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Blair scrabbled at the pickup's door, but his fingers no longer had the dexterity to open it. Drugged! Jim had drugged him! A low moan escaped his lips, and he pressed himself against the side of the truck, putting as much space between himself and the thing in the driver's seat as he could. The thing paid him no attention, acting as if Blair hadn't screamed at all.

A few moments later, the truck came to a stop. Jim hopped out and walked around the front of the cab, opening the passenger door. "Come on, Blair. It's not much further. Just a little walk in the woods."

The young man shook his head, trying to clear it. Jim held out a hand to him. Blair squinted. Jim's features came into blurry focus. Okay, it's okay. It's Jim. What was I thinking? He slid out of the truck, staggering a bit as his legs wobbled.

The other man reached out a hand to steady Blair, his fingers closing over the protection bracelet Sky had given him. With a howl of pain, he snatched his hand back, his form shifting and changing in the dim light. Yellow eyes flashed, and Blair knew what he'd glimpsed before hadn't been a hallucination. Stumbling, he ran into the woods, adrenaline fueling his flight.


Jim watched as Blair fled into the woods. The something that had been bothering him for so long had suddenly, strikingly become clear. HE was the killer he'd been hunting and now he was after Sandburg. The voice inside his head, the one that had plagued him for months, hissed through his ears.

So, you finally know what is happening, Jaguar Warrior. This is good. You left your soul open to evil, and I was able to step into the void where your Shaman should have been.

Holding his hand, which burned as if the bracelet he'd touched had scalded him, Jim responded to the taunting words. "Who are you? When did you enter my mind?"

Laughter-- the same laughter he'd heard the morning of Father Gibson's death--echoed inside of Jim's head. You know my name, though men no longer tremble when they speak it. I am Tezcatlipoca, I am Nahuaque, I am Ipalnermoani, Lord of the Near and High. Many, many trecenas have passed since I became you, Warrior. She was to have been my vessel, the clay form I would use until the moment was right, but she proved to be unworthy. You, however, you were nearly perfect.

Jim shuddered. He couldn't recall ever being aware of an intruder in his own body, and who was this she the voice referred to? He flinched as the image of a spotted jaguar filled his eyes. ALEX!

Yes. So young, so full of promise. How strange to find a woman, one unworthy of the gifts, possessing the strengths and abilities of a Jaguar Warrior.

Jim was a killer. He was hunting Blair, possessed by something--a god-- who had driven him to this madness.

Enough! There was only one way to stop this insanity. Jim's hand reached for his sidearm, pulling the weapon free of its holster. He had to do this. He had to save Blair and atone for the crimes he'd committed. He placed the muzzle of the gun against his temple, the steel icy against his skin.

Against his will, his hand wavered as he tried to pull the trigger. The weapon fell from his hand.

Fool! You cannot stop me! I control you, have for many trecenas and I am not about to lose the Jaguar Warrior that I waited for so long! Your feeble flesh obeys my every demand. You are mine to do with as I wish. I will find the Shaman. I will return to my rightful place as Ruler of this World.

"I cannot allow you to do this. I won't let you harm Sandburg!"

You cannot stop me, Warrior. Now, begone!

Jim felt as if he'd been slapped. His body seemed to fall away as he slipped into darkness, the silence surrounding him so complete not even the sounds of the night-shrouded forest could be heard. The last, coherent thought he had as he descended into the void echoed through his head. What have I done?


Blair's drugged mind struggled to make sense of what was happening. Was the *thing* he'd left behind Jim, or not Jim? If it wasn't Jim, where was Jim? A root caught at his ankle and sent Blair sprawling. His head struck something hard. He lay dazed for a few moments. Then the sound of whatever it was coming after him forced him to his feet.

He began to run again, slower this time, trying to pick out the safest footing in the dark. Something brushed against his legs, and he yelped loudly. A wolf paused on the faint trail, looking over his shoulder at Blair. He remembered the dream he'd had the night Sky died. Follow the wolf. It can't hurt, and at least it can see where it's going.

As he trotted toward it, the wolf took off again. Blair found himself racing to keep up. Branches slapped at him; a pine bough struck him in the face, the needles scratching, blinding him. Careening forward, he tumbled into a meadow. He wiped at his stinging eyes, getting slowly to his feet. The green and blue and purple lights of the aurora came into focus, dancing across the black horizon. For a moment, his plight was forgotten, and his mouth dropped open in awe.


