See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned..."
---William Butler Yeats
The cloud cover had broken two hours ago, while they were still inside police headquarters. Spats of rain and cool winds from the Sound were now interspersed with patches of blue sky and late afternoon sunshine. One of those brief sunbreaks blessed them as the Volvo sputtered and coughed, jerking spasmodically while Blair steered it over to the curb. The car died as he parked it there, and one solid blow to the steering wheel for effect earned a thin smile from the Sentinel. It was an amusement Blair obviously did not share.
Beads of sweat shone on his roommate's face and Jim knew it wasn't just the Kevlar vest beneath his buttoned up coat in the sudden sunshine. Morag's life was on the line; whether she knew it or not her hopes--and the hopes of Cascade's finest--were pinned at this moment on one slim hippy observer and his alpha male cop partner. Jim joined Blair as the green hood went up. Blair leaned over the car, muttering imprecations as he fidgeted and fussed with the hoses. Bracing his hands against the side of the old car, Jim leaned over, ostensibly to offer assistance. In reality he was listening, trying to determine who was home and where in the tattered neighborhood.
Tucked in among large factories and warehouses, the railroad running three blocks to the west, the tiny, two block square neighborhood had definitely seen better days. It didn't take Sentinel ears to pick out Jerry Springer's frantic shouts over the brawling noises pouring from the TV set in the white house behind him, the one with the porch sagging beneath multitudinous stacks of liquor boxes and two broken recliners. The next two houses down were silent and still, the only activity there the slow peeling of white clapboard. Spanish music blared from a radio in the mustard yellow house across the street, rose bushes spaced neatly through the dirt yard in place of grass. This house was neat and clean, unlike most of the rest of the street where yards rank with weeds seemed to be the order of the local neighborhood association.
As Jim scanned the area, Blair kept his hands and his mouth moving, not a difficult feat for the younger man. After a second, Jim realized that Blair was talking to Morag, Sheena, whomever, reassuring them, telling them help was here, just hang on, don't be afraid. Jim put his head down for a moment. It had taken time to lay their plans; it would take time now to get other innocents out of harm's way, and they were all too aware that it was time Morag might not have. Taking a deep breath and tuning out Blair's prattle, he returned to his task.
It was the house just past the yellow one that drew Jim's attention now, one over and across the street from where he and Blair stood beside the stalled Volvo. A short wooden fence surrounded the house, faded gray planks all the way out to the sidewalk, with a few tall weeds showing here and there for color and contrast. Torn and ragged, blue asphalt siding fell from mildewed walls beyond the fence. The curtains were tightly closed, as was the front door, but the metal screen hung open, twisted and half off its hinges. Jim took a deep breath, pretended to point something out to Blair, and focused.
Music first, a compilation of rock and roll and protest music from the sixties. Jim repressed a shudder as the first measures of Simon and Garfunkel's "Canticle" warbled through the room. Piggybacking his sense of smell onto hearing, Jim took a deep breath and sneezed violently. He shook his head as Blair reached for him with a grease- covered hand. Blair stopped just short of grabbing Jim's arm, as the Sentinel dug a handkerchief out of his back pocket and wiped at his nose with it.
"Sage," he whispered, and Blair shot a dark look over his shoulder at the blue house. Then he returned to fiddling with the car, still muttering, still talking to Persis and Morag even though there was no guarantee anyone could hear him. Jim pocketed the handkerchief and leaned over the engine, tuning the scent of sage out as he focused once more on the house across the street.
It wasn't just sage, it was all of them, all the scents he'd smelled before: thyme, rosemary, even pansies and roses. Blair had found the information on the web yesterday at an online flower dictionary. Pansies were for thoughts, thoughts of the person's beloved. White roses stood for purity, and said in Victorian times, "My love is worthy of you." Rosemary was remembrance. Sage stood for esteem; thyme heralded activity. Woven all together, with the words of that song to hold them in place, in this case it all added up to Harper fixating on one woman, the daughter of a woman he'd evidently once loved. What had happened to that love, and why it had twisted into the bizarre ceremony of remembrance it had become in Harper's mind, well, they'd have to figure that out later. Right now they needed to be certain whether or not Morag was in the house before they moved on Harper.
Jim focused further, moving on from the scents and sounds of the first room to the next, a kitchen from the way the voices he now heard were echoing around the metal appliances.
"...promised! I did it, I opened the door! You promised if I opened it you'd lea--"
Persis. It was Persis in there, and--
"Lying slut! You made your choice, and Martha paid for it! It was your fault, your choice, and you know it!"
"No, you promised, you--"
"Why you'd do it, little bitch? Why'd you do it? Why'd you make me kill her?"
"I didn'--you said choose and I did, an--"
There was the sound of a blow, and someone cried out, then whimpered. No, *Persis* whimpered. Jim recognized the sound from last night. Damn the man for hurting her--Jim fought back the rage that swelled in him, told himself the irate jaguar roaring in his ears was only in his mind. No one would be served if the Sentinel went off half cocked, goaded to premature action by rage.
He must have made some outward show, though, because Blair was suddenly still, those blue eyes staring up at him, demanding answers. Jim nodded once, curtly, and Blair swore before going back to his reassurances. He yanked on the hose connecting the air filter to the rest of the engine. If the man wasn't careful, he would have some real damage to repair, not just the carburetor that Henri and Jim had jury-rigged half an hour ago.
It only took a few crisp words in the microphone concealed beneath Jim's tan coat to see that the grandmother and her extended family in the yellow house were spirited out and away, down the alley to safety among the gathering of police cars two blocks down. The other residents should be fine; they were far enough away from whatever action there might shortly be. While he waited for the covert activity at the yellow house to be finished, Jim focused his hearing again on the blue house. Harper was still talking.
"...And then you've got the gall to grow up to look just like her, little bitch! You stole her from me! You stole her life and I'm gonna get you for her, I'm gonna get you for her!"
Sobbing now--Persis was sobbing, and Jim gritted his teeth. It sounded as if she was sitting down, Harper pacing the floor in front of her--then a chair fell back and someone gasped as if they'd been grabbed suddenly. Damn, what was the man up to in there?
"God, you look just like her, you do...Martha, why didn't you wait for me? Why?" The last anguished cry was muffled, like Harper's face was pressed against something. Jim listened carefully. Struggling, someone was struggling and then the hair prickled on the back of his neck right as he heard a slap and the sound of tearing cloth--
"Get your hands off me!"
