Disclaimer: The Sentinel and all of the character of said program belong to Pet Fly and Paramount. I don't own them but I just wanted to fool around with them for awhile. There's nothing wrong with that, is there? *blink innocently*
Author's Notes: Finished!! At last!! *evil laughter* Yes, folks. Believe it or not this is the end of the 'Discovery Series'. I hope that it has come to a satisfying end for all parties involved. This is not the last time that you'll be seeing Shakari and the wolves but I'm taking a break from the supernatural for a story or two. Don't know what the next one will be but I hope that you guys are still around for the ride. Feel free to email me with comments about the series which can be found on Wolfpup's page. Eek! Almost forgot! Thanks to my temporary betas whose suggestions made this last instalment better than it could have been!! On with the show!! :-)
Blair squirmed uncomfortably under Simon's gaze. The police captain hadn't stopped staring at the graduate student since he had entered the loft. Blair sighed and ran a hand over his face. Well, what did you expect, Blair? Twenty-four hours ago, you were a minor annoyance sometimes but a good friend. Now, you could as well be some freak of nature or something.
Unable to deal with Simon's scrutiny any longer, Blair rose and went outside to the balcony for a breath of fresh air. Subconsciously, he listened for the sentinel's presence. He smiled wryly as he heard Jim moving around in his bedroom upstairs, able to hear his friend's heartbeat as clearly as Jim could hear Blair's own. They had concocted a story for the police to protect not only Blair's new abilities, but the identities of Lawrence and Shakari as well. Seeing his partner's exhaustion, the sentinel had allowed him to return home with Shakari but he had returned to the station with Simon. Then, after filling out the tons of paperwork, Jim had brought his captain back to the loft. Filthy from the sewer escapade, Jim had showered and was now dressing while they were waiting for Shakari to return from her apartment upstairs.
He pushed away from the railing and went towards the front door. With his werewolf nature he could now sense the presence of other werewolves. Blair opened the door and waited for a couple of seconds as Shakari made her way down the hall.
You okay? she asked telepathically. Her brown eyes stared into his blue orbs.
What do you think? He shook his head and continued. Shar, it feels as though my life is falling apart! I mean now Simon knows! I couldn't help myself in the tunnel. When I saw that creep pointing that gun at that lady's head...
His words were halted as Shakari placed one of her hands gently against his lips. "I know, Blair. I know," she said quietly. "You lost a little control. It's all right. It happens to all of us."
Blair pulled her hand away and whispered, "But what if it happens again. This time at the university or something. What will I do?"
"Blair, look at me." His eyes raised and met with her own.
"Do you trust me?" she asked.
"Of course, I do."
"I will do everything in my power to get you back to normal, Blair. I make that promise with my life. I won't rest until Xavier's paid for what he's done to you," Shakari replied.
Blair stared at her for a minute and realized that she was serious. She would die for him without any hesitation. He wondered what he had done to deserve such friends.
The sentinel sighed as he heard the conversation between Blair and Shakari. Again, he wondered how this could be happening. His spirit guide had warned him of impending danger but he still didn't understand the whole purpose of what had happened to his guide. He wondered just how much longer they could keep Blair's transformation a secret. It's easy for Shakari to say that he can lead a normal life but she's dealt with it for her entire existence. His belief systems, hell mine too, have been shot to hell and back. What are we going to do?
He pulled a shirt over his well-muscled torso and went down the stairs. Simon was sitting on the couch and he glanced at the approaching sentinel. Shakari and Blair entered and sat on the floor, prepared to tell Simon everything that had happened in the past couple of weeks.
Simon took a deep breath and asked quietly, "How long has he been like this?"
"Only a couple of weeks, Simon," Jim replied.
"And when were you planning on informing me, Jim? When the kid wigged out at the station?"
"Sir," Jim said defensively, "we had decided among ourselves to keep this a secret until an antidote could be found. I wasn't lying to you when you asked why Sandburg wasn't in the station for the past week."
Simon raised his eyebrows and said, "Really? You said something about him having to take over some extra classes." As he spoke, his voice rose. "That wasn't lying, Jim? Are you obfuscating like the kid now?"
The sentinel began to clench his jaw as he started to get more than a little annoyed. Shakari could see the tension in his shoulder muscles.
"What did you expect me to say, sir? Oh, well, Blair's not really here right now because he's been turned into a werewolf?" exclaimed Jim.
"A what? What in the hell are you talking about J.."
Blair leapt from his position on the floor and shouted, "That's it! Will the two of you stop acting like I'm not here? I hate it when you do that!" He faced his two friends as their eyes widened in response to his outburst. I don't care if I'm freaking them out. It's time that they stopped treating me like a child! "Simon, don't you dare tell me that we've lost our minds. Get it through your twentieth century mind that werewolves exist and that I'm one!" Jim's mouth opened to say something but Blair waved his hand in the air and said, "And don't you start with me, Jim. Just because you're my Blessed Protector doesn't mean that you're in control of my life. Well, your precious abilities didn't exactly help me out here did they!" Blair knew that he should stop especially when he saw the hurt flash across his friend's face but he couldn't help himself.
Uh oh. Shakari put a hand on Blair's arm and said, "Blair, just calm down, okay."
Blair spun around and turned his anger on his old friend. "And why should I, huh? You've been acting like this thing is no big deal. Well, it is! I can't live a normal life anymore, Shar! No matter what you tell me," he paused and took a deep breath, "like you, I'm an outsider." He was about to continue his little tirade when he saw the shocked expression on her face. He dropped his shoulders and backed away slowly from the three of them. Trying to escape their shock, he slipped his feet out of the sandals he was wearing and ran to the balcony. Without a conscious thought, he morphed his hands and feet and climbed up to the roof.
Simon stared at the spot from which Blair had disappeared for a couple of seconds and then said quietly, "I really, really need a cigar right now."
"You and me both," replied Jim. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. This is what I was afraid of. He's under too much stress and there doesn't seem to be a solution to his problem. Suddenly, the sound of a large cat interrupted his thoughts. He snapped his ice-blue eyes around to the balcony and could discern the panther from the darkness. The cat growled again and fixed its gaze on the roof.
The Sentinel heard the voice of his Spirit Guide clearly in his head. Do you still not understand what I told you, Enqueri?
Jim's eyes narrowed and he replied, What do you mean?
The cat stared at him and continued, Is your Guide's situation all that different from your own?
The blood drained from the sentinel's face. How could I have not seen it before? Blair's acting the same way that I did when I thought that I was going crazy. Pushing everyone away by lashing out at us. He believed in me when I manifested my sentinel abilities, now I have to believe in him. I have to be his Guide. Not his blessed protector. He nodded slightly at the cat and it growled in reply. Then it leapt over the side, disappearing into the night.
Shakari watched as Jim had the exchange with the panther. She hadn't seen it but her abilities gave her some sense of the supernatural and she had felt a presence while Jim had stared out of the balcony doors. She saw him rise from the couch and start moving towards the front door to go to the roof. Shakari rose gracefully from her position on the floor and said, "I can get you up there quicker, you know."
Jim stopped and then nodded curtly. "Simon, Shakari will be back to explain everything to you. Listen to her, sir. No matter how crazy it sounds, she's telling you the truth." Then he stalked on to the balcony with Shakari close behind.
She morphed into her humanoid form, towering a head over the sentinel. Gently, she wrapped one of her arms around Jim's waist and leapt into the air, easily reaching a height a few feet above the roof before they began to descend. She smiled as Jim gasped with the sudden movement and felt his hands clutch her waist more tightly. She looked in Blair's direction, his back to the two of them. I'd better give them some privacy. The two of them need to talk this over. Then, she leapt over the side of the building, landing on Jim's balcony with a slight thump.
Jim stared at the hunched back of his best friend and he took a deep breath. Let me find the right words to say to him like he did to me. He walked slowly over to Blair's side and sat next to him. Greeted by silence, the sentinel scanned Blair's face. The few lines that were present seemed to be more deeply etched into the weary expression.
"You know what's funny, Jim?" Blair asked quietly, breaking the comfortable silence.
"I'm not afraid of heights any more, man," he replied, throwing a sidelong glance in Jim's direction. The sentinel only then consciously realized that they were sitting on the edge of a three-story building and Blair was totally quiet.
Blair swung his feet up casually and lay down so that his head was resting near Jim. "It's kinda weird, actually. It's like...I know that I can't fall."
"Well, Chief, let's hope that you won't have to test out that theory again." An image of a transformed, critically wounded Blair, supporting the two on them on the cliff face flashed through Jim's mind. Shaking himself slightly, he looked down at his friend. The two pairs of blue orbs locked, each examining the other for ways to give comfort.
Blair broke the stare first and said quietly, "Jim, what I said a couple of minutes..." Blair closed his eyes for an instant trying to find the words to continue. Why is it so hard? He took a deep breath and continued, "I didn't mean what I said. I'm just..."
"Frustrated, angry at everyone and everything, tired...scared," Jim said quietly.
Blair returned his gaze to his friend's profile and could see the tension that had developed. He said nothing, waiting for Jim to continue.
"Don't feel that I don't know what you're going through. You think you're a freak of nature, a genetic throwback." Jim looked at his prone friend and sighed. "I feel even worse, Chief. I'm supposed to be your Blessed Protector and this is what happens to you."
"Jim, it's not your fault, man. You've got to get over this guilt trip. What I said about you not protecting me earlier. I really didn't mean that. You've given me more than I even thought possible. A home but more importantly stability and friendship."
Jim smiled and said, "No, I should be thanking you for what you did for me. You brought me out from behind the wall that I had erected. You should've seen me before you found me, Chief. A real hard-ass."
"You mean you aren't one now?" asked Blair impishly.
"Very funny, Chief." Jim lightly tapped Blair's forehead. Silence descended again, the two men collecting their thoughts.
"There's something else, Jim, I've always been a little...jealous, I guess of your Sentinel abilities, man."
Jim's head swiveled in his partner's direction, his forehead creased and eyebrows raised. For a few seconds he didn't know what to say. "Chief...why? They're not all that they're cracked up to be, trust me."
Smirking Blair replied, "You can say that cause you've lived with them all your life, Jim. You don't realize when you're not using them. Subconsciously, they are active all the time. Sure, I taught you how to increase and decrease the level but at 'normal' levels for you the input is far above that of an ordinary human. Now, with my transformation I can know at least some of what you experience. Just look at the sky, man! It's so..." Blair spread his arms wide, as words failed to express the clarity in which he saw the night sky.
The sentinel also turned his gaze upward, examining the contrast between the stars and the blackness. "Yeah, it's pretty amazing sometimes, isn't it?"
"Amazing just doesn't cut it, Jim. Stupendous, maybe but amazing doesn't make the grade. I don't think I have to worry about the zone-out factor though. Shar hasn't mentioned anything about it." As he thought about what he had said to his next best friend after Jim Ellison, he winced. "I have to talk to her. I can't believe how idiotic I was before! I mean, she's had to hide what she was from the rest of the world for all of her life and I say that she's an outsider. God, how stupid can one guy get?"
Jim looked down at Blair who had by this time put one of his arms over his eyes. Gently, he grasped Blair's wrist and removed the arm to see eyes that reflected the anguish that Blair was feeling. "You have to apologize to her, Chief. She's trying to help you."
"I know, I know. I was just... really upset. Could you do me a favor and tell Shar that I want to see her? We need to talk about some stuff, alone."
"Sure, Chief. With a final pat on Blair's shoulder, the sentinel rose and walked back to the loft.
Blair tried to collect his thoughts as he heard Shakari vault onto the roof behind him. He sat up and assumed the lotus position so that he was facing Shakari's approaching figure. She sat down in a similar position opposite him. Blair bowed his head, taking sudden interest in his fingers.
"I'm not mad at you, you know. I'm a little hurt maybe but not mad," she said quietly. She watched as his loose curly hair fell over his eyes as he raised his head. She sighed and continued. "I understand what you're going through, Blair. Or I'm trying to understand as much as I possibly can. I grew up with the knowledge that I was a werewolf all my life. My parents didn't hide their abilities from me when I was a child."
Blair arched his eyebrows and asked, "Really? Then, wasn't it...weird?"
She smiled and said, "You mean because we weren't human? It was kinda funny actually. I mean, when I was a kid, I'd laugh my head off watching the other kids. They were so...clumsy. I literally had to learn how to restrain myself from doing acrobatics around other people. When I'm in this form, it's like I'm another person." Her smile faded and she lowered her eyes. "The first human that found out was Sam and well, you know how that turned out."
Blair blushed as his earlier comment about Shakari's status as an outsider surfaced. He looked at her face when he felt a gentle touch of her hand on his knee.
Blair you were angry and upset. I've grown up with the knowledge that I'm different from humanity. I had to deal with the feelings of being different but I came to accept it. I had no choice. My being a werewolf is a normal state of being for me. I try to put myself in your position. Up to a couple of weeks ago you thought you were an ordinary human being. Then by some weird coincidence your whole perspective was shattered.
Blair tried to swallow past the knot that seemed to have developed in his throat. It's just that...I keep thinking what will happen to me if we don't find an antidote or something. How am I going to tell Naomi? He sniffed and jerkily wiped at the tears that were gathering at the corners of his eyes.
Shakari quickly moved to sit beside him and draped an arm around his shoulders. She started rubbing his arms and said, "Shhhh, it's all right, Blair."
Blair let the dam break and he buried his face in her shoulder and let all the feelings of despair pour out. He let out harsh sobs, his shoulders shuddering with the effort. Shakari just rocked slowly from side to side, rubbing and patting his arms. Gradually, his tears trailed off and eased to small gasps.
When he stopped crying, Shakari looked down to see his red-rimmed eyes staring at hers. Do you remember what I said earlier? That I would solve this even if it cost me my life?
Blair closed his eyes and thought, How could I forget. Then I brushed you off like a real jerk. Shar, I don't want you to sacrifice your life so that I can go back to normal. God, I feel guilty enough sometimes when I see how seriously Jim takes that Blessed Protector thing. It's frightening to realize that someone cares about you so much that they'd die for you. The pressure of her hand under his chin forced his gaze to meet stern dark brown eyes.
Do you think so little of our friendship that you think that I'm not worthy of me dying for you? She sensed that he was going to cut her off but she continued. No. You listen to me, Blair Sandburg. You're the brother that I never had. In some ways the two of us are closer than Lawrence and I. We talk about things that I could never tell him, even though we haven't seen each other for the past five years. I love you, Blair and if I have to die for you then I will. Okay? Unable to say anything after her speech, he just nodded his head. She kissed him on the forehead and hugged him more tightly. Good. Now let's join Jim and Simon. I have something to tell all three of you.
"I have to leave for awhile," she said quietly. "Lawrence will take my place watching over the two of you."
"What? Why?" asked Simon.
She lifted her eyes to look at the stunned group before her. "I'm not abandoning you guys but this is too important for me to ignore. We need to find out who has been feeding Xavier information about our sect's hiding places. If something else happens and we need to hide I can't take you to those other places. He'll know about them and then we're finished. No matter how powerful I am, I can't fend off Xavier and his minions by myself."