The god's power grew as the shadow crept further across the moon. He licked his lips, anticipating the taste of the Shaman's blood, the rush of power. Soon! Yes, soon, my lovely Prey. You will help me complete the prophecy. I will shed the clay of the Jaguar Warrior and return to rule as rightful Monarch of this World. He watched the final Shaman try to escape, dodging into the woodland.

He'd waited long enough. If the last Shaman wanted to give him the thrill of the Hunt before the final ritual was completed, then so be it. It would actually make it more exalting -- blood spilled in the Hunt was the most potent of magicks. The energy from the Chase would make the transformation, the crossing, that much easier.

With a snarl, he ran after the fleeing Shaman. All his senses focused on the Prey scuttling through the woods. Yes! He is willing after all! He *knows* what his life's blood will accomplish! Oh, Shaman, you honor me well. Run, little one, run to the place of your body's death. I will take your heart, adding your essence to the others. Only I think I will keep your spirit tied to mine. Yes, that would only be fitting for one such as you.

The Prey had stopped, looking back over the path he'd run down, fear crossing his face. Slowing to a crouching, silent prowl, he crept up on the Prey. It had found the clearing. Perfect! He transformed into the Jaguar, extruding the nails of his human garb, thickening them, curving them, sharpening them,
as the spotted golden fur cloaked the body and the muscles became bestially strong and swift.

He settled back on his haunches, patiently waiting until the Prey, the Shaman, thinking himself safe, had turned his back to him. Springing forth from his hiding place, tawny and black paws connected with the Prey's back, sending the Shaman sprawling.


Blair realized his mistake moments too late. A great weight struck him between the shoulder blades, bearing him forcefully to the ground. His face buried in cold, dead grass, he struggled with all his might, until a blow across the head sent him tumbling into darkness.


He sat, humming the chant, making sure that all was perfect as he slowly used the hollow stone bowl and the pestle to grind the flowers, tree bark and other plant parts to a mush. The Shaman still slept. No matter, he needed time to finish preparing the trappings for the Shaman's final journey.

Adding a touch of clear plant oil to the bowl, he finished mixing the paint. Grabbing the river reed he needed, he rose and crossed to where the Shaman hung, his toes barely reaching the ground, his arms stretched overhead. He had fought well, a prize worthy of a god's attention. Reaching out, he tilted the head back, towards the tree he had tied the man to, and started brushing the paint across the naked body in the manner prescribed for the Ritual of Crossing. Full of power and strength, the lithe form belied hidden qualities. He couldn't help but admire the Shaman's build. This one could have easily followed the Path of the Jaguar, been a warrior, but instead he had turned his quest for knowledge inward.

He looked to the darkened sky above, the moon not yet fully covered by the shadow. He still had a little more time. Paying close attention to the task at hand, he finished applying the last Nahuatl symbol just as the Shaman started to stir. Good, the man should be awake for this, to know his sacrifice was for the glory of Tezcatlipoca. Setting aside the bowl and brush, he stripped out of the confining clothing of the Jaguar Warrior, kicking them aside in distaste. He was past ready to shed the Warrior's body.


He awoke to the feel of something rough and warm and wet laving his cheek. With a gasp, Blair opened his eyes to find the face of a monster pressed close to his. The visage was that of a spotted jaguar, only distorted. The muzzle was shorter, and the head longer, the eyes the outward shape of a human's but golden, with vertical pupils, like a cat's. They blinked slowly at him, and a fur-covered cross between a hand and a paw gripped his chin, short stubby fingers ending in razor sharp claws holding him firmly.

The mouth opened, revealing gleaming white canines several inches long. A tongue lolled between the teeth, flicking out to lick Blair's temple. He whimpered, tremors rocking his body. He was upright, his arms tied over his head to a tree limb, forcing him to stand on tiptoe.

The claws released his face, tracing a slow path down his neck, following his jugular across his naked flesh to where his heart pounded wildly in his chest. The werecat purred, teeth nipping at Blair's shoulder until he cried out as they pierced the skin. The textured tongue swiped over the small wound, lapping up the tiny drops of blood.

Then the creature stepped back, turning away, bending to pick up something on the ground. A clay bowl was lifted in both hands, and a guttural chanting filled the air with the harsh consonants of Nahuatl. The beast turned back to Blair, one hand going again to his jaw, prying his mouth open.

Too frightened and shocked to react before, Blair fought like a wild man now, lashing out with his feet, striking the jaguar-man in the stomach and chest. The animal stumbled back, snarling, liquid sloshing over the sides of the bowl. His claw-hand gripped Blair by the neck, slamming him back into the tree, knocking the air from his lungs.

