Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are property of Pet Fly Productions.
Thanks again to Wolfpup for beta-ing and encouragement!
Acknowledgements: Much of the information about the Medicine Wheel and shamanism comes from the books of Alberto Villoldo : Islands of the Sun and The Four Winds. Both are great reading.
The places of Cuzco and Tempo Machay are real and in close proximity of each other. The city of Cuzco is called the "City of the Jaguar" and there are ruins where the old city began. Anything else, the village, the waterfall, etc, are mine.
Thank you so kindly to everyone who wrote to me about my first story "My Guide..." These stories aren't connected in any way, other than they both look into the relationship of the Sentinel and his Guide (or Shaman).
Please let me know what you think.
E-mail me at email@example.com
Blair Sandburg stood at the large window, watching another jet take off. He wished himself on that jet. He wished himself anywhere but Cascade. It was too hard to be alone when you were once a part of something. He had lied to himself when he said he'd come back. Come back to what? Come back for what? He was never going to return to Cascade. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There was no past, no present, only the future, and that future was in Peru.
Staring at the plane ticket clutched in his hand, Blair's mind once again played the memories that had brought him there. He was long past the tears and they almost seemed like memories that belonged to someone else.
White knuckled hands gripped the wheel as he fought to keep control of the truck. Jim Ellison sat in the seat beside him, his mind focused on the car almost a half a mile ahead of them. Blair risked a quick glance at his friend, relieved to see that even though he was piggybacking his sight and hearing, the detective didn't seem to be zoning out.
"How's it look, Jim?" He was relying on his partner to navigate them through the long winding stretch of road. He drove as fast as he dared in the pouring rain, but still couldnt' keep the car ahead of them in sight. It was up to Jim to tell him if the car left the main road.
Frustration edged Ellison's voice. "This guy must know the area really well, he just picked up speed. He's putting more distance between us." He slammed his fist against the dashboard. "Damn. If we lose him, that kid's not going to make it."
Blair pressed down on the accelerator, coaxing a little more speed from the Ford. He knew the roads too, he just hoped he knew them well enough.
"Careful Chief, killing us here won't help that kid either."
Sandburg could only nod, not wanting to risk losing his concentration.
"Blair! He's slowed down and I think he's turned up one of the mountain accesses. Just past the bend coming up."
Braking softly, only enough to make sure the Expedition held the road on the slick pavement, the anthropologist deftly made the turn.
"Nice driving, kid." Blair felt the warmth of that praise and grinned.
"Are we on the right road, Jim? I can't see anything ahead of us."
"Yeah, we're on the right road. He's slowing down. He's..stopping? But there isn't anything out here." The Sentinel listened to sounds Sandburg would never be able to hear. "Dear Lord! I think he's killing him! I can hear the boy struggling to breathe and his heart has gone wild!"
Sandburg pushed the accelerator down as far as it would go. The truck lurched on the incline but held the road. Within minutes its headlights bounced off the metal of the car they had been chasing.
"He's killed him" Jim's words were almost a moan.
The Ford skidded to a halt and both men jumped from the truck. The motor of the other car was still running, but the driver had fled into the brush. The headlights of Jim's truck cast a harsh white light into the car's interior. A young boy lay crumpled on the front seat, eyes wide, but not seeing.
Horrified by what he saw, Blair turned to his partner. "You go after that guy, Jim. I'll look after the boy." He watched as his friend disappeared into the dense thicket alongside the road. A moan escaped him as he reached into the car and pulled the small body from the front seat. How could someone do that to a child? Laying him carefully on the ground, he started CPR. With each breath and pump of the fragile chest, Sandburg prayed for some life to return to those eyes. After almost 15 minutes he realized it would never happen and with shaking fingers he closed the child's eyes. His hot tears mixed with the cold rain as he drew the small figure into his arms and cried as he had never cried before.
Ellison had given Sandburg a quick look before he headed after the suspect. He mentally corrected himself, the killer. He had murdered that little boy. Blair had said he would look after the child, but Jim knew it was too late. He had wanted to tell his partner to just stay away from the car, that there was nothing he could do. As Jim ran into the thick brush, he kept his eye on the man in front of him, but his hearing was focused on his Guide. He heard Blair start CPR, his heart aching for when his friend would come to realize that he couldn't save him
Sound suddenly exploded in front of him. Peering through the rain, he saw the killer drop from sight. The Sentinel judged, from what he had heard, that the man had fallen through an abandoned mine shaft. Soon the sounds of Blair's life saving attempts were drowned out by desperate cries for help. Ellison's groan was a mixture of exasperation and frustration. He would have to at least attempt a rescue, when all he really wanted to do was go back to his friend. With a few more strides, he found himself at the lip of the hole. It wasn't too deep and the man seemed unharmed. Jim's mind almost reeled at the gross injustice of it. He had been helpless to save a young boy. His heightened senses, which Blair insisted were a gift and not a curse, had made sure he lived that death. Now he was forced to save the killer.
"You gotta get me outta here!" The voice was a high-pitched whine. "I hate small places."
Ellison's face was a mask of disgust. He knelt down on the ground and leaned into the hole. "I'm going to reach my hand down to you. Don't try anything stupid because my other hand has a gun pointed at your head. I won't need much of an excuse to send your brain splattering against the wall behind you."
And then he heard it. Blair had finally given up and was sobbing at his failure. Each agonized sob wrenched at the Sentinel's heart, dragging him down deeper into despair. He knew he should turn his hearing down. There was nothing he could do to help Blair. But that seemed too much like abandoning his friend and leaving him to face his agony alone. He couldn't do that. Then something inside of him snapped.
Blair still sat in the pouring rain as police back up and a rescue unit arrived on the scene. He let the child be lifted from his arms and then allowed himself to be steered to the shelter of the Ford. He was shaking from the cold and exhaustion and someone wrapped him with a blanket and handed him a coffee. All he could do now was wait. Jim would find the kid's murderer. He wanted to see what kind of monster could kill a child. Sandburg sat watching the commotion all around him. Search lights were being aimed into the woods as officers went to help his partner. Looking through the truck's windshield, he could almost make himself believe that this wasn't happening, that he was watching some sick, twisted movie. Until he saw the paramedics pull the zipper of the body bag up the few remaining inches. He felt the tears threaten to overtake him again. At last he heard shouting as someone was shoved through the bushes onto the dirt road, followed by Ellison. Blair was almost disappointed. He had hoped that the guy would look like the devil incarnate. Something, anything, that would have marked him as the abomination he was. All he saw was a man who sat cowering in a circle of police, begging for mercy. A dark part of Sandburg's mind wished that one of the cops would end the man's whimpering. One bullet and justice would be served.
Jim stopped to talk to one of the officer's before going to the truck. He looked over once or twice, nodding. Blair knew his friend would be suffering. He had heard the agony in Jim's voice when he said the boy was dead. Sandburg hoped he could find the words to ease some of that pain. He hoped that his partner wouldn't shut him out, as he sometimes did when he was hurting. The door to the driver's side opened and Blair looked over, expecting to see the emotionless expression Jim wore at times like these. He had been prepared to offer comfort, or whatever he thought would work, but those words died in his throat as he saw the rage in his friend's face. Rage directed at him. Wordlessly, Ellison got into the truck and threw it into gear.
"We have to go the station to file a report." The voice was flat.
Sandburg was at a loss. He couldn't explain his friend's reaction. "Jim?"
"Just leave it alone Sandburg. We've gotta talk, but we'll do it later." The words were full of anger.
Blair's heart sank. He knew something had happened but couldn't even begin to guess what. He was certain though, that whatever it was, he didn't want to hear it. The chill he felt now had nothing to do with the rain. It was as if something else, something important to him, had died with that boy tonight. As he thought about the last two hours, the car chase, arriving too late, he began to get a sick feeling. Blair knew Jim well enough by now to follow his thoughts. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the window of the passenger door. He thought he knew where this was leading. They had come to this hurdle once before. They would deal with it and get past it. Jim just needed some time to recover. So did he for that matter. But it was worse for his friend. The Sentinel had been with the boy when he died. Blair couldn't even imagine what that would be like. The only thing he was sure of right now was that a wall had gone up between him and the person he considered his best friend. The comfort and closeness he felt when Jim was near was gone. It had been replaced with dread.
Simon knew it would be bad. The cases involving children always were. Ellison had radioed in that he and Sandburg were on their way, that the child was dead, but the killer had been apprehended. There was something in the detective's voice that had set Banks on edge. It had been emotionless, almost cold. It wasn't like him. While Ellison was never one to wear his heart on his sleeve, if you knew him well enough, it was fairly easy to see how the man was feeling. The police captain definitely did not feel good about this. But whatever he had expected was nothing compared to what he saw when Ellison and Sandburg entered the station.
"My God!" His breath caught in his throat. The two men were soaked to the skin and muddy. Sandburg's head was down and he followed his partner at a distance. Banks couldn't remember the last time he had seen the man look so beaten. If ever. Ellison looked grim, and as he got closer, Simon saw barely controlled fury in his eyes. "Just what the hell happened out there?"
Jim looked over at him, as Simon realized he must have voiced that question out loud. "I'll be in to talk to you in a minute, sir." The detective turned to look at Sandburg. "Get started on the report."
The young man only nodded bleakly, saying nothing, and walked over to the desk he shared with his partner.
Banks stepped back into his office, as his detective strode past him. If he had to judge by body language, he knew this wasn't going to be a pleasant conversation. Ellison stood ramrod stiff, his jaw clenched tight. Simon realized he was looking at the pre-Sandburg Ellison. The knots in his stomach tightened.
"Okay, Jim" He sighed. "Let's hear it." He moved to sit behind his desk.
In crisp military fashion, the detective reported the night's events. His tone remained void of emotion. His eyes fixed on a point just behind Simon's head. It wasn't until he had finished that he looked his superior in the eye and allowed any feeling into his voice.
"Simon? I'd like to request a leave of absence."
Banks had almost been expecting this. "For how long Jim? You know it's tight around here as it is."
"A week? Maybe a little longer." He went to stand by the windows that looked out into the squad room. "I need some time to sort things out." Simon could hear the regret in his friend's words.
"Alright. Take a couple of weeks. Look, if you need to get away, you're more than welcome to use my cabin."
"Thanks Simon. I appreciate it. I'll let you know." Ellison's hand was on the doorknob. Banks thought he saw a tremor in the always steady grip.
