Hi! Thought September would never arrive! <g> I believe this is my most Blair-centric piece to date, except maybe I Know. Now, this is what Blair said to me. If he said something else to you, well, that's between the two of you-- unless you care to write the story and post it. Then it will be between the two of you and the other millions of souls who surf the 'net. Wow. Put that way, it's a wonder that any of us post. <g>
TAE, this is my answer to the challenge you made during my chat on TalkCity, hosted by the incomparable DawnC.
My thanks to Super Beta K!
Spoilers for every episode of The Sentinel. I probably didn't hit them all, but if I started naming all that do show up in this, you'd never get around to reading the story. <g>
I did a fair amount of research on this one. Some of the most useful links: Shamanism & Ecstasy, A Shamanism General Overview FAQ, A Study In Shamanism, Shamanism, Power Animals And Animal Wisdom, and Shamanism: Working With Animal Spirits.
Hope you enjoy!
He juggled his environmentally correct shopping bags, and fished for his keys. Having seen his partner's truck in the lot, he had expected the door to be open, and hadn't prepared for doing the unlocking himself. His heart pounded as he finally set the bags on the floor and pulled out his key ring. Something had to be wrong. First, Jim Ellison had no business being home. He should have been at work. He was a detective; they didn't work half-days unless.... No, if Jim had been injured, Captain Simon Banks would have called, right? Except he didn't have his cell phone with him. He couldn't afford the thing anymore. In the past month, he had lost his job as a teaching assistant, his academic reputation, and nearly succeeded in being the cause of the death of two members of the Cascade Police Department. He really didn't think "suck" was too strong a word when discussing his current life. Now, if on top of that, something had happened to Jim....
Which was definitely a possibility. Being a Sentinel, Jim had five very special senses, heightened to unbelievable levels. A healthy Jim would have heard his car drive up, heard him take the bags out of the car, and been down to help him. A mildly injured Jim would have at least had the door opened, and been present to show that he was okay. A hurting Jim would have heard the wild beating of his heart, and would have stumbled into view to see what was troubling him. But since no Jim appeared, that left....
His eyes scanned the loft, first checking the sofa, the easiest place to collapse, then glancing upward to the loft which was Jim's bedroom. No discernible lump. The bathroom maybe? He took a step in that general direction, and was brought up short by movement on the balcony. A hand, lifting a long brown beer bottle. A familiar hand. Furiously, he stomped toward the Sentinel.
"What the hell's the matter with you, Jim? I'm about to have a heart attack worrying about you, and you're out here having a beer?" No reaction. The worry returned. "Jim?" he asked, walking in front of the deck chair and squatting before his friend. He gasped at the pain reflected in the sky blue eyes. "What's happened, man?" he questioned softly.
"How were you planning to do it, Chief?" Jim asked, his eyes staring off into the distance instead of into his friend's. "A casual, 'by the way, Jim, I leaving'? Or would I have been the recipient of a note? I hate notes, by the way. Carolyn left one: 'Jimmy, we need to talk.' Then again, there's my mom's way-- a clean, non-emotional, 'I'm not here, so I must have left you.' You know, there was a song out a couple of decades back...you're probably too young to remember it. Anyway, it was called 'Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover.' I think I have that number beat. There must be at least seventy-five ways to leave Jim Ellison."
Blair went from a squat to a full-out sit. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. He had it all planned. A nice dinner. A reasonable discussion. "What gave me away?" He'd packed a bag last night, but it was on the floor at the end of the bed opposite the hall. He knew Jim hadn't been in his room. His partner wouldn't invade his privacy like that, unless he was delivering the laundry, and since he-- Blair Sandburg, Unemployed, Inc.-- had taken over all the household chores, it could be safely assumed Jim hadn't seen evidence of his packing. So, he must have screwed up somewhere else.
Jim shrugged. "I'm a detective. You think I hadn't noticed your long, lingering glances around the loft as if you'd never see it again, the way you caressed certain items, or pointed out their histories to me to make sure I knew their worth? I watched you fold your laundry the other night, Chief. You placed the pieces into two piles-- one that was of your travel favorites, and the other, stuff you wouldn't need for a while. Clues, Watson, that any amateur could have picked up on. But not only am I not an amateur detective, I'm a Sentinel. I smelled the musty, basement scent of your large duffel, the one you use when you're going to be gone for a week or two. I listened to you pack last night, rolling each item with precision." He took a deep sniff. "Today, you went to the grocery store in order to make sure the cabinets are full, and that I eat while I adjust to being without you." Blair looked at him in amazement, and Jim chuckled bitterly. "See? I have being left down to an art form."
"Jim, I'm not leaving you, man. I'm leaving--"
"The situation," Jim finished for him. "It's not fair to me, that I have to sit around waiting for you to make up your mind about things. It would be better for me if you left for a while, got your head on straight."
Blair blinked. Damn, the man had been left too often.
"I bet you're feeling pretty guilty by now. But never fear. I've already cycled through Angry Jim, and I'm almost through with Self-pitying Jim. Next stop: Stoic Jim. He usually invokes anger. I'm not sure why that is. I thought a stiff-upper lip would be quite calming."
"Can we skip him, and just go on to Understanding Jim, the one who says, 'I'm listening, Chief,'?" Blair ventured.
"Sure. Just give me a moment to adjust." Jim closed his eyes.
"Well, while you're shifting gears, maybe you can tell me what you're doing home so early."
"In the words of our fierce leader, 'Ellison, take your moody ass home and don't return until you cheer up, or tomorrow morning, whichever one comes first.'" His eyes opened, and focused on Blair for the first time that afternoon. "I'm listening, Chief."
Blair sighed, seeking the words that would explain everything to his friend, but what popped out of his mouth was a simple, "I'm lost, Jim."
Blair shook his head. "I don't think you do. I no longer have a path. What I thought about myself...those thoughts aren't valid anymore. I had thoughts of being an anthropologist. I had thoughts of being Dr. Blair Sandburg. I had thoughts of at least being able to show my face at Rainier University, even if I wasn't working there. I thought I could live with the loss of all that, because of what I am to you. I'm your Guide, Jim. And, you and Simon have arranged for me to be your partner-- officially and permanently."
"But that's not enough," Jim murmured. "I didn't think it would be, but I had to try."
Blair leaned forward, resting his forehead against Jim's knee. "It was enough, Jim, until.... Man, how can I explain this to you without sounding like an escaped mental patient?"
"I've had experience with escaped mental patients, Chief. Believe me, I won't get you confused with one," Jim joked weakly. "Just tell me."
"The wolf is gone. I mean, I didn't even know he was there until that thing at the fountain, and now, I don't think I can function without him," he said in a rush.
"'That thing at the fountain.' Would that be your murder, Chief?" Jim sighed. "I think I've been waiting for you to leave ever since then. I remember thinking that I was just wasting my time moving your stuff back into the loft, that I was just fooling myself when I opened the boxes and put everything back."
"In perfect order," Blair whispered. "Do you think I have no appreciation for what you did? You had to put yourself under, didn't you? Some sort of light trance to recall the placement of every item, down to the exact amount of change I had in the scallop shell on the dresser." He lifted his head and grinned. "That was a remarkable feat, by the way. The implications it has on your ability to mentally preserve a crime scene are phenomenal."
"Isn't that what I was doing? Preserving a crime scene? I kicked you out of your home, Blair. Didn't even have the courtesy to give you thirty days notice."
Blair shifted until he could lean against Jim's thigh and focus on the Cascade skyline. "Why are we back there, Jim, and not here?"
"Because back there is where here started, Chief."
"I knew you didn't want to discuss it."
"And you did?"
"No." He felt Jim shrug, then a hand gently brushed against his hair. "My animal spirit melded with yours, then they became separate, and I breathed. I witnessed this."
"I did too."
"Does it surprise you to say it that easily? You always seem uncomfortable when you mention-- or don't mention-- the jaguar."
"He saved your life. I've made peace with him."
"You saved my life."
"I took your life...and it appears I've done so again. I won't say I'm sorry. I know mere words are useless."
"My diss...wasn't your fault. You didn't write the thing. You didn't leave it unprotected and unencrypted on the computer. You didn't send it to a publisher, nor ignore the author's wishes and go public. You did none of these things, Jim. You merely suffered through a herd of reporters, sticking their microphones and cameras in your face, obstructing your pursuit of Zeller. You merely had to watch that bullet go through two of your friends. You merely had to worry about your career, the impact this was having on your father and brother, and the long-lasting effects this would have on your ability to function in the future. You haven't said you're sorry? Why should you? You have nothing to apologize for. My mother does. Sid Graham does. I do."
"For writing the paper in the first place. With or without your name, I knew it could never be published-- not without making you the freaks' 'Babe of the Week.' For three years I've been your shadow, man. Who else would, or could be the subject of my diss?" Jim's hand lay heavier on his head, and Blair moved, consciously rubbing against the hand. It was like in a primate community where the grooming ritual was a calming technique, an act of bonding.
Jim took the hint, and began stroking the silky mass beneath his palm."I think it's unnecessary, but for your sake, I forgive you, Blair-- for whatever sins against me you think you've perpetrated."
"And I forgive you for what happened with Alex."
"They're not of equal weight. You died."
"And didn't a part of you die as you watched Simon and Megan go down?" Silence. "Which brings us back to here."
"Your impending departure." Jim's fingers separated out a strand of his partner's hair, memorizing its structure. He stretched it, then laughed silently as it sprang back into its natural curly state. He remembered when Blair used to bounce back like that...when Blair used to merely bounce.
