By Kat Reitz and Perryvic

He was too much. Still too much their king cobra Specialist and Jack couldn't handle him anymore. Jack had too many responsibilities now, because he was promoted and they were selling him on. Sold on in a government surplus sale in Vegas, of all places, on show in one of the glass display rooms that honeycombed the sale warehouse. His life was on display on a touch screen information pad.

He could end up anywhere -- well, nearly anywhere. Permanent Specialists had to be sold to someone with security clearance of a certain level, and that meant either Government, Military or licensed security firms. That was his future now.

Out of habit, he studied the people looking at him and his resume, and his 'neighbors'. His showing room adjoined one other, inhabited by a younger man with messy hair and a touch of a vulnerability, that easily piqued the interest of the mind-sets in which he'd been immersed. He was more interesting than the people stopping and looking, then moving on. Every now and then the salesperson on duty would repeat the same old spiel, but there wasn't a whole lot of call for Permanent Specialists. Maybe the kid next door was one too.

But he couldn't talk with him to find out. The glass was mostly soundproof at one layer, and talking through two layers of it would just muffle the words, warp and slide them into inaudibility more that any hereditary hearing problems. Even so, he approached the glass, pressed a hand against it and looked out hard at the people who were passing by. He was all dressed up, with no-where to go, and it made him want to laugh a little. Nice suit, nice shirt, and Jack had stood in front of him forever, giving him instructions on how to behave himself and to be good and he was all right, being sold on wasn't the end of the world.

It felt like it.

There was an audible click, which meant the sound feed had been turned on, and he noticed that the younger man next door also glanced up. That meant an interested party and the possibility of questions.

She wasn't someone who looked like the normal buyers. She moved like an exotic dancer, but wore the ID of a Law enforcement agency.

"As I explained, Ms. Willows, these are the only two Permanent Specialists we have on sale."

Fantastic. Will threw up a tight smile, an inclination of his head in acknowledgement. Was he supposed to wag his tail? Be a happy pet waiting for a new master to pick him out of the cage and take him home to a wondrous new life? No, that wasn't going to happen.

"It's not the fact that they are Permanents, it's their specialism I'm interested in. Greg Sanders is a PV I see, and William Graham is ex-Federal stock with a Specialist rating in Criminal Empathy," the woman was saying.

"He was the specialist -- one of those responsible for catching the most notorious psychopaths ever..."

"Yeah, I know that Lecter, Dollarhyde... and he's on sale because he's a burn out," Ms. Willows said seeming diffident, but Will caught the gleam of interest in her eye. "Are they a functioning pair?"

She gestured to him and the man identified as Greg Sanders.

"Ah, well, let's just say they could be," the salesperson admitted. "It's a special offer -- a Criminal Empath and a Professional Victim coming up in the same sale have to be sold on as a pair. Buy one, get one free. We're throwing in the PV with the purchase of Will Graham."

"But how do I even know if they can function?" the woman replied. "Burn out cases."

"Look, even as burn outs, they've got qualifications and training knowledge that you could utilize," the salesperson sounded a little desperate now. "Graham is a fully qualified forensic specialist and Sanders has a DNA and trace specialism. Those have to be valuable skills to you. If you bought one of those new in the Employment Markets you would be starting at the offer price on this pair for just one, let along with all that experience and skill."

Will was lucky that he could make a cup of coffee in the morning. He was lucky that he put one foot in front of the other, except when he was on a scent. He was burnt out on life, not work. Life was strange and muddled and full of things that weren't in context and didn't inspire. He wanted a view, he wanted better things than he could have, and he knew where he wanted to go, but he couldn't.

He was no red robin in a cage.

Ms. Willows, whoever she was, was looking singularly unimpressed. "But will he function? Someone unable to function is no good to me, and I don't have time to nurse him through the process."

"That is part of the PV's job description. That's the beauty of the system, he's trained in support of a partner Criminal Empath," the salesperson said. "Even if they weren't matched, he still knows the handling technique, though there will be times that the registered Owner will use the controller."

"They are both chipped?" Ms. Willows asked, looking at him. He noted that she wasn't a free so she must be buying on behalf of an organization.

"Of course. Their chips have received annual service, upgrades and checkups."

"I'd like to speak to them," she said and the salesperson nodded, stepping back as she stepped forward.

"Hi, Will, my name is Catherine. How are you feeling?" she asked in a very different tone of voice to the one she used with the salesman.

"Slightly overdressed for the occasion of being talked about like a used car that's missing a tire." It was hard to just stand there casually, to not mimic mannerisms that were ingrained into his mind, to not *watch* hers like a hawk. She was graceful, and she knew how to modulate her voice, so he was leaning towards government and not private security. Police, possibly.

"Could be worse, could be sitting there naked if you were in the entertainment employment auctions," Catherine replied in a dry tone. "Are you up to doing your job? Yes or no? I'm with Night Shift Vegas Crime Lab and we have need of your skills. Urgent need. I know your reputation but I'm not interested in that -- I need to know what you can do now."

She spoke bluntly, and honestly almost challenging him to respond in the same style.

"I can do my *job* just fine. If you want me to do anything else or if you want me to indulge in banal conversation with you about the news or what was on TV last night, we're probably going to have a problem. I'm not a burnout. I'm up for auction here because my handler feels he's too old to handle me any longer." He kept the intensity low, pressed back the urge to press against the glass and try to get out or intimidate. But he leaned, pressed a forearm against the glass so he could see her better. There was a fractional recoil in her posture, a tensing. "But I do the job just fine."

Catherine seemed to accept that. "Can't afford to be picky about social skills. Not that many of you Specialist Empaths graduate out, and even fewer departments can afford them. The whole state of Nevada has two pairs and neither of them are available." She looked at the sale price, and nodded. "We'll take him... them."

"Do you want to interview your other purchase?" the salesperson asked.

Catherine looked at the young man next to him and was about to say something as her pager obviously beeped. "No, it's him we want. The rest is... a bonus. Sort the paper work and have them released, while I take this call."

Will leaned back, stepped back from the glass, and turned his head to finally give his attention to his co-purchase. Well, it seemed he was going to get to know the young man, whether he was interested in knowing him or not. But he did have to wonder what on earth a PV was. Professional something. Or maybe it was perfect. Perfect vessel? No, that was strange, even in his own head.

The salesperson was bustling around. One advantage with the chips was that a lot of the transfer data was held on that and with a wireless scanner at a locked frequency, it could be transferred over very simply. His twofer offer was looking somewhat resigned to being not counted as important. He looked haunted around the eyes, right up to the point when he turned and smiled and it transformed his expression completely.

Either Will was reading him wrong, or he was an incredible actor.

"Hey, there," Greg said, approaching the glass plexiglas partition, now that the speakers were on. "Good to meet you as we're obviously going to be working together. Name's Greg."

"Greg man without a last name, or do you just prefer Greg?" He pressed a palm up against the glass. "I'm Will Graham. Call me Will." Or call him whatever he wanted. He was going to cling tight to the shreds of himself he still had, the mannerisms that were his own, had been his own, and part of that was introducing himself to others in a proper manner.

"Greg Sanders," the younger man replied. "Looks like I'm going to be your PV. Which is, well really cool. Everyone learns about you and the cases you cracked. I'm just sorry you didn't get a chance to pick someone compatible -- you must be used to working with Federal trained PVs and I've only been in Law Enforcement. New York. Anyway, it's great to meet you, Will. I promise I'll do my best for you -- my graduating levels were good and if I get to do forensic work when we're not running a live case, then that makes me pretty happy."

"Yeah, is this PV thing some acronym for something? I'm guessing it's not Personal Valet, but it's not exactly a letter combination that leaves me a lot of options to guess. I've always worked alone." He leaned on his hand, watching Greg's face. There was startlement there, and then a look that Will knew was 'you've got to be shitting me' disbelief.

That was always the foot Will liked to get his working relationships off on. The foot of 'you're pulling my leg'.

"You're kidding right?" Greg blinked a couple of times. "Professional Victim. Technically I think the rank is listed as Victim Empath, like you're a *Criminal* Empath, but the media called it Professional Victim and pretty much everyone calls us that." He looked at Will for a long moment, through the glass. "You must've come across PVs...or was your Owner doing the handling as well as doing Control?"

"Jack took care of everything, so I guess, yeah." Jack shook him awake when he didn't want to be and Jack kept him to a routine, and Jack followed him headlong into danger, if he knew Will was headed that way.

And apparently there was someone who did it professionally. "How long has your designation been around?" Couldn't have been long, and Will knew that his work had to predate it. He'd been twenty when they'd realized he had so much more than a mere promising career in law enforcement.

"About ten years," Greg replied managing to look concerned and impressed at the same time. "That's... well, I'm pretty amazed. There's a high incidence of burn out in the Specialist Empath class even when there is pair support. It's a rough career path but I guess you know that."

"I know. I definitely pre-date your specialty, I think." It wasn't hard to crack a smile, not to Greg. "You'll have to show me what you do. Once we're out of these interesting glass cages. You're from New York, you said?"

"Was, yeah," Greg replied. "Stupid display rooms." He looked around, his eyes also not missing anything. "I guess what I do isn't that much different to what you do, but from the other side of the equation. And the handling, and bait as well."

He shrugged a little and seemed to be studying him in the same way as he was watching him.

"Bait?" Will turned, caught a sharp motion of the salesman that made him pivot towards the man a little too fiercely. He was only reaching to release the latches, only in peripheral vision.

"Yeah, bait. You really haven't worked with us before have you?" Greg answered, with a hint of surprise in his voice. "Oh hey, time to be bar-coded."

"Step out of the holding area please," the salesperson said, "And kneel and bend forwards so I can scan your neck."

Greg dropped down fluidly, easily assuming the position as if he had a fair amount of practice.

Kneel and bend. Kneel and bend and he was *not* going to scrape and bow. "I'd hate to inconvenience you by making you look a man in the eyes when you're using your scanner." Will moved, out of the glass section, and knelt down, but didn't bow his head down. Hands on his knees was as much of a concession as he was going to make.

He heard the beep of the scanner on Greg's neck, he heard the beep of his own and the sound of someone walking towards them in high heels. Catherine, evidently, was returning.

"Some reason you couldn't offer them a chair to sit in to do this?" Catherine said. "Permanent Specialists are still indentured, not slaves. Convicted felons are slaves without the right to personal dignity."

Her tone sounded serious, completely convincing, and the salesperson stood back hastily.

"I, I'm sorry ma'am, I've worked mainly with the slave market clearance stock. Force of habit."

"Yeah, save it for the complaint I'll be putting in," she said, and turned to them "Guys, you don't have to kneel here. There would be an outcry in the department if any of us were required to do that, and started a trend. Let's get you home. C'mon."

"And home is where, again?" Will stood up sharply, too close to the salesman. The way the man flinched made him smile, made it easier to turn his head and smile as gracious as he could at Catherine and Greg.

"The Vegas PD complex. Technically our apartment block is called Crescent Yard, but everyone calls it the Grave Yard," she replied wryly. "Cop humor for you."

Greg snorted a little and rather amazingly automatically put his hand on Will's arm. People didn't willingly touch him. In fact, he couldn't remember anyone casually touching him and Greg was relatively a complete stranger to him.

Touching him.

"Not that different from Fed humor. Behavioral sciences is called the Animal House." Headed by Crawford and his King Cobra, and it left Will feeling a little disoriented. "Is there anything else you need to do here?"

"No, your personal effects are being shipped direct, and your ownership is registered to Jim Brass, head of Night Shift," Catherine replied. "I'll take you home. Then I'll have to go on into work while you get adjusted. It's a pretty standard set up. You rate a level below the free penthouses with your Permanent specialist ratings and we've got a couple spare. There's only me on that level at the moment. We've got the CSIs in there as well and most of the night shift lab staff. It's a nice enough place and we have roll call at an hour before shift. Jim discontinued the curfew because our hours are so erratic, but you have to meet the mandatory minimum."

Catherine shrugged as she picked up the folder of papers and documentation that the abashed salesperson offered her.

"Uh, Ms. Willows?" Greg said. "Will and I are going to have to go through establishing our baselines. Is there going to be someone around who can reset the controls?"

"Controls? Baselines?" Hell, personal effects were sort of questionable, too. It all depended on what Crawford considered Will's. Will started to move when Catherine started to move, shadowing her.

"Controls..." Greg exhaled slowly. "If you want a functioning pair, we need to do this, especially as I'm pretty sure you're in the middle of a case and that's why you want us. You want us -- or Will up and running, he needs to come into this situation stable, with his controls set."

He seemed to realize pretty quickly that he was talking to two people who had no idea what he was talking about. "Okay, look, let us have the default control codes temporarily and the Owner ... Jim Brass can change them when he has a moment."

Catherine looked at him suspiciously. "Doesn't a control zap give you an intense high, like a drug?"

"No! Well, yes, but that's not the main function but that's all anyone thinks about," Greg replied, sounding frustrated. "I am not an addict. Fine, don't give me mine, I was reset before I came down here anyway, but I can tell Will hasn't been, okay? When was the last time you were reset Will? A few weeks?"

Will shoved his hands into his pants pockets, and glanced sideways at Greg for a moment. "Look, I don't even know what you're talking about. I don't *do* downtime or, or anything that sounds like what you're talking about. If we've got a case, Jack briefs me and it's on. Period."

Greg looked horrified and temporarily speechless. "How are you not *insane*?" he said finally, nearly choking on his shock. "Seriously, how have you stayed on the right side of the line? He's been running you 'hot' all the time? Jesus..."

"How am I not *insane*? Are you sure you even want to be asking me that question?" It was hard to not be offended, as much as Will was used to being treated with kid gloves. "It works. It works, okay?"

"Look, guys," Catherine interrupted. "Enough, I don't care. You can sort this out later, and fine… I'll do the control signal, just once. That'll have to do. I don't have time for the long process."

"You don't know what you're asking," Greg put in sounding anxious. "I mean great, but shortcuts are a bad thing..."

"You're getting until tomorrow *only* because it's going to take me that long to get processed so you can see the information on this case. If I could, I'd have you in there now," Catherine said in a firm tone. "You'll cut corners now if you have to and go back and do it properly afterwards. Understand?"

Greg nodded reluctantly and slowly and went quiet. Evidently he thought this was a bad thing, and Will had no idea why.

"That's fine. All I really need is a shower and a smoke." He scanned the crowd, seeking, seeking, and watching as they moved through it. The live tracker in his arm was itching a little, but he wasn't going to pick. "What's your case?"

"Serial abductor and killer," Catherine replied and lowered her voice. "We've been after him for a while. We were getting close, but this time... He's taken Jim. It's personal to all of us, but we can't magic leads out of thin air. But as I understand it... that's pretty much what you do."

"Yeah," Greg added in a muted tone. "You might want to see what I do, too." It was said quietly though, as if he was aware that no one seemed particularly interested in that at all.

"Great." They were nearly to Catherine's car, then, and her insistence on the job over all was at least familiar to him. It was something with which to ground himself. He was going to stay focused and get the job done right, think of it like any other case he'd worked, fix it, and then deal with his new reality.

Maybe it wasn't the latest way of doing things but it got results. And at the end of the day, that was what it was all about.

As if he hadn't had a bad enough couple of months already, culminating in being sold on, he was matched up with a guy who'd been running hot for his entire *life*. This was bad, really bad because he could see the tells they drilled into them, of a man skirting the border line. The physical symptoms, the sharp looks, the tiny responses to speech as if he was continually keeping himself in check -- everything that signaled a critical burn out.

And they wanted him to pair up and work with him and Greg had a feeling they didn't even know what that implied. Or even knew what Greg did.

They wanted the hunter, and that was probably all they knew to look for, and *someone* needed to get Will in check. He was either a couple of cases from shutting down completely, or a couple of cases from turning into one of the psychopaths whose mindsets he adopted. In a good, healthy Criminal Empath, when they were ‘switched off', they asked about the victims. Cared, interacted like normal people. Will wasn't doing that. Will had sat in the car on the ride over and stared vacantly out the window the whole time.

He needed the reset; the both of them had to have it, and Greg needed to talk this Catherine Willows into understanding how important it was, if they were going to find the person who was their mission.

He was the other half of the equation. Where Will would be getting into the mindset of the predator, he would be getting into the mindset of the prey. Predicting what they did, how they did it, finding the matching trigger point that set off the predator. Acting as bait sometimes, playing a live scene with the predator to facilitate the whole process. It worked. It was proven to work. He'd taken out 6 serials as part of his time as a Victim Empath. A good record. Fuck, who was he kidding, it was an excellent record. Not in the same league as Graham, but he'd been part of a good team.

His room was nice. Big spacious and obviously been unused for some time. He was next door to Will and he didn't have a clue of how to deal with someone who did not want to be dealt with.

Aiden had always been easy. A little rough around the edges, but at the end of the day, she was responsive and calm, and a little fun to be around. They had a good relationship, working and otherwise, and he'd tried hard, tried hard to keep her afloat. But thinking like a monster all day took a toll, and one slip, and... And most Criminal Empaths didn't live that long. A lot of them flared out hard, or they killed themselves because of something they did in the line of duty.

Aiden shouldn't have killed herself, but she did it anyway. He should've been there to stop it. He knew he could've stopped it but a big part of the problem was he hadn't been there because their Control stepped out on a live scene, a category 5 live scene, and as a result of that, when she killed herself, he'd been in hospital.

And when he got out, he was a PV without a partner, and not many Criminal Empaths wanted to buddy up with someone whose partner had committed suicide. It said, hey, not going to keep me alive, not going to keep me sane.

Maybe he should be grateful that Will had no idea what it all meant.

But it was right back into the same situation, maybe worse. Probably worse, because no one except maybe the guy who'd sold Will Graham on had realized that he was probably a lost cause. Hell, no one did things the 'old way' anymore because it *did* create monsters, murderers, and a higher suicide rate than any other permanent position.

Which left Greg knowing that he *had* to do something, but not sure what.

He pushed himself up. So, it was going to get rough, he'd been there before. Even with Aiden, but that had been part of the job. He could offer the emergency techniques to bring Will down, and he could try and show them that he wasn't a write off. This was his only chance.

He went out and wandered down to Will's rooms and knocked on the door. Greg wondered if he was showing signs of forgetting to eat if he wasn't prompted. That was like a big beacon of doom. He looked like a pretty solidly built guy, but that could have had everything to do with a routine and someone *doing* that prompting.

There was a hesitance in opening the door. Greg could hear a hand on the door handle, but no motion. Then it opened, slowly, swinging inwards, and Will's body filled the doorway. "Greg. Can I help you?"

"Thought I'd see if you'd had anything to eat yet," Greg replied, smiling. "And to go through a few things, maybe talk about things with you?"

That was pretty straight forward, not too much pressure.

Will's eyes dropped and he scanned Greg's body before he stepped back. "Not a problem. I haven't eaten yet."

Uh-huh. Warning signs. "So, you want me to get you some? I'm pretty sure Catherine said something about a big communal kitchen."

And Will was looking at him with predators eyes. Greg knew that feeling well enough to feel it in use.

"Big communal kitchen with people from the rest of the house. I'll give it a miss for a while, myself." He stayed in the room, as if he was inviting Greg in.

"Got anything in your, uh, kitchenette?" It wasn't designed for much more than on the run heating up food, but it might have something there. "I can throw something together if you want."

Yeah, the guy didn't eat properly. He stepped inside. If Will lost it and tried to kill him then he guessed that would prove his point. Admittedly, not in a way he particularly wanted.

He was kind of fond of being alive.

"Yeah, uh, I'm not sure what I have but you can give it a shot. Do you mind if I watch?" Will closed the door, a quiet click sounding when he locked it, too.

"No problem," Greg said and smiled at the other man as he walked in. There were probably basics. Tinned stuff and they probably had a team who prepped a place when word came through. He found the fridge and opened it. Bread, eggs, cheese, beer, milk, some plastic looking ham and random vegetables.

Cupboards revealed some pasta, some sauces amongst other things. Frankly, he wanted quick and easy, so everything thrown into an omelet it was.

"Gunna make an omelet. That okay?"

"Yeah. I'll cook for you some time," Will offered. He kept out of Greg's way, and leaned against the far side of the bar so he could watch Greg. "When I've got my head on straight. Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you."

Greg looked at him. "You will, some time," he said calmly even as he grabbed a pepper, an onion and some mushrooms, chopped them up rapidly and decided to cheat by softening them in the microwave for a few minutes before frying them up.

And Will just watched. He leaned on his elbows, eyes tracking Greg. He wasn't used to be watched like that. Aiden had never been that much of a predator in their down time. "So tell me about what you do. I'm curious."

Greg shrugged. "You get in the mindset of the predator -- I'm the other half of the equation. I figure the mindset of the victim. Play their actions and reactions. Comes in useful when there are missing victims. I've found a few. But really we're meant to play opposite you guys. Help you find mindsets, trigger points, re-enact scenes and probable actions. When we find trigger points, sometimes we get sent out as bait. We're meant to ground and balance you guys."

He found a frying pan and oil.

"I've never played a scene in my life. I just think like the killer. The general mindset isn't hard to get. The specific goals and patterns are what I work on. What drives them, what makes them act. I used..." Will paused, watching Greg. "I was originally a profiler. Once upon a time before my current designation."

"That was probably when the Empath designation came into being," Greg answered. "Now they use all empathy designations all over. I've been trained to work with your designation, to recognize problems. I've only known you a few hours and I'm seeing them Will. I want to try and help you, work with you." The oil was heating and the microwave pinged.

"Problems." Will's mouth twitched and he leaned forwards out of his chair to shift the pan. "Easy, you'll scorch the oil."

"Well, after pretty much accusing you of going nuts earlier, I was trying to be diplomatic," Greg replied as he let the heat down a little on the pan. "We've kind of got to find a way of working together. The odds are we'll end up having sex at some point as well."

It made Will laugh and look at him with a lifted eyebrow. "We will? That's uh, not how I like to get on with things."

Greg looked up, oddly embarrassed. "Sorry, I keep forgetting you don't know the protocols for a new partnership." He tossed the steaming vegetables into the pan, hearing them sizzle. "I'm qualified up to a level 7, top level. You would be, too. That's a full on re-enactment of a scene. Much more common is re-enactment of criminal sexual elements. Part of the set up of baselines is to establish a level of trust prior to that."

He grabbed the eggs, cracking them expertly into a bowl.

"I don't, I..." Will looked down at the countertop. "I won't do that. Commit the acts of the people I'm looking for. I've spent too many years being careful to not fall into their patterns to give in now because you're telling me it's the new vogue within the designation. I'll, I'm willing to admit that I need someone to watch me. Jack did that. Jack thought that one day I'd wind down and be a normal guy and he couldn't do it for me anymore, and I don't function well on my own. I fall into patterns I shouldn't. I..." He huffed a laugh, still not looking up at Greg. "He went on vacation, with his wife. She's dying, by the way, so him taking time away from work was the best thing the man's done for his marriage in years. And I had two weeks alone in my own head, and I did some things I shouldn't have done. I know I need to be watched."

"Then I'll help you out," Greg reassured him with as much confidence as he could muster. "As much as you'll let me."

He wasn't sure if he was relieved or regretful they wouldn't be doing that. But things changed. He poured his lightly beaten egg mix in the pan and tossed in some of the ham shredded up, as well. "Won't be long."

"I like mine a little over-done," Will admitted, looking up again. "I prefer to know what's in my food."

Paranoia. Greg mentally ticked another warning sign box. "Can't vouch for the ingredients, but it's quick and fast, and tastes okay." He grated a little cheese on the top of the omelet and turned it down to cook through.

"So. You going to let me help you?" he asked, meeting his eyes "Or am I really going to be the free bit of the special offer that no one knows what to do with?"

"I need help." He said it slowly, watching Greg still. Always watching. "You're going to get used to me trying to get the groceries myself. Back, back before, I worked with Lecter for a while. Seeing as I suspect he probably fed me pieces of five or six of his victims just for the kick of doing that to a Fed, I prefer seeing what I'm eating before it's cooked."

Lecter was the Big Name. They all knew about Lecter, they all knew about Will Graham and what they all knew didn't add up to shit, because all this time Will Graham had been doing it a different way. "I get that," he agreed, getting out a couple of plates. "We'll do it together, bit by bit. You give me a reason for something and I'll work with it."

He served up the omelet, having some for himself but most going to Will, as he'd at least eaten that day and he was sure Will hadn't.

Will shifted, pulled out a chair for himself and one for Greg to sit in, across from him at the small dinette. "What do you know about me?"

"Not enough. We know the cases, we get taught the cases and the facts, so I know about the facts of you facing off with Lecter and Dollarhyde, but not a lot else," Greg replied as he sat and found some cutlery and handed it all over. "Care to fill me in?"

"No one talks about the hundred other cases I've solved, because they're the normal ones. People killing women in non-exciting ways, hookers and runaways, spree murders. It started with a case before that. I tracked a man for over half a year. He was slashing college girls, eight dead in all. I started to think like him, started to get into his mindset as I built the profile. I eventually stalked him down to his house -- with Jack calling me a damn fool all the way -- and I caught him in the middle of his trying to kill his own daughter, and having just slashed his wife's throat. I killed him. That I could... think like that, disturbed me. I shut down. By the time therapy got me through it, I... I needed a crutch to do that kind of work. I didn't just face off with Lecter, I worked with him. Closely. I got into his head without knowing it, and over the years, I'm more and more... pulled in. Sometimes I think I hallucinate he's there when he's not. I thought I saw him in the crowd at the sale today."

Greg shivered a little. "It's hard to think someone else's thoughts. You are the leading name and you should've had all the support that everyone else gets. Your mind needs to rest from all of this. PVs get 'the fear'. That's what we call it. Sometimes it cracks us, that moment of fear just before being murdered kicking in and never stopping. The Controller is meant to reset that. For you, it's meant to give you relief from those thoughts. Turn them off, give you your own mind back. Right now I guess you're switching things down bit by bit."

Will picked up a fork, waved the tines slightly before he started to eat the omelet. "When I didn't want to work, Jack would show my photos of the victims. Not dead, but alive. He'd show me their god-damned family photos because he knew that I always imagine the next one and the next one and the next one, because I don't want that happening. To inspire me to do my damn job. If I can get a sense of the victims as living people, it's... easier to give in to the rest. But I've never used a person. I use their effects. I talk to family if I can."

"So, imagine you could talk to the victim," Greg suggested, talking so Will had no choice but to eat. "Because that's the sort of pressure you don't need. You need... to relax. "

"The reason I learn the victims is so I can see what sparked the killer. What bloom he saw, so I can feel it and feel them. It..." Will shook his head a little. "I can see how the technique would work."

"There's always cross over, but..." Greg shrugged. "Maybe I'll demonstrate at some point. So, yeah. I guess when we're done here, we go up to this Jim Brass's penthouse?"

"Catherine Willows said she'd come back down here for me, so I'm waiting for her signal at this point." Will was eating, scraping doggedly through the food. "I just need you to keep me controlled, and I think we'll work well. I'm open to your style." And he'd said nothing about the controls or the signals or anything.

"Touching is part of it," Greg said as he finished his off his meal. It wasn't that bad, but Will didn't seem to be enjoying it much. "We're meant to touch. Apparently it can ground people. But you found it weird."

"No one touches me." Will tilted his head slightly, and ate another forkful of the omelet. "It just doesn't happen. Everyone knew me back home."

"You gonna punch me if I do it again?" Greg asked, pretty sure it would help, no matter what. He needed human contact.

"No. It just caught me off guard at the time." Will slipped the last piece into his mouth, and scraped up a few remnants off the plate into his mouth. "Pretty good. Thanks."

Greg couldn't help himself, he smiled. "Thanks. Okay, well I'll carry on doing what I'm meant to do. You have forensics training too?" He decided a little casual conversation might help as well.

The mention about the passwords and the controls had made Will go tight, made his posture stiffen, and Greg didn't want to bring it up just then, not when Will was relaxing and eyeing his plate like he might eat more if it happened to magically appear. "I do. That's what else I look for. You have... was it DNA?"

"DNA and trace. I was doing that before I tested off the scale for an Empathy designation," Greg replied. "Still hungry? There might be something here we can make into a dessert."

"Yeah. I have a sweet tooth. My wife used to chew me out over it." Will stood up, stretched, and headed into the kitchenette space to open the fridge and freezer doors.

"Maybe there's ice-cream," Greg said, allowing himself a little smile. He should've known once he got him to eat he'd want more. Score one for him. "You were married?"

"Once. It was dissolved when she bought herself free, of course. It's not like I was going anywhere. We have a son, Josh. He, uh." Will leaned into the freezer, and then leaned back with something in his hands. Looked like a brand new thing of ice-cream. It was probably one of the basic three flavors, but Greg was game and Will was eating on his own, showing a little initiative. He was still running hot, but Greg could talk him back down a little, it seemed. "He's a good kid. Grown up now, actually."

And if he wasn't good at what he did, he might've missed the red hot undercurrent of pain pushed way down. "Yeah? You see them much?" he asked finding some bowls and spoons. "What've we got?"

"Rocky road, actually." Will set it down on the countertop, and popped open the plastic. "I don't see them much. She remarried. Josh got a new father who's also bought free. I suspect they have a white picket fence and possibly a dog at this point."

Greg found himself touching Will automatically at that hint of bitterness. "Nice for them, not so nice for you," he commented. "Gimme, I'll eat anything like that."

"There has to be at least a really big spoon in here," Will commented, turning around and looking through drawers in quick motions. "Molly was a good woman. She was sweet. I really did wish her the best. We were married before my designation was shifted. It put her in a bad situation. Stay with me, and never move or change, or..."

"You let her go for the sake of your son and to protect her from what the changed designation made you and brought after you," Greg said automatically and then cursed himself for just blurting out his intuitive conclusion. That wasn't relaxed dinner conversation.

"You're quick." Will straightened up with a spoon in hand, and edged Greg out of the way a little so he could scoop it up himself.

He shrugged a little. "Sometimes too quick for my brain to catch up with my mouth," Greg admitted. Honesty was paramount as well.

"The reason Jack... never tried any of the fancy things they do with you is because he wasn't sure they ever did any of it right. I'm a living breathing guinea pig." He dropped a heavy scoop of rocky road into a bowl for Greg, and scooped it for himself, too. "You said you've always worked with someone before. What happened to your Partner?"

Greg took a mouthful of the ice-cream. Honesty. "She... she was called Aiden. She was good on solo, but together we were really good. There was a case, one of those cases that had been around for years, big political deal, and public terror. They authorized a Category five live scene because they were running on evidence fumes."

He paused a little, trying to get the memories in control. "They were... not good scenes. But we did the prep, and we went in both of immersed in the role. Our Controller was on watch to stop things." He shrugged a little. "It revealed what they needed, but the Controller stepped out. Family crisis or something. It went too far. I woke up in hospital, and Aiden... she killed herself."

"Remorse in the Becoming. That's why I don't want to play those games. I'll talk to you, I'll interact with you on some of those levels if I can work it out, but I will *not* do that." Will leaned his elbows on the counter, and fidgeted with his spoon a little. "When Jack and his wife came home, I cooked them a four course meal. I was... out of my head. Two weeks unsupervised. It was all house pets from the building. I turned a Corgi into a roast."

Jesus. Greg patted him again. Will had no idea how close he was to the edge, and he couldn't think of a way to tell him that wouldn't send him running. "You don't have to worry about being alone again. In tough cases, I slept in with Aiden, so you just say if that would help at any point." He wasn't going to judge Will. He'd been running 'hot' for years. There were bound to be glitches in the system somewhere.

There was a quiet click as Will tasted the ice cream, teeth against the spoon. "Right. Just... let me get through this case, like I am now, and then I'll let you do whatever you need to do with controls and anything else. They clearly just bought us for this reason, if Vegas has gone this long without Empaths."

Greg nodded. "I was watching Catherine. Our 'victim' is not someone who she is used to seeing as a victim at all. She's not the type to panic at the removal of authority, so her concern is based on a personal concern and respect for the man. Jim Brass is someone who doesn't control for the sake of controlling, but people can't get one over on him. She implied he has more experience, and she called the place 'home' which means he is most likely well liked and a surrogate father figure for a lot of people. She doesn't resent his free status, and she isn't the type to let people have her respect unless it is earned, which means he must be more than just competent," he observed. This was the first stage, impressions from the family, friends and environment.

"So he runs a good place. I know places where if the head went missing they might be throwing parties in the commons." Will took another slow taste of the ice-cream. "Not making special purchases to speed up the process of maybe getting him home in one piece. And the killer must keep his victims alive for a while, or there wouldn't be a hope in hell of us finding him. She either knows that he is still alive according to MO, or hopelessly deluding herself."

"She's not the type to delude herself, and she referred to him as a serial abductor than as a killer," Greg pointed out. He was going to damn well show that he might not have the experience, but he was good. "That has to be based on a previous MO. And so does their lack of evidence. There must be something that triggered a direct strike against Jim. I'll need to see the profiles of the other victims to see if it is out of pattern, which would mean he was on to something, or following pattern."

"And we can't do anything at all until she deigns to grace us with her presence," Will pointed out. Then he went still, and tilted his head a little. "Ah, keys in the door. Speak of the devil."

Greg finished his ice-cream off and sat back as Catherine came in. "Hope you're decent in here, or if there's indecency, you're willing to give me a chance to collect evidence for the downstairs notice board," she called out. "Sanders in here as well?"

Greg raised his hand and waved a little. "Guilty of eating Will's ice-cream."

"You've eaten? Nicky did one of his world famous chili beef concoctions downstairs. Usually enough to last a few days. You get hungry, help yourself," Catherine said. "So. Rooms okay? Anything missing?"

"No, I think we're fine." Will straightened, turned around with the ice cream bowl in hand. He didn't turn his back to her, and he didn't really turn his back to Greg, either. Paranoid, even when he was calm. "I'll explore the bathroom and the rest later. Greg made an omelet."

"If you can cook, the entire household will be really happy at your arrival," Catherine said. "Because most of us are bad at it, and those who can only know the same old things. Anyway, I'll take you upstairs to Jim's place. I'll bring home file copies when I get in during the morning. You'll be in with the rest of us tomorrow night so try and work your sleep patterns around. Got everything you need?"

Greg shrugged. "This is pretty much it," he replied.

"Food, and a place to sleep." Will shrugged his shoulders as he scraped down to the bottom of the bowl quickly before he set it down on the countertop. "Let's go. Is there a chore Rota we get added to, or is it ad lib around here?"

"We had a Rota once..." Catherine replied as she turned to leave. "We keep it up on the fridge on the principle that it's an object lesson of optimism in the face of reality. No one knows when we're going to hit a double so it makes a Rota a waste of time. Anyway, let's go. I appreciate you guys doing this tonight. Seriously."

"I've managed to talk Greg into hitting the ground running. We can work on my baselines later. Just, if you ever think you have to shoot me, do it. Jack was pretty fond of the threat." And Greg wasn't fond of it at all, but the way Will said it, like some part of him actually wanted it done that way, was disturbing.

"Or... you, know you could just use the Sleep function on the wetwire remote control. We're both wet-wired," Greg pointed out. "Slightly less mess, less terminal and the same outcome."

Catherine half smiled. "I'm liking the sound of this remote for the brain. Follow me." She started walking. "We've had this serial as a reappearing perp for a while. He or she has an MO of abducting victims, holding them, and then torturing them before killing them. The period of time between one to the other has ranged between one to two weeks. Jim was taken day before yesterday. Time is not on our side. Whoever it is, they are exceptionally careful regarding evidence, and must know something about the process."

Will tagged after her, still a little behind her. "Was he abducted from this building?" If he had been, the guy knew more than just a little about the way things worked. Greg almost wanted to guess inside job, or semi inside job.

"We're not sure. Jim was on his way home last we knew. His car was out front. There's no sign of forced entry but no sign he made it into the house. He... just wasn't here when we got home," Catherine said. "We don't know if he was taken from the car or from here and believe me, we've turned the place over looking. Because he lives here, it's difficult to tell if trace was old or new."

Greg was taking it all in as they went up the stairs. It was easiest to take a victim sometimes on home ground. They had patterns, rituals that they weren't even aware of. Come in, get a drink. Look at a newspaper and flick through mail. Attention somewhere else, and that would be all there was. But a clean abduction would have to involve something like drugs.

Injection or on a cloth. Either one was likely, but a combination would get a more quickly subdued victim. And that was important for someone who abducted first to take care of the deed at their own leisure.

"Right. What was our boy's pattern for his previous victims? Male, female, older, younger? How's he do them?"

"Male, younger," Catherine replied. "Physical type pretty similar. C.O.D appears to be as a prolonged exposure to torture with definite sexual elements. Some by asphyxiation, some from blood loss or internal damage. It's... intense."

Oh great. Psychosexual motives. Greg grimaced a little.

"Jim's not in that category?" he asked and was willing to bet he wasn't. This felt like an interception, rather than a choice.

"Jim was probably someone he saw investigating his handiwork, and he decided he could delay consequences if he seized him, too," Will murmured. "It sounds adaptive. Do you have photos of our boy's work?"

"No, Jim's not, but you probably are Greg," Catherine replied. "And yes, I do, but not here. One of the things I'll bring back."

"So we need to learn the normal pattern, and then map the differences a different victim profile would make to it," Greg said, as Catherine opened the penthouse door.

"Something along those lines yes. Here we go, Jim's place. We've been over it with a fine tooth comb. It might not even be the abduction source." Catherine cautioned them. "But you'll get to know about Jim here."

"Good." Will lifted his chin slightly, scanning the place before he stepped in; hands slightly to his sides now, body a little tense. The Penthouse looked pretty Spartan, and a little messy. Cluttered here and there, like the occupant couldn't be bothered to really clean up when he did have the time. Will headed for a table, fingers hovering near a photograph. "Huh."

"His daughter Ellie. They don't really talk," Catherine said. "Came as a surprise that he had one when it came up a while back. Don't think it was on his side though."

Greg wandered, opening up his attention wide, taking in all the details he could. The type of books. The ones untouched, the ones read through... The papers out, the keepsakes that were kept, the photo's... more of his CSIs than his family for a start.

Will hovered over the photographs, too. He looked at the ones that Greg assumed were Jim, an older man always and only in group shots. The rest of them were younger in the pictures, and Catherine *had* said that Jim was off the target type. "Was he from New Jersey originally?"

"Yes, he was," Catherine confirmed. "How'd you pick that up?"

Greg had to admit, he was good, but he'd come to the same conclusion from a glimpse of New Jersey team memorabilia in one of the younger looking photos.

"I recognized the face. There was a... a case with a man killing hookers in New York, and dumping them in Jersey and visa versa. I think he was beat, or maybe vice at the time." Will cocked his head a little, and turned to look at Catherine. "Did he keep his case notes here or at the office?"

"There might be some here, but most are at the office. Jim's never been the tidiest person, but he does like notepads," Catherine replied. "Look, I've got to head in so you guys take a look around and lock the door when you're done. You're to stay inside until we get your ID sorted out, otherwise anyone could challenge you. Your housemates know you exist though."

"Does that mean we should expect visitors?" Will asked casually.

"Maybe Nicky -- he's not meant to be on duty, but if I know him he'll be researching back here," Catherine said. "We're all maxing out what time we can. If he... no one wants to lose Jim."

Greg could see that. He could see the commendations that should've been in places of pride on the wall, leant up at the end of a book shelf. Active cop, good cop, but didn't like commendations. Now a CSI -- sideways shuffle? Invalided out, or pushed, or jumped.

One of them.

Will nodded. "All right. Thank you. We promise to not get into trouble." It was vaguely dismissive, as if Will wanted to work there without the supervision.

It seemed to amuse Catherine if nothing else and Greg just smiled a little when she glanced over at him as he perfected his art of fading out of direct attention. It was easier that way. He watched as she left and then started looking around with that heightened state of awareness that he had trained to achieve.

Of course as their instructors had said, it didn't mean anything if they couldn't intuit the meaning behind the information.

Will seemed to have tamped it down and was doing his own thing, maybe building Jim up in his head as a target, or inspiring himself to care about the case, or whatever he was doing in his mind, while Greg tried to build a profile of the man in his head, so he could have that to compare against their killer's usual target.

He had a feeling he was going to end up playing a target whether Will wanted to work that way or not. Because the easiest way to buy time was to give a better catch. You didn't gut the fish in the net when you had a better catch on the line as Poppa Olaf would've said. He worked in silence for a while, working his way under Jim Brass's skin. Flicking through notes, studying doodles as much as text. He didn't want to interrupt Will either, not until he seemed done.

And when Will started to wander out of Greg's sight, Greg let him.

It seemed like Greg's first guess about the guy had been right. Well liked, socialized with his lessers, and was probably a workaholic. There were no dead giveaways, but a lot of implied things.

Well, implication was his business. He studied a picture of the man looking for changes over time. He studied a picture of his daughter and saw no resemblance at all. Huh, that was a little twist right there. Single as well, no romantic relationship and no sign of any in the recent past or plans for the future. The calendar was interesting, the dates random clues to what was most important. His overtime notes were impressive. Married to the job by the looks of it. Jim Brass was taking shape in his mind.

He headed into a different room to the one Will had entered. Poked around the bathroom, took note of the sort of things he used and what that said. Looked in the medicine cabinets and smiled a little at the condoms there and lube. Then he went in search of Will.

Will was in the man's bedroom, just standing there. He wasn't touching anything with his hands, but everything with his eyes, from what Greg could tell. The place had been left as it was after CSI had finished with the place, half turned upside down with care. "What have you got?"

"A good start," Greg replied, recognizing someone with their sense wide open. "He was military once, he's a workaholic and possibly has addictive behaviors to mask past pain. He's a solid as granite in loyalty and affection even when betrayed. He'll fight, but he'll fight smart rather than blindly."

"So he's still alive," Will murmured, looking at the vacant bed. "That's all I needed. There's no evidence here. The crime wasn't committed here. Our guy waited until he was out of the car to get him, but before he got into the house. This isn't a scene."

"Yeah, I'm with you on that. Some people are more complacent on home turf, but Jim wouldn't be. He'd know exactly what was to hand. He's a fighter... a dirty fighter if he has to be, so even if there was a drug, he'd struggle and fight," Greg said. "Last time he was in here was when he got up. I don't think the killer is going to know how to deal with him. The confusion might buy time."

"You'd be surprised how quickly killers decide how to deal with people." Will tilted his head slightly, and then pivoted to leave the bedroom. "I'm done here. I need to see the victim photos and work on the profile. Our boy's a psychosexual, right? But that doesn't tell me anything. You know how many shades of that exist in the world."

"I need their photos and the interviews made with friends and family," Greg replied. "Hopefully Catherine will bring that tomorrow." He followed Will again, his hand automatically going to his arm, just as it would've with Aiden. Grounding wire she used to call it. Keeping her head clear when it wanted to tie up in knots.

Not there when she most needed it.

"No kidding. Although torture gives heavy hints in certain directions," Greg answered.

"Still not enough. Is he cutting them up? Is it ritual mutilation or ritual decoration that simply leads to death? There's a huge difference between sexual bloodletting and turning a man's ass into a cunt, but I'd call either one 'torture'." Will rolled the words off easily, casually enough to make Greg grimace, and he didn't shake Greg's arm off. It was a start, even if he was tense.

It made him wonder what Will's real personality was underneath the old layers of torn murderer's masks. Maybe he could do something about the tension. Massage or... okay, not that. "True. Motivation is key in victim selection. Okay, so you want to head back downstairs?"

"If we're trying to reset ourselves for nightshift, we might as well stay awake. That means we should either give a passing chance at meeting some of our new co-workers, or I can stare at a wall for the next few hours until she gets back with something to do."

"Well, let's take a wander downstairs to the communal areas," Greg said. "She said someone was around."

"Right." They walked for a little while, quietly. Will seemed to like his silence, and Greg could cope with that. The stairs were quiet, too, except for Will's footfalls on the edge of the stairs. Will pulled away a little, going his own pace, one hand on the handrail, back straight. Same pace for every step, like the stairs were hypnotic.

He watched him closely, just in case he had tranced out on him. He had to make connections here. He'd need some sort of support the first time he was out in the field doing his thing, because this partnership was only going one way, and he needed someone. He would need someone.

He had needed Aiden sometimes even if she was the one who'd done some of the things that made him need that comfort. *Her* personality was different to her being them.

She had an off. She had a way of interacting with people that wasn't the case, and Will didn't seem to have that. He breezed right past the door that was labeled '1st floor'.

Greg was worried that yeah, maybe resetting Wills baselines was going to be difficult. There were times where Aiden had resisted it, the other personality not wanting to "die". God only knew what Will would be like.

"You know, we could try out some of that food she was talking about," Greg said as they headed down. Will had eaten an omelet, but Greg was hungry, and he had a feeling that Will possibly hadn't eaten since he was transported to be sold.

"Maybe, yeah, uh..."

"Through here I think," Greg said keeping that contact as they walked. "We could watch TV if no one is around, chill a bit... you know..."

Relax, get to know each other, Greg wanted to say, and oh, god, *he* was going to fall apart if things didn't start to run the other way eventually because he was already there, forming up their most important victim in his head, getting into place to step into the role.

"This getting to a comfortable point with me is important to you?"

"Yeah," Greg replied. "I... look, part of my job is to be a victim okay? That does things to me just as much as it would to you. If you're on the other side I need to be able to trust you."

Will stopped, stopped just outside of the door, looking at Greg. It was hard to read Will's face. It was a blank look, but even a blank look could hold a wide range of emotions. Will looked... almost unsure. "Look, I don't want you hurt."

That surprised him. "It's part of the job," Greg said slowly. "It's okay... how's that different to what happens to you?" Mind violation was the worst of traumas, they knew that.

The edge of Will's mouth twitched. "If I say 'because I'm older than you', you're not going to buy it, are you?"

"No." Greg replied immediately. "Will, I'm a professional victim. It's what I do, and what I do catches killers, criminals, before they can hurt people."

"You said it yourself. You asked why wasn't I crazy, and you *still* want to trust me?" Will pulled the door open, slowly.

"You're the strongest person I've met, I can judge that," Greg replied. "If you do something, it won't be your fault."

"Yeah, that's what they all say. Except, it is." He started off into the hallway, slightly ahead of Greg, and nearly barreled into a guy his same height, but a lot younger. He was in a t-shirt and jeans, and pretty built, Greg decided.

"Whoa, hey there -- hi, and you two little lost lambs are?"

"Hungry, apparently. Nick?"

"That's me, but I still don't know who you guys are." He looked one step away from going for a gun.

"New housemates -- Greg Sanders, and this is Will Graham. Bought in today," Greg said.

"Empaths." Will didn't specify who was who, which was funny. "Catherine told us that you were in the house, and that you cooked. We've just come down from the top floor."

"Up in Jim's place," Nick nodded. "Starting hot out the gate. She was lucky to find a pair at the auctions after all. If you want some of the chili, there's a whole mess of it there in the kitchen."

"Thanks. Greg reminded me that food doesn't just exist to turn your stomach." Will flashed a smile, and it was like he was turning on a whole different personality. No weakness, all alertness -- definitely a cover. Maybe he thought Nick was a threat, or prey?

"Yeah. Uh, here, I'll show ya'll where the kitchen is. Where'd you come from?"

"Me? New York..." Greg replied easily enough. A little longer and he'd have Nick mentally categorized in his head. "We weren't a pair before we were sold on." Interesting. He could see the attraction to Nick. He was good looking and with a sensitivity that anyone would respond to.

"Quantico." Will answered that, and Nick twisted, looking at him for a moment before he tilted an eyebrow at Greg.

"Huh. You guys think you can, you can find Brass?" Nick led the way, walking casually, taking them towards what looked like a pretty average, big kitchen.

"We'll give it our best," Greg said. "Don't know yet what we've got to go on. From what I gather, not a lot."

Yeah, and it was killing Nick not being able to help Jim. Why? Because positions were reversed and Jim had managed it. That was guilt there. Why was he feeling guilty? But there was guilt there on the man's face. An expectation that maybe he could have done something if he'd been there, and maybe he hadn't been in the House when he'd thought he should have been. Guilt usually had very little to do with reality, particularly from bystanders.

"What were the other cases like?" Will asked.

"Bad. I've been in Vegas for a long time now and we've had some crazy stuff go down," Nick said. "But this was bad. Really bad. We had it described as S&M gone bad. Evidence of object violation, repeated rape, cutting, whipping, use of unidentified tools and objects, electricity and ... yeah."

It made him look faintly sick and Greg nodded. It still seemed on the more sexual side of things, which for him was comparatively normal, and part of the job to have an insider knowledge into those motivations.

"What's in the chili? It smells great."

"Rice and red beans," Nick replied. "Might be...uh...kind of dead by now. Here, have a seat, I'll serve you up some of the good stuff."

Greg wasn't sure if Will would eat it or not, but he would. "Yeah, I'd like that, thanks."

Nick nodded and served up glancing over at Will. "Yeah, cause of death was asphyxiation, blood loss, internal injuries, that sort of thing indicating it wasn't a specific end point just an inevitable result of escalating torture. You want some of this?"

"A little, thanks." He pulled up a chair at the bar, watching Greg more than he was watching Nick. "Kind of dead is all right with me. How long has our guy been at it?"

"He's a fast mover. 8 months, but escalating in the last two," Nick supplied. "I really hope you can give us a lead. Never seen someone sweep a place so clean. We've got to get to Jim."

"This is more Greg's territory than mine," Will murmured, tilting his head slightly. "Go on, Greg. This is what you've been looking for?"

"What who what?" Nick set two bowls down in front of them, and gave his attention to Greg.

"I need to know about Jim," Greg asked. "That's part of what I do. You ever heard of PVs?" Before he would've assumed yes, but now he couldn't assume that much.

"Professional Victims? Yeah. Cath said she was going out to see if she could find Empaths at the sale, and you guys are it. There's a pair up in Reno that we've had to borrow from time to time."

That made it easier. "I'm the PV, and Will's a Criminal Empath. I need to know about Jim. I'll be doing the same with the others, but right now you know about Jim and that's what I need. Tell me about him?"

He took a bit of the chili and... okay, it wasn't bad. Not great, but definitely edible. "Tell you about him?" Nick pulled up his own chair, across from them, and folded his arms over his chest. "Uh, sure. Jim Brass is probably the best guy I've ever worked under. He's a hardass sometimes, but in all the good ways. He knows how to motivate you in a case without kicking you in the balls."

"Do you like him as a person?" Greg asked. "How would you describe your relationship with him? What do you feel about it?"

"I miss him like crazy. He was a good supervisor and a good friend. I used to work as a beat cop, and he had, too, so he appreciated a CSI with a gut instinct." Nick was squinting at Greg as he spoke, like he was trying to work out how it was useful.

"He's saved your life before," Greg asserted, suddenly sure. "Directly saved you hasn't he? You feel you should've been able to do the same and it's driving you crazy that you can't."

Nick's eyebrows went up. "That's... That's the story. I was.... I was buried alive. This complicated setup that should have killed me, killed us all, and you know what? I'm here. I'm alive. And we can't do this for him. We have to buy in outside help."

Greg nodded. "We're not going to be outside. We're part of your team," he said. "I don't know if we can, but I know Will is the best there is. You'll have studied his work and you'll know he's caught some of the worst there have been. Ever." Buried alive. He wondered if Will had picked up on the vibe. "You're close as a team right?"

If that was what had brought on the personality shift, the openness, the *smile*. "Yeah. We're like a family. Most of us have been here for years, and we do good work together. We don't see much influx."

"Then you get two at once," Greg said. "So what else can you tell me about Jim? Anything, no matter how trivial it might seem."

"I don't know. He's just... Jim. He's kind of rough around the edges, drinks a little much sometimes. He's a good guy. He's the kind of guy you trust your life with. He doesn't date, doesn't fool around with anyone in the house, even if half the place would be willing to if he were inclined."

"Hey, nothing wrong with that," Will murmured. He'd wolfed through the better part of his bowl, and started to stand up. "You know what? Greg, I'll be up in my room, getting acquainted with the shower. Don't leave early on my account."

That worried him a little. He could be wrong but he had a sneaking suspicion Nick turned Will on, for all the wrong reasons. "Sure... I'll, uh, drop by on my way back up," he promised.

It as much easier to get a feel for someone in front of you and he *had* Nick now. He knew if he wanted to, he could be Nick's perfect... anything. Friend, lover, confidante. He was very easy to read and that had to stand out like a beacon to any predator. He was willing to bet Nick had been targeted more than any of his colleagues. He'd have to give him lessons in blocking that.

Greg promised himself, he wouldn't be long, but he needed this.

Nick watched, waited until Will was gone back into the stairwell before he opened his mouth. "That's... *the* Will Graham. Holy shit, and Catherine went to that sale looking for a maybe a couple of Bargain Bin Empaths like Kepler and wassisface up in Reno, but damn. And you're from New York, not Podunk somewhere. That's..." Nick shook his head a little, and he looked torn between misery and delight. "I think maybe we've got a chance in hell now. This guy has been driving us up a wall, and he's been escalating. If you can *find* Jim for us..."

"He's good. I'm pretty sure he's the best out there. But…" Greg looked at Nick. "He's been working without a safety net. He's running hot at the moment so if he's a bit... sharp or out there, that's why. I'm in because I lost my partner -- Will and I aren't a matched pair, but I think we can work together."

Maybe he was the bargain bin Empath. He'd be lying if he said being offered as a freebie didn't smart a little, but bundled as a package with Will Graham went a long way to soothing that.

"So, anything you've got, that you can tell us will help get us there quicker."

"I'm still not... sure what you need to know," Nick offered. But he didn't seem skeptical of what Greg was suggesting he could do. "I can't really think of much to say about Jim. Mostly it's stories, moments. He's always in action."

"Stories are good," Greg encouraged. "Tell me any stories that leap to mind, I'm looking for the personality rather than facts. Facts I'll get tomorrow. This is the important stuff."

The look Nick gave him was probably amusing if he wasn't on the receiving end of that look. "Stories. Alright, stories I can do." And maybe it wasn't the usual way to get into a trust situation with a coworker, but it seemed to be working. The more Nick talked, the more he relaxed, and the more he learned about Jim. He was definitely the father surrogate for the group.

He was everything an Owner should be. Tough but fair, out there with his team doing the job, working alongside them. More importantly, Greg picked up the subtle messages. The possible over indulgence in drink and tendency to avoid relationships, the dry sense of humor, fondness for hockey and noir humor and a presence as solid as a mountain. These were the things he had to know, not facts and figures. He was getting a feel for him slowly but surely.

The only problem was that Greg wasn't sure that knowing Jim would help find him in this case. Jim was off pattern. He was a known aberration, even if he was still missing. But the aberration had probably happened because Jim had hunch about the case.

"So, are you guys going to try to hit nightshift hours?"

"Working on it," Greg replied. "Might flake in the mean time but yeah, once the paper work is done tomorrow, we're in. I think Catherine is going to send some material back for us to look at."

If Jim had a hunch, then he could find it once he got the pattern. Even if he didn't, he'd be trying to take on the other victims as well.

"After that, there might be some progress I guess." He smiled at Nick, liking the feel of his personality and someone so solidly good all the way through. "You've worked with an Empath team before?"

"Yeah. Keppler, and Millander. They're..." Nick rolled his shoulders. "Good at it, I guess, but I can't take being in a room with them for long. It's nothing about the *work* they do. It's just... them. Personally. Keppler's crooked, and is just as likely to plant evidence at a scene as he is to investigate it, you know? And if Paul is supposed to keep him in check, he does a crappy job."

Greg grimaced a little. "Sounds like they could use a little refresher." It sounded like someone's core personality had corrupted and with Empath pairs that tended to bleed across like a disease. He looked at Nick. "It's possible I could get a bit freaky when I'm running hot. I *know* I get freaky after I'm in a live scene or playing bait, so I'm just warning you okay?"

"Sure. Not a problem. Is there anything I or some of the other CSIs here could do to help you out? Because we want you guys to... work out here. Whether you can find Jim or not." Except, Greg knew that Nick didn't mean it. He might *mean* that in an open and hopeful way, because his voice was leaning towards a heavy dose of 'please find him'.

"This has been great help. The chili wasn't too bad either," he teased a little. "I better go see how Will is getting on. He's going to have a harder time, I think."

And there was the chance he got into the shower and forgot to get out at the moment.

"Yeah. Uh, if you guys want some company, I'm down here in the commons. PBS and the discovery channel pretty much rules the TV around here, but if you want something trashier, you can probably steal the remote."

"I'll see if I can lure him out," Greg said, getting up. "Catch you later Nick, okay?" He gave a wave as he headed out and back up the stairs towards Will's apartment. He knocked on the door again, pushing at it to see if it was open.

Open. Right, that was either trusting of him, or a mistake, and Greg wasn't sure he wanted to step in close to the door. He let the door swing open, made sure that there wasn't a bucket of nails balancing on the top of the door.

"Will? It's Greg? I'm coming in okay?" He announced to the room, giving him plenty of warning before he finally did enter the room, and bucket of nails. "Will?"

No Will, either. There was the sound of running water, which meant that Will was either finishing with his shower or he was in there and out of it. Okay, so he should go in after him. Little early in proceedings for him to be doing a hunt and rescue, but here he was.

He made noise, and he entered the bathroom with a "Will? It's Greg. You in here? Everything okay?"

No scaring the guy, no startling him. Always warn ahead of time that he was there, that he was a presence. Will was coming off his hinges, and maybe he'd been doing it for years. Greg sort of expected him to be in the shower, masturbating, maybe. Aiden had done that a lot, and so that was what he was expecting. But not really for Will to be just standing there, with the water focused at a spot on his back. Not moving, breathing, okay, breathing was a good thing.

"Will." he tried again, and then louder. "Will!" even as he reached out, into the shower to touch him. The water was running cold. He'd been in here a long time.

Completely out of it, and Catherine *and* Will expected Greg to *work* with that? To *not* reset him until they'd solved the case?

They were crazy.

Will jerked, and caught his forearm in one hand, grip hard. His eyes weren't focused, not from the start, but Greg had the sense of mind to not panic, and the grip didn't turn much worse than aching.

He'd had worse, he'd definitely had worse and this was a good sign that he could still distinguish harmless from threat. "Okay, I think you're clean enough Will," Greg said calmly. "You want to come out of there?"

"Cuts get infected if you don't wash them." He straightened up, twisted towards Greg a little more, and did move, slowly, to get out of the shower. The water was a little pink, and Greg was trying to not stare at Will's body because there was a good chance it could 'turn on' whatever protocols were already running hot in his head.

Even so he needed to know the trigger for this. Greg tossed over a towel. "Cuts? What cuts?" he asked, just in case there were some physical ones he had overlooked.

Will turned his arm over, showing Greg the inside of his forearm, and the ripped bloody patch there. It was a pretty small mark, but it hadn't been done cleanly. "Took the tracker out. I messed a little with the one on the back of my neck, and then I stopped."

Greg gaped. "Jesus... What were you trying to do, give yourself a lobotomy?" he said. "Okay, look, let me dry you off a little and then sort that out for you, okay? You do that with your teeth?" he asked as he started drying Will off. The man was closer to critical mass than anyone could be. He could literally break at any moment.

And Greg was the one who was expected to stop it from happening.

"Yes." Will was pliable, let himself be dried off. He just stood there while Greg did it, and Greg wasn't sure if that was good or bad. "I've been thinking about it for days. It itches."

Yeah, he knew that feeling. "We'll have to get you another one, but for now... here's, uh, a robe, let's put this on... and then, I'll find the first aid kit and work this for you. I want you to tell me what you were thinking about. Can you do that for me?"

"I was thinking that I don't want to be followed. Found. I'm tired." Will moved a little, shrugged when he started to pull the robe on in a stuttered motion. "I can't do this... half-case, waiting."

"Well, this is where you would, or should be reset," Greg replied looking in the medicine cabinet and pulling out supplies. "You need to relax, to let go of tension. I have to admit... I thought you might be up here doing something else."

Will hovered behind Greg, didn't move to get himself more comfortable. "I don't like to masturbate when I'm thinking about murder."

But the urge was there, he'd been right about that. "Thinking about murder?" he asked as he turned and got out the swab, the antiseptic and steristrips.

