By CarolROI
Beta read by BethB
Written for PetFly by: Gail Morgan Hickman

Rated PG-13
internal thought in italics

Act I

Milk and bread. That's all I'm here for. I swear, if Sandburg wasn't in the truck with me, this never would be happening. Setting down my two items, I pull my weapon and identify myself. "Cascade PD. Put the gun down."

The wild-eyed junkie squeezes his arm tighter around the neck of the hysterical clerk. "Back off, man, or she's dead!"

I try to keep my voice calm, soothing, despite the adrenaline urging me to do anything but stand there helplessly. "Don't do this, man. Just let the lady go."

He drags her toward the door, the muzzle of his gun pressed to her temple. "I'll shoot her, man! I'll shoot her!"

Where in the hell is Sandburg with that backup?

I knew I shouldn't have waited in the truck. "I'll be just a minute," he says. "Only need to get two things," he says.

Crouching behind the fender of the truck, I press my cell phone against my ear. "Come on, come on, answer, damn it."

<9-1-1, what's your emergency?>

"This is Blair Sandburg. I'm at the Quick Mart on the corner of Prospect and Marina. Armed robbery in progress."

<Does the suspect have a hostage?>

I peer over the hood of the truck and through the glass of the shop. The gunman is directly in front of the door, his weapon to the head of an oriental woman. "Yes, he has a hostage. Detective Ellison is in there trying to talk him down. He needs all available units now!"

<Hold the line, please.>

"What? What? You kidding me?" Geez, she really did it. I'm on hold. Muzak plays in my ear. Great, just great.

"Let her go and put the gun down," I command in the voice that used to make army privates shake in their boots. It doesn't even faze the punk.

I'm debating shooting the gun out of his hand if he moves it away from the clerk's head when I hear a noise from the back of the store. Wonderful. Don't tell me there's two of them.

I back down the aisle toward the storage room. The closer I get, the more the noise sounds like an animal's growl. Keeping one ear on the junkie and his hostage, I kick open the door to the back room. A snarling, spotted jaguar is sitting on top of a pile of crates. It bares its fangs at me, then disappears.

What in the hell? A squeal from the cashier returns my attention to the current situation. I shake off the strange hallucination of the cat and head back toward the front of the store.

The perp's yelling at the sobbing cashier. "Shut up! Just shut up!" Seeing me coming, he points his weapon at her head again. "I'll kill her, man! I'll blow her brains out, man! I swear to God I will! Now back off!"

I take a small step back, and the robber shoves the hostage to one side as he fires his weapon in my direction. I squeeze off a shot a split second later. The thief goes flying through the plate glass window.

Suddenly dizzy, I sink to my knees.

When the robber goes crashing onto the sidewalk, I peer out from my position behind the truck. He's not moving…but Jim isn't dashing out to slap the cuffs on him either. I bolt across the street and into the store.

The clerk is huddled next to the door. I bend over her, asking, "You okay?" She gives me a shaky nod, and I figure it's okay to look for Jim.

"Jim?" No answer. I start going up and down the aisles, trying not to panic, but I know I heard two shots. "Jim?" I call again. Finally, I find him sitting on the floor in between some shelves, his hand held to his left shoulder. Blood is seeping through his fingers. "Oh, no. Jim, you okay?"

He looks at me with surprise, as if his mind was a million miles away from here when I called his name. "Yeah, man."

Whipping out my phone again, I say, "Hang on. I'll call an ambulance." After placing the call, I grab a dishtowel from a display and hold it against his wound. Jim doesn't make a sound, which really worries me. No banter, no "Where's the perp?" or "It's just a flesh wound, Sandburg." It's almost like he's in shock, but he's showing no other symptoms. I'm very happy to turn him over to the paramedics for a trip to the hospital.

Getting into the blue-and-white pickup, I notice the blood on my hands, Jim's blood. A chill goes through me, and I shudder violently. Too close. Much too close.

I wipe my fingers off as best I can with some napkins I find under the seat. Starting the engine, I hurry to catch up with the ambulance.

The first person I call once I get to the hospital is Simon. He doesn't even ask any questions; at my somewhat panicked statement that Jim's been shot, he simply asks "What hospital?", then hangs up once I give the answer.

When Captain Banks arrives twenty minutes later, I still don't know anything. Jim's being treated in the ER, but no one's come out to tell me what's going on. Simon heads to the nurses' station to find out.