"Jim, send Sandburg in here. I'd like to get his impression of what's gone down too." He noticed the fatigue in his detective's face. "I won't keep him too long." He watched as his friend walked to the desk. There was definitely something wrong. At the very least, Jim would always give his partner a reassuring pat on the back anytime he was being sent into the lion's den. This time there was no pat, they hardly looked at each other.
Well if Ellison was blind to his partner's uneasiness, Banks was not. In a role he was not used to playing, he gave Sandburg's shoulder a gentle squeeze as he walked into the office. The young man only gave him a shy smile and stood by the desk waiting.
"Have a seat Sandburg, you look like you're ready to fall down." He waited until the anthropologist was settled. "What happened out there tonight?" He kept his voice low.
Blair glanced quickly at Jim's desk, not sure if he could trust his partner to not listen in.
"It's all in my report. We pursued and caught a murderer. Unfortunately, he was able to kill one more time before we could stop him." Sandburg kept his focus on his hands in his lap.
"That's not what I mean. What else happened?"
"I don't know what you mean, sir."
"There is obviously something going on. Everything okay with you and Ellison?"
"I guess we're both a little shaky. It was hard...you know?" Blair looked up, seeming ages older than the young man who had left Banks' office earlier that evening. "He was just a little boy." He went back to staring at his hands. "Can I go now? I'd...like to finish that report before I leave."
Banks knew his hands were tied. He couldn't order Sandburg to talk about personal matters. He could stretch it by insisting that whatever problems the two had could interfere with their job. Looking at the hunched figure sitting in front of him, Simon knew he couldn't beat a man that was already down.
"Just go home, Sandburg. You can finish up the paperwork tomorrow."
"Thanks, goodnight sir."
The silence in the cab of the truck was oppressive. Ellison tried to get some control over his anger. He still wasn't sure why he was so furious with Sandburg, but he was. He didn't trust himself to start a conversation. He looked over to where Blair sat, huddled against the door. It was as if the young man was trying to put as much space between them as possible. Jim could hardly blame him. He knew how good Blair was at reading him and was sure the anthropologist had no trouble reading him now. They would work it out when they got back to the loft. Maybe his Guide could be as adept at helping him control emotions gone wild.
Blair had reached the top of the stairs first. He was through the door and heading for his room as Jim stepped into the loft.
"Sandburg, we've gotta talk." He called to his partner's back.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Just let me get changed. I'm soaked." Blair made no attempts to keep the sullenness from his voice.
It was only then that Ellison realized that he too was wet right through. Stripping off his jacket and hanging it by the door, he decided a change and a quick shower might help. He looked at the clock. Only 7:00 p.m. He felt as if he had lived through two days and that this one might never end. Going up to his room, he grabbed a change of clothes and headed for the bathroom.
Blair heard the squeal as the faucets were turned on. He breathed a small sigh. This would give him a few more minutes to collect his thoughts. He wasn't ready to face Jim yet. He understood that his friend had been hurt tonight because of his heightened senses. No man should have to listen to another human being in the throes of death. Sandburg knew that he would have to help Jim get through that. His friend would be resenting his senses and rebelling against them. It had happened before and they had managed to talk through it. He wondered if he had the strength to do it this time. Having to admit to himself that he couldn't revive that little boy had taken a lot out of him. He needed so much to talk to Jim about that, hoping that he could help ease the guilt he felt. Blair chided himself for being so selfish, when it was obvious that Jim needed comforting, more than he did. Pushing himself off the bed, he went to sit in the living room, taking the arm chair. Jim's anger had hurt him and he didn't think he could bear sitting next to him on the couch.
When Ellison exited the bathroom, he saw Sandburg waiting for him. His partner had tied his hair back and sat reading. The glow of a fire reflected off his glasses. Jim sighed. The shower had helped to clear his thoughts. He knew what he had to say and hoped he would find the right way to say it. It was over. He would no longer be a Sentinel. He would imagine the dials Blair had taught him to see and turn all of his senses down and leave them there, forever. He wasn't even sure if he could do that but he would try. He wanted to go back to being Detective James Ellison and nothing more. He had always been a decent cop without his senses, he could become that cop again. He just hoped he could make Blair see it his way. Today had been just too painful and he refused to live though another one like it.
"So that's it. That's everything I wanted to say." Jim had been surprised that Blair had let him speak without any interruptions. The kid had just sat there listening. Ellison had tried to read his face, but the glare from the fireplace on his glasses had hidden his partner's eyes.
"Do you think that will work, Jim?" Sandburg kept his voice steady. "You've tried to suppress your senses before without much success. It could backfire on you."
"I just know that I have to try. I know I willingly agreed to become a Sentinel. But I'm not sure that I can handle this anymore...today was just too hard."
Blair got up and stood with his back to his friend, trying to feel the warmth of the fire. "It was hard for me too," he said quietly. Why couldn't he feel the warmth?
"I know it was. I heard you. It tore me apart." Jim's voice was raw. He couldn't forget the despair Sandburg's sobs had caused him to feel.
Blair suddenly turned to face him. "Is that what this is about? Is that why you're so angry with me?" He took a step forward, hands clenched tightly into fists. "Is this somehow my fault?"
Ellison was caught off guard by his friend's outburst. "Look Chief, I'm not angry with you..."
"Bullshit, man. You should see your face. You should have seen your face when you got in the truck." He closed his eyes as he remembered, his voice barely a whisper. "It wasn't anger...it was hate."
Ellison sat heavily on the couch. He ran a hand through his hair. "I don't hate you Chief." Why was Blair making this so difficult? What right did Sandburg have to dictate how he would live his life? Ellison felt his control slipping. He had tried to remain calm.
"Get this straight Sandburg, this has nothing to do with you. I don't want to do this anymore. I want my life to go back to being normal. I don't want to walk into a room and be bombarded by dozens of smells and sounds. I want to be able to experience things just the way everyone else does. Why is that so hard for you to understand?" He pleaded.
"I do understand. But why set yourself up for a fall, Jim? When you accepted those senses, you gave up having a choice." Blair was unmoved.
"That was when I was actually arrogant enough to believe that I could learn to handle them. We were having so much success with the tests you set up, I thought I could control them." He got up and began to pace behind the couch, his anger rising with each step. "God, what a fool I was to think I could do that. They still control me!" He stopped in front of the balcony doors and hit his hand against the glass. "I wish I had never heard of Sentinels. I wish..."
"...that you had never met me." Blair finished the sentence for him. He watched Jim's reflection in the window and knew he had hit on the truth.
Jim leaned his head against the glass. "This is getting us nowhere. I've made up my mind, Blair." He turned to look at Sandburg. "Simon's offered to lend me his cabin for a couple of weeks. I think I'm going to take him up on it. This will give us both some time to adjust." He started for the stairs. "I'm just going to pack some things and drive up there tonight." Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, he asked "You going to be alright, Chief?"
Blair had gone back to looking at the fire. "Yeah. I'm sorry I can't do anything about the senses, Jim." But I guess I can do something about me. He waited until he heard Jim moving around in his bedroom, then quietly left the loft.
For some reason Blair felt strangely calm. He had expected to have an anxiety attack, or a breakdown. Maybe it was because he had played this scenario out in his head so often, when he had first arrived at the loft, that it no longer held any impact. Whatever the reason, he was grateful for it. He knew what he was going to do. As his last act as Guide, he would give his Sentinel exactly what he wished for. He would remove Blair Sandburg from Jim Ellison's life. He had two weeks to erase two years of a life that never should have happened. Naomi had been right, never involve yourself too deeply in someone else's life and never lay down roots. He had ignored Sandburg rules #1 and #2 and sure enough was living to regret it. All he had to do now was to figure out what his next destination would be. He knew it would be someplace warm. He had had enough of the rain and cold of Washington.
"Blair, we'll talk about this...." Ellison was surprised to find he was talking to an empty room. Turning down his hearing when he had gone up to pack, he hadn't heard Sandburg leave. Jim still felt badly about how the conversation had gone and promised himself that he would call Blair first thing in the morning. He had never wanted to hurt his friend. He hoped Blair knew that.
The calmness Blair had felt evaporated when he walked back into the empty loft. It had occurred to him that he might be able to erase himself from the loft, but that he would never be able to erase the past two years from his heart. Nor did he want to. Regardless of how Jim felt, he was glad they had met. He would hold onto that until the day he died.
He needed to make plans before he could start anything. He needed somewhere to store his things. But what he needed most, at that very moment, was to sleep. Not having the energy to walk to his room, Blair lay down on the couch. Turning on the tv with the sound almost muted, to erase the emptiness of the loft, he closed his eyes. He would be able to think better after getting some sleep.
In the place between wakefulness and sleep, he had the strangest vision. He could see Encacha...he was motioning for Blair to follow him. He saw the shaman walk into the mist that covered the base of a citadel. It was a place that Blair knew. He would follow the Chopec elder. But later, first he needed rest. He lay down in the long reeds along the river and closed his eyes. A hand reached down to stroke his hair and sooth him. He looked up into an ancient face, that had the eyes of a cat. The old man smiled. Blair sighed, finally feeling content. He knew he could sleep now, he would be protected. He fell into a sleep so deep he never heard the ringing of the phone.
Ellison let the phone ring another few times. Still no answer. Sandburg had been uncharacteristically quiet and that had worried Jim. He wanted to make sure Blair had made it home safely. He dialled and let it ring again. He knew it could be one of two things, Blair was still out walking somewhere or he had seen the number come up on call display and didn't want to pick up. He ended the call and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. He would try again tomorrow. He had a long drive ahead of him tonight.
By 5:30 the following morning, Blair had already showered and was on the road. He had decided to stop at the station to finish his report. It would be the first of one of the lasts. This would be his last action as a police observer. As he watched the printer spit out the finished paperwork, he couldn't help feeling a pang of regret. The anthropologist looked around the nearly empty room. This had become as much a part of his life as the university. The friendships he had made had been solid ones. He had earned the respect of some very tough individuals. They had accepted him and had drawn him into their tight circle, something he had never expected to happen. He knew he would miss them. Glancing at Simon's darkened office, he shook his head. How would his captain take Blair's leaving when the time came to tell him? The hum of the printer finally came to a halt, interrupting his thoughts. He took the papers and signed his name to the bottom. Dropping them into the appropriate basket, he made his way to the elevator. Sandburg felt his heart thudding in his chest and prayed for the doors to open. When they did, he stepped to the back of the empty car and leaned against the wall. As the doors closed, he felt a small part of him close with them.
