Written By Demeter
Cover by Ankaree
Artwork by Lisa, Romanse, Ankaree
The young man hummed to himself as he poured the gasoline onto the barren concrete floor. It was a big building, so the fire wouldn't destroy it entirely, but that was exactly the plan. This was his biggest coup so far, and it would make him famous far beyond the borders of Washington State.
He was satisfied with himself.
Taking one last look around, he walked out of the door, lit himself a cigarette outside and threw the match inside. He left his ID a few feet away.
From a safe distance, he watched for a while as the fire grew, then whistling, he walked away from the scene.
He felt invincible.
"Let her go, Chief! She's dead."
"No, damn it!" Blair wasn't ready to let go, not at all, as he resumed CPR on the woman they'd just barely rescued from the burning building. He couldn't even say why this was getting to him so much. Okay, every senseless death got to him, but this one was particularly unfair.
It had been so damn close, the ambulance only a few blocks away, according to Jim - but still he had to admit defeat, because Jim had also said there wasn't a heartbeat anymore, and you couldn't argue much with a Sentinel.
Like so often before, a coincidence in combination with Jim using his senses had led them to a crime scene. When they'd arrived at the burning warehouse, it was Jim who'd noticed the heartbeat inside, and they got her out, still hopeful, but then the young woman, no more than thirty, had stopped breathing. She had probably inhaled too much of the smoke.
And no matter how hard Blair wanted to try, he couldn't turn back time for her.
"The paramedics are here. Come on, Blair."
No. He felt Jim's hands on his shoulders, pulling him back, and he struggled against their hold half-heartedly, but then admitted defeat and let himself be pulled up. He felt like crying all of a sudden, but this was definitely not the place and time to give in, with medical and law enforcement personnel all over the place.
Fighting the surge of emotion, Blair took a deep breath, not very surprised when he was hit by a wave of dizziness. Beneath the frustration, there was something else he couldn't define yet, like a foreboding. It would have been important to save her - now something was going to change drastically.
Say that again?
"Easy there. I'm sorry," Jim whispered, reaching out a steadying hand once more.
"I'm okay." He was still futilely trying to decipher that message from his subconscious, or whatever it had been anyway, or maybe just trying to deny what had just happened, when all they'd wanted tonight had been a quiet evening at home. "Trust me, I'm all right," he said again, wanting the contact, but knowing at the same time that there were more than a few colleagues who still observed them with suspicion.
Testimony to his own misjudgment, the ground came crashing towards him just a moment later.
No, this was definitely not how he'd imagined his Friday evening - despite Blair's protests, Jim was still insisting on a hospital visit, and what was worse, the paramedic recommended the same. Unfortunately, the man knew what he was talking about, because he'd been there that fatal day at the fountain. Not that Blair remembered, but Jim surely did, and he and the young man were of the same opinion - with Blair's medical history, it was better to be safe than sorry.
While they were still arguing, Rafe walked up to them, proclaiming somewhat sarcastically, "I'm surprised you didn't find that."
He held up a card that had already been slipped into an evidence bag, and Blair wondered if he'd fallen asleep and was still dreaming. The bit of malice in the detective's voice was totally out of place - and yet, he'd heard it clearly.
"Sorry, we were just a little busy trying to save the woman first," Jim snapped back.
So he'd noticed it, too. Not good. "Guys," Blair said wearily. "Not now, okay. Can I take a look?"
With a shrug, Rafe handed him the card, and he looked at it closely, noticing the fine craft that had been used in making this little piece of art. He'd seen a copy before, but not the real thing. The M. O. was familiar to every cop in Cascade, but as far as they knew, the perp hadn't been connected to any particularly violent crime before. Certainly not manslaughter. With a frown, Blair stated what they probably all thought: "This isn't like him."
On the surface, the guy was a small-time criminal - graffiti, small thefts, damage to property. But wherever he'd struck, he'd also given the police hints that more serious crimes were being committed. The house he'd decorated with graffiti turned out to be the residence of a man who was abusive to his wife and children, and the damaged car belonged to a known drug dealer who was steadily building a porn ring.
He always left a tarot card at the scene of his crimes, his signature: The Jester.
Straightening up, still with the hope he could spend the night at home, Blair said, "He definitely loves the attention, otherwise he'd have just called 911 instead. Until now, he's always been kind of helpful, helping to uncover bigger crimes. The jester is the figure that stands for rejecting convention, searching for new solutions. In Middle Age, he was the only one who was able to tell the truth to the king without fear of getting punished. It's about doing things differently, and--"
Unfortunately, Jim hadn't bought into his obfuscation, interrupting him in mid-lecture. "Sorry, but we're still going to the hospital." He had, however listened to what Blair had said.
"Well, Chief, there is something different now - someone's dead."
Blair grumbled something that was unintelligible even to a Sentinel, and with a pout, he said, "I hate you," no doubt referring to the fact that the doctor had indeed wanted to keep him overnight for observation.
Blair had argued that in fact no one could 'observe' him better than Jim, and maybe he had a point there, but Jim had been more than willing to accept Dr. Grant's orders. The crucial scene - Blair trying to save the woman's life by breathing for her, and failing - was still too vivid in his mind, bringing up bad memories. Even though he'd been lucky that last time, there was no way he'd take any chances when it came to Blair's health, even when Blair himself didn't share his opinion.
A little grouchiness on his lover's side, he could handle. It meant things weren't *that* bad.
"I don't believe you." He sat down on the bedside and reached out to tug on a dark curl playfully, then leaned in for a soft kiss. "I'm sorry, though. I had other plans for tonight myself," he admitted.
Jim could sense the change in Blair's mood when he was kissed back, thoroughly.
"Oh yes, you be sorry," Blair whispered against Jim's ear, sending shivers down his spine. "About not keeping your promises. I don't think your offer from this morning is still standing, given the fact that I'll spend the night here, and--"
Instead of answering, Jim shut him up with another kiss, suddenly feeling a deep and profound need for the closeness. His senses were vaguely distracted by the smell of smoke, as dangerous as the memory of stale water, and beneath it, something else.
Fairly lost in those sensations, he didn't notice when the door was opened, and a cheerful voice said, "This might be just what the doctor ordered, but I'm sorry to tell you visiting hours are long over. Why don't you let him sleep and come back tomorrow, Detective?"
The nurse grinned, while Blair protested hastily, "Just a few more minutes, Nancy. It's important we talk about some details of this case."
Jim thought he was stunningly beautiful with that blush and the look of mortification.
"I can see *that*," she returned, chuckling. "Okay, deal. But I'll be back in five minutes."
When she left the room, Blair's expression had changed to one of worry. "What was that about Rafe? I mean, I was out of it for a moment, but he seemed weird."
"You're right. I can't explain it either, but I think he wasn't too happy with Simon assigning us to the Jester case. I'm sure we'll find out about it - you'll be back in time for poker night tomorrow."
Jim had noticed, too, that their colleague had been tense for some time now, but whether it had to do with Rafe's relationship with Megan Connor, or his sister Trina living with them, or something completely different - since poker night was taking place at Rafe's and Megan's tomorrow night, there'd surely be an opportunity to get an answer.
"Right. Something about that card?"
"Not as far as I know. No prints, no evidence. If someone's copying the guy, he's doing it damn near perfectly." Of course, there'd be lots of files to study and facts to compare, but he shared Blair's gut feeling that the man who called himself The Jester was an unlikely candidate for murder. Which meant they were looking for two perps at least - if they weren't all wrong about it, and they were dealing with one man who had decided to move on to a bigger game.
"The woman?" Blair looked away, and in that instant, his pain was so palpable that Jim felt like he could almost touch it.
"No ID yet, but it's a matter of time, I guess."
There was silence for a moment. Knowing the nurse would return soon, Jim didn't want to leave Blair with the image of the dead woman, so he leaned close again, opting for a light tone, as he said, "And before I go, I want you to take a look at what I brought you - before you go on about me not keeping my promises."
He handed the cup he'd placed on the nightstand to his lover, and Blair sniffed at the drink carefully, his eyes lighting up with a genuine smile. "Chocolate?"
"Yeah, well..." Jim said, pleased with the effect of his little gift. "I promised you something hot."
There'd been quick success in identifying the woman who'd died at the warehouse after her description had been given to the press. An older brother living in Cascade turned up. Her name was Julia Edmonds, and she'd been working as a bank teller. He had no idea what she could be doing in the warehouse, claiming they hadn't been in touch in some weeks. Darren Edmonds was clearly distraught about his sister's death, but it seemed they hadn't seen each other often.
He'd also given them an address, so Jim and Blair went to take a look at her apartment. The bed was made, everything was in order in the living room, not even a journal lying around. There were food and drinks neatly stacked in the fridge.
"Seems like she was very neat." Jim summed it up, as he was taking a last look around. It seemed like she had left that morning for work and never come back, but there was no hint as to why she would have been in the burning building - or what she could have had to do with the Jester anyway. The man had, so far, considered himself one of the good guys, if with unconventional means - why would he deem her death necessary? It didn't make any sense whatsoever.
"You call that neat? I'd call it obsessive-compulsive," Blair muttered, his head still inside a cabinet. "Man, I don't know - those tablecloths and the china - it looks like she spent more money than she'd earn in her job."
The first part of it had made Jim smile, because it'd been so predictable - but Blair had a point about the money. This apartment hadn't been furnished from a discount store. "Let's take a look at the garage," he suggested.
When they did, Blair wasn't the only one who gaped at the bright red Porsche.
Shaking his head, Jim said, more to himself than aloud, "Whose money was the girl spending anyway?"
That evening, there was a new initiate to poker night, Major Crimes' dearly held tradition. Chris Foley was studying criminal science and collecting material for his dissertation; so far, they'd only seen him briefly at the station. He was young, not older than twenty-five, with red streaks in his dark hair, and an earring in his left lobe.
Nothing revolutionary for the CPD any longer, Blair reflected with some amusement, as they all took seats around the table.
"Meet my new partner," Megan said dryly, rolling her eyes.
"Whoa. That sounded different than when Jim first said it."
"That's because he had certain intentions towards you. Well, I don't."
"That's a pity," Chris commented with a bright smile in Megan's direction.
Everybody laughed, even Rafe, but Blair hadn't missed that the reaction seemed forced. Before he could say anything though, Rafe's kid sister, Trina, entered the room. Wearing high heels and a short skirt, her long hair pulled back in a braid, which enhanced the effect of her make-up that made her look older than her fifteen years, and Blair wondered if there had been trouble regarding that subject.
"Hi everybody," she greeted, then whispered something to Megan.
"I thought we'd said, not tonight," was the quiet answer.
"I just don't understand why I'm the only one who's not allowed to have fun tonight!"
Those words were loud enough to make all other conversations in the room halt, as Trina stalked from the room, banging the door shut behind her. Both Megan and Rafe looked a bit embarrassed, but then Megan got up with an apologetic smile. "I'll be back. Sorry, guys."
Maggie Taggart shook her head. "Nothing to be sorry for, honey. Joel and I know what it's like to live with a teenager under the roof. Can be a pleasure, but sometimes... it's just plain war."
Blair felt bone-tired. He found it hard to follow the game, because there was so much going on between the lines, so to speak, and the tension had been growing continuously since Megan returned to the table. More than that, he had to fight intrusions on his thoughts about Julia Edmonds, who had died despite all his efforts, and there was something at the very back of his mind about that Jester guy that refused to come into his consciousness.
He was now ready to attribute Rafe's strange behavior at the crime scene to the obvious difficulties he seemed to be having with his sister. That had to be hard for all of them - Trina wasn't just the average teenager; she was one who had lost her parents only a year ago, and been forced to start a new life in a foreign country.
So far, she seemed to have adjusted well, but a trauma like that didn't take much for memories to be triggered. He wondered if the new family had ever even talked about the impact of anniversary days.
That wasn't all, though. Megan appeared unnerved about her assigned ride-along, even though Chris Foley seemed nice, if a bit wet behind the ears. Blair supposed he was getting a pretty good mirror of himself in his early days with Major Crimes, here. If somebody had told him then that he'd end up as a detective and profiler with the PD, he would have called them crazy.
Anyway, lots of things hadn't happened as initially planned.
He looked at Jim, and just for a moment, their eyes met, a surge of happiness outbalancing the discomfort that was plaguing him. I'm such a lucky bastard.
With sudden inspiration, he spoke up, "I think I'm calling it a night. I'm beat."
"Ah, you're just saying that, Hairboy - because you're losing," Henri Brown accused.
At the nickname, Chris Foley grinned at Blair, but it seemed open and friendly, as if they were sharing a joke that the others didn't understand. "Sometimes it's hard to be the one who's different, but somebody's got to do the job," he said.
Jim watched the exchange with fond amusement. "You need a ride, by any chance?"
"You bet I do." Blair just couldn't help it, even though the following catcalls and whistles could have been predicted.
"Good," Jim said. And to his colleagues, "You've got dirty minds, you know that?"
Inside her room, in which she had locked herself, Trina Rafe stood in front of the mirror, watching as the tears made black trails of mascara on her cheeks. She raised the bottle she was clutching tightly to her lips, and drank deeply. And another swig. The burn of the alcohol was warm and comforting.
Once they were upstairs in bed, Blair had said something about how good it was to be home again, yawned deeply, and whatever plans he'd also had were delayed for the moment, as he fell sound asleep. Jim had expected that, and he was quite satisfied with simply holding Blair close, much as he would have liked to discuss what he'd picked up tonight.
Of course, his lover had noticed some things, too. When it came to people and their psychodynamics, Blair had something like an enhanced sense for it. A skill he'd possessed long before his initiation to shamanism. Hell, he'd seen through Jim the first time they met.
Directing his thoughts back to this evening, Jim frowned at the memory. Of course, he could have been mistaken, and he honestly hoped so. There had been beer on the table, so the smell could have come from the open bottles in the room - but it had been more distant, and naturally, he could distinguish beer from vodka. Somebody in that apartment had had a stiff drink while everybody was there.
How did you approach a subject like that?
If there wasn't a problem, why had the atmosphere in the room almost been vibrating with suppressed emotions - anger, confusion, helplessness?
At first, he'd thought that Foley might have an interest in Megan, but no, his eyes had shone when he looked at Trina. Even though Jim was nothing but relieved that Trina seemed to be over the crush she'd had for him earlier, Chris wasn't of an appropriate age to be boyfriend material either.
