This work of fiction is owned by the author and may not be reproduced without the author’s permission. Any and all rights available under the law belong to the author. The Sentinel is owned by Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo, Pet Fly Productions, and Paramount. Highlander: The Series is owned by Gaumont Television and Rysher Entertainment. No copyright infringement is intended. Whatcom County, Washington, and the North Cascades National Park are real places, and are used without permission; no insult is intended. Copyright June 1997.

This is the second part of a trilogy.

Many thanks to Lucy Van Pelt, Jessica Blackstone, and Bonnie for betaing this monster. You guys are the best! This story is dedicated to Dallas Tejas.

~~~

Fearful Symmetry

Blair Sandburg didn't even need to think about what needed to be done. There was no time left to waste, so he had settled down to business. Luckily, Rainier University had an excellent library - good for research, and perfect for when you didn't want to be noticed. It wasn't abnormal for Blair to be in the library, working on something, so no one would notice. Even if someone did notice his presence, it would be assumed that he was researching something on the elusive dissertation.

In truth, he was writing a letter. There was business to be concluded. According to the newspaper, Scott Brunell - or, rather, the man currently using that name - was to be in court for extradition hearings to Australia in two weeks. His decision to help an old friend was a foregone conclusion.

Blair knew perfectly well what needed to be done, but that didn't mean he was happy about it. He didn’t like the idea of going against Jim, especially this way, but there was no way around it. Still, he knew what it was like to be trapped in an identity that doesn't quite fit through an accident of fate. Fate was not kind to Immortals. The older you got, the more Challenges you survived, the less kind Fate became.

Way to be maudlin, Sandburg.

He shook himself away from his memories and finished his letter. Gathering his backpack, Blair took the letter into the restroom at the library and used some water from the faucet to seal it. This was not the sort of letter he wanted DNA on; more to the point, it was not going to a person in whose possession he wanted his DNA.

The trip to a gas station on the edge of Cascade didn't take long. He had taken the time to check the place out; its security was lax, and it seemed to be closed much of the time. Maybe because it was for sale, maybe because there was little of interest in this area with only a tiny little side road off the main highway heading east. In fact, it looked suspiciously like an old logging road. Still, it had one shining beacon, the only reason he was even here: telephones for public use that still worked. The perfect place to make an overseas call, especially one that a person wouldn’t want to be traced. Paris was lovely this time of year.

Blair called collect.

"Blair, what is this about?"

"You owe me a favor. I’m collecting."

"Why now?"

He wondered that she didn't know. Still, Methos had never been much for sharing, particularly when he wound up with the bad end of the deal. "The Old Man is heading for a long unpleasant stay in an Australian prison. We need to make him dead." She would know whom he meant, even if not the exact details, and she would want to help. She liked Methos; he suspected it went beyond liking, but he didn't care.

"Why do you need my help?"

"You'll see."

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment before the woman spoke again, her voice harsh with frustration. Was that a hint of worry in her voice? "I hate it when you're like this."

Blair smiled into the phone. "I know."

"Blair. ..."

"Amanda...." He replied in the same wheedling tone. "I'll be sending a letter to you with instructions on what I need you to do. You're at the same address?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "Follow them exactly, there's no time to waste." Blair knew he was being unnecessarily harsh with his long-time friend, but this plan was complicated. What's more, it had to go down perfectly for everyone to get away clean. Only Amanda could be trusted not to screw it up. "It requires your delicate touch."

"Oh, it does, does it?"

"Think of it this way: he'll owe you a favor, too. And wouldn't that be nice?"

Amanda sighed. "I'll do it, whatever it is. I don't like it, but I'll do it."

"He would do it for you," Blair added earnestly. "So would I."

"I know," she agreed. "That's why I'll do it."

"The letter goes in the mail today." He scribbled down the address Amanda gave. Thinking about the next step in his plan, Blair nearly missed her question. "Sorry, what?"

"I said," in an exasperated tone of voice, "what is Cory doing in Cascade for you?"

"Cory Raines?"

"Do you know of another?"

Blair didn't answer that. The tall blond thief was working on a special project, something for emergencies, but he couldn't tell Amanda that. He certainly didn't want to give her specifics, which she would want. Even Raines didn't know the specifics. And he was quite glad there was only one Cory Raines; the universe couldn't handle another. "No," he finally answered. "He's working on something for me."

"What?"

Putting his hand to his temple and resting it on the edge of the telephone casing, Blair wondered if he would ever finish this call. The post office would be closing in another three hours, and he still had to make it to the station at his regular time. The last thing he needed right now was to bring attention to himself. "I can't tell you."

"Tell me or I'll lose your letter."

"You'd let Methos languish in prison for a crime that wasn't his fault because of this?"

"He would understand if he heard this conversation."

That made Blair laugh. Methos certainly would not understand any of it, except that he was left to rot in a jail cell. It could easily have been any of them in his position. Had been, too, from time to time. "He would not, and you know it!"

"Just tell me."

"Amanda."

"Please?"

Blair sighed again. One of these days he was going to refuse her when she used that sweet begging voice. He was, honestly. Maybe with a few more centuries of practice surely he’d learn to rebuff the beautiful immortal’s charms. "A contingency plan. Just in case." It was mostly the truth.

"Oh." She sounded so disappointed. "Is that all?"

"That's all."

"Oh."

"Did you think I was planning a robbery, too, and just hadn't mentioned it to you?" The immortal grinned at the thought. Simon would have had a stroke.

"Well..." Blair heard his friend sigh before she spoke. "Send your letter, Belen. I'll do it."

Blair didn't answer, simply blew her a kiss, and hung up on the sound of her laughter. He missed Amanda, more than he would ever tell her. They were friends, sometimes rivals, had even been lovers once or twice, but it was painful to have close relationships with other Immortals. He knew only a few that fell into that category.

He shook himself away from the morbid thoughts that plagued him and drove back into Cascade. He mailed the letter via Overseas Express Mail to the address Amanda had provided, and the postal worker at the desk assured him that it should arrive at its destination in four days. That would be good. Add another day or so for Amanda to set the wheels in motion, and another few days for the plan to actually begin. Blair thought about his plan, considering all the angles on his way back to the station.

Jim Ellison, his Sentinel partner, was in court today and had happily left Blair all the paperwork. Normally, it would have worried him - what with his senses and all - but not even Jim could get into trouble in court. The only kind of trouble he was likely to find there was a migraine headache. Today, though, Blair was amenable to wandering his own thoughts. Most of the office was empty, with detectives out on calls and the captain of Major Crime, Simon Banks, stuck in meetings. Only Rhonda - Simon's secretary - was present, but she had her own work to complete. Blair was not normally given to mental wandering, but seeing his old friend after twenty years had awakened old memories. That, in turn, had awakened an old grudge from the splendor that was Rome in 30 BCE.

***

Belen scrubbed at his beard with one hand in an effort to relieve his misery. Six days travel from Rome, and already his jaw was as woolly as a ram's hindquarters. Scratching made him look foolish, but he had ceased to care. Such behavior posed little danger, here on a well-kept road to Ariminum, to the northeastern coast. While most travelers might fear highwaymen, none would be foolish enough to attack one of Gaius Octavius' legions.

Indeed, his only worry was that he would be so consumed with itching that he might tumble stupidly from his horse. His assistants and apprentices would say nothing, for they were dependent on him for their livelihood. His work force would not dare. The soldiers might be so bold, but many of them suffered the same affliction.

At least the weather was clear. At this steady pace, the legion would reach the city of Narni at the divergence of roads by the end of the day. Belen sighed, urging his mount forward, taking a moment to settle his cloak and wipe his brow. He had done well, all things considered. He had reached a high social status, the eques, one of the wealthy, with all the dangers that posed. He had attained status in his chosen fields of engineering and architecture. Now he served the head of the Roman world, building new cities in the new northern provinces.

If this was work, it was toil he enjoyed.

With a faint smile upon his face, Belen settled deeper into the saddle and tried to relax. The rhythmic sounds of infantry tramping and cavalry hooves over the stone slabs lulled him into a pleasant state. It was nearly comfortable, despite the itch, and time passed quickly. When the troops halted just outside the city limits, he was nearly startled right off his horse.

What startled him even more was to see an old friend waiting there with an ox-cart full of provisions for man and beast. How in the name of everything holy had the man known?

Methos laughed at the expression on Belen's face. "I saw the dust cloud coming a league away," he explained. "Only a Roman legion makes such a noise."

"A glorious noise, indeed." Belen smiled and offered a hand in a warrior's grip. "Marcus Vitruvius," he provided his name, uncertain whether the oldest Immortal currently alive would know the name he was using in his present incarnation.

"I know that, my friend."

Belen was not surprised; somehow the man always seemed to know everything about everyone at any time. "How is it that you are a farmer?" He waved to Methos' simple clothing and the waiting cart. Other carts had arrived as they spoke, and the cooks had already descended upon the stores. Slaves and the lower-classed infantry assisted in unloading wheat, fruit, vegetables, and mutton in addition to hay for the horses and oxen. Other infantrymen had begun to set up the march camp.

"What is wrong with farming?"

"Nothing at all. It simply seems an odd choice for you."

"Perhaps." Methos looked to be considering the last time they had seen each other. That meeting had been very unpleasant. Belen needed to capture those thoughts and shift them elsewhere.

"But I think it better than your previous one."

Methos smiled, though it did not quite reach his green eyes. "As do I." He tilted his head and eyed his friend. "How is it that you joined the military?"

Belen knew that such a story should not be told here in front of everyone. "It is a long story, and I am too parched to speak on it." He absently scratched.

"Then come into the city, Marcus." Methos pulled gently at his arm. "There are excellent shops and a night market, where we can feast in peace. That thirst can be quenched." The oldest Immortal grinned, watching his friend again reach for his jaw. "And there is an excellent barber; I place my own face in his hands each morning. Even here," Methos waved at the countryside, bustling with soldiers, "in Narni, we are not immune to the fashions of Rome."

Belen could only grin in response. "Let us go, then, and quickly, before I rub my face raw. I fear the itch may drive me mad!" They left that moment upon Belen's own mount, only sparing time enough for Methos to ask a neighbor to return his ox-cart and for Belen to issue instructions to his senior apprentice.

***

"I hate you, Blair," Cory Raines grumbled from his window. From here, in this filthy eighth-floor walk-up apartment, he had an excellent view of the other Immortal. While he'd stayed in worse places, this particular one had hot and cold running rats the size of horses. Just the other day, he'd seen a huge black river rat back down a tomcat and send the hapless feline running for its life. Plus, with all the time Blair spent at the police station, he had to cool his heels at this dump.

At least the pay was good. Otherwise, he would have quit by now. The apartment near the university was only marginally better. Best of all was the studio on Prospect, across from where Blair lived with his roommate. Raines was just thankful they weren't on the harbor any longer.

The rats grew even bigger there.

"I really hate you, Blair."

Raising his camera, Cory Raines carefully took a shot of Blair looking dreamily at the computer screen. It wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last. For the past two years, nearly, Blair had paid him to trail discreetly and take the occasional photo. Not all the time, and never of a companion. Only of Blair, alone, in a variety of places, at a variety of times.

Raines didn't know why.

