Note: This story follows "No Center Line". It is assumed the reader has also read "Primary Focus" and "A Different Way of Seeing", and has watched the two-part episode "Sentinel, Too". Smarm warning. This story is written for an adult audience. firstname.lastname@example.org
Half to forget the wandering and the pain
Half to remember days that have gone by
And dream and dream that I am home again...
James Elroy Flecker.
Pain woke him, dragging him, resisting, through layers of consciousness until he hovered on the edge of awake/not awake. Dreams vanished, fading toward nothingness. He struggled to reclaim them, but like a dandelion's seeds in a gentle breeze, they eluded his grasp, slipping away while he watched helplessly. Then, between one breath and the next, even the faint memories dissipated, leaving behind only the pain that had awoken him. He couldn't tell what exactly hurt, just that it was building, second by second. It had begun as a steady throbbing, echoing his pulse, an undefined ache in his right leg. Then he shifted, and the ache sharpened, localizing to his ankle.
He stilled immediately. The pain died down, leaving him trying to convince himself that it wasn't that bad. No need to wake any further. Everything was okay. The pain would go away. And even if it didn't, the rest of him was comfortable and warm, and he wasn't willing yet to leave his bed to find relief.
"I brought your pills."
With a gasp, he opened his eyes, fastening his attention first on the blurred image of the man who bent over him, and then, a blink later, to the darkened room he was in. The man he knew, but the context was wrong. Why is Simon in my bedroom in the middle of the night?
But then the room proved to be wrong, as well. Beyond Simon, he could see a cheap floral picture on the wall-- definitely not something I would put up-- and a heavily curtained window. Okay... Where am I?
"Blair?" Simon Banks sat beside him on the bed, looking at him strangely, gently. "Does your foot hurt?"
He nodded, not trusting his voice. Actually, not even finding his voice. Yeah, my foot and my head, too. And a few other places, now that you mention it, Simon. But the foot is definitely the worst at this particular moment.
Simon drew back the bedspread to check his foot, and Blair frowned when he saw he was lying on top of the blanket and sheets, not between them. And he was still wearing jeans and a T-shirt. So... that's a little weird, too. Why am I still dressed? I hate sleeping in my clothes. Was I drunk or something? Do I have a hangover? Is that why my head hurts? And what's that pink thing on my foot?
He peered blearily at Simon fussing with his leg, trying to see what he was doing. I did something to my leg. What did I do to my leg? There's a cast on it.
Why is it pink? Did I ask for pink? I should have said white. Or blue would have been nice. Denim blue, the same color as my jeans that they ripped so I could get them on over the cast. Maybe I should have taken Jim up on his offer to go buy me a pair of sweat pants to wear, but... I just can't. Not yet. Maybe never. Not after the sweat suits Jurgen made us wear. Color-coordinated hell.
What did I do to my leg?
"Here's some water, kid. You have three pills you need to take, then you might as well go back to sleep for another hour. If you're feeling rested, we can still go to dinner at six, then we need to hit the road."
He stared at the pills in Simon's hand. The words were all ones he knew, but they still didn't make much sense. Wasn't it the middle of the night? Why have dinner at six in the morning? Wouldn't breakfast be a better choice? And what road? Where was he, anyway? Not in the hospital...
There were too many questions, so Blair cleared his throat and asked the one question that might clear up all the others. "Uh, Simon... where's Jim?"
Simon's soft chuckle accompanied arms tightening around him and Jim's voice rumbling in his ear, "Right here, Chief."
He couldn't seem to find the memory that would fill in the blanks. Like where he was, why he was in bed with his partner-- with Jim doing an octopus routine around him-- and why Simon seemed to think his question was cute or something.
Blair raised his head slightly, glancing over his shoulder. He was on his side, his head pillowed on Jim's right shoulder, drooling a bit on the man's T-shirt. Jim was reclining against the headboard of the double bed, his guide neatly tucked under his right arm. So, everything's cool here, right? I'm not dying or anything, am I? No one seemed freaked out, so he assumed this had been going on for a while.
He shifted slightly, trying to coordinate his limbs. Okay, so this arm here isn't mine. Jim's arms were wrapped around him rather possessively. Chill, man, I'm not going anywhere-- trust me.
Simon walked around to the other side of the bed, put the glass of water he was holding down on the floor, then reached for Blair. "Come on, Darwin, sit up."
"Huh?" Blair stared at the police captain, more confused than ever, wondering why the man was calling him 'darling'. That's kinda weird, Simon.
Jim's voice was low, as though he had been sleeping, too. "Why don't you sit up just a bit more and take the pills, Chief?"
Just a little disoriented here, Jim, in case you hadn't noticed. I have a feeling moving around isn't all it's cracked up to be. I might just want to stay right where I am, if it isn't going to be a major inconvenience or anything. I promise not to make a habit of using you as a pillow, but if I could just stay where I am for a while longer...
He really had to get this brain-to-mouth thing organized a bit better, because neither man had apparently heard him. Some sentinel you are, Jim.
Ignoring his unvoiced protest, the two men sat him up to swallow the pills and drink the offered glass of water. It took an inordinate amount of time to accomplish that little feat, as his brain seemed to have little say in how his body reacted. Open mouth. Drink water, swallow pill. Should be easy, but it all was strangely difficult, making his world slip further into the realm of the surreal. Finally, the deed was accomplished to everyone's satisfaction, and Jim eased him back, shifting him so his face wasn't against the damp part of Jim's T-shirt.
Which was considerate of him, Blair thought, considering who had caused the damp spot.
Boneless, he let his eyes close. This was nice. No apologies. No explanations. He needed this closeness and no one seemed to begrudge him the time. No one threatened to take it from him. They were talking-- he could hear them-- but the words hovered just beyond his grasp. He figured they would wake him up if he needed to know what they were saying.
As he drifted toward sleep, Simon adjusted his leg again, placing a pillow under his cast. Might as well put the pillow there, Simon. Thanks. Apparently Jim's chest works just as well for me.
Jim, I promise that I won't make a habit of this. It's just... well...
A door opened. "How are we doing for time? Should I be waking Evan up, yet?"
Yet another voice entered the room, and after mulling it over for a moment without coming up with a name, he forced his eyes open. They closed before he could see anything, so he tried again and saw Harvey Leek. Harvey's partner, Evan Cortez, was lying on the other bed, and Harvey was checking him over.
Hi, guys. What are you doing here? Visiting? Or--
He blinked and the details he'd wanted earlier surfaced, followed by more than he wanted, providing the answer to why his foot hurt-- his right ankle was broken-- and why they were all in a motel room in... in Seattle. He'd been in the Seattle General Hospital, both he and Evan because... because... Oh, God.
He started shaking. JimJimJimJimJimJim, he chanted, reminding himself, reassuring himself that Jim was there, but the pictures wouldn't leave his head. His own senses, normal as they were, provided him with graphic memories. The hands that had touched him, stroked him, fondled him. The leers, the threats, the words that had frightened him. The screams, his own and those of the others, the sounds of pain and panting. Gunfire. The smells of lotions and semen and damp earth and blood and death. And death and death and death-- the bodies. Sightless eyes staring at him. Mouths hanging open in endless silent screams. Flies hovering over slit throats. Trapped beneath the bodies in an open grave, with yet another corpse tossed on top of him, a lifeless, cold hand landing on his face.
He was whimpering, shivering, his fist in his mouth, rocking himself frantically, trying to block it all, trying to hide from the vivid, pressing images. JimJimJimJim His world was spiraling, totally out of control... except it wasn't.
Because Jim was still there, still holding him. Blair battled, trying to keep his rocking at the frenzied pace he had set, but Jim had his own idea of the correct tempo. The sentinel's arms held him, surrounded him, overwhelmed him, absorbing his feverish beat and replacing it with a slower, calming rhythm. Which was okay, because it was too frightening the other way. He couldn't breathe before, and now he could. His world stabilized, coming back to him.
His foot hurt. It really hurt. The pills aren't working, Jim.
"Just relax. I'm here. Shhhh."
I said, the pills aren't working... damn. He was crying again. What a waste of effort. As though crying would take away the memories or undo the things that were done to him. It was just because he was tired, and his emotions were a little raw, he supposed. What did he expect? He just got out of the hospital that morning, and he suspected Jim had to convince the doctor to let him go. The doctors at this hospital were a lot stricter about visiting hours. Jim hadn't been allowed much access to him after that first night. The doctors kept saying he needed his rest, but they didn't seem to get that he couldn't rest without Jim.
Why was that?
It never used to be like that. But since Mexico... since Alex... since dying... he needed Jim around.
So he'd know he would wake up in the morning.
I'm sorry, Jim. Thanks for being here. I'm sorry.
He was still crying. Big, almost silent, gulping sobs that made his head hurt. And his throat.
So why can I carry on a conversation in my head, while the rest of me is hysterically sobbing on my best friend's chest, being rocked like I was a two-year-old?
He didn't seem to be slowing down or anything. In fact, the sobs just got a little louder. Hysterical, for sure.
So what's freaking you out the most, Sandburg? Huh?
Gee, there's so much to choose from... let's see... I was raped. That seems to be the most obvious thing. That's what seems to be upsetting everyone else the most. That I was raped. But I haven't really had time to process that yet, and I don't remember much about it except the pain in my butt afterwards and all the questions and paperwork at the hospital.
Which reminds me-- I should send a thank-you card to Dr Morrison. He was really nice to me. I should let him know I'm okay. There should be medals for things like that. Going above and beyond the call of duty. He deserves one after dealing with us.
It was getting harder to breathe. He had to gasp for enough air to continue the wracking sobs which were majorly pissing off his bruised ribs. Jim's hand was doing a slow massage on his back that felt nice, but for some reason it wasn't working very well. Why am I still crying? Enough already! Geez, Sandburg.
Maybe it's because I was raped, but also because the other men died and I couldn't do anything about it. I helped rescue Evan and Scott, but Pat and Kelly died before help arrived. I really wanted to rescue them all. I thought I could. My plan was supposed to work...
There were so many bodies. I was in a fucking grave. The bodies... looking at me. Blood and brains sticking to them... That's what freaked me the most. Their eyes... their dead angry eyes... and Pete's face...
A sharp wail pierced his ears, and he was dismayed to realize that he was the one who made it. I sound like a banshee. Jim, can you get this under control for me? I'm making so much noise they're going to call the cops in to see what's wrong... ha, ha. That was supposed to be a joke. Why aren't I laughing? Huh? Huh, Jim? Huh?
Make this stop.
Hey! What the hell was that? Who put that thing on my face? Get it off!
He forced one eye open, the one that wasn't scrunched up against Jim's chest, but he couldn't really see anything. Everything was very blurry. What did he expect? He was still crying, after all. It had been a washcloth, he decided, feeling a little foolish for flinging it across the room. It had startled him, that's all. It had actually felt kinda nice, now that he thought about it, but it was a little late to figure that out.
Jim, I'm getting scared here. I can't stop crying. My chest hurts, and my ribs, even though I know you're holding me carefully so they won't get more damaged. My foot is throbbing. My head feels like it's going to explode. That's not a good sign, is it? Sorry for being such a wreck, but it kinda all hit me at once, I guess. You understand, right? Could you explain it to Simon and Harvey and Evan, if he's awake-- although I'm making so much noise that I don't see how he could possibly still be asleep. I certainly can't sleep with all this racket.
I'm just a bit frazzled, Jim. Tell them that, okay? I'm glad you've got your arms around me, because I really feel that I'm falling apart, and you won't let that happen, right? Just keep it together for me for a few more minutes. I'll try to stop, but I seem to have a mind of my own about this. Two minds, actually. The part of my brain that keeps talking and won't shut up and the part that's letting the rest of me have a nervous breakdown. I don't think it's gonna turn into a split personality or anything. Later, I'll have to get my emotional half and my mental half together on all this.
So like, I might break down again, but only so that I can do it right. This isn't dealing with anything, Jim; it's just emotional release, which you know about.
Mind you, you don't do it often enough-- it's probably what you've suspected it would be like, though, huh?
Whoa... another wave of being scared. This is so not good...
Jim? I need to stop all this. It's starting to hurt too much.
"Jim, don't--" he heard Simon order, which didn't make a lot of sense.
But then the nicest thing happened. Just like his grandfather's old song, it felt like soothing oil poured down over him. Blair could feel it start at his head, easing the pounding headache, resting like a cool cloth on his forehead and over his eyes, then spreading to his sore throat and neck. It kept going, bathing his throat and chest in a warm comforting band, gliding over his ribs, padding the area and bracing it as his breathing calmed down and the deep hitches of air stopped and evened out. His stomach felt soothed, the cramping relaxed, and he almost felt hungry there for a minute. The places he hurt, like his anus and thighs, stopped burning and itching, and that horrible heavy, constipated feeling in his butt vanished. The pain in his right foot faded to a faint throbbing, just enough to remind him that something was mending there.
Jim's arms tightened around him, and he let himself drift into the sentinel, his eyes closed, listening to the beat of his partner's heart. He took a deep breath and exhaled sleepily, feeling the pull into unconsciousness that promised release from his tears.
Jim kissed his forehead, sealing a promise that Blair no longer wondered about.
As he let himself fall asleep, he did wonder at Simon's words, and what it was that Jim shouldn't do.
"Jim?" Simon Banks stood in the center of the room, holding the discarded washcloth and staring at Jim Ellison, hardly breathing himself until he saw the detective's chest expand to take in air. "Jim? Can you hear me?"
No answer, not that he had expected one. How the hell can you do that? Are you trying to give me a heart attack?
His face ashen, Ellison lay against the headboard, his partner still held tightly in his arms. While Sandburg appeared to be resting peacefully, breathing normally, and in no pain, Ellison looked just the opposite. He seemed more unconscious than asleep, his uneven breathing shallow, sweat beaded across his forehead and on his upper lip. His forehead was wrinkled in pain, his eyes tightly closed as if a massive migraine had clamped hold of him.
Simon groaned, squeezing his eyes shut in frustration. What am I supposed to do now, Jim? How am I supposed to help? What the hell can I do?
He opened his eyes and stared at his detective. Ellison's nostrils were flared, as though he had taken a deep breath and zoned midway. Banks cautiously approached the bed and touched Ellison's forehead. "Jim?" he said, but the detective didn't seem to notice. "Jim!" he called out sharply, but the only effect his touch and presence had was Ellison tightened his hold on Sandburg.
Shit. Double fucking shit. Why can't this ever be easy? Banks rested his hands over his eyes, trying to think.
He really didn't know what to do. Stay? Go? Call for an ambulance? Or did they just need privacy? Did they need him at all, or should he just let this sentinel/guide thing proceed normally? Is this normal for them?
Sandburg was sleeping, though, peacefully draped over his partner, and Banks watched as Ellison moved slightly, his chin coming to rest against the top of Sandburg's head. That's where the man's focus was right now, consumed with restoring his guide. Maybe it was fitting it should be at such cost to him personally, after all that had happened between the two of them in the days and weeks before... the fountain.
Would all time now be divided into before or after 'the fountain'?
The cry of anguish-- how often had Simon heard it in his years on the police force? How many deaths mourned by loved ones? Never had one affected him, though, like Ellison's cry of denial at that fountain, bent over the lifeless body of his friend. Not even Sandburg's sobs aroused such a clenching in his own heart, echoing his friend's pain.
Banks rubbed blindly at his face, suddenly aware of tears that threatened to stream down his cheeks. Damn. He hadn't cried since... Sometimes those horrible moments a month before at the fountain at Rainier were far too vivid, too clear in his memory.
This was okay, though, he told himself firmly... Blair was alive. Jim was alive. I'll do what I can. They all would. Sandburg's alive, Jim. He's alive. Just hang cool.
Simon swallowed, allowing himself a moment to get it all back under control. He looked from Sandburg to Ellison. His focus had been on the younger man, but the older one was in need, as well. Blair was injured-- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually-- and they would all make sure he was taken care of. Doctors, counselors, friends. Whatever he needed, they would provide for him. But Jim was injured, too, and they had passed over him, focusing on the more obvious need of his partner. Ellison's wounds were deeper, perhaps, some self-inflicted, all neglected and hastily patched so he could do what he needed to do to keep Sandburg alive. Whether motivated by guilt or by extreme need, or by some other passion or directive, Ellison was doing everything in his power to restore his guide, without regard to his own health or safety, without even knowing what he was doing.
When Sandburg was better, they would discuss it. Maybe Blair would have some answers, some explanation for the strange new connection between them. Something had happened when Sandburg came back to life, and something else had happened when Ellison was in the grotto in Mexico. Much as he'd like to ignore it, Simon knew he had to find out what that was. For now, though, he was left watching them, hoping-- praying-- that the situation wouldn't deteriorate and the sentinel wouldn't kill himself trying to save his guide.
Ellison needed Sandburg to live.
Sandburg needed Ellison, too. Maybe even to live.
And more importantly, right now they both needed him.
Now what? No brilliant flashes of insight came to him.
"Is Jim okay?" Harvey Leek asked, drawing nearer. "He doesn't look well."
Banks lightly tapped the side of Ellison's face, feeling the cool, shocky skin. "Jim!" he whispered urgently. "Come on, snap out of it." How did they bring him out of it last time? For some reason, he couldn't remember. He looked up, meeting Nash Bridges' eyes. "I'm not sure exactly what to do," he admitted.
Bridges stood in the doorway, his mouth slightly open as though he were about to offer some advice, but the words got trapped in his throat somewhere. He ended up just shaking his head, his shoulders hitching in a brief shrug. "Don't look at me. He's your detective."
"Thanks," Banks muttered dryly and looked back to the sentinel and guide. At least he should be grateful that Harvey and Nash were calm; their eyes weren't damning him for his ignorance. "Any ideas?"
Nash glanced over to Harvey, then cleared his throat. "Well, uh, he's done this before, hasn't he?" Bridges said, finally, as though that solved everything. "At the hospital when Blair stopped breathing, and later that night in the motel room. Isn't this the same thing? Won't he just come out of it in a few minutes?"
How should I know? They haven't given me the damn manual. "I don't know."
Ellison continued to lie there, his chest scarcely rising, and Simon felt his irritation growing. "I'm sure he'll be fine. These things happen now and again with them," he muttered.
"He took some of Blair's pain," Harvey said softly, a fascinated smile on his face as he looked down at them.
Banks froze for a moment, still not comfortable with others knowing about the sentinel. But Jim trusted these people, and more importantly somehow, Blair trusted them. Over the last three years, Simon had learned to go along with Blair's gut feelings on these things. "Jim did something, but I'm not sure what he did," he conceded.
Harvey continued to watch them. "But he only erased the emotional pain, not the physical. I don't think he can physically remove his partner's pain. He can just ease the emotional hurt: the heartache, the desperation, the fear."
Banks turned as Harvey Leek spoke, facing him. "Do you actually know what's happening?" Banks asked, hope building suddenly. The offbeat SIU detective sounded so sure of himself.
Harvey shrugged. "I'm just guessing," he said quickly, brushing off his words.
"Sounds like a damned informed guess to me." Banks retrieved the washcloth and carefully wiped the sweat from Ellison's face.
Harvey crossed his arms and looked from Ellison to the Cascade police captain. "Jim's a sentinel, right? And he's found his partner, Blair-- which is amazing, when you consider it. In this day and age, the odds of him finding someone who knew what was happening with his senses would be phenomenal. I remember reading that some sentinels didn't find their partners and died young. In tribal life, where sentinels were acknowledged and revered, there would have been a search for a guide underway immediately when a new sentinel was discovered. I'm not sure what the criteria would have been then--"
Simon interrupted, with a well-practiced wave of dismissal. "So what's happening now?"
"Oh, right," Harvey nodded, as though he was as familiar as Blair with being redirected back to his main topic. "Anyway, Jim found Blair, which is cool, but I don't know how much they've... I hate to use the word 'bonded'. Sounds like something out of Star Trek, but I can't think of another name for it."
"Meshed?" Simon offered.
"Yeah, that's good. It's a symbiotic relationship, but it would take time to establish."
"So maybe this is just a new stage they're going through." Simon could see the color returning slowly to Jim's face.
"It's strange, though," Harvey mused, almost to himself, "I thought that usually this kind of thing goes from the partner to the sentinel. I suppose it could go both ways. It makes sense."
"What could go both ways?"
"Hmm? Oh. For lack of another term: empathic transfer." Harvey put his palms together carefully, then twisted them slightly so one hand clasped the other. "They sort of take on the other's emotions, or impart emotions to the other. Calm the other down, center the other, control the fear. It wasn't always there, from what I read, but sometimes it happened. The sentinel's partner needed to be able to keep him grounded, focused on what they were doing."
Nash cleared his throat, entering the conversation with an amazed, "Bubba, when the hell did you find time to research this stuff over the last few days?"
Harvey smiled. "Years and years ago, in college, actually. Part of my master's thesis."
"You did your thesis on sentinels?" Banks rubbed his forehead again, trying to hold back the growing headache. "Could you tell me why no one has heard of sentinels if the information is that available?"
"Well, that's the problem-- it's not that available. And my thesis wasn't on sentinels; they're just something I stumbled on while doing my research on another topic. I never even mentioned them in my paper-- I figured they were extinct. Didn't realize they were still around. Makes you wonder what other legends are true." Harvey reached out a gentle hand and rested his palm on Jim's forehead. "We need to keep him warm. He's shocky. I'm just guessing, but I'd say he went too far, and he doesn't know what he's doing. He could hurt himself, especially without his partner-- his guide-- to help him stabilize afterwards. Blair should be handling this, but he's so exhausted that unless Jim gets worse, I don't think we should wake him."
Banks quickly agreed. "Let Blair sleep for as long as he can."
"He needed to let go of some of his emotional pain," Harvey said, calmly.
They all stared at the two men for another minute. "Maybe we should move him to the other bed, let Jim stretch out properly," Nash suggested.
"No, give Jim more time. He needs the contact," Harvey answered, and Simon was once again impressed with the sureness in the other man's words.
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, without any control, he needs his guide; Jim needs to know Blair is there and he's okay. That's probably the best medicine for Jim." Harvey paused, looking across to Simon as though something had just occurred to him. "Has Jim zoned at all in the last few days, since the long zone-out he had on Bainbridge Island?"
"A few times."
"More than usual?"
Simon shrugged. "He rarely zones now. He did at first, when it was all new to him, but he and Sandburg have worked out most of those bugs. It's been a long time since that's happened, several years since it was a problem for him. I'm sure the other evening was unusual."
"He was zoned for two and a half hours."
"When he used to zone, I'm sure it only happened for minutes, never hours."
Harvey nodded, as though it all made sense to him. "That long zone-out, then, could have been damaging for him."
"Is that what you think this is? Do you think he's zoning now?" Simon watched the two men, the two short breaths of Jim's to each of Blair's.
"No," Harvey said, scratching his head. "When I saw him zoned, he wasn't like this. I think he's on the edge of a zone, if I understand the concept correctly, but he's monitoring his partner, siphoning off the edge of pain. It would take a lot out of him, though."
"I thought you said Jim couldn't make him better."
"Not physically, not in that sense. But pain isn't just physical. It's emotional, psychological. Not just body, but soul and spirit."
"Do you think what he's done is dangerous to his health?" Simon shifted to cover them both with the blanket.
Harvey considered the idea carefully, as though pulling every scrap of information he had available and thoroughly processing it. He stood rock still, only his eyes blinking as he pondered the question.
Yes, a different version of Sandburg, Simon thought, though Blair's hands and expressive face would have been in rapid motion, his energy scarcely contained as he bounced from idea to idea.
"Has this happened before this weekend?" Harvey asked, finally. "This energy transference?"
"Not to my knowledge. Why?"
"I think Jim's letting what he's doing go too far. He probably doesn't know he's in danger doing this."
Banks met Harvey's mellow gaze, trying to decipher what exactly he had said. So, if Jim doesn't know, how do you know he's in danger? It was one thing for Blair to come up with this stuff-- after three years, Simon was becoming used to it. But there was something strange about Harvey's comments, so confident, yet obviously as off the cuff as Sandburg's usually were, operating from equally intuitive sources of information.
Come on, Sandburg. Help me out here. He desperately wanted to wake up Blair to confirm it all, but he also didn't want to disturb the kid yet. Not after listening to the heartrending sobs only a few minutes earlier.
Maybe Ellison had felt the same way, that these symptoms he was experiencing were worth it, if it brought his partner peace.
Movement behind him caught Simon's eye, and he turned to see Evan push himself upright. Nash moved to sit next to him, his arm resting lightly over the young man's shoulders. Dazed, half-awake, Evan stared at Jim and Blair, blinking to keep his focus. "What's wrong with Blair?" Evan asked softly.
"He's sleeping. How are you doing?" Nash asked, gently.
Harvey had whirled around at Evan's voice, his attention shifting as he returned to Evan's side. "I'm sorry-- I was so busy trying to figure this out, that I got distracted. How are you feeling?"
"I'm okay, Harv. How's Blair?"
"He'll be fine," Simon reassured him. They both will. "They're just resting," he added, looking back at them.
Nash joined him. "So are you just going to let them sleep?"
Simon shrugged. "What are my options? Maybe we should just get a motel room of our own and stay here for the night, instead of returning to Cascade. Neither Jim nor Blair are up to traveling." He leaned over, speaking directly into Ellison's ear, his voice low so as not to wake Sandburg. "Jim? Can you hear me?" He tried it again, several different ways, altering his voice tone, but there was no response.
"Doesn't look like he follows orders well," Bridges commented.
"Never has. There's always a first time, though." Banks offered a wry smile that turned into a grimace of frustration. "Dammit, Ellison." He rubbed his forehead, the tension headache firmly in place. Okay, now what? I'm out of ideas. I'm gonna rub the skin off my forehead if I keep this up. What do I do? Sit and wait for you to come out of it? What if you don't?
"May I try?" Harvey asked, returning to stand next to the bed.
Banks stared at the two men, then reached and brushed a curl from Sandburg's forehead and touched the back of his hand to Ellison's cool cheek. No change in either of them. "Sure. I don't know what else to do."
Harvey took Simon's place on the edge of the bed and rested one hand on the side of Ellison's face. "Jim. It's Harvey. Listen to me. Can you hear my voice?" To Banks' surprise, Ellison shifted his head slightly.
Bridges saw it, too. "Well, that's a start," the SIU captain said, moving closer.
Left alone, Evan shivered as he tried to stand up. "Harv? What are you doing? What's happening?"
"I might be able to reach him."
"Reach him? What are you talking about?" Evan wrapped his arms around himself, trying to contain his quaking knees, scarcely noticing as Nash sat him down again on the bed. "What are you talking about, Harvey? I don't understand."
Nash rested his arm around Evan's shoulders. "Just let him work, son. Harvey's voice seems to reach Ellison sometimes."
"What do you mean?" Cortez's dark eyes remained alarmed at what was going on. "What's happening?" he repeated, louder, a touch of anger in his voice. "What's Harvey doing there?"
