Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- In Time and Destiny Series

Summary: Jim finally tells Blair about his "dream" after Blair tells him about what happened in the past. Spoilers: based on events in Flight and Warriors.

Second installment of the In Time and Destiny series. The book, the picture and text in it, the mask, the ruins, and anything else having to do with the Mayans and shamans are from my imagination and not meant to be taken as factual.

Shadows of Reality
by Becky
December 1997

Heavy rain hit the glass and slid down to pool on the balcony on the other side of the windows. Stormy clouds hung in the skies, blocking out any hint of the sun, leaving everything in murky grayness. A man's face could be seen in the reflection of the water-streaked glass. He stared out into the early morning, his light blue eyes speaking of thoughts reaching far beyond physical elements even as he sipped from the coffee mug in his hand.

Old words swirled and echoed in the air around him.

<<You must help your Guide defeat the ghosts of his past before he can go forward to truly become your true shaman.>>

<<The ghosts of your Guide's past are here. If they win, your Guide will never fulfill his true destiny and will soon be unable to guide you as your abilities become stronger. Without your Guide, you may lose your way as a Sentinel. Without the Sentinel, evil will become strong in your tribe and prevail in your future. You must protect the Guide from those that would use others to destroy you both.>>

<<"You can't protect him here, Sentinel. You don't belong here.">>
<<"I protect him wherever I am and wherever he is . . . And I know now that you cannot hurt him in my present without hurting him in his past.">>

Remembering the dream and everything that had happened in it, Jim shivered slightly. He hadn't told anyone about the dream . . . or whatever it was. He wasn't so sure he even wanted to tell Blair. He had a hard enough time himself understanding or believing what had happened in that dream, much less trying to talk about it. But something inside was telling him he needed to talk to Blair about it. That if he didn't, then whatever the spirit guide's purpose was for appearing in the first place would be all for naught.

He had brought Blair home from the hospital late yesterday afternoon. After a day of tests, the doctors had given up, pronounced Blair healthy, and sent him home. They had been unable to explain what had happened and said only that Jim should keep a close eye on his friend for a few days . . . just in case. And I intend to do just that. Simon had given him today, Monday, and Tuesday off, just so he could stick close to Blair. Simon was concerned as well, though he'd never admit it.

At a sound behind him, his eyes focused and shifted slightly, catching a glimpse of the object of his thoughts shuffling into the kitchen, muttering to himself, "Cold, cold, cold. Too cold."

Jim turned to lean against the windows, watching as Blair dropped a thick book on the counter, then continued toward the stove. "Morning, Chief."

The younger man, dressed in sweats, an old sweatshirt, and a pair of socks, threw him a broad smile. "Morning, Jim."

He looks better this morning, better than two days ago most definitely. Jim pushed away from the windows and sauntered over to the kitchen island. "Didn't expect to see you up so early. Sleep okay?"

Blair nodded as he filled the teakettle with water. "Oh, yeah, now that I'm in my own bed. I hate hospital beds, man. Can't move around in them enough to get comfortable."

Eyeing the teakettle, Jim gestured with his own mug. "I do have coffee made, Sandburg. You shouldn't wear yourself out."

Blair just looked at him a moment, then shook his head. "I'm fine, Jim, really. The doctors told you that like 20 times." He paused, then shrugged. "And I don't want coffee." Jim raised an eyebrow in a silent question. Blair grinned. "I want hot chocolate. That's what days like today call for -- hot chocolate, a warm house, and a good book."

Jim shifted his gaze over to the tome laying on the side of the island. He tipped it up, reading the title aloud. "This your good book? Mayan Religion and Culture. Uh-huh. This is for that class, I presume?"

"Yeah, normally I'd get Professor Richardson to guest lecture for me. He knows more about the Mayans than anyone else at the University. But he got this last-minute invitation to visit some really ancient and newly discovered ruins in Mexico. So he let me borrow a few books from his collection and wished me luck." He set the teakettle on the stove and flipped on the stove burner before stepping over to a cupboard. "The, uh, unfortunate trip to the hospital has sorta delayed my reading and I hope I can get through what he's given me before I have to give the lecture later this week."

Jim opened the cover of the book, wrinkling his nose at the musty smell of the old pages. "How much have you read?"

"Not much." Blair dumped a package of hot chocolate into the mug, then paused a moment. "Do we have any marshmellows?"

Jim looked up from the book. "Marshmallows?"

