Nor Check My Courage

by Kadorienne

The alarm bell broke the midnight silence. Constable Ichabod Crane turned and promptly hurried toward it. Constable Brom Van Brunt followed with resignation.

Constable Green was standing in front of a cramped two-story house, swinging his alarm bell. He let it rest when he caught sight of the uniforms headed towards him, and then scowled when he saw who was wearing them.

"Crane. Bones," he acknowledged them, using the nickname that had followed Brom from Sleepy Hollow. "Witherspoon's inside," Green added.

With a brusque nod, Ichabod strode inside, Brom on his heels. They followed the sound of voices up the stairs to find a stout, middle-aged woman wringing her hands and speaking to Constable Witherspoon in a shrill voice.

"I was just coming in to clean, as I do every Thursday, and he wasn't here, wasn't anywhere about, and then I came to this room and saw it…."

"It'll be all right, madame," Witherspoon said, just a bit of an edge in his voice. Not heeding him, she began to repeat what she had already said, elaborating on the details of her arrival; apparently she had already repeated her story several times.

Ichabod looked to Witherspoon. "What is it?"

Witherspoon gave Ichabod an appraising look before inclining his head to a door. A large trunk was set before it, blocking the door. Around the trunk, oozing from under the door, was a pool of sticky, half-dried blood.

Brom glanced quickly to gauge his companion's reaction. Ichabod had the look he wore when he was considering fainting; his eyebrows raised, he looked down his nose and breathed shallowly through slightly parted lips.

"What's behind that door?" Brom asked.

Witherspoon shrugged. He bent and gave the trunk a demonstrative shove, grunting with the effort; it did not budge an inch.

"Move the trunk, would you, Van Brunt?" Ichabod ordered crisply with his characteristic disdain for physical labor.

Witherspoon gaped at Ichabod's imperious manner toward his burly companion, as people frequently did, though Ichabod was almost as imperious to everyone else. Brom only grinned. He paused a moment before complying, just to remind Ichabod that his cooperation was a matter of indulgence. Then he went to the trunk, crouched, and shoved.

The trunk was tremendously heavy, but Brom was a good bit stronger than Witherspoon; in fact, he was among the strongest men on the constabulary. After a moment of intense pressure, the trunk gave a grudging inch. Brom paused to shift his feet, to get a better purchase. Then he grunted as he put his muscles to the task once more. Glancing up, he caught Ichabod's eyes upon him. He felt those eyes like a physical touch, electrifying him. He had seen that expression before, the one time Ichabod had watched him work at his smithy in Sleepy Hollow. Brom well remembered those obsidian eyes glittering as Brom had pounded a scrap of iron into a horseshoe — and what had followed. Ichabod's tense expression was likely inscrutable to the others present, but Brom knew exactly what it meant. He spared enough energy from his task to curl one corner of his mouth in acknowledgement of Ichabod's attention.

With another low grunt, Brom pushed the trunk completely away from the door and straightened proudly, catching his breath. Ichabod's eyes were still on him. There was still some of that secret glint in them, but also a bit of dry amusement.

"I expected that you would perhaps empty the trunk to lighten it before moving it," Ichabod remarked wryly.

Brom was stopped briefly, as he always was when Ichabod outsmarted him. Recovering, he gestured to the door with exaggerated courtesy. "After you."

All other emotions were wiped from Ichabod's face by pure trepidation as he contemplated that door with blood seeping from beneath it. But with the waiting eyes of others upon him, his pride would not allow him to back down before the implicit dare. Brom had never seen Ichabod back down from a dare yet. Ichabod went to the door, his jaw set in determination, and flung it open.

A body promptly fell at his feet.

Ichabod stared for a moment before turning with a low moan, pulling out his handkerchief and pressing it to his mouth. The housekeeper gave a little shriek, and ran down the stairs. Brom and Witherspoon moved hesitantly closer.

Brom spared only a moment to take in the scene before turning to Witherspoon. "Get a wheelbarrow," he instructed. Witherspoon shambled off. Brom put a reassuring hand on Ichabod's shoulder. Ichabod straightened as if offended. "At least no one moved the body," Brom remarked.

"True," Ichabod replied, trying to sound confident. "Do you see the weapon?"

Brom surveyed the scene and shrugged. "No." He would not meddle with a murder weapon for anything. Ichabod always had terrible tantrums when people did. Though, despite Ichabod's repeated attempts to explain the importance of such things, the type of weapon used still seemed irrelevant to Brom. Stabbed, shot or cudgeled, the victim was just as dead.

Ichabod stepped over to the body and drew a breath before looking down at it. His inky brows drew together as he donned his mask of stoicism. Brom watched with amusement. He regarded Ichabod's squeamishness and cowardice with amused contempt, but at least Ichabod never yielded to either.

Ichabod's black eyes narrowed as he surveyed the scene. Brom never understood what Ichabod saw in all the little scuffmarks and so on he examined so carefully. Ichabod scrutinized the shabby furniture, the pool of blood on the floor, the chair that had apparently been knocked over in the struggle. After a moment, he retrieved a razor from beneath a table, where it had apparently been tossed. He took a blood-soaked handkerchief from the dead man's hand with a rueful shake of his head. He examined the entire room with his piercing gaze, but nothing else caught his inexplicable attention.

Having finished inspecting the crime scene, Ichabod questioned the housekeeper about the victim, learning that his name was John O'Manion and that he owned a warehouse near the wharf.

The wheelbarrow arrived and Green and Witherspoon continued on their patrol while Brom and Ichabod returned to the watchhouse with the cadaver. The High Constable took one look and ordered, "Take it to the undertaker's." But his tone was challenging, not authoritative as it had been when Brom first joined the constabulary and appointed himself Ichabod's bodyguard.

Before Brom could release the wheelbarrow's handles so that the young constables who were moving closer could take it from him, Ichabod's voice rang out challengingly. "I shall need to examine the body," Ichabod asserted.

"What difference does it make what he died of?" the High Constable demanded. "Let him rest in peace — in one piece, as according to God and the New York Department of Health!"

Leaving them to argue, Brom wheeled the corpse into the infirmary where wounded constables — and occasionally prisoners — were treated. The room was unoccupied; Ichabod could dissect John O'Manion in peace.

As Brom hefted the corpse onto the operating table, Ichabod strode in, his jaw set, arrogant and beautiful as a prince. He should have been dressed in silk and velvet, with precious gems weighing down his slender fingers. The High Constable and the two younger ones followed on his heels, the former still shouting in outrage. The young men moved hesitantly towards the corpse. Brom stepped forward, glowering at them. He thought Ichabod was off his head for wanting to cut open a dead body, and he didn't believe for a minute that he would learn anything useful, but if Ichabod wanted to, he would. The young constables filed out quietly. The High Constable, noticing that his supporters had deserted him, allowed himself to grudgingly give in after another moment's argument. Ichabod watched him go, then exhaled noisily.

"What's the matter?" Brom asked.

Ichabod began arranging the instruments he would need for the operation. "For years I have been arguing with them, appealing to sense and justice, using all the eloquence at my command. All to no avail. You lumber in and flex your muscles, and they surrender at once."

"Just as you did."

Ichabod flushed in reply to this sally, and his eyes moved to Brom's broad shoulders for a moment as he removed his uniform jacket and pulled an apron over his white shirt. Noticing the glance, Brom grinned.

"Roll up your sleeves this time," he suggested, remembering how much blood Ichabod had gotten on his cuffs at an earlier autopsy. Ichabod pursed his lips, looking annoyed, but he followed Brom's suggestion. Brom stood with his back against the door in case anyone should try to enter and bother them, watching Ichabod's every move.

Ichabod's jaw was set in preparation for the sight he was about to see, his shoulders held tensely as he approached the table. He drew a breath, steeling himself, and then finally looked at the corpse. Brom wondered how Ichabod could fight so hard for the chance to do something that he hated to do.

Pressing his lips together, Ichabod began to remove the corpse's shirt. As he began his process of detecting, his squeamishness was forgotten and his expression became intent. "Hmm, yes. A clean cut of the carotid artery."

"The what?"

"The vein that runs by the omohyoid muscle."

"How do you remember all this?"

"By limiting my beer consumption to less than a barrel a day," Ichabod retorted, not looking up. Brom grinned. He had never heard the end of winning a drinking contest with the other constables when he had first joined the constabulary. Ichabod, naturally, never drank. He murmured to himself as he continued his examination. "Considerable blood loss… no cranial injuries… no other stab wounds…."

He began rifling through the man's pockets. He turned up a handkerchief, a matchbox, a few coins and similar trivia. Nothing that he considered significant.

"What do you expect to find? A signed confession?" Brom asked. "Or did you think maybe he pocketed the weapon after he was murdered?"

Ichabod sighed, looking weary. "If you have no more respect for my methods than anyone else, why on earth do you defend my right to use them?"

"Because I like to watch the look on your face while you're doing it."

Brom's reward for this remark was a withering look that made him grin again.

"You're pretty when you're angry," he informed Ichabod. In response, Ichabod only looked angrier — and prettier. Brom left off at that, however; he usually phrased his compliments to Ichabod's beauty in thoroughly masculine terms, not to offend Ichabod's touchy pride. But the truth was that "handsome" was woefully inadequate.

"You can let them in now," was Ichabod's rejoinder. Brom opened the door and the young constables claimed the cadaver resentfully, departing for the undertaker's with it. The High Constable entered with a sour expression.

"The murderer cut the victim's throat, severing an artery," Ichabod announced, slipping into his lecturing mode. "He then shut the victim into his bedroom and blocked the door with an exceedingly heavy trunk, leaving the man to slowly bleed to death. The victim died trying to push the door open, vainly attempting to stanch the flow of blood with his handkerchief."

Brom made a low sound in his throat, horrified, and the High Constable seemed similarly appalled. Since joining the constabulary, Brom had seen murders enough. He had begun to understand why Ichabod made such a crusade of his work. But the wanton cruelty, the utter lack of sportsmanship of this murder, made it the worst he had ever seen.

"I've never heard of anything so cold-blooded!" Brom blurted. "Murder is one thing, but leaving him to suffer like that — we've got to find this bastard." Ichabod glanced at him in approval and faint surprise; seldom did Brom take an investigation so personally.

"I shall," Ichabod said, completely unconscious of the arrogance of the singular pronoun. He looked at the clock. "Tomorrow I shall carry out inquiries. But for now, it is past the end of our duty tonight."

Once they were home and the door shut behind them, Brom slipped his arm around Ichabod's waist and kissed his cheek casually, enjoying the freedom to make such gestures now that they were away from prying eyes. Ichabod accepted the gesture in an equally matter-of-fact manner. Both of them had long since made their peace with themselves over their desires; making peace with the world was another matter. Brom sat on the bed to pull off his boots while Ichabod poked around his various instruments and chemicals, checking the progress of his experimentations. Brom had learned that life was far more peaceful if he did not touch any of Ichabod's scientific toys. He no longer dared to even breathe on them.

His brow knit thoughtfully, Ichabod peered at his various toys, jotting in his ledger and occasionally muttering things like, "That prussic acid must have been a stronger concentrate." Suddenly these dull remarks were interrupted by a yelp. Brom looked up quickly, and was not surprised to see Ichabod cringing against a wall, his wide eyes fixed on a spider that was strolling across the floor.

Brom laughed aloud. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Crane."

"Get it!" Ichabod blurted.

Grinning, Brom stood and walked over to the arachnid in a leisurely fashion. "This one isn't poisonous, you know," he commented. This information had no effect on Ichabod, who continued to watch the spider as if it were going to pounce on him at any moment. Deciding to upset Ichabod even more, instead of squashing the spider, Brom leaned over and picked it up in his bare hand. The feel of the tiny legs on his skin made his flesh crawl — he wasn't especially fond of critters himself — but it was worth Ichabod's horrified expression. After a few seconds, Ichabod's eyes rolled and he fell to the floor, unconscious.

Chuckling to himself, Brom took the spider outside. Returning to their flat, he lifted the senseless Ichabod onto the bed, blew out the candles, and stretched out beside him.

In a few minutes, Ichabod started awake and immediately clutched at Brom. "Where did it go?"

Brom wrapped his arms around Ichabod, preventing him from rising. "Don't worry. If it comes back, I'll defend you."

Ichabod turned his black eyes on Brom in the dim light. "Are you laughing at me?"

Brom pressed his mouth to Ichabod's fiercely, bruising both their lips. He did not release him until they both had to gasp for breath. "Yes," he murmured, and forestalled further complaints with another brutal kiss.

A few kisses later, Brom suddenly stopped to ask, "Why must we never move the body?" Ichabod snorted. Defensively, Brom said, "Witherspoon doesn't know either."

"Witherspoon's an imbecile," Ichabod said contemptuously. "At least your brain works well enough when you trouble to use it."

Brom promptly twisted one of Ichabod's arms behind his back and roughly pulled him close, using his free hand to pull Ichabod's head back by his inky hair. "Is that your idea of a compliment, Crane?"

Ichabod twisted a bit and found he could not get free. However, he smiled mockingly from the security of perfect safety. "No, Brom. My idea of a compliment would be more like this." His next words made the blood rush to Brom's face. He released Ichabod only to begin disarranging his clothes. The predictable effect his words had had on Brom made Ichabod laugh softly, until Brom found a way to make him stop.

Brom watched with relish as the haughty, rigidly self-controlled Rational Man dissolved gasping and trembling in his arms. Only two things ever loosened Ichabod's tight self-control. One of them was fear. The other was Brom.

But Brom's triumph was short-lived as always, because soon the feel of Ichabod's slender fingers on his muscles rendered him every bit as desperate, and his fleeting command of the situation evaporated.

***

When the jewel theft was reported, Ichabod asked the shop owner all sorts of tedious and incomprehensible questions. Brom thought the case promised to be a dull one. He infinitely preferred quelling riots or chasing fugitives, work that allowed real action. Ichabod, naturally, liked dry, dull cases that allowed him to ruminate and analyze and come up with all kinds of hare-brained theories.

"So you did not see any of their faces?" Ichabod queried.

The owner shook his head vehemently. "They had their faces covered! They were dressed all in black, and they had black scarves over their heads. Only their eyes were showing, but it was too dark to really see those."

"And when they saw you, what did they do?"

"They all turned and looked at me, startled-like, and then they went back to stuffing the gems in their bags. One of them came over to me and hit me a couple of times and knocked me flat. You never saw anyone move so fast!"

"Did any of them say anything?"

"Not a word. They might as well have been mute."

"I see…." Ichabod's brows met and he put a finger to his mouth, pondering.

"Probably Callahan's gang again. That's their territory," Green announced confidently.

Ichabod looked as if he were calling upon his last reserves of patience after being tried far too long. "Since when were Callahan's thugs mute? Or wrapped in black? Can't you recognize a distinct modus operandi when you see it?"

"Can't you speak English, you bluestocking poltroon?"

Ichabod's lips turned white at Green's words, but he kept his temper on its usual tight rein. "Perhaps you could muster the courage to use your brain!" Ichabod shot back. "We are clearly dealing with a new gang here. This burglary has several features in common with three other recent crimes that I know of."

"No one would dare move in on Callahan's territory. We can fix this without a lot of deducting claptrap from a yellow-bellied cleverboots!"

Ichabod's mouth tightened and his pallid face flushed a bit. Before he could speak, the High Constable cut in. "Round up as many of Callahan's boys as you can tomorrow for questioning, Constable Green."

"A good idea," Ichabod granted, as if his opinion had been solicited. "But he had nothing to do with this particular heist!"

"Of course he did. He's got that neighborhood in the palm of his hand."

"Along with the New York constabulary," Ichabod retorted. As several pairs of irate eyes turned to him, he clarified, "How many times have we arrested his men? And we never manage to send more than a few of them to prison, and he simply hires more. And Callahan himself has never so much as seen the inside of the watchhouse!"

Nobody was able to come up with a satisfactory retort for this, which only magnified their irritation with Ichabod. As the watch changed and they were all leaving, Green announced loudly, "Time for the whey-faced corpse-cutter to go home to addle his brains with more heathen books!"

Ichabod's dark eyes were blazing in his pale face, but he swallowed whatever words bubbled up. Brom could not honestly blame him. Green was big-boned and barrel-chested; a man of Ichabod's slight build would be a fool to challenge him. Doubtless Ichabod had been swallowing such insults for years. And Green was just the sort of man who would take advantage of that.

