Warning - Bad words are used in this story (namely the 'f' word). But they were under stress so it's ok…isn't it?
Is there such a thing as a feel good warning? I got a tad mushy over this one in places. Yes - it's the inevitable 'TS by BS' fix that we all just have to write eventually ;-) …for those of you who don't like mush I also split the boys up for a while and dole out some angst, spill some beans, clue a few people in and fight a few demons…'nuff said <author gives an evil chuckle.>
The Longest Journey Begins...
The longest journey begins…
"…Blair skin rug," Jim teased, getting Blair into a headlock and administering a vigorous noogie while his partner - finally! - yelled and struggled just enough to dissuade him but not hard enough to knock him off balance. The men and women of Major Crimes laughed, and Naomi smiled indulgently. There was strain in her face though, and Jim knew why. Her son was joining the enemy and it was because she had destroyed his life and left him no other option.
Jim let go and Blair straightened, moving out of reach and hitting him with a mock glare. Jim put his cane on the ground and leaned on it a little - his leg throbbing in reaction to their horseplay. As always Blair knew what was going on and made a little twisting gesture with his fingers, advising Jim to dial it down, even as he spoke. Jim almost lost his words in the happy realization that they were back in their groove after a terrible shock.
"Watch it Ellison. They're gonna issue me with a gun," Blair threatened and got a laugh from their colleagues. Naomi made an almost silent sound of distress, and Blair looked at her immediately - making Jim wonder how he'd known when Jim had barely heard her even with Sentinel hearing.
"You tell him Hairboy," Henri cheered and distracted Jim for a moment. Simon was still grinning in his wheelchair and Blair used the hooting and hollering as a cover to slip closer.
"Captain," he said quietly, "Thanks."
Simon gaped up at him in shock. The tone had been affectionate and…respectful.
"You ok?" he blurted, "I mean…"
"I'm gonna be just fine," Blair straightened and smiled at his mother, "Nothing to worry about."
"Good," Simon replied, watching the silent communication for a moment, then turning to look at Jim. The Sentinel was frowning at the reply - let's face it, it wasn't a ringing endorsement of life in general, but Simon figured the kid had a right to a little bit of melancholia. He'd just thrown thirteen years of work onto the scrap heap for the sake of their friendship.
"Hey Sandburg! The Dean is on TV! He's talking about you!" a cop yelled and there was an immediate silence, followed by mass movement to the break room and the TV kept stashed there.
The Dean was a silver haired man with a dark three-piece suit and gold half glasses that glinted in the light of dozens of cameras. He was halfway through his opening remarks as Blair pushed Simon into the break room and moved to stand next to his mother.
"…Most unfortunate series of events. When groundbreaking studies come to light the University is naturally eager to see them published and in this case some…procedural steps were overlooked. The publishing company compounded the problem by continuing to release excerpts from the document despite the author's requests that no such action continue. The university regrets that the author felt his…startling press conference was the only way to get the document withdrawn from the public domain, and we will be contacting Mr. Sandburg about his original thesis. If he can satisfy certain guidelines, his…suspension will be revoked and he will be…able to continue his doctoral research. Thank you," the Dean's rich voice rolled from the speaker and there was a brief pause before the media representatives realized he'd finished and started shouting their questions. He ignored them as Blair had, heading away from the podium and through the same door Blair had used.
Blair's face was so white he was transparent and he swayed a little where he stood, eyes riveted to the screen as the channel reporter stepped in front of the camera and rehashed what had just been said. The people in the break room were silent, staring at Blair uncertainly.
"Yesss!" Henri Brown screamed, "All right Hairboy!"
He lunged for Blair, wrapping the young man in an exuberant hug, slapping him on the back. The reaction freed the others, and they reached out too, slapping and hugging and shaking his hand. Jim and Simon stood silent - in shock - and Naomi was a statue. Blair's cell phone rang and he broke away from his shouting friends to answer it, sticking one finger in his ear to block out some of the noise. Jim ruthlessly dialed his hearing up, focussing on Blair and the phone.
"Sandburg!" his Guide barked, "Mandy? What the fuck?"
"The Student Union got behind you!" Mandy's end was full of people yelling in celebration too, "We hired a lawyer who brought an action in your name! You never submitted the thesis and whatever you told the publisher it sure as shit wasn't keeping making media releases. The Uni has to reopen your case and the publisher is agreeing to settle out of court!"
"Mandy - why didn't you warn me?" Blair blurted, "I mean, fuck I'm grateful and thank you so fucking much, but I could have used the warning! I was about to leave Cascade!"
The words clenched Jim's guts tightly, making him feel as if someone had just dumped him into a frozen lake and held him under. For a moment the room went away - it was only a supreme effort of will that got him back to the present.
"We weren't sure it would help! Didn't want to get your hopes up!" Mandy replied, "Fuck, Blair - after all you've done for us it was the least we could do. Your police thing is almost ready, right? So polish it up and be a doctor! You deserve this Blair!"
"Where is everyone?" Blair turned and looked at his cavorting friends. Mandy told him where they were headed - a bar Jim had never heard of - and Blair told her he'd be bringing some friends.
"Time you all met the guys, so ix nay on the wacky weed, ok?" Blair laughed, and shed the years he'd gained ever since this fiasco had started, "I'll see you all there!"
"You got it!" Mandy replied happily and they hung up. Shouting to be heard, Blair issued the invite and the room quickly organized themselves into car pools and got directions. Naomi and Blair decided to drive together, and Joel volunteered to take Simon and Jim. With a gleeful wave, the curly haired man disappeared with his mother in tow.
The bar had been hot and noisy - giving Jim the perfect reason to leave early, citing his wound as an excuse. Blair had glanced over, seen the truth and come over to say goodbye, promising he'd be quiet when he got home - the Sentinel eagerly accepting the implied promise to come home to Jim and the loft. Joel had already driven Simon home and returned - Jim declined a lift, taking a cab instead and brooding for the drive home.
The loft was silent and still. Blair had cleaned it thoroughly since Jim was last in there, and with a shock he realized his Guide had also packed there. Some artifacts remained - doubtless to be 'forgotten' as gifts to Jim. They were all things he liked - things he'd been in the habit of handling when he was thinking or trying to avoid a particularly difficult discussion. A few had even been the subject of various tests.
Blair's room was suspiciously neat. A few books still rested on the bookcase - closer examination proved them to be the holistic medicine texts Blair consulted most often for Jim on the rare occasions he got sick, and Burton's monograph. There was also folder after folder of notes and test results and source documents - the Sentinel thesis in all its completed glory, standing side by side with the cover thesis Jim had never really taken seriously. The desk was bare, the drawers empty and the bed stripped and remade with the original bedding that Jim had put out for his guest that was only staying for a week. There were no clothes in the closet.
Jim slumped down onto the bed and looked around. His fear, his actions and his pride had forced a man he loved as a brother to first sacrifice his lifelong dream and then give up the place he'd called home. What kind of a selfish bastard was he - to let Blair give everything up without even trying to put it right?
Instead he and Simon had come up with what would have been a consolation prize - the offer of a job at the PD. Sure, at the time it was all they could think of - and for Jim it was a dream come true. But neither man had thought to challenge the sacrifice. Be honest, Ellison. When it came down to it, you just didn't have the guts to make the same sacrifice, Jim growled and shifted on the futon impatiently, lifting his leg to make it stop throbbing and trying not to think so damn much.
The celebration at the bar had shown Jim how much his friend had really been hurting. The prospect of regaining his doctorate had made Blair seem as young as the day they'd met. Their colleagues and the students and the Uni had meshed into a seamless entity to celebrate the light in Blair's eyes and the laughter in his voice.
Jim had wanted to ask at the bar if that meant Blair would be turning down the PD, but Simon had gotten there first, telling Blair the offer stood open. The men and women from the PD had backed the captain up, perhaps realizing that now was not the time to push for a final decision, while the students had only been concerned in celebrating his return to righteousness. Still, Jim had been almost desperate to know if Blair was going to be his partner on the force as well as his Guide and Shaman.
Naomi had partied with the students, laughing and celebrating with her usual carefree air. She seemed to take it for granted that her son would not be joining the cops now, and was visibly relieved at the idea. She'd been caught in the original catch 22 - unable to be truly happy about her son's new career, but unable to disapprove of it because of her actions. She'd handed her key to the loft to Jim before they entered the bullpen this afternoon, and Jim wondered if her son had planned to be travelling with her when Naomi left.
Jim slumped back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. Would Blair have come to resent him and their work if forced to stay? Was Blair even going to accept the offer to join the PD? Jim knew that there would be quite a few obstacles put into his friend's path - you can't declare yourself a fraud and then join a closed society that prized honesty and loyalty without running into quite a few objections. Jim had been prepared to go to the wire for his partner because he knew the truth - but would Blair have been able to stand it? Stand the hatred and suspicion that would dog his heels every day?
Even with the Dean's retraction of the University censure there would still be the die hard few - men and women who'd never accepted Blair's place at his side - who would continue to treat the young man as damaged goods. Blair would stick with it though, for as long as he could - out of loyalty to Simon and Jim.
On the other hand, did Blair have a future in academia anymore? Surely the same obstacles that applied at the PD would apply at the University - they were a closed society in their own right. He certainly had no future at Rainer, even if he wanted to stay there; the Chancellor would see to that. Which meant he'd have to leave Cascade and find somewhere else to work. He'd mentioned once or twice that tenure was difficult to come by - and since hooking up with Jim his record of attendance had been less than sterling, something that was bound to reflect on any application he made.
Jim closed his eyes in pain. In the five years since Blair had met him, Jim had - by his demands and expectations - ruined Blair's future as an academic and made it nigh on impossible for him to be accepted at the PD. Now what were they going to do?
Being very drunk when he got home - thank god the elevator had been working or he'd have been forced to sleep in the lobby - Blair hadn't been too surprised to find Jim asleep in his bed. Some small sober corner of his brain had informed him that attempting to climb the stairs to Jim's room with his partner unstable and groggy from sleep would result in broken limbs for them both, so Blair had crawled into his bed with Jim and promptly passed out.
Being one of those fortunate people who woke ravenous instead of hung over, Blair woke six hours later, cradled against Jim's chest, with his partner stroking his hair and staring at the ceiling with a clenched jaw.
"Oomph," Blair announced his return to consciousness with a grunt and lifted his head a little. Jim's arms tightened and a large hand put his head back on Jim's chest. The stroking resumed and increased; as Jim's other hand joined in and started rubbing circles on his back.
