HOW TO WARM UP A SLIGHTLY DAMP GUPPY
Part 2 of 2
by Red Soprano
Signs of an earlier struggle were evident in Blair's darkened bedroom. The French doors which separated his small room from the dining room were open, and light from the loft spilled in, illuminating the overturned chair at his desk and the snarl of bedclothes hanging partially off the mattress.
Simon set Blair down on his bed, moving the trembling body so that it was sitting on the edge of the mattress. He leaned the young man against his hip while he reached behind him to push the jumble of bed clothes out of the way. He then urged Blair to lie down, supporting his shoulders and head as he eased him on his side onto the bed. He carefully untangled the snarled sheet and quilt and smoothed them over him, then quickly retrieved the comforter from the bathroom and spread that over him as well.
Jim was standing at the French doors, just to the side, so that Blair couldn't see him. He was holding out two rolled up towels. "Here, try these."
When Simon took them, he noticed that they were very warm, as if they had just come out of a very hot dryer.
"Wrap those around his hands and feet," Jim said, "I'm heating some more for his back and chest."
"How'd you get 'em so warm?" Simon asked, returning to Blair's bedside and pulling the covers back so he could do as Jim instructed.
Simon wrapped Blair's bare feet in the comforting warmth of one of the towels.
"Where'd you learn this one from, Ellison?" he chuckled as he gingerly took Blair's cold hands and wrapped them, too, "Martha Stewart?"
He heard the timer on the microwave go off and went back to the bedroom door where Jim met him with two more of the warm towels. These were larger and not rolled, but folded over three times, capturing the heat between eight layers of thick terry cloth. He put one over Blair's belly, easing it under his elbows to keep it in place. He lay the other one along Blair's back and tucked the edge under his armpit to keep it from sliding off onto the bed. He finished bundling the shivering man by spreading the covers over him again, tucking in the bedclothes between his torso and the mattress and lifting his legs to wrap the covers under and around them.
Blair had remained seemingly oblivious to this whole procedure, allowing Simon to adjust the towels and bedding around him without comment or complaint. Worried, Simon snapped on the lamp by the bed and bent close to examine Blair's forehead. A lump was forming there from where he'd hit the sink in the bathroom. "Blair," he said, gently shaking his shoulder, "Blair, look at me, how many fingers am I holding up?"
Blair studied the index finger Simon held in front of his face. "Cold."
"Sandburg, if you went and gave yourself a concussion on top of everything else," Simon muttered, "I'm gonna shoot you."
"No concussion. One finger. Very cold," Blair mumbled. "Shooting me won't help," he added.
"Jim, what're we gonna do with this boy?" Simon asked, shaking his head in frustration.
"He's okay, Simon," Jim said from his hiding place outside the doorway, "he's just cold."
"And just how do you know that, Jim?" Simon demanded. "I really think we need to give some serious thought to getting this kid to the hosp --"
"No, Simon," Jim said firmly. "Trust me, He's going to be all right. But whatever he's dealing with right now, he's got to deal with it here. With me. I don't know how I know that, I just do. And we need your help to get through this, Simon."
The ding of the microwave went off.
"All right, Jim, I'll trust you on this one."
"Thanks, Simon." Jim's voice came from the direction of the kitchen.
Simon studied the carefully wrapped human bundle lying on the bed. Despite all their efforts, Blair still looked miserably cold. The shudders that coursed through his body from head to foot were clearly evident under the thick layers of cover.
"Dammit, Sandburg, you're going to make me do this, aren't you?" Simon grumbled.
He leaned over the slight figure and lifted Blair's head and shoulders, covers and all, up off the mattress. Awkwardly maneuvering his own bulky frame to sit at the head of the bed, he scooted as far as he could under Blair's upper body and pulled him close so that the smaller man's back was to his broad chest. He then swung one long leg onto the mattress and leaned back against the headboard. The pillow that had been under Blair's head was now bunched uncomfortably under Simon's hip. Grunting and cursing mildly, he tugged the pillow out from under him and tossed it aside.
"What's going on in there?" Jim peeked cautiously through the French doors.
"He's still cold, dammit."
"Uh-huh," Ellison raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Just never figured you for a cuddler, Simon."
Simon gave him a withering glare. "Breath one word of this, Ellison, one word and I swear...."
"I'll never tell, Simon," Jim chuckled, holding up a hand in a mock oath. "It's just that you're really going above and beyond the call of duty here. We have lots more towels I can warm up." He tossed a couple more freshly heated ones onto the bed.
"Kid needs body heat. You're a medic, Jim, you should know that," Simon muttered as he refolded one towel so he could nestle it under the covers around Blair's neck. Then, he partially unfolded the other towel and arranged it in loose, heat-embracing folds over Blair's head.
Simon glanced up to where Jim was peeking through the French doors and observing this whole procedure in amused silence.
"I happen to know a little first aid myself," he informed his detective tersely. "A person loses a lot of body heat through his head. Although, with Sandburg's overheated brain, his noggin's probably already got a lot to spare."
"Sure, Simon. Whatever." The two men's eyes met briefly. Simon looked away, mildly embarrassed by the warm gratitude he saw in Ellison's.
Jim hesitantly stepped in and started to take a seat on the floor inside the French doors, but after a surreptitious glance at Blair, appeared to think better of it. He stepped back out into the dining room and sat cross-legged on the floor by the open doors instead, his back to Blair's bedroom. Only the detective's right shoulder and part of his right leg were visible from Simon and Blair's vantage point.
Simon lifted the towel off Blair's head and peeked at his face. Blair's blue eyes were partially closed and, once again, his lips were moving in a faint, sibilant whisper.
"Damn, I wish he wouldn't do that," Simon sighed, "gives me the willies."
"What?" asked Jim.
"That whispering. It's creepy."
"Yeah, he's been doing that off and on since right after I called you. It is a little unnerving, isn't it?"
"Would it help if you knew what he was saying?"
"He's saying real words?" Simon asked, surprised.
"And you can make it out? Never mind, stupid question. Of course you can make it out. What is it, one of his meditation mantras or something?"
"I don't know. Maybe.... If it is, it's the damnedest mantra I've ever heard."
"Well, what's he saying?"
"He's reciting his ostrich chili recipe."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. Dead serious. Over and over." Jim leaned his head into the doorway a bit as if listening in on Blair's whispered monologue: "....two medium onions, chopped, one bell pepper, chopped, three cups diced tomatoes...."
Simon watched Blair's profile in fascination. The movement of his lips were perfectly in synch with Jim's translation. "Oh man, I have no idea what to think about that," Simon chuckled, dropping the towel over Blair's face again. "I can't decide if that's really, really spooky or just vintage Sandburg."
"There's a difference?" Jim asked mildly.
Simon snorted softly and his shoulders shook with suppressed mirth as he struggled to stifle his laughter.
