A hand appears a few inches from my chest as I reach for the yellow police tape. It isn't unexpected. I face the uniformed officer the hand belongs to. "You'll have to stay outside the tape, sir." Silently, I curse Ian (again) for calling me while I was on a date. Knowing him, he probably never leaves his creds at home, regardless. Then again, knowing him, he never goes on dates. As I'm reaching for my cell phone, Ian comes into view. He's across the parking lot in three long strides. "Let him through. He's an FBI agent," Ian barks at the uniform. "This guy?" the uni asks. He jerks his thumb at me for emphasis. "Yes." Ian props one foot on the bumper of a nearby black-and-white and flips up his pant leg. He draws his second gun from his ankle holster. All of this happens in the thirty seconds I'm sneering at the uniform. "Seth," Ian adds for good measure. "I'll kick your ass sometime as proof," I snap at the patrol cop. Ian lifts the tape and I duck under. He hands me the gun and I automatically pop the magazine out, check it, pop it back in, and chamber a round. "What do we got?"
"One body, female. Preliminary cause of death is the GSW to the forehead." Ian stops at one of the standard federal issue SUVs and opens the trunk. He grabs a bullet-proof vest and starts strapping me into it. I let him without argument. "Unless she's third of three, aren't you a little ahead of yourself?" I ask. Ian pauses as he's checking the Velcro and I know he's found the holster at the small of my back. He gives me a Look. "You're an analyst," he reminds. Officially, he's right. However, I did complete field training and that authorizes the gun. "Really? Thirty seconds ago I was an agent. You can't have it both ways," I snap. "Yes, I can. You're on a date, it goes well, you're making out, he slips his hands up your shirt and suddenly there's a hole in your foot…" "The safety is on. And it looks like you're the only one who will be feeling me up tonight." He tugs on the last strap, double-checking, and ignores my snark. "Still, you have the gun and no creds. Even other cops don't believe you're a Fed," Ian shrugs. "Why are you such a pain? The case, Ian." He relents. "She's not three of three. The shot came from a rifle." I swallow the word 'sniper' and spit out, "LDK?" instead. Long distance kill. Ian nods once.
Suddenly, it occurs to me why I'm armed and vested. "Jesus, you don't think we're clear." Ian can be overprotective, but he also has the instincts of a fox. "I don't know what to think. This one changes things. If this guy thrives on terror, he's going to get it. We need to be three moves ahead," Ian answers. He draws his own weapon. We move passed the ME assistants loading the body into the ME van. As we come up on the building, I fall into loose formation behind Ian. We take the corner one after the other and split up to cover ground. There's nothing right off the bat. We both test the air, listening and feeling things out. After a few minutes of stillness, Ian clears it and we holster our weapons. I look at the surrounding buildings. There are a few that could have been the perch. "I'll find out which of these supports the angle and what they are. You guys can profile which one he'd likely have chosen. Think we'll see an official request?" I ask. "Not without more bodies. This was just a call from an old friend who's thirty years as a cop and the gnawing in his gut told him this is bigger than another homicide," Ian levels.
"What does the gnawing feeling in your gut tell you?" I press. "All we can do is wait. We're needed more elsewhere." I look at Ian and realization dawns. He didn't call me because we have a new case. There's nothing I can add from an analytical standpoint from the middle of the crime scene. Ian's scared. He's used to throwing his fists and my brain at problems. And even though we spend ninety percent of our time in situations where that only gets either of us so far, there's something about being together that makes the horrifying things a little easier to deal with. I'm contemplating how close he'll let me get when a voice comes from behind me. "Agent Pulse?" Ian and I both turn to face the uniform from earlier. "Yeah?" Ian replies. "Chief Donahue just arrived. He'd like a word." "Very well. Get out of here, Seth. I want that data," Ian orders. "I've got to start with the angles." "Shot was to the forehead as close to dead center as I've seen. I'll bet Sanchez here is willing to be your body." "All right," I grant. Ian reads the 'you're such a douche subtext' and grins briefly. He turns away, but calls over his shoulder. "Seth?" "Yeah?" He flashes the sign for 'I love you'. It's sincere and I flash it back. He leaves.