"Shit, I didn't think this was going to be so hard." He sighed.
The university was next on his list. He knew it wasn't going to get any easier. Professor Smythe had always expressed such faith in him and now he was going to throw that back in her face. He wouldn't be finishing his thesis, after all. Well not in Cascade, at any rate. He had woken up with the idea of going to Peru. He would have to check that out. By 8:00 Sandburg found himself sitting nervously in front of Professor Smythe's door. He was desperately trying to find a way to explain what he needed and what he wanted to do. He could only hope that she would understand some of it.
"Why, good morning Blair. What a pleasure to see you this early." She looked guiltily at the cup of coffee in her hand. "If I had known I was going to have a guest, I would have brought you a cup too." Her grin was definitely mischievous.
Sandburg was up on his feet before she could finish her last sentence. He took the keys from her already full hands and unlocked the door. "So tell me, what brings you here so early?"
Blair wasn't sure what he had said or how he had explained it. He only knew that the woman sitting in front of him had turned out to be the answer to his prayers. She was being more than understanding, she was trying to see a way around his problems.
"Oh, let's not even worry about the storage problem." She brushed it away with a wave of her thin hand. "You can bring everything to my house. I have plenty of space. In fact, you can have the entire basement if you like. Everything should be safe enough there. But I don't like the idea of you quitting your thesis when you are so close." She tapped a pencil against her cheek as she thought. "There must be something we can...." Her eyes lit up. "Give me some time to investigate this Mister Sandburg, I think I may have the solution to your problem."
"Professor, I didn't come to you expecting you to solve anything for me." Blair was truly touched by her concern.
"Of course you didn't. That's why I'm happy to do it. Now you mentioned Peru. I have a good friend at the university in Lima. He's doing some work at the ruins in Cuzco. Why don't I put him in touch with you. Perhaps you two can work something out." She ushered him out the door. "I'll be in touch Blair."
Walking down the corridor to his office, Blair shook his head in disbelief. He hoped he had kept a somewhat neutral look on his face when she had mentioned Cuzco. It all seemed too surreal. In his dream he had promised Encacha that he would follow him there! He decided to make a quick trip to the university library. He definitely needed to refresh his memory about Cuzco. All he could remember was that it was built in the shape of a jaguar. That thought stopped him dead in his tracks. He began to get the feeling that an outside force was taking a hand in his destiny. The anthropologist found the idea both thrilling and just a bit unnerving.
"....someone will return your call as soon as possible." Jim waited for the series of beeps and decided to leave a message. "Hi Chief, just checking in. I'll try again later." He slowly placed the receiver back in its cradle. He made a move to pick up his fishing gear when a thought struck him. The detective picked up the phone again and made another call. It only took a couple of rings for the connection to be made.
"Banks." He sounded pre-occupied.
"Good morning Sir. It's Jim."
"Jim, I thought you told me you were leaving for the cabin last night."
"I'm here now. I've been trying to reach Blair, he's not at the station is he?"
"He isn't right now, but he must have been earlier. I'm reading his report about last night, as we speak. I was just thinking that it would be great if I could talk him into writing everyone's report. They are a pleasure to read." Banks couldn't help but feel curious. "Why are you looking for him, Jim? You said last night that you needed to get away from everything. You made it pretty clear that Sandburg was included in that."
"I guess I'm not as angry as I was last night. Nothing's changed, I still need some time away. Just wanted to touch base."
"I'll tell you what, Jim. You concentrate on getting things straightened out, and maybe getting yourself back here a bit sooner, and I'll check in on Sandburg every now and then."
"Simon, you don't have to do that. He's an adult. He doesn't need a babysitter."
"Whatever you say. I'll just tell him you called, then."
"Thanks Simon. I'll talk to you later."
After the third trip up the stairs from his car, Blair had finally dragged the last of the cartons up to the loft. He probably had more than he needed, but the clerk at the liquor store had been more than pleased that someone was willing to take them off his hands. He looked at the stack of boxes and felt a lump form in his throat. Blair knew he had to leave. He didn't have to like it.
He walked slowly into the living room, dragging one of the cartons behind him. He decided to start with the bookshelves. If he could just get one of the statues wrapped and in the box without completely falling apart, he knew he would be okay. Taking a deep breath, Blair reached up and closed his hand around the cool plaster figurine. He carefully rolled it into the bubble wrap, secured it with tape, and placed it in the cardboard container. He let out a sigh. The first one was always the hardest. With the back of his hand, he wiped away the trace of tears that trailed down his cheeks.
Two hours later, Blair had collected everything of his from the living room. There was a lot more than he expected. Four boxes stood taped and waiting by the door. He had called Professor Smythe earlier, from the university, to see if he could start bringing his things over that night. The older woman had been very excited to hear from Blair and told him that would be fine and that she had some encouraging news for him. He went to the phone to call and let her know he would be over in an hour, he wanted to eat first, and that's when he noticed the flashing message light. 3 messages. He hit the play button. The first was from Simon, thanking him for a thorough report. Sandburg thought that odd. Simon had never called before. The second was from one of his students. The third and shortest message finally shattered whatever control Blair had. Nine words brought home what he had lost. Hi Chief, just checking in. I'll try again later. He let the tears flow more freely now, he needed to mourn his loss.
Jim lay back on the hammock that was strung across the front of the cabin. He had had a relaxing and successful day of fishing. The smell of the pine and spruce, along with the warmth of the sun, had done wonders. Blair would probably tell him that some tribe used pine and spruce needles as some sort of herbal relaxant. He smiled to himself. Maybe they did. He took another deep breath of the wonderful scent, letting his senses open completely to them. He stopped and sat up. No! He didn't want these senses. Wasn't that why he was here? To learn how to suppress them? He began to think back guiltily over the day. How many times had he unconsciously indulged himself in one sense or another ? He got up and went into the cabin, slamming the door angrily behind him.
Professor Smythe had proven herself to be a miracle worker. She had breathlessly explained to Blair that she had won him a year's extension on his thesis. She had gone to the department and dean of the university and explained to them that Blair had been given the opportunity to collect crucial material for his Sentinel study. And that he would be able to do this first hand, in Peru! She told him that the university would not only grant him the extension but that they would still consider him a teaching fellow and his position would be held secure for him until he returned. Blair had been flabbergasted and argued that as soon as they found out it wasn't true, he would be bounced out and she would be in trouble.
"My dear young man, I would never lie." She held out a paper to him. It was an emailed message from a Tony Escobar. He scanned the letter, eyes widening in disbelief. "He said I can stay at his camp at the ruins. This is great! I can't believe it." He impulsively hugged the woman. "I don't know how I can ever thank you for this."
"Just finish your thesis, Blair. Seeing those three letters after your name will be thanks enough. Our branch of study rarely sees such enthusiasm."
Blair lay in bed replaying the conversation over in his head. He was going to Peru. He didn't fully understand why it had become important for him to be there. He no longer had a Sentinel to watch for, no one to guide. A small voice whispered. "But you are still his shaman. You must learn." He rolled over onto his side and angrily punched his pillow. "Just listen to yourself Sandburg." He sighed with disgust. "He doesn't need you anymore." Turning out the light, he dropped his head back onto the pillow and dreamed.
The old man stood with his hand resting on Blair's shoulder. "The journey begins, you have taken the first step." The leathery skin wrinkled around cat-like eyes, as he smiled. "You will not make this journey alone. We will help you."
Four tall spires formed a circle. Four obsidian arms reached from a misty shroud into the sun. From each spire, like spokes of a wheel, a road led to the centre of the circle where Blair stood. Beyond the circle, he could see the lush green of the jungle. He could see and hear the moisture as it dripped from the leaves. He saw shimmering threads of sunlight weave their way through the shadows. The dense mist should have made it too difficult to see anything, but he could.
"I don't know which way to go." Blair looked at his guide. A memory slowly began to form. "Wait, the journey of the Medicine Wheel begins in the south." He grinned, pleased with himself.
His companion nodded. "So it does, young one. It is the south where the past is met and conquered. It is the way of the serpent. You will shed your past as it does its skin." His hand went to cup Blair's chin. "Do not look so frightened, your past will not be lost to you. But it will lose some of its power over you. Remember, a wheel, like a circle, has no beginning or end." The hand moved to his back, and Blair felt himself being pushed gently forward. "Now go."
The anthropologist woke with a start and automatically switched on a light. Sitting up and looking around him, he was surprised to see that he was in his room at the loft. The dream had been so real. He could still hear the echoing calls and screeching of the birds. 'Nothing like a little personal upheaval to get those vivid dreams going again,' he thought. Flopping back down onto the bed, he painfully discovered where he had left the book he had been reading. He reached under the blankets and pulled it out. Island of the Sun by Villoldo. Well that explained the dream. His stomach growled. Throwing back the covers, he went to the kitchen. A bagel and cream cheese would hit the spot. As the bagel was toasting, he began to flip through the pages of the book he had tossed on the table. He was wide awake now.
After four days of trying to reach Blair, Ellison's worry was starting to turn into anxiety. How could he always keep just missing him? He had left messages at the loft, leaving a time and number where he could be reached. He had called Simon again, only to learn that Sandburg hadn't returned to the station and Banks hadn't spoken to him. He tried the university, without much more luck. He was never in his office. "If I don't get in touch with him today, that's it. I'm going home." He growled to himself. He dialed the number to the loft and waited, expecting the machine to pick again.
"Hello." Jim had been so sure that Blair wouldn't answer, he almost missed it.
"Chief? Hi." He suddenly didn't know what to say. "I was starting to worry about you. Everything okay?"
"You don't need to worry."
"You know me, I worry. So where ya been? I've left messages."
"I know, I got them. I've just been a little busy and it was always too late to call."
"I talked to Simon, he said he hasn't seen you..."
"No real reason for me to be there."
C'mon, Blair talk to me. "I guess, things are busy at the university then?"
"Yeah, pretty much. It's getting to the crunch before the first set of exams. My class has finally realized they should have been working these past few months."
"Oh. So everything's okay then." This was like pulling teeth.
"Just fine." Ellison heard his friend take a deep breath before speaking again. "Do you know when you'll be back?"