"I'm going to stop for a drink," Brom said. Ichabod nodded curtly. Brom did not have to ask if Ichabod would join him; he never did. "I won't be very late," Brom added, though Ichabod never condescended to ask.

Brom went to the Quail and Bear, a tavern popular with the constables. Most of them stopped there after a day's work before going home; presumably they needed some Dutch courage to face their wives. Brom went there frequently to enjoy beer and some good-natured brawling, and to protect Ichabod's reputation and his own by being seen in the company of women of bad character. He never actually availed himself of what they offered; he hoped that being seen with them would be enough. If Ichabod would go there occasionally, his colleagues would find him less alien, but Brom had not been able to convince him of this.

Brom did not bother to order a drink. His eye fell on Green sitting at one of the tables. He strode over and clamped a hand on Green's shoulder. The other man turned, and Brom jerked his head in the direction of the door. Trying not to look nervous, Green took a swallow of his beer, rose, and followed him outside.

The two of them stepped into the nearest alley. Green was under no illusions about why he had been summoned, and he was ready for the contest to follow. This alley saw several such exchanges every night.

Brom smiled with his mouth but not his eyes. "I want to discuss the things you've been saying to my comrade."

Green's eyes flickered, but he blustered, "Why's a real man like you always taking up for that gutless milksop? He's just a —"

Green's next imprecation was cut off by Brom's fist in his stomach. For the next few minutes the discussion was carried on in this fashion. Green gave Brom a good fight, but in the end Brom prevailed, as always.

When Brom arrived home, Ichabod looked up from his microscope and took note of the bruise over Brom's eye. He said nothing, but his disapproving silence spoke volumes. Brom offered no explanation, only a taunting smile.

***

The next day Brom left Ichabod to his tedious chains of deduction and joined the other constables in rounding up several of Callahan's employees. Quite a few of them were strapping lads who put up a fight. It was the kind of duty that made being a constable worthwhile, whaling the tar out of deserving scum. A pity Ichabod denied himself all the fun.

Flushed from their exertions, Brom and a few others dragged their shackled captives into the holding cells. Ichabod appeared from wherever he had been asking dull people dull questions and surveyed the bruised, sullen thieves with disgruntlement.

"I don't suppose you brave lads managed to apprehend Callahan himself," he inquired in a biting tone.

"Why don't you catch Callahan if you're so all-fired smart?" Witherspoon grunted. Green, with a surly glance at Brom, said nothing.

Ichabod had his ledger at the ready. "I shall need to question them," he announced, as if he had a perfect right to give them all orders. "Put them each in separate cells where they cannot communicate, and bring them to me one at a time."

Sometimes Ichabod's arrogant bluffing worked — people would obey such an authoritative voice, regardless of whether its owner truly had authority — but not this time. Witherspoon guffawed, and the others ignored Ichabod's bluffing commands and herded the thieves into one large cell together. Except for Brom, they all went inside with them.

"We'll take care of the questioning, Crane," the High Constable said. "Our way. The way that works."

Ichabod winced as one of the thieves cried out at a blow from Green's nightstick. Brom didn't care for the sound himself, but sometimes duties were unpleasant. The High Constable was right, sometimes Ichabod could be thoroughly naïve. Ichabod turned his back on the "interrogations" going on in the cells. Which was just as well, because within a minute or two blood was flowing along with reluctantly imparted information.

"Are we no better than the ne'er-do-wells we apprehend?" Ichabod demanded of his colleagues. "This is brutality! And if you are honest with yourselves, you must admit that this is no way to solve crimes!"

Brom shook his head and made ready to defend Ichabod. Ichabod always chose the worst moments to forget that he was a coward. Trying to lecture a crew of roughneck constables with their blood up was a perfect example.

"Not in front of the suspects!" the High Constable shouted angrily. "Be silent!"

"I shall speak, and I shall be heard!" Ichabod shouted back. "The voice of reason will not be silenced!"

Watching Ichabod making his stand, Brom was struck by the tableau. The High Constable was standing on the stairs, which meant that he looked down upon Ichabod from a higher vantage point, glowering with the full force of his authority. Ichabod stood straight beneath the weight of that glare, his head held high, returning his superiors' gaze unflinchingly, though his hands shook. He should have been wearing a suit of armor, not a uniform. Ichabod was the lone champion against unjust authority. His crusade was likely hopeless, and yet he marched on with it, remaining true to his quest even if it was doomed. He might never succeed, but he would never compromise, regardless of what was done to him for it.

And as Brom marveled at this paradoxical courage in the most fearful man he had ever known, Brom realized suddenly that Ichabod was seeing this exact same tableau in his own mind. That was what permitted Ichabod to conquer his own cowardice: his vision of himself as a knight errant on a possibly hopeless quest. Brom's admiration acquired a tinge of amusement. Ichabod's conceit had been obvious almost from the moment they had met, but Brom had not realized what a powerful impetus it was.

"And what would you have us do?" the High Constable was demanding. "Ask them nicely? ‘Would you be so good as to tell us where you hide your stolen goods, there's a good lad?'"

"We could use our brains rather than our fists!"

To Brom's surprise, something like compassion settled on the High Constable's face. "You're young, Crane," he said wearily, his voice almost kind. "You haven't had the ideals thrashed out of you yet. You can't reason with men like that. And you can't appeal to their better nature, because they don't have one."

"Let me try," Ichabod insisted. "I have never been allowed to put my way to the test!"

The High Constable actually looked sorry. "You should have been a professor or something like that, something where you could have kept your nose safely buried in a book instead of poking into the business of men who'd kill you as soon as look at you. One of these days these uplifting illusions of yours will be shattered, and then you'll shoot your bolt for good."

"No man who spends time among constables can retain any illusions about human nature," Ichabod said desperately. "Listen to a practical argument, then: any information given under such duress is highly suspect. They will lie to stop the assaults. Information acquired in this way is useless."

The High Constable shook his head slowly. "Go home, Crane."

Had Ichabod glanced at him, looked to him for aid, Brom would have given it, absurd as he considered the whole notion of treating common hoodlums like human beings. But Ichabod never asked for help. It never seemed to occur to him that his crusade was not his alone, that he could have comrades-in-arms. Brom was always defending Ichabod, but he suddenly realized that Ichabod had never asked him to. Ichabod took it for granted that his battle was his own; any help he might receive was a gift from Fate. He would never request it.

Ichabod had no idea that, had he been the medieval lord he should have been, Brom would have declared an oath of fealty to him and spent his life using his sword in his service.

"You don't actually think that reasoning with those hooligans would do any good, do you?" Brom asked as they left.

"As long as they have heads, there is some chance of reasoning with them.At any rate, it would do more good than reasoning with other constables," Ichabod replied dismally.

Brom did not argue further. Ichabod stayed awake brooding over his ledger long after Brom fell asleep that night. When they set out for duty the next morning, he looked more purposeful than ever.

There were days when being a constable was too boring to imagine. Though Ichabod never seemed to find it so. Often when he was making the rounds of his routine inquiries, Brom let him do so alone and went in search of saloon fights to break up or something else more interesting. But this day he elected to follow Ichabod from one pawnbroker's shop to another, listening to the same tedious questions over and over.

"There has been a series of thefts of precious crucifices," Ichabod was explaining yet again to the extended staff of a middling size store. "We believe that they are being taken apart and the gems sold individually."

"And why are you telling us this?" The owner bridled, while an adolescent boy who worked for him watched silently and with wide eyes. "Are you accusing us of receiving stolen goods?"

Ichabod raised his eyebrows in polite astonishment. "Why, no. We are warning you. If anyone brings such a crucifix to you, kindly notify us."

"I can hardly have my customers harassed by the constabulary! Having one's jewelry dismantled is not a crime!"

"Not if it is one's own. Remember, notify Constable Crane of any suspicious items. Good day." Ichabod left brusquely with Brom on his heels.

"Some of these pawnbrokers are shady characters. You shouldn't antagonize them," Brom warned.

"Who taught you that word? It has too many syllables for you," Ichabod retorted crisply.

"Anyone who keeps company with you is bound to start talking like a dictionary. What in the devil's name do you expect to find out? You think you can just waltz in and ask a few nosy questions and someone will say, ‘Why, yes, we fence stolen goods all the time'?"

Ichabod sighed and put on his patient voice. "No, Brom. This is only the first step in a long series of them."

At the end of the day, they went to the watchhouse to report. Ichabod jumped as the High Constable's voice sounded loudly behind him. "Constable Crane! Who the hell told you to harass every pawnbroker in the city?"

Recovering himself, Ichabod turned and squared his shoulders. His voice was firm, but a tremor kept intruding itself. "I am merely making my investigation known to—"

"What blasted investigation? The case is closed! We arrested the men behind the burglary!"

Ichabod's lips twitched with annoyance. "Even if Callahan's gang was responsible, we do not have all of its members. Most significantly, we do not have Callahan himself. But I have already pointed out several times the reasons that they are clearly not the culprits in these particular robberies!"

"A constable's job is not to pester law-abiding citizens!" the older man shouted. "You had no business making these inquiries! Announcing an investigation that isn't even happening!"

"On the contrary. It is happening, because I am conducting it! I am going to detect the true thieves whether you like it or not!"

The High Constable glared at Ichabod for a moment. Then a gleam that neither Ichabod nor Brom liked appeared in his eyes.

"So," he said slyly, "you want to detect the solution to some mystery?"

Ichabod answered guardedly, "You know that is my purpose."

"Then I've got just the case for you!" The High Constable went into his office. A moment later he emerged with a few brief reports which he extended to Ichabod with a smirk.

Ichabod took them, prepared to be annoyed. He was not disappointed. His nostrils flared with disgust. "You can't mean it."

"Can't I?"

"Dragon sightings? You must be joking!"

With a smug smile, the older man shrugged. "We've gotten a dozen reports of it in the last month. It's our duty to investigate."

"You can't take this seriously! Next you'll be sending me after—"

"Headless ghosts?" Brom supplied. Ichabod glowered at him.

"At least it'll keep you out of trouble," the older man said.

"Surely you do not actually believe there is a dragon roaming the streets of New York!"

"About as much as I believe that there's a jewel gang with the guts to trespass on Callahan's turf. You know that it has to be looked into. I think you're just the one to do it. I expect every one of these witnesses questioned!"

"And what do you expect me to do once I've questioned them?"

"I suppose you could arrest the dragon. We'll let you interrogate it your way," the High Constable jeered.

"Why arrest it? Has it eaten someone?"

"No, no one's said it attacked anyone."

"Then on what charge can I arrest it? I am fairly certain that it is not against the law to be a dragon," Ichabod informed him sarcastically.

"How about back taxes on its hoard of dragon gold?"

Ichabod and the High Constable glared at each other for a long minute. At length, Ichabod gave a curt nod of assent. "Ah, well. St. George has always been an inspiration to me, after all." He strode out of the watchhouse so fast that Brom had to almost run to keep up.

"Why didn't you just refuse to do it?" Brom asked.

Ichabod's eyes were snapping. "That's just what he wanted me to do! He's been doing this for years, Brom, assigning me to ludicrous cases, trying to take my time away from important investigations. If I refused orders, I could be dismissed. Doing extra investigation is one thing; neglecting to do work that has been assigned is something else again. Do you think I don't know he's just waiting for an excuse to be rid of me? But I shan't give him one. I never refuse assignments, I never miss duty, I never commit any of the dozens of trivial transgressions that our fellows indulge in every day. They're stuck with me."

"Ichabod…." Brom spoke reluctantly. "If they learned too much, I could be that excuse they're looking for."

Ichabod's chin lifted and his chilly glance met Brom's for one instant before turning straight ahead. "I am not going to deprive myself," he said shortly.

It was the greatest compliment Brom had ever received, and it had been delivered in a tone of pure ice.

Brom accompanied Ichabod on his interrogations about the "dragon". Seeing Ichabod discussing such matters was too good to miss.

The first witness they visited was Mrs. Simmons, an elderly widow, a grandmotherly type whose small house was crammed with overstuffed furniture festooned with doilies. She insisted upon treating them more like guests than like law officers attending a matter of business. She refused to speak of the dragon at all till she had served them tea and little cakes, to which they eventually had to surrender.

Ichabod took a few polite sips of the tea before trying again to ask his questions. "Mrs. Simmons, could you please tell me about this dragon you saw?"

Her smile vanished and she became quite serious. "I have never seen anything so dreadful."

"When was this?" Ichabod's tone was one of reciting oft-repeated phrases.

"Three weeks ago. It was a Sunday night, I remember that, because I was thinking about the sermon Father Tobin gave that morning. Fancy such a beast being abroad on the Sabbath!"

When Mrs. Simmons paused, Ichabod prompted, "About what time was it?"

"Oh, late. I don't always sleep well at my age, so I was sitting up, reading the Bible by candlelight. I think the clock had struck eleven just a short time before. I had stopped reading and was just gazing out the window, sort of daydreaming."

At the last word, Ichabod's eyebrows twitched a bit.

"I heard some very soft sounds in the street, and I supposed it must just be someone heading home late. I sat up straighter and paid a bit more attention, to see if it was anyone I knew about to pass by, and then it came into sight." She shuddered. "Oh, young man, it was awful. It was green and had an enormous, lolling head with great bulging eyes! And whiskers! Its mouth was open in a snarl, and such teeth it showed! It could have eaten up two strapping lads like you like you were teacakes.

"I was too frightened to move. I just sat here watching it, with my eyes wide enough to pop. It slithered by like a snake, very slowly, and it just kept going on and on — I declare, it must have been a good twenty feet long! And its tail was curly with a pointed tip like the Devil's." She was wringing her handkerchief in agitation.

Ichabod's teacup was rattling with the trembling of his hand as he listened transfixed to her tale. Brom let the rattling continue for a moment before leaning over to take the cup from him. "There's no such thing as dragons," he taunted under his breath as he did so. Ichabod sat up straighter, commanding himself with an effort.

"Mrs. Simmons, have you ever seen anything like this creature before?"

"Good heavens, no! I certainly hope there aren't any more of them."

"Have you ever seen a ghost?"

"No, why?"

"I was merely wondering. Had you heard any stories about recent dragon sightings before you saw it yourself?"

"Bless you, no, child! Have others seen it, then?"

"We have had a few other reports of it," Ichabod answered carefully. "And may I ask if you were drinking any of this excellent tea that evening?"

"I did a few hours before I saw it."

"Milk?"

"No."

"Water?"

"No."

"Did you have anything else at all that evening?"

The lady drew herself up and spoke to Ichabod as she had no doubt once spoken to her sons when they were mischievous. "Young man, are you asking me if I was drunk?"

"Pray do not be offended, Madam," Ichabod replied levelly. "I am required to ask such questions."

"I never touch the stuff," she replied disdainfully.

"Very wise of you, Madam." With his usual meticulous attention to detail, Ichabod noted the time and place that Mrs. Simmons had seen the dragon in his ledger, along with the particulars of her description. He was wearing his sardonic expression as he did so; Brom decided that he was obliquely defying the High Constable by using his own methods to investigate a case he wanted no part of.

"So what did she see?" Brom asked as they walked to the next witness' office.

"She had a dream," Ichabod retorted crisply. "She said herself it was late and she was daydreaming."

Brom had no argument with this conclusion. But the next witness, a bookkeeper, was not so easy to dismiss. He had been, by his own account, fully alert when he saw it. He had debated with himself for several days before reporting it. He was certain no one would believe him, but he knew that he had seen the thing. By his own admission, he was quite baffled as to what he had seen; he had never believed in dragons until he had seen one.

Ichabod listened to the bookkeeper's account, and those of the next several witnesses, in the same manner: with a conscientious attention and an utter lack of interest, except when they described the thing. Then he invariably grew nervous, his knuckles whitening around his pen, his eyes widening, while Brom watched with growing amusement.

"I don't believe that you're so sure dragons don't exist," he teased after they questioned the last witness. "You look entirely too nervous when they tell you what it looks like. ‘Fess up, Crane. You're in league with the dragon. You've been keeping it in a hidden pen. You're worried you'll get in trouble with the landlady for keeping a pet without permission."

Ichabod grimaced at him. "It's a gruesome story. These people have morbid imaginations."

