Disclaimer: Not ours, wouldn't admit it to anyone if they were - we're selfish and don't like to share. <g>
Thanks to Bonnie for her usual thorough and enlightening beta job. Always there when we need her! And thanks to Starfox for giving us a home! This story is based on a plot Anne devised which was based on characters Sue originated in "Beneath the Surface". You don't need to have read BTS to understand this story, there are only slight references to the former.
Three Way Mirror
By Anne Roquemore and Sue Pokorny
Navajo Reservation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
John Whitefeather paused as he stepped up onto the open bluff. The sun was settling behind the distant horizon, its warm, bold colors vividly streaking the darkening sky. A warm, dry breeze lifted his dark hair as his eyes settled on the still figure silhouetted against nature's brilliant display. It made John nervous that the old man still made his way to this bluff despite his failing eyesight and declining health. But arguing with him would be useless, and John could only hope Two Eagles would accept the growing limitations of his frail body before it was too late.
Without moving a muscle, the old shaman acknowledged his arrival. "Even though my eyes cannot see as they once did, the beauty of the earth and sky still fill my soul with wonder."
John smiled affectionately at the old man. "I believe you still see things better than most people, Two Eagles."
The old Indian nodded and turned toward his young friend. "Most, but not all, John Whitefeather. Sometimes what I see with my eyes is less important than what I see here." He lifted a withered hand to his chest, his expression showing deep concern.
John stepped closer and placed a hand on the old shaman's arm. "What do you see, Two Eagles?"
The shaman closed his eyes, wisps of silver hair playing in the breeze around his weathered face. "I see a wolf, confused, tired, in pain. He is lost, and he has no path to follow." The old man took a deep breath before continuing in his soft, melodic voice. "I see a jaguar, also alone, moving silently through the jungle. The wolf stops, no longer able to continue his journey. But the jaguar will not allow it to quit. They meet in a blinding flash of light. Their souls touch and the wolf takes what it needs. The cat gives of itself freely, but then it leaves the wolf to flounder, unsure of where its newly found path will lead. They are still alone. They are still afraid."
John nodded slowly as he listened to the old man, his eyes squinting in thought. "They need guidance."
Two Eagles smiled. "You are a wise man, John Whitefeather."
John shook his head. "No, I'm a cop, Two Eagles. I simply interpret facts. It is you who are wise." At Two Eagles' nod of appreciation, he continued. "I assume you asked me to meet you here for a reason? Does it have something to do with your vision?"
Two Eagles smiled. "As I said. You are a wise man." He turned back to the view, his eyes staring into the distance. "You must go to Cascade."
Whitefeather's eyes widened as he quickly put the pieces together. "Ellison and Sandburg?" He chuckled as he recalled the Cascade detective and his energetic young partner. It had been nearly two years ago that they had come to the reservation and inadvertently helped him solve a year-old jewel theft case. He had watched in amazement as the two distinctly different men had balanced one another, each one supporting the other without words, without conscious thought. They had been a complete contrast in appearance, attitude and interests, but they seemed to complete each other. John had never seen such a pure, yet complicated, friendship in all his days.
Two Eagles nodded, pleased his friend remembered the pair. "I'm afraid something has happened. Something that has altered the path they were on. Our friends are gifted, but they have turned their backs on their gifts -- and on each other. I must help them find their way back."
"You're coming to Cascade with me?"
Two Eagles shook his head, smiling sadly. "No. I am an old man, my friend. I cannot make such a journey easily."
He opened his hand to reveal a small, black stone. John reached out and took the stone, surprised at the warmth it radiated. He turned the stone in his hand, mesmerized by the shimmer that seemed to come from deep within.
"It is onyx," Two Eagles continued, "a powerful stone which radiates strength from the earth. You must take this to Blair. Tell him of my vision. Tell him I can help him understand his new path if he would allow me."
John stroked the stone in his hand, feeling its warmth radiating through his body. "Blair is the wolf," he concluded. He looked up into the knowing eyes of Two Eagles.
"You are a wise man indeed, John Whitefeather."
Darkness had never felt so heavy, so thick. It pressed down upon him, suffocating him. He could not breathe, could not think. Only suffer in horror. Everything about the darkness assaulted his senses. If fear had a stench this would be what it smelled like - sweat and tears, acerbic and pungent. Air disappeared and he struggled with something in his hands. Something soft, warm. Like…
With a strangled cry, Blair shot up, reaching out into the darkness that swallowed him. Blinking away the sweat dripping into his eyes, he wrestled with the light switch on the lamp beside his bed, nearly knocking the lamp onto the ground. Chasing away the darkness was all he could think about. His heart pounded in his ears, his breathing came out in barely controlled gasps.
A click and light illuminated the darkness, forcing the shadows deeper into his bedroom. Sucking in a shaky breath, feeling the rattle of it in his still congested chest and fighting down a cough, Blair curled up against the wall at the head of his bed, pulling the damp blankets around his even damper body, staying as close to the light as possible. The nightmare had ended as soon as he jerked awake, and even though it bothered him that he couldn't recall the details, he was also glad. Never had his dreams felt so real.
He remained curled up glaring at the darkness until he heard Jim moving upstairs. With a quick hand, Blair shut off his alarm before it went off. His body shook, but not just from terror. The blankets weren't enough to keep the chill from seeping through to his sweaty t-shirt and sweat pants. He tried to burrow deeper into the softness of his futon, but the nightmare had done its work. Even the mattress was damp.
The sound of Jim descending the stairs beside Blair's room creaked through the walls. Light feet passed by Blair's doorway, around the corner and straight to the bathroom. Blair tracked his roommate silently, waiting for the sound of the shower. Once that familiar hum started, Blair finally began to relax. Jim was up, sunshine filtered through the window above the lamp, and normal morning routines began. The shadows of his nightmare had disappeared completely with the shadows in his room.
Blair rolled out of bed and stripped, covering his mouth as a cough doubled him over. After the spell passed, Blair pulled on his flannel robe and tied it around his waist. Brushing damp curls out of his face with his hands, he took a deep, calming breath. The combination of the nightmare and coughing fit sent tremors through his hands, but he moved from the bedroom to the kitchen, hoping a hot cup of tea would calm him. After starting a pot of coffee for Jim, Blair pulled down his favorite mug and a pouch of green leaf tea. Putting the kettle on the stove for water, Blair leaned a hip against the kitchen island and peered around the loft.
Sunshine slanted through the blinds of the balcony windows, infusing the loft with a warm glow that Blair hungrily absorbed. Weather in Cascade, Washington, had been decidedly sodden for an entire week. Not even a sunbeam could be found. The gray had only added to the illness that had bedridden Blair soon after returning to Cascade from that physically and emotionally draining trip to Mexico.
Blair sighed, rubbing his tired eyes. Being comatose with infection and fever had made it pretty easy not to think about the events surrounding Alex Barnes and Mexico. And being dead.
The whistle of the kettle broke into Blair's darkening thoughts and he gratefully filled a mug with steaming water then sat at the dining room table. Wrapping his cold hands around the mug, Blair huddled over the warmth, waiting for the tea to steep. The heat chased away the chill in his fingers, but did little to dispel his thoughts. Breathing in the steam, he couldn't stop his thoughts from returning to their previous musing.
Scenes of a black jaguar and a gray wolf leaping into one another played through his mind and Blair wondered when he would ever make any sense of it. Jim was usually the one with the visions. Ever since that trip to South America to rescue Simon and Daryl, Jim had been seeing his animal spirit. Helping Jim to unravel the mystery of his visions had been easier; Blair was on the outside, a clinical observer, and able to use years of studies to guide his friend in the right direction. But this vision involved Blair, introduced his own spirit animal, something Blair had never even considered before. And Blair was lost in trying to figure out what it all meant. He had made light of the fact that he and Jim had shared the vision, only partially joking for Jim to join him in wading through the insanity. Part of him - most of him, he admitted - had been deeply wounded when Jim had refused.
Shortly after, Jim had disappeared to chase after Alex Barnes, the woman responsible for killing Blair.
Cringing at that memory, Blair took a sip of tea, not succeeding in driving out of his mind the images of that short walk from his office to the fountain. Dawn had barely touched the sky that morning, the fountain, a silhouette of shadow as Alex forced him towards it at gunpoint. The whole time, while trying to convince Alex not to kill him, Blair had frantically searched for Jim. Jim would rescue him. He always did; always arrived in the nick of time.
This time he hadn't. This time it had been too late.
And Jim had left him alone to deal with the fallout.
"Morning, Chief," a deep familiar voice broke into Blair's dismal thoughts. Startled, Blair jerked around, almost overturning the mug. He yelped as hot liquid splashed onto his hand. Jim grabbed a towel and tossed it to Blair. "Good catch. You okay?"
Blair nodded, wiping up the tea and dabbing at his hand. "Coffee's done," he muttered and watched as Jim whistled his way through pouring a cup of coffee and then leaned against the cupboard. He took a deep, careful gulp of the brew and sighed.
"Good stuff, Chief," Jim sighed, smiling. He glanced around. "No breakfast?"
Abashed, Blair shook his head. "Sorry. Got to thinking about…things." He took a quick sip of his tea and stood.
Something unreadable passed across Jim's defined features, but just as quickly disappeared. "About what's waiting for you at Rainier today?"
Blair shook his head and sighed. "Yeah, Jim, that's what I was thinking about," he muttered sarcastically.
No point in getting into it right now. There had not been time to discuss the fountain and Alex and the events in Mexico since Blair had been knocked off his feet, and with the next few days promising to be hectic at school, it didn't look like a discussion was in the near future -- if at all, if Blair was reading his Ellison barometer correctly. "Even though I've only been walking around for a couple of days, the University has been on me to get back to work. From the sounds of it, I won't find my desk for at least another month. What's with your schedule?"
Jim shrugged. "I have to go to court in a couple of days on the Messlefield case, and there's that dead body that washed up under Pier 28 two days ago. We're still tracking that. With half the department out sick, Simon has us backing up Homicide and Robbery. Oh, and the paperwork is piling up." He peered over the edge of his mug, eyebrows arched mischievously.
Blair couldn't help smiling. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell you what, man, it's going to keep piling up until I get caught up at school. Either you learn how to type faster than one key a half hour, buddy, or give it to Rhonda."
Jim cringed. "Ouch, that sounds painful. I can already feel her fingernails in my back for even asking."
Chuckling, Jim tossed his remaining coffee into the sink and rinsed out the mug. It was good to be bantering again. Blair had missed the good-natured ribbing and easy conversations. Things had been much too solemn lately. Underneath the comfort of joking, though, Blair felt tension and understood it. Jim had carefully gathered up the events surrounding the fountain and Alex Barnes and maybe even Blair's illness, but definitely his death, and had neatly compacted it into a spot deep somewhere inside the jungles of Denial also known as Ellison's subconscious. There they would remain, leaving Blair without any source to seek resolution for the turmoil churning inside him. Jim had successfully shut that door and Blair feared opening it again. Not so soon after moving back into the loft. Not so soon after his betrayal.
"I'd better get cracking," Blair suddenly said, draining what was left of his tea and setting the mug into the sink. "I'll rinse that after my shower. Did you leave me any hot water?"
"Don't I always?"
Blair glanced back over his shoulder as he headed to the bathroom. "Jim, your definition of remaining hot water and my definition differ slightly. Let me rephrase, man. Did you leave me enough hot water to shower and wash and rinse my hair?"
"Oh." With a smirk, Jim pushed off from the counter and headed towards the stairs leading to his room.
"Ah, man," Blair moaned.
He was pleasantly surprised to have hot water to the end.
Jim edged his way into the small motel room, dodging a short, balding forensics tech whose name he couldn't recall. Spotting a familiar face near the heavily curtained window, he crossed the faded green carpet, running a well-trained eye over the scene.
"What've you got for me, Serina?"
The dark-haired forensics tech looked up from under her glasses and smiled.
"Hey, Jim." She glanced behind him, one eyebrow raised as she noticed he was alone. "Sandburg still out sick?"
Jim shook his head. "Nah. He's got a lot of work piling up at the University. They wanted him back." He shrugged and gave Serina a teasing smile. "Go figure."
Serina chuckled lightly before getting down to business. She took a step forward and motioned toward the sheet-covered body on the bed. "Our D.B.'s name is Edward Lansing. We found his wallet still on him. No sign of struggle and the room was registered to him."
Jim nodded and pulled the sheet up, running a practiced eye over the corpse. He was an average looking man of about 40 with sandy brown hair, dressed in a light blue dress shirt that was opened at the collar revealing the top of a white t-shirt. "Cause of death?"
Serina hugged her clipboard to her chest and shrugged. "Won't know until we do a post mortem, but it looks like it could be a heart attack or something. Like I said, there's no sign of a struggle." She frowned as she looked up at the tall detective. "If you don't mind my asking, just what interest does Major Crime have in a simple D.B.?"
Jim rubbed the back of his neck, his eyes still darting around the room. "That flu bug hit Homicide pretty hard. Simon has graciously offered our services to help take up the slack until they're back up and running at full strength."
Serina laughed, not missing the sarcasm in the detective's tone. "Lucky you. Nothing like a little interdepartmental cooperation, huh?"
Jim nodded, his brow furrowed in concentration. "I think it's more like Simon's pre-meditated method of extortion." He sniffed the air a few times, catching a trace of something that didn't fit. "Do you smell that?"
Serina frowned and shook her head. "I don't smell anything but this musty old carpeting."
Jim closed his eyes and concentrated. "No. It's something else. Smells like…smells like Sandburg's sweat socks when he leaves them in his gym bag too long." He shook his head to clear it and let the sheet fall back over the body. Turning to Serina, he rubbed his eyes to quell the sudden itching sensation. "Have the lab dust for prints. Maybe he wasn't here alone. And we'd better run a toxicology scan on him. See if anything turns up."
Used to Ellison's strange hunches, Serina simply nodded and made a note on her clipboard. "You got it. Anything else?"
"Just have R&I run his name through the system and see if anything pops out."
Ellison turned to see Captain Simon Banks waving at him from the door. He nodded before turning back to the lab tech. "Thanks, Serina. You can go ahead and bag him."
He made his way through the technical personnel to the door of the motel room and stepped out into the hall. "Hey, Simon, what's up?"
Simon motioned for him to follow him down the hallway toward the motel's dingy lobby. "Get anything?"
"Nah. Seems pretty cut and dry. Serina's going to run some tests to see if anything shows up, but looks like natural causes. What brings you down here?"
Simon pulled a cigar from his coat pocket and stuck it in his mouth. "Someone showed up at the station for you."
Jim laughed. "And what? You decided to play tour guide?"
Simon sniffed disdainfully. "I'm the captain, my duties are broad, but tour guide is not among them. I was just trying to display some interdepartmental hospitality. Something you could try once in a while, detective."
Jim chuckled, but his eyes narrowed in curiosity. "I'll put it on my to do list." Before he could inquire into the meaning of Simon's statement, they rounded the corner into the lobby and Simon motioned toward the tall, dark-haired man leaning against the front desk.
"John Whitefeather!" Jim smiled and held a hand out to the Navajo policeman.
Whitefeather returned the smile and grasped the offered hand in both of his. "It's good to see you, Ellison."
Jim was stunned. Whitefeather was the last person he had expected to see in Cascade. He had only spoken to him once since he and Blair returned from testifying at the trial of Edward Martin almost two years ago. He had enjoyed working with the tribal policeman, and had been able to relax in the company of Whitefeather and his friend, the old Navajo shaman Two Eagles, content to watch as Blair attempted to come to terms with the legacy Incacha had left them.
Jim couldn't help but feel gratitude toward Whitefeather as his presence brought back the memories of a happier, simpler time. He had still been struggling to control his senses then, and Sandburg had basically relied on intuition and more than a little off-the-cuff guesswork, but they had found some way to make it all work, some sort of connection -- a connection that hadn't been too perceptible as of late. Ever since they had returned from Mexico, the normal camaraderie between himself and Blair had been a bit strained. Of course, Sandburg getting sick hadn't helped and had been a constant reminder of what had happened. Having Blair back in the loft had begun to heal the rifts, but Jim didn't know quite how to deal with everything that had happened -- or repair the damage to their friendship.
It was hard to believe everything had been so simple just a short time ago.
Or was it more like a lifetime ago?
"Well." Simon clapped Jim on the back, effectively bringing him out of his reverie. "Since my tour guide duties seem to be done, I think I'll head back to the station and take care of some of my more mundane duties -- like solving crimes." He gave them a cheeky smile before turning and heading out the door. "Gentlemen."
"So," Jim turned his full attention to Whitefeather, "what brings you to Cascade?"
John's smile faded a bit. "Well, to tell you the truth, Jim, there are two reasons I'm here."
When the Navajo didn't continue, Jim raised his eyebrows in expectation. "And they are?"
John sighed as if making a decision. "A friend of mine moved here a couple of months ago to help out his fiancée who was in a pretty bad car wreck. He left some important family stuff back on the reservation and I decided to bring it to him."
Jim crossed his arms and nodded, unsure of why the Native American was beginning to shift nervously from one foot to the other. "Okay. That's one reason. The other?"
Whitefeather took another deep breath and looked Jim directly in the eyes. "Blair."
Jim's eyebrows shot up, and he was surprised at the momentary feeling of intense protectiveness that washed over him. "What about Sandburg?"
"I have a gift for him. From Two Eagles."
"The Navajo shaman." Jim was pretty sure he didn't like where this was going.
"Two Eagles told me he had a vision that involved Blair. He would have come himself, but his health has deteriorated in the last year so he couldn't make the journey."
John shrugged. "He's an old man. He has lived a very long, very fulfilling life."
"What kind of vision?" Jim asked carefully, leery of the answer.
John hesitated as he studied Jim's face. "Has something happened to Blair recently?"
It was Jim's turn to shift nervously as he tried to decide how to answer. "There was an incident a few weeks ago. Blair almost drowned." Almost? Jim laughed to himself, wondering just who the hell he was trying to kid. Even the paramedics had given up. Sandburg was dead. He wasn't breathing, there was no heartbeat, there was no… Blair. He was gone. Dead.
Jim's heart beat loud in his ears as the memories came flooding back. He hadn't allowed himself to think about that moment. How his breath had caught in his throat when he had turned around and seen that familiar jacket floating in the fountain. How he had sat, stunned, when they had pulled Sandburg's lifeless body from the water. How his anger had stirred when the paramedic had shaken his head and muttered those words… "I'm sorry…" How Incacha's voice had filled his senses and --
Jim shook his head, refusing to let the memories take hold. He clenched his jaw and looked into Whitefeather's dark brown eyes. There was a moment of uneasy silence. Each man watched the other, as if trying to get inside the other's head. For some reason, Jim sensed reluctance on Whitefeather's part to discuss Two Eagles' vision.
"You said Two Eagles sent some kind of gift for Sandburg."
"Yes. He asked that I give it to him along with a message."
"What kind of message?"
Whitefeather shrugged. "That's for Blair to figure out."
Jim sighed, accepting the fact that he wasn't about to get any more information from Whitefeather. "He should be at the university right now." He checked his watch. "He went back to teaching today, but his class should be over in about an hour. What do you say I take you over there and you can explain all this vision stuff?"
Whitefeather nodded, an easy smile returning to his face.
Both men stepped aside as the coroner's team rolled a gurney carrying the black body bag around the corner and past them through the lobby. Jim could still smell the strange odor in the air. After watching the attendants roll the gurney out the door, he turned back to Whitefeather, surprised to see him sniffing the air discreetly.
John jumped a bit as if Jim's voice had startled him and gave him an innocent look. "Nothing. Just remembered I need to do some laundry." John smiled and waved a hand toward the door. "Shall we go?"
As they walked toward the lecture hall, Jim stretched his hearing to catch the familiar strains of his friend's voice. Blair still sounded a little congested, which was not surprising considering how sick he had been the last couple of weeks. He had started to run a fever the day after they returned to Cascade and a forced trip to the doctor had revealed a lung infection that had managed to hold on despite the barrage of antibiotics Sandburg had choked down. He had felt good enough to move from his room to the couch after the first week, and had just barely gotten to the point where he could stay upright for more than ten minutes at a time when the University called and strongly suggested he get back to work.
He was still not back to a hundred percent, but he had seemed better these last few days and had insisted he was ready to get back into the swing of things. Jim could tell there were times Blair really needed to talk -- like this morning -- but Jim believed some things were better left alone. They had both been dealing with things in their own way, and Jim could only believe that everything would eventually work itself out.
"As the ritual of the ghost dances grew, the white settlers became more and more afraid of the Sioux. Not that their way of life, which was completely foreign to them to begin with, had ever really been embraced by the white man, but now, there was a lot of superstition thrown in which basically scared the heebie jeebies out of the settlers. They didn't want to be confronted with spirits and magic that didn't quite fit into their religious views." The normally animated voice suddenly cut off, replaced by some rough coughs. Both Jim and John winced at the painful sound.
"Sorry," the voice continued as the policemen stopped outside the open door to the lecture hall. "I guess I'll have to work my way back to being long-winded."
There was a chorus of chuckles from the class and Jim couldn't help but smile. News of Sandburg's incident -- as Jim had taken to calling it -- had spread across campus quickly and Blair had been inundated with get well wishes during his brief hospital stay, not to mention the dozens of cards and notes that had been delivered to the loft in their absence. If Sandburg's popularity as a teacher had been in doubt before, the sheer volume of Hallmark cards he had stacked up in the corner of his room was evidence of his students' ardor.
"For next class, I want you all to read the chapters on the Plains Indian rituals and we'll have a discussion about the impact of them on the white settlers."
Jim and John stepped inside the room just as the mass of students began their exodus into the hallway. John watched with something akin to humor on his face as the mostly female class filed past him, some doing a double take as they noticed the two tall men standing in the doorway.
"Looks like you came on a good day," Jim said in a low voice, amused by the surprised stares his companion was receiving from Blair's students. "They like you." He chuckled as John elbowed him but returned a debonair smile to the young women.
As soon as the throng cleared a bit, the policemen made their way down the tiers where Blair sat perched on his desk, speaking to a group of students.
"It's really great to have you back, Mr. Sandburg. It wasn't the same without you."
Blair smiled patiently at the young girl. "Thanks, Gina. It's good to be back. But that means no more slacking." He let his eyes sweep the group, a teasing grin on his face. "Now all of you get moving or you'll be late for your next class. It's about time you all got back to some real work."
"Does that include the teacher?"
Blair pushed himself off the desk and looked up at the familiar voice, effectively dismissing the group of students. "Hey, Jim, I thought you were…" His voice trailed off as he caught sight of John trailing down the steps behind Ellison.
Jim's smile faded as he watched most of the color drain from Sandburg's already pale face. He hurried down the last few steps and grabbed the kid's arm just as Blair reached out his other to steady himself against the desk.
"Hey, easy there, Chief. Maybe you'd better sit down."
Blair shook his head, breathing deeply through his nose. "No. I'm fine," he lied fluently. Jim knew better and turned his hearing up a notch, focusing on his friend's racing heartbeat.
Blair waved him off and pulled away from his support. He pushed a curl behind his ear, a gesture Jim easily recognized as a defense mechanism. "Really, man. I just stood up too fast. I'm fine."
Jim eyed him critically. His color was returning and his heartbeat seemed to be slowing to normal. "You're sure?"
Blair smiled, and it was one of the few genuine smiles Jim could remember seeing in a while. "I'm okay, Jim. Thanks." Blair patted his arm and Jim took a step back, but left his senses on alert.
"Look who dropped in for a surprise visit."
Blair swallowed hard and took a deep breath to compose himself before looking up into the concerned face of John Whitefeather. He held out a hand and grasped the Navajo's warmly. "It's good to see you, John."
John's eyes narrowed and he cocked his head a bit as he looked Blair over. For some reason, the movement amused Blair.
"I'm fine, John. Really." Blair looked from one policeman to the other and shook his head. "Just what I needed, two mother hens." The words caused both men to blush, but the humor in his voice put them more at ease. Blair looked back at John expectantly. "So, is this a social call or are you and Jim teaming up again?"