Damn! Sheena was too hot for this type of situation, she'd goad Harper into doing something stupid if they didn't hurry!
Jim stood up straight, scanning the house across from them for action, keeping an ear on the proceedings in Harper's house as well. Where the hell was the SWAT team? From the sounds of things Harper threw Sheena down, and Jim heard the whisper of steel. Trouble was, he couldn't tell who had the knife.
"Just stay away from me!" Okay, sounded like Sheena had obtained something she could use for her own defense, but he'd rather she didn't have to use it at all. From across the room, Harper was ranting.
"You're a slut just like she was, you know that? Look just like her, act just like her. You spread your legs for anything in a uniform like she did? How long did it take you to spread your legs for Gilbertson, huh? Bitch! Were you out sleeping with him the night my baby boy died? Were you? I rotted in that damn cage for three years, kept myself alive thinking that when I got home you'd be there, and imagining how big Matty was getting and then when I finally got here he was dead and you were fucking my damn CO!! You lying whore!"
This was getting ugly, fast, and Jim wasn't waiting any longer. One slight nod of his head and Blair dropped the hood of the Volvo. Simon's voice crackled in Jim's ear, telling him Henri and Rafe were in position in the back, but he was already across the street, Blair right beside him. He spared barely a glance for the dark uniformed men who finally popped up on the roof of the mustard colored house next door, swiftly catwalking across the gray shingles to take their posts on the side of the house next to Harper's. Both men held teargas guns along with their rifles.
Stepping over the faded grey fence, Jim eased across the abbreviated yard toward the porch, drawing his gun and extending his hearing once again.
A gasp, and the shuffle of feet inside, the sounds of pursuit before there was silence, and Harper's rant continued. It sounded like Sheena was managing to stay away from him for now, but Jim lengthened his stride, hurrying across the last few feet to the short porch.
"You can't get away, bitch. I can hit you with this; it doesn't have to kill you, not yet. Tomorrow we'll find us another little girl and she's gonna betray you the same way you betrayed your mom. She'll choose and you'll find out what it's like, you stupid bitch. I'll go by myself this time, you won't ruin it again. You're gonna die, bitch, just like my Martha did, screaming and hollering and--"
"Police, open up!"
The door flew open at Jim's kick, and he was in the sparsely furnished living room, gun out in front. Through the large archway across from him, he saw Sheena, her black dress torn from one shoulder. Backed up against the refrigerator next to another doorway, she held a large butcher knife out in front of her. Blood dripped from a cut on the right side of her face. Harper stood directly in front of the Sentinel, just inside the archway, arm crooked up holding another knife by the blade at shoulder height.
Jim had just enough warning to turn and tackle Blair to the ground as Harper whirled and flung the knife at them. There was a loud "Uuungh!" beneath him as Blair's breath was forced out of his lungs. The knife Harper had thrown vibrated in the door frame behind them. Jim scrambled to his hands and knees, barely in time to fend off the first kick as Harper rushed him. Grabbing Harper's foot, he upended the man onto the avocado green carpet. His opponent's head hit the floor with a very satisfying thump, and bounced two or three more times for good measure. By the time Harper's eyes were open and focusing, and he tensed in preparation to continue the fight, the business end of Jim's gun was threatening to pick his nose.
"Just give me a reason," Jim growled, and Harper relaxed, slowly. The large, golden lion's head ring on his right hand glinted in the light as his hands went up.
Damn, the man was going to play nice.
Blair's agonized gasping sounded loudly behind him as Jim holstered his gun and fished his handcuffs out of his pocket. Cuffing one wrist, he rolled Harper over to pull the other hand down to join the one behind his back. Jim tightened the cuffs all the way down. Petty, yes, but damn, the man deserved it and more. Henri was there now, holstering his gun, and police cars were screeching to a halt outside.
"Read him his rights, H?" Henri nodded, pulling Harper roughly to his feet. Jim tuned out the all-too-familiar recitation, turning instead to where Blair lay curled in on himself, still trying to breathe.
The odor of Simon's cigars preceded the pounding of feet down the sidewalk as Henri shoved Harper out the front door. Jim knelt beside Blair, but before he could help him sit up Blair's hand shot out and grabbed his arm, fingers clenching around Jim's wrist with bruising force.
"Mora--" he gasped, and Jim swung around to the kitchen. He was a second too late.
"Ouch! Damn!" Rafe had one hand on his bleeding face as he staggered back from where Sheena was huddled at the foot of the refrigerator. As soon as Rafe was far enough away, she scuttled off to the side, the butcher knife spinning across the floor as she accidentally kicked it. Then she was out of Jim's range of view and a door slammed.
"Rafe, what the hell are you doing?" Simon bellowed from the living room behind Jim as the Sentinel moved swifly into the kitchen. Staring at the closed door in front of him, he could hear a heartbeat in the room beyond but the itchy feeling on the back of his neck told him it wasn't Sheena, not any more.
"Morag?" he guessed. "It's Jim. Blair's here, too. Harper's gone, he can't hurt you anymore." Nothing, nothing but silence laid over the pounding heart behind the closed door. Rafe's aggrieved explanation cut through the kitchen as Jim waited for an answer.
"Damn, Captain, I was just trying to help her, see if she was okay!" A vaguely familiar, uniformed police woman silently handed Rafe a paper towel. He swore again as he dabbed at the four parallel scratches trailing down his left cheek.
Jim tuned out Simon's lecture on how *not* to approach a terrified hostage, listening instead to the activity inside the room. Whimpers and stifled sobs accompanied the sounds of drawers being pulled open. What was she searching for? And, who *was* this? The rapid, panicked heartbeat was similar to Persis's, but the scent was more like Morag's. He shook his head and yielded his place at the door to Blair. Behind them Simon was ordering everyone out of the house, all but the policewoman and himself.
Arms clutched protectively around his chest, Blair took a deep breath and called "Sheena?" Jim touched his shoulder and shook his head again. Sandburg frowned, then mouthed "Persis?" Another shake of the head, and Jim shrugged, his hands open before him. He didn't know this heartbeat, or this person moving in the other room. Morag, but not Morag. He must have whispered that, because Blair frowned. Suddenly, the grad student's head shot up and he put both hands up on the door, palms flat against the wood.
