True Dreams #2: Resolutions

Date: 1st Feb 2001, minor revision 5th Dec 2002
Size: 18,200 words, 100K
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just temporarily poaching them from Pet Fly.
Spoilers: Sentinel Too, references to Switchman, Attraction,
Flight, TSbyBS
Rating: PG (language)
Warnings: AU
Category: AU, Series, Angst, Smarm
Series/Sequel: True Dreams (2). Sequel to Dreamshatter.
Summary: Jim comes back from the hospital and faces reality.

Notes and thanks are at the end of part 10.

True Dreams: Resolutions

Part 1

by Kathryn A kat AT


Home at last, Jim thought as he and Blair walked the few remaining steps to the door of the loft. Finally released from the hospital after his alarming and unexpected coma, he could hardly wait for Blair to open the door.

The stark and almost bare loft hit him like a slap in the face. Apart from the boxes on the floor, one chair in front of the fireplace, and a few other bits and pieces, the living area was empty. "Shit!" Jim exclaimed involuntarily. He'd forgotten. Forgotten the way he'd kicked Blair out of the loft when Alex had come to town and put his Sentinel instincts on overdrive. Forgotten how he'd removed all the furniture, to give himself "space". Forgotten the visions he'd had, which had started it all: Alex's spotted jaguar, the dream of killing Blair-as-wolf. He'd had other dreams since then that had taken their place. Dreams he'd had in the coma, so vivid he'd thought they were real. When he'd told Blair the last one, Blair had convinced him it was just a nightmare. But his subconscious obviously hadn't been convinced.

"Hey, don't be mad, man," Blair said. "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans -- like planning to unpack."

"Sandburg, I'm not mad at you," Jim said. He stepped further into the loft. "I'm mad at myself." They'd been too busy before, chasing after Alex, to think or talk about what had happened. But their unresolved issues were still there, waiting, like the emptiness of the loft.

"What for?" Blair sounded genuinely puzzled.

Jim turned around to face his partner. "You died, Blair!" Jim burst out. "You died, and it was my fault. I killed you."

"Whoa, Mister Guilt Trip, that's a bit much, even for you," Blair said, raising his hands, pushing the idea away. "Alex killed me. You had nothing to do with it!"

"I had nothing to do with it -- and that's why you died," Jim said. "I should have protected you. Instead, I drove you away." Jim sighed. "I should have known when I saw the wolf. I should have known."

"The wolf at the fountain?" Blair said. "But that was after --"

"No, before then. After I kept on seeing the spotted jaguar, I dreamed... I was in the jungle, hunting for something. I saw the temple of the Sentinels, and walking in front of it, a wolf. I shot it. And it turned into you. I killed you."

"But you brought me back," Blair said softly, touching his arm. "You brought me back."

Jim looked down at his partner and clasped his arms. "But what did I bring you back to? This can't go on, Blair." He knew he'd said the wrong thing when Blair's face blanched and his heart-rate jumped through the roof.

"Do you want me to leave?" Blair said, trying to step away from Jim.

Jim tightened his grip on Blair. "No!" Jim said. "I need you. As my guide, my partner, my friend." Jim let go abruptly and put his hands through his cropped hair. "So why the hell do I keep on pushing you away?" He could tell Blair wasn't completely reassured because his heart was still pounding slightly fast.

Blair summoned a quirky smile. "Fear-based responses, remember?"

What do you fear? Incacha's voice spoke in Jim's memory, and he remembered what he'd seen at that point in his vision in Sierra Verde: Blair dead at the fountain. "I know what I'm afraid of," Jim said grimly. I'm afraid of losing you. But he didn't say it aloud. And I'm afraid that staying with me will destroy you. But he didn't say that aloud either.

"You're afraid of betrayal," Blair said in a flat voice. His heart-rate had jumped again.

Jim's heart clenched -- because Blair was right, too; utterly, horribly right. He remembered what he'd said to Blair back then: I need a partner I can trust. "I talk about trust, but it's me who can't be trusted!" Jim exclaimed. "Alex killed you, and I was making up to her like a dog in heat! This from me, who was reaming you out for just talking to her, for not telling me about her! Talk about betrayal...!"

"You were acting on instinct, Jim," Blair pointed out. But he sounded almost as much as if he were trying to reassure himself as Jim.

"On instinct? I was acting on instinct with Laura, if you remember, yet I still managed to arrest her," Jim retorted.

"Laura wasn't a Sentinel," Blair said reasonably.

"Stop making excuses for me, dammit!" Jim yelled. "Why must you be so calm? Why the hell won't you get mad at me?"

"How can I get mad at you?" Blair yelled back, finally provoked. "You seem to be doing a better job of it than I ever could!" He jabbed his fingers in Jim's direction. "What is this -- some sort of preemptive strike? You've gotta be so in control you've got to get mad for me too? Maybe I just don't react that way, huh, Jim? Ever consider that? But no, just because Jim copes by getting mad, I've got to get mad too?"

"Blair, I --" Jim's face was bleak.

"I'm not you, Jim!" Blair continued. "I'm not like you! I'm me! Weird Sandburg, who lives in the Sandburg Zone, whom you ignore until you've got a problem, and ignore me half the time even then! Sandburgs should be seen and not heard, is that it? I'm not a child, Jim! And I'm not your freakin' sidekick!"

"Oh, God," Jim strangled out. His heart was a tangle of anguish, despair, guilt, and fear. I've blown it. I've blown it. He's going to leave. He's going to leave me. It was just too much. His head pounded. The adrenaline rush of his anger deserted him, and his real tiredness was revealed. He felt his strength drain out of him. Barely back from the hospital, he simply didn't have the physical stamina to cope. He staggered over to the wall and sat down, leaning against it. "I'm sorry," he said, head in his hands, elbows resting on his knees. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He couldn't stop saying it. "I'm sorry." He was trembling with reaction and fatigue. "I'm sorry."

But deep in his heart he knew: sorry just wasn't good enough.


When Jim turned his back on him, Blair just knew he'd blown it. Things had gone wrong from the moment they'd stepped inside. All he'd been thinking about on the drive home was how good it would to be home, how good it would be to have Jim home where he belonged. When Jim had exploded like that -- it had brought back all those old fears, ones that he thought had been banished with his rebirth, washed away by his death; the uncertainty of his life with Jim, the unpredictability of what could happen in the future. Yes, he had been too busy, madly researching into what had laid Jim low, and too damn tired, hovering over Jim at the hospital, having to be dragged away by Simon. Of course he hadn't had time in all that to finish unpacking properly, but there was also that tiny bit of uncertainty -- how long before he would have to pack it all up again?

Then Jim had gone all guilt-trippy. No reasoning with him. But when he'd said "This can't go on," Blair figured he was about to get his marching orders -- again. Then Jim had said he'd needed him. Whoa! Then guilt trip round two. Dammit, didn't Jim understand that if it wasn't Sentinel instinct, if it wasn't something explainable, then there would be nothing to stand on? Because if your best friend could throw you out for no reason at all, then the sun rose in the west, it snowed in the summertime, and solid ground was made of water.

So he'd lost his temper. If Jim wanted mad, he'd get mad.

Then Jim had made a strangled noise and turned his back on him, walked over to the wall and sat down.

But - what the hell was Jim saying? I'm sorry? And he was shaking. Oh my God, what have I done? He's only just got back from the hospital, for God's sake! Blair ignored completely the fact that he himself hadn't been out of the hospital for much longer than a week; it didn't seem important. Blair rushed to Jim's side, and knelt beside him. He touched him on one arm. "Jim, Jim, it's okay, really, it's okay," he said, over and over again.

Jim lifted his head and turned his face to Blair. "You're humouring me, Sandburg. It's not okay." Jim looked exhausted, as if he'd done ten rounds with Mike Tyson and lost; but more than that, emotionally wasted, eyes dull and bleak, as if he were on a serial killer case with no clues, and just looked at his fifth dead body in a row. But it wasn't like that either. There was no frustration in his face, only despair.

Jim stared at Blair as if he were trying to memorise his face. He lifted up one hand and reached towards Blair, then stopped. Blair could see his nostrils flare, and his head tilt just that little bit that meant that he was listening. But his eyes never left Blair's face.

"What is it, Jim?" What had his Sentinel senses picked up on?

But Jim didn't say anything. He just brought his hand forward to touch the side of Blair's face, then moved his hand down along his face, then neck, to Blair's left shoulder, touching him like a blind man tracing out the lineaments of his form. Blair realized it was him that Jim was focused on, focused with every sense. Why?

Then Jim spoke. "I wouldn't blame you if you want to leave," he said. "But please - please don't."

Jim thought he wanted to leave? Jim didn't want him to go? "God, Jim," Blair exclaimed, "leaving is the last thing I want!" He touched Jim's right arm with his left hand. "I thought you wanted me to go."

"God no!" Jim's grip on Blair tightened. "Are you sure you -- you want to stay?"

To see Jim so uncertain made his heart ache. "Positive. Absolutely," Blair assured him. "Are you sure you want me to?"

Jim laughed with relief and pulled Blair into a hug. "Absolutely," he said.

Blair returned the hug, grinning. "We are a pair, aren't we?"

"That we are," Jim said. "A pair of fools." But he was smiling. He mussed up Blair's hair, and let him go. But he left one arm over Blair's shoulders, and Blair put his arm around Jim's back. They both leaned back against the wall, and sat in silence.

"You know what we need to do?" Jim said at last.

"We need to talk," Blair said.

"That too," Jim returned. "But first we need to get the furniture out of the basement."


Part 2


They compromised. Neither of them were really up to the task of furniture moving, so Blair called a couple of students who could use the work, and then bullied Jim into going to bed.

Jim woke hours later to the sound of voices. One was Blair. There were two more, male, probably the students. Jim debated whether to lie there and leave them to it, or whether he should go down there and help direct the traffic. While he was still trying to make up his mind, he fell asleep again.

The gentle sounds of nature trickling into a stream of music greeted his ears when Jim woke again; doubtless one of Blair's meditation CDs. The scent of something cooking wafted to his nostrils -- tomatoes, garlic, onions, fish?. Noises from the kitchen told him that, yes, it was Sandburg doing the cooking. His stomach rumbled, and he opened his eyes. The direction of the light coming through the windows made him realize he'd slept most of the day away -- no wonder he was hungry.

This morning seemed like an age ago. God, how could he have lost it like that? Like he was an emotional yo-yo. What was wrong with him? Well, I just got out of the hospital today, I'm still on sick leave, I just got so tired I slept through the middle of the day... So tired he'd been a complete wreck? Jim wished he could just pretend none of it had happened, but somehow he didn't think that would fly. Besides, however exaggerated Jim's reactions had been this morning, the things behind them were still true. And he and Blair definitely needed to talk.

Time to get up, lazybones. Jim dragged himself out of bed and made his way down the stairs.

"Jim!" Blair called out. "Glad to see you're awake. What sort of pasta do you want - spaghetti or spirals?"

"Toss a coin!" Jim returned, and went straight to the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, washed, dressed and feeling more like a human being, Jim came out and assessed the transformed living area. Most things were back in their usual places, though the shelves were mainly empty, and there were still boxes on the floor. Most importantly, the music system, the TV, and the VCR all appeared to be hooked up and working.

"I see you managed the moving without me," Jim said, joining Blair in the kitchen. He wasn't sure whether to be peeved or pleased.

