Note: This story is a sequel to My Guide and refers back to events and characters from that story and Spirit Warrior. If you haven't read them, I think the story can stand alone. But I hope you'll accept a gentle push to read them. It will give you a better idea of who the characters are and what started this chain of events. The ending of My Guide has been bothering me.
Again, I have used Alberto Villoldo's writings as my major source for Shamanism and the Medicine Wheel. The quotation at the start of the story is from his book "The Four Winds." Although I have to admit that my reading list has certainly expanded thanks to some helpful senfic writers. So many books, so little time.
As always, Wolfie, your attention to detail and suggestions are a great help. Commas...well that's another story (smile). And to the evil Shiloh, I couldn't do it!! The salad stays skimpy (grin).
Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to write, feedback is always appreciated. It's great to have that chance to hear your thoughts. And nice to meet others that share your obsession, um passion? interests? Better quit while I'm ahead. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ancient ruins jutted out of the jungle mist. Stone walls of a once impregnable citadel, the City of the Jaguar, had crumbled to the ground, strewing rocks and debris across the mosaic that formed the floor. Boldly coloured tiles, carefully arranged by a culture long since dead, depicted a large, four spoked wheel, its arms reaching into the jungle. Ravages of time and weather, that had all but destroyed the fortress, could not mar the beauty of it. At the tip of each narrow spoke sat a figure carved from ebony coloured stone. To the south was the statue of a snake, it's serpentine body coiled to attack. At the west a jaguar seemed frozen, its grace and intelligence caught in the cold stone. A dragon sat perched to the north, fierce and imposing. And to the east, an eagle, wings spread wide to carry it into the sky above. The centre of the wheel, from which the tiled paths radiated, was a blazing sun.
A lone figure sat at the hub of the wheel, crosslegged, waiting.
The last class had long since been dismissed and the halls of the Anthropology Department were empty and dark. The sound of leather soles as they slapped against the concrete floor echoed in the silence. A single light shone from beneath a doorway and the campus security guard smiled, shaking his head as he passed it. He wondered if Sandburg bothered paying rent for an apartment. Seemed he couldn't be using it much with all the hours he spent at the university. Stopping, he walked back and lightly rapped on the glass before opening the door.
"Evening Blair," the guard smiled. "Working late again?" He raised his wrist and tapped a gnarled finger on his watch. "It's almost 10:30. Don't you have a nice soft bed to go home to?"
"10:30!" Sandburg squinted tired eyes and looked at his own watch. "I didn't realize it was that late. Thanks Sam. Guess I should be heading home." He stood and stretched, feeling the muscles and bones in his back complain. "You want the last cup of coffee before I toss the pot? I made it not too long ago...I think." He smiled sheepishly at the grey haired man.
"No thank you, Blair. That last cup I tried almost took whatever hair I had left on my head," Sam chuckled. "I'll take my chances with the coffee machine in the canteen. Goodnight, now. You get on home."
The smile faded from the young man's face as soon as the door closed. Home. Life there had been a rollercoaster ride with James Ellison at the controls. Blair sank back down into his chair and stared at the phone. He was too tired to deal with one of Jim's bad moods. In the past two weeks they all seemed to be just varying degrees of bad to worse. He had been subjected to brooding and fits of temper. Rages would probably better describe them. But yesterday's scene at the station had to have been the worst. Jim had physically attacked him but had managed to gain control over his anger before he could do any damage. Blair unconsciously rubbed at the bruises that covered his chest, remembering the snarling, fury-driven Ellison who had put them there. But somehow he had managed to reach Jim. Really reach him. It had been one of the few times he had seen the real James Ellison since the whole thing began. Sandburg had gone to bed that night feeling optimistic but whatever headway he had made that day disappeared overnight. The anger and hostility had returned full force. No matter what approach the anthropologist had taken with his friend at breakfast, it had ended in confrontation. Blair was no closer to finding out what was wrong with his Sentinel than he had been the night Jim started having the nightmares. The whole situation had left him feeling discouraged, or worse, useless. The man who had become his best friend, his brother, was slipping away from him and he didn't know how to stop it.
Taking a deep breath, he picked up the receiver. Punching in the number of the loft, he thought he would test the waters first. After the fourth ring Blair was getting ready to hang up, but stopped when he heard the soft click. "Ellison." Steeling himself for the acid tone that had become the norm with his partner, he put a forced cheerfulness into his voice.
"Hi Jim. It's me. I'm still here and I'm probably going to be a little bit longer. Thought I'd just check in and see if we needed anything that I could pick up on the way home." Sandburg braced himself for whatever tirade this might illicit. Please, please, please be in a good mood Jim. I'm tired and I want to come home. He had decided that sleeping in his office would be a better alternative to the iciness of the loft.
"No, Chief. Nothing I can think of." Blair heard his friend yawn. "Don't work too late. I'm heading up to bed soon so I'll see you in the morning."
"Oh...okay. I'll see you in the morning then." He replaced the receiver and slowly let out a pent up breath. Maybe whatever had been bothering the detective had passed. He gathered up the journals that Brian Stevenson had sent him, tucking them carefully away into his backpack. Blair had hoped to find some answers in the old man's writings. Stevenson and his Sentinel had been together much longer than he and Jim. Michael Davis may have gone through something similar. The first two journals had given Sandburg no clues. He wasn't sure why he thought they would, but he had spent the last few days pouring over the older guide's notes. One brief entry towards the end of the third journal had caught the anthropologist's interest. Stevenson had begun to suspect that sentinels may have an underdeveloped sixth sense. Underdeveloped in that the information received was oftentimes in the form of impressions rather than clear sensory input. Brian had noted that Michael's premonitions regularly came to pass. It happened too often to be discounted as coincidence. But Stevenson had never been given the chance to prove or test his theory. Dylan Riley had murdered both Stevenson and Davis. Despite the pain the rogue sentinel had caused, Sandburg still carried the guilt of the man's death. He knew he had had no choice, saving Jim was all that mattered. He couldn't help but feel that Riley had become a tragic victim the day he lost his guide. The sentinel had even admitted it, that they had been separated too soon. What would have happened if Riley's guide had lived or if he had found another?
"I'm sorry Riley," Blair sighed aloud. "There should've been some way I could have helped you." He flipped off the light switch to his office and headed home.
The loft was quiet and in almost total darkness by the time Blair arrived home. Jim had left the small lamp near the fireplace on to give him enough light to navigate by. He soundlessly made his way across the apartment to his room, checking for any movement from his partner. It bothered him that he was relieved to find that Jim was asleep. They hadn't really talked in over a day. He gently pushed the door to his room closed and sat at the foot of his bed. Noiselessly, he changed from his jeans and shirt to an older pair of worn, but more comfortable jeans, and a tee shirt. The apartment was still warm from the summer heat. Back in his office he had been ready to collapse from fatigue, but now that he was home, he felt too restless to sleep. He listened as his empty stomach made noises about being hungry and decided to make himself a sandwich and eat it out on the balcony.
With the stealth of a cat, Blair fixed himself something and grabbed some bottled water from the fridge, without waking his partner. After slowly closing the balcony door, he allowed himself the release of a deep breath.
"This is ridiculous," he argued with himself. "Either find out what's bothering him or prepare to spend the rest of your time here as a virtual prisoner." Taking an angry bite of the sandwich, he stood at the edge of the low balcony wall and tried to think back to when the change in Jim had begun. Hanging his head from weariness, he moaned, "I hate jigsaw puzzles with all the important pieces missing. Why won't you just talk to me?"
He tossed the suddenly unappealing sandwich back onto the plate and grabbed the cushion from the lounge chair. Dropping it to the ground, he lay down and looked up at the stars. "Relax," he whispered to himself. "You've got to relax...breathe." He took air in through his nose and slowly exhaled it through his mouth. "The answer's in front of you, you're just not seeing it." Repeating the exercise a few more times, he let his mind drift towards sleep.
A low growl sounded from the shadows of the balcony, unheard by the now sleeping anthropologist. The big cat stepped out of the darkness, large muscles rippling under it's velvet coat. It raised its head, whiskers twitching as it sniffed the air, ears pressed flat against its skull. The powerful body tensed, tail flicking sharply in its distaste for the urban jungle. Another soft growl rumbled from the panther's throat as it approached Blair. Stopping inches away from him, it lowered its head to nuzzle the reclining figure. As the young man shifted in his sleep, the cat took another step forward and lay down, its form melting into the Guide's.
Blair looked down at the tile beneath his feet. Different shades of blue flowed in waves down a ceramic river. His gaze followed the artificial current and settled on a man sitting quietly, watching him. Incacha? Taking a hesitant step forward, he stopped when he heard the soft purr coming from behind him. He turned to see the big cat gracefully leap up to sit on a stone pedestal. Gold flecked eyes blinked lazily, making the anthropologist smile as the panther's calm enveloped him. Looking up, he scanned the scene around him. The spires, the jungle...he was back at the Wheel and Incacha was waiting for him.
The Chopec looked as solemn and grim as ever. Suddenly Blair wondered if this trip was necessary. His initiation to the Wheel and shamanism had been anything but easy and he knew that his journey was only half complete. Alejandro had warned him of that. The journey had begun at the South, the snake, where he had been forced to deal with his past. Who he was and who he believed himself to be had been shaken when his Sentinel had met with an emotional crisis. Blair had effectively wiped himself from Cascade and his life there and had travelled to Peru. At first, he had felt that he had been running away and still regretted abandoning Jim, as he tried to come to terms with his role as Sentinel. But inexperience and lack of knowledge had unconsciously driven the anthropologist to Alejandro, a hatun laika. The master shaman had begun Sandburg's instruction in the ways of a shaman. The old man had taught him about the next turn of the Wheel, the west. The path of the jaguar, or panther as Jim preferred to call it, was about death. It had been Incacha who had told Blair he had walked that path many times alongside the Sentinel. Blair still shuddered when he thought about Lash and the other times he had truly feared for both his life and Jim's. But it was Alejandro who had revealed the shaman's role as a warrior. The spirit warrior, Alejandro had taught him, conquered his own fears about death and, more importantly, became a guide for spirits trapped between this world and the next. Blair wasn't really sure he would ever be that but Alejandro seemed to have faith in his abilities.
These thoughts had carried him the distance to the Chopec shaman. Since Incacha had remained seated, Blair sat down in front of him.
"It is good to see you again, young one." The Indian's face creased in one of his rare smiles.
"It's good to see you again too, Incacha." Sandburg only wished he meant it. The anthropologist was certain why Incacha had called him. "Jim's in trouble, isn't he?"
The older man nodded slowly. "You have seen the change in him. He is carrying on a battle."
"What are you talking about?" Blair's brow creased in consternation. "A battle? He's fine. He's not even involved in a particularly dangerous case right now. If anything, things have been unusually quiet for him." He looked down, trying to swallow his apprehension, and traced a pattern into the dust with a finger. "Besides, he would tell me if there was something going on." He raised his eyes to meet the Chopec elder's. "Wouldn't he?"
"He does not realize he is fighting one yet. But the danger is there."
Confusion shifted into fear. "I don't understand. How can he be involved in something and not know it? He wouldn't be able to protect himself." The Chopec remained silent. "How can I protect him if I don't know what's going on? Please, you have to tell me."
"The threat does not come from the physical world. It comes from here. I can not intercede, it is you who must. It is you who are his Guide, his shaman."
Blair wasn't sure if the Chopec was deliberately being circumspect or not, but nothing seemed any clearer. "The threat is from here?" He gestured around them with his hand. "I'm not even sure I know where here is?"
"Each shaman travels on a spirit journey. That journey can take him to the netherworlds or to the reaches far above. This place sits between the two. Sometimes it is a place that spirits, released in death, are trapped. They are not willing or able to complete their journey without the help of a spirit guide. The warrior. "
Blair's eyes widened. "Are you trapped here, Incacha? Is there something I can do to help?"
The older man smiled and placed a hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "No young one, I am not trapped. My spirit still journeys."
"But Jim. Are you saying that his spirit is in danger?" Blair pushed back the strands of hair that had fallen forward. "I'm trying to understand what that threat is." He felt his heart quicken as his mind reasoned through what he was being told. "Are you trying to tell me that Jim's going to die?"
The older man shook his head no. "Not in the sense you mean. There will be no physical death, but your Sentinel will be no longer." He stared hard into blue eyes. "James Ellison will be no longer."
Sandburg sprang to his feet. "What the hell are you talking about? Stop being so damned cryptic!" He fought for control. "What could there possibly be here that could...?" A shadow moved just beyond the circle and a figure stepped out of the jungle. Blair thought that he looked familiar. His breath caught in his throat as the man came out of the mist to stand at the edge of the citadel walls. "Oh my God..." He looked down at Incacha, who nodded sadly.
"The battle will become yours, young one." The Chopec rose to stand beside Blair. "You must prepare."
"Prepare? But how?" He turned to the old warrior but found himself standing alone.
Two weeks earlier
The hoarse yell shattered the silence of the loft. Coming slowly awake, he rolled over to look at his alarm clock, not sure if the sound had been real or part of a dream. "3:00 a.m." came the tired moan. Lying in bed he listened, waiting to hear what had woken him. Only silence met his ears as he shifted to once again get comfortable and reclaim sleep. Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes and tucked an arm under his pillow.
"No! You can't!" This time the shout left no doubt in Blair's mind. Throwing back the covers, he ran up the flight of stairs two at a time to his friend's room.
Pale yellow light of a full moon illuminated the upper loft, casting crisscrossed shadows over the bed. Reaching his friend's side, the anthropologist could hear Ellison muttering something almost frantically. He tried to make sense of the words but they were coming too fast and too furiously for him to understand. Blair had expected the older man to be thrashing against the dream but he lay there almost motionless as if something were holding him down.
"Jim?" He called his partner's name softly. If the Sentinel's hearing was turned up because of the dream, even the softest hush would seem like a trumpet blast. "Jim?" But the detective remained caught in the dream. Placing a cautious hand on his friend's shoulder, he gently shook the sleeping man.
The touch was electric, making Ellison sit bolt upright. "What?" He blinked sleep heavy eyes to clear them and saw his friend sitting at the edge of the bed. "Sandburg? What is it? Are you alright?"
"Me?" Blair gave his partner a lopsided grin. "You were the one having the nightmare." He sat back on the bed, lotus style. "Want to talk about it?"
Jim ran a hand across his short hair. "I woke you?"
"Yeah, blood curdling screams in the early morning hours will do that." His smile couldn't hide his concern. The anthropologist was sure if he was the one with the heightened senses he would be able to hear Ellison's heart going off the scale.
