Ordinary Magic Part 2: Yin Tilt
Summary: Learning curve. Smarm. Rated R for language.
Notes: Martha and Kitty betaed--and not only had to cope with this last minute addition after all the other parts were done, but also had to cope with this installment being 90% finished before I figured out what it was about. They've been patient and supportive.
Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, et al., belong to large corporate entities and not to the author.
Jim was awake. I was aware of that, but nothing else. He was up there and awake, and he had withdrawn from me.
I understood the need for privacy. He had just lost a dear friend. He had a right to his grief. He had a right to hurt--and I hoped he was hurting, and not finding ways not to think about it.
Not that not thinking about it wasn't tempting. But I didn't have a hope of putting it out of my mind. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Incacha, standing in our doorway, bleeding.
Never mind. Resolutely, I turned over and stared at the ceiling. Never mind, never mind. I had encountered death before. It was terrible, but--but my loss was nothing compared to Jim's. I had admired Incacha, been grateful to him. But Jim had been his friend. It was Jim I had to worry about.
There was a lot to worry about. On top of his grief, there was the whole Sentinel business. I wasn't satisfied--
There was a creak on the stairs. Jim couldn't be coming down to hang out in the living room--what we couldn't clean or remove, we'd swathed in plastic, but there was still too much--left from what had--from what had happened. I was surprised Jim didn't want to go to a hotel until we got things cleaned up, but he wasn't interested.
But he wasn't coming to sit downstairs. He wasn't. Was he going outside? Or leaving?
Neither. He knocked once on my door and pushed it open. "Chief? We need to talk."
Oh, crap, I thought. He'd come to say that he can't live with the senses and the universe wasn't going to let him live in peace without them, so he was just giving up. I sat up and drew up my knees. "Sure. Ok, Jim."
He sat on the edge of my bed, peering at my face in the darkness. He didn't say anything to me for a few moments, and I waited, anxious, but refusing to let myself rush him. Whatever he said, I would deal with it when he was ready. Whatever it was. When he finally spoke, he said, "Do you know what he did? Incacha?"
I stumbled, mentally. This was not what I had expected, and I had thought I had been ready for anything. "Did--when?" I asked stupidly.
"To you. Before. When he. Do you....Do you know what he did to you."
Oh, that. "Uh, no." I reached for my right arm. If I checked, it felt slightly warm, but it was subtle enough to be my imagination and fading. Whatever Incacha had done--I clamped down on a rush of excitement and anxiety. I ought to be thrilled. I ought to be grateful. While it might be nothing--it might be something I couldn't imagine. A gift from a religious specialist from a living, continuous spiritual culture. A magic that wasn't decoupaged together from the barely-grasped shreds of a dozen foreign and subordinated cultures. A magic from a society still at one with the natural world, not cut off from their own souls in a dead city. My mother would have loved it. Eli would have loved it. I should have loved it. I should be eager. I tried to be eager. I just didn't want to deal with it now.
Jim was leaning close, agitated, and after a moment I said, "I was going to live with it for a few days, see what came up, you know? I think there's something there, but I still haven't worked it out."
He took a deep breath. "They you've got to get rid of it. Turn it off. Make it go away."
"What do you mean, why? It could be dangerous." I was too surprised to answer that, and Jim seized my wrist. "I mean it. You can't keep--that!"
"Jim! What are you talking about? You can't think Incacha would hurt me!"
"What? No, no. No. But, Blair. He doesn't--he didn't. He didn't know you. He wouldn't have known what you could handle."
I wondered if I should be insulted. "Oh, Jim. Come on. He wouldn't hurt me."
"It might not be--well--compatible with you. You don't have the same training--hell, you don't even share the same model of the universe!"
"No, listen." He took a deep breath. "Listen. What do you know about Chopec religion?"
Quiz time. I hadn't looked at the material lately. "Um. Helping spirits. Small helping spirits? Right? Lots of them." Not like the spirit guides picked up by some members of Naomi's crowd. They tended to be blissful and flaky and encouraging--when they weren't outright imaginary. I had never found the idea attractive--I hadn't liked the idea of having someone look over my shoulder, benevolent and flighty or not. But South American helping spirits were in another class altogether.
"He controlled them by taking drugs, Blair. Heavy, mind-altering substances." His voice dropped. "Sometimes he'd be--he'd be possessed. They would take over his body." There was open horror in his voice. "You don't have the training."
For a moment a shiver went through me, but I shook myself and managed to say lightly, "Jim, I'm going to get insulted here. We're not talking about somebody deliberately trying to hurt me, and I think I can handle--"
"No, we can't take that chance. If you're not--compatible--you could get hurt. Chief, listen to me." I knew that lost note in his voice. I'd last heard it four months before in my hospital room, when Jim had whispered miserably, "How can you believe this, you're a scientist."
"Jim, here, look." I offered him my arm. "Does it feel to you like--"
"No. NO. Don't talk about it, don't investigate it. Just get rid of it."
"Jim," I breathed, "What if Incacha didn't make a mistake? What if he could tell what I could handle, and gave me something really useful. How can I just throw that away?" Jim was shaking his head, but I pushed. "What if it's something you'll need, Jim? What if he gave me something I need to have to work with you? The Chopec have a culture with a continuous sentinel tradition. Jim, all the things I don't know!"
"I don't care. It's not worth it."
"What if it's not professional at all? What if it's not magic or sentinels or anything like that? What if he just left a part of himself with me, for you? He was your friend. He loved you. Jim--"
"No. No. Maybe it's the wrong thing to do. Maybe I'm panicking over nothing. But, Blair, I just lost him, and I can't risk losing you, letting you be torn apart, I can't, I can't..."
Oh. This wasn't about Jim having no faith in me. It was about Jim being scared. I stopped trying to reason with him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"No. Don't you dare. Don't you calm me down."
"Ok. Jim, I'm not influencing you."
"Don't patronize me!"
"Jim, what do you want me to do?"
"I told you. Take it out."
Sighing, I offered my arm. "Fine. You do it."
"This is not an exercise."
"Jim, I don't think I have the...right to do that. He was your friend. You need to handle this."
"Do you think I won't?" He took my arm in a grip that was too hard. His hand was shaking a little. I kept my mouth shut and did slow, circular breathing. Before Jim did anything with Incacha's gift, he would have to look at it. He might have better luck figuring it out than I did. He might--
"I can't focus."
"Ok. Ok. Let's...relax. No, Jim, listen. We're not in a good place. Maybe you're right, but if you are, we can't afford to do this wrong. Ok?" He shook his head, but he didn't argue out loud. He was tired and hurting and helpless. I breathed in and opened, making myself bigger. Not so big that Jim would feel threatened, but big enough he'd know I wasn't a fragile thing he needed to protect.
Jim sagged, defeated, and moving slowly, I put an arm around him. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "I'm sorry." He wasn't apologizing to me. I kept my mouth shut. He said something I didn't understand, something that might not have been English. I held him tighter. "If I had listened to you. If I...had had...the senses...He'd still...I'm so sorry."
"Stop it," I said. "It was not your fault. He wanted it all done on his terms, and he *would not* have let you stop him."
"I could have helped him."
"Oh, really? You think you *should* have helped him kidnap someone?"
He didn't go there. "If I'd had the senses we wouldn't have lost him."
"Right. Because he couldn't have lost a sentinel if he wanted to." He froze, really listening. "I could lose you, if I wanted to, Jim. If I didn't want your help with something, or didn't want to do things your way. Ok, maybe I couldn't escape the detective forever, but I could lose the sentinel."
"I'm sorry. I want things--to have been different."
"So do I. But it wasn't your fault."
"If I'd had--"
"Damn it. Being a sentinel won't fix everything. Any more than *not* being a sentinel fixed everything. Things go wrong. Mistakes get made. Things happen that are not in our control and you can't change that." I realized that while my voice was not loud, it was hard. I shouldn't yell at him. "I understand what you're doing. I was right there the whole time. I keep trying to think of what I might have done to--to stop all this." I paused to swallow the lump in my throat. "Something. Anything."
"Chief. I know you feel bad about everything. But I don't want you taking stupid chances with this--" he squeezed my arm, "because you feel guilty about what happened or because you feel sorry for me."
I took a deep breath. There was no point in arguing with him. I could not believe that Jim's friend would hurt me, and I couldn't imagine he had made some kind of stupid mistake. If Jim weren't so scared, he'd see that too. If I'd just had a little sleep, I'd have been able to handle it all--figure out the slightly warm bulge in my arm, comfort my friend, process the last few days. But as it was, there was no talking to Jim, and until he was squared away, I couldn't manage anything else. "Jim, this just isn't working. Let's go out. We'll go get something to eat--"
"It's four AM."
"We'll find an all night diner. We'll get something to eat. We'll talk, or not. We'll just kill time till tomorrow, and then we'll call somebody to clean the loft, and we'll try the whole sleeping thing again. Ok?" We'll stop going around and around and arguing.
It had all been a whole lot easier when Jim hadn't known about energy work. Well, not *all* a whole lot easier, but this would have been. If Jim's world view had kept him from admitting that anything could be going wrong, he wouldn't have been able to worry about whether it was safe or not and he wouldn't be bouncing off the walls.
I had half thought that once we'd been pulled out of the woods and everything was back to normal, Jim would just pretend nothing had happened: there was no such thing as energy, he had never found mine, he had no idea anything had happened.
But when I woke up in the hospital the next morning, I'd felt, well, good. Really good. Alert. Calm. Achy, but no headache, no hangover from the anesthesia. Jim had been sitting beside me, having caught up with me sometime during the night. He hadn't taken time to wash or change or, probably, eat. He didn't notice that I'd woken up, although he was normally a light sleeper with heightened senses. He slumped in a chair, soundly asleep, still connected to me. Through the connection he felt fragile--empty and exhausted and totally drained.
Damn. He had poured out everything into me. Which was why I felt practically normal and Jim looked like hell. I imagined a pair of scissors and snipped the connection between us. His eyes popped open, frantic and confused, searching for me. "Shh," I said. "S'ok."
He looked around anxiously, not sure what was wrong, not alert enough to think clearly. I motioned him forward, and he slid the chair closer to the bed. I patted the spot beside me, and he leaned forward, resting his head on his arms. I put my arm around his shoulders.
He slept through my breakfast, through the aide coming in to take the tray, through the nurse stopping by for my vitals. It was nearly noon when he woke. He blinked at me, embarrassed and confused and still so weary. I slipped him the miniature box of orange juice I'd saved for him from breakfast. He fumbled opening it, drained it almost at once, and then blinked at me sheepishly.
"You ok?" I asked.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" His voice creaked when he spoke.
Anger flared briefly. "No, Jim. I'm fine. Apparently, I'm fine because you can't *fucking* listen to me." Jim winced, and I backed off. "You were so focused on me, you cut yourself off from everything else, and then you drained yourself pushing your own energy into me."
Confusion. "Isn't that what...you do for me?"
"No, what I do for you is sustainable. Bringing in and pouring out at the same time. It's actually the easier way to do it. Natural. Unless you tense up and close everything down." He looked at me worriedly, and I pressed his hand. I could feel him, distantly. He seemed washed out and dim. My grip tightened. "It's not your fault. I'm not really mad at you. I never should have let you--"
"But--" He paused, and I waited. When he didn't go on, I carefully opened him, mixing us slowly through our hands. I wasn't strong enough yet to do much for him, but I could show him, lead him through opening himself back up. His eyes went wide and he froze for a moment. "Blair! How can you believe this? You're a scientist!"
The question threw me. "What has belief got to do with it? I'm here. I'm fine. You did that." Jim looked away, and I sighed. "Look, I get that this is a little much--" Jim shuddered. "I'm sorry," I said.
He raised his eyes. "I....feel like I should be mad. Or something. You--You never lied to me, but--"
"I didn't tell you. I kept important things from you."
A bitter snort. "I wouldn't have believed you anyway."
"Jim...if it's any comfort--I never did anything you...resisted."
He looked shocked. "Of course not."
A small smile pushed its way out. I needed that vote of confidence. "Jim, you need to let me help you now."
"No--you're--you're barely out of surgery."
He tried to pull his hand free. I held his hand and his eyes. "Jim. Will you let me show you what to do?" He softened slightly and I brought us together. He was frayed and insubstantial inside. Poor Jim. He'd been doing his best. I ran myself down to his root chakra--knotted and squeezed from the strain of taking care of me. If we'd been at home, I would have told him to picture the flower opening, but this wasn't a lesson, this was first aid. I opened it wide and spun it like a tornado. The crown chakra followed a moment later, stretching down until the tails of the vortices brushed lightly against one another.
Jim's eyes widened with surprise. "Oh," he said. "But--Blair--how could I concentrate on that while I was--ah--while--"
"You don't have to concentrate on it. You just have to learn not to *stop* it."
We opened the other five, and then I sent him to get something to eat.
It had been a little over four months since Jim had had to accept still another world view. He'd adapted...pretty well. He didn't want to *talk* about it. Even when he did talk about it, he talked around it. But he didn't pretend that nothing had changed. I came home the next day, and until the stitches came out, every night while we watched television he extended a sort of careful, invisible pseudopod that made the wound in my leg grow hot and itchy; the stitches fell out a full day early. He paid attention to keeping his energy moving. A couple of times I felt an odd pressure against my edges and realized that Jim was trying to 'see' my energy, his attention fumbling over the shape of me. After we did testing or sensory practice he still asked for the "flowers exercise," and now he asked the occasional thoughtful--if often a bit oblique--question.
He had seen Incacha give me something. He had felt Incacha give me something. Worrying about that gave him something concrete to deal with--something less devastating than his grief or yet another round of survivor's guilt or the fact that he was stuck facing the world as a sentinel again.
"I'm not really hungry," Jim said, as we sat down in the diner.
"Ok," I said, and motioned to the waitress. "Breakfast 24 hours?"
She nodded. I ordered Jim the "Farmhand Special": bacon, 2 eggs, a small order of hotcakes, a dish of oatmeal, and some sliced melon. For me, the fruit plate and the croissant. Jim sighed, but didn't argue. "Do you want to talk?" I asked softly.
"Yes, but you're not listening."
"No. Ok, I'm not." I swallowed. "I don't know what the situation is, and I'm too tired to do anything about it if I did." I sounded ungrateful, even to my own ears. How often did a Westerner get a chance at something as real as this? We'd killed off most of our own spirituality and disbelieved our miracles until heaven stopped doing them. As much as Naomi knew--Incacha had known more, been capable of more. Here in Cascade...this might be my only chance at something special.
Jim watched me think, his anger carefully restrained behind his eyes, and then leaned forward and said, "You're scared, and you're avoiding it." I wanted to look away. I didn't. "You should be scared, Blair. You don't know what he did, and you don't know if you can handle it."
"Jim, I have to believe your friend wouldn't hurt me."
We sat until the food came, avoiding an argument by not talking.
Jim tasted the bacon and the pancakes, and didn't touch them again--too salty and too processed, I guessed. The syrup had to be mostly refined sugar. He did eat the oatmeal and the melon, and then started to nibble at the strawberries on my fruit plate. It wasn't the most nutritionally complete meal--not that I was in a position to criticize, given what I'd eaten today. But I supposed I should be grateful he was eating at all. Jim had had a couple of days to get used to 'normal' perceptions of taste and texture. I should have thought of that.
"Watching me eat that interesting, Chief? Maybe you should be taking notes."
"Oh, that's good. Great attitude there." I stopped myself. Jim was being an ass because he was exhausted and hurting. I sighed and slid the plate with the remains of my fruit toward him. "I'm...going to the john."
We stayed at the diner until six, drinking coffee and not talking. Then we headed over to the station. Not that there was much to do there--we'd stayed until 9:30 the night before, processing the arrest and trying to compose some kind of coherent explanation of what had happened. By eight, the residential department of Pacific Coast Disaster Recovery and Cleanup was open, and I was on the phone negotiating for an emergency clean-up.
I had a class at nine, so it was noon before I got home. Jim's jacket was hanging up by the door, but the living area was empty, so I guessed he was upstairs, asleep. Assuming he had slept through me coming home--and he might have; the sounds were familiar enough. I stood and stared at the loft for a moment, then stumbled zombie-like into my bedroom and crawled onto the bed.
The sleep was heavy and thick and, well, weird. I dreamed, and knew I was dreaming, which wasn't like me. I was in a white room, talking to God. He was an old white guy, with a beard and a robe and a staff. I was appalled--surely there had to be more to it than...this. But He looked at me and said, "You were looking for something more New Age? Maybe something exotic?"
I was ashamed, because Eli always said I tended to get distracted by the exotic. I said, "Something a little less whitebread. Less mainstream. More...natural."
"Do you think this is about choice?"
I woke up. It was embarrassing. I almost never had religious dreams of any kind, and I felt that--whether this came from my subconscious or the divine--it ought to be more meaningful or useful. But I had just wasted it.
When I came out of the bedroom, Jim was at the stove cooking. "Hey," I said softly.
He glanced over his shoulder. "Morning."
I glanced out the dark windows. "Or whatever."
Jim was making oatmeal. Not the gummy kind that cooks in a minute, but the serous Irish cut oats that cooked for an hour. I frowned. "Is it that bad?"
"What, bad?" He glanced down at the pot he was stirring. "No, I'm just not in the mood to fight with it."
"Oh. Sure." I went to the fridge and poured a glass of milk.
"There's enough for two."
"Sure. Ok." Eating breakfast all day was surely the least of our problems.
But when Jim set the bowls on the table, he paused, looking at it, and I said, "Jim, I didn't know it was that bad."
He looked up. "What? No. Chief--I didn't give them up because they were *bad*, I just--I gave them up because I was afraid!"
For a moment I held my breath. "Afraid of the senses?"
"I guess I just--freaked, you know? I was looking for the first thing that would fix--"
"Jim, I know that this is hard on you. Having the senses. But I thought, well, I thought you were coping."
"I am. I mean, they're not terrible. That's what I'm trying to say. It's actually...good sometimes. But, Blair, if I *want* them, and somebody gets hurt because of them, then that's my fault."
