Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama
Time No More
"I want every available employee working on this!" shouted the man as his cadre of personal advisors and staff milled around him, taking notes and making phone calls to pass on orders. The large conference room hummed loudly as information poured in from every corner of Cascade. The Cascade P.D., Rainier University, the city museum and historical association, the mayor's office -- he left no place uninfiltrated, no source untapped.
A hand tapped him on the shoulder. "Here are the files you wanted, sir," said one of his advisors as he handed him an unlabeled disc.
Wordlessly, the man took the slim case containing a small optical disc. Returning to his empty and once again dark office, he shut the door silently behind him, effectively muffling the roar outside.
Slipping the disc into his computer, he watched as the photographs and video from the P.D. evidence collection came to life in high resolution before his eyes. Comparison photos between the totaled Ford truck and its companion in the museum detailed everything, down to identical scratches, serial numbers, paint chip coloring, and minute rust patterns. Then came the sophisticated forensic analysis of fingerprints, hair samples, drops of blood -- he zoned on the stream of evidence flashing before him, no longer seeing any of it.
There was no question.
Somehow, somewhere -- they were back.
He didn't want to believe it, but he considered himself a practical man, never one to waste time in denial.
They were probably looking for him. Thought they could find him.
But after all these years, he wasn't going to let that happen. No way he was going to give up everything he had. No way he was giving up all the money, all the power. All those years of freedom.
Glancing up to rest his eyes, he considered the orchid placed on the right-hand corner of his desk. The rare Peruvian plant was in bloom, the only one of its kind to be transplanted from the South American tropical jungle to the Northern Hemisphere. Its delicate white flowers streaked with vivid blue reflected on the desk's glass surface. The flower seemed like the perfect accent to the opulent office of a successful executive, but the plant's parasitic nature appealed to him as much as its exotic rarity did. He admired the way the plant survived in the rainforest, taking whatever it needed from its environment with minimal effort of its own, surviving and thriving with grace and beauty at the expense of the tree that sheltered it. It embodied the philosophy that had made him so successful.
Flicking off the computer, he silently made his way to the dark, highly polished cabinet made of a Brazilian jungle tree long since extinct. Opening the double doors, he surveyed the array of ancient weapons mounted on the wall -- mounted not permanently as a select few privileged visitors has assumed, but for easy access. His collection of South American native weapons was unparalleled.
Deliberately, he removed the large Chopec crossbow from its place, admiring the fine workmanship and sleek construction. Its handling was graceful, yet powerful, conveying the spirit of the shaman-warrior who had owned it before him. He had defeated him, proving the old man no longer worthy of his weapon, thus acquiring the spirit and supremacy inherent in its symbolism.
He selected an arrow from the companion quiver, considering its glistening point in the dimmed light.
He had defeated Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg before.
He would do it again.
Jim rubbed a hand over tired eyes and exhaled, looking down at the thin manila folder in his hand, then at the mounds of paper, photographs, computer diskettes, and other manila folders scattered across the bed. It felt strange to be reading about the results of an investigation that, for him, was still in the future. In typical fashion, Sandburg had commented from time to time during the past few hours that reading the future was incredibly fascinating. The younger man had particularly relished informing Jim about the tabloid articles of several women claiming to have had the sentinel's love child. Fascinating or strange, their review hadn't yielded as much helpful information as they had hoped.
Besides dealing with eyestrain and the frustration of a seemingly unsolvable case, there was the "small" detail of apparent time travel. The whole future thing made his head hurt worse than it already did, and Jim was having a hard time accepting that it truly was twenty-five years later than it was supposed to be. He'd finally managed to embrace his hyperactive senses, but time travel? Ellison doubted he would be used to that idea any time soon. Speaking of his gift, the thought had already occurred to him that this whole thing might be some sort of extended sentinel dream, even though everything wasn't a shade of blue and was far more intense than any dream he'd ever experienced. When he'd casually mentioned the idea to Sandburg, the grad student had chuckled about the possibility of communal dreaming, then said that if it was a dream, it was much more vivid than anything he'd ever had and that wasn't going to stop him from exploring everything. As far as Jim was concerned, his partner wasn't bothered nearly enough about this whole thing.
The detective glanced across the bed to where his partner was sprawled on his stomach, munching on some sandwiches Rafe had brought in. Manila folders forgotten, the anthropologist stared at the screen of a small, thin computer pad on the bed, perusing screen after screen with an utterly spellbound look on his face. "I wish we could go exploring around the city," Blair said wistfully, not looking up from the pad. "It would be so neat to see how things have changed! I can't believe I'm stuck in the future and can't even go outside. This really sucks."
"Sandburg -- "
"I know, I know. We can't risk it. Someone might see us, and we know how well that went last time. Guess we'll just have to sit here and look up who won the last 20 Superbowls or Kentucky Derbies. Or we could watch TV. You know they've made a show about us, Jim? It's called 'The Sentinel'. I don't get why they couldn't name it 'The Sentinel and the Anthropologist'. Whatever happened to equality? I mean, I'm just as much a part of this as--"
"SANDBURG!" Jim interrupted.
At his partner's voice, Blair jerked his gaze up from the screen and blinked.
"I was going to suggest going to the loft," Jim continued more calmly.
"The loft?" Blair's eyes brightened, then changed to worry. "You really think it's safe?"
