New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections V: Passing Through the Underworld
Part Two
by Dasha

See disclaimers and notes in part one.

Jim had thought that the hard part of dinner was getting it down. The little he'd actually managed to eat, however, sat in his stomach like lumpy napalm. Apparently 'heightened senses' included an increased awareness of his own digestion, because he could follow each squirt and twitch in minute detail. And burping--forget it. Pure pain. His system wasn't used to food this complicated or this spicy. Hell, he hadn't even put black pepper on anything in over a year. What had he been thinking?

Ha. He'd been thinking he was still the man he'd been. But everything was different now. Different now, going to be different forever. This was what Sandburg had been trying to tell him for months. Some days Jim didn't really get that until he was wallowing in regret.

Well. There you have it. This is my life.

The burning in his stomach intensified. It was like being poked with sticks from the inside. Blair always said 'don't focus on it,' regardless of what 'it' was. Jim sat up--which itself eased the pain somewhat--and listened down. Below him, Blair was just coming out of the bathroom and getting ready for bed himself.

His guide.

There were days when the knowledge that he would need Sandburg or someone like him (as if there were anyone else like him) for the rest of his life was horrifying and depressing. There were days when it seemed obvious that there was no way a situation like that was 'sustainable.' It couldn't work. Not really.

Then, on days when he was wallowing in remorse over doing something--let's call it something dysfunctional, like choking down half a plate of nawabi murgh--the idea of not having to face this alone was much more attractive.

Although, he thought, listening to Blair towel his hair, it was almost easier to adjust to Blair as a friend than as a guide. There were moments when their lives weren't colored by one sentinel disaster right after another, when they just hung out or talked about the case, and then Blair felt a lot like a buddy, or maybe another detective.

Of course, friends didn't live with you, normally. They didn't give you dirty looks when you ordered the wrong thing at a restaurant. That was more like a wife. Or--ouch--a parent.

Jim really wished he had paid attention tonight.

Blair was doing something in the kitchen now, but the rolling in his stomach was increasing speed and Jim couldn't focus any more. He considered voiding, but he couldn't even imagine how much *that* would hurt.

He heard Blair's feet on the stairs. Busted. He was in for a lecture, at least.

'It could be worse,' he reminded himself. If Lee had noticed at all, he would have come to laugh. Or rub Jim's nose in his stupidity. Sandburg wouldn't.

Blair was standing at the top of the stairs holding a glass of something that was strangely devoid of smell. Water? Jim doubted he could get that down. Still--

Obligingly he turned on the bedside lamp. Whether Blair had a solution to the problem or not, it was nice that he was trying.

Sandburg blinked at the light and held out the glass. "Baking soda," he said. "You don't have to finish it. And it may not work." He shrugged. "But it won't hurt you."

Embarrassed, Jim took the cool glass and looked away. "Well, I fucked up pretty good." He was surprised how bitter that sounded.

Blair shrugged and said something about "learning curve" and "experimenting" and "comparatively very new at this." Jim rolled his eyes.

"What?"

"God *damn* it, Sandburg." But if he did not understand, Jim could not explain it.

He smiled tolerantly and motioned toward the glass. "Try it."

It tasted like a spa, except cold. For just a moment it rolled down Jim's tender gullet like broken glass, but then it began to quench the flames below. Jim took a bigger swallow.

"So what's on for tomorrow?" Sandburg asked in his distracting-the-sentinel voice.

"The maritime museum. We'll take the out-of-towners to Watson's house. Simon has a meeting with the mayor and the chief in the afternoon, he'll want to talk to us first, and we have to check our guests in at the station. That's first." Jim closed his eyes. The pain was nearly gone. He was all but dizzy with relief. The anger was fading, too. The resentment that was left, he could ignore. Probably, he could keep from inflicting it on Blair. "Thanks," he said deliberately, and handed back the glass.

"Jim, it's not a big deal. These things happen."

"Don't start." Or maybe he couldn't keep the resentment to himself.

Sandburg, damn him, was settling in to be reasonable. "Don't what?"

"Don't be *nice* about things! Don't act like this is all normal! I hate this."

"I know. You have a right to be upset. I know--"

"You *don't* know! Why can't you--" he stopped himself. He knew in his mind that the senses were not Blair's fault. He knew, even, that most of the time it wasn't *that* bad. His life was ok, really. He was ungrateful and childish to bitch about things not being perfect or turning out the way he'd planned. Above all, he had no business saying this to Blair, not after what he'd done for him. Certainly not after what Blair had been through because of him.

"Jim?" Sandburg sat on the edge of the bed. He spoke very quietly, very gently. He was cheating. Jim would much rather be yelled back at than rise to meet this gentleness. "Why can't I what?"

"It doesn't matter. I didn't mean it."

"Yes, you did. Why can't I what?"

"Make them go away." Jim laughed bitterly. "Listen to me. It's been over a year. *This* is my life. *This* is what I am. I should just cope with it."

"It takes--"

"Time. Thanks. I've heard that lecture." He could not face it again right then.

"I wouldn't," Sandburg said. "Even if I could, I wouldn't take them away. I don't want you to be someone else. You don't need to be a different person. You just need a little practice and a chance to be happy."

Happy. Right. Jim closed his eyes. Blair patted his shoulder. "I'd be more worried, but you're tired and dinner was a disaster. I suspect you'll feel more like yourself tomorrow."

Blair was letting this go. It was both a surprise and a relief. Jim had been half afraid his guide would try to reconcile Jim's life *tonight*.

Blair stood up to leave. "Hey, get some sleep. You wouldn't want the other sentinel to show you up tomorrow because you were tired."

"Fuck off," Jim muttered. But there was surprisingly little venom behind it.

"You too," Blair called as he headed down the stairs.

The next morning was blessed by both drizzle and fog. Lovely. Jim hustled Blair out the door early. They were meeting the out of towners at the station, but he wanted to get there first so he could have a few words with Simon. As the elevator passed the ground floor, however, he heard Megan Connor's unmistakable accent checking in at the front desk. Early risers. Better and better.

Jim managed a polite, if brief, tour of Major Crime: bathroom, fax, conference room, break room. He introduced them to Brown, Lopez and Lane. Simon came out and gave the short version of the welcome speech.

MacLeod was clearly as impatient with the administrivia as Jim was. He wanted to know where the bodies were being kept. Jim doubted that MacLeod could find anything that had been overlooked by two sentinels and the medical examiner, but there was a shortage of new evidence or leads of any kind. There probably wasn't any reason not to just go over the evidence they already had, over and over.

He ignored the little voice in the back of his mind that pointed out that Jim really wasn't very experienced and MacLeod *might* find something.

The morgue was semi-detached, in the basement of the Patterson building that ran into police HQ on the north. As Jim lead the way to the elevator, Simon captured Blair. "A word, Sandburg. I hear you don't like the morgue anyway."