Blair looked up from the pot he was stirring. "You needed the rest," he said. "I think everything's back the way it was."

Jim considered the possible double meaning of Blair's last words. "Not quite," he said. "But maybe it shouldn't be. It's time for a change."

Blair gave him a level gaze. "It's your place."

"It's our home," Jim returned. He couldn't read the mix of emotions that played across Blair's face. Surprise? Fear? Relief? It's our home. It had felt so right, to say that. But was it really true? He wanted it to be.

Then Blair shook himself. "Food first, serious talking later." He waved at the already-set table. "Sit. Or the pasta will be al-mooshy instead of al-dente."

They ate, discussing trivial things like the pasta recipe, the weather, and the Jags' chances against the Blazers. They skirted around the subjects they were planning to talk about later, but the unspoken things hung in the air like the aroma of the pasta sauce. Finally, the dishes were left to soak in the sink, and they settled on the couch for the "serious talking" part of the evening.

"No beer," Blair decreed. "I want a clear head, and you need to keep drugs -- including alcohol -- out of your system for at least a week. I know we figured it was an interaction between those pain-pills and Alex's potion that put you in the coma, but I don't want to take any chances."

Jim gave a wry smile. "Yes, mother."

"This is serious, Jim."

"I know," Jim replied. "I know." He leaned back in the couch and stared into the middle distance, looking at nothing. "Sometimes I get so tired of it... walking on a tightrope, not sure whether one step or the next is going to take me down..."

"You aren't alone, Jim," Blair said. "I'm here."

Jim gazed at Blair. "I know," he said. "But for how long? When you finish your dissertation, what then?" So many things hung on the answer to that question. His future. Blair's future.

But Blair picked up on something else. "Jim, you mustn't let that nightmare colour your perceptions," Blair said. "I told you that stuff was impossible."

Jim shook his head. "That isn't it, Blair. The problem is, we never really discussed your dissertation. I didn't want to. It made me uncomfortable, I wanted to forget it existed. So if it takes a nightmare for me to stop avoiding the issue, then I damn well better let it colour my perceptions," Jim said with determination. "You said before, that you were stalling on the diss. If you stopped stalling, how long would it take you to finish?"

Blair blinked at Jim in surprise. "A - a couple of months, I guess," he answered. "I'd have to toss that first chapter anyway, even if Alex hadn't skewed half my data -- my advisor trashed it. Said it read more like psychology than anthropology."

Jim smiled dryly. "You mean it isn't supposed to be all about me?"

"Well, I only had one example of a Sentinel at that point," Blair said. "Though what happened with Alex raises almost as many questions as it answers. She was much more tuned into the mystical side of being a Sentinel than you are. Why? Was it because she was a woman? Or because she was an artist? Or some other reason?"

"Surely the fact that she's crazy makes the rest of it academic," Jim said. He remembered Alex's words with a shudder. Once I've cleansed the world and you've left your flesh behind, maybe then you'll understand what I've seen. She had been ready to destroy them all.

"Academic? But that's just what it is. Approaching it academically... I think that's my way of coping with it," Blair mused. "If I analyse it, understand it, put in perspective, it doesn't... scare me so much."

"It scares the hell out of me, Sandburg," Jim admitted. "What happened then... it was like I was a puppet. First getting all territorial, when she was here, then, when we were in Sierra Verde -- I had to protect her, even though I knew what she'd done, what she was."

"If she hadn't been a criminal, maybe there wouldn't have been a conflict," Blair said. "Your visions of the spotted jaguar, they were warnings, about another Sentinel in your territory. Now maybe Sentinels are so territorial that they can't cope with another Sentinel there, or maybe you sensed she was hostile. Or maybe you sensed that she'd try take away your Guide -- me. And it got all tangled up, because here I was, I'd been consorting with your enemy--"

"And I threw you out, and had the dream about the wolf because throwing you out was the worst possible thing for me to have done," Jim interrupted.

"Jim, if I ever meet another Sentinel, I promise I will run, not walk, straight to you. And get a police check done!" Blair declared.

Jim sighed. "But how will that help if my instincts take over again?" he said. "I don't want that to happen again." He clenched his fists without noticing it. "I don't want it to be possible for that to happen again! I don't want to throw you out again. I don't want to betray you again."

"You didn't --" Blair began, then stopped. "In the end, you chose the right path. You saved me and Megan. You stopped Alex from killing us all. You didn't lose the way."

"I came too damned close," Jim growled.

"Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if we'd talked before acting," Blair said. "I held out on you, you held out on me." Blair shook his head and smiled ruefully. "Maybe what we need is a talking-stick -- or a toad."

Jim gave him a quizzical look, relaxing a little. "What are you talking about, Sandburg?"

Blair sat up straighter. "When the Mamut Indians have a tribal meeting, any adult member of the tribe can speak. To keep things orderly, they have a talking-stick, a special carved staff." He gestured to illustrate his example, holding his hand up, curled around an imaginary staff. "Whoever has the stick, has the floor, so to speak. No-one can interrupt. This assures that everyone's voice can be heard."

"And the toad?" Jim asked.

Blair grinned. "Now, that's a much more modern manifestation of speaking your mind. A family ritual of a couple of friends of mine, Chris and Jean. They own, among other things, a floppy bean-bag toy which they call the toad. Personally I think it looks more like a frog than a toad, but they call it the toad. When one of them is pissed off at the other, or feel there's something important they need to talk about, but they don't actually feel up to saying anything, they put the toad on the bed. Nonverbal communication, to ease the way to talking things out."

"And did it work?"

"Well, they're one of the happiest married couples I know," Blair grinned at him.

"We aren't married, Sandburg."

"But we are living together," Blair pointed out with a wicked twinkle in his eye.

Jim considered his brief, failed marriage to Carolyn. Yeah, he'd loved her, but he'd always held himself back, always kept part of himself in reserve. Light's out, no one home, Carolyn had said. Or if there is, how would I know? Because he wouldn't talk about his problems with anyone -- not even her. Especially not her. Had he been afraid of seeming weak? Was there this image of Jim Ellison that he'd been trying to live up to? The strong, silent type, who didn't need any help, who was never at a loss, who was never afraid, who never failed? What a fool.


Part 3

"Jim?" Blair said uncertainly, interrupting his thoughts. "I didn't mean--"

"I was just thinking about Carolyn," Jim reassured him. "Wondering why it didn't work out. Guess I don't learn; she said I didn't talk enough too."

"It isn't just a matter of talking," Blair said. "It's also a matter of listening -- for both of us." Blair ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't mention this before... but I did try to tell you about Alex. I just didn't try hard enough. It was the night I came home and you greeted me with a gun to my face. I should have realized something was wrong then, I shouldn't have given up." Guilt-filled eyes met his own.

"Sandburg! You couldn't have known..." Jim said. He cast his mind back to that night. "I remember... I thought I heard growling outside the door. I didn't hear you at all."

"Another jaguar warning," Blair mused. "We definitely need a time-out signal of some sort."

"Shopping. Tomorrow," Jim said, writing on an imaginary list. "Item: one toad."

Blair smiled. "Well, it doesn't have to be a toad," he said. "And it would have to go on a place other than someone's bed."

"Item: one floppy toy of some kind," Jim said. "We can put it on the coffee table when it's needed."

"I've got it!" Blair bounced in place. "A panther!" He grinned at Jim.

Jim smiled back. "What about a wolf?"

"Both?" Blair proposed. "One each. The panther means you've got something to say, the wolf means that I've got something to say."

Jim considered this. "That's only half the problem, Chief. The "not listening" half. What about the "not talking" half?"

"Do it the other way around," Blair suggested. "I put the panther out when I think there's something you need to tell me, and you put the wolf out if you think I'm holding out on you."

"But what if there isn't anything being held out?"

"But if either one of us feels that there is, even when there isn't, doesn't that need to be sorted out just as much?" Blair said earnestly. "If you see what I mean..."

"I see what you mean, Blair," Jim said. If I stop trusting you, I'm sunk. That was what it boiled down to. No more stubborn self-reliance. No more safe room to retreat to, no last bastion of Fortress Ellison. The prospect frightened him, but not as much as the alternative -- life without Blair. "Which gets us back to my original question: once your dissertation is finished, what then?"

"No more ride-along, Jim," Blair said. "Why do you think I was stalling?"

"You said something about missing the excitement, if I recall," Jim said, carefully neutral. Is it the excitement he would miss, or me?

Blair seemed to read his mind. "If that was all, I would have gone to Borneo," he said. He leaned forward and clasped Jim's arm. "This is -- you're my friend, Jim. The best friend I ever had. Not just the Sentinel of the Great City. Not just the subject of my dissertation."

"But if you don't finish your dissertation, your career is shot," Jim pointed out.

"Stalled perhaps, but not shot," Blair said. "I could always change to the "police as closed-society" idea."

"That isn't the problem, Blair," Jim said.

"It isn't?" Blair raised his eyebrows. "But I thought you were -- that you didn't want me to publish. The nightmare --"

Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "The nightmare woke me up, Chief. I've done some thinking. There's a difference between plastering my name all over the front page, and suppressing knowledge altogether. It wouldn't help protect me to suppress it. Brackett got enough out of your undergraduate paper to figure out I was a Sentinel. And that was written before you met me. But what about all those other Sentinels, or potential Sentinels out there? They aren't lucky like me -- they'll never meet you. But if you publish, they've got a chance. A chance to be helped, instead of locked up in a loony bin because they hear voices, or gag at a smell that nobody notices, or choke at food with too much paprika, or can't stand their own clothing against their skin. How dare I condemn them to insanity just because I'm afraid?"

"Oh, man..." Blair breathed, eyes wide. "I didn't think... Of course you're right. I just didn't think..."

"You didn't think what, Chief?"

Blair sighed, not meeting his eyes. "Lots of things, Jim." He shook his head. "Never mind." He shrugged. "It's all very well talking about its potential, but we don't even know if my dissertation will be accepted, let alone published. It's by no means a sure thing." He snorted and shook his head. "Talk about means and ends! When I met you, you were the means to an end -- to get a dissertation. Now the dissertation is the means to an end -- to stay working with you."

"So we just have to use another means," Jim said, his heart warming at Blair's stated desire to work with him -- and the offhanded way it was said, as if there was no question that that was what Blair wanted. "What if Simon were to offer you a position? I think we could talk him into it."

"As a cop?" Blair said. "We've had this conversation before -- no can do."

Jim shook his head. "No, as a special consultant. God knows we call you that often enough, unofficially. What if we could make it official?"

"What if you can't?"

"Won't know 'til we try," Jim said, but he was confident that Simon would go for it, even if the budget wouldn't. "Simon won't want to lose his best team."

Blair considered that for a moment. "Even if half the team has another job?"

"I'll take what I can get, Chief," Jim said.

"What if what you can get isn't enough?" Blair said worriedly. "I've been thinking... since Megan knows you're a Sentinel, with some training, she might make a good backup."

"You are my backup, Chief," Jim protested.

Blair raised his hands in placation. "I know, I know, but even the backup needs backup, Jim." He waved his hand towards Jim. "When I can't be there, it would make me feel better, and you feel better, and Simon feel better, if there was someone else there who could back you up in a crisis."

"Simon --"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Simon's the Captain, Jim. He's got other responsibilities. But it wouldn't look strange if Megan were with you." Blair gave a small smile. "Don't worry, I'm still your Guide. She won't be taking my place."