Harvey looked back at him and smiled suddenly, disarming the agitation. "I promise I'll tell you later, okay? For now-- why don't you go with Nash into the other room?"
"Why?" Cortez shook his head stubbornly as Bridges helped him stand. "Why?"
"Later, Evan." Harvey's voice was final, allowing no further argument. "Just go with Nash, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Cortez said, reluctantly. "But you owe me a huge explanation on this one." He accepted Bridges' assistance into the adjoining room.
"Jim? You paying attention here?" Harvey asked, and Simon was once again amazed that Ellison's head moved, indicating he had at least heard, if not understood, Harvey's question.
"Jim, listen to my voice. Follow my voice. I know you can hear me. Blair's okay now. He's sleeping. You need to let him go for a while. You're not ready for this yet. You're moving too fast. I know you want to help him, but you've got to let him go through this naturally. You can't take this away from him."
Ellison's hold tightened on his partner, but Harvey continued, undaunted.
"I'm giving you a choice here, man. Either you open your eyes now and come out of this, or I'm going to have to move Blair to the next room. He won't be far away, and he'll be fine there, we'll keep close watch on him, but I need you to pay attention for a few minutes and you can't do that with Blair here."
Banks took another good look at his two friends, noting the firm grasp Ellison had on his partner. "I don't understand, Harvey," he asked softly, although Jim could probably hear him just as easily as if he'd shouted it. "Why do you want to move Sandburg?"
"Because I think Jim's 'locked' on him. To bring him out of it, we have to get him to look for Blair. Nash told me that when you first found Blair and took him to the hospital, he stopped breathing and Jim revived him. The doctor removed him from Jim's grasp and that left Jim able to focus. He recovered within ten or fifteen minutes."
"Well, I'm going to do the same thing here." Harvey pried the sentinel's fingers from around Sandburg's shoulders. "Help me."
It took both of them to free Blair, then carry him to the bed in the other room, where Nash and Evan covered the still-sleeping man in blankets.
"Now what?" Banks asked, when they returned to Jim's side. Ellison's hand was stretched out, hovering over where Blair had been, as though some trace of aura still existed there. Hell, maybe it did.
"Now we get his attention." Harvey closed his eyes, then reopened them. He grinned at Simon suddenly. "I have an idea-- straight out of Star Trek, too." He then gently, but firmly, slapped Ellison across the face.
Sandburg woke, disoriented. "What?" he murmured to the two anxious faces hovering over him. Jim?
Evan and Nash. Not Jim. He blinked, trying to focus, looking around the room, then up at Cortez. "Evan? Evan, what's wrong? What's happened?" he asked, sitting up partway. He was back in the other motel room. Nash's room. "Where's Jim?"
He tried to get up, but Nash stopped him. "Just take it easy, Blair." Bridges sat down beside him, easing his shoulders back to the mattress.
His leg hurt. A lot. But the rest of him felt okay, considering. I just want to be back with Jim. I was with Jim, and now I'm not.
"Jim? Where's Jim? He's not here. Where--?" The words tumbled from Blair's mouth, slurred because he was only half-awake.
"He's just in the next room," Nash said.
"Why? I was with him. Why am I in here?" Blair struggled again to sit up. "Is something wrong with him?" I knew it. Something's wrong.
"He's just resting--"
"No!" Blair whispered. "It's something else. Where is he? How long was I asleep?"
"You were asleep an hour, you woke up for a short time, then you've been back asleep maybe ten or fifteen minutes."
That didn't make any sense. He felt like he'd been sleeping for hours. "Where's Jim?" he demanded.
"He's resting," Nash said firmly. "How are you feeling?"
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine." Just a little freaked. "Why won't you let me see Jim?"
"We're not keeping you apart, Blair, we're--"
Evan interrupted Nash. "You are, though. That's what you're doing, Nash. You're keeping them apart."
Nash sighed, his thumb and forefinger squeezing the bridge of his nose. "Okay, we are. But it's just so Jim will wake up."
"He's zoned?" Blair whispered.
"Harvey thinks he's in some other mode-- I don't know all the terms for this."
"Oh, God." Blair pushed himself up this time, swinging his legs to rest on the floor. "Let me get back to him."
"Just give him a few minutes, son," Nash said, blocking him. "Harvey's just trying to see if--"
"Harvey's not his guide!" Blair said harshly, struggling to his feet. "I am!" Standing was not such a great idea, though, sending stabs of pain up his leg, his sight disappearing in black spots.
"Chief?" Ellison appeared in the doorway, clutching the door frame. "Chief? You okay?"
"Jim?" Yeah, I am now. Sandburg dropped back to the edge of the bed, waited for the dizziness to pass, then his eyes fixed on his partner's face. "Yeah, I'm okay. You?" You look like hell.
"I'm fine." Ellison ignored the snort from behind him.
"So..." Blair looked around, glancing to Simon and Harvey when they moved past Jim into the room. "Anyone want to tell me what's going on here?"
"Hungry?" Harvey asked, hopefully, ignoring the question. He helped Evan off the bed, and resettled him on the couch. "We still have dinner reservations at the Chinese restaurant across the street. Half an hour. That just gives us time to wash up and head over there."
"You're hungry?" Simon asked, looking at Harvey, surprised.
"He's always hungry," Evan muttered.
"Look who's talking, Cortez," Harvey threw back at him. "Can you handle dinner?"
Blair watched the looks traded between the two, then met Jim's eyes again. So no one wants to tell me what's going on. And you either know and don't want to talk about it, or you're just as in the dark as I am. I know something happened. And that would be...
Nothing came to mind, but Jim looked a few shades too pale-- although standing next to Simon, Jim always looked pale. Maybe Simon was pale, too, but Blair hadn't figured a good way to tell yet. He went more by Simon's expression than the shade of his skin.
Jim looked at him for a moment, his head to one side, and Blair sighed. Listening to the old ticker, aren't you?
Jim nodded then to himself, and turned back to the other room. "Dinner sounds good. I'm going to put my shoes on." They could hear the door to the bathroom closing and water running.
Blair stared down at his cast, noting for the first time that it was more of a brace than a cast. "Can I walk on this?" he asked.
"The doctor said you could in a day or two. You're supposed to be keeping off it until then." Simon pointed to where the crutches rested by the door.
"Any objections if I go in there with Jim?"
"Give him a few minutes to freshen up, Sandburg." Simon also looked extremely tired, Blair noted. Not adding up to a lot of good news.
"Evan?" Nash crouched in front of Cortez. "You up to going with us?"
"Yes." Evan shifted slightly to make room for Harvey beside him on the couch. "I might not eat much, but I want to be there. And I want my explanation."
"And I'll tell you all about it. Now's just not the best time," Harvey said, softly, resting his arm behind Cortez on the back of the couch.
"Because it's something we've got to keep confidential."
"From everyone else who's not in this room."
"Including Joe?" Evan asked, looking at Nash skeptically.
"Let me worry about Joe," Nash said, smiling. "Everything's okay. If you're hungry, you just get your butt off that couch and get your shoes and jacket on."
"Then where's my gun, if we're going out? If I'm okay, I want my gun."
"When you can walk a straight line without listing at an angle, then we'll talk about your gun, mister."
"I'm walking lopsided because I'm used to wearing a gun. My weight is thrown off."
Sandburg smiled at their banter. He knew how Evan felt. He wanted everything to be the same. The way it was before. He wanted to go home. He looked to Simon, then pointedly in Jim's direction, and back again.
"I'll go see how he's doing," Simon said, going into the other room.
Blair watched him go, then caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror over the low dresser. Red-rimmed eyes. Blotchy face. Hair squashed on one side, wildly tangled on the other. Pathetic, Sandburg.
But I feel okay. He really did, even though he remembered crying now. And that Jim had held him. And that Simon and Nash and Evan and Harvey had been there, too. I don't have enough energy to be embarrassed about that. No one else seemed to be uncomfortable about it, so why bother?
Besides, the energy in the room wasn't even focused on him; it was focused on Jim. Something was wrong with Jim. Something they had seen when he was crying and Jim was with him.
He stared at the doorway to the other room, wondering what it was. What had happened during that brief time while he was asleep? Jim had been like this major rock through the entire thing. He couldn't imagine something happening to Jim.
I'm tired. Still.
Harvey was looking at him. He met the man's eyes, seeing the concern there. Not concern for himself, but Blair could see the concern there, anyway. So it's for Jim. Is he okay?
Harvey smiled at him, then leaned over and mussed up Evan's hair, turning his attention back to his own partner. It was strange meeting someone who had Guide stamped in big letters across his forehead. Maybe somewhere there was a sentinel needing Harvey. Blair watched the two men joking around, and he couldn't help but laugh with them and enjoy the way Harvey brought a smile to Evan's face. It was almost as though they were meant to be together.
Maybe they were, he realized. Maybe...
What if he had met Jim before the man's senses had kicked back in? Would they have still become friends? Probably not. The thought made him feel sad at what he would have missed.
Maybe Evan was a sentinel? Would Jim know? On Highlander they always knew a pre-immortal. Do sentinels know another person is a sentinel, even if their senses aren't online yet? Jim knew about Alex before he even met her, because her animal spirit was in his territory, but Jim didn't seem to be weird about Evan.
But Seattle wasn't Evan's territory or Jim's. That might make a difference.
So did Harvey know? Or suspect? Or wonder?
He wanted to ask, but Harvey was right. This wasn't the time.
And right now, the only concrete thoughts he could come up with were: I want Jim to be okay. I want to go home. I don't want Chinese food. I want Jim to be okay, and I want to go home.
Simon came back into the room with his jacket on, his small suitcase tucked under his arm. "Come on, let's get going. I'm going to put my stuff in the truck. Need help, Sandburg?"
"I'm okay," he said. "Jim will help me."
"He's just packing the duffel bag." Simon paused, glancing back at the empty doorway. "You sure you don't need anything?"
"I'm sure." Blair eased himself from the bed, staring down at his foot. "Oh, there is one thing, Simon. Why is my cast pink?"
"Uh, better talk to Jim about that," Simon said, quickly heading out to the parking lot, followed by the others.
"Oh. Okay." Blair stared at it again, frowning, then he looked up sharply. "Jim had something to with this? What does that mean? Jim requested this color?"
The man in question came into the room carrying the duffel bag, and Blair forgot his complaint. Jim looked awful, like he was only holding himself together with sheer willpower.
"Let's get you cleaned up, Chief. I'm not taking you out in public looking like that." Jim helped him hop toward the bathroom.
"Jim? Everything okay?" Blair whispered, as he leaned back against the sink counter.
Jim smiled and took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, meeting his eyes in the mirror. "Yeah, Chief. It will be. Once we get home."
"Yeah." Blair leaned over and washed his face, then dried his hands by running his damp fingers through his hair, trying to tame the frizzy curls. He added more water to his hands, and worked at it for a minute, meeting Jim's eyes again in the reflection. Jim looked weary and a little... haunted, but the detective smiled when he realized he was being studied.
"I wasn't a few minutes ago, but I think I'm hungry now."
"That's good." Blair nodded, pushing away from the counter to stand next to the sentinel. "Let's go."
Let's go home.
Home. That's what they both wanted. How many nights had he slept at home since that day when Jim had evicted him from the loft? Three nights when he got out of the hospital. Two nights when they got back from Mexico. Five nights out of a month. His things were still in boxes. It didn't look much like home.
It felt like home, though.
"Dinner, then we hit the road." Ellison handed him his crutches.
"Okay," Sandburg agreed. "You gonna tell me what's wrong?"
Ellison shrugged. "Not sure what it is. I feel fine now."
"So do I. Well, except for the foot and stuff. We okay though?"
Ellison wrapped his arms around him, standing for a long moment, head down, his forehead resting on Blair's shoulder. He didn't raise his head until Simon's voice echoed through from the other room, asking if they needed help. "We're fine here, Simon. We'll meet you across the street at the restaurant." Ellison looked down at him. "We'll figure it out, Chief."
Blair sighed as he made his way out of the motel room. Yeah, we're okay. It's the rest of the world that sucks.
The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand,
nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship;
it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that
someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Pass the rice, please."
"One shot through the neck. It hit an--"
"Here. Anyone else want the prawns? I'll half what's left with you--"
"Forensics wasn't sure. The amount of blood at the site was significant though, and--"
"You only want rice? How about something else? Do you want more soup?"
"Near as we could figure, there are at least four men from the Bainbridge area who are missing--"
"How about more of the lemon chicken?"
"The FBI recovered a considerable arsenal of weapons--"
"They cleared probably close to half a million dollars on the--"
The conversations faded out... not that Blair Sandburg had been attempting to follow them.
He looked across the table at Evan, who was also poking at his rice with his chopsticks. Evan raised his head, his hooded eyes meeting Blair's, his face asking the same questions. Had it happened? All of it? Had the things so carefully not being discussed at the table really happened to them?
It didn't seem real. Except for the aches and pains, the physical reminders, the faint smell of medication-- what had happened to them seemed like nothing more than a bad movie. A "B" flick, not worth staying up at night for. A book with an improbable plot.
The nights and days they were held at the warehouse were blurred by drugs and pain, peaks of terror amid the gray clouds, shrouded images, flickering. He remembered huddling with Evan in the darkness of the storage room, waiting, hearing the laughter and the curses beyond the thin door. They had talked about everything else, anything else, refusing to speculate on what their wounds added up to, because the final tabulation would be too much to handle alone.
But it was over, they knew they were safe now, and they knew it had happened to them. They bore the scars, if not the complete memories. However, knowing they were safe and feeling they were safe, were two separate things.
Blair's hand tightened on his chopsticks, trying to breathe around the sudden tightness in his chest. He smiled, though, when Jim's arm brushed against his, the sentinel's casual touch, under cover of asking him if he wanted more rice, a blessed reminder of who he was, and who he was with. He was with Jim. He was where he was supposed to be.
Jim had been amazing the last few days, quietly offering encouragement, verbally and physically and emotionally, despite Jim's own weariness, despite his uncharacteristic clumsiness at the table, knocking over his first glass of tea, and despite the pain that clouded the sentinel's eyes every time Blair had a mini panic attack. Jim reached over now, tousling his hair, needing to touch him, and Blair smiled reassuringly.
That morning, in the hospital before they were released, he and Evan had decided they wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant that night. Okay, maybe it wasn't the best decision, but it had been so important at that moment, to do something normal, to be in public, not hidden away. There had been much debate over the wisdom of this, the other four men wanting to order in rather than leave the relative safety of the motel room, to keep them protected, to shelter them-- but from what? This normalcy was what he and Evan craved. Maybe not pretending that their capture and abuse had never happened, but at least acknowledging to themselves that life could and would go on. Sharing a meal with friends in a restaurant was the simplest of pleasures-- so what if neither man could eat more than a spoonful of food? It wasn't about eating. It was the socializing, the affirmation of friendship, that mattered.
More than that, Blair knew he needed to see Evan interacting in the world with Nash and Harvey, to know that Evan would be okay. And he saw Evan looking at Jim and Simon, sizing them up, reassuring himself that Blair was also in good hands.
I'm not alone. I know that. Blair glanced back to Jim, basking in the man's quick smile tossed his way.
"You're not eating much for someone who insisted we go out for dinner. You doing okay?" Jim asked, reaching for another egg roll, dripping in grease.
"You look like you're enjoying the food. Maybe we can take the rest of this home. I'll probably be hungrier tomorrow. We could have it for dinner."
"Is that what you want?"
Blair met his eyes, reading the concern. "I want to be stretched out on the couch at home, wrapped in the afghan, listening to some quiet music on the stereo." With you. At home. Alone.
Jim heard the words he didn't say aloud. There was a tenderness in his friend's eyes that was sometimes hidden by the cool exterior of the cop or the mixed emotions of the sentinel, but as Blair looked at him now, he felt like he could see to the depths of Jim's soul.
I'm not alone. What incredibly wonderful words.
Blair looked across the table to Evan again, taking in the dark smudges under the young man's eyes, the weariness of his expression, the uncomfortable way he sat on the chair, and wondered if he looked as bad as Evan did. As he watched, Harvey poked Evan gently, nudging him to eat something more. Blair smiled, recognizing that particular manifestation of caring. Yes, someone was going to be watching out for Evan.
Simon captured the end of Blair's plate and pulled it slightly toward his own, dishing out some of the bok choi, then sliding the plate back in front of him. "Eat up. It's good stuff."
"Thanks," he murmured, his chopsticks stabbing the green vegetable, debating whether he should attempt to swallow it or not. For Simon's sake, he tried to eat the food dished out for him, but his stomach wasn't too happy about the prospect. Still, it was worth the effort. "Thanks, Simon," he whispered, tilting his head to smile at the captain.
"No problem. Just eat it," Simon ordered gruffly, but the gentle bullying was so wonderfully normal that Blair's smile widened. Simon had been a solid presence at his side ever since he had been rescued, supporting Blair and perhaps more importantly, supporting Jim as the sentinel cared for him.
Blair closed his eyes, reveling for a moment in the overwhelming sensation of being cared for. Or was it simply the knowledge of being valued that had healed his soul? Whatever it was, he wasn't ready to analyze it, which only proved to him how tired he really was. And Jim, too, was no longer making an effort to be a part of the conversation that was largely carried by Nash, Harvey, and Simon.
Blair turned his attention toward his rice, trying to eat a few more mouthfuls. His chopsticks felt awkward in his hand, and he tried switching them to his left hand, which sometimes worked when he overused his right hand on the computer. But something else wasn't right. He felt offbalanced, like he was going to topple off his chair.
When he glanced to his partner, he groaned silently as the slightly unfocused look appeared on Jim's face. Yet another zone-out, the third in the last hour. Harvey laughingly called the last one a "brown-out", commenting that Jim's power source was stressed to the limit and he was simply conserving energy. At least no one at the table seemed to be upset about it; the San Francisco detectives were probably just assuming this was a normal occurrence for a sentinel.
Come on, Jim. Please don't do this. Stay with me, just until we get home. I'm not sure what's wrong here, but just stay with me, okay?
Simon laid a hand on Blair's left arm. "Anything I can do?"
"No. Thanks, Simon. We'll be okay." Blair closed his eyes and centered himself, holding tight to the shaky platform of his emotions. I need to do this on my own. I need to. He needs to know I'm okay. Blair's heart started beating faster, and he put his hand over his chest as though trying to quell the frantic thumping. Jim's fine, he told himself. He's just worn out. The events of the last ten days were just overwhelming sometimes-- devastating to Jim, who had been forced to watch from the sidelines when Blair allowed himself to be captured, in an attempt to rescue Evan and the others. "I do appreciate your concern, Jim. I'm okay. I'll be okay," he whispered softly, his words keyed to Jim's sensitive ears. "I know it's been a crappy few months, and things have not exactly been going smoothly. I suppose it's a wonder you can let me out of your sight."
It hadn't all been bad, though. There had been some wonderful moments, too... After what happened at the fountain at Rainier, when he had first got out of the hospital and he hadn't been seeing properly, there had been an amazing closeness between them. Then he had come back from that precious time in Mexico ready to soar again, to take on the world. Instead, he had crashed into the hard unforgiving earth. Crashed hard.
And walked away from it. Pieces of the wreckage still clung to him, he was burned by the fire, but he had walked away from it, alive.
Blair leaned to his right, resting the side of his head on Jim's unmoving shoulder. "Jim?" he called softly, his hand lightly covering the sentinel's clenched grip on the chopsticks. "Hey, Jim..."
Conscious thought had slipped away, time was blurred, his tongue and palate tingling with sensations. Sweetness. Saltiness. Sourness. Bitterness. Combining and separating. Nothing was clear. Time was illusive.
What was that? A noise. A voice.
He heard it, calling him from the depths of the verdant jungle toward...something.
A whisper below his hearing range, teasing his mind. What was that?
His mouth opened slightly, feeling the air sweep across his tongue and throat as he inhaled, the slightly warmer breath of air as he exhaled. There had been a taste that had demanded his attention... but that had faded now into the ordinary, gone with the exhaled air from his lungs. He swallowed and sniffed the air, catching the familiar scent.
A hushed voice pierced his empty thoughts, too distant, too low for him to make out the words, but he knew the speaker was Sandburg. He felt triumphant at his discovery and turned from where he was drifting and fastened on the faraway speaker. Nothing. No further sounds, except those of the jungle. He turned again and listened, intently this time.
He heard it now, soft and whispered, yet clear and ringing, demanding his complete attention.
"Hey, Jim. Come back, okay?"
And he did, the full blast of sounds returning in the wake of his guide's soft words. With taste had come sound, and with sound came touch: his guide's hand on his, the table beneath his forearms, the chopsticks in his hand. The slight rhythmatic breeze from the overhead fans in the restaurant. He realized suddenly that his eyes were open.
A blink, he could see, and the sentinel was back completely-- taste, scent, hearing, touch, and sight. All demanding his attention, feeding him too much information--
"Dial it back," Sandburg breathed.
Such a familiar suggestion, but one he could do, and the pressure in his temples lessened. His mouth felt numb.
Taste. He had zoned on taste.
"...file the report by Friday. Will Howard have statements prepared for us to issue to the media?" Simon Banks was mid conversation, his voice slightly strained as though his casual words were forced.
"Should be ready later this evening. He said he's faxing it directly to the SIU office in San Francisco," Nash Bridges said, his hand wrapped around a cup of green tea, the gentle scent pungent in the air, now that Ellison had picked it out.
"Great. I can imagine what's waiting for us when we get back," Banks groaned. "The media coverage worked for us when we needed it to flush out Jurgen's group, and now I suspect it will work against us for the next week or two." Simon looked directly at him then and smiled reassuringly. "Glad you're back," he said, his hand casually covering his mouth, his words only loud enough for Jim's ears. "We're leaving as soon as you have time to recover."
Ellison nodded at the firm directive, glanced toward his partner, then looked around the table, but no one other than Sandburg and Simon were paying attention to his lapse. Lapses. Ellison sighed heavily, the air escaping from his nostrils like a pissed-off cat. He hated the thought that he had zoned, and two of those times he had faded out from focusing on the black bean sauce. It wasn't that remarkable. Right now he couldn't concentrate on what was being said at his table and still block out the forty other conversations happening simultaneously around him.
He turned at Sandburg's quiet question. "Yeah," he whispered back, shrugging. "Sorry."
He couldn't tell him, not in a crowded restaurant. He needed to be home. He needed to have Sandburg at home, safe. Contained. I feel like I'm not quite here, Chief. I'm somewhere else. With you, though, but somewhere other than here. He found a smile and offered it as gift to his guide. He could feel Sandburg's slightly elevated pulse vibrating along the hand that rested now on his forearm, the gentle warmth in his touch a welcome reminder of life. Ellison released his chopsticks, watching idly as they dropped, clattering on the table surface.
"Jim?" Sandburg seemed startled at the sound and moved his hand, touching Ellison's chopsticks fleetingly as if to pick them up, then he ended up sitting, slightly hunched, his hands covering his face. Ellison shifted to his left, draping one arm along the back of Sandburg's chair, his fingertips lightly touching his guide's back, immediately picking up the tremors that the young man was trying to hide. The hammering heartbeat. The catch in his breathing.
No. Come on, Chief. Don't...
Sandburg looked up at him, reddened eyes pooling with unshed tears, trying so damn hard to hold it all together.
It wasn't fair. Ellison grit his teeth, his hand moving upward to rest on his partner's shoulder. You should be safe now. He closed his eyes, reaching... feeling... something... touch his guide's spirit. Embrace his heart.
Sandburg gasped, his face once again hidden in his hands. But his frantic breathing slowed down, the tremors died. With a ragged sigh, Sandburg sat up straighter, squaring his shoulders, and looked over at him, this time with a gentle smile smoothing the tension on his face, but there was also a look of puzzled astonishment in his eyes.
Ellison smiled broadly, his emotions soaring past the building headache. He felt great, energized. He settled again in his chair, reaching for the green tea, his fingers wrapping around the warm glass. Then it all caught up to him, and for a moment, he thought he was going to keel right over as a wave of dizziness threatened him. He waited it out, relieved he wasn't expected to participate in the conversation around him. Simon was doing a great job of keeping appearances normal. After a few minutes, he heard Sandburg politely ask a question of the group, but Ellison could hold onto neither the question nor the answer. There was a comfort, though, in hearing that voice participating in an ordinary conversation, regardless of what was said. Sandburg liked these people. Sandburg wanted to eat out, and then go home. And it was time to go home now.
Right on cue, Banks looked at his watch. "We need to get going. We have a long ride left tonight and Sandburg here looks ready to drop."
And Ellison looks like he's zoning again, Jim thought ruefully. Thanks for not pointing out the obvious, Simon.
"I've been meaning to ask, how far is it from Seattle to Cascade?" Nash pushed his empty plate aside and rested his arm along the back of Evan Cortez's chair. The young detective sat between Nash and Harvey, just as Sandburg was safely seated between Simon and him.
Possessive lot, aren't we? Then, maybe we have good reason.
"Cascade is less than two hours, at speed limit. Half that if you drive like Jim," Sandburg said, grinning across the table. Evan Cortez looked up and smiled, as though they were sharing a joke.
"It's about an hour and a half, when I drive," Banks said, fishing out his wallet. "Which I'm going to. Ellison, you look like you need a nice long nap."
"I'm fine, sir--" he tried, but his voice was rough, and he gave up.
"Uh, Jim, let him drive, okay?" Sandburg said, softly, not meeting his eyes.
"No choice. Ah has spoken," Banks added, leaning forward and giving Ellison a firm look. "I'm going to go pay our bill at the front, then I'll bring the truck around."
Ellison nodded, rubbing his forehead. "Thanks, sir." Truth be told, he didn't want to drive.
"Jim?" So quietly spoken. So many questions in that one word.
He nodded again, his hand moving to rest on the back of Sandburg's chair. If they weren't in a damned restaurant, he would have wrapped his arms around his guide, just to reassure him that everything was okay. "Just tired, Chief. Nothing to worry about." He was tired. Maybe that's all it was. He hadn't slept properly since Sandburg had disappeared. He was simply tired. Ellison pushed back his plate and reached for the water glass.
"Pardon me for finding all this weirdly fascinating, but I'd love to talk to you more about this sometime, Blair," Harvey said, quietly, leaning forward.
"Maybe you could let me know your sources, as well. I'm always looking for any mention of... them," Sandburg finished, with a small smile.
"I'll dig out my notes. These... episodes... are wild stuff. How often does he have them?"
His guide shook his head slightly. ""Not much now. It's like he said, he's just tired."
Harvey sat back and regarded the sentinel. "So, under normal circumstances, he would be okay?"
"That's hard to say. He's--"
"I'm right here," Ellison interrupted, setting the empty glass firmly back on the table. "I can hear, you know? Don't talk around me."
"Sorry," both men responded.
"Sorry, Jim," Sandburg repeated, looking weary.
Shit. What's wrong with me? "Chief?" Ellison's hand moved from the chair back to rest on the young man's shoulder, relieved when Sandburg shifted toward the touch. "It's okay; I was just teasing. Well, not teasing, but go ahead and talk to him. I shouldn't have said anything-- Answer the man's question, if it's helpful. He deserves some answers after everything that happened."