"And, what? If you don't want them, and somebody gets hurt...it's not your fault." I saw in his eyes that I had it. "Jim, accidents happen. If you like the senses or hate them, if you're happy being a cop or....not. Accident's happen. Things happen."
"Yeah. Yeah. Look, I--Thanks, Chief."
I smiled slightly. "For what?"
"For not, you know, just giving up." He looked away.
I felt immensely relieved. I had thought he had taken them back out of guilt and fear. I hadn't really gotten that that was why he'd repressed them this time. I took a deep breath and then briskly began mixing the brown sugar and nuts Jim had laid out on the table into my oatmeal.
"Blair, I'm worried. About what happened. What he gave you. I'm really worried. It's...different."
Him. Incacha. I looked up, breakfast (late dinner?) forgotten again. I was scared. My poor little training, my couple years of practical experience weren't enough. There was no way this little city boy was ready for a real natural religion. But Jim's friend had done this, had given me something, and I couldn't turn my back on it.
"Blair, if you want me to stay out of it, I will. I mean, if you think it should be just between you and him."
"No. I don't...want that."
The barest whisper: "I don't want you hurt because of me."
"Then we'll make sure that nobody gets hurt."
He pushed his plate out of the way and reached with both hands across the table. Uncertain where he was going, I took his hands. He brought his palms to face mine and braided our fingers, holding me tightly. His fingers were a little too large for this to be comfortable and he was squeezing too hard, but I didn't argue.
Helping spirits, I thought. Maybe lots of them. Which I would have to control. Would he have tagged me, so they could find me? Or given me the end of a line I could follow to them?
Or maybe it would be something else entirely. Maybe I would start getting visions. Visions might be useful. Unless I got them on a stakeout or while I was lecturing. Then they might get me a nice padded cell.
Jim was a wall against my hands, a huge tidal wave of energy, poised and leaning, but not crashing down on me. I had never felt him so clearly. Was this all? I could manage, if this was all. I breathed in slowly, imagining roots at my feet, sunlight on my head. I paid attention to Jim, the brightness of him against my hands, and waited to see how far it would go.
The answer didn't come from Jim's direction. Around me the loft opened up, feeling larger and fuller. Brighter, but at the same time, more enclosed. The energy here had shape and taste. The shape was art and the taste--it tasted like us. It tasted like a parent. Or another roommate.
I hadn't known the loft was like that.
"Jim--" I said, wondering if he could see it too, or see it through me.
The loft fell away, and I was looking at something huge. Huge and thick and buzzyingly full. It was--
I wasn't sure. It stretched away in all directions. It was light and dark. It was sweet and too-sweet and salty and bitter. It was complicated, and somehow, there was a coherence, a structure, a shape.
It was art. It was *made*. It was passion and ambition and optimism. It was layered, tasting of time, of cause and effect. Didn't it? Or was it layered with switches of conflict and synergy. Confused, I looked for the bottom of it, trying to see what it *was*.
It was bursting from the ground, propelled by great desire, looking for shape, expressing itself--
I began to laugh, struck by my own embarrassment. I had thought I lived in a dead city. I had thought the *real* magic was somewhere else. I laughed and laughed, even as the brilliant vision began to fade around me. Somewhere else. Ha. Some anthropologist. Some pagan!
It was more than I could concentrate on. Already it was a faint whisper in the background. I stretched, trying to find my physical boundaries. I wasn't in the chair any more. I was on the floor, in Jim's lap. He still had my hands.
"Did you see it?" I whispered.
"I saw it in you."
"Yeah." I tried to sit up, but his arms tightened. We were too entangled for me to even think of getting free without his help, and I relaxed against him. "So. That wasn't so bad."
"No, Chief. That wasn't so bad." He didn't sound convincing. "Where were you trying to go?"
"You stood up and you said...'it's been here all the time. It had a vote.' And then you tried to get up, but you got tangled in me and the table--" He stopped and cleared his throat.
I squeezed his hands, trying not to worry. I didn't remember getting up or saying anything. But what I'd said made perfect sense, and Jim had been here to keep me from hurting myself. So everything was fine, right?
Jim released one of my hands and traced the edge of my energy body. My border condensed and tidied itself under his hands. My edges got clear and firm, and I sighed. Thank you, Jim. The embarrassment and excitement fading. I was tired. And hungry. "Let's eat," I said.
"Ok. In a minute."
We sat for a few minutes more before Jim stood up briskly and tossed the oatmeal. "Uh, Jim. Hungry?"
"Me too," He held out my jacket. "Let's go find some steak."