No doubt - there was trouble brewing, and with the current case, as demanding and confusing as it was, it was the last thing any of them needed.
It made him cherish this present moment of peace all the more. "Love you," Jim whispered, drawing the sheets higher around them. As if in answer, Blair snuggled closer to him, his sleep fortunately undisturbed by yesterday evening's events.
"Don Haas is having a field day with this new development. He's right in one thing though - the guy went over the line this time. I want you to find that clown, and soon." Simon had had a conversation with the mayor over the phone, and the urgency in his voice was not to be mistaken.
Don't you just love Monday mornings? Funny, Jim mused, how the public image of the man they were looking for had changed practically overnight. The press had initially made the Jester into a hero - as quickly as that he'd become a murdering freak.
For a moment, he wondered what would have happened if Blair had not denied the existence of Sentinels. When would the superhero cop have become a monster in the people's eyes? - this was not the moment for idle musings. "I'm still not sure if he's our guy," he said instead to Simon. "He's never killed before."
"The tarot card, same manufacturer, no traces - it all fits so far. The artist has been interviewed before by..." Simon looked over the report quickly until he found it. "Bennett and Larsson. Go talk to him again, see if you can find something. Rafe, Connor, you check into Edmonds' accounts again. Maybe we'll find a hint about how she came to have that kind of money."
"Figures," Rafe muttered to himself, barely audible to anyone but Jim. And then, louder: "I wouldn't have expected anything else." He stood up so abruptly, he almost knocked his chair over.
"Detective?" Simon's tone was stern; he'd obviously expected a confrontation, too. No surprise there. It seemed like things hadn't improved any in Rafe's and Connor's household over the weekend, and Jim wondered if it had to do with his observation.
"Is there anything else?" Simon inquired.
"Oh, yes, there's something else!"
Blair sent Jim a questioning look, but Jim just shrugged. They had briefly talked about their impressions of Saturday night, but hadn't come to any conclusion yet.
Megan, who had been cringing at Rafe's sneer, said firmly, "Now I don't think we should--"
"Yes," he interrupted her, "we should. Here and now. You know, I'm sick and tired of how this unit seems to consist of three people only. Oh, I forgot. Four, maybe. Megan gets a good case every now and then when the dream team is too busy."
There was a moment of explosive silence. Jim would have liked to say a word or two to this, and it was easy to tell that Sandburg and Connor were probably feeling the same way, but it was Simon's job to handle it, so he waited.
And the captain did handle it. "Is that is how you see it?" Simon asked evenly, and Jim thought Simon was good at hiding his internal struggle about the accusation, that was way below the belt, and still keeping the role of the superior. "I'd like to remind you it's not entirely true. When you brought your sister home to live with you, it was you who asked me for a lighter case load."
"You're going to throw that in my face now? That I have to take care of her?"
"No, not at all. I admit it happened a few times that the Chief asked me to give a case specifically to Jim and Blair. That was out of my hands. And before the secret was 'out', I let Megan work closely with them because she knew the truth already. But if you're alleging I placed you at a disadvantage intentionally, you're wrong. Hell, I don't care which of you does it in the end - I want that Jester found."
"That's not all. Why is it that after Jim has such control over his senses, and we all know he has, he and Blair still don't have to answer to the same regulations like the rest of us?"
"Now, Brian, come on," Blair protested finally, but Simon held up a hand to silence him.
"You're saying you don't want to be partnered with Brown anymore?"
"No. I'm saying I don't know if I want to work in Major Crimes anymore. I'm going to take the afternoon off, because I don't think you have any use for me here."
With that, Rafe left the room, banging the door shut behind him, which reminded Jim unwittingly of Trina's behavior from Saturday night. Finally, it was all out in the open - which was a progression, he supposed, but it could also make their job a lot harder. Now they'd be a man short and Megan was bound to be preoccupied by her more personal worries.
"He didn't come to those conclusions yesterday, did he?" Blair wasn't asking; it was clear to all of them.
"I apologize," Megan said softly, the embarrassment clearly showing in her face and voice. I swear I didn't know - but I'm sure he doesn't mean it that way. He's having a hard time, too."
"We all know that," Simon replied. "I'll take his arguments seriously even if he wasn't very rational about them. But if we can't solve this, there'll have to be consequences."
"I know, sir," she sighed wearily. "I know."
The little store was hidden in a corner beside a deli, the battered sign barely readable. 'MYTH', and the owner's name, McDougall. Inside, there was a small assortment of esoteric literature, crystals, dream-catchers, essences, oils and candles. That, and - the handmade tarot cards that had become especially famous lately.
Jim couldn't really say why, but he always felt a bit weird in this kind of environment, and he *knew* he really had no talking room here, seeing ghosts and animal spirits, and living with a shaman under his roof - but still...
Of course, being Naomi's son, Blair didn't share his sentiments any. He strode purposefully over to the man behind the counter, identifying himself.
Randy McDougall had tanned skin and completely white hair he'd bound into a ponytail - he could have been sixty, or older, it was hard to tell. "How can I help you, gentlemen? I believe I already answered all questions with your colleagues." He didn't seem unfriendly, just a little impatient.
"Unfortunately, things have changed," Blair explained. "One of the 'Jester' cards has been left at the scene of a murder."
The man's eyes widened. "I thought he was helping you guys put away the real creeps. Murder?"
"I want you to think very carefully. You told the police already that there's a limited number of those cards. They are sold in this store only, right?"
"I know what you're up to," McDougall smirked. "It's true, I know most of the regulars by name, and I already gave you my client list. Go and see if the jester is missing in any set of cards - I don't think so. Those people wouldn't set anything on fire, let alone kill anyone; they just want to be left in peace. Oh, and by the way - I've been doing this for twenty years. The tarot cards are my best seller, and last year I set up an internet shop. I've shipped them to Japan already."
Of course. If it had been that easy, the Jester would have been found already - and Julia Edmonds' murderer too, probably, being the same man or not.
"Could you show me a set?" Blair inquired then, and Jim wondered what he was up to.
McDougall went into the store's back room, and came back a minute later with a set of tarot cards. They came in a colorful box, another indicator that these cards were unique. But McDougall, even if a little unnerved to be visited by the police again, had told them the truth so far. His heartbeat was steady; as far as Jim was able to tell, he wasn't hiding anything. Was it possible they were on the wrong track here?
He watched as Blair looked at the cards carefully, then asked, "How much are these?"
"$178," McDougall said promptly, and Blair winced a little.
"Well, they're handmade. You're really interested?"
"I'll buy one set. There must be a reason why this guy favored your cards - and we will find it."
That evening, shortly before nine p.m., Megan and Rafe returned to an empty apartment, after dinner. With a sigh, Megan waited for the argument, and didn't have long to wait.
"Where's Katrina? Don't tell me she's still studying with her friend this late!"
Megan looked up, surprised at the obvious, angry frustration in Rafe's voice. "Don't you remember? She said they were going to a birthday party after that. Helen's mom is going to drive them back."
"Really? Just how many birthday parties is she getting invited to anyway? I've had enough. I'm going to call Mrs. Haslett now. Let's see where they really are."
"Brian," Megan said softly, pushing aside the files she'd picked up to read. They'd had this conversation before, and she knew they had to do something about his kid sister's behavior, but she also knew the subject had to be approached with a clear head. She doubted Brian was able to do that at the moment. "I know you worry - I do, too - but we won't get anywhere with Trina if we go all cop on her. She's got to know that we trust her."
"But can we, really?" He turned to the window, his back rigid, and Megan sighed. This quasi-parenting thing sure had turned out to be much harder than she'd thought. At first, Trina had been so sweet, the little sister she'd never had. But lately, her grades in school had taken a nosedive, and it was true, she'd been to lots of parties in the past few weeks, and Megan suspected, it wasn't all just for the fun of it.
At Christmas back in Australia, both she and Rafe seemed to be fine, even though the holidays inevitably brought back memories for him and his sister of spending those days with their parents.
What they had all been too busy trying to ignore was that a year ago, Trina had come back from school to find her parents dead, her home in shambles. She'd had to leave everything behind to live in another country with the elder brother she hadn't seen in years, and his girlfriend. The death of his parents had been hard on Brian too, of course, but unlike his teenage sister, he was an adult, having lived apart from them for quite some time, and so wasn't as emotionally dependant on them. At times, Megan was still uncertain whether she was expected to take over that role now, or rather be a friend to her lover's sister.
Trina had seemed to adjust surprisingly well to her new life, but Megan now wondered if they'd all been kidding themselves.
Resolutely, she shook off that somber thought. "She's having a hard time. I'll talk to her when she gets back."
Turning to her, Rafe didn't say anything, but she could see the doubts clearly in his eyes. Megan supposed this was not a good moment to ask about his behavior in Simon's office today. Well, maybe tomorrow.
"Why don't you come to bed?"
Jim was shaking his head at himself, realizing he'd come *that* close to whining. He was entitled, he thought, because all evening he had hardly gotten any word from his partner who was still studying the tarot set, the cards spread all over the coffee table, the laptop on his knees. He'd been researching the myth of the tarot, and the jester card in particular, ever since they got home, trying to find any relationship to the Jester's earlier acts.
"First guy he tipped off was a bank robber who'd killed one of the tellers. Then the wife- batterer. Finally, the one who'd started the porn ring. Why would he want to kill Julia? She was a bank teller, too. The solution has be somewhere in this," Blair said distractedly.
"I've got a solution for you..." Standing behind the couch, Jim leaned down to kiss Blair's neck, and Blair leaned back into the embrace for a moment, closing his eyes. "You're not playing fair," he complained, but the tone of his voice conveyed that the diversion was more than welcome.
"And you're tired. Let's get back to it tomorrow, okay?"
Opening his eyes again, Blair smiled. "You're kind of persistent. Got anything specific on your mind?"
Jim laughed. "I wish. But I bet you're only going to fall asleep on me again."
Even though he'd said it with a purpose, he was surprised just how quickly Blair was up from the sofa, ready to prove him wrong.
He hadn't fallen asleep, Blair thought, grinning in the dark as his mind flashed back on the previous moments. Jim had been so totally right when he suggested a break; there weren't any spectacular findings to be expected tonight anyway.
At the moment, he was just happy to lie here, still shivering with delight as Jim's fingers trailed patterns down his back.
It had felt so good to let go for a while, of the lingering guilt, and the pieces of the riddle they had just begun trying to solve - all of that hovering on the edge of his mind, but he did his best to push them aside a moment longer.
"You don't look old enough to drink."
The voice sounded concerned and strangely caring, but after half a bottle of vodka, it was Trina who didn't care much. And she really liked that state. "What's it to you?"
He shrugged. "Can't stand to see people hurting, that's all. You want to talk about it?"
"God, another shrink," she said disgustedly. "How do you know I don't just like to get smashed on the weekend?"
"I'm sorry - Trina, isn't it, right?"
Trina wondered why he knew her name - and why she suddenly felt like crying. Damn him anyway. She'd been well on her way to that blissful oblivion, but it seemed out of reach now. She didn't want to talk. Words wouldn't change anything for her. "Yeah, so?"
"Why don't we go outside for a moment? It's way too loud in here."
She wanted to tell him to go screw himself, but for some reason, she didn't. Maybe it was because he had really beautiful eyes.
"Sandy, can I talk to you for a moment?"
Megan sounded serious, and Blair immediately agreed to her wish, but not before sending a knowing smile in Jim's direction. Oh yes, it had been hard to get to the station in time, and no, they hadn't had breakfast yet.
Absently, because of lazily following Blair with his senses, Jim took a seat behind his desk, picking up the mail. There was a nondescript manila envelope among it, his name handwritten on it in bold letters. Directing his attention back to the object on his desk, he turned up smell and touch, finding no reason for any danger, so he opened it cautiously.
Inside was a passport, and with a start, Jim realized that the picture showed Julia Edmonds. Her purse had never been found, of course, her identity having been confirmed by her brother, and the papers for the car, apartment, and everything else were in her name.
But the name on this passport said, 'Michelle Bergen'.
"Hey, Chief, come take a look at this."
Blair interrupted his conversation with Megan to join him. "Whoa," he commented. "Seems like the girl had even more secrets than we'd thought."
"She definitely had," Megan added. "Remember Brian and I checked her accounts? There have been money transfers, large sums, each month. We followed the money back to a business that's definitely not related to the bank she was working in, but get this - one of the partners is Darren Edmonds. We checked him, too - and he seems clean, but there's something strange about him. It seems like he didn't exist before 1993."
"Interesting," Jim agreed. "Just like this." He turned the passport to show them the other side to where a note had been stuck by the sender:
'The Jester doesn't kill.'
Megan hadn't mentioned anything about what Rafe had decided, so Jim hadn't asked. After going through everything they had on the Edmonds siblings, while the passport and the note were checked for prints, he and Blair had retreated to the loft while Megan met with Trina. She'd asked Blair to help Trina with some school work, because lately, she had been failing dramatically. Blair had immediately agreed.
Wondering about the curious connection of Julia and Darren Edmonds, and the Jester, Jim was startled out of his musings, when Blair suddenly asked, "Have you seen my 'Death'?"
He actually seemed to mean that question, and it made Jim shudder unwillingly. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked, irritated.
"Death. The card from my tarot set," Blair explained patiently. "I'm missing it."
"Oh. Of course."
"Right. Do *you* know where it is?"
Jim didn't know where it was, but he was ridiculously relieved to find the subject wasn't any more serious than a skeleton drawn on a paper card that Blair had mislaid. "No, why should I? I think you put them all back in that box."
"Yes, but..." Blair was shaking sofa cushions cautiously, even looking under the table. "Strange. I knew all the cards were there. I checked each of them."
"Maybe it's in between all the papers from yesterday. You can search tonight, okay?"
"You bet I will. They cost me $178, remember?"
The call came in that afternoon, not even an hour after they'd returned to the station - a dead body found near the docks, with another tarot card beside it. Blair had tried to steel himself for a bad sight, but it turned out soon that he couldn't have prepared himself any way for what was waiting for them there:
Another woman. This one younger than Julia Edmonds a.k.a. Michelle Bergen. Her face was about the only part of her body the killer had left intact - otherwise, he had cut her up badly. Slaughtered her, to be precise.
For a moment, Blair stared in horror at the deep, lengthwise cut that revealed more about the insides of a human body than he ever wanted to know from a real model. God. No matter how much violence he'd already seen, or how many bloody rituals he'd studied, inwardly it was still inexplicable to him how anybody could do this to a living, breathing human.