"Actually," Jim cut in before Whitefeather could respond, "John is here to visit a friend from the reservation who just moved up here."
"Really?" Blair was interested as usual. "Then you'll be staying awhile?"
John gave Jim a quick look of confusion, but nodded. "Yeah. I'll be here for a week or so." He shrugged. "I don't really have any definitive plans."
Jim sighed quietly, relieved that Whitefeather seemed to be playing along. After Blair's little episode, he didn't think telling the grad student that an old Navajo shaman had had a vision about him would be a great idea. Better to ease slowly into whatever this was about and give Blair -- give them both -- some time to get a handle on things.
"Well, then why don't you come by the loft for dinner?" Blair looked to Jim who nodded his agreement. "I still have office hours until 4:00, but I'll have time to stop by the market on my way home and pick up a few things." He returned his attention to John, his expressive face displaying his eagerness. "What d'ya say? About 7:00?"
John laughed and clasped Blair's arm. He looked at Jim, who wore an expression of fond exasperation. "How can I say no? It would be like kicking a puppy."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it."
"Jim, keep your paws out of that pot," Blair warned without losing focus of his search in the cabinets.
"I'm telling you, Chief, there's not enough cayenne pepper in here."
Exasperated, Blair turned from his search to glare at his roommate but couldn't help smiling. Jim hung over the pot like an expectant father - sniffing the aromatic steam rising into the air.
"If there weren't enough cayenne pepper in the chili then I'd add it," Blair replied, finally spying the canister he wanted and taking it over to the stovetop. "But there is, and therefore I'm not."
Jim glared at Blair and then sniffed again. "Listen, Dame Edna, if this nose can't smell it, then there's not enough."
Chuckling, Blair lifted his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I can't very well argue with a Sentinel nose, now can I?"
With a quick nod of triumph, Jim smirked. "Now you're learning."
"Just don't think I'm taking the blame if flames start shooting out of John's mouth, man," Blair mumbled as he added more pepper. Instinctively, he ducked Jim's hand that shot out to smack the back of his head.
"Good reflexes, Chief," Jim chuckled as he crossed from the stove to the door.
"Living with a Sentinel brings out the best in me." He grinned at Jim, who returned the smile with one of his own.
"Hey, John," Jim was saying even before he had the door completely open. "Welcome to the Sandburg Zone."
Blair chuckled as John Whitefeather entered the loft, dark brows creased with confusion. It amazed Blair that Jim would exhibit his Sentinel abilities so blatantly by catching the door before John knocked, but listening to the two men greet each other removed any concern. John seemed to put Jim at ease enough that pretenses didn't seem to be necessary.
"Have a seat. Can I get you a drink?" Jim asked, crossing back through the kitchen behind Blair to the fridge, cuffing Blair on the back of the head as he passed. Blair laughed quietly, shaking his head. He should have expected that. "We've got beer and beer."
John Whitefeather grinned as he settled his large frame in one of the dining room chairs. "Beer will do nicely."
As Jim retrieved a bottle from the fridge, Blair took a moment to study the two cops. The first time Blair had met the Native American policeman from New Mexico, he had been struck by the similarities he shared with Jim. Time hadn't changed that observation: both of the same height and build, tough-jawed and guarded, with eyes that took in everything around them in an instant, prepared for any eventuality. Other than John's features and the long black hair he wore in a braid, if a stranger had walked in at this moment he would think the men were brothers.
"Dinner smells good," John announced, sniffing the air. "Three-alarm chili, right? I'd put more cayenne pepper in it, though. You can barely smell it."
Blair exchanged surprised glances with Jim, although he noted that slight tilt to Jim's head that he usually did when pieces of vague clues to a case started coming together.
"Did I say something?" John asked, peering first at Jim, then at Blair.
"No, no," Blair responded, stirring the contents of the pot when he noted it was boiling.
"Just made my point, is all," Jim added, throwing the Ellison trademark I-told-you-so expression at Blair.
John gazed around the loft, taking a sip of his drink. "This is a nice place. Comfortable, harmonious."
Taking a taste of his culinary concoction, noting there was definitely not enough cayenne pepper, Blair nearly choked at the comment. The reflex shot fire down his throat and he quickly chugged some of the beer from the bottle Jim had handed him earlier. Jim rolled his eyes.
"Not you, too. What is it with all of this mystic stuff?" He eyed John with a quirky smile. "Have you and Blair been communicating via harmonic waves or something?"
John smiled then snapped his fingers. "Which reminds me." He stood, digging into the pocket of his blue jeans and pulling out a small burlap bag tied off at the opening with a leather thong. Crossing to the kitchen, he held it out for Blair, who was wiping tears from his eyes. "A gift from Two Eagles."
Drying his hands on a tea towel, Blair felt like Christmas had come early to Cascade. "No way, man. That's great! How is he, anyway?" He took the gift and held it reverently in his hand.
"He's doing well, though age is creeping up on him. He holds it at bay, though…" John's reply grew fainter as Blair opened the bag and a black stone dropped into his hand. Warmth radiated from the stone and began to fill Blair with a peace he had not felt in what seemed forever. He was vaguely aware of the others in the room, of John talking, of Jim looking at him, but everything had gone silent. Closing his hand around the stone, Blair closed his eyes and fell into the serenity that surrounded him.
When he opened his eyes, Jim was standing on the other side of the kitchen island, his expression one of concern. John stood beside Jim, one hand on his shoulder as though holding him back.
Jim's mouth moved and words seemed to slowly spill out. "Sandburg, you okay?"
Coming back to his senses, Blair smiled. "Yeah, yeah, man, I'm fine."
"You zoned out, Chief. Your heart rate plummeted and I called your name but you didn't answer. It looked like you were in a whole other world."
Blair stared at the stone. "Maybe I was." He looked up at John. "Thank you for this."
John's hand dropped from Jim's shoulder and he returned Blair's smile. "I am only the deliverer. You have become important to Two Eagles, Blair. He seems aware of you, though you are miles apart. Two Eagles is a great Shaman of my people. For him to sense your need tells me that you share his gift more so than I originally thought."
Blair felt sudden tension in the room and he glanced at Jim. The jaw started straining; a sure sign of Ellison discomfort. Nervously, Blair turned back to the pot and set it off the burner then returned his attention to John.
"Did Two Eagles explain to you what this need is?" he asked carefully.
Either unaware of or not caring about Jim's discomfort, John nodded. "Two Eagles told me of a vision he had; one that caused him great concern. He saw a wolf, lost and alone, seeking his path in the jungle." A breath caught in Blair's throat, his heart starting to dance the rumba in his chest. He didn't dare look at Jim. "And he saw a black jaguar, also alone and seeking. The wolf was unable to continue, but the jaguar helped him. They met in a flash of light and the wolf took what he needed."
Jim's cold silence seemed to occur to John at that moment. Dark, questioning eyes met flat, unresponsive blues. "Have I said something I should not? Does this vision that Two Eagles received mean something to you, my friends?"
When Jim didn't respond, Blair opened his mouth to say something. He stopped before even starting. Jim's gaze settled on Blair; though no words passed between them, Blair knew that now was not the time. Thankfully, John seemed to sense that.
"Does anyone else smell cigars?" he asked, turning to the door.
The tension suddenly dispelled, falling like shards of glass around them as both Blair and Jim gaped openly at John. A thought occurred to Blair and as Jim moved to the door, he peered over John's shoulder to eye Jim. Something in the Sentinel's expression assured Blair he wasn't losing it. Jim was having the same thoughts.
Before a knock could sound, Jim opened the door. "Hey, Simon," he greeted amiably, backing away to allow in his superior.
"How many times do I have to tell you, Jim, to wait until I -- " Simon stopped abruptly as he caught sight of John. Casting a puzzled look at Jim, Simon tucked under one arm the manila file he carried and reached out to greet John. "Hello, Officer Whitefeather."
"Captain Banks. It is good to see you again, sir."
Simon smiled at that. "Sir. See, Sandburg? Other people give my title its due respect. You should learn from this one."
Grinning, Blair shifted back to the stove top, stirring the ingredients in the pot. "Come on, Simon, I show you all kinds of respect. You don't hear me calling you sweetheart or anything, do you?"
Simon rolled his eyes. "Sandburg…"
"Did you have something, Simon?" Jim stepped in, relieving Simon of the folder then crossing to the living room and spreading the contents out across the coffee table. John joined him.
"What is this?" John asked.
"The toxicology report I requested on that body earlier." Both men remained silent for several minutes, Simon moving to the other couch and settling in. "What is this Valeriana officinalis. What is that?"
Lifting the pot and carrying it to the table, Blair smiled. "Valerian root. It's a kind of natural sedative. A lot of people swear by it but personally I could never get past the smell. It's pretty rank, like old gym socks." He settled the pot on the table then turned to the group of men now staring at him. "The Sioux used something like it in their preparations for the Ghost Dancing they did around the turn of the century. We're doing a study on the American Indian societies in freshman Anthro."
An amused smile pulled at John's lips. "This one is a walking encyclopedia."
Simon chuckled. "You have no idea."
Grinning at the compliment, Blair asked, "Is there anything else?"
Jim scanned the report then nodded. "Something called Melissa and Crataegus."
"Really? Melissa is lemon balm, Crataegus is commonly known as Hawthorne. In small doses it's used to strengthen the heart. Large doses can be lethal."
"Lethal?" Simon asked.
"Too much Hawthorne," John took up the explanation while scanning through the forensics reports, "can cause arrhythmia."
"Which looks like natural causes," Jim added under his breath. "Well, things are getting interesting. Question is, did Mr. Lansing ingest the ingredients on his own or did he have help?"
Simon leaned forward and pulled out a photograph. "I think he had help, Jim. Take a look at this."
John tilted forward, then jerked a little in surprise. That caught Blair's attention and he leaned over the back of the couch, peering over Jim's shoulder at the emblem sketched onto bare skin. His heart started pounding as recognition shook through his body, though if asked, he couldn't say what he recognized. Sweat trickled down his forehead and it was suddenly difficult to breathe.
"The ME found it painted on the chest of the victim when he started his examination," Simon expounded. "It looked right up Blair's alley and I thought maybe he could give us a clue about it."
Desperately trying to slow his pounding heart and control his breathing, Blair merely shook his head and backed away. His mouth went dry and his hands trembled. As soon as he turned towards the kitchen, the fear dissipated and his heart slowed. His brows pulled together in confusion. Why did he react like that? What was it that set it off? He couldn't think clearly.
"You okay, Chief?" Jim called.
Blair lifted a hand in response and busied himself with setting the table to cover up his reaction.
"It looks Native American in origin," John spoke up, "but it's not Navajo. I don't really recognize the exact symbol."
"Do you think this could be a cult?" Simon asked. "Maybe a new group that's moved into Cascade?"
"Could be," Jim mused. "We could start by asking about what groups Mr. Lansing has been involved with. Could be the mark has nothing to do with his death at all."
Blair didn't know how he knew, but that statement was not true. The symbol had a great deal to do with Mr. Lansing's death. If only he could put a finger on why he felt that so strongly.
"Maybe interview some of his coworkers and family," John offered.
"Mr. Lansing is recently widowed," Simon supplied. "Lost his wife and two children in a fire last month. His father came to the station just after you left and gave a report."
"Could be he fell in with the wrong group."
"Could be. Officer Whitefeather, this seems to be running right up your alley, too. Care to join Jim on this?"
Blair finished placing the cups on the table and watched as John exchanged a glance with Jim. Something passed between the two men and he wondered again if his suspicions from earlier weren't actual fact. That maybe, as he had suspected when originally meeting the Navajo police officer, John Whitefeather was also a Sentinel. The room changed just then, filling with a hazy blue light. Sitting in place of Jim was the black jaguar as familiar now to Blair as his own heartbeat; perched beside it on the back of the couch was a golden eagle. The eagle peered at Blair with a penetrating gaze that shot through him like an electric jolt. It spread its wings and sang out luxuriously. Blair felt reassured by that powerful cry. No matter what he was, John Whitefeather was right where he was supposed to be.
"If Jim and Blair don't mind," John said evenly, dispelling the vision, "I'd be honored."
Blair clenched the warm stone still tucked in his hand, uncertainty suddenly filling him. Everything seemed in its proper place. Yet why did he feel apprehension seizing his chest?
Jim waited, bouncing impatiently on his heels as the door of the small, two-story brick house slowly opened. A tall, thin man of obvious Native American descent stood behind the screen door eyeing him expectantly.
"Uh, hi." Jim put on what he hoped was a friendly smile. "I was looking for John Whitefeather?"
The man suddenly smiled and pushed open the screen door. "You must be Detective Ellison." He motioned for Jim to step into the house. "Come on in. John said he was expecting you."
Jim nodded his thanks and took a few steps past the man, entering a small but eclectically decorated living room. He let his gaze drift over the various photos of airplanes alongside Native American knick-knacks as his host closed the door and stepped around him into the room. He held out his hand, which Jim accepted with a smile. "I'm Greg Coyote. John told us he was going to be helping you out a bit while he was up here." Greg was a bit shorter than Jim and at least twenty pounds lighter. His hair, while jet black like John's, was cropped short and sat in spiky tufts on his head. "John should be down in a few minutes." He smiled and shook his head. "He never was much of a morning person. Come on in and have a seat. Can I get you anything?"
Jim shook his head, a bit uncomfortable at the extremely warm welcome he was receiving. "No thanks, I'm fine." He glanced around the room as the uncomfortable silence began to stretch. "So, do you fly?" He motioned toward one of the photos hanging on the far wall, hoping John would arrive soon and save him from social hell.
"Um, yeah." Greg moved to the overstuffed couch and sat down. He picked up his coffee cup, his eyes straying from the photo to the small staircase on the left side of the room. "I ran a charter business back on the reservation. You know, mostly tourists, the occasional supply run."
A soft noise from the doorway to the right caught Jim's attention and he looked over to see a woman's face peeking around the corner. Jim smiled and nodded in her direction, but the woman didn't respond. Greg hastily put down the cup, rose from the couch and made his way toward the woman. "I'm sorry, Detective. This is my fiancée, Anna Morningstar."
Jim bowed a bit in greeting. "It's nice to meet you, ma'am."
The woman stared at him for a moment, before whispering something to Greg and disappearing back around the corner. Greg watched her for a moment before turning back to Jim. "I'm sorry." He shrugged as he moved back to the couch. "She's been ill lately. She's not quite up to seeing people yet."
Jim was saved from any further chitchat by heavy footsteps on the stairs. "Hey, Jim. Sorry I kept you waiting." Whitefeather stepped onto the landing at the bottom of the stairs, still tucking his denim shirt into his jeans. "I suppose Greg has been boring you with stories of a misspent youth?"
"Yours or mine?" Greg asked smoothly.
Jim laughed politely. "Actually, we hadn't gotten quite that far yet." He checked his watch, hoping he didn't seem too obvious in his desire to leave. "How about we catch breakfast on the road? I'd like to get started tracing some of Lansing's known associates and see if the lab has come up with anything on the symbol they found on the body."
A sudden fit of coughing erupted and both Jim and John looked at the other man with concern. Greg was placing his coffee cup onto the table, his eyes wide and his face flushed.
"Hey, you okay?" John's voice was concerned, but his face held an expression of slight amusement.
Coyote returned his grin and waved a hand as he tapped his chest with his other hand. "Just went down the wrong pipe." He coughed a few more times before he was able to take a deep breath and relax back into the couch cushions. "Sorry, guys." He smiled sheepishly. "I'm still working on walking and chewing gum, too."
John shook his head and grabbed his jacket from where it was flung over the railing. "And people trust him to fly a plane. Amazing. Come on, Jim. I'm sure you know the best donut shop in town. My treat."
Jim smiled, glad to finally be moving. "That's an offer I can't refuse." He turned back to Greg, who was looking much better. "Take care, Greg. It was nice to meet you."
"Yeah, you, too." He motioned toward John as he followed them to the door. "Keep an eye on him for me, huh? You never know what kind of trouble he'll find."
Jim laughed again and stepped out the door, John close on his heels.
As soon as they were seated in the truck, Jim looked back toward the house. His eyes were drawn to one of the upstairs windows where Anna stood, partially concealed by the dark curtains. She noticed Jim watching her watch them and quickly pulled the curtains closed.
"She's a little odd," John was leaning forward, following Jim's line of sight. "She wasn't always like this. But after what she went through, I guess I can't really blame her."
Jim kept his eyes on the window. "You said she was in some kind of car accident?"
John sat back. "Yeah. Her car collided with a van carrying a bunch of pre-school kids. Two of the kids died. Two others were paralyzed. It turned out the van driver had failed to yield, but Anna took it pretty hard. Greg said she blamed herself."
Jim stared at the window a few seconds more, shamed at the quick judgment he had made about the woman. "That's rough."
There was an awkward silence for a few moments until John clapped his hands loudly and rubbed them together. "So, Kemosabe, where's the nearest donut shop? I don't know about you, but I always work better with a jelly filled bismarck in my stomach."
Jim laughed and shook his head as he started the truck. "Not a lot of Krispy Kreme's on the reservation, huh?" With a chuckle he pulled out onto the road.
Blair shot forward, muffling a scream. His chest heaved with every breath as sweat poured from his forehead and limbs. The nightmare, like all the others, disappeared as soon as his eyes opened, but the effects still painfully lingered. Rubbing his eyes, Blair began deep breathing. A very simple act to do that people performed every single day without too much problem, but it always took a few moments after the nightmares before Blair got the hang of it again.
He started coughing almost immediately and grabbed the tissues from his nightstand to wipe the thick mucus that came up. His chest hurt from more than the coughing bout, though. Tossing the used tissue into the full wastebasket by his bed, Blair slumped against his damp pillows.
"Damn," he muttered, wiping the sweat from his forehead and raking trembling fingers through his hair. He needed to figure out what was going on. These nightmares were tying him into as tight a knot as his curls, not to mention making him do laundry more often. No matter how hard he tried, though, images of the nightmares stubbornly refused to come forward.
With some effort, Blair pulled his tired body out of bed. He glanced at the clock. Nine A.M. Grumbling, using words like "idiot" and "oaf", he grabbed a clean pair of briefs and stumbled to the bathroom. He didn't have class until eleven-thirty, but he had wanted to get into school early enough to tackle the piles of paperwork that had accumulated during his illness.
Turning on the shower, Blair scoffed at the word "illness". Why was it so difficult to just say it? He had died. And even though illness had eventually claimed him and still lingered, it all came down to those three simple words. He had died.
And now his life seemed to be spiraling out of control because of it. Nightmares were raking at his already weary soul and what was up with all the zoning out? Like yesterday, when John appeared with Jim in the classroom. What had caused the blood to drain to his toes? And last night: everything had been going well - except for John's unexpected announcement about the jaguar and the wolf, that is. Even after John and Simon left, Jim refused to discuss it. Instead, he had quietly done the dishes and then said goodnight. Sometimes living with that automaton strained even Blair's patience. Despite all of that, though, last night had been okay until that symbol forensics found on a corpse. Blair had wigged out over that.
Blair's body suddenly trembled, even though the water beating down on him was hotter than normal. Another coughing fit took him, but the steam seemed to be doing its job. He could feel the coughs working at the tightness in his chest. Spitting into the toilet, Blair buried himself under the hot water again, trying to get rid of the chill setting up house in his bones. His thoughts went back to that symbol.
There was something achingly familiar about it; a familiarity that brought out the same reaction that those nightmares did. Damn, if he could only remember. This was driving him nuts!
Slamming the shower knob down and twisting off the water, Blair stood silently in the steamy bathroom, allowing the water to drop off his still aching body. Heavy drops streamed from his sodden hair, trickling down his shoulders and chest. A chill seeped into the bathroom as the steam rose and began to dissipate, but Blair remained unmoving.
Something had to change. Something had to give. He couldn't do this alone; he wasn't ashamed to admit that. Unlike his remote roommate, Blair thrived on talking through his feelings. It was how he dealt with distress and discarded it. There were times he lied about his pain, yes. Obfuscating had become second nature over the years; moreso since hitching up with a certain Major Crime detective. Except about the really important things.
Well, this had just warped into the realm of the "really important". If he didn't talk to someone soon, he'd burst. But who was left? Simon was just as bad as Jim. His reaction to Jim's visions in the past, including the visions that took Jim to Mexico, only proved that Simon couldn't handle the discussion that Blair needed to have. Hell, Blair had died, for heaven's sake! Who could possibly handle…?
A smile crossed Blair's lips as his head jerked up. Of course. John Whitefeather. John had mentioned the vision Two Eagles had. The same vision Jim and Blair had shared. Yet, when John spoke of it there had been no discomfort. Maybe…
Grabbing his towel, Blair stepped out of the shower and started drying off as he continued to think about his friend. John had grown up around the spiritual. It was part of his heritage, true, but Two Eagles was also a good friend. A close friendship with a shaman had to bring about all sorts of enlightenment, right?
Blair grimaced as he pulled on his briefs. Then why hadn't it made a difference with Jim? Immediately, Blair knew the answer to that question. Because Blair wasn't a shaman. Sure, Incacha had passed to him the way of the shaman, but what had Blair done with it? At one time he had jokingly referred to himself as the Shaman of the Great City. But it was just that, a joke. When Jim had needed spiritual guidance with the whole Alex ordeal, Blair had been just as confused about Jim's reaction as Jim had been. And it hadn't been Blair who guided Jim through the temple of the Sentinel. It had been Incacha's spirit.
Shaking those thoughts from his head, Blair finished toweling off his chest and back as he raced to his bedroom. A lot of guilt attended those thoughts, and Blair didn't necessarily want to deal with that right now. One step at a time.
Before leaving last night, John had asked Blair to lunch since Jim would be in court most of the afternoon. The thought of taking time away from school at this precarious period didn't seem like a good idea, but Blair had found himself agreeing to the invitation. Now, he was glad he did. Perhaps John could be that source of security that Blair needed. If he was willing. He and Jim were so much alike, what if they shared the same emotional shutdown button?
No. John had grown up accepting things that were not normal. And if Jim had anything to say about it, Blair was as not-normal as they came.
Blair chuckled, pulling on a flannel shirt over his white t-shirt. Grabbing his wallet from the nightstand and stuffing it into his back pocket, he started towards the bedroom door when he noticed the onyx stone beside his alarm clock. Recalling the peace that had accompanied the warm stone, Blair closed his hand around it.
A bright light flashed across his eyes, jerking him slightly. A hazy face that looked vaguely familiar appeared, creased in agony, tears streaming from pain-filled dark eyes. A flash of his dark chest, something drawn in gray…
Wrenching free of the strange vision, Blair's hands trembled slightly. He peered at the onyx in the palm of his hand then shook his head.
"C'mon, Sandburg, get a grip," he muttered, shaking his shoulders dramatically. Shoving the onyx into his front jeans pocket, he headed out the door, the images already fading.
But not the fear.
It felt good to get outside. He hadn't realized how long it had been until John came by the university for their lunch appointment and suggested they go to an outside café a friend had recommended. Soaking in the late spring sunshine, eyes closed as he listened to the chatter around them, Blair felt the chill that had settled in his bones over the past few weeks dissolve.
"You are friends with the sun."John's deep voice penetrated Blair's revelry.
"Yeah, we've had our moments," Blair grinned, then opened his eyes. John smiled at him. "Hadn't realized how much I missed it until now."
"The illness was bad, then."
Blair shrugged, picking up his iced tea and sipping for a moment. "You could say that," he finally replied. "Jim and I came back from a trip to Mexico and I got hit with a major infection that wiped me out for a while. I was hospitalized for a time when it seemed touch and go, but…" His voice trailed off as he glanced around the busy area.
"I see why Jim is concerned for you. During class yesterday it was all I could do to keep up with him when you blanked out."
Shrugging, Blair settled deeper into his chair, but said nothing. Yes, he knew Jim's concern was real. Sometimes, though, Blair wished he understood the intent behind it. Why was it that Jim could show concern over his physical well being, but when it came time to talk about something deeper, the great Ellison shut down? Deep down Blair knew the answer to that. Hell, he knew Jim better than almost anyone. But just because he knew it and accepted that part of his friend, didn't mean he had to like it.