"No, now's not the right time," Harvey said quickly. "I've been too intrusive already."
"Another time, for sure. There aren't many people I can talk to about this." Sandburg yawned, covering his mouth at the last minute, the white gauze bandages around his wrists showing beneath his shirt sleeves.
Harvey looked at Evan next to him, who was listing slightly in his chair. "How are you doing?"
"Okay," Cortez said, softly. "I'd like to lie down though." He had eaten a small bowl of rice and had some of the won ton soup, but the rest of the meal had largely been untouched.
Ellison glanced to Sandburg's plate and knew his guide hadn't eaten much more than that. The drugs they were both taking left them tired and not hungry. Sandburg should be lying down as well, not preparing for a trip to Cascade. Had they really discussed it, or was he just assuming that the kid would be as eager as he was to get back home? "Chief? Do you want to wait another night? Maybe--"
"I want to go home," Sandburg said quickly. "Really. Please."
Banks came back to the table before any further conversation could take place. He shook hands with Bridges, then moved on to say his goodbyes to Cortez and Leek. "It's been nice meeting you gentlemen. I wish the circumstances were different, but I thank you all for your help. And you, Evan, I'm sure the entire Cascade PD would like me to thank you for your care and assistance to Blair while you were both captured. It means a lot to me personally."
"Me, too," Sandburg whispered, a tear running down his face.
Evan nodded, but couldn't seem to find any words.
Harvey stood up, his eyes fixed on Sandburg. "And what you did for Evan, Blair, was so brave that I'm not sure whether to hug you or suggest you be locked up somewhere for acting crazy."
"A hug would be fine," Sandburg said with a soft smile, shifting back in his chair as Harvey came around the table to embrace him. "We'll talk one day, I promise," Ellison heard Sandburg whisper to the older man. "But for now, I think your partner needs you."
"First things first, right?" Harvey gave Blair one last squeeze, touched Ellison's arm lightly, then returned to stand behind Evan's chair. "Ready to go?"
Evan shrugged, reluctantly allowing Harvey to help him to his feet. His dark eyes shifted to Sandburg, wordlessly staring at him, then he leaned forward across the table, his hand extended. "Take care of yourself."
"I will." Sandburg shook his hand formally. "Call me if you want to. Or email me."
"Thanks. I appreciate it." Cortez turned away on his own and walked slowly to the door, Harvey Leek trailing behind him.
Nash watched them go, then sighed, shaking his head. "He's beginning to hurt. Best get him lying down soon." Nash circled around the table to where Sandburg sat and placed his hand gently on his shoulder. "I know you have these two guys looking out for you, but if they ever give you any trouble, you give me a call, okay?"
"Okay," Sandburg agreed, smiling. "But I'll be fine. I'm going home."
"Good." Nash squeezed his shoulder, then shook hands with Ellison. "And you take care, as well."
"Thank you." Ellison smiled briefly, then watched as Banks and Bridges walked to the front door, leaving the sentinel and guide alone. Tired again, he idly followed their casual conversation, then another sound caught his attention. Somewhere in the restaurant, a group was singing 'Happy Birthday'. Ellison looked around but couldn't see them. He listened again, concentrating this time, finally isolating the music to another location. Probably the restaurant at the other end of the block. He had just picked up the familiar tune.
But why am I hearing it at all?
He heard his Ford truck start up in the parking lot across the street.
Talking... a board meeting somewhere. Stocks and market trends. And when he listened, the sound of felt pen squeaking on white board.
He could hear the drone of an airplane. And when he focused on it, he heard the pilots speaking.
He tugged, pulling his hearing in. Another sound, a whirrrrr. It took him a moment to pinpoint the noise-- the fan on the computer at the cash register. Zeroing in on it, he could also hear the sound of dust blowing around loose inside the frame.
Why? Why do I hear these things and not other things?
Then, as if someone had flicked a light switch, he only heard the normal sounds of the restaurant, his hearing dissolving back to a regular range. His head pounded. He could feel the weight of Blair's hand on his forearm, the heat transferring through his shirt sleeve, the gentle tug of each hair on his back of his arm. Ellison finished his tea and put the glass down, studying the small ring it made on the table top. "I'll do my best, Chief. It might not be good enough." He was unable to keep the bitterness from his voice.
"What do you mean?" Sandburg whispered.
His finger passed through the water residue on the table's surface, smearing it. "Six weeks ago we thought we had a rough idea of my range with these senses. Four weeks ago, you died, and I was truly alone. I thought I needed to be alone before that, but when you were gone, I understood, to my complete horror, what it meant to be alone. It was unthinkable."
He took a ragged breath, letting the air escape slowly as he found his words. "Three weeks ago, lying it that grotto with my senses enhanced by the drug Alex gave me, I could hear the distinct sound, not only of your heart beating, but of the blood rushing through your veins. I heard the ticking of your pocket watch, the way you were gasping for breath." He picked up the empty glass, his fingers tracing the moisture on the side, the ridges of his own finger prints. "One week ago, the night you were kidnaped, I heard you, when it was impossible for even me to do so. I felt your fear. I knew when you fell asleep...But now things are back to normal, and I'm not sure what normal means anymore. I'm not sure what normal is. My range is fading."
"Jim, are your senses--"
He knew the question before Sandburg finished voicing it. "They're working. No less than they ever were, but not as great as those first days in Mexico. The range is erratic. I can't count on them. You can't count on me."
"Because I can't control these--"
"Control? When have you ever had complete control? That's what I'm here for. It's never going to happen alone." Sandburg held up his hand, palm out, and waited.
"I know. I know it won't work alone." He could see the individual cells in his partner's hand.
"Then what's your problem, Jim?"
He thought about it, about his insecurities, his inadequacies. His strengths. "What do you want, Chief?"
"I want to go home. Now."
Ellison matched his palm to Sandburg's. When he added a slight bit of pressure, his guide matched it, the middle of their palms touching. My soul to yours. "You sure you want to do this?" Ellison asked, dropping his hand to reach back for his jacket. "It'll be an uncomfortable ride for you."
"I want to go home," Sandburg repeated, looking up at him, eyes tired and wide with need. "I'm willing to put up with being a bit uncomfortable. I want to go home. I want things to be the way they were before."
It sounded like a distant tease of words.
Home. Normal. What is normal, anyway? Normal for us-- or normal for most people?
He steadied Sandburg as they got to their feet, the younger man awkwardly moving on his crutches. They walked toward the door, his arm draped around Blair's shoulders, trying to recapture that feeling of closeness that had too often threatened to flicker like a dying candle between them.
Home. I kicked you out of your home. I destroyed our home.
"I want to go home," Sandburg whispered, his voice quiet and low, as if he knew what Ellison was thinking.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because it is where I belong."
Ellison nodded, ignoring the pain of his pounding headache, feeling bitterness and joy tangling in his heart as they walked out into the evening sunshine. "Even if I'm there?"
"Because you are there."
He looked down at Sandburg, standing quietly on the sidewalk, his face still showing his own pain. The response had been so quick.
It reverberated through Ellison's body, leaving his limbs weak. It was too much.
It was everything. It was overwhelming. It was right.
It was too much, the weight pressing against him, yet it was everything his spirit hoped for.
It was overwhelming him, emotions tugged from the corners where he had stashed them, but it was right. Wasn't it?
No. Maybe it wasn't.
He took a deep breath, letting it escape from his lungs slowly as he considered the nature of the response. They had become too close, and that was dangerous. Someone else might try to hurt him. I might hurt him. Again.
He laughed out loud at the absurdity of life, of standing on the sidewalk in Seattle outside the Chinese restaurant where his guide had brought him back from a zone-out three times. His guide. The person who meant more to him than any other living human.
Sandburg, if you're so special, why do you have a sign on your forehead that says 'abuse me'? Why do I persist in treating you like shit? Why did Lash kidnap you and try to absorb you? Why did Crawford kidnap you and experiment on you until you were crying like a child? Why did Alex Barnes almost succeed in killing you? Why did Jurgen rape you?
What the hell is going to happen next? How else can I hurt you? What more can I possibly do?
He knew his laughter was frightening his partner, but it took him a moment to get it under control so it wouldn't spiral away from him into anger. He turned away, watching the road, the traffic.
"What's so funny?" Sandburg asked quietly, behind him.
"Life," he said, as his truck pulled up, Simon behind the wheel. "My fucking life."
"Jim, I don't have to go back to the loft if you don't want me--"
"Sandburg--" He cut him off, then paused, wanting to explain himself, but finding no words that came easy. He settled for brutal honesty. "Chief, I, being the greedy bastard that I am, want you back in the loft. End of story. Let's go home." He opened the Ford truck's passenger door, his hands moving to take the crutches and toss them in the back, then going to Sandburg's waist, ready to boost him onto the seat.
"Why do you want me at the loft?" His guide's voice was cool, distant, resisting his touch.
He didn't answer at first, but helped Sandburg up into the cab of the truck anyway. Before he let him slide over to the middle, Ellison's grip tightened on his arm, keeping the younger man in place by the door. He leaned over, his words for his guide's ear only. "Blair, it's your home, too. It always has been. God as my judge, I'm no prize. Your 'Holy Grail' is tarnished and dented and a complete fuck up, but, God as my witness, that loft, that life, is yours as much as it is mine. Probably a lot more."
"Intellectually you want me there, but what about--"
"You are in my heart. I want you there." He pushed Sandburg over toward Simon, then crawled in after him, slamming the door behind him with far more force than was necessary.
Simon watched them from the corner of his eye, wondering what had happened now. He drove through the streets, winding his way to the freeway, the silence in the truck growing.
It wasn't anger between them, he decided, pulling onto the main road that would take them to the I-5. Both men looked lost. Blair swiped his sleeve across his eyes, as though wiping back tears that wouldn't come. Jim closed his eyes finally, resting his head against the window, brow furled in readable pain.
"Let me know if I should stop at all-- if you need a break or anything."
"Thanks, Simon. I'm okay." Blair smiled quickly at him, barely meeting his eyes.
Jim nodded, showing, at least, that he was listening.
Okay, maybe not anger, but there was a tension that was obvious, although Simon still couldn't pinpoint its cause. "Everything okay here?" he ventured.
"We're fine," Jim answered, not opening his eyes, and it was Blair's turn to nod mutely in agreement.
A few minutes later, Blair was asleep, and Jim, half asleep himself, shifted sideways to let his partner's head recline against his shoulder. Jim's head tilted the other way, away from the window, to rest on top of Blair's, comfortable with the closeness.
Tension, yes, Simon decided, but not necessarily between each other. They had a right to be crashing from the stress of the last ten days. He knew they had begun to mend their fences after Alex, that they had come to some sort of understanding, some agreement between them. Then Jim and he had abruptly left for Mexico, and something had happened to Jim in the grotto there. Some mind-expanding hallucinogenic force-fed to him by Barnes. Probably what's causing the zone-outs. It couldn't have done his system any good.
Just before he reached the freeway, he pulled off the road into an espresso drive-through and got a large iced latte for the road. The woman at the window could see into the truck, her eyes taking in Ellison and Sandburg, a slight smile curving her lips. Fortunately, she said nothing, so Simon didn't have to explain them. He wasn't sure how to explain them.
The roads were relatively clear to the freeway entrance, and he eased into the light flow of traffic, reaching for the cold drink. He needed the extra caffeine right now. The promise of being home in the next two hours was seductive. An hour past in silence, the two men with him sleeping, then finally a bump in the road woke Sandburg.
Dazed blue eyes blinked at the freeway ahead of them; the sun was just beginning to set and painting the western sky on their left with pinks and peaches against the darker evening blue on their right. "Nice out," Blair whispered.
"Not much traffic," Simon agreed, glancing over to his passengers.
Blair was studying his sleeping friend, then turned and stared out the front window as the truck continued to speed along. "Simon, could I ask you something?"
"Harvey told me that Jim zoned for a long time the night of the raid."
"That's right. I was only there for the last thirty minutes, but he had--"
Blair's head turned sharply to face him. "Thirty minutes! What?" The outrage was clear. "He zoned for over thirty minutes?"
"Over two hours." Might as well let him know it all now.
He could feel Sandburg staring at him, then the young man looked vacantly at the dashboard. "Why?" he asked, quietly, although Simon knew he didn't expect the captain to answer his question. "Why so long? Do you know what he zoned on?" Blair asked, finally.
"From what I gathered, he zoned trying to find out what it was that you were drugged with."
"What do you mean?"
Simon finished off the last of his drink. "Jim was listening to what was happening with you. He realized your soup must have been drugged, so my guess is he tried to taste it. Or maybe smell it."
"From how far away?" Sandburg whispered.
"He thought he could taste what I was eating from two miles away? Or smell it?" Sandburg shook his head a little, as though to clear it, to make the idea make sense. "That's wild. What made him think that he could do that, I wonder?"
"He was just worried about you."
"I know. It's just weird that he zoned for that long. He's never done that before." Sandburg massaged his temples, trying to think. "His senses have been fluctuating, ever since what happened in Mexico. I had thought they would level off again, but it might take longer than I figured. He told me they're still uneven."
"But you think they'll go back to being the way they were before?"
Blair nodded, then shrugged. "How the hell do I know, really? I'm just guessing."
Simon laughed. "You and Harvey are a lot alike."
"You think so? Why?" Sandburg looked at him with interest.
"Well, for starters, if Evan had Jim's senses, I'd have to say Harvey was his guide."
"I thought the same thing," Sandburg mused. "I'm surprised you saw it, too."
"It's the guessing he was doing, more than anything. Intuitive leaps that reminded me of how you operate sometimes. Looks like you're making it up as you go."
"Simon, that's really all I'm doing sometimes."
"What about that 'instinctive behavior' you used to talk about?"
Sandburg thought about it. "Maybe. I used to think that's all it ever was. Just closing my eyes and making a wild stab in the dark for an answer. Maybe that's all there is to be a guide."
"We used to call it 'thinking outside the boxes' or 'thinking outside the lines'." Simon caught a glimpse of Blair's incredulous smile, and smiled himself.
"Hey, I had a past, too, you know," he said, in his defense.
"Now, let me get this straight. You're almost sounding like it's okay for me to 'think outside the box.'"
"Just pick your times appropriately."
"I'll try." Blair was staring at Jim again, and Simon glanced over to see the anxious frown on the anthropologist's face.
"I'm just worried about Jim. He looks so tired."
"He hasn't slept much."
"Why didn't he sleep last night? They kicked him out of my room at 10:00 in the evening and didn't let him back in until I had breakfast."
Simon stole a look at the young man. "He sat in a chair outside your room. They wouldn't let him stay in the room, but they couldn't force him to leave the hospital."
Blair blinked, glancing away. "He didn't leave? Why?"
Banks shrugged, trying to dismiss the topic. "We should have you home by 9:45, which means I'll be home by 10:00." They slowed down and pulled to the side of the road as an ambulance raced by them. Satisfied it had cleared and there were no secondary emergency vehicles coming, Simon drew the truck back on the freeway.
And now, because of the sirens and whatever else, Ellison was awake. The detective shifted slightly, stifling a yawn. "What's the emergency?"
Jim closed his eyes, then opened them again. "Heart attack victim at the Lakewood Casino. There's a doctor in attendance. The ambulance's ETA is two minutes."
"Good," Blair murmured.
"They have the situation under control, then." Simon looked over to Jim, seeing the nod of agreement. "How you doing, Jim?" Banks tried. "You know, with everything?" he qualified, grimacing at his weakly worded question.
Ellison exhaled softly, then cleared his throat. "We're fine--"
"Fine," Banks said along with him. "I know. How else are you?"
Sandburg laughed, the tiny chuckle escaping around a yawn. "Hey, you know us, Simon. We thrive on this stuff. Maybe we should go see where that ambulance is heading. Might be something for us to do." He grinned and bounced a little, faking energy.
"Ignore him," Ellison said, his voice sounding equally at ease. "He needs to take his meds and sleep for a week."
"Oh, yeah, Rip van Winkle? I noticed you were nodding off here, too, Jim."
"I'm tired, Chief. We're all tired," Ellison countered. "What about you, Simon?"
"Exhausted. I've already told them we're taking tomorrow morning off. We can head into the station at noon."
"You and I, maybe. Sandburg isn't going anywhere until he visits his doctor on Friday."
"That's three days away!" Blair exclaimed.
Wisely, Sandburg chose not to reply. He just patted Jim's leg tolerantly, as though he were a demented lunatic who one didn't take seriously.
"I'm serious, Chief."
"You're not going anywhere."
Sandburg nodded, staring with great interest at the passing scenery. "So you say."
"At home. Until Friday. Off your foot."
Sandburg elbowed Banks lightly, rolling his eyes at the captain when he glanced over. "He's such a kidder, isn't he?"
When Simon looked at them again three minutes later, they were both asleep.
Sandburg thumped slowly down the hallway outside the loft, then balanced on his crutches as Jim turned the key in the lock. The door opened, and Sandburg stumbled sleepily into the loft. "Home!" he exclaimed, triumphantly. "We made it. I thought we'd never get here."
"It only took two hours," Ellison said, following him inside.
"Yeah, I know. But it's been a long time since..." Sandburg's words trailed off. It's been a long time since I've been here.
"It's stuffy. Can you open the balcony doors?" Ellison dropped the duffel bag inside the door, shut the door, punched in the code, slid the safety lock into position, and drew the chain. "I'll check the fridge and see what we need."
"Sure." Blair wanted to go straight to his room, fall on the bed, and sleep until next week, but he could tell already that the plants needed watering, and the answering machine light was flashing, and Jim was right, the loft was stuffy. Besides all that, there was a niggling feeling at the back of his head telling him he needed to talk to Jim. He was going to start paying more attention to that feeling. He knew Jim had a headache; he could see it in the man's face: the slightly narrowed eyes, the furrow between his brow, the edge to his words.
Blair hung up his jacket, glancing longingly toward his bedroom. He could hear the fridge opening behind him, and Jim's quiet sigh. "Hey, Jim, why don't we just go out for breakfast tomorrow and forget about buying groceries tonight?" He retrieved his crutches and crossed awkwardly around furniture to the front windows, fumbling with the catch on the balcony door. All the locks and security had been changed and upgraded after Alex. Jim had Simon change the locks while Blair was still in the hospital; then when they stayed on another week in Mexico, Simon had overseen the additional security that Jim had requested. It seemed a little much, but Blair wasn't about to argue, even if he couldn't get the balcony door open. He'd had only one day to experiment with them before he was kidnaped, so he figured it would come easier with time. Or maybe when he was more awake.
"Jim?" he asked again, when his partner didn't answer him. He turned around and watched Jim close the fridge and go to the door. "Jim, just forget it, okay. Don't bother. We can go out for breakfast. My treat."
"We've got coffee, so that's not a problem. I'm just going to run down to the corner and pick up a quart of milk."
"I'll have mine black. It's okay."
"No problem." Ellison flipped open his wallet, checked it, and returned it to his pocket. "I'll be right back." He reversed his previous actions at the door: slipped off the chain, unlocked the safety latch, punched in the code, and opened the door. "Need anything?"
"No." Blair watched the door close, leaving him alone in the loft. Jim?
The door reopened. "Lock up after me, Chief. Do you remember the code to lock it?"
"I'll knock when I get back." The door closed again, and he could hear Jim's key turning in the lock, the footsteps fading, the ting of the elevator as it opened.
Jim? He crutched his way through the living room back to the front door, then balanced on one foot, his hands reaching for the chain. He stared at it for a long minute, then his hand fell away, unable to complete the act. He couldn't do it. His head felt numb, heavy.
Footsteps. A key. The nob turning.
He stumbled backwards, bumping into the post behind him, one crutch falling to the floor as he steadied himself on the post.
Jim's face came into sight. "Chief? What's the problem? Why didn't you lock up?"
His heart was pounding. He crammed his sweaty hand in his pocket.
Jim stared at him, his face blank. "Why not?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want me to stay?"
"Yes. No. You're just going down to the corner."
"To get milk. I'll be able to hear you."
"It's not far."
"But I want you to lock the door."
"You're locking it with the key."
"Double lock it, then. And draw the chain. Use the code. You'll be fine."
"I can't," he whispered.
Jim stood silently, staring at him. At least he didn't yell. Or demand an explanation. He just came back inside the loft, locked and double-locked the door, drew the chain, punched in the code, and hung his coat up.
"What about the milk?" Blair asked, from his spot against the post.
"I'll get some in the morning." Jim handed him his crutch. "I'll have my coffee black, too. I don't mind."
"Okay." Blair turned around, arranged the crutches under his arms, and went back to the balcony door, his fingers finding the catch and opening it easily this time. The night air was cooler, a breeze coming up the hill from the bay, and after the restaurant and the cramped ride home in the truck, it was refreshing. He stepped outside onto the balcony, his head tilted back, giving the air opportunity to slide around him, to caress his skin.
He could hear Jim in the kitchen, putting on the kettle, making tea. Probably herbal tea that didn't take milk. Or maybe one of those little hot chocolate packages that you just added water to. Jim seemed to think of them as a coffee substitute.
Awkwardly, he lowered himself to the lawn chair and stared up at the sky. It was ten o'clock on one of the longest days of the year, so it was still a little light out, even though the sun had long ago set. The stars weren't out yet, but in the next few minutes full night would arrive and chase away the last bands of pink across the western sky, like some dim memory vanishing from sight.
The kettle boiled. He could hear it from where he sat, hear the abrupt whistle cut off as Jim snatched it from the element. Jim was just inside the loft, in the kitchen. Not too far away.
Too far away.
He turned in the chair until he could see him through the balcony window in the kitchen. His heart was beating too quickly. Jim lifted his head and looked at him, his head tilting slightly as he listened.
"Jim?" Blair murmured, feeling the tightness across his throat.
"I'll be right there," Jim called out, stirring the hot chocolate quickly. Their eyes met as he cleared the balcony doors and put the two mugs on the old door frame that served as their coffee table.
They sat side-by-side on the deck chairs, elbows touching, fingers wrapped around their mugs, tight muscles relaxing, panic fading, watching the night sky settle in around them and the stars gradually appearing in the sky.
"Jim, something's wrong with us."
"I know," Ellison acknowledged, looking straight ahead at Cascade's skyline.
"What is it?"
The sentinel shook his head. "I don't know."
"We still okay?"
"Yeah, Chief. We'll figure it out." Ellison stared silently out at the night, his jaw clenching and unclenching, while Sandburg tried to get his breathing under control. Ellison laughed finally, a sad sound trapped in his throat. He leaned across to grab Sandburg's hand. "We'll figure it out," he said, again, and then stood up, pulling Blair with him.
Blair twisted his hand around until their palms met. "I'm glad to be home," he said, his voice still little more than a whisper.
"So am I." Jim wrapped his arms around him, holding him close, chasing away some of his fears. "We'll talk more in the morning." With a last look up at the full moon, Jim released him and helped him into the loft.
Sandburg let himself be lowered onto his bed, weariness robbing him of any thought of resisting.
For it was Jim.
If he had to pass on control to someone else, it might as well be Jim. Jim would take care of him, of that he was certain. Jim would make sure he was okay, make sure he was safe for the night. Make sure no one would hurt him.
Why am I so tired? I slept in the truck on the way home. He fleetingly wondered if Jim had put something in the hot chocolate, but then the memory surfaced that he had taken the pills the hospital had given him, which were bound to put him to sleep.
And Jim was just making sure everything was okay. Feeling guilty, Blair tried to help his partner settle him for the night, but his flailing hands were captured and placed lightly on his chest. Okay. I get it. Still, he tried to open his eyes, but they resolutely stayed shut. Just as well, I can't think straight. If I was walking around, I'd probably injure myself even more.
Jim was talking to him, but the sounds didn't make any coherent sense. But Jim probably knew that. Blair sighed, listening to the calming tones, feeling them lull him closer to sleep. If he starts singing 'Rockabye, baby, on the treetop" I'm gonna scream. He chuckled at the thought and felt Jim tap his nose once, startling him quiet.
Time disappeared for a moment, lost in the overwhelming thought: I'm home. Thank you God, I'm home. I'm home.
Tears leaked through his closed eyelashes, running down the side of his face. In the heat of the evening, Blair shivered at the sensation of the cool tears, feeling the shiver multiply and ricochet throughout his body. I almost didn't make it. Almost. So close. But I'm really home.
Home was suddenly-- vividly-- contrasted with 'not home'.
He was back in the dirt grave and there were bodies around him, dead flesh against his bare skin, dried blood scraping his bruises. The smell...
He coughed, a deep hacking sound that scared him, and he raised his hands to push away the bodies, to let himself breathe fresh air, unpolluted by death. Again his hands were caught and held, Jim's voice whispered to him through the dark void, and Blair came back, flinging into the moment, the clench of fists on his lungs miraculously eased. Back home.
The tears continued to well up. His left shoe was removed and he was gently rolled to his side, a pillow beneath the walking cast on his ankle. Jim's hand on his face felt nice and he must have made some small noise of appreciation, for suddenly Jim was massaging his temples, both hands drawing soothing circles on his brow.
I should be doing this for him. He's the one with the headache.
Jim had a headache. Blair remembered seeing the pain in his eyes, the tight line of his jaw and mouth, the furled brow. Yet Jim had sat with him outside on the balcony, talking to him because he needed someone to sit with and talk to, and now the sentinel was making sure his guide was resting comfortably before taking care of himself.
That's not right, Jim. I should be taking care of you. I want...
Blair raised his hands, and, eyes still closed, found Jim's face above his own. No strength to do anything fancy, he just held his partner's face in his hands, willing all the healing within him to touch the pain of the man who was caring for him with such manifold gentleness and love.
You're home, too, Jim.
He thought it, then found the strength to say it aloud before surrendering to sleep as the murmured whisper of his partner's words spoke over him like an ancient blessing.
The upper floor was sweltering. James Ellison lay stretched out on his bed in the darkness, blinking wearily at the ceiling of the loft bedroom. He had been drifting, waiting for sleep to overtake him, when the silvery threads stretching from beam to beam registered on his sight. His eyes traced the cobwebs, the long, fine strands, a lattice of netting to catch the starlight that filtered through the upper windows. He frowned, adding that to his growing list of things to do: clean the windows. Everything needed cleaning. The captain had said to take a few days off work; tomorrow he would... or maybe the next day. Soon.
He stared at the cobwebs again, clenching his jaw. Cobwebs meant things were being forgotten, neglected. The loft really needed a good scrubbing. If he'd been thinking properly, he would have cleaned the floors and walls while the furniture was out of the loft a few weeks previous-- but then, if he had been thinking properly, he never would have pulled the furniture out in the first place.
And besides everything else that had gone wrong that week, by moving the furniture out of the loft, then back into it, Ellison had stirred up a lot of dust. It still hung lazily in the night air, the place musty from their latest absence.