"Which isn't a surprise to you." Will watched him, but his eyes weren't tracking right. He was half-tranced. "I don't... kill. I plot. I plan. I prefer to dwell on torture. Our boy is one of those. His dream might seem grandiose to him, but it's a base desire."

"Yeah, I'm with you on that. " Greg dealt with it quickly and efficiently. "You are coming with me out into the living room and you are going to tell me exactly what you are thinking about, and I am going to give you a neck massage. And you don't have to censor what you are thinking, okay?"

Sometimes the wanting to say needed a release, and talking could help.


So did taking control of the situation. He had to do that with Aiden, and it seemed to be what Will needed to do. To give up control and let someone else take charge of decisions. When Greg moved into the living room, Will followed, tagging along just like he'd done with Catherine.

The neck massage might just stop the chip from pinching -- it did that if muscles got tight and the less attention Will was paying that, the better. He got Will to sit so he could slide behind him and carefully started. "Talk to me Will. Tell me."

His muscles were like stone, inflexible and painful no doubt. It left Greg half-way wanting to ask when was the last time that Will had had any attention like that, but it probably wouldn't be an answer he wanted to hear. "Not sure where to start. I want to make something bleed just to feel the blood on my hands."

"That's a starting point." Maybe to someone else that would be unusual, horrifying, but to him it was pretty normal and he knew the questions that would help, a way of plumbing the subconscious for ideas. "Anyone in particular?"

"Nick. I had to get out of there. Someone's hurt him before and it's right there, right on the surface, and I know how to make old wounds ache, and I wanted to see him ache. It's all in his eyes for everyone to see..."

Yeah, he hadn't been wrong about that either. "Yes, I know, I could see that," Greg agreed, kneading hard at his shoulder. "You want that, you come to me Will, I know how to give you what you need."

He'd have to watch him around Nick, but it was true, he could *be* what Will most needed in Nick if it came to that. It amazed him -- no one questioned the chips and tracing on the Criminal Empaths, but no one asked why the PVs were also Permanent Specialists. It was because he could be anyone. He could read someone and be their perfect anything. He could get close to anyone, manipulate them to do anything.

People feared specialists like Will, but if they really thought about it, they would be fucking terrified of a PV gone bad.

Greg was sort of glad that they weren't scared of him. It gave him greater access to places where Will wouldn't be trusted just because of his particular Empath designation. "Mmm." Will tilted his head forwards, let Greg get more access. It showed the raw spot Will had scratched just beneath his hairline, against the nape of his neck.

"Touch is very powerful," he murmured. "Particularly for you. It is the thing most often denied a real killer, something they build fantasies around. Wanting to feel blood is not unusual. Is the craving too much?"

He'd done that for Aiden before. Cut his arms so she could touch and break the mental loop she had become stuck in obsessing over how it would feel and in her case taste.

"No. Chewed the, bit the damn tracker out and I remembered I can't stand the taste of it." Will shifted, scooted backwards a little against Greg.

He craved the touch, which was a positive sign. One against all the bad, but it was hope. "Good," Greg murmured, still working on the muscles. "It's pretty nasty stuff. Ran a vampire wannabe killer once...." He winced a little at the memory of Aiden making him drink his own blood, but fortunately he was protected by the distance set up by the resetting. Messy, but in the long run, not too much physical damage.

All he had was a couple of scars and a fuzzy memory that didn't feel real. Like an old report that someone else had written up for him. If he didn't *have* that kind of distance from it all... then what?

"Uhn, I had a case with some dumb... dumbass little shits who read Anne Rice and thought it was real." Then he'd be like Will. Who needed saving from himself and was probably the biggest victim of them all.

"So, lots of sex as well? Or just endless angsting people to death?" Greg answered as he literally squeezed the tension from Will's shoulders.

"Sex and blood and a lot of angst, and I really think all of their murders were accidental. Three 'oops, they bled to death' is pretty suspicious." It seemed to be working, because Will's words were less stunted.

"Pretty damn careless," Greg answered. Will felt good, he was getting impressions from him all the time and he'd be lying if he didn't admit the attraction was kicking in. It shouldn't be, but it was and he would've half welcomed the chance to play 'Nicky' if Will had been desperate in need in the shower. So, it was a little warped, and okay, maybe it could be claimed his enjoyment of things was warped as well, but he did okay.

He managed just fine the way he was, which was ironically what Will said, too. Greg stretched his hands, cracked a couple of knuckles, and leaned back into the job of working tension out of Will's back. So, he liked touch. It was pretty obvious, when the guy was responding to it like an attention-starved cat, and that should have been the last thing he'd been deprived of.

Then again, when a guy killed your house pets and made them into a meal, it would be pretty hard to stomach the idea of getting frisky with him, even if the two things were probably circularly linked. "Mmm." Will shifted, stretched a little and worked the robe down so Greg had better access to more of his back. "You wouldn't believe the last time someone did this. You have great hands."

"Thank you. And this is what your PV, if you had one, should be doing for you," Greg replied. "It's very important you get this sort of intimate contact and relax. When was the last time you had… uh... anything?"

"I got loose in Florence. Italy. You don't want to hear about it." 'Loose' implied that he'd been somewhere that he shouldn't have been and he *knew* he shouldn't have been there in the first place. So what would be in Italy?

It wasn't his handler or Owner, because... no, that didn't work. He wasn't the sort to do that. So it had to be something else, someone else.

"I probably do want to know," he murmured. "Because I'm curious like that. Someone you knew?"

Random didn't suit the profile he was building in his head. Why would he hide that? "An old friend." There was almost a note of shame, or guilt when he said that. Greg wasn't sure if Will felt shame, but there was definitely some conflicted emotions about whatever had happened.

Greg remained silent for a moment, processing the information and letting it mull in his head a moment. People were easier to 'read' when you were touching them. Their muscle tension spoke volumes. "An encounter you wanted and did not want at the same time. Something that you are not sure you regret but you feel... guilty and unsure about. Did you keep this secret from your Owner?"

"He worked it out. He wasn't... particularly pleased at the time." Greg was imagining retribution or punishment, but Will's shoulders didn't tighten when he said it. "We talked about it. But it's a little like keeping a moth from smacking itself into a porch light."

Instinctive drive then, a pull that could not be denied. "One of your subjects then -- it's common to feel a pull," he murmured. He'd felt it himself with some of the victims. Like an obsession from getting under their skin so thoroughly he'd want to get closer and closer to them.

"Common sense should tell me it's a bad idea. But he can't let go and neither can I." Will shifted, moved a little closer back against Greg.

"That's something we need to work on," Greg replied. "That's a reason you need the reset. Stops that dead in its tracks." His fingers worked up Will's neck, carefully skirting around the chip. "If it's someone out there then it has to be someone free. Lecter?"

"Yeah. It's been a problem since before the chip. Not sure a reset would help." Will's voice was a low, easy murmur, a tone Greg hadn't quite heard before.

He liked it. He had a feeling he would really like the real personality hiding under all the layers. "Let's put it this way: If any of the monitoring authorities picked up on any one of the dozen or so signs I've seen today, they'd have you hospitalized in a maximum security psychiatric hospital."

"I could get out." Will rolled his shoulders a little, and leaned his elbows on his knees. It had to be a nice view from the front, too, since he shrugged his robe down more with the gesture. "Jack used to remind me that we still do euthanasia."

He took that as a hint to work down his back. "The more I hear about Jack, the more I dislike him," Greg replied more than a little shocked that he might even joke that way. It really was a miracle Will hadn't lost it completely.

"He could have done worse by me. I..." Will exhaled slowly, muscles moving slightly beneath Greg's hands. "We put each other through hell."

"You needed more support than he could provide," Greg said. "Will, you're the best at what you do, everyone knows your reputation. You should've had more... something. I find it hard to get my head around when I talk to you and find not even the basics have been done for you."

"That's the downside of being on the ground floor. You had the benefit of mistakes that were made with the first of us." Hell yes, because the first Victim Empath had ended up dead almost right off the bat. Greg remembered that, too.

"True. Things have come on a long way since then. Most professions use the Empath designation now, though admittedly not many of them are Permanent Specialists," Greg replied resisting the urge to kiss the back of Will's neck and shoulder. "Things are a lot more refined."

"Now. They weren't always." He shifted, sighed quietly, but didn't make any moves to get up. "Thanks. I feel... better now."

"Great," Greg answered, pleased to have pulled Will back even just a little from the edge. "When we have some things in our rooms aside from the bare minimum I am going to do a proper massage on you." He made it a promise and didn't let go. "You know, I've asked a lot about you, is there anything you want to know about me?"

"What were you before you were designated?" As if that was important to him, that Greg be something *other* than a victim, when he'd been so willing to latch onto it in Nick.

"I got designated pretty young," Greg said with a shrug. "But I was DNA and trace qualified before I got pulled over into the Empath career path. I would've liked to have been what Nicky is -- CSI maybe. The whole solving things. But now I solve people."

"Why did they sell you on in New York?"

"It's hard to partner up a PV who let their partner kill themselves," Greg answered, his voice becoming low. "No one wanted me, even though I'm good. Aiden killed herself and whether it was my fault or not, people chose anyone else other than me, because I'd already failed."

"Because you represented their worst fear. Losing control, hurting a partner, and having to face consequences without a button switch to make it all better for them." Okay, and maybe it was a push button solution most of the time, but Will wasn't representative of a healthy mind, either.

"Yes, that about sums it up," Greg replied trying to conceal that nagging sting of failure. "And the fact that possibly they themselves could not be stopped from becoming the very thing they hunted. I miss being part of a pair."

Will shifted a little, started to sit up. "I'm starting to realize that my first assumption might have been wrong."

"What was your first assumption?" Greg asked as he took the cue to give him a little space.

"That you were some kind of over-ambitious therapist trying to show me up." Will twisted, turned to look at him slowly. His eyes looked more focused, and he looked maybe more alert without being so sharp-eyed than he had since Greg had first seen him.

Greg snorted with laughter. "No way, I'd be far too biased once we've linked up. Besides there are rules therapists have to live by, a certain distance that I don't. I want to help you and it's not all altruistic. Nothing good happens to unchosen PVs."

"All right. We have until Catherine comes back from work, then. And you don't have the... control settings you said you needed, so what *else* can we do in the mean time that's productive?"

"After that massage I can pretty much think of things that are, uh, reproductive," Greg admitted with a grin. "Let's just say I missed that too. We could uh... bounce some impressions around?"

"Probably best to avoid that right now. I can't half-work a case. It's all on or nothing. In between doesn't work for me." And since he seemed like he'd shifted to less-on, he wouldn't want to get into it again. It was one way of managing life running hot.

"Okay, so you want to watch some TV? Just relax a little?" Greg asked. "Or we could go back downstairs and socialize, but you might want to avoid that."

"We could go watch TV in your quarters?" Will tilted his head slightly, a quirky invitation. "Seeing as they seem to think we'll have set up camp here."

Greg grinned back. "Okay, let's do that and see if I can manage to stay awake. C'mon. It's going to be some time before Catherine gets back.

Will threw him a smile. It was an amazing difference that just a little contact made, and it gave Greg hope that he *could* keep Will grounded until Catherine or someone was willing to reset them and let them work on their levels. Otherwise, they'd just work the case, and deal with things as they came, and Greg could relish the fact that he was no longer alone.

Hell wasn't any of the hundred trite sayings people had that described what it was.

Hell, Jim Brass was pretty sure, involved being locked in a small room in some psychopath's basement. And it might have been all right if he'd just been *locked* in there, if he'd been able to roam and move more, but he was naked, and chained up, and all of it implied that he wanted to get out of there as soon as he fucking well could.

The guy was physically pretty strong, but in a fair fight, or a street fight, Jim was sure he could've taken him despite the last few years as CSI Night-Shift Supervisor and Owner. But the bastard had used a pressure syringe, catching him getting out of his car and he didn't even have enough wake time to finish the punch he'd started to throw.

That was the stupid thing. He should never have been ambushed like that, never gotten that sloppy even if he wasn't a detective anymore and his designation had been switched with service maturing to Free.

Well, he was anything but free now.

He'd made a guess about their guy, started to follow hunches, but he hadn't been anywhere near as close to it as their guy had suspected he was. He'd probably been a few weeks off of catching the guy, if that, and here he was. Locked in the guy's 'playroom'. There was no question what he was up to in his free time. There was a second room, and while Jim hadn't met his fellow captive, he'd *heard* him a lot.

He'd worked out that he wasn't the guy's type, more a captive of necessity than preference. Jim didn't know whether to be obscurely offended that the man needed something else to get the taste of him out of his mouth.

Not that he particularly wanted to continue on from their "warm up" torture, but he was pretty sure the other guy had been a more recent captive, and the poor bastard had started screaming a little while ago now. If the autopsies were right, there could be a good few days of this to come. Maybe he'd mix and match, maybe he finished one of them off quickly... who knew?

Jim didn't know. He couldn't tell, and that was part of what left him on edge. It was thinking about his future, which was bad or worse, or thinking about what had happened as a 'welcoming' show of the bastard's hospitality. He was definitely a free man, because there were no other sounds of life in the house.

Just someone sobbing, crying, in the room next door. Jim shifted where he was crouched on the floor, and felt his ass twinge in sympathy for the other victim. His neck still ached. It wasn't that the guy was *strong*, but he was precautionary.

He didn't do anything unless his victim was completely immobilized. Then he did exactly what he wanted, and what he appeared to want was a certain type of behavior, a certain response and a lot of pain. Which made sense because it had been the lifestyle club he'd gone to on a hunch to ask about "supplies" that had apparently tipped the guy off. Maybe he'd been there in those dark dungeon corners and thought he was asking about him specifically, Jim didn't know.

Jim wasn't into the pain side of sex. But he knew how to endure things. He knew his own way of thinking; He'd deal or die. He wouldn't break.

He wasn't going to give the guy that kind of pleasure. He wasn't going to shake and cry and react, and he wasn't going to *not* deal. He was going to survive, and he was going to escape. An opportunity would present itself, and he would escape. No ifs, ands or buts.

The noise in the room next door trailed off, slowed down, muted out, and Jim wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. If the other guy was lucky he would've passed out. On the other hand if the guy was still in the mood, that was bad news for him.

He found himself waiting, looking across at the door trying to figure which way this was going to go. He was usually pretty quick in subduing, but if it was a case of 'interrupted by unconsciousness', he might not be as careful as he usually was. Jim tensed when the door swung inwards, a quick motion, but the man stayed out of the reach Jim had with his chain restraints.

"Mister Brass, I hope you're feeling better than you were before."

"Well you know, the decor really sucks," Jim replied trying to get him to relax, get his guard down. "And the service is terrible."

"You're looking at this all wrong. You need to think about serving me. Then this will go so much better. I should not be giving you such a grand opportunity, but I think your intelligence has made you deserving of my attention." He circled to the side of Jim, still wary, and Jim twisted, watching him. The man was dressed, sure, but he was also tenting the front of his pants. Ready to go.

The other guy had denied him his climax then. Great. And he was pretty sure complying wouldn't actually help. It would remove the need to break him, and move towards killing him.

"Some how I don't think so. And the opportunity is nowhere near 'grand'," he said trying to sound laconic and unconcerned, while deliberately looking at the man's groin.

Distract him, maybe. "You will come to believe differently." There was a body shift to the left, and then the man got his hand to the right and got fingers right around Jim's throat. There was a sound of handcuffs, the familiar metal on metal noise that told Jim that the choking was just to distract him while the guy got him trussed.

He still struggled though, but the bastard always clipped the handcuff to something before releasing anything else. He choked until he was seeing bursts of light behind his eyes and on the verge of passing out.

Believe different. Yeah right. He was going to believe the guy was a complete psycho.

It was systematic. Even if the plan was to get Jim handcuffed and in the middle of the room, he was restrained completely first. Handcuffed tight to the pipes that lined the walls, before his leg restraints were hooked up to one of the cemented in steel bars that spanned the floor, before he cuffed Jim's arms behind him, choking him now and again in the process. And it didn't matter how damn hard Jim fought, he was out-handcuffed even if he wasn't out-classed. Even hard, the guy wasn't taking any risks.

"Do you want me?"

"Are you fucking kidding?" Jim answered. "No. Why the hell would I want a sick bastard like you?"

It might make him angry, but he was pretty sure that giving in just led to more and more exotic 'games'. So, he was going to keep being defiant, buck the trend. See where it got him, how much time and how many mistakes it could get him. Not that he was in a position to barter with the guy, not when he was knees down on the floor, attached to a metal bar that maybe gave him half a foot or left to right motion.

"You will. You just aren't..." The man paused, and smiled wildly, slowly. "Open to it, yet. You will be." And it seemed like he'd decided something, because he turned towards the door, and left it open when he stepped out.

Arrogant fucker.

He was willing to bet the rooms were soundproofed or the house was far enough away that people didn't hear, because if someone could hear, they would've reported the screams coming in. He was mentally mapping the place though, what he could. Adjoining doors, a partitioned basement no doubt. Custom built -- they should've looked into custom gear. Maybe that's what the guy thought he was doing. Maybe his team would think of that.

Maybe he'd get through this without screaming and without giving the guy the satisfaction. He knew about physical abuse, he knew about survival.

He'd seen enough people die miserable, sad deaths that he didn't want to be one of them.

Custom-made work, though. People kept track of things like that, unless the guy was in construction. Then the custom-done house work wouldn't even hit the radar. It'd look like a guy doing repair work, not building his own dungeon.

Jim kept his head spinning, so he didn't feel like he was waiting for the guy to come back, even though he was.

He had to last out because his team would find him. Catherine was relentless, Nicky would never give up, nor would Warrick, for all that they butted heads on occasion. Sara could be scary with her focus some time and all that working on his case, yeah, they'd find him. He'd just have to hang in there long enough.

And try and ignore the doubts he had that even his team could work that fast.

Footsteps and he was coming back, back into the room.

"I have a toy I want to try on you, but you aren't ready for that yet, and I want something more intimate." Jim twisted in his restraints, looking over his shoulder. The man had a jar of something, and a dildo that looked like it was attached to a blood pressure pump.

"Seriously, were you always this twisted or was it something you worked at?" Jim replied, not really having to use his imagination much as to where that was going to be going.

It was pretty obvious that the dildo was going in his ass, and the jar of stuff was maybe, if he was lucky, lube. "You haven't come to appreciate my brilliance yet. You will. They all do." And funny, they were all dead, too. The man stopped, stripped out of his pants, and Jim tried to not stare at his dick at it caught against fabric, bobbing eagerly probably at the mere thought of what he was about to do to Jim. "Even a crudely built man like you deserves the opportunity to be a cockslut for me."

"I think you've jacked off to one too many porn sites," Jim answered still deliberately sounding casual. "I hate to break it to you but they're pretty much faking it. If you want an exotic fuck, go pay for it like everyone else."

"I've had exotic fucks. No, you're going to become so much *more*. You *will* become a perfect servant to me." The man slapped Jim's left ass cheek, and let his fingers slide down along Jim's asscrack. "Before me, who fucked you last?"

"Generally I top," Jim replied with a hint of scorn even if it was leaning towards a lie. He did both. "Perfect servant my ass."

"It will be." Fingertips lingered, traced the sore ring of skin. "Spread your legs if you want this done wet."

"Like they're not spread enough?" Jim answered. "Come on like I'm going to believe all that bullshit -- like you're not going to do exactly what you want anyway."

One finger pushed in hard, dry and fast, and Jim lurched forwards against the cuffs. "I want you compliant."

"Yeah, well we don't always get what we want do we? Because there's no way in *hell* I would have your finger up my ass if there was a choice in the matter." Jim fought down his reaction as much as he could, trying to remain annoying and not the compliant cockslut the man wanted.

"You'll choose it soon." The finger pulled back out, leaving a dull burning sensation before he felt the man kneel closer behind him. The next touch against his ass was cool and slick, two fingers liberally pushing lubricant into his ass, toying at the edges. "I could hurt you. I could break you down, fuck you apart, but I think I can get what I want better if I make you enjoy it. And I will get what I want."

"You've got a long job ahead of you if you think I can enjoy anything you do to me," Jim replied. He tried to will his body to be inert, dead to sensation and not respond to what was happening. He knew he couldn't help physical reactions, but they still felt like a betrayal. But the longer he was a challenge, the longer he was likely to survive.

He'd seen what the guy had done to his victims. He'd seen the shape their bodies had been in by the time he was done with them, whether it took two weeks or four. Pieces were missing, they were burnt, choked, and physically in a shape that if they *had* escaped, they wouldn't be able to live normal lives. Jim didn't particularly want to be found with his balls cut off and shoved in his ass.

"We'll see." The man leaned in closer, pressed his dick against the back of Jim's thigh, and slowly slipped the two fingers in. It was slick, and that made it easier to take the tiny stroking, teasing motions. "Do you feel yourself getting hard yet?"

"No." Mind over matter, he was not going to get hard; he was not going to give the guy the satisfaction of making it that easy. He knew it could be done, but he wasn't going to make it easy.

But the teasing didn't stop. The man kept sliding his fingers in and out slowly, curling them and searching for Jim's prostate. And when he found it, he didn't just press and poke at it, he curled his fingers hard against the vague edge, rubbing in a twitch of motion.

Christ. There wasn't much he could do to stop his cock twitch at that. That tended to happen when he went for medicals. Didn't mean he was enjoying it though. It was an involuntary action a sneeze. He tried to pull away, but there was very little range of movement.

And the finger followed, kept twitching there and rubbing against that spot. The man's free hand reached down between his legs, and started to stroke his dick, trying to coax it past half-hard and twitching.

He held back, he knew he did, maybe not as long as it felt but a long time but a man could respond purely physically when mentally he had no desire to do so. For all his bluff and bravado, the man was getting his way and he was losing his.

His dick got hard, and the man stroked him harder, firmer, and kept stroking while he worked those two fingers out. "See? This is what you want."

"Not. From. You," he gritted out. He forced his mind away from fantasies and daydreams that might trigger him, towards painful thoughts, thoughts of anger. Thoughts of his ex-wife. Thoughts of how he'd felt when he realized he was being betrayed by his best friends. When he knew Ellie wasn't his. That was pain, not this piffling exercise in control and power. Let him have what? A meaningless victory. "So you've got my cock to stand up. Coma patients get that much action."

"You'll beg me for it, tonight." He said it quietly, kept stroking Jim's dick in determined motions. The two fingers came back, pushed more slick lubricant into his ass, and toyed at his muscles again before he felt something firmer press against it. To turn around and look, or not?

Not hot enough for the man himself so probably that damn dildo. He did groan then because it was larger than he was used to. He hadn't bottomed for anyone in a long time. He hadn't had sex in a long time, for all he was Owner of a House full of very good looking men and women, and it was his right to have whoever he wanted.

"I won't beg," he managed. "Anything you get, you'll have to fucking well take and know I didn't want you to have it."

"I won't take this out until you beg," the man murmured, voice quietly amusing as he kept pushing it in. It was *big*, big enough to feel substantial, and it was hard to not groan when it was seated all the way in him. The base was wide, flared, and left him feeling stretched out.

"Then... you won't be getting anything for yourself because I'm not begging you for anything," Jim managed, trying to use a tough guy image like a shield. He knew he couldn't stop him, but he was trying to stop the manipulation. Making it his responsibility, his action. He'd have to fucking well take it.

He'd just withstand it. It was just a dildo in his ass, after all. Even when the man pulled it out and pushed it back in, timed with the stroking over his dick. There was nothing to *beg* about it.

Until the plastic dick up his ass was pressed in hard again, and he heard a quiet pumping sound that went with a feeling of being filled *more*.

That was hurting, that was pushing it too far and he knew he made a grunting sound of pain and found himself clenching his jaw. "You sadistic fucker!" he managed. No begging but he needed to make noise or he would scream. "You think... you're that big?" He nearly panted trying not to react.

"I like my men open. You'll welcome me, soon." The stretching feeling stopped, briefly, and then it started again, spreading his anus as the man worked the hand-pump. It had to *stop*, but the guy was using custom-made shit, so there was no guessing when it would stop if he wanted to stretch it that far. Just, just pain, though, pain and a hand stroking his dick and the feeling of being filled *stopped*, finally, stayed steady. Aching but steady.

Then he turned on the vibrator.

"Holy crap!" He might as well have touched him with a cattle prod. He couldn't not try and move, technically *away*, rather than towards but just moving was some sort of a relief.

The man chuckled quietly, and taped the base, jarring it hard. "I'll let it run forever if you don't beg. I'll plug it in and let it run when you sleep and when you wake up again and you *will* like it."

Jim shook his head, not trusting himself to words just then though most of the ones he was thinking were profanities. Let him do it. Let him waste time trying to break him that way instead of with knives and machines and other "toys". This wasn't pride, if it was just about pride he would've just said the words. Words were just words, but in this case, they were a short cut to death.

The longer the guy took to get through each successive stage of torture, the longer Jim survived. Even with his ass stretched out and the dildo vibrating away, and the man's fingers wrapped tight around his cock. The only problem was when the man shifted the dildo, tilted it, made Jim groan hard and pressed it right on his prostate. There was no way that he *wouldn't* come.

He must've been holding his breath trying not to come, because when it finally happened, forced out of him with an undeniable burst of pleasure stirred thoroughly with shame and disgust, he nearly passed out, his vision graying out at the edges and him slumping forward.

The man caught him, pressed a hand flat against his stomach, and hauled him back up to hands and knees. It didn't help that the vibrator was still in him, pressing hard against his prostate and against everything else in his ass.

Jim decided to go with semi-conscious as a tactic. The damn vibrator was going to hurt and over stimulate if he left it in, but he was half hoping the guy wanted to fuck so badly he'd move on from that torture. He stayed as passively awkward to move around as possible.

"Do you want to beg for it to stop?" The man leaned in close, pressed his mouth against Jim's back. "Do you feel stretched wide?"

If he answered yes to one he'd assume it was yes to both. If he said No, then it would be no to both. "Fucking... trick question," he managed in a rough snarl. Neither yes nor no.

"Do you feel stretched wide?" the man reiterated, and there was a pause of the feeling of a hand against his ass when the dildo was given one more *pump* of air.

That he could answer. "Yes...fuck you, yes." Jim managed even as he nearly choked. It felt like someone had stuffed a life raft up his ass and pulled the ripcord.

The vibration turned off, which was a blessing, and there was half a pump more of pressure added to the damn thing before he heard a hiss, and felt it start to deflate.

That was a blessed relief that made him ache in a not completely unpleasant way. Although he was not looking forward to whatever came next. Even if it was likely to be his torturer.

He was sore, and stretched raw, and okay, hopefully the guy would just fuck him and move on, but Jesus, he was tired of it already. When the dildo was pulled out, it was with a sloppy sound, and the man chuckled.

This was nothing; he had to keep telling himself that. This was nothing compared to what could be being done, it was nothing to wait he'd been through in his life. He'd seen action, been in war and been injured. Physical pain was something he'd dealt with before.

Except, it was invasive. It was in him and it was about making his body betray his mind, and it was definitely degrading. He felt the man spread his asscheeks wide, looking intently down at him or something. "Yeah, that's nice."

God only knew what type of man would consider his abused ass a work of art. He would've kicked if he'd been able to. All of his macho retorts seemed a little pale and strained as they came to mind.

'Fuck you' was probably going to get him an 'I think I will,' and the man was already pressing hot skin against his stretched asshole, rubbing it against the rim. "Mm, you stretch out so well."

Jim was gritting his teeth again. "Just get on with it, you bastard," he muttered.

"We'll get it on," the man assured him. And then he slid in hard.

Jim couldn't help it, he yelled. He was over stretched, sore and loose and the man felt like a toothpick compared to the size of the dildo. The comparison did him no favors.

This at least was familiar. Couple of rough times when he was a marine, yeah. Things not gone right. Less planned but rougher.

He clenched his teeth and just went with it, let the guy fuck his ass, because as sore and as tired as he was, the sooner it was over the better.

At the moment what depressed him most was the prospect that if, no, *when* he got rescued, they would put him through a shit load of compulsory therapy. Now that was a painful experience. He let his mind down over that instead of what was happening in the here and now

He didn't need therapy. He needed a liquid diet because shitting was going to hurt like hell in a few days. He needed to focus past the here and now and just... cope. Deep breaths and cope.

He was doing that and he'd made himself something to be worked on, not something to be killed quick and discarded. That might buy him a few days, which might give his team time to find him.

They were good. But secretly he wasn't completely sure if they were *that* good.

All Jim had to count on was his own hope. And his ability to grit his teeth when the bastard started to pound away at his ass.

Greg had been out most of time, his version of working involving a lot more interaction with people. He'd been tracking down his 'Victim Zero' through the paper trail because in serial cases, they were usually the one's that had the triggers strong enough to switch the murderer from someone a little creepy into a full on killer.

He wasn't sure exactly what he felt about Greg. He was good at what he did, but Will wasn't exactly sure what that entailed even after Greg had explained it. He did seem to be good at dealing with him, none of his confessions seemed to particularly disturb him and he understood his need for silence when he was working.

As far as Will was concerned, that was good enough. He was doing a generally better job of handling Will than Jack had in at *least* a decade, maybe more, and he was easy to connect to. Maybe that was what he *actually* did. He connected with people, acted like the thing they wanted most. Greg was fairly sexual, too, but there was a masked feeling to it that left Will on edge, unsure, unwilling to move past more than just comfortable.

Maybe it was because comfortable was so unusual he didn't want to lose it. Or maybe that he wasn't sure what it would mean. Either way, he wanted to wait.

There was a knock on the door frame and Greg poked his head around. "Hey. When you've got a moment I'd like to do some pair work with you," he said. "When you're happy with where you are."

It was a funny way to phrase it. It wasn't something Will was ever happy with, not when he came into a case late. He preferred a live scene, and not in the way that Greg seemed to think of it. When the body was still fresh, when the blood was still congealing, when he could feel his target's presence in the room and feel all of the things he, and occasionally she, felt. He let his eyes skim the pictures, and tried to push down the ache in his chest. "What do you mean by pair work?"

"I keep forgetting you don't know, uh... I want to test out some of my conclusions against yours. See if it triggers anything." Greg replied. "But like I said, only when you're happy with your headspace."

"I'd prefer a live crime scene, but that's also the outcome we *least* want right now, so I'll work with what I have." Will lingered a little longer. It was there in the pictures. Whatever he was looking for was there in the pictures. The body dumps weren't in ditches. They were posed, they were positioned so they could and *would* be found before they started to decompose. Someone had cherished them.

"Okay." Greg came in and shut the door. "I think I've tracked my Victim Zero and I've got a decent profile. I want to bounce him against your profile."

Will put his hands up slightly, a vague gesture of surrender. "We can try."

"Okay, the first death that shares characteristics with successive victims was only linked late in the game. His name was Josh Thatcher and he worked on the strip. His employment history puts him in most of the casinos -- employed by one of the gambling cartels. Braun's. Not their best purchase. Liked his off time, skipped curfew, went out clubbing a lot in some more dubious clubs," Greg said. "His housemates put him as a lifestyler wannabe slave-fetish... which is interesting because one of the angles Brass was investigating were the BSDM clubs."

"It's probable that our man sighted him there. His tastes run towards the..." Will glanced at Greg, reaching for the word. "He dominates them, and is trying to make them become something for him. He cherishes them, in his own strange way, so he would plausibly be looking for someone who was already leaning that way in terms of interests."

"Maybe he thought he was on to him," Greg said. "Josh was a... hardcore sub. He boasted how much he could take; that he hadn't met the Dom yet that pushed him beyond his limits. He was also working his way through most of the doms on the scene. One of the statements was a Dom who had Josh poached out from under him one night and after that, though they saw him around he wasn't playing the scene."

"Was the Dom able to give a physical description of his poacher?" Will had kept to the scenes only, the direct crime scenes, and Greg had taken the interviews.

"No. The guy was furious though. He lost a lot of reputation having his sub 'defect'," Greg answered. "So, I'm thinking that he entered into a genuine lifestyle relationship. The autopsy showed old marks, evidence of sex-play over a sustained period of time. I think the first time murder was an accident."

"And left without the other half of his relationship, his options are limited. Josh Thatcher's body was placed sitting up in a flower bed in a public park. The state of decay indicates that he kept the body for a period of time, probably no more than two days, while he weighed his options and worked out how to proceed."

"I'd be willing to bet that spot has some emotional meaning for the killer, more so than a lot of other sites. I believe he will revisit it at various points." Greg finished. "Now here's the thing... there are two possibilities here. One is he is looking for something better, or that he is looking for a reincarnation. Will, I want to show you my Josh Thatcher, and I want you to tell me what responds. I need to tweak the persona a little. I'll go out; I'll walk back as him. Difficult to explain, but you'll understand when you see it. That make sense?"

He wasn't going to be an asinine skeptic. He wasn't, as tempting as it was, because people seldom questioned him when he talked things through. The difference was in the showing. "I'll give it a go."

Greg seemed to recognize what he wasn't saying and gave a half smile that clearly meant he had been here before. Off he went, out around the corner and there was a long pause before he came back.

And for a moment he didn't recognize him. He was moving completely differently, different attitude, challenging and vulnerable at the same time. Something in the way he rolled his hips inviting people to have a piece of him and when he glance around, his eyes...god his eyes had that look that he'd seen in Nick on their first night at the house, but magnified.

Will never would've expected this, never.

It was hard to pull his thoughts together enough to actually ask Greg the question he wanted to ask. "What, uh. What am I looking for here?"

"Is it 'attractive' to your profile of him? Is there something missing?" Greg said and he wasn't using his usual vocal intonations any more either. "It needs to be irresistible, because the only way we're going to pick up on this guy is if you hunt out his grounds, and we wave a little irresistible bait around."

Profile. Will leaned back in the chair, looking at Greg. Attractive to the profile. "It's in the eyes."

"Would it make our killer notice me as a target?" Greg insisted. "What would he want? What does he crave?"

He seemed serious, but Will wasn't used to other people taking risks aside from him.

He wasn't sure how to handle it, except that Greg honestly *expected* him to. He closed his eyes for a moment before he opened them again, looking at Greg's face again. "A natural submission. He wants people who do it naturally, who want to have control taken from them."

"Okay, I can tone down the attitude," Greg said. "What does he desire from them aside from that lack of control?"

It was distracting to see some of the harsher edges melt away but the person in front of him was softer, more 'fuck me', more vulnerable. This wasn't how he worked, unless he counted Lecter.

"I, I don't know." He didn't want to know, and he closed his eyes again to try to push back the urge to play along, because it was the last thing he actually wanted to do. "He wanted a good body. A lean, young body."

"Yeah, I do fit his profile..." Greg said and then dropped back into his normal voice. "You okay Will?"

No. No, he wasn't okay. They seriously expected him to do that, to let go like that? "I can't do that. This. I can't let myself react on this level."

"Shit..." Greg was there touching him. "I'm sorry Will, this was meant to be first level stuff. You must be really keyed up to slip over. I'll stop, it's okay... that's enough. We'll do it your way."

He recoiled, just for a moment, shaking hard. "You have no idea how hard I try to control myself. I can't *do* that, I can't just play act."

"So you're up around a level three or four most of the time," Greg murmured not withdrawing the hand. "That's why we need a control. Safety net. I'm sorry, you do such a good job of keeping a lid on it, I misjudged. It's not your fault Will, it's mine. I won't push. I can run it solo when it comes to bait anyway."

He turned his head slightly, and Greg's wrist was right there, close to his mouth. It was running with instinct to let his lips part, to make contact and bite just a little, just gently enough to feel the flexibility of tendons under his teeth before he edged back, closed his mouth tight. God, he wanted to, it was a need that was curled up tight in his stomach, waiting to burst free. "You have no idea. I try to keep it all in my head, and that *look* you just gave me..."

"I know. I know... it used to drive Aiden over sometimes," Greg said. "If you need it, I can handle it okay? If it gets too much."

He couldn't know what he was offering. But his eyes seemed to tell him that he did.

Which had to be a lie. Will didn't answer, but he half-held onto Greg's arm, kept close to him. "No, you don't want to. We'll just... break, get coffee, and get back to working a little more traditionally."

"Yeah, okay... I'm really sorry Will." Greg answered. "You better not observe when I go out ‘cause I'll really be turning it on."

Turning it on. Will shook his head slightly. "Just let me get grounded. If we're out, we're actually looking for the guy, and that's different than sitting in here and you expecting me to be fine and great about it."

Greg actually looked incredibly guilty about the whole thing. "Okay. I... I'm sorry I pushed so hard. I didn't mean to I was just keyed up about working with someone."

Will shifted the fingers that were still stroking Greg's arm. "Hey, I'm a head case, remember?"

"Least you've got company in that," Greg replied and gave him a smile that looked a little weak. Obviously it really had upset him which was strange because other things hadn't. Things that would've upset any normal person.

Some trigger in there, and it made Will want to get closer to him, to keep that body on body contact. "I think you have the profile. It was definitely, uh, a success."

Greg smiled a little and looked like he was going to say something when the guy who had been very briefly introduced by Nick as Warrick rounded the corner.

"Hey, I was looking for you guys," he said his lazy look focusing on them both. "We've got the Sheriff pushing for action and some of the Department Owners are in. We're being called to the conference room."

"Now?" It made Will pull back a little, made him pull himself together. Meetings he could do, he could find that part of himself still and lay out the facts for people who just wanted a job done to hear.

"In five. They keep pulling us in for updates. I'm guessing they are assuming you guys can perform miracles," Warrick replied. "Spin a lead out of thin air."

"We've been working on it," Greg replied.

"You might be surprised what we've managed." Will sat up, let go of Greg's hand with only a lingering contact until his hand wasn't touching skin any longer. "I guess coffee was going to have to wait."

"We'll steal some from the break room," Warrick said. "There's big pressure now, not that we needed anymore incentive."

"We gathered that," Greg said, still staying in his personal space. Very few people ever came close. Even Jack stepped back.

He couldn't blame Jack. He'd given Jack enough reasons to step back, and this... essentially a stranger kept involving himself with Will. Willingly. "All right. Take us to the meeting room."

He showed them where to go, and they did get the coffee on the way. Greg seemed to be a coffee freak because he savored the taste of it before they got dragged off. Warrick had not been exaggerating. Everyone was there, from CSI to suits and Catherine was looking ready to commit murder already.

"Now, all your team is here Ms Willows," the Sheriff replied giving them a strange look. "Tell me you know how to find your Owner and Supervisor."

"May I?" Will asked, glancing to Catherine for a cue. He preferred to not speak out of turn, given that most people in the FBI respected him but also liked to pretend that he was a dog that could walk on its hind legs and talk.

"If you've got something to say Will, you go right ahead," Catherine said looking at him with thinly disguised relief. "Gentlemen, this is Will Graham, our newest acquisition and a Criminal Empath. Next to him there is Greg Sanders, an additional purchase and Professional Victim. They have been working this case from the moment they were bought."

Will nodded, and met the Sheriff's eyes probably more firmly than the man would have liked. "Greg and I have been working on profiles of the victims and of our target. Through this, we have a working model of the type of people he's selected, and why, and I have an idea of how. Our killer is a lifestyle Dominant. We're unsure of what his occupation is, but he would have to be a freeman to sustain his tastes without having been apprehended so far."

"But do you know where Jim Brass is?" one of the Owners asked. "As I understand it we have little time left. He's been there for nearly four days."

"Jim is not the killer's usual taste in victim and that will influence what happens." Greg put in smoothly. "If he was not killed immediately -- which is unlikely because the killer displays his kills, we believe that the killer will try and subvert him, and undoubtedly CSI Brass will not be the usual compliant victim he targets. That will extend his expected survival."

Catherine and the other CSIs were looking impressed. No doubt they were giving them ideas and angles even now.

Which was good, because the more they interacted, the further along they *all* got. Will missed his techs, his fingerprint guys and his analysts, who did the work for him when he was stalking down a killer. "Our guy wants to recreate a prior experience, from Victim Zero, his first kill. Getting Jim Brass to *that* point will take longer than his other victims has. This was a survival claim, not part of his normal pattern, so there is a good chance that he will keep Jim Brass captive and continue in his normal method."

"I see." the Sheriff replied. "Very interesting but how does that help us get him back."

"Uh..." Greg raised his hand. "I guess that's part of my role. With the input of the team, and Will's expertise in finding 'hunting grounds', I will run a live victim role as bait."

It was Nick who leaned forward then. "What exactly does that involve?" he asked.

Greg glanced at Will. "It means Will profiles the most likely spots the killer is likely to revisit. We have a couple. I adopt the empathic profile of his "ideal" victim, I go out there and let him take me, orient on me, and attempt abduction. There is a solid principle involved. If you have a taste for something sweet, but all you have around is ...celery, and then someone offers you a chocolate, you are going to drop what you are doing to take what you crave."

"Back up a said let him take you?" Nick insisted on focusing on that part.

Greg nodded. "Yes. It has to be done as rapidly as possible. Jim is what we call the Expansion point where the killer's psychopathology expands out of his normal type. If he succeeds in killing him, he will become a killer of opportunity, taking anyone available."

Will crossed his arms, looking at the Sheriff. "He'll see new opportunities that are *out* of his previous types, and he'll start to lose his sense of purpose and control. Right now, he targets good looking submissive men, but if he gets the right kind of satisfaction out of re-creating Jim Brass into an object worthy of his attention, and the subsequent killing of him, then even *you* would fit his new profile type, Sheriff."

That was enough to make the man shift uncomfortably and Catherine cut in.

"We've seen it happen before," she said. "This is a good a shot as anything we have. It matches with the fact that Jim was investigating BDSM clubs before he was taken, and at least three previous victims had some indication of old injuries consistent with that conclusion."

"It's a risk. Have you done this before?" the man asked.

Greg nodded. "Yes. A few times. It's... well, it works. It's the logistics that need deciding. I can lure and you can intercept on scene, or allow him to take me back and track me with my locator."

"I prefer an on scene interception. You go back to his home turf, you're at risk. We're all at risk." He'd run ahead of the rest of them, and killer fatality rates were *high* when Will worked the case.

"But we would know where his house was, " one of the Owners put in. "You would know immediately where Supervisor Brass was."

"I want to know when you can do this?" the sheriff put in. "Time is against us."

Greg glanced at Will before saying, "Tomorrow? I've got to get into character, change my appearance a little."

"This guy doesn't have a second house. This guy isn't operating on that level of obfuscation. We get him, you take his wallet out of his pocket, and you go to the address," Will said simply. "We'll go early in the evening, and in the afternoon I'll canvass a few places that we might want to hit given our victim's patterns."

"We'll arrange police support," the Sheriff replied. "I want this operation to succeed as soon as possible."

"There is still no guarantee that he'll take the bait," Catherine cautioned. Will saw Greg look down as she said that. It was possible but not likely.

"You haven't met the bait, and I have," Will murmured. It was maybe *weird* support for what Greg did, but he could honestly say that if he were their man, he wouldn't pass up *that* look, that bruised look in the eyes, like over-ripe fruit pleading to be plucked. "He'll take the bait."

Will threw up a tight smile at the gathered Owners. "Is there anything else you need from us, or can we start work on any coordination that we'll need?"

"Go ahead. This operation is authorized," the Sheriff said after looking at the other owners. "We'll leave you to it." They got up and he looked at them all. "I don't think I need to emphasize how important this is, do I?"

Catherine shook her head. "No sir," she replied "I think we're all well aware. Thank you." With that, the Owners and the Sheriff left, leaving the department behind.

"How much of that was on the money and how much was moonbeams for the Owners?" Sara asked with a hint of sharpness.

"I don't do moonbeams." Will turned, looking towards the young woman. It was hard not bristle, but all he *had* was his professional reputation, and he wasn't going to wreck it for a dog and pony show.

"I think Sara is just concerned because we've found no evidence and this is out there on a limb," Catherine said. "We are basing this on your... intuitions."

"Our highly trained *empathic * judgment," Greg clarified. "And personal experience. Look, if anything we left out detail -- Yeah, I would be happier if I had time to refine my profiling, but I test ran a profile to Will just before we came in and it's good enough. By the time I look the part, it will attract the killer. The problem is that it might attract others as well. That's the big problem."

"So, I'll be with you," Will shrugged, looking at Catherine and the woman, Sara, and Warrick more than Greg. "Or watching. I've got the scent."

"So you're going to sniff the guy out?" Warrick asked mildly. Nick was looking with concern at Greg and at him, and that look was less present when he was at work.

"Look, they can do this," Nick put in. "But I don't see people having a problem with Greg risking his life."

"Nick, it's part of my designation," Greg said patiently. "But I'll have Will in there. I'll need someone to carry the other side of the role and no offense Nick, I can't see any of you pulling off hardcore dominants. Well, maybe Catherine..."

"Thank you," Catherine said dryly.

"...but we're aiming for a male-male dynamic."

"The reason I don't want to have this be a capture and follow is because I will not hesitate to kill the target if I have to, in a situation on his own territory. This is frowned upon, and because of that I would rather get him in the club, signal the police, and lock the place up until we're sure it's our man."

"It just seems very simple..." Catherine made a face. "Look, I'll be straight with you guys. The Department hasn't done too well with the incumbent Empath Pair. The ‘too good to be true' scenarios generally were."

"You bought me. *You*, ma'am, bought me, specifically for this case. And given that my solve rate is 99%, I think I know what I'm talking about when I say this to you: Sometimes a case is *just* this simple. Our man hasn't evolved to the level of obfuscation that you think he has. He's in his comfort zone, still. He snatched your Jim Brass as a precautionary action, and in doing so he thinks he's guaranteed himself his place in his comfort zone for a very long time. Maybe he won't be at any clubs tomorrow night. Maybe he won't be at any clubs the night after. But Greg and I will keep trying, and I'm betting that after his next victim shows up as a body dump -- a victim that he already had who isn't Jim Brass -- he'll be in the clubs again. And he will *see* the bloom in Greg's eyes, and he's going to want to pick that bloom for himself."

Greg's hand was resting on his arm again as if it belonged there, grounding him.

"We can hope so. Better than the lack of evidence we have right now." She exhaled. "Okay, we need to get some work done. Warrick, Sara you're on the 4-19 that came in. Nick, you help Greg and Will prepare. I'll be handling any new cases. If you want to go home early to prepare for being up this afternoon, you go ahead."

"That's fine. Can I take the scene photos with me?" They'd left them in the work room, but that was easy enough to backtrack and grab.

Catherine nodded. "Just sign them out," she replied and that appeared to be the signal to break the meeting up.

Greg was still staying close to him, doodling on his pad in sketches of various "looks" he was obviously thinking of trying.

Will sat up, then leaned forwards and rubbed the palms of his hands against his eyes. "Jesus. At least Jack knew he could take my leash off and let me go to it."

"Nick told me some about this other pair," Greg murmured. "I can understand why they are suspicious... I think they need retraining. But despite that Catherine still came out and put her neck on the line to buy us. You going to be okay running hot tomorrow? Because you might have to play the part to get the guys attention."

"I'm always running hot," Will mumbled, not moving. "But letting loose, yeah, I can let loose. Not a problem. I'm going to look over the photos again when we're back at the house, and then I'm going to crash until the afternoon."

Their stuff had finally arrived, which was just as well, otherwise Greg would've had to find a way of going out and finding the nearest sex and erotica shop to get some gear. There were several large boxes that had some of his "work" gear in which were purchased along with his service. Everything from wigs, high heels and makeup, to the sort of gear he thought might be needed.

He needed to get the look right. Costume and look completed the illusion and he wouldn't know if he was getting it just right until he got it just right. Some people thought he knew automatically what to use; it was never that easy.

It was bizarrely a lot like getting ready for a date. Maybe the clothes that you *planned* didn't actually look as good as you'd hoped they would, just from lighting or the day or the humidity, or luck of the draw, but it needed to be perfect, and it was in the changing clothes, wigs, and playing with his hair that he got a better for feel for how he needed to *look*. The closer to dead on the look was, the better a chance Greg had of nailing the personality.

It just felt easier when he was wearing the right skin.

There was a quiet knock on his door. "Hey, Greg? Will said you might want help in here. I figured since I'm your chauffeur until your paperwork is all signed and sealed that I might as well make myself useful."

"Hey, Nick come on in," he said musing as he put another top out near the pile on the side. He requested a full length mirror and got it -- he suspected it was Catherine's but he needed it. Ah, there was his extensive hair doctoring kit. He put that out as well.

"Thanks." The door, unlocked, opened quietly, and Nick closed it behind himself. "Will's out on the back porch, staring into a cup of coffee and smoking. And you have more clothes than Catherine, holy crap, man."

Greg flashed him a grin. "Yeah, he does that. Getting into the mindset. And they're not exactly mine. They're work clothes. One of the most common things I do is a reconstruction."

"Right. I'll be honest, the rest of the team thinks ya'll are as crazy as a bowl of fruit loops, but I'm interested in what you're doing here. So tell me about reconstruction and is there anything I can help with?" Nick was funny like that, Greg had already decided from their quiet bits of conversation he'd had with the other man. He was *curious* about them.

"Sometimes it's as obvious as doing a run through for a public appeal on TV," Greg said gesturing for him to take a seat. "Sometimes its role-playing a scene, through... you probably do a little of that to try and visualize where stuff goes, or how something happens. I do that and the play through pretty much always reveals some new means of looking for evidence. It's difficult to explain." It really was. It was natural to him, something he understood and yeah, maybe he was as crazy as a bowl of fruit loops, but he had done well up until now.

And so had Will. It was just that he wasn't used to being *told* he was as crazy as a bowl of fruit loops, and maybe Will was. "So you're... reconstructing yourself into a generic version of a victim?"

"No, a very specific victim, tailored to this killer, based on the victim profiles," Greg replied and put another shirt to one side. Too normal. He was going clubbing in a sex club. It was going to have to be sex all the way, practically begging for it. "See, I thought people knew more about how it worked than you apparently do. It's not too different from reconstructing the crime using evidence. It just... extends the process of thinking things through."

"So, if Will's accompanying you, is he going to dress up for his part, too?" Nick leaned to look at the clothes, and held up a muscle-shirt. "How about this?"

"Maybe. Doms can get away with wearing ordinary clothes if they want," Greg replied. "Eh, let's see how it looks." He gave a bit of a smile. "This part is like playing dress up... try things on, take things off. I think I'm going to do my hair wild. Makes me look younger and tends to signal a need for control."

"Seriously? Here I thought it was a signal that a guy had an addiction to hair gels." Nick leaned, watching Greg with obvious prurient interest.

"That too," Greg said as he pulled off his shirt exposing a lean and wiry, and somewhat marked torso. "So, you get tested for an Empath designation, Nick?"

"Yeah. I scored well for either way, but I scored better for forensics work." Nick kept his eyes on Greg. "If you show some of those scars, it might catch the guy's attention."

"Yeah, I was pretty much planning that," Greg answered. He thought as much. "Forensics is better in terms of life expectancy and not being a Permanent Specialist designation."

He slipped on the top, thinking about it a little and grabbed a pair of leather trousers. "These things are damn uncomfortable to wear."

"Yeah, I bet they are. But you're out there to put on a show, not be comfortable." Nick smirked a little. "Seriously. Anything I can do to help? Because it's help you, or watch Will chain-smoke." And from the way Nick said that, he didn't want to watch Will.

"You have good instincts about what creates a good effect," Greg said and smiled. "There's going to be lot of playing around with makeup, gel and other products -- might be... let's just say, not many men want to stick around for that sort of thing, so if you don't want to, then don't worry."

"Nah, I'm secure in my manhood. Plus..." Nick grinned as he moved towards one of the cosmetics cases that Greg had set on a dresser. "I had six sisters."

"Hey, man, you're likely to be better at this than me," Greg replied. "Want to pick me out some stuff that says 'take me home and do unspeakable things to me and I'll love it'?"

This was something he hadn't anticipated, Nick being in a position to help out. He looked like such a guy, probably not buying into the poly relationships most people were in. Even reading him so carefully didn't give information on the reasons for emotional responses.

"Sure." Nick seemed relaxed with him, comfortable in opening the makeup kit before he started to dig into the contents. "Huh. Are you going for hard core, or pretty boy?"

"Touch of both I think. Will says the guy likes them young, lean and good-looking, but with a real urge to submit naturally. Victim Zero thought of himself as hard core, but wasn't as much as he thought," Greg replied, getting the trousers on. They were tight and clingy and he wouldn't be wearing any underwear tomorrow either.

Maybe some chain or clamp accessories would help.

"Well, he wasn't as hard core as his killer, no. Okay, so... How about some eyeliner, and some..." Nick picked up a couple of shimmer cubes from the box. "And some of this for highlights?"

Greg smiled. "Yeah... bring it on. Any good at bleaching tufts of hair?" He was barely resisting the urge to laugh. Nick was great, really great doing all this unselfconsciously.

There they were. Fine linked chains that he could attach wherever.

Then he had to think about whether a collar would be declaring him taken or if that would be a challenge to the killer to take someone already taken.

He'd have to see if any of the others had worn collars, and then decide which choice to make. "Yeah, I can give it a shot," Nick murmured, opening the little jar of eyeliner before he turned around to look for a brush.

"Cool." Greg smiled again. "Nick, I've got to say you're one of the most unlikely people I know to be doing this. Seriously."

"Yeah?" There was a quirk of his mouth, like he felt complimented by what Greg had said. "Cool. How come?"

"Because... You put across a different persona, especially when you are at work," Greg said as he picked up an assortment of the chain accessories. He had a few cool ones handy. One of his bait-sessions had taken him into similar areas in New York.

"I wouldn't call it a different persona." Nick turned towards Greg with the eyeliner and brush in hand. "Here, stand still for a second. It's just a different level of professionalism. I spend a lot of time with Jim and Catherine telling me to not hang it all out on a limb for the victims."

"You must've been borderline close to being me Nick," Greg replied, standing still and relaxing. "Lucky escape."

"Yeah. I don't think I could have..." Nick rolled his shoulders slightly, even as he leaned in to carefully apply a little eyeliner around Greg's right eye. "You know, done this every day of my life."

"No," Greg murmured. "I don't think I will be able to either. But on the whole that's usually not an issue." Victim Empaths had high mortality rates, not just from scenes or baits gone wrong. They cracked up, they broke, and they couldn't live with the 'Fear' and committed suicide. Whatever it was, they were lucky if they just broke and were retired.

Greg figured he was doing all right. He held still while Nick leaned a little to outline Greg's other eye. He was healthy, still had a good outlook on life. He had someone else to focus on, other than himself, other than Aiden's death. "No?"

"No. Burn out is high." He tried not to move too much. "On the other hand, we've... my previous partner and I put away six unsolved serials, and contributed to hundreds of other cases. It's hard to stop in the face of that. And they have ways of reinforcing it's a good thing."

"Yeah, the wet wiring. I did some research on that." But probably not enough to really understand it, probably enough to creep himself out, though. "Is that how Will keeps going?"

"Will is... I have no idea how he is keeping going," Greg said. "He's so close to a meltdown I don't think he realizes it. But he won't let me do a reset until we've found Jim because... and he's probably right, it's going to take some time to rebuild him. I don't think he's ever had a reset. He is so wound up he's working at like... what we call 'running hot' all the time. Uh, like that moment when you have your gun drawn and you're in the zone. I freaked him out earlier by trying a basic exercise and he was way too keyed in and he was scared he was going to lose it."

Nick gave a quiet, low whistle, and stepped back, reaching for the shimmer cube he'd left on the countertop. "Man, five minutes of that is more than too much for me to take. When were you last reset? We don't really even have a controller here."

"Before I was sent to the Auction," Greg said. "I'll need one after this goes down, then hopefully I'll get to establish baselines with Will. Right now I'm winging it." He smirked a little. "Baselines can be interesting. Remind me to warn you guys... it tends to involve some pretty weird things."

"You can warn me now. Seeing as when you guys will probably most need someone to know what's going on, we'll all be preoccupied." Either with a funeral or celebrations, A or b. "Close your eyes."

He could trust Nick; it was easy to close his eyes and smile a little. "The principals are that we have to establish trust relationships of actions we might do in the fields. So there is a fair amount of tying up exercises. Sex. Being familiar with how Will would hold a knife to my throat with trust, rather than threat of a killer persona. It helps with the grounding. "

"So, if you do these things in a normal frame of mind, it makes it easier to do it when you're..." Nick paused, and there was a dusting feeling of a brush sweeping intently over one eye lid. "Running hot."

"You have the contrast which acts as an anchor point," Greg replied. "It's weird but it works. And it's a very tactile position."

"So that's why you're always petting on Will's arm. I think it was creeping the Owners out." There was a grin in Nick's voice, and he brushed the dust over Greg's other eye.

"It's very important. Touch is one of the few things that can have a grounding effect on a Criminal Empath," Greg explained. "Sociopaths, psychopaths tend not to experience touch in any intimate way except as a fulfillment."

"That makes sense. Here, open your eyes." Nick stepped back slightly, hands on Greg's shoulders for a moment.

Greg did so, blinking a little. "How's it looking? You ought to see me when I take a woman's role. I wear a mean pair of stockings."

"Seriously?" Nick grinned, trying to not laugh. Yeah, he might laugh now, but he hadn't *seen* Greg all decked out. "Okay. Is that what you're looking for?"

Greg looked over at the mirror and smirked. "Yeah, hold on. Let's try out the whole look."

He clipped on the chains, and roughly spiked his hair. "I'll go out and come in and ... try and look at me holistically. You've got good skills."

"Yeah, but I don't think I can look at you like a sociopath." Still, Nick didn't say *no*, and that was heartening.

"Don't need to. I just want an ordinary person's impression of how I come across. You might not need some of the subtleties to get the idea. Will's job is to tell me if it is triggering. You can just tell me your judgments," Greg said as he headed out of the room.

He took a moment to slip on the carefully constructed persona, submissive, wanting strong control, offering everything, hurt, vulnerable and a need to feel that hurt and vulnerability *intensely*. Hungry for contact, a different walk, a different movement, a different smile. Eyes wider, emphasized by the dark lines and soft powder. Touch of light and shimmer was making him alluring, the shine of chains there and skin and scars peeking out. The hair would have to wait, but. He approached Nick as if he was offering to drop to his knees and suck his cock. Which he probably would, if Nick didn't freak.

It was hard to tell if Nick swung that way, though, or if he was just open-minded about things like makeup and fancy clothes.

Nick leaned back, and cocked an eyebrow at him. "Wow."

"You got an impression or two...?" he asked modulating his voice into the different patterns. Slower, more *wanting*. This was the glue that held the pieces together. He kept the sexual undertone strong, with subtle moves of his hips and hands.

"Yeah. Yeah, I've got an impression all right." Nick was just *staring* at him, though.

"Makes me look different doesn't it?" Greg murmured approaching him even closer. "Sometimes people who know me don't recognize me." He stepped into Nick's personal space and looked up at him concentrating his effort into *that* look, the one that Will could see without trying.

The look Will honed in on like it was a sign saying 'come and get me'. "Yeah. You look... like you want something, and that something is probably in my pants."

Greg smiled at him. "Not for long," he teased a little before he let the appearance slip and returned to plain old Greg. "So, looked good?"

"Hell yes." Nick exhaled, and okay, yeah, he was looking a little freaked out. "You should do movies."

Greg laughed a little. "We get seriously intense acting lessons. And other sorts of lessons as well. Did I freak you out? Sometimes does the first time anyone sees it."

"Yeah, I'm a little freaked out. I wasn't sure if you take it the wrong way or not if I told you. Kind of freaked out in the way Will freaks me out. Like he's a little *too* turned on, you know?"

"That's the point. You ever wonder why a suspect says 'She was asking for it'. It's because they are reading different signals." Greg said. "He's seeing... like seeing color and infrared where you would see color."

"It doesn't make it any less wrong to do that to a person. You might see it, sure, but that doesn't mean it's there for *you*, you know. Like a girl in a miniskirt."

"For Will's mindset, that's the trigger," Greg said. "And when he's being Will, he's fighting it like crazy. Tomorrow though, he'll be going with it."

"So he hasn't been going with it before now?" Nick stepped back, circled around Greg. But not in a stalking way. In an appraising way. "I think you've got the look down."

"No. That's the bleed over, the problems. He should be able to do what I do, but it's... it's harder because let's face it, most victims are normal," Greg replied. "His targets... aren't."