"You are strong, Blair Sandburg," John was saying. "I sensed that in you when we first met."
Blair scoffed at that then grinned his most charming as the cute waitress appeared with their order. He recognized her from his Anthro 101 class. "So, Della, how's the term paper coming along?"
Della rolled her eyes as she set plates of food in front of Blair and John. "Slow. God, Professor Sandburg, this is only a freshman term paper. If I'm struggling with this, how am I ever going to get through four more years and then my diss?"
"You'll do just fine, Della. Papers come one assignment at a time. Well, most of the time." He grinned and watched as she noticeably relaxed. "Look, why don't you pop by during my open office hours and I'll take a look at what you've got so far?"
Della's grin was luminescent. "Really? I mean, you have the time? After being ill, I thought…"
"I always have time for hard working anthro majors who serve me food, Della."
"Thanks, Professor Sandburg. You're the best." She lifted the empty tray and moved to leave, then turned back. "We really did miss you, Professor. It's good to have you back."
Blair's smile genuinely filled his face. "Thanks, Della. It's good to be back."
She giggled and left. Blair followed her form, admiring what he saw. "Man, sometimes it sucks being a Teaching Fellow." With a chuckle, he refocused on his friend, who was laughing at him. "What?"
"I find it amusing how many girls sign up for your classes, Professor Sandburg."
"Hey, when you got it, you got it. What can I say, man?" Blair's eyebrows danced roguishly.
The two men chuckled as they dug into the food. After several moments of comfortable silence, Blair sat back. He had only eaten half of his lunch. With his fork, he pushed the remaining ingredients of his chef salad around on the plate. The sound of silverware grating on glass allowed a distraction. A dark hand folded over his, relieving Blair of the fork. When he looked up, John was cringing as he placed the liberated fork on his side of the table.
"Food not any good?" John finally asked, finishing off a dripping hamburger and washing it down with a generous swig of beer.
"Yeah, it was fine. Can't eat a lot right now, though. The doctor promises my appetite will return soon, but after two weeks of nothing but antibiotics, juice and soup, solid foods and I are still getting reacquainted. No big deal, man."
Wiping his mouth with a napkin, dropping it onto his plate, John studied Blair for several moments. "May I ask you a personal question, Blair?"
The tone in his friend's voice put Blair on immediate defense. Despite his thoughts from this morning, he feared bringing up the topic looming so vast in his mind. There was no question about trusting the man. In the short span of their friendship, John had earned almost the depth of trust Blair had in Jim. But there was so much he himself didn't understand, how could he expect John to?
"Sure, man, go ahead." He hoped he sounded as calm as his words.
"Last night, when I explained Two Eagles' vision of the wolf and jaguar, you and Jim reacted strangely. Did I offend you?"
Blair pushed his plate out of the way. "No, man, please don't think that. It's just…well, let's just say this past month has been a little odd. For both of us." When John didn't reply, Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Did Two Eagles happen to mention anything that might have surrounded the vision he saw of the wolf and jaguar?"
"He only mentioned that something had happened that altered the path you were on."
"That's an understatement," Blair scoffed. The movement caused a coughing fit that took a moment to control. When at last he found his voice, he managed a weak smile. "Sorry. Still trying to get over this thing."
The gentle compassion in those words brought Blair's gaze up. John had pushed his own plate to one side and had leaned forward, his face an unreadable mask, hands clasped and resting on the table. There was no recrimination in his features, in the way he held himself, not like how Jim reacted when the subject was brought up.
That wasn't fair, Blair thought to himself. Perhaps if Jim weren't so personally involved in all of this he would react as John reacted now.
"About a month ago," Blair began, dropping his voice so only John could hear, "Jim and I…" How was he supposed to explain this without giving away every secret he and Jim had worked so long to keep safe? Ideas spun expertly through his mind in an effort to find the best obfuscation. "I got involved in a case that Jim was working on. I wasn't paying too much attention and managed to fall in with the criminal Jim was chasing. She wasn't a very good guy."
John smiled at that description, but said nothing. Blair took another deep breath, blocking out the buzzing of conversation around him as he focused on the man across the table. Somewhere, deep inside, Blair felt almost like he was betraying Jim. If John were a Sentinel, as Blair was beginning to suspect, would telling him about Alex and the visions betray his partnership with Jim?
"I need a partner I can trust!" Those words had haunted Blair since they were spoken during that heated argument in the bullpen. Was this the same kind of betrayal?
For the life of him, Blair couldn't figure out how. It was not like he would be telling John everything. Nor was it like Alex. Blair had kept Alex's abilities a secret from Jim, had been training her without Jim's knowledge. This wasn't the same, was it?
"Jim and I had a pretty bad argument about the whole thing and…um…I kinda moved out of the loft over it." Moved out? He hid a scoff by drinking some tea, pushing back the same sick feeling that had twisted his gut the night Jim had kicked him out of the loft. It had felt like his world came crashing down around his feet, and there wasn't a clean-up crew large enough to put it back together again. "She figured out he and I were connected and came after me." Images of that hazy morning appeared, replacing the attentive features of John Whitefeather with the carved beauty of Alex Barnes. She had been honestly sad about needing to kill Blair. He remembered how that had touched him and how he had tried to play on what little compassion she showed. In the end it hadn't mattered, except that she didn't shoot him. He had managed to keep her from doing that at least. Instead, Alex had marched him out into the gray morning…
"Did you see the fountain outside Hargrove Hall when we left?" Blair asked. John nodded and Blair mentally kicked himself. Of course he saw it. Everyone coming to Hargrove Hall saw that damn fountain. It stood there mocking Blair every time he walked to his office, calling up memories he wished to plant deep and forget. "This woman marched me out to that fountain at gunpoint really early one morning and dazed me with a blow to the head. When I fell in face first she held me under until I stopped struggling." He could still taste the rancid water from the fountain. "She…" He swallowed and took a sip of tea. "She killed me that morning, John."
It took several heartbeats before Blair could look at his friend. He didn't know what to expect. Maybe the same blank expression that Jim used every time Blair brought up the fountain; maybe even mocking disbelief. Whatever it was he expected or feared, it wasn't there. Instead, John leaned in further, his deep voice guttural as he dropped it to a whisper.
"Two Eagles said that the wolf was in pain, unable to continue his journey. I see now what he meant."
Relief flooded through Blair so palpable he could feel it lifting the weight that had been pressing down on him for weeks. Leaning forward, he went on, grateful to be speaking openly about the subject, even though a part of him wished the person sitting across from him was a certain detective. "One moment I'm thrashing for my life, man, and the next I'm a wolf wandering in a great forest, alone, seeking for something but not knowing what. It felt like I would be alone forever when I saw…" His voice faltered.
"The black jaguar."
Blair rubbed his eyes, hoping to hide unshed tears of relief from John. "There is no way I can tell you what it felt like when I saw that cat, man. And I'm supposed to be the one who can talk myself out of anything!" He mirthlessly chuckled at that, remembering the elation that swept through him when the jaguar appeared. They had run towards one another, had leapt…
"That was the vision Two Eagles saw," Blair went on. "Of the jaguar and the wolf. We leapt into one another and somehow that jerked me back and the next thing I know I'm spitting up water."
John slowly sat back, arms crossed over his chest as his dark features became unfocused for a moment. Blair feared he had gone too far, said too much. When John's attention returned, however, a smile pulled at the older man's lips.
"You have been given a great gift, Blair. I see now why Two Eagles is fearful for you."
Movement beside them broke the bubble of silence they had managed to pull around them and suddenly a din of voices attacked Blair's eardrums as he became aware once more of the busy restaurant. He peered up at Della who stood uncertainly beside their table.
"I am so sorry to interrupt your conversation, Professor Sandburg," she said, her hands wringing nervously. "You seemed so intent, but I…my shift ends any minute and before the new waitress comes over I just wanted to make certain you didn't need anything more."
Pasting on his best smile, Blair dug into his pocket. "Don't worry about it, Della. Mr. Whitefeather and I were just leaving."
John picked up the ticket Della had laid on the table and put down a twenty. "My treat, Blair." He smiled up at the waitress. "Keep the change, dear."
Della's eyes widened and an energetic smile lit her features. "Thank you, sir, Mr. Sandburg. Have a nice day!"
Shaking his head at John, Blair stood. "You didn't have to do that."
"I was the one who invited you to lunch, Professor Sandburg." A brilliant smile dug across his dark face. "It was well worth the price to see your power over struggling female students."
Chuckling, Blair followed John out of the restaurant, grinning foolishly at the relief he felt. Could John possibly know how indebted Blair was to him? Probably not, and that was okay.
They remained silent as they walked to the parking lot and got into Blair's car. When he started to turn the ignition, John laid a hand on his arm to stop him.
"Let's talk a moment," John offered. Shifting his large bulk in the passenger seat, he turned to face Blair, waited for Blair to finally look at him. "I do not know all that Two Eagles knows. He is a great shaman, but very mysterious. Even after all these years I don't really know him. But one thing I have learned, one does not suddenly become a shaman because the way is given to him…or because it is expected of him. A great event must occur; the veil must be lifted from the shaman's eyes to allow him to see beyond the mortal plain. This great thing happened to Two Eagles."
"Really?" Intrigued, Blair shifted into instant anthropology mode. "Can you tell me what happened?"
John shook his head. "It is a sacred thing and is told only when the shaman believes it must be shared. My grandfather, though, remembers when Two Eagles went into the desert and was not seen for two weeks. When he returned, he had changed. He had been a young man when he left, lighthearted, fun loving. When he returned, a single lock of his black hair had been changed to white, and the youthful mischievousness had been replaced with wisdom."
Blair's hand went to his left earlobe. After the incident at the pool he hadn't put back in the two silver loops that normally adorned that lobe. Somehow he felt he had grown beyond that mark, matured a little. He honestly hadn't thought about it until now.
"Two Eagles said that the Great Spirit had shown him the path of the shaman and he chose to walk that path. Our tribe's shaman took him in and walked part of the path with him, teaching him, preparing him for when the way of the shaman would be completely his own."
Remembering Incacha's frantic need to pass along the way of the shaman, Blair peered down at his left forearm. He recalled the sound of the words Incacha used, the grip on his arm, the bloody handprint that remained when Incacha's last breath had been spent. And he remembered Jim's voice, thick with emotion, as he interpreted those words. The way of the shaman had been passed to Blair to guide Jim. For months after, Blair had waited for something more dramatic to change within him or around him - something to make him feel like the shaman he was supposed to be - but nothing had come.
Had dying been the change he sought?
"Two Eagles has issued an invitation to you, Blair Sandburg, if you choose to accept."
Blair snapped out of his contemplation. John watched him with compassion. "An invitation?"
"He wishes you to join him in New Mexico so that he may walk part of the path of the shaman with you, to help you understand this new path on which you find your feet."
Excitement bubbled very near the surface and Blair nearly found himself accepting the invitation. He had so many questions and hoped that maybe Two Eagles could help him understand the nightmares. But as soon as he opened his mouth to say yes, reality swept in. He had been out of school too long as it was; his classes, both teaching and as a student, were suffering miserably. He had already used up more than his allotted sick time and rumblings out of administration told him that he needed to tread a little more lightly.
How did one choose the way of a shaman and yet survive in the real world?
"I'll have to think about that, John," Blair replied dismally, shoulders slumping as he shifted to peer out the front windshield. "How long will you be staying in Cascade?"
John shrugged. "I had only planned on visiting my friend for a few days and delivering the gift and invitation from Two Eagles. Now that Jim has asked my help on this case, it will depend on when it is solved."
Nodding, Blair started the Volvo then sat back in his seat, not moving. His mind and heart quarreled. His heart desired to drop everything and fly to New Mexico immediately, hoping that Two Eagles could interpret the dreams and relieve the weariness he felt each morning. His head reminded him that it would be impossible; not only did he have to wait until this session was completed, but he was committed to summer sessions as well. It would have to wait until they were over - if then.
"You needn't make your decision right now, Blair," John's voice broke into Blair's thoughts. "I will be here at least another couple of days. Think about it." His train of thought skipped quickly as he grinned. "Besides, it will be good to work with Jim in his element. Never before have I met someone so keenly aware of his surroundings as your partner. Did you know he can smell Simon's cigars even before Simon arrives?"
"I noticed last night that you did, too, John." Blair tilted his head, arching an eyebrow in John's direction. He had wanted to bring that up.
John smiled at Blair, one eyebrow arched slyly. "Can't you?"
Stunned, Blair shook his head while clues continued to click into place like a jigsaw puzzle. Was it really possible that John was another Sentinel? He remembered joking with Jim about a time/space continuum converging together around them to explain how two Sentinels had found Blair. Considering what may be happening again, maybe that wasn't so far fetched.
Blair put the Volvo into gear and backed up, easing the car onto University Avenue towards the station. He peered occasionally at John, thoughts of shamanism and visions shoved to the back of his mind as questions and ideas grew and took hold. If John Whitefeather were a Sentinel, then why didn't Jim react as he did with Alex? Was it because Jim felt the malevolence in Alex? Did Sentinels have the ability to tell if another Sentinel meant ill towards his tribe? Was there something instinctive that told a Sentinel whom he could trust and whom he couldn't? Blair's mind reeled with the implications. He needed to talk to Jim. He couldn't let the events that happened after Alex happen again. But how did he approach the subject when Jim was so dead set against talking about it?
Finally, Blair took a deep breath and let it out. "I think I'll accept Two Eagles' invitation, John."
"Good. Two Eagles will be pleased, Blair."
He smiled at the Native American cop, ignoring the twisting in his stomach. He'd work it out with Rainier somehow. Maybe he could claim his grandmother died. Nope, used that excuse already. Maybe a brother?
Jim poured himself a cup of coffee, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Another body had turned up last night, this one a couple of days old, but definitely with the same M.O. The toxicology report had shown the same mix of herbs and the same strange symbol painted on the chest of the victim. Any doubts that Lansing was murdered were now put to rest.
The victim, a 58-year-old woman by the name of Merla Jean Joyce, had been found at a hotel on the southside by the police when her daughter had gotten worried after not being able to reach her for several days. A computer check showed that Joyce had not had so much as a traffic ticket, but her name did come up concerning the accidental drowning of her four-year-old grandson nearly a year ago.
According to the daughter, Mrs. Joyce had been so distraught since the boy's death that they had been keeping close tabs on her, fearing she would take her own life due to her guilt over what had happened. Although that is what the daughter initially believed had happened, the M.E.'s report and the discovery of the symbol on the body made it obvious that this case was connected to the death of Edward Lansing.
It had taken most of the night to get the reports and confirmations back. Jim had dropped John Whitefeather back at Greg Coyote's house a little after 2 a.m. and had dragged into the loft at nearly 3. Sandburg had been sound asleep and Jim, after checking on his roommate, had trudged up the stairs and fallen into his bed. 7 a.m. had come way too soon, but Jim wanted to get an early start in finding some kind of connection between Lansing and the Joyce woman.
He tilted his head as he heard some signs of life from Sandburg's room and managed a fond chuckle as the grad student trudged out to the kitchen in a pair of sweats and an old Rainier sweatshirt. He deftly moved out of the way as Blair made a beeline for the coffee pot, watching in amusement as the younger man managed to pour some into a cup with his eyes still closed.
After a few sips and sighs of contentment, Blair managed to wedge his eyes open and seemed to notice Jim for the first time.
"Morning," he grumbled as he shuffled back to the dining room table. He pulled out a chair and plopped down onto it, his body leaning forward to rest on the table.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you it's not polite to lay on the table, Chief?"
Blair lifted his head and took another sip of coffee before fixing the detective with a glare. "My mother never worried much about proper etiquette. Besides, we never really ate at a table anyway."
Jim laughed, a picture of Blair and Naomi seated on bright cushions eating sandwiches of cow tongue popping into his head. "That explains a lot."
Blair's face contorted into a frown. "Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Jim held up a placating hand while he placed his empty mug into the sink. "Hey, I was just making conversation, Sandburg. I guess I should have waited until you finished your coffee, huh?"
Blair stared at him a moment before sighing and sitting back on his chair. "I'm sorry, man." He brushed his hair back from his face and stared morosely into the coffee cup. "I guess I'm still a little off center."
"Maybe just a little," Jim agreed. He could still hear the congestion in Blair's lungs and winced at the rough cough he attempted to contain. But he knew the lung infection was only a small part of why Blair's emotions had been careening out of control. He could tell from the look on Sandburg's face that the kid was thinking way too hard about something, and it wasn't much of a stretch for Jim to guess what that something was.
Ever since John Whitefeather had mentioned Two Eagles' vision the other night, Jim had felt a growing sense of dread whenever he and Blair were alone. He knew the kid wanted to talk about it, but Jim just couldn't bring himself to acknowledge what had happened at the fountain. Whatever it was -- a vision or a shared hallucination -- Jim was not sure what it was supposed to mean. Wasn't that Sandburg's area? Wasn't he the one who was supposed to be able to interpret all this hocus pocus crap and make some kind of sense out of it?
Jim had never felt comfortable with the mystical side of the sentinel business. It had been different, somehow, when it was Incacha. He had trusted the Chopec shaman implicitly. Incacha had given him a sense of well-being, a real base for his new found abilities. Maybe it had been the fact that he was in the jungle -- in his natural element, as Sandburg would probably put it -- but he had been able to follow Incacha's lead without hesitation, his faith in the Chopec never wavering as he learned to free his senses.
Was that the problem? He had trusted Incacha because he was a foundling in the Chopec's world. He needed Incacha to survive, so he was able to give more of himself. But here in Cascade it was a different story. He knew this world. He knew these streets. He trusted Blair to help him figure out his senses, but did he really trust Sandburg enough to give him the kind of control he had easily given Incacha?
Shaking his head in an attempt to banish the uncomfortable direction of his thoughts, he looked up to see Blair sadly watching him. Not able to meet the grad student's expressive blue eyes, Jim moved around the kitchen island, grabbing a jacket from the hook near the door.
"It's not gonna go away, Jim."
Jim paused with one sleeve partially on. He closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath, but couldn't force himself to turn around. He heard the chair slide back on the wooden floor and tensed as Blair padded softly across the floor to the sink.
"We're gonna have to talk about it sooner or later, man." Jim turned slightly in time to see Blair duck his head, his long curls obscuring his face. "I need to talk about it." His voice shook with restrained emotion, almost pleading with Jim to listen. He pushed his hair behind his ear and looked up. Jim didn't miss the anguish in his eyes.
"I know, Chief." He slid his arm into the sleeve and pulled the jacket down snugly. He dipped his head, his voice low. "I just…"
"Can't." Blair finished for him. He nodded, a grim smile lifting one corner of his mouth. Jim tried to ignore the look of disappointment that flitted across Sandburg's face, but he wasn't entirely successful. "It's okay, Jim. I can wait."
Jim nodded in return, his hand reaching out and finding the handle of the front door. He paused, glancing back at his friend, noting the weariness that hung on him like an old sweater.
"It'll all work out, Chief. We just need to give it a little time."
Blair laughed softly and gave Jim a sad smile. "Yeah. Time"
Jim pulled the door open and slid out into the hallway, not missing the soft voice as the door closed between them.
"But will there ever be enough?"
"The white settlers had completely freaked over the strange rituals of the Indians," Blair continued, turning from the chalkboard. "Everything about them was different. They spoke another language, they believed in a Great Spirit that moved through every living thing, they even smoked herbs that put them in tune with nature." He grinned. "Much like some of you, I'm sure."
The students chuckled, some of them elbowing their neighbors. A hand went up.
A short, round young man with drooping hair stood, pulling nervously at the sweater vest he wore. "Mr. Sandburg, if the American Settlers feared the Indians so much, why did they attack them? I would think that they'd want to stay as far away from them as possible."
"That's a good question, Rodger," Blair replied as he moved to stand closer to the front row of empty seats. Sliding his hands into his pockets, the smooth onyx stone given to him by Two Eagles slipped easily into the palm of his right hand. He closed his hand around the warm stone. "And you'd be right, if it weren't for the natural tendency of man to destroy things they fear, and fear things they don't understand. If you look at it from an observer point of view it makes sense that if you fear something as much as the white settlers feared the Native Americans, you would leave it alone. However, history is filled with instances that state the opposite of that theory. For instance…"
A painful jolt shot through Blair's arm, cutting off his words as a dark room replaced the engrossed faces of the students, a salty breeze billowing through ripped curtains. He moved with practiced ease across the room, but knew that it was not his legs that carried him. Heart pounding against his rib cage, he watched as gloved hands mixed together several bright colored paints into a wooden bowl. He inhaled through nostrils that were not his own. A familiar rank scent permeated the stale air of the room. Like old gym socks. He turned and saw the still form of a young woman lying on a filthy bed, arms at her sides, blank eyes staring up at the ceiling. The woman's blouse was unbuttoned part way, the pale chest lifting and lowering at an alarming rate. At once compassion overwhelmed his senses, but it was a strange compassion. It didn't feel right. It felt almost angry.
The gloved hands - hands that he felt moving but were not his - continued to stir the now grayish paint as he sat on the edge of the bed. He began to chant foreign words, his voice mingling with another he didn't hear as much as he felt. One glove was slipped off and trembling fingers dipped into the wooden bowl. Gray paint dripped from his fingers and he began to draw a symbol upon the woman's chest. Her skin was cold beneath his hands, the woman's breathing slowing. He could barely feel the heart beating. The chanting fell from his lips more rapidly, louder, as the symbol took shape.
The young woman gasped and turned dark eyes upon him; eyes filled with agony. And fear. A tear flowed from the outside corner of one eye, down the woman's temple to drip upon a soiled pillow. A jagged breath left her lips and she breathed no more.
Blair screamed in outrage, struggling to be free of the power that held him in that dim room and to somehow help the victim. The eyes of the young woman bore into him relentlessly, burning the image of her tormented expression into his mind. Squeezing his eyes closed against that image, his hands clenched. Something smooth and warm pressed into the palm of his right hand. Concentrating on that sensation, drawing energy from the stone, Blair tried to escape the vision.
With a cry, his body jerked and he opened his eyes, finding himself back in the auditorium. Sweat streamed down the sides of his face; his heart pounded in his ears. Ignoring the wide-eyed astonishment on the faces of the students, Blair stumbled and fell against the podium, gasping for breath. Using the podium for support, he labored to calm his racing heart, and regain control of his trembling body. The same terror from his nightmares swept over him and Blair nearly passed out.
The smooth stone seared into the palm of his hand, forcing him to drop it. It fell to the floor, echoing in the strangely silent auditorium. Blair stared at the stone, images of the vision pulling at him, urging him to follow. His breathing still shallow, Blair slowly crouched, reaching out to the stone with a trembling hand. The compulsion to flee grew stronger the closer his hand came to the stone. Quickly he snatched up the stone, images clarifying in his mind. He knew what he had to do.
"Class dismissed," Blair barked. Without looking up or waiting until he was obeyed, he stood and ran from the auditorium, leaving behind a stunned group of students.
Jim looked up from the computer just as John Whitefeather slid through the doors of Major Crime, holding both coffee laden hands up as he nearly collided with Henri Brown.
"Whoa, sorry 'bout that, man."
Jim rolled his eyes and shook his head as Brown continued on his trek out the doors. The detective was on his way to a lunch date with his newest quest and, from the looks of it, was running more than a little late.
"Is it always like this around here?" John set one of the cups on Jim's desk as he glanced around the bustling squad room. Uniformed officers as well as detectives, lab personnel and civilians moved around the room depositing, picking up and working on files and reports for the various cases assigned to the department.
Jim took the mug and leaned back in his chair, smiling ingenuously. "Nah. Sometimes it gets really chaotic." He took a sip of his coffee. "A little bit different than the reservation, huh?"
John nodded as he took a seat in the chair next to Jim's desk. "Did you find anything?"
Jim placed the cup back on the desk and turned the monitor to the left so they could both view it. "According to the records, neither of the victims knew each other. Lansing worked in a new office complex just south of the airport, while Mrs. Joyce rarely left her home in the suburbs. Both of the hotel rooms were registered in the victims' names, but the desk clerks can't remember actually seeing them."