"So has everybody, apparently." Blair smiled. "I'll catch up in a few minutes."

Damn. Jim set a slow pace for the elevator and listened backward as hard as he could. Actually following familiar voices was very easy, and even with his words muffled a bit by a closed door and a white noise generator, Jim heard it clearly when Simon spoke again. "So, how's he doing?" Simon had a crappy white noise generator, and *he* couldn't hear the difference between a cheap box that made brook-tinkling sounds and the kind of system that had enough complicated harmonics to really thwart a sentinel.

"He's good," Blair answered without hesitation. "His vision's completely back. His weight's good. His last doctor's appointment was last week. He's fine."

Jim was at the elevator now. He pushed the button and hoped that it would take its time.

"This is a pretty high-profile case. He's under a lot of pressure," Simon said cautiously.

"Uh. Yeah. Well, actually I'm sort of counting on that."

"You're counting on that?" No answer. The elevator arrived. Jim cursed silently and stepped in. "Could you be a little more specific?"

"Look, this case is important, right? Obviously. As long as we're making progress, as long as the senses are useful, Jim is going to be fine. He won't give up--he won't *quit*--as long as the work is important. He can cope. What he needs to know, he can learn. He just needs not to quit."

This was a stunning surprise. Sandburg continually *said* encouraging things, but Jim hadn't actually realized that he was confident enough to make that sort of promise to Jim's boss.

"I'm not going to pretend I'm sorry to hear that, but I want you to keep an eye on things. If you--" The rest of the sentence was lost as the elevator descended past the fourth floor where the captain from homicide was bawling out someone for mislabeling evidence. Crap.

At the morgue he waited in the hall. Dan could watch the newcomers. Hell, it was already pretty crowded around the body. So Jim leaned against the wall, pretending to be nonchalant. Being nonchalant. He had nothing to worry about. Anything to find, he'd already found. This was just an educational exercise, letting all the investigators see the body for themselves.

***

Simon considered Blair thoughtfully for a moment, then sat down on the edge of his desk. "I'm not going to pretend I'm sorry to hear that, but I want you to keep an eye on things. If you see any signs that the stress is getting to him, I want you to tell me."

"Ok," Blair said. He wasn't sure he would; the more he got to know Jim, the clearer it became that he would, for his work, find the strength to keep things together in the face of practically any disaster. Still-- "When this is over, I'd like to talk to you about some vacation time. Not much, just a few days. Maybe I can get him to go camping. Or visit his cousin again."

"Do that," Simon said vehemently.

"What? Come on, Simon, what's up? You seeing something I'm not here?"

Simon hesitated. "He's not the same."

Blair felt a suspicion of alarm. Just what had Simon noticed? "As before the golden?"

"As before the senses."

"Well, he's living differently. He's doing his job differently--"

"No. Last year, I took one of my continuing ed workshops on sentinels. His personality shouldn't have changed this much. He's had plenty of time to 'settle out.' He should be more like himself by now."

"How is he different?" Blair asked, as much to buy time as to work out how to answer. He could guess what Simon would say.

"He's quieter. He stands further away from people...." Simon stopped, seeming unsure. Blair nodded and tried to look supportive. "He takes orders too easily from you. Don't get me wrong, here. It's nothing personal. But I've only managed to get him to work with a partner once before. It worked. Eventually. Generally, getting him to even listen to someone else is like pulling teeth. Was like pulling teeth. I'm not saying he hasn't come a long way. He's, well, grumpy. Before you came on board he was either silent or nasty. He seems healthy but, frankly, Sandburg, he's just too polite to you."

Blair tried to look away, but Simon's glare pinned him. So this was what interrogation was like, he thought dizzily. He did *not* want to have this conversation with Simon. As glad as he was that Simon cared and had noticed, if Jim ever knew they'd talked about this he'd be mortified.

"Look, I wouldn't be having this conversation, but his last guide--"

"That's, ah, sort of the problem, Simon. I think at this point you have a pretty good idea what Brackett was like." If he didn't, that was too bad. There were some things Blair wasn't willing to say aloud with Jim in the same state, let alone the same building. Not for any reason.

"A pretty good idea."

Blair swallowed. It wasn't just about neglect. Brackett's mistreatment had crossed over into verbal and physical abuse more than once.

"And that's part of what's worrying me. The Jim Ellison I know would never have stood for...." Simon glanced away, unwilling to put words to what had happened either.

"I'm sure at the beginning he didn't," Blair said. "But later, when he wasn't just confused and overwhelmed but chronically sleep-deprived and malnourished and sick.... He's not meek, Simon. I don't have him terrorized--"

"I didn't say--"

"He doesn't know how to have a guide. What he does know is contradictory. On the one hand is all the experience that says a guide is some kind of monster that--" some kind of monster that punishes you ruthlessly if you are inconvenient or embarrassing or awkward or ignorant. "Some kind of monster. And there's all the experience that says a guide solves problems and makes thing easier." Here, too, Blair was editing. He was pretty sure that there were moments when Jim thought of him as The Source of All Hope in the Universe. "Then there's the whole resentment thing."

"Resentment thing?"

"Well, how would you feel if you found out that you would never be allowed to work without a babysitter *ever* again?" Worse than that even, because Jim wasn't just legally restricted to working with a guide, he *needed* one. Blair was pretty sure that most of the little tantrum last night was about Jim being frustrated at needing help. "He doesn't know how to deal with me, so mostly he errs on the side of caution. He's careful."

"You're saying deep down he's afraid you're Brackett?"

"Hell, no. But he doesn't always trust his impulses about me. So he's polite. He's got a lot of self control."

"When he bothers." Simon smiled.

"When he bothers," Blair agreed. "But, look, Simon, if you are worried about, well, about *me*, you need to talk to him about it. If you think I'm screwing something up here you should probably tell Jack Kelso." Inwardly Blair winced at that.

"Are you still in the doghouse with him?" Simon asked.

Blair hunched over and buried his hands in his hair. "*God* yes!" He tried to laugh. "So you don't have to worry about him taking my side just on principle. Not that you would, but hey." Blair sighed miserably.

"I don't understand. Jim did fine. It doesn't seem to have hurt him."

"Not the point. The point is I shouldn't have put the case before Jim's safety. I let him take unacceptable risks, I put too much stress on him." Blair shook his head. He had wanted nothing more than to plant Jim on the couch and *keep* him there. Effectively blind and, despite how well he hid it, desperately afraid that there might be permanent damage, that he might be helpless and dependent for the rest of his life. He hadn't finished recovering from his first horrible year with the senses on line and then this new disaster threatened to change his life yet again.

"But Jim was the one who wouldn't give up the case--" He broke off, and Blair looked up. Simon was frowning. "That's how he was coping with the blindness." Not a question.

