needed as much as before. He can never fulfill what he's been dreaming of ever since the nurse JustSam had been 'tutoring' had faxed them Jim's medical chart.

***

I wake up to the soothing, gentle touch of a cool hand. It's Ocean, and it takes me another moment to realize I'm lying half across her lap; while she doesn't seem to mind, I get up hastily, mortified.

"Um, ... Hi. Sorry about that."

"Good morning." She smiles. "Don't worry about it. I've just had a talk with Billy."

I lean back against the couch with a sigh. "They did it again, right? It was almost there, for most of the time, I could listen to them. I'm afraid it's all gone now -- because--"

Angrily, I wipe my face, annoyed with the crybaby that has nothing to do with the children living in my body. Even more annoyed that I still haven't asked The Question: "You've been with Mom? How is she?"

"She'll deal," Ocean says. "Look, I'd never say this lightly, and I usually don't approve self-justice, nor death penalty. Naomi and I took part in many protests, back then. It's just that with the things he's done, he has no more right to live. My feeling, anyway - it would have been better if it had been one of the police to shoot him, but that's the way it is now."

I can only nod at her words, glad that she's honest with me. Obviously, she and Jim have been talking.

"Naomi will call you. She needs time, too."

That's all right. Between us, there's so much broken glass, so much opportunity to bleed - I don't want it to be now. I really need to practice the safe place-inner helpers-stuff again.

I never mentioned it before, but the safe place really is a beautiful place in the mountains, a spacious cave where a fire burns that doesn't reek of things no one dares to think about. It's warm and clear, and there are paintings on the wall that Kerry has already drawn into the diary.

It smells of pine needles, and fresh mountain air in that place, and -- there's nothing impossible in the safe place, okay? -- there are books, too. No humans, Ocean said when I was too tempted, because, no relationship ever is without a grain of ambivalence. Inner helpers are allowed, though, and maybe it was a bit of cheating, who cares, when I invited the black jaguar to that place, too.

There's a soft blanket, and enough toys for the children. I added that later, when I had mostly overcome the embarrassment, and being weirded out at the thought of them.

"I don't know," I say. "I think we've kept it together okay, and the things you taught us helped a great deal - and still. I'm afraid they'll win in the end. That I'll never..." Be normal, I want to say, but it seems too pathetic. And there's the guilty conscience acting up again - did I ever listen when Jim wanted things to be nothing but normal? No, I was fascinated too much with the 'phenomenon'. Jim's senses appeared, and later, for brief times sometimes disappeared, in relation with trauma and loss. There's no denying that connection.

"They won't," Ocean says firmly. "I'm so sorry you had to go through this all over again. It might mean a detour on the way. But it doesn't mean going back."

***

"I agree," Wolf says, sitting up straight as usual. He has advised the keeper not to close the boundary too firmly, surely Blair will need more time to deal with yesterday's 'detour', but there's no longer a reason to conceal himself, now that their tormentor is dead.

Wolf has prayed to the spirits and thanked them for it. If it wasn't the perfect solution having Naomi do the deed, it was nevertheless necessary.

"I greet you," he says, startling Ocean, and Jim who has just come back from getting breakfast, alike.

"And I want to thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. It has already been mending some of the shards inside."

He smiles gently, aware that Jim is close to dropping the grocery bag. "Don't you recognize me, Sentinel? I think you do. You know with your heart of all the times we met before."

"And you," Wolf addresses Ocean. "A shaman, like me. I knew it the moment we met you."

Behind him, there's Tony shaking his head at the two people, both of them highly gifted, all but staring open-mouthed at Wolf who has never before shown himself so openly. Then again, they don't know him like Tony does.

"What's your name?" Ocean has finally found her speech. "I have seen you before, but you never stayed out for longer than a few moments."

"I've been given many names. In the Alliance, I am Wolf. I guard the core."

He guesses that Jim can't know the implications of this, but Ocean does. It's a subject they'll have to deal with eventually, but so far, it has not been possible.

"Wolf, thanks for introducing yourself. I'd love to talk to you some more. Would it be okay if we do it in the next session?"

"That's what I was thinking about."

***

45

"I won't believe this! No!"

Probably, I shouldn't yell at her like this; Ocean is just the messenger, after all. Wasn't it enough with the horror scenarios? The ones we know about, anyway. We've been hitting some rough spots in the past few weeks, and I've spent quite some time trying to talk that Punisher guy out of making a final cut, because "I told you so. They'll always be back. They come back to me in dreams, and do things."

At some point, I was allowed to watch the shaman take over, and have a debate with the Punisher, remind him of his promise. And this Wolf guy does have an authority! I think he's succeeded for now -- but Ocean who has been working with Wolf extensively, and so here's what I consider some more bad news.

I don't want to hear it. I don't want to know.

Wolf said that he's been the keeper of the core. The core -- a very young child overwhelmed by experiences that would drive an adult to madness. Blair at the age of three, that's who he's talking about. But that means...

"This is my friend, and he's a real person, not some -- some shell!"

Ocean waits until my tirade is over, and then continues. "I wasn't saying that. Of course, Blair is a real person. I know it's complicated, but basically, they kept the child asleep, because it couldn't have survived what was going on."

"Then it's not really him?" I can't wrap my mind around this.

Fortunately, she never gets impatient with me. In fact, I think Ocean has the patience of a saint. She explains, "It is important to speak to all of them, to know who's there, and what they need, especially when there are some who still feel bound to the perps. That's one thing. The other is, all of the personalities are imagined by the core person - the only means he or she has left to survive. The outside person split from the core. Some alters, who 'came' later, have split from others. Think of it as a family tree. There's no general rule though."

That's supposed to reassure me? "I just can't lose him again." I'm going to become skeptical about integration too. What is the goal anyway? And will they all integrate into the Blair Sandburg I know, or does this new information mean that they all create a new adult personality together?

Ocean smiles, a bit sadly. "You're a brave man, confronting yourself with all those questions. Do you understand now why many clinicians refuse to believe that something like D.I.D. exists?"

I don't feel brave. In fact, I think I'm more terrified than I was before. And there's no saying if we have uncovered all the horror that was.

***

I'm back at work, and one quiet afternoon, Simon calls me into his office. We have some coffee, and a long talk. Strange, how the atmosphere seems to have changed in Major Crimes. There has been an IA investigation after James' death, of course, but Sheila had clearly focused on how it was possible that Peters had been infiltrating the PD, and to question if there were others. She and her folks have been thorough, and it was not a small victory to learn the result. Only Peters, although that was bad enough.

It's been difficult times for Simon, too. No break after the Sentinel story had hit the news; he's been a great help, and I tell him that.

"Thank you," he says. "You know, Marsha Clement was able to give a statement to Connor just yesterday. Our inspector, of course, went on with work like nothing ever happened, but I was tempted to send her home. Hell, I wanted to go home after I had read it."

"I can imagine." Recalling that blood-splattered room, I shudder. James did that to punish Blair, but not the adult man, but an eight-year-old boy who had left hell with his rescuer. Which reminds me I need to call Naomi. I have decided I really want to find that old friend of hers from the commune, that guy.

"Things okay at home?"

I shrug. "As okay as is possible for the moment." Let's disregard the fact that I'd rather be around Blair twenty-four hours a day... He might feel guilty for not having cooked up any tests in a while, but the truth is, I feel better just being close to him, as sappy as that sounds.