As the young man struggled to breathe, the creature poured the contents of the bowl down Blair's throat. He choked and gagged on the burning, alcoholic pulque, most of it streaming down his neck, but the cat covered his mouth, forcing him to swallow the bit that remained. The drug turned his muscles to mush, and he sagged in his bonds, the pain in his shoulders a mere annoyance.

A small voice in the corner of his mind spoke of the blue paint, cold and wet on his skin, and urged him to fight, to struggle against what he knew was happening.

But it was too hard, and even when the creature cut him down, lowering Blair to the ground, he couldn't find enough strength to run. But he managed to find his voice. "Who are you?"

The cat-man looked down, its mouth opening in what Blair realized passed for a smile. When it spoke, its words were guttural and accented. "I have many names. Nahuaque, Yoalli Ehecatl, Necocyautl--"

"Tezcatlipoca," Blair whispered. Things were beginning to make a crazy, wild kind of sense to him.

The feline grin widened. "I prefer Titlacahuan, He Whose Slaves We Are, or Tlalticpaqueh , Owner Of The World, because after I have your heart, Shaman, when the shadow turns the moon the color of sacrificial blood, I will cross fully into your human world. I will once again be World Owner, and your pitiful race my slaves."

The anthropologist tilted over onto his side, pressing his face against the cold ground. "Jim..." he moaned.

"Chief?"

A human hand clasped his shoulder. Blair looked up to see the sentinel leaning over him, concern written on his face. "Jim! Oh, god, Jim! You have to help me! No, no, you have to get out of here! If he finds you, he'll kill you!"

Jim's laugh descended into sharp, coughing snarls, and his facial features melted and shifted and became the god's jaguar form again. "How touching! Or would you prefer your lover?"

Sky leaned over him then, her soft lips kissing his forehead. "Just relax, baby, and accept your role in this ritual."

Again the figure blurred and Blair stared at his twin. "Yeah, man, quit fighting your karma. It's a great honor to be chosen."

Scooting away from the thing, Blair pressed himself against the tree trunk, trying to burrow inside.

A tall figure with the dark coloring and broad features of an Aztec bent over him, lifting him across his shoulder. "It is useless to struggle, little Shaman. I am the god of destiny, and your fate has been foretold since you came screaming into this world."

Blair hung upside down over the back of the god as Tezcatlipoca crossed the clearing to a large, almost flat stone. As he looked down, he could see a distorted reflection in the smoking mirror that was the god's foot. He realized it was his own, his face streaked with dirt, blood and tears, his expression shifting from fear to resignation. Blair was going to die. The Aztec deity laid him on the rock, stretching his limbs into the sacrificial position, tying them to stakes pounded into the ground.

He gazed up at the sky, the colored lights still dancing, the moon turning a deep shade of red, only a faint cresent of silver visible now. Everything had been leading up to this. He had been right. All the sacrifices had been about spiritual power, about leading to this moment. And his heart would be the last, the sacrifice that would make Tezcatlipoca invincible.

Wait a minute! If he needs my heart, then he's not invincible now! Someone--something--can still stop him! But what?

Tezcatlipoca loomed over him, the obsidian tecpatl raised in his left hand. He drew it across Blair's chest slowly, lazily, leaving a shallow cut to mark the spot for the deeper one to come.

The wound burned, and Blair could feel the warm trickle of blood down his ribcage. "Help me!" he screamed. "Please, somebody, help me!"


The smell of freshly spilled blood, coupled with the scream, brought Jim back to awareness -- and he was standing over a naked, spread-eagled Blair with his left hand raised, holding a black, wicked-looking blade.

"NO!" He willed the knife to fall from his hand even as he shouted. Amazingly, the weapon dropped to the ground.

You only delay that which cannot be stopped, Warrior.

Jim fought with all his might but it was no use. Tezcatlipoca picked up the fallen knife and raised it.


As the knife fell to the ground, Blair pulled against the ropes holding him, ignoring the pain as they cut into his wrists. He had to get free; he had to! His struggles ceased as the form of a black-bearded man appeared at his feet. He was dressed in Aztec garb, a blue and green belt holding a loincloth around his waist. A dazzling jewel shaped like a conch shell hung around his neck, and he wore a headdress made of long, bright red and black feathers. In one hand he held a scepter shaped like a serpent, in the other a shield. His wise eyes were a glittering black. "Quetzalcoatl..." Blair breathed. Light to Tezcatlipoca's darkness, he was the God of Creation, and God of Wind.

