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

Summary: As darkness gathers for a final battle, Sentinel and Shaman are given a test of faith and belief and Simon finds himself further drawn into the conflict. Spoilers: Inspiration from Flight and Warriors, plus one element from Sentinel Too.

Seventh installment of the In Time and Destiny series. You need to have read the previous six stories in this series to really understand what's going on here. And again, any books, talks of shamans, and the like are all from my own imagination and not meant to be factual.

On the Threshold
by Becky
November 1998

A few hours after the final events in 'And the Walls Fell'....



Light blue eyes staying fixed on the bed and its occupant in the darkened room, Jim paused upon exiting the downstairs bedroom. Blair stirred a moment, murmuring in his sleep, then settled back down into a deeper rest. Satisfied that his partner would stay asleep, he pulled the door closed with a soft snick and turned away from the doors toward the kitchen holding an empty mug in one hand.

"The kid asleep?" Simon's voice was quiet, only barely loud enough for Jim to hear from across the room. The tall captain sat on one of the couches, arms stretched out on the back of the cushions, head turned toward Jim. Concern mixed with gentle amusement at Jim's almost paternal actions toward his younger partner shone in his dark brown eyes.

Nodding, Jim walked into the kitchen and rinsed the mug of the residual tea before placing it in the sink. "Yeah, finally. I thought he would never calm down long enough to let himself relax. Even if he was almost asleep on his feet." He strolled around the kitchen counter, glancing at the doors to Blair's bedroom. "But these last few hours have been rather ... intense, and I can't say I'm too surprised he finally crashed like he did when he finally did relax." He leaned back against the counter, folding his arms over his chest, shaking his head fondly. "Even if he didn't want to sleep."

Simon stood, chuckling as he walked around the couch. "Reminds me of Daryl when he was younger. Didn't want to sleep because he thought something would happen and he would miss it."

"That would fit Sandburg at times." A smile graced Jim's face, but couldn't erase the lines around his eyes that spoke of the detective's own weariness. Yawning once, he raised a hand to rub at his eyes before continuing. "But this time I think he really is afraid something will happen and he'll miss it. All things considering, I can't say I blame him."

Frowning, Simon leaned against the counter next to Jim. "Do you think something will happen?" He glanced first at Blair's door, then at the book being casually ignored on the table.

Jim followed his gaze to the book and the two men stared at it for a moment before the Jim spoke up quietly. "I think that for the moment we're safe. These little ... confrontations ... take a lot out of us and I think they do the same to whatever or whoever," he waved a hand in the air, "is out there trying to hurt us. I think that whoever he is isn't strong enough at the moment to pull us into a trance or whatever right now..." Jim's voice trailed off and he paused a moment, then chuckled wryly, rubbing a hand over his mouth. "I sound like Sandburg."

Simon snorted, the corners of his lips turning up. "That ain't the worst of it. I understood what you just said and agree with you."

"Quite a pair, aren't we, sir?" Jim laughed as Simon rolled his eyes, then went on. "Anyway, I figure he's too weak in that way, and he apparently doesn't think he can beat us in the real world."

"Or he hasn't found you yet."

Jim shot Simon a hard glance, then shook his head. "You would have to say that, wouldn't you?"

Simon shrugged. "Someone had to." He raised an eyebrow as Jim yawned again, raising his hands to press the heels of his hands into his eyes. "And you look too tired to think of everything. Why don't you go to bed, Jim? You look exhausted. I'll let myself out."

Jim blinked at him, shifting to push away from the counter. "That's probably a good idea." He looked past Simon to the stairs, grimacing. "Although I really don't want to climb those stairs..."

Simon patted him on the shoulder and walked past him to the door, grabbing his coat from the rack. He paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned back to Jim. "Take the morning off, Jim, you need it. Actually ... does Sandburg have classes tomorrow?"

Jim pursed his lips, eyes lost in thought. "Um, tomorrow's Wednesday, right? Then, no, he doesn't. I think he's free the whole day, though I think he might have an evening lecture he wants to attend."

"Good, good. I expect both of you to stay here and recover." He pointed a finger at Jim who grinned slightly and saluted smartly.

"Yes, sir. We hear and obey."

Simon rolled his eyes and opened the door, muttering under his breath as he left. "Now the man really sounds like Sandburg."

Jim chuckled, padding over to lock the front door. "Good night to you too, Simon." Turning back to the main room, he stretched his arms up, yawning again. Clicking off the lights in the room, leaving it bathed only in the streetlights and lights of the night sky, he headed toward the stairs that would take him to his bed.

Pausing at the table, Jim stared at the innocuous-looking book. This all started with a book, a different book, but still a book. He laid his fingers lightly on the cover. A book of learning, Sandburg calls it. More like a book of trouble. I wish I could just destroy the thing and be done with it.

<<You cannot destroy the past, Sentinel.>>

Jim whirled around, stumbling back a few steps when he found himself in a verdantly lush green forest. He eyed his surroundings, turning in a slow circle. The late afternoon sunlight streaming from overhead contrasted greatly with the darkness he had just come from. Glancing down at himself, he saw that again he wore the garb of a Sentinel, right down to the quiver of arrows on his back, the crossbow in one hand, and the ritual black streaks of paint around his upper arms. He touched one arm, running a finger over the paint, then lifted his fingers to his face, feeling the paint there as well.

His eyes widened -- the streaks were exactly as Blair had painted them on only hours earlier. He could still feel the delicate and deliberate touch of his partner's -- his shaman's -- fingers as they anointed him. Anointed me for what? He paused, then answered his own question. Anointed me for war. Anointed his Sentinel for war.

<<The past is the future, Sentinel, just as the future is the past.>>

What? Straightening, he searched the forest with piercing eyes and ears. Not seeing or hearing anyone, he called out, "Who has called me? Why am I here?"

At first there was no answer, but then a low growl sounded throughout the forest. Listening carefully, Jim took a step in the direction he believed was the true source of the echo. "Who is here? Who has called the Sentinel to this place?" He winced slightly at the phrasing, but knew somehow that the words felt right. Again, too much Sandburgian influence.

<<You cannot destroy what has already happened, Sentinel. You cannot destroy what has been and must be and ever will be.>>

The voice came from behind and Jim turned quickly, finding the shaman standing almost directly behind him, long staff in one hand. Frowning slightly, Jim said, "I don't understand. What has already happened? And why can't I destroy the book? If it's gone, then this ... whatever it is that's hunting us will leave us alone."