"That was the effect it had. He was very involved. If I had kept him at home or treated him like he was an invalid he wouldn't have had anything else to think about."

"Damn."

"Yeah."

They were silent for a minute. Finally Simon waved his hand. "Go on. Get out of here. I'm sure your partner's waiting."

As he hurried through the bullpen, Rhonda slid a folder into his hand. "I didn't think you wanted this while they were here."

Blair peeked inside. It was the preliminary background check on Tessa Noel. "Thanks!" he said, reading the first pages as he continued to the elevator.

He had the folder innocently closed when he met the others in the hall on the way back from the morgue. "Where were you?" Jim asked. He knew what Simon meant about Jim being a little too polite. This was one of those times. "Simon wanted to talk about your schedule. I've asked for some time off after this. Any new developments with the bodies?"

"Nope--oh. Wait." Jim glanced over his shoulder. Down the hall Dan stuck his head out the door and waved them back. "Blair!" he called, "Phone for you."

The little party trailing behind Blair looked him over in surprise and stepped aside as he hurried through them down the hall.

"Blair? It's Hal Buckner. We've got a problem. One of our graduate students is missing."

Jim, of course, was livid. He snarled all the way to the car and half-way to Rainier. "Three days. How do you lose a student for three days? We're in the middle of a murder investigation here, and a potential witness disappears for three days and nobody notices? How does that happen?"

"Jim, counting the guide students and ABDs doing field work, there are over a hundred and fifty grad students in anthropology at a time. Everything's been chaos for days. We didn't even hold classes on Monday."

"Did everyone somehow not notice that this was serious--" and on. And on.

When they were paused for construction at East 53rd and Wayne St, Blair took the opportunity to distract him and passed over the file he'd been carrying. Jim--thank God--hushed abruptly and stared at the pages in puzzlement. In a couple of minutes it was their turn to drive through the narrow spot in the road. Jim handed the file back and turned the radio on.

"I don't get it," Jim said softly. "She's perfectly normal. Or that's what it looks like. What am I missing?"

Blair wondered how Jim meant 'normal.' Non-law enforcement personnel? Not some kind of weird criminal? Not a sentinel? He glanced at the file. The picture was the woman he had met the night before. She taught design and graphic arts at Napier University, but was currently on sabbatical to work on some kind of modern art commission.

"It doesn't make sense. What is she doing married to MacLeod?"

Blair repressed a sigh. He believed in cautious, but sometimes Jim seemed nearly paranoid. "I dunno, Jim. I'd guess it was for the sake of the child, but they were married in 1986 and she wasn't born until 1988--"

"What?" Jim's head snapped around and he made a grab for the file.

"Drive! Drive! Watch where you're going."

Jim ground his teeth the rest of the way.

The little caravan--Jim's Expedition and then Connor's rental--went first to the older frame house where Martin Gillman lived with four other Rainier students. Hal was waiting for them. Only one of the other residents was home--a graduate student from the School of Social Work. She let them in and then sat, silent and a little restless, on the battered couch in the living room while the two sentinels (trailing their guides and Connor) stalked slowly through the house. There was no sign that it had been tossed, no sign of a struggle. They peeked under beds, checked phone messages, and smelled the dirty laundry, but almost nothing was popped into a bag marked for forensics. After about half an hour, Brown showed up to take charge of the room and they went down stairs to talk to the housemate.

The interview was short. No, she didn't know where he was; no, she hadn't realized he was missing. They weren't close. He kept late hours. When he was dating someone he often spent two or three days at a time without coming home to sleep. She hadn't even noticed she hadn't seen him until Professor Buckner had called this morning.

Hal was apologetic. That morning the department secretary had asked him what they were going to do about the research assistants assigned to Historic Archaeology (since Dr. Watson was officially listed as their supervisor and doled out their time) and it wasn't until he had actually looked at the list that he realized that while two of the students on it had been hanging around the department like traumatized rabbits for the last two days, the third one he had not seen at all. Neither, when he asked around, had anyone else.

The next stop was Hargrove Hall to check out Gillman's office space. He shared a tiny room with another graduate student and the spillover from the library upstairs. All the students who had space in the basement of Hargrove shared it with either library or artifact storage.

Gillman's officemate was there when they arrived. Jim flashed his badge and said, "Miss, would you mind stepping outside," in that official, polite-but-stern way that had her scampering out like a mouse. Blair snagged her gently as she passed and made placating motions. They would need to talk to her later.

The office was small and cramped. There was a computer, but it was shared. With Jim and MacLeod in the room, there wasn't any room for anyone else, so Blair, Connor, and Dawson waited outside with the shocked first-year graduate student.

"Is this Mr. Gillman's desk?" Jim called out. He pointed to the one the girl hadn't been sitting at.

"Um. Yeah. He doesn't use it much, though. I think he studies in the library, mostly."

Jim put on a pair of gloves and began to investigate the drawers. MacLeod gently ran his hands along the books stuffed into the ancient, metal bookshelves. "You smell it, Jim?" he asked suddenly.

"Yeah, but so what? It's some kind of dirt, right? It just tells us he's been here."

MacLeod grew still and closed his eyes. "Nope. It's localized. There's something...." He seemed to forget about the rest of the sentence and the small crowd watching. After a moment he went to the computer.

The student--Blair was trying to remember her name, but he hadn't spent a lot of time at the department this year--leaned toward the door and said helpfully, "We can't save to that computer. Anything he wrote there he would have to put on disk."

MacLeod didn't seem to hear. He tipped up the monitor and pulled a folded piece of thin paper from under the base. He held it up triumphantly.

"Yes," Jim said.

From outside the door, it was impossible to see what was on it as the paper was unfolded, but at once, Jim held it out irritably and demanded, "Sandburg, what the hell is this?"

It looked like a charcoal rubbing of some kind of small plaque, but its shape was irregular and the language wasn't English or any Blair recognized. "It's an archaeology thing. I don't do archaeology things."

"Is this language Indian?" MacLeod asked. "Does this show an artifact?"

The archaeology grad student leaned around Blair. "The Indians this far north never had a written language. Anyway, Martin never worked on native stuff. European settlements. Russians. The early timber trade."

"Well, it's not Russian," Blair said. It didn't look like anything he'd seen before. It didn't look like something that belonged in this part of the world.

"Are we even sure it's Martin's?" Megan asked.

Both sentinels nodded. "The dirt's kind of pungent. The same stuff was all over his room, his clothes...."

"Is it local dirt?" MacLeod asked Jim.

"It's not dirt I'm familiar with."

"Where was he working?" Megan asked.

"I don't know. I hardly ever saw him. Downtown somewhere. Or in the waterfront district."

Blair dug out his cell and called the department secretary upstairs. It took only a moment to learn that Gillman had been working with Dr. Watson on the Cantor site.