"Oh-Kay," Blair yawned, "Not moving. Wha's up?"
"What are we going to do now?" Jim's whisper was pained, "Jesus Chief, a bunch of people I've never met had the guts to stick up for you and get your dream back. I couldn't even do that for you."
"You'd better not be calling any press conferences," Blair growled, leaping to the right conclusion, "Or there'll be trouble in this household - you bet."
"It's not right," Jim continued, "I've destroyed everything you've been working towards. You can't get tenure at Rainer, other Unis are gonna look at your record and wonder what they're getting, and the PD is hardly the place for you. No matter what the Dean says or the Commissioner they'll still treat you like a fraud."
"Because I am one," Blair confirmed to the chest he was pressed to and wondered how Jim had gotten drunk when he'd been dry last night because of the medication. The hands stroking his hair and back froze, and then shook him.
"No you're not!" Jim yelled, "You're not!"
Blair struggled, managed to break the grip Jim had and sat up, disheveled and panting for breath. He glared at his distraught friend and decided that 'Compassionate Guide' should take a back seat and 'Commanding Shaman' should come out to play. He fixed Jim with the evil eye and hardened his voice to a dangerous tone.
"Let me get this straight. For the last few years, Blair Sandburg has only existed as an extension of Jim Ellison's will. Is that what you're trying to say?" the tone broke through and Blair covered a smile of satisfaction as Jim blanched and stammered a denial, "Because let me tell you, buster, I think you're wrong. I chose to ride along with you. I chose to take the risks and the knocks. I chose to put you first when there was a conflict between Uni and the PD, or even the world and the Sentinel. How dare you act like I'm some spineless goober who could never have achieved anything without you!"
"Chief…Blair…please. I'm sorry," Jim had gone white and reached a trembling hand to his Shaman. The hand was ignored, sending a stab of pain through his gut. Touch was their most important connection - when one denied the other there was something terribly wrong.
"And as for the PD? I'm not a complete moron! I know how hard it would have been. I know it still won't be easy, but dammit, I'm ready to take that risk! Our friends will back us up - Simon will back us up. That's enough for me. Why can't you be happy? Why can't you celebrate that the damn world bought our fucking lie and we're ok now?"
Jim shook, his mouth opening but no sound emerging as his Shaman roared at him in frustration.
"Do you still think I'm going to betray you? Do you still think I wanted all this - I sent the damn thing off to be published and endanger you and our friends? Simon and Megan almost died. You've got a damn hole in your leg - you think this is what I wanted? You think I wanted you to doubt us, to doubt our friendship? To doubt our bond?"
"No, no, no," Jim whispered, "I betrayed you. Should have listened, should have had faith, should have known better."
"That's right," Blair replied softly, "You should have."
He leaned over and gathered Jim into a gentle hug, soothing the tremors away and calming his own breathing. Jim had gotten the point this time - Blair was sure of it. Touch was restored - the connection imprinting his next words into Jim's memory.
"We're partners, Jim. No one can take that away from us. And as for the future - I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll have to meet with the Dean and see what he wants, then think it over. You'll be first to know, partner, ok?" the 'Compassionate Guide' came to the fore and the Sentinel settled down under the influence of that voice and touch. The rumbling of Blair's stomach disturbed the moment and he sat up with an embarrassed laugh.
"Let's eat, huh? Things will be ok Jim," Blair slid off the bed and extended a hand to his friend, "Come on - you need to eat so you can take your meds and then we'll clean up and change your dressing. Hop to it Jim - there are pancakes out there with my name on them."
"Don't use the word hop, Chief," Jim's face was a little strained, but the weak joke got him a smile and a roll of the eyes.
Time seemed to fly then. Blair talked to Simon and ended up postponing the badge while he completed the thesis on closed societies in law enforcement. He stopped coming in to the station with Jim while he polished the thesis that was never meant to be more than a cover.
The loft remained bare of the usual Blair clutter. Wherever he'd sent his stuff, Blair wasn't trying to retrieve it. Simon asked if Blair wanted the boxes he'd sent to Simon back, and received a negative in reply.
"That's all the Sentinel stuff, Simon," Blair had told him, "It's for you to use now."
The reply had seemed vaguely ominous to Jim, but he'd been unwilling to push Blair into anything lately. His Guide was working twelve hours a day on the thesis - spending eight of those at the library on campus and the rest locked in his room. He'd started leaving Jim little notes on the counter - sort of hi there, take care stuff that made Jim grin. If he cooked before the cop got home, the leftovers were put on a plate in the fridge for Jim to reheat for his own dinner.
At work, Simon and Megan got on his case a lot more. He couldn't leave the station without Megan accompanying him as back up. She started touching him a lot more too - putting a hand on his wrist or elbow while they worked the crime scenes. A part of Jim resented her attempts at Guide touch, though it seemed to work. He didn't zone, splitting his concentration between the sense he was using and the touch on his arm. She wasn't a Guide though - the qualities that Jim had come to associate with Blair in the Guide persona were missing. Her touch didn't settle his senses to a fine level of control - nor did it focus and energize him: Blair's touch did. It was like the difference between pushing a button on the dishwasher and having to wash everything by hand. With Blair the senses seemed to operate automatically at a deeper level, with Megan they took hard work and elbow grease.
In the office, Simon was always pulling him aside to go over his reports, walking him through the crime scenes and pushing him for that extra layer of detail that Blair could always extract with so little effort. He was also demanding the full details of any report Jim handed in - namely the Sentinel side of things that he had once chosen to ignore. The time spent closeted in Simon's office did not go unnoticed by his colleagues and Jim was given one or two considering looks.
One bonus to the whole thing was that Blair's achievements were now the focus of everyone in the bullpen. Jim was constantly handed messages for his absent partner, as well as files and information for the thesis. More than once he overheard their co-workers bragging to a cop from another department about Blair's thesis and had to conceal a smile. Blair the academic had a niche in the bullpen, and he was accepted for who he was by Jim's co-workers. Jim had a warm glow going over that one.
The kicker came one poker night, two weeks after the Dean's press conference. The 'core' of Major Crimes was there - Henri, Brown, Joel, Megan, Simon and Jim - all at Henri's house. They sat at his kitchen table and drank a lot of beer, munched unhealthy snacks and joked around while Henri's wife stayed clear of it all in the living room and watched TV. Henri had had something on his mind all night, and it was while Jim was dealing that he evidently decided to spit it out.
"Hey, Jim? Not that I really minded or anything, but were you ever going to come clean about why Hairboy was really riding with you?"
The question created dead silence and Jim froze, looking at the man in the ugly bright shirt like a deer caught in the headlights. His mind whirled uselessly while he tried to formulate an answer that would be convincing.
"Come clean?" Simon tried to save the day, and got a very insubordinate look from his detective. Henri Brown was no-one's fool and didn't intend to start.
"Yeah. We figured you knew about it, Simon - hell you'd have to, to help cover it all up. And it made sense that you just didn't come out and say it, but when it all hit the fan…" Joel trailed off. Megan looked around, just as stunned and wondering why they'd all forgotten their colleagues were detectives.
"No offence Megan, but it kinda hurt you'd take the exchange officer into your confidence and not us," Brian Rafe added and Megan shook her head rapidly. They weren't going to think the worst of her in this situation if she could help it - she had stumbled over this secret at the lowest ebb of the Sentinel/Guide partnership.
"I guessed," she blurted, "Sandy had this book in New Mexico and I found it and Jim just fit the profile. They didn't want to tell me - I just figured it out. Right place, right time."
"So you really are a…what was it called?" Henri looked over at his partner.
"Sentinel," the dapper man supplied, folding his hands. Jim still hadn't moved, frozen in place with the cards in his hands. Simon frowned and reached over, touching him on the arm. Jim jerked and dropped the deck, his eyes tracking to Simon immediately.
"What?" he barked and Simon sighed. Jim had zoned - just a small one. Probably on touch from the way he'd reacted - and probably caused by the emotions he was experiencing as his co-workers dug out his secret. Simon had been studying the reams of notes Blair had sent him and was finding that he understood Jim's reactions a little better than before.
"You zoned," Simon replied, making a decision, "For about a minute. Henri asked if you were a Sentinel."
"Oh," Jim gathered the cards again and blushed, looking around shyly, "Yeah I am."
It was like a weight had been lifted from his chest to admit it out loud to his friends, and suddenly Jim could breathe again. The beer he'd drunk helped loosen his tongue and relieve some of the embarrassment of 'coming out' that Jim would have otherwise felt. His concerns that his colleagues would treat him like some sort of freak were also diminished by the alcohol - all Jim could think of was that he could finally vindicate his Guide and reveal just how smart Blair really was.
"Blair's my Guide. That means he watches over me - helps to train the senses and takes care of me when they go wrong. He calls me back when I get lost in one of them - it's called a zone - and generally keeps me in line," Jim smiled fondly, thinking of his friend, "He's taught me to use my heightened senses to gather information at a scene, conduct surveillance in the field and even act as lie detectors."
"That's what Simon and Megan have been doing - trying to fill in for Sandburg," Joel guessed and Jim nodded.
"It's only working because he's helped me become independent. I have to work a lot harder than usual because they're just…not him. It's hard to explain. It's like he adds something to me to make me work better," Jim confessed openly.
"So what was that whole thing last year? You know…how you ended up in New Mexico?" Rafe asked, referring to their meltdown and Blair's murder as gracefully as possible.
"That woman? The one we ended up catching? She was a Sentinel too," Simon replied while Jim stared down at the table cloth, "From what Sandburg told me, Jim was reacting to his Guide's betrayal - you know, he was working with another Sentinel and Jim sort of figured it out subconsciously. You must have noticed how… protective Jim is of the kid."
"No," Jim blurted. It was time to face the truth of the matter - no more hiding behind his Guide's comforting 'hey we both fucked up - but no harm no foul' speech.
"It's more than that," Jim looked at Simon desperately, "She wasn't bonded to a Guide - she'd have taken Blair away if she could. And I wasn't talking to the Shaman. Once I saw the panther and wolf I should have spoken up straight away. If I'd told the Shaman what I saw he'd have been able to save us both. We'd never have had to go to the temple. He'd never have died."
"Who's the Shaman?" Joel frowned.