Sanchez eyes me up and down. It is half 'can't believe you're FBI' and half 'what's your next move' with just a twinge of something I can't immediately name. I offer him my hand, "Seth." He accepts it, "Jeremy." He provides some details of the crime and I do some figuring. We narrow down where the shot could have originated from, mathematically speaking. I hop in Ian's SUV and do some data mining. Ian is still talking to the chief when I approach with one of the tablets. The chief breaks off in the middle of a sentence when I appear. "Let's hear it," Ian prompts. "There are six buildings surrounding the area, five that have windows the shot is possible from. I geo-profiled all six, just to be safe. The team can narrow it down," I offer. Ian accepts the tablet and scrolls through the information. His teeth flash over his bottom lip once, just for a split second. It's his tell. He wants my profile, wants me to give him one building, not five possibles and a sixth no-go. If we were working the case, I might've. We have a sort of rhythm that works for us, but it doesn't always go over well with others. Here, now, I'm just a lowly technical analyst. "It's a start," he says.
I let the subtle dig slide and take up position next to Sanchez at the perimeter. Ian knows full-well that my data packets are more than a start. He won't find a single detail missing. Something is eating him, but I'll find out later. Standing next to Sanchez, I scrub a hand through my hair and down my face. This is not where I thought I'd be tonight. It is pretty unusual for me to be on scene for any of the cases we work, but it isn't unprecedented. I think Ian would prefer I was always with the team, but he's never said so. My date tonight was the yuppie, gorgeous type who would have made a great fling. Married to his job like I was and just looking for a few weeks of laughter and sex. Definitely not likely to put up with me always running out and giving him neither one. Sanchez shifts from foot to foot. He's uncomfortable. I assess him without appearing to do so, looking for traces of what I usually find. It surprises me to find the opposite with him. Apparently at his limit, Sanchez speaks. "He loves you?" That's interesting. Not too many people would have caught my exchange with Ian, even fewer would have understood it. "So he tells me," I reply. "You love him back," Sanchez levels. "So I tell him," I allow. Sanchez swallows a sigh and suppresses an eye roll.
"I've met a few FBI agents and this is the first time one has said that at a crime scene. In any language," Sanchez continues. "What does that tell you?" I ask. "That he's more than your boss." I allow a smile. "Correct. My first name is Seth. My last name is Pulse. We're siblings." "The Bureau lets him be your lead in the field?" I shrug. "I don't get a lot of field. Officially, I'm a technical analyst." Sanchez turns to look at me. "You're not an agent?" "I was trained as both agent and analyst, but on Ian's team I function as the latter." "He gave you his second gun earlier. Does that mean you don't carry?" I shake my head. "I've got my own gun, but he knew I was on a date when he called." "You don't have trouble taking orders from him?" Sanchez levels. I allow a soft snort. "I've been taking orders from him my whole life." "Where did you learn to sign?" "Both of our parents were born deaf." "So you're fluent, then." I nod. "My nephew is deaf, but I only know the basics. Boy, girl, brother, sister, mom, dad, thank you, sorry, I love you, etc. I really should learn more." Ian signals for me to join him. I pull a card from my wallet. "Call me some time. I teach."
The field office isn't crowded when Ian and I arrive. By now, it is getting late. We climb the stairs to Ian's office. Once we drag in what we need, he closes the door and draws the blinds. For a moment, Ian stills. It is nothing so obvious as a slump of his shoulders, but I know he's disheartened. Most of the time his good looks and sharp reflexes have me forgetting our thirteen-year age gap, but just now my big brother seems older than his forty-five years. I crouch and return his second gun to his ankle holster. Returning to my full height puts us almost nose to nose. Before I can express any real concern, he's grinning. "I interrupt a date with one guy and you leave your phone number with another one." I snort and reach up to slap his five o'clock shadow gently. "Strictly business. He wants to learn more ASL." "With the hours we pull I'm amazed you find time to teach," Ian allows. "It preserves my sanity. We all need something outside of this place and what we do here." "Ready for another long night, baby brother?" "Maybe we should forget it tonight, Ian."
