Author's Notes:

First, Sentinel fans: this deals with themes and events that occurred in the dreaded episode, Sentinel Too. Maybe it's because I now know that there will be a resolution or simply because there were some important points the episode brought up (in my opinion, of course), but I can watch the episode without ranting. But don't worry, this is not an alternate ending to S2; it's merely showing that the guys got past it.

Okay, now for the KF:TLC fans: this occurs after the last show of the series when Caine has left to find his "dead" wife and Peter has resigned from the police force to become a practicing Shaolin priest.

According to my beta reader, I've taken the two worst parts of both shows. I apologize ahead of time.

DARK JOURNEY

A Sentinel/Ku Fu: The Legend Continues Crossover

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 7-12-98)

Prologue

David Wong ran. As gun fire spat around him, knives pierced flesh, and blood poured, David ducked behind boxes, crawled through narrow passages, and literally slid on his belly when he had to cross open space in order to get out of the warehouse which had become hell on earth. In a vacant alley, he stopped to catch his breath and assess his condition. Wounded but alive. Could have been worse, he thought, ridiculously glad just to be breathing. And equally glad that he still had possession of the box. Without it, Chinatown and eventually the world, would not have a hope nor a prayer.

Of course, his possession of the box wasn't worth the puddle next to his foot. He had to get it to those who could make use of it, those strong enough to harness its power and use it in battle. With a sigh, he closed his eyes for a moment, and pictured the city map he had memorized. Looking around one last time, he made for 852 Prospect.

Chapter One

"If we don't get a break soon, I'm going to go insane," Major Crimes Detective Jim Ellison growled as he drove his truck toward home.

"You just need to rest, Jim," Blair Sandburg murmured sympathetically. "When was the last time you slept for more than a couple of hours? Man, Simon sends you home and as soon as you change clothes, you head straight back to Chinatown."

"Somebody's got to do something, Sandburg," Jim argued. "We're averaging about a murder an hour down there now."

"But what good are you doing?" Blair blurted out, then realized how that sounded when Jim's shoulders slumped. "Aw, man, I didn't mean it that way. It's good that you care and it's good that you're trying to stop whatever insanity that's going on, but you're only one man, Jim-- one very tired man." He could feel the weariness emanating from his friend and partner.

"It's the damn Sentinel, Chief. The need to protect, to stop this violence, is overwhelming," Jim admitted as he pulled into the parking lot across from the loft. "He won't let me rest, Blair. Not until there is peace in Chinatown... all the Chinatowns."

Blair look at his friend in concern. Although he spoke of the Sentinel as a separate entity, Jim was the Sentinel, a person with enhanced senses-- five of them in Jim's case-- which had been bestowed upon him at conception when his genes had aligned themselves in a more unique way than usual. There was a possibility that maybe even more than the standard five had been heightened, but that was something he was keeping from Jim until the very practical, very down-to-earth detective would appreciate and accept such talents.

Up until a few months ago, Blair thought he knew just about everything about Sentinels-- at least the basics anyway. True Sentinels had all five senses enhanced and they had a fierce need to protect, to look out for the people in their territory. But then he'd met another Sentinel and she hadn't protected, but harmed. That bothered the grad student who was doing his dissertation on Sentinels. Did that mean having the five senses alone didn't automatically make you a Sentinel or did it mean that Jim's dedication to the people around him was something unique to Jim? Blair had based his original assumptions on the works of anthropologist Richard Burton whose writings about ancient Sentinels had started him on his study. But maybe Burton had made false assumptions and interpretations as well. According to Burton it was the Sentinel's duty to protect the tribe. But maybe Sentinels had been forced into the job. Maybe they had been threatened with banishment or worse if they refused to use their gifts for the tribe's benefit. After all, he had already discovered one flaw in Burton's study; the omission of the importance of Guides.

Blair had learned from a dirty ex-CIA agent that he was a Guide, a companion to the Sentinel who helped the person control the extraordinary senses and took care of him, making sure the Sentinel stayed healthy and alive. What he had learned on his own was that he was Jim's Guide alone and that if he tried to be someone else's, the results would be tragic. He had tried to be the female Sentinel's Guide and all he had succeeded in doing was driving Jim away and getting his real Sentinel and himself nearly killed.

But that was the past, over with, done. Somehow the bond he shared with Jim had stretched and shredded, but had refused to break. Now it was healing and although Blair was horrified by the violence erupting in Cascade's Chinatown, he knew solving the situation together would help in mending the damage done to the mystical Sentinel/Guide connection. But could the situation be solved? It wasn't just Cascade's Chinatown that was destructing. It was happening in every Chinese community all over the world, including China itself. It was as if there was a general poisoning of the Sinitic heritage. What could one lone Sentinel and Guide do to stop something like that?

"Jim, you need to rest tonight, man," Blair said as he considered the problem. "Tomorrow, I'll head to the university's library and do some research. Maybe this has happened before in the Chinese communities. Maybe we're missing something obvious. Let me check it out from an academic view."

"Academic or supernatural, Chief?" Jim questioned. "You're thinking this may be some kind of systemic evil or something, right?"

Actually, he hadn't thought about it quite like that. Why had Jim? Blair was slow to respond, knowing he was going to have to tread carefully with his reluctant partner or else the man would completely clam up. "Why do you ask, Jim? What have you sensed?"

Jim accepted his exhaustion when he realized he didn't have the energy to ignore or deny the question. "A coldness, Chief. A darkness just on the horizon. I can see it, smell it, probably touch it if I reached out, but it has no form..." Jim shook his head and chuckled bitterly. "You're right, Sandburg. I need sleep."

Blair placed his hand in the center of Jim's back, steering him into the building and the elevator. "We'll figure it out, big guy. We always do."

Jim nodded, slumping to one side of the metal box that would take them to the third floor and the loft they shared. Then suddenly he stiffened, his body going on alert, his hand reaching for the gun at his waist. "Someone's waiting for us, Chief," he warned as the elevator began to settle.

Blair groaned. There went Jim's restful night. It wasn't fair that his Sentinel couldn't have an hour or two of peace before heading back to the front lines, he thought as he assumed position in the car and pulled his cell phone from his backpack. "How many people, Jim?"

The Sentinel focused. "One."

"Where is he located?"

"At our door."

Blair slid to the other side of the elevator, out of line of sight for anyone at the loft. The elevator stopped and Jim stepped out, leading with his gun while Blair pushed himself against the wall and gripped the phone.

A moment passed. "Sandburg," Jim called softly.

He cautiously exited the elevator and saw his partner bent over a figure seated in a lotus position in front of their apartment. Their visitor was an Asian man, apparently battered, maybe even more seriously injured since he appeared to be unconscious. But even in that state, he still clung tightly to a medium-sized box with a wax seal placed on top. "Jim?"

"He's out, Chief," Jim declared, his senses accurately cataloging the stranger's condition. "I don't hear ticking from the box nor smell any explosives. However, just to be on the safe side, stand back while I take it--" He jumped back as the man's eyes flew open.

"No!" David Wong shouted furiously, trying to gather enough energy to protect his sacred responsibility. Then he realized who was standing before him. "Guardian, forgive me. I did not know it was you."

Jim and Blair exchanged quick glances. "You know who I am?" Jim asked slowly.

"Yes." David winced and tried to get more comfortable but there was a stabbing pain in his side. "Is the priest with you?"

Another exchange of glances. Blair figured since a shaman and a priest were both spiritual leaders, maybe... "Are you talking about me?"

David smiled and with trembling hands held out the box. "You and the guardian must take this to the Shambhala master in Sloanville. It is the only way."

"Only way for what?" Jim asked, frowning as he sensed a change in the man's condition. "Who are you?"

"Forgive me, guardian, for not introducing myself. I am David Wong, an humble messenger honored that my last breath will be breathed in your presence."

"Last?" Blair asked nervously and Jim nodded. He could feel the man's life force seeping away and in a part of himself he denied, he realized there was nothing that could be done to stop it. "I'll call 911," Blair said, remembering the phone in his hand.

"No," David replied. "This is my destiny as this," he indicated the box, "is yours."

"What is this, David?" Jim asked as he squatted down before the man. "Why do we have to take it to Sloanville?"

"This is the only way to end the madness before the whole world is consumed by it."

"So we take this to the master and the madness goes away?"