"Emby? Is that you? It's me, Blair."
Behind the door, the heartbeat jumped and skipped, then raced faster than before. Blair's hand intercepted Jim's as he reached for the knob. Then glass shattered inside the room. Someone cried out a second later, and Jim heard more fabric tearing. This time he reached the knob before Blair and the door was open just in time for them to see Morag tumble through the window to the yard outside the house.
Simon stood in the kitchen looking confused as Blair flew past him out the back door. Following at his roommate's heels for once, Jim called back over his shoulder.
"She went out the window!"
Simon swore, and Jim winced as the Captain bellowed into his radio.
"Get everyone back away from the house! We've got a very confused and frightened hostage here. Keep the perimeter tight, but do not approach her! I repeat, do NOT approach. Sandburg and Ellison will handle this by themselves."
Blair was staring at the watery bloodstains on the shards of glass lining the window when Jim rounded the corner of the house, the uniformed police woman a few respectful steps behind him. An army issue ammunition box lay on the grass amidst the shattered window; a book, folded papers and photos spilled from it. The grad student's hand shook as he reached out to trace the smeared blood, and then Blair turned pleading eyes on his Sentinel. Jim sighed, then focused. Morag's blood smeared on Jim's coat when Blair grabbed the detective's arm, but Jim ignored it, focused instead on his hearing, his sense of smell...
The coppery tang of blood and the frightened pounding of a child's heart led them further around the house, to the side yard where several overgrown rhododendrons fought with a large juniper bush for space. There was a fragment of wooden fence here, separating the front and back yards and failing entirely to confine the shrubbery to the back. Jim stopped beside the bushes, and gestured. Blair knelt down.
"Emby?" he called.
No answer, just the rustle of bushes as she withdrew further into her shelter. Jim stared at the bloodstain on the ground at his feet. Damn, she had cut herself pretty good climbing through that window. He waved the overeager policewoman back as Blair tried again.
"Emby, it's Blair, and Jim's here too. We're not going to hurt you, you know that, or you wouldn't have had Persis call us. We can help you. Harper's gone, we won't let him hurt you again."
No answer, just sniffles and sobs. The scent of blood was getting stronger, like there was more of it. Jim sighed and tapped Blair's shoulder. When his roommate looked up at him, Jim pointed at the bloodstain on his coatsleeve, then the one on the ground. Blair's eyes widened, and he swallowed the word "Shit!" before it got out to where Sentinel ears in the bushes could hear it. He closed his eyes, wiped at the sweat on his forehead with one sleeve, and breathed deeply for a couple of seconds. Opening his eyes then, he sat cross-legged on the ground in front of the bushes, indicating with a hand wave that Jim should join him there.
"Emby? We can wait until you feel safe to come out, but you know, we're kind of worried about those cuts you got going through the window. Jim's a medic, would you let him look at the cuts?" Blair's voice had automatically dropped into the low, hypnotic Guide tone.
From his vantage point on one knee beside Blair, Jim could see into the bushes. It took a long minute, but he was eventually able to make out the huddled shape of Emby in the farthest, darkest corner behind the bushes, where the house and fence met. Hair down around her face, she rocked slightly as she squatted, knees drawn tightly up against her chest. Something was in her hands, and Jim's stomach lurched when he realized it was a long, triangular piece of glass. Blood dripped from its edges as she turned it in her fingers. Eyes closed, lips moving, she was ignoring Blair, and Jim put one hand on Blair's shoulder as he tuned in to her whispered words. She shared Persis's southern accent, but hers was softer, more genteel.
"...fault it's all my fault my fault Mama's dead Daddy hates me Mama's dead he killed her Mama's dead 'cause I said no I didn't want to, I didn't want to and he killed her and it's all my fault it's all my fault my fault Mama's dead Daddy hates me..."
SHIT! He kept his voice low.
"Blair, she's got a piece of glass and I think she's--"
But Blair hadn't waited to hear the rest of what Jim had to say. He was in the bushes, crawling through the dirt on his hands and knees as Emby stopped playing with her impromptu knife and huddled away from him. Blair stopped about three feet from her, Jim pulling up short right behind him. Jim turned up the dial on his sense of smell, searching for evidence of other bodily fluids besides blood, but there was nothing. Maybe they'd been in time to spare Morag that trauma for once in her life. Dialing down his sense of smell before he zoned on the scent of her blood, he brushed off a spider and waited for Blair. Some corner of his mind marvelled briefly at the incredible ability of the human mind, the human body, to transform a 27-year-old woman into a skinny, frightened child.
"Emby..." Blair crooned.
The child shuddered, and then, not even opening her eyes, she started rocking again, keeping time with her whispered mantra. Blair's sharp gasp said he heard her, loud and clear. This time she wasn't playing with the shard of glass. Her left wrist turned up, she placed the tip of the blade-like piece against the skin and mumbled on. Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder to keep him from reaching for Emby. She didn't need any help from them in damaging her arm.
Blair shook him off with an angry glare, and Jim held his hands up. Behind them police woman knelt beside the bushes, a concerned look on her face. It suddenly dawned on Jim where he'd seen her before; Officer Detmeier, Alice Detmeier. She worked with a special sexual assault unit. No wonder she was dogging his heels. Obviously she did not trust a Neanderthal like him to know what to do with a rape victim. Only this time it wasn't "just" a rape they were dealing with, and Officer Detmeier might be the one who was out of her depth. Jim knew he was; it was his blind faith in Sandburg that kept him here, faith that the grad student cum police observer cum shaman could somehow help the shattered soul huddled in the dark before them.
He heard Simon's voice, and then Officer Detmeier was standing, Simon explaining in low tones what he knew of Morag's history to her as they went towards the back of the house. Okay, that got her out of the way, and he could focus on Blair without worrying about any more interference.
"Emby..." Blair sighed, pleading, "don't. You don't have to do this. No matter what Harper told you it was *not* your fault your mother died."
The rocking stopped, and for a long moment there was no movement whatsoever from the figure huddled before them. Blair eased fractionally closer to Emby, his fingers twitching the same way they had when he'd described the Morag he wanted to date, only this time the itch wasn't to run his fingers through her hair. As if he felt Jim's gaze, felt the caution Jim was urging silently, Blair's hand suddenly clenched in a fist. Caught up in watching his Guide, Jim didn't realize at first that Emby was looking at them.