"Guide, Chief?" Jim queried. "That's the second time you've called yourself that. Isn't that what Brackett called you?"

Blair made a face. "I suspect that Brackett had access to more than just my own work -- I didn't come across a clear reference to a Guide until just this week." At Jim's inquiring look, he continued, "I'm pretty sure that it's another name for the Sentinel's partner. When you were in the hospital, while I was trying to track down what caused the coma, I came across a reference to a Watchman and his Guide... while foraging, they ate some mushrooms. The Guide felt no effect, but the Watchman "swelled up and died"."

"So what makes you think this Watchman was a Sentinel, and the Guide was his partner?"

"Watchman and Sentinel have a very similar meaning, Jim," Blair pointed out. "What the text described sounded very like an allergic reaction to me -- something that Sentinels are very prone to, as you know. But the clincher was that the Guide was considered responsible for his death." Blair's eyes locked with Jim, as he said, "The Guide was responsible for the welfare of the Watchman. He failed in his charge. Consequences -- well, it wasn't clear whether he committed suicide or was executed. But I know exactly how he felt."

Jim went cold at the look in Blair's eyes. "Blair, you aren't responsible --" Jim began, but Blair interrupted him.

"Look, Jim -- you try to protect me from psychos, and I try to protect you from a hostile environment. We've both failed at it. But neither of us can stop trying any more than we can stop breathing. Just accept it."

Accept it? But it's not the same... But another part of him countered, Isn't it? Blair was always looking out for him, in his own way. That Blair could feel the same kind of guilt, the same responsibility that he himself did... Why not? What makes you have a monopoly on responsibility? Or on guilt? Are you better than he is? Or worse? "Blair," Jim said, "you aren't responsible for things outside of your control --"

"Neither are you!" Blair returned. "But that doesn't stop you either."

Jim stared at Blair. So what does that mean? If I'm guilty, he's guilty? If he's not guilty than neither am I?

"We all make mistakes," Blair continued. "The trick is to learn from them," he said wryly.

"I'm trying," Jim said softly. God knows I'm trying. A sudden thought occurred to him. He struggled with the implications, and then stopped. Trust Blair or you're sunk, remember? "I need to give you my power of attorney."

"You what?" Blair's eyes widened.

"How many arguments did you have with the doctors when I was in a coma?" Jim asked.

"Um, a few," Blair admitted.

"Having my power of attorney would make it easier to look after me, wouldn't it?"

"Jim, you don't need to do this..."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "You have my power of attorney, and you can train Megan."

Blair upped the ante. "We train Megan, and you have my power of attorney too."

"We, pale face?" Jim said.

"Hey, you learn by doing," Blair said. "I can't train her to look after you just by talking about it."

"With you, I bet you could teach monkeys to type Shakespeare," Jim returned with a smile.

"No, just watch television," Blair smiled. "Except Larry wasn't a monkey." Blair became more serious. "We train Megan. Both of us. And two powers of attorney. Equal partners, man."

"All right," Jim conceded. Partners. Oh yes. "I'll call my lawyer in the morn..." A yawn cut off the rest of his sentence.

"A bit tired, are we?" Blair teased, his eyes sparkling.

Jim picked up a cushion and made as if to throw it at Blair.

Blair scrambled away, putting up his arms protectively. "Hey, man, no need to get violent!" he said, grinning. He picked up a cushion from the other couch and held it before him like a shield. "Avaunt thee, foul beast!"

At that, Jim did throw the cushion at him. It bounced off Blair's make-shift shield and the anthropologist let out a whoop and danced a triumphant war-dance, still holding his pillow-shield in front of him.

Jim noticed Blair's breathing catch, and he was suddenly reminded of the fountain, Blair coughing out the water in his lungs, not so long ago. Jim was about to say something, when his words were swallowed by a yawn.

"I think it's time you went to bed," Blair said, putting his cushion back on the couch.

"But I've been sleeping all day," Jim protested, and yawned again.

"Bed!" Blair ordered.

"I'm not --" Another yawn interrupted him.

Blair waggled his eyebrows. "And here I thought I'd gotten you to realize that your welfare is my responsibility. Go. To. Bed."

It suddenly occurred to Jim that if he went to bed, then Blair might actually get some rest himself. Maybe. He didn't trust Blair not to push himself, like he'd been pushing himself in Mexico, and since. Anything to increase the chances. Jim went to bed.


Part 4


Blair was in bed, but he wasn't asleep. He wasn't even trying to sleep. Instead, he was sitting up, lamp on, notebook resting on his knees, pen in his hand. But he hadn't written anything in ten minutes. He was thinking over their conversation of this evening, returning to what seemed to be the most stunning thing of all.

Jim wants me to publish my dissertation. He wants me to. Not because of guilt brought on by That Nightmare, but because it would help other people, other Sentinels. God, how could I be so selfish? Because, when it came down to it, helping other Sentinels with his dissertation had always been a faint possibility on the horizon, never really considered. Yes, he'd wanted to help, face to face, up close, first with Jim, then with Alex, but... Let's face it, when you started off, all you wanted was your degree and to prove yourself right in the face of your peers.

Oh, yes, the thrill of finding a walking, talking legend, that was there too. My hero, the embodiment of the perfect warrior. A dream come true. What Jim had become, more than a dream, his best friend, his partner, his Sentinel, that was something he didn't want to let go, not at all.

Yes, too, there had always been, and always would be, the sheer intellectual attraction of it all, propounding theories, discarding ideas, solving problems. Blair knew that Sentinels were his life's work, that Jim was his life's work. There would always be more to discover, more to know. Whether or not he published, so long as he was with Jim, there would always be challenging vistas before him, the uncharted territories that were waiting to be mapped. Publishing seemed trivial compared with that, an afterthought.

If publishing took him away from Jim, if he could no longer work with him if he finished the diss, then, forget it. Don't finish. Or, at least, put off the evil day for as long as possible. Change topics, if that would help. Because it was no longer about his degree, his reputation, it was about being with Jim. But I don't know if I would really have the guts to declare myself a fraud. Jim had thought so; or Jim's subconscious did.

Can I really live up to that kind of trust? Or was Jim, really, consciously, capable of that kind of trust? Blair remembered what happened with Alex all too clearly. It was still fresh in his mind. The bruises were still on his body, on his soul. But Jim is trying, he's really trying. He's giving you his power of attorney, for God's sake! Jim had held up a mirror to his own soul, and he hadn't liked what he'd seen there at all. Jim was turning over a new leaf, heck, a whole book of new leaves!

Jim wants me to publish my dissertation. To help other Sentinels. Had it really been that bad for Jim? Had he really feared that he was going insane, back then when Blair had thrust himself on this crew-cut, overbearing, hit-first and ask-questions-afterwards modern warrior? Fear-based responses. It wouldn't be the kind of thing that Jim would have let anyone know. Weaknesses were something to be hidden, for Jim, not shared.

How can I publish everything that I know? It's gone so much beyond the scope of something academic. Talk about Participant Observer! Real anthropology -- well, at least since the 1920s -- stressed that the observer needed to be a participant in the culture he was observing, or he'd never manage to observe anything of value. You expect to make friends, indeed, you have to make friends of the people you are observing, or you'll never get anywhere. He was an expert at being friendly. But his friendship with Jim was much, much more than that. There are things I simply can't talk about in the diss. Even though there would be some who would call the research suspect if there was anything less than full disclosure. But I have to protect Jim. Heck, even the American Anthropological Association agrees with that! Do nothing that could harm your subjects. Ethical guidelines, no idea what section, but it's there.

Anthropologically speaking, I guess you'd call this a success. I wanted to explore the Sentinel mythos, and I ended up becoming part of it. A real insider's viewpoint. One that my profession demands that I share. He had been "participating" in the study since the beginning, when he'd saved Jim from the garbage truck. But that wasn't the point at which it happened, not really. Not the point at which he had found himself clearly to be part of the mythos that he was recording. My role was set and inescapable from the moment Incacha passed the way of the Shaman to me.

Blair looked down at his notebook, at what he had been writing.

        The Shaman is traditionally someone who serves the tribe, by
        teaching, guiding and interpreting the signs of the spirits,
        as well as healing those who are sick.  The Guide is someone
        who serves the Sentinel as distinct from the tribe -- he serves
        the tribe by enabling the Sentinel to serve the tribe to his
        best capacity.

It makes more sense that I'm Jim's Guide than that I'm the "Shaman of the Great City" -- because I'm not the Shaman of the Great City. I'm _Jim's_ Shaman, teaching, guiding and interpreting his dreams, not anyone else's. I did what Incacha wanted -- I guided Jim back to his animal spirit, to give him back his senses. But I did it in my way, not his. I'm not the Shaman he thinks I am. I don't think I could be. I'm not Chopec.

He clicked his pen and wrote:

        The Chopec do not have the concept of Guide in their world-view.
        Incacha was the Shaman of the Chopec, who also guided their
        Sentinel with his senses, but he had other responsibilities.
        The partner as described by Burton seemed mainly responsible
        for bringing a Sentinel out of zone-outs while on patrol, and
        preventing them if possible.  The Guide as described in
        Lindsay's manuscript appeared to have more wide-ranging
        responsibilities in addition to those attributed to Burton's
        "partner" -- most obviously the responsibility of looking after
        the Sentinel's diet, and other acts of preventive health care.
        They shared their food and even their living quarters; this
        appeared to be a permanent arrangement.  The Guide was treated
        as part of the Sentinel's family.

Blair stopped, overcome with a sudden longing to live in those days, in that tribe... where things were clear and simple, and his heart's desire would have been his clear and uncluttered duty, without misunderstanding or obstacle. Where he could have been with Jim, and Jim would have been his brother.


Jim woke in darkness, or what to others would be darkness. To him it was as clearly lit as a night under the full moon, as his eyes dilated to take in every scrap of illumination put out by the city lights. The loft was quiet, the lights off. He could hear Sandburg breathing slow and steady in the room below. No catches in the sleeping rhythm; good. He glanced at the clock by his bed. A little after three am. That's what you get for sleeping during the day. Messes up your sleeping patterns completely.

The fragments of a dream lingered in his memory. It was about Carolyn, before the divorce. They had been arguing about the loft. "I can't stand the silence," she had said. I can't stand the silence. He'd never understood the argument -- how could an apartment in the middle of the city be too quiet? I can't stand the silence.

It obviously still bugged him, if he was dreaming about it. He listened to the sounds of the loft, the sounds of the night. It wasn't that quiet. There was the humming of the clock by his bed; the purring of the refrigerator which Sandburg said should be auctioned off at Sothebys as an antique; the little snuffling noises that Sandburg was making in his sleep; the creaking noises of the building settling; a car driving by outside; the flick-flick-hum of an erratic fluorescent light in the stairs. Somewhere, a radio was playing, some popular music station.

A new song began, soft piano and a single male voice. Jim heard it clearly, as if the pianist were sitting in the same room. He listened, letting the words drift over him.

        I spoke to you in cautious tones
        You answered me with no pretence
        And still I feel I said too much
        My silence is my self defence

It hit him like an electric shock. My silence. It hadn't been the quietness of the loft that Carolyn couldn't stand, but his own silence. How could he have misunderstood so completely? Well, perception isn't your middle name, Ellison.