David shook his head. "Then you go on a dark journey to destroy the evil. You will be accompanied by the master and two priests. They will assist you but you will fight the battle. You, guardian, are the warrior."

Jim sighed. It was all so unreal... and real at the same time. He knew if he'd slept for any appreciable time in the past week, he'd be telling the man to save his strength and wait for the ambulance. He certainly wouldn't be listening to the "nonsense" David Wong was spouting. Nor would he do what he was about to do-- encourage it. "Tell me how to contact the master."

A half an hour later, homicide detectives were outside the loft and Jim and Blair were inside, trying to convince their captain, Simon Banks, that they had to go to Sloanville.

"I'm supposed to let my best detective leave town in the middle of the biggest bloodfest this city has seen because some dead man tells him it's the only way to get rid the 'evil'? Please stop me if I get to a part that actually makes sense," Simon nearly shouted. The only reason he didn't was because he knew of Jim's sensitive hearing and that the man was too tired to control his talents very well.

The captain respected the conventional cop with all his unconventional baggage that included not only the weird senses, but the grad student who acted as his partner as well. They were a decidedly strange combination. Jim still clung to the military lifestyle he'd lived for a long time- short hair, neat living quarters, weapon always nearby. Blair was more of the live-and-let live generation. He had a ponytail, liked to keep his "stuff" spread around within easy reach, and refused to touch a gun, much less carry one. Separately, they equaled to one above-average cop and one very smart student. Together, they were a criminal's nightmare and a crimefighter's dream. Cascade was a much safer place with the Sentinel and Guide on the job.

But even a Sentinel had limitations. Simon knew his detective had spent too many hours on this case, that he was close to burning out. If Jim had said he needed to get away to rest and unwind, the captain would have heartily agreed. Usually a few days in the woods with Sandburg had Jim back in crime-fighting condition, so a camping trip he would have gladly sanctioned. But a trip to another city that had even bigger Chinatown problems than Cascade? What was that saying, "out of the frying pan and into the fire"...

"What harm could it do, captain?" Blair argued. "Maybe David Wong knew what he was talking about. He risked his life to bring the box to Jim and me."

"What harm could it do?" Simon asked in disbelief. "This could be some kind of decoy, Sandburg. Maybe somebody wants the two of you out of the picture. Didn't you say this man referred to you as the guardian, Jim? Maybe someone's onto you. Maybe you're being led to Sloanville to be killed."

"David Wong was being completely honest, captain," Jim said. Simon knew Sentinels could tell when a person was lying. "He actually believed that getting that box to some Shambhala master in Sloanville could end this mess."

"And what do you believe, Jim?" Simon asked softly, trusting his friend more than a dead man's words. "Shambhala masters and mysterious boxes aside, what do you feel, Jim?"

"Something has to be done, Simon. I think this is it."

"Fine. Tell me what you know about this person you're supposed to go see. And by the way, what the hell is a Shambhala master?"

Chapter Two

Kermit Griffin stood in the middle of the busy airport and wondered for at least the thousandth time what the hell he was doing there. Not just at the airport, but in Sloanville as a cop who was pals with a Shaolin priest or three. In a life that seemed very distant now, he had been a mercenary-- a soldier for hire who was a master computer hacker and an expert in death. Now he was legitimate with his own office, a badge, and a rule book that he followed on occasion. He kept most people away from him by wearing dark green shades constantly and keeping his mouth shut. However, that hadn't saved him from Peter. He glared at the man beside him in retaliation.

Peter Caine was the foster son of one of the few men Kermit had ever respected, Paul Blaisdell. Blaisdell had operated in certain gray areas too, until he settled down with a family and became a police captain. The orphaned boy he'd taken in as a teen had followed in his footsteps, becoming a talented, but risk-taking detective. When Blaisdell had decided that it was time for Kermit to come in from the cold, he'd made him a detective at his precinct and introduced him to his son. At first Peter seemed too enthusiastic, too energetic, and too damn idealistic for the war-weary and dark-souled mercenary, but reluctantly Kermit started to admire the kid and eventually even liked him. When the past caught up to Paul and he disappeared/died, Kermit decided that the kid was now his responsibility.

Which wasn't an easy task. Peter Caine alone was like a tornado; you never knew where he would pop up and what danger and damage would ensue. Peter teamed with his biological father was more like a hurricane; a massive amount of power that sucked in everything around it, including former mercenaries. Peter had been raised in a Shaolin temple where his father taught kung fu. Shaolin was an Eastern religious discipline, based on the Tao, and Kwai Chang Caine was not only a practitioner but a priest. When the temple was destroyed by the Shaolin's enemies, each thought the other dead until they were reunited. Being with his father made Peter remember his early Shaolin training and the hotdogging detective became known in the neighborhood as the Shaolin cop. That was when Kermit's world took another shift. Peter and his father could do extraordinary and seemingly impossible things like cause guns to spontaneously heat up or blow out candles from across the room with a wave of a hand. They even traveled to other planes of existence and took on dark forces. This he knew for a fact because they had saved his sister from such demons.

When Peter became a full-fledged Shaolin priest, branded on his forearms with a dragon and a tiger, his father had left town on a mysterious quest and Peter had resigned from the police force, taking Kwai Chang Caine's place as the neighborhood spiritual advisor. So now that Peter had lost both father and foster father, Kermit was even more determined to look after him. That's why when Peter called and said he needed a lift to the airport to pick up guests of a mutual friend, he had done so with no questions asked. But now it was time for them.

"The Ancient didn't give you a description or a name?" he asked.

Peter shook his head. "Lo Si is even more inscrutable than my pop," he said grimly. Lo Si, both a Shaolin priest and a Shambhala master, was fondly known in Chinatown as the Ancient. Peter had never tried to guess his age. All he knew was that Lo Si had been his father's teacher and now was his in his father's absence. "He just said, 'Young Peter, go to the airport and pick up our two guests.' I asked when and he said now. I asked who and he said I'd know."

"So, do you?" Kermit asked.

"Do I what?" Peter replied as he scanned the crowd of people roaming the airport.

"Know," Kermit muttered in exasperation. Sometimes he wondered how the kid had been a cop... and a damn good one at that.

"Yeah, Kermit. I think I do."

Kermit followed his friend's eyes as they seemed to focus on a couple of approaching men. The taller of the two carried two overnight bags while the shorter held on to a box and had a backpack draped over one shoulder. He started to ask Peter if he was sure because neither man looked anything like he thought friends of the Ancient should look. No flowing robes or wrinkles. One did have a ponytail, but they weren't even Asian. Then he noticed the two Asian faces coming up behind them and he realized Peter did know because the two men in question were being stalked by members of the Sing Wah, a group that was the mirror image of kung fu and the Shaolin teachings. Kermit reached for the laser-sighted Desert Eagle gun he always carried, but a touch of Peter's hand stopped him.

"Watch," Peter ordered.

Kermit obeyed and saw the taller of the visitors realize they were being tailed. He quickly dropped the bags and turned, shoving the smaller man behind him. The Sing Wah took one look at him and fled. "What the hell did I just watch, Peter?" he asked in fascination. The Sing Wah were fierce warriors. What the devil had made them run?

"A legend come to life," Peter mumbled and walked up to the pair. "Guardian?" he questioned hesitantly.

Jim turned, still wary. "Who are you?"

"Peter Caine. Lo Si, the Ancient, sent us to pick you up. This," he gestured to Kermit who was reluctantly joining them, "is my associate, Detective Kermit Griffin."

Jim and Blair looked at each other, then back at the strangers. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison and this is my associate Blair Sandburg. And what about Frick and Frack?" Jim asked, indicating the two men who had stalked them.

"Members of the Sing Wah," Peter said gruffly.

"The bad guys, huh?" Blair asked.

"Very bad," Kermit replied.

Jim shrugged. "Couldn't be too bad. They backed off pretty easily."

"That's because they weren't expecting a guardian," Peter explained. "Neither was I," he added very softly.

*****

"So what is all this 'guardian' business about?" Kermit inquired as they waited while their guests visited the rest room.

"My pop used to tell me and the other students at the temple about guardians. I thought it was a Shaolin fairy tale, you know? I mean these guardians had to be unreal. They could see, hear, and do a lot of things better than we could. And what was really special about them was that they could project their chis to protect what was around them. That's how I knew Ellison was a guardian. Man, I know why the Sing Wah ran off," Peter said, still in awe of what he'd seen.