"Yeah, you know, white powdery things? Lots of sugar, no nutritional value?"

"I thought you didn't go for that kind of stuff, Chief."

Blair grinned. "C'mon, Jim, what's hot chocolate without marshmallows? Now do we have any or not?"

Jim laughed. "Yeah, probably. Try the cupboard next to the spices." Blair went happily looking for marshmallows, exclaiming in delight when he found them. Jim leaned against the counter, sipping at his coffee, watching as Blair mixed his hot chocolate and piled three large marshmallows on top of the hot liquid, then chuckled. "You sure you can find the hot chocolate in that, Chief?"

Blair waggled his eyebrows. "Oh, yeah, I'm sure." He grabbed the book and headed over to the table. He dropped the book on the table and set his mug down beside it, then pulled out a chair. "And I'll need the sugar to get through this book anyway. This is not my ideal choice of reading material. Oh, wait, I need to take notes on what I'm reading." He hurried into his room and quickly reappeared with a spiral notebook, a pen, and his glasses.

As he watched his partner settle down into the chair, Jim asked, "Why do you need sugar to get through the book? I thought you liked that kind of stuff."

"Oh, I do. I'm just feeling a little tired today, that's all. The sugar will help me stay awake. You planning to hang around here today?" Jim nodded, grinning as Blair rolled his eyes in mock disgust. "You know, Jim, I don't need a babysitter or anything like that."

Laughing, Jim went around the kitchen island to refill his coffee mug. "Sure you do, Sandburg. You get into more trouble than anyone else I know." Plus I just want to be here. I'm worried about you. He listened as Blair muttered under his breath, then quiet down, flipping through pages before settling down to read. Jim picked up the coffee pot, pouring himself a fresh cup as he thought about what he could do on his rare day off. How many unfinished books do I have upstairs anyway. Let's see, there's . . . .

****************************

He ended up bringing Jack Kerouac's book down to read but then managed to fall asleep on the couch, much to Blair's amusement when he woke him up several hours later. Jim stretched and swiped a hand out at Blair, who dodged it nimbly, laughing as he retreated to the kitchen to finish making them lunch.

As they ate, Jim toyed with several ways on how to tell Blair about his dream, discarding one after the other as too weird or too unbelievable or just downright stupid. Finally he made a decision, but waited until Blair was settled on the couch to do some more reading before bringing it up. He stood in front of the windows again, cup of coffee in hand, watching as the rain came down against the streets below. The skies were still gray, the day still unpleasant-looking. He turned away the dreary outdoors and watched his partner instead.

I can't believe I almost lost you before I even got the chance to know you. What would that have meant to my Sentinel abilities? Would they have never come back? Would I have simply gone mad? And what would that have meant for just me as a person? Would I still be who I was when you first met me? Withdrawn? Closed off?

Soon enough, Blair realized he was being watched and jerked his head up to stare back at Jim. "What?"

"What what?"

"You're staring at me. Why?"

Jim smiled. "Sorry. Didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"It's not that. It's just . . . well, you've got this look on your face that you've made some kind of decision and are trying to make yourself go through with it."

"You know me too well, Sandburg."

Blair grinned. "Yeah, well, that's what they pay me for."

"Who pays you?"

"Oh, didn't you know? I belong to a guild now. Mental and financial support, you know."

"You are incorrigible, do you know that?"

"Part of my charm."

Jim rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, help."

Blair laughed, then put his books and stuff on the table, removing his glasses as well, setting them beside the book. He took a breath, released it slowly, then asked quietly, "So, what is it?"

Jim hesitated, then forced a half-smile on his face, evading the question. "I think we need to have a talk."

"About?" Blair's voice was cautious. Jim could see the muscles in his shoulders tense up, expecting something bad.

"About a dream I had while you were dozing at the hospital."

Blair relaxed a little. "A dream. Okay. We can do that."

Oh, I hope so. He turned and looked out the balcony windows again, staring aimlessly out at the rain for a long minute. Behind him he could hear Blair shift on the couch. "Jim . . . ?" His voice was full of concern, questions, and some hesitation.

"Yeah?"

"I thought you wanted to talk about this dream of yours."

"I do. I'm just not sure where to start." He laughed once, humorlessly. "Where to start. What a way to phrase it."

"Well, um, why don't you start at the beginning."

"The beginning, eh?"

"Yeah."