        But if my silence made you leave
        Then that would be my worst mistake
        So I will share this room with you
        And you can have this heart to break

His silence had made Carolyn leave. And he had never let anyone else in -- until now. Until Blair. Until he'd thrown Blair out. His loft, his home, his alone. He hadn't shared it with Carolyn, it had been in his own name. Just a symptom of how much he held back. It was his alone -- and it had ended up being his, all alone.

And he realized that tomorrow, besides the power of attorney, he had something else he needed to talk to his lawyer about.


As ever in Cascade, the day was overcast. A ray of light broke through a gap in the clouds, flashed on Jim's fork, and danced crazy reflections about the room. Jim ignored it, continuing to eat his breakfast.

"Well, we'll need to hit Toys-R-Us, I guess," Blair said, starting a list.

Jim shook his head. "Nordstrom's have a better range of stuffed animals, at least in Cascade."

Blair stared at him, jaw dropping. "Since when have you become an expert on stuffed animals?"

Jim smiled, refusing to be embarrassed. "Since I have a six-year-old niece who has birthdays," he replied.

"Isn't six a little old for stuffed animals?"

"Girls are never too old for stuffed animals," Jim declared. "Or they wouldn't use them for prizes in fairgrounds."

Blair held up a hand. "Conceded."

"Besides, Mary loved the rabbit I got her. She thinks Teddy bears are boring, but anything else is "gweat"." Jim grinned.

Blair frowned. "A panther and a wolf aren't going to be that common, not like bears..."

Jim got up from the table, grabbed the Yellow Pages from the cupboard, and plonked it in front of Blair. "Since you seem to have finished your breakfast, you can let your fingers to the walking..."

"Stores don't open until nine, Jim," Blair reminded him.

"Write down the numbers," Jim said. "I'll do the dishes."

At nine-thirty, Blair put down the phone in frustration. "None of them have panthers or wolves -- just cats and dogs. Oh, and Nordstrom's had some spotted leopards, not to mention lions and tigers. Well, they did have a black panther, but it was three feet long and cost more than $200." Blair sighed. "We may have to settle for a cat and a dog."

Jim shook his head. "If I'm going to have stuffed animals sitting on the bookshelf, the least we can do is get the right ones."

Blair grimaced. "You gotta admit, though, Jim, most toy stores don't seem to be into wildlife." Blair stopped, and thwacked himself on the head. "Wildlife! I am so stupid." He grabbed the phone book and flipped over the pages.

"What are you looking for, Blair?"

"The Nature Company, and the Museum," Blair answered. "The museum's got a gift shop -- they have furry whales and pandas and seals, they could well have panthers and wolves..."

Twenty minutes later, Blair proved to be right. The museum did have a black panther toy, and the Nature Company had a wolf.

When they got to the museum gift shop, Blair couldn't stop snickering. "It's a baby panther!" he exclaimed. "A panther kitten!"

Jim glowered. "If you keep that up, junior, I'll..."

"You'll what? Hey, they're by WWF. Cool! Buy a stuffed animal and support endangered species. I take it all back, we have to get this one."

"No more laughing," Jim demanded.

"Cross my heart and hope to die," Blair said, making the appropriate gestures.

Jim smiled as a thought occurred to him. "You know, we haven't seen the wolf yet." Maybe it would be silly and cute, and his partner would feel the other end the joke.

No such luck. The wolf at the Nature Company was beautiful. Nestled amongst squirrels, raccoons, and the same kind of dolphins, whales, panda and polar bears that they had seen at the museum, its fur was grey, its eyes bright, its nose sharp and its ears perky.

"Hey, it's bigger than the panther!" Blair grinned.

Jim rolled his eyes. "Maybe I should go to Nordstrom's and get the jumbo-sized one."

"Ah big macho man, forever running in the mine's-bigger-than-yours contest?" Blair teased.

"And who was the one who brought up the subject of size?" Jim said dryly.

"Just stating a fact, man," Blair said.

"Consider the fact stated, with no need to repeat it," Jim said sharply.

"What's bothering you, Jim?" Blair returned. He noticed the strain around Jim's eyes, the crease in his forehead. "Headache?"

Jim rubbed his forehead. "Yeah," he admitted.

"Damn!" Blair muttered. "Sorry Jim. Let's get you home. I was afraid this would be pushing it..."

"Get the wolf first, Sandburg."

They bought the wolf.

Blair dropped Jim back at the loft with their purchases, and went to the university, after multiple reassurances from Jim that he'd be fine on his own. Jim's head, however, was pounding. But Jim certainly didn't want to risk taking any medication, considering how he'd reacted the last time. He was tempted, God he was tempted, but it was definitely not worth the risk. He lay down on the couch with a damp cloth over his eyes, and a classical music CD in the player (Santana and headaches didn't go well together), and tried to relax.

The damp cloth felt rough on his face. He tried to concentrate on the music, which worked for a while, but as he concentrated more, he could hear the hissing of the speakers. Am I going to have to invest in one of those ultra audiophile stereo systems, hand-made by overpaid craftsmen in Germany? He smiled as he imagined what Sandburg would say to that -- something about placing a "Sentinel-approved" sticker on the best sound systems.

Of course, once he started thinking about Sandburg, he couldn't stop. They'd taken care of one thing that needed to be done, but there were others left. Jim sighed and sat up, pulling the cloth off his face. He knew he wasn't going to relax until he'd made those phone calls he'd promised himself he would. Besides, his headache was almost gone.

The phone call to his lawyer took a while, but he was satisfied at the end of it. He was smiling as he made himself lunch.


Part 5


Jim didn't realize he'd been asleep until he woke up. He lay on the couch, with a crick in his neck from the uncomfortable position he'd slumped into, and pins-and-needles in his left arm. Only half-awake, he padded into the kitchen to make himself some coffee to wake himself up. He filled up the coffee maker with water, switched it on, pulled out a mug, a teaspoon and the sugar bowl, and opened up the coffee jar. The delectable aroma of ground coffee beans filled his nose -- and then he noticed the note stuck to the jar. Blair's handwriting: Remember Jim, no coffee.

Jim groaned. He could smell the coffee, imagine the hot, bitter-sweet taste... He put the lid back on the jar. He turned to the tea bags. Blair had anticipated that too. There was a note on the box: No tea either, Jim.

Jim sighed. I suppose I could go for one of his herbal teas... He eyed the assorted boxes lined up next to each other. Red Zinger, Mandarin Orange, Sleepytime... No. He wanted something to wake him up, not put him to sleep.

So he went and had a shower. When he came out of the bathroom, the smell hit him; a contrast with the humid, steamy, soapy air of the bathroom; the faint, tantalising aroma of coffee, just the faintest of traces, that no-one but a Sentinel would detect. Damn. He went into the kitchen and sprayed a few squirts of the orange oil that Blair had found to use as an air freshener. The coffee scent was gone, but it was no good. Jim couldn't stop thinking of coffee.

He looked at his watch. Damn. Simon would have left work by now. Too late to call him at work, and too early to call him at home. He really wanted to talk to him about Sandburg's position. Possibly better not to bother him when he's busy at work, though. Jim thought of coffee again, and cursed.

I'll start dinner, he thought. Blair should be home soon, and it will distract me. But as he was chopping up the vegetables, his eye kept straying towards the jar of coffee. He'd bought the storage jar at a closing-down sale of one of those boutique homeware shops which were normally frequented by those who had more money than sense. The word "coffee" was spelt out in flowing gold script which stood out against the brown glass, and the vacuum-seal lid seemed to be sneering at him.

He couldn't stand it any longer. He grabbed the jar of coffee and -- emptied it into the garbage.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake. If he'd thought the aroma was tantalising before, now the smell was overpowering. A whole jar of coffee poured out made for one hell of a cloud of coffee-scent.

Jim emptied the trash in the bin downstairs and came back inside. No good. The coffee smell still lingered in the kitchen. He opened the balcony doors, turned on the fan above the stove, scrubbed the bin, washed out the coffee jar for good measure, and squirted orange oil until the kitchen smelled like a grove of orange trees.

Then he went on with making dinner. Better make it good, he thought. Sandburg's going to be pissed off.


When Blair got home, the loft was cold. He noticed the balcony doors were open. "Hey, Jim, are we holding an Eskimo convention in here?" he called out as he went to close them.

"Oh, that," Jim said distractedly from the kitchen. "I was trying to get rid of a smell. Must have forgotten about it."

"I'll say! You are impervious to cold," Blair declared.

"And you," Jim said, "are only happy in jungle temperatures." He waved at the table. "Dinner will be five minutes."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "To what do I owe this -- on the other hand, am I about to be fed something which will have my arteries screaming for mercy?"

"Stir fry," Jim said shortly. "I even used olive oil."

"Not of course because it's mono-unsaturated, of course not," Blair teased. "You just happen to like the taste."

"And you don't?" Jim countered. He put a couple of plates on the bench. "How was the university?"

"Same old, same old," Blair said. "Gave an assignment to Anthro 101. You?"

"I talked to my lawyer, he's sending the Power of Attorney papers, should be tomorrow or the day after." Jim rolled his eyes. "Then I slept all afternoon."

During dinner, Blair kept sneaking peeks at Jim, wondering if there was something wrong, or if he was just imagining it. Maybe Jim was simply annoyed that he wasn't feeling 100% yet. Maybe that was it. Then he noticed Jim glancing around the loft, as if he were looking for something, as if something were out of place.

Blair groaned inwardly. I knew I shouldn't have done the moving without him. I put something wrong, I just know it.

"We never talked about it, you know," Jim said, apropos of nothing.

"About what, Jim?" Blair said, trying to hide his anxiety. Pretend you don't know what he's talking about.

"About Sierra Verde."

Huh? "Jim, we just talked about Sierra...."

"No, in the dream," Jim corrected. "We never talked about it, not once. Not in all the months that I thought were passing."

"Oh, man." _Months?_ There must be more to this dream than Jim told me. Get with the program Sandburg -- he's talking about it now, isn't he? "Why? I mean, why not? I mean, you might not have wanted to talk about it... no surprises there.... but I went for months and never said a word?"

"Yeah, that should have tipped me off right there that it was a nightmare... or a dream."

"Hey, you said it was really vivid," Blair said. "It's not like the dreaming mind is one for really keen analysis. You just accept what's there. Unless it's really weird, like flying yellow elephants, or giant man-eating plants." He raised his eyebrows, leaning forward. "Um, there wasn't anything really weird in the dream, was there?"

Jim smiled. "Not really." Jim stopped to think. "Though the bit with Kincaid dancing was rather odd."

Blair nearly choked on his stir-fry. "Kincaid? As in Garrett Kincaid? Dancing? And you didn't think that was strange?"

"Well, the rest of that bit made sense," Jim protested. "Kincaid was broken out of jail by some of his men, and they took over the Cascade Sports Arena during a game, which you, Simon, and Daryl were attending. He was making demands, the usual thing... the dancing bit was when he told the cheerleaders to dance while they were waiting for the response to the demands. That was weird, I admit. And one of the things that helped me believe you when you were trying to persuade me it was just a dream. The whole thing with Kincaid getting out was just too coincidental."

"Any other strange coincidences?" Blair asked.

Jim sighed. "Met an old flame -- turned out she was setting me up to take the fall in insurance fraud and murder. You'd been telling me she was bad news all along, but I didn't listen."