"Why don't you enlightened the less spiritual?" Kermit said dryly.

Peter smiled apologetically. He sometimes forgot that as a Shaolin priest, he sometimes saw more than his companions. "I figured out they were Lo Si's visitors because of their strong chis and the spirits that walked with them," Peter began.

"Back up," Kermit insisted. "You're starting to lose me already. I know about the chi-- a person's life force. The lighter in color the better, right?"

Peter nodded. "Theirs are golden."

"Okay, So they both had really good life forces. What's this about spirits walking with them?"

"Some kind of big cat, a black panther, maybe? And a gray wolf. They walked with the men as companions. When they sensed the Sing Wah, the wolf took a protective stance in front of Sandburg and the panther stood at Ellison's side, baring his teeth."

Kermit had been friends with Peter long enough to know his friend had actually seen this occur. "And that's why the Sing Wah ran?" That made no sense. The Sing Wah were allied with the tiger. Surely a tiger could take a smaller cat and a wolf.

"No, Kermit. They ran because they saw the golden shields form and knew what they faced."

"Which was?"

"One very pissed guardian." Peter shook his head as he tried to find the words to explain. "It was as if golden sheets of plexiglass formed around Ellison and his crew, creating an impenetrable barrier. I've never seen anything like it."

Well, that gave Kermit a case of the willies. As the son of a Shambhala master and as a Shaolin priest, Peter had experienced some really wild things. "So why is a guardian here, Pete? Think it has something to do with the meltdown going on in Chinatown?"

"I hope so, Kermit. I truly hope so."

Kermit tried to see what Peter had as he escorted the men to his car but all he noticed was that Ellison definitely had a military background. It was obvious in his carriage and in the way he scanned the area as they moved through the airport. As Kermit walked to his green car which sat undisturbed in a tow zone, he muttered under his breath, "I hope their pets don't shed."

Jim gave a faint smile. "We broke them of that a while ago, Det. Griffin." He laughed when Kermit flashed him a look of surprise. The green shades blocked nothing from the Sentinel's view.

"Jim?" Blair questioned in confusion.

"I'll fill you in later, Chief."

Peter just looked at Kermit and tugged at his ear. "Enhanced, remember?"

"Oh, yeah," Kermit commented and drove as quickly as he could to Chinatown.

Chapter Three

"Introduce me to your friends, Peter," the Ancient said patiently as the men entered his apartment.

My friends? "Lo Si, this is Det. Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Gentlemen, this is Lo Si."

Lo Si bowed. "Guardian, I am honored by your presence as well as your priest's."

Kermit looked at Peter sharply. Sandburg was a priest? Peter returned a look which said, So what? So am I. That didn't make Kermit any happier.

"We are the ones who are honored to be in the presence of a Shambhala master," Blair replied, he and Jim both bowing to the petite elderly man. He was the epitome of what one pictured someone called the Ancient to be. Long white beard, small stature, very wise eyes behind metal- rimmed glasses. "We were told to give this to you." He held out the box.

Lo Si took it and placed it aside. "We will get to that, young one. But now you need to be refreshed. I have tea. Will you be joining us, Kermit?"

No way. "I've been playing chauffeur long enough. I'm needed at the station," he said, eager to get back to his computer. He motioned for Peter to walk him to the car.

"That was rude," Lo Si said with a scowl.

"They just needed a moment alone to talk about us," Jim said, understanding the need.

"As you will talk about them as soon as I disappear into the kitchen," Lo Si concluded with a nod. "I enjoy honest men, detective," he said approvingly.

"Please, call me Jim, master."

"And you may call me Lo Si. I think we will be friends for a long time, Jim."

"Ah, the Ellison charm at work," Blair joked as the older man left them alone.

"Stow it, Chief. You getting anything here? Vibes or whatever?"

"That's your department, isn't it?"

"This from a kid raised by Naomi?" Naomi was Blair's mother, an original flower child who had morphed seamlessly into a follower of the New Age movement. Incense, meditation, reading of auras, the works...

"The Sing Wah duo were a nasty surprise, but they're the only ones who have creeped me out."

"What about Griffin?"

Blair shrugged. "He's intense, but I've come to expect that from a cop."

"An expert on us now, are you, Darwin?"

"Aren't you an expert on graduate students in Anthropology?"

"Not hardly," Jim muttered, then indicated someone was coming. Peter and the Ancient entered the room at the same time.

"Sit," the Ancient ordered and they gathered around a small table."The guardian's chi is weakened," he scolded as he handed Blair his cup before placing one in front of Jim.

"I'm sorry," Blair hastily apologized, knowing it was his duty to keep Jim in fighting shape. "I try to keep him healthy, but he's been putting in long hours at work and hasn't had enough sleep."

"He walks two paths. That takes a lot out of a man, does it not, Peter?"

Peter, who had been trying to imagine what Jim's chi would look like at full peak if it were now weakened, blushed. "Apparently the time for him to choose is not yet, Lo Si." The visitors looked at him curiously. "I was a cop and I was Shaolin. For a while, it worked. I was known as the Shaolin cop," he smiled in remembrance. "Then I had to decide. But it wasn't really a decision. It was my destiny."

Blair could tell that all this talk about choices and destiny was making Jim uncomfortable so he cleared his throat and spoke up. "So, what do you do now, Peter?"

Peter shrugged. "I help people."

"Isn't that what you were doing as a cop?" Jim asked meaningfully, hiding a yawn behind a raised hand.

"I was helping people as best I could, according to the law. Now, I am able to just help them," Peter explained, having had this conversation with just about everyone at his former precinct.

"So some of what you do is illegal?" Jim challenged as he felt himself start to sway.

"Jim?" Blair called anxiously, reaching out to support his partner.

"Peter, help Blair help Jim to the sleeping mat," Lo Si said. "He would be most uncomfortable collapsed on the floor."

"What's going on?" Blair asked in concern as he took most of Jim's weight.

"It would be my guess," Peter began as he used his shoulder to help Blair, "that Lo Si gave him more than tea in his cup."

"What did you give him?" Blair demanded. "He doesn't react to drugs and herbs like other people."

"I would not harm the guardian, young one. He will merely rest and grow strong."

"But--"

"It's okay, Blair," Peter said quickly. "Lo Si is a skilled apothecary. Jim will be fine." He lowered the sleeping detective to the mat. "Unlike my back. Your friend is very solid."

"You will appreciate that solidness, Peter, when the battle is begun," Lo Si prophesied.

"What battle?" Peter asked. Patience was one of the virtues he had yet to master all the way. "What's going on, Lo Si? Why is the guardian here?"

"To confront the darkness and defeat it."

"How?"

"We will go on a journey, to the place where the darkness has touched us and the guardian will drive it back and close the gate that was opened by the Sing Wah."

Peter snapped his fingers. "I knew the Sing Wah were involved. Even before we spotted them at the airport."

"They confronted the guardian?" Lo Si asked.

"They ran from the guardian," Peter corrected.

Lo Si smiled. "That is good. They will not bother us again as we complete this task."

Blair had been quietly listening to them as he made Jim more comfortable by removing his shoes and his gun. "Is there any place I can safely store this?" he asked, holding up the weapon.

"Sure," Peter said, taking the gun with ease. Ah, the memories. "Why does he carry this? After what I saw today, I would think he didn't need it."

"How many times did your father have to take away your gun, Peter?" Lo Si questioned.

"Yeah, but I sort of lost my way when Pop and I were separated for fifteen years. I wasn't comfortable in the way of the Shaolin."

"And Jim isn't comfortable in the way of the guardian yet," Blair said. "Back home only one other person knows that he is a Sentinel, or guardian as you call it."

"You can't be serious," Peter said. "How in the world can you keep what he does a secret?"

"It's not easy," Blair agreed, as he reached for Jim's wrist to check his pulse. A nice, even beat. "But it's for his protection, so it's worth the effort." Lo Si handed him a blanket and he spread it across his partner.

"What do you mean it's for his own protection? He's in some kind of danger?" Peter scoffed. "He's a guardian."

"Yeah, and if the government discovers that, he'll be taken away," Blair explained. "To be studied. To be used."

"They can't do that," Peter protested.

"While working with Jim, I've learned the government can do a lot I didn't think was possible," Blair said sadly.

"But there are others like Shambhala masters who can--"

"Who are protected by religious considerations. Jim doesn't come under that heading."