"Hey, Sandy, how are you holding up, mate?" Megan Connor drops into the seat next to me.

I give her a surprised look. "Megan, what are you doing here?"

"Was in the captain's office when you called. Figured I'd come along and see how you were holding up. So how are you holding up?"

Sighing, I shrug. "I'd feel better if I knew what was going on."

At that moment, Simon returns. "They've moved Jim upstairs. Come on."

The three of us pile onto the elevator for the ride to Jim's floor. When we enter his room, Jim's lying flat on his back in bed. He doesn't even acknowledge us until Simon asks, "How are you feeling, Jim?"

He blinks slowly and his gaze travels over each of us before he answers, "Been better, sir. Nothing like taking a bullet to put a crimp in my day." Relief courses through me. That, at least, sounds like the Jim I know.

The captain digests Jim's comment, then says, "The good news is, it didn't hit bone. The doctor says you should be okay to work in a week."

Jim looks at Megan. "Connor, would you do me a favor and handle my caseload while I'm out?"

She's startled, but recovers quickly. "Uh, of course. Any objections, sir?"

"Works for me," Simon answers.

"If you don't mind, I just need a minute with Simon and Blair," Jim says to Megan.

She frowns, but seems to accept that despite Jim trusting her with his cases, he still doesn't completely trust her. "If I have any questions, I'll give you a call." She leaves the room, and we're alone.

I move closer to the bed, looking down intently at Jim. For some reason, whatever he's about to say scares me. Or maybe it's just the fact that I'm not used to seeing him this small and vulnerable. "Jim, what's going on?"

"There was something else in that store tonight. It was a jaguar," he states.

"What?" Simon's understandably confused.

Me, this I can handle--I think. "You mean like a vision? Like your animal spirit?"

Jim shakes his head. "No, no. That was a black jaguar. This…this was spotted."

I consider that for a second. "Ah, it might have been from an adrenaline rush from getting shot. Was it before or after it happened?"

"Sandburg," Simon growls.

"This is important, Simon. Jim's visions usually have a deeper meaning." Not that we ever seem to figure out the meaning in time to do us any good. "Go on, man."

"Right now, he's a man who needs his rest. You can finish this tomorrow." Simon grabs my arm. "Come on."

Giving Jim a helpless shrug, I say, "Take care," then Captain Banks drags me out of the room.

"Damn Carl, damn him!" I pound my fist against the steering wheel as I swear. This is the last job I'm ever doing with him. I hit the wheel again, and pain jolts up my arm, short-circuiting my anger.

"Calm down, Alex," I say aloud. "Just remember, only a few more weeks and he'll be out of your life forever."

I lean over to turn on the radio. When I straighten up, the high beams of an oncoming car shine into my eyes. A stabbing pain shoots through my head. Throwing up my arm, I try to shield my eyes, but it's no use. I can't see anything. By the time I hit the brakes, it's too late. I can only hold on while the car spins out of control. The passenger side impacts with something. The airbag goes off, keeping me from smashing into the steering wheel. Still, my world goes black.

When I open my eyes again, everything is out of whack. Flashing lights are strobing daggers into my head, screaming sirens add to the pain. Hot, I'm too hot…I can't breath…struggling with the seatbelt, I manage to get it unfastened and the car door open. I stagger out onto the roadway, trying to cover my eyes and my ears at the same time and failing miserably. Oh, god, my head is going to explode!

A voice cuts through the cacophony. "Miss, you okay?"

A hand settles on my arm, and my senses flip-flop. I can see and hear again, but my skin is on fire. "Oh, god! It burns, it burns!" I scream, then I'm tearing at my clothes, trying to get them off.

"Whoa! Whoa! Lady! You can't take your clothes off on the street!" Hands grab at me, but I twist and turn, shedding them and my clothes at the same time.

I'm down to my underwear when something pricks my arm, and blessed darkness enfolds me.

Sighing, I plop my backpack under Jim's desk and dig out my textbook and notes. I can't believe I'm reduced to studying at the police station. But Hargrove Hall has suddenly become home to every cockroach in Cascade, and Jim has decided that he's going to use his sick leave to draw up new house rules. Instead of giving me a list, however, he barks them out what seems like every five seconds.

