When the Mirror Looks Back
"You finished with that report yet, Chief?" Jim asked, turning away from his computer to glance at his partner. He'd been staring at the damn screen for hours, and his eyes were about to pop out of his head. It was definitely time for a break.
Blair looked up from the report and nodded. "Yeah. Just about."
"Blair?" a female voice interrupted.
Blair's head shot up, and his eyes widened when he spotted the tall brunette a few feet away.
"Helen?" He rose from his chair, his jaw slack with surprise. "How are you?"
She beamed, launching herself toward him. "Cous!" She wrapped her arms around him in a firm hug. "I'm fine! How are you? What are you doing here? In a police station?" She pulled back, her eyes narrowing. "Man, don't tell me you got busted for some protest thing again."
Blair chuckled, glancing nervously at Jim. "No, no. Nothing like that, Helen. I... uh... I sort of work here."
"Get out!" she slapped him on the shoulder. "No way! You're working with the police?"
Blair looked around, noticing the curious stares focused his way. Rafe and Brown had stopped whatever they'd been doing to inspect the newcomer, and Megan sat at her desk shamelessly staring at Helen.
"Uh, why don't we go to the break room and catch up?" he said, throwing meaningful glares at the ogglers.
From behind, Jim cleared his throat, and Blair turned to see the Sentinel standing next to the desk, an amused expression on his face.
"Oh right." A hint of red colored Blair's cheeks. "Jim this is Helen, my cousin." Then he looked back at Helen and smiled. "And this, Helen, is Jim, my roommate and partner."
Helen's smile brightened, something Jim would have thought impossible, and she extended her hand, her bright green eyes sparkling with pleasant surprise. "What a pleasure to meet you, Jim."
Jim shook her hand, returning the smile. "The pleasure's mine, ma'am."
"Shall we?" Blair gestured toward the doorway.
"Sure thing, sweetie," she said, and took off toward the hall.
Blair steered her into the deserted break room and closed the door behind him. Helen leaned against the table, smiling brightly. Her eyes swept over him, twinkling with merriment.
"Wow, Blair, you've changed. The dockers. The hair all pulled back. The shirt. You look almost respectable," she teased.
"Ha. Ha." A tiny smile touched his lips. "So what brings you here, Helen?"
"Actually, I was checking out Rainier. I'm thinking about getting an English degree."
"That's great!" he replied, "but what I really meant was what brings you here, to the police station."
"Oh!" she chuckled briefly. "I saw a purse snatching down near the university. I just finished giving my statement and making an ID of the guy. That's all. I was passing in the hall and saw you sitting at the desk. Nearly couldn't believe my eyes! Imagine! You working with the police?" she laughed again, slapping him lightly on the shoulder. "You haven't told them about all your protest antics, have you? Your tree hugging days? When we --"
"Not really," he said quickly, "but I'm sure it wouldn't come as a surprise to them."
Her smile faded, her eyes studying him. "Are you okay, Blair?"
"Huh?" He was taken aback by the directness of her question and the sudden concern in her eyes. "Yeah. Yeah. I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
A subtle crease touched her brow. "You seem different. At first I just thought 'more mature,' but it's more than that Blair. You're almost... I don't know... melancholy. Sad. Did I catch you at a bad time? Are things going okay for you?"
He raised his eyebrows in surprise, but plastered a smile on his face. "No. No. I'm fine. No you didn't catch me at a bad time." Good one, Blair. You haven't seen her in years and you're not even acting happy. Way to hurt her feelings. Amending his oversight, he leaned forward and pulled her into a quick hug. "I'm fine, really, and I'm very happy to see you. Ecstatic, actually." He pulled back, looking into her eyes. "Don't mind me, I'm just a bit tired. You know, the life of a grad stud -- I, uh, mean, a police consultant and all. You hungry? Wanna get some dinner?"
She brightened, nodding vigorously. "Absolutely. I'm starved."
"Great! Mind if I ask Jim along? You two can get to know one another -- but no embarrassing stories about me, okay?"
She laughed. "So you mean I can't talk about you at all, then?"
"Ha. Ha." He tugged on a strand of her hair. "You're a riot, Hel."
"Ooooh." She growled playfully. "You are so dead! You know I hate that name!"
He laughed and ducked out of the bullpen as she chased after him.
"So how are you two related, Chief?" Jim asked, glancing up from his menu to eye the two youngsters.
"Helen is Naomi's brother's daughter." Sandburg explained. "My cousin, like I said."
"Yep! Those good ol' Sandburg genes," she chuckled, looking at Blair. "So explain to me what you do with the police." She shook her head, a look of disbelief on her face. "Man, Blair, talk about weird! I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone. You? With the police?" Her smile faded, and she looked quickly to Jim. "Uh... No offense intended."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "I hear that."
Helen's smile returned. "Aha! Blair's been rubbing off on you, I see." She looked back at her cousin. "So? Fess up!"
Blair looked back and forth between Helen and Jim, feeling like a bug under a microscope. He fidgeted in his seat, idly fingering the edge of his menu. "Well, uh, I started as an observer with the department for my thesis project." He lowered his gaze, studying the menu. "That didn't really work out... The thesis, thing, I mean, so I got offered a paid position with the department. That's pretty much all there is to tell."
Dead silence met his explanation, and, after several unbelievably long seconds, he looked up to see a pair of green eyes staring at him. "What do you mean your thesis thing didn't work out? Naomi told me you were close to finishing."
Blair swallowed. He could feel Jim's eyes on him, but he didn't dare look at the older man. "Uh, well, I... uh... made some choices. Now I work with the PD. No big deal."
Her usually bright eyes dimmed, narrowed with concern. She's not buying it, Blair thought, looking quickly back at his menu. She always could see right through me, damnit.
"Are you a cop now?" she asked, her voice suspiciously subdued.
"I haven't gone to the academy yet," he explained. "Right now I'm like a paid consultant."
"Yet? So you are going to be a cop? With a gun and a badge and all?"
He shrugged, studying the dinner items on the menu. Chicken-Fried Steak. Fetuccini. Caesar Salad.
"Blair? Huh? You going to be carrying a gun, or what?" she repeated.
He finally pulled his gaze away from the menu. "Maybe. I don't know." Dropping his menu back to the table, he stood suddenly, his appetite shot to hell. "Look, Jim, Helen," he began. "I'm kinda feeling a bit under the weather right now, so why don't you two continue with dinner? I'll take a cab back home. See you later, Helen. Come by the loft after you're done dinner and we can catch up some more. Okay?" Yeah, right. God, why'd she have to show up NOW?
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and headed quickly for the doors. He'd just made it to the sidewalk when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned around to see Helen peering at him, her face a mask of concern. "What's going on with you?"
"You're lying to me, Blair. Come on, tell me the truth. If you don't, I'll just call Naomi and she'll --"
He put a hand on her elbow. "Okay. Look." Oh man, he did not want to go through this right now. "Helen, I... Well, about a year ago I met this woman." He shook his head, trying to organize the whirlwind of thoughts rushing through his brain. "To make a long story short, she was a criminal. I knew something she didn't want me to, and she killed me. Drowned me in the fountain at Rainier."
"Oh my God, Blair..."
He continued on, quickly. "Jim brought me back, but, yeah, I guess that experience affected me. You know, near-death-experience and all. I just... Well... I just figured out what was really important in my life. Did some re-evaluating. That's all."
She gazed at him for several quiet seconds before speaking. "So why are you so sad now?"
His throat tightened. "I'm not! I mean... I'm where I want to be. I like working with Jim, and I like the police department."
"What about anthropology? It's been your love for as long as I can remember."
Blair stiffened involuntarily. "People change."
She pursed her lips, her eyes scanning his face. Finally, she said, "You sure have, Blair. I don't know all of what's happened during the past five years to mess you up like this, but it's obvious you're not happy. You used to be like a little kid in a candy store all the time. You used to smile. Hell, you used to bounce! But now..." She shook her head, a flicker of sadness washing over her face. Gently, she placed a hand on his arm. "You're not a happy person, Blair. Anybody looking at you can tell. You need to find yourself again, because I know Blair Sandburg pretty darn well, and the person standing in front of me is not Blair Sandburg."
Helen watched the cab disappear around the corner, pondering the change in the young man that it carried in the backseat. She straightened suddenly, then turned and headed back into the restaurant where Jim Ellison waited at the table.
Words. She was going to have words with the buzz-cut cop that Blair called "partner." Ducking through the doors, she spotted him watching her, tracking her approach, his eyes cool and his jaw tight.
Military, she immediately thought. It was obvious. Army? Marines? She stopped and sank back into her seat, placing her hands on the table and leaning forward, her eyes pinning the man in front of her.
"What have you done to Blair?" she asked pointedly.
He pulled back, his eyes widening. "What the hell are you talking about?"
What the...? Ooooh! God, what an asshole! Man, some friend. Don't sit there and tell me you don't see anything wrong. She took several deep, calming breaths. No use jumping down the man's throat until she found out more about him.
"How long have you known my cousin?" she asked.
"About four years."
"I've known him my entire life," Helen told him. "I grew up with him. Granted, he and Naomi moved around a lot... So did I, actually... But we always hooked up whenever we could. We had fun together. I know him very well. The man I just saw is not Blair Sandburg. Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about, because, if you don't, then you're not his friend. You've known him four years, so you must remember what he was like back then. The spark in his eye. The bounce in his step. His infectious smile. His constant energy. Any of this sound familiar?"
"It's been four years. He's matured."
"Bullshit. He didn't mature. He died." She almost spat the word, but it seemed to have no affect on the stoic man, which only infuriated her. "He told me about that, how he almost died and how you saved him. But that's all he told me. Now he's some kind of cop. Do you have any idea how un-Blair like that is? I mean, we used to go to environmental protests. Chain ourselves to trees. Fight to save the whales. We used to fly in the face of authority. Work for peace. Blair, well, he's got a kind soul. I just can't see him packing lead, if you know what I mean," she finished bitterly.
Jim stared at her for a moment, then slowly rose from the table. "I don't know about you, but I'm not really hungry, anymore. You got someplace you want me to drive you?"
She bit the inside of her cheek. "No. I'm fine here. Thanks, anyway," she said flatly.
"Nice meeting you," Jim huffed, spinning on his heels and making a hasty retreat.
Blair gripped the edges of the faucet, studying his reflection in the mirror. He looked old. Deep lines framed his mouth and creased his forehead, and his eyes, now that he really looked at them, seemed different. Tired. Old.
That's how I feel. Old and tired. Worn out and Used up.
The man in the mirror gazed back at him, the eyes dark and accusing. Who are you?
"I don't know anymore," Blair answered.
Who am I now?
His heart skipped a beat, and he shifted, sinking onto the closed toilet lid. He remembered when he'd seen those words written in red on a different mirror years ago. That was when Lash had slipped through Jim's fingers, taunting him with the cryptic message. Only the message hadn't remained cryptic for long. Lash had already chosen his next victim. A shiver snaked down Blair spine, and he closed his eyes. Oh man, get a grip.
Lash had wanted to become Blair, even donning a wig to make himself look similar. Then the psycho had kidnapped him, almost killing him before Jim crashed in with his last-minute rescue.
Blair trembled again. What if he had? What if he'd killed me then and tried to become me? He lowered his forehead onto the cool porcelain. Good luck, Lash. You couldn't have been me. I'm not even me. I don't even remember who I was, or how to be that person. Helen's right. I used to be happy. I used to laugh at little things, smile for no reason. You liked that about me, Lash, didn't you? I remember. You liked that I was full of life. You wanted that. That zeal. That spark. Well, look at me now, man. I doubt you'd even give me a second look, which is fine by me, believe me. But I WAS different back then, wasn't I? I can remember that much, but, for the life of me, I can't remember HOW. What made me laugh? Why did I smile? Now... Well, now I just can't find that feeling.
He raised his head, glancing at the door. It was time for him to do something, time to find whatever it was that he had lost.
Jim heard the chaotic jungle music even before he entered the apartment building, and it pounded in sync with his headache. He clenched his jaw and headed to the elevator. Damnit, Sandburg, I've had a hell of a time putting up with your cousin. Can't I get some peace and quiet for once? He knew the kid was upset, and he was willing to give his partner some space, but he wasn't in the mood to be blown out of his own home by loud music.
He shook his head. Blair's cousin. Figures.. The nerve of some people. Where did this Helen lady get off? She'd known him for all of one hour and decided she knew everything there was to know about him. Typical Sandburg: mouth off first, think later.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the loft door, totally unprepared for the sight that greeted him. Jaw slack, he stepped inside, closing the door behind him and tossing his keys in the basket. His eyes scanned the mess, drifting over the papers, books, boxes, and photos that littered the living room area. Half-emptied boxes rested on the floor near the couch, and papers and photo albums littered the coffee table and sofa. Hell, the place almost looked like it had been ransacked.
"Sandburg." His voice was low, controlled, and he stepped further into the loft.
No answer. Frowning, he listened to the grating sounds coming from Blair's bedroom and decided to go see for himself what his roommate was up to.
"Sandburg, what's going on?" He walked through the French doors to see Blair kneeling in the center of his room in front of an open box, rifling frantically through the contents. The young man seemed oblivious to his approach. "Sandburg!" he yelled over the music, but Blair didn't turn around.
Teeth on edge, he stormed over to the small CD player and turned off the power, stopping the music cold and filling the room with a sudden, thick silence. Blair startled, looking up from the box, his face flushed.
"Yeah. I live here, remember. What the hell are you doing?"
He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a flicker of something dark touch Blair's face before he lowered his head and resumed his search. "Looking."
Jim sighed. It was promising to be a long night, and his headache threatened to gain momentum. "For what?"
"Care to be a tad more specific, Sandburg?"
Jim sighed. Great. Just Great. "Does this have something to do with what Helen said today?"
No answer. He waited several more seconds, but Blair didn't seem inclined to acknowledge the question. Fine! he thought. I definitely don't need this right now. He doesn't want to talk, that's fine with me. "Just clean up the mess when you're done, Chief. Okay?"
"Fine," Blair answered tersely.
Several hours later, Blair finished, exhausted. He'd searched. He'd torn apart his room. He'd gone through everything he'd collected over the past four or five years, but he still hadn't found it. He wasn't even sure what it was, but he knew it had to be in his room somewhere.
He'd found all sorts of other things, but none of them, either solely or collectively, had been what he'd wanted to find. Photos. Books. Letters. Journals. He's searched through them all, but he still hadn't found the answer.
Evidence. That's what he was looking for. Evidence of who he had been not-so-long ago. Evidence of why and how he had changed, and who this new person was that he'd become. Helen's words had struck a chord with him -- exposed a raw, naked part of his soul that he'd done a good job of ignoring until she pointed it out.
He looked at the mess strewn about his room. A photo album lay open on the floor, pictures of his fishing trip with Jim of two years ago plastered on the pages. He was smiling. Jim was laughing. The water and the sky surrounded them, blue and bright.
Tears stung Blair's eyes, and he looked away from the pictures. What the hell happened? Even as he asked the question, part of the answer sprung to mind. Alex.
True, things had started to change between him and Jim even before her arrival, but she'd managed to do a whole lot of damage all on her own. Hell, she had the distinct honor of being the one and only person to technically kill him. Jim had brought him back to life...
Or had he?
He swallowed. Some time after he and Jim had returned from Sierra Verde, the Sentinel had told him about The Dream. Jim had been running through the jungle. He saw a wolf, took aim with his bow and arrow, and shot the creature through the heart. The wolf fell, whimpered, then morphed into Blair. Dead.
Blair shivered. At first, he'd thought the meaning of the dream obvious. Jim had pushed Blair out of the loft and out of his life, and Alex had gotten to him -- killed him.
But what if the dream hadn't been a foreshadowing of Blair's murder at the hands of the evil Sentinel? What if it had been a warning of a different type? Or perhaps a revelation? A message that he, Blair Sandburg, had already changed?
Jim had aimed the arrow, driven it into Blair's heart, and killed him. Later, at the fountain, when his heart was stopped, he remembered the vision of the wolf and the jaguar. He was running through the jungle toward the black cat. He leaped into the air at the same time as the jaguar, and they collided. He and Jim. First two, then one.
The truth hit him so suddenly that it stole his breath. The dream. The vision. It all made sense. Blair Sandburg had died, and Jim had killed him, and that day at the fountain had resurrected someone else. The jaguar and the wolf had become one. The wolf had been consumed. Changed. Brought back by the jaguar -- but brought back as someone not quite the same.