"Not by a long shot. I'm still kind of in awe that Catherine bought *him*. His early cases are the stuff that textbooks are written about, right down to the 'and then shit went wrong' part."

"Yeah, we got those lectures as well," Greg replied. "But he needs a helluva lot of support. That's part of what I'll be doing and I want to do. We're meant to become very codependent, and then have a Control out there balancing us."

"Who's going to be your Control?" That usually ended being up to the Owner, or the Owner him or herself, but there wasn't an owner just then, and that was the whole problem.

"That could be a problem," Greg replied. "All the more incentive to find Jim I guess. I'll just have to uh... muddle through until then."

"Yeah, that's what we've all been doing." Nick moved, sat on the edge of Greg's bed. "So, anything else I can do to help you out?"

"I think I'm cool. I'll do the hair in a bit. Got to research and see if a collar was a turn on or not for this guy," Greg said. "I appreciate the help Nick. And I really hope things are going to work out tomorrow."

"Yeah. We all do. I want it to be this easy," Nick admitted. "I'll be downstairs. Cath wanted me to keep an eye on you guys, and Will's kind of worrisome. But when you want the hair done, let me know. I know what I do with peroxide."

"You're one surprise after another," Greg said with a grin and patted him instinctively on the arm. He felt a little relieved. If he got fucked up doing this, then there would be at least someone who might help a little, or understand some of it. "Tell Will, if he asks I'll see him later, but I don't want to screw up his zone. Aiden used to hate that."

"Sure. He probably gets all of this better than I do." Nick got up from the bed, and the mattress squeaked in his wake. "If this doesn't work out, remember that it was just a shot in the dark for us, anyway."

"It wouldn't be the end of the line," Greg promised. "We don't give up until something is resolved."

"Yeah. We'll appreciate that, too. You don't even know Jim, and yeah, it's your job, but you seem to be putting your all into it for him."

"Gotta make a good impression with you guys," Greg replied and hesitated. "Nick uh, if something goes really wrong... shit, I've only known you a few days but... look, there's a file in the bottom of my bag there. Usually all those details are with the Control but... uh..."

He shrugged a little. "Just so you know."

"Details for what?" Yeah, he could already tell that Nick wasn't a guy he could just *give* information like that to and not expect him to probe.

"Living Will, letters, certificates, personal stuff... all of that," Greg replied and forced a smile. "It's procedure. We always have our affairs in order, especially before a live run."

"Are you kidding?" Nick's voice tilted a little. "Okay, I'll... I'll remember it, I just hope it doesn't go that way."

Greg just smiled a little and nodded. "So do I Nick," he said because that was the only hope he could allow himself right now. A nice easy baited live run.

It was starting to get on his nerves.

Once maybe every 8 hours or so -- he was guestimating, really, but Jim was pretty sure it was a *good* guess -- the Guy came back to play with his ass and fuck him. Once or twice, okay, fine, but it was starting to get to him. Starting to wear at the edges, even though he *knew* that if he gave to the guy, he'd end up dead so much sooner than if he gritted his teeth and just took it like a man, if he struggled and fought tooth and nail, if he wrestled or tried to wrestle free every time.

But he hadn't had enough food, and he was trying really hard to not think about his injuries. Wrists, ankles, his neck, a few burn marks, and his *ass*, well, that probably looked like ground beef because it sure as hell felt like it. And there was no way the guy could make it worse for him, not that Jim could conceive of, but the bastard was pretty damn creative. And he liked to chain Jim down, hands and knees, head down, spread wide.

Which was where he was again, with the bastard plotting who knew what behind him.

No sounds from the other room, hadn't been for a while so he guessed maybe that was another victim to this particular bastard. Which meant he was the sole focus of his attention right now and that wasn't a good thing. It was difficult. Half the time he thought he had to resist everything but then the Guy got more than a little frustrated and he had to wonder if he didn't give a little, show "progress" that he might just get his throat slit for the trouble.

Or maybe he was just rationalizing giving in a little. Almost incoherent mumbles that possibly might end up as begging but he'd deny if asked. Choked sounds that might be screams swallowed down hastily.

"Have you thought on the essence of your submission?" It was such a damn solemn phrase, while the man circled a finger around his asshole.

"Not wanting to die springs to mind," Jim managed, with the roughness of his voice ruining the flippancy he was trying for. He just sounded tired.

"If you die in my service, you will have the honor of staying in my service after." After. After death, Jim guessed, which wasn't really sounding like a good way to persuade people to play along. The tracing finger shifted, pushed one knuckle deep dry.

It was sore as hell, and Jim couldn't suppress some sort of noise. "This some sort of Egyptian thing? Weird metaphysical shit? Because if you kill me, you're not keeping hold of a damn thing."

"I'll be the last thing you ever see," the man murmured. The finger pulled out, and Jim could feel slick lube sliding down his ass crack.

Maybe he was right. Maybe. But Jim didn't care. Fuck him. He wasn't going to let it be a weapon against him. "That doesn't mean you *own* me. I'm a freeman."

"Owner. I know. You're an owner, and your people serve you, which will make your submission so much more sweet when you do..." He felt a sharp pressure against his ass, emphasis on the *sharp*, and holy shit, was he going to cut him?

"What the fuck are you doing?" he said and he didn't like the high tense tone in his voice but, that... that wasn't good. He wanted to move away, he wanted run a mile from this psycho but he was bolted down.

There was no-where, no place to go *to*. "Opening you up. It *almost* looks like a cunt. I thought I'd add a little red."

"Jesus Christ, don't..." Jim tugged hard. "Don't, fuck.... don't, please..."

And there it was and he damned himself for it. The first hint of begging or bargaining.

"Why shouldn't I?" Because he didn't need to *die* was why, he didn't need to die of a cut up *ass*, but there had to be a way to say it and not concentrate on the slow press of a sharp edge and fuck, he *was* cutting, just a little, just a nick, but as long as he kept pressing, sliding that knife slowly in...

"Because, shit, because you won't get much more pleasure from it," he tried and it was almost impossible not to shake with fear at the feel of metal pushing deeper.

Metal and sharp, sharp all the way, enough pain to bring tears to his eyes, to make his chest heave against his will. "Will you do what I ask of you?"

Give a little or become his next carving project. "Yes! Yes, just..." He hated himself for giving in, for agreeing but something told him if he didn't the guy would cut him, would keep cutting him because he toy was boring him now. Even so, he felt a stinging behind his eyes that he didn't allow to come to anything.

A hand steadied his ass for a moment, and the blade inched back out. It had probably only *just* been inside of him, but it was enough. He still hurt, felt wet and not from lube. "Yes, a little color makes all the difference."

Difference between resistance and the first few cracks appearing. Jim let his head droop down. It would be easy to give in now, too easy. He was exhausted, in pain, fucked over and screwed up and he didn't know how to go on.

He barely had enough energy to shiver when he felt the guy lean down and drag his tongue up the line of Jim's ass.

Compared to the knife it felt good. Compared to the knife anything felt good. But right now he was trying to clamp down on his urge just to babble and start begging to be let go because it was there. It had found a weak spot and was pushing at it with growing pressure. He didn't want to be here, he hated this, he hated everything, he just wanted it to go away and he screwed up his eyes and clenched his fists trying to make it happen.

It didn't, but hey, there was always the chance that God or something out there might mistake an overweight Owner-cop from New Jersey for Dorothy. He definitely wasn't wearing red slippers, just a red ass, again, and the next lick against his skin hurt, but at least it wasn't the knife. "Yes, yes, I can make you like this...."

The sound he made was very close to a whimper, though he was calling it an exhalation in his own head. He shook his head, not trusting himself to speak but the sounds leaking out anyway. He didn't know how to bend to this. He knew how to resist, how to fight but not how to bend. When he started to break it would be all splinters and shard, brittle and painful and he could hear the first cracks coming.

"Yes...." His ass was slicked again, more lube poured on, pushed in, and two fingers probed almost delicately this time. "Yes. Do you want me to fuck you? Tell me you want me to fuck you. Or I'll just have to expand you."

He hesitated before he said, "yes, fuck me," but the battle was already lost and it was pointless to deny it. Expanding would be the beginning of the end, he knew that. He needed to distract him somehow.

Keep him from getting too fascinated with the idea of turning his ass into a cunt, or whatever the hell he thought he was doing. Those fingers twisted inside of him, pressed over the cut that made his body hitch. "Next time, I think I'll fist you."

He groaned at that, not sure whether to dread it or welcome it in comparison. Fisting *could* be okay, getting fucked with a knife really wasn't. A particular movement made him yelp and he decided he would just have to deal with the next prospect when he got there. Maybe he could just pass out. Although now he dreaded the possibilities of what might happen while he was out.

"Soon I'll have you riding my dick, begging for more," he murmured, and there was a pulling sensation, of two fingers spreading him wide in opposite directions. "So beautiful. I don't think I'll fuck you after all. I think I might just soften you up a little and go find something more appetizing."

Jim hated the fact that he *wanted* the guy to find another victim. Desperately wanted the reprieve that would mean for him, but he made himself say "No, no, don't... no more."

"Just a little more. While I get dressed to go out. You can contemplate your submission while I get ready." And then all touch was gone, just for a moment, and Jim wanted to sag in relief, but he knew he couldn't, not really. It wasn't a reprieve; it was a pause before the storm, a storm that he felt being shoved slowly into his ass. Dildo, then.

It came to something when that had become *normal*, easy and something to nearly welcome. Perhaps that was the point. He was gradually giving him worse options so other things seemed pleasant in contrast.

He wanted to kill the man. He promised himself he would find a way to see him dead, legally or ...otherwise because knowing he was alive doing this... no. He couldn't breathe knowing he was still out there. He would have to die.

There was no question that he was going to have to die, Jim decided, when he felt a second, slimmer dildo being slid in alongside the first, leaving him stretched too much again, the cut-line a sharp pain before the man turned on the vibration

It hurt. It hurt enough to draw out pain and god alone knew how long he would leave him for. Hours at the least, possibly longer. He closed his eyes and tried to find some sort of Zen point beyond the feeling of violation and pain. He could do this. He knew he could.

If he kept telling himself that he might believe it.

There was no winning it. There was no way he was going to get out of it, and he started to let things slip before they'd gotten into the car, because it was all or nothing and if he tried to hold back, there would just be nothing.

There was no winning, so Will let it slip, and he hadn't done that since Jack had sold him on. It was something they needed to do, and he kept telling himself that until his mind settled into a comfortable place. Until it clicked, until the poisonous feeling had clawed up the back of his throat and settled down between his shoulders and Will wasn't sure.

He was pretty sure he shouldn't have been driving, but he was doing it anyway. It wasn't like a cop car could just drop them off outside of the place.

Greg looked... Greg looked like he had delved into the dark recesses of his mind and pulled out a living fantasy and slipped into its skin. He'd sat in silence a little and then as they got closer to their destination he decided to speak.

"You're okay with this, Will?" he asked, and Will knew if he looked, he'd see dark eyes, blooming with something vulnerable and wonderfully hurt.

It was beautiful. It was everything that part of him wanted to *keep*, keep and take away and enjoy life with, and Will couldn't. It wasn't him, and he wasn't sure what was him to begin with anymore. "Peachy."

"Uh-huh. I can tell you're in the zone Will," Greg replied. His hair was wild and amazing as if it had been gripped roughly and here and there he could see the pale gleam of a scar tantalizing under material. "You going to play the Dom in there or hunt around alone?"

"I'm not letting you out of my sight." There was too much risk, to start, and then, well... He wanted to keep Greg as his own. And the way Greg looked, tempting and ready for the taking; anyone else would be hard pressed to say 'no'.

"Once I step out of the car, I'll be in role completely," Greg reminded him. "You act however you need to act okay? It's okay, it's part of the deal. I mean if you think you need me to do anything, or assert yourself, you go ahead. I'll be there wanting it."

Will got the impression Greg was trying to give him a free pass without actually spelling out what it was for. "We're here to work a case, not relive my masturbatory fantasies. Some other time." He threw a smile at Greg, as he wheeled the car carefully into a parking spot. He was armed, which was nice of them to allow.

Greg wasn't -- it didn't fit with his persona and frankly, things were too skin tight it hide anything of anything. "I'm just saying," Greg replied. "You were holding back before. You don't have to be careful with me."

Will tightened up his turn into a parking space, and stayed silent until he had the car parked and the brake down. "Look. I'm telling you that I'm no longer holding back. If you keep telling me to 'not hold back', I'm going to *show* you just how much I'm not holding back. Do you understand?"

Funnily enough, his sharp tone seemed to make Greg relax as he nodded. "Yes. Thank you," he said, and the strangest thing of all was that he sounded grateful.

Greg closed his eyes then for a moment, taking a few deep breaths and when he opened them again he was that someone else. That look was there in his eyes and his body language shifted.

He eyed Greg for a moment, let his gaze linger on the younger man before he nodded sharply. "Let's go, now. You look... ready."

"Always ready," Greg replied with a smirk that was inviting, even as he got out of the car, his movements different from his almost gangly normal way of moving. They were smooth as silk, needy and exotic. The overall impression was of someone out there looking for sex. He was meant to be flaunting it and he was.

It was all out there, all for Will's eyes, but no, not just Will's eyes, it was for anyone who wanted to look and try to take a piece. It left him irrationally jealous, yes, because Greg wasn't *his*, but he wanted him, and that was almost one in the same, the wanting and the having, having because he wanted because he could have it because... Will shadowed him, stalked close by him as they came up to the club's bouncer.

The bouncer looked over Greg and then flicked his eyes to Will. "This one yours?" he asked. "He might be a bit over dressed for this establishment. Keep him on a short leash if you don't want to share."

"He can get under-dressed if the occasion requires it." Will slid a hand loosely around the back of Greg's neck.

"Dungeons are free to watch, charge by the hour to use," the man said watching the way Greg leaned into his hand. Greg was quiet which was strange because he'd gotten use to the talking, but Greg didn't move even when the bouncer stood aside.

He waited, and it was only when Will squeezed gently, and urged him forwards that Greg moved. It was seamless, beautiful, and he could enjoy it. It was easy to do lose himself in it, as they entered the place.

It was much like any club of this type. In the main areas there were people drinking, showing off their subs or their doms. Singles flirting like crazy, Doms hunting for a hook-up. They had "entertainment" and an elaborate display of dungeons viewable. Some of them would be professionals, hired in for the spectacle. Some would be people buying in time.

Greg was swaying, moving provocatively already, telegraphing everything.

"Do you see anything you want?" Will leaned in close behind him when they stopped a little ways inside.

"That would be up to you," Greg murmured, pressing back against him. He turned then. "You want to show me off some?"

Greg's eyes were dilated with arousal, dark and bright. It seemed he really got into character.

"I should. Let all of these people see what they can't have." Will moved them towards the bar, declining on the dungeons. That wasn't that their man came there for. He was looking at the subs, the couples, the ones in reach.

"Then do it." Greg looked around to where subs knelt, or sprawled in their Dom's laps or were trussed up. Free subs circulated offering everything from blowjobs, serving as furniture for the evening.

There was a lot he could do, but it needed to attract the right sort of attention. That was his particular genius.

Their man wanted intimate, but violent, and he wanted to see the bloom in Greg's eyes when he liked the feel. Will sat down at the bar, and hauled Greg up into his lap, fisting the fingers of one hand into some of those pretty dangling chains Greg had to keep him close. "Lean your neck back for me. I could fuck you right here. I could *fist* you right here on the table, cracked in half over the bar, Greg. Do you want that?"

If he expected fear he was surprised because there was none there. "Yeah, fuck yeah," Greg answered, arching for him. "All that... please."

The words came so easily to him, the look there in his eye's inviting him to do just that.

Will leaned in, and placed a sharp bite on the line of Greg's neck. "Beg. Beg for my dick up your ass."

"God yeah, please Will, I want you to fuck me, I need you, need your cock in me, hard." Greg's voice was just the right twist of needy and desperate. "Hard so I feel it, please..."

All part of the floorshow, and where Will would have hesitated before, he could feel it thrumming in him. They were being watched, and if their man was there, he would see and want Greg if Will took the invitation. "Kneel up," Will ordered coldly, but a little amused as he started to pull at the tight leather of Greg's pants. "Look at you, you little slut. I could pass you around like a party tray and you'd love it."

Greg moaned a little and wriggled a little, and who could resist that?

He hunched Greg close to him, leaning so he could look down along Greg's back while his ass slowly revealed, with help from Will's hands pulling his pants down. Beautiful. Not a full bubble ass, but firm enough that Will cupped one cheek in each hand and spread them, watching any of the onlookers.

People were looking. Some surreptitiously, some literally standing and staring with appreciating smiles.

This was the difference between their designation and normal Law enforcement. He and Greg could slip into different personas all too easily and follow it all the way. Maybe this was what Greg referred to as a live scene. It was surprisingly easy.

It was like breathing. No more complicated than moving his fingers, shoving one into Greg's ass harder than he needed to.

He heard the younger man give a yelp that settled into a moan against his shoulder. No hint of reluctance, no hint that he was acting.

"Yeah... yeah, oh fuck, yeah..."

"Mm, you always like that." Will smiled a sharp challenge to any of the on-lookers, and worked another finger dry into Greg's ass, stretching him roughly. "Where's your lube?"

"Mmm pocket," Greg replied and nuzzled at his neck, sucking at his neck with soft lips. It felt good, more than good.

A tiny little tube, enough to slip away into his pants, but it would do. Will unscrewed the cap, dropped it to the floor, and pushed it into Greg's ass to squeeze it into him. "Good boy."

Greg seemed to melt then, moaning like a porn star. "Please... Please fuck me. I need you..." he said in a throaty rasping version of his persona voice.

"Take my cock out." He shifted his fingers, kept a hold of Greg's ass, but he let him lean back to do what he was saying.

Immediately, Greg's fingers were there, finding his cock, pulling it free and stroking at it gently. Fuck, it felt good just to have hands on him that weren't his own, touching and stroking.

Will let Greg do that, let him stroke him hard and ready, and watching Greg's deft hands was fascinating, something he wanted to indulge in later, maybe. "That's enough. Lower yourself onto my dick."

Greg shifted himself up, seemingly oblivious to everyone except him, and then slowly did as he was told, trying to brace himself and not gasp with every movement. Whatever Greg's experience had been evidently it had involved getting over being shy of sex in front of an audience.

"Please... so fucking big in me... need to... need to move."

"You'll move when I say you can." He squeezed Greg's asscheeks, holding him still on his lap, and he watched the other men, meeting their eyes, seeing if they wanted to get involved in the scene. "Does someone want to hand me a beer bottle?"

It seemed there was a whole host of people willing to do that. A dozen or more bottles were thrust at him from all over, and he looked around at those offering for some sort of an idea of the people there.

Some pairs, with their subs with tongues practically hanging out. Few of singles, one of them a woman. Interesting mix.

Greg was holding himself there, a soft whimper coming from him when he saw him accept the bottle.

"Tell me 'please'." It was a simple request, as he shifted and moved just enough to pull out of Greg.

Greg looked at him then, and there is was, that look of hurt and vulnerability just starting to uncurl, sweet and wonderful.

"....please..." he whispered and then again louder "...Please..."

"You asked so sweetly." So sweetly that Will wanted to, and did, nosing the tip of the open container up against Greg's ass, pushing it slowly in, slowly. It was unyielding, and clear, and tapered at the top so every slow centimeter as Will fucked it gently into Greg was a little wider than the one before it.

Greg made more noises this time, noises that edge on the side of pain and drifted into moans of pleasure. He shook with the strain of holding still, but tilted himself to offer up his ass all the better. Will had a vague niggling thought that doing this should bother him somehow, but right now it didn't. Not with Greg moaning and repeating 'please' with that delicious little hitch in his voice.

It was beautiful, on so many levels, and he wanted to keep doing it, but he was there for a *case*. Get attention, then back off a little, then get more attention. Put on a show and fuck Greg with it until he got off.

Greg was going with it, shifting a little and using his right hand to stroke at Will's cock in time to the movements of the object in his ass. He had his eyes closed now, and moaned and gasped in short hitched as he gave way to what he was doing.

It was beautiful, having Greg submit like that, having him open himself up to whatever Will was doing, whatever he wanted to do to Greg. A little more, and then he pulled it out, slammed the bottle down on the table, and shifted Greg to force his dick in where the bottle had been.

Greg threw his head back playing to their crowd unselfconsciously. He begged in broken phrases and tried to fuck himself on his cock in trembling abandon. No one would believe it wasn't real.

Will hardly believed that it wasn't real, that there wasn't *some* part of Greg that wanted to be fucked hard in front of a room full of strangers. He knew that there was a certain thrill that came from entanglements like that, no matter the regrets that followed afterwards. Will thrust, thrust hard, steering Greg with hands on his waist.

"I need to... please let me..." Greg was gasping out between the thrust. "Please... please I need to come..."

Of course he'd ask permission, that was totally in character but it didn't stop the thrill of power that went with controlling something so intimate.

"Not yet, not yet..." Will bent his head in, bit at Greg's shoulder while he got in the last few hard thrusts because he was *there*, and Greg felt amazing, and god, so tight despite what he'd just done with the bottle, gripping Will's dick the whole length, it felt like heaven and sin, and-- "Now."

And he came, just then at the sound of his voice and words as if he had been well trained just for him and he cried out at the teeth pressing into his shoulder at the same time shuddering inside and out with his release and that movement transmitting to spasms around his cock.

The perfect place to come into, an ass hungry for his dick, his attention. Will made no noise when he came, but bit harder, almost breaking skin, gripping Greg hard and stilling him.

Greg practically collapse forward on to him then, resting against his shoulder and breathing heavily into his ear. It was surreal and dreamlike that he had done it, but this was who he was now.

He held Greg still, and then gently prodded him to move, shifting to pull out of Greg. "Kneel down and clean me off."

Greg slipped down obediently on his knees, his pants gathered around his ankles while he did what had to be not the most pleasant task in the world, even if he was sure that Greg would've prepared himself for the eventuality

There were a group clustered around him then offering comments and congratulations and on man sat down near him. "That's a fine boy you've got there. Had him long?"

"Long enough to start training him properly." He smiled sharply at the man, attention focused as if Greg's mouth on his dick didn't matter that much.

The man's smile grew as he watched a moment longer. "Looks like he's learned well. Eager little cockslut isn't he? Couldn't wait for it. That's the best type I've found."

"Starving for it. He can't get enough. Can you, Greg?" He curled fingers at the nap of Greg's neck and tried to get him to look up. There was a feeling that he was getting.

Greg looked up at him and then over at the other man, giving him the full benefit of that 'look' that seemed to speak to the crazy in him and he wasn't sure but he was sure the man inhaled sharply.

"Yes, sir," Greg answered licking his lips and looking up at him as if he was the only person in the world.

"Can I induce you to let me try him, or watch something a little more challenging?" the onlooker supplied. "It is rare to see such talent. I would like to appreciate it."

Invite and let him sample, or just offer to let him watch? Will dug his fingers in a little, eyeing the onlooker. "What kind of ‘challenging' do you have in mind?"

"Oh, I just wondered how he dealt with a more... rigorous control," the man replied. "I have a gold pass to the dungeon room, the private ones. I can assure you there is plenty to entice you to experiment there."

The two of them, alone with him. Will was going to play along as far as he needed to until the man could show his hand, and he could signal the cops to come and get him. "I think I'll take you up on that offer. Greg, up."

Greg stood, pulling his leather trousers up and looking up at him for reassurance. Every move was perfect, every action would come across as genuine. That was their skill and Greg was just... perfect.

"Good. I appreciate someone who seems to know the importance of absolute control and discipline," the man replied with a smile. He looked harmless but there was a look in his eyes, that 'I've got a secret, I've got a superpower' look that killers seemed to have. He was about to get on the hook, and then they had to reel him in.

"Oh, I do." Will tucked his dick away into his pants as he stood up, putting a hand automatically on Greg's shoulder. Such a tight ass. It was beautiful, and it left Will wondering what Greg as himself was like.

The man got up, "I have a particular favorite dungeon. Not the biggest but rarely used. Follow me."

He sauntered away into the crowd, supremely confident. Maybe he did want to sample the goods before he tried to steal the bait. That meant he was cautious and didn't bode well for Jim Brass if he was out on the prowl. He was sure this was the man. Sure of it. He had the scent of him, and the scent was fierce, rancid, and all Will could do was all he'd ever done. Waltz right into the fucking trap, dragging his company along with him. Greg heeled close behind him as he followed their target through the meandering halls of the club.

It was out of the way. The man flashed his pass at someone, and then took them down a long hallway with door on either side. When he stopped, Will noticed they were not far from the fire exit, but the man studied the room, presumably to make sure that it was unoccupied then opened it.

As they went in, for the first time he felt Greg shake a little with reason. It looked a lot like someone had taken a medieval dungeon and upgraded the devices. Frames, racks, objects lined up on the tables. A fearsome looking bondage chair.

"Like I said, plenty to occupy you."

Will had to wonder if this was the sort of place he'd created for himself.

It was likely, given the degree of injury most of his victims had borne. It made Will wonder if the man was the club's owner, made him wonder if that was how he'd stayed below radar. Will gave a low whistle, walking towards the chair. "My name's Will, by the way. Will Fall. This is quite the device."

"You have good taste," the man replied. "Mine is Toby Erte. This is a particularly versatile piece of equipment. Your chosen sub can be held completely immobile in a variety of positions. There are built in tools and effects, or you can use something portable."

He picked up a remote. "A work of art. Much like your boy."

"And it's remote controlled. That's ingenious. Did you build it yourself?"

"Designed it for the club," he replied. "There are many pieces of my work in a surprising amount of establishments. From the basic, to the more elaborate. It is very rewarding to see it in use with an appropriate couple."

Will let his fingers linger on one carved arm, before he pivoted. "Greg, sit down in it. Now."

Greg looked up at him and yes, there was fear there and it was all the sweeter for that when he moved and sat in the chair looking unsettled and a little wary. That was all to the good.

He did it despite the fear. "Sometimes Greg gets a little skittish," Will warned quietly, even as he moved to see how Greg could best be strapped into the chair. "But he never says no. He knows he just needs someone to expand his horizons for him."

"I believe that with the correct training, they can far exceed even what they believe to be their limitations," the man replied. "Here, let me show you. These control retractable metal manacles, for wrists and ankles. Here, there are straps that can literally lace around every part of his body. The leg rests there are split, and can be widened as far as you wish. The whole inner piece here can rotate forward and areas slide back for full access. I am... quite proud of it."

Will leaned in close, studying the controls. "Perhaps I should strip Greg so we can see the full extent of what can be done with the chair."

"I would certainly not argue with that," Toby replied with a smile. "Don't worry Greg, you'll love it. "

Greg got up in response to Will's summons and obeyed when it came to stripping. He had to know that Will thought they were on to something. Either that or he thought Will was enjoying himself too much. He stood there, naked, shivering just a little though the room was a comfortable temperature.

Fear. Will lifted his chin slightly, and leaned in close to Greg, close enough to bite at his ear and whisper "be good" before he slapped his ass. "Into the chair again, Greg."

The younger man sat down again looking mutely at him as if already begging for mercy even as he took the position.

"That's much better," the man enthused. "He looks like he belongs there. Please go ahead, experiment."

He took the remote carefully, and after a moment's consideration of the controls, locked Greg's wrists in place, and then his legs.

Greg nearly flinched at the snapping sound and Will heard the man give a low chuckle. "Nervy isn't he?" he commented coming closer to him. "I bet he comes at the drop of a hat. I particularly liked the way that he came when you ordered him to and..."

He was interrupted by Greg yelling "Will! Look out!" as he picked up the buzz of something electric too close.

Will pivoted, throwing a blind punch that he hoped would land home, but it didn't matter if it landed or not because the electric noise stabbed hard against his crotch and then shot pain through him.

He hit flesh somewhere and the other man recoiled back." Bastard! He... is going to be mine... wasted on... you..." Toby said viciously. "What the fuck! Why aren't you out? Should've known you were hopped up on something!"

"Will... fuck, stay away from him... Will! Will please... what are you doing? No! You could kill him!" Greg sounded frantic and he could hear the buzz sound again.

It didn't matter, though, because if he *lost*, the man was going to get Greg. Will lunged at him, fingers going for Toby's neck when he felt pain hit his throat, sending him reeling.

"Stay down you fucker," the man said in a rough voice. "For fucks sake!"

"Don't kill him, don't kill him!" Greg's voice was begging plaintively. "Please don't kill him! I'll do anything you want, just don't..."

"You'll do anything I say anyway slut. Shut up." There was a buzz and zap then but not directed at him and he knew Greg had been pinned helpless to stop the jolt, with no clothes to mess it up. He was out of it. "Now you. Goodbye Will Fall."

And the tazer fired one last time.

Greg woke up with a dose of the Fear clamoring at him which meant one thing. It had gone wrong and the killer had him.

Not the first time it had happened but things had been going so smoothly up to that point. He'd been a little worried about how much his persona for the evening wanted to bleed over. He enjoyed what Will had done, not just the persona he was using. He found himself wondering how it would feel to have that sort of thing with Will for real and those were dangerous thoughts.

But things had gone badly wrong. He should've seen that the guy was waiting to immobilize him so he could tackle Will one on one. One shot and he was out of it, and ... he didn't know if the guy had killed Will. It seemed likely because he was here and still naked and hey, trussed up completely on some sort of similar device to the one he had foolishly sat in.

But he just had to wait it out. Wait it out until someone found Will and then kicked in the homing beacon and tracker. Hour or so, maybe less. He can't have been out of it that long.

They'd find him, and everything would be all right. That was why he *had* a tracker, and if Will was still alive, if...

"Open your eyes, Greg. You have company that wants to watch the show. I thought I'd show you what true submission is, Jim."

"Yeah, pretty easy to fool yourself when you got someone trussed up and unable to argue," came a rough drawling voice from over to his right. He opened his eyes then, not on command but because he wanted to see that all of this had not been in vain. Jim Brass was still alive.

Though not in particularly good shape, from the looks of it.

"Where's Will? What've you done with Will? Let me go!"

"Your Will is probably dead. You should forget him. I have no sympathy for men who feel they have to augment themselves with drugs to feel powerful enough to control someone like you." Toby crossed in front of him, between Greg and Jim. Jim looked bruised to hell, cuffed down on his hands and knees, but he was *alive*.

"No. No, not Will..." It was okay to play the little lost sub; it would probably turn the guy on. It looked like Jim hadn't been cooperating and he was going to be the object lesson. He could play into that, he needed to play into that to get through this. Get the man so into the game he wouldn't notice the assault when it came. It wouldn't be long because that was what the damn trackers were for. "What am I going to do? I need him!"

He even let a little moisture spill from his eyes even while he did privately worry about Will. He couldn't be dead. That wasn't possible.

Will was one of those guys who got up and kept on ticking, who didn't *stop* going. If he even had a pulse, he'd be there in the group that would save the day. "I can show you that I can give it to you just as well as he ever could."

"No, no, please... I love him..." All the time he was watching, his training helping him catalogue the reactions and find the weak spots. Yes, this Toby liked the idea that he could love someone who did this . It was a huge buzz for him.

And then it clicked. *That* was the missing thing he was looking for. Victim Zero was someone he had loved. Not just a mistake, but someone who loved him, loved what he did and he'd loved him right back. That was what he was trying to do. Make them love him.

He'd just found the man's kink and the chink in his armor.

"I... I don't know... what are you going to do to me?"

"Show you what you could be." Toby reached out, stroked at Greg's chin, the gesture slow and tender.

Just enough response to lure him in, to convince him. Mix it with a little natural fear and turn up the vulnerability and helplessness.

"Please..." He whispered and it could've been begging to be released, or with that faint little twist that would only have been heard if you'd been listening for it, it could be construed as consent.

The man didn't want a fight. Perhaps he was enjoying breaking Jim, but he didn't want that now. He was to be a display piece.

That was all he wanted Greg for, to fuck him up in all the ways he thought felt best, to show Jim what *should* be in the man's opinion. All Greg had to do was stall because rescue was on the way. Toby leaned in, kissed him hard. "The bottle up your ass at the club was beautiful. You can be so much more beautiful than that. "

He gave a little back to the kiss as if he couldn't help himself, knowing that would appeal to the man's vanity and conception of himself. "I... I..."

"Let the kid alone!" Jim rasped out. "For fucks sake, haven't you had enough?"

"Not after what I saw," the man murmured. "I saw something beautiful in this young man, and *you* need to see it, too. Put all thoughts of Will out of your head, Greg. Think of me."

"Will you... will you let me go if I do?" he asked in what he hoped was convincing wild aimless hope. Grasping at straws, blindly hoping and with that secret undercurrent of interest.

"Yes. Yes, I will release you." Fingers lingered under his chin, and he knelt down in front of the chair, sliding his hands over Greg's thighs. "Jim, tell him what I do."

"He's a sick bastard who likes to see if he can make you enjoy being raped and tortured," Jim said in a tired but still recognizably wry tone.

Greg was impressed. Jim Brass was tough and more adaptable than anyone seemed to realize. He had lasted this long and he still had that edge of humor left. He allowed himself to respond with a blush, a useful trick he had learned by calling up select embarrassing memories but it could easily be mistaken for the hint of uncontrollable arousal.

"It's not rape and torture, Jim. It's transformation. I've been trying to get you to realize this. Just watch." He reached between Greg's legs, caressing over his balls, and back to his anus.

Greg leaned back and didn't have to reach far into the fake persona to trigger arousal. Sometimes he worried about himself. He wasn't a vanilla guy, never would be but this was a little too hardcore for him. But he never had to work too hard to fake it. His body shivered and reacted with all the unmistakable hallmarks of him getting turned on.

He heard Jim groan in the back ground. "Oh god kid... don't. C'mon, don't go easy.."

"Silence, Jim, or I'll plug your ass again. *Watch*." He felt one finger press a little, and then felt it retreat for a moment before coming back slick. Lube, and fingers up his ass, and how was *that* going easy?

It seemed logical enough to play along, but from Jim's reaction it was probably a precursor to something else. He could deal. The bottle hadn't been that bad because he'd made sure he was stretched before they went out, slicked up and clean. Will had been pretty careful with it considering and it had ended up just the right balance.

"Silence? You sound like Ming the fucking merciless," Jim said and Greg could tell he was trying to distract the guy. Two fingers now. And three. He groaned a little at that.

That was moving fast, a little too fast. Even as intense as Will had been, it had been on that cusp between okay and too much without hitting any impossible level. Three fingers started to shove back and forth, and there was a pause before the forth finger forced its way into his ass, and Toby opened his hand flat.

He did cry out then, because it did hurt and he did screw his eyes shut a little to breathe through it, to bring up the pleasure thoughts he needed to drown the pain away. His hitched breathing took on a different rhythm as he focused on the sense memories of the reset wet-wire jolt. They were like a pure ecstatic pleasure, an orgasm of the brain that didn't stop. Even a memory was enough to drown out pain.

"Do you see this? Do you see how hard his cock is? I'm going to get my thumb in his ass, and he'll *love* it."

That seemed to shut Jim up or maybe it was the way he was panting uncontrollably, because he could make himself come, he could do it and it wasn't even that bad a thing. Okay, he didn't do it every day and he didn't particularly want a killer to be doing it to him but he had that peculiar dissociation come over him where a part of his mind, the part that was Greg stepped back and watched his body just react like the slut he was pretending to be.

He could imagine his Owner's disgust. This was not the way to make a good first impression.

Not that Jim knew who he was, but he'd find out. Hopefully he'd understand what Greg was doing, but if he didn't... if he didn't, Greg didn't know what to do. And Will was injured from it, or dead, so the most he could do was go with it, play along when he felt the extra stretch of the man's thumb in his ass, and then the knuckle, and fuck *that* hurt, made Greg cry out.

The guy was too fast, too impatient. This sort of thing needed time, needed trust because it was hard to relax unless you were that able to hand over control. He had to push himself deep to get through it, even knowing that was what the man wanted. He let himself make the noise, he let himself writhe and tears leak out and his cock go hard because he needed to stall and allow them to survive. Rescue would be coming.

Rescue would be there soon. Just a few minutes, just a few. The man stayed at that level of intensity, just rocking his fingers in and out for a few moments, before Greg felt the man slowly make a fist.

There was nothing to do except scream a choked protest and ride it until he came. That was the proof the man was after, the proof that people could love this, could want this no matter the treatment. Because he couldn't face the fact that he had killed someone he loved and perhaps they'd said no and he'd thought they'd meant yes.

He was too tight for it not to hurt but that was the point and he went with the moment until with a burst of genuine humiliation he gave a strangled cry and came.

H could feel it when the fingers pulled out, no-longer a fist. Toby shifted back, still kneeling, still studying Greg. "Do you see that, Jim?"

"Yeah, I see it," Jim replied. "I see you fucking someone senseless who can't help himself."

He didn't seem impressed even as Greg panted his way through the come down and pain. It hurt.

"I'm *trying* to make you understand so you can find pleasure in your submission. I should cut your dick off and put it up his ass where it might do some *good*." The man turned from Greg, towards Jim, and that was *not* what Greg wanted to have happened, but a noise from the doorway caught his attention.

It was a quiet 'tsk' noise.

Rescue! Thank god! The guys must've tracked him down and he'd never moan about the tracker ever again.

He twisted his head to see who it was. Maybe one of his new housemates was there.

It wasn't one of his housemates. The man looked like a businessman, balding, grayed brown hair slicked back against his head, and his arms were crossed. "You're not very sophisticated, are you, Toby? You're a bit of a brute from what I can see. You really *can* take a normal man and make him crave your fist up his ass, but this is like an amateur's course on how *not* to do it."

Oh shit. There was something about the way the man moved, and looked that made Greg's PV training sit up and scream. His neck prickled as if a panther had strolled in the room. He wasn't the target but this man was more dangerous with every breath than Toby could ever dream of being in a lifetime.

"Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?" Toby stood fumbling for some sort of weapon. He still had the tazer from his abduction.

"Someone who has more pressing business with these two men than you do." He circled around Toby, as if Greg and Jim weren't there at all, calm as he slipped a hand into his pocket. "That's not even one of those expensive ones that shoots the darts. For a man who seems to want to get up close and personal with his victims, you're quite the pussy, Topology."

The mocking tone seemed to put the other man on edge. "You fucking bastard! Let's see how good at this you really are."

And he lunged with his tazer at him, aiming for some sort of contact.

It was like watching a viper strike. The older man was deceptively fast and strong, and he came at Toby, flicking out what looked like a switchblade and slashing at Toby's armpit before stepping away. It left Toby's arm limp, and the tazer slipped to the floor. "Well?"

The other killer stared at him as if he couldn't believe what had just happened and his nerve seemed to break and he tried to run for it. In watching the other man move Greg suddenly knew who he reminded him of. Will, he reminded him of Will, the unconscious movements and mannerisms were close. Not the same, but too damn close and that made him almost amazingly certain of who this was.

Lecter. It had to be Lecter.

He was completely unselfconscious, and fluid, and frighteningly savage when he stopped Toby from trying to run. The stabs he made weren't for death, they were for debilitation and leaving him to bleed out, cutting tendons fiercely, teeth bared. When he had Toby flat out on the ground, he knelt over him, and almost gently popped the blade into his crotch. "Do you like that, Toooooby? I've just ruptured one of your testes."

Toby was screaming and Greg recognized that tone in the noise. It was the Fear, the intensity of fear and crashing in of knowledge that yes, you were going to die and it wasn't an abstract thing, it was happening *here* and *now* and it was going to be bad, incredibly bad.

"Oh god nooooooooooo! No...!" The man was practically blubbering, gasping for air in panic and pain even as blood spurted high and bright enough that he could see it even from where he was strapped down.

"No? Who are you to say 'no' when you've played god with so many men's lives. Be a man about it. What were you saying about submission?" There was a grope of the man's crotch, and then another stab, and he leaned in to -- Oh, fuck, fuck, Greg was going to throw up.

"Jesus fucking Christ..." he heard Jim rasp out even as the man's scream went impossibly high and piercing with terror and then choked off .

It was so damn quick, so terrifyingly quick and Greg tried not to retch as he saw what Lecter was doing with the castrated body part.

Lecter -- and Greg was pretty damn sure he was right about who it was -- sat back on his haunches for a moment, swallowing, letting the blood drip down his face. "I think it's time for us to leave this place."

"You know, not that I'm not grateful, but I'm not sure I particularly want to take you up on that offer," Jim managed, even his voice sounding shaky. "Think I might prefer to stay here."

Greg wanted to say no, but he *knew* Lecter from the case studies. Lecter would just kill them if he had no use for them. "Jim, listen to him."

Lecter had come here for them. Or for at least one of them. That meant they had to both be interesting in some way to make it through this. Maybe he didn't know that he was a Designated Empath with a tracker. They could be rescued, it could be any moment thought right now that could be dangerous.

He wiped the switchblade on his trousers, even as he stalked towards Greg. "There's a good boy. This really is a time to be quiet. Now, which arm has the tracker in it? Be honest, or I'll have to flay both of them just to be careful."

"Tracker?" That was Jim sounding confused and more than a little sick.

Greg found himself shivering a little. "...left..." he said and he had to come up with something to interest Lecter to keep them alive. He was naked in front of the world's most notorious serial killer who'd just *eaten* another killers testicles in front of him. It would have to be something incredibly interesting.

It would have to be prize-winning.

The man cut the restraints on Greg's left wrist, and eyed it, looking for the tell-tale bump that indicated the tracker. He could have done something stupid, made a move for the man's head, but he didn't. He let him find the tracker, and he dipped the blade carefully into Greg's arm, with surgical precision, dropping the tiny tracker to the floor. "There we go. That can be a present for Will." He put the blade away, slipped back into a pocket, and reached into his other pocket.

"You want him," Greg said in a shaky voice, unable to stop it. The place reeked of blood. "He said he'd killed him..."

He glanced at the bloody mess that had been Toby their wannabe killer.

"You'll have to excuse me if I want to verify that myself." There was a flourish of cloth, and Lecter leaned up, placing it over his mouth. "Breath deep. One... Two...."

He couldn't help but try and hold his breath, but eventually he had to breathe in the cloying unmistakable chloroform fumes knowing he had been snatched from the frying pan right into the fire.

And so had Jim. And now they were going to be playing a game that neither one of them was prepared to play.

Nick felt guilty, there was no two ways about it. He'd thought Greg had been a bit melodramatic when he'd been helping out. All that business about his will and things going wrong, just in case. It just seemed a little too over the top and Greg seemed to be a little highly strung, although in comparison to Will he was mellow, but even so. He'd sort of dismissed it.

But things had gone wrong, badly wrong and he had that aching feeling that meant he should've paid more attention. He should've listened to Greg when he was talking to him and realized he was only skimming the surface of what he did and what that actually meant. Because right now it had all gone to hell.

Gone to hell probably didn't even skim the problem. Will had been tazered, and even though a paramedic swore he probably needed at least a rest on top of being treated for burns, he was there with them when they'd broken into the house from which Greg's tracker was broadcasting it's signal.

Nick had realized how out of their league they were when they'd arrived there to find the suspect dead on the floor, and a tracking chip placed neatly on what looked like a torture chair. For a moment when he smelled the blood, he thought they were going to be finding Jim and Greg dead but instead this. It was going to be a helluva scene to process and time was ticking away.

"Okay, what's the deal here," Catherine said as she snapped on her gloves. "You sure this is the suspect, not another victim?"

"I was face to face with the man, and his face is still recognizable. This is our suspect." Will's voice sounded tight, wound up. Almost nervous.

"So, where's Jim. And where's Greg. That's his transmitter. And whoever it was..." Catherine paused and looked around. "Really didn't like people getting in their way."

Nick was looking at the body. "He's missing body parts," he added. "And they are not with the body."

Will moved towards him, crouched down disconcertingly close beside Nick. "Bait. He's using them as bait..." Nick hadn't been expecting Will to lean, grab a sample stick from his kit, but he moved fabric to one side without touching the body. "Oysters."

What the hell? He must still be delirious or something. "Oysters?" he asked. What was that all about? He'd taken bait to act as bait. Who for? Why had the killer been killed?

Will rubbed at his face with both hands. "Testes. The culinary term is 'Oysters'. They're not bad, but I prefer bull to human, and cooked to raw. Watching that probably scared the shit out of them. Scared victims are compliant victims for him. They know they're outclassed, out matched, and if they were smart they didn't fight."

Nick nodded. "That's Greg's tracker right?" he said. "Not a lot of blood there. Either he didn't fight or he wasn't in a position to fight."

He looked at the apparatus and didn't like the mental images it was giving him. Greg or Jim in that thing... no, that didn't bear thinking about.

Catherine looked around. "You sound like you have an idea of who it was who took them. Care to clue us in?"

"I told Greg that I'd seen Lecter. In the hall, at the sale. I was right, I wasn't just hallucinating." Will stayed crouched, staying at their suspect-cum-victim. "Son of a bitch."

"Lecter? Jesus... Lecter's got them?" Catherine replied and that shook even her ‘been there done that' attitude.

Nick paused, feeling a chill. "What's he likely to do with them?"

"Bait me. He doesn't want them. This was just a convenient opportunity for him, a little bit of fun." Will sounded flat when he said that, looking at the bloody gouges where the man's balls had been. "It depends on how they act towards him."

There was a pause as Nick knew everyone from his house was thinking the same thing. Jim could find a way to get under the skin of and irritate the hell out of a saint. It was, as he often said, one of his talents perfected over the years.

"Shit," Warrick said. They all knew Lecter's cases, it was required study. They knew the gruesome details and knew he just didn't have limits the way others did. The terror of Lecter was he could think the unthinkable and had no inhibitions about putting thought into action.

Catherine looked grim and resolute. "Okay, talking about it's not going to help, evidence will. Sara, take the adjoining room. Warrick, you and I are taking this room. Nick, stay with Will and target any evidence he thinks is significant and rush the stuff back to the lab and him home. He should be resting and we'll need him rested."

"Sure," Nick replied moving to shadow the Criminal Empath. How the man was moving after three tazer hits he didn't know.

Other than stiffly. Tensely. "Process the case to close your other victims. Process the room to explain what happened to our suspect and to close the case. He left nothing. There might be a fingerprint on the chip, and you can turn it in for a cash reward, but it won't tell me where he went." Will stood, an uneasy motion as he backed away from the body. "Don't move anything. I just want to look around for a moment."

This had to be the weirdest case ever. He hesitated and then backed off with Will, trying to see what he seemed to be looking for. If he was right and he was trying to bait Will, surely he'd want to hook him in somehow. But, how? They were working a whole new kind of case now, a whole new missing person's case, and he was probably right. This guy was a professional, and a ghost. Will slipped his hands into his pockets, staring around the dungeon's space. "What're you trying to tell me, Hannibal? What's the fucking trick this time?"

Okay, maybe this wasn't good. Will shouldn't be getting worked up like this not after some serious jolts of electricity. "Hey... hey easy Will," Nick said approaching him. He hesitated to touch him even if he remembered Greg talking about how important that was. "Think it might be an idea if I took you home. Come at it fresh."

"No, no, *this* is as fresh as it gets. It's..." Will took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and his mouth twisted down. "Dammit, I can smell his cologne. Taste, scent, we've had sight, no touch, no sound, can't track him, can't track Greg, your Owner isn't chipped..."

"Yeah and neither are you," Nick pointed out. If they'd known that they might've found him earlier. "Look, if it's bait then he's going to find a way to get the message to you, right? He wants you to play the game."

"I'm not chipped because I dug it out of my arm because the damn thing has bothered me for *years* now. Yes, yes, he'll find a way in but if I can see what he's planning the game's going to wrap up that much sooner. Sound, sound... Does this city have a symphony?"

"Well, yeah. It's not completely devoid of culture," Sara said from the other side of the room. "What's that got to do with it?"

"For Lecter? Everything. He's not going to sit in a room masturbating, or staring at a wall. He's going to take his show on the road, once he knows the bait is secured. He's going to see the sights and hear the sounds and taste the really good food, and woo high officials so he can savor the irony."

"As soon as this evidence hits CODIS you are going to have a task force out here," Catherine pointed out. "He's bound to know that as well. We'll have man power to stake places out then."

"Yeah, but what would attract him, " Nick asked. "How would he go about choosing? I mean if he looks at the TV, or paper... or if he gets it off of Jim... there's some very different possibles there."

"If you passed him in the street, would you know it's him?" Will asked, turning to look at Nick.

"No, but you could do an artist's impression of him," Nick responded. How Greg had managed to deal with him, he didn't know.

He was prickly, and is eyes were sharp, narrowed as he looked at Nick. "Artist's impressions exist. Old photos of when he was a contractor for the FBI exist. Hell, I have some in my bags back at the house, but it's not going to *help*. He doesn't exude evil. He could walk right past you and you'd never know it."

"But you would," Catherine said astutely. "Nick, take him home. He's got what he can from here. Will, you're going back. Think, work on ideas or whatever the hell you do but you need to get your head together. "

"Beautiful advice from the woman who didn't want to re-set Greg. *I'm* used to running hot, but he isn't, so I don't need you lecturing me about me getting my head together. I've been living as Hannibal's shadow for so long that if I walked out of here and you let me drive, I probably *could* find him."

"Maybe you could, but the point is what would you do when you found him?" Catherine replied defiantly. "It's no good if you run off and throw yourself into his trap. Tonight has taught us *that* doesn't always work."

"Uh..." Nick could see this spiraling out of control. Catherine had been incredibly on edge since Jim had been taken and right now if he put Lecter and her in a room, he'd reckon it would be too close to call. "Okay, time out." He put his hand on Wills shoulder.

"Get the *hell* off of me." It was a snarl, and he jerked his shoulder back and stepped away from Nick, towards Catherine. "I could distract him. If this turns into a confrontational situation, a lot of people are going to die. He does not go down quietly. I had to stab him in the chest and *then* shoot him to just immobilize him, and *that* was sheer dumb luck on my part."

He was starting to see what the reset was all about.

"I get that Will, we all do," Catherine replied "But right now you are in the crime scene making a damn scene of your own. I need you out, I need the evidence because however near super human he might be, there's a faint possibility he might've screwed up and left some sort of clue. I can't just say, oh hey he said there wouldn't be any so we won't look. So if you are done getting the scent or whatever it is , get the *hell* out of my crime scene and go clear your head. And to make sure you don't just start wandering the streets, Nick stay with him. And for god's sake make a call and get him chipped again. We don't want to lose both of them."

He could see Will's face screw up, another retort or who knew what ready for her, and then he pivoted and stomped towards the door, leaving Nick to scamper after him. "If they can keep their damned mouths shut, nothing is going to happen to them." It was his parting shot as he started up the stairs, reaching into the inside of his jacket for a pack of cigarettes.

Nick sighed and followed. He should be processing, he should be tracking evidence, looking for that key but here he was chasing around after Will. He respected the guy, he didn't know how he did what he was doing but he was starting to get Greg's quiet assertion that he was very close to snapping.

"Hey, hey man... slow up," Nick said as they made it out the door. Not even the half crazy guy contaminated a scene by smoking. "We're all worried okay? All a little strung out. Nobody wanted anything to happen to them."

"I *had* the guy. I had the guy, and he managed to waltz out of there, *with* Greg, with a couple of squads of cops watching the place." Will kept walking, heading away from the house, into the back yard, digging into his pocket for a lighter. "Fuck."

"There were a fair amount of people being carried out publicly trussed up from that place, and no signal." Nick said. "Though they should've been watching the tracker rather than frisking suspects. Catherine tore strips out of them."

He followed him easily. "Greg... Greg seems like an adaptable guy. And Jim, Jim's tougher than old boots."

"Jim Brass has been held captive by a man who gets off on shoving bigger and bigger things up his victim's asses. The more extreme, the better. I caught his eye in the club by shoving a beer bottle up Greg's ass." Will tapped out a cigarette, and his hands were shaking as he pocketed the pack to light the first one.

That shocked him. He'd been in Vegas a while and that shocked him. "You did *what?*" He did that to Greg who seemed so worried and careful about Will. "Surely that... why did you do that?"

"What the hell do you * think* we do, Nick Stokes? This is how you catch their eyes. You bait a trap, but apparently no one was watching the fucking trap for us so it all fell apart. I have a high fatality in cases I work because I go into the moment with *their* mindset on their territory, and I can't stop myself. It's me or them and I'm damn well not going to let them take another victim."

"You really need to chill man," he said. God, Greg letting someone do that because it was his *job*. He was mentally starting to go over some of the things Greg had said with a whole new appreciation. "I get that... I get what you're saying, but you gotta hear yourself here. You're all over."

Will took a long drag off the cigarette, and the tip glowed red while he tilted his head back to look up at the sky. "You have no idea. The thing of it is that we're supposed to be reset. It's supposed to make all of these horrible things we do fade. It's how Greg copes. I've never been reset. Jack didn't trust the idea of wet-wiring someone. I'd already been doing this for years when they came out with the wet wiring. I'm fifty three years old. I've been doing this since I was twenty five. Like, like I can just turn this off myself. I think like them, all the time. It's there, and you have no idea how much I want to throw you down on the ground and cut patterns on your skin."

"Well..." There was a long pause while Nick tried to think of way to react to that. What would Greg say? "I don't look good in paisley."

It was worth it to watch Will's mouth turn down, a twist of a smile when he turned to look at Nick. "No, you wouldn't. But you'd look good in bruises."

"Uh-huh. I think I'll pass," Nick replied trying not to step back. "Greg and I talked. He really wants to help you. We get him back and he will. "

"Jack said my base personality has corrupted. I don't think there's anything left when you strip all of this away. It might be better if you let me go in after Lecter." He looked away again, took another deep puff. "I used to read. I used to do entomology, actually. It seems like a faint memory."

"Greg seems to think there's something worth working with there, and I haven't known him long, but so far everything he's said has been on the money," Nick replied trying to infuse Will with confidence. "Look, we'll be going after him, but this time it won't be just you okay? You're going to have back up. If the cops can't do it and the feds, then it'll be us."

"After what happened today, I'm not feeling any great love for the concept of trusting my backup." But Will seemed less tense, even if his hands were still shaking. He turned away from Nick, and kept his eyes on the sky, and, well, that was just going to have to do.

The first thing Jim noticed when he woke up was that he wasn't naked, which had become enough of a novelty recently as to be surprising. The second thing was that he wasn't cold because he appeared to be wrapped around someone else.

Again that was an improvement, as was the noticeable lack of inserted objects, although it seemed the restraining part of things was still in effect. Chains apparently which allowed a lot more movement within a restricted area that he noted for the future.

Could be useful, even if he was restrained. But he still had to see what kind of shape and clothes he was in, had to re-evaluate the situation.

After all, now he was in the hands of a whole different sociopath.

And he appeared to be with a whole different type of victim as well. This "Greg" had a tracker and trackers meant Permanent Specialists. Somewhere his team must've borrowed an Empath pair to work the case. God only knew he'd tried to get Kepler and Millander and had been faintly relieved when they were unavailable. But he didn't know this one, and the poor bastard was now in it over his head.

They both were. And from the looks of it not only were they attached to the wall and floor but somehow to each other as well, because the moment he moved his arm testing his limits it tugged at the younger man and made him stir.

"Mmhmm." A sleepy dark eye opened and blinked trying to focus on him.

"This is pretty awkward." He threw a smile up at the guy, and wondered just where Catherine had gotten the guy from at such short notice.

To his credit he didn't panic, which considering what had been done to him just before the new psycho entered the scene, was pretty impressive.

"Uh, hey." Greg managed groggily as he steadied himself. "Uh, tell me you're Jim Brass, otherwise there is going to be a lot of disappointed people back at CSI."

"Yeah, got it in one." The steadying motion left a tug against Jim's upper arm, made him turn his head to really start investigating those chains. "I think you're missing your criminal Empath, kid."

"Yeah." Greg huffed a strained laugh. "Should've known you'd recognize what I was when he took out the tracker. That wasn't exactly what we planned."

"If it was, I'd say it was a pretty bad plan." Jim shifted, shrugged his shoulders, studying the kid's too-close face. He looked young, young but with old eyes, a certain crinkle around the corners of his eyes. "Where're you from?"

"Your... Catherine bought Will and I at the auctions. Think she maxed out your budget somehow. Congratulations, you own me." Greg even managed a smile. "Guess it's not the way to make an impression on my new Owner."

Not really, no, but hey. He'd been right. His team *had* found him. They just probably hadn't bargained for the other guy getting involved. A second psychopath and what really were the odds of that happening? "Will and you, huh? Is that the Will you and that bastard were talking about?"

"Yeah." Greg grimaced then. "Look... uh... okay, Will and I aren't a true pair. Will is... Will Graham, you might've heard of him. I'm just a PV from New York and they sold us as a package deal. From things Will's said I'm pretty sure, 99% sure that the guy who has us now is Hannibal Lecter."

He said it in a rush, as if that would make the bad news easier to take.

It didn't. It didn't make it a damn bit easier to take, and Jim closed his eyes for a second. Yeah. Yeah, he wasn't cut out for that shit, wasn't made for a life of just *rolling* with the idea of being held captive. He was going to try to survive, but that was it. "I used to dream about dying in the line of duty. Taking a bullet. Then I worked out and ended up made an Owner. I should have guessed that my nice quick death would go with that."

He was surprised to feel a warm hand touch him then. "We can get through this," Greg murmured. "We're bait. I'm good at being bait and I think I can distract him."

What the hell? The kid was trying to comfort *him*?

And just who was the guy trying to bait? Jim wasn't half as sure as Greg was that the guy was Lecter, but a good chunk of him wanted him to *not* be, for their own sakes. "You're gonna distract him how? I've kind of worked out that the less attention these guys pay you, the better."

"He only needs one of us as bait, the other is a... spare," Greg answered, trying to get comfortable. "If he gets bored, that's a problem. It makes sense to give him an option. He's after Will I think. They have a powerful obsessive connection -- as close to the unplanned as Lecter gets. He wants him."

"If he wants him, why did he take *us*? Skipping a step is simpler." It wasn't hard to get comfortable, if he forgot about the chains. They were on a bed, in a well-furnished room. Not that they could go anywhere, but they were at least not chained down in a cellar any longer.

"It's not as simple as that," Greg said and looked at him. "Lecter... Lecter wants him to come to him. It a more profound exercise of power than taking him. It makes it a game with something at stake more than Will's own safety, because he knows Will would die if he could be sure to take him with him, and he doesn't want him dead. He wants him to be *his*."

So, by buying them, Catherine had accidentally both found and doomed him. Both him and Greg, Jim guessed, closing his eyes. "So, we just need to stay out of the line of fire. And Will will find him?"

"Yes. The problem will be getting us out of here alive," Greg replied. "I can. I've got a fix on Will's persona, I can mimic enough if I need to, but when it comes down to it, the break point will come down to us. " Again, the hand stroked at him. "You okay? I haven't even asked how much the other guy hurt you."

The kid was really freakishly solicitous and way too comfortable crossing personal lines, petting at his arm and asking him how he was doing. "I'm, I'm probably messed up pretty bad. But if we get a chance to run for it, I can. How's that for an answer?"

"A damn good one," Greg replied with a smile that he could hear. "Your guys have been frantic. Seriously. I had to study some about you Jim, and ask them about you. You're not just the Owner to them."

Nah, they were pretty closely knit. They were more comfortable than a lot of working units, more like a home than just a working house. "Yeah. I knew they'd find a way to find me."

"Sorry it got screwed up," Greg replied in a quiet voice. "I guess our back up wasn't backing us up that well."

"Hey, sometimes that happens." And Toby had been going on about how Will was dead, and if he was, well, Jim could guess that he and Greg were fucked. It was better that Lecter didn't know about that little fact. "You okay?"

"Fine," the younger man replied and if he hadn't seen what'd been done he might've believed it. "Didn't really hurt that much. I was in the right zone."

"That's a hell of a zone." Jim closed his eyes, and murmured, "I wonder where our host is."

"Hopefully out," Greg replied. "At least there's clothes." He seemed to take his eye closing as code for 'shut up' because he fell silent after that, not even really moving much.

"Mmm. Hey, what's this plan you mentioned? Don't mind me, I'm just kind of worn out." If he kept the kid talking, he could at least keep morale high. Ish.

"I'll do my thing if Lecter needs distracting," Greg said. "I was trying to let you rest some. You've had a helluva an ordeal."