Before retiring for the evening, Ellison had left the balcony door open in an attempt to circulate air in the suffocating loft. It was only working marginally; the cobwebs were shifting slightly, touched by a faint draft that didn't seem to reach him as he lay naked, sweating, above the bedcovers. He felt strangely vulnerable, exposed beneath the starlight, caught in the stillness of the night, his aching body trapped by those thin, gossamer, dust-flecked strands that stretched like chains across the rafters.
He breathed shallowly, his limbs still, his hands flat against the cool sheet beneath him. He needed to sleep, to forget housecleaning, unpacking, or the laundry that needed to be done. Or the paperwork waiting on Simon's desk, details hidden in a secured file. Or the strained memories of confused days and tortured nights.
He needed to let himself sink into his mattress and sleep in the oppressive, stuffy, muggy, airless loft.
At least Sandburg was sleeping.
The thought both gladdened his heart and irritated him. Then saddened him. His guide must be beyond exhausted to have fallen asleep so quickly. Ellison, at least, had taken a cold shower, but his partner, with the pink cast around his foot, had shaken his head that it was too much bother to even consider and had let himself be assisted to bed. And was now asleep.
Unlike his roommate.
Well, he couldn't blame Sandburg. Sandburg magic had taken the headache away that had been plaguing him all evening. It still hovered just out of reach, but for the most part, it was under control now. Almost as if the kid had harnessed it, subdued it, then handed him back the controls. But, as with anything one kept under tight control, once Jim fell asleep, he knew his control would be lost and the headache would be back.
Ellison couldn't even blame his senses for keeping him awake. They were quiet, not bombarding him with information or giving him useless data, or any of the other problems he'd had in the last weeks. In the suffocating mustiness of the moment, he mentally slid up the dials a fraction, as though they were a stereo equalizer needing adjustment, in the hopes that maybe he would then feel the breeze that had stirred the cobwebs earlier.
As if they had only needed prodding, the dials slid up higher on their own, into the mid range, triggering exactly what he had been trying to avoid. He shut his eyes, feeling a shift in reality that he had experienced while Sandburg had been missing, the slide from Cascade into the dream jungle. Maybe if the jungle had been cooler, he would have gladly let himself go.
With a sigh, he sat up, stretched, and lay back again, this time on his side, his legs sprawled across the mattress. He wasn't ready to dream yet. Not tonight. If he could put off the descent into that world a few more minutes... maybe enjoy the disassociated hovering of his thoughts...he would be able to direct his attention to some other sort of occupation besides the lure of the jungle. Sandburg was back; the dreams should have left. The dreams should have left. Right?
Why the hell do I dream so much?
Well, that wasn't really the question. Everyone dreamed. It was healthy.
Then why do I have to dream of the jungle?
Sandburg had answers, but when they had last discussed them while in Mexico, Sandburg had come up with a selection of suggestions, a wide range of ideas that might explain his dreams and his dreamscape.
Such a strange term-- dreamscape-- one that Sandburg used easily. Your dreamscape. The place Ellison dreamed, the place his mind had invented for him to act out his uncertainty and longing by speaking to him in images he understood.
Or maybe it really was a spirit level he accessed, conversing with animal spirits and long-dead friends from another life. Blue images, touched with other colors that didn't quite appear normal, enough so he knew this was a different plane altogether.
His guide had no answers. Sandburg said it could be both. Or neither. Or a combination Ellison had yet to understand, mixed with other truths and mysteries that he had yet to dream of. There are more mysteries under heaven and earth than are thought of in your philosophies...
Or something like that. Shakespeare never was one of his strong points. At least, he thought it was Shakespeare. Ellison smiled, shifting his face into the pillow, wiping his damp forehead on the pillowcase.
Jungle Man, Sandburg had called him, laughing hysterically while they walked on the beach in Mexico. Instead of a cape and tights, in his dreamscape he had his trusty camouflage pants, his bandana on his head, a crossbow fitted into the crook of his arm. Jungle Man! Blair had sung, to the massacred tune of "Spiderman". Jungle Man, Jungle Man, does whatever a panther can... Look out, here comes the Jungle Man.
He smiled again, hearing the laughter of his guide, enjoying the memory, the cartoon poses on the beach in the evening as they sang and hammed for a non-existent audience, letting friendship hide the pain of uncertainty, the gurgle of life welling from his partner's soul to spill across his own need, bathing him in that cleansing flow.
A good memory.
Maybe there were good dreams, too, but Ellison seldom remembered them. All he had were murky memories.
Since that first day when Sandburg had been kidnapped, when he woke, there was just the impression that he had been running through the trees, stopping and listening to the distant babble of water, moving, prowling, pacing as the dream wore on. Searching for--
He turned over onto his back and closed his eyes.
Sandburg's here. He's home, in his bed, and already asleep. As I should be.
But Ellison couldn't get to sleep. His thoughts rambled on, taking him through the last week, hovering over the ache he had felt when Sandburg had let himself be recaptured, an ache that had led down a path to a full blown zone-out. Two and a half hours. A personal record, if he were to keep track. But then, he didn't have to; Sandburg lived for such statistics, detailing times and circumstances, reasons and solutions.
Again Ellison's eyes opened, as though his sight would augment his hearing as he let his senses home in on the familiar heartbeat. It was faster than normal, though. His guide was dreaming. The strange thing was, Sandburg never could tell him what his dreams were about. The young man was the shaman, the mystic one, the spiritual one, but he never remembered his dreams. Well, except the one they had shared. The rest of his dreams were more correctly labeled 'nightmares'.
The strange thing Ellison had noticed was that neither dreamed when they slept next to each other. Or if they dreamed, they didn't remember them.
He sat up again, still listening. Blair seemed to have calmed, the dream moving on, breathing and pulse returned to normal, but there was a tension in the air that felt uncomfortable, like a thunderstorm moving in. The sentinel altered his own inhalations and exhalations to match his guide's, the exercise easing the pressure between his temples, but still leaving him restless and edgy. He reached for his boxers, earlier kicked down to the foot of the bed, and slipped them on, picking up, then discarding, his terry robe. Too hot.
The stairs were cool beneath his feet, the breeze from the bay beginning at last to reach the interior of the loft as he padded down the hill, stumbling slightly on a loose stone. The path leveled out and he walked along it, feeling the brush of plants against his legs and...
He stopped, his eyes snapping closed.
He touched his arm, pinching the tanned skin. The appropriate pain registered on his senses. He was awake, if that was any indication. So what had happened? This wasn't a dream.
Was it so easy to drift from one world to the other?
Eyes still shut, he concentrated, finding his location, the scent of the loft, the faint trace of ginseng tea they had made earlier, the unmistakable essence of his guide asleep in the other room. Scent seemed to work best whenever he was disoriented, then his hearing would help convince his mind where he was. Cautiously, he opened his eyes and walked past his bookshelves and the stereo and over to the open doorway, then stepped through to the slatted floor of the balcony.
The moon, so full just a few days before, now looked robbed, neither a full moon nor a half moon, just a slightly off-kilter circle above him, moments from dipping behind the buildings in the distance skyline and disappearing for the evening. The sky was clear, no sign of clouds that signaled an imminent storm, although the wind had begun to pick up. Ellison could feel the breeze now, the refreshing draft, however slight, cooling the sheen of perspiration that covered his skin. He was still shaking. The blood pounded through his veins, his temples throbbing as his adrenaline-charged pulse strove to slow down.
He would talk to Sandburg. Somehow they would fix this.
With the resolution, came the memory that when Sandburg had woken in the hospital after his near-drowning, his guide had seen only the jungle for several days until his sight had resolved itself. Ellison couldn't remember what they had done to fix it, or if it had just changed back one day. Is this what is happening to me? Am I going to see only the jungle soon?
On the main road, crossing to one side of their apartment building, a steady stream of cars passed, even at midnight. He let his gaze expand across the blocks to the waterfront, skipping over the rippled crest of waters on the bay, to the buildings of Cascade's downtown core, the multi-colored lights of traffic signals and office towers a strange beacon of life into the night. Below it, the reflection, as always a distorted version of the real thing, at the mercy of the wind and the waves and the tug boats that never ceased to chug through the harbor waters.
Inside the loft, Sandburg moaned, and Ellison turned, stepping through the clearing and ducking into the cave where his guide lay sleeping, his sight expanding in the darkness to see... Sandburg's room. The young man lay facing away from him, curled on his side, the covers tangled about his legs on the bed, his face scrunched in distress.
Taking a deep breath, trying to calm himself, Ellison sat on the edge of the mattress. Sandburg moaned again, and the sentinel tugged gently at Sandburg's shoulder, turning him to lie on his back. "Chief?"
"Huh? Wha--?" Sandburg woke with a gasp, eyes blinking in the shadows of the room.
Ellison reached to touch the side of his face. No fever; in fact, Sandburg felt cooler than he had the right to be in the muggy evening air, and the shivers Ellison could feel were probably in reaction to the breeze from the side window over his guide's sleep-warmed body. He straightened Sandburg's foot which was bent beneath him, the pink walking cast at an uncomfortable angle.
"Yeah. You awake now?"
Sandburg's shiver became more pronounced. "What time is it?" he whispered, clutching at the sheet Ellison pulled over him.
"Just after twelve."
"What's wrong?" Ellison let his hand rest over his guide's heart.
"Can't sleep. I just got to sleep finally and something woke me up."
"You were dreaming."
"Yeah. Probably. Don't remember it though." Sandburg yawned, then sighed, impatient with the warring demands of his body. "Can't sleep. Can't stay awake. This sucks, man."
"Want me to stay here?"
The silence answered him. Ellison nudged his partner over, then stretched out beside him.
"Thanks," Sandburg whispered.
"No problem. We're probably both just a little wired."
"Yeah... It's just kinda strange, you know. Being here."
"Here with me?"
Sandburg shook his head in the dark. "No, not that. Just being in my own bed. I mean, I've been looking forward to sleeping in my own bed for quite awhile, but right now it's like I can't seem to relax. Like I'm waiting for something... something ominous to happen."
"I thought we were going to have a thunderstorm, but the sky is clear."
"Yeah? The air feels kinda strange. Is that it?"
"How does the air feel?"
Sandburg shrugged. "I don't know. Just heavy or something." He rolled onto his side, facing Ellison, then shifted back until he was against the outer wall. "Just feels weird."
"Tell me if you want me to go."
"I don't want you to go."
"Okay. Just tell me when you do."
"I will," Sandburg said, after a moment.
Ellison watched him, watched the eyes finally close as sleep overtook Blair, capturing his consciousness. Strangely, Ellison felt lonely suddenly, as though he were once again alone in the loft. He turned his head, then repositioned himself on his side on the double-wide futon. He rested his hand on the mattress between them, and without waking, Blair's hand came to cover his.
Ellison closed his eyes, feeling a sense of peace creep over him finally, a lifting of the weight he hadn't realized he was still carrying. Blessed Protector, indeed. Who just crawled into whose bed for reassurance?
He opened his eyes again, wondering if he should leave, but the thought was too difficult to hold on to and he went to sleep instead.
Blair moved his leg, bumping the cast on the wall behind him. "Ow." His foot hurt. Not a nice way to wake up. "Ow." His hands grasped the sheet as he felt his mattress suddenly shift beneath him. "Huh?" He cracked his eyes open long enough to see Jim's shadowy figure disappearing from the room. Blair was trying to figure out why Jim was there and more importantly, why he had left, when a moment later Jim was back with some water and his pills.
"Can you sit up?"
"Yeah." Blair tried, but coordination seemed to have fled in the middle of the night. He could get his eyes open, but only for brief glimpses of his surroundings. "Uh, actually--"
Jim helped him sit up enough to swallow the painkillers and gulp down the glass of cool water. "Easy," Jim warned, taking the glass away from him. "You were thirsty. Want some more?"
He shook his head, wanting only to go back to sleep. "Is it still night?" He let his eyes stay shut, relieved when Jim situated him flat on the mattress again.
"Three o'clock. Just after."
Blair groaned. Hours to go yet. "Sorry."
"No problem," Jim said quietly, laying back beside him.
"You don't have to stay." There was no response, so he turned his head, prying his eyes open to see Jim in the dim light that came through his window. "You okay?"
"Yeah." If the response wasn't convincing, what Jim added clinched it. "We can talk about it in the morning."
Which meant, of course, that Jim Ellison was not okay. But Blair had no brainpower left to deal with it. Drugs one; Sandburg nothing.
"Stay?" he asked, saying the only thing he could just as sleep won the battle.
The light pressure of Jim's hand on his arm was answer enough.
And then the pain drifted away.
Ellison woke four hours later, smiling at the morning sunshine visible through the side window. He had made it through the night without any more incidents. His eyes dropped from the eastern window in Sandburg's room to rest on his partner's face, traces of pain visible on his features even in the relaxed sprawl on the bed. Carefully, he got up from the bed and crossed the hall to the bathroom, using the facilities and washing his face. Coffee. He started to make their morning java, when he remembered there was no milk. And they both took milk in their coffee. Sandburg took a lot of milk, even opting for a latte when there was a choice. It was no real bother to throw on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts and head downstairs. He could get a pint or a quart of milk at the bakery below them. They always had something in the deli section along with the juices and sodas.
Half way down the first flight of stairs, he felt himself slow down, each step reluctantly following the last.
Milk. I'm just going to get milk. He's fine. He's safe.
Ellison paused on the stairs, holding on to the banister.
This is ridiculous.
He deliberately walked down to the ground floor, ignoring the rising panic, the increase of his heart rate, the difficulty in catching his breath.
"Hey, Detective." Rosy looked up as he entered the store. "How do you always know just when the bread is just out of the oven?"
His shaking hand grasped hold of the metal handle on the glass refrigerated display case, tugging the door open and grabbing the milk he needed. "I'll take this and some... raisin bread."
"Raisin?" She looked puzzled and he realized the fresh bread was the whole wheat.
"And a loaf of whole wheat, of course," he added quickly, gasping slightly to get enough air in his lungs. "I'm in a bit of a rush, Rosy. I'm waiting for a phone call."
"Sure thing, Detective." She handed him the bread and waved him off. "I'll put it on your tab."
"Thanks." He rushed out the door and up the stairs, taking two at a time.
He could hear the door to the loft open, and Sandburg's distressed call combined with the sound of his guide limping down the third floor hallway above him, the walking cast thumping on the flooring.
"Jim? Where are you?"
"Coming!" he called out, hoping his voice would carry. He was at the second floor heading for the third when the door at the top of the stairs opened and he knew without being able to see that Sandburg had emerged onto the landing.
"Jim? Is something wrong? What's happening?" his guide asked, sounding panicked as he tried to see over the railing.
"I just went to get milk," Ellison called out, still climbing the stairs quickly.
Then came the sound he hadn't wanted to hear. The sound of the cast slipping on the cement stairs. The startled grunt, followed by a gasp of pain.
Ellison rounded the final corner in time to catch Sandburg in mid flight as he tumbled down the stairs, then rolled with him down to the next landing, doing his best to shelter the younger man from the worst of the fall. They landed in a tangled heap against the corner of the stairwell, Ellison moving out of the way quickly to see how his guide was.
"Ouch," Blair mumbled, staring at his foot, the frame of the walking cast bent. "Ouch," he repeated. "Jim, it's pressing against my foot. It's pinching something. Ouch!" he said louder, pulling at the cast, getting in the way of Ellison's hands. There was an elaborate set of catches and velcro holding the walking cast in place, and Ellison's fingers moved quickly, trying to straighten the bent buckles that were putting pressure on the injured ankle.
"Just take it off, okay?" Blair asked, panting in pain as he lay sprawled against the stairs, a faint sheen of sweat on his face.
"I've undone a few of the clasps. That should ease the pressure."
"No, just take it off my foot."
"Let's let the doctors decide that."
"I want it off. I don't need it."
"The doctor in Seattle said to wear the walking cast for a week, to give your ankle support--"
"I won't walk on my foot. Take it off."
"Take it off!"
"Okay, okay." Ellison began to undo the latches he had just straightened.
"It's pink, Jim," Sandburg muttered. "Why is it pink?"
"It's more of a salmon color--"
"It's pink," Blair pronounced gloomily, reaching for Ellison's arm as the sentinel finished and hauled him upright. "Why, Jim? Why'd you do that? Did you think it would be funny?" Blair shivered.
"Why did I do that? Why do you think I'm responsible for it?" Ellison leaned his guide against the railing and jogged down a few stairs to collect the plastic bag with his groceries.
"Simon said so."
"He did, did he?" The detective glanced up at Sandburg, still in obvious pain from his fall. "Well, maybe I okayed the choice, but you were the one who wanted pink. You said white was too dull. You wanted something with more color in it."
"What? You're saying that I chose pink? I think not. That is so not a thing I would do."
Ellison sighed. He was helping Sandburg up the stairs and they still had five stairs to go. "Did I mention you were high on drugs at the time?"
"No." Sandburg paused mid-hop. "I was?"
"So... what? What did I do?"
"You insisted you wanted pink. I suggested white and you started crying. I told the intern to go ahead and put a pink one on."
"I wasn't crying." ~hop~
"Are you sure?" ~hop~
"My blue shirt still isn't dry."
~hop~ ~hop~ "Do I want to know the rest of this story?" ~hop~
They had reached the door, and Ellison could feel Sandburg's growing shivering. He helped him into the loft, steering him to the nearest chair. "Nah, the story only goes downhill from there. But one good thing-- you did get the intern's phone number."
"Yeah?" Sandburg said, with a laugh, though he was biting his bottom lip to keep it from shaking. "That's me. Always working, right?" He gasped slightly as he sat down.
Ellison got a throw pillow from the couch and put it on another of the kitchen chairs, elevating Sandburg's leg. "Well, George was a little confused about it, so he may not have given you his real number."
Sandburg looked up at him, pain forgotten. "George? As in the intern was a guy named George?" The look of panic faded. "This was in Seattle, right?"
"So... George is in Seattle. Whew."
"Well, he said if you were into guys, he has this friend in Cascade who he would give your number to."
"It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?" Sandburg started shivering again, staring at his foot. "It hurts."
"The cast was bent on one side, putting pressure on your ankle. Get dressed and we'll go to the hospital here and have them look at it. Maybe they'll say you don't need it at all."
"Is my ankle broken?"
Ellison shook his head. "No. Badly strained, though. The walking cast was supporting it." He stood up, hands on his hips. "So what's the verdict? We going to the hospital?"
"No. No hospital. And no more drugs, okay?" Sandburg took the afghan Ellison handed him and wrapped it around his shoulders.
"Do they make you feel dizzy?"
"No, they ruin my social life. Get real, Jim. George??"
Ellison lightly whacked him on the side of the head, feeling a smile on his own face. "If we're not going to the hospital, you should be back in bed. It's still early."
"I'm not tired right now."
"You will be as soon as you take your meds."
"I'm not taking them. No hospital. No drugs."
Ellison stood again, arms crossed over his chest, doing his best to look firm. "Okay, here's my counter offer. No hospital, but you take your meds. Or the other way, we skip your meds and you go to the hospital and let the doctor decide."
Sandburg frowned, obviously trying to think his way out of that one, which only proved how tired he really was when he came up empty.
"Come on, Chief. In bed, take your meds, and have a nap while I make us a nice breakfast in about an hour and a half. Simon will be over later this morning."
"How about I take my meds and don't have a nap? I'll be fine."
"George, George, George of the Jungle..." Ellison sang, bringing the two tablets over to his partner.
"Okay. Good point," Sandburg said quickly, swallowing them. "Maybe a short nap might be in order before Simon gets here. I don't want to say something that scares the man."
"Too late, Sandburg," Jim said, taking the empty glass and setting it on the table, then helping his roommate into his bedroom and into bed.
Ellison stood in the doorway, turning back to his partner. "Yes?"
"Sorry about reacting that way."
"What do you mean?"
"When you weren't here, when you were downstairs. Sorry about freaking out and everything. I'm not sure why that happened."
Ellison said nothing for a long moment, wondering whether he should just walk away from it all, or admit that he was just as unnerved as Sandburg by what had happened. "I'm not sure what happened either. I..." His voice trailed off as words fled.
"Same thing?" Sandburg asked quietly.
"Yeah," he said.
"Oh." Sandburg seemed to drift, then he smiled sadly, staring off into the distance. "Remember what I said about the water being warm?"
It took the sentinel a few moments to place the comment. A month before, when Blair was in the hospital after drowning in the fountain at Rainier, they had discussed their joined dream and Blair had said, "Come on in, my friend. The water's warm."
"I remember," Ellison said now, and touched his guide's forehead.
Within minutes, Sandburg was asleep.
Ellison paced the loft, around the table, past the stairs and the stereo, to the balcony doors, skirting along them, then cutting through the living area and around the coffee table, to the kitchen. Around the island, past Sandburg's room, back to the table, then repeating it. In six of the twenty-four trips, he was in the jungle.
In two of the twenty-four trips, he was the black jaguar in the jungle.
In sixteen of the twenty-four trips, he was just a frustrated detective, worrying about his partner and worrying about his own sanity.
Twice, he almost woke Sandburg up to demand an answer, to insist that his guide explain what was happening. Each time, he had stopped in the doorway and stared at Sandburg's exhausted sprawl on the bed, the too pale skin, the bruises and the dark circles beneath his eyes. So maybe it was okay to morph back and forth from the jungle. That's what it felt like, like the morphing special effect he'd seen on TV and on the movies. The weird shift from one shape to the other. From Cascade to jungle. From man to jaguar.
He stood motionless in the middle of the loft, hands at his side, arms held out from his body. Air currents swirled lazily around him, sliding over his bare arms and bare legs, the khaki shorts he wore the only clothing. With a shimmer the room began to shift, colors bleeding, running, changing to another hue, another shape.
"No," he whispered, halting its progress. He was really too tired for all this. Tired of fighting it.
Ellison closed his eyes and walked to the telephone, punching in Simon's number, then belatedly looking at his watch. It was four in the afternoon. Of course, the sun was still up. Why did he think it was later?
It wasn't so much that, as he had absolutely no idea what time it was. Middle of the night. Middle of the day. The sun should have been a clue, and when he started looking for clues, there were there. He was fairly certain he'd zoned. He would have had to, because the time didn't make sense. How much time had he lost over the afternoon? An hour? Two? Maybe even three? He remembered breakfast, but not lunch. Had he eaten lunch? No new dishes in the sink. Had Simon come over? He couldn't remember. He carried the ringing telephone to the fridge and withdrew a bottle of water.
Simon answered the phone in his office at Major Crimes. "Banks."
"Jim. Sorry I haven't gotten over there yet. Is everything okay? How's Sandburg? Is he getting any sleep?"
So, Simon hadn't been there yet. "We're okay. He's been asleep most of the day, on and off," Ellison said, twisting the cap from a bottle of water.
"Drugged or just worn out?"
"Both. Doc said he needed the rest, so I've just let him sleep. Woke him to take his pills and eat something, but that's it." Ellison crossed the room and dropped down wearily into the living room chair. He had positioned the yellow chair to sit in the path of a ray of sunshine, so he could soak up the meager warmth while still getting the best of the draft from the balcony doors. "How's Rafe?"
"They're letting him out tomorrow. I saw him this morning and he's in good spirits. Henri's hovering, and Connor is back in town, so he's got two people fussing over him."
"Sandburg wanted to go see Rafe today, but he fell asleep at the table this morning, so I think he knows he's not ready to go traveling yet. The trip from Seattle wiped him out yesterday."
"Wiped you both out." There was a moment of silence, then Banks asked cautiously, "How's the kid really doing?"
The detective leaned forward to rest his forearms on his legs, shifting the phone from his left to his right hand. "He's healing. Hard to say, other than that."
"And you?" Banks asked.
Ellison rubbed his forehead, not sure what to say. Not sure what was happening. "Tired. Restless. The usual." He opened his mouth to say more, but ended up saying nothing, shaking his head helplessly.
Simon had heard something, though, enough to prompt him to ask again, "What is it?"
"Nothing." Ellison brushed it off with a question of his own. "Did you hear from Bridges?"
Banks let out a sigh, apparently allowing his question to be sidestepped. "They arrived in San Francisco safely. Bridges has Evan home with him; he said this way he can keep an eye on his daughter, since she'll be over playing nursemaid. He asked about Sandburg, since Evan is having a fair amount of abdominal pain. He said the kid swears it's from the Chinese food, not anything else." Banks chuckled, then when Ellison didn't reply, his voice changed, the earlier polite question now a gentle but firm demand. "What is it, Jim? What's happening?"
It was Ellison's turn to laugh, but the sound was forced. "You sure you want to know?" he asked, looking up to stare out the balcony window.
He was looking out the balcony window. He knew he was looking out the balcony window. But it wasn't what he was seeing.
"Remember when Sandburg was in the hospital here, after he drowned? His vision was affected-- he saw the jungle, remember?"
"I remember. Is it happening to him again?"
"Not to him."
"You?" Banks asked, his voice incredulous.
"Just a bit. Not much. But a few times, yeah," Ellison admitted, wiping his hand over his face, watching the couch and the television form before his eyes.
"In Seattle, too?"
"Briefly, two or three times. More so since coming back here."
There was a long pause. "What does Sandburg think is causing it?"
"I haven't had a chance to tell him. He's been sleeping and, well, there's been other things happening that are equally off."
Banks sighed, but asked, "Such as...?"
"I can't explain it, sir." The sentinel rose and walked to the door of his guide's room, feeling the edginess and the tension in his gut fall away. "It's probably just this whole thing, everything that's going on." He closed his eyes, shutting out the encroaching jungle. "The kidnaping. The kid's injuries. What those bastards did to him." He squeezed his eyes shut tighter, blocking the visual memory that was etched into his consciousness.
Banks' tone changed again, the frustration still there, but there was compassion and support clearly heard over the phone lines. "What can I do?"
"Oh, we'll be fine in a few days, Simon. It's just all hitting me, I suppose. A good sleep is what I need." He opened his eyes as Sandburg stirred, restless, pushing back the thin blanket that covered him.
"Have you done any more of that... that pain transference thing you do?"
"The what? Oh. No. At least I don't think so. It's not something I think about doing."
"Well, considering what has happened to you each time, how worn out you get, it's best not to do that when there's not someone else around."
"Yeah." He could see the pain on Sandburg's pale face, the thin sheen of sweat on his brow.
"Well, let me know if you need any help, Jim."
"Thanks." He hung up the phone and entered his guide's room.
Banks sat at his desk for several minutes, lightly drumming the surface with his fingertips. He hadn't passed on Harvey Leeks' word of warning. How or why, the captain wasn't sure, but the San Francisco detective had the premonition that all was not well with Cascade's sentinel and guide. He'd called to ask how they were only half an hour before.
And now Ellison had just confirmed that something was wrong, at least with the sentinel half of the duo.
So, what was he supposed to do about it? Barge over and demand they see a counselor?
His phone rang again, shifting his attention to the mayor's office and their request for a report on what had happened in Seattle. Then Henri Brown called about his partner, two newspapers wanted an update, and Daryl called to see if he was okay. Before Simon knew it, he was heading home and the digital clock on his car dash said it was ten at night-- too late to phone. Both men should be long asleep, and he wasn't about to wake them up. It probably wasn't anything that a good night's sleep wouldn't cure.