"No, Sentinel!" The shaman's voice was sharp as he shook his head. "Destroying the knowledge will give your world into the hands of evil, never to be free again. That knowledge holds the balance between light and dark. The knowledge has held the balance for all eternity, far into the past and far into the future. It comes to those in time of need, in the times that the evil grows strong enough to overcome the walls of its prison." The shaman's voice grew stern. "Did you not hear the words of your shaman, Sentinel? Did you not listen to voice of the past, to the voice of the future?"

Jim blinked. "I ... am confused."

The shaman paused, then almost smiled before speaking again. "Then listen again. Listen. Hear. Understand." He lifted his staff and drove the end back into the ground, causing the ground to roll under Jim's feet.

Jim stumbled slightly, but kept his balance, hands going out to his sides. A loud growl emanated again, echoing all around him, then centralizing behind him. Spinning, he saw a dark grey wolf appearing from the forest growth, padding over the forest floor toward him. The wolf! But this is Peru or at least a representation of it. I still don't understand why a wolf is here ... or why I know it has got to be Sandburg's spirit guide.

The shaman began speaking again and Jim half-turned back, trying both to watch the wolf and listen to the shaman at the same time. Abruptly, Jim recognized the words that the shaman spoke as being similar to those from the book that Blair had read in the book earlier in the evening. A little startled to hear those words again, he gave all his attention to the shaman, nearly forgetting the wolf who sat only a few feet from him, watching him with too-intelligent eyes.

"The sea winds have blown and the walls have fallen, Sentinel. Two stand in the pathway of the darkness that would roll across the land, destruction going before and following after." The shaman's voice grew louder, echoing around him. "The time has come for the eternal battle of ages to be fought anew. Destiny has named you and the young one, your shaman, to be the champions of the light in the battle. It is the duty of those that guard and protect, your duty, to banish the evil once again to the outer realms." The shaman stared deeply into Jim's eyes. "The strong and the steadfast shall prevail."

Jim nodded, remembering clearly the vow he and Blair had exchanged. "The strong and steadfast. That would be me and Sandburg."

"Correct, Sentinel. Evil stands on the threshold, gathering strength, gathering allies. You also have gathered an ally that will be of help to you in your time of need."

"You mean Simon?" He blinked, a faint smile crossing his face. "I'll let him know you approve."

The shaman nodded and stretched forth his staff to point behind Jim. "It is time for you to return, Sentinel. Remember what you have been told." Before Jim could say anything, the shaman stepped back and morphed into the panther, his midnight black coat glowing silkily in the diffused light. The panther roared, then leaped upwards. Jim had only a moment to steel himself before the expected contact struck him, sending him stumbling backwards several feet. He heard the wolf's long, low howl echo around him...

<<The battle for you and your Shaman has only just begun, Sentinel. Be warned.>>

...and when he opened his eyes, he found himself standing at the table in the loft, the night darkness surrounding him, lower back pressed against the edge of the metal table, a rush of nonexistent wind ruffling his hair.

Jim stood frozen against the table for another moment, fingers curled around the side for balance. Then, shaking his head slightly, he shoved himself forward, straightening. He lifted a hand to touch his face, glancing down at himself at the same time. Normal clothes again. And though he knew there was no paint on his face visibly, he knew that the streaks would still be there next time he visited that dreamworld.

Turning to face the table, he stared at the book again, blinking when he found the hand-drawn picture of the sentinel and shaman facing the evil staring back up at him. Hadn't the book been shut...? No matter. There was very little that could surprise him anymore. Reaching out slowly, cautiously, he touched the edge of the page, lips drawing into a grim line. With a move startling even to himself, he shifted his hand and slapped the book shut with a muffled thump. His head shot up when he heard Blair muttering in response to the noise, but fortunately the younger man drifted back to sleep without really waking up.

Jim looked back down at the closed book where his fingers still rested on the cover. He'd already made one vow this evening; one made as a sentinel to his shaman. But now...now he made another vow, a vow to himself and to that which threatened his world.

"You won't win, whoever you are. I will find you. We will find you. And we will defeat you."

With one final nod, Jim gathered up the book -- he wasn't letting it out of his sight until this whole thing was over -- and headed upstairs for some much needed rest. He had a feeling he would need all the rest he could get.

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

Days passed by in an almost unreal normality. Cases of varying types -- murder, theft, drugs -- came and went on Jim's desk with regularity, either solved or shelved depending on hints and leads. Jim stayed extremely tense and alert for the first few days after receiving the warning from the shaman. However, his senses weren't used to the strain, and he zoned several times. Fortunately for all concerned, Blair was with him every time and brought him out, but not without some difficulty and a little panic on Blair's part. After that, Jim realized he had to relax a little or he wouldn't be of any use to Blair or himself when his senses really would be needed.

Though not dismissing the dangers inherent in the silent battle being waged between the two of them and the dark shaman hunting for them, Blair found it easier to act as if all was normal. He taught three classes for the early winter semester and juggled his schedule as a teacher, student, and Jim's partner with the same ease he always had. He also continued to study the book every chance he got -- which wasn't as often as he liked since Jim invoked his new rule that the book was never to leave his sight. After discussing Jim's solo vision and talk with the shaman the following morning, Jim had set down that rule, no debate allowed. So he now only studied and read the book in Jim's presence, either in the loft's main room or sometimes at the station at Jim's desk when things weren't too busy. Jim insisted on being present and Blair had discovered that the man refused to shift position. Realizing that Jim's sentinel - and cop - instincts were in full play, Blair had agreed to Jim's decision.

For his part, Simon simply watched them both closely, checking in every morning, seeing how things were going. Sometimes this was as simple as a look and a nod exchanged between Simon and Jim. Other times, more often when Blair was present, Simon found himself the sudden -- and mostly confused -- recipient of a rapid excited monologue of everything the younger man had been learning from the ancient book.

The rest of Major Crimes knew something was up, but didn't ask any questions, knowing that if they needed to know, they would be told. Otherwise it was best left in the hands of those who could handle it -- in this case, Simon, Jim, and Blair.

Days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into a month. All three men wondered how long the calm would last before inevitable storm broke over their heads.

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

Tapping a pencil on the desk, Jim paused a moment to reread - for the third time - what he'd just typed into the computer for the new PD database, muttering the sentences under his breath. He nodded and punched the 'send' key with the end of the pencil eraser, waiting to see what would happen. You'd better work this time. Two seconds later the computer bleeped at him, flashing yet another error message at him.