He pulled at the restraints trying to work out how they were actually attached to the bed frame itself. Actually chained there.

"Yeah well still alive," Jim answered, but Greg could hear some signs of strain in his tone, though he was pretty sure it was only audible to someone with his training. "We're pretty solidly attached."

"Maybe the both of us together can do something," Greg suggested. "I mean, the two of us might get the end of the frame off?"

"We can try giving it a shove," Jim decided, squirming down a little and waiting for Greg to move with him. "What've we got to lose?"

"If I start quoting films and say 'Nothing but our freedom!' you hit me right?" Greg replied. "One two three, then... one, two...three!"

"You're right, I'll hit you," Jim confirmed, mock grimly as he shoved both feet against the bar when Greg declared 'three.'

The bed shook, but the frame of the bed was solid and immovable.

"That's... going to be a big problem," Greg replied. "Can you see where the locks are? We might do better trying to pick it or smash it."

'I'll try for picking it." Jim stared at the end of the bed, and twisted to look at Greg.

Greg nodded. "Where your wrists go, mine follow," he reminded him. They were both being very together and clinical about this. Jim knew he was brittle around the edges but it was all he could do to stay in control.

He had to be brittle, or something was going to snap and he hadn't given that other bastard the pleasure of that. He definitely wasn't going to give this guy that privilege.

"Right. We can work around that. We just need something to pick it with." He twisted, looking for the nearest object that'd work like a tool. Just something to see if they could bump the lock, force the tumblers up.

And then the door creaked open slowly.

Greg froze and immediately tried to arrange himself so he was blocking whatever Jim was doing from view. He had to admit, the kid had good instincts.

It probably wasn't going to help, but Jim appreciated it. "And what are you two up to? Fully appreciating my hospitality?" There was a smile on the man's face.

"It's certainly a step up from our previous accommodations," Greg replied and Jim blinked. That was uncanny. He didn't even sound like the same person -- was that the mimicking he was talking about or just some technique?

"How very droll of you." The man stepped closer into the room. He was pretty poised, hands slightly to his sides as if he were ready to strike, but there was no wariness in his posture. Yeah, he was comfortable with what he was doing. Fuck. "I took it upon myself to see to your injuries while you were unconscious."

That was not something Jim wanted to think too hard on. Lecter poking around his ass, while he was asleep. It made him want to shudder.

"You know, as you've been such a good host so far, you think you could see your way to calling us a cab to go home in?" Jim asked.

"I'm afraid if I do that, I won't get what I want." His voice was strange, almost hypnotic. Jim was sure he wasn't from America, but he was affecting an almost mocking drawling American accent.

"You want Will, don't you?" Greg said, studying the man intently. Jim noticed he seemed to shift again, coming across then as someone a whole lot edgier, sharp and with a lot of the mannerisms that Lecter himself seemed to be displaying. "You know he wants to kill you."

Strangely the way Greg said that made the act sound more like an endearment than a crime. "And yet here I am, and Will and I have met many times since my escape." Lecter smiled, but he was focusing on Greg instead of Jim now. "Are you trying to analyze me, boy? Because you're wasting your time."

Greg actually chuckled and the sound shocked Jim. "You know, that's almost exactly what Will said to me when we started working together. Are you like him or is he like you?"

Jim had no idea what Greg thought he was doing because he was only meant to be attracting attention if it looked like they were in danger.

Lecter reached out, cupping Greg's chin sharply, fingers rough on his skin. "Will has never met a Victim Empath before you. I know what you're doing."

"Wish I did," Jim said before he could stop himself.

Greg just looked up at Lecter then. "It still interests you. You're bored waiting for your game to start, for your dance to begin."

"And why would I want to play with a pale mockery? The fear in your eyes is all wrong. How about I get you a mirror and you can work on that?" He didn't let go of Greg's chin, though.

"How about you let him go?" Jim suggested, starting to get an uncomfortable feeling about where this was going. This was Lecter and even he could tell Lecter was interested despite himself. "That sounds like a much better idea."

"You're just a case, just a job for Will, Owner *Brass*, but he'll feel personally responsible for this one." Lecter stepped back, letting his fingers linger along Greg's jaw line for a moment. "Like a child whose goldfish dies."

Ouch. That had to smart a little. Greg seemed to have some self-esteem issues going on there and that sort of comment wasn't going to help. He could see a shadow pass over Greg's face and hurt in his eyes and perhaps that was what Lecter was after because he was watching him intently again.

"He'll know who to blame for anything that happens to either of us." Jim said. "They all will."

"You'd be amazed how emotional involvement clouds a man's judgment, or perhaps not. Unless you slept through all the cases you supposedly solved, Owner Brass." He turned his attention to Jim, now, moving back as if to keep himself from doing anything. "I came up to ask if you wanted anything to.... eat."

He hadn't eaten properly in over a week. The mere thought of food was enough to get his mouth filled with saliva. "Wouldn't say no," he admitted. He felt a little like he was juggling dynamite in this conversation. Greg was looking at him in a way he thought meant 'be careful' or possibly 'holy crap, no!' but he'd said the words.

And it was true.

"All right. You two can continue to attempt to pick the locks on your restraints, and I'll be back with food."

Jim didn't relax until Lecter had left the room, and Greg didn't even seem to lose his tension even then. He just kept looking where the other man had gone and looking very worried.

"We're fucked," Jim murmured, shifting a little, accidentally pulling at Greg's arms with the motion.

"Yeah," Greg replied slowly. "I... thought we'd get some time before he got bored. I underestimated the level he must've been at to get him actually into Vegas at all. He hates this sort of place." He looked across at Jim. "What he brings us to eat might or might not be... edible. I had to pull up something to interest him quickly."

"And that something was what? A little bit of playacting like this Will Graham guy?" Jim didn't accuse, but he was curious. Curious about the thing that just might keep them alive a little longer

"A bit. I didn't want to hit it spot on first time," Greg said in a low voice. "He... crafted Will. That was the interest. It hooked at him even if he knew what I was doing, it still intrigued him. As much as Will is tangled up with him, he is tangled with Will." He exhaled. "I didn't like the way he focused on you. With Lecter saying he looked you over like a slab of meat is way too literal to be funny."

"Yeah, well, there's a lot of fat on this pork roast. I probably wouldn't taste good." But his stomach still flip-flopped, and his nerves spiked high for a moment. "He crafted Will. I remember from the cases that he fucked the guy over. I think I even met him once. Back in Jersey."

"You did? Who... Will? Not Lecter?" Greg asked.

Like anyone could forget a meeting with Lecter. The man was magnetic in some ways. Sharp and bright and scary as fucking hell. "Nah. Graham. He had grey hair then. Wiry, sort of strung-out seeming. He had an FBI guy hanging over his shoulder the whole time."

"Yeah. Yeah, his Control," Greg said and gave a snort. "Only from what I gather he didn't do any Controlling worth a damn. Will's been running hot for *years*."

"Yeah, he did seem kind of on edge." And still was. That had to be a hell of a way to live, and it sort of answered how it was that Will could run into Lecter and they could both survive it over and over.

"He's close to a meltdown," Greg said replied. "Please tell me you have *some* idea of how the system is meant to work? Because I sure as hell freaked out most of your 'family'. And Will. "

"No, I understand some of it. I understand how Keppler and Millander are *supposed* to work, because Frank, their controller, has done a lot of bitching. I know you guys are used to working as a team, or at least you are." But it was him and Greg, no criminal Empath, no trained barely leashed killer.

"At least you know," Greg said. "Because you'll be the one with the reset button at the end of the day. Will badly needs it, and needs rebuilding after this."

He seemed optimistic that they might make it that far. Either that or he was an exceptional actor.

"Hey, when we get out of here, you can get all the time down for resetting that you want. I don't know anything about rebuilding, but you want to do that, that's fine, too." Jim shifted one arm. "I'm willing to bet that we won't be able to get these locks open."

"I'm half willing to bet there's a *reason* we won't be able to do so," Greg replied. "I just need to think of... something. Anything. I need to learn him and he's one of the most straightforward and complex subjects I've ever attempted."

"What exactly do you think you can do that *might* get us out of here? Because I'd like a heads up so I don't ruin your plan."

Greg looked abashed. "I don't know," he admitted. "We don't usually run into the real, but...if you learn what reactions they expect and want and plan for, and then you can twist a sucker punch move in there somewhere. Or just find a weak spot and work on it. Somehow I think that might be difficult. It's, uh, plan is a little over ambitious a word."

"Right." Jim felt his mouth twist a little. "Or we could just outlast the guy, maybe? Until they find us."

"That's probably Plan A," Greg said and his shoulders slumped. "You're right, we're fucked."

"Hey, I've got another person that I'm stuck with who's sane." It was better and worse off than he'd been just a few hours before. "Just hang in and we should be all right."

Greg might not like the way Lecter had looked at him but he was more worried about the way he'd looked at Greg. He knew what he was, and what he could do, but when it came down to it, Greg was young, and more scared than he'd liked to admit. And carefully avoiding talking about what had happened to him before.

Funnily enough all of those things applied to him as well. Except the young bit. But then he couldn't have everything -- or, as his current circumstances proved, he couldn't have anything at all.

The last thing Greg remembered was eating the food, which had been pretty identifiable. Anything he couldn't identify, he'd left and so had Jim and then somehow things went blank and he was waking up again. Frankly, being knocked out on a regular basis wasn't helping him out.

He listened before he opened his eyes, feeling no weight or restraints or heat of someone next to him. Something had changed so he stirred carefully, opening his eyes to sneak a look around.

Different room. Still the same look to the walls, so either Lecter had rented out multiple hotel suites, or he was renting a house. Or he'd killed the occupants and was squatting on the land until someone found out. But he wasn't tied down.

He was willing to bet it was a house. And he was willing to bet Lecter wasn't careless about leaving him unattended. Either he was watching or there was something going on.

He felt stiff and sore -- Toby the psycho had made him scream and he could still feel the effects of it even now. He wanted to know what had happened to Jim.

But if Lecter had done this, that meant he had intrigued him so he was going to have to use some of those Will based traits he had. He slid the persona on like a new set of clothes and then allowed the precepts to dominate him. That was the trick, that was the secret. A VP was only as good as their ability to let go of their individuality and allow it to be subsumed.

Obviously his own sense of self worth was pretty crap because he was *good* at it. His movements became like Will's, he could taste the feel of the other man in his head, sharp and brittle interspersed with drifting clouds of fuzziness.

He wished he'd had more time to build the structure in his head, and there was no way he was going to get the look. Will looked like he only shaved when someone reminded him, only ate when someone reminded him. There was a carelessness of his sense of self about the man, as if everything else was more important than tending to his basic needs. That was something to remember, to try to add to the structure of personality as he sat up warily, studying the room.

He couldn't fake that, not without lots of makeup and preparation at least but he could give an impression. He could do what Will did when he entered a new room; catalogue everywhere, eyes sharp, studying. Look for the way out, the way in, all of that. He got up and prowled, stopping in the same way that Will did when a thought overwhelmed him, scanning and looking every centimeter until he found it, the point where he was sure he was being watched.

The urge to walk up to what had to be a peep hole, and stick his finger into it, was overwhelming. But he didn't. He just looked at it and waved slightly.

Will would've acknowledged him. Known Lecter was there, didn't need to peer or check, just known because they were bound together. So he did that and then let himself drift into internal thoughts.

The connection, he had to understand why they were like this with each other. It was key. It was important, to who both of them were, for Lecter to come after Will like this when he was sold on, for Lecter to go to these lengths to get a hold of him again. But it didn't make *sense*.

One of the first things that any Empath in any designation learned was that in a moment of time, any action, any feeling had its root in internal logic. It might be a structure of the world at odds with the rest of the world, but it existed and in the end, that was someone's reality. Lecter and Will had some sort of shared reality that they lived in, that no one else could touch, and here he was trying to muscle in.

Trying and maybe failing. Half of the internal processes could be found in taking the postures, the physical actions, so the best thing Greg could do was try and try, and work slowly to see if he could worm his way in.

And now that he'd noted that Lecter was there, he'd probably be coming in.

He had to be ready for what he would do. Right now he was intriguing. He wouldn't be that interesting for a long time and compared to Will, not so much but if he could get in, try and get into his head and dig at a weak spot things might work out. Maybe

Maybe it would work.

He waited, tense and on edge, until the door cracked open, a slow motion. "You're just full of surprises."

Greg looked over and met the man's strange eyes unflinchingly. He wasn't Will, but he was close enough and he silently thanked Will.

"Really?" he said calmly.

"For a poor mockery, you do a better job than I had guessed. You haven't known Will long at all. I bet that you have all sorts of things you're still trying to piece together, cobbling this persona together..." Lecter stepped into the room, face composed as he closed the door behind him.

"Or perhaps Will is more fragmented than you remember," Greg said borrowing that way of talking that Will had. The sharp edges and moments of reining himself in. Would Will try something?

Would Will lunge at him? Would Will stalk closer -- yes, yes he would, because for all he liked his personal space, when he was running hot he didn't seem to respect anyone else's the way he wanted his respected. "How long ago do you think I saw him last?"

He moved forward as if drawn there. "If you are talking when you saw him or you saw each other... You saw him recently. You've been watching him. He saw you watching him at the auctions. But you were together where the sun lies slow and heavy over Italian villas and colors are warm and terracotta. And you plucked him like a sun-warmed peach..."

"Low hanging fruit," Lecter corrected softly. "Did he tell you this, or are you guessing?"

"A little of each," Greg said feeling for the connection between them. There was a moment where things kicked in.

Where it just started to fit, when he could almost feel the attraction *from* Lecter, if not to him. "I could do to you what I've done to him. I could remold you."

"You could," he acknowledged. "But I find that interesting. Why is remolding what you want to do?"

He was face to face with the serial killer now, within reach. Would Will try and reach? "What did you enjoy about plucking the fruit?"

"Will is mine." He reached out before Greg could make that decision, fingers against the edge of Greg's jaw. "You're playing at being Will Graham. If you're going to play act, you should have experienced it."

He reacted without thinking. His hand went up to grip at the wrist, but he exerted no pressure to get him to stop. It was a moment that was pure Will -- defensive yet permissive all tangled up together. "You've made him what he is..." he agreed softly.

"And if not for him, I never would have been caught. I never would have spent years imprisoned." And if it wasn't for those big cases, for Lecter, Will probably wouldn't have become *the* Criminal Empath.

"He's not all yours... is that why you want him?" He kept his questions smooth and easy because he knew he was going to pay for it at some point.

Lecter was going to take a chunk out of him, he was sure of it. "I think I've played this game before, with another Criminal Empath. Late Criminal Empath. Tell me, boy, do you sleep with all of your co-workers?"

Greg looked at him. "Some. Yes." He had to edge away from coming across too much on Will's mode as a questioner. More on his own side as a victim. He was a starter or a dessert rather than the main course and no one wanted anything too demanding then. "If they've wanted me."

"Do you crave to be hurt? Or do you think you can make those men and women believe that they're not as bad as they spend their lives acting. Do you think you can bring them back to their humanity?"

Damn, he was good. Lecter could definitely get under someone's skin and keep pushing a needle deeper. "Sometimes it is difficult to tell," he replied with a brutal honesty about himself. "Sometimes it is difficult to tell if I am responding or not. Much the same with Will."

That was a tactical error. He'd subconsciously linked Will with the responding. To someone like Lecter that was like a beacon.

"And you think if he comes to save you, you can... what? Fix him? Re-set him and magically make everything better?" Lecter was smiling now, mouth twisted for mockery.

"I can help," he answered. "And even if I couldn't, he would be my partner." He put enough intimacy into his words to give just a little hint that he could be very close to Will in ways that perhaps Lecter could not. Every word had messages within messages. He was telling Lecter that if he could fall for Will then perhaps he could do the same with him.

"And why do you feel a need to be partnered with people like that? Perhaps you take your victimhood too far." His fingers shifted, caressing the edge of Greg's jaw gently.

"Can you answer why you feel a need to shape and mold or why Will is compelled to seek you out?" Greg answered not flinching so much as looking down with his eyes and then calling up the Look, the one that had Will practically creaming his pants for him.

If he lived through this, he would have a lot of information on Lecter, maybe enough to find a chink in his armor.

"He took my personality a little too fiercely to heart when we worked together. He built the profile with my help, and no idea that all along, it was me he was creating in his mind. He both fears and is attracted to what he could become." The fingers didn't stop, but curved, sliding to trace along the side of his neck. "Unlike most people in his life, I've never lied to him."

That was interesting. Greg found himself nodding because he had instinctively used the truth with Will, no matter how difficult it was. "A seed..." he said and blinked, a revelation unfurling. Will was Lecter's immortality, his heir, cherished and nurtured. A Child of his mind, not of his body and in a strange way bound tightly in familial ties to him.

Will had been remolded not as a reflection, but as a legacy, a whole family of lover, brother, son wrapped into one.

And it probably wasn't even a conscious action that had led to Will being in that state. Greg doubted that he'd ever sat down thought hard about what he was doing. But it was there, and he didn't want Will dead, or would could have and would have been dead already.

"A seed?" he repeated. Perhaps this was the way. It was the truth and it might protect Will somehow. "A seed of yourself. Do you know how much of Will is you? He is... you have created a son of your mind in him. A*family* where he is more than just a love, but he is your hope for generations. Because he wants to do it to others. He sees them and he has told me the things he wants to do." He paused a moment and murmured. "Implanting him with your seed, watching him grow, take teetering steps towards the Becoming, until he followed the call of nature and challenged you as all sons must... did you hate him or were you proud of him when he caught you?"

"Both." He smiled as he leaned in, baring his teeth just in front of Greg's face. "I had help in making him what he is. His dear friend Jack."

"I used to wonder why you didn't go after him," Greg answered as if they were just having a pleasant chat somehow. "But now I realize it was because he did a lot of your ground work for you and kept that part of you running live in his head all the time."

"I was a little busy in captivity." And then out of it, trying to stay out of it, and Will... had maintained his presence in his own head, clinging to the edge between sanity and madness, and Jesus that was a creepy smile Lecter had.

This was where Lecter was going to *do* something. "I think a lot of us know the details," Greg replied resisting the urge to back away.

Lecter seemed to sense that and gave feral bright smile, sharp and white.

"I think you're enjoying yourself too much," Greg replied quietly just waiting. "You want something you can't have right now and I'm the nearest thing you've got."

"A poor imitation, however intriguing. I should mail one of your balls to the house. Do you think that would get him here faster?"

"Some of my hair would probably do it," Greg said not rising to the challenge. It was like being staked out with a wild animal there sniffing at him.

"I could send him your foreskin. He'd recognize what it was. Or I could send Jim Brass's. Would you prefer that?"

Greg looked at him ,startled. "No. Not Jim." Jim had been through hell already and he was their Owner and he was the reason they'd been bought.

He could live without a foreskin. It'd hurt like fuck, but he could live without it. "That's so self sacrificing of you. You've trained yourself to think like that. Perhaps I should make your offer futile."

"No, please... he's been through enough okay?" And dammit he was doing exactly what Lecter wanted. Practically begging him to do something to him. It was like begging Will to do it harder, faster, more...

"I need to send something to them. Are you offering?" Lecter leaned in, still baring his teeth.

"What do you want?" Greg replied, letting the fear seep through. For a brief moment he couldn't help but think of Will's teeth marks on his shoulder. Had that come from Lecter as well?


"Make your choice. But it needs to be fleshy. I think I'm being more than kind in allowing you to decide what you don't need."

There were times he wish he wasn't so rangy. Something from arm or leg then, which was fleshy and his core mind was freaking out that he was doing this at all. "Arm or... thigh," he replied and his voice shook a little.

"All right." He stepped back, and pulled the butterfly blade from his pocket like he was whipping out a credit card. "Lay back."

He did so, unable to stop shaking . He had a whole new appreciation for how Will had been manipulated. He'd found himself agreeing to this even when he knew how Lecter worked and what he might do. He thought of trying to overpower him, but he'd seen how he'd taken down Toby as if he was a toddler and the *speed* he moved. He didn't have to think about actions he just did them so they were immediate. He just did it, laid back, while Lecter moved over top of him, pulling his pants down until they were tangled around Greg's knees. He might've changed his mind. He might be going for one of his balls, and he was just going to lie there and let him do it. Fuck.

Fuck, it was bizarre, surreal, because Lecter was leaning over him and he was letting him. He tensed when Lecter lowered the blade, pressed it against the inside of his thigh for a moment.

He knew then that Lecter wasn't going to take from there, not where he expected, even requested it to be taken. That would defeat the purpose of this object lesson. He couldn't help it, he whimpered and it was in fear then, a small broken noise that was undoubtedly music to Lecter's ears.

Then he shifted, and in a quick motion, grasped Greg's dick. It was like he was watching his own body from the outside, and the pain registered in his body before the actual action did. He gave the shuddering gasp of shock, and then a yelping cry of pain that drew out as it continued. He wanted to move, he wanted to scrabble a way but there was a blade on his cock.

The wrong move, and he was a dickless wonder, no matter how bad it hurt. Hurt, and still hurt as soon as he stopped the cutting. "I think they'll know what to do after I send this to you."

He was still whimpering, feeling moisture trickle involuntarily from his eyes. He couldn't help it, he wanted to curl up and pass out. "How... how will they find you?"

"All of those little clues. A piece of fiber, a strip of fabric, a piece of your flesh..."

It hurt, it hurt and he had to put on the techniques he knew to drown it out. "What... what will you do when he finds you?"

"We'll see when the time comes. Perhaps I'll let what's left of you go." Lecter shifted, got off the bed, holding onto the strip of flesh.

He needed to stop the bleeding. He needed to find a way to stop things from happened, from being all torn up. It wouldn't take that long for Will to find them, he was sure of that but he had to somehow crack Lecter, give Will that opening and moment he'd need.

He needed to stop the bleeding, Greg decided, physically and emotionally. Lecter left, no taunts, as if he wasn't there, because his focus had shifted to Will.

In a moment, he'd try... he'd look for that way out, because Lecter wouldn't be concentrating on the peephole, he'd be making up whatever package it was. He'd go over the place top to bottom and look for something.

Just in a moment. When the bleeding stopped.

Sedation was almost a familiar sense. He was used to swimming up from the cotton wool haze of it, but it wasn't what he was used to being given, wasn't what Jack had always used on him.

But it was still the same in theory, and Will woke up as quickly as he could, sitting up even as he tried to force his head to clear. It never worked, but it was worth a shot.

It was less harsh, more fuzzy, and he preferred the headache to the feeling of cotton wool. He needed to think and be clear about it. He needed to wake up.

And it was hard to shake off, even once he was sitting upright, pushing sheets -- okay, somehow he'd ended up in a bed, so there were sheets, which made him wonder just how dressed he was.

"Hey, hey... it's okay," a female voice said. "You're in your room Will. " It was hard to place the voice, but he eventually tied it up to the dark haired young CSI woman.

"It'd be nice if I knew how I got here." His voice sounded fuzzy, and his tongue heavy. "What the hell hit me?"

"Al and a handy syringe," Sara replied. "Here, have some water. You started to lose it a bit, kept trying to get out and walk the streets, didn't seem to recognize anyone, punched your hand through a pane of glass. At that point, Catherine ordered sedation."

"Huh." Will looked at his knuckles, trying to will his eyes to focus. "I don't remember that."

"No, Nick said you were doing okay until he was driving you home and he thought you'd gone to sleep in the front seat. Then you started thrashing around like you were not quite with it or awake and..." Sara looked at him "Opened the door and was trying to get out as you were still driving. So he pulled over and called for help. He says you're one strong dude."

"Yeah, well. Goes with the territory." He stayed down at his hand, not at Sara, and only after that turned to look at her. "I could find him."

"Yeah, we know." Sara said. "But we thought that maybe you ought to be conscious and not sleepwalking when you did it. You get to eat some, clean up and then we'll let you back in. Results are coming in. Definitely Lecter. Got your old crew due in Vegas soon, the moment a hit registered on Lecter."

"My old crew?" The FBI was in the area, then, and wouldn't that be a fun way to work a case?

"Yeah. Look, you want me to fix something for you to eat or head downstairs while you get changed? We had a roast, there's some put back for you. Catherine'll be there as the Owner substitute before we head in," Sara said as she got up.

Will rubbed at his eyes with his fingers. "Yeah, I'll. I'll get dressed and come downstairs." Shave, maybe. Get himself together a little more.

"Great. I'll wait outside. If you're not out in ten minutes, I'll come in after you," she said, with a half smile even as she headed for the door.

Yeah, he was willing to bet that she'd come after him. Will watched, waiting until she was gone and the door closed behind her before he got to his feet.

They shouldn't have done that, but on the other hand, it had been a while since he'd done that. And each time he'd ended up going over the edge one way or another.

He just wanted this over. He wanted to find them, he wanted to find Lecter and get Greg back and Jim Brass who he didn't know, but he wanted them both back. Greg had trusted him and shown him that trust in that club and in all the touches that had become familiar since they had been purchased together.

It was Will's fault that he'd been taken. His responsibility, and he should have been able to get Greg back. They should have just let him *go*, because if he'd been in that state, he probably could have led them right to them.

Which admittedly might've ended up as a blood bath, but he would've found him. He knew Lecter. He knew he wouldn't leave them alone. There would be something from him, a summons of some description.

Shower and change. Food and work. He could manage that.

Simple things, easy work for him to do. Will headed for the bathroom first, forcing himself to concentrate on showering quickly, on finding a razor. He managed the shower well enough but the razor was giving him problems. He just wanted to look at it and he kept losing time. Fragments of minutes fluttering away from him.

He managed though. Just about.

It was mostly shaved, and that'd do. He wandered out of the bathroom, looking for clothes. Then he'd go downstairs and as long as he stayed focused, as long as he concentrated on clothes and going downstairs...

"Will are you... oh..." Sara paused having come in looking for him. "Uh sorry. It's been fifteen minutes and I uh...I'll be outside."

She beat a hasty retreat.

He needed to get a lock on the door. Or at least, some kind of lock that they didn't all have the key to, because even closed doors didn't do him any good. Will paused, and turned towards the dresser, digging around for a moment to get clothes out. He would find Lecter. He was going to need a weapon of some kind, he was going to find a way to end this somehow. Lecter would be just far enough away from people to make things interesting. He would find a means of giving some sort of ironic set to it all. A name, a hint a clue that only they would understand.

He pulled on some pants and a shirt, trying to look reasonably together.

If he didn't, they wouldn't let him work. He had that sense from them, and Catherine thought he was insane. If they knew he was falling apart, they wouldn't let him work. So, he took the stairs slowly, carefully, concentrating as he entered the ground floor.

He remembered the way Greg guided him. They'd only been together for a few days but he missed that feeling that he could trust someone to look out for him, to be there when he needed them. It had been a hundred small things, as well as his obvious trust in the live scene, and it wasn't fair for him to be Lecter's now.

The kitchen was crowded, the nightshift obviously mustering. As he entered, Warrick appeared to be playing mailman. "...your geek comic special Archie, three for you Sara. Nick... here's the bird magazine and looks like a few Texas stamps. Bills, bills for the House. One for you, parcel for Hodges.."

"About time!" came an unfamiliar voice.

"And a handful for Catherine... oh hey, and a parcel for Will..." Warrick looked up spotting him. "You expecting something?"

"No." There wasn't even anyone who knew he lived there. *He* hardly knew he lived there, unless it was something Jack had mailed him. Will reached for the parcel, eyeing Warrick.

No one could say that the forensics house was not cautious and wary, because all of them seemed to orientate on the package and Warrick put it down carefully.

"Will, you want to see if you recognize the handwriting?" Catherine said, looking over at him. "Looks like we might be starting shift here."

"The question might be better as 'do you want me to recognize it or not', because I don't, how about you?" But Will leaned, and sucked in what had to be a predictable breath when he saw the penmanship.

"Yeah, that's sounding a lot like recognition," Nick said. "Lecter?"

"Surprise. This'll be his calling card, then." Will leaned back, looking for a pair of gloves or something sterile.

"We should do this at the lab," Catherine said. "We won't get much off of the outside of the box except handwriting."

Will tilted his head up to look at her. "If we're going to do this in the lab, can we do it *quickly*?"

Catherine nodded curtly. "Okay, I'll do the assignments here. Looks like we have some trace in, so all of you guys, I want you running anything that we tease out from this package at the top of the list. Sara, the FBI are due in, I need you to collate the current files for them. Warrick, Nick and Will, you're going to go over every molecule of that package. One thing I ask is you let me know before you take off after anything, okay? Short and sweet. Lets' get to the lab, get this going. We've got some house mates to find."

"I want to *see* this package opened," Will cut in, even as Warrick turned to get some kind of back to put over the package. "It's a message to *me*. You can evidence it all you want, but that's not going to get you the subtleties."

"You'll open it together," Catherine said. "Okay? Nick, Warrick, you go together with Will. Now."

Will shoved his hands into his pockets, and eyed Nick and Warrick as Nick jerked his chin at him. "C'mon, man. We'll get into this as soon as we get to the office."

It itched at him. He needed to see it. The parcel was packaged up, and they were going. It seemed they did know how to move quickly when they needed to move, because despite his impatience, they were there and inside and to the lab fast enough to satisfy him.

Once again, they were sitting looking at the package, this time with gloves and evidence gathering equipment.

"Think you ought to do the honors."

Will leaned a little, and carefully picked up one of the scalpels he'd been given to cut the tape with. He didn't rush it, knowing that everything in the box would not only hold evidence, but it would hold a story, a message. There was plastic, saran wrap placed carefully around a plate, and a piece of stationary perched atop it.

"He's sent you something plated up?" Warrick asked. "Has he done anything like that before?"

"Take the letter," Nick encouraged. "We can dust the wrap."

"And what's it going to tell you? That he's touched it?" Will asked, reaching for the letter carefully, but not to read it. He wanted to study what was on the plate. It was all very delicately placed, but it had probably been shifted by them moving the box. Some kind of fried curl of flesh, and a crème sauce that looked like it had fouled in the heat. "DNA test everything on the plate. "

"You think he might've..." Nick said and then fell quiet. "Huh, is that a fiber?"

"Looks like it." Another picture taken, and the fiber taken. "I'll get it to trace."

"Don't get bogged down in the evidence," Will advised as he laid the letter aside and carefully lifted the plate out by its edges. "That's flesh."

"I'll get it to DNA. Any idea what it is?" Warrick asked as he got some forceps to pick it out.

"Not the deep-fried pork rind it looks like," Will murmured. "A shaving or something."

"Not exactly."

"That can't be good," Nick said. "What're you getting from this Will? anything?"

"It'll make more sense when we know who it came from. The flesh, the..." Will gestured to what laid beneath the saran wrap. "I'd bet my eye teeth it's semen."

"Let me get my light," Nick said reaching for his kit and then dimming the lights. He flashed the lights over and it glowed.

"Tada," Will mumbled, watching the glow. "Test it. Test everything on that plate, and I'll..." Handle the stationary.

"We're on it." Nick said and he and Warrick managed to take things off to trace and DNA, leaving him with the letter.

They took the case, and left him, left his mind running while he carefully opened the letter. The contents, that was the hard thing to predict.

There was no mistaking Lecter's handwriting, and his flowing turn of phrase.

"My own dear Will,

I do hope you are remembering to eat. One of my guests was so concerned about your wellbeing I allowed them to assist in the preparation of provisions to keep you well. I know that they are looking forward to seeing you soon.

Your latest toy really is something isn't he? Very diverting and with enough intelligence to make him interesting in the short term at least. I find his efforts to ape his betters very amusing, and sometimes marginally successful. But he is some way from the Becoming, whereas I fortunately am not. Still, I confess to some nostalgia. I like to find a place that calls to the familiar, don't you? Though it is hard to find something perfectly aligned, I have never been a miser when it comes to lavishing attention on my friends.

Come to me Will, come and we will stand before each other and see where the future takes us."

He read it once, read it again, and then leaned in, holding the stationary close to his face before breathing. That smell. Fuck, that smell.

It was him, he could practically feel him there, touching him, murmuring in that voice in his ear. Pushing him beyond his limits into free-fall every time.

So close, so close. He read the letter again, let it wash over his mind. There were words in there that were not words, they were facts and concepts, and he just needed to let it click.

Lecter wanted him to find him, that much was obvious. He was pretty sure that this was the Lecter version of obvious -- he was impatient and wanting him there. Irritated no doubt by Vegas itself he would not tolerate something in the centre even if he might visit it. He might attend musicals, theatre events or Art exhibitions but he was telling him to cut to the chase and come to his current "home".

"Got anything?" Nick asked as he returned.

"It's his address." Will gestured vaguely to the letter, letting his eyes drift over it. Miser. Miser, that was a strange thing to say.

"His address?" Nick hurried over, peering at the letter. "Okay, address in code then. You understand this?"

"Not yet. I'm working on it." Will laid it down, and let his eyes drive, let them unfocus a little to try to see the letter as a holistic article.

"Okay. I'll uh... let you do your thing," Nick said even as he started to painstakingly process the packaging for any hint of trace.

Lecter was signposting for him. Nostalgia was a shared memory, a wistful memory of fond time. For him or for Lecter he wasn't sure. Lecter most likely, the universe revolved around him. So there was Florence or there were cases that they shared as 'intimate'. Which was it?

And words. He could use words, words that seemed out of place for the usual tone of Lecter's letters. Words like 'miser', nostalgia, falling to the familiar. "Name, Nick? Name street names."

"We could be here a long time, " Nick said. "How about we get street maps or something? You think there's a clue there?"

"I think he wouldn't have sent it unless he put a clue in there," Will agreed, setting the letter down. It was in there, in the words and in the tone of the letter, wrapped up and slipped away.

"I'll get some up here. You reckon you can find it?" The unspoken question was 'how long?' How long were Greg and Jim going to be there in the hands of the most notorious sociopath in recorded history.

"As long as no one sneaks up on me and sedates me while I'm looking, yeah." He kept the letter close, moved to notably not-let Nick take it as he stood there.

"Okay, I'll take the hint," Nick replied. "I'll get the street maps and names, and we'll take it from there yeah?"

He didn't wait for an acknowledgement -- obviously he wasn't completely giving all the time. All to the good, he needed peace and quiet to focus.

He needed to let go, to let it all slide, and it had admittedly been easier with Greg there, coaxing him. But Greg was there, too, in the lab, or a little piece of him, and Will dwelled on that sharp reality as he studied the letter again. Greg was with him, in a way, as was Lecter, and it was enough cacophony of presence to get him to let go.

Greg never knew what position he was going to be in when he woke up -- of course there was always the possibility he wouldn't wake up, but Lecter seemed to have sedation down to a fine art. Just enough at a time to put him out so he could do whatever he wanted to do.

He wasn't actually sure most of the time what that was and the idea he had been doing something to his body while he'd been out of it was horrifying if he dwelled on it.

This time though, he'd come around naked and tied. The most disturbing thing was it wasn't cruel, or harsh. There was a pillow for his head, the ties were wrapped around to secure but not cut in and he was arranged with another pillow under him to be on his knees.

All in all it was the sort of bondage he'd expect from a light seduction. To be truthful, the sort he might've day dreamed about Will. Just a little.

Just a little, just a little, because it was the same personality in a lot of ways, wasn't it? Would sex with Lecter be much like sex with Will?

"Ah, I see you're waking up..."

He had a feeling he was going to find out, whether he liked it or not. The thing with Lecter was there was nothing stopping him. Nothing preventing him sauntering from normal to the unthinkable in a heartbeat.

He tried to twist and look behind him. "You know, you seem really into this sedating thing."

"I hate to take a risk that could unduly jeopardize your continued existence." There was a twitch of his mouth, and okay, the guy cleaned up. He seemed like he was always cleaned up, but his clothes seemed specific to the general theme of seducing the victim.

Play along, play along, that was his job in a nutshell. "Is... Is Jim okay?" he asked tentatively. It was a logical question, one he was sure Will would've asked and he wanted to know. There was that niggling suspicion that Lecter might've just decided to go off and slit Jim's throat and next door he was hanging bleeding out or something.

"He is… resting right now." The pause made the hair at the back of his neck stand up, because he could be permanently resting.

"Oh god." What could he say or do to that? Nothing that would help. His dick was still hurting though it was obvious there had been some cleaning up done on that as well and all in all it was a little strange. Lecter had focused on what a pale imitation he was of Will, but now he was like this.

He was apparently a good enough imitation to want to fuck him, and that was what that position always led to. "Shhh, he's fine. Don't fret about him, Greg."

"Being tied up always makes me anxious," Greg replied and made a subtle show of testing his bonds. "Although, it's more comfortable than the other time I woke up in bondage.

"I had hoped so." He kept expecting distance and coldness, and then Lecter shifted, got closer and petted fingers almost gently over his hair. "I took the liberty of washing some of the gunk out of your hair. It's quite soft..."

It wasn't an unpleasant touch, but it unsettled him nonetheless. He'd been unconscious and Lecter had given him a hair wash and possibly a bath or shower. That did pretty much freak him out in a weird way. "Wha.. what do you want from me? I thought I was just an imitation?"

"I could work with you. It could take a lot of time, of course, but I wonder how far you're willing to take the game. Will, for example, doesn't need to be tied up, or sedated." Another lazy, slow stroke.

"Yeah well, you've been doing your thing with Will for decades," Greg said. So he wanted him to go with it. Okay, he could do that. They had training in that. If Will and he had been paired properly they would've spent time doing this sort of thing anyway.

They would, too, if he survived it, if Will was still alive. Lecter seemed pretty sure that he wasn't going to play that game if he didn't think Will *was* alive.

Lecter's hand stroked down his back, petting him like he was a great big cat. "This is true."

He couldn't help responding to that. It made him shiver and arch a little automatically and he tried to force the relaxation and just let himself fall into the zone. Let himself react and enjoy.

"How much of your life do you spend slutting it up, Greg?" It was an almost insidious, idle question.

"Not a slut..." he said, his words partially muffled. "Not a slut." He wanted to believe that but it was hard to say with conviction right now.

The hand stroked again, nice and slow. "Yes you are. You like it, don't you? You look forwards to the games you get to play in your line of work."

"I... can't stop them from happening," he replied and yes, it was part of the training, blending the pleasure of the reset memories with unpleasant things to get through them. "Can't fight them all."

"Yes you can. You can fight and twist, and get knotted up until you fight with yourself, until you can't enjoy anything anymore. That's what they all expect you to do. To hate your job but love it at the same time, to hate yourself but know you serve a higher cause."

"It didn't matter," Greg said. Lecter's voice was almost hypnotic. "Doesn't matter. It's never going to matter. All I needed was..."

He cut himself off and tried turning away. Aiden. Someone who cared. Being alone with himself was something he couldn't bear because he became who Lecter implied when he was alone.

"All you needed was love? Caring? Someone to look after you? They all want that. The people you're looking to for help don't know how to do it any better than you do." And that hand kept moving, kept soothing.

All he needed was for someone to need him. That had been enough. But he didn't want to admit that to Lecter. It would be giving him the silver bullet that would take him down. Instead he made a muffled noise and tried to pull away. "What do you know about love?"

"A great deal. I know the futility of it, I know the amazing depth of it, and I know how much it hurts to lose."

"You know love with fear. That's how it was shown to you, that's the secret you don't look at yourself," Greg said rashly. "You express your love, your desire by crafting a seduction of fear because that's all you know of it. Who was it... your father? Your mother who taught you that? Your first love?"

"Life, little would-be psychiatrist. Life taught me a great deal." He probably had never analyzed himself, but Will would know. Will would be able to explain it all to Greg if he ever wanted to know the answer to that question, more than the cryptic words. "You're just a little off in your interpretation."

"Really? Why don't you put me straight?" Greg replied. It was as much as he could manage in this position without being able to see the cues properly. Lecter seemed to want him to enjoy the experience, which either meant he was working on a mindfuck, or he was literally going to try and start gentle and work more and more twisted experiences into it.

"So you can what? Attribute who I am now to what happened? Perhaps it's better to see what I've become." He stroked down along Greg's back again, and his fingers lingered against the curve of Greg's ass.

"Perhaps," Greg replied. "Sometime it is good to know the roots of things."

Because it gave him something to uproot, to poke at. He tensed a little.

It wasn't going to *happen*, of course. He knew that Lecter wouldn't show his hand like that, wouldn't just *tell* Greg, but how exactly did a guy get into cannibalism as a delicacy? "Shhh, relax. I won't hurt you."

"Did you tell Will that?" Greg asked and he couldn't seem to keep the sharpness in his voice that he wanted. He didn't know how much was the residual drugs or just the fact that maybe, okay maybe he was a slut after all.

Maybe he was anyway. "When I stabbed him?" He could feel Lecter lean close against his back, felt his mouth press against his ear.

"Yes." He closed his eyes a moment and unbidden his ability to draw up arousal from any source chose then to join the party. He'd been running hot too long, too intensely and this was the first sign. Out of conscious control. It was enough to flush his skin with heat suddenly and make him ache.

Yeah, he could do it but he was definitely going to need a reset ASAP, he needed to turn off the ability to get off on his own torture. "Yes. Shock set in quickly, but not as quickly as I'd expected..."

"Are you going to kill him?" Greg asked and shifted uncomfortably aware that his body was traitorously racing toward full arousal. He felt his breathing start to pick up its pace and every touch was more than casual. It was burning.

What the hell was going on? He'd never lost control like this before, he was good at it.

"Will? No. No, that's unnecessary with what he's become. I hope I won't be forced to kill you, either." There was another kiss against his ear, trailing down his neck.

Okay, this was just weird. Did the guy have aphrodisiac saliva or something, because Greg found himself losing his focus completely and moaning before he herded his thoughts back together. "I don't, don't... oh god, I don't want to be killed..."

No, right now his body wanted to be fucked and unconsciously all of his little tricks to make himself "perfect" were coming out in response to that want and need. His strategies were being blown out of the water because he was a slut. How could he say otherwise when he was panting for the touch of a serial killer?

It was surreal and so completely out of his control, that if Lecter had untied him he probably wouldn't have run. "It is not your time, I don't think. We could discuss it another time."

"Anything you want..." Had he said that? Oh my god, was this what going into core personality meltdown felt like? He felt like rational Greg had been shoved to one side and one of his personas had taken over. A needy wanton vulnerable personality dredged up from his experiences of playing at being the Victim. Lecter was bound to notice. From reluctance to wantonness in a couple of heartbeats.

"Yes, yes, I think you will give me *anything* I want." And he felt kisses sliding down his back and maybe it wasn't going to be that bad.

He moaned and felt the pain of his dick trying to become erect against the injury from the impromptu circumcision melt away into blissful Pleasure. It felt too damn good and he was just completely out of control, moving enticingly, flashing Lecter the looks that had Will ready to pounce him. "Please..."

"Please. Please. What do you want? Tell me what you want?"

"I want... I need you to fuck me," Greg heard himself answer and it was the voice of the victim he'd been playing. These thoughts were locked away, disassociated and observing as he proved everything Lecter had said. Of all times for his mental discipline to fail. He didn't understand how this had happened. Aiden had once used him for days for a live reenactment. He hadn't lost it then. The drugs maybe? Something more than a sedative.

"Are you sure?" Yes, yes, that part of him was damn sure, damn well wanted to be fucked and feel it so he could really enjoy him.

"Please... yeah, please..." The mere anticipation hard him hard, and he was glad his new boss wasn't in here to see this, to see the way his newest purchase stuck his ass in the air for the guy who was threatening his life.

It would probably creep him the fuck out forever. Yeah, and he never had to wonder why people thought PVs and CEs were freaks of nature to act the way they did. There he was, begging to a level where he didn't have to go if he'd been in control of things. "You have a pretty body. Do you work on that, too?"

"Yes, some... please?" He was moving to try and show himself off to the most effective way to get what he wanted. Sharp jolts of pleasure were hitting him regularly and he was shivering and ridiculously sensitive to any sort of touch.

And it was like Lecter knew it, because none of the touches were enough to get him to get off, not enough to get satisfaction. But there were fingers prying at his ass, playing gently with him.

He melted into that, abandoned to the touch and feel of it, hearing himself whispering "more," and "Yes, god yes," alongside "Fuck me, please fuck me now," and a lot of incoherent noises.

Noises that he felt bone deep and couldn't shake off even when he felt lube being slowly worked into his ass. There was no way he could say he even protested what was happening.

How could he claim being raped when he was like this? He was burning now with desire, the coolness of the lube there and slick and wonderful and he *wanted*, he wanted so much he could just come there and then, but he wanted to feel it, to be made to feel and it didn't matter what Lecter did because everything felt so damn good

He really could cut him up and do everything Will had described in forbidden whispers and Greg would like it, wanted it, wanted it so bad...

"Do you still want me in you?"

"Yes! God yes!" He *was* a slut. He was worse than a slut; he couldn't even keep it together to save his life. Where was all that discipline he'd spent all that time learning? Gone. Completely gone.

Shattered and useless, fucking useless, when he needed it the most. "Good. Good, you'll enjoy this." Fingers were gone now, because they were past fingers, and he could feel Lecter pressing his dick up against him.

The stupid thing was he was enjoying it; his previous pains seemed buried and he was just eager to have the burn inside of him. He whimpered slightly and then exhale at the pressure pushing in.

Lecter was as comfortably big as the last guy had wished he was. The slow push in left him panting, writhing against his bonds, wishing he could move more with the push, or the slow burn of Lecter pulling out.

He was incorrigible, whimpering and needing and with each push there were spark inside of him, all the time while one part of his mind stood outside and watched what he was doing with horror. That part was drenched in self-loathing, but it remained intact even as the tides of passion swelled with growing intensity and fervor.

Yeah, Lecter knew what to do with his cock, which was more than he'd say for Toby. Lecter knew how to move, how to slam into Greg and it felt *so* damn good, and he was rocking back against him harder and harder.

He was pulling and tugging on the bonds not in a need to get away, but a means of bracing himself and he would've said he had no shame, except that one part of him was overwhelmed with shame and the other didn't care. He writhed, he thrust back hard, he moved with the man over him and he was rock hard and going to come even though it was going to hurt.

It was going to hurt, and he didn't care, didn't and couldn't stop, maybe wouldn't have stopped even if he had wanted to. The funniest thing was that he didn't want to, even though he was ashamed, and he *never* felt like that, except...

The realization hit him at roughly the same time as he came in a burst of blinding pain and pleasure. If it hadn't been so shocking he would've lost it in the white light explosion behind his eyes.

It was like a low grade version of the Reset. Lecter was hacking his wetwire chip and stimulating it with a low grade frequency. Fucking, fucking bastard! Making him believe he was a slut, a whore without shame, selling out for the next cock.

He knew it could be done; he had a reasonable level of encryption to stop it happening, but people got themselves wet wired to experience this sort of thing. They became addicts, wifi junkies , hitting their brains with unstable signal bursts and codes that were like a drug high without any of those residuals left in the blood for tests to pick up.

Lecter was smart enough to hack a police department encryption.

There was no question of that, and if Greg had spent enough time asleep for Lecter to undress and wash him at his leisure, he'd had time to experiment with his departmental encryption, and that made Greg's blood want to boil.

The problem was that knowing didn't help him, because when he heard the metallic sound of a knife drawn and he knew he was going to scream, the problem was he was more likely to be screaming in pleasure, begging for more, than he was with the pain.

And there was nothing he could do about it.

There was that point in a case when his eyes got crusty and tired, when his brains felt stiff, when he had too much adrenaline to be doing the deskwork part of the case that everyone else expected him to somehow do. It was like having brain damage, or ADD, because it wasn't quite on line with what he *wanted* to do, wasn't what his brain was straining to do. But he'd whittled it down, worked at it, and now he had a street.


Hyde because that's what Lecter was doing. Hyde because the word miser referred to Dollarhyde and for Lecter that was blatant. Hyde because they were Jekyll and Hyde of the same personality.

There were a lot of places with that sort of name in Vegas, but this one was in area called Blakesfield and that was the clincher. Blake. William Blake, the artist of the Red Dragon that was the symbol of Dollarhyde's Becoming.

There were no coincidences with Lecter.

It was all planning, and all he had to do was get himself pulled together and coherent enough to poke his head out and *find* someone to tell his find to, so they could get going already.

The problem was that he could hear a familiar voice out there in the corridor, apparently having an argument with Catherine. Jack had arrived.

"...I am used to dealing with Will, I know his quirks, his moods. I need your permission to use him," he was saying.

"And I'll tell you again, I don't make those sort of decisions without *asking* the person involved," Catherine replied.

"CSI Willows, I don't think you understand," and Will almost felt sorry for him because he knew already that you didn't patronize the second in command of the lab if you valued your body part. "He's a Criminal Empath. He needs a firm hand, direction and guidance."

"Director Crawford, I think you are forgetting that you are the one who tossed him out when it didn't suit you to have him around. He's ours now, and however you do it at the FBI is not how CSI Night shift does it. We take the family model seriously," she said sharply.

Yeah, as indicated by the fact that they'd *bought* someone just to find Jim. That was pretty out there, doing it for a *co-housee*, and not blood kin. "He is actually awake in here and can hear you out there in the hallway."

He heard Jack's low chuckle as he stepped into view. "I see Vegas hasn't sweetened your working style any Will. How're you doing?"

"Hey, did you know that the wet-wiring is actually supposed to be used to turn me *off* every once in a while?" He hunched over his scattered papers a little, glaring up at Jack. It was hard to feel bitter, like a dog who was once again meeting a master who'd decided to kick him out.

"People get addicted to the Reset. Burn out early." Jack replied as if it weren't a big deal and he was Right and the world was Wrong. "And you've always been stable enough. Always been unique Will."

Catherine was standing behind him, arms folded , practically rolling her eyes. "Yeah, that's not going to fly with him."

"I served you a dog for dinner when you got back from vacation, and you never thought 'hey, maybe this has gone too far'?" He'd thought it, and that was from *his* point of view. "Fuck you. Catherine, I have a lead."

"You have?" Catherine moved forward practically barging Jack out of the way. "Location?"

"Hey, I'm in on this too," Jack added. "What've you got?"

"It's Hyde Street, in the Blakesfield subdivision. I don't have an exact address, but if you just take me there I can *find* him. We can get them back." He concentrated on focusing on Catherine, not Jack. As long as he kept his attention on her, he was fine.

Catherine paused and he could see suddenly the desperation in her eyes that this could be it. It made her terse replies somewhat more explicable.

"Give me the reasoning. If I've got to authorize an operation, then I've got to justify it," she said.

He rubbed at his face, looking down at the sealed in an evidence bag letter. "The tone of his writing told me that it's a blatant hint. He wants me to come to him. He probably thinks that I'm going to slip the noose at some point in the fiasco, and he can get a hold of me without an unnecessary confrontation with law enforcement. So, he referenced 'miser' in his letter, which got me to thinking. It's very word association. Miser, dollar, Dollarhyde. Dollarhyde had this massive tattoo based on a Blake painting the red Dragon, so when I saw there was a Hyde Street in Blakesfield..."

"That's good enough," Jack replied. "We should send him in."

Catherine held up a hand. "Wait, wait... he wants you there and you're just going to walk right in? To a trap? I think we need more of a plan than that."

"You get your guys back." Will tilted his head slightly, peering at her. "I go in there prepared instead of half-cocked for once. But I'll be honest with you, I can keep this up for another couple of hours, tops, and then I'm gone. So we need to *go* now, or."

"He's expecting you to go in without back up?" Catherine asked. "We'll move, but Jim would never want someone killed for his sake."

Even if it was obvious that all of them were ready to risk their lives for him.

Hell, they were comfy risking *Greg's* life for him. "Yeah, well. I'm comfortable going in without backup if I have to. At least, I don't expect them to be there like I did when we staged our *last* attempt."

"Will, come on, you know that couldn't be helped," Jack replied and Catherine turned to Will.

"You'll get the back up. We got you re-chipped with a locator, which we will monitor and we'll have a full team on the perimeter monitoring where you are, ready to move. And you're going in with whatever protection we can give you," she said. "We'll be there are well, but we want to give the image you've slipped away from us and gone after him. Give us time to close in.

"That's fine." It was hard to not stare at Jack. "And actually, I meant *this* time, this case, with my Victim Empath. But this is a fantastic way to show a local law enforcement group that you really roll out the troops when they need help, seeing as you're admitting to things I'm not actually bringing up this time."

Catherine smirked a little at Jack's expression and Will had to wonder if even the few weeks apart had softened Jack's memory enough to forget what he was like under pressure, on the case.

"We just want to catch Lecter," he said.

"Well Director, that would be nice, but my priority is getting Jim and Greg out alive," Catherine drawled sardonically. "Okay, ten minutes to make calls Will, and we'll have a go. Get a coffee or something, some food -- Nicks got some in the break room. Tell them what's up and I'll break out the police back up, and I'm sure Director Crawford will be doing the same. I want you armed as well, as much as you can be."

"I'll get Nick to help me, seeing as he patted me down after I was sedated." He wasn't holding a grudge against them about *that*, no, because in hindsight it had saved them from exactly reenacting what Lecter wanted. He pushed the chair back, and got to his feet, arrowing past Jack as if he wasn't there.

He wasn't sure what he felt about Jack right now. On the one hand, decades of close association, dependence. He had needed him badly in his own way. On the other, discovering that Jack had not been treating him correctly, with no regard for his sanity. He was feeling pretty used right now, but that was in the background when Lecter came to town. Later, later it might spike to the fore, and he hoped for Jack's sake that when and if it did, Jack wasn't in town anymore.

Nick was easy to find. Nick was hovering in the break room, waiting. He probably hated that he'd been given Will-guarding duty, and Will could sympathize. "Hey."

"Hey Will," Nick looked at him. "Man, you look burned. Coffee? You finally taking a break?"

"Coffee, something to eat. Bread, something? We're hitting the ground running. Catherine said you might be able to help arm me, since all of my weapons are impounded at the house."

"You've got something?" Nick was staring at him frozen for a moment. "Jesus Will, how the hell did you manage that? Here uh... sit down, I've got some Danishes here and some take out we can warm up. I can do toast or something."

"Toast is good." Toast made a *really* shitty gun, too, Will mused as he sat down a little heavily, leaning his elbows on the table. His muscles were aching, and there was no reason for it to be like that except for tension, stress, maybe not enough food, he wasn't sure. Like he was burning himself out.

"So what's the deal? You said something about getting weapons?" Nick said as he threw some bread in their toaster. "You going in with a strike team?"

"Going in as a distraction so the strike team has time to close in. Lecter is expecting me to show up there half-cocked and mostly out of my mind." Which, sure, he might've been, but he was stretched thin and strung out, but *calm*. And as long as he stayed calm and stretched thin, he'd be all right.

"... Jesus Will," Nick said looking a little concerned. "What about back up? Greg got taken when you guys were sent in like that and you got zapped into oblivion."

"And the backup was waiting obliviously outside," Will reminded as he leaned his chin on his hands. "The backup will follow me in quickly, while I've got Lecter distracted."

Nick passed over the toast and spread. "We'll go to the weapons locker -- what do you want to take with you?"

"Couple of handguns." He had a holster for a standard issue Walther, and he was wearing it even though it was empty. "Maybe after this I can get my guns un-impounded. I have an old Bulldog, snub-nosed, and it's a good shot in a tight place."

"We can do that. Anything else?" Nick asked and for a moment he could imagine Greg doing this for him and wanted that. If he could make it beyond this meeting with Lecter.

If he could just survive. "Ammo?" Will's mouth quirked a little as he picked up a piece of toast and started to eat it mechanically.

Nick quirked an eyebrow at him. "I meant body armor or anything, tazer or something."

"It's hard to move in body armor. With Lecter, I'm less likely to knock him down with a Tazer than you'd think." He stopped for a moment, chewing hard.

"Yeah." Nick was looking at him. "You going to be okay? You've been going at this non-stop."

He sounded dubious that he even had a chance of being okay, as if this just proved the point.

"Doesn't really matter. Jack's here, and I'll be damned if I go to pieces and prove him right." He picked up the next piece, and chewed that as quickly as he could.

Sara put her head around the door. "Catherine says five minutes. guys," she informed them and she had a too bright look in her eyes. She looked trigger happy.

"Sh- okay, Will, better eat and run there. Let's get your stuff." Nick said and waited for him to move.

Will hovered long enough to stuff that last piece in his mouth, pushing the chair back as he chewed. "Sure, great. Let's go."

He didn't really care. He wanted to get to Greg, who he had failed to protect, who was bait for him, and who had given him in a few days more precious than Jack had managed in years. And if he lost his life in the process, as long as he could take Hannibal with him, it would be no great loss. None at all.

Blood loss made him dizzy and disorientated. He was tied only minimally this time but it didn't matter. He couldn't really move anyway after the evening and night's entertainment. He wasn't in a bedroom; he seemed to be in the living room this time, just there like a toy tossed to one side.

Like Lecter was bored with him, and he seemed to be. He was in the kitchen, and whatever he was making smelled... well, it smelled *good*, but that just made Greg feel stomach sick, because he hadn't seen Jim since they'd been separated.

He hurt with every tiny shift of movement. Lecter had carved patterns on him, and he'd kept fucking well having orgasms because Lecter had something punching his wet wired pleasure buttons all the time.

He was going to be incredibly screwed up over that even if Lecter knew exactly how deep to cut to not be fatal. He wanted desperately for whatever Lecter was cooking not to be Jim. Like, a house pet would be fantastic just because it *wouldn't* be Jim, and he knew that whatever it was, Lecter was going to feed it to him, and Greg was going to be sick if that was the case.

"Are you still awake in there? I thought you might appreciate a continental breakfast."

He might just be sick anyway because he had a thumping head and moving made him feel ill. Maybe if he could just *try*, really try he could get free, get out of here. All he managed was a harsh gasp as he shifted. Continental breakfast, what was that? Maybe some parts had nothing to do with meat.

Hopefully. "It's polite to answer when someone speaks to you."

He was on dangerous ground already. Politeness or lack of it was a trigger and he tried to moisten his mouth enough to say "'s awake," with a faint degree of success.

"Good. I hope you'll appreciate this Brioche." Brioche. That sounded distinctly meat-free, and Greg relaxed a little against the cushions of the sofa at that response.

"Sounds good." Of course he could've made it with some other bodily fluid, but Greg decided he could live with that. If he could get Lecter in a good mood maybe he could ask about Jim before he set off on his next round of entertainment.

Hopefully he'd survive that next round and he'd just... keep on surviving. He was seriously going to need to be reset if he got out of there. He was going to...

Going crazy, actually, because he swore he heard someone opening the front door.

If he'd heard it, there was no way that Lecter would miss it, and he tried hard, desperately hard to sit up to see what was happening. Police? Had they found them? A shot of adrenalin gave him strength and he shifted enough to try and see, though it left him panting and shaking.

The door creaked open, and then closed behind whoever it was. He twisted, peering and holy shit, it was Will. He could see Will scan the room, could see him sight Greg's weakened position, and he wasted no time in kneeling down beside Greg. Free, oh, god, he could be free soon...

But Lecter was there, he would know and...

And everything fell into place, in a flash of revelation. How Lecter had managed to toy with Will all this time. He'd broken Will's wetwire encryption a long time ago, and Will had *never* had a reset. He wouldn't recognize it, he wouldn't know, he didn't know and he would be a sitting duck for whatever Lecter wanted.

"Go..." he whispered "Go, please... it's the chip; he'll get you with that."

"Shhh." Will hissed it, cutting at the lightly twisted ropes around his wrists and ankles. "Run. Run, they're just outside."

Run? Run he couldn't even move. But Will couldn't see that, couldn't realize what Lecter had done and...

"Hello, Will, would you like some brioche?" Lecter's voice said from the doorway to the kitchen. "I'm sure there's enough for all of us."

Will froze, going stiff, and Greg thought he could see fear hit Will's eyes hard before he stood up. "I'm sure there is. It's been a while, Hannibal."

"Summers past," Hannibal said and he was smiling. "I see you found your stray pet. A most amusing distraction. He actually was interesting. I can see why you liked him."

Greg wanted to help, but he just didn't know how. He could work free if he was careful, but the tension in the air was thick and crackling with danger.

"He's not what you want." Will stepped a little closer, positioning himself between Lecter and Greg. "Is he?"