He didn't care.

Blair had sent him a note that morning with another set of instructions and, finally reasons; he'd also included a partial payment for a one-time job. Raines grinned at that; Blair knew him well, and he knew the score. They were a long way from running bootleg liquor out of Canada back in the good old days. What fun he, Blair, and Amanda had made in the middle of gangland Chicago, making like Capone's little children. Whiskey, wines, banks, brothels, brandies, and beer.

With a smile lighting his handsome features, Raines raised the camera and sighted his target. Everything would work out. He was one of the best thieves in the world, better than Amanda Darieux in his own personal opinion. Maybe he should look her up when this job was ended … and it was time for another picture.

***

"Mail call, Brunell." The prison guard popped the door on the small opening in the cell. Glancing inside, he was glad to see the prisoner following the rules and staying away from the door. The guy didn't look like much, tall and lanky, and it was hard to believe that a guy who looked like his kid's history teacher was a mass murderer. Of course, that was why he was in a maximum-security prison, in solitary. "You got court in three days, right?"

"Yeah," the prisoner answered. "Extradition hearings."

"You worried?" He figured Brunell should be. Everything he'd heard on the news was right out of an ABC Movie-of-the-Week.

"Not in the slightest." The tall prisoner smiled.

The guard shook his head and began to put the letter into the slot. The bright decorations on the envelope caught his eye. Even though it had been opened and examined by dogs and X-rayed, the letter was more than enough to arouse suspicion. It had been forwarded from Brunell's address; someone apparently thought the thing important enough that the authorities should have a crack at it. Obviously they hadn't found anything in the letter or the prisoner wouldn't be permitted to read it.

It smelled like a rich perfume, a woman's perfume. Expensive, too. Neatly scripted handwriting, it had to be a woman. The guard waved the letter at Brunell. "Girlfriend?"

"Smells like her perfume."

The guard looked at the envelope a little more closely. Smudged with lipstick and something else in a kiss mark, doodled designs covered the flap and along the edges of the face. Words and phrases - some of them nonsense - appeared both part of and outside the design. "She's quite a doodler."

"Claire's a graphic artist."

Sure enough, the return addressee was a Claire Thomas in Seattle. It had a Seattle postmark. The guard snorted and put the letter inside and latched the slot closed, allowing the prisoner to retrieve his mail. What the hell, it passed security. Good enough for them, it was good enough for him. "Must be nice."

Brunell smiled. "She's a hellion in bed," he offered companionably. His green eyes sparkled in memory.

The guard shook his head and moved on to the next prisoner. He had half-a-cart-full of mail still to deliver by the end of the hour. Brunell was likely the only prisoner who wouldn't insult him, threaten him, or throw something at him. Too bad the man wasn't likely to be getting sexual privileges from his sweetheart after the courts shipped him to Australia.

The night passed quickly.

"Brunell, up!" The guard rapped sharply on the cell door in an attempt to wake the prisoner; he'd missed wake-up bell and his breakfast still sat untouched on the delivery ledge. Usually the man was very prompt; he followed the rules with little complaint - most of which had to do with the reading material in the prison library - and he wasn't a troublemaker. Nor did the other prisoners mess with him; it was impossible with the man in solitary.

Still.

Another rapid rap with the baton got no response.

It was worrying. This could be a ploy to assault an officer and escape, since Brunell had a nasty reputation, but if the prisoner truly needed medical assistance and no one bothered to check ... well, that could be a problem. He decided to follow procedure, seeing how the prisoner wasn't moving, and spoke into his radio, alerting the control center. "This is Henderson. Send a medical team and a S.C.A.T. squad to Level Three, Cell 128. No movement, no response from prisoner. Suspect either escape attempt or medical emergency."

Henderson didn't have to wait long before the prison doctor and a nurse hurried into view, followed by five other guards wearing riot gear and carrying shields. The Security Control and Transport squad entered the cell in a rush, weapons out, protective shields ready in case the prisoner attacked. As one, they yanked the blankets off, and pulled the huddled figure on the bed onto his back.

Scott Brunell was clearly dead. A six-inch, crudely-fashioned knife through the heart saw to that. There was nothing the medical people could do, but call for the medical examiner. This was a crime scene.

***

"Brunell's dead."

Simon Banks' announcement caused everyone in the bullpen to stop what they were doing and stare at the tall black captain. Jim Ellison wasn't certain he'd heard Simon right, Sentinel senses or no. Scott Brunell was in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison. How had another prisoner managed to get to him? Had he committed suicide? "What happened?"

"They don't know yet." Simon Banks glanced at Megan Connor, who had yet to say a word. God knew that the Australian inspector had nursed a personal vendetta against Brunell, hunting him like her very sanity rested upon it, almost to the point of throwing away her career. "It looks like murder at this point - a shiv made out of a piece of metal -" he answered Jim's unspoken question, "but prison officials haven't determined how or why. They haven't ruled out suicide yet, either."

"I don't care," Connor snapped. Her hands were clenched into fists, tight at her sides. "I hope he burns in Hell."

"Connor."

"I won't take it back, Captain."

"I know that." Simon didn't back down in the slightest from the warning he'd given. "Luckily, any of us would have to be processed into the facility, so we couldn't have done it. At least, not directly."

Detective Henri Brown spoke up, his voice startled. "We're suspects?"

Simon sighed. He had argued with the chief of police over this, but the man was adamant. He refused to tolerate any shadow on his department - neither would Simon, for that matter - but the chief didn't grasp the level of moral fortitude in the detectives of Major Crime. The captain was sure none of his people would have done such a thing, not even to a piece of slime like Brunell. "Not you or Rafe. Mostly Connor, and Ellison."

"Why?"

Simon fixed Connor with a look. "Do you really need to ask? Everyone within a ten-mile radius knows you hunted Brunell down like a dog and went to any extreme to catch him. You have motive." He shrugged. "Internal Affairs figures Ellison has the skills to get in and out without being caught. A side benefit of all that Special Forces training."

Jim considered that for a moment. He probably could have, if he'd really wanted to see the man dead. He didn't; he just wanted the man gone, extradited to Australia and out of Cascade. Out of his territory, away from his Guide. Jim had seen the way Brunell looked at Blair.

"They seem to think the two of you might have teamed up on this, Connor's motive and Ellison's skills," the captain continued. "What can I say, IA is stupid. I already told them Connor and Ellison were more likely to kill each other." He snorted in derision as the others snickered. "Personally, I think Brunell finally realized that he wasn't going to win this one and killed himself. Saved everyone else the trouble. It would solve the problem of how another prisoner got into solitary without being seen."

"Not a chance!" Megan Connor's voice was firm. "It's not Brunell's style. Too cocky to give it up like that."

"Who's doing the autopsy?" Jim wanted to know. "Dan?"

"Yeah." Doctor Daniel Wolf was Cascade's Medical Examiner, and was considered by many to be one of the finest coroners in the Pacific Northwest. He handled all the most difficult or unusual cases himself, so it was not surprising that he would get Brunell on his table. "He probably has the body downstairs in the morgue already."

"Conflict of interest?"

"The chief didn't think so."

There wasn't much Ellison could say to that. If Dan determined some person or persons unknown had murdered Brunell, then he would say so, regardless of whether or not one or two detectives were possible suspects. The medical examiner was a fair, firm man, who didn't play favorites, especially when it came to his job. And, speaking of jobs, Jim needed to retrieve a file from Dan's office. Frowning, the sentinel glanced at his watch; Blair was supposed to be here within the next twenty minutes or so. Hoping his Guide hadn't left yet, Jim grabbed the phone and dialed his partner's office at the university. If nothing else, Blair probably didn't know about Brunell's murder. "I better call him...."

***

Right that minute, Blair Sandburg was rethinking his well-known position on peace and non-violence. The student sitting in front of his desk glaring at him had a lot to do with why. "Glaring isn't going to help your grade, Pierce. The paper was turned in two weeks late. You had plenty of time to research and write this paper; it was listed on the class syllabus from day one."

"But, Mister Sandburg, I had trouble getting some of the books I needed." Now he was pouting. Terrific.

"Then you should have come to me then with the proper paperwork from the library, saying that your inter-library loan books would be delayed, and I'd have given you an appropriate extension. Or, alternatively, you should have chosen a different topic when you realized the bulk of your desired research materials weren't available." Blair wanted to grind his teeth. He understood the kid's problem, honestly, but an excuse like this couldn't be proven this far after the fact. It wasn't like he could just accept the excuse and be done with it. "If I'm a pushover for you, then no one else will bother to do the work. Plus, I need to think of your classmates who did their work without special favors."

"I understand." Blair noted that the student made no motion to leave, indicating that he did not understand at all and had every intention of staying until the matter was resolved. Without saying a word in response, the professor stood and began packing up to leave, ignoring the expression of desperate terror on the student's face. He needed to swing by the station today, although as far as he knew there was nothing in particular going on. That was good. If everything was going according to plan, Methos should be ready to make his move any time now.

Pierce's pleading voice broke into his thoughts. "Isn't there anything I can do to bring my grade up?"

Blair could sympathize; he'd been terrorized by the inter-library loan system in the past, which was why it was always a good idea to stay on the librarian's good side. Running a hand through his hair, he considered the question. He didn't like to fail students, especially when it wasn't entirely the fault of the student; this particular student just hadn't thought to inform his professor of the situation, as he should have done. "The best I could offer you is an extra credit paper, of a length and on a topic that I will choose." Students did not and could not skate by in Sandburg's Anthro 101 classes.

"I'll do it." Pierce didn't hesitate to accept.

"Then I’ll get back to you next class period with the details. And I will make sure there are plenty of books in our library on the topic for you to choose from." Blair scooped up his bag and firmly ushered the student out into the corridor.

"I really appreciate this."

"I haven't told you the topic yet."

At least the young man laughed as he walked away, Blair reflected with a wry expression. They all seemed so young. Of course, they were young. Nearly everyone was young.

His office phone rang as he was locking the door and wondering whether or not Immortals could become senile. With a curse, Blair hurriedly unlocked the door and answered it in a rush. "Hello, Blair Sandburg speaking...." He listened fondly to what Jim had to say, which mostly involved something important that they needed to talk about at the station and would he stop by Dan's office on his way upstairs. Why his partner had called his office rather than his cell phone, the Immortal had no idea.

That didn't make the situation any less perfect, though. Blair knew exactly what that something important was, if Cory Raines' message of that morning was correct. "The Jillian file, Jim? Sure, I'll pick it up for you." Now he had a perfectly valid reason to be at the morgue just then instead of 'just happening to drop by', and Ellison had found it for him. Blair smiled as he locked his office door, and whistled cheerfully as he headed toward the exit.

Next stop, Central Division. Medical Examiner's Office, in the basement.

This couldn't be working out better if he had planned it. Which, of course, he had.

***

Awareness came back in a painful choking rush for Methos. The first thought that entered his mind was that it was damned freezing, wherever he was. Memories flooded in fast: Brunell, the Challenge, taking the man's Quickening, that damned playacting he'd been forced to do for so long, seeing Belen and some small measure of hope, arrest, jail. Waiting. Then, finally, the letter.

With instructions.

Sumerian cuneiform was a wonderful thing.