Her icy-grey eyes literally glowed in the dim light; the clouds had settled in again as the day moved on toward evening. Tears streamed down her face, but she was *looking* at them. Not running away, not fighting, just looking. Jim had been right earlier, it was Morag, but not Morag. At one point on the way home from Samish, Blair had tried to explain what little he knew of how the process of splitting personalities worked. He theorized that Emby must be the root personality, the original soul. Morag was probably the closest link to Emby, sort of an Emby Lite, Blair had said with a grim smile, Emby minus the memories and emotional baggage that Sheena and Persis held for her. The macabre joke had not lightened the atmosphere in the pickup at all.
Emby blinked, and the hand holding the glass at her wrist shifted a little, the sharp point easing away from the delicate skin. Not far enough though, as the small drops of blood welling up at the tip of the shard proved.
Blair swallowed, loudly, then shifted closer yet to Emby.
"Emby, please, listen to me. It. Was. Not. Your. Fault." He took a breath, but Emby's whisper came first.
"Nobody," she swallowed a sudden sob, "Nobody's called me Emby since Mama died." She looked away then, her body shuddering with sobs that she tried to stifle. Blair eased closer to her, his hands actually going out toward her, jerking them back just before she looked at them, misery pouring from those eyes. "Daddy never called me that again, 'cause he didn't love me anymore, not after I..." A sniff, another sob, and the glass jolted against her wrist, more blood pouring from her fingers as she gripped it tighter. "Not after I killed Mommy."
"Emby, you did not kill your mother!" Blair insisted, now kneeling a scant two feet in front of her. "Matthew Harper killed her, and he tried to kill you too."
She frowned, and shook her head.
"No, it was my choice, my decision. He said so." She met Blair's gaze, her eyes pleading for understanding as she positioned the glass upright over her wrist again. "It was my choice, he let me choose." Blair stared at her for a minute, then swallowed.
"What did he let you choose?"
Bravo, Blair. Find out exactly what it is you're fighting here, hope that you can convince her differently before she drives that glass home. Jim considered just diving for the glass, taking care of it all by brute strength, but the sad truth was Blair was right to coax it from her. Morag--Emby--had been brutalized too much in her life; she wouldn't understand. In trying to save her, they might very well drive her so far over the edge she wouldn't be able to find her way back. His leg was going numb, and he shifted slightly, easing to a more comfortable position. Sirens shrieked, but that was outside, beyond the dark cave they dwelt in for now, the dim cavern that hid the bright soul of a not-quite-six-year-old girl and dimmed the light in her eyes.
Emby wouldn't look at them, and Jim realized belatedly that she was blushing. She inched away, from the two men, though she couldn't go far, not with the wall right there behind her. Blair's voice held an infinity of gentleness and compassion as he repeated his question.
"What did he let you choose, Emby?"
She gulped, and her chin went up. Then, holding utterly, absolutely still, she began to talk.
"Mama cried a lot, and she was always yelling at him--until he hit her. He hit her so much...She told him she never loved him, she'd never have married him in the first place, but he forced her, got her with that baby. She loved my brother Matty, but, Matty, he died afore I was born." She ducked her head, resting her forehead against her knees, rocking back and forth again.
Blair was even closer now; damn, where did the man learn to move like that? Jim learned it in the Rangers, but Blair hadn't been there, hadn't learned to ghost through his surroundings like Jim had. He'd picked it up somewhere, though; good thing too. Twelve inches was all that separated him from Emby, Emby and that piece of glass she still held against her wrist, though her grip had relaxed somewhat and the shard now lay across her arm instead of being ready to impale her. Emby paused a moment, and tilted her head long enough to look at Blair. Both men froze, afraid that she'd pull away, but she just looked at him with empty eyes for a moment. Then she looked back at her knees and began to rock and talk again.
"And Matt, he didn' come back, he never came home and she was all by herself--except Daddy, he came to tell her 'bout Matt, and then she wasn't alone 'cause he fell in love with Mama,, and she fell in love with him and she didn't want to be Matt's wife anymore. Momma tol' Matt all that, she told him. She begged him, said she'd marry up with him again if he'd just let me go, leave me be but Matt, he laughed, said he was gonna keep me, raise me right, make himself another Martha who wouldn't treat him the way she did. I heard it, I heard them all the time, not just when he let me out of the closet."
She turned her head, still resting it on her knees but facing away from them now, into the wall beside her. Her fingers clenched around the glass, and Sandburg half reached to take it away before drawing his hands back and inching closer yet.
"You all can hear a lot in a closet, you know? I tried not to listen, I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. Mama cried so much, said he hadn't changed a bit, and he hit her some more, and jumped on her. After a while I got mad and I started hitting the door and crying and telling him he better leave my mama alone and then he pulled me out and said he'd give me a reason to scream, he'd teach me the right way for a woman to scream."
Her shoulders slumped, and she leaned against the wall. Sandburg was beside her now, but she pulled away from him, curled her arms up between her knees and her chest. That took the glass away from her wrist, but she was still gripping it tightly as she shook with sobs.
"It hurt, it hurt so bad and I cried and Mama was crying in the closet and cussing at him and after--" she sniffed, and whimpered, and Blair wanted to hold her, Jim could feel it, but he didn't, he just sat beside her and waited. "After he said I could choose, he said I was so worried about Mama I could...I could be his woman instead, and he'd let her go and never hurt her again, and I...I wanted to say 'yes,' I wanted to, but I was so scared I couldn't and then he laughed and said he'd have to try me again, give me a second chance, and I did it then..." her voice trailed off, buried under the weight of her shame. She swallowed, and Jim realized his throat was tight too, and Sandburg's must have been as well, because for once the man had nothing to say. Emby took a deep breath and then blurted, "It is too my fault, 'cause I said 'no, I don't want to.' And Mama died because of me."
Damn, he should have killed the man when he had chance, he really should have. Course, once it got round the prison what Harper had done--and it would get round the prison, Jim was sure of that--the man wouldn't last long anyway.
Impossibly, she was shrinking away from Blair, further into the wall, pressed so hard against it that it must have been painful. Blair was through with waiting though. He reached out and gently caressed her hair. Emby shivered but she didn't object, and Blair slid his arm around her, pulling her into his embrace with that hand while his other hand reached for the glass she still gripped. Unresisting, she let him tuck her under his wing, but refused to let go of the glass. Blair didn't force the issue, just kept his hand there, holding her securely and resting his cheek against her hair.
