Well, for want of a better explanation, this is an old idea that had been desperately searching for a story. Those of you who read my "What's Coming" list have seen it listed under two or three different names ("It's A Sentinel Life" and something else or two, maybe) and the first four pages or so have been in my computer since September. Hopefully, I found a home for this idea and maybe now, it will stop whining in my ear. On that note, please understand that I did not take time to have this beta'd; I wanted it out of my head as soon as possible. If something is grossly wrong, feel free to write and tell me.
If the aggressiveness of our heroes disturbs you, please take into consideration the title of the story.
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want, more than all the world, your return.
Mary Jean Iron
"What are we going to do about Ellison, captain?"
Captain Simon Banks' eyes went toward the figure in question. Major Crimes detective Jim Ellison sat on the sidewalk, his back against a utility pole, his hands bandaged in his lap, his eyes firmly set on the building that continued to smolder. Ellison was one half of the best detective team he had. Unfortunately, the other half of the team was somewhere in the smoking ruins, presumably dead along with the culprit who had blown the building.
Simon blinked back tears that weren't caused by the acrid smoke, which the wind sent his way as a bitter reminder. He was truly saddened by the loss of Blair Sandburg, and he didn't care who knew it. Sandburg wasn't even officially a cop; he was an anthropology grad student with a unique connection to Ellison which made it vital that the two work together. Ellison was a Sentinel-- a man genetically predisposed to have enhanced senses. Sandburg was his Guide, someone who taught the Sentinel to use and control his talents. On the surface it seemed that anyone with knowledge could be the Guide, but there was a psychic aspect to the Sentinel/Guide relationship which linked the two on a mental/emotional level. In ways, it was similar to longtime police partners who could second-guess each other, and read signals no one else noticed. In other ways, it was not.
Simon was the only person who officially knew what went on between Sandburg and Ellison; others had ideas, notions, suspicions, but the two were likable and their solve-rate so high, the "weirdness" which occurred when they worked a case was ignored. The two men were complete opposites, but fit together like that other famous pair, Yin and Yang. They were as close as those two as well. They not only worked together, but they lived together, laughed together, and maybe in the ultimate reflection of friendship, they cried together. But now Ellison cried alone, and the captain didn't know which had been more heartbreaking-- finding out Sandburg had died in the explosion, or watching Ellison when he was told of the death.
Ellison had been in the building when it exploded as well. He had been bargaining for his partner's life as Blair struggled in Jordan Rausch's clutches. Somehow the bomb was activated. Ellison was blown completely out of the building through a second-story window. How he survived was something between him and God, Simon supposed. But it was the devil himself who flinched as Jim Ellison was informed of his partner's death. His cry had pierced the roar of the fire and the screams of responding sirens. Only the quick actions of several of the officers on the scene, had kept him from entering the inferno in search of Sandburg.
The paramedics had wanted to sedate him, but Simon knew Ellison didn't always react normally to medicines. Sometimes he underreacted, and other times he overreacted. The former wasn't much of a problem but the latter... At times, when he concentrated too hard on one sense or he reacted badly to medications and drugs, Jim zoned. He detached from reality, and only his Guide could harness his spirit and haul it back to the here and now. If Jim zoned on medication now, there was no Guide to retrieve him, and Simon would lose two good friends, not one. So he had pulled Jim aside, and told him how disappointed Sandburg would be in him for acting so out of control. It was a low blow, but it worked. Ellison had calmed down. He had let the paramedics tend his injuries and tape his ribs. But he had refused to leave the site. Not until Sandburg's body was retrieved.
"He doesn't like being alone, Simon," Jim had said quietly. "I'll just wait quietly over here until..." He hadn't been able to complete the sentence. Instead, he had taken up residence at the base of the pole, and that was where he remained. The fire was basically out, but it was still too dangerous to go in. The firemen thought it would be sometime tomorrow before they could make the retrieval.
"He's not going to leave willingly, and I don't have the heart to force him," Simon said to the detective asking the question, Henri Brown. "This is a crime scene. I think it's only right that a uniform stay here to make sure nothing's tampered with... and to keep an eye on Jim."
"You know the guys and I will volunteer to stay and look after him," Brown said, referring to the officers in the Major Crimes unit. They were a close-knit group and they knew how devastated Ellison was. To lose a partner was one of the worst experiences a policeman could have. To lose one who was as close as Sandburg had been to Ellison...
