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

Summary: Blair tells Jim about his visit from the shaman as they wait during a late night stakeout at a train yard; and the enemy closes in. Spoilers: based on events in Flight and Warriors.

Fourth installment of the In Time and Destiny series. And again, any books, talks of shamans, and the like are all from my own imagination and not meant to be factual.

Dedication: To Shelly, who cajoled and ... entertained ... me into writing this next chapter. I think I can still hear the crowds chanting in the background, along with the yodeling of a certain unnamed Austrian actor ...... ;-)

Blurred Edges
by Becky
March 1998

"This was not what I had in mind when I said we could talk tonight."

Jim looked over at his partner who was shivering underneath two layers of shirts and a heavy coat. He smiled apologetically. "Yeah, I know. Sorry."

Blair curled his arms in more tightly around himself, shifting away from the truck door. There's a draft in this thing somewhere. I know it! He glanced over at Jim. "You're really not cold, are you?"

Jim shook his head, his lips twitching into a wider smile as he focused his attention back out through the windshield of the truck to the darkness outside. "No, I'm really not."

Blair made a face, muttering, "That is so unfair. Are you turning down your senses or what?"

Shrugging a little, Jim answered after a few moments, eyes intent on the train tracks, the old warehouses beyond them, and the darkness all around them. "The cold has never bothered me very much. And, maybe, sometimes, I turn things down a little, but not often."

Blair frowned, his eyes lost in thought. "Maybe, maybe Sentinels are just genetically engineered not to be bothered by the extremes in temperatures. That would explain it. We ought to do some tests sometime to figure out what extremes you can handle, how far up and down you can turn the dial." In his sudden enthusiasm, he shifted to face Jim in the seat and brought his mittenless hands out to gesture.

Two seconds later, the cold registered again and, with a muttered exclamation, he tucked his hands back under his arms, huddling against the seat. "I hate being cold. I cannot believe you actually let Simon convince you into doing this. Tonight of all nights. Sitting in the truck, with no heat. It's freezing. Nobody's out here. I bet the smugglers aren't even out here. Probably all at home, bundled up nice and tight, drinking hot coffee, having a long, hard laugh at the cops who are out looking for them and freezing their butts off."

Jim chuckled softly, shaking his head as he went back to scanning the distant buildings. The handheld radio buzzed for attention a minute later and Jim picked it up. "Ellison."

"This is Brown. Just checking in. Nothing to report."

"Same here. Keep your eyes open anyway. I'm gonna give it another few minutes, then head out and take a look around."

"Roger that."

Jim clicked off the radio and set it back on the dashboard, then turned to Blair. "So, we have some time. Tell me what you think happened today."

"Here? Now?" Blair's voice incredulous.

"Yeah, here, now. At the very least it'll get your mind off how cold you are."

Blair grumbled a moment, then shifted in his seat, turning again to face Jim. "Okay. Um, where to start?"

"I seem to recall you telling me once to start at the beginning."

Blair rolled his eyes. "You are just so helpful, man."

Jim smiled, looking back outside, keeping half his attention on Blair. "I try."

"Yeah, yeah. Okay, the beginning." He pursed his lips, glancing down momentarily at the backpack near his feet, very aware of the book inside it and the other book in its metal case shoved underneath his seat. Taking a breath, he said, "I was in my office, finishing up some papers. I had that book I'm reading about shamans on my desk. And I really, really didn't want to read it. So I decided to meditate. Only --" He paused, eyes glazing over slightly as he whispered, "Only I did a little more than meditate."

Raising an eyebrow at the suddenly hushed tone of voice, Jim pulled his eyes away from the night shadows long enough to ask, "What did you do?"

"I, uh, had a little talk with your spirit guide. He had some ... interesting things to say."

Jim waited, but Blair didn't add to his statement at all, just sat staring out past him, his eyes dark and wide, lost in inner visions. Reaching out a gentle hand, he touched Blair's closest arm. "Chief?"

Blair blinked and shook himself, focusing on Jim. "Huh? Oh, sorry. I was drifting, thinking."

"So I noticed. Anything you want to share with me?"

The vision of Jim alone and giving up so easily after the loss of his guide flashed across Blair's mind, the images still starkly bright and painfully clear. Share that? With you? Not bloody likely! He shook his head. "No, not really. What he had to say to me was mostly just for me. Telling me that I had to accept becoming a shaman, that I had to if I wanted to continue helping you with your senses. Just like he told you before."