But at 7:30 the next morning, there was no answer to his call to the loft. He let it ring until the answering machine came on, then called into it, but no one responded. Even if Jim had been sound asleep, he would have heard that. He tried the local hospital, the one Ellison inevitably went to if there was a problem with one of them, but it had been a relatively quiet night, and no one had remembered seeing the detective.
With a well-rehearsed, long-suffering sigh, Banks threw on his lightweight suit jacket and headed out into the day, deciding he would stop and check on the partners on the way in. It was probably something simple. They were sleeping, maybe, and Jim had taken the phone off the hook-- no, had unplugged it. That's probably all it was. Something simple.
With those two. Right...
The truck was outside the apartment, next to the Volvo. After ringing the bell for the loft and being ignored, Simon dug his keys from his pocket and entered the building, taking the stairs to the third floor. He found a loaf of bread in the stairwell, sitting near the exit. He left it where it was, wondering if he'd have to come back and dust the plastic for fingerprints.
There was no answer to his loud knocking. He readied his gun and inserted the key in the lock, easing the door open. No response. No one in the kitchen or living room. He stepped inside, moving near the couches to look upstairs, his gun still out before him. From what he could tell, the bed was empty. Backtracking, he went into the kitchen, past the half-open door to Sandburg's room. He glanced in, then froze.
Well, that wasn't exactly what he had been expecting.
He lowered the gun, then remembered the bathroom and checked it before returning to the entrance and shutting the loft door. He slipped the weapon back into his holster and stood once again at the door to Sandburg's room, scratching his head.
Jim Ellison was curled around his partner on the bed. Powerful arms surrounded the young man who lay huddled, wrapped in a thin blanket, his head tucked beneath the detective's chin, his long hair fanned over Ellison's bare arm. Their hands were joined, fingers interlocking. The picture alone would be worth his weight in blackmail material, depending on whose hands it fell into.
Once the initial shock was over, Banks ignored the thousand none-of-his-business questions and stepped into the room. He would just make sure they were okay, then he would go. No comments. "Jim?"
There was no response, not even a flicker of muscle moving. Ellison's face was blank, eyes closed. Simon cautiously reached out and touched the man's shoulder, but there was no reaction to his light touch. The bare arm was cool to touch.
"Sandburg? Blair?" He tried the guide, lightly tapping the young's man's face, staying clear of the bruises. "Blair? Wake up." Still no response. Sandburg was cool, as well. Almost as if he was...
His hand darted to Ellison's throat first, checking his pulse, relieved to see he was breathing evenly. Same with Sandburg. Breathing was slow and regular, as though they were deeply asleep. But someone asleep should be able to be woken up. "Blair?" he called loudly, shaking the young man's shoulder, then the detective's. "Jim!"
Why hadn't they answered the phone?
Why weren't they awake now? Why had the Sentinel let him walk in the loft, without being challenged? Was it because Jim knew the intruder was Banks? Or was it because Jim was unaware there even was an intruder?
Or was it something else? That something that had made Harvey Leeks call him, worried.
With a desperate grasp, Simon tugged Sandburg onto his back, separating the two men, but the reaction was not what he had been looking for.
Blair Sandburg screamed as the first violent shock ripped through his body and Jim Ellison dissolved into utter darkness. The warm, pleasant breeze of the jungle evening transformed into a sick, chill wind that engulfed and surrounded him, banishing all that was normal and right in what had been his world. Consciousness fled, and returned, only to drop from under him again. Awareness flickered in and out like a dying electrical circuit, snapping and crackling, a flourescent light on a neon sign frantically seeking to make a connection to keep it all together, to keep the light shining in the darkness.
"Jim!" he cried out, screamed out, during one moment of connection. "Jim! What's happening? Jim! Jim!" he yelled-- or tried to yell-- his voice breaking from disuse. He tried to turn back, to find and grab hold of his partner, to remember where he had been, but he felt himself dragged from Ellison's side, torn without warning from the fabric of their existence, spun around and then hurled through space and time away from his sentinel, his friend, and his destiny.
Flashes of blue. His world was stained with blue.
Then even that was gone, and color blinded him.
He could hear Jim for a brief moment, and strained to hear the faint echo of his name try to claim him back, but the words were not enough to bind him in place, and the sounds swirled down the cosmic drain. Jim was gone, siphoned away from his life, the gurgle of his voice a final death rattle.
Sandburg tumbled in the void, dizzy, spinning, lost. His skin was raw, whipped by sharp sand hurricanes, buffeted by pounding war drums echoing in his head and chest until breathing was agony. "No," he sobbed, trying to breathe, but another scream forced its way through the grimace of his lips. He fought again to find the solace of his sentinel. Where was Jim? Why were they not together? He flung his head back, the sound breaking from his heart, tearing through his lungs. "No, damn it! Where are you? Jim? Find me!"
His bones rattled, brittle and feeble against the onslaught of emptiness. He felt truly, utterly alone, and at that moment, he knew he would not survive; death had come for him as well, for in his tortured mind, nothing could be as cataclysmic as being severed from his sentinel. He had been with Jim, and now he was not.
"Jim," he whispered, then whimpered deep in his throat. "Jimmmmmm."
Darkness consumed him and he had lost the desire, the reason, to fight back.
His sentinel was gone, beyond his touch, beyond his reach. They had fragmented somehow, split into shards of flesh and soul. He was not quite... complete.
He had shattered his spirit, cracked it open, but in that gaping hole was a fractured piece of Jim Ellison. Not the whole man, just a tiny reminder of what it was like to have the sentinel in his life, a taunting memory.
It was not enough.
He turned toward the darkness and the emptiness, walking slowly, his feet dragging on nothing, and wondered where he was.
Simon Banks jumped back as Sandburg screamed, his hand snatched back as though burned. A half second later, a blur of motion robbed him of air. He struggled, trying to talk, trying to unravel the hands clenched around his throat. "Jim," he hissed. "Jim, let go. It's Simon."
James Ellison had risen from the bed, teeth clenched, eyes narrowed in a fierce glare, his face twisted with promised violence. There was no recognition of his captain, no acknowledgment of Simon as friend. Seconds passed, long terrifying moments that pushed into a full minute while Simon struggled desperately against his captor. He was caught, unable to move, impossibly tight fingers digging into his throat, his breathing cut off. Black spots threatened, then robbed his vision, but the hand around his neck neither tightened further nor released him.
"Jim!" he struggled to get out, the word distorted. "Ell's'n!" His hands tried unsuccessfully to pull at the vice-like grip on his throat.
But the sentinel was frozen, as though he had zoned on the instant, teethed bared in fury, eyes flashing indignation and outrage, like a 3-D photograph a large cat in mid-attack. No sound issued from him, no attempt to communicate, just the one movement that culminated in Simon being trapped, unable to shift at all for fear of crushing his own larynx.
"Jim. Jimmmmmmm." Sandburg's voice cut through the room, the word moaned from below Simon somewhere, a lost cry.
The captain took his eyes off the fierce face inches from his own, long enough to dart a quick glance to where Blair lay abandoned on the bed. When the sound repeated, the sentinel's head tilted, listening, hearing something now that registered his complete attention and appropriated every ounce of awareness. He turned, hands dropping from Simon's throat to tenderly gather his partner in again. He lay back down, Sandburg within his grasp, eyes closing as both men retreated to whatever existence they were trapped in. Case closed. The intruder forgotten, ignored.
Simon backed from the room, shaking, stumbling to sit at the table outside the French doors. What the hell was that about? He coughed loudly, gasping in air. "What the hell was that about?" he demanded, as soon as he was able, leaning forward to rest his head on the table as he massaged the memory of being strangled from his abused throat muscles.
Of all the strange things those two had done, that was in the top three for the strangest, the most bizarre, the most rattling moment he had endured with them. Taking first prize was the worst moment-- the best moment-- at Rainier University, scarcely a month before, when Ellison had turned around and returned to his partner's side-- his dead partner-- and somehow, some way, brought him back to life.
That was the only way Simon could describe it. If he thought about it-- and he tried not to-- he knew that Ellison hadn't literally brought Sandburg back to life. But the sentinel had been there, and he had done something. He had been the hands that were used, the mouth that breathed air and life. If anything, the will that had willed his partner to his side.
And now. This. Whatever this was.
It was too much to deal with. Not after everything they had been through during the last month. Simon waited until his heart beat resumed a somewhat normal cadence, then he did what he always did under stress. He got to his feet, as soon as he was able, made up a pot of coffee and went out to the balcony to smoke his cigar. If Jim didn't like it, well, Jim could come out and tell him. The notion flitting through his thoughts that maybe he should smoke it in the living room of the loft and see if that warranted any reaction from the detective. Jim hated his house rules being violated and would surely rise from the dead to enforce them.
Bad analogy, Banks.
He laughed, then tried very hard not to cry, leaning over the balcony and looking out across the morning haze to the skyscrapers of Cascade's downtown, pinpointing the Cascade PD building with practiced ease. Over the bridge, it was just twenty minutes away. It might just as well be on the other side of the continent. None of the resources at his disposal would fix this particular mess. His men-- his friends-- were drifting away from him and there was nothing he could do to stop them.
Thirty minutes later, clutching the tattered corners of the only idea he could come up with, Simon put down his empty mug and went back to the door of Sandburg's room, his heart rate speeding up as he watched the two men lying motionless on the narrow futon, Jim wrapped around his partner. Too damn weird.
Okay. I can do this. Wiping damp palms on his suit pants, Simon entered the room and carefully sat down again on the edge of the bed. One hand ready to defend himself, he called to Jim, then Blair. Then he called to the Sentinel and the Guide. He methodically coaxed them, shook them gently, and finally barked an order to them to wake up. They ignored him. Granted, under normal conditions they often ignored him, but this was different. This time he was frightened. In no way was this normal, even for them.
Desperate times called for desperate actions. He stood, crouching at the side of the bed, then got his arms under Sandburg and in one mighty lift, grabbed the anthropologist and ran from the room to drop with him to the couch. For all his frantic rushing, Ellison hadn't followed, at least not that Banks could tell. There was no movement in the other room, no sound of Sandburg's bed creaking, no furious grizzly bear came lumbering through the door toward him.
This time, it wasn't a simple scream that tore from Blair's mouth, though, but a near silent cry of pain as the young guide suddenly reacted to being pulled from his partner's side and struggled wildly to get away from the captain.
A flash of pain, a burst of blue light, and his world changed yet again. He was so tired of being tossed back and forth.
The rumble came next. A sound apart from the void. The rumble became words and suddenly, arms held him, desperately, firmly, but with a grip that he recognized as gentleness and not danger. The spinning stopped. He had been caught and reeled in, the sharp hook removed from his heart, which still ached with fresh piercing pain. He was being rocked, but it was not Jim who rocked him. He tried to find the word, the name, the reason for his feeling of relative safety apart from his sentinel.
"Blair. Oh, God..."
His name. Spoken in sorrow and pain.
"Hush. I'm here. You'll be okay."
A promise. Spoken in a voice he knew, but not Jim's voice. Not the voice he wanted, but yet one he trusted. The name escaped him.
Blair stopped moving, stopped thrashing around, trying to halt his tumble into the endless, frozen, forgotten, forbidden wasteland. Someone had caught him. He shivered, cold and weary, his body relaxing into the embrace, even while the shivers multiplied in a palsied shaking.
His name was a question now, as if the speaker wasn't sure he was really there. Am I? Without my sentinel, am I really here? Or do I simply not wish to be here.
"Come on, Sandburg. Answer me right now, or I'm calling 911. I swear to you, I will."
It was Simon, Blair realized with a sudden jolt. Simon Banks. Captain Simon Banks. It was Simon who held him.
He opened his mouth, and on the third try, he formed the name. "Simon?"
"Oh, shit, Sandburg. Blair, are you okay? What happened here? What's wrong with Ellison?"
Too much. The words were too quick and he couldn't grasp them all. Except that Simon was frightened about Jim. Which meant Blair was terrified.
"Jim?" Blair tried to open his eyes, but the effort was beyond his skill. "Jim?" He tried to raise one hand but it was trapped beneath Simon's arms. Think! Think! What's wrong with Jim? What was happening, last I can remember?
Nothing unusual. They were hunting, talking about being hungry and what to eat. Jim wanted meat. Blair was happy with fruit. Jim was laughing because Blair kept tripping over tree roots, three times in the last half hour. "It's dusk," Blair had retorted, grinning up at him. "How do you expect me to see anything, Long Eyes? It's your job to keep me walking the straight and narrow."
"My job? I don't think so. You need to pick up your feet, Short Stuff," Ellison had said, mussing his hair as he pushed past him, eyes already seeing what he wanted.
"Who are you calling 'short'?" Blair had said, just as his world was pulled out from beneath him.
And now. And now, he was with Simon.
Tears ran from beneath his closed eyes, tracking down his cheeks. He shuddered, his face tucked into the cool fabric of Simon's cotton shirt, smooth against his rough stubble. "Jim?" he tried again, knowing it was useless. "Jim," he pleaded, begging for a reply.
"Jim's right here," Simon said, still patting his arm in gentle circles. "Jim's here, in the other room."
"What?" The quiet words had startled him. Here? Then why did he feel so devastated? So lost? "Where?"
"In your room."
"Where? Where?" He tried to see, but it was all blurry. Nothing looked right. "Where?" he cried out.
"Here." Simon sat him up, then lifted him, and half-carried him for a moment. "He's here, Blair."
Sandburg waited until the world stopped spinning again, and finally he was able to force his eyes to open as he was placed on something.
He was in a room of some kind. On a bed. There was a desk. Books. Shelves of books... He blinked again, recognition settling. His bedroom at the loft. He was in his bedroom at the loft, and Jim was lying on the bed beside him, not wearing his camouflage army pants, but a pair of khaki shorts. He was curled on his side with--
The jungle slid over his vision, and where Jim had been a moment before, he was now gone. Vanished into thin air.
"Jim!" he screamed, trying to twist from Simon's firm grasp. Ellison had been right there, right in front of him, and something had happened. Something had carried him away. "Jim, where are you?"
"He's here. Open your eyes again," Simon insisted, taking his hand and making him touch something, but the surface beneath his fingers felt cold and clammy and not at all like a live body. Not Jim. It wasn't Jim.
"No," he mumbled, trying to pull his hand away.
"Yes, it's Jim," Simon repeated. "He's here."
"No. Not Jim. Dead."
"No, Jim's not dead. He's right here. I don't know what's wrong with him, but he's right here, and he's alive, and he's breathing, and his pulse is normal."
"Nothing is normal. I just want it to be normal," Blair breathed, knowing he sounded like a tired child as he settled back against Simon, resting his throbbing head against the captain's chest. Where are you, Jim? Don't leave me. His ankle hurt. He was suddenly aware of his body, his aches and pains and the throbbing agony in his foot. "Simon, my ankle--"
The captain knew what he needed. "I'll get you a painkiller in a few minutes. Can you just sit quietly here for now? I'm going to make a few phone calls."
He could do that. Maybe. But Jim...
There was a soft chirping sound, the buttons of a cell phone being pressed. Then Simon's voice. "Harvey? Yes, it's Simon Banks. I've got a major problem here."
Not as big as my problem. I've lost Jim.
"No, it's both of them. I came over to the loft-- that's where they live-- and found them; hell, I don't even know how to describe this."
Tell him Jim is gone. I don't know where he is. I have to find him.
"Sure. They were sleeping, I think, but I couldn't wake them up. Sandburg needs to take his medication at regular intervals, and I think he's missed a few doses already while he's been asleep."
Weren't sleeping. We were hunting. Then something happened and Jim was gone.
"I tried shaking them, slapping them, shouting at them..."
I didn't hear you.
"...but nothing worked."
I didn't see you.
"Then I pulled Sandburg away from Ellison."
Simon... Simon, you did this? You?
"He screamed. Sounded like he was being tortured."
Jim screamed? What happened to him?
"No, the first time Jim noticed and suddenly was choking me trying to get the kid back. I gave him back and they curled up and fell asleep again."
"About thirty minutes ago. I tried again just now and this time Jim didn't seem to hear him, which is ridiculous. The man can hear a pin drop two floors away."
Who screamed, then? Me? It could have been me. Was it me, Simon?
"Sandburg's semi-coherent... No, I don't think he's entirely aware of where he is."
In my bedroom at the loft. But I haven't lived here for a while, Simon. I've been with Jim... somewhere else. Not here. Why am I here now?
"I spoke to him yesterday afternoon. Jim was okay then, just a little disturbed by something that was bothering him."
What? What was wrong? Why didn't he tell me?
"Nothing really. Just something with his senses."
Simon? What aren't you telling him? You were evading the question. But I've got to know, Simon. You've got to tell me, okay, man? It's really important.
"Sure. I'll try anything. Who else am I going to call?" Banks sounded irritated, Blair thought, then the captain shifted him slightly and pressed the cell phone against Sandburg's ear. "Say hello, kid."
"Hello?" Sandburg whispered into the air, hearing his breath whistle.
"Hey, Blair. It's Harvey. Are you there?" a voice said, in his ear, into his brain.
The voice. He knew that voice.
His head hurt. His stomach muscles clenched, cramping. "Oh, god." He couldn't breathe. No air. No air. He couldn't breathe.
Then Simon said it out loud. "He's not breathing!"
Harvey's voice. "Blair? Listen, buddy. I want you to just relax for me. Breathe out. Slowly, push it out. Good work, buddy. Now breathe in slowly; let your lungs fill up. Stop now and... and let the air out slowly. Again, breathe."
It was Harvey. Harvey Somebody. The man with the Guide's voice from so long ago.
But it worked; he could feel the tension ease. He could breathe again without it feeling like someone was covering his mouth. It felt good to breathe, the air sliding in and out rhythmically.
And, oh! Look. There's Jim.
Harvey Leek stared at his computer monitor, watching the SIU insignia tumble in cyberspace on his screen saver as he strained to hear what was happening up in Cascade, Washington. "Blair? Blair?" he said urgently into his telephone receiver, then when there was no response, tried, "Simon?"
"Just a minute," he heard distantly, the clamor of the phone being dropped echoing immediately after. There were rustling noises, and he could hear Simon's voice talking quietly in the background. It didn't sound like there was any big emergency at that moment, so he held onto the line, waiting, trying to rack his brain for some advice for the police captain.
His eyes met those of Nash Bridges, looking up from his desk. Nash's eyebrows rose in question; he had caught immediately that something was up. "Harv?" The head of SIU closed the file he was working on and came over to Harvey's desk. "What do you have?"
"It's Simon Banks. There's a problem."
The sharp eyes widened, then frowned as the implications registered. "What? Where are they? In Cascade?"
"Media related? Internal Investigations? Or...?" The question trailed off, as it could be so many things, all of them intensely personal. Nash knew well that recovery would take time, considering what had happened to Evan and Blair. Evan was staying at his home this week, under doctor's supervision, and Blair would be in the same situation. They both needed time for their wounds to heal and their spirits to be restored.
Harvey shrugged. "I'm not sure what's wrong. Simon is over at Ellison's apartment-- it's Blair's place, too-- and there's a problem. He can't wake them up."
"Why not? Are they drugged?" Joe asked, appearing from somewhere and pouncing on the conversation, settling one hip on Harvey's desk. Joe Dominguez never waited to be invited into a consultation; he just assumed that if something was happening, he needed to know. And usually he did; it was just that this time, he hadn't met the other players before, and Harvey wasn't sure what exactly Nash had told him.
Bridges scratched at his chin, ignoring Joe. "Evan's been sleeping a lot yesterday and most of today. The doctor said it's normal and not to worry about it."
Harvey nodded impatiently, still holding the receiver to his ear. "But Simon couldn't wake them up. And when he took Blair away from Jim's side, the first time Ellison tried to strangle him and the second time the kid freaked until he was curled up with his partner again in bed."
"Oh, I didn't know they were gay," Joe said, with a shrug. "Maybe they just need more down time."
"It's not like that," Harvey said, rubbing his eyes. "It's got nothing to do with anything like that."
"So they're not gay?" Joe persisted. "I thought you said they lived together."
"Leave it alone, Bubba." Nash waved Joe silent, those same sharp eyes now piercing through Harvey's exasperation. The eyes stayed with him, cataloging, putting together the picture as only Nash could. "It's that other business, isn't it?" Bridges asked quietly, his face screwed in a wince.
Harvey nodded, saying nothing more, still listening on the phone. Nash sighed, turned, and spoke quietly to Joe, enough so the other man left them, taking with him the case file Harvey had been working on when the call came, then clearing another case file from Nash's desk, effectively freeing them both to continue. Harvey hit the 'speaker' button and put down the receiver. It was quiet enough in their area to let Nash in on what was happening. Joe was efficiently rerouting anyone heading in their direction.
"Harvey?" Simon Banks voice came back on, and he sat up straight. Nash leaned closer, elbows on the desk.
"I'm here. What's happening now?" Harvey asked, staring at the speaker phone.
"Damned if I know. Whatever you said put the kid to sleep. I got him lying down, and Ellison moved long enough to envelop him again. Sandburg does respond a bit now when I poke or prod him, which is better than his partner. Ellison still doesn't respond at all to any stimuli now that Sandburg is back. He just lies there."
"Can you put the phone by Jim's ear? I might as well try that, too."
"Anything." More rustling, then Simon's voice again, distant. "Okay. The receiver's in place."
Harvey clasped his hands in front of him, staring thoughtfully at his interlocked fingers. What was he supposed to say? What could he possibly say to reach the sentinel? When they were in Seattle, though, Blair had said that Harvey had the right timbre for a Guide voice. It was the tone more than anything that was able to catch a sentinel's attention, slipping around whatever guards the sentinel had placed.
"Jim? It's Harvey. Harvey Leek. I'm in San Francisco. Listen, Jim, I know you can hear me. I know the sound of my voice is registering on your ears, and whether or not you're able to respond, you're at least hearing my words."
He paused, just ready to continue when Simon's voice said quietly in the background, "He shifted his head on the pillow."
Nash nodded encouragingly. "He's hearing you."
"Yeah, maybe." It was good news, though. It was something, at least. "Hey, Jim, it's pretty important that you wake up for a brief time and fill us in on what's going on. We could really use some help with this. We don't have enough information to figure out what's happening, and it would be great if you could fill us in."
"No response to that," Simon said, after a brief pause.
Another idea came to mind, and he leaned forward to speak directly into the microphone. "Jim, Blair needs to take his medication. If you see him there with you, can you send him back to get his medication? Do you understand, Jim? You must send Blair back to get his medication."
Nash was staring at Harvey. "Send Blair back from where?" he whispered softly, his face crinkling with curiosity.
"Long story. I'm not sure if I'm even close on this one yet. It's just the beginnings of an idea, really," Harvey replied, softly. He tried again. "Jim, send Blair back. Let him take his medication, then he can go back with you for a while."
Ellison froze, then crouched low as he pivoted, eyes flittering over the jungle vegetation. Something was wrong. He felt it, a dry whisper of uncertainty that hovered in the air around him, elevating his pulse. "Sandburg?"
Where did the kid go now? They had been walking together, talking, Sandburg following him along the trail. Then, a strange vibration through his senses alerted the sentinel.
Sandburg was nowhere in sight. It had happened earlier, just for a moment, as though his guide had just stepped behind some greenery, lost to even sentinel sight. Then Blair was back, a little dazed, but unable to say what had happened to him. Ellison had decided they had been out in the sun too much, and maybe they should just camp for the night.
And now this. He waited, counting the seconds, wondering if the kid would suddenly reappear again. "Sandburg?" he said louder, standing, straining to hear the reassuring mumble of his partner, a heart beat, a faint intake of breath. No connection.
He sniffed the area, the foliage and undergrowth, searching past the identifiable scents of animals and birds. No evidence of his partner nor the homemade suntan concoction the guide had plastered over his fair skin. Minutes passed.
Sight. Hearing. Scent.
He moved quickly, searching now.
He could hear voices, men talking. Far away, miles and miles away, but still he recognized one of the voices and thought he might recognize another. He tried to hear them, but the effort only tired him, draining his resources. Sounds hammered at his mind, voice overlaid with jungle noise, the insects and birds and animals and even the scrape of a leaf against another.
Green and brown gave way to shades of blue. Ellison crouched low to the ground, hands splayed on the uneven surface of the jungle path. Dizziness overwhelmed him; he couldn't think, couldn't carry a thought. His head fell lower, lower, until his cheek rested on the trampled grasses, his eyes closing as his body curled.
There was a faint rustle, then suddenly a presence he knew well was lying at his side. Sandburg. He leaned closer, inhaling the fragrance, his clenched fist unfolding to rest over his partner's heart. He was back. It had taken longer this time. He ran his senses over the sleeping form, checking, making sure he wasn't injured. No, just sleeping.
He pondered whether to wake Sandburg, then decided against it. He'd check him again in the morning. His guide needed to sleep; his guide was injured. Had been injured. Before. Someplace else.
He couldn't remember exactly what had happened, but it was okay now. He was making it okay. His guide would be safe with him now. Here.
A voice tickled the edge of his consciousness, catching his fading attention. It was closer now.
"Jim? It's Harvey. Harvey Leek. I'm in San Francisco. Listen, Jim, I know you can hear me. I know the sound of my voice is registering on your ears, and whether or not you're able to respond, you're at least hearing my words."
Harvey Leek? How could he hear Harvey Leek all the way in San Francisco? It didn't make sense. He was hundreds of miles from--
He blinked, his eyes opening. Where exactly was he? This wasn't Cascade. Peru? He couldn't be in Peru. How would he have--?
Ellison shook his head trying to think, trying to clear the fog.
Again, the voice. "Hey, Jim, it's pretty important that you wake up for a brief time and fill us in on what's going on. We could really use some help with this. We don't have enough information to figure out what's happening, and it would be great if you could fill us in."
He had no response for that. What could he say? 'I have no idea where I am or how I got here. Or, for that matter, how I am even speaking with you.'
"Jim, Blair needs to take his medication. If you see him there with you, can you send him back to get his medication? Do you understand, Jim? You must send Blair back to get his medication."
Ellison pushed himself upright, awake now. He frowned at Sandburg's tightly curled body, at the pain lines visible on his face even in the fading light of the jungle night, the sheen of perspiration on his slightly fevered skin. Yes, it was clear to see the kid was in pain, but where did Harvey expect him to go? To San Francisco? Take him back where?
He shifted closer to Sandburg, gathering him in his arms. No, he'd keep his guide quiet, maybe take him to the river and cool his temperature. The pain would fade. The journey to San Francisco would take too long and would be too hard on Sandburg. This was better.
"Jim? Are you listening to me?"
'Not anymore,' the sentinel thought, in passing. 'I'll take care of him myself, Harvey.' He pulled the woven sleeping mat over them, hiding them from the voices.