Having ice-cream and watching the Disney channel with the kids. Talking to Tony. Trying to reassure Samuel that there have never been any demons taking over his body.

And even if the shaman might be the imagination of a terrified child, I've always sensed a wisdom in Blair, beyond his years, something that has nothing to do with the horrible abuse he had to endure.

There must be something that is not connected to that.

***

The beast is dead. You can't say it often enough. I'm not so naive as to believe, that now, the same things keep going on somewhere in this country, and others, sadly, but one fact remains - we'll never have to worry about one Philip James again, because he's dead, and his most important followers behind bars.

Slowly, we come back to something like an everyday routine. Tony has kept his job with the 'Twilight', but has agreed to work less hours. Often, Kerry sits in the middle of the living room and draws. One step at a time, not going too fast, working on safety again after the newest catastrophe.

Wolf is very helpful in keeping all those destructive parts at bay, Ben, to some extent, and the Punisher, of course. They haven't been out for some time, and I can't help but hope that at least the Punisher has maybe retreated entirely. No need to keep secrets when the threat is gone for real, is there?

Can they really come together one day? I keep wondering.

***

"I have thought about this. And I need to do it."

Of all things... I hadn't considered it. Fooled myself into believing that this part-time job with the PD could be all that Blair ever wanted, when I should have known it wouldn't be enough. But ever since Edwards threw him out, there had been no talk about it. A long time ago, I think. When everything used to be different.

We are at a restaurant one evening, discussing the future. Blair, who hasn't once switched since I picked him up at home some hours ago, has already made up his mind.

Made some phone calls today and he has found a small college, a couple of hours' drive away from Cascade, where he could start the upcoming semester, and get his Ph.D. On a completely new subject, of course. A new discipline, too.

"I'm thinking about psychology. There's always a possibility of applying anthropological aspects, and this just seems like the right thing to do."

"Psychology? You want to be a therapist?" Somehow, I'm not sure if that's a good idea, trying to bandage somebody else's wounds when you're still kind of bleeding all over the place, but I don't want to put it so bluntly.

"No, Jim," he says indulgently, "there's a lot more you can do than actually work with clients. I just want to..."

He breaks off the sentence, but I do see the longing in his eyes, and wait for him to finish. "Feel capable of something again. I haven't had that in a long time."

Knowing that he's talking about almost the two years that have passed since the Alex disaster, is heart-breaking, but still I'm not sure. "You mentioned it to Ocean?"

Blair's shoulders sag a bit at that, some of the enthusiasm gone. "Hell, she isn't omniscient. I admit she's great, as a person and as a shrink, but that doesn't mean I can't still know better. Jim, I really want this degree."

"But do you have to go away?" Who's the one with the separation anxiety now?

"Ocean says she'd be willing to switch to weekends, that would not be the problem, but she thinks it's too early. She's suggesting giving it another year, but hell, I can't!"

"What would be so bad about it?"

"Man, get real, I'm not getting any younger. I feel like this is a now-or-never thing. I'm not going to freak; I don't have to be scared out of my mind. James is dead. There might still be nightmares, and more memories coming up, but I can see them for what they are."

Can you? I ask silently.

His heartbeat is elevated, but steady. And for me, it's too much of a temptation, to see that enthusiasm in him again, to see him burn for something. Scary, too, because it's one of those moments where I have to admit, while he is holding his own in 'my' world, I've always known it's not his.

"Do we have to have this conversation?"

"What are you talking about?"

He sighs. "I'm not going to run away, and I won't let you down. I'll just be away for the week."

"I wasn't thinking..."

"Yes, Jim, you were."

Who am I to argue with the shaman? "Yeah, probably." Most likely? "And I have every faith in you regarding the Ph.D. thing, but if Ocean says it's too early, she's got to have a reason for it."

"You don't know," he says, looking away. "You all have no idea how it is, not after reading a few books on the subject."

Something I can argue with even less. How much I wish things could have been different - start over in a life where there was no Philip James, no Alex, one where we could have settled into a life of our choice after Blair had enough material to write a bestseller on tribal protectors in a modern-day society.

And maybe that's exactly what he's trying to do here. Living a life of his choice, and he still wants me in it.

"I'm worried about Ocean's doubts. But if you really want to do this, hell, Chief, I'm going to support you. I promise."

He looks up at me with bright eyes. "Really?"

"If you manage to keep up the hours with her... and as long as you call me twice each day, we're all going to be fine."

It takes him a minute to notice the teasing that the second part was, and he swats my arm. "Hey! Just for that, I'll find a way to sneak something about hyperaesthesia into the paper."

***

I think he's right about it; Ocean does not know everything, and even she can't deny that a structured life away from murderers and thieves would be good for Blair. So in the end, he insists on going.

Tony regretfully regards the packed bags in front of the door as he turns to me. He sighs. "I guess that means the start of a new life, doesn't it?" He regards me speculatively for a moment.

"What?"

"Would it freak you out, or would it be okay if I wanted to kiss my favorite illusion goodbye?"

When I shrug, he just steps forward, reaching out a hand to cup my cheek. I'm wondering if I should have rather refused this wish, but he only touches his lips against mine very softly, for a moment brief enough that it could have indeed been illusion. "Thank you," he whispers, stepping back again.

"I didn't do anything embarrassing, did I?" Blair asks with a startled look, touching his fingers to his lips.

"Hell, no. It's okay."

I'm just thoughtful - does that mean that Tony will never come back? Is this the beginning... of integration?

***

46

I don't know, maybe I had hoped that if I went away, all would be magically different? It isn't. Studying is much harder than I remember it ever having been, and of course, the guys are still there. Since I'm older than most of the other students, a strange and unusual situation for me, I don't make much contact, talk to them, share notes and a coffee sometimes, but I don't go to any parties. It isn't like I get lonely...

But I'm carrying through with it. I can do it, and I want to do it as fast as possible.

This time, I want to write about a subject that has fascinated me since the moment I encountered shamanism for the first time, but of course I couldn't afford to look, couldn't open Pandora's box - until it sprang open and its contents poured all over me anyway. 'On the relation between possession in shamanism and its modern counterpart in the diagnosis of D.I.D.'.

I can tell Jim's immensely proud of me, a knowledge that makes me all warm and happy inside. Finally, there's something I am getting done again. Ocean is proud and worried, and she doesn't try to hide it. If nothing bad happens though, the moment of confrontation is getting closer. I'm more aware of all of us than I've ever been before. When Naomi and I talked on the phone for nearly three hours, she and I both cried a lot - but I think she's proud, too.

The children are doing okay, no one is cutting or threatening anyone, Tony has gotten himself a job bartending again, Kerry happily pursues her drawing, and JustSam has a date. What more can I ask for?

Madeline is in her mid-twenties, went to college late because she was busy with her now seven-year-old daughter. JustSam, the sneaky bastard, offers to draw her, even though he surely won't do the work... but whatever. I like spending time with her. I haven't been out with Sam for months. I haven't called her; and if she was interested, she could have called me, too, right?

It's not that I, after having survived hell more than once, am now looking for the perfect life. All I'm looking for is a break.

***

And yes, I keep calling Jim every other day. Once, he actually reads a story to Little Jacob (while still at the department, sitting in Simon's office, no less) - and that makes me cry, too, because no one has ever read a story to him before.

