See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart;
and his friends could only read the title."
So far Jim had counted 243 seagulls. No puffins, but there were a couple of sea lions battling with the gulls for their share of the garbage dumped into the Sound by a passing ship. Sparkling like an overturned basket of diamonds beneath a warm, late afternoon sun, the water extended out from the beach beside Po's house and disappeared under the western horizon. After the past weeks of rain and fog, spring had broken out gloriously today in northwest Washington.
It was the kind of sunny day that led recent arrivals to chuck their rain gear and woolens into the closet while digging frantically for their gardening equipment. Old-timers dug out their rakes and hoes as well: such beautiful weather was not to be wasted. But long-time residents knew better than to ever pack away their rain gear--or their wool shirts and flannel. Sure, today was gorgeous and sunny. There might even be a whole week of this, if they were lucky. But it wouldn't last. No matter Jim had driven past full, blooming fields of daffodils and tulips on their way to Samish: this early promise of spring was a lie. Clouds and precipitation would most likely claim the rest of April, the month of May and a goodly portion of June as well. Everyone who'd lived here any length of time knew better than to count on sunshine until after the Fourth of July.
Jim had just focused on a distant wisp of fog, trying to decide if it was sounding whales or a low-hung cloud, when Sandburg's cup rattled--much louder than necessary--as it landed on the saucer. When he saw that he had his Sentinel's attention, the grad student raised his eyebrows in an obvious question. Jim shook his head minutely, resisting the urge to growl as he took a sip of his coffee. No, he wasn't zoning, just enjoying the view, Sentinel- wise. Sandburg rolled his eyes in a "Well, I couldn't tell" look before reaching for his tea again. Jim returned to his counting, and the room descended once again into quietude, the silence broken only by the faint rustle of the papers Anson Po clutched.
Relaxing into the couch, Jim drank deeply of his coffee as they waited for Po to finish reading. He checked out the window; another sea lion joined the circus around the remnants of garbage out in the Sound, and Jim chuckled softly. The gulls were definitely winning, their advantage in numbers more than making up for the difference in size between mammal and avian. Taking a deep breath and then another sip of coffee, Jim reveled in the peaceful feeling that stole over him in the brightly lit room. He didn't know what it was about the ocean that calmed him so, and he was reluctant to bring the subject up around Sandburg. The kid would immediately be theorizing about the surf functioning as some sort of white noise, and leap from there to designing new, underwater hearing tests for him or wanting to find out how many bottom dwellers the Sentinel could sniff out from on shore. Worse yet, he'd be buying some of those "nature cd's" with surf sounds on them to play whenever he thought his Sentinel was a bit stressed. Jim shook that thought off in a hurry; he didn't need Sandburg picking up on *those* vibes.
Maybe the peace he felt here was because the ocean wasn't his jurisdiction; it was a realm Jim didn't have to protect. The sea simply was. No need for the Sentinel to understand it, no need for him to feel responsible for it. Maybe he was coasting on the peace he'd seen in Po's eyes, in his wife's face, that filled this place up and then had some left over for tired and weary Sentinels and their Guides. Sitting here in this room, it was easy to lay aside his responsibilities at home, and far too easy to lose himself in the seductive sounds around him: the faint cries of the gulls, the soft surging rhythm of water on sand, the gurgling of waves over the rocks. Meditation didn't always require candles and incense.
Then again, maybe a little too much of his roommate was rubbing off on him.
Another too-loud rattle of Sandburg's cup on its saucer reminded Jim they were here on business, not pleasure. No zoning allowed. With a sigh, he dialed down his hearing, and reluctantly returned his attention to the room around him.
Without looking at Jim, Sandburg stood and excused himself to the kitchen to claim another cup of tea. Po didn't stop reading, just nodded vaguely in Sandburg's direction as he left the room. Maeve's voice floated from the kitchen, Blair's flirtatious answer more laughter than words. Jim shook his head and smiled to himself as he studied the coffee in his cup. In Maeve Po Blair had found a kindred connoisseur; the petite woman favored many of the same exotic tea blends the anthropologist did, even had a few he'd never heard of. They'd spent the first twenty minutes after Jim and Blair's arrival this afternoon comparing teas and quirky little yuppy shops to buy them at. Jim had gratefully accepted the cup of coffee Mrs. Po brewed for him in the midst of their discussion, and then stood at the window, his back to the room at large, tuning out their conversation in favor of the sights and sounds of sea and shore. Sandburg and Mrs. Po were just getting warmed up when the man they had come to see returned from his errands.