The detective breathed in deeply and held it, trying to shake off the last vestiges of the dream. He had had one similar to it months ago. A dream that had nearly sent him into a panic. He slowly released his breath and sighed. "I want to talk about it. But how 'bout we do it downstairs?" He shoved his partner off the bed. "I think I could use a cup of coffee right now."
Blair gave his friend a worried glance. "Okay Jim, I'll get a pot started." He disappeared down the stairs.
"That's not going to help. He's not going to be able to stop me." Jim's head jerked up with a snap. As an almost reflex action he scanned the room for the source of the voice. "Neither of you can."
The Sentinel rubbed at his temples, realizing the whisper soft voice had come from inside his head. "Shut up," he continued to massage his temples. "Just shut up." He boosted himself off the bed and went to join his partner.
Sandburg stood leaning against the kitchen counter, arms folded across his chest. His friend had not been looking well the last few days and now nightmares had started. At least he seemed willing to talk about it. That was a first. And that fact had the anthropologist worried the most. Jim was never one to open up, always dismissing whatever was bothering him. Gurgling and hissing noises from behind him announced that the coffee was done. He pulled cups down for himself and Jim, grabbing the latte sized mugs. He had a feeling it was going to be a long talk.
"Smells good Chief," Jim sighed as he approached the counter and accepted the cup from his friend. He took a small sip and caught his Guide watching him. "Stare at me any harder, Sandburg, and you're gonna burn a hole."
Blair, in what Ellison had come to see as a signal that his partner was nervous, absent-mindedly ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry man, it's just that in the whole time I've been living here you've had maybe one or two nightmares." He took his cup and sat at the table. "Just freaked me out a little, I guess." He gently blew across the top of the steaming liquid and casually added, "So you said you wanted to talk about it."
"Yeah," the detective frowned. "Something's going on and I can't figure it out." Chewing at the inside of his mouth, he tried to find a way to explain it. "For the past few days I've had this weird feeling that someone's watching me. It's like I can feel him breathing down my neck sometimes, but when I turn around there's no one there."
Sandburg sat forward in his chair, clearly the scientist and researcher. "Do you think one of your senses is acting up. Touch? Hearing? That might make you more sensitive to the people around you. It could make you feel like they were on top of you."
"Thought about that one, Chief." He gently spun the mug in his hands. "It doesn't feel like that. It's more like a feeling than an actual sensing." His grin was sardonic. "That made a lot of sense didn't it?"
"Actually it did, Jim. You better be careful, you're starting to sound more like me everyday," Blair smiled. "So this feeling? Is it with you all the time? Now?"
"Not all the time, no. Never when you're around." A look of surprise crossed his face as he realized what he had just said. "That's strange. Why wouldn't it?"
Blair just shrugged his shoulders and gave his friend a small grin. "You're always telling me that I never give you a moment's peace. Maybe I distract you from it."
Ellison laughed, "That's true Sandburg, things are rarely quiet if you're around. But I've felt it at work and things can get crazy there. Yesterday, when that hostage taking got ugly. There was enough going on to keep my mind occupied but I still felt like there was someone looking over my shoulder." He got up to pour himself another cup of coffee.
"What about the nightmare?" The younger man held out his cup when Jim waved the pot at him. "You obviously think they're connected. What was the nightmare about?"
"That's just it, kid." The detective remained standing at the counter. "It was just as vague. I knew that there was something there threatening me, but I couldn't see it." He scratched at his chin, feeling the rough stubble. "It wasn't really a something. It was definitely a someone."
"No idea who?" Sandburg had twisted in his seat to watch his friend's face. "You didn't get any impression of who it was?" He saw a flicker of emotion in the detective's eyes, but couldn't identify it.
Looking away, the Sentinel shook his head. "Just a faceless someone." He poured the rest of his coffee down the sink. "I'm going to try to get some sleep. Sorry I woke you. Night, Chief." He started for the stairs.
"But Jim, what about...?" Blair was cut off by the wave of his friend's hand.
"We can talk about it more in the morning. Go to sleep, Blair."
Brian Stevenson's notebooks, about his life and discoveries concerning his Sentinel, read more like a diary. At times the young anthropologist almost felt that he was trespassing into another's most private thoughts. But they echoed his own apprehensions and musings so closely that he almost ached at the thought that he had lost the chance to meet the man. It was as if they had been kindred spirits. Blair wished he could take at least a month off and dedicate it all to studying the journals. His life was so fragmented he wondered if he gave anything the attention it deserved. Glancing at his watch, he saw that he was soon due for a lecture and quickly marked his spot.
Scrambling through the mess he called his desk in search of a pen and notepad, cursing and promising as always to take the time to straighten things out, he managed to knock the phone to the floor. Reaching down to pick it up, he was about to replace the receiver, when he thought he could hear angry shouts. He carefully placed it to his ear and tried a tentative, "Hello?"
"Sandburg!" Simon Bank's voice was like ice. "Trying to deafen me?"
Blair smiled to himself as he realized that he had automatically sat up just a little bit straighter when he had heard his captain's voice. "No sir. I dropped the phone..."
"Whatever, we need to talk. Can you meet me for lunch?"
"What's wrong? Did something happen to Jim?"
"He's fine, don't worry. But right now he's about one more incident away from being suspended. I need to know what's going on with him."
"Suspended!" All thoughts of making the lecture left his head. "What time do you want to meet and where?"
Simon impatiently tapped a fork against his napkin. He checked his watch for the third time, only to realize that Sandburg was a mere five minutes late. If he were a more patient man it might not have bothered him. But he could feel his blood beginning to boil. Five more minutes and he was out of there. Ellison be damned.
A flurry of activity sounded from behind and Blair dropped into the seat across from him, breathing heavily. "Sorry sir, there was an accident that had roads blocked, so I parked the car and jogged the rest of the way. Thought I would have made better time than this. Didn't mean to keep you waiting."
Banks felt his ire melt as he took in the flushed face before him. "That's alright Sandburg. Here," he pushed his glass of ice water across the table. "Drink this and catch your breath."
Smiling his thanks, Blair immediately got to the matter at hand. "What did you mean, Jim was close to being suspended? What's been going on?" He took a long drink as he listened to his captain.
"The man's been impossible lately. Snapping and growling at everyone. He's got Wells to the point she's afraid to be in the same building, much less the same room, with him. He's managed to push Joel to the point of complaining to me about him."
The younger man's eyebrows shot up. "Joel? But nothing bothers him." He let out a low whistle. "So when did this all start?"
"I have a feeling you know that better than I do. You've been pretty scarce around the station. Just a coincidence?" Banks picked up a bread stick and pointed it at his companion. "You haven't been doing much observing lately." He bit down on the stick.
"I've just been busy. Class schedules and teaching schedules this semester have been really tight." He kept his gaze lowered, scanning the menu. He knew that his captain could read him as well as his partner could.
Banks sighed and gently pushed the menu down out of Sandburg's hands. "He doesn't want you there, does he?"
"No. He's made that pretty clear this past week."
"Alright kid, from the start. What do you know about this?"
The waiter approached the table, ready to take their orders. The aromas, that had been tickling his nose since entering the small restaurant, had made the police captain ravenous. Banks ordered a meaty pasta dish, his taste buds already savouring it. He added on an order of garlic bread and the homemade soup, watching carefully as the waiter dutifully recorded his order.
"What are you going to have Sandburg?" The other man was still scanning the menu.
"I'll have a slice of the vegetarian pizza. And some more ice water would be great." He closed the menu and handed it back to the waiter. "What?" Banks was staring at him.
The older man shook his head. "It's amazing you even have the energy to finish the day. That's what you call lunch?" He handed Sandburg the basket of rolls and breadsticks. "Eat and talk. You were going to tell me what you thought was going on."
"It all depends. Who am I talking to right now?" Blair's face was deadly serious.
"Of all the...you're talking to me, Simon Banks. Jim's friend and your friend. Captain Banks doesn't go back on duty for another hour at least. Tell me what's going on Blair. He's worse than he was when he first found out about those damned senses."
Taking a deep breath, Blair reluctantly began. "It started just over a week ago now. Maybe before that, but Jim and I talked about it a little over a week ago. He had this nightmare. Said it was really vague and all he was sure of was that whoever he was dreaming about was threatening him. He said he didn't know who it was, but that first night when we were talking, I was sure he did know." He took a pumpernickel roll from the basket and broke it apart. "He's had the dream a few times now. At least four times that I'm aware of. "
"Well, this is where it gets a little strange. He says that he feels like someone is watching him all the time. Really close, breathing down his neck. At first I thought maybe it was his senses going off line, but if that were true he'd be bothered by more than this." He chewed slowly on a mouthful of bread, wondering how much he should tell. "In the beginning he said that the only time he didn't get this feeling was when I was around. But that's changed."
"Now, my being around seems to agitate him." The young man looked miserable. "It's like he has to exert this extra control just to be civil to me. That's why I've been staying away from the station. I can't help him if all I do is get him upset," Blair sighed. "And I'm sure I've caught him listening for something or to something. He's turning into a nervous wreck. I've tried to talk to him about it."
"You don't think he's delusional do you?" Simon's brow creased in a frown. It was hard to imagine Ellison not in complete control.
"At first, Captain, I worried about that, too. But I don't think he is. It's hard to explain."
"Maybe I should take him off active duty." Banks muttered to himself.
"But you said this was between friends." Sandburg's blue eyes blazed with anger. "Jim's not a threat."
"Sandburg," Simon tried to reason, "the man has access to a gun 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he's not in complete control, he is a danger. To himself, to you and to anyone else he happens to run across. Can you guarantee that isn't the case?"
"Just don't do anything yet. I'll try coming into the station tomorrow. Maybe I can get a clue as to what's wrong."
"This goes against my better judgement. As a friend and a boss. If Jim's having problems maybe we should be looking at professional help."
"I've already checked the yellow pages under psychiatrists dealing with Sentinels. It's a surprisingly short list." He hoped that Banks appreciated the humour and quietly contemplated the roll that was now just small bits in his plate. "Of course you're right sir," he sighed. "But we have to be careful. If it is Jim's senses that are at the root of this, no psychiatrist, regardless how well trained, is going to have any luck. You and I have a better chance of figuring this out."
"Why do I find that less than reassuring, Sandburg?" The older man asked dryly, rolling his eyes. "What about you?"
"Me?" Blair wasn't sure he understood the question.
"Are things alright at home?" Simon fixed the younger man with one of his patented stares. "If Ellison is like this at work, he must be taking some of this out on you at home."
"Can't say life at the loft has been pleasant, lately." Sandburg sighed. "Like I said, I seem to agitate him now. But if you're wondering if he's lost it with me? No."
"Are we looking at that possibility, Sandburg? Should you be thinking of staying somewhere else until we know what's going on?"
"We are talking about Jim, sir." The anthropologist looked vaguely annoyed at the suggestion. "He's not like this all the time. I still see glimpses of the old Jim." Blair smiled reassuringly. "I'm not afraid to be there. Besides, I'm not going to run out on him when he's having problems." He dropped his gaze from Simon's and began to tear the roll into small pieces. "I'm already guilty of doing that once," he said, remembering his trip to Peru.
"Those were completely different circumstances, Blair. You know that," Simon gently reminded him. "And what are you grinning at?"
"You must really be worried about this. You've just called me Blair twice." He took another roll and got up to leave. "It's going to be okay. We'll figure this out. I'm going to be late and I have to make it back to my car. I'll see you tomorrow."
Simon's eyes widened in surprise. "But your lunch..."
"Oh you're right, sorry." The anthropologist dug into a pocket and took out a ten dollar bill. "If that doesn't cover it, let me know tomorrow." And with that he was sprinting across the dining room and out onto the street.
Banks sighed and leaned back into his chair. "That's not what I meant, Sandburg."
The waiter materialized at the table. "The young gentleman...?" He raised his eyebrows in an unasked question.
"The young gentleman had to leave. Please just wrap the pizza up for him and I'll take it with me." As the waiter walked away, Simon had to laugh to himself. If his son Daryl was a going concern, he certainly didn't know how to classify Ellison's partner. But, oddly enough, he felt better after their conversation. He had blindly accepted the Sentinel and Guide as Ellison had explained it to him. He was just as willing to accept that, if Sandburg was fully aware of what was going on, he would somehow manage to fix it. The idea that this trust might be misplaced never entered his mind. He knew the kid would just do it.
A thousand different thoughts seemed to be vying for first place as Blair dodged pedestrians on the sidewalk. He had been forced to park his car several blocks away. As he jogged along, one thought nagged at him. He had seen something as he was exiting the restaurant. In his hurry he hadn't been able to give it anything more than a fleeting consideration. But now, as he tried to remember what that was, a heaviness settled in his stomach. He could see it clearly. Parked up the street, opposite the restaurant, had been a familiar blue Ford truck. There weren't many like it in the city. Jim was following him? Or Simon. Either way the thought chilled him. If the detective had been close by, then he had heard every word said.
"Well if it isn't Hairboy. Where ya been?" Brown was just walking past the elevator as Blair exited it.
"Classes have been keeping me pretty busy." He smiled up at the detective. "You guys miss me?"
Henri laughed and slapped the smaller man on the back. "Sure did Sandburg. Maybe you can get that partner of yours to lighten up a bit. Lord knows we've tried."
Blair's smile faded as he entered the squad room and saw his friend glowering at him. Brown had caught the glare as well and considered walking with Sandburg over to Ellison's desk. He'd seen friendlier looks on pitbulls. But Blair was looking up at him, letting him know he didn't need the escort.
"Talk to you later, okay."
"Sure thing, Sandburg." He shot a meaningful glance in Ellison's direction. "That partner of yours gives you any trouble, you can partner up with me." With a wink, he walked over to Rafe's desk.
"Hi Jim," Blair greeted his friend. "I managed to get away early and thought I'd see if I could help you get caught up on some of the paperwork." He flipped through the files that lay on the detective's desk, giving his partner what he hoped was not a nervous grin. "You were out early this morning."
"And you got in pretty late last night. I decided to get breakfast at the deli this morning." The detective rocked back in his chair. "Something bothering you, Sandburg?"
"No, nothing. Why?" The anthropologist gazed into eyes that were a stranger's. None of the gentle humour or friendliness that softened Ellison's ice blue eyes was there. The look was harder and colder than he could ever remember it being.
"Ellison! Sandburg! In my office, please." Simon Banks stood at the door to his office. He had been watching the exchange between the two men and Sandburg's unease was apparent, even from that distance. He wasn't sure what he was going to say to the two when they entered but some sort of rescue seemed in order.