"But you're some kind of priest, right?"

"I was designated a shaman by a South American Indian tribe. That doesn't amount to a lot around here, man."

Peter looked at the sleeping guardian. "His secret is safe with us, with the community."

"Thank you," Blair said gratefully.

"You want a quick tour or something?" Peter offered awkwardly.

"No, I'll just sit here with Jim for a while. Despite whatever potion he was given, he's in an unfamiliar place and I know he senses it. He'll rest better if I'm nearby," Blair explained. "You and Lo Si do whatever it is you do. Jim and I will be fine." He sat on the floor and reached for his backpack.

"Are our guests comfortable, Peter?" Lo Si asked when the young Shaolin joined him in the kitchen.

Peter nodded. "Jim's sleeping and Blair's keeping him company."

"It is his duty to be at the guardian's side."

"Man, they have it rough," Peter said softly. "I may have felt uncomfortable for a while with my Shaolin skills but I didn't have to hide them, hide who I was."

"That they have kept it a secret so long and have persevered speaks of their courage and wisdom, Peter," Lo Si agreed. "Now go to your place and get your necessities. You will stay here with us. We must learn each other if we are to work together."

"I'll be back soon." Peter headed toward the door, then turned. "This will work, won't it, Lo Si? Chinatown will stop dying?"

"The guardian will make it so, young Peter, or we will all die and it will not matter to us anymore."

Chapter Four

"Come on in, Kermit," Peter called before his friend could knock on the door.

"At least let me pretend you're normal," Kermit complained as he walked into the small apartment Peter called home.

"If it makes you happy, you can go back out and I won't say come in until after you bruise your knuckles."

"You may be Shaolin, but you're still a smartass, Peter," Kermit growled. "I've been checking up on our visitors."

"Gee, and I thought you left Lo Si's in such a hurry because you wanted to see what assignment Captain Simms had for you." He easily ducked a gummy bear flung in his direction, the candy being somewhat of an addiction for the detective. "You were careful, weren't you, Kermit?" he added with concern.

"Always, but why the reminder?"

"There's a worry that the government might want to get their hands on Jim if they discover what he is."

"A distinct possibility," the former mercenary said, not surprised by anything any government did. "It would probably drive them nuts to know they had him in their hands and let him go."

"He was military?"

"An Army Ranger. Worked covert on occasion. It's a wonder we never ran into each other."

"What about Blair?"

"He's the real mystery. A graduate student in anthropology who's been an observer on the police force for the past several years. Doesn't make sense."

"Actually, it does. As the guardian's companion, he has to be able to be at Jim's side as much as possible," Peter explained.

"Yeah, Pete, whatever you say. I just wanted you to know they both appear to be on the up and up," Kermit said and turned to leave.

"Want to run me over to Lo Si's? I'm going to be crashing there for a few days until this situation is resolved."

"So it is the killings Ellison is here to stop?"

"According to Lo Si. The Sing Wah opened the door to this evil and it is up to Jim, with our help, to push the evil back and lock the gate."

"When is all this going to occur?" Kermit asked as they walked to the car.

"After a certain amount of preparation. This is a one-shot deal, Kermit," Peter emphasized. "If we fail, the killings continue until there is no one left to die."

Shaded eyes turned to him. "Peter, have I ever told you you're my hope when the world around me crashes?"

"No, Kermit, I don't think I've ever heard you express that particular sentiment."

"Good."

*****

Kermit raised his hand to knock on the Ancient's door the next morning, when it was opened by Jim. "Damn, for once I'd like the opportunity to complete a knock around here," he groused as he stepped inside.

Jim smiled. "You sound like my captain. Sorry to throw you off like that, but I didn't want the meditation crowd disturbed," he said, indicating the balcony. Kermit peeked out and saw Peter, Lo Si, and Blair deep in thought.

"Why aren't you out there, communing with whatever you commune with?" Kermit asked. "Shouldn't you be centering yourself for the big fight?"

Jim snorted and went back to reading the paper he'd purchased across the street. "So you've heard about the battle too, huh? The guy who sold me the newspaper-- no, gave me the newspaper, said saving everyone was payment enough. A small boy came up and touched me on the arm. His mother said it was for luck. All morning long, people have stopped by here to drop off charms and food. All I can say is that it's too bad there's no way to put this thing on pay-per-view. Could make a fortune."

Kermit's eyes narrowed. "You playing some kind of game with these people, Ellison? Fourteen people died in Chinatown last night," he spat out between clenched teeth.

"And twenty-one have died in Cascade since I left," Jim countered. "I don't need a former mercenary telling me about death, Griffin."

"Then what the hell do you need, Ellison?" Apparently he wasn't the only who had done some in-depth checking.

"Ask them," Jim said, stabbing his finger toward the balcony. "They're the ones who know what's going on here. I'm just the brawn; they're the brains. Why am I not meditating? There's no need. How did some guy put it in one of those silly late night movies? 'My master tells me to do dis ting; I do dis ting.' Hell, I'm so stupid that I can't even figure out when I need to rest on my own. Oh no, I have to be drugged and put to bed. So don't worry about me, Griffin. They'll tell me who to fight and when to fight and how to fight. I'll win and become the hero of the whole fucking world! Won't that be special?" He didn't have to look around to know that the contingency on the balcony had heard him. With something that was halfway between a scream and a growl, he grabbed his jacket and left.

No one said a word as Blair snatched up his backpack and took out after Jim. Peter just shook his head, remembering the chaotic life he'd led before choosing to walk the Shaolin path. Lo Si grabbed the business section of the paper to check on his stocks (he didn't actually have any; he just liked predicting what they would do), and Kermit wondered why he had stopped by in the first place.

Jim waited until Blair caught up to him before walking off in no particular direction. After the incident with the female Sentinel, they had agreed that neither man would be allowed to pull away or go off on his own without a lot of discussion. It was too dangerous to be alone and besides, no matter what, they were stronger together than apart. A lesson learned the hard way.

After several blocks, Jim slowed down, hearing his partner's labored breathing as he tried to keep up with the detective's longer stride. He spotted a park and took the first bench he came upon which was not surprising; the people of Chinatown were staying inside for security.

"You ready to talk about this?" Blair asked, as he took slow, even breaths. "You're acting as if the hounds of hell are after you."

"Aren't they?" Jim asked dryly. "I'm sorry, Chief. You remember me telling you about the darkness on the horizon in Cascade? It's tapping me on the shoulder here."

"So that's why you're running?"

"That's why. You said it yourself, buddy; I'm just a man. Yet, these people are depending on me to save them, all of them." His blue eyes fell on his partner. "Hell, I couldn't even save you."

Blair placed his hand on Jim's arm. "But I'm here, Jim. I'm right here, beside you where I should be. So whatever failures you're imagining, whatever doubts you have creeping around that thick skull of yours, are just creations of this darkness. It wants you crippled and bleeding even before you confront it."

"What if I don't want to confront it, Chief?" he said tiredly. "What if I choose to just keep running?"

Blair shrugged. "Then we run. I have my backpack. You have your credit card. Let's go."

For a long time, Jim didn't move. Then he got up and headed back the way they had come.

Chapter Five

"I apologize for the abrupt way I left your home," Jim said to Lo Si when they returned.

"Which would have been better, guardian-- that you stayed here and bled silently or that you left and found a poultice for your wound?" Lo Si replied.

"You are wise, master," Blair said.

Lo Si shrugged. "Or maybe it is that I am just old. Go sit and talk with Peter for a while. You need to become familiar with each other, know what to expect of each other in difficult situations."

"And what will you be doing, Lo Si?" Peter asked, smiling knowingly. The old man shut the bedroom door in his face. The young Shaolin keeled over laughing.

"Let us in on the joke?" Blair asked.

Peter held up his hand, begging for patience as he got himself under control. "You think he's going in there to nap, or meditate, or maybe go into some trance, or even work on his kung fu, right? But what's really happening is... it's time for his favorite soaps. He hardly ever misses them."

After the laughter died away, they all decided that the balcony was a favorable spot, although Jim noticed that the other two sat closest to the building, leaving him alone to look out and down. Apparently Peter and Blair had something in common. "So, where's Griffin?" he asked.

"He got beeped by the station. Something going on somewhere that needs Kermit's particular services," Peter said.

"Do you miss it?" Jim asked.