Will you accept my help, Shaman?

The deity's words thundered in Blair's mind. He remembered the legends he'd read, of how Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca had destroyed four worlds and brought the fifth one, this world, into being; of the many times they'd fought over the destiny of their people.

The time for battle is once again at hand. My brother has chosen his champion. I choose you, Shaman. Do you accept my help, or do you doom your people to Tezcatlipoca's bloodthirsty rule?

"Yes! Please, I have to help Jim!" Blair didn't even stop to consider what form the help would take.

Very well. The time is almost here. We must stop the sacrifice. Quetzalcoatl grew taller, his body twisting and lengthening, like a lump of clay rolled out. Feathery scales sprouted from his skin, and his face broadened and flattened, plumes of feathers wreathing his head. The Serpent God's tongue darted in and out as his long coils wound around the sacrificial stone.

Wide-eyed, Blair wondered for a moment if he wouldn't regret this later as the great snake's head bent down, mouth opening wide. Blair closed his eyes as he was swallowed whole. He imagined it was what toothpaste felt when the tube was squeezed, and would have laughed hysterically, had he not been so terrified.

And then he was Quetzalcoatl, as Jim was Tezcatlipoca. The Serpent acted swiftly, wrapping his coils around the screaming Jaguar God, tightening them so the other god couldn't move. But Tezcatlipoca still held the sacred blade. He slashed at the snake, cutting great gashes in his eternal rival's flesh.

Blair could feel himself, feel Quetzalcoatl, weakening. Changing shape hadn't been enough. If Tezcatlipoca could cut out the Shaman's heart in this form, he would still win. The light would fail, and darkness would walk the earth unchecked.


Jim watched in horror as the huge, winged serpent swallowed Blair. "NO! I can't lose him!" The hand holding the obsidian dagger stabbed at the snake's body, trying to cut through the reptile's shimmering scales to reach Blair's heart. Helplessly, Jim glanced around the clearing, spotting someone he hoped would come to his aid. Looking into the dark cat's golden eyes he pleaded, "Please, help me! Help us!"

The black jaguar seemed to nod. An almost grim look of determination crossed its face, then it lunged. Leaping into the fray, it sank its sharp fangs into the wrist that held the dagger. The blade fell from the hand holding it. Jim felt the searing pain of the bite race up his arm. The agony intensified and he suddenly realized that the dark animal was actually trying to tear the hand off. Knowing he'd do anything to save Blair, Jim was more than willing to lose a limb, or even his life, if it meant his guide would live.


Queztalcoatl squeezed harder as Jim's spirit guide savaged Tezcatlipoca's arm.

But the dark god refused to give up. He plunged his fist into one of the great wounds on the snake's body. Blair shrieked in agony as he felt fingers wrap around his heart, claws digging in.

The winged snake took to the air then, rolling and diving, each snap of its tail sending lightning bolts streaking across the sky, each powerful flap of its wings a clap of thunder. Try as he might, the fusion of Shaman and Serpent God could not dislodge Tezcatlipoca.

A silver streak of fur darted from the forest and leapt into the air. Canine teeth sank deep into the arm grasping the Shaman's heart. Blair felt the tight grip easing.

Quetzalcoatl's head reared back as he spit a stream of venom into his brother's eyes. With a roar of pain and rage, the Jaguar God let go of his rival, of Blair. The Serpent loosed its coils. Tezcatlipoca tumbled through the sky, his body rapidly shifting from Aztec warrior to werejaguar to the familiar figure of Jim. He slammed into the ground and lay still. A dark, formless shadow detached itself from the sentinel and disappeared into the night.

The wolf and jaguar spirit guides had fallen with the god, but they got to their feet and shook themselves as a thin line of silver glowed along the edge of the crimson moon. The eclipse was over.

Jim! Oh, God, Jim! We have to help him!

The wind from Quetzalcoatl's wings bent trees and raised a cloud of dust as the Serpent Deity landed with far more grace than Blair would have thought a creature his size capable of. He wasn't sure how the snake did it, but suddenly he was no longer a part of it. He knelt beside his friend, his fingers searching for and finding the pulse at his throat.

"Is it over?" Blair asked, satisfied that Jim had not been seriously harmed by his fall.

It is over. The time to cross between worlds has passed. You did well, Shaman.

"Will Jim --" Blair stopped before he finished the sentence, not sure what he was asking.

Yes, Shaman, your Jaguar Warrior will be well. The blackness that has plagued his mind is gone. The plumed snake became translucent, the dancing lights of the aurora showing through his skin.