"Odd how they all imagine exactly the same morbid thing." Ichabod did not answer, and Brom pressed him: "Aren't the descriptions they gave all the same? Identical?" Reluctantly, Ichabod gave a curt nod. "So they all had exactly the same dream. What a coincidence." Brom searched his memory for objections Ichabod had raised in the past to dubious haunting stories. "You've been writing down the times and places. Do they match up with each other?"

Ichabod stopped to open his ledger and scan his notes. "Yes," he conceded reluctantly. "Two people saw it on the south side of town last Tuesday. Two others saw it in the east on the same Sunday."

"Looks like we've got ourselves a dragon. Right here in New York. We'd better find a suit of armor."

"For Heaven's sake, Brom. There is no such thing as a dragon!"

"Didn't you say the same thing about the Headless Horseman?"

"A ghost is at least a remnant of a human being. There never have been any dragons."

"How do you know that for sure?" Ichabod frowned at him, and Brom challenged, "What did all these people see?"

"They all heard a story, whether or not they allow that they heard it, and then had a dream which they mistook for a reality."

"Do you honestly think these people — sober, respectable people — can't tell the difference between a dream and reality?"

Ichabod delivered one of his most scathing looks. "Then pray tell what you think they saw, Van Brunt."

"I think they were all soused," Brom granted cheerfully. "Or making it up."

"These ‘sober, respectable people'?"

"I don't believe that they're as sober as they claim."

"Try not to judge others by yourself, Van Brunt."

"What now?" Brom asked with a saucy grin.

Ichabod closed his ledger as if sealing the dragon reports for all time. "Now I am going to continue investigating the jewel heists."

"Crane… you know the High Constable's right this time. Callahan's men confessed!"

Ichabod glared at him. "Do you think you wouldn't confess if you were shackled and caged and beaten with no hope of due process?" he demanded.

"All right. What do you think you're going to achieve by asking questions no one in their right mind would answer? Don't you know when you're banging your head against a brick wall?"

Ichabod sighed. "Yes. I'm doing it right now, trying to reason with you and the rest of the constabulary."

Brom's lips thinned. "Fine. Enjoy your dull questions. I'm going to find some real police work to do." He turned on his heel and the two men strode off in opposite directions.

***

For the next couple of days Brom and Ichabod scarcely spoke to each other, though the few words they did exchange were carefully civil. The coolness between them was the reason that Brom did not accompany Ichabod on his continued interrogations of local pawnbrokers. If he had, Ichabod probably would not have reported at the end of duty one day with a bruise forming on his jaw.

When Brom saw the bruise, he ran to Ichabod. "What happened?" he demanded roughly.

Ichabod shrugged, trying to appear indifferent, though his breath was a bit ragged. "I was told not to keep on inquiring about stolen crucifices."

"Were you hurt anywhere else?" Brom demanded.

"He punched me in the stomach," Ichabod said. "Calm yourself. I am not seriously hurt. The occasional bruise is part of the job."

"I shouldn't have let you go alone!"

"Don't be absurd, Bones," Ichabod said sharply. The tone was a warning; Brom was displaying too much concern in front of their colleagues.

Brom frowned. Ichabod did not seem as shaken as he should by the experience. "Why are you so calm? You just got assaulted! And I'm betting he was bigger than you."

"Of course he was. You didn't think criminals chose evenly matched opponents, did you?"

"You could have been hurt! I knew this would happen, the way you were running around asking all those blasted questions—"

Ichabod's lips pursed in annoyance. "They are not yet sufficiently annoyed to seriously hurt me. This is merely a sign that I am making progress."

Brom stared incredulously. "You call a sore jaw progress?"

"Of course. You don't think I would have it if I weren't on the right track, do you? It is the procedure." Ichabod's voice steadied as he began to lecture. "The first step is to make it known to all and sundry that I am investigating. At that point, no one dares to tell me anything, even if they wish to. My next step is to continue to poke around until I receive a warning such as this one." He pointed to his bruised jaw. "Now that the warning has been delivered, it is time for the most important step: demonstrating that the warning has not stopped me. That I will not turn tail and run at the first sign of danger." Ichabod's chin lifted proudly. "When it becomes clear that I am not going to stop, when even warnings such as this do not deter me, then one or two people will take me aside and tell me privately something of what I need to know." Brom looked at his lover with renewed respect as he grasped the pattern. "It is important that I now make it clear that I will not leave off. Tomorrow I shall make the rounds of the pawnbrokers' shops again and make further inquiries."

"I'll go with you."

"No. I must demonstrate that I am not intimidated. I will hardly give that impression if I show up with a bodyguard."

"You can't do that!"

Ichabod raised an eyebrow frostily. "And why not, pray tell?"

"Because you're a coward," Brom replied bluntly.

Ichabod's face froze. For one second, Brom thought Ichabod was going to slap him. He had never dared to use that word to Ichabod's face before.

At length Ichabod said, very coldly, "That has never stopped me before."

"True," Brom admitted gravely.

When they got home, after removing his uniform jacket, Ichabod donned his civilian frock coat. Brom looked at him in surprise. "You're going out?"

"I'm not going out to pickle my brains or get into a fight, I'm certain you shall be disappointed to know. I prefer the comparatively dull amusement of watching houses being burgled."

"What are you talking about?"

Ichabod plucked a newspaper from the neat stacks on his desk and extended it to Brom. The article he pointed to was about a family of aristocratic French émigrés who had recently settled in New York. The lady of the family, a Countess in her middle years, possessed a great deal of jewelry, including more than one precious crucifix. The article especially mentioned one which was heavily encrusted with pearls; it had been given to an ancestor of the lady's by a monarch some generations ago.

"This new gang will go after these jewels. I am certain of it."

"Crane, this new gang of yours is about as real as that blasted dragon."

Ichabod did not deign to argue the point. "Regardless, I am going to watch that place tonight."

"Alone?"

"So it would seem."

"I suppose the High Constable refused to assign more men to watch with you?"

"Naturally. There is not going to be a robbery, because the thieves have already been arrested," Ichabod said in a biting tone.

"I'll go with you." Since their disagreement about Callahan, Ichabod had been quite cool towards Brom, and Brom was already weary of it. At this point, he would have agreed to anything, however tedious and useless, to restore himself to Ichabod's good graces. He began putting on one of his own brown suits. He felt absurdly formal in the uniform required of a constable, like a small boy whose mother had just scrubbed him and forced him into his Sunday suit. But he thought that Ichabod was even more resplendently handsome in uniform than in the simple black suits he wore off duty — for all his foppish manner, Ichabod insisted upon dressing with stark simplicity. "What are we going to do if the house is robbed? Two constables can't arrest a whole gang."

"We shall follow them to their lair and learn all that we can so that we may apprehend them tomorrow with reinforcements." A moment later he remarked, "It is just possible that these dragon sighters have seen something after all."

"Really?"

"Yes. It occurred to me… most New Yorkers have probably never seen an alligator."

Brom had never seen one himself, but he had seen drawings of them. "How would an alligator get here?"

Ichabod shrugged. "How would a dragon get here? But alligators really exist, and are fairly similar to the creature described. It would be surprising, but not impossible."

"Are alligators twenty feet long?"

"I don't believe they ever reach that length, but I think the shock of seeing such a creature in New York could easily account for some hysterical exaggeration."

"Hysterical exaggeration — like the way you insist any spider you see is bigger than the average horse?"

Which remark cost him all the favor he had regained in Ichabod's eyes.

The two of them left their garret and approached the Frenchmen's home. Ichabod's nervous eyes scanned the dark street constantly; he kept close to Brom.

A flicker of movement in the gutter caught Brom's eye. He turned his head, and Ichabod turned to see what he was looking at. They stepped closer, peering until the shifting shadow resolved itself into a snake slithering towards the drain at the corner. The snake paused, as if it had sensed that it was being observed.

Ichabod yelped just as he had when he had seen the spider in his room in Sleepy Hollow. An instant later he was gone. Before Brom had time to even glance around, Ichabod was a block away. Brom had never known that Ichabod could run so fast.

Brom glanced around for a weapon of some kind. There were a couple of bricks on a nearby doorstep. Brom seized one and advanced toward the snake slowly, watching it carefully. But when he was a few feet away from it, it swiftly disappeared into the drain. Having ascertained that there were no others, Brom started down the street after Ichabod.

He found him three blocks away, huddled beneath a street lamp, watching the ground around him frantically. "It's gone," Brom announced as he stepped into the small pool of light. Ichabod only whimpered, trying to press even closer to the pole, shaking all over.

Brom smothered a grin as he reached into his pocket. He had been waiting for an opportunity for weeks, and here it was. He seldom played pranks on Ichabod anymore; the days of sulking and acerbic remarks that followed were not worth it. But this one had been too good to resist, and it might even serve a useful purpose. From his pocket he drew a small vial, which he opened and held near Ichabod's face, steadying Ichabod with a hand on his shoulder.

Ichabod started at the stimulating scent. "What is that?"

"Smelling salts," Brom replied innocently.

Ichabod's eyes widened, the fury in his expression betraying that he had regained a measure of control. He snatched the vial from Brom's hand and hurled it away into the darkness. "Unhand me," he ordered crisply, straightening his frock coat. His mask of stoicism was back in place a moment later.

Brom was biting his lips to refrain from laughing. "Do you want to go home?"

Ichabod seemed annoyed at the suggestion. "We still have to watch that house," he pointed out, and started walking toward it. Brom followed, smiling to himself. Ichabod might be a coward, but at least he never gave himself quarter because of it. But his smile faded after a moment. Ichabod's ruthlessness with his own weakness was admirable, but he used it for such absurd purposes. Cutting up corpses, for instance, or staking out houses because of some notion that they would be robbed. All these hare-brained activities that he claimed served some purpose. It was mostly nonsense, as far as Brom could see. But Ichabod was right just often enough to convince himself that he knew what he was about.

When they neared the place where they had seen the snake, Ichabod hesitated. His eyes scanned the street and buildings apprehensively. Brom waited, but Ichabod did not seem inclined to move on. After a moment, Brom strode ahead quite casually, as if he had noticed nothing amiss. As he had expected, after a few seconds Ichabod hurried to catch up; his pride would not let him back down from Brom's implicit dare. Brom had never seen Ichabod back down from a dare yet.

They walked on the opposite side of the street from the one the snake had ambled along. As they reached the spot where it had been, a fierce howl broke the midnight stillness. Ichabod whirled around, clutching ineptly for his pistol.

Brom had whirled too, but recovered himself more quickly.

"It's just a couple of cats fighting in the alley," he whispered.

"Are you sure?" Ichabod rasped. Even in the moonlight, it was clear that his face was ashen. Brom put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"Listen."

They strained their ears. In a moment the yowls became distinctly feline. A window somewhere opened, someone shouted and threw something in the general direction of the cats, who fled as their fight was interrupted. After a moment, the silence was restored. Looking ill, Ichabod resumed walking.

When they neared the home of the émigrés, Ichabod stopped, grasping Brom's elbow. He nodded at an alley about ten yards away, between two other houses, almost right across from the house. They had to make their way through some neatly trimmed hedges, but at least the bushes would conceal them.

They each found positions from which they could see the émigrés' house. Brom took up a spot slightly in front of Ichabod, in case anyone threatening should happen along.

Then they waited.

Stakeouts were boring beyond description. Ichabod seemed to spend his life in search of dull ways to spend his time. The two of them stood silent and unmoving for a dreadfully long time.

For the twentieth time, Brom turned his head to admire Ichabod's flawless face in the faint moonlight. Even the bruise on his jaw did not detract from his beauty. Ichabod's expression was intent and stern, unforgiving of the criminals he was awaiting, and of his own trepidation.

There was a slight sound in the street. Brom glanced over and saw nothing. His gaze returned to Ichabod, who was swallowing as he watched and readied his pistol.

And then Ichabod's eyes widened. His lips parted. The hand which held his pistol aloft shook. It was a grave matter when Ichabod was too afraid to try to conceal his fear. Somehow, Brom knew this was how he had looked the first time he had seen the Headless Horseman.

Brom turned — and froze.

It had an enormous lolling green head. Its eyes were huge and bulging. Several whisker-like antennae protruded from its head. Its mouth gaped open to reveal long curving fangs.

Behind him, he heard Ichabod's almost inaudible whimper and turned back quickly. He was just in time to catch Ichabod as he crumpled.

Clasping Ichabod's unconscious form close, Brom held his breath as the thing made its ponderous way past, ending in a curling tail held stiffly upright. He did not move to watch it crawl away; he did not dare to move, to make the slightest sound. His ears strained for the soft noises of the dragon crawling down the street. For several minutes after the sounds had faded, he remained motionless. At last he carefully lowered Ichabod to the ground, slumped against the wall, and crept to the opening with his pistol ready. Peering out cautiously, he saw no sign of the dragon. Nor did he see any alley cats, or snakes, or jewel thieves. The night was lifeless. With relief, he went back to Ichabod, who was still insensible.

Gently, Brom gathered Ichabod in his arms, cradling him against his chest, Ichabod's black head resting on Brom's shoulder. It was a posture Ichabod never would have submitted to if awake. In spite of his own horror at what they had seen, Brom allowed himself to enjoy his lover's unusual acquiescence. He kissed Ichabod's forehead as he began to walk. Ichabod's slight figure weighed very little; Brom was able to carry him all the way back to their garret without tiring, though with his eyes and ears almost painfully alert for any more signs of the creature they had seen. But all he encountered was a handful of drunks wandering through the dark streets.

Inside their flat, Brom laid Ichabod carefully on the bed. A larger bed was the only change they had made in the décor when Brom moved in; with a little smile, he remembered those first few nights, both of them crowded onto Ichabod's old narrow cot.

He pulled Ichabod's boots off and wrapped him in a blanket. He knew he himself would not be able to sleep for some time, he was too stunned by what he had seen, so he left a candle burning as he lay down to embrace Ichabod. Ichabod would not awaken to face his fear alone. As Brom waited for that awakening, he thanked chance that the following day was their day off; he felt certain that Ichabod would be in no fit state for duty the next day.

Eventually Ichabod sat bolt upright with a cry. Brom, who had finally begun to doze, was instantly alert. "It's all right," he said quickly, tightening his embrace. Ichabod glanced around wildly. "You're safe. I'm here. It's all right."

Ichabod's black eyes fixed on him as if he had never seen him before. He let out an inarticulate cry and struggled against the strong arms that held him so protectively. Brom held him more firmly.

"Ichabod! It's me. Brom. I'm not going to hurt you."

He might as well have been speaking Greek.Ichabod pummeled Brom's arms clumsily, more like a child in a temper than a man struggling against another. His wild eyes did not seem to recognize Brom. Both hurt and worried, Brom at last released him.

Ichabod huddled in the corner of the bed, drawing his knees up to his chest protectively. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Brom hesitantly extended a hand. "Ichabod, you're safe now. Let me—" But at the sight of Brom's offered hand, Ichabod flinched and stared at him, continuing to shrink away, apparently trying to make himself as small as possible.

Resigned, Brom got up and backed away slowly. "Very well," he said softly. "I won't touch you, then." Perhaps in a few minutes Ichabod would calm himself enough to discern between friend and foe. Brom remembered Ichabod's hysteria after seeing the Headless Horseman for the first time. This time Ichabod was silent, not repeating his insistence on what he had seen over and over. Brom did not know whether that difference was good or bad.

Brom stopped several feet away from the bed and remained still, hoping his own calm demeanour would relax Ichabod. Ichabod would no longer make eye contact; his eyes darted around the room apprehensively, never meeting Brom's.

A few minutes of motionlessness apparently reassured Ichabod that Brom was not going to attack him, because after a long time Ichabod moved out of the corner of the bed. Brom's spirits lifted, but he remained still, trying to give further reassurance. Slowly, as if moving underwater, Ichabod moved to the edge of the bed. From there he slid to the floor, and then he crawled beneath the bed without a word.

"Ichabod?" Brom asked tentatively. There was no response.

Brom considered asking if there were any spiders under the bed, but he simply did not have the heart for it. He lay on top of the bed and, eventually, went to sleep.

In the morning, Ichabod was still under the bed.

"It's all right, Ichabod. There are no dragons in the flat. And no snakes. Not even any spiders!" He received no response except for the sound of slow breathing. "Come on. You can't stay under there forever!"

