PROMISES IN THE DARK

Legacy : Part Two

LRH Balzer






He never made it to the end of the corridor.

Something made him stop and turn around, listening to the familiar heartbeat. Come on, Chief. Settle down. He shouldn't have mentioned the panther; he was never sure if Sandburg could actually see it or not. Hell, he was never quite sure if he was seeing it or not.

"You still here?" A nurse walked by, shaking her head at him. "Your friend is fine here, honey. You go home and get yourself some sleep, you hear me? You've been here too long already. Not going to do your friend any good if you get sick, now are you?"

James Ellison nodded at her absently, dismissing the advice she had already given him several times as midnight rolled into three in the morning. He knew exactly why he had stayed. Sandburg had clung to his arm, caught in the fever, terrified he would give away the sentinel's secret in his delirious ramblings. As long as Ellison sat beside his partner, Sandburg remained calm, trusting him to know what to do. The few times he had ventured away--to the restroom or to get some coffee-- he had come back at a run in time to catch the young anthropologist tugging at his IV lines and ready to bolt the hospital, biting his lip to avoid speaking. Just as he felt the need to protect Blair, Blair's need to protect him was equally as strong, equally as powerful.

But the fever had broken finally, Sandburg seemed rational again, and Ellison's body was demanding sleep. Three or four hours, a shower and change of clothes, and he would be back, probably before his partner even woke up. He took a few more steps toward the exit, then turned around again, listening as Sandburg muttered to himself, resigned to the panther's absence--and Jim's absence, it seemed.

The nurse materialized in front of him. "I'm serious, honey. He's not going to sleep as long as you're hanging around, fretting about him. We won't let anything happen to him, the darlin'. He's fine here." The nurse picked up a tray of juices and headed to the far section of the Emergency Ward.

Ellison waited, listening for a minute, staring at the curtained alcove until Sandburg settled down on the bed. A few hours sleep would come in handy about now, he reminded himself. Sleep deprivation wouldn't help either of them. And Sandburg seemed quiet enough . . . The crisis had passed. Yes, he would go home.

He continued down the hall, then stopped at the nurses' station, leaning on the counter while the nurse at the Emergency Room Reception, a woman with impossibly-red hair, was on the telephone. As soon as he'd made the decision to go home, it hit him that he was more than tired; he was exhausted. Suddenly, all he wanted to do was go back to the loft and get some sleep. Actually, all he really wanted to do was take Sandburg back to the loft and end this whole nightmare week, but that didn't seem to be a possibility for the next day or so anyway.

The nurse hung up the phone and looked up at him, smiling when she saw who it was. "Is your friend sleeping yet?"

"Not quite. Listen, I'm going home for a few hours-- You have my number written here somewhere, right? Wait, here's a card with my home phone and my cell phone number. And I'll just write my pager here, too--just in case. Call me if there is any change, but otherwise I'll be back by eight o'clock. He'll be in a regular room by then, won't he?"

The nurse glanced up at the white board on the wall, checking the name of the doctor, then waving down a young woman who was passing through, dressed casually in dark jeans and sweater, her white lab coat open to reveal a stethoscope around her neck. "Check with Doctor MacNeill. She's listed as his doctor here."

The doctor he had spoken with several hours before saw them looking at her and detoured to come over, her eyebrows slightly raised, questioningly. "And you're with--? I'm sorry, I've seen you here tonight, but I'm not sure which patient you're with."

"Blair Sandburg. My partner. I'm Detective James Ellison, Cascade Police. My partner appears to have malaria."

"Right . . . our malaria victim. We don't see that much around here. Surprised us all." She glanced through the sheets on her clipboard, then stopped on one, replacing it at the top of the pile. "He's had his initial regimen of 1000 mg of chloroquine, and is scheduled for another 500 mg in a few minutes. He seems to be reacting well, so far. We'll keep him here until a room opens up, but that probably won't be for a while. We're running a full show here tonight."

"I noticed."

"Between the flu epidemic, an apartment fire, and several automobile accidents, we're busy. Then again, it's Saturday night in Cascade-- What else is new?" She started to move away, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

Ellison rubbed at his forehead, trying to ease the tension there. "Sandburg's okay, isn't he? He's on medication; his fever is down."

"For now. It'll probably fluctuate for a few more hours. Don't be surprised if he's nauseous or has difficulty sleeping. The chloroquine sometimes affects patients like that. Once we get this acute attack under control, we'll start him on primaquine. We're just waiting for the lab results to come back on that. When you brought him in at--" she paged through her notes, "at six o'clock, it took awhile for the diagnosis to be made. He only started treatment at nine p.m."

"What is the primaquine for?"

"Chloroquine only takes care of the current attack, but we need to also eradicate the parasites from his body. For that we usually use primaquine, unless the patient has a G6PD deficiency." MacNeill looked up from her papers, to Jim, as though he might know this little detail about his partner.

He shrugged. "Sorry, can't help you there. Any side effects to these drugs?"

"That would vary person to person. Primaquine can cause abdominal cramps or methemoglobinuria. As I said before, Chloroquine can cause insomnia or--"

"Jim?" he heard clearly. "I feel lousy . . ."

"Nausea," Ellison supplied, turning and heading back to Sandburg's curtained-off room at a run.


Blair Sandburg was cold. His partner had just left his side, and suddenly he felt cold and alone and he couldn't see the damned panther under his bed. Couldn't even hear him, once Jim was away from his bed. Life just wasn't fair sometimes. The curtains around his bed felt like a confining prison, trapping him, slowly getting smaller.

Malaria. What a stupid thing to get. If he was going to be sick, why couldn't he have contracted some exotic--but quickly curable--disease that wasn't quite so common? He shivered as a chill swept his body and rolled onto his side, trying to get further under the thin cotton blanket, but he ended up tangling his IV tubes.

This really sucks, Jim. I can't move.

He struggled with the tubes and needles, trying to get bleary vision to cooperate, but only succeeded in tangling himself further. He started shivering more, his head falling back to the pillow as dizziness struck again. Wandering black blotches clouded what little vision he had and the icy chill grabbed hold of him. Everything suddenly got a little too overwhelming. He could feel his heart beating rapidly, his stomach muscles tensing and releasing. "I am not having a panic attack," he whispered to himself. "I am not having a panic attack," he repeated, for good measure.

He tried to breathe rhythmically in and out, but the breathing-in part was a ragged inhalation of air that made him dizzier, and the breathing-out part made his stomach do dangerous maneuvers. "Jim," he said faintly, his eyes pressed closed, "I feel lousy. Oh, god . . ." He tried to turn over, to find the disposable trays that he had been throwing up in earlier in the evening, but he couldn't find the energy to do so. Damn it, Jim, I'm gonna throw up all over myself. I could use a little help here.

Then Jim was there, rolling him onto his side and placing the tray beneath his mouth. Just in time, too, even though there was little in his stomach left to bring up. He couldn't see Jim, but he knew that touch, that presence. It calmed him, let him breathe again. His heart slowed in response, finding a comfortable cadence as he let his partner and friend handle the outside world.

Trustworthy hands.

Jim's voice, steady and in control, talking to the nurse. Blair's arms were moved, the tubes detangled and cleared properly. The cloth on his face felt good, cool and moist, wiping his forehead and cheeks, then his mouth. He was dimly aware of being allowed to sip some water, then spit it out in the tray. Jim moved him around, adjusting his position on the bed, tying his hair back. His gown was loosened, the damp cloth wiping the sweat from his chest and back.

