New Arrivals
Author-Laura Picken
Titles

Blinded by the Light
by Laura Picken

Summary: A betrayal forces Jim and Blair to deal with one of their worst nightmares: the public, unplanned revelation of Jim's Sentinel abilities. This revelation leads to a showdown that could change Cascade forever.

Well, here it is folks! By far, this is the story idea that's gotten the most interest on the site. I hope it will live up to your expectations. Therefore, I'll keep this part real brief.

Disclaimer: Blair, Jim, Simon, and any other characters, places, etc. related to Cascade, Washington and The Sentinel are not mine. They belong to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. Chris McPherson, Diane McPherson and Sharon Driver, though, are mine. Please don't use them without permission. Also, feel free to link to this story (it's not going anywhere), but please don't reprint it in a zine or anything without at least asking me first. "For the First Time" is a great Kenny Loggins song that I'm sure those of you in the States are sick of by now, but trust me - it works in this story. And I can't be 100% certain the lyrics are correct, because I don't have a song sheet in front of me - this just came from hearing the song a zillion times.

A few words of warning: some of the characters and relationships, and plot devices in this story are directly related to indirect references in my stories Truth, Justice and the American Way and Stage Fright. If you haven't read them, you might want to read them before you read this one. It's not essential, but if you're getting confused, especially right at the beginning, it might help.

This is most definitely a post-Warriors story, so international fans should be warned. However, I use nothing after that. This is -my- AU, and as such, I refuse to put Cassie in it for now. (ah, the joys of fan fiction...) Oh, and if you consider Jim's ex-wife to be 'the evil presence' (are you listening, Merry?), you should be warned that this story treats her -very- sympathetically. I always felt that Carolyn got a bit of a bum rap from Switchman on -- Jim -can- be very tight-lipped and a tad obnoxious at times, and most of the time Carolyn was the one person on the 'team' who didn't have a clue as to what Jim's big 'secret' was. And after all, they - don't- have kids, so there had to be some reason why they got married and stayed married for a while, don't you think?

Oh, and many, many, many thank yous to Tate, Zadra, and Cindy C. who have been so patient and helpful with me, beta reading whenever I ask, letting me pick their brains for ideas, etc. You guys are incredible!

But enough of my ranting (didn't I say something about keeping this brief? Ah well), on with the show...

He crept through the dark office silently, conscious of every trap and alarm even through his alcohol-fogged brain. He thought solemnly about the beautiful woman who whispered the combinations to him in her sleep. Julia. God, how he missed her! It had been three months since the accident, and his days had been spent crying angry tears; while his nights had been spent in a drunken fog. If he were thinking clearer, he might have almost found it ironic that he was following the lead of the poor fool who had carelessly taken the woman he loved from him. They would have been married exactly three months to the day from that fateful night, and now, on the day he should have been thinking about his bride, all he could think about was the darkness that was swallowing his soul.

He wanted to blame the world. He tried to blame the driver of the other car, but there was no way he could do anything about him, for the man was already sitting downstairs in jail, serving what looked to be the start of a really long sentence. There was one person, though, who he could blame, and he blamed her freely, easily and often. Diane. If it hadn't been for her, and all the time Julia had had to spend working with her and her 'secrets', she might still be around, and they would be leaving, right now, for their honeymoon. Instead, he was doing the only thing he could still do. For her.

He finally made his way to the safe, and quickly entered the combination. Once the door was open, he shoved all the papers into the leather satchel he brought with him, and quickly left.

The only thing that could be heard on the security camera were the three words he had been mumbling under his breath since he had pulled into the parking lot at police headquarters:

"No more secrets."

*****

Marcus paced the dark alley, looking at his watch and wondering how soon he could get out of here. He couldn't believe that he was willing to pay some drunken slob for a possible lead into "secret police files" that he couldn't even be sure were real. If he weren't so desperate for a story, he would have hung up on this guy after the first phone call. But, if he didn't come up with a hot story soon, the only thing he'd be saying into a microphone would be "do you want fries with that?"

He watched the tall, dark man stagger through the alley, carrying a leather satchel loaded with papers. [This has got to be the guy,] thought Marcus, ['cause if there are any -other- strange drunks in this alley, I'm going home!] The two men finally came face-to-face, and Marcus got down to business right away. Trying in vain to wave the smell of alcohol away from his face, he asked, "Chris McPherson?"

"Yeah, that's me. You got the money?" His voice was deep, angry and pained; his speech slurred to the point where it was barely intelligible.

It almost hurt Marcus just to hear it. What could this guy have gone through that he would sell out his own sister like this? He decided it was better he didn't know. He opened the briefcase full of money, ten thousand cash, then quickly closed it as he asked, "you got the files?"

Chris handed him the satchel, and received the briefcase from Marcus in exchange. It wasn't much, but it was enough to take him far away from this hell in Cascade, where every day he ran into something that reminded him of Julia. Ten thousand up front, forty thousand in a Swiss bank account after the information in the files was verified. And he knew that they could verify it. With all the things Julia had told him before she died, he knew that anyone with half a brain could put two and two together.

He verified that the money was there, and real, then turned and walked quickly away. Marcus watched him leave, then brought the attach_ back to his car. As he looked over some of the files, the smile on his face grew wider and wider until he was practically jumping out of his seat with excitement. If he could verify the files against the official police records, fifty thousand for this guy's stories would be getting off cheap.

*****

"Lieutenant, can I see you in my office please?"

Lt. Carolyn Plummer walked into her captain's office with a slight feeling of dread. She shrugged it off as nothing, though, since she felt it every time she had to go to her superior's office. Although she had plenty of respect for Capt. Pritchard, she didn't have the kind of casual friendship with her that she had with the people in Cascade. And ever since she had been assigned to the 'poison plant' case, the only thing the captain wanted to hear from her was if she had any new leads.

Which, of course, she didn't. Which only increased that uneasy feeling she had whenever the captain called her.

They hadn't found any new victims lately, though; which had surprised her. Up to this point, they were discovering a new body at least every other day. So not having any new crime scenes meant they had no new clues; they just had to go back over the other cases again. And again. Hoping that maybe, this time, they'd pick up the one piece of evidence that would help them nail this guy.

A lump formed in Carolyn's throat the minute she saw yet another manila folder on the desk. [Oh God,] she thought, [we have another one.] It got even worse as she realized that this time they had found not just one victim with the same MO, but five. That made last night the worst night yet.

She didn't quite know what to think, though, as she noticed a plane ticket tucked in the back of the folder. As she pulled it out, she looked to her captain, confused. "What's going on, captain?"

Pritchard had been watching her best forensics investigator to see how she'd react to the new evidence, and, as she had expected, the woman in front of her had put some of the pieces together almost immediately. [Now, to fill in the details...] "These new victims weren't found here, Carolyn. They were found in Cascade."

[Cascade? And she's showing these to me? Uh oh...] "Doesn't that make this case Federal jurisdiction now, captain? Shouldn't we be turning this over to them?"

Pritchard nodded, "yes, and they have copies of all our information. But, they want a liason between the locals in Cascade, the Feds and our department, particularly since the Cascade PD hasn't had that great a track record with the Feds."

Carolyn winced inwardly at the memory of David Lash, who had posed as a Federal profiler and had fooled everyone in the department, including her. "And they want me? Why?"

"It makes sense, Carolyn. You have a great relationship with all the parties involved, and a world-class track record with trace amounts of evidence. Plus, you know this case better than anyone." Pritchard sighed as she added, "now, I do know a little about your history in Cascade from your file, so I'm not ordering you to do this. I'm asking you, Carolyn, as a favor -- will you help us make sure this guy gets what he deserves?"

Carolyn rolled her eyes, and started to count the tiles on the ceiling as she thought about the captain's offer. Cascade did have the best forensics lab in the Northwest, and she missed Serena and Sam a lot. Maybe she wouldn't even have to work with Major Crimes on this one -- maybe she could just call Simon, say hi, let him know she was working with the Feds in his territory, and all she would need would be to occasionally borrow the lab to process evidence.

Yeah, right. "So when do I leave?"

*****

Simon fidgeted nervously in one of the guest chairs in Diane's office. He had heard rumors about somebody breaking into police headquarters, but nobody knew who, or why, or even what the guy took. His heart leapt into his throat when he heard rumors about stuff being taken out of the commissioner's office. Being called to Diane's office, Simon knew, meant that all the rumors were true. And realizing exactly what it was that had been taken caused Simon's heart to plummet straight from his throat into his stomach.

Diane walked into the office, behind Simon, and squeezed his shoulder. As the emotional impact of the realizations hit him, he could only whisper, "oh my God."

Fighting back tears, she sympathized, "I know."

Simon asked, "do we know who has the files now?"

Diane shook her head. No one who knew what was in those files cared who had taken them. Their one and only concern was getting those files back before lives were put in danger because of them. Two lives in particular. She asked Simon, "where are they?"

"On a camping trip." Simon laughed bitterly. "Considering the number of cases we've had to send them on in the past six months, I felt like I had to force them into it. I thought it would be good for them."

"When are they coming back?"

"Not for another week. They're up in the mountains. Share went with them yesterday."

Diane sat down behind her desk and sighed loudly. First losing Julia, and now this? She didn't know if she could take much more. [Deal with one thing at a time, Diane,] she repeated to herself, [one thing at a time.] She opened up the video monitor unit and looked at the surveillance tape for what had to be the fifteenth time since she found out about the break-in that morning. "I wish I had his eyes," she sighed, "or his ears." The perp had picked a perfect night to make sure that the security camera could only pick up shadows and spoke only in whispers. He bypassed every security precaution they had set up. All she could do is look at the tape and wonder how. And why. Simon watched the tape with an intense, frightened curiosity. A moment of inspiration hit him. It may not be much, but it's something. "Have you taken this tape to Serena yet?"

Diane shook her head. "I guess I was afraid what this guy might have said on the tape. He knew exactly what he was looking for."

Simon interrupted her, "Diane, what choice do we have? There are only a handful of things that this guy can do with these files, and none of them are good. At least enhancing what we have on the tape might give us a chance to catch him."

Diane sighed again, then got up to take the tape out of the machine. She idly wondered how her life might have been different if she had never agreed to this insane arrangement. Then she realized that one way or another, something like this would have happened anyway. The minute they had accepted the ex-Special Forces soldier into the police academy, this had become their destiny.

She just hoped she had the strength to help her friends face whatever was to come.

She opened the door for Simon and consented, "well then Simon, let's go."

*****

Serena had been working for hours on the tape, trying everything she could think of to enhance the scratchy audio and video to find out who had broken into the commissioner's office. She didn't know what had been taken, but from the fact that Captain Banks and Commissioner McPherson had not left the Forensics lab from the minute they delivered the tape to her until now, she knew that this was probably one of the most important things she would ever have to do. Finally she was able to get a clear audio piece from the tape, and she called Simon and Diane over to listen to it.

Serena had been able to produce a clear piece of about six words. As the commissioner heard the man on the tape mumble, "no more secrets, Diane...no more..." her face paled with shock as she realized who it was. She could only utter in a shocked, hoarse whisper, "Chris?"

Simon turned to Diane, his face mirroring the shock she felt. "Your brother? Why would he do this?"

She fought back the tears as she explained as much as she could. "It was Julia. She was coming from working late with me when she was killed by a drunk driver three months ago. Chris has blamed me ever since." Simon nodded solemnly--it still hurt him to think about that time which had been painful for them all.

His face turning from shock to anger, he got up and headed for the door, declaring, "well let's go talk to him," when Diane placed a firm hand on his shoulder. "You don't understand, Simon. He disappeared shortly after Julia's funeral. This surveillance tape is the first time I've seen him since she died. I don't know where he is."

Diane rubbed her temples in frustration. She could feel a headache coming on. She mumbled, low enough for Simon to hear but for Serena to -not- hear, "maybe we could convince them to stay in the mountains for a little bit longer. Say, a couple of years?" Simon put his arm around her, and they embraced, trying to strengthen each other. He wished he had something encouraging to say, but he didn't. In truth, he was just as scared for their future as she was.

*****

Carolyn sat down at the bar in the Delta terminal of the Cascade International Airport and let out a deep breath. She called over to the bartender and asked for a glass of white wine.

As she took a sip of the drink, the television behind the bar caught her eye. A picture of Jim came up on the screen as the anchor's voice-over announced, "Marcus Martinson brings us this exclusive report on a man who can hear a victim's cries for help...even when no one else can...." Her eyes widened as she listened to the rest of the report; a lot of things that had confused and worried her before she left Cascade started to make a strange amount of sense. The night at the restaurant. That incredible kiss she had shared with her ex-husband. Blair Sandburg, the 'cousin' from a side of the family she was sure Jim didn't have. Why he would constantly risk his life for this cousin even as she realized that Blair was a person that Jim would have been suspicious of in any other circumstance.

Or at least, the that Jim she knew. She sighed as she realized that maybe she never really knew him at all.

She got up and let out another deep breath she didn't know she had been holding, then abruptly left the bar, paying for her now warm and largely untouched drink. [So much for staying in the shadows...] Not working with Major Crimes was no longer an option. Now, it seemed, she was going to have to work closely on this case with the one man who she wasn't sure she had wanted to ever see again.

*****

The trip had been great, but all Jim wanted as he walked into the loft was a hot shower. Blair had caught the least amount of fish during the trip, so, consequently, he and Share were downstairs, unloading the bags and hauling them upstairs. Hopefully, between the three of them, they could get all the gear unloaded and put away before everyone had to be back to work the next morning.

The last thing he had expected to find as he walked in the door was Simon and Diane, sitting on his couch, looking like the world was going to end. Confused, he greeted them, asking, "hi guys! What's going on?"

Diane asked him, solemnly, "are Blair and Share with you?" Jim replied, "they're downstairs, unloading the truck. Guys, what's going on?"

Simon looked at Jim almost compassionately. He had had time to adjust to the things that they knew were going to be coming, especially when they found out that not only had Chris disappeared, but so had the reporter he gave the files to, Marcus Martinson.

The producers returned the stolen files, but refused Diane's numerous pleas to - not- air the segment, claiming their first amendment right to free speech and some warped idea that "this will be a good thing for the city...maybe we won't have so many psychos trying to attack people in Cascade when they know that they might have Supercop coming after them."

The reporter had easily been able to back up his story with Blair's Masters thesis and the official police reports, which were both a matter of public record. If they tried to take the show to court, Jim's abilities would still have to become a matter of public record in order to justify any possible gag order.

Either way, their secrets would be exposed.

In his hand Simon held a copy of the segment, which had aired that afternoon. They had been able to hold back the press wolves that day, knowing that Jim and Blair were a far distance from Cascade.

But tomorrow, though, life as they knew it would never be the same again.

Blair and Sharon burst through the doors, laughing and joking about a time that Blair had tried to spear a fish and fell into the water, when they turned around and saw Simon and Diane in a stare-down with Jim, who was looking more confused than ever. Sensing that their casual conversation was now out-of- place, Blair asked, "what's going on, guys?"

Jim replied, "I have a feeling they were just about to tell us."

Simon nodded, adding, "sit down, guys. We have a problem."

Sharon asked, "what about the gear?"

Unable to look Jim or Sharon in the eye, Diane stared into space and commented sarcastically, "I don't think -anyone- is going to disturb your gear now."

By this point, Blair and Sharon were just as confused as Jim. Diane led them over to the couch while Simon set up the VCR. She took a deep breath and started explaining the situation. "A week ago there was a break-in at police headquarters. We recovered everything that was taken, and we have a lead on a prime suspect."

Jim asked, "so what's the problem?"

Simon replied, "the problem is what was taken from the building. Specifically, from Diane's office."

Blair swallowed hard. He began to put two and two together, and didn't like what it was adding up to. "Just what exactly was taken?"

Diane took another deep breath to try and calm herself. This was the part she had been dreading. She replied, "the files in my office safe."

"You mean--" Every ounce of color drained from Blair's face. He asked the question he would rather not have had to ask. "And what exactly was done with the files?"

Simon directed their attention to the television as he grabbed the VCR remote. "This aired this afternoon." Before anyone had a chance to respond, he started the tape. On the screen, Robert Smithson, the anchor of the local tabloid show "Inside Cascade", was introducing a segment:

"Tonight on Inside Cascade: a profile of Cascade's greatest secret weapon in the war against crime." On the screen flashed the picture of Jim that was taken at the Cop of the Year presentation. The anchor continued, "when Detective James Ellison was honored earlier this year as Cascade's cop of the year, he was praised for his 'incredible instincts' and 'impressive investigative ability' . But that's not the only thing that makes Jim Ellison a great cop. Marcus Martinson brings us this exclusive report on a man who can hear a victim's cries for help...even when no one else can."

Martinson came on the screen and started to describe the Sentinel theory from one of Burton's manuscripts, then he interviewed one of Kincaid's men from prison about how Jim was able to 'mysteriously' pick him out from behind a locked door, and the conversation Simon and Jim had had while they were handcuffing him to the stairs. "The big black guy said, 'how did you know he was back there?' and Ellison told him, 'didn't you smell him? Too much Skin Bracer.' even though I'm sure I hadn't used any that morning. Then he announced that a chopper was coming even though the black guy and I couldn't hear anything."

Martinson then launched into a review of Jim's crash in Peru and how he was rescued eighteen months later. A black man in military fatigues came up on screen, and Jim exclaimed, "hey, I remember that guy -- he was the guy they sent to recover the bodies of my team in Peru."

On the screen, former Army Captain Harrison Mathis described the scene of Jim's rescue in Peru. "After we were ambushed by a group of natives, they stopped firing and Captain Ellison made his way from the back lines up to where we were. Apparently he had continued the mission even after the other members of his team had died in the crash, because he assumed we were his relief, not that we were there to rescue him. Then something weird happened: he looked up in the sky for several minutes, as if he had heard something that the rest of us hadn't heard. I simply thought he was going through post-traumatic stress disorder or something until this loud flock of birds flew by..."