"I thought they weren't digging until summer," Jim protested.

"Well, yes and no. You have to do a lot of digging before you know where to dig. Or something. Cantor was funding the dig this summer himself, as a kind of public service. Or to be sure that they finished before he was ready start construction on his new building."

The excavation site was next to a construction site already in progress. All the signs on the fences were marked "Cantor Construction Limited." It took a few minutes to find someone at the construction site who could request a security guard to come out with a key to the area blocked off for the archaeologists. When they finally got in, they weren't sure what to do next. Both Jim and MacLeod agreed that the mud smelled 'right' but there was a lot of it. There was almost an acre of chewed-up ground, some of it broken by deep, wide, square holes, tall stacks of two-by-sixes, or digging equipment.

"This looks like it's been bulldozed," Megan said. She lifted up one foot. Her low heel came free of the mud with a soft squish. "I thought this was some kind of archaeological site."

Blair looked around. What could they possibly be looking for here? "If you know that the dirt has been disturbed to a specific depth, stratification is useless. You can bulldoze everything that's been moved around and run it through a strainer to find any good bits. I think this was a parking lot." There was a heap of what looked like broken blacktop over to one side.

"'Good bits' being an anthropological technical term?" Megan asked, stepping around a puddle of standing water. She held up the baggy with the charcoal rubbing in it. "Anybody holler if you see one of these!"

Blair wished he'd done a better job of reading Watson's notes on this project, but he had only glanced through them once he was sure the site wasn't a point of contention for either the department or the owner. He would remedy that as soon as possible.

They split up. Blair and Jim walked along the north fence, MacLeod and Dawson took the south. Jim and Blair moved much faster. Dawson was having trouble on the uneven and slippery ground. Megan stayed to the rear. After about forty-five minutes, they were all clustered around a square excavation in the south-west quadrant.

It was about six feet deep and eight feet across and covered with a tarp held down at the edges with broken chunks of concrete. When they peeled back the tarp they could see a ladder going down. Jim and MacLeod stood on opposite sides of the pit, nodding reluctantly at one another. This was the spot that showed the most recent signs of human activity. With all the drizzle they'd had that morning there was no way to be sure *how* recent, but probably since the weekend. Highly suspicious, since the project director's time of death was estimated to be Sunday afternoon and her assistant hadn't been seen since the previous Friday.

While Jim and MacLeod were trying not to look like they were shouldering ahead to be first, Megan shot Blair a smile and slipped down the ladder before both of them. "Hey, this cavity to the side is some kind of tunnel! Come on gents, hop to!"

Jim shot her a dark look, but MacLeod only seemed amused by her. Dawson shrugged and called back, "Have a nice time in the pit, Meg. Shame I can't come with you."

The sentinels entered the tunnel first. Both of them were tall enough that they had to stoop quite a bit. Even Megan was enough taller than Blair that she had to duck her head. She took a flashlight from her pocket and turned it on. It had a haze filter on it, so that it spread a diffuse light without creating sharp shadows. Blair, who was digging for a similar (but larger) flashlight in his backpack, said, "You've worked with sentinels before."

"Now and then." Gingerly she reached out and touched the packed earth that formed the wall of the tunnel. "Mac and Joe. I was sent to Edinburgh after Koren showed up there last fall. Later, we all met in Madrid." She glanced over her shoulder. "We share a certain single-mindedness about this case."

"I'd noticed," Blair muttered.

"What the hell is this?" Jim demanded from ahead. A moment later he burst out into a larger room thinly illuminated by the soft glow of sentinel flashlights. There was a dark pile of--not dirt?--off to the right and some kind of machine to the left.

"That's a coal furnace," MacLeod said. "A heater. We're in somebody's old basement."

"Damn," Blair said. "I mean, Watson's initial report said they'd found the remains of the old waterfront, but I never guessed.... This is incredible!"

Megan looked at him. "You are kidding. This is a basement, not King Tut's Tomb. It's not even a very nice basement."

Which was true, but Blair had been hanging out with archaeologists since he was an undergraduate. If you had the right priorities this was very cool.

"There's a door over here--" Jim started, but almost mid-word he and MacLeod snapped around and faced the way they'd come. "What's--?"

Without warning, MacLeod dove between Blair and Megan, shoving them out of his way as he raced back into the narrow tunnel. Jim charged after him. Megan glanced once at Blair, drew her gun, and followed. Belatedly, Blair realized that the sentinels had heard something. His heart sank. He could not guess *what* they'd heard, but it wasn't good.

Blair broke free of the tunnel into the daylight of the open pit in time to see MacLeod leap off the ladder snarling. Jim was right behind him. Blair was too short to see what was going on up top until he was half-way up the ladder, and what he saw made him pause with surprise.

MacLeod was kneeling. Not in the mud, but on top of someone who was almost completely coated in it. Megan stood over them, the barrel of her gun inches away from the prone figure's head. Jim was a couple of feet away, his gun pointed straight up, his eyes scouring the horizon. The four figures were silent and almost completely still.

Damn, Blair thought.

He finished climbing the ladder and took a longer look at MacLeod's prisoner. Even filthy, the face was recognizable. This was the man whose prints Jim had found. Evan Kaspari.

His blood ran cold. "Where's Joe?" he asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"Right here." Blair looked, and had to look again to register what he was seeing. The prisoner was filthy with the mud from the dig site. Joe Dawson was practically camouflaged with it. He sat in a puddle not four feet from Blair and he was almost invisible unless you knew what you were looking for. There was even thick, grey mud in his beard.

From his position on the prisoner, MacLeod asked, "Anything?"

"No," Jim said. "Nobody. Blair, call dispatch. We need a prisoner transport and a couple of guys to seal this place off."

Megan slowly took a step back. "You need to make the arrest."

Jim put his gun away and hauled Kaspari to his feet while Blair called dispatch and then Simon. Jim read the prisoner his rights, then held him, cuffed, while MacLeod performed a search.

Blair put away his phone and dug out his box of wipes, which he handed to Joe. "What, uh, happened?"

"Prince Charming over there took a shot at me from across the street. He missed, but me diving for cover looks exactly like me dropping over dead. He came over to make sure he'd finished the work this time and," a shrug, "I knew I would only have to hold him for a moment." He smiled. It wasn't a triumphant look. It was predatory. Blair shuddered inwardly. He would never get used to cops.

Jim suddenly spun Kaspari around and dropped him to his knees facing the street. "Don't move," he said sharply. Then he stepped between Kaspari and MacLeod and gently backed the other sentinel up three steps. "You even think about messing up this bust, and I will break your arm." He said it nicely.

"Who? Me?" MacLeod said sweetly. He slipped free of Jim, came over to Joe and squatted beside him in the mud. Joe was using Blair's wipes to scrape off glops of mud. It wasn't terribly effective. "Interesting technique."