"No. You all need a break. I know how hard this has hit you. Sandburg was one of us in every way that mattered," Simon said, seeing the grief on everyone's faces. He remembered the poker games where Sandburg won and lost with equal cheer, and the tense, drawn out cases where the anthropologist worked just as hard as the other detectives, staying into the long hours of the night, as determined to save the people of Cascade as his partner. "We all need to make peace with this on our own."
He walked over to the man who stared unblinkingly at the smoking rubble, and squatted down beside him. "Jim?" There was no response, so he said the name a little more forcibly.
"I hear you, Simon," the voice roughened by smoke inhalation said. "Please don't ask me to leave again."
"I'm not, Jim. I just wanted you to know there will be an officer nearby all night, just in case you need anything."
"What I need is in there," Jim replied, losing himself in the wafts of smoke. "Nothing else matters."
Simon sighed, wondering when would be the best time to get Jim to the department's psychologist. The man was in a dangerous state, and the captain feared it was just going to get worse. But for now, all he could do was take away the most immediate dangers. "Give me your back up piece from your ankle holster." Jim's primary weapon had been recovered from where he had tossed it at Rausch's order. Jim obeyed his captain without protest. Tucking the small gun in his pocket, Simon stood. "Jim, if you need me..."
Jim's eyes finally broke away from the ruins of the building. "I know, Simon. I'll be okay. Really. This is just something I have to do. For him."
Simon nodded and walked away. He made arrangements with the uniforms and then headed for his car. For nearly an hour, he sat there, watching the man watching the building, then finally he drove away, and wished for a normal day.
Survivor-- The cruelest of all afflictions.
Chateaubriand, La Vie de Rance, 1844
Jim Ellison no longer existed. This he knew even as his senses registered the heat still emanating from the destroyed building, and the rumbling of vehicles passing along nearby streets, and even the laughter of children somewhere in the distance who were up way past their bedtime. But he was aware of these things not because he existed, but because the frame still remained-- a hollow shell that would walk about and say the appropriate words at the appropriate times...before it turned brittle and returned to...what was the euphemism these days? Essence, that was it. Yes. Soon the frame would become essence...just as the man had already become. Without Blair, he was nothing. He knew this, had always known. Once, it had frightened him. Then the knowledge had become his anchor. Now, it was his key to the gates of hell. But that was okay. With heaven eclipsed and earth too painful to endure, hell was his only solace, his only refuge. It was a familiar spot, oddly comforting in its bleakness. His room probably hadn't even changed much since his last stay.... Since the moment Blair had yanked him out of the darkness and into the sweet light....
Blair. If he'd had any idea of how this day would end, he wouldn't have let Blair out of bed, much less out of the loft. But no, he had gotten his partner up, ate breakfast with him, had even grinned when he finished his classes and joined him at the police station. The call had come just moments before they were about to sign out for the day. A man had been spotted entering an old warehouse in the southern part of the city. Normally, it would have been a call handled by uniforms, but Major Crimes had been on the trail of an arsonist-for-hire known to have been contracted by an unscrupulous property owner, who was deep in debt and had been hoping the insurance money would protect his kneecaps. Well, he'd been busted for possession before his lower legs had been attacked, and in desperate need of a fix, had sang a sweet song about his future plans.
Jim and Blair had been sent out to case the area because with the Sentinel's acute sense of smell, he would instantly know if some kind of accelerant was being doused about the building. As they combed the warehouse and it became evident that they weren't dealing with an arsonist, Jim had figured it was probably just a vagrant looking for shelter. The metal-lined walls interfered with the use of the cell phone, so he sent his partner outside to call in and tell them it was a false alarm. But Blair never made it outside. He was grabbed as he went down the stairs. Of course, Jim knew when it happened, and he was on it in an instant.
Shock was his reaction when he saw the man with his arm around Blair's neck, and holding some kind of detonator. It wasn't the arsonist, but a face that was familiar to every officer of the Cascade P.D. Jordan Rausch was an infamous cult leader from a decade ago. He and his people had set up a compound about twenty miles outside of Cascade, had stockpiled weapons bought with money collected from the drug manufacturing they did on the side. The compound was raided by several federal agencies, Cascade County Sheriff's Department, and the Cascade P.D. Eighteen dead officers total. Twenty-three dead among Rausch's followers. Fifty-eight arrests. That would have partially made up for the dead officers, but Rausch was neither among the casualties, nor the arrested. The case was still open, and part of a legacy handed down to each graduating class at the police academy. It was as if Rausch had disappeared from the face of the earth, now only to reappear where? With Sandburg in his clutches of course.