But that, apparently, was what Ichabod intended to do, because there was no sound or movement under the bed. Brom breakfasted on what bread and cheese was in the flat. At noon, he shouted out the window at an errand boy and the boy fetched a meal for two.

"There's food. Aren't you hungry? Come on out and eat."

Only silence answered him. Brom thought about sliding a plate under the bed, but decided that hunger might eventually compel Ichabod to emerge. Though he was not especially hopeful on that score; Ichabod always ate sparingly and would frequently forget to eat at all when he was absorbed in his experimentations. No wonder he was so slight. He was quite capable of starving himself to death before coming out from under the bed.

Brom had no idea what to do. Should he drag Ichabod out by force? Should he allow him to stay under there forever? And would Ichabod recover from this shock? He had eventually regained his senses after seeing the Horseman, but he could withstand such horror a second time?

Brom passed the day in idleness. He did not dare to leave the flat, for fear Ichabod might emerge in his absence and do something hare-brained.

"I hope you don't mind if I rearrange some of your equipment," he said in the direction of the bed. There was no response. Hoping that interfering with those infernally delicate experimentations would drive Ichabod out from his hiding place, Brom toyed with them a bit, picking up instruments and fiddling with them. "What do you suppose will happen if I put some of this grey powder into this green fizzy juice?" he asked. Still nothing. Depressed by his lover's uncharacteristic tolerance, he left the instruments alone, not having truly disturbed anything.

Brom was so bored that he actually tried to read some of Ichabod's books. Most of them were totally incomprehensible, but one or two volumes of case histories were comparatively readable; he read a few of the more sensational accounts.

He came across a book with "Sir Francis Bacon" written on the spine and opened it chiefly because Ichabod had mentioned this man many times and made something of an idol of him. He had, it seemed, been "the Father of Modern Science." Ichabod went on endlessly about Bacon and the Scientific Method. Ichabod had told Brom a story about Bacon, that he had tested the preserving abilities of freezing cold by going out into a blizzard and stuffing a chicken with snow. The chicken had been preserved successfully, but the man had died of pneumonia a month later. It was, in Brom's opinion, exactly the kind of damn fool thing Ichabod would do. Flipping through the book, which seemed mostly very dull, he stopped now and then to read a line Ichabod had underlined: "Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men, which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public," and "Be so true to thyself as thou be not false to others."

Having set that volume back in its place, he took out the next one, written by somebody called John Wilmot. He opened it at random and began to read. His eyes widened. He had had no idea that things like that had ever been allowed to be printed. That book kept him absorbed for the remainder of the day, until late that night he at last fell into weary sleep alone while Ichabod remained silent and unmoving beneath the bed.

***

When Brom awoke, it was rather late in the morning; the previous night's vigil had tired him. Squinting into the sunlight pouring into the room, he focused on Ichabod sitting at his desk with a book, his brows drawn together as he jotted notes rapidly.

As Brom sat up, pushing his shaggy mane out of his face, Ichabod looked up. "So you're finally awake! I went out a while ago and brought back some provisions. There's some bread and an apple on the table there." He pointed at the small table beside the bed and looked back at his book. Even as he wrote something in his fancified script, he announced, "I was right. That house was robbed that night."

A grin slowly spread over Brom's face. He jumped out of bed, crossed the room, and kissed Ichabod firmly.

Ichabod looked surprised, but did not resist. Instead he pointed to the table again, the corners of his mouth twitching. "I see you finally decided to explore the rewards of reading."

Glancing over, Brom saw the volume of Wilmot still open beside the bed and couldn't help flushing a little. "You're the one who bought it," he pointed out. Ichabod smiled. The shock of the previous day seemed forgotten. Brom decided not to shame him by mentioning it. Instead he peered at the book Ichabod had open. There was a picture on the page, a woodcut of a dragon.

"I should have guessed. You went out and bought a dozen books about dragons, didn't you?"

"Of course. What else would I do?"

"Buy a dozen very large guns, for starters."

Ichabod frowned at his page of notes. "I don't know what to do about this."

"You're admitting you don't have an answer to something?"

Brom was rewarded with an exasperated look. "I can't very well organize a dragon hunt. The High Constable may have given me this assignment, but he doesn't think there's anything to it. If I couldn't get help to watch for a jewel gang he does not credit, I can hardly expect help catching a dragon."

"We could hire a couple of stout lads on our own, and get some guns, and set a trap—"

"And bait it with what? A princess?"

Brom glared at him, forgetting his earlier relief. "All right, Crane. Everybody knows you're smart. You can stop showing off!"

Ichabod sighed. "Very well. What do you have in mind?"

"A hunt!"

"Where shall we begin?"

"You questioned all the people who saw it. You know where it lurks!"

Ichabod's brows twitched. "Good idea," he conceded. Brom felt almost awed by receiving this particular compliment from the most brilliant — if also the most lunatic — man he had ever met. "But what then? This is an unknown animal. We don't know how to kill it, or what may be needed to capture it. And in any case, why should we? There are no reports of it harming anyone."

Brom shook his head. "Only you would fret about the rights of a dragon. Are your books telling you anything of use?"

"No." He closed the one he had been reading with a snap. "The reports are highly contradictory. And there are dozens of unanswered questions about this one in any case."

"Such as how the devil did it get here."

"And where does it sleep? Where does it hide during the day? What does it eat? We haven't had any reports of disappearances, or of missing livestock. I suppose it could be herbivorous, but half the trees in the city would have been uprooted to feed that beast!"

"What time is it?"

"Ten."

"Aren't we late?"

"Today's Thursday, Brom. We have night watch."

"Oh, right."

"And plenty of time before it to stop at the scene of the robbery."

As ever, Ichabod's eyes constantly scanned the passerby, the windows, the doors, the ground. When they passed their hiding place of the other night, Ichabod remarked suddenly, "Dragon footprints."

Brom looked at the ground quickly. "Where? I don't see any."

"Precisely. How could such a behemoth leave no footprints? Perhaps a day and a half is enough to obliterate them, but still… you realize we have had no reports of odd footprints?"

"I don't keep track of whether we've had reports of odd footprints," Brom retorted. "So what does this mean?"

Ichabod was still scanning the ground intently, his eyes boring holes in the cobblestones. "I don't know."

"Then what good does it do? I know your methods can work, but you waste a lot of time on unimportant things."

"That is because I do not know until it is solved what is unimportant and what is vital."

Ichabod made his usual fuss over scuffmarks and bits of dirt on the floor at the crime scene. Brom stood to one side, saying nothing.

At the watchhouse, Ichabod greeted the High Constable with the remark, "I told you it was not Callahan!"

The older man looked as if he could endure no more. "Constable Crane…."

"Most of Callahan's men are still in jail. He could not have assembled new members quickly enough to have committed this robbery. A robbery which I warned you would occur! Your henchmen beat Callahan's men into confessing, and they confessed lies, just as I told you they would. The location they gave for their leader turned out to be false, didn't it?"

"We had another dragon sighting the other night," the High Constable said bleakly, as if nursing a forlorn hope of escaping from Ichabod's endless diatribes.

"Give me the witness' address and I shall question him at once," Ichabod said evenly, though Brom had caught the brief tightening of his facial muscles. "Now, since we know that we have a new gang on our hands…."

The older man sighed wearily in defeat. "What do you propose we do about it, then?"

"I propose a trap. A trap baited with well-publicized paste gems. All but one of the burglaries I suspect this gang of committing have involved precious crucifices, so our decoys should be in that form."

The High Constable nodded reluctant approval. "You can have Constables Rodney and LaGrange to watch with you two." Brom noticed that it was simply assumed that he would be a part of Ichabod's scheme.

***

So three days later Brom found himself hiding inside a closet with Ichabod, peering out through a semitransparent muslin panel Ichabod had rigged with his usual unexpected ingenuity. He explained that he had gotten the idea from a similar panel he had found when he and Witherspoon had been shutting down a house of ill repute. Leave it to Ichabod to learn something practical in such a place. And nothing amusing. Rodney and LaGrange had been stationed outside the building and were to help them trap the burglars once they broke in.

Bored with standing still for so long, Brom shifted his weight. He immediately received a reproving glance from Ichabod, who seemed to have infinite patience at such times. But then, he was probably reciting chemical equations in his head. Deciding to use a similar trick, Brom whiled away the next interminable length of time by trying to remember some of John Wilmot's rhymes. He was sure he had two verses word for word when they heard a door opening quietly. Neither of them moved, but the change in the atmosphere of the small space was palpable; both of them were tense, waiting.

Four figures dressed in loose black shirts and trousers entered, unhurried and cat-footed. Even their faces were swathed in black scarves. They did not speak to each other as they entered and began to claim the false jewels. None of them looked suspiciously at the jewels; they must not be able to detect the trickery. Ichabod had explained how one could tell the difference, but Brom had only listened to the first sentence.

They waited and waited, but Rodney and LaGrange did not enter to aid them. After several minutes, Brom considered the situation. There were only four burglars, and they were unarmed. In addition, not one of them even approached Brom's size or height. Hefting his pistol, he looked at Ichabod and raised his eyebrows in silent question.

Ichabod swallowed, but after studying Brom's face for a moment he nodded agreement, lifting his own pistol. There was no need for discussion of how to proceed; they understood each other perfectly.

With a loud thump, Brom threw the door of the closet open. The nearest burglar whirled; before he was facing Brom, Brom dealt him a ringing blow to the head that felled him at once. "Halt!" he declared as Ichabod emerged, his weapon also at the ready. "Put your hands on your heads!"

The three remaining burglars turned and looked at them, quite coldly, as if they were the criminals. Now that they were closer to them, Brom realized that their eyes were all as black as Ichabod's, and slanted; they were Asians.

One of them moved straight towards Brom. This was so unexpected that he was too taken aback to react promptly. Before he could recover himself, the silent figure had disarmed him with a smooth, almost balletic gesture and struck his jaw with a blow that made his head ring.

Brom set himself to fight back. His opponent was smaller than he, but stunningly fast. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Ichabod was already on the ground, pinned quite securely by another of the burglars. The remaining burglar was coolly continuing to loot the cabinets. Brom's opponent glared at him through narrowed eyes. There was a tiny mole beside his left eye.

Brom balled his fist and aimed a devastating blow at his opponent's head which never reached its mark. The figure's head was somewhere else by the time his gesture was made, and the next thing Brom knew, his kidneys were on fire from another blow to them. Grunting, he fell, but still retained the presence of mind to make a grab for his opponent. If you fell, make sure they went with you. He seized the figure's leg.

He could not believe what happened next. The figure's free leg left the ground in a leap and delivered a stunning kick to his ribs. Groaning, he almost released his hold, but did not. Nor could his opponent break free — for all this incredible swiftness, Brom was still far stronger. And he would use that advantage for all it was worth. Gasping at another blow to his kidneys, Brom clung determinedly to his opponent's leg — and then let go abruptly. The figure did lose balance for an instant, and Brom tackled with a grunt.

The tackle wasn't as successful as he had hoped, but his greater size did have its effect. For the next couple of minutes, he continued trying to overpower the small form of his opponent, whose quicksilver movements continued to evade him. He never had time to recover from one strike before the next fell. Incredibly, he found that his nose was bleeding, his face, stomach, ribs and kidneys were all sore and no doubt forming livid bruises, and he had yet to land even one punch. His pride smarting as much as his body, he redoubled his efforts. This only seemed to turn his opponent into even more of a whirlwind, and he realized belatedly that his anger was making him clumsy. He tried to slow down, to think his movements out more carefully, but he was tired and in pain and the black-clad figure seemed to anticipate his every move. Hearing a grunt, he darted a glance and saw that Ichabod was struggling against his own captor, uselessly, trying to come to Brom's aid. Ichabod always chose the damnedest times to be brave.

"Don't!" Brom gasped. "You'll get hurt!" He was going to say something else, but a clout square on his Adam's apple knocked his breath out. Before he could draw another, a slam on the side of his head finally did him in and he crumpled to the ground, conscious but dazed.

"Brom!" Ichabod's voice was cut off by his captor's hand over his mouth. A tiny part of Brom's brain mused that he should probably say something reassuring, but his voice seemed to be out of working order. Brom's triumphant attacker stood over him, surveying his prone form coolly for a moment before producing a scarf from somewhere and binding his wrists behind his back with it. Brom groaned at the contact, but could not resist. He could not even keep his eyes open. The slightest move hurt. He was only one large mass of aching pain. His attacker gave him one final perfunctory kick in the ribs before returning to the jewelry chest.

Ichabod continued to struggle, but his captor seemed to lose patience with him and punched him in the stomach. Ichabod gasped and became still. There were times, Brom mused sluggishly, when cowardice was just good sense.

The paste jewels were all in the burglars' sacks. One of them gestured to Ichabod's captor. He released Ichabod, apparently considering him too little trouble to be worth tying up. He went to the accomplice who Brom had knocked out, who was groaning but still prone, and started trying to help him up.

Ichabod lay meekly still for several seconds after being released, but then lunged for his pistol, which had been knocked a few feet away. Advancing cautiously, he ordered, "Leave him there, or I'll shoot!"

Ichabod's former captor moved towards him, but Ichabod moved warily back, his gun still aimed. One of the other Asians whispered some gibberish, the first time any of them had spoken. Apparently it was an order to leave their fallen comrade, because the three of them backed out and were gone.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Ichabod ran to it and bolted it. From there he rushed to Brom's side. "Brom? Brom! Speak to me!"

Brom could only groan. He felt Ichabod's shaking, slender hands moving over him, checking for broken bones and injuries. Ichabod untied his wrists and used the scarf to bind the fallen burglar. Then he returned to Brom's side.

"Brom? Can you understand me?"

"I never did understand you," Brom mumbled before things went black.

Brom awakened some time later at a jolt. He opened his eyes a slit and saw the silver buttons of a constable's uniform, and felt two pairs of arms hefting him. "Be careful, he's hurt," Ichabod's voice said from what seemed like a long distance. Brom's still-forming bruises ached anew as the carriage he had been lifted into began to move. He drifted in and out of consciousness after that, being intermittently aware of Ichabod's mostly useless attempts to hold him steady in the swaying carriage, the ordeal of turning a corner, Ichabod's orders to some other men, and being carried once again. Eventually he realized that a cup was being held to his lips. He took one sip and turned his head away; the stuff tasted awful.

"Brom, drink it. It'll dull the pain."

Brom pressed his lips together stubbornly. He heard Ichabod sigh.

"I suppose you're too much of a weakling to take it."

Even half-conscious, Brom was put on his mettle. He drank the whole vile potion at one draught. A few seconds later, he was deeply asleep.

***

The first thing Brom was aware of the next morning was pain. Dull pain, all over his body. Every move, however small, awakened more aches. The events of the previous night came back to him and he wished he could stay in bed forever. He kept his eyes closed. He was not going to move. He was not going to be any part of this new day.

Just like Ichabod, spending an entire day hiding under the bed after seeing a dragon.

Reluctantly, Brom opened his eyes. Ichabod was sitting beside him. There was an open book in his hands, naturally, but he was watching Brom anxiously. The circles beneath his eyes were darker than usual. Brom glanced at him briefly, then looked away.

"How do you feel?"

Brom winced. "You don't like that kind of language."

Ichabod's face relaxed as he put the book aside and picked up a tankard. "Well, you are not seriously injured. Here, drink this."

Brom regarded the tankard suspiciously. "What is it?"

"The nectar of the gods," was the dry retort. Brom eased himself to a sitting position and took it. He sniffed the contents and was greeted with the comforting, familiar smell of beer. He took a long pull with relief, rinsing the awful taste of the medicine of the previous night out of his mouth. "Where does it hurt?" Ichabod asked.

Brom swallowed the last of the beer and reached to set the tankard on the table beside the bed, but his battered muscles protested. Ichabod took it from him deftly and set it aside. Brom found that he could not meet his lover's eyes. He looked instead at his uniform, which had apparently been hung on its peg while he was unconscious. "Everywhere. I can hardly move."

"Really!" Ichabod's eyes narrowed in a way Brom was familiar with. He pulled the blankets aside and leaned over Brom, and after a moment Brom could not stop himself from moving. The movement made him wince and he froze. Ichabod had him effectively imprisoned by his own bruises.

"I'll get you for this, Crane."

Ichabod smiled. "I hope so."