"Well, if everything's okay at home, I'll probably stay up here another week. A few days at least. The weather and fishing have been great." An idea struck him. "Look, why don't you come up here towards the end of next week?"
"Can't. Exams. Besides, you said you needed the time. You should take it."
"Oh. Well, I guess I'll see you in a few days then."
"Good-bye Jim." Click. The detective stood there looking at the receiver in his hands. If the call proved one thing, it was that Blair was still upset with him. But at least he had picked up the phone this time. That was something.
Blair hoped that Jim was doing as he said and had not been using his heightened senses. He would have heard the pounding of Blair's heart as it tried to make it's way into his throat. It would be so easy to let himself believe that leaving was a mistake. Jim had called because he was worried. But with Jim, it had almost become a reflex action to worry about Blair.
He knew it was nothing more than that. Jim was just being...Jim. Sandburg picked up the Poly-Filla and putty knife from where he had dropped them and returned to his room. Sighing, he once again started the task of filling in the holes that covered his wall. The masks, posters, and pictures had all been taken down and packed away. The books were gone, the desk moved to Professor Smythe's. All that remained were his dresser and bed and they would be moved out by the end of the week as well. With only classes to worry about, he had been able to accomplish much more than he expected in a few days. He still had to paint and do a thorough cleaning, but figured that would soon be done. After that, it would leave the task he was dreading, talking to Simon and giving him detailed instructions on how to help Jim. Sandburg knew that whoever teamed up with the detective was going to need them. He didn't believe Sentinel senses had an off and on switch. Knowing this made Blair feel like he was deserting his friend. He should be there if Jim needed him. But Jim didn't need him, he wished they had never met. That knowledge hurt Blair more than anything he had ever experienced.
The anthropologist's thoughts turned to Cuzco. The sale of the Volvo managed to get him the price of a plane ticket, with just a little left over to spare. He had updated his passport, checked on hiking gear that had been stored away since he had moved to Cascade, had taken care of all the little things. Professor Escobar had made arrangements at his end to meet Blair in Lima and had offered his home until Blair could get settled. Things were moving along quickly. In six days he would leave Cascade behind. Maybe for the year's extension that Smythe had won him, maybe forever. The anticipation was almost enough to drown out the agony of leaving. Almost.
Banks slammed the phone down. Ellison had been gone ten days, making the shifts tight. "He had better get his sorry a.." A light rap on his door interrupted his tirade.
Sandburg poked his head in. "Is this a bad time Captain?" Simon waved him in.
"Sandburg. Come on in." Blair was carrying a binder and a small box under one arm. "Is it my birthday?" He smiled and pointed to a chair. "So to what do I owe the honour of this visit? You've been pretty scarce around here this past week or so."
Blair placed the box on the floor beside him and reached into his pocket. He pulled out his observer's pass and put it on Simon's desk. "I came to return this. And to say good-bye."
Banks picked up the pass and turned it over in his hands. "You're leaving?" He put the unlit cigar in the ashtray by the phone. He suddenly wished he had gone with his first instinct and had called Blair, to see how he was doing. Simon had known that things weren't right with the Sentinel and his Guide. He just hadn't thought it had gone so far as to make Sandburg leave. He couldn't imagine anything that could make the kid give up on his partner. "Wanna tell me what's going on?"
"I'm sure Jim will fill you in on all the details, but he's decided he's going to give up being a Sentinel."
"Can he do that?!" Simon's eyes widened.
Sandburg shrugged. "He thinks he can. So that means he doesn't need a guide and I don't need to be an observer."
"But what about your thesis? You just going to give up on that?"
"I'll work on something else. Or I'll do it without Jim. I haven't thought much about it."
Liar. "You can still keep your observer status. Nothing has to change. I don't like the idea of you not being around while Ellison tests this little theory of his. What if he runs into trouble or zones out?"
Blair handed Simon the binder. "I've put together some notes that should help. Jim's going to have to spend some serious time with whoever his new partner is going to be. He's going to need to be able to anchor himself to that person in case he does zone out. I've described some of the warning signs and some of the triggers." He smiled, but there was no humour in it. "Hang on to that Simon, it's probably the only Sentinel Handbook in existence."
"Handbooks are fine, but wouldn't it be better if you trained the two of them?"
Blair shook his head. "That's impossible. I'm leaving in a few hours" He swallowed hard.
Banks voice was quiet. "Does Jim know?" He saw the look on Blair's face. "No, you don't even have to answer that. He doesn't know, does he? Are you going to call him before you leave?"
"Did you leave a letter for him? At least let him know where you're going, Blair."
"No." Blair sighed. He wouldn't meet Banks' eyes.
"No explanation, at all?" Simon felt himself becoming indignant. "Do you think that's fair? He deserves better than this, Sandburg."
Blair studied the carpet. "Maybe he does." He reached down to pick up the box. "I was wondering if you could give this to Darryl? I thought maybe he could hang on to them for me."
"What is it?" Blair could hear the hesitation.
"Nothing illegal, Simon. It's my cd collection. He'll like a lot of the stuff in there."
Reluctantly, Simon took the box. "I don't understand why you're doing this. Leaving without saying anything." He moved to stand at the front of the desk. "What about the past couple of years? I thought you were better than this, Sandburg."
Blair raised his eyebrows and gave the captain a rueful grin. "Guess I'm not." He stood up and offered Simon his hand. "I want to thank you for everything Simon." But Banks had folded his arms across his chest. Blair let his hand fall to his side and made a move toward the door.
The older man's words cut deep. "Jim's always been afraid this would happen. That you would just pick up and leave."
Sandburg hesitated, "Looks like he was right then." He walked out into the squad room and kept walking, never looking back.
Jim sat on a large rock by the river's edge. He had given up on catching anything hours ago. Nothing was biting. He had used the past two weeks to try to get his life in some order. The argument with Blair had left him feeling uneasy. He probably could have handled it better. Staying to smooth things over would have been a wiser thing to do. But the kid had riled him to the point he couldn't even think straight. That whole horrible day had left him battered. He needed to get away. Not that getting away had proven anything, he argued with himself. He was no closer to an answer now than he was that night he and Blair had argued. Jim knew he had let things get out of control. Blair had been right. He had been furious with his Guide. No, he stopped that thought, not with Blair, with himself. His friend's anguish had hit him hard. He had felt helpless, useless. First he could do nothing to stop a child from being murdered. Then listening to Blair, knowing he was too far away to help. Jim slapped the rock with his hand. What was the point of having these damned senses? Why be a Sentinel if you couldn't protect the ones who needed you most?
Blair had said that Jim had been angry with him, hated him. He shook his head sadly. His friend couldn't have been any farther from the truth. What Blair had read there was self-loathing. Why hadn't he made that clear to his Guide that night? He took in a deep, shaky breath. Fixing this one wasn't going to be easy, he knew that. In the two weeks he had been away he could only get his friend to answer the phone twice. Each time, Blair had sounded distant and anxious to end the call. Jim drew his knees up, wrapping his arms around them and resting his forehead against them. And telling Blair that he wished that he had never heard of Sentinels! Like this was all the anthropologist's fault and not something he had been born with. Born to. Low blow, Ellison. Blair had saved him, and kept on saving him no matter how tough things got. His friend had put his life second to a Sentinel's, literally. It terrified Jim when he saw the risks the kid would take for him. What does he get for this selflessness? He's told that the person he's sacrificed so much for regrets the day they met! He rocked himself gently.
"It's not true, Blair. Please know that." He whispered. Blair couldn't even look at him after that. 'You blew it, Ellison!' His mind yelled into the darkness of his thoughts, 'You knew he was already suffering because of the boy. What were you thinking?' Jim jumped down from the rock and started back for the cabin with an almost clairvoyant certainty that the thing he feared most had happened. He had driven his friend away.
Blair stood at the centre of the circle. Now Encacha and the older man both stood with him. Enchacha spoke to him first.
"The shaman is called 'the one who has already died'. You must now follow the way of the jaguar."
Blair nodded, not really sure what was expected of him. He looked beyond the circle and into the jungle. There he saw it. "The rope of the dead."
"We are at the west, young one. Here we face fear and death. Here is the place we become a warrior."
The anthropologist felt himself tremble. "But I'm not a warrior, I'm a Guide. A shaman." He looked at Encacha. "I don't know if I'm ready for this yet."
The other man's gaze was intent. "You are a warrior. You have walked the path of the jaguar many times. You have fought for the safety and soul of your Sentinel."
"I have no Sentinel."
"The circle has no end, young one. Have you forgotten?" The older man spoke again. "Seek the hatun laika. You must prepare. There are many ways to the west. The rope of the dead is but one. You will find your way."
Blair's eyes opened to see the first light of morning shine through the fabric of his tent. He had stopped thinking of his trips to the circle as just dreams. He knew he could no more stop being a Guide, than Jim could a Sentinel. It wasn't something he chose to do, it was what he was. It was time he accepted that. The fact that he was sitting in a tent just outside some ruins in Peru should have been proof enough. He reached over to grab his glasses and notebook. Hatun laika? He would have to ask Tony about that. Sandburg shuddered. The hatun laika had something to do with ayahuasca, the rope of the dead. He wasn't sure if he was prepared to try that. Hadn't the old man said that there were other ways to the west? He ran his hands through his hair. He was so out of his element here. He needed help, a guide of his own. Closing his eyes and wrapping himself deeper into the sleeping bag, he let his mind drift back to Cascade. For the first time in days, Blair allowed himself to miss Jim. Maybe he would return to Cascade. His spirit guide seemed to think so. He sighed softly and drifted back to sleep.
Jim took the stairs to the loft two at a time. He knew, even before he reached the door, that it was empty. Blair's car was gone, so it wasn't too surprising that he couldn't hear any movement in the apartment. But something else bothered him. He couldn't put his finger on it. It wasn't just the sounds that were missing, there was something else. 'Just open the door, Ellison, and stop playing the guessing games.' He turned the key in the lock and stepped into a place he didn't even recognize.
"Oh God." He squeezed his eyes shut and slowly opened them again. The loft. He was gone. Everything that had been Blair was gone. He walked around the kitchen in a daze. He couldn't smell the spices his friend loved to cook with, no scent of herbal teas. He opened the fridge, seeing only blue tupperware containers, no red. The counters were bare, just the appliances.