"Oh, Chief," Jim mumbled sadly as he sat on the cold concrete of the sidewalk. "We should have asked Naomi if there was such as thing as a karma transplant. Maybe you'd be alive now if we had." Naomi was Blair's mother and had spent her life going from the hippie movement to the New Age one. If anyone knew about karmas, it would be her.
Naomi. First, he was going to have to find her. She moved around constantly, but usually Blair had some idea of where she was. He'd probably have to go through his partner's private letters and papers to locate her. Then he was going to have to find a way to tell her that her son was dead. That he had failed to keep Blair safe for one last time. She hated the danger Blair was constantly in as a policeman's partner...especially since he wasn't a cop himself. But Blair had convinced her that he was where he had wanted to be, and Jim had assured Naomi he would take care of her baby boy.
He had tried. He had done what Rausch had wanted him to do. He had tossed his gun out the broken window behind him, allowed Rausch to back away without following. He wasn't too worried. He was the Sentinel. He could easily track his partner. But then there was a click, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up on the ground with an oxygen mask over his face and Simon bending over him worriedly. His first action was to search for Blair's heartbeat. In fact he searched so hard for it that he zoned, and if it hadn't been for Simon, the paramedics would have carried him off to the hospital. When the captain had cajoled and surreptitiously shaken him back from the edge, he had finally focused on his tall friend, and the brown eyes behind the glasses spoke volumes of what he didn't want to hear.
The minutes following that were a blur. Simon was rattling off threats about assaulting officers, and restraints, and sedatives. Nothing really stuck until the captain said Sandburg would be ashamed of his behavior. That had hurt far worse than any bruises, cuts, and maybe fractures he had from his flight from the second floor. Even hours later, it still hurt, made him feel sick inside...because it was true. Blair would be ashamed of him, for not being in control... for letting him die.
Of course, he could just be sick and nauseous because of his head. It ached. No, ache didn't adequately convey the agony he was in. But he had covered well earlier. He knew if anyone suspected he had a concussion, there would have been no way he'd have been allowed to stay. So he had complained about the pain in his chest, directing them to his broken ribs, and thankfully his pupils had reacted properly when the paramedics had flashed that stupid light into them.
Maybe I'm dying. Maybe I have a subdural hematoma and my blood is slowly leaking out into my head, drowning my brain cells one by one. Like I care. What's left for me anyway? What's left for anyone who killed their best friend? Because I am responsible for this. I am the reason why Blair was in the building. No. Not me. The Sentinel. He's the one Blair follows around. He's the one who needs a Guide. Not me. I was fine by myself. I didn't need a partner. Didn't I do okay on my own after Jack? Nobody's life on the line but mine. It was the way it was supposed to be. But then these damn Sentinel senses came online and... and I haven't been the same since. Even worse, Blair hasn't had a life since. Not the life he was supposed to have.
And now he didn't have life at all. Because of the Sentinel. The son of a bitch had stolen two lives. Why did he have to exist? Why couldn't I have just stayed normal?
"Is that what you want?"
Jim whipped his head around, then fought to keep conscious after the dumb action. "Who are you?" he groaned, wondering why he hadn't heard someone approaching.
"Maybe because I've just granted you your wish. You're no longer a Sentinel. In fact you were never a Sentinel."
"What?" His vision finally cleared enough to see the man squatting down beside him. There was something off about him. He seemed to shimmer in the moonlight. Probably my concussion again.
"Shh. Keep your voice down or your watch dog is going to call for back up."
"Why did he let you approach? I thought this was supposed to be a crime scene," Jim said angrily. Damn rookies couldn't do anything right.
"He couldn't see me. That's why you have to keep your voice down. No one can see or hear me but you."
"Oh, God," Jim moaned. "Don't tell me you're my guardian angel. Because if you are, I'd just like to inform you that you need to find a new line of work."
"Well, I am a guardian angel, and a darned good one at that, but I'm trying to work my way up the celestial hierarchy. That's why I'm here. You cried out for help and here I am."
"Too late. Blair's already dead."
"What do you care? He's been dead for years."
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach
Jim's hand shot out to close around his companion's neck. Instead, his hand merely sliced through the air. "What do you mean he's been dead for years? I have not been working with a ghost for the past three years or so."
"Actually, you never worked with Blair because you were never a Sentinel, remember? So you didn't encounter him at the hospital or stop by his office at the university."
"Then why is he dead?"
"Self-centered, aren't you?"
Jim blinked. "He was just an anthropologist. He wasn't doing anything on his own to die at an early age."
"What about getting on a bus?"
"Seems he was flirting with this tour guide and decided to ride along on one of her routes. Didn't know she had planned that to be her last tour. Seems the lady had been planting bombs around the city, trying to get back at a certain detective who she blamed for her father's death. Here. I'll show you the memorial."