"I have to find the wolf, Jim. It's my fault it's lost. I got so caught up in the mundane, that I forgot about my spiritual side. I didn't dance the wolf."
"Exercise it. By dancing it, I give it proof of my sincerity by sacrificing my own energy for its benefit."
Jim grunted. "Mine must be fat and lazy by now if it's been waiting for me to exercise it."
Blair saw a vapor trail in the sky. "What kind of airplane is that?"
Jim looked. "PanAm," he replied with surety.
"You just danced the jaguar. Every time you use your gifts, you are acknowledging his existence. The two of you keep each other sleek and fit, ready to protect the world."
"But I lost him once, Chief. I accepted him in Peru, but when I accidentally shot that security guard, I turned my back on the Sentinel abilities, and he left me. Up on the roof, he returned-- thanks to you. Isn't there anything I can do to help you find your spirit guide again?"
Blair shook his head. "It's not the same thing. The jaguar didn't leave you; you rejected him. He was there, waiting for you to embrace him again. The wolf has gone because I ignored him. First, I grew complacent, expecting him to be there when I needed him. Then I refused to listen to him, not giving him my body when he wanted it. They join with us to experience the real world; I've been barely experiencing it myself. So, it has wandered off, and I must go find it."
"Did Incacha speak to you of shamanic ecstasy?"
"That's when you go drifting off into the spiritual plane, right?"
"Right. Ecstasy comes from the Greek word, ekstasis, which means to be placed outside, or just be placed. Ecstasy is the state of exaltation in which a person stands outside of, or transcends himself. At the fountain, we experienced ecstasy. We stood outside ourselves and watched our power animals-- our guardian spirits-- merge, yours restoring mine and reanimating me. I have to achieve that state again, Jim. I need to walk that plane, and find the wolf."
"And you can't do that here?"
"Too many distractions, too many reminders of my failure to hold onto him." Blair didn't realize he had tears rolling down his face. "I want to be with you, Jim. I want to go through the academy, and walk through life beside you. But I can't, not without him. It puts you in too much danger."
"And you in danger, as well."
"Then, you have to leave. Just remember that someone's missing you, okay?"
"I'll miss you, too." Blair stiffened. "I bought ice cream. It's probably melting on the cabinet." He started up, but Jim's hand pressed down on his shoulder.
"Let it melt, Chief."
Night saw them still on the balcony, communing silently as only two parts of a whole could do.
Jim sighed, and headed for his captain's office. "Sir?"
"Shut the door," Simon said, as he poured two cups of coffee. "You look like hell. Apparently giving you the afternoon off yesterday didn't help. You and the kid having problems?"
"Blair's gone, sir."
Simon frowned. "Gone? Gone where?" Jim shrugged. "The academy's next session starts in a week. He'll be back by then, won't he?"
"I don't know."
The captain pushed the mug toward his detective. "I'm sorry, Jim. I thought we had resolved all the problems by securing him a place in the department."
Jim gave a sad smile. "Those were just the surface wounds, Simon. The others were too deep for us to see, much less heal."
"Is he coming back?"
"I don't know that either."
Simon looked at him. "Don't take this the wrong way, because I know you were a detective before you hooked up with Sandburg, but...can you function without him?"
"The only thing I can tell you, sir, is that I will try."
"You'll let me know if...."
"When that point comes, you'll know by the resignation on your desk." Jim turned to leave.
"Jim?" He watched the man freeze. "He'll come back."
Jim leaned his head against the door. "If he can."
"What does that mean? Is he out doing something foolish?"
"He's out trying to find the part of himself he lost. If he can't find it...he won't be back."
"And where will that leave you?"
"Waiting, Simon. I'll just be waiting." He opened the door and headed for his desk.
Blair pulled into the state park. Grabbing his pack and bag, he locked the car, and headed into the Ranger Station. Although he'd spent the night sitting with Jim, he wasn't sleepy...just tired. And sad.
"Oh, hey there, Mr. Sandburg," one of the rangers said as he popped out of a back office. "You and the detective back again? Guess he's out at the truck getting the rest of the gear. I got a minor emergency back here with a coffee pot, so if you don't mind doing things yourself.... Just fill out the form and leave it on the counter. You already know the drill about safety and everything. Hope the two of you enjoy yourselves." The ranger disappeared into the back.
Blair filled out the paperwork, feeling even sadder. Everyone expected him to be with Jim. It was like they were one entity-- JimandBlair or EllisonandSandburg. Even at the university, people would ask him on a daily basis, "How's that detective of yours?" or "Do you and Jim have any plans for tonight?" He was part of a twosome, a duo, one half of a couple.... Hell, he'd gotten married, and hadn't even noticed. Wasn't that a kick in the head!
Okay, maybe it wasn't a traditional marriage, but he knew real couples who spent less time together than he and Jim did, fought more than they did, and who trusted each other less. Serial killers and hired assassins aside, they had weathered severe personal storms, and come through shining on the other side. That had taken commitment, something he hadn't been sure he was capable of. But with Jim it had been easy. Because they were Sentinel and Guide. Because they were committed to each other on this plane and the others.
But now he was faltering. Through betrayals, murders, kidnappings, etc., he had stayed true to Jim. Now, because of a missing wolf, he had left his partner alone. Why? Because he couldn't see staying with Jim, and not giving one hundred percent of himself. And that wasn't possible if he didn't have one hundred percent of himself available to give.
"I'm doing this for you, Jim," Blair whispered as he started up the footpath. He knew Jim didn't believe that. Hell, he was having trouble believing it too. He was doing this for himself because not doing it, would be unbearable. Yes, he had given up parts of his life willingly, but this-- the wolf-- wasn't one of those parts.
Jim had understood, hadn't he? If anyone could understand the art of finding oneself, it was Jim. The guy had lost so many parts of himself, he had trouble even remembering what was missing. Blair admired the strength of his friend. He could have merely followed the sterile path his father had set him on as a child. He could have toed the Army line until he retired, with a handful of medals and no soul. But no, he hadn't caved, bowed to the pressure of others. He'd kept changing, adapting, absorbing all that life threw at him, until he found the place where he belonged-- a niche where he could protect his tribe with compassion and mercy.
He rolled his eyes. "No one should be that damn noble, Jim. Why couldn't you be human like the rest of us? Why couldn't you just roll over and take it? Because if you had, maybe my life wouldn't be so screwed up now."
He stopped, nearly dropping the equipment he carried. Had he really just said what he said? Had he just blamed Jim for ruining his life? He didn't mean that, did he? No! Jim hadn't done anything wrong, except trust him. But that trust hadn't lasted, had it? As soon as the shit hit the fan, Jim was on his case, giving him accusatory stares, and acting all hurt and betrayed. Why hadn't he trusted him long enough to hear what he was saying, how none of it was his fault? It was his mother's fault...and Sid Graham's.
Hell, Sandburg, it was everybody's fault but yours, right? Big, powerful Jim should have been able to handle the press. He'd been in the fishbowl before, as a cop and as a soldier. Eventually, something else juicy would have occurred and the newshounds would have gone after new prey. "But no, you had to wish that you were just a normal person again. You wanted to renounce your Sentinel gifts again. You wanted to become the person you were before I became part of your life. Well, fuck you, Jim Ellison! Looks like you're going to get exactly what you asked for!"
This time, he did drop what he was carrying. What the hell was going on? Why was he thinking and muttering these things? Jim had tried to roll with the punches, but watching Simon and Megan go down in his stead, shot by a killer he was just inches away from nabbing.... In the hospital, he had told Blair to get away from him, that it wasn't safe to be around him. Three years of getting Jim to open up-- shot down the drain. Now, the man was isolating himself again, putting up walls not to protect himself, but those he loved. It was that knowledge which had driven him to schedule the press conference, had led him to repudiate the entire dissertation. Jim had told him that he knew the diss was his life. Could Jim be that dense? Could he not know what he'd become to Blair?
Blair shook his head, and gathered his belongings. Apparently, this journey was going to be longer than he thought. Retrieving the wolf was going to have to wait. His anger, and his oscillating feelings about Jim were going to have to be dealt with first.
And that could possibly take a lifetime.
Okay, he wasn't exactly sure if they called out to him for real or not. He'd been walking all day, drinking water, but not eating. Fasting was a vital part of his shamanic journey, and he'd started hours before he meant to. Because Jim was such a darn, fine detective, neither of them had gotten around to eating yesterday. In other words, the actuality of the voices was extremely iffy, but he was so tired, he didn't care. He dropped his bundles and collapsed on the grassy earth.
When his eyes opened again, it was dusk, and he knew if he wanted to get the camp set up by dark, he was going to have to work fast. By the time the moon crested the horizon, the tent was up, and he'd even managed to take a quick dip in the nearby river. Thus energized, he reached for his backpack and pulled out the Shaman primer he'd bought right after Incacha's death. The Chopec had shaken him, passing on the way of the shaman to him, not only with words, but with something that could only be thought of as a blood oath. Shaman of the Great City, he had teased Jim. The adrenalin still pumping in both of them must have fooled the Sentinel, hiding the great fear the words welled up in the Guide.
He hadn't wanted to fail Jim-- it was only dumb luck that he had managed to reunite the Sentinel with his animal spirit-- so he'd bought the book...then promptly forgot about it. Being a student and an observer hadn't given him much time to be a shaman. He already had too many oars in the water, too many irons in the fire, was burning the candle at both ends.... Speaking of candles, he had a rite to do, right?