And it did make sense. Jim Ellison had changed him. The Blair Sandburg of four years ago had been a very different person. He'd been free and independent, happy and alive. Now all he did was follow Jim around like a puppy dog. He'd given up his career for Jim, changed his life, done things he'd never thought he'd ever do. He'd held a gun, not once, but several times. Even fired it at people. He'd sacrificed his thesis, given up a career in anthropology -- his love -- to ensure Jim's well-being and to protect his privacy. Privacy he'd never really dealt for in the beginning. The deal had been simple. He would help Jim with his senses in return for using him as the subject of his thesis. Black and White. Simple. Only it hadn't been simple, and Jim had decided he didn't want to be known, which really meant no thesis.
And Blair had gone along with it because, somewhere along the way, he'd grown to love James Ellison. Only now he wondered if he belonged in Jim's life.
What has happened to me?
Taking stock, he started to dislike what he saw. First, Borneo. He'd given up an incredible opportunity to stay with Jim, because the friendship was more important to him than his career. Then, when Jim had read his thesis and blown up, he'd offered to tear it up. And he would have, too, because he'd meant what he'd said. He valued Jim's friendship more than his career. But was it really a friendship? That night, after the Sentinel had snuck into his thesis and read it, Jim had gone off about betrayal. "I gave you a job. A place to live."
Blair's face grew hot. Bullshit, Jim. What job? One that doesn't pay? It's not a job. It was never a job. It was a partnership. I thought you knew that. I thought you knew that I was helping you because I wanted to, because you were my friend.
Then later, when he'd confessed to helping Alex, even though he hadn't known who she really was at the time, Jim had accused him again of betrayal. Blair hadn't known that she was a criminal. He'd only known that she was a Sentinel and that she needed his help. Just like Jim had needed his help that day he'd walked in front of the garbage truck. All Blair had done was try to help her with her senses, to help her control the pain and, hopefully, get some more material for his thesis... especially since Jim hadn't seemed inclined to allow him to publish the Sentinel thesis. No thesis, no doctorate. It was a fact that Jim didn't seem to comprehend.
So Jim had thrown him out of the loft and told him to find "another subject." That had stung. Big time. It had actually hurt him worse than when Alex had hit him over the head and thrown him into the fountain.
But he'd come back from that, moved back into the loft, and resumed his work with Jim. Then came the clincher. Naomi had found his Sentinel thesis and turned it in. Jim's secret had gotten out, and, of course, the first person to get the blame had been him -- Blair Sandburg, the punching bag. Okay, so he hadn't been entirely blameless. He should have kept the thesis more secure, he could admit that much blame. But, still, it had hurt again when Jim accused him of betrayal. Jim hadn't even given him a real chance to explain. Later he'd found out that Naomi had turned it in, but that hadn't changed much for Jim. He'd still told Simon that he wanted to end the partnership. "His ride is over." That's what Jim had told the Captain, and those words still stung. Jim didn't know that Blair had found out what he'd said, and he'd never tell the Sentinel. But the words hurt hard, even now, and just thinking about them brought tears to his eyes.
He made a decision. Rising to his feet, he walked to his bureau
and retrieved the leather journal from the top drawer. He'd started this particular diary
after his near-death experience at the fountain, and he'd used up almost all the pages
since then. The journal helped him, allowing him to give voice to the turmoil that raged
inside him. First, he'd write it all out, get his feelings out in the open. Then he'd do
what he should have done months ago...
Jim awoke to the odd sound of singing. Mumbled, rhythmic words drifted upward, and he identified the voice as Blair's. His brow ridged with curiosity, he slid out of bed and trotted down the stairs. The French doors were closed, and he cocked his head, listening. He couldn't make out the words. Actually, he wasn't even sure if they were English.
"Blair?" he inquired, loud enough for the young man to hear.
He got no response, and shuffled over to the doors. Trying the knob, it turned easily, and he peeked his head inside. "Sandburg? What are you doing?"
He spotted the young man on the bed, buried up to his chin beneath a mound of covers. His eyes were closed, and he lay on his back, his brow beaded with sweat. His lips moved, chanting the strange song.
"Blair." Jim sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed Blair's shoulder, giving his partner a firm shake. "Wake up, Sandburg. Come on."
Blair remained oblivious, trapped in whatever dream ailed him. He continued to sing the unfamiliar melody. The song was hum-like in quality, the words strung out so that, even if they were in English, Jim couldn't decipher one from the next.
"Chief, come on, buddy, wake up."
The song picked up speed, the pitch rising in intensity. Blair turned his head away from Jim, curling toward the wall as he continued the chant. Jim chewed the inside of his cheek, a pang of fear growing in his chest. This was becoming downright eerie. He couldn't be sure, but he thought the song sounded vaguely like some that Incacha had sung during Jim's time with the tribe, but he couldn't be sure if the words were Chopec, English, or another language entirely.
The song faded, and Blair shifted deeper beneath the covers. Jim listened to his friend's breathing and heartbeat. Both were extremely slow, almost too slow for sleep. He frowned, shaking Blair's shoulder in another attempt to wake him.
"Come on, Sandburg," he said more harshly. "I'm not fooling around here. Wake up!"
Blair mumbled, turning his head and cracking an eyelid open to peer at him. "Jim?"
"Yes, it's me." He nearly breathed a sigh of relief. "Are you okay?"
Blair turned back to the wall, waving him off. "Fine," he slurred, his voice heavy. "Go'way. Leave me'lone. Tired."
"What were you singing?" Jim asked.
"What're you talkin'bout?"
"Just now. You were singing."
"Sorry," Blair mumbled. "Go back t'sleep, Jimmmm."
Jim sat for a moment longer, his jaw clenched. Finally, he decided he'd get nowhere with Blair and rose to his feet, making a quiet exit.
The next day, Jim came home from a long and exhausting day of work. Blair had taken the day off, claiming illness. Jim hadn't bought the story for a second, but he'd let the young man be. He knew something was bothering Blair, and he knew it had to do with what Helen had said earlier. He'd thought he and Blair had gotten past all that. Sure, they'd had their rough spots, but they'd patched up their partnership and gotten back to the grind of life. So why dredge it all up again?
He slid the key in the lock, knowing even before he opened the door that Blair wasn't home by the conspicuous lack of a heartbeat. What he didn't expect was the sight that greeted him. Yesterday, he'd opened the door to chaos. Today, he opened the door to emptiness.
The loft was neat. Too neat. His eyes floated over the apartment, noticing the bare spots on the walls that had just that morning been covered by Blair's things - a mask, a poster. He looked at the coffee table. No papers cluttered its surface. The whole living room and kitchen looked spic and span, spotless even to Sentinel eyes.
Slowly, he made his way to Blair's bedroom, opening the French doors. A lump formed in his throat when he realized just what had happened.
Empty. It's all empty. The walls were bare. The futon mattress naked, the sheets and covers folded neatly at the foot of the bed. No books rested in the bookshelf, nor on the desk. The closet door hung open, the rack empty.
His stomach felt like a block of concrete, and he staggered backward out of the room. A piece of white paper caught his eyes, and he walked over to the refrigerator, staring at his name scrawled on the folded binder paper. How had he missed the note before?
Quickly, he snatched the note from its magnet and opened it, reading the cursive that he knew to be Blair's handwriting:
'Jim. I don't know how to start this letter, but I'll try my best to make you understand. I have to leave. I left you next month's rent money on your dresser. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, so I put my stuff in storage at a friend's place. You have every right to be mad, and I'm sorry to do it this way. I just couldn't tell you in person. I knew what I'd see in your eyes and, I'm sorry, but right now I'm just not that strong. I don't know if I'll be back, but I'll try. I have to sort some things out in my head first. If I'm not back by the first of next month, well, do what you want with the room. Actually, I guess you can do what you want with it, now. It's your place. It always has been. Tell Simon I'm sorry for leaving like this. Helen's right. I'm not made to be a cop. I loved working with you, Jim. I loved the thrill, and I loved helping people and making a difference, but I loved being an anthropologist, too, and I realize that I miss that part of my life. If I come back, I hope I'll still have your friendship, but I'll understand if you never want to see or talk to me again. I know what you're thinking. I hate to leave like this, so I left you my journal. It's on your dresser with the money. I hope you'll read it. I hope the words make sense to you, and that you understand. It's the only way I could think of to tell you what I'm feeling. I can't talk to you. You know that. We both know that. You clam up whenever I even mention my feelings, especially when I talk about dying. Sorry, Jim, I'm not as strong as you. I can't keep it all bottled up. I tried, and it didn't work. It just made me a mess, and now I'm trying to clean up some of that mess. I wouldn't be any good to you there, anyway. Not until I find myself - and yes, I know how "new age" that sounds. But it's true. Somewhere along the way, I lost myself. I really did die that day at the fountain. I just hope it's not too late. Take care, buddy. Please be careful. I'll miss you.'
Jim's hand closed, the paper crumpling in his fist. He'd never felt the kind of pain that he did now... except when he'd found Blair floating face-down in Rainier's fountain. It was a pain of loss, like his heart had just been ripped out of his chest. He'd felt it the first time he'd thought he'd lost Blair, and he felt it now. He didn't know where Blair had gone, or even really why he had left, but he knew one thing: he couldn't stand the God-awful feeling in his chest a moment longer.
Blair hadn't written ahead, obviously, so he knew Brother Marcus wouldn't be expecting him. That meant he'd have to hike from his car to the monastery, since there'd be no bus transport. Fortunately, he'd packed light, a skill he'd developed after years of moving around. It wasn't until he'd settled in with Jim that he'd begun to accumulate more permanent possessions, allowing himself the luxury of collecting a few treasured books - books that were now sitting in a box in Dave's garage.
Swinging his school back-pack over his shoulders, he took off toward the monastery. He'd packed one change of clothes and some toiletry items. He knew Brother Marcus would let him use some of the old goodwill clothes they kept for just such occasions. The monastery was a place of retreat and reflection, an open door for those with tired, wounded souls. He hoped it would be just what he needed.
Some time later, as dusk fell, he reached the perimeter of the monastery. The cool evening wind tousled his hair, and he jammed his hands in his jacket pockets to ward off the chill. A serene quiet flowed over the land, a quiet that had been his companion since he'd left the Volvo and begun the hike. It was the kind of quiet that left a person with no choice but to listen to his thoughts, thoughts that Blair would rather drown out with loud music.
Still, it was a peaceful quiet, and he tilted his head back a fraction, looking up at the fading blue sky. A few stars were already visible, most notably Venus on the horizon. Okay, so Venus wasn't a star, but it was bright nevertheless. He remembered reading that President Ford had mistaken the planet for a UFO once. He wasn't too sure if it was a true story, because, as he gazed at the bright planet hanging low in the evening sky, he couldn't for the life of him figure out how Venus could be confused with a "flying saucer."
He looked around, but the place seemed deserted. Quiet. Dinner time, he figured. He shouldn't have arrived so late. It just wasn't polite to interrupt their meal, but, unfortunately, he hadn't been entirely sure how long it would take him to hike the distance.
Walking up the steps, he pushed on the front doors, and the right one swung open easily. They are such a trusting bunch. Even still, after the bloodshed last time...
The last time he had visited the monastery with Jim. The Sentinel hadn't been too happy when he'd found out his vacation time was going to be spent at a monastery rather than a luxurious resort, but the place had grown on him. He'd even found himself having fun, but then the killings had started, turning their vacation into a nightmare. Typical. Trouble seemed to follow him and Jim wherever they went. He just hoped his visit this time would be more uneventful. Relaxing. He didn't think he was up to handling another crisis. Not this time. He'd reached the end of his rope, dangling by a tenuous thread above the Black Pit.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole...
Invictus, one of his favorite poems because it exalted the unconquerable human spirit -- only his spirit wasn't feeling all that unconquerable as of late. He swallowed, stepping into the building and closing the door behind him. He figured the most likely place to find Brother Marcus was at the dining table, so he headed toward the kitchen area. Moments later, he heard the soft hum of voices, and, taking a deep breath, pushed through the door and entered the dining room.
The conversation came to an abrupt halt as the table full of men looked up at him. He blushed, ducking his head, resisting the urge to back right out and run for the hills.
"Blair?" Brother Jeremy rose from the table.
Brother Marcus stood also, smiling brightly. "What are you doing here? Did you write? I didn't get any letter? Did you walk all the way here, Blair? I'm so sorry, if I'd have known -"
Blair raised his hands, smiling. "No. I'm sorry, Brother Marcus, I didn't write. I, uh, didn't exactly have time. I hope you don't mind." He glanced at Brother Jeremy. "I hope it's okay that I just barged in like this. I don't mean to interrupt your dinner. You guys eat up, I'll just wait -"
"Oh don't be absurd," Brother Jeremy replied, walking up to him and taking the backpack. "Come to the dinner table, Blair. We'll make you up a plate." He set the backpack on the floor next to the door and guided Blair over to one of the empty chairs. "You must be starved after that long hike. After dinner, we'll get you settled in a room. Okay?"
Blair's eyes stung, and an unexpected warmth filled his chest as Brother Jeremy pushed him gently into the vacant chair. This was what it felt like to be welcome. He could see it in the eyes of his two friends, Brother Jeremy and Brother Marcus. Especially Brother Marcus, his old friend - the father he'd never had. The older man smiled at him, his eyes twinkling, and he winked. Blair couldn't help the smile that brightened his face, and he settled in the chair, so very certain that he'd made the right decision by coming here.
"I'll go get you a plate, Blair," Brother Marcus said, moving from the table.
"Thank you," Blair muttered shyly, somewhat nervous by all the eyes focused on him.
Moments later, Brother Marcus returned carrying a bowl, a plate, and a cup of water, doing an impressive balancing act. He set the items down in front of Blair, offering a warm smile, then patted him on the shoulder and took his seat.
"So what brings you here, Blair?" Brother Marcus asked.
Blair dipped his spoon into the steaming soup. "Uh." He didn't want to lie to Brother Marcus, but he didn't want to tell the truth either. First, he doubted he could even explain the truth, because he didn't exactly know it himself. Second, he didn't want to spill his guts in front of an audience. "I kind of need some downtime." He looked up from his soup bowl and flashed a shaky smile. "You know. Get away from the big city for awhile." There must have been a hint of pain in his voice or in his eyes because Brother Marcus' smile dropped just a fraction, and his eyes mellowed, taking on a fatherly glint.
"Well you have all the time you need, here, my son," Brother Marcus said. "You and I can talk later, catch up on things, and you can tell this old man all about your adventures in the real world." He chuckled lightly at that comment, and Blair felt like a small weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
With his own bashful smile, Blair dug into his soup, letting the rich aroma and delicate taste lull him into contentment.
Jim sat on the couch, staring at the worn journal in his lap. He hadn't opened the cover yet. Instead, he just sat quietly, staring at the cover and inhaling the achingly familiar scent that lingered on the leather.
This is all that's remains of him. All I have left. He couldn't talk to me, so he left. Just like Carolyn. Just like everyone else. I pushed him away. He needed me, and I wasn't there for him, and now all I have of him is this journal. He tells me to read it, but he doesn't stick around to give me a chance to make things right. So what am I supposed to do with this? Read it and know that, no matter what it says, there's nothing I can do because he hasn't told me where he went and he doesn't even think he's coming back? Is that what I'm supposed to do, Chief?
The anger started to rise, but he pushed it back down quickly. Anger had never gotten him anywhere except right where he was now -- alone in an empty loft. He'd gotten angry at Blair after reading the thesis, and his anger had pushed Blair a little further away. Then he'd gotten angry at Blair for Alex, and that had nearly killed the young man. Then, again, he'd gotten angry when he'd found out the Sentinel secret was out, and he'd hurt Blair again, accusing him of betrayal. Then Blair had discredited his research to save Jim's reputation, and they had patched things up once more. Only he was wrong. Blair had never healed after Alex. He'd just put on this mask and gone on with his life, because that's what he did. He was a survivor. And I was blind.
Gabriel, the self-proclaimed angel who Blair had taken a liking to, had said it all. "What good is it for a man to have ears that can hear for a thousand miles, if he does not listen to the hearts of others." No good. No good at all.
God, Blair, I'm sorry. Why couldn't you just have talked to me? Sat me down and made me listen. If I'd known it was hurting you this much, I would have listened. I would have tried to help you.
Finally, he mustered the courage to open the journal. Blair's writing, neat and compact, filled the page. Usually, Blair's handwriting was large and free-flowing, but these words were written in small, delicate type, as though Blair had taken his time writing each word.