In an instant, Jim found himself on a downtown bridge. In front of him was a plaque. In Memoriam Of The Twenty-Six Who Died Through An Act Of Terrorism. May All Who Read This...Remember. His finger trailed down the list, stopping when it found a certain name in the "S"s. "Chief, no," he murmured.
"The police had no idea of who was doing the bombing. They knew that the person had it in for the lead investigator, but they didn't know why. Not until they ran a dental trace on her remains."
"And this is all my fault, right? Because I don't want to be the Sentinel. You know, I've seen this movie," Jim said snidely, well, it would have been snidely, if he hadn't been wiping tears as he said it.
"There was no Sentinel," his companion agreed solemnly.
"Yeah, yeah. And how else has the world gone to hell in a handbasket without me?"
The being sighed. "Not without you. Without the Sentinel. Come on." This time Jim found himself in a familiar setting, the bullpen of Major Crimes. "See, there you are at your desk."
Jim settled his eyes on himself. There was something different. Maybe it was that evil look on his face. No wonder no one was close by, or even looking in his direction. "Something must be going pretty bad." The scowl on his face was reserved for only the worst of times.
"Nah. That's your usual demeanor. Your co-workers hate your guts, by the way. When you get into a firefight with a criminal, they often cheer for the perp. But then they agree: if you did happen to get yourself killed, where would you go? Heaven is definitely not an option and the devil would probably think you were after his job. So, they're pretty much resigned to the fact you're not going anywhere soon. That's why all of them have put in for reassignment. The turnover rate in Major Crimes is the highest in the city."
"And Simon is letting this go on?" Why hadn't his boss, his friend, stopped this destructive behavior. Even before Blair, he had respected the captain.
"Because he hasn't been the same since the death of his son."
Jim suddenly felt as old as the universe. "How... how did Daryl die?" he asked hesitantly, afraid he already knew the answer.
"Some gang took over this building. Daryl was visiting his father. They thought that was real cute. Hung him out the window to make a point. Then they just let go."
Dream or no dream, Jim couldn't hold back the low moan that shuddered through his body. "And this all happened," he said in a whispered sob, "because there was no quick-thinking police observer around to turn the tables on the bad guys. And there was no police observer because there was no Sentinel." Forgive me, Simon. You know how much I care about Daryl, about you. I would never.... I, the Sentinel, should have been here to save you, both of you.
The angel was impressed. "Well, that went quicker than I expected. Quite frankly, I was looking for more of a challenge, Jim. Don't you want to know what happened to your dad when your old childhood friend kidnapped him, or how many victims Lash drowned before he was caught? Or how about that Lee Brackett, and what happened when he had a slight accident with some stolen material?"
Jim collapsed to the floor of Major Crimes, which almost immediately became the sidewalk outside the smoldering building. He drew his knees up and buried his head against them. "Shut up," he said softly, too drained to raise his voice. "Just shut up."
"Say the magic words."
No! Yes. "Make me the Sentinel again. I want to be the Sentinel."
"Oooh, that was really convincing, Jim. Want to try it again?"
Jim lifted his head defiantly. "What do you expect from me? Sentinel or not, Blair is dead! I'm sorry I can't be more excited, okay?"
"I may earn a pair of wings yet," the angel said gleefully. "Okay, okay. You're the Sentinel again. Use that nose of yours and tell me what you smell. No, no. Tell me what you don't smell."
"Can't you just leave me alone?"
"I didn't want to get too graphic here, Jim, but you're forcing my hand. Remember the helicopter crash? Remember the smell of burnt flesh? I've been told it's an odor you can't forget. Is that right, Jim? Do you still remember that smell?"
"I'm in hell, right? Because I wanted to give up the Sentinel? Because it was a special honor, and I wanted to throw it away. And you're my personal tormentor. I understand now. You're just doing your job."
"Apparently, I'm not. The things I have to go through for some lousy feathers. Take a deep breath before I poke you with my pitchfork."
Jim blanched and prepared himself. His sense of smell had been deliberately set to sub-zero levels. The scent of burning human flesh was unique, whether a Sentinel or not, and he hadn't wanted to smell that particular odor and know that it belonged to Blair. It would be his final undoing, and he probably would be carried away from the site in a straight jacket. But apparently, he was going to have to do this thing. This was his ultimate punishment for denying who he was. It was somehow fitting.
The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.