Capable hands.

An extra blanket was shaken out and placed over him. The warmth was wonderful, easing everything but his spasming stomach cramps. It was impossible to open his eyes. Jim was talking to the nurse again. Her hands were cold on his skin as she fixed the tape holding the IV in place on his arm. He could hear the sides of the bed being lowered. More talking. Jim, behind him now, whispered to him and drew him closer to where he was, one hand beneath the covers, resting on his stomach, knowing a soothing slow massage that would relax the protesting abdominal muscles. The other hand, warm and steadying on his forehead, anchored him to the Sentinel, rather than to the hospital room.

Comforting hands.

He fell asleep.


Ellison sat quietly in the chair by the bed, his eyes closed, his hand resting on the back of Blair's hand. His thumb slowly moved across his partner's palm, kneading it gently, monitoring the changes from chill to fever that were slowly spiraling down as the anthropologist's body began to regulate itself. It was almost seven in the morning, but the light in the hospital ward hadn't changed as the hours passed.

He had spent the last four hours sitting in this chair, dozing and thinking, trying to put the events of the week into some kind of perspective. Talk about spiraling down . . . This was a definite wipeout. It had all started when he had almost killed a department store guard--would have killed him, but for the man's protective vest. The rest of the week had just piled on top of that horror until the actual shooting seemed a distant memory. I haven't even asked Simon how the guard is doing now. His concentration had been elsewhere.

Maybe losing his sentinel-enhanced senses had been the right idea. Blair had chalked up his temporary loss to purely psychological reasons, but ones he was still in control of, ultimately. Maybe the kid was right. There had been a certain amount of choice involved. One thing Ellison would never have a choice in, though, was whether or not he had the senses. Sandburg had drilled that idea until he had accepted it. He had the senses. His choice lay in whether or not he used them . . .

This time, the motivation to reestablish them had been to find Incacha's killer. What would it be next time? Who would it be?

Incacha . . .

The loss hit Ellison again, and he cringed inwardly against the sudden pain.

Incacha had died. In my home. In my territory. My turf. According to Incacha's beliefs, his spirit was now free to take on the form of a bird and continue his existence on that plain. But Incacha hadn't been ready yet to die. He hadn't prepared himself. He was out of place. The timing had been wrong. He should not have died yet. Ellison wasn't sure how he knew that, but he did. And something had happened between Incacha and Sandburg, something that was still haunting his partner, despite his assurances otherwise. Words had been said that could not be taken back. Things had been said without time for explanation or context.

Sandburg had rallied and had pulled Ellison together; his senses, gone for over a day, had come back in brilliant clarity. Blair had guided him to where the panther could lead him. Or else maybe Blair's presence had simply allowed him to find that place in himself again. Whichever, it had worked.

And yesterday . . . The eco-terrorist was in custody, although Simon had already warned Jim that the charges against him would be hard to stick. Bud Toren was dead, with no witnesses other than the Chopec, who were now on their way back to Peru. Without their testimony, there was little else to go on. Spalding knew little, if anything, of what had gone on in his own company.

It was all damned unfair. All of that. And this. Another hospital, another sleepless night.

Sandburg's fingers twitched suddenly, then closed around his thumb and Ellison looked up, blinking twice to clear his burning eyes. Blair's eyes were open but heavy-lidded, exhaustion etched on his fever-flushed face. His temperature appeared to be hovering around 101, refusing to go down further. Each time the nurse had come in to check Blair's temperature, Ellison had noted the reading and then used the fluctuations in temperature to test his own tactile guesses. He was now getting Blair's temperature right each time, so the night wasn't a total loss. Sandburg would probably come up with another hundred experiments to check it, though.

"How you feeling, Chief?"

"I thought you were going away." The young man's voice was hoarse, little more than a whisper.

"I was going to." Jim shrugged, looking away, uncomfortable. "I came back."

"You were listening. You heard me."

"Yeah, well, someone's got to keep an eye on you." He leaned forward and mussed Sandburg's hair.

"But this sickness thing, that's going beyond--"

"No. No, it's not." Jim shrugged again, unable to find any words to put with the conviction. "I needed to be here. You need me to be here. No big deal."

Blair gave a ragged smile, willing to let the statement stand. "Good." His eyes drifted closed, then opened again. "Jim, I'll be okay now. My fever's over, right? Why don't you go home and get some sleep yourself? I don't need a babysitter."

"I might as well stay. I doubt if I would have got any sleep at home anyway. Too quiet."

"I should make a recording of my heartbeat for you to listen to when I'm not there," Blair joked.

"It's not the same." Ellison yawned, glancing at his watch.

"It's Incacha, isn't it?" Blair asked, his eyes closing again. "His presence is still there."

"It's a lot of things, Chief. That's just one of them. Get some sleep; the quicker you get better, the quicker we get out of here."

He watched his partner succumb to sleep, despite his best efforts to stay awake and pursue the conversation. There would be time to sit and talk later . . . Although the trouble was that they were left with a topic that neither had any reliable information on, and no vocabulary to use to discuss the problems that they couldn't even isolate yet.

Ellison extracted his hand from Sandburg's and slowly pushed to his feet, stretching his back and legs. He walked around the end of the bed and helped himself to some water and juice that had been left on a tray there, swishing the apple juice around in his mouth, hoping to get the bad taste out. Footsteps approached and stopped, the curtains were pulled back, and a new nurse smiled at him tentatively, then went to Sandburg and took his temperature and checked his pulse, taking care, Ellison noted, not to waken her patient. He decided he liked her, and left his partner in her care as he used the facilities and walked back and forth up and down the corridor, trying to get the kinks out of his lower back.

He hadn't been back long when Simon Banks, traces of the familiar cigar smoke on him, entered the ward. Jim listened to his approach, not bothering to turn in his chair and look at him. He felt the hand on his shoulder, the quick press of the muscle. The inevitable question. "How is he?"

"Not bad, actually. He had a bit of a reaction to the medication, but they cleared that up and he's sleeping now." Ellison moved his hand to Blair's head, checking again for fever despite the nurse's assurance that his temperature hadn't changed. Still at 101. Sandburg was curled on his side, his face half-hidden in the blankets around his shoulders, as he had been for the last forty-five minutes.

Banks moved to the far side of the bed, looking across at Ellison. "You said on your telephone message that he has malaria? How'd he get that? Can't you take drugs now to prevent it?"

"You can, and he did. But it still shows up sometimes, despite our best intentions. He could have contracted it anytime in the last six or seven years, or even as recently as twelve months ago when we were in Peru with you. The good news is that they've put him on the right medication and it'll clear up. He'll be back at work in a few days, so life will soon resume to normal . . ." His voice trailed off. He straightened up in the chair, his hand returning to Blair's hand. "Although I doubt it will. Nothing's that easy."

"What do you mean?" The captain's question was as non-threatening as Banks could make it.

Ellison took Blair's hand in both of his own, as though the contact was the only thing keeping Blair in place. At last he glanced up, holding the captain's worried gaze before he returned his careful attention to his partner. "Simon, you know the pause button on a VCR control? That's what I need. A pause button. I need time-- we need time-- to sort this all out. It happened too quickly. Incacha's death. The whole Cyclops oil thing-- Janet Meyer's murder. And there was something else, too," Jim added, his voice lowered, his eyes moving back to Simon's. "Incacha passed something on to Sandburg when he died, a different kind of responsibility, and I know it's eating at Blair. He doesn't know what it means, what he is supposed to do. We need time--"

"To do what?"