For a moment, he thought Jim would push harder for information. The look on his face and in his eyes was one of disbelief of those simple brush-off statements and the knowledge that there had to be more to it. Blair dragged his eyes away, looking outside to the small copse of trees hiding most of the truck from view, talking quietly. "He told me to 'Listen to your soul. Listen to the truth. Let that knowledge which has been hidden inside you come forth. And know what must be, must be.' And to 'let the knowledge already within you guide you'."

"What did you tell him?"

Blair grinned shakily. "What do you think I told him, man? I'm still here, aren't I?" He made the mistake of looking at Jim and found those cold blue eyes pinning him.

"I need to hear it, Chief. I need to know."

The grin dropped from his features and Blair reached out a hand to grip Jim's upper arm. "I told him yes. I told him that my calling to be a shaman was answered. I told him I would accept what would be, what must be. I told him that I would accept my destiny and listen to the truth of my soul."

Jim stared at him a few moments longer, then breathed out heavily, closing his eyes momentarily, then reopening them. The coldness had vanished and in its place Blair saw warmth and relief mixed with concern and even a little regret. He smiled softly. "I.... Thank you. I think I needed to hear that. I just wish that --"

Blair interrupted, raising both hands in front of him. "No, Jim, no wishing, no regrets. I am where I want to be. You know that. I know that. Simon knows that. Everyone in Major Crimes knows that, even if they don't know the reason why, well, not the only reason, but one of them at least. I'm not leaving and I won't let you push me away either. Got it?"

Blinking at Blair's rush of words, Jim nodded. "Uh, yeah. Got it."

"Good." Blair looked back toward the train tracks, not focusing on anything really, just calming down again. He knew his heart rate had elevated in response to the need to impress upon Jim that he wouldn't be pushed away, not even for his own safety, and especially not at the expense of Jim's life. I'm here to stay and that's all there is to it. He chanced a look back over at Jim who was again scanning the distant buildings, but with a small, happily bemused smile on his face. Blair grinned slightly, chuckling.

Jim didn't stop scanning, only asked, "And what are you finding so amusing, junior?"

"You, man. You look like the proverbial cat who got the cream."

Jim's smile widened and he laughed out loud, then shook his head. "Can I get strawberries with that?"

Blair laughed this time, joining in with Jim. This is so not us. Lack of sleep? Nervous tension? Stress relief maybe? Or maybe we're both just plain nuts? Simon probably already thinks we're both half-crazy anyway. The thought of the police captain finding them both laughing hysterically over something so stupid sent Blair into another fit of giggles just as Jim's laughter slowed and died off. Jim didn't join him this time, just wiped his eyes and fought off the last remnants of chuckles, going back to his watching.

After another few moments, Blair finally got a hold of himself and pushed away the last few laughs. "Oh, man, my stomach hurts now, but it felt good anyway. I think I needed that."

Jim nodded in agreement. "I think we both needed that." He glanced over at Blair, a corner of his mouth tipped up. "You still cold?"

With a sudden shiver, Blair smacked at Jim's arm. "I had managed to forget about that. Thank you so much for reminding me."

"Sorry."

Blair shook his head, smiling. "Nah, s'okay. I'll be fine." He paused, then gestured outside with his chin, reluctant to bring his hands out into the cold again. "You see anything out there?"

"Not a thing." Jim looked at his watch. "I'll wait a little bit longer, then go take a look around. In the meantime, let's get back to the discussion, part two."

So much for diversion. Blair shifted in his seat, waiting for Jim to ask the obvious and inevitable question, which he promptly did.

"What happened in Simon's office? I mean, I know what you, what we, told him, but what really happened?"

"What do you remember?"

Jim frowned. "Me? Not a whole lot. Intense darkness. Danger -- to both of us. Evil."

"Any images? Sounds? Anything else?"

"I vaguely remember some huge, black ... thing coming at me. I knew I couldn't let it by." He looked over at Blair. "I was standing between it and you. And I remember hearing your voice, but not any words specifically, just your voice. I knew you were there, with me. And then everything ... overloaded. Next thing I knew Simon was yelling out the door for a cup of strong coffee, I assume to help bring me around as I came to. I'm not sure who brought it to him, probably some poor rookie who happened to be going by. By time the coffee got there, I was more or less awake. You were still out of it though." Jim paused, then he whispered as he stared down at his hands. "You had me scared half to death, Chief. You wouldn't wake up and I thought --"

Silently, eyes wide, breath caught, Blair watched the muscles in Jim's jaw clenched and released several times. Both his hands were locked onto the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles white with strain. The unspoken words hung like icicles in the cold air between them.

<<I thought you weren't gonna wake up.>>

Blair reached out and placed a hand on Jim's outstretched arm, shaking it, gripping it hard. "I'm right here, Jim. I didn't go anywhere."