Walking into the living room, it only got worse. It was spotless, sterile. All the comfortable clutter was gone. No papers on the coffee table, no tribal masks tucked into a corner. The assorted nicknacks that had adorned the shelves of the bookcase were missing. It looked as if no one lived there. When had he started enjoying all that clutter? The walls stood naked, except for the odd picture Jim had put up before Blair moved in. Every change that his friend had made to that room had been removed. His eyes slowly went to the fireplace. The handcrafted Incan warrior that Blair had given him for Christmas was gone.
Not being able to face the bedroom, he went into the bathroom. All traces of his friend ever being there had been wiped clean. The floor shone, the shower tiles and chrome sparkled. He opened the medicine cabinet to find only his things there. It looked empty. There was no hint of the shampoo that Blair used. The scent was gone. How long ago had he left? As if in a daze Jim, walked to the bedroom.
He stood just outside the room, listening. He waited to hear that heartbeat. He needed to hear it. Holding his breath he walked into the room. Everything was gone. Even the holes in the walls had been patched. And Jim thought he could still smell a trace of paint. He went to stand where the bed would have been. He had stood there so many times before, listening to his friend or helping him work through a nightmare. He could almost see Blair sitting there, telling him it was okay, he was over the dream, when Jim could still hear his racing heart and know that he wasn't. Now the only racing heart he could hear was his own. The pounding bounced off the walls of the empty room and echoed in his ears. How could he have let this happen?
Ellison went to sit on the couch. His home now looked foreign to his own eyes. His home had included his best friend. This was just where he lived. His heart cringed as he looked at the apartment. Blair was gone, but it was worse than that. It was as if he had never been there.
"Isn't that what you told him you wanted? Isn't that what you let him believe?" he said to an empty room. "I've gotta find him."
Going to the phone, he called Simon, maybe the kid had talked to him.
"Jim! Thank God. I've been trying to reach you the past few days."
"I decided to fish a little further upstream and camped there. Didn't realize the cell phone had a faulty battery until this morning." He quickly explained. "Simon..."
"It's about Sandburg..." Banks interrupted him.
"He's gone." Just saying it was hard. How would he ever be able to live with it? "I know Simon. I'm here at the loft now." He tried to keep his voice from shaking. "You should see this place. He must have spent the last two weeks wiping away any trace that he ever lived here." His grip tightened on the phone. "I don't have anyone to blame but myself for this."
"What do you mean? The kid just walked out on you, couldn't even be bothered to tell you he was going." Simon sounded angry.
Jim sighed. "You don't understand Simon, Blair's not the bad guy here. I am. I appreciate your taking my side but I don't deserve it. One of the last things I said to him before I left was that I wished I had never heard of Sentinels and that I had never met him."
"You told him that? Why?" Simon was incredulous.
"Because, maybe for a whole sixty seconds, I actually believed it. I was tired and still reeling from what had happened. My being a Sentinel didn't save that kid, didn't stop Blair from suffering because he couldn't save him. I was wound up way too tight. I snapped."
"And you took it out on Sandburg."
"I've got to find him Simon. Have you talked to him? Do you know where he is?"
Now it was Banks' turn to sigh. "I saw him the day he left. He came here, to my office, to drop off some things." He groaned. "I wasn't exactly nice to him. I thought he was letting you down. I told him as much."
"He didn't tell you what happened."
"No, he was quite willing to take the blame for it all. Admitted that he didn't live up to my expectations, when I told him I expected better from him. I told him that you always thought this would happen, he still took the blame. Said that it looked like you were right about him all along."
Jim rubbed his eyes. "Simon, did he say where he was going? Any clues?" He suddenly felt exhausted, like the two weeks away had never happened.
"I think he's left Cascade. He dropped off a box of cd's for me to give to Darryl. He asked me to have Darryl hang on to them for him. That was four days ago. He wouldn't have done that if he was staying in town. I should have made him tell me, but I was so damned angry with him..."
"He wouldn't have told you, anyway. You know what he's like. I'll find him. Then we can both apologize to him. I'll talk to you later Simon."
The detective quietly hung up the phone and went up to his room. Four days. You could travel to the other side of the world in four days. He sat on the edge of his bed, trying to decide where to start, when his eyes fell on the photo album on the night table. He reached down, remembering the set of pictures he had just added. Naomi had stopped in for a visit and she and her son had hammed it up for the camera. Jim smiled as he remembered that afternoon and flipped to the end of the album. His smile faded as he came to the blank pages. Jim ran his hand along the empty page. You couldn't take pictures of someone you never met. Blair had been thorough.
"Hatun laika?" Tony Escobar shook his head. Smythe had told him that Sandburg was working on a thesis, but she never mentioned what it was. "Why do you need to meet with a hatun laika?"
Blair squinted into the sunlight, wondering why the elderly man he sat with wasn't drenched in the same perspiration he was. "Tell me what it is first and then maybe I can tell you why."
The old man laughed. "You seek a hatun laika but you have no idea what one is?" He took a long sip of bottled water. "Blair, the hatun laika is a master shaman. There is one who lives not too far from here. About two or three miles northeast. You are in luck. He was born in the village where he still lives but was educated in the States. He is an old man now." Escobar smiled. "We grew up together. He is a very powerful shaman."
"Do you think he'll meet with me?" Sandburg pulled the brim of his hat lower, the blazing sun was starting to give him a headache.
The old man stood up, brushing the dust from his pants. "Of that I am sure, it is what a shaman does. He is there to help his tribe. But you haven't told me why you need to see him. Is this for your study?"
Blair nodded and stood. "I want to talk to him about the Medicine Wheel and ayahuasca."
Escobar stopped smiling and grabbed the anthropologist's arm. "Ayahuasca? You're not thinking of trying that, are you? It is well named as the Rope of the Dead. This is very serious."
"I don't plan on taking it, I just want to learn about it. I want to know if it is the only way to the west." He lied, knowing full well that if he discovered it was the only way he would take it.
"The west?" Escobar wore a puzzled frown. "Ah, the Wheel...your study is about the Medicine Wheel. You will find a good teacher in my friend, Alejandro. He is a Chopec, they are very wise in the ways of the Wheel."
"Chopec? I thought this area was Quechua?"
"There are no borders in the jungle, Blair. Alex lives at Tampo Machay. To call it a village is really an exaggeration. There are only a handful of people living there. We will go there after the sun sets. It is too hot for traveling on foot." He look another long draw from the water bottle. It was the only indication that the heat was bothering him too. Slapping Sandburg on the shoulder, he started down a rocky path. "Come, let's explore a little."
Blair followed closely behind. He had spent the past week camping on the ruins just outside of Cuzco. Being there had re-awakened his passion for primitive cultures and experiencing everything first hand. It had been too long. Each morning Escobar had amazed him with something new, never allowing him to become bored. At night he was entertained with Tony's stories about his escapades as a young man. The pain of the past few weeks began to fade for Blair. He was ready to open himself to new experiences. He felt he had done as asked. He had met his past and had conquered it. He had taken each painful memory and examined it, learning what he could. The rest he wiped away. Tonight, when he met Alejandro, he would take his first step west. Encacha words still frightened him. The west was to face death and fear.
Jim Ellison stood outside Professor Smythe's door. He knocked lightly and heard the scrape of a chair. The door opened and he was greeted by the Professor's wide smile.
"Detective Ellison! What a pleasant surprise! So tell me what have you heard from Blair?" She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the room. "I haven't heard a word from him since he left for Cuzco!" She took some papers off the only other chair in her office and pointed to it. "I had expected to hear from him, he must really be having a wonderful time."
As usual Professor Smythe had taken charge of the conversation and this time Jim was thankful. Without having to utter one word, he had found out more in two minutes, than he had in the last several days. Blair was in Cuzco, wherever that was, and Professor Smythe knew all about it. His face broke into a smile, it was the first glimmer of hope he had felt. He knew where Blair was. He almost felt weak with relief.
"Well that's why I'm here Professor. I haven't heard from him either. I'm starting to get a little worried. Is there some way I can get in touch with him? He was supposed to call and let me know a contact name. But you know how Sandburg gets when he's involved with something..." He sat there, hoping the older woman would take the bait.
The professor laughed. "Yes, I do know what he's like. I think that's one of his more endearing qualities. His enthusiasm." She began to flip through her rolodex. "I have Tony Escobar's number right here and the number for the Universidad Nacional in Lima, as well. Try one if he's not at the other." With her head still buried in the rolodex, she continued talking. "I was very surprised when he told me he was willing to sacrifice everything to pursue something in Peru. He never did tell me what that was. He just assured me that it had to do with his thesis on Sentinels. Fascinating subject, really. But I'm sure that you know that. Blair has probably told you all about it." She looked up and smiled. "Ah, here we go. I've found it."
Peru. Jim's heart skipped a beat. Sandburg's in Peru. "He's risking his thesis with the trip? He...he never mentioned that."
"Hmmm? Oh, well, that's probably because we sorted out that little problem. He's been given a year's extension. He said that he would be back by then." She handed the detective a slip of paper with the phone numbers and home address of Escobar. "So, have you had any luck in renting out his room?"
The question surprised Ellison. "I'm sorry, what? Rent out his room?"
"He said that you wanted to, while he was away, and that's why I offered to store his things for him. I know a number of students that would be willing to take you up on that. Decent lodgings are always difficult in a university town, aren't they?"
Jim only nodded, wondering why he hadn't come to Smythe first. She obviously had all the answers. Then what she had just said finally sank in. "You have Blair's things?"
"Yes, he's storing them at my home. I have plenty of room. Why?"
Think Ellison. Give her a good reason for asking for them back. "I've changed my mind about renting out the room. Blair wasn't really sure about how long he would be away. It could be the year or only months. It wouldn't be fair to get someone settled in and then have to move that person out." He suddenly leaned forward and hoped that the expression on his face looked like he had just had an idea. "Why don't I stop by and pick them up. We may as well store them in his room until he gets back. It will make moving back in a lot easier for him."
Doubt flashed across the woman's face. She seemed to study Ellison, trying to decide. "I guess that would be alright. Although I think we should really talk to Blair first. But that's probably impossible if he's at the ruins, isn't it? You think he wouldn't mind?"
"I'm sure he wouldn't." Jim hoped that would be the truth. "Could I stop by tonight then?" He relaxed when she nodded and began to give him directions to her house.