"Is this going to be like some clichéd tale of a man risking his life for a stray dog?" Lecter asked stepping closer to him as well. "Will, I thought you understood things better than that. Did you know he comes when he screams?"

A grimace hit Will's face, twisted his tense expression. "Hey, I'm a stray dog, too. Just doing my job here, Hannibal, so we might as well keep this between you and me."

"And what do you want Will?" Hannibal said approaching and Greg felt it, felt the whispering stir of his wetwire chip picking up a signal. "I wanted you to come here, to me. To come to me of your own free will. I like to see you fall to the inevitable because we are inevitable, you and I..."

"No..." Greg managed. "No, Will, don't listen..."

But he felt the signal, even if it wasn't being sent straight to his chip, and Will sucked in a breath, held it, staring at Hannibal. "What, what I want doesn't matter. Let them go, and I'm here."

"Oh and I thought we could enjoy them together. Did you think this was an exchange?" Lecter gave a low chuckle. "I don't think I promised to let anyone go. I thought we might keep him. At least for a little while."

Greg worked frantically at the partially severed ropes at his wrists. He had to stop this from happening. Something from happening. If the other were outside where were they?

"I'm not... not going to be you." But he could see Will shiver, could see him shake his head sharply, trying to physically throw off the compulsions of his chip. "I'm not you. I am not going to become that to become you, I will not, I..." He made a jerking motion, pulled his gun and pulled the trigger.

Greg didn't know if he missed or if he hit him or took him down a little but Lecter was moving at that speed and then it was going badly wrong because he saw a device that looked like one of the reset remotes go flying and he lunged for it, unable to get it more crawling than anything. A table crashed and things were falling, and bouncing around him, a vase tipping and a shower of roses and water fall onto him and -- shit, the remote.

It sparked and there was an intense surge of feeling. Not of arousal but anger and darkness.

It was thick and choking, and Greg couldn't move through it, couldn't get the wherewithal to stand up or get to his feet, and he really needed to get the damn remote out of the water.

It was the gunshot that startled him to coherency.

He'd been acting over-sedated, overly controllable, and yeah, part of it had been to ignore the screams while he worked out a way to really shake off the haze, but gunshots were a warning sign that it was time for him to move his ass, whether or not he hurt physically or didn't really have all of his coordination going or not.

Lecter's main abuse of him had been by neglect so he was shaky with hunger and thirst but he had managed to work at the door, and now, he was just going to use brute force. He knew how to kick down a door... if he could stand up.

His limbs felt like lead and he was stiff as hell, but maybe Lecter had been working on body weight and not tolerance and he had a good tolerance to drugs. Burned them off quick so he hadn't been completely helpless.

There was a helluva racket downstairs and he straightened and made it to the door unsteadily. A couple of good kicks would snap the lock.

House doors, home doors, were one hundred percent shitty, layered cardboard that made particle board look grand, and it hurt his heel like hell, but a good snap of a kick did it. Better than busting the locks, it took out the hinges, right off the screws on the other side.

Just as well he was still solid even after days of near starvation. He looked hastily in the next door bedroom where Lecter must've had Greg. Nothing there but a tumble of bloodstained sheets. Poor kid. He shouldn't have done that.

He headed down the stair towards the noise, hearing roars of rage and then the smash of glass. Jim had been in bar fights that sounded like that.

"Feels good doesn't it Will? You've finally let go... well done!" Lecter's voice sounded feral but delighted and there was another crash as Jim looked to try and assess the situation.

"Fuck! Fuck, get out of my head!" He wasn't sure how much the guy had actually 'let go', or what was even going on, but he was holding a gun and hunched over a side table, and Lecter was standing with his back to the stairs. Greg was on the floor beside the sofa, struggling and Jesus he was a mess, but that was something to take care of later. "I'll, I'll shoot, I'll pull the trigger!"

"Shoot then and who will stop you doing what you want to do? You want to kill, don't you? You want to *taste* death, to lap at your pet's throat as his life pours away..." Lecter replied in creepiest goddamn voice Jim had ever heard. "You know I'm right, Will. You know what you need."

Jim decided all he needed was something heavy to hit the bastard over the head with. He was the wild card here; Lecter seemed to think he had everything under control one way or another but he didn't know about him. He glanced around and found a signed baseball bat and some golf clubs. After a bit of thought he chose the baseball bat.

And then he didn't even hesitate, no moral qualms about giving warning, like procedure said he should. Nothing. He just moved fast and swung with all his strength at the back of Lecter's head even as the sociopath laughed at Will.

It was a lot more effective than he could have hoped for, and it seemed to startle Will -- at least, he was guessing that was Will -- upright, lips curled back over his teeth as he brought the gun up hesitatingly. He was shaking his head like a dog in seizure, one shoulder jerking back, and okay, there was a gun pointed at him, and he was naked, but hopefully he could get the guy to not shoot him.

And then Lecter groaned from the floor. Will dropped the gun's angle sharply down and fired twice.

"Whoa... okay, hold up," Jim said, using a voice he'd employed before to talk down cracked out junkies. "He's down. Will? I've heard about you."

Where the hell was the guy's back up?

He held the gun down, still pointed at Lecter, the same way Jim used when he was trying to keep a live subject subdued. His teeth were gritted tightly. "Get, get out of here. Get Greg out of here. They're outside. Need a signal. I..." There was a head-shaking again, and he whined sharply. "Fuck!"

"Think the gunshots might've clued them in," Jim said dryly and moved to Greg, who was clothed but blood had obviously been seeping through. He was sprawled out as if he was trying to reach something and to his surprise made a noise when he touched him.

"...Jim... can't turn it off... tried... can't..."

"Kill me." Will's gun was still angled down, and the words distracted Jim from the act of picking up the bizarre remote control that Greg was clutching. "Please, please, if they come through that door, if they, I'll kill them all, I can't, this is too much, I'll kill myself first."

"Put him out," Greg whispered. "Knock him out."

Jim couldn't see how that would harm. He wasn't going to kill a guy who had come to their rescue but he didn't have to tell him that.

"Okay," he said to Will. "Gimme the gun. I'll get it done for you okay?" There he was naked, and demanding a gun off of a Criminal Empath gone way over the edge. As if his life hadn't been exciting enough. Will jerked his head again, lifting it, pointing it like he was trying to target Jim, but his fingers started to un-knot from it, and Jim lunged when he saw Will's finger leave the trigger.

He had the gun and he looked at Will. "You know, I'm really sorry I have to do this."

He looked him in the eye and for a moment, thought he'd found someone who put his experiences in the shade. Will looked like he was in hell. And he was just standing there, waiting to be killed. God.

He raised the gun muzzle and stepped close, and he still didn't move away. "Really sorry, Will."

And then he blindsided him with a punch with his full weight behind it, with enough force to crack his damn knuckles.

It worked like a charm, took him right down, and it left Jim swaying and his hand aching as Will collapsed into a pile on the carpet, partially atop Lecter, near Greg, and yeah, they were a mess. He started to put the gun down when he heard the cavalry come to the rescue, knocking down the front door.

He turned as they came in and started laughing, a low painful laugh, bitter and sharp. Naked, half drugged and surrounded by bodies he was still the last man standing, with the backup too late to be of any use to anyone.

Then and only then did he sit down and allow himself to hope it might be over.

Nick was grateful for the clause that made housemates count as family. It meant that they had been allowed to go in to the hospital. The Feds were half taking over the scene and they were meant to be off shift, though Catherine was handling the liaison with Jack and Warrick and Sara got sucked in by another murder case that was turning into a double.

None of them wanted Jim to come round alone, so he was on duty for that job and glad of it.

There were a lot of other places that were worse to be than waiting for Jim to come around. Not that he'd just waited, because then he would have been a shitty investigator. He'd read the clip-board at the bottom of Jim's bed, and he'd remembered the victims of the killer who'd initially taken Jim captive. The fact that he had internal damage was completely not a surprise. The fact that he had an infection was also less than surprising.

Jim had evidence collected from him as part of the process, and now there he was in defiance of the odds that said if you didn't get them back in 24 hours, then you didn't get them back at all.

He'd lost weight. The weight Catherine teased him about at breakfast when he reached for the extra whatever. He was paler than normal. And he hated the way seeing him like that made Nick feel. Jim wasn't the vulnerable one. He was the tough guy.

Jim was the guy who was standing when everyone else had given up, and he was the guy who worked a triple with only a little complaining while the rest of them were cross-eyed and whining. He was the head of their *home*, and not just a figurehead. He made sure everything got done somehow, that they had food in the place, that things didn't fall apart completely despite the latest case, and... there he was. Hospital bed.

His daughter hadn't even showed when they put out the call that he'd been abducted. He didn't understand that. Jim was a great guy, a good father-figure to them at least. Yeah, he'd busted all of them down a time or two. But he'd given Warrick a second chance, he'd gone the distance with all of them and he'd never told him how much he meant to him.

Nick hated the thought that he might be broken mentally.

It seemed pretty possible. He'd worked that scene, he'd gone over the items that had Jim's blood on it, that had other people's blood on it, and if that had been *him* having that shoved up his ass, if that had been *him*, cut up, Nick wasn't sure he'd be all right. So, he held his one-man vigil, hovering beside Jim's bed. Once Jim was awake and maybe once he was asleep again, Nick would see where Greg and Will were.

All he knew was that they'd been taken off in different directions. He was pretty sure they'd been talking surgery.

"You're not pretty enough to be a nurse," he heard a rough voice say and he'd managed to miss Jim opening his eyes.

"Nah. The hot one just ran off and told me to sit here and try my hardest to look pretty." That didn't *sound* mentally broken, but Nick was going to be careful until he saw more of Jim up and about and awake. Back at home, too. "How'm I doing?"

"Grow your hair some more and I'd take you home," Jim answered. "Jesus, I feel worse now I'm in hospital. What the hell's that all about?"

"You ran out of adrenaline. Also, you're hooked up to some pretty funky tubes, and I'm supposed to tell you to not try to stand up any time soon." Starting with the IV into his arm, and moving on down. "Cath's out fielding the FBI, or you know she'd be there."

"Yeah, I kind of noticed she was first in with the damn swat team. Either she's been moonlighting or... shit." Jim had attempted to move and it hadn't worked. "So, you've read my chart. They remove anything vital?"

"Some, uh..." Nick swallowed, and studied Jim's face. "I'm uh, not sure I should be the one to really try to explain it, because I could explain it all wrong, and get your hopes up, or explain it all wrong and give you a heart attack. Maybe when Al gets off shift."

Jim just looked at him. "Yeah, kind of what I thought. Jesus."

His expression seemed to war between emotions, not settling on one in particular until he said. "Tell me about Will and Greg."

Which was just as hard to explain as it was that he'd read about 'reconstructive surgery', and tissue excised, and yeah. One weird topic to another. "They're both in surgery. Apparently Lecter took some skin off of Greg. He circumcised him, too. We think that's what he mailed us with the letter that Will used to, uh, find you guys."

Jim cleared his throat. "He made himself a target, did it deliberately." He shook his head. "He didn't even know me."

Nick heard his voice go rough and noticed how Jim gripped at the sheet.

"He knew that we cared enough about you to pull something bizarre and last minute like buying two Professional Empaths to find you. He and Will spent a few hours in your room, trying to get a feel for you. Greg's a good guy." Nick wanted to touch Jim's hand, just reassure him that he was there, but maybe he'd gotten too much into that habit in the last couple of days with Will.

Jim did look at his hand and then looked up at him. "He ... I heard him screaming a lot," he said. "He just sedated me. I wasn't interesting to him."

"Yeah." Nick let his hand move, patted at Jim's fingers because it *was* what he wanted to do. "We're not just going to drop him. He went out on a limb for you. When I find out what room he's in, you can bet he's going to have visitors."

"Good." Jim exhaled. "Good. Greg was trying to tell me something about the chips? Why Will was going crazy?"

"Lecter had a control box. Apparently he'd over-ridden their wet-wiring. Will's actually shorted out, so they're in there re-wiring him, and he was dehydrated. Guy's been living on cigarettes and coffee, so I'm not really surprised." Nick patted at Jim's hand again, a little awkward about what Jim's line was going to turn out to be after everything that had happened. It was just good to have him back, to have him *alive*. "They need to be reset, and Catherine wouldn't. Couldn't, because they needed to work. Will's a burnout, and he didn't think he'd be able to do anything if he was reset. That Jack guy has never reset him."

"Greg said something about that, about him going to need it. The other guy, Toby, he did get to him before Lecter so-say rescued us," Jim answered

"Yeah. The uh, plan was that Will and Greg would find Toby, bait him, and backup would get the guy, and... and Will got tazered and, and here we are." Nick couldn't help but grimace a little as he told Jim that.

"Yeah, Greg told me that, too," Jim said again. "Greg wasn't sure if he was dead." He leaned back and exhaled. He sounded normal but there was just the faintest hint of a tremor or shake to his fingers, his breathing. "Anything happen back at the Graveyard?"

"Nah. Place was dead quiet without you there. We've had a few cases, nothing really earth shattering. Sara and Warrick are out working a Homicide." Nick pressed a little against his fingers. "You're gonna be okay, all right? We're going to make sure you come out of this okay. Now, do you need anything?"

"Last few weeks as a do-over?" Jim suggested. "Nah, I'm good Nick. Thanks for hanging around. All I want to know now is how the others are and what's happening with Lecter, if he's dead or not, so go out there and put those investigating skills to some use."

"Lecter's dead." Nick could at least assure him of that. "Do you want me to go around and see how Greg and Will are, then report back to you?"

"Yeah. Yeah that'd be good Nick," Jim said. "And if you see a doctor to come and tell me how screwed I am, please send 'em in."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll do that. Jim, I'm... I'm glad you're back. I'm sorry we didn't find you sooner. You get some rest and I'll find that doctor." And get an explanation *himself*, first, so that Jim couldn't play it down and do too much too soon. Nick started to stand up, and gave Jim's hand one last squeeze.

To his surprise Jim actually squeezed back, though he didn't say anything. Nick would put a bet on the fact that he was trying really hard to be normal.

He left the room, heading towards the nurses' station, to try and track down Greg and Will.

And a doctor. A doctor, but just in general, he needed information and Nick knew how to get it, smiling at the women. "Hey there."

"What can we do for you CSI Stokes?" One of the nurses replied automatically smiling back at him.

"I've got a couple of questions. I'm looking for my Housemates Will Graham and Greg Sanders, and I need to talk to a Doctor about Owner Jim Brass." And hopefully that second one before Jim fell asleep.

"Let me see, Greg Sanders was in the ICU. He's still there but less critical. Will Graham was in surgery and was in recovery about an hour ago so I would think he is in a secure ward right now," the nurse replied. "I'll just buzz the doctor on call."

"Thanks." Secure ward. Yeah, that sounded about right, that they'd lock him down whether he was chipped or not, and Nick was willing to bet that they weren't going to move Greg to the secure ward. Then again, Greg was messed up in different ways than Will.

It was a testament to the high profile of their patients that a doctor turned up quickly in response to the summons. After a brief conversation with the nurse he turned to Nick. "CSI Stokes, I believe you wanted to talk to me?"

"Owner Brass wants to talk to you about his injuries. I..." Nick cleared his throat. "As the house representative here right now, I need to have them explained to me, too. I gave his chart a scan, but..."

"We are currently waiting for the antibiotics to take effect," the doctor said. "Owner Brass has some internal damage from his ordeal that will require surgery. It is not life threatening at this point in time, but undoubtedly some of the stressful positions have caused a hernia in his large intestine that has tortionated. We also need to ensure all tears are sealed as well."

"But if all of that gets, I mean, if it goes well, he'll be all right? I mean, everything will function?" Nick wanted to know, because if he was then he could reassure Jim that he was going to be all right.

"Yes. Yes, the danger is at the moment that his intestine might perforate before we get to the surgery stage and he'll go in as an emergency case," the doctor replied seriously. "Otherwise he has been very lucky in terms of physical damage. There is no permanent muscle damage from the abuse and though he shows signs of physical abuse which is undoubtedly very painful, it is all recoverable. He'll have to take it easy though."

"Okay. When's he supposed to go in for surgery?" And then he'd let the Doctor get on his way.

"Tomorrow if his fever has dropped," the Doctor replied. "Is that everything?"

"Yeah. Except you're going to have to give this whole spiel again to Owner Brass, because he's awake now." Nick threw out a smile. "Thanks for your time, sir. My working house appreciates it."

"I'll go do that now," he promised and headed off towards Jim's room, leaving Nick to his own devices.

Which was really just a matter of deciding which Empath he wanted to see first. Except, if Greg was in ICU, then a little extra time could be a good thing. It wasn't as if Will would be more coherent in two hours or two minutes, but with Greg, he might just shake off a little more anesthesia. So, Nick decided he was sort of saving the best for last, as he headed to the elevator.

It took a little bit of detective work and throwing his weight around to get into the secure ward. It was weird, he'd spent more time with Will than with Greg but Will had unnerved him. He couldn't help that. Hell, he unnerved everyone except maybe Greg. He wanted to see if he was okay, that much was true, but he hadn't warmed to the guy in the same way he had to Greg.

There was really nothing to warm up to. He'd been a nervous breakdown in progress, not really human. Hell, he'd been tazered twice, and they'd *still* had to sedate him to get him down off a fit. But... but, he still needed to be checked in on, so Nick approached his bed a little cautiously, eyeing the man's still body.

They'd shaved his hair, which meant they must've installed another chip after all that. It made him look younger and, with his eyes closed like that, he looked oddly vulnerable. He glanced down and saw they hadn't taken chances. His wrists were in padded cuffs attached to the raised side bars of the cot. At least they had rehydrated him.

There was an IV in his arm, and it didn't look like he'd pulled at it. Nick looked around, and pulled a pretty bare stool up to Will's bed. Cuffed down, and re-chipped, ready for work again, Nick figured. It wasn't much of a *life*, and it wasn't much like the case examples they'd been given of the guy.

He guessed he could see why Greg had seemed so protective of the guy. He was a Permanent Specialist, he didn't get to opt out, he just got to endure. Greg had emphasized the importance of touch so if all he could do today was hold hands that was what he was going to do.

He'd expected the hesitant motions that Jim had given him. But Will turned his fingers, a calm motion, and squeezed lightly. "Surprise. Company."

He managed not to jump. "Hey Will, wasn't sure if you were awake or not," he said in a deliberately soothing voice. "How're you feeling?"

"Like someone kicked me in the head." He swallowed, shifted his fingers just a little. "Jim's got a hell of a punch."

"Yeah. Yeah, I think sometimes he thinks he could've been a contender, if you know what I mean," Nick answered keeping contact with the fingers. "Think some of that feeling might be down to surgery though."

"Yeah. I, I really need to be reset. So, if when Catherine is around, if you could..." He moved his fingers, like he was waving.

"I'll ask," Nick promised. "Might need to wait a little. Still feeling shaky?"

That had to be a massive understatement; the fact he was restrained was a hint at least things were more than shaky.

Will cocked an eyebrow at him. "Yeah. Yeah, looks, this, it's not rocket science. You take the code, and there's a whole new one, put it into the remote, and press the button, and I finally get to stop thinking for the first time in decades. This really isn't something that needs to be sat on for another couple of days because you're all uneasy with it. Hell, I've got a 30 percent chance of going into a coma, but I'm okay with that. This takes no consideration on your part."

"Will, you've just had brain surgery," Nick said. "I'm thinking they might have some sort of recovery time going on and you've not had it before. They won't want to take risks with you they don't have to. But like I said, I'll ask. You might be ready."

Will closed his eyes tightly, and pulled at the cuffs with one hand. "You have no idea what this is like. No idea. Do you think I care what the risks are?"

"No. But we do," Nick said. "We don't want to lose you okay?" He was surprised at how much he meant that. "You'll get the reset, I'll promise you that much. Maybe... maybe I can ask and see if they can give you something to take the edge off, y'know?"

Not that he was one hundred percent sure what the edge was, but Will seemed wound up and desperate. "Nothing but a bullet in my head is going to take the edge off right now. Jim should have shot me."

"It's gonna get better," Nick promised. "Lecter was messing with your chip ,man, it's not your fault."

"No, no, I've been like this for years. Without him doing anything to my chip. I creep you out, don't I? Because you know I'm a threat. I'm in the hospital and I'm cuffed *down*. I have, I have no freedom, no life..."

"You will," Nick tried to soothe. "Greg seems to think he can help you and Greg been pretty much right about things all along. He seems to know more about this than any of us. He did try and attack Crawford on your behalf you know. Even... the way he was."

Will swallowed, tilted his head down, chin against his chest. "I want to be reset. I want to be turned *off*."

Nick could help but feel a pang of sympathy for the man. "We'll do it okay? Just hang in there a little bit longer." He squeezed the other man's hand softly. "Can I get you some ice chips or something?"

There was quiet hesitation, and then he nodded slightly. "Yeah. Throat's dry."

Nick nodded. "Hold on." He got up and fetched some. For all his discomfort, and the weird intensity that the other man focused on him, he was very vulnerable and trapped and Nick had a lot of sympathy for that sort of situation. He returned with a cup of the ice chips and settled to feed them to Will one by one. Then he'd head up to see Greg.

He supposed that the act could have been a slow, intimate one, but it wasn't. Will's focus was elsewhere, god knew where, and he chewed a few and swallowed, and thanked Nick, like he was releasing him from his helpful task.

He waited for an awkward moment to see if it were real and then stood slowly. "I'm going on up to see Greg now okay? I'll talk to the others for you and I'll see you soon, Will, okay?"

"Okay." He closed his eyes. "Thanks. Let him know that I'm sorry."

"I don't think he blames you, but I'll tell him," Nick replied. "Later man."

With that he headed out again, looking to pass on the messages. Will was obviously in a lot of distress. He didn't think it was particularly normal for a guy to beg to be killed, to show that much of a lack of interest in his continued survival. Nick left the secured area, waving to the nurse, and tried to chart a course for the ICU.

Nick wanted to see Greg, he wanted him to be okay. He'd seen enough to know Greg had bad blood loss but he didn't know how much physical damage there was to go with that. He couldn't get over the fact he'd thought Greg was being a drama queen about telling him where things were if things went really horribly wrong. He knew Greg had seen that skepticism and just carried on. He hated the thought that that was Greg's last experience with him.

He was going to have to fix it. He'd just... have to get an update on Greg's status and apologies for his own reaction and hope he was all right. Because he *was* a good guy, and Jim was right. He needed to be told it.

He reached the ICU ward and discovered that Greg was no longer in the critical area and more in a holding area before he was sent back to an ordinary ward. The nurse on duty was very helpful. Apparently the worst of it had been the significant blood loss, and the transfusion had settled down his wildly erratic vital signs significantly so yes, he could have visitors even if he was apparently on strong drugs.

Nick had a little hope that he could at least carry on a half-coherent conversation with Greg, but if all he got to do was sit at his side and smile. Well, Nick would be all right with it.

He peered in around the door, surprise to find Greg lying on one side, facing the door, his eyes flicking open as he heard someone enter. "...Hey Nick."

"Hey Greg. How're you feeling?" He sidled up to Greg's bed, same as he'd done with Jim and Will, studying his face.

"Like something the cat dragged in, vomited on and then sat on," Greg managed. "Maybe a herd of cats. No wait... 's not a herd. What's a group of cats?"

"A mess? Gaggle?" Nick pulled his chair up closer, reaching a hand to gently touch Greg's shoulder. He seemed so much more vulnerable. Maybe it was the body positioning. "You okay mentally?"

Greg looked up at him with dark eyes and shook his head. "Nope. But not likely to do a repeat performance of B movie monster 'must-kill' impression." There was just a little slurring to Greg's voice as he spoke, just a hint that he was on drugs. "Are Will and Jim okay? I fuzzed out in bits at the end," Greg replied seeming grateful at least for his attention. "And... and you're doing great. I was really worried I was going to be alone."

"Nah. The only reason you're not with Will is because they've got him up in the secure ward right now. That and you just got out of ICU. Jim's... facing some more surgery, but the doctor's got a pretty good outlook, and Jim's been awake and lucid. Will's had his wetwire re-wired."

That seemed to make Greg more alert. "He has? Have they... have they tried a reset yet?" he asked. "How is he?"

"They haven't reset him yet." He wasn't going to repeat what Will had said to him, not when Greg was looking up at him like that, giving him eyes that looked so damn hopeful. "He's kind of a mess."

"I need to be there for the reset," Greg said immediately. "I need to be there to help him out of it. It takes careful handling and I don't think any of you guys know enough to do it for someone like Will."

"I..." Nick smiled as he exhaled. "I think we're all in over our heads, Greg. You're going to have to be reset, too. What do I need to know to help you? Seeing as I don't think I'm going to have to use your will."

"You're willing to do that with me?" Greg asked and he looked pathetically grateful. "It' won't be so bad with me, but this was pretty rough and dealing with Will is going to be a tough one too. Do you know anything about it?"

"Not enough to be useful. Hey, do you want some ice-chips or something, and you can tell me about?" Draw it out, keep the contact longer. If Greg was that grateful, then Nick wanted to stay. Greg was all about the physicality.

"Yeah, yeah, I think they left some here not long ago, I just couldn't be bothered to move," Greg replied. "I'm trying to think of a way of explaining what it's about... Uh, imagine a computer. It's got a core operating system right? That would be like your own personality. Well a Criminal Empath, or a Professional Victim has the equivalent of running programs when they are running hot. Lots of them. A bit from this a bit from that, and the longer it goes on, the more of a stress it puts on the core system. Even if you *try* and shut it all down, often there are those weird things running in the background. And they conflict with normal operations, y'know? So you do what you do for a computer. You reset it. Forces a close down of all non-core processes and brings it up with the core personality, uh, the main operating system only. That make sense?"

Yeah, it made sense, but he wasn't sure how that applied to a human being. Not that it stopped Nick from looking, sighting the ice-chips, and leaning up to grab them for Greg. They were a little past melty, but it would still feel good. "Yeah. But what does it do to *you*?"

"It's pretty much like a whole body orgasm," Greg replied quietly. "It floods the brain with what is a complete pleasure short circuit. I... I'll probably climax with it, maybe more than once, going on past performances I'll cry, maybe vomit and Aiden said, used to say, I'd cling like the world depended on me holding on for dear life. Then I'll pass out. It sort of fast forwards emotional reactions rather than suppressing it. When I come around again, the most important thing is that I feel safe and cared for because that is the push button to get the rest of me back. Within an hour of waking up I'll be absolutely fine."

It sounded hellish. It sounded unnatural, but that was why they were wet-wired, wasn't it? So they could live all that on fast forward, and be past it. "You'll be really okay after all of that? Even with what happened? I mean, that Toby guy had you, too, and Lecter..."

Lecter had deep fried Greg's foreskin. There really weren't words for that.

"I... I should be," Greg replied. He swallowed a bit. "I guess you know what Toby did and some of Lecter's but..." He stopped, his composure fragile.

"Yeah. We got it in a package, and whatever happened, he was manipulating your mind. I tried to tell Will that..." And Nick didn't want to think about what that sort of fast forward would be like for a guy who'd been running like that for decades, if Greg knew he was going to come, and cry and throw up and cling.

"He was clever..." Greg admitted. "I only just realized what he was doing he.... hacked mine. He seduced me, convincing me I was a slut because I was responding and I couldn't work out why. Then..." He voice was shaking a little. "Then he had me tied down and he cut patterns in me with a knife and fuck... I came over and over while I screamed. Because, because of what he did there...."

"It's okay." Nick squeezed his shoulder, and offered a couple of ice-chips to Greg's mouth. "You know, you've done this for years, Greg. You know how criminals work."

"Not like that, the chip has never been used against me..." he managed and then took the ice chips. "You sure you want to do this? Because I can do it alone."

"Like hell I'm going to let you do that alone. I remember the last time I tried to do stomach flu on my own." Nick dipped his fingers into the cup again, and offered Greg another wet ice-chip. "We're a family unit. So, what're your other injuries? I'm not going to let you over extend yourself."

"Some internal. Toby fisted me in front of Jim, helluva a way to make an impression," Greg said ruefully and he seemed more worried about the impression than the action. "Lecter took my foreskin, then ....well there was a lot of sex and cutting and things got a bit rough there. I'm better than I have a right to be I guess."

"You and Jim are both going to be on the same Jell-O and banana diet for a while," Nick guessed. "Hey, Sara makes a mean tomato soup. Just for reference. And the doctors here are real good."

"Jim was great," Greg said still slurring a little. "Totally nakedly blindsided Lecter. Thought Lecter was cooking him up for breakfast."

"Cracked his head in good. He's dead. Will pumping him full of lead just sped the brain bleed along." Nick offered that out, and Will hadn't even asked that one, had he? No, and he probably didn't want to know in the state of mind he was in. "They're autopsying him. The freakish thing is that they've got to find his will to see if his brain and all can be donated to science."

"I'm not sure I'll believe him dead even if I see the ashes," Greg replied with a shudder that made him wince. He reached to touch Nick then, looking at him again. "Do you think was he right? He said I wanted to sleep with all of you and I... I..."

"Hey. You know what? If you did want to sleep with all of us, that doesn't mean there's a damn thing wrong with you. That guy was fucked up, and people like that ruin what sex is for the rest of us, okay?" He grasped Greg's hand, squeezing tightly.

Greg smiled at him. "Thanks Nick. I'll pay you back somehow. You don't know how freaked I've been about doing this alone but I can take a break now, really rest."

"A good long rest. When you get out of here, I think you deserve a good couple of weeks at least to rest and just do nothing before even thinking of going to the lab." He patted Greg's hand again, smiling at him. It was so easy to want to respond warmly to Greg.

"Yeah, maybe I'll get to dust off my DNA and trace skills," Greg replied. "Go on. I'll be fine now I know you are coming back."

"Okay. I *am* coming back," Nick reiterated, shifting to stand up. "I'm going to go hunt down Catherine, and I'll be back in a few hours at most."

Greg nodded again "I'll be here," he said and he saw Greg close his eyes even as he turned to leave.

If this reset was going to help Greg then the least he could do was be there for him when it happened. He and Will had managed to lead them to Jim and get him out alive. In the end that was more than any of them had dared hope. Jim Brass was alive.

It was very disconcerting to wake up from a doze and find two of his housemates in his room. For a brief moment he was wondering if they'd over celebrated and he'd finally gone too far and invited the whole household into his bed or something.

And then he remembered he was in hospital and scheduled for surgery the following day and that Catherine and Nick just didn't seem to have a home to go to at the moment.

Or, if the house was still standing they weren't interested in being there. "I'm just saying. They both need to be reset, and leaving both of them not reset yet is... it's torture, Catherine."

"From what you've said, doing the reset is going to be bad for Greg, and downright dangerous for Will, and I don't know what the hell to do if something goes wrong," Catherine replied.

Jim would've traded a part of his lower intestine -- the bit that was being extracted anyway from what the doctor said -- to have a magic button to make it all go away right now. It was there, everything that happened and some of them didn't have state of the art technology embedded in their brains. He was going to have to live it.

He cautiously opened an eye, still tired after all the sleeping and the pain in his gut which he had been dismissing as hunger and bruising starting up again even with the pain meds.

Yeah, he *knew* what it was, but he didn't want to think about it, or that the surgery was soon. "It's going to be emotionally bad for about an hour, and that's it. Done, the end. And Will, yeah, sure, that's dangerous for him, but he's cuffed to a hospital bed right now. He's not going to be able to function unless you do it. I dropped in to get him some ice-chips, and he kept asking me to kill him. Do you want to live with that?"

And neither of them had noticed he was awake yet.

"No. No... Jesus, I blew the whole recruitment budget on the pair of them without clearance Nick, and the only way I'm going to get out of that mess is because they did it...they finally got Lecter," Catherine said in a low voice. "I had no idea what I was getting in to. You know I usually spend a long time researching purchases. I just, I don't want them to suffer, but I don't want to completely screw them over. Crawford keeps offering to buy Will back... I... I don't know whether I should say yes or not if only because they at least know about Empath designations there."

"No." Jim interrupted. "No, you're not selling them on."

Nick twisted, and Jim watched him twist, watched him lean to get the glass of half-melted ice-chips, too. "Hey, Jim. Did we wake you up?"

"Yeah," Jim replied screwing up his eyes a little until he adjusted to the light. "You're not selling them. I made a promise to Will, so you do the reset as soon as is safe okay?"

"For Greg as well?" Catherine asked.

"Especially for Greg," Jim replied. "It's no junky fix for him; Lecter did a number on him. He spent most of an entire evening and night screaming and he took most of what the other guy did without a fuss. He needs it."

"You probably need it, too," Nick murmured, offering Jim the edge of his plastic cup. "Want something to drink? They're doing, uh, pretty good, once you take it all into consideration."

"Yeah. Got to get in before the Nil by mouth kicks in at midnight," Jim replied. "Maybe then they'll let me eat after the operation. Hey Cath, think I've lost that extra weight." He reached for the cup, trying to sit up.

"I think that's the last thing any of us are worried about." Catherine cleared her throat, while Nick steadied the cup for Jim. "I'm not going to sell them on, if you don't want me to."

"Consider it official," Jim replied. It was easier to pretend things were okay if he just tried to slip back into his normal role. "I'll back the purchase, and I want them. And I know more about them than you guys seem to."

Which to be fair was not unexpected. There were usually training sessions, and high level seminars which they wouldn't be at.

"Go for the reset. If it screws up with Will, then he'll be relieved either way. Guy wanted me to shoot him. I don't do that to my housemates, otherwise Hodges wouldn't still be with us."

"If you ever want to delegate that one..." Nick let that offer dangle out as he steadied the cup for him. "Dayshift is picking up some of our workload until we get this all straightened out. The Sheriff is pretty pleased, right Cath?"

"Practically had a political orgasm on camera," Catherine replied, dryly which was enough to make him snort and then wince at the laughter.

"A mental image I never want to see again. You guys went over my rooms when I was missing?" Jim asked. "That mean you found my porn stash?"

"I dunno. Catherine, did we find Jim's porn stash?" Nick twisted a little, even as he offered Jim an ice-chip. Hell, he didn't care if they had, he was *alive*.

"I think we found his fake porn stash," Catherine said with a smile. "Because there was a notable lack of guys in them."

"Yeah well, equal opportunity when it comes to that," Jim replied taking it. "So how are they? Nick, you are giving me a report on them right?"

"On what, the porn?"

Catherine laughed. "Yeah, want a quality report Nick." She slapped him lightly on the arm.

"I might be missing out and not knowing," Jim replied. It was too easy to do this, to divert things away from him, from everything that happens.

There was a lot that *had* happened, a lot for him to have to think about. And yeah, Greg and Will were going to have it all turned off like light switches. Well, Greg was, sort of. And Will... Hopefully the guy would survive. But Jim had it all in his head, the struggle, the weighing when to give in and how to give in without seeming inviting to that crazy bastard who'd kidnapped him the first time.

"There hasn't been any time. Plus, I think Sara took off with them. Otherwise, Greg and Will put your place back together."

"Well, that's something I guess," Jim replied. "No one's managed to burn the house down, Sara hasn't managed to give us food poisoning again or anything? Warrick learn how to cook properly?"

"Uh, actually dinner was pretty passable last night, what we ate." Nick gave Jim a slow smirk. "Oh, hey! Both Greg and Will can cook."

"Definitely keeping them then," Jim replied. Nick had relaxed some; he hated seeing the worry and anxiety there, he didn't deserve that. He'd been through enough. And Catherine looked like she'd had a rough ride as his second while he'd been out of the picture. He could only imagine the pressure from the Sheriff, the other Owners, from the House, and all. She looked tired.

"So when are you doing this reset?"

Catherine probably hadn't even thought of that, since she and Nick had been arguing over whether to do it at all when Jim had woken up. Catherine looked at Nick, and then nodded her head slightly. "While you're in surgery, I guess. Greg first."

"He wants to help us figure out how to do Will's. If you have any suggestions..."

"Kid managed to get inside Lecter's head, so I think I'd go with what he recommends rather than anything the feds say," Jim said starting to feel the strain of pretending he was okay. How the hell was he going to manage when they released him?

They all looked up to him, and... and sure, they knew he was a victim, yeah, but none of them were used to handling people *after* the fact. Victims were cases, and he was pretty sure he'd made some mistakes with handling Nick after he'd been kidnapped...

"I don't like the FBI, so you don't have to worry about me listening too closely to them. Don't worry about it, Jim. We have it under control. Just focus on your surgery and that you're going to be okay."

"Yeah. Right now it hurts like hell so it can't come soon enough," Jim answered. "You guys go on back, report to the others. You know they'll be waiting. I'm not going to do anything interesting in the next few hours."

"You should still have company." Nick would probably volunteer to stay, volunteer to sleep the night there.

The thought of someone that close while he was unable to move just wasn't comforting. "Nick..." He wasn't sure how to say it so he just said, "I'd rather be alone with pre-operation nerves."

Nick started to say something else, but then he just nodded. "All right. But don't be surprised if Greg wants to visit you after he's been reset, all right?"

Jim nodded. Having woken up chained to the guy, there were a few barriers that had been forcibly knocked down. "Yeah, I get that. I owe him that. Appreciate you guys coming in, a lot."

"Okay. We'll be back later." Catherine leaned in, and briefly hugged him. It was enough to make him cringe, enough to catch him off guard when Nick stood.

"It's good to have you back, Jim."

"Good to be back. Like you wouldn't believe," Jim answered finding his voice not altogether solid and confident. "Say good work to everyone. And you both as well."

"We'll pass that on," Nick promised. He seemed reluctant to leave, and Jim couldn't blame him. It had been hard to leave Nick in the Hospital.

He just needed a bit of space. He was the Owner and he wasn't meant to fall apart. He wasn't meant to be the one abducted, or hurt or vulnerable, but he had been and it was like some terrible dark secret he was holding on to even if it wasn't a secret. He raised a hand as a farewell when they finally did go and hated the fact that he was at once relieved that he didn't have to try anymore and hating being alone with his thoughts.

He wasn't sure how the hell he could be Owner to anyone like this. Maybe he wouldn't be.

Catherine lingered, closed the door behind her. Greg could see the way she was holding her purse close to her. The remote was probably in it.

"Good. Jim's doing okay, and he just went into surgery."

"Oh… oh good," Greg said. "He didn't really complain about anything when I was there." Considering what he had been through, he should've been complaining about everything.

"He's still not complaining." Catherine offered that and smiled at Greg as she got closer. "I talked about this with him."

"Yeah, what'd he say?" Greg asked automatically.

"That I need to reset you, and I need to reset Will. You're not going to be sold on. I know that both of you have other qualifications, so once you're both back and functioning, we can use your other qualifications in the House more often than we need to deal with serial killers." Catherine shifted the remote in her hands.

That was a profound relief at least. "Okay, so you're ready to do it now?" he asked. He had to run through mental exercises quickly to start the process rolling.

"We're ready to do it now. Are *you* ready to do it now? Nick said you'd need company through it."

"It doesn't seem like the kind of experience you want to go through alone." Nick pulled a chair up close beside where Catherine stood, close to the bed.

"I... give me a moment; I need to start doing some mental exercises." Greg said. "Uh, there are some bowls there and tissues. Nick, you might need to get a little closer if I get out of it, just so you know."

He set the mental exercises running. He'd have to talk Will through these, but it activated things in his head. Mental protocols that would ensure that he would come back from the reset.

"How close do you want me?" Nick moved, posture open as he grabbed a bowl and tissues. It was nice, that he was so helpful in his offering, when he really had no idea what it was like. All he had to do was get his mind back to that place, back to the night in the club, and him and Will. It was after that that things had gotten bad, that he had lost himself in the other victims.

"As close as you're comfortable with," Greg said. All it needed was a connected memory, and when the reset happened it would follow it like a burning fuse through every little tendril. There, he had the feel there, the connecting point. He was ready. "I'm ready when you guys are."

Nick shifted, leaning against the side of the bed. Catherine gave them both a look, and Greg couldn't guess what it was, but she nodded. "Okay. I'll just put your code in, and..." She turned the remote on, punching in the sequence.

He was watching and holding that first memory in his mind up to the point that the chip activated and then he wasn't aware of much. White hot pleasure, a pure and orgasmic lightning strike through his whole body. The memories of this that were so powerful that day to day life were pale shadows compared to this timeless instant of nirvana. It enveloped him for a period of time and there was nothing except that experience, no awareness of his body, of his self or anything except bliss, joy and pleasure exploding in his mind. Then the drift down where bits of awareness crept in, hints that his body was shuddering violently, tears were streaming down his face and all sensory input was triggering surges in arousal.

He was half aware that there were hands petting at his hair, holding him close, and he was grateful for that as he started to sink into deeper awareness of his own body, of the rushing feeling of misery and breakdown.

He hated this bit. It was a little like being conscious through a seizure, aware than his body was just doing its own thing as the images in his mind burned away. The touch, god, the touch made him feel safe and he connected the name of Nick to it and immediately lost control again because he was climaxing again, and heaving with uncontrollable sobs and he had no idea how he was going to look him in the face ever again.

It hadn't been a problem, when it was his partner, the other half of his working pair, because they were intimate, they knew each other's highs and lows. There was no controlling it, no way for him to do anything but shudder through it, sobbing and shaking, muscles tensing and letting go so fast that he could feel them burn.

His back was on fire, all of the marks Lecter had made were just... marks now to him. It was working. It was working and he gave into it, until he really started to regain control.

And then he promptly threw up from the strain on his muscles and steadied his hiccupping breathing as he tried to see out of puffy swollen eyes.

Everything *hurt*, but it was a familiar kind of hurt, a sore, strained, physically raw feeling. He wanted a shower, or at least a sponge bath, and some water, for a start. His mouth tasted like something had died in it, and that something was hospital food.

He half didn't want to acknowledge anyone else there. It would mean facing up to the fact he knew they had witnessed him in a really bad way and that was more than kind of embarrassing. On the other hand, he was himself again and he couldn't bear a silence.

"How... how long was it?" he rasped out. Time sense was one of the first things to go.

It felt like a flash, like an eye blink of time, but he was pretty sure that it had been longer. "Over an hour. You've gotta be wiped, man." Nick's voice pitched soft, and he sounded exhausted himself.

"Pretty much," Greg admitted and then reached to find Nick's hand. "Thanks man. It makes it... a lot easier."

Just knowing there was someone there, safe and watching, letting him let go. It really did help.

"Yeah. Catherine left a little while ago. Went to check up on Will. There, uh. Was an incident." Nick gave Greg a smile, and squeezed Greg's hand. "I bet you want a toothbrush."

"I do, wait... wait, an incident?" Greg asked feeling a surge of worry. "What? What happened, how is he?"

"He tried to bite a male nurse's arm. So Catherine needed to approve a gag on top of the wrist restraints. I think she's ready to believe that he *needs* the reset, though." Nick pulled away a little, and grabbed a glass of water. "Uh, I think you need a change of sheets, too."

"Crap. Just... fuck." Greg knew he wasn't quite ready to get down there yet. God only knew how long it would take and he needed to be there for all of it. "I need to clean up; I need to get down there."

"You need to drink this," Nick cut in. "And yeah, you need to clean up and rest and get some food in you before you go down there. He's next, and you won't have to sit through that alone, either."

"Look, his is going to be a whole lot worse and more complicated," he replied but as he had difficulty even moving he had to concede the point. "He doesn't know the protocols, he'll need talking through. I think I'll do what Aiden used to do and lie in behind him so I can talk to him without him getting at me too much. As you now know, it's pretty harrowing."

"Harrowing isn't the word I'd use." Nick supervised that drink, and slowly started to extricate himself. He probably wanted to change his clothes, too. "Let's get you cleaned up, then we can see if the Doctors will approve for you to be down in the secure ward."

He nodded in agreement and then looked at Nick again. "Thanks Nick . Seriously, I won't forget this."

An army of nurses would no doubt strip wash him and change all the sheets in record time. He knew he'd have to be patient but Will was hurting and he hated to think he was letting that go on.

It was part of what he did. He was supposed to watch and care for his Criminal Empath, just as much as the Criminal Empath was supposed to do the same for him. Hopefully, hopefully when it was all done they could stabilize each other, become a working unit. Hopefully they wouldn't have any serial killers to go after for a while.

"Hey, it's not like you owe me a life debt. It's how we work in this house. You saved Jim's life."

"I'm thinking Jim did a good job of saving himself," Greg replied which was true enough. "He managed enough guessing at the guy's motives to keep him interested and not killing him which can be hard, and then managed to escape from Lecter and take him down, work out what I was talking about and take Will down too. All apparently while in need of major surgery."

Surgery that they only talked about in vague terms, circles around it, when Greg knew what Jim needed done, probably. Internal surgery, intestines and maybe worse. All he'd had to cope with was some stitches, and a warning to not move too much or strain, and that he needed to be supervised for a time. He had some tearing, yeah, but that was another case of the same, of being careful and here's some more drugs and he was in good shape, and how much had he contributed?

Not really enough, or it didn't feel like he had.

"You're a pretty impressive guy, too. You managed to keep Lecter from killing him."

"Distraction," Greg acknowledged that point. "Not the same as escape." The Reset didn't deal with logic. The facts were the facts however muted they were now. He tried to smile a little. "I'm okay now...why don't you clean up as well Nick and set that horde of nurses on me. I want to get there as soon as I can."

Although he also wanted to sleep for a week.

But, he had to have priorities. And if he wanted to sleep for a week, so would Will. Will would want to sleep, and if Greg was very lucky, they could sleep together, and it wouldn't be the Big Sleep, or even a comatose sleep. "Okay. I was going to offer to help, but if you want nurses..."

Greg blinked, for once completely blindsided by the offer. "Oh...Oh."

He looked at Nick properly then, not looking past him, not avoiding his eyes out of shame or embarrassment. Nick meant it, he really meant it and Greg just smiled, something happy touching him then. "I'd... I'd really like that."

"I figured you might enjoy a little less indignity after days of it." He liked the tiny warm feeling that was settling in his chest better, and Nick tipped his head briefly to the small bathroom in Greg's room. "Let me help you. Like I said, we're a close house. You have to be, if you want to keep doing this kind of stuff every day and stay sane."

Greg found himself agreeing with that wholeheartedly and as he accepted Nick's help and offer, he found himself thinking for the first time that maybe there was some hope for a future here after all.

Humiliating was a word that failed to properly convey his circumstances.

If they would just let him *go*, if they'd just let him sit up and move, if they'd just stop treating him like some sort of ferocious beast, he wouldn't feel the urge to *act* like one towards them. It was simple action getting a response, over and over and they acted surprised that he was angry and miserable because he was strapped flat to a hospital bed, with a gag in his mouth, being fed through a tube, and all of his waste coming out of him in little bags. Of course, it was *perfectly* logical to expect him to be giddy that they'd done additional surgery to him, completely unnecessarily, because they were scared of him.

They couldn't know what it was like to be helpless in the face of his own mind. It wasn't so much painful as unbearable. The whole thing was unbearable and there were points where he would've done anything to make it just stop but they hadn't given him a choice. Right now he didn't care if he never woke up again, he couldn't go on like this. He wanted to chew his way out of the damn gag, snap the restraints and force them to stop him. Dark and nothingness would be infinitely preferable.

There was a noise as the door opened and he immediately focused on that and the squeak of someone pushing a wheelchair awkwardly into the room.

That was sort of daft, wasn't it? It was a secure ward for a reason, and bringing someone in a wheelchair put them at risk. After all, there were persons like *Will* in the place, muzzled dogs who couldn't be trusted to eat and not bite the hand that feeds them in a very literal manner. He turned his head, but it wasn't as if he had much lee-way there, either.

"First thing..." And that was Greg's voice. "Help me up so we can get those restraints off of him. That is definitely not the way to do a reset."

"Greg." That was Catherine. "He attacked and bit a nurse."

"Yeah, well I'm not surprised, he's in a lot of pain -- mental pain -- and he can't escape it," Greg said. "I think I'd want to bite someone too. If he wants to bite me, he can go ahead, I've had my shots..."

Nick had helped him up, and Greg was making his way over towards him. "Hey, Will, let me get that gag out of your mouth, huh?"

Please. Please, please. His mouth tasted bad, and Greg had mentioned a reset, and if they were *finally* finally going to reset him, then... Then he could keep himself at bay for a little while.

"I think that's a yes," Nick murmured quietly. "Hey, Cath. How's he been?"

"Not great," Catherine replied. "I've tried to be here for him."

She had, and she had at least come close and talked, but he resented her for having the power to take it away and not doing it.

Greg's fingers were touching him gently, tugging at the strap and then finally the gag away.

"Hey, I'm guessing these ice chips are more than welcome now right?" Nick added even as Greg showed no fear that he was going to do anything like lunge at him.

"Yeah." His voice sounded like a rasp to his own ears, and the feel of fingers threading through his hair made his heart twist in his chest, an ache to run counterpoint to the anger that was racing circles inside of his head. "Best, best way ever to kick smoking, though, huh?"

"Not thinking it's going to catch on," Greg said. "Okay, his restraints too."

Catherine helped with that even as Nick passed him more ice.

"We're going to try the Reset, Will, okay? Really sorry for the wait, but they had to wait for me to complete mine because I think you'll need my help," Greg said softly. "I need to know if you trust me Will."

"I think the question should be the other way around." He closed his mouth around one of those ice-chips, letting it melt against his dry tongue. No teeth, no biting, no snapping, no snarling, no intentional shows of power that he didn't really have. This was a way to salvation -- either the reset would work, or he'd die, so there was no reason to try to bolt for it. "I trust you."

Greg smiled. "Good, because I'm going to get into bed with you, and if you didn't trust me that could be a problem."

Somewhere in the proceedings the restraints were off and for the first time in forever he could move.

"Nick, you mind giving me a hand up behind Will?" he asked.

Will curled his fingers, and slowly tested moving his arms. Sitting up, okay, that was a challenge. Everything felt weak and shook, even with Greg's help. "Was sticking a tube in me really necessary?"

"Catheter as well?" Greg asked as he managed to slide onto the bed. "Up to you if you want to keep it in... not unheard of to lose bladder control in the Reset."

"Mess free," Nick noted. "You'll appreciate that later, more than you think."

Will shifted, leaned his elbow on his knee. "I meant the impromptu feeding tube, when they decided that I never needed to use my mouth again. I'll show that man how a little un-necessary surgery feels... "

"...Okay, I'm not taking that out," Greg replied, getting in close. "Right. Will, try lying on your side okay, I'll be holding you. I'll run you through a couple of exercises then Catherine will kick in the Reset in. I won't kid you Will, it's going to be rough. You just need to let go."

"Lying on my side," Will repeated, voice quiet as he shifted, tried to get into position against the will of stiff muscles. "You, I trust you."

"I'm going to be with you all the way okay? I'll be here. I'll be your anchor point," Greg said, draping an arm over him. "Comfortable?"

He swallowed, pushing everything down that he could while he shifted back against Greg. That was comfortable, and there was still some quiet part of him that appreciated that level of closeness, of Greg curled up behind him. "Yeah."

"Good..." Greg was close and intimate. "I want you to call up some specific memories. I want you to pick a root memory. One of the first times you saw Lecter, first time of your major cases, the bad one. First contact. Bring them to the front of your mind."

That wasn't hard. He remembered it sharply, remembered shaking Lecter's hand, and Jack blithering on in the background, and red eyes, eyes fixed on him and a smile like the moon on a clear night, and there was blood in the moonlight, blood on his hands and Lecter's hands, and -- "I'm there."

Greg leaned in really close over his shoulder and murmured in a very soft whisper, "I love you," before giving the signal to Catherine for the Reset.

And the next thing he knew he was plunged into white-hot pleasure, mixed with fear as decades old structures in his head came tumbling down.

He could *feel* it falling apart, could feel the pleasure of it, and he couldn't move, couldn't shift, because there was no control, no way to override what was falling apart, a physical feeling of falling apart into white nothing.

He could easily lose himself in it and for a while it seemed like he did, and then he would drift into faint awareness, hearing soft words murmuring in his ear, first only the tone, then scattered words and then extremes of emotion that he couldn't control, anger, fear, love, happiness, shock, each of crashing over him.

It was running circles in his head, like some bizarre toilet bowl cleaner and his head was the bowl. And every time there were words, there was more, fierce sharp things flaring up and fading away again, the sensation of memory and touch and taste and pain, rising up and battering him before it left.

Always though, that hand in his, that touch, the voice, even when the white hot pleasure returned again and he went though it again. And again. And each time, it was clearer, something different until after a third peak and fall he realized there was just him swimming wearily out of the emotional maelstrom, not all his other voices as well.

Just him.

It felt different, almost new, and almost unfamiliar that he could sense thoughts that were his own, even if they were flat and muddled and exhausted.

Now he was getting more than snatches of words. Actual phrases were filtering through.

"That's good, that's good Will, I want you to try remembering something happy about your family -- the memories will flow back in if you give them one point to anchor from," Greg's voice was murmuring softly in his ear.

His family? His house-family, Jack and, and the team, from Price in prints to Alan, to, to.... To Molly, and he remembered what her hair looked like she wasn't trying to make it look good. She was naturally pretty, and not at all confident about that fact, but he'd always liked how she'd looked when he caught her off guard, when she wasn't ready to be looked at.

It was like getting a foot under himself, a bit of stability because he could feel it piling levels of meaning back on itself.

"And think of a memory of something you enjoy doing, your favorite book, your first love..."

He didn't know how long Greg had been doing this -- it was like he was rebuilding him bit by bit.

And for hold long he'd been listening and obeying without even being aware of it, but the fact that his head felt clear, *quiet*, was enough for Will to keep following those instructions. He remembered working on engines, car engines, boat engines, his tinkering hobby, he remembered forensics, he remembered anything he could grasp at, as thin a thread as it seemed it might be.

Different instructions seeped in, patiently giving him more and more of himself back, a seemingly endless series of prompts ranging from childhood, through to his first sexual experience, carefully layering in normal memories on top of positive ones.

It was all *there*, but it hadn't felt like it had been there. His world had narrowed to the moment, to living in the now of the chase, and he'd had to continuously discard things that had interfered with the hunt. Only it wasn't really gone. The words, prompts were pulling them out, reminding him that once upon a time, he'd read books for the hell of it, from botany to psychology, to philosophy, and science. So much science and he was decades out of date.

There was so much to learn, hands on again.

"Now bring yourself up to date. Think of anything positive or good that has happened recently and then we are done for now," Greg said and he sounded weary.

"We got you and Jim back." His voice sounded strained, raw to his own ears, almost unfamiliar.

"Hey..." Greg sounded a little surprised and a finger stroked over his cheek. "I think third time was the charm. You know who I am Will?"

"Greg. Glad you're up 'n around. Am I reset?" He shifted a little, but not much. His whole body hurt.

"I think finally, you might be," Greg said with relief plain in his voice. "Touch and go there for a while, Will, but you made it."

He sounded immensely proud and relieved, as if Will had achieved something wonderful.

He sucked in a slow, deep breath, and exhaled slowly, too. "I made it. It feels... so different." His throat hurt and he was sore as hell, and he was pretty sure that anger and adrenaline had been masking strain and stress injuries.

"Yeah, it will for a while," Greg murmured and sighed a little, relaxing behind him.

"You ready for that shot now, Greg?" came another voice. Nick, sitting unseen yet watching them both. "No reason to hold off now."

"Yeah, yeah okay," Greg agreed.

"Shot?" Will turned, but he couldn't move far because Greg was blanketed behind him. He wanted to sleep, sleep for days, but he also wanted to make sure that Greg was all right. Because Greg had just done the impossible, and there was no voice whispering in the back of his mind.

"Pain meds," Greg replied. "Couldn't fall asleep in the middle of it all." He sounded like he'd been talking a long time. "But I can now."

"I'll get the nurse," Nick agreed. "They'll need to help clean Will up."

"Thanks," Greg agreed and what he could see of him looked pale, with dark shadows around his face and damp perspiration on his skin.

"You look like hell." He shifted, twisted, and without the restraints he could slide his hip up to the edge of the bed and lay flat on his back. It hurt, ached, but hurts and aches like that told him he was alive, like the old adrenaline rush that came after solving part of a case. Will shifted one hand, trying to touch Greg's face.

"Hey, you're no oil painting yourself," Greg replied with a hesitant half grin. "I've never heard of someone going three back to back resets... my call, Will. You're going to be feeling that for a few days."

He moved so he could see him properly, feel that touch. His eyes were open and vulnerable with hope, a very different look to the one he remembered *objectively* from Greg using it in the case. The shock of remembering that with a distance in it nearly threw him completely.

It was there, but it wasn't there in his head, flooding his senses, taking him to the moment. It was just... fact, quietly excised, and Will concentrated on that while he stroked fingers along Greg's jaw. "Hey, I feel pretty good right now. Sore, but I can't even remember what being me feels like. But I know I am."

Greg smiled. "That sounds about right," he said and looked down a little before meeting his eyes again. "I was so damn scared I'd burnt you out. There were a few moments when... well, I thought I'd fucked it up."

"You didn't." It was as simple as that, and he could have said more, could have said that other people had worked hard to burn him out, Will himself included, but...

"You'll feel weird for a while," Greg said. "Just so you know, you'll be processing some of the feeling that comes from... uh, rediscovering you have a self basically. I can't describe what because it's different for each Empath. Um, some people became very angry about what they saw as violation, some overly happy at being free, some depressed, or emotional. It's like aftershocks, but I'll be there."

"Passed out cold beside me?" Will felt his mouth curl into a smile. "I could sleep for days, but there's no whisper at the back of my mind."

Greg looked startled and then beamed. "That's the first genuine smile I've seen from you," he said. "God, Will, I know I shouldn't ask, not now when we're both so tired but I... I need to know. Will you accept me as a partner? I don't want it to be a forced decision."

"Defacto. We got through the case, and now we can work the kinks out. I'd be crazy to say I didn't want to work with you."

"And you're definitely not crazy," Greg replied grinning at him, as Nick return with an entourage of nurses.

"Time for a bit of R&R guys," Nick replied with a slight smile. "I think you'll be moved as well."

"I'm staying with Will," Greg said immediately.

"Because the secure ward is where you really want to stay." Will deadpanned it as he petted at Greg's cheek, letting his head loll to look at the nurses. "I promise, I don't bite anymore."

Greg nodded. "It's true," he confirmed.

"We need to clean you up, Mr. Graham," the nurses said. "Mr. Sanders, please hold still so you can have this shot?"

"Holding," Greg said. "I'm wiped."

"Uhn, I won't say no to a shower or something that involves water and soap." Will didn't move, either, holding still for Greg as much as Greg was holding still for himself.

"If you can stand you can shower," the nurse offered.

"I can help," Nick offered from where he was watching.

"Ow," Greg managed to interject from his injection.

"I'll give standing a shot." He hadn't expected Nick to offer to help, but if he meant it, he'd try. "You okay there, Greg?"

"Yeah, I think I'll be feeling much happier soon, courtesy of drugs," Greg admitted. "Nick's very good at helping."

And okay, that was definitely a smirk.

"Has he, uh, helped? You a lot?" There was too much smile in the words, or maybe that was Will's imagination because he was caught up in the comedown of *surviving*.

"He's helped all of us," Greg replied.

"And I was kinda assuming you were coming too," Nick replied. "I'm aiding and abetting," he said to Will.

"Greg looks like he could use some sleep." And Will knew he could use it, too, but he wanted a shower. Needed a shower. Then he could sleep more comfortably.

"Man, I could too," Nick said. "Tiring work watching you guys." He smiled at them both. "Let's get you cleaned up, back in bed and then maybe I can go get some sleep as well huh?"

It was funny, that Nick was willing to help. He was willing to swear that Nick didn't trust him, didn't want to be near him, or he *had* been willing to swear that.

Maybe things would change, now. Will wasn't sure. "I think we all need sleep. Thanks."

Nick just nodded to them both, standing ready to assist them both, and for the first time Will began to think about other things like housemates, satisfaction and the possibility of a future instead of the demands made by the unstable voices in his head.

The nurse was hot for him.

It was kind of a cliché, Greg guessed, but she thought he was 'cute' and also about five years younger than he was. And it was definitely flirting, or else she was just hoping he'd give her hair tips, because hers was pretty spiky. She brought him scrubs to change into, which was nice, because hospital gowns just didn't cut it as a fashion choice. Not if he wanted to leave the place without getting jumped, and yeah, that thought hit a little close to him.