"Oh, never mind." He turned away from the computer monitor and snagged another folder, this one with the much more familiar actual paperwork that needed a pen instead of a keyboard. He dropped the pencil into the holder and grabbed a pen. The distant sound of thunder caught his ears and he glanced across the bullpen, seeing the last few feeble rays of early sunset highlighting the streaks of water on the glass. He hadn't even noticed the increasing rainfall. Too caught up in paperwork. What would Sandburg think of that?

Jim chuckled and turned his attention back to his reports, he had to wonder how his partner was doing today. Blair had to stay at the University the whole day -- something about grading papers and receiving some special package with an artifact that could be related to sentinels and therefore to his dissertation.

As long as it doesn't have to do anything with shamans, I'm happy. His forehead creased with the thought and he tensed a moment, looking up and out across the bullpen, eyes unfocused. It's been a month and nothing, no word, no visions, no dreams. Putting down his pen, he folded his hands togther, elbows resting on the table as he gnawed on his lower lip.

I don't know what's worse -- the actual confrontations or the waiting. Not knowing when or where or what or how ... of anything. Especially not when I'm separated from Blair. Too much could happen...

For the first few days after the last confrontation, the two men had been nearly inseparable. But then they'd both realized that to get anything done, they had to live their lives as normally as possible. Jim snorted. Normal, what's normal? My best friend has shamanistic powers and I've got some kind of spiritual war paint on my face. Sighing and rubbing his forehead, he glanced down at the bottom drawer of his desk a moment. At least I know that is safe. As long as I have it, maybe that will keep Blair safer.

He shook the worrisome thoughts about his partner away, then glanced at his watch. One more hour and your shift will be over. C'mon, Ellison, you can do that. Shifting in his seat once, he forced himself to concentrate on the case report waiting to be filled out. Okay, let's see how much I can get done for Sandburg to input next week...

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

Blair signed the receipt slip with a hurried flourish and handed the delivery man's pen back to him. "Here you go. And thanks." He motioned to the package sitting on the chair behind him. The man nodded, then left the small office, disappearing down the hallway. Blair didn't even notice, shoving the door closed with one hand while turning back to the plain brown paper- and twine-wrapped box.

"Oh, man, I can hardly believe it's here!" He laid a trembling hand on the package for a moment, just standing there, staring at it, a smile lighting up his face. Then he carefully lifted the medium-size flat box and brought it around to the other side of his desk. Shoving a stack of papers and a few books to the side, he laid the box down, digging into his pocket for his pocketknife. He quickly cut the twine, then slowly peeled back the brown paper, sucking in part of his lower lip in concentration.

Finally the paper was pushed back, the flat box opened, and his treasure laid out before him, just waiting for him, one Blair Sandburg, Guide and Shaman to a Sentinel, to learn from it.

A smallish slab of dulled stone, etched with rough pictures and symbols met Blair's hungry eyes from within its padded wrappings. Grinning in delight, eyes wide with wonderment, Blair lifted the tablet from the box to look at it closer. It wasn't terribly heavy, but heavy enough that he didn't want to hold it for too long. But just for a few moments, just for a second or so, he wanted to feel the solidity of the artifact he'd read about just two weeks earlier.

This is so cool! His grin grew wider and he had to restrain himself from calling Jim to tell him it had arrived. He knew Jim wouldn't really mind the call, but he didn't want to accidentally tell his partner more than he wanted him to know.

Shoving the box aside, Blair set the tablet down on the desk, then pulled his chair closer as he plopped down to look at the artifact. Pushing his glasses up on his nose with one hand, he switched his desk lamp on with the other hand, tilting the light to strike the etchings at just the right angle.

He'd told Jim that the artifact had something on it about ancient sentinels. And that maybe it could be of use in his dissertation. Or maybe not. Regardless, it was something Blair hadn't seen before and for completeness' sake, as well as for his own curiosity, he'd received permission to study it for a few days. It wasn't really considered that valuable by the museum it belonged to, so they had little problem in shipping it to Blair.

With one finger, Blair traced the figures on the stone surface, then the symbols, translating them with little difficulty as they were very similar to the ancient book of learning. It still amazed him sometimes that he had been gifted with the knowledge of understanding for the old shamanistic language. Blessed and thankful, but still amazed.

He whispered under his breath, "As two, they survive. As one, they live. Apart, together, separate, whole. Journey of life into death. Quest of light into darkness. Strong and steadfast. Sentinel and Shaman."

What he hadn't told Jim was that the tablet also spoke of shamans. He would've freaked and demanded to be here when I got it. He ran his fingers over the whole surface lightly, eyes catching on the smaller symbols decorating the edges of the tablet. I wonder what those say... Yanking open a desk drawer, he dug out his large magnifying glass from beneath the empty pen boxes and loose papers. Then he bent his head over the tablet, using the glass to more closely study the symbols, reading those miraculously not destroyed by time and handling.

Ignoring the distant roll of thunder as the storm outside got stronger, he mumbled under his breath as he moved the glass around the edges of the tablet, "Darkness. Banishing. Destiny. Two who stand before..."

Yanking his head back, he sucked in a breath, eyes widening further. Does that say what I think it does? He shifted the tablet little, squinting as he examined it. I think...oh, man, it does. Swallowing, he continued reading, dragging over a blank piece of paper and starting to scribble down the translation, at least the parts of it he could understand.

Oh, man...

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

At the knock on his door, Simon called out, "Enter." He looked up as the door opened and Jim walked in, holding a case file in his hands.

"Finished the report on the Stapleton case, sir." He held out the folder.

Simon took the case file and leaned back in his chair, flipping through the folder once. "Good, good. One less thing for us to worry about." He watched as Jim settled himself on the edge of the conference table. "So, where's Sandburg been today? The University?"

"Yeah. He had some grading to do..."

"Which he wouldn't have got done if he'd come to the station because you would've whined about your own paperwork and had him helping you with it." Simon didn't bother hiding his grin.

Jim shrugged, a smile on his face. "True. And he knows that. I think he still might have come to the station anyway, but he also told me this morning that some artifact was being delivered today that he needed to be there to receive."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "An artifact? What kind of artifact?"

"He didn't really say. Something to do with his favorite topic -- sentinels and their place in society, whether that be primitive or modern, I don't know." He chuckled softly. "He was in a hurry and I didn't really ask." Staring toward the dark, rain-streaked windows, he finished quietly, "As long as he isn't trying to study that book, I'll be happy."

Pulling his cigar case from his pocket, Simon paused before pulling a cigar out. "Where is that book anyway? How do you know he's not studying it?"