"I don't know. To fix whatever has gone wrong. I wish I could tell you more but I'm really not--"

"How much and when?" Simon interrupted immediately. "Would a week do? Beginning immediately?"

A smile flickered across Ellison's features. "We'll make it do. We just need to talk about it, to work it out for us. Thank you."

Simon groaned, looking like he wished he could take his offer back. "I can't spare you any longer than that. We've got a few officers on vacation this week and another recovering from an injury. It's a bad time."

"And I appreciate your offer, believe me. Both of us do."

Simon tugged absently on the blanket covering Sandburg, tucking it closer around his neck as though outraged that the nurses were not keeping a better eye on him. "Jim, I'm not claiming to understand for one minute what dynamics are happening here. I know enough to know that I don't want to know anything more. It all sounds too hocus-pocus to me already. But I know what it's like in the office and in the field when you two are connected right. I've come to count on that. So if you think you can reconnect, or whatever, in that amount of time, you've got it."


He opened his eyes, letting the low light gradually reveal his own bedroom. I'm home again. His eyes drifted closed and he rolled over, getting comfortable, smiling as he recognized he was no longer connected to IV needles and tubes. As he settled into the warmth of his bed, he took stock: His arm throbbed quietly, feeling bruised from the IV. He had the lingering sensation of a headache that was probably masked by pain killers. His throat was sore, as was his chest and stomach--the aftermath of being sick.

Beyond the open door of his room, he could hear only silence. No . . . Jim was snoring in the loft above him. It was a comforting sound, because it meant Jim was relaxed enough to sleep, and that meant he was well enough for Jim to relax. He focused on the faint sound, listening to the rhythmic snore, letting it lull him to sleep. Is this what Jim does with my heart beat sometimes? Easier than counting sheep.

He hovered on the edge of consciousness, enjoying being at home and out of the hospital. There was something about the smell and sound of an emergency ward that sent his blood pressure into the stratosphere.

Hold on to that thought, Sandburg . . . Blair's eyes opened wide. He didn't seem to have any memory of coming back to the apartment, and only the vaguest of memories of going to the hospital in the first place. He slowly pushed himself upright, shifting in bed until he was leaning against the wall.

Bits and pieces. He remembered sitting in a wheelchair while Jim brought the car around to him. The cool evening air had felt nice. He vaguely remembered Jim fixing the seatbelt--it was stuck or something. The lights of the city blurring past the side window that his head rested against. Nothing after that.

Nothing. Except being half-carried up the stairs . . . Yes, the memory was there, but he had been ninety-eight percent asleep at the time.

He swung his feet over the side of the bed, suddenly wide awake. It was five in the morning, according to the clock. He had no idea how long he had been home. Maybe since after dinner. He had eaten something in the hospital, hadn't he? Something they called dinner?

And there had been a phone call from Naomi sometime after they had come home. He had a vague memory of hearing her voice and realizing Jim had a telephone receiver up against his ear, telling him to say hello to his mother and reassure her that he was going to be fine. Great. What other tidbits did I tell her? No fair, Ellison. Next time, make sure I'm completely awake before doing that.

Well, now he really was awake. Of course, he had spent the last twenty-four hours more or less asleep, so he wasn't surprised to be wide awake at this hour. He eased out of the bed and wandered toward the bathroom. No showers or flushing the toilet with Jim still asleep. He wandered out again and put the kettle on for tea. His stomach was still feeling a little queasy, so coffee was out of the question, despite his caffeine addiction insisting it would be fine.

He waited until the water was just starting to bubble, then pulled the kettle off the stove before the whistle started. Close enough. He dropped an orange pekoe tea bag in the mug, got a spoon and dunked it a few times impatiently, then tossed the tea bag into the trash. He needed whatever caffeine he could get and the herbal teas weren't going to help him there.

Back in his room, he carefully closed his door to keep whatever sound in he could. It was a wonder Jim wasn't downstairs already, which only showed how tired the big guy must be. The least Blair could do was let him sleep as long as possible.

He crawled back onto the bed, sitting cross-legged, leaning back into the corner junction of the walls. The mug felt warm in his hands as he looked around at his personal space. It was a nice room, actually. Small but all his--he seldom had that growing up. Whenever Naomi got an apartment, a bachelor or one-bedroom was all she could usually afford, so he inevitably ended up on the couch or bunkered down on a mattress in the corner somewhere. It wasn't so bad, really. She made wherever they lived fun--tents, apartments, or with others. City, rural, small town, wilderness. United States, Mexico, Guatemala, for a while. Nicaragua. Canada. There were other places, too, but he had been too young to really know where they were. Naomi always told him that where you were, didn't matter. It was where you are, that counted.

And I'm here now, he thought. Home from the hospital.

Home.

He sipped on the hot tea, his gaze falling on the stack of books on the dresser and on his desk. Great. He was supposed to have returned some of those to the reference library on Saturday. The per-day fines were horrendous. It was already Monday and he'd hardly had a chance to read any of them. He put the tea aside carefully and scooted down the bed to extract the three dusty tomes he had managed to uncover while on a whirlwind rush through the library last Thursday. He'd phoned ahead and the librarian--who owed him more than a few favors herself--had grudgingly agreed to pull some books for him, supposedly for a class he was preparing.

Well, there was no way he could have said to her, "I need to find out all about being a Peruvian-Amazon-tribal-shaman quick before something happens and I get Jim killed."

He had a lot of reading to do, it seemed. The word 'shaman' was used by several different cultures, enough so that he couldn't count on any definition other than what Incacha would have been using. That meant putting aside all his pre-conceived notions of medicine men and witch doctors, and shelving his previous research on similar topics, plus any first-hand knowledge he had of the subject, and he had to concentrate on what exactly it was that Incacha had meant. He knew it wasn't a title handed down, so it was something that Incacha thought he was, or thought he was capable of being, or he never would have said all that stuff to him.

So . . . He scanned the titles, ending by choosing the narrowest of the books, one by Charles Darwin describing his travels in the Peruvian Amazon. An hour later, he put it aside, rubbed at his burning eyes, and tackled the next book, wading through chapters, trying to find the little pieces that might make the difference between life and death. He definitely had a lot of material to cover.


Morning sunlight was pouring into the loft from the upper windows, the warmth a healing blanket on Ellison's nerves. He had slept peacefully, waking at eight to listen to his partner's steady breathing, pages turning, the scratch of pen on paper. So Sandburg was feeling well enough to do a little university work . . . That meant he could turn over and go back to sleep for a while longer. He did, enjoying a morning off. It was almost nine-thirty before he got up, lazily making his way down the stairs and into the shower. On his way back up to his room, he paused long enough to listen to Sandburg, now asleep, and he let a brief smile touch his face.

By ten, he'd had breakfast and was debating how to tackle the rest of the day. He would have to rent a truck or four-wheel drive of some kind. He wasn't sure how far he wanted to drive--that depended on how Sandburg was feeling, but he wanted to make sure that at least their vehicle was equipped to handle whatever they encountered. Once that was done, he could load up the tent, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment directly from the storage locker to the truck and save time. He'd have to pack a bit more than they usually used, as keeping the kid warm and dry was a high priority, especially to the hospital staff who had reluctantly released him.