"We're not getting anywhere here. Maybe a little investigating of our own would get us something useful," answered Jim. "Besides, I think I'm getting cabin fever."
Blair looked thoughtful, considering his partner's words, then smiled. "Cool." Suddenly, his expression turned suspicious. "We're not going to steal Rafe's car, are we?"
Jim laughed and his eyes twinkled. "Nah. We'll just borrow it."
Freshly washed asphalt and the smell of a recently ended nocturnal rainstorm surrounded the two men as they cautiously made their way down Prospect Street. Thankful that the street and surrounding area appeared deserted at 1 AM, but not wanting to take any more chances than they already were, Jim and Blair remained silent as they walked side-by-side toward the building they called home. It had been easier than they thought to convince Rafe to let them borrow his car. They had left it parked at the end of the street.
Jim and Blair paused in front of the still pale green building, looking up at the windows and iron fire escape they knew so well, their hands shoved deeply into the warm pockets of jackets Rafe had generously lent them. Colette's, the woman's clothing store formerly located on the lower level of the building, had since been replaced by a souvenir shop, judging from the Ellison and Sandburg action figures, badge replicas, copies of Blair's thesis, flannel shirts, and bumper stickers displayed in the windows. Duplicates of silver hoop earrings, blue and yellow sheets, Blair's pillows, and Jim's floral apron were prominently displayed on sale racks.
"This is weird," said Jim softly, focusing on Blair's old bedroom window.
"Tell me about it," Blair agreed nervously.
The detective shook his head. "That's not what I mean. It's like I'm hearing --"
"Like you're hearing what?" Blair prompted.
Jim's brow furrowed, perplexed. "It's like I'm hearing your heartbeat echoing from the building. I can't describe it any better than that."
"You mean like someone else is in there?"
"No," Jim shook his head. "It's your heartbeat, no doubt about that. It's just as if I'm hearing a stereo version of it."
"It's probably an effect of this time traveling on your senses, Jim. I'm surprised your senses haven't acted up before now," Blair answered.
Jim tore his gaze from the window and looked toward his partner. "You're probably right. I guess the question now is, how do we get in?"
Approaching the entrance to the building, the two men examined the door and the intimidating glass pad mounted on the wall next to it. The door was definitely new as well, with an imposing gray metal frame, very thick glass, and a gray handle for a doorknob without a conventional lock.
"Guess they improved on the security system since we were here," said Blair.
Gingerly, Jim touched the pad lightly with one finger.
Reaching up, the detective grasped the doorknob firmly, then attempted to turn it.
The heavy door swung open with surprising ease. Jim entered and headed upstairs, as if being drawn by something coming from above them.
"Then again, maybe not," murmured the anthropologist as he quietly slipped inside after his partner, allowing the door to close behind them.
Deciding to avoid the elevator and take the stairs instead up to the third floor, Jim led the way through the dimmed stairwell and down the hall with Blair following close behind him. They stopped in front of the dark green door marked #307 in slightly tarnished brass numbers. Both immediately noticed that the door itself was slightly ajar, allowing a thin sliver of dim light to escape. Jim held up his hand as he inclined his head slightly toward the door, listening.
"Hear anything?" whispered Blair after a few seconds.
"There's something moving inside," whispered the taller man before reaching for the doorknob.
"Maybe it's bugs... or rodents?" Blair shivered. "Yuck! Don't they keep this place up?"
Jim shook his head. "No. I think it's a person."
"Wait!" Blair hissed, seizing Jim's arm. "You sure this is safe?"
"Nope, but there's only one way to find out." Jim turned and looked at his friend's apprehensive expression. He touched his friend's arm with his hand. "You with me, Chief?"
Blair held his gaze for a moment, then nodded. "What about that echo you were hearing before?"
"It's definitely stronger up here."
Gun drawn and raised in his right hand, Ellison slowly pushed the door open with his other hand, opening his senses, his entire body on alert. Eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness, he scanned the living area, kitchen, Blair's bedroom, and what he could see of his own bedroom. The furniture looked identical to what they currently had in the loft, though the colors and fabrics were noticeably faded and a little worse for wear. Many of the pieces were covered with clear plastic, and the things that weren't were covered in a layer of dust. A narrow path had been cleared on the floor with the main areas separated off with velvet ropes, as if placed for tours. Moving further into the loft, Jim motioned for Blair to come in and shut the door.
Feeling his friend coming to stand to the side and slightly behind his right shoulder, Jim fought to control the input his senses were receiving. Even though he knew exactly where Blair was, his friend's heartbeat, the rhythm of his breathing, even his characteristic scent, filled the loft as if coming from everywhere at once, swirling about him in an embrace so intimate it terrified him. Jim could feel his breathing accelerating and his own usually calm heart beginning to race. Just when he thought he would be overwhelmed, he felt a gentle touch on his back, effortlessly communicating reassurance and strength. Blair. Gathering up his concentration and focusing on the contact with his partner, Jim raised his gun with both hands and pointed it at the lower bedroom -- the spot from which the sensory stimuli seemed to emanate -- and called loudly, "Come out!"