Methos sat up on the cold steel table, and yanked off the white sheet. Morgue. Naturally. "You take me to the nicest places," he muttered, wondering how in the name of all the gods he was going to get out of the giant cooler where the bodies were stored. They were usually locked, weren't they? "At least no one was here." He hissed and recoiled from the icy tiled floor. Gathering his resolve and the sheet around him like a makeshift toga, the old Immortal ran for it.

He was pleased and somewhat surprised to find the cooler door unlocked. That made things easier. Now, the instructions mentioned a storage closet two doors down. Methos walked as quietly as he could in bare feet to the door, hoping no one saw him, and gently tried the knob. It too was unlocked.

And there was the box, right where it was supposed to be, half-hidden on the second shelf in the middle. Inside were all the supplies he would need: clothing, heavy boots, a pair of leather gloves, cash, a set of paperwork in a name he recognized as one of Brunell's aliases, a roll of duct tape, a map of the Pacific Northwest, and a note in Cory Raines' handwriting. Methos snickered silently over the note as he dressed and prepared to leave. Not only was what the thief suggested anatomically impossible - except perhaps by a contortionist with a masochistic streak - but very likely illegal in most countries.

How had Belen convinced Raines to assist? They weren't on the best of terms, he and the thief, but perhaps Amanda had played a part in influencing her rival. He shrugged. Perhaps Belen and Raines knew each other in the past; he certainly did not pretend to know all of his closest friend's history and business dealings. It wasn't that important anyway; what mattered was that somehow Belen had arranged it. The gloves were good quality. With a last look around, Methos bundled up the sheet and tucked it into the box before pulling out the final items. A watch, a fully loaded pistol, and an extra clip of bullets: he knew what to do with those.

The watch went on his wrist. Everything else except the pistol went into his pockets. Zipping the final item, the extra clip, into his jacket pocket where it would be easily accessible, Methos tensed as another Immortal entered his range. The tingle was a familiar one; Belen had to be here. Methos smiled, feeling more relaxed than he had since this whole disaster started.

Showtime.

The tall Immortal stole down the hallway, tracking the sensation with ease to behind a set of swinging double doors. Methos peered through a small window and timed his sudden entrance for just the right moment. With a fierce blow, Belen went sprawling backwards, papers flying out of his hand. Methos raised the gun and pointed it menacingly at the young-looking man on the floor. "No one move." The words weren't necessary, as everyone in the room had frozen in place.

Methos did a quick count - a Native-American man, an Asian woman, two technical-looking people, and two more people in orderly's whites - six, and Belen, still flat on his back, looking at him in horror. Good, a small group. "You," he spat, pointing at Belen with the gun, "tie them up." He tossed the duct tape, and watched the other man catch it. "Do it now. No funny business and no one gets hurt."

He thought he saw an edge of Belen's mouth curl up in suppressed laughter. Yes, I know I sound like a gangster right out of 'The Untouchables.'

It didn't take long after that. Belen used the duct tape to bind everyone, both hands and feet, and gagged everyone as well. Methos checked the Native-American man and found the bindings too loose for any merciless criminal's liking, but probably Belen expected him to check. The tall Immortal lashed out, striking the shorter Immortal in the face. Belen staggered back, holding one hand at his temple. Methos struck him a second time, sending him groaning to the floor, before forcing the man to his feet to tighten the bindings. The others just watched in silence and growing fear.

Then, the coup de grace: Methos looked closer at the longhaired young man and smiled. It hadn't been a nice smile. "You're Ellison's little partner, aren't you?" He saw the man's eyes widen. Methos grabbed Belen, detoured to yank the phone cord out of the socket, and dragged the younger Immortal out the door as a hostage.

They didn't speak again until they were safely in Belen's old Volvo and on the interstate, heading toward the Canadian border. Methos had been surprised they had made it out of the building, let alone through the underground garage to the car at all. Belen had timed everything perfectly. Now Belen was driving, so Methos could presumably hold the gun like any average kidnapper. "So," with a sideways look at his old friend, "I've successfully escaped from prison by faking my own death and kidnapped an unofficial member of the Cascade PD."

Belen grinned. "Not bad for an old man."

"We’re not out of this yet."

"There's more to the plan. See, we should be hearing from the police soon. Within a couple hours, I expect." Belen drove carefully, trying not to attract attention. "It's all scheduled down to the minute. You should have seen the itineraries I sent Amanda and Cory."

"I hate that." Rolling his eyes, Methos gestured with one hand to his companion's style of clothing. "Looking at the way you dress, any observer would expect you to be a happy-go-lucky, nature-loving hippie weirdo. The truth is, you're a control freak. Always were."

"I have everyone here fooled." Belen's eyes twinkled with mirth.

"They don't know you like I do."

That wry comment stilled the light in Belen's eyes for a brief moment, and he quickly changed the subject. "I'm using the name Blair Sandburg, by the way."

"So I gathered." Methos considered that fact for a moment. He didn't want to be in the position of knowing information that Brunell shouldn't know, just in case, but on the other hand, he did want to know. Too much had passed between them for anything else to get in the way. Why else would his old friend - a trusted member of the police department and partner to its best detective in its most tightly-knit division - break him out of prison? "Graduate student?" He hazarded a guess.

Belen nodded enthusiastically. "Anthropology. I've done some work in archeology as well, but..." he hesitated, "that can be frustrating at times."

His tone was almost wistful, but Methos understood what he meant. Archeology dug up the past and tried to describe past cultures based on the remains; it was hard for an Immortal who had lived through those cultures to prove the richness of his own memories with only the tattered bits and pieces left behind in Time's wake. The temptation was too great, the memories too painful. Most Immortals stayed away from the study, or endured its siren call on the fringes. Historian, archivist, antiques dealer, linguist.

Anthropologist.

"It's just easier this way," Belen continued.

"I know."

There wasn't much else to say on the topic, really, but Belen changed the subject again. "What are you going to do after?"

Methos knew what he meant: what are you going to do after the plan is carried out and Brunell is no longer a problem? He smiled, and began telling his friend about Adam Pierson.

***

Captain Simon Banks looked out over the Major Crime bullpen from his office window, and wondered how the hell he was going to break the news to Ellison. For that matter, he was surprised the detective hadn't come bursting in here already. He could tell that Ellison's nerves were strung tight. The sentinel had been nervously drumming his fingers against the desk and glancing at the phone every few seconds for the last hour.

If he was a man given to imaginative flights of fancy - which he wasn't - he would have said that Ellison knew his partner had been kidnapped, had felt the other half of his soul taken away from him by force. At the very least, he felt that something somewhere was wrong.

Well, he didn't want to wait any longer. Sandburg might not have the time to spare.

"Ellison!" Simon charged out of his office, heading for Ellison's desk. He knew this wasn't going to be easy, but the detective could not be allowed to run wild all over the city looking for his partner. "Connor!"

"Simon?"

The tall captain didn't mince words. "Brunell faked his death, and escaped from the morgue." He ignored Connor's cursing, and continued to speak. "Dan just managed to get loose and called it in. Get down there and check out the scene. They've got just over an hour on us."

"They?" The dismayed expression on Ellison's face showed that he knew what the captain was going to say, even if he didn't want to hear it.

"Jim ... Brunell took Blair hostage."

Simon watched Ellison and Connor charge out of the bullpen like the hounds of hell were after them. The captain had plenty to do, starting with transmitting an APB on Sandburg's car. According to Dan, Brunell had identified Sandburg as 'Ellison's partner' and had beaten him. He had not mentioned that to Ellison or Connor.

Robbery/Homicide had already verified that the Volvo was not in the garage; therefore, Brunell had forced Sandburg into the Volvo, and forced him to drive, probably at gunpoint. Second, the captain wanted a police helicopter on standby. If ...no, when they got a call on the APB, Simon wanted to be able to grab Ellison and Connor and go. Of course, they probably wouldn't need the helicopter - between Jim and Megan, their combined anger and fear would propel them there in no time. There was no telling how long it would be before someone called in the plate, nor any way to know where Brunell would take Sandburg in the meantime. They didn't even know what direction Brunell had gone, and unless Ellison was able to sniff something out with those senses of his, they would just have to wait for something else to turn up.

He tried not to think about that something else being a body.

Nearly an hour later, Simon caught up to his two detectives at the morgue. He knew the situation was bad as soon as he walked in the door. Ellison paced in one direction, Connor in the other - it was a miracle they didn't collide in the small Medical Examiner's office. The tension in the air was so thick it was almost visible.

"What do we know?" He hoped that Ellison would be able to keep his head together. Every time his Guide was threatened, the Sentinel's common sense and police training went out the window.

"Not much," Serena Chang said in a calm voice. Poise was a necessity for the deputy of the Forensics/Crime Scene Unit. It was particularly helpful when faced with frustrated detectives, sneaky defense attorneys, and irate captains. "This room wasn't touched, and the main room outside has been checked out already. Joe and Barry are going over the scenes right now." Simon knew that Joe Harris was a forensics technician and Barry Ingstrom was a police photographer. "Ellison was able to direct our attention to a storage closet near the cooler where Brunell's body" -- she made finger quotes in the air over the word - "had been left."

She glanced briefly at Ellison before continuing. "Inside the closet, half-hidden on a shelf, we found a box not belonging to the morgue. Inside it was the morgue sheet and traces of gun oil, but the box is large enough to have held quite a bit more."

Simon understood the implications of that right away. "Brunell had an accomplice, someone who had the supplies here right on time."

"And it had to have been timed perfectly, Captain. If that box had been here for a couple days, we would have noticed it. In addition, the whole morgue area is off-limits to visitors." Chang considered that for a moment. "Everyone, including the primary staff, is required to log in and out at the desk. In order to bring in a box that size, the accomplice would have had to sign the login register."

That was a good idea. "We'll have to go through that log for the past few days, and track down everyone on it. What about fingerprints?"

"Not back yet. I'm sure we'll find Brunell's prints on the box, but there's no way to tell if this accomplice left any. I'll let you know as soon as I have the results."

Simon rubbed his temple with one hand. The hunt hadn't gotten anywhere to speak of, and he already had a headache. Of course, the phone call from the chief might have had something to do with that, too. And the one from Australia's Crown Prosecutor, who was trying to get Brunell extradited. "Anything on how he was able to fake his death so well that it fooled the prison doctor?"

"No idea," admitted Dan Wolf. His frustration was apparent. "We haven't figured that out yet. Hell, Simon, I examined Brunell's body when he arrived here and I'd swear on a stack of Bibles that the man was dead." He sighed. "There was a powdery residue, almost claylike, smeared on the sheet, but our tests have come back negative so far as to what it is."

Well, at least Simon had something to contribute. "I received this by messenger from the prison right before I came downstairs. Why they just didn't send it directly to you, I don't know." He handed the package over to Chang, who immediately began examining the documents. The letter and its envelope were carefully sealed in separate glassine covers, in order to protect any trace evidence on them. "It's a letter Brunell received the day before his apparent death. I took the liberty of copying the return addressee's information before I tried to contact her. Claire Thomas, artist, young white female, no police record according to the Seattle PD ... and her secretary told me that she had taken a job on commission, requiring her to be away for a few weeks."

Ellison and Connor perked up at that news, shooting interested glances at each other and at their captain. "When?"