A wry smile on his face, Jim answered, "Because I haven't let that book out of my sight for the last month. Where I go, it goes. If Blair wants to look at it, then I've got to be with him. There is no way he's getting hurt or sucked into some vision or whatever without me right beside him."

Simon straightened in his chair, eyes widening behind his glasses. "You mean you've got that book here -- in the station?"

Jim nodded, meeting Simon's eyes. "Yes, sir, I do. Don't worry. It's safe."

Shaking his head, Simon relaxed back into his chair and lit his cigar. "Safe. That book sure doesn't seem safe to me. I'm surprised you haven't burned it or something by now."

"I was told I couldn't."

"What?" Simon yanked the newly-lit cigar from his mouth. "What do you mean you were told you couldn't?"

Jim shifted on the table, folding his hands and looking down at them for long moments. "After you left that night, when you told us how you saw the confrontation at the warehouse, I had a little visit from my spirit guide. He told me I couldn't destroy the book, that it held the key to controlling the evil, that if we destroy the book then everything would be lost."

Simon stared at Jim, then shoved the cigar back into his mouth, chomping down on it, not saying anything for a bit. Then, "Well, isn't that lovely."

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

"It's not here."

The figure stood in the center of the darkened room, looking around at the destruction impassively. Drawing the long dark coat around him, he strode toward the door, not waiting for his assistant who hurried to catch up. He spoke in a low voice as he reached for the doorknob. "If it is not here, then it must be with them."

"I thought you said you could feel it, know where it is."

The figure inclined his head. "Yes. But that time has passed. The little shaman learns quickly and has bound the book to himself. He alone can feel its call." He pulled open the door and stepped into the hallway. "Therefore we will go to the shaman and take it from him. Come."

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

Lights flickered in the small office, breaking Blair's concentration. He looked up just as the lights flickered totally off. Lightning flashed in the sky outside, illuminating the room through the small, high windows for a few seconds.

"Great. I should've known it was gonna do this. The weatherman says clear skies, which, of course, means nasty and wet." He shoved himself to his feet in the darkness, stretching out his hands to feel along the walls and cabinets. Thunder crackled above him and he winced. "Hope you've got everything turned down, Jim. Or you are not gonna be a very happy man tonight. And neither will I. Now where did I put that flashlight...?" His hands touched the file cabinet, slid off to the side and found the shelves next to it. "Ah, yes, here, I think."

More lightning struck and with it, Blair caught a glimpse of the flashlight and immediately latched on to it. Muttering a brief prayer to the gods of batteries and working flashlights, he flipped it on. The column of light dispersed some of the darkness in the office and Blair sighed out happily. "Yes!"

Debating for a few seconds on what he should do, he decided to stay at the University. If I try to drive home when none of the street lights are working, Jim would probably threaten to strangle me or something. He smiled fondly, knowing the threat to be just hidden concern. And since he couldn't actually do that, he'd find something else equally unattractive. Maybe WonderBurger for a week or something. He shuddered. Now that is a scary thought.

Using an extra chair, he pulled down the kerosene lamp - courtesy of one Jim Ellison - from the top of his shelves. Jim hadn't liked the idea of Blair being stuck in his office without light and actually neither had Blair. The heat would take a little bit to dissipate, so he'd be okay until the ancient campus generator kicked in. When are they gonna get that thing replaced, I wonder? Setting the lamp on a hurriedly cleared space on his desk, he quickly lit the cloth wick, already having the base filled with kerosene. Within moments, the room lightened a little more. Clicking off the flashlight, he set it aside, then sat back down to continue studying the tablet.

Now, then, where was I...?

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

Simon and Jim were caught in mid-laugh when the lights flickered and darkened. All thoughts of Sandburg's ramblings about his students and some of their more creative answers to test questions were lost in the ensuing darkness.

The captain straightened in his chair and frowned. "What the...?"

A moment later, the emergency lights went up, leaving the office cast in half-darkness.

Jim slid off the table and walked to the windows, scanning the city intently. "Looks like the outage is scattered throughout the city. The storm's getting worse out there, Simon. It was bound to happen." Lightning streaked across the dark, stormy sky and Jim winced back a little.

Stabbing his cigar in the ashtray, Simon grumbled, "Well, why did we get to be one of the lucky buildings whose power was affected?"

Smiling slightly, Jim turned around. "I don't--" A loud clap of thunder overrode his voice and Jim's hands went up to his ears, cutting down the sound.

<<Sentinel!>>

Dropping his hands, Jim spun around, eyes wide, the peal of thunder still echoing outside, but not nearly as loud or as urgent as the voice calling to him. He almost expected to see the shaman shimmering into view in the office.

Simon stood from his chair and walked to Jim, grabbing his arm. "Jim, what is it?"

Jim met his eyes for a moment. "You didn't hear--"

<<Sentinel!>>

Simon's eyes went wide, fingers tightening on Jim's arm. "That I heard. What's going on? Is this about what I think it is?"

<<The darkness is here, Sentinel. It stalks your shaman. Time runs against you.>>

The loud words reverberating in his skull, Simon watched Jim's face pale, then darken in anger. "I'll take that as a yes."

Dislodging Simon's grip from his arm, Jim strode toward the office door, yanking it open. "I need to get to the University, Simon. Blair's in danger."

Simon grabbed his coat and followed Jim out, pausing at Rhonda's desk. "Rhonda, Ellison and I are heading out to the University. Sandburg could be in trouble."

The woman nodded. "Do you want me to inform a back-up team to meet you there?"

Simon hesitated a moment, his eyes going to Jim where he stood at his desk. He watched the man shrug on his coat, then pull open a bottom drawer and bring out a large book. So that's where he had it. Turning back to Rhonda, he shook his head. "No, not yet. But get a hold of Brown and Rafe, tell them what's happening and to be prepared in case we do need them. It's not likely that we will, but just to be safe, they need to know."

Then he strode after Jim who was already halfway down the hallway, heading for the elevator.

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

A knock on his door got Blair's attention as he carefully repacked the tablet before heading home. He'd decided that staying in his cold office really wasn't something he wanted to do. The generator had finally started to work again, but it wasn't working very well. The lights flickered on and off and the heating units had somehow decided it was time for air conditioning instead and refused to put out anything more than cold air.

Putting the last pieces of tape on the box, Blair called out, "Come in."

"Blair?"

Blair looked up, seeing Mark Andrews, a fellow TA, standing in the doorway. "Oh, hey, Mark, whatcha need?"

"Me? Nothing really. Dean Werner thought I should check on everyone, make sure no one hurt themselves or anything when the lights blacked out."