"What, bait?"

MacLeod closed his eyes briefly, then took a deep breath and said, "Look at you. You're a mess. I swear, I can't take you anywhere."

Joe paused mid-wipe and held out a handful of muck. "Mac, you're pushing it."

"You wouldn't."

"Try me."

"You know," Jim said, "This guy'll take a while to process. You have time to go back to the hotel and get cleaned off."

MacLeod glanced at Kaspari, kneeling in the mud and apparently as unaffected by his arrest as a statue. "No," he said.

"Sandburg could give Joe a lift, then. I'll be riding with the prisoner."

Blair swallowed hard. Jim was suggesting they separate for half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes. While on duty. While in the field. In the middle of a hot and dangerous case.

Jim was not a child. He was required by Occupational Safety and Health regulations to *have* a guide, not to have one in his presence at all times. Blair would be leaving him with two cops, one of them a sentinel, the other experienced at working with them.

All the guides would be gone.

Jim was not a child. Blair could not stand over him *all the time for the rest of their lives*. They were just transporting a prisoner. Blair swallowed again. "Actually, yeah, the hotel isn't even five minutes from here."

***

Blair spread a towel over the passenger seat. Jim would still need to get the interior cleaned. Joe, lifting himself up and in, had the same thought. "How crazy is this mess going to make your partner?" he asked.

"It's a brand-new vehicle. It will break his heart. But given how much time we are probably going to spend at this construction site for the case, I think it's going to end up trashed regardless."

"Good point." He was silent for the short trip. Blair opened his mouth to start some kind of conversation twice, but was halted by the scowl Joe was wearing. Generally, Blair thought of making arrests as a good thing but, come to think about it, nobody had seemed happy.

Mrs. MacLeod yelped when she opened the door at their knock. "My god! Joe, what happened. Mac--?"

"Is fine, is fine." He caught her hand and pressed it. "Tessa, we caught Kaspari."

She froze for just a minute, then stepped back and let them in the door. "Koren?" she whispered.

"Not yet," he ground out. "But we'll get him." He paused to pat her hand and then turned toward one of the doors on the other side of the room. "I'll just be a few minutes. We need to get back to the station."

For a moment she stood very still. Her eyes were very wide and she seemed half a minute away from bursting to tears, but then she turned to Blair and smiled thinly. "Will you sit down, Detective."

"Blair, please," he corrected. "I'm a guide, not a cop." The suite was decorated in business home-away-from home, with the small living room blending into a kitchen area and a desk/communications jack set up on opposite sides. It was comfortable and informal, if small and bland. Blair sat on the flower-patterned couch.

"Would you like something to drink? All I can offer is water; the hotel has a shopping service, but they haven't made today's delivery yet."

"Water would be great," Blair said. He wasn't thirsty, but sharing something to eat always helped cultivate interactions. "Thanks."

"Do you mind if I ring home?" she said, filling one of the bland hotel glasses with water from the fridge.

"No, go ahead."

It took a moment to put the call through. Transnational used a lot of extra numbers. Blair spent a minute looking out the windows, trying not to pay attention, or at least not look like he was paying attention.

"Mary. I've told you not to answer the phone that way." A pause, and then, "Yes, we miss you, too. No, I haven't seen Mickey Mouse. I haven't left the hotel. Darling, is your Aunt Rachel--? Yes, I would like to speak to her." Another pause, and then, "They've caught Kaspari. Anything can happen now, I need you to be careful.... Well, yes. Yes. Yes, do.... I will.... You too." Slowly she set down the phone and sighed. "Our daughter is staying with her uncle and his guide in York. Duncan was afraid, with Koren surfacing again, both Mary and me in the same place might be too much temptation. He likes to make things personal."

"I've, um, seen some of the records. It's hard to believe someone that awful exists."

"He exists," Tessa said sharply. "Don't doubt it." She stopped and sat heavily on one of the chairs facing the fake fireplace. "How can I explain? A... a coworker, a close friend of the family... he's a, well, you would say forensic anthropologist with the police. When They first came to Edinburgh, we didn't know who They were. It was attempted extortion and terroristic threatening, but we didn't know *who* was behind it. Duncan was working the case, but they didn't have enough clues. Adam was working on this body they pulled out of a ditch. A woman. Horrible things had been done to her." She wrapped her arms around her shoulders and hunched forward. Blair almost offered to change the subject, but she continued quickly. "Adam recognized Kaspari's work. He'd been to a conference in Eastern Europe the year before, where he was a case study. With Kaspari identified, suddenly the police knew exactly what they were looking for. Who was in the area. But one of the other men in the department told everything--everything, you understand--to the newspapers for money. Koren wasn't ready for his identity to be known. He had planned his little terror campaign very carefully. He was furious. The next morning, They snatched Adam coming out of his house."

Blair clamped his teeth down and tried to look calm. He'd seen the pictures of the police scientist who had been tortured in Edinburgh. What did you say to someone who was that man's friend?

"For almost two weeks they kept him. He stayed alive only because he *amused* Koren. Because he kept him distracted. Because he offered him information in exchange for time alive. He escaped. Barely. It was eight months ago, and he is not the same." Somehow, despite the terrible things she was saying, she met Blair's eyes calmly. "In December Koren was spotted in Madrid. Our police sent a team down. He abducted one of the team members and beat him to a bloody pulp as a message. He was meant to die, but he didn't. He's still in rehabilitation for brain damage."

"Oh, god. How awful." It turned out Blair did know what to say after all. He closed his eyes briefly, trying not to imagine how he'd feel if a psycho grabbed one of his co-workers--Joel, say, or Rhonda--and beat them into brain damage. He'd read the report from Madrid, too. The victim had been listed as a civilian intern still in college.

"Koren is real. They are more evil than you can imagine. Don't think for a minute that they aren't exactly that bad."

Blair nodded, wishing he had not left Jim alone.

***

After Kaspari had been fingerprinted and photographed, they took him away to wash and strip-search him. They had a while--twenty minutes anyway. Enough time for Jim to check messages, see what was in his in-box, have a word with Simon. He was strangely reluctant to leave MacLeod alone. 'With Megan Connor' wouldn't count, because *she* couldn't smell him.

Jim could. He reeked of distress and fury. Anyone this upset, he wanted to keep an eye on. So he took Connor and MacLeod upstairs to the break room and fed them candy and chips and asked Connor about jurisdictional differences in procedure she'd noticed while doing all that traveling. His goal was to distract MacLeod a little. He didn't need to explore the problem, he already knew it. There was *nothing* that could be done to help, so best to just go on.

Jim had very nearly lost his own guide barely a month before. He knew where all that distress was coming from. They were *not* going to talk about it. Jim could barely deal with his own experience, still pretty raw and horrifying. That first, horrible moment when he realized that the pizza had been eaten and Blair was *gone*, that was still too much to think about.