"I know." The words were barely audible, but with them said, Jim relaxed, the tension flowing out of his frame all at once. He released the steering wheel, flexing his fingers, then said, "Your turn."

Blair blinked at the abrupt change of tone in Jim's voice. "My . . . ? Oh, yeah, my turn. Yeah." He tucked both hands back under his arms, shifting as he gathered his thoughts. Where do I begin? It's obvious he doesn't remember as much as I do. He stared down at his feet. He's gonna freak when I tell him about what else his spirit guide told me. But if I don't tell him about the dangers and he finds out later, he'll probably want to kill me himself. Bad enough I'm keeping my little 'vision' from him. But there is no way I'm telling him that. He pulled a hand out to run over his face. Okay, you can do this, Sandburg, just relax. Relax and breathe, right? Just like you always tell Jim.

"Chief?"

"Hmm? Oh, sorry, just trying to sort things out upstairs."

Jim mock-shivered. "Ooh, scary thought. I've seen your office. I don't want to think about what your brain looks like."

"Jim!"

"C'mon, Sandburg, you're avoiding the issue."

Blair interjected, "Like you never do that."

Jim went on, ignoring Blair's comment. "You will tell me."

"Or what?"

"Or I'm rolling down my window."

Blair squeaked out, "You wouldn't!"

"Watch me." Jim moved and started to unroll the window, getting it open a crack before Blair could react.

"All right, all right! I'll tell you. Just roll the window back up. Geez."

Jim complied, then folded his hands on the top of the steering wheel, alternating his attention between Blair and the warehouses and train tracks in the distance. Waiting.

Blair shifted again, then started to talk finally. "One of the last things your spirit guide told me was a warning -- that 'the path of knowledge is dangerous'. And 'as much as it leads to the light, it can also open the door to darkness if one is not prepared'. I didn't really understand what he meant by that until it was too late. That book of learning is part of the path I'm following now. I was just so excited to get something like it that I didn't stop to think about what it might represent at first. That it could also lead to danger and evil if in the wrong hands or if in unskilled hands, such as mine.

"When I leaned on it, my hand flat on it, I think I opened the door again for whatever it is that's out there that doesn't want us around. It was waiting for a chance, an opportunity to strike." He stopped, swallowed, and went on. "I think it's getting stronger instead of weaker. Maybe planning to move faster, especially now that it knows that I've accepted my role as a shaman, as your shaman."

Jim asked softly, "And the, uh, confrontation?"

"Yeah, that. Well, there was a huge, black cloud all right. And it was evil. We were in some kind of dark forest. You were, well, you were a Sentinel." Jim cocked an eyebrow at that comment, obviously curious. Blair explained, a small grin on his face. "You had on that war paint and camouflage clothing like the time we got Simon and Daryl out of Peru. And you had a crossbow. I don't know if that's how I see you in this, uh, 'dreamworld', I guess we could call it, or if it's how you see yourself. In any case, it's a topic for another day.

"I was behind you, still in jeans and a shirt, nothing different. I went up to join you, to stand next to you. The spirit guide --" He paused, swallowing hard, thinking how best to phrase what he had to say. "Well, he told me that you could not stand forever alone between the evil and me. That I had to help you, to aid you, that only together could we defeat it." Close enough. The concept's the same.

"When I stood next to you and told the evil that I had accepted who I had become, I realized I was dressed like a shaman, sort of like Incacha. And together, we sent that cloud away, for the moment. It's not over yet, though. I know that. I think I heard the panther growl, but it got a touch noisy at the end there. And then all the lights went out for me as well. Next thing I knew you were waking me up. End of story."

Jim was quiet for a long time, then he said, "You know, Sandburg, I'm really inclined to keep you from getting any more books about shamanism. That's two now that have put you in danger."

"Don't think I haven't noticed."

"Any ideas why?"

"One. I think they may be a sort of . . . gateway perhaps that recognizes something in me. And then whatever waits beyond comes blasting through. And because I am unprepared to understand or even use such power, the evil tries to rule by sheer force."

Jim grunted, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. "I'm not liking the sound of this, Chief."

Blair leaned his head against the seat. "I know. Neither am I, truth be told. But I don't really think we have a choice about it. Not anymore. You made a choice to stay a Sentinel. I made a choice to become a Shaman. I think our paths are set. No turning back."

With a sigh, Jim nodded. "Yeah." They sat in silence a few moments longer, then Jim straightened in his seat, "Look, I'm gonna head out and take a quick walk around. You," he pointed a finger at Blair, "stay in the truck, got it?"

"Are you sure? You might need me out there."