"Well, there's an obvious lesson in that!" Blair grinned. "Listen to your Guide!"

"I think it was a friend thing rather than a Guide thing, Sandburg," Jim said. He picked up his and Blair's empty plates and cutlery and put them by the sink.

Blair followed him into the kitchen with the glasses. "Well, 'listen to Sandburg' covers just about everything, don't it?"

Jim smiled. "You got it, pardner." He started filling the sink with hot water, and put the dishes in to soak.

Blair got out a couple of mugs. "Um, Jim, what's happened to the coffee?" Blair asked, after failing to find it in its usual place.

Jim cleared his throat. "Er, I threw it out," he admitted.

Blair turned around and gave him an incredulous look. "You did what?"

"I threw out the coffee."

"You threw out the coffee?!" Blair repeated as if he couldn't believe his ears. "That was good coffee!"

"I know," Jim said ruefully. "It was irresistible."

"This isn't some 'share the pain' thing, is it, Jim?" Blair said. What is it with him? "Why not throw out the tea while you're at it?"

"Because tea doesn't smell wonderful," Jim replied. "It was driving me crazy."

A lightbulb went off in Blair's brain. Trying to get rid of a smell. "How much of a smell, Jim? Don't tell me you smelled the coffee through the jar?! We've got to test this!"

"Don't get excited, Chief. Nothing so elaborate -- I opened the jar before I saw your note... it was when I threw the coffee out that the smell was overpowering."

"Ah," Blair said. Yet another hidden drawback to being a Sentinel. He smiled and decided to forgive Jim for the lack of coffee. "Well, I guess we're stuck with tea." He surveyed the boxes where the herbal teas were kept, and plucked a bag out of one of them. "You should try some of the Lemon-Peppermint tea, Jim. You'll never say tea doesn't smell wonderful after a whiff of that one." He grinned. "Pure ambrosia."


"What are you doing today?" Jim asked after breakfast the next day.

"Today, I am doing some research," Blair said with a gleam in his eyes. He made no move for the door, though. Instead, he gathered together his notebook, pen, and tape recorder.

Jim raised his hands. "Hey, have mercy on the poor Sentinel," he said. "I go back to work tomorrow, you know."

"Did I say a word about tests?"

"You said 'research'," Jim said. "With you that's either dusty tomes or picking on me. Since I don't see any dusty tomes in your hands, that leaves me."

"I do not "pick on you"," Blair protested. "Well, except when I do pick on you, but that's got nothing to do with research, it's a friend thing."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "A friend thing?"

Blair put his hand to his heart. "It is the bounden duty of a friend to pick on his friend, to keep him humble." He quirked an eyebrow at Jim. "Or do you just make those "table leg" remarks because you are wicked, evil and nasty and you hate me?"

Jim snorted. "Does that mean you'll stop complaining about them?"

"Of course not! Gotta defend my honour!"

Jim muttered a remark that sounded suspiciously like "What honour?" then said, "What kind of research were you thinking of attempting, Sandburg?"

Blair let out a short breath, and a look of determination settled on his face. "You need to tell me about the dreams, Jim."

Jim balked. "It's got nothing to do with --"

"I'm not talking about the diss, Jim," Blair said. "Not really. I'm talking about you. About what affects you. As your Guide, your wellbeing is my responsibility, remember? Those dreams are obviously important, whether or not they were visions or nightmares. You've got to tell someone. Better it be someone who understands."

Jim sighed, and looked away from his friend. "It's silly," he said.

Blair shook his head. "No way, man! You wake up from a coma so convinced that you dreamt reality that you tell me the last thing you remember was Zeller falling off the roof -- and then last night you let slip that there was more than one episode to this dreamtime saga... C'mon, man! Give!"

Jim sat down on the sofa and decided to reconcile himself to the inevitable. "All right, all right," he said. "Just one thing, Sandburg," he added. "You don't happen to have a fellow called Brad Ventriss in any of your classes, do you?"

"Not that I recall," Blair said. "But I haven't memorized the class lists. Why?"

"Because in my dream, Ventriss was guilty of murder, industrial espionage, date rape, extortion, harassment..." Jim answered, "and cheating on his anthropology assignments."

Blair's eyes widened. "Oh," he said. He shook his head, opened his mouth to say something, and then shut it. "I'll keep it in mind," he finally said.


Part 6


Jim stretched and rolled his head around his shoulders. He felt like he'd been talking all morning. Actually, he had been talking all morning. With lots of questions and prompting from his eternally-curious Guide.

"Sandburg, I think you've got enough for ten novels, there," he said. "I've told you everything I can remember. I need some fresh air -- and some lunch. What say I go and get some bread from the bakery?"

Blair smiled. "Sure Jim, I'll just write some notes... Are you sure you're up to it?"

Jim nodded. "I feel fine. What bread would you like?"

"Something with a lot of grains... Seven-grains if you can get it, or a good rye. And maybe a fruit loaf too?"

"Got it," Jim said as he headed out the door.

Jim surveyed the street as he stepped out of the entrance to the apartment building. He felt better than fine, actually. Everything seemed brighter, clearer. Jim had been injured and ill enough from his work in the past to recognise what it was; that feeling of well-being one gets when one is finally well, and everything seems fresh and new, as if one had never been really alive before. For a Sentinel, that feeling was intensified.

Jim breathed deep. The air was freshly washed, and a little chill. Spring showers had greyed the sky this morning, but the sun had just broken through the clouds, bringing warmth and brightness to the day. He could smell the bread baking in the bakery down the street. He could even smell the tomatoes and bananas and oranges laid out in the fruit vendor next to the bakery. His nose picked up the odour of asphalt and oil as the sun warmed the damp street, the scent of earth and grass and trees from the park three blocks away, and of course the stench of the cars, with their smoky exhaust -- Jim consciously tuned out that smell, wanting to enjoy his little walk.

He tuned out the sound of the cars too, and sounds of construction on the bridge, the conversations... but he listened to the chirping of the birds in the trees of the park, the thrum of the electric cables, a few dogs barking, Mrs. Sho at the bakery gabbling to her daughter in Chinese, the sing-song meaninglessness of it just another note in the music of life.

Jim strolled slowly down the street, savouring the scents and sounds and sights around him. He catalogued the colours of the scattered clouds, the tints of grey, blue and brown that others saw only as grey and white. Even the texture of the concrete of the buildings seemed something to quietly delight in. He should have been afraid of zoning, but he felt charmed, protected. And maybe it wasn't just feeling physically well. Sharing the dreams... well, Sandburg frequently made sense, though it would take a lot for him to admit it. He was dealing with things, he was moving forward... And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. It was a quote from somewhere, he was sure, but he couldn't remember who wrote it. It didn't matter. It summed up his mood.

"Hello Mrs. Sho." He smiled as he entered the store.

The plump, middle-aged Asian woman beamed at him from the other side of the counter. "Ah, Mr. Ellison. It is good that you better."

At his look of surprise, she said, "I see ambulance. I ask. I pray." She smiled again. "Now I pray thanks."

"Thank you," he said, not able to find any better words. "And it's Jim. When you say "Mr. Ellison" I start looking around for my father."

"You grown man. You Mister," she said with placid stubbornness.

Jim shrugged, realizing there was no point in insisting. "I'd like a multi-grain loaf," he said, and sniffed. "And one of those cinnamon fruit loaves you just finished baking."

Mrs. Sho smiled as she took down the multi-grain loaf Jim had pointed out. "You have nose like hunting dog." She called out to the back in Chinese, and her daughter soon came out carrying a tray of crispy-brown loaves with intriguing dark spots that were doubtless currants or raisins. Mrs. Sho deftly plucked one from the tray before her daughter started arranging the loaves on the racks. "Just for you, Mister Jim Ellison, freshest loaf. You take back to your friend Mister Sandburg."

Jim grinned and paid for the bread. Bright lady, Mrs. Sho.

He walked out of the shop with a rustle of paper and plastic and the aroma of fresh bread. On an impulse, he bought a string sack of oranges from the fruiterer, having developed a craving for freshly squeezed orange juice to go with his lunch. As he turned back to the loft, it started to drizzle. No surprise, this was Cascade, after all. He quickened his pace, not wanting to get too wet. The drops got larger and faster, and half his sunny mood was washed away in his hurry to get home.

When he got to the apartment building, a youth with a bicycle entered at the same time, carrying his bicycle over his shoulder and leaving it in the foyer. Jim pressed the "up" elevator button as the cyclist consulted a clipboard he'd taken from the satchel over his shoulder. Jim noticed the two-way radio on the strap, and realized that the guy was probably an express courier. In some sections of town, it was faster to send something by bicycle than trying to deal with the traffic hassles caused by a car or van. Jim tried to peek at the contents of the clipboard, wondering if...

The elevator dinged before Jim could complete the thought. They both entered the elevator, and Jim pressed "3". When the courier didn't press a different button, Jim's suspicions firmed. "You wouldn't happen to be delivering something for James Ellison in 307, would you?"

The courier regarded him with a slightly suspicious look. "Why?"

"Because I'm James Ellison and I'm expecting a delivery."

"I can't just..."

Jim shrugged. "Fine, follow me to my door, if it makes you feel better."

They proceeded to do just that, when the elevator finally arrived on the third floor. Jim went to 307, and the courier followed him. Jim put down his bags and knocked on the door. "Sandburg, it's me." He then turned around and said, dryly, "You want some ID?" and pulled out his police ID and showed it to the courier.

"S-sorry," the courier said sheepishly. "But you can't be too careful. Not with legal documents." He then handed Jim a large envelope, and Jim was signing on the clipboard just as Blair opened the door.

"Hey, Jim, what's this?"

"Lunch, and legalities," Jim said, as the courier made his way back to the elevator. He pointed to the two bags on the floor. "Bread, oranges," he waved the envelope in his hand, "and legal documents." He pointed at one bag. "You can take the oranges."

Food, and Jim, and papers, entered the loft. Blair dumped the oranges on the bench, muttering something about heavy loads and slave-drivers.

Jim put the bread bag next to it and said "Fresh from the oven, Sandburg, eat it while it's warm." Then he went to his desk and slitted open the envelope. Yep, all here. Everything I asked for. "I was right," Jim called out, "it's the stuff from my lawyer." Power of attorney -- and something extra...

"Oh, good," Blair said absently. "Why the heck did you buy so many oranges, Jim?"

"I felt like some fresh juice," Jim said. "It doesn't taste the same once it's been bottled. Even the 'squeezed the same day' stuff."

"What about the places that squeeze their own oranges?" Blair said. "You know, they have that big machine that they load up with oranges..."

Jim shook his head. "Too bitter. They get orange pith in the juice."

Blair smiled. "You know, I bet you could tell where, how, and how long ago the juice was made, just by one sip."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Dream on, Sandburg."


Part 7


The sun was painting the clouds salmon-pink when Simon Banks knocked on the door of #307, 852 Prospect Avenue. Half of him wondered what he was doing here, and the other half wondered why he hadn't dropped in to check on Jim earlier. There was only so much a phone call could tell you. He wanted to see for himself.

He could hear something muffled behind the door, and then the sound of the chain being taken off the door. The door opened.

It was Jim. "What an unexpected surprise, Simon." He was looking a lot better than when Simon had last seen him. Instead of pale and washed out, he looked his normal self. "Come in," Jim gestured him in with a smile. No, not quite normal. He seemed more relaxed -- or something.