Jim was quiet for a long moment, then he asked, "Where were you in the summer of 1981?"

Thrown off by the out-of-the-blue question, Blair answered after a moment. "1981? Uh, let's see, I would have been twelve then. Texas, I think, Fort Worth, visiting some cousins. Why?"

Jim turned to face him, asking another question. "Where were you visiting from?"

"Do you mean where did we live?" Jim nodded. Blair went on. "Well, at the time, not really anywhere. Naomi and I had just got back from traveling through parts of Mexico and she decided to stop by and see some family as we went through Texas."

Jim frowned slightly. "Did anything happen while you were in Mexico?"

"Happen? What do you mean? We saw the sights, met a lot of really interesting people, visited some ruins, that kind of stuff. What exactly are you looking for?"

"I don't know. Anything odd, out-of-the-ordinary."

Blair looked away, then shrugged. "Well, I don't know if it's what you're asking about, but when we visiting some the ruins in the area, this old guy, well, he . . . ." He paused, laughing self-consciously.

Jim stepped a little closer, eyes intent. "What? What did this old guy do?"

Blair concentrated on the pattern of the coffee table. "When we were at the ruins, I got separated from Naomi at some point, lost among the other people. I was pretty little, hard to find in a crowd. But that was okay -- it had happened before in other places, and we always found each other again. I was a smart kid; I wasn't about to wander too far off. Anyway, I was looking at this ruin which I thought was pretty cool. Even back then I was interested in other cultures. I got so absorbed in it that I didn't notice this old guy coming up behind me until he grabbed my shoulder."

Pausing a moment, Blair shot a glance up at Jim, then continued. "I about jumped out of my skin. I think I screamed or something. I pulled away and turned around to see this huge old guy, must have been taller than you, big, long white hair, staring at me. Then he started talking, something about how I was in danger, that I needed protection from some evil thing, that he would be the one to give this protection. Man, I tell you I was freaked. Then just as he reached out to grab me again, Naomi and this tour guide showed up out of nowhere. I thought for sure I was about to carted off and never seen again.

"Mom was not impressed with this guy's spiel; actually, I think she was a little hurt at the idea that she didn't protect me well enough. You've met Mom, she's like so overprotective sometimes. Well, the tour guide got rid of the old guy and Naomi and I left Mexico immediately, going up to Texas, to Fort Worth." He stopped and shrugged, eyes lifting to meet Jim's. "That's it."

Jim was quiet, his eyes contemplative. "Is that . . . is that why Naomi reacted with so much . . . hostility during the whole carjacking case? Because she saw Francine haul you off that night?"

A small smile of remembrance crossed Blair's face. "Probably. She didn't really let me out of her sight very much for several months after that. Even in Fort Worth, she went almost everywhere with me. Didn't want to take the chance that I might disappear for good. Sometimes I thought she was almost waiting for that old guy from Mexico to pop up and snatch me when she wasn't looking."

"What happened when you got to Fort Worth? How long were you there?"

"How long? Um, not that long, maybe a month, maybe less. We'd planned to stay longer, but there was this group of teenagers that kept picking on me whenever I'd leave my cousins' place. After one of them attacked me in the park, nearly clobbering me with a baseball bat, Mom decided enough was enough. We left the next day."

A baseball bat? Jim's eyes widened slightly and he croaked out, "A bat? Did he . . . did he get you?"

"Almost. Just missed by inches, got the book I was reading instead. Some guy saw it happening and yanked me out the way. If he hadn't, I don't think I'd be where I am right now. That bat was a big wood thing." Blair stopped, frowning, "That guy and the teenager said some other things, but I really can't remember them anymore. I was too scared, I think, at the time. Something about protecting me wherever I was." He flushed slightly, looking down at his hands. "Later I decided that the guy was a guardian angel or something like that."

Or something. He remembers it. Maybe it was real. I don't know if I can accept that though. Jim started to feel suddenly overwhelmed by detail and information. Nearly kidnaped in Mexico by some old guy who wanted to 'protect him', whatever that means, then nearly having his skull dented in by some teenager being used by some evil presence not a month later. And now warnings from my spirit guide and Blair falling into an inexplicable coma, which of course has to be related to the whole near-clobbering by that bat. And then there's the whole time thing. I think I'm getting a headache. He took a long swig from his coffee, staring at the far wall.

"Jim? Are you okay? I thought we were gonna talk about your dream."