"Blair," Jim glanced over, "He's my Shaman and Guide. He's very powerful in the spirit world. Every time I ignore that side of the deal he kicks my butt and gets me back on line. You guys remember the man who died in the loft a few years ago? Incacha from Peru? He was my first Shaman. He tried to help out with the senses but he couldn't really - he wasn't my true Guide. Then he met Blair and passed the way of the Shaman to him - that's when the whole spiritual side of things really took off for me. You wouldn't believe how strong Blair is - the stuff he can do. He can tell at a glance when something's wrong and usually fixes it before I even have a chance to realize I'm in trouble. It used to bug me a lot, but…being a Shaman is what let me…retrieve him at the fountain. We shared a vision…I called him back. I denied it afterwards, but it's true - he was dead at least twenty minutes. That's how powerful he is - one of the marks of a strong Shaman is the ability to reverse death."
His rambling speech was greeted with silence as his friends did their best to assimilate what he'd just revealed. The alcohol they'd consumed wasn't helping.
"Did you know about this?" Joel asked Simon, who nodded gently.
"Yeah, most of it. They told me about the Sentinel stuff right after Kincaid took over the station, and then Sandburg kept me up to date on everything else. Even the stuff I didn't want to know about like the visions and spirit guides," Simon sighed and then smiled at Jim, "He was so determined there be at least one other person who'd know what was going on with you, Ellison. He's one hell of a Guide."
Jim chuckled and shook his head. They'd never know the half of it - there were just no words to describe everything that made Blair Sandburg the truly incredible being he was.
"The first time I was in his office I called him a neo hippie witchdoctor punk," Jim grinned at Megan when she groaned and rolled her eyes, "I guess I was right on the money too."
Blair graduated quietly. At the request of the Uni he didn't attend the Graduation ceremonies - much to Jim's indignation.
"After all you've done!" Jim had raged, stalking the living area while his Guide sat in the yellow chair and watched him vent some of his frustration, "You deserve to be up there! You deserve the whole deal!"
"It's politics, Jim. And it makes for good relations with the Dean. That's important too," Blair replied in a quiet tone, "I've graduated - that's enough for me. Aren't you even going to congratulate me?"
Jim stopped as if he'd been shot and turned a stricken face to his Guide. He got a wicked smiled and laughed reluctantly at first as he realized he'd been expertly outmaneuvered. The laughter became full bodied as Blair winked and then wriggled his eyebrows in a ‘gotcha' gesture. Jim strode over and pulled him up into a back thumping, rib creaking hug that Blair returned wholeheartedly.
"Congratulations Chief," Jim grinned, holding his friend out from his chest for a moment then pulling him in for another hug, "Hey! My neo hippie witch finally got his doctorate. Ow!"
The last exclamation came as Blair slugged him indignantly. Jim was grinning down at the best friend he could ever have hoped to find.
"I am not a witch!" he hissed, wriggling free and slugging Jim again, then ducking as his friend retaliated. War was declared with a mock roar and the air became full of flying cushions, taunts and exclamations. Simon's knock - something he hadn't managed to do ever since Jim's senses came properly on line - interrupted them long enough for Blair to nail Jim a good one with a cushion, and their Captain entered the war zone incredulously. He was soon sucked into the battle out of sheer self-defense, their good spirits overwhelming even his sense of decorum.
When the loft was a complete shambles and the occupants weak from laughter they finally collapsed onto the decimated sofa cushions.
"I take it you were successful, Sandburg?" Simon struggled to control his breathing and tidy himself up.
"Yep," Blair bounced on the cushion he was perched on, his hair wildly mussed and a grin that could light all of Cascade for a year on his face. Jim was wearing it's identical twin brother, making Simon wish he had a camera - he'd never seen the big cop this happy before.
"Now what?" Simon grinned back at them, "Do I have to dust off my good suit for the Graduation?"
"Nope," Blair's grin didn't diminish, "I'm not going. But we are having a party. Right Jim?"
The last part had a tone of command to it, and though Jim's grin faded a little it didn't disappear entirely. He nodded in agreement and raised his eyebrows at Simon.
"How about it Simon - ready to help me plan the party to end all parties?" he asked his boss who grinned at the definite traces of alarm appearing on Blair's face.
"Oh I think I can help with that," Simon nodded, sitting a little straighter and fishing for his glasses, which he'd stored for safety in an inner pocket.
"Uh guys? No horses, ok?" Blair said faintly. Jim chuckled cruelly and rubbed his hands together in a menacing manner, earning a laugh from Simon and a groan from Blair.
William Ellison looked around at the mixture of partying cops and students in the ballroom that his son had rented and took a sip of the scotch he was nursing in one hand. The guest of honor was currently standing with his youngest son and a girl dressed all in black, talking above the noise from the music and laughing at something Steven was saying.
"Enjoying the party, Dad?" William hadn't seen Jim's approach and turned in surprise. His son looked good in a tux, and had a relaxed air about him that William couldn't recall ever seeing before.
"Yes," William smiled, "Though I was startled to receive the invitation."
"Thought you'd like to celebrate with the man who has saved my life," Jim nodded over at Blair, then groaned, "Great - he's telling Steven about the time we had to jump off a cliff. Steve's never gonna let me live it down."
"How can you possibly…" William trailed off as he realized his son was what the news reporters were still saying on occasion, "You can really hear that?"
"Only because it's Blair's voice. I can always hear him - no matter where he is," Jim's voice betrayed his satisfaction at that. William frowned a little and looked at the young man with his hair in a ponytail, earrings in one ear and a rented tux, who was still chatting away, his hands moving constantly as he spoke.
"Don't you find that…annoying? Like a radio you can never switch off?" William looked up at his son, "How can you thank him for keeping your senses so high? Surely the recent disaster with the press…"
"It wasn't his fault," Jim frowned at his father, growling his words in a low voice to avoid being overheard, "Or are you just worried your son the freak will embarrass you?"
"Hey Jim, take it easy," the gentle voice in his ear made him look up. Blair was walking towards them, concern on his face. He continued to speak even though they were separated by a dozen feet.
"Don't be mad at your Dad. He's got the same protective instincts you do, you know. Every parent wants his or her child to be happy and accepted. And it's not like he had a chance to hear the real deal from anyone," Blair stepped around a group of laughing people and reached their side, looking up into Jim's face with a small smile, "And if you ever use that 'f' word in my presence again I'll wash your mouth out with soap. Though I blame you for that, Mr. Ellison. After all, you taught it to him."
The words were said lightly, but the dark blue eyes were spitting energy and anger at William. Their owner wasn't finished yet as he turned and put Jim behind him - sheltering the taller man from his father.
"James Joseph Ellison is a beautiful and complex individual, and I wouldn't change a single thing for all the gold in the world," the soft spoken words hit both men like stones flung from a catapult - for different reasons, "There is nothing unnatural about his abilities or his use of them. I will not hear a single word against him, especially words founded in fear and ignorance. If you ever wish to know the truth, sir, you know where I am. Now, Jim - I believe it's time for you to retrieve that surprise cake you had the kitchen staff hide for you. You know - the one they had to ask me how to store?"
Blair smiled at his partner and headed back into the crowd, point made.
"How did he…" William trailed off. Jim grinned down at his father - his only parents' power to make him feel like a freak forever banished by the words of his Shaman and Guide.
"Welcome to the Sandburg Zone," Jim disappeared into the crowd to alert the kitchen staff that it was time for his partner's favorite cake and warn Megan to put on the pink dingo costume she was going to wear to jump out of its replica.
Jim frowned as he stepped out of the truck and looked over at Blair.
"You expecting a visitor, Chief?" he asked and Blair shook his head, coming around to touch his wrist. As always Jim's senses kicked up a notch, and the heartbeat he'd heard snapped into sharp focus.
"What do you hear, Jim?" Blair asked quietly, steering them safely across the road and into the lobby while Jim concentrated. Jim didn't stop to ask how Blair knew it was hearing and not scent or sight that had first caught his attention - it was just another sign that Blair was a true Guide to Jim's Sentinel.
"One adult male - he's sick. And…not an American," Jim frowned, "His scent is wrong. It's like he's never used a processed product in his life - like the Chopec smelt."
"But he's not a member of the Chopec tribe?" Blair asked and Jim shook his head, "But he comes from a similar background? A similar level of technology?"
"Yeah," Jim nodded as they hurried up the stairs. Whoever this was, he wasn't triggering his sense of danger. There was only the threat of the unknown and he faced that with his Guide daily.
A man sat slumped against their door and Blair exclaimed in horror, brushing past Jim and running forward, hands outstretched to touch the slumped figure.
"Mwamba!" Blair knelt and stroked gentle hands over the rags the tall black man wore. Jim could see they'd never fit the surprisingly tall man. There were tribal markings on the man's arms and face and legs. His feet were bare despite the cold weather, and from the soles Jim could see the man had never worn shoes in his life. He was shivering and sweating at the same time, and very thin to boot. Jim leaned around to unlock the door while Blair braced the man in his arms. Before Jim could turn to help, Blair's surprising strength surged to the fore and he stood with the sick man in his arms. The guy was so tall that even carried like a bride over the threshold his feet brushed the floor. Jim got a clear glimpse of ribs and vertebrae as the Shaman vanished into his room and shut the door.
Three minutes later his hand emerged with a list, which Jim took and hurried out to fill. He knew better than to question the Shaman when he was focussed on someone's welfare. Too often it had been Jim he was focussed on. Hospital was out of the question - Jim doubted their visitor had a passport and would probably react poorly to the chemicals Western medicine used to treat illness.
Jim went to bed listening to the indistinct words of the Shaman and his patient - deliberately not listening to what they were saying to each other. Blair obviously knew the guy and was in no danger. Jim would have to bide his time to find out what was going on. He hoped that whatever it was wouldn't result in him lying to Simon to protect another tribe that had come to Cascade for revenge on their enemies.
Waking the next morning, Jim came downstairs and smiled at his friend. He was sitting at the table watching Mwamba inhale a plate full of scrambled eggs. There was another plate of eggs ready for Jim, and he sat next to Blair.
"Morning, Chief," Jim looked over at their guest, "How is he?"
"Much better," Blair grinned, "That's his fifth plate."
"Whew," Jim shook his head, "So what's going on?"
Mwamba looked up from his shoveling and said a word to Blair indistinctly. Blair nodded; Mwamba nodded and went back to his meal. His scent was no longer 'sick' - whatever the Shaman had done last night had done the trick.