A sibilant hissing filled the air. Sleep, Shaman. Sleep. Blair looked for the owner of the voice while a strange fog rose from where he'd last seen...what was it? Something.... The mist coiled around Jim's body, flowing upward to caress Blair's thighs, then chest, finally covering his face, obscuring his vision. His questions fading, Blair slumped over Jim and lost himself in the land of slumber.


A thin sliver of light teased along the edge of Blair's eyelids. He turned his head toward it, blinking. Sunlight streamed across the horizon in pastel fingers of pink and peach. He sat up slowly, both hands going to his throbbing skull. "God, that must have been some party. Where in the hell am I?"

If the snow-capped peaks rising in front of him and the crushed grass surrounding him were any indication, he'd been sleeping in a natural meadow somewhere in the mountains. A puff of cold air swirled over him, and he shivered. He was wearing his clothes, but his jacket and gloves certainly weren't enough protection for a freezing night spent outdoors. Why hadn't he died of hypothermia?

"Augh!" Blair glanced behind him, finding Jim curled up in a ball in the grass, one arm stretched toward his friend. "Well, that sorta explains the not-freezing." He poked at the other man. "Jim? You in there, man? 'Cause this is like, so totally weird, that I'm seriously close to freaking."

"Ummm." Jim flipped his arm across Blair's leg, mumbling something about a 'blanket hog'.

Blair tapped the sentinel on the cheek. "There are no blankets, man, that's the problem. Wake up!"

The urgent note in his guide's voice must have done the trick. Jim sat bolt upright with a yell. "Jesus! Sandburg! What the hell?"

Blair wrapped his arms around himself. He was really starting to get cold now. "Yeah, that's what I was saying. Where are we and what in the hell are we doing here?"

Jim squinted against the brightening sun, his eyes scanning the area. "Looks like the side of Mount Baker."

"I feel like I just ran a marathon, then slept on a bunch of rocks. How about you? How's your head?"

"It hurts like the rest of me." Jim got to his feet and gave Blair a pull up with his good hand. "But not like it has been. Let's see if we can follow our tracks out of here. I'm freezing."

As they crossed the field, they passed a large, flat stone. Blair shuddered at the sight of it, but didn't know why. They paused at the base of a tall pine, as Jim scanned the area.

"All right, Chief. I can see our footprints in the frost. We came up the mountain from the east." He started to walk away in that direction, then turned and plucked something off the bark of the tree. "You must be shedding, Sandburg." He held up a long, curly strand of brown hair.

Blair's hand automatically went to the back of his head. "Ow! There's a lump there."

"Lemme see."

Tilting his head down, Blair let the sentinel probe his scalp. "Doesn't feel serious."

"It's not your head," Blair complained. "Let's just get out of here."

The two men started down the trail, and within thirty minutes had reached a dirt road. Parked alongside of it was the blue-and-white Ford.

Blair's gait slowed as he approached it. "I remember...something. You wanted to come up here, because of the aurora...so I could say goodbye to Sky..." The memory that she was gone was sharp and painful. "It was so beautiful. All green and purple and blue...and it snapped and hissed." He shook his head, then winced. "But I don't remember taking falling asleep."

"Neither do I, Chief. But we seem to have come through it okay." He pulled open the door to the truck. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

Blair climbed into the cab as well, pausing as an owl's soft hoot cut through stillness. As Jim started the engine, Blair stared back up the hillside. Something had happened up there, something important. But damned if he could remember what it was. Shrugging, he closed the door as Jim drove off.


Jim tried not to worry too much about the unusual circumstances in which he'd awakened. He recalled mentioning the lunar eclipse to Blair last night, how the northern lights would probably be spectacular and a nice way to pay their respects to Skylark Kullien. But he couldn't remember anything else, not until he woke up in the mountain meadow.

When he'd started the truck up, he'd cranked the heater over to max and noticed that Blair stopped shivering after a few minutes. Just as he was about to make a smart-assed comment, a cell phone trilled in the silent confines of the cab, causing both him and Blair to jump. "Glove box," he told his friend as Sandburg started hunting for the twittering phone.

"It's yours, Jim." He held the cell toward his friend.

"Answer it, Chief." He listened in as Blair greeted the caller, focusing in tight when his friend mentioned a certain name.

"Ellison's phone, Sandburg speaking."

"Sandburg! Where the hell have the two of you been all night! I've been trying to reach you for hours!"

"Uh, hi, Simon. Uh, Jim and I went up to this mountain meadow to watch the eclipse last night and, uh, we kinda, well, fell asleep...."