Shifting to meet Blair's eyes, Jim replied, "We are. I just needed to understand some things first. As for my, uh, dream ... well, let's just say it makes a lot more sense to me now than it did before."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Well, nothing's making sense to me, so why don't you tell me what's going on."

Jim paced back to the windows, looking out at the sleeting rain as it pinged off the streets and cars below. After a few seconds, he began to talk. "Okay, at the hospital when I was in your room, I must have drifted off at some point when I was sitting with you. I didn't mean to, but.... Anyway, I had this really crazy, eerie dream ... at least I think it was a dream. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was real. I wasn't sure about it then and I'm less sure now, but still...." His voice trailed off.

Blair sat forward, prompting in a soft voice. "Talk to me, Jim. Tell me about it."

"It was the shaman, my spirit guide as you've named him. He told me that you were in danger, that I couldn't help you." Through fate and chance, I almost lost you, almost never got the chance to even know you, if what happened in that 'dream' was actually real. He paused, gathering his thoughts, trying to calm himself down from the idea of losing Blair. It was all in the past, Ellison. It's over now. History.

Blair remained quiet. When Jim didn't continue, he finally spoke up. "He told you this in the dream?"

"Yeah."

"Did he say anything else?"

Haltingly, eyes closed, Jim went on as he leaned his forehead against the window, his breath fogging the cold glass. "He said you were dying because of the past, that the past was trying to hurt you, that I had to help you defeat the ghosts of your past before you could be strong again. Then he changed into the panther and ran. I followed him up a hill and then over a cliff. I fell and fell...."

Blair urged, "And then?"

Then I found you -- in another time, another place -- threatened by forces I don't and can't understand. Jim's eyes opened and he pulled back from the glass, rubbing the coldness away from his forehead. "And then ... I woke up."

Blair breathed out in a rush, nearly giggling with the letdown of the end of the dream. "That's all. You just woke up? Your spirit guide gives you a riddle about ghosts of the past and then you wake up next to the hospital bed?" He shook his head, eyes wide as his training kicked in. "But with all the symbolism evident in your dream, I suppose that since...."

How do I tell him? A little humor maybe? Nothing too dramatic? Jim turned again, walking over to Blair, lips half-curled into a fond smile as his friend, ever the researcher and teacher, rattled off various meanings and interpretations of what Jim had dreamed.

"I didn't say I woke up next to the bed, Chief."

Caught in mid-sentence, Blair halted and watched as Jim sat on the coffee table, normally where Blair would have sat. He blinked, found his voice again, and asked, "What? You sleepwalk or something?"

"No, not that either."

Curiosity and concern overrode the researching tone of Blair's voice. "Well, what then? What else could it be? You told me you never left the hospital after you got there with me."

"I didn't . . . well, not like you're thinking at least."

Now some frustration appeared. "Jim. . . ."

"I woke up in a park."

"A park."

"Yeah, it was afternoon, summertime. If it was a dream, then it was the most real dream I have ever experienced. To me, everything and everyone was as solid and as . . . real as you are to me right now." As real as you were to me then.

Blair was quiet for a moment or two, then he seemed to find what he wanted to say. "Okay. Some dreams are known to feel extremely real to the dreamer. With your heightened senses, I wouldn't be surprised if that happened to you occasionally. And if you figure in your spirit guide, I think it would make things even more real."

Jim set down his mug on the table, then said quickly, "Wait here." Before Blair could ask where he was going, Jim was gone and up the stairs to his bedroom. He pulled open the bedside table drawer, picking up the small item he'd left there when he'd got home after Blair had woken up that first night.

<<Sentinel!>>

Half turned to go back downstairs, he froze on the landing, the bit of newspaper in one hand as he gripped the railing with the other. With instinct and knowledge born of recent experiences, he threw his senses open wide, monitoring the loft, its nearest surroundings, and Blair, in particular. Nothing seemed amiss.

<<Sentinel!>>

With his hearing open full, the internal shout blasted into and through him. Clapping both hands over his ears, he focused on turning down the dial, squeezing his eyes shut momentarily in response to the pain. For an eternal moment, as he reset those dials, his awareness of his physical surroundings grayed out and the shaman's face filled his inner sight.

<<History is never dead, Sentinel. Only sleeping, waiting.>>

When awareness came back, nothing had changed. Rain still fell. The dark clouds still hung low in the skies. He could hear Blair waiting for him downstairs. He looked around, blinking, swallowing, wondering what the shaman was trying to tell him this time.