"Gentleman," Banks nodded and smiled as he ushered them in. "Why don't we have a seat at the conference table?" He walked over to the coffeemaker and poured himself some coffee. "Either of you want a cup before we get started?" Sandburg shook his head no, but Ellison got up.
"What's this all about, Captain?" The detective poured himself a cup.
"Uh, Jim, I should have warned you. That's a Swiss Mocha and Hazelnut blend."
After stirring in two teaspoons of sugar, Ellison raised the cup to his nose, breathing in the aroma. "Smells good too." He carried the coffee back to the table and repeated his question. "So Captain, what's this all about?"
A gentle tap on the door saved Banks from launching into his opinion of his detective's attitude of late. He had promised Sandburg that he would hold off but watching the two of them in the bullpen had made him reconsider.
"Sir," Rhonda poked her head into the office. "This came in. Thought you might want to see it right away, especially since Jim is here too." She handed him the report.
"Thanks." Simon quickly scanned the sheet of paper, his face growing grim. "Looks like the Vietnamese gangs are going at it again. Tinh Nguyen was found murdered not far from his home." He looked over at Ellison. "He was your snitch down there, wasn't he?"
"Yeah," Jim frowned. "But I hadn't heard from him in a while. Things have been quiet. Any idea about suspects?"
Handing the detective the report, Banks stood up. "What I wanted to talk to you about can hold. Why don't you two get down there and see what you can dig up?"
"I can handle this. I don't need Sandburg tagging along." Ellison's voice was ice.
The tone and message stopped the police captain in his tracks. "Since when have you considered Sandburg's being there tagging along?" He glanced over at the anthropologist whose face was a mixture of shock and hurt. "You've insisted that he's your partner and I've gone along with that. And until I decide otherwise, that's how it's going to remain. Got that Ellison?"
"Yes sir." The answer was forced through gritted teeth as he walked stiff legged back to his desk.
"Sandburg?" Banks stopped the younger man before he could leave. "Are you okay with this? Any misgivings about going out there with him?" The kid had been too quiet.
"It'll be okay, don't worry."
"You keep saying that, but I haven't seen any reason not to worry." He stood with his hands on his hips, watching Ellison at his desk. "Did I just see him down a cup of flavoured coffee with sugar?"
Blair nodded. "You noticed that too. That was pretty interesting. And I should have told you about this earlier, but it just didn't seem right." He looked uncomfortable. "I saw Jim yesterday afternoon. He was parked outside the restaurant. I saw his truck, at least. But I would assume he knows everything we talked about. And this conversation too." He saw Ellison start to leave. "I better get moving. I don't think he's going to wait."
Sandburg ran down the hallway to catch up with his partner. "Jim wait up."
Ellison turned back to look at Sandburg with barely controlled fury. When the younger man came up alongside of him, he grabbed him by the arm and dragged him into one of the interrogation rooms. Ignoring his friend's startled protest at being manhandled, the detective roughly shoved him against the door.
"Hey man, what're you doing?" Blair tried to pry the Sentinel's hands from his shirt and pull away from the fists that were digging into his chest.
"Wrong Sandburg." Jim pushed harder. "The question is what are you doing?" The words were angrily spat out as he again slammed the younger man into the door for good measure. "What part of 'I don't need you' didn't you understand? I'm past needing you guiding me," he sneered. "You hold me back. You're afraid. Sometimes I can almost smell it on you."
Blair swallowed hard, reminding himself that the snarling face, just inches from his, belonged to his best friend. "C'mon Jim, let go." He kept his voice soft. If it came to a battle of wills he was certain he'd lose. "What's going on with you?"
Ellison twisted his fingers deeper into the fabric of Sandburg's shirt, seeming to enjoy watching the younger man squirm as he tried to extricate himself from the iron grip. He waited for the fear, that was inevitable, to come into his partner's eyes. With the bastard he had had for a father, he was well schooled in intimidation and his time with Covert Ops had honed it to a fine art. But the blue eyes that stared up into his held no fear, just a quiet pleading.
"Please Jim, I want to help you." Blair saw the angry resolve flicker and held his breath. He felt his friend's grip loosen on his shirt as Ellison took a shaky step backwards. As if a curtain had been lifted, Blair found himself looking into the confused and mortified face of his best friend.
"Sandburg?" The detective retreated another step and sat heavily on the table top. "Chief?" Hands that were shaking slowly rubbed at his face. "I...I don't..." He met his Guide's steady gaze, mildly surprised that Blair hadn't hightailed it out of the room.
"Neither do I, Jim." Sandburg's voice still held no fear. He went to stand in front of his partner and put his hands on the older man's shoulders. "Are you okay?"
The detective breathed in deeply and nodded yes, but then violently shook his head no. "What am I saying? No, I'm not alright! What happened Chief?" Jim's plaintive expression seemed so foreign on a face that usually exuded a calm control over almost every emotion. "Sometimes I feel like I'm not even the one controlling my own thoughts. What's happening to me?"
"I don't know, Jim," Blair sighed. He moved to sit shoulder to shoulder with Ellison. "You've gotta be straight with me, man. That's the only way we're going to figure this one out."
"I wanted to hurt you." The words came out in a hoarse whisper.
"No you didn't," Blair countered. "If you really had, I'd be in pieces right now," he laughed softly, coming down from an adrenaline rush. "I knew you were in there somewhere."
"You should have called for help, Chief." Ellison shifted to look at him, holding on tightly to his friend's shoulder and shaking him slightly. "You were stupid not to."
The trust he saw in Sandburg's eyes made him wince. "You're my Blessed Protector, Jim. Who would I have called?" Blair hopped down off the table. "So is it still okay if I tag along?" He walked to the door and held it open for his partner. "But we have got to talk this out, Jim."
Ellison, still shaken, walked quietly past his Guide and down the hallway. Blair held back to draw a deep breath and lean heavily against the door jamb. His nerves threatened to get the better of him and he refused to let his friend know how scared he had really been.
Standing behind the two way glass of Observation Room One, Simon Banks let out an uneasy breath. Cop's instinct or just a plain old hunch had sent him following after Sandburg and Ellison. He had watched the entire scene unfold and still couldn't understand how the kid hadn't panicked. Even being on the other side of thick glass, he had felt the heat of Ellison anger.
"The kid's got balls, I gotta give him that much," he sighed to himself. The whole time Sandburg's partner had been in his face, he had never flinched. Banks wasn't sure if he trusted anyone that much and had been ready to intervene. Somehow, though, Blair had managed to diffuse the situation and actually got through to Ellison.
Banks turned his attention back to the room. Sandburg hadn't left yet and stood leaning against the door, watching his partner. Simon reached up to activate the intercom and double check with the younger man that he was indeed alright, when Blair looked right at him through the glass and smiled. The captain's hand hovered over the switch. There was no way the kid could know he was there. Was there? He flipped the switch.
"I'll talk to you later, Captain. I'm okay." Blair's voice sounded tinny but much calmer than Banks had expected. Before he could reply, Sandburg had closed the door to join his friend.
James Ellison made his way quietly down the steps from his bedroom. The loft was in darkness, except for the small lamp he had left on for Blair. He quickly peeked into his friend's room, noting the clothes that had been tossed onto the bed and floor. But he saw no sign of Sandburg. He listened for his friend's heartbeat and heard it coming from the balcony. From the steady beat and the deep breathing, the Sentinel knew that his Guide was asleep. He went to the patio doors and saw Blair curled up on a cushion on the floor. A trick of the lighting made the shadows around him seem almost opaque as the detective tried to see his friend's face. Deciding that Blair couldn't possibly be comfortable on the concrete floor, he opened the door and stepped outside.
Wondering if his vision was playing tricks on him, Jim thought he saw the shadows surrounding Blair start to move. Opening his vision, he swallowed back a gasp as the darkness began to solidify. The panther rose from where his Guide lay and placed itself between him and Sandburg. Its head dipped and the low, throaty growl warned Ellison to come no closer. The Sentinel slowly retreated back into the loft and closed the balcony door. His heart thudded in his chest. The panther was protecting Blair from him. ***
Sandburg glanced quickly at the clock on his desk as he paced his office. "5:00 a.m." He picked up the phone and began dialling. "He should be up by now." He continued to pace as he listened to the ringing. "C'mon, be there. Please."
"Hola." The woman that answered the phone sounded out of breath.
"Professor Escobar, please." Blair sat nervously waiting. He was sure the woman would come back on the line to tell him that Tony wasn't there.
"Escobar." One word and Blair thought he would collapse with relief.
"Tony? Tony, hi it's Blair Sandburg! It is so good to hear your voice," Sandburg sighed.
The deep accented voice sounded surprised. "Blair! I can't believe it. How are you my friend? It is good to hear your voice, too."
"I need your help Tony. I have to get in touch with Alejandro as soon as possible." He made no attempts to hide his desperation.
"What is it, Blair? What's happened?"
"Something that happened a while ago, it's coming back to haunt me," the anthropologist explained. "Alejandro taught me about a shaman's spirit journey, but I can't do this alone." Blair leaned on the desk and held his head in his hand. "I'm not ready, Tony. I've barely got the trance techniques mastered." He twisted the phone cord in his hand. "Oh man, I know this isn't making much sense. I've got to talk to Alejandro."
"Alright, my friend," the professor soothed. "I will bring Alejandro here to talk with you. He hates coming into the city but when I explain it to him, I'm sure he will come. He talks about you often Blair. He worries about you."
Blair's laugh was humourless. "To be honest, Tony, I'm a little worried about me right now. I don't know if I can do what I think I have to do. If I can't, I'm going to lose Jim." The throbbing pressure behind Sandburg's eyes doubled. "When do you think he'll be there?"
"I'll leave right away. Can you call me this evening?" Escobar asked. "We should be back by 9:00."
"Sure Tony. And thanks, man."
"I'm glad I can help, Blair. I will talk to you tonight."
Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, Sandburg fought the nausea that had his head and stomach rolling. He was sure what he had had last night was a lucid dream. He had spoken with Incacha and now knew the face of the enemy. At least now he understood the change in his friend. He had to tell Jim what he thought was happening but he had no idea how his partner would take it.
"There's no time like the present," Blair muttered to himself. Grabbing his backpack, he started out the door only to run into a brick wall.
"Jim!" The word barely squeaked out. "What...what're you doing here?" He looked up into his friend's amused smile.
"Looking for you, Chief." Ellison brushed by the younger man and stepped into the office. "Want to tell me what's going on?" All the amusement had left his face.
"You mean why I'm here so early?" Sandburg slowly closed the door behind him. He had hoped for a chance to think about what he would say on the drive home.
With a frustrated sigh, Jim sank into the chair across from the desk. "I mean about everything. What happened at the station when I lost it with you. The nightmares." He ran a hand through his hair. "For the past two weeks I feel like I've been watching myself from the outside. I see and hear myself do things..." He shook his head. "I'm losing it, Chief."
"No you're not, Jim," Blair said softly. He cleared a spot on the desk and sat facing his partner. "I think I have an idea about what's wrong. But it's so off the wall, man."
"After what happened last night Blair, I'm willing to believe almost anything." Anxiety deeply etched the detective's face. For the first time Sandburg could easily see the evidence of the battle that his friend was fighting.
"Last night? What happened last night?" Blair asked. "I talked to you around 10:30, you sounded okay and you were asleep when I got home."
Ellison felt ready to jump out of his skin and began to nervously pace the room. "I got up in the middle of the night. I don't know what woke me up. I went downstairs to get something to drink and automatically checked to see if you were home." He stopped pacing and leaned against the far wall. "You were asleep out on the balcony..."
"Yeah, my back keeps reminding me about that," Blair smiled.
Jim weakly returned the smile and continued, "I went out to wake you up. I didn't think you could be comfortable." He took a deep breath. "Blair, I saw the panther. It was there." He paused. "You don't seem surprised."
"I dreamt about the panther last night, Jim. But go on. You seem kind of upset about seeing it. Why?"
"It was there, Chief, to protect you...from me." The last two words were a whisper. "It wouldn't let me near you." He took a step towards his Guide. "But why? Blair, I don't understand any of this."
Sandburg slid down off the desk and went to his friend. He had never heard Ellison sound so lost. "Come back and sit down. I'll try to explain what I know." He pulled the bigger man by the arm. "Or at least what I think I know."
"I don't know if I can trust myself anymore. Especially after what happened yesterday." Jim sat heavily in the chair. "I tried to hurt you. Part of me knew what I was doing but I just couldn't stop it." He looked down at his clenched fists.
"But you did stop it. That proves you're still the one in control."
Ellison looked up quickly. "What do you mean I'm still the one?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about," Blair swallowed hard. "You said that you were ready to believe almost anything, right? Just try to keep an open mind." He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "Oh man, how do I even start this without you thinking I'm nuts?"
"Just start, Chief," Jim said softly. "I need to hear whatever it is you have to say."
Taking a deep breath, he was encouraged by the trust he saw. "I told you that I had a dream about the panther. But it wasn't just about the panther, Incacha was there too. Do you remember my telling you about the dreams I had before I went to Peru and when I was in Peru?" He waited for his partner's nod. "It was that kind of dream, Jim. Incacha was waiting for me at the Wheel. He wanted to tell me about you."
"He told me that you were involved in a battle." The anthropologist watched his companion's face, gauging his reaction.
"A battle? With whom?" Ellison didn't look convinced.
"When you first started having the nightmares you told me that you felt like there was always someone standing over your shoulder. You know who that is, don't you?"
The Sentinel shook his head vehemently, "I told you I didn't know. I still don't."
Pressing on, as if he hadn't heard his friend's denial, Blair asked, "And you've been hearing things too, haven't you?" Ellison shook his head no again. "I've seen you do it, Jim. You'll stop and get this vacant look on your face. At first I thought you were zoning on something, but it wasn't that. You were listening to something, or someone."
Jim averted his eyes from his friend's intense gaze. "You're wrong."
"No I'm not. Jim, c'mon, you've got to be honest with me, here. Please!"
Ellison was looking at him again. And that look had become lethal. Slowly rising out of the chair, he leaned forward and grabbed Blair by the scruff of the neck. What had always been an affectionate gesture now caused the younger man to wince in pain. "I don't know what you think you've figured out Sandburg, but it isn't going to work." He let go of Blair's neck and headed for the door. "Just don't push me, kid."