***

It was a couple of days before Brom was able to report for duty again.

"Did you get a good look at any of the men who attacked you?" the High Constable demanded of Brom as soon as he and Ichabod entered. Brom, taken aback, did not answer at once.

"Their faces were covered," Ichabod answered for him. "But they were all quite tall, brawny, and broad-shouldered."

The High Constable's lips thinned. "For once I wish I'd heeded you, Crane, and given you more men. But we'll find these ruffians, never fear. The cowards, pitting five men against one constable! We'll show them a thing or two when they're caught, mark my words, Bones."

Brom looked at Ichabod, who did not return the glance. "Is the prisoner still in seclusion?" Ichabod asked.

The High Constable nodded. "And your interpreter's waiting. Have at it. Let's hope your methods are good for something, Crane; we've got to catch these bastards and get our own back for your comrade." The last two words were accompanied by a nod at Brom.

When they were out of their superior's earshot, Brom murmured, "Five men?"

"Armed with clubs," Ichabod added in a matter-of-fact tone.

Brom was too embarrassed to thank Ichabod, but he clasped his shoulder for a moment as they walked. A thought struck him. "Whatever happened to Rodney and LaGrange? Why didn't they come to help us?"

Ichabod's lips pursed. "They are currently on suspension for drunkenness on duty. It seems they saw a dragon strolling down the street, and they both fled."

"Do you think they really saw it?" Brom asked in a low voice.

"Their description matches what we saw," Ichabod admitted as they turned into the long, narrow corridor.

Something else was occurring to Brom. "You got a couple of other constables to carry me home, didn't you?" At Ichabod's nod, he uneasily imagined their colleagues' reaction to the one-room garret they shared, and the single bed. "What did you tell them?"

Ichabod did not misunderstand the question. "I said, ‘Take him to my flat, it's closer.' In any case, we were fortunate; one of those who answered my alarm bell was Constable Chauncey. Even if he guessed, he would not say anything."

"How can you be so sure?"

Ichabod glanced up and down the corridor to be certain they were alone before answering in a very low voice. "Because if he did, I might say something about him and Constable Dennis."

Brom's eyes widened. He was about to exclaim when Ichabod skewered him with a glance and hissed, "Shh!"

Brom swallowed the amazed words which bubbled up. He thought of the two rather dour, nearly middle-aged men. They displayed none of the signs he had learned to look for. Though of course, neither did Brom himself. When he was able to control his voice, he hissed back incredulously, "Constables Chauncey and Dennis?"

Ichabod lifted an eyebrow, amused. "Did you think we were the only ones?"

"Yes! How do you–"

"Never mind how I know. I know," Ichabod replied as they reached the anteroom. He went at once to a bespectacled, middle-aged man who was seated in the anteroom clutching a couple of books. "Professor Gardner?"

In response, the man rose and nodded. "You must be Constable Crane?"

"None other. This way."

"Is this prisoner dangerous?" the professor asked nervously as he and Brom followed Ichabod through the corridors of the watchhouse.

"He will be shackled," Ichabod assured him as a guard unlocked a heavy steel door. The three of them passed through and it was locked again behind them. The professor looked at the locked door nervously, but Ichabod seemed sure of himself. This was the lowest level of the prison, the most secure, used to contain the most dangerous criminals. Ichabod had explained that he had petitioned for the Asian burglar to be held there out of concern for what the other constables might do to a criminal of this race. If this level of the prison was the most impossible to escape, it was also the safest, being virtually inaccessible to all, including to most constables. Ichabod, Brom and the professor were only permitted in because of prior orders from the High Constable.

"You might be wise to keep him so," the professor opined in a voice that quavered slightly. "The Japanese make an art of fighting, you know."

"Do they?" Ichabod asked.

The professor nodded. "They have worked out the mechanics of hand-to-hand fighting to an exact science, which they have passed down through generations. I have read that one man well trained in these skills can defeat several attackers at once, almost like magic."

Ichabod's eyes moved to Brom's for a moment. "Really. Fascinating. Here we are."

Another guard unlocked the door to the Asian's cell. He was indeed shackled to the board which served as his cot. As the door opened, the prisoner sat up straight and glared at the three who entered.

"Professor Gardner, if you would begin by asking his name and those of his accomplices?" Ichabod requested formally.

Keeping a wary distance, the professor spoke to the prisoner in Japanese. The man only looked at him. After a pause, the professor tried again. He still received no response. This went on for quite a few minutes, until at last the prisoner did speak, the words and intonations comical to Brom's ears.

The professor studied the prisoner for a moment, listening to his words intently. After a moment, the Asian had apparently spoken his piece; he returned to silently glaring at them all.

Professor Gardner turned to Ichabod. "Constable Crane, I am afraid I cannot help you. Japanese is the only Asian tongue I know, and this man is not Japanese. Unless I am very much mistaken, he is Chinese."

Ichabod was only thrown for a second. "Do you know of anyone in New York who speaks Chinese?"

The professor thought. "I know that Professor Summerley in Boston does, but as to New York, I don't believe…."

"Never mind," Ichabod interrupted. "I shall inquire at the universities. Thank you very much for your time, Professor Gardner."

They escorted the man back to the anteroom. Right before he left, Ichabod stopped him with one last question. "Those arts of fighting you mentioned… do the Chinese know these as well as the Japanese?"

"It is not my field of expertise, but yes, I believe they do," the professor affirmed before taking his leave.

Brom accompanied Ichabod to the waterfront as a matter of course. Brom often left Ichabod to make his tedious rounds of interrogations alone. But the waterfront was full of shady characters, and most of the men who dwelled there were strong and belligerent, with plenty of things to hide from constables. It was no place for a man with a slight build, a pretty face, a nervous disposition, and a lot of annoying questions to roam alone. As Ichabod asked a series of surly wharf rats and longshoremen and sailors for information about John O'Manion, Brom was a silent but menacing presence at his side.

A large man named Leigh was, by all accounts, O'Manion's closest friend, and so Ichabod sought him out. Leigh was in a warehouse, loading crates onto wagons. Though other men were working nearby, just out of sight, they were relatively private.

Having explained his business, Ichabod asked, "Do you know of anyone who might have wished O'Manion harm?"

"Naw."

"Anyone he might have angered?"

"Naw."

"Anyone who might have benefited from his death?"

"Look, constable, no one here knows a thing about it."

"Surely someone must have some idea…."

Leigh glared at them. "Constables, if you know what's good for you, you'll spend your time looking into some other murder."

Brom groaned inwardly. That kind of threat only set Ichabod on the trail like a hound who'd caught a scent. He liked it when people were mad at him; he was used to it, and he believed it meant he was on the right track. Sure enough, Ichabod persisted, "Who do you suspect?"

"I don't suspect no one!" Leigh took a menacing step towards them. Before he could stop himself, Brom had flinched and stepped back. Startled at this uncharacteristic behavior, Ichabod glanced around at him in surprise. Seizing the moment of inattention, Leigh moved swiftly towards Ichabod.

Brom's only hope of defending Ichabod was to get him out of the way. Hurling himself at Leigh, he shoved Ichabod aside, knocking him over. Ichabod hit the ground, but at least he was out of Leigh's reach.

Brom and Leigh exchanged a few blows before facing off, circling each other warily for a long minute. It was not Brom's usual fighting style. Generally he simply dove in and kept swinging till his opponent was prone. But now he was cautiously evaluating an opponent for the first time he could recall.

Ichabod had risen and was standing back, watching the other two men circle each other.

Losing patience, Leigh charged. Brom dodged the punch he aimed, but did not try to land a blow of his own. A few more such exchanges made Brom realize that he was once more behaving unusually; a defensive posture was not his custom. And as he had always believed it would, it gave his opponent the advantage. Leigh thus far had delivered every blow, and Leigh was taking advantage of Brom's caution. Worse, Leigh believed that he had already won the fight. He was not intimidated in the least.

Leigh rushed Brom and unleashed a volley of punches on him, having apparently decided it was time to bring the fight to its proper conclusion. Grappling with an opponent who already had the advantage, Brom found that he only had one choice. He fought as he had only a few times before in his life, fought viciously, delivering blows which were certain to inflict serious harm.

When Leigh collapsed to the ground a few minutes later, he had a broken wrist, more than one broken rib, a few missing teeth, and several lumps forming on his head.

Brom stood over him, panting, the taste of blood in his mouth. An unease he did not care to analyze was knotting his stomach.

He did not look at Ichabod. After a long and heavy silence, Ichabod said quietly, "Watch him for me while I patch him up."

Wordlessly, Brom stood nearby, ready to inflict further damage if Leigh tried to attack Ichabod. But it seemed that Leigh had no more fight in him; he lay passively as Ichabod splinted his wrist and wrapped strips of cloth around his ribcage. They transported him to the watchhouse in a carriage and jailed him for assault on a constable. Several eyebrows lifted at the spectacle of Ichabod entering the watchhouse with a battered suspect, the very practice he was generally loudly deploring. Brom did not even want to speculate about what they would all make of this. He did not want to think at all.

But of course Ichabod would not let it rest. When they arrived home, Ichabod spoke at last.

"Brom, that really was unnecessary. We are constables, not henchmen."

Brom was promptly defensive. "Was I supposed to let him whale the tar out of us both?"

"You know," Ichabod replied patiently, "I did survive seven years on the constabulary without you."

"I'm sure I can't imagine how. Anyway, what are you complaining about? We've got our murderer."

"I don't think so."

"You don't think that brute murdered O'Manion? Then why did he react to us that way?"

"Doubtless most of the men in that neighborhood have things to hide from the law." Ichabod frowned as his mind turned to work once more. "It is going to be most difficult to learn anything from them." He continued absently, not looking at Brom, "Be a bit less hot-headed, would you? I don't fancy the idea of having you carried home again."

Brom seized Ichabod by the shoulders and turned him to face him. "I've had enough of your lip, Crane. Are you implying that I might be bested?"

Ichabod looked surprised, though not especially troubled. "Really, Brom, you act as if you'd never lost a fight before."

"I hadn't!" Brom burst out, stung that Ichabod thought that losing was a habit with him.

Ichabod's eyes widened, and then became comprehending and concerned in a way that made Brom even angrier. Shaking his head slightly, Ichabod reached to embrace him. "Brom. I didn't realize…."

His face warm, Brom shrugged his lover's arms away.

Sighing, Ichabod tried again. "Don't take it so hard, Brom. There is always someone better. You cannot expect an entire lifetime of nothing but triumphs, really. You are still stronger than most–"

"Shut up!"

Ichabod met his gaze unflinchingly. "Get back on the horse, Van Brunt."

"What would you know about that?" Brom sneered.

Anyone else Brom knew would look nervous at that tone from him. Ichabod looked concerned for him and a bit offended, but not in the least afraid. He said nothing else, simply regarded Brom with that knowingly compassionate look. That look enraged Brom.

"What?" Brom demanded in a belligerent tone.

Ichabod's brows lifted and his lips pressed together. "Do you want me to tell you?" he asked.

"No. I want a drink." He turned and stalked out the door, leaving Ichabod to watch him go. By the time Brom returned home late that night, Ichabod had already fallen asleep.

***

"I have discovered something!" Ichabod declared triumphantly the next afternoon as he entered the watchhouse. Without waiting to be asked, he explained, "A lad who works in one of the pawnshops sneaked out to advise me that I would do well to investigate one of his competitors."

"Perhaps he just wants to make trouble for a rival in business," Brom suggested cynically.

"I doubt it. He would not have been so private about the information had that been the case, most likely. In any case, I shall investigate. Though he gave me little enough to go on?"

"What did he say?" the High Constable asked grudgingly.

"His exact words were ‘Some Papist takes crosses there.' It would seem that our culprit is a man of the cloth, or poses as one."

"Impersonating a clergyman!" The High Constable was incensed. "We can nail him for that alone!"

Ichabod sighed, but did not trouble himself to argue at his superiors' priorities. "You see?" he informed Brom, rather coolly. "The fact that I continued my investigation after my warning gave the lad courage enough to talk. I will likely be hearing from others after this."

***

The next morning, as Brom and Ichabod were on their way to the watchhouse, Brom paused when they reached the juncture of the road with that which lead to the Quail and Bear. "I'm going to stop for a bit. I'll catch up," he said.

"You're not going for a drink!" Ichabod exclaimed, more surprised than annoyed at first.

Brom met his eyes challengingly. "Yes, I am."

"You can't show up for duty drunk!"

"Plenty do." This was true enough, though Brom had never done so before.

Outrage not having availed, Ichabod switched to persuasion. "I would rather you didn't."

Brom's usual careful consideration of Ichabod's sore spots ebbed. He stared his lover down. "What are you now," he sneered, "my wife?"

Ichabod's eyes widened and an angry flush darkened his face. After a long moment of both men biting their tongues, Ichabod spat, "Enjoy yourself." With that he turned on his heel and strode in the direction of the watchhouse.

Brom went to the tavern and had several beers, but not enough to dull the regret he felt for his words.

***

Brom generally spent his days off in hearty activity. Sometimes he would rent a spirited horse and ride in the countryside that surrounded the city. Other times he might watch races or boxing matches. And there had been a few mornings when he had forcibly prevented Ichabod from rising to attend his dull books and instruments and the two of them had spent virtually the entire day absorbed in each other, not leaving the garret.

This day, Brom opened his eyes to a full day which he was free to spend exactly as he chose, and he regarded the prospect with gloom. There was nothing in this day to distract him.

In a while, he decided, he would go out and get as drunk as he possibly could. Ichabod would not approve, but Ichabod could go to hell. It would do Ichabod good to get drunk himself occasionally.

But Brom did not have the energy to get out of bed just yet. He lay still, staring morosely at nothing. Ichabod had already risen and was messing about with his chemicals.

Brom Van Brunt did not lose fights. But now he had done so. Now he had to redefine Brom Van Brunt in a way that included the possibility of losing, and the thought weighted him down like a coat of lead.

Perhaps he should go back to Sleepy Hollow, where no one could best him and the problems were ones that he understood. Back to straightforward bears and wolves for opponents, and snatched moments with men like himself, men who would then hurry home to their wives, ordinary men he understood. Sleepy Hollow did not boast even one man with the face of an angel, the sensibilities of a poet, the arrogance of an emperor, the mind of a wizard, the spirit of a knight-errant… and the heart of a frightened little girl.

Life without Ichabod to baffle him and confound him and enchant him with his beauty and his reluctant heroism would be intolerably dull.

Brom lay in bed till almost noon, his mind treading the same paths over and over. He was unused to introspection and was not very good at it. Ichabod asked him if he meant to stay in bed all day, and Brom's surly retort annoyed him enough that he left for the bookshop, leaving Brom alone to brood some more.

When Brom finally arose, he listlessly ate a few bites of bread before heading out to a tavern.

Late that night Brom stumbled into their flat. He was not quite drunk enough not to be mindful of the delicate equipment on the tables that filled the flat. If he had been sure that he never wanted to see Ichabod again, he would have allowed himself to break some of those infernal beakers and vials and whatnot. But he still held an unacknowledged hope that things would mend even though he had not quite admitted that they were broken.

From his desk, Ichabod watched Brom warily as he wove toward the bed and fell on it. Brom closed his eyes at once and pretended to sleep. When Ichabod blew out the candles and lay beside him a few minutes later, Brom did not reach for him, though it was some time before either man slept.

***

The next day around noon Brom awoke to a monstrous headache. He opened his eyes only to close them again. "I'm too sick for duty tonight," he groaned.

"What a pity," Ichabod remarked from his desk. "Constables Rodney and LaGrange agreed to watch for the dragon with me — I visited both of them yesterday, while you were… out. You don't wish to miss the dragon hunt, do you?"

"You said yourself we don't know how to catch it. It might be too big to be stopped by a few bullets."

"Well, I'm going. But if you're afraid of the dragon, there is no need for you to accompany me."

The tactic was crude, but nonetheless effective. Brom opened his eyes and glared at Ichabod, who was pretending to look at his open book. Brom stood and stretched.

"I suppose I'd better go," he remarked. "Someone has to carry you home when you faint."

Ichabod inhaled sharply at Brom's words, but he kept his eyes on his book. A History of China was written on the spine. He never did let up on his work.

"I'm going to get a hair of the dog that bit," Brom added. "I'll be back in time to report for duty."

