New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections V: Passing Through the Underworld
Part Three
by Dasha

See disclaimers and notes in part one.

Checking his voice mail on the way to the Expedition, Jim got some good news. Dan finally had an identity on the body from the alley. Oscar Granger. He was a petty thug who freelanced up and down the Northwest Coast. Rafe and one of the uniforms were out tracking down known acquaintances at that very moment. He heard MacLeod, about twenty feet away, repeat the news to Inspector Connor, interrupting her ongoing gripe that they were wasting the day on some kind of wild goose chase.

Jim felt ok about it, himself. It wasn't the more usual sort of police work, but then usual methods hadn't caught Koren yet.

They were all filthy. Jim had dust in his hair and ears. Perhaps, if sentinels hadn't been involved, they could have gone back to the department as they were, but the guides were adamant about showers and clean clothes. The foreign contingent went back to the hotel to wash and change, but Jim and Blair had packed a change of clothes and could shower in the locker room.

Of course, first they had to get there. Jim opened the door of his beautiful new SUV and sighed. Blair caught it and smiled indulgently. "We can get it vacuumed out when it's all over."

"Vacuumed--I'll have to have the upholstery cleaned!" He knew, even without Blair's sympathetic head shake, that there was no way chemical cleaners could be used in the Ford. "This is all your fault." Jim wasn't sure what he was referring to, and it probably wasn't true, but he felt better.

Sandburg laughed.

At that time of day they had the locker room to themselves, which was a good thing because as soon as Sandburg was filth-free, he came over and began to inspect Jim minutely. He searched everywhere (even under the towel and behind his ears) for signs of rash. He took Jim's pulse. He listened to his breathing. He tested for vertigo. Jim took as much as he could, but at last he gave up trying to be patient and shoved him away. "Have you heard of privacy? What about personal space?"

"Sure. If you need some, we can schedule it. Later. Hold out your hands."

But in the end, Sandburg decreed him 'OK' and let him get dressed. Things could be worse.

They stopped off at the morgue to get Dan's final report on Granger's body, then at the sixth floor conference room, where Rafe had just returned and was piling the folders on Granger's known associates into "not interviewed yet," "no help," and "take a sentinel when you go back."

The rest of the team met them there. Connor, still damp and not smelling of sweat and decay was actually quite attractive. Jim pushed that thought out of his mind and firmly turned the conversation to how they would divide up the interviews so that they could finish tonight. They had two sentinels, after all. There was no reason not to use them both as long as someone from the CPD accompanied the visiting officers.

Sandburg dropped a pile of folders he was juggling, spilling paper all over MacLeod's feet. Jim took a deep breath and got a very firm and careful hold on himself. Anything he was about to feel was sentinel bullshit, and he wasn't going to embarrass Blair with the sort of obsessive, controlling crap that Jack was always battling in Marcia.

So. No matter what he felt, he wouldn't say anything. Jim had more control than that, surely.

Strangely, though, Jim didn't feel anything. He took a good, long look at MacLeod, squatting on the floor across from Sandburg, rapidly sorting out files and tucking them back into folders. Well, he felt something. He was going to make damn sure the man never forgot that this was Jim's city and Jim's case. But....

It wasn't like he was worried about Blair. There was no reason why Blair wouldn't be fine. After all, what would MacLeod do? Hurt him? Steal him? Why would a sentinel do something to a guide?

Well, there were still days when Jim wouldn't mind strangling Lee Brackett with his bare hands, but that was special.

But did it ever even cross his mind that Marcia would do anything worse to Blair than be a little rude? Would Adrian do even that much? Rucker? Benton Frasier? Certainly, Jim had never felt threatened by any of them. On the other hand Adrian was hardly threatening, Rucker was family, and Frasier, well, they had spent almost no time together at all under *normal* circumstances. There was just no telling.

A very soft voice at his shoulder startled him. "If there's a problem, I'll talk to Mac." Dawson.

Jim felt himself flushing a little. "N-no," he stammered. "I mean, it's fine." At Dawson's dubious look, he added, "No, really. I mean, that's kind of got me confused. We have this friend, she gets really nasty if I even stand between her and her guide. We went to their place for dinner a couple of months ago... well, anyway. I just.... I don't see her problem."

"Ah. I see. But if you weren't obsessive about your other guides, surely that wouldn't just change now?"

"I'm actually pretty new at this," Jim said. "There was one guide before Sandburg. He... wasn't very good."

"Wow. A surprise lily. I wouldn't have guessed."

"Ah, surprise what?"

"Oh. Late bloomer. Sorry. So how long--?"

Jim sighed. "About a year."

"Damn!" Dawson made no attempt to hide his surprise and sympathy and Jim found himself smiling in answer.

"We're still working out the bugs," he said. "Actually, I'm surprised you didn't know."

"Oh, well. Heh. We've requested backgrounds on you both, but they're being faxed to the hotel since it would be rude to have them show up here. We haven't had time to pick them up yet. So, how's it going? Working the bugs out?"

Jim frowned at that. How were things working out? It was one thing to be unwilling to tell a near-stranger the whole truth, but Jim was suddenly unsure what should constitute his lie. How could you make up a polite fabrication when you didn't know what the truth was? "Well. I'm discovering that there probably are worse things in the world than being a sentinel."

"That's news?"

Jim glanced over at Blair who was piling folders by part of town. "Yeah. Talk about your big surprises."

Dawson smiled at him. "Just wait. It gets much better."

On the way out, ADA Sanchez ran into them at the elevator. Kaspari's court appearance was to be at 9:45 the next morning, and she was lining up her witnesses. Jim introduced everyone politely and promised to have everyone there on time and dressed appropriately. He played up the grouchy cop act as much as possible. Any time Jim even looked at a woman, Blair started matchmaking, and Sanchez was one of his favorites. She went on about making sure their guests understood American procedures for arraignment, indictment, and bail, and Jim had to admit she had a point. He promised to get to that tonight, sometime.

Jim and Sandburg spent the afternoon trying to track Granger's last movements with Inspector Connor. Aside from being attractive (which was bad enough), Connor was bossy, persisted in calling Blair 'Sandy,' and her conversation seemed limited to criticizing Jim's interrogation technique and playing 'disgusting food poker' with Blair. Witchetty grubs. Please.

"Aw, come on, Jim," Blair prodded. "You must have eaten some interesting stuff in Peru."

"Plantains and elderly monkey, Chief. Nothing exciting enough to write home about, believe me."

By the time 7:30 rolled around they had accomplished surprisingly little, but the teams had all agreed to meet back at the department to catch up and plan out what to do next. Their timing was good. They met the other group just as they reached the elevator in the parking garage and rode up together. It took only a minute's conversation to learn that nobody had made much progress on where Granger had been or who he had seen before he had died.

Halfway through the conversation, MacLeod stiffened and looked around. He smelled of surprise. Jim tried to hear what he was hearing or smell what he was smelling, but everything seemed normal. As soon as the elevator doors opened, MacLeod made a bee-line for Major Crime, not the conference room.

From the hall Jim could hear someone in Simon's office. He wondered what kind of meeting they were interrupting. A stranger was saying, "--not an expert in this, but have you considered sending it to a cryptographer? I mean, if your linguists don't recognize it.... Although I admit I don't see the point in encoding a *plaque*. You usually want people to read those."