He was still a bit nervy -- the reset didn't make it go away, it just imparted a level of objectivity that enabled him not to melt down. He still had things to work through and he'd been so tired. After the initial Resets with Will and him sleeping there a few nights, he had been very firmly returned to his own room as apparently he wasn't resting enough.

Sleeping at night in his own room really hadn't helped. Hadn't helped at all. Hospitals were too open, and there was always that feeling that the door was going to open at any moment and someone would come in, violate his little bubble of privacy.

Will was at least still forceful enough that Greg was sure that as long as he was conscious, he'd fight to the death for Greg. And Will still had a lot to work through, even with the objectivity the resets had given.

He wanted desperately to go through it with him, to establish the bond. He and Will could be amazing together, both professionally and privately and yes, he craved someone there, he wanted Will intensely. He had the possessive feeling that he'd only rarely felt about Aiden, and he had it all the time and he hadn't even run through the bonding exercises and establishing baselines. He was looking forward to it. There would be a lot of touching, feeling, learning of each other. Aiden had said that in a lot of ways they were more intimate than lovers.

She'd been his first partner, his *only* partner, and sometimes it felt like he was missing a limb because she'd taken her life, and there *was* a small measure of comfort that Will was too survivalist to ever do that to himself. He was too --

The sound of a knock on the door made Greg startle.

"Uh... come in?" he called out trying to sit up. His back was sore and itchy now from the healing cuts and he had kind of popped a few stitches holding on to Will.

It had been worth it, through. Worth it because Will had sounded so coherent and comparatively calm, different from the man he'd met at the sale who'd seemed ready to lunge at him through the glass of their cells.

And then Will went and opened the door, leaning into the room. "Hi."

"Hey," Greg found himself smiling and beaming at the other man. "C'mon in. Missed you last night."

"Did you sleep well?" Will closed the door behind himself. He was wearing scrubs, and he looked like he'd shaved pretty recently, because that five o clock shadow didn't seem to be there.

"Not really," Greg replied truthfully. "I slept better when I was in with you. I think their plan back fired."

Will's eyes were clear and bright now. Intelligent and smart but the sharp edges were replaced by quirkiness. Greg loved that, loved the fact this was who he had known had been there somewhere.

There had been *something* to Will, a sense that he had a personality under the haze and the fear and the anger, and Greg's sense of that had been right. "I think I did, too. We're supposed to be sprung today. I've already filled out my paperwork."

"Oh hey, was that what that was?" Greg said. "I was half asleep when I was doing it." He pushed himself to the edge of the bed and managed to stand. "Look, I can stand without the aid of a safety net. Cool huh?"

Will shifted, and there was a certainty to the motion, a weird cock to his hands like he was ready to catch Greg in case he couldn't stand for long. "Can you get scrubs on, though?"

Greg smiled. "Could be difficult. My back doesn't like flexing much," he admitted. "Could you... can you help me out?" It would mean Will close enough to touch and feel and yes, he wanted that. Forget addicted to Reset, he was addicted to Will.

No wires needed.

"That's why I came down early." Will stepped closer, leaned to grab the scrubs. He was bow legged, and when he carried himself with his natural posture, it was a lot more obvious than it had been before. He still slouched a little, canting his weight on one hip more than the other when he stood.

It made Greg smile. "This could be fun," Greg said moving closer. He wasn't sure if Will had seen the patterns on his back. He wasn't going to get shy about it now considering.

"Or, it could be awkward and sort of clumsy. My hands still aren't quite moving right. Doctor said it was a side effect of the tazering frying my original wiring. Hopefully in a couple of weeks it could be fun." He tilted an eyebrow at Greg, moving to stand slightly behind him.

"I doubt the Reset helped. It does pretty much fire off all sorts of signals in the brain," Greg replied, trying not to shiver a little at the sensation of someone that close. "I don't think the gown is done up that well."

"Small things to be grateful for." He could feel the light sensation of Will's fingers brushing his skin, while he untied the little row of loose bow-knots, down to the small of Greg's back. There was a quiet noise, almost a task, and he put a hand on Greg's shoulder. "Some of these look swollen."

"Popped a couple when I was in with you," Greg admitted. Will's fingers felt cool over some of the more inflamed marks. He definitely shivered then, tingling with the touch. "Had them redone. Will you help me keep an eye on them, otherwise they won't let me out of here."

"I don't think that's going to be a problem. That's what I'm here for, right?" The touch faded off, as Will helped him shrug out of the gown. Greg knew it meant that he was naked, sure, except that Will made no motions except to unfurl the scrub pants and hold them out. "How.... huh. How about this?"

He stooped down, an easy crouch, and smushed the pants down on the floor so he could see tile through the leg holes. "Step in and I'll pull them up for you."

"That'll work," Greg answered. It was the bending and flexing he had issues with. He stepped in carefully. "You know, I'm kind of enjoying this," he admitted quietly to Will. "Guess I'm an attention whore, huh?"

It got him a vague *look* from Will, while the other man stood up, pulling the scrubs slowly up over Greg's knees and thighs and cock and hips. "No. It's nice to have someone do things for you."

Okay, this was interesting. He was going to have to work out Will again. "You know I'm flirting with you right?" he asked because it was possible that right now Will didn't know that.

"I know." Will leaned in, close to him. Close enough that Greg could feel Will's body heat, and one hand curling unsteadily against Greg's hip. "I still think 'attention whore' doesn't fit you."

"I pretty much am, though," Greg admitted. It was a pretty accurate description and not one he was bothered about. "I've fallen hard for you Will. I want you to know that before we do the bonding stuff."

"I'm still a wreck. You should know that." Period, apparently, but it didn't seem to stop Will from standing there, a hand resting on Greg's hip with familiarity. "I'm just a wreck who can think clearly again."

"I know. I know we've got a lot of stuff to work through," Greg answered looking back over his shoulder. "But I started falling *before* because I could see there was a Will under all of that who is ... wonderful and worth risking everything to save. You'll get through anything."

"So we can be works in progress together." Will pulled away a little, offering the shirt. "Can you put your arms over your head, or...?"

"Very carefully," he said raising his arms slowly. It pulled a little, some sharp stabbing pains but it passed. "Ow, okay I'm good."

Will stood taller than Greg would have guessed, because he stood up straight behind Greg for a moment, and dropped the shirt carefully down over Greg's arms and his head. "There. You might want to stick to t-shirts and sweatpants for a while."

"Something soft, definitely," Greg said turning in towards Will. "Hi. I haven't asked how you are today."

Greg was willing to guess that he felt pretty good, because there was a faint smile on Will's mouth, and it seemed to reach his eyes. "I'm feeling pretty good. Better than I have in years. How are you?"

"The day's looking up now you're here," Greg replied. "When we get home, can we... uh... I want to be with you more?"

"Yeah. Just, uh. No sex for a while. I, uh..." Will made a vague gesture, sort of a drifting hand motion. "You need time to heal."

"Yeah, I know." Greg replied, "Yeah, I.." He looked around as the door opened and Jack Crawford stepped in.

"Will, I've been looking for you."

Will was standing close enough to Greg that Greg could feel him go tense, more than he could see the way his jaw tightened up. "Have you? That's funny, we're ready to leave."

"Thought I could have a word," Jack said as he came in. "I thought we might have a chat about you transferring back to my Ownership."

Greg immediately bristled. "No way!" What the hell was that? How could you sell a guy on, after having treated him like that, and then expect him to what, come back?

"It's going to be a short chat, Jack. I like where I am. You sold me in the first place."

"I want you back because you're clear of Lecter, you're more stable," Crawford said. "I only let you go because you were a threat to the household..."

"Don't you fucking *dare* lay that on him!" Greg stepped in. "Fuck you. You did this to him!"

He didn't expect Will to grab him by the shoulder, keeping him away from Crawford's smug face. "You thought I was a burnout."

"You were," Crawford said candidly and Greg really wanted to hit him. "But you're better now that Lecter is gone."

"It wasn't Lecter that did that to him, it was the fact you were neglecting him," Greg said, knowing he was raising his voice. "You didn't Reset. He nearly didn't make it through his reset alive!"

Which maybe Will didn't understand, but Greg did. Greg had held onto Will through convulsions and tremors, and moments where his breathing had threatened to stop entirely. He did feel Will's fingers flex a little. "I like where I am, Jack."

"Oh, your... Victim can come too," Jack replied as if he thought that was the whole problem and Greg was really tired of being the free gift. "If you want him."

"If I had my way, you would never own another Criminal Empath ever again," Greg practically growled. "You are guilty of negligence, abuse and cruelty. He was in unbearable mental pain..."

"Because of Lecter." Jack sounded so self-righteous

"No, because of you and the ridiculous decision you made to run him hot for years."

"The wet wiring is apparently there for a *reason*. Go figure, huh?" It was flippant, but sharp, like Will was holding back what he really wanted to say to Jack. "Just get out of here. Our owner already said he's not going to sell us on." And sure they'd only heard it second hand from Nick, but Nick wasn't a guy to lie.

"Everyone has a price for buying and selling, as the saying goes," Jack said confidently. "I'm pretty sure I can find out Jim Brass's price."

"I don't think so," came a woman's voice from the doorway. Catherine stalking in, looking irritated. "You haven't got anything he'd ever want. Didn't your Owner training teach you it's rude to poach?"

"Jack only learns what Jack *wants* to learn." Will shifted, and his grip on Greg's shoulder went looser, rubbing absently. "Look, we're leaving the hospital. You should make yourself scarce. The case is over."

"Yeah, well," Jack stepped forward and gripped Will's shoulder and Greg couldn't stand it. Maybe it was a gesture goodbye but, he had his hands on Will and he'd hurt him so much that he just reacted and pushed at Crawford to get him away from Will completely.

"Greg, hey, it's okay!" Will moved, shifting to get in front of Greg. Maybe Jack was the kind of guy to hit back. "We got the big fish for you, all right? So, you can leave now, right Catherine?"

"Get the hell out Director Crawford," Catherine said and she sounded like she was close to using those stiletto heels of hers in very painful ways. "He's ours, they both are and Owner Brass had said they are not for sale and they are going home."

Greg felt jittery and unsettled even as Jack turned to the door.

"This isn't the end of it," Jack said. "I'll be seeing you Will."

And he left the room.

"He never could stand by a decision." Will didn't seem to sound like he was going to change his mind. There was no remorse or questioning in his voice that Greg could recognize when he said that.

"Yeah, well, for a moment I thought he'd abducted you, Will," Catherine said. "Went down there, found you were missing without supervision and the staff in uproar."

"He came to help me," Greg put in. "Get ready to go."

"In an uproar? I just came down here..." But there was a vague hint that Will knew something might have been a little off. He petted at Greg's shoulder, still staying close to him, and yeah. That was nice. "I figured Greg might need help getting ready."

"Yeah, well next time, tell someone," Catherine said. "You guys ready to go? Jim's waiting for us in the reception area. He's pretty much demanded to go home."

"I know the feeling," Greg replied, just wanting somewhere quiet and restful.

He had a room, and so did Will, and neither of them had had time to really get acquainted with the place. There hadn't been time to make their rooms home, not that he'd thought Will would have been able to do that while he was running hot, but down time, down time sounded fantastic. "How's he doing?"

"He's grouchy, tired and sore and he's trying to insist he's fine about everything, now that the worse of his physical injuries are healing," Catherine said. "You have no idea how hard it is to get him to see any sort of help."

Greg looked at Will and then to Catherine. "I could try and help him some?"

"If he gets comfortable with Greg, it might be easier to get him to see that help isn't a bad thing." Will nudged him a little, towards the door, but he hung back, scanning the room to see if there was anything Greg had left behind.

"You know, I think I'll lock all of you in a room and let you sort each other out," Catherine joked a little as Greg moved towards the door. "Might be the best way."

Greg smiled. He liked Jim and he did want to help him. Jim had been through a lot and he'd still held together.

Maybe not as well as he'd hoped, but he'd *functioned*, and it was in the aftermath that everything fell apart. Even Will would, but it would be natural and normal, and part of healing. "I think I scare Nick still. I might scare Jim."

Catherine laughed. "You really don't know Jim. He doesn't scare easy."

"He really doesn't," Greg added. "Tough cookie and then some."

Jim had a resilience he had envied, and admired in the time they had been together.

"Good. I'd like to see what it's like to work for someone I could actually admire." Will shadowed Greg, but he wasn't drifting and unaware of where he was going.

"When you get to know him, you'll know why every single one of us threw in our bonuses to be able to afford you guys on the possibility you might be able to get him back," Catherine smiled. "Not that he knows we did that."

Greg moved stiffly. There were some of Lecter's carved handiwork on his legs and it made walking difficult. He could imagine what the stitches looked like, because he hadn't looked at them in the mirror. He hadn't felt the urge to look up and down himself in a mirror, not just yet. "He'd probably get irked at you all for doing it. Hopefully Greg and I can show some return on that investment once we get ourselves back together. I've got to catch myself up on forensics techniques, but... Sometimes the old ways were the best."

"I was the best DNA and trace processor they had in New York," Greg said trying not to sound immodest. "When I wasn't working with Aiden. I'm pretty up to date."

"Good to know, because we are going to be backlogged after this," Catherine said. "But you are both having time off."

"I'm not going to argue that. Greg and I need to work on our baselines. I'm still not sure what it means, but Greg's been right about how the wet wiring and partnership *should* work. So maybe you'll get a working pair out of us yet." He leaned past Greg to hit the down button on the elevator, and then went back to shadowing Greg's back.

"As far as I'm concerned, you could do nothing for the rest of your lives and you would've both been worth it," Catherine said as she ushered them forward and Greg felt a flush of pleasure at actual praise. He was keyed to it, he knew and responded to anything thrown his way.

It was good to be appreciated. He was going to enjoy that praise, and eventually the reality that he'd done it, him and Will had done it, saved Jim Brass, would sink in.

Jim had to admit that much as he hated hospitals, he was pretty beat. He'd been declared fit enough to go home, but he had a ludicrous amount of checkups and a nurse who was going to be coming in the check dressings and for infection.

Still it was a huge relief to be home, to be in his own apartment, his own bed and also shocking in a lot of ways as well. For all his dogged determination, he'd almost become reconciled to the fact he was never coming home. Somewhere, even though he'd not given up on his team and housemates, he'd given up on everything familiar. The shock of having it back was kicking his ass, so to speak. He was finding it hard to stop his hands shaking, to hold back emotions that seemed to think now was the perfect time to surface.

There wasn't a good time to *have* it surface, though. Catherine had come in to talk to him, had hugged him and told him that he was going to have to get used to the fact that they all cared too much about him. Sara had brought him food that was on the approved list, and chattered about cases and work, and he *knew* she didn't like hospitals and didn't know what to do with sick people. Nick was apparently passed out on the sofa downstairs, and Warrick had come up to say hello.

Jim really hadn't expected Warrick to get emotional. At the point where he'd very nearly had to sell him on, put him through disciplinary, he'd been pretty sure Warrick wouldn't have cared if he got killed. But, their tough Vegas insider had become choked up when he said it was good to have him back, told him he'd missed him, that he was sorry...

Yeah, not what he'd been expecting. He'd half hoped Ellie might've... no, he needed to steer clear of those thoughts. They were bound to make him lose it.

Ellie was off topic. Ellie was something he wasn't going to think about, because he did at least have people who *cared*. It still shook him to realize that they'd *bought* specialists, just to get him back. That was a hell of a high standard to hold him up to, being worth that kind of attention.

He shifted a little on his couch, fumbling a little for the remote, which he seemed to be lying on. He still wasn't that comfortable right now, though his stomach was the most painful and he still wasn't on solids and wouldn't be for a little while yet. He ought to find his new specialists and say thanks or something. He'd had reports but not really seen them and god only know what he'd said on the way home. He'd been drugged to the gills.

But Greg had been something else. Something else entirely, because he dreamt drugged dreams about Greg's screams and Lecter's wicked sharp smirk, and about Toby the Psycho's demands and yeah. If it wasn't for drugged dreams, he wouldn't have been having dreams at all.

And trust in Catherine to not just get *a* Criminal Empath, either, but *the* Criminal Empath.

Everyone had heard of Will Graham. He was the one that had given the Empath designations credibility. He'd got a lot of people back, caught a lot of serial killers, and been the topic of numerous case studies...

And Catherine had picked him up as if they were tossing him out on the scrapheap.

It was strange, and there was no way he was going to sell Will back. Or Greg, because they'd saved his *life*. They'd found him, even if things hadn't gone off without a hitch. Selling them on wasn't an option.

There wasn't a damn thing on TV. He wasn't even sure what time of day it was, because his body's clock felt all wrong. He'd relied on it for years, but it wasn't letting him know much of anything just then.

Except, that there was a knock on the door.

Might be Nick. Couldn't turn him away, because this was likely to be rough on him all this deal with abduction. "Yeah, come in," he called out.

Nick wouldn't mind getting him some water or something. He wanted water, but he also had a hell of a time getting up and standing. You didn't notice how important the whole gut-region was until it wasn't working right, until it was literally all fucked up.

There wasn't a happy Nick greeting, though. Just the door opening slowly, and then closing. "I thought I should come up and check on my new Owner."

For a moment he was disorientated and tried to sit up quickly which was enough to have him groaning. "Ow... Will? What..."

Of course, they were only one level down at standard designation levels. "Uh, hi... Wasn't expecting you. Have a seat or something."

Permanent Specialist designations were as close to free as you could get, which was ironic since permanent specialists were never going anywhere as they could not be Freed. "I didn't think you would be. How are you feeling?" He didn't sit down, but he did walk closer, looming a little.

"Pretty crappy," Jim replied raising an eyebrow at the looming. "Gonna get a crick in my neck looking at you up there," he said trying not to give out the message he was nervy about that sort of motion and positioning. He wasn't a nervy guy.

Will started to open his mouth, and then he sat down across from Jim a little clumsily. He'd shaved since Jim had had to knock him out, even if there was a little of a five o clock shadow, and his hair had been cropped prison-intake short. Jim was willing to bet there were stitches somewhere on his head. "Sorry. Muscle memory is stronger than I expected. I'm still working out how I used to move."

"Yeah, think I might be doing that as well," Jim said. "You look better than the last time I saw you Will. " Not hard really. He'd been shaking his head like a brain damaged dog the last time Jim had seen him. It wasn't much of a stretch, and it wasn't much of an impression.

"Thanks. You look better, too. Dressed." Will dropped his eyes down, taking in the blanket and his pajamas. Yeah, he was dressed.

"New style I'm working on," Jim replied dryly. "Neither of us was at our best then."

"No, we weren't." Will seemed to be smiling, and he settled his elbows on his knees, watching Jim. It was only a little eerie. "I remember you. From New Jersey. I thought I did, but I definitely remember you."

"New Jersey. Man, " He drifted back and re-focused. "I didn't realize I'd made that much of an impression."

"I have an eye for faces. You'd stumbled on a scene of the killer I was looking for, and restated the events." Will's voice was easy, low and comfortable-sounding. "And now you're the Owner."

"Yeah, promoted out of trouble," Jim replied. "Hell, yeah. I remember that case. That was some time ago though. I had a lot more hair."

"I'd say something, but mine was already grey then. I don't have a foot to stand on." Will was quiet for a moment, and then he offered, "So, since I'm here. Do you want something? I've had injuries like that, and you're pretty much bed bound. Sofa bound."

"Water as I'm pretty much stopped from eating anything," he said. "Help yourself to coffee though."

Jim sat back so he could see better. "I heard the Reset was rough on you."

"According to Greg and Nick. I don't remember it, and then I slept for a few days. It's... I wanted to thank you for not selling me back to the Feds." Will stood up, and walked past him while he talked, presumably to the kitchen to get that water.

"I'm not going to sell you or Greg," Jim reassured. "Unless you had a burning desire to go, but as you are thanking me for not selling you, I'm thinking that a pretty clear sign of sanity."

Will was an enigma to him. He was intrigued. He remembered working with him that one time though it wasn't really working that closely and being amazed at what he could do. Finding a house in Vegas from a couple of lines, that was almost like a superhuman ability.

There was no way he was a burnout. "Yeah. It's funny the kind of decisions you can make when you're not hearing voices, and can actually see your environment." Jim heard the water running. "Did Greg and I manage to put everything back all right?"

"Yeah, you did good," Jim replied. "I guess I should have the "welcome to the House" conversation with you huh? I get the impression that Catherine might've skipped that bit this time round."

"It was more like "Can you function?" and we hit the ground running. Greg wanted to do resets first, but that takes time." Will came back, a tall glass of water in one hand and a black cup of coffee in the other. Or at least, Jim guessed it was black. He hadn't heard Will rummaging for anything, but maybe he knew where everything was.

"Yeah. Well, usually when we get new members, I get to have a talk and just lay it out for them," Jim said. "I'm pretty laid back about things. You can do what you want as long as you make the roll call and you do your kitchen duty. Then I warn you about our quirks and ask you yours."

"Do you want to actually bother with the talk right now? Because everyone has already met me at my worst, so it has to be uphill from here." Will cradled the cup of coffee in his hands, watching Jim.

"Well, you know, I thought it might help." Jim paused a moment. "Fuck, I might as well admit things with you are not going to be normal right. I mean, usually my first meeting with one of mine is not... usually naked."

"Hey, I was more than half out of my head at the time." Will seemed mellow, lucid now, sipping every so often at his coffee. "Asking you to shoot me isn't that great of a first impression, either."

"I don't know, seemed like a pretty standard reaction to someone seeing me naked," Jim said wryly with a half smirk.

It at least got Will to laugh, a quiet bark of noise. "That was the furthest thing from what I was thinking at the time. I wanted to -- you and Greg, vulnerable like that, was too much temptation to resist. I needed to be stopped before I did something we all would have regretted."

"Yeah, Greg told me about that," Jim said "And as Owner I get to go to training classes of things like the Empath Designations. I know the deal. Owners are meant to be the one's stopping that. I reckon I could've taken you though. Even naked."

Maybe. Will leaned back a little in his chair, smiling. "I wouldn't bet in it. But, hopefully we'll never have to test that. I'm glad you've been to the training classes, because I realize that I've been kept disturbingly in the dark about how the designation is supposed to work."

"Yeah, I gathered that too. I'll get you on some reorientation," Jim said feeling surprisingly relaxed. "But, I've told Catherine you guys are going to learn how to have what everyone else takes for granted. What sort of things do you like doing?"

Hey, he was half doing that introduction after all.

Will probably wasn't going to hold the whole naked thing against him after all. He didn't seem to think less of Jim for having to rescue him. "I used to teach forensics, so if I could get back to more of that in day to day work..."

"You would be a godsend. The lab is overflowing with cases half the time as Ecklie, the Owner on days is more interested in getting on the Owner council than solving crime," Jim replied. "I think Cath was so irritable because she's had nothing but grief from him trying to muscle in while I was out of it."

"Greg is certified for trace and DNA. I know you don't get *that* many serial killer cases, so we'll be able to contribute in day to day functions." They'd probably like it better, too. "As for what I like doing... I used to work on engines. And I did a lot of insect research. But it's been a while."

"Hey, we could use the forensic entomology -- not so much with the engines, but bugs are good," Jim replied. They really would be an asset, he knew that much. Cath had a good eye for a bargain and was lucky on long shots.

And Will was disturbingly attractive now that the mania had fallen away from his expression.

He had a nice face, and Jim was willing to guess that he had a nice body, too. Not that he was anywhere near up to thinking about things like that, but it was something about his posture, even with the sweater he was wearing. "Bugs are good," Will echoed, smiling. "I used to raise exotic roaches until Jack deemed it 'too fucking creepy' and had them exterminated."

"You want exotic roaches, you can have 'em, as long as they don't come and eat dinner with us," Jim said with a shrug. "Pretty much everyone here gets a bit... quirky and creepy from time to time."

Will was sort of restful to talk to. He wasn't trying to impress and there was no stress to appear in control right now. "Except Nick. Nick's too damn wholesome for his own good."

"Nick's a good kid. He seems to want to do what's best for everything he comes across." Whether that was possible or not, well... Nick meant well. Nick tried, and he was a damn good CSI. He had a good sense for it, that second sense that drew the line between a satisfactory CSI and a great one.

"Yeah. Did he tell you about what happened to him?" Jim asked. "I'd go through all his again rather than go through watching that."

"No. I haven't had the opportunity. I guessed that he's been victimized somehow. He has that..." Will seemed to be looking for a word. "Look to him. It's in his eyes."

Yeah. It was. A constant reminder that it had been way too close.

"He was taken from a scene, a revenge on all CSI and buried alive in a Plexiglas coffin. There was a webcam feed to us and ..." Jim grimaced and shook his head. "They put a gun in there with him so he could kill himself. He didn't. We found him and the coffin was wired to explode. And then there were fucking fire ants in there with him as well. He's tougher than he seems."

"No question of that. Greg said that Nick had almost designated as an Empath, and I'd believe it." He twisted the coffee mug in his hands. "Your house missed you. If Jack had gone missing under the circumstances you had, we would have lost a lot of time in the ensuing party that would've been thrown."

Jim snorted a little. "Yeah well, somehow I can see that. And my house is obviously completely nuts."

And he was so goddamn grateful for the fact, he really didn't know how to deal with that knowledge. There was always that gap between Owner and Owned, no matter how you went about things, and usually the only relationships that could exist were between Owners because sooner or later the whole class system and Indentured versus Owner issue raised its head.

And Ecklie just wasn't his type.

"Clearly. They missed you." Will put an eyebrow up, still smiling at him. "Since I'm here. Is there anything I can do for you."

"I'm... actually pretty much liking talking to someone whose getting close to my age," Jim replied, finding that it was actually true. "Wanna swap war stories?"

"I thought that traditionally involved alcohol." Will twisted the coffee cup again, and seemed to be settling. He slouched forwards, leaning comfortably. "Sure."

"Got any family?" Jim asked. He wondered if there was anyone left who Will might want to reconnect with.

"My, uh. Not really, no. I was married, for a time. She's remarried. My son doesn't know me, so there isn't much point in bothering them." Will tilted his head slightly. "You?"

"Yeah, I was married for a while. Got a daughter Ellie, who doesn't *want* to know me," Jim shrugged a little trying to pretend it didn't hurt, that it didn't matter because Ellie wasn't his flesh and blood, but it still did. "My ex had an affair with my partner who I ended up shooting."

Will cocked an eyebrow at him, and he almost felt proud getting a raise out of a guy who had to be ten steps past jaded. "Oh, there's a story in that, isn't there?"

"Yeah, like there's a few around yours." Jim looked at him. "Janice... hell, if she'd wanted to sleep around we should've just stayed housemates you know? But she wanted to marry because... well, at the time I thought she loved me but turns out she thought I was the quickest route to Owner-land. I got a load of promotions and commendations back to back and I bet she could see her way clear to being an Owner before she was 40."

He didn't want to be cynical about it, but that's what he was now. "Anyway, I started spotting some things that weren't adding up. I was a sharp cop, sharp as all hell in my heyday and I knew she was having an affair and I... just looked away. Then I started wondering if I was just bitter about my partner or the things I was getting suspicious about were true. They were true. He was dirty as they come and I took down most of the department with him by the time I was done."

"People have a way of getting themselves caught. So you de-viced the vice squad?" Will tilted his head slightly, just a little to one side, but he seemed interested.

"Yeah. Messily. They underestimated how pissed off I could get. My first bout of indentured Service was military, before they sold me on. Some of them forgot that," Jim replied remembering the shock on his once colleagues faces when they had come to kill him in his own House. At the end of the night, there had only been a few people left alive. "I wiped out my House so they promoted me to an Owner in Vegas."

"Probably wasn't the reaction you were expecting, was it?" No, he'd been waiting for condemnation, to have been proven wrong at the last minute. Something, anything other than *that*.

"Nope. I was half expecting a lifetime service in sewer maintenance or something, but at the start I wasn't really aware of much," Jim replied surprised that the memory of his erstwhile housemates turning on him could still hurt so much. Maybe he was just emotionally battered or something. "How about you? What happened with your marriage?"

"My designation was switched to permanent. We were already starting to be strained, so I... it was best for her to not be tied to me. I wasn't going anywhere. She was. Once you're a permanent specialist, there's no hope of moving up or out." Will shrugged his shoulders, as if the idea was something he was comfortable with.

"Doesn't seem right," Jim replied. "You should be an Owner with your expertise. Was it Jack who designated you?"

"Jack and a meeting of owners within the bureau. They'd been kicking around the idea of taking people like me, and using the wet wiring technique -- it was still pretty experimental at that time -- to utilize us in ways that hadn't seemed possible before." Will tilted the mug back, finishing off the coffee.

"One of the first, and he didn't use it properly," Jim said frowning a little. "I heard about that. There was a backlash after the first black-market wet wires hit and wifi junkies started popping up. They got paranoid about Empaths getting addicted to the Reset -- thought they were rewarding antisocial behavior. You didn't get a choice?"

"I don't think I ever really understood what it was supposed to do in the first place. I was just supposed to focus on doing my job. I was doing some work with Hannibal back then, training on honing the way I naturally built profiles in my mind."

"I remember that case history. Before they knew about him yeah? He helped you with techniques?" Jim asked genuinely interested. Whatever else he had been Lecter had an unprecedented ability to predict human behavior.

"He helped me learn how to focus what I did. I'm an editeker. It's a different kind of photographic memory. Pretty useful for cases, which was how I got as far as I did into the Bureau, as young as I was." Will's hands were wandering that cup, one thumb tracing over the rim, as if his body didn't know how to chill out.

"Editeker?" Jim had thought that was photographic memory. "What's the difference then? I kind of thought that was a photographic memory."

"It can be a photographic memory of emotions, too. The scent of a moment." Will reached a hand out, palm up. "It's the difference between remembering what my hand looks like, and remembering that the shift of muscle on the bottom of my palm was from where the muscles never settled after that time I broke it."

"Okay that sounds... cool," Jim replied. Will was special, he'd known that but he hadn't realized how special he was. He was no psychiatrist but from a layman's point of view he was willing to bet that exceptional memory was the reason that Will hadn't self destructed like so many others Criminal Empaths had. "Does Greg know about that?"

"I'm not sure. We haven't talked much yet. He likes to just be close, and I've been trying to not encourage him to be too active. I think he and you are sharing a diet right now." The violated ass diet, yeah.

"He tried to look after me," Jim said absently. "He's young enough to be my kid and he was trying to look after me. And worrying about you."

He tried not to think to hard about the diet and the connections it made to what happened. Too long, too long as a plaything for a crazy serial killer trying to remake the love of his life . The memories flickered out intense and like flashbacks in front of his eyes.

"Jim." There was a hand on his knee, on top of layers of fabric. Just resting there, touching him. "Jim, hey."

Shit... shit, he'd lost it for a moment. He blinked, focusing on the hand and then realizing that his breathing was ragged and his skin was looking pale and clammy and Jesus, his head was pounding as if he'd been thumped over the back of the head with something like, oh hey, a baseball bat...

And he was swinging it, the feel of the grip under his finger, the way is mind noted incongruously that it was a signed bat and wondered if Lecter had killed the person it belonged to, and then the crack and shudder of wood cracking bone and it didn't make him feel any better and...

With a sound of protest he literally tore himself out of the memories, forcing himself to focus on the here and now and the touch on his knee, the blue eyes looking right at him.

"Fuck. Fuck..."

"Hey. It's okay. You're in your House. You're safe." Will didn't blink, or flinch, but kept watching Jim, those bright blue eyes staring at him.

"Goddammit," Jim muttered. "Post fucking traumatic stress." He realized what he had just said and gave a harsh sharp laugh. "Yeah, literally."

"Yeah." Will shifted his hand a little, an almost gentle pat of a motion. "I know you've been through hell, Jim. I *know*."

"Yeah?" Jim was about to say something and then realized that Will really did know. And Greg, Greg knew as well but he had the Reset and he was *jealous* of them having that chip in their heads but Will hadn't had it for years. "How the hell did you deal with this? I haven't got a magic button in my head -- how did you deal?"

"The magic button isn't all that magical. It just pushes it back. I'm just *not hearing voices* any longer -- it's not a mindwipe. There's no..." Will scooted the coffee mug onto the coffee table, and hey, he'd taken the water glass from Jim somewhere in there. "I don't know how I deal. I don't. Jack sedated me for years."

"So..." Jim had the horrible feeling of a long held assumption crumbling to pieces. "So you remember all of it. Greg's going to remember everything?"

He'd thought that somehow what Greg did wasn't ... damn, it sounded wrong now, but somehow that it wasn't as big a sacrifice as it might've been for someone else because that button could just take away the pain, and now Will was telling him that wasn't true.

"Greg remembers everything. It just gives us a little distance, I think. It still has to be dealt with. Greg has to deal with what Lecter did to his mind. I have to deal with my behavior for the last two decades. And you have to deal with what Toby did to you. Catherine thinks we could make a therapy group between the three of us."

"I think you've got enough on your plates without adding me to the mix," Jim answered automatically. Therapy, he hated therapy, especially with the departmental therapists

"I think you're doing yourself a disservice by thinking that way." Will leaned back, finally, moved out of Jim's personal space. "Greg and I know quite a bit about psychology. We could gain some ground together."

"I've always been a kind of head down, push through it kinda guy," Jim replied considering the idea. On the one hand, vulnerable in from of people he Owned, on the other hand they had saved his life and hey, no excruciating sessions with their departmental shrink. "But better that than anything else. When Greg is feeling up to it maybe."

"I can drag him up here. He's still pretty shaky on his feet, but it's just one floor." And Will had been tazered and had brain surgery, but he was still trucking, plowing forwards. "I've kind of always just gotten through it myself."

"So what you're telling me is that we're pretty much relying on Greg?" Jim asked and for some reason he found that strangely funny. He had no idea why, but it was. "It doesn't need to be right away. I'm pretty wiped now, so I'm thinking maybe a couple of days or something."

The two older guys were going to have to rely on the kid for guidance. "Okay. Do you want company until then? Because Greg and I are on enforced time off, and the rest of the team isn't. I know that being alone isn't the best thing."

He was about to say no as a matter of course but realized he had been doing better. "Yeah... yeah, why not. Come on up, we'll work through a load of movies or something."

Better than watching movies alone, anyway.

Will glanced at his watch, and then back up at Jim. "Okay. It's almost dinner, and I know you *are* allowed and supposed to eat. I'm going to get Nick to show me around the House's kitchen, and then I'll be back with Greg and some soup. How's that sound?"

"Sounds great," Jim said. "I'll leave the door open in case I've fallen asleep. Do that sometimes, I'm too old for this shit."

"Yeah. I think anyone is too old for this shit." Will stood up, and paused to get the cups. "I'll see if Greg has any movies that don't require thought. Crappy science fiction is probably pretty good for that."

"Crappier the better," Jim agreed and settled back. His stomach hurt with the throbbing indication it was time for another painkiller. "Thanks for coming up Will. Appreciate it."

"It's not a problem. Is there anything else I can do before I go to see about dinner?"

"Toss me that bottle there?" Jim gestured to the pills on the side. "I'm too lazy to move right now."

And tired. Who knew talking could be exhausting?

Will tossed them in a gentle underhand, and turned to let himself out. "Rest for a while. We'll wake you up later."

Rest. Yeah, he could rest, doze and listen to the drone of the television, and wish he was a lot better a lot sooner.

Sara was watching him.

He wasn't sure if she knew that he knew she was watching him, but it didn't matter, because she was definitely watching him rattle around the space of their kitchen. He'd coaxed Greg to come downstairs and sit in the living room -- because a change of scenery was a good idea, while Will cooked -- and now there was just the cooking to get to. Get finished. Cooking was a lot of waiting around, but Will guessed that Jim could catch a couple of hours of vague sleep before the soup was ready, and there'd be more than enough for the house when the rest of them got back from their shifts.

He didn't know what was so interesting about watching him cut potatoes, though.

Maybe she was waiting for him to run amok with a knife or something. He was pretty sure he was waiting for that to happen, himself.

"Need any help with that?" Sara offered eventually from where she was sat at the large Kitchen table surrounded by articles and papers. Apparently it was her day off, though she looked like she was working.

It didn't surprise him that she'd do that. That any of them would do that, because Catherine had said that they were behind after spending so much time looking for Jim. "Do you cook?" If yes, he could maybe get her to chop up an onion.

"There was an unfortunate incident involving some food poisoning, so I'm banned from actually cooking. But I can help," Sara said with a slight smile. "What are you making?"

"Potato soup. If you can manage a fine chop, I need one, maybe two large onions. Just how many people are *in* the house, actually?" He'd only met one or two at a time, and if he was cooking enough for everyone, then he probably needed to make more than enough for the six or seven of them that immediately came to mind.

"The lab specialists tend to use the kitchen on their floor," Sara replied. "So it's mainly us CSIs, although sometimes they jump the fence if they get wind of the fact that Nick is doing ribs. I'm vegetarian myself, though. Let's see there's, myself, Warrick, Nick, Catherine, Jim and now you and Greg. We usually have at least one more drop in either from downstairs or someone like Vega, or Sophia... she had a temporary service contract with us and drops in a lot. There's Warrick's wife, but she's on different hours and the rest of us are single so..."

"So, I'm making a lot of soup." Will lifted his eyebrows a little as he picked up another vaguely peeled potato and started to rough chop it, too. "Do you eat chicken and fish, or do you avoid all animal products? Just out of curiosity."

"The whole thing. Not vegan, but vegetarian," Sara replied getting up and moving to help with the onions. "The food poisoning was some eggs I used. Salmonella." Her mouth quirked again. "I end up doing my own cooking a fair amount."

It was a struggle to not grimace a little. "I hope you've learned to *cook* your eggs. I know there are recipes out there based around rawness, but... Salmonella just isn't gourmet."

"Believe me, I know that," Sara replied. "Intimately. So how's Jim? You've been up to see him right?"

Will nodded as he reached for yet another potato, running on auto-drive just then. "He's doing well, considering."

"Yeah, considering." She looked uncomfortable. "I went up earlier but I think he was asleep. How about you guys? Nick explained about the Reset. He said it was touch and go for you."

"I wasn't coherent enough to be aware. I'm coherent." Will looked at her sideways. "The urge to chain-smoke is gone. I'm conversant again. I'm sure I made an interesting first impression on all of you."

"Definitely," Sara replied as she began chopping onion and the pungent smell filled the air rapidly. "*The *Will Graham, part of our house and working with us. You look different. It's weird actually."

"I look different from what?" Pictures, he supposed. He was older, but he wasn't any less... him. He hadn't fallen out of shape, and all right, the hack job of a haircut had been for the surgery. He sort of missed his beard growth, but he could live without it.

"From how you did when you first came in," Sara said. "You hold yourself differently. You look like a different person."

"I... suppose that I *am* a different person." Will gestured vaguely with the knife. "I was out of my head when I was brought here. The reset gave a lot of who I was before back to me." He still had his thoughts, his motions, even if he wasn't too sure of where he was going.

"You've always been a legend though. I had a whole course on your cases when I was being trained," Sara said glancing at him. "Especially Lecter."

Who was dead. "He never really liked guns. He called them a coward's weapon, a weapon of fear. He said it lacked the intimacy of a hands on killing, but I don't think he ever took into account the blood spatter from doing it at point blank range. Which reminds me, I'd like to get my hands on the autopsy photos."

"Sure. I'll ask Al when he next comes in," Sara replied. "He's our Coroner, and David is his assistant. He had one of the adjoining mini-complexes with his family and David moved over the road to live with his fiancé. You'll see a lot of them. They sometimes drop in."

"That's handy." And he needed to have those photos. So he had something physical to look at, to hold, when his nightmares told him that Hannibal was still alive. No, if any part of Hannibal was still alive, it was in Will. Just him, just there.

"You'll like Al. He's very good at his job and has a quirky sense of humor," Sara smiling up at him as she pushed over the efficiently chopped onions. "Any other ingredients?"

"If you want to cut another potato, I'll get the water boiling. It's sort of... It's a recipe I was taught, and it's very 'work with what you have'. Except cheese and milk. Those are necessary." Taught. He didn't need to elaborate to anyone who'd taught him how to cook, he didn't think.

"I can do that. Cheese, huh? That's an interesting variation. I do mine with leeks," Sara replied.

"I do a great carrot and coriander," Greg said from the doorway. He was walking pretty well, considering how stiff the healing injuries made him. "And fresh tomato and basil."

"I've heard speeches about the abuse of leeks in modern cooking. If you're going to go low class, you might as well go all the way. Cheddar is great for that. Greg, hey, do you want to see if there's anything interesting in the bottom of the fridge? I'm making a potato soup." That way he could get Greg involved without stressing him much. "You look better."

"Hard to look worse. Hey Sara," Greg said as he went to the fridge and Will could hear him rustling around. "There's some chili in here... that can spice things up."

"Hey Greg," Sara replied.

"I'm trying to make it, uh, so Jim and you can eat it." He didn't really want to say more, but it should have been obvious to Greg, given that he'd been living off of crackers and water .

"Okay then, uh crap. We have carrots, and other vegetables. Milk, a bit of cream," Greg reported.

"Cream might work," Sara suggested.

"Grab some of that. The vegetables." He eyed the water, and added a pinch of salt before turning to retrieve the onions and potatoes in a couple of trips. "Sorry, I should have made that clearer from the start."

"Not firing on all cylinders, s'okay," Greg said putting some out. "Here we go."

"It'll be a meal in itself," Sara replied. "How long is it going to take?"

"An hour, maybe a little longer. Jim took some of his pain medication, so I figure he'll be shaking it off by the time the soup is done. It's the least I can do. These should boil down in about twenty minutes, and I'll add the carrots and..." Will eyed what else Greg had brought out. "I'm winging it."

"You do your best work, winging it." Greg said moving closer and unselfconsciously resting his hand on the small of Will's back. He noticed that Sara was watching them.

He tilted his head a little, and started to rinse off the carrots. "Well, I want you to let me know if the food is sub-par."

"Believe me, our guys are not backwards in mocking anyone's culinary efforts," Sara said and smiled at them both. She looked at Greg like he was different though. Less experienced, a rookie, where he could see the interest in him lurking in her eyes.

It was possibly the hair, possibly how Greg framed himself to not be interpreted as a threat or serious. "That's good to know. I'll have to make a serious effort to wow all of you sometime. Seeing as Greg and I are on enforced leave for a while."

"We could use some decent food," Sara replied and he could feel Greg watching her and stepping back a little.

"Uh, anything you want me to do Will?" Greg asked sounding a little anxious. He didn't know why.

Will would have to work out why. "Hang out, relax? Jim wanted us to come up with dinner later. I think he wants to give you the 'welcome to the house' speech, and watch some movies. I'm really almost done."

Sara laughed. "Jim's welcome speeches are infamous," she said, even as she moved position to toss more vegetables into the pot, moving so Greg automatically backed away.

Which made Will think about it like some competition, over him? Or at least, between the two of them, which was... Strange. It made Will want to smile at her, smile with teeth, and that was an urge he didn't want to entertain. Not when his head felt so damn clear. "He must be an interesting owner. Have you always been with this house?"

"No, no, I was sold on from San Francisco," Sara replied. "Warrick met me at a conference and they lost a CSI up here at a critical time and... my current House had been up on the auction website as open to offers," she shrugged a little at that.

Greg had retreated and sat down at the table, remaining quiet. He was watching them and Will hoped he was reading the discomfort in dealing with Sara.

With his luck, Greg *wasn't*. Because if she was coming on to him sexually, she was barking up a pretty male-oriented bisexual tree, that had a lot of problems on the branches. "So it worked out well for you, then. Vegas is pretty busy, right?" Will added the last carrot, and then slid a lid onto the pot. Now to just wait for it all to boil.

"Specializes in the weird," Sara said. "Transient population, people letting their hair down -- you won't find anywhere that tests the imagination as much as Vegas."

"New York got a bit wild," Greg put in. "Some freaky stuff there."

"Not like Vegas," Sara said firmly.

Will cocked an eyebrow at Sara as he pulled a chair out beside Greg and sat down. "Don't look at me to get into this. My House was in the wild Maryland Suburbs. Our cases were all fly-to."

"We've had possible human combustion, a supposed alien in the desert, a mass cult death..." Sara said with a smirk.

"Yeah? Okay, higher percentage of weird then," Greg replied. "I... I worked a voodoo ritual case once. With Aiden."

"Really?" Aiden was an enigma, but Will was willing to guess that she'd been Greg's only partner. He probably still hadn't had time to deal with her killing herself, and that was something else for Will to keep in mind. At least he wouldn't do that to Greg. No killing himself. "They just dragged me out for the serial killers. The interesting rituals are singularly self-created. Voodoo is something I've never come across. Or many one off murders."

"Get plenty of those here, or people dying in interesting ways," Sara replied. "Except they call in Kepler and Millander when we have serials and..." she grimaced a bit. "Even out there on the edge Will, you didn't freak me out like those two do."

"What about me?" Greg asked and Sara chuckled a little.

"You don't freak out anyone Greg. Except maybe with your choice in clothing."

Will cleared his throat a little. "I don't think they'll be calling in Kepler and Millander for those cases anymore." There was a part of him that wanted to rise to the almost challenge, to prove that no, he could be more than just fearsome, and she hadn't *seen* out there, yet, but...

He had to stop that. He kept feeling even now that he couldn't really trust himself.

"Hope not. We're pretty sure there was some evidence planting going on," Sara said. "Millander is the PV but... he doesn't seem anything like you Greg."

Greg smiled "Hey, I'm *special*," he said wryly.

"Greg's good at what he does. That might be the difference." Good enough to keep Will together, good enough to walk someone through a re-set without the other person understanding the training.

"Everyone says so," Sara replied a little tactlessly with plain disbelief evident and Greg mimed a zinger getting him in the heart.

"Man, I'm hit... Will, go on without me... think of the little creatures of the forest.." and then he flopped down on the table, before canting his head to find Will's face. It was times like this Greg really seemed young.

He laughed a little, and reached forwards to pet Greg's hair idly. "Trust me. A professional Victim should, by everything I've been told, make themselves a perfect replica of their target's victims. Greg does it well. And, he does DNA, too."

His laugh seemed to light up Greg's face with a smile, and the touch made him happy as well from the look of him.

"All singing, all dancing..." Sara said.

"Less of the singing, more of the dancing," Greg added. "When I get a chance."

"Hey, you could say the same about me." Will *looked* at Sara, and he managed to keep most of the sharpness out of his voice. "I used to teach forensic science. It isn't as if hunting sociopaths is *really* a full time job."

"Sometimes you get a dry spell," Greg added leaning towards him.

Most of the bruising had vanished from the visible parts of Greg and he looked like he was perfectly fine, if he wasn't aware of what the shirt and pants were covering up.

"I'd like to hear some of your lectures," Sara replied. "Your perspective on forensics would be unique."

"Unique might be a word for it. I need to get back into it, into research... Once Catherine signs off on us." Will lifted his head a little, looking at the pot. "Okay, let me mash this up. Who wants to shred cheese?"

Greg raised a hand and Sara opened a drawer and passed him a grater and a plate from another cupboard.

"Catherine will be handing back to Jim," Sara pointed out. "So, it will be Jim signing off."

"Jim's had the requisite training on Empath pairs, Greg, which I think will make things easier." Catherine had been a struggle to get to perform the reset, according to Nick. Now he knew what it could do, he knew how important it was to have someone ready to intervene.

"Hey, that's cool," Greg replied as he started tackling the cheese. "That does help."

"If it's like Nick said, I can understand that," Sara put in.

"How did Nick explain it to you?" Will mashed a little more, and eyed the liquid height before he reached for the milk.

"Pretty much like another personality setting up camp in your head," Sara replied. "I don't think I could do that... don't know how you could."

"If you could, you would have scored in all the right ways to be designated an Empath and we wouldn't be having this conversation because you'd be working elsewhere," Will pointed out as he eyed the pan again and just started to pour milk in. "It's something I do. It's something Greg does. It's like breathing. You don't over think it, it just happens."

"But you're a Criminal Empath, and he's a Professional Victim," Sara said glancing between the two of them. "What makes you different?"

"The skills are pretty similar. The difference is..." Greg grimaced a little "I most likely have lower sense of self worth and uh... a pretty high self destructive streak. It's a personality thing."

"Most criminal Empaths are people who have the right personality *type*, but not the urges, to be a killer. I could. I *have*, and my targets routinely die in the process of finding and confronting them. For me, it's channeled into my work." He eyed how Greg was coming with the grating, and added a little more milk, and some milder herbs from the cabinet on the other side of the kitchen.

"That's pretty rare though," Greg added. "Most Criminal Empaths can blur the line which is why you need a handler acting as a control. Sometime they need to be shut down fast. Or a PV."

"Okay, a criminal Empath needing shutting down I understand, but a PV?" Sara asked. "Why?"

"Various reasons," Greg said. "There's a phenomenon we call The Fear..."

Will watched as he did air quotes around the phrase, nearly knocking off the grater.

"When you're a PV, you get very good at inducing emotional states. One of the most frequently used is The Fear -- it has a technical name, but it's the feeling that you get when you know you're going to die. Sometimes... sometimes because there is no death, it doesn't stop. You can get lost in it and it build up and PV's can literally die of fright. Stroke out, heart attack, shock...The Controller can shut that down with a press of a button."

"Or they can use drugs to sedate you for a couple of weeks. Which reminds me that you never want to be sold on to the Behavioral Sciences house, Sara. Just... keep that in mind." Will put the milk away, eyeing the pile of cheese Greg had going. "Here, hold on and I'll dump that in."

"I think I'll pass on that," Sara said dryly looking speculatively at Greg as he pushed over the cheese.

"Has that happened to you?"

Greg shook his head. "No, no it's been close, but I haven't lost control of when I bring it up."

"I'm glad you have control." Will dumped the cheese in. He had no such thing. He had a wild urge to *be* their man, as much as it turned his stomach now. He knew he could and would do it again, and that things like what he'd done with Greg in that club were only the icing on the cake.

He still wanted him, and that made it all the more difficult when Greg offered himself to him as if it were easy and he could be trusted.

"Yeah well, I'm still pretty new at it experience-wise," Greg said with a yawn. "Plenty of time for that to go wrong."

"You okay Greg?" Will asked, looking at him for clues to his condition.

"I'm good, just a bit tired. Damn painkillers," Greg replied and pillowed his head on his arms.

"I could make a coffee, if that would help?" Sara interjected. "Will, you want something?"

"I'm torn between making coffee and making tea at this point. I had some of Jim's coffee when I was up there earlier. It kind of tastes like burnt socks." He smiled when he said it, taking over the last of the shredding. This was easy. This was good, calm, being normal.

"Remind me to go get some decent stuff," Greg said. "Life's too short for bad coffee."

Sara actually smiled. "There is some decent stuff hidden away. I'll get that."

She ran hot and cold, and Will wasn't sure what to do with that, if anything. He leaned close to Greg, shoulder to shoulder for a moment. "See? Coffee and soup, and Jim wants to watch bad movies."

Greg brightened up a bit. "I'm a world expert at bad movies," he replied. "Does he have some?"

Sara laughed. "Jim? He had really bad cop movies. Some war ones too."

"What bad movies do you have, Greg? Maybe something new and bad..." It felt like normality, even though Will knew it wasn't going to hold forever.

"Bound to have something," Greg replied. "I'm pretty varied in my tastes. B movies...Aiden gave me a collection ones of really bad ones. They are good to heckle at."

"Something like that. He..." Will made a crumbling gesture as he lifted the shredded cheese in one hand to test for the weight of it. "I don't know how to handle this, to be honest."

"Handle what?" Sara cut in. "You seem to be handling things fine."

"He's doing great but Will's got a lot to do for himself," Greg said. "Makes it difficult to think of other people in the best way I guess."

"Trying to watch out for other people in... this way." He managed a wry smirk as he stood up to dump the last of the cheese in. "I'm not used to it."

"Instincts are good," Greg said. "Feeding helps. Amazing how much more manageable the world seems if you are clean, you've had a good sleep and you've had something good to eat."

It seemed strange coming from Greg who looked too thin for his frame, gangly with weight loss.

"Jim's tough," Sara said. "He doesn't like too many people in his face."

"Or that's how he seems." Will leaned, reaching for a wooden spoon to stir everything up. It smelled good, warm and not too rich. "I don't like people, but I still *need* them."

"He'll need help through it," Greg said. "No one can go through that and not need help."

Sara looked a little dubious and then nodded. "How's the soup?"

"I think it passes my standards." Will stirred a little more, then brought the spoon up, and cupped his hand underneath of it. "Who wants to be the victim?"

Greg snorted. "Well, me... by definition. It's my job."

Sara looked at him. "You can't want to the victim."

"No, no, but then what victim of a crime actually wants to be that way? The mindset usually involves escape, wanting to, survival, all of that. It's not as self destructive as it first appears." Greg pointed out.

"... It's only soup," Will pointed out. "And I expect it to be *good*."

"I'm feeling hungry," Greg admitted which was a first since they had come out of hospital. "It smells good."

"Then try it." Will offered it out to Greg, hand still under the spoon. "Really, try it before I start to get paranoid."

"Trying," he said and slurped it off the spoon. "Mmm, not bad. Not bad at all. I think I need some more to make sure though."

"Har har. Sara, where are the bowls?" Will rinsed the spoon off in the sink, and started to open drawers in search of a ladle.

"Here, mind if I try some too?" she asked as she got some bowls out and put them down even as he located a ladle.

"Not at all. It's for all of you to eat. I'll come down later after it's cooled and put it in the fridge if there's much left." It felt good to be helping, contributing, even though Jim had said that he and Greg didn't have to lift a finger, do another thing because they'd earned it.

He filled Greg's bowl and Sara's and Greg immediately started eating it as if he was starving. "Mmm, yes, see this is good. I like this..."

"And there's no questionable pieces of meat." Will filled another bowl for Jim, and one for himself, watching Sara a little surreptitiously.

"None at all," Greg agreed even as Sara tasted hers and looked pleasantly surprised.

"Okay, you get to be cook any time," Sara decreed. "That's tasting good. What else can you do?"

"In general, or with food?" The train of conversation was almost amusing, and he leaned against the counter's edge for a moment, eating a little of the soup himself. It was comfort food, pure and easy.

"I was asking about food, but if you've got hidden talents aside from forensics, the world needs to know." She was smiling at him again, even as she ate the hot soup.

The car repair thing, well. "I can cook quite a variety of foods. After all, I was taught by a natural epicure."

"You know, that is not a recommendation," Sara pointed out.

"Skill is skill no matter where it came from," Greg replied.

"I'm sure you've picked up some skills from less than reputable places," Will pointed out. "I can cook."

"I can surf," Greg said with a smile. "Fall off a lot though, but I can do it. I like the ocean."

Sara looked at him as if he had sprouted horns. "Okay, not sure why you're in Vegas though."

"I got sold on," Greg shrugged finishing up his bowl. "Thanks Will, really needed that. Shall we take this up to see Jim?"

"And we'll stop to grab a movie from your collection on the way up." Will still hadn't finished his own bowl, and he watched Greg's. "Do you want some more? Before we go up?"

"I'm okay for now," Greg said. "Can't push it much right now even with soup. Maybe later."

Later. Well, he'd make a note to ask again later, and picked up Jim's bowl for the trip upstairs. "It was good talking to you, Sara. C'mon. Let's go upstairs and convalesce." Away from prying eyes and judgmental comments that brought up his hackles.

Greg was only too willing to follow and with any luck there would be less of a strain when there wasn't some strange competition going on for his attention. Just the calm solid presence that was Jim, even when he was feeling emotionally under siege.

It had become a bit of a habit. Turning up at Jim's, watching bad movies, sprawling over the chairs and couches. Greg liked being able to sneak in close to Will, and fill his need for human contact. Sometimes he got close to Jim as well, when Jim got unsettled. He remembered him being chained with him in Lecter's room and took that next step to actually helping.

It was nice. He had physical contact, but it was all platonic. No threat, no intermingling of sex, and his body was kind of grateful for that. Will probably could have, but he seemed to marvel in Greg stretching out on his back on the sofa to lean over his lap when the movie got sort of boring. Greg knew he could do that with Will, but Jim, he was not so sure.

His back was healing up, and he was feeling physically better even if he hated sleeping alone. Will, he was pretty sure, didn't trust himself to be alone with him yet, and though he was craving touch and intimacy, he wasn't sure he was as ready as he sometimes seemed to be heading. It was like not having much in the way of brakes when it came to that sort of thing. But he kept himself distracted gently sorting the other two out, because all he really needed was someone there for him and he would put himself back together easily enough.

It would just take time, and together Jim and Will were wrapped up bundles of issues enough to keep the whole building busy if they wanted to get involved in helping. Greg had experience with Aiden, and he knew that sometimes the best solution was to be distracting, light hearted and entertaining. It was sort of a stall technique, but it went a long way to getting Jim comfortable with him as something other than a victim. Right now they were watching Starship Troopers -- a good choice because there were bugs and military protocols for Jim to poke fun at. And of course Psi powers which he seemed to think would be equivalent to Empath designations.

"We don't have powers," Greg protested. "It's body language and psychology and experience."

"Hey, I'm just saying what we saw in the training lectures. Some of the stuff was uncannily close to mind reading," Jim was saying, relishing the fact he was able to eat something a little more solid.

"Mind-reading is over-rated." Will had spent ten minutes ranting about how those insects were not arachnids, and how they'd just watched a movie the night before that had puppets, and how THAT movie had better insectoid accuracy.

"Very much so. Most people think about crap all day anyway," Greg replied stealing a chip or two. "Not sure if humans would win a war against bugs anyway."

"Yeah, they would," Jim said. "Hell, some of the marines would probably eat them."

Greg tried to hide a smirk because he knew Will would respond.

"As long as they avoided things like plasma pockets, and some of the strange caustic products these insects seem to be producing." Will tilted his head, peering at the screen. "And while they cook it, they could be swamped by the troops coming up from the rear. I shouldn't be cheering the bugs."

"Raising exotic roaches, yeah, I can believe it," Jim said with a grin.

"Pretty sure they wouldn't be good to eat -- eating bugs is not something I want to do," Greg replied.

"They're actually pretty tasty. Sort of nutty. Pecans are easier to stomach for most people." Will leaned back on the sofa, crossing his arms over his chest.

"You're weird," Greg said happily. "In a good way."

He would try and get some just to make him happy, even try a few.

"Oh hey, ass kicking time," Jim pointed out watching the screen.

"Go bugs, go!" Will leaned, shoulder bumped Greg gently. "This is all gratuitous. Not that I mind."

Greg leaned in close, and then shifted to lie against him. "Mmm, you could be watching something serious and art house you know."

"Film noir is good," Jim said. "Liked all those hardboiled detectives."

"Film noir is great. Predictable as a genre, but the cinematography and direction for the time was top notch." Will tilted his head, looking at Jim more than the screen. "What's your favorite?"

"I've got a soft spot for the classics," Jim said "Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, that sort of thing. I get inspired to wear a trench coat to work," Jim answered and Greg smiled even as he made himself comfortable.

"Even in Vegas?" he asked.

"Especially in Vegas."

"I might have a couple of those somewhere, actually. We could upgrade movies once we're done watching insects slaughter humanity. Didn't they make a sequel to this movie?"

"Yeah, I think it might've been better in a weird way," Greg added. "But classic is good. We're being good a resting and Catherine won't get her panties in a twist."

"Catherine was up in arms that you two are having chili for dinner. I think she's convinced that we're trying to get you up to strength sooner than you should be." Will turned a little, looked at both of them. "She reminds me of another criminal Empath we had around."

Jim looked over at him, and Greg was glad they'd progressed to all three of them being on the couch together.

"Yeah? Who was that?" he asked.

"Clarice. She went rogue. Not that I could blame her at the time. She cut her tracking chips out, left a few notes, and ran out right off her rails. Last I knew, I think she went to Mexico and was doing bounty hunter work." That was a pretty detailed 'last I knew', but permanents weren't supposed to interact with people who were on the run like that. It was as risky as trying to do it yourself. "Retrospectively, Jack was a really bad Owner."

"He really, really was," Greg said fervently petting at Will pleased that he was acknowledging that now.