Running a hand through my hair, I open the desk drawer looking for a pen. I have no clue what's going on with Jim. Ever since he was shot, he's been just, well, weird. I keep asking if he's having trouble with the pain, or if the meds the hospital gave him are making his senses act up. Each time, I get the same answer. "I'm fine. You gonna do laundry sometime this century? I can smell your socks from the hall."

When I broach the subject of the spotted jaguar he'd seen in the Quick Mart, he shuts me down just as rapidly. It's nothing, just one of those side effects of being a sentinel. Besides, he hasn't seen it again. As far as he's concerned, it never happened.

Flipping open my notebook, I glance around the nearly deserted bullpen. It's late evening, and the only occupants appear to be Megan Connor, and a very attractive blonde sitting next to the inspector's desk.

"Are we through, Officer?" the blonde asks Megan.

"Nearly, Ms. Barnes. Pending your blood test, of course. And it's Inspector, if you don't mind."

The woman scowls in frustration, and shifts uncomfortably in her chair. "There are no drugs or alcohol in me, Inspector, save for whatever the ambulance crew jabbed me with."

Connor looks up from the form she's filling out. "But cars don't demolish themselves on their own whim, do they?"

Henri Brown interrupts my eavesdropping. "You're here kind of late." He's standing next to me, a folder in his hand.

I shrug. "Yeah. They're fumigating my building at the university. And I can't work there and I can't work at home because Jim's just driving me crazy. I swear, it's like living with an evil stepfather. 'Turn down that music! Get your feet off the couch!' It's driving me crazy." Ms. Barnes catches my eye again. "Hey, Brown, you know what's going on over there?" I wave my hand in her direction.

H nods. "Yes. Connor was on her way in. Girl was freaking out in the middle of the road, her car wrapped around a telephone pole. The girl was like yelling and screaming that the lights were killing her eyes, and then she started bugging out about how the noise was getting to her. Got so bad the paramedics had to give her something to calm down."

I take another look at the blonde. "Really?"

"Yeah. It was crazy." He starts to head toward the two women.

"Hey, tell you what, I'll take that over to Megan." Relieving him of the folder, I walk across the bullpen, taking a quick look at the name on the tab--Alex Barnes.

Megan's saying, "An oncoming car flashes its brights so you can't see. That, I can buy. But why start to disrobe in the middle of the highway?"

Alex fidgets, looking uncomfortable and slightly frightened. "I…my skin hurt. The clothes felt like sandpaper all of a sudden. I don't know."

Oh…my…god. She sounds like Jim when I forget to use the fabric softener. I hold the folder out in Megan's direction. "Megan…here's that blood test you wanted." I can't take my eyes off Alex.

She raises an eyebrow at me, and I realize I'm staring. I walk away, coming to a stop by the door to the hall.

"Thanks, Sandy," Megan calls after me, then turns back to Ms. Barnes. "Oh. Negative."

"Negative. May I leave now?" Alex asks.

Megan shoves the paper she was filling out across the desk to her. "Please sign here. Collect your belongings at the booking desk downstairs and…see a doctor."

Slipping into her jacket, Alex exits Major Crimes. I catch up to her in front of the elevator. "Excuse me, miss?" She pauses. "Hi. My name's Blair Sandburg and I'm a consultant to the police department. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about the light hurting your eyes and about your clothes making your skin ache."

Her eyes narrow in suspicion as she snaps, "Read the report."

Undeterred, I ask, "Do colors seem more vivid? Do smells seem more powerful?"

She lets out a sigh. "Look, I've already been to three different doctors. None of them could tell me what's wrong."

I give her a reassuring smile, trying to hold my excited bouncing to a minimum. She's a sentinel! She's gotta be. "That's no surprise. Look, have you recently experienced any prolonged traumatic isolation?"

Alex takes a step back, doing a double take. Shit, I've scared her. "Who the hell are you?"

Lowering my voice, I say in my most confident, reassuring tone, "I'm an anthropologist, and I think I know what's happening to you." I hand her my card. "If you could just meet me at the university here, we could talk further."

She studies the card for a moment, then looks back up at me. "I'll think about it, all right?"

I give her another smile. "Good. Just meet me right there, at that address."

The elevator door opens and she gets on, staring at me curiously until the doors close. Once she's gone, I leap exuberantly into the air, pumping my fist. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" I exclaim. Another sentinel! Wait until Jim hears about this!