I'm still close to Ian and feel his body stiffen. "Do you think he's sleeping, Seth?" "Well, using the term loosely, he's human. So, yes. At some point, he's sleeping." Ian sets his shoulders and I know he's two seconds from snarling boss. Before he gets a word out, I close the last bit of space between us and kiss his cheek. Surprised by the intimate affection, Ian relents. He touches his forehead to mine. "Are you okay?" he asks. "Yes." He reaches behind me and draws the Glock from the holster at the small of my back. "This model Glock doesn't have a safety. You took a live weapon on a dinner date," he reminds. "And I ended up at a crime scene, so it's a good thing I did." "Seth." "Ian." He sighs. "Why do you think I should call it a night?" "You're shaken. I know you're able to push that aside and focus, but maybe you shouldn't. Give your feelings some breathing room on this one and re-group tomorrow. You're getting up there for multiple all-nighters in a week, big brother." "Insolent whelp," he growls. I accept the Glock back from him. "At your service." "All right, I'll go home. But you're coming, too." "Looking for love in all the wrong places, Ian." "Shut up and drive, Seth. So you and Sanchez, huh?" "God, don't even." "You did threaten to kick his ass." "So that must mean I like him?" "It fits the profile," Ian teases. "You're a jerk." I elbow him as we walk out.
Three days later as we wrap up another case, the second LDK occurs. Ian's livid, mostly because his hands are tied. I update the boards in Ian's office with information on the second victim. Special Agent Kyle Christenson walks by while I'm doing so. "New case, Sethers?" Kyle stands six-foot-five and is all lean, hard muscle. He reminds me of a Great Dane. Huge and exuberant, a lovable goofball, but no one to screw with. Hence, I've never made the dog comparison out loud. "Not exactly." "Son of a bitch, those are rifle rounds. LDK?" Kyle levels. "Yes. Approaching LDSK at this rate." "Two down, one to go." Kyle murmurs as he walks close to study the boards. It is one of those sarcastic ironies investigators use to distance themselves from the reality of how awful it actually is to uncover a serial killer. I'm securing the last photo when I hear my name called from the bullpen.
Dolores "Dolly" Fairbanks is our communications liaison, but she is also a profiler. "Seth, you have a visitor." Standing next to Dolly's desk is Officer Jeremy Sanchez. He's in plain clothes, but his badge is around his neck on a chain and his gun is on his hip. I noticed it is the same model Glock I carry when we met the other night. "Be right down, Doll." "New friend?" Kyle grins like a wolf. "Jealous?" I retort. "You are my best gay, Sethers." "You're an asshole, but I love you." I leave Kyle to the boards and descend the stairs into the bullpen. "Agent Dolly Fairbanks, Officer Jeremy Sanchez." They shake hands at my introduction. "Pleasure," Sanchez says. "Likewise," Fairbanks agrees. "What can I do for you, Sanchez?" I prompt. He tips his head and I walk with him out into the hall. "I was nearby, thought I'd stop in and set up an ASL lesson. How much do you charge?" "Other LEOs? Nothing."
Sanchez seems to digest that. "Why?" he levels. "It is a skill that I wish more cops would learn. It is useful in more than one situation." He gets that look I can't name. "I suppose it would be frightening to get arrested if you don't understand what's happening and why." Sanchez scrubs a hand over his face. He's thinking of his nephew. "How old is your nephew?" "Five." "Was he born deaf?" "No. Meningitis when he was three. Doctors say he was lucky," Sanchez replies. "He knows ASL pretty well?" "Yeah, he's great. So are my sister and her husband. They have an older son who learned it as well." "I'm happy to teach you. When do you want to start?" "Friday after tour. I don't really keep normal hours." "That's fine. The library on University is open until two AM. We can use one of the study rooms." "Friday at ten?" "Works for me," I confirm.
I finish with Sanchez and join the team for a new case briefing. Ian is the only one missing. Doll is giving the briefing. Kyle is on my right. To his right is Dr. Simon Merril, our in-house psychiatrist with a genius IQ. Next is Colton Caulfield, former Marine and the rookie of our team. On my left is Theresa St. Claire, who's been an agent for more than twenty years. "New boyfriend, Sethers?" Doll pries. "No," I reply. They all look at me. "Profilers," I snap. They grin collectively. "What's his name?" Kyle presses. "Officer Jeremy Sanchez," I allow. "He's a cop," Merril observes. "I'm not dating him, Si." "Yet," Doll adds. "Where is Ian?" "He said he'd be right in." "Go check, please, Seth." I stand and head for Ian's office to do as Theresa asked. The last person I expect to see standing in front of Ian's desk is FBI Director Quinton West. I don't backtrack fast enough. "Mr. Pulse, join us."