"You're going alone?" Jim frowned slightly and continued, "Shar, you've said yourself how dangerous he is, are you going to be safe?"
"I know it's dangerous, Jim; but trust me, I'll be fine." Leaning forward from her seat on the countertop, she continued, waving a hand in the air. "I'm meeting another wolf while I'm looking for the five elders." She looked down at her toes and gently bit her lips. "I have to admit. I'm a bit nervous," she whispered.
Blair cast a confused look at Jim. "Shar, I don't understand."
Like a child, she swung her feet back and forth, silent as she contemplated on how to answer him. Suddenly, she used her arms to propel herself upward and she stood on the countertop. Still silent, she paced. "They don't know about me."
"What? Wait a sec, what do you mean they don't know about you?" Blair asked.
She stopped her pacing and said, "My existence has been kept secret among our sect. Most of my people don't know who I am." She sighed and jumped down, continuing her pacing on the floor. "I'm...special. It was decided long ago that until the time was right, my existence wouldn't be revealed. I want to tell you more but...I can't."
Jim began to clench his jaw, grinding his molars so hard that they began to ache almost immediately. He took a deep breath and said, "I don't like secrets, Shakari. Don't you trust us?"
His reply made her stop dead in her tracks. She whirled around, beginning to get annoyed at the sentinel. "Of course, I trust you but I can't tell you about this stuff. There are certain clan secrets that humans are never supposed to know about."
Her explanation, or lack of one, left a bitter taste in his mouth. It reminded him too much of his time in Covert Ops when they were given mission briefings. He hadn't played the part of the willing stooge then and he wasn't going to start playing one now. He rose from the couch and stood before the werewolf. "I can't accept that, Shar. Blair's a werewolf now so he should know what you're hiding!"
Her eyes closed and she took a deep breath, trying to calm the rising anger. "Jim, you don't understand."
"You got that right I don't understand!" I don't believe her! She's standing here expecting us to accept her statements like mindless sheep. He clutched her shoulders and said, "You talk about dying for Blair but when you don't trust us enough to talk to us, somehow I'm a bit skeptical about your promise."
She snarled and easily batted his hands away. "Don't you dare try to tell me what I mean and what I don't mean!" The vehemence in her voice made Jim back away a few steps. "You know what your problem is Jim? Control! The big bad sentinel always has to have his way but you listen to me." Her voice dropped to a dangerously low level. "This time you have to step back and let me do what I have to do." She flung an arm out and pointed at Blair. "Help him deal with this but never, ever, presume to speak to me like that again!" She drew a shaky breath, shuddering with the effort to calm down. "I'm leaving tomorrow. I'll be back in a week." She stalked past the stunned man and walked out of the loft.
Shakari slammed the door so hard that it shuddered in its grooves. She stalked past Lawrence who was watching her calmly from the couch. "Don't start," she said as she entered her bedroom.
Start what? he asked telepathically? He raised his eyebrows as he heard his ex-pupil letting out a frustrated sigh. He waited for an answer but the only sounds that greeted him were those of drawers slamming. Sighing, he rose from the chair and went to stand in the doorway.
Shakari continued to throw clothes into her duffel bag but when she sensed that he was watching her, she raised her eyes to meet his.
"You're putting your friend above the concerns of the rest of the clan, Shakari," he said quietly.
She threw down the pile of shirts that she had gathered and said angrily, "Look, Lawrence, I know that you don't want me to go after the elders but I have to do this, for his sake and the clan's! We can't progress with a traitor in our midst!"
Lawrence clenched his fists and continued, "But who's more important, Shakari. Once you would've put our needs above anyone else's. Your responsibility..."
"Don't tell me about responsibility! Every damn day of my life I have to live with the knowledge of who I am and what I have to do! You drilled into me what my responsibility to the clan entails! Do you think that's easy, huh? I wouldn't be doing this if Xavier would play by the damn rules! He's forced our hand and I have to respond. He is not going to destroy what we've worked so hard to build. The crazy bastard is trying to turn humanity into werewolves! What am I supposed to do, huh? Sit and twiddle my thumbs while he goes ahead with his insane plans? Isn't that against everything that you taught me? We are protectors and I'm going to make sure that our people follow that part of the old ways. But what hurts me the most is that you think that I'm not ready!" She spun around and put her hands on the cupboard, shoulders heaving with the anger that she was trying to keep inside.
Anything else that he was going to say instantly left his mind as he saw her in that position. A scared and confused girl was before him, not who she was destined to be. Quickly he crossed the room and enveloped her in his arms. At first she resisted his efforts, muscles tense, but he didn't give in and gradually she melted into his arms. I don't want you to leave angry, Shakari. I'm just worried about you. I trained you from the time you could walk. This has been my role. To train the chosen one if he or she emerged in my lifetime. I see you and I can't help but think of you as my child. He buried his face into her hair.
She grasped one of his hands and closed her eyes, feeling the strength that he offered. I know. I'm sorry, teacher. Can we just forget what happened? Shakari grinned as she heard his muffled laugh.
Yes, little one. We can. But deep within his heart, he wondered, Is she really ready for this?
Blair stirred as he felt Shakari's presence in his room. He opened his eyes to see her standing at the edge of his bed, a bag slung over her shoulder. She said nothing as his eyes opened and he looked at her blearily. Shakari bent and kissed him gently on the forehead, running her hands through his curly brown hair. I just wanted to say goodbye, Blair. Go back to sleep. She smiled as his eyelids closed over his brilliantly blue orbs. He was asleep again almost instantly.
She stroked his hair one more time. Then, Shakari gently replaced the sheets that he had kicked off during his dreams, smiling even wider as he snuggled further into the mattress. I'll be back for you. Silently she exited his room, then paused as she felt a pair of eyes watching her. She glanced over her shoulder to see the ice-blue eyes of the sentinel. What now, Jim? I hope that I haven't lost your trust cause I know that we can't succeed unless you're with us, she thought. Then he nodded slightly and she smiled. Leaping onto the roof, she bounded from building to building, knowing that everything was all right.
FOUR DAYS LATER
The wolf approached his master's inner sanctum. He walked with the pride of his forefathers in his soul, the stride of a warrior. He pushed the metal doors that were ornately carved with scenes of bloodshed, to be greeted by Xavier's back. He continued his progress until he was about ten feet away and then he knelt, placing his fist over his heart. "Master," he said quietly.
Xavier continued to fix his gaze on the vista before him. Rolling mountains and a dense forest stretched for miles from his fortress, which was carved into a mountain. "She gets closer to our plans," he said quietly.
"Yes, my lord," he tried to hide the seeds of doubt that entered his voice as he wondered how Xavier could be taking this development so lightly.
Xavier glanced over his shoulder, with a questioning look on his face. "Do you doubt me, Samuel?"
"N..no, my liege," Samuel said quickly. "It's just that, she's exceeding our expectations." He didn't dare raise his head as he heard his master's footsteps approaching. He felt a touch on his shoulder and was forced to look up as Xavier's other hand forced his chin up. Samuel swallowed hard as he looked into eyes that represented never ending pools of darkness.
Xavier said quietly, "Samuel, you are the only one in this sect that I trust with my life. You taught me and now you doubt our work?"
Samuel shuddered as he felt Xavier's telepathic touch, skimming the edges of his consciousness. He knew that any lie on his part would be detected by his former pupil. "I apologize for my weakness, Xavier. I have shown I'm not worthy to be your second. Do what you will." With fear in his heart, he waited for the expected retribution. Instead he felt Xavier withdraw into his own mind and inwardly he sighed with relief.
Xavier grasped his shoulders and guided him to the feet. They looked each other in the eye and Xavier nodded. "You are worthy in my eyes, Samuel. I understand your doubt. Once, I underestimated her myself but never again. She'll find out about our link with Mikhail, but that was inevitable. He has outlived his usefulness." He turned away and went to a desk, taking two silver balls from its surface. Casually, he began to twirl them in his hands. "It's time. We go and finish this tomorrow."
Samuel bowed and took his leave of Xavier, closing the doors behind him. A smile touched his lips as he realized that he was about to see the fruits of his labor manifest themselves. Xavier was everything that he had been trained to be and more. After all, he was trained by the best. Me.
THE NEXT DAY
Blair stepped out of the anthropology building and took a deep breath of the clean, warm air. Cascade was having a late summer but he wasn't complaining. The weather had been fantastic for the past week, the unexpected heat allowing the population to temporarily put away the coats and don the shirts and shorts. He slung his backpack over one of his shoulders, whistling as he made his way to the parking lot. Kinda weird, actually, he thought, This awesome weather just does not reflect the atmosphere in the loft a couple of nights ago. He sighed as he thought about the argument that had occurred. What's the probability of two roommates making complete asses of themselves in one night?
For a day or two, the tension in the loft had been thick as the two men had different views as to why Shakari wouldn't tell them the whole story. Jim, with his military background was naturally suspicious while Blair, having known her for a lot longer, trusted her with his life. Fortunately, one night they had sat on the balcony, sipping beers and talked about what was happening. They had come to an agreement. He understood Jim's reservations and Jim admitted that he hadn't lost his trust in Shakari but he just didn't like being in the dark.
He stuck his hand in his pocket and fumbled for the keys to the Volvo for a couple of seconds. He had just put the key into the lock when he froze. Oh god. Whirling around, he dropped the backpack, his eyes searching his surroundings frantically. His gaze darted from building to building and his breath caught in his throat as he detected at least eight pairs of eyes. He slowly backed away from the predatory hunger that he saw in the pools of darkness.
Blair weighed his options. Back into the anthro building is a definition no-no. Shit! One by one the figures seemed to melt out of the darkness. Blair began to back into the alley between two nearby department buildings. Then sensing that the wolves were about to spring, he turned and ran.
Damn it, Lawrence! I could really use your help right now, man! Blair glanced behind him trying to discern the figures from the darkness, when he slammed into a rock hard figure. Dazed, he hit the ground and looked up. No! Dear god, no! he screamed in his mind as he saw the figure before him.
Xavier was just as terrifying and yet strangely beautiful to behold, as Shakari was in her humanoid form. He was no less than perfect, with the same claw mark on his thigh as Shakari and just as muscular. Xavier bent down and grasped Blair's face, easily restraining him as he tried to wrench his trembling frame from Xavier's hold. "Hello, Blair. I told you that you'll be mine."
Blair morphed and tried to wrench Xavier's hand from his face. "Let go of me, you piece of shit! You'll never own me!" Xavier's other hand came up and wrenched his head back by his hair, causing searing pain to radiate through his skull.
Xavier admired Blair's bravado, even though he knew that Blair was scared out of his mind. He let his claw rake Blair's face, watching as the cut welled with blood. "Temper, temper, Blair." Releasing Blair, he backed away a couple of steps.
Blair rose to his haunches warily, ready to fight if he had to. His eyes narrowed, wondering why Xavier was backing away.
Xavier raised the thumb that had the droplets of Blair's blood, watching as the red liquid glistened in the moonlight. Then, he stared into Blair's eyes as he raised his finger to his mouth and gently licked the blood away, letting it roll around his mouth before swallowing the precious fluid. "Want a taste? There's nothing quite like it," Xavier said smugly.
Blair's eyes widened at Xavier's display and he backed up to the wall. He glanced down the alley to see Xavier's minions watching the confrontation between the two men. Desperate, Blair started to scale the wall, leaping onto the roof of the four-story building. As he bounded from roof to roof, he heard Xavier say quietly, "That's it, Blair. Run." Blair reached into this own mind and tried to quench the panic so that he could contact Lawrence telepathically. Lawrence, man, if you can hear me, Xavier's here!
Down in the alley, Samuel approached Xavier and they smiled as they could detect Blair's telepathic attempt. Xavier turned to Samuel and said, "Go after him but if anyone hurts him too badly, they'll have to answer to me. Is that understood?" Samuel nodded and placed his fist over his heart in the symbol of ultimate loyalty. "Good."
Xavier watched as his followers pursued the prey. Blair's special. Having him in my army wouldn't hurt at all. And if he refuses, well, he can join the list of Shakari's friends who have died by my hand. When we at last fight for our rightful place, she'll be careless with grief and if she doesn't accept my offer, she'll die. The thought of feasting on her flesh sent a shiver down his spine. Suppressing the pleasure, he thought, Enough of the self-indulgence, Xavier. Time to prepare for the other players in this game. The lids fell over the black pools that were his eyes. Anyone who would have entered the alley at that moment couldn't discern the wolf from the darkness and would have marveled at the glowing white lines that seemed to be suspended in midair.
One of Jim's neighbors was passing by his door, when she heard the shouting. At first, she wondered what was going on but then she remembered. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, as she inserted the keys into the lock. Men.
Simon was laughing at the distraught expressions on the faces of his best detective and the werewolf next to him. He leaned back into the plush couch and put his hands behind his head. "Well, gentlemen, it was just like I said. Now pay up."
Jim and Lawrence glanced at each other and then at Simon's outstretched palm. Resigned to their fate, they reached into their wallets and pulled out one hundred dollars each. Jim looked at the captain and something clicked in his mind. Simon didn't seem all that excited during this game. Not as passionate as he usually is. Almost as though... He grumbled, "You rigged this didn't you, Simon? You knew the result of the game before we sat to watch it."
Simon grinned as he happily began counting the bills. "Now Jim. When you asked whether or not I had watched the game, I didn't lie to you. I hadn't seen it, however, I had heard the result on the radio," he chuckled.
Lawrence gave a sidelong glance at the captain and said, "That was wrong, Simon. Just wrong."
He just laughed even harder and said, "Well, just blame it on hanging around Sandburg, too much. And as revenge for Jim not letting me smoke in his truck."
Jim got up from the couch and went to the kitchen to get some more beer. "I really have to talk to that kid about his obfuscation. He's starting to influence the rest of..." The sentinel's head snapped up as he heard Lawrence gasp and his heart rate go through the roof. Lawrence had tensed up and he seemed to be staring into space. The only word that escaped from his lips was, "Blair." Jim rushed over to Lawrence's side and grasped him by his shoulders, shaking the werewolf slightly. "Lawrence, what's wrong?" he asked desperately.
Lawrence shook himself out of his reverie, morphing instantaneously. He growled and ran past the stunned detective onto the balcony. He snarled, "It's Xavier. He's after Blair."
Jim saw the muscles bunching in the werewolf's legs as he was ready to leap onto the roof and he shouted, "Lawrence, take me with you."
The werewolf paused, glancing at the sentinel. With incredible speed, he sped back into the apartment and swept Jim into his arms. Then in a split second, they were leaping across the roofs. Jim stared at the streets that were blurring as they passed them by. Hold on, Chief. Just hold on.
SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA
Two figures cut through the shadows and stopped at the entrance to the imposing building. They glanced at each other. The woman known as Talia asked quietly, "How do you want to play this one, Shar?"
Shakari took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes. "It must be him. We've eliminated the others but I'll try to be as diplomatic as possible. Lawrence and I could have been wrong about the list."
Talia snorted and said, "Somehow, I doubt that. We have to be careful, he knows we're out here."