On the weekends, I go home to work with Ocean, and just hang out with Jim when he doesn't have to work.

'Dial it down', has long since become a private joke between the two of us. Yes, I'll keep my promise and insert a chapter on 'Hyper- or hypoaesthetic responses in the aftermath of traumatic experiences', too. One of those evenings, the thought occurs to me, that maybe that was all there was behind it, my fascination for Burton and Sentinels - originating in the fact that Little Jacob could always hear them coming?

"Does it matter now?" Jim asks, and for a guy who has been shying away from talking things through so very often, he's sure come a long way. We both have.

I shake my head, 'no'. Not anymore.

***

Naomi comes to visit me, and I skip classes for the day and just spend time with her. She's looking much better than the last time I saw her, and she tells me that Ocean has recommended a fellow shrink to her who helps a lot.

Figures. I'd seen it that some of the spark was still there the moment they had found each other again, and while Ocean trusts herself to keep her boundaries with me, she couldn't with Naomi even if having her son in her practice wouldn't make the arrangement impossible anyway.

We sit on a bench in a park, far away from college so we will not run into any teacher, and have some coffee and pastries from a Starbucks across the street. We talk some more, about some of the better parts of life we've shared, about the time at Ocean's. The shadow of the past is there, too, and we don't pretend it doesn't exist.

"Will you ever be able to forgive me?" she asks, and I can't help it, I need a moment to push back the reaction from inside.

That's a dangerous question to ask.

Give it a rest, Ben. Just for now.

"There's nothing to forgive," I say out loud. "We don't always make the right choices, and sometimes, people get hurt in the process." Don't I know it!

I can see her flinch at my words, but it can't be helped; that much must be allowed.

"Mom. What Ocean told you that time, must have been a shock for you. It probably still is. You wanted to protect me. I can understand that. I love you, Mom."

As I lean forward to embrace her, I wonder between amazement and dismay if these tears will ever stop. It's as if a river that's been frozen over the years, one year in particular, is beginning to thaw. I so totally get it now why Ocean always unnerves me with that 'Going slow' line. If that river is unleashed all at once, the result will be a bad one I know all about already:

Drowning.

***

I write a new inner map, kind of proud that it seems to be complete now. I also buy some toys for the children, and sometimes, when Kerry is drawing, I can kind of look over her shoulder, for the first time aware of what she's doing, looking at proportions and letting people come to life on her canvas. Not that I could ever do it, no way. But together with Tony's job, she'll get us through college, and that's certainly a good thing.

She also led us closer to Madeline, which was a very ambiguous experience, but good overall, I think. People who have been hurt do sense this in others, and Tony, who had been absent for some time, sighed,

If it has to be a woman, when are you ever going to date one who has not spent time in therapy?

Look who's talking.

Yeah, yeah.

I really wanted her, and she was sexy and beautiful, and all you can imagine, but I still lost some time to JustSam, and I tried hard not to be disappointed. This was about moments, not the big chunks I had often been missing out of time with Sam, or Molly.

And she still wanted to see me the next day.

Seems like I can really rely on my guys in everything, can't I?

***

Tony calls Jim to tease him a little, saying, "I'm doing some bartending again, and I've been making out with the sexiest guy in the place pretending it was--"

"Tony," Jim says, sounding mildly amused. Relieved, also. It's weird, but integration is a concept that needs some adjustment even for him.

For me? In the beginning, I wanted to get rid of them. Now I'm not so sure how that is going to be managed, but Ocean and I keep working towards the day, when we can safely take one last and controlled look at the horror movie that was my life once. She's told me that many clients never take that step, never want to go beyond the stability they've found during the previous stages of therapy -- and I can understand the temptation. Still. I'd always feel like something would be missing.

"That's okay. He didn't make out with anyone - I was there."

"Thank God."

"What, you're jealous?" I ask, very intentionally.

"Of course, Chief. I'd never get over it if you go cheating on me with someone younger."

We're both laughing. It feels amazing.

Integration does not only mean fusing all personalities into one. It also means accepting that the trauma had a beginning, a worst time, and an end; where you have mourned for what you lost, gained some distance, know you will never be able to totally erase it and still live your life.

Moments like this, I feel flickers of hope that it is possible, despite the occasional nightmares.

***

I haven't heard the news or seen the paper that day, so I'm totally unprepared when I come home to my dorm room after a get-together with Madeline and some other students, to celebrate an exam we've written.

I'm even a bit tipsy, and no, alcohol is not a good idea when you're a bit silly, and folks like Brad and Leila are close to the front. At first, I think I'm back in one of those flash-backs, frantically doing everything I have learned in order to reorient myself, but the vision remains:

There's a small pentagram drawn in bright red, at my door.

***

I should call campus security. I should do something, but instead I keep staring at the symbol like a hypnotized rabbit that's going to be eaten by a snake any minute now. Hypnotized, indeed. The big wooden door in the cellar had the same sign on it.

Go inside, Jacob. Satan's waiting for you.

"No," I say aloud. "Come on."

The safe place... the cave...

I can be wherever you are...

I want to move, but I can't; my heart is racing, and I'm starting to feel dizzy. Red color. Blood. I hear a whimper somewhere, and I just know it's happening again, close, and again, I can't prevent them from--

What happened to Julie's baby?

Jacob, don't be a coward. The father's angry voice hurt in his ears. It's so tiny, and it's afraid.

Gone...

***

I can't go inside. It's because I still can't move a limb, and because I'm afraid to find out what's behind that door. Dark secrets wait behind locked doors. If you don't get it, Jacob, we'll never let you out again, do you understand?

I sink down with my back against the wall, trying to remember what's behind the door. It's important. I must be here for a reason, right?

I can hear the baby cry again. Julie's baby.

Don't hurt it. Please.

Would you rather have us hurt you?

***

The child is scared to be here in the dark and cold hallway. It can hear the beautiful lady talking, wants to go with her, but the child can neither move nor talk.

"Blair, please talk to me! What is going on?"

The woman is crying now. "I'm so sorry. I have no choice," she says desperately, and the child curls up into itself again.

***

47

The shrill ring of the cell phone wakes me from deep sleep. I had dinner with Steven tonight, and we talked long into the night, catching up. He and his wife have a three-year-old daughter, and he says they were pretty scared by Haas' news stories about criminal Satanist groups, and he asks me if I think the threat is really gone now.

What can I say? It's what we hope.

The cell phone doesn't stop ringing; it's an unfamiliar number; I get it, and bark into the phone, "Who's there?"

It's a woman, her voice uncertain. "Are you Jim? Jim Ellison?"

Instantly, I'm wide awake. "Who wants to know?"

"I'm Madeline Shelley," she says. "Blair has probably mentioned me. Perhaps I've made a mistake, but I didn't know what to do, and he had you cell phone number, so--"

"What happened?" I interrupt her. I'll apologize later.

"Haven't you heard the news? Some journalist has interviewed the son of a cult leader, and there was something about Blair in the story. Anyway, Blair got really strange, kind of scared, and he wouldn't talk to me. I -- I called an ambulance."

I close my eyes for a brief moment. I don't doubt for a minute that it was Haas who hooked up with Clayton. I don't have time for that now, though. Our friends at the PD will take care of that. For now, I'm more worried about the hospital staff being informed about the D.I.D. diagnosis. "Which hospital?"