Still made him want to scream, if he was totally honest.
But of course he didn't, he took a deep breath instead and tore his gaze away from the horrific sight. He turned towards Jim, who was already scanning the surroundings with tense concentration, but paused to give Blair a questioning look. "You okay?"
Shaking himself a little, Blair said, "Not really, but I'll manage. The officer at the scene said something about a card? What about the note that came with the passport this morning? I don't believe The Jester did this. He might have a problem with his self-confidence, but, man, I can't picture the guy doing something like this!"
"Neither can I, Chief. Come on, let's talk to him and find out about the card."
"Not what you see everyday around here - fortunately." The middle-aged officer who'd been first at the scene shook his head. "Everyone believed that guy to be on our side, but it seems like that was wishful thinking. He's gone off the deep end."
With that, he handed Jim the card that was smeared with blood.
Taking a closer look, Blair gasped with shock. It wasn't the Jester this time. The tarot card was exactly the one he'd been missing from his set:
Seemed like somebody was playing a wicked game with them.
And then the vision started, drawing him in, images spiraling like a kaleidoscope - Julia Edmonds, her brother, a man with a mask in a jester costume, and then, as his heart began to pound, somebody washing bloody hands in a puddle of water, the surface like a mirror, revealing a face.
It was his own.
Megan and Brian were arguing, trying to be quiet, but neither Trina nor their guest could ignore them, and Trina felt vaguely embarrassed. That, and her guest seemed disconcertingly familiar, but she hadn't been able to place him yet. "Why are you staring at me?" she asked testily.
"Because you're beautiful?"
She blushed, not having expected that answer. "Tell me another one. Why are you here this afternoon anyway? I thought everybody was working on this real important case."
Shrugging, he said, "I don't know about your brother, but Megan wanted to get some files, I think. Good enough for me. What's the matter? You were planning a binge again and got interrupted?"
His tone wasn't mocking, but rather serious. Trina stared at Chris Foley, alarmed. Images came back to her, vague only, but she knew now where she'd met him before. Damn it, he'd give her away her for sure.
"You already told them?"
He was shaking his head 'no'. "You don't remember much about that night, do you?"
"You paid for a cab for me," she said, her blush deepening. "Oh shit."
"Forget about it. I have an idea, Trina. Why don't we meet tonight? There's something I want to show you."
She looked him up and down, gauging his sincerity, her eyes locking with his then. "Why not?" Trina knew well enough that she'd already been walking a fine line. She wasn't afraid of danger. There was nothing much she was afraid of, except the nightmares she still had about the destroyed buildings, the sirens, and the policemen who had told her that her parents had died in the explosion.
What was a little risk in comparison?
"Come on, Chief. What's going on?"
Jim's voice was insistent, full of worry, urging him back to the present. But it was the casual caress of fingers against his cheek, more than anything else, that made the images retreat enough for him to become fully aware of his surroundings again. With a shudder, Blair wiped his hands on his jeans, actually still feeling the stickiness of the blood.
"I saw... all kinds of people related to the case. And then..." He swallowed, trying to stay calm. As much as possible anyway. "Somebody washing bloody hands in a puddle."
Jim considered that for an instant. "You're getting visions of the killer again?" he asked.
If only. "It was me."
Jim looked at him quizzically, then he shook his head. "That's silly, Chief. So far, you've been getting glimpses into the killers' minds. Why would you appear in the vision?"
"I'd feel better myself if I had an answer to that," Blair snapped back at him, turning his back. Both of them were silent for a moment, and he thought it was probably a bad idea to complicate things with an unnecessary fight. This vision had been different from those previously, and even now, his hands were slightly shaking, the image of his own shocked face still lingering on his mind. "I'm sorry," he said, without looking at Jim. "But, this - is freaking me out, you know?"
Jim didn't say anything, but he laid a hand on the center of his back, the gesture a small comfort against this new, terrifying turn of events.
Lab analysis very quickly showed that there were no other prints on the card than Blair's - it was indeed the card he was missing from his set.
"No one but McDougall knew you even had it," Jim said with a frown. They..., Blair didn't need this now. Somehow, he'd foolishly hoped that after all the weirdness of the past few months, they would finally be able to simply live their lives - it had all been there, ghosts, evil spirits, the shaman way that had almost cost Blair his life - he would have loved just a bit of peace from all that.
"We should lean on him a little harder," he went on. "While we're at it, find out if he knew Edmonds or the other victim. And I want a crime scene unit here. There has to be something."
Of course, nobody would really suspect Blair, and he had an alibi for the time of death, but this was disconcerting, to say the least. He didn't believe for a second that they were dealing with coincidences here - the card of death, the fact that it was the one from Blair's tarot set.
Jim gazed around the crime scene, taking in the multitude of colors and sounds, separating the unwanted ones from those he felt he needed. He didn't want to share a disturbing thought with Blair right at that moment, but it wasn't so much the appearance of the missing tarot card on the victim - it was the idea that someone had clearly gained access to the loft and taken it. Why would they do that? And how had they done it? When? The loft was his and Blair's secure area, a place where they could be themselves, and not hide. It wouldn't be too difficult for an intruder to piece together the evidence that two people lived there, and there was only one bed. And that particular piece of information was something that the two of them didn't want as public knowledge.
Jim chewed his lip in thought as he finished analyzing the surrounding area, and re-settling his mind, before turning his thoughts back towards the deceased.
This time, the victim had an ID with her: Vanessa Masters, 21, a history student at Rainier. Was there a connection? To Blair? To the man who called himself the Jester?
"We got this all wrong, " Blair insisted. "Before, he only targeted people who were guilty of a crime. I don't believe he meant to kill Edmonds. He wanted to draw our attention towards her. And I'm totally sure he hasn't got anything to do with this carnage. What the hell is going on in Cascade? Some killer adopting the 'tarot card' M. O.?"
"Possibly. But that still doesn't explain why you saw yourself in that vision. It doesn't make any sense."
Jim wished he had any reason for an optimistic answer, but honestly couldn't find one. He'd wanted to say more but his cell phone rang. Expecting Simon, he answered it, surprised when he heard another voice. "Sneaks? That's a surprise, haven't heard from you in a while. Meet? Yeah, of course we can." The guy had never before called him if it wasn't important, so chances were this call had to do with their current case.
"And... is there any chance, you know...?" Sneaks inquired, and it was not so hard to guess what he was talking about.
"Absolutely. My partner just bought a great new pair of sneakers. Let's see if what you have is worth them," Jim said with a grin in Blair's direction. It was a weak attempt, he knew it, but it worked.
Blair was rolling his eyes at him, but the smile beneath was grateful.
The young man cursed to himself as he paced the space between his living room and kitchen, time and again. What had been meant as the big breakthrough, had turned out to be nothing but a disaster so far. That bitch had gotten in the way and suddenly become the poor murder victim, and now there was another death.
He understood the message well; the other player had made his move, and a catastrophic one at that.
Already, they were putting him under lots of pressure to reveal the Jester's identity. He wasn't looking forward to the credit being given to somebody else, but at the moment, he couldn't think of any other solution.
"Why are you drinking?"
Trina made a grimace. She had thought they were going to have some fun together, or that maybe he would actually come on to her, but nothing like that happened. She'd escaped a little while ago under the guise of meeting Helen, who'd cover for her, luckily. Right now, Trina was questioning the wisdom of her actions. "Because I'm having fun?"
"No, you aren't. You are incredibly sad about something, and I believe I know what it is. Megan hasn't told me much, but it was enough to put the pieces together. I can understand you."
"Really?" she said sarcastically. Trina hated how he always managed to bring her to the verge of tears. No, she definitely wouldn't see him again if he kept this up, beautiful eyes or not.
"You're not the only person who's been hurt badly, or lost someone."
"Phew, great line. I hadn't thought of that."
"I like you. And I'm not ready yet to give up on you."
He leaned over to place a chaste kiss on her lips, and Trina stared back at him, transfixed. "What was that for?"
"For new beginnings," he said, smiling at her guilelessly.
They had been going through all rooms together, Jim's senses accurately identifying traces left of people who had been at the loft, knowing them all by their perfumes, after-shaves, and of course, individual scents. He could tell who had touched what, or in which room they had been.
Blair and Simon were watching in awe - but the one thing he couldn't come up with proof that there had been an intruder in the apartment.
"I can't believe this! I've only had them in the car, and then here. The card was there yesterday evening!" Blair couldn't dismiss the unnerving feeling that someone, whoever that might be, not only knew that he owned a set of the tarot cards, but that they knew where to find them - and more worryingly - how to access them. What else did this whoever know?
"Look on the bright side of this, Sandburg. You've got an alibi."
"That's not funny, Simon," Jim said sharply as Blair paled at the captain's voice, no doubt recalling the vision. "Let the crime scene unit do their job now, and they should take a look at Blair's car, too. We've got an appointment anyway."
Sneaks was clearly nervous, his eyes darting around as if trying to identify an unseen pursuer. "Good, you're here. I don't have much time," he all but whispered.
"Calm down. What's the matter?" Jim inquired, wondering what the informant was up to.
"Something's going on." Sneaks made a dramatic pause, but he wasn't all show. His heartbeat was all over the place, his palms sweating. No good news, that was for sure. "There's a hit out on our friend. The Jester."
"Who's paying?" Blair asked.
Sneaks shrugged. "Hard to say, there are lots of people he pissed off. Word is out; people are competing to get him. Highest bidder was that distant relative of the Lazar family, Michael."
"Last thing I heard was how shocked he was about the activities of his family."
"Not anymore." Sneaks was shaking his head, looking behind him again. "There might be something else," he said with a pointed look at Blair who sighed.
"I thought that was a joke to lighten up the mood some! Give the guy a little bonus, so he can go get some Nikes - but not mine, man."
Sneaks agreed to the deal, obviously relieved he could leave again. "Check into those guys, and a Micki Baker," he advised. "That's one of the names I've heard around."
Then he was gone. Jim and Blair stayed for a moment longer, sorting the information. Michael Lazar hadn't even had a ticket until a few years ago; contrary to his infamous family, his uncle Edward and his now late sister Erica. He'd gotten on the FBI's radar last year, though, when his name appeared in connection with an arms company that had been accused of having made shipments to Iraq, but the charges had miraculously disappeared, and he was still in the business. He'd always denied any connection to the crimes of the Lazar family.
It seemed like the riddles had just gotten more confusing - why would a man like that be interested in the Jester, who had uncovered cases of domestic violence and minor drug trafficking?
There was one connection though, that seemed obvious, and Blair's question showed that he'd come to the same conclusion. "Do you think it's a coincidence that the initials are the same as Michelle Bergen?"
It was merely rhetorical.
"I don't understand you!" Megan barely kept herself from shouting. There was no sense in getting loud, she knew, but the feeling of frustration had been building up in her all day, and it needed to be voiced. Now.
The whole day, Rafe had barely spoken a word to her. Being worried about Trina didn't explain everything.
"What are you jealous of - Jim's abilities? I tell you, there's no point. I, for one, am glad I cannot smell a body from a few blocks away. Or is it me? I found out about the Sentinel thing coincidentally, they sure as hell didn't plan it. So talk to me, Brian, because I don't get it."
"Who isn't getting it?" he asked acidly.
"Just forget about it." She was glad when the sound of the key in the lock gave her an excuse to end this pointless conversation. Trina had just come in; guessing from the stormy look on her face, things hadn't gone too well for her either.
Megan suppressed a sigh. Forgive me if I'm feeling just a bit overtaxed with a lover who's grumpy for no reason, a charming but somehow weird ride-along, *and* a quasi-daughter.
"Bad day at school?"
Trina barely looked at her, shrugging.
"Look, I've talked to Blair. He says it would be okay for you to come over tonight, so he can take a look at your study materials, and then you two could see how to proceed. Trina," she said softly, "we're not doing this to annoy you. We don't expect you to stay at home and study all the time, either. You'll feel better when your grades are up again, I'm sure."
"Yeah, maybe. Thank you."
Trina's eyes were bright, there was something off about her, had been for a while, but Megan couldn't quite place it.
"And look on the bright side. I'm sure Blair is much more fun than one of your teachers would be."
That got her a small smile - Megan was pleased with herself.
"You're right. Sandy, huh?"
"Right. But don't let him hear that."
He had asked her to explain herself, actually to the point of pestering, but Trina wasn't too sure of the answer herself. It had started out innocently enough, just her, Helen and two other girls on a dare: would the owner of the deli really sell them beer or ask for an ID?
It had been ridiculously easy. They'd hung out at Helen's, getting really silly, and Trina felt like she hadn't been that free since... that day. Everything had happened so fast - her move to the US, a new school, new friends - that she never had the time to really face the feelings she had brought with her. The grief, that, too - but there was also lots of rage, seemingly uncontrollable. Those damned terrorists, who the hell did they think they were? Truth to be told, she was scared of what could happen, should that rage ever be unleashed. The alcohol kept all those emotions at bay, and that was just fine with her.
And even here and now, she thought that everybody seemed to shrug it off and get on with life. She'd tried that, too, but somewhere along the line she got stuck. Trina had been a brilliant student once, or so she'd been told, but at the moment, she couldn't bring herself to even feign interest - in anything.
She didn't really want to go and see Blair, either. Trina was also a bit embarrassed about how she'd behaved around Jim not so long ago.
"I don't know what you want from me!" McDougall said angrily. "Just in case you forgot. You have my alibi confirmed. I was on a plane coming back from San Francisco when that lady died, and I don't know any Michelle Bergen or Micki Baker."
He was a very good liar. With some smug satisfaction, Jim noticed how McDougall's heart rate went up with the last two names. He may not have killed any of the women, but he knew about the aliases, there was no doubt about it.
Finally, it seemed like they were getting somewhere; hopefully before another innocent victim got caught in the personal war between the Jester and Lazar.
"Thank you, Mr. McDougall," Jim said. "You've helped us a lot."
A stakeout would certainly be helpful in finding out to whom McDougall sold tarot cards to under the counter.
It had been a long day that had brought up more new questions than it had answered, Blair thought with a sigh. When he saw Trina sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, he was tempted to send her away, but decided against it. Megan had been so grateful when he had agreed to some tutoring for Rafe's sister, and he didn't want to disappoint her.
"Hey, Trina," he said, giving her a friendly smile. "I hope you didn't have to wait long."
