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 email@example.com
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."