"It still wasn't your fault, Emby, it wasn't your fault at all. There was no choice for you; no matter what you had said he would still have hurt your mother. He didn't leave you alone after that, did he?"
It was a minute movement, but after a moment she shook her head and breathed out, "No."
"See, he wouldn't have left her alone even if you'd said yes to him. It wasn't your choice, Emby, it was his and he was wrong to lay the blame on you. It's not your fault, not your fault at all. What did your mama say after that?"
"She said be strong, Daddy loves us, he's looking for us. But Daddy never came and I thought it was 'cause I wasn't strong enough to keep him from hurting Mama. Daddy hated me, and that's why he never came for me."
Blair held Emby close, rocking her.
"Emby, your Daddy loved you, he did. If he could have found you, he would have been there. He was looking for you the whole time you were gone, I know he was. I've read the story."
"No! It was my fault, I should have died then and I deserve to die now. It should have been me, it should have been me--" Emby didn't pull away, but she went rigid in Blair's arms, the knuckles of her right hand white around the glass now. Jim tried not to think about the damage she could be doing to the tendons and ligaments as he inched closer.
Blair refused to give in to her insistence.
"Emby, it wasn't your fault, you don't deserve to die. You were just a little girl; you were just a little girl. It wasn't your fault." Blair repeated the new mantra over and over again. Suddenly she was sobbing, collapsing against him and Blair pulled the glass from her grip, flinging it from them before enfolding her in his arms and Jim sat back on his heels and watched as they both sobbed together.
After a couple of minutes, when Emby's sobs began to ease off, Jim moved up beside them, hating to interrupt, but the blood on Emby's hand had him worried. The few cuts he could see on her back and shoulders were minor, as far as his Sentinel senses could tell. He brushed a hand against Sandburg's shoulder, and Blair shrugged minutely. Emby didn't seem to notice as Jim wriggled out of his coat and gently draped it across her back, reaching for the damaged hand afterwards. There was no objection, and Sandburg continued to hold her tightly as Jim inspected the damage.
Damn, there was so much blood! She didn't resist, just shivered as Jim focused in the dim light and began to pluck stray slivers of glass from the cuts, trying to assess the seriousness of the wounds as he worked. Thankfully there wasn't much glass to clean out. Jim removed his shirt and began wrapping it tightly around her hand. Emby didn't move, just huddled in Blair's arms as he rocked her. Finished, Jim looked up and met Sandburg's eyes just as he felt the faint prickle on the back of his neck.
Jim took a deep breath, but before he could sort out the scents of blood and Sandburg and fear from whomever's, Morag spoke, her voice muffled against Blair's chest.
"Shh...it's all right, Morag, it's all right. It's over; it's all over now," Blair soothed.
Her answering whisper was barely audible above the patter of rain on the leaves, the voices of paramedics and policemen waiting at the curb.
"Blair, I don't....I don't want to remember any more."
"You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread,
and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs."
The candles were guttering by the time Jim got home. Shadows leaped and clawed at the flickering candlelight like junglecats, roving darkness that stalked the sand-colored light around the loft, capturing it and plunging the room into blackness, only to fall back beneath the flaring illumination of another sputtering candle. The silent war waged in bizarre counterpoint to the music drifting softly from the downstairs bedroom. Jim put an end to the battle by hitting the light switch by the door. He'd had enough of shadows for one day.
This was the second time he'd come home today; this time he could stay. No Rafe waiting, one foot up on the hood of Volvo he'd driven home for Blair, no warrant, no message from Simon wanting Jim to return to Harper's house for what had been an almost pointless three hour search. Sure, they'd found the small herb garden on the back porch, and there'd been the dried out bouquet on the kitchen counter; Jim had smelled all that from outside before they went in.
The evidence they'd needed--really needed--had been at their feet the moment Emby launched it through the window.
Most of the important evidence resided now in the box Jim carried in one hand. It had been easier to just put everything in there to bring it home, but still, something really bothered him about Harper's journal--even shrouded in Ziploc--sharing such an intimate space with the information that had saved Morag's life. Simon had pushed the book toward him before he left tonight, mumbling something about getting Blair's opinion on the pages covered with Harper's tiny, furious printing. Jim knew better. Simon understood as well as he did that Sandburg deserved to see what they'd found in that journal, not to mention some privacy while he did so. Besides, there were a couple of large holes that they'd only been able to fill in when Harper's military records had come oozing out of the fax machine. That was directly Blair's doing. The kid deserved a lot of credit for his contributions to this case. So Jim had signed for more evidence, and brought it all home for Sandburg.
He closed the door gently, his keys landing in the basket on top of Sandburg's with a soft "chink." From there it was only two large steps to the kitchen, where he could lay his burden down. Po's carved box rested on the counter while Jim found the light switch by the sink. That dim light joined the lamp shining soberly in the living room as he opened the box. Harper's journal slithered out as he did so, sliding off the pile of other plastic bags and papers and onto the counter, as if to get away from the record of Morag's accumulated misery.
Picking that particular Ziploc bag up, he looked around for something else to hide the journal in. The only hiding place available was a paper bag he found in the kitchen, so Jim stuffed the journal inside and hoped the noise of paper crinkling wasn't enough to wake the pair sleeping in the other room. Maybe the music would cover it. For the first time, Jim realized the tune wasn't Blair's usual stuff, not his Aboriginal Earth Music or the grunge rock he sometimes inflicted on his roommate. This was pleasant enough: acoustic guitar and probably a real string bass, the style jazz and bluegrass all at the same time. Curious, Jim focused on the two male voices, singing...
Since when did Sandburg start listening to nursery rhymes? Remembering the loft's other occupant, Jim shook his head. Probably since Blair's 27-year-old friend turned out to have two small, terrified child-identities tucked inside her heart. Jim shook his head as he took both box and bag upstairs and set them on his dresser. No sense leaving things lying around where curious children could get into them.
Trotting back down the stairs Jim tuned into the lyrics again, and smiled grimly. This particular nursery rhyme the two singers were rattling off was actually fairly appropriate for their day:
"...kissed the girls and made them cry and when the boys came out to play they threw him out the window, the window, a second-story window, they threw him out the window. When the boys came out to play they threw him out the window. Little Miss Muffett..."