Martinson came back on screen, walking down a street in Southtown. "After Captain Ellison was rescued from the jungles of Peru, he was recruited by the Cascade Police department, where he quickly moved up through the ranks and became a detective in the Major Crimes division. While investigating the Switchman bombings several years ago, the amazing abilities of a Sentinel, which had been repressed since leaving the jungle, came back full force. Dazed and confused, Detective Ellison recruited the help of a young anthropology post- graduate student at Rainier University by the name of Blair Sandburg, a man who had been studying Sentinels for a number of years..."

Pieces of news reports flashed across the screen as Martinson described how several cases had been broken through tiny pieces of evidence that Jim and Blair had found through Jim's Sentinel senses, as Blair had detailed in the reports stolen from Diane's office, ending with the arrest of A.J. Green six months earlier.

Martinson ended his fifteen-minute segment with some sort of clich_ tagline warning criminals of Cascade to 'watch out' for Cascade's Sentinel, but by that point no one in the loft was listening anymore. Simon stopped the tape, and took a deep breath. "Already Chief Warren called me this evening asking me why I didn't tell him about your abilities the minute I found out about them."

The captain turned around and looked at the shocked faces around him. Surprisingly, Jim was the only one who seemed to be taking the report in stride. Simon asked him, "Jim? You seem to be taking this rather well."

"Well," Jim let out a deep sigh and continued, "ever since I got used to living with these abilities, I kinda knew they would end up being made public eventually. Though I'll admit," he joked, "I always thought it would be in somebody's dissertation or a best-selling book or something..."

Jim winked at his guide, who picked up on the joke immediately. "Hey," exclaimed Blair, throwing a pillow at his roommate, "I resent that!" His tone turning serious, Blair then asked Diane, "so what now?"

"Honestly," replied the commissioner, "I don't know. Jim, you and Blair are the ones who are going to be most affected by this. Whatever you want to do, I'll throw the full support of my office behind you. It's your call."

Jim thought about it for a moment, then turned to talk to his friend and captain. "Simon, do you think this is going to affect me on the job?"

Simon replied, "no, but Jim, I can't be a hundred percent certain of what things are going to be like tomorrow--"

Jim interrupted, "then unless you can't think of a case to assign us to, sir, I'd like to report to work on Monday."

Simon sighed. Much as he wanted to shield his friends from what they were all going to face tomorrow, he also knew that the two men were going to have to respond to this eventually. The truth was 'out there' now, and everyone needed to deal with it. And he did need everyone he could get...relenting, Simon agreed, "okay, then, can you be at the precinct by nine?"

Jim nodded, and Simon looked to Diane for silent agreement. One look told him that his old friend was behind them one hundred percent. Diane and Simon got up to leave, and as Jim saw them out, Simon declared, "well then, I'll see both of you at the precinct at nine."

*****

Blair looked over at Sharon, who had been sitting quietly through the entire discussion. Curious, he asked, "you're awful quiet, Share?"

Sharon pushed herself out from under Blair's arm and turned to face him. She had just gone through the most intense public scrutiny of her life from winning the Cascade of Stars competition, and she had spent the evening wondering how Blair and Jim were going to handle everything that she knew was coming and still be able to do their jobs.

She had been lucky; when she was the surprise winner of the competition, her supervisor had granted her a leave of absence until she finished the initial publicity tour, then promised to assign her only to cases a limited distance from Cascade until she finished the album. But even without her job responsibilities hanging over her head, the press had her running literally day and night. "I don't know, Blair. The press is a strange thing; you never really know how they're going to react when they smell a story. I know Jim can handle this; he's had to deal with them before. But I'm worried about you. Are you ready for this?"

Blair nodded. "I think so. Before I abandoned the idea of doing my thesis on Jim, I practically dreamed of the publicity that publishing my dissertation on Jim would bring."

Sharon knew that was not the way Blair saw things now. "But --"

Blair smiled. She did know him well. "But that was before I realized that helping Jim was as much a permanent part of my life as Jim's senses were a part of his. When I realized that being Jim's Guide was -not- a temporary thing, I threw out the idea of using him, by name, as part of my dissertation. Now, as much as I would never have wanted this to happen this way, I trust Jim. You said it yourself -- he's had to deal with the press before, when he first came back from Peru. As long as he can handle it, I know I'll get through this as well."

"What do you think the University will do about the extra publicity?"

Blair burst out laughing, a reaction Sharon did not expect. "Are you kidding? They're probably foaming at the mouth at the idea of one of their 'researchers' having their work validated in the public eye. This is the reason that schools support post-graduate programs in the first place -- if someone discovers something that attracts public interest, it'll increase both the number of students applying to the school and their chances to get coveted grant money. The only way that the University could have a problem with this is if it weren't true."

Sharon relaxed slightly, although Blair could tell she was still a little tense. She consented, "I suppose you're right."

Blair kissed her gently, then encouraged her, "relax. We'll get through this. Now go home -- tomorrow's going to be a long day."

Sharon quickly kissed him back, then slipped out the back door. Blair watched her leave, then realized that most of their gear was still downstairs.

*****

Jim heard Blair and Sharon start to discuss the events of the evening, then deliberately turned his hearing down to avoid eavesdropping on their conversation. He then realized that most of their gear was still downstairs in the half-open truck, so he hurried down the stairs to bring the rest of it back upstairs and give Blair and Sharon some privacy. Before he opened the door to go outside, he heard two people on the opposite side of the door. When he realized what they were talking about, he listened in on their conversation...

"C'mon, Jake! This is a cool car! And they left it -wide- open! Those idiots probably even left the keys in it. Going for a joyride won't hurt anybody. And you - know- how much cash we could get for all this stuff..." Jake interrupted his overenthusiastic friend. "Martin, are you -nuts-? You don't know, do you?" Martin sounded confused. "Know what?" "-He- lives here." Martin sounded awestruck and scared at the same time. His voice immediately went down to a whisper. "Yeah, man, you're right. He's probably heard us, too. Let's get out of here."

He jolted as he felt Blair's light touch on his shoulder, apparently bringing him out of his zone-out. Concerned, Blair asked him, "you okay, man? What happened?"

He thought briefly about the conversation he had heard just before he zoned out. Apparently the press was not the only thing they were going to have to deal with when they returned to work. But, now was not the time to trouble his Guide with that. Opening the door he assured Blair, "I'm fine, Chief. Let's just get the gear upstairs. Tomorrow's going to be a long day."

Blair flashed a cautious look at his Sentinel. Obviously all was not fine, but now was not the time to discuss it. He shrugged it off and stepped through the door to start bringing up the gear.

*****

The jungle ground fell effortlessly beneath his feet, which was the only indication that he had to convince him that he was dreaming. Everything else, though, seemed painfully real. His hair flew behind him in a dark trail as he struggled to keep up with the lightning-fast panther who was leading him.

As the panther stopped, walking gracefully up the steps of the altar that was his home, he watched as the panther changed from animal to human form. It had appeared to Jim as both Jim and Incatcha, Jim's Chopac Guide, but for him the spirit guide had chosen a special form. One that he knew he was going to face in the real world eventually to confront the very same issues.

The panther spirit stood up, looking Blair straight in the eye after having adopted the form of his mother. Even in his subconscious mind, Blair could appreciate the irony of this moment. [Might as well get the practice in now. When Naomi hears about this...] It was at that moment that the spirit spoke to him. "You fear for your Sentinel?"

Blair replied, "I fear that those who do not understand his responsibilities will try to take him away. And I fear that those who would pose a danger to the tribe will work harder to attack us first, and that he might be hurt or killed in the process."

The spirit then asked, "but that is not all you fear, Guide?"

Blair hesitated for a moment, then admitted, "our world does not trust things it does not understand. I fear that the world will say it does not want the protection he was born to provide."

To his surprise, the spirit smiled in response. "there are two things that every human being requires for contentment: to feel loved, and to feel safe. While you may not be able to provide that love..."

Blair looked into the spirit's eyes and completed the thought. "...we can help people to feel safe."

The spirit nodded. "As they understand what it means to have a Sentinel in the Great City, they will be as protective of him as he is of them. Until then, though, they must recover from the secrets."

The Guide looked questioningly to the spirit and asked, "so what can we do?"

As the vision before him blurred and faded away from his slowly waking mind, the spirit's last words echoed, "protect the tribe as you always have, for that is all you can do..."

*****

Blair had never been more grateful for having tinted windows in the truck. As they pulled into the police parking garage they had had to go through an active enclave of reporters and photographers trying to get a glimpse of the Sentinel and his Guide. Sensing Jim's apprehension about how those who knew him were going to react to the news reports yesterday, Blair had tried to reassure him, chatting away about the fleeting attentions of the press and reminding Jim that even the publicity about Peru faded away eventually.

Getting out of the truck, though, Blair realized that the press may be the least of their problems. All conversation in the garage abruptly ceased as people began to notice the truck and the two people getting out of it. The silence was tense and uncomfortable. As they headed toward the elevator people would step out of their way, not saying anything. When the elevator arrived, the few people who had been waiting for the elevator parted ways, allowing Jim and Blair to take the elevator, alone.

As the door closed, Jim let out the nervous breath he didn't know he was holding. He exclaimed, "boy Chief, that was something I wasn't expecting."

Thinking for a minute, Blair commented, "I guess it's like finding out that Superman really exists, and that he was right under your nose all along. On one side, you're impressed, amazed and a little intimidated, even awestruck; on the other side, you're a bit angry that even though you might have seen things over the years, the glasses had you fooled the whole time."

Jim thought about what Blair had said. It sounded to Jim like once again, his Guide had pinpointed exactly what was going on with the people around him. He just hated the comparison to Superman; it made him feel like some sort of freak. Shrugging, he agreed, "I guess so, chief. I guess so."

As they stepped out of the elevator, their treatment as they entered the Major Crimes bullpen wasn't much different from their treatment in the garage. Most conversations stopped abruptly; some people just stopped and rudely stared. By that point, Jim and Blair both wanted to get into Simon's office, get their assignment, and get out. Hopefully, their assignment would be a stakeout in the woods somewhere. For the next six months.

It was hard for Joel not to notice the way his friends were being treated as they walked into the office. [Looks like they need to know someone's on their side,] he thought. Cheerfully, he came up to the pair and greeted them, "hi guys! How was the camping trip?"

Jim and Blair looked up, confused and startled that someone had actually talked to them. Jim answered honestly, "the trip was great, Joel, thanks. Since we got back, though..."

As his voice trailed off, Joel realized that the treatment they had gotten from their fellow Major Crimes officers was the same treatment people had probably been giving them all morning. As he turned around and shot dagger looks at the people who were staring at them, the noise level in the bullpen increasingly returned to normal as people guiltily returned to whatever it was they were doing.

When the big man turned back to Jim and Blair, they were impressed and touched by Joel's show of friendship. Joel asked them, "has it been like this all morning for you guys?" As both men nodded, Joel tried to encourage them, "hang in there guys. It'll all blow over eventually."

Blair commented, "you know, Joel, I was actually surprised --"

Before Blair could finish the comment, Joel interrupted, "look, if this hadn't happened to Jim in the first place, you would never have ended up working with Major Crimes. And if you hadn't ended up working with Major Crimes, I probably wouldn't still have a job. So in a way, I owe both of you guys a lot. And something like this isn't going to change that."

[One thing about times like this,] thought Jim, [is that you really find out who your friends are.] Out loud he stated simply, "thanks, Joel."

"No problem at all, Jim. Besides," he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially to the two men, "after that whole Brackett thing, people started to realized that you two were 'different', they just didn't know how. For a while there was even a pool going. Once that 'report' aired, though, I forced the guys to contribute the money to the Athletic League since -no-one- was even close. A lot of these guys don't think much different of you than they did before--they're just sore they lost money on the deal." As he finally solicited a laugh out of his friends he offered, "anyway, if you guys need anything from me, just let me know."

Jim concluded their conversation by replying with a smile, "will do, chief. Will do. Oh, and just out of curiosity, what was most of the money on anyway?"

This time it was Joel's turn to smile. "The majority of the money was on the possibility that you two were the only official psychic partnership in the police force.

As Jim and Blair broke into laughter, Simon took that moment to get their attention. He asked Jim, "Ellison, can I see you in my office?"

They walked in the office and Simon shut the door. Concerned, he looked over to the men who were now truly the two most famous members of the Cascade Police Department and asked, "how're you holding up, guys?"

Jim replied, "let's just say we've had better days, sir."

Simon started, "well, I hate to do this to you, Jim, but I don't know if this is going to make your day better or worse. A string of murders in San Francisco have the police there convinced they had a serial killer on their hands. The number of cases abruptly stopped in San Francisco about three days ago. The next day, five cases showed up in Cascade."

Jim asked, "so they think the killer has moved his base of operations here?"

Simon nodded again. "The head of the San Francisco task force is now working with the Feds on this case, and she's asked that you two be included in the task force."

Cynically, Jim asked, "was this before or after that little television show yesterday?"

A familiar female voice replied behind him, "well to be honest, I had hoped we would have been able to keep this to just the Feds and the members of the existing task force, but it's not every day you can find someone who could track a chemical of as-yet unknown origins without a sophisticated chemical lab at his disposal."

As Jim turned around, he saw the visibly uncomfortable face of his ex-wife, who greeted him, "hello, Jim." Getting right down to business, she added, "you know, especially with everything going on right now, I wouldn't hold it against you if you declined coming on to this case."

Jim reassured her, "no, Carolyn--it sounds like you could really use our help."

Carolyn hesitated before she admitted, "well, we could use all the help we can get, and you two would be a valuable addition to the task force."

Smiling, Jim consented, "then we'll do it -- as long as you don't think the publicity will hurt your chances of solving your case."

Another familiar female voice commented, "actually, the extra publicity will probably be a good thing. Someone who commits crimes like this is begging for attention, so the distraction you will be to the media, Jim, could very likely draw him out into the open. instead of driving him into hiding. He'll become more brazen, trying even harder now that he has to defeat the 'Supercop with the hyperactive senses'. Having you work on this case with us might bring us our best chance of catching this creep."

The men and women in Simon's office turned to see Sharon standing in the doorway. Blair immediately smiled and relaxed, as did Jim. Blair exclaimed, "Share? You're working on this case?"

Sharon squeezed the young Guide's shoulder and commented, "as soon as I heard about the task force coming to Cascade this morning, I asked to be assigned to this case. I knew, especially after the dog-and-pony show yesterday that you would be asked to come on this case, and I figured it might help if there were someone on the task force who was already comfortable working with you two. That is, if it's okay with you, Simon?"

Simon matched Jim and Blair's relaxed smiles. "You know you're always welcome here, Share."

Confused, Carolyn looked around at the group of men with her in the room. "I take it you already know Agent Driver?"

Simon looked up at the woman who had once been an integral part of his team. Apparently, even with everything that was going on, Carolyn was still going to have a few things to get caught up on. "Believe it or not, Plummer, it's a long story."

Carolyn's thoughts wandered through all the new things she had learned about her ex-husband in the past two days. "I have a feeling that I'm going to be hearing a lot of long stories over the next couple of days."

Smiling, Blair agreed, "Lieutenant Plummer, I have that same feeling. Why don't we all start over lunch?"

Carolyn replied, "sounds good to me, as long as we're not going to Wonder Burger..."

*****

Lunch, all in attendance agreed, was becoming an interesting experience. Or, at least, that was one of the more tactful words used to describe the outing.

Sharon had picked a quiet, out-of-the-way place near police headquarters. Ironically, it was also the same restaurant where Jim and Carolyn had eaten during the Switchman case, when Jim was first trying to control his senses. To Jim, that was the first indication they should have picked another place immediately. Carolyn, on the other hand, had loved the place when she lived in Cascade, and missed their seafood dishes terribly. So, reluctantly, Jim went along with the group and went in.

The waiter who came up to take their orders -- the very same man who had waited on Jim and Carolyn that night -- locked eyes with the man who had been the prime subject of his nightmares for the past several years and immediately quit, stating something to the effect of "if this man is going to come in here regularly to harass me then maybe I'll go work somewhere else!" The outburst caught the attention of the other customers, many of whom recognized Jim immediately from the segment that had aired the night before.

The atmosphere in the restaurant switched immediately from casual and relaxed to tense and uncomfortable. Most people simply didn't know how to react. They wanted to talk about the 'sighting', as they normally would when a celebrity walks in to eat at the same place they were eating at, but they were uncomfortable with talking about a man who could hear them, from what they'd heard, as clearly as if they were standing right behind him.

By this point, even Carolyn was wondering if maybe getting Chinese take-out delivered back to Simon's office wouldn't have been a better idea. The group started to get up to leave, which attracted the attention of the manager. The gentleman darted his eyes around the floor of the restaurant and, recognizing Jim and Blair from the previous evening on the news, ascertained the situation immediately. He discretely made his way over to Jim and asked quietly, "is there anything I can do to help you, sir?"

Jim took one look at the distinguished older gentleman in front of him and understood immediately that he knew what their group was going through. Apparently, this was a man who was accustomed to dealing with those who were unaccustomed to dealing with the pitfalls of celebrity. He took the man aside and quietly asked, "all my friends and I wanted to do was have a quiet, enjoyable lunch. Is there any way that you could make that possible?"

The manager smiled reassuringly. "Say no more, sir." The gentleman then addressed the group, "if everyone would just follow me, please." He led them quickly through the main floor of the restaurant to a small dining area in the back. The group then gave the man some room as he seemed to punch some numbers into the molding on one of the back walls of the restaurant, then watched with some surprise as the previously seamlessly hidden door opened slightly.

Pushing the door inside, he stood to hold the door, and allowed his guests to enter the tastefully decorated room, furnished in the same type of decor that was evident throughout the restaurant, with the exception of a magnificent wall of windows that looked out over Cascade Harbor. Before Jim had the opportunity to ask the manager why such a private room would be on such public display, though, the manager explained, "in case you're wondering, sir, the windows are two-way mirrors made of bulletproof glass, contracted through the same company that built your police headquarters. This room is only used by those who, shall we say, find complete privacy becoming a rare commodity?"

As Jim nodded his head in understanding, the manager handed him a business card and continued for his ears only, "now then, there is a small button at the head of the table should you require my services again. It is directly connected to a beeper I carry with me at all times. For today, I shall tend to your needs personally, but should you wish to use this room again in the future, give us at least an hour's notice and a staff of six will be at your beck and call. Will this be adequate for your needs, sir?"

Jim gratefully acknowledged, "yes, this is perfect. Thank you."

The manager nodded his understanding and declared, "very good, sir. If there will be nothing else, then feel free to signal me when everyone is ready to order."

As he turned and prepared to leave, Sharon suddenly called out, "just a moment, sir," and walked over to the man. Discretely, she handed the man a hundred dollar bill and commented, "thank you so much for your help, Giles, I really appreciate it."

Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose under his wire-rimmed glasses and sighed lightly. Quietly, he replied, "Miss Driver, I fully understand your desire to give young Mr. Sandburg a taste of the negative side of celebrity, but next time you wish to give someone such an object lesson, -please- do it away from my restaurant. And next time you wish to use the royal room, -please- allow me the courtesy of having some time to prepare it in advance."

"I will," agreed Sharon, "I promise. Besides, I owe you one."

"Oh," groaned Giles, "not that awful phrase again..."

She giggled lightly as the older man discretely closed the door and she joined the rest of the team at the table.

*****

An hour later, the group was enjoying themselves so much that they decided to take advantage of the privacy and go over the details of the case while they were there. Luckily, Carolyn was prepared, and she quickly handed out dossiers of information to each person at the table. "All the victims, both in Cascade and in San Francisco, were single men between the ages of 35 and 50. All the men were very well off financially, but none of them were reputed to have had much of a social life. Most of them were actually considered to be workaholics, 'chained to the job', that sort of thing. From what little information we have been able to get on these men's relatives, they had almost none, at least anyone who they were still in contact with. Their wills stipulated that most of their assets were to be liquidated and donated to various charities."

Jim commented, "so no one stood to make a lot of money if these men died?"

Carolyn nodded, replying, "anyone who did didn't know about it until the wills were read."

Blair asked, "did these men have any sort of professional connections to each other?"

Carolyn shook her head. "No. Only a few of them even worked in similar industries. "

Sharon took a good look at each of the pictures of the victims. [They weren't close to their relatives,] she thought, [but that doesn't mean they didn't -have- any...]

Carolyn continued, "all of the men were killed by some sort of drug they ingested, but we couldn't identify the composition of it through what we pulled from our toxicology reports. The only thing we -do- know is that it's an organic substance."

The shrill ring of a cell phone pierced the thoughtful silence. Five people immediately reached for purses and pockets when Simon announced, "it's mine, guys," and answered his phone, "Banks."

It didn't take long for Simon to declare, "we'll be right there," and close the connection. By that point, it seemed almost redundant to tell the group, "we've got another one."

Because by that point, every member of the group was already getting ready to leave.

*****

Jim groaned as he pulled up to the house of the late software magnate Stephen Jacobsen and saw the huge enclave of reporters already camped out within five feet of the police barricades. The murder of a rich tycoon had attracted a few of them. A few more came because of the possible connection to a serial killer.

The rest, he feared, were there because they knew he was going to show up. Simon had arrived five minutes earlier, and had already made sure the barricades were set up in such a way that the reporters would be kept out while still allowing the two men to drive the truck up to the front of the house.

As they got out of the truck and were escorted through the front door, Simon met the Sentinel and his Guide and filled them in on the few details they didn't already know. "Jacobsen was found in his bedroom, face down next to the bed an hour ago. Apparently he had come home complaining of illness earlier in the day, and went to bed to rest. The butler found the body when he came in to check on him."

While they climbed the stairs leading to the crime scene, Blair asked, "and he had no prior history of severe illness? Any indication that suddenly dropping dead was a likely possibility?"

As they walked into the bedroom, Simon shook his head. "Nope. Until now, he was considered to be in top shape. The only reason we've been called in--" He didn't have to complete the thought. They were all aware of why they had been called in to investigate the sudden death of an otherwise healthy 36 year-old man.

Jim took a deep breath, and opened up his senses to see if he could pick up anything unusual. One advantage to people knowing about his abilities was that he no longer had to wait for the forensics team to leave before he could fully investigate the scene. This time, the forensics team knew exactly what he was doing, and gave him all the room he needed.

He didn't need much room, however. The minute he focused on his sense of smell he was assaulted by an unusual, and at the same time strangely familiar scent. Motioning for Blair to follow him, he made his way over to the body of Mr. Jacobsen, which seemed to be the source of the unusual smell. As he bent down to try to jog his memory further he asked his Guide, "smell that, chief?"

Blair knew that whatever Jim was asking about was not a normal smell he would find at one of these crime scenes, and that if he was asking the young anthropologist if he smelled it, whatever it was must be overpowering to the older man. He tried not to focus on the smells that he was still having a hard time getting used to even after several years of having to visit these types of scenes. After a few seconds, he was able to pick out the faint smell in the background of the more pungent odors that were floating through the air. [What the--?] If that smell was what he thought it was, things just got a lot more complicated.

He looked to the older man for confirmation of what was going through his mind, and his partner quickly nodded, almost as if he had indeed read Blair's mind. Out loud, Jim validated what both men were thinking. "It's yage, isn't it, chief?"

Blair replied, "I think so, Jim," causing his partner to curse in frustration. That got Sharon's attention as she stood nearby, trying to take in the details of the crime scene. Turning she asked, "what did you guys find?"

Jim explained, "you know that drug Carolyn said they couldn't identify? We may have just figured out what it is."

Sharon knelt down over the body, next to the two men. Looking Jim in the eye, she encouraged him to continue, "go on--?"

Blair continued the explanation, "the drug that was used is called yage, made from the ayuhuasca vine. It's pretty obscure; your normal toxicologist wouldn't have picked it out unless he really knew what he was looking for."

Raising an eyebrow, Sharon asked, "so how do -you- know about it?"

Blair explained, "the drug is a powerful hallucinogen. It's been used for centuries in Peruvian Shamanistic rituals to try and access the 'spirit plane'."

[Peru? Shamanistic rituals?] Sharon shook her head in amazement. If it wasn't for the fact that this case might tie into the cases that SFPD had been investigating for months, she would have sworn that the use of this drug was a way to send a message to Blair and Jim. "So why would someone be using an ancient Peruvian hallucinogen to kill rich American single professional men?"

Jim stood up and shrugged. "Beats me, chief. Beats me."

*****

Once Jim and Blair had informed Simon of their discovery, the group agreed to meet back at the station in half an hour so that Jim and Blair could accompany the body of Mr. Jacobsen to the morgue and check to see if the other three victims still in the morgue had ingested the same drug, then review their findings before the meeting of the task force convened at five o'clock.

While Jim and Blair headed off to the morgue, Simon drove Carolyn back to police headquarters. The forensic specialist had a lot of questions for her friend and former captain, and she figured now was as good a time as any to start asking. She turned to Simon and questioned, "so how long have you known?"

Simon let out a deep sigh. He -knew- this was coming. "He told me right after we apprehended Kincaid. I think he tried to tell me during the Switchman case, but I didn't really understand what he was talking about."

Carolyn commented, "this was when he was thinking of leaving the force?" Simon nodded.

Carolyn leaned her head back against the head rest and closed her eyes. As the time, she hadn't thought much of it -- the scene in the restaurant was just another fight to her; one of many they had over the years. Looking back, though, she felt guilty. He had been going through something akin to five levels of hell and all she could do was complain about how unopen he was being and how he was overreacting about 'losing it'. And to make matters worse she questioned every move he made when it came to his abilities or his partner. In retrospect, she wished she had been more supportive, or at least tried to be understanding.

Simon took one look at his old friend and knew exactly what she was thinking. In truth, he had thought many of the same things over the years. He reassured Carolyn, "hey Plummer, don't beat yourself up over this. He was going through something no one else in Cascade has ever experienced -- there was no way we could have understood. I still don't understand it sometimes. Hell, most of the time I think the only person who can truly understand Jim is Sandburg."

Bringing up the younger man sparked another curious thought in Carolyn's mind. "Yeah, and what's going on between the two of them anyway? I've never seen Jim act around anyone the way he acts when that kid's around."

Simon smiled. [Kid?] It had been quite a while since he thought of now-Professor Sandburg as a kid. Had Blair's influence really changed Jim that much? "Sometimes I find it hard to believe myself. It's like having Blair around opened up a whole other side of Jim that he had been too scared to let anyone see before. And it's not just when Sandburg's around, either. He's not the same man you married, Carolyn."

Carolyn turned her head away from her friend to look out the window. Whispering she agreed, "you're definitely right about that, Simon. You're definitely right about that."

*****

It hadn't taken long for Jim to confirm the connection between the three previous deaths and Jacobsen, and they wasted no time in getting over to Simon's office to let Simon and Carolyn know the news. Sitting in the captain's office Jim declared with confidence, "it'll take a couple of days for Forensics to confirm it, but I'm almost positive that these men were poisoned by yage."