Rather than wake Blair, Ellison penned a quick note and left it on the table. Halfway to the door, he changed his mind and went back, quietly pushing open Sandburg's door. He changed his mind again about waking him; the kid looked exhausted. For some reason, what looked like dried tears stained the pale cheeks. The tension on Sandburg's face dissolved as Ellison reached out and touched him, as though taking immediate comfort from the familiar presence. Blair didn't awaken when Ellison gently withdrew the encyclopedia-sized book from his lap and maneuvered the limp body down on the mattress. Once horizontal, Blair rolled over on his own, his head nestled in the pillow, sound asleep under the quilt Ellison tried to straighten over him, awkwardly.

That's when he noticed the title of the book. And the books on the floor, and on the desk, and on the dresser. Every single one of them about one topic. He picked up the scribbled notes, scattered about the bed, trying to put them together in a pile. What he could read of them revealed pages and pages of material Sandburg had copied, probably thirty or more lined sheets of paper, filled from edge to edge in information, the writing growing more frantic as the pages had filled.

No. Ellison deposited the notes on the desk and tried not to pace in the tiny room.

This isn't how it was supposed to be.

Instinctual behavior, Sandburg. That's what you said it came down to. Instinctual behavior.

Academia was not the way to find answers here, although it was probably the only route Sandburg felt was available to him at this time. What else could he do, really? Field studies were out of the question, due to their other commitments. The anthropologist was a researcher and had spent months living with various tribes throughout the world as he learned his trade. His master's thesis had been based on tribal studies, which in turn had led him to Burton's work, which in turn had prompted Sandburg's quest to find a present-day sentinel.

Books and theories and studies of tribal cultures were not going to help them here, however. When things worked for them, it was when they figured it out for themselves There were no textbooks on the mysteries of the Sentinel/Guide relationship, so they'd had no choice before but to work things out between them. Ellison looked around Sandburg's room. Shamans, it appeared, were a whole different kettle of fish. Research was available. At least a roomful.

Ellison shook his head, frustrated. Why this? Why now? Sandburg had always been the one most comfortable with who he was in relation to the Sentinel. Sure of his position. Demanding that Ellison pay attention to what he had to say, using an authority and assurance that was rooted in his soul. For over a year and a half, Sandburg had been a pillar to him, firm in his belief in the Sentinel/Guide partnership. There had been some insecurities about their friendship and about his place as Jim's partner in police work, but time had won out there. Or so he thought.

Apparently, Incacha had changed the rules, and Sandburg's confidence in who he was, was shaken.

Ellison placed the book on top of the stack by the bed and sat carefully on the edge of the mattress. He rested his hand on Blair's shoulder, listening as Blair's breathing and sleeping pattern relaxed even further at his light touch. Instinctively, Sandburg was still connected with him, there was no doubt. The instinctive behavior was functioning fine. So . . . as long as Blair didn't over-analyze everything, maybe they'd be okay. All the time in the hospital, the kid had been too sick to do anything other than coast on instinctual behavior, believing he was safe when Jim was around. But once home, the mind went back into gear and the original problem posed itself, demanding that Blair find an answer.

We are definitely getting out of here, away from all this.

If they needed answers, they would find them together. And not from a book.


When Ellison returned home a few hours later, Sandburg was sitting on the floor of the living room, leaning back against the couch, absorbed reading one of his texts. Ellison had deposited the large box of food on the kitchen counter, taken his coat off, and then put away the groceries before his presence was even noted. Blair glanced up only when he cleared his throat.

"Oh. Hi, Jim." The young man carefully finished the page, then closed the old volume.

"Hi, yourself. You're looking tired. Have you been reading all afternoon?" Ellison asked, making note of the title.

Sandburg shrugged, fighting off a yawn. "Most of it."

"Did you take your pills?"

"Yeah. I saw your note."

"Why aren't you sleeping?"

"Couldn't. I gave up and grabbed a book."

"Looks like you grabbed several." He sat down on the couch, deliberately sitting where Incacha had died. Blair's eyes drifted over to him, and then away. Jim stretched, leaning back, his arms resting on the back of the couch. "What's the topic?"

"Of what?" Sandburg asked, startled.

"Your books."

"Oh. This and that."

"For your courses? They look like they're from the reference library."

"Yeah. Just some research."

"On what?"

Sandburg shrugged, "Just some boring stuff you wouldn't be interested in."

"Tell you what I am interested in, Chief. Do you have anything here on shamanism?" Ellison noted the tension that froze his partner. "Just curious if you had anything on it." There was no reaction. It felt like he was asking a kid if he could see his report card, knowing there would be a row of 'F's on it. Sandburg had no idea what to do. "Hey, Chief. Wake up. Why don't you bring me all your books and other things that you've accumulated on shamanism? I'd like to see them." When Blair still didn't move, he stood up. "Wait, don't get up. You look comfortable down there. I'll get them. Just on your desk in there?" Several strides took him to the door of Sandburg's bedroom.

He went over to the pile of books on the desk, the ones he had seen earlier that morning. They seemed to have multiplied. Someone had obviously been by, dropping off yet more volumes. Books, old and new. Anthropological texts were alongside pop culture and New Age philosophies. He brought out an armful, deposited them on the coffee table, and then went back for more, adding those on the floor and on the chair.

"Is this it?"

Sandburg was staring blankly at the floor, seeming to shrink in size on the carpet. He was embarrassed, yes, but there was a growing fear within him that was rising to the surface.

Ellison grabbed Blair's backpack from the kitchen table and placed it on top of the pile. He wasn't about to open it, but it was crammed full of books, and he had no doubt what the topic was. "That's quite a bit, wouldn't you say?" Jim took in all the titles, reading a few of them aloud. "How much of this have you acquired in the last few days?"

"Most of it." Sandburg had the book he had been reading when Jim came in, clutched against his chest. Waiting.

Jim placed the empty grocery box on the floor by Blair, then sat down on the couch, lowering his voice, making sure it was gentle and unthreatening. "Chief, I'd like you to do something for me."

Sandburg looked up, eyes widening slowly at the solemn request. "What?"

"I want you to take this box and put all these texts away for a bit. I'm not saying forever, but for the next few days, maybe weeks even."

"Why?"

"Because I don't want you to miss the point."

"And what would that be?"

"None of this stuff will work here in Cascade."

"How do you know that? You don't know that, Jim. You don't know anything about what makes someone a shaman or--"

"The hell I don't." Ellison's tone hardened, despite his intentions. "I lived under the same roof as one for eighteen months. And I've lived with you now, for over a year. Incacha was a shaman. You are not."

From Sandburg's reaction, he might as well have punched him in the gut. The young man struggled to his feet, reeling from what Ellison had said. "I'm doing my best here, Jim. I'm trying to figure it out. You just have to give me some time. I--"

"There's nothing to figure out. Case closed. I don't need a shaman." Ellison started putting the books in the box.

"How am I supposed to guide you by your animal spirit if--"

"You did, damn it," Ellison snapped. "How do you think I got my senses back?"

"But I had no idea what I was doing! That's not being a shaman--"

"I don't need a shaman!" Ellison repeated, his voice covering Blair's. "Now help me out," he demanded, pointing to the books.

Sandburg stood in the middle of the living room floor, hands over his face, too tired to even stand without wavering. "What's happening here, man? Jim? What do you want from me?"

"Help me pack up these books."

"No."