Samuel Johnson, The Rambler
The dial slowly turned upward, until Jim could discern about fifty different items that had been destroyed by the fire. However, none were human. What did this mean? The fire had raged through the old building. There was no way Blair's body could be inside and not have been burned, even if it was just a spark to his hair. And what about Rausch? Had he a secret escape route already planned? Had he taken Blair with him? "Blair's not dead, is he?" he asked with dawning hope.
"Something you should have known instinctively."
"But they told me... Simon told me... Simon! I have to call and tell him Blair's alive!"
"You sure you want to do that? He'll just think you've gone nuts."
"I have," Jim replied reasonably.
"Think, Jim. Simon will check you into the hospital, and with the shaking your brain has taken, he won't believe anything you say until the firemen come tomorrow and discover there aren't any bodies. By that time, Rausch could have Blair out of the country, or dumped in the woods somewhere."
"So does that mean Rausch still has him nearby?"
"Hmm. Your instincts are coming along nicely now. But first things first. Lose your babysitter."
Jim nodded and rose stiffly to his feet. The officer sitting in his patrol car noticed the movement, and called out. "Something wrong, detective?" He had been informed that while he was ostensibly there to protect the crime scene, he was also supposed to watch out for the detective, who was mourning the loss of his partner. In fact, several of the Major Crimes detectives had stopped by to give him their numbers just in case Ellison needed anything. Even Captain Banks had pulled him aside and left his private home number with him. He had started to go over to him when he heard him start mumbling about ten minutes ago, but the sight of the glistening tears convinced him to leave the distraught man alone.
Jim pasted on a grim smile and tried to keep from weaving. If only the ground would cooperate. "Just thought I'd go around the corner to the gas station and use the facilities."
"Okay, detective." No need to report that. He went back to playing tic-tac-toe with himself. He had won a couple but most ended in a tie.
"Now what?" Jim asked when he was out of the officer's line of sight.
"You're the Sentinel. Find your Guide." The being winked out as if he'd never been there.
Jim shut his eyes and sent his hearing out, stretching it as far as it would go. Just on the periphery he thought he heard a familiar beat. Yes! It was faint, but definitely the heartbeat of his Guide. Without a second thought, he followed the sound.
There is no such thing as security. There never has been.
"What the hell do you mean you lost him!" Simon yelled into the phone. Then he took a deep breath, and regained his renowned control. "Okay, officer. Just explain what happened."
"He said he was going to go take a leak at the service station around the corner."
"He never came back."
"How long ago was this?"
"A couple of hours ago."
"And you're just now calling me? How long do you think it takes to take a piss, Jackson?" Now he knew why he worked with detectives. Not that all uniforms were as stupid as Jackson, but just the thought of dealing with one or two every day....
"I'm... I'm sorry, captain. I... I just lost track of time."
Simon sighed, cramming the phone between his neck and cheek as he struggled to get dressed. "Did you check the service station?"
"Yeah. The guy said no one came for the restroom key all night."
Damn. Jim had either deliberately misled the officer, or something had happened to him. Rausch's people, maybe? Or another one of his enemies? Somebody haul out the phonebook. "Did you check the site?"
"I called out for him. But the fire chief said to stay out of the building."
"What about Ellison's truck? Is it still there?"
"There's an old blue and white thing parked down the street. Is that it?"
"Yeah. Listen, Jackson. Stay where you are. I'm on my way."
"Want me to call anyone else?"
"No. Not yet. Just wait, okay?"
Simon found his shoes, and slipped them on as he headed for his car. His gut feeling had told him to stay with Jim, but it had just been too painful to watch him watch the building. Now the man had disappeared, and in his state, anything was possible. He checked in with dispatch, found nothing that would relate to Jim, then put out an APB for his missing detective.
What else could go wrong this night?
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past: The Past Recaptured
Jim was dead.
Blair thought the words were worthy of stopping at least one spin of the world, but no, nothing changed. He was at the mercy of a psychopath, in the root cellar/basement of a tiny cabin in the woods, tied to a chair, and lying through his teeth just to survive from one moment to the next. No, not a single blip in Blair Sandburg's standard radar pattern.
"Sandburg, you awake?"
"That's Detective Sandburg to you," he growled as his kidnapper entered the room. Oddly enough, the only reason the cop killer hadn't killed him was because he had convinced the man he was indeed a cop. Rausch thought he could get information out of him, like how the police knew of his whereabouts. Blair had hinted at an informant in Rausch's organization to buy himself time. Not that a Blessed Protector would come hurdling through the door at any moment.... Anyway, he was determined he was going to live through this ordeal and get rid of Rausch as a tribute to Jim. Then whatever happened to him, happened.