"He's been sent by his tribe. I visited with them as an undergrad - their Shaman kind of adopted me. They're one of the few tribes who have turned to Eco-tourism to survive the steady encroachment of so called modern society," Blair took a look at Jim's face and grinned, "But to get back to your question …their Shaman died recently. The tribe is having some troubles and they need a Shaman in the village to help out."
"So Mwamba came for you?" Jim frowned, "How did he know you were a Shaman if you visited them in your under grad years. Incacha only passed the way to you a few years ago."
"Incacha isn't the first Shaman, Medicine Man, or Witchdoctor to take a second look and hand me a mystical title," Blair confessed, "Usually they just say that I'll fulfill my role as Shaman once I meet my destiny - Incacha was the first to tell me I'd already gotten there."
"I'm…your destiny?" there was awe in the hesitant tone and Blair laid a hand on Jim's shoulder.
"You're stuck with me, big guy," he confirmed, acting like he was passing bad news on. Jim pulled him into a tight one-armed hug for a moment, showing how he felt rather than fumbling for the words and knew that his Guide understood.
"So they want to borrow you," Jim recapped, "For how long? Can I come?"
"For a year - until their new Shaman finishes his witch doctorate - for lack of a better term," Blair sighed and looked up at Jim, "And no - you can't come. Simon can't afford to give you the time off; besides the tribe needs you here, not off in the wilds of Africa. I'll be ok - these people will take good care of me, just like Major Crimes will take care of you. You're my destiny and I'll return to you - I swear it."
"Doesn't matter if you do. You've got one year and then I'm coming after you to drag you home. The tribe here needs you too, you know. And I'm never on top form without you - no matter how skilled Simon and Conner become. I'll make sure Simon holds your job for you," Jim smiled down at him, "Although he's not going to be happy."
"I've already spoken to him," Blair sighed, "It's ten thirty Jim. You've got the day off."
Jim stared at the clock in shock and then at his Guide. The man was smirking at him as Mwamba cleaned his plate off and sat back, finally satisfied. He knew he'd set the alarm last night before going to bed - there was only one explanation for his tardiness this morning.
"You snuck up there and turned the alarm off!"
Blair strode from the terminal with his duffel thrown over one shoulder. He wore the Chopec bracelet that Incacha had given him, a loose and very wrinkled T-shirt and his oldest jeans. Sturdy hiking boots encased his feet and his hair was pulled back with a leather tie. Blair felt as if he'd returned to school - these clothes were practically his uniform when on expedition with the Uni; low maintenance gear that took a beating and kept together.
He ignored the crowds of tourists that had come to the small airfield that acted as the jumping off point for guided safaris and adventure holidays. Some of these people had packed enough to last them a year instead of the few weeks they'd actually be out in the wilderness. Various tour guides, safari chauffeurs and translators darted among the throng, tying to locate their charges and get them out of the confusion.
Living with Mwamba's tribe for a year meant he'd packed light. There was no way he'd get his medicinal herbs through customs - and the tribe probably wouldn't react too well to them anyway. He'd be living as their Shaman - which meant he'd adopt their customs when it came to dress. Being bare butt naked didn't require a change of clothes. He'd packed his own mortar and pestle from the kitchen, and taken the camping gear that Jim had insisted on - a set of billy's that nested inside each other, a good knife and whet stone, his sleeping bag and a blanket and enough sun block and cream to cover the entire tribe for months.
Turning away from the taxis and buses, Blair followed the road that led back towards the runways. Mwamba met him at the boundary of the airport and Blair followed his friend across the runways in a short cut that would lead them to the native bus. Tourists didn't take this transport - it was noisy, crowded and drove dangerously fast along questionable roads. Both men chose to sit up in the fresh air, hanging onto the luggage rack with one hand and the duffel with the other.
The road twisted and turned, taking them past several safari lodges - letting off workers at some of them - and shadowing the foothills of the mountains that loomed in the distance. Mwamba's people were mountain dwellers, but the road didn't come near them - the two men had quite a trek ahead of them.
Animals strolled along or across the road with majestic abandon for the noisy smelly bus. The driver had a horn that sounded like an air raid siren, which he let off very time an animal got in the way. Blair grinned at his companion who shrugged. Road rules didn't apply to animals - and the driver would be heavily fined if he killed any; it was part of the charter of the bus company that they didn't detract from the conservation efforts of the government. Road kill was a definite no-no.
The dry heat surrounded Blair - making him feel comfortably warm for the first time in months. Cascade was too cold and wet for the anthropologist to feel properly dry and warm. Blair grinned at his friend and yelled that he'd keep watch for their stop if Mwamba wanted to rest. The man had traveled hard to keep up with Blair's more legal entry to the country - following much the same route he'd taken to get to Cascade in the first place. While the tribe could afford to send a man by legal routes, the time it would take to first obtain a passport and then clearance to leave Africa was something they couldn't afford.
Three hours into the swaying journey Blair spotted the three plane trees that marked their 'bus stop' and thumped hard on the roof of the bus to indicate to the driver that his passengers wanted off. His other hand shook Mwamba awake and then grabbed the duffel to secure it against the screeching halt. Both men climbed down rapidly - the driver wasn't in the habit of waiting for very long - and watched the bus lurch off into the afternoon heat.
Blair stood still as a pride crossed the road - heading for the distant waterhole no doubt - and then followed Mwamba into the long grass for the long trek through the foothills and up into the mountains that they still had to make to reach the village.
Reaching it early the next afternoon, Mwamba was hailed as a hero and Blair slipped away from the celebration to place his duffel in the corner of the Shaman's hut. He stripped and folded his clothes away, slathered sun block on his more sensitive parts and hurried back to the entrance of the village. The Chief was welcoming his son back and praising his resourcefulness loudly.
Blair grinned to himself as he looked around and spotted familiar faces and friends. Everyone in this village was very tall, and Blair resigned himself to spending a year with his head tilted back. Even the teenagers were taller than the new Shaman was - Blair would have his work cut out with them. The Chief finished his praise and turned to welcome Blair to the village - calling him Rafiki, the old name he'd been given on his last visit. Blair got the formal words out of the way and then put out a hand for the ritual handshake. This broke the tableau and his former friends quickly surrounded Blair as they rushed to renew their acquaintance with their new Shaman.
Jim sighed and looked around the bullpen, blowing his nose on a tissue as he did. Half the team was down with colds and flu as the Cascade weather demons did their best to bring the city to a screeching halt. It was currently raining a mixture of sleet and snow with a wind-chill in the minuses. Jim dumped the tissue, stifled a cough and heaved himself up to go get a mug of herbal remedy. Blair had left behind several teas and infusions for the Sentinel in case of just such an occurrence - as well as his recipe book to show to the store that he bought his supplies from so Jim could get refills.
Leaning next to the counter while he waited for it to steep, Jim thanked his lucky stars that Blair wasn't here. His Guide was susceptible to lung infections after the horror of the fountain and Jim was always walking on hot coals during cold and flu season, lest the many viruses that circulated the station take down the man. Blair hated to be sick - hated to be dependent on someone else for his comfort and well being. Jim secretly delighted in spoiling his Guide with food, care and attention. That didn't mean he wished the man ill, the Sentinel just wished he could pamper and cherish the person whose welfare came before everyone else.
Simon came in, spooned a measure of the tea into his own tea ball, took out a cup and filled it with hot water. When the first people came down with the virus Jim had procured a large supply and brought it in - much the way Blair would. Taken early enough it was a preventative - taken during the illness it was a palliative. Rafe had dosed himself daily and steered clear of the illness, and Joel swore it had fought the virus off for him. Simon, Jim and Brown hadn't been so lucky - they caught the virus at the same time and had suffered through it together. Brown was still off sick - for some reason he'd gone down hard.
Jim sighed, fished out his tea ball and emptied it, then stirred some honey into the tea.
"Good thing this stuff works," Simon's voice was a little congested, but at least he could talk now, "God knows what we'd have done if we had to feed you over the counter stuff."
"Hey, I can handle that," Jim frowned, "I've taken it before."
"Yeah, but Sandburg was around to watch out for you. Remember the Nyquil? Didn't you fall off a train?" Simon removed his own tea ball and Jim leant over to put it back in. The liquid in the mug was still too pale to be potent. Thank God they'd avoided the version of this thing that made people puke - there had been quite a few of those victims hospitalized.
"It's got to be stronger," he warned his boss, "That's why I've been adding honey."
Simon pulled a face and watched the steam rising from his potion.
"Speaking of Nyquil, how are your senses at the moment? Been able to sleep?" Simon peered at his detective as Rafe entered to grab a coffee. Jim reflected that 'coming out' to his colleagues had meant no more sudden changes in conversation.
"Yeah, I use the generators and mask Blair got for me and I'm fine," Jim sipped his tea and pulled a face, "Smell has been running a bit high lately, but I light a candle on the dining table now and it clears everything out for me."
"What scent?" Simon had always wanted to know more about the daily side effects of being a Sentinel and with Blair gone he had the perfect excuse to pry. Not that he would hesitate to trade that excuse for Blair's return in a heartbeat.
"Vanilla," Jim straightened, "Blair uses them to meditate, so there's a fairly large supply. I'll have to replace them before he gets back."
"Have you heard from Hairboy at all?" Rafe asked, throwing his teaspoon in the sink and sipping his coffee. The smell from his mug was turning Jim's stomach a little, so he took another mouthful of tea to cover it.
"He sent a letter when he got there - he'd been there a week or so. Just a 'hi - made it - stop eating Wonder Burger' letter," Jim grinned, "It's a two day journey to the nearest mailbox so he'll only be able to write when someone heads in that direction."
Rhonda stuck her head in the door and told Simon the Chief was on the phone for him. Break time over, the three men headed back to their respective desks.
Blair looked around the fire and bit his lip. He needed to choose his words carefully here - he didn't want to offend the tribe's hospitality or dignity, but at the same time he had a duty to air his misgivings. Serabi was the Chief and would have the final say, so it was to him Blair's remarks were addressed.
"Serabi - wouldn't it be better to wait until your true Shaman returns? After all, these students wish to see your people as a whole, and the absence of your Shaman constitutes…"
"Rafiki - you are our Shaman. You toil for us daily, you meet the needs of our village," Serabi frowned, "Can you deny this? You care for the orphans, you heal our sick and injured, you bless the hunters and teach the young. Why do you doubt yourself?"
"I am also Shaman of the Great City," Blair replied simply, "My tribe is also there. It is my honor to serve your village this year."