Pulling his gun and checking it before he opened the door, Jim continued. "I'm sure. It's cold, you're not dressed warmly enough, and I smell rain in the air. Last thing either of us needs right now is you getting sick."

Blair rolled his eyes at Jim's overprotectiveness. "All right, fine, I'll stay here. Happy?"

"Overjoyed." He picked up the radio, flipping it on as he opened the door. Blair huddled into himself further as the blast of cold air sucked out whatever heat was in the truck cab. Jim locked and slammed the door shut with a nod at Blair, then turned and headed at a quick walk down the hill, talking into the radio softly.

Blair watched him a moment, then sat up straight, Jim's words finally hitting him. "He said he could smell rain in the air! Jim! Why didn't you tell me you could do that?" Just before he got out of sight, Jim turned and flashed him a quick smile, barely visible in the starlight, but Blair knew he had to have been listening to him and heard the comment. Then he vanished beyond the trees, appearing several seconds later down the hill for a few moments before disappearing into the shadows again.

Man, talk about off-handed comments that can totally turn you around. I need to start thinking about tests. He eyed his backpack, shivered, then shook his head. Nope, can't write in the dark. And if I turn on the lights, Jim will kill me. Better just to wait it out.

After shifting in his seat several times vainly trying to see Jim, Blair gave up and slid over to the driver's side, the view which was less obstructed by trees. Leaning forward on the steering wheel, Blair squinted into the darkness, trying to find Jim's figure. He didn't like it when Jim took off by himself during these little stakeouts, but he did it often enough without problems that Blair figured he shouldn't worry. But he still did, he always did. Tonight was no different. He shoved away the niggling thoughts of danger poking at him and concentrated on searching for Jim.

You know, there are times when Jim's senses would really come in handy. He shivered, pulling his arms in more tightly around his chest. Like now would nice. I need a temperature dial and night vision. Maybe I can find a find a way to borrow them from Jim in that book. He sighed and shook his head, chuckling softly. Wishful thinking, Sandburg. Intriguing idea, but still wishful.

He stared harder at the train tracks and warehouses, but didn't see anyone or anything that could be his partner. 'Course me not being able to see Jim hopefully means that no one else can either. He paused to chew on his lip. I hope.

Closing his eyes, he leaned back into the seat, letting the yawns that had been trying to make an appearance all evening finally appear. The day had been long and the weariness was slowly catching up to him. Not having any coffee with them wasn't helping matters. He withdrew one hand from under an arm to rub at his eyes, breathing deeply to push away his tiredness. I do not want to fall asleep here and have Jim find me dozing on the job.

Another yawn snuck up on him, and another. Shaking his head, he pried his eyes open, blinking widely. Man, I didn't realize I was so tired. Gotta stay awake. Gotta . . . Without realizing what was happening, his eyes slid shut a final time and he slouched in the driver's seat, head resting against the window. Can't fall asleep. Have to.... So tired ....

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

<<You do not listen, young Shaman!>>

Blair jerked up. "What? What's going on? Where . . . ? Oh, man, not here." With a quick glance, he identified the dark jungle forest in which he and Jim had stood earlier that day.

Only this time Jim was nowhere to be seen.

<<Why do you not listen? You risk yourself and your Sentinel by this foolishness.>>

He spun, trying to find the location of the loud, booming, angry-sounding voice. "Risk? What risk? Is Jim in danger?"

<<The evil that waits beyond men's sight has seen that you have accepted your destiny to become a shaman. And you are correct that the evil grows stronger. To gain you and your gifts, it will destroy everything in its path, including your Sentinel.>>

Blair stopped, staring out at the trees, giving up on finding Jim's spirit guide. "What?!? You said he would be okay if I decided to do this! You said that together we could stand against it! I believed you and now Jim's in danger anyway?" He clenched both fists, but kept them at his sides, trying to keep control of his anger and worry.

<<Your Sentinel is strong, but in his strength also lies his weakness.>>

He hesitated, his anger dying off, then asked slowly, "What do you mean? Do you . . . do you mean me?"

The spirit guide finally appeared, emerging from the darkness to stand before him. He shook his head. "No, young Shaman. You are his greatest strength, never a weakness. His abilities are his strength and they are also a weakness when used against him."

Blair frowned, puzzled. "I don't understand." Then he gasped. "His senses! You mean when he zones! I knew I should have gone with him."

The spirit guide nodded. "Yes, as the knowledge inside you tried to tell you. You must learn to hear, to listen, to understand. Danger awaits and stalks your Sentinel. His life and yours hang in the balance once again."