Jim and Blair watched, wide-eyed, as a figure slowly emerged from the shadows enshrouding Sandburg's bedroom. It was an elderly man leaning on a wooden staff, fingering one of the buttons of the wrinkled, untucked gray plaid flannel shirt he wore. The shirt hung haphazardly over a pair of stonewashed jeans. Jim recognized the clothing as belonging to his roommate, and though the shirt seemed rather loose, the jeans' length fit perfectly. Judging from their creases and musty smell, he also realized the old man must have pulled the items from Blair's dresser where they'd sat folded for years. The man's gray hair hung loose around his wrinkled face, and two small red feathers dangled among the curls. As the elderly man approached them, Jim began to realize why he'd been sensing the things he had.
The steady heartbeat. The rise and fall of his breathing. The pattern of his footsteps. But how?
Lowering his gun, Jim paused and looked into the watery depths of the man's deep blue eyes, wondering, searching for an explanation.
The old man was standing in front of Jim and Blair now. "Don't be afraid," he whispered in a shaky voice. Slowly, he lifted a trembling hand and placed his palm softly on the middle of Jim's chest, resting it there as though feeling the heart beating beneath it. His eyes closed and a tear slipped down his cheek, falling silently to the wooden floor.
Jim wanted to answer, but his voice cowered shyly in his throat. Reaching up with his own hand, he covered the weathered hand, enveloping it with his own, and held it securely against his heart.
Blair felt frozen in time, unable to move or speak as he watched his partner look at this person -- whoever he was -- as if... as if it were me. Vaguely, he regretted making light of Jim's earlier comment about this all being a dream, because it certainly felt like one now. And if it wasn't a dream, it was a reality beyond surreal. Right now, he didn't know what to think.
Finally, the old man lowered his hand from Jim's heart and turned to Blair. Their eyes met, and Blair felt as though someone was seeing into his very soul -- that he was seeing into his own soul. Instead of being windows, the other man's eyes became mirrors, reflecting a mysterious awareness of himself so deeply profound and empathic, yet inaccessible with his current state of self-understanding.
Still holding his gaze, the old man's expression softened. Again, he raised his now-steady hand and held it up, palm facing Blair, and waited. Instinctively, the younger man lifted his hand and pressed it against his older counterpart's.
"You don't understand," the old Blair said softly.
The younger Blair shook his head.
Tires squealing, the blue and white pickup followed the path of the paved road in the wake of its headlights' white illumination and the dimmer red glow of the black sports car's rear lights before it. Blair stole a sideways glance at his partner, whose piercing gaze focused on the curves of the road with adrenaline-spurred precision. Turning his eyes back to the road, the anthropologist tried not to look at the blur of green blackness as the night forest whizzed by at a dizzying speed on either side of them. Only you could turn a '69 Ford truck into a high-performance pursuit vehicle, Blair silently mused. He would have said it aloud, but he had no desire to disturb Jim's concentration. Apart from calling the station a few miles ago and learning the nearest backup was at least 10 minutes away from their location, Blair contented himself with clutching the edge of the seat and making sure Jim didn't zone. Otherwise, he was going to leave his sentinel on autopilot.
"There's a clearing about 500 feet ahead," said Jim, breaking the silence though his eyes remained fixed on the road. "I think he's going to try to turn out there."
Blair nodded. Translation: prepare self for insane right-angle turn off this road onto some grass-covered pasture, he thought. He gripped the edge of the seat a little more tightly.
Seconds later, the car's taillights disappeared from the road just as the detective had predicted. Blair found himself leaning sharply to the left as Jim yanked the steering wheel right and the truck plowed off onto the shoulder and into the open field, swaying on the uneven ground with gravel spraying from the tires.
"Stay in the truck, Chief." Pulling to an abrupt stop, Jim was out of the cab in the next instant, his gun aimed at the car which had halted on the far side of the field, about 50 feet away from them. "This is the Cascade P.D.! Come out with your hands above your head!" shouted Jim as he made his way around the truck and through the field's tall grass, approaching the suspect's vehicle.
The sports car's door opened slowly and a figure emerged. Blair strained to make out the person's face, but the indirect light from the pickup's headlights was not enough to make out any definite features.
Gunfire erupted as the suspect took aim at his would-be captor. Detective and consultant ducked automatically to avoid the shots, Ellison crouching against the side of the truck and Blair ducking behind the dashboard, hands flying up to shield his ears from the deafening noise. Blair heard Jim's return fire answering a second later. This guy apparently has no intention of giving himself up easily. No surprise, considering how the suspect had repeatedly eluded them.
As more gunfire was exchanged, Blair inched up just far enough to where he could keep an eye on his partner. His heart pounded with the well-known fuel of adrenaline, knowing his fear for Jim's safety would always be with him no matter how much confidence he had in his friend's police skills and hypersensitive gift. Several more rounds were fired, followed by abrupt silence. Either the suspect was reloading or had run out of ammunition. Blair shut his eyes briefly, praying it was the latter. Then he heard Jim's voice again, repeating the instructions to surrender.
"Drop your weapon and put your hands up! NOW!"
Cautiously, Blair straightened slightly in the cab, looking toward the location of his partner. The suspect was still crouched behind the car; however, Jim had already emerged from behind the truck and was walking slowly along side the pickup in the direction of the Z-28, his gun raised and eyes set on his target.
The anthropologist followed Jim's line of vision back to the car parked across the field. Blair inhaled sharply as a figure dressed in black slowly and deliberately appeared from behind the car, arms raised above his head, gun grasped in his right hand. The suspect wore a black knit cap that hid his hair and most of his face. He was too far away for Blair to see his face clearly, but something about the way he moved seemed familiar. The anthropologist fumbled for his glasses, but they were missing from his front pocket. They must have fallen when he had ducked to avoid the fire.