Ichabod did not reply, and Brom left without another word.

***

The dragon hunt was unsuccessful. Rodney and LaGrange were both almost as frightened as Ichabod as they all patrolled the places where the dragon had been spotted. Ichabod's hands shook so hard that he could scarcely hold the lantern. At length, Brom became exasperated and snatched it from him, only to discover that his own hands were shaking as well. This put him in a foul temper and gave him an unacknowledged worry about exactly what he would do if they did encounter the dragon.

To make matters worse, Ichabod noticed every tremor. Ichabod knew that Brom had lost his nerve. The humiliation was far worse than the fear. Was this how Ichabod felt?

At one point all of them heard soft footfalls and a slight brushing in the road. They were all certain that it was the dragon. Everyone froze, unwilling to move. As the sounds moved farther away, Ichabod nudged Brom. "Go and see what it is," he whispered, loudly enough that Rodney and LaGrange heard.

The last thing Brom wanted to do was leave the safety of their hiding place. But Rodney and LaGrange looked at him expectantly, so he had no choice. His stomach tied in a thousand knots, and vowing revenge on Ichabod at the first opportunity, Brom stepped into the street, to discover a man and a woman, doubtless en route to some adulterous assignation. Their heavy cloaks had caused the brushing sounds so reminiscent of those the dragon had made.

This incident festered in Brom's mind for the next two days, so that he was spoiling for a fight by the time that Ichabod discovered that John O'Manion had had a brother named Peter with numerous gambling debts, and that Peter stood to inherit the O'Manion warehouse. It would hardly make its owner wealthy, but in New York murders were committed for less.

Brom was still outraged at the O'Manion murder. Bringing its perpetrator to justice was an inspiring thought, one that made him feel almost like Brom Bones again. Which was why he set out to arrest the man alone, while Ichabod was doing some of his tedious interrogations.

Brom was in an ugly mood as he went in search of the brother. The utter malice of this crime still angered him, but in addition, he was uneasy as to the contest that was likely ahead. Most of the men at the wharf were large and brawny.

But Peter O'Manion, it turned out, was not. He was a man of quite average build, and Brom arrested him with ease, ignoring his protestations of innocence. Though Peter made only the slightest gestures of resistance, Brom punched him several times to subdue any notions of further resistance in advance. The man who had committed that vicious murder deserved no quarter.

The blows Brom delivered ensured that Peter had to be supported as he walked to the watchhouse. Brom dragged him there and shoved him into one of the cells, not meeting Ichabod's appalled gaze.

Ichabod did not mention it till they were at home that night, though it was clear enough that his mind was worrying it like a dog with a bone. At last he could contain it no longer, and out poured the lecture Brom had expected, all Ichabod's notions of the rights of those accused but not convicted and of humane crime detection. Brom listened to perhaps two minutes of this before calling a halt.

"Get it through your naïve head, Crane. Criminals don't deserve any better."

"Everyone knows you're strong. You can stop showing off," Ichabod retorted. "I thought you used your fists in good causes or for sport. I never knew you to batter the weak for your own amusement. What kind of brute are you?"

Brom leered. "The kind you like."

"Don't be too certain of that," came the icy rejoinder.

The parry stung, but Brom pressed on. "We can't waste time mollycoddling murderers—"

"Peter O'Manion did not commit that murder!"

"You said yourself that he was the heir to–"

"Not everyone with a motive is guilty! And if you had given me a chance to question Peter O'Manion, I could have told you that he is not. In fact, even you could have deduced that he was innocent!"

Brom rolled his eyes. "Let me guess. He had the wrong kind of shoes to make the footprints that–"

"Did you have much trouble subduing him?" Ichabod demanded.

Brom jutted his chin, hearing an implied insult in the question. "None at all!"

"So he was not very strong?"

"Not nearly as strong as me. Not much stronger than you, in fact," Brom jibed.

"Then how could he have moved that trunk?"

And of course, Brom saw at once that Ichabod was right. But striking out at the suspect had dulled the pain inside him for a short time, until Ichabod's never-ceasing honesty and inflexible principles raked up the truth for him. That turmoil in him welled up and demanded an outlet.

Brom replied by seizing Ichabod by the collar and slamming him against the wall, raising a fist to pummel his words out of existence.

And his fist froze as soon as it was raised.

Shock was followed by trepidation on Ichabod's face, and when he saw that Brom had stopped himself, that was replaced by a frosty glare.

Ichabod waited, chin up, eyebrows slightly raised, not trying to evade whatever Brom might do. When Brom remained motionless, horrified at himself, Ichabod challenged, "Well? Go ahead. It won't be the first time I've been battered."

Feeling thoroughly ashamed, Brom released him and stepped back, unable to meet his lover's piercing gaze. He looked at the floor, stunned at himself, wondering what in God's name had gotten into him. He wanted to tell Ichabod that he would never have actually done what he had seemed about to do, but he was too ashamed even to speak.

A moment later, Ichabod's hand under his chin forced him to look up.

"I accept your apology," Ichabod said, and kissed him gently. He was confident now, reassuring.

"Ichabod… I never thought I'd…." Brom's voice trailed off helplessly.

"And you didn't. Don't you see, Brom? You've passed the test. You wanted to batter a weaker and entirely undeserving opponent, and you didn't. Now we are seeing what you are truly made of." His expression became sardonic. "I do believe I'll keep you about for a while longer."

The implications of the last sentence and the serious note in Ichabod's ironic tone turned Brom's blood cold and swept away all of the angry defenses he had erected.

Brom was silent as the reality dawned that he was in danger of losing Ichabod. He had been so absorbed in his own turmoil that this angle had not occurred to him. Sickened, he realized that in his present state he was hardly the kind of man Ichabod wanted. And with a sinking feeling, it occurred to him that he did not actually know what kind of man Ichabod did want.

Longingly he thought of a drink. But as much as he needed one, he knew that it would do nothing to rehabilitate him in Ichabod's eyes. At a loss, he walked slowly to the bed and sank onto it, feeling drained of all energy. Depression was foreign to Brom's cheerful nature, and he staggered under its weight. He sat morosely silent, unable to think of anything to say. Though he stared at the wall, he was aware of Ichabod's gaze on him.

The silence lengthened and became unbearable. At last Brom found his voice. "Perhaps I should resign. It seems I'm not cut out to be a constable."

Ichabod accepted this information with his usual cold composure. After a moment, he remarked, "You know, my colleagues have never been fond of me. I have been a thorn in everyone's side for years. Since you joined, I have been able to annoy them all more than ever." He paused for a moment. He was not looking at Brom, but away. "I am certain they will all be glad enough to have you go."

Brom's jaw set as he realized that with him gone, the other constables would not miss the chance for revenge on Ichabod for all the times that Brom had defended him. The thought of Constable Green's probable repayment to Ichabod for the thrashing Brom had given him outside the Quail and Bear was grim enough. Brom realized that he could not quit. He could not abandon Ichabod to the tender mercies of their colleagues. Because even knowing the increased danger he would be in, Ichabod would not leave. He would keep right on with his insane crusade in between whatever bullying he had to endure.

At the same time, Brom realized that Ichabod was not going to ask him to stay. Ichabod would expose himself to a lifetime of his colleagues' revenge before saying those simple words to Brom. Brom remembered Ichabod's rather diffident, offhand manner when he had asked Brom to leave Sleepy Hollow with him. Even though his voice and his words had been carefully neutral, his eyes had burned with his true feelings.

Ichabod always believed that his battles were his alone to fight, however great the odds, no matter if sometimes he had an ally for a time. Help, such as that Brom had been given, was like pleasant weather: to be enjoyed when it was there, but never to be relied upon or expected as due.

"But I don't agree with you," Ichabod said after a time. Brom glanced at him, and Ichabod clarified, "I think that you are one of the best constables in New York."

"After the holy messes I've made recently?"

Ichabod replied airily, "Well, if you believe that one failure is sufficient to utterly destroy you, I suppose…."

Brom scowled at his boots, trying to make sense out of this riposte. Ichabod always had to express himself obliquely, it seemed. It was typical that he should deliver encouragement in the form of a near-insult.

Ichabod began making the rounds of the garret, looking at his chemicals and contraptions and writing in his ledger. Brom was glad enough of the excuse not to make conversation; his mind was in turmoil. The only thing that was clear to him was that he had to restore Ichabod's good opinion of him. He stood up long enough to remove his uniform and pull on a nightshirt, grappling with the question of what to do.

When Ichabod finished surveying his equipment and sat in the chair nearest the bed to pull off his boots, Brom took heart. It seemed that Ichabod was not going to avoid him, at least. The silence became a bit more comfortable. Ichabod held his second boot for a long moment, studying it thoughtfully as if it were a clue to something, but Brom realized that Ichabod's thoughts were far away.

At length Ichabod put the boot down and began to speak, quietly, still not looking at Brom. "The first year that I was a member of the constabulary, I investigated a murder. I was only beginning to develop my methods then, but it was clear enough to me that the wrong man had been convicted. I told the Burgomaster and the High Constable so, quite politely, and demonstrated the evidence meticulously." He sighed, the exquisite planes of his face becoming drawn and grim. "They did not heed me, of course. And the High Constable was furious, even though I explained my theory most respectfully. He shouted at me to remember my place and do what I was told."

Brom said nothing, only listened attentively.

Ichabod continued slowly. "At that time, I… well, being shouted at intimidated me a great deal. Perhaps because my father used to shout at me before beating me. In any case, I retreated and said no more about it. I even told myself that my superiors were more experienced and likely knew better than I did, in spite of the evidence I had found."

"You?" Brom could not help saying.

Ichabod replied with a weary half-smile. "I was much younger then," he reminded Brom. "I had not seen myself proved right as many times as I now have." In spite of Ichabod's serious tone, Brom could not help smiling at this flash of conceit, even though he knew it was quite literally true; Ichabod usually was right. "So I quieted down and did as I was told. The man my colleagues had arrested was executed for the murder." Ichabod drew a breath. "And a month later, the man I had thought was guilty killed again." His lips pressed together at the memory. "Two innocent men died, and if I had not given in to my own cowardice, they might not have. Why do you think I make such a nuisance of myself now, in spite of the fact that I am so seldom listened to? I am still ashamed of that failure seven years ago, but in a way it has been an advantage: it was unpleasant enough that I have not allowed myself to give in again…. That failure has been a great source of strength to me." Ichabod brooded for a moment longer before looking directly at Brom at last. "You say you've never lost a fight before. Do you despise every man you've beaten?"

"Not if they take it like a sport," Brom replied automatically.

Ichabod regarded him in silence, Brom's words hanging in the air between them. After a moment Ichabod raised his brows slightly, inquiringly. Brom lowered his eyes, conceding the point.

When Ichabod stood, he did not meet Brom's eyes, and Brom thought he knew why. Brom lay down and turned on his side, facing the wall. He could hear Ichabod removing his uniform, and a moment later the room went dark as Ichabod blew out the candle. Brom felt the bed shift as Ichabod lay down. Getting into bed with someone with whom one was not on the best of terms was intolerably awkward.

They lay side by side, not touching. Brom had not touched Ichabod in days. In fact, not since their encounter with Leigh. Something in Ichabod's aloof demeanour had made it clear enough that advances would be unwelcome, and Brom was not eager to court the additional humiliation of rejection. Besides, he hardly had the appetite these days. Now it was not desire, but a wish for comfort that made him want nothing more than to feel Ichabod's arms around him, to close his eyes and rest his head on Ichabod's shoulder and forget everything. But he was too uncertain of his reception to try. Now it was loneliness, not hurt pride, that was aching in him, but more coldness from Ichabod now would be more than he could endure.

Several times Brom almost spoke, but any words he could string together sounded wrong in his head. He could not possibly say what he was truly thinking. Ask me for something! Demand some impossible task of me, like the quests in fairy tales for rare treasures guarded by fearsome beasts, so that I can prove myself by doing it! He even had a mad impulse to tell Ichabod to hit him; his humble acceptance of whatever pain his lover chose to inflict would prove his good faith….

After an interminably long time, Ichabod's breathing slowed as he fell asleep. Being careful not to wake him, Brom slowly rolled over and moved closer, feeling the warmth of Ichabod's body all along the length of his own, slipping his arm around Ichabod's waist. It was only when he felt the subtle tensing of the slender body beside him that Brom realized that he had been wrong. Ichabod was awake after all. Silently praying that Ichabod would not push him away, Brom lay still, pretending he had not noticed. They remained silent and frozen in that pose until they both fell asleep.

***

Brom awoke at dawn. No sound or movement had disturbed him, it seemed; Ichabod, a light sleeper, was still dozing soundly beside him. Remaining as still as he could, not to disturb his lover, Brom studied him in the faint light coming through the window. Without the taut apprehension of his waking hours, Ichabod seemed far younger while asleep, and quite vulnerable, the exquisite planes of his face relaxed. Hardly the daunting opponent he was when alert, whose unanswerable arguments and unshakable determination managed to turn stronger, braver men upside down as a matter of routine. A worthy dueling partner indeed. Thinking of the dangers and the mundane unpleasantness this beautiful, innocent boy would insist upon courting when he awakened, Brom felt a fierce urge to shelter him. He would have drawn him close in a protective embrace had he been able to do so without awakening him.

Eventually Ichabod's eyes opened and settled on Brom in the morning quiet. Brom gently caressed the sculpted lines of his cheek, wishing to delay the moment when Ichabod would don his mask of stoicism.

Ichabod did not relax into the caress, but at least he did not evade it. Brom wondered helplessly what he could do to ease things. He wondered what Ichabod wanted from him.

The silence lengthened, and Brom knew that this quiet, unguarded moment could not last. He had to say something that would keep the trivia of the new day at bay a little longer. At last he blurted, "Why did you pick me? Why not another intellectual? What do you want with an unlettered brute?"

Brom half expected Ichabod to reply with some of his masterfully turned phrases that always made Brom's blood race, but instead concern and a hint of remorse crossed Ichabod's face. He stroked Brom's sandpaper cheek. It was something he rarely did; Brom initiated most of their caresses. "I've been taunting you too much," Ichabod said contritely. "You are not a brute, Brom, you are merely thoughtless. You don't have the callousness of the other constables. You have a decency found only too rarely in strong men." His expression becoming sardonic, he added, "Besides, you may have noticed that ‘intellectuals' lie awake at night brooding over things that would never even occur to a healthy animal like you. I doubt this flat is large enough for two legions of inner demons. But what do you want with a tormented fanatic obsessed with theories everyone considers insane?"

Brom found himself answering seriously. He could have reminded Ichabod of his beauty, or paid tribute to his admirable forced courage, but instead he confessed, "I never had a good reason to do anything. You make a holy crusade out of the constabulary." He added, trying not to stammer, "I'll be there every time you need anything." Feeling like a complete fool, he finished in a low voice, "I'll never let anything happen to you."

Ichabod's obsidian eyes searched his face. "You don't have to say any of that," he said tensely.

"You're always searching for the truth. Can't you recognize it when it's right in your face?" Brom demanded, upset by his lover's cautious reaction to his own daring words. Ichabod studied him again. Brom added, "Did I say it wrong? Have you heard the same words too many times, is that the problem?"

Ichabod's eyes glittered. "No," he said through clenched teeth. "Too few." And he looked away.

Brom considered in silence for a moment. At length he asked hesitantly, "There have been other men, haven't there?"

Ichabod paused before replying. "Well, yes. I don't suppose you kept yourself pure for me," he said tartly.

"No," Brom answered softly. After a moment he added quietly, "Tell me about them."

Ichabod turned his head away. Looking at the tangle of inky hair, Brom thought for a minute that he was not going to reply. But at length Ichabod began to speak, his voice flat.

"When I was fourteen… I was small for my age, of course, and the other boys used to bully me. There was one boy a couple of years older than I. He was large and strong, and he befriended me. Defended me. The others stopped pestering me. Finally, one day, when we were alone… he showed me why he had been defending me."

Brom was silent for a time. "I never beat up on smaller boys," he said at last. "My father taught me that was despicable, and I agreed with him. And I defended some of the smaller boys too. But I never made them do anything for—"

"It wasn't like that," Ichabod said quickly. "I… it was the first time in years that I had been at all happy." A note of wonder crept into his voice. "It was the most amazing discovery."

Brom's arm tightened around Ichabod with an odd mixture of jealousy and protectiveness. He nodded slowly.