"Policework?" Peter started to shrug off the question, then realized Jim deserved better than that. "Yeah, sometimes. The Shaolin philosophy is to find balance. We are to excel in several skills so that no one skill outweighs the other. As a cop, I was out of balance. I need to focus on other disciplines, so that's what I'm trying to do. But being a detective was a large part of my life and it still occupies too large a portion of it. So yeah, I miss it and Kermit teases me about living it vicariously through him. As if he does anything except sit at that computer of his."

"I remember you and Lo Si saying something about your dad taking your gun away," Blair commented. "He's the one who taught you to be Shaolin?"

"That father did and the other taught me to be a cop." He quickly filled them in on Kwai Chang Caine and Paul Blaisdell. "Not too many guys can say they had two extraordinary fathers."

"No, not many," Blair agreed, looking at Jim. Blair never knew his father and Jim was estranged from his.

"You know, you'd make a perfect Shaolin, Blair," Peter noted. "You're a grad student, a police observer, and a shaman. Now, if we just get you on an exercise regimen..."

"Man, dodging bullets with Jim is enough of a regimen for me. And you can't beat being held hostage by a lunatic for a cardiovascular workout," Blair insisted.

Peter looked at Jim. "Is he for real?"

"'Fraid so."

"Oh, you guys have got to tell all."

Swapping tales of the job took the rest of the afternoon and by the time Lo Si emerged from his room, they were debating dinner options. The Ancient was about to make his suggestion when Jim held up his hand for silence. "Sandburg, go open the door for Griffin." The others grinned.

Blair blithely obeyed his Sentinel and flung open the door. "Hi, Det. Griffin. You coming to dinner with us?"

Kermit groaned. "Not another one..." Blair looked at him curiously, then back at the others who trying hard not to laugh and failing miserably.

"Well, it is all settled then," Lo Si said. "Since our friend Kermit is here and can provide transportation, we will eat at... Wonder Burger, yes?"

"Wonder Burger?" Blair, Peter, and Kermit said together in confused amazement.

"Wonder Burger!" Jim said heartily and without a thought, pulled Lo Si into a hug. "You were right! We are going to be great friends!"

"I wish to get a Silly Meal. I do not have all the zoobabies yet," the Ancient explained with a smile, naming the beanbag collectibles which were all the rage. "Do you know which one is being offered this week?"

"Ellie Phanta, I think," Jim replied quickly as he and Lo Si headed toward the door.

"Pity. I was hoping for Monk E. He's a charmer."

"Don't worry. If they don't have Monk, I can get you one. I know this cashier back home who..."

Jim and Lo Si were halfway down the stairs when they realized the others hadn't followed. "If you would prefer something else," Lo Si called back, and the others breathed a sigh of relief, "give Jim the keys and we'll meet you back here."

The remaining three considered the danger posed by leaving the two alone in their obviously impaired condition, and shuffled down the stairs behind them.

*****

"I cannot remember the last time I was so humiliated, Jim!" Blair fussed as they headed up the stairs to Lo Si's apartment.

"I can, Chief. It was when--" Jim stopped as blue eyes shot daggers into him.

"Poor Kermit burnt rubber getting away from you two," Peter pointed out, looking at the men in disgust. "What do the two of you have to say for yourselves?" he asked sternly.

Jim and the Ancient looked at each other. Then they burst out in song. "Wonder Burger is the place to be. Wonder Burger is right for me. Give me fries and give me shakes. Follow through with Wondercakes. Top it with onions, chili and cheese. Oh, take me to Wonder Burger, please!" Laughing like naughty little boys, they went inside.

Blair and Peter just stared at each other. Apparently neither miscreant was ready to show remorse for what they had put their friends through. In the middle of Wonder Burger they had stood side by side like choirboys and sang the Wonder Burger song (verses one through three!). Children had clapped, the workers had taken off their caps and placed them over their hearts, and the manager had been so touched, he'd given each of them a complimentary zoobaby-- which Jim and the Ancient had quickly claimed.

"Maybe a time-out is in order," Peter suggested.

"And give them an opportunity to plan a retaliation?" Blair shook his head. "We'll just have to chalk this one up to experience, Peter. No more Wonder Burger for those two. Deal?"

Peter shook his hand. "Deal. You know, I haven't seen the Ancient this animated since my pop left."

Blair looked horrified. "You didn't have to put up with antics like this, did you, man?"

"No, nothing this awful. They were like the Hardy Boys though, always getting involved in my cases."

Blair laughed. "Well, I can't say anything about that. I'm always getting mixed up in Jim's cases, whether I'm supposed to be or not."

"I thought you were his partner?"

"But I'm also a civilian."

Peter shook his head. "It must be tough, always having to come up with excuses to be at Jim's side. Jim should transfer to Sloanville. I guarantee Captain Simms wouldn't bat an eye."

"We just got one captain trained," Blair said quickly, "forget about breaking in another." They entered the apartment and found Lo Si in the kitchen putting away the gifts of food. "Where's your partner in crime?" Blair asked.

"On the phone to his zoobaby connection," Lo Si said with a rakish grin.

"Don't mention those things to me," Blair groaned as Peter turned around and walked out. He'd had enough zoobabies for one night.

The Ancient patted Blair's hand. "Tomorrow, we will feed the guardian's body. Tonight, we fed his soul, yes?"

Blair smiled. The man who had stood in the middle of Wonder Burger had not been the same doubting figure on the park bench. Maybe it was just a brief respite, but either the darkness had receded or was merely being ignored. Whichever, Jim hadn't allowed it to affect him again. "Thank you, Lo Si. It seems I have a lot to learn."

"Always, young one. When we cease to learn, it is time to die."

"Then I am going to live a very long life," Blair predicted with a pensive smile. "I just hope I don't get Jim killed one day because of my ignorance."

"The darkness failed in its attack on the guardian, so now it comes for his companion," Lo Si remarked and gently shoved Blair into a chair. "The answer to your doubt is in the doubt itself, young priest."

"Peter warned me that you enjoyed being cryptic."

The Ancient lifted his eyebrows innocently. "I am an old man; my amusements are small. When the guardian experienced doubt, in whom did he waver?"

"Himself," Blair answered obediently.

"No one else?" Blair shook his head. "And your doubts lie in?"

"Myself."

Lo Si folded his hands together. "Who do you trust? Without reservation?" he asked quickly.

"Jim." That was simple.

"Then why do you not trust him in this? If he has no doubt in you, why do you have doubt in yourself?"

"Because..." Because Jim didn't know him? No way. Jim knew him better than he knew himself most of the time. "Maybe it is because I, like Jim, don't know what is required of me on this journey."

Lo Si gave a small shrug. "The same which is required of you every day. No more. No less."

When Jim had finished his calls to Cascade, he had listened to a small part of the conversation, then turned away when he realized his partner and his doubts were in good hands. He saw Peter on the balcony and approached. "Mind some company?" he asked politely.

"Not at all, Jim. Blair is with Lo Si in the kitchen... but you know that, don't you?" he added, laughing at himself. "How does it feel?"

"How does what feel?"

"To be a guardian."

"You seem to know more about it than I do," Jim said flippantly. Peter look at him and Jim could feel his eyes cutting through the veils which used to be of steel, but thanks to Blair, had been reduced to thin cotton. With a shrug, he figured all would be revealed anyway. "Sometimes blessed; sometimes cursed. At times I feel like a god and other times, it makes me feel more mortal than any mortal on earth. To have these gifts and save someone gives a better high than any drug imagined. To have the same gifts and fail... a piece of my soul is sacrificed each time."

"The failure would be in not trying," Peter said softly.

"If you get him to believe that," Blair said, joining them on the balcony, "I'll sing the Wonder Burger song."

Jim smiled sheepishly. "I've gotten better, Chief."

"You've gotten better in covering," Blair contended. "But I know the guilt you feel. I know when you don't sleep."

Jim looked at him in amazement. "I thought that was my area of expertise."

"Jim, when I'm anxious or restless, do you know it just because you keep check on my bodily reactions? Or do you know because you know?" The Sentinel appeared discomfited. "It's more than just your senses, man. It's time you admitted it."

"Your chis, your life forces, are connected, Jim," Peter said patiently. "I can see it with mere Shaolin sight. Surely, you see it too."

"I see Blair being touched by evils he has no business even knowing exist. I see him hurt by this connection to me," Jim argued.