Ah, he was good at wordplay. Should be a useful skill working with a bunch of cops. Not. Wonder how many of them knew the difference between rite and right? He laughed, imagining them saying, "You have the rite to remain silent. You have the rite to an attorney...." Of course, all of them weren't that stupid-- only most.
The forest fell silent around him, and he realized what he'd just thought. What was happening to him? Where was all this viciousness coming from? Yeah, before riding with Jim, he'd told his share of dumb pig jokes, but that had changed. He'd been allowed into their private little hidey-hole, and he'd discovered that it was just like the rest of the world-- a healthy mixture of civilized and uncivilized, of book-smart and street-smart, of nice and mean, good and bad....
Why, oh why, hadn't he switched his diss to the fake one? Why hadn't he written on the closed society of policemen, instead of exploiting poor Jim? The look on his face when that reporter stuck that mike in his face and asked him why he was coming out now, or something similar to that, had been so telling. Coming out? Jim probably could have tolerated being labeled gay better than a Sentinel. At least as a gay man, he would have had support. As a Sentinel, he was exactly what his dad had called him all those years ago-- a freak, an oddity. That damn robber had asked for his autograph, for God's sake!
And his privacy was shot. Reporters calling his dad and brother, following him all over the city, getting in his way.... "Why didn't you just shoot me, Jim, and put us all out of our misery?" Hell, he hadn't even kicked him out this time. Probably would have right after the shooting, though, if he hadn't held the press conference. Yep. If Jim felt like he was a target, he would have removed everyone from around him sooner or later. Wasn't that the reason why he'd moved him out before? To protect him? To make sure he didn't hurt him? But he had. Not just physically, but mentally. Maybe his eyes hadn't cried when he saw the boxes in the loft, but his heart had. It had screamed, and he knew Jim had heard it. Jim fucking heard everything. But he had ignored it, ignored all the warnings. It was a wonder he hadn't ignored whatever it was that made him turn around and see him floating in the fountain.
"Why didn't you ignore that, Jim?," he asked the darkness. "Then this would have never happened. At least that way, I would have died with my reputation intact. People would have mourned me. My funeral would have been beautiful. How do I know? Because you would have made it so. You would have limited flowers. Probably asked them to make donations instead. Yeah, the Blair Sandburg Scholarship in Anthropology, right, man? And you would have walked in with my mom. And Simon would probably be up front too, because he really liked me. There was a time I wasn't sure of that, but he was there for me when Sweet Roy Williams died. Instead of a rabbi, you'd probably just have everyone get up and say something, because you know I'm not too big on organized religion. Too formal, too stilted. Faith is something you have or you don't. It can't be mentally shoved into you.
"Music. Would you have played music at my funeral, Jim? Maybe some of that earth music, barely perceptible in the background, soothing the people without them being aware of it. But you would know it was there. It would pound into you like my heartbeat, and you would feel my presence. Would that have helped you? Or would it have made you miserable, to have me so close, yet so far away?
"Oh, man, you were so right when you said all this shit started back then, because it did, didn't it? We never progressed from that moment, did we? I'm still drowning, and you're still searching for me, aren't you? Whatever the crap went on in Mexico didn't heal us. It was just aluminum siding placed on top of a rotting foundation, and now the termites have eaten through, and we're falling. Will you be there to catch me this time, my friend, like you have so many times before? Before. You wanted your life back to the way it was before me.... Do you know how much that hurt, how much that invalidated all that I had done...all that I was?"
He raised his hand to wipe at the tears he could feel creeping down his face, and the book dropped to the ground, reminding him of its existence. The rite. He had to do it tonight. He had to commune with the nature around him. According to the book, which he had started reading after finding out how boring being a housewife could be-- no, he wasn't dissing housewives in general, but considering he was used to working two or more jobs, and he and Jim didn't have any children, he was sort of at loose ends.... Anyway, according to the book, each animal, plant, rock, or other entity had a spirit. If you asked them nicely, the spirits would join together, and give you some kick-ass mojo. So, before you did a major ritual, like the spirit walk he was planning, you did a prior one where you asked, politely, the nature spirits if they minded you doing the ritual in their territory, and if they felt like it, you'd be proud to have them join in.
"I'm brown-nosing grass, Jim. How much lower can I sink, man?"
He tried to figure out why he had the book. It was dark; he couldn't read it. Besides, he'd memorized what he was supposed to do. Walking out about one hundred yards, he bowed to the east, the south, the west and finally to the north. Then, he stood tall and moderated his breathing, taking deep breaths from his diaphragm. Feel the wind, he told himself. Picture inside your mind's eye, a light inside of you. As you breathe, feel the light expand, purifying and energizing you as it breaks through the skin to become your aura.
Now, feel yourself as a part of the nature around you. You are part of the wind, part of the babbling water, part of the earth. Take the light within you and infuse it with love. Send it out, touching all that you are now a part of. With this love, tell the nature spirits you are here. Let them know that you are a nature magician, and you seek their wisdom. Ask for permission to perform your majick in their presence. Ask, if it is their will, that they participate in all that you do.
Blair sank to his knees as he waited for the spirits to reply. But before the answer arrived, he found himself drifting off. He tried to fight it, but a heaviness pressed against his eyelids, and his limbs grew limp. As if urged by a great weight, he sprawled flat against the ground. Cloaked in weariness, he slept.
A salt-laden breeze caused him to shiver, and he opened his eyes to discover he was perched on a rocky cliff, the ocean waves dashing against rocks which were maybe two hundred - three hundred feet below him. "Hey! Don't you know I have height issues!" he yelled to whoever might be listening. But apparently no one was...which didn't matter to him. He'd been talking out loud to himself-- and let's not forget his one-hundred-mile-away partner-- in the real world; it'd be a cinch to do so in whatever world this was. He didn't remember going on the search for the wolf, and he was hard-pressed to know how the hell he was going to find him out here, because as he angled his head around, he saw that he wasn't on a cliff, but a pillar of rock that was smack dab in the middle of the ocean.
"Damn, Jim, is this how it feels to be put on a pedestal? No wonder you're always griping about it. Hey, you figure out a way to get me down from here, and I promise I won't put you up there again. Already found out about your feet of clay anyway. You really suck at friendship, man."
The waves struck harder, sending vibrations up through the rock. "Well, you do. What the hell were you thinking, accusing me of being in on that shit with Sid? You knew it was a lie when you said it, man." The water started foaming. "How much plainer could I get, Jim? I told you it was about friendship. About. Friendship. Even a muscle-head like you should have gotten it by now. I'm not like those supposed friends of yours who dicked you around before. I am the genuine article, a one hundred percent, dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue, friend. Just like you.
"You see, that's what I don't get. You're like this immoveable object when it comes to loyalty. But you don't expect it to be reciprocated. Why? You don't think we mere mortals can achieve such lofty heights? I'll have you know I had friendship down to an art long before I met you.... Okay, maybe what I had wasn't an art. Maybe it was like first-grade level stuff, and by watching you, I got a Ph.D. in it. Hey! I got my degree after all. Cool!"
He leaned back, staring into the clear blue sky overhead. "Like your eyes, Jim," he murmured, before he found his train of thought again. "I don't understand. How can you be such an exemplary friend, yet be such an asshole? I mean, you go undercover in prison for your old high school buddy. You fight Internal Affairs just to prove your old partner was clean.... Yet, you couldn't give me the benefit of the doubt for five minutes-- a five-minute reprieve in order to tell you my side of the story. But for some reason, I don't rate that. You immediately assume the worst. I thought I was your friend, Jim, your best friend. You call me Chief, just like Bud called you. I thought that meant something." He ignored the tears which were falling back to become entangled in his hair.
"But Bud left you, didn't he? Just like your mother left you, and your men in Peru, and Jack Pendergrast, and...me. Damn. Back at that fucking fountain again. There's no way around it, is there? Guess we'll just have to go through it. I don't want to do this, Jim. Tell me I don't have to do this." Nothing but the sound of calming waters. "Fine. I'll do it. For you, Jim. And maybe, maybe for me.
"What do I remember? Being pissed and scared. I mean, yes, I was mad at you. You gave me a home, then you just tossed me out like I was last week's trash. But I was scared to death that there was something majorly wrong with you. Walking into that empty loft was like walking into a tomb. Cold...desolate. And you were so hateful. Thought maybe I should go find an exorcist." He gave a weak chuckle, then sobered. "Maybe it was more than just a passing thought, Jim. You were like a possessed person. I didn't, couldn't recognize you. No one could. You had Jim Ellison's body, but not his soul. I realize that now. The man standing in the cold at the loft, that automaton, that wasn't you, was it? It was just some hollow papier mache shell...because your soul was already in battle with Alex.
"I'm sorry I didn't see that then, Jim. I should have. You were counting on your shaman, weren't you? To see beyond the veil, to see the unseen forces that were at work. But I failed you. You hurt me and I reveled in the pain, instead of looking for the source of your actions. I knew. I fucking knew that the guy who packed up my stuff, who cleaned out the entire loft-- I mean, how the hell does a single sofa get classified as clutter-- wasn't you. Even at your worst, when we first met, you had furniture. But suddenly, you wanted nothing around you, nothing touching you. What would have been next? Would Simon have walked into an empty bullpen the next morning? Would you have given up the truck because the space was too confining? Would you have joined a nudist colony because your clothes were too binding? Oh, man. You were in serious trouble, weren't you? And I didn't do a thing about it, but pout.