Ichabod was lost for a time in memory. Then he drew a ragged breath. "One day, after a few months, my… my father caught us." His body grew tense in Brom's embrace. "He beat me, of course. He used to beat me all the time, but…not like that. I couldn't get out of bed for a week."

Brom's blood heated with anger. He leaned to kiss the back of Ichabod's neck.

"He told my friend's father, and he was beaten too, but he was stronger than I, he wasn't hurt as badly." Ichabod shifted slightly. "When I was able to go to school again, he wouldn't even speak to me. And my father was beating me more often than ever." It was a moment before Ichabod added, "After a couple of weeks, I couldn't stand it anymore. Not any of it. I ran away."

Brom stroked his lover's midnight hair. "And then?" he asked softly.

"I found a new friend almost as soon as I came to the city. An older boy, again, large and strong. I think I was partly looking for another protector. So for over a year we stayed together, working together, helping each other."

"What happened?"

Ichabod's profile became grim. "He thought of a new way, an illegal way, of making money." Brom's throat tightened as he regarded his exquisite avenging angel; he did not dare to ask questions. "I would have none of it," Ichabod added flatly, and Brom was able to breathe again. "He tried hitting me, tried to bully me into it, and so I left him. He is in prison now."

After a moment, Brom whispered, "I was wrong about you, Ichabod." In response to Ichabod's lifted eyebrow, he went on, "You are not a coward."

Ichabod lowered his eyes, his ebony lashes casting a shadow on his cheeks. He shrugged. "Sometimes I think that courage lies in being afraid of something, and then finding something else that you fear even more. I left my father and my second lover because I was afraid of staying with them."

Brom slowly pulled Ichabod closer. "Ichabod… I like to tease you, but I would never actually—" His voice trailed off as he shamefacedly recalled the previous day. How could he ask Ichabod to believe him after that?

"I know it," Ichabod answered. "I recognized at once that you had a degree of rough chivalry in you." Ichabod sighed. "For years after that, I was afraid to take another lover. I was afraid of the same thing happening. But when I had a little more money and lived in a flat of my own, I met a man. He was married. We saw each other for several months, but he felt guilty, and in time decided to cleave unto his wife."

"And after that?"

"After that, I went to an obscure hamlet on police business and a thuggish blacksmith started following me around. And now it is your turn to confess."

Grinning, Brom laced his fingers through Ichabod's ebony hair. "There were a few men in Sleepy Hollow. I would occasionally meet one of them in a barn or in the western woods. We never tried to form special attachments. Small town gossip, you know. And the ones I really wanted, I could never have. They always liked girls."

"I never did care for girls."

"You could have fooled me, the way you stammered when Katrina took off her blindfold after she kissed you."

"I was stammering because I thought you were about to wrap your hands around my throat."

"I was about to wrap my hands around her throat," Brom joked.

Ichabod smiled, something he rarely did. "She did seem to be a shameless flirt."

"You have no idea."

They lay silently together for a few minutes, caressing each other idly. After a time, Ichabod suddenly broke the silence. "An odd thing. I never kissed any of them." His brows knit. "It simply never occurred to us."

"I never did either! It didn't seem right, since there was really nothing between us. But with you… it just seemed natural."

Their eyes locked, and a moment later they kissed again, very delicately, very solemnly. At last their lips parted, and before either of them could speak the clock tower down the street bonged. Ichabod pushed the sheets back and sat up. "We'd better get going."

Brom would have preferred to continue the conversation, or perhaps the kissing, but his aim now was to please Ichabod, so he followed his lead. They prepared for duty briskly, exchanging few words. When they reached the watchhouse, the High Constable was organizing a party of the strongest constables to rescue the occupants of a building that had just collapsed. Green and Dennis were among those already recruited.

Ichabod said, "I have some of those boring interrogations to conduct today. Why don't you join them?"

Brom was both glad and disappointed. It was an appealing job, but he had hoped the day might give him a chance to demonstrate his devotion to Ichabod. If he could have, he would have shouted it from the rooftops. "Don't you need me?"

"Not for this. And they could use your muscles."

Brom nodded his assent. "Just don't do anything dangerous without me."

Ichabod smiled slightly. "What are you now," he asked, "my wife?"

His tone was light, but there was a challenge in his eyes.

Brom colored, but smiled slightly. "Something like that, I suppose." Their eyes held for a moment before Brom went to join the others. Only a minute later they were en route to the disaster site on fast horses, leaving Ichabod to his deductions.

Brom returned to the watchhouse with the others a few hours later tired and dirty but in good spirits. It was the kind of straightforward job that even Ichabod could find no ethical questions about; the rubble one lifted off a prone body had no rights to be violated, no motives to be considered. The victims had sustained several injuries, but there had been no deaths. No two ways about it, the team had done good work that day.

All of them were too exhausted to go back to duty right away, so they sat about the watchhouse, tending to the trivial scratches and strained muscles they had received, talking idly. The High Constable was well pleased enough with them not to object. A pleasant laziness fell over the group.

It was into this atmosphere that Ichabod marched with a shackled man a bit taller and brawnier than himself, a man with greasy hair and darting, furtive eyes. Without a word of explanation, he escorted the man into one of the cells and locked him up.

The High Constable stood with a frown. "Who's this, Crane? What's he done?"

Ichabod had never looked so like a medieval prince. "May I present Mr. Callahan, jewel thief."

"What? Are you sure?"

"And I also know where several of his gang members may be found, if some of my colleagues would care to apprehend them."

The High Constable stared incredulously at the sullen Callahan. "How the blazes did you find him, Crane?"

"At the scene of Callahan's last known robbery I found traces of yellowish dirt. That particular kind of dirt is found only in the eastern district of the city; specifically, Lantern Lane. It was–"

"You make these things up, don't you?" the High Constable demanded, cutting him off. Ichabod only smiled. "All right, lads, who wants to round up Callahan's gang?"

Two hours later several jewel thieves were in the holding pen, and the battering Ichabod deplored began.

"Stop it!" Ichabod declared. "This is no way to solve crimes?"

"Crane, those scoundrels don't deserve your compassion. Don't tell me you doubt their guilt," the High Constable replied.

Ichabod pursed his lips. "It is not only compassion! People who are in pain will say what they are told to say! We must use our brains to come at the truth, or else criminals will continue to evade justice."

"This is a simple enough matter–"

"Why am I not allowed to try?"

It was the frustration in Ichabod's voice that made Brom decide to step in. He knew it was nonsense, of course. But smart people, he realized, were odd. There was no reasoning with them sometimes. And indulging Ichabod's high-flown notions would help to compensate for Brom's behavior of late. He went over to the High Constable, making certain to loom over him in as intimidating a manner as he could, and spoke in a low voice. Ichabod stood a few yards away, watching tensely. "Call the lads off. Constable Crane needs to question the prisoners."

The High Constable tried to look stern. "How in the world did Crane sell you on his half-baked notions? Force is the only way to deal with their kind. You know that!"

Brom paused. "You've never let him conduct his kind of interrogation, have you? If you give him a shot and he falls on his face, he'll shut up about it."

A flicker of interest lighted the older man's eyes, but after a second he replied sourly, "He'll find something new to prattle about."

Brom smiled very slightly and leaned close confidentially. "Wouldn't you like to see him fail?"

The High Constable's eyes met his. A moment later, the older man was striding to the holding pen. "Enough!" he called out. The constables stopped their "questioning", startled. The High Constable turned to Ichabod. "Put your methods to the test, Crane."

It took Ichabod only a second to recover from his surprise. Briskly, as if he had done this hundreds of times, he ordered, "Put them each in separate cells where they cannot speak to each other, or to anyone else."

The constables all gawked. The High Constable grumbled, "Get to it!"

No one moved. Witherspoon protested, "But sir, to do that we would have to move other prisoners–"

"Then do it!" the High Constable snapped.

Once the prisoners were properly ensconced, the High Constable turned to Ichabod once more. "Well?" he demanded gruffly.

"Now we allow them to stew," Ichabod announced. "After an hour alone, they will all be in a most vulnerable state of mind."

The High Constable's lip curled. "So this is what rational methods amount to: doing nothing!"

"The time for doing will be an hour hence," Ichabod replied crisply. "In any case, I learned enough about them all from Callahan to have several excellent starting points." With that he walked away. Brom followed. "You are smarter than I thought, Van Brunt. The High Constable is looking forward to seeing me fail."

Brom grinned. "I'd like to see you fail myself."

Ichabod responded with a raised eyebrow and a frosty look before continuing down the corridor to set up his interrogation room.

What he wanted was simple enough. A heavy chair to which the suspect could be shackled by one ankle, another chair for him, a table and his ever-present ledger.

"Just one ankle cuff? That hardly seems adequate," Brom objected.

"It is impossible to talk to a man who is trussed like an animal."

"Then I'll have to be there in case he tries something."

Ichabod regarded him critically. Brom thrust out a stubborn jaw. After a moment of warring glances, Ichabod capitulated.

"Very well, you may be present. But you must stand aside quietly and not interfere."

Ichabod's imperious tone made the other constables gape, especially when Brom cheerfully agreed. Everyone but Ichabod was afraid of Brom, and Ichabod was afraid of everyone but Brom.

When an hour had passed, Ichabod had one of the prisoners escorted into the interrogation room. Brom stood two paces behind Ichabod's chair, letting his presence be a menacing warning. Ichabod did not look at the prisoner as he was led in and chained to the chair, instead studying his notes as if he were alone. Ichabod had been right about one thing: an hour of unaccustomed solitude had shaken the man. The thief was visibly nervous.

When the man was settled, Ichabod at last glanced up at him. "Frederic North, jewel thief," he announced.

Freddie's eyes had been darting everywhere, but now he fixed them on Ichabod. He leaned forward, scowling. "Take care, Constable, that I don't smash that pretty face of yours."

To Brom's impressed surprise, Ichabod did not flinch even slightly. "My companion is hoping you'll try that," he remarked. Freddie's eyes flickered nervously to Brom, who gave his most menacing glare.

Freddie cringed. "I'm so sorry," he whimpered. "I meant no harm. I stole only from those who could afford to lose,"

Brom's hands closed into fists. The High Constable had been right; there was only one way to deal with people like these. He shifted his feet, impatient for Ichabod to finish his nonsense so that he could get to business.

Freddie was still whining and sniveling. "I had to do it; I could find no honest work."

Ichabod had been regarding the man frostily. Now he responded at last — with a slight, sardonic smile at the corners of his mouth and a lifted eyebrow.

Freddie stared at Ichabod. Then he straightened and ceased his sniveling. He glared at them both.

"Now." Ichabod spoke briskly, looking at the open page of his ledger. "You were a burglar for Callahan's gang, working under Albert Smythe–"

"Albert?" Freddie's face was distorted with outrage. "That nincompoop worked under me!"

Ichabod regarded this outburst with cool surprise. "He gave me to understand, when I spoke with him, that he was the gang's second-in-command."

Hearing those words, Brom grasped a part of Ichabod's strategy. It was bluffing, plain and simple, pretending he knew more than he did, that Albert Smythe, to whom he had not yet spoken, had already told him all. He must have learned of the gang's internal rivalries from Callahan himself.

"Never! I was second under Callahan! Albert was just a rank-and-file member, and not our most valued one at that! I've pulled off jobs he couldn't even begin to think of! He'll never be the thief I am!"

Ichabod frowned slightly, as if merely perplexed. "But Mr. Smythe claims to be chiefly responsible for the theft of Mrs. Mark Emerson's collection of rubies two months ago–"

"That blasted liar! That was my job!"

As an amazed Brom and a coolly intent Ichabod listened, Freddie North spilled out every detail of the Emerson heist, including who had fenced the gems. Ichabod jotted everything down silently. By appealing to Freddie's conceit, he was able to elicit confessions about two more robberies before Freddie began to come to his senses and quiet down. But Ichabod had not run out of moves yet.

"Now, Mr. North, there is something else we really must discuss, and that is the murder of a Mr. John Pollack in the course of a robbery."

Brom tried not to show his surprise. He was certain that he recalled Ichabod saying, rather disdainfully, that the Pollack murder and robbery was the work of a clumsy amateur.

"I had nothing to do with that!" Freddie exclaimed.

Ichabod was silent for a moment. "We have numerous witnesses who saw you fleeing from the scene!"

"Don't believe anything Albert tells you! He's a filthy liar! I didn't–"

"Not Albert. Law-abiding citizens. You match the description they gave perfectly."

"It musta been someone who looked like me! I've met strangers who could pass for twins! I never killed no one!" Freddie was thoroughly alarmed now.

"Well, if you are innocent, I am certain the trial will clear you."

Freddie did not look in the least reassured by this, and Brom did not blame him. Freddie was babbling out protestations of innocence as Ichabod rose, leafing idly through his ledger, and sauntered towards the door to call in some constables to return Freddie to his cell. Brom wondered if he shouldn't go instead, but Ichabod had said nothing to him, and so he did nothing.

Which turned out to be the right move, because Ichabod's moves were calculated. Almost at the door, he stopped, frowning at a notation in his ledger. He turned back to Freddie, frowning.

"Did you rob a large jeweler's shop over on Pleasant Valley Road about two and a half months ago?"

"I had nothing to do with it!" Freddie blurted.

Ichabod nodded slightly. "I see. That robbery was committed the same night as the Pollack murder, so if you had been involved, you could not be the murderer. But if you did not rob that–"

Freddie stood and loudly claimed credit for the robbery. In response to Ichabod's show of skepticism, he gave dozens of details about the crime. In another five minutes, Freddie's confession alone was sufficient to convict himself and five or six of his fellows, and to recover much of the stolen jewelry. Ichabod at last had heard enough and summoned two other constables to return Freddie to his cell and fetch another of the gang members for interrogation. When they were alone, Ichabod turned to Brom, took in his open-mouthed astonishment, and smiled slightly.

"I know you were looking forward to seeing me fail," Ichabod said. Brom could only gape. Ichabod's eyes were alight with triumph. "I am sorry to disappoint you," he added.

Brom kept up his flummoxed stare for another minute. When he was able to speak, he almost gasped, "Are you going to do that again, with the next one?"

Ichabod's smile widened. "Of course."

"I'll be right back."

Brom found the High Constable and dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder. The older man glanced around, startled. "Come with me," Brom insisted. "You have got to see this."

The High Constable followed him, resigned. "Why do you do all this for him?" he asked wearily.

"Because he's right."

"God help us. Two of them."

***

Brom had to wait until they were safely home that night with the door closed behind them before he could say what he wanted to. Grasping Ichabod by the shoulders, he hesitated. "Crane… you're the one who's good with words. But you… even I didn't think you could do it. You were right, just like always. Your methods… I never would have thought it, I thought you were living in a dream world, but they work." His voice lowering, he added huskily, "I'm proud of you."

He was rewarded with an embrace, into which he sank gratefully. After a long time of simply clasping his lover's slender form close, Brom dared to whisper, "I haven't been very proud of myself lately."

Ichabod's arms tightened around him. "Then there's hope for you, Bones," he answered softly. His lips almost touching Brom's ear, he added, "I do hope you aren't tired tonight."

Brom answered by kissing him hungrily. When they finally had to break apart for air, he reached for the silver buttons of Ichabod's uniform. "Why don't you just lie back," he suggested in a low voice. "After everything you've achieved today…."

Ichabod complied, but remarked, "You made some respectable achievements yourself today."

Brom shook his head before leaning to blow out the candle. "Yes, but anyone with a strong back could have done them. What you've done… Ichabod, you're a genius. Men like me… we're not good for much besides following the orders of men like you."

Ichabod smiled wickedly. "Then I have some orders to give you now."

They fell into their dance, each in turn demonstrating his power over the other, each alternately driving the other to the point of delirium until they both reached it together. The world's opinion of what they were doing dissolved in the utter rightness of it.

At last Brom fell back on his pillow, which was still damp with the sweat of his brow. When he caught his breath, he began to speak huskily. In his lover's arms, feeling brave in the darkness, Brom haltingly apologized for everything he had done since the night that burglar had battered him, most especially for the things that he had said to Ichabod, the insults he had lashed out with in his own pain. He made extravagant promises about what he would do to atone until Ichabod stopped him, chuckling. "Calm yourself. What I really need for you to do is help me apprehend that Asian jewel gang."