At first it's soft, almost like a kitten's purr, then it grows into a growl that fills the loft, pressing in on me, making it hard to breathe. It thrums inside my head; I can feel it in my chest, inside me and outside me at the same time. Stop! Stop! God, make it stop! I have to make it stop!

I'm fitting my key to the lock when the door to the loft is yanked open and I'm suddenly staring down the barrel of a gun. When my gaze finally travels past the lethal weapon, I find it's not some psycho holding it. "Jesus, Jim, it's me! I live here, too, remember?"

He blinks then, as if seeing me for the first time. "Sorry, Chief. I guess I'm just a little jumpy." He turns away from me, and I follow him inside.

"I'd say so." He doesn't respond, and I'm not sure pushing him is a good idea at the moment. Hey, maybe his injury is making him weird out. It's sure made him grouchy. "How's the arm?"

He shrugs. "Doc says I can go back to work on Monday."

"Mmm, good." I hang up my coat. "Good. I'm sure everybody will be really glad when that happens." Especially me. "So, uh..what was the deal with the greeting, man? You having some sort of a --"

"No." He gives me a look that makes me think even mentioning the word 'senses' is going to cause me bodily harm.

Okay, change of subject. What else can we talk about? New sentinel in town, perhaps? "Oh, hey, I was down at the station doing some work, and I met this woman--"

For the second time in as many sentences, Jim cuts me off. "Look, Chief, why don't you spare me the details?" He walks into the kitchen, leaving me with my mouth hanging open.

Okaaaay. Definitely not a good time to talk to Jim--about anything. "I'll tell you later."

Jim holsters his gun and heads for the stove. "Whatever."

Right. Later--I'll ask him what's going on later. "Okay." I head for my room. If Alex Barnes shows up anytime soon, I need to be prepared. Looking over my notes is probably a good idea.

But even though I try to get my mind off of it, the image of Jim greeting me with weapon in hand stays with me.

I don't get much sleep tonight.

Wiping my sweaty palms on my pants, I stare at the nameplate on the door. "Blair Sandburg." Okay, this is the place, though I don't know what this guy's going to be able to do for me. All those doctors Carl dragged me to assured me there was nothing wrong, though I overheard them telling him when I wasn't in the room that he should take me to a psychiatrist.

I check the card in my hand. It says anthropologist, not shrink, which I guess is a good thing. I don't need anyone crawling around inside my head.

I knock tentatively on the door, part of me hoping he isn't there. No such luck. It's opened almost immediately.

A brilliant smile lights up Blair Sandburg's face as he recognizes me, and all my nervousness vanishes. "Hey, Ms. Barnes, you came! This is so great!" He stands back to let me enter, then darts into the room ahead of me, scooping a pile of books and papers from the chair in front of his desk. "Please, take a seat."

"Please, Dr. Sandburg, call me Alex." I sit, crossing my legs, resting my elbows on the arms of the chair, watching him watch me. Yep, he's interested.

"Oh, hey, it's just Blair. Not Dr. Sandburg, not yet." He gives me another grin, then picks up an old book from his desk and hands it to me. The title is "The Sentinels of Paraguay." "In primitive cultures, sentinels were the tribal guardians. They were chosen because of their superior sensory awareness. They could hear better, smell better, feel and taste things other people couldn't."

I open the book, turning the fragile pages carefully, inhaling the scents of musty paper, ancient ink, and something older, wilder…For a moment, the image of a jungle flashes before my eyes, then it's gone. I look back up at Blair. "How do you know all this?"

"Well it's the subject of my anthropology doctorate." He takes the book as I hand it back to him.

I consider that for a few seconds. If he's writing a paper on people like me then maybe he can help me, maybe he can answer the million questions I have. I pluck one out of the whirling jumble in my mind. "All right, so, why is this happening to me now?"

He gives a small shrug, as if to say it could be anything, then he answers, "In some sentinels, their abilities lie dormant. It just takes a prolonged isolated period to bring them out."

Darkness…nothing but darkness and the crushing silence broken only by the scrabbling and squeaking of the vermin in the walls…

Suppressing a shudder at the memory, I say, "You were asking me about that before. A couple of months ago, I was on a camping trip and I was lost in the woods for a week." It's a lie, but a little white one. Isolation is isolation, isn't it?

He grins. "That's textbook. You know, it's a survival response."