A low rumbling began to echo around them, building slowly. Blair looked around frantically. "What is that? What's happening?" He looked back to where the spirit guide was standing -- he was gone. "Wait! How do I get back? How do I help Jim?"

<<Open your eyes and see.>>

"But they're not ..."

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

"... closed."

Blair awoke abruptly, the distant bugle of a train horn startling him. "Oh, man!" Pulling away from the cold window, he rubbed a hand across his face, blinking sleep from his eyes. "I'm really beginning to dislike these little trips into that dreamworld. Way too disorienting." He shoved back his hair, forcing his brain to wake up and remember what he had heard and seen.

In a brief flash, everything came back to him. "Jim!" He looked around wildly, but didn't see him. Uncaring at what Jim might say to him later, Blair found the small flashlight in the glove compartment, then yanked the keys from the ignition and tumbled out of the truck, locking it up quickly. The cold wind cut through his jacket before he got three steps from the truck, but he ignored both it and his shivering. His only concern was Jim.

Where is he? Shouldn't he be back by now? How long was I out of it anyway? He jogged down the short incline, staying in the shadows enough to stay hidden, keeping the flashlight low to the ground. Slowly he made his way down past the sparse tree line, eyes on his feet most of the time. The sounds of the train as it approached the warehouses grew louder, making the ground begin to rumble under his feet.

Blair came out from under the trees, then stopped, eyeing the open area between him and the mostly-unlit warehouses, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Looking for Jim. He started at the spot nearest him and moved his eyes down the train track to his left, trying to see past the shadows and dark spots. The train rounded the corner off to his far, far right, the light on the engine cutting some of the gloom from the night, unknowingly aiding him in his search. The train horn and the clackity-clack of the wheels echoed around him and he started to move back a little, not wanting to be too close to the track when it passed.

He stopped as that faint, distant light, which was rapidly growing brighter and closer, lit upon a figure standing in the middle of the track at his far left, face raised to the night sky, eyes closed. Blair stared for a moment longer, looking from Jim to the train and back again, then started running at his top speed, heading toward the obviously zoned-out Sentinel.

As he ran toward his partner, he screamed out, "Jim! Jim!" But he didn't react, just stood there, like a statue, oblivious to everything, from the cold night wind tugging at the corners of his black leather jacket to the sudden, high-pitched squealing of the train brakes. Blair knew that the train wouldn't stop in time, that it was up to him since Jim wasn't budging.

It's like he's in a, a, a sound bubble or something. Wait, didn't Jim mention something like that to me earlier? That I was cut off from everything around me?

Glancing back for a moment at the rapidly approaching train and wincing at the loudly blaring horn, Blair worked to run faster, determined to reach Jim before the train did. Before whatever had stuck him there and made him zone took Jim away from him.

A low, murderous laugh rang in his ears, in his head. <<That's right, little shaman, run, run to your friend. You won't make it. He'll be gone and you'll be ours.>>

Gritting his teeth, Blair pushed himself faster, harder, ignoring that voice as it whispered to him of the futility of his actions. He could feel the black evil hanging over his shoulder, breathing hotly on his neck, reaching out with grasping claws to hold him back, to take him as soon as Jim was gone. He called out again over the roar of the train engine, hoping Jim would hear him, at the same time knowing he wouldn't. "Jim! C'mon, man, wake up! Jim!"

<<He will soon be gone, forever, no longer able to protect you, little shaman. And then you will be gone as well, only your body remaining, your spirit left desolate to wander alone for all eternity.>>

Ghostly hands swirled around him as he got closer to Jim, hands that he had to push past, shove aside, as they blocked his pathway to Jim who still hadn't moved. He could feel the gravel under his feet dancing in tune with the clacks and rumbling of the train as it grew nearer and nearer. He knew that the sounds of the train itself should be deafening him, but all he could hear was the maniacal laughter in his head.

Visions of that dark jungle began to flash before his eyes, the landscape alternating between the train tracks and the jungle, Jim going from modern cop to tribal Sentinel, Blair going from grad student guide to a shaman-in-training. The train light reflected off something past Jim, blinding Blair for a moment. When his sight cleared, he was firmly in the dark jungle, Jim nowhere in sight. He stopped, spinning around, panting, heart racing. No, no, no, no. Not here. Not now. That same laughter floated all around him, mocking him.

<<Too late. Too late. Too late.>>

Seeing a gap in the forest, he pushed through, swatting away large leaves and vines reaching out to entangle him, stop him, forbid him from finding and protecting his Sentinel. He sent up a silent plea to the spirit guide. Help me. I don't know where to look. Jim needs me.