Blair stared wide-eyed and tried to stop from shaking. He had been so sure that it was his Jim he had been talking to. When had the other taken control? "This is just too weird." His thoughts tumbled around in his head in a tangled mess. "How do I survive living with Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde?" Alejandro was his only hope. If the old shaman would agree to talk to him. "And what about Simon? What do I tell him?" The headache, that had become a constant now, throbbed against his skull. Heaving a shaky sigh, he decided that sleep might help ease the headache. It was just coming up to 6:00, three hours before he could talk to Banks and fifteen hours before he could talk to Alejandro. Locking his office behind him, he headed to the staff lounge to seek out the most comfortable couch.
Jim Ellison stood in shock, gripping the handle of the Ford, as he replayed in his mind what had happened. He had woken up with an urgent need to talk to his Guide. Discovering that Blair had left, he had gone to the university, hoping to find him there. He had been so relieved when he spotted Sandburg's car and could detect the faint echo of his friend's heartbeat. He had almost run to the office with the irrational fear that his friend would disappear if he didn't hurry. It was the same panic that he had woken with every morning for over two weeks. The fear that he was going to lose the existence, the life, he had come to love.
"Then why?" The detective slammed his fist angrily on the hood of the truck. Sandburg had been happy to see him. Although Ellison could hardly fathom why with the way he had been treated lately. The kid had taken all the abuse that had been thrown at him, always coming back for more. Jim sagged against the truck, leaning his forehead against the cool metal. Why was it, standing there, all he could think about was the friendship and support Blair had given him. There was never any anger or fear, only a desire to understand. But when they were together, it was all he could do to control his rage. And the voices. No. The voice. It was always there in the background, eating away at his sanity. An angry drone that drove hot needles into his brain anytime Blair was around. Looking back at the building, Ellison longed to go back and apologize to his friend...to listen to what he had to say. But he was afraid. Blair was right, he was fighting...a losing battle. And if he lost it, he couldn't trust himself not to hurt his partner.
Blair glanced nervously at the clock. Simon would be in his office. If explaining it to Jim had seemed difficult to do, explaining it to the police captain was going to be impossible. Sandburg hadn't missed the man's discomfort any time conversation about Sentinels bordered on the mystical. For Simon, James Ellison had been given an extra strong dose of senses. Nothing more, nothing less. There were no spirit guides, no shamans, and any visions or otherwise, that Ellison had had in Peru, were quickly explained away as the result of stress. Burton's maunscripts and Blair's own experiences in Peru had left Banks unmoved. Some people were geniuses and some had heightened senses. Simple as that.
"Simple as that," Sandburg grimaced. "I wish." For the second time that morning he picked up the phone, dialled, and held his breath. This wasn't going to be easy. He was surprised when Rhonda answered the captain's private line.
"Hi Rhonda, this is Blair, I was looking for the captain." He thought he could hear shouting in the background. "Is everything alright? That kind of sounds like Jim's voice."
Rhonda's soft chuckle floated across the line. "Oh yes, Blair, that is your partner you hear. He and the captain are having a...well let's just say that discussion would be a little too mild a description of it."
"Oh boy," Blair sighed, "any idea of what set them off?"
"The captain didn't want Jim heading out to the warehouse district alone. Your partner had different ideas. Just a minute." The quiet double beep of being put on hold sounded in the anthropologist's ear. "Hi Blair, I'm back. Looks like they've come to some agreement. Jim just left with Rafe. I'll put you through to the captain."
The resignation in Banks' voice surprised Blair. He had expected an angry tirade at the very least. "I'm sorry, kid. Something's got to be done. This is the last time I'm going to put up with the attitude and insolence."
The anthropologist smiled in spite of himself, he had always expected to hear those words in reference to him, never Jim. "That's why I'm calling. I think I may know what's going on, sir. You're not going to like it," his laugh was mirthless. "In fact you may decide I'm just as out of it as Jim is."
"Alright Sandburg," came the long suffering sigh. "Let's hear it."
Blair closed his eyes, wondering if this was a good idea. He at least had the protection of the phone between himself and Banks right now. The captain was going to go ballistic. Ignoring the doubts, he asked, "I was wondering if you could meet with me? I don't want to have this conversation on the phone or somewhere that we would run the risk of Jim walking in on us."
"Fine then, Sandburg. Where?" Blair could imagine the tight-lipped expression the captain would be wearing.
"I could be at Yakima Park in about a half hour. Would that be okay with you?"
"That's a little ways out of town, isn't it son? Do you think that's really necessary?"
Sandburg's answer was short and to the point. "Yes, very necessary."
"I'll meet you near the park entrance. Where we had the precinct picnic last month." Banks wasn't happy about the long drive. "This had better be worth all the subterfuge Sandburg."
"Thanks Simon," Blair released some of his tension in a sigh, "I'll see you there."
It had taken Tony Escobar an hour to travel inland from Cusco to Alejandro's home near Tampo Machay. He had been forced to leave his jeep at the edge of the jungle and take the rough footpath. The professor had used the solitary walk to work on his argument. He knew that the hatun laika hated to leave his village and his people for any reason. But to ask him to return to the city? It wasn't so long ago that the old man had sworn that he would never travel back to any large city. His disenchantment with the ugliness of urban life had been complete. He had told Escobar that he couldn't help a society that saw human life as a commodity to be bought and sold. Tony wondered if the old shaman's affection for Blair would be enough to coax him out of the jungle.
The afternoon sun had just reached its apex when Escobar stepped into the clearing that surrounded Alejandro's home. His face broke into a smile when he saw the old man sitting in front of his small hut. The shaman was dressed for travelling. A light cotton shirt and pants replaced the usual coarser clothing the man was fond of wearing. A large straw hat sat beside him on the bench. It was the knapsack next to the hat that made Tony's eyes widen in surprise. It looked as if the old man had packed a bag.
"Greetings Tony," Alejandro's face creased in a welcoming smile. "I have been dreaming. We are to take a journey it seems." The shaman patted the seat beside him. "Come, sit and enjoy the shade. It is a long walk back in the afternoon sun."
Chuckling, Escobar sat beside the elderly man. "I should have known that my coming here wouldn't have surprised you, old friend." He took his handkerchief and wiped perspiration from his face and neck. "So tell me, what have you been dreaming?"
"You have talked with Blair, that is why you are here." Alejandro put a hand on the other man's arm. "I know that he is in trouble. But I don't know why. Did he tell you?"
Tony's eyes were downcast. "He sounded very frightened on the phone. Nothing like the young man who visited us not so long ago. He said he needed to speak with you about a spirit journey." He looked at his friend, whose grip on his arm had tightened at the mention of the spirit journey. "Blair said he wasn't ready to do this alone and he needed your help."
"That would explain the dream. He is right not to try this alone. He is a good student and will be a strong shaman, but he has much to learn yet." Alejandro slowly rose from the bench. "I will get you something to drink, Tony, and then I think we should start for Cusco. There are some things I must do before we talk to my jovencito tonight."
Tony stopped the old man as he went into the small hut. "Is Blair in danger?"
"Yes, very real danger. I hope that he realizes just how much and waits for us."
Simon Banks pulled up alongside the old Volvo and switched the engine off. The sun glared off the windshield of his car, magnifying the summer heat now that the air conditioning had ceased its cooling breeze. He knew that as soon as he left the comfort of the car he would be regretting not suggesting somewhere inside for this talk. With a groan, he shrugged out of his jacket and adjusted his sunglasses. The blast of hot and humid air did nothing to improve his mood as he got out of the sedan. Looking around, he finally saw Blair sitting crossed legged on top of one of the picnic tables.
"Well at least he had the good sense to pick a shady spot," Banks muttered angrily as he shoved a lit cigar into his mouth. Sandburg couldn't possibly object to his smoking outside. "And he damn well better not try." He listened as his shoes flattened the dry grass beneath his feet. The soft sound blended with the shrill call of the cicadas. He had barely walked ten feet when he felt his shirt begin to stick to his back. The old adage of 'it's not the heat but the humidity' couldn't have been more true, only adding to his annoyance at being dragged out of a climate controlled building. But as he neared the picnic table he took note of Ellison's partner. He was used to Sandburg's constant motion. Even when the kid was standing still he managed to give the illusion of movement. The observer was sitting very still, eyes closed, his hands resting limply on his knees. Once again, he found his anger evaporating as it had at the restaurant. If he was worried about Ellison, the kid must be close to frantic. He walked into the cooling shade of the maple prepared to listen patiently to anything the younger man had to say.
"Sandburg?" Simon lighlty tapped the younger man on the shoulder. Blair hadn't opened his eyes at the captain's approach.
Blair's eyes opened slowly, as if coming out of a deep sleep. He blinked once and then focused on the man standing in front of him, blurting out his name. "Simon!" Then, remembering the older man's preference, corrected, "I mean, Captain. I didn't hear you coming up. Guess I was daydreaming."
Banks sat on the bench and leaned back against the table. "You did seem lost in thought. And Simon's just fine, son. This isn't an official meeting," he smiled. "So you think you've figured out what's going on." He took in a deep breath and exhaled. "Good thing one of us has because if this keeps up I'm going to be short one detective, and maybe one friend, very soon." He shifted to sit sideways on the picnic bench. "I don't know how much longer the others are going to put up with this. He's openly hostile to just about everyone now. It's as if he's deliberately driving everyone away." He looked up into Sandburg's worried face. "I expected to be hearing complaints and I have from some of the men who don't know Jim well. The others? The feeling is that they've let him down somehow because they haven't been able to find out what's going on. But I don't know how long that's going to last." Banks took off his sunglasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "So now it's time to bite the bullet. Tell me what you think is going on."
"You've accepted Jim's being a Sentinel, I know that. But what I don't know is what part of that you've accepted." He saw the captain's puzzlement. "Do you think it's just that he's some kind of freak of nature and has heightened senses? Or do you see it as being maybe a little bit more?" Blair's question was spoken so softly that Banks had to strain to hear it. It was almost as if he was afraid to even ask it.
Simon took the cigar from between his teeth and flicked the ashes that had gathered at the end of it. "I don't know, Sandburg. I try very hard to not think about it too much. It gives me a headache." He tapped the cigar against the bench to loosen more ash. "At first I thought it was just a case of nature being a little too generous, but..."
"But?" Blair's face brightened visibly.
"But Jim's told me some of what happened in Peru when he was stranded there." He shook his head. "And to be honest, if I didn't know that partner of yours so well, I think I would have had him turning in his shield and gun a long time ago. But Jim Ellison is one of the few people I know that has a firm grip on reality. He's never said or done anything to make me think otherwise." He sighed. "So part of me is willing to believe that there is a little bit more. But what is it that you want me to believe, Sandburg?"
"That there is another world beyond this one," Sandburg held his breath.
"Another world," Banks shifted to look up at him sharply. "Just what sort of world?"
The anthropologist searched for the analogy that would work best. "A place that exists between Heaven and Hell?"
Simon barked out a short laugh. "I thought that's what this was, Sandburg. You mean like a purgatory?"
"No," he shook his head. "It's more like a spirit world."
"A spirit world." Banks swiveled to sit forward and rest his elbows on his knees. "I think we're getting to the part that usually gives me a headache," he groaned. "I'll be frank with you Blair, this part I have some problems with. I was raised believing that you lived, you died and if you were a good boy you went to a heaven and if you weren't, well it wasn't going to be too happy for you."
"And I was raised believing that you just died," Sandburg said quietly. "No heaven or hell."
Simon twisted round to look at the other man. "Okay, kid. Point taken. So explain this spirit world to me and why you think it explains what's happening to Jim."
Sliding down from the table top, Blair sat next to the captain. "There are a lot of different religions that talk about a spirit world. It's a place that exists between this world and what you call heaven. When I was in Peru, Alejandro explained to me that this is where a shaman could travel, to talk with the spirits, to get help." He watched Banks' face carefully, hoping to find some clue as to how he was accepting what was being said. "And this is the place where Jim's Sentinel abilities originated from. Did he ever talk to you about the panther or the old shaman?"
"Yes, but..." Simon sounded exasperated. "I thought that it was more the circumstances than some vision. Are you telling me that you think it was anything more than that?"
Sandburg pushed offending strands of hair from his face. "It is a different place. It's not a physical world of course, it's more of a mind journey, but it's real Simon."
Banks leaned heavily against the rim of the picnic table and looked out across the park. It was the world as he knew it, earth, wind, water, fire. Four elements. He wasn't sure he was ready to accept anything more. "Alright, just for argument's sake, there's a spirit world. What has this got to do with Jim?"
"Sometimes a spirit will get trapped there, or stay there, rather than completing its journey. Whether that be to heaven or hell, or whatever you want to call it. It's lost. That's what's threatening Jim. It's Dylan Riley, Simon."
"Riley!" the captain almost yelled. "Sandburg, do I have to send you for some drug testing?" He stood up and glared down at the younger man. "So what is this, some sort of demonic possession?"
"Do you remember what Jim said to me in the interrogation room? He didn't want me to go with him. He said that I held him back because I was afraid." Sandburg swallowed hard. "Captain, Riley said almost those exact words to me. He said you hold us back. You're afraid, and you cripple us with that fear. He was talking about the guides he had murdered and why. Jim wasn't there when he said it. And I never told him what Riley said." Blair's voice was pleading. "At least think about it. Riley wanted to kill Jim. He was insane. He thought he could just take his place. He's still trying."
"But that was months ago. Why now?"
Blair threw his hands up in the air. "I don't know. All I do know is that Jim has been having nightmares, feels like he's being followed and then he just about quotes the man who tried to kill him verbatim. And then..." His voice trailed off as he saw Simon's face harden.
"And then? C'mon Sandburg, what else? What's the sense in holding anything back? This already sounds like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone."
"It doesn't matter." Sandburg's shoulders slumped. "You're right, it's too hard to believe." He looked down at his hands and away from Simon's angry stare. "So what are you going to do? Put him on suspension? Make him go for tests or therapy?"
"I'd thought about doing just that. Maybe he's taken one too many knocks to the head? It could be a physical reason behind the mood swings." He softened his tone. "You have to admit it makes more sense." Blair only nodded, keeping his head bowed, resignation weighing him down. Simon put a fatherly hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll figure this all out. Look, I've got to be getting back. Are you going to be okay?" He didn't like the younger man's silence.
"Sure Simon," Blair looked up, but the crooked grin couldn't hide his disappointment. "Thanks for hearing me out."
"I'll let you know before I do anything, so you can be prepared for Jim's reaction."
"Thanks, I'd appreciate that." Sandburg had gone back to staring at his hands. "I'll see you later then."