"So what were they doing in those dumps anyway?"
Jim sat back again and shrugged. "We don't know. About the only connection I've been able to find between them is that they both saw the same therapist, a C.L. Stiverson."
John's eyes widened at the information. "That's an interesting connection."
Jim merely shook his head. "Not really. The Joyce woman saw this therapist for a couple of months, but she stopped going two months ago. Lansing had only been seeing him for a week before he was murdered."
John took a sip of his coffee as he pondered. "Sounds like a lead worth checking out."
"It's the only thing we've got at this point."
The phone on Jim's desk buzzed and he leaned forward on his forearm as he pulled the receiver to his ear. "Ellison."
He frowned as the voice on the other end exploded. "Jim, man. I don't know what's going on. I saw it, but -- oh man, I must be going nuts! I thought they were just nightmares, but they're real. She's real. Oh my God, Jim. I can't believe this --" Harsh coughing replaced the almost incoherent stream of words.
"Whoa, whoa, Chief. Slow down." Jim tensed as his attention focused on the painful sounds coming over the line. "Just breathe, Blair. Calm down."
He looked at John who was watching him intently. He noted the sudden concern in the Navajo's eyes and gave him a slight shrug before turning his full attention back to the call. Sandburg had stopped coughing, but Jim could still make out the sounds of distress in his breathing.
"That's it, Chief. Nice and easy."
He heard Blair take a deep gulping breath and slowly release it. Turning up his hearing a notch, he could make out the kid's racing heartbeat and felt his concern move up a notch.
"Come on, Chief. Just take it easy. You need to calm yourself down."
"I'm okay, Jim." Sandburg's voice was still shaky, but Jim could tell he was breathing easier.
"Oh, man, Jim. I saw it. I thought it was just a weird nightmare, like the others, but I found her."
Jim could tell Blair was starting to get agitated again. "Easy, Chief. Found who?"
"I don't know! I just --" The voice stopped abruptly and Jim could hear more coughing on the other end of the line. He put a hand to the receiver and looked up to see most of the other members of Major Crime watching him. He caught Rafe's eye and lowered the phone. "Trace this." He quickly pulled the receiver back to his ear as the younger detective raced to his desk to place the order.
"Blair? Blair? Come on, Chief. Talk to me." Jim waited while the coughing on the other end faded into harsh breathing. After a few moments Blair was able to speak, but his voice was barely above a whisper.
"What the hell is happening, Jim?"
Jim took a deep breath and forced himself to remain calm. At the moment, all his instincts were screaming at him to find Blair and protect him from whatever it was that was scaring the hell out of him, but he couldn't allow himself to lose control. Not now. Not when Blair was counting on him.
"Where are you, Chief? Can you tell me that?" He kept his tone even, hoping to keep Blair calm enough to give him his location. He looked at Rafe who was on another line trying to get the trace. Rafe shook his head, letting Jim know they needed more time.
"Yeah, Jim. Sorry, man. This is all just freaking me out a little."
Jim forced a laugh, relieved to hear a bit of normalcy creep back into his friend's voice. "No kidding, Sherlock. You're doing a pretty good job of freaking me out, too."
Jim was relieved to get a rush of laughter from the line. "Well, you know how I hate to freak alone."
Jim laughed for real this time and relaxed a bit. "What's going on, Chief? Where are you?"
"Um, I'm at a hotel down by the docks. The Steamship Inn."
"I know it." Jim frowned, his mind scrambling to come up with a reason the grad student would be in a dive like The Steamship instead of back at the University where he belonged. "What are you doing there?"
There was a shuffling sound and Jim could almost see Blair shaking his head. "I don't… I can't…." Jim waited while another deep, shaky breath was released. "Jim, just get down here. Now."
"Okay, Chief. Just stay right where you are. I'm on my way."
Jim pulled the pick-up into the parking space directly in front of the motel's small office. From the cab he looked across the small cement lot, his eyes riveted on the solemn figure seated on the concrete curb. Blair's head was down, his long curls obscuring his face from view. Both hands rested listlessly in his lap, his back rounded and shoulders slumped forward.
Jim and John exchanged a look of concern before both men opened the doors and stepped out of the truck. They walked across the parking lot, John hanging back as they approached. Jim dropped down into a crouch directly in front of Blair whose eyes remained fixed on the cracked cement by his feet.
"Hey, Chief." Jim ducked his head in an attempt to get a look at his friend's face. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
Blair still didn't respond and Jim ran a hand down his face in an attempt to mask his frustration. "Dammit, Sandburg--"
Ellison looked up at John's summons. The Navajo was standing just outside the open doorway to a motel room directly behind Blair. Whitefeather tilted his head toward the room, silently beckoning Jim to join him. With a defeated sigh, Jim pushed himself up to join Whitefeather. The strong odor hit him before he made it to the door.
Inside the drab room, a young woman lay on a dingy bed. Jim could tell without stepping inside the room that she was dead. The strong odor of old gym socks was the same one he had noticed at both the other crime scenes.
"Valerian root." The odor was fairly strong, but he couldn't help show a little bit of surprise when his comment was met with a nod of agreement from John.
Whitefeather pretended not to notice. "What do you want to bet we'll find a symbol painted on her chest?"
It was Jim's turn to nod. He turned, his eyes narrowing as his gaze returned to the quiet figure in the parking lot. At least this explained Sandburg's frantic phone call. But that was all it explained. Jim's mind raced with a multitude of unanswered questions. Just what the hell was Blair doing all the way out here? And what was he doing sitting here next to a dead body?
He hoped like hell the kid had a few good answers.
He felt a hand on his arm and he forced his eyes away from the slumped form of his friend. He turned to the grim face of John Whitefeather, whose dark eyes were filled with concern. "I'll go call this in to Captain Banks." He looked toward Blair and gave Jim's arm a squeeze. "Go slow."
Jim nodded his understanding and waited until John had moved off toward the truck before returning to crouch before Blair.
"We need to talk, Chief."
Blair snorted softly through his nose. "I thought that was my line." He raised his head and gazed at Jim through red rimmed eyes. "She's dead."
It was more of a statement than a question, but Jim nodded anyway. "Yeah. She's dead."
Blair sniffed and ran a hand across his eyes, lowering his gaze back to the cement ground. "Who was she?"
Jim's eyes narrowed in confusion at the question. "You don't know?"
Blair merely shook his head, his long curls waving in the salty ocean breeze. "No. I didn't even go in the room." He shoved his hands into the pocket of his jacket and hunched his shoulders a little more.
Jim swallowed and glanced around the parking lot, spotting Blair's Volvo parked at the far end by the road. "What are you doing here, Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged. He shook his head and gave a sad little laugh. "You won't like it."
Jim's voice hardened a bit. "Try me."
Blair looked up, a strange gleam in his eyes. "I saw it happen."
Jim's eyes widened in shock. "You were here? You saw the killer?"
Blair stood, took a step away. "No. I was at the University."
Jim shook his head, trying to navigate his way through the Sandburg zone. "You're not making any sense," he replied, hiding his irritation as he rose to stand behind the kid.
Blair looked out into the distance, his voice quiet and calm. "I was giving a lecture to my freshman Anthro class and then suddenly I was here. I saw her die, man." He pulled his hands from his pockets and held them up in front of him. "I saw his hands. The gloves. I felt them like they were my own. He drew the symbol on her chest." He peered over one shoulder at Jim, who had taken a few steps back. Blair's eyes shone brightly with unshed tears. "She knew, man. She knew what was happening. I tried to stop it. I tried, but I couldn't."
Jim was shaking his head, his eyes closed tightly against the image Blair was painting. "No. Stop it, Sandburg!" There was no way he was going to get sucked in. No way. This was a murder investigation. There was no room for anything but facts. No visions. No magic. No mystical illusions. Just facts. He wasn't in the jungle anymore. All that metaphysical crap had no place here. This was his world, and he was going to live in it on his terms.
"Jim, please. You have to believe me. Something happened to me. Something I can't explain. It started at the fountain and --" His voice broke off as Jim grabbed him roughly by the front of his jacket.
"No, Sandburg. I will not take any more of this!" He shook the smaller man, their faces inches apart. "No more of this hocus pocus. No more visions. There is a woman in there that is dead. Do you hear me? She's dead! Someone is killing these people and it's my job to find out who it is and stop them. No hallucination is going to help me do that. So get yourself together, dammit, and tell me what the hell you're doing here!"
Blair struggled, finally freeing himself from the enraged detective. "How can I? You don't want to hear the truth, man! You just want to hear what's gonna fit into your neat little box." Blair's voice had risen in volume to match Jim's. Both men stood facing each other, fists clenched, their bodies tight with tension. "You think I'm enjoying this? You think I'm having a good time? Well here's a news flash, Ellison. I'm not! I hate this! I don't have any answers. I don't even know where to start finding the questions! I've tried like hell for the last month to get you to face up to everything that's happened but you keep walking away. Well, guess what, Jim? Time's up! It's time to take the blinders off and see things how they really are."
Jim's jaw clenched as he breathed harshly through his nose. "And just how is that, Chief? Huh? You want to know what I see? I see you, here alone with a dead body. That's what I see."
Blair laughed, his eyes hard with anger. "Good, Jim, that's real good!" Hands shaking, he roughly curled a loose tendril of hair around an ear. "You can't see what's really happening because you refuse to look! For a guy who can see a headline in a newspaper a half a mile away, you can't even see what's right in front of your damn eyes!" Blair slumped as his anger suddenly left him. "Man, Jim, I don't want to fight with you. I just want you to give me something -- anything -- so I don't think I'm going crazy! It was real, Jim, what happened to us at the fountain. I know it was. It was just as real as what I saw today." He looked back at the detective, his eyes pleading with him. "Please, man. Help me out here."
Jim glared at him for a few moments and then turned, not trusting himself to deal rationally with Sandburg right then. He swallowed hard and walked away a short distance to compose himself. Maybe the kid was right. Maybe it was time to get it all out in the open. He'd been ducking the issue ever since -- hell, he still couldn't say it. Ever since Sandburg had died in that damn fountain. He'd tried to push it all away in the hopes that he could go on believing things were what passed for normal in Cascade.
Right. Normal. That was a subjective word if he'd ever heard one.
What was really normal for them? Jim had had visions before. Visions of the black jaguar had occurred on more than a few occasions and he had little trouble accepting them and the messages they sent. So why was he having so much trouble with what happened at the fountain? What was he so afraid of?
Maybe he was afraid of what had happened because he had been too late to stop it. Maybe it was his own failure he was trying to keep from dealing with. He had given a part of himself to bring Blair back and he just wasn't ready to accept anyone into his life that far. Maybe he was -- maybe he was just being a stubborn caveman who was too stupid to see what was right in front of him. Whatever it was, he suddenly realized he was more afraid of losing it than he was of finding out where it would lead.
He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair, his eyes searching for answers in the distant waters. Maybe Blair was right. Maybe time was up. Maybe it was time to stop running from what he was -- what they were -- and deal with it. Maybe -- oh hell. Maybe he needed a beer.
Movement near his truck tore his focus from the gray waters. Simon stood there with John, the two men speaking to one another. Jim hadn't noticed the captain's arrival, but he felt his face flush as both men turned away trying to pretend they hadn't heard every word that was said. Beyond them, Jim could see the crime team pulling in. "We'll talk about this later, Sandburg. Right now I've got work to do. Meet me back at the station."
Blair's head snapped up, blue eyes flashing, but Jim ignored him. Without another word, he strode away.
It hadn't taken long for people in the Major Crime bullpen to steer clear of the silently fuming observer sitting at Jim Ellison's desk. Megan Conner had made the mistake of asking Blair if he was okay. His waspish reply sent her scurrying away, but not without her sending a warning glance around the bullpen. Blair saw it but said nothing. He was too busy looking through Jim's files on the murders.
And reliving every nightmare he'd had for the past few days.
Edward Lansing, forty-two, recently widowed after his wife and two children had been killed in a fire while he was working late. It had been an accident. Blair closed his eyes, the nightmare flooding his sight…of Mr. Lansing lying on a scummy floor, eyes staring at the ceiling, knowing he was about to die…the gloved hands mixing paint…the pungent odor, so powerful it caused his eyes to water just thinking about it. That nightmare had been searing hot, making it hard to breathe. He remembered feeling Lansing's chest beneath his hands…clammy flesh…
Blair shook his head, forcing himself to breathe deep and slow, holding the fear at bay. Quickly he pulled out the other picture of an older woman with pepper gray hair. Merla Jean Joyce, fifty-eight. Eyes peered up at Blair from the black and white photograph, unseeing eyes that swam before him until they were no longer gray but a brilliant blue, watching him from a wrinkled face void of emotion. But not the eyes. Fear filled those damned eyes that watched him as soft chanting filled the stifling room.
His breaths came in short, quick gasps as he closed his eyes against the onslaught of images, but they played over and over, ending with the tears falling down the side of a young woman's face. The young woman Blair had found at The Steamship Inn. All of them had known. They had known what was about to happen and had been powerless to stop it. He had been powerless to stop it.
Blinking, Blair caught the scribbling of a name on a yellow sticky. C.L. Stiverson. A therapist. The document attached to the sticky had notes written in Jim's crisp handwriting stating that both Lansing and Joyce had been patients of Stiverson at one time. Knowing Jim, that would be the next place he'd check out. Under any other circumstances, Blair would be right there beside him.
Taking off his gold-rimmed glasses and tossing them to the desk, Blair sat back with a frustrated growl, raking his hands through his hair. Damn, this was frustrating. How could he make Jim understand the importance of these visions if they didn't make any sense to him? More important than Jim was the fact that Blair had failed. They hadn't been nightmares; they had been visions. Visions! Why didn't he realize that before? If he had, maybe he could have at least saved Mrs. Joyce and the most recent victim. He could have made a difference.
Dropping his hands to rest on his legs, Blair peered at the pictures and papers strewn across Jim's desk. The latest victim would make three, but that number didn't seem right. Hadn't there been more nightmares? It felt like it. Maybe, if the other victims hadn't been attacked yet, Blair could do something about saving them.
He leaned forward to go over the notes once more when a familiar voice carried through the doors from the corridor. Steeling the anger still fuming inside him, he grabbed his glasses and put them back on.
"Hey, Ellison," Rafe called out from his desk as Jim entered followed closely by John and Simon. "We got a hold of Dr. Stiverson's office. He said he'd be available anytime you need him; just call ahead."
"Thanks, Rafe." Jim paused a moment, a thoughtful frown on his face. "Can you call him back and check on this woman?" He handed over a slip of paper. "See if she was ever a patient of his."
Rafe glanced at the paper. "Another one?" Jim nodded grimly and Rafe sighed. "You got it. I'll see if I can get a list of his recent patients. Maybe we can find a lead there."
Jim patted him on the shoulder as he continued past. "Good thinking." He walked behind Blair and hung up the light jacket he had been wearing earlier, then stopped. It took a moment before he spoke again. "Hey, Chief."
"Hey," was all Blair could muster.
Jim leaned forward, reached out with a hand to move the pictures and papers. "Snooping in my files again, eh, Sherlock?"
Blair rolled his eyes and stood. "Just wanted to see what you have that's better than what I gave you." Before Jim could reply, Blair greeted John. "How did the crime scene go?"
John pulled a chair from an empty desk and straddled the seat, resting his forearms on the back. "Same as the other two. That valerian root smell was there, no doubt."
"As was her ID," Jim interjected. Finishing up some keystrokes on the computer, he sat back in the chair Blair had vacated, watching as the screen changed and a picture of a young woman with dark brown hair came up. "Michelle Herman. According to this she's a student at Rainier. Heard of her, Chief?"
Blair shook his head, moving to stand at Jim's shoulder to get a good view of the screen. "Mathematics major. Other side of the campus."
The bullpen dimmed as images from Michelle Herman's death struck Blair; one hand gripped the back of Jim's chair as an anchor to keep him from falling completely under the power of the vision. Now that he knew what was happening, Blair allowed himself to be pulled along.
Gloved hands stirred dark mixture in a clay pot, chanting flowing in and out of the air. One glove was removed, the fingers dipping into the pot and drawing a symbol on Michelle's chest. Over the heart. A symbol…
Shuddering free of the vision, Blair squinted against the blaring light of the bullpen, focusing on Jim's concerned features. Jim had him by the shoulders, shaking him a little.
"Chief? C'mon, buddy, c'mon back." Jim's hands tightened on Blair's shoulders. "Blair?"
"I-I'm fine," Blair managed to choke out before coughing. He bent over, hand clenching his chest, as the coughing fit grew. Weakened, he slid into the chair Jim had vacated. Once the fit passed, his gaze fell on the pictures scattered across Jim's desk.
"John, can you get some water?" Jim asked as he crouched beside Blair. "Sandburg?"
Blair's vision focused on the symbol painted on the victims, vaguely aware of movement around him, blocking out the chatter and telephones common with the bullpen. A feeling gnawed at him about that symbol…
"Cleansing," he breathed, then shot forward, snatching up the photos, studying them for a moment before he grabbed a pencil and sketched something onto a piece of paper.
"What are you talking about?" Jim asked but his voice fell away as Blair completed the symbol. "Sandburg…"
Blair looked up. "It's all about the symbol, Jim. The symbol ties all three murders together."
Jim rose then bent over, one hand on the back of the chair, the other resting on the desk, as he surveyed what Blair was pointing to. "Good, Sandburg, but we're still trying to find out what the symbol means."
"These symbols represent cleansing, Jim. It's important in the Native American culture to be cleansed before performing certain rites. The cleansing prepares the individual for whatever the Great Spirit has in store for him. Now, it's believed that the tribes stemmed from a single culture and then divided, thus giving us the different nations we have today. Through the division, and over time, languages morphed…kinda mutated." Blair's excited chatter brought a smile to Jim's face, but Blair ignored it and went on. "Even the written symbols that represented their language probably were the same at one point and changed over the generations."
Jim shook his head in confusion. "What does all of that mean?"
"This particular symbol is an ancient form of this." He picked up the paper on which he had sketched and held it up next to Mrs. Joyce's picture. "The difference is subtle, but it's there, man. Whoever the killer is knows ancient writing, particularly Native American ancient writing."
"The murders are rituals then," Jim murmured.
Head tilted, Blair thought about that a moment. "In a way, yeah. Rituals are performed to achieve enlightenment, or to move from one social structure to another. Boyhood to manhood, marriage, so on."
"So we need to find out why the murderer is cleansing his victims," John Whitefeather broke in, coming up on Blair's other side. He handed Blair a glass of water.
"Now that's something we can work with, Chief," Jim muttered, patting Blair on the shoulder. "Since you've seen these symbols before, maybe you can find out their exact origin. That could give us a lead."
Slowly rising, Blair looked at John and then Jim. "I've never seen these symbols before now, Jim." The excitement from just moments before was gone, replaced with dread. Another confrontation was on its way.
Jim's brows furrowed. "How do you know what they mean, then? How did you know to draw that symbol?"
Holding Jim's gaze, Blair said nothing. He knew he didn't need to. Jim would get it. And when Jim did finally get it, the gaze leveled at Blair intensified. Blair cringed, but didn't move.
"I've seen every one of these murders, Jim," he whispered. "I thought at first they were nightmares. Hell, man, they were nightmares, but now I know they're not. You gotta believe me." He grabbed Jim's shoulders. "These visions are real."
Jim shirked away from Blair's grip. "We're not getting into this right now, Sandburg."
"Dammit, Jim, if these visions are going to help you find the murderer than what have you got against them?"
"Can you tell me one thing that your visions provide about the murderer, Sandburg?"
"What about what I just gave you? This guy knows ancient writing."
"Good, Chief, now provide me an address and a visual and we're all set."
Blair stammered, but came up with nothing. Even though he witnessed the murders through the murderer's eyes, he still knew nothing about the person.
"Didn't think so. What about why the murderer chose these particular people?" Before Blair could answer, Jim bore on, "Or maybe you can tell me why you are connected to this person? Do you know him? Have you met him? What about…"
Blair turned away, the anger that simmered earlier now reaching its boiling point. He grabbed his jacket and jerked it on.
"What, Chief, no answers?" When Blair moved to leave, Jim grabbed his arm and turned him back. "I'll tell you what I do have. You at a murder scene and knowing things about each murder."
"Then haul me in as a suspect, Jim," Blair spat, getting in Jim's face. "If you can only go by the facts, then throw me into an interrogation room." Jim didn't answer, so Blair went on. "I don't get you anymore, man. After everything we've gone through, after all your own visions…" His voice dropped decibels as he glanced around the suddenly quiet bullpen, noting that even the phones had stopped ringing.
He jerked free of Jim's grip, grabbed the taller man by the forearm and dragged him out of the bullpen. They were silent until they reached the break room. Blair pushed Jim into the room and slammed the door.
"After everything that has happened even just these past few months," he started in again, not giving Jim a chance to speak, "how can what I'm experiencing be so far out of the realm of possibility?"
Rage colored Jim's expression, his lips pursed in a thin line. Blair shuddered under the impact of that icy gaze, but stood his ground.
"Do you deny the visions you've had?" Blair asked, his voice seething. Jim attempted to leave, but Blair shoved him back. "Do you deny what Incacha did for you in the temple at Mexico?" He hated bringing that up. It still hurt that it had been Incacha's spirit that guided Jim through the events in the temple, and not him. He hadn't been with his Sentinel when his Sentinel needed him the most. Suddenly, the anger fled. Blair's shoulders slumped. "Can you deny the vision that led you to me?"
Jim's glare softened instantly. He scrubbed a hand down his face, a gesture Blair had come to call the "frustrated with Sandburg" motion. An affectionate smile stole across his lips at that thought.
"No," Jim whispered. "I can't." Relief flooded through Blair at those words. "Look," he sighed, resting both hands on Blair's shoulders. The gesture sent a wave of warmth through Blair and for the first time in a long while he felt their partnership click into place. And it felt good. "I don't doubt what is happening to you, Blair, but I just can't solve a murder with hocus pocus."
"Hocus pocus," Blair murmured. "With you, it's visions. With me, it's hocus pocus." He shrugged out of Jim's grip and backed away. "How can I guide you, Jim, how can I be the shaman that Incacha asked me to be if you don't trust me?" He took a deep breath. "Something happened to me at that fountain. I know you don't want to face it, man, you don't want to talk about it, now is not the time, but it's true nonetheless. I don't have the answers to your questions. Hell, I don't have the answers to my questions. But I know the answers are in here somewhere." He patted his chest. "I wish you could trust me to guide us both to find them."
Those words hung between them and Blair couldn't help feeling the chasm that separated him from his friend. A rift that would take time and effort to mend. Time and effort he hoped Jim would be willing to give. Blair turned away, opened the door to the break room.
"I'm gonna head home. Maybe I can make some sense out of all of this now that things are clearer."
Blair stopped but didn't look at Jim.
"Call me if you come up with anything."
Blair nodded, hiding a reassured smile. He had asked Jim at the murder scene to give him something - anything -- that would keep the insanity away. This was it, and Blair clung to it.
Closing the door behind him, Blair headed down the hallway to the elevator, ignoring the looks aimed at him. Obviously, news about the confrontation that began in the bullpen had gotten around. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket, he found John Whitefeather standing at the elevator, jacket on. John pushed the down button of the elevator as Blair approached.
"I have an appointment with my friend," he offered by way of explanation. "Can you drop me off at his house?"
Blair nodded. "Have you been waiting for me?" he asked in confusion.
John shrugged, shifting his gaze to look at the numbers above the elevator. "Sort of."
Tilting his head in thought, Blair glanced around the corridor then back to his friend, trying to figure out how John knew he was leaving. The exaggerated expression of innocence on John's face helped. John knew when Blair was coming because he had heard the entire break room discussion. And the only way he could have heard that from the bullpen was with really excellent hearing. Blair shook his head. He had to find a way to get down to New Mexico, for more reasons than just spending time with Two Eagles.
"I should have realized earlier what was happening with those visions," Blair admitted with a dejected sigh. "If I had been paying closer attention, Mrs. Joyce and Michelle Herman would still be alive. Maybe even Mr. Lansing."