"And I see me dead without it," Blair said flatly. "How do I survive these traumas, Jim? How do I find the strength to hang on, to fight, to breathe when I want to give up? I don't. I don't have that kind of strength. But you do, man, and I borrow yours."

"But you wouldn't need it if--"

Blair reached up and clasped his hands on Jim's tense jaws. "You are neither God nor the Devil, Jim! You do not cause the wickedness nor do you tell it when and where to strike. You cannot hold it back by your will because it is not your will that controls it." He saw the confusion in the crystal blue eyes and knew he'd been harsh. "Isn't controlling two wills enough for you, man?"

If Jim didn't automatically hear Blair, no matter the circumstances, he probably would have missed the last question since he was still reeling from the shock of his partner's accusations. Was he guilty of thinking the world-- both good and evil-- revolved around him? Was he that selfish and arrogant? "Two wills, Chief?" he asked distractedly.

"Yeah, Jim, yours and mine."

Jim shook his head. "I think you have that backwards, Chief. I can't control you. I have tried... and maybe that was wrong. But you are my control, Blair. Without you the Sentinel has no control and is useless. You know that."

"Neither of you control the other," Peter inserted, moderating what sounded like an old argument. "You aren't supposed to. Don't try for control, but be in control-- of your thoughts, of your will. That is the duty of every man."

"And it's just that easy?" Jim questioned bitterly.

"Nothing worthwhile is easy, Jim." Peter remembered times when he wished he could control his father and others who had abandoned him throughout his life. It had taken years of study, years of searching to figure out the only person he could control was himself.

"It grows late," Lo Si called from the doorway. "We all need to be rested for tomorrow."

"Is that when the journey begins?" Blair asked as they reentered the apartment.

"Begins? Surely, the end is but around the next corner. We are merely resting before the final turn," Lo Si replied.

"But..." Blair didn't know what to say. "But we haven't even opened the box," he pointed out.

"Why did you come to Sloanville, young one?" Lo Si smiled at the stunned faces before him. Assumptions often veiled the truth. "The box has already succeeded in beginning us on our way. Tomorrow, it will show us our destination." He toddled off to get ready for bed.

The three younger men shook their heads and followed their venerable leader.

Chapter Six

Blair and Kermit watched the others go through the slow rhythmic movements of tai chi, the morning sun gently washing over them.

"Yesterday it was you deep into the Shaolin thing. Today, it's Ellison. How does this work? You split everything down the middle? You do one thing and he does another?"

"And you do neither. What does that say about you, Det. Griffin?" Blair countered.

"That I need to cultivate a lower class of friends," Kermit said acerbically.

"Kermit, welcome," Lo Si said as the trio ended their exercise. "I am glad you can be with us."

"I just stopped by to let you know whatever it is you're doing, it's working. Only five deaths here in Chinatown last night. Three in Cascade," he added, then noticed the raised eyebrows. "I figured you'd want to know."

"Thank you, Griffin," Jim said, relieved to know that the journey he hadn't even known he was on was paying off.

"So, Kermit, want to stay for breakfast?" Peter asked.

"No thanks, Pete. I'm headed home for what I think is a well-deserved rest." He had spent the night at the station, keeping track of what went on in Chinatown.

"I am sorry, Kermit, but that is not to be," Lo Si informed him. "You will spend the day here."

"Why?"

"Because a very wise, but very old, man is politely asking you."

Kermit sighed, wondering when he had changed from being a bad-assed mercenary to a plain ordinary sap who fell for lines like that. When he first heard the word Shaolin, he should have run away as fast as he could. "What do you want me to do?"

Lo Si pointed to a table near the door. "I have several acquaintances who will be coming by to pick up certain herbal remedies. You will see that they receive them?" Kermit reluctantly nodded. He had toppled dictatorial regimes with a click of a mouse and a wave of his trusty Desert Eagle. Now, he was reduced to being a store clerk for an apothecary. How many would laugh if they found out? Hmm. Might be some work for the Desert Eagle after all. "Oh, and I am expecting a delivery from Cascade. If you would sign for it, I would be extremely grateful."

"What am I signing for?" Kermit asked quickly. Sure, he trusted the Ancient, but he didn't put his signature to just anything.

"A zoobaby that Jim arranged to be shipped overnight to me."

Kermit considered drawing his gun on himself for a second, then decided it would be a wasted gesture. With two Shaolin, one guardian, and a priest, he didn't stand a chance. "Peter," he said softly.

"Yes, Kermit?"

"If anyone at the station finds out about this, I will know who told them."

Peter snickered at the warning. "I understand, Kermit."

Breakfast consumed, Lo Si motioned for everyone but Kermit to sit on the floor around a low table. The detective was relegated to a chair across the room, where he could see but not interfere. The Ancient then picked up the box and placed its content in the center of the table. It was but a single candle.

"That's it?" Blair asked in disbelief. "A candle? Do you know what trouble we had carrying this box onto the plane without breaking the seal? It had to be run through a metal detector and sniffed by dogs." If he hadn't fudged a little and used his university credentials to fool security into thinking the contents could not be tampered with because of religious concerns, they would probably still be at the airport.

Lo Si shrugged. "What is the greatest enemy to darkness? The light of a single candle has banished the night and comforted the human world for centuries. What else did you expect?"

Blair shook his head, convinced now he was completely out of his element. Lo Si and Peter were definitely in charge of this show. He glanced out the corner of his eye at his partner and saw that Jim had reached the same conclusion. They were merely along for the ride.

The candle was lit. "We must complete the circle," Lo Si ordered and they all clasped hands. "Look into the candle and let it guide you across the divide of what is here and what is there."

Kermit knew he'd been hanging out too long in Chinatown when he merely blinked as the four men began to fade, then winked out of existence. He looked at his watch and wondered when Lo Si's first customer would arrive.

*****

They reformed in a large hall with marble floors and tapestried walls. Jim's first action was to make sure his partner had crossed with him and registered not only Blair, but Peter and Lo Si as well. Then and only then did he inspect their surroundings. "Well, it's cooler than the jungle," he commented, referring to the place where he usually landed when his mind took him on a trip.

"Cooler? It's practically freezing in here, man," Blair complained. He really hated the cold.

"Sorry, Chief. I guess I automatically adjusted," he apologized. His senses allowed him to adapt to almost any climate. He looked around and saw the four of them had been magically garbed in white silken gis, kung fu outfits, that seemed to absorb the candlelight and give off a soft glow. "If I had a jacket, I'd give it to you, Chief." After learning how much Blair disliked the cold, he always tried to make sure his buddy was warm enough. It was his duty as a Sentinel and a fri-- Before he could finish the thought, a lightweight jacket formed around Blair.

"What's going on?" Blair asked quickly, stunned but grateful.

"The will is amplified here," Lo Si replied.

"But I wasn't even thinking about a jacket," Blair protested.

"I was, Chief."

Blair smiled and the jacket grew even warmer. "Thanks, Jim."

"You're welcome, Chief."

Peter, retaining some of his old cop instincts, got up to check the place out. The tapestries were quite detailed, ancient battles woven skillfully into the fabric. "What's the plan, Lo Si?" he asked the Shambhala master.

"The young priest stays within the circle," the Ancient said, indicating the circular pattern made by an inset in the marble, "and keeps the candle burning."

"Sounds easy enough," Blair said, relieved that he had such a simple task. Attempting kung fu was way out of his league.

"The darkness fears the flame. It will try to distract you. It will lie to you, deceive you. But as long as you focus, as long as you believe, the flame will not waver," Lo Si told him.

"Gotcha. What will the rest of you be doing?"

"Fighting." From the tapestries, the battle figures emerged with whatever weapons they had in hand. Blair's heartbeat went into overdrive.

"Focus, Chief," Jim calmly ordered and Blair set his eyes to the flame and concentrated.

"Jim," Lo Si called as the enemy's "men" approached. "Seek the darkness and contain it."

Certain his partner would be in good hands while he was gone, Jim opened up his senses and sought the cold he'd felt for so long. There. He started down a corridor, using a mixture of martial arts, military training, and street-fighting gleamed from years of dealing with the criminal element to dispatch those that came for him. Slowly, but confidently, he neared his quarry.

Lo Si and Peter attacked the first wave of soldiers, then the second, and the third... Peter watched one of the fallen warriors disappear as another stepped out of a tapestry and wondered if this was a no-win situation. "Do we get rid of them just so they can return?" he asked Lo Si as their individual battles brought them close together.