May 25th, 1998
I died yesterday. I figure that merits my starting a new journal. You know -- new beginning, new journal, new life. Things were looking pretty bad there for awhile. Jim threw me out, just like that. No warning. Nothing. I just walked into the loft and there were these boxes everywhere. Boxes with MY stuff. He was leaving and he told me he wanted me out by the time he got back. I couldn't believe it. Sometimes there just aren't words, and right now I just don't have the words to describe what I was feeling.
Anyway, so I went to a hotel and I didn't get much sleep. Next day I met with Alex to help her with her senses. Jim's right, I guess. I have lousy instincts when it comes to women. I just wanted to help her, really. Plus I was really happy to find another Sentinel, especially since things weren't looking to stable with Jim. I told Jim once that I'd rather just be friends, and I meant it. The Sentinel stuff kept getting in the way. Like that time when I was sitting in the truck and we were looking for Incacha, he told me he didn't want the Sentinel senses, and I had to open my big mouth. I told him that that would mean the end of our partnership. I mean, it's not like he has much use for me other than for this Sentinel business. He barely looked at me. Just asked if I was "worried about" my dissertation.
It's my fault, I guess. I kept making those cracks about "book rights" and "movie rights". Yeah, okay, so I was excited to find a Sentinel, but that was just supposed to be a "business" thing. I never expected to become his friend. God, I mean, I threw myself in front of a garbage truck the first time he came to see me. Part of me was just reacting because I didn't want to see the one and only known living Sentinel bite the dust. But, it was like, even then, there was a part of me that just reacted because... well... it's weird, but I can't explain it. It was like, I saw this garbage truck and something took over and, the next thing I know, the truck's running over us and I'm thinking, "Holy fucking shit, what the hell did I just do, and oh-man I'm still alive!" It's kind of funny, now that I think about it. I nearly messed my boxers.
So, anyway, turns out Alex is a criminal. Like Iris. I can really pick them, can't I? I'm such an idiot! I just want to go crawl in a hole and never come out. I mean, look at this. Look at my life right now. It's just not at all like I pictured it, and I keep screwing things up. I don't know how NOT to screw things up. I mean, I think I'm doing the right thing at the time, and then it turns out to be the wrong thing, and I end up feeling like an ass because, well, let's face it, I'm a liability a lot of the times.
She tried to kill me. She DID kill me, actually. So, time for the big question. What was death like? Did I see a light? Man, it's so weird. I sort of remember bits and pieces of things, when she knocked me over the head. It's kind of blurry, but I do remember hitting the water. I don't remember much after that, except that there was this incredible pain in my chest, and I don't think it was just from the water rushing into my lungs. I remember thinking that I shouldn't have left Jim like that. Naomi always taught me to "depart with love," but that time I didn't. Jim thought I'd betrayed him, and all I could think about while my body was dying was that I couldn't tell him I was sorry, and I couldn't try to make things better, and I would die with those words hanging between us. That was the worst thing about it. God. That was worst than anything.
But Jim brought me back. I remember running through the jungle, and there was this jaguar heading toward me. We both jumped in the air at the same time (I think I was a wolf) and then we collided and there was this burst of light. Next thing I know, I'm coughing up water and there are all these people standing around me, and, of course, my chest hurt like hell. I sort of opened my eyes, and I could have sworn I heard Jim's voice. Only he wasn't there and all I could see were these guys in blue and they put this thing over my face -- an oxygen mask, I know now. I think I was on my side, just trying to breath in and out. It hurt a lot, but all I wanted was to see Jim and tell him that I was sorry and would he please give me another chance. But he wasn't there, and I that's when I knew he had meant it. End of partnership. I could almost hear him say, "This is the last time I'm gonna pull your butt out of the fire, Chief. No more holding your hand. No more baby-sitting. You're on your own." Of course, I wasn't in my most rational mind at the time, so I know my emotions and everything were sort of raw. I was scared and I had no idea what was happening. I mean, now that I think about it, I can put it in a semi-logical order, and I can distance myself a bit.
But... God, God, God. I would never, ever say this aloud, but God, waking up was real bad. Not as bad as dying, but bad. I hurt so much, all over, deep down inside, too. There was this weird buzzing in my head, and all I wanted was for someone to hold me and rock me and tell me everything was going to be all right. A big baby, I know, and I'll never admit that out loud, but, God, it's a terrible feeling... that kind of aloneness.
Jim's vision blurred, and he closed his eyes, pushing the budding tears onto his cheeks. The journal was hell to read, tearing through his chest like a knife, each word killing him slowly. He took several moments to quell the tide of emotion that threatened to overwhelm his senses, and finally opened his eyes to continue. The handwriting, at least, was starting looking more like Blair's usual style, with long, hurried strokes.
I don't remember the ride to the hospital very well. Anyway, the doctors checked me over, left me alone, then Jim came and it was like things were back to normal. He's joking about me getting the nurses' phone numbers, and how I owe him last month's rent. Good thing, too, because if he hadn't joked, I'd have probably just broken down, melted into a bluthering idiot, and that would have been horrible. Jim already thinks of me like a kid, some little, stupid kid who needs to be kept out of trouble and looked after. That would have just solidified the image.
Anyway, the meds are starting to take over, so I guess I'd better go.
Jim turned the page quickly, needing to read on, to find out why his partner felt he had to leave.
June 10th, 1998
It's been a while since my last entry. A lot of stuff has happened, and I'm too tired to go into it all. Weird stuff, at any rate. Jim and I went to Sierra Verde after Alex. Okay, well, Jim and Simon went after Alex and then I went after them, the tag-along. It's what I do. Megan came with me. She's been pretty great. She found out about Jim's Sentinel senses during the trip and, well, she's acted pretty cool about it all.
Anyway, I can't go into everything here. It would take a book, and I just don't have the kind of energy for that at the moment. A quick summary will have to do. Jim was weird. It was like he was really being affected by Alex. I'm thinking it had to do with some genetic pull. You know, how salmon return to their spawning ground. Jim would probably break my neck if I explained it to him in those terms, but that's the best analogy I can think up at the moment. Pure instinct. Sentinel genes need to proliferate, so it makes sense that there'd be a strong reproductive drive between two Sentinels who are on neutral territory.
That's what my mind's saying. My heart, though, is saying something entirely different. It was a shock, to say the least, when I left the church to go after Jim. There he was on the beach with Alex, his tongue down her throat. In one second, my whole world came crashing down. There was the woman who had KILLED me, the woman who had a canister of gas and could care less how many people it killed, and Jim was just about to fuck her. She saw me then. She grabbed Jim's gun from his holster and pointed it at me. But what really got to me was that Jim didn't react. Not at first. I raised my hands thinking I just might die for real this time, and I was devastated. Come on, Jim. Anytime, man. I mean, it takes, like, less than half a second to pull a trigger and she's already had way more time than that.
So finally, bless his soul, he raises his hand to hers, lowers the gun, and says, "No. Don't" or something like that. I was so touched. Really, Jim, try to show a bit more enthusiasm, big guy.
And here I am crying like a child. I'm being selfish, I know. Selfish and petty. But, damnit, it hurts. It really hurts to know that he was so focused on the woman who had killed me. I mean, I thought I meant more to him than that. Arrogant, I know, but I really thought that we had this bond and that, after the vision with the wolf and the panther, we had connected somehow. Instead, he seemed way more connected to her. God, the way he was with her... so gentle and caring. It turned my stomach. That was the hardest thing I'd ever had to watch. I was jealous. There - I said it. God, I was so damn jealous! It hurt me so much, and it still hurts. I haven't talked to him about it, because I know what he'd say. Just what he said on the beach when I asked him what was going on. He doesn't know. He wasn't in control of himself. I know that. In my head, I can rationalize it. In my heart, well, it hurts like hell.
The phone rang, thrashing Jim's concentration. He leaned back into the couch, tilting his head up to the ceiling, but he made no move to answer the phone. Then, on the third ring, the thought occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, it was Blair calling, and he was off the couch in less than a heartbeat.
"Ellison." he barked quickly into the receiver, holding his breath.
"Jim, is Sandburg there?" Simon's voice inquired.
Jim closed his eyes, dropping back to the couch. "No, sir. He's gone."
"Gone?" A brief pause. "As in gone for good?"
He clenched his eyes closed. "Yes, sir."
"Sir?" Jim's head shot up. The Captain didn't sound particularly surprised.
"He left a box for me, full of his Sentinel research. There's also a letter of resignation," Simon informed him.
Jim swallowed. "He told me to tell you that he's sorry he left like this. I guess he figured you'd be mad."
"Mad? Hell, yes I'm mad. I mean, he just up and leaves. Yeah, I'm mad, but more than that I'm worried. He's stuck it out through a whole lot of shit. So why now? What's going on here, Jim? Why'd he leave? Did you two have a fight?"
"Not exactly," he replied tiredly. He didn't have the energy to explain it to the Captain. Hell, he wasn't entirely clear on the matter himself.
A sigh, then: "I'll be there in twenty minutes, Jim."
Jim opened his mouth to protest, but the connection ended abruptly.
Blair dropped his backpack next to the bed and turned around as the older man closed the door.
"Thank you, Brother Marcus. I appreciate your taking me in like this on such short notice," Blair said.
Brother Marcus gazed at him, a silent inquiry in his eyes. "Blair, my boy, what's wrong?"
Blair swallowed, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Am I that transparent?"
"You always have been." When Blair looked up, Brother Marcus continued. "It's something I've always liked about you. You have an honest face, one that does not hide behind the mask of apathy like so many others."
He felt the hot tears well in his eyes, and, in the next moment, found himself in Brother Marcus' arms, wrapped in a firm embrace. It felt so good to be comforted, just to be hugged, that the floodgates opened, releasing the pain he'd kept pent up for so long.
Jim expected the knock. He'd heard the car pull up front, the footsteps enter the building, then the ding and whoosh of the elevator. The residual odor of cigar tickled his nose, and he rose from the couch, opening the door on the third knock.
"Captain." He nodded curtly.
Simon dropped his hand to his side, eyeing Jim critically. "You look like hell."
"Thank you, sir." He stepped aside, allowing the Captain entry.
"You going to tell me what happened now?" Simon asked, taking a seat in one of the armchairs.
Jim sighed, sinking back onto the couch, the leather journal resting on the cushion next to him. "He ran into his cousin yesterday, Helen. She said some things... Things that got to him. Talked about how he'd changed so much, all that. I don't know, Simon." He raised one hand to squeeze the bridge of his nose. "It got to him, I guess. I thought we were okay, but he seemed really shaken up by what she'd said. I came home, he was rifling through boxes. Said he was looking for something, but he wouldn't tell me what. I had a killer headache, and I snapped at him, I guess. Then I went upstairs. I went to work the next morning, but he said he was sick so I let him be. When I came home, he was gone. He left me a note, next month's rent, and his journal. He said he wasn't sure if he'd be back, but he'd try. Told me to rent out his room if he wasn't back by the first of next month." He buried his face in his hands, feeling suddenly very tired. "God, Simon, I really don't think he's coming back."
Simon remained silent for several seconds, and Jim finally looked up, wondering what his Captain was thinking. Simon sat slouched in the chair, his eyes on the journal. "Do you have any idea where he went?"
Jim shook his head. "None, sir."
"Gone. I guess he took it."
"We can put out an A.P.B. on it," Simon said.
"That's only good in our area. I doubt he'd stay local. He's probably long gone by now, sir," Jim countered.
"We can send it out to other jurisdictions."
Jim shook his head. "No. It's too dangerous that way. I don't want him hurt or taken into custody. Besides, if we do that, and he finds out, it'll just push him farther away from me. I'd rather he come back on his own, then I can talk to him. Maybe figure out what's really eating at him."
"You honestly don't know, Jim?"
He shook his head. "Sort of. I mean, I know... Well, I know he's been different since... the fountain, and I know losing his job at the university hit him hard. I just don't know why he felt he had to leave all of a sudden. He didn't even talk to me, didn't say a word, just packed up and took off."
"He's hurting, Jim. Anyone who looks at him can tell. Even Joel's mentioned it to me, asked about him. Megan, too."
Jim looked up, his eyes tinged with red. "I know, Simon, but I don't know how to help him. Even if I could find him, I still wouldn't know what to do."
Brother Marcus sat on the empty bed -- the same bed that Jim Ellison had occupied last time he and Blair had come to visit. They had stayed in this very room. Blair had seemed a lot happier back then, well, before the killings had started. Even then, although serious and subdued, his passion and love for life still shone through. Now, looking at the young man curled on top of the covers on the other bed, Brother Marcus couldn't help but wonder what had happened to turn the once vibrant young man so melancholy.
Blair had cried himself to sleep in Marcus' arms, obviously exhausted from his long hike. Probably hasn't been sleeping very well, either, by the way he looks. The dark circles beneath Blair's eyes and the noticeable lines in his face told Marcus that Blair's troubles, whatever they may be, had kept him awake many nights.
He sighed, shifting on the bed, and continued to study his young friend. Blair hadn't told him much about what had brought him to the monastery. He'd just cried -- cried so hard that he couldn't talk. It had been heartbreaking to listen to such overwhelming sounds of grief and pain. Later, he'd have to try to get Blair to open up, to talk about what ailed him. For now, though, the young man needed sleep. Marcus stood from the bed, pulled the covers off, and draped them gently over Blair. Ever so quietly, he tip-toed out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Jim woke up suddenly, feeling a warm wetness on his cheeks. He'd fallen asleep on the couch, he realized, and pushed himself into a sitting position. He raised one hand and felt his cheek.
Tears. He'd been crying, apparently, but he didn't remember dreaming. Brushing the tears away quickly, he looked at the journal that had fallen to the floor. He'd read much of it after Simon had left, but he'd apparently fallen asleep before finishing. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was 3 a.m.
Where are you right now, Blair? What are you doing? He leaned his head back against the cushions and gazed blankly up at the ceiling. He knew that Blair had hit the rode, alone and with very little money since he had paid next month's rent in advance. With the Volvo's dubious history and Blair's penchant for trouble, Jim couldn't help but worry. Just be okay, Chief. Please, just be okay.
He looked back down at the journal, then leaned forward and picked it up off the floor. Quickly, he flipped through the pages, finding the spot at which he'd left off.
July 28, 1999
'Who am I now?'
Jim stopped breathing, stunned by words he'd never expected to read again, much less in Blair's handwriting. Blair hadn't spoken much about Lash after that first night, but Jim had heard the nightmares -- nightmares that still occasionally afflicted his partner. Unfortunately, the nightmares about Lash had been replaced with a whole new set of nightmares.
Taking a slow breath, he continued to read.
That's what Lash wrote on the mirror. Today, I got it. I mean, I really got it. I think that, more than anything, freaks me out. I found myself thinking about how I've changed over the past few years. I remember what I was like back when Lash chose me as his next victim. Scary, but I now know why. I was younger, much younger, maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally. I was bouncy and lively and just generally happy. I mean, I had this ENERGY! I was so incredibly optimistic, and, yeah, I thought a little too highly of myself. So when I screwed up that time in the church, man, it hit me hard. All of a sudden, I was out of my element. I'd just been trying to help, but I was just so STUPID, and Lash had gotten away. Ironic, because maybe if I hadn't tipped Lash off in the church, he'd have been caught right then and there... and then he'd have never gotten to me.
So, back to what I was saying. I know why Lash focused on me: he wanted my passion. All he'd known, his whole life, was misery. Granted, he was messed up even as a kid, probably a chemical imbalance, I'm sure. But he'd only seen the dark side of life, and me, well, at that time, I really hadn't seen all that much misery and death. Sure, I traveled a lot, and I had quite a lot of experience that way under my belt, but I tended to view the world through rose-colored glasses, as they say. I thought of people as inherently good. I loved life. Little things made me happy. I'd dance to a tune in my head all of a sudden, for no reason, whether in my office, at the grocery store, or standing in line. I got a lot of weird looks, though. At the time, I didn't give it much thought, but now I do. Now I look back and I think: what happened? Where did that guy go? Who am I now?
It gives me the shivers, makes me sick. If Lash were here today, he wouldn't even give me a second look. I'm worn-out. Used up. Tired. I looked in the mirror today, and it just CLICKED. It's what some would call an epiphany, I guess, when all of a sudden, your perceptions change. Things that were always familiar seem suddenly new and strange. Things that seem normal suddenly appear absurd. Life itself seems like nothing but a dream. This time it was my own reflection -- the person looking back at me -- that seemed strange. A stranger. I could tell. I hadn't really noticed it before, but today I saw it, and it scared the hell out of me. It SCARES the hell out of me.