"If he didn't know that we were out here I'd have less respect for him than I do now. Come on." Shakari composed herself, gathering her strength. A slight creak could be heard as she pushed the steel doors to face a long corridor, the only illumination was provided by dim lights which lined the walls. No sound could be heard as they made their way to the ceiling high door at the end of the corridor. Both of them sensed Mikhail's presence behind it.
Shakari flung open the door, her eyes zeroing in on Mikhail's seated form. Not a muscle twitched as they entered the room and stopped behind him. Bowing her head, her eyes closed, her lips opening to utter the age old tradition of her people. "Long life to you, old one."
"And the same to you, young one," he said quietly. His eyes opened to reveal a shade of gray that made them seem almost white. "Why have you come here?"
"Elder, disturbing things are happening in our sect." She cleared her throat and continued, "Recent events have indicated that someone has," she paused trying to put her words the right way so that this wouldn't escalate if she was wrong, "told the other clan of our safe houses."
"And you think that I have done so?"
At the note of anger that entered his voice, her head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes. Her voice took on an equally dangerous tone and she said, "You said it, not I."
In an instant, Mikhail bounded from the floor. Shakari saw his arm move and she caught a flash of metal as something streaked towards her face. She snarled and her hands came up to catch the four shurikens that he had thrown. But he wasn't done there. He snatched up a sword and dashed towards her. She deftly leapt into the air when she heard Talia shout her name. She pivoted in midair, and when she landed, she was clutching the two sais that Talia had given to her. Each hand held one of the three-pronged weapons, the middle and longest prong, pointing at her new enemy. Her mouth formed a humorless smile and she said, "Well, this is going to be interesting."
A group of homeless people ran screaming from an alley, babbling about demons and the end of the world. They didn't know how close they were to the truth, from Blair Sandburg's perspective. He had just flung one of his attackers into the alley below and now he faced the others. The snarling pack quieted and parted instantly as another wolf walked among them. Samuel stopped in front of Blair and said, "Enough with the play. You come with us now."
"Never!" He glanced around frantically for a way out but he had just run out of options. The only way that he was going to escape was by going through Samuel and his group.
Samuel shook his head and said, "Your bravado is wasted on me. Xavier wants you for some reason and I never fail him. This ends now." He leapt forward faster than Blair could avoid him and clutched Blair by the throat. Samuel lifted him into the air and then flung him into the alley below with crushing force.
Lawrence rushed into the alley just in time to see Blair hit the ground. Jim screamed Blair's name and immediately, Lawrence dashed to Blair's moaning form. He set Jim down and hunched protectively before the pair as the pack of wolves descended from above.
Lawrence uttered a terrible roar and Jim gasped as he morphed even further, loosing almost any sense of humanity. He snarled as Xavier's second in command landed with such force that he made an imprint on the concrete surface, small chips flying from his impact.
The sentinel turned his attention back to Blair, who was gasping for air and groaning. "Easy, Chief, easy."
Blue irises stared at the detective, clouded with pain. "J...Jim," he managed to gasp out.
Jim clutched one of Blair's clawed hands in his own and said, "Yeah, Chief. It's me. Hold still for a bit, okay? We're going to get you out of this." Quickly, he ran his sentinel sensitive touch over Blair's torso. What the...? He ran his fingers over the rib cage again and froze as he felt the broken bones knitting back together at a tremendous rate.
Blair took a shuddering breath and was relieved to find that he could inhale without the fire in his chest. When he realized that Jim's hand hadn't moved for a minute, he opened his eyes and saw the fixed look on his face. "Jim, man, this is not the time. Oww," he gasped as he sat up, maintaining the grip that he had on the sentinel's hand. He put his other hand on the detective's chin and forced Jim to look into his eyes. "Jim, snap out of it," he said in a fierce whisper. Blair glanced down the alley to see Samuel and Lawrence locked in a vicious struggle. He focused on his best friend and said, "Jim, follow my voice back. I'm all right. Don't do this to me now." He smiled as he saw Jim's pupils becoming smaller, regaining their focus.
Jim took a deep breath and closed his eyes momentarily, recovering from the zone-out. He opened his eyes to meet Blair's gaze. Automatically, Jim reached out for Blair's torso again, to feel the perfectly healed ribcage. "How...? You didn't heal this fast the last time."
"I don't know either but maybe there was less damage this time or something." He glanced back down the alley to see Lawrence and Samuel facing each other, panting heavily and bleeding from numerous cuts all over their bodies.
Lawrence was aware of the pair staring at him and he said, "Leave. I'll take care of this."
They got to their feet but they hesitated. They were badly outnumbered but they couldn't leave Lawrence there alone. Jim stepped forward, his body tense as Lawrence's command went against everything that he had learned with the Rangers. "Lawrence."
"Jim, leave now!" For the first time in years, Lawrence was afraid, not for himself but for the two behind him. He knew that he could beat Samuel and his companions eventually but Xavier? Damn it, where is he? While he had been fighting, he had been trying to scan the area for Xavier's presence but he wasn't picking up anything. Damn it! He's learned how to block me. He turned his attention to Blair. Blair, Xavier's out there somewhere I can't find him. Take Jim and go!
Blair stared at the older man's back for a couple of seconds then he nodded. He didn't want to leave either and he had his doubts that Lawrence could beat Xavier in a fight but he had to think about Jim. Quickly, he snatched Jim into his arms and was about to run when he felt a white, hot lance of pain go through his head. Unable to scream, Blair gurgled and was unconscious before he hit the asphalt.
Jim winced as he slammed his ribs into the hard surface but he instantly ignored the pain when his enhanced senses told him that Blair was unconscious. "Blair?" He grasped his friend's shoulder, shaking him but getting no response. What the...? One minute Blair was carrying him and then he had felt every muscle in Blair's body tense. Before they had fallen, Jim had heard a moan. He was about to shift his hold so that he could try to drag Blair out when he froze, a familiar heartbeat registering on his consciousness. He looked up just in time to see Xavier land in the alley.
Lawrence whirled around at the sound to meet Xavier's almost black eyes.
"Long time no see, Lawrence. How is your dear pupil these days? Going after wild goose chases?"
His mind whirling, Lawrence realized that it had been a setup from the beginning. Xavier had made no attempt to stop Shakari because he had wanted her out of the way. He had played them all for fools once again.
Xavier casually picked up the sentinel and flung him into the nearest wall with enough force to send Jim into semi-consciousness. Then he turned his attention back to his enemy's mentor. "Is that fear that I'm sensing, Lawrence?"
"You're the one who should be afraid. The last time we had a little run in, you were the one who was running away with his tail between his legs, if I remember correctly," he said menacingly.
Xavier just smiled and started to walk towards him. "Shakari wounded me far worse than I had expected. I was overconfident back then, not anymore. And she's not here now, is she? Too bad, you won't be seeing her again."
Everything was black. Jim started to surrender to the comfort of oblivion when the threads of conversation reached his ears. His mind was screaming at him to get up but his body wasn't cooperating. Through a sheer force of will he managed to crack his eyes open and was horrified at the scene. Lawrence had shed all of the trapping of humanity and was now a snarling beast. He was trying to attack Xavier but Xavier deftly evaded all of his assaults.
One glance had told Jim that Lawrence was going to lose. Jim managed to turn his head, groaning with the wave of pain. Blair was lying a few feet from him but he could have been miles away as far as Jim's body was concerned. He tried to move, tried to banish the darkness that was at the edge of his vision. Shuddering with the effort, he managed to lie on his stomach and painstakingly he started to crawl to Blair's side.
Xavier viciously backhanded Lawrence across the face, sending him flying through the air. Lawrence wasn't finished however. Xavier was about to learn why Lawrence had been chosen to instruct Shakari. Lawrence twisted in midair so that his feet hit the wall and then he ricocheted from the surface, catching Xavier off guard. A howl echoed in the alley as Lawrence's claws cut deeply into Xavier's chest. Lawrence crouched on all fours as Xavier rose from the ground.
"Good. But utterly pointless." Xavier rushed Lawrence, laughing as his foe tried to block his advance. Almost casually, he grabbed Lawrence's head. Clutching the fur, Xavier drove Lawrence's head through a nearby wall and let the dazed wolf fall to the ground. "You know something, I've enjoyed this dance but I have better things to do." Xavier grabbed Lawrence by the throat amused at the sheer hatred that he saw in the man's eyes. "Goodbye." Xavier brought his hand back and then plunged it into Lawrence's side, his hand emerging from Lawrence's back. He shuddered in pleasure as he heard Lawrence's scream and felt his enemy's mind shutting down. With ease, he withdrew his hand and let the body drop to the ground. He turned and saw the mortal crawling to Blair's side. He's determined, I have to give him that.
Jim heard footsteps coming towards him and willed his body to move faster. One more pull and he would be able to touch Blair. He stretched out his hand, trying to establish contact when his hope was snatched out of his grasp. He whispered, "No," as Xavier picked up Blair's unconscious form and draped him over his shoulder.
Xavier knelt down next to the injured man, unwavering as Jim looked at him with all of the loathing he could muster. He touched his face, feeling a slight connection that he had felt when he had touched him in the woods a few weeks before. He smiled as his suspicions were confirmed, "Hello, detective or should I say sentinel?" His smile widened at the shocked look that Jim gave him. "Yes, I know what you really are. I met one of you before. It was very...interesting, drinking his blood. But that's not what I have planned for you. At least, not yet. I did regret killing that one. I could have learned so much from him but well, he caught me during one of my blood lusts and I couldn't quite control my baser instincts. Oh well, these things happen. Do me a favor and tell Shakari to meet me at the usual place. It's time for us to settle this."
Inside, the sentinel was raging as he heard Xavier's casual dismissal of the death of one of his kind. Xavier was talking about the death like a Sunday morning stroll and it chilled his being to the core. Jim wrenched his head out of the werewolf's grip, the motion sending a wave of pain radiating through his skull. The blackness that had threatened to envelop him before won the battle. The last thing that Jim Ellison saw, was Xavier and his minions leaping onto a roof with his Guide.
Shakari smirked as she watched Mikhail struggle not to loose control. The elder stood with his feet slightly apart, the sword held above his head, a sheen of sweat matting the gray fur on his forehead. He's good. He's really, really good. The only people that could test me like this are Lawrence and Talia. "How could you? You were one of the most trusted members of our sect and then you sell out to that bastard, Xavier?"
"You don't understand, little girl," he snarled. They stalked each other, looking for an opening like two partners in a dance. "You expect to come in here and presume to judge me! I've been around far longer that you have. I've seen the slow destruction of our people. We were once a proud race and look at us now! Scurrying in the shadows with our tails between our legs! No longer! Xavier will make us strong again. When the formula has been finished, we will emerge as the new leaders of the new race that we will create."
Shakari raised one eyebrow at his tirade and said, "Really? You keep saying, 'we'. Hasn't it occurred to you that Xavier hasn't lifted a finger to save you right now? Did he really think that you would be able to take care of me or maybe he hoped that I would take you out, Mi..." All thoughts ceased as a searing pain went through her left side that made her cry out.
Mikhail grinned as he saw his opening. With incredible speed he leapt towards Shakari, his sword raised over his head. He heard Talia shout Shakari's name, moving to intercept Mikhail but she wouldn't make it in time. He made his descent, ready to split her bent head in two. Then the triumphant smile that he had on his face was wiped away when Shakari's eyes snapped open. They swept up to meet his own gaze and briefly her eyes seemed to glow. No...
Shakari moved with deadly speed. One of her hands came up and the sai caught the sword as it was mere millimeters from her face. She twisted the sai and yanked the sword out of his hand, sending it flying across the room. With even greater ferocity, her other hand came up and drove the other sai through Mikhail's shoulder, the sound of the bone shattering under the impact echoing through the room. Mikhail fell back, with Shakari standing on his chest.
Mikhail looked into her eyes, shuddering at the sheer anger in those brown orbs. He gasped as he felt the pain radiating through his entire body as the blade was taken out, now pointing at his throat. She bent down and whispered into his ear.
"If he is dead. I swear to you, I'll hunt you down like the animal that you are." She dug the point deeper into his throat, puncturing his jugular and watching with satisfaction as the blood began to pool around his head. Grimly she straightened and walked towards the door. "That'll keep him from following us. By the time he's finished healing from those wounds we'll be long gone. We have to get back. Something's happened to Lawrence. Call up the jet and tell the pilot we're leaving as soon as we arrive."
Talia said, "Shar, how do you know, we're almost halfway around the world from Cascade. The distance...".
Shakari began to walk faster and said, "Trust me, Talia. I know something's wrong. I sensed incredible pain. I just pray that he's alive." And if he's hurt then what's happened to Blair?
A voice began to penetrate the darkness that had smothered Jim's consciousness. His eyelids felt as though they weighed a ton but through sheer force of will, he managed to open them just a little. "Blair?" he whispered.
"No, Jim. It's me," Simon replied. The police captain gently helped the groggy man to sit up. "Jim, what happened here?"
"Blair," he said quietly. Jim looked around frantically, waving Simon away and getting shakily to his knees. "Oh god, Simon. They took Blair."
"They who? I got a call from the precinct about a disturbance downtown and I figured that it must be you guys." Simon looked at Lawrence's body and shook his head sadly. "Jim, what are we going to with Lawrence's body? I don't think that it's in our best interests for an autopsy to be performed."
Jim stumbled to his feet and lurched towards the werewolf. Then he froze. He shook his head in denial and Simon watched as his best detective narrowed his eyes.
"Jim, what is it?"
"I don't believe it!" Jim rushed to Lawrence's side, shocked to see that the massive hole was now closed. He gently touched the area and grimaced as his sense of touch revealed that there was only a layer of skin covering the wound. The inside was still hollow. His touch caused Lawrence to moan and quickly Jim shifted his attention. "Lawrence, hold still you'll be ok."
Lawrence grimaced and said, "Jim...I'm...so...sorry. Xavier...too powerful...Blair..."
"Don't talk, Lawrence. We'll get you some help..."
"No, too...late. Take me back to my house...I..have...to preserve my strength...until.... Shakari..." He couldn't continue. He coughed and shuddered. Jim and Simon were both shocked as they saw his skin reopen and close again. "Please...take..me..home..." Lawrence's eyes rolled back into his head and his body went limp.
The two men looked at each other then nodded. Jim grabbed Lawrence's shoulders and Simon grabbed his legs. They bundled him into the back of Simon's car and Simon jumped into the driver's seat. Tires squealing, they pulled away from the alley entrance as a group of curious onlookers began to approach.
The sentinel stared out of the window, his jaw working. Oh God, Chief. Hold on. Just hold on. If that bastard hurts you I'll kill him with my bare hands. I swear.