The smell--too sweet, too sharp, nauseating--like Lisa Hughs' smell, but oh, god, so much stronger. Even over the smell of gasoline (and normally Blair would have been having a fit over Jim staying in a room with a gasoline leak, but then he'd been out of his mind and shooting at cops) he could smell it.

Then Blair, finally, within Jim's grasp, except it was too late. He wasn't talking any more, he wasn't moving except where the thunder of his heart--too fast, too hard, and starting to falter--pounded through his body.

All through that horrible trip to the hospital and the horrible hour and a half he'd sat in emergency's waiting room, Jim had been bereft and consumed by rage. As soon as he had looked into Lisa's eyes he had understood this poison, this trap for the innocent and unready who couldn't protect themselves. Golden. Pure evil.

Blair hadn't been innocent, though. He'd only been good. He hadn't been deceived in the usual way. He hadn't been depressed or desperate or stupid or pressured. The poison had come after him. It had hunted him down. The best man Jim had ever known--

He had kept thinking, that long afternoon in the waiting room, of the day they had met. Blair had come--as a favor to a man he barely knew, despite being heartbroken at his own shattered plans--to look into a problem and see if he could do anything to help. He had been kind and intelligent. He had been compassionate and fair. He had understood the unbearable, exhausting insanity that Jim's life had become, and he had barely even been fazed by it. He had saved Jim's life (and his soul), and he'd asked nothing in return. Well, except that Jim cooperate and let him do his job. Jim could sympathize with that. He felt the same way about his own job.

He listened to the doctors order blood tests and argue about the results. He listened to them intubate him and hook up the machine that breathed mechanically. Really, he was not half as good at the sentinel thing as Blair was at his end of it. If there was anyone in the world Jim ought to be able to protect, surely it would be his own guide. By proximity if nothing else.

It was only much later--hours, probably--sitting beside Blair in the private room he'd been given as a serious case with no medical precedent, that Jim had noticed that without Sandburg he was completely helpless and immobile. It had crossed his mind that Blair wasn't aware of him and wouldn't be for hours, and now was the time, if he were going to, to go home and shower and collect some of Sandburg's things, at least some of his own music to listen to and his walkman, although Jim could not read him any of his books.

Only Jim could not drive. He could make a guess at the location of the bathroom by its smell, but he could not even walk down the hall to a vending machine. For five days Sandburg had been his eyes and his protection. Jim had been mobile and clean and fed, he had even continued to work on the case and made considerable progress on it, but only because his partner had been there. Blair had done the things Jim could not do himself and had talked him through the things he *had* to do himself.

When Jim held his hands up he couldn't make out the shapes, just uneven gold streaks against a harsh golden background that was too bright to look at for long under the hospital's fluorescents. At the moment vision was good for exactly nothing, and that might not change. Ever. It would be as hard to learn to be blind as it had been to learn to be a sentinel. He could not do it without Blair.

Without even being able to watch shadows to mark the time, he had no idea how long it was before he heard a familiar voice in the hall outside. He would have liked to get up and shut the door, but he'd been lucky to get across the unfamiliar room even once, so he stayed where he was, waiting.

At the soft hiss of rubber wheels in the doorway, Jim said, "Go away."

"Jim, it's Jack--"

"I know who you are. My hearing is fine."

"Jim, I don't want to argue--"

"I don't care what *you* want."

A sigh. No sound of retreat. Jim ground his teeth. Jack talked anyway. "Jim. Blair and I had a professional disagreement. It doesn't mean I don't care--"

A burning, then, in Jim's eyes. Apparently they couldn't see, but they could still cry.

"How is he doing?"

It took Jim a moment to collect himself enough to answer. "The doctors tell me it doesn't look too bad. They think he'll come off the respirator in twelve hours or so and his EKG is ok. Out in the hall, they tell each other they don't have a clue. They've never seen anything like this, they don't know what it can do, if there will be permanent damage." Golden. Jim was supposed to have stopped that stuff. He was supposed to get it off the street and the suppliers behind bars before it spread beyond Cascade and murdered more innocents. "You were right. I should have stayed home. I can't do my job, I can't even--"

"Jim, this wasn't your fault."

"The hell it wasn't! There was so much drug on that pizza--and he couldn't smell it. There was no way--"

Suddenly, although Jim hadn't heard the chair move, Jack was beside him, capturing his hands and hissing in his ear, "Stop it right now. Your guide is alive and he is listening to you--"

"He's unconscious. He may never wake up."

"He is still listening for you. Believe me." Jack pushed a tissue into his hand. "Believe me," he said more gently. "He knows you're here. I'm sure he sleeps listening for you by now."

It occurred to Jim that this might be a chance to do something for Blair. "He really does care, you know."

"Of course I know that," Jack said impatiently. "That was never the problem. He was arrogant and short sighted and ignorant, thinking an exposure as serious as yours could be handled casually. I still don't think your health was good enough for--But that's not the point. He refused to ground you because he *could not* say no to you, not because he didn't care if it hurt you or not. On balance, with this one exception, Blair has been a model guide these last few months. Frankly, you have progressed beyond my most optimistic expectations. A lot of that's him. He's been very good for you. So cut him a break, hmmm? Don't write him off yet."

Jack had stayed for a while longer, saying other things, reasonable, comforting things Jim hadn't bothered to remember afterward. Some time later--Jim couldn't guess how much later--he heard Adrian and Sharona squabbling in the hall. It was a comforting sound. For a fraction of a second he was back at the PD on a normal day with Blair down the hall hitting on one of the dispatchers.

But then Adrian was hovering nervously in the doorway, positively radiating pity, and Jim was back in hell, listening to the machine breathe for Blair.

Adrian didn't say anything, but after a few moments he came and sat down beside Jim. He hadn't realized there was a second chair. "I don't smell it," he said at last.

"Smell what?" Jim asked. He could smell the hospital, the disinfectants, the sicknesses up and down the halls. He could smell the drug, leaking out of Blair's pores.

"Death," Adrian answered.

"We can smell that?"

"Yeah. But I don't smell it today."

They sat in silence for a while.

"You know, Sharona's out in the hall. If you gave us your key, we could drop by your place, pick up your toothbrush, some clothes, whatever."

"Blair's walkman."

"Yeah. We could do that."

Jim dug in his pocket, produced the keys.

At some point afternoon turned to evening. Simon visited and talked about the case. Sharona returned with a small bag of supplies and a sandwich from Burgher's Deli. The next morning Simon picked him up on the way in; he'd been hoping for some info on the inquiries he'd made the night before. Jim only hesitated a moment before going with him. Despite what Jack had said, Blair couldn't be aware of Jim. Nothing more could be done for him, but for every other good and unsuspecting soul who might be hurt by golden--Jim could do something for them.