It's a good thing that she isn't much fazed by me snapping at her, but just gives me the information. "Can I meet you? I'll be there as soon as I can."

I hear her gasp. "That's a few hours' drive. Are you sure--?"

"Yes. I am."

I hang up and then call Ocean.

***

"Don't you say, 'I told you so'," I warn her.

"I won't."

"You're still thinking it."

"Never mind. Jim, I think it's best if I came with you. They won't give you any information anyway."

"What are you talking about? I've got his power of attorney."

"Okay, that'll help. Come to my apartment. Olympia's on the way."

I finally agree, leaving the loft minutes later. I think it's almost ironic - now I know what it must have been like when he was worried sick about any drugs given to me at a hospital, not knowing which effect they'd have on my senses.

Seems like we've traded places now.

***

On the way, I turn on the radio, and the local station features bits of the still fresh story. Figures; I would have heard about it sooner otherwise.

"Haas comments that now we have more insight into the tragic downfall of a young man who, not even two years ago, invented a story that caused a lot of trouble for a Cascadian police detective, when Mr. Sandburg wrote about him as being some kind of superhero. Haas further says that according to Nathan Clayton, the son of the late cult leader Philip James, Sandburg was supposed to have become one of their high priests. We've gotten a glimpse ---"

I can't stand it any longer. I only hope that that the hospitalization will at least keep him away from the vultures.

***

It's early morning, when we arrive, and we only meet the night shift. The psychiatrist on duty is, as Ocean has already predicted, reluctant to give us information, let alone let us see Blair. He's rather the cliché psychiatrist, an older, distinguished looking man in his late fifties.

I don't care about any of it. I heard his heartbeat the moment we walked through the double door of the building, sluggish, artificially slowed down, and it can't be right.

"Why don't you give it some time," Dr. Mason suggests, his politeness a thin façade to hide that he's unnerved. Hell, I'd probably be if some strangers appeared out of nowhere to tell me how to do my job, but still...

"Look, why don't you let us see him for a moment." I try being conciliatory, and I swear that Ocean hides a smile behind her hand, not having expected it from me. We drove a long way to get here, and I only heard a few hours ago that he's been hospitalized."

Mason gives me a long look, looks again at the papers I've brought, and asks, "You're Mr. Sandburg's significant other?"

Screw conciliatory, I think. To hell with what he thinks. Take that, Dr. Freud. "Would that be a problem for you?"

He doesn't answer my question. "A few minutes, but no more. He was quite agitated for a while."

***

When I first step into the room, it's a shock. Blair is sitting on the bed, huddled up against the wall. He barely looks up, and for a moment, I'm not quite sure if he recognizes me. What the hell have they ever given him? I have to think of Billy who'd beg not to be given any drugs, because of the horrible things that used to come after them. Was he out? Pleading to them in vain?

And those Superman pajamas - I'm sure Madeline brought them, couldn't she find anything else?

"That's exactly what I was afraid of," Ocean says quietly. She steps forward to greet Blair, who gives her a distant smile, then she turns to the other psychiatrist. "Dr. Mason, I need to talk to you. Not here."

He nods, then opens his mouth to speak. I hold up my hand. "I'll stay here until you two are through with talking."

"I have to say that's highly unusual. I don't think--"

"Let's go," Ocean says, and that's the first time I've heard her snap at anyone.

***

"Chief, can you tell me what happened?"

Blair shrugs helplessly, shaking his head. "Sorry." Even on the one word, his voice sounds slurred. His eyes seem dull, but not glassy like when he switches. I step closer and sit down on the edge of the bed, touch his arm softly.

"It's okay. We'll figure it out. You don't even have to worry about the news story. Simon's already on it."

I can see he's got difficulties focusing, but finally he manages to hold my gaze. "Screwed... up again, didn't I?"

"No, you didn't. Somebody did, but it's surely not you, okay? We're going to take you home. Here, they have no idea what you need." I know I'm babbling but I can't help it, seeing this nightmare unfold over and over again. The new chapter - the dangers in hospitalizing a multiple, when the staff have no idea, or don't want to know what's going on. Mason sure isn't convinced of the concept.

***

Ocean isn't just snapping now. She's ripping the guy a new one. "Never mind! I want Mr. Sandburg discharged right now; further treatment can be done at Cascade General hospital, where his diagnosis is known. I can't believe you gave a multiple anti-psychotic drugs!"

"May I remind you that this diagnosis is one that's still highly controversial? Yes, it probably exists in some rare cases. But Mr. Sandburg exhibited signs of paranoid--"

"Stop it!" She is furious.

"In any case, I can't cater to your wish, Doctor. You client is now our patient, and therefore I have the responsibility--"

"What you did, was gross malpractice. We're going now - or this is going to a court."

"Not before Monday," the slime says, and unfortunately, he knows he's right.

Damn it.

***

It's going to be a hard forty-eight hours before we are allowed to take Blair with us. Fortunately, probably alarmed by Ocean's threats, they go a little easier on the medication. Still, there are nightmares and flash-backs, and it's killing me that I have to leave Blair in that atmosphere where people just don't understand.

We also meet Madeline and find out that it was probably the prank, the pentagram drawn onto the door that had triggered this episode, but what is worrying me more is when she describes how she had found Blair.

"It was creepy," she says. "It was like he really couldn't speak, you know?"

"I've seen multiples who had an alter who was blind or deaf," Ocean says later when we grab a quick lunch.

"That means -- there are more? Still?"

"We're going to find out." She is determined. That's good, because I feel rather disillusioned.

***

Megan calls me later that day, unveiled satisfaction in her voice when she's giving me the news. "Tell Sandy he doesn't need to worry about Haas. Marsha Clement is getting better. She wants to talk to the press and set them straight."

There is silence, and I can practically feel all the questions she doesn't dare ask, vibrating over the line. I'm torn for a moment. Over the years, she's proven to be a good friend, a reliable one.

"Thank you," I say. "He's going to make it. It was really bad for a while, but he is going to make it."

"Yeah. Tell him I said hello." Then she does what I would have done; hang up before the moment gets all too sentimental.

***

48

It's the first night they don't stay at the house. Mr. James says that it's important they're properly prepared, and that they don't say a word to anyone about where they went.

He made them drink lemonade, and not long after that, the funny feeling came again, and they got tired. Later -- they didn't know where they were, if it was the same room where it always happened, or just another that looked the same, with black fabric over the windows, the strange smell, the black candles.

Mr. James is holding something in his hand, a device that has some wires protruding from it, and he leans real close, rubbing his cheek against the child's. "You won't tell, right? Because every time you want to, this is going to happen."

The first pain is relatively mild in comparison to all the child has already seen, like a light burn.

But then the wire is stroked further down over the child's body, and each shock is worse than the one before.

"Cry, baby. Satan loves your tears."

"Do you still want to tell?" the voice says maliciously, the face now hidden behind a mask again. "Can you?"

The child tries to resist as his legs are forced apart, but he can't, --

-- and yes, the man is right, she can't talk, she can't speak, not even scream as the last shock sends her into unconsciousness--

***

I can't reach the memory. I just know I'm feeling bad, every feeling of helplessness acting up again, and I wish Jim was here, maybe I just dreamed that brief moment he was here, and maybe I'm now being punished for good, for being bad and having told, as I promised with my blood that I wouldn't.