I don't even recognize myself anymore. There's this huge, empty, aching whole in my chest, and, God, but I don't know how to fill it up -- how to make it go away. It hurts so much, I don't know how I ever ignored it, but it has been there ever since... well... I'm not sure. Maybe about the time Jim read my thesis after I told him not to. Maybe when he kicked me out. I think it started way back then, but it's grown. Now its all I know. I try. I really do. I try to put on a good face and go about my life, but each day just gets worse. I thought eventually it would go away, that I'd get past it, but I haven't, and it shows no signs of letting up. There's no one I can talk to. No one. Not Jim. Definitely not Simon. Not even a shrink because I couldn't mention the Sentinel stuff, which is a big part of it. Naomi's not really around, and, even if I did talk to her, she'd probably just tell me it had to do with the police work. My being exposed to all the darker elements. Hell, she's probably right. I miss anthropology. I miss immersing myself in another culture, going on expeditions, learning new things. With anthropology, I got to see a lot of the good in people. Mine is a study of people. Of humanity. The differences and similarities. The common threads and the spectrum of colors. But that's something I can never do again. No grant money. No expeditions.
You know, I think I could even live with that. Just because I'm not getting my Ph.D. doesn't mean I'm not an anthropologist. One doesn't need a license to study human nature, and it's what I do. It just comes naturally. It excites me, you know, when I see connections between two vastly different cultures. It reinforces that we really are all just human, forged from a common origin, and, despite our differences in religion, color, beliefs, and tradition, at the core we're all the same.
I really think I can be okay without my Ph.D., if I could just find a way to fill this big hole in my chest. Maybe the whole anthropology thing is part of why that hole is there, but I think it's more than that. I just don't know what it is, exactly. I don't know what I need. That's frightening -- knowing something's so very wrong, but not having a clue as to how to fix it.
I've gotten off-track, which is fine, I suppose, since this is MY journal. If only I knew what I was trying to say, maybe I could get to the point, but I don't know what I want to say. I don't know how to describe what I feel. Things just aren't right. In fact, they're all wrong. Like in a sci-fi when history is changed or there's some alternate dimension and things are just all WRONG, so horribly, horribly wrong. That's how I feel. Like this isn't supposed to be the way things are. I'm not supposed to be like this. I'm not supposed to be carrying a badge and planning on going to the academy. I'm not supposed to be this sad all the time. I've lost myself, and this feeling just won't go away until I fix that... If I can fix that. Maybe that person is gone for good. Maybe too much has happened for me to ever go back to being that happy kid who dances to music in his head. But right now I'd just settle for smiling. You know, one real, genuine, heart-warming smile. The kind you feel down to your toes. I can't remember when the last time was that I smiled like that. It's like whatever part of the psyche that's needed for that is just broken inside me. I smile. I laugh even, sometimes, but it doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel real, and I don't know if Jim can tell, but he doesn't seem to pay much attention. He listens to me a bit more, most of the time. That's better, at least. He doesn't scoff as much when I start talking about the mystical stuff, but that's only because of his experiences at the fountain and when we went after Alex. He's seen that side of reality, so he can't keep denying that it exists.
I just don't know what to do.
Helen visited me today. That's what set a lot of this off. I mean, yeah, I was feeling it before, but she really pushed me into taking a good, hard look at myself. She told me that I wasn't the same person. That I looked sad. The more she talked, the worse I felt. Till I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't look at it, it hurt too much. I ran. I got the hell out of there. I came back here, looked in the mirror, and the walls came tumblin' down.
Blair Sandburg died that day at the fountain, and something else got resurrected. Something dark and ugly. I'm not saying I'm some kind of a monster, but I'm not a good person on the inside anymore. I'm not bad, or anything like that, but I'm not good. I'm not happy like I used to be. I'm sad. Really, really sad almost all the time. I've lost whatever it was that made me WHO I was.
When Kincaid took over the stadium, after Jim rescued us, I took a gun and started firing it at people. I've done that before, when we went to visit Jim's cousin, but, God, that was like a major life-and-death thing and I didn't WANT to take the gun. I tried to say NO at first, but Jim just shoved it in my hand. I tried very hard not to hit anybody. I don't know what I would have done had I killed someone. This time, though, I just took the gun like it was the most natural thing in the world and started firing.
Who the hell am I? What's next. I go to the academy, start packing, and then, one day, pull out my gun and shoot someone? That's a line I don't want to cross. God help me, but I don't ever want to know what it's like to take a human life. What will happen to me if I have to kill? One of two things: I'll either get over it, or I won't. I don't like either prospect all that well. I mean, if I get over it, what does that say? Next time it gets easier, right? Just a little bit. I'll learn to justify it, to accept it. I'm not saying that I'll learn to LIKE it, but just that I'll learn to deal with it... and that's when Blair Sandburg will be forever gone.
And what if I don't get over it? Same difference. Padded white room and a straight jacket. Talk about a rock and hard place.
So what now? I try to look at the future, but all I see is this big blackness. I just wish someone could tell me what I need to do. What will happen to me now?
But no one can tell me. No one can help. I have to do something, or else I'm going to go insane. I'm not sure what it is that I need to do, but it's something different.
July 29, 1999
I'm all packed, and I feel like I'm going to die all over again. This is it. This is really it. I'm leaving. I didn't think it would hurt this much, but God, it does. I'm scared. I don't know what will happen now. There's a huge part of me that doesn't want to leave, that just wants to crawl back into my bed and bury under the covers and wait till Jim comes home. But I can't do that. If he comes home, I won't be able to do this... and I have to do this. I have to leave. I have to get away from all this and take my OWN time to sort things out. To think. To try to find Blair Sandburg.
Please forgive me, Jim. If I find what I'm looking for, I'll
come back. I don't expect that you'll want to have anything to do with me after this, but
please know that I haven't done this to hurt you. I love you like a brother, but this is
something I have to do for myself. I hope you can understand. I hope you can forgive me.
If not, that's okay. It's not your fault, it's mine. I'll miss you. Always. Good-bye for
now, my friend.
"So, are you going to talk to me, Blair?"
Blair looked sheepishly over at the older man walking alongside him. The late morning sun shone brightly, bathing the two men in a comforting warmth.
"I want to. I just don't know where to start," Blair replied.
"You can start by telling me why you're here."
Blair sighed, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. "I, uh, I'm not sure. This was the first place that popped into my head."
"How 'bout telling me why you left Cascade?"
Blair swallowed, looking down at the grass. "To get away. A lot of things have happened since I last saw you, some very bad things. About a year ago, I met a woman who I later discovered was a criminal. I knew some things about her that could have compromised her, and she tried to kill me. Actually, she did technically kill me. My heart stopped, the whole nine yards. This woman, Alex, hit me over the head and shoved me into a fountain. Fortunately, Jim found me in time, pulled me out. He saved my life. I don't know... It's just, well, since then things have been different. I'm different. A lot has happened. I can't tell you everything because it has to do with Jim and there's a privacy issue there. There are some things I just can't talk about because doing so would break a confidence."
"You know anything you tell me will be kept in the strictest confidence. I won't even tell Brother Jeremy."
"I know," Blair answered quickly. "I wish I could, Brother Marcus. I need to talk about it with somebody, but I just can't. All I can tell you is that, somewhere along the way, I lost myself. I'm not a very happy person these days. Some things happened, things with Jim, that forced me to make some tough decisions. I gave up my career, my position at the university. I deliberately destroyed my reputation -- my name -- to protect Jim. I now work for the police... Well, actually, I used to work for the police. I resigned when I left." He shook his head. "I don't know what I'm going to do, or where I'm heading. Right now, I feel like a leaf blowing in the wind, spinning out of control with no clue as to where I'll land."
Brother Marcus didn't answer right away, apparently mulling over Blair's confessions. When he finally spoke, his voice was tender. "Almost all of this has to do with Jim, right?"
"Yeah. A lot, I guess."
"Have you talked to him?"
"Not really. I tried a couple of times. He's not the touchy-feely type, you might have noticed."
"Yes, I did. Still, you should try harder."
"I can't," Blair said, his throat tight.
"I just can't. It'll hurt him. And me. I'm afraid I'll say things that I'll never be able to take back, things he'll take the wrong way. Besides, like I said, I tried to talk to him. He doesn't want to listen. It's too hard for him, I think, to talk about Alex and my death. He's put it behind him, and he's doing a really good job of pretending it never even happened."
"How did you leave things between you two? How did he react when you left?"
Blair closed his eyes briefly. "I didn't tell him, Brother Marcus. I couldn't. I left him a note and one of my journals."
"I know. I know," he said guiltily. "I couldn't do it, Brother Marcus. I knew if I looked into his eyes and told him I was leaving that I wouldn't be able to go through with it. I just don't have any more to give, no strength to draw on. I feel all used up. I know I took the coward's way out, but it was all I could do at the time."
"You should talk to him, Blair. I know you, and if you just leave him like this, you'll never find peace. Go to him. Talk to him."
"I can't," he croaked, stifling a sob.
Brother Marcus sighed, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder and forcing the him to stop. "Okay, Blair. Not now. Give yourself some time. This is a safe place for you. You know that, don't you?"
Slowly, Blair nodded, fighting back tears.
"No one here will force you to do anything you don't want," Brother Marcus continued. "You don't have to talk if you don't want to, but doing so will help you heal. You can stay here for as long as you like, my dear boy... Come here." Brother Marcus pulled him into a hug, and Blair leaned gratefully into the warm embrace.
"Thank you, Brother Marcus."
Pulling back, the monk looked him in the eyes. "Things will get better, my son, if you have faith."
Blair dropped his gaze. "That's something else I think I've lost."
Jim came to a decision. He snatched up the phone and hit the autodial. Two rings later, the line picked up.
"Simon, I have to find him," he blurted. "Put out the A.P.B., sir, if you're still willing. Sight-and-report, only. I don't want him taken into custody. He'll never speak to me again if that happens."
"You got it, Jim," Simon replied. "I'll send it out now."
"Thank you, sir."
"Not a problem, Jim. How are you doing?"
He closed his eyes and leaned against the kitchen wall. "I'm okay, Simon, but I'll be better once I find Sandburg."
Simon sighed. "Yeah, I know, Jim. Get some sleep, okay? You sound tired."
"I will. Thanks, sir. Goodnight."
Blair sank onto the floor in the dim room and folded his legs, shifting on his rump to get comfortable. The day was waning, bathing his room in a soft light. He had no candles or music to accompany his meditation, but such things were accessories, not necessities. At the moment, he needed simplicity. Quiet. He needed to think without the clutter of external influences. He needed to find the center, and with it, he hoped, a measure of peace.
Closing his eyes, he focused on his breathing. Slow and regular. In. Out. In. Out. He pictured a large, white number "1" in his head, and focused on the image for as long as he could. He had no concept of how much time passed, but when his concentration began to wane, he then moved onto the number two. He continued the practice until he reached "5", and then he moved on, focusing on his center.
Some time later, when he could no longer feel his legs, he opened his eyes. The room was pitch black, and he blinked several times, but the darkness remained. What time is it? Silence permeated the room, thick and impenetrable. Deciding it was time to go to bed, he unfolded his legs and made a brief attempt to stand -- until he realized his legs were rubber. Then the pins and needles started. Agonizing, maddening pins and needles. He gritted his teeth and leaned forward, rubbing his hands briskly over his thighs.
Oh man. Oh man. I hate this part! He could do nothing but wait it out. A few minutes later, the restored circulation allowed him to move, and he rose to his feet. Quickly, he slipped out of his shoes, jeans, and shirt, and fell into bed, wrapping the blankets around his shoulders. The meditation had done wonders for him, and he fell asleep in seconds.
Jim stretched his hearing, his fingers tensing on the trigger of the gun. He heard the suspect's heartbeat pounding fiercely like a drum, and followed the sound to the alley. It was dark in this part of town, the streets devoid of lights, and the buildings empty. The suspect sounded to be several feet away, no longer moving because there were no sounds of footsteps, only the steady thump-thump of the man's heartbeat, interrupted by a regular, soft swoosh. A heart murmur.
The suspect got the drop on the frozen detective, the quiet of the night interrupted by the loud bang of a gunshot...
Blair awoke with a gasp, his eyes flying open and his heart pounding like jackhammer in his chest. Panic clutched his heart, but, when he realized it had just been a dream, he released a violent breath of relief and sagged back against the mattress. Just a dream. Thank God, it was just a dream...
Just a dream? The panic returned. What if it hadn't been just a dream? It had been so vivid, so real, what if it was real? He threw off the covers and jumped out of bed, dressing in a flash. Moments later, his footsteps echoed down the hall, disrupting the silence. He skidded to a halt in front of Brother Marcus' room, hesitating only a moment, his fist in the air. Was he being foolish? What if it had just been a dream? Brother Marcus would think him crazy.
On the other hand, what if it hadn't been just a dream? He could live having made a fool of himself, but, God, he couldn't live knowing that he'd ignored such a dire warning. He pounded on the door, not stopping until the wood swung open, revealing a bleary-eyed monk.
"Blair?" Marcus squinted at him, blinking several times in the darkness.
"Brother Marcus, I'm sorry to wake you, but I need to use the phone."
Marcus' eyes widened, and he rubbed a hand threw his mussed hair. "What for, Blair? At this time of night?"
Blair nodded, an apology in his eyes. "I know it's late. I'm sorry to wake you, but I have to call Jim. You see, I had this dream, and well, I can't explain it all right now, but I have to make sure he's okay. I --"
Brother Marcus placed his hands on Blair's shoulder. "Take it easy, Blair. Come on, I'll let you into the office. Okay?"
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Brother Marcus."
The monk offered a reassuring smile and a pat on the shoulder as he brushed past Blair and led the way down the hall. "So what was this dream you had?" he asked.
Blair swallowed. "It was about Jim."
"A bad dream, I gather."
"You're worried about him?"
"A little." A lot, actually.
"I am sure the detective is fine, Blair. The dream is your conscience speaking, berating you for the way you left him."
Blair took a deep breath. "If that's all it is, I can handle that."
Marcus raised his eyebrows, but gave no further comment as he opened the office door. "Right on the desk, Blair." He gestured inside. "I'll give you some privacy."
Brother Marcus retreated, closing the door. Blair switched on the light, finding himself alone with himself. Not a good person to be alone with. Especially not now. He stared at the phone apprehensively. He needed to hear Jim's voice, just to know that the older man was okay. But what if Jim answered? Then what? What would Blair say? What would Jim say? Would he even want to talk to him? Blair couldn't blame Jim if he just hung up. Not after the way he'd left the Sentinel. Without a word. Without a trace. He swallowed hard, inching closer to the phone.
Well, here goes nothing. Making a feeble effort to still the shaking of his hand, he reached out and grabbed the receiver, then punched in his calling card number, followed by the loft's number. The line rang, and Blair closed his eyes, sinking into the chair. Two more rings sounded.
"Hello?" came a rough, sleepy voice.
Blair's heart slammed into overdrive, and he gripped the phone tighter. God, it felt so good to hear Jim's voice. He opened his mouth to speak, but his throat suddenly tightened. Jim. The word died on his tongue, and he struggled against tears.
"Who is this? Hello?" Jim asked again, impatient.
God, what's wrong with me? Blair berated himself. Say something! Don't just wake the man up and then breathe into the receiver. Silence drifted through the connection, and Blair wondered, with a hint of dread, if Jim was listening to his heartbeat.
"Blair?" The Sentinel inquired softly. "Is that you?"
A strangled gasp escaped Blair's control, and he slammed the receiver down, ending the connection. His heart thundered wildly, blood roaring in his ears. He almost jumped out of his skin when the phone rang.
Oh you stupid idiot, Blair. You stupid, stupid idiot. No doubt Jim had dialed *69, which meant that, whether or not Blair answered, Jim would find out he'd gone to the monastery. The detective would just keep calling until Brother Jeremy picked up in the morning, or he'd call the phone company and trace the number.
Which meant he had to leave, because as soon as Jim found out the call had come from the monastery, he'd probably be on his way... unless he just didn't want to have anything to do with Blair. But he hadn't sounded that way over the phone. Blair's heart fluttered with hope. Jim hadn't sounded pissed. He'd sounded concerned. Hurt. Blair closed his eyes, pushing back the flood of emotion. He had to leave now. He just couldn't face Jim. Not yet. There was no way he could wait for the bus run, so he'd have to hike back to his car tonight.
He hurried into the hall, but was stopped short by the concerned visage of Brother Marcus. "That was a short conversation," the monk observed.
Blair blushed, ducking past the man. "He's okay. You were right."
A hand on his arm stopped him. "You didn't talk to him?"