Halfway through the door to Simon's office, Joe stopped short, and Blair, right behind him, crashed into the doorframe trying to avoid tripping over him. Jim could smell the anxiety wafting off MacLeod. He didn't know what waited in that office, but he pulled Blair behind him before he looked.

There was a man sitting in one of Simon's chairs, drinking Simon's coffee. He looked up and smiled. "Sorry I'm late. I didn't finish the Campbell case until very late last night. Hullo, Megan. Nice to see you again."

Simon held out a folder. "Dr. Pierson isn't joining us in an official capacity."

The average-looking, vaguely familiar man smiled cheerfully. "Nope. Just along for the ride."

"You're not supposed to be joining us in any capacity," Dawson growled.

Jim flipped open the folder and glanced down. Seeing the face in black-and-white fax distortion snapped the memory into place. This was the police scientist Koren and company had nearly tortured to death in Scotland last fall.

Pierson smiled slyly at Simon. "You see? This is the man who has been after me since Christmas to take a vacation." Everyone started talking at once. Jim couldn't remember the last time he was surrounded by so many people smelling of so many varieties of 'upset' that didn't involve somebody getting arrested.

He retreated back out through the crowd in Simon's doorway and sat down on Rafe's desk. Normally, he didn't sit on other people's desks because it irritated him when *they* did it, but maybe he could count today as some kind of special occasion.

The yelling and quarreling continued.

Blair laid a hand on Jim's arm. "Tired?"

"I'm fine. Really."

Simon bellowed for quiet, got reports out of Inspector Connor and Rafe.

"So where are we on the case? Is this archaeology thing going to pan out or what?" Simon asked.

"The dig-site is a complete waste of time," Connor said promptly. "The Maritime Museum is the only target in town worthy of Koren's attention. Unless he's blackmailing one of your local business leaders as we speak."

The tail end of this comment was almost completely drowned out by MacLeod's impatient, "You're not unintelligent. How can you so constantly be wrong?"

"All right, people," Simon called, poking his head out the door. "Jim, what do you think?"

"The dig. I have no idea why, but he's after that dig."

"And you base that on?" Connor snapped.

"Kaspari's MO. He doesn't shoot people for fun."

"He kills people for fun all the time," Blair said, sounding surprised.

"Not with a gun." It was Pierson who spoke. He was looking at the floor, turning his coffee cup slowly in his hand. "You were getting too close. They were desperate to derail the investigation. The quickest, most convenient way to do that would be to take out a guide."

"They'll have to think of something else. We have the site locked down," Jim said.

Pierson looked up, meeting his eyes. "Maybe. He has another priority now. He's going to want Kaspari back."

"Adam's right," MacLeod said. "They're still in town. Koren and Etz will try to retrieve their man."

"We've got Kaspari in isolation now. After his court appearance tomorrow, he stops being our problem for a while. We have two uniforms on watch at Cantor Construction and one at the Maritime Museum."

"Is that going to be enough?" Simon asked.

"I volunteer to stake out the museum," Connor said immediately.

MacLeod nodded. "We'll take the real target and watch the excavation. We should be able to set up far enough away that Koren won't be able to spot us."

"Rafe, is there anything we can do to up the security on Kaspari?" Simon asked.

Pierson stood up smoothly and put aside his cup. He stalked past MacLeod, murmuring, "A word with you, special constable."

MacLeod hesitated for a moment, then followed him to the corner behind Murphy's desk. "You have court tomorrow," Pierson said very softly. Jim realized that he shouldn't be listening, but while his control was pretty good, it was very hard to listen to something *other* than a conversation he was interested in, especially at short notice. He turned his eyes to Simon and Rafe's discussion of security, but his ears remained stubbornly focused on what was whispered behind him. "I expect you were on the job very early this morning. I expect you've made time for, perhaps, one meal today. I won't object to you running *yourself* into the ground, if that is your intention. But you will not take your guide with you."

Amazingly, MacLeod gave in. He came back to the doorway and said, "I withdraw the offer. We have to testify tomorrow."

Simon smiled. "Never mind. Monk has been complaining that he never gets to do any real police work since Jim came on line. I'll give it to him."

Jim sighed. "Speaking of court dates, I promised the ADA we'd go over that tonight."

"You could come to the hotel and meet us for breakfast," MacLeod said. "We could talk about it then."

"I'd hoped to visit the site first--" Jim started, but Blair interrupted, laughing, "In your court clothes?"

"I can meet Dr. Graham," Henry said. "I promise we won't solve the case without you."

***

Blair woke up at two-thirty with the Wonderburger they'd had for dinner turning to lumps of lead in his stomach. Really, he'd only meant to get a salad when they'd stopped for dinner on the way home, but when they'd pulled into the drive-thru it had suddenly hit him just how long ago lunch had been, and he found himself ordering a double hamburger. With bacon. And onion rings.

Softly, he padded into the kitchen and mixed himself some bicarb. As he sipped it, he found his eyes straying to the phone and sighed. Maybe it wasn't fair to blame his upset stomach completely on junk food. There had been a message waiting when they got home. Jack, checking in with Jim and making sure everything was all right. Was everything all right? Because if it wasn't, this time Blair wouldn't get another chance.

Was Jim all right? Surely, working while he was blinded hadn't hurt him. Nearly gotten him *killed*, yes, but Jim was in control now. He was healthy. As soon as this next case was finished, Blair would take him out of town for a few days. Camping or a sentinel retreat. Somewhere quiet where nobody would make demands on him and there wasn't any pressure to perform.

Blair scowled. His own lack of confidence would be as big a threat to Jim as anything else. Maybe going along with Jim working had not been a perfect decision. There had been no perfect decision to make. Get past it. Move on. Live in the present.

He crept upstairs. It used to impress Jack that Blair could move around the house at night and not wake Jim. He didn't this time either. Jim slept soundly, snoring just a tiny bit, curled around his pillow.

Even Jack agreed he was out of any immediate danger. Strong and in control and getting better. Everything was fine.

Blair went back to bed.

***

Tessa was the only one waiting in the hotel dining room the next morning. She smiled pleasantly and invited them to sit down, adding, "The boys weren't quite ready yet. I can go ahead and order for them, so we don't fall behind schedule."

"Hey, no problem," Blair said. He couldn't imagine how hard it would be, keeping a sentinel comfortable and rested in a foreign country, let alone working a case with as much pressure as this one.

A waitress arrived with coffee and took their orders. As he left, Tessa looked at Jim curiously. "Is something wrong, Detective?"

"No," Jim said quickly, but now that Blair looked it was clear that *something* was wrong. "That is, can I ask you a personal question?"

She blinked at that. "You can ask," she said.

"How can you--" Jim stopped and started over to no better result. "I mean you--" He sighed. "You're married to one of us!"

"Yes," she answered uncertainly.

"Why?"

The question had come out a harsh demand, but Tessa's uncertainty faded and she nodded slowly. "You're wondering if it's difficult, being married to a sentinel?" she asked gently.

Blair realized that he hadn't breathed in several seconds. He was completely blindsided. Dear god. How had he missed this one?

"Difficult?" Jim shook his head in confusion. "It's got to be impossible. Don't--don't get me wrong. Your husband's an ok guy. He seems to have a pretty good grip on things. But even if you don't have problems with the senses and the health issues and the *job* you've got this guide in the middle of everything--" Jim stopped and looked away. "That came out badly. I'm sure everything.... Look, this is none of my business. Let's talk about something else."

Tessa leaned forward and rested her chin on her hand. She surveyed Jim thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, "Let's not. I can't imagine what they tell sentinels over here, but it's not as bad as you imagine. It did take me almost a year to learn how to shop and how to cook, and there was one *very* ugly incident involving a personal hygiene product, but it doesn't take that long to get used to the rules and form new habits. It's a little inconvenient sometimes, I admit. But *people* are inconvenient. If it's not one thing, it's another."

Jim looked unconvinced. Blair wanted to curl up and die. He had thought Jim showed no interest in dating because he was out of the habit of being involved with people. He had been throwing women at Jim for months, completely oblivious to the fact that Jim thought of himself as unmarriageable, perhaps un-datable. And that one of the reasons Jim thought this was Blair himself. "What about the guide issue?" Blair forced the words out, surprised that they sounded so calm.

Jim, stricken, glanced fleetingly at Blair and then studied his silverware.

Tessa said, "You mean, do I get tired of having company for dinner three or four days a week? Do I miss having romantic vacations?" She shrugged. "Yes, but after you have your first child your romantic vacations decline anyway. And Joe is very good about babysitting. It probably evens out in the end."

"So it's like having an extra relative?" Jim asked.

"My husband had his guide before he had me. Part of me is jealous of that. They have something I will never share. I am also damn glad that Duncan *does* have him. I am told that before Joe he went through seven guides in two years. He was mean spirited and short tempered and very difficult on the job. Not someone I would have wanted to marry." She laughed softly. "We tried separate vacations once. Believe me, I was glad when Joe got home. Also, it's good to have a guide who's competent, who can make the decisions I can't. A couple of years ago there was an accident with the water supply. A contaminant in the pumping station. It wasn't enough to affect most people, but nine sentinels wound up in hospital. One died. It was... it was a very near thing. He was very sick. I can't imagine, if I had had to make those decisions, to cope with...." She sighed. "All I had to be was his wife and all I had to do was love him. I didn't have to figure out how to keep him alive. All those day-to-day things that go wrong, I don't have to solve all that. I don't think I could."

Jim was very still, his unwavering gaze a study in both hope and terror. As Blair watched, Jim forced the hope back down and made the terror disappear. "It can't be much of a life for a guide," he said.

Tessa glanced at Blair, looked back at Jim. "The night the water went bad, I called Joe at two in the morning because Duncan was having hallucinations. He lives three houses down. He has his own life. His own hobbies. Sometimes, I think it's not much of a life. I mean, what do you *say* to your date at two in the morning when you have to leave because your sentinel's sick? There are no days off. There are no plans you can make. But don't think that's the end of it. It's not. I've been married to a bobby for twelve years. I can't count how many times I've said good-bye at two in the morning, but I get over it. It's not so terrible, not if everyone is gracious about it. So far, everyone has been."

Jim nodded stiffly. Blair tried to catch his eye, but he would not look up. 'Aw, damn it, Jim!' he thought. Why do you always assume the worst? He at once felt guilty for the thought. Blair knew perfectly well why Jim assumed the worst. If Jim had interrupted a date with a little thing like hallucinations, Brackett wouldn't have been 'gracious' about it.

Tessa sighed. "Don't judge them by whatever you're seeing now. This case has been very, very hard on both of them. We were all trying to put what happened last fall behind us and move on when it went pear-shaped all over again. I don't know how guide education works in America. In the UK, it takes five years. After the first year, each student spends four months out of every twelve in a practical rotation with a sentinel and guide team in the field. There was a young man, his name was Richie-- *is* Richie. Joe and Duncan took him as a favor to their boss. It is very, very difficult to get police sentinels to take interns at all...." She sighed. "It worked out *very* well. You have to realize that Duncan's record is so high because his control is very nearly perfect. But he doesn't.... he doesn't work with guides well. Hardly anyone can reach him at all. Richie could. He fit in with the family, and we liked him."

Jim glanced at her and then, under the table, reached for Blair's hand.

The story went on. "Joe is older than Duncan, and it's getting to be a little much for him. We're not sure how much longer it will be before they have to make the choice to transfer to Police Science or find another guide. Another guide wasn't even a possibility before we met Richie. It meant a great deal to them, to find someone they could trust, who Duncan would respond to. So even though it's almost never done, they arranged for Richie to serve another term with them this year. Then in December, they went to Madrid because Koren had been seen."

Intern, Blair thought. Oh. Crap.

"Koren was sending a message. He beat Richie and left him in front of their hotel. He wasn't meant to survive. He's 'recovering from head injuries' now. He may not ever be the same. None of us is the same right now. What Koren has *done* to my family--but don't look at us and be frightened of trying to have a life. Whatever you're seeing, it isn't *us*."

"I'm sorry. This was none of my business." Jim looked positively ill. His hand was very cold.

"I don't know what they teach sentinels in America, but if you don't mind my saying," she began sternly.

"They didn't teach me anything," Jim said miserably. "I've been guessing. It all just *happened*."

"Jim hasn't been on line very long," Blair said.

"You're really not worried about your child," Jim whispered.

"I am a mother. I worry all the time. The possibility that remains that she might be a sentinel? It is as common as grass in Duncan's family. His older brother, his father's sister, his cousin Robert, his great-grandfather. I suppose if I weren't surrounded by people who knew how to handle all the little things that could come up, I would be terrified. But we'd have all the help we needed."

She started to add more, but Jim closed his eyes and shook his head. A minute later the food and the rest of the party arrived at the same time. Jim immediately launched into a recitation of the court proceeding coming up that morning. Jim, as the arresting officer, would probably have to make a statement. So might Mac, as a representative of a foreign government who had a formal claim on the suspect. Then there would be a discussion of bail--not a worry in a case this deadly, let alone gruesome--and then Kaspari would be remanded to custody. There were details included, but Blair had seen the process enough times not to bother following along with the description.

***

As soon as they got in the SUV, Blair turned on the radio and said, "Jim, I'm sorry."

"Let's not talk about it now, ok? We have work to do."

"Ok," Blair said.

But Jim didn't take the transmission out of park. He sat very still, one hand gripping Blair's left hand. It felt like being stood on by a bear.

Blair waited. He reminded himself that Jim was dealing with his anxieties. He had independently sought information. He had been a sentinel for such a short time. It was reasonable to be uncertain just what kind of relationships his new lifestyle would allow.

All right, Blair had *missed* all this. But if Jim had wanted to talk about the thought that he was hopelessly unfit for a primary relationship, he would have brought it up.

God. No wonder he had been so convinced that something was up with Mac's wife.

"I suppose you agree with her," Jim said.

"You can't have a normal life," Blair said. "You can have *your* life. And you can have other people in it. It just won't be the cookie-cutter life you imagine everyone else has."

Another long, long silence. "I can't imagine watching you train your replacement, Chief."

"I can't imagine doing it."

"Blair--if you're not, ah, ok with working in Major Crime, forensics isn't the end of the world or anything. I'd need some CE. That's all. We could do it."

"But--why?"

"I'd understand. If you didn't want to... you almost died."

"Jim, that could have happened to anyone. Well, not you, but any of the detectives or staff. Or anyone who even came upstairs to drop off some paperwork."