"I wouldn't want to interrupt." West brushes that aside. "I understand you were at a crime scene this week." "Yes, sir." "Why?" West levels. It seems like a trick question, but I answer honestly. "Ian called." "You're an analyst, Mr. Pulse." "Yes, sir. And an agent," I agree. West studies me for a second. I resist the urge to look down and shuffle my feet. Usually only Ian cows me. "There are already whispers of a serial sniper. I won't have premature panic stemming from the FBI getting involved. Don't you have enough cases, Agent Pulse? Stay out of this one," West orders. He waits for a "yes, sir" from both of us and then strolls out. "What the hell was that?" I blurt. "Never mind," Ian spits. He moves passed me to go out the door and I catch his arm. It's a mistake and I know it instantly. Suddenly I'm eye-to-eye with Agent Pulse. I rub the arm I'm still holding. "Later?" I try. He nods once and gives me a light spank. I follow him out.
It is Friday afternoon before we're on our way home. A bittersweet victory. We recovered the killer's last victim alive, but Ian ended up killing the suspect. That is a middle of the road outcome in our world. The flight home is quiet. Theresa has Ian's gun and took a formal written statement from him at the time of the incident. Officially, we really shouldn't discuss the case, but I sit across from my brother. He's looking out the window, but glances at me. He hasn't slept. Not since we left home. Maybe not since the night I slept at his place, though he'd be dead by now if that was true. "Ian," I prompt. "Seth," he levels. I want to comfort him as my brother, but on this plane he's my boss. Not that it makes him any less my brother. I do the only thing I can think of and flash the "I love you" sign. He flashes it in return, then goes back to his window.
I'm worried enough about Ian to return to the FBI offices after my lesson with Sanchez. Ian's at his desk. His hands are clasped, elbows on the desk, chin on his hands, eyes closed. I tap once on the open door and he opens his eyes. "Hey, baby brother. I thought you went home." "Had an ASL lesson with Sanchez. They launch an inquiry?" "More like a review. As far as I know, everyone's just said what they saw and it hasn't raised flags. This helps," Ian says. He holds up his bandaged arm. The suspect had cut him with a hunting knife. "Okay, brother?" "As I will be," Ian acknowledges. I listen to his words, but read his thoughts. Ian is so deeply distressed I can actually taste it in the air between us, like ozone after a lightning strike. It has little to do with today. Ian's killed perps before to save victims. Two days ago, smack in the middle of the case, I pinpointed Ian's issue with the LDK case.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that it is after midnight, officially Saturday, at the end of a hellacious week, and we're here. As much as I love our work and the difference it makes, we cannot live, breathe, eat, and sleep it twenty-four/seven. With this in mind, I move towards Ian. "When was the last time you slept?" Ian grunts. I'm next to him now and I lean in to kiss his cheek. "When was the last time you shaved?" I slap his stubble affectionately and get the expected spank in return. "Spare me the 'you're a man, not a machine' speech." "You do recall that it's your speech, right? Usually given to eager young agents, but applicable to old timers as well," I remind him. "Hard to argue with myself," he grants. "Come on, let's go home to your place and get some sleep. I'll cut your hair and shave your face in the morning, if you want." "Always," Ian agrees. He follows me out. I glance back and catch his eyes." "Killer's name?" "Anton Chekhov. At least it was when I knew him."
Crawling into Ian's bed makes all my limbs turn to jelly. Despite my intention of breaking from work for a few hours, a question escapes. "The LDK we're not allowed to chase is named for a Russian playwright?" "I believe he adopted it when he came to the States as a student." "Is that when you met him? When the director did?" "Yes, though I'm not one hundred percent sure on the director." I consider that for a minute. It's too much to digest. I have so many questions, but decide on just one for now. "Is there going to be another body?" "My gut says it is one of two things: a targeted assault or intentionally random." "Any chance of a psychotic break?" "I feel like that would mean a spree." "It could be personal. Between Chekhov and the director. Maybe even between Chekhov and you," I realize. Ian flips onto his side and reaches out to rub my chest. "Right now, it is his game and we're pawns. Sweet dreams, Sethers."
Morning dawns without fanfare. The clock shows quarter to nine. Surprisingly, Ian is still beside me. I check my cell phone. It shatters the last of the calm, as expected. I reach out and lay my hand over Ian's heart. The beat is calm and steady. I add pressure and he comes awake. "What is it, pup?" "Chekhov shot his third victim," I level. Ian presses his thumb to the bridge of his nose and sighs. "Fuck. So he's officially serial." "Afraid so." "I need you to do victimology. Find out if they are connected to each other and what they have in common." "Okay. I'm with you, big brother. But first, coffee. Kitchen barber and a real breakfast," I press. Ian scrubs a hand over his face and through his hair, then nods his agreement.