<<Open your eyes and see.>>

Blair growled in frustration. They're not closed, damnit! They weren't before and they're not now.

<<Open your eyes and see, young Shaman. Look!>>

A flash of velvet black swished past his legs. He stumbled to a stop and looked beyond him to see the panther, tail swatting impatiently at the ground, eyes boring deep into his soul.

<<Now listen!!>>

Blair took a breath and listened. At first there was nothing, just the too-quiet heaviness of the darkness. Then he heard a quiet voice, whispering, filled with uncertainty, loss.

"Can't see. Can't hear. Lost. No guide. No way back."

Blair jerked around, finding another break in the foliage. And beyond it, he saw his Sentinel, tall and strong, but with his eyes closed, his mouth hanging open, his form wavering in the slight breeze. His back was unprotected and he was unseeing of the enemy warrior, dressed in war paint and charms, sneaking up from behind, lifting a huge knife, ready to kill on the downswing. The enemy paused for a moment to stare directly into Blair's eyes, grinning in advance triumph. He raised the knife another few inches, then strode forward toward Jim, his mouth opening in preparation for a yell of victory.

"NO!!!!"

With a pang of sorrow and anger, Blair realized that he wouldn't make it before the enemy would kill Jim. Frantically, instinctively, he reached deep inside, trying to find a way to stop what was happening in front of him. The knowledge rose up before him and he grabbed it, not caring what the untrained use of such power could do to him, only wanting to save his Sentinel. With a warrior's yell, he threw up both hands in front of him, blazing eyes focused on the enemy.

"Stop!!"

Much to his initial surprise, the enemy warrior did stop, but not of his own will. He struggled in place, knife only inches from Jim's back, screaming in denial. Blair knew the measure was only temporary. He didn't have the ability yet to banish the evil. He ran forward, heading for Jim, feeling the jungle closing in on him, fighting against him. The panther flowed along at his feet, snarling at the darkness surrounding them. Just as the enemy broke free, Blair reached Jim, yanking him away from the downstroke of the knife. Jim tumbled to the ground, disoriented, shaking his head in confusion. The enemy crouched and started toward them again, knife raised.

Blair stood his ground, ignoring the trembling of his body and terrified soul. He had to do this. He had to protect Jim. He stretched forth an arm, palm flat and facing the enemy.

The enemy laughed. "Your time grows short, little shaman. Can't you feel it? I don't have to take his spirit when his body will be destroyed first. If you stay, you lose since he will be gone, the spirit's anchor lost. If you go, I will take him here, leaving his body an empty shell. Either way, I win. What will you do now, little shaman? Which will you choose to save? The body or the spirit?"

The ground shook beneath his feet and Blair abruptly remembered the train in the real world which was bearing down on Jim. He hesitated for a moment, unsure of what he could do, of what action to take. And then he knew.

"I choose both." With a move that the enemy wasn't expecting, Blair struck out hard, knocking away the knife and shoving the enemy back. The panther joined in, rearing up and leaping, growling and snarling. The enemy warrior fell to the ground, too startled to react. The panther held him down, then turned glowing eyes onto Blair.

<<Go now. Hurry. Your time comes to an end.>>

Blair nodded and turned to see Jim, still sprawled on the ground, still looking lost. He reached for him, wanting to help.

<<No! You must go back. There is no time to help him here. You must bring spirit and body together as one. Only then will the Sentinel be safe. Go! Now!>>

Something shoved at his back and he stumbled forward, abruptly realizing that there was gravel under his feet rather than dirt and jungle floor. He lifted his head hurriedly, eyes searching for Jim. The sounds of the train at it rapidly approached them were deafening after the silence of the dark jungle. Quickly, he found his bearings and located Jim, still standing in the track, still unknowing of his fate.

With a burst of speed, Blair ran at Jim, tackling him full body and sending them both sprawling to the hard-packed, gravel-covered ground on the opposite side of the tracks. Three seconds later, the train roared past, horn still blaring. Blair held onto Jim, half-laying on him, feeling the rumbling deep within his bones.

Over everything he heard a long, piercing shriek of angry defeat and denial. He closed his eyes and spat out in victorious, panting phrases. "Nope, sorry, can't have him. Not today, not ever. Leave. Us. Alone." He waited tensely, arms still half-wrapped around Jim's body, for a response, but nothing happened. He breathed out in a rush, resting his head on Jim's chest for a second.