"That's what I was doing, Jim. I had spent the night in my office, pouting because I had no home, pouting because you took away everything I had become. You didn't know that, did you? You didn't know that little room beneath the stairs meant so much, did you? For the first time in my life, I had something permanent. Everybody wondered how I could change so much, how I could adapt so readily. Before you, I was always on the move. Even when I stayed in one place, like at Rainier, I was still on the move. Summers abroad, different apartments.... But then you took me in, and no one had to look for me anymore. Want to find Blair Sandburg? Go to 852 Prospect, Apartment 307. He's either there, or will be there. I was going to always be there, because there was home, Jim.
"I hadn't told you, but there was the possibility of my going to Borneo after I got my doctorate. I hadn't told you, because I knew you'd tell me to go. And I probably would have gone. I would've been a fool to turn down the opportunity again. But that wouldn't have been the reason I'd have gone. I would have gone, because I'd have known I could come back. I would have gone, because I would have known I had a home waiting for me.
"You took that surety away from me. You rocked my world but good, man. I sat at that desk all night long because I was afraid to move, afraid of falling through that crack you'd made in my reality. I was a sitting duck for her. Didn't even move when she came through the door. I tried talking to her, you know. I always go for the talking bit. But she was ice, a stone-cold killer. To this day, I think she didn't kill me because she felt you coming. My world wasn't the only one you rocked. That pull you felt to Alex? She felt it too, and it terrified her. Made her careless. She didn't check to see if I was dead. She just ran."
He rolled over, resting his head on his entwined fingers. "I didn't have time to panic. By the time I was conscious enough to realize what was happening, I was already dead. Dead. A very weird place. Not really black, but murky, you know? Like a thick fog. Real and unreal were indiscernible. Once again, I didn't get a chance to panic, because the wolf came, and for some unknown reason, I knew I had to follow him. At first we walked. Then he ran, so I ran. Next thing I know, we're flying through the air, and wham! I was on the ground, and you were telling me to breathe and water was spurting out of me and I felt bad, really bad. But you were there, so I knew it wasn't as bad as bad could get, you know?
"Thank you, by the way. Thank you for the way you reacted when I woke. I don't think I could have handled an emotional scene. Not when I was so weak. Probably would have made a blubbering idiot out of myself. Like I'm not now, right? But this is different. Probably because you're not actually here. And because I'm stronger now. Crying when you're weak is one thing; crying because you have the strength to do so, is a different matter altogether. Of course, I hope you're out there somewhere listening to this, because I don't think I could do this with you face to face. You already think I'm a wuss, man. Don't want to confirm it for you." Blair hiccupped and scrubbed uselessly at his wet cheeks.
"I'm wrong again, right? No matter what I've done, what my reaction is...you've never thought of me as weak, have you? I think that shocked me the most about you. You don't expect people to react like you do. You expect them to react according to themselves. Does that make sense? I mean, you expect people to react as they react, not as someone else would react. Some people break down when you give them bad news. Others suck it up, and break down later. Some just stare at you in a daze. I know some cops judge guilt or innocence based on those initial reactions. But you go beyond that. You have no preconceived notion about emotions. You wait for people to react, then you move on. I admire that in you, I really do. Maybe I shouldn't have expectations either. Maybe then I wouldn't have been so hurt when you reacted the way you did when you found out the Sentinel had been exposed.
"Why did you react that way? Was it because you were expecting me to sell you out eventually? No. If that was the case, if you really thought I was selling you out for fame and fortune, you would have yelled at me. But you never yelled. The words were bitter, but there was no force to them. You didn't attack the reporters, or Sid, or Mom. You didn't have my stuff boxed up this time. It was as if...as if you were prepared for the event. You merely squared your shoulders, said what you thought you should say, and just tried to stiff-upper lip your way through it. You really, honestly, truly expected me to betray you like that?
"No," Blair said, sitting up as the truth suddenly struck him. "You weren't expecting me to betray you; you were expecting me to leave you. That's what you said last night, wasn't it? You said you had been waiting for me to leave you ever since the fountain. Well, if you thought that, why did you bother to bring me back? If you knew I was going to leave you, why didn't you leave me first? Why expend all that energy to...." He gasped as everything became perfectly clear. "You saved me...to let me go. You brought me back to life, and every day since then, you've been waiting for me to leave you."
It made perfect sense to him now. How Jim had not protested when he wasn't able to go to the Jags game that good ol' Kincaid had fucked up. How he had calmly accepted the guidance of a ghost. How, even when Brad Ventriss had gone off, Jim hadn't. No, his friend had just taken what life threw his way and had not complained. Vince Deal had been a warm joke to him, and Harry Conley-- a man on the FBI's Most Wanted list-- he had become the man's confidante, helping him repair his relationship with his daughter, and redeem some of his lost honor. Cool, mellow Jim Ellison. It had been so easy for him to roll with the punches, because he knew what the big punch was, and he had already accepted it as a done deal: Blair Sandburg was going to leave him. Because everyone he loved...left.
Blair shook his head at his own stupidity. It wasn't about friendship. It hadn't been about friendship for a long time.
It had been, and still was, about love.
With this knowledge safely tucked in his heart, Blair looked down at the now peaceful waters, and jumped.
Jim jerked up in bed, his arms reaching out as if he was in the middle of a catch. A moment later, he blinked sleepily, and glanced at the clock. Sighing, he realized the alarm was going to go off in a few minutes, so he swung his feet to the floor, and headed for the shower.
"Thanks, Jim," he heard his partner say.
"Anytime, Chief," he answered automatically, then almost tripped on a stair. Blair wasn't at the loft. He was gone. So, what...? He shook his head, and continued to the bathroom. Whatever it was, he was sure Blair would have an explanation when he returned.
If he returned.
Many hours later, he was awake and as refreshed as a fasting man could be. He had bathed, brushed his teeth, and braided his hair out of the way. The night before had taught him that loose hair was a magnet for debris on this plane while he was on another. Sticks, leaves, and probably various insects had invaded the thick mass, and he'd spent at least an hour getting it clean. He didn't want the thought of what was crawling in his hair to distract him on his journey tonight. This was going to be it, the shamanic ecstasy where he would find Wolf and be complete.
He'd read through the book again as he waited for time to pass. He'd learned that he was not searching for the wolf, but Wolf-- an embodiment of the spirit of the wolf. Wolf was a Teacher, the Guide to the Sacred, but he also loved to learn. Night after night, the moon rose, and night after night, Wolf found something new to learn from it. He had instinct coupled with intelligence, easily outwitted his enemies, and had the ability to pass unseen. He was also steadfast, and skilled in the protection of self and family. Pretty heady stuff for a fur ball, Blair thought with a grin. No wonder he seemed empty without him.
But now that he had resolved his conflict with Jim, he could concentrate on retrieving his power spirit and being full again. Wolf would walk with him, and then the two of them would accompany Jim and Jaguar, as it was meant to be. It was weird the way the two of them fit together-- he and Jim, that is, or maybe Wolf and Jaguar. Wolf was always eager to explore, and Jaguar easily moved in unknown places. Wolf was a Guide in dreams and meditation; Jaguar was a facilitator of soul work. Wolf took advantage of change; Jaguar understood the patterns of chaos. Jim was also Black Jaguar-- Keeper of the circle time continuum and Gatekeeper to the Unknowable. Wolf was the master of death and rebirth; he helped one face the end of one's cycle with dignity and courage. They complemented each other in all areas. Without Wolf, there was no balance.
He picked up the rattles that had come with the book, frowning at their noisiness. He would use them now, but as he became more active in shamanism, he would change over to crystals. If he used rattles every time he needed to journey, they would drive Jim nuts. And crystals, unlike candles-- which some preferred-- would be safe to use outside. But for now, he had rattles.
As always, he had to start by facing the east-- toward the rising sun and the power it brought to all living things. Then he would turn to the south, the west, and the north. Always clockwise. In Wicca, this would be called deosil, as opposed to widdershins-- counterclockwise. The things you learned from the women you dated, huh? Blair's mouth twisted into a wry grin as he remembered how that relationship had ended. Good thing she had been just a fledgling witch; if she'd had any real power, he probably would be sitting on a lily pad, catching flies at the moment.
Shoving all of the distracting frivolity out of his mind, he concentrated on the rite of calling to his power animal. He shook his rattles to the six directions, adding up to the heavens and down to the earth to the original four. Turning back to the east, he began again, shaking both rattles rapidly and dancing as he turned deosil. He was sacrificing his energy in the power spirits' honor, and evoking their sympathy.
Then his dance stopped, and he shook one rattle four times, signaling that he was ready for the transition.
Instead of the tunnel that the book talked about, Blair found himself in the middle of the jungle. However, since Jim had mentioned that he often saw the jaguar in such an environment, he was confident that he was in the right place. Sure enough, he soon felt eyes watching him, and from the lush green foliage, a gray wolf appeared, his eyes a startling human blue.
"Hello, Wolf," he said non-threateningly. Never be hostile to a power animal. They were with you out of choice.
The wolf morphed into a man. No, not just a man. Blair would have thought he was looking into a mirror, except for the fact he knew he had never painted his face red, nor wore a wraparound skirt. His hair was tied back, and adorned with feathers. He looked rather...fierce. He shivered with pride.
"Why are you here?" Wolf-As-Man asked.
"Huh?" Blair had been so busy admiring himself that the question threw him off-guard.
"Why are you here?" the creature demanded.
"To find Wolf," Blair answered.
"Wolf is not lost," Wolf-As-Man replied, before morphing back into a regular wolf and disappearing into the jungle.
"Wait," Blair called, but by the time the word left his mouth, he found himself back in the state park with his rattles.