She shrugged. "Just got here a few minutes ago. But if it's a bad time, I could--"
"No, no, it's okay. Why don't you have dinner with us, and we can talk in the meantime?"
"That's a good idea, Chief," Jim chimed in, and it was only the fact that Blair paid close attention, and always had where Jim was concerned, that he was able to detect the worried undertone. He'd have to ask Jim about it later.
"Micki always got the job done," Michael Lazar reminded the burly man standing in front of his desk.
His visitor shrugged, his eyes flat and cold. "Same goes for me."
"Good. I want that bastard who got her killed, to pay for it. My informant has already identified him." He handed a picture to his employee. "I don't care if you kill him, but find out everything he knows, and make sure he stops playing this ridiculous game."
"Will do, Boss."
When the man had left, Michael looked at the crumpled tarot card in his hand, smiling with satisfaction. No more Jester cards. He could have even enjoyed the challenge, but the man had gone a step too far when he killed Micki. Lately, the Jester had simply become a nuisance that he needed to get rid of.
It wouldn't be so easy, Blair realized after a while. Trina had a hard time concentrating, and it was clear she'd only done this because Megan had asked her to, but she wasn't very motivated herself.
Well, he wasn't ready to write her off so soon. Blair knew she'd had brilliant grades before, and Trina surely could get there again, once she began to cope with what happened.
It was one of those days where seemingly nothing could go right. For a while, Jim wondered how to approach the subject, but even despite Rafe's strange behavior, he and Megan were friends, and in a way, Trina was, too - so he couldn't just let it slide.
For a while, he hadn't been sure, but his senses confirmed unmistakably who had the drinking problem in the household. He wasn't looking forward to this conversation, not at all, but it was too serious to just let go.
"Should we call Megan to come and get you, or is she on duty tonight?"
"Working, I think," Trina said rather uninterestedly. "I can take the bus, no problem."
"Hell, it's just a few minutes, I'm taking you home." He leaned forward and said conspirationally, "Besides, I'm sure Blair will have the dishes done by the time I get back."
She laughed at that, and Jim was all the more regretting the next steps that would have to be taken - but were inevitable.
Blair never got the chance to do the dishes, because a few minutes after Jim and Trina had left, the call came in. It took him a while to identify the voice that sounded on the verge of panicking.
"They're after me! It's you who put them onto me, so do something now. I need protection!"
After a moment, it sank in. "Mr. McDougall. Who is after you?"
"I'll tell you, but get me out of here first! Now!"
"All right. I'm on my way."
"Trina, I need to ask you something."
Oh, damn it, why hadn't he left this to Blair? He was the one who could effortlessly handle a conversation like this, but still... Maybe it wasn't very rational, but Jim had always felt a certain familiarity toward Rafe's little sister. It had to do with loss, the sudden and brutal kind; they'd both faced it. He could think of so many examples in his life, from his mother, to his men in Peru, to Incacha...
"Do you like it here? Your school, Cascade in general?"
"Well, it's not like I had a choice," she said, her voice level, but he could hear her heartbeat rise. "It's okay."
"No, it's not. Not really. We always hope to catch those bastards like the ones that took away your parents, but we don't always make it."
Trina swallowed. "I've seen a psychiatrist, you know? I know all about my justified anger, my fears, and my nightmares."
"But that doesn't make it any better - and the alcohol helps at least some, doesn't it?"
At that, she simply leaned forward and started to cry. Oh no, he shouldn't have done this himself, Jim thought with an inward sigh. But he'd started it, and he had to bring it to an end now. At least she wasn't running away, like Stacey Newman had all those years ago, so that had to count for something.
"Jim, where are you?"
Pushing aside his frustration, Blair realized that he would have to do this without his partner, but in any case, he'd need some back-up. McDougall hadn't said how many pursuers there were, but if Michael Lazar was behind this, they'd probably deal with the man's private security, not a troop you'd take on all by yourself.
Could it be that the artist was the Jester himself?
"Oh, God." Trina raked shaking hands through her hair, obviously upset - no surprise there. "This is a nightmare. All I wanted was to get rid of those images, but it doesn't work, they come back again and again!"
"Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"I don't know. I mean Brian and Megan hardly ever have time for themselves anyway, I didn't want to bother them. I thought I could handle it, but I was probably just kidding myself."
Didn't he know that feeling... "So you were searching for something to make the pain go away."
For the first time during their conversation, she looked away. "Are you going to tell my brother?"
"I have to. Look, I know you're not getting along too well at the moment, but I'm sure he's worried. You're the only family he has left now."
When Trina looked him in the eye again, Jim was struck by how clear and adult she looked all of a sudden. Her eyes were dry, her voice calm as she asked, "Have you ever lost someone you loved?"
"Yes," he said without hesitation. She'd been honest so far, so it was only fair.
"And did it ever hurt so much, you were ready to do anything just to make the pain go away? To numb it somehow?"
Her words unexpectedly brought up images of the pools in the Temple of the Sentinels; the first time there, when he'd thought he'd lose his mind in the kaleidoscope of violence, guilt, and pain. Incacha, a trustworthy companion once, had shown him the way out of it. Trina had adults around her who wanted to help, but that was not enough, because the world looked much different from her point of view. Well, he could try anyway, as best he could.
"I tried. But it's like you say; it only numbs the pain. It doesn't make it go away in the long run."
"Then what does?"
"Time. Real good friends who don't let go when things get rough - and letting go of the guilt."
It felt weird to talk to her like this, but it was also an eye-opening experience. So clear what she was going through. For a long time, he'd laden himself with guilt, having been the only one to survive the helicopter crash in Peru.
It wasn't rational, but real all the same.
"Sounds like real work," she said with the ghost of a smile.
"It is. But it's worth it." He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "You know that you can always come to Blair or me if you need to talk. But don't shut out Megan and Brian, okay? It will all work itself out in time."
"I know I did something really stupid. Thank you for listening to me."
"No problem," Jim promised her, as he got out of the car, too. "And talk to Megan and your brother. They will listen, too. But it seemed like *that* conversation would have to wait. He could easily tell that there was no one in the apartment, Megan and Rafe both being at work. "You'll be okay?"
Trina straightened her shoulders. "Why don't you come up and check that there's no more booze? I won't drink anymore, I promise you. Just please don't tell anyone."
"No, don't do this to me!"
But the older man's eyes closed, and he sagged in Blair's grip. If Blair didn't manage to get him to a hospital soon, he'd die for sure, and whatever information he'd had for them, would be lost. That, and Blair didn't really want to lose another life like this.
He ducked as another bullet hit the crate right next to the one they'd taken cover behind. Where was that backup anyway?
There were at least three men, and with much more firepower. And they were closing in on them. Looking at his hands, Blair had to fight a surge of sickness. They were crimson red with McDougall's blood, just like in the vision. God.
No. I'm not ready for it to be over.
He'd have to think of something, a distraction in order to put them off.
He pressed the button, flinching from the sound of the explosion, watching impassively. These men were ruthless killers so they certainly didn't deserve better, even if the blast wouldn't be strong enough to kill them all; they certainly hadn't deserved better. After all, the blast wouldn't be strong enough to kill them all, even if he wouldn't have minded. Not that he would mind if it did. They had killed an innocent student, just to teach him a lesson. He only hoped that his calculations had been right, and the good guys would make it out in time.
The Jester left his signature before he walked away from the scene.
It was way after eight, the time Brian had promised he and Megan would be back in the note.
Neither of them had returned yet, and at the moment Trina was bitterly regretting making this deal with Jim, poured the last of the vodka down the drain. He'd asked her some more precise questions, and finally agreed not to tell anyone if she really kept her side of the bargain - one sip of something alcoholic, and the deal was off.
Trina believed that Jim would know. She had been around the people of the Major Crimes unit long enough to know that there was something special about Jim - when he said he'd know if she had been drinking, there was no doubt about it.
Not that she cared right now. She lay down on her bed with her teeth chattering, even though it wasn't all that cold, and she almost gagged on imaginary dust that rose from heaps of rubble, all that had been left of her home.
Across the street, there was a gas station. Trina had never bought any drink so close to her new home, afraid that somebody could find out.
What could it hurt to try?
Over the commotion of the scene, it was hard for Jim to concentrate enough to find the single heartbeat he was frantically searching for. He was half listening to Rafe who informed him that Blair was going to meet McDougall, and had requested back-up.
All the while he had his cell turned off during his conversation with Trina. Damn, he shouldn't have done that.
"I'm sorry, Jim," Rafe said. "I got here within a couple of minutes, but I couldn't do anything. Maybe they'd even timed it that way..."
Jim tuned his voice out, along everything else, as he strode closer to that half-collapsed building, pushing away the cold hands of guilt. That was no help now.
He reached out further until he could hear the sounds of small animals shuffling under the concrete, and further still...
"Come on, Jim, I know you can hear me." Of course, it could have been a hallucination or wishful thinking, but Blair just felt that it was true. Simon had surely been trying to reach Jim himself, and as soon as he knew what was going on, he would have rushed to the scene.
He wasn't injured except for a shallow gash on his cheek, but McDougall had been unconscious for a while, and Blair was worried that this part of the building, even though it had withstood the explosion, wouldn't hold for much longer. All means of escape had been shut off - walls on two sides, piles of concrete slabs on the other. They'd have to wait until rescue personnel got them out.
"And, man, you know what? I really want to go home. Now."
They'd found the Jester card before the three men sent after McDougall were rescued from the building, found in the destroyed part of the building. One of them had been critically injured in the blast.
McDougall had been loaded into another ambulance, still alive, but his condition was also critical, due to a gunshot wound he'd taken to the chest.
Blair seemed okay, if a little pale, and Jim breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled him close, uncaring of anyone watching. "You're bleeding," he said, almost surprised at the emotion leaking through his voice. Even though he could tell it wasn't anything serious, some of the tension hadn't left him yet.
Until the next moment, when the remaining half of the warehouse dissolved into a formless pile of rubble with a loud and sickening noise.
After a quick shower in the locker room, Blair had returned to Simon's office where they'd put together the information gained on this day - bottom line - the Jester had to know that somebody was after him, playing cat and mouse with his pursuers. But which side had been responsible for the explosion?
It had been an endless day for all of them. He noticed that Megan was looking at her watch at increasingly shorter intervals, and Rafe seemed unnerved, as if anybody would make him responsible for not getting to the scene in time to prevent the explosion.
Jim... well, he seemed to have other things on his mind, had been tense ever since they'd come back. No wonder. Blair hadn't yet fully realized that he'd almost been inside when the warehouse collapsed completely, and truth be told, he didn't want to think about it too hard.
Everybody in the room all but jumped from their chairs when Simon finally declared the meeting over, reminding them that he expected every one of them at eight o'clock sharp the next morning.
Since their fridge had been empty except for a six-pack, a lonely tomato and the remains of already suspicious looking cheese, as Jim had put it, they had to drop by the grocery store on the way first, but they'd made it home eventually.
It was that moment when the Jaguar pounced. So to speak.
All day, Blair thought he must have felt like Jim on a bad day, the world painted in gray - like being on the verge of a zone-out, or his senses overtaxed to the point of pain. The sensations were all back with the right intensity when Jim took his face in both hands, kissing him hard, and Blair found himself with his back against their front door - on the wrong side of it.
"Jim!" he gasped, "what if somebody comes?"
Jim gave him a breathy chuckle at that. "No one but you and me, Chief - I hope."
The need had been building in both of them, enhanced by the events of the day, and for a moment, Blair just relented to the pleasure Jim's touches gave him, to their messy kisses and his own want to touch everywhere his hands could reach. Being pinned between the door and Jim's body, he didn't have much room, and that was an even bigger turn-on.
The hallway was silent except for their breathing, to Blair anyway; he supposed Jim could hear all his blood rushing south, if he bothered to listen.
"Keys," he whispered, "In--" He sagged against the door with a moan as Jim managed to pull down his zipper and started caressing him intimately, his hand warm and sure. Somehow, he'd also managed to get the key out of Blair's jeans' pocket.
"Don't worry, babe." Jim sounded drunk with lust, and it was exactly the tone that could make Blair come on the spot. Heaven.
"I'd hear if anybody's using the elevator."
"I'm so relieved," Blair forced out, when the wall holding him up suddenly disappeared, and it was only thanks to Jim's quick reaction that he was still standing on his feet, however wobbly.
Once inside and in privacy, finesse was definitely not a subject, and had long since given way to frantic kissing and getting at least enough clothes out of the way, so they could bring their bodies together in a reckless dance, touching where they needed it most.
The closed door once again a reliable support, Blair felt safe to lose himself in the sensations, the hard wood digging into his back, Jim's hands on his ass, pressing their bodies together, the rocking motion now slow and sensual.
"So good," he moaned when they had to break the kiss for the sake of breathing.
It couldn't have been more than a couple of minutes when he felt he couldn't stand it any longer, didn't really want it to end yet, but there was no chance. "I'm sorry, sorry, I--"
"It's okay. Come. Come for me, babe."
Somehow, they had ended up on the floor, all tangled together, and even at the height of his orgasm, Blair was happy to feel Jim shuddering against him, their timing almost perfect.
"Wow. What was that?" he asked bemusedly when his breathing had returned to normal, and he was taking in the sight of the two of them, still entwined, pants pooled around their ankles. "I've never done anything like that."
Jim looked at him with so much intensity, it sent a pleasant shiver down Blair's spine.
"I've never loved anyone like that," he said, and then they just stayed there for a moment longer in each other's embrace, no more words needed.
"How about we clean up a little, get the groceries and put them away, and go upstairs then?"
Blair looked at him quizzically, and Jim shrugged. "Okay - get the groceries, clean up a little and go upstairs. How about that?"
"Much better. And you get the groceries - no need for both of us getting dressed."
A few moments later, Blair watched Jim moving around in the bedroom, turning on the CD player - but no Santana - and lighting a candle on the nightstand. After the rushed, if passionate intermezzo halfway in the hallway, this would be a treat, and he was already shivering with anticipation.
Finally Jim slipped off the jeans he'd hastily donned to get the groceries inside, barefoot, no shirt. Not encountering any neighbor, fortunately, because it wouldn't have been too easily explained.
They just lay together side by side for a moment, grateful the day had ended as it had and not any worse - and then moved into each other's embrace with a sync borne out of familiarity, sharing long, languid kisses. "Seems like you still haven't got enough of me," Blair smiled as he settled onto his stomach, aware of the smugness in his voice as he waited for Jim's answer.