It doesn't matter, I'd only cry again, for something I don't even know what exactly it is. I just don't want to be alone. I don't want to feel like this.

Not much of a choice that I have at the moment, no razorblade in reach, no possibility to clear the fog. I just pull that cover over my head again and wait for the spell to be over. I'm experienced in that.

***

At first, I just didn't get what they wanted from me; couldn't answer the paramedics' questions, but at some point I got mad, because they wouldn't stop questioning me, exchanging meaningful glances.

I could hear the children crying inside, afraid of what was going to happen, and that upset me even more. Because at some point, I'm not sure when, I had begun to acknowledge them, and the fact that I was responsible for them.

Right now, I still feel drowsy from the meds, a little queasy, too, but I don't want to lie down anymore. There are more fragments coming through, and when I close my eyes, they reach an almost unbearable intensity.

Colors. Pain. Smells.

I used every tool Ocean has provided me with, the remote, the safe place, the inner garden, but I still wish she was here. I might have been through the worst when that Punisher guy did not slit my wrists in the bathroom that day, but it's not completely over. Not yet.

I try to go inside and feel who's there, and if there's anybody who can give me an answer as to what - or who? - has brought us here. It's hard to concentrate, but I finally manage.

Not today, Tony advises. There's time to look at it once we have escaped from here.

You're not meaning that literally, are you?

I think we can leave this to Jim and Ocean. They surely have impressed him, and on Monday, we'll be able to leave this place behind.

Great, man. Now we finally made it to the loony bin, Zack comments, as always hiding his fear behind sarcasm.

The fires of hell..., Samuel begins.

Ah, shut up. I agree with Ben. We don't need this now. It's still weird to feel their presence so clearly, even if still a little under the influence. There it is again, that vague feeling of pride. No drug would ever make them go away.

Yeah, right. We ARE special, Kerry says contentedly.

***

The night is the worst, because once again, my body goes crazy on me, and I don't want to alert anyone, worried they'll just read some more unpleasant symptoms into it. Has the alter, who couldn't speak, to do with Leila, is that why those pains are coming back? I don't care, I think. I'm tired. I want it all to go away.

Why do we have to stay here? I wrap my arms around my middle, hoping it's a bit of a comfort for Billy. He must have asked that question many times before. Has Jim gone away? And Ocean? Don't they care about us anymore? Do you get it now that they never did? Come on, that's crap. Is it? Have you proof that Naomi was locked up for that one year - or did she just forget about us? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? Naomi would have never done anything like that. We'll be going home with Jim on Monday. Don't count on it. We're safe. The monster is dead. Didn't he say he'll always be back? STOP!

Indeed. Stop.

***

I'm rather lucky as Dr. Mason finally agrees to let me continue treatment at Cascade General. That's better; I can find a solution for pursuing my studies in the meantime, because I'm not going back to the dorm, and it's Dr. Grant there who will certainly trust in Ocean's professional opinion more than Mason does.

Which doesn't solve the problem about the new alter. On the way back to Cascade, we stop for breakfast, and I take a moment to look into the diary, which hasn't been the rose-colored book that Leila had once started.. Too much has been written and drawn; this one, we have bought, Kerry and me, kinda together. Tony was in the background remarking teasingly that this one still looked kind of girlish, but the kids were happy, because we also bought them crayons and colored chalk.

No thoughts of razorblades or blood.

When I open the book, I'm not surprised to find a new entry, but it doesn't really solve the riddle: There are three letters: A-N-A.

Jesus, another girl, and one that's been badly hurt at that - would she be mute otherwise?

Jim is looking over my shoulder. "She came out when she saw the pentagram," he muses.

"Probably." Sometimes I can't believe this is the same guy who kept chiding me for damp towels on the floor, or flushing the toilet after ten. He's jumped right into this without ever looking back, doing his job but still dropping everything to drive through the night because of this latest mess. With those thoughts, I feel my throat going tight. What did I ever do to deserve him? I've got to do better. I've got to reclaim my life, not freaking at every sight of something that reminds me of that horrible time - and be a Guide again.

***

I have decided to stay at home for a few days. Madeline calls and offers me to move in with her for the weekdays, until I've found an apartment of my own, if I still want to move out again, she says. Hearing the smile in her voice feels good, even though I know I'm not planning to make this permanent. I find it impossible to plan that far ahead at the moment - but in any case, she's still there, and that's giving me hope.

In the meantime, Ocean and I call Ana, and the Alliance gives their okay. Still, she can't speak. Ocean asks her if she could imagine writing, for she can obviously do it, and that way, they'd still communicate. No, Anna writes. Punnish. A very young girl, she hasn't mastered correct spelling yet.

I feel a drop of cold sweat snaking down my spine. Not good. What kind of story does she have to tell?

"You don't have to write about anything bad," Ocean explains gently. "I'd just like to get to know you a little bit better, okay?"

I feel my head move in a hesitant nod. She's scared. I can sympathize. It's okay, I direct at her. You remember what Ocean said? She's our therapist. Everything you want to tell her is safe with her.

A couple of months ago, Ben said, there is no safe place for me, but he's silent now. And then, Ana begins to write. Though not without mistakes, she's rather fast, as if wanting to get it behind her. More tears. The letters start to swim and maybe that's better, because I don't really want to read what's on the page.

***

I make it home safely, and that's a vague surprise. I still haven't read what's on the sheet, but given it to Ocean, and asked her to skim over it. I saw her swallow, and even though I don't have enhanced hearing, I imagine I could hear her heartbeat speed up.

I start making dinner, because it seems to me I haven't done this in a long time, and I really need to do something productive. Jim calls to tell me that he'll be a bit late, kind of guilty, because a new guy who I haven't met yet has invited everybody for a drink. Still in time for dinner, he assures me, and I have to smile - that 'old-married-couple' joke is still very valid, and it's a great comfort.

After I've set the table and turned down the oven, I go to the living room to make a fire. How time flies, I think. Only weeks until Christmas.

The book of matches drops from my fingers as the pain hits me full force. What the hell is this? I haven't even lit a match yet, but it's like being burned all over, no, stop, NO flickers of gold, no Golden Fire People around. I'd been fearing that the drug given to me at the hospital would bring them back.

I can see it now. I know that voice, but it has seldom sounded this calm. I'm sorry, but that's what all of you wanted from me, and I repeal the vow now.

Curling up on the floor, I try hard not to panic, and there's a lot of gasping, and coughing, and then Ana whimpers, "Don't hurt me."

She's been given back her voice, but with it, the pain that has been locked up inside, too.

***

To be able to form words... hearing her own voice... Ana is afraid that she could lose this ability again anytime soon, and so she speaks out. Inside, they listen to her, and the one who said she was going to die if she ever spoke, has turned away in shame. She can speak...

And there's also Jim, the policeman who is Blair's friend and came to get them out of the hospital. He's looking sad as he's listening to her story, but keeps holding her hand, and she knows that he believes her. The others say that she can trust him, and so she dares to put it in words what she wrote down at Ocean's today, what Blair didn't want to read.

About the other house, where they were brought, because Mr. James had arranged it with some friends of his, about the pain that made her whole body clench painfully. Never tell. You don't recognize anyone, and if you think you do, remember what is going to happen.

You didn't see the money being exchanged.

***

"The damn asshole. He'd have to have been making a fortune."

"Yeah. But he's been shut up forever, and this little girl only just learned to talk." Jim winces a little which has probably to do with the fact I'm still clutching his hand in a bruising grip. I couldn't help myself when the pain became so real I felt like I'd actually been burned.

Still, I'm shaking, and drenched in sweat, queasy as all the other times before when I'd been coming back to full awareness. But damn right, she has been talking. Waiting for this moment for years, and while I'm wondering why it was possible now, the Punisher speaks up, for what turns out to be the last time ever in this role:

"I had to do my job. There were too many. If we had told, they would have killed us, but not anymore. Marsha is telling. We can do it, too."

After a while, he adds, "And my name is not really the Punisher. It's Scott."

"Hi, Scott," says Jim, and he smiles, even though his voice is rough.

***

49

It seems like Wolf and Ana are the last alters to reveal themselves, and once again, we adjust the map. There's no Punisher any longer, but a young man who nearly broke under the weight of responsibility burdened on him. But he didn't.

I spend a couple of hours in Ocean's practice, and she reminds me once again of doing things for myself - I don't snap at her for it these days. There are new cases, robberies, murder, same old, same old. Sometimes Blair and I puzzle over files on a Saturday afternoon, and it seems like the old days when the combination of his vast knowledge and feel for how people tick, combined with the use of my senses, give us just the break we need.

The headline of 'Former Fraud Was Supposed To Be High Priest' disappeared soon after Marsha gave her interview. She has never turned multiple, and has remembered the abuse she was subjected to in disturbing detail. I've always had mixed emotions about victims of horrible crimes cruising talk shows, but in this, the means surely serve the purpose.

Bank accounts have turned up, of the likes of Donald Grays, the lawyer who was worried his wife could find out that he was taking part in the rape and torture of children, then Joe Wright, who played dead man walking, and of course, the James family.

Marsha and her parents are trying to get access to that money to put it in a fund that's supposed to cover the care of the children we rescued from the house where Alice James was arrested. I don't know if they're going to be successful, but I agreed to make a statement if needed. As for the children of 1978 -- Julie has been murdered, Nathan Clayton is a convicted murderer now; Andrew Caprisi, the son of the doctor from hell, killed himself at the age of seventeen. We're not sure what exactly happened to Lily, if she was really sacrificed as a child, or if it was one of those awful tricks they played on the children's minds. Maybe we'll never know.

The confronting sessions are a new, difficult chapter, but the fact they're even possible, are a victory in itself.

Blair is always drained and exhausted when he returns from them, but I, we, both trust in Ocean to do the right thing, and they prove to be successful.

One evening, Kerry sits beside me on the couch, sketching what I hope is not me. She's smiling amiably. "There's something I'd like to tell you." Ben snorts at that, but he doesn't stop her. "Leila is with me now. She didn't feel the pain so much when she realized that Ned wasn't the good guy she had imagined. I wasn't sure at first, but it feels kind of good."

"That's good to hear."

And that must be the understatement of the year. I'm probably grinning like a loon. Just maybe, integration will not be as difficult as we had all feared. Sometimes, after a confronting session, it happens spontaneously. Why shouldn't we be so lucky?

***

I have talked to Naomi as well, and I'm sure she really wants to help with the search for that Darren guy, but it's not so easy as she doesn't have a last name, and of course, it's been more than twenty years.

With the help of modern technology though, we manage to get an idea of what he most likely looks like today. What now?

In the meantime, Blair keeps working on his dissertation, and I feel a ghost touch of regret - he could have had this so much sooner.

As if sensing my thoughts, he turns to me and smiles. "Come on, let it go, man. I sure have." And with a wink, he adds, "We all have, so you can definitely do it now."

Something like an everyday life returns slowly, but steadily. Alicia - yes, Agent Drennan, ATF! - and I meet every now and then, sometimes for trying out new recipes, sometimes... you get the picture. That's just me, staying close to people who have gone through similar experiences.

Blair is my Guide, best friend, and of course the only one who really gets what happens when my senses go haywire - which they hardly do now, because I've finally overcome those paranoid impulses to think that anyone who gets too close will betray me in the end. You can hardly get closer anymore, and if I'd ever been secretly been convinced that he'd have packed up his things and run as soon as the Sentinel dissertation was written, I can see now how irrational that was.

Alicia - she has seen those kids in the barn, too. We have both moved on, taken on new cases, faced new dangers, but the time we spent hunting for James is one that neither of us will ever forget.

***

Oh, and of course integration does not happen overnight, as I had hoped-- what had I been thinking? The kids are getting closer together, and while I had thought they were the biggest problem, they seem okay with the prospect of the boundaries between them opening, now that they can trust again. Bumps on the way, sure, but basically, they are not afraid.

Leila has joined Kerry, and the Punisher keeps negotiating with Samuel - but how to bring together a woman with man who likes guys, and another who likes flirting with everything in a skirt?

Blair is doubtful, and what's more, he's getting tired. There are hardly any long amnesiac episodes anymore, and "a little variety isn't too bad, is it?"

Ocean agrees that it's time for a break.

***

"Blair would love this."

If he managed to get out of bed this early, that is.

I'm standing on the porch of the little cabin that Alicia and I have rented for the weekend, enjoying the panoramic view of a beautiful sunrise over a nearby lake. The mountains in the distance aren't all that distant to me, a secret that Alicia now shares.

She smiles a little indulgently, but doesn't say anything. Yes, I'm talking about him a lot. Comes with the territory... but she's got enough self-confidence not to be annoyed, and of course, as newly initiated, she understands a lot more than other women I've dated before.

***

There's a corner in the loft's living room for the little ones, with a box that contains their drawing stuff, books, some plush toys - but the sheep is still the favorite. None of our friends really question it anymore.

Blair sorts through the clothes in his wardrobe, blushing a little at some of the things the girls bought, shaking his head at JustSam's exquisite tastes, and there's Tony's black section, of course - but it's not like there are so many unknown pieces anymore.

He's started another diary, and to me, it looks like the different handwritings are starting to blend together. That's Sentinel sight, of course, but it's something.

And there are still difficult days, like Halloween, like the solstices, or even Easter. Sometimes, the nightmares of red-eyed monsters come back, and when that happens, I spend the night downstairs with him, in his room.

"They didn't win, did they?" he asks, and I see shadows of Kevin, Billy, Ana, and Jacob.

"No, Chief. They didn't."

***

After a while, Blair resumes his sessions with Ocean, working on the final goal in earnest, even though some of the alters are still reluctant. Tony has had a few dates with a fellow student, and Kerry is considering an exhibition.

That night we have dinner together, a conversation with four.

"Why can't you have that exhibition anyway?" I wonder. "It's not like you'll be totally gone. You're all parts of a whole." Listen to me talk like Naomi... it just can't work.

"Jim, you have to know by now that I am not a 'part'," Kerry says indignantly. "I'm better than ever, and I really want this exhibition. I have already talked to everyone; it's a nice café close to campus, and they were enthusiastic about my pictures!"

"I can imagine, but--"

"And those are just pictures we're talking about," Tony grumbles. "Blair would get Kerry's talent, but what about me? I've screwed up with Craig. I don't want that to happen again."

I admit that's difficult. Blair says that he does not want to make adjustments regarding his sexual orientation, and JustSam is very much on his side. Ocean says that it doesn't have to be a decision that's got to be made right now.

Blair sighs, putting his head in his hands. "It's not like I'm going to cut off parts of us, okay? I just think that -- it's time."

***

It's kind of exciting to watch him pursue the drawing. At first, he's a bit clumsy at it, but gets better soon, as quickly as Ana's learning spelling, and I can sense there's a longing in them, the energy high, and that's one of the last riddles to solve -- not even the scientists know for sure, but it seems that multiples often have a connection to the supernatural, and in any case, the high energy levels they bring with them are often too much for batteries and light bulbs.

A connection to the supernatural? We both cracked up with laughter when we found that line in one of the various books we've gone through in our search for the truth. Don't we ever have one!

There comes the moment when Blair has almost become as good as Kerry. She's sad, but admitting that some of the things she had wished for in the niche in which she'd been living her separate life, will never come true. Because there is no real woman - as real as she is to Blair, and Ocean, and me - she remains the imagination of a boy, scared and terrified.

She tells me she said goodbye to Ocean, and is ready to tell me goodbye, too. Will I remember her?

"I will. I promise." Holding her close, I imagine a slender woman with the long blond hair she has described, and which I have seen in the self-portrait she has drawn.

***

Tony wants it quick and painless, but I do see the unshed tears in his eyes, too. Life with this guy was ever adventurous. Even though everyone has been working hard for this moment, it's a difficult one, too. He and Kerry have done the most work in keeping the memories at bay, to handle the children who have agreed to become one. Billy had wished to do it in Ocean's practice, but he asked me if I'd be there.

"So." Tony gives me a wistful smile. "I guess I'll be going into the great wide open now?"

"You're going to be right here." I lay a hand lightly on his chest, right over his heart.

His gaze is sad. "I'm going to miss you. Even if you will never know now what you've been missing."

"Me too," I say with regard to the first part, and I mean it - though both of us know that this is the only way. The way it was meant to be all along.

***

50

I think back to the day Ocean and I made the 'traumatogram', a graphic overview of bad things that have happened. And the good ones, those, too. Starting at Rainier. Getting my Masters. Meeting Jim. Meeting Ocean again. Having talked things through with Naomi.

Versus weekends at Sidney Walker's. The year of horror. The trap Julie was forced to set for me. Lash and others - and James returning.

I have something to counter, don't I? She asked me about the dissertation, and I stalled a little, asking, "which one?", and then I realized that part of me had pushed down those feelings so far away, I hadn't been able to reach them in years.

For the fear of losing Jim's friendship. For the fear of losing Naomi.

Finally, I managed to acknowledge that, too.

"Are you still worried they'll turn you away when you tell them how you feel - or felt that time?"

There's a certainty inside, and there's only one voice - "No. Not anymore."

At one point, we had been watching tapes together, and even after all the knowledge and co-consciousness, it was still a shock to actually see it happen. Everyone introduced themselves, and I knew them from the inner dialogue that I had been aware of for a long time - and now I couldn't deny it any longer.

All of them were me.

All of it had happened to me.

I had survived though, and I survived once more. Ritual isn't necessarily a bad word, and we had found good rituals for the care of the children, so they could dare the adventure of becoming one without fear.

Despite the agreement on integration, and the fact that the memories that are mine now, some of it will always stay vague. It's something I've got to live with. Not every question can be answered, not about the past, or the status of my future relationships.

At the next session, I give a very touched Ocean a portrait of herself, kind of a framing of our work together. Kerry gave her one of the drawings in the beginning, but at that time, I wasn't aware of having made it. Now, it's different. It felt natural very quickly. It's part of me.

***

I knew that Jim had tried to find Darren, the man who had freed me from James' back then in 1978, only a day before the FBI had stormed the house - though with no success. I'd love to talk to him myself, maybe draw some more closure from it, but if it isn't going to happen - then that's the way it is.

Recently, Jim and I have been talking about moving; finding a solution that allows us to stay close, but also gives credit to the reality of our lives. An apartment that's cut differently, or a small house -- though he denies it, things seem to be getting more serious with the good agent.

Madeline, on the other hand, has moved away after finishing her Ph.D., and we keep in touch, but I think I was right about us not being permanent. It's turning into a good friendship, though, and that's okay for now.

Then there are days when I'm impatient, and angry, because I'm still just short of a panic attack when shopping in a store that's decorated for Halloween, or scenes from a freaking horror movie scare me into nightmares.

Sometimes I complain to Jim about unfair teachers, and the impossible folks I meet on the bartending job I have kept, even though with a few hours a week only.

He laughs at me and says, "That's life, Chief. Nobody promised you it would be easy."

Darn senses. He always ducks the pillow I throw at him just in time.

***

Once again, I'm nearing the end of a dissertation, and I'm totally superstitious, have the file and two back-up copies, all of it password-protected. And hell, yes, I know it's going to be good. I don't think I'll follow up to what Marsha did, though I try to raise a little money for her fund, too.

Jim says it would be our right, hers and mine, to take compensation from it, too, but I don't think so. We have spoken about it briefly, and together with the lawyers, we worked out a sensible amount for her and me both, but we agreed that we want to see the that money spent on the rehabilitation of those children, and some for organizations that engage in the care of abused children.

***

For a long time, I have avoided the subject of my father the best I can. As a kid, when I didn't have access to the horrible memories, I used to make up stories of who he could have been. He was a hero in all of them, a policeman - though Naomi wasn't happy with that - a fireman, a famous scientist who discovered cures for deadly diseases.

A policeman he was - yes, was, because I remembered the day James shot him point blank with his own service weapon. I couldn't really mourn for him then, and I don't think I can do it now - he was involved in it too deeply, too maliciously calling me a coward when I didn't want to draw blood, too much into that sick ritual that featured the musical clock.

No, I won't mourn for this man, but I've spent some time mourning my fantasy of him.

No wonder Naomi never wanted to tell me. Like Ocean, she says he doesn't count. Sometimes I wonder if there's still something she isn't telling me, but I'll leave it at rest for now. We've sure done hard work dealing with the past, and that's why I also don't ask any more questions about her relationship with Ocean, then or now, though some of the curiosity remains.

It's going to be Christmas in a few days, and I'm not going to go through hell this time.

I've often agreed to join Jim to the station on holidays before, because that was so much better than going crazy from the fear that something terrible could happen, stemming from the reality that it did happen once.

This time, we've both taken some days off, and even though the gang keeps up their friendly teasing, it's the first undisturbed time we'll have had in a while, with both of us having been rather busy the past few weeks.

We've both signed the contract for a new apartment that we're going to move into in the New Year. Jim says, no, it's not that serious with Alicia that a house would be necessary.

***

It wouldn't be us, though, if everything went as planned, right? I've been home for a few hours, optimistic that I'll be able to finish my dissertation in a few quiet uneventful days, when the phone rings. I don't make it before the answering machine picks up, and Simon's urgent voice is to be heard. "If you're there, Sandburg, pick up now!"

So much for quiet and uneventful. "What's going on?"

"Okay, this is the situation. We have a burning house, a little girl trapped in it somewhere, and Jim is trying to locate her, needing some guidance. Can you handle it?"

"Of course I can. Where is it?"

***

When I arrive at the scene, I can instantly see why Jim is having trouble. The smell of burned things, the sound of sirens, people's voices... and the building isn't stable, as he tells me. "She's in there somewhere," he says grimly. "And if we don't get her out within fifteen minutes, the whole building will collapse on her."

I close my eyes briefly, trying not to imagine that. And, getting her out, as in Jim locates her, and the rescue workers do the rest, right? Right, Jim?

"Okay, you know what to do. She's how old?"

"Five."

"You know that already; a child that age has a different heartbeat from all the others around here. Block out all the adults - except for me. You can use me as a baseline here." All of which he's experienced after having listened to the kids and adults that have been inside of me.

This is all very familiar. Jim gives me that look 'I'm not sure if you know what you're talking about', but he tries. It's a matter of minutes.

Of course, he doesn't believe in letting anyone else do the job. Fifteen minutes - how many minutes are already gone? I'm biting my nails, working up a rage over him pulling this stunt, and basically am scared to the point of hyperventilating.

Everything happens in a matter of heartbeats; Jim carries out the girl, and I quickly looked away, because if I looked too hard, my brain would associate those things locked away in the imaginary vault.

There's a horrible noise as the two-story house comes down, raising a giant cloud of dust. We're barely far enough away not to get hit by falling planks.

And then something in me just snaps, too.

"Are you out of your mind?"

Jim looks at me with what, of all things, seems amusement, though it's obvious that he's in pain. He should be over with the paramedics anyway, because even minor burns can certainly be hell to a Sentinel.

"What were you ever thinking by going in there, huh? It's not that I'm not glad you saved the girl, but why couldn't you for once let somebody else do that job? It's that, I -- I haven't got through all this shit to lose you in the end, do you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, Chief," he says quietly, and then just steps forward into my embrace.

It's a good thing we've settled that, too.

Letting go is not an option. It never was.

***

Epilogue

His voice sounds skeptical over the phone at first when I introduce myself. "So now that you've found me, what are you going to do? Arrest me for kidnapping a child out of hell almost twenty-five years ago?"

"Hell, no. I want to thank you. That child has grown up to become an extraordinary man, and I was wondering if you'd like to see him."

"Really?" The voice sounds softer now. "I've often wondered what became of him. God, I still remember --"

"You should come," I interrupt him, for once not wanting to be drawn into the past. "See the 'now'. It might help you too."

***

The 'now', as I've put it, is hard to describe, but in any case, a good change, not a radical personality change as I had feared when Wolf revealed about the core. The children and the teens have grown, blending into the core.

The man I live with these days, Blair Sandburg, is -- I'd say, whole, and if this sounds sappy, sue me. Being in the passenger seat on that journey, it's not a term I use lightly, and he's paid one hell of a price. There were some more detours on the way, not all of them as impacting as that last encounter with James, but creating a delay in the goal that had been set years ago. Almost four, in the end.

Seeing him now, pursuing his dream - the one that was really always separate from the whole Sentinel deal, the Ph.D. - interacting with people, and yes, still guiding me - I'm proud.

While I've gained insight into recesses of the human psyche I never wanted to know about - and that from me, the guy who'd thought he'd seen it all - we have both learned a lot about each other's being special. Have come to a better understanding, I like to think.

Still, through all the fascination, I never forget what was behind it. Mythology aside, you've got to pay credit to the background of a D.I.D.. We certainly did.

***

"You expecting any guests? Alicia, maybe?" When his eyes are twinkling like this, it's easy to remember how the kids used to behave when they realized it was safe to trust. But it isn't one of them now. I just feel their shadows every now and then.

"No," I say, not trying to stifle the grin that wants to spread on my face. "Go. Look for yourself, Chief."

He grumbles something about why I can't do it when he is cooking and all I do is hang around, but goes to open the door.

The man in his late forties has nothing of the young, long-haired hippie that Naomi remembers. There are some streaks of gray in his hair, which he wears short. He also wears a suit, and is looking very much establishment. But his eyes are gentle, even though they look at Blair in disbelief now.

"Blair?"

The man in question remains frozen, and for an instant, I am worried, beginning to question the wisdom of this - confrontation, even though it's meant to be a good one.

"Wow," Blair whispers then. "You are for real."

Darren laughs, though his eyes are very bright now, and he opens his arms, and that moment, I can see the young man on an important, but dangerous mission, and a little boy who's finally getting the help that he desperately needed.

"Sure am, kid." Over Blair's shoulder, he gives me a grateful look, and even though my own vision is just a little blurry, too, I give him the thumbs up. Even though I don't know this guy at all, he and I know enough in this moment:

We won.

***

The End

Letters From Hades - Literature

Biographies of Multiples:

Chase, T. (1987): When Rabbit Howls. New York: Jove Books.

Keyes, D. (1981): The Minds of Billy Milligan. New York: Bantam Books.

Schreiber, F. R. (1973): Sybil. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company

S. J. (1991): out of hell again... Lakewood: state of the art publishing inc.

Smith, Carole (1998): The Magic Castle. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Stratford, L. (1988): Satan's Underground. The Extraordinary Story of One Woman's Escape. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.

Wilson, Lynn & Casey, J. F. (1991): The Flock. The Autobiography of a Multiple Personality. New York: The Random House Publishing Group.

West, C. (1999): First Person Plural. My Life as a Multiple. New York: Hyperion.

Phenomenology & Therapy of D.I.D

Huber, M. (2004): Multiple Persönlichkeiten. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer.

Huber, M. (2005): Trauma und die Folgen. Paderborn: Junfermann.

Loewenstein, R. L. & Putnam, F. W. (1990): The Clinical Phenomenology of Males with MPD: A Report of 21 Cases. Dissociation, Vol. III, No. 3, 135-143.

Mayer, R. S. (1991): Satan's Children. Case Studies in Multiple Personality. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Noblitt, J. R. & Perskin, P. S. (2000): Cult Ritual Abuse. It's History, Anthropology, and Recent Discovery in Contemporary America. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.

Rose, E. P. (1996): Reaching For The Light. A Guide for Ritual Abuse Survivors and Their Therapists. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

Sinason, V. (2002): Attachment, Trauma and Multiplicity. Working with Dissociative Identity Disorder. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Christian Therapy

Clark, J. (2003): The Healing of Satanically Ritually Abused Multiple Personality Disorder. Bloomington: 1st Books.

The skeptics' view

Lanning, K. V. (1992): "A Law Enforcement Perspective on Allegations of Ritual Abuse". In: Out of Darkness. Exploring Satanism and Ritual Abuse, ed. David K. Sakheim and Susan E. Devine.

Wright, L.(1994): Remembering Satan. A case of recovered memory and the shattering of an American family. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc.

On Satanism

Katchen, M. (1992): "The History of Satanic Religions". In: Out of Darkness. Exploring Satanism and Ritual Abuse, ed. David K. Sakheim & Susan E. Devine. New York: Lexington Books. ** The Crowley quote in Chapter 30 is found here.

''Satanism?''. In: Noblitt, J. R. & Perskin, P. S. (2000): Cult Ritual Abuse. It's History, Anthropology, and Recent Discovery in Contemporary America. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.

Other

Brodie, F. (1992): When "The Other Woman" is his Mother... Tacoma: Winged Eagle Press.

( A woman writes on her life with her mulitple husband).