"Drop it!" yelled Jim.
The man tossed his gun to the side, but something about the gesture implied a brazen casualness that unnerved Sandburg. Blair's gut feeling was confirmed when he realized the suspect still grasped something in his left hand. Whatever it was, it was small enough to hide within his palm.
Jim's voice remained calm and commanding. "I said, DROP IT!" he repeated. "Put the object in your left hand on the ground slowly. DO IT!"
While maintaining unswerving eye contact with his captor, the man began to lower his left arm, bringing it down in front of him. But halfway to the ground, he paused. Slowly, he opened his lowered hand to reveal an oval-shaped object slightly smaller than his palm. Deliberately, he held the outstretched object in Jim's direction, and it began to glow.
Then time slowed, but not enough.
In the next moment, Jim's shout of agony ripped through Blair like a knife. He saw Jim turn his head away and raise a hand in a futile attempt to shield himself. Stunned, the anthropologist watched helplessly as his friend collapsed, disappearing from view.
All thoughts of self-preservation fled Blair's mind as he struggled with the seatbelt, then tore it away, scrambling across the seat and flinging open the driver's side door. He tumbled awkwardly from the cab as if his whole body wanted to reach his friend at once. Landing on the grass, Blair shoved the truck door away, hoping it would provide some shielding, then crawled the few feet to where Jim lay huddled against the side of the vehicle.
The younger man fought back panic as he knelt beside his friend and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Jim!" he cried, "what happened?"
The detective responded with little more than a moan. Wincing, he held his eyes shut, hands over his ears, and attempted to turn away.
"Answer me!" Blair begged, his hand shifting up to Jim's face while he used the other to shake the taller man's arm. "Please, please, Jim," he begged, his voice barely hiding the way he felt.
Jim's eyes flickered and tried to open, though it seemed to be a great struggle for him. Blair noticed the beads of perspiration that were collecting on his friend's forehead, the rapidity of his breathing, the way Jim's hand was clenching his arm, and he knew. Only a senses thing could cause Jim this kind of pain. His mind raced from one thought to the next. I've never seen Jim this bad... He's having trouble breathing... What if I can't stop it?
Intuitively, Blair repositioned himself between Jim and the general direction of the villain, putting his arm around his friend's shoulders to support him. "Jim, I'm right here -- I've got you," he murmured. "I know you can hear me." Jim felt limp against him now, his face still contorted and his breathing labored. He didn't respond.
Fighting the onslaught of his swirling emotions, Blair glanced nervously over his shoulder and around the open truck door. Strangely, the man had only approached a few feet closer and halted, his hand still outstretched. He stared at his would-be captors as if transfixed by some sort of twisted, stunned curiosity. Blair guessed the man had been unaware of the extent the object would affect Jim. There was something familiar about the suspect as well, but without his glasses, he'd have to wait until the bad guy approached. And with little to defend his friend.... Blair violently pushed the thought away.
The anthropologist whirled at what he hoped was a barely audible whisper. It was. "Jim! Thank God..." His partner flinched at the sound of his voice and Blair silently reproached himself, lowering his tone. "I'm right here," he said more softly.
The sentinel's eyes were slitted open so slightly Blair wondered if Jim could see at all, but then he blinked and Blair caught a flash of his friend's blue eyes. They were flooded with agony.
"Blair," the whisper repeated, still weak.
"Shhh. Your senses are overloaded. We can do this, Jim. Just picture the dials--"
Jim shook his head. "Blair, listen... to me."
All at once, Jim seized his friend's hand, grasping it so tightly Blair gasped with surprise. The younger man looked worriedly down into his partner's eyes, shaken at how the intensity of Jim's strength had not diminished in the face of such acute suffering.
Jim held tightly to Blair's arm as if emphasizing the importance of what he had to say, though it was obvious each word took an enormous amount of effort. "We're not... safe here, Blair. You... you have to leave."
"And leave you here? Not on your life!" the younger man answered incredulously.
"D*mnit, Sandburg!... there isn't time.... Take... the truck... and go..." The sentinel's breaths came in short gasps now, and his face pleaded desperately as he looked into Blair's eyes. "Please," he panted.
"I said no, Jim," the anthropologist answered, struggling to keep his voice calm.
Suddenly, the taller man's pent-up frustration and fear burst forth with a frightening vehemence. "I said GET OUT OF HERE!" he yelled, then collapsed backwards, clutching his head as Blair caught him, barely breaking his fall.
"Jim! Listen to me." Blair threw his arms around Jim, enveloping him in an awkward, tight embrace, holding his friend close to himself. "I -- won't -- leave -- you," he said, softly emphasizing each word into Jim's ear.
"Time's up," said a voice.
Still shielding Jim with his body, Blair quickly looked up in the direction of the voice. The black-clothed suspect now stood only several feet away from them.
"What do you want?" cried the anthropologist. "Who are you? What did you do to Jim?!?" he demanded.
The man shook his head. "So many questions. So little time. To put it briefly, Blair Sandburg, you and Ellison took away several of the best years of my life -- years I had to spend in jail. I want them back." The man then grabbed the bottom of his black ski mask, pulling it up and over his head to reveal his face and short, sandy hair.
Blair blinked at the face he now recognized. "Yeagar!" he breathed.
"I thought you'd remember me," Yeagar said, tossing the mask aside. "You'll be out of my way in no time, just like Incacha. Never thought that old man would be helping me regain what I've lost, though."
"You're crazy. What are you talking about?" Blair demanded, remembering the dreadful day the mystical shaman had died at the hands of this man.
Yeagar held out the object toward Blair. It was a oval stone, engraved with a single eye, which Blair immediately recognized as the symbol of the sentinels -- one which had appeared repeatedly in both Jim's and Alex Barnes's dreams.
The anthropologist had only a moment to glance at it before Jim cried out in anguish again. Blair pushed the stone away as his suspicions that it was causing Jim's distress were confirmed. "Where did you get that?" he asked harshly.
"Ever the curious anthropologist. It originally came from the old Chopec's body," Yeagar answered. "Who knows who originally stole it? A forensics worker? Someone who helped handle his body? I don't care. But it ended up in the Rainier lab being studied by some geek who thought it had powers -- powers to affect time. My sources gave me information that led me to it. Can you imagine? The idiot was about to smash it to smithereens when I rescued it from him. Should fetch quite a price on the black market, don't you think?"
"You're out of your mind, Yeagar," Blair said through gritted teeth. "Looks like nothing but a rock to me," he bluffed.
"This is more than just a rock, kid. The eye is a sign that I'm going to achieve my dream and regain control of Cyclops Oil."
"Pet rocks went out of style years ago," quipped Blair. "Nobody's going to buy that!"
Yeagar shrugged. "That's why I intend to road-test it first. Whatever this is, I think it might even enable time travel. And getting you two out of my time frame is first on my list." The man began to hold out the stone toward them again. "Like I said before -- time's up!"
"NOOOO!!!!" As a blinding light emanated from the stone and flashed around them, Blair felt himself being shoved to the ground from behind as Jim cried out. The sentinel enveloped his friend in his arms, shielding and covering him from the stone's light with his body.
The expression was one of protection. Of ultimate friendship. Of a goodbye from a friend so intimate with his own soul, it touched Blair's heart and left a wound that would never heal.
In the next moment, the blinding light vanished.
Blair Sandburg regained consciousness hours later. He lay on his stomach, the side of his face against the cool ground. When he opened his eyes, the only thing keeping him from being blinded by the late afternoon sun was the thick canopy of trees above him.
Canopy of trees? But we were in an open meadow...
Gradually, more sounds and smells filtered their way to his senses. The call of tropical birds. The humid air perfumed with exotic orchids. Water trickling. And above it all, the thick canopy of trees. Jungle trees.
Someone was hugging him. The strong arm felt heavy around his shoulder, and a solid weight partially covered his back.
Blair turned, moving aside as the person rolled limply away from him.
"Jim," Blair whispered. "No. No, no, no..." he repeated over and over, reaching out to touch the face of his friend who had passed to a sleep from which he would never awaken. Taking one of Jim's hands in his own, he held it to his chest, rocking, wondering how this could have happened, asking why, wanting so badly to tell Jim he loved him, then asking why again. He could hardly believe his friend's blue eyes would never speak volumes to him again. His sensitive hands would never touch him again. His strong arms would never again encircle him or pat him on the back. His brilliant smile would never bless him. His voice would never call to him, tease him, or whisper softly in his ear.
It hurt Blair just as much to know he would never be able to give his friend all those things in return.
Softly lowering Jim's arm back to rest on his chest, he cradled his friend's face gently with both hands, feeling the cool skin beneath them. Then his tears began to fall, wetting Jim's face as much as they did his own, as if they knew it would be the only burial preparation the sentinel would ever have. Still weeping, he bent forward and brushed a kiss on his friend's forehead before he threw himself on Jim's chest, listening for the strong heartbeat and breaths he knew would not be there.
Jim Ellison was dead.
As the evening sun slipped below the horizon amid clouds of blue and purple, Blair laid the last stone softly atop the fresh grave. He collapsed beside his friend's last resting spot, exhausted from the exertion of digging the shallow grave with primitive tools, numbed to the bone with grief.
It crushed him to leave Jim like this, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. At least until he could get back to Cascade or some sort of civilization and get help. At least until he could find out where he was. And if Yeagar was telling the truth, when he was.
At least until I can find out what happened. How --
He swallowed, unable to go on, hardly able to verbalize what had happened.
Another tear slipped unhindered down his cheek, dropping wetness upon one of the stones. He needed time to mourn. He needed time to look for answers. He didn't even want to think about how he was going to survive in the jungle until he found help or help found him.
"Jim," he whispered. "I wish... I wish you were here."
The sun hid its face as Blair closed his eyes and tears fell again.
Friend of Enqueri...
A gentle voice whispered in the darkness, reaching the ear of the slumbering young man who had finally succumbed to exhaustion and sorrow.
"Friend of Enqueri."
The voice sounded closer now, and Blair stirred, lifting his face from the cradle of his arms where he had rested them on the mound of stones amid a moonless night.
He rubbed his tear-stained eyes, dazzled by the sight that met them, wondering whether he was hallucinating.
A figure from the past stood next to him, looking kindly down at him. "Your heart is broken, but your mind remains strong."
"The one who returned me to the earth has taken Enqueri," said the elder Chopec shaman.
Blair looked away. "He's gone," he whispered, his voice rough.
"We must all return to the earth to complete the circle of time," answered Incacha.
"But why did it happen like this?" demanded Blair. "I knew there was no guarantee, but I always thought... I always thought Jim and I..." he trailed off.
"Would have more time?"
"Yes." Blair paused, his voice cracking with feel. "I thought we'd grow old together. I thought our friendship... the circle... would go on forever. Guess I was wrong."
"You were correct, young one," said the older man.
Blair looked up, tears streaking his face. "What?"
"The way of the shaman does not end here."
"What are you saying?" said Blair. "Sentinel and shaman exist to serve each other. You cannot have one without the other."
"It was not Enqueri's time to die. The sentinel's death has upset the balance of time."
"Got that right," Blair answered bitterly, picking a rock up and throwing it angrily into the darkness. "The only thing I can do now is bring Yeagar to justice."
Incacha shook his head. "No."
"What do you mean 'no'?" Blair cried.
"Your sentinel is gone, but the circle of time has been broken. You must make it right." Incacha reached down, selecting a stone from the grave and holding it out to Blair. The smooth oval was engraved with a partial drawing of an eye. The top part of the drawing was missing, making the eye appear closed. "You must bring the sentinel back," continued the elder shaman. "Only then can you bring evil to justice, together." Incacha placed the stone in Blair's hand.
Blair looked down at the stone, recognizing its similarity to the one Yeagar had possessed. Then he looked back at the older shaman. "I can't change the past, Incacha."
Incacha rested a hand on Blair's shoulder. "The shaman who follows his sentinel into the past will gain the understanding to change it, and then to conquer the future. When time is no more and your eyes are opened, you will find your sentinel again."
"When time is no more? What does that mean? I don't know how to do this!"
"You do not understand, but you will."
"Incacha, wait!" cried the younger man, but the shaman's figure had faded into the night.
When sky began to glow with the new day's light, Blair Sandburg awoke.
The jungle. The grave. It was all the same. He looked down.
The stone. It was still there, safe in his hand. The anthropologist started to wonder what he should do next when he sensed he was not alone.
Blair lifted his eyes, searching the trees guarding the clearing. He watched as figures emerged from the forest, surrounding him.
The Chopec. Jim's past. The shaman who follows his sentinel into the past will gain the understanding to change it...
Blair Sandburg laid his hand gently on the grave, closing his eyes. "I'll make things right, my friend," he whispered.
Then he arose, disappearing into the forest.
The old Blair sighed, as if recounting the entire story had tired him. "I've been living with the Chopec since then, learning their traditions and the way of the shaman."
"Searching for a way to change the past so Jim wouldn't die," murmured the younger Blair.
"Yes," the older Blair nodded.
"Why didn't you contact Simon or someone else in Cascade?" asked Jim quietly. "They thought you were dead."
The older Blair spoke with effort, his voice full of meaning. "I was dead," he said finally. "I died that day. I struggled for months afterwards, wondering whether or not I should try to get a message to Simon or the others. To my mom. I wanted them to know I was still alive. But I knew if I did, they'd come looking for me, and..."
"They might not want you to go back," finished the younger Blair.
The older Blair nodded. "Incacha made it clear that the only way for me to fix what had happened was to stay with the Chopec and develop the skills of a shaman, and I couldn't let anything else stand in my way. As long as there was a chance I could keep Jim from dying, there was hope." He lifted his eyes and looked meaningfully into those of his long-lost partner's. "I missed you so much," he whispered.
Jim blinked, sensing the emotion and sincerity in those words. He swallowed hard, fighting the tightness in his throat, but all he could do was nod. He gazed at the elderly man before him -- the old man felt so familiar, yet he seemed like a stranger. His instinct told him he had to protect this man, but another part of him warned of the incongruent and illogical nature of the entire situation. Is it safe to trust him? To touch him?
The younger Blair broke the silence. "So now that you are here, does that mean you're ready to make everything right?"
The older Blair nodded. "Yes. I have to be," he answered. "I'm almost out of time."
"What do you mean?" asked the younger Blair.
"I've already set things in motion. I brought both of you here to help me." The older Blair smiled slightly at the confused looks of the other two men. "I'm not what I used to be. It's only 25 years in your future, but I look and feel like I'm 90 instead of 55. In studying Incacha's shamanistic skills, I figured out that the time stone Yeagar had didn't work like he had expected. It sent Jim and me to Peru, and instead of sending us into the past, it transferred time. Jim took the brunt of the stone's energy and all his 'time' was transferred to Yeagar."
The younger Blair's expression changed as he began to understand. "Since Jim had no time left, he died. He shielded you, so Yeagar only took part of your time. That's why you've aged faster."
"Exactly. It took me years of studying, but I finally learned how I could go back to change things."
"You were the wolf!" exclaimed Jim, realizing where the new and old time lines had diverged. He glared at the older man. "Sandburg!" he growled. "You ran in front of the truck! I could have run over you, and then where would we be?" he demanded.
The older Blair smiled slightly, his expression revealing how much he'd missed his friend's overprotective comments.
"In a never-ending time loop?" offered the younger Blair. "Jim would have died, I would have grown old and gone back to try to change things, got run over..."
"Considering what was at stake, it was a chance I was willing to take," the older Blair defended. "Originally, I had planned to go back and deal with Yeagar myself, but by the time I was ready, I was too old to be any match for him. That's why I brought you to my future instead. I needed Jim and me to be young for us to defeat Yeagar. If my theory about the time stone is correct, Yeagar probably looks like he hasn't aged a day."
"Why didn't you just travel back to a time before the accident and warn us about Yeagar?" asked Jim.
"I can only go back a few minutes prior to where the time line begins to go wrong," explained the older Blair. "I couldn't just show up in the pickup and expect you not to freak. I needed more time than that, and a safer situation, to convince you. I'm going to send both of you back to the same instant you left. Since you know about Yeagar's device now, you'll be able to avoid it."
"How did you know you were ready?" asked the younger Blair.
He pulled out the smooth stone he'd been carrying for so many years and pointed to the changed engraving. "Look. The eye has begun to open."
Looking up from the crossbow in his hands, Mitch Yeagar considered the reflection on the highly polished cabinet door before him. Healthy sandy hair without the faintest touch of gray, a face clear of wrinkles, unfaded eyes with the acuity of a fighter pilot, arms with the muscles of a twenty year-old athlete, a back with the proud, unstooped posture of a man of power. He was in the unending prime of his life, and it was evident to everyone around him.
Many had asked him for his secret, but he never told -- initially because he wasn't sure what had stayed his aging, then later because no one would have believed him. But he knew. His fountain of youth was thanks to two unsuspecting victims who had made his life hell. He had forced them to pay for their arrogance, their inconsideration, their lack of mercy for him. No, he reneged. The fountain of youth was filled with their lifeblood, but he had been the one to create the fountain for himself. Credit should be given where credit was due.
Closing his eyes and listening to the ticking of his wall clock, Yeager smiled at the irony -- the brutal fairness of it all. Ellison and Sandburg had taken away some of the most precious years of his life, thinking they had cut short his career as an ambitious young executive destined for riches and prestige, leaving him to rot in a state prison. But they had underestimated him. He had regained it all and more. Release on bail before and during the trial, an acquittal on a technicality the detective and his partner had conveniently been unable to dispute after their disappearances, the slow but steady rise to power while he skillfully saved a floundering Cyclops Oil from bankruptcy and turned it back into an international powerhouse once more, and the serendipitous bonus of gaining the youth and health of his vanquished adversaries.
Moreover, Ellison and Sandburg had not turned out to be ordinary men, but men with abilities far beyond what he realized at the time he had defeated them. A part of him believed he had absorbed some of the extraordinary from the sentinel and guide.
Their lives for his. Their time for his.
There was no use wasting any more time. Deliberately closing the glossed cabinet doors, Yeagar touched the glass wall panel once. In seconds, two men entered his office through a side door, then awaited his command. Yeagar handed them a photograph of Ellison and Sandburg.
The younger Blair stared down at the stone in his palm, wondering at the strange engraving that looked back up at him. The engraving was a contradiction in time -- it appeared to be the amateur work of a primitive artisan, yet somehow it was a mysterious indicator of a changing future, a mystical gauge of enlightenment. Taken from the grave of the friend he loved, it had been transformed from a symbol of death into a symbol of hope. He looked up from the stone. "What do we do?" he asked his older counterpart.
"We go to the clearing where the time transfer occurred," answered the older Blair. "I will send you back and you can get rid of Yeagar's time device or disable him before he can use it."
"What about you?" asked Jim.
"I'm not strong enough to send all three of us back -- only two," said the older Blair. "But it doesn't matter, as long as you fix things."
The younger Blair nodded, then turned toward the loft door, motioning for the other two to follow. "What are we waiting for? C'mon, let's go."
The older Blair followed, but Jim remained in the center of the loft. He didn't move, but only looked at the other two men.
"Jim?" ventured the old Blair. "We've got to go now, before morning comes and somebody finds us here."
Ellison shook his head. "I can't."
"What do you mean 'you can't'?" demanded the younger Blair. "If this is what it takes to fix time --"
"I -- I can't let you die."
The younger Blair frowned. "What are you talking about? If this plan works, nobody's going to die. That's the whole point."
Jim paused before continuing, his voice rough. "I saw you die once... at the fountain. It almost killed me. I can't... I don't think I could go through that again."
The older Blair responded, his voice quiet. "I'll be fine, Jim. You have to trust me."
"No!" cried Jim, hitting his fist on the kitchen island, startling the two Blairs. "You won't be fine, Sandburg. If we go through with this, your future will have never happened. You will cease to exist. Poof! Gone! Sounds like death to me. I can't let you die. I let you die once and I won't let that happen again."
"You're missing the point, Jim," the younger Blair argued. "Can't you see --"
"Jim's right," the older Blair interrupted softly.
"What?!" exclaimed the younger Blair, confused that the older man would side with Jim.
The older Blair turned toward Jim, gazing into his eyes. "You died to save me. Now it's my turn."
"Is that what this is about?" said Jim, his voice rising. "Getting even?"
"No, you know that," answered the older Blair. "I've had years to think about this, Jim. It's the only way."
"Yeah?" the detective shot back. "Well, I haven't!"
Uncomfortable silence filled the room when the older man didn't answer. Immediately Jim regretted his words, realizing how selfish they sounded, yet how strongly he felt. The unseen barrier formed by the years that had separated himself from this man -- his best friend -- and charged with the gravity and emotions surrounding the realities of life and death, palpably blocked free communication between them. This person was Blair, and yet, he wasn't. Guilt tried to suffocate him as he opened himself to the feelings of crushed hope, broken trust, and wounded heart so evident in the older man's eyes. Unable to face him, Jim turned away.
Moments passed. Then he heard a whisper.
Ellison turned at the sound, just now noticing that his younger partner was no longer in the kitchen area with him. A light was on in Sandburg's old room.
Slipping through the now fragile-appearing French doors, he saw the younger Blair sitting on the futon bed. Blair had his glasses on, looking at something he held in one hand. The anthropologist looked up and smiled, patting the blanket beside him. Obediently, Jim sat down beside him.
"Look, Jim," he said, handing him a dark cherry wooden picture frame. "This was taken over two decades ago."
Jim considered the photograph of the two of them standing in the river, fishing for trout -- both wearing their fishing vests, lucky hats, having the time of their lives. He smiled at the memory. "No, it wasn't," he contradicted. "Simon took this picture of us last year."
"Maybe to us it was, but not to him." Blair waited for his friend to look up, then nodded toward the living room, Jim following his gaze. Through the French doors, he could see a dimly silhouetted figure standing before the sliding glass doors, turned away from them and looking out into the moonless night sky.
After several moments, Jim spoke quietly. "At the fountain..." he paused. "At the fountain, I wasn't there. You died because I wasn't there, and you died alone."
"I know," Blair said softly. "But my dying was no more your fault than it was mine. Alex was the one who killed me, just like Yeagar's the one who's at fault now." Blair went on. "You know he's -- I'm going to die soon anyway if you stand back and do nothing."
"There's a difference between watching someone die and doing the killing yourself," said Jim.
Gently, Blair rested a hand on his friend's arm. "I think -- no, I know how he feels. I hope I never lose you, Jim, but if I did..." Blair swallowed, then went on. "If I did, I'd do anything -- everything -- to bring you back if I had the chance. We have a chance to go back and stop Yeagar. If you were in my place, you'd say the same thing." The anthropologist squeezed Jim's arm more tightly, looking into his eyes. "Please. I don't want to live the rest of my life alone. I want to live it with you."
The taller man held his friend's gaze for several long moments, his eyes wet with unfallen tears. Finally he nodded. "I'll do whatever it takes."
Pulling Jim into a hug, Blair rubbed his friend's back a few times until he felt Jim relax, then he whispered into his friend's ear. "You know what he needs out there?"
A few minutes later, Blair watched as Jim left the small bedroom and crossed the floor to where the older man stood. The taller man placed a hand on a frail shoulder, causing him to turn, then drew him into a tight embrace.
All the years of sadness and loneliness seemed to melt away as Blair Sandburg felt the arms of his dearest friend surrounding him once again. His eyes fell closed as he sank into the embrace, struggling at first for words to describe the indescribable, then surrendering to the closeness he'd been deprived of for so long. Pressing his ear against Jim's chest, he heard the heartbeat and breathing he'd once thought he'd never hear again. Those sounds chased away the memories of silence of the last time he'd seen his friend, banishing them back to the faraway jungle in Peru.
Even more wonderful, he felt Jim pulling him closer, holding him more tightly, stroking his hair, responding to his needs with the tender empathy of a soulmate and brother. The rough tones of Jim's voice murmured close to his ear, telling him he was there, that he would do whatever it took to make things right. Blair tried to speak, tried to tell him again how much he'd missed him, but Jim hushed him, whispering, "I know, I know."
So many times, he'd thought this day would never come. At last, he felt Incacha's words coming true.
Like a flower awakening to the dawn after a long, dark night, his soul was opening again.
His eyes, dim for so many years, were bright once more.
Blissful minutes passed -- minutes he never wanted to end. His head was nestled against Jim's shoulder when he felt his friend tense, still holding him.
The loft door fell to the ground with a clatter as two men burst into the apartment, shotguns pointed at the man standing in the center of the floor.
Ellison's gun was drawn, pointed back at the intruders. "What do you want!?" he demanded evenly, his eyes cold. "Come to do Yeagar's dirty work?"
"You're coming with us," growled one of the large, burly men. "You might have super senses, but you're no Superman." He made the mistake of cocking his gun and stepping forward when a shot rang out, hitting him in the chest. He fell to the ground, unmoving.
Jim's gun and steely gaze now trained on the remaining man, he spoke coolly. "I might be a throwback to primitive man, but I'm not stupid. Now drop your gun and kick it away. My aim isn't bad, if you hadn't noticed."
After a few seconds of deliberation, the thug wordlessly dropped his weapon and raised his hands, putting them against the kitchen island at Jim's orders.
The detective approached the man and was almost close enough to grab his hands when the intruder spun unexpectedly, kicking Jim to the ground. His gun fell to the floor with a clatter.
Getting up after only a split second on the ground, the henchman failed to notice the cop's fleeting look into the lower bedroom before Jim grabbed one of the wooden chairs around the kitchen table and used it to deflect another chair hurled by his opponent.
As Ellison ducked a barrage of kitchenware and heavier objects, he fleetingly thought of both Blairs.
He hoped they had enough time to get away.
Concluded in Part Three...