"Shh-shh," said Jim, "here comes the secret ingredient. I can never hear this part...." He leaned in again to listen, "....ooh, I did not need to know that."
"Don't worry, Simon, he probably pulls the heads off before he stirs them in."
"Jim, stop it," Simon giggled, his laughter coming out in soft wheezes as he tried not to disturb the man lying across his lap. "If he's listening, we're going to hurt his feelings."
"Won't hurt my feelings, man," Blair said softly. "You want some chili?"
Simon let loose his laughter then. It came out in deep, unrestrained guffaws that started low in his belly and shook his body and the body of the small man he was holding in his arms. Ellison was also giggling helplessly, the windows of the French doors rattling slightly in sympathy.
Simon pulled the edge of the towel back again and clumsily leaned over to peer at Blair's profile. Blair's head was being jostled by Simon's giggles, but his placid face showed no hint that he was upset at being the subject of such hilarity.
"No thanks, Sandburg," Simon sputtered, managing to gain control of himself, "maybe some other time."
"It's low in cholesterol," Blair solemnly informed him.
"Ah, that's sweet, kid," Simon smiled, patting the toweled head fondly, "appreciate your looking out for my health."
A companionable silence fell over the bedroom for several minutes. Simon absently brushed his fingers over the edge of the towel that shrouded Blair's face. The big man leaned his head back against the wall and relaxed as the subtle tremors in Blair's body continued to subside and eventually disappeared altogether.
"You want to know what amazes me, Jim?' Simon's soft, gruff voice broke the silence.
"That Sandburg can go through hell, but when he comes out on the other side, he's still got everything that makes him Sandburg."
"Yeah ... yeah, he's pretty amazing."
"Yeah." Simon mused, "Ostrich chili and all."
"I'm right here in the room, guys," came the muffled voice from under the folds of the towel. "Jeesh, why do you two keep forgetting that?"
Simon patted his head again, "Ah, don't mind us, kid. We just get a kick out of yankin' your chain."
"Is he warmed up, Simon?" Jim asked. "I don't hear him shivering anymore."
Simon removed the towel from Blair's head and placed the palm of his large hand on the young man's forehead. Blair was much warmer now and his long, curly hair was slightly damp with sweat. Simon pulled back a few strands that had plastered themselves to his face.
"Yeah, I think we got it under control here. In fact, he might be a little too warm. You okay, Blair? You comfortable?"
"Yeah, I'm good, Simon."
"Need to shed some of these covers?" Simon shifted to move Blair off his lap.
"No," Blair answered quickly, "No, Simon. Could ... could I maybe stay like this for a little longer?" The bundling of bedclothes and the warming towel wrapped around his hands restricted Blair's movements somewhat, but Simon could feel the awkward push on his knee, urging him to stay put. "I just -- I don't want to be cold again, you know?" Blair sounded a little embarrassed.
"It's just ... I really hate being cold," he finished meekly.
"No problem," Simon said. He settled back again with Blair's head on his thigh, and eased a strong forearm under his friend's cheek. The short stubble of morning beard which scraped against the bare skin of his arm served as a mildly disconcerting reminder that this was a grown man he held cradled on his lap.
"Are you sure?" Blair asked uncertainly, "I mean, if you leg's falling asleep or anything...."
"I'm fine, Blair," Simon reassured him, "just lay there and stay warm."
"'cause I wasn't really cold, you know, I was just --"
"You weren't?" Simon snorted, "Boy, you sure had me fooled, kid."
"No, I wasn't. I wasn't ... I wasn't really cold."
Simon frowned slightly at the dazed quality that had crept into Blair's voice. He noticed Jim shift and lean in, turning so that his profile was just visible at the edge of the doorway.
"I was just remembering...." Blair's voice trailed off and he fell silent.
"Remembering what, Blair?" Simon prodded gently.
When Blair finally continued, the empty, haunted quality in his voice sent a chill up Simon's spine.
"I was just remembering being cold."
Simon was grateful that, from the way they were positioned, he could only see the side of Blair's face. He had the uncanny feeling that, had he a straight-on view of Blair's eyes right then, he would be peering through the windows of a soul more helpless and tormented than any he could ever have imagined.
"Do you want to talk about it, Blair?"
Simon hoped fervently that he didn't, but knew he needed to ask the question all the same. He had the feeling that this was the real purpose for his being there in the first place. Whatever was tormenting Blair was too painful for the young guide to share with his sentinel without Simon as go-between.
Simon cleared his throat and tried again, "Are you saying you were remembering another time when you were cold?"
"Yes," came the barely audible reply.
"At the fountain?"
"I don't remember the fountain. I remember the jungle." Blair closed his eyes and an instant later, Simon felt a hot tear drop onto the arm that cradled the young man's head.
"Where's Jim?" Blair asked faintly.
"He's close by, Blair. Do you need him?"
"I need for him not to see me right now," Blair answered, the barest hint of his earlier anger evident in his soft voice.
Simon saw Jim's body stiffen. A quiet moan escaped the sentinel as he turned away from the door.
"He can't see you, Blair," Simon said, "but he is close by. Do you want him to leave?"
"No!" Blair sobbed, "God, no. Please, Jim don't go. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm just so damned confused."
"It's okay, Chief," Jim said gently, "you didn't hurt me."
"Yes I did," Blair insisted, "It was my fault all along, and now I can't let you see me."
"Why not, Chief?"
"Because ... oh, God...." Blair shivered. Simon could feel that the cheek resting on his bare forearm was again cold. This, in sharp contrast to the hot tears that were beginning to flow freely, bathing his arm and dampening the cloth on his pants leg underneath. Hesitantly, Simon stroked Blair's head in a self-conscious effort to comfort the weeping man.
"Jim, you can't see me because I failed...." Blair's voice broke and he finished in a whisper, "because I failed and I don't know who I am."
"I know who you are, Chief," Jim said resolutely, "You're my friend and you're my guide."
Blair began to shiver in earnest now, breathing in painful gasps that sounded like tortured hiccups. Alarmed, Simon wrapped his arms tightly around Blair's bundled figure and pulled him close to his chest.
"Jim?" Simon said anxiously, "Jim, he's getting really cold again. What the hell's going on here?"
"I don't know, sir." Jim stood up from the floor and took a hesitant step into the bedroom. Immediately Blair's body was seized by a terrible, convulsing shudder.
"Jim!" Simon warned sharply, tightening his grip on the distressed guide, "No, Jim, please stay out there."
"I can't just stand out here and do nothing, Simon!" Jim snapped, "My God, look at him!"
"Jim, please! Get on the other side of the door!"
Jim stepped back but didn't turn away from the agonizing sight of his captain struggling to hold tightly to the violently trembling body of his guide.
"C-cold," Blair sobbed, "C-cold, s-so cold."