The bust had gone down before noon, but Jim hadn't been able to get a ride back to the hospital until almost three. By then he could make out the bed and find Blair's shoulder by sight, but his face was still a yellow smear. No detail, and no real depth perception.

Blair was sleeping normally and breathing on his own. Jim returned to the chair he'd occupied all night and hid his face in his hands. He felt as if he were falling.

"Jim?" Jim's eyes snapped open, but of course he could not see if Blair was awake. He reached out with his hands. One of them was captured at once. The grip was weak, but, oh, lord, it was Blair. "Jim, what's wrong?" The voice was quiet and too dry to be familiar, but by then Jim could hear his heart picking up. Awake. Conscious. Recognizing him.

"Jim, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, nothing." He found Blair's face with his free hand, leaned forward and burrowed his face in the tangled curls. Real and solid even though he couldn't see them. "It's all right, Chief. Just relax." Hot tears ran down his face and disappeared. Blair caught him, held on. It took a few minutes for Jim to collect himself. He settled back, patting Blair's arm, trying to look calm.

"What happened?" Blair asked hoarsely. "The doctor said 'accidental overdose,' but I wasn't taking anything."

Jim sighed. "Do you remember the pizza?"

A puzzled nod.

"It was full of that drug. They were trying to send a message. You nearly died."

There was a short silence. Jim desperately wanted to see his face. "Shit," Blair said.

"I'm sorry--"

"Hush. It's ok," Blair muttered. Jim waited for more, but Blair had fallen asleep a few minutes later.

It was two more days before he could take Blair home. Or, rather, get Simon to drive them home, since Jim still couldn't see well enough to drive. They'd taken the rest of the week off; Blair smelled all right, but he was tired and headachy and when he didn't have trouble staying awake, he had trouble sleeping.

Jim spent much of the time listening to Blair move and calming down. Sorting things out. For cops, your partner was your partner, and that meant something even if you didn't have anything in common. For sentinels, the guide was what made it possible to get by in the world from one day to the next. And friends, they were supposed to mean something to you, right? Ok, yes, Jim had avoided having a partner and he had taken a guide only as a last resort, and he hadn't really wanted any more friends--certainly not since the friends he'd had had all started looking at him funny since the sentinel diagnosis came out.

As a partner, there was no problem sharing a stake-out with Sandburg. As a guide, Jim was ok with that part. Mostly. Any problems Jim had certainly weren't because of *Blair*. As a friend, despite constantly nagging about what Jim ate and where he breathed and what he wasn't supposed to be touching, he didn't even seem to notice the sentinel thing most of the time. It wasn't an issue. Sometimes he seemed to think Jim was somehow physically or emotionally fragile from all those months with Brackett, but he didn't make a big deal about that, either. It never made him pull away.

Jim wasn't always clear what he wanted from Sandburg, but there was never any doubt that he *did* want to keep him around. Things could go on this way for a very long time.

According to the file, MacLeod and Dawson had been together for nearly fifteen years. Jim could almost picture fifteen years with Sandburg. He could not picture how he would keep it together if, after they'd been together all that time, somebody took a shot at Sandburg.

MacLeod didn't say anything. Which was fine, probably. Talking couldn't fix this. But Jim really didn't like the way he picked through his potato chips, gently breaking them into small pieces and piling them to the side.

***

Blair and Joe came off the elevator just in time to see Kaspari being led into one of the interrogation rooms at the end of the hall. "Oh, good," Joe said. "We haven't missed any of the fun."

Simon turned the corner and nodded a greeting to Blair, pointing to the door next to the one the prisoner had used. "This is cool," Blair said. "We've got one of the good interrogation rooms. Look."

"Very nice," Joe agreed. A large, 1-way mirror filled one wall. Macleod, Megan, and Henry Brown sat in the semi-darkness, watching the window like a big-screen TV. On the other side, Kaspari (in a paper jumpsuit and chained) sat at a small table while Simon and Jim considered him from opposite sides of the room.

"Right to an attorney," Jim was saying. "I don't object to you having one. Frankly, you're going to need one. So, I'm asking you one last time--"

Kaspari looked up. His eyes were both cold and unconcerned. "No," he said.

Jim shrugged. "Fine. Let's start with this." He dropped a picture on the table. "Where's Martin Gillman?"

Kaspari stared disinterestedly into the distance and shrugged.

Jim leaned over him. "Are you having trouble with the language? Because we could get an interpreter."

Another shrug.

"If Martin Gillman is still alive," Simon said, "That's one less count of conspiracy and accessory to murder."

Kaspari laughed. "Is this where you offer me a deal?"

Jim walked behind Kaspari, watching him with narrowed eyes. Listening. To Blair, he looked puzzled, but by what he couldn't guess. "Right now, in the USA, you're looking at one count each of murder, attempted murder, assault, resisting arrest, and kidnapping. Well, no, two counts of kidnapping." He leaned closer. Blair suspected that everyone else thought he was being intimidating, but Blair saw his nose twitch. Smelling him. "Deal? We can't offer you a deal. Not after *that* murder. You're looking at the death penalty. As crazy as you are, I think you'll get it." Jim straightened and folded his arms. "In America, anyway. But, see, the UK doesn't believe in the death penalty. And they have a very convincing prior claim. We might allow you to be extradited. After we finish trying you. I hear British prisons aren't even that bad."

"He wouldn't," MacLeod hissed through his teeth.

Jim, still standing behind the prisoner, glared at the window and shook his head once.

Kaspari leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He looked bored.

That inauspicious start was actually pretty representative of the next six hours. Jim and Simon went round and round, asking questions, threatening, discussing other, older crimes. It seemed to Blair that Jim didn't really expect Kaspari to cooperate or even be reasonable, but Blair couldn't tell what he *did* expect to get.

It was after six when Jim and Simon came out, indicating to the waiting uniforms to take Kaspari down to holding. "You should have let me take a shot at him," MacLeod growled.

"Oh, no," Megan said sourly, "me. Nobody would ever believe *me* for roughing up a prisoner."

"It wouldn't do any good." Jim scowled at MacLeod. "Have you ever smelled him? Did you hear him? No fear. No interest. No guilt at all. He's not all in there."

"That's not actually a surprise," Joe murmured. "Your Doctor Watson, that was Koren letting Kaspari play."

The hairs on the back of Blair's neck stood up. "So, Kaspari's a dead end," he said quickly, changing the subject. "Fine. That's still one down and only two more to go. We need to find Martin Gillman, assuming he's still alive--"

Megan sighed, muttered, "Even if he's not alive."

"We need to figure out what Koren wants with the dig site."

They trooped over to forensics to see what Serena had been able to make of the charcoal rubbing. The dirt smudges on it matched the excavation, "Not that I didn't have three sentinels telling me that already." As for the image itself, no one recognized the writing, not even Adrian. They'd sent copies out to a couple of Middle-Eastern and Asian language experts, but so far, nothing.