"No. I didn't." He shrugged out of the hold. "I'm sorry, Brother Marcus, but I have to go. Jim knows where I am, and he'll be coming."
"How does he know where you are?"
"Ah yes. These new technology things. I'm afraid we're out of the loop on such things way out here."
Blair forced a smile. "Thanks for your hospitality. I'll be hiking back to my car tonight."
Marcus frowned. "You should stay and wait for him."
"No, I can't. If he comes... When he comes. Can you tell him to please be careful?"
"You should tell him that yourself."
Anger flared in Blair's chest. Wasn't the old man listening to him. "I can't! I already told you. I have to go, now. I'm sorry."
"Okay, okay," Brother Marcus soothed, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I told you, no one here will force you to do anything you don't want to. If you wait till first light, I'll drive you to your car in the bus. I'd drive you now, but one of the headlights is out and Brother Jonathan has not yet replaced it."
Blair shook his head. "No, thank you, Brother Marcus, I have to leave now."
Jim hung up the phone, grabbing his coat and keys and rushing out the door, his heart in his throat. He couldn't believe his luck. When he'd dialed *69, the caller hadn't answered, but the voice mail had. Imagine that. Brother Jeremy had voice mail. Under different circumstances, Jim might take some time to ponder that apparent contrast, but, he reminded himself, the monastery wasn't completely cut off. It had electricity, kitchen appliances, a phone, automotive transportation, and voice mail. The monks probably kept the voice mail to catch urgent messages. Maybe from those in need? Who knew? At the moment, he didn't care. All he cared about was getting to Blair before the kid pulled another disappearing act -- which Jim was sure his friend was getting ready to do. He'd heard Blair gasp when he'd called his name, heard his heart beating wildly, like a man who'd just run a marathon.
But why'd you call, Chief? Are you okay? Are you in trouble? Do you need anything?
He bypassed the elevator for the stairs. If he hurried, he might be able to catch up to Sandburg. All he needed was five minutes with the kid... Five minutes to convince him not to run away again.
Blair hefted his backpack higher on his shoulders and took off into the night, the only light coming from the full moon above and the small flashlight that Brother Marcus had given him. It was a little past 4:45 a.m., which meant that dawn wasn't too far off.
So where to now? he asked himself, navigating slowly through the darkness. I've got about fifty bucks in my wallet, one credit card that Jim can trace, and a quarter of a tank of gas. Perfect. Now watch me get lost. They'll call out a search party. Jim'll end up finding me, then I'll never live this down.
His internal monologue continued until the first diffuse rays of the sun broke the horizon, spraying the land with a haze of light. Blair stopped a moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath of the cool morning air. A few birds began their morning song, and a gentle breeze brushed against his cheeks. He became so absorbed in the overwhelming tranquility, that he didn't hear the crunch of a footstep in front of him.
Jim cocked his head, extending his hearing. His eyes scanned the early morning horizon, searching. After a few seconds, he encountered the soft sound of footsteps in the distance. Locking onto the sound, he shifted his backpack and took off in pursuit.
He spotted the lone figure nearly half-a-mile away. Hurrying his pace, he covered the distance quickly. Blair stood motionless in the center of the field, his head tilted up a fraction. Jim's heart turned a pirouette in his chest, nearly bursting with joy just from the sight of his friend. He'd feared being too late, arriving to find that Blair had already left.
Blair shifted his head, opening his eyes, and he jumped back with a gasp when he saw Jim standing there. Immediately, the young man's heartbeat skyrocketed, and he took several steps back.
"Jim, man, wh-what are you doing here?" he stammered, fidgeting on his feet, his gaze low.
He can't even look at me, Jim thought miserably. He took a deep breath. He had so much to say, but he wanted to get it right. Everything was riding on his next words, but, damnit, he'd never been good at expressing his feelings.
"You know why I'm here," he began finally, speaking slow. "I came to talk to you."
Blair's head hung low, and he turned away from Jim, glancing back at the monastery. Jim tensed, wondering if Blair was about to bolt, but seconds passed, and Sandburg remained, though he didn't say a word.
"I read your journal," Jim said.
Blair tensed, but remained silent, unmoving.
"You could have talked to me, Chief. I would have listened. Tried to help."
Blair finally spoke, but his voice was barely audible. "No, I couldn't, Jim. I tried. You didn't want to hear it."
"I'm sorry if it seemed that way. It's been hard on me, too. I... I just didn't know what to say. How to act. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Blair replied. "It's not your fault. It's mine. I'm all messed up inside, and I don't know what to do to make things right."
"No, it IS my fault," Jim insisted. "Look, Chief... I..." Damn, this was hard. Why couldn't he just say what he felt? Especially with so much at stake. "When I rushed up those steps to Hargrove, I... It was like... I don't know." He sighed. I'm messing this up! "It's hard to explain, Blair. Something tugged at me. It was like... like I felt you die."
Blair did move this time, hunching his shoulders to curl in on himself.
"When I turned around and saw you floating face-down in the fountain," Jim continued, "God, but that was the worst moment of my life. Worse than anything. Worse than Peru, and worse than losing Danny. Even Incacha. Everything just came crashing down. My whole world, and all I could think was that it couldn't be happening. It just couldn't be happening because the universe just wasn't that cruel." He paused to take a breath and collect his thoughts. "And then I got you back. I can't describe what it was like, Chief, being in the depths of despair one moment and then soaring to the heights of joy in the next. I thought I would just break apart right there. All I could do was stand there and listen to your heartbeat, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard."
Blair's shoulders began to shake, and he shrugged out of his backpack, turning his back to Jim and wrapping his arms around his torso.
"Blair." Jim took a step forward, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder and feeling the tremors beneath his touch. "I'm so sorry that I hurt you. I wish you'd never seen me and Alex together like that. I wish it had never happened. I accused you of betraying me, and then I turned right around and did the same thing to you. You have every right to hate me, but, God, Blair, I couldn't help it. I didn't know what was happening. I've never felt anything like that before, not that intense."
"It wasn't your fault, Jim," Blair whispered, his voice trembling, "and I don't hate you. Not by a long shot."
"Why won't you look at me, Blair? Or talk to me? Or let me try to help?" Jim asked. "I know you hurt. I read every word of your journal. I only wish I had known... That you'd told me earlier. I mean, I could tell you were 'off', but I had no idea how bad it was for you. If you felt so lost, you should have come to me. The last thing I want to do is change you into something you're not, Blair. I told you once that you were the best partner I'd ever had, and I meant it. But not only that. You're the best friend I've ever had. These Sentinel senses... I thank God for them, not because of the edge they give me, but because they brought me to you." He moved very slowly, inching closer to Blair. "Whatever it takes, Blair, I'm willing to do. Just give me a chance."
Blair's shoulders continued to shudder, but he barely made a sound. Instead, he shook his head. Jim's stomach dropped to his feet.
"Please, Chief," he pleaded, as close to begging as he'd ever come. "I need you."
"It's not you, Jim. It's me. I don't know who I am, anymore."
"You have all the time in the world to find yourself again, Blair, but let me help. What are you afraid of?"
Blair took several moments to answer, obviously struggling to get himself under control. "Screwing up," he finally managed. "I'm afraid of screwing up again, and... and... God, Jim, I don't want you to hate me. I have to fix whatever's broken, Jim, because if I don't, I'm going to be no good to you."
Jim clenched his jaw, his chest tight. He damned himself silently for the thousandth time. All the damage he'd done by kicking Blair out of the loft and accusing him of betrayal was still there. In a few moments, he'd managed to destroy the years that went into building Blair's trust. Now the kid was just waiting for the ax to fall again, afraid that if he screwed up, Jim would kick him out, push him out of his life once and for all.
The words Jim had read in Blair's journal came back to him with painful clarity. '... all I wanted was for someone to hold me and rock me and tell me everything was going to be all right... God, it's a terrible feeling... that kind of aloneness.'
Jim closed his eyes, doing what he should have done that day at the fountain. He pulled Blair close, wrapping his arms around his friend's chest even though Blair remained rigid, unyielding.
"Forgive me, Blair. I'm a big, dumb jerk, but I'm here now, and I'm not going away."
Slowly, he felt the tension leave Blair's frame, and the young man sagged back against him.
"Come home, Blair, please," Jim pleaded softly. "I've missed you, buddy."
Blair shifted, turning around and burying his face in Jim's chest. He gave Jim a brief, firm hug, then pulled back, wiping his face quickly on his sleeves. "I've missed you, too, Jim. I'm sorry I ran out on you like that, but I can't go home. Not yet."
Jim nodded. He could accept that. He could give Blair whatever time he needed, but he wasn't going to let him go through it all alone.
He placed his hand on the back of Blair's neck, pulling him closer. Blair tensed again, wary, but Jim persisted. "You're not getting off that easy, Chief." You need this. You needed this back then, but I didn't give it to you. "Come here. Let me do this for you."
"Jim, I --"
"Shhh. I need this, okay?"
"You're lying, Jim," Blair said, but let himself be pulled forward.
Jim wrapped his arms around his friend, holding the trembling frame close against his chest. After a moment, Blair's arms slid up, wrapping around Jim's waist. They stayed that way for nearly half a minute, until Blair's shivers ceased, lulled by the warmth pouring from the Jim's body. He listened to the younger man's heartbeat, hearing it slow, dropping to a steady, relaxed rhythm, and he wondered if Blair was on the verge of sleep.
"You with me?" Jim asked.
Blair chuckled, pulling back a fraction to look up at him. "Yeah. Just tired all of a sudden."
"You haven't been sleeping well," he stated.
Blair pursed his lips and shook his head, then shifted. Jim dropped his arms, and Blair stooped to pick up his backpack, slinging it over his shoulder. "Shall we head back to the monastery or to our cars?"
"I'm hungry," Jim replied. "They've gotta have breakfast, right?"
"Yeah," he smiled. "And Brother Marcus is probably still worrying about me. He wasn't too happy about my leaving in the dead of night."
"Come on then, Junior, let's get fed." He draped an arm across Blair's shoulders and headed off toward the monastery.
It was bright outside by the time they reached the monastery. They hurried up the front steps and walked into the building, grateful to get out of the morning chill. The pleasant aroma of bread teased their noses, and Jim took the lead toward the kitchen.
As soon as he walked through the doors, all heads turned, and Brother Marcus rose from his seat, a pained look in his eyes. "Jim, I'm sorry, Blair already --"
He stopped when Blair entered, stepping past the Sentinel. Marcus' face broke out into a huge smile, and he rushed forward, dropping his hand on Blair's shoulder and guiding him toward the table. "I'm glad you came back. Sit. We'll get you both some food."
Jim decided to stay at the monastery for a few days, so he rode the bus back to his truck to grab the duffel bag he'd packed. When he returned, Blair was busy helping Brother Marcus in the workshed, and then the dinner bell sounded. By the time things calmed down, night had fallen, and both men were exhausted.
Jim and Blair returned to their room, and the anthropologist released a tired sigh as he sank onto his bed and slipped out of his shoes.. Jim set his pack on the bed he had taken the first time, then made himself comfortable on the mattress. He'd given his gun and cell phone to Brother Jeremy, and he felt naked without them. This time, though, he doubted he'd need them. What were the odds of disaster striking twice in a monastery?
He eyed Blair, knowing they still had a lot of baggage between them. At the moment, though, Blair looked ready to drop, so Jim decided that the conversation could wait until morning.
"You ready to turn in?" he asked the younger man.
"Yeah. I'm beat." He slid out of his jeans and shirt, then shifted beneath the covers. "Goodnight, Jim."
"Goodnight, Chief." Jim turned off the light, then stripped down to his boxers, sliding into the warm bed. He tuned into Blair's breathing and heartbeat, indulging in a small smile. Those familiar rhythms had been conspicuously absent from the loft since Blair had left, and it felt so good to listen to them, and let the familiar heartbeat lull him to sleep.
Jim had just nodded off when Blair's voice woke him.
He opened his eyes. "Yeah?"
"Thanks for coming."
He smiled softly. "You're welcome, Chief."
Jim closed his eyes, reveling in the peaceful quiet surrounding the monastery. Back in Cascade, the city was always active, and therefore always noisy. Cars, helicopters, and televisions created noise at all hours, but Jim had learned to tune most of out. Here, however, he found he could relax and just listen to the quiet.
"Yes, Blair?" He shifted on his side and opened his eyes to look at the young man. Blair was laying on his back, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Jim doubted that the kid could see anything through the darkness, but it was obvious that Blair wanted to talk.
"Can I ask you a question?" Blair inquired softly.
"Sure. Go ahead."
"The vision we shared at the fountain... What do you think it meant?"
Jim sighed. "I don't know, Chief. That's more your department --" Damn. He saw the shadow darken Blair's features, and immediately berated himself.
Blair had been asking him what he thought, and Jim had, out of habit, thrown the ball right back at Blair, just because he wasn't exactly comfortable with the subject. The truth was that he didn't know what the vision meant. He only knew what he had felt. And I guess that's what I should talk about, then.
"I'm sorry, Chief. I can't tell you what it meant, but I can tell you what I felt. Will that work?"
"Yeah. If you don't mind." Blair shifted on his side, turning to face the wall, and Jim wondered if that was done just to hide his face from Sentinel eyes.
"Okay," Jim continued. "Well, uh, you were laying there... and I couldn't... I couldn't hear your heartbeat." God, this is hard! "I saw Incacha in a vision, and he told me that I could save you by using my Sentinel abilities. I didn't know how, but it was like something just took over inside. I felt your face. God, you were so cold. Then, all of a sudden, I was in the jungle, running. I saw a wolf, we both leapt into the air and collided, just like you saw in your vision. There was a burst of light, and I felt this incredible surge of energy. Then your heart started to beat. I couldn't believe it. It was like time just stopped and all I could do was listen at first, just to make sure I wasn't imagining it. But you still weren't breathing, so I started to work on your chest, tried to get some of the water out of your lungs. You know the rest, you coughed up water and started to breath." Tears stung his eyes, but he clenched his jaw and pushed them back.
"It's hard for me to explain how I felt, Chief," he continued. "I'm trying to find the words, here, but they all seem hollow in comparison. I was in denial when I thought you were dead. I just couldn't believe it, and then, just a few minutes later, you were alive, and I hadn't even had time to begin to process it all. I was just so... so..." He shook his head. "Well, all I can say is I made a lot of silent promises during those few minutes, begging -- praying -- for you not to be dead. And my prayers were answered. I've never been more grateful for something than I was at that moment." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, immersing himself in the darkness.
"Thank you, Jim. I know that couldn't have been easy."
"No, it wasn't," he admitted, "but it's overdue. I know you wanted to talk about it back at the church, but I just wasn't ready, Blair. I was doing what I'm good at, pushing it all back and dealing with the crisis at hand. I'm a simple guy, Chief." He offered a self-deprecating smile that he knew was entirely lost on Blair. "I can only handle one crisis at a time."
Blair released a short chuckle. "Yeah, right. You are many things, but simple isn't one of them, Jim."
"Your turn," Jim said. "What do you think the vision means?"
Blair sighed, shifting just enough to pull the covers tighter around his body. "I don't know." He offered a small shrug. "I've been thinking a lot about it. I mean, the obvious interpretation is that you and I are now connected somehow, if we weren't before, but..." He trailed off, curling tighter toward the wall.
"But what, Chief?" Jim prompted.
Blair turned over to his other side, eyes wide as he struggled to make out Jim's figure in the darkness. It was obvious that he didn't feel completely safe opening up to Jim, especially with whatever it was he was about to say.
"It's okay, Chief," Jim reassured Blair, trying to put the younger man at ease. "I gave you my word. 'Anything you say can't and won't be held against you.' Got it?"
A flicker of a smile touched Blair's lips. "Good, because I can't afford a lawyer. Just promise me you won't take this the wrong way."
"I won't. My ego's on the backburner on this one, Blair," Jim insisted.
"Is that possible?" Blair cracked, a hint of humor in his eyes.
"Ha. Ha. Stop stalling," Jim countered.