"Jim," Simon repeated firmly, speaking now with the steady calm of a police captain, "Jim, you've got to step away."
Jim stood uncertainly for several seconds, then Simon watched helplessly as his toughest detective broke down in front of him, the normally stoic face crumbling as the man succumbed to tears. "Chief?" Jim's nickname for his beloved guide was wrenched from his body in a single, heart-rending sob. "Ah, damn it all to hell," he sobbed hoarsely as he stepped away from the door.
Simon returned his attention to the young man he was embracing. "Shh, Blair," he soothed, "I've got you. You're not really cold, remember? You told me that before. You said you weren't really cold, you just remembered being cold." Simon rocked the shivering and weeping man, tenderly cajoling him in a crooning voice he hadn't realized he possessed, "Could you maybe stop doing this now, buddy? Huh? Maybe you could think warm thoughts now 'cause I don't know how much more of this your old captain can take."
"Mm-mm ... 'm not c-cold, j-just remember co-ohld."
"That's right," Simon encouraged him gently, "that's right, Blair. Just let yourself get warm again, okay?"
"N-not that easy, S-Simon."
"Well, do it anyway, okay? For me? Just think nice, warm thoughts...." Simon continued to rock Blair until once again the tremors subsided and he lay still under the covers save for an occasional brief shudder that coursed through his body.
"I'm sorry, Simon," Blair murmured, "I keep hurting Jim. I don't want to, but I can't help it."
"Blair, we're gonna get through this, okay? Don't worry about Jim. He understands."
"No he doesn't, Simon," Blair said sadly, "He doesn't understand because it was my job to help him understand but I didn't, I failed. I failed, and now I don't know who I am."
"Blair, you keep saying that. What do you mean, you don't know who you are?"
"I remember the jungle and how cold it was."
'Oh, shit, not again,' Simon thought. "Blair," he said, "let's just steer away from the sense memory stuff for a bit, huh? I don't think we should go there again."
"No, Simon, I have to, 'cause it's really important. 'Cause I was in the jungle, you know? And I saw him there and he saw me, too, only he didn't see me. I mean, he saw me but he didn't recognize me --"
"Shh-shh, Blair, c'mon, you don't have to go through all this now."
"Yes, dammit, I do, can't you see that? Because it's not his fault, he keeps thinking it's his fault, but it's not, because it's my fault, Simon."
"What's your fault, Blair?'
"It's my fault he killed me."
Simon heard a sharp intake of breath from the man listening in the other room.
"Blair, what are you talking about? Jim didn't --"
"It hurts, Simon." Blair didn't sound in pain so much as inconsolably sad.
"What hurts, Blair?"
"It hurts, I remember the pain...."
"Alright, now that's definitely something we don't want to be remembering --"
"I remember the pain," Blair scrunched his eyes shut and whimpered, "Oh, God, Simon, the pain --"
"-- my heart, Jim, I'm so sorry. My heart hurts --"
"No, no, Sandburg," Simon hastily interrupted, 'Huh-uh, now, you listen to me, you're not really hurting. Just like --"
"-- my heart!" Blair's eyes flew open.
"-- just like when you weren't really cold, Blair!"
"Oh, God, Jim, please, oh, please --"
"Blair, just calm down --"
"-- my heart, Jim."
"There's an arrow in my heart, Jim."
A strangled gasp echoed from the other room, "Oh, God, no, Chief...."
Blair drew in a sharp breath and held it for the longest moment, his face contorted in a remembered, but no less real, agony.
"Blair?" Simon asked fearfully.
Slowly, Blair let go of his breath, and as he did so, the lines of suffering etched in his face gradually smoothed and disappeared. It seemed as if the young guide's pain and anguish were visibly borne away on that steady, prolonged sigh until, at the end, they were replaced by an expression of serene peace.
Blair closed his eyes.
"C'mon, Blair," Simon coaxed, "don't do this to me, kid.... Blair?"
"He's asleep, Simon."
"Huh?" Simon gaped in confusion at the man standing at the French doors. There were tears on Jim's face, but he appeared calm.
"Wha -- what?" Simon shook his head dazedly and stared down at the sleeping man on his lap.
"Is he cold?" Jim asked.
Simon stroked the damp forehead. "Uh, no," he said shakily, "he's okay, I think."
Jim's expression was unreadable as he stood in the doorway, regarding the tranquil face of his guide.
"What just happened here, Jim?"
Jim gave a small, almost imperceptible shrug, "I'm not sure, Simon. I'll ask Blair to explain it all to me when wakes up."
He shifted his sober gaze up to meet Simon's concerned eyes. "You never got to drink your coffee, Simon."
"C'mon," Jim gestured toward the kitchen, "I'll brew a fresh pot."
"Jim," Simon whispered, in deference to the slumbering Blair, "we can't just --"
"You can let go of him now, Simon," Jim smiled, "he's okay. He's going to be fine."
"How do you know that?"
"Don't know how I know," Jim answered equably, with another slight shrug of his shoulders, "just do."
Simon carefully scooted himself out from under Blair's sleeping form and eased a pillow under the tousled head. He considered the sleeping man thoughtfully for a few moments then gave in to the temptation to reach under the towel around Blair's neck to check his carotid pulse. It was strong and steady.
"Okay, kid," he whispered, reaching over to switch off the bedside lamp, "sweet dreams, y'hear?"
Simon joined Jim in the kitchen, where the detective had already started a fresh pot of coffee brewing. "I didn't use whole beans, Simon. Hope you don't mind. Didn't want to take the chance the coffee grinder might wake him."
"Huh?" Simon still sounded a little muddled and kept glancing furtively back toward Blair's bedroom. "Oh, yeah, sure. Whatever you've got's fine."
Jim got two clean mugs from the cupboard. "You did good, Simon," he said quietly, "I can't tell you how much I appreciate your helping Blair get through this. Helping us get through this," he corrected.
"Yeah ... uh ... okay." Simon stared, slack-jawed in the direction of Blair's room for a moment, then turned to Jim and asked in an urgent whisper, "Jim, what the hell happened in there?"
"I'm not sure, Simon," Jim smiled. "And you don't have to whisper, I think he's down for the count." He shook his head ruefully, "I probably could have used the coffee-grinder after all."
"Are you all right, Jim?" Simon asked gently. "I'm sorry, I know I was pretty rough on you a couple of times. I kind of had my hands full with Sandburg. You were in pretty bad shape, too. I apologize if I was harsh."
"No, you did everything right, Simon. I wish I could have held it together a little better so you didn't have me to worry about, too."
"I thought you held it together pretty damn well, Jim. Considering you kept getting the door slammed in your face every time you tried to help."