While Harvey still called Jim's name into the telephone, he watched as Nash Bridges turned, reaching to take the phone messages held out to him from a uniformed officer. Nash tucked them in his jacket pocket without reading them and continued his monitoring of the situation in Cascade. It was a simple gesture, probably not even one that Nash had spent a moment's consideration for, but Harvey noticed it nonetheless and glanced up at his boss, his face showing his gratitude that Nash was still beside him. It was keeping him focused on the case at hand, and not feeling like he was doing personal things on work time. Nash was angry, not at Jim nor Simon, not even at Blair, but at the men who had caused the problem in the first place, and Nash's anger and Harvey's frustration felt right in the cosmos.
Two weeks ago, Harvey had never heard of Ellison or Sandburg or Banks, but in the space of a few short hours they had been flung into that strange category of brothers made under fire. Comrades. They had fought to get Evan and Blair back alive, and they had won, but it had not been without cost to the two young men. And now one of the rescued, one of the ransomed, was in pain and it made them angry all over again.
Yet even as he struggled for words, Harvey was half prepared to tell Simon Banks to just call in a nice padded wagon for both men. He really didn't know what to do, and he wasn't getting anywhere.
Simon's words said basically the same thing. "It's not working, Harvey. I can't get Blair from Jim's grasp without hurting him."
"Damn it, Simon, I wish I had some great idea here, but I really don't know what to do, man. Blair's supposed to be your expert at this stuff; I'm strictly an underpaid amateur. Jim's fighting me on this."
"But he's fighting you at least," Nash countered. "He's doing something, responding to something. It's more than Simon or I could have accomplished."
"Nash is right. Harvey, don't back out on me now. Give me some suggestions. I'm completely tapped here."
Harvey rubbed at his eyes, straining to think of what he could do. "Let me try something else. Can you put the phone by his ear again?"
"Okay. It's in place."
"Jim? It's Harvey. Listen, I know you want to keep Blair safe, but you can't take care of him there. Look around you. Should you even be there? Think, man! Where are you? How did you get there?"
Nash's voice floated down to him. "Where do you think he is, Harvey?"
"I don't know. But they're obviously linked somehow."
"Linked?" Nash asked, skeptically, a touch of a smile on his face.
It sounded hokey; Harvey knew that. "Subconsciously."
"Subconsciously," Nash repeated. "They're linked subconsciously." Harvey started to object, but Nash held up his hands indicating he was not trying to be sarcastic. "I'm just trying to understand what's happening."
"That's the problem, Nash. I've no idea what's happening."
"Don't stop, though."
He shrugged and tried again, speaking into the phone. "Jim," he said firmly. "You've got to let Blair go. You aren't helping him with what you're doing. You may think this is the best solution, but it's not true. You are hurting him. Take a good look at him, right now. He's sick, man. He needs his medicine and you don't have it there."
"You're tired, aren't you, Jim? I bet you're exhausted trying to keep everything in place and Blair okay. Well, Simon is right there. He'll take care of Blair, at least for a while you sleep. It's okay to sleep, man. And I'm here, too, and I'm going to help you as much as I can. So let Blair go, just for a while. Do you hear me?"
"Sandburg just opened his eyes." Simon Bank's voice was faint over the phone line.
"What?" Harvey's face lit up. "Really?"
"Sandburg's looking around. Hey, Blair. You with me here? It's Simon."
The two San Francisco officers leaned over the telephone, staring into it as though they were looking down at a visual link to the Cascade loft.
Simon picked up the phone. "Harvey, he's awake, I think. At least a little. I'm going to try to get those pills in him quick, then I'll come right back. Don't go away."
"I'm not going anywhere." Harvey drummed his fingers on the desk, waiting, hearing the faint echo of the Cascade captain's words as he spoke with Sandburg. He glanced over to Nash. "I'm missing something here."
"Sounds like you got it right. Blair's awake now."
Harvey shook his head. "But I don't know why Jim let him go. Was it because of what I said, or something else altogether?"
Simon Banks watched the young man look around the room, the vacant stare showing the level of pain he was in. "Blair?"
The blue eyes traveled back to his face, staring at him until recognition slowly settled in. "S'mon?"
"That's right, kid," he said softly.
"Where...?" The question started, then trailed off.
"You need to take your pills." Simon bent to draw Sandburg from the bed, but the young man darted a hand out to stop him.
"No." Sandburg shook his head, then squeezed his eyes shut at the resulting pain. "No," he whispered again, fervently.
"That's an order, son, if it has to be," the captain said, just loud enough for him to hear. "You need to take your medication. You're not doing yourself-- nor Jim-- any good by being in pain."
"Why am I...?" Again the sentence faded before he could finish it. Sandburg's long fingers closed on Banks' shirt, clenching the fabric.
"Why are you sick?"
"No." The word came out more than frustrated. "Why am I here? Why am I not with Jim? Where is Jim?"
"Jim's right beside you. Here, let me help you sit up. You can see him better sitting up, and you can take your pills. Jim wanted you to take them," Simon threw in for luck. Taking advantage of the lack of response from Sandburg, Simon leaned over him and eased him upright, resting him back against a crew of pillows, then he helped him take the four tablets with a glass of water. He took a closer look at Blair's injured ankle; the swelling seemed to have gone down on it, although it still sported a vivid series of bruises.
Sandburg handed him back the empty glass, so the captain tackled the next problem. "Why don't you try to use the facilities, okay?"
The young man was staring at Ellison, lying silently on the bed, lost in thought. "Hmm?"
"Sure." Almost appearing unaware of it all, Sandburg allowed himself to be helped to his feet and shuffled to the bathroom door. "Jim's there, right?"
"He's sleeping," Simon said, trying to keep him walking.
"Somethin's not right, Simon. Somethin's wrong. We were hunting for dinner and then--"
Banks had the disturbing impression that the police observer was not living up to his name. There was no way that Sandburg seemed the least bit connected with where he was. "Blair, do you need help?"
Sandburg blinked slowly, and one hand rose to touch his day's growth of beard. He looked up at Simon, eyes wide and partly alert, which was a start. "What's going on--?" He pulled out of the captain's reach suddenly and shut the door of the bathroom, separating them.
Banks groaned when he heard the door lock click in place. He placed his hands on the door, giving the doorknob a brief jiggle. "Blair? Don't lock me out, okay? You're not very well at the moment."
There was no response, but a moment later he could hear water running in the sink.
Moving quickly, he returned to Sandburg's room and the forgotten phone. He picked it up, talking as he moved around the room gathering clean clothes for him to wear. "Harvey? Still there?"
"Still here. What's happening?"
"Blair's locked himself in the bathroom, but at least it sounds like he's cleaning himself up."
"What about Jim?"
Simon glanced to the bed as he spoke. "He hasn't said anything or opened his eyes."
"But he let Blair go."
"Whatever you said seemed to work." Out of the corner of his eye, the captain watched Ellison, half expecting the detective to suddenly leap from the bed and choke him again. Instead, the sentinel seemed to be twitching slightly, nostrils sniffing the air. "Harvey, he's looking for Blair, I think, trying to catch his scent, I think. I'm going to check on Blair, then I'll call you right back. Don't go anywhere."
"I'll be here."
The line went dead, and Harvey disconnected the speaker phone.
Nash Bridges still sat on the edge of his desk, staring at the phone as though it might start moving on its own. "Did you understand any of that? Because I the hell sure didn't."
"It makes sense in its own weird way."
"Such as?" the SIU captain prompted. "Where do you get this stuff from, Harv? You holding out on us?"
Harvey glanced at the phone, then over to the hot drink machine. Figuring he had time, he got up, stretched, then looked back to Nash as he walked over to it. "In college, too long ago to even remember, I did my masters degree at Berkeley."
"Psych major, or something, right?"
"Right. Psych major, anthro minor. I did my master's thesis on astral traveling."
"Astral traveling, dream walking--"
Nash waved him off, impatiently. "That's when your spirit supposedly leaves your body and goes looking around on its own, if I remember correctly."
"That's right," Harvey said, pushing the appropriate buttons on the hot drink machine for tea with milk and double sugar. He wanted it loaded today. "Well, in doing research on past cultures and their descriptions of astral traveling, which meant going through a lot of shelved and forgotten ancient books, I came across references to sentinels-- that's how I had heard of them before." He smiled. "I just didn't believe everything that was said about them."
"Like everything that Jim Ellison demonstrated." Harvey sipped at the too hot beverage and returned to his desk. "Tell me again what happened at the motel that first night."
Nash walked across to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup of coffee, then walked back to Harvey, nodding. "Sure. What do you want to know, Bubba?"
"You told me about something strange that happened between Jim and Blair there."
"Actually, the first strange thing happened at the hospital. I only heard about that one."
"Well, according to Simon-- quote-- Sandburg stopped breathing, Ellison did CPR and brought him back, then collapsed himself from the effort-- unquote."
"Just like the fountain."
"That was a month or so ago, right? They found Blair face down in the college fountain, dead."
"Ellison did CPR on him then, too. There's more to it than that, though. I should talk to Simon..." Harvey's attention wandered for a few seconds, then came back on task. "So what happened later, at the motel. Whatever it was that you saw?"
"Blair needed help in cleaning up; he was really a mess-- reeked of dead bodies and the unsanitary conditions he was found in. Simon and Jim were helping him take a bath and wash his hair. Blair started getting upset about Evan; he was remembering things about his time kidnaped and that's when we found out that Evan had been sold. Blair started hyperventilating, having an anxiety attack, no doubt, and Jim just... overwhelmed him." Nash leaned forward, as though his own intensity would verify the truth of what he was saying. "Bubba, I could visibly see him absorbing his partner's pain. As Blair relaxed and calmed down, Jim got weaker, lines on his face, the whole nine yards. Then he finally slumped over, holding his partner."
"Did Simon say what was happening?"
Nash shook his head. "We never really discussed it, but considering the magnitude of it all, Simon didn't seem too surprised."
"So it was the same basic thing that happened in the hospital?"
"Right, only then Jim almost killed himself helping Blair." Nash slowly swirled the hot coffee in his mug, studying it thoughtfully. "Trouble is, none of it makes any sense. You don't just 'overwhelm' people to wholeness, much as we'd like to. Hell, there've been tons of times where Cassidy's been hurt and I would have jumped at the chance to take away her pain. What parent wouldn't? So you absorb it and get a little weak-kneed for a while-- Is that too high a price to pay? What husband wouldn't want to ease his wife's pain during childbirth? Or calm a frightened child in the middle of the night?" Nash shook his head. "But it doesn't work that way. We can offer our presence and nothing more. Whatever 'appeared' to be happening with Jim and Blair was nothing more than one friend being there for another, offering a shoulder."
"Do you really think that's all it was?"
Nash downed his coffee suddenly and let the mug fall back to the desk with a hard thump. "Do you have another explanation for it, Bubba?"
"It's got to be more than that," Harvey muttered. "The man is a Sentinel. Things don't happen that way normally, but when a sentinel is involved-- and a guide as strong as Blair..." His voice trailed off, but a moment later, he stood up, eyes wide, his mouth open in surprise.
"Harvey?" the SIU captain prompted when the detective remained frozen. "Earth to Harv?"
Harvey gave a little laugh and shook his head. "I think I've figured it out." He finished his tea, coughed at the hotness, and grabbed for his coat.
"Just like that?"
"Nash, when Simon calls, just tell him to hold the fort. I'm on my way to Cascade. I need to talk to him and get a lot more answers because if this is what I think it is, it just got a little more complicated, but it's do-able."
Bridges pulled his car keys from his pocket and grabbed hold of Harvey as he ran past, slowing him down. "Hang on a minute. I'll drive you to the airport. Joe!"
Dominguez appeared from around the corner. "Yeah?"
"Call the airport. Book the next flight out to Cascade for Harvey." Nash paused for just a moment, then smiled and continued, "Oh, what the hell. Book two tickets."
"To Cascade? When will you be returning?"
Harvey looked down at his watch, impatiently then shrugged. "Tomorrow night should do it."
"Sounds fine by me," Bridges said. "Do it, Joe. Call me on my cell phone and let me know when, which airline and which gate. Charge it to the SIU. It's payback for our Cascade colleagues help earlier with Evan. And, Joe, we're expecting a call from Simon Banks. Tell him we're on our way."
Harvey stopped at the outside door to SIU and called back. "He can just let them sleep, for now. It won't hurt them."
"Okay. Got it." Dominguez watched the two men hurry out the door and into Nash's car. "So, I'll be hearing the whole story-- like when?"
Simon put down the phone and stared at the receiver. Just let them sleep? No problem. They sleep, I have nervous breakdown.
"I'm going to kill them both," he announced, out loud, looking at Jim's restless body, shifting on the bed. "One down, one to go," he muttered, then marched to the bathroom door. He turned the handle, expecting it to be locked, but it opened immediately. "Sandburg-- Oh, shit, kid."
The young man was curled on the floor, doubled over, arms wrapped around his stomach, tears flowing down his face.
"Blair?" Simon asked, bending over him. "What's wrong?"
"Everywhere. Want Jim." Blair's words were barely loud enough for Simon to hear.
"What's wrong?" he asked again.
"Hurts," came the whispered reply.
"I can see that." He was able to turn the guide over onto his back. Sandburg's main injuries were his foot, his ribs, and a concussion that he was still recovering from. Added to that were the sexual assault injuries from almost a week before, wounds that were just now healing. "Blair, I need you to tell me where the pain is centered. I need to know where it hurts the most."
"Want Jim." Sandburg's eyes were tightly closed, his hands in fists across his chest.
"Yes, I know. I'd like to check you out first, though. Then you can go back to sleep."
"Want Jim." His voice was little more than a whimper.
Banks sighed in frustration and reverted to his standard first aid training. If in doubt, do the ABC's. Airway: fine, he's talking. Therefore, his Breathing and Circulation were adequate. D was Deadly bleeding. The captain ran his hands lightly over the supine figure, but detected no blood. Next was a head-to-toe quick look. He could feel the bumps on Blair's head, but when he pressed them gently, Sandburg made no moaning sounds. Face, neck, shoulders were all fine. The breathing became panicked as he checked Sandburg's ribs and stomach, and as his hands went lower, the young man curled into a ball, choking back his cries. Resolutely, Simon kept on, checking his hips and legs, then removed Blair's sock to check the circulation in his toes, showing below the bandage.
"Where's your cast?" he asked, but as expected, received no answer.
No fever. Sweating, though.
He sat the guide up, coaxing him to open his eyes for a moment, long enough for him to check his pupils, then he scooped the young man in his arms and moved to the door of the bathroom. He almost dropped him when Ellison came out of the bedroom, took his guide from the captain, and returned to the bed. With exquisite gentleness, Ellison deposited him on the bed and stretched out beside him, wrapping his arms around him securely. Blair sighed and leaned into the embrace, both men escaping back to wherever they were before.
"Hello, there," Simon said, sarcastically to the ceiling of the silent loft. "Anyone notice I was here? I am here, aren't I? This isn't some weird Outer Limits type thing, is it? You couldn't have taken a moment to talk to me at all?" He growled, glancing at his watch. "Apparently not. Welcome to Sentinels-R-Insane Bed and Breakfast, everyone."
For all his loud complaining, there was no response from the bed at all
They made a quick stop by Nash's apartment, long enough for the SIU captain to make a few arrangements ensuring that Nash's daughter, Cassidy, was able to keep an eye on his father and Evan, both convalescing.
While Nash spoke with Cassidy and his father, Harvey crouched down beside the couch where Evan was dozing. "Hey. Wake up."
"Hmm? Oh, Harv." Evan glanced down at his watch, blinking to read the dial from sleep-fogged eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"We're going to take a short trip up to Cascade. We'll be back tomorrow."
"Something wrong?" Evan asked, waking completely. "Is Blair okay?" He struggled to sit up.
Harvey gently pushed him back down. "Take it easy. You need to go slow, okay? We're just going to go help their captain with a problem. We'll be back tomorrow night." His sharp eyes scanned over his partner, reading the level of pain and the emotional hurt still evident in Evan's body and spirit. This is what Blair would be facing, as well, and Harvey knew it was important that he keep that in mind as he dealt with the sentinel and guide issues accompanying it.
Meanwhile, Evan was his partner and his responsibility. "Are you sure you'll be okay here?"
"I'm fine. Go. You'll be back tomorrow, right? Cassidy will be here, and she's quite capable of feeding me and making sure that I get off the couch and walk around. No problem, man. Go."
"Okay, but if you need to call me, you do so, Evan-- got that? I've got my cell phone."
"Sure, but I'll be fine. I don't need--"
"Can the macho lines, kid. This is me you're talking to, okay?" Harvey held Evan's eyes until the younger man looked down, suddenly robbed of his bluff.
"You'll be back tomorrow?" Evan asked again, his voice softer, still not meeting Harvey's eyes.
"Tomorrow night. And you know I'll be back sooner, if you need me."
"Thanks." Evan met his intense gaze again and smiled self-consciously. "Would it be too un-macho to ask for a hug?"
"Not at all," Harvey said with a smile of his own, opening his arms for his partner.
Two hours later they were on the plane, winging for Cascade. As soon as the pilot gave clearance, Harvey grabbed the air phone and punched in the loft's number.
"Hi. It's Harvey. We're in flight now. Our ETA is three hours."
"I was surprised when Joe said you were coming. Relieved, mind you, but surprised."
"I've got too many questions to do them over the phone. How are they?"
"Sleeping. They look the same as when I got here first thing this morning. Uh, any suggestions of what to do until you get here?"
"They'll probably stay that way. If they wake up, great. If not, just keep an eye on them. I'll check in when we arrive at the airport."
"I'll arrange for one of my men to pick you up and bring you here."
"Thanks. See you soon, then," Harvey said, then terminated the call. He sat back in his seat, stretching his legs, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared at the seat back in front of him.
After several minutes, Nash nudged his elbow. "You look like you're zoning out, just like Ellison did in Seattle."
"Nah. Just thinking."
"What's happening with them? Can you fill me in so I don't look like a total idiot when we get there? It's bad for my reputation, you know."
Harvey shifted in his seat, glancing to Nash as though sizing him up for this news, then nodding, a smile on his face. "Okay, but no editorials from you about the content of my thesis."
"I promise," Nash said, making a cross over his heart.
Harvey settled back in his seat, arranging the thin pillow beneath his neck. "I told you about doing research for my master's thesis on Astral Traveling. Well, during my research, I remember reading something that I think relates to this. Seems there was this native in Central America somewhere-- I can't remember all the details, just the main story-- and this guy was astral traveling. Now he was a shaman and did this a lot, so it wasn't anything new for him. This one time, however, he went too far and couldn't find his body again. He looked all over for it, growing weaker and weaker in spirit. Hours passed. Then a day. Another day. Finally he found himself on the outskirts of a village that he recognized. He journeyed until he found the house of an old friend of his. The man recognized his spirit and engulfed it, bringing it into his own consciousness and allowing the shaman to recuperate. While he was gaining strength, the friend journeyed many miles back to the shaman's home, arriving just as they were going to declare his body dead. The friend held the shaman's body close and breathed into his mouth, allowing his spirit to journey back into his body. When he woke, he was whole again."
"Good trick," Nash said, softly, sounding neither like he believed nor disbelieved the story.
Harvey nodded slowly, trying to recall the entire article. "The unusual thing, the reason the story was repeated and I think, the reason I remembered it, was that the shaman reported that after his friend returned to his village, there remained a connection between the two of them. They shared dreams, often speaking to each other. They each knew the emotions of the other, how the other was feeling. The shaman told the missionary recording the story that it was because their spirits had shared a body, they had forged a union and their spirits had merged, each spirit staining the other with its presence, if that makes any sense translated."
Nash's arms were crossed as he listened. "So this is what you think happened here?"
"In May, just over a month ago, Blair Sandburg died. Now we don't have all the details, but Simon did say that Blair had been pronounced dead by a paramedic on the scene and life support was discontinued. Also according to Simon Banks, Ellison was forcibly removed from Sandburg's side. Then suddenly the man turns around and stares at his partner's body and Banks said the strangest feeling came over him as he watched. Ellison returned to Sandburg and breathed into him and Sandburg came back to life. Sound familiar?"
"Are you saying that Ellison-the-sentinel somehow captured Sandburg-the-shaman's spirit which had left his body, merged it into his own, engulfed it, then simply walked over to his partner's body and returned the spirit, kick-starting Sandburg back in action?"
"You're serious?" Nash dragged a hand over his face, trying to absorb what he was saying. "That's-- that's-- bizarre, Harvey. That has got to be one of the most bizarre stories I've heard you tell. And believe me, in the many years I've known you, you've told some whoppers."
"It makes sense, though."
"To you, maybe. To me? I don't know. I don't know if I follow you. Blair is a police observer and an anthropologist, not a shaman. We don't know if he had ever even attempted anything like astral traveling. And regardless, how did Jim find Blair's spirit? Was it just hovering in the air?"
Harvey shook his head. "I think this is more than just astral traveling. If you believe in the possibility of the story I just told you, can you imagine the consequences if that is what happened with Blair and Jim as sentinel-- a person with enhanced senses." Harvey stood up suddenly. "I need a bit more information, though. I need to know what else was happening at the time. There's more to it than just Blair suddenly going for a walk outside his body. Something major was going on to cause this."
"And they'll have the answers?"
"Simon Banks will. He's got to."
Night had crept into the jungle, swallowing shadows and leaching color from the trees and vegetation. Usually he liked this time of evening, for it meant relaxing around the fire, talking quietly about what they had done that day, then watching his guide drift to sleep, a smile touching each man's face.
Tonight, though, it was with a distraught intensity that Ellison watched his partner sleep, scrutinizing the familiar features. There was nothing wrong with him, he repeated to himself. What was the fuss all about? Sandburg was fine, peacefully asleep, safe and sound an arm's length from his sentinel. Where else should he be? This was all right. I will keep him safe. Here with me, he is safe.
He arranged the woven sleeping mat to keep his guide covered, and he paused as his skin registered a higher-than-normal temperature emanating from Sandburg. He drew his hand back quickly without making contact. A shiver passed through his body, apprehension growing. This wasn't right. His guide was supposed to be safe here, not sick. He was protecting him. It's hot here. He is simply hot, maybe too much sun today, he reasoned. I am over-reacting.
For a moment time shifted, and he was some other place. Blair's room. His guide tucked within in his embrace.
Why am I--
But the jungle returned, and again the sentinel crouched down, resisting the urge to touch the faint sheen of sweat on his guide's forehead. Each drop of perspiration magnified to pools of moisture, reflecting the fire's tongues of flame. He watched the pattern change as one drop overflowed and streamed from his guide's temple to track across his cheek, turning again only to be absorbed by a loose curl.
His finger reached out, visibly trembling in his enhanced vision, as he gently lifted the errant curl and relocated it to lie with the rest of the dark, tangled, mop of hair. For a moment, it complied, then stubbornly, it fell forward, splashing into several other liquid pools and sticking resolutely to the damp forehead.
It was all beginning to fall apart.
This place was no longer in his control. Things were happening-- tiny, niggling things that he should have been able to contain. This was his place. His. Maybe he couldn't control the universe as it unfolded, but he could control this. Or, he had been able to control it.
Anger took hold of the sentinel, and he moved away from his guide, clenching his fists until he calmed himself. His guide was sensitive and would fret under the proximity of such rage. The anger roiled about him, thundered in his brain and sent electrical surges through his system like shafts of lightning. He waited until the storm passed, then he allowed his thoughts to continue, trying to rediscover his mission and objective.
He had failed once already. The horror of it still lingered, even after the anger had dissipated, for despite his best intentions, Sandburg had gotten lost today. They had been walking along a trail, when suddenly he was gone. Without warning, no faint footstep sounded behind his own, no muttered comments, no heartbeat. One minute his guide was there, the next he was gone.
With a roar of desperation, the sentinel had searched the area, running, pausing, pacing, turning, drawing in huge breaths of air, frantic for a scent, something, anything, to tell him where his guide had disappeared to. Hours passed, filled with levels of anxiety that threatened to tear him to pieces, yet he was certain that each piece, each little part of him, would still have cried for his guide to return.
He may have zoned. He no longer knew what had transpired. But he found his guide and brought him back here. Safe.
He rubbed at his eyes, knowing he was tired and needed to rest sometime soon. Maybe when Sandburg woke, he would make sure his guide was okay and had everything that he needed, then he would lie down for a little while, just to recharge his batteries. Sandburg would wake up.
Ellison raised his head and looked around them, eyes scanning the area, searching for any danger, anything out of the ordinary. He listened, cataloguing sounds and dismissing them. No scent seemed out of place. But yet his skin prickled with mounting apprehension.
It was Harvey's fault, he thought. He could hear Harvey's voice in his head, asking him questions he really had no answers for.
"Listen, I know you want to keep Blair safe," Harvey had said,"but you can't take care of him there. Look around you. Should you even be there? Think, man! Where are you? How did you get there?"
Where am I?
Ellison stood, looking around. "I am here. I am where I should be. Sandburg is here with me." But he couldn't say where exactly here was or how he got there. Pieces were missing, important pieces that he needed to find out about. Because not knowing might hurt his guide. And that was not good.
And he had been in that other place. In Blair's room.
He couldn't hold the thought. The concrete memory of a room with four walls dissolved and drained from his consciousness.
A noise echoed against his skin, and he whirled around to face the older sentinel of his dreamscape. Except the blue tones were gone, so he could not be dreaming.
"Your Guide has journeyed back to you, yet again," the older Sentinel said, raising his staff, then setting it down. He was still dressed for battle, the paint detailing his tribe and allegiances.
"Yes. He is better now. He is safe here," Ellison declared, hearing his own heartbeat increase in reaction to the word 'here." He didn't want to admit that he didn't know where here was.
"Yet he is still hobbled." The Sentinel-warrior moved aside, and just as it had happened in his dream while Blair was in the hospital after the Rainier drowning, it was the wolf who lay on the ground behind the warrior, one back leg bent awkwardly beneath its body as it lay quietly panting. Ellison looked around quickly, but as he had suspected, there was no sign of his partner except for the spirit animal.
The wolf did not look well. Its fur was scraggly and ill-kept. Its eyes watered, staring up at him, pleading. A low whimper sounded as it shifted on the uneven jungle surface. Its hind leg was swollen and twisted.
"Sentinel. See to your guide."
"I am looking after him."
"See to your guide."
"I am guarding him. I am making sure he is safe."
"See to your guide."
"I am--" he started to declare loudly, then woke with a shudder to realize he had fallen asleep.
Blair lay sleeping before him, but now he could see the stress lines visible around his eyes, the dark circles that weren't hidden by the tanned face. This time, he did reach out and touch the beads of sweat on his partner's forehead.
"Hey, buddy." He said it softly, gently, hoping Blair would hear him and wake up, for he didn't have the courage to wake him. "I'm trying my best here, okay, Chief?"