Blair took a deep breath. "Okay, well, this is what I've been thinking. I mean, the vision thing, it was like you and I became one. Our spirit guides merged... and, man, I'm not even going to start on how blown away I am to realize that I have a spirit animal, which the wolf has to be, right? I mean, what else could it be? Anyway, it's just that, well, what's supposed to happen after spirit guides merge? Do we change? I've changed. I think that much is obvious, but I think I've become a little more like you; and, I don't mean to offend you, Jim, but I'm not all that happy with the changes. Inside, I'm all messed up. I barely recognize myself anymore. I'm afraid, Jim. I'm afraid that the vision meant that something happened that day to change me forever. Not that change is bad. Everybody changes, grows, but this is different. This scares me because I find myself doing things that I wouldn't have thought I'd ever do, and I wonder how much worse is it gonna get? You know what they say about crossing lines. You do it enough times, you no longer see the line." He paused, taking another breath. "Then I look at you, Jim, and you don't seem to have changed all that much. So, now I've gotta wonder, is it just me? Was it like... like... I don't know... like maybe I was the one that got 'assimilated' or something? Sounds stupid, I know, now that I say it out loud, but that's what I feel like, anyway."
Jim's first impulse was to crack a joke, try to lighten the tension. What, Chief, are you saying you don't want to be like me? What's wrong with you? That was his first impulse, so, considering his track record, he decided to ignore it and listen to the little voice in the back of his head that was telling him to get his act together and stop running from emotional situations.
Only he didn't know what to say. What had the vision meant? Could he put Blair's fears to rest? No, he couldn't because he didn't know himself what happened. He couldn't tell Blair not to worry, that things would be okay, because he didn't know that they would be, and that would be the lazy way out, anyway. So what could he say?
Well, I'd better say something soon or he's going to think I have taken it the wrong way, Jim told himself. He opened his mouth, hoping he wasn't about to stick his foot into it. "Blair, let me ask you a question. Okay?"
"You said you've done things you never thought you'd do. Are you talking about taking that gun and shooting at Kincaid's men?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, that's one thing."
"Why'd you take the gun?"
"Um, because we were being shot at and you needed cover."
Jim nodded. "Did you like taking it? Did you like shooting it? Were you trying to hit people?"
"No -- to all."
"What was your first impulse?"
"To give it right back."
"Why didn't you?"
Blair sat up on the mattress, folding his legs in front of him. "Well, that time you handed me the automatic weapon and I refused, you shoved it into my hands. I knew the same thing would happen. It was a life-and-death situation, and I knew that you needed extra cover. I mean, it's getting a bit ridiculous, my working with you in the field for four years and refusing to take a gun when needed."
Jim shook his head. "No, it isn't, Blair. Listen to me, it's who you are that makes you so valuable to me. No one else could have reached me like you did when my senses first came back online. No one else would have stuck it out as long you have. No one else would be living with me, working with me, and breaking all the house rules at regular intervals. You haven't changed all that much, Blair. You still know who you are. Don't you see? What you've lost is self-confidence, and that's my fault."
Blair shook his head. "No it isn't, Jim --"
"Uh-uh," Jim admonished. "Just let me finished."
Blair clamped his mouth shut obediently and waited for Jim to continue.
"Let me tell you how it's my fault, and then you can choose to disagree with me. Okay?"
"Okay," Blair agreed.
"When you found Alex, your instincts were to help her like you helped me. Right?"
Blair shrugged. "Maybe. I'm not so sure anymore. I don't know how much I was motivated out of genuine concern and how much of it was just selfishness. You know, more material for my thesis, like you said."
"No, no, Blair," Jim insisted. "That's me talking, don't you see? You're right. I have been a bad influence on you."
Blair opened his mouth to protest, but Jim cut him off.
"No, Chief, listen. In many ways, I think I've been a good influence on you, and you've been a good influence on me, too. But, in other ways, you're right. You have changed, and a lot of that is my fault. Think. If you'd never met me, would you be like this now? No, odds are you wouldn't. It's because of me and the stuff you get exposed to that you're now having these problems. Problems, that, I might add, are nothing you need to hide from me. We're partners and friends. You help me, and I help you. That's the way it works. So, back to what I was saying, I'm the one who's made you doubt yourself. Me and my big mouth. When you told me about Alex, I jumped down your throat. Accused you of betraying me. Only I know you didn't do it to hurt me. You did it because of who you are. You have a kind heart, Blair, and you want to help others. Just like you helped me. But you were there, and I was all out of whack and looking for someone or something to blame, and, well, you were there, like I said. You were the easiest target. You always are, because you put up with it. Only I know I crossed the line, Blair. I shouldn't have said those things. I shouldn't have kicked you out of the loft, either. So now you're second-guessing yourself because you think you screwed up with Alex and you're blaming yourself for everything that happened as a result. Only you didn't cause any of it. She did. I did. You just got caught in the middle. If it hadn't been for you, things would have probably turned out a lot worse. I might not even still be around. That's why she tried to kill you, Blair. She knew it, too. She knew how valuable you are, and she couldn't leave you alive. So don't go blaming yourself, Chief. I'm the one who's made you doubt yourself, and I'm the reason you're hurting now. But I want you to listen to me on this one, even though I know I haven't given you much reason to put stock in what I've said up 'til now. I want you to stop doubting yourself. You can't screw up. You might make mistakes, everyone does, even me, hard as that is to believe," he said, smiling when he saw Blair's lips twitch upward.
"There's nothing you can do that will make me kick you out again," Jim continued. "I was stupid. That's all. I was stupid and I didn't know what was happening and I'd had that dream that scared the hell out me, Chief. I'm telling you right now, follow your gut instincts. They won't lead you wrong. If you make a mistake, it'll be okay because you'll have done what you thought was right. I promise you, Blair, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that you can do that will make me throw you out and accuse you of betrayal. I've learned my lesson."
"What if I mess up and a suspect gets away?" Blair asked warily.
"Suspects get away. I'd rather lose a few of those than you, Blair," Jim replied.
"What if you give me a gun and I accidentally shoot you in the foot?"
"I'll heal... And I won't give you a gun again," Jim answered.
Now Blair was smiling unabashedly, his eyes wet with unshed tears. "What if I accidentally put my food in your blue-coded Tupperware?"
"Then you'll have gone too far and you'll be out on your ass, Chief," Jim shot back, grinning madly.
Blair tilted his head back and laughed -- the first genuine, whole-hearted laugh Jim had heard him make in a long time. '... the kind you feel down to your toes,' Blair's words echoed in Jim's head, filling his chest with warmth. He's still in there, he thought, gazing at his friend fondly. See, Chief, you're still in there. You just got a little lost, that's all.
He lay in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling with Sentinel eyes, listening to Blair's steady breathing.
They'd worked through some important issues earlier, but Jim wasn't foolish enough to believe that "everything was okay." He knew that Blair still had some healing to do, and that would take time -- just like it had taken time to give him all his nightmares and insecurities, the products of years of police work. Lash, Golden Galileo, Alex -- people and events that had happened over the span of years, and all of them had worked to turn the once vibrant, self-confident, happy young man into someone far too old for his years.
Gradually, Jim drifted to sleep, but, in what seemed like a moment's time, he was woken by a soft sound. He turned his head to look at Blair, using his Sentinel vision to penetrate the darkness. A low groan escaped his sleeping partner, and Blair's brow furrowed anxiously. The young man shifted, curling deeper beneath the covers, and mumbled something incoherent.
It was weird. Blair knew he was dreaming -- one of those rare moments when the subconscious mind realizes the absurdity for what it is and taps into the conscious mind's logic centers. However, knowledge alone didn't help Blair, because the dream seemed determined to play out to its grim conclusion.
He knew it was a dream because it had to be a dream. Lash was dead. Alex was in an institution. So, logically, neither one of them could be standing over him, pushing him beneath the water, but, God, it felt so real. The water felt cold, shocking to the touch, and he panicked as it covered his face. Hands pushed him beneath the water, pressing down on his chest. He looked up through the clear liquid to see the two faces peering down at him. Lash wore this silly little grin, his eyes almost a touch wistful, like a parent sending a child off to school for the first time. Alex, on the other hand, wore her smile as a self-satisfied smirk. The difference mattered very little to Blair, because both were trying to drown him.
He held his breath, struggling against the hands, his lungs growing tight, burning with the need for oxygen. Panic spurred his heart into overdrive, sending adrenaline pumping through his bloodstream. Black dots danced along the edges of his vision, and his lungs gave up, overriding his will to suck in much needed oxygen -- only instead of oxygen, they pulled in ice cold water.
He bucked wildly, desperate for air, his lungs screaming, but the hands holding him remained strong, unyielding.
"Y-You're gonna... gonna be my new friend," Lash crooned pleasantly, and Blair heard every word as clear as if it had reached him through air instead of water. More proof that he was dreaming.
The blackness encroached, overriding his panic, and he fought against it, knowing that, if he let it take him, he'd never wake up.
"Sorry, Blair," Alex said. "Thanks for your help, but you know I can't let you live."
No! His struggles died, dampened by the lack of oxygen reaching his muscles. Jim!
If I die in my sleep, will I really die? he wondered briefly, just before oblivion claimed him.
Blair was in trouble, that much was obvious, and Jim leapt out of the bed, closing the distance to his partner in less than a heartbeat.
"Blair!" He grabbed Sandburg's shoulders, shaking the young man. Blair thrashed beneath the covers, making horrible choking sounds.
Jim started to panic. Blair wasn't waking up and his breathing was starting to become alarmingly irregular. "Come on, Chief, snap out of it!" He gave the young man another hard shake, and Blair suddenly went rigid, then stopped breathing. Oh God! What the hell...? All of a sudden, Sandburg crumpled, going limp in Jim's arms. Then, just as suddenly, he exploded off the bed, slamming against the door, gasping frantically for air, and slid to the floor, heaving, tears in his eyes.
"Blair?" He was at his partner's side in less than a second. "What the hell was that?" Jim was shaking, coming down from his own adrenaline rush. "You okay?"
Blair shook his head, pushing himself into the corner between the wall and Jim's bed. "No," he gasped. "Not okay."
"Hey. Hey." Jim flicked on the light, then sank down beside him. He slid his arm behind Blair's back, pulling him close. "What was that about, huh? You scared the hell out of me, Chief."
Blair released a sharp burst of laughter. "I scared you?!" He wrapped his arms around his waist. "Oh man, Jim. Oh man. Oh man."
"Just a bad dream," Blair replied, breathing hard. "It was so real, though."
"What was it about?" Jim asked.
Blair tilted his head back, resting it against the wall. He took a moment to get his breathing under control before answering. "I was back at the fountain, drowning, but both Alex and Lash were there, holding me under the water." He shivered, pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms around his legs. Jim kept his arm draped across Blair's shoulders, giving his partner a reassuring squeeze. "It was weird, Jim," Blair continued. "I knew I was dreaming, but I couldn't stop what was happening." He glanced quickly at Jim, a hint of shame in his blue eyes. "Sorry I freaked you out, man."
"Don't worry about it, Sandburg."
"Don't you think it's strange, Jim?" Blair asked.
"Lash and Alex -- they both tried to drown me," Blair explained. "Granted, Lash didn't get that far, thanks to your timely entry, but that's what he would have done; and, Alex did drown me. I mean, isn't that kind of strange? Is that how I'm destined to go? Ironic, don't ya think, considering you're the one with the fear of deep water?"
Jim tensed, his jaw tight. "You're not destined to go any particular way, Sandburg. Those were just coincidences. How many times have you and I been shot at? Or almost run over, or blown up? It's not destiny, Chief, it's police work. That kind of stuff comes with the territory. Don't make it out to be more than it is."
Blair sighed. "I guess you're right."
"You okay now?"
Blair nodded, moving to his feet, and Jim helped him up. "Yeah," the young man answered. "Thanks, Jim. Sorry I woke you up, but you can go back to bed now." He hit the light switch, bathing the room in darkness.
"Are you going to be able to get back to sleep?" Jim asked.
"Yeah." Blair sank back into his bed, pulling the covers up to his chin and flashing a smile. "Goodnight, Jim."
"Goodnight, Blair," He replied, returning to his own bed.
Sleep, however, did not reclaim the Sentinel. Instead, Jim lay awake in bed, listening to Blair's breathing and heartbeat, ready to wake his friend at the first sign of another nightmare.
Something intruded upon the quietness of his sleep, prodding him to consciousness. Blair turned on his side and opened his eyes, blinking when he encountered impenetrable darkness. He listened, hearing nothing but the gentle hum of silence. With a sleepy sigh, he closed his eyes, shifting beneath the covers.
Warm air blew against his face, and he opened his eyes.
"Jim!" He slammed backward, plastered against the wall in an instant, and stared wide-eyed at the nearly translucent blue eyes hanging suspended in the darkness.
He blinked, and the rest of the creature came into view - a grey wolf, standing on all fours.
"Jim!" He whispered desperately, not wanting to provoke the creature with a second yell. "Wake up, man!" What the hell was wrong with the Sentinel? He should have been out of bed already, poised for action, but not a sound emerged from Jim's side of the room. Blair shifted his gaze, trying to penetrate the darkness to make out Jim's figure, but he couldn't see anything, not even the bed. The only thing visible was the almost-glowing wolf.
The animal tilted back its head and released a bellowing howl. Blair remained still, transfixed by the magnificent animal. The sound tugged at him, pushing all conscious thought out of his mind and soothing his pounding heart. His muscles relaxed, almost of their own volition, and he slumped lower against the wall, mesmerized by the canine.
The wolf held his gaze a moment longer, then turned and disappeared into the darkness. Blair followed, his conscious mind overcome by the siren call of the spirit animal.
When Jim awoke early in the morning, it took him less than two seconds to realize that several things were wrong. First, Blair's bed was empty, and second, that meant that the kid had gotten out of bed and left the room without waking him. Throwing off the covers, he shot out of bed, automatically focusing on his hearing to search for Blair's heartbeat. That's when he discovered what else was wrong: his Sentinel hearing was off-line -- which explained how Blair had gotten out of the room without waking him. He plopped back down on the mattress, stunned. What the hell was going on? Experimentally, he tried his sense of smell, and that, too, had been downgraded to normal. Next, he tried his vision, attempting to focus on a piece of lint on Blair's covers, but again he met with failure.
His Sentinel senses were off-line, and that, combined with Blair's absence, left him with a tight feeling of dread in his chest. Somehow, he knew the two to be related, and that scared him, because if his loss of Sentinel abilities really was related to Blair's disappearance, then that meant that Blair was more than just physically absent...
He leapt to his feet, flinging the door open, his bare feet pounding hard against the cold floor. "Blair!" Let him answer. Please, God, let him answer. To his dismay, his pleas met with silence.
He flinched, thrust suddenly to awareness by the biting cold. What the hell...? His eyes widened, and he looked around, hugging himself tightly in a vain attempt to conserve body heat. He found himself standing in the middle of a small field completely surrounding by trees, dressed only in his boxers. The morning sun hung low in the sky, hidden from view by the towering tress. From the brightness of the light, he estimated it to be about seven or eight in the morning.
A small campfire burned a few feet in front of him, sending small tendrils of smoke into the air. On the ground next to the fire lay a collection of plants, both flowered and plain, and he recognized some of them as being potential hallucinogens.
His heart thudded with panic. How did I get here? What happened? Oh man, it's cold! He looked down at his feet, which were bare and caked with dirt and blood. The sight of the redness around his toes made him aware of the dull pain in his feet, and his legs gave way, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Shivering, he curled into a ball, unable to ward off the sting of the cold. He had no idea where he was, how he had gotten there, or how long ago he'd left the monastery. Had he walked off or been carried off? If he'd left on his own, what had caused him to go into such a trance and how far away from the monastery was he?
"You must make a choice, young Shaman."
Blair startled at the sudden voice, uncurling and scampering away from the campfire. He looked around wildly, but saw no one. "Who's there?" he yelled, his eyes scanning the thick of trees.
"Someone who owes you an apology," the deep voice answered.
Blair spun around on his knees and gasped when he saw Incacha standing a few feet away. A small smile touched the Shaman's lips, and he nodded his head in greeting. "Welcome, Young One. This is your time."
Blair swallowed, shaking his head as he edged away from the apparition. "You're dead," he croaked.
"In body only. I am here in spirit to guide you."
Blair stopped his retreat, curiosity winning out over fear. "What do you mean?"
"You have not yet accepted the gifts that have been bestowed upon you, and your soul suffers because of your indecision."
Blair pulled his knees up to his chest, shivering, his heart pounding like a jackhammer. He shook his head in denial, almost angrily. "Leave me alone. You're just a dream. You're not real."
"What is reality?"
"Why do you fight me?"
Blair closed his eyes, wrapping his arms around his legs. "Please, just leave me alone."
He felt a warm hand on his shoulder and sprung into action, scurrying away from the spirit. Incacha gazed at him with wide, soulful eyes. "I am sorry, Young One. I did not have time to teach you."
Blair swallowed the lump in his throat, blinking back the tears. "This is about what you passed on to me, isn't it? The way of the Shaman?"