Maeve Po had excused herself then, leaving her husband and his visitors to whatever conversation they could come up with. It wasn't much, not at first. After the basic greetings were exchanged there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Blair reached for his backpack, digging inside it for Po's box.
"We promised to return this," he said simply, handing the box to Po with one of his famous smiles.
Po had said nothing, simply stared at the box and then his two visitors with that same, unfathomable look they'd seen last week. Blair's smile slipped a little, and he slid an uneasy glance at his roommate, but Po had finally reached for the box. Jim found a seat on the beige futon, and then he and Sandburg waited while Po settled back into his rocker. After staring at the box for a long moment, he opened it, took the papers out and began to read.
It was everything he'd given them last week, and more. Jim and Sandburg had added their own information to the carved box. Po deserved to know, both Sentinel and Guide had agreed on that, and Simon had looked the other way--knowing better than to argue with them as they made copies of the evidence from Harper's house, Jim's report, and pertinent sections of both Harper's and Gilbertson's military records. Today, Thursday, not quite a week after Morag's abduction and Harper's arrest, they'd driven up to Samish to return Po his box.
Morag. She was gone, out of their lives for now, not due to return until graduation in June. And Morag was graduating. In spite of everything, she would get her Master's degree--thanks to Sandburg. The man had moved heaven and earth to get the three professors necessary for Morag's defense assembled at the University yesterday morning, in the middle of Spring Break. He'd told them enough of Morag's story to get their cooperation, but not enough to expose her to their pity and speculation. Afterwards Jim had picked up a jubilant Guide and a very giddy Morag and had a hard time convincing them that 11 a.m. was too early to go out and celebrate with wine.
This morning they'd helped pack Morag, her new Winnie-the-Pooh backpack, and all her stuff into the Shaeffers' car, filling the small U-Haul trailer Drew Shaeffer had rented with Morag's books and Emby's tea sets. The stereo system had been left behind in storage. Jim had promised Shaeffer he'd take care of selling it for Morag. There wasn't any doubt she no longer wanted it, nor had Blair when Morag had offered it to him.
They'd said their goodbyes and then Morag and the Shaeffers had driven off. Blair had waited until they were out of sight before he nailed Jim with one look.
"The clearance aisle," he stated, skepticism oozing from his words like sap from a tree in spring.
Staring off down the street where Shaeffers' black 4-Runner had disappeared, Jim shrugged. Damn. Getting out of this was going to be harder than he'd thought.
"Maybe not, but it was right there, and I just thought since her other one was ruined when Harper grabbed her...It's not a big deal, Chief." He shrugged again, ignoring his roommate as he headed for the truck, parked across the street from Morag's apartment. Blair was too busy smirking to get the hint that the conversation was over.
"Hey look, man. I shop at Freddy's. You and I both know the purses and backpacks aren't anywhere near the groceries--or the sporting goods aisle. And those backpacks do *not* make it to the clearance aisle." Abandoning his smirk for a full-blown, Guide-that-got-the-Sentinel grin, Blair waited for Jim to deny his accusations.
Unlocking the passenger side door, Jim sighed, studiously avoiding Blair's triumphant gaze. Okay, fine, he was found out. It was just a new backpack, for crying out loud. Besides, Jim had seen Blair furtively stuff a brand new Classic Piglet doll in Morag's pack this morning. But as Jim opened his mouth to defend himself, Blair opened his door and climbed in the truck. Still grinning, he watched smugly as Jim walked around the truck to the driver's side. Jim had gotten in and started the truck up, ignoring Blair's sotto voce monologue about whimsy genes and genetic throw-backs as he did so. That was usually the best response when the round went to the Guide; otherwise Blair was quite accomplished at being insufferable.
Actually, ignoring Blair would work right now as well. Too bad the Guide was out of the room for the moment.
The sun dropped lower over the water outside the windows as Po read, and Jim slowly finished his coffee. After a quiet conversation with Maeve, Blair returned to the room with his tea, the grad student settling deep in the same salmon colored chair he'd claimed on their last visit. Several more quiet minutes passed, and Jim was debating going after more coffee when Po swallowed hard, and finally looked at them. The tears tracking down the older man's face didn't surprise Jim, not at all. Po's eyes were dark, but with grief now, the kind of grief for someone else that only struck those with deep souls--souls like Po's and Sandburg's.
"Damn. I was so close. *So* damn close!" Po dropped the papers into his lap, and looked away, out over the Sound. One hand rubbed over his face. Jim shifted in his seat and traded looks with Blair.
"You didn't know," Jim said. "The information you gave us wouldn't have made sense without the rest of it, without what Sheen--Morag told us. And she wasn't ready to talk when you were working on the case."
Po gave him an oblique look, and Jim wondered if he'd let too much slip. Sandburg had made him promise not to tell anyone about Morag's other personalities, save the short list that had to know: Jim, Simon, the Shaeffers. The District Attorney. But no one else, no one else at all. Blair the Pit Bull was still defending his friend, still protecting her even if she was no longer his responsibility. Jim had a feeling, though, that the man sitting in front of them would have taken that part of the case completely in stride.
Blair must have had the same feeling, because he took a deep breath and spent the next ten minutes explaining Persis and Sheena and Emby and their role in the whole mess to Po. When he was done, Po was still and quiet, not looking at either one of them. Jim could feel the man settling that piece of information in his soul along with the other details he'd been given. Settling the fact of Morag's multiple identities, accepting it, almost grateful for it, for the way it made certain things about this case make sense when nothing else did. That accomplished, Po returned his attention to Blair.
"Where is she now? Morag?" he grated, swiping at his eyes again with one hand.
Blowing on his tea, Blair looked up and smiled reassuringly at Po.
"She went home with the Shaeffers, to Spokane. Turns out her dad put most of his money in a trust fund for her. He knew she'd need help someday, and in case he wasn't around when that happened, he set it up for Shaeffers to be there. She's got enough to take care of the professional help she'll need. I think she's going to be okay. They're good people, and they really care about her." Morag *was* going to be okay; Sandburg wasn't just saying that. Jim had known that from the minute he'd opened the loft door to admit the lean, dark-skinned man with the soulful eyes and his tall, buxom wife (obviously from the same gene pool as Simon Banks). Drew and Susanne Shaeffer had obviously had whatever it was the shattered portions of Morag's soul needed for their healing--the whatever it was the Sentinel had known just as certainly that Sandburg had *not* had. Watching a few moments later as Susanne Shaeffer clutched a sobbing Emby to her not insubstantial bosom had only confirmed that feeling. A long hard road lay ahead of Morag, but with the right help and the love and support of people like the Shaeffers--and his roommate-- she would make it through, healed and whole.
And speaking of making it...
"Sandburg..." Blair nodded, and finished the last of his tea in a long gulp. Po looked up in askance as Jim stood, and the Sentinel smiled apologetically. "We have tickets to the Jags game tonight." Tickets that had come courtesy of the Jag's advertising manager, whose five-year-old granddaughter just happened to be named Riley. Supposedly the unmarried aunts would be sharing tonight's box with the Guide and his Sentinel.
Po looked Blair over as the grad student got to his feet, and then the older man smiled, approvingly.
"It is good to see your burden lifted. I pray it will be long before you have such another."
Straightening up with his pack, Blair inclined his head to one side, casting a sidelong glance at Jim.
"Uh...thanks. I, uh, I'm glad it's over. Solved." Hands fluttering as he spoke, Blair laughed uncomfortably. "It's, uh, you know, it's a good thing cases like this don't come along everyday, or...man. Whew. I'd be, well, you know, outta here or out there or something." Sandburg tucked his hands in the front pockets of his jeans as he finished speaking and, shrugging, gave Po a rather sheepish smile.
Po nodded gravely at Sandburg, his own smile twinkling in his eyes.
"You'd best go then, if you want to make it back in time for the game." Po quickly shuffled the papers into the box, and, shutting it firmly, placed it on the table before he, too, got to his feet. All three men stared at the box for a long minute, and then Po spoke. "Tonight is a good night for a bonfire on the beach."