"Shamanism isn't a perfected art, Blair," John advised. "Even Two Eagles makes mistakes. Of course, I'll deny it if you ever tell him I said that." He grinned as the elevator dinged and passengers disembarked. "There is no guarantee you could have done anything. Don't let your guilt defeat you." Glancing over a shoulder at the bullpen, he added, "I left a note for Jim." He and Blair entered the elevator and he pushed the button for the parking level. "Think he'll see it?"
"I'm certain he will. Jim has extraordinary eyesight, man." Blair watched as the elevator doors slid shut, blocking the view of Major Crime. "Except when it comes to seeing things of the heart," he muttered under his breath.
A warm hand squeezed his shoulder. "Give it time, Blair. Remember, you both came away from the fountain changed. He's still dealing with his own."
Blair curled a lock of hair around one ear as he mulled over those words. He hadn't thought of that. He'd been so busy trying to sort out his own life, he'd forgotten what Jim had gone through. Shaking his head, he wondered what kind of shaman he could possibly be if he couldn't even open his own vision to the pain of his friend.
"Except when it comes to seeing things of the heart."
Jim had unconsciously kept his hearing tuned to Blair as he tried to sort through the mire he presently found himself engulfed in. Wasn't this how it all started to unravel before? This damn defense mechanism that popped up whenever he didn't want to deal with something he didn't understand had kicked into overdrive, had caused him to push Blair farther and farther away until he had pushed him right out of the loft -- and straight into the sights of Alex Barnes.
No matter how he tried to rationalize it, his pushing Sandburg away had almost destroyed everything they had spent the last three years building. He couldn't afford to let that happen again.
"Do you think you could've handled all this sentinel stuff by yourself?"
Simon's words had haunted him ever since they had found Blair floating in that fountain. He had fooled himself into believing that he had everything -- sentinel powers included -- under control. But that was a lie. He had learned that the hard way. He knew a good portion of the control he had was due to the fact that Sandburg was there to back him up. He was his lifeline. Jim would never have the confidence to use his senses so freely without the knowledge that Blair was there to reel him back in if he went too far. So he couldn't afford to risk that safety net again. He couldn't afford to risk Blair.
But that meant he would have to find a way to deal with … whatever it was that had happened -- that was happening -- between them.
Blair had said that something had changed him at the fountain. Well, dying had a way of changing things. But Jim knew he wasn't talking about that. Dying and coming back to life was enough to send anyone off their rocker for a while, but, he had to admit, Sandburg wasn't just anybody. The kid's amazing capacity to adapt had astounded Jim from the beginning. He had a natural resiliency that kept him from being overwhelmed by the extraordinary phenomena that seemed to surround their everyday lives. And that made Sandburg's obvious trepidation over what was happening now all the more disconcerting.
Blair was scared.
He was also royally pissed off and more than a little frustrated, but Jim could tell these visions -- if that's what they were -- had really thrown the kid for a loop.
He made his way out of the break room and back to Major Crime. He could feel the stares of the others in the squad room, but kept his eyes on his desk, not in the mood to have to explain the little drama that had just been enacted in front of them. Wisely, no one said a word and he managed to reach his desk without incident. His eyes were drawn to a yellow Post-It stuck directly in the center of his computer screen.
When one path is lost, another must be found.
It took a moment for the handwriting to register. Jim smiled sardonically. Sometimes John Whitefeather could be as cryptic as a certain Chopec shaman… and sometimes he could be as clear as day.
Jim pulled the note from the monitor. John Whitefeather was a very perceptive man.
There had been something about the Navajo policeman that had made Jim feel at ease when they had first met in New Mexico two years ago. Despite their obvious differences -- and, perhaps because of their thinly veiled similarities -- Jim found it easy to work with Whitefeather and had, in fact, felt a surprising but much welcomed sort of brotherhood with the man. Blair seemed to feel the same way.
He was grateful that John had had the insight to know that Sandburg needed a friend after their latest encounter. He knew Blair would be able to talk to the Navajo and get some of the bottled up frustration out. He made a mental note to thank John the first chance he got.
Sensing someone's attention focused on him, Jim raised his head to see Simon standing in the doorway of his office. His arms were folded across his chest and his eyebrows were raised expectantly. Without uttering a word, the captain stepped to the side, effectively conveying his request for Jim's presence.
As soon as the office door closed behind them, Simon turned, his posture transmitting his obvious displeasure.
"Would you mind telling me just what the hell is going on, Detective?"
Jim sighed and leaned forward, placing a supporting hand against the large office window. "I think this falls under the category of things you don't want to know, sir."
Simon took a deep breath, pulling his glasses from his face as he released it. "I was afraid of that," he muttered under his breath. He moved to the desk and perched on a corner. Slowly replacing his glasses and folding his hands across his thighs, he watched Ellison stare morosely out the window. "Okay, Jim. Spill it."
Jim shook his head slowly but didn't move from the window. "I don't know, Simon. I thought after we took care of Alex, after we got back from Mexico, everything would go back to the way it was before…"
"Before Sandburg died," Simon finished for him.
Jim ducked his head and breathed deeply through his nose. He didn't answer, but that was answer enough.
"But," Simon prodded after a few moments of silence. "Things aren't the same?"
Jim finally turned from the window and crossed to the chair directly in front of the desk. He dropped into it and rubbed a hand over his face as he chuckled ruefully. "No. Things are definitely not the same."
"Look, Jim. I know Sandburg's been pretty sick these last few weeks and you and I both know that the kid is pretty far out there on a good day, but maybe --"
Jim laughed and waved a dismissive hand in the air. "I don't think this has anything to do with Blair's physical well being, Simon."
"Well, then that leaves his mental state -- not that I care to wade into those waters." Simon's attempt at levity faded instantly.
"Blair's been having visions."
Jim leaned back in the chair and leveled his gaze at the captain. "That's what he says." He shrugged. "I know he's been having nightmares, but he never really seemed to want to talk about them and I just assumed they were related to what happened with Alex."
"But they're not?"
Jim shook his head, his eyes suddenly losing their focus as his thoughts drifted. "Blair's been pretty shook up, but he's never connected these nightmares to the murders until today."
"Sandburg's nightmares are connected to these murders?" Simon was doing his best to keep up, but Jim was losing him.
"According to Sandburg, he saw Michelle Herman's murder." He stood and began to pace around the room. "He claims to have had a vision while he was at Rainier. That's how he knew where to look for the body."
Simon silently watched the agitated detective pace as he considered what he'd just been told.
"Did Blair see the killer?"
Jim shook his head and waved a hand in frustration. "He says he saw the murder through the killer's eyes." A soft, incredulous laugh escaped him. "Like he was looking through some kind of mystical three way mirror or something. He says all he really remembers is the killer's gloved hands and the girl's eyes looking back at him."
"Do you believe him?"
"Hell, Simon, I don't know!" Jim's voice rose in volume. "Would you?" He slammed an open hand against the wall, rattling the blinds that were thankfully drawn, obscuring them from the rest of the squad room. "I can't run an investigation based on eyewitness 'visions', but…" His voice trailed off as his sudden burst of frustration and anger dissipated.
"But you can't entirely dismiss it, either," Simon concluded. "Can you?"
Jim leaned wearily against the wall, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. "No."
Simon watched him for a moment. Neither Jim nor Blair had discussed with him what had happened that morning a month ago in front of the fountain at Rainier, but everyone who was present that morning knew that something amazing had taken place between the two men. Simon had resolutely remained ignorant concerning the extraordinary circumstances that constantly surrounded his best detective and his curly-haired sidekick, but even he had to admit the pair had opened his eyes to possibilities he had never before considered.
He could see that Jim was holding back. He was trying to hold onto whatever semblance of reality he could. The last time his friends had been this much at odds with each other, he had stood by, hoping they would work it out for themselves. It had nearly cost Sandburg his life. He was not going to make the same mistake again. He had spent the last three years carefully dodging contention concerning Jim's sentinel abilities, happy to leave all the hocus pocus in Sandburg's capable hands. Maybe it was time to take a step out of the frying pan. It wasn't exactly a place he wanted to be, but maybe he could make enough of a difference.
"Jim, I know you well enough to know how you feel about all this Sentinel/shaman stuff - hell, I feel the same way." He paused, searching for the right words. "After everything that has happened between you and Sandburg, after everything you've both experienced, maybe it's time to accept the possibility that the kid is really on to something."
He kept his eyes on Jim's still form, tensed for a reaction from the volatile detective. Instead, Jim simply opened his eyes and smiled grimly at the captain.
"That's exactly what Sandburg's been trying to tell me."
John unobtrusively kept an eye on his young friend as they drove through the streets of Cascade. Blair had not been inclined to talk about the confrontation with Ellison, but John could tell the young man was still upset and he was concerned at the harsh coughs that racked the compact body.
Blair pulled up along the curb near Greg's house as John directed and shoved the car into park. He pushed a strand of hair behind his ear and glanced at the man beside him. "Look, John. I'm sorry about…. Jim and I just need to work some things out."
John nodded his head, his gaze studying the weary figure. "So I've noticed." Blair had barely said a word throughout the drive, his only responses to John's directions being soft grunts of acknowledgment. John could tell the conversation at the station as well as the shouting match outside the motel was weighing heavily on Blair, but he wasn't quite sure how to go about getting the young man to open up about it.
Blair laughed, but there was little humor in the act. "Yeah. I guess you'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to, huh?" He turned and looked out the window, his hands nervously drumming on the steering wheel. "Um, I don't want to be rude, but I need to get back to work."
John heard the truth in his words. He wanted to be alone.
"Sometimes it is better to talk to a friend than to keep the burden to yourself."
Blair managed a sad smile. "Thanks, man. I know you're trying to help --" A coughing fit cut his denial short and he gripped the wheel tighter as he tried to ride out the attack. By the time he got himself under control, tears were streaming down his cheeks and his face was flushed pink.
"Come inside, Blair. I can at least get you some water. It may help." He could tell Blair was about to refuse and he held up a hand to stop his response. "I promise. Just water." He let his face relax into a smile. "And maybe a cough drop or two."
Blair laughed, absently running a hand across his cheeks. "Sounds like an offer I can't refuse."
John winced at the rough sound of the kid's voice. "Sounds like an offer you'd better not refuse. Come on."
As soon as they entered the house, John told Blair to take a seat on the sofa while he made his way into the kitchen. He knew water was a pretty lame excuse, but it had done the trick and only confirmed his suspicion that Blair really did want to talk about what had happened.
He could understand the young man's frustration. It was obvious the events Blair had described concerning his drowning had triggered something inside the fledgling shaman that he was ill equipped to handle. He had seen Two Eagles struggle with his calling many times, and he had had the benefit of the wisdom of the elders to aid him in his journey. Blair had no one but himself, and he was in danger of drowning for a second time.
It would be beneficial if Ellison were able to show some kind of support, but John couldn't find it in his heart to chastise the detective. He knew Ellison was dealing with this newfound connection between himself and Blair as best as he could. He could see the struggle waging within the very private man. He hid behind a mask of indifference, all the while feeling things more deeply than most. He wanted to help both of his friends see past the walls that had risen around them, but Blair was his first concern.
He now knew why Two Eagles had been so concerned.
John knew he had to convince Blair to return with him to New Mexico. He regretted the reaction his interference may ignite in Ellison, but he feared any delay could cost his friends more than they could afford to pay.
Filling a glass with water from the tap, he made his way back to the living room. Blair sat perched on the edge of the couch, his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands.
"Here you go, Blair."
Blair looked up quickly, obviously a bit startled at John's entrance. "Thanks, man." He stood and reached for the glass, taking a few careful swallows. Blair's face was still flushed and John noted the tiny beads of perspiration dotting his forehead. He was breathing in short, shallow breaths and John's concern edged up a notch.
"Blair, are you sure you're all right? Maybe you should have a doctor look at you."
Blair shook his head, his eyes darting from John to the door. "No. I'm okay. I'm just tired. This has been a hell of a day." He tried to laugh, but could only manage a small smile.
John was not convinced. He took a step closer to Blair and laid a hand on his arm. Intent on getting the young man to at least sit down and rest, he was interrupted as the front door opened and Greg and Anna swept past the threshold.
"Hey," Greg waved a hand at his friend, "the great detective returns." He stepped aside, allowing Anna to move past him into the living room. The slight woman didn't say a word, but her eyes fixed on Blair and John felt a strange current of electricity run through the young man's body. Blair suddenly tensed, the glass shattering in his hand. John watched as the blue eyes grew wide. Blair's mouth gaped open, struggling to draw air into his lungs.
"Blair?" John tightened his grip on the arm he held, alarmed as Blair's knees began to buckle. He grabbed the smaller man by the waist just as his eyes rolled back in his head and his body went limp.
"Call an ambulance!" John was aware of Greg moving toward the phone near the stairs as he lifted Blair's body and laid him lengthwise on the couch. He placed a hand on Blair's cheek, surprised at the clammy coolness he found. Slapping the soft skin twice, John was relieved to hear a gasp as the eyelids fluttered open. "Blair, breathe!"
Gloved hands crush herbs into a wooden bowl.
Flames engulfed the home, cries of screaming children piercing the cold night air. A woman's sobbing joined the crying children until the fire went out and everything was hauntingly silent.
Gloved hands mix colors into a dark paint.
A rush of water drew him deeper and deeper, his lungs crying out for air. Where was grandma? Grandma, help me, save me! Through the surface of the water, like peering through tear-filled eyes, a woman yelled a name. Something thick and slimy held him immobile until darkness swept him down, Grandma so close.
A haunting chant drifts through the thick air.
The car careened out of control. She pressed on the brakes, only to have her foot slam against the floor. A tree loomed ever closer. If her friend knew the brakes didn't work, why did she loan her the car? She screamed, a jolt, a jarring snap, and darkness.
Long, slender fingers dip into the paint, drawing a symbol onto clammy flesh.
Bullets bit into his skin, jerking his body before he fell to the floor. Where was his partner? Why wasn't his partner backing him up? A step scraped dangerously near his head; wicked laughter. Sirens wailed, lights flashed piercing the darkness of the run-down home.
The symbol is drawn, the breath leaves…
And somewhere in the distance children screamed in terror.
Urgent voices filtering in and out replaced the strange visions. Warbling sirens tried to break through the thick cotton in his head. A familiar voice called him from far away, commanding him to keep breathing. He struggled to obey the voice, to draw in breath. Something pliable slipped over his nose and mouth, cool air flowing into his lungs. Strong arms lifted his body and he felt nauseated at the feeling of weightlessness before he was placed on something solid and uncomfortable. Blair tried to open his eyes but he had no strength. Unconsciousness rolled over him like fog pouring across the coast.
Beeping was the first thing that Blair became aware of. Steady, solid. The next was a plastic mask over his nose and mouth, cool air touching his dry lips. Before Blair could investigate further, the sound of running footsteps penetrated his muggy thoughts.
"Jim, it's okay," a familiar voice spoke urgently, the running steps halting with the voice. Who was that? "He's okay. He's going to be okay." John Whitefeather spoke those words. His voice seemed deeper, heavier, somehow. Still, Blair couldn't find the strength to open his eyes.
"What - " heavy breathing, "what happened?" Something edged Jim's voice, a sound Blair didn't remember hearing before. Concern? No, Blair could recognize that sound in Jim's voice. That wasn't it. Worry? Maybe, but there was a difference to it. "Dammit, John, tell me what happened!" Fear. That was fear.
"He passed out at Greg's house," John explained. "Doctor says his oxygen level was down by twelve percent."
"He's all right, though. You said he's all right?"
Blair struggled to open his eyes, struggled to move. He'd never heard fear in Jim's voice before. He needed to do something. Jim needed him. He moaned, barely whispering Jim's name, knowing his friend would hear it. And he did.
A warm hand pressed on Blair's forehead. "Hey, Chief, c'mon and wake up. You're sleeping on the job again." The fear was gone, but Blair would always remember the sound of it.
With some effort, Blair's eyes blinked open. Jim's features slowly came into focus. Blair smiled. "Hey," he managed to whisper, the sound of his voice muffled by the oxygen mask.
"Welcome back." The hard features softened as Jim rested his other hand on Blair's arm and squeezed it reassuringly. "You've caused John some anxious moments. He's not used to this."
"Like you are?" A shadow passed Jim's features. Blair started to comment, but movement at the foot of his bed caught his attention. John Whitefeather stepped into view, some of his long black hair loose from the thong that held it earlier. He looked haggard. "Sorry to scare you, man."
John patted Blair's foot, a smile breaking the solemn expression. "It's okay. My people enjoy a good scare, remember? Just don't let it happen again."
Blair chuckled, the sound of it muffled by the oxygen mask making him laugh all the more. "I promise." He took a deep breath, felt a tickle in his throat and waited for the spasm of another cough to hit, but it never came. "Did I hear right, then? I passed out at your friend's house?"
John peered at Jim, brows creased in concern, then returned his dark gaze to Blair. "Actually, you stopped breathing."
Jim's head jerked up. "What?"
"Blair had another coughing fit. I invited him into the house for water and then he just stopped breathing."
Blair's eyes widened as John's account awakened that memory. He had been confused and hurt by the conversation with Jim at the station, the coughing had started and then…
Jim's hand squeezed his arm again and Blair looked at his friend, who returned his gaze. Alarm flashed across Jim's suddenly pale face but quickly dissipated when someone entered the room. Jim removed his hand from Blair's forehead, but not his arm.
A doctor in his mid-thirties acknowledged Jim and John as he sauntered to Blair's bedside, smiling at Blair. "So, Mr. Sandburg, you decided to wake up. That's a good thing." He stopped on the opposite side of the bed from Jim and reached over to shake Jim's hand. "I'd like to say it's good to see you again, Detective, but I do recall last time you brought your partner in both of you promised not to visit the ER for at least six months." Dr. Vanson peered sternly down at Blair, hiding a hint of a smile. "It hasn't been six months, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair groaned. "No, sir."
Dr. Vanson nodded and then removed the oxygen mask. Blair scrubbed at his face with one hand. "Your oxygen levels are back up, Mr. Sandburg," he explained as he opened the file in his hands and studied it for a minute. "They had declined to eight-eight percent." Lifting gray eyes from the file he glared at Blair. "You promised to take better care of yourself. This proves otherwise."
Rolling his eyes, Blair glanced up at Jim for some kind of support. The gaze that met his spoke volumes. No help there.
"Have you started back to work, yet?" Dr. Vanson asked, pulling a pen out of his white coat and clicking it.
"A few days ago," Jim answered for Blair.
Dr. Vanson made a notation in the file. "How much sleep have you been getting?"
"Not enough." Jim glared at Blair.
"I can answer for myself, Jim."
"Obfuscations aren't allowed here, Chief. Not today."
Blair would have argued further had it not been for Jim's anxious expression. The fear had disappeared from his friend's voice, but it now settled deep on his face. Though he shouldn't, Blair felt great comfort in that. He relaxed under the warm hand that still held his arm, drawing strength from that feeling of safety.
Dr. Vanson chuckled. "Well, it's good to know that you're keeping an eye on him, Detective." His focus moved back to Blair, who cringed under the sternness. "The congestion has lessened, Mr. Sandburg, but it's still thicker than I like. That's the reason for the lowered oxygen levels. I'm giving you a prescription for more antibiotics - which you will take until they are completely gone." Eyebrows lifted in a no-nonsense "don't argue with me" manner. "And I'm ordering another week of bed rest."
"Ah, Doc, c'mon, man," Blair groused. "You wouldn't believe the piles of work on my desk, not to mention my classes. Can't…"
"No. It's either you stay in the hospital for the next few days until I'm completely satisfied that everything has cleared up or you rest up for the next week in the comfort of your own home. Your choice."
Blair looked to Jim again, who shrugged his shoulders, crossing his arms. "You're no help," Blair moaned. "Fine. Give me the drugs and get me outta here."
"Once we're home, you're taking those pills, Chief, and getting into bed," Jim said as he steered the truck out of the parking lot of the hospital. "I'll have Rafe or H bring my files to the loft and…"
"C'mon, Jim, I'm not an invalid," Blair moaned, slumping in his seat and leaning his head against the back of the cab. He was exhausted. "I'm fine." He closed his eyes, wishing today would end. The afternoon sun still hung in the azure sky, warming Blair's skin. It felt good. His chest still rattled a little and he felt a cough coming on, but fought it. Having Jim hang around all afternoon, mother-henning him again, would only make the day worse. And it wouldn't give him an opportunity to meditate on the visions.
Those visions while he was unconscious bothered him. He knew they played an important part in Jim's case but needed to make some sense of them before saying anything. Jim in the loft at the same time would be like adding gasoline to a fire. Neither of them needed that at this point.
"All right," Jim was saying. "But you call me at the station if you need anything."
Opening one eye, determined to change the subject, Blair asked, "So, what does Simon have to say about all of this?"
Jim glared at Blair before returning his focus to the road. He remained silent.
Blair smiled. "You did talk to Simon, right?"
Jim grunted, his eyes remaining on the traffic, pretending not to be interested.
"And did you tell him anything about my visions?" This oughta be good. If Simon had agreed with Jim, then Blair's ever-willing partner would have said so.
An ice storm moved into the cab of the truck when Jim glared at Blair, whose day had decidedly gotten better.
"No way, man!" Blair laughed. "Simon took my side. Well, what do you know about that?"
Turning onto Prospect, Jim shook his head. "Shut up, Sandburg," Jim growled, but Blair saw the smile flutter across his friend's lips. Blair answered it with a grin of his own.
Yep, this day had just gotten better.
Candles flickered on the coffee table. Soft music floated through the open space of the living room, filling the loft with its measured beat. Blair sat cross-legged on the floor, back straight, eyes closed, breathing deeply through his nose, allowing the fused scents of the candles to join with the music in relaxing his body. Hands rested on his knees, the black onyx stone held in one palm. The music lifted his mind, his body relaxing, the chaotic world disappearing with each confusing thought that Blair drove from his mind, until at last he thought about nothing and felt nothing, and yet opened to everything.
A flash of white light brightened the nothingness of his mind, replaced by a man whose face contorted with pain and anger. A haze enveloped the man, keeping Blair from getting a clear look. Gloved hands mixed something foul into a bowl; the scent twisted Blair's gut with familiarity. Gym socks. He gagged, his body recoiling in reaction. The man screamed as the hands continued to mix, drawing nearer. Liquid was added to the mixture and stirred in as the man continued speaking, though Blair couldn't hear his words. Chanting drowned them out. Two hands grabbed the man's head, jerking it up, covering his nose. The man sputtered as the mixture poured into his mouth.
"You must be cleansed," a soft voice echoed as the man slumped, eyes rolling up into his head.
The haze lifted and Blair looked at the victim. Staring back at him from a paled face was John Whitefeather.
Blair jerked out of meditation and was on his feet before becoming aware of his surroundings. The afternoon sun had sunk lower in the sky and amber light filtered through the drawn blinds of the balcony windows. The stone in his right hand flamed in his palm. He peered at it, the images replaying in his head, one thought settling like a boulder in his gut.
John was in danger.
Reaching across the couch, Blair grabbed up the phone, hitting the speed dial for Jim's direct line at the station. It rang several times.
"C'mon, c'mon," Blair repeated, willing his partner to answer. Just as it seemed the phone would rollover into voicemail a deep voice answered.
"Jim, man, please tell me John is there with you."
"No. He took your Volvo back to the loft then a uniform drove him back to his house. Why?"
Blair swallowed; the need to tell Jim about the vision warred with memories of his reactions to Blair's trips into la-la land these past few days. Or hocus pocus, as Jim had put it. What if he was wrong? He hadn't been yet, but like John said, this shamanism thing wasn't a perfected art. What if Blair told Jim everything and units rolled only to find John and his friends having an early dinner? Jim's trust in Blair's visions would take a decidedly downward spiral from the nil it was at now. He couldn't do that. He couldn't destroy their chance of retrieving the easy flow they had once shared.