"God, I love you," Jim whispered against his neck, the feel of his warm breath sending a shiver of anticipation down Blair's spine. "I could never get enough of you." Hands traveling over his body in tantalizing caresses, making his skin prickle. Oh yes, Jim knew how to do this, the use of his senses only an additional thrill. Thinking about it always made Blair feel special, because it was understood that Jim had never opened them that much before, with any other partner.
Blair felt as if his own sense of touch had been enhanced as well. As he cooled his burning face against the soft fabric of the pillow, it was as if he could feel each individual fiber against his skin - and all along the length of his body that Jim was torturing so masterfully.
He'd always take his time, safety first, and never before had anyone's gentleness and caring felt so much like this sweet torment, making him dizzy with lust.
It would have been so good, to move just a little against the sheets, just a bit of relief to take the edge off, but Jim would have none of that, bluntly using his strength to hold Blair in place. Sometimes, this was an incredible turn-on. And torture at the same time, but it was, oh, so good.
He could have cried with relief when Jim finally deemed him ready and settled between his legs, gently and slowly pressing forward.
The slow sensual slide of their bodies against one another, their fingers entwined, they made love. As far as Blair was concerned, it could have lasted for an eternity, and of course Jim was able to dial down to a certain extent - but eventually, the need for relief became too strong. He shuddered with pleasure as Jim began to move faster, his hand trailing down, fingers curling around Blair's cock finally.
"It's all right, babe. I've got you."
And even those words felt like a caress to his over-stimulated body; it was too much, and to let go was all he could do.
Time flies, they say. Blair certainly had no idea where it had gone during their passionate lovemaking that evening - they had slept a little, and he still felt kind of awed that the sound of his heartbeat could always lure Jim into a deep restful sleep. Resting his head on Blair's chest, even the Sentinel within could let his guard down some, and Blair himself had let himself slide into the land of dreams.
When they had finally gone back into the kitchen, it was quarter to midnight. He was cutting a few vegetables - tomatoes, paprika, cucumbers, to quickly throw together a salad, as Jim stepped behind him, wrapping his arms around Blair.
"Hey," he said, and Blair had to smile at the warm sated tone of his voice, still clearly audible.
"Don't do that. We'll never get that late-night snack."
"Do I care? Hmm, you smell good." Jim inhaled deeply, burying his nose in Blair's freshly washed hair. The shower had been needed.
"Uh-huh. You know, that really was some instinctive Sentinel behavior today. I could think of some tests there..."
The arms around him tightened, and Blair could clearly feel the tension grow in Jim's body as he no doubt recalled today's events. "I almost lost you. God, I'm so tired of this shit."
"But you didn't. We just haven't figured it out yet - it doesn't make sense. Why would that guy come after me? Every creep on the street wants the Jester, and Sneaks says that Lazar paid for the hit."
The moment he said it, the knife slipped just a tiny bit, nicking his skin, and in an instant, Blair was spiraled into another vision, running, fast, breathing hard as he ran after someone. A woman. He was gaining on her steadily, knowing he'd get her eventually. The urge to kill wasn't strong; she was just a pawn, but she couldn't get away.
He wouldn't let her.
A moment later, she stumbled with a pained outcry, dragging herself up, but it was too late.
He drew the knife.
She was looking up at him with naked fear in her eyes.
"Trina is asleep already," Megan said, stifling a yawn. "Can't this wait?"
"No, it can't. Megan, you've got to look after her, like, right now. We believe our killer is after her, too," Blair told her.
Even from a few feet away, over the phone, Jim had heard the dramatic increase of her heartbeat. There were hasty footsteps, then a door was opened. "Trina? Hey, sweetie, are you okay in there?"
Jim watched Blair as he listened, his fingers clutching the phone in a tight grip. Those visions were never easy to take, but this one had been very personal, and he knew that Blair would never forgive himself if they were already too late.
Jim could relate. But Trina had been safe, just a little while ago, hadn't she?
"Oh my God."
"What is it?" Blair asked anxiously. "Is she okay?"
"Not hurt or anything." Megan had her composure mostly back, her tone now signaling determination. "Okay, I wouldn't say, but she's drunk."
Foley winced when Blair sat down at his desk, picking up the folder about Michael Lazar. "Heard you almost got caught up in the explosion. I hope you're okay," he said sincerely.
Blair looked up at him, giving him a distracted smile. "Yeah, except for this." He traced the gash on his cheek gingerly. "Fortunately, it didn't need stitches. Jim already said it's giving me a pirate look. Not sure if that's a good thing."
Chris smiled back at him. "You and Jim are not just partners at work, are you?"
Now he had Blair's full attention. Jim had already brought up the subject that other colleagues might be thinking the same way as Rafe did, and that there could be problems arising for them. He wasn't too sure about Foley, who would be gone after a few weeks anyway, but still...
"You seem very observant."
"I observe many things. Like you're one of the best marksmen around, but you still hate picking up a weapon. Bad memories, I guess. Like everybody's good friends in Major Crimes, but there's a tension so thick in here you could cut through it."
"Wow, I'm impressed." Blair also recognized the subtle invitation to reveal more. No, thanks!
"Me, too. I was expecting kind of conservative structures within the department, but it's not nearly as bad as I thought. You guys are for real."
"Thanks... I guess."
"You're welcome. How's the old guy, by the way?"
"McDougall? He's in a coma. Chances are, we'll never find out what he wanted to tell me. We have an ID on one of the men in the warehouse though. Possibly one or all of them were involved in the murder."
"That was a gruesome one." Chris nodded. "Whereas Micki... I wonder if her death wasn't just an accident. Or why the Jester was interested in her anyway."
"Wish we knew. I was hoping McDougall had an idea about that."
Indeed, Chris was picking up many things. Blair didn't think the news about the aliases of Julia Edmonds had made the rounds yet. He meant to ask about it, but at that moment, Megan and Rafe entered the bullpen together; from the looks on their faces, it was easy to guess that nothing had been solved on a private level yet - great.
"I guess Megan's got work for me," Chris said with a hint of regret in his voice - not so much for the work, but the mood his supervisor would be in, Blair guessed. Not that it was her fault. This situation had to be really hard for Megan, as it was for everybody involved. "Nice talking to you."
"Yeah," Blair said, following Foley with his gaze, still wondering about the younger man's observations. Just a tiny bit of suspicion remaining - but then again, there were probably quite a few colleagues that who felt the same about him.
"Falling asleep at your desk? I didn't think we stayed up that long last night."
Much to his credit, Jim had a cup of delicious-smelling coffee with him, and Blair took it from him gratefully.
"I don't know," he sighed. "It's just that... it doesn't add up. Every trace seems to turn into another dead end, and those visions - I have no idea why they're coming back now. Sure as hell don't make much sense to me. I never saw myself in one before, only kind of pieces of the killer's mind. And thank God Trina is safe, but there's no explanation as to why I saw her."
Jim's gaze was sympathetic, but showed that he didn't have any more answers. "Maybe McDougall could have helped clear that up, but whatever he wanted to tell you, we're not going to hear it anytime soon."
"Right. The guys from the warehouse wanted something from him. Lazar's goons, most likely, and there must be a connection to Michelle Bergen, or Micki Baker. So what do you think about Foley?"
"Foley." Jim didn't even seem surprised about the non-sequitur. "Very motivated and interested in anybody and anything, in a kind of charming and sometimes annoying way. Very much like someone I know."
"Well, thanks." Blair scowled at him, regardless the fact he'd made that comparison himself earlier.
"Why are you asking?"
"Not sure. You're right, he's very... interested. Basically a nice guy, I guess. Maybe I'm just paranoid."
Blair was aware that Jim would have liked to go deeper into the subject, but that moment, the call came in, and they never found the time for it.
"You were supposed to stay in the car! You are *my* responsibility, something happens to you, it's my ass on the line. If I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it!"
Jim winced a little as Megan's voice rose to a higher pitch, sharing an amused look with Blair. He could definitely sympathize as to the reason for the mood she was in - he'd been there before.
They were all assembled in the storage room of the 'MYTH'. A neighbor had called the police about a break-in at McDougall's store, and Megan and Chris had been first on the scene. The perp had still been there, and shots had been exchanged, but the two men had gotten away.
Upon seeing the second perp entering the store, Chris hadn't waited as Megan had instructed him to do, but joined her just in time to push her out of the way of a bullet, and take a graze himself.
Knowing Megan as he did, Jim could easily perceive the underlying emotion. It wasn't ungratefulness that made her yell at her ride-along, and even if her relationship with Foley was nothing like his with Blair had been - he knew all about it. Would have reacted the same, a while ago.
Chris didn't seem fazed by her words; he just waited until she was finished, and then said, "I'm sorry, but I can take care of myself. I'm okay."
"Yeah, right." She shook her head in exasperation, turning away from him. "In any case, the search of the store turned up some interesting things. Including this."
The object she showed them brought a collective groan from everybody.
One more Jester card.
"Are you kidding me?" Lazar shouted. "You said you'd give me the Jester, yet that comedian shoots up my guys when they were taking a look at the old man's store. McDougall can't be him, because he's still in the hospital!"
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that. I wasn't sure before, but I am now. The Jester stands for someone who does things in a new, unconventional way. With police work, he's got access to all data, and the perfect cover."
"Then fucking do something about it."
Michael Lazar made an impatient gesture, and the young man knew he was dismissed.
He didn't like it, not a bit, but it was either this or blow his own cover.
He'd have to go and warn somebody.
This time, the Jester was true to his word again - the card had been stuck to a disc that contained photos, and emails exchanged between McDougall and Julia Edmonds, in which he called her Micki.
Now they knew what McDougall had lied about in the interview. He had somehow found out that Micki had been Lazar's contract killer, probably sent after the Jester in the first place. And if he was right, the big money came directly from Michael Lazar - for successful jobs done.
"So, I guess it's time to pay Mr. Lazar a visit," Jim remarked.
"It definitely is," Megan said triumphantly, "Look at this."
The picture seemed to be from a security camera, enlarged and printed out, but the three people were still identifiable even without Sentinel senses:
Darren Edmonds, and Michael Lazar who was handing something that looked like an envelope to a dark-haired woman, Julia Edmonds, or whatever she had called herself at that time.
The men who broke into the store had obviously been after this evidence, but the Jester had found it before them.
Trina felt hopelessly overtaxed, craving a drink, but of course that wouldn't happen anytime soon. Ever since Megan and Brian had found her out, she seemed to be under constant observation, and all she could do to get a little distance was spend every minute out of school in her room.
Megan had scheduled an appointment with the department psychiatrist for her, and she and Brian took turns driving Trina to school and picking her up.
To her, it was like being in a prison.
All she knew was that she couldn't go on like this much longer, and in addition to that, she felt bad about betraying Jim's trust. Though he had unconventional ways of making his point, Chris Foley was the only one who had really listened to her and talked to her like an adult.
Jim surely wouldn't feel inclined to help her again.
But, maybe, Chris could.
"I don't mean to be rude, gentlemen, but I don't have much time, so how can I help you?"
Michael Lazar was quite the businessman; hard to believe he was commissioning the murder of one of his own, albeit criminal adversaries. By now though, Blair knew that with people like him, looks were deceiving more often than not.
He had a hard time concentrating; visions of Trina's fearful eyes dancing on his mind ever since they'd entered the lobby of the building, another implication that they were searching absolutely in the right place.
Lazar practically oozed wealth, and even though he'd made an effort to distance himself from the activities of his family, the persistent vision fragments told another story. Disturbing as they might be, until now, they had been precise.
"Mr. Lazar, how was your relationship with Julia Edmonds?"
Lazar scrunched up his face in confusion. "Should I know her? You know, I make a habit of knowing the people who work for me, but there's no guarantee - there are so many. The name doesn't ring a bell."
"Well, maybe you knew her under another name - Micki Baker."
"Micki, oh, right. She worked here as a secretary. Didn't come to work one day, and I haven't seen her since. Has something happened to her?"
Blair turned sideways to Jim, who wasn't giving much away, but the small smile told him enough - Jim did the human polygraph thing again, with success.
"A secretary, you say? We have a witness who claims she might have been in a different line of work. Making people disappear. Being paid by you, Mr. Lazar."
"Then your witness is lying." Lazar smiled jovially. "If you're making allegations based on my family history, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm a businessman; I might emphasize, on very good terms with your father, Detective Ellison. Anyway, it's nothing new that employees try to badmouth you. If you're talking about those guys I've fired recently, I can imagine where that rumor's come from."
"So - does the name McDougall ring a bell, then?"
"Sure. He used to have his little esoteric store in this building; I thought it didn't quite fit with what I had in mind, so I paid him to get lost. He's telling a different story."
Blair shared an amused look with Jim. The guy really had an answer for everything.
"I heard you have an extensive security staff working for you."
Lazar smirked at that. "Well, not everybody likes me, sad, but true. You can imagine that in my line of work, you need to take precautions."
"Of course. Mr. Lazar, one last question. Did any of these men ever work for you?"
Blair handed him the pictures of the three goons that had shot at McDougall and himself in the warehouse.
"This one. Andrew Marshall; we hired him last year, but he had to leave a few months after that. Had a drinking problem he couldn't seem to control - I couldn't employ him any longer."
"And you never saw him again?"
"No. Is that all, gentlemen?"
Blair smiled at him politely. "For now - yes."
"Too bad that neither my visions nor your polygraph abilities are admissable in court," Blair mused as they stopped at a diner a block away for lunch. "He knows more than he's telling us, but how do we get him? You think Sneaks could give us something more?"
Jim shrugged. "Not sure about that. He seemed unusually nervous, even for him. It seems like now every criminal wants to hunt down the Jester, there are others who are worried about being mistaken for him... what is it? Another vision?"
"No. It's just freezing in here."
Blair shivered, not quite sure himself about what had just happened, but he was glad that Jim seemed inclined to let it go and give him an indulgent smile instead. "So, what about Rafe? Have you talked to him?"
"Haven't had an opportunity yet, but he seems pretty pissed. In this case, I think he's got the right to be."
"You had your reasons for not telling them - and in the end, it was only a small delay."
"That could have turned out to be very dangerous, if your vision had been literal."
Blair chose not to answer that, knowing it would be pointless, but his thoughts wandered back to the strange feeling he'd had just a few minutes ago, when Jim mentioned the Jester. Everything would be a lot easier once they'd found the man; he was bound to have many answers for them, including Lazar's involvement.