Simon knew the sentinel would find the information interesting. He certainly had. "Four days ago."

"Right after it was mailed," pointed out Chang, tapping a fingernail at the postmark date on the envelope. "Very convenient, if not outright suspicious on her part."

"A professional artist with a secretary?" Connor's tone was dubious. "That's suspicious right there."

Ellison agreed. "The timing is suspicious, but I'm interested in all those doodles." The detective must have seen the expression on Simon's face because he hurried to explain what he meant. "Blair taught a seminar class last term on some major society changes because of emerging civilization. One of those changes was the development of writing and early languages: hieroglyphs, pictograms, and stuff like that. Some of them kind of resemble some of those doodles." Ellison spread his arms in question before pointing back at the letter. "Isn't it possible that those doodles are the real message? That this letter was a convenient means of getting the escape instructions to Brunell?"

"Possible, certainly. We'll have to contact an expert in ancient languages or a linguist with that specialized knowledge to determine whether or not your theory is true." Deep in thought, Serena Chang smiled at them. "But perhaps we can also use handwriting analysis to determine if these are deliberate messages or simple doodles. Maybe an ink analysis would work better."

"There's something else," Simon added. "The messenger commented that the guard had noted the perfume on the letter, had raved about it, in fact. We should identify it, just in case it'll be helpful." He shrugged. Actually he was wondering whether Ellison might be able to identify their suspect with the perfume. Who knew, maybe their unknown accomplice and their elusive Miss Thomas were one and the same. "You never know."

Serena Chang opened the letter's protective cover with a shrug of her own. "This needs to be fingerprinted and photographed anyway. Go on, take a whiff."

Simon saw that Ellison's eyes began to water as soon as the envelope was opened. Nevertheless, he watched the sentinel bravely sniff, just like everyone else in the room, at the heady scent that poured out like water. He wasn't a sentinel, but the smell was so strong he could practically see it flowing out of the glassine envelope. Ellison probably could see the smell doing just that. It was flowery and oriental. Exotic, and -

"Smells expensive." Connor had said exactly what Simon was thinking.

"Jasmine," added Ellison absently, his eyes focused on the letter. Simon figured that the sentinel was probably recording the smell and including it on his long list of ones to be recognized. If the smell wasn’t on that long list already.

Chang caught the observation. "I'll put that in the description." She left, taking the glassine envelopes with her, presumably to her own laboratory upstairs. There, she would not only be able to work on discovering their secrets, but she would also be in a position to call as soon as the lab reports came back.

Simon needed to talk to Ellison; the man looked like he couldn't decide whether to fall apart or to blow up. The captain could understand how the detective felt, or, at least, something like it. There just wasn't anything to go on yet, and the wait had to be agonizing. "Connor," he tried to make his order sound like a suggestion, "why don't you check out this Thomas woman and see what you can find out. Maybe the secretary will talk more to you." Plus, doing something would make the inspector feel that she was making progress.

Connor nodded and left without another word.

"What are Rafe and Brown doing?"

The captain pulled Ellison out of Dan Wolf's office, allowing the busy medical examiner to try and get back to work. "They're working the Sorenson case, remember?" Simon continued to speak as he led his grimacing detective toward the elevator. Everyone had grimaced when that case had been sent up to Major Crime; it was a befuddling mess of murder, blackmail, and embezzlement that seemed to have roots going back decades. "As it happens, Sorenson had connections to some people currently incarcerated at the same place as two of Brunell's cohorts. Rafe and Brown are going to interview them while they're there, to see if there's any place the man might have run to."

Jim Ellison sighed. "I just feel like I should be out there, searching for Blair, doing something, anything. You know what that bastard's capable of."

Simon knew. After speaking with Connor at length when she confessed her duplicity in regards to the exchange program, he had discussed the matter - also at length - with her superiors in Sydney, Australia. At his request, they had faxed a considerable amount of information to him, including details about the bridge bombing. "There's not much we can do yet, Jim. I put an APB out on Blair's car. Someone will see it, and then we'll have a direction to go in."

The detective didn't say anything, but Simon knew he was wondering whether it would be spotted soon enough. He decided to change the subject. "So you actually listened to one of Sandburg's lectures? And, what's more, retained the information to use on a case?" He allowed some of the shock he had been feeling come out in his voice.

"Yeah." Jim sounded embarrassed. "You can be my witness. You saw me using a Sandburg technique to solve a case."

"I'll tell him I saw you thinking."

"Ha-ha, Simon. This is me laughing." The sentinel was distinctly not amused.

"Jim, admit it, he'll be shocked." Simon didn't get a chance to tease his friend very often, and never about something like this. "He might even be amazed. Maybe even speechless." He caught Jim's dubious look and reconsidered that. The concept of a speechless Sandburg seemed pretty unlikely, now that he thought about it. "Well, maybe not speechless. But I should start betting on this, I really should." He chuckled even as he fiercely punched the call button for the elevator.

"Just as long as we don't end up having to use the pot to pay medical bills." Ellison still looked shocked and angry, like any cop whose partner had been kidnapped, but at least he didn't look like death any longer. "I just can't believe it. He should have been safe here." The detective rubbed one hand over his face in exasperation. "It's the Golden fiasco all over again!"

There wasn't much Simon could say in response to that. True, the similarity was striking; once again, Sandburg had been injured when he was inside the police building, doing something that normally would never have held any potential for harm. The observer should have been safe, even in the morgue, since it was located in the basement of the police station itself. Something like this should never have happened. He knew the arguments by heart. The chief had already pointed them all out over the phone, repeatedly and loudly. "Sandburg will be fine, Jim. You've got to believe that. He's a survivor."

"I know he is."

The elevator doors opened, and both men entered. "Why don't you and I start with trying to track down some of Brunell's old buddies? The ones listed on the records I had faxed from Australia. Maybe one or two of them were involved in this." Simon hoped to give them both something with possible clues. "We can also follow up on whatever leads the others bring us. That way, we can leave via helicopter as soon as the APB is reported."

"I just hope it's soon." Ellison's tone conveyed all the worry Simon felt. "God knows what Blair's going through."

***

"You did not!"

Methos tried not to look too amused at his friend's accusing glare. This was just like old times. They had shared bits of information, gossip, news, and now had fallen back into the old habit of arguing. At least discussions of the old days were limited to good times. "How can you say that? The Greens were the best racing faction in all of Rome. Of course I followed them." Personally, he thought the Greens were popular because they were frequently the imperial choice at the games. "Watch the road, not me, will you?"

"I am watching the road, don't change the subject!" Belen sputtered a moment, apparently trying to order his thoughts. "One doesn't follow a faction, one follows a driver. He has to be canny enough and brave enough to be consistently victorious."

"All of which would mean nothing unless his faction owner furnished him with strong horses and good equipment." Methos wondered why all their thoughts seemed to be turned toward Rome. He wasn't certain when he'd last been there, and wasn't sure whether this obsession was a good thing or a bad thing. "Besides, many of the emperors followed them." Voicing his earlier thought might be a bad idea, since -

"Including Nero and Caligula, both of whom were insane."

Yes, well, that was true. Unfortunately, Methos couldn't dispute that. "That has nothing to do with the skill of the faction -"

"-Which gained said skill by the courage of their drivers."

And they were back to where they started. Methos gave a greatly exaggerated sigh, as if exasperated with the same old argument, and gave his friend a long look. At some point, they had changed direction, from Highway Five North to Route Twenty East, and civilization got sparser the longer they traveled. Belen was clenching the steering wheel, making his knuckles white, and his face was tight with strain. A quick look out the window gave him an idea, and he casually poked Belen in the side with the gun. "Turn in, there. Let's eat."

"Stop poking me." The smaller Immortal looked dubiously at the roadside diner, but pulled the Volvo into the hard-packed dirt driveway, parking well away from the other cars. "Rosie's?" Belen snickered. "What am I, a cheap date?" Nevertheless, he seemed willing enough to stop and eat; Methos didn't doubt that he was up to something.

“I don’t doubt it.”

Belen glared at him. "Ready?"

Methos nodded, hid the pistol in a pocket and hoped he wouldn't need it. If there was any justice in the universe, no one would notice them until the time was right. "It's showtime."

They exited the car and slowly walked toward the diner. Methos kept his hands in his pockets, and watched their surroundings and Belen with interest. Now that he'd gotten a closer look, he noticed that this diner was actually a truck stop of some sort, but there were several cars here and that was a good sign. Belen made a point to watch everything but his companion. Neither spoke to the other at any point during their meal, which Methos ordered for both of them. The food was decent, typical truck stop fare, burgers and fries and apple pie; much better than he had anticipated given the shabby exterior and filthy interior. He tried not to wonder whether or not the Department of Health knew about the place.

Belen tried unobtrusively to catch the waitress' eye, like any good kidnappee would, but she did her best to avoid him. This was greatly amusing, since the waitress had apparently been hit on once too much and assumed Belen was doing the same. They didn't spend too much time there, since that would be pushing their luck too far, and they needed to stay on schedule anyway.

When it was time to go, Methos waved the waitress to their table and paid the check while keeping an eye on his 'hostage.' As she counted out his change, he snatched up a napkin off the table that Belen was sliding furtively toward the waitress. "Don't!" Belen snapped backwards in his seat, flush against the booth, and looked over at Methos in fear without saying a word. "I'm sorry about this, ma'am," Methos told the waitress without missing a beat. "My little brother is ... a bit slow, and I'm afraid you somewhat resemble our late sister, God rest her." As he spoke, he watched the waitress relax, the wary expression on her face changing to one of sympathy and pity. "Elaine doted on him, and unfortunately it's been hard for him to make the adjustment."

The pair made their escape a few minutes later, pulling back onto the highway going north. "That was easy."

"Easy for you to say, " Belen grouched. "She didn't pinch your cheek and coo at you like you were a baby."

"What was the point of that anyway?"

"I hid a note for help under my plate. The note you didn't see. She'll find it when she clears the table."

Methos understood; it was time for the hounds to be released. Still, he couldn't believe this was going to work. "You hope."

"I know."

"Control freak."

"I know."

Wooded areas had become more prolific, spreading along like a huge green rolling carpet of tightly packed trees, like it had been before the Europeans came to the New World. Not that progress was always a bad thing. Methos had determined some time ago that the pasteurization of beer - even though the process changed the taste - was a good thing. Computers. Books. Indoor plumbing. Microwave ovens. They were driving up a gradient in the road, weaving around rocky corners, making him wonder where they were going.

It gave him time to think. Too much time.

Belen looked like he had his thinking cap on, as well. Methos wondered if they were thinking about the same thing. Ancient Rome, again.

***

Methos grinned to himself, watching Belen rub a hand across his own freshly-shaved chin. His friend looked as if he planned to weep and moan like a woman. The barber was every bit as skilled as he had claimed, famously slow like all his ilk - one surely did not want a fool speedily flashing his blades - but the man talked incessantly without end about little of value. Or, it seemed, of sense; speaking such of their soon-to-be ruler was treason, and to do so in front of someone in his service was doubly foolish. Methos shook his head. The barber had realized too late what he had said and to whom and had nearly swallowed his tongue in an effort to fix his error. Luckily, Belen was far more interested in a good shave than in witnessing the barber's crucifixion. It had been a while since he had witnessed one of those.