I nod. If there's anything I'm good at, it's surviving.

Blair's voice lowers to a warm, confidence-inspiring tone. "I can help you understand this."

"I'm not sure I want to understand it. I'd rather just be like I was before." I know that would certainly make Carl happy. I think he's about ready to shoot me the next time my senses screw things up, put me out of his misery.

"Alex, you may not believe me, but there is nothing to be afraid of. What you have is a gift." He's looking at me with such awe, with such belief in his eyes it scares me.

Shaking my head, I say, "I'm not anyone special, Blair, and these weird senses are a nuisance. They make it hard to live my life, to do normal things anymore."

He gives me that smile again, the one that makes me want to believe him. Damn, he would make a good con man. "I know they seem like a pain in the ass now, but I can teach you how to use them, how to control them. Then you can use them to your benefit."

"And what benefit do you get from helping me? How much are you going to charge me for your 'coaching' service?" There's got to be something in it for him. Nobody does anything out of the goodness of his heart anymore.

He does a good job of looking offended, I'll give him that. "Alex, I'm not going to charge you anything. All I want is your permission to include you in my thesis." Ah-hah, knew there was something he wanted in return. But his next words surprise me. "Completely confidential, you won't be identified by name at all. But if that still bothers you, I'll help you for nothing, no strings attached."

I get to my feet slowly, staring at him. Either he's the shrewdest con man in the world, or a complete and total innocent. I'm so desperate I actually would pay him if he could help me. "Look, Blair, let me think on it a little, okay? I'll call you."

"Sure, sure, take as much time as you want. It's just the sooner we get started, the sooner you'll have your senses under control." He walks me to the door and presses the book he showed me into my hands. "Look this over tonight, see if it helps you understand what a sentinel is."

I exit the building, turning the meeting over and over in my mind. I honestly don't think he was scamming me. He wasn't nervous about the prospect of me turning him down either. When I took the book from him, his hand was cool and dry, not sweaty, and his pulse was completely steady. Huh, maybe I don't need his help after all. I used my senses on him just fine.

After Alex leaves, I putter around my office awhile, but I can't sit still. Grabbing my tape recorder, I head outside. I record my observations of her, though she really hasn't shown any obvious signs of heightened senses. She seems like a nice enough person, upset by what's happening to her, and naturally cautious of me. She has every right to be. If a trained physician can't help her, then why should she put her faith in me?

Speaking of faith, Jim hasn't had much of that in me lately. First he quit talking to me, and then there was the thing with the gun last night. I asked him this morning if he'd seen that other jaguar again, but he just mumbled "It was nothing, Sandburg," as he headed out the door.

I flip on the recorder. "I've been unable to illuminate the meaning of my primary subject's spiritual vision, and he seems unusually reluctant to explore the matter." I click the pause button. Hmm, I wonder if his vision has anything to do with Alex? I spent most of last night reviewing everything I've found on sentinels, but couldn't uncover anything about more than one sentinel per tribe. Was there a reason for that? More research is needed.

I thumb the pause switch off. "Concerning my secondary subject, I've been unable to find data which would suggest what would happen if two sentinels were to come together. Would they see each other as allies? Would they face off in some territorial rivalry? Now if in fact, my secondary subject does turn out to be a sentinel, I'm gonna have to bring them together in a carefully controlled situation. So at the present time, I've decided not to tell Jim Ellison or Alex Barnes about one another."

Like Jim's interested anyway. And Alex is nervous enough about working with me as it is. Definitely need to keep distractions to a minimum. Shoving the recorder in my pocket, I head for the library. Maybe I'll find something on multiple sentinels there.

Cutting the cables to the security camera feeds, I work quickly, prying open the cover to one of the large roof vents. Making sure my rope is secure, I climb down the shaft. At the maintenance hatch I pause, my black garb blending with the shadows as I observe the hallway through the mesh grill covering the hatch. A security guard turns the corner, tries a door halfway down the corridor, then punches a four-digit code into the panel in the wall.

Without conscious thought on my part, my vision zooms in on his hand, and I memorize the numbers he presses. I wait patiently in my hiding place until he's entered the secure lab, checked it, and returned to the hall. The sharp crackle of his radio reaches me as he says, "This is Lenski. The west wing is clear."