"Then get packed. Take this stuff out and throw some things in your backpack."

Blair stumbled backward. "You're throwing me out?"

Ellison blinked, then shook his head. "No, you and I are going camping. Now move it. I want to get there before dark. It's already four o'clock."

"Camping? Camping? I just got out of the hospital last night and we're suddenly going camping?"

"I told them at the hospital and I told Simon. I've got a few days coming to me, and while you are recuperating from this, we might as well get away from the city. It might be our last chance for a while."

"I thought I had to take pills and stuff."

"I've got them packed already. I rented a Jeep. Bought a new tent. I'm all packed. Now get a move on. I want to be on the road in a few minutes."

"I don't have any say in this?"

Ellison paused. "Actually, you do. Either you come with me, or you're going back to the hospital. I sprung you on the condition that I was a medic and able to take care of you. So if you'd rather go back there--"

Blair stared at him, the anger in his eyes evident. "No. Fresh air with a psycho sounds much more relaxing."


The stillness of the early morning was shattered, waking Ellison from a sound sleep.

"No! Let me go. Let go of my arm!"

Ellison rolled over in his sleeping bag so quickly he got a kink in his neck. "Chief?"

Sandburg's head was tossing back and forth on the pillow, sweat drenching his skin. "JIM!" he screamed, his body arching from the effort.

"I'm here, buddy. Wake up, Chief." Still enwrapped in his sleeping bag, Ellison shifted closer until he could pull Blair up enough to get a good hold on him. Frantic hands grasped at his sweatshirt, almost ripping the fabric. "I'm here. Just relax."

"He won't let go. Make him let go. Make him let go." Sandburg's eyes were squeezed shut, his heartbeat racing as he panted out his request over and over. "Make him let go. Make him let go."

"I've got you. He's gone now, Blair." It took several minutes of reassurances before the nightmare's hook fell away and his partner collapsed against him, trying to pull oxygen into his lungs. "Relax. Breathe slowly."

"Thank you, Jim. Oh, God," Sandburg mumbled, still clinging to his shirt, his chest heaving as he tried to control his breathing. "Shit. That was too real, man. It was just a dream, right?" he asked, raising his head and looking around for a moment. "Uh . . . where are we, Jim? I'm missing something here."

That was probably true, Ellison considered. Blair had slept most of the way in the jeep, waking only long enough for Ellison to steer him into the tent. He had then crawl into his sleeping bag with a murmured, "Good night, Jim," any trace of animosity vanished.

"We're camping, remember? We're at the Chuckanut Government Campgrounds right on the coast near Bellingham."

"Camping? Oh, right. Camping. Camping. We're camping." Blair glanced around the tent, not letting go of his grip on Ellison's shirt until his eyes finally focused on his clenched fists. "Uh, sorry, Jim." It took several big swallows and a deep breath before he unlocked his hands from the fabric and moved away. "What time is it?" he asked, pushing the hair back from his face.

Ellison glanced at his watch. "Six-thirty in the morning."

Sandburg nodded, still trying to take it all in. "So . . . that was a nightmare I just had, right? Everything is cool here? You okay?"

"I'm fine--or I will be once my heart goes back to its regular beat. You startled me," Ellison said with a smile.

"Sorry, man. It was, like, so real. Incacha had this major grip on my arm and he was dead and we couldn't get the body off me. Then the arm broke off and--" Blair grimaced, shaking himself. "Well, enough said. It got rather gross after that, believe me. Bugs and cockroaches, and, well, I'll spare you the details."

"Thank you." Jim shifted back to his thin foam mattress, and lay down again. "Think you can go back to sleep, Chief?"

"No . . . not in this century, anyway." Sandburg glanced around the tent. "Did you say that we're at a public campground? Did you happen to notice which direction the restrooms are in? My bladder just informed that it's been a while since I took care of it."

"I parked fairly close to one. Follow the path up the hill and it's right there. Big building with a flat roof. And, Sandburg, the men's room is on the far side. Be careful, please. I don't want any incidents."

"Ha, ha. You're so funny, Jim," Blair muttered sarcastically, as he pushed his feet into his loafers. "Did I bring some boots along?"

"They're still in the jeep. You'll be fine wearing those for now." He listened as his partner scrambled up the path, laughing as Blair made a few snide comments directed his way, knowing the odds were that Jim was monitoring his progress.

The rest of the morning passed calmly, taken up with a walk along the rocky winding beach, sitting and watching waves crashing against the shore as the tide came in. They ate some lunch from the supplies Jim had brought, then Blair had slept until five. He emerged from the tent and sat on the bench of the picnic table, eyes dull as he watched Ellison set things out for dinner and then start chopping wood for a fire to stave off the evening chill. What had been a beautiful sunny day was fast turning into a cloudy night. It grew steadily darker as the hour passed, and Blair grew more quiet, until contemplative became uncommunicative.

Cutting down trees in the government park was illegal, so Ellison had purchased a few bigger logs and had to chop them smaller for their use. Kindling was easy enough to find, and he wadded up some newspaper and built up the kindling around it. "What's up, Chief?" Ellison asked, lighting a match.

Sandburg shrugged, but said nothing.

A second match got the newspaper beneath the kindling to burn. "Cat got your tongue?"

There was an answering glower, then Sandburg sighed and shifted on the bench. "Just thinking, okay?"

"About what?" The fire took hold at last, snapping at the dry kindling. "Hmm?"

"The future," Blair answered, after a minute's pause, "what's going to happen to us down the road--that kind of thing."

"Sickness and in health, till death do us part--Isn't that how it goes?" Ellison said, adding the logs around the outside of the fire.

Blair let out a brief, irritated laugh. "I'm your guide, Jim. I'm not married to you."

Ellison reached for another log. "I'm not saying you are. But it's still a commitment. Not a marriage commitment, but a partnership. Same thing. Whatever happens to us, we're in it together." There was no response for several minutes while he watched the fire, still arranging the logs. When he finished, he wiped off the axe and put it aside, then started stacking rest of the cut wood closer to their fire.

Sandburg's whisper, when it came, took him by surprise. "You divorced Caroline."

Ellison turned his head quickly to see Blair use the sleeve of his shirt to wipe at his eyes. The detective dropped the log he was carrying and moved across to where his partner sat at the picnic table. Blair wasn't looking at him, seeming to fold inward on himself, making himself smaller on the bench. The young man looked devastated, as if he wanted to run away and hide, but there was no where for him to go. Ellison crouched down in front of him, hands resting lightly on Sandburg's knees. "Yes, I did divorce her. But that has nothing to do with you. This is a whole different kind of commitment that I'm talking about."

"But when you married her, you believed you were marrying for life, right? Then she didn't meet your expectations or whatever--she wasn't what you needed--and you divorced her."

"It was a mutual agreement because we had no future together. I'm not proud of that, Chief. I failed at that relationship. What we are--I don't even have the words for it, but it's on a different level than my marriage to Caroline."

Blair shrugged, not looking at him, tears a steady stream down his face. "It's just human nature, Jim. Nothing lasts forever. This friendship is important to me--you know that--being with you, the Sentinel stuff, the police work, the loft--all of it--but one day, maybe, things will change for you and--"

"Quiet."

The abrupt reprimand struck Sandburg as physically as if Ellison had actually hit him, and Blair gasped, drawing back, bracing himself for a blow. Sandburg's reaction was totally unexpected, and Jim wasn't sure how to handle it. Ellison wanted to go on instinct--he was desperately trying to go on instinct, to listen to his inner feelings--but his initial instinct this time was to grab the young man by the shoulders and yell some sense into him.