Jim smiled faintly, "Yeah, well, as I said before, Blair was not his normal peaceable self tonight." Closing his eyes, he leaned heavily on the kitchen counter and rested his forehead against a cabinet door. Without looking at Simon, he said, "You know, Simon, I don't think Blair would've made it through the night without you."
"C'mon, Jim, he's tougher than he looks. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you called, but if you're suggesting I made the difference between life and death, I think you might be exaggerating just a bit."
"Yeah, well, you didn't hear his heartbeat skyrocket every time I got close. I think if I'd tried to handle this on my own, it might have killed him." Jim turned to regard Simon with blue eyes that were tired but intense. "You don't understand what happened tonight, do you?"
"No I don't, Jim," Simon agreed, "I assume at least part of this has something to do with post-traumatic stress reaction or some such thing." He shook his head slowly, "But I don't begin to understand what Blair was going on about. That whole thing about the jungle and it being his fault and not knowing who he was...." Simon looked thoughtfully at his friend, "I don't suppose you could shed any light on the subject?"
"I'm not sure. I have a couple of ideas." Jim poured them both a cup of coffee and gestured toward the sofa. "Let's sit down, Simon, I'm pretty wiped."
The men carried their coffee into the living area where Jim settled gratefully onto the love seat. Simon sat on the adjacent sofa at the end closest to Jim. When Simon leaned over to set his cup on the coffee table, he noticed Jim staring at him.
"Oh, uh, it's nothing," Jim appeared mildly flustered. "It's just that that's Blair's place."
"Uhhh ... okay ... so, you want me to move?"
"No, no, Simon, that's not what I meant. Jeez, I made it sound like it was sacred ground or something, didn't I?" Jim shook his head and frowned as if he'd just sorted out a riddle and wasn't pleased with the answer. "No, it's just that ... it just occurred to me that Blair doesn't sit there anymore. It used to be that whenever we both happened to be in here, watching TV, or reading, or just hanging out, he would sit right where you are. These days, if we're ever in here at the same time, he sits way over at the other end of the sofa. It's like he's putting as much space as possible between us."
Simon started to say something about that kind of space cutting both ways, but thought better of it. Instead, he said, "I guess you both sensed that there was some healing that had to take place."
"Damn, Captain, that sounds suspiciously like a Naomi-ism," a small grin played at one corner of Jim's mouth.
"Yeah," Simon chuckled, "I suppose she would say Blair was just processing his feelings tonight. Hell of a scary way to process."
"I don't know, Simon," Jim said thoughtfully, "maybe that's exactly what he was doing." Jim stared intently at the cup of coffee in his hands. "When he was remembering the jungle ... the arrow in his heart. That was my dream, Simon. My nightmare."
"You mean the dream about the temple, with the jaguar?"
"No. No, the jaguar wasn't there. The temple was, but no jaguar. Instead, there was this wolf sniffing around. Growling. It made me feel uneasy, I'm not sure why, it wasn't really that threatening. But, without giving it much thought, I shot it. I was armed with a hunting bow. I pulled an arrow from the quiver. I took aim. And I shot." Jim's voice was oddly measured and matter-of-fact, but his hand was shaking when he set his coffee down next to Simon's. He continued in a voice so low that Simon had to lean forward to hear him. "When I got closer, I saw that the wolf was dying. Only it wasn't a wolf, it was Blair."
Jim leaned his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. From the subtle unevenness in his breathing and the slight, intermittent hitch in his shoulders, Simon knew that the big detective was crying. Uncertain what to do, he leaned over and placed a hand on his friend's back, allowing it to rest there until Jim finally raised his head and self-consciously swiped at the tears on his face.
"When did you have this dream, Jim?"
"Right before I kicked him out of the loft." Jim sat back and cleared the remaining tears out his eyes with a vigorous wipe of his palms. He winced at the pain this caused his bruised cheek and wiped again, more gently, with the back of his hand. "I can't believe I did that to him. I remember the look on his face, how he tried to talk to me but I wouldn't listen. I don't think I was capable of listening, of sitting down and reasoning through what was happening to me. There was just no reasoning with me then. It seemed as if everything I was doing was based on blind, terrified instinct. And, I'll tell you, Simon, that dream scared the hell out of me."
"Is that why you kicked Sandburg out?
"Yes. No. I don't know. I suppose, if I'm willing to give myself the benefit of the doubt, I could say I pushed Blair away out of some ill-conceived notion that I was protecting him from me. I'm not sure I'm willing to cut myself that much slack, though. Hindsight's still the clearest, even for a sentinel, captain. I realize now that that dream was a warning to me that I was so out of control, I would be the cause of my guide's death. Damned near came true, didn't it?" Jim chewed on his lower lip as the tears threatened again.
"Did you ever mention this dream to Sandburg?"
"Not this one, no. Maybe if I had, he would have been able to help me understand what was going on and none of this would have happened. At least I might have been able to protect him from Alex."
"C'mon, Jim. Give yourself a break here. Besides, what makes you think Sandburg would have been any better at interpreting that dream than you were?"
"Because he's my guide, Simon," Jim explained simply. "And even if he didn't understand what the dream meant, he would have at least been a calm voice of reason. He would have figured something out. He always does. But instead of turning to the one person in the world who understood, and could have gotten me through this, I treated him like he was the enemy."
"He helped the enemy, Jim," Simon reminded him gently.
"Yeah," Jim agreed softly, "there is that. But Simon, Blair didn't know what Alex was. He didn't recognize the evil in her. He just saw a person who needed him. Besides, by the time he met Alex, I had already been pushing him away for weeks -- ever since that argument we had about his dissertation. I shut him out. He was a guide without a sentinel and, because of that, he was vulnerable. Alex took advantage of that and moved in for the kill."
The two men sat in silence for a while, sipping their coffee.
"I probably should have offered you something decaffeinated," Jim said, "You'll never get to sleep tonight. This morning. Whatever."
"Caffeine never seems to keep me awake. Constant worry about what you two are up to, now that keeps me awake."
"You mean, they don't tell you how to deal with sentinel-guide teams in the captain's handbook?"
"'Fraid not." With a tired sigh, Simon set his cup aside and said, "You know, Jim, there's something I don't get. How is it possible that Blair is having your dream now? And why? Is it because you still pose a threat to him?"
"No, I don't think so. God, I hope not. Anyway, I don't think the dream is about that now. Simon, I know this is going to sound strange --"
"We crossed that threshold sometime before the ostrich chili, Jim."
"Yeah, well, I know how you hate all the dream-vision-mystic stuff that seems to go with this sentinel business."
"I don't hate it, I'm just don't understand it."
"And you think I do? Anyway, for me that dream was a premonition. But for Blair it was something else, something more real."
"What do you mean?"
"He kept talking about remembering -- remembering the cold, remembering the jungle, remembering the ... the pain. It wasn't a dream for him, Simon, it was real. He lived through it and this morning he was remembering the experience."