"Just thought I'd drop by and see how you were doing," Simon said, still looking at Jim. Certainly the tension that had wired Jim when Alex Barnes was in town had gone. And maybe something more than that. "You still right to come in tomorrow?" Simon was almost sorry to have to drag Jim back into the stresses of work, but he needed his best detective, even if only at his desk.

"Since I stopped sleeping all day, yeah, I'm right," Jim said.

"Sleeping all day?" Simon said, stepping further into the loft. Blair was in the kitchen, chopping onions. The energetic way he was hefting the knife told Simon that Blair was improved also. Though Sandburg was tricky that way, pushing himself until he dropped.

"Tuesday I slept all day, yesterday I slept half the day, today I didn't sleep at all," Jim said. "Progress."

Simon sat down on the couch. "You're still on desk duty for at least a week. Check-up on Thursday, I believe it is. Then we'll see."

Jim made a face. "Paperwork."

Simon smiled smugly. "And there's more where that came from, if you should happen to run out."

"Coffee, Simon?" Jim asked, and then stopped. "Oh, yeah, I forgot, we're out of coffee."

Blair choked back a laugh. "And you know whose fault that is!"

"I'm afraid we've only got tea," Jim said, ignoring Blair's remark.

"Or you could have some freshly squeezed orange juice!" Blair teased.

"You volunteering, Sandburg?" Jim teased back.

"I am cooking dinner," Sandburg said with affronted dignity. He waved the knife in Simon's direction. "Want to join us, Simon?"

It was good to see the two of them getting on so well, comfortable enough to tease. He couldn't believe it when Megan had told him that Jim had thrown Blair out. And when they'd all been in Mexico, there had been more pressing things -- like Alex and two canisters of nerve gas -- to think about. And then Jim's mysterious collapse... "I don't want to impose," Simon said politely, though the thought of food he hadn't cooked or reheated himself, not to mention pleasant (if not entirely conventional) company, was very tempting.

"No imposition," Jim said. "Besides, a well-fed Captain is a reasonable and generous Captain..." he added with a twinkle in his eye.

Simon raised an eyebrow and tilted his head at Jim. "What favour that I don't like, are you going to ask me?" he said suspiciously.

"Something that's in the best interests of the department," Sandburg piped up from the kitchen.

"So you're in on this too, Sandburg."

"Well, half of it was his idea," Jim said.

"Only half?" Simon raised one eyebrow skeptically.

"I think you'll actually like his idea, Simon. Once he got me to agree to it..."

"So, what is this mysterious idea?"

"Let's feed you first," Jim demurred.

"Tell me now, or you'll give me indigestion, worrying about it," Simon insisted.

"Blair can explain it better than I can..." Jim said. "It concerns him, anyway."

"Not you?" Simon asked. Usually the things Jim and Blair came up with had to do with Jim's Sentinel abilities. What was this about Blair?

"Me too," Jim said.

Blair came out of the kitchen bearing a plate of fruit loaf, half the slices spread with butter, and the other half with jelly. He put the plate on the dining table, and called out, "Jim, help set the table, will you?"

Five minutes later, Simon found himself sitting at the table eating fruit loaf, with Jim sitting opposite him. Sandburg plumped down next to Jim, saying, "The casserole should be done in fifteen, along with the rice."

"So, are you going to tell me now?" Simon asked.

"Two things," Jim said, counting on his fingers. "First, Sandburg's not going to be able to remain an observer for much longer."

"Why not?" Simon said, concerned. It had been a long time since he'd realized that Jim needed Sandburg with him -- not all the time, but he certainly functioned better when Sandburg was there, and if any weird Sentinel stuff happened, that was totally Sandburg's department. It was a strain, sometimes, being the only one in the PD who knew about the secret strengths and vulnerabilities of his best detective, but he respected Jim's wishes that it remained secret. If it became common knowledge, then the edge would be gone. Though now, technically, he wasn't the only one anymore. Megan Conner had found out that Jim was a Sentinel when they were in Mexico... and had decided to join the club of silence. "I know you had trouble when Finkleman took over, but --"

"It isn't the department," Blair said. "Not exactly. It's just that you can't give an observer's pass to someone for researching their dissertation -- when they've finished their dissertation."

"You've finished your dissertation?" Simon exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It isn't finished yet," Blair said, glancing at Jim. "But it will be, in a couple of months."

"If Sandburg's going to continue working with me, he's going to need some kind of official position, a consultant of some sort," Jim said. "Heck, we call him a consultant to the department all the time, you just need to make it official."

"I can't just invent positions out of thin air, Jim," Simon said. "They need justification, budget allocation..."

"Go to Chief Warren and tell him the truth, if necessary," Jim said.

"Jim!" Blair and Simon both exclaimed, staring at the detective as if he'd grown another head.

"You're that serious about this?" Simon said.

"Simon, you've stuck your neck out for me on this, ever since this Sentinel thing started, keeping it from everyone, including your superiors," Jim said. "Maybe it's time you stopped."

"Jim, you can't be serious!" Blair exclaimed.

"If the media got hold of this Sentinel stuff, if the Chief found out you'd been lying to him," Jim said to Simon, ignoring Blair's outburst, "how much trouble would you be in?"

"It's not gonna happen, Jim." Blair glared at Jim.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Jim said. He went still, that stillness that Simon associated with Jim using his senses. "I think the rice is boiling over, Chief," he said.

Blair leaped out of his chair and went into the kitchen. He said something which Simon didn't hear, but Jim obviously did, because he answered, "You're welcome, and the answer is 'both'."

Simon pondered Jim's earlier question. It had been a question he'd tried to avoid thinking about ever since Jim had sprung this Sentinel stuff on him. At first he hadn't really believed the Sentinel thing was real, hadn't wanted to think about it. Then he'd adopted the ostrich policy: shut your eyes to the weirdness, let them do their thing unhindered, and watch the results roll in. It had certainly worked -- Ellison and Sandburg were his best team, and it wasn't just the edge that Jim had with his Sentinel abilities, not really. He'd meant what he'd said to Sandburg during the "Sweet Roy" case about his contribution to the department.

As for the weirdness, it had only gotten weirder as time went on. He could hardly imagine himself telling the Chief of Police that one of his detectives was psychic -- but how else would you describe what had gone on between Jim and Alex? Producing an identikit picture of Alex's associate because he'd seen him in a vision? And then finding it was completely accurate... Charlie Spring had nothing on Jim. Though Simon hoped, somehow, that this was just a one-off performance, due to the fact that Alex had been another Sentinel. Too much weirdness.

How much trouble would he be in if Chief Warren found out that he'd been... misleading him? Well, it wasn't as if he was supposed to come to him with all the petty details of his department... He really couldn't have told him, not at the start. But in the years since then, all the reports that they'd... fudged, it wouldn't look good. They'd had a choice, really, with the Juno case -- or had they? Simon had believed that there was no point in trying to make people believe that Jim really could see what he said he could see, but once they'd chosen to hide the truth, then they'd just kept on doing so. Because it was easier. Because in the beginning Jim's abilities weren't always reliable. Because short of a demonstration, it was unbelievable. But if Sandburg was about to finish his dissertation... The inklings of an idea tickled at the edges of Simon's mind.

"Simon?" Jim prompted. "Woolgathering on me, sir?"

Simon leaned back. "Just thinking. You're right, if it came to the Chief in the wrong way, things would look bad. The longer it's put off, the worse it looks." Simon smiled slyly. "But if we could put your partner's obfuscation skills to work, say that I didn't say anything because Sandburg was still working on his dissertation, not to mention the still valid concern that the Sentinel stuff not become common knowledge because of the danger it would put you in..."

"That didn't stop Brackett," Jim said.

"I wasn't thinking of him -- but he's an even better example, thanks for reminding me."

At that moment, Blair came out of the kitchen bearing two steaming plates. He plonked them in front of Jim and Simon, and then went back for his own. Simon eyed his plate with curiosity. Around the edges was a ring of rice, with an intriguing brown, green and yellow mixture in the middle. He could identify brown lumps of meat, pale slivers of onion, green beans and yellow corn, but what were the very dark brown lumps? And... "What is that smell?" Simon muttered.

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Is it the nutmeg or the dates that have you worried, Simon?"

"Dates?" Simon's jaw dropped.

"Aw, c'mon guys, it's good!" Blair protested as he sat down. "Dates add a piquant sweetness -- do you know that commercial food manufacturers add sugar to practically everything? Not just things that are officially sweet, but to sauces and soups? The contrast of sweet and salt brings out the flavour. Dates are natural, and a lot more interesting!"

"And which tribe did you get this idea from?" Jim asked dryly, but he took a forkful of the stew anyway.

As Sandburg launched into yet another one of his tales, Simon took a tentative bite. It actually wasn't bad. I suppose if you can have Apricot Chicken, you can have Date Beef...

Soon enough, the conversation turned back to serious problem-solving.

"I'll talk to the Chief," Simon said. "That's all I can promise. I may have to drag you both in as further ammunition; my say-so may not be sufficient."

Jim shrugged. "I guess that's to be expected." He smiled wryly. "This whole Sentinel thing is rather hard to believe cold, even if Sandburg here is going to get a degree in it."

Blair grinned. "I don't believe in Sentinels, and I are one?"

Jim boffed Blair on the head. "I didn't say I didn't believe."

"You better not, big guy," Sandburg muttered.

"So," Simon said after another mouthful of the casserole -- it really rather grew on you -- "you said there were two things. What's the second one?"

Jim and Blair looked at each other. Jim gestured to Blair to speak.

"Training Megan to back up Jim when I'm not there," Blair said.

"Hold on, you've just spent all this time declaring how essential Sandburg is to the team, and now you want to train a replacement?"

"Sandburg is irreplaceable," Jim declared in the same tone of voice that he would have used to say that perps belonged behind bars. "We're talking about backup for Sandburg. I don't expect Conner to be able to do the same things he does, just to watch my back... in a more informed way."

"The essential thing," Blair said, "is to teach her how to bring Jim out of a zone, teach her to recognise the signs, that kind of thing."

Simon didn't ask Why Conner? It was obvious, that since she already knew their secret, that she would be the first person that they would think of. Though, considering how not well Jim and she had worked together when they first met... but that was a while ago now. "I gather that this would require more than just having Conner go along with you guys and watch you work?"

Blair shook his head. "That wouldn't really help in teaching her what to do. Jim hardly ever zones any more, and when we're in the field the important thing is getting the job done, not explaining how we get it done."

"So you want some time off."

"At least a few days," Blair said. "Go somewhere isolated, quiet, where we won't be disturbed..."

"Not too long, though, Sandburg, you've missed enough classes as it is," Jim said.

"I can take a long long weekend without a problem," Blair said. "Friday/Monday is fine for the next little while. My Anthro 101 class is on Wednesdays."

"Next weekend, perhaps?" Jim said. "If that's not enough time, well, we'll find out at the time."

Simon nodded. "Provided Conner's amenable to the idea, I agree." He paused. "And you two don't end up killing each other, that is," he added, looking at Jim. "You sure you want to do this?"

Jim nodded, then smiled wryly. "I didn't say I was sure it would work, Simon."

Blair cuffed Jim on the back of the head, and they all laughed.