Blair smiled, smoothing down the tape. "Well, as you can see, I'm fine. Everyone else doing okay?"

"So far. A few people didn't have working flashlights, but other than that... You heading home?" Mark leaned against the doorjamb, gesturing toward Blair's desk, upon which sat the box and his zippered backpack.

"Yep. Way too cold here. I've got a wood stove waiting at home for me that I can sit in front of and get warm. I swear the generator here takes longer each time to work." He gestured at the flickering lights. "One of these days that thing is gonna implode and short out every circuit on campus."

Mark chuckled. "No kidding. You would think--" A ringing noise interrupted him and he shifted away from the doorjamb to pull a cellphone from his jacket pocket. "That's probably my wife. She worries too much." He flipped the phone open. "This is Mark...Oh, hey, hon...yes, I'm fine..." He waved at Blair and walked out, pulling the door closed as he went.

Blair shook his head in amusement and leaned across his desk to snatch up the receiver of his desk phone. Speaking of being worried, I probably ought to call Jim and let him know I'm heading home. He started to dial before realizing all he could hear was an airy silence. Frowning, he jiggled the hang-up switch a few times, but nothing changed. "That's odd. The power outage shouldn't affect the phone lines."

Dropping the receiver into its cradle, he unzipped his backpack and dug out his cellphone. He flipped it open and hit the speed-dial for Jim's desk phone. Expecting at the very least a recorded message that said all lines were busy, Blair was surprised to hear nothing more than a click signaling that he'd been disconnected. Pulling the phone away from his ear, he stared at it. He tried again, this time calling Jim's cellphone.

Same thing. Just a click of disconnection. Not even an out-of-range message. Not even a busy signal.

Slowly, he clicked off the phone and stared at the display. Okay, this is a little strange. The battery is fine. Maybe the lines are all busy...? But Mark's worked. He tapped his fingers on the desk. So what is the deal here?

There was a knock on his door again and Blair looked up. Oh, hey, maybe that's Mark again. I can borrow his phone since mine seem to be conspiring against me today. Dropping his phone onto the top of the box, he stepped around his desk and headed for the door. "Mark, is that you? Do you think I could," he pulled open the door, "borrow your-- Oh, you're not Mark. Sorry. Can I help you?"

The two men stared back at him, faces appearing briefly in the flickering lights and a flash of lightning glowing in through the high windows of the hallway. One man, the taller, dark-haired one, said quite definitively, "You are Blair Sandburg."

Blair nodded, hand still holding the door. "Yes, that's me. What can I do for you? I'm about to head home here, but--"

The man walked toward him, forcing him to move back into his office. "No, little shaman, you aren't going anywhere." The shorter man -- hired thug, Blair's mind helpfully supplied -- white-blond hair almost glowing in the low lighting, followed him, shoving the door closed and leaning on it.

Thunder roared outside and Blair could almost swear he heard a long, mournful wolf howl. "Who--?"

Another crash of lightning, right outside his office windows lit up his office almost painfully bright in its intensity. The man's face shimmered and ... shifted. Eyes going wide with recognition and instant fear, Blair gasped and backed up, feet not able to move fast enough to get away. It's ... it's ... him! He banged his lower back into his desk, almost falling, but not caring, his eyes still fixed on the dark-haired man. Oh my ... Jim!

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

Jim angrily snapped his cellphone shut and dropped it on the seat. "Can't we go any faster, Simon?"

Glancing over at Jim, Simon shook his head. "We're already going as fast as we can, Jim. I can't go any faster in this rain, you know that." And there was no way I was gonna let you drive, Ellison, not in your condition. We'd really never make it there in one piece. "Just be glad that the lights are still working in this section of town." He gestured to the cellphone. "Can't get in touch with Sandburg, I assume."

"No." The word was almost a growl. "It just keeps disconnecting me. It's like I'm being blocked."

"Maybe the lines are all busy." He stopped when Jim's cellphone started to ring. "Or then again, maybe not."

Jim snatched up the phone and flipped it open. "Sandburg? Is that you?" He paused for an answer, then receiving it, wilted. "Oh, hey, Brown. No, we're not there yet. .... No, not yet. Just wait for Simon's call. .... Thanks. I hope he's okay too." He turned off the phone again and raised his hand to rub his forehead. "He'd better be okay."

Simon took another corner turn, then reached out to lay his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Isn't there any other way for you to reach him? Through this ... spirit world of yours or something?"

Jim shook his head. "No, well, technically, yes, but I can't do that. Only Blair can. He has to initiate it or I have to be pulled in by someone else, another shaman. I'm only a sentinel, Simon. I don't have that ability." He fell silent, staring at the wet darkness outside the car, his hand stroking the book in his lap unconsciously. "I never wanted Blair to have it either, but now I wish we both had it."

Not knowing what to say to the despair he heard in Jim's voice, Simon simply squeezed Jim's shoulder.

<<Sentinel!>>

Jim stiffened, eyes snapping forward.

<<The little shaman is mine, Sentinel!>>

Simon gasped, yanking back his hand to shake the residual tingling away from his fingers, muttering a few choice words under his breath. Just like it was with Sandburg. "That wasn't one of the good guys, was it." Stating, more than asking.

"No, Simon, no, it wasn't. That was the darkness we've been fighting for the last several months. He's here. In Cascade. And he has Blair."

Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, Simon took a breath and pushed the gas pedal down a little further.

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

Back flat against his office door, Blair could only watch as his office was thoroughly investigated and overturned by the blond man. He gritted his teeth at the touch of the dark-haired man's hand pressed to his chest over his heart. Just stay calm, Sandburg. It'll be okay. Just don't panic. He forced out, "I told you. It isn't here. I don't have it."

The man swung his head around, eyes nailing him, silencing him with only a look. "It must be. You are the little shaman. The one chosen for this duty." He laughed hoarsely. "So young and inexperienced. And unprepared. We can't forget that. You have no idea what you're doing, do you? No idea how much power you hold. No idea how much you could do with this power." He leaned closer, digging his fingers into Blair's chest. "No idea how easy it would be for me to simply take the power from you."

Blair swallowed and made himself not look away. "Then why don't you? If you're as powerful as you say you are, then why don't you just take it."

The man leaned back. "Tempting, little shaman, very tempting. But not yet. Not until I have the book. Now where is it?"

"I don't have it! Why won't you believe me?"

The blond man spoke up, walking over to stand near them. "I think he's telling the truth. I don't think it's here either."