The day had begun in sunshine and was now humid with the sudden downpour that fell from dark storm clouds scattered across the early evening sky. The air was heavy with the promise of more rain, a warm smothering feeling that only added to the feeling of oppression in the airless loft. Dinner, hastily ordered from the local Chinese restaurant, had arrived along with the two men from San Francisco. The pyramid of white boxes now sat cooling on the table as they crowded into the lower bedroom and stared at Cascade's sentinel and guide.
Tension easing now that he was not facing this alone, Simon watched Harvey Leek as he attempted to rouse the two men still asleep on the narrow futon mattress. See? he felt like saying. I'm not making this up. Maybe Harvey could do something, could break through the hibernating coma that engulfed them. Blair said Harvey had a 'guide' voice and the SIU detective had managed to get through to them both over the phone. He's got to do something, now that he's here in person. Although, deep inside Simon had been quietly concerned that Harvey's arrival would magically wake the men up and prove once and for all Simon's own incompetence.
Unfortunately, it seemed he had nothing to fear. His secret was safe.
Beside him, leaning against the door, Nash Bridges shook his head in silent wonder. "I'm glad this is your crew, not mine, Bubba. I wouldn't have the patience to figure this out. Then again," he smiled, "having a sentinel on board would definitely be handy at times, I'm sure. Forget the high tech equipment-- Superman here can do everything but fly, I've been told."
"You haven't seen him drive," Simon muttered sarcastically. "He thinks he can soar through the air at will." There was an awkward silence as the Cascade captain stared at his two men. Finally he cleared his throat and added, his voice a growl edged with humor, "Nash, I warned you about that 'Bubba' tick you have. Don't call me that again."
"Noted," Nash said quickly, chuckling. "Bad habit of mine."
The remark got the intended response, and all three men relaxed a bit. Simon extended his 'host' skills and reached to take Harvey's denim jacket from the edge of the bed. "I'll hang this up for you. Dinner's here, whenever you're ready. Can I get you some coffee? I just put on a fresh pot when you called from the airport."
Nash followed Simon into the kitchen, leaving Harvey to continue his one-sided conversation with the residents of the loft. "Thank you. Harvey won't want any this late in the day, but coffee will be great for me. Smells wonderful, but I can't place it." He leaned closer for a more thorough whiff of the coffee roast. "I have a reputation for being able to identify most brands, but I'm stumped here. What kind is it?"
Simon handed him a sealed ceramic jar. "Hell if I know. He keeps it in this. No doubt Sandburg bought it at some ethnic grocery store. I've had better," Simon said, then added ruefully, with a shake of his head in sad memory, "but then again, I've most definitely had worse."
"Station coffee?" Nash guessed.
"Absolutely the worst."
"Let me guess-- I would be willing to bet that you have your own coffee maker in your office."
"I most certainly do," the captain said, standing straighter. "Rank hath its privileges."
"And in your case, rank hath its own office."
"You don't?" Simon asked, surprised.
"We don't even have a damned building! We're temporarily housed on a boat."
"Long story. Headquarters collapsed during the last big quake. We've been housed in temporary places every since."
"But that was years ago?"
"Tell me about it." Nash inhaled the aroma from the coffee beans in the cannister, shrugged, then sealed it and handed it back. "I take it this hasn't happened before."
"The coffee situation, or the two sleeping beauties there?"
The tall dark captain became serious again, concentrating on pouring the coffee into mugs. "Not like this anyway. Quite frankly, I'm wondering if I shouldn't have called an ambulance," he mused, rubbing the back of his neck. "There could be serious medical problems here."
"No, you did the right thing," Harvey said, coming up behind them. "What's a hospital going to do but pump them full of drugs and take a lot of tests? Nothing. They wouldn't have known how to handle this at all."
Simon wasn't convinced yet. "What about the doctor down in Bellevue? Dr. Morrison?"
Harvey shrugged. "If we have to, he'd be the first one to call," he admitted. "He seemed a decent enough guy."
Simon smiled suddenly. "You know, he already said that Jim had a 'healing spirit'."
"He did?" Harvey considered the information, turning his attention back to where Ellison lay. "That makes sense, though. Morrison would have sensed that aura of the sentinel."
"What aura?" Nash asked.
Harvey started to answer, then shook his head. "Let's eat first," he said, firmly. He had apparently seen all he needed to and the smell from the Chinese takeout containers was overpowering the loft. He scooped up the pile and carried them to the dining table. "Any tea?" he asked, hopeful.
"I'm sure Sandburg's got at least fifty different kinds," Simon laughed tiredly, going to put on the kettle. "Help yourself. I've no idea what they taste like-- at least, the herbal teas he has."
Harvey rummaged through a box of various labeled teas, choosing a blackberry, caffeine free tea, while Nash and Simon brought their coffee cups to the table. Harvey joined them, the blackberry scent already filling the room and fighting with the Chinese food for most-overwhelming scent. "We might as well eat first, then get comfortable. I've got some questions for you, Simon."
"I'm not sure what I can tell you, other than what you already know."
"You'd be surprised what little details get passed over as insignificant."
Simon laughed. "Okay, forget I said that. I'm a detective; I should know better. Ask away."
"Food first," Harvey insisted, dumping a good portion of the tofu and white fish dish onto his plate.
Conversation stopped for a few minutes as they doled out the food and settled chopsticks and napkins.
"So what would you like to know?" Simon asked, finally, digging into his plate with renewed appetite.
Harvey finished his mouthful, then paused thoughtfully. "First, is Blair a shaman?"
Simon put his mug down, discarded his chopsticks and picked up his fork. "Starting with the easy questions, I see. Is Blair a shaman? I don't know. I don't know if Blair even knows. They told me that Incacha-- a Peruvian native man who Jim knew during his time in Peru-- passed 'the way of the shaman' on to Blair when he died, but Blair had no idea what to do about it."
"Was he looking into it at all? Maybe doing a little research or experimenting at all?"
"I've no idea. I usually prefer them to keep all this hokus pokus stuff out of the office. Why do you ask? How would some new age religion affect them like this? There's no way Jim would be a part of it, anyway."
"It's not new age," Harvey countered. "But if I suspect correctly, this problem is at least partially connected to shamanism. So this Incacha made Blair a shaman?"
"Right here on his deathbed. He didn't teach him, or train him or anything, just grabbed his arm and muttered to him in his own language. Jim translated. Then Incacha died."
"So Blair is an untrained shaman, late to his calling..." Harvey mulled that over as he ate, then looked up at his two attentive listeners, both staring at him with glazed expressions. "Uh, someone is either born a shaman due to genetics, or has something happen in their lives that makes them a shaman. The latter is said to produce the more powerful shamans." He cocked a sideways glance at Banks. "Question number two, could you tell me what happened when Blair died."
Simon laughed shallowly. "The short version or the long version?"
"Let's try the short version first. You found him floating in the fountain?"
"Right. Face down. We tried CPR on him, but it didn't work. The paramedics arrived and took over for us, then finally declared him dead. We had to pry Jim from Blair's body and took him a short distance from it, trying to console him while we were waiting for the coroners' wagon. Jim pulled away from us and stared at Blair, then suddenly returned to his side and started CPR again, and brought him back."
"Blair is declared dead, the paramedics have given up, everyone walks away from the body," Harvey repeated, tapping his chopsticks on the rim of his rice bowl. "Then why did he go back to Blair and try again?"
"I think he just didn't want to believe Blair was dead. I guess he simply had to try again."
"When we were in Seattle, you told us about Blair's remarkable ordeal coming back to life from drowning, and I remember you said that when Jim turned and looked back at Blair, you thought he was zoning for a few seconds."
"So, look at this situation." Pushing his half-empty plate aside, Harvey got a piece of paper and began to write on it. "Let's divide this in two. What was happening with Blair, and what was happening with Jim at that particular moment. I think that all their current problems stem from that junction in time."
"Sure-- but eat something, Harvey, please. We can keep talking, but don't let this all go to waste. Madame Jung's food can't be beaten when it's hot, but it just doesn't reheat nicely."
Blair woke, shivering. It was evening now, the stars hidden far above the overgrowth of jungle trees and leaves and branches. Beside him, a small fire burned, the white flames tinged in blue, and beyond that, he could see Jim sitting silently, watching him. "Hi."
Jim didn't move for a moment, then he nodded stiffly.
"What's wrong?" Blair asked, shifting to sit upright. He really felt lousy. His body ached from being in one position on the ground.
"You should sleep," Jim said, but his voice was empty of emotion, as though by stealing any depth from his tone would keep his own pain at distance.
"I've been sleeping." Blair moved closer to the fire, seeking its warmth. "Have you gotten any sleep at all?"
"A little," Jim admitted, looking away, as though this were some dark secret he was confessing to.
"Why don't you get some shut eye right? I'm awake; I can keep watch."
"You're sick, Chief."
"Yeah, so? I've been not working at 100% for weeks now. It hasn't stopped us."
"Well, maybe it should have."
"What? What are you talking about?"
Jim shook his head but wouldn't answer.
"Come on, Jim. Just lie down here and have one of your famous power naps. I promise I'll wake you up if I feel any worse or get tired."
"I'm not really hungry."
"So you eat then. Don't fob it off on me."
Ellison reached to take some more fruit from the stash he had gathered earlier. He hesitated over several different varieties before pulling his hand back empty.
"What's wrong with them?"
"Nothing," he said. "I just want something else."
"What do you want?"
Ellison shook his head, then stretched out on the far side of the fire, his body curled on his side as he stared into the flames, then slowly shut his eyes. With a clarity he could even smell, he dreamed of Madame Jung's Chinese food.
Harvey leaned to one side over his plate to stuff some more chow mein into his mouth, then looked back at the paper in front of him. "Let's look at Jim first. I suspect, from the brief conversations I had with Blair and from what I've read previously, that Jim's sensory abilities are most closely linked to his emotions. Up until now, I suspect that Jim hasn't really shown any extrasensory or unusual healing powers, such as he displayed this last week. Is that correct?"
"That's right," Simon agreed.
"Generally, how would you describe his emotions?"
"Jim's?" The Cascade captain shrugged. "Before Blair came along, Jim tended to be on the non-emotional side, I guess. He was work-based, tended to put in long hours and shifts at Major Crimes. Few friends, never really smiled much. Most labeled him 'not a very nice person'. Oh, we were friends still, but it was limited to discussing the last Jag's game or sometimes going to the sports bar after a shift. He did have a few close friends, I found out later, but I don't think even they knew how much they meant to Jim until after they were gone."
"That fits, though. Before having a guide to help him, Jim would probably have suppressed his emotions, his feelings and most painful memories. Doing so would have helped him suppress his senses, over which he would've had little control, without a guide."
"That's when he met Blair. He thought he was losing his mind. He senses suddenly appeared, and he had no control over them."
Harvey shook his head. "I'm looking at this all a little differently. My theory is that Jim actually does have superlative control over his senses, even to the extent of suppressing them when he needed to. It was only when he lost that control, that they turned on him. As a young child, I suspect he used them quite easily and without pain. But continued psychological conditioning by society would cause him to suppress his abilities in an unhealthy fashion that eventually caught up to him."
A case they were involved with a year before surfaced to Simon's thoughts. "There was an incident in his childhood where his father accused him of being a freak because he heard something he shouldn't have been able to. Blair said he felt that Jim stopped using his senses at that point."
"That reinforces my opinion then. He would have taken control of his senses and suppressed them because they were a danger to him."
Simon frowned. "Last year, Jim accidently shot a night security guard at a mall department store. He wouldn't have made the shot without his senses, so he blamed them for the incident-- the man survived, by the way. He was wearing a flak vest. Anyway, Jim ended up without his extra abilities for a few days. But it was beyond his control; he said he just woke up and they were gone. It was nothing he had thought about or actively wished for. He just lost them."
"Lost them? Once again, I believe Jim chose to suppress them. It all fits. It may not be a conscious decision to suppress them, but he is controlling them, one way or another. In the hospital in Seattle, Blair told me a bit about Jim's time in Peru. As I recall, Jim was on his own for eighteen months before he was rescued, wasn't he? Blair said he was thrust into survival mode, and as a survival tool, his senses kicked back in again to help him cope."
"That's where he met Incacha," Simon added. "Incacha helped him out with his senses originally, doing basically what Sandburg does, I guess."
Harvey nodded. "Jim was fortunate that faced with his situation, abandoned in Peru, he hooked up with a tribe whose shamanistic tradition valued people with Jim's non-standard abilities. His senses were considered normal, were quietly encouraged without him being aware of it, and he had no need to hide them once they emerged. In his somewhat confused state, he reunited with his exceptional hearing, sight, etc., much as he would have carried on as a child. With the tribe's shaman, he would have ended up receiving the sort of guidance that someone in Jim's condition wouldn't have received in Cascade, where his abilities would more likely have been viewed as deluded symptoms of mental illness."
Simon got up and poured himself another cup of coffee, bringing the pot over to refill Nash's cup. "What I don't get is when Jim returned to North America, why did his senses disappear again once he was reunited with them? Once he was rescued, he doesn't remember having them anymore, and they were no longer in evidence."
"We're back to the first problem, Simon. When Jim was eventually rescued and hit civilization, those abilities were once again a freakish eccentricity and he automatically, expertly, suppressed them again, and as a consequence, the memories that went with them."
"Right. He had no control of them."
"I disagree," Harvey said, tapping his pen on the table once more. "This doesn't suggest to me that Jim had no control. I'd say the opposite, actually. It suggests quite superlative control of his senses, including the absolute control to block their input completely. But it came with an emotional price tag-- the cold, emotionless man you described, for-- consciously or subconsciously-- in suppressing so much input, he has to keep an exceedingly tight rein on himself.."
Simon blinked, surprised to realize that he was following what Harvey was saying. "So then Blair Sandburg came along and encouraged him to accept his senses, and he didn't treat Jim's abilities as freakish at all, but perfectly normal."
"Blair said that he immediately had to figure out little ideas and tools and theories to help Jim learn to control his senses, but Jim seemed to catch on awfully quick. It was like he knew what to do, he just needed permission to do it. Blair's presence gave him that permission. To recap for my notes here, my theory, then, is that Jim actually has had all along exceptional abilities as a Sentinel, which he actually rarely used. These abilities are affected or dampened most dramatically by emotional and physiochemical episodes."
Simon chuckled suddenly, and both men turned to him. "Ah, there've been a few times where, uh, chemical stimuli has caused a few interesting problems."
"Pheromones?" Harvey asked, grinning.
Simon grinned back, shaking his head in remembered horror. "Yes. You catch on quick. It took us awhile to figure what was going on. Sandburg had a hell of a time trying to convince Jim that he was smelling the woman's pheromones and losing control..."
"What about emotional stimuli? Something tragic that affects Jim. A loss of a friend?"
"In one case, a cop died, a close friend of Jim's, and his senses went wild. They would cut in and out, causing him a lot of problems."
"I'm sure sometimes they either heightened Jim's senses off the scale or he ended up shutting them down completely." Harvey nodded again. "So tell me-- very briefly-- about this female sentinel. How was Jim affected?"
"Sandburg described it as territorial. It made Jim crazy that there was another sentinel on his turf."
Simon rubbed at his chin, trying to find the correct words, then shrugging his defeat. "I've no idea how to say this nicely, so to put it bluntly, Jim had an almost animal-like desire to mate with her. I don't remember Blair ever mentioning pheromones, so I don't think that was the problem. He didn't seem to have any control over it, even when he saw her again after she had tried to drown Blair."
"So I think it's safe to say that for all the traumatic experiences Jim has been through this last year, his history of suppressing his emotions, his history of his senses getting out of control and spiking under stress, the territorial and emotional problems he faced with this female sentinel in May, plus Blair's apparent 'death' right before his eyes-- at that moment, it would have kicked Jim into absolute overdrive. Somehow, he was able to tap into some sort of power or ability that he had never been able to grasp before."
Simon seemed reluctant to commit himself. "I'm not sure what to say here. I really don't claim to understand what makes Jim tick, or even whether he was the one responsible for bringing Blair back to life. Maybe it was just a coincidence. I'm not sure I'm ready to believe that Jim 'healed' his partner."
"Hasn't he done that several times this week already?"
"In the hospital? Again in the motel room in Bellevue?" Harvey looked up from the notes he had written about Ellison. "Okay, let's put Jim aside then and look at what was happening with Blair. I think I can safely assume that from what I've heard about that day, that Blair was in a highly receptive state as a shaman."
"Define what you mean by 'highly receptive state'," Simon challenged. "And I don't think he's a shaman."
"I disagree. I think he more than meets the criteria. For Blair, as a fledgling shaman, he needed to reach a higher state of awareness and vision to accomplish his part of his journey back to life. For a shaman, these are usually obtained by several methods, all medically significant in this case."
He wrote each down quickly. "Disease. Fasting. Exertion. Lack of sleep. Blood loss. Artificial psychoactive agents or natural psychoactive agents (endorphin). Stress/pain response (adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin). Episodes of mental 'illness'. Dream states. Special breathing. Hypoxia."
He glanced up at Nash and Simon, making sure they were still following it all. "From a strictly medical perspective, blood letting or loss of blood, slowing one's rate of breathing, exertion at high altitudes and fasting all reduce the blood's oxygenation and permit hallucinatory episodes and the release of endorphins and altered levels of other natural psychoagents like adrenaline. Again, from a medical perspective, stress, disease, psychochemical imbalance and artificial psychoactives-- especially of the mescalin variety, like peyote or the ayahuasca vine-- all produce chemical changes in the body which can produce hallucinatory episodes and altered sensory states. The practice of what is called "lucid dreaming" and the rush of chemicals through the body during stress, pain, injury or death can also produce these altered states of awareness."
"But Blair hadn't used any drugs."
"He told me that prior to his drowning, he hadn't been eating or sleeping because of the problems with Jim-- he said he had even told Alex this. He was obviously highly stressed about it all. He was on an emotional roller-coaster and this would have produced all the usual chemical and physiological reactions in his body that I mentioned before. When Alex came to his office she said she was going to kill him. His heart would have been pumping and he was on an adrenaline, fear-induced high. To react to threats and stress, the body releases a series of enzymes called "monoamines" that increase our ability to think and react. In effect they turn down non-significant data and turn up critical data-- these are "dopomine", "adrenaline" and "serotonin". They also increase our ability to deal with a crisis by increasing our ability to process subconsciously-- because subconscious processing is fast and conscious processing is slow. Therefore, according to modern psychological medical theory, Blair was in state that was very emotionally and physically receptive to his subconscious. Does this make sense?"
Simon shrugged. "I suppose it's one way of looking at it."
"Okay, Blair had been injured and left face down in the fountain and had sucked up a lot of water. His body and brain went though an extremely heightened physiochemical episode-- his anxiety and loss of sleep and fasting-- and then, he was suddenly deprived of oxygen. Hypoxia and lowered heart rate produces all sorts of altered brainwave patterns that can be linked to investigations into lucid dreaming, hallucinogenic states and out of body experiences. He had no external sensory stimulus at all, leaving him to focus any consciousness on stimuli from within, his own subconscious."
Harvey turned his paper around so he could see what he had jotted down. "All these physiological symptoms are the very same things that shamans all over the world use to achieve higher states of consciousness-- lack of sleep, pain, stress, heightened levels of chemical enzymes in the body, lack of oxygen." He gave them a moment to read the words and absorb what he was saying. "I can only suppose that with Blair in this highly receptive state and Jim in a highly emotional state-- and therefore attuned to his greatest powers as a sentinel-- that their two states somehow combined to produce not only Blair's revival, but some sort of physical, spiritual, mental plane where they were able to meet. The vision they shared was their subconscious representation of what happened."
"What vision?" Nash asked.
"Simon?" Harvey prompted. "Can you tell him?"
The Cascade captain cleared his throat, reluctantly. "Apparently they both had the same vision or dream that a black jaguar and a gray wolf started running towards each other and then jumped together in a flash of light. Blair's heart started beating then."
"And that means what?" Nash Bridges asked.
Simon looked to Harvey, who obliged.
"The black jaguar is obviously a South American animal. Originally it was pulled from Jim's subconscious and from descriptions of his other dreams, it is clear that his understanding of himself and his abilities is seated in Peruvian mythos. The choice of a wolf for Blair, a North American symbol, may also have come from Jim's subconscious, remembering that the wolf appeared in a dream to Jim before the dual vision they shared."
"Right," Simon said, nodding in remembrance. "A few days before all this happened, Jim dreamed that he shot a wolf and as it lay dying, it morphed into Blair."
"Feeling guilty about something?" Nash asked.
"He had been acting like a real ass for the previous few days, short-tempered-- Blair says now that he was just sensing the other sentinel's presence."
"So why a wolf?" Nash persisted. "If Jim thinks in Peruvian terms, a wolf doesn't sound appropriate. That's North American."
Harvey finished his mug of tea, and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on again, still talking. "Assuming Jim made some subconscious choice of spirit animal for Blair, Jim might have associated the wolf symbol-- and you're right, Nash; it's not a South American spirit animal-- with Blair for a number of reasons--"
Simon interrupted. "One reason could be that Blair has a Haida wolf on the door of his office."
"I didn't know that, but that adds to his choice," Harvey said, jotting that down. "Jim may also associate Blair with the culture of the Pacific Northwest where they met. Unlike cats, wolfs are highly social creatures. They have all the canine traits of loyalty and the need for lifelong bonds."
Simon nodded. "Sometimes I think that Blair seems intent on staying around Jim to the detriment of the other important things in his life, like his doctorate."
"For many reasons, the wolf as a symbol seems to typify Blair. He told me that one of the only pieces of evidence that proved to him that they did indeed 'share' a vision-- rather than the doctor's suggestion at the time that Blair simply had a near-death endorphin rush-- is that Blair knew he was the wolf in the vision without Jim ever sharing that symbol with him. They did indeed share the same vision in the middle of the experience that brought Blair back to life. They were there together."
Simon tried to drink from his empty mug, ending up holding it in his hands. "Meaning what?"
"I think that Jim's heightened 'Sentinel' powers, due to extreme emotional catharsis, and Blair's highly receptive subconscious state, due to physiochemical conditions prior to his 'death' seem to have given rise to the phenomenon they shared, that there is perhaps a further explanation that rests more happily in the spiritual than the physical realm. That's the thing that seems to make the most sense to me when you combine all the cultural, mythical, physical and medical phenomena available on shamanistic practices and astral traveling and combine it with the events of their lives and the states and abilities of both Jim and Blair at the time of the phenomenon. Sentinel and shaman met on another level of being."
Blair struggled to keep his eyes open. With Jim asleep, his pain had returned. His ankle pounded in beat with the throbbing in his head. It was growing difficult to think, to hold himself together. The jungle seemed to flicker around him, sometimes so fast it looked like a strobe light had been set up, the harsh flashing between white light and jungle night making him feel distinctly sick. He was cold in the white light and hot in the jungle night, but the pain remained constant regardless.
Without meaning to, he groaned, squeezing his eyes shut, and he felt Jim move closer to him, drawing him back into the security of the man's embrace. The arms tightened around him as the earth trembled, the ground quaking. Jim shifted again, altering his position to shelter his partner from the debris raining down on them from the trees high above their heads. Unripened fruit, shaken from high in the branches, hurt when it hit you, Blair discovered, yelping in surprise and curling his legs beneath him, accepting Jim's protection.
The ground calmed finally, the night became silence, the flashing stopped, and the two men drifted back to sleep.
"Sentinel and shaman met on another level of being," Simon slowly repeated. "Harvey, are you talking metaphorically, or in a vision, or are you saying they actually left their bodies and- and--"
"I don't think they simply shared a vision, if by that you mean they simply had the same dream. I think they both were somewhere else. On the dreamscape. A place." Harvey stared at his paper, then drew a line with an arrow on the end of it. "But where does this lead to? Jim draws Blair to the dreamscape-- no, Jim draws Blair to Jim's dreamscape-- he absorbs him, and breathes Blair back into own body, the physical act mirroring the spiritual. But... did it end there?" He looked up at Simon. "It didn't end there. In the hospital in Bellevue, Blair stopped breathing again and Jim attempted to do it all again. Blair would have been in much the same physical condition, so the requirements on his side were met because of the abduction and what they had done to him: fasting, lack of sleep, drugged, traumatized, on the edge of death. Jim's emotional response would have been equal to Blair's pain-- at least it was from what I witnessed later."
Nash pushed back his plate, toying with his chopsticks. "But what about what happened in the hotel room later? Blair was already 'safe'. He had been fed, had slept some, the drugs were out of his system more or less. I saw Jim do something. One minute Blair is in pain, and the next minute Jim has somehow absorbed it. How did he do that? I didn't notice anyone disappearing into any dreamscape, Bubba."
Simon spoke up. "When Jim was in Mexico chasing Alex, she drugged him-- and his powers with his senses went off the scale. Jim said he could hear the earth itself groaning, a drop of water falling ten miles away. A million heartbeats of men and animals. The sap flowing through the branches of the trees." His hands clenched his empty coffee mug, trying to put it all together in his mind. "Have I mentioned how much I hate this spirit animal mumbo jumbo?" He sighed, stretching his neck against the tension. "So let me see if I'm following you. First, the sentinel in Jim and the shaman in Blair combined their talents to bring Blair back to life. Then Jim has this experience in Mexico with Alex-- extra-heightened senses, beyond his normal ability. I'm more or less with you up to that point. But the added power faded away in a few hours. How is he suddenly healing Blair two weeks later?"
"Did all of it fade away?" Harvey asked pointedly.
Simon thought about it and reluctantly shook his head. "No. Jim admitted as much to me while Blair was missing. He could 'sense' Blair in a way he'd never been able to before."
"Just like your Central American native," Nash said to Harvey.
"Right." Harvey quickly told Simon the story of the shaman who had been helped by his friend and then was able to communicate with him afterwards.
"So what's happening now? Jim is somehow controlling this?"
"Here's what I think is happening. I think Jim has kidnaped his partner and taken him to the dreamscape, trying to keep him safe there." Harvey's voice softened at Simon's intense frown at the use of the word 'kidnaped'. "Look at it this way. Jim's tired. He's worn out. You both said it drained him trying to help his guide. Jim's reached the end of his rope and he's doing everything he can to try to help his partner. He's not entirely aware of what he's doing; this is entirely instinctual at this point. Personally, I think they are too close right now. Jim is drawing Blair in. Like the man in the story I told you, Jim has held his partner's soul in his own, and that experience profoundly affected him. The imprint of Blair's soul is within his own, and I suspect that he hasn't given back all of Blair's soul when they reconnected. Now Blair is in distress if he's not connected to his partner on the dreamscape or if he's out of contact with him in this reality, and Jim is also in distress because each cell remembers Blair being within his own soul. He feels something is horribly wrong, but he doesn't understand what that is. I think he is feeling that if Blair is not within his area of control, his dreamscape or within close contact, then it seems to him that Blair is dead again, ripped from his existence."
"But Blair is alive. He's right there. He's not dead," Simon insisted.