"Hey, I could end up being a bad Owner. Got to admit I'm not overwhelmed with the idea of having access to your brains," Jim added. "I might press the wrong code or something."

Will rolled his shoulders slowly, and shifted a hand to press lightly against Greg's side. He seemed to like touch, as little as he did trust himself around Greg. "So? It's not as if there's a secret password set to fry our brains."

"There are pain and sleep settings," Jim said. "I don't know Will..."

"Jim, with any luck you won't have to use it much. I mean, yeah helping with the baselines but, aside from Reset, I never had a jolt," Greg said patiently. "And you've got to remember there's the capacity to give pleasure too."

"If you do, I really suggest erring to 'sleep'," Will added. "Pain doesn't hit me much anymore. But sleep, that's one you can't fight."

Jim shook his head. "How can you say that after what happened?" he said. "The fucked up way Lecter messed with the chip?"

Greg shrugged. "I knew what was happening wasn't me eventually," he answered.

"I never have figured out what was the chip and what was me." Will's attention seemed to be drifting to the screen again, but only a little. "Look, we trust you."

"You don't really know me," Jim replied, watching the movie.

That was what it was all about. "Jim, weird psychic powers remember?" Greg teased. "Plus we've pretty much all seen each other naked. Trust issues are a bit redundant after that."

It wasn't like Greg was going to *not* trust Jim. There was no not trusting to do, and okay, maybe Will had trust issues, but even mad dogs liked to have a place to come home to and someone to throw them a bone. And on that principle *alone*, issues or not, Will probably really did trust Jim. "You're not worse than anything else I've ever run into."

"Your glowing endorsement touches me deeply," Jim said flippantly but Greg could tell he was a little reassured.

"What are you worried about, Jim?" he asked in a low voice.

"Hurting us?" Will asked, possibly not without irony.

"Kinda. I don't like the idea of having that sort of level of control over someone," Jim replied. "Considering."

Greg shrugged. "It's more like a safety net than control, Jim."

"Considering that you're an Owner," Will commented quietly, "you already have that level of control. The fact that everyone downstairs is obsessed with your well being..."

Jim snorted and Greg looked at him.

"Hey, Will's not wrong. They'd be forming an orderly line to fluff your pillows if you'd let them," Greg smirked. "You want them fluffed?"

"They'd *probably* offer to more than fluff your pillows."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "I don't think so. Nick is straight, Warrick is involved, Cath... okay, she might, Sara I've never really seen get interested in anyone."

"Trust me on this. Nick would… he's not *that* straight. Warrick would if he thought it would help. Catherine would pretty much do anything for you, and even Sara," Greg pointed out.

"The fact is, they want to help you. However they can. So I don't have a problem trusting control of my chip to you." As if they had a choice at all, but possibly not reiterating that fact would help calm Jim down.

Pretty much you just had to hope your Owner was a little bit ethical because having someone who could remotely do the equivalent of bliss you out, and reset your mind was a hell of a vulnerability.

"Yeah, well you should," Jim said. "I've never invoked Owner privilege. I don't want people to have sex with me because they have to. Right now, I don't want to have any at all."

Greg could sort of understand that, but he had another ingrained instinct for contact and companionship that meant he craved sex as a means not to be alone. Being alone was the worst fear.

"Completely understandable," Will murmured, eyes still tracking along with the TV screen. "But. It's the point, that I think your whole house down there would. Whether you ever take anyone up on it or not, they *would*. If Jack had have fallen ill or taken time for recovery, it would have been like a deer stumbling into a wolves den. There would have been very little by way of help."

"Will, your ex-Owner was a bonafide bastard," Jim said. "I wouldn't treat a dog the way he was treating you. Or you, Greg. Maybe they didn't go to the same training that I did, but...running you live, getting rid of you when you were in convalescence. Stupid."

"No one wants a PV who lets their partner suicide, Jim," Greg answered. "I'm grateful Will doesn't know better than to realize he's got bum deal."

Will gave a vaguely disconcerting snort. "If I wanted to kill myself, nothing could stop me. Nothing at all. You didn't let her suicide. She was in a bad place, and made that decision herself."

The mere thought of Will doing that made him shiver. Fuck, no...that made him feel sick with fear even considering the possibility. He swallowed.

"It was my job. I was responsible for keeping her stable, and she lost it, and..."

"She lost it because the Control wasn't there like they should've been and then she hurt you," Jim put in. "Not your fault, not hers but she couldn't live with what she'd done."


"Would you walk out on a scene if Greg and I were doing something along those lines?"

Jim shook his head. "No. See, I can't figure why there was even a cell phone on for an urgent call to come in. From what I understand, live reenactments are the most volatile situations. Got to be monitored, especially ones at that sort of level."

Greg grimaced a little. "That's by the book. A lot of people didn't do that."

But Jim probably would.

"It's not even something to worry about for a while," Will noted. "You're still a mess. Greg's still a mess."

"We've got, we've got to establish our baselines," Greg said. "But..." But Will didn't seem to want to do that straight off and that made him nervous and he thought it was because Will didn't trust himself.

"You going to do the whole process?" Jim said looking at him as if he couldn't believe it was possible.

Greg *wanted* to. He really wanted to, but he kind of needed a functional partner, and Will had to trust himself to possibly even want it and it was... messy.

"I'm still not sure what the whole process entails." Will looked at Jim, as if he was trying to work out what Jim was so incredulous over.

"There's a lot of sex," Jim said. "Which considering what Lecter did to him, and that other guy, Toby, I... don't know how you can do it Greg."

Greg flushed with a glimmer of shame. "Yeah, well. Look, it works on the basis of establishing a normal response to compare an empathic influence response again. Like an anchor. To give Will a foundation of himself. What he likes, and dislikes, and what is *him*. What his normal response is to doing certain actions. And yeah, it involved sex because a lot of the serials we follow involve sexual practices."

Will exhaled a little shakily. "Yeah, well, me when I'm normal isn't all that normal, so we should probably wait until you're, until you've..."

Greg looked at him. "You think I don't know what you want Will? That's what I do, I know what people want, what they feel, how they think. And you have no idea how hard it is to just...not throw myself at you."

"So, now I say it to you. What are *you* worried about, Will?" Jim asked.

The obvious things, that Greg could guess at with years of training to help him. "Going unhinged again. Hurting you."

"First off, I don't believe you will. Secondly, pain is not always a bad thing," Greg replied.

"You are making this needlessly complicated, you two. If you're really worried, then I'll sit in on a few, finger poised over the appropriate button," Jim said finally. "Never seen it done before but... hey, if it works."

Will seemed ready to hesitate and make excuses again, but he looked at Greg and then he looked at Jim and nodded. "Fine. Fine. We'll do it, then. You two work out the when."

"Not tomorrow. I've got therapy tomorrow," Jim said with a barely concealed sigh. "Waste of fucking time if you ask me."

"It might help some. Better than the reset cure all we get," Greg answered.

"I'll take the reset over a psychiatrist." Will shifted, turned his attention back to the TV.

"Yeah well, day after tomorrow. We'll do it," Jim said as if it was all settled.

Greg felt a hint of relief. At least it would happen. "Thanks... thanks, hey uh... what did we miss in the film?"

Not that it really mattered. At least he would get to try with Jim.

Therapy was required, sure, but it was also something Catherine heavily suggested he do, and by 'suggested', Jim meant 'browbeat'. It was probably a good idea, and Greg had encouraged it, and Will had vaguely suggested that it 'might work', but it didn't stop Jim from feeling nervous.

Life had just been moving too fucking fast lately.

It seemed like he hadn't had time to stop and think which might actually be the point of the whole thing. He didn't want to think too hard. He hated flash backs, he hated all of it, and he hated how vulnerable it made him feel. He didn't need a shrink to tell him that.

But here he was, sitting uncomfortably, waiting for Dr. Bloom to make an appearance.

The guy was supposed to be good. Supposed to be good, but so had Hannibal Lecter, and he wasn't going to be able to stop thinking of that. He'd picked up Will's wariness honest, having met the man himself.

And taken a baseball bat to him.

It would have been all right if he hadn't just been escorted into an empty sitting room, and told that the Doctor would be with him shortly. Because the sound of the door finally opening startled him, made the room feel smaller. "Mister Brass, good to meet you."

"Hey," Jim said, unable to just get up with the ease he'd used to have. Things still hurt in his stomach from the operation. "Good to meet you Doc."

The psychiatrist smiled a little. "Were you offered a drink? You're allowed...water or juice?"

"Water's fine." Will had just quietly kept bringing him milk, muted down juices, like he'd been there before himself. Will just didn't talk about it, and quietly tried to smother him and Greg both in attention. "I wasn't late, was I?"

"No, no.. .but I was," Dr Bloom replied. "Psychotic episode needing an emergency admission. My apologies." He poured out water from a jug for them both. "Please, call me Alan..or Doc if you prefer. Now Mr. Brass, I'm going to do the boring shrink thing and ask you how you feel. It's practically a law we have to follow."

"Am I allowed to lie?" Jim smirked. "Because if I say I'm feeling fine, maybe we can both save each other sometime here."

"Then we'd have to sit here and make conversation for the rest of the hour.," Alan replied. "Because you know, I think they are monitoring how long I'm in here. Not that I'm paranoid or anything. If you lie, I'll have to nod and look thoughtful and make a note on pad which might be difficult because I've lost my pen."

It caught Jim off guard, and he actually laughed a little. "So, if I said I felt shitty and nervous and didn't want to think about anything in that file you probably have on me..."

"....I was meant to have a file?" Alan looked around. "Well shit, that makes me look unprofessional doesn't it? Uh, give me a moment." He leaned over and picked up a magazine. "I tend to find files have about as much useful information in them as one of these."

"So, do you even know why I'm here?" Because if he had to re-explain himself, it could take a while.

"That I do know," Alan replied. "But files are secondary to what you bring to the sessions. Facts are sometimes the biggest enemy in therapy. So let's assume I know the basics, and you tell me what feel important to you. Got anything that leaps to mind?"

He caught himself staring at Alan, and finally said, "I'd really kind of prefer to not go over it again. I just want to get back to my life. Get over it."

At this point Jim was pretty sure that a therapist was meant to lecture him firmly on the importance of pouring over every little detail in lurid and hideous detail.

"So, how's that going for you so far?"

Jim took in an unsteady breath. "Not that hot. Not that hot. I've sort of been... convalescing with the Empaths that one of my ranking workers bought."

"And that would be the famous Will Graham and... let me see, Greg Sanders?" Alan commented as if they really were just having a conversation and easing away from the uncomfortable subject just a little, as if realizing breaking things open right now would be too much. "What do you think of them?"

"Honestly? Graham's a piece of work, and he probably needs to be in this chair more than I do. Sanders is..." Well, he was a good kid. He was a good kid, and Graham was a good guy, and they both trusted him completely blindly. "They trust me to help them."

"Would I help if I said that Empaths are by nature exceptionally good judges of character?" Alan said. "As it happens, I'm very familiar with how much of a piece of work Will is, but not of Sanders. Pretty big responsibility, having that sort of trust thrust at you."

Someone who knew Will, or was just familiar with the cases? Jim guessed he could find it out later. "I'm not... I do my job. I do it *well*. I watch out for my people, cover their backs, make sure they're all right. They're... They're my family, in a way. But there's that, and then there's... I don't know. I do distant father figure a lot better than that kind of hands on."

"Because you're an Owner and they have got your purchase mark next to their names on the contracts and you feel it's part of your job or...?" It was mild question and because he wasn't leading straight at things, they were slipping under the radar.

The guy had style, and he appreciated that. "Because they deserve it. And I've fucked up sometimes with my people. And these two Empaths , they both expect me to be... just as good an owner as Catherine and Nick and the rest of my house tells them I am. Except I can't think straight because... of everything that happened."

"Thinking straight is something people hardly ever do Jim," Alan said. "Right now, your thoughts are probably poking cautiously at the hurt bit in your head, circling around and backing off. That's a pretty natural reaction. Thing is, and here's the annoying bit, the next step is that it starts replaying the painful bits as a sort of post-match analysis. You know, what if I'd done this, or something there, or it should never have happened in the first place scenario."

Jim snorted. "I might've already jumped to that part of things. It makes a guy wish he was wet wired and could just... fast forward through it."

"Sounds easy doesn't it? Doesn't actually wipe it out," Alan answered. "Still, it has been used in some desperate cases. The problem is, the more the reset is used, there is a strong tendency to addiction. Then you end up a wetwire junkie, or looking for firewire hacks into your brain because suddenly reality isn't enough. With the Empaths, there was always the concern that it might as a reward for... well, behavior beyond the norm. But that was a judgment made by people who hadn't actually experienced it. Anyway, here's the thing. You're getting flash backs already -- actually a positive sign, it means you're processing, not repressing -- so you've got two choices. Try to go on normal, and let the flashbacks shake you down when you least expect it, or take control of them and instigate it on your own terms."

"Does that actually work?" It was probably possible, but Jim wasn't sure how he'd even go about doing it.

"Yeah, rather surprisingly it does. But like all simple sounding things, it's not so simple, I'm not going to kid you there," Alan said as he sat back. "Sounds easy doesn't it? Just have to go over things, work it through. Okay, here's the truth, it's all that while gripping onto something that is the mental equivalent of a red hot iron."

Yeah. That was the catch. "I'm still interested. I want to get on with my life."

"So you work at this. We work at this. And it might seem slow, and painful and I'm pretty sure you'll want to break a few things -- there's a reason why my therapy room has cheap furniture -- but believe me it's not as slow as the "fast and easy" way of getting back to normal." Alan said. "So, here's the thing Jim. We'll work out a structure of bits to look at...a timeline. And then kick each thing to pieces and you'll get the power and control you so desperately need back. And I promise to keep the childhood stuff to a minimum. How about it?"

"My childhood was pretty boring and perversely healthy, so yeah. We'll be saving ourselves a lot of time by skipping past that." He nodded slightly. "Sounds good."

"You realize now I actually have to find a pen and paper?" Alan said getting up. "Because there's going to be a Plan, with a capital P, and actually I'm lacking in the whiteboard and pointer that would actually give the best effect."

He scrabbled around a bit and found something. "I'll see if I can arrange the whiteboard next time. In the meantime, we have a pen. Now how do we need to break this down? By chronology? By events? By people?"

"I'm a chronological person, with events as highlights. Who what, when, where, how, and why. Usually applied to murders, though." Other crimes happened, though, and when he held himself up in comparison to other victims he'd seen, he didn't seem to be hanging in there half as well.

"Would it help to approach it as a form of investigation? After all we are pretty much trying to solve an emotional puzzle," Alan said poised ready to write. "Or as a timeline?"

Like he was supposed to know which one would work better. "Have you done investigative work before?"

"Well, a lot of my referrals are law enforcement related," Alan said. "So I guess I can pick up some. But, you're the expert.

Jim was pretty sure he was trying not to say "victim".

"How about a combination of both. First step, and you ask yourself a who, what, when and where, how and why for each stage?"

"That sounds like it might work," Jim commented, folding his arms over his chest. "Any chance I can refer my Empaths on to you?"

"If as an Owner you want it," Alan said. "Empaths don't usually get standard therapy. If you are serious about dealing with them, I'll give you two broad bits of advice to think on before we get into all of this. Criminal Empaths have a tendency to isolate and withdraw and not trust themselves. They second guess their actions in this period of time. Professional Victims... are instilled with a desperate need for contact and reassurance. Part of that is to stabilize their partner, but without a partner, a PV is very vulnerable and unstable and ....I know you won't believe this but much more of potential threat than the Criminal Empath."

His gut instinct agreed with Alan expecting him to disbelieve that, but his brain said that the guy maybe had a point. "Just... knowing what you know, whatever that is, do you think it would be good for them, on top of being mindful of the other thing?" Because the rest of the house couldn't handle them, and that was one more thing for him to be responsible for.

"What would be good?" Alan queried.

"Therapy? Them trying to set their baselines? A round of tequila every night? I don't know."

"Therapy, yes. Baselines...if they are a compatible pair then yes. For non-Empaths it would be a big no-no, but unless you want Greg Sanders rampaging around your house sleeping with everyone and making them fall in love with him -- and Will drifting dark side without an anchor, then I would let them do that. It's about time he had someone to latch on to." Alan replied. "The tequila might be appropriate as well."

It at least made Jim laugh while he leaned back in the chair. "Okay. I'll stop changing the topic, now."

"I'll try and hold you to that," Alan said. "Right then... back to the beginning Jim. How it began, Jim Brass, the car and impending disaster looming. I want a How, why, who and all that from you. And I'll be taking notes and making diagrams so just keep talking, okay?"

Okay. It was far from okay, but he didn't feel quite so lost in the woods. It was like someone had put a compass in his path. He was still the one who had to find the way out and decide what direction to go in, but at least someone had given him a means of choosing.

A small step, but the first and very necessary one.

They were both crazy.

He didn't know why Greg wanted to do it, and he didn't know why Jim thought it was the best idea since the creation of the flashlight, but they did and he really had no idea what he was doing. That was probably the worst part of it, that he seriously had no idea of how... things were going to proceed. Except that Jim was there and Greg was... Well, Greg said he needed it. Greg had been sleeping with him, in a non-sex related way.

Possibly it was awkward, because it was... because *he* was awkward.

He just couldn't get them to see that there was a chance he might lose it. Really lose it, because he had done so before. Greg didn't seem to care. He'd spent the previous days getting him to taste different food, bringing him things he thought might pique his interest like entomology journals, and this was apparently part of it.

Right now though, they were in Jims room -- neutral ground- and Greg had his mysterious box there, even as he sat there, looking incredibly hopeful.

"All right. We'll start easy. You've admitted before you find me attractive Will," Greg was saying. "So here's where we find out what you as Will finds attractive. Tell me, given the choice what you would do to me right now."

It was hard to not just openly stare at Greg for a moment, trying to come up with some kind of answer. What did he want to do? "To you. Sexually, you mean?"

"Yeah, and that." Greg said looking right at him. "I'm here, I'm've got free rein, now what's your choice. Don't censor it Will, it's important you don't."

"I..." Will leaned forwards a little. What did he want to do? There were hundreds of images that flashed through his head, possibilities, and the longer he looked at Greg's open, waiting expression, the more violent the thoughts turned. "I, fuck, I really don't want to see your neck slit, this is crazy, I just want to get you naked and kiss you."

"Okay, but you're still getting violent fantasies right? How did you decide that it wasn't what you wanted?" Greg ask even as he unbuttoned his pants and shirt. He didn't take them off, but the option was definitely waiting.

Waiting for him to make a move. "Because the thought of doing that to you right now makes me want to throw up." And Jim was in the corner, watching them both.

"And you're worried that it's going to take over?" Greg said. "Will, you've got in a built in fail safe right there. A hint of nausea and that's your own self rejecting something. I trust you Will...I trust you to do anything. You might well have a taste for a bit of bondage or even bdsm, but if the image make you sick, you are rejecting it. Why don't you come and...try a little. Jim's here, it's okay, you can trust yourself."

Greg seemed...eager. Incredibly eager.

"Is this what you want?" Will asked, shifting, poised to move to touch Greg.

"Are you kidding me? Yes!" Greg said with genuine enthusiasm. "I want it...I need it so much I think I'm going to explode."

"That's... all I need to know." Will closed his eyes for a moment, leaned in to Greg. He let his hands and his other senses take control of the motion, fingertips sliding over Greg's ribs, down his smooth sides, close until his mouth was close enough to Greg's jaw to smell him. "Mmm."

"You like that?" Greg murmured, and the fact that Jim was there watching was fading rapidly into the background.

"Yeah." Will exhaled slowly, breathed in again, and mouthed a careful kiss against the edge of Greg's jaw, letting his fingers linger and explore softly. They eyes could deceive, but Will knew other perceptions were a lot more reliable. On the whole.

"I love it," Greg confessed. "May I touch you back...or would you prefer to explore me?"

It seemed strange he would ask, but both options were tempting for different reasons.

There was control in just exploring Greg, control and sensation, and Will pressed his mouth against Greg's jaw again for a moment. "Reciprocating is better."

"Great, though...I like the other stuff too." Greg grinned and then his skillful hands were touching him, caressing and his neck arched to make the most of the kisses.

"Later." He let the words linger, and shifted, leaned back for a moment to shrug off his own sweater, pulling it up over his head. Skin on skin, that was what he wanted, to taste and smell and feel Greg.

It seemed that was perfectly in parallel with Greg's line of thinking because he was leaning reaching towards him, unwilling it seemed to let go of that simple contact for more than a few seconds. His dark eyes were finding his own and he looked...not like he was pretending or playing a part. He wanted him, he really wanted him.

That was all Will needed to see before he closed his eyes again, and leaned in to kiss him. He wanted to taste Greg, taste him in all of the simple, healthy, *sane* ways that he could, and it always started with the mouth. Soft tissue, very... No, no, he was just going to kiss Greg. Kiss him and enjoy it.

The way Greg kissed back drove thought from his head. The younger man could kiss coherence out of him. Soft lips became more than abstract contemplations in his head that could be warped and twisted. This was now and immediate and real sensation and for the first time in a long time it was him getting to experience it, not some mask.

It was him, and he could see the sense of doing it because it was nice to feel like him, to feel the kiss himself, nothing between them in his head. He shifted, leaned, pressed Greg against the back of the sofa. "God I want you..."

"I want you as well.." Greg replied in a rough gasp. "I *need* you, you don't know how much I need you. Kiss me again, please Will...please..."

There was simply no way that he wasn't going to kiss Greg again. Slow and easy, the pressure of lip against lip until he coaxed Greg to exhale, to let his lips part. He shifted his hips, coaxed Greg to lay back on the sofa.

It was like some sort of miracle as Greg opened up to him as if it wasn't a big deal; opened his mouth, lay back, shifted his legs so he could easily settle between them. The passion was there, but now the kisses had become softer, more lingering as if realizing there was time and they could take that time.

It didn't have to be frenzied and fast, and he didn't have to ravish and hurt Greg. He kissed him, slow and easy, let his hands roam, traced Greg's ribs, his stomach, his sides, his shoulders, trying to nudge down his pants.

As they were undone it was easy enough and for a while he lost himself in the novelty of being able to choose what he wanted rather than listening to voices dictating his action. It was a revelation. Things felt so much more intense as if those personas had been a filter for his reaction.

Greg's hands were drifting over him and he arched and leaned, the new fresh tissues feeling different under his fingers.

Greg's body needed to heal. It needed to heal a great deal, and it was still healing, while Will hardly had a new scratch on him. His fingers hesitated against Greg's dick, feeling the edge of scabbing, and his touch gentled. "Can't believe he did this to you..."

Greg shivered. "That...that feels..good." He sounded just a little ashamed and Will wondered if it was merely because he wasn't often touched with gentleness. "I want you...I want...more."

Will took another breath, and another, slow and slower, body relaxing against Greg's. "Yeah. As long as it feels good. I, no objections."

"You have no idea how good," Greg murmured. "Oh god, Will, just...touch me. I like the way you touch...the way you feel."

It seemed he did, if only from the way he was responding.

Slow and lazy and it was just enough time between actions that Will could think and interact more than he reacted. "Can I suck you off?"

That seemed to surprise him a little. "If... you really want to? I was going to offer"

"I want to." Will shifted, leaned to kiss Greg's chest slowly, working his way off of the sofa. "Slow and easy, and you've tasted so good today."

"Not going to turn that down," Greg replied sounding eager. "Really not...oh god..."

He'd have to be careful but, Greg was healing, and it would be all the more sensitive.

Skin that hadn't lived a life exposed to the elements had to be so sensitive that it was almost painful, and Will didn't particularly want to break any scabbing, didn't want the taste of blood in his mouth. He kissed his way down Greg's belly, letting his lips linger against soft skin for maybe a few moments too long.

A hand moved through his hair. "It's okay, Will...anything is okay."

And perhaps he did know what he was offering after all.

Perhaps. Will kissed there again, nipped the skin gently, and then moved to kiss at the tip of Greg's cock, slow and easy again. Pressure of lip against cockhead, slow when his lips parted.

It had Greg making the most amazing noises, little movements almost immediately. "Oh...oh god, Will...yeah, that's amazing, completely amazing...don't stop, never stop..."

Well, he'd stop eventually, but not for a while. Not until Greg had orgasmed. Will closed his eyes, and stretched his hands over Greg's thighs, feeling the muscle while he slowly worked at just the bared head of Greg's cock.

It was difficult to be so careful that he didn't cause pain to Greg. He wanted to be able to tease him properly but not a chance.

Greg alternately went loose limbed and then twitched helplessly in reaction as he licked and sucked. That he was enjoying it couldn't be in doubt. That Will was being careful about Greg's injury was also hopefully not in doubt.

But as much care and thought as he put into it, it was still arousing. He could *smell* Greg, warm scented, intangible but enjoyable, and Will leaned in closer, taking him in a little more.

Greg gasped in a way that was literally music to his ears and then tried to push up against him. It was as if he had been wound up with sexual tension for some time, the way he was responding.

He wanted it. It felt good to him, and that was all Will needed to let himself go a little, lowering his head, sucking Greg harder, taking him in further. He knew the acts by routine, but taking the time to enjoy them, hearing Greg moan... that made it better.

Next was Greg trying hard to control a need to thrust, and he was hard enough that he had to be straining the healing area just by the engorgement of his cock, but right then Greg looked like he didn't care just as long are Will didn't stop.

"I want to, I need to...oh god, please...please Will..." The words were nearly a constant litany to him now.

It was impossible to answer with his mouth full. Will swallowed, and then shifted, took Greg in throat-deep, and swallowed around him.

That was enough it seemed for Greg to lose his tenuous control. He was moving in his mouth then, with hitching gasps that might've had something to do with pain or pleasure and the barely had breath to say. "I'm going to... " before he actually did.

It was... It was considerate, and Will wanted to laugh, but he didn't. He concentrated, fingers kneading a little at Greg's narrow thighs, sucking hard again.

Greg groaned an lolled his head back, his hair genuinely tousled and wild. "Oh..." He lay there panting a little, obviously his stamina not completely back. "..fantastic..."

"I think I saw stars. Actual constellations..." Greg replied. "Wow...that feels incredibly good."

It really did, and he hadn't even come yet.

Just nice and mellow, a seeping comfort somewhere low in his spine, and Will was content to sit there.

And then he realized that Jim was watching.

Somewhere in the proceeding he had forgotten their audience and Jim had literally faded into the background. A glance over revealed that their owner was looking somewhat uncomfortable as well as showing evidence of being affected by his watchers post.

Will stared at Jim, and then lifted his eyebrows in Jim's direction. "I think I could get to like this kind of baseline setting."

"It has...a certain appeal," Jim said in a rough voice. "Not sure if it is something I could do though."

"So...if I offered to suck you off while Will took my ass, that's not something you'd be up for...yet?" Greg asked refocusing on their Owner.

No, probably not, Will guessed, but it was a decidedly hot mental image. Will shifted, knelt up a little, resting his palms on Greg's thighs. "No pressure, just... asking."

Jim hesitated. "Damn it, I don't get offers of sex often enough to turn it down but... fuck, I can't, I just can't."

He got up unsteadily and Will could see he had an erection that had to be uncomfortable.

It made Will lean back, watching Jim. "Hey, we can stop. I don't want to make you uncomfortable with this..."

"It's okay, Jim," Greg said. "But..."

"Look..." Jim looked like he wanted to break something. "I want to, but--"

"Sexual arousal is associated with fear..." Greg supplied, and Will could tell that Greg was right. The tension in Jim's body was fear.

He tilted his head, *looking* at Jim. "Hey. How about, uh..." Will shifted, reached to put Greg's pants on Greg's lap, just for the moment. "You sit down here for a second."

"Look, the way I am right now, I might lash out at one of you guys," Jim said even as Greg shifted over to make room for Jim.

"Hey, Jim... it's okay, seriously." he said. "C'mon. Sitting down is okay and you are in control."

"If you want to lash out, okay," Will assured as firmly as he could, leaning back. He stayed on the floor. It wasn't a passive position, even if Greg might read it like that. He just had the freedom to move, and he wasn't looming. It was nice to not... loom for once. "I'm not saying sex heals everything. Anything. But..."

"It seems that establishing baselines wouldn't be a bad way to deal with stuff for you as well," Greg pointed out.

Jim did sit but he was shaking his head. "You don't understand. I don't want to feel like this. Don't you feel it as well?"

"Different direction. I think sex, and I'm seeing things that could make a post-gang shootout autopsy look clean." Will stayed where he was, not quite touching either of them.

Greg shrugged. "Lecter tried to condition me to pleasure associated with pain and rape. He....he might have succeeded a little. But then, some of that was in my training as well."

"Yeah, well, I'm..." Scared, afraid, and Jim would hate to admit that. "I can't deal."

"Yeah you will. Will has done something he thought was impossible." Greg said.

"No biting," Will said, and flashed his teeth for show. He shifted a little closer, let his voice fall more serious. "You're afraid. It's normal."

"No, it's not. Not for me," Jim answered. "I have my own personal porn show going on and all I can think of is, no, no mustn't give in, mustn't be weak because that will make me die all the sooner."

"But that's because you need to take control of things again," Greg said. "Try something."

"And you say 'stop' and you know that either of us will, dead in our tracks. Neither of us wants you hurt." They'd both risked themselves to get Jim back, but there was no way to really convey that.

"Look, Will was sure he would hurt me, and he didn't," Greg said. "You don't have to fear yourself or us. Try how Will started off. Just touching. Or kissing."

"Or anything." Shaking in fear wasn't the best option, but Will didn't want to initiate anything. "Take the control you want."

Jim looked unsettled and Greg shifted a little closer to him. "We both like you a lot Jim," Greg said softly. "This isn't a pity fuck "

"Yeah, yeah I get that, it's just," Jim hesitated.

"Look, you need to do this. Don't let it take a hold on you. Maybe not now, but sometime," Greg said.

"So the offer is open now and until and past whenever you're comfortable with the idea again." Will stopped, turned those words around in his mouth, and then shook his head. "You know what I meant."

Jim half snorted. "Yeah, I guess I do. You know, I've never invoked the Owners right to sleep with any of his... acquisitions. Maybe it's not a good idea."

"You're not invoking," Will pointed out. "I'm offering. Greg's offering separately and of his own free will, independent of my offer. Two offers, two relatively sane people. No invoking needed."

"I like the way you say ‘relatively' sane," Greg pointed out. "I should've considered what effect it might have on you."

"No, Greg, see that's the point. I'm meant to have that sort of idea." Jim said. "I should've thought it through."

"Day to day life isn't particularly forgiving of 'hang-ups'." Will shifted, leaned his arms on his knees, still crouching. "You shouldn't be held responsible for anticipating everything that could go wrong. Just... are you up to anything?"

Jim obviously wanted to do something, but he was unsure. "Look guys, I was raped. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be enjoying sex for a while."

Greg looked at him. "That depends. You know, I've been pretty freaked out as well Jim, but the point was Will was totally different."

"There's no should and shouldn't rule to that," Will pointed out calmly. "If it bothers you, sure. If you can get past the fear and enjoy it, it doesn't make what happened... less valid. Less real. Less painful."

Jim wanted to try, Will could see that. He didn't like the thought of backing away from a confrontation of any sort. "Okay." He exhaled. "It's not like you guys haven't seen me at my worst. Will, I'd like to try kissing you."

"You at your worst is probably better than a lot of people at their best." Will shifted, crouched up, leaned up, watching Jim.

He looked a little wary but he didn't flinch even as he leaned in close. Instead he reached out a hand to touch him, draw him in, kiss him as if he was steeling himself to the experience.

Will could only hope that it didn't actually hurt. He leaned up, just a little, gentling against Jim, trying to get involved without startling him.

Jim leaned back and kissed him, a little harder, a little more solid that Greg. Less of the submissive and more being in control. That was a different flavor to what he was used to and it was definitely interesting.

Greg, it seemed, was watching them both with bright eyes and Jim didn't pull away.

Jim didn't pull away, and Will leaned up carefully, let his lips part, an offer Jim didn't have to take if he didn't want to. He could be mindfully seductive as much as he could overpower a person and snap their neck.

It was strangely tentative, but Jim seemed to lose some of that hesitation as he took up the invitation and the kiss strengthened. It seemed he was getting into it a little.

Will liked that. He liked kissing someone who kissed back, liked to struggle for control more than he liked to seize it. It was the challenge of it, maybe. Will wasn't sure, but he kept things gentle, sucking slightly on Jim's tongue.

He seemed to like that, and there was more touching, more contact , more of everything. Jim was actually responding, and he could feel it.

Right up to the point where hastily drew back. "Shit... shit, no okay... crossed a line."

Will went still, just crouching there. "Are you all right?"

"Right now, yeah... but go any further, no," Jim said looking frustrated.

"Hey, you kidding, that's a *major* achievement," Greg said encouragingly. "I'm impressed."

Will licked his lips, and nodded slightly, leaning backwards to grab his shirt. "Yeah. We should maybe continue this with a little more by way of clothing..."

Jim backed off a little. "Maybe you guys should go back to yours and finish off," he suggested. I'm not able to deal right now."

"It might be better if we are dressed," Greg said. "Seriously, you've done well so far."

Will reached out and carefully put a hand on Jim's knee. "And there are other things we can do that fall in the same 'setting baseline' theme, right Greg?"

"Definitely," Greg replied. "It's my fault, I should've considered what this could do."

"Yeah well, I want to be considered normal, okay?" Jim said.

Greg shook his head. "You'll always be extraordinary Jim, no matter how many people you fool with that act of yours."

The back and forth between them was fascinating, and Will just... watched and soaked it in, while he pulled his shirt on and moved to help Greg pull his clothes back together, moved to tuck his cock away. "I appreciate you doing this for us."

"Yeah, well as I've just proven to myself, I'd like to do a whole lot more," Jim replied. "It's not you, it's me -- and I never thought I'd be saying that."

Greg smiled and pulled on clothes as well. "It's a good sign though. Really good. It means it's still there."

"Given the circumstances, I'd..." Will petted fingers over Greg's stomach for a moment, before he moved back so Greg could pull his own shirt on. "That was more progress than I expected."

"Yeah, well...just doesn't seem like enough," Jim said even as Greg touched Will more as a promise than anything else.

"It's plenty. We do a bit today, then tomorrow a bit more and a bit more..." Greg said.

"It's how people build buildings. Build cases. One piece at a time, slowly. Carefully." Will settled back from the sofa, looking at Greg and at Jim, and just stayed in his comfortable crouch.

"So we'll solve this problem between us. Well you will, and I'll sit and watch" Greg said lightly. "How about it Jim."

"Okay, we'll try therapy your way as well... only if you go to my therapist as well."

"You... want us to go to your therapist?" Holy shit. Holy shit, no, no, he did *not* want to see a therapist.

"Because he's good, and if I need help then you two do, as well," Jim answered.

Will started to open his mouth, and then closed it, looking at Greg to gauge *his* answer. "Are there any strings attached?"

Jim frowned a moment. "No? I hate shrinks, I mean, run a mile but Alan isn't like any therapist I've known. I'd like you to go because if he can deal with me, I'm pretty sure he could help you guys too. And Greg, I'm sorry, but I'm worried that taking on total responsibility for Will and I is going to be too much."

"But I can do it," Greg said. "I... I'm, that's what I should do."

"Yeah, but you shouldn't have to," Jim said. "Not all of it."

"What you should do," Will pointed out rationally, "is keep me grounded in a day to day way. We weren't working together properly before, were we? I ran off, did my own thing, we..." He could tell that Greg was almost *offended* and that was the last thing he wanted.

"No, no we weren't working together properly before!" Greg said. "Which is my fault, that's my part of things, my… fault."

"No, no it wasn't," Jim said. "Look, you didn't have much choice Greg."

"We weren't working together properly before because I was off my rocker." Will shifted, stood up, watching them both. "Okay. We'll try the... your therapist. Tell me when and where."

"I'll work it out," Jim said. "In the mean time, Will, take Greg home. Get some rest."

Greg looked a little startled and wounded by what was going on.

"We'll work on some less dangerous base setting," Will suggested, offering a hand to Greg. It was just one floor down, and he didn't think he'd be leaving Greg alone when they got there.

Greg took his hand and stood. He still looked unhappy and Jim was resolute.

"Okay," Greg said.

"We'll see you tomorrow. G'night." Will moved, stopping Greg from lingering, stopping himself from demanding some sort of answer, because... Because. Wasn't his place, not really. He could talk to Greg on his own.

"Thanks," Jim said. "Tomorrow. We'll try again tomorrow."

And that it seemed was that.

Except that it wasn't. He let himself out, moved with Greg down the hallway. "Hey. What's up?"

"Jim thinks I'm not up to it," Greg said and Will could see this was a big deal somehow. "I've got to be up for it, otherwise…"

"Up for what? You're doing great..." Keeping Will grounded, tolerating his quirks and issues,

"If I'm not up for it, you''ll die okay?" Greg said miserably. "That's what happens."

"You're up to it. Therapy doesn't hurt what you do. It'll probably help you. I doubt it's going to work at all for me, so..." Will cleared his throat.

"I want to work for you. I want you to need me," Greg said in a low voice.

"I need you." Will edged them towards the stairwell, so they could go down the one floor. "I spent time alone and I unravel myself, whether I'm on or off."

"I'll fall apart if I'm on my own," Greg admitted. "I need you."

"So." Will lifted his eyebrows at Greg, taking the stairs one careful step at a time. "Is this how it works? The criminal Empath and his victim Empath?"

"Yes. Together stable, apart a disaster waiting to happen," Greg said. "'s more than that. I never felt like this before."

"Felt like what?" He squeezed Greg's fingers, and bumped open the door to the floor they were on with his knee.

"I love you," Greg said softly. "I can't help it. I can't even say it is the bond."

Love. Will half-held the door open for Greg, and moved to shadow him as they headed down the hallway. He could hear high heels coming in the other direction, and one of the hall lights was out. It was Catherine -- he could tell by her cadence, but it didn't quell the urge to crouch down and knock her over as she went by. He held on to Greg's hand instead. "I'm not sure what love is."

"Love is ...needing, wanting, just wanting you to be happy," Greg said. "Wanting us together, wanting a future."

A future. "I haven't thought about the future in... years, Greg. I lived in the moment for so long that I don't know if I can think forward in time anymore. I want to."

"You can," Greg said. "I'll help, I love you and I want you to do things you want."

"So, you want to work with me? Your way, Jim's way, and maybe we'll get up to functioning speed."

"What're you two up to?" Catherine greeted, waving to them as she got closer.

"Personally hoping to have some more sex," Greg said cheerfully.

"Possibly, a little more information than I wanted," Catherine replied.

"Ask and you shall receive more information than you ever wanted," Will shrugged, reaching into his pocket for his keys. "Greg, your place or mine?"

"Yours is closer," Greg replied and smiled at Catherine. "Sorry Cath, right now two's company..."

"I get the picture," Catherine said dryly. "Jim okay though?"

"Good. He might not mind if you stick your head in and say hi." He might actually mind a lot, but Will hadn't wanted to leave him alone, and seeing more than Will and Greg would be good for him.'

"I'll go see how he's getting on," Catherine said and smirked. "You two have fun now."

"I'm sure we will," Greg said. "C'mon Will, I owe you one."

"Owe me one, owe me one. One nap? One dinner? One blowjob?" Will rattled it off lightly, smiling to himself as he keyed open his door. The space was a little roomier than Greg's, a little less lived in. They might as well settle in there.

Victim Empaths didn't get the same sort of "therapy" as anyone else. It was assumed that the reset took care of most of it and occasionally Greg had a cursory 'mental health check' but it didn't really count as therapy.

It was probably because they often took on the therapist role in the partnership themselves. So he was sitting waiting for Dr Bloom nervously.

It was supposed to be *his* job, and he didn't need anyone to... do that for him. He had Will, and he had Jim to half-way look after on top of Will, and the three of them were slowly, slowly making things work. Jim was a good control, even if he'd deny it at every turn, and Will was... better.

"All right, you must be Greg."

He looked up and put on a smile, even raising his hand a little in a wave. "Hi, yeah. That's me. Greg." Great he sounded like an idiot. "And you must be Doctor Bloom?"

"Call me Alan." He snagged a chair one handed, and pulled it a little closer to Greg. "Your Owner requested that you receive therapy with me. I know this must be perplexing for an Empath."

"Yeah. Kinda... I mean I know about the therapy process, but I'm usually sitting in your chair," Greg answered. "Got to admit its nerve wracking."

"Why?" Alan folded his legs at the ankle. There was no paper and pen in sight, and he seemed relaxed. "There's no reason for you to be nervous to be here."

"Well I am. Unfamiliar situation, that sort of thing," Greg said shifting in his seat.

"Yeah, but I'm not going to lunge at you and start making accusations," Alan pointed out, still smiling a little. "Why do you think you're here?"

"I'm here because Jim doesn't believe I can handle the role of supporting them," Greg answered being brutally honest with himself. He knew the drill, better than most and he wanted through it as soon as possible.

Alan compressed his lips together. "According to Jim, you're here because he's worried about your well being."

"It boils down to him thinking I can't take the pressure," Greg said. "I'm sure he is worried about me, hey, I'm worried about me sometimes but he said I couldn't help them. I need to be able to help them. You know what PV's do, have to do. Our own experiences don't get in the way of that duty."

"Did he actually say you couldn't help him and Will, or are you making an assumption?"

Greg fiddled with his fingers a little, pulling at bits of dead skin by his fingernails. "He said it was too much to ask of me," he admitted finally.

"Which doesn't mean he doesn't think you can hack it. It means he's worried. People sometimes say things like that when they want to spare the other person the pain and the trouble of doing something that they *are* capable of." Alan was staying very still, no notes, no suggestions that he was off his rocker or that he *was* in over his head. "What do you do when you go home?"

"I... go see Will and Jim. Depends what they are doing. Sometimes I go hang out with Nick or one of the others if Will is asleep. He needs to rest a lot, it helps him," Greg answered. "We're working on baselines little by little which is great. I think Will's starting to get the idea he's not going to kill me, or hurt me."

It had taken time, but it had seemed to work.

"Tell me about what you do when you work on baselines. Is Jim there?"

"Well sometimes. Originally because Will was afraid of what he might do," Greg said and looked down a little. "When we're working on the... sex stuff, it can be difficult for Jim. He half wants to join in and then he gets this whole conditioned fear reflex because of what the guy, Toby did to him. Often made him come then connected it with pain and humiliation. So, there's Will, going to town, getting into the human contact thing and Jim's stuck in wanting and hating."

"So, in a sense you're working on Jim's 'baselines', too."

Greg nodded. "Yeah... yeah, I thought it might be a good idea?" he said hesitantly. "I mean, he needs a bit of desensitizing and though he doesn't like the idea of having the level of control over us that he does with the wet-wiring, that knowledge is there if he feels out of control he can just shut it down, y'know?"

"If you want my honest opinion, Greg... What you're doing is the right thing. A lot of therapists would call this completely unconventional, but I have the same medical degrees they do and I have a different opinion. The base training you've had on being an Empath is not something to waste by ignoring its day to day life applications. I can work Jim through his fear and the logic behind it, but I'd lose my license if I did any hands on behavioral therapy that involved sex." Alan grinned a little when he said that. "And he trusts you."

Greg blinked a moment. That had been the first time anyone had said he was doing the right thing. "Oh." He took a breath. "Um... well, I'm not sure if he really trusts me or it was a forced intimacy caused by the kidnapping and subsequent stuff. I tried to protect him -- he'd been there a lot longer than I had."

"If it starts out as one and then becomes the other, does it really matter?"

"Well, no, but how can I tell if I was in the same boat? All I can think of is that being his first impression of me in my victim role, playing a painslut. Kinda not professional at all," Greg said, with a hint of wry self depreciation.

"And it bothers you that your Owner thinks you're possibly a painslut in real life?"

"Yeah. Well..." Greg grimaced a little. "I could be. I might be. You know full well that PV's are selected for their submissive tendencies and ability to subsume the self. I would willingly do anything they wanted. And probably enjoy it just because they were doing it."

"The inverse of that assumption, Greg, is that Will really *is* cruel in nature, and enjoys hurting people. Do you believe that?"

"No. There's too much fear in him, when he's not running a persona in his head, of what he might do," Greg answered. "I... I trust him not to do that to me."

But he'd trusted Aiden as well.

Alan shifted a little in his chair, and sighed. "Okay. You're not a bad person. If you *do* like rough sex, then you like it, full stop, fantastic. But the tendency to seek physical comfort is part of the training that was ingrained in you, and it's something all PVs have had *built* into them. It's not who you are at your base, way under all of that training. If you enjoy it, that's good. You *should* enjoy things in life. Are you following me here?"

"Yeah, but I'm not sure what else is there under the training. I'm not sure if there is anything else. Will and Jim don't seem to get that I need someone. And I want it to be them, but I was really getting desperate before. You know, out of control," Greg admitted. He'd wanted everyone. Anyone. He would've begged for someone just to let him sleep next to them. They didn't understand."

"I'm going to go out on a limb, but have you tried... actually saying this to Will or Jim?"

Greg had to think. He was sure he mentioned something. Hadn't he? "Uh, I thought I had, but I can't remember. I know I've told Will I love him," he answered.

"But have you explicitly stated that you need physical contact on that level with him?"

"Maybe not explicitly," Greg said thinking about it. "I keep forgetting they don't seem to understand it all. I've mentioned things before but maybe they think it's just me running off at the mouth."

It was possible, it was definitely possible.

"Or they had no context to connect it to. I know you've been trained to have your Criminal Empath be... well, trained. Will is a different breed, from before the process was really honed, and that means you *do* have to spell it out to him, if you want to teach the old dog new tricks."

"I'm trying, I'm really trying," Greg said and okay, it sounded a little desperate. "That's all I do, is try."

Sometimes he felt like he was going to collapse, he tried so hard, because he just wanted and needed that support that should've been due him after a tough scene. There had been support but not the gentle touching, the feeling that there was someone who wanted him and would see off anyone undesirable. None of that.

He was *used* to that, trained to need that, but Will was missing that training, maybe even that part of himself. "You're doing a good job under hard circumstances. Being a PV isn't a one way street, but you're keeping all the balls in the air and... what do you *need* out of this, Greg?"

The question nearly shocked him. People didn't ask him things like that. "I don't want to be alone again. I don't want to lose people," Greg mumbled. "I'd like a future maybe but I'm going to be stuck as an Empath all my probably short life."

"Why do you think your life will be short?"

"Because the life expectancy of a PV is low," he replied. "Physical danger, mental deterioration. You probably know the statistics better than I do." It was a bleak future really.

"How old is Will?" It seemed like a random question.

"He's uh... he's in his fifties? Forties?" Greg said hesitantly. "But, he's tough, he knows more than most. He's a survivor."

"You are, too. But if you want to keep surviving, you have to face the fact that your Criminal Empath Partner has the emotional trust in himself of, oh, nothing at all, and needs explicit directions. Tell him once, Greg, and he *will* remember to look after your needs."

"Fine, fine I'll tell him, I just feel... like I might be taking advantage of him," Greg admitted. "I'm pretty sure I love him."

Understatement of the world.

"You're not taking advantage of him." Alan cleared his throat slightly. "If the two of you were in a normal relationship, you'd *still* need to tell him what you need explicitly."

Greg nodded a little. "Okay," he said eventually. "I'll do that. Have a long talk."

"Okay. You have that long talk with Will, and possibly with Jim, and then we'll pick up with a session next week. I don't see the point of working on other things that happened to you when you're wound up and anxious from your basic training precepts, do you?"

"No... No, I had the reset, they're not intruding," Greg answered.

"They're not intruding, but they're still there," Alan said in a reminding tone. "And dealing with them now before something else piles up on them will help. But, next week."

Next week. Greg took that as a dismissal, his nerves all jangly despite it not being that much of an ordeal. Jim was right, he was pretty good as a therapist went, and that had to be a good thing. He got up and smiled a little. "Thank you Alan," he said politely.

"Not a problem." Alan stood up, moved to see him to the door. "Good luck, okay? Your mission this week is to talk openly and honestly with Jim and Will."

"I can probably manage that," Greg said, although he wanted to say he never concealed anything from them both, just didn't bother them with it. He moved to the door, have wondering how Will was going to deal with this.

After all, Will was just in the waiting room, and one of them was going to drive them both home after that. Will caught his eyes as he stepped into the waiting room, smiled a little. "You all right?"

"Yeah. Not too bad." Greg answered, resisting the urge to just fling himself at him. No, he needed to talk about it first. "I'll abuse the coffee machine now it's your turn."

Now it was his turn. Will had nodded at Greg, and turned to let himself into the man's office. He had no idea what was coming, except Greg had seemed in a good mood, and...

Will closed the office door behind himself, brain whirring for a moment as he looked at the seated man. "Alan?"

"Well, that's an improvement on at least half of our sessions," Alan replied with a grin. "You recognized me. Come on over and have a seat. Of all the places in the world, I didn't imagine you'd end up in Vegas."

"Jack sold me on, and here I am." Not at all what he'd expected. He started towards the nearest chair, eyes fixed on Alan. He looked well, healthy. "You bought yourself out and set up shop out here? Any particular reason Vegas?"

"A nice contract with the Vegas PD and a lot of rich free-lance Owners passing through," Alan replied watching him back. "And a long way away from the FBI. I have to say, I'm very pleased they sold you on, Will. It looks like it's done you a world of good."

It was hard to not grin. "Yeah. I've even quit smoking. Not that I'm sure I ever smoked in the first place, but... Getting reset did me a world of good."

"I thought it would," Alan replied. "I'd like you to know that every report I wrote regarding your case had a recommendation for a reset in it at the very least. And dire warnings about incipient issues, that were chosen to be ignored. So, how are you doing Will?"

"Better." Good, generally. He wasn't always clear headed and he was still struggling with what was him and who he was and who... how he related to the world. "I'm coherent. I'm not spending days at a shot drugged. I haven't killed any household animals. I'm not stalking my housemates."

"That's a good start. Do you include Greg in that statement?" Alan asked.

"Not stalking? Yeah, I'm not stalking him. We're practically living on top of each other, but..." Will rolled his shoulders.

"And you're comfortable with that?" Alan asked pouring some water, and taking a sip. He poured a glass for Will as well, pushing it towards him.

Will leaned forwards, taking the glass. Once upon a time, that had been the way things worked -- someone had kept him fed and hydrated because he was usually too caught up to even handle his most basic bodily needs. "Yeah. It's comfortable."

Alan paused. "You know, that's a pretty big deal for you, right?" he said. "I mean, going on your past history, letting someone close enough to be comfortable."

"He's not a threat to me." He'd put himself in danger to help protect Will, and he still didn't know what to think about that. That Greg was reckless, maybe, or that he cared too much.

"That's a good start," Alan agreed. "Okay, I know you well enough to cut to the chase. How's your inner voice issue right now?"

"It's... better. It's not gone." Will rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "I'm not hearing words anymore. It's just impressions, thoughts and impulses that I know aren't mine."

"You can distinguish your own thought processes?" Alan said leaning forward and he seemed positively excited.

"Mostly. It might take a couple of seconds, but I work it out." Will lifted his eyebrows at Alan. "Surprise, surprise, huh?"

"Definitely. I'm genuinely pleased for you, Will," Alan said and he did seem that way. Jim acted as if it were normal, but then Alan had had the unenviable task of talking him through his various meltdowns and patching him together again. "That is an enormous step forward and makes the strategies we can come up with much more... useful."

"Less like... what did you call it? Whistling into a gale?" Alan understood what Will understood. He hadn't functioned like that in *decades*, hadn't been able to string together reliable calm coherency since the previous century.

"You got it," Alan answered. "So, what made the big difference, do you think?"

"The reset." Will took a sip of the water, and rested his elbows on his knees. "It's all still there, but it feels like it's been pushed back out of the way. My head was getting pretty crowded."

"How much do you know about the reset process Will?" Alan asked. "I only mention it because I think understanding of it might help with your recovery."

And there he was mentioning words like recovery. That had never come up before.

It was nothing they ever worked on. It wasn't even something they bothered discussing, because functioning was the main goal before. Functioning with a side of behaving himself. "Not very much. Greg understands it like a second language."

"A reset works Will, by stimulating core memory engrams in the brain. When they talk about a core personality becoming corrupted what they mean is that mask personality has become dominant and that means that the reset doesn't have anything to stimulate except for the mask personality. It can be a risk. In those situations it is possible to create a killer with the touch of a button," Alan said seriously. "In your case, the gamble paid off. You must have a remarkable sense of self, because it's still there, and the reset did the equivalent of nudging it to wake up. What I'm saying, Will, is that you can trust yourself. Your original personality is functioning, and it might have a few stains here and there that need tidying up, but you don't have to worry about slipping."

"How can you be sure?" That was the problem. He was carrying enough bits of pure sociopaths inside of him that he couldn't trust himself to *not* be that.

"Because to be quite brutally honest, Will, you would've killed someone within a couple of days," Alan said. "Most likely Greg first. And in my favorite psychobabble, you are not demonstrating psychotic behavior traits or modalities."

"But it's still there. I... When Greg and I were setting baselines, he asked me how I wanted him. And the longer I thought about it, the more wildly insane it turned, the more gruesome."

"And that's what we need to work on. Think of it like...crud that is clinging onto your once submerged psyche. We've got to do the equivalent of scrub it off," Alan said. "Frankly, I'd be surprised if those thoughts were not there. That would be an indicator that it was some other manifestation."

"Is there anything else I should be watching out for?" Will leaned back in the chair, studying Alan. "Jim doesn't seem to grasp how bad off I was before, or how dangerous I was, and Greg never... denial springs eternal in the hopeful."

"Greg knows how bad things were and chose to work with that," Alan countered. "That should tell you a great deal. Greg will continue working on your baselines with you and it is a hands on therapy that I would not be allowed to do Will. I think you know why, it's very potent. What will happen is that the impulses will become more detached on the conscious level. However..." He took a breath and exhaled. "We will know that you are fully defragmented, to use a gratuitous computer term, when you have what we call a Critical Subconscious Reconnection Trauma. In ordinary terms, it'll be the mother of all nightmares. It's the sign that your own subconscious has become dominant, and at that point, you will be stable like you haven't been for...well, most of your life."

Will snorted. "I'd bother mustering up the effort to be offended, if you weren't right. How do I not slide right back into it with the next case we work, though?"

"You'll have a partner this time, and baselines. The purpose of baselines is to give you exactly the foundations that you lacked so things don't get out of control," Alan explained. "It is in effect, fitness training for the mind, bolstering the self so that it is the default. The struggle you had was the fact that mask personas were verging on being as strong as your core personality. And no personality wants to die, not even an empathic generated ghost of one."

"But they're not gone entirely, are they?" Because if he'd lost that scent, that ability to reach down and feel madness, not that he'd tested it recently, he was screwed.

"Greg and I will assist you in means of securely locking the persona's away until needed," Alan replied with confidence. "But the reset will be much less dramatic and a lot smoother the next time. Do you have anything you want to ask me? I can give you some decent books on the Criminal Empath Professional Victim partnership."

"I could use the reading material." He'd appreciate it, too. Questions, questions... "So Greg and I should just... keep working on baselines?"

"Yes. That is important," Alan said. "In the meantime, let's figure throw a few mental strategies that might help exorcise those ghosts in your head huh?"

"Be careful. Some of them are old and like the digs." Will lifted his eyebrows at Alan, but... it was Alan. Alan knew it all. Jim couldn't have referred him to a *better* headshrinker than Alan.

"Right then," Alan looked back at him and there was no guarded looks or worry, just relief in his expression. It gave him a tinge of hope that okay, he might actually stop being a danger to himself and others. "Now, Will, how do you feel about cognitive behavior therapy?"

Jim had been quite impressed with the steak dinner Greg had rustled up as a bit of a celebration. He'd had his official "sane enough to go back to work in a week" certificate signed off and now he actually felt ready for it. The others were on shift, so he would tell them at breakfast, but Gil and Greg had been there and Greg, being Greg, had decided there needed to be a celebration.

That had lead to steak and homemade fries, onion, and the works cooked in his own kitchen and somewhere Will had managed to steal some of the fancy cake from downstairs... and he felt full and content as they sprawled, with another movie on in the background.

It was sort of a routine. Will had started to randomly do pushups in the living room, complaining that he was losing his 'shape', which Greg had amusingly pointed out was 'edge of death'. But they ate, they watched movies, and worked a little more on baselines. It all went a little further every day, and soon they'd be working that in with the work night. He needed to get into the nightshift hours again.

He'd gotten a little bit further, and a little bit further with them each night, before he sent them home. Now he could watch them go all the way and feel nothing but arousal. They'd successfully managed a little bit of frottage between them and he had to admit, the desire was there. But he got wound up and then lost his grip and...

Well that wouldn't happen tonight. He was mellow and relaxed, he'd had some alcohol out and they'd had a little. It wasn't strong, but it gave a gentle buzz.

They were sitting -- well, he and Will were sitting and Greg was lying trying to sprawl over their laps like an attention hungry cat.

It was funny how it had just... happened. He hadn't expected it, hasn't asked for it, but they offered and they seemed comfortable with him. They could have had *Nick*, no questions asked and no protests lodged, if the two of them had just been looking for someone to balance them out and make things interesting.

Will seemed relaxed, calmly sliding his fingers over Greg's back. "I've eaten too much," Greg announced from somewhere in the region of his thigh. He found himself petting at Greg's hair, which was wild and interesting today. "Why did you let me eat so much?"

"Because you're too skinny," Jim said sipping as his beer. This felt good. All of it felt good.

Wallowing in comfort. They might as well -- there wasn't much else to life but *living*, and Jim was working his way towards living again. "I~I can still feel your ribs," Will pointed out, sliding his fingers over Greg's side. "See? Xylophone."

Greg wriggled. "Hey! That's ticklish," he said and Jim smirked.

"You get a decent tune out of that?" he asked.

"I dunno." Will tapped at Greg's ribs, tilting his head as if he was listening for pitch. "Nope, I think it's a little flat."

"Stop that!" Greg grinned and tried to crawl onto Jim as a means of escape. "Jim, I need rescuing."

"Well I could help, or I could just... help him out some," Jim said mildly and poked at Greg's ribs as well.

It was good to see them relax, good to see Will laugh and lean in, tickling Greg just a little more firmly. "Rescuing from what, huh?"

"Argh!" And Greg was flailing helplessly then and Will actually looked like he was just having fun even as the younger man was giving hefty snorts of chuckling laughter.

"I'll be sick!" he warned in between gulping air.

"Well, we can't have that," Jim replied. "What's it worth for us to stop?"

Will tickled his fingers over Greg's side again, shifting closer into him. "Mm, bribery. I like how you think..."

"Anything! Anything." Greg managed, nearly yelping. "I offer blowjobs and sex of any variety. Anything but this..."

He was over acting of course but it still amused Jim. "What do you think Will?"

"I could relent for that." Will pressed his hands flat against Greg's sides, and smirked at Jim. "Am I hallucinating, or are we watching a boring movie?"

"Incredibly boring," Greg said, settling instinctively under those hands. Jim loved the look of that.

"No kidding, I think we're in the realms of making our own entertainment," Jim added and then thought, what the hell. "*All* of us."

"Yeah?" Will looked at him. It was funny how Will could say nothing at all with his words, and everything with the tone and the eyebrow expression.

"Yeah. It's a good day," Jim said. "Thought I might give it a go."

Greg paused. "It's a great day. What did you want to do?"

"I'm open to suggestions." Jim answered

"Sofa or bedroom?" Will suggested it, probably as a vague way of not actually saying anything.

Time to do it properly. "The master bedroom awaits," Jim replied, with a faint smile.

"This is better than cake," Greg declared.

Will snorted slightly, and shifted, trying to get Greg to move a little. "The cake was a little dry, actually..."

"Only a little," Greg said as he sat up. "Take me away from all this Jim."

"Well, you'll have to lift yourself Greg, I've still got that lifting weight restriction," Jim answered.

"Hmn, I think I can handle this..." Will shifted, hefted Greg, and there was a little awkward motion, but he got Greg up into his arms. "Hah!"

"Hey, whoa! " It was evident Greg wasn't expecting that. "You are not going to seriously carry me are you.?"