"And it is our honor that your tribe could spare you. My son told me of the one you live with - a powerful watchman. You must be a great man indeed if you can leave him for a year," Serabi looked impressed, "Have no fear, Rafiki. You are a part of this village. It will be these visitors' honor to study you."
And that was the end of the matter. The council was dismissed and Blair headed back to the hut he shared with the village orphans - twins whose parents were killed by a wounded lioness. Their family had been unable to take them in because of the number of their own children. Blair's first task as Shaman was to take them into his hut and care for them.
The twins were sitting by the fire, dozing a little in the warmth and curled up on the blanket he'd brought from Cascade. He smiled at them and sat nearby, picking up the branches he'd harvested and stripping them for their leaves, bark and seeds. Each component went into a different basket, woven from local grass. He'd dry them for future use - each component had a different purpose.
When the first planet had cleared a nearby hut he sent the twin boys inside to sleep. Setting aside his task, Blair drew himself into the lotus position and stared into the fire, letting the leaping flames lull and soothe him.
Dark green crept from the corner of his vision to overwhelm him in a jungle. The smells and sounds told him where he was and Blair ran happily along a familiar path. Something was pulling him along this route - it was almost as if there was an invisible leash tugging him forward. Up ahead was a familiar, overwhelming scent, calling to him like a siren song, and Blair eagerly increased his speed. Bounding into a clearing he spotted the jaguar, curled atop a rock, its tail twitching idly from side to side.
Blair trotted over to its side. He leaned up on the rock, vaguely aware that he was steadying himself on paws, not hands, and pushed his head into the neck of the jaguar in greeting. The black sleek fur felt warm and soft. It felt like home to Blair and he burrowed in eagerly. The cat's scent overwhelmed him and he inhaled deeply, analyzing it for any trace of illness or stress.
The cat had been ill - but was recovered now. It was purring and rubbing its cheek into the ruff of his neck, the purrs vibrating through both their bodies. The warmth of the sunlight and the peace of the clearing filled them both as they reveled in each other's presence. Blair chuffed back in reply and pulled away to stare into the startlingly blue eyes. The cat blinked lazily at him and yawned, stretching a little on its rock.
Blair leaned in, planted a sloppy long kiss along the cat's perfectly groomed ear - making the fur spike in all directions. He leapt away from the outraged feline and scampered out of paw reach. He laughed at the glare he was getting and chuffed again, heading back into the jungle, hearing the cat start to groom behind him.
The green faded slowly away and Blair was left staring into the dying fire, a big grin on his face. He stretched a little and looked up at the stars. He'd been under for a few hours. Collecting his remedies and making sure the fire would burn out safely, Blair went to bed. Serabi would send someone to contact the university students tomorrow and Blair's next letter would be posted. He added a quick PS on the back of the envelope and put it under a rock in his doorway where it would be spotted.
Natasha Menzies walked eagerly behind their guide, following the winding path that would lead to the village. Behind her, Professor Daniels was talking quietly to Mark Anthony and Jack Spicer. Natasha was the only woman on the four-person team, and was highly aware of that. Professor Daniels had made it clear that one of her tasks would be to study the women's traditional roles, rites and rituals while they were in the village. He'd also made it clear that none of the team members were to form liaisons with each other or their hosts. Natasha remembered hearing about an early expedition where two of the team members had been caught mid coitus by their hosts and the whole team had been expelled from the village because the offenders weren't married.
Glad that she'd cut her dark hair short before coming to Africa, Natasha eased the straps of her pack and leaned into the gradient. Professor Daniels had fallen silent as he toiled up the slope too. He was a very thin man, with pale freckled skin and wiry ginger hair. His voice was quite loud - in the smaller lecture halls he didn't use the PA system, he could be heard clearly without it.
Mark Anthony was a dark skinned young man, short and wiry with it. He was a latecomer to Anthropology - he'd become interested in the subject when the whole baseball team had signed up for it to fulfill their Humanity requirement. His long hair was braided in zigzags and he sported a nose ring in one nostril. Jack Spicer was the physical opposite of Mark - big and built with short hair and an oddly formal air to him, Jack had been an avid member of the Anthropology department from day one. Jack was the Professor's TA back home and a lot of the first year students came to him when they were in difficulty with the assignments, preferring to avoid the Professor's cutting tongue whenever possible.
Their guide - a very tall, thin man called Mwamba - stopped at the top of the slope and stood to one side, waiting for everyone to catch him up.
"The village," Mwamba gestured, and Natasha followed his pointing hand eagerly. The village was nestled against the edge of the valley, close to the river that cascaded down over a rocky surface before eventually joining the large waterhole on the valley floor. Traditional dwellings were spaced carefully for defensibility and safety, and the village children could be heard laughing in the center of the village - a protected playground for the young ones and a handy training ground for the older ones.
"My father Serabi has decided you will shelter with families in the village. Our Shaman Rafiki agrees that it is wise for you to do so - he said you would be better suited to conduct an ethno-linguistic survey if you lived as one with the village. He persuaded the Council that you would honor our traditions, but should not be made to dress as we do - especially Miss Menzies," Mwamba smiled at her, "Rafiki is wise to the taboos of Western women, so the Council had to agree."
"An ethno-linguistic survey?" Daniels pushed forward, "The Shaman actually used those words? He has been to outside schooling? I understood you had no Shaman."
"He has the same rank as you do, Professor Daniels," Mwamba nodded, turning and walking down the path again, the Professor hot on his heels, "We are most fortunate that Rafiki could travel to be with us. Our former Shaman's successor has yet to complete his final trials and so my father Serabi sent me for Rafiki. His tribe was able to spare him for a year, and so he returned with me. He is a very powerful Shaman."
"He's a Professor? I've never heard of a Shaman attending University. And what do you mean his tribe could spare him? I thought…"
"You must ask Rafiki, Professor. It is not for me to discuss the ways of his tribe. His warriors and Chief were most generous to us," Mwamba smiled, "I believe he is out with the scouts these few days, but when he returns he will speak with you all."
Daniels smiled politely in acknowledgement and dropped back, his mind whirling with a thousand questions and speculations. This would open a whole new avenue to explore in their study of these people. Eco-tourism and its affect of tribal living was all well and good but Shaman swapping - for lack of a better term - was something no-one had ever heard of, let alone studied. This might well be his chance to break ground in an entirely new field of anthropology. Shamans were typically difficult to pin down, let alone study unless you underwent some pretty severe rituals. This one was not only educated, he was apparently willing to speak to them. Rapidly charting out new paths of study for his upcoming series of papers, Daniels eased the straps on his pack and followed Mwamba eagerly.
Jim winced as the gunshots echoed through sensitive ears and felt Megan's hand latch onto his coat hem. Taking a deep breath he dialed it down, working to dispel the ringing in his ears and the headache lurking at the back of his skull. A part of him resented that her touch couldn't ease his discomfort and wouldn't soothe his pain later. His Guide's absence was hard to bear at moments like these.
"Jim," Simon had reached them, ducking along the garden wall folded in half to avoid getting shot, "You ok?"
"Yeah," Jim growled, "There's only one gun in there sir."
"One or a hundred - with those old folks in there, there's not a lot we can do. What can you tell me about the gunman?" Simon frowned, and anchored Jim with a hand on his shoulder, one thumb cupping Jim's throat gently. The touch was so startling that Jim's senses flew out almost without his permission and catalogued the information he needed before snapping back to normal. Jim lurched a little in surprise and felt Megan and Simon steady him.
"Jim?" Megan's voice was anxious and he twisted his head to smile at her over his shoulder.
"No worries mate," he teased and she rolled her eyes. The team at Major Crimes had really latched onto this phrase and it annoyed the living daylights out of her.
"Our gunman is about eighty years of age, has a hearing aid, a pacemaker and a diaper that needs changing," Jim told Simon, perversely enjoying the way his bosses jaw dropped in horror and Megan's gasp of surprise, "He's senile or demented or something - I think he's having flashbacks to his time in the armed services."
"Great, that's just fantastic. We can't exactly just shoot a couple of canisters of tear gas in there and storm the place anyway - this just makes things worse," Simon groaned, "Tell me again - why did I get up this morning?"
"Rhonda's birthday," Megan replied immediately, "And can we talk him out of there, Jim?"
"Nope," Jim frowned, "He can't hear us if we use a loud hailer and he's not fully aware of where he is anyway. He's confused and afraid, Simon. Maybe we can get him to empty his clip and go in when he's reloading or something."
"You volunteering to stand up and get shot?" Simon growled, "I don't think so, Jim. If you got hurt, Sandburg would put a hex on me or something!"
Megan gurgled in laughter and then they all ducked as the elderly man sprayed another set of rounds in to the car park, kicking up gravel and puncturing the tires of several cars.
"How the hell did the old dear get a hold of a semi-automatic weapon anyway?" she cursed, "Do you Yanks even enforce your own gun laws?"
Simon hit her with the glare to end all glares and Jim broke it up before it got ugly.
"We need a decoy, Simon. Like a shop dummy or something. Something we can make pop in and out of cover, that can be filled full of holes harmlessly," Jim frowned, "We put a PD jacket and cap on it and he won't be able to tell the difference. He's shooting at his hallucinations as much as anything we do."
"I'll get it organized," Simon scooted away and Jim turned so he could sit against the wall comfortably. Megan sat beside him, her hand rubbing his wrist.
"We're not doing you much good are we mate?" she asked sympathetically, "You're missing Sandy."
"I…" Jim hesitated, this was hardly the place, but then again they were unlikely to discuss this again, "It's not just the Sentinel stuff, Conner. He…he knows me. The loft is empty without him, and…I'm grateful for all your help, really."
"Hey, I know," Megan grinned, "I really respect Sandy - he must be a saint to put up with you for so long. He's special."
"Yeah," Jim sighed, "And…some of it is the Sentinel stuff too. I mean - I've got this killer headache threatening, but if he were here he'd be able to stop it in its tracks. As it is, I'll have to take aspirin and sleep it out."
"Have you been getting a lot of headaches?" Megan asked sharply, and Jim shook his head.
"No," he promised, "And believe me, you'd know it if I were."
Megan eyed him skeptically for a moment and then sighed, patting his hand lightly.
"Oh good, looks like the Captain found a dummy," she perked up and Jim turned to look too, putting Blair away in the corner of his mind again. He hoped he'd see the wolf again soon - it had been months since the comforting dream that had come just on the tail end of the cold. The spirit touch of the wolf had re-energized him for weeks afterwards.