THE NEXT DAY
Jim stared at the unconscious form in the bed. Wearily, he rubbed a hand over his face feeling the shadow on his chin. He extended his hearing once again and sighed as they told him the same thing. Lawrence was dying. His heart had slowed too much and his breathing was so shallow that even Jim's hearing had trouble picking it up sometimes. Inevitably, his thoughts went back to his partner and Guide. Chief, please be okay. Some blessed protector I am! They've taken you, Lawrence is almost dead, Shakari is off on some wild goose chase and I'm helpless. Grinding his jaw in frustration, the sentinel rose from the chair, about to start pacing the room, when he heard something. Instantly, he dropped to one knee, pulling his gun from its holster and pointing it at the door, every muscle tense. He used the trick that Blair had taught him, piggybacking his vision on his hearing and he saw Shakari walking down the hallway with another woman that he didn't know.
She flung open the door and walked past Jim who was rising from his kneeling position on the floor. There was no hesitation as she knelt next to Lawrence's form and gently rubbed her hand over his forehead.
Jim started to walk towards her but Talia touched his arm. He spun around, his mouth opening to argue with her but her expression stopped the words that had begun to form. Her sadness almost equaled that which he saw on Shakari's face as she rubbed Lawrence's hand gently, entwining her fingers in his own. He sighed and walked away as Talia gently led him out of the room.
"Lawrence. Lawrence, wake up, please," she said quietly. Her eyes began to water as her mentor moaned almost inaudibly and he struggled to open the heavy eyelids. Shakari closed her eyes briefly as she realized that Lawrence didn't even have the strength to turn his head to look at her. One of her hands came up and she turned his head towards her own, initiating a telepathic link to her mentor. Hey, I leave for a little bit and this is what happens? You must be getting old, she joked, trying to make light of the situation.
Child, I don't have the time. Listen to me.
Don't talk like that! You still have a few years left in you.
One of his hands raised from the bed and quickly Shakari grasped it in her own. Shakari. I didn't teach you to lie about things like this. I'm dying. Now listen to me. I don't have much time. I'm sorry that I won't be able to help you with Xavier. I'm proud of you, little one. You are the one we have been waiting for, Shar. I'm sorry that I've been challenging you over the past few days but you're like a daughter to me. I know that you are ready for the task that I've trained you for but I let my paternal instincts get in the way of...
Shakari clutched his hand even tighter as he coughed, unable to draw any breath. She tensed as she detected the scent of blood. Shifting her gaze to his left side, she gasped as she noticed that the wound had reopened. Grasping his hand even tighter, she thought, Lawrence, it's all been forgiven. Don't you dare die on me, now! I need you!
No you don't. Good bye, little... His eyes rolled back into his head and his grasp went limp.
Shakari grasped his shoulders and shook the body fiercely. "Lawrence! Lawrence! I won't let you die, do you hear me!" She felt his consciousness departing but she wouldn't let go, in spite of the danger to herself. If he died while she was still linked with him she would die as well. There was only one hope. She closed her eyes and summoned her strength. I don't know if I can do this but I'll try.
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HERE AND THE OTHER SIDE
Lawrence was at peace. The pain was gone and he had fulfilled his destiny. He was about to go on but he felt something pulling him back. Searching for the source he cursed as he realized what Shakari was trying to do. Shakari, my time is gone. I have to do this, child.
As he gathered his strength he inevitably thought of the time when they had first met. Fortunately her parents had been one of the few families that still knew of the clan ways. As soon as they had seen the white mark on their daughter's thigh, they knew who she was destined to be and had contacted him immediately. Lawrence smiled as he remembered looking at the month old child, who stared at him with a seriousness that made him realize that she knew who he was. He had almost lost consciousness at their first touch. A surge of telepathic energy had flowed from the baby. It traveled along every neural pathway, linking the two forever. What was even more amazing was that the bond was initiated on her end. The event that made her parents ask him if he needed a doctor when he was barely able to stand only made Shakari laugh and gurgle at her new mentor. Those were good times, Shakari but now my life is over. Your task begins now, my child. Goodbye.
Shakari screamed as she saw what Lawrence was going to do. Even though she was more powerful than he was, he had greater experience. Powerless, she could only watch as with a fond smile and a nod farewell, he severed the link between the two of them.
Jim's head snapped up as he heard Shakari scream. He and Talia rushed into the room to see Shakari cradling Lawrence's lifeless body in her arms. All that could be heard were the inarticulate moans as she gently rocked back and forth, tears streaming down her face. They only watched, as the young woman descended into grief, not caring who saw her break down and cry.
THREE HOURS LATER
She's still there. Jim entered the darkened room to still find Shakari clutching the lifeless body in her arms. The tears had stopped but the emptiness in her eyes scared Jim even more. She wasn't moving. Barely even breathing. Just staring at nothing, not acknowledging his presence. He braced himself and knelt beside her. He touched her shoulder gently and spoke her name. No response.
Jim moved until he was facing her, trying to get her to look at him but it was almost as though she was staring right through him. "Shakari, listen to me. I know that you're hurting but you have to snap out of this," he said quietly. He got no answer. His hands came up to her cheeks and he continued, "Shakari, you can't worry about Lawrence anymore. He wouldn't want you to be like this." Even his senses couldn't detect if she was responding to his words.
Clenching his jaw, he said more urgently, "Shakari, you're being selfish. Blair needs you," he paused and gathered his courage, saying words that were unfamiliar to such a proud man, "I need you."
At first he didn't think that he had gotten through to her then he felt the muscles moving under his fingertips. Focusing his attention on her pupils, he watched, relieved as they became smaller. His heart almost broke as he saw the desolate expression on her face and watched as the tears threatened to fall again. I know how she feels. If Blair ever...No, Ellison! Don't think like that. We're going to find him!
Shakari looked down at the body in her arms. Her eyes closed and she took a shuddering breath. Gently she leaned over and kissed his forehead. "Goodbye, my friend," she said so softly that even Jim had trouble hearing her. With exquisite grace she rose from the floor and walked out of the room with Lawrence's body.
The sentinel knew the loss that was she was experiencing or he thought he did. He thought that the loss of his men in Peru equaled the desolation that Shakari was feeling. He was wrong. He didn't know that the young woman had felt her mentor's soul depart from his body. He didn't know that they had been telepathically linked since she was a child. For Shakari, it was as though a part of her soul had been lost.
Ten minutes later, Shakari returned. She walked to the center of the room and braced her hands on the table, her head bowed. Jim and Talia said nothing, waiting for her to say something. Then, taking a deep breath she straightened and whirled to face them. One hand rose, the sight of her nails morphing into claws almost entrancing the sentinel. With deliberate slowness, the hand touched her right cheek, then raked down her face. Jim gasped at the action and was about to say something but Talia shook her head, cutting him off.
Four parallel lines marred Shakari's cheek but almost instantaneously, the cuts closed, leaving behind snowy white scars that were identical to the ones on her right thigh. Her eyes which had been closed the entire time, slowly opened.
Jim gasped as he saw the fire in them, her brown eyes glowing yellow for an instant. When she began to speak, the anger in her voice was like nothing he had ever heard before.
"I swear, on my blood, on Lawrence's name and on the honor of my people that Xavier will pay for what he's done. The two of you are my witnesses. This mark is a testament to my vow," she said quietly, gesturing at her face. "It will not heal until we get Blair back and Xavier is lying dead at my feet."
The sentinel watched as the carefree girl that he had met two months ago, disappeared before his eyes. It was the death of innocence. Shakari had been tested by the fire and now she was ready to do some burning of her own. A warrior stood before him. A woman bent on revenge for what Xavier had done to her and heaven help him when she caught up with him. He said quietly, "Shakari, Xavier left a message for you."
"What did that bastard say?"
"He said something about meeting at the usual place, that he's waiting for you," Jim said watching for her reaction.
Shakari and Talia glanced at each other. Shakari turned her attention back to the sentinel, her eyebrows raised in puzzlement. "The usual place? What the hell is he talking about, the usual place? The only place that we've ever met is Sam's cabin and my safe house. He can't mean those." She began to pace. "Where would he...?" She froze next to the wall. "He wouldn't," she said quietly. Then she laughed humorlessly, "Of course, he would, that arrogant...."
"Shakari, where?" Talia asked.
"The last place that we would look for him." She walked up to Jim and placed one of her hands on his shoulder. "Jim, I think I know where he is but I need your help."
"Of course. That bastard kidnapped Blair in front of my eyes. We have to get him back," he said, his eyes hard.
"Yes, we do. Come." They walked to the center of the room and at her prompting, he knelt on the floor. She sat in the lotus position across from him. The sight of her in that position caused Jim to flinch inwardly. The position that he had seen his roommate in so many times when he meditated. Sensing his discomfort Shakari took his hands in her own and said, "Jim, remember I told you about the bond that you and Blair have?"
"Yeah, but how is that going to help us now?" he said puzzled.
"I wasn't just talking about strong friendship, Jim. The two of you have a psychic bond and maybe I can use it to track him."
"I don't understand. I thought you could find him automatically."
"I think he's at a place that my people abandoned years ago. The place where our people were once one. At first, my sect maintained the stronghold but before I was born even they began to drift. Others wanted to see the world. They thought that it was foolish to keep the old ways. So, like most things, they drifted away, abandoning that place. My telepathic abilities have a limited range. The only people that I can contact anywhere in the world are those that I have a strong psychic bond with. That's why I knew that Lawrence...had been so badly injured. I felt his pain. Blair and I haven't trained enough to track him as far as I need to go. Our bond is a developing one but yours is cemented. I think I can use my powers to find him through you. Lawrence taught me that our powers don't usually work very well with normal humans but you're a sentinel. We have a connection that I don't understand but I think we should give it a try."
Jim was out of his element. This kind of discussion was Blair's area. He was a practical man and part of him was still firmly centered in what most of humanity thought to be normal reality. However, since he had become the sentinel he had been exposed to things that came right out of a comic book. He remembered his spirit guide's advice; he had to let go of his former preconceptions. Determined he asked, "What do I have to do?"
"Just think about him. I'll do the rest." She closed her eyes and opened her mind. The connection between the two of them flared, a familiar tingle emerged as she clasped his hands. Images flared through her mind. Camping trips. The distress that the sentinel felt whenever Blair was injured or placed in danger. But overall, a joy and a peace that Jim Ellison hadn't felt before Blair Sandburg had entered his life. Gathering her strength, she visualized the bond between the two men like a rope. The golden thread was beautiful beyond words, using it as an anchor she began to follow.
Pain. Agony. Shakari and Jim arrived in Blair's mind and were assaulted by the sensations that he was experiencing. She could handle it but not the sentinel. He was in no way prepared for this and she felt him screaming with the pain. Instantly she erected a shield around the both of them, cutting them off from the pain but allowing them to stay linked to Blair's consciousness. Shakari floated over to Jim who was beginning to straighten after his ordeal. Jim, are you okay?
Yeah, he gasped, accepting her offering hand. With her help he managed to stand, shuddering as he felt the pain that Blair was experiencing fade. He frowned as they appeared to be encased in...a giant bubble?
Linked as they were, Shakari knew what he was thinking and said, "For protection. Now what is Xavier...Dear God, no."
Jim looked beyond the protective barrier. What he saw chilled him to the core. No, it didn't happen like this! The sentinel watched a scene that was the total opposite of what Blair had told him. The events that had haunted Blair for weeks afterward. David Lash, the psycho that had almost killed Blair was in the loft, intent on taking Blair as another one of his trophies. At least, that was what had happened in the real world. Here, the hunter had become the prey.
They watched horrified as Blair stalked David Lash around the loft. The man was screaming and begging for mercy, tears falling from his eyes as he tried to get away from Blair. What terrified Lash and the silent witnesses was Blair's expression. There was a hunger. A hunger for blood that Jim hadn't thought in his worst nightmares that he would ever see on his Guide's face. But the pacifist had disappeared and only a monster remained. Sickened, Shakari and Jim saw Lash vainly throw a chair but it was shattered by one swipe of Blair's hand. For the first time, Jim felt sorry for the man. When he had killed Lash, he had only felt satisfaction as he had watched him die. Now, even though his brain told him that this was only in Blair's mind and that Lash was long dead, he was actually pitying him. Blair leapt onto Lash, changing into his humanoid form with Lash struggling vainly beneath his superior strength.
Well, this is different now isn't it, Lash? Blair said/thought. He sat back on his haunches and put one of his hands on his face, tapping a finger to his cheek. Let's see. Right about now, this is were you knocked me out. Blair's face hardened and he leaned down so that he was inches from Lash's blubbering face. Well, how do you like it now?! Without warning, one of Blair's hands swept down and decapitated Lash.
Jim screamed his denial. No! Blair, what's wrong with you? He had never seen his Guide revel in torture but that was what he was seeing before his stunned eyes. Suddenly Xavier materialized in front of the barrier and at that moment Jim wanted to kill him with his bare hands.
Hello, Shakari. You know where I am now, my dear. What are you waiting for? He thought/said smirking.
Jim growled but Shakari restrained him. Jim, he's trying to trick us. This is just an illusion. He hasn't turned Blair into a killer.
Xavier laughed. Yet. He's still holding on to the bond between the two of you. Xavier gestured and the loft disappeared. Instead, they saw Blair curled into a fetal position clutching his head. I'm merely showing him what he can do, my dear. He won't have to depend on you or his sentinel anymore once he joins me.
Blair Sandburg writhed in agony. The pain was beginning to conquer him. An end was all that he wanted. Then he felt something in his mind. With his remaining strength, he looked within himself and felt a familiar presence. Jim? Jim, help me! I can't... The thought was cut off as the pain threatened to split his skull open.
Xavier smirked and said, Do you see what I mean? Dependency is weakness, something that I'm going to cure him of long before you get here. Goodbye.
Blair! Jim lunged, trying to reach his friend but a searing pain paralyzed him and almost instantly, he found himself back in his own body. Groaning, he tried to rise but he failed, falling back to the floor as a wave of nausea passed over him. He heard Shakari groan also and opened his eyes to see Talia helping her to stand.
"Jim, don't try to get up yet. He cut the link that I had made. Returning to one's body suddenly like that can be dangerous. The sensation will pass in a few minutes," she said, her voice raw. She stumbled over to his side and fell to her knees. Shakari held his hand, knowing that he needed an anchor so that he could get control of the feelings, physical and emotional, that were threatening to overwhelm him. After a few minutes, he managed to sit up on his own.
Jim clutched her hand tighter, his blue eyes fierce. "How long can Blair hold out?"
Shakari rubbed her face wearily and said, "I don't know. The bond between the two of you is the only thing that is preventing Xavier from totally changing him but Xavier's as powerful a telepath as I am. I'm sorry Jim, I just don't know." She helped him up and said, "We'll leave tomorrow night." Seeing his body tense, she continued, "I want to go after him now, too, Jim but I can't. Xavier's little attack has weakened both of us. We need to rest then we'll leave." She paused and looked down, gathering her courage. Clenching her jaw she met his gaze once more and said, "I'm probably being really idiotic by asking you this, Jim but for my own peace of mind I have to. I know you think that I can beat Xavier but I don't even know if I can. There's a really good possibility that we won't come back from this alive. Are you sure that you want to come with me?"