For a long few minutes he sat trying to find the correct words to say to Blair, to put together his thoughts in a cohesive rational argument that wouldn't be misunderstood. Twice the kid tried to run, but each time he blocked him, depositing back on the picnic table. That would be all he needed right now, to have Sandburg taking off and getting lost in the woods as night was falling.

"Tell me about Naomi," he said, finally.

Sandburg's head snapped up, the frown firmly in place. "What?"

"Tell me about Naomi. What is your relationship to her?"

"She's my mother. What are you talking about?"

"Did you choose her to be your mother?"

Sandburg stared at him. "No. Of course I didn't. She's my mother."

"So your relationship is based, not on choice, but on something beyond your control?"

"I would have chosen her if could--"

Ellison waved him silent. "But you had no choice, right?"

There was a hesitant nod from his partner, as if he knew he was going to be trapped eventually by this line of questioning.

"What about us as roommates? Was that a choice or not?"

"Your choice."

"Yours, too. You could move out whenever you wanted to. Or I could kick you out at any time."

Blair wrapped his arms around his chest, as though bracing himself for whatever Ellison was going to say next.

"What about us as partners at the station? Choice or not?"

"Choice, obviously. All yours."

"If Simon were to change his mind, you'd be out," Ellison pointed out.

"Or if you wanted me out, I'd be out," Blair added, a hint of bitterness underscoring his words.

"Or you could leave whenever you wanted to. You have a choice as well." Ellison watched the emotions flicker across the young man's face. "What about our friendship?"

"What about it?"

"Choice or not?"

Blair shrugged. "Choice, I suppose."

"They say you choose your friends, but not your family."

"Yeah. What's your point?"

Darkness had fallen, the moon not yet risen. Ellison adjusted his sight. He needed to see Sandburg's reactions to all this. "So, we both have choices as roommates, friends, and partners. Agreed?"

Blair shrugged again, looking down.

"Agreed?" Ellison repeated.

"Yes," Sandburg hissed. "You could dump me at any time."

He waited a few seconds, then said, very clearly, "Impossible."

There was a moment of stunned silence. "I thought we had just established that I was expendable?"

Ellison's hands moved to Sandburg's shoulders. "What's left, Chief? Roommates, partners, friends. What's left? What brought us together in the first place?"

Rain pattered around them, big icy droplets flung by the wind. Blair shivered again, a mixture of cold and fear shaking him. Then the anger burned out, leaving the young man sounding tired. "You're a Sentinel," he said, finally.

"Yes. And you're my other half, Chief."

Wide eyes looked up at him, numbed by the intensity of what he was feeling, but still not making the connection.

"Just trust that, Blair. We're in it together. For the long haul."

Sandburg was trembling, fear robbing him of making the leap to grasp hold of Ellison's conviction.

"Trust your instincts. Just like you and your mother," Ellison continued, "this relationship between us was not a decision that was left for us to make. I believe, for whatever reason, someone or something greater than us brought us together. It was predestined. No choice. You could leave my side, move to a different continent, never speak to me again--and that relationship would still exist. When I'm talking about commitment, I'm just acknowledging what is already there, and I'm acknowledging that it is forever. Maybe it's time we put that into words, a covenant of some kind. Regardless, we have no choice."

Ellison looked away, trying to reach for words again. "Simon's son Daryl once referred to us as David and Jonathan. I got curious and looked it up. It says: 'The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.' That's how I feel. We have knitted souls."

Blair's breathing became ragged and this time when he pulled away, Jim let him go. At least Blair didn't go far, just inside the tent, hunkering down in the corner as though escaping the rain and wind.

Ellison let him be for a few minutes, stacking the wood he had cut and wrapping a tarp around the pile, keeping it dry for morning. He reached inside the tent and grabbed his toiletries kit from his bag, walking the short distance up the hill to the camp grounds' public washrooms. A few cars were pulling out of the government campsite at this late hour, probably giving up on the weather and leaving before it got any worse. Headlights pierced his night vision, almost blinding him. He looked away, zeroing in on his rental car and the tent, then listening to the rapid heartbeat of his partner.

The men's washroom was bare of everything but the essentials. Cement floor and walls, large garbage cans, toilet cubicles to the left, showers to the right. A father was there with two young sons, yelling at them to hurry up washing their hands; he apparently wanted to get back to their trailer and watch the rest of the game on his portable television and they were dawdling in his opinion. Two teenagers came in, dangerously close to fighting, cursing and swearing at each other, one shoving the other up against the wall, clenched fists waving. Before Ellison could interfere, the father suddenly changed from aggressive toward his children to protective and picked up one child, shielding the other as he hurried them out of the washroom. The fighters exited as well, but headed in the opposite direction, away from the family and away from where Blair was.

Ellison used the facilities, brushed his teeth, and headed back to his tent, rain lashing at his face. Twice he was stopped by campers who were wondering if he had heard the latest weather forecast. Was this going to end or not?

He checked the tent when he got back, but the stakes were firmly in place, the outer flaps of the tent holding against the wind. A last deep breath, and he bent low and entered the tent.

"Whew. Quite the storm out there," he said lightly, relieved to see that Sandburg had turned on the kerosene lamp and was fiddling with the radio.

"Yeah. Think the tent will be okay?" Blair didn't sound worried, more like he was making conversation.

"It should. I just checked it and it looks fine." He pulled his wet jacket off, hanging it on a hook on the tent pole near the entrance. The tent was technically listed as a three-man tent, but he had no idea where they would put someone else. There wasn't much room left, with all their stuff in it. "Hungry yet?" he asked.

"Sure. I guess. What is there?"

Ellison flipped open the cooler and rummaged around in it. "How about some sandwiches and a Coke? The fire's out already. Didn't last long in the rain."

Sandburg shrugged. "Why not? Listen, Jim, I'll be right back. Just going to take a trip to the facilities myself."

"Don't get lost. The power might go at any time. That wind is really blowing."

"Yes, mo--" Blair stopped short of saying 'mom', biting back on the word before it escaped his mouth. "I'll be right back. There's a game on the radio, if you're interested. Vancouver Canucks versus New York Rangers. If you want, I mean."

"I'll find it. Just go before it gets worse out there." Ellison changed the dial on the radio, setting it on the closed cooler along with the two cans of pop. Normally they would have beer, but Blair's medication precluded that. He tossed a tuna sandwich onto Blair's sleeping bag. The game was already into the second period, but he left it on, knowing it would offer them something to do to ease the tension. Sure enough, when Blair returned, the previous conversation was ignored, and Sandburg latched onto the game, listening to it with an intensity that he had never shown before, cheering and groaning as though he were an avid fan of the team.

An hour later, as the third period was past the halfway mark, Ellison watched Sandburg struggle to stay awake. There would be a window of time when the kid's defenses would drop, just before he fell asleep, and that was what Ellison was waiting for. He wanted to touch Blair and know that the connection was still there. That this emptiness between them was temporary. He wanted to get back on track with life. Right now, he felt caught in a major train derailment, everything scattered around him, useless.

The wind was howling against the tent, shaking the canvas, rain smacking against the sturdy material. Maybe not the best weather to camp in, but it kept them inside, kept them in close enough quarters. It kept them together.