Well, hell, he thought disgustedly. That had to be the shortest shamanic journey on record. Turning to the east, he shook one of the rattles four times, signaling that the rite was over (as if he had a choice in the matter). Apparently, the spirit plane had a password, and "To find Wolf" was not the correct phrase.
With a sigh, he sadly went back to the tent, and tried to figure out where he'd gone wrong.
Okay, Blair thought to himself ten minutes later, as he hugged the Shamanism book. "To find Wolf" had been an incredibly stupid reply, considering Wolf was right in front of him. Not to mention, the words implied that Wolf could get lost-- which was a slam of the spirit. Not exactly the way to get it to stand by you. "Man, you are bucking for that lily pad for real, aren't you?"
No, it wasn't Wolf who was lost, but Blair Sandburg. He was the one with no job, no degree, and no place in the academic community. Hell, he didn't have a place anywhere. Even his observer status had been pulled; there wasn't even a fake reason for it anymore. He was a nobody, a non-entity, a homeless person but for the grace of Jim Ellison. "Where the hell is your Guide when you need him, Jim? Most of the time, you can find him sitting in the loft wondering if hell will be an endless showing of talk shows. Watching busty women tear off each other's clothes isn't as stimulating as it sounds.... Neither is watching you leave the loft each morning without me.
"So, there it is. I was there not to find Wolf, but myself. I am directionless, without a path. You think Wolf will buy that answer? I mean, I have to get it right this time. I can't keep going up to him and giving him the wrong answer, because sooner or later, he's going to get pissed at being disturbed so often, and I'll never make it past Round One. I meant it when I said I wanted to come back to you, Jim. I don't think I really lived until I met you. I existed, but I didn't live...not fully, not as completely as I should have. You gave me the courage to...to try.
"I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'That's bullshit, Sandburg'. But it's not. I had witnessed crime and injustice all my life. I protested this and human-chained that. I railed against the police for not trying hard enough, when, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't trying at all. Do you know how much courage it takes to stand before people and tell them, 'No, you can't do this, and I'm here to stop you from doing it'? No, you don't know, because it's not a question of courage for you. It's a question of duty. I think if you were a mailman, you'd be on the front page of the newspaper almost every day because you would have rescued someone, or stopped some crime, or apprehended some vicious killer. No, it wouldn't be your job, but it would be your duty.... I once said it was because you were a Sentinel, that you were programmed to protect the tribe. But I think it goes deeper than that, deeper into your psyche.
"I bet Stephen got away with all kinds of stuff when you were kids, didn't he? Because you protected him. And I think all through school, you were surrounded by geeks and misfits, because they felt comfort in your shadow. You didn't pick on people, did you? You probably didn't stop your jock friends from doing it, because you needed so badly to fit in, but you didn't...and it bothered you when your friends did. Tell me, Jim, were you the one who just happened to be heading out to the parking lot when you saw a lone girl walking that way? Or the one who was coincidentally going in the same direction as the handicapped student, so holding the door for him or her was no problem? And I bet you were the one who all the little kids ran to if they needed help on the playground. Maybe a ball got stuck up in a tree, or Mary Alice skinned her knee, huh? Whatever it was, they would run to Jimmy, right, man? And you would shimmy up the tree, or have a bandaid in your pocket for the knee and a handkerchief to wipe her tears.
"I used to watch people like you. I was never at a school long enough for someone to rely on me like that, but I would sit on the swings, or curl up with a book at the base of a tree, and I would watch the kids run to boys or girls like you. You naturally took charge and made everything right again. I envied that ability. You had everything together. Your lives had to be like fucking perfect. But they weren't, were they? Were they hiding stuff like you were hiding? Were they so perfect on the outside because they were so miserable on the inside? You stayed on that playground so long because you didn't want to go home. You took care of the others because no one took care of you. You let yourself be surrounded by the misfits because you knew that underneath the all-American looks, you were one too. You wiped others' tears, so no one would see your own."
He stroked the book in his hand. He'd bought it at a used bookstore, so it had an unadorned leather-like cover that was cracked with age. "What made you accept Jaguar? Yes, I know you were alone, and had just buried all your men, but why didn't you give up? Was it because you felt the Chopec needed you, like the children on the playground? Or is it because they accepted you for what you were, never expecting more, never reacting when they got more? You were accepted as a Sentinel. You acted as a Sentinel. And when you were 'rescued', you went back to being plain ol' Captain Ellison. Man, maybe you should have been Chameleon. Wait a minute." He flipped through the familiar book.
"Ah," he said when he found the page he was looking for. "Jaguar is a shapeshifter. I should have known. Maybe if Wolf was one, I would be doing better than I am now. It says Wolf takes advantage of change, and since I'm not doing that too well, maybe that's why I'm alone. Which is nothing new, right? The book says Wolf is content to be alone, but is happiest with others, that the interaction is what feeds Wolf's soul.
"Sometimes this book scares me," he confided with a nervous laugh. "It seems to know me so well. I am content to be alone. Naomi would leave me alone, and always being the new kid in school left me alone. But as long as I had a book, I never disliked the solitude. In fact, there have been times when I intentionally got away from others just to be alone. And you know I like crowds. Study groups, night clubs, hanging with the guys in the bullpen.... The people around me give off this energy that invades me, giving me a sense of purpose. I learn when I'm in a group, any group.
"But where I am the happiest, where I learn the most, is with you. It used to be I was content with just a book. Now, it is a book and you. No. Not even the book is required. Sometimes we are sitting on the sofa, or out on the balcony, and we're doing absolutely nothing-- not watching TV, not reading, not even talking, and...and I am at peace. I hear my soul humming at those times, Jim. It hums just from sitting with you.
"That is what I was fighting to protect when I called the press conference. The simple pleasure of being with you. That wasn't worth three million, or even three hundred million, man. And a Nobel Prize pales in comparison. I have my prize, Jim. My brass ring. I don't know why I had to journey to the ocean to remember that. But I thank the spirits for guiding me to that rocky pinnacle, for showing me what it's all truly about. The idea that you are there to catch me, even when I'm not with you, is like having this big safety net under me. I'm not afraid to head out onto that high wire anymore, my friend. So, I guess it's time for me to venture out again, and if Wolf doesn't like my reply, I'll just keep trying.
"Sooner or later, I'll get it right. After all, Wolf is always learning, and I am Wolf."
Once again, Blair found himself in the jungle. He knew that Wolf was somewhere nearby, watching him, so he said nothing, hoping the spirit's natural curiosity would bring him out of hiding. Five minutes later, his patience was rewarded.
"Why are you here?" Wolf snarled, transforming to his two-legged version.
"To find my path," Blair replied, crossing his fingers behind his back.
"Look around you."
Blair did as ordered, and trails appeared in the lush jungle. He could only see a few feet down each one before the vegetation blocked his view.
"Choose," Wolf-As-Man said.
Blair gulped, as even more paths were blazed. "I-- I can't. I don't even know what these paths are."
Wolf-As-Man scowled, and familiar green-and-white street signs appeared beside each path. Blair found himself laughing, which thoroughly disgusted Wolf, who morphed, and loped off so quickly, Blair couldn't tell which path he'd taken.
"Great, Sandburg," he berated himself. "Now, you have to figure this out for yourself. You tick Wolf off even faster than you do Jim." He trudged over to one of the paths and read the sign. Dr. Blair Sandburg. He giddily took a step forward, and stopped. What was he doing? He knew this wasn't his path. This was a choice he'd already made, wasn't it? He'd sacrificed this life for Jim. That was what the news conference had been about. His life's dream in exchange for Jim's life. Fair trade. Jim couldn't be Jim, as long as the Sentinel was part of the public domain. And, bless his anal little heart, Jim needed to be Jim. Hell, the world needed Jim to be Jim. Just look what had happened to Simon and Megan when Jim was kept from being who he had become. What was a Dr. Blair Sandburg compared to that?
"Just the person I always thought I would be," Blair said, sadly tracing the white letters with his finger. "Don't childhood dreams count for anything anymore?" He was going to make his mother so proud. Cross that stage in his black robe, don that hood with all the colors signifying who he was and all that he had learned.... Then in his dreams, he would be off to the four corners of the world, making important anthropological discoveries, and looking for that elusive creature Sir Richard Burton had named a Sentinel.
He stepped back from the sign as if the metal had shocked him. Why the hell was he standing there, regretting the loss of this path, when in fact, that path had already ended? The dream had not been about becoming Dr. Sandburg. It had been about finding a Sentinel. And he had-- without the degree, without all the fruitless searching. No wonder Wolf was disgusted with him. What was that old adage-- something about not seeing the forest for the trees?
He scanned the other signs, most of them not making any sense, or either going back to dreams even older than that of Dr. Sandburg. Rock Star Blair came from his pre-teen years; Super Hero Blair from his comic book days. There was even one labeled Muppet Blair. He grinned. "Even the Sesame Street crowd dreams, Jim," he said aloud. "And no, I won't tell you which muppet I had a crush on, so don't ask!"
He finally found the one he was looking for: Detective Blair Sandburg. So, this was it, huh? This was the path he was supposed to walk now. This was what Jim wanted, expected, needed, right? How else could he be at the Sentinel's side? And it had already been determined that nothing should interfere with Jim being Jim. There was no other choice. It wouldn't be a bad life, nor an unfamiliar one. He was already a cop. Simon had practically admitted that when he said Blair only needed to go to the academy for weapons training. Not only was he already a cop, but they were the only people who hadn't turned their backs on him. The solidarity he'd experienced in the Major Crime Unit had been unmatched by anything else he'd found at any other point in his life. The guys teased mercilessly, and they conned him into doing way more than his share of paperwork.... But they supported him, defended him, and were willing to give him shelter when no other place would allow him entrance.