After leaving the barber's shop, the pair strolled through Narni towards the public bathing houses. This city of the crossroads was fortunate to have a lovely thermae indeed, complete with perfumed gardens, a library, a set of museums, several merchants' shops, gymnasiums, rooms for massages, and playing grounds for sporting, all in accompaniment to the water baths themselves. All in all, the thermae brought together many of the things that made life worth living. Sadly, they had arrived very late in the day with barely enough time to properly wash away the grit and sweat in the various rooms before re-dressing. Baths everywhere closed at sundown, and they were among the last to leave.

Well, they would have time to sample its wares later. Belen had told him that the legion planned to stay in Narni for a few days; time enough to allow a replenishing of supplies and for soldiers to rest. True, those packs were heavy, but these were Roman legionnaires, men of the Eagle. Methos chuckled at his friend's shrewdness. It was always sensible to allow fighting men a day here or there in an appropriate town to recall that they are men and not barbarians.

As a former barbarian, he should know its importance. Methos knew what Belen was thinking in this instance. Making that time to rest for his soldiers made Belen popular among the troops, since they would find gaming, wine, and whores in Narni, and have the time to enjoy them. On the other hand, Belen would have the sense to impose proper discipline, maintaining the glory of Rome, the march camp and his authority all in one fell swoop.

Methos encouraged the growth of civilization. It had to be better than before. No, he would not dwell on the past; the memories would sour his stomach, and he did not want that. Belen was making an effort to stay with the present time, and he should be a proper host and do the same.

In his position as the proper host, Methos had spoken of their evening meal several times in great detail over the past several candle-marks. He could see Belen's mouth watering in anticipation. Methos led them to an eating-place, similar to a Grecian taverna with rooms above, and then to a waiting private room in the back for the wealthy to dine. "I have arranged everything, from our meal to our entertainment." Belen was shocked; it showed on his face. That pleased Methos, who had gone to great trouble to arrange payment for their evening.

"You expected us today?"

Methos laughed. "It is as I said before, I saw the dust cloud approaching and knew it to be you."

Belen merely shook his head in amazement, and neither of them spoke until their meal began. Of course, Methos motioned to the taverna owner, Appius Pollia, to start their meal when he heard Belen's stomach rumble like a tiger resided there.

The food was excellent, as usual, and as it should be, considering the amount he had paid for this feast. The pair reclined on their couches, and slaves brought in each extravagant course in a grand sequence, like one would enjoy in the loveliest villa in the wealthiest city quarter. Dormice rolled in honey and poppy-seeds, sweet honeyed cakes decorated with berries, plump hares all flush with their juices and roasted in mushrooms and other freshly-picked vegetables, olives, figs, fat red grapes: it was a truly magnificent meal, and Methos had outdone himself.

And the wine! Bacchus himself would have wept to taste it, Methos often thought. Honeyed wine only followed the first course, but a bright vintage flowed generously through the remainder of the meal. Methos and Belen toasted many things while eating, progressing from long life to each other to the mosaics on the wall. Even a particularly pretty slave with flowers in her hair did not escape their attentions, and blushed to the roots of her hair.

Indeed, the slaves were beautiful here, and Methos knew his friend well enough to know his tastes. Attentive as well as attractive, each was simply dressed in white, keeping busy with their many assigned tasks. For entertainment, a woman dressed in blue played upon a harp while three other ladies danced in seductive circles, their nearly transparent rose veils fluttering around their lithe bodies.

They talked of many things, present and future. They argued over chariot racing and gladiator fights, and whether these Christians - a tiny new religion that had sprung up, all about martyrs, apparently - was a threat to Rome. Anything from the past was avoided, except in terms that great progress had been made. There seemed little that could still be done in the world.

Civilization had truly come, and Rome was the jewel in the crown of the universe. As was the glory of Golden Greece that Methos knew his friend recalled with such fondness. Belen expressed a desire to travel to Britannia, to see the wild country and wilder people. Or so others had told him about the beautiful island, he claimed.

Belen longed to see new lands, experience new things, do good in the world. Methos thought he could help his friend attain one of those desires, at least. On his previous visits, he had noted the slogans and graffiti written on the walls of the rooms of the upper floor - largely ribald encouragement and lewd advice to the patrons - with great interest. Some enterprising fellow had even penned drawings of mostly improbable and certainly uncomfortable sexual positions. Appius kept several courtesans in his employ for the joy of his guests, especially those with the coins to buy a meal in privacy, but he kept a brothel above the taverna.

Belen had said he wanted new experiences.

That gave Methos an idea.

***

Jim Ellison was going to lose his mind. Nothing, they had nothing. No one had seen Blair's car. No one had seen Blair. No one had seen Brunell. Officers stationed at train stations and airports hadn't seen a hint of either man. None of the patrol officers or any of their snitches had reported anything. It was like Sandburg and Brunell had vanished into thin air.

Simon kept looking at him, the way you look at a hand grenade with its pin missing. The others tiptoed around him - except for Connor, who stomped - and no one had said much after the initial reassurances that Brunell would be caught and Blair would be fine. He could feel the others looking at him, though, and their own worry.

It was terrifying. Jim could do nothing to help. None of Brunell's old buddies seemed to know anything about his escape, or if they did, they sure as hell weren't admitting it. Brown and Rafe believed the prisoners hadn't known about Brunell's plans or about the mysterious Claire Thomas, and Jim trusted their judgment.

At least, he was trying to.

Not only did Simon watch him intently, the captain had refused to allow him to talk directly to anyone who might know anything. Jim understood why, he really did. Simon was afraid that the sentinel would flip his lid in his desperation and do something to warrant a lawsuit. His captain and friend was trying to protect him from his own worries. None of this made him feel any better. Jim had this sinking feeling in his stomach, just a terrible feeling he couldn't explain or identify.

While Jim was mulling over the source of the feeling, Connor stomped back into the bullpen carrying something that smelled ... delicious. By the time his eyes came up from glaring at the phone for not ringing with news, the Australian inspector had made her way to his desk with two takeout bags from Wonderburger. Without a word, she handed him one of the bags and gestured that he should eat.

All Jim could hear was Blair's voice, alternately haranguing him about how bad Wonderburger was for his arteries and encouraging him to keep his strength up for the search. He wanted the food, but he didn't want the food. Looking at the bag, full of greasy goodness, made his stomach rumble. That decided the matter.

"Eat, Ellison. That rumble isn't thunder." Connor pointed at the bag with one hand, and set the other bag down on the opposite side of his desk. Jim appreciated that she wasn't sitting in Blair's seat. "I got some food, too, so you won't be eating alone."

Somehow that made him feel a little better. They settled down to eat in silence. Jim was startled to find a Number One Combo Meal with the works and extra onions, his favorite; he looked over at Connor and raised an eyebrow.

"I've heard Sandy grumble over your eating habits long enough to know what you like."

There wasn't much he could say to that. It tasted good, so Jim concentrated on eating and she followed his lead. Jim tried not to think about anything else, especially how it seemed Connor might have found something. She was definitely excited about something, but for all he knew, she might have found another ugly jacket to torture her squad-mates with. Women were strange like that. When their meal was done, they tossed the trash away and got down to business. "So? Anything?" He hoped he didn't sound as desperate as he felt.

"The housekeeper, Lucy something-or-other, didn't want to talk to me. A tough lady." Connor reported the news in a calm and level voice. "She did say that the Thomas woman has been in Washington State for about a year now. Before that, she was in Paris. Before that, London." She paused for a moment. "The woman was real cagey about it, though, all 'where did I think she was', like a pro."

That was interesting. Maybe there was more to this Claire Thomas than they'd first thought. How many graphic artists could afford to split their time between countries? Or had a personal housekeeper?

"Of course," continued Connor, "she might be independently wealthy. Or have inherited it."

"Find out which. Anything else?"

"Forensics identified the perfume using a new toy, a ... some fancy piece of technology." Jim grinned at her attempt to cover the memory slip. "Black Pearls. It's a very expensive perfume from Europe that was released only a few months ago. Hard to find in the United States. " Connor was clearly satisfied with the findings so far. Jim could tell that the inspector had already made up her mind about the woman. "Also, we contacted Rainier's Languages Department without much luck. Only two of their professors have the background to translate the symbols, if that's what they are, but one's on sabbatical and the other's in hospital with a stroke." Sympathy and frustration warred on her face. "No luck in the Anthropology and Archeology Department, either. One's on sabbatical, two are on digs in the middle of nowhere, and, well," she shrugged helplessly, "the other's Sandy."

"That figures." Jim sighed. "Only those people out of the whole faculty?"

Connor shrugged again. "The dean - nasty woman, by the way -"

"We've met."

"- Said that pictographic languages are very difficult to read because of the sheer number of symbols that were used within each language. For example, the scribes in ancient Egypt were forced to specialize their work - for war, for diplomacy, for trade -- because of the amount of symbols there were to memorize. Six thousand symbols, or more." Jim smiled at the awe in her voice, and Connor blushed in response. "That was the example the dean gave. But that's why not many professors are fluent in the pictorial languages."

Jim knew. "I've heard the lecture."

"It was fascinating. Next time Sandy gives that seminar, let me know. Maybe I'll sit in on the classes."

She was talking about next time, trying to convince him without being too blatant that Blair was going to be fine. Jim almost believed it. Still, he couldn't stop thinking whether Blair might be better off if he tried to manage his senses without his Guide. Jim heard the phone in Simon's office ring, and - even though it was tempting - pushed his hearing back down so he could focus on what Connor was saying.

"Anyway, the school is going to contact the two professors in the middle of nowhere via fax machine with the symbols. Maybe one or both of them can help us out."

"Fax machines at an archeology dig?"

"Yea for the technologically-empowered."

Jim ignored the superior tone in her voice. Just because her computer worked was no reason to get snotty. "Apparently."

The door to Simon's office slammed open, and, coat in hand, the captain rushed out. "Ellison, Connor, you're with me."

"Blair?" Jim wanted to say something more professional, but that was the only word that would come out of his mouth. He wanted Simon to say something good. It had to be good.

The captain started speaking as they hurried to the elevator. "A waitress at a truck stop on Route Twenty East found a note asking for help scrawled on a napkin. Her description matches Brunell and Sandburg. She even saved the note for us." By the time the trio made it to the roof, the pilots were waiting for them and the helicopter was ready to go. It seemed Jim's anxiety had spread to the whole department like a virus.

The race was on, finally.

When they were in the air and speeding toward their destination, Jim leaned closer to Simon. “What are you not saying?” The sentinel could tell that the captain was deeply upset and not just by Blair’s abduction.

The captain sighed as answer, and Jim steeled himself. “The waitress reported that the curly-haired man was very quiet and withdrawn, that the tall thin man was almost violent, and that the curly-haired man was afraid of him. She said that it had bothered her, but the tall thin man explained it away.” Neither man spoke; each was equally familiar with Brunell’s violent past. “She almost bought the story, too.”

Now Jim was intrigued. “What changed her mind?”

“First, the note. It asked her to call us because he’d been kidnapped.” Simon looked pleased, probably for the same reason as Jim: that Blair had once again outwitted a bad guy. “Second, Brunell had told her that ‘his brother’ was mentally challenged. But, when they left, she noticed that the mentally challenged brother was in the driver’s seat. She thought that was odd and figured she’d better call the police.”