Brom's stomach tensed, but he said promptly, "My sword is at your service, milord."

Ichabod chuckled again at this, running his slender fingers through Brom's damply disheveled hair. But then his tone grew serious. "Is it? If there are going to be more incidents like those with Leigh and Peter O'Manion, I would prefer that you resign, even though I have become accustomed to your assistance."

Brom hid his face in Ichabod's neck. "There won't be."

Ichabod did not argue further, but Brom had the distinct impression that he was not convinced. Well, he would prove it in the days to come. For now, he set himself to more congenial atonement.

For a long time they did not speak, letting their touches communicate everything they thought. The rest of the world faded away for Brom; the universe consisted of the darkness and the slender body beside him. He explored it like a new continent, and when they emerged from that intense silence it was to find that they both had been cleansed of everything that had gone before. And before any of it could return, in the dark they whispered things they had never dared to say before. Everything except one thing, which burned Brom's tongue but could not pass his lips.

Not yet.

***

The only remarkable feature of the days that followed was the change in everyone's attitude towards Ichabod. Everyone heard about the brilliant interrogations he had performed, and several of the other constables began to regard him with a kind of resentful awe. None of them wished to capitulate, but he had robbed them of their excuses; now they knew that his methods worked. They disliked him more than ever, but they obstructed him less.

Brom carefully restrained himself when subduing suspects. Ichabod continued incessantly pursuing obscure details which he was certain would bring him his answers. He made little progress on the Asian jewel thieves. The only interpreter of Chinese he had found in New York had been unable to speak to the prisoner; it seemed that there were actually several different Chinese languages, and the interpreter did not speak the one the prisoner knew. Ichabod had sent to Boston for Professor Summerley. Until the professor arrived, all he could do was continue to read books about China in hope of finding something that would help him. Thus far he had discovered nothing of use in the books. Brom's opinion was that all that reading paid off quite seldom and that Ichabod only did it because he liked to.

It was one night while reading yet another book about China that Ichabod suddenly gasped. Brom looked at him. Ichabod was staring at the book as if it were doing something extraordinary.

"What?" Brom asked.

Ichabod's eyes were wide. "I'll be…." His voice trailed off. After a moment he seized his ledger and flipped through it swiftly. He stopped at a page, studied it for a moment, and then flipped to another. Whatever he found evidently satisfied him; he nodded and closed it with a snap. "Eureka!"

"What?"

"I just solved one mystery while pursuing another."

"You're the mystery," Brom grumbled. Ichabod only smiled, and Brom let the matter drop. Whatever Ichabod had discovered was most likely of significance only to himself in any case.

Professor Summerley arrived only two days later. He and Ichabod spent long hours closeted with the Chinese burglar. Ichabod emerged at last looking exhausted. He answered the High Constable's questions evasively, but related the entire story to Brom at home that night.

It seemed that a priest called Cardinal Pendaglio had seen a way to turn his missionary work in China profitable. He had convinced several of the most ardent converts that America was full of sacred relics, such as precious crucifices, that had fallen into the hands of infidels, and had recruited them to help him recover those "relics". Full of righteous wrath, the Chinese had followed the priest to America, confident that they were doing the Lord's work. Ichabod's voice dripped with disgust as he related the details.

"Were you able to find out where they're hiding?" Brom asked.

"Oh, yes. But I have my doubts about how to proceed."

Brom nodded. "If they're all trained in that kind of fighting, it will take a lot of guns."

Ichabod shook his head impatiently. "I don't want these Chinese arrested, Brom. They don't speak English, they know nothing of America — they have no idea that they are committing crimes. And I don't like the thought of what will likely happen to men of their race in prison here. They would probably be murdered."

Brom nodded, frowning. "So what do we do?"

"Appeal to someone who can help."

Ichabod fell silent, lost in thought. Brom interrupted with a hesitant question.

"What did the prisoner say about… about the one I fought with?"

Ichabod shot him an appraising look before answering. "Your attacker's name is ‘Long Cherished Wish.' It seems that Long Cherished Wish is of noble family, and the only one of the gang trained in these Asian fighting skills. I hope you aren't planning to request a rematch. There is a difference between courage and stupidity, though that difference is sometimes difficult to discern."

"No. I just wanted to know."

The following day Ichabod went to City Hall with Professor Summerley. Later Brom wished that he had gone with them, because he would have liked to watch Ichabod twisting those powerful men around his little finger. Ichabod's powers of persuasion, which had so little effect on the constabulary, were apparently more effective on learned men. He had spoken to a dozen officials that day and managed to convince everyone necessary to sign a safe passage back to China for the Asian burglars.

With that document in safekeeping, Ichabod, Brom and Professor Summerley went to arrest Cardinal Pendaglio in his church. Ichabod's plan was to apprehend the priest before the gang, trusting that with a pistol aimed at his heart he would restrain his misguided henchmen.

Professor Summerley was plump and grey-bearded, and his manner towards everyone was kind and patient. He had insisted upon accompanying them, despite Ichabod's repeated warnings about the possible danger. The professor was as concerned for the welfare of these deceived Asians in a strange land as Ichabod and wanted to be on hand to speak with them.

They apprehended Cardinal Pendaglio after he had finished saying Mass. "We would very much like to meet the Chinese you have been employing, Cardinal," Ichabod informed him by way of explanation.

Brom put a warning hand on the priest's shoulder, his pistol ready. The priest glowered at them, and then his expression melted into slyness. "Why, of course, officers."

Ichabod had been watching the Cardinal's face. "If any of us are harmed by your henchmen, Cardinal, my companion has a bullet ready for you."

The Cardinal's composure crumpled. The four of them walked to his house, which proved to be fairly large and quite comfortable. He had all sorts of exotic ornaments, no doubt acquired on his assorted travels. Brom spoke for the first time. "I thought there was a vow of poverty."

"That's monks," the Cardinal snapped. He spoke with a slight Italian accent. "I am a priest, you Protestant infidel. What the world has come to, when Protestants presume to wield authority over a man of the one true church–"

"Oh, pipe down," Brom said impatiently.

"How dare you! I am a man of God!"

"Climb to the top of the tallest ladder you can find, Cardinal Pendaglio," Ichabod suggested acidly. "That is the closest you ever come to God."

"Where are those Chinese you've brainwashed?" Brom demanded.

"In the basement," the priest answered sullenly.

"Lead us to the door," Ichabod ordered. "You tell your dupes to surrender quietly if you don't wish to taste my companion's knuckles. And do not try to be clever; Professor Summerley here speaks Chinese."

Pendaglio's shoulders sagged as he realized that he was cornered. He led them to the basement door, shadowed by Brom, and opened it, calling down the stairs with the comical intonations Brom had heard from their Asian prisoner. Ichabod looked to the professor inquiringly, who nodded approval of whatever the priest had said.

As the four of them descended the stairs, a fuming Cardinal Pendaglio first, Brom's disgust at the way he had taken advantage of his converts' ignorance of the West increased. The basement was clean enough, but quite barren, a sharp contrast to the house above. It was one large room, and the five Asians who stood watching them descend apparently shared it and both ate and slept there. The only sign of privacy was a corner with makeshift curtains hung around it; Brom supposed the one woman among the group slept there. His speculation about her purpose here was grim; the crimes he had seen committed against helpless women since coming to New York had convinced him that a preference for women made men dangerous monsters, a viewpoint in which Ichabod concurred.

The Asians stared at them stonily, and Brom was glad enough to be standing behind the Cardinal. The burglars were all short and had compact, slender bodies; the woman's figure was scarcely more curved than that of the men. Most of them were very striking, with ruthless black eyes and finely drawn features.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Professor Summerley began to speak. The Asians seemed startled to hear their own language from this stranger, but soon entered into conversation with him. They seemed quite angry. Brom guessed that the professor was telling them that their priest had deceived them, and they did not believe him. Listening to their argument was even more boring that listening to Ichabod conduct interrogations; at least Ichabod spoke his language, if a highfalutin version of it.

Eventually the professor turned to the constables. "Perhaps we could induce the priest to confess?"

Brom's hand tightened on the cardinal's shoulder. "Isn't confessing a part of your faith, Cardinal? Tell them the truth."

"And I suppose that if I don't, you'll beat it out of me," Pendaglio sulked.

Brom had no intention of battering an elderly man, even one as despicable as this one. But he had learned from Ichabod the value of a good bluff.

Brom smiled at the priest. "There's one way to find out if I will," he said in a honeyed tone.

The Cardinal swallowed, looking at him. "Uniformed thugs," he muttered, before turning to his converts and beginning to speak in Chinese. Brom watched Professor Summerley's face for signs that the priest was playing them false, but the professor's face looked progressively more relieved.

Until the woman, her face a picture of anxiety, suddenly cried out, "Ayah!" Rushing to the table which apparently served the converts as kitchen and dining room, she seized a knife from it and held it at arm's length, pointed at her own stomach.

Professor Summerley and Ichabod rushed to her, heedless of any danger from her countrymen. Brom almost joined them, but remembered in time that if he did not monitor Pendaglio, they would have no leverage with the gang, and no defense against whichever member was Long Cherished Wish. He put his pistol to the Cardinal's head. "What is she doing?"

The professor was stumbling over his words, trying to speak rapidly in Chinese. Ichabod had laid a restraining hand on the knife, but she would not relinquish it.

"Suyuan wishes to commit suicide in expiation for her crimes," the priest answered reluctantly.

"Doesn't she know that suicide is a sin?" Brom demanded.

"In the Orient, it is considered proper to kill yourself if you lose your honor."

Brom glared. "Tell her that suicide is a Christian sin, you punk. Now."

The priest sighed and then spoke in Chinese. At his words, the woman listened intently, then spoke rapidly to Professor Summerley. A few more gentle sentences from the professor convinced her to give Ichabod the knife. She stood with her head bowed for a moment, and then raised it regally. Turning to her companions, she began to speak to them solemnly, in the manner of a vow.

"What's she saying?" Brom asked the priest in a low voice.

The priest looked sour. "Suyuan is inviting them to return with her to their heathen land and spread the true Gospel so that their countrymen may save their souls and not be led astray by the likes of me."

Brom smiled.

When Suyuan had finished her speech, the others bowed their agreement. Ichabod told Professor Summerley, "Tell them that we can put them on board a ship bound for China tomorrow, and that their companion in prison will join them." The professor complied. Ichabod then added, "Ask them if they considered restoring sacred artifacts to the godly of sufficient import to warrant a ceremonial parade?"

The professor looked puzzled at the question, but he asked. The reply was affirmative. Ichabod smiled. "I would like to see the… apparatus."

Professor Summerley said something in Chinese, and two of the men went to a crate and opened it. Brom's jaw dropped when they lifted out the head of a dragon, with great bulging eyes and dozens of whiskers and a gaping mouth. Attached to the head was a great length of cloth, and finally a stiffly curling tail.

"Parade dragons," Ichabod announced, gloating. "Used for ceremonial occasions. Several people can hide inside one. Rodney and LaGrange did not back us up because they saw the burglars in their procession to the crime scene. When I read about these parade dragons, I consulted my ledger and discovered that each of the dragon sightings corresponded to the times and places of this gang's robberies."

Brom found his voice. "That was… this thing is what we…."

"There is our dragon," Ichabod confirmed with satisfaction. "Now let's take this priest where he belongs."

"Wait," Brom said. "Just one thing." He surveyed the Asians. "I would just like to know… which of them is Long Cherished Wish?"

The professor replied, "The Chinese word is ‘Suyuan'."

"Suyuan?"

The professor nodded.

"She's Long Cherished Wish?"

"Yes," Professor Summerley answered patiently.

Brom stared incredulously. But now he saw the tiny mole beside her left eye. She had indeed been his attacker.

Brom had not been so humiliated since the age of five when that dreadful little tomboy Katrina Van Tassel had pushed him into the pigsty. When the earth inconsiderately failed to swallow him up, he dared a glance at his lover.

Ichabod looked as if he were about to burst. Brom looked away from him. "Go ahead and laugh," he said sourly. "Just don't expect my help the next time you see a spider."

***

Ichabod was quietly triumphant that evening. Brom watched him moving among his experimentations with the most serene expression Brom had ever seen on his face. Ichabod was more exquisite than ever, sure of himself, full of his victory, all of his convictions proven right. Brom began to speak before he realized it.

"Ichabod, I…." His voice trailed off.

Ichabod turned and looked at him. After a moment, comprehension lit his eyes and made him catch his breath. At last he smiled slightly.

"I know you do," Ichabod said softly. He added more quietly, "I do, too."

***

It was several days before the sensation of the Asian burglars and Ichabod's peculiar exoneration of them died down among their colleagues. And it was in that quiet aftermath of that event that Ichabod approached Brom one morning shortly after they had reported. "I know who murdered John O'Manion."

Brom turned to look at him.

"His name is Frank Crawford," Ichabod continued. "There has been talk about John O'Manion and Mrs. Crawford. Frank Crawford is a longshoreman and is considered by his colleagues to be exceptionally aggressive. O'Manion was either exceedingly brave or exceedingly stupid to meddle with Mrs. Crawford." He paused. "Why not ask Green and Witherspoon to go with you?"

Brom returned Ichabod's gaze. There was no challenge there, just an attentiveness. To his surprise, Brom realized that whatever choice he made, Ichabod would not disapprove. But Brom had something to prove to both of them.

"I can manage," he said.

As he walked alone to the dock where Frank Crawford worked, he thought again about the inhuman murder of John O'Manion, who had been left alive to slowly bleed to death, unable to get out of his room to seek help. Brom felt, not the fiery wrath of the moment when he had first learned of the crime, but a cold disgust.

In the past Brom had looked forward to such arrests, to the sport of thrashing a well-deserving villain. Not that he had ever been brutal before his encounter with Suyuan, but he had still given quite a few killers and other such vermin something to remember, and he had enjoyed doing it. But now he contemplated the arrest of Frank Crawford matter-of-factly, as a necessary chore to be carried out, with no more emotion involved than to carrying a load.

He asked the dockmaster about Frank Crawford and was pointed in the direction of a hulking, hairy man engaged in unloading a ship. Brom approached, receiving wary glances from all and sundry due to his uniform.

Crawford was larger than Brom, but this did not concern Brom; he had prevailed over larger opponents before. His sole concern was how to do so while inflicting the minimum of damage.

Crawford saw him and assumed a hostile expression. His very manner was that of a man who could commit a vicious murder. Unruffled, Brom stopped a few feet away from him and said calmly, "Frank Crawford? You are wanted for questioning at the constabulary. Come with me."

Crawford sneered. "Let's see you make me, Constable."

Brom did not accept the invitation to attack, but stood waiting. After a minute, Crawford could not wait any longer; he charged. Brom coolly sidestepped and then blocked the next punch Crawford aimed at him. With calm deliberation, Brom dealt Crawford two definitive blows, blows which subdued the man swiftly and with little damage, the sort of blows which could only be made with the utmost calm. Brom then briskly shackled the man and dragged him to his feet to escort him to the watchhouse.

Brom locked Crawford into a solitary cell in case Ichabod wished to question him. As he turned away from the door, he found that Ichabod was standing a few yards away, watching him. He had seen the uninjured condition that Crawford was in.

The two studied each other for a moment. Brom remembered the impatience with Ichabod's scruples he had harbored for so long. Now he was surprised at just how glad he was to know that he had managed to adhere to those scruples. The respect in Ichabod's eyes was something new and different. In the past, Brom realized, Ichabod had regarded him with desire, or amusement, and occasionally affection, but not esteem, and now that he did, it meant far more than Brom would have expected.

Ichabod seemed about to speak, but Constable Chauncey's voice sounded loudly as he entered with a corpse on a wheelbarrow. "This has got to be the strangest murder I've ever seen," Chauncey was telling the High Constable. "He's got five hundred dollars in his pocket, and no identification of any kind. Whatever lunatic did him in didn't even bother to take his money."

Ichabod's eyes narrowed, and he strode promptly to the body, not even sparing one second to be queasy as he bent to examine it. Ignoring the High Constable's theatrical groans, Ichabod began firing questions at Constable Chauncey about where and how the body had been found.

Brom smiled, resigned. In the process of detection, Ichabod had forgotten him. But Brom would remind him later.

 

 

Slash Hollow
Tales of Romance
Sleepy Hollow