Nah, it wouldn't be a bad life...but was it the right life? "I don't want to do this, Jim, then five years from now, start resenting you because I think you're the one who forced me into this life. For your sake, and mine, I need this to be my choice. When I draw that gun-- and I know I'll have to, because while most officers rarely draw or shoot their weapons, we both know that you and I will never be most officers-- I have to know why it's in my hands, and why I have to pull the trigger. That's not something you can do for me, something you can protect me from.
"You see, I know you trust me to protect you. But I don't know if I trust me. Carrying a weapon I have no intention of using would not only be stupid, but dangerous. You would think you had adequate backup, the others would think you had adequate backup, and the perp would think you had adequate backup. That thought could scare him into giving up, or it could cause him to do something foolish, and since I really wouldn't be adequate backup, the situation could explode, and maybe leave you dead. I don't think I could handle that, Jim. No, I know I couldn't handle it. Getting you killed is one thing; getting you killed because I insisted on taking a job I never really intended to do...well, that's another.
"Then there's the question of why do I want to be a cop. Because they accept me? Because I have nothing better to do? Because you need me? Those reasons suck, man. I can't base the rest of my life on the fact that I'm liked. I mean, yes, it's always a bonus to get to work with people you like, and vice-versa, but it isn't a requirement. Because I have nothing better to do? Well, I could work at Wonder Burger using an excuse like that. The hours would be shorter, the danger less...well, maybe not, considering the carcinogens generated by frying meat."
He braced his forehead against the cool, metal pole. "Because you need me is the most compelling reason...but it's not enough. I love you, Jim. You know that, right? And there's not anything I wouldn't do for you-- except that which could get you hurt. Me joining the police department, without fully committing to the job, would get you hurt. I see it as clearly as I see this jungle-- Okay, maybe not a good analogy there, considering this jungle really doesn't exist, but you know what I mean. You kicked me out of the loft because you'd rather see me hurt than dead. I can't walk down this path because I'd rather see you hurt than dead.
"So, where does that leave me? As a muppet?" Blair shrugged, and started reading the signs again. Shaman. Hell, no. How many times had he screwed that one up in the past twenty-four hours? In the middle of asking for nature's blessing, he ended up in the middle of an ocean. No warning. No preparation. Just...just a natural transition from one realm to the next. A shaman walks with one foot in this world and one foot in the spirit world.
Blair sat at the base of the signpost and laughed. Here he was, wondering what he was supposed to do to become a shaman, reading the book over and over again, and using nearly the last of his savings going to the herbal store for sage to burn-- which he'd forgotten to use in the ritual anyway. He'd gone to all that trouble, only to find out what he should have already known: he was a shaman. Maybe some people had to learn the craft, and maybe he would eventually find a shaman and study with him for a week or two, but when push came to shove-- i.e., when he needed shoving-- his instincts had taken over and he had crossed over to the spiritual realm with very little prompting. In the jungle, Jim hadn't had to learn how to be a Sentinel; he just let the restraints relax, and the Sentinel took care of the rest. In this state park, in the midst of pure, unadulterated nature, he had let go, and the shaman had taken care of the rest.
"We're talking a major epiphany here, Jim. Can you believe it? All that time worrying about who I am, now that I'm no longer a grad student. How utterly stupid. A grad student hadn't been who I was. It had just been a job, like becoming a cop would be just a job. But this, this is different. I am a shaman, Jim. I have been since before Incacha touched me. I think I have been since I started guiding you. That's it! You triggered the transformation. The Sentinel needed not just a Guide, but a Shaman, and I answered your need. That was where the peace came from, why my soul hummed in your presence. You became a functioning Sentinel, I became a functioning Shaman, and together, we protect Cascade and whoever else needs protecting. It's only when we forget who we are, that's when we fail. When Alex showed up, you became Ultra Sentinel, but I didn't become Ultra Shaman, so we were out of balance-- until Wolf and Jaguar decided to slam some sense into us-- literally. With the dissertation being leaked, you denied the Sentinel--
"No, wait. You didn't deny him, did you? Never once did you call me a liar. Never once did you say I was out of my mind. I never noticed that, Jim. You could have called the press conference. You could have told the people that you had no idea what I was talking about, that you had taken in a grad student who had turned around and bitten you on the ass to save his own. Because, we both know that no matter what I wrote, no matter what written evidence I had, you could have said it wasn't true, and you would have been believed. You are a trustworthy detective. Clean-cut. An American hero in the truest sense of the word. As far as I know, your military records don't show anything weird about your senses. Your father would have said he hadn't noticed anything different about you. It wouldn't be the first time he denied your talents, right? Your ex-wife, Carolyn, probably would have said there was nothing wrong with you that a couple of enemas wouldn't cure.... She never liked me. Probably would have gotten a kick out of letting the world know what kind of charlatan I was. I think that's why she bothered to answer my questions about you. She knew you would explode when you found out. And you did, didn't you?
"I wonder if Gabe was a spirit guide sent to put us back on track that night? I was furious at you, and I don't think you were too fond of me either. But when it came down to life or death, we knew who we were, didn't we, man? That's the way it always should be. We shouldn't need these crises to recognize who we are, and what we are to each other. It's stupid and wasteful, Jim. We're too good as a team to go our separate ways. Everybody loses when we do that. I'm a fine one to talk, aren't I? Because I've taken myself from your presence. No, not with this journey. Even when I'm here, we're together. That's why I'm talking to you, you idiot. Because you're here, somewhere. But I'm not with you. I'm a hundred miles away. And even worse, you don't know where I am. And I'm calling you an idiot?"
Blair stood and dusted off the back of his jeans. "Wolf!" he called.
The being slunk into view. "Why are you here?" he asked, not bothering to morph.
"Because it is time to return to my Sentinel, and I need you with me."
"Wolf was always with the Sentinel. You were not."
"I know, my friend. But I am ready to be with him now...and for always. My path is his path, which takes nothing away from my path, because it is wide enough for us to walk side-by-side."
"You have learned, Shaman."
"I have learned, Wolf. Shall we learn more-- together?" He held out his arms.
Wolf charged and they became one.
"We thank you for your wisdom and patience," Blair said, bowing to the spirits as he found himself back in the beautiful park.
Picking up his rattles, he whispered into the air. "I'm coming home, Jim."
The air whispered back, "It's about time, Chief."
Leaving the campsite as it was, he grabbed his backpack and started down the mountain. If the tent and his stuff were there when he got back, fine. If they weren't, that was fine too, because he needed to get to Jim as quickly as possible. He didn't even stop at the Rangers' Station to tell them he was leaving, or to find out if anyone had called. He didn't need a telephone to know that his Sentinel was in trouble...or where to find him. He just knew.
"Hold on, Jim. I'm coming, partner. Just hold on," he murmured comfortingly, as he started his car.
"Hurry," was the reply this time.
He did just that.
Simon Banks didn't know whether the onlookers thought he was wiping sweat or tears from his face, and at the moment he didn't give a damn about what they were thinking. All he cared about was that an hour ago, his world had changed horribly, and there was nothing he could do, but put on his game face and be there for his detective, his friend....
The morning had started out better than most mornings. From his office, he'd watched Jim walk in-- no, not just walk; he'd been nearly as bouncy as his partner. This was indeed a big surprise. For the past couple of days, the detective had been in a funk because Blair had left, and he'd been worried about the man...and worried each morning that he would come in and find his resignation on the desk. But apparently something had changed.
"Ellison! My office!" he'd yelled.
"Morning, Captain," Jim had replied brightly.
"You heard from the kid?"
His grin had put the sun to shame. "He's on his way home, Simon."
"About time. Where is he?"
"He called, and you didn't get the particulars?" That was quite unlike his detective. Interrogation had always been a forte of his.
"He didn't exactly call, sir."
Simon had opened his mouth, then closed it. With the two of them, it was often easier to ignore such statements. "Go to work, Detective," he'd ordered, then in a soft voice that he knew Jim could hear, he added, "I'm glad he's coming home, too."
He didn't know whether it was because he'd been thinking about Jim, or if it was just that he was in tune with what went on in his bullpen, but he looked up sharply just as Jim froze. Familiar with the way the Sentinel operated, he knew that Jim was focusing his incredible gifts, seeking whatever it was that had caught his attention. He'd thought maybe it was Blair entering the building, but when Jim started to frown, he headed toward the office door to investigate. Before he could reach the bullpen, his phone rang. Biting back a curse, he answered it. When he hung up, Jim was behind him.
"You knew, didn't you?" he'd asked as Jim slid into his passenger's seat. There had been an explosion in the sewers that ran beneath the city. All emergency personnel were needed. The Chrysler had peeled out of the underground garage, followed by the vehicles of the rest of Major Crime.
"I felt it."
Simon had shivered. He knew what Jim could do, but it never failed to amaze him. Five heightened senses. Sounded like something out of a comic book, or on some lame sci-fi show. But it was real, and he knew it was as much a burden as it was a blessing. However, he also knew that if anyone could handle it, it was the man beside him.