"Decided to talk to me yet, detective?" Rausch snarled obediently.
"Hell freeze over yet, Rausch?"
The man laughed. "Better give me the information I want before I forget you're a cop and believe your I.D."
"Oh, yeah. A hard ass like Ellison would ride around with a college student. That's rich, man," Blair scoffed, his contempt for the man's lack of intelligence obvious. "I'm undercover, okay? I blend in with all those punks, find out where the real action is, then I bust their asses. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Like busting your ass, man. There's a whole task force dedicated to that."
"Tell me about it."
"I've already told you too much." A painful backhand to the jaw. "That's supposed to make me talk? My mama hit me harder back when I was in short pants." A punch this time. He felt blood trickle down his chin. "I had an uncle who hit like you do. Last I heard, he and his husband were living in San Francisco."
Whap! His head bounced painfully as the chair flipped over. Crack! Yes! The wooden back of the chair splintered as he had hoped. Now, he just had to work the rope to the broken-- He gasped as Rausch's foot connected with his side. Good thing Jim was dead; he'd be mighty pissed that he'd broken another rib. Nah. He didn't need Jim to be pissed for him. He had that covered all by himself. This bastard had killed his best friend, his partner, his Sentinel. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. It just plain, fucking wasn't fair!
He slipped free of the ropes and found his hand wrapped around one of the broken chair legs. When Rausch came at him again, he swung as hard as he could, satisfied as he heard a kneecap shatter. Then he was on his feet, and although his mind was telling him that this was the moment to escape, his heart said it was time for Rausch to pay for all the evil he had caused, including the deaths of the cops ten years ago...including Jim's death.
Being Naomi Sandburg's son, he listened to his heart.
Resolve must be the firmer, spirit the bolder,
Courage must be the greater, as our strength grows less.
Anonymous, The Battle of Maldon
If it hadn't been for the comforting lub-dubs he knew to be the beat of Blair's heart, Jim would have been exhausted. But the sound bolstered his strength and determination as he crossed through Cascade, and forged ahead until he reached the woods at the base of the northern mountains. Here, where streetlights had yet to appear and homes were few and far between, another man would have stumbled in the dark or wandered from his path. But despite the pain in his head, the Sentinel's senses were on-line and oddly enough, more powerful. Blair's heartbeat came through as clear as a bell, and when it led him to Rausch's carefully hidden compound, he already knew there were five guards on duty.
The first three went down easily and quietly. Unfortunately, one of the remaining two went looking for a certain buddy of his who owed him ten bucks from last night's poker game. Even as he was standing over the body, mourning the loss of his money and wondering if it would be okay to retrieve what was really his before reporting the kill, he realized he wasn't alone and pulled his gun. But in the altered state Jim found himself in, he was the panther, and his movements were as quick, and as deadly as the jungle stories foretold.
However, in a death spasm, the gun went off, the bullet harmlessly embedding into the ground. But it alerted the other guard who went running into the house to call for reinforcements, and to protect his leader. The beast followed, the scent of his prey wafting through his nostrils and triggering his feline instincts. The human's weapon fired six times, the metal projectiles flying straight, but the target pounced evasively from side to side until the hapless human was within reach. Then it leapt, it's roar scaring the man who fumbled his gun... and died wondering what the hell it was that had come from the woods.
Nose twitching in anticipation, the beast padded toward the place where he knew the last two remained and in his blood, he had the knowledge that one would walk away...and one wouldn't.
Experience isn't interesting 'til it begins to repeat itself-- in fact, 'til it does that, it hardly *is* experience.
Simon thanked whatever spirits that watched over Sentinels, turned his flashing lights on, and aimed his car in the direction of the woods out near the very edge of Cascade. A concerned citizen had called in, having nearly run over a large man who had stumbled out into a country road before disappearing in the thick brush. Without a second thought, he had called for backup, and mentally reviewed the list of weapons in the arsenal locked in his trunk. Then he realized, he had an additional piece-- Jim's gun. Damn it. His foot stepped harder on the gas. His detective was out there injured and unarmed....
And, knowing Jim, in a hell of a lot of trouble.
A door slamming makes one jump, but it doesn't make one afraid. What one fears is the serpent that crawls underneath it.
As Jordan Rausch felt the blackness descend around him, he wondered how he could have underestimated his opponent so badly. But then how could he possibly have known the faggish-looking cop would turn into some kind of crazed animal, howling his fury as he thoroughly, and completely, waled upon his enemy. He wondered briefly, just as the blow which rendered him unconscious fell, if he should have blown up this cop and taken the other hostage instead. Surely they both couldn't be as deadly. Then he heard the shriek of a large cat blend in with the wolf's howl...and he sank thankfully into the darkness.