Shrugging out of his coat and dropping it on the hook, Jim brought his elbows up and twisted at the waist, feeling his back muscles stretch just the tiniest bit while the vertebrae snapped and popped. Halfway through his last rotation, he stopped for a minute, and sniffed. The trip to that little New Age store last month had been worth the two hours of sneezing he'd suffered afterward; the candles he'd purchased for Sandburg really were scentless. He moved over and blew out the four dying on the coffee table, wondering why his roommate insisted on having them out here when he wasn't even in the room. Jim had to admit they were easier on his eyes, much softer and nicer than regular lights.
He took another minute to stoke the woodstove; the loft was warm for now, but the wood Jim added would ensure the rooms remained cozy for the rest of the chilly spring night.
Standing, he dusted the slivers and wooddust from his hands. The pleasant scent of burning pine that rose from the woodstove couldn't override the odor of Sandburg's private incense blend. None of those prepackaged blends, not for his roommate. Too gauche, too yuppy. No, Blair had his own compound, one he made up and convinced the herbalist to mix for him. Jim didn't recognize most of the ingredients on the list Blair had shown him--though sage was conspicuously absent, much to his relief. "Essence of Good Vibes" he'd called the stuff, teasingly, and Blair had smacked the back of his head when he helpfully pointed out they forgot the boiled butterfly tongues and eye of newt. The younger man had insisted the Sentinel try the incense anyway.
And it worked. Sorta cleared the sinuses out as well, but this latest batch was better than the others. Jim couldn't deny that the incense did ease his occasional tension--to a point. Sometimes a good workout at the gym was the only cure for what ailed him. He'd been sorely tempted tonight to get a copy of Harper's booking photo and paste it on the punching bag down at the police station. Of course then he'd probably have to take a number to get his place in the line that would form for the privilege of taking a few blows at the thing.
The door to Sandburg's room was partially open, and Jim swung by there on his way to the refrigerator. The white noise generators weren't running; he'd known from the minute he came through the main building door downstairs they were both asleep, but there wasn't much that beat seeing for himself.
In the muted light spilling into the room from the kitchen, Sandburg and Morag could have been twins. There really ought to be a law against any single person having that much hair, not to mention two of them--and both having curls to boot. Jim permitted himself a small smile, knowing that neither of the two sleepers would see him. Sprawled on his back across the foot of his bed, feet dangling towards the floor and one arm crooked over his eyes, Sandburg snored softly. Morag slept half-curled up perpendicular to him, her head on his stomach and Blair's free hand on her head. The two butterfly bandages on her cheek couldn't cover the bruising from Harper's blow, but the swollen lip had already started to go down. Morag's right hand, a fluffy bundle of white gauze and tape, rested on a nearby pillow.
The way Morag slept, her posture loose and relaxed, said better than words that she felt safe, protected. Well, with Pit Bull Sandburg by her side, she was. Of course, her current ease might be result of the "don't worry" drugs the hospital staff had shot her full of, trying to keep her calm long enough to stitch up her hand. Though Morag was leaning heavily on Sandburg when they finally came out of the treatment room, *Blair* was the one who looked like he'd been through the wringer.
No, the song reminded him, that was "through the window." Jim shivered and shook his head, closing his eyes and willing away the picture of Emby hunched beneath the rhodies and playing with that long glass knife, blood dripping from her hands the entire time. Damn, Sandburg deserved a citation for that one, talking her down without anyone getting seriously hurt and at the same time maintaining what mental connection she had with the real world. And Jim had thought the stories Sheena and Persis told were awful...No wonder the poor woman didn't want to remember; no wonder Emby had run away to the only safe place around: deep inside her own mind, her own soul.
Emby. Morag. They were the same, but not the same. One a five-year-old child and the other a grown woman, the differentiation between them was softer, not so firm as it was between Morag and Sheena, or Persis. Jim had had a hard time tonight telling them apart, hardly noticing when they switched in and out--as they had done frequently after the confession under the rhododendron. Conversely, Sandburg seemed to have less trouble telling who was whom.
Or maybe Jim had just gotten used to all the hair standing up on the back of his neck.
With one last look at the peacefully slumbering pair, Jim soft-footed into the kitchen. He had most of two ham sandwiches put together before a rumpled Sandburg appeared in the doorway to his room, stretching his arms and yawning. The song had changed; now it was some sort of tongue twister about Napoleon and coffee. The music was a bit more upbeat and Jim paused for a moment, just to see if he could say the tongue twisting chorus about proper cups of coffee in proper copper coffee pots.
"It takes a certain level of verbal ability, Jim." Still stretching, Sandburg winced, and put a hand to his ribs as he came on out into the kitchen.
Plopping a slice of bread on top of a pile of ham, Jim ignored the implied insult and frowned.
"You all right?"
Sandburg shrugged and smiled, rubbing his chest as he watched Jim work.
"Yeah. Just remember never to be *under* the dogpile when there's Kevlar involved. Take it from me, man, you don't want to be on the down side of a Kevlar sandwich." Blair peered around Jim at the counter. "Speaking of sandwiches, you know that looks like a perfect solu--"
Jim blocked Sandburg's grab with an elbow.
"There's enough; make your own," he growled, placing himself firmly between the grad student and his food as he finished assembling the second sandwich. Stepping back just a fraction, Blair grinned. Jim directed a stern look at him before retrieving milk from the fridge. A large glass filled quickly, and then the Sentinel escaped with his sandwiches and milk to the table. Blair took his place at the kitchen island, rapidly assembling his own creation--after returning to the fridge for the no-egg mayonnaise Jim had ignored earlier in favor of the real stuff.
"So, next time you have to save my life, think you can manage not to squash me in the process?" Blair griped good-naturedly, wiping a hand on his shirt after pulling his own ham out of the deli bag.
'You were wearing red," Jim managed, around a large mouthful of sandwich. He shrugged, stuffing another bite of sandwich in before the first one was completely gone. The teapot song was still playing, something now about scandals and the Queen of Sheba not liking her silver coffeepots.
"Huh?" Sandburg's hand stopped in midswipe with the mayonnaise-covered knife. He frowned. "I don't get it. What's that got to do with anything?"