As soon as I hear him leave the floor, I open the hatch, trot down the hallway and enter the lab. It takes me only a moment to boot up the computer and find what I want. Inserting a zip disk into the drive, I copy the information, keeping one ear on the activity in the building.

The file copied, I head back toward the maintenance hatch, intending to exit the same way I came in. But as I reach the opening, voices drift down from the roof. <The roof conduit hatch is open. The wires to two and three have been cut. Somebody's been up here.>

Shit. Time for plan B. I head for the emergency exit, realizing belatedly that I'll have to cross into a zone where the security cameras are still active to reach it. I can't hesitate now, though, and break into a lope. I'm almost to the door when the alarm goes off.

The electronic shriek is a knife stabbing into my head. I scramble to cover my ears, staggering under the onslaught. I make it through the exit and start down the stairs. By the time I reappear on a lower floor, my hearing is back to normal, but my head is throbbing.

Unable to rely on my hearing to track the guards pursuing me, I decide to forget trying to outrun them. I want out of the building now. I flip through the map of the building in my memory. There's a balcony running around the outside of this floor. Kicking open an office door, I cross the room and pass through to the balcony. It takes me but a moment to secure my extra line to the railing, then I climb over the barrier. Rappelling down the side of the building at full speed, I don't use the brake to slow my descent until I'm almost at the ground. Even then, the landing's hard, and I rock back on my heels, trying to keep my balance as I unhook the rope from my harness.

I'm about to make a run for my vehicle when I hear a shout behind me. "All right, put your hands up!"

I straighten slowly as he yells to his buddies, "I've got him over here." In that split second of distraction, I draw my automatic, bringing it up in one smooth, practiced motion, my heightened sight aligning the shot, my finger squeezing the trigger. The bullet hits him high in the shoulder of his gun arm, sending both his weapon, and him, flying.

I'm already running by that time, jumping into my SUV and pulling away from the perimeter fence with a squeal of tires. It's not until two blocks later I pull off the ski mask and shake out my hair. When I stop at a light, I check my appearance in the mirror. My cheeks are wet with tears, and I wipe at them hastily.

"You're okay, Alex, you're okay," I reassure myself. You got what you came for and even though it wasn't as clean a job as it could have been, the guard'll live.

But as I head toward my apartment, I realize I'm only fooling myself. Until I get my senses under control, I'm a danger to myself. The alarm going off nearly crippled me. If the security guards had been in the same hallway at that moment, I'd probably be dead right now.

I dig out my cellphone and dial a number. A mechanical voice answers. <You've reached the voice mail of Blair Sandburg.> At the tone, I leave a brief message. "Blair, this is Alex Barnes. I need your help."

Blue-tinted foliage arches over head, the thick canvas of trees filtering the sunlight to dappled patches amid the shadows of the jungle. The warrior slips silently through this strange and dangerous world. A sound catches his ear and he pauses, searching for the source. The form of a wolf separates from the undergrowth, bounding across a clearing toward the crumbling statue of a jaguar.

Danger! Fear pounds in the warrior's chest. Danger, danger, must react! The warrior brings his crossbow to bear, drawing a bead on the huge silver lupine. For a moment, he hesitates, then lets the arrow fly. His aim is true, the weapon striking the wolf in the side, penetrating his heart. It tumbles to the ground with a whimper, and the warrior approaches, sure of himself, sure that he's dealt with the danger.

He stands over the dead wolf, watching in horror as it shifts and changes, becoming the naked, still body of his guide.

The warrior is me, the bow, the instrument of death in my hands, Blair lying unmoving at my feet, his blue eyes wide and staring, the light within them gone. Blair…no…no!

Gasping for air, I awaken, my heart pounding like jackhammer in my chest. What in the hell was that? Blair, oh god, Blair…in panic I sweep the loft with my senses, searching for his heartbeat, a noise, anything. But I'm alone.

Getting up from the couch, I search the loft, my mind unable to believe my senses. I'm coming out of his room when the front door opens.

Blair enters, setting his backpack on the floor as he slips out of his coat. It's not until he bends to pick up his bag again that he notices me, standing in between the French doors. "Jim, man, what's up?"

"I…" There's no possible explanation I can give him, nothing that doesn't sound like I'm losing my mind. "Good night, Sandburg," I tell him, then head up to my room, feeling his confused gaze on my back the whole way.

But it's a long time before I fall asleep.

Act II