Looking over the edge of the railing, he caught sight of Blair reading the book again, leaning forward, the book laying on the table. Blair turned another page in the book, his lips moving silently as he read. Time seemed to slow as Jim both felt and saw the room darkening in the space surrounding his partner. Shoving the paper into a pocket, Jim swore under his breath and quickly moved to head downstairs, taking the steps two at a time. It almost felt as if he was fighting the air to reach his friend. He called out, much too loudly considering the small amount of space between them, "Blair!"

The younger man didn't even twitch. Again the cocoon of silence had enveloped him, absorbing him either willingly or unwillingly into the words and sentences and paragraphs of a book.

The air darkened again, closing in more tightly around the younger man and he moved closer to the book, squinting to read the print, oblivious to Jim's distress. Jim realized with some part of his brain that the distance between he and Blair almost seemed to lengthen the closer he got. He watched as the pen Blair was using to take notes fell from his fingers, rolling across the table and onto the floor with a clatter. Taking off his glasses with one hand and dropping them on the table, Blair raised his other hand to rub at his forehead, closing his eyes briefly. Jim saw the pained look spread across his face as Blair shoved the book away. And then he called Jim in a soft, plaintive voice. But not by the name Jim was expecting.

"Sentinel . . . ?"

Instead of a call for help to a friend, it was a call from a Guide to his Sentinel.

With a growl, Jim pushed himself forward and caught the younger man as he slumped forward, heading for a hard impact with the floor. Landing hard on his knees, Jim cradled Blair in his arms and stared down at the book still on the table, page fluttering slightly. He vaguely remembered seeing that book on Blair's bed on that night. The pages rested back down, then blew over in quick succession, even though there was no wind to ruffle them. He watched with wide eyes as they came to a stop again. A picture of a large decorative wood mask with stylized features caught Jim's eyes. Knowing his spirit guide's help when he saw it, he scanned the text below the picture quickly, ignoring the swirling darkness around him.

Jim's eyes widened. The old guy in Mexico that wanted to protect Blair -- he must have been a shaman and saw what Blair would become. He looked down at Blair, who wasn't really asleep, only partly so. Murmurs of pain slipped out from between his lips and he had twisted one hand tightly into Jim's shirt. Something, he didn't know what, was hurting Blair. Every atom of his instinctively protective nature toward Blair rose quickly to the surface, blocking out anything else. They would stand sentinel over the young shamans. He rose with some difficulty, shifting Blair's weight as he found the correct balance. He held Blair close to him, feeling the subtle shift in the room. The air felt thick, smelled dangerous, tasted of evil. He stood tall, glaring into the shadows around him, daring them to approach him.

"I know what you are and I know what you want. And you can't have it; you can't have him. He's my Guide. My shaman. I won't allow you to hurt him." The air shimmered and the temperature dropped a few degrees as he began to hear a low keening sound swirl around him. Another noise joined it -- a growl he recognized as belonging to the panther -- rising from somewhere in the darkness, accenting Jim's words. "I protected him then. I still protect him now. I will always protect him. It's who I am." The keening rose in pitch and the growling grew in volume. The lights flickered, but Jim stood his ground.

"I am a Sentinel. I am his Sentinel."

The noise level rose another notch, causing him to wince slightly, Then the panther roared and everything just . . . stopped. His spirit guide's voice echoed in his ears as the darkness receded.

<<The darkness has been driven back, Sentinel. But you must be vigilant. The battle against evil is never truly over.>>

He blinked, feeling a little deafened in the instant silence. His eyes dropped back down to Blair's face. The lines of pain had evened out and were gone. The hand was still holding on to his shirt front, but not as desperately as earlier. And by listening to the younger man's heartbeat and breathing, he realized with relief that Blair was only simply sleeping and was in no danger of drifting off into a coma this time.

Breathing out in a rush, he let his stance of protection drop a little. He rested his forehead against the top of Blair's head for a moment. Safe. But I still think I'd be happier if he was awake. I think it's about time I told him about my 'dream'. He'll love it, I'm sure.

He eased Blair back onto then couch, then settled himself next to him. He watched Blair's chest rise and fall for several moments, letting the reassurance that his partner was all right fill him. Leaning forward, he brushed loose bangs from Blair's forehead, the slapped at the younger man's cheeks carefully. "C'mon, Sandburg, wake up."