“Thank God for that.” There was silence for a few moments. “When will we get there?”

“Soon.”

“I just hope it’s soon enough.”

***

Belen moaned and wondered fuzzily why his mouth tasted as if he’d feasted on ashes for evening meal. One good thing about being an Immortal, probably the only thing, was that hangovers didn’t last very long, even if you drank for a solid fortnight. A kick to his left side yanked him unceremoniously out of a lull, and he looked up and up and up to see a fat man in a gaudily decorated toga standing over him. It was awe-inspiring; the man had to be ten leagues tall. He wondered if the gods were sending him a dream.

Another kick, this time to his left kidney, convinced him this was no dream, and Belen staggered to his feet. He looked the fat man in the eye - not difficult, since he now saw the man stood even shorter than he did - and the stranger responded with a thin leather whip.

“What in the name of Mars’ left testicle is going on here?” Belen was confused. Who is this fool, where’s Methos, and why the abuse?

“Up, slave! You belong to me now.”

Slave? Belen was certain his ears must have been stuffed with wool while he was sleeping because he had to have misheard. “I’m not a slave, I’m a free man, a citizen of Rome.”

That earned him another lash, this time to the ribcage. “Your master sold you last night before he returned to his domicile. Don’t claim to be something you’re not, boy!”

Belen drew himself up to his full height, smoothed out his clothing - the same as he’d worn last evening - and tried not to lose his temper. “I am Marcus Vitruvius, favored engineer and architect of Gaius Octavius. ‘Tis you who should watch what you claim!” So much for keeping his temper under a tight rein. “Strike me again and I will see you punished to the very extent permitted.”

“How do you intend to prove it, boy?” The foul man coiled the whip around his hand and snapped it in a menacing way. Belen wasn’t impressed by the slaver’s trick. He’d seen worse. He’d been worse.

“I am part of a legion, IV Macedonica, camped just outside the city. My apprentices can vouch for my identity.” Belen paused to consider the fat man’s position and could sympathize. This was obviously Methos’ idea of a joke, to swindle someone into buying a free man as a slave. “However many coins you paid, I fear you’ve been taken for a fool.”

“We shall see about that.” Another snap punctuated the man’s words, and there was a leer in his voice.

Belen didn’t like the way that sounded.

Several hours later, Belen had a headache that no doubt rivaled the pain of Athena’s birth from Zeus’ skull. He had learned, to his shock, that the ugly fat man was the whoremaster of the taverna in which he and Methos had dined the previous night. Methos had also stolen his money pouch, all its contents, and even his horse. His apprentices all testified that their master was exactly who he said and was definitely not a slave, but the whoremaster refused to accept their word.

Of course. Attracted by his apparent youth, curly locks, and delicate yet masculine features, the whoremaster had paid a hefty price in gold and silver coin. He intended to get his money’s worth. Belen had countered that, as a free Roman citizen who had committed no crime, he could not be sold into slavery by anyone. Therefore, anything Methos had done was illegal and could not be held against the object of his crime. It should be Methos who was punished.

That had in turn been countered by the fact that he hadn’t proved either his status as a free man or as a citizen of Rome. Plus, Methos had disappeared, no doubt with his horse. At that point, thoroughly incensed, Belen had shouted, “Then bring me parchment and quill so I may write the head of our glorious nation!” He had fixed both the foul man and the magistrate with an evil glare. “Or do you dare to deem his word of my identity as insufficient?”

They hadn’t dared. Belen had quickly written the letter explaining the situation and asking the soon-to-be emperor for his aid. His senior apprentice had taken the letter and scrambled out the door to ride back to Rome with all haste. Even if the boy rode the horse to death, it might be weeks before he returned with a reply. Not all messages, even urgent ones, received an audience straight away. Worse, if Gaius Octavius had left Rome for some reason, it might be even longer. Perhaps months.

And, in the meantime, what choice did he have? The whoremaster was insistent, and the local magistrate refused to rule otherwise without proof of his citizenship or identity. His uniform of a Roman legionnaire, complete with rank designation and service knots, apparently meant nothing. However, the magistrate had ruled that, if proved a free man, Belen would be immediately released as befitting a man of his rank and properly paid for his services over whatever amount of time was spent. Further, depending on those services, payment would be issued for such a cruelty done to a citizen; the magistrate had decided that a whorehouse slave - when proven free - deserved far more payment than a slave who toiled in the fields or in the kitchens. At least Belen had that to look forward to, as well as the magistrate’s assurances that the persons involved would be punished. Should he be proven free, of course. He looked forward to seeing the whoremaster punished.

They wouldn’t find Methos, though, he was certain of it. That didn’t matter.

Belen wanted to serve up Methos’ punishment with a … personal touch.

***

Blair pulled himself out of his thoughts, and tried to pay attention to what was happening, here and now, in the present. He wasn’t as certain now as he had been before, whether or not he had done the right thing by breaking Methos out of prison. It had seemed an easy decision to make at first; of course he would rescue his old friend since Methos would have helped him if their positions were reversed. At least he hoped so.

They had all been in that position, where sometimes you had to do things you didn’t like for good reasons. The right reasons. The real Brunell was dead, and Methos shouldn’t be made to suffer for that other Immortal’s evil deeds. Evil done by a youngling was stupid - they didn’t understand why they did the things they did; they acted only because they wanted to. Stupid.

Methos did understand, which was why Blair wanted to keep his friend safe. Not many even knew Belen existed, he was a myth, like Methos was. Besides, a rescue would be something he could hold over Methos’ head for centuries to come.

Blair pulled his car onto a turnoff leading to part of North Cascades National Park. The park spread all over this part of Washington State, and the forest itself spread across the Canadian border, making it the perfect place to cross unobserved since the area was lightly patrolled. “Time for Phase Three.” He glanced over at Methos, who had a disgusted expression on his face. “The Chase.”

“Can’t you be less dramatic?”

“What fun would that be?” After popping the trunk, they exited the car, and locked it for a temporary abandonment. “Besides,” Blair retorted, sticking the keys in his pocket, “you do it.”

“That’s different.”

“How do you figure that?” Blair took a coil of rope out of the trunk before shutting it again.

“I’m good at it.”

“Hah!”

The pair walked into the forest. Blair knew they should be seeing signs of rescue any time now, but hopefully the cavalry wouldn’t arrive before the call sounded. Not that it really mattered. The plan was flexible, within reason, and he had prepared for an early arrival in any case. The police would naturally assume Brunell was heading for Canada since that nation preferred not to extradite prisoners facing a death sentence.

Alternately, they might assume that the elusive Claire Thomas was waiting for Brunell along with an escape plan; since there were indications she had money, she could afford things like a private jet and plenty of discretion. None of it mattered. The police would find a reason they liked and would adjust any extraneous facts to make it work.

Blair worked to bind the rope into a knot as they walked in a northerly direction. It was hard to think that he was actively working against the police in this instance, many of whom he counted as friends. His student - who didn’t even realize he was the student and thought himself the teacher - wouldn’t be a problem. He would understand, having done things in the past he wasn’t proud of and knowing that age sometimes carried its own ethical problems. No Immortal who’d lived through the past two hundred years - and had any sort of interesting life - could say they had no ethical skeletons in the closet.

On the other hand, he’d heard stories about Duncan MacLeod. Of the clan MacLeod. Who’d kept the same first and last name for the last four or five centuries. And was apparently eligible for sainthood.

He wasn’t, however, very subtle. How dull could one person be, to keep the same name for all that time? Where was the fun in that?

Blair didn’t like he and Jim being on different sides, but there was no other choice. Telling Jim what he was doing would force an explanation he didn’t want to give and a lot of questions he didn’t want to answer. Worse, it would all be for nothing because Jim would feel betrayed that he hadn’t been told sooner -- like it would have made a difference, which it wouldn’t have -- and that emotion would color everything else that occurred between them. Jim wouldn’t understand why this action was necessary. Sure, the sentinel had done bad stuff while in the army, supposedly in the service of his country; dark, bad stuff that he wanted to protect his innocent Blair from, but he still wouldn’t understand. Some things transcend loyalty.

Some things transcend time itself.

That was why he felt so edgy, like something was waiting for him, something bad lurking just over the top of the next hill. Waiting for him to tra-la-la along. Blair felt like he was betraying his sentinel and his duty to protect the people, but Blair had been one with the wolf before Jim was even a twinkle on the end of a thread in the tapestry of the Fates. He had an older duty to Methos, and that had to come first.

Even if Methos was an arrogant bastard who didn’t deserve it.

They stopped, and without speaking Methos seemed to know what needed to be done. The tall Immortal bound Blair’s hands behind his back before tying a slip knot around Blair’s throat, looping it to the wrist bindings to form a crude leash for Methos to hold. Blair growled when he heard the other Immortal snicker. “What’s so funny?”

“You. The expression on your face.” Methos scrunched up his features in a poor attempt to imitate it. “Like this whole thing wasn’t your idea.”

They started walking again, heading up a steep hill that overlooked the Canadian portion of the forest. It was amazing how quickly they’d walked, but then they recalled when a ground-eating stride was important to cultivate. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” With the gun in one hand and the leash in the other hand, Blair figured that Methos was probably enjoying this. “This brings back some spectacularly bad memories.”

Methos sighed deeply, an over-exaggerated display of tremendous suffering. “Are we back to Rome again? Please, get counseling already. The last thing I need is another Cassandra.”

“Now, she needs counseling,” Blair shot back. The Immortal witch hated Methos with an all-consuming passion, and Belen wasn’t exactly on her Solstice card list either. “Those days have just been on my mind lately.”

Methos made a noncommittal noise.

“Particularly now, considering.” Blair pulled at his bonds, trying without success to loosen them. He had spent quite a bit of time bound in that taverna’s brothel, and the rest of the time on his back or on his front. Blair shuddered. The memories weren’t exactly pleasant.

This time the noise Methos made sounded more like a snicker.

Blair narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “What’re you laughing at?”

“Ooh, the big bad anthropologist. What are you going to do, shoot me?”

“You’ll see.” Blair smiled, thinking of what was to come. “Revenge is sweet.” The sound of an approaching helicopter rose over them, causing them to halt, and Blair knew that Phase Four had begun.

The Rescue.

***

Seeing that small note begging for help in Blair’s handwriting forced Jim Ellison to exit the diner at a breakneck pace. His feelings felt all tangled up: afraid, worried, angry, and the big one, guilty. For not being there, again, when Blair needed him. Worse, for sending him unwittingly right into the danger. Ellison knew intellectually that it wasn’t his fault, there was no way he could have known, blah blah blah, but he still felt the blame deserved to be pinned on his shirt with a big old red B.

A hairshirt. Or maybe a dunce cap would be more appropriate.

First he had to find Blair, and preferably also catch Brunell. If he had to choose between saving Blair’s life and capturing Scott Brunell, he would focus on his Guide and leave Brunell to Connor. Jim supposed that would be punishment enough. The Australian government could have whatever scraps were left of Brunell when Connor was finished.