"Well, there's a couple of problems with that theory, Ellison. One, if he lived through it, that means you did, too since you were the one that shot -- excuse me -- allegedly shot him. And two, he's doing remarkably well for person with an arrow wound in his chest. Oh, and three, when did this alleged shooting take place, huh?"
Jim stared at Simon as if his captain had just sprouted antennae. "You're hopeless, Simon. And I do mean that in the nicest sort of way."
Simon frowned uncertainly, "That's good to hear. I guess."
Jim smiled wryly and shook his head, "I don't mean that this actually happened, Simon. You took me way too literally."
"Well, excuse me for living! I thought that was what you were getting at here. Dammit, Jim, I'm trying to be open-minded about all this, but I have enough trouble getting my poor old brain wrapped around this whole dream-vision Blairwolf business without your messing with the borders of reality on me."
"Okay, okay, let me try to explain it this way. Remember I told you that, when I tried to wake up Blair, it seemed like he was drowning in his sleep?"
"Well, I think he really was. I think he was reliving his death in the fountain and I woke him up right in the middle of it. But when he was going on and on about remembering stuff, he wasn't talking about the drowning, the fountain, or even the memory of being revived. He was talking about being in a very cold jungle and me killing him. It was real to him. Real enough, anyway. He felt...." Jim's voice faltered slightly and he paused to take a deep breath before continuing, "....he felt that arrow sink into his chest -- you heard it in his voice, Simon, you can't deny that. You saw it in his face."
Simon shuddered at the memory of Blair's body stiffening in his arms, the look of terrible pain on his face and that awful, prolonged sigh that seemed for one horrible moment as though it were Blair releasing his last breath.
"He was reliving a vision, Simon. And I think that vision came to him while he was drowning. While he was lying in the cold water of that damn fountain. But in this vision, he didn't drown. Instead, he lay naked in a cold jungle with an arrow in his heart."
"Jim, are you saying this vision was like a near-death experience for him?"
Jim looked vaguely startled by this insight. "Well, I wasn't really thinking about it in exactly that way, but yeah, maybe."
"Damn, that hardly seems fair," Simon muttered, shaking his head. "Don't most people get a bright light, a tunnel and a warm, fuzzy feeling?"
Jim made an odd, choking sound and hunched forward, covering his face with his hands. His shoulders began to shake slightly and it appeared that he was crying again. Embarrassed, Simon reached over and touched his arm, "Ah, hell, Jim, I'm sorry. That came out the wrong way. I don't mean to make light of this."
Jim raised his head and Simon realized with surprise that he wasn't crying but, rather, was trying very hard not to laugh out loud. "Simon," he finally managed between chuckles, "Simon, I really appreciate your giving it the old army try here, but you're just no good at this mystical stuff."
"Well, hell, that's what I've been trying to tell you all along!" Simon said, trying unsuccessfully to sound irritated. "Jesus, Ellison...." his voice trailed off as he grinned good-naturedly at his favorite detective.
Jim grinned back and clumsily swiped a forearm across eyes now brimming with tears from laughter. "God, you must think I'm a nut-case, Simon. One minute I'm crying like a baby and the next I'm a laughing fool. You'll probably be filing the paperwork to have me committed as soon as you get to your office."
"Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me," Simon promised solemnly. "I figure if you can keep quiet about me playing Captain Snugglebunny with Sandburg in there, I can keep quiet about your being nothing but a big old, sentimental sentinel wuss."
"Thanks, Captain, I appreciate that."
"Don't mention it."
The men fell silent again.
"What you're suggesting is that, with this dream ... remembrance, whatever ... in the jungle, Blair was working through some pretty heavy-duty shit tonight."
"You said he's okay, he's going to be fine."
"Yeah, Simon, I believe he is."
"I'm sorry, Jim, but I don't think it's that simple. I don't think you can just flash back to a near-death experience and then, 'poof', like some great epiphany, have all your demons conquered. Not after what he's been through. I think you'd better prepare yourself for the possibility that he might be working through this stuff for quite a while yet before he's even close to being fine again."
"You could be right, Simon, but I don't think so. I really think he's okay."
"What makes you think so?"
Jim didn't answer right away. When he did, it was with the quiet assurance of someone who has recognized a hidden truth. "I saw his eyes. I was at the door and I caught a glimpse of his eyes just before he closed them and went to sleep." Jim smiled at the memory. "I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. He just looked, I don't know ... happy. At peace. Whatever journey he took between the time he was dumped in that fountain and the time I shook him back to life, he found an answer at the end of it. This morning, I think maybe he remembered that answer. I saw it in his eyes."
"Peeking through those windows to the soul, huh?"
"Something like that, sir."
"Do you think he'll let you in on this answer he found?"
"I don't know, Simon. It doesn't really matter as long as he's all right. Especially if he's still willing to be my guide."
Simon drained the rest of his coffee and stood up to take his cup to the kitchen. "Why do I get the feeling that my job here is done?"
"Because otherwise you won't get home in time to do that weird speed-sleep thing you do." Jim got up and followed him toward the kitchen.
"No, Jim, I'm afraid the ship's just about sailed on that one." Simon looked at his watch. "Sunrise is in approximately fifteen minutes."
Jim winced, "Sorry, sir."
"Don't worry about it. You've still got some more coffee in that pot. If you don't mind, I think I'll borrow a cup and take some along for the road." Simon walked over to the coffeemaker and refilled his cup. He turned to offer Jim one as well, but stopped when he saw that the other man had frozen in his steps at the edge of the kitchen and was staring intently toward Blair's bedroom.
"Jim? What is it?"
"I don't know," Jim said distractedly as he strode quickly to the French doors.
Simon set down the coffee pot and hastily followed him into Blair's bedroom.
Blair was writhing in his bed, emitting frustrated little grunts as he fought against the bedclothes enveloping him.
"Oh, damn, Jim. What now?"
"Chief?" Jim approached the bed cautiously and tentatively reached out his hand to the agitated young man.
One of Blair's arms abruptly came free of the comforter, and the flailing limb let loose a towel which sailed in a graceful arc over Jim's shoulder to land on Simon's head. With a satisfied little groan, Blair started to turn on his other side, but his legs wouldn't follow, stymied as they were by Simon's secure bundling job. Blair's sleeping face scrunched into a comical scowl as he struggled to extricate his legs from their cloth restraints.
Jim laughed softly, "Hang on, Chief, I think I see the problem here."
"What's happening?" Simon asked, looking around for a place to toss the errant towel. He settled on slinging it over his shoulder. "Is he having a nightmare?"
"Nope." Jim leaned down and loosened the covers twisted around Blair's lower body. Then, reaching in under the layers he removed the offending towel from around the squirming feet, barely avoiding a flying foot to the jaw when the young man kicked free of the covers.