Instead of getting angry, as she had feared, Jim cocked his head slightly and tenderly placed his hand on her cheek. "Shakari, Blair's my Guide but more importantly, he's my friend. I've been in too many situations in my life where there was a good chance that I wasn't coming back but I have. I owe Blair for so much that I can't even begin to tell you everything that he's done for me. If I die going to rescue him then I die." He brought his other hand up and cupped her jaw. "And even if Blair weren't there. I would still go with you. I've acted like an ass around you sometimes. And for that I apologize. You've sacrificed so much to help us. I realize that now. Where you go, I go." He cemented his vow with a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Shakari felt a peace and a joy descend on her that momentarily penetrated the wall of grief.
Talia smiled as she saw the two of them placing a hand over each other's heart, perhaps trying to physically feel the truth that resided. Somehow, this feels right.
Invisible to the small group, the panther purred contentedly. Sentinel and werewolf joined again. As it should be.
THE NEXT DAY
"Blair said that you were a Ranger once?" asked Shakari, glancing at the sentinel as they walked down the hidden staircase in Lawrence's house.
"Yeah, but what does that have to do with rescuing Blair?"
"It'll prepare you for what we have to do," she replied quietly.
Jim paused for an instant and then continued his descent. His sense of smell was being assaulted by the scent of the earth but he managed to find the dial and suppress the sensation. He watched as Shakari opened a hidden panel. She touched a pad and let her hand rest there for a few seconds. Her action was followed by a slight beep and the sentinel detected the whirring of gears, while a door appeared in the wall. He shook his head and said wryly, "What is it with you guys and these secret doors?"
"We have a lot to hide," she said. "Come on."
He walked through the entrance having difficulty seeing anything in the room even with his enhanced vision. He was about to ask Shakari what was down there when she flicked a switch. Jim's eyes widened and he whispered, "Dear God."
Weapons. The entire room was filled with every weapon imaginable. Guns, knives, swords and others that Jim had never seen in his life or had ever imagined in his wildest dreams. He spun around to face Shakari, waiting for an explanation.
"He was a warrior, Jim."
"I could have been called a warrior, too, Shakari and I still have a stash of my arsenal tucked away but I've never seen anything like this." Jim strode to the nearest display and touched a peculiar looking weapon. He reached out to touch the gleaming surface. The color was somewhat similar to that of gold but as soon as he touched it he knew it wasn't gold. He stroked it softly, trying to interpret the sensations that he was getting from it. His tactile senses could pick up impurities in metals but this seemed to have none at all. It was perfectly smooth. The sentinel shifted his arm to attempt to lift it but Shakari's hand restrained him. He glanced at her but she smiled slightly and said, "That's a special weapon, Jim. It was made for werewolves. You can't lift it. I saw your face when you touched it. What were you feeling?"
"It's perfectly smooth," he said quietly, caressing its surface.
"I never noticed that," she said amazed. "When we get Blair back I have to talk to him about this sentinel thing."
"You can't feel it?"
"No, we have enhanced sight, smell and hearing. But that's it. Our tastebuds are a bit more sensitive that a normal human's but not by much." She turned and walked towards another display case, this one filled with guns. "Here's something I think you will be more familiar with. Lawrence has had some human allies over the years so he collected these."
He removed one of the automatic weapons, checking it over. "It's lighter than it should be."
"Yes, another one of Lawrence's innovations. Jim, I don't know how many followers he has so the three of us have to be brutal. Hanging around you for so long has made me realize that you're not a killer, Jim and I'm not asking you to become one. You're the one who's at a disadvantage here." She took the rifle from his hand and said, "When you use this, head and heart shots primarily. You won't kill them, you'll just slow them down. We're incredibly resilient. A bullet won't kill us."
Jim reached into the case and deftly loaded a handgun. He stared at her, eyes blazing. "You won't have to worry about me, Shakari. I need to ask you a favor. There are some calls that I have to make...before we leave."
Nodding, she led him out of the room back to the staircase. "Of course."
"Banks!" shouted the harried captain, making Jim wince and pull the phone away from his ear slightly.
"Simon, it's me."
"Jim, I haven't heard from you in days, how's Lawrence?"
A hand came up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "He's dead, sir."
"Damn. Jim, I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me too. Listen, Simon," he paused, trying to find the right words to say, "we're going after Blair." Sensing that he was going to interrupt, he rushed on. "If you don't hear from me in a week...we're not coming back at all."
"Jim," Simon said. He didn't know how to continue. I don't want to be having this conversation. God, is this how Darryl feels when I have a really dangerous case. "Don't give me that bull! Of course you're coming back. We'll be playing poker and fishing again in no time."
"Sure, Simon. I'll see you around." Before he could hear anymore, Jim hung up. Come on, Ellison, keep it together! He had gone on missions like this tens of times but before there was no one to give a damn if he didn't come back. He began to dial another number, watching the slight shaking of his hand. He gave his name to the secretary and forced himself to sound a bit more jovial as his brother came on the line.
"Hey, Jim! We haven't talked in a while, bro. Everything ok? Are we still on for the game?"
"That's what I was calling to talk about, Steve. Blair and I...can't make it that night. Something's come up."
"Tough case?" asked Stephen Ellison as he hurriedly packed some papers into his briefcase.
"Something like that but hey we can get together some other time, right?"
The hand that was about to reach for his jacket froze as he detected a strange note in his brother's voice. "Jim? Is everything all right?"
"Sure." A lump seemed to develop in his throat and he cleared it noisily. "Listen, Steve, I have to go. Watch your back, okay, brat?" The sound of Stephen shouting into the receiver, asking fearfully what was going on echoed in his ears, as he touched the disconnect button on his phone. He stood staring at the cellular and jumped slightly as it rang. Slowly, a finger rose and shut off the phone's power, cutting off the second ring. Jim didn't have to be psychic to know that it was Stephen. Sorry, bro, but this is one more thing that you're better off not knowing about.
TWO DAYS LATER
A white blanket caressed the forest. As far as the eye could see, there was this whiteness, broken only by the trees. To the untrained eye everything was peaceful, but soon the peace was going to be shattered and war would arrive. A figure cut through the trees with incredible ease, moving so quickly that there were only the barest of impressions on the snow. It leapt onto a trunk and scaled its surface, adjusting its position so that not a branch was disturbed on the way to its destination. About halfway up, it stopped, looking into the expectant faces of her companions.
"How many?" asked the Sentinel quietly.
"About thirty or so," Shakari whispered.
"Any sign of Blair?"
She pursed her lips and shook her head in frustration, "No. I think Xavier's masking Blair's presence. We're only going to have one chance at this. Talia, you stay close to Jim. He's the most vulnerable. How many can you spot with your senses Jim?"
He had watched her progress through the woods, as she had catalogued the amount of resistance that they would encounter. Zeroing in on the targets that were in his direct line of sight, he said, "Ten."
"Good. Remember what I told you earlier, Jim. Head and heart shots, if possible. They won't die but we need to stop them from following us. From previous experience, I know that Xavier's not going to play fair, so we need to take out as many of his cronies as we can. Are we ready?" They nodded. "All right. Wait for my signal." Then as quietly as she had arrived, she left.
Jim watched fascinated as her fur turned from jet black to an almost incandescent white to match the snow that was exposed to the full moon. No way, can they see her. Even with my abilities, I have to concentrate to see her. He turned his attention to Talia, who didn't have Shakari's camouflaging ability. Nevertheless, she was almost as stealthy.
Talia pointed to a shadowy area approximately ten feet away. Leaping from the branch, she easily landed in the dark grove, flattening herself on a tree trunk.
Quickly, Jim removed the black cloth that had covered the muzzle of his gun and carefully attached a silencer. Grimly, he acquired his first target, using his enhanced senses to see through the deception. To the ordinary eye, the mound of snow was not out of place. That is if you couldn't see the pair of eyes that poked through the surface of the snow. The sentinel was virtually invisible to even a werewolf's sight. He was dressed in all black, his skin covered with black paint so that only his eyes were exposed, blending perfectly with the darkness of the branches. As he waited patiently, a familiar coldness began to descend. Smirking humorlessly, he flashed back to his time in Covert Ops. I really don't want to think about that time but if I have to use those skills again to save Blair. If I have to become 'lone-wolf' Ellison, well that isn't such a hard price to pay.
He piggybacked his sight on his hearing, locating Shakari. She stalked another werewolf who was similarly disguised as the one that Jim was tracking. With a disturbing ease, she reached into the snow and wrenched the werewolf's head up. One hand covered his mouth, and another hand clutched his forehead. Jim flinched slightly as a cracking sound came from her direction as she broke the werewolf's neck. He watched as she put her fingers on one of his wrists to check his pulse. Satisfied that he was still alive, she moved on to her next target.
Once Shakari had dispatched of ten of her targets, she sent out another mind probe and realized that one of the werewolves was attempting to contact the others. She pulled a sword from its sheath on her back, realizing that the time for stealth was over. "Now," she whispered.
Jim heard her signal and took out the first target, swiveling to dispatch the next victim. He moved quickly, aware that the scent of the blood would alert the others. A fierce growl echoed through the forest in response to the almost casual decimation of their forces. One by one their numbers decreased, falling to the onslaught of bullets or Shakari's sword. Not that Talia played a small role in the campaign. She took her job of protecting the Sentinel very seriously. Their enemies had located his perch and tried to eliminate his tactical advantage. When they realized how formidable an opponent Talia was, they became more cautious.
No longer could Jim see his targets, as they had all taken cover in various other areas. His vision being useless, he instead concentrated on his hearing. A small smile touched his lips as he detected a familiar sound behind a tree about thirty feet away. Think you can hide from me, do you? He pulled the trigger, watching as the bullet burrowed through the trunk to embed itself into the werewolf's heart. He heard a muffled groan and listened as the heartbeat slowed dramatically. Maybe we're actually going to pull this off. Suddenly, a warning growl from his Spirit Guide rang through his mind. Pivoting on his toes, he looked up just in time to see another werewolf leaping through the air. Oh crap.
Her eyes followed the three wolves that circled her tense form. Until this moment, hand to hand combat had been sufficient to protect Jim's position but there were too many of them now. Quickly, her hands reached down and drew her sais from their sheaths, strapped to her legs. She watched as their movements ceased, knowing that they were ready to attack. Her heightened sense of smell picked up another scent. She refocused her attention on the spot where she had left the Sentinel when she saw him being attacked. Oh shit!
The werewolf plowed into Jim and they fell towards the earth. However, it had underestimated the sentinel. Quickly, Jim shifted his weight in mid-air so that the werewolf's back was going to hit the ground. The impact caused the wolf to catch its breath momentarily and Jim took the opportunity to draw a bowie knife, which he plunged into his enemy's heart. This is not good.
Damn it. Talia evaded another attack and quickly disposed of two of the wolves. Facing her remaining opponent she shouted, "Jim, run!"
He needed no other urging and took off into the woods. Before they had arrived, they had mapped out where they were going to meet if anything should go wrong. Tearing through the woods, the sentinel was using his senses as much as he dared without Blair's presence. As he ran, he pictured the map that Shakari had shown him earlier and calculated that he only had a mile to go. Xavier wasn't stupid. There was a fairly good chance that he would know where they would hide in case anything went wrong with his plan. But we've got no choice. He paused next to a tree, trying to pinpoint Shakari's and Talia's location. Closing his eyes, he turned up the dial, relieved to find that the sounds of battle were diminishing. Another scent about two feet away from his position caused his eyes to snap open. Diving to the ground, he gasped as a blur passed over his head, obliterating the tree that he had been leaning against.
Rolling on the ground, he reached into his back holster for another gun. He rose to one knee and fired three times, reducing the werewolf's face to a bloody mess. Every muscle quivered with the adrenaline surge. Detecting no other adversaries he began to run once again.
After about ten minutes, Jim began to slow down as he neared the cave. Breathing heavily, he crouched and hid behind a nearby bush, using his senses to scan the area. A familiar scent caught his attention. His eyes widened slightly as his ears confirmed what he had suspected. Blair! Immediately, Jim ran in the direction where he had sensed his Guide. After a few minutes, Blair's unconscious form came into view. He was lying on his side, his back to the sentinel. Every instinct in Jim's body told him to rush forward and check on his friend. Rationale won the day, however. Cautiously, he stepped into the clearing, eyes scanning the trees, turning from left to right, watching for any resistance. He knelt next to the prone form, wary of a trap from the surrounding darkness. Finally, convinced that they were alone, Jim turned towards his friend, quickly scanning him for any injuries. Nothing seems to be wrong with him physically. Why leave him out here alone like this? Gently, he turned his friend over so that Blair was on his back. His own heart was hammering so loudly that he couldn't focus to check Blair's heartbeat. Come on, Ellison, hurry up!
Fingers outstretched to check his pulse, he froze as Blair's eyes snapped open. "Easy, Chief. It's just..." said Jim before they locked gazes. What he saw chilled him to the core. "Blair..." His words were cut off by his best friend's hand coming up to seize his throat. Vainly, Jim tried to open the fingers that were cutting off his airway as Blair rose to his feet still clutching his neck. Jim moaned as Blair morphed into his humanoid form, his claws digging into Jim's flesh drawing tiny streams of blood. The next thing that Jim was aware of, he was flying through the air, hitting the ground with tremendous force.
All he could do was lie there, feeling the snow flakes drift into his nostrils as he desperately tried to figure out what was going on. The inconceivable had happened. His best friend was trying to kill him! Xavier must have gotten to him! Jim managed to heave himself up but then he felt one of Blair's hands on his back, grasping his shirt. "Chief, it's me, Jim!" he shouted, but to no avail. Blair swung the helpless man through the air once more.
Jim gasped as he hit a tree, feeling a couple of his ribs breaking. The shock translated to sheer agony when he landed on the ground. The breath was driven from his body. He clutched his side, restraining his base impulse to curl his body in response to the pain. Frantically, he dialed down the pain to a more manageable level. I don't believe this is happening! Lifting his head, he saw Blair slowly stalking, watching as the sentinel got to his hands and knees. Think, Ellison, think! How do I get through to him! Memories of the time that Blair had been the victim of a vicious attack on the precinct flashed through his mind. The sound of his partner's voice as he fought demons dredged up from the deepest corners of his psyche. Only no bat echo trick is going to work here. "Chief, listen to me," he said quietly, watching for any recognition to surface in Blair's eyes. "It's me, Jim. I'm your Sentinel, your best friend, your roommate, remember?" Jim's eyes widened as he heard Blair snarl and his crazed friend leapt in his direction. He dove to his right, landing heavily on his injured ribs, barely managing to evade Blair's attack.
Jim tried to draw a deep breath but was cursed with the agony from his injury. That pain almost sent him into blackness but he willed himself to stay conscious. Cracking open his eyelids, Jim saw that Blair had not followed him but was facing another. The panther was protecting the sentinel, snarling and growling viciously whenever Blair tried to evade it to reach his prey. Jim realized that he had only been given a temporary respite and he wracked his brain for a way to get his friend back. Wait a minute. He isn't trying to kill me. If he really wanted me dead, there's no way that I should still be alive. He winced as another jolt from his injured ribs ran along his right side. Relatively alive, that is.