Looking out at the heavily wooded roadside got him thinking. Jim could tell from the distinctive scent of Simon’s cigars that the captain had walked up behind him to lurk there, as if afraid to break his concentration. “What is that?” He pointed to the woods.

“Those are called trees, Jim.”

Simon’s sarcastic response annoyed Jim but he ignored it, knowing the captain was just as bothered by the whole situation as he was. His heart was pounding and his breathing was rapid - oh yeah, he was agitated. “No, I mean those woods. Aren’t we near the border?”

A sharply drawn breath followed by a curse answered Jim’s question.

Jim spun on his heel and hurried toward the diner to get Connor. “Brunell’s heading for Canada, and once he gets there, he won’t need Blair anymore.” Simon wasn’t even listening to him rant, the captain was busy running for the helicopter to notify the pilot that they were leaving right away. They needed to hurry.

The whirring of the rotors, once they were in the air, mirrored the circling of Jim’s own thoughts. Obviously Brunell had an accomplice helping him in this plot, possibly more than one. After faking his death, Brunell had been able to escape. How had he managed to fool the prison’s medical staff? They still didn’t know.

Someone had placed a container of some kind in a closet near the morgue cooler, a container presumably filled with clothes and other supplies. Who had it been? Why was there no record of someone entering the morgue who might have been able to do that? Everyone on the sign-in list had checked out.

What did the scribbles on the note mean, if they meant anything at all? If Brunell had planned this escape, and if the scribbles meant something, why were the scribbles even necessary? Why were they on a note going into the prison? Shouldn’t they have been going the other direction?

Jim shook his head, hoping the answers to his questions would just fall into his brain. Something was definitely going on here, but he was damned if he knew what. At least one accomplice, that he was certain of. Possibly two. Did they have any idea who the accomplices might be? None whatsoever. One might be this Claire Thomas woman - not that they’d even been able to track her down and speak to her yet - but it was only suspicion. They had nothing concrete except the letter, and they didn’t even have anything on that. DNA testing had found nothing, so whoever had sent it had been careful.

Someone poked him in the side, and Jim peered over the side to look at the ground. A highway patrolman had found Blair’s car parked at a rest stop next to the North Cascades National Park, but found it locked and apparently abandoned. Luckily, his helmet hadn’t interfered with his hearing. Listening, Jim couldn’t sense anything pointing to Blair still being here: no heartbeat, no breathing. Blair’s scent was faint. It made more sense for Brunell to haul him along. “I don’t think he’s there. Brunell must have taken him as a hostage.”

A long minute passed and Simon seemed to be weighing what to do. “I hope you’re right.” He told the patrolman to force the lock on the trunk just to be certain, then directed the pilot on a course that would take them roughly straight ahead toward Canada from their current position.

It seemed sensible to Jim; there weren’t pedestrian paths to speak of, and Brunell was in a hurry. Still, something Simon had said…. “They’re going to force the lock on Blair’s trunk?”

“Not that I don’t trust you, Jim, but -“

Jim waved that away and continued, “They didn’t find his keys in the ignition?”

“No, and not around the immediate area, either.”

“That’s strange.” Pushing that away to think about later, Jim opened his hearing and sight to a higher level, focusing both senses on the thick foliage below them. Using both senses at the same time like this kept him from zoning, and he had also found that it made both senses stronger. Searching for Blair’s voice or a glimpse wasn’t difficult; he had never told Blair, but he felt somehow linked to his Guide in a way he wasn’t certain he could explain.

The flight seemed to take forever, everyone searching in their own way, until Jim finally heard Blair’s voice.

“-You laughing at?”

“Ooh, the big bad anthropologist. What are you going to do, shoot me?” Jim had the immediate thought that he would be happy to do so on Blair’s behalf.

“You’ll see.” A pause. “Revenge is sweet.”

Jim frowned at the vindictive tone in Blair’s voice, even as he leaned over to grab Simon’s arm. “They’re down there, just below the tree line of that hill.” He pointed it out as best he could. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there. They had to get down there, they had to hurry.

The sentinel needed to do something, now that they were so close. If Brunell got past them and over that hill, he’d be out of their jurisdiction - not that they weren’t already, really - but Jim didn’t want to have to rely on the U.S. Border Patrol. Not where Blair was concerned. Jim raised his voice to include the pilot in this discussion, since he would need the man’s help. His voice was fierce and determined; Blair’s life depended on what he was about to do.

“I have a plan.”

Simon’s response after Jim explained his plan was typical, pretty much what he had expected. “Are you out of your mind?” He gave the sentinel a long searching look. “I know you want to protect Blair, but there must be a more sensible way to do it.”

“There isn’t.” Jim waved a hand at the expanse of green below them. “Look at that, there’s nowhere to land. We have to stop them now. This is the only way.”

“It’s an excuse for you to swing from a helicopter again!”

Connor obviously didn’t like the idea either. Her face told him everything he needed to know since he’d seen that particular expression before. It said: (A) you’re a fool but you’re also a man so being a fool is typical behavior, and (B) don’t you dare get killed or I’ll have to kick your miserable ass. Jim didn’t doubt the Australian inspector could do it. He had seen her work out with the punching bag too many times already.

Simon seemed to have grasped Jim’s point, so the sentinel decided to push it a little further. “And Brunell’s seen us or heard us by now. We don’t have much time.” They all heard what he didn’t say, that Blair didn’t have much time.

The captain looked out at the forest for a moment, his jaw grinding from side to side in worry and frustration, brooding over a decision. He then looked back to Jim with nothing but strength in his eyes. “Do it.”

It didn’t take long to attach the ladder to the open side of the helicopter, and Simon motioned Jim to get into position. The captain would be his contact with the pilot until he was on the ground, then both he and Connor would follow him down. Simon had received word that the U.S. Border Patrol was converging on the area, so Brunell wouldn’t be escaping the net.

Jim gazed down at the forest again, and knew Blair was hurting. He could hear his Guide breathing hard, but neither he nor Brunell spoke. The helicopter slowed and moved away, as if not finding anyone and swooping away to search another area.

But it was a lure, because just when Jim couldn’t stand it anymore, the helicopter swung around and waited for Simon’s command. Jim momentarily gripped his gun for reassurance before he began slowly climbing down the ladder into the air. It was wrenching work, difficult, pulling his arms out of their sockets. The sentinel clung to the ladder, as close to the bottom rung as he could get, and focused his sight and hearing on the section of forest where he knew they were.

Brunell snapped at the lure, and he appeared at the edge of the tree line with his hostage, hiking toward the crest of the hill, and Jim heard Simon’s shout to the pilot to go. The helicopter swooped in, breathtakingly fast, and Jim leaped without thinking from the ladder from a five-foot height. He hit the ground, rolled, and sprang to his feet with his gun aimed at Brunell. “Drop the gun!”

After the words left his mouth, Jim allowed himself a good look. Bedraggled and weary, Blair’s hands were tied behind his back, and he was filthy like he’d fallen down a couple times; what really made Jim’s blood boil was the leash. Brunell had wound the rope around his hostage’s throat like a noose, and Blair’s wrists were bound as well. “Drop the gun, Brunell, it’s all over.”

Brunell’s response was to yank his hostage as close to him as possible as a shield, pulling the leash tight in a stranglehold. The fugitive held his gun to Blair’s side, and smiled at Ellison. “I don’t think so.”

Standoff.

Damn.

“You’re not going to make it across the border, and you’re sure as hell not taking my partner with you.” Jim could hear Connor and Simon clambering down the ladder to help, but overshadowing all of that was Blair’s frantically thumping heart. He could also hear other officers hurrying toward them on foot and ATV, and knew they’d be on the scene shortly.

Brunell laughed. “You might be surprised, Ellison, to know where I’ve been. Sweet little Blair might have some secrets of his own.”

Jim ignored the mocking tone on the grounds that the fugitive was trying to distract him, and pushed down the niggling sense of unease that the words provoked. Blair struggled, trying to escape, but managed only to further tighten the noose around his throat. Hearing his partner wheeze made Jim sick. “I don’t doubt you came from Hell, but just say the word and I’ll send you right back there.” He gave a brittle smile.

“Give it up,” Simon added. “You’re surrounded.”

“And you expect that old saw to work? Do you think I was born yesterday?” Brunell smiled again in that derisive way he had; it was really getting on Jim’s nerves. “Ah, Inspector, how nice to see you again.”

Jim ground his teeth. It occurred to him that Blair acted annoyed as well as afraid. Understandable under the circumstances. This was, what, the nine-thousandth time he’d been taken hostage while working with him? Jim had to wonder why Blair stayed, especially at times like these. Surely Sandburg’s life had been quieter before he’d become a Guide to a Sentinel.

Something in Brunell’s eyes flickered, and Jim realized what the man was thinking. Even though he had to know he would never get away, might even be killed, the fugitive planned to kill his hostage out of spite. Out of the sheer malicious joy of killing. Brunell was going to kill Blair.

Brunell was going to kill his Guide.

No.

The fugitive moved the gun, pushing it deeper into his hostage’s flesh, and Jim saw his finger move a fraction, and the sentinel reacted instantly on instinct. Protect the Guide. One-two-three, he squeezed off the shots, heard Connor and Simon also firing their weapons, saw blood spatter, and Brunell crumple in a heap to the ground. Jim saw the shocked look on Blair’s face as he fell backwards onto his ass in the dirt, forced by the rope to follow his captor down to the ground. Simon covered Brunell, his pistol ready, while Connor advanced to check on the fugitive.

Jim only had thoughts of Blair, and rushed over to check him for injuries. His Guide had blood spattered over his face and clothing, and his pulse was sky-high. Other than that, Jim couldn’t sense anything wrong with his Guide, couldn’t smell anyone’s blood but Brunell’s own, and wanted all at once to get that ghastly collar off his Guide.

“Jim,” Blair managed to whisper, “get this off me.” He yanked wildly at the rope, sending it whipping into the air, and succeeding only to tighten the noose further. “Get it off, get it off!” Tears began to stream from his eyes.

There was nothing Jim could do but tear apart that horrible thing, lift Blair off the ground, and hug him close, to try to calm the near hysteria of his best friend. To remind Blair that he was safe. Nothing mattered, not even Brunell. Only Blair, only his Guide.

Behind them, he heard Connor’s voice. “He’s dead, for real this time.”

Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City, was glad to hear it. His Guide was safe, his City was safe. He had no regrets. And that was all he could really ask for, wasn’t it?

***

Methos moaned. He hurt everywhere, ached in places he was certain didn’t exist in a way that suggested someone had beaten him to death with a big stick. The memories came back to him, just like they always did, but layered on top of those memories was the sharp buzz of another Immortal. He froze, knowing it was stupid, playing dead, all it was likely to get him was really dead, since if he could sense the other, then the other could sense him.

And now he was starting to babble incoherently on top of everything else. Peachy.

“Relax, Old Man.” Amanda’s voice. “We’re alone.”

Stretching his stiff muscles, Methos sat up and frowned at the white sheet he was wearing. The morgue, again? And with Amanda here? Belen must have practically timed it. He rolled his eyes in exasperation. Of course Belen had, he was a control freak. “So? Now what?”