Incacha smiled encouragingly. "Yes, you understand."
Blair shook his head. "No. No, I don't understand. You died before you could tell me what I was supposed to do! You didn't even ask me if I wanted that responsibility!"
"You chose the responsibility for yourself when you first sought out the Sentinel," Incacha replied calmly. "The Way of the Shaman flows in your blood, it is part of you."
"No, you're wrong," Blair retorted, his voice quivering. "I can't do this. I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"You are here to learn, and to make your final choice."
"What do you mean, my 'final' choice?" Blair asked apprehensively.
Incacha tilted his head, studying the younger man. He raised his hand and pointed to the campfire. "You must eat the plant with the yellow flowers and burn the others."
Blair didn't like the sound of that. He glanced back at the plants, taking a more critical look at their phenotypes in an attempt to catalogue them. While he'd had experience with such plant-induced forms of meditation, he personally didn't think one needed to be "high" to find enlightenment.
When he turned back to ask Incacha a question, he realized the spirit had disappeared. His stomach twisted, and he turned slowly back around toward the fire. It seemed his options were limited. He had no idea where he was and he wasn't dressed for a hike through the wilderness. He made his decision, crawling to the campfire in deference to his aching feet. Generally, when spirits kidnapped you, dropped you in the middle of nowhere, and told you to do something, it was probably best to listen to them.
The panic threatened to overwhelm Jim. He paced angrily in front of the monastery steps, waiting for the monks to finish gathering the supplies they'd need for the search and rescue. All he could do was wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. It was eating him up. Sandburg was gone, along with his own Sentinel senses. He'd never felt more helpless in his life. He'd contacted the local authorities, but, as predicted, they were not inclined to do anything until more time passed, and they'd seemed entirely unimpressed when he'd identified himself as a police officer. He'd tried to contact Simon, both at his office and home, but had gotten the man's voice mail each time. He'd opted to leave a message and take off after Blair, unwilling to let any more time pass before beginning his search.
He didn't even know if Blair was alive. He'd searched every inch of the monastery and surrounding buildings, but had found no sign of his friend. There were no signs of a struggle, and Jim was sure that even without Sentinel hearing that he'd have been woken by an intruder. All the evidence pointed to Blair just walking out of the monastery on his own volition, but he'd managed to do so without waking Jim and without leaving even a hint of a trail. It was as though the kid had disappeared off the face of the Earth.
It just didn't make sense! Jim had searched the room, taking a complete inventory, his heart sinking when he found nothing missing. All of Blair's clothes were still in the room, along with his shoes, his backpack, and everything else he'd brought. That meant the kid hadn't even gotten dressed. So he's out here in the cold wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. The facts added up to a non-sequitur, and didn't bring Jim any closer to figuring out why Blair would take off without a word.. without even getting dressed or putting on his shoes. Even if the kid had been sleepwalking, he still would have left some kind of a trail.
Jim reconsidered the possibility that Blair had been kidnapped, but only briefly. It would have been almost impossible for an intruder to enter the monastery, walk into the room, kidnap Blair, carry him out, and take off either on foot or in a car without waking anyone and without leaving a trace.
So what the hell happened?
Jim's thoughts were interrupted when Brother Jeremy and the others emerged from the building, walking somberly down the steps. Each of the monks carried supplies. Brothers Marcus and Jeremy had backpacks, and most of the others carried smaller bags. Jim carried his own hiking pack, complete with sleeping bag, first aid kit, and other supplies.
"Any idea where to begin?" Brother Jeremy asked.
Jim's gut twisted, and he felt the rise of despair in his throat. With a monumental act of will, he pushed the feeling down and shook his head. "No, there's no trail that I can see." None at all, oddly... not even footprints in the dirt.
Several times, he'd caught himself trying to extend his hearing, hoping to encounter the reassuring rhythm of his partner's heartbeat, but each time he'd hit an impenetrable wall of near-silence, broken only by the ordinary sounds of the wilderness. He almost wanted to scream. Instead, he opted for pacing, the only available outlet for the energy itching beneath his skin.
"So where do we start?" Brother Marcus asked worriedly.
Jim huffed with frustration, turning around slowly as he surveyed the surroundings. Think! What direction would he be most likely to go? Back toward the car? No. He didn't take his keys. He chewed the inside of his lip, turning his gaze to the blanket of trees visible in the distance. Would he go there? Maybe. But why? Whatever the reason, Blair was out there in the cold, almost naked. Jim needed to find him soon.
"Let's split up," he said. "Take the North, East, and West. I doubt he'd have circled around behind the buildings, but we don't have enough men to cover that area, anyway."
"Okay," Brother Jeremy said, then proceeded to split the
men into groups. Jim was placed with Brothers Marcus and Jonathan, and he wasted no time
taking off toward the forest.
Oh God, I'm going to die. Blair had never felt so awful in his life. His stomach felt like it was turning itself inside out, and sharp pains in his lower abdomen convinced him that his intestines were tied in knots. His head throbbed as though a little man were inside his skull pounding away with a sledgehammer.
What the hell had he been thinking? Obviously, he hadn't been thinking. He'd been hallucinating, and, like a fool, he'd given in to the delusion. I'll never, ever listen to the little voices in my head again, I swear, just let this stop, please, God, just let this stop.
He'd followed Incacha's instructions and digested the plant, then he'd burned the others and inhaled the smoke. Could he have been any more stupid? He hadn't really seen Incacha's spirit, he now knew, the image had just been an hallucination... or a dream... or something, but definitely not a real spirit.
Spirit or not, someone collected those plants. But who? Me?
A howl echoed through the air, and Blair turned his head toward the source. A wolf sat a short distance away, its head tilted back as it howled at the sky. A tingle of recognition played at the back of Blair's mind. Hadn't he seen the wolf earlier back at the monastery? It had been looking at him, peering eerily through the darkness... but that was all he remembered. Whatever had happened next was a complete blank.
The wolf suddenly morphed, shifting and rising as it took on human form. Blair blinked, releasing a low groan. Oh man, what a trip. Before him stood a golden-skinned man, dressed in primitive garb, with long black hair. His dressings were similar to Incacha's, but instead of a spear he held a staff. Unlike Incacha, however, his face was not painted.
"Who are you?" the apparition asked.
Blair almost laughed at the not-so-subtle manifestation of his subconscious. Dude, I'm on to you, man. You're not real. You're just my messed up psyche trying to get back at me.
"Who are you?" it asked again.
"Go'way," Blair mumbled. Was the ground tilting, or was it just him?
"Who are you?"
Damn. The thing wasn't going to go away. "Blair Sandburg," he answered
"Who are you?"
"I told you. Blair Sandburg."
"Who are you?"
I am NOT in the mood for this. You're my hallucination and I'm telling you to go away!
"Who are you?"
"I don't know!" Shut up already!
The apparition nodded. "Yes, you do."
"Who are you?" Blair shot back irritably.
"I am the spirit that guides you."
"Yeah, well you've been doing a lousy job," Blair groaned. God, his throat was so dry!
"You were not ready when the responsibility was given to you."
"Why are you here?" Blair asked, resigned to the fact that the spirit wasn't going to go away.
"To guide you. To help you find The Way."
"The Way of the Shaman."
Blair closed his eyes, feeling tears well beneath his lids. "What if I don't want to be a Shaman?"
A brief silence met his question, and he opened his eyes to see the spirit's dark gaze locked on him. "That is your choice. You have been called, but you must make the choice."
"What will happen if I refuse? If I accept?"
"If you refuse, the wound between your body and soul will never heal. This is your call, and it is why you are here now."
Blair swallowed hard, wincing at the pain that flared in his throat. He had to make a choice, but it was really no choice at all. He couldn't continue living as he had been... he needed to find peace.
"What do I have to do?" he asked.
The spirit smiled approvingly and extended its hand. "Come with me."
Blair made a brief, wholly unsuccessful attempt to move, but his limbs felt like lead. "I can't," he gasped.
"Your body and soul are not bound to one another."
"Come with me," the spirit commanded again.
Blair made another attempt to sit up, and, to his surprise, he completed the motion with little difficulty. His body suddenly felt light, the pains that ailed him gone. A shocked smile touched his lips, and he rose to his feet.
"The journey begins, but you must leave your body behind," the primitive said.
"What?" Blair looked back down, and his jaw dropped open when he saw himself laying on the ground, still and pale. He looked dead, his chest still and his eyelids half-open.
Blair looked back at the spirit, focusing on the man's outstretched hand. Slowly, he raised his own and wrapped his fingers around the other's.
The day was waning, the sun low on the horizon. Jim and his group had been walking for hours, but they hadn't found so much as a trace of Blair. They'd fanned out, needing to cover more ground. Jim kept trying to extend his senses, frustrated by his failure each time. He'd resorted to using the tracking skills he'd learned in the military, but there was no trail to follow. Odds are, he wasn't even going in the right direction.
Remarkably, Blair wasn't afraid. The trees flew in a blur far below him as he soared just below the clouds. The spirit had morphed into a hawk, guiding him to an unknown destination. Suddenly, the bird dipped, then fell into a nosedive. Blair felt himself being pulled along, and a touch of fear finally broke through his awe. He opened his mouth to scream as the ground rushed up at him, but then, just as suddenly, he stopped, landing with a light bounce onto the ground. The bird landed next to him, immediately transforming back to its human form.
"Look." The spirit extended his hand and Blair followed the line of the man's arm to see a familiar figure several feet away.
"Jim!" He rushed up to the older man, but Jim gave no response as he continued navigating the terrain, his eyes scanning the ground ahead.
"He cannot hear you," the spirit said.
Blair looked back at his guide. "He's looking for me?"
"Yes, but he is without his Sentinel abilities."
"What?" he furrowed his brow, looking back to Jim as he followed alongside. "What do you mean?"
"It was necessary. This is a journey you must complete alone. He could not interfere."
"So you took away his senses so he couldn't find me?"
The guide nodded. "They will return when the time is right."
"Then why bring me here?" Blair asked.
"So you could see. So you could feel."
"Feel wh --" A gust of emotion slammed into Blair, sending him to his knees. Terror clutched at his chest, colliding with a torrent of other emotions: loneliness, guilt, anger. Blair realized he was feeling Jim at his core, naked and vulnerable without the walls the Sentinel erected to shield his emotions...
Some time later, he came to, finding himself curled into a ball on the ground. He looked up quickly, but Jim was gone, only the spirit remained, gazing at him with dark eyes.
Blair groaned, shifting to his feet. Where to next? He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Night looked to be only a couple of hours away, which meant the search would have to be called off soon. Each man had brought a sleeping bag, so Jim knew the monks would not return to the monastery. They'd sleep overnight on the ground and resume the search in the morning. One man had been left behind at the monastery to continue working on the authorities, and to wait for Simon's call. He only hoped that something happened soon, because each hour waned the hope that Blair would be found alive... if at all.
A streak of black caught his eyes, and, in an instant, his senses came alive. He heard the whoosh of air through the trees, the scurry of small feet, and footsteps of the monks some distance away. His heart leapt into his throat, and he took off like a rocket after the black feline, hoping that the reemergence of his Sentinel senses meant that Blair was still alive.
Blair was exhausted, but since he wasn't really in his body, he figured it was more of a spiritual exhaustion. He felt like he'd gone through the wringer. The spirit had taken him through a series of visions and experiences, but now it all passed through his memory as a blur -- just like the trees below him. He remembered witnessing scenes with Incacha and the Chopec, even though he wasn't anywhere near Peru and Incacha was long dead. He'd seen visions of other Shamans and Sentinels, as well as moments from his own past and brief glimpses of Jim's time in Peru.
The hawk dropped to the ground, pulling Blair with it as though tugging on an invisible line. This time, when Blair landed, he fell flat on his face, but the ground felt more like foam, the impact soft.
"You must return to your body. Time is short."
Blair nodded tiredly, rolling back into his body...
He opened his eyes, assaulted by the myriad pains and shivers wracking his body. His head throbbed, ready to explode. He desperately wanted to throw up, to ease the pain in his stomach, but he lacked the strength. Oh man, I forgot how bad I felt.
"To find the way, a Shaman must face death," the spirit told him, his voice aggravatingly calm. "You have already taken that step, and now you must complete the journey. You must embrace your purpose and allow it to consume you. You will be changed, but you will still be who you are."
Blair watched in silence as the guide morphed back into a wolf. The animal locked gazes with him, and, for a moment, Blair was no longer aware of the agony in his body. Then the wolf lunged, fangs bared, and Blair screamed in shock and pain as the canine sank its teeth into his chest.
Jim reeled backward, nearly loosing his balance, the scream shooting through his skull like a bolt of lightning. Brothers Marcus and Jonathan had fanned out in separate directions so they could cover more ground, which left him alone and able to extend his senses. The shock of the sudden auditory invasion left him with an instant headache. He shook his head, trying to clear the ringing in his ears, and recovered enough of his wits to realize, with sinking dread, that the scream had been one of pure agony.
Oh God, Blair! He didn't know how he knew that the sound had come from Sandburg, but he did -- with gut-wrenching certainty. He bolted into a run, his heart drumming wildly in his chest.
He screamed, his throat raw, and tried to move away from the animal, but his arms and legs wouldn't cooperate. He could only lay there, helpless, as the wolf's teeth ripped through his flesh. The animal raised its head, and Blair stared in wide-eyed terror at the beating heart it held in its jaws. The spirit tilted its head back and swallowed the organ, then turned predatory eyes back to him. In some far corner of his mind, Blair wondered how he was still alive, and he didn't dare look down at his chest, sure he'd see a gaping wound there.
The wolf morphed back to its human form, and, in its hand it held a new, beating heart. The guide knelt down next to Blair, placing a gentle palm on his forehead, then lowered the new organ into the open wound.
"Why?" Blair croaked, feeling the hot slice of tears on his cheeks.
The spirit ignored the question, morphing instantly back into the wolf. It bared its teeth again, and Blair clenched his eyes, screaming when the sharp pain ripped into his stomach.
Jim broke through the blanket of trees, nearly collapsing with a mixture of joy and despair when he saw Blair laying in the center of the clearing next to a small campfire. The young man was almost naked, writhing miserably on the ground, his head tilted back as a raw scream tore from his throat.
He closed the distance in less than a second, dropping next to Blair and grabbing his arms. He tried to hold the young man still as he scanned him with his senses, searching for signs of injury. Blair's skin was icy to the touch, but the only signs of injury were on his feet, the bottoms raw from hiking. Jim listened to the young man's pounding heartbeat. Too fast. Way too fast. He didn't think it possible that the heart muscle could work that hard, but he doubted the organ would be able to keep that pace for much longer.
"Come on, Blair," he urged, though the words were drowned out by the screams. What's wrong with him? What's wrong! He asked silently, on the edge of panic.
"No! It hurts! Stop! Please stop!" Blair screamed, trying to twist out of Jim's hold.
"Easy, Blair. Easy!" Jim tightened his grip. He shifted his hold, quickly sliding his arms beneath Blair's back and pulling him up. "I've got you partner. Easy. Take it easy." Jim wrapped his arms tightly around Blair, the young man's back pressed against his chest.
Suddenly, Blair went limp in Jim's arms, his screams melting to sobs. Jim held him close, feeling the violent tremors course through the young man's body as though they were his own.
"It's okay, Blair. I've got you, buddy. Everything's gonna be okay," Jim soothed, rocking back and forth mindlessly as he felt the tension drain from Blair's body.
Jim breathed a sigh of relief, resting his chin on the top of Blair's head, listening to the still too-fast heartbeat. He extended his hearing outward, searching for signs of the monks. He was sure he'd left them pretty far behind when he'd taken off after the jaguar, and now that it was getting dark, he doubted they'd be able to see well enough beneath the cover of trees to continue the search. With the sun setting, the meager day's warmth faded, and even Jim, with his jacket, began to shiver.
He needed to get Blair warm. Gently, he lowered the young man to the ground, taking a moment to perform another sensory sweep of his friend's vitals. Blair had drifted into a shallow, troubled sleep, a light crease in his brow. Jim placed a palm on Blair's head, his thumb brushing across the line in the kid's forehead, pleased when the crease smoothed, the tension dissipating.
"I'll be right back," he whispered, though he knew Blair probably couldn't hear him. Rising to his feet, he shrugged out of his backpack and untied the sleeping bag.
He unrolled the mat and bag together, situating them over a smooth area of the ground. He had only one bag, but even if he'd had two he'd only need one. Blair was much too cold, and the weather was dropping rapidly. Not quite freezing, but close -- and in Blair's current condition, the cold could kill him. He needed to keep the young man warm, and the best way to do that would be to share a sleeping bag with him and let his own body heat keep Blair warm.