Jim chased the bite down with a drink of milk, then gave Sandburg a mock glare as an entire slice of ham detoured from the sandwich-in-progress to disappear into his roommate's mouth.
"I tackled you because, Kevlar or no, you were wearing red. I've had to sit through enough Star Trek to know what happens to the guys who wear red."
In a surprising display of manual dexterity, Sandburg managed to cover his mouth with one hand to avoid spraying his half-chewed meat all over the counter as he laughed and choked all at once, while at the same time he groaned and rubbed his sore ribs with the other hand. Once his eyes quit streaming and he had his laughter under control, Sandburg swallowed and shook his head at Jim.
"Man, don't do that to me!"
Jim concealed his own smile behind another bite of sandwich. Good. Blair's eyes had been far too haunted today, especially since that devastating first encounter with Emby.
Standing up straight now, Sandburg pointed the butter knife at his roommate and intoned, "Ah, the infamous 'expendable crew members,'" in his best Professional Purveyor of Bullshit voice. He chuckled, dropping the knife and spinning the lid onto the mayonnaise jar before returning it to the fridge. "You'd think those guys would have learned rather quickly that it was *not* smart at all to be the man in red on a landing party. Scotty's the only one who ever got away with it."
His mouth full, Jim only nodded in answer. Sandburg poured himself a glass of milk and brought his plate and drink over to the table. The music in the background changed again; now it was something about needing a Band-Aid. Swallowing the last of his first sandwich, Jim grinned.
"We should make that your theme song, Chief."
His own mouth full, Blair listened for a minute.
"...think I'll need a Band-Aid, maybe three or four or five or six or more, and a bottle of that spray stuff we just got at the store..."
"Ha ha, Jim." He took a bite of his own sandwich.
They ate in companionable silence while the song about Band-Aids crooned through a recitation of splinters and unfriendly cats and falling out of trees among other childhood mishaps.
Finishing off both the last sandwich and his milk, Jim played with his empty glass. There was much to discuss with Sandburg, but the woman sleeping in the other room didn't need to hear any of it--not yet anyway. He sighed, and, choosing the course of least resistance, started there.
"What's with the music, anyway?"
Elbows on the table, Blair shrugged and swallowed.
"It's Emby's; said it helps her sleep. She keeps it in her backpack. That's what Persis was trying to find last night when you thought she was a prowler."
Last night? That had only been last night? Jim stared morosely at the empty glass while Sandburg took another bite of sandwich. The song changed, more of a grinding rock beat but still with just the two instruments, their players singing now about dinosaurs and being bigger than a grocery store. Jim let himself get lost in the music for a minute, rather than think about the events and revelations of the last 24 hours. If this was what most kids' music was like it wasn't half bad. At least it wasn't that purple dinosaur Jim had run across a few times while channel surfing. One didn't have to have Sentinel senses for that monstrosity to grate on your nerves. Still caught up in the lyrics, he realized belatedly that Blair was talking to him.
"...why she needs the music with all the stuff they gave her at the hospital is beyond me. Man, I thought they were gonna have to knock her out there for a while."
But they hadn't had to, and Blair was too self-effacing to take the credit for being the one who'd been able to go in and calm Emby down when nothing else would. Whose bright idea it had been to separate them in the first place, Jim didn't know. Blair had ridden in the ambulance with Morag; Jim had come in after the fact, having followed in his truck. Things had been quiet when he strode through the door into the Emergency waiting room, Sandburg sitting in one of the plastic chairs trying to fill out paperwork for Morag only to discover he was woefully uninformed about his friend. But when the terrified wailing had started behind door number three he'd shoved the clipboard at Jim and been in the treatment room beside Emby before anyone had a chance to question his right to be there.
The cessation of wailing and a cooperative patient were all the reasons the doctor in charge needed to approve Blair's presence. Since she showed a full range of movement in her hand it was pretty certain there was no tendon or ligament damage. So, shooting her full of something related to Valium (Jim had been eavesdropping from the waiting room when Blair asked) to relax her, the resident had started stitching; Blair losing track along with the doctor of just exactly how many stitches it took to close up the gashes in her hand.
"Lots," was all he'd been able to offer Jim afterward, handing a very mellow Morag over to the Sentinel while he signed the release paperwork for her. Blair had pocketed the rest of the supplies and the paper bag full of pills the nurse gave him, and followed Jim as he half-carried Morag out to the truck. When they arrived back at the loft, Rafe had been there, scratches doctored and waiting patiently for Jim.
The music moved on; now it was a lullaby about dragons and wishes being granted. Well, they'd had a few wishes granted today, just a few. He could only hope they were enough to make up for the wishes that had gone begging in Morag's life.
Jim opened his mouth to tell Sandburg about the journal, about the pictures and papers they'd found with it in the ammunition box Emby had thrown through the window, but a noise from Blair's room froze the words in his throat. Sandburg was out of his chair and in his bedroom beside Morag immediately. Jim stayed put, turning his hearing up and unashamedly eavesdropping on the murmured conversation in the other room. Blair came out long enough to get a glass of water, and Jim heard the sound of pills being shaken out after that. More whispered conversation, mostly Sandburg reassuring Emby that she was safe, that he wasn't leaving, and a few short minutes later the sound of deep, even breathing again.
Jim stood and gathered his plate and glass as Sandburg came out, closing the French doors most of the way behind him. He didn't need Blair's explanation, but he didn't tell the kid that.
"She's fine; her hand was just starting to hurt some." Sighing, Blair sank into his chair again, staring blankly at the remaining half of his sandwich. Jim nodded, and headed into the kitchen to put his dishes in the sink. Returning to the table, he grabbed a chair and swung it around to sit with his arms folded across the back.
"Eat. You need it." Sandburg looked up at him, then shrugged slightly before picking up the sandwich and taking a bite. Jim let him finish chewing it before he asked the next question, this one just a bit harder than the music one.
"How long are you going to be head babysitter, Chief?" There was more, a lot more he could have said, but he didn't. How long could Blair hold Morag's fractured sanity together without losing his own? How long could he walk in her parallel worlds and still balance his own wildly divergent universes of policework and academia and Sentinel/Shaman/Guide?
Sandburg smiled thinly.