"I just…" Blair tried to think of something to say without raising Jim's natural suspicion. It might already be too late for that, but it was worth a try. "I was just thinking that maybe I'd take John up on that trip to New Mexico since I'm out of commission again. Do you have his friend's phone number?"
Silence greeted his request and Blair couldn't tell if Jim was looking for the phone number or holding back a retort. He was very glad he couldn't, especially when Jim finally did speak.
"It's 555-6332." Jim's reply was strained.
"Thanks, man. I'll talk to you later."
He quickly hung up. It was rude and he'd probably pay for it later, but he didn't want Jim asking him any questions. After blowing out the candles and shutting off the stereo system, Blair started for the door, the onyx still clutched in his hand.
He hoped that his vision was wrong, but he knew that it wasn't.
The sweating hit as soon as Blair stepped out of his car and stood on the sidewalk looking up at the two-story home. As he walked towards the front door, his footsteps became heavier, his breathing labored. Instinctively he reached into the pocket of his jeans, his fingers curling around the onyx. It helped, lifting the weight from his legs. His breathing lightened, but the feeling of heaviness in the air didn't abate. Warily, he stood at the front door and peeked through the windows.
No sign that anyone was home.
He knocked anyway.
Several heartbeats later the door swung open. A woman of Native American descent stood in on the threshold. Her dark complexion revealed her to be about Jim's age, but the haunted look in her eyes made her seem decades older. Chills shuddered down Blair's spine.
"May I help you?" she asked, her voice a soft monotone as she watched him closely with those haunted eyes.
The heaviness pressed down on Blair as he met those eyes and he clutched the onyx, fighting back the desire to tear out of there as quickly as his feet could carry him. He swallowed, wiping away a tendril of sweat that beaded its way down the side of his face, and tried to cover the movement with a nervous tucking of hair behind an ear. At the last moment he remembered he'd pulled his hair neatly back.
"Yeah, I was just wondering…" His voice quivered and he cleared it. "Sorry. I was just wondering if John was in?"
The woman stepped back and allowed Blair to enter. The home was simple, understated, with Native American crafts set here and there among pictures of antique airplanes and other aviation knick-knacks. The door closed behind him, and Blair suddenly felt as though he'd been trapped in the proverbial lion's den.
"If he's not here," Blair started to say as he turned to face the woman; he faltered as the woman raised her hands and a familiar smell emitted from the gloves on them. Gloves he hadn't noticed before because they had been hidden from his view; but gloves he knew all too well.
A white flash of light and he was in a room dimly lit with candles. John Whitefeather stared up at him, anger and fear vying for the right to own the rigid face. He screamed something Blair didn't understand, but he didn't need to. He knew what was happening.
Forcing himself back to the present, he watched as the woman drew closer, her hands outstretched.
"You're the one performing the rituals," Blair stated firmly, backing up. "Why? Why are you killing these people?"
"They must be cleansed of their guilt," she whispered, the haunted look in her eyes now evident in her voice. "I must help them with their pain."
Blair would have asked what she meant if he hadn't backed into something hard and a strong arm hadn't curled around his neck. He jerked, reaching up to claw at the arm as a cloth doused in chloroform pressed over his face. The woman's voice asking him a question guided him into unconsciousness.
"What guilt do you carry that I may cleanse?"
Ellison tossed the papers back down onto his desk and rubbed his eyes in frustration. Ever since Blair's call, he had had an uneasy feeling tingling at the back of his neck. Maybe it was what Sandburg said about going to New Mexico. If anyone could help the kid sort out all this vision stuff, it was Two Eagles. The Navajo shaman had really helped Sandburg center himself while they were down at the university dig in New Mexico, so why did he feel so apprehensive about Blair taking the trip now?
Maybe it was because of what happened this morning? Jim had to admit to a certain amount of guilt concerning Blair's current health status. When John had called from the hospital, Jim had somehow already known that it was about Blair. He had felt something. He had barely been aware of it until John's call, but then that something had intensified and he had known that Sandburg was in trouble. Was there something there? Some kind of connection? It went against every logical bone in his body, but he had to admit that there was something different.
Ever since that morning at the fountain, Jim had tried -- and failed -- to keep his distance. But, even when he and Simon had gone to Mexico, he could still feel Blair near him. Of course, as it turned out, the kid was pretty near at the time -- sprawled on the bed in Jim's motel room -- but the feeling hadn't gone away. He'd tried to ignore it, hoping that if he didn't pay any attention to it, it would just fade into the background, becoming just one more aspect of this whole sentinel thing that he could control.
And he'd thought he'd succeeded. Until this morning.
Now that feeling was front and center in his head, making it hard for him to concentrate on his job. Before he realized what he was doing, he had the phone to his ear as he dialed the number for the loft. Telling himself to just talk to Sandburg and clear the air, he waited as the line buzzed, not surprised when the answering machine picked up.
"Sandburg, it's me. Pick up the phone." He waited a few moments, aware of the tingle getting stronger.
Knock it off, Ellison. He's probably zonked out on the couch. The doctor did tell him to rest, right? Jim snorted and shook his head. And Sandburg always does what the doctor says.
"Look, Blair, when you get this message, give me a call. I just wanted to--" Jim paused, suddenly aware that he wasn't sure exactly what he wanted. "Just call me." He quickly hung up the phone. Looking up, he noticed Henri Brown making his way across the squad room. The black detective stopped in front of Jim's desk and tossed another manila folder onto the already impressive stack.
"Checking up on junior, huh?"
Jim ducked his head at Brown's knowing smile. "The doctor said he was supposed to take it easy."
Brown laughed. "I'm sure Sandburg's definition of taking it easy isn't exactly on the same page as the doctor's."
Jim returned the other detective's grin. "That's why I was checking up on him." He grabbed the new file folder from the pile and laid it open on his desk. "What've you got for me, H?"
"That's the client list from the therapist you asked Rafe to get. Stiverson faxed it over this morning while you were tucking Sandburg in." The look of annoyance Jim threw him only made his smile widen. "The latest victim, Michelle Herman? She's on it. Dr. Stiverson wasn't too pleased when he heard another of his patients had been killed."
"I can imagine," Jim muttered.
"His phone number is on the back page. Said to give him a call if you need anything else."
Jim nodded his thanks, letting his eyes scan down the list of names and addresses. He was steadfastly ignoring the chuckles coming from Brown as the black detective moved back across the room to perch himself on the edge of Rafe's desk. Jim toyed with eavesdropping on what was sure to be an enlightening conversation, but his attention was suddenly diverted by one of the names on the list.
"Well, I'll be," he muttered under his breath. With practiced ease, Jim reached for the phone, fanning the pages before him to the last one. Quickly dialing the number, he drummed his fingers on the desk as the call connected.
"Stiverson Clinic, how may I direct your call?"
"Dr. Stiverson, please."
"He's unavailable at the moment, sir. May I take a message?"
"This is Detective Ellison from the Cascade Police Department," Jim intoned as authoritatively as possible.
"Oh, yes, Detective. He's expecting your phone call. One moment, please."
After a few seconds, the line was picked up. "This is Carl Stiverson."
Jim sat forward and cleared his throat. "Dr. Stiverson, this is Detective Ellison from the Cascade police department."
"Ah, yes, Detective Rafe said you would be calling. I assume you got the client list I had my assistant fax over?"
"Yes, sir. We appreciate your cooperation, Doctor."
Stiverson laughed politely. "I'm a licensed therapist, Detective, not an actual doctor. And after Detective Rafe explained the circumstances, I'm happy to do anything I can to help ensure the safety of my clients."
"Yes, sir." Jim picked the list up, his eyes quickly focusing on the name halfway down the first page. "I see one of your patients is Anna Morningstar."
"Ah, yes, Ms. Morningstar. " Stiverson's voice took on a note of trepidation. "She isn't in any kind of danger, is she?"
"We have no reason to believe so, no." Jim's mind was spinning, trying to make sense of his sudden feeling of apprehension. "I understand you have to respect the doctor/patient confidentiality, Mr. Stiverson, but could you tell me anything about why Ms. Morningstar is under your care? It could be important."
After a momentary pause, Stiverson complied. "Anna suffers from what we call displaced guilt, Detective. She was involved in an accident months ago. It wasn't her fault, but the accident resulted in the deaths of two children and Anna… well, Anna is a very spiritual person. She was very distraught at first, blaming herself for what had happened. She has been making great strides, Detective. I would hate to see something happen to her now that she seems to be adjusting so well."
"We'll do our best, sir." The tingle had edged up another notch. "Thank you for your time. We'll be in touch if we need anything else."
Simon strode out of his office as Jim quickly disconnected the line and punched the button for another one. Checking the number from the Post It note on the side of his computer monitor, he punched in the number on the keypad and sat back, glancing up at the Captain.
Before either of them could speak, the line was answered. Jim easily recognized the voice of John's friend, Greg Coyote. "Hello?"
"Hi. This is Jim Ellison. I was looking for John Whitefeather. Is he around?"
"John?" Jim didn't miss the way the voice rose in pitch. "Um, no. Actually, you just missed him. He said he wouldn't be back until later this evening."
Jim frowned as the tingle grew stronger. "Did you see him leave? Did he say anything about meeting Blair Sandburg?"
Jim focused his hearing on Greg's voice, detecting an unmistakable increase in the man's respiration.
"Um, Blair? Isn't he the young man John had to take to the hospital? Maybe that's where he went." Greg's voice was anxious, and Jim's suspicion was cemented. "I'll tell him you called."
The line suddenly went dead.
"I know that look," Simon narrowed his eyes at the detective. "You've got something."
Jim slowly replaced the phone as he finally allowed the tingle to take hold. "Anna Morningstar is one of Stiverson's patients."
Simon took a moment to place the name. "Didn't you say that was the name of John Whitefeather's friend?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, the fiancé." He unconsciously rubbed at the back of his neck. "I don't know, Simon. Maybe all this stuff with Sandburg has me hallucinating, too, but isn't it one hell of a coincidence that she would be seeing the same therapist as all three of the victims?"
"And you don't believe in coincidences?"
"No. Not when they hit this close to home." Jim looked at him, an icy glint in his eyes. "Blair said he was going to talk to Whitefeather and now his friend just lied to me about John's whereabouts."
Simon's eyes narrowed as he followed Jim's line of thought. "You think the two of them are hiding something?" It was more of a statement than a question.
Jim stood and pushed his chair under the desk. He reached behind him and grabbed his jacket from the hook, shoving an arm through a sleeve as he strode past Simon. "Why don't we go ask them?"
Greg Coyote stared at the phone in his hands. He'd been waiting for a return call from the charter field to confirm his flight plans. It was the only reason he answered the phone. Now he wished he hadn't.
The cop knew. Damn, the cop knew. Greg could tell it in the man's voice. Which meant he was on the way with who knew how many more cops.
The phone rang again, causing Greg to jump and nearly drop it. Recovering his wits, he warily answered. "H-hello?"
"Mr. Coyote?" a light, female voice greeted him. "This is Baskins Airfield. Your flight plans have been approved. You're slated for take-off at eight-thirty."
Greg looked at his watch. It was almost seven now. "Thank you. Please have my plane prepped and ready for check as soon as I get there."
"Of course. I hope everything goes well with your family emergency, Mr. Coyote."
"Thank you." He clicked off the phone and tossed it onto the couch. Soft chanting floated up through the basement door and Greg's heart fell. Anna had begun the ritual. Greg groaned.
How had things deteriorated so greatly? He had only wanted to help Anna through the emotional after effects of the accident. That's how it had begun. He had never planned on assisting in murder. At first he had only covered for her, made certain the police couldn't trace anything back. With the last victim, he had actually helped take the girl down.
But Anna truly believed she was helping these people -- she was saving them from the devastation of their own guilt. And maybe, in some mysterious way, was relieving her own. She understood these ancient rituals much better than he did. Perhaps it was helping her. How could Greg refuse her need?
Greg shook his head. The family emergency excuse he had used to file immediate flight plans wasn't far from the truth. Anna needed to get away from Cascade, away from the memory of everything that had happened - and was happening. Greg had to do something. After his brother, Douglas', death, Anna had become all the family he really had. Even John Whitefeather, who had been as close a brother as his own had been, had emotionally drifted away. Greg had convinced himself it was because of John's culpability in Doug's death. Of all the "cleansings" performed by his lovely Anna, John's was the one Greg approved of most. Douglas had died because of John; if he had been backing up Douglas like a partner was supposed to, Douglas would be alive today. Damn him!
Well, Anna would take care of this, at least, and then they'd disappear, go back to the reservation. Maybe Two Eagles could do something to help Anna. Anything was better than this. Only one problem. What were they going to do with the longhaired young man who showed up at their door? They didn't have time for Anna to perform two rituals, and Greg didn't think he had it in him to outright kill someone.
If it meant saving Anna, though, he'd find it in himself to do it. For Anna. For them.
Too bad Blair Sandburg showed up when he did.
The sensation of something cold and hard pressing against his cheek was the first thing that registered with Blair as consciousness slowly returned. That, and a dry mouth. He lay curled on his stomach, his hands handcuffed in front of him, ankles bound by something stiff. Rope, maybe. With difficulty he rolled onto his back, suppressing a moan as consciousness fully hit, bringing with it a familiar stench and the soft sound of chanting.
Taking slow deep breaths, Blair took a moment to get oriented. He was in some kind of room with no windows, yet it basked in a soft glow from candles set on the floor. Blair lay on the outside of that glow, but he could clearly make out a woman kneeling near the far wall and a man lying face up in the center of the candles. The man didn't move as the woman chanted, her hands - gloved hands - stirring something in a wooden bowl. Blair didn't have to guess what it was.
He focused on the still form, waiting for the last remnants of the chloroform to work its way through his muddled head. It took another moment before his vision cleared enough and he hid an intake of breath.
John Whitefeather lay unconscious, arms rigid at his sides, his chest lifting easily with each intake of breath. Blair breathed a thankful sigh. The woman hadn't administered the mixture of herbs yet. The vision of John's death had not been played out.
The chanting continued and Blair's stomach tightened as the implications of what he observed drove home. He knew what would happen next. The woman would walk through the glow of candles and administer the mixture of herbs that would send John's heart racing. While his body degraded into cardiac arrest, she would mix the paint and draw a symbol on John's exposed chest. The ceremony would end and John would end with it. Blair couldn't let that happen, but how could he stop it?
Awkwardly Blair sat up, suppressing a grunt from the exertion. Moving to his knees, he watched with horror as the woman stood.
Damn, what was her name? He desperately tried to remember if Jim or John had mentioned the names of John's friends. As though whispered into his ear, the name came to him.
"Anna," he said loud enough for her to hear over the chanting. His voice cracked and he licked his dried lips, trying to get some moisture into his mouth. She made no sign of answering, her steady footsteps bringing her closer to John's unmoving form. "Anna, listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. You have to stop this!"
She ignored him as she knelt beside John's form. Blair cried out, cursing his bonds. Using his clasped hands and tied legs, he scooted forward clumsily.
"Anna, why John?" Blair asked urgently, trying to catch the woman's focus. "Why do you feel you must cleanse John?"
Anna looked up at him for the first time, dark eyes wild with ritualistic fever. "He is in pain," she stated simply, shifting closer to John.
"From what, Anna?" Blair asked quickly, hoping to draw her attention away once more. "What is John's pain?"
She didn't look up as she spoke. "John Whitefeather agonizes over his part in the death of his friend. John was not where he needed to be, and because of it his partner was killed." Anna looked up. "Greg's brother."
Blair froze when Anna's gaze fell upon him. His body jerked as a white flash of light replaced the golden glow of the dimly lit room. He found himself in a car, traveling down a two-lane road. The windshield wipers beat against the cascade of rain impeding his view, barely able to make out the glow of headlights from oncoming vehicles. He peered into the rearview mirror and Anna peered back at him from the reflection. Neither one of them noticed the oncoming van passing another vehicle until it was too late. The van careened sideways, steel hitting wet concrete, sending shivers through Anna's body - through Blair's body - as it slid down the road, towards Anna. When she slammed on the brakes, Anna's vehicle went into a spin, hitting the overturned van. Anna's door jerked open upon impact, her seatbelt snapping, and she was thrown free. Unable to move, pain coursing through their left leg, she and Blair listened as children screamed, people rushing to help but not in time to save all of them before both Anna's car and the van exploded.
Blair slumped forward, exhausted by the vision, catching himself with his bound hands. Anna's chanting replaced the screams of children still echoing in his head and he looked up to see her lifting John's head, touching the wooden bowl to his lips. Urgency pushing away prudence, Blair screamed for her to stop. Something in his voice broke through Anna's frenzy and her hand stopped. She glared at him.
"You mustn't interfere," she intoned.
"It wasn't your fault, Anna," Blair interrupted her. "The van was coming towards you. The rain was too thick. It wasn't your fault."
Anna gasped, her dark eyes widening in shock. "How could you…? How do you know?"
"I saw it, Anna," Blair explained, dropping into that measured voice that Jim always seemed to respond to. "It was raining, right? Heavy rain obstructed your view. The van came towards you, passing when he shouldn't have. It wasn't your fault those children died, Anna. The driver didn't yield."
Tears coursed down her cheeks. "Those children," she whimpered, lowering John's head. The hand with the wooden bowl relaxed against one knee, tipping slightly. Blair's breath caught in his throat as he willed that bowl to overturn completely. "So young. Just babies. They didn't deserve to die so young."
Before Blair could answer, Anna's fiancée charged down the stairs, his face hidden in the shadows of the dim basement. He spoke a dialect Blair recognized as Navajo, stepping into the circle of candles and taking Anna by the arm.
"Why?" Anna asked, allowing Greg to help her stand. When Greg answered in Navajo again, Anna glared at Blair. "He comes for you, then."
"Who?" Blair asked in confusion.
"The one like John. The other cop."
Blair's heart leapt. Jim was coming. How he knew where Blair and John were didn't matter. All that mattered was that Blair would not be facing this alone. His Sentinel was on his way. A smile played at the edges of Blair's full lips as relief rushed through him.
"We don't have time for this, Anna," Greg said harshly as Anna stepped towards Blair. "We need to leave now."
But Anna jerked her arm free of Greg's grip, her gaze never leaving Blair. "He has seen my pain, Greg," she whispered. "He knows my shame."
Greg followed Anna's focus, the dark features harsh in the dim glow. "It doesn't matter. The cop will never find us, but we must leave now."
"He must come with us, Greg."
"No, Anna. Please. Let's just go. We can leave them here, we'll never be found." The pleading in Greg's voice didn't even register as Anna stepped over John's unconscious form and walked to Blair. As she knelt in front of him, Blair watched Greg shake his head, the harsh expression melting into one of sympathy.
"Perhaps he is what I've been seeking," Anna whispered, drawing Blair's gaze back to her. "The one who will finally cleanse my shame."
"I don't know about that, Anna," Blair answered calmly, although his gut twisted with terror. "But maybe I can help."
Anna touched Blair's face with a gloved hand. He cringed back at her hungry expression. "Yes, you can help. The others were my penance. I cleansed my guilt by helping them with theirs. But you…you have seen my shame. Through your cleansing, I may be renewed."
He hadn't seen Greg move until it was too late. Blair struggled against a cloth pressed over his face, annoyed that they used chloroform on him again. An image of Jim racing through the streets of Cascade came to mind and for an instant Blair felt reassurance. Jim was on his way.
As darkness claimed him, though, the image faded, taking with it any hope that he would see his friend. Jim would be too late.
Jim extended his senses, trying to detect any heartbeats coming from within the house. Pressed against the outside of the brick structure, he could just make out a slow, steady heartbeat coming from inside. It was somewhere below him, meaning the house probably had a cellar or basement, and the languid, even beat meant the lone occupant of the house was either asleep or unconscious, he couldn't be sure.
But there was one thing he was sure about. It wasn't Blair.
Sandburg's heartbeat was as familiar to him as the sound of his voice. Many a night, Jim had lain in bed, sleep eluding him, only to be lulled by the strong, calming sound of a heartbeat from the room below. It was a sound he took refuge in, a sound that comforted him when everything else was spiraling out of control. It was his constant. The one thing he could always depend on.
When he had failed to hear that beat coming from Sandburg's still body at the fountain, he had felt completely ungrounded. His entire world was thrown into discord, suspended in disbelief that his foundation had been ripped from him.
Then, as now, it was Simon's urgent voice that brought him back to reality.
Ellison shook his head, trying to clear it of the sound that had threatened to overwhelm him. "Yeah, Simon. I'm all right." He nodded his head toward the door. "I'm only picking up one heartbeat. I don't know if it's Whitefeather or one of the others."
Simon understood the unspoken statement. It wasn't Blair.
Reaching out, Jim turned the knob on the door, throwing Simon a look of surprise when it turned easily and the door edged open. Cautiously, they made their way through the house, guns drawn. Jim led the way to the back of the kitchen where they found a dark stairwell. Turning up his vision a notch, Jim inched his way down the stairs, his senses alert for any signs of movement. As he cleared the bottom stair, he stepped around the wall, his eyes adjusting to the low light of the candles flickering in the small room before him. A low moan from the other side of the room caught his attention and he holstered his gun as he rushed to John's side. Dropping to a knee, he placed a hand on the Navajo's chest, watching in concern as the dark head tossed.
"John! It's Jim Ellison."
The dark eyes fluttered and John squinted up through the semi-darkness. Recognizing the face above him, he allowed his eyes to drift around the small room, his brow furrowing as he realized where he was.
"What happened? What am I doing down in the basement?"
Jim helped him to sit up, leaning the still disoriented man carefully against the concrete wall. "That's what we were hoping you could tell us."
John shook his head and rubbed a hand over his face in an effort to wake up. "I don't know."
Jim frowned, the tingle at the base of his skull beginning to increase again. "What do you remember?" He shifted slightly and reached his arm toward the small wooden bowl on the floor to his right. His nose wrinkled in distaste at the foul odor emanating from the bowl.
Jim nodded. "And, if I'm not mistaken, it's probably mixed with one or both of the other drugs we found in the other victims." He stood and held out a hand to help John to his feet. "Looks like she's using the valerian root to sedate the victims then getting them to ingest the hawthorne that brings on a heart attack. Question is, is she doing it on purpose?"
"She?" John stared at Jim a moment before his eyes widened in shock. "You believe that Anna is the one killing these people?"
Jim shrugged. "I found Anna's name on the client list of the therapist. When I called here to talk to you, Greg lied and said he hadn't seen you or Sandburg." He waved a hand around the room and held up the bowl. "All of this paints a pretty clear picture."
John couldn't help but agree. It was obvious he didn't want to believe his friends were capable of murder, but the evidence left very little doubt.
"John…" Jim's voice took on a hesitant tone. "Can you remember anything about what happened?"
John took a deep breath and let it out between pursed lips as he contemplated the question. "I remember coming back here after dropping Blair's car at the loft. Greg and I came into the house. We were sitting upstairs, drinking some tea…" He shook his head again and looked up at Jim apologetically. "That's all I remember."
Jim's jaw clenched in frustration. "Do you remember seeing or talking to Sandburg?"
John continued to shake his head. "Not since I left you two at the hospital. Why? Is Blair okay?"
"I don't know. He called me at the station looking for you. Now there's no answer at the loft."
John's eyes searched the darkness for answers. "Perhaps he was just sleeping. The doctor said --"
"Simon had a squad car go over there." Jim shook his head. "His car was gone."
Both men looked toward the stairs where Simon was leaning around the corner. "You'd better take a look at this."
Jim and John hurried up the stairs, following Simon to the small desk on the far side of the living room. Simon pointed to a small slip of paper partially hidden underneath an open phone book. A phone number was scratched onto the paper along with the word 'Baskin'. Jim frowned, trying to place the name. He grabbed the phone book and opened it to the Bs, quickly scanning through the pages until his eyes came to rest on an entry in bold print.
He looked up, glancing round the room before his eyes settled on John Whitefeather. "You said your friend was a pilot. That he ran a charter service out of New Mexico?"
"Does he have a plane here?"
John thought for a moment before answering. "I think so. I'm pretty sure he intended to pick up his business up here after he moved in with Anna." His eyes narrowed as he picked up on Jim's train of thought. "You think he's going to fly out of here with Blair?"