When he finished readying the sleeping bag, he crouched back next to Blair and slid his arms beneath the kid's back. Carefully, he pulled Sandburg over to the sleeping bag and positioned him near the edge. That accomplished, he searched for some dry wood and revived the campfire, which he assumed Blair had started on his own since he'd found no sign of any one else in the vicinity. Then he stripped off his own clothes, leaving just his boxers on, and moved quickly so that he wouldn't be exposed to the cold any longer than necessary. Finding a suitably low branch, he hung his clothes up and got himself situated on the bag. Then he rolled over and pulled the material over the both of them, working the zipper for a good two minutes before getting the bag properly sealed.
He wrapped his arms around Blair, letting the younger man's head fall against his chest. Small tremors still coursed through the kid's body, but he was otherwise limp, and his heartbeat indicated a deep sleep.
A low moan jarred him instantly awake. Blair shifted, mumbling something low and unintelligible. Where before the kid had been cold, now he was burning up, turning the closed sleeping bag into a sauna.
Another low groan answered him, a half-whimper, actually, and Blair shifted in Jim's arms.
"Shhh." Jim twisted in the bag, releasing his hold on Blair, and wiggled his arms up just enough to grab the zipper and pull it down. The cold night air assaulted him, but he welcomed it, glad to be out of the stifling sleeping bag. He spotted his backpack easily in the darkness, his Sentinel vision compensating for the lack of light, and retrieved it, rifling through the contents and pulling out a bottle of water.
He dropped next to Blair, unscrewed the cap, and then slid his hand beneath the young man's head as he placed the tip of the bottle against Blair's lips.
"Come on, kid."
Blair gave no signs of stirring, so Jim allowed a few drops of the water to wet his friend's mouth, and, as he'd hoped, Blair responded, raising his head a fraction toward the source.
"There you go. Just a little," Jim encouraged, letting Blair take only small amounts.
After a few sips, Jim pulled the bottle away. Before, getting Blair warm had been his top priority, but now that shifted to lowering his body temperature, something he hoped the cold air would do on its own. Since he could afford to leave the kid out of the sleeping bag for now, he decided to check out Blair's feet. Keeping the bottle uncapped, he set it down on the ground and moved to retrieve his clothes. He dressed quickly, then moved to inspect Blair's feet. Both soles were scraped and raw, with tiny pebbles embedded in parts of the skin. Jim winced in sympathy, then retrieved a rag from his backpack. Gently, he set to work, pouring a little bit of water on the cloth and beginning the slow, delicate task of cleaning the wounds.
A few minutes into his ministrations, Blair stirred again, moaning and turning on his side as he pulled his legs up.
"Almost done, Chief," Jim reassured him, hoping that at least his voice would soothe the young man.
True to his word, he finished only moments later, and pulled out a roll of gauze and some antiseptic from his pack. He sterilized the cuts as best he could and wrapped each foot securely, his ears picking up the fluctuations in Blair's breathing as the young man drifted in and out of consciousness.
When he finished, he took the bottle and retrieved another small rag from the backpack, then poured enough of the water on the cloth to make the whole thing damp. He pressed the cloth on Blair's forehead, wiping away the perspiration that had sprung from the fever and the hot sleeping bag. The tell-tale increase in Blair's heartrate indicated that the young man was nearing consciousness again.
The cold washed over him, biting his hands and the tips of his toes, but, oddly, the rest of his body felt hot, as though laid out beneath the scorching sun. Something cool stroked his forehead, moving slowly toward his cheeks, then to his neck and shoulders. He lived only in the moment, aware of the myriad discomforts that afflicted him. His head throbbed in dull, regular beats of pain, and his feet ached. His stomach churned with the pangs of hunger, and all around his muscles felt like gelatin.
The soothing, cool motion continued, returning to his forehead and making its way slowly back down his face and neck. Some time later, dim visions of memory teased his brain, bringing him closer to consciousness...
A wolf... no, a man... a spirit guide. Soaring over the trees with a hawk. Jim. Fear. Pain. Flying. The wolf again. Then the fangs. The pain. His heart ripped from his chest, eaten before his eyes even as it continued to throb uselessly.
"Easy, Chief. You're going to be okay."
Jim? He forced heavy eyelids open. At first, all he saw was darkness, and he blinked several times. Then a blurred face came into view.
"Hey there. Welcome to the land of the living."
Blair swallowed, his mouth and throat dry, and he blinked again. This time the image shifted to a more solid form, becoming recognizable as a familiar, smiling face.
"You had me worried there for awhile, Chief, but I think you're gonna be just fine. How are you feeling?"
Blair knew he'd been asked a question, but his muddled brain had difficulty deciphering the words. He remained silent, content to just lay there and stare up at the reassuring face of his friend. The cool cloth moved away, replaced by a gentle hand on his forehead.
"You've got a fever, but I don't think it's too bad. No more sleeping bag for you, though, until your body temperature drops," Jim explained, but Blair just listened to his voice, not even bothering to focus on the content.
Some time later, the drone of Jim's words was interrupted by a shift in his tone. Another question?
"Chief? Do you understand me? Can you tell me how you got all the way out here?"
Yes, it was another question, Blair decided, but he just didn't have the strength to figure out the meaning and formulate an answer. That would probably make Jim mad. Jim hated to be ignored. Maybe he should try harder to answer him. After all, the big guy was looking a bit concerned. It was never good when that little crease formed between his eyes.
Blair opened his mouth, licked his lips, and made an effort to form a reply. He could only manage a single croak. "Wolf." The word tore from his throat with fire, but emerged as barely a whisper.
The cool cloth returned. Blair studied Jim's face as the older man seemed to ponder the answer. Finally, the crease between Jim's eyes smoothed, and his gaze softened. "It's okay, Chief. You can tell me later."
Day broke clear and bright, and soon Jim's sensitive ears picked up the snap of footsteps in the brush. He cocked his head, pinpointing the various sounds. The monks were close, probably within hearing range, and most likely quite worried about him. Rising to his feet, he folded the sleeping bag that Blair was laying on over the young man's frame, then hurried to the border of the clearing.
"Brother Marcus! Brother Jonathan! Over here!"
"Jim!" Marcus answered, and, moments later, the two men emerged from the brush.
"Are you okay?" Brother Marcus asked, then his gaze shifted past Jim to find Blair laying near the kindle of the campfire.
"Oh my --" He looked back at Jim. "Is he okay? What happened?"
"He'll be okay, I think." He looked at Brother Jonathan. "Do you have a large blanket? We'll need to carry him out of here." He brought his cell phone, but the battery had faded halfway into the search.
Brother Jonathan nodded. "Yes, but do you think we can carry him that far? Wouldn't it be better for one of us to go back to the monastery and call for help?"
Jim shook his head. "That'll take too long. This area is inaccessible by vehicle, and, if there's a delay getting a helicopter out here... well, I just don't want to risk it."
The two monks nodded. "Of course," Brother Marcus said, as Jonathan retrieved the blanket from his pack.
Marcus left Jonathan to ready the blanket and dropped next to Blair. Jim watched the older monk, noting the genuine concern in his eyes as he studied the unconscious young man.
"You're going to be okay, my boy," Marcus said, raising one hand to tenderly stroke Blair's cheek. "Don't you worry. We're here to take care you, now."
Jim couldn't help the small smile that lifted his lips, and he found himself reflecting on just how well Blair managed to work his way into the hearts of others.
The hike back to the monastery took nearly twice as long, and the three men arrived just before sunset. Brother Jeremy and the others had already returned. To Jim's surprise, Simon and Joel had also arrived, and his Sentinel ears told him that the two officers were waiting for him in Brother Jeremy's office, talking on the phone with Search-and-Rescue. He spotted Simon's dark sedan parked a few feet away, the Captain having obviously violated the monastery rules by bringing his vehicle so far. Under the circumstances, Jim figured that Brother Jeremy didn't mind.
Jim and his group had made it halfway across the lawn by the time they were noticed by a monk returning from the workshed. The man gave them a brief nod, then ran ahead to the monastery. Moments later, Simon, Joel, and Brother Jeremy emerged from the building, rushing down the stairs and hurrying to meet them.
"How is he?" Simon asked, peering past Jim to look at Sandburg.
"What happened?" Joel inquired.
"He's in bad shape, but I think he'll be okay if we get him medical attention soon," Jim replied. "I'm not sure what happened. When I woke up yesterday morning, he was gone, and I found him last night in the middle of the forest. He hasn't been lucid enough to tell me what happened."
Jim and the two monks carried Blair into his room, with Simon and Joel following closely behind. Gently, they set Blair on the bed, folding the blanket around his body. The young man had barely stirred during the return trip, waking only once to mumble something that Jim had barely made out as a low plea, a half-question directed at some imagined tormentor.
"I'll go call an ambulance," Joel said, moving toward the door.
"No, Joel, I don't think we need to do that. It'll be faster if we drive him ourselves," Jim said.
Simon nodded. "You saw my car outside?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. We should leave now, get him to the hospital ASAP."
"Okay," Simon agreed. "Just let me place a call to S&R and tell them the search party won't be necessary."
"He's really okay, Jim?" Taggart asked.
Jim allowed himself a small smile as he noted the concern in the older man. "Yeah, Joel, he'll be okay." Physically, anyway, he added silently. He still had no idea how Blair had gotten so far away, or why he had left in the first place.
Blair was pulled to consciousness by the hum of his own voice. He opened his eyes, the words in his throat fading, and he creased his brow, wondering what he'd been saying.
"About time you woke up," a familiar voice greeted, and Blair turned his head to see Jim peering down at him with wide blue eyes. "You've been singing that damn tune for about an hour."
Blair swallowed. "Tune?"
"Yeah, some song. You sang it before -- that time I came in and woke you up. You remember?"
He shook his head. "No. What song?"
Jim shrugged, placing a light hand on Blair's shoulder. "I don't know. I've never heard it before. I'm not even sure what language it was."
That remark confused Blair even more. What language? Only one I know well, so what else could it have been?
"How do you feel?" Jim asked.
Jim's question prompted him to take stock, and he realized that he was feeling surprisingly well. His feet and head ached a bit, and a light buzz filled his head, but other than that he was feeling pretty darn good.
But... "What happened?"
"We were at the monastery," Jim explained. "When I woke up, you were gone. I found you much later a good distance away in the forest. Do you remember anything?"
Forest. Blair strained to remember. A vision teased at the edges of his recollection. He grappled with it a few seconds more, than it all came flooding back to him, and he gasped with the sudden, unexpected intensity of the images.
"Hey, easy." Jim gave him a gentle squeeze. "It's okay. You can tell me when you're ready."
Blair nodded, a tremor coursing through him as the image of the wolf holding his beating heart flashed through his brain. He was ready to explain it now, but he wasn't quite sure how. He didn't know if Jim would believe him, or call in the men in white jackets to take him away. On the one hand, Jim had touched the spirit world himself on several occasions, and he'd shared the vision with Blair that day at the fountain. On the other hand, Blair's memory of the events were just so... out there... that he was having trouble believing it all happened himself.
Did it happen? Was any of it real? Obviously, not everything he remembered had actually happened, else he would be laying dead with a gaping hole in his chest rather than hooked up to an EKG machine that beeped in sync with his heart.
Still, Jim had a right to know, one way or the other, and, strangely, Blair felt the need to tell him. I passed some sort of test, didn't I? I made a choice, and he said I would be changed... but still the same. What did that mean? Who -- or what -- am I now?
He had to start somewhere, so he opened his mouth and started at the beginning, from his first memory of waking up in the middle of the forest.
Jim listened, too stunned to interrupt as Blair related the disturbing events with an eerie detachment. He cringed inwardly when he heard the description of Blair's last vision.
God, no wonder he was screaming.
"Now that I think about it, I can see the significance," Blair continued. "It's like a re-birth." His hands began to gesture excitedly, and Jim shook his head in awe. He'd once chastised Blair for not being able to "distance himself", but he realized that, in many ways, Blair was better at distancing himself from certain things than any other man on the force. "I remember now," Blair went on. "I read about some of these shamanistic visions, and a common one with new Shamans, especially those that receive the 'Call' rather than those that inherit their abilities, is the dream that I had. Now that I look back on all of it, things are starting to make sense. The Call to shamanize is often directly related to a near-death experience by the prospective Shaman, so I guess that was when I died at the fountain."
Jim flinched slightly at that statement, but Blair was too engrossed in his revelation to notice.
"One common experience that many prospective Shamans have is a dream in which the candidate dies or has some organs consumed and replaced and is thus reborn," Blair continued. "In my vision, that's what happened." A small shiver shot through his frame, but he quickly recovered. "The wolf consumed my organs one-by-one, replacing each of them along the way. I guess that was supposed to be my rebirth." He swallowed, a flicker of uncertainty touching his face, but the emotion passed quickly, soon replaced by a glint of academic enthusiasm. "Survival of these initial inner and outer brushes with death provides the Shaman with personal experiences which strengthen his or her ability to work effectively with others. Having experienced something, a Shaman is more likely to understand what must be done to correct a condition or situation."
Finally, Blair ran out of breath, and stopped his lecture to look up at Jim, obviously anxious as to the reaction he'd receive.
Jim shook his head, raising one hand to rub his temple. "Chief... I... I'm not quite sure what to say. Are you telling me that you're now a full-fledged Shaman?"
Blair looked away quickly, offering a small shrug. "I'm not sure. I know I made a choice, though, so I guess, at the very least, I'm now on the right path. The spirit guide said I would be changed. I don't know what he meant by that, but I don't feel much different."
Jim studied the younger man, and slow realization dawned on him. Blair was different, in many ways, the most notable one being the return of the familiar spark in his blue eyes. He'd seen it full-force when Blair had been explaining the vision, but it burned still, taking away most of the darkness that had lurked beneath the younger man's gaze just a few days before.
A genuine smile touched Jim's lips, and he gently patted Blair's cheek. "How do you feel, Chief?"
"I feel fine, Jim," Blair said quickly.
Jim shook his head. "No, I mean, 'how do you feel?'" He slid his arm down to rest over Blair's heart, feeling the thin electrodes that laid beneath the gown.
Blair looked momentarily confused, but then his eyes widened and a broad grin broke his face. "I feel good, Jim. Much better now. Better than I've felt in awhile, man."
Jim gave into the silly grin that took over, his chest warm. "So you think you're ready to come home, now?"
Blair nodded, his eyes bright. "Yeah. More than ready, Jim. Thanks."
The hospital door opened, grabbing both men's attention, and Simon walked in. The Captain's face lit with a smile when he saw Blair laying awake in bed.
"How are you feeling, Sandburg?"
Blair maintained his grin. "Fine, sir. Thank you."
Simon nodded, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a white envelope. "This is yours, I believe." He tossed the paper onto the edge of the mattress.
Blair picked up the envelope, his smile faltering. "This is my resignation?"
"What resignation?" Simon asked innocently.
The young man looked up at the Captain and handed the envelope back. "I'm sorry, sir, but this is still good. I can't be a cop."
Simon's face went slack with surprise, and he looked quickly to Jim. "I take it this means you two haven't cleared things up?"
Jim sighed, turning his gaze to Blair. "If you won't work for the Department, Chief, what are you going to do?" He felt a tight pressure in his chest as he asked the question.
Blair's gaze drooped. "I'm not sure, Jim." He paused for a moment, obviously lost in thought, then looked back up at the two men. "I'll still help you with your senses, Jim -- that's my role and I've accepted that, but I can't carry a gun. It's not who I am."
Simon nodded in sudden realization. "Okay, Sandburg, we can work around that," he said. "I don't see a problem with making you a paid civilian police consultant. The Commissioner has already agreed to let you go through the academy, so he shouldn't have a problem with you being even more detached from the Department."
Relief brightened Blair's face. "You think so? I mean, I'd like that, Captain, and I definitely need a paycheck."
Simon tore the envelope and its contents in half. "We'll just make your current temporary position a permanent one. No problem. I'll turn in my official recommendation to the Commissioner tomorrow."
Blair smiled, gratitude coloring his cheeks. "Thanks, Simon."
"It's Captain, Sandburg," Simon reminded him gruffly. "Don't forget it."
Blair mocked a salute. "Aye-aye, sir."
E-mail me, or "No soup..." err... I mean, "No FanFiction for you!" *grin*
(Seinfeld reference, for those of you scratching your heads).
Most of the shamanistic visions and information in this story were researched via the following website: