Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Through a Window, Darkly
Part Three
by Robyn
August 1998

"Hhhhh!" Jim inhaled sharply, sitting forward on the couch.

The beads of sweat remained on his face, but at least the horrible dream had left. Rising from the couch, he smoothed his hands through his hair, trying to calm his racing heart. Then he felt something rub against his leg.

Jim looked down in time to hear a low rumbling growl as the black jaguar's tail swished past him. It walked forward through the dark blue dream scape forest, knowing Jim was too tired to run. Briefly it turned its head regally back to Jim, a message in its eyes. Jim followed.

In only a few paces, he found himself standing before the familiar sentinel altar. The jaguar gracefully leapt up the altar steps to stand beside the shaman dressed in ceremonial garb. On the other side of the shaman, a gray wolf stood. The three figures looked at him, their eyes searching his soul for truth.

"Why do you come, sentinel?" The shaman spoke.

"Why? I--I don't know. I was led --"

The shaman shook his head. "No. Why do you come? Why did you choose to come?"

Jim hesitated, unsure of the question and more unsure of what his answer should be. Finally he licked his lips and gave the only answer he knew to give.

"Because my friend, my guide, is hurt. Because I have to choose between him and my senses. It's not a choice I can make. It's not a choice I ever want to make."

The gray wolf padded forward to Jim, then sat down in front of him. Jim looked at creature, wondering at its presence, wondering why it felt familiar to him. The wolf's head tilted and its deep eyes stared up at him, reaching into the depths of Jim's soul. Carefully, slowly, Jim reached down and touched the soft gray head, his fingers sinking into the thick fur. The wolf seemed to smile at him while he panted, tongue hanging out between sharp teeth and affectionate whines coming from its throat.

The shaman spoke again, his voice echoing in the blue-tinged landscape. "You are correct, sentinel. You cannot choose between your guide and your senses, for they are one. Without one, the other does not exist. Without a guide, the sentinel will be lost. Without your senses, the guide loses his purpose. Both must be in balance or the gift is meaningless."

"I don't understand. Then why am I being forced to choose?"

"It is a test of you, sentinel, and your guide. We will watch to see if you are worthy. It is your duty to protect your guide. It is your destiny to preserve your senses. It is your mission to defend the tribe. See that you do not fail."

"But how? What if I am not found worthy?"

"Remain true to your responsibility, sentinel, and you will not fail."

The gray wolf licked Jim's hand one last time in encouragement, then bounded up the stairs to rejoin the shaman and the jaguar. The jaguar growled, the blue landscape melting away.

Jim stood next to the couch. The wall clock read 6 a.m.

Blair! Maybe he's awake now!

Pulling on some clothes, Jim grabbed his jacket and ran out the front door.

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

The elevator dinged when it reached the eighth floor of Cascade Hospital. Jim forced himself to walk at a normal speed down the hallway to Room 3. Thoughts swirled through his head faster than he could sort them out. What's Blair gonna think when he sees I'm not there in the room? Will he think I abandoned him?

As Ellison approached the window of Blair's room, he saw Joel sitting in the chair beside the bed, holding a magazine and a cup of coffee. Joel was smiling and talking -- to Blair! He's awake! thought Jim excitedly. Jim moved up to the window and waved, grinning at his partner.

Joel smiled, nodded to Blair, then got up and exited the room, meeting Jim outside the door.

"Better not keep the kid waiting any longer, Jim. He's been so anxious to see you I could barely keep him in the bed!"

"Yeah, uh, thanks, Joel, for staying with him," Jim stammered. He hadn't thought about how to explain his remaining outside the room.

"No problem, man," Joel said, patting Ellison once on the shoulder. "Well, I'm sure you two have a lot to talk about. See you later."

"Tell Rafe and Brown 'thanks' for me, too," Jim called.

Joel turned back to smile and nod his acknowledgment.

Jim turned back to the window. A generous number of pillows and the raised back of the hospital bed propped up Blair to a semi-sitting position. Jim could see the confused 'Well?' expression written on his face. Blair grinned and motioned for him to come in.

"One second," Jim mouthed, holding up one finger.

Remembering that cell phones weren't allowed in the ICU, he stepped back to the nurse's station. Jim grabbed the phone and dialed the number for Room 3, not caring if any nurses were around to hear. It rang and he could see Blair fumbling for the phone on his nightstand.

"Jim?" his voice sounded a little hoarse.

"Hey, Chief! I'm so glad you're awake! I was so worried about you!" said Jim, gripping the phone and watching Blair's every expression through the window.

"Guess I'm not too worse for wear, eh? You'll have to fill me in. Jim, what's going on, man? Why aren't you coming in here?" Blair asked, his blue eyes searching Jim's for clues.

Jim ran a hand through his hair. "Better get comfortable. It's kind of a long story. But first, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty good considering I had a few unwanted holes put in me yesterday. The nurse's keeping me pretty comfortable with pain shots when I need them. Are you okay? How's your leg?" Concern was evident in the younger man's voice and his brow started to furrow.

"Yeah, yeah, my leg's fine. I'm fine -- as long as I stay out here," Jim sighed heavily.

"What're you saying, Jim? What do you mean 'as long as I stay out here'?" Their eyes met again, and Blair looked the way he did when he wanted an honest answer.

"I -- I think I'm allergic to something in your room," Jim blurted.

"Then let's get rid of it!" Blair motioned in the air with one hand.

"It's not that easy, Sandburg," Jim said quietly, trying to convince and calm his partner at the same time with his tone of voice. "I think it's the medicine -- the antibiotics -- you're getting. I had a reaction twice to the stuff last night when I tried to go in your room."

"Well, what kind of reaction are we talking?" Blair pumped.

Jim paused. "It's my senses, Chief," he finally admitted.

"Your senses? This is a sentinel thing?" Blair lowered his voice and spoke more closely into the phone, but Jim could sense the rising adrenaline underlying the anthropologist's tone. In the background, the heart monitor began to beep faster.

"Whoa there, partner, better calm down before the nurse gets worried."

Blair breathed in and out, though not too deeply to avoid accentuating his pain. "I'm calm, relaxed, whatever. I'm an anthropologist, Jim. I always get excited about 'this sentinel thing'!"

The two partners grinned at each other. They both knew Blair liked being excited, especially when it came to Jim's senses. Even though Jim often acted like it was no big deal, he enjoyed the younger man's enthusiasm in a vicarious sort of way.

"Yeah, how could I forget?" Jim continued. "You probably want all the facts, too, huh?"

"But of course," Blair spoke momentarily in an English accent. "Very insightful of you, detective. Hold on a second, I gotta get something to write on. Where are my glasses?...."

Jim watched Blair lean forward very slowly and gingerly, reaching for the edge of the bed table and pulling it closer to himself. He patted everything down, finally locating a pencil the nurse had left. The whole thing seemed amusing, even comical, in a way. He spotted his glasses and put them on, settling for the back of the menu for something to write on.

"Okay, I'm ready now. Tell me everything that happened."

"Well, Simon and I came up to your room after your surgery. I was okay until the nurse came in with the antibiotics. She opened a bag, and then my ears started ringing and I couldn't hear anything. Then I got dizzy. The next thing I knew they were dragging me out of the room. I sat outside for a few minutes and my hearing came back."

"Man, Jim, that must've been awful. And to think I wasn't even there to help...." Blair trailed off.

"It's okay, Chief, really. I'm fine now," Jim repeated, trying to reassure his friend.

"So what did you do?"

"Simon and the doctor up here thought I should get checked out in the ER, but the ER doc didn't find anything wrong. He thought maybe I had a toxic reaction to one of the drugs you're getting. Then he said it was impossible because you actually have to take the drug to be affected."

Blair glanced up at the bags hanging from the pole next to his bed. He squinted a little to read the small print. "Oh, no. He didn't say the drug was gentamicin, did he?" said the younger man.

"Yeah, he did. How'd you know?" asked Jim.

"Remember that time you took SenQuil and it made your senses go crazy? Right after that happened I did a literature search on medicines which affect the senses. Thought it might come in useful sometime, but I never thought it would be like this. No wonder you lost your hearing. Your sentinel abilities must make you extra-sensitive to gentamicin's toxic effects on hearing and balance," Blair's scientific mind quickly connecting cause and effect.

"That's what I was afraid of," said Jim.

"Well, it's not so bad then," said Blair, his face brightening. "We just have to get the doctors to change the antibiotic."

"I hope so," said Jim. "They weren't here last night for me to ask, but they should be around this morning."

"Whew! I sure am glad you're okay, Jim. When I woke up and saw Joel sitting there, I thought something had happened to you -- that you were hurt worse than I remembered. I was freaked out, man! It took Joel a few minutes to calm me down," Blair remembered.

"Sorry, Chief. I wanted to stay until you woke up, but Simon said I should get a few hours of sleep."

"Good, good, I'm glad he's keeping you in line. You must've been exhausted," Blair said.

Jim chuckled. "Well, I shouldn't have to go to the weight room at all this week. Weight-lifting you for four hours was quite a workout."

"Yeah. Next time I look at those bulging biceps and pecs of yours I can say, 'Self, you helped make those what they are today'."

"Excuse me? I don't think so. You're lucky you're in there where I can't get to you, otherwise I'd poke you in the ribs," Jim warned.

"Hey, whatever happened to being kind to the sick and infirm?" Blair laughed. "Oh, owww. Big mistake. I gotta try not to laugh for awhile."

"Sorry, Chief. But I can't help it if you have a fine sense of humor."

"Then stop saying funny things, man!"

Jim smiled at Blair through the window. He knew his buddy would be fine.

"One more thing, Sandburg. What am I going to tell the nurses and docs and everybody else when they ask why I can't go in?"

"Uh, that's a tough one. Well, we could just say we found out you were really allergic to one of the medications I have to take. Maybe, uh, the smell gets to you?"

"That's sounds passable," agreed Jim. "Or, I could say you haven't had a shower since yesterday and it was really you...."

"JIM!" Blair protested, laughing again. "Owww! I told you to cut that out, Detective!"

"Sorry, sir. I mean, Chief," Jim said meekly. "I see the surgeons are coming on rounds."

"Good," said Blair. "The sooner I can talk to them about getting rid of this annoying drug, the better."

"I'll be out here, okay partner?"

"Thanks, man. Oh, here they come. Man, I bet my hair is a mess!"

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

Jim smiled to himself when he hung up the phone, still watching Blair through the window trying to calm his curls with one hand. He turned his attention to the small group of white-coated doctors who had stopped outside Room 3. One of the younger members of their group, obviously a medical student, cleared his throat and began his presentation.

"Mr. Sandburg is a 29 year-old male who sustained a single gunshot wound to the right upper quadrant yesterday evening. He arrived by life flight helicopter in critical condition around 10 p.m. After initial stabilization by the trauma team we took him up for a stat exploratory lap which resulted in a cholecystectomy for ruptured gallbladder and repair of some bleeding in the liver. He's on day 1 of amp and gent. This morning he's doing well, afebrile and vital signs stable. Says he has good pain control with the Demerol and Vistaril shots. Bowel sounds are pretty hypoactive yet so he's still NPO, but we plan on advancing his diet to clears, maybe for lunch or dinner." The medical student finally took a breath, looking up at the attending and residents and bracing himself for the barrage of Socratic questions which always came after each presentation.

"Dr. Evans, why is this man on amp and gent?" asked the man which Jim recognized as Dr. Harris.

"Well, amp and gent cover all the biliary tract bugs. Mr. Sandburg came in with peritonitis from his busted gallbladder," the medical student answered correctly.

"Very good," Dr. Harris said approvingly. "Why was this guy shot, anyway?"

"I asked him this morning. I guess he and his friend were out fishing at Ice House Lake and he ended up getting shot by some bad guy," said the student.

"Wrong place at the wrong time?" queried Dr. Ford.

"Not exactly. He said he's an anthropology student at Rainier. He works at the Cascade P.D. and his partner's a cop, but he's not one himself." The student shrugged. "Whatever."

"I believe the gentleman sitting over there at the nurse's station is his partner," Dr. Harris nodded toward Jim. "Now he's a cop if I've ever seen one. Let's go in and talk to the non-cop, shall we?"

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

"Well, well," Dr. Harris said jovially, extending his hand to the patient as the herd of doctors crowded into Blair's ICU room. "I think this is the first time I've seen you coherent, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair grinned. "Yeah, I guess I do prefer meeting people when I'm conscious." He shook the doctor's hand and tried not to be distracted by Dr. Ford whose smile and long blonde hair were quite attractive.

"Good news," Dr. Harris continued. "You're doing so well we're going to transfer you out of the ICU to the general surgery ward. Sound good, Dr. Evans?"

"Yes, sir," the medical student agreed. "I'll have the transfer orders done this morning."

"Feel hungry yet?" asked Dr. Harris.

Blair thought for a moment. "A little maybe. Yeah, I guess I haven't eaten since lunch yesterday."

"We'll start you out on some chicken broth and jello today and get that Foley out of your bladder, too. Your other job is to get out of bed and keep those lungs filled. Otherwise we're gonna make you use this thing," he said, holding up a strange plastic contraption with a plastic hose and mouthpiece attached to it. Blair grimaced as the doctor continued. "This is an incentive spirometer. You have to blow really hard in it ten times every couple hours to keep your lungs inflated. It's gonna hurt but I don't want you getting pneumonia, okay? Any other questions, son?"

"Uh, yeah," responded Blair. "How long do I have to be on antibiotics?"

"Usually ten days," said Dr. Harris.

"This may sound strange, but is there any way I could be switched from gentamicin to another antibiotic?" Blair asked casually.

The team fell silent. The doctors looked at one another with confusion.

"That's a rather unusual request, Mr. Sandburg. Why? You're not allergic to gentamicin or you would've had a major reaction by now."

"Uh, no, but one of my friends is. He can't visit me while I'm on it," said Blair.

Dr. Harris frowned. "I've never heard of anyone being affected by gent unless they're actually getting the drug."

"I know it sounds weird, but isn't there another antibiotic I could take?" Blair persisted.

"Amp and gent are the best combination of drugs we can give someone who had an exploded gallbladder, Mr. Sandburg. If we happened to switch you to the wrong antibiotic, you could go septic again and get very sick," Dr. Harris countered. "We're trying to give you the best possible --"

"How about we keep you on amp and gent until we get the sensitivity results back from your blood cultures?" Dr. Ford interrupted, realizing both men were getting annoyed. "We'll get those back in a day or so. Then we'll know exactly what antibiotics to give you. There's bound to be some other alternatives. How does that sound?"

"Sounds acceptable," Dr. Harris allowed.

"Fine," said Blair, deciding not to push the issue further for now. "Thanks."

The team of doctors filed out quietly, but none of them noticed the patient lean further back into the pillows.

Blair sighed heavily, buffeting a few curls with his exhalation. Jim wouldn't be able to come in to visit for a couple more days at least. What if something happens and I have to take the antibiotic longer? he thought. Jim and I separated by a window for ten days? The unpleasant prospect made something inside him ache.

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

Jim's head lifted from a thoughtless daydream at the shuffling noise of the doctors exiting Blair's room. Not surprisingly, last night's restless sleep hadn't fully extinguished the exhaustion from yesterday's events. He came back to reality in time to hear Dr. Ford and Dr. Harris talking in low tones as they emerged from Room 3.

"'My friend's allergic to gent.' I don't buy it. I've never heard of anything like that before. If it were true, it should be written up in some scientific journal!" Dr. Harris whispered fiercely.

"But he was telling the truth about his friend having a reaction. I was on the floor last night when it happened, Dr. Harris, and I don't think the guy was faking it. He lost his hearing and balance both times he went in the room -- I saw it! It's just like a case of mega-ototoxicity! Maybe it should be written up in a journal," Dr. Ford insisted.

"Sorry, but I'm still skeptical. You can't have gent toxicity if you're not the one getting it. There is no such thing, Ford. It just doesn't happen. How do we know -- maybe he's making the story up," offered Dr. Harris.

"Why? Why would you do that? It doesn't make sense...." Dr. Ford shook her head.

The team disappeared around the corner. Turning back toward Blair's room, Jim realized his partner was holding up one hand to his ear, indicating he wanted to talk. Jim grabbed the phone and dialed the room again.

"Jim, I thought you were never going to look over here! I don't know the extension out there, you know," Blair exclaimed.

"Sorry, Chief. Guess I was distracted. Sounds like Dr. Harris didn't buy the allergy story too well."

"Nope," Blair sounded disappointed. "Guess he's not as gullible as some people. Fortunately, I don't think it'll matter much. Dr. Ford said they could switch the antibiotics as soon as they get the culture results back from the lab."

"When's that gonna be?" said Jim.

"She said a couple days."

"You mean I'm gonna have to do my own paperwork for another two days? Oh, the torture," Jim groaned.

"For some reason I don't feel your pain, Jim," Blair commented drily. The men shared a small laugh, but both felt a subtle underlying feeling of disappointment coming from the other's voice. They fell silent for a moment, the joke falling flat.

"Jim, could you do me a favor?" Blair broke the silence.

"Yeah, Chief. Whatcha need?" Jim adjusted the phone receiver in his hand.

"Could you bring me a few things from the loft and my office? I'd really appreciate it," said Blair.

"Sure thing. Hopefully I won't get mauled again by those screaming girls from your 'Intimacy in Ancient Cultures' class. Got a list?"

"Yep. I'll ask the nurse to bring it out to you. Thanks, Jim."

"No problem."

The conversation paused awkwardly again.

Finally Jim spoke. "Well, I guess I'd better get going, Chief."

"Wait!" said Blair. "I mean, please, Jim, there's one other thing."

"What?"

"I want you to promise me something." Blair lowered his voice.

"Look, I promise not to clean out your tupperware containers, even if they start growing mold," deadpanned Jim.

"I -- I want you to promise me as long as I have this drug in my system -- I want you to promise you won't come in here or get near me."

Jim laughed nervously. "I'm not dumb, Chief. You think I want to go deaf or get dizzy and knock my head on the bed rail?"

"Jim, I'm serious," continued Blair without laughing. "This drug is toxic to your sentinel abilities, and as long as I've got it in me, I'm probably toxic to you, too. If you get exposed any more, the damage will probably be permanent -- it is in regular people who are affected."

"Blair, I --" Jim interjected.

"Just hear me out, okay?" Blair took a deep breath and looked deeply at his partner through the window. "I don't want you to lose your sentinel abilities because of me. It's the last thing I'd want."

"Are you saying you want me to stay away if you needed me?" Jim said incredulously. "You would tell me to stay away if you were on your death bed, just so I could hear a little better? What kind of friend do you think I am?" His voice rose, hurt and anger filling his words.

"Listen to me," Blair said urgently. "This sentinel thing isn't just about us anymore! It got a lot bigger than you and me when you chose to be the sentinel of a great city. The people of Cascade depend on you and your senses. You're a cop, Jim. You should know this better than anyone else."

"You don't have to lecture me about the whole sentinel responsibility thing, Sandburg. I already got that from Simon last night."

"I'm sorry. But I think this is important enough that we need to talk about it." Blair gripped the phone more tightly.

"Look, you want me to promise to choose my senses over you." Jim shook his head. "I can't make that choice. It's that simple."

"But --"

"The answer is no, Sandburg. Look, I gotta go. I'll be back later with your stuff."

The phone clicked as Jim hung up the receiver. He sighed heavily and his shoulders hunched forward. He felt so tired.

And alone.

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

Blair pursed his lips together in a thin line and shut his eyes tightly. The phone seemed stuck to his hand, the dial tone humming incessantly from the receiver, but he felt too tired to hang it up. An ache filled his soul, intensifying the pain of his surgical wounds. His abdomen began to throb with a vengeance as the morning nurse entered the room.

Opening his eyes at her entrance, he stared blearily at her for a few moments. "Could you give this to the man sitting out there in the brown jacket?" Blair whispered hoarsely, weakly pushing the torn piece of paper toward the nurse with the list of things on it.

"Sure," she answered brightly, taking the scrap of paper. Her tone of voice made Blair feel even more tired.

"And could I get something for pain, too?" his voice cracking on the last few words.

"Of course," she said, turning to exit the room.

Wincing, Blair turned on his left side and curled partially into a fetal position, facing away from the window. He shut his eyes again. Usually he disliked the woozy feeling narcotics gave him, but he felt the overwhelming need to get away from the awful feeling which penetrated his body. I'll feel a whole lot better after I get some pain medicine, he thought over and over. If I could just get some pain medicine....

Something moistened the young man's eyelashes. A few seconds later, a tear left a glistening trail when it streaked down his left cheek.

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

Both hands shoved in his jacket pockets, Jim walked through the hospital's underground parking garage to his truck. One hand clenched the piece of paper a nurse had given him as he left the ICU.

He opened the cab door, climbed in and shut it. The echo of the door closing reverberated loudly, accenting the emptiness within him. He grasped the steering wheel with his left hand and paused. Jim glanced over at the seat to the right of him -- Blair's seat -- trying to ignore the oppressive, empty sensation which filled the cab. Then he started the engine and backed out of the parking space.

As he pulled out onto the street above, rain splattered his windshield.

The sky cried for him because he could not.

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

"Here's something for pain, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair vaguely heard a female voice and felt the plastic IV tubing move across his arm as the nurse picked it up to inject the contents of a small syringe into the port. His eyes fluttered open slightly, squinting at the face which belonged to the voice. A small moan escaped from his lips.

"There. That should make you a little more comfortable...."

The face swam into a blur of colors and his eyes closed again.

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

The blue and white pickup pulled to a stop in front of Hargrove Hall. The tall detective stepped out and hurried from the truck up the steps to the old gray building's entrance. In the background, he could hear rain drops landing softly in the old fountain.

The hall was mostly deserted; Jim had arrived in the middle of a period when the students were seated in the lecture halls and classrooms. Solitary voices of professors expounding on the truths of human existence floated into the hallway. His footsteps echoed loudly, the sound bouncing hollowly off the wooden floors and walls. In no time he stood before a door with the makeshift name plate of white paper inscribed 'Blair Sandburg'. Pulling out a spare key to Blair's office, Jim unlocked the door.

More than any other place, the cluttered office exuded the essence of Blair Sandburg the anthropologist, even when the younger man wasn't physically present. Here, Professor Sandburg ruled supreme. Whenever he entered this room, Jim felt humbled by the sheer volume of knowledge his partner had managed to accumulate in his short lifetime. Blair knew the story behind every earthy-smelling, design-engraved, dust-covered item. Here Jim thought of himself more as "Professor Sandburg's friend" or "Professor Sandburg's roommate" rather than Detective Ellison.

Walking through the maze of metal bookcases and scanning the ancient artifacts and stacks of paper on the shelves, Jim felt the inanimate objects looking back at him, searching his soul, sizing him up -- judging whether he was worthy to be their master's blessed protector.

It's almost as if they know I wouldn't be here alone if I hadn't let something to happen to Blair.

Emerging from the introspective reverie and pulling out Blair's desk chair, Jim hesitated before he sat down on the edge of the seat. Pulling out the creased pink piece of paper from his pocket with part of the hospital menu on the back, he read Blair's fine handwriting. Most of the things on the list were textbooks -- probably so he can make lesson plans and lecture outlines for the substitute, concluded Jim. He selected several large hard-backed books from the shelf directly behind the desk -- Anthropology: the Study of Human Culture (glossy cover, probably for Anth 101), Human Intimacy in Ancient and Modern Times (for the class Sandburg created that had a waiting list a mile long), Tribal Rituals of Central and South America, and The Shaman: Link between Two Worlds. He shook his head, wondering how he had come to know someone smart enough to understand the contents of those books and enjoy it at the same time. Consulting the list once more, Jim opened one of the desk drawers and grabbed two yellow legal pads. Lastly, he plunked down the ubiquitous stack of research papers from the corner of the desk which Blair always seemed to be grading. I think that's it from here. His dissertation folder's at home in his backpack.

Jim took hold of the unwieldy pile with both hands. He was about to stand up when something caught his eye -- a couple framed pictures on Blair's desk. To one side an old, slightly tarnished brass frame enclosed a faded wallet size picture of a younger Naomi and Blair about age 11, standing in front of what looked like the Old Faithful geyser from Yellowstone Park. Naomi's red hair was long and straight, parted in the middle. The preteen Blair had on a t-shirt and faded jeans, and he held his long curly hair back from the wind with one hand. He squinted from the bright sunlight, but his deep blue eyes still twinkled mischievously, and the smile was definitely Blair's.

The other picture on the desk was larger -- a 4 x 6 inch, glossy photo framed with a simple, more contemporary wide forest green wood frame. Jim picked the picture up to examine it more closely, smiling at the memories it evoked. The picture showed Blair and himself in tuxedos last year at the Officer of the Year ceremony. They were grinning widely with their arms around each other's shoulders, both holding up one edge of the Officer of the Year Award plaque. A warm feeling washed over Ellison. He knew he couldn't have done it without his partner.