Enqueri, only you can break him out of this! The enemy's hold on his soul hasn't been cemented yet but there's little time.
He told you once. 'It's all about friendship.' Just think and I'll do the rest.
I don't understa... 'It's all about friendship.' Blair had said to him when they had returned from Peru. Could it be? This is crazy but I have to try. The Sentinel closed his eyes.
The panther sensed his charge's thoughts and growled. He's learning. It took the memories from the sentinel and then leapt into the Guide.
Jim's eyes flew open as he heard Blair scream. His friend was clutching his head, stumbling around the clearing.
Inside Blair's head, the conditioning was being systematically destroyed. The panther was using Jim's memories of their time together to force the man to remember who he really was, not who Xavier wanted him to be. Fishing trips. Jim sitting at the hospital when he had overdosed on Golden. Playing poker. Jim comforting him when he was hit with a bad nightmare after Lash had kidnapped him. Everything Xavier had shown him was lies, which shattered like glass under the assault. Satisfied that the balance had been restored, the panther left the Guide.
Jim saw Blair freeze. His friend whispered his name and dropped to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut. He moved as quickly as possible to Blair's side, relieved to find a pulse even though it was a little fast. Sending up a silent prayer of thanks, the sentinel stood guard over his unconscious Guide.
Xavier frowned as he realized that his plan had failed. Damn. I wanted to see how far I could push the Guide but their bond is too strong. I would've stopped Blair from killing Ellison. Both of them working for me would've been perfect. Oh, well. Since I can't use them... He reached out to a remote control and pressed the button.
Vibrations raced through the sentinel's legs and a few seconds later he heard a series of explosions. What now? Meshing his sight with his hearing, he focused on the peak of the mountain. Oh no. A roar echoed in his ears as a wall of white death rolled down the mountain, heading straight for them. His eyes widened and quickly he looked back at his partner's unconscious face. He knew that with his broken ribs, there was no way that he could move Blair. Sorry about this, Chief. Then he slapped him.
Blair jerked, eyes flying open in confusion. Almost instantly, he squeezed them shut again in response to the terrible headache that greeted him. He clutched his head. "Jim," he moaned. "What..."
"Chief, we have to move now!" Jim screamed.
Blair morphed once again, now able to hear the roar of the avalanche as it descended towards the pair. Ignoring the pain he scrambled to his feet, leaping towards Jim as the wall of death engulfed them.
Shakari watched horrified as the avalanche raced down the mountain. She wasn't in any danger as she had wandered a great distance from their original position. Talia! Jim!
Talia had heard the explosions also. She was a strong wolf but she really didn't want to take a chance in an avalanche. Unlike many people, she respected the power of nature. Only one chance. She leapt towards a tree, and began to leap from branch to branch. The roar grew louder. Not looking back she used all of her speed and skill, spending not more than a split second on any tree before moving to the next. Faster, girl, faster!
Blair shuddered in the small cave that had formed around his body. Ouch, he thought as he moved his body cautiously, bruised all over. Frantically, his eyes darted from left to right as he couldn't pick up Jim's scent next to him. Oh no! We must have gotten separated in the avalanche. I can't see a damn thing in here. He turned around carefully and felt along his little cave. Quickly he began to dig himself out, praying that he had chosen the right direction.
Jim was running out of time. Unlike Blair, he only had a small air pocket around his face. The snow held him in its crushing grip and he realized that if Blair didn't find him soon, he was good as dead. As the seconds ticked by, he began to wonder if Blair had been injured. He might have been hit by a tree. No, stop it, Ellison. Blair's fine. He'll get you out. He has to.
The snow exploded upwards as Blair surfaced. Taking in huge gulps of air, he glanced around, trying to find any sign of his friend. Come on, Blair. Time to use those techniques that you taught Jim. His eyes closed as he took a deep breath and began to concentrate. His own heartbeat intruded on his consciousness but he ignored it, trying instead to focus on another heartbeat that he had become familiar with since his transformation. ~Thump. Thump. Thump.~ Yes! Without hesitation, Blair ran toward the sound. He had just reached the spot when the comforting sound began to slow down. "Jim! Jim, hold on, man! I'm coming!"
Through sheer force of will, Jim's eyes cracked open. Slowly, he became aware of furious digging above him. "Blair..." he whispered. A small smile crossed his lips as he heard Blair frantic cries for him to hold on. Thank God. He's back to normal. Then, he winced as the moonlight hit his eyes. He groaned softly as Blair lifted him out of the snow and gently held him.
"Jim!" Blair shouted. His friend was freezing, his body racked by tremors as he was entering the first stage of hypothermia. Blair forced himself to smile when Jim opened his eyes.
His body wasn't cooperating. The shivers were aggravating his broken ribs but even his injuries couldn't dampen his joy at seeing his Guide's eyes. He managed to blurt out, "C..Chief, you've really...gotta start working...on..on your timing."
The smile on Blair's face widened as he said lightly, "Sounding ungrateful there, Ellison?" Gently he picked up the man, and stood looking for a place where they could take shelter while Jim warmed up. A slight tug on his fur made him look at Jim.
"Cave...nearby," he whispered.
"Where?" Blair shook Jim gently as the Sentinel's eyes began to roll back into his head. "Jim! Jim, you can't fall asleep here, man." Relieved, he watched as Jim managed to focus on his face. "Okay, big guy, can you show me where?" Jim turned his head slightly, his eyes shifting to the north-west. "Okay, Jim. Just hold on." Crossing the expanse as quickly as possible, the Guide carried his precious cargo. Talking all the way, shaking Jim slightly when he wasn't responding to stop the man from losing consciousness and falling into a deadly coma. Squinting, Blair saw a large depression in the snow. As though the snow filled up something. He lay Jim down and began to dig furiously, sighing with relief as he found the cave entrance. Gently he took the semiconscious man into the cave, stripping him to his boxers. Blair froze as he saw the ugly bruise forming on Jim's right side. A quick application of pressure to the area made Jim moan and Blair realized that Jim's ribs were broken. Must have happened in the avalanche.
The wood outside was too wet to make a fire so Blair came up with another idea. Morphing even further, his body elongated until he was almost eight feet tall. Mindful of Jim's injuries he gently moved Jim so that he was sitting in his lap. Blair then wrapped his larger body around Jim's, providing the insulation with his fur that the shivering man needed. Blair placed a hand on Jim's forehead and began to rock back and forth gently. He kept talking to his friend, about their lives, about his research, anything to keep him awake.
Slowly, Jim became aware of his surroundings. Fur tickled his skin and a hand stroked his forehead. What the...? Then he realized that it was Blair who was warming him. "Chief?"
The sentinel leaned back further into Blair's chest, feeling the heartbeat through his back. He remembered hearing a voice during his delirium, its tone soft and comforting. The voice of his Guide. "Just keep talking, okay?" He smiled as Blair laughed a little.
Jim settled back, listening to Blair's voice, extending his senses so that he could hear and feel the gentle ebb and flow of Blair's breathing. Feel the strength of the heartbeat. Knowing that he was safe for the moment he let the sensations lull him into sleep.
Blair stopped talking as he realized that Jim had fallen asleep. He looked down at the injured man in his arms. Talk about role reversal. Usually it's the other way around, huh, Jim? Suddenly, Blair froze, memories flashing through his head. Xavier kidnapping him. Xavier using his telepathy to torture him with images of vicious killings. Xavier giving him his instructions to...kill Jim. Instructions that he had tried to follow. No. No, no, no! Blair cried in his mind as he saw himself stalking his best friend. It was he who had broken Jim's ribs! Blair rested his head on Jim's, rocking him even harder. I'm sorry, Jim. So sorry. Tears threatened but he knew that Jim would sense his distress so he bit his lips and held them back. Jim suffered from physical pain. Mental anguish was tearing Blair apart.
A FEW HOURS LATER
Blair! The voice in his head jerked him back into consciousness. He glanced down as Jim stirred at the tenseness that he could feel in Blair's muscles. Shar?
Yeah, she replied with a relieved sigh. Shakari probed his mind further to find out what had happened. She let out a low growl as she discovered what Xavier had made Blair do to Jim.
Blair sensed her anger through their mind link. He sighed and thought, Shar, how could I do something like that? Jim's my sentinel and I'm his guide! I tried to kill him for God's sake.
Blair, don't blame yourself. Xavier's a powerful telepath. You couldn't withstand his suggestion for very long.
"But, I tried to kill him. He's done so much for me and I betrayed him!" he said aloud.
"No, you didn't, Chief." Jim winced as he eased himself out of Blair's grasp. He turned around to look into his Guide's eyes as Blair morphed back into his human form. "Chief, that wasn't you."
Blair averted his gaze and whispered, "Yes, it was."
One hand cradling his injured side, the other reached out and grabbed Blair's chin, forcing his friend to look back into his face. "No, it wasn't, Chief. If you were really trying to kill me, I would've been dead by now. Even though Xavier tried to change you, some part of you remembered who I was."
"Not a big enough part," he replied, glancing at the bruise on Jim's side.
"But a part all the same. Blair, don't blame yourself. I don't."
Blair stared into his partner's ice-blue eyes, searching for condemnation, anger and pain. But his search was in vain, the only emotion that they reflected was forgiveness. The guilt that he felt began to melt away. "Jim..."
Jim's brow furrowed as he saw Blair cock his head to the side, the tips of his ears extending, giving Blair an almost pixie like appearance. "Chief, what is it?"
"Get dressed. They're here." As Jim obeyed his instructions, Blair asked, Shar, did you hear that?
Yeah. Try to get away as fast as you can. Talia and I will see how quickly we can get there. Good luck.
Okay. Blair heard Jim grunt and saw him struggling to put on his jacket. "Here let me help. We have to get moving," he said as he eased Jim's arm into the sleeve. At Jim's groan, he asked, "How's the pain?"
"Not too bad. Got the dial turned down. Way down." Fortunately, Jim hadn't lost his gun in Blair's attack. He drew it from the holster, checking the magazine. Snapping it back into place, he nodded. "Let's go, Chief."
Blair morphed back into his humanoid form, holding his arms out. "Upsy daisy, big guy. It'll be a lot faster if I carry you."
"Just don't get any ideas, Sandburg."
Blair peeked out of the entrance, eyes scanning the surroundings. He couldn't spot anything in the predawn light but he knew that other wolves were coming. Emerging out of their hideout, he began to run, using the trees as cover. They had been running for a few minutes when the enemy's presence grew stronger. "Damn, they found us."
"Put me down, Chief. We'll make our stand here."
"Jim, there are too many. We can't possibly..."
Blair! Shakari's thought interrupting his sentence. Surrender to them.
What!! Have you lost your mind. They'll tear us to pieces.
No, they won't. I'm a telepath remember? Their orders are to bring you to Xavier. I'll get you out.
Blair sighed, and straightened from his crouched position. He watched as shadowy figures began to surround them. He put his arm on Jim's extended arm, forcing the sentinel to put down the gun. Jim glanced at him with a stunned expression. Blair shook his head and tapped his temple. "She said surrender," he whispered.
Every muscle in his body, screamed at him to take down the enemy but he knew that they were badly outnumbered. He rose to stand beside Blair. I only hope you know what you're doing, Shakari.
INSIDE XAVIER'S HIDEOUT
Xavier turned to face the two men. "Well, I see you survived." Greeted by silence and belligerent stares, he continued, "No matter. I'll still kill you anyway, after she has been eliminated."
Blair's eyes narrowed and he said, "That'll never happen, creep."
"Oh?" He started to laugh. "You really don't understand, yet, do you?"
"Understand, what?" asked the sentinel. "Understand that you're going to lose, Xavier?"
Xavier paused in front of the detective. Then, he slammed his fist into Jim's injured side.
All of the efforts that Jim had made to keep the pain down to a manageable level, evaporated. He fell to the ground, in such pain he wasn't even able to scream. Doubling over, tears leaked from the corner of his eyes. Every nerve in his body was on fire. He couldn't breathe. Slowly a voice began to pierce the fog of pain. Chief? A hand massaged his back, the voice soft and mesmerizing. His Guide was urging him to find the dial again, to turn down the pain. Blair's voice left no room for argument. He obeyed. The pain receded and he opened his eyes to meet Blair's worried face. Jim sat up with his help.
"Better, big guy?"
"Yeah, Chief," he said hoarsely.
Satisfied that Jim was able to function again, Blair turned around and snarled at the werewolf. A hand on his shoulder stopped him from pouncing.
Jim shook his head. "No, Blair. Not yet."
Xavier grinned and said, "Listen to your sentinel, Blair. He speaks wisely." Those endless pools of darkness fixed themselves on the two men. "It will end here, make no mistake."
"Yeah, she'll kick your butt into the next century," Blair snarled.
"You really don't know how powerful we are, do you? Let me tell you a little piece of our history. When I invaded Blair's mind, I saw that she had told the two of you how our two clans had split. Contrary to your belief, she's not only fighting me to stop my plans. She's fighting for the power."
"What?" asked Blair.
"Power. That's what it all comes down to. Haven't the two of you realized that Shakari and I are a lot more powerful than the rest of the wolves that you've encountered? Do you think that it was mere coincidence? You see, we're supposed to be the rulers of our clan. We have a special name that's unpronounceable in your tongue. It loosely translates to 'chosen one' We are identified by this mark," he said, pointing to the strange birthmark that was identical to Shakari's. "Before dissension began to arrive in our clan, usually only one would be born. He or she was the absolute ruler of our people."
"And now, there are two of you," Blair said, some pieces of the puzzle starting to fall into place.
"Yes, it's almost as if nature decided to mirror the dissension that formed. In the older days, this event happened only three times before. The first time they worked out their differences and they ruled in peace," the last word having a bitter note. "However, our people realized that two of us can't rule at the same time. No one ever figures out why but when the event happened again, it was established that they would have to fight for the throne."
"And now here we are." Everyone in the large auditorium spun around at the sound of the intruder.
Shakari stood in the doorway, a silhouette against the bright lighting of the corridor behind her. She stepped forward, moving like an avenging angel. Two swords were crossed on her back, sais strapped to her thighs. Every step was heard as she made her way to face her mortal enemy. Quickly, she scanned Blair and checked on Jim, "You guys, all right?" she asked, not letting Xavier out of her sight.
"I've been better," Jim said.
"Don't worry. This will be over soon." Turning her attention back to Xavier, she said, "Let's get this over with."
"Of course, my dear," he said, bowing gracefully at the waist.
Jim watched as the two of them walked towards the center of the room.
Shakari watched as the one called Samuel handed his leader two swords. "Are those your weapons of choice?" she asked.
"These and myself," he replied. "Are you sure that you want to go through with this, my dear?" he asked softly.
"Make no mistake, Xavier. You die today," she replied coldly, reaching over her shoulder, drawing one sword from its sheath.
"You've never killed before, have you child?" asked Xavier. He started to morph assuming his humanoid form. "You've never tasted your prey's blood. Feeling that coppery taste as it slides down your throat. Hearing that heartbeat stop." His scar began to glow as he raved, the claw marks becoming incandescent. "Join me, and you'll know that feeling, Shakari."