Jim nodded as he grabbed the phone, the tingle on his neck increasing to almost a buzz as he dialed. "Yes," he said quickly as soon as the line was answered. "Is this Baskin Airfield? This is Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade P.D. Do you have a flight plan filed for a Greg Coyote?" He waited, somewhat impatiently, for an answer. "Damn!" He slammed the phone back down onto the base and turned to Simon. "Greg Coyote filed a flight plan to Florida early this afternoon. He took off less than an hour ago."
Simon sighed, his eyes filled with concern for his young friend. "Why would they take Sandburg to Florida?"
John shook his head sadly. "They wouldn't. It's a ruse." Frowning, he looked at Jim. "There's no reason to take him anywhere. The only logical thing to do is…kill him. I'm sorry, Jim."
It was Jim's turn to shake his head. The impressions that had led him to Coyote's house warned him that John's words weren't true. Or was it only his own hope? "No. There's another explanation. Maybe…maybe Anna found out about Blair's visions. Something…I don't know. But he's not dead and they aren't in Cascade. That doesn't..." He paused again, trying to get a handle on the feelings inside him. "That doesn't feel right."
"I hope you're right, but how are we going to find them?" Simon held up a hand in frustration. "I agree with John; the flight plan is probably fake. They could be anywhere."
Jim walked across the room slowly, his eyes focused inward as the buzzing increased, leading his thoughts in a definite direction. Part of him wanted to fight against those feelings, but that part of him was not in control right now.
"Trust yourself, Jim," John muttered. "Trust Blair."
Those words gave him the will to make a decision. "New Mexico," he muttered, knowing the instant he said the words that he was right.
"New Mexico?" Simon asked in bewilderment. He opened his mouth to say something more, but quickly shut it, studying Jim closely. Finally he sighed, removing his glasses and rubbing his tired eyes. "Is this another one of those Alex things, Jim?"
Jim smiled sympathetically; he felt sorry for the captain, but could find no empathy. If Jim had to live in this world with Sandburg, he was going to have company. "I'm afraid so, Captain."
Simon grumbled again. "Do you happen to know where in New Mexico?"
Jim turned and looked at John who nodded his agreement.
Two Eagles watched with some concern the pacing Cascade police detective. If the event that had brought him here with John was not one of severe danger, Two Eagles would have smiled at the image of an impatient black jaguar that leapt into his mind. The powerful detective had yet to totally understand his status as Sentinel; for though the visions had much visited Jim Ellison, he refused to embrace them. And as long as he continued to refuse, he would never fully comprehend Blair Sandburg's place in his life.
"Thanks, Pete," John said into the phone and then clicked it off. Jim stopped his pacing and focused on John, worry etching deep lines into his hard features, softening them noticeably. "Pete finally hunted down Greg's plane. He didn't land at the airfield he normally uses. The place he did land, Paleo Airfield, is almost one hundred and forty miles south of here. Greg landed early this morning. We were able to find it because Greg stole a truck from the airfield. The staff remembers him, a woman and a young man who seemed sick taking the truck and heading north, towards the reservation."
"Anyone seen the truck since then?" Jim asked hopefully.
John glanced at Two Eagles with some concern. "No, but, Jim, at least we know Blair is alive."
"That was hours ago!" Jim blurted, then pursed his lips. "I'm sorry, John, I…damn!" Jim turned on his heel and left the living room. The sound of the screen door slamming resonating seconds later.
"I'm worried about him, Two Eagles," John admitted, passing Two Eagles to stare out the direction Jim had left. "We weren't able to get a plane cleared for take-off from Cascade until much later than we hoped. He's been snapping at everyone ever since Greg's house." With a sigh, he turned back around, eyes that reminded Two Eagles of John's mother dark with concern. "Your vision that sent me to Cascade was correct. Both of them are lost and they have been fighting one another to find the path they travel together now. I feel that they were on their way, but this…" He shook his head. "The jaguar needs his wolf."
Two Eagles nodded. "As does the wolf need the jaguar. It is good you brought Jim directly here, my friend. As I have said, you are a wise man. Jim is a good officer but conventional means will not find Blair in time." Grunting, he slowly stood from his overstuffed chair, allowing John to support him most of the way. "It is time that Jim and I have a talk. Will you make some tea?" He patted John's hand, then made his way to the front door.
Through the screen door Two Eagles noticed Jim had not walked away from the house as he had feared. With his withered legs, Two Eagles would never have been able to catch up with the long-legged man. Instead, the tall warrior stood at the top step of the porch, staring off into the flat distance. Uncertainty ebbed from the rigid body, as though he needed to be doing something but didn't know exactly what. And it drove him to irritation.
"You know what you must do, Sentinel," Two Eagles spoke, opening the screen door and joining Jim at the step. Jim peered intently at him, blue eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Why do you fight it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, old man," Jim snapped then descended the steps and headed to the jeep he and John had arrived in earlier.
"If you run from me now, you will never find him."
Jim stopped, the proud shoulders lifting and lowering with angry breaths. When he turned to face Two Eagles, fury creased his expression. "What am I supposed to do? Just sit here and let Blair die?" His mouth opened to say more, but then it clamped shut.
"Go on, Jim," Two Eagles urged, using the brick banister for support as he descended the steps. "You were going to say again, weren't you? Let Blair die again."
The fury left. "How did you…?" He shook his head, the powerful shoulders slumping with defeat. He sighed. "I didn't understand the vision, Two Eagles."
"You followed your instincts here. That shows some understanding."
Brows creased, Jim studied the shaman for a moment then shook his head. "Not that."
Two Eagles remained silent, allowing Jim the time to cool down. Understanding came to his mind. "Ahh, I see. You mean the one where you shot the wolf and it became Blair lying dead upon the ground."
Jim didn't seem surprised by Two Eagles' statement. Instead, the powerful man said nothing, but his stance was answer enough.
"Blair touches those he comes in contact with and leaves a part of himself," Two Eagles explained, touching his heart, recalling the first time he and the young anthropologist had met. Blair did not understand what was awakening within him then; what a powerful Shaman had awakened in him. The young man's integrity and honor had touched him deeply and Two Eagles knew that, with training, Blair would hone his skills and one day use them to better the large city that was his tribe. But more importantly, he would be the spiritual guide the Sentinel awakened in Jim Ellison needed. "You know what it is I speak of, for the feeling is within you as well. Moreso because your connection is deeper, richer. I do not know the events surrounding such dark and painful visions, Jim. Only you do. However, when the visions came, did you seek the one who could make meaning of them? He had helped before."
It took a moment, but when the answer came, Jim's voice was shamefully quiet. "No."
"You must learn to trust the one given to you as guide, my friend. Even now you feel the pull of him. Why do you struggle against it?"
"I don't…" Jim touched his chest, head tilted to one side in silent contemplation. Then shook his head, the anger returning. "I can't live my life like that. The city is much different than the jungle."
Two Eagles grinned. "Not so much, I think. Wherever your tribe is, among trees and valleys or steel buildings and lakes, it is your tribe. Every tribe must have a Sentinel. And it must have a Shaman. The one must trust the other. It is not one-sided. Why do you fight the understanding of this?"
Jim scrubbed his face with both hands, turned away from Two Eagles and stood silent. Two Eagles felt the struggle within the man and his heart melted with compassion. Jim Ellison lived in two worlds - reality and mystical. His head kept reality in check; his heart accepted the unbelievable, the extraordinary. Each day they fought for supremacy. Each day Jim had to choose between them. Two Eagles did not envy his new friend.
"It is difficult to walk the path of a Sentinel," Two Eagles said, looking over Jim's shoulder to the vast horizon beyond. Morning sunlight illuminated the desert, shadows caused by the surrounding buttes drew strange shapes along the valley. But to his aged vision, he saw more than that. He saw the jaguar seeking for the right path, a path that would help him balance the two worlds his paws walked in. A path that would hold not just him alone, but a companion, a friend. Colors swirled around the valley, chaotic in motion yet beautiful in dance. "Two worlds vie for your attention yet you cannot ignore either world." Hobbling forward, he laid a withered hand on one strong shoulder. "But sometimes, one world must be set aside in order to find the answer; at times, the world you seek will not be the one you wish."
"What if I'm not prepared to do that?" Jim asked in a flat voice, his gaze never leaving the surrounding vistas. "In the hospital after…" He swallowed once, eyes narrowing. "After I brought Blair back, he discovered we shared the vision of the jaguar and wolf. He invited me to join him in this insanity." Come on in, my brother, the water is nice. "He said it jokingly, but..." Turning to Two Eagles, he continued, "I couldn't do it. I…can't do it. I'm not ready for that."
Two Eagles smiled, hoping to convey both sympathy and understanding to Jim. "Ready or not, Sentinel, the time has come for you to make a choice."
Jim snorted. "Why is it you people are constantly repeating things Blair has already said to me?"
"Perhaps because you should be listening to Blair. You must trust that he will guide your path."
"I do trust him. Hell, he's kept me going all this time. If it hadn't been for his understanding of what I am, I would have lost it long ago. But this…" He shook his head. "This…"
"What is more important? Your fear of where this path will lead or locating the one who will walk it with you? He is your friend. More importantly, he is your Shaman, Sentinel. What do you fear?"
Jim's body jerked slightly as those words sank in and Two Eagles caught a vision of a moss-covered temple with stone cats standing guard and a grotto. A deep voice echoed the same words Two Eagles had just asked, and he could not help a smile forming. It was not a breakthrough. Jim still had his doubts, but Two Eagles knew it would be enough for now.
Heaving a sigh, Jim dropped his head for a moment. Then, with a voice reflecting his deep pain, he asked, "What do I do?"
Patting him on the back, Two Eagles guided him back to the house. "You find your spirit animal. He will lead you to your Shaman. As he did before."
"I had help before, Two Eagles. Incacha guided me to Blair."
"You will have help this time, too, Sentinel. Blair will help you, but you must be willing to follow."
Greg Coyote halfheartedly walked from the truck to the campfire. Anna sat cross-legged next to it, her eyes closed, her chest rising and lowering rhythmically. She had been in meditation for several hours already, and Greg was getting antsy. The kid would be waking up soon from the sedative they had given him once they landed at Paleo Airfield. Greg feared what would happen after that.
He crouched next to Anna, studying her closely. She had once been beautiful and full of life. The dark unblemished skin and black eyes that glowed with humor and joy set off high cheek bones and full, red lips. When she walked it was with a grace that spoke volumes of discipline and self-assurance. Every movement she made had sent waves of passion through Greg's body, even before she had agreed to marry him, even before they had started dating. Her exuberance had been infectious. She had been on a study for the University of Washington, completing her degree in Ancient Dialects; a study that had brought her to Greg's reservation and changed his life forever. They had dated and were engaged during the time she spent on the reservation. When she left to return to school, he couldn't guess that anything would conspire against their happiness.
But it had.
Now she was only a shadow of the vivacious woman he loved. Her clothes, dismal grays and browns, hung on a body now more skeleton than flesh. When he held her in his arms it scared him how frail she seemed. The light in her eyes still existed, but it was fed now by frenzy more than life. Anna sought redemption for something that was not her fault, and no matter how many times Greg told her that, or Dr. Stiverson told her that, she wouldn't believe it.
Instead, she began some kind of holy quest. And Greg had gotten caught up in it.
"Anna?" Greg whispered, touching her shoulder, grimacing at the feel of bone. If it meant she would finally get healthy again and the glow would return, Greg would help her in anything she asked. "Anna, the sun rose some time ago. Are you ready?"
Anna's eyes snapped open. For a moment she didn't seem to know where she was, then her gaze fell upon Greg and she smiled, a bit of her old self returning. Greg returned that smile, leaning in and kissing her gently on the lips. They were cold. Lifeless. He hid a shudder.
"Good morning," he whispered.
"Where is the man?" she asked, her gaze moving to the fire.
"He's still unconscious in the truck."
"Good." She rose. "Bring him, Greg. I feel an urgency to be rid of my shame."
"Anna," Greg whispered, wishing once again that he could convince her that the accident was not her fault. "The shame is not yours to -- "
She glared at him, eyes narrowed dangerously. "Help me, Greg, do not hinder me."
They stared at one another for several moments before Greg finally looked away with a sigh. Rising, he crossed the gravel of the bluff to the truck. Opening the back end he stood for a moment examining the young man trussed up in one corner. Shoulder-length curly hair had finally won free from the band that had held it earlier and now it splayed across his shoulders, hiding his face. Bound hands were clasped to his chest, the body curled on its side. Greg hated this. The young man couldn't be any older than his late twenties. Really just a kid. It wasn't fair to snuff out a life so young. Like the girl had been.
But he would be the last. Anna believed this one would redeem her. Greg hoped so.
Flinging a prayer to the Great Spirit for that very thing, Greg heaved a sigh and reached forward. Grabbing the man's bound feet, he dragged him across the steel truck bed and hefted the limp body over one shoulder. It was a long hike up to the bluff. In his mind, he kept repeating the same thing over and over while following Anna up the path: this was for Anna; it was all for Anna.
The black cat crept stealthily among the jungle leaves. It followed a trail, a path long denied. The scent was strong. The cat crept forward as the leaves faded to the deep red of rock. It knew what lay ahead. It knew it would find what it had been seeking.
The powerful feline strode carefully yet confidently up the rocky slope, its breath coming in deep growls from its throat. The sun was high overhead, but the cat cast no shadow on the rocky ground. Instead it moved like a shadow itself, the pull from the other calling to it like an ancient melody.
The other-- the wolf -- was frightened; the jaguar could tell this and the knowledge hastened its step. The wolf was lost, alone. It was the cat's responsibility to find the wolf, to protect him, to allow him to fulfill his purpose; to feed the power the cat possessed. The jaguar had not been allowed to roam freely often, but now that it had been unharnessed, it would not fail in its objective.
The pull of the wolf was stronger with each step up the rocky cliff. The jagged stones pushed into the soft pads of the jaguar's paws, but there was no pain. There was nothing but the call of the wolf.
Jim snapped his eyes open and gasped for breath. He felt the steady hand of Two Eagles on his arm and slowly turned his eyes to look up at the old Navajo shaman.
Two Eagles smiled and nodded approvingly. "You have found him. That is good."
Jim blinked and took a deep breath. He slowly pushed himself from the wooden surface of Two Eagle's porch and carefully stepped down the stairs to the dusty ground. He took three more long strides before coming to a stop on the hard, packed dirt that served as Two Eagle's front yard.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his heart pounding in his ears. The tingle he had been feeling at the base of his skull was strong now. Slowly he turned to his right until he was facing almost due west. He opened his eyes, squinting toward the distant mountains that danced in the heat of the New Mexico desert.
He wasn't sure how, and he wasn't inclined to debate the issue at the moment, but he knew Sandburg was somewhere in those mountains. A part of him was winding a thread of doubt through his resolve, but he forced himself to push it down, giving it no heed. For now, he would let this connection -- or whatever it was -- with Blair take the lead. Two Eagles had seemed confident that it was the only way to find Sandburg in time, and Jim had to admit he felt the same.
Anna could have taken him anywhere. The area was vast. It could take them hours, if not days, to search even with the help of helicopters. Simon had already started to set that up in case Jim's search proved fruitless, but Jim knew he would find Blair. It wasn't a question of if, but a question of when.
He knew Blair was still alive. He could feel the life force of the younger man almost as clearly as if he were standing right before him. As long as Jim could hold onto that, he knew it would lead him to Blair.
"He's in those mountains." His voice was soft, yet he knew both Two Eagles and John Whitefeather had heard him. He felt a strong presence to his right, instinctively knowing it was John.
"Are you sure?"
He nodded his head, his eyes still fixed on the mountains in the distance. He was sure. At that moment, he realized he had never been more certain of anything in his life.
After a few moments, Jim could hear Two Eagles' shuffling steps come to a halt on his other side. "You must let the jaguar lead you to the wolf." His voice was low, but Jim could almost see the power it fed off. A withered hand rose slowly, firmly grasping his forearm. Deep, dark eyes stared up at him, capturing his own in an intense gaze. "Trust him."
Jim stared at the old Navajo, uncertain whether he was referring to the big cat of his vision or to Sandburg. Did it matter? He nodded his head, forcing himself to deny the doubt trying to break through his resolve. He had agreed to try this the old shaman's way. He had forced himself to put aside his trepidation just this once -- for Blair's sake. God knew he owed the kid that much.
With a pat on the old man's hand, Jim turned and motioned toward the jeep that was parked to the side of the house. "You ready?" He looked at John, who returned his gaze with confidence.
"Let's do it."
Jim parked the jeep in the shadow of a large boulder at the base of the mountain. He stepped from the jeep, and pulled off his sunglasses, his eyes searching the rising cliff before him for a sign. His eyes were drawn to a clump of dried twigs jutting from the rocky ground about halfway up the first slope. He focused his sight, a corner of his mouth lifting in a crooked grin at the long, curly hair wrapped partially around one of the twigs, fluttering in the dry breeze.
Jim blinked and looked at John, who seemed to be staring at the same spot.
"They went up that path," Jim confirmed. He had many questions about some of the things he had seen concerning the Navajo policeman, but, somehow, he found he was not threatened by the possible answers to his questions. That was something he was definitely going to have to ask Sandburg -- when they got him back.
"There's a bluff that overlooks the desert about a quarter of a mile up this path." John turned and leaned across the back of the Jeep's seat. "That's where I found Two Eagles the day he told me about his vision of the wolf and the jaguar."
Jim nodded his head. What the hell? This whole thing was already way beyond his ability to comprehend, but his connection to Blair was humming steadily in his head and he knew John was right.
"That's where they are. We don't have much time."
Jim pulled off his jacket and threw it across the back of the driver's seat. He pulled his gun from his holster and checked the clip as John climbed from the Jeep and pulled his own weapon from the holster clipped to his belt.
"I still can't believe Greg and Anna murdered all those people."
"They tried to kill you, too," Jim reminded him.
John nodded and secured his weapon back into the holster. "I don't know much about Anna, but Greg's my friend. He and I have a lot of history. I still won't believe he meant to harm me."
Jim studied him. He could see the pain of betrayal on John's face, but he could also read the doubt in his eyes. John still wanted to believe his friend was innocent -- or at least had a good reason for doing what he had done. But whether John would be able to deal with the ramifications was not important to Jim right now. Right now, only one thing mattered.
"Look, John, I know how you feel right now, and I know you're kicking yourself for not seeing what was happening. Maybe you were too close. Maybe you just didn't want to see what your friend had become." Jim shrugged, choosing his words carefully." Maybe Greg was just a pawn in all this, maybe not, but right now they have Sandburg, and I'm going to do whatever I have to to make sure he stays alive." He stared evenly at John, hoping the Navajo caught the meaning in his statement.
John nodded, his shoulders squaring in resolve. "Whatever Greg did, it was his decision. But Blair's involvement was not of his own making." He glanced back up the slope. "The path is steep for about thirty yards or so, then it gradually levels out. At the base of the bluff, it splits off. We'll be able to come at them from both sides."
Jim agreed to the plan and rounded the Jeep, placing his hands and one foot on the steep path.
He paused and looked back to John who was standing directly behind him. "You take care of Blair. Leave Greg to me."
Jim nodded silently and pulled himself up the cliff.
Blair's awareness swam somewhere between consciousness and the dark void that held him. A noise interrupted the waves of pain emanating from his head, but he wasn't quite certain if he had moaned aloud or if the noise came from somewhere else. He struggled towards that sound, though, ignoring the void that held him back. His limbs felt heavy and the journey towards the sound threatened to sap all his energy. The sound came again, only this time it was louder, clearer and Blair recognized it.
It was the growling of a cat. A very large cat. A very pissed off cat, but a cat Blair knew instinctively.
Jim was coming.
Gathering all his will, Blair broke free of the void holding him. With a gasp he opened his eyes, blinking against the brightness of the day, and found himself lying on his back. A warm breeze billowed across his body, chill touching his skin where sweat had dampened his shirt; touching his skin where his shirt lay open. His hands lay bound upon his stomach, a stiff rope connecting his hands to his feet that were bound at the ankles. He could already feel chaffing at his wrists where he must have unconsciously been trying to get free. Other than those things, and the headache pounding behind his right eye, he seemed unharmed.
Moving his examination outward, Blair held his breath in shock. Tan bluffs dotted the landscape around him, broken intermittently by a valley. Cascade didn't look like this. He shuddered as realization struck; wherever he was, it was far from home.
Jim, he called silently, closing his eyes and gulping loudly. C'mon, buddy. I'm really needing you here, man.
"Damn," a deep voice said harshly. Movement to his right caught Blair's attention in time to watch Greg Coyote kneel next to him. "Anna, he's awake."
The woman's name brought everything back and Blair felt his heart start to hammer in his chest. He had stopped her from killing John, but in the process had been taken himself. What had she said? Blair had seen her shame? That he could be the one to finally cleanse her? Visions of screeching vehicles and explosions flashed through Blair's mind.
"It can't be," Anna replied, standing beside Greg. "I am not ready for him."
Blair tried his most winsome smile. "Hey, no problem. Get back to me when you can."
It didn't have the desired effect. Anna let out a rough scream, tramping away as Greg stood and followed her.
"It doesn't matter," she mumbled. "He's tied up. With your help we can give him the potion. All is not lost."
Blair lifted his head and watched as Anna poured water into a wooden bowl. A moment later the familiar smell of old gym socks carried to him on the back of a breeze. Blair swallowed noisily, recalling the frantic expressions on the faces of Anna's victims that would haunt his dreams for months to come. Their breaths had come in quick, shallow gasps, until finally they stopped coming at all.
Been there, done that, not going through it again. It was time to do some quick talking. Jim was coming. How Blair knew that didn't matter. All that mattered was the truth of it blazed through his mind. If he could just distract Anna's attention until Jim arrived...
He shoved down the memory of a certain blond Sentinel with whom he tried the same tactic; it hadn't worked then. But Jim had been on the other side of Cascade, torn from him physically as well as spiritually.
Now, however, his friend was close. It would work now. He'd make it work now.
"Anna," Blair spoke evenly, using once again that voice that Anna had responded to earlier. It was difficult to keep the trembling from his voice. "Listen to me, Anna. You don't have to do this. You're trying to cleanse a shame that is not yours. Just like it didn't belong to the others. So many things combined to cause your accident: the weather, the driver of the van not paying attention, the slippery road. It was not your fault."
"Silence!" Anna screamed, dust kicking up from the ground as she charged towards him. Tears streamed down her face. She fell to her knees, her hands white-knuckled as she continued to stir the contents in the bowl. "You don't know what you're talking about!"
"How can that be, Anna? How can I not know when I've seen it? I was there, man, with you, in the driver's seat." Blair lifted his head, shifting to sit up, urgency giving him nerve. Greg was at his other side instantly, forcing him back. Blair ignored him. If he stopped talking, Anna would pour the valerian mixture down his throat. And that would be the end. It wouldn't matter when Jim arrived. It would be too late. "If I am one you believe could cleanse your shame, then doesn't that mean I understand it?"
Anna's hands stopped. Crazed eyes became sane for a moment. Blair took advantage of that.
"If I understand it, then I know the truth, Anna. You were not to blame."
Blair felt the grip that held him down loosen from his shoulders and he looked up to see Greg watching Anna. Was that hope Blair saw in Greg's expression?
"Anna," Greg spoke softly. "If what he says is true…"
The madness returned. She flipped her head, glaring first at Greg, then at Blair.
"It is not. You say you were with me in the driver's seat." Color returned to her pale expression as a tiny smile crept across her full lips. "Then that is all the more reason for the cleansing to proceed. You were there."
She tossed the stick to one side and motioned to Greg.
"No!" Blair bellowed, fighting the strong arms that pulled him against a firm, unyielding chest.
He tried to kick free of his captor, straining against his bonds. Rope bit into his skin but he ignored the pain. The tether tying his wrists to his feet made it impossible to lash out with his fists. Anna drew closer. Blair clamped his mouth shut as she pressed the wooden bowl against his lips. Her other hand grabbed his jaw, nails digging into his skin.