Banks started walking back to his car feeling more than a little guilty. He knew that Sandburg had hoped to convince him about Dylan Riley. But it was too hard to believe. Blair would see that the physical trauma was a more reasonable explanation to Ellison's personality change. He just needed time to think about it. The kid spent too much time studying the past. It was starting to cloud his views of the present. He stopped halfway to his car and turned to see if the younger man was making any moves to leave. But he still sat there, head down. The police captain sighed and headed towards his car again, when ome movement caught his eye. A large animal was moving through the deep shade of some hedges. Simon blinked twice to clear his vision but the animal had disappeared. His first impression was of a big cat. "Wonderful," he moaned to himself. "Now Sandburg's got me seeing things."
Blair watched as Simon got into his car and drove off. He couldn't really be surprised or disappointed by the man's reaction. It hadn't been fair of him to expect Simon to believe what was going on. The whole thing stretched a person's beliefs to the limits. But a small knot of fear had started to form in his chest, nonetheless, when he realized that Banks would not be swayed. He was alone now in what he had to do. Simon had been the only one he could have even considered asking for help.
A gentle purring caught his attention and he saw the panther lazing by the trunk of the tree. "You're looking awfully pleased with yourself," he smiled tiredly at the cat. "Do you know something that I don't?"
Sighing and pushing himself up off the bench, Sandburg headed for his car. Well, maybe he wasn't completely alone. Alejandro would tell him what he needed to know.
The long drive back into the city had not been a pleasant one for Simon Banks. By the time he reached Major Crimes he was tired, hot and completely perplexed by the conversation he had had with Sandburg. Ellison was having very real problems that could be signalling a serious physical disorder. Why hadn't that occurred to the kid? He mothered and fussed over his partner at the first sign of the sniffles. So that left Banks with the task of dealing with his detective. He had secretly hoped that Blair would have given him a good reason to not go ahead with a suspension and a recommendation for physical and psychological tests.
Detouring through the empty bull pen to Ellison's desk, Banks decided to leave the man a note asking him to report to him before the end of the day. Sitting down, he opened the top drawer in search of a notepad. He glanced briefly at the file folders there, lifting them for a more thorough search of the drawer. Deciding a piece of scrap paper would do just as well, he started to slide the drawer closed. It was then that the bold type of the label on the top folder caught his eye. Riley, Dylan : Deceased and the date the case had been closed. Pulling the folder out, he checked the one beneath it. It held the faxes and newspaper clippings, concerning Brian Stevenson and Michael Davis, that he had quickly put together for Ellison and Sandburg during the campus killings. Opening the file, he quickly searched for any notes that Ellison might have made to explain the folder being in his desk. Finding none, he began to flip the folder closed when his eyes strayed to a newspaper article and the picture that accompanied it. He wondered why he had never noticed it before. The picture had been taken at what looked like a country fair. The two men stood against the brightly coloured backdrop of a carousel, smiling into the camera. Looking at the picture, it struck Banks how much the two physically resembled his friends. Michael Davis stood a good six inches taller than Stevenson, dark haired and the same solid build as Ellison. The face, though smiling and relaxed in the photograph, showed the same intense gaze as if always on the alert. And Stevenson, though more than twice Sandburg's age, still had an impish smile and an open trusting face. Wavy dark hair, peppered with thick streaks of white and cut much shorter than the anthropologist's, fell down across the man's forehead and into his eyes. The camera had caught him laughing as he pushed the hair away.
The muscles in Simon's stomach tightened. Never a firm believer in coincidence, he wondered if he was ready to throw away all of his preconceived notions of what he thought of as the real world. There was no reason for these files to be in Ellison's desk. The detective's caseload consisted of the Nguyen murder and nothing else. "Now hold on Banks," he whispered to himself. "That's a mighty huge leap in logic you're contemplating here. A couple of unexplained files in a drawer and you're ready to accept Sandburg's theory?" But was it just the files? Sandburg was right, some cultures believed as strongly in a spirit world as he did in a heaven and a hell. And what about the photograph of the two men? The physical similarities were too startling to dismiss completely. If he could accept a Sentinel, would it be so hard to accept the rest of it? He looked down at the photograph again and then went to Riley's file. The small picture clipped to the report showed a blue eyed, dark haired man, about the same age as Ellison. He flipped up the picture to read the vital statistics. Same age, same height, same weight as Ellison and Davis. "Damn."
"Are you alright Simon?" Joel Taggart's concerned voice drifted across his shoulder.
Feeling like he had been caught with his fingers in the cookie jar, he quickly closed the folders and returned them to the drawer. Banks looked up at the big man standing behind him and sighed. "I thought I was, Joel. But now, I'm not so sure." Pushing back the chair, he got to his feet and fixed his friend with a sad smile. "I think I may owe a young man an apology. I've let him carry this alone long enough."
The phone was picked up on the first ring, much to Blair's relief. He had expected Tony to answer but it was Alejandro's nickname for him that met his ears. Hearing the name brought to mind the time he had spent with the old man. The jungle had been a refuge and a place to heal. But more than that, he had begun to learn about what Incacha had imparted to him. Alejandro was a hatun laika, a master shaman, and Blair's teacher. The Chopec had taken him under his wing and had begun to reveal the secrets of shamanism.
"Jovencito," the old hatun laika's greeting sounded strong and clear across the distance. "You have been on my mind. It is good to be speaking with you again."
"It's great to talk to you again, Alejandro. I've missed our discussions." And surprising himself, Blair admitted, "I've missed you."
"You miss an old man and the quiet of the jungle? Can this be the same young anthropologist who came to visit? I think not," the shaman chuckled warmly.
"I don't remember it being all that quiet, Alejandro," Blair laughed, then turned serious. "There are times that I think I left too soon. There's so much I have to learn."
"Tony tells me that you are troubled, Blair. He says that you are afraid that you will not be able to help your friend. Tell me what has happened and how I can help you."
"Jim's in real trouble, Alejandro. You're the only one that I can talk to about this who isn't going to think I've lost my mind." I hope. "I need to know. You told me that a shaman lives with one foot in this world and the other in the spirit world. Can a spirit do the same?"
"One who is lost may still keep a hold on this world, jovencito. We talked about that. If there is something here that has been left unresolved, it is possible. That is why a shaman walks the path of the west."
"I know, but, could that spirit actually do harm?"
"Do you mean could it hurt someone in this world? Yes. But that is very rare. Usually the person who has died is just seeking a way to the next world and will make itself known."
"I don't think that's what's happening here," Blair sighed. "I think this spirit wants to take what he thought should have been his."
"And you think that your friend is what it wants?" the old shaman sounded surprised. "It would have to harbour such hate for it to reach out this way. This spirit would have to be a very strong one to be driven so. Perhaps you should tell me everything."
"We're not talking just an ordinary man, Alejandro. He was a Sentinel." The thought of having to confess his part in Riley's death had his heart racing. The Chopec Indian had stressed from the very beginning that a shaman saw life in everything and was sworn to protect that life. He didn't know how Alejandro would react. "Riley's senses had driven him insane. He had no guide or shaman to teach him control. The man had died before being able to help Riley. He never found another."
"Ah, his being a Sentinel would explain some of this. He already has a strong contact through his power animal. He has walked both worlds, as does a shaman. But there is more to this, I am sure."
Blair swallowed hard as he tried to continue. "Riley had found and murdered other Sentinels. He thought that they were weak because they depended on their guides for some control. But when he found Jim and I, he thought that we were different. He wanted me to guide him." The phone shook in his hand as he remembered his talk with the rogue Sentinel. "He wanted Jim dead."
"What happened Blair?" The shaman gently probed.
"I killed him," Sandburg gasped. "He was going to kill Jim. I couldn't fight him so I took Jim's gun and I shot him." The memory of it almost choked him as he tried to rub away the sting of unshed tears. "I didn't have a choice."
"And you carry this pain and guilt with you," sadness tinged the old man's voice. "You must let it go, jovencito. It is not good to hold on to it. But you think that it is this man that threatens your friend. Why?"
"Incacha," Blair said flatly. "I had a dream about being back at the Wheel. He was there waiting for me. Riley was there too." He took a deep breath. "Tell me I'm crazy, please. Tell me that this isn't what's happening. Jim's boss seems to think it might be a medical problem. Maybe I should be forcing Jim to go to a doctor."
"But you haven't done that. Why is that?"
"Because," Sandburg's voice dropped lower, "something is telling me that isn't what's wrong. There are too many little things that make me think otherwise."
"I think you are right, Blair," Alejandro sighed. "I too have been dreaming. Incacha has warned that you are to undertake a battle. This is just not what I expected."
"Tell me what I have to do," he pleaded. "It doesn't matter what it is. I'll do it."
"You mentioned a spirit journey to Tony. Are you prepared to try that?" The hatun laika's voice was sharp. "It will be dangerous, Blair. You will not be travelling to meet with spirits who will help you. It will not be the kind of journey we talked of. Do you understand that?"
"Is there some other way I can help Jim?"
"No," the old man sighed. "But you cannot do this alone. Not the first time."
"I don't really have a choice, Alejandro. It's not like I'm going to be able to find someone who's going to be able to help me with this."
"That is why we are coming." The man's answer was such a surprise that Blair almost missed it.
"You're coming here? No. I can't ask you to do that. I.."
"You did not ask, jovencito. We are coming. Tony has already made the arrangements. He will call you tomorrow morning at your office with the schedule."
"Alejandro, I don't know what to say. I never expected this."
"Say nothing young one. Go home, practice your meditation techniques. You will need to be able to attain a deep trance, Blair. You must practice. We will see you very soon." There was a pause and Blair could hear Escobar's voice in the background. "Tony says to rest and not to worry, he will take good care of me," the old man scoffed. "As if I needed caring. He seems to think you needed to know that."
"He was absolutely right," Sandburg smiled. "Say goodnight to him for me."
"I will do that, Blair. Now rest."
Blair sat looking at the phone receiver in his hand, still amazed at what he had heard. Alejandro was on his way. He began to feel some hope.
The elevator deposited the weary anthropologist on the third floor. This would be the first time in over a week that he had dared go home at a reasonable hour. He knew that Jim would be home. His truck was in the parking spot out front. Which Jim would greet him was another thing altogether. Pausing outside the door to the loft, he could here strains of 'Evil Ways' pulsing from inside. Blair smiled to himself. Santana had to be a good sign. And breathing deeply he thought he could smell peppers? Onions? Garlic? And just a hint of ginger. Jim was making stir fry. He was just about to put his key into the lock when the door swung open.
"Sandburg," Ellison's greeting startled the younger man. "Thought I heard you out there." Leaving his friend standing in the doorway, Jim crossed the apartment to shut off the cd player. When he turned back to Blair he saw that he hadn't moved and the expression on his partner's face was one of wariness. He knew he didn't deserve any better and felt a jab of guilt from this morning's outburst. But Sandburg was home. Things felt normal. Maybe they could talk it out.
Blair tossed his backpack next to the small table by the door and tossed his keys into the basket. Rubbing his palms along his pants, he walked into the kitchen and looked into the pans simmering on the stove. Jim still stood by the balcony doors watching him and it occurred to Blair that Jim looked nervous. That was a new one for Ellison. Sandburg immediately regretted the thought, knowing he wasn't being fair. This whole ordeal had taken its toll on his partner. He could see that. Time to fill the awkward silence that was building between them.
"Dinner smells good. Chicken stir fry." He nodded his approval, putting his nose inches from the wok, taking in the spicy aromas wafting up. He turned and grinned at his partner. "When do we eat?"
Ellison's face broke into a smile as he strode towards the fridge. "Rice'll be done in about 15 minutes and I was just going to throw together a salad." He leaned into the fridge, pulling out the ingredients. "That ought to give you enough time to unwind a bit."
"Sure," Blair went to retrieve his backpack. "I'm just going to wash up and I'll be out to help finish making dinner."
"Chief?" Jim had put the vegetables on the counter and now stood by the table. "I'm sorry about this morning. I'm sorry about all of it. I know I've been scaring you." He ran a hand through his hair. "To be honest, I've been scaring me." Taking a deep breath, he knew that something else needed to be said. "Blair, until we figure this out, if you would feel better staying somewhere else..." He looked away.
"No, I wouldn't feel better staying anywhere else, Jim." He watched the smile return to his friend's face and then proceeded to his room. As he crossed in front of his partner, a strong arm hooked him around the shoulders, pulling him into a hug.
"Thanks Chief," came the quickly whispered words along with a firm pat on the back. "Now go get ready for supper."
Dinner conversation had been filled with safe topics. Life at the university and the Nguyen murder had gotten the two men through the meal and the dishes. Blair had finally been able to relax halfway through the meal, not wondering when the other one would pop up. And he noticed that when he relaxed so did his partner. Jim became more animated in his replaying of the days events, smiling and cracking the odd joke. While clearing up the last of the dishes and making coffee, Jim had stood closer than he normally would have. Tonight, Blair's being there didn't seem to be bothering the Sentinel and he found himself constantly standing in what he referred to as his partner's breathing space. Sandburg had learned early in their friendship that Jim would bristle if he found himself crowded and had always assumed that this was a part of the heightened senses. Blair knew that his friend was drawing comfort from this small return to routine and he wanted it to last as long as possible. No talk of nightmares, Alejandro or Riley. He didn't want to spoil the peace they had found. With a contented sigh Blair poured himself a coffee and went to join Ellison on the balcony.
Jim heard the balcony door open and swoosh softly as it closed. He heard the scrape of the chair as it was pulled closer to the table and the clink of ceramic hitting glass as a cup was placed down on it.
"So what's it like, Jim?" Blair's voice came from behind him, sounding wistful.
"What's what like?" Ellison pulled a chair up to the other side of the table and sat down. Reaching with a foot, he grabbed a third chair and dragged it closer to put his feet up. He saw Sandburg's eyebrows rise and the small grin and knew what the younger man wanted. With a light shove, he moved the chair close enough for Blair to use as well.
"Thanks." Sandburg kicked off his shoes and propped his feet up. "What's it like to be able to cut through the city lights and the haze and be able to see all the stars?"
"Pretty spectacular, kid. I never get tired of it."
"Guess that kind of makes up for some of the not so great stuff you see on the job?"
Ellison turned to look at his Guide. "Yeah, I guess it does," he sighed. "Just idle curiosity, Sandburg or is this going somewhere?"
"Idle curiosity, Jim." Blair flashed him a smile. "Sometimes I just wonder what it must be like for you. My world's gotta seem pretty bleak in comparison."
"Oh, I don't know Sandburg, nothing about you strikes me as being bleak," he laughed softly. "And don't forget, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be seeing much of anything. I'd be sitting in some padded room right..."
"What is it?" Blair saw his friend stiffen. "You okay?" He knew his heartbeat had increased and tried to force himself to relax, but the fear that the other one had managed to take control again stopped him. With some dread he realized that Jim was between him and the door.