The Professor and students were in the village for a week before the scouts returned. As a part of their deal with the Government the village had undertaken to patrol certain areas of the park with an eye to poachers, hunters, predators, tourists and signs of disease among the flora and fauna.
Scout parties traditionally spent ten days on the patrol, marking in their logbooks their findings and generally handling whatever problems came up. The Shaman would accompany them once in a while to forage further afield for supplies for his medicines and also to lend his skills to problem areas. The schedule had meant Rafiki wouldn't be there to greet the visitors, but he hadn't been too concerned with that.
The scouts returned late in the evening, to the delight of their families. Rafiki and the lead scout went to Serabi to make their report while the rest of the party returned to their homes. The twins camped themselves outside the Chief's hut, eager for the return of their foster father. The Professor and Natasha also chose to wait outside the hut - both curious to see the Shaman the whole village spoke so highly of. It was not unusual for the villagers to show respect for their Shaman, fear was not entirely unheard of either. Rafiki was spoken of with indulgent smiles from the mothers, fierce grins from the hunters and warriors, knowing smiles from the elders and huge grins from the children.
The scout leader emerged first, patted the eager twins on the shoulder and nodded to the strangers before heading wearily for his own family. The scouts wore the traditional loincloths and sandals used to protect them on long treks - as he walked the leader stripped out of them eagerly, reverting to the nudity that was comfortable and preferred.
"Rafiki!" one of the boys squeaked and the Shaman was pounced. He laughed lightly and gathered both boys in close, kneeling in the dirt to be comfortable. Daniels gasped in shock and Natasha stiffened beside him as they go their first glimpse of Rafiki.
He wore a leather bracelet that was Peruvian in origin around one slender wrist. His hair was long and curly, tied back from his face. His nipple was pierced and a silver charm hung from the ring - Natasha's disbelieving eyes made it out to be a police shield from America. A tattoo encircled his upper arm, not the same one that sported the leather bracelet - tribal markings from the village, and fairly new at that. Deep blue eyes twinkled in a brown face.
"You're white!" Natasha blurted over the introduction the twins were reciting together. The boys pouted up at her in disappointment and Rafiki laughed gently, reaching out to stroke their lips back into a smile.
"Yes," Rafiki nodded, "Look, I'm beat and the kids should be in bed - ah! No complaints! You were up late because we were late. I'll come find you some time tomorrow, Professor Daniels, Miss Menzies."
"Fine," Daniels snarled, turned on his heel and stormed off, bitterly regretting the lost opportunities. Whoever this charlatan was he'd probably lose his standing over this. The very idea of impersonating a Shaman - it was an outrage!
"Uh, may I walk you to your host?" Rafiki stood, both hands firmly captured by his foster children, "You're not supposed to walk unaccompanied in the village at night."
"Thanks," Natasha nodded. She had been wondering what she'd do if she got caught breaking that rule. Single women were escorted after dark - and the Professor had been her escort. Rafiki led the way confidently, calling replies to the many greetings he got as they walked. The twins were silent now, happy to lean into his hands and follow wherever he walked. Natasha had seen how tense the boys had been over the last few days with everyone in the village watching them like hawks - it was no surprise the return of their guardian had resulted in this relaxation of their guard.
"Nahla!" Rafiki called as they reached the hut of Natasha's host, "I come to return your daughter!"
"Rafiki! Thank you, my friend," Nahla came to the door as Natasha approached. Her host smiled at her kindly and drew her over the threshold. The first time she'd been named his daughter Natasha had been startled beyond words - now she was left with a pleasant glow. She returned the smile and then thanked Rafiki for walking her home. The village Shaman deferred an offer of entertainment, citing the twin's bedtime and his own fatigue. Dinner was arranged for a later evening and Rafiki bid them goodnight.
Natasha crawled into her own sleeping bag and reflected on the latest turn of events. Life on expedition certainly wasn't predictable.
Blair didn't have time to meet and talk with the four visitors the next day as he caught up on the tasks that had accumulated in his absence. The twins dogged his heels every step of the way, declining a chance to play with their friends and cousins to stay at his side. Blair made up errands for them to run and found tasks that unskilled laborers could perform without supervision as he met and talked to several of his 'patients' and later visited a young mother close to the birth of her first child. The baby kicked when he touched her swollen belly and he smiled at her, patting the spot that had stretched to show a foot imprint. She was nervous about her upcoming labor and he spent some time sitting with her and the midwife as the two women talked. Her young husband hovered around the hut anxiously while they were in there, darting inside to fuss over his wife when the midwife left. Blair would have the task of distracting him during the birth - until the baby had safely arrived and the midwife made her announcement.
That evening there was a communal meal - the whole village gathered together and the visitors were sitting with their host families. Blair moved from family to family with his boys, laughing and telling jokes, swapping tales and generally being the entertainment. After the meal was over the children played around the fire, taking advantage of the extended curfew to get in some final games before being taken off to bed. Blair's twins were finally persuaded to join their peers, and Blair sat in a visible place until it was bedtime, supervising the children while their parents socialized and bartered tomorrow's chores and work.
Next day saw the twins return to their normal independent selves and one of the hunters and Blair took a party of the older children foraging. They successfully caught several smaller animals each and returned to the village in triumph. Blair sent invitations to the four visitors to join him for dinner tonight, and then disappeared with a second group on a slightly more skilled hunt. They returned with a very large snake, which they presented to Blair for his role in the hunt - he'd been the bait, Jim would kill him if he ever found out - and Blair set about preparing it for dinner along with some edible roots and the grubs the twins had foraged for this morning. Leaving the twins in charge of making sure the snake cooked evenly by rotating it - under the covert supervision of the woman next door who was repairing a woven basket - Blair set off to replenish their water supply. He'd inherited an actual cauldron and a covered metal pitcher when he'd moved into the Shaman's hut, and Blair took both to be filled. He also took the opportunity to wash the worst of the sweat and dust off.
Returning to the children Blair found his guests sitting by the fire, talking quietly to the boys about the games they had played today and the grubs they had foraged for this morning. Pleased that the four adults hadn't lapsed into English - thereby excluding the boys from their conversation - Blair placed the water next to the hut door and joined them by the fire.
"And how was your day?" he asked Jack, whose face bore several large and red scratches, "You look like you fell into a thorn bush."
"I did," Jack confessed, "I went out with a hunting party and was trying to dodge a boar."
He looked miserable, and several of the scratches were puffy. He'd obviously daubed some kind of cream onto them, but Blair knew that it wouldn't do much good against the thorns, which weren't exactly sterile.
"I've got something for you after dinner - it's good for thorn scratches. Better than whatever you're using now. How is the snake, boys? Ready to eat yet?" Rafiki smiled over at his sons who checked carefully like he'd shown them and pronounced dinner ready. Using big leaves as plates, Rafiki rapidly carved up portions of the snake, added the roots and grubs and passed the full plates around. Cautioning them against bones he settled next to his sons and tucked in. They didn't speak during dinner as was the custom of the village and Rafiki doled out water in the few drinking containers he had, sharing one with his sons. They tossed the used leaves into the fire and Rafiki took the leftover snake inside with the boys, wrapping it in more leaves and putting it up in the net strung from the ceiling. He bade the twins goodnight, seeing them settle into their shared blanket before returning to his guests.
"Now, Jack," Rafiki squatted in front of the student and spoke in English, "Chew on this and then swallow - it's the local equivalent of aspirin - while I clean these scratches."
"Uh, Rafiki, I'll be ok," Jack protested and recoiled from the fierce look he got. He accepted the 'aspirin' meekly while Blair used something that stung briefly and then soothed his sore skin. He swallowed in surprise and held his arms and hands out eagerly for more of the same.
"Better?" Rafiki asked, checking his temperature and Jack nodded.
"Much better!" he exclaimed, "That's amazing! How did you know it would work?"
"That's my job, son. A Shaman that doesn't know the areas cornucopia is a pretty poor excuse for a doctor," Rafiki chuckled and sat back down. He turned to Daniels and raised an eyebrow, "So do you have everything you need? I heard that the Council have had you sitting in on several of their meetings."
"Who are you?" Mark blurted, then blushed, "I'm sorry, it's just that I've never heard of a village taking a foreign Shaman before."
"Right now, I'm Rafiki. Back home though, I'm Blair Sandburg - Doctor of Anthropology," Rafiki replied, shrugging lightly and smiling at Mark to show he'd taken no offence.
"You're bringing Anthropology into disrepute - contaminating this culture with your Western ways and making a mockery of their beliefs!" Daniels burst out. Blair shook his head.
"I am a Shaman - you go find any 'authentic' example you care to drag over here and they will confirm that for you," he replied, "And as for contamination - I am Rafiki, Shaman to this village and member of the Council. I am not Western and my views are that of a man concerned for the people under my care, not of a Doctor studying a community. You would do well to remember it."
That pretty much killed the conversation off and the three students said goodnight awkwardly, following in the wake of their fuming Professor.
Jim let the warmth of the sun and the sound of the water soothe his tired body and mind. The pool was deep and clear, and the perch he had found for himself comfortable. Usually Jim found his senses were very acute in these dreams, but at the moment they felt dull and lifeless. His body felt oddly weighted, Jim thought if went into the water he'd sink to the bottom like a stone. He took a slow breath and stopped fighting to send his senses out in search for the wolf. He would just have to trust his partner would come and find him, as in the last dream.
The jungle around him was quiet and still, and even in this dream, Jim found himself drowsing. The bushes stirred softly and the wolf prowled out into the open. It chuffed happily and padded over to Jim, lifting itself up to nuzzle into his neck, letting him bury his face in its ruff and surround himself with its scent. With each breath Jim felt lighter - until his body felt normal again. The tremors in his body faded and he could relax into the other's warm body.
The wolf stroked its head along Jim's shoulders, then nudged him upright. It led him into the pool and they swam lazily from one side to the other before Jim was chivvied back onto his rock in the sun and thoroughly tongue bathed - like a cub. Each rough swipe of the wolf's tongue sent a spark of energy through Jim's limbs. He felt his senses sharpen and re-focus themselves; it was reminiscent of getting a car engine tuned. Despite the energy being imparted on him by the wolf Jim felt a slow lethargy gripping his body, making him yawn.