"I'm just saying here, the first choice isn't looking for... I mean, we *can* transfer."

"Ok. I'll remember that."

*** "Connor's here," Jim said as they came through security. Her smell was all over the courthouse. By the smell of her, she hadn't showered since yesterday afternoon. Which was fine, Jim supposed. The important thing about Connor was that she didn't hesitate when the moment came to pull her weapon. When Mac had hauled Kaspari off his guide and slammed him into the mud, she had been *right there*, no uncertainty, no confusion. That was good enough.

Besides traces of Megan Connor, the courthouse was full of reporters and uniforms. An international serial killer was a big deal, even for Cascade, which had a really big trial at least twice a year. Even fighting the crowd, they made it to the courtroom ten minutes before Kaspari was scheduled to appear.

Dawson, Mac, and Pierson were standing toward the front talking to Beverly. The three men were standing a good two feet apart from one another. Apparently whatever unpleasant disagreement Jim had still smelled on them that morning was still an issue.

Beverly spotted Jim and began to weave her way toward them through the gathering crowd. As she left them, Dawson turned to Pierson and said, "You don't have to do this, Adam. It's not too late for you to go back to the hotel."

"The hell it's not," Mac snapped. "Nobody goes anywhere alone. For any reason. The subject is closed."

If there was more, Jim missed it. Beverly had arrived and launched at once into a rapid string of instructions and updates. A moment later she vanished, and Jim and Blair headed toward their seats toward the front. Blair laughed softly.

"What?" Jim asked.

"I never imagined growing up that I would ever be sitting with the prosecution."

Jim was confused. "Where else would you sit?"

"Well, when Naomi used to get arrested--"

"Naomi what?"

"Well, not when I was *little*. But later. It wasn't a big deal."

"What was she getting arrested *for*?"

Blair shrugged. "The usual. Possession. Assault. Illegal wiretap, grand theft auto--Jim, man, don't do that! I'm kidding. I'm *kidding*. It was all civil disobedience. Blocking a public access. Trespassing. That's all, man, I swear. Chill."

Jim allowed Blair to steer him into a seat. His face felt hot and his extremities felt cold. He took a couple of deep breaths. Blair's lying was improving, to get Jim to even *consider* Naomi Sandburg as some kind of thug.

"You're such a shit, Sandburg."

MacLeod cleared his throat and threw them a dark look. Apparently, he didn't approve of finding a little joy in the world.

Although, no, that wasn't fair. He was being intense about this case. He'd almost lost two friends already. Being a little tense was completely understandable.

The thing was, *everything* about him was understandable. Looking at him was like looking in a mirror. The perspective was different, but the image was completely familiar. 'Like me,' Jim thought. Then, 'One of us. Other people like me.'

Mac gently brushed Dawson's shoulder, casually sniffing him. Jim knew that moment, checking your guide's state of mind by his smell. He had read about sentinels and guides. Blair had told him how things 'normally' were. Jim just hadn't pictured--

He remembered The Canadian, traveling with his guide, his pet wolf, and his police liaison. He remembered the sure, gentle way Benton had touched each of them. He remembered the flaky FBI sentinel and his frosty guide. He had known *then* that they were sentinels, he was a sentinel.... why, now, did he feel so surprised to see his own gestures and habits appearing in someone else?

He didn't get any more time to follow that line of thought. The judge arrived, and then Kaspari was brought in. The next fifteen minutes passed like any ordinary hearing. There were a few differences. Usually someone facing charges as serious as these managed to wear a suit before the judge. Kaspari just sprawled in the paper jumpsuit that had replaced his sodden clothes two days before. He leered at the judge, at Beverly, at the foreign visitors. At Megan sitting alone in the very back of the courtroom.

Kaspari had also declined a lawyer. To questions asked of him, he only shrugged.

MacLeod and Dawson were both doing pattern breathing--different patterns and both of them were more complex than Jim could picture trying. On the other side of them, Pierson was silently clicking two finger nails together.

Beverly was organized and precise and totally relentless. When the time came, Jim made his statement. Then MacLeod got up to deliver the Crown's formal request for the prisoner, which the judge accepted graciously and promised to take under advisement.

Kaspari folded his hands and lowered his head. It looked like prayer. What he was whispering was to MacLeod, though, not God. "Next time it won't be a gun. Nothing so quick. Why bother? He can't run, after all."

MacLeod surged to his feet. Dawson was caught by surprise, of course. He hadn't heard anything. Jim had heard everything. Was still hearing it, in fact. "I have these little knives. Short knives. They're not very sharp. I can make it last a very long time assuming I don't hit a vein."

Jim slammed MacLeod back into his seat, not bothering to be polite. "The defendant is mouthing off," he shouted to Beverly who was already making appalled noises. "He's making threats."

MacLeod was squirming, trying to free himself from Jim's grip on his shoulders, trying to look around the bulky body to make eye contact with Kaspari across the room. "Don't say it," Jim hissed. "Don't say anything."

"That bastard--"

"It's over. He's locked up. Stop it!"

Kaspari was laughing. The judge gaveled and demanded quiet. Dawson got an arm around Mac's waist, and that, finally, stilled him. Jim sat back down. The smells of Kaspari's insanity and MacLeod's and Beverly's and Pierson's rage mixed with Dawson's grief and Blair's alarm and the personal care products that packed the room to make Jim feel dizzy and nauseated. He wanted to be somewhere quiet and clean. He wanted to move around, to work off some of the adrenalin that seemed to be welling up spontaneously. Somehow he managed to follow the end of the hearing, to pay attention as Kaspari was taken away for psychiatric evaluation.

***

Going back to the dig site was a big improvement. It was drizzling, big surprise, but Henry and the borrowed archaeologist had set up a kind of canopy over the dig and a smaller canopy beside it to cover a table spread with maps and old photographs. They had taken time to change in the bathroom at the court house, so Jim could sort of believe it when he reminded himself that mud was not *really* an issue.

Henry and Dr. Graham were standing over the table, passing back and forth large and small pieces of paper. Almost as one they grunted a greeting, and Henry said, "We made it through to the next basement, but it isn't what we were expecting."

Jim looked at the table. It was covered with maps, blow-ups of black-and-white photographs, and xeroxes of hand-written documents. "What we were expecting?" Jim asked.

"What Dr. Watson was expecting," Graham said. He motioned helplessly at the piles of paper. "They were doing background research on the area; it's one of the conveniences of historic archaeology. But I'm not sure all her notes are here, and what we're finding just doesn't match the records she had. The new area is much larger than we'd expected, it's not where we expected, and it's not oriented the right way."

"I think she was wrong about the location of that first basement," Henry confided. "I think we're two buildings over." He put down the map he was holding and set a clean rock on it as a paperweight.

"Can we see it?" asked Mac, coming up behind them. So they all trooped in, leaving light and air and even the lovely rain behind. The first tunnel, then the first basement. The second tunnel, and the bigger basement. There were fans in the larger rooms now, keeping air circulating, and a few wooden props had been wedged in place.

"The new area is about four feet deeper than this one. It's going to be a bit of a drop."

As they waited to pass through this last hole, Blair began to hum the theme music from Indiana Jones. When it didn't pass in a couple of seconds, Jim said, "Come on, Chief. You're embarrassing me here." At which point Dawson joined him, humming harmony.