"How's that, Chief? That better?"
Blair answered with a contented sigh and rolled onto his side with his back to his two friends.
The two men gazed affectionately down at the faintly snoring anthropologist.
"He's okay, cap'n," Jim said softly. "You just wrapped the guppy a little too tight is all."
Jim awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and bacon. He stretched and yawned expansively and rolled over to sit at the edge of his bed. His bedside alarm clock read 11:03.
"You awake, up there?" Blair spoke softly from downstairs, but his voice carried easily to Jim in his loft bedroom.
"Yeah, Chief, I'm up." Jim stood and looked down over the railing that ran behind his bed. His roommate was dressed in sweats and was in the kitchen, frying bacon and industriously preparing the fixings for Denver omelets. "How long have you been awake?"
"Couple of hours." Blair grinned up at him. "I called Simon. We have the day off."
"I knew that already."
"Yeah, well, I wasn't sure. You were sleeping so soundly when I got up, I hated to wake you just to ask if you were allowed to sleep in today."
Jim grabbed his robe and headed down the stairs. "How was Simon?"
"Surprisingly civilized. Considering what I put him through last night."
"He was glad to help you out, Chief."
Blair didn't respond but instead focused his attention on the task of sautéing vegetables.
Jim eased past him in the narrow space between the stove and the counter to pour himself a cup of coffee. "I can't believe you've been up so long. You must have been walking on tiptoe down here."
"Not really. In fact, I was starting to get a little lonely so I figured I'd start messing around, fixing breakfast, hoping I might wake you up." Blair grinned at him sheepishly. "You must have been totally zonked, man."
"Yeah. I slept like a baby. First time in weeks."
"Yeah," Blair responded faintly, "yeah, I know."
Jim tried to offer his friend a reassuring smile but Blair had turned back to the stove.
"Well anyway," Jim said, "that bacon sure woke me up."
"Ah-Ha! I knew it would. Pretty noisy food, isn't it?" As if to demonstrate, Blair tossed two more slabs in the sizzling pan where they sputtered and spat merrily.
"I'm not sure if it was the sound that did it. I think maybe the aroma did. God, that smells good. What's the occasion, Chief? Usually I'm lucky if you don't hide my good breakfast food under a slab of tofu in the crisper, and here you are cooking it up for me."
"Thought you deserved something special," Blair said quietly, his back still to Jim, "after last night."
"Look, Chief --" Jim reached out to touch Blair's shoulder but the young man chose that moment to step away over to the refrigerator leaving Jim to pat at the empty air where he had been.
"This'll be on the table in about five minutes," Blair said brightly, leaning into the refrigerator to retrieve a carton of orange juice. "You have time for a quick shower if you want."
Jim hesitated. He knew Blair well enough to know that the young man wanted to talk, or at the very least wanted his company. If he didn't, he would have been up and gone by the time Jim woke up, certainly not preparing a meal for them to share. Even so, his friend seemed nervous and self-conscious as he busied himself with fixing their breakfast.
"Okay, Chief. Don't eat it all before I get out."
Blair smiled absently and waved him into the bathroom with a spatula.
Jim showered and dressed quickly and the two men were seated at the dining room table less than ten minutes later.
"Mmm. Man, this is good, Chief." Jim said around a forkful of omelet. "You sure you don't want some of this bacon?"
Blair shuddered and made a face, "No way, man. Fried pig fat is not my idea of a healthy way to start the day."
"You don't know what you're missing, kid," Jim said, biting down with relish on a crispy piece of the breakfast meat.
Blair picked disinterestedly at his food for a few moments.
"Aren't you hungry?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I just.... I, uh...." Blair met Jim's eyes briefly then quickly looked away. He asked quietly, "Does it hurt?"
"Hmm?" Jim tapped lightly at his bruised cheekbone then waved his fork dismissively in the air. "Nah. It's nothing. Don't worry about it."
"I'm really sorry, man," Blair said, his eyes downcast.
Jim set his fork down and leaned forward, his forearms on either side of his plate. "Blair," he said earnestly, "you don't need to feel bad about last night."
"I know that. I don't feel bad exactly. I just feel a little embarrassed."
"Well, there's no reason for you to feel embarrassed, either."
"Oh yeah? Easy for you to say. You weren't the one who spent the wee hours of the morning curled up on the lap of the captain of Major Crimes, a shivering and slobbering mess."
"Simon was shivering and slobbering? No, Chief, I don't think so. I would have remembered that."
"Sure, Jim, make fun of my fractured syntax," Blair said sheepishly. "Way to hit a guy when he's down."
"You fractured your what!? Jesus, Blair, I thought you just bumped your head on the sink."
"Would you stop it already?" Blair said, trying unsuccessfully to hide a broad grin from his gently teasing friend. "Jeesh, try to have a little serious breakfast conversation." He cut off a forkful of omelet and stuffed it in his mouth.
They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes. Finally Jim said, "I meant what I said, Chief. You don't need to be embarrassed about last night. When you feel up to it, I'd really like to talk about what happened."
"Yeah, we do need to talk," Blair agreed. "And don't worry, I do feel up to it. It's just that it might be a little hard coming up with the right words to say, you know?"
"Yeah, I know."
Jim got up and carried his empty plate and cup to the kitchen. He poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and returned to the table, this time taking the seat closest to Blair rather than the one at the opposite end. Blair fidgeted slightly in his seat and continued to eat his breakfast.
Jim touched his arm lightly and Blair looked up, tentatively meeting the sentinel's gaze.
"Blair, I'm really sorry about everything. The things I said to you about your dissertation, that whole thing with Alex, kicking you out of the loft. I just --"
"Jim," Blair cut him off gently, "none of those things were your fault. It was my fault. Everything that happened." He met Jim's eyes steadily and repeated firmly, "My fault."
"No. No, Chief. You did everything you could to try to get through to me. I just wasn't listening."
"You were confused, Jim, and you were hurting. It should never have come to that. It wouldn't have come to that if I'd been doing my job."
"Look, Chief, I don't think assigning blame is the way to go here."
"Neither do I. Especially if you keep insisting on taking the lion's share of it." Blair averted his eyes again and stabbed feebly at the remains of his omelet.
"Look who's talking."
Blair didn't answer, but rather pushed back from the table and carried his dirty dishes to the sink. He began running water to clean up the breakfast things.
Jim sighed in frustration. "Here, let me take care of those," he said, getting up from the table, "You cooked, I'll clean."
Once again, it seemed that Blair couldn't meet his eyes. "Yeah, sure, Jim. Thanks," he said, stepping awkwardly past the taller man and heading toward the bathroom. "Uh, look, I think I'll take a shower and get dressed now," he said over his shoulder, "I didn't want to use up all the hot water before. In case you got up and wanted to go in to work or something."
"Thanks, Chief. Appreciate it."
The bathroom door clicked shut softly but the shower didn't come on right away. Jim listened to the sound of his friend's accelerated heart rate and the softly muttered "dammit, dammit, dammit" coming from the other room. After about a minute of this, the shower came on.
"Ah, hell, Chief," he shook his head sadly as he began washing the breakfast dishes, "I guess Simon was right, this might not be as easy as I thought."
Jim had finished cleaning up the kitchen and dining room table and was sitting in the living room staring blankly at the morning paper when Blair finally emerged, freshly shaved, showered and wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. His damp hair was pulled back in a ponytail. He walked over to the sofa adjacent to the love seat where Jim was sitting and hesitated, his eyes flickering briefly to the end of the sofa furthest from Jim. As if coming to a decision, he gave a tiny nod and a barely audible "mm-hmm," and sat on the sofa at the end closest to his friend.
Jim set down his paper and smiled at Blair, relieved to hear that the young man's heart rate had calmed and grateful to see him taking his accustomed place within an arm's length from him on the sofa.
Blair clasped his hands on his lap and stared down at them for several seconds. Then he unclasped them, folded his arms across his chest, unfolded them, clasped and unclasped his hands again, shifted restlessly on the sofa and began nervously drumming his fingertips on his thighs.
Both men spoke at once, "So, Jim who should --" // "Chief, if this is too --"
"Sorry," Jim smiled, "What were you saying?"
"Umm, I was just going ask who should start?"
"Uhhh...." Jim puffed his cheeks, and blew out slowly. "Well, it's not like this a formal debate, Chief. You can start if you want."
"So, what do you think happened last night?" Blair asked gravely.
"Okay, then, I guess that means you want me to start," Jim chuckled.
Meeting Blair's solemn gaze, he said, "I think you had a flashback. To the morning you almost died. I think I woke you in the middle of it. And I think you relived the rest of that flashback in bits and pieces until you finally fell asleep again."
"Yeah," Blair nodded, "that's sounds about right."
"How much do you remember, Chief? Sometimes you seemed pretty lucid and other times, well...."
"I think I remember most of it. I remember that dammed chili recipe kept going through my head." He snorted softly, "What was that all about?"
"I don't know. Maybe your way of keeping a tentative grip on reality or something."
"Yeah, maybe," Blair smiled wanly.
"Chief, that whole thing about the jungle, my shooting you with an arrow. Was that something you saw? Was it a vision you had when you were drowning?"
"I'm pretty sure, yeah." Blair returned to his intent study of his hands.
"Do you realize that was a dream that I had right before I kicked you out of the loft?"
Blair looked at him in surprise. "What? No. You never told me about that dream."
"No I didn't," Jim agreed regretfully.
"Why not?" There was no censure in Blair's tone, only quiet compassion.
"I was afraid."
Blair sighed deeply, "See, Jim, that's what I mean." He shook his head sadly. "If I'd been living up to my responsibilities as your guide, none of this would have happened. We would have been prepared for Alex because we would have understood what was going on. We'd have recognized her for who she was before it was too late." He pounded a fist lightly against his thigh, "It was that damned dissertation. I was so wrapped up in that...."
"Whoa, Chief, c'mon. It's your work toward that dissertation that's helped you to help me. It's because of your research that you understand as much as you do about this."
"No, Jim, you're wrong. I mean you're right about my research giving me a leg up on this, but I think the dissertation was really just supposed to be a means to the end. Not the goal itself. The dissertation was fate's way of bringing us together."
"I'm kinda losing you here, Chief.."
"Jim, did you ever wonder why it is you became an Army Ranger? Why you're a cop now?"
"I don't know. It just seemed to suit me."
"Exactly. As a Ranger you protected your country. Now, as a cop, you're protecting your city. Think about it. What more logical job is there for a sentinel?"
Jim nodded thoughtfully.
"Now, me, I'm an anthropologist. I study people. If I'm lucky, if I keep an open mind and I pay really close attention, I can learn and benefit from the wisdom of countless different cultures. I can even learn something about what makes the difference between whether or not a civilization survives in this world. What better job is there for a someone who guides the protector of the people?
"What I'm saying is that your being a cop is a natural outgrowth of your being a sentinel. My being lured into a field that deals with the science of human nature, not to mention a field that provided me with my introduction to the whole idea of sentinels in the first place, was a natural consequence of my being a guide. Not the other way around. I was born a guide just as you were born a sentinel. It's destiny."
Jim frowned thoughtfully, "So, what you're saying is that we hooked up together because of some great cosmic sentinel/guide master plan or something?"
"Well, it sounds a little silly when you put it that way, but yeah. I don't think any of this was happenstance, Jim. There are no accidents when it comes to something as important as this. You're a sentinel, I'm a guide. What's more I'm your guide. No one else's."
"I don't know, Chief," Jim shook his head doubtfully, "I've never been much of a believer in fate. I've always believed a man is in charge of his own destiny. I'm not sure I like the idea that I don't have a choice in the matter."
"I didn't say you don't have a choice. Of course you have a choice. C'mon, you know that, Jim. You've already been faced with that choice twice. Once in Peru and then again when Incacha died. Both times, you accepted your destiny. But it was your choice all the same."
"What about you? Have you been faced with your choice yet?"
"Oh, yeah," Blair nodded slowly. "That's what all this is about right now." He took a deep breath and turned slightly in his seat, leaning closer toward Jim. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, chewing on his lower lip a bit as if reconsidering what he wanted to say. Finally, he continued, "When Incacha passed on the way of the shaman to me, he was recognizing me as your spiritual guide. He was telling me that it was time to accept my destiny. But I didn't go forward with it. I dropped the ball, Jim. I failed you."
"What are you talking about? You've never failed me, Chief. You've put your whole heart into this sentinel thing."
"That's just what I'm saying, Jim. I've worked so hard at understanding your role as a sentinel, I forgot to explore my role as your guide."
"Isn't that what your role as my guide is, Chief? Understanding me?"
Blair stared at him for a moment then burst into laughter. "Sorry, Jim," he giggled, "I'm sorry. It's just that sounded so, uh...."
"You mean this isn't all about me?" Jim asked plaintively, his eyebrows furrowed in mock dismay.
"Yeah, sure Jim, anything you say." Blair chuckled and reached over to give him a fond pat on the back. "It's all about you, man."
"Good," Jim sighed in relief, "you had me worried there for a minute."
Blair fell silent, smiling and staring off into space.
"Why are you being so hard on yourself? I don't get it. You've helped me understand my senses, to bring them under control. You've helped me keep my sanity. You've saved my butt on more than one occasion. What more do you expect of yourself?"
Blair didn't look at him when he answered. "I expect myself to do more than just stand behind you and remind you to focus and breathe. I expect to do more than just teach you how to do stupid pet tricks with your senses."
"Oh, I don't know, that piggy-back thing was pretty cool...."
"I need to be more than just your backup, Jim, more than just a person who hangs around in case you need me to snap you out of a zone. Hell, Simon could do that."
"No, he couldn't," Jim said with quiet certainty. "It's your voice I've learned to listen for. It's your -- I don't know -- your aura I guess you'd call it, that keeps me grounded. Someone else might be able to learn how to pull me out of a zone, but they wouldn't be able to help me maintain my equilibrium on a day-to-day basis. I need you for that, Chief. If that whole Alex thing proved anything it was that."
"Well, I wasn't much help with that whole Alex thing, was I?"
"Because I didn't let you help."
"Because I didn't know how to help," Blair countered.
"C'mon, Chief, not this again. We're talking in circles here."
"You're right, you're right," Blair agreed, backing down. He sighed and settled back against the sofa cushion. "Let's move on."
"All right then." Jim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and said expectantly, "So, Chief. You taught me how to use my sentinel abilities. How can I help you to learn to be a guide?"
Blair looked at him in surprise.
"What?" Jim responded innocently, "Aren't we a team? C'mon, partner, it's payback time. Remember all those tests you ran me through? There's probably hundreds of guide-type tests we need to run on you. So, where do we start?"
Blair grinned and shook his head in helpless surrender. "Jim, I hate to tell you this, but I don't have the foggiest notion where we start. No," he said, raising his hand, "I take that back." He calmly met his friend's eyes. "We start from here. I just don't know what the next step is."
"Jeez," Jim snorted softly, teasing, "Some guide you are."
"Don't worry, Jim," Blair smiled reassuringly, "It's going to be okay."
"I know it's going to be okay," Jim returned his smile. "I told Simon that after you fell asleep this morning." Suddenly self-conscious, Jim looked away from Blair and stared down at the floor. He asked hesitantly, "Tell me about that, Chief. How did it end? What did you see at the end of your vision?"
"It ended with the beginning," came Blair's cryptic answer. Jim looked over at him and saw that the young man's eyes had lost their focus, as if he were staring at something far away. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, somewhat sad, as one would speak when remembering a loved-one. "I saw Incacha. He was in the jungle, standing off in the distance. With him were our animal guides. The jaguar stood to one side. Sentinel and protector. On the other side was a wolf. Guide and teacher."
Blair frowned slightly and looked at Jim, "I could hear you calling to me, crying, shouting, cursing at me. It sounded like you were pretty pissed off." He smiled sadly. "I remember thinking you had a right to be. I didn't want to come back."
"You mean, you wanted to die?"
"Nah, man, I didn't want to die," Blair shrugged slightly and looked down at his hands. "I just didn't want to come back. I was so ashamed. I'd let you down big time."
"What made you come back anyway?" Jim asked, his voice barely a whisper.
"Incacha spoke to me."
"What did he say?"
"'He said, 'This is where you begin, Shaman.'"
Blair looked at his friend, this time easily capturing and holding the sentinel's gaze with clear blue eyes that conveyed the quiet joy of a man who had taken an anguished journey to the other side and had returned with the gift of grace. Jim saw the love and respect he felt for his guide reflected back from those eyes.
"When I heard Incacha say those words," Blair continued quietly, "I knew everything was going to be all right. Everything was forgiven. Incacha loved you, Jim. And with those words, he was telling me that he trusts me to be your guide. That really scares me, man. But it feels good, too. So you see, Jim, I had to come back. This is only the beginning."
Through a trick of refraction caused by the film of tears in Jim's eyes, the features of Blair's face blurred, then edged again toward clarity, allowing Jim to glimpse his young friend in a way he had never seen him before. At that moment, Blair's face looked neither old nor young, yet it was both youthful and aged, all at once conveying the eager innocence of youth tempered by the quiet and bittersweet understanding that comes with the wisdom of age. Jim blinked back the tears and the vision of this timeless countenance melded into the familiar and gentle face of his best friend.
"You're the wisest man I know, Chief."
Somewhat flustered, Blair looked away, the spell broken. "C'mon, Jim. That's nice of you to say, but I think you should reserve that compliment for people who really deserve it. Incacha was wise. I'm just a guy who's probably going to spend his life searching for the answers to life's riddles."
"Isn't that what wisdom is? The willingness to seek the truth?"
"It's more than that. Wisdom is the ability to recognize and accept the truth when you do find it. Maybe that's it, Jim. Maybe that's my next step."
"Blair, there's one more thing I want to ask you about. It worries me that you're not going to finish your dissertation."
"Who says I'm not going to finish my dissertation?"
"I thought ... what you were saying before...."
"I was saying the dissertation's no longer the goal. But so long as I'm working on it, I have access to grants and resources at the university that I wouldn't otherwise have access to. If I finish my doctorate, it will open doors that would otherwise be closed to me. I want that damn degree, Jim. But only if it continues to be a means of helping us further our Sentinel/Guide relationship. If it gets in the way, or if your anonymity is threatened in any way, well, it's just not worth it."
"Yeah, okay," Jim said uncertainly. "But Chief --"
"You gotta trust me on this one, Jim. It's just going to be a matter of not losing sight of priorities here."
The phone rang and Jim reluctantly got up and answered it.
"Jim?" came Simon's tired voice. "How's it going? You two okay?"
"Yeah, Simon, we're fine. Everything's good here."
"You have a good talk?"
"Yes sir, we sure did."
Blair had gotten up from the sofa and was standing at Ellison's elbow. "Hey, Jim, tell him we want to come in to work today. Cascade needs us. We gotta go after the bad guys, man. We gotta go kick butt and we really, really gotta get our asses in gear and find that Alex bitch before she gets into more trouble."
Jim cuffed the young man affectionately on side of the head, smiling at the simple pleasure he got from that familiar gesture. "Did you hear that Simon?" he asked.
"Yeah, I heard. Are you sure? Is Blair up to it?"
"Oh, yeah, Simon," Jim said, smiling at his young guide who was now bouncing around the dining room, shadowboxing with imaginary bad guys, a fierce expression on his face. "He is definitely up to it ... and this is just the beginning."
THE END ... BEGINNING ... WHATEVER....
I wasn't certain whether I even wanted to write the last part of this story. I was sorely tempted to just stop after Jim unwrapped the Guppy. Several marvelous fanfic writers have handled the delicate subject of where Jim and Blair go from here so well and so insightfully, I wasn't sure I was up to the task. In fact, I probably unconsciously incorporated a lot of their ideas in the final part of this story. I hope I didn't step on any toes and I hope you enjoyed my story. I would love to hear what you think of it, but please be gentle. Remember, this was a learning experience for me. Other than some high school creative writing classes, all I've written to date have been dry, academic papers. Not a lot of call for smarm in academia.