They'd reached the scene, and found out that the city had had a crew working in the sewers and something had gone wrong-- obviously. The five-man crew had been presumed dead, and the press had already been clamoring for the names of the victims. But despite the noise of the crowd and the heavy engines of the presumed-useless rescue vehicles, Jim had sworn he heard a heartbeat beneath him. Simon wasn't sure how he'd convinced the others to believe Jim, but soon his detective was wearing an oxygen mask and leading a couple of paramedics into the sewers. As he'd listened to some of the other emergency crew on the scene, he realized that he hadn't had to be too convincing; it seemed part of the population hadn't believed Sandburg's press conference. Those who had worked with Jim had added one and one together, and come up with the same number every time. So, they had personally concluded Sandburg's "I'm a fraud" speech was the only fraud the grad student had perpetrated, and respected him for his sacrifice.
As he had known would happen, the two paramedics with Jim radioed back that they had found a survivor. Equipment was lowered down, the man was strapped onto a backboard and lifted out of what should have been his tomb.
At that moment, a second explosion had ripped through the tunnel. One of the paramedics was killed instantly. The other was badly injured. And Jim.... Oh, God. Jim had been pinned beneath a huge slab of cement. His lower body had more than likely been pulverized when the stone hit, but there was no way to be certain, because there was no way to remove the cement. Removal would require a jackhammer, and jackhammers caused sparks. Until all traces of the gas which had triggered the first explosions were cleared, they couldn't risk getting Jim out. A paramedic had pulled Simon aside and told him it was probably for the best. If Jim didn't bleed to death as soon as the slab was removed, the only other possibility was that most of his lower body would have to be amputated. From what he knew of the detective, the EMT had confided he thought Jim wouldn't want to live that way.
That had shaken the captain to his core. He knew Jim wasn't invincible/invulnerable, but he was the closest damn thing to it that he'd ever met. He was a survivor through the worst possible odds, and now...now he was going to die in a sewer, among other people's waste. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't right! Not after he'd finally gotten a handle on those wonderful, terrible senses.... Not after he'd used them to help so many people.
And to top it off, his partner wasn't with him. Every time he went down to Jim, to offer him whatever comfort he could give, Jim would ask if Blair had arrived yet. Simon would answer no, and Jim would look at him and say, "Don't worry, Simon. He's on his way." The son of a bitch was dying in a sewer, and he was taking time to comfort his captain. When this was all over, he was going to crawl so far into a bottle....
"What!" he barked. Then he shook his head. "What is it, Rafe?"
"The Highway Patrol just called. They stopped a guy going close to a hundred on the highway. It was Sandburg, sir. He said...." Rafe had to stop and clear his throat. "He told them he had to get to his partner."
Simon wasn't surprised Blair knew. "Where is he now?"
"I told them to get him here as soon as possible."
The captain nodded. "Good man. I'll go tell Jim."
Rafe put his hand on Simon's shoulder. "How is he?"
"Bad. I think he's just holding on until Blair gets here."
"This shouldn't be happening," Rafe said brokenly, reminding Simon of the last time he'd heard similar words. They were all there, just like now. But instead of surrounding a hole in the ground, it had been a fountain, and it had been Blair....
He let the paramedic fit him with an oxygen mask, then he went down the ladder. There wasn't much room to maneuver, so the fellow keeping Jim company moved out of the way to let the captain near his friend. Because he'd worked so much with these people, because he'd done so much for Cascade...because he was down there because he'd been saving one of their own, the emergency personnel were determined to stay with Jim, keeping him company when the captain went up for his medically ordered breaths of fresh air.
"Hey, Jim, you were right. Blair is on his way," Simon said with feigned enthusiasm-- not because he wasn't happy about Blair's imminent arrival, but because it was so hard to be cheerful in the face of such blatant hopelessness. "He caught a ride with the Highway Patrol, and he's on his way." Although his voice was muffled by the mask, he knew Jim could hear him.
"Told...you...sir." Jim winced as a bead of sweat rolled into an eye. The pain startled him. For the past ten minutes he hadn't been able to feel anything, except a cold numbness which-- compared to the burning agony he'd been in prior to that-- was a blessing.
Simon took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped Jim's face. The man was much weaker than he'd been when he left. Hurry, Sandburg, hurry. He found himself rambling on about this or that, trying to keep Jim from drifting away before Blair could come and say his goodbyes. Jim appeared to get frustrated because Simon couldn't understand him when he tried to reply, and he tugged feebly at the mask feeding him oxygen. Simon started to berate his stubborn detective until he realized it didn't matter. Nothing could hurt Jim anymore. He removed the mask for him, and leaned closer so he could hear Jim's pain-wracked voice.
"Thank...you for...keeping me...here...till Blair...can make it. You...have always been...." Jim licked dry lips. "Have always been...a good fr--friend and com--commander."
"And you've been a hell of a detective and a friend, Jim. This city is going to suffer without you...and I'm not too sure I'm going to do much better," the captain admitted.
"You...you'll be okay. You...have Daryl. He'll help...you...heal. Bu--but Blair...." His eyes completed the plea.
Simon nodded, and patted his shoulder. "I'll look after Blair for you. You know that. Cop or no cop, I'll watch out for him."
"Count...counting on it, s--sir." He closed his eyes, then forced them open. "He's here."
Before Simon could reply, he heard voices being raised at the entrance way, and suddenly Blair was standing before him. He moved out of the way, so the partners could be together. There would be time for comforting later. Besides, there was a paramedic screaming because Blair hadn't waited for an oxygen mask. He truly needed to shut up, and the captain was tired enough, and sad enough to help him. But Blair called out to him first.
"I want everyone out of here, except you, Simon," he ordered.
As he heard Simon's booming voice pass on the order, he kneeled beside his partner. "Look at you, man. Can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?"
Blair smiled, cupping Jim's cheek. "It's okay. We'll just have to be more careful in the future."
"They...they tell you?" Jim asked, his blue eyes going dark with concern. He'd heard the hurried explanation given Blair upon his arrival, but his partner hadn't responded to the regret-filled report.
Blair reached down and grabbed his hand, sandwiching it between his. Jim saw him do it, but he couldn't feel anything anymore. "Jim, do you believe in me?"
"Do you believe in yourself?"
A brief hesitation, but he looked into his partner's eyes, and seeing himself reflected there, realized the answer. "Yes."
"Do you believe in us?"
No hesitation this time. "Always, Chief."
"Then come with me."
"Simon," Blair called over his shoulder.
"Don't let anyone disturb us, man."
Blair nodded. "Come on, Jim. Let's go walking." He clasped the lax hands in his.
Simon felt a warm wind swirl through the dank air, and he looked around in concern, afraid a fire had started somewhere. But there was nothing. Then he noticed how still his two men were, their eyes closed, their breathing in rhythm. He sighed, and went back to keeping watch. Apparently Blair was going to escort Jim "home".
It didn't sound nearly as strange as it should have.
Jim looked around the jungle familiarly. "Is this where you've been, Chief?"
"Yeah. Thanks to you, I've been to some strange places."
"You were going to strange places long before you met me, Sandburg," Jim reminded him.
Blair laughed. "Can't argue with that one. Come on."
Jim didn't move. "No, I don't want you to come, Chief. You go back, and I'll just wait for you here until it's your time, okay?"
"No. I mean it. I don't want you coming with me. Not now. I promise to be here, okay? I might wander off and explore a little, but I won't go far-- not without you." He reached out a hand and tugged on one of the curly tendrils framing his friend's face. "You go. Live a life that's full enough for both of us, Blair. I'll be fine here. This is my home."
"Mine too. One of the things I learned here. I learned something else, too, Jim."
"That there is nothing we can't do as long as we are together."
"Yeah. Seems that once upon a time, there was a fountain. You reached out to me there, and when we joined, death took a hike. Stop me if any of this starts sounding familiar."
Blue eyes gazed into blue eyes.
"It was a miracle."
"Wanna try for another one?"
Jim closed his eyes, reaching inside and feeling the desire to live. "Can we?"
Blair tugged on his hand. "We can do anything we want to, Jim. Just believe."
"I do, Chief." His hand firmly in Blair's, he allowed himself to be led through the lush vegetation. Something flickered in his peripheral vision, and he stopped to zoom in on it. It was the gray wolf which had been in his dreams so long ago. "Blair, look!"
"Wolf!" Blair called happily. "We need to follow him."
They ran, and Wolf led them to Jaguar. The sleek, black animal lay deathly still beneath a toppled tree trunk. "Help me, Chief!" Jim ran to one end of the log, and Blair to the other. On the count of three, they lifted the log and tossed it aside. Jaguar didn't move.
"He's badly hurt," the Sentinel said, running his hands along the furry body. "Can we...?" He looked at his partner questioningly.
"We can do anything."
They linked their hands and ran them across Jaguar's broken body, while Wolf looked on, whimpering sympathetically and butting noses with Jaguar. Soon, Jaguar had been nudged to his feet, and with Wolf prodding him along, he took a small step. Jim and Blair broke out into relieved laughter. Wolf just snuffled, and urged his friend to take another step, then another.
Jim stopped the spirits' progress and re-examined his patient. "It'll be a while before he can run, but he's going to be fine," he pronounced.
"Guess it's time for us to go, then," Blair said, rubbing the dark fur of his feline friend, while at the same time fondling the ruff of Wolf. He stood and started walking.
"Uh, Chief," Jim called. "I know you're the Guide and everything, but you're headed in the wrong direction."
"Am not," Blair argued, not really sure, but too stubborn to admit it. "Wolf?" he asked his spirit guide.
Wolf sidled over next to Jim, making sure he didn't move too fast for Jaguar, who limped beside him.
Blair laughed good-naturedly, and joined them. "Who am I to argue with all three of you? You coming with us, guys?" he asked the animals.
Jaguar gave him a familiar glare, Wolf just sighed, and Jim linked his arm with his. "Yeah, Chief. We're all in this together."