Amanda smiled at him, looking every inch the demure medical professional she was not in a long white coat and gray slacks. “Now Scott Brunell is officially dead. Since he died in Whatcom County, rather than Cascade, the Whatcom County medical examiner has the duty of doing the autopsy.” She tapped a nearby set of papers clipped together to make a tidy file. “Which is right here, all done. His file lists no next of kin, so in my official duty, I arranged for a cremation. I sent Brunell’s body over already, so it’s ashes by now.”

Methos understood what she was saying. There wouldn’t be a body to check on if someone got suspicious. “And you’re the medical examiner?” He was somewhat doubtful on that score; he couldn’t recall ever reading in Amanda’s Chronicle that she’d had medical training.

She handed him a set of clothing and motioned that he should dress while they talked. “At the moment. The regular M.E. had a car accident, and I’m subbing for him today.” Amanda’s eyes twinkled. “Very unfortunate that he’s laid up during the only excitement this area’s had since the 1930s.”

“Very convenient.”

“Absolutely.” She paused. “Are you going to get dressed any time soon or what? We’re on a schedule here.”

“Of course we are,” Methos muttered. He shifted about on the table before giving up all pretense and simply telling her the problem. “Turn your back, will you?”

The Immortal thief gaped at him. “It’s not like I haven’t seen it before,” she told him shortly. “Even down to that little mole. Besides, do you honestly think you had clothes on when you got here?”

“Hey!”

A certain amount of malicious glee had entered her voice. “It seemed like half the town came to sneak a peek.”

“Terrific.”

Amanda laughed at his grousing, but turned her back to allow him to dress with a certain amount of privacy. Methos scowled at her, and dressed quickly in the clothes she’d provided. It was a similar outfit to the one before - jeans, sneakers, and a sweater - but of better quality, befitting Adam Pierson. He particularly liked the sweater that Belen must have chosen: a long-sleeved, cream-colored fisherman’s sweater with a latticework design. Very classy, indeed. “He’s such a control freak.”

“Who?”

“Belen. You should have heard him in the car.”

“I can imagine.” He could hear the laughter in her voice. “You should see the list of instructions he sent me: what to do, where to do it, where to be and when to be there.” This time she did laugh. “Breaking into the Louvre in the middle of the day would be less complicated.”

Methos sighed, tapping Amanda on the shoulder, and she kissed him on the cheek. “Let’s go.” They quickly cleared the room to erase any real trace that they’d been there, and vanished out the door in silence. He didn’t think he’d ever been quite so relieved. At last it was over. Finally. Scott Brunell was dead; Adam Pierson was alive.

Best of all, Paris was waiting.

***

A few days later, Jim Ellison was sitting at his desk, thinking about the meeting an hour before in the captain’s office with Connor, Rafe, and Brown. They had received the final pieces of information allowing the Brunell case to be officially closed. Finally. Everyone was relieved to hear the news, and no one more so than Ellison, except possibly Connor. She had calmed down considerably since the autopsy report had arrived, reporting Brunell’s cause of death had been eight bullets, three of which had come from her gun.

Personally, Ellison was just glad that Blair was safe. He’d called the loft a half-hour ago just to check that everything was fine, and Sandburg had practically bitten his head off. Had accused him of being a mother hen. Had even clucked at him. Jim would have been insulted if it hadn’t been true; he was being a bit smothering, like he had after the Lash fiasco, which still gave him nightmares. Rafe, on the other hand, was highly amused by Jim’s actions and had a running bet going as to how many times Ellison called the loft before the end of the workday.

Anyone might think they didn’t have any actual work to do around here.

Their questions had been answered about as much as they were ever going to be. The clay-like powdery residue had been the remains of a paste that Brunell had used to cover his throat and thus hide his pulse. It was similar, Forensics said, to professional-grade makeup like the kind used by actors on the stage. A technician had found traces of the powder on the Thomas envelope, but had overlooked it because of its appearance like a regular stain. Plus, the dogs hadn’t alerted on it in any fashion. The heavy perfume scent had covered any odor of the cosmetic.

Claire Thomas had vanished, seemingly without a trace. The housekeeper, when contacted a third time, had informed them that her employment had been terminated by Thomas the day after Connor’s visit. She hadn’t seemed terribly upset by it, though, since she had already found a new employer. This one lived in Paris, France. Jim could understand why she wasn’t too annoyed by the abrupt firing. He would have liked to see Europe, in a way that didn’t involve a camouflage uniform.

Major Crime had discussed the issue and determined that possibly the Thomas woman hadn’t even been involved, even if it looked suspicious. It was certainly possible that someone could have used her name, in an effort to throw suspicion on her and away from the real accomplice. The housekeeper had told them that her former employer had never worn European perfumes, and none had been seen in her home when Connor had been there. They had never been able to speak to Thomas, or even to see her, and it was starting to look like they wouldn’t. Thomas didn’t even have a driver’s license on file.

A fax had come back from the University about the squiggles. One of the archeology professors had obligingly translated some of the bits, but had rather apologetically told them that he did not recognize them all as language. One, an almost Cyrillic-looking language with curly bits, was actually a line of poetry about striking ‘a direct deadly blow, within’, but he had not specified what language it was. A second symbol - a stick figure of sorts - was a Sumerian cuneiform sign, meaning ‘arrow’. The last identified symbol was the NIN word; it meant ‘queen’ as translated from the Sumerian.

So apparently there was a woman involved somewhere. Connor had pointed out that, for all they knew, the word didn’t refer to a person at all, but to a place or a thing. It might even be a nickname for a person, possibly even a man. Unfortunately, she’d been right. There wasn’t enough information available to give them anything to go on. All they had determined was that the scribbles were in fact both language and an accomplice’s instructions to Brunell for the escape.

An accomplice with no name and no face.

Jim didn’t like the feeling that he was missing something. He would have liked to catch the accomplice as well, would have liked to take Brunell alive, but it would have to do. It wasn’t the first time; it wouldn’t be the last. He had plenty of questions of his own to answer, still.

Remembering the snatch of conversation he’d overheard between Sandburg and Brunell, Jim was concerned by what it might mean. Brunell had referred to Sandburg by his profession as well as by name, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Unfortunately, probably the entire prison system knew that Jim Ellison was partnered with an anthropologist college professor named Blair Sandburg. Still, their conversation had seemed more than just fugitive-and-hostage, like there had been deeper meaning behind the words that he wasn’t hearing.

But there was no way Brunell and Sandburg knew each other. Their histories didn’t seem to connect at any point that he could see. It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be … and yet there had been something strange about Blair’s tone of voice. Like it was personal.

Jim supposed that Brunell might have made threats, and maybe that was why Sandburg had sounded so angry. Why revenge was sweet. None of that really explained what Brunell had said later, about Blair having secrets of his own. Jim shivered. ‘Sweet little Blair,’ Brunell had said. That title carried implications that he didn’t want to think about. No one had gotten a statement from Sandburg until the day after his rescue, and the horror still hadn’t faded from his face. By the end of the questioning, Jim had taken his partner home to rest. Sandburg hadn’t said anything about anything hinky like that going on, but then, if it had been himself in that position, he might not have mentioned it either. And Blair’s behavior at the diner - that wasn’t normal either.

The only other thing that bothered him was the issue of the car keys. They had turned up in Blair’s jeans’ pocket, where he usually kept them. Why had Brunell allowed his hostage to keep the keys to the car? Hadn’t he worried that Sandburg would escape from him in the woods and use the car to drive off? Of course, Jim reasoned that Sandburg might have been tied up by then and been unable to escape.

The strain of everything that had happened would go away eventually. Jim Ellison would have to put this all behind him. Scott Brunell was dead; Blair Sandburg was safe. Life would go on as normal as it ever got for the Sentinel and Shaman of the Great City. Jim would have to let it go. He wasn’t sleeping too well, lately.

***

Blair Sandburg sat sprawled on the sofa in front of the television and glared viciously at the phone. If Jim called once more, he was going to strangle the man, sentinel or no. No one could be that much of a mother hen without having feathers. And people said he was controlling!

They obviously didn’t know Jim Ellison.

Still, he’d accomplished a lot in the past few days since the ‘death’ of Scott Brunell. He had decided on a topic for his Anthro 101 student, Mr. Pierce, to use for his extra credit paper; it would be on the use of magic and ritual in primitive societies. Amanda had called him at the university asking when he was going to be in Paris. Raines had contacted him in their usual discreet way, acknowledging the receipt of the money and the return to usual operations. His relationship with Methos still hadn’t been healed, probably never would be; there were too many bad memories between them for that.

Too much blood.

Some things were better left buried.

At the university, he’d received a postcard from Methos in his researcher-historian Adam Pierson guise. It sarcastically thanked him for his help and offered to buy him a beer the next time he was in Paris. The message told him a lot of things Methos hadn’t said.

Blair still wondered whether or not he’d done the right thing. He’d helped a good friend by betraying his sentinel. He had even used his sentinel’s own protective instincts against him, manipulated his sentinel into acting without thinking, to do what he wanted instead of what the sentinel should have done. He was a shaman, and knew there would be punishment, some kind of discipline for his failure. How it would come, he wasn’t certain.

The wolf’s presence told him that. The spirit looked pissed; Blair had plenty of experience to be able to judge its moods. Its hackles up and fangs bared, the wolf spirit was growling incessantly, pacing back and forth in the living room. It did not speak to him in words, nor in images, but just growled around the loft with its tail bushed out like a threat to valuable pottery.

Blair knew, though, what the wolf spirit would have said. He had heard the words before, long after the wolf had first come to him, after his world had spun around and the darkness had lifted, so he knew them by heart. “A Guide cannot betray his Sentinel, nor the Sentinel his Guide. Every blade cuts both ways, to the betrayer and to the betrayed.”

It was fitting that the spirit, in the Dream Realm, looked just as he had all those years ago when his world was nothing but blood, darkness, and death. But then, in the Dream Realm, Blair knew that people see themselves both as they think they are and as they really are. In the Dream Realm, there were no secrets.

So maybe he hadn’t progressed as far as he thought he had. According to the wolf’s teachings, eventually Jim would betray him in return, and that would lead to Blair’s punishment. Eventually Jim would find out what he had done, if not why. Jim would have to forgive Blair, since he had been the one to set all this in motion, and only then would they advance in the Sentinel-Guide relationship.

Blair knew that Jim would never do that, never forgive him anything. Jim was intensely hung up on betrayal, understandable considering his past, but it made the number of things Blair had to hide very hard to explain. Plus, Jim had a fear-reaction that was just astounding. He would strike out first, then think, but at no point stop to listen. The fact that he’d deliberately manipulated Jim made it all worse, but he honestly thought there’d been no other way. No, Jim would never allow the advancement, never accept Blair with all his faults and ugly past. Jim saw the world in absolutes, in black and white, even though his time as a professional soldier should have accustomed him to shades of gray.

Jim would never understand.

As Blair sat on the couch, considering what his future had in store, he raised his head to hear a wolf howl in pain somewhere. A trail of blood trickled down from both eyes over Blair’s cheekbones like a mask. Somewhere a female jaguar screamed in challenge. He opened his eyes to find them ringed in blood, and knew what his punishment would be. Blair Sandburg now knew, at least, how it would all end.

In water and fire.

THE END

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

~~ William Blake, "The Tyger" lines 1-4, from Songs of Experience, 1794.

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