Jim expected Simon or Carolyn to question how he could possibly make such a connection so quickly. Instead, both simply nodded. Surprised, Jim realized that the public revelation of his senses had some definite perks. One of them being that people no longer questioned anything he saw, heard, or in this case, smelled. Even though he was sure his ex-wife would double-check the toxicology reports later, it was gratifying to see her forced to agree with him just this once.

Simon, for his part, had no doubt that the two men standing before him were right about the victims' cause of death. Even without the added plus of Jim's heightened senses, they were two of the best experts on Peruvian culture in the entire city. If they said it was this 'yage' stuff, it was yage. [Step one complete,] he thought. Out loud he questioned the group, "okay, so we now have victims - and- a cause of death. The question now is, how did they get this stuff and why?"

All eyes turned to Sharon, their local expert on those questions. Gathering her notes she filled them in on what she had come up with so far. "From what I can tell, we could be working with one of three possible scenarios." As Simon nodded for her to continue she explained, "one, these men were all seeing the same woman, and they introduced the yage into each man's system...something along the lines of a black widow killer."

She paused to allow for members of the group to raise thoughts or objections, and, true to form, Blair obliged. "Possible, but if that's the case, she's not getting the stuff directly from Peru. Shamans are almost never female, so if she's Peruvian, the information would not have been able to get passed down to her, and if she's not Peruvian, she's not getting the yage from traditional sources."

Carolyn retorted, "still, I'll get someone to run a background check on the victims, see if they have any acquaintances in common."

Sharon chimed in, "Make sure whoever runs the check factors in the possibility that our girl, in this case, might be using several different aliases, changing her name each time with each man. Okay, that leads us to number two: all of these men have some sort of knowledge of Peruvian culture that we don't know about, and they each tried yage for their own reasons."

This time it was Carolyn who raised the first disagreement. "I don't think that's likely. We went into the backgrounds of each man pretty thoroughly back in San Francisco, and only a couple of them had even business-related ties to South America. Wouldn't the thread be consistent between all of the men if they were each doing this on their own?"

Sharon agreed, "true. Plus, too many men have died of this to consider any ties between their deaths to be pure coincidence. Which brings us to option number three: yage is being marketed as some new designer drug that's gotten all these guys hooked, and they OD'd on their own."

All heads in the room nodded, accepting this as highly possible. Jim offered, "that sounds reasonable. I'll talk to my contacts down in narcotics and see if they've heard of anything new making the rounds." Simon agreed, and concluded, "all right everyone, for now, I think we should work under the assumption that our method could fall under any one of these three scenarios." He looked at his watch and realized that the task force meeting was set to convene at the FBI headquarters in less than twenty minutes. "I suggest that we take these ideas with us to the meeting."

The shrill ring of a cell phone pierced the commotion of five people trying to get their things together to leave the captain's office. As Jim, Simon and Carolyn started to rummage around for their phones Sharon stopped them, recognizing immediately that she was the one getting the call. The young agent flipped open her phone and answered, "Sharon Driver."

A familiar voice immediately came on the other end of the line. "G'day Share! You know those names you asked me to run a check on -- to see if I could find a connection?"

"Yeah, Jay. Did you get something?"

Sharon could practically hear her friend smirking over the phone as he answered, "did I get something? She's asking -me- if I got something?..."

Sharon interrupted his little sarcastic tirade, sighing loudly. "How in the world did you ever find a wife to put up with you? Spit it out, man. What did you find?"

"Well," replied Jay, "it seems your latest victim did have a connection to Peru after all. I hacked into the computer at his home -- no easy task, mind you -- and I found out that Jack wasn't all work and no play. Apparently the man dabbled in a little witchcraft on the side."

Sharon shook her head a little in surprise. She couldn't be hearing him right. "Did you say witchcraft?"

"You betcha. Shamanism, to be exact. He had volumes of stuff on the subject in his hard drive. Apparently he thought that if he were to reach some sort of 'serpent spirit', it would reward him with great power and wisdom. Guess it didn't work."

"Apparently," repeated Sharon.

"But wait," said Jay, "there's more. Apparently our friend Mr. Jacobsen was the listmom for a Shamanism mailing list."

[JACKPOT!] thought Sharon. "Does he have a record of who the other people on the list are?"

"Yep. A lot of them subscribe through mail aliases and anonymous re-mailers, though, so it's going to take me a while to track down everybody."

"How long?"

"A week, Scotty time."

"Great. The sooner, the better, though, Jay -- that list's the best lead I've got right now."

"Hey, have I ever let you down before? Never mind, don't answer that. I'll get right on it, and call you when I'm done."

"Thanks, Jay. You're the best." As she closed the connection on the cell phone, she announced to the anxiously waiting group, "one of my contacts has found us something that might help us figure out what's going on here."

Share looked over to Jim, tilting her head slightly in a questioning nod, to see if he had overheard her phone conversation. As he shook his head, she escorted the group out the door, declaring, "I'll explain everything at the meeting, so I don't have to do it twice. Let's go."

*****

The Cascade field offices of the FBI were located just past the south entrance to the Rainier University campus, in a classy, wooded section of town. The area alone set people at ease, which was comforting as the group got out of their cars and walked toward the brownstone where the office was located. Blair, who had never seen the offices before, looked around in surprise. "This doesn't look like a normal place to find a bunch of Feds."

"True, most of our other offices aren't in quite as nice a neighborhood," replied Sharon. "This office, though, was opened in the sixties, at the height of the student protests. The Bureau figured it would be more convenient to move in here than it would be to find a place more suited to the FBI's 'image'."

"Wow," mused Blair, "that even makes sense. Surprising to find someone in the government actually using his head..."

Noticing Sharon's expression of mock insult, Blair tried to 'redeem' himself. "Present company excluded, of course."

Sharon smiled briefly in return. Blair was officially out of the doghouse.

As Jim followed the rest of the group into the brownstone, he picked up on the conversation the other agents on the task force were having. He started to turn down his hearing just enough that he could only hear the casual conversation his friends were having, until he realized that the agents were discussing -him-. His curiosity getting the better of him, he focused just hard enough on the meeting room to hear the agents without zoning out...

"Hey Mitchell, did you see that thing on TV about Ellison the other night?" "Yeah, Baker, I did. It's like he was psychic or something. Man, I always -knew- there was something weird about that guy!" "What, that he could actually solve cases?" "Hey! Anyway, no -- it's more like we sit on our butts waiting for a break while he always went out and found them. Now we know -how- he found them. I just wish I had it that easy." "Can't be -that- easy, though. I mean, look at the partner he has to put up with." "Yeah. They called him a 'guide' or something?..." "Uh huh. Sounds almost like some sort of Seeing Eye dog thing to me..."

His jaw clenched, his mind curious, he asked Carolyn, "did you let the other agents on the task force know that you asked for our help yet?"

Carolyn shook her head. "No, actually I got in late last night and went to talk to you guys first thing this morning. I've only spoken to the other members of the task force over the phone from San Francisco. Why do you ask?"

"...Well, at the rate that his 'guide' leads him to trouble, Ellison is going to be 'cop of the year' for the next twenty years..."

[Now -this- is going to be interesting.] Jim smiled enigmatically as he replied, "no reason."

Carolyn looked her ex-husband straight in the eye. She whispered, "Don't give me that, Ellison -- I know that look. You heard something in the meeting room, right?"

Jim's smile simply became more enigmatic, and he winked, whispering in reply. "Nothing you should concern yourself about, dear."

Carolyn rolled her eyes. [God, I hate it when he does this!]

As Sharon opened the door to the meeting room, Carolyn quickly following her in, the young agent, who had missed Jim's earlier discussion, began to greet the task force members. "Good evening gentlemen! Welcome to Cascade. The name's Sharon Driver. I take it you already know Lieutenant Plummer?" As the four other agents in the room nodded, recognizing the name as their 'liaison' from the SFPD, Sharon realized that Jim had stopped for a second at the door.

Wondering what he was up to, he motioned to Jim, "well, don't just stand there blocking the door. Come in so we can get started!" She then announced to the agents, "I hope you don't mind, gentlemen, but the Lieutenant and I thought it might be a good idea if we got some help from the local PD on this one."

[Showtime,] thought Jim. Out loud he greeted the men, "glad to be of service, gentlemen. Now, which one of you is that agent Mitchell I've heard so much about?"

As Sharon watched the faces of the four agents (especially Agent Mitchell) pale in shock the minute they laid eyes on Jim and Blair, she warned them, questioning, "is this going to be a problem, gentlemen?"

The agents coughed and shrugged, trying to avert their eyes from the man who had heard their entire conversation. "No ma'am. No problem at all."

"Good. Now, I believe your ASAC in San Francisco informed you that I'll be leading this investigation while you're here in Cascade?"

Blair's eyes widened as the four agents nodded their confirmation. -That- was something he had not been expecting.

Sharon, however, simply took Blair's reaction in stride and continued on. "Very well, then." As she handed each man a copy of the Jacobsen file that she had sent to Jay earlier that afternoon, she explained, "I don't know how many of you may have heard about this, but we found out a few hours ago about another victim. I'll give you time to read over the files later, but right now I have reason to believe that we are dealing with a cult that practices some form of Shamanism, and that one or more of their members may be responsible for the murders."