Pierson patted Jim's shoulder sympathetically. "They can't help it, you know. It's the training. No matter what happens, a guide needs to be cheerful and upbeat. And if possible, distracting."

"Adam, stop bothering the nice men and come help me with this hole," Dawson said quickly.

"That's just silly," Blair said. But he stopped humming.

"Really? How many times in the last twenty-four hours have you moderated your mood so that you wouldn't upset your partner? Just wait, detective. He'll be doing it when he's alone in a few years."

From the next room, Dawson called, "Statistically speaking, guides are the most emotionally stable people on the planet."

"Yep," Jim answered easily, "When they're not completely unbalanced sadists." He had meant it to be funny. Surely, after all this time, he could make jokes about Lee. But apparently not, because as soon as the words were out a funny silence seemed to enter Jim's body. The vivid moment--enclosed, underground, the brush of warm bodies--was washed away.

Jim was leaning against a concrete wall, held up by the wall, mainly, and a desperate will to pull away from Lee who was currently in Jim's face. "You need to quit being such a baby about this. There is nothing here that can really hurt you. Now you know the scent we're looking for. Find it."

Then it vanished, leaving Jim again in the abandoned basement. It was Blair in his face, not Lee, and he was sitting up against a cool, brick wall.

"Shh. Shhh. It's all right. Just relax." Blair was petting Jim's hair with one hand. For a moment Jim was mortified. He had fallen apart in public. He was being comforted by his guide in public. He was--

Actually, Henry was used to Blair by now. Graham and Pierson were anthropologists. Kind of. Enough that, impossibly, this would seem normal to them. Blair was doing exactly what he ought to be doing. What Lee should have done. He should have sat Jim down and given him a moment to breathe. Just a moment, to sort it all out.

Now, *months* later, Jim had the words to understand what had gone wrong, what he'd needed to do then. He'd been searching for explosives, focusing harder and harder, until the scents were so strong and so 'loud' that they'd completely overwhelmed him. Jim could not think, he could not focus, each breath seemed to make his sinuses raw. He had needed to back it all down, to relax and start over.

But that bastard had not let him have a moment. He had forced Jim more and more open to tiny amounts of all kinds of chemical shit, until every molecule seemed like gallons and Jim's body had started to react to what it thought was an ocean of poison.

"Jim? Is it the cave? Do I need to get you out of here? Talk to me!" Hands on his face, cupping his ears. "Jim, please."

Jesus Christ, I think I just had a flashback, he thought in astonishment. Had he? Years ago, the first year or so after Peru, there'd been a couple. Not bad ones. Not this vivid.

"Jim? Talk to me, come on." Blair was staring into his eyes. Worried, a little. Willing to do something to make whatever was wrong better.

"I'm fine," Jim said. He blinked and lifted his chin. "I'm fine. It all just got overwhelming for a second. It's fine." Lying to the guide was a bad idea, he knew that. But if he explained *now*, Sandburg would completely freak. No. No way.

"I'll take you back outside."

Blair reached out, and Jim snared his hands, pulled him in. "Can't. We have work to do."

"Jim--"

"No, I'm good, Chief. We don't have time." But he held on a minute longer. His guide, solid and sane. The voice that had taught Jim how to cope.

"Jim--"

"We'll talk about it later at home, hmmm? Let's get to work."

Blair gave way, as Jim had known he would, and let Jim up.

They were alone in the cool, dim room. That was a relief, actually, now that he thought about it. The others hadn't stayed to watch. Jim went to the new hole and poked his head through before Sandburg could change his mind.

The further chamber was well-lit but cut by harsh shadows. There were lots of fragmented echoes. Other chambers? Hallways? What kind of basement was this, anyway? Jim hopped to the floor--nicely done in wood, this time, not packed earth--and looked around. Mac and Graham were off to the right, discussing how to best to shore up a weak area. Pierson and Henry were popping things into sample bags, just on general principle, apparently, since the bits of broken brick and chunks of wood here looked just like all the ones they'd seen so far.

The first order of business was to stabilize the area. At first Jim felt at a disadvantage. MacLeod apparently could look a section of piers and tell which of them was taking too much stress. Jim could sort of find weak spots, if he had a minute of complete quiet and closed his eyes.

Then he put his hands on a wall and everything jumped into focus. He could feel the vibrations. It was like a 3D puzzle coming together in his head. This piece of wood was against clay. That piece of ceiling was loose dirt and needed shoring up. This wall was solid, that wall was not. The next three hours passed in filthy, moderately sweaty labor that somehow went amazingly quickly. It was easy. It was almost fun.

They were just finishing up with the ad-hoc engineering when Simon dropped through the hole part way up the south wall and looked around. "Wow. You people weren't kidding." He had a bag of sandwiches, which he handed out. The man behind Simon had a sack of bottled water. They were all fairly dirty, but Blair had hypoallergenic wipes in his backpack.

The group's single-minded and enthusiastic eating gave Simon a few minutes to talk uninterrupted. The man with him was Mark Cantor, the owner of the property. "The good news is, he's agreed to give us the same support he was giving the university."

Cantor was tall and good looking and wealthy and sharp. Jim didn't like him, in a vague, non-urgent way. Cantor shrugged diffidently. "Monetarily, that's not much, although I can keep you in shoring timbers and electricity. All I ask is that you preserve as much of the archaeological usefulness of this as possible. What I get out of this is some historic, community service, publicity fluff." He smiled. "I don't get that if you have to come in with search warrants. But I don't get it if you trash the place either." He smiled a friendly, cooperative, let's all get along smile that made Jim want to smack him. He ate more sandwich instead.

Cantor took a look around then went back out again. "So where's Megan?" Blair asked.

"We went with the escort taking Kaspari to the psych facility, then I sent her to the hotel to get some sleep." He looked around. "How's it really coming here?"

Jim snorted. "Damned if we know. Apparently, whatever Watson was expecting was wrong. It's all a surprise at this point."

"So we could be wasting our time," Simon said.

Blair jumped up, shaking his head. "We don't know what *Koren* was expecting to find here."

Jim sighed. "I don't know what else to do, Simon. Has Rafe had any luck with finding Gillman?"

"Zip. The FBI is starting to make noises, asking why they haven't been called in."

"Because there's no note, no witnesses, no evidence of a kidnapping. He's probably just dead somewhere we haven't looked."

"So," Simon said sourly, "Basically, the picture is, one: no one has seen our at-large suspects, two: we are guessing about what they're up to, three: we have at least one and maybe two really nasty murders on our hands, oh, and four: the brass is getting antsy."

Sandburg appeared at Jim's shoulder then, whispering quickly, "If you won't need me for a few minutes, Adam and I want to go back up top and look at the maps some more."

There were four uniforms on duty. Sandburg would be fine. Jim nodded reluctantly and then turned back to Simon. "We have Kaspari," he offered.

"Who won't talk." Simon frowned. "Still. You're right. We have Kaspari...."

"What are you thinking?"

"They've been a gang for years. Koren will want Kaspari back. Maybe we can bait him."

"Oooo," Jim said. "Koren is smart. It won't work unless we really do use Kaspari, and that's a lot of risk."

"We've done it before."

"Just give me a couple of days, Simon. Please."