After another few moments, a low moan seeped out of Blair's lips and a hand rose shakily to his head. "Oh, man, what was that?" He slowly opened his eyes, squinting. "Jim? When did you get down here? I thought you were upstairs." He pushed himself up, looking around in confusion, as he swung down his feet to rest on the floor.

Hands on Blair's arms, Jim helped him sit up. "Whoa, easy there, buddy. You okay now?"

Blair nodded, as he shoved back his hair. "Yeah, I think so. My head's ringing a little, but otherwise than that, I feel fine. What happened?"

"Why don't you tell me?"

"I was just sitting here, reading. And then it got dark and I felt this incredible pressure in my head. Not like a headache or anything. Just pressure. It was weird. And then I think I blacked out or something close to it at least." He stopped for a moment, then shrugged a little, "But I felt safe, protected. It was like being in the caught in a windstorm. Safe if I held on to something strong that wouldn't move no matter how hard the winds blew."

Jim swallowed hard. Held on to something strong that wouldn't move. I guess that would be me.

Blair raked a hand through his curls. "Jim, just what is going on here? I know something's happened -- is still happening -- that you haven't told me about yet. What is it? What little piece of the puzzle haven't you told me?"

Jim sighed and gestured to the book. "Have you read this chapter yet?"

Blair squinted at it. "Shamanistic Training? Um, no, I don't need to, not for this class, anyway. Why?"

Jim hesitated, then just decided to plow on through. Might as well keep going. We're doing good at the moment - more or less. He cleared his throat. "You mentioned the failed attack on you in the park."

Blair lifted an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"That book, or at least that chapter, talks about shamans and how certain forces don't want the untrained shamans to gain their full abilities."

Glancing down at the book, then looking back at Jim, Blair laughed nervously. "I thought these kind of things were my field, that you stayed with the more, ah, logical and real stuff."

"Not when it involves you." Jim's gaze was clear, calm, and determined.

Feeling warm and protected from the care he saw in those eyes, Blair nodded in acceptance of the simple statement. "Okay, go on, I'm listening."

"My spirit guide told me that you were in danger from the ghosts of your past. That there was evil out there that was planning to do you harm, somehow preventing you from gaining your own shamanistic abilities that you will eventually need to guide me in my Sentinel abilities. I think that you got that something's attention in Mexico and it followed you, if you will, to Fort Worth and tried there to attack you, using that teenager to do it."

Blair didn't look convinced, but asked, "And now, in the present?"

Jim paused and shifted uneasily. "I don't know. It's here. I know that much. Or at least it was." Blair blinked at him, wide-eyed, confused. Jim went on. "The night I took you to the hospital, I woke up because my spirit guide woke me, called me, told me to protect you. I didn't understand. But I responded. You were in a coma. None of the doctors could figure out a cause. I was sitting with you in your room, listening and watching you die in front of me. There was nothing I could do to stop it. Nothing anyone could do.

"And that's when I fell asleep and had that dream." He dug into his pocket and pulled out the bit of newspaper, then handed it to Blair. "Here. Tell me what you think of this." Without his glasses, Blair couldn't read the small text on the newspaper fragment, but Jim knew he could see well enough to make a cursory examination.

Setting aside his mug, Blair rubbed his fingers over the paper. "Well, it's a piece of newspaper, fairly new I'd say, maybe a few days old. The ink's still coming off on my fingers and the edges aren't worn down enough to suggest that it's been handled a lot or anything."

Jim snagged Blair's glasses from the table and handed them to him. "Okay, now look at it."

Again, Blair looked it over, confirming that the ink and paper seemed new, or fairly so. Jim watched Blair's face and eyes as he turned the paper over to its front. It took only a second before Blair inhaled sharply and looked up at him as Jim had expected. "Jim, this thing is a scrap from the Fort Worth Times and is dated August 3, 1981! Where'd you get this?"

"From the park."

"In your dream."

"Uh-huh."

The whole bizarre experience was worth it just to see Blair staring at him speechlessly like he'd just grown the proverbial second head or third eye. Or maybe told him that he'd been beamed aboard a starship and personally visited the Andromeda galaxy. Jim bit the inside of his cheek as he watched Blair's mouth work a few times, looking for words, trying to understand what Jim had just told him. Finally Blair said something.

"Oh, man."