Harvey rubbed his eyes wearily. "Here's the problem, folks. If we don't find some way of helping them, they're both dead. If we can't get through to them, then we're going to have to take them to the hospital, let them be separated and hooked up to machines to breathe for them, and feed them, because soon they'll be too weak to keep going. Jim is putting out incredible energy to keep up his dreamscape, and it is draining him quickly. His body will end up going in shock from the effort and from the lack of nourishment. And if Blair is physically taken from him, the energy needed to maintain that link will rise exponentially. Jim is going to die, if we can't stop him, and as Blair's soul is within that dreamscape, then Blair dies with him." Harvey stood and looked back at Sandburg's bedroom. "We'll lose both of them if we don't find a way to help them in the next few hours. That's how long we've got."
The guide rolled over unto his back, his hand connecting with his sentinel curled half around him. He blinked slowly, trying to see, but shadows swirled with empty color, none of it registering on his mind. He didn't know where he was. His heart started beating faster; he could feel it against his ribs. He was frightened.
But why? The sentinel was there.
Danger? How could there be, if his sentinel slept beside him?
But where was he? Why couldn't he remember?
The sentinel's hand shifted, stopping to rest over the guide's heart for a moment, then continuing its journey to his forehead, awkwardly stroking the fear away.
He let it.
It had been a long time. Back then, he had played around with different drugs-- hell, they all did. San Francisco. Haight Ashbury. The whole trip.
This time, there were no drugs, just vague memories of what he had done before.
It wouldn't be enough.
The thought slammed into him and he pulled his knees up, resting his forehead on them. What am I thinking? Harvey, Harvey, Harvey. Have you lost your mind, man? Do you think you're some hippy guru love god who will save the day? Think, man! Give it up. Go call Doc what's his name from Bellevue. Get some major help here before you end up curled on the bed with these two, equally as out to lunch.
Evan needs you in this reality, man, not in some mystical hither/thither.
He lifted his head and looked back at the candles. First, he had to call Evan.
He clambered to his feet, stumbling in the semi-dark room, and fumbled with the phone on the little desk. Half frantically, he punched in Evan's number, then hung up. Evan's not at home, stupid. He tried again, calling Nash's number, but ended up hanging up again. San Francisco. I'm not in San Francisco. Hello, Harvey? Concentrate, man, or you aren't going to get anywhere, let alone another astral plane.
The third time, he managed the area code and Nash's number, and the phone finally rang.
"Hello. Nash Bridges' residence. Nick here." Nash's father's crotchety, polite voice sounded beautiful.
"Hey, Nick. How're you feeling? It's Harvey."
"Harvey!" Nick's delight came over the phone lines clearly. "How's Cascade?"
Well, that answered several questions about Nash's father. His memory was in the here-and-now. Ever since he acquired Alzheimer's disease, it was a hit and miss that he was having a good day. He hadn't been too bad the last year-- on a new drug treatment-- but with his heart attack setback the previous month, the doctor's weren't optimistic about his continued progress. Today, however, he knew who Harvey was, and remembered he had gone to Cascade, so that was two major hurtles crossed.
"Cascade's fine. Nick, can I speak with Evan for a minute."
"Evan? Evan who?" There was the briefest pause, then Nick's low-throated cackle filled the line. "Just kiddin'. He's here. Hang on and let me take the phone to him. He's out on the deck upstairs."
There was a long delay as Nick made his way through the half-demolished building and up the short flight of stairs to the top deck overlooking the city.
"Harv?" Evan's voice, weaker than it should have been, and overflowing with concern. "Is everything okay? Are you okay?"
There was a faint hit of desperation beneath the words that left Harvey with his eyes closed, sitting perched on the edge of the desk chair. "I'm okay, Ev. Just needed to hear your voice, you know?"
"Stressful, huh?" Evan asked, knowingly. "I wish I was there to help. Damnit. I should be bouncing back faster, but all I have the energy to do is sleep, it seems. Lot of help I am to you. Some partner, huh?"
"Just talk to me for a minute. I just want to hear a friendly voice, something to stabilize me."
"What are you going to do, Harv?" The hint of desperation had turned to a full, blown out case of it. Normally Evan Cortez wasn't so dependent, but there was something about being kidnaped, beaten, and sexually abused that left you not quite yourself. It hadn't even been a week since Jim and Blair had helped get him back.
"Evan, it's nothing--" he started to say, but his voice cracked as a stubborn tear tracked down his face.
Evan picked up on it right away. "Harv? Harvey? You're freaking me out here, man."
"Calm down," Harvey choked out, when he got control of his voice again. "I'm fine."
"You didn't answer my question. What are you planning on doing?"
How well Evan knew him. "I'm going to take a little journey, if I can. Try to connect up with Jim and Blair."
"Where are they? Are you saying they're not in Cascade?"
"They're sorta in Cascade. Sorta not. They're partially here. Partially somewhere else." He didn't mean to speak in riddles. He just couldn't find it in him to the say the words.
Evan said them for him. "Harv... Are you going to do something weird?...Please tell me you aren't. Oh, man, you are. Should I be there?"
"No, you stay right where you are. Is Cassidy there?"
"Yes, I'm here," Nash's daughter said, a little distant, so she probably had her ear to the phone next to her boyfriend's.
"Cass, you keep an eye on him. Make sure he gets better. Don't let him talk you into letting him come here."
She laughed, nervously. "I'll sit on him if I have to."
A short commotion on the other end of the line had Harvey hanging on to his phone, trying to sort out what was happening. Then Evan's voice came on. "Harv? Sorry, I just got rid of everyone. I want to talk to you without Nick and Cassidy here. Are you okay? Really?"
"What's happening?" This was Evan's no-nonsense voice, one cultivated from living in a family of cops and being great at interrogation.
Harvey felt himself flinching, even though he knew what a marshmallow the kid was inside. "Do you know what astral traveling is?"
"Yeah." Nothing more. Just the one word, hesitantly said, as though he feared what would come next.
"Well," Harvey began, then stared across the room to Jim and Blair, their motionless bodies curled on the bed, mouths half-open, eyes not-quite shut. "I'm going to try to reach Jim and Blair. I don't know if I'll be successful or not, but it's worth a try."
"Harv, you know that's nothing to mess with."
"I know. I also know what those two did for you. You wouldn't be alive if Blair hadn't gone back for you, and if Jim hadn't been able to track him. I owe them, man."
"Hey, I'm not arguing with you on that. It's just... well... I need you, too, Harv. I need you to come back here."
Harvey laughed suddenly. "Well, then, if you happen to feel my spirit knocking at your brain, let me in, okay? In case I get lost."
"It's a long story. Ask Nash, if it looks like you need to. Listen, Evan, I've gotta go. I just wanted to hear your voice. I needed to know you were okay."
"I'm okay, Harv. I'm not ready for work yet, but I will be, real soon." The confident tone shattered. "Just come back here in one piece, okay? Come back."
"I will. Get some sleep tonight."
"Not now. Not until you phone me back."
"I'll do that," he promised, then said his goodbyes and hung up the phone.
He felt stronger, although nothing else had changed. Jim and Blair. The room. The candles. The faint sounds of Nash and Simon talking in the other room.
He wondered what they were saying. If they thought he was as crazy as the other two occupants of the room. No, not crazy. Jim and Blair were just operating on a different set of rules. And I've got to figure out what those rules are.
Ellison pushed himself upright, surprised that he'd fallen asleep as long as he had. It was night now. His guide slept at his side, within his protection, and with a quick check, he could see the young man was weaker, the fever growing.
Standing, he teetered for a moment, trying to get his balance as the jungle wavered around him. The dizziness took a long time to pass, leaving him trembling slightly with fatigue. He frowned, angry with himself. He shouldn't be this weak, this tired. He'd just slept, yet he could feel the pull of weariness luring him back. His rest should have restored him, refreshed him, but it had accomplished neither.
The sentinel stretched for the sky, seeing only the darkness of trees above him. He flexed his arms as he reached upward, aware of each ache, each spasm, each knot. His back rippled with tension. He stretched to the side, then extended his arms straight out from his shoulders, turning one way as far as he could go, then the other way, muscles pulling, the stiffness not easing. He bent forward, palms touching the ground finally, but without his usual ease. His head throbbed, bent over, and he slowly straightened, dizzy again.
The effort left his stomach unsettled, hunger gnawing at him, headache pounding. "A cup of coffee would be nice about now," he whispered to the breeze that slowly swirled around their campfire. He could smell it from somewhere, along with Madame Jing's curried chicken.
The fruit he had gathered earlier had already gone bad, so he took it away from their camp and threw it into the underbrush. He gathered more, enough for one meal for both, keeping his guide in sight at all times.
The light was strange. He could see his partner easily enough, probably with the extra light from the fire, but the rest of the area was dimmed, difficult to distinguish, even with his sentinel sight. His guide was always visible, down to individual pores.
His ears felt stuffed, yet he could hear his partner's heartbeat and soft, ragged breaths. He couldn't smell the fire, or the earth, or the jungle flowers, or the wild herbs, yet he could smell the sweat on his friend's forehead. His hands were numb, hardly able to feel the food he carried, yet when he returned to the fire, he stroked one finger along his guide's palm, traveling the life line, feeling each tiny groove and indentation. The food tasted like... nothing. No taste. No sweetness of juice. No texture. Not even the cardboard blandness of those rice cakes that his guide sometimes ate.
He pushed the fear aside again. And again.
His index finger touched his guide's forehead, tracing the dampness, then he touched his finger to his tongue and tasted the tangy saltiness of his partner's sweat.
I see you. I hear you. I smell you. I feel you. I taste you.
Everything else is disappearing, Chief.
Only you remain.
With a ragged roar, he flung his head back and stared up into the darkness, but there was nothing. The silent fire was blue. His guide was blue. The sentinel cried again and gathered his partner in his arms, holding him like a child, his talisman, his very existence.
And he looked at him. And listened to the straining respiration. And smelled the sickness. And felt the tremors.
And kissed his guide's forehead, his tears washing the perspiration away.
For he had nothing more to give.
Settling himself back on the floor, Harvey tried to review what he knew about astral travel, and groaned immediately. "What are you thinking, Leek? You're an idiot." He hadn't fasted, he had just eaten until he was stuffed. He hadn't detoxified his system, or gone on a vegan diet to free the resources of his mind from unnecessary metabolism. He hadn't meditated in years. His guru back then had insisted they dress and match their surrounding colors with their auras, to stimulate their senses and abilities.
Okay, so he had forgot what his aura looked like. Or how to see it.
What am I doing here?
"Like you're going to travel anywhere. Get real." He pulled his knees up again and rested his chin on them, peering down to the flickering candles.
Ten minutes later, he decided mediating wasn't going to help, it was just going to end up putting him to sleep. It had been a long day, after a long, long month.
Another thirty minutes, then I'll stop.
It was quiet in the other room. Nash and Simon weren't talking anymore, or if they were, it was so quiet he couldn't hear them. He tried concentrating on listening.
Blair had an electric clock by his bedside that gave off a soft chrrrr sound.
The fridge-- an old model, as he recalled-- started up, the motor raspy at first before it quieted down.
Through the narrow opening in the window, he could hear the sound of voices-- people walking along the street, their voices carrying down the alley and into Blair's room. A car passing, so faint.
He was so tired. Tired.
The flames flickered, then disappeared as his eyes slid shut.
The guide woke to darkness. He was being rocked gently, held in the sentinel's arms. He knew who held him without opening his eyes, but it took him a full minute to remember his sentinel's name.
"Uh, Jim?" he whispered, feeling foolish that he had forgotten.
There was no response, and the rocking didn't stop. Gathering his strength, he pulled away from the embrace, shifting to kneel beside his partner. He couldn't see him very well in the dark on dark shadows, but he saw enough to know the sentinel sat hunched over, his head down, his arms now limp at his side.
"Whoa. Majorly not good here, Jim." He tapped the side of the sentinel's face, but there was no response. "Not good, at all," he muttered to himself, because who else was there to hear him?
He turned his head, wondering where the noise had come from. It had almost sounded like a word.
Now that definitely sounded like a word. Like someone calling his name.
He tried to stand up to find out where it was coming from, when a dark shape bowled into him, knocking him flat on his back. Strong heavy paws rested on his chest, whiskers bent low over his face, then the worst sandpapery tongue imaginable scraped a layer of skin from his cheek in one wet swipe.
"Let me guess. You're Mr Panther, the talking cat?"
The jaguar did not seem to hear him, or didn't get the joke, at least. Fright suddenly caught up with the situation, and Blair struggled not to scream, not to fight, just to lie still. OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod
The large-- very, very large-- cat took his time, snuffling him, sniffing him, licking him, one huge paw rolled him to his side and he went with the motion, deciding that pissing this beast off would not be a good thing, especially since Jim was just sitting there vegetating.
Or, was this Jim? Jim's spirit animal was a jaguar, so if Jim wasn't functioning and the spirit animal showed up, was it in some way Jim? No. Yes.
For some reason, his brain wasn't reasoning very well, and he couldn't figure it out.
Okay, there was the voice again, and it wasn't coming from the cat, who stepped off him and let him sit up. "Who's there?" he asked, because he wasn't sure what else to say.
There was a flash of light that made him swear rather loudly and flinch back, bumping into the jaguar, who got up, circled around and then sat down beside him again.
He opened his eyes and stared. He could see now, or at least he could see Incacha's solemn face looking down at him. "Hi." Yes! Finally. Finally. Finally. He was having a proper shaman dream. It was about time. He took a few deep breaths, trying to savor the experience he had waited so long for.
Your sentinel is weak.
Okay, Incacha jumped right into that. Does it have more than one meaning? Does he mean just physically, or that Jim's a coward or something. Or maybe it's something else I'm supposed to understand.
Your sentinel is weak.
There seemed to be some response Incacha was waiting for. Jim was a good sentinel, the best, so maybe it was the physical interpretation. Blair decided to try that answer first. "I can see that he is not well. I'm not sure what is wrong. Can you help him?"
He thinks he is protecting you.
"Yeah, that sounds like Jim. He gets carried away sometimes though."
He is killing himself.
"What?" All thought of the jaguar and the weirdness of talking to a dead guy vanished. Blair scrambled to his feet. "What can I do?"
Take him home.
"Home?" I guess I'm back to 'where the hell am I?. "Uh, metaphorically speaking, I'm not in Kansas anymore, right? So, how do I get home?"
Incacha disappeared, taking the light with him. And apparently the cat.
"What's that supposed to mean? Hey! Incacha! Can you come back here for a minute? I didn't get what you said." But no amount of imploring, cajoling, pleading, or even old-fashioned foot-stomping brought back the old shaman. "Lot of help you are."
He found Jim again in the darkness and draped himself over his partner's back, his face pressed into Jim's neck, his arms wrapped around the sentinel's chest. He knew he was supposed to be figuring this all out, but he was just too damned tired to do anything. "Hey, Jim, it would be really nice if you just started talking to me, okay? I'm a little out of my depth here. I mean, you're the one who has the dreams, and I interpret them for you. We had a nice little system going-- at least when you cooperated."
Another flash of light, brighter this time than the last time. Blair raised his head and squinted at the dark figure silhouetted in glow. "Hello? Incacha?"
The light shifted or something, for suddenly the guide could see the man standing before him. Well, it wasn't Incacha. He looked and dressed similar, but those were warrior markings, not those of a shaman. He carried a long spear and had a quiver of arrows over one shoulder. Behind him, the jaguar sat on his haunches, tail swishing back and forth as though it were really angry.
"Hey, are you the sentinel-warrior figure who appears in Jim's dreams?" Blair blurted out, holding tighter to his sentinel. "Because if you are, maybe you could help me here. Wherever here is."
There was no response from Jim.
Blair tried calling him a few times, as well, but finally looked up at the sentinel-warrior. "He's not quite here. Something's wrong with him."
Sentinel. It is time to dream of home.
The words echoed through his mind, but he couldn't see the man's lips move. "Dream of home? Is Jim sleeping? Is that was this is? Some sleeping sickness?"
The jaguar roared, showing off a huge mouthful of extremely sharp, deadly looking teeth.
"I'm not being flippant here," Blair argued. "I can't figure out what is happening. My head hurts, I feel like shit, and I can't seem to get my mind around this whole thing, so if there's anything at all that you could tell me to--"
Sentinel! The sentinel-warrior didn't seem to hear the guide at all, and Blair realized that not once had he even looked his way.
"Can you see me?" he asked softly.
Sentinel-- you must dream of home.
The light flashed again, and the man was gone, along with the jaguar, at least as far as Blair could see.
Well, that was helpful, wasn't it? "Hey, Jim." He lay his head against the back of his partner's neck, tightening his arms across Jim's chest. He was still draped over his sentinel because he was cold and Jim was warm. And mostly because he was exhausted beyond exhausted and scared and confused, and he was afraid that if he let go of Jim, maybe the sentinel would disappear or something and leave him all alone. "Jim, could you wake up and tell me what's going on?"
Another flash of light, and Blair sighed, wondering who it was this time. It wasn't a very big flash of light, more like the quick flash from an instamatic camera.
Well, that's different, Blair thought. There was a sound of someone stumbling and he blinked, trying to see whoever was there. His grip on his partner tightened even more.
A match flickered, bringing to sight a face that looked remotely familiar. Before Blair could get a good look at the man, the match burned out and a muttered curse spoke into the darkness. More fumbling noises, then the sound of another match lighting. Blair hid his eyes from the sudden spark.
"Hello? Anyone there?"
Huh? He knew that voice from somewhere. "Harvey?" Blair whispered, opening his eyes and taking in the multi-colored shirt, the woven vest, and the black Jerry Garcia armband.
"Blair? Is that you? Fuck, did I actually do this?"
Harvey-- or at least the person who looked and sounded like Harvey-- stepped closer to them. Yup, it was Harvey all right.
"What are you doing here, Harvey? This is bizarre, man. First, it's Incacha, then the sentinel-warrior Jim told me about, now you. No offence, man, but you're not who I was expecting."
"Blair? You can really see me?" Harvey stared at him, his mouth hanging open.
"Of course I can see you. You're standing right in front of me." Blair kept his contact with his partner, but slid around beside him, one arm draped over Jim's shoulder as he squatted beside him.
"Do you know where you are?" Harvey asked. "Sorry for jumping right into this, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to stay here or get bumped out. I'm not even sure what I'm doing. I thought I was going to have to do some astral traveling, but this is more like controlled dreaming. If that," he added, scratching his head. He looked up at Blair suddenly, as though waiting for an answer.
"I'm sorry, what was the question again?" There had been too much dialog after the question and he had forgotten it. Blair shivered. He was cold again. He scooted in front of Jim, sliding back against him, then wrapping the man's limp arms around him. Jim's head rested on one of Blair's shoulders. It felt safe.
Harvey waited until he was settled before answering. "Do you know where you are?"
"Uh, I'm here I guess." He thought about it again, and remembered wondering where he was. It was hard to stay with one thought. "No, I don't know. Where are I?"
Harvey crouched down in front of them, then reached out and raised Blair's chin to look at him. "Stay with me, okay? Just let me talk."
"I think you're in Jim's dream."
"I think you're in Jim's dream. Or at least his dreamscape. I remember you telling me about his dreamscape, where he has his visions."
"Oh. Right. So I'm dreaming about Jim's dreamscape? Does that mean Jim's not really here?"
"No. Jim's dreaming. You're in his dream."
"But Jim's kinda out of it. -- And how can I be in his dream? That doesn't make any sense."
"What I figure happened is that Jim brought you here, trying to keep you safe. When you first got here, do you remember feeling good? Healthy?"
"I was at first. We went camping-- well, more like hiking and then camping out overnight. It was nice."
"It was nice," the sentinel echoed, raising his head and looking at Harvey. Blair felt the strong arms encompass him.
"Jim! Cool. You're back."
"Just tired, Chief." Ellison took a deep breath and exhaled. "Harvey," he acknowledged, then cleared his throat. "You said I brought Blair into my dream? How could I do that? That's impossible."
"Not really. Let's see if I can say this quickly. Remember when Blair drowned at Rainier?"
"Yes." The sentinel sounded both angry and desperately sad.
"You had a dream. About the panther and the wolf."
"We both had the same dream," Blair countered.
"No, Blair. Only Jim had the dream."
"I had it, too. I remember it."
"That's because you were there. In Jim's dream."
"That doesn't make any sense," he asked, yawning. It was hard to stay awake. "How could I get in Jim's dream?"
"Because you're a shaman and Jim's a sentinel, and all the other criteria was met. You were away from your body already and had what is sometimes called an 'out of body' experience. Jim sensed your spirit and brought you into his dreamscape, then returned you to your body."
Neither sentinel nor guide had any comment for that.
"Are you following me here?" Harvey asked, cautiously.
"A bit," Blair said, but his eyes were beginning to get heavy, and he leaned back against Jim's chest.
"Go on," the sentinel said, sharply, but his actions were gentle as he settled his guide.
"Jim, I'm not sure what you believe personally about a person's soul. But you, with your special senses, were able to sense Blair's soul adrift, and you captured it, returning him to his body. When you were in the hospital and in the hotel room with Blair last week, he was traumatized from his ordeal and in a similar physical condition to how he was at Rainier. As a shaman, he was physically and mentally in a place to let his spirit go walking. You sensed it, you caught him, comforted him in your dreamplace, and returned him to his body. It had the effect for him of suddenly feeling calm and better, although his physical condition really hadn't changed."
"So when Blair goes back to his body, he'll be in the same physical condition?" the sentinel asked. He sounded exhausted to Blair, who patted his arm consolingly.
"Already he's drifting into it, isn't he? It's because you're tired. You're worn out from trying to keep the dreamscape open. It's not meant for this purpose. It's meant for your visions, not as a convalescent ward for your guide. Keeping the dreamscape locked in place is draining you. And it's killing you."
"What?" Blair exclaimed, eyes opening. "It's killing him?"
"In a few hours, Jim, we'll have to take you to the hospital, if you don't come out of it. And if you die, we think Blair's soul will go along with you."
"Why is he dying?" Blair asked, clinging to the sentinel's arm now.
"He's not entirely aware of what he's doing; this is entirely instinctual. He's just trying to keep you safe and out of pain, and this worked once before, so he's doing it. Only it's the wrong thing to do, Jim."
Blair felt Jim's hand on his back, drawing comforting little circles, trying to calm him down even as the sentinel wrestled with what Harvey was saying. Harvey had a great voice for this. He made it easy to listen, although Blair was finding it harder and harder to concentrate.
When Jim spoke, it sounded nice, a rumble right by Blair's ear. "Since I got him back-- after he was kidnaped, there has been something wrong with us. If I go too far away from him-- I feel like I'm panicking. And Sandburg has reacted the same way."
"It's because at Rainier, you carried his soul. That experience profoundly affected you. It left an imprint of Blair's soul on yours. I explained it to your captain that you are in distress right now because each of your cells remembers Blair being within your soul. It feels empty when he's not there; you feel that if Blair is not within your area of control-- your dreamscape in this case-- or within close contact, then it must feel to you that Blair is dead all over again."
"So what do I do?" The sentinel held him close. "If I let him go, will he die? I'd rather die with him, than let him be alone."
"I know what to do. You dream of home again," Blair whispered.
He shifted so he could see Jim's face. "Incacha and that other guy-- your sentinel-warrior- dream person-- they came here before Harvey did. Incacha said I was supposed to dream and guide you home. The other guy said you were supposed to dream of home. He said it was time to go home."
"Jim," Harvey said softly, "the crisis is over. You've protected him. You've cared for him. Now it's time to take him home and let him go free. All of him. You need to release him to his own body again. You each need to be who you are. You are Jim Ellison, the sentinel. He is Blair Sandburg, the shaman. You have two souls and two bodies."
"It's been nice visiting, though," Blair whispered, feeling his consciousness fading. "Can I come visit again, if I need to?"
"Any time, Chief. Any time. My home is your home. My soul is your soul."
He felt Jim's lips on his forehead, as he slipped into sleep. "See you later, Jim."
Harvey woke with a start, his leg kicking out and knocking over one of the candles, sending hot wax streaming across the hardwood floor. "Shit." He set the candle upright, then quickly blew them all out as the door to the room opened.
"You okay?" Simon asked.
"I did it." Harvey smiled suddenly. "I did it."
"What did you do?" Simon helped the SIU detective to his feet.
"I spoke with them."
"They woke up?"
"Well, no. I was in Jim's dream."
Simon groaned. Loudly. "It doesn't end, does it? It just keeps on getting weirder and weirder. You've gotten sucked into the Sandburg zone, along with Jim and all of us."
"Whatever. I'm hungry. How long was I out?"
"You shut the door about ten or fifteen minutes ago."
"Is that all?" It felt like he was gone for hours. He needed to call Evan, to let him know he was fine.
Simon stopped as he steered him toward the door. "What about Jim and Blair?"
"Let them sleep. I think they'll wake up soon." Harvey pushed Simon out the door and closed it after him. "Is there anything sweet around here? I'm famished. And Jim's going to be real hungry when he wakes up. You might want to order in some more Chinese food."
Harvey was talking to them one second and was gone the next.
"So what now, Chief?" Jim asked, but his partner was already asleep. "Dream of home." Anywhere with you is home.
It was true. But this was different. Now that he had an idea of what was going on, he had an equal idea of what he had to do. He curled on his side, drawing Blair closer. For a few minutes, he did nothing, just enjoyed the moment, the closeness. He missed this already. But he could feel his own weariness creeping up on him quickly, and there came the quick fear that if he waited too much longer, he might not be able to get them home again.
Dream that I am home. He pictured it in his mind. The door opening to the loft. Sunlight angling in from the south facing balcony windows overlooking the harbor. The blue couches, the chair, the plants. He climbed the stairs to his bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed, remembering stretching out on it. The cobwebs were still in the rafters, he noticed. One of these days...
He slowly went down the stairs, hovering more than walking. He drifted past the bookshelves, circling the couches and looking back at the table and chairs, the kitchen. It still wasn't fixed up right yet. There hadn't been time to restore everything after he had taken it out so quickly. This week, they'd do it. Put everything back in place. Clean it and fix it up a bit. Maybe he'd have time to build a new bookshelf for Blair. There were Madame Jing takeout containers on the counter, and he almost detoured toward them, then he remembered what he was doing.
He opened the door to Sandburg's room and froze. He was there already. Sleeping, curled around his partner on the narrow futon. The room was a little stuffy. Someone had knocked a candle over, for green wax was stuck to the wooden flooring.
He looked at Blair. All in all, he didn't look too bad. A bit of a fever, but not much. Bruised. Cuts. His ankle still swollen.
Nothing he couldn't take care of, he decided.
Yes, it was time to go back home.
He closed his eyes, held on to his partner, anchoring himself with scent and the comforting feeling of Blair's heartbeat against his chest, and the sentinel dreamed of home.
Postscript: Thanks to all for your patience in the length of time for me to write this story. And a special thanks to Moniker for the wonderful, treasured conversations on what actually happened when Jim and Blair merged as jaguar and wolf, and for her scholarly email lessons on such topics. This one is for you. (Just hold your breath, Moniker, and read past the smarmy stuff...)
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