And maybe he even knew who was supposed to replace Micki in the hunt. Chances were the same person had murdered Vanessa Masters, and left the Death card at the scene to warn off the Jester.
Everybody had worked long hours, but in Megan's opinion, it was better than getting home early, with the way things were now. Blair's call had really given her a scare; of course she didn't understand those visions any better than anybody else, but she was worried that the danger wasn't over yet.
Approaching Brian or Trina wasn't really easy, especially since they'd found out about the latter's secret drinking. It felt like everything was slipping away, and she was helpless to keep it from happening.
Laden with those dire thoughts, the invitation for Sunday evening from Simon who was going to show off his brand-new pool table didn't really come at a good moment.
Rafe stayed silent, while Megan was answering for both of them. She felt like she'd been doing this a lot in the past few weeks. "Thanks, Captain, but I'm afraid we can't come." She sent an imploring look at her lover, and when nothing came from that direction, she sighed. "Trina -- it's not so easy at the moment. I'd feel bad going out and leaving her all alone."
"Go if you want," Rafe said. "I'll stay with her." In another situation, it might have been an offer of support, but that was definitely not how it was meant now.
"Why don't you bring her? I guess our newest addition to the department will be there - and Daryl said he'd drop by, too."
Megan looked at Brian again, then she said, "I'll ask her; I'm not sure if she wants to do anything with us at the moment."
Simon was obviously aware of how embarrassing this whole situation was for her. "Don't worry, Connor, that won't last forever. I speak from experience here."
It was a nice try, but Daryl was eighteen now - she hoped that it wouldn't last three more years for Trina to see what she was doing to herself.
To everybody's surprise, Trina had joined Connor - Rafe being absent and excused by Megan - but she avoided talking much. Daryl said hello to everybody, but was soon gone to spend the evening with his date.
Simon was shaking his head, but the look of pride on his face was unmistakable. No wonder, his son's quick thinking had helped save a girl's life not so long ago.
"He's seeing Marissa, isn't he? How is she now?" Jim asked him, remembering the frightened girl they'd saved from the serial killer's clutches. Maybe Trina appearing in Blair's vision was just a weird coincidence altogether, and an aftereffect from the last case.
"Better. Still getting some counseling, but she seems to be dealing pretty well with everything. Talked things through with her parents, and they're fine now."
"They should be. Besides being the son of a police captain, Daryl's a great kid."
"Yeah, he is," Simon confirmed. "Hell, they might be annoying as teenagers, but it's worth being patient."
Jim just nodded, knowing where the captain was going with this. There were no more words necessary. He caught Trina's eyes across the table, giving her a smile. She smiled back shyly.
Again, he thought about Blair's last vision, wondering whatever it had meant to tell them. Now that everybody was warned, was she still in danger from anything except her own pain?
Later that evening, when they started the games of pool, Megan was first against Simon.
"Be careful, sir - she's armed and dangerous," Jim smirked, clearly reading it in her body language when she picked up the cue. He could sympathize. While Rafe probably had reason to be mad with Jim at the moment, it wasn't fair that he gave Megan the cold shoulder, too. She tried hard to keep things together.
She was rolling her eyes at him, but indeed, she didn't need more than a few minutes to precisely pot the balls, hardly giving Simon a chance.
"Is it bad luck that I lose the first game on this new table?" Simon wondered aloud, but he grinned good-naturedly. "Who's next?"
There was a small pause, then Trina unexpectedly got up. "I can play..." she said, clarifying,
"I mean, Dad taught me. He was pretty good."
All of a sudden, there was complete silence in the room, not because of her suggestion to join in, but at the mention of her father. Nobody quite seemed to know how to answer this, and she blushed, misunderstanding. "I just thought--"
Out of habit and because he was always ready to give him the credit in those precarious situations, Jim's bet would have been on Blair, but to his surprise - or not - it was Henri Brown who finally saved the situation.
"Well, sista," he drawled, "then come show us what you've got. I know my partner - he plays a mean pool game. Must run in the family."
"You bet," she returned with a relieved smile, and the tension dissolved again.
She actually won that game, and it wasn't that Brown had simply let her.
In the end, the final was played between Chris and Blair. Jim stood a bit to one side, watching the interaction between the two younger men with fascination, while he was aware that he was not the only one.
Before they'd even started, Jim had been convinced that Blair would make it into the final round. He had fun playing, and he was just that good. Even if Jim could have probably beaten him if he weren't so - well - distracted while they had been up against each other.
If he hadn't promised not to use any 'superhuman' abilities.
Foley, however, wasn't just doing it for the fun. There was something predatory about him when he approached the table. He was dressed in all black tonight, the choice of clothes enhancing the effect of the red streaks in his hair.
It was an interesting showdown. Chris, the new one, and Blair, who had been in this situation before, but was now a trusted member of the department.
Jim thought of the Jester who was using unconventional ways to bring the bigger fishes to justice, seemingly always a step ahead of the investigators. Would be interesting if there had been a way to work with him instead of hunting him, because he seemed to have access to many important sources of information. But where was he getting his information from?
What if the Jester was a cop himself?
It had been a nice, rather relaxed evening so far, more than they could have expected, but nothing was ever that uncomplicated, Blair thought when Rafe came to pick up Megan and Trina, snapping at his younger sister the first moment he saw her.
"I guess I don't have to tell you it's not a good thing when your teacher calls me on the weekend."
It was easy to see that Trina was mortified being shown up in front of the adults, and she answered in kind, her lips set in a grim line. "Why don't you ever back off?"
It was on the tip of Blair's tongue to suggest they'd better talk about that at home - to spare any of them any further embarrassment - but he didn't get that far.
"Because someone has to set you straight?"
"You're not my father!" she yelled. "Just in case you've forgotten, our parents are dead!"
Rafe paled at her words, but he didn't say anything, simply shook his head, while Trina bolted from the room. Megan looked like she didn't know who to console first.
Foley laid a hand on her shoulder then, promising, "I'll talk to her," and for once, she didn't argue, just thanked him.
There was nothing they could do for any of them right now. Blair sent a questioning gaze at Jim, and they agreed without words that now would be a good moment to leave. They quietly said goodbye to everyone, but before closing the door behind the two of them, Blair heard Simon say, "Maybe it'd be better if you took a few days off, until you've got things straightened out at home."
He could only agree to the captain's suggestion.
As soon as she was in bed after another seemingly pointless discussion, Trina picked up her cell phone and called the number she knew by heart already.
"I can't stand this any longer. I need to get away." There was a pause, and Trina sensed Chris' hesitation. "Don't let me down now. You always said you were going away anyway. Take me with you, please. I won't be a bother."
"I know you wouldn't be," he said then, gently. "I'm just not sure if this is the right moment."
She guessed he was talking about more than her going away, but truth be said, she didn't care much. She'd screwed up so totally that the best she could think of was to start over somewhere else. Everybody was so disappointed in her now; Trina thought it was impossible to ever gain their trust again. Cringing at the memory of what she'd said to her brother, not to mention her broken promise to Jim, her resolve was nevertheless strengthened.
Somehow, she knew it would be different with Chris. "You have to. I don't know where else to go."
There was another nerve-wracking moment, before he answered, "All right then. Write them a note; make sure nobody's going to be worried. By the time they find out we're gone, it'll be too late." Trina hung up the phone, wiping the tears from her face. For the first time in a long time, she was making choices again.
It felt good.
"Hey, what's up with you?"
Jim had been quite silent after they'd gotten home. Not that it was an unusual thing, but Blair could surely tell the difference, that his lover was still brooding about something.
He flung an arm around Jim's waist, pressing his body a little closer, not in a sexual way this time, but more like offering support. He loved this closeness that now came easily between them, of body and mind. Reveling in the feel of warm skin against his, wondering how this had to feel to Jim, while he was waiting patiently for the answer he knew would come.
"Rafe was right," Jim finally said. "I should have told them about Trina the moment I knew."
"Maybe." Blair traced a single finger down Jim's arm. "On the other hand, she needed someone she could trust, to treat her like an adult. You tried."
"Yeah. It wasn't enough though."
"I'm sorry, but I think the drinking's just the tip of the iceberg, isn't it? It's something they can only solve as a family. We can try to be there for them, but we can't do it for them."
Jim turned around, and his first kiss was pure gratitude, even though Blair sensed that he hadn't quite convinced him - he was being rewarded for the attempt. Very slowly, the heavy veil of responsibility and guilt lifted, their shared intimacy once more proving to have a healing quality.
And when the phone rang, it was Jim who groaned, "We're off duty, right?"
Not that Blair was happy to be distracted from the task at hand, so to speak. "It could be important. I'll get it."
Casting another regretful look at Jim who was still sprawled on the bed invitingly, but with an annoyed look on his face now, he hastened down the stairs, but didn't catch it before the machine. It was Megan's voice on the tape, sounding more urgent that he'd ever heard her.
"Please, call me back as soon as you're home. I was wondering if Trina is with you--"
"Megan?" His heart pounding all of a sudden, Blair had yanked the phone from its station. "What happened?"
It was spooky to hear their usually tenacious colleague on the verge of tears. Upstairs, Jim had started to dress, just coming down the stairs when Megan said, "It's terrible, Sandy. Trina has run away. Brian is not here. I had hoped that she was with you, maybe--"
"Sorry, no. But we can--"
"Come over in a few minutes, as soon as he's put some clothes on," Jim, who had taken the phone from him, explained dryly. "Come on, Chief. Get moving. No, Megan, it's not a problem. Why don't you take another look at her room in the meantime?"
"She's left a note."
There were tears in Megan's eyes now, and she didn't try to hide them.
Jim took the rose-colored page from her, obviously torn out of a diary.
"Don't worry about me. I need to get away, and be with myself for a while. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but you have to know that I love you both, and I'm grateful you gave me a home. It's not your fault I screwed up.
"I've already called her best friend Helen, spoken with the mother, too. They honestly don't know where Trina is."
"Have you found the rest of this yet?" intimating the diary. "There might be a hint in it about where she's going."
"I looked," Megan said, defeated. "I have no idea where she kept it. I wanted to respect her privacy, you know?"
"Nothing wrong with that," Blair assured her. "But this is your department. Think, where did you keep your diary when you were fifteen years old?"
Once again, Jim admired his lover's people skills. Megan just gave him a wry look. "I didn't keep one. Some of my friends did, though. Oh, wait - you'd put it in a place that seemed too obvious for the adults to look. Hiding it in plain sight, like..."
She started pulling open the drawer's of Trina's desk, reaching inside each, and behind them. "Nothing."
"Wait a minute. Is she seeing anyone?" Jim interrupted them. "I know that scent," he explained. "An after-shave, but it's not Rafe's."
Megan struggled with this new information for a moment, but then her cop persona gained the upper hand. "I don't know of any boyfriend - or anyone else who could have been here. Wait a minute - Chris was here a few days ago, but they talked in the living room."
She blushed a little, and Jim assumed that there had been an argument between her and Rafe once again.
"Hell, that doesn't really count, only that we must find her soon," she said resolutely. "We can pay for a clinic, or therapy, or whatever. Let's keep looking for that diary."
After the young man was gone, Lazar called his newest employee, Micki's supposed replacement, into his office.
"I want you to follow him, but unobtrusively. He's given me the information I want, but I'm not sure whether I can really trust him. See where he goes, and then bring me the Jester."
"You said you don't care what I do with him," the other man reminded his boss.
Lazar shrugged. "I've changed my mind. I want to have a long talk myself with the Jester - before I kill him."
He took a long look at the picture of the man who'd sat in his office not so long ago, asking all kinds of nosy questions. The game would be over soon - and this time it would be him asking the questions, and he would get his answers.
From the Jester, Blair Sandburg.
Just why had it taken everybody so long to figure it out?
They'd been hiking for a while, when Chris led Trina into a cave that was partly hidden by dense bushes. To her surprise, there was a sleeping bag, enough wood for a fire, and some food, all neatly stacked against the rocky wall. He'd prepared this place.
For the first time since she had known him, she was feeling honest suspicion. When had he taken these precautions? Why?
Noticing her gaze on him, Chris Foley just shrugged. "I found this place a few months back, and it's perfect. I need to get away from the city every now and then, you know? I'm not the fancy hotel type either."
She laid down her own sleeping bag and backpack. "It's nice. So what did you want to show me?"
They hadn't gotten any closer to finding the diary, but Rafe had returned, not explaining where he had been. His first reaction at finding his co-workers in his apartment had been unnerved, but when he learned the reason, he'd restricted himself to asking a few precise questions. Jim didn't buy the cold act for a minute; Rafe was scared for his kid sister, but there was no way in hell he'd admit it.
"I thought that hooking her up with the department shrink would be a first step, but I was obviously wrong. God, I should have never left her alone." Megan sounded exhausted, on the verge of tears.
When Rafe just stayed in the same spot, Jim said the words that he thought his colleague should hear. "It's not your fault. Trina doesn't have a history of running away or anything. You did what you could. And I promise you, we're going to find her."
The sooner the better. That, he didn't say out loud, Megan knew the odds just as well as he did, and probably she was, like him, thinking of the last case he and Blair had worked on. The victims had been about Trina's age.
At that, Rafe turned around, his eyes blazing with anger. "And what have you done about it so far?" he asked icily. "Nice idea about that diary, but we don't even know if she kept one. I'm going to look for her."
A moment later, the front door slammed. Megan shook her head in obvious frustration. "Damn it, what the hell am I still doing here?" she asked rhetorically, tossing back the stuffed teddy bear she'd picked up from Trina's bed.
The sound of the bear hitting the cover was all wrong, like there was something harder encased in there.
"Good work, Connor. There's your secret hideaway."
Looking at Blair, Jim knew they both felt the same relief. Hopefully, they'd find some trace as to where Trina had gone, and that was what they had to concentrate on now. Everything else was for Megan and Rafe to work out. Jim didn't envy them that task.
They had made a fire and slept in their sleeping bags - kind of romantic, Trina thought, but she was rather relieved now that Chris had not made a move on her. She had to admit it wasn't truly what she needed. She felt safe with him, and it was a good feeling to be able to trust someone.
Maybe, there would come a time when she'd be able to trust herself again.
She was barely awake when Chris returned from the morning swim he'd taken in the river, wearing only his jeans now, his wet hair shining in the sunlight that came in through the opening of the cave. Trina sighed inwardly. She needed a friend more than anything else, but the sight was sure... nice.