"I can't believe I said that to you." Ellison's eyes widened.
"Said what?" Sandburg was confused.
"That I don't need you. That you hold me back because you're afraid. Lord, I don't even know where that came from!" He rubbed his hands over his face. "You know, for the past few hours I've actually been able to forget everything that's been going on. But Chief, what I said..." He searched for an apology.
"It's okay, Jim. Don't worry about it. I know you've been feeling stressed lately." Not wanting to get into a discussion, Blair added, "let's not think about that right now."
"But I think we have to talk about it," Jim insisted. "You started to tell me what you thought was going on, but I lost my temper. If you know what's happening to me, Blair, you have to tell me. I'm not really sure I can handle much more of this."
It would have been impossible to miss the underlying panic in his friend's voice, but the last time he had tried to talk with Jim, Riley had asserted himself and had warned him not to push it. Sandburg wasn't really sure he wanted to try again, especially alone. Alejandro would be there in a day or so. He wanted to wait for him and Tony.
Ellison sat watching the conflicting emotions cross the younger man's face. The desire to help was there but so was fear. His heart sank when he saw it. "You're afraid to talk to me, aren't you?" He wondered if the past two weeks had permanently damaged the trust his partner had in him.
"No," Blair lied. But the word had come out a little too sharply, even to his ears. "I just thought for one night we could relax, that's all." He wanted to hold strong and wait for Alejandro, but the absolute desolation on the Sentinel's face won out. "Are you sure you want to hear this now?" he asked quietly.
Getting up from where he sat, Sandburg moved to the chair that had served as a footstool. "Okay, we're going to try something, Jim. Something to help you maintain some control." He pulled the chair up closely enough so that their knees almost touched. "I want you to focus on my heartbeat and scent."
"Is this really necessary?" Jim asked, a small smile tugging at his lips.
"If you want to talk about this, it is. You've lost it every time we've tried." Blair reminded him. "You trust me, right? So do it."
"I don't have to consciously focus on you, Chief. I always am. Part of that Sentinel and Guide bond you're so fond of telling me about."
Sandburg smiled at that. "That's good to know. Now I want you to concentrate on what that means." He saw Jim frown. "You know, use me as an anchor. You said that you've felt like you've been watching from the outside. What does it feel like just before that happens?"
"Kind of like being disconnected. Like a door's being slammed shut in my face." Ellison's frown deepened. "And you're on the other side."
"So let me be a foot in the door then. Soon as you feel it start to happen I want you to put everything you've got into hanging on to me." He heard his friend sigh in frustration. "C'mon, stay with me on this. It'll all make sense in a couple of minutes."
Taking in a deep breath, the Sentinel relaxed. "Okay Chief, I'm focused. Talk."
"You said back in my office that you were losing it, Jim. That's not true. Someone's trying to take it away from you." Blair watched his friend's face closely. "You said that you've felt like someone's been looking over your shoulder, that you've had a vague feeling of being threatened. It all makes sense Jim. You know it does. You know who it is you've been feeling."
A look of panic flitted across the older man's face and Blair suddenly found his wrist being gripped tightly. "You okay, big guy?" The grip relaxed slightly and his partner nodded. "Tell me who it is, Jim. Just let yourself see who it is."
"It's crazy, Sandburg," Ellison's voice quavered.
"No it's not, Jim," Blair insisted. "Just say it. What's it going to hurt?"
"Riley. It's Dylan Riley." He searched his Guide's face for shock, surprise, any sign that the kid thought he was nuts. But all he saw was a triumphant smile.
"But," the detective pressed, "he's dead. What? Am I supposed to believe that he's taken up residence in my head? Is that it?" He snorted in disgust as he realized that was exactly what his friend thought. Getting up, he crossed to the far side of the balcony. "Damn it Sandburg, you're crazier than I am."
"Yeah, maybe, that's what you keep telling me," the anthropologist agreed. "But not about this, Jim."
"I'm not a big fan of devil movies, Sandburg. I don't believe in people being possessed by demons."
"Me either." Blair had moved to stand next to his partner. "But what about one really pissed off spirit? It's not impossible."
"That is just so much crap." Ellison moved away to put some distance between himself and his Guide's unrelenting stare.
"Yeah, well that's what some people might say about the Sentinel of the Great City," Blair argued. "And what about the panther? What about what Incacha said? Jim, he called me a shaman. You heard that and never questioned it. Sorry Jim, but Sentinels are a part of the whole spirit thing. You just can't pick and choose what you want to believe."
The Sentinel's fingers moved up to massage his temples. He knew that what he was hearing made sense and explained what had been happening to him. A small part of him took some comfort in knowing he wasn't losing his mind. "So if you're right, Sandburg, what are we supposed to do?"
"We fight him Jim."
Ellison's eyes narrowed and he quickly closed the distance between himself and his Guide. "No, you can't." His tone was fierce as he grabbed Sandburg's arms. He heard the younger man's breathing quicken and realized he was scaring him but he was sure he knew what his friend was planning. "I can't let you."
"Uh Jim, you're cutting off the circulation in my arms. You want to ease up a little?" Blair grinned nervously and took a step back when his arms were released. "What can't I do?"
"You don't mean we can fight him, you mean you. Whatever it is you're planning, it's dangerous." The detective growled in frustration. These damn feelings he had been having were starting to get on his nerves. "I know you've got something planned and I don't want you to try it. You don't know enough about any of this."
"I know enough," Blair said quietly. "And I meant that we would fight him, Jim. Not just me. You just have to keep pushing him away every time you start to feel that door closing."
"I do try, damn it!" Ellison swore angrily. "But sometimes I can't. Sometimes he's just too strong. That damn voice always in my head. Pushing me!" He ran a hand through his hair. "And he pushes hardest when you're around. I'm afraid I'm going to wake up one morning to find out that I've murdered you in your sleep."
"That's not going to happen," Blair soothed. "We'll beat him."
"Chief, I'm not sure I'm willing to take any chances. Maybe you should move out for a while. I'm really afraid I'm going to hurt you."
"No," Sandburg shook his head adamantly. "We have to stay together on this, Jim. I know I can do this."
"Do what?" Ellison pleaded. "What is it you think you can do? How are you going to fight something that's going on in my head?" Jim threw his hands up in exasperation. "Do you know how insane all of this sounds? If what you say is true, and Riley is somehow trying to take over, how can you stop it? Shouldn't it be me who is doing the fighting?"
"You are fighting him, Jim. If you weren't, who you are would be gone," Blair insisted. "You're just going to have to trust me and believe that I know what I'm doing."
"Chief," Ellison's hands came down on the younger man's shoulders. "There is no one I trust more than you and no one else I believe in." He hugged his friend to him. "I'm just scared, for you...and for me."
An enraged filled scream broke the silence of the fortress. Incacha looked around him, searching for its source. Dylan Riley stood at the edge of the citadel next to one of the spires.
"He's not going to stop me!" Riley took a step forward onto the tiled floor. "None of you are!"
"You are not welcome here." Incacha held up a hand to stop the other man's advance. "Accept your fate. You can not win."
"You're wrong," Riley sneered. "I can win and I will." With that he retreated back into the jungle.
"He may be right, you know." Incacha turned to find Alejandro standing next to him. "Blair is young. He has just started to learn."
"We will be here to help him, Alejandro. He will not be alone."
The old Chopec grimaced. "He will be alone. You know that. I will be there to protect him from physical harm, but I cannot be here." He put a hand on the other man's shoulder. "And you cannot help him. Not in this fight. He must make things right."
"Enqueri will not survive if he loses his friend. The other will get what he wants. Does the young one know the danger he faces?"
Alejandro shook his head. "He knows that he has to face Riley. We have talked of a spirit journey. But I have not told him that what happens here will seem very real. That injuries suffered here will hurt him." The hatun laika sighed. "He must be told or he may be reckless."
Simon managed to look both apologetic and uncomfortable when Jim opened the door. He was having second thoughts about the wisdom of confronting his detective about the discoveries in his desk. Ellison looked a little pale and weary but the smile and greeting seemed genuine enough as he entered the loft.
"Evening Jim, sorry to come over so late, and without calling, but I needed to discuss something with you." He looked around the empty loft, disappointed to not see Sandburg there. He wanted the moral support. "So, the kid not around?"
"Yeah, he's out on the balcony. We were having a coffee. Can I interest you in a cup?" He took a mug down from the shelf. "Why don't you head on out. I'll bring it."
"Actually Jim, this isn't really a social call. I want to ask you a couple of questions before I make my decision."
Ellison turned slowly to look at his captain. He had been expecting this discussion days ago, knowing that he had pushed the man's patience to the limits. He had pushed everyone in Major Crimes to the limit. "Yes sir. I was wondering when we would get around to this talk."
Banks heard the door open behind him and watched as Sandburg took up his position next to his partner. "What decision would that be, Captain?" the younger man asked.
"It's not what you think, Sandburg. Do you mind if I sit?" He looked at Ellison. "Maybe I will have that coffee."
The detective poured the coffee and joined the other two at the table. "You had some questions sir?" He glanced at Sandburg's stern face and wondered what it was he had missed. There was obviously something going on.
As if the coffee could offer some fortification, the police captain took a long sip. "I was going to leave you a note this afternoon asking you to meet with me. I wanted to talk about your behaviour of late."
"Yes sir, but I..."
"Just let me finish Jim, explanations can come later," Banks interrupted. "While I was looking for some paper to write the message on, I came across some things in your desk. I'm curious as to why they were there."
Ellison's smile was easy. "You're going to have to clue me in, sir. I'm not sure I know what it is you mean."
Simon cleared his throat. "I'd like to know why files on Dylan Riley and Davis and Stevenson were in your desk. As far as I know those cases are closed."
"You found those files in my desk?" Jim's eyes narrowed. "I don't know why they'd be there. The only thing I'm working on right now is the Nguyen murder. I haven't really gone into my desk except to grab a pen. Most of what I'm working on is sitting on top of my desk." He turned to look at Sandburg. "Chief? Did you take those files out?"
Before the anthropologist had a chance to answer, Banks was speaking again. "Your signature was on record, Jim. Not Sandburg's. I'd like to know why you needed them."
"To be honest Simon, I don't remember signing them out. But that doesn't surprise me. Nothing does lately," Ellison sighed.
"I see." Banks took another drink from the cup. "I had really hoped that you would have a better explanation for this, Jim. I've thought about nothing else since I left work. Trying to decide what action to take."
Blair closed his eyes and waited for the bombshell to hit. Simon was going to put Jim on suspension and recommend physical and psychiatric assessments. He had no idea how his friend would take it.
"So all I really want to know now is how I can help." He smiled at the observer's shock. "I'm assuming that the two of you have talked some about what's been going on. You asked me for my help this afternoon, Sandburg, but I never gave you a chance to tell me what it was you wanted me to do. I'm asking now."
Ellison looked from one man to the other, waiting for an explanation. "Either one of you want to tell me what it is you're talking about?"
"I talked to Simon this afternoon, Jim. I told him what I thought was going on." Blair winced, knowing his friend wouldn't be pleased. "I had to talk to someone and the captain was getting really concerned about your behaviour."
"It's okay, kid," Jim said, giving his partner a sad smile. "This has been a lot for you to carry around." He turned to Simon. "I'm still not sure how much of this I believe, sir. But as far fetched as it sounds, I like it better than thinking I've lost my mind."
"Well I'm not sure I believe any of it," Banks grumbled. "I just know that you two need help and I'm here to offer it. Not that I'm complaining Ellison, but you seem strangely calm about this." He leaned back in his chair. "In a lot more control than you have been in the past week or two."
"I'm not calm, trust me. But I do feel in a little more control tonight. I don't know why. I just do." He slapped Sandburg on the back. "Maybe we have Riley on the run, Chief."
"I wish it were that simple, Jim. But it's a start," Blair smiled. "Captain, I was wondering if we could borrow your cabin this weekend?"
"Provided that I can join you, I don't think it's a problem."
The Sentinel turned to look at his friend. "What do you have in mind, Chief?"
Blair shrugged his shoulders. "It just seems like the right thing to do. Just to get out of the city for a while."
Sandburg crawled into bed at midnight after excusing himself and leaving Jim and Banks still talking out on the balcony. Simon had been right, Jim seemed in control. There had only been one flash of anxiety when he had been telling his partner his theory about Riley. He desperately wanted to believe that somehow Riley had given up and that things would stay relatively normal. But he knew better and Riley's being quiet and Jim's being in control were making him nervous. He lay awake thinking and waiting for the proverbial other shoe to fall.
He finally drifted off to the comforting sound of the voices just outside on the balcony. Alejandro, Tony and now Simon would be there to help him. He only hoped it would be enough.
Ellison tossed the last of the gear and supplies into the back of the pickup. Saturday morning had dawned bright and cool, a perfect day for the long drive to Simon's cabin. "Sandburg! Let's go!" As always, his young friend was the last one out. He heard the slam of the loft door and the race of feet down the three flights of stairs.
"Geez, Jim. I just woke up," Sandburg yawned. "Can we stop somewhere for coffee?"
"Sure, soon as we get out of the city and onto the highway." Ellison stared more closely at his partner. "Are you feeling alright, Sandburg? Did you get any sleep last night?" He had heard him tossing and turning well into the early hours of the morning.
"Yep, I'm fine," Blair lied. "Raring to go." It was obvious that the detective didn't remember the nightmares he had had. Sandburg had woken, shaking, each time his friend yelled out in his sleep. Last night had been the worst. As he had gone up the steps to check on Jim, he heard his name being shouted out with such hatred that it sent him back down the stairs. And there Sandburg had stayed, sitting at the bottom of the steps until his friend quieted. The frequency of the nightmares had increased the night Blair had told Jim his fears about Riley. Somehow the Sentinel managed to stay in control during the day, but Blair wondered how long it would last. All he could hope for was that it would be until Simon arrived with Alejandro and Tony. They were due at the cabin a few hours after he and Jim got there. The long flight and jet lag had left Alejandro in no shape to travel immediately. So far, Alejandro and Tony's arrival was still a secret. One Sandburg preferred to keep until the last possible minute.
"You're pretty quiet, Chief?" Ellison carefully merged into the highway traffic. "Looks like this weekend away should do us both some good." Accelerating to keep up with traffic, he asked, "so what time is Simon supposed to meet us?"
"He said he'd try to be there by noon, but that a lot would depend on traffic." Blair popped a tape into the tape deck. "He also said that you were to wait for him to start fishing. He doesn't want to spend the entire weekend listening to you gloat about your fishing prowess."