Blair looked away, inwardly cringing at the destruction of his office. It took me three days to get that file cabinet in order. Oh, man, and the tests I graded. What am I gonna tell the kids? The man's words registered with him finally and he demanded, "Either? What do you mean? Where else did you look?"

The dark-haired man answered the question. "Your ... dwelling. It is of no matter. Where is the book?"

Blair shook his head, snapping his mouth shut and looking away. His eyes lit on his emptied backpack, the contents strewn all over the desk, spilling onto the floor. The box lay open, the tablet yanked halfway out of it, wrappings shoved aside. At least that's still okay. He glanced briefly back at the man holding him. I wonder why he said it was of no importance. What I read sure sounded important to me.

The dark, soulless eyes met his again. The man raised his other hand to grasp Blair's chin in a tight, uncomfortable grip. "You want to know the truth, don't you?"

"I already know that truth." Blair lifted his chin, pulling his face away from the cold touch. "You want to destroy the book so you can rule the world."

The man laughed, shaking his head. "Such simple words. Such a naive little shaman. You truly are unprepared. You have the beginnings of training, the book of knowledge to tell you everything you've ever wanted to know, the intelligence to understand, and the will to learn. But you don't truly understand why the battle has come to you."

Blair straightened up and stepped forward, ignoring the hand that still pressed on his chest. "Then why don't you tell me instead of having your hired thug," he waved a hand to the blond man, "search for something that isn't here? If you know so much more than me, just tell me instead of using big words and fancy symbols." He grabbed the man's wrist and yanked it away from his chest. "And get your hand off me while you're at it!"

The dark-haired man stared at him a moment, then began to smile. A slow smile that made Blair's inside turn cold. Uh-oh...

"You want to know, do you? Very well. But instead of telling you, I'll show you." He gestured toward the other man. "Hold him."

Before he could react, Blair found his arms grabbed and twisted behind him. He struggled, trying to pull away. "Hey, wait a minute. What do you mean 'show me'. What are you gonna do?"

The dark-haired man lifted a hand toward him, again resting it on his chest over his heart. "You wanted to know. You wanted to see what power is being sought. So I will show you -- in terms you can understand." Then he raised his other hand and laid it on the side of Blair's face. Blair jerked reflexively away, but the man simply followed his movement, curling his fingers into his cheek. "Are you ready, little shaman?"

Beyond him Blair could hear thunder crashing, rattling the windows of his office and the hallway outside his closed door. Intermittent flashes of lightning illuminated the dimly-lit room, whiting out the face in front of him. He began to somehow sense trickles of darkness edging into his mind, poking at him. Adrenaline rushing through him, he started to struggle again, tried frantically to get away.

<<Hold him!>> The voice roared in his ears, drowning out even the sound of the thunder.

He blinked...

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

...and found himself in the dark jungle. Trees whipped in heavy winds. Debris flew through the air. Ominous dark clouds covered the moon and all of the night sky, leaving everything cast in malignant shadows. The cold, bitter wind tore past him, unbalancing him. Rain pelted down on him, soaking him to the skin in moments. Loose branches and leaves struck him, hitting his arms as he lifted them to protect his face. Stumbling backwards, he fell against a tree and turned toward it, hiding his face in the rough, unforgiving trunk.

Looking down briefly at himself through the protection of his arms, Blair realized he still wore the clothes he did in the real world -- jeans and a long-sleeved blue plaid shirt. Why am I not dressed as a shaman? I should be one here. Then he remembered something he read on the tablet just minutes ago.

'Shifting between worlds requires a moment of calm. Beware the darkness that fights against this.'

Okay, a moment of calm. I can do that. Just one little moment... Struggling to find a calm place in his mind, he tried to push away the distractions around him. He felt a momentary shift, but then it fell away even as something struck him from behind, knocking him away from the tree and throwing him to his knees on the muddy ground. Blair folded in on himself, hiding himself from both the physical battering of the spiritual world and the spiritual battering of the dark one still in the physical world that struck out at him with his mind. He just needed to hold on, just for a little longer...

Jim! Sentinel! I need you!

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

"Sandburg!"

Simon jerked at Jim's yell, nearly running the car off the road. "Jim, what the--" He looked over and found Jim staring vacantly out the windshield. "Jim? What is it? What's wrong?"

"I can hear him. He's -- he's calling to me." He blinked once, then shifted in his seat, closing his eyes. "Keep driving, Simon." He took a breath and between one blink and the next, Simon knew the man might still be with him physically, but the rest of him was on a totally different plain.

Turning back to concentrate on the road, Simon whispered, "Good luck to you both, Jim."

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

No wonder he called to me!

Jim held up his arm, squinting against the rain and wind and debris in the air. Without having to look to verify what he felt, he knew he was dressed as his sentinel-self, even if he did lack the crossbow and arrows. Doesn't look like I need them anyway. Not much good they can do against the weather.

He cupped his hands together over his mouth, yelling into the dark storm. "Sandburg! Where are you?"

No answer. Frowning in concern, he tried again. "Blair! It's Jim!" He pushed his way through the wind, scanning the trees around him, holding out his arm to evade any flying objects.

C'mon, Chief, tell me where you are.

"....jim...."

He almost missed the weak voice in the echo of the raging wind, but it caught his attention and he turned back, retracing his steps. There! Huddled on the ground just beyond a few trees was a man dressed in the familiar jeans and blue plaid shirt that Blair had been wearing this morning before they'd gone their separate ways to work. Shouldn't he be shaman to my sentinel here? What's going on? He trotted over to him and crouched over him, placing a hand on his back, feeling the shivering and trembling.

"Hey, Chief. You called me?"

Slowly, Blair lifted his head, staring up at him through drenched hair. "Jim?"

Jim smiled reassuringly. "Yeah, that's me. You okay?"

"No. I'm not." Blair shuddered, closing his eyes as he shifted to sit up.

Jim caught his shoulders, steadying him. "Easy there." He looked up and around at the dark forest, ignoring the rain that pelted down on him, trying to wash away the war paint decorating his face. He had no worries about that. Only his shaman could remove it. Looking back down, he shifted a hand to touch Blair's cheek. "We need to get out of here, buddy. Can you tell me what's going on?"

<<I told you, Sentinel, the little shaman is mine. You cannot protect him any longer.>>

Jim jerked to his feet, standing over Blair, his muscles tensed and ready for anything. "And I told you before that I will always protect him. It's who I am and who I will always be. I am his Sentinel and he is my Shaman. You will not harm him."