"What you think is important here, Peter," the Ancient warned.

"Right," Peter replied and quickly decided the disappearing fighters disappeared for good.

Blair sat in the circle and ignored the battle sounds of clashing weapons and defeated soldiers around him. He also ignored the pleas he heard in his head-- Jim calling for help, a child weeping for a lost parent, the scream of a terrified woman. All lies he knew, lies to get him out of the circle and away from the flame. Never.

Gradually, the tactics changed and Blair was assaulted with images of fears that would haunt him the rest of his life-- like the psychopath Lash who had strapped him in a dentist's chair and forced drugs down his throat in preparation of drowning him in a duck pond or the female Sentinel who left him facedown in the university fountain just outside his office... Damn, there was a water theme going on, wasn't there? Of course, there was fire too. Like the fire people he'd seen everywhere after he'd eaten pizza laced with Golden, a horrible designer drug... But the memories were just that, mere images of times past. Jim had seen to that. He had saved him. His Sentinel had rushed in and killed Lash, had breathed life into him at the fountain, and had made the fire people go away. Therefore, the fears had no power over him.

Realizing these thoughts were having no effect on Blair's resolve, the darkness delved deeper, coming up with early fears of abandonment by a mother who refused to stay in one place for any length of time, who had denied him the stability and permanence a little boy needed; a home waiting for him after school which contained a bed and space he could call his own. But just like with the adult fears, Jim had taken care of these too. He had casually offered him his own room in the loft, put in doors and bookshelves, cleared out space in the medicine cabinet... Blair hadn't realized how much he had counted on the loft being home until Jim had kicked him out when they both mishandled the advent of the other Sentinel. But the day he moved back in, he knew without a doubt that he was coming home, that he would do whatever he had to do to stay there for good. Some thought he still should be angry at Jim for kicking him out. However, he was merely grateful that he'd asked him back in.

The darkness became frustrated when nothing seemed to turn the Guide. Feeling the Sentinel getting too close, it decided to end the games and head straight to the core of all the Guide's insecurities. There it struck paydirt. It found the one thing Jim hadn't, couldn't, make better. "Come to me, Blair," a voice that sounded like his mother called. "I want to tell you about your father. Come and I'll share the secret of his name."

Startled by this invasion of his deepest and most private desire, Blair felt something quicken in his heart. But in a flash, he saw through the deception and turned his focus back to the candle.

But the flame was out.

Chapter Seven

Jim soon wearied of the fighting and began caring less about finesse and more about reaching his destination. Instead of engaging the warriors in combat, he set about killing them in the quickest manner possible. There was no skill in what he did nor any emotion. He didn't hate them; they were just in his way. Methodically and dispassionately, he soon stood face-to-"face" with the real enemy.

From between two large ornate doors, it roiled-- long tendrils of an inky void spewing forth as the mass inched its way to freedom, moving with the speed of a glacier but nevertheless moving. Jim pulled up and considered the situation. The doors needed to be closed. That much he'd been told. But there was no way to do that until the black bulk was either inside them or outside them... and quite frankly, outside just wasn't an option. Therefore the movement of the darkness had to be reversed. Fine. Now he knew what to do. But just how in the hell was he supposed to accomplish it?

*****

Blair blinked rapidly three times and still the candle remained snuffed. No! That was impossible. He had NOT let the candle go out. Not when Jim was depending on him. No way. Nada. Nyet. It had to be another trick. That was it. The darkness was clouding his vision, blocking the light. But it was there. It had to be there. After all, Lo Si had said the only thing required of him here was what was required of him in the other world. That meant trust in Jim and in turn, trust in himself. He could handle that. Just the average daily task for the average Guide.

He laughed and focused on the candle as if he could see the dancing flame. If the darkness expected him to panic, to go running off to make sure Jim was okay, it was just shit out of luck. This was just another test. Like everything else they had gone through. Like everything that awaited them in the future. Lo Si was right; this was stuff he and Jim went through every day.

You can't fool me. I will not let you or anyone or anything destroy my Sentinel. He WILL defeat you and you'll just go back to being a mere shadow at the back of a closet or the temporary shade of a tall tree. You are nothing, Mr. Darkness. You can't defeat a mere Guide, so I know your ass belongs to Jim.

Blair smiled and snuggled deeper into his jacket.

*****

An icy tentacle flicked at Jim's wrist, bringing him out of a near zone. Shit, Ellison, don't you dare lose it. Not with Blair and the whole world counting on you. Hold it together for a while longer, man. He took a deep breath and released it slowly, allowing the anxiety to flow with it. Thanks for the lesson, Chief. Now, where was he? Oh, yeah. How to make the darkness retreat.

What is the greatest enemy to darkness?

The darkness fears the flame.

Don't try for control, but be in control-- of your thoughts, of your will. That is the duty of every man.

The will is amplified here.

The words of his new friends echoed in his head. Thanks, guys. If all it takes is will and control, I have plenty of both. He closed his eyes and cupped his hands. In the basin of his palms, a piece of gold glitter formed. Then it grew and it was not glitter but a small flame. The fire intensified and strengthened until it became a miniature sun. Jim opened his eyes and was pleased.

Then he focused on the darkness before him, his Sentinel sight piercing it until he found the center where no light could penetrate. There it was; the heart of darkness. He carefully adjusted the sun he had created, remembered the warm summer of days of playing baseball with his friends, and pitched the bright orb toward his enemy's heart.

The sun flew true, its light tearing through the blackness until it reached the center. There, it exploded into a fiery supernova and the darkness withdrew, singed and defeated. Giving a Chopec tribal war cry, Jim shoved at the doors until they closed. Finding seven locks, he carefully set each one, instinctively knowing that when the darkness healed, it would try to escape again. But the locks would hold; as long as the Sing Wah were kept away from them. That, however wasn't his battle. Others would wage that war.

With a grin, he sought a familiar light and headed for home.

*****

"What's happening, Lo Si?" Peter asked as the warrior who was about to engage him, merely turned and walked back into the tapestry that spawned him.

"The darkness has been wounded. Its power weakens and it no longer has the strength to control or create."

"In other words, the guardian has won?" Peter inquired eagerly.

"Is that not what I said, son of Kwai Chang Caine?"

Peter started to say no, but realized it was a lost cause. Instead, he jogged to where Blair sat staring at the candle. "It's over, Blair." The man didn't move. "Hey, Blair, it's a done deal, man."

Lo Si touched Peter's arm. "He thinks the darkness has sent you to beguile him. He will not listen to you."

"Then you tell him."

"I cannot reach him either. There is only one he will trust. While we await his return, may I say your father will be very proud of how far you have come in your training. You fought the phantoms as Shaolin."

"Thank you, Lo Si," Peter said, pleased by the ultimate compliment-- "your father will be proud."

Lo Si bowed to his student, then turned around as Jim stepped into the hall. "Congratulations, guardian."

Jim returned the ritual bow the Ancient extended. "The battle belongs to all of us. Everyone ready to go?"

Peter tilted his head toward Blair. "Your companion has trouble discerning the real from the darkness's unreal."

Jim kneeled before Blair, the candle between them. "Let's go home, Chief."

Blair looked up from the flame and saw a light far brighter shining in the depths of the blue eyes that locked onto his. No darkness could ever achieve such illumination. "We did it?" he asked hopefully.

"We did it, Chief," Jim assured him. "It's time to go back to Sloanville."

"And then to Cascade?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, buddy. It's time to go home."

Chapter Eight

Kermit Griffin caught a shimmering out of the corner of his eye and when he turned, four men and a candle occupied the room with him. He picked up his jacket and a handful of Post It notes. "Mrs. Granger wants a double order next week. Hank Ames said to tell you the poultice worked wonders, and Jesse Burke needs advice about his lumbago," he said tersely to Lo Si, handing him the bulk of the messages. Then he handed one to Jim. "Your captain called on your cell phone. He wants you to call him back at your earliest convenience. Peter has my number when you're ready to leave for the airport. By the way, Chinatown is sleeping peacefully. Good night, gentlemen." With that, Kermit walked out the door.

"I know you should have given him something for that indigestion last night, Lo Si," Peter said dryly as his friend retreated.