Sandburg's eyes closed, his head slowly falling forward as the tension left his muscles. Another few minutes passed, then Ellison sat up and reached for his partner, easing him gently to the sleeping bag. Just trust your instincts, Chief. They serve you right every time. Once asleep, Sandburg's 'instinctual behavior' with the Sentinel fell into place. The absolute trust surfaced. The equally absolute comfort was evident as Blair didn't waken when Jim shifted him to lie inside the sleeping bag.

That was it, of course. It wasn't anything Sandburg read, or studied, or ingested. It was that instinctual behavior that was the key. It was nothing that he did. It was who he was that had made him a part of Jim's life forever.

Now he just had to find a way to convince his partner of that.




Blair shivered, lifting his head to look around the tent. He wasn't sure what had woken him, but the steady pounding of rain on the roof of the tent made him glad to be inside. Every minute or so, a gust of wind would shift the tent canvas, sending ripples across the surface. The moon was out, but hidden behind a lot of dark clouds, only the tiniest bit of diffused light showing through the dark canvas, but it was enough for him to see by.

Jim was sleeping just a few feet away, his back to Sandburg. Blair studied the silent form, feeling isolated, miles apart rather than inches.

Promises. Commitment.

What kind of commitment was he supposed to make? If no commitments were made, nothing could be broken, right? He wouldn't hurt anyone. Nothing would hurt him. Naomi had taught him about keeping things loose, breaking any ties that could later prove to be binding, changing his location as often as he changed his shirt. Sure, this was the best friendship he'd ever had, but friendships just happened. If you held on to them too tightly, they'd slip away.

Yet . . . Jim was right. Naomi was still there. There were no questions about that relationship. She was his mother. He loved her. He cared about her. There was never any doubt that no matter where he went or what he did, she would still be his mother, still hold that secure place in his life and in his heart.

How can I let you get that close, Jim?

But his partner--his friend--seemed convinced that their . . . relationship was the same as his relationship to his mother. It wasn't something chosen. It was something born. It was family. Naomi was his mother. Jim was his Sentinel. And he wasn't a Sentinel's partner. According to Jim, Blair was the partner. The backup. The guide. As genetically picked as Jim was. Knitted souls.

He swallowed.

So what kind of commitment was required here? Jim didn't seem to want a shaman. What the hell did he want? He acted as though it were a done deal. Everything in place. End of story.

Ellison stirred slightly, shifting to get more comfortable on the thin mattress. Blair studied the man's back, the broad shoulders, the powerful muscles revealed even through the warm sweatshirt. Every Sentinel had a partner, he could hear himself telling Ellison, so long ago. Someone who watched his back. Someone who helped him not to zone out. What else do you really need me for? What kind of commitment do you want from me? If you don't want a shaman . . .

He sat up, hugging his knees to his chest, his head down. His mind was blanking. No great thoughts. No insight. No inspiration.

Trust your instincts, Jim had said.

Blair lifted his head and looked back at Ellison, a shadowy blur through his tears. Shivering, he crawled from his sleeping bag, crossing the eighteen inches that separated them. One hand tentatively rested on Jim's shoulder, the other on his forehead. He could feel the change in the Sentinel's breathing, and knew that Jim was now wide awake, but not moving, aware of Blair's gasping for air to try to calm himself.

"James Ellison, I promise . . ." He got four words out, then his voice cracked, and he rested his head on Jim's shoulder, trying to contain his emotions. A hand moved to cover his hand, offering support but not hurrying him. He tried again. "I promise . . . I promise to be there whenever you want me to be there. To watch your back. To be your partner. I can't promise to always know what to do, but I promise to give it my best shot. I promise to . . . be a part of your life." Blair let his arm go around Jim's chest, clinging to the Sentinel now as he battled the overwhelming fear that he had misunderstood what Jim had been saying. That he'd crossed a bridge that was never there for him to step on in the first place.

Ellison sat up and turned, drawing him close, those massive arms enfolding him with a fierce gentleness that spoke louder than his words. But what he said stayed with Blair, permanently etched into his consciousness, clearly heard despite the storm raging outside.

The Sentinel's voice was rough with his own emotion, but he wasn't making any attempt to quell it. "And I promise, Blair Sandburg, to protect you. To listen to you. To trust you with my life and my sanity. For better or for worse." Ellison's arms tightened even more, his voice dropping until Blair could hardly hear him whisper the last words of the ancient covenant. "Until death do us part." A firm kiss on Blair's forehead sealed the promise.

Suspended in time, the moment paused.

Then, with a shuddering intake of air, Blair couldn't have stopped his tears if his life depended on it.


Ellison reached across his slumbering partner and dragged the other sleeping bag over to them. It was awkward unzipping the bag with one hand, but he managed to get it open enough to cover Sandburg's legs and back. Another awkward reach brought the car blanket close enough for him to shake out and layer on top of Blair. He could try to protect him from many things, but protection against contracting cases of malaria and coming down with pneumonia were beyond his simple repertoire.

The sleep of the dead, they called it, this exhausted deep rest that left the sleeper's body boneless. Ellison smiled indulgently, shaking his head at the circumstances he now found himself in and knowing he could never try to explain it to Simon without his friend leaping to the wrong conclusions. Yes, Simon, it's true I held Blair all night, but it's not what you think. I was just being a Sentinel.

It sounded strange. If he stopped and examined his emotions, there was, on one level, a small degree of uncomfortableness about it all-- It simply wasn't in his genetic makeup to be physically attracted to another male. And he wasn't. This wasn't about sex. This was about caring, and showing you cared.

On other levels, the ones removed from convention and cultural stigma, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew there were strong traces of proprietorship and paternity in his feelings, and he would have to sort out the genetic predisposition to overprotect Sandburg. From the little he had read about a Sentinel's partner, their lives were entirely wrapped around the Sentinel they were with, and how they were treated or in what regard they were held--slave, child, or equal companion--depended on the character of that Sentinel.

It was in his genetic makeup to make Sandburg's life part of his own.

He knew that Sandburg felt a strong degree of personal responsibility for his Sentinel's well being, as if it were the anthropologist's job to keep Ellison healthy and in top form at all times. Whether that meant Jim's diet or the tests on his senses, or whether it meant that Sandburg felt he had to be on hand in case Ellison needed to use his enhanced senses while on a job and he needed to be there as backup, whatever it was, Blair had a very defined sense of what his role was.

The problem had started with Incacha. That role, at least in Blair's eyes, had now been changed. He was no longer sure of his place.

And for a brief moment, Ellison hated Incacha for what he had done.

It was all so unnecessary.

For six and a half years, Ellison hadn't missed Incacha. Sure, in what memories he did have of his time in the jungles of Peru, Incacha was remembered as a friend, a teacher, and a confidant. But once he had left Peru, life had continued without Incacha-the-man and without Incacha-the-shaman.

On the other hand, if Blair was gone from his presence for more than a few minutes, he was keenly aware of his friend's absence. Incacha had simply been filling in as best he knew for that 'missing piece' in Ellison's life. As soon as Incacha laid eyes on Blair, he knew Blair's place in Ellison's life, even if Blair hadn't understood it himself.

Jim shifted the sleeping man to lie beside him, curled beneath the blankets, then he got comfortable himself and settled behind him, drawing him closer. He could feel Sandburg's back against his chest, the steady beat of his heart. Blair's head rested in the crook of Jim's left arm, the faint inhalation and exhalation of breath tangible reassurance that all was well. The Guide was sleeping and safe. The pattern on the roof of the tent was changing as the rain picked up again, one pattern replacing the other. Incacha and his life and beliefs were gone. Blair was here. One was not a replacement for the other.