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Blair also heard the growl, and he stilled, the bloody chair leg falling to the floor. He turned toward the stairs and saw the figure as it sank to the step at the top, its hands coming together...applauding? He stumbled over toward it, the single lightbulb in the basement hindering instead of helping him to see the form clearly.
"Nice job, Chief...for a non-violent type."
Blair climbed the stairs toward the familiar voice. "He ticked me off."
"Don't fuck with the Guide, huh? I think he got the message."
"You better be real, man, or you're going to get the same message," Blair threatened, wondering if the universe had pitied him after all, and given him what he needed to be whole.
"I'm real, Chief, as real as you are," he added with a trembling voice. His partner came and sat on the step below him, resting his head against his leg, and Jim reached out to finger the silken curls. Yeah. Real.
"Shit, man. If I'd known you were on your way, I wouldn't have expended all this energy," Blair half-heartedly complained. "Damn chair leg gave me a blister, I think."
"Let me see."
Obediently he offered up the hand. He sighed at the feel of the familiar warm touch. No wonder the world hadn't stopped spinning. "The blast knocked you out the window. I saw you fall, Jim."
"I landed on my head."
"That was lucky." Toughest part of Jim's body, but still.... "You okay?" The hand around his tightened.
"No, but I will be now."
"You didn't escape from the hospital to come get me, did you?" He lifted his head to look into the eyes that he knew wouldn't lie to him.
"They couldn't get me to go to a hospital. They told me...they told me you were dead...that your body was somewhere in the warehouse, waiting to be recovered once the flames were put out and the heat dissipated.... I wouldn't leave you, Chief. I knew how much you hated being alone."
Blair marveled at the single teardrop that rolled down Jim's face and he caught it as it dripped. The splash was warm...and precious. "I'm so sorry, man."
"I told Simon I wasn't going to leave. He took my gun and left an officer to watch me. Then he came...."
"He who? The officer?"
"No. He came and I told him I didn't want to be the Sentinel anymore because that was the reason you were dead. So he said okay and I wasn't the Sentinel anymore but you were still dead and Daryl was dead and Simon was broken and everyone wanted me dead and...."
Blair listened to the ramble with growing alarm. How injured was his Sentinel? "Jim, do you have a concussion?"
"Sure. And then he made me beg to be the Sentinel again and he told me I had to smell--"
"Bad. Then I heard you heartbeat and--"
In Jimspeak, bad meant potentially fatal. "We got to get you to a hospital, man. I know Rausch has some guards--"
"Had. Rausch had some guards, Chief."
"And I marked the entrance for Simon. He's coming, you know. With an ambulance. He never travels without one these days. Guess we're getting predictable."
"Will Rausch need one?" Blair asked as he lowered his head again. His job now was to keep the Sentinel awake until backup arrived. The easiest way to do that was to focus the Sentinel on the Guide.
"He's alive, Chief. He'll be in a lot of pain when he awakes, and it'll be a while before he's fit enough to go to trial, but he will go to trial."
"I would have killed him if you hadn't showed up."
Automatically, Jim started to disagree, but if what he had seen had been any indication, yeah, Rausch would have been dead in a few minutes. "There were motivating factors, Chief."
"I thought you were dead."
"I thought you were dead. First time I've ever been glad to be wrong," Jim admitted, patting the head resting against his knee again.
"This wasn't fun, Jim. Let's not do it again, okay?"
Make every day a holiday and celebrate just living!
Simon didn't know whether to be elated or frightened. Jim was alive, or had been quite recently, and that made him happy. But the reason he knew Jim was alive was because the man had left him a message, actually more like a marker to his location. Traveling down the dark road with forests on both sides, he doubted he would have seen the cutoff to the acreage which he now suspected belonged to Rausch's people. But propped up against a stump had been a body, shirt stripped off so that the white undershirt was a reflective beacon in his headlights. He had screeched to a halt, leaving more rubber on the road than on his tires. Thankfully, the cars behind him were further back and could avoid crashing into his rear. As he started to put the car in reverse, he'd noticed the car-wide trail cut out among the trees. Urging his people back into their vehicles, he'd made the turn and wasn't surprised when the path ended at a cabin. With other bodies sprawled about.
Now, the fact that it was Jim who had killed these people didn't bother him. At times, deadly force was absolutely necessary and he trusted his detective to make the decision that this had been one of those times. It was the fact that he knew Jim was unarmed, yet had managed to "accomplish" so much on his own. He'd known Jim had been trained to kill with his bare hands, but it was slightly disturbing to have actual proof of such skill.... Something he'd definitely have to ponder after he found his friend.