Then he remembered. Blair wouldn't be going to any fun parties for a while. Blair was in the hospital.

Jim slumped back into Blair's chair, still clutching the picture and staring at it.

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

A nudge awoke Blair from his narcotic-induced slumber.

"Huh?" he said sleepily.

A lick on the face by a rough wet tongue served as a more effective wake-up call and Blair sat up, swinging his legs to the side of the hospital bed. Something was different. Why didn't that hurt? he wondered.

The gray wolf had a piece of his jeans pant leg -- the jeans he'd worn to the fishing trip -- in its teeth, pulling at it, its tail wagging. The wolf seemed strangely familiar, like he knew it somehow, even though he'd never seen it before.

"All right, all right! I'm coming," exclaimed Blair. Leaving the hospital bed to fade into a blue mist, he followed the panting wolf through the jungle.

He and the wolf skidded to a stop when the altar appeared before them suddenly.

"What is this place?" Blair whispered in awe, looking up the stone stairs to the dais with wide eyes.

The temple of the sentinels, the wind whispered, whistling through the trees. Blair turned but couldn't find the source of the voice. It seemed to come from all directions, everywhere at once. When he turned his gaze back to the altar, it was no longer unoccupied.

"Why have you come, young shaman?" the older shaman spoke melodiously. He was dressed in ceremonial garb, his dark face and body painted in symbolic patterns, a spear in his right hand. The wolf and a black jaguar stood on either side of him.

"Only you know, wise one," Blair murmured respectfully, but his eyes did not leave the spirit guide's face.

"Where is your sentinel?" the shaman asked. When Blair didn't answer, the shaman repeated the question, looking deep into the younger man's eyes. "Where is your sentinel?"

"Show me," Blair requested meekly.

The shaman motioned with his spear and the jaguar leaped forward off the altar steps and past Blair.

A few feet more and the jaguar leaped again, this time farther, this time...morphing into Jim.

Blair watched Jim turn at the sound of a gunshot, yelling "Nooooo!", kneeling beside his crumpled figure, cradling his head in his arm. Then the image faded into dark blueness.

Another image appeared. He saw Jim hobbling through the forest, carrying his limp body as quickly and as gently as he could, exhaustion written on his face, determination in his clenched jaw. Slowly, the image faded.

Finally, he saw Jim again. He stood on the other side of a window. Blair didn't remember when he'd seen his friend so sad. So alone. So lost. He couldn't figure out what Jim was looking at or why he seemed so lost. Then Jim put his hand on the window, pressing his palm against it. Blair followed Jim's gaze and saw himself lying in the hospital bed, asleep. The image of Jim morphed back into the jaguar, and the black cat rejoined the shaman and wolf on the altar.

"Understand, young shaman. See, and understand," intoned the shaman. "Being separated from one's guide involves incredible pain for a sentinel. Do not ask him to leave you. It would destroy him."

"How do I protect him, then?" asked Blair. "I thought it was my duty to protect my sentinel."

"You are correct, young shaman. You seek to protect his gift, but you must also preserve his soul. He must have both to truly perform his role as sentinel of the tribe, or the gift is meaningless," explained the shaman. "See that you do not fail."

"But how?" said Blair.

"You must find a way, young shaman. Remain true to your calling and you will not fail."

Then the blue mystical landscape melted away.

Blair opened his eyes. He lay in the hospital bed. His body ached again, but his mind felt at peace. He reached for his bedside phone.

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

Jim still sat at Blair's desk, staring at the picture in his hand when he heard the electronic ring of his cell phone.

"Ellison," he answered.

"Jim -- I've been thinking. I want you to know something," said Blair.

"What is it, Chief?" Jim asked tentatively, leaning forward, the frame in his hand forgotten.

"Asking you to stay away no matter what -- it was something I should never ask of you. I want you to know, Jim, whatever happens, we'll get through it together -- not alone."

"Blair," Jim said.

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you called."

At that moment, one man in a desk chair in a disheveled Hargrove Hall office and another reclining in a hospital bed smiled together.

And somewhere in the spirit world, a jaguar roared and a wolf howled in approval.

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

Continued in Part Four...