That decided, Ellison went to sleep.


They sat across from each other at the picnic table, the wet benches covered with towels. The rain had stopped, at least long enough for Ellison to light a fire and put some coffee on the single element Coleman stove by the time Blair emerged from the tent. Together they made breakfast, scrambled eggs and toasted bread, hungrily devouring their food.

Breakfast dishes at last put aside, they sat at the table, hands wrapped around their mugs of coffee.

"We've got some figuring to do," Ellison said finally.

"I thought as much," Sandburg replied, almost before the words were out of Jim's mouth. "Whatever you want, Jim, I'm sure--"

"Wait a minute. We're partners in this, remember? We each hold pretty powerful cards here."

Sandburg laughed. "Right. You're the Sentinel. I'm not."

Ellison shrugged. "Maybe. But you could walk away and go on with your life. I don't have that option. If you leave, chances are in a week, maybe two, I'm dead."

Sandburg met his eyes then. "And you don't think you could find another partner?"

"We've had this discussion before. You're it, kid." Ellison let out a sigh of relief when Blair slowly nodded his understanding. "So, here are my demands."

Eloquent eyebrows rose in disbelief. "Your demands? Fuck, one minute we're equal partners, and then next you have demands? Well, what if I don't like your demands?"

"Hey--I give my demands, and then you give yours. Then we start negotiating. Got that?"

Sandburg's head dropped to the table, slowly banging it against the rough surface. "Why do I feel this is going to take more than a few days to sort out? Okay. Shoot--what are your demands?" he asked, finally, lift his head to smile at Ellison.

"One: no drugs. If you want to meditate or hibernate or levitate or whatever, that's fine, but no drugs or other mind altering or illegal substances. Understand?"

"Okay. For now, anyway. Here's my first demand: If I feel that taking a drug is necessary at some point down the line, you will at least listen to my reasons without freaking on me. I promise I will not take anything without your approval, but I need to know that you will listen to me without categorically tossing out what I have to say before I say it."

Ellison got control of the muscle in his jaw before he spoke. "Agreed. I will listen to your reasons, however misguided and uninformed they might be, before vetoing the idea outright."

Sandburg's eyes narrowed. "Not quite what I wanted, but you've got the gist of it."

"Good. Demand number two: Incacha lived in the jungle thousands of miles from here. I never missed having him in my life, other than as a friend. Despite this wonderful role of shaman that he seems to have passed on to you, it is not--repeat, not--a priority for me. You will take this whole shaman thing slowly and with caution. I would greatly prefer you to put it aside until we both feel the need arises."

"My counter demand to that, Jim: You will tell me when you see the panther. You will tell me what happens in your dreams. You will tell me when you need to find your animal spirit. You will tell me what I need to know. Deal?"

Ellison looked away, then back. "Deal." He got up and poured himself some more coffee and poured the last of the pot into Blair's mug. The sky was slowly clearing, the dark clouds blowing away, and bits and pieces of blue were showing through. Maybe it would warm up some. Or they could drive further north and find another spot, closer to the border. Maybe Birch Bay.

Sandburg cleared his throat, then asked, "What else, Jim?"

"What do you mean?"

"Demand number three?" Blair prompted.

Ellison shrugged. "I only had two. If you've got more, go ahead."

"What?" Sandburg exclaimed. "The man with a thousand house rules only has two demands?"

"Don't mix up the roommate thing with the Sentinel thing. The house rules stay. Same as the police rules; they aren't altering at all."

"I knew it was too good to be true. So basically you want me to 'Say no to drugs' and to not rush into anything with the whole shaman idea."

"Yup. And you want me to listen to you and to talk to you." Ellison waited until Blair nodded, then sat down beside him on the bench. "There is one more thing."

"I knew it! I knew it was too easy with only two demands." But Blair was smiling when he looked up at him.

"Think of this as a request, not a demand." Ellison draped his arm over Sandburg's shoulders. "Maybe not even a request. A reminder . . . I don't want you ever to think that I take you lightly. I want you free to be whoever you are, whatever your calling is. I don't want you to feel trapped when you are with me. I want you to be with me because you choose to be."

Blair nodded slowly, staring out through the trees to the ocean beyond.

Ellison continued, feeling like he was rambling to find his point. "You know there are times when it is necessary for me to order you to do something and that's when I require your immediate, total obedience. No questions asked. Just as I must follow your instructions in an emergency when we are dealing with my senses. Even within a short conversation, we usually interact on a multitude of levels: Are we roommates? Are we friends? Are we doing police work? Are we doing Sentinel stuff?" He took a deep breath, waiting until Blair looked at him before continuing. "Above and beyond it all, I want you to know that you are very important to me. You have my respect and my trust. You are my life. My sanity. My heart."

"And that scares me." Blair grabbed at Jim's arm as he went to remove it. "No, hear me out. It scares me because it makes me feel warm and content and safe. That always meant danger. Naomi would pack us up and move whenever things got too comfortable. Or whenever, it seemed, I would make friends and she would feel threatened about them, probably because she wasn't the sole person in my life that I could talk to. And now there's you."

"Why does it frighten you to feel secure? That doesn't make sense, Chief. Everyone wants to belong, to feel a part of something."

"Maybe I feel uncomfortable when I feel safe, because I feel I shouldn't have to be protected or cared for by someone. I should be able to take care of myself. I'm an adult. I'm almost 28 years old. Why do I go crawling to you, practically clinging to you, when I have a bad dream, or a problem, or when I'm frightened?"

"Because then you are acting on instinct. That's what it's all about. That we act on our instincts. We've nothing else to go by."

"But Incacha helped you when you were there. There must be something he had that I need to acquire," Blair insisted.

Jim sighed, shaking his head. "Sandburg, Incacha simply held me together long enough for me to finally connect with you."

Blair stared back at him, then smiled, his face transforming with affection. "For a cold-blooded cop, you sure are a softy at heart." He closed his eyes. "I guess that's okay . . ." Anything further he was going to say was swallowed up by a huge yawn.

"You need to rest," Ellison said immediately. "I'll wake you up on time for lunch. Don't forget to take your pill. You might want to check in at the facilities before you lie down, though."

Sandburg got to his feet and turned around. "Is this police work?" He shook his head in mock seriousness. "No, we're not doing police work. Let's see, this isn't a Sentinel thing. We're not at the loft, so it's not about the house rules. You're not my doctor. And, you are most definitely not my mother. Therefore--" he said, eyes brimming with laughter as he raised one finger in warning, "as one friend to another, don't push it, Jim."

From his perch on the picnic table, Ellison watched as Sandburg walked partway up the hill, then adjusted his hearing when Blair stopped and turned around.

"I meant what I said last night, Jim. You are my life, too." Blair paused a moment, then shrugged, as though that said it all, and he continued up the hill to the restrooms.

Ellison stared after him until he disappeared from sight, then looked back to ocean view before him, white-crested waves moving steadily outward, the sun emerging from behind the clouds, the trees gently rustling in the morning breeze from the waters. The fresh smell of life as the land soaked up the rain from the night before.

Every Sentinel had a partner. A life in his care. Someone who watched his back.

A soul knitted to his own.


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