Simon wondered why he still had on an oxygen mask. Considering that he had stopped breathing, it seemed like a waste.
When he'd caught his first glimpse of the odd glow, he'd thought it was some kind of optical illusion, like St. Elmo's fire or the aurora borealis. Then, when it continued to grow, he figured it was just an hallucination. It completely surrounded Jim and Blair, then spread to engulf the cement slab. The slab levitated maybe six inches off the ground, moved away from Jim and came to rest several inches from the detective.
Caught up in the spectacle, the captain hadn't noticed the condition of Jim's body until he heard faint popping noises. He tore his eyes away from the cement, and watched as Jim's legs, at first oddly shaped, snapped back to their former profile. Through rents in the fabric of Jim's pants, he watched flesh meld back together, and blood disappear. He was horrified...and fascinated.
He followed the gentle instruction, surprised when his body turned it into a loud gasp.
"Sandburg," he began, but he stopped when his eyes went past Blair and latched onto a calmly sitting Jim. He didn't realize he had moved until he felt Jim's arms curve around him, and heard his friend's, "I'm fine. I'm fine," crooned into his ear.
"Jim," he managed to say as he pulled away, absently patting at the wet spot he'd left on his friend's shoulder. He turned his head around, seeking his other friend. "Jim," he told him.
"I know, Simon," Blair replied, leaning against Simon's shoulder. The three friends stayed that way for a while. Unlike at the fountain, there was no one rushing in to separate them, no one to destroy the moment that was theirs.
Finally, Blair broke the spell they were in. "I don't know how we're going to explain this one," he began with a soggy smile.
"Fuck an explanation," Simon growled, his ending sniff taking away none of his ferocity. "Let's get out of here."
He helped an unsteady Jim to his feet, and by leaning on both his friends, Jim made it to the ladder leading up to the street. Simon went up first, and told everyone to stay the hell back. Then he reached down and pulled Jim up, Blair supporting him from the rear.
When Jim's head had first appeared, the crowd had instantly silenced. Even when he was standing before them, whole and leaning on his friends, no one moved, no one uttered a single word. "At least now we know how to shut up reporters," Blair cracked.
"Ah. The true miracle of the afternoon, huh, gentlemen?" Simon agreed. "Guess we'll take my car to Cascade General. Doesn't look like anyone else is in any condition to drive."
"I can drive, Captain," Blair chirped.
"Not my car. See you guys at the hospital, okay?" Simon called out as they passed the remaining members of Major Crime.
"Sure, Captain," Rafe replied automatically. "C'mon, H," he said to his partner. "We gotta meet the captain at the hospital. Joel, you coming?" Joel Taggert nodded.
It was the slamming of the car doors that finally broke the spell over the rest of the crowd. Soon, dozens of vehicles were speeding toward Cascade General, and the story of the year.
Jim laughed, turning the pages of the newspaper.
"What's up?" Blair asked, coming out of the bathroom after drying his hair.
"It's funny that we would still be front page news if you hadn't 'slipped' and told the press you were a practicing shaman. As soon as you uttered a word that related to religion, they backed off."
"That's because if you promote one religion, then all the others are going to demand equal time. It's not my fault they didn't want to deal with that. What was I supposed to do? They asked me what happened, and I told them. I said, 'My friend and I experienced shamanic ecstasy, whereby we traveled to the spiritual plane and he was healed.' Is it my fault they shortened it to, 'It was a miracle.'?"
Jim just laughed even harder. "Blair Sandburg, Shaman. You ready for it, Chief?"
"Past ready, Jim. I've wasted so much time since Incacha died, leaving me his shamanic legacy. I wasted time worrying about the dissertation, bemoaning your supposed betrayal with Alex, and avoiding the subject of my death. I don't know why I didn't stop, and find my center. I mean, if anyone knows the value of a good 'centering', it's me, right?"
"Neither of us was thinking straight, Chief. I still believe Alex somehow poisoned our connection, and it took this last stunt of yours to cleanse it out of our system completely," Jim volunteered.
"Last stunt of mine? Would that be saving your sorry ass?"
"As I recall, it took both of us. And I think we can't blame everything on Alex." Come to think of it, he had stopped meditating before Alex. Why had he turned his back on his old teachings? What had he been afraid of? What had he thought he was going to discover? That he wasn't good enough for Jim? That Incacha was the better Guide? That writing the dissertation was going to harm Jim?
Oh, hell. That was it. He had known the dangers of publishing his diss, but he'd been too stubborn to accept the knowledge. That was why he'd left Jim's name all over everything-- the diss, the tapes. A part of him had been trying to force himself to face the truth... and his mom had beat him to it. Oh yeah. Both he and Jim had been smacked in the face with it. No denying it after that, eh, Sandburg? The diss had been a mistake. From the moment he had acted as Jim's Guide, there had no longer been any objectivity. And from the day he'd moved in with Jim, there had been no chance in hell that no one would know who was the subject of the diss-- with or without a name. He had been fooling himself for years.
Just as he had been fooling himself about being a shaman. Obfuscating to others was one thing; twisting the truth in his own mind was just sick. Yet, despite his denial, it hadn't changed who he was in the long run. He was a shaman, decreed by Incacha, but destined by his own soul. That was why he'd made the shift so effortlessly. Wolf walked in both worlds, and could leap from one to the other at will, and he was Wolf. The rattles, the rituals-- they were for those who needed the tools to focus. He didn't need them, never had. However, he knew the spirits appreciated the pomp and circumstance, so he would continue to perform the ceremonies as time permitted.
"Hey, Chief. Could you leave a note the next time you decide to leave in the middle of a conversation?" Jim asked wryly, waving his hand in front of Blair's face.
"Thought you didn't like notes."
"Just the one that would say you were leaving forever."
"Not gonna be writing one of those, Jim." He walked back toward the bathroom. "So, how you doing, man? Your legs holding up okay?"
"Outstanding, Chief. You'd never know that two days ago they were in about a thousand pieces. You do good work."
"Yes, we do," he replied, coming back to the living room. "Since you're feeling so fine, man, I need your help."
"Sure. What can I do for you?"
"Cut my hair."
"Jesus, Blair! My legs aren't that strong," Jim yelled, stumbling back to plop onto the sofa. "Neither is my heart. What kind of weird joke is this?"
Blair held out a comb and a pair of scissors. "No joke, man. I'm starting the academy Monday, and even though I know I don't have to cut my hair, ninety-nine percent of the others are going to have theirs cut...and I figure if this is going to be my life, I need to embrace it fully. At least for a while."
Jim reached out a hand and wrapped it around Blair's wrist, tugging the younger man onto the sofa next to him. "What the hell's going on, Chief? I thought you chose the shaman path."
Blair smiled. It was so weird, and so cool, that Jim had heard all his rantings and ravings in the spirit world. He hadn't asked him about it, but he'd noticed that Jim seemed to know about everything that happened before he could tell him. "I did, Jim, and the shaman path has led me to the academy."
"I am the Shaman of the Great City. I am here to serve the tribe. The best way to do so is by becoming a cop. I will reach people who are in the most need that way. I will also be in position to do my number one job-- which is being your partner. The Sentinel protects the Great City, and the Shaman serves it. To protect and serve. If the shoe fits, Jim, we ought to wear it."
"Now that you are the Shaman, are you going to get even stranger on me?" Jim asked in a resigned tone.
Blair shrugged. "Doesn't matter. You'll love me anyway. So, get up and grab those scissors."
"Are you sure about this, Chief?" Jim asked carefully.
"Yes. I heard about this great program, Jim. It's called Locks of Love. If your hair is ten inches long or more, what you do is pull it back into a ponytail, cut it off, then mail it to the organization. Then they will take your hair and make it into a customized wig for children who have lost their hair due to medical procedures. Just think about it, Jim. Some little girl or boy who's feeling ugly because their hair has fallen out, will smile because of me. That makes it worthwhile, regardless of the academy."
"Well, if your mind's made up, why don't we head down to the barber on the corner?"
Blair shook his head. "No, I want you to do it, Jim. I'm shedding my old life for a new and improved version. It's only fitting that you participate in it. Please?"
Jim focused on the man before him, noting his calmness, his peace. Not wanting to disturb that, he said what Blair needed to hear. "Okay, Chief."
With his Sentinel hearing, Jim listened as each strand of hair surrendered to the sharp blade of the scissors. With reverence, he wrapped the hair as directed, then placed it in the padded mailing envelope Blair had provided. Turning back, he completed the job, making sure the remainder was evenly shaped.
Blair stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, trying to get used to the lack of weight on his neck. "Gonna have to get me a scarf for winter," he commented to the figure who also occupied the mirror.
"You'll definitely need that hat with the earflaps this year," Jim agreed. "Sure I can't convince you to go down to the barbershop for a touch-up?"
"Jim, you did an excellent job, and you know it. The next time Simon yells at us, we can threaten to go open our own styling salon. I'll wash, and you'll cut. We'll have them lined up out the door."
"Yeah, with lawsuits in hand. I don't think either of us will be giving up our day jobs anytime soon, Sandburg."
"You're absolutely right. Sentinel and Shaman, Jim. They're our jobs for life," he said solemnly. He smiled at the reflections in the mirror, one familiar, and the other...the other would take some getting used to. "Committed, partner?"
"Think Cascade can handle the four of us?"
"Think the four of us can handle Cascade?" Jim countered.
A consenting growl.
A howl in agreement.
And one large grin.
Cascade was in good hands-- and paws.
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