In the next moment, all thoughts of that evil thing and its potentially nasty response were shoved aside when the man beneath him stirred, shuddering heavily. Jim was aware again, bringing up both hands to cover his ears, cringing and wincing as he rolled over to curl up into a tight ball. Blair sat up halfway, pulling himself up Jim's body. His hand found Jim's shoulder and he held onto it, gripping warmly, making physical contact. The other hand he placed between Jim's head and the ground, cushioning it. He leaned down over Jim, keeping himself between Jim and the still-passing train. Then he began speaking against Jim's ear, knowing that there was no way Jim would actually hear him, but hoping that the feel of him talking would help, give him something to focus on other than the train.

"Turn it down, Jim. Turn it all down. That's it. There you go. Just like that." Slowly, Jim seemed to relax, uncurling slightly from his tense position. One of his hands moved to rest on top of Blair's on his shoulder, squeezing it in recognition and thanks. Blair spared a moment to breathe out a sigh of relief, but then kept talking, mostly nonsense. Anything to keep him from turning up his hearing.

After another minute, the last car roared passed with a final clatter. Blair waited a bit longer until the train noise was mostly gone, then pushed away and patted Jim's shoulder, pulling him up. Jim sat up with him, moving his head to look around, Blair assumed. In the darkness surrounding them, Blair was pretty much blind. He shifted his hand from Jim's shoulder up to his head, tapping his ear. He felt Jim nod against his hand.

Then Jim spoke softly, his voice sounding strained. "Well, that was fun."

Blair wilted against Jim, a quiet hysterical laugh breaking out. "Oh, yeah, great fun."

Jim stood in one swift motion, then reached down a hand and pulled Blair up as well. Blair swayed on his feet, one hand going to his head. Jim grasped his arm, steadying him. "Whoa, easy there, you okay?"

"Just a little dizzy. I'll be all right." Blair took a few steps and started to tumble to the ground. "Then again, maybe a lot dizzy would be a better statement." Oh, man, that's what I get for using what I don't understand and don't have the knowledge to use correctly yet. He let Jim hoist him up and hold him to his side, an arm around his waist.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

Blair nodded against Jim's shoulder, eyes squeezed shut as he tried to find his balance. He pulled himself closer to the taller man, wrapping his arms tightly around Jim's waist, shifting to bury his face in Jim's jacket. Jim's arms went around his shoulders in return, holding him.

"Chief? You want to tell me what happened here?"

Blair shuddered. "You don't know?"

Jim's voice was hesitant even if his arms weren't. "I'm ... I'm not sure. I was zoned...."

Blair shuddered, feeling Jim's arms close around him more tightly. "You zoned on the tracks and almost got plastered by a train, Jim. I had to knock you out of the way. Way, way too close."

Jim arm's tightened a fraction more and he felt Jim rest his cheek against the top of his head for a few moments. Neither man said anything for a long moment, then Jim slowly released his hold on Blair, stepping back a hair to look down into the other man's slowly opening eyes. "You ready to head back up to the truck?" His voice was quiet and calming. Just what Blair needed with the adrenaline running through his system.

Blair nodded, pulling away, rubbing a hand over his face. "Yeah. You'll have to lead me. I had a flashlight, but I lost it somewhere near the trees."

Jim slid an arm down around Blair's waist. "No problem. Just stay with me." Blair nodded his agreement and let Jim lead him up the hill. He closed his eyes again, leaning into Jim's steady frame as they walked. It's not like I can see anyway.

Halfway up the hill, Jim stopped. Blair opened his eyes and peered out into the darkness, wondering what made Jim stop. A few moments later, Brown and Rafe appeared before them, flashlights on low and pointed at the ground. Both men had wide eyes and stunned expressions.

Brown whispered, "Are you two all right? We didn't see anything of what was happening until just before Blair knocked you out of the way."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, we're fine. Just a little out of breath."

Rafe motioned to Blair. "Is he okay?"

Jim looked down and Blair grinned up at him, then straightened a little, belying the shaking of his muscles which he knew Jim could sense. He replied to Rafe directly. "Yeah, I'm okay, just tired. It's been a long day. And a long night. Tackling Jim was just the perfect cap." He shifted a little. "It's like hitting a brick wall. And then having it hit back."

Jim rolled his eyes and the other two men chuckled a little nervously. Rafe exchanged a look with Brown, then said, "What, uh, what happened out there anyway?"

Blair didn't say anything, didn't know what to say. His brain didn't feel like it was working on all cylinders at the moment anyway. He kept getting flashes of jungle in his vision. Seeing that he didn't want to get drawn into another confrontation just yet, he kept pushing the flashes away, hoping to keep them away.

Jim answered for them after a moment in a quiet voice. "Honestly? I don't know. And right now I'm too tired to think about it. I think we ought to call it a night and head home. I got inside the buildings and took a quick look around. If anyone's been here in the recent past, they've been decorating with three-inch high dust bunnies and years-old cobwebs. I don't think anything aside of spiders and rats have been in those buildings in a very long time."