Just as the pain from those nails became too much to bear and a taste of the liquid moved past his mouth to touch his tongue, Blair heard the most beautiful sound imaginable.
A jaguar roared.
Jim leaned back against the boulder, waiting while John crouched down beside him. He focused his attention on the voices he heard coming from the bluff just on the other side of the huge outcropping, a smile lifting a corner of his mouth as one very distinguishable voice spoke with a very familiar form of logic.
"If I understand it, then I know the truth, Anna. You were not to blame."
"He's good," John whispered, an identical grin on his tanned face.
"Welcome to my world."
As good as Blair's argument was, it quickly became apparent Anna wasn't buying it. As the struggles became louder, John pointed around the rock and took off at a quick pace. Jim wanted to give the Navajo a few seconds to get into position, but Blair's frantic exclamation forced him into action.
He charged around the large boulder, simultaneously drawing his gun and leveling it at the three people struggling near the outer edge of the bluff.
"Freeze!" Jim commanded in a strong voice. "Nobody move!"
Greg Coyote looked up, his expression one of shock and fear. He quickly released Blair's arms and darted toward the small path that led around the rocky wall of the mountain rising on the right side of the bluff. Jim didn't bother to watch him go, knowing John Whitefeather would pursue him. He kept his eyes focused on Anna, who had managed to get behind Blair and was kneeling precariously on the bluff's edge. Her arm was around Blair's neck, the other clamped onto his upper arm. Blair was trying to pull away from her, but with his hands and feet bound, he had very little leverage, and one false move would send them both over the bluff.
"Don't move, Sandburg," Jim cautioned his friend who stilled immediately, his expressive eyes locking onto Jim's face.
"Your timing's improving." Blair tried to smile, but Jim could see the fear behind the bravado. He took a small step forward, his gun trained on Anna.
"Let him go, Anna. It's over."
Anna shook her head, her dark hair blowing in the warm breeze. "He must be cleansed. It must be done." Her grip around Blair's neck tightened and she leaned back, dislodging rocks and chunks of dirt from the edge of the bluff that clamored to the desert floor far below.
"Let. Him. Go." Jim took another step forward, his voice more of a growl as his vision focused on a small spot right between Anna's eyes. He cocked the gun and his finger tensed on the trigger. The edge of the cliff was starting to give, and Jim knew that if Anna didn't release Blair soon, their combined weight would cause the entire outer edge of the bluff to give way.
At the beckon of Blair's soft voice, Jim's eyes moved from their target and locked onto the bright blue ones of his friend. Blair's eyes were wide, his expression imploring. Jim couldn't look away, his attention riveted by the face transmitting a single request. Trust me.
Slowly, Jim lowered his gun and rose from his crouch. He forced himself to look away from Blair, his attention focusing on the woman kneeling behind him.
"Anna." He lowered his voice as he took a tenuous step forward. "Anna, you don't have to do this."
"Listen to him, Anna," Blair pleaded. "What happened was not your fault. You've been searching for absolution by trying to help those other people cleanse themselves of their guilt, but you haven't found it. Killing me won't bring you what you seek. I can't do that for you, Anna. But you can. The only person who can forgive you is you."
Jim watched as Sandburg's soft voice started to break through to the woman.
"We can help you, Anna. I know you were just trying to help those people."
Anna began to tremble as her eyes filled with tears. "They were in such pain. I understood how much pain. I only wanted to help them end their suffering."
"I know." Blair was able to shift forward a bit as her arm loosened and Jim tensed, ready to spring forward the moment he saw an opening. "I know you wanted to help them. But right now, you need to let us help you. We can help you, Anna."
Anna looked toward Jim, her watery eyes searching his face for the truth.
"Listen to him, Anna," Jim heard himself say. "He knows what he's talking about."
At least he hoped so. He could sense Blair's sympathy for the woman, and, even though he wasn't inclined to offer the same, he knew he should trust Blair's instincts this time. Maybe in her own warped way, Anna had been trying to help all those people. Each of them, according to Mr. Stiverson, had been trying to deal with some kind of trauma in their lives. They had each been overcome with guilt -- a guilt that ate away at them day by day until they were forced to either repress it deep down in the back of their minds, or let it consume them. Jim could understand how guilt could drive a person to do something he or she wouldn't do under normal circumstances. Guilt was one emotion Jim understood completely.
Blair continued to talk softly and Jim could sense the change in the woman. Her eyes no longer shone with hard determination. Instead they looked at him, shining with tears, lost and frightened. He took another step forward, his hand held out toward her. "Take my hand, Anna."
She was sobbing now, her cheeks streaked dark as her tears mixed with the mascara lining her eyes. She released her hold on Blair's arm, reaching a hesitant hand toward Jim.
A sudden cracking sound was all the warning he had. Anna's scream suddenly filled the air as the bluff's edge finally gave way and she toppled back into nothingness.
John pushed his burning legs to go faster as he heard Ellison's command. He swore under his breath, wishing the detective had given him more time to get into position, but understanding that the imminent danger to Blair was more than enough to force his hand. He rounded the corner of the large rock outcropping just in time to be thrown to the ground by a body rushing by.
Pushing himself off the rocky ground, he could just make out Greg Coyote's form as he began a desperate scramble down the path. Without hesitation, John gathered his strength and took off after the fleeing man, only needing three long strides before launching himself from an elevated rock to tackle Greg who was further down the slope.
The two men tumbled down an incline, coming to rest on a plateau surrounded by jutting rock. Both scrambled to their feet, facing each other as they crouched low.
"It's over, Greg. I know what you've done."
"You don't know shit." Coyote laughed, but the sound held no humor. "I love her. I just wanted her back the way she used to be."
John shook his head sadly, his voice accusing. "You killed innocent people. You can't justify that."
"They were not innocent!" Greg screamed, his voice shaking. "Anna was trying to help them. She was trying to take away their pain!"
"Anna was traumatized by what happened to her. I can't condone what she did, but I think I can understand it. But you. You knew what she was doing to those people." His shoulders slumped as his voice broke. "You knew what she was going to do to me." John looked into his friend's eyes, trying to find the man he thought he knew. "You were my friend. We were family."
Greg laughed again, his face scrunched up in anger. "I was never your family. My brother was my family. And you let him die, John. You let him die!"
John swallowed around the cold lump in his throat, the anger and hatred in the other man's voice nearly stealing his breath. "I couldn't save him, Greg. I tried. God knows I tried!"
Greg lurched forward, grabbing onto his stunned friend's jacket and pulling him forward. "You didn't try hard enough!" He shook him hard, but John didn't even try to push him away. "You didn't try hard enough!" Greg suddenly fell to his knees, pulling John down with him. The angry expression on his face contorted to one of grief. "Don't you understand?" he asked desperately. "She was all I had left. I couldn't lose her, too." His grip loosened and he slumped back in defeat. "I had to help her."
A sudden scream caught both men's attention. They hesitated only a moment before grabbing each other's arms and scrambling back up the hill.
Jim leaped forward, one hand catching Anna's as she lost her purchase and began to fall. As his flesh connected with hers, he tightened his grip and held on as her weight pulled him forward to the edge of the bluff. A sudden heaviness fell over his legs, stopping his slide and he looked back to see Blair, still hog tied, lying sideways across him. Trusting the grad student's weight to anchor him, Jim looked down over the edge of the bluff at Anna, who dangled by one arm below. She hung limply, Jim's grip on her wrist the only thing stopping her from a devastating drop.
"Anna!" The young woman did not respond, and Jim could see that she was not conscious.
Maneuvering his other arm out from under him, he felt himself slide a little more, pulled forward by Anna's weight.
"Sandburg!" he called back, lifting his head in an attempt to see behind him.
"I can't hold you!" Blair screamed, his voice tight with the effort he was putting out. With his hands bound to his ankles, he didn't have the ability to grab hold of Jim's legs. All he could do was curl himself around the detective and try to anchor himself with his shoes in the rocky dirt. "Hurry, man! I can't hold you!"
Not taking the time to respond, Jim moved his second arm over the edge and grabbed Anna's forearm. Grunting with the effort, he slowly managed to pull her toward him, his sweat mixing with the clumps of dirt that fell from the disintegrating edge. After what seemed like forever, he was able to switch his grip to the back of Anna's belt and drag her inert form back up onto the bluff.
Blair quickly rolled off his legs and Jim turned onto his back, trying to catch his breath as he stared up at the pristine blue sky above him. He shifted his head as Blair scrambled up beside him and flopped down on his back only inches to his right.
Blair started to laugh, finally turning his head to look at his friend. "I think so. You?"
"My arms feel like mush, and my legs feel like an elephant sat on them, but, yeah. I'm good."
They watched the sky for a few moments, both men trying to come to terms with what almost happened. "How the hell did you find me, man?"
Jim chuckled, not knowing how -- or if -- he could explain. "Let's just say I followed a trusted friend."
Blair looked at him, his face a mixture of confusion and fascination. "Good kind of friend to have."
Jim took a deep breath and smiled. "The best. It just took me a while to see him."
"Like I said, Jim. Your timing is improving."
The clatter of shifting rocks followed by the pounding of approaching footsteps made them both jump, tensing until they saw the head of John Whitefeather appear from around the far boulder. Whitefeather paused only a moment before scrambling onto the bluff, followed quickly by Greg Coyote.
Greg went immediately to the still unconscious form of his fiancée. Sliding to a stop, he dropped to his knees and pulled the limp woman onto his lap. "Anna? Anna?" He smoothed her hair from her face, his eyes desperately looking to Jim for an explanation.
Jim focused on the young woman and was relieved to hear her heart beating steadily, certain she had only passed out from the turmoil of her abrupt brush with death.
"She's all right," Jim assured him. He wasn't sure what had happened between Greg and John, but from the number of scrapes on both of them, they had had one hell of a discussion. As if in response to Jim's assurance, Anna stirred, opening her eyes and reaching out to Greg. As they embraced, John stepped across Jim's legs and sat heavily on the ground near Blair's feet. Reaching out, he placed a hand on a leg of each man, his dark eyes wide with concern.
"You two okay?"
Jim turned his head and looked at Blair, still sprawled out on the ground next to him. Blair gave him a warm smile and Jim felt a sliver of long repressed tension fade from his body. "Yeah," he said as he turned his eyes back to the bright blue sky. "We're good."
Blair could barely keep his eyes open as he sat on Two Eagles' porch, leaning against the railing. His body ached, his wrists hurt, his mind was numb and all he wanted to do was sleep. From inside the house he could hear Jim and John joking easily about the Jags as they moved through the rooms. A sense of security enveloped Blair and he pulled the blanket given to him earlier tighter around his shoulders. Hopefully Two Eagles would have the bed made up soon; otherwise, Blair would be sleeping right there on the porch.
The front screen door squeaked open and shut.
"John and Jim kicked me out of my own home," Two Eagles complained as he sat beside Blair. "They said I was going too slow."
Closing his eyes, Blair snorted. "No offense, man, but you were."
Two Eagles chuckled. They were silent for several moments, laughter filtering to them from the two men inside. There was no amount of words even Blair could come up with to show his gratitude to John for his part in his rescue. Listening to him argue with Jim about who was the better three-point shooter on the Jags brought a smile to his lips.
"They sound like brothers, don't they?" he asked, eyes still closed.
"Indeed." Something in Two Eagles voice confirmed Blair's instincts about the Native American cop. As soon as he had more energy, he was definitely going to have to sit and talk to Jim about John. Among other things.
Blair finally stirred, yawning as he straightened. Peering out into the night, admiring the celestial display of stars overhead, Blair let his mind wander incoherently over the events of the past several days. One question aggravated him the most and he shifted slightly to stare at the old man seated next to him.
"Ask, Blair," Two Eagles stated simply. "That's why I am here."
"There are so many things I'm dying to talk with you about. I hope you're up for it."
Two Eagles chuckled. "I would not be sitting here beside you if I were not."
Drawing the blanket tighter around his shoulders, Blair leaned his forearms on his knees, careful of his sore wrists wrapped in gauze. His hair fell forward and out of habit he brushed it back. "Why me, Two Eagles? I mean, something changed in me after the whole thing at the fountain, but how did that connect me to Anna? Why did I have visions of what she was doing?"
"You are Shaman of the Great City, Blair. Anna was causing your tribe pain."
Blair looked sharply at the old man then, his eyes widening. "Are you telling me that whenever anything bad happens in Cascade I'm going to have visions about it?"
Two Eagles chuckled, patting Blair on the back. "Relax, my friend. There is more involved than just that." He smiled as Blair sighed audibly. Two Eagles lifted his gaze towards the dark valley, thoughtful for a few moments. "Much has happened to you and Jim these past few months," he finally said. "You both need time to understand what it all means. What happened today is a good beginning, but there is still more that you need to learn." He patted Blair on the back again. "And perhaps it will take a lifetime to learn it all."
Peering over his shoulder at the house, Blair smiled fondly as he listened to the argument still waging. "I don't know that Jim wants to put up with me for a lifetime, Two Eagles."
"Perhaps not, young shaman, but friendship has a way of surprising us, don't you think?"
The voices grew louder, Jim laughing in triumph as he made his point, and Blair nodded. "It certainly does."
Staring out across the desert valley, Blair sat lotus style on the rocky ground of the bluff where his life had nearly ended, drinking in the calm of such a warm, sunny day after the cold terror of only twenty-four hours ago. After Blair's brief conversation with Two Eagles, a towering, overprotective sentinel ordered him to bed, supported by a fussing Native American that Blair suspected was a sentinel. Both of them were irritating, and though ready to keel over, Blair tried to refuse -- there was still so much more to talk about. Eventually his disobedient body obeyed, however. When he woke up once in the middle of the night, it was to the deep breathing of Jim lying on a cot beside him. A cot that had not been there when Blair had fallen asleep. Feeling safer than he had in weeks, Blair had gone back to a restful sleep.
When he awoke this morning it was to the sound of a truck leaving. A note told him that John and Jim had gone to the sheriff's department in the main part of the reservation to complete the extradition of Greg and Anna back to Cascade. Although the charges against them were serious, Blair had stubbornly insisted on helping both Greg and Anna when their trial came up. Thankfully, John had agreed, which left Jim shaking his head in frustration at them both. But he arranged, anyway, for Greg and Anna to fly out this morning attended by a US Marshall, and for Simon to pick them up from the Cascade airport, with the assurance that one C.L. Stiverson would accompany them through the entire booking process. That had made Blair feel a little better.
Two Eagles had conveniently disappeared as well, so Blair took advantage of being alone to confront the bluff. Leaving a note, hoping Jim wouldn't be pissed at him for going alone, Blair headed out. It had taken him most of the morning and early afternoon to make the hike and finish the climb. But it had been worth it. He knew why Two Eagles enjoyed coming up here. The peace was overwhelming and almost instantly replaced his fear.
He closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of a warm breeze that encircled his tired body, drying the sweat from the exertion of his climb. Strength poured into his limbs and he took deep, cleansing breaths. The thought flitted across his mind that coughing or congestion in his chest hadn't bothered him since Cascade. He smiled and wondered if part of being a shaman meant instant healing. He chuckled at that.
"Strangest sight I've ever seen," a familiar voice filtered from behind him, and Blair marveled that he hadn't been startled.
"What's that?" Blair asked without moving or opening his eyes.
"A sleeping man chuckling on a bluff in the middle of New Mexico." The voice drew closer and soon Blair could feel Jim crouch beside him.
"I'm not sleeping. I'm meditating."
"Whatever you say, Sandburg." Humor touched those words and Blair relaxed even more in the presence of his friend. The wall that had stubbornly separated them since the events surrounding Alex Barnes didn't seem as strong anymore. It wasn't completely down, but it was crumbling.
A comfortable silence fell over them. Jim shifted from crouching to sitting, their shoulders touching, but neither said anything for a while.
Blair finally cleared his throat and opened his eyes. "I don't have to be back to Rainier until next Monday," he said softly, uncertain how to broach the subject weighing on his mind.
Blair nodded, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "So, I was thinking about sticking around here for a while. Ya know, hang out with Two Eagles, see what he has to teach me." Chancing a glance in his direction, Blair noticed Jim frowning a little. But it wasn't in anger -- Blair knew firsthand when Jim was angry - so he barreled on. "Besides, man, after everything I am dying to figure out the enigma that is John Whitefeather. It would be cool to observe him…ya know…unobtrusively."
Jim chuckled at that. "Is that anything like obfuscations?"
"A little, but a lot more devious." Blair's eyebrows danced in mirth as he grinned. Jim replied with a smile of his own and a little more of the wall crumbled.
"That sounds like a plan, Chief. Thought I'd stay as well. That okay?"
Relieved, Blair nodded. He wanted to -- no, needed to -- stay and continue his conversation with Two Eagles, but remaining without Jim wasn't even a consideration. If Jim had gone back to Cascade, Blair would have gone with him.
They fell into companionable silence again, watching the shadows of the bluffs stretch across the valley as the sun slid down towards the horizon. Thoughts flowed in and out of Blair's mind and he tried to make some kind of order of the chaos. There was much to say and he wasn't certain if this was the moment to start saying it. Taking another deep breath, he decided to go for it. If Jim got mad…well, Blair had dealt with a pissed off Sentinel before. And he probably would again.
"I'm sorry, Jim," he breathed.
Jim jerked beside him. "Sorry? For what?"
Continuing to gaze across the valley, Blair shifted from lotus position and drew his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs. "I was so wrapped up in what was happening to me that I forgot we both experienced the fountain." Blair felt Jim go rigid beside him and waited for the normal Ellison reaction of standing and walking away. He was pleasantly surprised when Jim remained. "More than that, though, man. You were going through hell with reacting to Alex and then the temple on top of that." He took a deep breath again, allowing the muscles in his shoulders to relax as he slowly let it out. "It was good Incacha guided you through all of that."
Jim said nothing. Blair's heart thudded dejectedly in his chest. That memory still hurt; what compounded that pain was Jim allowing Two Eagles to guide him through the vision that had led to Blair's rescue. Sure he understood Jim's cryptic meaning of being guided by a trusted friend, that Jim had felt a connection to Blair that he followed. That made him feel better about his place with Jim. But it had been Two Eagles who had guided Jim through his vision, something he had fought tooth and nail against with Blair.
"Do you remember when we went to South America a couple of years ago?" Jim asked, his gaze still on the magnificent view around them.
Blair cocked an eyebrow at his friend. "You mean when we went after Simon and Daryl?" Jim nodded. "How could I forget?"
Jim half-smiled at the statement. "My senses wigged out on me? Man, I was so lost, confused about why my senses were going in and out. It was frustrating."
"Yeah," Blair snorted, remembering those hectic days. And remembering Jim's annoyance; an annoyance he had no qualms about taking out on Blair.
"That was the first time I saw the jaguar." He paused. Finally, he looked at Blair. "I never saw the jaguar with Incacha, Chief."
As that statement sank in, Blair began to understand what Jim was saying. And what he wasn't.
"I didn't know what it all meant. But you did. You were the one who guided me to my animal spirit, Blair. Long before Incacha passed the way of the shaman to you, long before he asked you to guide me, you were already doing the job."
It took a moment for Blair to digest Jim's words. When he did, he stared in honest amazement at the man next to him, wondering when the aliens would return the real Jim Ellison. Jim returned his gaze calmly, his expression open and honest. Another part of the wall crumbled from between them.
Laying a warm hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim nodded once then rose. "It'll be dark soon, Chief, so don't stay out too much longer, okay? I don't think I can conjure up another vision to find you. All tapped out." He chuckled, rested his hand on Blair's head for a moment and walked away.
Blair watched him leave, amazed again at the powerful stride of the man he called friend; who called him friend in return. A smile finally spread across Blair's face, widening into a grin the more he thought about Jim's words.
Returning his gaze to the vista around him, the peace he had felt surrounding him earlier penetrated his soul. Still grinning, Blair whispered, "Thanks, Jim," knowing his Sentinel heard the words clearly.
Jim parked the Jeep in front of Two Eagle's house. He cut the engine and sat back in the seat, his eyes gazing out over the New Mexico landscape. He had contemplated waiting for Sandburg, not knowing how long the kid was going to "meditate" out there on the bluff, but had dismissed the thought, knowing the grad student needed time to put things in perspective.
He knew he was to blame for a lot of Blair's recent doubts about his place in the scheme of things, and his own refusal to talk about Alex or what happened at the fountain had driven a wedge between them that would take a long time to overcome. But this last brush with the mystic mumbo jumbo that had become his world hadn't been so bad. Maybe he could meet Blair halfway.
He'd never be able to immerse himself in the esoteric contingencies of this sentinel stuff, but maybe he could wade slowly into those waters Blair claimed were so nice. Incacha had never failed him, and the Chopec had seen something in Blair -- enough to anoint him with his own approbation -- and who was Jim to argue that conviction.
Pulling the keys from the ignition, he stepped from the vehicle and squinted against the orange glow of the setting sun. Idly he wondered what he would see if he focused his sight on the vivid colors shimmering across the sky, but Sandburg's familiar voice in his head chided him with a snorting laugh. With a smile and a fond shake of his head, Jim turned and strode up the porch stairs, stepping into the cool interior of the house.
Two Eagles and John Whitefeather were seated on the couch in the front room, their heads together in deep conversation. They both looked up at Jim's entrance, their eyes watching as Jim lowered himself into the overstuffed chair opposite them.
"I take it you found him?"
Jim nodded at Two Eagles' question, somehow knowing the old shaman knew the answer. "He was on the bluff… 'meditating.'" Jim crooked the first two fingers of each hand to emphasize the word. "We'll probably have to go back and find him sometime after dark."
Two Eagles and John exchanged a look of amusement. "I believe Blair will find his way back. Now that he knows the way."
Jim nodded, getting more and more used to the double meanings in the old man's words. "Yeah, I hear ya." He took a deep breath and released it, simultaneously glancing up at the two Navajos. "My real worry is what are we going to do to amuse ourselves while Sandburg is out there connecting with the universe?"
John Whitefeather stood and held out a hand to help Two Eagles to his feet. "I'm pretty sure we can find something to occupy our time."
Intrigued, Jim stood and followed them to a large wooden door. John smiled at him smugly as he waited for Two Eagles to open the door and flip on the lights. Jim's eyes widened in astonishment as he stepped through the doorway and took in the room before him. A very comfortable looking black leather recliner was positioned next to a matching sofa. In front of the sofa stood a low, granite looking coffee table loaded with bowls of chips and pretzels. A small refrigerator sat against the wall just to the side of the recliner, which, when John opened it, Jim realized was filled with bottles of beer and soda.
Directly across from the chair and sofa, taking up most of the back wall of the room, sat a 52" large screen television. An impressive looking stereo system perched on a sleek chrome rack next to the big screen, bordered by tall, thin speakers on either side.
Two Eagles moved to the recliner and sat down, accepting a beer from John before lifting a black remote from the arm of the chair and pressing a button, bringing the entire system to life. He turned back to Jim, who still stood in the doorway of the room looking around in wonder.
John Whitefeather settled in on one side of the couch and placed the remaining two beers on the table before him. "Hey, Jim. You'd better grab a seat before the rest of the guys get here."
"Huh?" Jim blinked. "What… how…" He wandered over to the couch and dropped onto the cushion, his head still tilting to take in the room. "Where did you get all this stuff?"
Two Eagles chuckled and gave him an innocent shrug. "Even an old shaman needs to have a life." He reached beside the chair and pulled a well-worn baseball cap from the top of the refrigerator. Placing it on his head, he smiled at Jim, a challenge in his eyes. "My friend John tells me you are, like him, a victim of poor taste when it comes to choosing a basketball team."
For the first time, Jim noticed the logo of the San Antonio Spurs on the old man's cap, just as the graphics on the television advertised the impending start of the contest between the Spurs and the Jags. Jim could only laugh, shaking his head at John.
"Is this guy for real?"
John just returned the smile, taking a sip of his beer and making himself comfortable. Returning his gaze to Two Eagles, Jim was surprised to see the old shaman smiling at him as the players on the screen took the court. Two Eagles leaned on the arm of the chair, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "Tell me, Jim Ellison. Are you a betting man?"
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