"Is this what this whole thing has been about, Xavier? You want me to join you!" Shakari made the first attack with blinding speed, attempting to disarm him. Metal rang on metal as their swords clashed. She leapt into the air as Xavier swung at her and she landed a few feet away from him. They began to circle each other, both of them looking for a weakness. She snarled, assuming her humanoid form also, "You think that after you slaughtered my mentor, my friend, the man that has been a second father to me, after you murdered my lover and his family that I will ever work with you!"
"They were weak! We could have had so much together. We could have ruled these pitiful humans but you want to join them."
"I want to protect them!"
"Protect them!" he snarled. "They were the ones who slaughtered our people!"
"Centuries ago, Xavier. It's ancient history! Our people lived by the code of justice!"
"Oh, get off of that pedestal, almighty Shakari," Xavier said bitterly. "What's justice? These humans that you're so fond off, are destroying the earth that we nutured with their poisons. Justice would be getting rid of the whole lot of them but I'm merciful. They'll just learn to live as wolves or die!"
"Listen to yourself! There are five billion humans on this planet. Your plan doesn't have a prayer of succeeding. They'll be chaos the likes of which has never been seen."
"And then the strong will survive. The weak will die. I'll lead who survives. Simple."
"No. What's simple is our vow. Live to protect what is right, including protecting humans from butchers like you if necessary!"
Xavier's eyes narrowed and he said, "Why don't we just agree to disagree. By the way, the slaughtering isn't quite done."
Shakari felt a slight pressure in her mind as she detected a telepathic command sent by her enemy. She smiled and sent a thought back to him. Xavier, so predictable.
Blair whirled around, his lips bared to reveal the razor sharp teeth. He stood protecting his sentinel as the werewolves that had been put to guard them advanced. He didn't need his telepathy to tell him what they intended to do. He went down on his hands and feet, fur bristling, preparing for the attack when Talia contacted him telepathically. The two of you won't be dying today.
Jim recognized the heartbeat. Talia. He watched as she somersaulted through the air, her hands a blur as they moved to her thighs. Flashes of silver streaked through the air. The approaching wolves froze, then dropped to the floor each with a shuriken embedded in their forehead. She landed next to them and knelt beside Jim. "About time you got here," he grunted as she examined his side.
Shakari smiled as Xavier's lip curled into a snarl. "What's the matter? Didn't think I could mask someone's presence also? Oh, by the way, she wasn't the only one that I was hiding either." She didn't have to look back as she felt the four elders who were loyal to her clan enter the auditorium.
Blair smiled as he saw Xavier being outplayed for the first time since this whole thing had begun. The arrogant smirk had slipped off Xavier's face and a snarl marred his handsome features. Samuel crouched behind his master, his eyes cold as ice. He made a move to challenge the new entrants, morphing into an even more animalistic state.
Shakari taunted, "Why, Samuel dear, do you think that you can beat an elder? They've got a couple hundred years of experience on you, old boy. But, if you want to die, I won't mourn you." A smile danced across her lips at the doubt that entered his eyes. "Thought so. Oh, before I forget, this whole scheme of yours to change humanity into werewolves. How exactly are you going to do that without your pet scientist?"
One of the elders reached behind his back and pulled the whimpering Victor to his feet. "Master, I'm sorry. They took me and the others by surprise. All of the chemicals have been destroyed! My creations are dead!" screamed the blubbering man. "You have to help me! I can't..." The words that had been tumbling out of his mouth at a frantic rate ceased abruptly and changed to a gurgle. The elder that had been holding him up dropped the lifeless body that now had a knife sticking out of his throat.
"Thank you, Samuel. His pleas were grating on my ears," said Xavier. He turned his attention back to Shakari. "So, my dear, you've managed to disrupt my plans. Your ruthlessness almost matches my own, Shakari. We would make a good team."
An eyebrow raised, "If you haven't been listening before, Xavier let me lay it out in terms that you can understand. Fuck you."
"Well, I had to make the offer." Xavier shrugged and launched another fierce attack. He managed to disarm her with one swipe of his sword, his other hand ready to rip open her side. As swift as lightning, Shakari drew one of the sais and drove the blade through his wrist. She vaulted away, withdrawing the sai at the same time. As she landed, her other hand flashed to her waist and drew the remaining sword.
Xavier smiled as he looked at his injured hand. His tongue caressed the wound, lapping the blood soaked fur.
Jim's eyes widened as he could hear the bones knitting back together. "Chief, his wrist," One glance at his friend showed an equally shocked expression, as in seconds, Xavier's wrist had fully healed.
"I don't believe it," Blair whispered. "How did he...?"
"It's a testament of their power," replied Talia, watching her friend as she battled Xavier.
"She isn't really going to fight him to the death, is she?" asked Blair. When he got no answer from Talia, he glanced at the woman. Her mouth had narrowed to a thin line. No, she can't. Shar's not a killer! "You're not serious, we have to stop this."
Talia threw an arm across his chest. "No. This is her fight. We can't interfere."
"Have you lost your mind! Jim, help me out here, man."
Jim looked up into his Guide's eyes. He saw the anguish and disbelief. Blair was an innocent in some matters. Jim was a warrior. He knew what Shakari had to do. Now, to try and convince his best friend of that was another matter. "Chief, let it go. This is something that we can't help her with."
Every muscle taut, Blair watched the battle, his body shivering with the tension. He wanted to help her but one glance at Talia told him that she would stop him if he tried.
No one knew how the battle was going to end. Saying that both of them were good fighters was the understatement of the century. They moved with speed and ferocity that was unparalleled. No one could have achieved what they were doing not even the elders. The battle wasn't limited to the ground. The air became their battle field as well. Shakari's hand flashed to her thighs, snatching the shurikens and holding them ready between her fingers. She leapt into the air and threw them. Xavier dodged the attack, jumping and grabbing her leg. He swung her body through the air, slamming her into the ground with enough force to send chips of concrete flying through the air.
Jim gasped as he heard Shakari's collarbone snap. No, she can't lose.
Despite the agonizing pain, Shakari wasn't ready to roll over and play dead. Xavier was still clutching her leg which would be his undoing. With her good hand, she pushed herself up and back, extending the claws on her free leg.
Caught by surprise, Xavier screamed as her foot gouged his chest, blood erupting from the wounds.
Her leg released, Shakari flipped backwards, distancing herself from Xavier while her shoulder healed.
Blair watched as Xavier's wounds closed and Shakari flexed the arm that had been immobile moments before. "Damn," he whispered, "this could go on forever if their bodies heal that quickly."
"No. There will come a point when their bodies can't keep up with the damage that is being inflicted. They aren't immortal," replied Talia.
Whole once again, Shakari dashed across the room. She blocked the arm that he had swung easily, ready to use her sai to cut his throat open. Xavier's knee flew up and hit her in her diaphragm, driving the air from her body. Stunned, Shakari barely managed to stay on her feet and was totally unprepared for his next attack.
Blair screamed her name as Xavier snarled and sank his teeth into her neck. He started to move towards the pair when Talia grabbed his arms from behind and wrestled him to the ground. "Let me go, damn you! He's killing her!"
"Don't you think that I want to help her!" she growled fiercely. "She is like a sister to me but we can't help her. This is her fight!"
Jim was just as tense and angry as his partner. Every fiber in his body told him as a human being and as a sentinel that he had to help the woman. But as soon as he had made a move to stand, the panther had appeared, snarling and blocking his path. Move! he screamed at it in his mind when he saw Xavier pick up Shakari's limp form and throw it into the stone wall. As she slid to the floor, a trail of blood marked her descent.
No, Enqueri! She can still win! said the panther.
Win what? All she can do now is get killed! He could hear her heart slowing, could see and smell the blood that was gushing from the wound on her throat. It was a miracle that she was still alive.
Sentinel, you were brought here for a purpose. To see and learn that there are things in this world that you can't explain or understand. To learn your place. You are not the only protector. She must do this by herself or all will be lost!
Jim was still as taut as a bowstring but he stepped back, watching helplessly as Xavier walked towards Shakari's prone form.
"Ah, my dear, Shakari," Xavier said smugly. "You fought bravely but you were outclassed. It's as simple as that. Now our people will move forward with my vision. Your sect may fight at first but if they don't comply, I'll just kill them all. And I can start right now with the elders and your friend, Talia." Two feet away from his victory, Xavier froze.
Jim gaped at the input that he was receiving from his senses. He could hear the gashes in Shakari's throat knitting back together. A low growl came from her throat. Hands pressed into the floor, pushing her body up. She pivoted on her feet until she faced Xavier. Jim had thought that he knew what hatred was until he saw Shakari's expression. Tremors shook her body, her teeth bared in a snarl. She hadn't stopped growling from the time that she had regained consciousness. Then her eyes began to glow. The breath caught in Jim's chest as he watched those brown eyes change to an almost incandescent yellow.
Her eyes weren't the only part of her body that was changing. She was beginning to grow. Everyone in the room gasped as they watched the claws on her hands and feet become even longer. Her nose and mouth elongating until they resembled the muzzle of a true wolf. The shredded clothes that she had been wearing snapped and flew off her body, beyond its capacity to adjust to her change in size. Finally she stopped growing and then she stood, her eyes never leaving Xavier's surprised face. The only resemblance that she had to humanity was that she stood on two legs. The creature before them was ten feet tall, its tail swishing from side to side as it watched its prey.
Xavier recovered his composure. His eyes narrowed and he said, "Well, I never expected that you would have the guts to assume your true form, Shakari. The rage could consume you totally. Two can play that game." He flexed his shoulders, ripping out of his clothes also as he transformed into a form similar to Shakari's, equally as strong and tall.
Shakari wasted no energy with words. Her actions would speak loudly enough for her. With a roar that seemed to shake the entire room, they leapt at each other.
The grace that had marked the earlier part of their battle had disappeared. What they witnessed was sheer ferocity. They clawed each other viciously. Every part of their body had become a weapon. Sounds of bones breaking and flesh tearing filled the room. Once, Blair had to grab Jim and dash out of their way. They had descended into the blood lust and it wasn't going to stop until one of them was dead.
Xavier had delivered a vicious gash to Shakari's side, so deep that it had ripped through her rib cage, damaged her lung and obliterated her kidney. She lay on the ground gasping. Not that Xavier was unscathed. He swayed on his feet, bleeding from the almost innumerable cuts and open wounds that marked his body.
Xavier stumbled to Shakari's figure. He looked down at her and knelt by her side. "Shakari," he said, his voice several octaves lower than it had been before. "You sicken me. We could have ruled this place, restored our people but you wanted to go back to our old ways, protecting those stupid humans. You failed. Just like you failed to avenge your lover, Sam. You're nothing like me. I'll enjoy feasting on your pathetic carcass!"
Shakari's eyes flickered open. Gathering her strength she looked into Xavier's eyes and gasped, "You're wrong...there, Xavier. We're...alike in some ways." Shakari's right arm flew up and through Xavier's chest.
Blair and Jim gasped as they saw how Shakari had tricked Xavier. She withdrew her hand holding Xavier's heart. As his body slowly toppled to the floor, she rose to her feet, hardly wavering. "I can be just as ruthless as you were when the time is right," she whispered. Turning to face the few followers that Xavier hadn't sacrificed in the avalanche, she spoke, her voice strong and clear, not reflecting the horrific wound that still marred her side. She raised the hand that contained Xavier's heart making sure that they all saw it.
Jim blanched as the hand closed into a fist. Her hand opened and the pieces hit Xavier's body with dull squishes. He heard Blair moan in anguish and his friend seemed to deflate as the tension left his body. Her vow fulfilled, the scars on her cheek shimmered and disappeared.
"Does anyone else want to challenge me?" Silence greeted her. "I thought not. You have two choices. Either live under my rule or live in exile. Xavier's insane plot ends here. I will not force you to join me but if you try to cross me, there'll be hell to pay."
"We will never follow you," Samuel snarled. "I will be loyal to my master in life and in death."
Shakari nodded. "I thought so. Your loyalty is misguided but I can admire it. Now leave. I will not have the place of our forefathers defiled by your presence." Almost reverently, Samuel gathered his teacher's lifeless form from the room, the head of a short procession. When the last one had left she turned back towards where Talia, Jim and Blair were standing. The facade of strength dissolved immediately as she fell to her knees, clutching the wound. Barely able to raise her head, she whispered, "Blair..." Before she could continue, a huge volume of blood erupted from her mouth.
Blair screamed, "Shakari!" He rushed over to the spot where she had collapsed. He lifted her into his arms as the elders rushed over to her side.
One of them said, "No, give her to us! We can help her."
Tears shone in Blair's eyes and reluctantly, he surrendered her unconscious form to the elder, sinking to his knees as they rushed to save her life. Jim walked gingerly over to Blair and placed a hand on his shoulder, offering some comfort in the room that had been claimed by death.
FOUR DAYS LATER
Fingers rubbed the glass, leaving tracks in the moisture. A sigh filled the room. Chatan, one of the elders turned towards the sound. Aware of the need for privacy, he quietly withdrew from the room.
Jim nodded to the elder as the man walked out of the room. He paused in the doorway watching the still form of his partner as he stared into the tube. Taking a deep breath, the sentinel joined Blair in his vigil. Extending his senses, he examined the occupant, noting that the respiration and heart rate hadn't changed. "Hey, Chief," he said quietly.
Blair didn't reply but continued to stare at the still form of Shakari. His hand hadn't dropped from its position on the surface of the glass. He didn't know what to think. The elders had said that she was healing. They said that it was normal for her to be out this long after the horrific damage that Xavier had inflicted on her body. Blair shuddered slightly as he recalled the injuries. Shakari hadn't merely been cut badly. Her kidney had been missing, some ribs shattered. They had placed her in this tube, lowered her body temperature, trying to keep her alive until her immune system could deal with the damage. Part of him was amazed that her body was able to regenerate. She had actually grown a new kidney. He looked down at her side. It's almost whole now. The only indication that she had been hurt was the scar tissue but even that was starting to disappear.
Jim let the silence continue. He knew that Blair was worried. Hell, I'm worried too. They said that she was going to be fine but the look in their eyes tells me that even they aren't sure. He jumped a little at the sound of his guide's voice.
"You know, what Jim? Life's a bitch, sometimes isn't it?"
"Yeah, Chief. That she is."
"It's almost as though she doesn't want to come out of the coma!"
The sentinel knew that he was referring to Shakari and he glanced down at her face. So peaceful. "She's gone through a terrible ordeal, Blair. We all deal with it in different ways."
"You know what scares me the most right now, Jim?" asked Blair. He turned to face the detective and said quietly, "Her."
"Chief..." Jim said as he touched Blair's shoulder lightly.
"She killed him, Jim. I thought I knew her but when she ripped his heart out...it was like she was a different person. She killed him in cold blood, Jim, murdered him!"
"Sandburg, it's not as simple as that," he said.
Blair turned towards his best friend, watching that infamous jaw clenching. The lines of tension were clear on his body. He knew that Jim was trying to tell him something so he kept his mouth shut, letting the man know that he was listening.