Brown made a face. "Damn. I was hoping to get a break in this case."

Jim wiped a hand across his face. "I know. Sorry, H, just isn't gonna happen tonight."

Rafe said softly, "I think your partner is gonna fall over there, Jim."

Jim reached out a hand and grabbed Blair as he started to sway backwards. "No, I don't think you want to go back down the hill that way, Chief."

Blair steadied himself against Jim's arm. "No argument here. We done?"

"Yeah, we're done." He gave Blair a gentle shove toward the truck, then nodded to Brown and Rafe. "See you two in the morning at the station." Brown and Rafe both nodded and quickly headed back to their own car. Jim followed Blair back to the truck.

Blair paused at the driver's side of the truck, staring in confusion at the locked door. There's something I'm supposed to be doing here . . .

Jim came up beside him, an eyebrow lifted. "Chief? You didn't lock us out of the truck, did you? Where are the keys?"

Keys. Yeah, keys, that's what I need to find. He dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out the truck keys, handing them to Jim with a silly grin. Laughing, Jim shook his head and took them, quickly unlocking the door. Deciding that trying to get Blair around the truck was a waste of effort, he maneuvered his partner through the open door and shoved him across the seat, then climbed into the truck cab himself, ignoring the complaints of stiff muscles.

Settling into the seat, he started up the truck, turning on the heat full blast to warm up both himself and his shivering partner huddled in the seat next to him. Jim waited until they were on the road back to the loft to ask softly, "So, you want to tell me what happened back there?"

Blair was quiet for a moment, then he said, "You don't remember anything?"

"I remember hearing something as I was heading back to the truck. I stopped and focused on the sound. I knew I was starting to zone and couldn't stop it. Everything after that is pretty much a blur of images and sounds and voices. And then you tackled me to the ground out of the way of that train." He paused and looked over at Blair, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder. "Thanks, Chief."

Blair nodded, smiling as he met Jim's serious eyes. "You're welcome. Just try not to make a habit of zoning on train tracks, okay?"

Jim laughed softly. "I'll try to remember that. How'd you know anyway?"

Hesitating only a moment, Blair replied, "I had another visit from your spirit guide. He told me you were in danger. So I left the truck and found you zoned on the train track. I don't know exactly what you heard, but I do know that it probably wasn't natural. It was a trick of that evil ... presence that's been after us."

Jim sighed and rubbed his face. "Another confrontation. I assume since we're both still here that we won?"

Blair nodded. "For the moment, yeah."

"You want to tell me how we won?"

"How? Well, um, let's just say I've moved up in the ranks to a practicing novice shaman. I think the details can wait until tomorrow morning, but suffice to say that what happened isn't something I'd like to repeat."

Jim didn't say anything for several moments, concentrating on driving, then he reached out again and placed his hand on Blair's shoulder, squeezing, then shifting his hand to lay on the back of Blair's neck. "Hey, we're in this together. We'll figure it out."

Blair flashed Jim a quick grin, then breathed out in a rush. "Yeah." He paused, then his grin widened. "Now, since I've saved your life twice in one night, both here and in our little dreamworld, I think I deserve a reward."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "And what kind of reward would that be, oh great shaman?"

"I think for breakfast tomorrow morning I'd like something special, something different."

Jim waited expectantly, but Blair didn't continue, just stared out at the buildings as they passed them. "Go on, Sandburg, what do you want?"

Blair looked back at him, the hyper twinkle back in his eyes, even if most of him looked exhausted and just a touch frazzled. "I think I'd like strawberries. With cream."

Jim stared at him a moment, then burst out in a laugh, "Strawberries and cream." He ruffled Blair's hair, tugging on the long curls playfully. "I'm sure that can be arranged." Blair nodded in approval, not saying anything, letting his eyes speak for him. Relief and amusement mixed with joy and laughter.

Another test passed, another confrontation survived. He knew he was getting stronger and that for the moment, he and Jim were safe. But he also knew that until the two of them could work together in the other reality, their dreamworld, the evil would not be defeated. He had traveled to the dark jungle while awake, something he knew neither Jim nor he had done before. It was a big step. He knew that the next step would be to get both of them there at the same time, while aware of each other and the reality back in the physical world.

Mentally shaking his head, he set all those thoughts aside. At least for a little while. He needed to rest. So did Jim. The panther would keep watch over them, would warn them when the evil was strong enough to cross the borders between their worlds again.

For now, they were safe.

- The End -

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