Simon smiled at the changed man that stood in front of him. He had been seriously worried for his friend's sanity. The always self-confident and take-control Ellison had almost disintegrated before his eyes with Sandburg's leaving. Banks was finally starting to see the possibility that the connection between Sentinel and Guide was more than just a mere dependency on one another. How many times and in how may ways had the kid hinted at this? Every time Jim was in a threatening situation Sandburg always insisted that he had to be there, not necessarily that he needed to be there. He had obviously under estimated Sandburg's role. Simon had always thought that he was there only to offer assistance if Jim needed it, to bring him back from zoning out. That the young man was more of a hapless sidekick than anything else. The realization dawned on Banks that while the two could function independently of each other, Sentinel and Guide only truly existed when they were together. He felt a vague sense of shame as he followed this thought a bit further. He had always been in awe of Ellison, although he would never show it, because he had these special abilities. In fact, he felt smug at times because he could call the man friend. With Sandburg, it had been toleration. Sure, he liked the kid, but he just thought of him as something that came along with the Sentinel package, with no real value of his own. In fact, Banks had tried to convince Jim numerous times that anyone could be trained to do what Sandburg did. He wanted Jim to get a real cop to be his partner. Ellison wouldn't budge on the matter, he insisted he needed the anthropologist. And it had taken Simon only two years, plus how many months, to finally see that Ellison was right. In this equation, one plus one equaled one.
"Simon? Are you listening to me? I just asked you the same question twice. You're not starting to zone out too, are you?" Ellison was smiling. It made Banks smile just to see it.
"Sorry Jim. I was just thinking. How often have I told you that I didn't want Sandburg around? That you needed a real cop for a partner? Maybe two, three hundred times in the past couple of years? And you've told me as many times how wrong I was. Why is it, now that he's actually done what I always said I wanted, that I finally see that you were right all along?"
Jim's smile softened. "He gets to you, doesn't he."
The walk to Tampo Machay had been a pleasant one. The air beneath the canopy of trees had cooled as the sun set, making it almost breathable. The two men had traveled in companionable silence, each deep in thought. Blair was anxious to meet this Alejandro. Finally, he would have someone to answer all the questions he had about being a shaman. Encacha had died giving him his blessing to become that for his Sentinel. As his dreams, or visions, or whatever they were, progressed, he knew with growing certainty that he would return to Cascade.
Somehow he would have to make Jim see that neither of them could deny the promise they had made. They were Sentinel and Guide and nothing could release them from that. Blair was amazed at his own about face. When he had left the loft and Jim behind, for what he thought would be forever, he couldn't do it fast enough. He had tried to eradicate every piece of his life there. He had acted out of anger and pain, hoping to hurt Jim and destroy every memory of the life he thought his friend had taken from him. He was sure he had accomplished just that, too. Blair sighed. Now all he wanted was that life back. He suddenly felt incomplete and empty. What was a Guide without a Sentinel? Perhaps he hadn't conquered his past after all.
Escobar heard that sigh. "Are you tired Blair? It isn't too much farther." He looked at his companion with concern. It seemed the closer they got to their destination the more withdrawn Blair became. Escobar began to have misgivings about bringing the American to the shaman. He was now sure that the young man was on more than just a quest for information.
"No I'm okay, Tony. Just thinking out loud, I guess."
The thick jungle growth began to thin and Blair could hear the sound of rushing water. Tampo Machay was just ahead. His anticipation turned into shock as he stepped into the clearing and saw Alejandro for the first time.
The old man smiled, brown stained teeth showing in an ancient face . "Hello young one. I have been waiting for you."
Once Jim had discovered that Blair was in Peru things had moved frustratingly slow. He had needed to update his passport. That took a couple of days. He couldn't get in touch with Escobar, always being told that the professor had taken time away from the university and couldn't be reached. Booking a flight to Lima had been no problem, finding a connection to Cuzco had proven to be more difficult. But finally, after six days, Jim stood on the tarmac in Cuzco. He suspected that it was all in his head, but he thought he could actually feel Blair there. He knew he was close. In the two weeks it had taken him to get this far, he had started to dread that he would never find his friend. It had been almost a month since he last saw Blair. It was the longest they had been apart since they first established the connection as Sentinel and Guide. He swore he would never let that happen again. He began to walk to the terminal with renewed determination when a thought occurred to him. What if he had damaged their friendship so badly that Blair refused to come back? If that were the case, Ellison knew he would somehow have to convince Blair that he needed him to come back. He wouldn't return to the States alone. What would be the point? A rumble of a jet sounded and he automatically turned down his hearing. Two weeks at the cabin proved that his heightened senses were as much a part of him as his flesh and bones. Sandburg had asked him why he wanted to set himself up for a fall. He had known that Jim would never be able to deny his Sentinel abilities. The detective sighed, when would he learn to just trust and accept what Blair told him about this? The kid was always right.
There was only the one hotel in Cuzco and it had a vacancy. The sticky heat of the city made Jim yearn a shower and a change of clothes. He had learned from the desk clerk that the ruins were actually just outside the city proper, probably a day's hike away. It was already nearing sunset. Reluctantly Jim realized he would have to wait until the morning to start. One more day of waiting. He promised himself a quick dinner and an early night. He wanted to be on his way by sunrise. As the tepid water of the shower washed away some of his weariness, he tried to plan what he would say to Sandburg when he saw him. He had done such a good job at destroying any trust or security that his friend had felt. The Sentinel only hoped he could do just as good a job at rebuilding it. He missed the kid so much, he couldn't wait to see him. Even if all Blair could do was stand there and tell Ellison how much he hated him, Jim knew he would be happy. He just wanted to see him, talk to him, have the opportunity to make things right. And he would make it right.
As he crawled into bed that night, the stiffness of overstarched linen rubbing against his skin, he reached out into the darkness. His mind stretched beyond the hotel walls and into the jungle. He knew he could never hope to hear or smell anything of his friend at that distance, but he wanted to try, to just be a little closer. He sifted out the sounds of the city and listened for the jungle. He heard it, the whisper of the wind through the vines and trees. He could hear the soft hum of the insects. He willed himself to reach a little deeper, knowing that he could zone out on the sounds. He closed his eyes in his concentration, imagining nothing but going deeper and deeper into the jungle. He felt it! It had only been for a brief moment, but he had felt it! It was as if he had bumped into something. He knew he had touched Blair's consciousness. He had gasped out loud at the contact, breaking his concentration. His mind slammed back into his body, leaving him almost breathless. He had never experienced anything like that before. But he knew it had been real. He would have to tell Blair about it. He wondered if Blair had felt it too.
Sitting crosslegged by the stream, Blair's head snapped up in surprise. He had been meditating. Alejandro had told him it would help him prepare for the jaguar. He had let his mind wander, not being able to find anything to focus on. Too many things were happening and refused to settle long enough so that he could actually stop and think about them. So he didn't try. Tonight he would just go wherever his mind and thoughts took him. And that's when he felt it. Jim! He looked wildly around him, expecting his friend to step out of the darkness. He shook his head ruefully. Wishful thinking Blair. His friend was thousands of miles away. Getting up slowly, he walked back to his tent. The touch had felt so real. Lying there in his sleeping bag, he held on to the memory of that touch. It had felt like home.
Perched on the straw pallet that served as his bed, Alejandro smiled. Sentinel and Guide would be reunited. The balance would be restored. His face darkened as he thought of the young man's journey to the west. He would face fear and death. The Shaman knew it would come to pass. He could get no feeling about the outcome. It was still in the hands of chance. That troubled him. Something was clouding the young Guide's path.
The desk clerk had either underestimated Ellison's stamina or overstimated the distance of the ruins. He had reached the head of the jaguar, the ruins, by late morning. He shifted his pack and gear to a more comfortable position as he listened for any clues to Blair's where-abouts. The ruins were quiet. Sandburg must have moved on. But where? Which direction? His mind went back to last night. He had the impression of water nearby. Something he read earlier that morning clicked. Checking his map, he saw it. Tempo Machay, the Temple of the Waters. It was only three or four miles away. He would be there in less than an hour. Ignoring the heat, he started out. The jungle around him was alive with sounds and scents, but he only searched for one. His pace quickened as fear began to gnaw at him. What if he got there and Blair had gone? Or had never been there. What if last night hadn't been anything more than something imagined? Every doubt that ran through his head doubled his pace until he found himself running. Stopping to catch his breath and wipe the sweat that had begun to blind him, he heard a faint heartbeat. A human heartbeat. It was much too slow to be an animal's. He listened more closely, disappointed to know it wasn't his friend's. But it was coming from where he imagined Tempo Machay to be. Pushing himself off the tree, he continued at a slower gait. The heat had made him dizzy.
The sound of the rushing water grew louder and Ellison gasped in surprise. He heard something beneath the crash of the cascading falls. Another sound, a strong and steady beat reached his ears. He let his sight follow that sound and saw him. Blair sat by the water's edge. Jim was sure if his soul had had a separate voice it would have sang out at that moment. His friend sat on the bank of the small lake, staring into the water. The detective traveled the last few yards to where his Guide sat. His heart was pounding. This was the moment he had hoped for and dreaded.
A shadow fell across Blair's back. He assumed it was either Alejandro or Tony coming to check on him. Tony had almost become as watchful as Jim on one of his bad days. The anthropologist sighed. He still couldn't shake the feeling he had last night. It had been as if Jim had reached out and touched him. He had told Alejandro about that experience. The old man had only smiled, telling him that the world was full of wonders and to keep his mind open to them. Blair hadn't been sure what to make of that but was grateful that the shaman had not dismissed the whole thing as impossible. He knew what he had felt and it had been Jim.
"Blair?" The anthropologist froze. This was too real. He looked up towards the voice, squinting into the sun. His mouth dropped open, but nothing would come out.
Jim smiled at the young man's surprise. His wide blue eyes seem to shine brighter in his deeply tanned face. "Hey Chief." He had wanted to say something clever but felt the world start to close in on itself. He felt himself sway and knew that his knees were buckling. He was going to faint. He saw that knowledge reflected in his Guide face as Blair jumped up to catch him. Everything went black.
The Sentinel could feel the cool spray of water against his face. It felt good against the heat. He just wanted it to continue and sank deeper into the sensation. Until he felt the sharp sting against his cheek. His eyes flew open and looked into the troubled face of Blair Sandburg. He blinked a few times as his face came into clearer focus, praying it wouldn't dissolve away.
"Can you hear me, Jim? Say something will ya?" Blair seemed almost frantic.