Jim chuckled once, then grew serious, his eyes troubled. "Sorry, Chief, didn't mean to dump that on you like that. I just didn't know how else to tell you. I mean, I still think it was all a dream, but...." He shrugged, at a loss to explain.

Blair took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, questions began to fly out faster than Jim could keep track of -- normal for Blair, of course. "What happened? What did you see? Why did your spirit guide want you there? Did you do something? Something important? Something to do with me? Is that why you asked where I was? You know I was there that summer, at least part of it. Oh, man, oh, man. Why. . . ? How. . . ?"

Jim held up both hands. "Whoa! Hold on, Chief. I don't have all the answers, you know. Some yes, but not all. We'll take this a step at a time, piece by piece."

Raking a hand through his hair, Blair breathed out in a rush. "Sorry, sorry, sorry. It's just a little overwhelming."

Jim's comment to that was wry. "Don't I know it."

"Anything else you've left out?"

"Just one small detail."

"Small. Right."

"You wanted to know everything. Well, here's what's left. Back to the attack in the park again. Do you remember his name?"

"Whose name? The teenager's?"

"No, the, um, the guy that stopped the teenager."

Blair frowned. "That's a funny question. Why? You gonna track him down and thank him or something?"

Jim shook his head, not letting Blair's attempt at lightening the situation divert him. "No, I just want to know if he told you, if you remember."

Blair closed his eyes, breathing deeply, concentrating. Jim watched with equal amounts of fear and hope. If the guy's name was Jim, what does that prove? It's a common name. And just because he remembers the name doesn't mean anything. It could be all coincidence. Maybe the spirit guide just showed me a part of Blair's memories and put me in that guy's place. There could be any number of reasons. Another part of him said he was trying to fool himself, trying to rationalize it away. He ignored that part. He needed his sanity if he was going to understand what was going on.

Jim focused back on his partner when he began talking quietly, a smile in his voice. "What do you know? I do remember and it's sorta funny you should ask. His name was Jim. I even think I remember what he looked like. He was pretty tall, was wearing jeans and a dark T-shirt, I think. He had this crew cut, like he'd been in the military. And his eyes were...."

Blair's eyes flew open as he gasped, face going slightly pale. "Jim! He was ... he looked like ... I mean, he could have been...." He stammered off into silence, his eyes were wide with surprise, maybe some shock, his breath coming in short pants.

Jim smiled, resting a hand on Blair's arm again, trying to get him to relax before he hyperventilated. "Yeah, I know. He looked like me, didn't he?"

Blair nodded once, then shook his head rapidly. "Yes, I mean, no. I mean, Jim, it was you. I remember. You had those old jeans, your favorites, the ones that are faded out in spots. I bet you wore them to the hospital. I know you had on some black T-shirt at the hospital too." As color reappeared in his cheeks, Blair swallowed and went on. "What is going on here, Jim?"

"What? You don't believe in time travel?"

"Oh, man, you just had to go and say it, didn't you?"

"It happened."

"Doesn't make it any easier to accept though. This is like Star Trek stuff or something! Geez." Blair shoved back his hair and took a deep breath. "Okay, so your spirit guide sent you back to protect me from some evil presence that wanted to do something nasty to me. You managed to scare it off then, but now...." He stammered to a stop, "Is that what happened just now? Did it try again?"

Jim nodded once. "Yeah, it did. But it can't hurt you, Blair. Not while I'm around. Something about me being a Sentinel, or rather being your Sentinel, prevents it from harming you. Also, because it didn't get to you in the past, it can't totally get to you now. More of the Sentinel thing, I imagine. When I, uh, saw it in the teenager in the past, it called me 'Sentinel'. It somehow knew who I was then and who I am now and who you were meant to be to me. But, according to my spirit guide, after this latest encounter, 'the darkness has been driven back'."

"Did he say anything else?"

"He said we had to be vigilant, that the battle with evil is never truly over."

Blair forced a smile on his face. "Well, then, vigilant will become my watch word. Believe me."

Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Don't worry, Blair, nothing's getting you without getting through me first. This Sentinel doesn't take his Guide's safety lightly, trust me."

The smile on Blair's face became more genuine, the fear in his eyes receding some at the warmth in Jim's face. "I've always trusted you, Jim."

"Good. If this ... thing or whatever it is ever makes an appearance again, we'll deal with it. Together."

"Together."

Outside, the sun broke through the darkness, scattering the murky, gray clouds, and driving back the rain.

- The End -

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