"She had to make a decision, Chief. Shakari's not a cold-blooded murderer. This is the first time that she's killed."
"That doesn't make it right, Jim. I mean I can't honestly say that part of me isn't glad that he's gone but I can't reconcile the girl I knew with...the creature that killed a man and didn't bat an eyelash."
"So what about me, Chief?" asked the sentinel, his eyes hard.
"I don't understand," Blair said, clearly puzzled.
"You know that I was in Covert Ops, Chief. Do you think that I've never killed anyone?"
Blair turned away. "It's not the same thing, Jim! It was them or you!" He gasped as Jim's hand slapped down on his shoulder and spun him around.
"And it was the same thing here, Chief! He had to die! Not everything's black and white. Do you think he would have let us live if he had won? Chief, he killed her lover and his family. Lawrence is dead! She had no choice. It wasn't revenge. It was justice." Jim stepped back a few feet and said more quietly, "Killing someone is never easy. I know. Maybe she should have come out of the coma by now but Shakari's probably having a hard time with what she's done. She needs to know that you're going to be here to support her when she wakes up."
For one of the few times in his life, Blair Sandburg was speechless. His eyes blinked rapidly as he tried to digest what his friend was trying to tell him.
"I'll leave you alone for awhile, Chief. You don't understand this warrior's world. Unfortunately, I do. All too well."
Blair watched as Jim left the room his mind whirling with the sentinel's words. He turned back to the stasis tube looking at the still figure, hidden by the condensation. Shar, I'm so sorry. Hooking a chair leg with his foot, Blair pulled it closer and sat. He rubbed the moisture away, placing his hand next to Shakari's.
LATER THAT DAY
Jim stopped in to check on Blair. A small smile came to his lips as he saw Blair with his head leaning on the stasis tube, fast asleep. Poor kid. He's just as exhausted as I am and I ragged on him this morning. I'd better get him off to bed before... Jim cocked his head slightly as his enhanced hearing detected an increase in heart rate coming from the chamber.
Blair's head snapped up as he heard a faint hum of electricity. His eyes widened as he saw the chamber starting to open, a cool rush of air flowing out. Dimly, he heard Jim come up behind him but his attention was fixed on the hand that rose up out of the tube. His grin almost split his face in two as Shakari yawned and sat up, blinking slightly at the glare of the lights, her aura caressing his consciousness. "About time you got your lazy butt out of bed," he said.
One of her eyebrows raised and she said wryly, "That's not the sort of greeting that I expected."
Blair was about to crack another joke but the sound of running feet made them all turn to the entrance. The four elders and Talia rushed into the room, all of them wearing equal expressions of relief when they realized that Shakari had awakened. Chatan stepped forward, bowing deeply. "We are pleased to see that you have recovered," he said, still bowed at the waist.
Blair had to hide a grin when Shakari rolled her eyes at the formality. "Chatan, you don't have to do that. Look at me."
Chatan straightened. "It's something that you're going to have to get used to. You have proven yourself worthy to lead us and we are going to address you in the ways of our forefathers." He continued to speak but in a series of guttural snarls and growls.
Shakari replied with one word, in that same curious language. She started to get out of the chamber, letting Blair take her hand. "What of the other matter?" she asked.
"We've been searching Victor's files and I think we've come up with a solution."
Jim watched Chatan more closely. He seemed to be telling the truth but something in his voice made Jim wonder if he was telling the whole story.
"Show me," she said, walking towards Talia. She held out her arms letting her friend drape a robe over her nakedness. "Jim, Blair. I think you'll want to see this."
They walked through the massive complex that had been built into a mountain, until they came to a laboratory. Chatan walked up to one of the consoles, tapping the keys. "I think we've found a way to change Blair back to an ordinary human," he said, still pounding away at the keyboard.
Blair and Jim smiled at the news. "That's awesome," said Blair, bouncing on his heels.
Shakari put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Hold on, Blair. There's more."
Chatan gestured towards one of the screens. "Victor, for all of his madness was a true scientist. He was working on the antidote for the transformation process but he had...problems."
The small group watched the monitor that came to life. It was a recording of one of Victor's experiments. Someone injected the subject and dashed out of the room. Everyone in the room held their breaths as the man started to scream. Jim was shuddering at the scene. The man in the video was writhing in unbelievable agony. He pulled at the restraints so fiercely that blood began to flow freely from his lacerated wrists. Suddenly, the man morphed back to a human form but Jim could no longer hear his heartbeat. Chatan shut off the video.
The sentinel turned back to his guide. Blair was as stiff as a board, his face chalk white as he gazed at the blank screen.
"While Shakari was unconscious we worked on the formula," said Talia. "We're pretty sure that our modifications have improved it but..."
"But you're still not sure if I'll survive," Blair continued, his voice slightly hoarse.
Blair closed his eyes when his worst fears had been confirmed. God, why is it never easy? He turned and bent over one of the consoles, trying to process what he had been told.
Jim walked over to Blair's side. Speaking in soft tones, he said, "Chief, whatever you decide, I'm behind you one hundred percent."
"I know that Jim," Blair whispered. "Shar, what'll happen if I don't take it."
"You'll be a werewolf forever, Blair," she said knowing that it was not the time to hide anything from her friend. "We live a very long time, Blair. I can't give you an exact time frame but without a doubt you'll live a couple hundred years."
Blair moaned and his head lowered even further. A couple hundred years! I can't! Everyone, I know will be gone. My mom, the guys at the station and Jim! That last thought made him blanch even more. He couldn't imagine not being there to Guide his sentinel. Watching as Jim grew older but knowing that he wasn't going to die. "No, Shar. I can't do that." He took a deep breath and continued, "We'll try the antidote." The only force that kept him standing was Jim's hand on his shoulder.
Shakari said neutrally, "I'll let you think about it some more." She directed a telepathic command to the rest of the audience and they filed out of the laboratory after her.
Jim said quietly, squeezing Blair's shoulder more tightly, "Chief, are you sure about this?"
"Jim, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that some of this werewolf thing hasn't been pretty cool. These new senses are probably the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me besides finding you. And no fear of heights? Man, that's a whole set of money saved on therapy sessions but I can't live like this, Jim." His eyes rose to meet Jim's, trying to convey his reasons for risking death to return to a normal human.
"I think I understand, Blair." But I want to hear you say it.
"I don't want to live that long, Jim. It's as simple as that. I mean, a part of me is saying that it'd be really cool to catalogue how the world has changed in my lifetime, how society reacted to new challenges. But then the rest of me gives a good swift kick and says 'Blair, what about the rest? Hiding out from society? Moving every couple of years so that people don't realize that you're not aging like the rest of them? Watching your friends die?'" His voice dropped to a mere whisper with his last question.
Jim remained silent, not trusting himself to speak without his voice cracking around the lump in his throat.
"I can't watch you die, knowing that I'm not going to die for a long time, Jim! I just can't!" The tears spilled over, making slow tracks down his cheeks.
Jim pulled him into a fierce hug and spoke into his friend's curly hair, his voice muffled. "Chief, I don't want you to do this just for me, okay? When I die, I wouldn't be sad that you're still alive, Blair. Maybe, a little especially since I couldn't cash in on the movie rights from your dissertation." He smiled as he felt Blair laugh through the tears.
Blair pulled away slightly and said, "So that's what I'm only good for? No, Jim this is a decision for me as much as you. I'm your Guide. It's what I was born to do not observe the world. I'm sure."
"Well, if you're sure, I'm sure," Jim replied. Simple words. Words that held more feeling in them than some of the most eloquent speeches in the world.
"Good. Now why don't we do some tests? We can go outside and compare sensory input," Blair said, bouncing on his heels.
Jim sighed loudly but his smile was as wide as his partner's when they walked into the woods, sharing the thrill of enhanced senses in a way that the sentinel had always wanted to express. A figure watched from one the windows. Shakari prayed that their bond wouldn't be destroyed by Blair's death.
A FEW HOURS LATER
"Are you ready, Blair?" Shakari asked tenderly, her hand stroking his forehead.
"Oh sure," Blair replied hoarsely, "I'm strapped down to a table. I'm about to be injected with a weird chemical so I can go back to being human. Did I mention that I could die?" he babbled.
"Easy, Chief. We'll be right here." Jim touched Blair's arm lightly. In his mind, he was screaming for them to stop this. Shakari had said that he could stay in the room but he couldn't hold Blair's hand. Blair was going to be in a hell of a lot of pain and Shakari knew that if Jim held Blair's hand during the procedure, Blair would crush it.
Blair's eyes flickered in his direction, taking strength from his friend. "I know," he said softly. His head turned in Shakari's direction and he nodded.
Chatan came in with the syringe, admiring the young man's courage. As gently as possible he plunged the syringe into Blair's arm and stepped back waiting for the change to start. They didn't have to wait long.
Jim heard the breath catch in Blair's throat. Then the screaming started. Jim rushed forward, trying to reach the writhing form of his Guide but Shakari blocked his path. Blair's screams assaulted his ears. Every cry was like a knife plunging into his own heart. Blair's heart was beating so hard that Jim thought it was going to burst right through his chest. He convulsed with the pain, pressing against the restraints so hard that the coppery smell of blood assaulted his nose. Shakari held Blair's hand, not saying a word but Jim knew that she was talking with him telepathically. He could only watch horrified as Blair switched back and forth from his wolf to his human form, spending only seconds in each form. Just as abruptly as they had started, the screams ceased. That odd mixture of human blended with an animal smell that had hung around his friend for the past couple of weeks disappeared. He was human again. Shakari smiled and let Jim walk over to Blair's other side.
Sweat had matted the brown curls that stuck to Blair's forehead. Jim grabbed Blair's other hand that was limp in his own. He said quietly, "Hey, buddy."
Barely conscious, Blair used what felt like most of his energy to turn towards Jim's voice. He whispered Jim's name, sentinel soft. Closing his eyes to gather more strength, Blair was about to say something more when it felt as though a vice had clamped around his heart. He struggled to say something, anything. He could hear Shakari screaming for help and Jim shouting his name but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't reply. Jim, help me... he thought as the darkness swallowed him whole.
Jim froze as he heard Blair's heart stop. "No," he whispered, clutching Blair's hand more tightly. "Blair! Don't do this to me! Come back!" he screamed.
Shakari started to do CPR. "Damn it, Blair, don't do this to us! Chatan, help us!"
Chatan and Talia came rushing into the room. Talia started breathing for Blair while Shakari continued with the compressions.
Jim continued to plead with Blair for him to come back. "Chief, come on. Just breathe, Blair. Just a little breath." Nothing.
Chatan grabbed the paddles, rubbing them furiously. "Clear!" he shouted.
Talia and Shakari drew back, dragging Jim with them.
Jim sagged as he saw Blair's body jerk with the electricity. Nothing. Blair's heart was still.
"No," Chatan whispered. He turned back to the machine, increasing the charge. He pressed the paddles to Blair's chest again, firing. No response.
Jim shrugged out of Shakari's hold and clutched the lifeless hand again that was already getting cold. Tears started to cloud his eyes and he begged, "Blair, come back to me. You said that it was all about friendship. When you said that instead of going to Borneo I thought that you were in for the long haul here, Chief. I can't do this without you," he said, his voice dropping down to a whisper. ~Thump. Thump. Thump.~ Jim's head snapped up at the miraculous sound. "Blair? Come on, Blair. I can hear that old ticker of yours starting up. Now a breath, Chief. Just one."
Everyone in the room waited, watching for a response to the plea. Then, Blair's chest rose a few millimeters. The next breath was deeper.
Shakari sighed with relief as Blair's vital signs began to come back to normal. She was even more relieved when she tried to telepathically scan him but she was having serious difficulty in doing so. He's back to normal. I can't read his mind anymore. He would be fine. They'd monitor him for a relapse but for now the sentinel and the guide needed to be alone. Shakari turned to the doorway, gesturing for Chatan and Talia to follow her. She let them leave first. Turning back to the pair, she was comforted by the sight of the sentinel resting his head on his Guide's chest, listening to the beat of Blair's heart. One of Jim's hands was clutching Blair's, the other stroking Blair's forehead lightly. For the first time since this entire ordeal had begun, Shakari thought that all was right with the world.
CASCADE AIRPORT, ONE WEEK LATER
"Are you sure that you're going to be all right?" asked Blair, taking Shakari's hands in his.
"Always being the big brother, Blair?" She was dressed in black. Now that Xavier was dead, she could allow herself to mourn for her mentor. They watched as the casket was loaded into Shakari's private jet. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she looked into her friend's blue eyes and said, "Yes. It'll take awhile but I'll be fine."
Blair searched her eyes. Grief clouded them but he noticed a strength that he hadn't seen before. Part of him was still trying to reconcile what she had done but she was his friend, as close to him as Jim was. "Are you sure that you don't want us to join you? Simon would give us a couple more days if we want." He sighed as he thought about the man who had lost his life trying to protect him. "It's just not right, for us to stay here, Shar."
"Blair, trust me. I was with him...in the end. He knew what you wanted to say to him. When two wolves have the connection that we had its custom that when one dies, the other perform the funeral ceremony. No one else is allowed. He was...my mentor. He was chosen to prepare me for the task of ruling our sect. We were as close as two people could be and not share the same soul. You know what I mean." Shakari glanced at Jim, who was standing near the terminal.
"Yeah," Blair said softly. He didn't remember what had happened after his heart had stopped but Shakari assured him that it was Jim who had brought him back.
"I have to go." She hugged him fiercely for a few minutes. She knew that she wouldn't be able to see him as often as she would have liked. The task of bringing her people back together had fallen squarely into her lap. When Jim had said his good-byes, she had said, "Take care of him, Jim."
"With my life," he had replied.
When they parted, she reached into her purse and pulled out a small card. "If anything ever happens, if you guys need my help you can reach me at this number and I'll come running."
Blair stared at the woman who stood before him. She was no longer the girl tagging along behind him. Shakari had matured into someone that Blair was extremely proud of. You'll make an excellent ruler, Shar. He cupped her cheeks and touched his forehead to hers, in a greeting that he had seen the other wolves use in her presence.
Separating, Shakari waved goodbye to the sentinel and then she boarded her plane.
They waited until the plane had taken off. Jim said nothing as he watched his guide watching the plane cutting through the sky. He simply placed an arm around Blair's shoulders, letting his friend know that he would stay as long as he wished.
When he could no longer see the plane, Blair shook himself slightly. He glanced up at Jim and said, "Thank you. For everything."
No words were appropriate so Jim just nodded. He squeezed Blair's shoulder and said, "Now, why don't we see if my bro got those tickets?"
"Jim, man you called him today. He's not a miracle worker you know. That game's been sold out for weeks.
"Contacts, Chief. It's all about, contacts," Jim replied as they walked to the exit. "Besides," he said with a grin, "he's got a new girlfriend and I threatened to tell her about his childhood exploits if he didn't comply." His Guide's helpless laughter echoing around the small corridor seemed to cleanse his soul and he gladly joined his friend's mirth. A silent prayer of thanks rang through his mind, thanking God that his Guide was still by his side.
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