Everyone but Blair stared at the young profiler in surprise. Carolyn exclaimed, "that seems to be quite a reach, Agent Driver."

"Carolyn, please, call me Sharon. And yes, it might be a stretch, but not much of one." She began to explain to the group, "we're still waiting on the final lab reports, but our preliminary investigation has determined that our latest victim, Stephen Jacobsen, was poisoned by a drug known as yage--a powerful and sometimes fatal hallucinogen that Mr. Sandburg has informed me can be used in Peruvian Shamanistic rituals. One of my sources has also indicated that Mr. Jacobson had a truck load of information on Shamanism in the hard drive of his computer, including information that indicates he may have been on some sort of mailing list. I suspect that if we go further back into the lives of each of the victims, we will find a similar connection. It will be well-hidden, but it's definitely there."

*****

He felt leather straps around his elbows, neck and ankles, which told him he was strapped to a table. He could feel his feet, but his hands somehow felt numb. [Why can't I see?] The only sensory input he could get was from his ears, and what he was hearing scared him to death:

A female voice called from a distance, "...fascinating. Doctor, could you come here for a minute? I think you'll find this interesting."

Footsteps, then a male voice near the female one. "What is it?"

The female voice replied, "I finished the dissection of the subject's tongue. Apparently he has five times the normal amount of taste buds in the same amount of space, all of which secrete a small amount of fluid to stimulate them to hyperactivity..."

He opened and closed his mouth a few times, and the overflowing amount of air told him yes, they had cut out his tongue. [Is that why I can't see? Have they taken my eyes too?] He didn't want to test the theory, but he knew that they had. Where was his Guide? [Blair...]

Another male voice rushed into the room, bringing cold air and breathless excitement. "Doctor, you've got to see this! They've finished dissecting the Guide's brain..."

[Blair! Oh, God no...] He thrashed against the restraints, desperately trying to get up and avenge whoever it was that had murdered his partner and done this to him. As he heard the voices of his three torturers coming nearer, he realized that his hands weren't numb.

They were gone.

"NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Jim winced at the sound of his own voice to his hypersensitive ears as he woke up from the nightmare screaming.

Blair was at his side in a heartbeat. Jim could tell by the shortness of his partner's breath and the racing of his heart that Jim had scared him to death. It didn't matter, though, because the cold voices of his nightmare were still echoing through his head. He curled up into a ball and started sobbing. "Don't let them hurt him, please, don't let them hurt him..."

Blair had never seen his Sentinel like this. The normally strong, levelheaded man had been turned into a terrified child. [Must've been some dream...] He reacted instinctively once he heard Jim's muffled sobbing, and he wrapped his arms around the larger man, whispering in a soothing voice, "it's okay, Jim. It was only a dream..."

As Blair repeated the phrases like a mantra, trying with all his might to comfort the younger man, Jim grabbed onto the voice like a lifeline, hoping against hope that he could zone on the voice and hopefully fall into a dreamless sleep.

Jim's cavalier attitude the night before came back to haunt Blair. As he felt Jim tense into a zone-out, he wondered what horrific terrors his best friend had envisioned. And what it meant for their future.

Blair sighed as he untangled himself from Jim and tried to get the older man back under his covers. [At least one of us is going to sleep tonight...]

*****

Jim woke to the wonderfully overpowering smells of bacon, eggs and fresh cinnamon rolls coming up to his bed from the kitchen downstairs. He muttered to himself, "well, at least the day is starting good," then winced at the sound of his voice. He was exhausted -- it felt like he had gotten no sleep at all. And the pounding in his head was doing little to help his mood. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and noticed for the first time the tracks of dried tears running down his face. [What happened last night?] He barely drank more than one beer at a stretch since the re-emergence of his heightened senses, so he knew he hadn't been drinking. But if this wasn't a hangover, what was it?

He pulled on a bathrobe, feeling every movement of his sore muscles. Something -had- to have happened last night. So why couldn't he remember? He heard Blair say good morning to him, and muttered something back, but he was deep in his own thoughts...

Watching his hands turn on the shower suddenly brought everything back with unnerving clarity. It wasn't an exact premonition, but he knew that last night's nightmare was a messenger of trouble. He stood under the stream of hot water, letting it run over his tense neck and shoulders as he thought over the dream. Unlike most dreams, he remembered this one vividly. Mostly because of it's disturbing lack of information. But what did it mean?

He turned off the shower and started to dry himself off when he heard a knock on the outside door. [At this hour?] He relaxed and finished pulling on his bathrobe when he heard a quick kiss and Sharon's enthusiastic greeting for his roommate. He vaguely remembered latching on to Blair's voice during the night, soothing him after he woke up screaming. His Guide must've invited Sharon over for breakfast to help them figure out whatever it was that was going on with him. [I guess dating a shrink has some definite advantages...]

As he walked out of the bathroom he noticed Sharon and Blair at the kitchen table, sharing cinnamon rolls and talking casually. She turned toward his direction and greeted him, "Hi Jim! How are you doing?"

Jim replied, "I feel like I got run over by a truck. But actually, I'm glad you came over. Let me get dressed and we'll talk, okay?"

"Okay." She went back to her cinnamon roll, leaving Jim to go upstairs and finish getting ready for work.

*****

As Jim came down stairs, Blair poured him a cup of coffee and retrieved a warm plate of food from the oven. Encouraged by his friend's thoughtfulness, he commented, "this looks great. Thanks, chief."

Sitting down to the table, Jim joked, "so, Share, do you want me to tell you what's bothering me now, or should we wait until I can get comfortable on the couch?"

A small smile crept across Sharon's face. "Is it that obvious what I'm here for?"

"No," replied Jim casually, "but considering what happened last night, it was only logical that Blair would either try to prod it out of me himself or call you over to help."

Remembering the events of the night before, Blair's face tensed in an expression of concern. "What did happen, Jim?"

Taking a deep breath, Jim began to explain the details of his dream. "I don't remember much, mostly because I wasn't able to do anything but hear..." He then went on to describe the dream exactly as he had remembered it from the night before. "I woke up terrified, not so much for myself, but for Blair. I knew they had killed him, and that there was nothing I could do to stop it."

Sharon set her coffee cup down and closed her eyes for a brief minute. Looking up she directed her questions not to Jim, but to his Guide. "Blair, could I see you in your room for a minute, please?"

Confused, Blair got up and started to walk to his room. Before following Blair into his room, Sharon turned to Jim and asked, "Jim, I need to speak to Blair in private for a moment. Do you mind--?"

Understanding the implied request, Jim simply nodded.

Sharon then followed Blair to his room, shut the door and turned on the white- noise generator.

Now more confused than ever, Blair started to ask, "Share, honey, what's going on?"

Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Sharon expressed her concerns. "Blair, I didn't want to ask you this in front of Jim, because I know how protective he is of you, but can you get someone else to take care of your classes for a while?"

Blair nodded. "Sure. Why?"

Sharon replied, "Jim's dream in itself was pretty straightforward. However, when he was finished explaining it I got a very strong feeling that if either of you separate from the other for more than a couple of minutes, both of you will die."

Blair thought for a minute about Sharon's 'feeling'. He knew that Sharon would never admit to it, but he had seen things in her that made him suspect that her 'instincts' and 'intuition' were more than likely evidence of a heightened sixth sense. So if she felt strongly enough about this to talk to him about it... As he gently held her hand, stroking the back of it with his thumb, he told her, "all right, I'll tell George to cancel today's classes and find someone to cover for me for a week."

Sharon looked into his eyes and smiled her encouragement. Letting out a sigh of relief she exclaimed, "thank you," and pulled Blair into a hug. She hated to rely on her 'intuition', preferring to combine her impressions with hard evidence and psychological concepts to get her point across. However, when it came to the two most unique (and stubborn) men she knew, she didn't want to take any chances. They were a 'package deal', so to speak: lose one of them, you lose them both. It was a fact she accepted about a week after she met them.

She pulled away from Blair's embrace, allowed herself a quick kiss, and then grabbed his hand to lead him out of the room, turning off the white-noise generator on the way out. They came back to the table to find Jim patiently waiting, but utterly confused. She hated going around Jim like that, but when it came to Blair, Jim was far too emotionally involved-more so than even she was. Either he would watch Blair like a hawk every second, driving all of them nuts, or he would try to push Blair into some sort of safe house somewhere, inadvertently putting all of them at risk. And she couldn't let that happen.

As Sharon poured herself a second cup of coffee, Jim asked her, "all right, -now- do you want to tell me what's going on?"

Sharon took a sip of her coffee, then explained, "well, the dream itself it pretty straightforward. Considering everything that's been going on lately, I don't think it's a 'vision' in the strictest sense of the word, but it does have a lot to do with everything that's been going on lately. The idea of being tied to the table represents a feeling of powerlessness, which probably stems back to the way that your 'abilities' were leaked to the media. Listening to the scientists 'dissect' parts of your body represents the scrutiny you feel because -everyone- knows about your senses. While they may not be arguing whether or not you're right, they're still trying to figure out how you do it. And hearing about Blair's murder, particularly in such 'clinical' terms, represents the final loss of control. So overall, it seems like all the reactions to being 'under the microscope' are playing themselves out in your dreams."