They kicked it around a little more, but eventually Simon agreed to hold off and climbed back out the hole in the wall. Jim joined the others who had already started searching the new chamber. The south wall was wood over brick, and it was solid. To the east, where they had done most of the bracing that morning, there wasn't much room. To the north they could go a couple of hundred feet without hitting the bay. To the west, at the edge of the range of their current electrical cord, a half-set of steps led down.

"Hey, Mac," Jim said, pointing down the steps, "am I right in thinking that if that goes on straight, it'll wind up *under* the original hole?"

"That's how it looks to me, but my sense of direction is messed up on this side of the Atlantic."

Slowly, carefully, and as a group they explored further with flashlights. When the passage branched, offering north and west, they continued west. Just after it branched again, they came to a heavy set of metal double doors. They were locked, and while a chunky old lock like that didn't stand a chance against one sentinel let alone two, both the lock and the hinges were crusted with rust.

"So, Prof," Henry said cheerfully, "Are we allowed to use penetrating oil in relics?"

"I think digging them out closed would be too dangerous, under the circumstances."

"Right. That goes on the shopping list."

MacLeod picked up a small stone and tapped against the metal. It rang, bell-like if a little flat, on an open chamber on the other side. "Sounds like three by four to me," Mac said. That translated from meters into ten by twelve or so.

Jim listened to the fading echo that was passing through the wood floor. Without Blair beside him, though, he couldn't pay complete attention to the shape of the room beyond. "No argument," he said. "How long has Sandburg been gone, anyway?"

Dawson glanced at his watch. "An hour and a half--" He stopped, scowling, and turned back the way they'd come. "I think it's time for me to head up for some air."

"Yeah," Jim agreed. "Me too."

It took too long to get out, even when he left the others behind and turned his flash light off, making faster, safer progress without the shifting shadows to fool him. Surely, nothing had happened. Blair had gotten absorbed in the maps. Or was talking to the British forensic anthropologist. They were bound to have lots in common. Or to the cops on duty. Blair didn't need to have something in common with a person to chat away for hours.

But surely nothing had happened, Jim reminded himself as he found the foothold in the wall and climbed back through the hole to the upper chambers. If something had taken out four armed cops and two support personnel it had done it without the sentinels below hearing it or smelling it. It just wasn't likely.

There was no smell of blood in the air when he burst into daylight at the other end of the tunnel. Of course not. Everything was fine. He could hear the men on guard duty talking. Even though he didn't hear Blair's voice, the vise around Jim's heart snapped free. See? Nothing. The case just had him jumpy.

The air was still very cool, even though the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Jim clambered up and looked around. There was nobody at the work-table. Nobody around not wearing a uniform. "Hey, Lewis," Jim called. "Where's Sandburg?"

"He said to tell you they went to the library over at the university. He'll be back soon."

Slowly, deliberately, Jim got out his cell phone and dialed Sandburg's number. It was answered almost immediately. "Blair Sandburg."

"Yeah, hi. Blair," Jim said mildly. "Where the hell are you?"

"Leaving the library."

"Really? Because I don't hear traffic noise."

"We aren't out the door yet."

"Yeah. Mmm hmm. It's just, I thought, we weren't wandering off by ourselves in the middle of a case where the perps are known to target cops and ancillary personnel."

"I'm not alone. I took Adam with me. He's armed."

Jim felt the anger shiver in his gut and a flush and tightening spread over his body. A distant part of him thought, wow, I can actually feel my blood pressure going up. "First of all, he can't possibly be licensed to carry concealed in this country. Second, I don't care if he's packing a bazooka, a morgue attendant is not adequate protection."

"Jim, man, just calm down. We're on our way back. Be there in ten minutes. Fifteen, tops." Then Blair hung up on him.

Below, Mac stuck his head out of the corridor and asked, "Where are they?"

"The library. They're on their way back."

"I got that part." He disappeared, returned a moment later with his guide. "There any more food up there?"

Jim looked around. There was a bag under the folding table. "Yeah, chips. They may be stale in this weather, though."

So they took a little break, visited the portapotties--no picnic for either the sentinels or the guy balancing on prosthesis--ate the chips, drank some bottled water from the bottom of the bag that had held the chips, and waited. Henry told the uniforms on guard all about the amazing series of basements hidden along the waterfront. In three minutes, he had them all clamoring for tours.

Jim walked a little bit away. The air was cool and damp. The puddles were cloudy and brown. He took a deep breath and looked up at the city around him. A few minutes later MacLeod joined him. Compared to other people, he seemed to barely disturb the world around him. There was a stillness there, an inner silence, a listening.

"Do you think he's watching?" MacLeod asked.

"He must be, but from far enough away that we won't see him." Jim sighed, pointing. "To the near south, Wilkinson Towers, forty-three floors and the Bank One building, sixteen floors. To the east, Old Downtown, Chinatown, and the Russian district. Nothing over six stories, but there's a lot of it. Across the bay, well, Questscape, the Hyatt, the Maddeningly building. They'll be behind a blind and, frankly, we don't have time to look into every window."

"Do we have time to fax their photos to the local real estate board?"

Jim snorted. "Yeah, actually." He squinted, but he could not peer through vertical blinds on the other side of the bay, even here where it was narrow.

Blair finally pulled up. Both he and Pierson paused to wrestle big stacks of books out of the car. Jim folded his arms and walked slowly over to meet them. He was unsure how angry he ought to be. On the one hand there was this impulse that said that disappearing while at work was inexcusable. That impulse wanted to grab Blair and shake him. On the other hand, Blair hadn't been gone an onerous length of time, and he probably hadn't done anything very dangerous and--the idea of turning his anger loose on Blair--No. No matter how angry he was. No more than he would have lost control with Carolyn or Simon, as angry as he had been with them at times.

He was angrier now, though. Just for the record.

Blair saw his face and winced. "Good," Jim thought.

Before either of them formed something to say, MacLeod laid into Pierson at a volume that made other conversation impossible. "What the hell were you doing? Have you got no brains at all?"

"Good to see you, too, Mac. Productive afternoon?"

"So--What? You think it's funny? I dinna expect this kid to understand what Koren is capable of, but you know better!"

"Yes. I do." The coldness of that soft statement rolled across the scarred lot like the return of winter. "Which is why avoiding him isn't quite going to cut it. We actually have to stop him. Which we are not closer to--"

"Um," Blair said, "Can I just say--"

He was drowned out. "Damn it, Adam, it's enough. You've made your point." Then, very softly. "Please, Adam. We did the best we could. You have to know that. Please, stop. It's enough."

He reached out a hand, but Pierson jerked backward. "What are you talking about?" He choked. "You think I'm--what? Punishing you?"

Slowly, radiating that startling stillness, MacLeod pursued him. "Maybe I deserve it. I didn't find you, after all. I'm sorry, Adam. Joe is sorry. Please stop."

"I--Oh, come *on*, I didn't wander off in a snit. I did some research. It wasn't some kind of message."

"It was my idea," Blair yelped. Jim was not sure how much of the soft conversation he had heard, but the body language was alarming enough. "It was my idea, I drove--it was my library card!"

The confrontation ground to a halt. MacLeod reluctantly took a step back.

"Anyway," Blair said quickly, "We've got it. We know what Koren wants with this place. You have got to see this."