"Doctor Livingston I presume?" Ellison watched as the panic left his friend's face and was replaced by a grin.
Blair reached under Jim's back and helped him to sit up. "That was quite an entrance man. Did you stay up all night practicing that?" He noticed his friend's pallor. "Are you feeling okay?"
Jim could only nod. His head was pounding. What he needed was a cool drink.
As if reading his mind, Blair handed him a water bottle. "Here, drink this. I think you might be a little dehydrated. Your skin feels kind of dry." He watched as Ellison tilted the bottle back. "Hey, small sips, remember? You're going to make yourself sick."
Blair sat on the grass and watched as some colour returned to Jim's face. He couldn't believe that Jim was actually sitting there. He looked like hell. No wonder he had fainted. There were dark circles under his eyes and it looked as if he hadn't had a decent meal in weeks. And his eyes hadn't left Blair's face.
"I didn't mean it, Chief." The voice and the hand that rested on Sandburg's shoulder were both shaking. Jim knew that he had to find the right words. He had hurt his friend so badly. "There are so many things from my past that I wish I could erase. You were never one of them." Blair had never seen his friend look so miserable. He started to say something, but Jim cut him off. "No, let me finish okay. I need to say this. I was never angry with you." He felt his throat tighten as he tried to get the words out. There were no words strong enough to express the guilt he felt. "God knows I could never hate you." How could he have ever said that? "It was me, I hated myself for failing you, letting that little boy die." He took a deep breath. "I think I was afraid that you'd hate me too. So I did what I'm best at. I went on the attack. I made you responsible for how I was feeling." He winced as the wire that was strung behind his eyes started to tighten. He was afraid he was going to pass out again. "You walked right into it Blair. I dragged you into an argument so that I could feel better about myself. This way I could be the injured party. I could walk away, vindicated." He shook his head. "I am such a coward. I couldn't admit that to you when I finally talked to you. I wouldn't even admit it to myself. And when I did it was too late. You'd gone."
Now his whole body was trembling. Blair hadn't said a word, just sat there looking at him. The kid wasn't going to forgive him for this one. He wouldn't look into his Guide's eyes, afraid of what he would see there. He heard Blair shift beside him and waited for him to get up and walk away. It was what he deserved. Instead, Jim felt two arms wrap around him and Blair's hand gently bringing his head to lay against the younger man's shoulder. He felt his heart would burst.
"And I wondered how I was going to convince you to let me move back." Blair knew what the confession had cost his friend. He had listened to the pain and regret and thought his heart would break. Jim called himself a coward. It was Blair who felt like the coward, running instead of staying to fight. He should have made Jim realize how wrong he was. They had both made mistakes. Somehow, he had managed to face his demons and find strength. He knew that Alejandro had helped him. He felt Jim shudder in his arms. His friend had been left to fight alone. A Guide was supposed to watch out for his Sentinel. Encacha had told him to look after Jim. He had done a lousy job, but he was learning. Alejandro was teaching him. "C'mon, let's get you out of the sun." He felt Jim's arms tighten around him and then relax.
Jim woke with a start and reached under his pillow for his gun. The air was cool and he lay in total darkness. It was night. How long had he been sleeping? As he came fully awake, he remembered that he wasn't in his room at the loft. He frowned, trying to clear his mind. Had it been a dream? Had he found Blair? His head was still pounding and focusing any of his senses seemed to make the headache worse. But he listened and smiled. His friend was sitting just outside the tent, talking to someone. The first heartbeat he had heard in the jungle. Jim frowned again as the words started to take some meaning.
"No, jovencito, the ayahuasca is not the way. I told you there are many ways to the west. You would find your own way. The rope of the dead is artificial. You can not come to terms with death if your mind is not your own." The old man's voice was stern, not inviting any argument.
"How else can you do it then? Are you telling me that you have to die to do this?"
Ellison's frown deepened. He heard the old man sigh.
"Ah, I think I see the problem. It is not death that needs to be conquered to complete this turn of the wheel. It is the fear of dying. The shaman learns to embrace death, not run from it. He must accept that death is the ultimate release of the spirit. Do you understand what I'm saying, young one? A shaman is a healer, and will do everything to preserve the spark of life. But he is also the warrior of the spirit and will do battle to see that spirit set free from the vessel that ties it to this life. When its time has come. When you follow the path of the jaguar all this will become clear."
The detective strained to hear Blair's response, but the headache and nausea had returned full force. The voices had turned into an agonizing high pitched whine. He couldn't believe what a greenhorn he was. He recognized heat exhaustion when he had it. Nothing to do but rest and wait it out. Jim knew though, that whatever path Blair thought he had to follow, he wouldn't be doing it alone. The two of them would not be separated again. Closing his eyes, he drifted off to a troubled sleep. He remembered waking some time later. Sandburg had been there, sitting next to him reading by flashlight. Jim had wanted to tell him everything he had come to say but his friend just shushed him and told him to sleep, that there would be time later. Blair's smile had been gentle and his cool hand on his forehead soothing. Jim relaxed under that touch and let himself sleep once again. A high pitched shriek woke him.
The Sentinel sat bolt upright, his heart racing. A scream had penetrated his dreams. He listened again and heard a woman crying and shouting in a language he couldn't understand. The man Blair had been speaking to was trying to calm the woman and was translating for Blair what had happened. In between the anguished cries of the woman, Jim caught the words "child", "forgotten well", "drown". Fighting a wave of dizziness from getting up too fast, he made his way from the tent and was nearly blinded by dazzling sunlight. He saw people standing on the far side of the group of small huts that made up the village. Blair had accepted a rope from one of the older men and was tying it around his waist. Ignoring the weakness in his legs, he ran.
"Blair! Stop!" Sandburg looked up and relief spread across his face.
"Jim, I'm glad you're awake, man. We're going to need some help." Blair quickly explained that one of the small children that lived in Tempo Machay had fallen into a well that had never been finished. "We think that we can see her lying on a small ledge just above the water. I think she's unconscious, Jim. I can't hear anything. Can you?"
Jim stood at the edge of the rotting planks that had covered the deep hole. He could hear the child's shallow breathing. Peering into the darkness, he spotted her lying on a dirt ledge, her feet trailing into the stagnant water below. "She's breathing Chief, but she's not moving." He looked at the rope Sandburg had in his hands. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Going down after her." His tone was matter-of-fact.
Ellison put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Let me do it." He couldn't stand the thought of his Guide getting hurt. "It's too risky."
Blair gave him a lopsided grin. "If this had happened yesterday, I would have been worried. But today...you're here. Besides Jim, you're just too big to fit down there."
Jim was suddenly aware of the group of people standing around him. He scanned them, hoping to recruit someone else. The two other men were too old and he knew Blair would never allow one of the women to go in his place. He sighed, "Okay Chief, let's do it. Just be careful."
Sandburg handed his friend the end of the rope and moved to slide over the edge of the well. He tried to mask his fear with a smile, even though he knew that a Sentinel could hear his heart racing. "Just don't let go, okay. That first step looks like a nasty one." He looked down behind him and then back at his friend. "You ready, Jim?" He saw the man nod.
Taking a deep breath, Blair slid over the edge and into the hole. His foot slipped against the slime covered walls and he went crashing into it. "Oh man!"
"Blair, you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Came the disgusted reply. "The walls are covered in gunk. It smells down here. Really smells!" He heard the Sentinel's relieved chuckle.
"Tell me something I don't know Chief."
Blair smiled into the darkness and continued his way down. Just a few more feet and he would be there. The hole was deeper than he originally thought. He felt the rope tug at him.
"Hey Jim! I need a little more slack."
"That's all we've got."
Great! Sandburg groaned to himself. He was just a couple of feet away from being able to reach her. There was only one thing he could do.
Ellison felt the yanking on the rope. "Sandburg, what're you doing?" Although he thought he already knew the answer to that one.
"I can't reach her, Jim. I'm going to untie the rope. It'll be okay, don't worry. There should be enough extra rope to get us up. I had it really wrapped around my waist."
"No, Blair! Don't do that!" He heard the splash and felt the give of the rope. It was as if his lifeline had been cut. "Sandburg! Chief?" The seconds it took for his Guide's voice to reach him were agony. Jim tried to see into the well, but the rotted boards obstructed his view. He could see the girl lying on the dirt shelf but not his friend.
"I'm okay, Jim. Water was just a little deeper than I expected." He gasped, coughing some of the vile stuff from his mouth. He hoisted himself onto the ledge next to the little girl, trying not to think about the germs and bacteria that probably lived in that stagnant pool.
Above the hole, the Sentinel strained to hear what was going on. The beating of Blair's heart had increased dramatically when he had hit the water. But now he could hear Sandburg talking quietly to the girl, his pulse and breathing returning to normal. Ellison waited to feel the pull on the rope. He just wanted this to be over. He needed his friend to be out of that foul smelling place and there with him. A hand came to rest on his back.
"Here, I have brought you some water, Mr Ellison. It is not good for you to be sitting out here in the sun after feeling so ill yesterday." The man looked to be in his late sixties, maybe early seventies, but the eyes seemed ancient. Jim had been ready to snap at him, wanting to blame someone, anyone, for the predicament Blair was in. When he looked deeper into those eyes he saw that the old man shared his fear. He accepted the water.
"Our young friend walks the path of the jaguar. It is good that you are here. He should not do it alone." Jim didn't have time to ask what he meant, Blair was calling up to him.
"Okay Jim, we're just about set to go. She's got a nasty bump on her head, no bleeding though. There was enough moss on the ledge to cushion her fall, at least the worst of it. I really hate to move her, I don't know if she's got any other injuries. I can't feel anything."
"We'll take care of that once you get her up here, jovencito," the old man called.
Jim looked at him. "Jovencito?"
The elder smiled. "It means young one."
Jim returned the smile and braced himself as he felt the rope suddenly go tight.
Blair's voice was full of worry. "I'm not going to be able to give you much help from here, Jim. I've got her braced against me to keep her as still as possible. I'm only going to be able to hold on with one hand. Are you feeling okay? Do you think you can pull me up?"
Ellison shook his head. Just like Blair to be worrying about him, when it was Sandburg that was in trouble. "I can do it, Chief. And I've got lots of help up here too. Just let me know when you're ready."