Feeling very content, Jim snuggled into the wolf as it joined him on the rock, curling around him and urging his head to rest on its front paws before lowering its head to rest on his. Almost against his will, Jim felt his eyes closing again, as the lethargy claimed him completely. Knowing that his partner would stand guard, Jim let himself drift, the stillness of their clearing and the sound of the water soothing and restoring him. All of it was overlaid with the steady beat of the wolf's heart and the touch of its breath along Jim's ear.
After a time Jim didn't measure the wolf nudged him gently and he woke. They got up and stretched luxuriously, butting against each other in affection. Jim noticed a new marking around the wolf's forepaw and nuzzled it curiously before padding to the pool for a drink. Feeling full of energy, Jim scooped a spray of water over the wolf, enjoying the startled yelp and jump he got. The wolf growled, shook itself vigorously and lowered its head. It charged Jim, pushing him into the pool and bounding out of reach as the water swallowed his outraged howl. Dripping wet, Jim chased his guide around the clearing, getting close enough to nip his tail and then letting him pull away again. They eventually collapsed in a heap on the ground, panting for breath and mock growling at each other.
Jim leaned in and swiped gently at the wolf's ear, then nuzzled him. The wolf chuffed back and then got up with a sigh. One last caress from his guide, and then the silver animal turned away reluctantly, pausing at the edge of the clearing for one last look and a snaggle toothed smile before disappearing into the bushes.
Jim growled in disappointment and woke up as the alarm went off in his ear. He got up with more energy than he'd had in the last few weeks and headed downstairs to prepare for another day.
Daniels forbade the students to spend time with 'that impostor' - freeing Rafiki's time up to attend to his many and varied duties. Two nights after visiting with Jim, Rafiki had another dream - one that he interpreted to mean they would have visitors soon. He warned the Council accordingly and left the preparations to them - their Shaman-in-training and his mentor were coming to the village for a few days on their way to a gathering on the Great Plains. Rafiki was also attending the gathering, and he needed to prepare the twins for an extended separation - nearly a fortnight this time.
Daniels had of course been at that Council meeting and barely managed to contain his sneering when Rafiki had given his warning. He'd already told Rafiki he was going to have his Doctorate revoked when he got back to civilization - and had been disconcerted by Rafiki's lack of concern.
Three days after Rafiki's warning the Mentor and his charge arrived in the village. The young man was eagerly whisked off by his family for a meal and reunion, while the Mentor took his food with Rafiki and consulted on a skin rash that had Rafiki stumped. Daniels hovered around the hut, watching the two men together from a little distance until Mwamba came to fetch him away.
"You must not spy on the Shaman. You will be invited to their hut later - now is the time for their secrets to be exchanged," Mwamba strolled along, unconcerned at the grip he had on Daniels arm or the dark look the professor got when Rafiki was mentioned.
They reached the center of the village where Natasha and a few of the other women were working on mending several of the village water-carrying vessels. Mwamba patted him on the arm and left him there. Natasha glanced up curiously but said nothing, returning her attention almost immediately to her task.
Daniels stood and watched the women and his student, one part of his brain observing with his usual skill and focus, the other plotting to get his revenge on Blair Sandburg at the feast the village was holding tonight.
Looking across the fire at the two Shamen, who were skillfully juggling lit torches between each other while calling mocking insults and faking close calls for the children, Natasha couldn't help but admire the skill with which they fulfilled their roles in the village.
A shaman was supposed to be many things, but one of them was entertaining. Rafiki had encouraged stories and competitions - which he participated in seriously or whimsically as the mood took him - as well as using the evening gathering as a chance to advertise goods up for trade or services being sought by the villagers. With a second shaman in the village - and a trainee who was used for comic relief - Rafiki had slipped into a higher gear, fooling with a vengeance; many of his people were literally crying with laughter.
The torch juggling came to an end and the Shamen took their 'bows' before collapsing back to the ground. The hiatus allowed several people to replenish their drinks - alcoholic ones brewed in the village or just plain water - and chat. Several called questions across to the Shamen, who answered promptly, with no fuss over protocol or territory. Daniels took this as a sign he could now put his plan into action and waited for Rafiki to stop talking.
"Shaman - perhaps you can explain this to me," he called, following the example of the villagers, "Can you tell me how Rafiki came to be known as Shaman?"
There was a stunned silence from the tribe and the older Shaman turned to gaze at Daniels with a glittering eye. His face was liberally tattooed and his body bore a lot of ritual scars. Beside him, Rafiki looked positively nude. Daniels caught the edge of uneasy muttering before Rafiki grinned and bowed exaggeratedly to his colleague, making obeisances and generally fooling around. The older man rolled his eyes and the villagers laughed.
"Rafiki is Qwanzelo," the old man's voice carried clearly despite the fact that he was speaking quietly. Many people were nodding and beaming over at Rafiki who was listening to something one of the twins was saying to him quietly.
"Qwaynzeelo?" Marcus frowned, "I've never heard that word."
"Qwanzelo," Rafiki corrected, and they all got a glimpse of Dr. Blair Sandburg, "One of the mysteries of the Shaman world, the word means more than one. Initially, Qwanzelo Shaman were thought to have been responsible for more than one village in their area due to low population density and hazards of the area. The Shaman would live mainly with one tribe, but visit others and spend solid stretches of time with them until they no longer needed his presence. Qwanzelo were first documented by white explorers in the eighteen hundreds. With the spread of motorized transport a Qwanzelo's territory expanded to cover larger and larger areas. A modern translation of the word would be 'International Shaman'. There was a documented case of one such Shaman who claimed tribes on two continents in the nineteen fifties. He was arrested for fraud and had to be bailed out by his 'primary tribe'. After that any mention of Qwanzelos disappeared from primary literature, and Shamen usually refuse to discuss them. It's thought that the Qwanzelos have merely gone underground in order to protect their tribes."
The lecture was delivered with energy and grace, accompanied by easy gestures and delivered in gentle cadence in the tribe's language. Natasha felt herself scramble to jot it all down as the spell of the voice was broken.
"Rafiki is Qwanzelo," the Shaman repeated and got up, "Bed! I'm tired!"
The scolding voice broke the spell and everyone got up. Several of the men banked the fire down, and the trainee followed his Mentor to Rafiki's hut. None of them so much as blinked as they wove through the milling villagers, who drew aside to let them pass almost unconsciously.
Jim groaned and banged his head on the wall gently. The other people in the small room looked at him anxiously, and Chief of Police Barrows reached out to put a hand on his arm hesitantly.
"Are you alright, Detective? That gas seemed to hit you hard," the man's voice was solicitous and Jim spared him a glance. He'd zoned and Simon and Megan had to work hard to get him back, while Barrows and Deputy Mayor Whitlaw watched in concern. Whoever it was that had gassed the five people on their way to the Cop of the Year ceremonies had taken them to a small room and left them there.
Simon reached over and took Barrows hand away before crouching in front of Jim and looking him over carefully. Jim decided to ignore Barrows and Whitlaw for a moment and tell his current Guides what he could sense. He no longer cared if the powers that be found out the truth about him.
"We're in one of the old construction offices inside the Cascade Reservoir," Jim told Simon, "The water going over the spillway is acting as white noise. I can't get past it."
"Oh," Simon slumped in relief, his dusty tuxedo stretching and releasing around his shoulders, "I thought you were still having side effects from the drug."
Jim shook his head and sighed, looking over at Megan. Her tight red dress revealed her not inconsiderable charms nicely and he mock leered at her.
"If Sandburg was here right now…" he began and she laughed, imagining the curly haired man's reaction to her outfit. Blair was one of the few men that Megan had found she could spend time with without having to worry about her gender defining her. Doubtless Blair would have paid her some outrageous compliments, teased her to death and then given her his jacket so she didn't feel the cold. As if hearing her thoughts Jim shrugged out of his jacket and handed it to her with a smile.
"Hey, Jim?" Simon frowned, "The spillway is only in one area right?"
"Yeah," Jim returned his attention to his boss, "Why?"
"Well I remember reading something in Sandburg's files. Something about isolating an annoyance and mapping it out so you could…" Simon trailed off, trying to remember the right words. Jim sat up straight in surprise and smacked his forehead.
"I am an idiot!" he exclaimed, "You're right, I just have to filter around that area - I should be able to hear the rest of the reservoir."
"Like avoiding the roadworks on the way to work," Megan smiled and helped Simon pull Jim to his feet. The two rookie Guides led Jim to the door, ignoring the confused men still sitting on the floor and putting their hands on Jim's shoulders and back. A glance sorted out who would say what and Megan rubbed her hands in a circular pattern.
"Ok Jim, take a deep breath and focus," Simon murmured, "Tag the spillway and then just reach around it, let your hearing just flow on past the noise."
Jim centered himself carefully and sent reluctant ears out along the echoing concrete structure. He listened carefully around the edge of the annoying block, hearing other people's voices fade in and out, unable to lock on to them long enough to get a complete picture. He swayed back and forth in Simon and Megan's arms then shuddered hard once and shook his head.
"I can't," he ground out from a clenched jaw, "Every time I'm close something distracts me."
"Did you get anything at all?" Megan sympathized, glancing at an equally frustrated Simon. Obviously this skill was too advanced for the three of them together. Their fellow prisoners were gaping at them in blank faced astonishment, but were ignored.
"Bits and pieces," Jim sighed and turned to lean on the door, "There are so many echos out there, it makes things tricky. The reservoir has been taken over by a number of men with guns - the night shift is locked up next door. We're hostages to get them what they want - I think it's money. They'll blow the reservoir if they don't get what they want."
"Great," Simon sighed, "Any way for us to get out of here?"
"Not unless we can unlock this door, or jump the next terrorist to come in here. We've been here for a few hours now and no one has come to check on us at all. I think we're stuck here until it plays out," Jim didn't look too pleased at the idea, and Simon was frowning too. Megan sighed and scuffed her shoe on the floor absently. The room was completely void of furniture - the construction offices hadn't been used since the reservoir was completed twenty years ago - and filthy with dust. Jim sneezed hard and shot her a dirty look, she smiled an apology and stopped stirring the dust up.
A low growl sounded and the door shuddered a little. Jim stiffened and whirled to look at the door handle in astonishment. He had felt it unlock, jiggling against him as he leant back on it. He reached out and turned the knob, pulling the door towards himself slowly. It opened and Simon gaped at him in astonishment. Jim didn't notice as he stared at the wolf sitting in the corridor, staring at him intently. Jim reached out a hand and it got up, growling lightly and trotting to the office next door, where the night shift was locked. The look it sent him clearly told him to get with the program and Jim felt his senses sweep for surveillance before he hurried to unlock and open the door, identifying himself in a low voice.