One of the things Sandburg was good at was distracting people and holding their attention. Practically dancing, he led the way over to the folding table and dumped his books helter-skelter across it. Then he scrambled to retrieve one of the maps on the bottom. "See, here? This is the first room, the one with the coal heater in it. It was the headquarters of a shipping company. We knew that. This second one was a small textile factory. But here--all this--" the sweep of his finger included the new areas they had been exploring that afternoon. "It's listed on this map as a lumber mill. It wasn't. That was relocated in 1873. By the time of the fire, it was a very nice Masonic Lodge. Here, we found pictures."

Sidney--Jim had nearly forgotten him until then--dove forward and grabbed the book. "This wasn't in Emily's notes." He sounded personally affronted.

"No, it wasn't," Blair said happily. "But she delegated the background research to Gillman. We'll get back to that later. Because here is where we get to the *really* good part. Adam found it while we were driving back."

"Wait a minute," Henry said, "Masons?"

"Yeah," Blair said, "the modern ones do public service and stuff like that, but they grew out of a secret society dating back hundreds of years. They were, like, really into changing the world. Some of the most famous men in history were Freemasons. There's like 16 presidents and a whole bunch of signers of the Declaration of Independence."

"Ok, *and*?" Jim prompted.

Pierson produced one of the books from his own pile and passed it to MacLeod. *A More Interesting History of the Pacific North West.* A page was marked with an empty airline sugar packet. "The fire wiped out more than just the waterfront. When the fire took the lodge, it took the entire leadership; they were all killed and among them were two men who were *very* highly placed. Now, there was a memoir written in 1903 by an elderly Mason. He reported that there was a huge vault filled with their collective assets in gold bars hidden beneath the foundations of the building. Apparently, the directions to the vault were on some kind of gold plaque. In secret code. Sadly, nobody believed him."

"Why not?" Jim asked.

Pierson shrugged. "He was institutionalized at the time, dying of dementia."

"Oh. Well. That would do it...."

"Wait a minute," Henry said, "You're saying--"

"We're saying that there may be a fortune in gold buried practically under our feet," Pierson said smugly. "We're saying that either Watson or Gillman knew about it, and it was probably Gillman, since he was in charge of the background research and the copy of the coded plaque was found under his computer. He kept the story to himself, maybe planning to sell it. Somehow, he attracted the wrong attention."

"But how did he find the plaque?" Jim asked. He rooted under the books. Somewhere they had a xerox of the thing.

Blair shrugged. "There were several pilot holes. Most of them weren't stable and a few didn't pan out. I don't know at this point."

Jim dug out his cell phone and called Rafe. "We need to talk to the graduate assistants working in historic archaeology again," he said.

***

Rafe brought the grad students to the site, but both sentinels agreed that they were telling the truth when they said they didn't know anything. Simon, when he heard, was less than thrilled. "You're telling me the case just got bigger? Gee. Thanks. We've already sent three cases back to Homicide this week."

"What's the word on the translation of the plaque?" Jim asked.

"Nothing yet. Smaller samples apparently take longer than bigger ones, and as of an hour ago, their computer was down. They think they'll have something by midmorning tomorrow."

Jim and Blair went back into the tunnels with Dr. Graham, Brown, and Pierson to search now that they knew what they were looking for, but the area was quite large and carved into a maze, and, as Blair put it, lacking in considerate signs that said, "vault full of gold, this way."

While they were below, MacLeod stayed up top, walking back and forth across the chewed up and muddy ground, pausing every few steps to whack the soil with a nine-pound hammer borrowed from the construction site next door. From the vibrations, he was able to mark the extent of the underground complex on the map. Of course, what he couldn't tell from there was which basements belonged to the Masons; the most accurate map of the area had, after all, proven to be over a decade out of date. Still, it would give them an idea how big the haystack they were searching was.

Now that they had an idea just how tempting a target it was, they couldn't leave it unguarded at night. Simon detailed four men to stand guard, and the sentinels divided the night into two shifts, so that they could watch the site from a distance.

It was the police chief who set up the spot for their stake-out. He had a friend who had an insurance office in the Wilkinson Building. The conference room wasn't large, but it had a huge window with a northerly view. A secretary had stayed late to let them in, but when she left they were alone.

Blair unpacked the sack of sandwiches at the conference table, while Jim dragged a chair over to the window and checked out the view. It was nearly dark, but the construction site had been lit with portable flood lights. Jim could make out the four police officers directly guarding the excavation. He couldn't actually see the open pit itself; the canvas tarp protecting it from rain was in the way. Jim wished they'd thought to pull it down. He would have liked to be able to look right in. But never mind. An archaeological excavation wasn't something that could be carried out low-profile.

"Milk or water?" Blair asked.

"The milk now. It'll be nasty warm," Jim answered, taking a carton of milk and a ham and cheese sandwich from Blair.

"When do we get relieved?"

"Two. Can you make it?"

"No problem."

Jim unwrapped his sandwich, but instead of eating it, he laid it on the window sill. He'd been putting it off, but now was the time. Really, they could work this out. Sandburg was a bright guy. He would understand, come around, be reasonable.

"Sandburg, we need to talk about this afternoon."

Sandburg sighed, put down his own sandwich, and came around the conference table to stand within Jim's field of vision. "This is where you ream me out for cracking the case open?"

Jim remembered why he'd been so angry before. He stood up. "No, this is where I ream you out for doing something stupid and dangerous."

"Jim, I told the guys where we were going. I left a message on your phone. I was gone barely two hours, and I didn't go alone. You're over-reacting."

"Oh. Really. Am I? You were fine? Fine. What if I wasn't? What if I got into trouble and we didn't know where you were?"

Blair looked at him in surprise. "Wow. You're trying to guilt me into giving in. That's, well, as annoying as hell, but kind of cute."

"Sandburg--"

Blair darted forward, captured one of Jim's hands, leaned up toward his face. "You were *fine*, Jim. You were as far away from trouble as I've ever seen you. Ever." His eyes softened. "You should have seen yourself, man. It wasn't that you were in control. You weren't even *worried* about control. You were on a roll. Confident. And fast! My god, Jim. I couldn't even follow what you were doing, all I could do was obey: 'put this there,' 'hold that here.' You were amazing. You didn't need a babysitter. Not really."

Blair's eyes were glowing with unashamed pride and unstinting approval. Jim felt like shit.

"I know I've been a nudge lately. I've hardly let you out of my sight. I *need* to be close. That's my job. But you get some space, and some control, and I'm getting a handle on that again--" Blair paused, frowning. "Jim? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Jim said, the lie souring in his mouth. "This morning. In the tunnel. What happened...."

"What happened?" He frowned. "Jim? When you zoned? You weren't even gone for ten seconds. You came back right away--"

"It wasn't a zone," Jim said quickly, slurring the words together. "I had--It was a flashback. To about a day before I met you. Lee--"

Blair stepped back. "You had a flashback. To Brackett."

"Chief--"

"You told me you were fine, Jim. You let me think it was a little sensory blip."

"I was fine." Jim took a step forward. Blair took a step back.

"I left you alone thinking everything was ok. Shit, what if it had happened again? What if you'd had another one while I was gone? Everybody there knew what a zone is, but *nobody* had a fucking clue--" "You're making a big deal out of this. Chief--"

"If it wasn't a big deal, why didn't you tell me?"