When he bent to pull a shirt from his duffel bag, she watched idly, sitting up to take a closer look when she saw the tattoo on his hip. Some kind of mystical figure, what was it called already? A pierot? No. "Interesting tattoo," she remarked, getting up to stand behind him.
He turned to her, smiling. "Yeah, I thought that, too."
She traced the lines with her finger, feeling daring when he shivered at her touch. Trina remembered the term finally. "It's a jester."
"That's right," he said, pulling her into a light embrace.
The diary, hidden within the teddy bear, had indeed been informative, but it was yet unclear if the news was a reason to be relieved or even more concerned. Megan had made up her mind quickly: "I'll kill that bastard if he's touched her! Ah, scratch that, I'll kill him anyway. What the hell is he thinking?"
The address Chris Foley had given them when he joined the CPD as a ride-along, didn't really exist - no one had bothered to check before, and now it turned out that he seemed to have disappeared, too. From the entries in Trina's diary, it seemed a valid guess that the two of them were together.
Jim and Blair had left in the wee hours of the morning, but were unable to find sleep as they puzzled over this new turn of events.
About four hours later, Blair felt like he still hadn't slept at all, but the distinct sound of the phone had woken him. Carefully, he disentangled himself from Jim's embrace, whispering, "On my way already."
The caller was a doctor from the Cascade General, wanting to inform them that McDougall had, against all odds, woken from the coma.
Later, they had a breakfast that wasn't really all that rustic, given the fact Chris had bought bagels from a bakery, and coffee from a 7-Eleven earlier. With the place still smelling faintly of the fire, and the sky over them, Trina felt much better than she had in ages. Chris didn't need to know yet that she hadn't told Brian any details as to her whereabouts, or who was with her.
He hadn't asked anyway. And after they'd disposed of the garbage, he had promised to show her something. Trina had started at the sight, but Chris remained calm. "I've been thinking," he said, "this drinking thing, it's all about feeling helpless, isn't it?"
She shrugged. What more was there to say?
"Of course, it is making you even more helpless to keep on with that shit. Do you want to stop feeling helpless?"
"What kind of stupid question is that?"
"Well, okay then. Come on over here. If you're going to handle a weapon," he explained, "you always have to take care of safety first - for you and others. Don't point it at anyone unless you really mean it."
Trina watched in astonishment as he loaded the weapon, then laid it in her hands, observing carefully while she examined it, gauging the weight, then slowly raised it to the paper target he'd stuck to the tree trunk. "It's heavy," she said, surprised.
"Exactly, and that's why you have to be so careful. You wouldn't want to discharge it accidentally - besides, you can get arrested for it, in addition to all the other bad things that can happen."
Chris moved behind her, covering her hands with his, steadying them. She felt excited and very safe at the same time.
"Isn't it good to be in control?" he whispered.
"You're going to let me shoot?"
"Try. Pull the trigger."
Trina breathed deeply, then she took aim. She felt her heart beating fast, but she wasn't afraid. Not of this. He trusted her to be able to do it. Slowly, she pulled back the trigger, then started at the sound. "Jesus, it's loud!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah, well. Try again."
After three shots of which two were close to the target, Trina felt all exhilarated. "I'm not that bad, am I? Come on, admit it."
"You're screwing up," Chris said, and she stared at him in disbelief.
"Every day a little bit more. You think that felt good? Keep up with the drinking, and you'll lose more than good aim. Are your hands shaking when you don't get your fill? Do you have trouble concentrating at school?"
"God, you're such a prick," she spat. "Why do you always have to spoil a good moment?"
Chris chose to ignore her words. "You're not that bad, but you're still shooting like a girl. Come on, let me show you something. And stay behind me." In short succession, he fired three shots, all of them right into the center of the target.
Her anger forgotten, Trina stared in unwitting admiration. "Wow. That is--"
"That is you without the alcohol. You're getting there, Trina. I promise you."
Who needed breakfast anyway...? While Blair was going to assist Megan in the search for Chris Foley and Trina, while Jim had gone to the hospital to talk to McDougall. Did he really have all that breakthrough information for them, as they had hoped all the time, or would it turn out to be just another dead end?
In any case, McDougall would have to answer why he had known about Micki Baker's true profession. If it got them any closer to Lazar - even better.
"Only for a few minutes," the doctor warned. "He's still weak, but I got the impression he really wants to talk to you."
Well, if that wasn't a good start... McDougall looked a whole lot frailer in that hospital bed than Jim remembered him, but that was not the only reason he wanted to make this conversation a short one - he still had a bad feeling about Trina disappearing with Foley.
"Sometimes it's hard to be the one who's different, but somebody's got to do the job."
Chris' words from the poker game came back to him, and he remembered Blair had used similar words to characterize the Jester. Coincidence? Not very likely.
"Mr. McDougall, I'm glad to see you're doing better. I'll try to be as quick as possible." Determined to get answers, Jim leaned closer to the man in the bed.
Two actors playing out a scene on a stage, the medieval Jester holding up a mirror to his King. In the myth, the Jester had been granted lots of power, because he was allowed to tell the truth that no one else dared to speak aloud.
This time though, it was different. The King grinned in smug satisfaction at the image in the mirror, and the Jester stumbled back, his expression one of shock:
In the small mirror, there was the reflection of Trina. The scenery behind her looked like some kind of forest, and the mouth of a cave, looking familiar somehow, but then--
"Sandy! Are you okay?" Megan asked worriedly.
Orientating himself again, Blair mentally filed away the details of the vision. They had come back to the station to check Foley's personal file once more, and see if anything turned up. It had been futile until one look at Foley's picture had brought on the new vision.
Damn, if only he could remember where he'd seen that cave before. He was pretty sure it existed, and that he'd been there, but couldn't put his finger on it.
He didn't want to tell Megan about that one particular detail, either, because this vision seemed to make sense in a scary way when put together with the earlier one - Trina could still be in danger from the killer; Lazar was involved somehow, as was the Jester, of course.
"Yeah, sure," Blair answered after a moment, distractedly. Where the hell was that cave? It had to be in an area where he and Jim had been hiking before, but without any more details, it would be searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Then he knew what to do. "Megan, I think I have an idea how we can find Trina. How far can they have gotten since yesterday evening? We need to search for any clue as to the term 'King'."
She looked at him quizzically. "You know, I think I'm kind of used to all the weird things that always happen with you and Jim, but please, once again in plain English. What on earth did you ever see in that vision?"
"Remember the archetypal meaning of the Jester," Blair told her excitedly. "He held up the mirror to the King, and that was Lazar in my vision. I know it's a reach, but let's check the net and see if we find anything." He could tell she was still not understanding everything, which was more his fault, because he'd very deliberately left out something important, but that couldn't be helped now.
There were quite a few hits from the search, but only two that fit with the image Blair had seen in the background of the mirror image - King's Creek, and King's Park, both within driving distance. They'd check both. In the parking garage, Megan hesitated a moment, then she said, "You're so awfully sure about the location. Why do you think is he going into the woods with her?"
Blair hadn't wanted to think too hard about that, either. "I don't think Chris will hurt her. He seemed to genuinely like her, and this running away together doesn't have to be tied in with the case."
"I'm more worried about Lazar," she admitted, then they parted without further words.
"My nephew... came to me about the first set of cards. I got suspicious when he ordered more and more." Finally, McDougall seemed to be ready to talk, acknowledging now that the person he'd wanted to protect all along had taken it too far.
Even in his condition, McDougall managed a wry smile. "Because the people who... usually buy this -- they don't need more than one or two sets - and they want them complete. Chris, however--"
"Chris? What's his last name?"
"You should know. It's Foley. He always said he was going to the police and would change it from the inside out, when his sister was regularly beaten up by her husband. But I swear to you, he would never kill anyone. Never." He began to cough, obviously getting upset.
"I believe that," Jim said, remembering the first interview they'd done with the guy. He'd been lying all right, but he'd been truly upset by the suggestion that the Jester could be involved in a murder. "The first death seemed to be accidental, but Chris has stepped on some powerful people's toes. Do you know where he could be...?"
It wasn't the most important goal to find the Jester - but to find him and Trina before Lazar's people could. They just couldn't place it before, but Blair had been right on the money with his vision: Maybe it hadn't been Foley's intention, but he had drawn Trina right into his game with Lazar.
As soon as he found the small stream, King's Creek, it wasn't that much of a problem anymore. Blair remembered he and Jim had taken a look around inside the cave when they'd been hiking in the area a few years back, even set up camp not far away. And this time, inside, he found who he'd been looking for--
She spun around, dropping the can she'd been holding. Thank God, she looked okay, if a little shocked to see him. For a moment, both of them waited for the other to speak, then she said, "It's not Chris' fault. I didn't tell him what I wrote in the note; he thought it was okay, that you all knew I was with him."
"Well, he should have known anyway that it wasn't the best idea to just run away. Trina. Megan and Brian are worried about you. This is not the right way."
"So what is, then?" she asked bitterly, close to tears again. "We couldn't talk anymore. I couldn't stand them trying to replace my parents, because that's just not possible. I'm sorry I lied to Jim, but -- I didn't know what to do, everything was such a mess."
"No one's mad at you, just worried." Blair laid a hand on her trembling shoulder, while taking a look around. The set-up sure didn't look like a spontaneous flight. Foley had probably prepared this place before he got to know Trina.
The one who did things differently and got away with it. Then again, more than one court jester had probably taken it too far back then and got hanged anyway. "Where is he now?" Blair asked quietly. He'd bring Trina back first, but they really had to find Chris. The vision didn't bode for anything good - Lazar would try to get back at the Jester, and chances were, he'd gotten closer to revealing his true identity.
"Please don't give him trouble because of me," Trina insisted miserably.
"Oh, don't worry, there are just some questions we need to ask him."
"That's exactly what I'm here for, too."
The voice startled them both out of their conversation. It didn't belong to Chris, but an older man, tall, forty, maybe. He was holding a gun on them both, and Blair would have bet that the cruel grin was the last thing Vanessa Masters had seen before she died.
He was the new player in the private war game between Michael Lazar and the Jester.
Right on the money indeed. Jim cursed after he'd hung up the phone with a very concerned Megan who'd told him she couldn't reach Blair. King's Park had turned out to be a dead end, but King's Creek had obviously been a hit. He and Megan had agreed to meet at the place in fifteen minutes.
Please, be careful, Chief.
Blair couldn't help it, he had to stare at the man who'd just entered the barren room of Michael Lazar's cabin they'd been brought to. He looked different, wearing a suit, his hair slicked back. Casting a quick look at Trina showed Blair that she was just as shocked. He'd always known that there was something mysterious about the guy, but he'd never thought they'd be betrayed by him like this in the end.
All along, Blair had wanted to see the Jester as some modern-type Robin Hood, but he had to admit that he'd been sadly mistaken. He was a criminal, plain and simple, no better than the ones he'd helped bring down. "Chris, what the hell are you doing?" Maybe it was disappointment, or that he still had a hard time believing his judgement could have been that bad.
The younger man stared back at him indifferently. "Sorry, but you left me no choice. You'd better tell Mr. Lazar all he wants to know, so there's maybe a chance we can keep this from getting ugly. This is only about the details - your cover is blown to pieces anyway."
"Are you nuts? How much more ugly can it get anyway? You know that I'm not the Jester. And you know what, I'm starting to believe you are."
Trina opened her mouth, but stayed silent when Chris shot her a warning glance.
He turned to his companion with a sarcastic smile. "Told you he'd say that. Now, let's see if Mr. Lazar has everything ready for this conversation. He's sure been waiting a long time for it."
They both left, leaving both Blair and Trina in shocked confusion.
Trina was crying quietly. "I swear I didn't know," she said. "I'm so sorry. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be in this mess right now."
She had a point there, but of course Blair didn't say that. He raised his bound hands to gingerly touch his jaw, wincing at the pain. Well, at least it didn't seem to be broken. The man had been acting like a pro from the first moment, forcing Trina to put the cuffs on Blair, and then adding a punch just to be sure.
"I don't blame you, Trina, we all fell for him. But it's important that we keep calm now. Did he tell you anything about why he's been doing this Jester act?"
"Not really," she said. "He always tried to show me how stupid this drinking thing is, and you know what's funny? I even started to believe him. And he taught me how to shoot," she revealed ruefully. "I don't get it. I always thought he was a friend."
"Don't beat yourself up over it." Blair tried to smile at her, even though it had to look rather crooked. Felt that way, in any case. "He was around cops all the time. The perfect cover for the Jester - but I never thought he'd be working for Lazar."
"I'm scared," Trina admitted. "Do you think they're going to kill us?"
"I think there's still time. And the others will surely figure out where we are in time."
Blair was very aware of the fact that he hadn't given her a definite answer to her question, and he guessed she had noticed it, too. They both stayed silent after that.
When the door opened again, it was another bad surprise for Blair - it was the same man he'd seen in his vision. The brutality seemed even stronger now that he was for real; and Blair assumed that it was the killer who was supposed to replace Baker.
Would now be the moment of Lazar's revenge, right in front of Trina's eyes? Blair closed his eyes, then tried to put all his resolve into his gaze and his voice. "Why don't you let the girl go? She doesn't know shit. It's me you want."
The man's eyes strayed over Trina who cowered in the corner, her eyes showing the same fear Blair had already seen in the vision. And a split second before Lazar's new contract killer spoke, he knew with sickening certainty. "Leave her alone," Blair said urgently. "She's the sister of a cop. Believe me, man, whatever's on your mind, it's not a good idea. Nobody will miss me, though."
"I'll deal with you later, punk," the man growled. "Let's see if she can help loosen your tongue a bit."
Oh God, no. He would hurt her with no hesitation whatsoever, but what was even worse, Blair had seen the greed in the man's eyes.
"No! Stop it! I swear I'll kill you if you--"
Trina screamed, too. Blair yanked at the cuffs so hard they cut into his wrists, but he didn't feel the pain, intent on doing whatever he could not to let this happen, but it was useless. The pipe he'd been cuffed to didn't give an inch.
"Blair was here. My guess is that he found Trina, and then - somebody found *them*."
"Chris?" Megan asked briskly.
"No. It seems like he prepared all this, and I think he and Trina slept in here."
At the anger welling up in Megan's eyes, Jim shook his head. "Nothing like that. I'd smell it, remember?"
She shuddered. "Yeah, right. Do you get anything about where they could have gone?"