"Oh, I think I'm ready." Blair felt the first tug and tightened his grip on the rope. As his feet left the ground, he gritted his teeth against the strain in his shoulder. It was not going to be a fun ride, and he prayed his shoulder could take it. He cradled the girl against him, putting himself between her and the wall. Her soft breathing was moist against his neck and he concentrated on that rather than the ache running down his arm. It seemed to be taking an eternity. Looking up, he could see the angled sunlight as it outlined the edge of the hole. They were almost there. They were going to make it. Another few inches and arms reached down to take the girl from him. He could hear the child's mother crying, sounding both relieved and anxious. Now that his other arm was free, he reached up to grab onto the rope, hoping to take some of the pressure off his shoulder. Before he could grab hold, two strong hands lifted him from the well. He sank down to sit on solid ground, trying to ignore the complaining in his shoulder. He looked up to see Alejandro walking away with the mother and her child. The rest of the small community followed after them. She would be alright, Blair was certain of it.
"Hey Chief, that was quite the rescue." The pride in Jim's voice was only a shadow of the pride the anthropologist saw in his friend's face.
"Couldn't have done it without you, Jim." He looked down at his clothing and his nose curled up. "Whew, do I need a bath," he laughed.
"Glad you said it kid." Jim slapped him on a soggy shoulder. "C'mon, Tony said he'd meet us by the waterfall with some soap and clean clothes."
The first wave of nausea hit him as he toweled off his hair. Blair felt the bile rising up in his throat, threatening to choke him. With a moan, he made a mad dash for some bushes and was sick. He sat back, gasping and exhausted, when his stomach muscles had finally stopped cramping. Jim was immediately beside him with a damp towel. He pulled the younger man back to lean against him and gently wiped his face.
Blair's breathing finally calmed and he sank back against his friend. "That was not pleasant. Sorry, man." His throat burned. He started to get up and accepted Jim's help. Barely walking a few steps, he doubled over clutching at his abdomen. The pain was so intense he thought he would pass out.
"Are you going to be sick again?" Jim was kneeling on the ground beside him, an arm wrapped around his shoulders to hold him up. Another spasm hit him and this time he couldn't stop from crying out. He knew Jim was talking to him, but he couldn't hear him over the roaring in his ears. Blair buried his head in his friend's chest, still clutching his stomach.
"Please, make it stop. Make it stop." Blair's vision started to blur as the jungle greens began to swirl before him. Sounds were becoming distant and he couldn't feel Jim holding on to him anymore. The pain hit him again, sending him into darkness.
Jim had been frantically trying to get Blair to talk to him when his best friend suddenly went limp in his arms. "Oh my God! Blair!"
Tony Escobar and Alejandro were walking towards the waterfall. The girl was going to be fine, her only injury being the bruise on her head. Escobar had been telling the shaman about the sight Blair had been when his friend had pulled him out of the hole.
"He did not look like a happy young man. I'm sure..." He never finished the sentence. Alejandro had stopped and put out a hand to steady himself.
The old man's eyes were wide. "We must hurry. I'm turning into a fool in my old age. I thought the ordeal was over when he went down the well."
Escobar paled and needed no explanation. He and Alejandro arrived in time to see Sandburg, who had been writhing in agony, suddenly collapse in his friend's arms.
Alejandro reached Ellison's side first. The Sentinel's arms were locked tightly around his friend and refused to let go. Tony was talking to him gently, trying to make Jim understand that they were trying to help Blair.
"He won't hear you, Tony." Alejandro was shaking his head. "He is listening for someone else." He sighed and put a hand up to Ellison's face, firmly clasping his chin. "Hopefully, he will hear me. We need to bring him back."
Escobar was confused. "Bring him back?" But the old shaman had started to talk to the other man. Tony listened closely as Alejandro used phrases about following his voice and coming back to be with Blair. He saw awareness start to flicker in Jim's face.
Alejandro's fingers dug slightly deeper into the Sentinel's jaw. "Our jovencito needs you now!"
The words exploded in Jim's head. He gasped, dragging air into his deprived lungs.
"Alejandro! Thank God you're here. Blair collapsed. You've got to help him." He watched as the shaman took his friend from his arms. He hadn't wanted to let go. He knew Blair was breathing and that his heart was beating, but he was afraid it would stop if he let go.
"Tell me what happened Sentinel." The old man didn't look at Jim as he examined Blair.
Escobar's eyebrows shot up at the word. Sentinel? Could that be? Weren't they just legends from ancient times? But if Alejandro had called him that, then he would believe it. And that would mean that the boisterous young man he had spent time with in the ruins would be his shaman. No wonder Sandburg had been so curious about the hatun laika and the Medicine Wheel. Escobar knew, if he remembered the legends correctly, that there were two lives at stake here.
Ellison's voice shook as he tried to tell the old man what had happened. "He was fine. You saw him when he came out of that hole. He was joking with us. We came down here so he could wash off. I was kidding him about how the grunge look didn't suit him. He was laughing and drying his hair. I didn't sense anything wrong. I'd been monitoring him the whole time. And then, all of a sudden his heart started going crazy and he moaned. He was sick to his stomach but that passed. But when he tried to stand up, that was when it hit him the hardest." He looked down at his friend. "He was in agony. And then he collapsed."
Alejandro sighed, remembering another time. "It was the water. When he fell into the well." The shaman laid his hand on Blair's forehead. "Your path is not to be an easy one." He stood up and motioned to Escobar to follow him. "Tony, I will need your help to find the plants we need. Mr. Ellison...Jim, Blair will soon have a fever. The lake is cool, it will be best if you stay here." He tried to reassure the detective.
"Keep him near you, let him know you are here. It will help. We will find what he needs. Until then, you need to fight the fever and try to keep him calm."
Jim nodded and watched, with dread, as the shaman disappeared into the jungle. He picked his friend up, already feeling the beginnings of a fever, and carried him down to the water's edge.
A soft moan brought Jim out of his reverie. Blair shifted in his arms.
"Hi Chief, how you feeling?" His Guide's eyes fluttered open and then closed again, making Ellison think he had gone back to sleep.
"Tired...and sore..." came the soft sigh. "Did I at least enjoy the party?"
"Yeah, the one that gave me the mother of all hangovers."
"Alejandro says you swallowed some pretty evil stuff. He and Tony have gone into town for the Alka-Seltzer. They shouldn't be too long."
"Okay." Sandburg's voice sounded sleepy. "That was almost funny, Jim. Your sense of humour is improving."
Ellison grinned. "I've had a good teacher, Sandburg." He felt Blair stiffen. "Chief?"
"Hurts." The word came out in a gasp and Jim could feel the tremors wracking his friend's body.
Jim did the only thing he could do, he held his Guide tighter and waited for the spasms to pass. "It's going to be okay, Blair. Just hang in there." Come on Alejandro, how long are you going to let this kid suffer? "Still with me, Chief?"
"Still here." Blair's fingers tightened around Ellison's arm as the last wave of pain passed. "Tired." His grip relaxed as sleep took him.
Encacha went to sit next to Blair at the centre of the circle.
"You are tired, young one? This path has been a hard one for you. Walked many times."
"What do you mean, walked many times?"
"You have met death many times. Your own, others."
"Will I die now?"
The shaman shrugged. "Only you can answer that. If you want to live, you will. Does death still frighten you?"
Blair's automatic response would have been yes, but he caught himself. "It does, but I'm not scared for me. I'm not scared about dying."
Encacha's smile was sad. "I know."
Blair remembered who he was talking to. "Yeah, I guess you would know. You gave me such a big responsibility."
"You still don't see it." The Chopec sighed. "The responsibility was never mine. It has always been yours."
"Always been mine? But you were his Guide, his Shaman, long before me. You made me his Shaman. That's what Jim told me you said."
Encacha shook his head. "He was upset and misunderstood. I told him you were his Shaman. I did not pass anything on to you that was not already yours. He was put in my safekeeping until you were ready." He got up to leave.
"Wait! Don't go. I still have so many questions."
"And you have the answers. You always have. Now you must decide."
Blair thought he would go insane from the pain. Alejandro had given him something to drink, promising it would help him. It had helped the pain go from agony to sheer torture. Jim was rocking him, telling him he was going to be alright. No! Whatever it was the shaman had given him was killing him. He was going to die.
"You have to fight Blair." Jim was crying and it frightened him. "Can you hear me Chief?" He felt a cool cloth dragged across his forehead. It seemed to take some of the pain away with it. The pain was almost bearable. He felt his body relax.
Alejandro smiled. "It is starting to work."
Blair looked into the old man's eyes. "The work of the west is done?"
"Yes, jovencito, you must never worry about the jaguar again. Death is no longer your enemy."
Blair felt his tears running down his cheeks. "That's good. I want to go home."
Sandburg fidgeted in the seat beside his friend. The drive from the Cascade airport to the loft seemed to take forever. He had been gone seven long weeks and the dreary, rainy day had never looked so good to him. He knew he had been talking non-stop about getting his things from Professor Smythe, asking for his job back as police observer, returning to the university. He had his entire life to get back in order.
At the loft, Blair bounded up the steps and reached into his coat pocket for his keys. The keys he had thrown away the day he left. Some of his enthusiasm waned with the memory. He had wiped away his life here. He heard the jangle of keys behind him.
"You forgot these Chief." Jim tossed him the set of keys he had tossed, or at least a very good imitation of the set.
He slowly turned the key in the lock, steeling himself for how the loft would look. With a nervous smile he looked back at his partner and walked in. It was his home! Everything was back. Even his laptop sat on the kitchen table. But it was more than that. Blair couldn't believe his eyes. Somehow his friend had managed to work a miracle. Everything was exactly where it had always been. He was sure if he had looked at the stack of papers sitting on the tv set that they would be in the same order they had been the day Jim left. His partner had always told Blair how important he was to him, but this said so much more. Sandburg knew that there was no one else that could re-create his life right down to the smallest detail. No one who cared enough to ever know him that well. He had come so close to losing that.
"How?" Like a man in a daze, he wandered around the apartment. His dolls and masks were back, his books, the cds he had given to Darryl. Everything. He walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Blue and red containers. His favourite teas sat on the counter next to his cup. He turned to his friend not knowing what to say.
Jim gave his Guide a crooked smile and pulled him into a hug when he saw the tears form in Blair's eyes.
"Hey Chief, I hope those are tears of joy." Which only started Blair crying harder. He felt Blair's head nod against his chest.
"They are. Thanks, Jim."
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