"Jim," Simon hissed under his breath, "Is that the wolf?"
"Yeah," Jim replied sotto voce and ushered them all along the corridor in the wake of the spirit animal. A small part of him was astonished that Simon could see the wolf, but for the main part he was focussed and on line as they made their way to the nearest emergency exit and he scanned for possible trouble.
"Damn, they've covered the exit with C-4. If we try to get out that way we'll be blown to bits," Jim cursed and turned to Barrows, "Sir, we need to find a way to get these people to safety and resolve the situation."
"Uh, they might not have covered the old maintenance hole on level ten," one of the night shift spoke up. A weedy man with a scraggly moustache, his lower lip was stained by countless cigarettes, "It's not in use and leads out to an old surface route. The upgrade ten years ago made it surplus to requirement. I've been here since the place was built - I can get us there no problem."
"Worth a try, Ellison," Barrows nodded, "If we can get out that way it's possible we can get a team back in."
"Meanwhile we can do some damage in here - get the layout of the place and try to contain some of these jokers," Megan suggested and Simon nodded backing her up. He glanced down nervously when the wolf growled in warning from the corner that it was guarding.
"Someone's coming," Jim hissed, "Go!"
The party split up and the wolf led its Sentinel and rookie Guides to a temporary hiding place. Simon stared as it leant into Jim's leg and his fingers sank into the silver fur while he swept the area for further trouble.
"Simon? What are you staring at?" Megan asked, frowning. Simon looked at her, and frowned.
"You can't see the wolf?" he asked quietly and Megan's eyes widened in shock. She looked from Simon to Jim, who appeared to be stroking the air next to his thigh. She shook her head mutely, seeing something in Jim Ellison she hadn't seen all year - focus, energy, and control. He lifted his head and turned to look at the far corner.
"Let's go - we have a clear route to the control center if we move now. Once there we can disable the main explosives - the smaller stuff will do damage but not threaten the reservoir's integrity," he straightened and Simon watched the wolf bound towards the corner, disappearing around it in a flash of silver.
Megan leant against the wall of the ambulance, letting the nice paramedic dress the bullet graze on her upper arm. She turned her head to watch Ellison and Banks direct the mop up of the scene and sighed. A small irrational part of her was jealous of the two men. While they had ducked terrorists and located explosives and cleared the way for the PD SWAT teams they had spoken to and been directed by a wolf that for all her concentration she could not see. The simple fact of its presence had Ellison online to a degree that they hadn't seen in a year. More than once Jim had been able to save them from disaster, and Simon had been saved by the wolf's sharp bark of warning. Megan's wound had come from a warning too late for Simon to act, though if he hadn't tackled her she'd be dead.
The edge of the stretcher sunk down under an invisible weight and Megan blinked when a warm head laid itself in her lap. Not daring to look down she dropped her hand onto soft fur and stroked once, getting a chuff in reply and a wet lick to the hand.
Tears threatened to spill, and Megan took a deep breath and patted the warmth one more time, dropping her hand when the paramedic turned back to look at her. Jim looked over at her and nodded once, then smiled. She smiled back as the warmth and weight faded away to nothing.
"Do you have a dog?" the paramedic asked as he fastened the dressing in place, and Megan shook her head mutely.
"Why?" she asked and the paramedic held up a few silver hairs that he'd plucked from her now hopelessly ruined dress.
"Dog hair, and I don't see any around here," he shrugged, "Guess it's a good thing I'm not a detective, huh?"
Jim paced back and forth in the terminal, his hearing buzzing with the PA and countless voices, his nose running from the millions of scents bombarding him, the harsh artificial light burning his retinas and his skin crawling beneath suddenly too harsh clothes. Simon stood back a bit and let his friend pace, knowing that the last few minutes wait were always the worst. It hadn't been hard to get the rest of the team to agree to let Ellison and Sandburg have the first day together. One look at the edgy man had shown that any intrusion would be put down hard. No one wanted to spoil Blair's return home with a fight - and it would probably be an all-in-brawl at the airport for anyone who tried to get near the curly haired partner of the scariest man in Major Crimes.
After the mess at the reservoir things had been kind of quiet. If Whitlaw and Barrows understood what they had seen in the small office they gave no sign of it to the team at Major Crimes. Jim had not entered into any discussion of the wolf's presence with Simon or Megan, despite a few gentle hints, and had seemed to just tone down his senses for a while. A few weeks later Henri Brown had put up a big poster, counting down the days until Hairboy returned and a quiet air of expectancy had gripped the department. More than once Simon had found himself glancing at the poster - sometimes several times a day - drawing an irrational kind of comfort from it. He'd seen the others in his team do the same thing and wondered briefly if Doctor Blair Sandburg knew that he was an important member of their team. Simon would make sure to bring that to his notice at the earliest opportunity.
Simon had managed to persuade Jim that Sandburg would never forgive him if he killed himself on the way to the airport - thus they'd arrived in Simon's car. Simon had offered to wait out in the car but Jim's reaction to the terminal had dissuaded him from that idea. The last thing they needed was for Jim to zone out and be hauled off in an ambulance. Simon had the feeling that if Jim zoned now the only voice he'd listen to was Blair's. Jim's face was lined with strain as the long year ticked away it's final minutes and seconds - you could see the yearning need in his eyes as he paced back and forth, chafing at the final delays of coat collecting and stepping down the aisle. Simon had the feeling that on the plane his very own anthropologist was looking exactly the same way.
The Guide's flight had been announced as landed and the baggage carousel had started up with a wheeze and a clank, adding to the stimulus annoying sensitive ears. Jim had gotten up from the chairs that Simon had found for them to wait and started pacing. Other waiting friends and relatives gave the big man a wide berth as they waited for their own loved ones. Even the usually over excited children steered wide of him as they bounced around in excitement. Simon got up with a little sigh and grabbed Jim by the arm.
"Easy, Jim. Not long now," he said at Sentinel level and got an anguished glance in response. Wondering what was taking so long, Simon glanced up at the arrivals board. Jim quivered beside him and the first people emerged from the departure lounge. All around them people waved and called hellos.
Finally the heartbeat Jim had missed for a year washed everything else into the background. A familiar soothing scent blanketed the harsh odors around the Sentinel, and the lights dimmed to normal as a well loved face hove into sight. Blair Sandburg was tanned bronze, his much longer curly hair lightened by the sun, and pulled back to sit on the nape of his neck. His clothes - the exact same gear he'd worn the day he left - were travel wrinkled and clung a little tighter over the gentle swell of new muscles. His face lost its tired and worried expression the minute he spotted his Sentinel and eager arms caught him in midair.
Sentinel and Guide burrowed into each other and shut the world out. Simon was sure he heard a sob, and wiped at his own eyes as he watched the tension and stress fade from their bodies. No one even blinked at the sight of two men locked in a full body embrace in the middle of the concourse. Simon knew that if he asked Blair would probably be able to quote some obscure study that cited the unwritten rules of acceptable social behavior in an airport and how it contrasted with the norm. Chuckling to himself, he caught a glimpse of something on Blair's bicep where the sleeve of the T-shirt had ridden up and frowned.
"Sandburg - you got a tattoo?" Simon said by way of greeting as his best team reluctantly let go of each other. Jim exclaimed in surprise and pushed the sleeve up. Blair rippled his muscles, making the parade of animals that had been marked onto his skin move fluidly, like a herd walking across the plain.
"Chief?" Jim looked at him in concern - they wouldn't have had a sterile environment to do this, it could have gotten infected…
"Jeez, Jim!" Blair laughed, "Blessed Protector alert! I was perfectly safe and it healed beautifully."
Simon laughed too, as much at the joyous sound as at the sheepish expression on Ellison's face as he was scolded five minutes after reuniting with his Guide. Jim's face got a shy grin on it that had Blair rubbing his palm over the other man's chest in reply and the Sentinel traced the spirit animals that now graced the warm flesh.
"It is beautiful," Jim admitted, admiring the way it formed an armband around his Shaman's bicep, "They took a lot of care with it."
"The panther and wolf," Simon peered at the tattoo, "And a bear?"
"That's you," Blair looked over at the carousel, "Hey - there's my bag!"
He hurried to get the battered duffel and Simon looked at Jim in wonder. Their resident Shaman had tattooed his spirit animal on his arm?
"Welcome back to the Sandburg Zone, Simon," Jim laughed and clapped his boss on the shoulder, "Hang on it's gonna be a wild ride."
"Wouldn't have it any other way Jim," Simon vowed. The two men hurried to catch up with the ball of energy that was heading rapidly for the exit - with no idea where the car was parked, Sandburg would doubtless get lost.
Looking out into the bullpen, Simon Banks grinned at the sight of his people at work. It was good to have the whole team finally back together. Rafe stood at the copier, rapidly copying files for the DA. The dapper young man was dressed in the usual suit and tie, a huge contrast to his older partner. Brown wore a loud shirt, creased slacks and a smile that often made people underestimate him. At the moment he was leaning back in his chair, reading something from the computer screen and razzing his partner.
Taggert was standing beside Conner's desk, a much slimmer man than he had been five years ago. The Bomb Squad Captain was reviewing a possible case clash with their Australian exchange officer, who had just put in the paperwork for another year with Major Crimes. She wore her usual armor of brightly colored tight clothes and a manner of competence that out rivaled many of her male counterparts.
Ellison was seated at his desk as well, talking on the phone to someone and making notes on the pad in front of him. His coat was draped over the back of his chair and his neat shirt had the sleeves rolled up to mid forearm. At the desk next to him his partner was typing with his usual rapidity, badge hanging on a chain around his neck, shoulder holster strapped over the ratty T-shirt that was normally concealed by a flannel over shirt. Blair Sandburg's hair had survived the Academy and darkened a little to its usual hue.
Major Crime's resident Shaman, Guide, and Doctor of Anthropology looked up at his boss and winked, his typing never missing a beat. Simon sketched a brief salute in reply and leaned over to answer his own phone, supremely content.
…with a single step.
Author's note: I made the tribe up - and took their names from obvious sources (the Lion King being one). I made up the stuff about international Shamen as well (obviously). No disrespect was meant to anyone - this is definitely a work of fiction.
Fast Forward, the new Tommy and Clare story, is coming soon to a computer near you! <Sentinel swear!> Hey! I'm with Blair - cold and wet is my world <send us some sunshine Australia>
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