Jim took a moment to concentrate, to separate the various scents and other information. It took a few minutes hovering on the edge of a zone, but then he found it: The person who had been here besides Blair, Chris Foley and Trina. He couldn't have said why, but all of a sudden he knew with certainty who it had been: Lazar's killer, the one Blair had seen in the second vision, chasing after Trina.
Which meant they were both in ultimate danger.
"Footprints are going in this direction." He pointed to the ground. "Let's go."
Trina fought hard, but in the end, she was no match for the man who slapped her hard, pushing her against the table in the corner of the room. God, hadn't the girl been through enough already? All Blair knew was that he couldn't stand to just sit by and watch this, no way. "Let her go, you pervert!" he shouted again.
"I'd consider that a good idea, too." The words hadn't been spoken loudly, but somehow they managed to bring the nightmare scenario to a halt.
It seemed that in this case, the surprises were never ending: There was Chris again, holding a gun with a silencer on the would-be rapist.
"Or else?" The killer easily held Trina down, ignoring Foley. It was obvious he didn't consider the younger man much of a threat.
"Or I blow your brains out," Chris promised calmly.
"You wouldn't dare."
When the man's hands tightened around Trina's throat, Chris pulled the trigger without hesitation.
"Quick, we've got to get out of here."
"Man, you know I could arrest you right here and now, don't you?" Blair rubbed his aching wrists, after Chris had opened the cuffs with the key he'd taken from the unconscious killer. "And what was that shit about me being the Jester?"
Before he answered, Chris walked over to Trina who was still cowering in a corner, crying quietly, the shock evident in her features. "It's okay, babe," he whispered, pulling her up and into his arms. "You'll be okay."
"Sorry about that," he finally directed at Blair, "but I didn't have all the information I needed, and I was too close to Lazar - if he'd found me out... but I guess you know that. I meant to warn you, but the timing was all skewed, and I honestly didn't know what he wanted that Death card for. I never meant to kill anyone, not even that bitch Micki who he'd sent after me. Oh, and I don't think you're going to arrest me. I'm going to give you Lazar and his whole bunch on a silver platter. Now, quick."
Chris had taken the gun from the killer and given his to Blair. "I hope you can put aside any plans on making an arrest just now, until we've gotten Trina out of here." He pulled her close to him again. "Hey, don't cry. It'll all be over soon."
If there hadn't been so much pressure, Blair would have marveled at how the younger man easily slipped from one role into another. But there wasn't time.
"How many men are here in the building? Is Lazar really around?"
"I promise you'll get all the necessary information to bring him down," Chris answered. "But I want Trina to be safe first."
For once, they'd been lucky. The footprints in the grass led deeper into the forest, then, as the ground got rockier, they disappeared altogether, but at that moment they could already see the cabin in the distance.
Jim had already heard the shots being fired, the sound of a gun with a silencer being discharged too familiar to ignore.
"Can you hear if Trina's in there?" Megan asked urgently, and Jim allowed himself a moment of guilty conscience, because out of habit and absolute necessity, he'd checked for Blair's heartbeat first.
"She is," he confirmed a moment later. "Along with Chris and Blair, and they are -- damn it. We gotta move."
"Where are you going, Chris?"
"Bringing you the prisoners. I thought you wanted to interrogate them."
Just for a second, Blair wasn't too sure on which side of the fence the younger man stood anyway, but then Chris raised his weapon.
"You've been so ridiculous, it was too easy to play you for a fool, Michael. Game's over now. You won't be putting weapons into the hands of men who kill their own fellow-countrymen. And for sure, you won't be paying lawyers for bastards who beat up on their wives."
"What are you talking about?" Lazar asked exasperatedly. "Are you stupid? Well, you really must be. How far do you think you can get with my men securing the place?"
A grin spread on his face, and spinning around, Blair could see that a couple of men from Lazar's personal security had come up behind them, all of them armed.
"See?" Lazar continued with satisfaction. "Sorry, Chris, but even the Jester can't get you out this time, 'cause as you see, he's in no better position. Mr. Sandburg, there were some things I've been interested in, but the good boy has just given me all the answers I need - he's the one who's been leaking the information to you."
"Whatever." Blair figured that it didn't matter at the moment who Lazar thought the Jester was - they were surrounded anyway. "But this is between me and you. Let Trina go; she doesn't know anything."
"Which is not completely true," Lazar smirked. "She's going to be a witness to murder, and that's one thing I don't need. Kill them," he ordered. "The Jester first, then the girl."
Everything happened very fast; the shot ringing out, and Blair was vaguely surprised that he didn't feel any pain when the blood was all over him, but then Trina cried out, "No!" and fell to her knees beside Chris who had stepped into Blair's way the moment Lazar had ordered his men to kill.
And then there were more shots fired, exchanged, in fact, because the cavalry had finally arrived.
It would take about forty minutes until the paramedics got there, and all they could do in the meantime was to try and stop the bleeding.
Lazar was now the one wearing cuffs; the danger averted with him and his men apprehended, but the price was still high. Jim knew that he and Megan wouldn't have been close enough to intervene in time when Lazar gave out the command, but Foley had.
Trina was still leaning over Chris, Blair showing her how to apply pressure to the wound.
"He'll be okay," he told her quietly, and then Megan rushed to her quasi-daughter, embracing her briefly before she took Blair's place. It was then that Jim got to take a first good look at his lover.
He seemed all right except for the bruise on his face, but Jim wasn't easily fooled. He supposed that the fact that Chris had taken this bullet - the second time for a member of the Major Crimes unit - was only the tip of the iceberg of today's events.
Blair gave him a tired smile. "Your timing's perfect, again."
"Yeah. I wanted us to be home on time for dinner. Your night to cook, remember?"
Jim didn't mention that he thought his timing could, and should have been a lot better. And then he started at a certain smell that didn't fit at all.
"Please, don't leave me alone! Not you, too!" Tears were streaming down Trina's face, fear making her almost choke on her words. So she was all the more shocked when Chris suddenly spoke to her, his voice calm and clear, not pain-stricken as she had expected.
"I won't, but listen, Trina, I need to get away from here. Think you can help me?"
"I'll try. Hell, of course." She knew she had to keep calm, but still gave him a quick private smile. "Thank God," she whispered.
Blair gave him a surprised look, and Megan, who had checked to see that Lazar was still safely cuffed although looking quite pissed, turned around.
"She said she needed a moment to herself, wanted to step outside. Why? Oh damn it," she cursed when her gaze followed Jim's.
The space where Chris had lain was empty. As Jim crouched down beside the red dark stain, taking a whiff and cautiously picking up some of the fluid with his index finger, he knew what he had smelled: Fake blood.
"Why don't you turn yourself in? I'm sure you wouldn't be punished that badly."
Chris smiled at her warmly, after he'd shed the stained shirt and the kevlar. "But I can't take the risk, you know? The Jester needs his freedom; he can't be locked up. And I promise you I'll be back for you after you're eighteen."
"You'll be an old man then," Trina teased him. "Don't expect me to wait for you that long."
He cupped her face with both hands, gazing into her eyes seriously. "I expect you to live your life. Promise me that."
With a sigh and a quiet 'yes', she stepped closer, and they kissed.
"I've got to go now. Say hello to your folks for me - they're okay. It was cool hanging out with them."
"Will do. And, thank you -- you know, for --"
"You're welcome. And please give this to your folks. It's my parting gift." He opened the clasp of the thin gold chain he was wearing, handing it to her. There was a key dangling from it. "They'll know what to do. Goodbye, Trina."
Trina waved after him as he walked away. When she couldn't see him any longer, she turned to go back to the cabin where the others were surely waiting for her, a smile still playing over her lips.
Trina's expression told Jim all he needed to know: Chris Foley had gotten away.
"I'm sorry, guys. He just came to say goodbye, and he didn't tell me where he's going - just that the Jester needs to be free. He left this for you."
"The guy has his own cliché down pat," Blair muttered, as he took the key with the chain from her, but he seemed kind of amused. "Anyway, we got Lazar. I, for one, can live with that."
"He saved more than my life," Trina said, a shadow crossing her face for a moment.
They still had a job to do, but Jim supposed that the contents of the safe deposit box wouldn't give away anything as to the Jester's current whereabouts, but if he was guessing right, there'd be enough information to nail Lazar and a few others for good.
A beautiful prospect, Jim had to admit that. He was also well aware that Chris had helped save both Blair's and Trina's lives.
However, the next time they met, he'd still remind Foley that it had been a mistake to suggest to Lazar that Blair could be the Jester.
The safe deposit box contained a stack of folders containing the information Foley had promised. There were pictures, statements of accounts regarding Lazar and the man and woman who had posed as Julia and Darren Edmonds. Darren would be arrested shortly, and it appeared he was high up in Lazar's organization, coordinating the illegal weapons export.
There was also detailed information on the Jester's earlier investigation, and how they were connected to Lazar; plus a few discs.
Taking a look at the pile of evidence, Simon shook his head. "This stuff is invaluable, granted, but I can't believe we all fell for this imposter. Fooled us all good."
"He did more than that." Everybody looked up at the sharp tone in Trina's voice. "If he hadn't come when he did, I--" The realization seemed to catch up with her all of a sudden, and she started crying. Megan was beside her in an instant, pulling her close.
"Yeah, and I'm grateful for that."
"We all are," Blair said, giving Jim an intent look.
It wasn't all that hard to understand - they'd talk about the details later, so Jim refrained from saying more. They'd talk about the details later - sure, he was grateful, too, but if it hadn't been for Foley, Blair and Trina wouldn't have been in this situation in the first place. However, he agreed, Trina didn't need that kind of discussion now.
"That's right." He briefly laid a hand on the girl's shoulder. "He sure risked a lot. And I believe he was a good friend to--"
Jim broke off the sentence when he saw Brian Rafe come rushing though the double doors of the bullpen; Megan had called him the moment she knew Trina was safe. Would he finally come around or would he make another scene?
He sent a questioning gaze to Blair, but simply got a shrug in return.
"Katrina - thank God." Over Trina's shoulders, Brian and Megan shared a look - hers hopeful, his apologetic, then he embraced both his lover and his sister.
After a moment he turned around, hesitating a moment before he spoke. "I-- I want to thank you for bringing Trina back. Guys -- I'm sorry. I've been an ass."
"You sure have, partner," Henri Brown spoke up before anyone else could answer. "You know that these guys have to work together, and that it's not about cutting them more slack than any other couple working in the department."
Rafe looked abashed as he said, "I know. And I apologize."
"Apology accepted," Jim granted after a short, wordless exchange with Blair. Rafe sure hadn't made things easier over the past few days, but it was a relief to see that this wasn't going to last. He seemed honest in his attempt to make up. It had already been a long day, so why not acknowledge it?
"I know it's not easy to understand," Blair chimed in. "Hell, some of the things that have been going on will remain mysterious even to us - but we're not shutting out anyone here. Just ask. Only not today, because I think we all really want to go home now."
That statement brought a smirk to Simon's face. "Oh, I don't know about that. It'll take a while to go through all this evidence, but there's enough for a first conversation with our Mr. Lazar down in holding. Who'll be doing me the honor?"
That brought a collective groan from the group.
"Too bad I'm not even here anymore." Henri whistled as he tried to step away from the table, and head towards the door unobtrusively.
Megan stroked her hand over Trina's dark hair. "Captain," she said softly, "I'm sure you will grant us some family time after all these tribulations, right?"
"Wouldn't that be discrimination against same gender couples?" Blair wondered, grinning mischievously, and at that moment, Jim really wanted to go home with him. Badly. Instantly.
It had taken them a while longer to get home, leaving a choleric Lazar behind in the holding cell. The Jester had played him pretty good, infiltrating his organization under the guise of someone who'd leak important information from the investigators to the crime lord - all the while it had been the other way around.
It was bad enough for the hastily called lawyer to advise Lazar to confess, the only thing that could go in his favor.
Jim and Blair had dinner on the way home, neither of them very inclined to cook. Later, at home, Blair found himself enjoying the relative quietude after the rather loud and hectic day, and admittedly, there were times when even he didn't need many words.
Snuggled up beside Jim on the couch, he found himself pondering this vision business, thinking it had to have been the closest he'd ever get to understanding how Jim felt when he suffered from sensory overload.
It wasn't all that hard to interpret them now --
Seeing himself as the killer when they still suspected the Jester, and Lazar thinking that Blair was the man he was after.
The next -- that one still made him shudder; even thinking about it made him feel Trina's pain so clearly. "I still wish we could have found the meaning to these visions sooner," Blair found himself saying. "That bastard almost raped Trina, and I couldn't do a damn thing--"
When his composure was about to slip, Jim was there in time. "It wasn't your fault," he reminded Blair, gentle kisses and touches dimming the obtrusive quality of the memory. "It's hard to be always on time. It's like with my senses, you know? Pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together. And except for letting Foley get away again, we did okay."
"Yeah, okay. But the hero was somebody else this time, right?"
"What, you're still jealous he won the pool game?"
"No. I'm jealous about something else."
"And that would be...?"
"The way you were checking out his backside."
"I wasn't--", Jim said, a bit puzzled. Then he smirked. "Well, it was in my line of vision. Doesn't mean anything, really. I went home with you, remember?"
"Oh yes, I remember."
"Good. Because there's a chance that the phone will not ring tonight, should I feel like checking out -- you." Underneath the joking, there was an intensity that had a lot to do with having escaped yet another near-fatal situation, and the need for reassurance.
As tired as he might be, Blair thought that a slow, sensual lovemaking, and falling asleep in each other's arms afterwards was just the thing to do.
"Perfect, man." He grinned. "Live for the moment, the Jester would say."
Trina felt dizzy from all the emotions welling up inside of her at once. There was still shock about what had happened today, the disgust at the unwanted touch - but also amazement at having seen her brother's friends in their day job. Her brother, who was finally talking to her again.
And, to her relief, he wouldn't split up with Megan, as Trina had secretly feared.
Not all was well; she still had to go and see that shrink, but there were worse things - today had clearly shown her that she wanted to live. Thinking of her parents still made her cry, but Trina had to smile through her tears - they'd surely appreciate the promise she'd made. And she intended to keep it.
When the apartment seemed silent, Trina picked up the teddy bear that had been a little mutilated during the search for her. She supposed it was the best hiding place on earth; nobody would think about looking there twice.
The card with the Jester, the motive of Chris' tattoo, had been her parting gift.
There was a number on the back, together with two words, neatly written.