Part 8


The keys hit the basket with unnecessary force, tumbled out and landed on the floor. Blair cursed as he dropped his backpack at his feet, bent down and picked the keys up, then slapped them into the basket, making sure they stayed in this time.

He hung his jacket on the hook, then glanced around. Of course Jim isn't here. He's still at work. But Blair felt irrationally annoyed anyway. He picked up his backpack and stomped to his room, dropping the backpack by the wall. "Hi, Blair," he muttered to himself. "How was your day? Really crappy, actually, glad you asked."

Blair continued his monologue as he heated water for tea. "First I waste an hour waiting to see my advisor, whose secretary kept on saying he'd be in any minute, then she finally tells me he isn't coming in at all. Then I get to my office, check my mail and find I've been dumped with all these overdue fines. Like I can really take books back when I'm in the hospital after being drowned. You'd think they'd have some dues-exemption for extenuating circumstances. Yeah, like I should have returned the books beforehand, like as if I knew I was going to be attacked by a homicidal Sentinel and should have made arrangements accordingly."

He looked around in the cupboards and the fridge for the remains of the fruit loaf but couldn't find it. "Don't say we finished it already!" he exclaimed in dismay, but he remembered how Jim and Simon had kept on eating more after dinner... "Damn!"

Then he spilt boiling water on himself when he was making his mug of tea. Dashing to the sink, he turned on the cold tap and thrust his burnt hand under it. "Dammit, Sandburg, you are such a klutz!" He sighed. "I hope Jim remembers it's his turn to cook tonight."

Two hours later, having made what felt like no progress on writing up his diss, Blair heard the sound of a key in the lock. Jim. The smell of Chinese food wafted from the plastic bag that Jim carried in with him.

"Why am I not surprised?" he murmured dryly. At least he remembered dinner. He shut down his laptop and cleared the table.

As they were dishing up the food, Jim said, "I've invited Simon and Megan over for dinner tomorrow night, to discuss things, and have a grand document signing, with them as witnesses."

Nice of you to consult me, Jim, Blair thought, but didn't voice it. Just because he'd had a bad day didn't mean he had to take it out on Jim. But he still felt irritated. He decided to ignore it. "So Megan agreed, did she?"

Jim shrugged. "That's one of the things we're going to discuss."


"Sandy!" Megan latched onto Blair as soon as she walked in the door. "You and me gotta talk." She dragged him out onto the balcony, leaving Jim and Simon inside.

"Megan?" Blair spluttered.

"They said this thing was your idea. Yours. I don't understand," Megan said. "I've had it made quite clear to me, in no uncertain terms, that I never have been, and never will be, Jim's partner. That's your spot. And with this Sentinel thing, I guess I understand why. So what the hell are you doing, Sandy? Why bail on Jim? I know with the Alex thing --"

"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" Blair held up his hands. "Time out! I am not bailing on Jim! I would never do that. Never. I want you to be my backup. When I can't be there. Somebody's got to keep an eye on him. Somebody who knows the problems a Sentinel can have."

"Oh." Megan glanced inside. "Is Jim okay with this?"

"Why don't you ask him yourself?"

"Right." Megan nodded. "Okay." She looked back at Blair. "Sorry about the misunderstanding."

Blair smiled. "Hey, I'm glad you care."

They returned the sight of Simon in the kitchen with Jim, holding a mug and eyeing it dubiously.

Simon took a sip, then shook his head. "You may like this stuff, Jim, but it's a bit too subtle for my mundane taste buds."

Jim grinned. "Bland, Simon, bland. I think that's the word you're searching for." He looked at Megan and Blair, and said "Got it all sorted out?"

"Are you really okay with this, Jim?" Megan said. "With me being Sandy's relief?"

"Relief..." Jim repeated the word, digesting it. "Yes, I'm okay with that. Though I doubt there'll be anything special for you to do."

"Most of the time," Blair said.

"99% of the time," Jim said.

"It's that last 1% that gets you," Blair said.

At that moment, the kitchen timer rang, and there was a bustle of food preparation, sitting down, and dishing up.

"So how did you guys hook up, anyway?" Megan asked after everyone was settled and started eating.

"Sandburg impersonated a doctor."

"I was only trying to get your attention, man."

"You got it. So I went to this dingy little office in a store room, to find the same guy who'd been in my face that morning..."

"And you shoved me against the wall and called me a neo-hippie witch-doctor punk, and accused me of taking drugs."

"You must admit, Sandburg," Simon interjected, "you had the look."

"Had the look?" Megan said, raising one eyebrow, "You mean he doesn't now?"

"The ponytail is an improvement," Simon said dryly.

Blair rolled his eyes. "As I was saying... I asked Jim to be the subject of my dissertation, he turned me down. Then Jim left before I could warn him about zone-outs, so I followed him..."

"And saved my life."

"He had a zone-out and nearly got run over by a garbage truck."

"What do you mean, nearly? That truck went right over us."

"Yeah, but it didn't hit us."

They spent the rest of dinner reminiscing other Sentinel-related incidents of the past three years, painting a picture for Megan that showed that it wasn't all that simple being a Sentinel -- or a Guide.


The table was cleared, the dishes stacked, the crumbs swept. Jim went to the desk and took out the large envelope that had been sitting there since Thursday -- and a pen.

There followed a flurry of signing - Jim first, then Blair, then Simon and Megan on Jim's Power of Attorney document, then Blair, Jim, Simon and Megan on Blair's, with much joking about hospitals and cute nurses.

Then Jim removed the last thing from the envelope, that he had been saving as a surprise -- the papers converting the loft to joint ownership, him and Blair. He smiled in anticipation and handed it to Blair.

"What's this?"

Megan, looking over Blair's shoulder, saw what it was and exclaimed, "Oh my God!" She looked at Jim, then at Blair. "He's giving you half the loft!"

"Jim?" Simon said. "That's incredibly generous..."

The look on Blair's face was indescribable. Shock was a large component, but it wasn't the only thing there. He looked at Simon and Megan's smiling faces, and went still.

"Excuse me," he said to Simon and Megan. Then he got up, walked over to the tall shelves against the back wall of the living area, plucked the furry soft wolf off the top shelf, plonked it down on the coffee table, and glared at Jim.

Their agreed-upon non-verbal signal: we need to talk, you aren't listening to me. What the hell? Jim stood up. "Now?"

"Right now," Blair said through gritted teeth. He looked back and forth between his bedroom and the balcony, as if assessing which one would be more suitable for a private discussion.

Jim jerked his head towards the balcony. It was as good as anywhere. They went out together and closed the door. "What's the problem?" Jim asked. Why the heck is he angry? He was supposed to be pleased. It was supposed to make things right.

"You're trying to control me again," Blair hissed.


"Why couldn't you just ask if I wanted half the loft?"

"I am asking."

"Laying it on me in front of an audience is not asking!" Blair said. "It's manipulating."

"I -- Blair -- I don't want to control you, I don't want..." Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "I don't want to force you to accept anything you don't want. I don't want to tie you down by this gift, not if you don't want it. I just thought -- it would make it our home, without question -- not my home that I happen to share with you." Jim fumbled for the right words, the true words, the scarily honest words, wondering if he dared say them. But if my silence made you leave, then that would be my worst mistake. Jim took a deep breath and continued, "because it wouldn't be a home without you here. If you chose to leave, you'd be taking my heart with you." If I let my fear rule me then I rob myself, rob both of us.

Blair's eyes widened. "Y-your heart?" he stammered.

"I love you, Blair."

"You love me?"

God! I actually said that? Well, it's true, isn't it? "I-I do," Jim stammered. "I'm not trying to manipulate you, please, don't think-"

A smile broke like sunrise across Blair's face. "I love you too, Jim." He bounced forward and hugged Jim fiercely.

Something tight in Jim's chest melted, and he encircled Blair with his arms and hugged him back, like he'd done with Steven before their mother had left, before their father had turned their love into bitterness. Jim and Blair stood in silence for a little while, arms around each other, until the cold wind made Blair shiver.

"So, do you want half the loft or not?" Jim asked.

Blair grinned. "I'll take it, I'll take it!" he said.

They stepped back inside, and closed the balcony doors behind them.

"What was all that about?" Megan whispered to Simon as the two returned.

"Darned if I know," Simon muttered back.

Of course, Jim's Sentinel ears heard it all.

A mischievous twinkle appeared in Jim's eye. "We've decided," he said solemnly, "to give up all our worldly goods and go join a monastery."

Blair caught on immediately. "Yeah," he said, straight-faced. "Saint Sebastian's."

Megan's eyes bugged.

Blair couldn't help bursting out laughing at her expression. "Gotcha!" he exclaimed.


Blair grinned hugely. "Let's get those papers signed."


Part 9


Simon and Megan had gone home, the dishes were done, and Blair was still smiling. A little mantra was going through his head, he actually admitted it, he loves me with a variation, this is our home, our home, our home.

Unbeknownst to Blair, Jim was thinking exactly the same thing.

Blair sat down on the couch as Jim wiped the bench for the last time. I feel like I'm inside a fairy tale. All my wishes have come true. This is our home. Jim wants me to finish the diss. Megan's going to be my backup. And maybe Simon can get me a position, working with Jim, like it ought to be, Sentinel and Guide. Like it was in the past, sharing their home, sharing their life. Did I wish on a star and not know it? Jim's my best friend, a better friend than I could ask for. Friend isn't a strong enough word.

The couch creaked a little as Jim came and sat down next to Blair. Jim wasn't quite smiling, but Blair could see the smile in his eyes. Blair smiled back.

"You're the brother I never had," Blair said. "You know that, don't you?"

"You too, Chief," Jim said.

"But you already have a brother!"

"Yeah," Jim said, "but you're the brother I didn't have."

Blair beamed. "Thanks, Jim."

"It's a pity I can't adopt you," Jim mused with a smile.

Blair immediately stirred his encyclopedic knowledge. "The Hurians of Nuzi had a common custom of adopting someone as a brother or sister. For socio-economic reasons; it was a business practice."

"The who of where?"

"The Hurians of Nuzi. Lived in the ancient Near East, about 1500BC," Blair smiled. "Then there were the Bororo of the Amazonian Rainforest Basin -- they had a tradition of adopting shieldmates if the signs between two people were correct. This was usually foreseen during birth, but this could occur later on in life if the signs were right." His eyes brightened with enthusiasm. "They weren't the only ones; adoption rituals were and are quite common."

"I'll take your word for it."

"It's a pity there isn't a modern Western ritual," Blair said wistfully. "I mean, there are lots of rituals, past and present, but they're all borrowed. It wouldn't mean anything outside of its cultural context. And in the West, the only people who do adoptions are parents of children. Not brothers of brothers. Brothers to brothers..."


"Brothers to brothers..." Jim echoed. What had begun as idle speculation crystallized into possibility as childhood memories came back to him. "There is. There is a ritual. Practised by children, fraternities, and certain small portions of the military." He smiled. "No potions, no incense and no chanting required. All we need is a knife." We can do this. We can really do this. No sooner had the thought formed in his mind than Jim went to the kitchen and grabbed the sharp knife he used for cutting vegetables. He put on the kettle to boil some water.

"Jim, what are you talking about?" Blair said, following him into the kitchen.

"A brotherhood ritual," Jim said. He was smiling, but his heart was pounding. Would Blair go for this? Something in him was calling, pushing to do this. It felt right. It felt important. The kettle came to the boil very quickly. He poured the water over the knife in the sink, then picked it up. He turned to face Blair. "It's considered more macho to do it on the palm, but you might not go for that."