Inside the cabin, he found another dead man. A quick exam revealed the that the man's chest had been crushed. Damn. He didn't want to think about how that had happened. "Jim?" he called anxiously.
"We're down here, Simon."
The captain sagged when he heard the familiar voice of his observer, his friend. He should have known, he thought to himself as he followed the voice through the house. He should have known that the only reason the Sentinel would leave his Guide, was to go to him instead. Maybe, just maybe, one of these days he would have the faith these two had. For now, he was just grateful to have them.
"Jim's in bad shape, captain."
Simon nodded, drinking in the sight of the two of them together once again. "The ambulance is right behind me. Good to see you, Sandburg."
"Good to be here, Simon."
In the dim light, he saw the figure crumpled on the floor. "Another body?"
"It's Rausch. He's alive," Jim said, and Simon had to strain to hear him. The kid was right; Jim needed help immediately.
"Good. It's only right that he stands trial for all he's done," Simon said. "You made the right choice not to kill him, Jim." He wrapped his arm around his detective's waist and helped him stand.
"He didn't do that to Rausch, Simon. I did," Blair admitted as he took the rest of Jim's weight.
"What?" Simon was shocked. He knew Blair could give as good as he got, but from what he could tell, the damage to Rausch was extensive.
"He thought I was dead," Jim explained, his words starting to slur.
Simon nodded. Poor Rausch. He'd managed to hit the only rage button in Sandburg. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving bastard. "A lot of that's been going around. We'll figure it all out later, okay?"
Blair eyed the body in the hallway and merely stepped around it. As Jim had said-- motivating factors. "Just hang in there a little longer, big guy," he encouraged.
"Not going anywhere, Chief. Don't have to no more. Got everything right here."
Simon smiled and supported his friends to the arriving ambulance. Yeah, Jim, everything is back to normal. Thank God.
Two souls with but a single thought;
Two hearts that beat as one.
Friedrich Halm, Ingomar the Barbarian
The Guide took the Sentinel's hand, ignoring the glares and admonishments of the paramedics. They wanted to check his injuries. Where are you hurt? Follow the light. How many fingers do you see? Their words fell on deaf ears as Blair locked onto the single-most important fact of the day: Jim was alive.
Mr. Ellison, we need you to stay awake. Can you see the light? Can you follow it? How many fingers do you see? The words, the light, everything faded around him as Jim concentrated on the single-most important fact of the day: Blair was alive. He turned his head, seeking proof.
"I'm right here, Jim," Blair sang to him softly, reading his partner's intent as he brushed his thumb across the too cool hand.
Jim nodded. Although his sight was dimming and his grip was loosening, he could still hear the beat of his Guide's heart, and his own leaped to get in sync with it. His pain faded away.
As the voyage along thru life;
'Tis the will of the soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Angel Bob looked up in surprise, but nevertheless slid over to make room for Angel Joe. "What are you doing here?" he asked the senior angel. "Thought you'd be getting fitted for your wings about now."
"I turned it down," Joe mumbled.
"I turned down the promotion."
"Why? You certainly had enough RHUs. Earned most of them covering him, didn't you?" He indicated the scene below them. Two figures slept in a hospital bed; one because he had been assigned to said bed, the other because he couldn't sleep anywhere else.
Joe smiled. "Yeah. Takes most angels three, maybe five, mortals before they can get enough rescue hour units to be eligible for promotion. But my Jim, he lives dangerously. Of course, you know that. Your Blair is just as bad."
Bob nodded. "I wasn't looking forward to taking care of him on my own, you know. It takes teamwork keeping them safe."
"I know. I started worrying about a rookie taking over Jim's case and...I couldn't give him up, Bob. I have all eternity; the wings can wait. My human can't."
"A rookie would probably think they were safe down there, all snuggled together in the bed. But we know better, don't we?"
"They're vulnerable when they're sleeping. That's when we must be our most vigilant. Wouldn't want something to happen to them after all the time we've put into continuing their existence."
Bob glanced at Joe, hearing a certain "ownership" in the older angel's tone. "We're not supposed to care for them individually, you know."
"Just like we aren't supposed to care for each other individually."
"Yep. Heard that one too."
Bob shifted a little closer. "Glad you decided to hang around, partner."
Joe threw his arm over the shoulders of his companion. "Couldn't let you have all the fun, now could I?"
"No, Joe, you couldn't."