"Without telling anyone where you were going? Damn it! We're in the middle of a major investigation and the two of you just take off on a whim?"

"Sorry about that, Sim--" Blair snapped his mouth shut as the Captain cut him off.

"Save it! We had a situation here while you two were off communing with nature. How fast can you get over to Mountain View Scenic Highway overlook three?"

Jim pulled off the county road onto a marked highway. Strangely enough, it was the one Simon was talking about. Looking for a mile marker, Jim spotted something far more interesting, rotating emergency lights from several vehicles just off the road ahead of them.

"Tell Simon we're almost right on top of him." Seeing the confused look on Blair's face, Jim pointed towards the flashing spectacle.

"Uh, Simon? We'll be there in about a minute." He smiled perversely as he disconnected from the call, thankfully cutting off the myriad of questions coming from Simon's end.

Less than sixty seconds later, Jim pulled his pickup up behind Sydoriak's county-issued car, and they climbed out of the cab to walk over to where Jim had spotted Banks. "Captain, Sydoriak," he greeted the two men as he and Blair got close. Looking past them, Jim spotted an old, beat-up car -- now perforated with a number of bullet holes -- and a blanket shrouded form lying nearby. "What the heck happened here?"

Frank Sydoriak smiled as he answered, "We solved the Aztec murders."

Blair gasped, his face lighting up with confusion. "How? When?"

"Early this morning, Doc. State patrol pulled over a suspected drunk driver, but when the officer approached the subject, the sonuvabitch pulled a gun and started throwing lead." Frank shook his head. "The trooper's fine, managed to duck and cover fast enough, and called for backup. Tell you what, this would be more believable if you take a look at the video. Come with me."

Jim and Blair followed Frank over to a state patrol unit where he pulled out a monitor on the side of the dashboard camera and played the tape recording of the traffic stop for them. A disheveled looking man, maybe in his late 20's or early 30's, was on the screen, waving a gun around as he shouted. Thankfully, State Patrol had forked out money for recorders with good microphones. The man was clearly upset as he strutted around, waving his gun as he shouted at the trooper and the units that had responded to the officer's call for backup.

"You can't kill me! I'm a fucking GOD! You are all nothing more than my slaves, to do with as I will! I am the Night Wind! I am the one whose name strikes fear into the bravest of warriors! I am Tez-cat-lee-poke-ah!"

The subject then made a dash towards an officer, brandishing the gun and officers on the scene had responded to the apparent threat with force. The suspect went down in a fusillade of gunfire. Frank turned off the tape. "Looks like you were right, Dr. Sandburg. Our Aztec killer was a nut."

A hand landed on Jim's shoulder and he looked to see Simon holding up a couple of clear evidence bags. "Jim, Blair, this is what we found in the man's trunk when we started to inventory it for impound."

One bag held a broken, handmade flute while the other one contained a black stone, possibly obsidian, dagger decorated with what appeared to be blood-splattered feathers.

"We'll have forensics check out the knife as the possible murder weapon, and we'll have to analyze the blood. Hopefully it'll match one of his previous victims and we don't have another body somewhere. All that's left after that is looking into the man's background and finding out if he was ever treated for being a nutjob. We'll be closing down the task force," Simon was saying as Jim and Blair reached out to touch the bags in the captain's hand. "Too bad you both had to pick last night to stargaze, or you might have caught this guy yourselves." Simon handed the bags over to a Forensic tech who'd come to collect them, then placed a new cigar in his mouth as he gleefully turned back to have the last word.

"Since you two are obviously well rested from your little camping trip, you both can handle the closing paperwork and deal with the press."

Jim let out a heartfelt groan of despair, along with Sandburg. "Chief?"

"Yeah?"

"Next time I suggest we do any stargazing?"

"Yeah?"

"Remind me of this morning, will ya?"

"Oh, you bet!" Blair stomped off towards the truck, Jim following him just close enough to hear the young man mutter, "Paperwork! I hate paperwork! And it's Saturday! We were supposed to have the whole weekend off! This really sucks!"

Jim held back a burst of laughter, which quickly became a groan. "Press? We get to handle the press?" He spun on his heel, shouting towards his captain, "Simon!"

The man looked over at him in the dawn's light.

"We have to handle the press?"

His commanding officer nodded, grinning widely around the cigar clamped in his teeth.

"I HATE dealing with newsies!"

Simon shrugged.

"Crap. Blair, you said it, this really sucks."

~~ END ~~


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