"Palm?" Blair said, eyeing the knife nervously.

"Blood brotherhood, Blair," Jim said. "Didn't you ever do it when you were a kid?"

"No," Blair said. "That macho stuff wasn't really my scene."

Jim could tell there was something more behind the comment, but he didn't pursue it. "If you don't want to -- it was a stupid idea --" You're pushing it, you idiot, he thought to himself, when will you ever learn?

"No," Blair interrupted him. "It wasn't a stupid idea." He smiled. "It's a brilliant idea. It's perfect. It -- it does mean something. It means a lot. I -- I would be honoured. Let's do it. Really."

Jim clasped Blair's shoulder. "Good." Ever practical, he got out the first aid kit in preparation. "You're sure you want to do this?"

Blair nodded. "In the palm."

Jim smiled. "I thought macho stuff wasn't your scene?"

Blair made a face. "It isn't but... if we're going to do this, let's not be half-hearted about it." He looked at his hands. "I -- if it's just a pinprick, there won't be a scar. And, well, I want to remember this. That's half the point, isn't it?"

"You don't think this is silly?" Jim said.

Blair raised his eyebrows. "Me, the anthropologist, think this is silly? You crazy, man?"

They sat down at the kitchen table, opposite each other. "You cut me, then I'll cut you," Jim said.

Jim held out his right hand steadily when Blair made the cut in his palm. "I, Jim Ellison, swear," said Jim, "that Blair Sandburg is my brother in blood, forever."

Blair flinched a little when the sharp knife parted the skin of his right palm, but Jim made the cut with Sentinel precision. "I, Blair Sandburg, swear that Jim Ellison is my brother in blood, forever," Blair said.

Light blue eyes stared into eyes of a darker blue. They clasped their bleeding hands, palm to palm, fingers interlaced.

The room vanished.


Part 10


The light was blue, as if the moon were shining in the deeps of the ocean. They stood facing each other, still clasping their right hands. Trees towered above them like a phalanx of masts, and their broad leaves waved like sails in the wind, a wind that did not reach the two of them where they stood below.

Blair looked around, his unbound hair whirling about his head. "Hey, this is wild!" He was dressed in jeans, flannel shirt and patchwork vest -- not what he'd been wearing a moment earlier. He took a step as if to explore, and let go of Jim's hand.

Instant night. Black as the bottom of a mine.


"Jim? Jim!"

His voice was swallowed up in nothing.

Blair flailed behind him, to where he thought Jim was, where he used to be. His hand met empty air. He took a small step backwards. Something touched, then grabbed his shoulder. He almost jumped out of his skin with fright.

"Chief, is that you?"

"Jim!" What a relief.

He could hear again, but it was still dark.

"Jim, can you see anything?"

"Not a thing."

He put his right hand up to touch the hand on his shoulder. As soon as their hands met, it was light again. The jungle surrounded them.

"Whoa!" Blair said. "That was so not fun!"

"What the hell just happened?" they both said at the same time.

"Think someone's trying to tell us something?" Blair mused. He put his left hand up to grasp Jim's hand still on his shoulder, but as soon as he lifted his right hand away from Jim's right hand, the blackess pounced. Blair quickly grabbed Jim's right hand.

"I suggest we don't let go." Jim laced his fingers with Blair's, right hand to right hand. "I don't think that would be wise, somehow," he said dryly. He was wearing jungle fatigues, crossbow at his back, face washed pale in the blueness. Blair wasn't sure, but Jim's hair seemed that little bit shorter, closer to army-crop than cop-short.

"Got you loud and clear. Heavy symbolism, bad karma," Blair said. He looked at the ground. "I wonder if stepping on ants counts?"

"I would've thought you'd be more worried about me shooting something," Jim said.

Blair glanced up at Jim. "Water under the bridge, man. Water under the bridge." He gave Jim's hand a light squeeze. "If you saw a wolf now, you wouldn't likely shoot it, would you?"

"No, follow it," Jim answered, looking at something in the distance. His hand pressed into Blair's shoulder as he tried to direct him to move.


Jim pointed through the jungle. "Don't you see them? The panther and the wolf."

"You're the one with the eyes, Jim," Blair said. "Lead the way."

They stepped into the jungle, Jim following guides that only he could see. They kept their pace steady, trying not to trip over roots, and the pathless gaps that weren't meant for two. It was awkward going, as each of them had only one hand free for balance, and in Blair's case, it wasn't his outside hand.

After Blair nearly tripped flat on his face, Jim stopped, pulled Blair close, put his right arm over Blair's shoulder, and turned them to face the same direction.

"A bit like barn dancing, eh, Jim?" Blair teased.

Jim rolled his eyes.

Out of the corner of his eye, Blair noticed something. In the blue light, colours were washed out, things more defined by shape, contrast, texture and sound than by colour. This was something that was not curved like the edge of a leaf, something that did not move, something that did not have the tall straightness of a tree. Maybe it was a tall stump.

They had only taken a few more paces when Blair saw another one. He turned and looked. It had sharp edges, broad and curved; something man-made. Carved. A stele with glyphs of some kind. Blair stopped.

"Blair, come on," Jim said. "They aren't standing still."

"But Jim," Blair said, gesturing at the stone half-hidden by the trees, "the carvings - they could be important."

"Trust me," Jim said, "they aren't."

"You don't know that!" Blair protested.

"I know," Jim said, and pulled Blair reluctantly along with him.

Ten paces later Blair saw another one. He turned his head and dragged his feet.

"Don't look at the pretty carvings, Blair," Jim said. "They aren't important."

"How can we know unless we examine them?" Blair returned.

"Because that's not the way the guides are going," Jim said.

Realization struck Blair like a bolt of lightening. Duh! Stupid much? Blair thought. "Right," he said. "Follow the guides, ignore the rocks." Spirit journeys have trials, don't they? And if that wasn't a bullseye for me, then I'm the President.

They continued on quietly, weaving through the trees, feet crackling on leaves, following the guides that only Jim could see.

Jim stopped suddenly. Naturally, Blair stopped too.

"What's the matter, Jim?"

"I can't see them."

"Oh." Blair looked around. "Maybe that means we're nearly there."

"I don't think so, Chief."

The jungle around them seemed no different to the jungle they'd been in before. The trees loomed, tall and straight, wide and crooked. Vines and flowers looked washed out in the blue light. Nothing stirred but the wind in the leaves.

Blair caught a flash of movement to the right. He turned his head, and saw the gleam of grey eyes, eyes in a sharp, canine face. "I see the wolf," he whispered, fearing that a loud noise would drive it away.

"I don't see anything," Jim said.

"There, to the right," Blair said softly. "Right there."

"There's nothing there, Chief."

The wolf turned to meet a sleek feline form, black as coals.

"The panther's there, too."

"But there's nothing there, Sandburg!"

Blair looked up at Jim. "There's something there, Jim, you just can't see it."

"Why can't I see it?"

The wolf looked back and turned away again.

"It wants us to follow."

"Why can't I see it, Blair?"

Blair looked at the tense face of his partner, friend, brother. Trial number two, perhaps? "Maybe you aren't meant to. Maybe you're just supposed to trust me."

"Trust you?" Blair could see Jim forcing himself to relax. "Let's go, then. If I can't trust my Guide I might as well be blind."

Blair smiled. "Let's go, then."

The second part of the journey was much the same as the first, except that Blair was leading them. The bushes still dragged at them, and the roots still made their footing awkward. Every now and then a stele appeared, sometimes quite close to the way they were going, but Blair resolutely ignored them.

Finally they made their way into a clearing. The panther and wolf vanished, but Jim and Blair hardly noticed. In the clearing was a raised dais with a stele covered with carvings similar to those on the Temple of the Sentinels. Standing in front of it was a man, a Chopec, with painted face and body and feathers in his hair.


"Sentinel." He nodded at Jim. "Guide." He nodded at Blair. "What was begun at the fountain is now complete. You have passed through death and are bound in life. When one does not see, the other must guide. When one cannot find the path, he must trust his brother."

Incacha gestured at them to come closer. The stepped up to the edge of the dais. He gestured again. "Give me your hands."

He took their clasped right hands in both his own, and said, "Sentinel and Guide, you are bound. This bond will grow stronger with time, and life, and love. Tend it well, and you will prosper."

He unclasped their hands, and turned them over. They were no longer bleeding; instead, each bore a thin, white scar. "Be aware of the cost," Incacha said. "When one is cut, the other bleeds. That is the price of love. That is its nature."

He clasped their hands together again. "Go in peace," he said.

The jungle vanished.


"Wha?" Blair said blearily. They were sitting at the kitchen table, clasping hands. "Did that happen, what I think just happened? Jim?"

"Look," Jim said. He turned over his hand, and pointed at Blair's. There was no blood on either of them -- just a thin white scar on each of their right hands. "Yeah, it happened all right."

"Wow!" Blair bounced in place. "That is so cool." He beamed at Jim. "That is so cool, bro!"

Jim smiled. "I guess it is, bro."

"Hey! How come I understood Incacha? He doesn't speak English. Though maybe that doesn't matter as far as visions are concerned. Maybe I understood him because you did? Maybe --"

Jim let Blair's words wash over him, and smiled. Some things never change.

And he wouldn't want it any other way.


Notes and Thanks

Thanks to Aubrey Robin for encouragement to keep going with this when I was uncertain about it, and Susn for nagging and encouragement, (and the "we never talked about Sierra Verde" bit) and both for beta-reading. Thanks to Kimberley Workman for beta-reading also! Thanks to Christina Klineburger for pointing out the "Still half-awake" bit. Thanks to Regina M. for objecting to the dressing gown.

I really wish I'd never made that "Dallas" remark in Dreamshatter. This is really my "Sentinel does Jabberwocky" series, except I didn't want to have to explain what I meant by that. Suffice to say, Blake's 7 fans who've read Sheila Paulson's stories will know what I mean.

Yes, I said "series". There's probably going to be a third story, but I can't be sure of any more than that. Why "True Dreams"? Because I love double meanings, that's why!

I suppose you could say Resolutions is my "aftermath of SenToo" story, satisfying my frustrated desire that they actually talk about it, instead of ignore it. At least, that's what it started out as... I love it when these things take a left turn on me...

The talking-stick of the Mamut Indians was stolen from Jean Auel's novel "The Mammoth Hunters". The toad-on-the-bed was borrowed from my brother. Thanks to Dr. F. I. Andersen for the information about the Hurians of Nuzi (yes, they really did exist). Thanks to Mandy Patterson for the information about the Bororo of the Amazon basin (who also really existed). Thanks to Dr. L. C. Andersen for medical advice about recovering patients. All errors are mine.

The site <> is great; a must-see to get an insight into what Anthropology is really like.

The toy store stuff is thanks to my multiple purchases of soft toys for my nieces and nephews, and the fact that when I visited the British Museum of Natural History, I found a soft-toy baby panther in their gift shop. Yes, it was put out by WWF too. He now sits on my bed, and his name is Blackie. The wolf, alas, only exists in my imagination.

Thanks to Billy Joel for writing "And So It Goes" (on the "Storm Front" album), which I kept playing over and over while writing this. This was the song that Jim heard at night.

The "And all shall be well" quote was originally written by Julian of Norwich.