A gust of especially cold wind tore at him, whipping in circles around his body.

<<I do not have to harm him, Sentinel. I can destroy you. Just as without him, you are not a Sentinel, without you, he is not a Shaman or even a Guide. Without you, his light will be gone. His purpose for being a shaman will cease. Either way, I win. You cannot stop me.>>

"No, but together we can." The weakness of the voice both startled and worried Jim. He looked down and found Blair staring up at him, too weak to stand. Doubt about himself and his abilities hung in his eyes but the trust in Jim, in his Sentinel, shone clearly. The younger man leaned against his leg, obviously gathering strength just from his presence.

My turn to uphold him, just like he does for me so often. Jim smiled, nodding firmly. "Yes, together we can." Going on instinct, he leaned over and touched Blair's face again, running his fingers across the younger man's forehead in a soothing caress. "Just as you anointed me for war as a Sentinel, I now anoint you for war as a Shaman -- my Shaman."

Blair's eyelids fluttered closed and he leaned into Jim's hand. Jim blinked and watched as Blair's image blurred slightly and reformed with shaman's apparel, the red paint spreading across his face under Jim's fingers. Once the change was complete, Blair opened his eyes again, looking up at him, eyes calm with faith and trust.

The winds blew even harder and the rain battered at them. But neither the winds or rain or anything disturbed the calm resolution of the two men.

Jim lifted his head, throwing it back to stare up into the rain. "This shaman is under my protection. You cannot and do not have him. And you never will."

The dark presence above them screamed in anger and defeat. <<The battle is not yet over, Sentinel. Your ally cannot help you in the final battle. Of that be warned.>>

From somewhere beyond them, Jim heard a faint voice. "Cascade PD! Step away from him!" He smiled to himself. Like I said, sir, your timing is impeccable.

And then everything was abruptly quiet and still.

Momentarily surprised at the unexpected calm, Jim didn't change his defensive position until he felt Blair move back from his leg. Quickly, he looked down into Blair's eyes, seeing them cloud over. "Chief..."

"Come get me, Jim. I'm in my office." Then his eyes rolled up into his head and he fell away from Jim, releasing him...

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

...to slam back into his body with a gasp. Blinking and taking a moment to reorient himself, he realized he was still in Simon's car, fingers curled tightly around the ancient book in his lap. But he was by himself, parked in front of the Anthropology building at the University.

Blair!

Jim tore out of the car and up the steps, absently noting that the storm had stopped, only leaving behind a gentle pattering rain. Just as he reached the door and yanked it open, a single gunshot echoed down the long hallway. Gasping out a breathless "No," Jim ran down the hallway, tucking the book under one arm and pulling his own gun from the holster at his back. He rounded the corner and skidded to a halt just beyond Blair's open office door.

Biting down on the urge to rush into the office, he crept slowly toward the door, cautiously opening up his hearing, listening. He heard a few muffled thumps, then Simon's half-whisper.

"Damnit, Sandburg, you'd better be okay! C'mon, kid, wake up!"

Covering the last few steps quickly, Jim called out, "Simon!"

"Jim!?! Get in here. Blair's out cold."

Jim shoved past the door, stopping a moment to gape at the destroyed office. Shelves were emptied of their contents. Drawers and cabinets opened. A few shards of broken pottery crackled under his foot as he walked. Papers crinkled with every step. He swallowed. The book. He wanted the book. And he thought Blair had it. Damn.

Shaking himself, he bypassed the mess and joined Simon at the far wall of the office, crouching down on Blair's other side. He dropped the book at his side and quickly reholstered his gun before motioning to the body on Simon's other side. "Who's that?"

"Don't know. He was holding on to Sandburg when I came in. The other man," he paused, shaking his head, "well, this is gonna sound really strange, but he more or less growled at me and then blew past me like I wasn't even here, then just disappeared into the hallway shadows. When he touched me," again Simon paused, this time to shiver, "I can't really describe what I felt. Just ... darkness. Nothing I ever want to feel again. Anyway, our friend over there refused to let the kid go and was about to do something rather drastic with a knife, which didn't leave me much choice."

Jim reached over to grip Simon's arm for a moment, then turned his attention to Blair. The younger man lay on his side, legs half pulled up, arms over his chest. Jim settled himself on the ground, then touched Blair's shoulder, shaking him slightly. "Blair? Time to wake up, buddy. Time to go home." He moved his hand to gently brush away the hair from his face, then stroked his fingertips over Blair's forehead, outlining the war paint he felt but could not see.

With a half-gasp of terror, Blair's eyes flew open and he sat up, scuttling backwards, away from Jim's hand. He immediately bumped into Simon's supporting hands which scared him again into moving forward. Jim caught his face in both hands, making him meet his eyes. "Blair! Chief! You're okay. You're safe. It's just me and Simon."

Blair blinked at him a few times, breathing heavily. "Jim?"

Jim smiled, stroking Blair's face with his thumbs. "Yeah, it's me, buddy. It's Jim. How're you doing here?"

"Um ... I don't ..." He swallowed, closing his eyes, only reopen them in a hurry a moment later. Shivering, he curled his arms around himself. "I don't know. Okay, I guess. Can we get out of here? I'm cold."

Jim nodded and levered himself to his feet. "Sure thing, partner." He grasped Blair's outstretched hands and pulled him to his feet, keeping an arm around him when he wobbled a little on his feet. "Whoa, whoa, easy. Just take it slow." Blair pressed his face into Jim's jacket, one hand gripping a fistful of material. Jim wrapped his other arm around the smaller man, bringing him closer, lowering his head so he could whisper in one ear. "Sh-sh, it's okay. I've got you now. We're both okay." He rubbed his hand on Blair's back. "Okay?" Blair nodded against his chest, relaxing a little but still not releasing his hold on Jim's jacket.

Simon stood, holding out the book. "Here, I think you'll want this."

Removing his hand from Blair's back, Jim took the book and tucked it under his arm. "Thanks, Simon. I think I'll just take Sandburg home. We should be safe for a little bit. I think our not-so-friendly shaman used up everything on Blair, trying to scare him away."

Blair spoke up tiredly, face still hidden behind his loose hair. "The loft ... They looked for the book there."

Jim grimaced. "Damn. Probably means it's a disaster."

Simon held out his keys. "Here. Go crash at my place -- I've got an extra house key in my desk. And take the car. I doubt Sandburg has his own car keys on him and I don't think we can find them in this mess. I'll catch a ride with one of the squad cars back to the station when they get here and bring your truck to my place. And I'll send someone over to check out the loft and see how bad it is."