Lo Si ignored him as he reached for something in the chair Kermit had occupied. "Why is Monk E. not in his box?" he wondered aloud as he picked up the beanbag toy. He smiled as he felt the residual warmth that indicated the toy had been recently handled. Maybe he would ask if Jim's supplier could secure a Freddy Frog for their friend.

"He said Chinatown is sleeping peacefully," Blair murmured and looked toward the balcony. "It's night, guys. We've been gone all day?"

"No wonder I'm starved," Jim said. "The in-flight meal lacked substance, Lo Si," he chided gently.

"I'll make you something," Blair said before the Ancient could reply. "I'm sure I can whip up something tasty out of the neighborhood's offerings, Jim." Something nice and healthy.

Jim smiled, knowing Blair was trying to counteract their visit to Wonder Burger. "I'm sure you can, Chief. I trust you." Reaching for the cell phone, he missed the flash of despair that crossed his partner's face.

"Your heart is heavy, young one," Lo Si said as he followed Blair into the kitchen.

"Jim doesn't know, does he?"

"Know what, Blair?"

"That the flame went out. I pretended that it hadn't, but I know," he said sadly.

"The candle was but one light. If the guardian did not notice when it was extinguished, then he must have been using another. Has he not confided that you are his light?"

Blair remembered conversations about being the candle for each other, but the references had been merely allegorical... or so he had thought. To actually be a beacon for someone was an incredible two-way gift. "He is mine too," he said softly.

"Which is why you saw the flame even though you knew no light existed."

Blair reached out and hesitantly touched Lo Si's sleeve. "I have so much to learn from you. Will I ever see you again?"

Lo Si smiled. "Ah, young one. The guardian has enclosed both of us within his circle. We are destined to cross paths many times."

"Really?" Blair questioned happily.

"Really what, Chief?" Jim asked as his stomach led him to the kitchen.

"Lo Si says we'll meet again."

"You didn't tell him about...?" Jim asked meaningfully.

"About what?" Blair and Peter asked simultaneously as Peter entered the room just in time to hear Jim's part of the conversation.

Jim eyes danced. "The manager of Wonder Burger took us aside last night to tell us there was a contest going on. Each restaurant could send in a videotape of their most loyal customers and we just happened to have been caught on tape so..."

"A contest?" Blair said nervously. "What's the prize?"

"The finalists will be flown to Texas where the company headquarters is located."

"The two of you in Texas." Together. Peter shuddered. The thought was a scary one.

"They will send us two tickets each," Lo Si continued to explain. "Perhaps Jim and I will find two bodacious babes and party on, dudes."

Peter shook his head disdainfully. "Cable television is ruining the aged of America. It's very sad."

"Don't worry, Peter," Blair said sympathetically. "Jim will talk some sense into him."

Jim nodded emphatically. "Hey, Lo Si, how do you feel about redheads?"

"All that and a bag of chips," the Ancient replied. "There is this widow on the next block who..."

*****

"They're here," Jim said as they walked through the airport.

"Who?" Blair asked, merely curious because Jim showed no signs of tensing up which meant there was no danger.

"The Sing Wah," Peter answered, also sensing the presence of the Shaolin's enemy. Automatically, he reached out toward Kermit. "No need for the hardware. They are merely watching, wanting to make sure the guardian leaves. Jim scares the hell out of them."

"I still don't get that," Kermit protested. "No offense, Ellison, but I don't see why the Sing Wah just didn't take you on when they realized you were here to interfere with their plans. One man can't be that much of a threat."

"No offense taken," Jim replied. "I've wondered about that myself."

"'Do not ask for the dragon unless you are prepared to receive him. Do not ask for the tiger unless you wish to be eaten.' Something my pop said once," Peter explained.

"Yeah, that sounds like your old man," Kermit agreed. "You trying to say Ellison could take on the Sing Wah and win?"

Peter shrugged. "It's obvious that's what the Sing Wah believe."

"And you? What do you believe, Peter?" Jim asked. Peter's initial awe of him had come from hearing stories and legends. Now that he'd actually met a guardian, Jim was curious about his level of disappointment.

Peter stared straight into his eyes. "If the Sing Wah ever start a war with me-- no offense, Kermit-- I am not going to dial 911. I'll be calling Cascade."

Jim blinked, yet what he saw in Peter's eyes didn't change. It was shocking to see the depth of trust Peter Caine had in him. He had gotten used to Blair believing so strongly in him, but he was his Guide; surely that had something to do with it. But he was nothing to this young Shaolin priest. "You sure you know where you're placing your faith, Peter?"

"I'm sure, Jim. So is Lo Si."

Jim smiled at the mention of the Ancient. There was something about the elderly man that struck a resonant chord in him. "Take care of him and yourself, Peter," he said as the flight to Cascade was called.

"I will, guardian," Peter pledged. "Bye, Blair."

"I still don't understand," Kermit began as they headed back toward his lime-green Corvair.

"Just trust me on this one, Kermit," Peter pleaded.

"Pete, if Chinatown were a computer, you would be my interface."

"So I guess that's a yes?"

"Oh yeah."

Peter grinned and they walked the rest of the way in companionable silence. Then Peter was struck with a thought. "They never asked," he murmured.

"What's that, Pete?"

"They never asked about your shades, man. Blair must have asked a thousand questions a day, but never anything about you and those sunglasses you insist on wearing regardless of the hour or the weather conditions. I can only conclude one thing from the omission."

"Enlighten me, Enlightened One," Kermit teased fondly.

"A barrier that does not block does not exist. They saw beyond the shades and directly into your soul, Kermit."

Kermit sighed and motioned for Peter to get into the car. Another day in Chinatown, another secret lost. In a very annoying way, he was getting used to it. "You know, Peter, you don't have to sell me on Ellison. I knew from the moment I saw him, he was special."

"Don't tell me you saw his chi, or was it the spirit companions that did it for you?" Peter asked excitedly.

Kermit bent down and pulled up a leg of his pants. "He wore white socks, just like me. You can read chis, but I read footwear. Somehow that seems to work for us, Pete."

Peter leaned back in his seat and smiled. "Oh, yeah."

Epilogue

Jim and Blair slumped against the side of the metal box that would take them to the third floor and the loft they shared. During the flight from Sloanville, they had both realized how exhausted they were. Then suddenly Jim stiffened, his body going on alert. "Someone's waiting for us, Chief," he warned as the elevator began to settle.

Blair groaned. Not again. "How many people, Jim?"

The Sentinel focused. "One very large police captain."

Blair relaxed. Simon. He could be as overprotective as a certain Sentinel. "You don't think he wants a full report now, do you?"

Jim shook his head. "I just think he wants to see for himself that we're in one piece and haven't suffered any major blood loss since he last saw us."

Blair looked at his partner in surprise. "No major owies this time. Is that a record for us?"

"Must have been that Shaolin 'magic' at work," Jim said as the elevator opened. "Hi, Simon. Been waiting long?"

"I checked the airport and found out when your plane landed."

Jim opened the door to the loft and ushered everyone inside. "What brings you here? Please don't say you have a case for us," he pleaded.

"Nah. I just came by to tell you whatever you did is continuing to work. As for the details, I think they can wait for a cold beer and a warm weekend," Simon added, noticing the fine lines of exhaustion on both faces. But there appeared to be no major injuries, no underlying pallor signifying hidden pain. Apparently the men had come through this episode relatively unscathed. Wonder if anyone has contacted Ripley's Believe It Or Not yet? "Well, some of us have paperwork to catch up on. Give me the answer to my question and I'm out of here."

"Your question?" Jim looked at Blair only to see his partner shrug in response.

"Yeah. 'What the hell is a Shambhala master?' Remember?"

The question. That they never got around to asking. One look at Lo Si and you believed he was whatever a Shambhala master was supposed to be. It just never occurred to them to ask for a definitive explanation. Flashing Blair a meaningful look, Jim headed for the refrigerator. "How about that cold beer, sir? We can sit out on the balcony and I can tell you why Sandburg wanted to kill me in Sloanville. It all started with a trip to Wonder..." He gently urged the captain outside.

In the background he could hear Blair asking Information for the number to the Sloanville Police Department and Det. Kermit Griffin's extension. The guardian smiled. Maybe the Sing Wah had a right to be afraid. Whether faced with major problems or minor glitches, battling soul-eating voids or distracting friends until answers could be found, there wasn't anything that the guardian and his companion or the Sentinel and his Guide couldn't accomplish-- together.

THE END

Comments? D.L. Witherspoon