"You would have freaked. We had work to do--" Jim stopped, gagging on the reek of fury rolling off his guide. Blair angry on Jim's behalf was completely different from the smell of Blair angry at Jim. It had taken Jim weeks to get used to that smell, to learn in his heart that an angry guide did not necessarily mean the hammer of doom. It had taken weeks for Blair to learn to control that temper, to put aside his reactions and speak calmly. Now, that control was still there but the fury was directed at Jim himself. He could smell the difference and the stench of it made him feel sick. "Blair...."

"I trusted you. I actually assumed that if you had a real problem you would *tell* me. I thought you trusted me. I thought you knew how this works."

Jim stepped forward, needing to touch, unable to stop himself. "I was going to tell you later. We didn't have time."

Blair stepped backward, out of reach again. "Right before you met me. Lee nearly killed you then, didn't he?"

"It was just for a moment."

"I didn't even see it. You had a flashback and I didn't even notice. No, Jim. Don't touch me now. I'm very angry. You don't need to deal with that right now. Why don't you just sit down and eat your dinner."

"We need to talk about this."

"No, I need to think about this. Anyway we have work to do. That's the most important thing, right? We'll talk about this later." Oh, he sounded bitter. Blair crossed to the back of the room. He pulled one chair back from the table, than set another in front of it so that when he sat down he could bend his knees and rest his heels on the second chair.

Swallowing hard, Jim sat back in the chair by the window. There was no question of eating now. He thought resentfully that Sandburg was usually so careful of his appetite. Then he thought it wasn't fair that he made one mistake and he was completely in the dog house.

But the smell of rage behind him was giving way to a smell of hurt and despair. It might not matter if Jim weren't entirely in the wrong. Even if he weren't. Something terrible had happened, and Jim couldn't fix it.

Outside, below, the cops walked their perimeter. A bat swooped out and picked off bugs gathering around the floodlights. There was no sign of any hostile activity.

From the comparative darkness behind him, Blair said, "Never mind, Jim. It wasn't your fault. It could have been a disaster," the sharp smell of tears, then, "but it wasn't. It wasn't your fault. I'm not angry at you."

Jim swallowed dryly. It didn't help. The words came out almost a croak. "That's quite a whopper, there, Chief."

"I was angry. I was wrong. I'm sorry."

"You, ah, you had a point. I should have told you--"

"It's not your fault." The answer was gentle and emotionless and far away. "I thought you'd gotten to the point where you'd tell me if there was something I needed to know. My mistake. You're not ready for an adult relationship with a guide. You have reason. It will take more time."

A reprieve. It felt worse than the indictment had. Jim laid a hand against the cold window. The glass vibrated with the passing traffic below.

"Jack was right. I was too much your friend and not enough your guide. As important as it is to care, to get attached, if a guide relies too much on his partner for emotional support, he gets everybody's needs confused. I really *can't* say 'no' to you or evaluate what you tell me rationally or take charge when I need to."

"That's not true! You're good--"

"I'm very sorry about this afternoon. I shouldn't have left. I apologize. I'll be more careful."

Jim turned around. "It wasn't that bad. It was only a few seconds. You didn't blow it here! Blair, come on!"

"Jim. I've read your file. The day before you met me, you had an uptake distortion response so severe you nearly died. Very bad things could have happened today, Jim."

"I'm sorry! All right? I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Blair--"

"Yes, it will. It's all right, Jim. You need more time. I think I knew that intellectually, it's just the last couple of months you've been so healthy and your control has been so good. Really, I think you have been much better about communication."

"I'm not a child--"

"No, of course not." But the answer was as gentle as one you would give a child, and it was so sad.

Jim turned back to the window, numbly watching their private potential crime scene. After a while, Blair said, "You should probably eat something." Obediently, Jim took the milk. It had already gotten warm enough to taste completely wrong. He put it aside and ate the sandwich dry.

Promptly at three minutes to two, the elevator started up. Jim, his eyes still on the window, rose slowly and began to gather the remains of the dinner they hadn't had. By the time he was ready to go, MacLeod and Pierson were knocking on the outer door.

"Hi," Sandburg said, opening the door. A moment, then, "Where's Joe?"

"Not feeling well. I'm babysitting tonight," Pierson said lightly, but both of them smelled like quarreling. Jim flushed slightly, realizing that MacLeod could no doubt smell their argument, too.

Jim didn't speak until the elevator doors closed behind them. "Why does this have to be your fault?" Jim asked. "Why can't... why can't we just say that I made a mistake. A moment of bad judgment. I didn't *think*. That's all it was."

Blair glanced at him, smiling slightly. "Thanks," he said. It wasn't the same thing as agreeing.

"Can't we just--"

"I left you alone, Jim. You could have--It could have been very bad. Very, very bad. I *left* you--"

"You weren't wrong, damn it." The words echoed off the walls of the tiny room. "You left because you thought I was fine, and you were right. You were right, can't you see that? You didn't just believe me. You knew it here." He shoved Blair firmly in the stomach. "You know when I'm not. You were *right* because nothing happened--no. No! Don't you shake your head at me. It wasn't just that we got lucky. Deep down you knew I was fine."

But Blair had already made up his mind. His eyes were soft with sympathy and affection, already saying, 'I'm sorry.'

"No, damn it!" Jim shoved Sandburg back against the wall. He was small and didn't make any real resistance. "No," Jim shouted, "You are not going to put this between us!"

The elevator dinged and came to rest with the tiniest inward bounce of mass. Abruptly, Jim realized what he'd done. He had grabbed Blair, pushed him. Horrified, Jim started to pull back.

Strong hands caught him at the waist, gently held him still. Sandburg hugged him for a moment, then patted his shoulder and slid free to exit the elevator. A moment later Jim followed him.

Sandburg had slouched onto one of the upholstered benches along the wall where the elevator alcove intersected the main lobby. Jim leaned against the wall beside him and closed his eyes. What could he say? 'You aren't a bad guide?' One way or another, they were both fucking up tonight. 'You can trust me?' Jim had lied today. To his guide, who had been very clear for months about wanting accurate reports. It didn't matter that Jim hadn't realized he was lying about anything important. Then he had it. "Can we start over?"

For a moment Sandburg was quiet, then he whispered, "Maybe we better."

"Chief, in the cave this morning I tried to make a joke about Brackett, and I had a flashback to something he did before I met you."

The smell of tears again, but no smell of anger. "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, actually," Jim said, remembering. "I, um, it turns out that what happened, I could handle it if it happened now. I might have been able to handle it then, if I'd just had a moment to relax and concentrate."

Blair leaned sideways, his shoulder against Jim's hip. "That's good. I'm glad." He sighed. "You should have told me."

"I know. I'm sorry about that."

Blair didn't answer. The smell of tears became more urgent.

"Hey," Jim said, nudging him gently.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, "I'm trying. I just keep thinking of how much I'd miss you if something happened."

Jim laughed weakly, patted his head. "I'm pretty fond of you, too, Junior. Come on, you smell exhausted. Let's go home."

Blair stayed very close as they walked through the empty parking lot to the Expedition. With a weird, late-night clarity Jim found himself considering the oddity of spending so much time resisting the physical closeness and contact having a real guide involved and spending so little time seriously considering what it would mean to have his life in the hands of someone who was so afraid of screwing it up that they never seemed to believe that they'd worried enough.

He really wished they could talk to Jack.

***

Continued in part four...