It was a pronouncement, not a statement, and Jim had been around Sandburg long enough to recognize the implications thereof. Tonight would be more than a simple bonfire, it would be a cleansing ceremony, a purifying ritual, for both Po and Morag. The fire would be sacrificial, the papers in the box, maybe even the box itself, burned: in thanksgiving that Morag was well--and in hopes that she would soon be whole. Sandburg had guided her through the beginning of the end of the darkness she had walked in for twenty years. Po would pray for the light to guide her, as she learned now to walk in its brightness.
Po's rich voice interrupted Jim's thoughts.
"You are welcome to stay, if you like. Maeve's got her crab pots out. I'm sure she'd be more than willing to share, especially with a couple of strong young backs to help her haul them up."
Maybe it was the blind date aspects of tonight's Jags' game, but Po's invitation suddenly sounded much more appealing to Jim. He didn't need any ceremonial bonfire; just being by the sea had its calming effect on him. However, he did know his partner well enough to know it really wouldn't hurt the younger man to have a little cleansing and purifying after the last week or two. But tonight was Blair's reward more than his, and Jim couldn't just throw Sandburg's evening with Riley's aunts away.
Steeling himself for Blair's refusal, Jim looked out at the water for a long moment. He drew as much of the peace of the place in as he could, before he looked at his roommate--only to find his own desire to stay mirrored in Blair's eyes. After a long second, Blair turned from Jim to smile at Po.
"Actually, you know, that sounds like a really great idea. I'll need to call someone and let them know we can't make it, but hey, you won't catch me turning down an invitation for fresh crab and a bonfire on the beach."
Po's smile grew, crinkling the corners of his eyes.
"That's fine. The phone's right there. I'll tell Maeve." He waved at a small desk in the southwest corner of the room. Blair nodded and made a beeline for the phone. Listening in a few minutes later as Sandburg began weaving his verbal magic into plausible excuses for their absence this evening, Jim bit back a laugh. How the kid managed to wiggle out of situations like this and still be in most everyone's good graces was really beyond his ken.
In the kitchen, Po and Maeve were discussing whether it was time yet to go after the crab pots. Jim stretched lazily, like a cat after his nap, then bent over for his coffee cup. Blair was saying goodbye, and it sounded like he'd managed to wangle the box seats for another game, a different day. Well, hey, why not? It wasn't like either one of them had an overflowing social calendar.
Blair joined him, but before Jim had taken two steps toward the kitchen, his Guide put a hand out and stopped him.
"What is it?" Jim asked, concerned by the sudden dismay on Blair's face.
"Oh, man, I cannot *believe* I forgot! Shoot!"
"What, Chief? What is it?" Standing in the kitchen by the back door, Po was waving them forward now; Maeve had already disappeared outside.
"Damn, I didn't set the VCR to tape tonight's episode of Star Trek!" Blair was turning in circles, searching the room for something. "And it doesn't look like they have a TV here. Damn!"
Jim stared at Blair in disbelief for a moment, then shook his head. He batted Sandburg lightly on the head as he stepped around the younger man.
"Chief, it's not the end of the world. I think you can live without the tape," he chided softly, pausing in the doorway that connected the two rooms.
"Ah, man, Jim, you don't understand!" Blair's hand waving in the air emphasized his protestations. "Tonight's episode is 'Plato's Stepchildren.' Sure, they mangle Plato's philosophy--well, okay, they didn't just mangle it, they, like, totally did *not* get it. But that's not what's important here, you have to understand, man, Uhura and Kirk kiss in this episode, they kiss! It was television's *first* *interracial* kiss, Jim, and I wanted to have it on tape!"
It was *definitely* a good time for the Sentinel to begin to ignore his Guide.
Jim headed on into the kitchen while Blair was still looking desperately about him for some means of rescuing the evening. He set his coffee cup next to the sink and shared a grin with Po. Both men then eased out the back door. It was easy enough for the Sentinel to stay tuned in to Blair's complaints as he and Po slowly followed Maeve down the short street toward the river and the boat docks.
"Oh, I do *not* believe this, I can't *not* get this on tape! I just don't...Jim? Jim? Detective Po? Mrs. Po? Hey, where'd you guys go? Hello? Hey, where is everybody?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Dim powers of drowsy thought, let her no longer be
Like the pale cup of the sea,
When winds have gathered and sun and moon burned dim
Above its cloudy rim;
But let a gentle silence wrought with music flow
Whither her footsteps go."
--- William Butler Yeats