They stayed until almost nine, Megan, Blair, and Jim looking over Watson's notes and records again. At the same time MacLeod, Joe, and Henry went over the information they had on Martin Gillman and the anonymous body still sitting in the morgue. When they finally gave up, they didn't know any more than they did when they'd started. Well, actually they knew *a lot* more than when they started. They just didn't have any better idea about the case.

7:30 the next morning found them back at the dig-site, along with Simon and Sidney Graham, an archaeologist from the university. The uniforms on guard duty looked tired and bored--apparently nothing had happened overnight. The hole appeared as they had left it. Sidney looked it over, looked the police contingent over, and sighed. "I don't know what you're looking for here. Archaeological sites people are willing to kill for aren't very common in this country."

"I think our best possibility is that there's something down here Koren wants," Simon said. "But we can't rule out the chance that there's a body down here."

"Yeah. Ok. Let's take a look."

One at a time and carefully they all crowded down into the pit. Jim went first, then Sidney who received a bundle of tools and lights passed down by Megan. Joe went down on Mac's back, and Blair wasn't sure which impressed him more; the physical strength involved or the absolutely casual and silent cooperation.

Lit by electric lights the narrow tunnel seemed less ancient and mysterious and more like the spidery crawl-space under someone's house. There was a long wait while Sidney looked over the first chamber. Chamber. Ha. It was a ruined bit of shallow basement.

"I'm beginning to get why Adrian has a thing with being underground," Jim muttered in Blair's ear.

Blair patted his shoulder. "Keep breathing. We're ok."

Jim glanced up and then away and whispered, "Yes, but the only thing we can do is watch him." Startled, Blair glanced at Jim, who appeared to be innocently studying a brick. Oh. He wasn't used to his partner holding hushed conversations with other sentinels like this. It shouldn't surprise him, but somehow it did.

"I don't know. But we needed an archaeologist, and this is the one we've got."

Blair took a guess about the topic of the conversation. "Sidney wasn't directly involved with this project," he whispered. "That's why Brown talked to him."

Sidney called them over to a hole in the base of the south wall. Several of the bricks had been removed and stacked to the side, while the hole itself was shored up with wood. "This has to be our team's excavation, although the progress notes were hard to follow."

Jim went first into the hole. Blair held Sidney back for a few seconds, not wanting Jim to feel too crowded by strangers. Then, one by one, they slipped into the narrow opening. The way was about six feet long and roomy, but curved, so you didn't know until the end how far you were from getting free. Blair resisted the urge to rush out the end and ignored the dry, brown taste of dirt in his mouth. Calm. Normal. I am relaxed.

The next chamber was much larger, although he couldn't make out the shape because Jim was trying to wedge one of the electric worklights into a niche and the shadows danced all around the room as the light moved.

The ceiling wasn't too low, although some supports had fallen in and one apparently non-structural wall had caved in completely.

Simon took a look around, patted Blair on the head and said, "Great. Have fun. I have some real work to do. I'll see you later."

They searched the room carefully, dropping samples of dirt, bits of wood, and chunks of brick into sample bags that would, in order to ensure that nothing was overlooked in such unusual evidence, be sent to Rainier and a private laboratory in Florida that specialized in historic samples as well as the police department.

They didn't actually find anything that seemed particularly useful. Watson's notes had listed it as the basement of a dry goods store. Mostly it held bolts of crumbling cloth that both sentinels decreed hadn't been touched in decades. Sidney inserted a probe and took a core sample of one end anyway.

When it was clear that nothing in the room was going to bust the case wide open, Brown dug out a copy of Watson's report. "It says she thinks there was another basement along the northeast wall here," he said.

Sidney nodded. "She didn't have anything exact on the location of the next building. The first probe they made caved in a day later. We need a stable location to dig into the next basement. Her guess was most of this northwest wall, but..." He picked up a hammer and smiled suddenly. "Shall we see why sentinels on digs get paid more than project directors?" He tapped the bricks of the northwest wall experimentally.

Clank. Clank. Sidney's tapping was rhythmic, but not loud. Blair found it kind of flat sounding. "Slower," MacLeod instructed. "Let it echo."

Clank. Clank. Clank. Blair wondered what they were hearing. Clank.

"Stop," Jim panted. "I need a minute."

"Jim?" Blair asked softly, leaning in. "Headache?"

"No, I just," Jim lowered his voice. "I can hear all the dirt above me. God, Chief, it--"

"Ok. Ok. Breathe," Blair whispered back. "Does it sound unstable? Do we have a problem here?"

"No, I just... It's only a few feet, but there's still so *much* of it!"

"Ok. Ok." He rubbed Jim's shoulder. "Just take a minute."

"I have it," MacLeod said suddenly. He stood up and crossed the room, stroking the brick wall with the back of his hand. "You want to push through there." He pointed toward the western corner. "It's fairly solid and there's just a foot or so of dirt between you and the next wall."

There was movement from the tunnel behind them and Simon appeared. "Lunch," he called. "There's pizza outside, if anybody's interested."

"Somebody take lunch," Sidney said. He and Henry were crouched beside the west corner, picking at the mortar with small, sharp tools. "Only a couple of people can work at a time here."

Blair took the opportunity to get Jim out of the pit. He tried not to look like he was hurrying, but when he smelled mud and saw sunlight, he nearly broke out cheering. He dusted Jim off, fed him bottled water and pizza, and tried not to smell worried. Jim, for his part, calmly gave Simon their report (such as it was) and argued with Megan about what good mucking about in the basements of some buried over buildings was doing their case.

"Well," Blair asked, looking at the remains of his fourth piece of pizza, "Are you ready to trade out and give the others a break?"

"Yeah. Just about." He grabbed one more small piece and shoved half of it in at once.

"Jim, if you don't want to go back in there," Blair started more softly.

"I'm fine," Jim said. "Just, you know, as long as you stay close."

Blair smiled inwardly, hiding the surge of joy that followed Jim's casual request and its confident assumption that Blair would provide it. So much progress, so quickly. He could do anything, this man. Anything.

The afternoon seemed slow and tedious, although they made considerable progress. The bricks in the west corner were carefully scraped free and lifted out, revealing a wall of fairly soft dirt that they took turns scraping out with trowels. The dirt was only a couple of feet deep, and beyond it was another ancient brick wall. Beyond the brick wall was a wooden wall.

By this time it was almost three. They had stirred up enough dust that both sentinels and Sidney were sneezing. Cutting neatly through the wood would require a tool they didn't have with them.

"We haven't been to the station all day," Megan said. "Let's go do some real police work for a couple of hours and come back to this tomorrow, hmmm?"

***

Continued in part three...