"Is that all this weekend is about?"
Blair could feel steely blue eyes boring into him. "Yeah, sure it is. What else?"
"You still haven't told me what you were planning about Riley. In fact you haven't mentioned anything about it for the last couple of days." Jim glanced sharply over his shoulder as he changed lanes. "You know I've been feeling pretty good the last few days. Maybe we were wrong. Maybe it was just stress. Maybe..."
"No Jim. We're not wrong. You've been having nightmares. Haven't they woken you up?" Blair shivered as he remembered his friend's shouts of anger. "He's still trying Jim." He saw the detective's knuckles whiten as they gripped the wheel harder. "You can't let your guard down yet."
Alejandro had sat stiff and tense during the first part of the drive to the cabin. Once he saw the Cascade mountains looming up ahead he began to relax. He had spent many years living in big cities in Peru and in North America as a student and then a teacher. He found that as he got older that there was no place in those cities for an aging shaman. His gifts as a healer and teacher were overshadowed by the high tech medicines and pop psychologies that surrounded him. And so he had returned to his roots and small village. There he had found peace and a sense of purpose. He had grown from shaman to hatun laika as his skills and knowledge increased. His connection to the spirit world was strong, sometimes making him wonder if he were not to soon join the souls he had met there. A smile came to his lips as he contemplated that final journey. He would find many of the answers he sought. Shaking himself from his reverie, he turned to the man who drove the car.
"The mountains are beautiful, Simon. I can see why this would be your retreat." He watched as the landscape passed by his window. "Blair has told me that you come here often. He calls it recharging your batteries." The old man smiled at Banks' surprised grunt.
"So Sandburg's talked about me, has he?" Simon's grin spread across his face. "And you still got into the car with me?"
"He told us about all of his friends when he stayed at Tampo Machay." Escobar's voice carried across from the backseat. "He is a very good storyteller."
"Oh, that he is, Tony," Simon laughed. "One of the best."
"All shamans are, it is part of their function." The Chopec saw the smile leave the police captain's face. "This bothers you?"
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me, Alejandro. All of this does. I promised Jim and Blair that I would help them, but they know that I don't understand or really want to try to understand all that's going on," the man sighed. "It's just a little too much for me to accept right now."
"You are a good friend," Alejandro said as he gave Simon's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
Simon's teeth clamped down harder on the ever present cigar. "Can you tell me some of what's going to happen? Blair told me a few things yesterday."
"Blair was right, his friend Jim is being attacked from the world next to this one. Dylan Riley wants to take his place here. I have seen it."
"So you're saying it's like being possessed then?" Simon spared the man a quick glance. "Is this going to be like an exorcism?"
"Usurp would be a better word than possession, Simon. This will not be a case of a spirit possessing a body to make it do what it wants. Riley wants his life back and will take it through your friend." Alejandro explained. "And exorcism may be what it will seem like, but there is no demon to be cast out. The fight will not take place here."
"You lost me, Alejandro," Banks sighed. "Where will the fight be then?"
"A shaman walks two worlds, Simon. It will be in another place."
"And that's why Blair called you. You're going to try to stop Riley?" The captain considered the frail figure seated next to him and wondered where the old man would find the strength for any sort of fight.
"No," came the reply. "This is not my journey. It is Blair's."
The answer caught Simon completely off guard and he fought to concentrate on the road ahead of him. The kid?
"You seem surprised, Simon."
"Surprised is putting it mildly. We're talking about Sandburg, teaching fellow, anthropology student. He's..." Banks was at a loss for words.
"He's companion to a Sentinel and an initiate into the ways of shamanism," the hatun laika finished for him. "He is all of these things."
"For discussion sake, I'm going to agree with you. Blair has certainly proven himself as being someone never to be underestimated. So it's going to be his battle. I still don't understand how this is going to happen."
"It will be a spirit journey. The shaman goes into a trance or state of meditation that allows him to cross the threshold into the world beyond this one. It has often been referred to as an ecstatic state. There are three trance states with the most effective being the deep trance. This is what Blair will have to achieve to do what he must do."
"What are you leaving out, Alejandro?" Simon began to feel uneasy. "Is there any danger involved? The kid has a knack for attracting it."
"There is always the possibility that a shaman may not return." The old man's hand tightened his grip on the armrest between them. The only outward sign of his fear. "In the deepest trance, everything that occurs will seem real. His body will react to what his mind is telling it. If he were to be injured in any way it would be a real injury for him."
"What you're telling me is that Sandburg is going to go up against a sentinel, alone." Simon shook his head. "And if he loses he might not be coming back. Does he realize this?" Alejandro nodded. "Of course he does and knowing Blair it wouldn't make any difference. Obviously he hasn't told Jim any of this or we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"He wants to wait until the last minute," Tony interjected. "He knows that Jim will try to stop him."
"It'll kill Jim if he loses Blair because the kid was trying to help him," Simon argued. He wished he had never started the discussion.
Alejandro's sigh seemed to come from the depths of his soul. "You do not understand, Simon. If he loses, there will be no James Ellison only Dylan Riley."
"What's up, Jim?" Blair asked as he sat on the riverbank next to his friend. The Sentinel's posture had been anything but relaxed since they had arrived. He had tried everything to get his partner to unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet but Ellison's face never showed a hint of relaxing. Sandburg took stock of the effect Dylan Riley had had on him. The summer tan barely hid the detective's pallor and the quick smile had all but vanished in the last few weeks. The man sitting next to him was on the verge of snapping. The effort it took to maintain control was slowly, but surely, becoming too much for him. Hopefully he wouldn't have to suffer through it much longer. "Thought we were going to use this weekend to rest and unwind. You grind your teeth together any harder and you'll be making an appointment with the dentist when we get back." He flopped back on the cool grass and looked up at the blue sky through a canopy of leaves. "I love coming here. I'm glad we decided to make the trip." Still no response. "Good thing I can talk enough for the both of us, Ellison," he sighed, getting up to leave.
"When are you going to tell me what you plan to do, Chief?" Jim had finally turned to look at him. "I can't shake this feeling that something's going to happen to you and I won't be there to stop it."
Blair sat back down but was saved having to answer his partner's question. The crunch of stone under tires announced Simon's arrival. "Hey there's Simon. He made great time." Slapping the older man on the back, he went to greet the captain.
Three heartbeats met the Sentinel's hearing. Jim got to his feet to follow Blair, wondering who Simon could have brought with him. Picking up his pace, he and Sandburg crested the small rise just as the sedan pulled up to the cabin. As the front passenger door opened, revealing Alejandro, Ellison felt the first stab of a headache. He judged from the strength of it that a migraine was on its way.
"He's weakening Alejandro." Blair skipped a flat stone across the narrow stream. "He's been able to fight Riley during the day now that he knows who he's fighting, but it takes so much out of him. The nightmares are getting worse."
"This is not something to be rushed into Blair. There are many dangers you may not be aware of," the old shaman explained.
"I know what you're going to say. I've done some reading. I've done a lot of reading in the last couple of weeks," the anthropologist sighed. "But I don't understand the panther. It's been with me, not Jim. I thought it was Jim's spirit guide, not mine."
"Jovencito, you are his spirit guide," Alejandro smiled. "I thought you knew this. You and your Sentinel share the panther. It is your spirit guide and the Sentinel's spirit animal. It is right that it is for both of you. Your paths are the same." He rested a hand on the young man's arm. "You do that very well, Blair. Changing the subject when you do not want to talk about it."
"Not well enough," Sandburg grinned. "I was serious, though. I have done some reading. I know that it could be dangerous."
"You have experienced a deep meditation, you know that it feels very real. Everything that will happen to you will be real. In your mind you will know no difference. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Blair nodded, feeling slightly uncomfortable under Alejandro's penetrating stare.
"If Riley hurts you, you will feel the pain. If the injuries are severe enough, you may not come back. You must be careful."
"I know. I will be careful Alejandro," Sandburg promised. "But what do I do? How do I stop him?"
The old shaman shook his head. "I do not know. You will know what to do when the time comes. I wish I could tell you more." The Chopec breathed in deeply and let it out in a sigh. "This is a hard journey for one so young. Come, we will meditate, strengthen our souls. You need to prepare yourself for tomorrow."
Sandburg nodded and started his mental ritual to relax but got no further than the first deep breath. He could hear Tony's panicked shouts before the man reached them. Getting up quickly and sprinting up the small embankment, he saw Tony running towards them.
"Blair, it's Jim." Escobar gasped as he met Sandburg. "He's collapsed. Simon is with him."
Not waiting for either Tony or Alejandro, Blair ran for the cabin. It seemed to take him forever to cover the few yards to his friend. Throwing the door open, he skidded to a halt. Jim lay on the floor of the main room, with Simon kneeling beside him.
"Simon, what happened?" Blair fell to his knees next to his partner, relieved to see the rise and fall of his chest. "How long has he been out?"
"Tony, Jim and I were just sitting and talking. He seemed pretty tense the whole time but with everything that's been going on, I didn't expect anything different. He stood up suddenly and said to get you and then he collapsed. It's been a few minutes." Simon looked back at his fallen friend. "He was still complaining about the headache. Do you think that had anything to do with it?"
"I don't know, maybe." Sandburg looked behind him, hearing the other two men coming up the steps to the porch. "Maybe Alejandro can do something." Swallowing down his fear, he laid a hand against his friend's forehead. "Oh man, he's so pale, Simon. We should get him to a hospital. He doesn't look like he's coming out of it." A bony hand gripped Blair's shoulder and he looked up at Alejandro.
"They won't be able to help him there, jovencito. Let's move him to one of the beds so he is more comfortable. We will do what we can for him." The old man moved to put his hands under the detective's shoulders.
"It's okay Alejandro, Simon and I can do it." Blair slid his arm under the Sentinel's shoulders and helped Banks get him to his feet.
"Lean him against me, Sandburg," the captain ordered. "I can carry him." And he slung the unconscious man over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Blair, Alejandro and Tony followed him into the bedroom.
Once Ellison was resting comfortably and both Alejandro and Blair had satisfied themselves that he was breathing easily and that his pulse seemed fairly normal, if a little slow, the old shaman took Sandburg's arm.
"Come with me, jovencito."
"No!" Blair looked from Jim to the Chopec. "I'm not going to leave him now. What if he needs me? I should have been here earlier." He saw that the shaman wasn't moved. "Please, don't ask me to leave him now. At least let me wait until he comes to."
"He will not wake up, jovencito. And you are right, he does need you." He laid a hand on the younger man's back, steering him towards the door. "We will go outside. You cannot focus your energies if you are here."
Sighing, Blair knew that the hatun laika was right. "Okay, let's go. But Simon..."
"I'll look after him, Sandburg." Banks was never so aware of how young the anthropologist was than at that moment. The kid looked lost, torn between staying with Ellison and doing what Alejandro was telling him to do. Every paternal instinct he had told him to do something. Getting up from where he had been kneeling next to the bed, he went over to Sandburg. Imitating a gesture he had seen Ellison do many times, one that seemed to have a calming effect on his partner, Banks put his hand on the nape of Blair's neck and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
"Don't worry about Jim. You know I'll look after him. You just concentrate on whatever it is you have to do." The old shaman's warning about what could happen to his young friend rang in his ears. If Alejandro was right, he could lose both his friends that afternoon. "I know you can do it." He pulled a surprised Sandburg into a tight embrace. "You watch your back."
"Clear your mind, Blair." Alejandro's voice was low and soothing. He watched as the young man closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The old Chopec could almost see the tension drain from his face as muscles relaxed. They were once again sitting crosslegged by the narrow stream. "Feel nothing but the warmth of the sun, listen to the flow of the water. Let it take you."
The young shaman imagined himself a part of the stream and let its current carry him away from Alejandro's voice. Away from the cabin and closer to...
...the Wheel. Blair was standing at the northern tip of the wheel, the place one met their ancestors. He shuddered to think what that might mean. He searched the crumbled ruins for signs of others, but the light mist that usually shrouded the Wheel seemed thicker and cast swirling shadows. Incacha was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Riley. Not sure what to do, he walked the long path to the centre of the wheel. Thin tendrils of fog seemed to take on a life of their own as he walked through them. They were icy fingers running across his arms and face. The awe he usually felt when he came to this spot was now a cold, hard, gut-wrenching fear. Too much rested on his doing the right thing. But no one had told him what that was. His hatun laika had promised him that he would know instinctively when the time came. Alejandro had never been wrong before in what he had told him. Sandburg just had to hope that the old man's faith in him was justified.
The soft pad of paws came up from behind and Blair watched as the panther loped by him, heading towards the western section of the wheel. He followed the big cat's path with his eyes until it seemed to vanish into the mist. His heart skipped a beat. He could see Riley just outside the fortress borders, in the jungle. Jim was with him and the two were locked in a silent struggle.
Running, Blair covered the distance between them. Neither man had noticed his approach. He watched in horror as he saw Jim stumble and fall. Riley now stood over him, his hand raised above his head. With sickening clarity, Blair saw that he held a knife. The same knife? It was happening all over again, only this time he had no weapon to stop the man. Pouring every once of energy he had into his legs, Sandburg launched himself across his friend's body and tackled the rogue Sentinel. The force of the impact sent Riley reeling backwards, carrying Blair with him. The momentum came to a sudden, bone jarring halt as Riley crashed into the trunk of a tree. The bigger man lay there, stunned, as Blair rolled off him. He took the knife from nerveless fingers and tucked it into his belt.
"Young one." Incacha stepped from the tangles of tropical undergrowth and helped Sandburg to his feet. "He should not be here," the Chopec nodded at Ellison.
Jim still lay on the ground, exhausted and disoriented. Rolling over onto his side, he saw both Blair and Incacha walking towards him.
"Enqueri," Ellison's old friend smiled as he knelt down beside him, "I am very glad to see you."
Groaning, the Sentinel raised himself into a sitting position accepting, an arm up from Incacha. "Incacha? What's going on?" Looking beyond the shaman, he saw his partner. "Was I dreaming Chief, or should I be talking about getting you signed up with the Redskins?"
Blair laughed as he helped his friend stand. "No you weren't dreaming. But c'mon Jim, we've got to get out of here. I don't know how long Riley is going to be out of it." He cast a nervous glance behind him. "Incacha, can you help us?"
Jim turned his gaze on the older man. "You're really here, aren't you?" His expression going from puzzlement to delight as he felt the Chopec's fingers wrap around his arm.
"No, Enqueri, it is you who are here," he laughed. "But Blair is right, we must hurry. Can you walk?"