"Not long, Jim." There was gentle rebuke in his tone, and Jim shifted, looking away from those blue eyes, staring instead at the pattern of light reflected through the stairs and onto the wall behind Blair. Dammit, he shouldn't have to apologize for being concerned for his roommate's well-being. Morag was Sandburg's friend, okay, fine. But she needed...well, he wasn't sure what she needed but Jim was certain she needed a lot more than whatever Sandburg had to give. Tensing, trying to marshal his arguments, Jim jumped as Blair's hand brushed lightly against his arm.
"It's okay, Jim. I know where you're coming from, all right? Morag called some friends tonight--Colonel Shaeffer and his wife."
Shaeffer. Shiffer. Persis had said a Captain Shiffer was there when Emby and her Mom were found. Blair nodded in answer to Jim's silent question.
"He was her dad's CO. He's retired now, lives in Spokane. They're driving over tomorrow, early. I talked to them for a bit, and it sounds like they're more than willing to take care of her for however long she needs them too. I guess that's where she went before, when she disappeared from Rainier that one spring, and where her dad sent her after..." Sandburg's gaze slid away from Jim's and the shrug finished the thought for him: after the attack in her father's stereo room. And after Harper had gotten his revenge on her for slapping him at her father's funeral. Matt Harper's women didn't treat him like that, not in public, and his journal had left no doubt in Jim and Simon's minds that he saw Morag as Martha's rightful heir in his life. Sheena had paid for her display of independence that day and paid high.
Both men stared into the shadowed room in silence for a few minutes. The resiliency of the human mind was an incredible thing; the fact that Morag had survived such terror not once, but four times, and was even remotely sane was a bona fide miracle in Jim's book. The fact that a man was capable of inflicting such horror on a another human being, well, that was one of the things as a cop he tried hard not to get too fixated on. That was when a cop truly lost his humanity, when he decided the rest of the human race was as dirty and ugly as the criminals with whom he dealt every day.
Taking a deep breath, Jim checked Sandburg's progress on the sandwich. About 2/3's done, but it didn't look like he was going to finish it. Okay, might as well get the rest of this over with.
"There's some stuff Simon and I thought you might like to look over."
Blair was more than willing to give up on his sandwich. He followed Jim silently up the stairs, objecting only when the detective went to turn on the white noise generators someone had returned to his room during the day.
"If she can't hear when she wakes up, it makes her nervous. I don't think she'll be up to listening in anyway, not with the medication she just took."
After a second Jim nodded, then reached for the paper bag and Po's box, sitting on his dresser. It was all there, in graphic black and white, and he waited silently, listening to the softly beating heart downstairs while Blair sorted through it.
Opening the box first, Blair stared at the photo laying on top of everything: Martha Douglass and Matthew Harper. Martha's lacy white wedding dress didn't conceal her advanced pregnancy; nor did her veil hide the fact she was obviously a number of years younger than her groom. Wide-eyed, she stared soberly into the camera, Harper's arm holding her possessively around her thick waist. His smile was just a bit too triumphant, too gloating, and Jim didn't blame Blair when he turned the photo over quickly. Sandburg automatically checked the back for a date, just as Jim had when he'd been sorting through the contents of the ammo box at Harper's house. In elegant handwriting someone had penned "Matt and Martha, March 29, 1966."
Silence. No word from Blair, nothing. He set the photo in its bag aside and reached for the next piece of paper encased in Ziploc. Jim knew what he'd find there; Martha had only been sixteen when she wed. Her father had signed the wedding license for her. That paper was also set aside, in silence.
There was more: the telegram the army sent to Harper when his twenty-two-month-old son succumbed to viral meningitis in an army hospital in Texas, a telegram Harper hadn't received until three years later. Blair's request for Henri to dig up Harper's military records had filled in the details of why his unit had been unavailable when his son died: caught in a Viet Cong ambush on a routine patrol, all members of the unit were missing and presumed dead--until John Gilbertson had staggered through the fog one morning a week later, leading half a dozen survivors into safety behind US lines. Those few men survived only because a gravely wounded Matt Harper volunteered to stay behind rather than slow their escape. He'd pressed his dog tags into John's hands, told him to look after his wife and infant son, then turned to provide the cover fire that allowed his comrades to flee to safety in the jungle.
There was the standard "We regret to inform you..." Missing In Action telegram addressed to Martha Harper, still in Texas. A Bronze Star, awarded to Sergeant Harper, MIA, for combat heroism. And, finally, a less formally worded telegram, addressed to Martha Harper, with a penciled in address that read "care of Lieutenant John Gilbertson, Camp Pendleton," informing her that her husband, Sergeant Matthew Harper, had been turned over by the Viet Cong in a prisoner exchange. Alive, if not very well after three years as a POW.
Blair stared hard at that telegram, his hands shaking, before setting it aside.
Emby had already told them most of what was in the letter he picked up next, the one from Martha to Harper telling him she wouldn't return to him. Having lived with Gilbertson for almost two years and pregnant now with his child, Martha refused to consider returning to a marriage she'd been forced into in the first place. Matt Jr. had been the only reason she might have returned; with his death there was nothing she wanted from the senior Harper. Included with the letter was an envelope with Harper's divorce papers, and two small newspaper clippings. One, dated June 1, 1971, detailed the wedding of Martha Douglass Harper and Lieutenant John Gilbertson. It was a small affair, and the article brushed over the fact that the bride was 9 months pregnant at the time of the ceremony.
The second clipping, dated later that June, congratulated Lieutenant and Mrs. Gilbertson on the birth of their daughter, Morag Blanche.
Another Ziploc bag held a handwritten invitation forwarded to Gilbertson's Cascade address from South Carolina, an invition to a reunion for their surviving unit members. The event was held at John Gilbertson's house, December 31, 1987--just three months before Morag was attacked in her father's basement stereo room. The military records faxed from the VA hospital in Seattle included Harper's discharge from the army four years later and his placement on permanent disability for "psychological problems related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Finally, Blair picked up the paper bag containing Harper's journal. Removing it from both the bags, he thumbed through the entries, pausing occasionally to read. But he didn't say anything. There wasn't much to say; most of what was in there he and Jim had figured out already. So the journal, too, was eventually set aside. Then, hands limp in his lap, Sandburg simply stared into the darkness. Jim waited, patiently. Finally, Blair took a deep breath and pushed the pile of evidence away with one hand before meeting Jim's questioning glance with his own stony gaze.
"Shit," was all he said.
Which just about summed everything up.
Concluded in Part Nine...