It seemed Will was willing to give it a try and that gave Jim time to get up first and start leading the way. He was suspending his expectations of his tolerance and just going with it.

He was just going to see what happened. "Either I manage to get you there, or I drop you and then I have to explain why there's an ambulance pulling up."

"I'll make a point of cushioning my fall with my head," Greg replied, even as the pair of them half walk and staggered toward the bedroom behind him. "Wrap me in a carpet and call me Cleopatra, why don't you?"

"You really do have hidden depths Greg," Jim said even as he encouraged them to come in.

"If I wrap you up in the carpet, it's for a body dump," Will declared, leaning forwards to lay Greg on the mattress. "Hidden depths is less... Hidden weight is more."

"Uh-huh." Greg immediately tugged Will down, practically on top of him.

"Well, now, room enough for me?" Jim asked loosening his shirt.

"Right in the middle, I think. I'm pretty sure there's room," Will offered. "Anything doesn't work for you, you just say it and..."

"I know." And Jim did. He'd called a halt at some pretty inconvenient times, but they both had stopped immediately.

"Less talk, more red hot action," Greg said.

"I like my red hot action with certain reassurances," Will murmured, kissing at Greg's neck. He'd been doing... better, more level and calm and interactive since he'd started having sessions with Alan. It hadn't really surprised Jim that Will had said he knew Alan from *way* back, that he was an old friend.

He'd seemed to have knowledge of Will just in what he said in their sessions, and the strategies did seem to be working. Even Greg had responded to therapy, although ironically he was the one that struggled with it the most.

Greg rolled and reached to draw Jim in. "This is going to be good Jim, I can taste it."

"I think you should give tasting Jim a try," Will suggested, leaning back a little, shifting to Greg' side.

Greg nodded a little and the Jim felt him soft and sure against his skin, kissing first of all, finding his mouth and lips.

He still tasted a little of cake, sweet and intriguing as they kissed. Jim always found their different styles interesting.

Will was sharper even when he was slower, more intent, more... something, and Greg was softer, inviting. Will shifted, pressed against Jim's side, and kissed his neck slowly.

He wasn't sure which he preferred. Certainly he had been initially more attracted to Will, but Greg's style felt safer to him somehow at the moment. But Will could be gentle as well, and he watched him take painstaking care with Greg often enough to know he had nothing to fear.

He turned his face towards Will, wanting that contrast and without pause Greg shifted to kissing his neck instead.

Will tilted his head, pressed his mouth just right against Jim's. There were two of them, two sets of sensation to handle at once, and Will was so obviously holding himself back from how he normally moved.

"Not that fragile, Will," he murmured as he continued kissing. "You can do better than that."

It was an invitation as much as anything. "Mmm, better than *that*? You and your high standards." Will leaned in again, kissed him harder, pressed a hand against his back.

Better, that was better. It was a fine balance. It had to be enough to sweep him into sensation but not enough to push him over the edge into memory. He relaxed a little, especially as Greg was not just kissing but apparently massaging against tight muscles with practiced fingers. He'd watched Greg do that one night to Will, until Will pounced him.

Apparently Will could only hang on for so long before he had to act. It was going to be a wonder of how long Will held out at that low level of sensation. "We could do this with less clothing..."

"I second that," Greg murmured from behind him and he felt the brief absence as Greg obviously took a moment to fling off his shirt. Then his hands were sneaking around, half massaging under the shirt and half undressing him, giving him lots of time to say no.

But he didn't. "Go ahead," he said, lying back and enjoying it.

Will leaned back, shifted out of the way, and let Greg take the lead for a little while, while he stripped himself off. Jim wasn't sure if he just liked watching or what. But it was all convening towards nakedness, and how could he say no to that?

Especially with the way Greg kept the contact gentle and warm. That was at odds with his bad experiences which were rough in the extreme. He loved feeling and seeing them and he was determined to face it down. He knew the statistics about it taking an average of 18 months for someone to feel physically comfortable after something like rape, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let the man have that sort of power over his life. Greg slid his shirt off and then massaged with warm hands over his skin, and he like the touch, soft and attentive.

Even if he couldn't face it down all the way, he made progress. He was butting heads with his fears, hitting them head on with the help of gentle hands. Greg's fingers roamed, pushed at his shirt. He was waiting for permission it seemed and after a long while he nodded and said. "Go on, Greg."

"You sure?" Greg checked even as he shifted his touch. "Mm? Really sure?"

"He sounds sure." Will stepped closer to the bed, stripped from head to toe. He was comfortable with his own body, as messed up and scarred up as it was, but so was Greg.

They were all marked by their experiences. He found it strange that Greg, the one most marked now courtesy of Lecter seemed to generally be the first one getting naked. He wasn't sure if it bothered him any, this baring of his scars, but if it did he acted well.

There was the tugging of cloth as Greg pulled his shirt open, undoing buttons. Will settled his hands on Greg's back, just casually, like he was trying hard to not 'loom' over the bed. "I think I like the view."

"Well, I think you could move on from the sightseeing," Jim suggested, as his shirt finally came off and they were all at least half naked.

"I second that, as well," Greg replied nuzzling in next to where his hands had been moving.

"I need a camera," Will mused, leaning down to kiss the base of Greg's neck. There was a way he moved, that made Jim uneasy, and there was no putting a finger on it until he saw it happen. Like he was repeating someone else's patterns. But then his fingers twitched, tickled at Greg's side.

That ruined Greg's composure as he flailed and gasped instinctively and it made Jim chuckle even as Greg protested. "Will, no fair!" He really was very ticklish; it was worth remembering and it successfully distracted him from that off moment.

"Mmm, who said I play fair?" Will shifted, crouched over Greg for a moment before he sprawled to their sides on the inside of the bed, hands lingering on Jim's chest now.

"I'm not actually ticklish," Jim warned glancing over at him, even as Greg curled in towards him some smiling a little.

"Then we'll have to do something else," Greg said glancing meaningfully down his body.

"I sort of enjoy the tickling," Will murmured, stretching out on his back. "I think I could like Greg's suggestion, too, though. If this is a multiple choice event."

"Well, I think we could try it," Jim said. "Who wants first shot at me?"

He attempted to sound cavalier, but it didn't come off that way. More worried than anything. Greg raised a hand. "Depends what you mean, is there a choice?"

"First shot at you?" Will shifted, pressed his hand flat on Jim's stomach, slow and stroking. "Might be a little much."

"Hey, I'm trying to face my fears here," Jim said and already he was feeling the resolve crumble a little and he didn't want to lose that.

"Facing a fear doesn't mean you have to dive right in," Greg added. "If you're afraid of water , you hop in the shallow end not jump into the deep end from the highest diving board."

"It's better than cracking your skull open," Will pointed out lightly. "Fuck me. Fuck Greg. We'll work up to 'taking shots' at you, because... of that whole head cracking thing."

"If I could manage the two of you at once I'd be a miracle," Jim answered falling back on bluff and bravado a little.

"So which would you prefer?" Greg murmured. "First that is."

"That's a tough one," Jim said and contemplated. He really wasn't sure. There was Greg who would give it up to him so easily, but then there was Will who attracted him in a lot of ways and who seemed to get into moment when Jim topped him.

"Toss a coin. Neither of us are going to be offended." Will leaned closer, a hand on Greg's back, pressing his mouth against the curve of Jim's ear.

"You then," Jim decided. "You."

"Hey, that means you could fuck me as well, Will, " Greg said happily. "Or I could suck you off." It made Jim nearly laugh, just the way he said it, simple and easy.

Because, oh, he could just suck Will off. Just that easy, that simple. Will shifted, pressing closer against Jim. "I'm game for either of those. And we can take our time. Door's locked, right?"

"Yeah," Jim said, pulling him closer a little more assertively even as he heard Greg shift and obviously start rustling around.

Eventually, his attempts to kiss Will were interrupted by a triumphant declaration of "Lube!"

"Found it or need it?" Will shifted, started to slowly sit up. It wasn't bad, because it pressed him a lot close to Jim.

"Located with my unerring lube-sense," Greg replied, brandishing it. "You can never have too much."

"I agree, " Jim replied. "Here, I need to have some of that. Will's ass and I need to spend some quality time getting to know each other."

Will exhaled, and shifted his hips in a slow grind against Jim's hips. "I really like the sound of that. Greg, you want a blowjob?"

"Before you fuck me? Hey, is it Christmas?" Greg said with a grinned as a squeezed out a dollop of the slick material onto Jim's fingers.

Jim smiled a little as he began working it. This wasn't a memory he had from before, not with the man, not Toby. No, he could do this. Greg looked at them. "If you lie on your sides, I could sixty-nine for you."

And that was also something he hadn't done once already. Not with Toby, that hadn't been his style. Will shifted, spread his legs and pushed his ass back against Jim's fingers, and nodded. "Yeah. We should."

"Okay then, we've got our plan, now let's get moving," Jim encouraged, guiding Will into a suitable position even as Greg turned himself around, settling now.

"There we go," Greg said and smiled up at Jim. "I'll help him relax some."

Jim started teasing more thoroughly. "Yeah. I think we'll both work on that."

Relaxing. Just focusing on what he was doing, how Will's back felt against him, the way Will tightened and twitched and clenched around him, moving restlessly like he wanted to do more but was keeping himself in check.

"Do you like it when I touch you, Will?" Jim asked. It was suddenly important to know, to really know.

"Yeah. There's..." Will shifted, pushed his hips back against Jim's fingers. Then he reached back, fingers curling against Jim's hips.

"Of course he does," Greg murmured, even as he settled so he could get to Will's cock and giving it an audible lick even as Jim concentrated on working his fingers into Will.

"I like to know," Jim said. "I want someone willing."

Will groaned, low and deep in his chest. "I want, I'm willing, oh, god, fuck, Greg."

Greg was sucking on Wills cock, and there was nothing threatening to him about that. In fact, it was a turn on to make Will let go like this. He rarely did. That would be his aim, his goal and if he concentrated on that, then he could break this barrier.

It was something to shoot for while he curled his fingers and tried to reach for Will's prostate.

It took a little hunting but eventually he appeared to find something. At least, it made Will react by thrusting hard into Greg's mouth. The younger man leaned back a moment a smirked up at them both, before trying again.

There was a hard exhale from Will. "Hey, get over here. I want to return the favor..."

"My cock is near your mouth," Greg pointed out. "All you have to do is take what you want... unless you want my ass?"

Jim smiled. He liked the idea of either.

"Lean in." Will shifted, trying to move without shifting away from Jim, leaning to take Greg's dick in his mouth.

Jim watched Greg squirm in, and almost immediately make some fantastic noises which served to get him more enthusiastic about what he was doing. He liked feeling the muscle relax knowing it was because Will trusted him, wanted him to do this. He liked to here the noises the two of them were making, needy noises.

They were being slow, trying to wait for him, probably. Completely letting Jim work up to being comfortable with the act they were about to commit, and Jim appreciated it, just as much as he appreciated the lean line of Will's back.

He kissed down it a little, considering if he was okay with the next move. No bad memories there. He lubed himself and then nudged himself up right against Will's ass, pushing and feeling just a little. That was enough to get him feeling definite arousal, definite need.

He heard suction, wet, wet suction, and then Will said, "Jim, *please*. Please fuck me. Before I have to do something..."

"Just easing into it Will," he murmured, but taking that as permission to push right in and that felt *good*. He waited only a minute before he started moving and that it seemed was cue enough for Greg to pull away, and turn around again, back to Will practically daring him to do something.

"I can't believe this," Will murmured, shifting his ass back against Jim. "This should be the definition of good luck. Hmnn...."

It was unbelievably hot. It was like he got to have both of them at once because Greg was pushing himself onto Will, Will was pushing onto him, and it felt good, incredibly good and it was all thrust and burn and finding a rhythm.

"When did you use the lube?" Will asked Greg that, clutching him closer back against him, pulling him with him while he pushed back against Jim.

"As if I would come to dinner unprepared," Greg said lightly back. "I live in hope of having domestic fantasies fulfilled and being bent over the kitchen table."

It nearly made Jim laugh and that was good.

He liked that feeling, laughing and having his hips pressed hard against Will's ass while Will marveled and Greg joked. It was so far, so far from what had gone wrong for him that it made it seem vague, at least for the moment.

He clung to that feeling, ran with it because he wanted these memories to be the most real thing in his head. The feel of Will around his cock, the smoothness of his skin and the tangle of wiry hair. The sight of Greg settling in with a low moan and then reaching back to pull Will's arms around his chest.

"Are we all ready?" Jim managed, ready to move then, start shifting inside of the other man.

"Ready." Will sounded ragged, breathless, and he shifted his hips back to Jim.

"Doubly ready," Greg called back and Jim chuckled a little and started to move, rock a little, slide a little and damn, he'd forgotten how good it felt, how fantastic the friction was sliding in and out of pressure.

He could feel the change in breathing, his heart pounding, speeding up with effort and arousal.

Will moved as much as he did, maybe more, rocking back and forth between him and Greg, clutching Greg close and pushing back against Jim hard. "Fuck, fuck, not going to last, this is..."

Almost too much, and Jim leaned into the moment then, using what leverage he had to push deep. It was easy to fuck harder and harder, and bad memories, any memories vanished from his head as he pounded hard into Will's ass, barely hearing Greg's corresponding gasps.

There was no question that Will liked it, that he moved with Jim as seamlessly as was possible, setting Greg's pace from Jim's, squeezing his ass around Jim's dick probably whenever it crossed his mind.

Finesse would have to wait for another day, any one of the detailed fantasies he had spun would wait because right now it was happening, hot and fast and this was when he wished for stamina because already the muscles were beginning to shake but he couldn't stop pushing towards climax.

He could hear Greg panting, "Oh god, yes fuck... fuck..." and then whimpers followed by a near yelp and he dimly realized Will had reached around to Greg's cock. He could do that too, and he found his fingers tangling with Will's.

Will kept moving, clenching around him, rocking harder against Greg while they managed to squeeze and palm over Greg's dick.

In the end he wasn't actually sure who came first because Greg sounded like he was going to explode and that seemed to spur Will to greater efforts, which in turn made him lose focus. It was possibly that as he gave in to the wild ride to orgasm, he gripped Greg's cock preventing him from coming, or it might've been that splash of warmth making his hand slick that made him climax himself. All he knew at the end of it was need and sensation and it all feeling good. Better than good, with Will thrusting against him and Greg there and everything on his terms, not someone else's.

It was all on his terms, their terms, and maybe it wasn't perfect, it wasn't porn, but it was amazing and he was part of it. It was hard to not feel moved, hard to not keep moving even after he'd come.

Eventually, the flesh was weaker than the spirit and he had to stop. He was going to ache from this, and he had no problem with that. He loved the tangled warmth they were making in the bed and he really didn't want to let that go. Not now, not ever. This had turned out to be something none of them could do alone.

But together...

Together, it was amazing. Will finally stilled, shifted, moved so Jim had to pull out of him and he pulled out of Greg. "Mmm."

Greg flopped more dramatically to one side. "Oh, you know, that was really, really... fantastic," he managed, even as Jim rolled a little.

"Not bad for a first effort," he managed.

"Not bad." Will snorted it, and shifted, moving to loop an arm loosely around Jim as well as Greg. "Fantastic."

"You okay Jim?" Greg asked, squirming his way half over Will. The marks on his body were livid from the exertion and somehow, the usual guilt he felt at that did not sweep over him because Greg looked so happy.

"Just peachy," he answered and meant it as he kissed Will again. "Bit rusty but... I worked out the tabs and slots."

Will exhaled, and half-hauled Greg a top him. "I think your tab and my slot got along."

Jim snorted. "You've got a turn of phrase I can't argue with."

Greg settled there, happy in a post orgasmic haze. "You know, it's a tough job but we're going to have to practice this lots."

Will exhaled lazily. "Yeah, I'm rusty." His fingers tickled against Jim's shoulder.

"All in the name of baselines huh?" Jim smiled looking and meeting Will's eyes. For a moment they were completely unguarded and the clear blue made him smile with surprise.

"Some yeah," Greg glanced at them, and Jim saw him cling just a little harder to Will.

Will was alert, and mellow all at the same time, but he was so clear minded, clear eyed. "Very little in the name of baselines.:

"I think we'll stick with this for a bit," Jim said. "Or variations on a theme."

"Good," Greg put in closing his eyes. "I want a go with Jim's cock as well."

"There's plenty to go around," Jim quipped still smiling.

"Good, 'cause there are some difficult and fun things to go over again," Greg murmured. "But not right yet."

Will was still looking at him, though. "This is... more than sex, I think. Just to get that out there."

"Yeah," Jim said. "Yeah, I guess it is." He needed them, needed them both to be there. Greg with his strange combination of wisdom and complete craziness, Will with that something that attracted him, and fascinating mystery. The pair of them together a force to be reckoned with.

"Oh, c'mon, I've been telling you both that for *ages*," Greg said, with his eyes still closed. "But Will never believes me."

"I'm one of those obnoxious guys who have to figure it out for themselves," Will noted smugly.

"I need it spelled out," Jim said. "Don't worry, I have no intention of stopping any of this. When would I get this lucky again?"

Greg snorted. "In about... three hours, depending on refractory periods?"

"I can do an hour and a half," Will volunteered, putting his free hand up slightly.

"Show off," Jim said with a smirk. "I used to do better, but right now I'll herniate my already hernia."

Greg reached over and smoothed over his stomach. "We'll wait. Otherwise you get live action porn, just for you."

"Or we can sleep." Will put his eyebrows up. Yeah, for all that the guy went on and on like the energizer bunny, he sure could sleep.

"I vote for sleep," Greg said already halfway there acting as a living blanket.

"Sleep is probably a good plan," Jim admitted. "I could do that. We've got plenty of time to work on this again."

"Mmm. Catherine might think we're here holding you captive, but I'm good for it." Will moved fingers off of Greg's back, fishing for the sheets.

"She'd just offer advice from the sidelines," Jim said with a smirk.

"Hey, is it just me or is that really hot?" Greg mumbled.

Jim chuckled. "Go back to sleep Greg."

"I thought it, I just didn't say it," Will murmured, smiling slyly as he settled in comfortably.

"Mind readers, the pair of you," Jim said. "Now let this poor weary old Owner get some rest. After all, some of us have to go to work tomorrow."

And considering he'd been convinced he was going to die, nearly had, and then thought he'd gone insane, this new normality was something amazing and he wasn't going to let go of it, no matter what.

Fingers. It was always fingers, tender joints that could inflict so much damage. A clutch of hands in handshake, a pat on a shoulder, could easily become the clutch of fingers around an arm, grinding bones down, and the pat could become a punch and if you aimed just so hit it just so, you could smack between the sinews of muscles and then to the bone. Fingers dug down to bone easier than anyone wanted to admit, that their skins were so frail and fragile that fingers, delicate works of bone themselves, could tear it all away, relentless, digging and gouging.

He had felt himself do it, seen himself do it over and over and it had filled him with nothing but curiosity, excitement or unholy satisfaction. This time fingers pierced skin there was something different. The arm was familiar and the feeling was not.

He stretched the arm, watched it move, watched the controls of it become his, but he hand was his, too, wasn't it? Except, it wasn't. It looked wrong. The fingers were all wrong, subtly different, and he didn't dare lift his head to look around.

He would be someone else doing this. Peeling raw skin from a still living arm like translucent layers of onion. He held a piece up to the light, staring at it, as something recoiled inside of him. Wanted to run away from the sounds his victim was making.

But he couldn't. There was no choice to look away from the wet red sheets, the follicles of hair that stuck out from that outer layers, here and there and peeled down thing, showing the fatty layers and the muscles and the veins that helped everything move.

"Will..." And that was Greg's voice and he wasn't sure if it were him in front of him or the voice was behind him. "Will, this isn't you, you don't have to do this..."

Do what? Tear? Be torn into? He didn't *know*, and it was all red, wet blood now, fingers slipping as it tried to catch the layers of muscle, tried to pluck them apart.

He couldn't stop, this whole thing was a nightmare twisting in on itself over and over. Slip and slick, blood clots stringing from his fingers tips even as he tried to hide them in flesh. Screams and the taste of blood, the reek of metallic blood tinge in the air and a growing horror. He looked around. There was a strange shape hanging on a clothes hook, thin and strange. A husk, a familiar husk of skin waiting to be slipped on, to wear.

He wasn't going to. He knew what it was and he let it catch at the corner of his eye, but he didn't move to it, didn't dare move to it because he didn't want to step into that, didn't want to become that.

"It's not you, Will," Jims voice this time.

But it was slithering off the hook, like the skin of a snake, and he stared at it.

It twitched. And with growing horror, he saw it rise up pale and ghostly skin parchment, but with eyes he couldn't mistake.

"Put me on, Will," it whispered in a voice that had lived in his head for longer than he could remember.

He lifted his fingers to his own lips, and tasted blood, used the bite and copper-taste to ground himself, before he realized that it was his own arm he had flayed, ripped and ripped, and then his eyes cut back to sharp maroon, staring back. "Not me. It's not me, I'm different."

The eyes were mismatched colors, the only solid thing in the skin husk. "Put me on." It was a command. The husk stepped closer, infinitely menacing as it closed the distance between them. Fear surged like nothing he had ever experienced before.

"We've got to get you away from it!" Greg again moving to take hold of him. "Will, let's get out of here! Please!"

"No, I'm not. I'm... fucked up, but that doesn't mean I'm you." He was tearing his own arm open there was no way that it *wasn't fucked up, but it was all him, all Will, one hundred percent self inflicted pain

"Stop…" And Greg hands were on his arm and he was looking at him in a way that scared him because, because…

Because it meant he turned and put himself between the skin-thing and him.

And why was he *there*? Will pulled at Greg, fingers slick in blood, and tried to pull Greg backwards with him away from the skin-thing. "We need to go, we need to..."

Greg turned and looked at him and there was the husk and it was ripping at the younger man, and Greg was just standing there letting it happen, and oh god, he couldn't stop it, he couldn't and there was Jim and it was still coming for him...

"Don't *do* this for me!" Will snapped, trying to pull them back. But they wouldn't move, wouldn't stay near him.

That scared him more than anything, that they were trying to do something impossible, getting hurt because of him, protecting him and Greg was down, and he'd been trapped in this nightmare before because he knew with a sudden terrible inevitability what was going to happen next.

A slither across his neck, a dry, hollow whisper in his ear. "Hello Will. I've got you....under my skin..." and then it was on him, tightening over him, over his mouth crawling like living plastic, pushing in and he couldn't breathe, he couldn't feel and it was pushing in through his ears and eyes and choking in his mouth and...

And there were hands on him, shaking him, and his *throat* hurt, felt raw, and his heart was hammering out of his chest and he didn't want to open his eyes to see.

"He's not snapping out of it, Jim," Greg sounded frantic. "He should be coming out of it by now!"

"I thought you said this was a good thing, " Jim said next to him, and hi hands were there as well and he sounded worried.

"He's been doing this cycle for hours, I've never seen anyone stay in it that long," Greg said. "C'mon, Will... please, wake up. Please..."

Stay in, cycle? Will moved, cracked his eyes open, and sucked in a shaking breath of air. "Greg?"

"Oh thank god..." Greg was holding him then, hugging him tightly. "Jesus, I thought you weren't coming out of it, Will."

"You been having nightmares," Jim added. "Actually apparently The Nightmare, capital letters all the way. Greg has been trying to keep you from hurting yourself in your sleep."

"Oof." Will leaned in, clutched a hand loosely against Greg's back. "Hurting myself in my sleep? I remember..."

"Trying to rip your own arm off?" Jim asked shifting in beside him. "Greg called me in from work -- he couldn't get you to respond."

"Seriously, I thought..." Greg sounded worried. "You were fighting me off, and screaming for hours Will."

He swallowed, twisted to look in towards Jim, too, because he was barricaded in between the two of them, and didn't look at his arm yet because Will *knew* the kind of damage he could inflict. "Really."

Greg nodded. "You've got a helluva grip."

"And a punch like an iron bar," Jim said. "But Greg said I couldn't reset, so we were waiting you out. Seemed to work. Apparently this is a good thing?"

"I have no idea?" Will swallowed, and leaned into them both. "My throat hurts."

"I'll get you water," Jim said flicking on the bedside light.

"It's the Nightmare, Will, remember? Dr Bloom talked about it. Reintegration of your subconscious, the final step," Greg soothed even as Jim shifted and got up. "And it was a real doozy."

"I had years of nightmare to get through." Will shifted, leaned into Greg. He felt exhausted and his arm *hurt* without even peeking at it, so Will didn't. He rested against Greg, hung onto him. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Few bruises," Greg said all too cheerfully. "You'll have some yourself. You didn't like me stopping you from breaking your own arm or something. I think I only just stopped you doing that and get worse than a few scratched. You managed to elbow Jim in the face."

"Like anyone will even notice," Jim said coming back with the water. "Drink up."

But it still made him worry a little, and that was... interesting. The deep in his stomach ability to have concern, almost new-feeling. "Thanks. I think I was trying to skin myself?"

"Great..." Jim said dryly. "Sounds like fun."

"No, no, that's symbolic stuff..." Greg said, sounding almost excited. "You remember anything else? It sounded pretty harrowing."

Will paused, peering at Greg. "I spent a lot of time trying to skin myself, I think. And Hannibal was this... grotesque Buffalo Bill style skin suit."

"You were removing masks," Greg murmured. "Shedding personas. Second selves that sort of things." His eyes were bright and some of the tension seemed to drop away from his body.

"And that's good news, right?" His throat hurt like hell, and he took another sip of the water, looking at Jim.

"Fantastic news," Greg said. "It means your base personality is definitely dominant again."

"I'm just agreeing with anything he says," Jim replied. "And I might have to go back in to work. But only if you guys are okay now."

"I think I'm okay. Sorry about that, Jim." Will shifted, sat up a little straighter.

"Hey, I'm your Owner. You call, I come." Jim smiled a little. "Think I might have that the wrong way a little, but we were really worried."

"I'm really glad you came over Jim." Greg added. "Will is stronger than he looks."

"Yeah, well... that sort of sleeping can't have been restful." Jim leaned forward and kissed him in a normal everyday way that was somehow more stunning than the passion and sex they had had together.

The fact that he did it, the fact that Will leaned into him a little and exhaled and didn't feel like setting upon Jim was... amazing. "Yeah, well. We should get onto your schedule sometime soon."

"Well, now this has happened, we can set the rest of the working baselines, and then we'll be ready to start earning our keep," Greg put in even as Jim put his arms around him and just lightly exerted pressure to be reassuring.

"You do that and we'll be happy. You sure it's okay for me to go? I've got Catherine waiting on a double DB for me."

"Hopefully we'll be able to help out with that, soon," Will offered. "We're fine. I'm awake and not planning on sleeping for a while. Greg and I can... focus."

"Yeah, I bet you will," Jim smirked. "Save some of that focus for me later." He stood up and brushed his hand over Greg's hair as well. "Back for breakfast!"

"See you then, Jim," Greg replied, not stopping from pretty much clinging to Will.

Will stayed upright, and watched Jim twist and turn to leave. "We'll see them then."

Greg waited until Jim had left and murmured, "You sure you're okay? So you want anything?" while kissing him softly.

Will exhaled. "How long was I asleep?"

"Well, sleep on its own? I'm guessing about three or so hours. Then I woke up," Greg said. "Then it's been, it's been hours Will. Nearly five."

"Nearly five?" Will stretched that arm out, looking at the damage he'd done for himself. "That's pretty... impressive."

"I've never heard of someone going through a nightmare session that long." Greg murmured, touching Wills arm gently. "I didn't worry for the first hour, started worrying the second and panicked in the third."

"I had years worth backed up," Will pointed out quietly, grimacing at the feeling of Greg's hand on his arm. He'd definitely done some damage, let some blood, bruised and abraded himself.

"I could put something on your arm. We've got some ointment around here somewhere," Greg murmured. "Years worth and things are coming together."

"For a rough night, I feel pretty good." Mellow, sated, and wasn't that strange?

"It might surprise you that this is more like the natural state of being for you. Your base personality. Mellow and quirky... mmm, I think I like that idea."

Will lifted his eyebrows at Greg. "Let's get something to eat."

"We can raid the kitchen," Greg said shifting to get up. "And then tomorrow, we'll work on case baselines. It's pretty much safe now."

"Good." Will stood up, legs shaky, and reached to help Greg up if he was willing to take the help. "I've always been a workaholic."

"Yeah, well, it might be a little difficult for us," Greg admitted. "It's going to involve you testing reactions to some of the things we do out in the field."

He got Greg standing, and clutched gently at his arms, watching him patiently. "And we'll do it. Carefully."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know my tolerance to knives is not going to be what it was," Greg admitted. "The tying bit… probably okay as I'm not so secretly a bit into that. Um. I was generally okay with most of the basic abduction moves."

"So, do we work back up to the old tolerance levels you had?" Will asked, as he moved to lead the way to the door.

"At this stage, we are testing for reaction and limits. So, the idea being that when presented with a rope and the option of restraining me, what is your preference, not one of the masks that you put on. And likewise, what is my reaction. It might be that it will disturb you," Greg said.

He wasn't going to theorize ahead of time about what might or might not happen. "We'll test it. I don't know. I just know that I finally feel... right again. Instead of two steps away."

"You feel different," Greg said as they headed to the kitchen and he was smiling, practically beaming. "Alan is going to have kittens or something."

"Alan was always something else," Will noted. "Let's start with food and move from there."

Greg nodded and set out to raid the fridge while Will made a drink. It really was strange. He was alone in his head. Yes, there were shapes of things out there he could draw on, work on, but in the end, his thoughts were his own and he could recognize that. He felt relaxed, a novel sensation, and capable of more than mere existence. Only a few weeks ago he would've said that was impossible.

Breathing. Just breathing and not wondering if the rush of blood in his ears would overwhelm him, shatter his sanity again. There was nothing.

Just Will. Wounded, but only Will Graham.

Greg wasn't entirely sure why Jim had declared a party in honor of himself and Will being declared sane, but he had gone for it. It was sunny enough to have a barbeque in the courtyard outside next to the house pool, and Jim had sprung for most of it out of his own pocket.

Of course, he'd helped to cook, Will had contributed by snarking at him as they did the salad and fries, with that dry wit that was becoming more and more prevalent. Nick had taken over the manly burning of meat as Hodges referred to it and Warrick was getting the alcohol flowing and there was enough food here that they were likely to be spending all day out here eating and drinking.

Catherine had even promised that she'd dance for them later.

He wasn't sure if he'd be really into it or really weirded out by it, but Greg was generally game to the *idea* of Catherine. Dancing in high heels and a string bikini, because if that was the kind of house relationships he'd missed out on? Yeah, Vegas was a great place.

"I'm not sure the fries have enough spice on them to compete with what Nick's doing to the steaks and chicken."

"I think if the fries aren't plain, we'll never survive," Greg said turning and reaching for Will instinctively. "I think we created a monster when we gave him that apron."

"I don't remember giving it to him." Will tilted his head slightly, and leaned casually into Greg. They were comfortable, and... connected, Greg wanted to say. He felt as if Will knew how much he mattered, as if he finally understood the importance of their relationship.

For him, it was everything. Maybe it was a little too dependent, but he'd thought he'd been close with Aiden, but that was nothing like this. He wasn't just working with Will, he was in love with him and that gave him an implicit trust that amazed even him.

"Okay, so my fault then," Greg said with a grin. "Oh, I think Jim is going to do some sort of speech. This could be interesting."

Jim was getting up on the wall surrounding the area and waiting for silence. That only worked when Catherine gave a piercing wolf whistle.

"A speech?" Will nudged his hip against Greg's, and then pulled away a little to turn off the alarm for their fries before it could go off and break the quiet.

"Listen up!" Jim was calling out. "Not that we need an excuse for a party, but this time it so happens we have one. Pretty much everyone knows by now that not only have I turned up back at work, but Will and Greg, our latest members of our house family have this week been declared sane. I'm sure that will be a relief to everyone."

There were some good natured cheering at that and Greg was grinning.

"The shrinks called it something else, but considering the behavior we've had to put up with for the last week or so when they've been 'setting baselines' on practically every surface of the house... I think the sane part is the important bit." Jim cleared his throat and looked at the two of them. "I have here a list of places and things you two have been caught doing that we really want to know if they were part of the recovery or not."

Greg was trying hard not to laugh. They had been a little bit crazy, but there just weren't some bits of equipment in their own rooms.

"Nick reports finding Greg tied to the kitchen table... entertainment or work?"

"Work," Will chipped in cheerily. "It's not like most murderers have a rack or a St. John's cross to work with."

"Man, I had to scrub that table down," Nick called from where the steaks were still sizzling.

"Not before you had a grope!" Greg called back, setting everyone off.

"Exhibit 2. Sara reports you "borrowing" a rug from the living room and later seeing you carrying it off to the back of your car, Will," Jim said.

"Entertainment," Greg chipped in. "We had a picnic up near the body-farm."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Catherine reports suspicious raiding of items from her little black box... any comments?"

Will smirked, and waved a fork vaguely in the air. He'd been flipping fries with it before Jim had started to speak. "Work. But you still don't want to know what for."

Jim smirked. "I expect a full report later. So do we believe them?"

There was a resounding "no" from everyone there and Greg grinned again.

"Well that makes them uniquely qualified to work with the rest of us nut jobs," Jim said. "Seriously though, I'll keep this short, but I wanted to say thanks to all of you guys for not giving up on me, for working your asses off. To Catherine for blowing the budget on a faint hope of getting me back." He looked over at Greg and Will. "And to our two new housemates and Empaths for pulling it off, and taking down one of the most notorious serials ever at great risk to themselves. Just because it's your job, doesn't make it any less important. So ...thanks everyone, and I hope none of you regret all your effort the next time I'm a grumpy bastard."

Will wiggled his eyebrows at Greg, and reached to plate the fries. "Is this our cue to eat, Jim?"

"Yeah, that's enough speeches for the day. On with the drinking," Jim declared and that got a definite round of applauses even as he got down from the wall and headed towards them. "Fries done huh? Gimme."

"Owner privilege?" Greg teased a little.

"Take the ones with the little bits of spice on them," Will offered. "It'll serve as a warm-up for what we watched Nicky over there did to the steaks."

"Not bad," Jim said stealing one. "You guys ready to stop this hanging around the house scandalizing everyone. I hear Warrick's been working on selling tickets."

"I heard that!" Warrick called out from where he was now talking to Nick.

"Yeah. I'd like to get back to working," Will offered, looking at Greg for a moment. He always checked Greg's reaction, always seemed to ultimately defer to Greg unless it was a working matter.

He was still getting used to that and he was pretty sure that at some point Will would stop checking as much because when it came to most things he knew. "Yeah, we're ready. We set the required baselines, we know what our normal quirks are…" He smiled at Will a moment. "We know most of yours too."

"Well, hey, I'm feeling left out with all these extras going on," Jim said eating his fries.

"Jim..." Greg didn't want him to feel bad. "Jim, some of it involved experimenting with the sort of thing that was done to you."

"Things that come up in the line of a case, but neither of us wanted to…" Make him uncomfortable, make their easy interpersonal progress harder than it needed to be.

"Yeah, well I'm moving along on that. Later I want details, because if you guys can deal, then so can I," Jim replied even as people swarmed around Nick looking for the fries.

Greg looked at him. "Look, Jim there were some things I nearly freaked over. I used to be able to cope with knives a lot better. It took some time to reach the minimum needed."

"But we did. And we can work as a functioning set." Will shuffled a few more onto Jim's plate, and then moved to put them in a more open place.

Greg smiled. "And some of it was surprisingly fun as well," he added.

"I'll bet," Jim replied. "I guess I'm used to my house being protected. So far, the track record sucks."

"Most people's track records suck," Will offered when he came back, setting a plate in front of them. Steaks, enough to cut into good servings for the three of them.

Greg stole some and took a bite and blinked a little. "That is amazing," he said after swallowing a mouthful. "Nick can grill like a king."

"He has his moments," Jim replied taking his as well and eating some. "You know, I think with you two on board we can get the number one slot."

"Best lab on the nation?" Will cocked one eyebrow, and chewed his meat carefully, slowly. "Will Greg and I be doing lab work, and forensics generally?"

"In among any cases that need your Empath skills," Jim said. "Greg actually has very high ratings on DNA and trace and you are top level CSI. I'd be stupid to waste talent. In fact, up to a point I want you to think of that as your main job."

"But..." Greg looked at Will, unable to express how it would worry him not knowing where he was.

"Hmn?" Will looked to him, trying to catch what his concern was.

"I... what if...I mean..." Greg fumbled for words. "If Will needs me?"

"You want to work with Will, you train as CSI," Jim said easily. "If I can do it, you definitely can."

"I was going to say that if I can do it, you definitely can," Will smirked, chewing on a piece of steak.

Greg considered that. It wouldn't be that different than when he was out on Empath duty. "Okay, that sounds cool. I just... okay, it's probably more than Will, but I don't want to be too far away from him."

"You can't have sex *all* the time," Jim said blandly.

"Having sex on the hood of a squad car while the lights flash was a thought that never crossed my mind." Will was just mellow, grinning a little. "I missed working cases."

"If I didn't know better I'd think that you're spending your time trying to catch up on a couple of decades of everything," Jim said sipping his beer.

"We're only caught up with a few years worth of sex," Greg said. "If you want to join us."

It was a bold move, a proposition in public. Not that their housemates didn't know what was happening.

"Well that would depend on what your next "activity" was going to be," Jim said.

"Being very glad that the steak is well done." Will set his fork down and stole a fry from Jim's plate. "I was thinking quiet night, maybe some candlelit bad movies and..."

"Oh, romance, huh?" Jim said raising an eyebrow at the food stealing but not complaining.

"He does that on occasion," Greg replied. "Up to the point where there is hot sex. Then the romance is out the window." He loved the bit where Will realized he could trust himself to let go with him. It had been wild, intense, tender and wonderful all at once.

"We could make that the challenge for next time." Will leaned back in the chair, looking a little... mellow and restless muddied together, while he watched the other members of the house mull and socialize.

"You're on," Greg said even as Nick came over, still wearing his apron with 'CSIs do it with attention to detail' all over it. It had been a gag gift off the internet, but it had made Nick laugh and considering he'd been really supportive, that was good.

"More steak anyone? Or is the sauce too much?" Nick asked.

"No, it's good." Will waved his fork a little, and speared another piece from his plate. "I was actually going to ask what was in it."

"Bit of this, bit of that and a whole lot of sweet chili," Nick replied and Greg helped himself. "So, Jim, you finally letting them come to the labs?"

"Well, otherwise I'll have the lot of you at home watching them as a spectator sport," Jim said with a mouth full.

"Whereas this way you can do that at work," Greg said wryly.

"I promise to do nothing sexual while at work. I used to deal in entomological parts of crime scenes. It's not very sexy."

"Hey, you're talking to someone who gets excited of trace and fibers," Nick replied. "Who's to say what's interesting?"

Catherine moved over. "Seriously Nick, we need to get you laid, the sooner the better."

Greg had to practically stifle a chuckle at that.

"I'm beginning to think that is your solution to everything," Jim replied. "I'm a little bit worried by the fact that a large amount of you has mysteriously managed to offer me sex one way or another in the last few weeks."

Greg did laugh when he looked over at Nick and saw him blushing

"See, Greg told you." Will, too, but Will had generally focused on doing more than telling.

"Nicky, you dark horse," Catherine said with a smile. "C'mon Jim, we're just glad you're back. We haven't got any exclusives in our actual house except Warrick and his wife so... what's the problem? "

"Theoretically, I was trying to not mix up my roles." Jim said "But then Greg and Will ruined all of that."

And Will smirked. They were sort of exclusive. Kind of. Greg wasn't sure, but he was pretty sure that other than him and Jim, Will wouldn't or just didn't want to. "I wonder if there's a list of other things I can ruin, so I can start checking them off as I go."

"We'll put a list up on the wall in the kitchen." Catherine snagged some more of Nick's steak. "Did you know that an Owner can legally set up an orgy in their own house?"

"...I'm not even sure I want to know how you know that, Catherine," Greg said after a moment's pause.

"Case, couple of years back. Legal house orgy including vibrators and sex toys in the dishwasher," Catherine said. "Death connected with it. Jealous daughter."

Greg blinked a little. "Sounds like fun." There was no one at this house who he would regret sleeping with, but his choice still went to Will and Jim.

And okay, Nick was sexy, and Catherine, and even Sara when she lightened up some.

Maybe that was just him, or just Catherine, who were willing to do that. Will was a guy who was a bundle of control issues, and he'd said more than once that he *trusted* Greg and Jim, said it in that intoned, meaningful way that he sometimes said things beneath the words themselves. "Bizarrely, all I can think about right now is what would you do if you accidentally got pregnant after that."

"I think that was actually the reason for the law," Catherine replied. "To ensure a household remained at full strength. That being in the days before transfers and international auctions and government surplus sales."

"It would be even more surprising if you were thinking that about me," Greg added and Jim snorted at him.

"The way you pull miracles out of your ass Sanders, I wouldn't be at all surprised."

Will choked on a laugh, while he moved to stand up. "Okay, uh, I think I need booze to go with that thought. Or at least soda. You guys want anything?"

"A conversation change that isn't about my sex life?" Greg asked hopefully. Even so, maybe he'd ask Will sometime if he was interested in a little no strings fun with Nick. That might be worth it.

"Bring over a six pack, we're going to get into the craziest case game..." Jim replied. "That always takes a while. We have to do it by categories..."

Greg was pretty sure he'd be good at that game.

"Am I even allowed to play it?" Will tossed that out over his shoulder as he headed in to probably et at *least* a six pack out of the communal fridge.

"As it's a party in yours and Greg's honor, then just this once," Jim decreed. "Although Vegas is centre of crazy."

"I think New York might've had it beat every now and then," Greg replied.

Catherine smiled again as she sat flanking Jim on one side, and Greg settled on the other side of him with a space for Will when he came back. "Bring it on," she declared. "First case category, normal rules of only being able to claim it if you worked it. Weirdest accidental death -- special credit for self inflicted... What've we got?"

What they seemed to have was a house full of people crowding around, settling down with food, drink and good company. He felt Will return to sit next to him, solid and warm and without any forethought slipped his hand around him, even as he tried not to laugh at the stories coming out one by one.

They had slept in the cars.

The funny thing of it had been Nick and Sara bitching about no transportation and travel budget, how the sheriff wouldn't put them up anywhere, but Will thought of it as a leisurely vacation, of sorts. Working vacation. They'd caught a quick couple of hours, blankets covering them with backpacks serving as pillows, and Will had drifted, musing on the case.

Greg had solved his sleeping dilemma by using Will as his mattress of choice and he doubled pretty well as a blanket as well. He'd cheerfully invited Nick to join them if he got cold, and as they got up and used the restroom at the local store to freshen up, Greg was already laying bets that if they were there another night, Nick might take them up on the offer.

He was trying not to smirk as they used the picnic table for breakfast and a council of war of sorts.

"Sleep well?" Sara asked as she settled down

"Pretty good," Will remarked, looking at her. Nick was off to one side, trying to take a phone call that was probably from Catherine.

"He was snoring," Greg replied, stealing another bacon sandwich even as Nick walked over.

"What I want to know is how Mark knew where the pot was if McBride was so private?" Sara said. "Kept me away trying to figure various ways."

"Odds are that Jeremy was trying to get in good with someone more popular than him at school." Will nodded his head to Nick. "Everything all right back home?"

"We've got DNA confirmed for everyone except Cassie," he said and Will could just see it in his eyes, he wanted Cassie to be alive. He *needed* her to be alive

"Huh," Greg pondered. "So how does popularity got to being a multiple murder?"

"A quadruple even," Sara mused. "Maybe the lawyer's son thought he had a legal loophole?"

"No bodies, no case?" Will snarked, arching an eyebrow.

"He'd certainly know about habeas corpus," Sara said. "Makes sense that he might go to a logical if flawed conclusion."

Greg shrugged a little."I reckon he had help. Had to have done. Imagine being the victims. One, two, three dead in that small area, bleeding out. If I lay sprawled out on those stairs and you tried to pick me up, what would you see?"

"Drag marks through the blood," Nick said thoughtfully. "At least one other person then."

"And after the second, between first time killer's nerves and the stress, he would have struggled to get the last body out."

"Definitely accomplice or accomplices," Sara agreed and looked up even as the Sherriff came over. It was interesting, even the lead law enforcement in this back water wasn't an Owner.

"Muffins. My house had a bake out...thought you might appreciate it," the man said.

"Thanks." Nick waved slightly to the man. "We appreciate it."

Fresh muffins -- what was there to say no to? Will leaned forwards a little, snagging one for himself. "Thanks."

"Got a lead on your ATM receipt," Sherriff Brackett said even as they ate the fresh cake. "The account belongs to Jim Locke -- he's got a son called Peter who's the same age as Mark. We pulled surveillance but it's grainy."

He proffered the tape and Sara took it. "We can probably get something from the lab," she said.

"You finish breakfast, I'll be waiting," the Sherriff said.

Waiting. Will closed his eyes, and chewed on his muffin. The urge to *hunt* was thrumming in the back of his mind, a handful of strings that he jerk up, jerk it all back to life again, but he wasn't sure if that was a good idea or not.

Nick looked at Sara. "You going to take that back to Vegas?"

Sara shrugged. "You're the senior Nick, and we can't separate Greg and Will so..."

So it was logic and common sense. It went without saying that this one was personal to Nick as well. "I'll go," Sara sighed. "Just, keep an eye on Greg in the field. No live scenes."

"Empath's honor!" Greg said with a little salute to Sara as she got up.

"You better, otherwise Jim will have you chained to the lab Greg," Sara said giving Nick a look. "I'll call as soon as it's processed okay?"

"Thanks. We'll let you know if anything else needs to be processed," Will offered. "Where to, Nick?"

"I think we go have a talk with the Locke's," Nick replied. "Because he was in the car, the odds are he was either there or an accessory to the fact."

"Or after the fact. Either way, he'll know something." Will mumbled that around a mouthful of muffin, covering his mouth slightly.

Greg was looking at Nick closely, Will could see that. "You think she's still alive don't you ?" he half blurted out.

"Why?" Will pressed that, watching Nick's expression. It could have been blind hope, but if Nick had a feeling... People usually had them for a reason.

"No blood in the house, not from her," Nick said and shrugged. "It's a feeling."

"It's a good one," Greg said. "I know I'm meant to be CSI orientated here, but if I'm going Empath oriented I've got that 'hurry, hurry, hurry ' feeling. I don't get that feeling when my mirror, the victim, is dead. Call it subconscious but... whatever, it's there. How about you Will?"

"I don't think the killers are still involved in what happened. Or what is happening." Will wiped the edge of his mouth. "Let's go?"

Nick nodded and Will wondered if Sara going was a good thing or a bad thing, because right now if he slipped into his hunting mode, Nick would positively encourage it, not try and stop either of them. But maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Out there in the field, he had a better feel for where he was going. It was the shooting the shit part of the case that always got Will knotted up and bothered, where he had to try to justify his perfectly normal thought processes. But in the field he could do and test, and there had been the purchase of gasoline for a boat, late at night. Boats meant water, meant body dumps.

Will had said it to Nick, and he'd been right.

Locke had cracked under some surprising pressure from Nick, who impressed the both of them with a sudden surge of forceful aggression. Greg had quietly admitted that had been a bit of a turn on, even as he was the one who stepped in and got him to back off some just as he would've done for Will. It was interesting to see it from the outside, how deftly he defused that potentially dangerous surge of emotion. He could appreciate it all the more for seeing it from the outside.

But here they were now, on the lake hunting in the approximate area, watching their specialist run the RUV, hunting for bodies.

He could see Greg looking out to the edges of the waters as much as the read out.

"What do you see?" What did he see physically as much as what did he think he should and could see, was just as important.

"I'm not *seeing* anything," Greg admitted. "I know he said he dumped them all, but, something isn't coming together in my head you know?" He paused again. "You think Nick will let us do a bit of our style of things?"

"Are we actually asking, or?" Will lifted his chin slightly, starring at Greg for a moment. "Because something is missing."

"Look, if you give me a moment, I'll turn on my headspace, you work on yours, but we ought to do this with a control here, even one without a button." Greg said. "We can rustle up a knife... "

"No, no, skip it." Will demurred it quietly, twisting to Greg with his face tight. "Just pretend there's a knife."

"Are you okay doing this?" Greg asked even as Nick came back upstairs.

"We've got body sightings and--" Nick paused. "You guys okay?"

"Yeah. Uh, Greg wants to... work this out a little. Something is missing in this case, something isn't quite in the mold." Will rolled his shoulders, shifted his posture. The weak link was their swimming trainer.

Nick hesitated. "Okay, we've got time while they haul up bodies." He sounded grim. "You want anything?"

"You got that metal pen of yours? It'll do as a fake knife," Greg said, "and we'll talk it out. Here's the scene, bodies on the boat, presumably already weighted. If you had a drugged little girl, where would you put me/"

Will shifted, tugged at the bits of thoughts he hadn't been working with before then. He'd let them run, let them exist, but he'd been carefully ignoring them. "She wasn't killed at the scene, was she? So, they attempted to subdue her."

"Drugs," Nick put in. "She was sleeping in the car. Sedative maybe?"

Greg hesitated." Maybe not as sedated as they thought. "

"Gum drops," Nick murmured.

Greg propped himself up by the prow of the ship. "Cassie is put somewhere they could see her, but they'd need the room for the bodies. They'd need room to move."

"Back of the boat," Will suggested, moving towards the back, and gesturing for Greg to get there first. "Bodies in the middle."

Greg moved and positioned himself, curled as if he was a much younger child asleep. Even though he'd seen evidence that Greg had done it before, he had a part of his mind that marveled how Greg could do that. He could feel the thoughts rising up in his head, and the difference was this time that there was a part of him that was clear, watching, monitoring as he constructed a persona of a young kid on a night completely out of control, trying to be smart and bad ass, seeing a future fall apart on him.

He cared about her. He was in that picture on her mantel. Will knelt down, crouched over the body that Greg made. He wouldn't be able to kill her.

But he'd have to try or face what amounted to suicide himself. People would find out. He had the cold metal of the knife (pen, his conscious Will mind echoed) and he would have to do something. Throw her over, stab her... Might be long and slow. If it had to happen it should be fast. He could cut wrists but... That wasn't fast. He'd seen movies, throat was fast. If she was asleep she would be gone before she woke and realized. If it had to happen, and his friends were panicking, saying he had to and he didn't have the gun right now....yes, if he had to it could be painless.

It was quick, and perhaps the body hadn't been dumped in the same place as the others for just that reason. They'd been dumped, and the girl had been carried on, the What to Do With Her question stretching out long and threatening. What would the others have done?

They'd want her dumped, they wouldn't want more blood on the deck. He didn't want them hacking, didn't want them doing any more. He just wanted this to be over. Nothing would be the same. Overboard then, the boat having drifted closer to shore.

He was lifting "Cassie" then -- Greg, his mind was telling him, subconsciously on the shore side of the boat.

"Okay, whoa..." Nick intervened. "Let's snap out of it... Greg? Will...C'mon."

It startled him a little, but he clutched more closely at Greg, stepped back. "Shore side of the boat. After the bodies were found. She's out here somewhere. One of them didn't want her dead, it was a rush job, they might not have finished it..." And Nature would have done the work for them.

Greg looked up. "You pulled the knife cut. You hesitated."

Nick frowned. "Wasn't that due to it being you Greg?"

The PV shook his head. "No, I know what he's like when he has a knife, when he does a cut... baselines. That wasn't his cut, that was his persona. They hesitated, they didn't exert pressure. That wasn't a fatal cut. Same would apply to any wound, they would've pulled the slice. It would've been messy, and bloody but not deep enough to cut here or here." He indicated his carotid and jugular.

"There's a chance then she wasn't dead when she went into the water..." Nick said and Will could see a glimmer of it, his hunting instinct in Nick's eyes. Greg had been right when he said that Nick must've just missed out.

"Strong chance. And she was a strong swimmer. If she had faked the reaction to the sedative, which if she was dropping her trail, she could've swum. "

"She had swimming trophies..." Nick commented staring out at the shore. "There's no evidence is there?"

"No, but that's why we do what we do... point to a possibility, a probability."

"Usually with only the barest evidence. He was in a picture from a competition with her. He looked *truly* happy to be there, not..." Will shifted one hand slightly, and offered the pen back to Nick once he had Greg steady on the ground. "They have to process the bodies. What's the harm of not resting and searching more instead?"

He could practically feel it, a bright tension of possibility, probability and he could see the look in Greg's eyes. He had it too, a gleam of conviction, and there, Nick's dark look as he was already scanning the shore.

"We should head back..." Nick hesitated. "Dammit." He looked in silence again. "You really think there's a chance?"

Greg looked at him. "Nick, if you don't say you're coming back out here, I'm going overboard and doing this the method way. Something's there, Will provided me with the last piece. He didn't want to kill, he left a loophole. He wanted nature to be the one to finish it not him. I think Cassie was smart enough, strong enough to reach for a miracle. But the longer we put this off, the slimmer that miracle is."

"He was too weak to finish her off." Will suggested it firmly. "I think there's a chance. We can at least find the body fresh."

Nick turned suddenly. "I want to find *her*," he said. "And you guys can do that. You found Jim when every other means had tapped out. You can do this. Let's get these back to shore, and get another boat and head out."

They all knew it wasn't strictly procedure, and that it was Nick taking the risk, but if there was a chance...

"Tell Jim it was me," Greg said suddenly, even as they headed back to the dock. "Say that I was insistent and emotional. Practically jumping overboard. I don't want you in trouble for this."

"Hell, if we don't do it, he *will* try to jump overboard." Will shifted, stood a little closer to Greg. "I think it's worth the time."

"You don't have to convince me," Nick said. "My decision. The bodies aren't getting any less dead, and it's not logical that they would've taken her somewhere else. Logic follows your projections. I'm the lead on this one, I'll take responsibility."

And he would, and did even as they headed back to the dock, commandeered another boat and headed right out again into the lake. Nick texted Jim to inform him of the decision, and they had been searching for at least an hour when Will got a phone call.

Jim checking up by the sounds of it.

"Graham." He held the phone up to his ear, watching the search light scan over the water's edge slowly. He *knew* he and Greg had it right. It was just a matter of how long the killers had bickered over it.

"Hey Will," Jim drawled. "Hear you guys are taking time out for a fishing trip there. Want to fill me in?"

Not really. Will turned away from the front of the boat, crossing his free arm over his chest. "Well, Al hasn't called us with info from the morgue yet."

"Yeah, well, you could've done some processing up there," Jim replied. "So, Nick said something about a theory. You think the girl might still be alive?" He didn't sound too upset about it, but Will knew he had to be nervy about them, considering how things had been.

"I think so. Or if she's not, the killer didn't finish her himself. Short slice over the throat, and then she was dumped into the water. She was probably feigning unconsciousness."

"Middle of a lake, throat partially cut and half drugged?" Jim sounded faintly incredulous. "C'mon, it's got to be getting dark up there."

The light was going a little, and looking around he could see Greg leaning over and looking intently and waving for them to cut engine's a moment. Nick was crowding beside him.

"Will? You there? Something happening?"

He could hear Greg murmuring something to Nick about this feeling right. Closest bit of shore that could be seen and then much to what was obviously Nick's surprise as well, Greg just...went over the side into the water.

"I think we found her. Or something." Will leaned, straining to see what it was. "I'll call you back, okay?"

"Will? Shit, Will..." But he hung up because Nick was in the water as well following Greg who was like some sort of bloodhound retriever and then he saw it. A patch of cloth on the bank, barely visible in the dimming light, but there. Something there.

Greg was there, crawling up on the bank, and then Nick. Will remembered that Jim had told him Nick had trained medical EMT for a while before his performance stats took him into Law enforcement, and his analytical percentages to forensics training.

Will headed for the front of the boat, watching them both, hearing when Nick yelled back over his shoulder, "Call 911! She's alive!"

And just like that what he did was different. It was meaningful. It wasn't just chasing down a killer, it was saving someone, literally saving them and he punched in the 911 wondering if they could get a helicopter here. He got the coordinates off of the man with the boat and they could get there in ten minutes. Which had to be better than getting her back by boat and waiting and waiting as they crawled back to the other shore. It would take a fraction of the time and they could get her to a bigger hospital.

Rattling off their information was easy, coordinating it with the boat's driver, getting the GPS direction, passing it on, asking for a helicopter because they were on a lack.

It was a wait that felt too long before he could hear the sound of rotors in the night. He even sent up an emergency flare and then they were spot lit even as the helicopter went over the rise to land. Then it was rush rush, hurry hurry and it went from a frenzy to the forlorn looking Nick and Greg left on the shore as they hurried away.

By the time they clambered back into the boat, the pair of them were shivering, but Greg came over to him immediately, beaming. "We did it! We found her, Will. "

"Gotta say, you guys seriously kick ass," Nick said even as he took a towel off of the captain. He was grinning like a maniac. "She'd bleed out a lot, but she opened her eyes. If I didn't know how you worked, I'd be freaked out. Exactly how you described, Will, hesitant cut to the neck."

"He didn't want her to die. He was just too much of a coward to come back and get her himself." Well, and in custody, but Will had a feeling he wouldn't have. He would have soothed his conscience about his inactivity, convinced himself she was dead. Will shrugged out of his jacket, handed it over to Greg. "You two all right?"

"Cold," Greg said half stripping off, and taking the direct route of warming himself up by plastering himself right against Will with the jacket draped over him.

"You know, there is a cabin with dry things in," Nick pointed out. "Just the one. If you two want to... you know. Change."

"That's probably not the word you were looking for," Will pointed out as he wrapped his arms around Greg. "You all right? We'll be right out."

"Man, practically changed," Nick smiled. "Maybe a little jealous, but go on... it's cool. You deserve it."

He wasn't even sure what Nick thought they'd be doing in there, but Will turned, pulling Greg with him. "We got her back."

"Yeah. And we worked together as a proper Empath pair. We proved we are functioning," Greg said even as they vanished into the tiny cabin. Greg seized that opportunity even as the boats engine started them moving to grab hold of Will and kiss him. "We're...expected to have some bonding time after we do our thing..." he murmured.

Will clutched, held him tight, and kissed Greg back, but slowly. "You're a little cold and wet for anything daring."

"Maybe we could save the daring for when we get home with Jim?" Greg said looking up at him. "I...I want you to know, I never felt like this with Aiden. I cared for her, I trusted her, but not like I do you. Not what I feel with you. I look at you and know we can make a difference, not just think it, you know?"

"We'll make a difference." Will shifted, moved to sit down, pulling Greg with him. "You keep me grounded."

"You do more than that for me," Greg replied. "And you never even realize."

He practically sat himself on Will. "I don't want to ever lose you. You promise me that if I do this and things get out of hand you won't do what Aiden did."

"You should know I have more self preservation than that," Will murmured. Greg was easy to get his hands on, easy to wrap his arms tightly around.

"I do know, but I thought the same about Aiden," Greg answered, literally holding on to him like it was dear life. "You could've had any partner with your record. You ended up with someone no one else wanted. I'm the lucky one here."

"I'm not my record, my history. I didn't want to work like this in the first place. But now... I can't think of not doing it this way, of not having all my marbles."

Greg kissed him again. "They were always there, you just needed a little balancing."

He felt like he was getting warmer, closer, more comfortable.

"Marbles on top of marbles is a pretty hard balancing act to manage." Will shifted fingers, pressed his palm against the small of Greg's back. "C'mon. We can resume this in the back of the Tahoe."

"I promise not to do anything that will make Nick drive off the road," Greg replied and kissed him one final time. "Besides, I want Jim to get the benefit as well."

And so did Will. It was a relationship different to anything he'd ever had before. Bought and sold like property, he'd become more than that finding not just a family, but more. The relationships were real and alternating from loose and interesting like the strange tugs and pulls he sometimes got from Nick and Catherine through to the undeniable balance and solidity of Jim. Jim could trust them to not be using him to reach Owner level because they were permanent designations. He could be himself with them and there was definitely a relationship there.

And tangled right up at the heart of all of it was Greg, his Professional Victim. If he had anything to do with it, a real victim no more.