"With your help, I think I can. I just feel a little dizzy." Jim draped an arm around Incacha's shoulders. Looking down at the man supporting him on the other side, he smiled. "Guess you're going to have to tell me what's going on later, Chief. Nothing seems to be making any sense." He took in the jungle around him. "We're back in Peru?"
"It'll all make sense later, big guy. Just lean on me and let's get out of here," Blair urged.
Ellison's first few steps were a little wobbly, but he became more surefooted and picked up his pace with each new step. "I think I can manage without leaning on you two." He checked back in the direction they had just come from. "Maybe we can take a small break? I don't see or hear Riley." He sat heavily at the base of a palm tree, feeling the throb of fatigue pulsing through every part of his body.
Sandburg looked questioningly at Incacha. "I don't know if that's such a good idea. What do you think?"
"If you can keep going Enqueri, I think we should make our way to the waterfall as quickly as possible."
"The waterfall?" Ellison raised an eyebrow at his partner.
"Don't ask me," Blair shrugged. "Incacha is the native around here." He grinned suddenly and turned to the shaman. "If you'll excuse a really bad pun."
"Perhaps this time, jovencito," the Chopec elder smiled fondly. "You will see the significance of the waterfall when we get there. Patience Sentinel. Have you forgotten everything I taught you?"
With a weary sigh Jim forced himself to stand. "Not everything, Incacha, let's..."
A mournful wail echoed through the jungle, silencing the chatter of the birds overhead. Dylan Riley's voice carried across the quiet, sounding almost childlike in it's desperation.
"Sandburg, where are you? Don't leave me here!"
Blair's blood chilled in his veins. He had foolishly thought it was over. But how could it be? Riley would always be a threat to his friend if things weren't settled. Releasing Jim's arm, he knew what he had to do. He had to go back.
As if reading his mind, Jim grabbed his arm. His voice was a low growl. "Don't even think about it Sandburg. You can't go back there."
"You don't understand, Jim," he tried to explain. "If I don't, then this'll never be over. You and Incacha keep going. I'll catch up to you. I promise."
"Then I'm going with you. You can't face him alone," the Sentinel argued, his body language underscoring his decision.
"Incacha, talk to him. Tell him he has to go."
"Your friend is right, Enqueri, you should not be here," Incacha said quietly. "You were not meant to be here. You will come with me." He pulled the Sentinel away. Away from Blair.
A quiet moan and a sharp intake of breath brought Simon to his detective's side. He had been standing watch for almost an hour. Sitting in the chair next to the bed, he laid a hand on his friend's arm waiting for him to come fully awake. He didn't have long to wait as Ellison's eyes finally opened.
"Hi Jim, how do you feel?"
"Good...headache's gone," he sighed. "I passed out didn't I?"
"You certainly did," Banks grinned. "Gave me a good scare."
"Sorry about that, Simon. I had such a strange dream." He closed his eyes as he remembered it. "I was back in Peru, I think, fighting Dylan Riley. Then out of nowhere, Blair shows up. Good thing too, because it wasn't a fight I was winning." He opened his eyes and looked around the room. "Where's Sandburg?" He sat up. "Why isn't he here?"
Banks tried to push the man back down. "Just lie still, Jim. He's outside with Alejandro." Simon hoped that a half truth would be enough to calm his friend.
The detective pushed at his captain's hands and started to get up. "It wasn't a dream, was it? That was what he was planning to do all along." He swung his legs off the bed. "That's why Alejandro is here." He stood up too fast and was forced to fight a wave of dizziness. "You knew what he planned to do, Simon. And you let him?"
"How could I stop him?" Banks asked, praying that his friend would understand. "I didn't really know what was going on until the drive up here. Alejandro told me then," he said. "But everything must have gone okay. You're here."
"He didn't come back with me, Simon." Ellison paled as he thought about his Guide facing the other sentinel alone. "He went back to talk to Riley." He extended his hearing and found his partner. His breathing sounding strained, painful. His heart was beating furiously in his chest.
"He's down by the river with Alejandro and Tony," Banks finally admitted. "They've been there for almost an hour."
Tony and Alejandro sat on either side of Blair, who was now curled up on his side. His face was drenched with sweat and his eyes were squeezed shut against the pain. Neither one seemed to be doing anything to help the younger man, sending the Sentinel into a near rage.
Dropping down next to his friend, Jim reached out to him to establish some contact. Blair had to know he was there. But Alejandro's frantic shout stopped him.
"No! Do not touch him," he commanded. It was the first time Ellison had heard the old man raise his voice. It carried more strength than he thought it ever could. "You do not know what he is doing. To break his concentration now could be fatal." His voice softened as he squeezed the Sentinel's shoulder sympathetically. "Let him finish what he set out to do."
"What do you want from me?" Blair knelt, gasping, at Riley's feet. The Sentinel had lured him to the centre of the wheel, begging him for his help. He had played on the anthropologist's guilt and used it against him. The first blow had caught Sandburg completely off guard. His breath had been painfully expelled when Riley's fist connected with his midriff.
"Please Dylan," the words came out in a wheeze. "I can help you."
Riley went to his knees and swiftly took the knife from Blair's belt. "I don't think so, Sandburg. I don't want your help. I want my life back."
"You can't just take someone else's life!" Blair pleaded with him, trying to reason with the other man, knowing how futile it was. He wanted to see past the rage to who this Sentinel might have once been. "Nothing will change."
"You're wrong. Everything will change," Riley nearly shouted out the protest. "I'll be alive again. I won't be here, alone."
Blair looked up into the enraged face of the man he had killed and knew that he had failed. Riley would kill him, leaving Jim unprotected. He couldn't let that happen. He had to fight back for as long as he could and his hand shot up, stopping the knife.
"You really think you can beat me, Blair?" Riley's smile twisted into a sneer as he applied more pressure to the knife's downward motion. "I told you before, you're weak. You should have stayed out of this. I would have let you be my Guide. I made you that offer once before. You turned me down."
"Why are you alone, Dylan? What happened to him?" Sandburg felt some of the pressure ease off the knife, the questions had caught the Sentinel off guard.
"He died. I told you that," the words were angrily spat out. "He gave me some crazy story about how he was going to help me. He was the only one who didn't think I was crazy." Riley's voice softened as he continued. "Matthew made me trust him and then he died." The hand with the knife eased up a little more and was finally pulled away.
"But you're still alone. You've shut him out. Why?"
"What are you talking about?" The tip of the knife came up and dug into Blair's chin. "I haven't shut him out. He died! Left me!"
Sandburg grabbed Riley's wrist trying to stop the blade from digging in any deeper. "I mean here, why isn't he here?" Blair pressed on harder. "Do you still hate him that much?" Maybe Riley's guide, Matthew, was the key. Everything the man said pointed to his anger at being abandoned. If he could convince the Sentinel to reach out...
"I never hated him," Dylan's answer was almost a roar. The hand holding the knife suddenly formed into a fist that slammed Sandburg to the ground and onto his back. "You think I can just make a wish and he's going to magically appear?" His laugh was bitter. "Do you know how many times I made that wish after he died?"
"He couldn't reach you before, but he can now." Blair hoped that was true. There was so much he didn't know. But what he was saying felt right. "Taking over Jim's life isn't going to get you what you want. You told me that you wanted the brotherhood and trust that Jim had. You're not going to get it. You'll be just as alone." He prayed he was getting through. "He'll hear you. You've got to try."
"Shut up," Riley screamed at him. "I don't want to hear it anymore!"
Blair watched as Riley's eyes became cold and flat. He had lost. He felt the Sentinel's other hand close around his throat, choking him. He could face his own death if it didn't come with the knowledge that his best friend would pay for his failure. He could see the twisted justice of his life being ended by the man he had killed, but not Jim's. Riley didn't deserve Jim's life.
"Nothing else to say, Sandburg?" The hand around Blair's throat squeezed harder. "Then let's make this goodbye."
Blair felt his grip falter on the arm that held the knife as his oxygen starved brain began to shut down. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. But with morbid fascination he watched the knife's descent until he could watch no longer. He closed his eyes and waited for the end.
"Dylan, stop!" A voice Blair didn't recognize shouted from overhead. He opened his eyes to see a stranger kneeling opposite Riley, his hand holding the Sentinel's steady. Blair saw Dylan's eyes grow wide and watched as Riley allowed the older man to gently remove the knife from his grasp. He quickly moved from between the two men.
The fury that had consumed Dylan Riley seemed to disappear at the other man's touch. "Matthew?" The name was spoken with such tenderness that Blair wasn't certain that it had come from the same man who had tried to choke the life out of him. The transformation was startling. "Matthew!" Riley shouted the name and threw himself into the other man's open arms.
Matthew gathered the Sentinel into a protective hold, his face a mask of sadness. "I'm sorry, Dylan. I'm so sorry," he gently soothed. "But we're together now. It should have never been any other way." The older man's eyes rose to meet Blair's and he smiled. "I heard him call me. Finally. Thank you."
Blair could only nod, he was speechless and exhausted. He could easily sleep for a year. He felt a gentle touch at his shoulder and Incacha reached down a hand to help him to his feet. "You did well jovencito. Sentinel and Guide are again one." The Chopec rested a hand on the younger man's shoulder and felt him tremble with fatigue. "It is time for you to go home, Blair. Enqueri is waiting."
Rolling over onto his back, Blair slowly opened his eyes. The trees and blue sky came into focus and he knew he was home. Sighing, he laid an arm across his eyes and smiled. The weight that had almost crushed him was finally gone. Riley and his guide were once again reunited. But the whole ordeal had drained him. Alejandro had once told him that a shaman's strength came from nature around him and he tried to draw on that energy. He could almost feel the earth pulsing below him. The soft whisper of wind in the leaves overhead and the warmth of the sun brought him closer to sleep and to the healing of mind and body. He could lay there forever. And maybe it was the bond between Sentinel and Guide or the bond of friendship, but Blair knew, without looking, that Jim was there watching over him.
Slowly dragging his arm from his eyes, he looked up into his friend's worried face. "We're okay, Jim." Delivering even those few words took more energy than he had. "Just wanna sleep for a while." He saw his partner move to help him up. "No, here's fine. Here's just..." He was asleep before he could finish the sentence.
Simon crouched down next to Ellison. "I'll go get him a blanket, it's going to be cooling off soon." He smiled at the sleeping figure. "He look's like he's going to be out for a while."
"Thanks Simon." Jim looked up, surprised to see that Alejandro and Tony had gone. He hadn't heard them leave.
"Tony took Alejandro back to the cabin to rest. This took a lot out of the old man," Simon said softly. "He was really afraid for the kid. He doesn't know Sandburg like we do." Ellison looked at him questioningly, so Simon added, "I don't think that there's anything that kid can't do if he puts his mind to it." He stood up. "Do you want me to bring you anything back with the blanket?"
The Sentinel shook his head. "I've got everything I need right here, Simon."
The sun had settled a little lower on the horizon and the mountain air began to cool, driving off the humidity of the afternoon. Jim Ellison sat, thinking, at the water's edge as his friend slept. The last two weeks had shaken him more than the emergence of his heightened senses. In his varied careers he had been forced to face many different enemies. But this, this was beyond anything he had ever been trained for. To be attacked from the inside by an enemy he couldn't see or touch. An enemy that would rob him of his life in the worst way he could imagine. He took a deep breath and tried to quiet the nerves that were still too raw. He closed his eyes, looking for the release that Blair had taught him. He laughed softly to himself, meditation was definitely not his strong suit. He needed the kid, awake, to get to that state.
He looked down at his guide and gently pulled out a leaf that had become entangled in the long brown hair. Blair had been in such a deep sleep for such a long time that the Sentinel couldn't help but wonder what had gone on in his fight with Riley. The whole idea still made him shudder. Sandburg had gone to face Riley alone in a place that he could never reach on his own. Incacha had told him, during his time in Peru, that a shaman was at home in two worlds but somehow that had never translated in his mind to mean his friend. Blair was...Blair. Incacha had seemed almost otherworldly, always so solemn and serious. It had been easy for Jim to accept the man as a shaman. But Blair?
Ellison sighed and shook his head. "Who are you, kid?" He reached for the blanket and draped it over his partner.
A throaty purr sounded from behind Jim as the panther slinked around him. The detective held his breath and waited. The last time he had come face to face with the animal it had snarled at him, warning him away from Sandburg. The big cat took a step closer to the two men and the purring sound increased a decibel or two, allowing Ellison to relax. He tentatively held out a hand to it and smiled as it rubbed its large head against his palm.
"Back in your good books again, am I?" he asked.
"You were never out of them, big guy," Blair grinned as he slowly came awake, stretching under the blanket. "How you feelin'?"
"I was talking to the..." Ellison turned to where the cat had been and looked at empty space, "...panther."
Crawling out from underneath the blanket, Sandburg sat next to his friend, shivering slightly in the mountain air. "You didn't answer my question. How are you feeling?" His last real memory was of the man lying unconscious in the cabin. "Thanks." He wrapped the blanket Jim had put around his shoulders a little tighter.
"Fine, like myself again." He studied his partner's face, wondering if he would see a change there. It was going to take him some time to really accept the idea of Sandburg being a shaman.
"You're staring, man," Blair said through teeth that were starting to chatter. "No one ever tell you that was rude?" His smile faded when Jim didn't rise to the bait. "Are you sure you feel okay? You're not gonna zone on me, are you?"
"What did you think you were doing?" Jim asked quietly.
"I thought I was helping you." Sighing, the anthropologist rubbed at tired eyes. "I was trying to make things right. For you and for me. Riley had to be stopped and I didn't want to walk around with the guilt anymore." He huddled deeper into the blanket, trying to block out some of the chill. "It was the only way I knew how. I had to try."
"Simon told me that what you did was dangerous. I don't want you taking those kinds of risks because of me."
"It's no different than the risks you take. And please don't tell me it's because you're a cop. This has nothing to do with being a cop. I'll always do whatever it takes, Jim, just like you. That's why I'm here. To watch your Sentinel back, remember?" He smiled, knowing his friend could see it in the deepening darkness. "Partners?" Blair heard the detective take a deep breath and then let it out slowly.
"Always, Sandburg," Ellison quietly chuckled as he ruffled the younger man's hair. "But let's try to do it on a plane where I can find you?"
"I'll try to remember that, Jim," Blair promised, yawning.
"Let's go, get you to a nice soft bed," Jim said as he stood and reached down to help his friend to his feet. Sandburg leaned heavily against him, still tired and sore. "I don't think I said thank you, Chief." He put an arm around Blair's back to steady him and help him up the slope to the cabin.
"Some things don't have to be said out loud to be heard," came the soft reply. "But you're welcome, Jim."
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