Jim hesitated. "Are you sure, sir? I don't want--"

Simon held up a hand. "Don't argue with me, Ellison. Just accept my offer."

Quietly, Jim dug out his own keys and exchanged them with Simon. "Thanks, Simon."

He waved it away. "No problem. You would do the same. Go on. I'll stay here and deal with this." He glanced at the body. "It'll have to be reported, though I think I'll leave out a few things." He shook his head. "I can't believe I said that."

Jim chuckled and started to steer his half-asleep partner toward the door. Partway there, Blair stopped, refusing to go any further. Jim leaned down to look at him. "Chief? What is it? What's wrong?"

One hand waved toward his desk. "I need the tablet. We can't leave it here."

Jim glanced at Blair's desk, seeing the smallish stone tablet in question, then returned his attention to Blair. "This is a crime scene. We just can't--"

"It's important!" He lifted his head to meet Jim's eyes. "I will not leave it here, Sentinel." His voice snapped out, surprisingly strong, his eyes flashing in the low light of the small room.

Jim straightened, hearing the urgency in Blair's voice and the command from a shaman to a sentinel. He turned back to the desk only to see Simon already repackaging the tablet in its box, folding the flaps of the box together to keep it secure.

Simon stepped over to them, handing it to Jim who carefully balanced the book and the box in under his arm. Jim smiled slightly. "Thanks, Simon."

The captain touched Blair's shoulder lightly. "To paraphrase a certain Naomi Sandburg, I heard that and knew what had to be done." Blair lifted his head a little and flashed Simon a weak grin. Simon returned it and squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Go. I'll catch up to you in a bit."

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

'In a bit' turned out to be two hours later. Simon closed the door to his apartment quietly, then stripped off his overcoat to hang on the rack. He noted the two other coats already hanging there plus the two pairs of shoes on the floor with approval, glad they'd had the presence of mind to remember to leave them at the door. Probably Ellison. Sandburg looked too out of it to do much more than sleep.

After slipping off his shoes, he padded down the hallway, flipping off the kitchen light (which Jim had most likely left on for him) as he passed. Stopping at the partially closed door of the spare bedroom, Simon pushed the door open and looked inside, leaning against the doorjamb. A small lamp on the dresser lit the room with a soft glow, showing him the two men sprawled on the double bed. Sandburg probably didn't want to sleep in the dark. Not after what just happened. And I can't say I blame him. I probably won't be sleeping in the dark.

Blair lay on his stomach, face turned away from the door and buried in a pillow, most of the comforter wrapped around his body. Jim rested on his side, facing the door, one hand on Blair's shoulder, a blanket draped half over him. Letting him know he's there, keeping watch, protecting him, even in sleep. Simon could tell neither had bothered to undress, just collapsed on top of the bed fully clothed. Glancing back to the dresser, the captain noticed the ancient book and the box containing the tablet placed carefully on the surface, his keys laying next to them.

Looking back at the bed, he was surprised to see Jim's eyes open, watching him. Simon whispered, "Just wanted to make sure you two were okay."

Jim nodded, eyes going to Blair, hand rubbing the younger man's shoulder as he murmured and shifted in his sleep. When his partner was resettled and calm again, Jim sighed, relaxing a bit, and looked back up at Simon. "I think ... I think we'll be okay, Simon." He glanced back at Blair. "At least I hope we will be."

Simon frowned and walked quietly into the room. He stopped at the bedside, his gaze falling mostly on Blair, who stirred again, curling inwards. Before he realized what exactly he was doing, the captain found himself resting a large hand on the back of Blair's head, stroking his hair in soothing motions. Blair calmed under his touch, sighing softly. I feel like I'm quieting my son after a nightmare. He paused a moment, thinking about that, then mentally shrugged. So be it.

Retracting his hand slowly, Simon met Jim's eyes, seeing both the gentle amusement and the genuine gratitude. He smiled in return to the unspoken sentiments, then asked, "Is there a reason you wouldn't be okay, Jim?"

Jim's eyes clouded and he rubbed Blair's shoulder again, eyes on the sleeping young man. "Blair ... is doubting himself. He's not sure he has the strength anymore. He trusts me. But he doesn't trust himself. He's losing faith in his own abilities. Tonight ... frightened him more than he's really ready to admit." He closed his eyes a moment, then looked back at Simon. "I can't do this by myself, Simon. I already know that. We have to be together. But if he can't ... if he won't ... then I think ... I think I might lose him. I couldn't--" He broke off, his light blue eyes haunted, filled with concern and fear, more than Simon had ever seen the detective ever show to anyone.

Maybe Sandburg has seen that look before, but never me.

Simon paused a moment, then laid his hand on Jim's where it rested on Blair's shoulder. He took a deep breath and spoke quietly, hoping his words would be of some comfort. "I don't understand a lot of this, Jim. I've never really understood just how your senses work. I leave that to you two, knowing that together you can handle it. I understand less about this whole shaman business. Again, I leave that to you and Sandburg.

"I have never seen any partnership and friendship so strong as the one you two share. I've watched you overcome your differences and find a common path. I've watched you become the friends to each other that everyone always dreams of having. Closer than brothers but still with your own lives, your own uniqueness that marks you as separate from one another. You balance one another. When one is weak, the other is strong. When one is faltering, the other steps in to lend a hand."

He moved his other hand to rest it on the back of Blair's head again, thereby touching each man. "And when one is doubting himself, he turns to the other to refocus, to remember that belief in himself, to see it reflected in the other's eyes. Give him time to rest, to recover, to, how would Sandburg put it, to find his center again. Tomorrow you'll talk things out. He'll find his strength again and you'll find your shaman. Have faith in your own abilities, Jim, not only as a sentinel but as his friend, his best friend."

After a few moments, Jim smiled up at him, eyes clearing. "I don't think I've ever heard such a long pep talk from you, sir."

Simon snorted softly, removing his hands and straightening. "Don't get too dependent on them. I think I used everything up for the next year. Go to sleep, Jim. I'll see you in the morning." He turned and headed out of the room. Jim's quiet voice stopped him at the door.

"And what if we're both weak, then what do we do?"

Simon turned in the doorway, hand on the doorknob. His reply came quietly, firmly, without hesitation. "Then you let those who have committed themselves to you be strong for you."

"Thanks, Simon."

"You're welcome." The captain inclined his head and pulled the door closed softly. "Good night, Jim." He stood outside the closed door for a long moment, hand resting on the flat wood. "And safe dreams. For both of you."

- The End -

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