Jim then asked, "so why did I wake up screaming?"

[Because you're still scared that Blair will go off on some book tour or something and leave you,] Sharon thought. She knew she couldn't say that, though. So she -did- say, "I think you know the answer to that one."

Jim ran a hand through his hair and sighed. Sharon was right -- losing Blair would mean a loss of control, and losing control, for a Sentinel, would be followed very quickly by losing his sanity. "So what should I do about it?"

"For now, just focus on the case. I don't think you'll need to do much more than that."

[Liar.] Jim could barely tell when Sharon was lying, but he could still tell. She wouldn't lead him down an unsafe path, though. Of that much he was sure.

Looking at his watch, though, he realized that they were going to be late for their meeting with Diane if he pushed any further. So, finishing the last of his breakfast, he got up from the table and declared, "well in that case, shouldn't we be going?"

*****

In contrast to the day before, the FBI office was alive with activity as Jim, Sharon and the rest of the Cascade crew made their way to the conference room for their meeting. Jim had deliberately turned his hearing down as he entered the building, both to make sure he wasn't bothered by the noise level and so he didn't eavesdrop on any more 'conversations' about him and his partner that involved the rest of their team members.

He needn't have worried, though, as he noticed that none of the agents were speaking as he entered the room. Jim smiled as he greeted Carolyn, "good morning."

"Good morning Jim, how was your evening?"

Involuntarily, Jim grimaced as pieces of the nightmare flashed back into his mind. Carolyn picked up on it immediately, "that bad, huh?"

Jim replied, "believe me, Carolyn, you don't want to know."

At that point, Sharon, who had been on her cell phone with Jay since she got out of the truck, finally completed the call with, "thanks a million, Jay. This is going to be a big help."

Quickly putting the phone back in her purse, Sharon called the meeting to order. "All right, ladies and gentlemen, I've just received some interesting news. It seems that the only one of our victims to actually come from the infamous mailing list has been our Mr. Jacobsen. However, it seems that the vast majority of our victims are related to at least one person on the list."

Simon commented, surprised, "really? I thought the victims had no living relatives."

Sharon added, "but that isn't even the kicker. The kicker is that over half of the members of the list live in Cascade."

The excitement in the room became a palpable force in itself. Finally, they had a tangible lead. Agent Mitchell asked Sharon, "how soon can we see a copy of this list, Agent Driver?"

"Soon. My informant is faxing over a copy, with explicit instructions that whoever picks up the fax is to make enough copies for all of us and get them here immediately. Which reminds me..." Sharon got up and went to the door of the conference room. Calling out to one of the assistants, she ordered her to wait by the fax machine and follow Jay's instructions.

The assistant replied, "oh, you mean this list, Agent Driver?" and handed her the copies of Jay's fax, already stapled.

Sharon smiled, and told the assistant, "Laura, you deserve a raise."

Laura smiled in return, stating, "I know. Just catch these guys, okay?"

Sharon thanked Laura again, then closed the door and distributed the copies to the group. Counting up the number of people on the list, she announced, "all right, there are forty people on the list from Cascade, which means that we can follow up on four people a piece, eight people a team." Turning to Blair, who was sitting next to her, she continued, "all right, Blair, you take the first four, and each person down the line will take the next four in succession. I'll take the last four on the list. Are we clear on this everyone?" All heads in the room nodded. Sharon concluded the meeting, "very well, then, I'll give everyone a couple of minutes to make sure they've got the right people, then let's get going."

*****

The tunnels were dark and damp, but they served their purposes well. The young man walked quickly and with purpose, knowing that he could not return to his place above -- not while -he- was pursuing them. The others needed to be warned, so they could prepare.

Finally he was greeted by a dark wooden door. He knocked three times, and was greeted with, "what's the word?"

He replied, "the light will be swallowed by the darkness."

The door opened, and the man on the other side ushered in the new arrival. "Welcome brother! Were you followed?"

"Not that I could sense," the young man replied.

"Did you follow our instructions?"

Smiling, the young man stated proudly, "take only what you need to survive. The spirits will provide the rest."

"Excellent!" replied the other man, wrapping his arm protectively around the younger man's shoulder.

The young man then warned the other, "I also bring news from above. A Sentinel is working with the police. They are coming after us."

The other man laughed, "and you seem so certain they will win!"

Confused, the young man asked, "but I thought that Sentinels were the most powerful warriors of old?"

"That is true," replied the other man, "but they also have a great weakness, in that part of themselves has been completely entrusted to their guides. Remove the guide, and the Sentinel is reduced to a babbling madman...."

*****

Sharon slammed down the phone, frustrated. She had been sitting at the makeshift 'command table' in Diane's office for most of the morning, trying to get a hold of her four people. All of them seemed to have been called out of the country on 'urgent business matters'. No, they didn't know when they were coming back, and yes, they all forgot to leave a number where they could be contacted. However, I'm sure that if you call back in a couple of days I'll have a number by then..."Right. And I'm the director of the FBI."

Working at the computer on her desk, Diane replied, "you wouldn't want the job."

"Really Diane? And why is that, exactly?"

Diane pointed to her paper-covered desk. "He has more paperwork than I do."

At this, both women started laughing as Jim and Blair walked in to the office. Wondering what was so funny, he greeted the women, "hi Share. Do I have something hanging from my nose or something?"

Calming down, Sharon replied, "oh, hi Blair. No, Diane and I were just letting off some steam."

Jim asked her, "frustrated?"

"Completely. My four people have been called out of the country on 'urgent business matters'."

Blair and Jim looked at each other, then at Sharon. Blair commented, "funny, so have ours."

"No contact number?" Both men nodded.

"No idea when they're coming back?" Both men nodded again.

Sharon his the table in frustration, and Blair moved the phone out of Sharon's reach, afraid she might throw it and break a window. Instead, Sharon exclaimed, "I should have known this would happen! Anyone want to take bets that the other forty people on the list won't be around to answer our questions either?"

No one in the room dared to say anything, instead they waited for Sharon to continue. "When I thought this was a single serial killer, I thought the publicity surrounding you two would have spurred the guy to do something stupid. But once we placed the yage angle, I almost thought the killer or killers were trying to send a message to you two. I completely forgot all the -important- parts of Sentinel folklore."

Blair finally caught on. "They've gone underground?"

Sharon nodded. "And I can practically guarantee that you, Jim, are their next target."

*****

The conference room that evening crackled with tension, as each frustrated team member turned inward, mad at themselves that each of the people on their lists had disappeared. All eyes glared at Jim, somehow trying to blame him for their own failure to find any new information. Which had little effect on Jim because he was already blaming himself. If it wasn't for that lovely report about him that had aired almost a week earlier they might have a lead now. Instead, they were all sitting around, looking at each other, wondering what to do next.

Sharon walked in and noticed the tension in the room. It got on her last nerve, and she let the men in the room know it. "People, I will not have -anyone- here blaming each other or themselves. I take it none of you were able to track down the people on the list?" Everyone at the table shook their heads. "Well then, that just proves my theory."

Jim and Blair nodded, while everyone else at the table simply looked confused. Agent Mitchell asked Sharon, "and what theory is that?"

"Somehow they found out that Detective Ellison had been pulled into this investigation and that sent the group underground."

While the FBI agents tried to level glaring looks at Jim again, Simon realized the other implication of that statement. "They have a mole in -my- police department?"

Sharon nodded. "Most likely someone who doesn't like Jim all that much."

Simon started writing notes to himself. "I'll get right on it."

"Good idea," commented Sharon. "Now, while we know where this group is now, we don't know why they chose their victims. Any ideas?"

Agent Mitchell suggested, "they're a cult persecuting those who were trying to pull their relatives away from the group."

Sharon replied, "good, but that doesn't explain our Mr. Jacobsen."

Agent Baker suggested, "maybe he knew something they were planning and threatened to spill it."

While Jim mouthed, "spill it?" to Blair, Sharon replied, "it's possible, but we would have found something bout it in his computer, wouldn't we?"

Carolyn chimed in, "still, I think those are our best bets. Can your friend get back into Jacobsen's computer and see if this group was planning something?"

Sharon agreed, "I'll call him and see what he can find. Until then, does anyone have any other suggestions?" No one spoke up, so Sharon concluded the meeting, "very well, meeting adjourned."

*****

Dinner that night went far better than lunch had been the day before. Afterwards, Jim, Carolyn, Blair, Sharon, Simon and Diane went out for drinks to a club owned by a couple of Sharon's friends. As Sharon's friends led the group to a large booth toward the back, Jim laughed, "boy, does -this- place bring back memories."

Sharon looked around, and realized what Jim meant. "You know you're right! I had almost forgotten about that night with everything else going on."

At Carolyn's confused look, Jim explained, "a couple of months ago I had to go undercover at Cascade of Stars. Diane hired Sharon as my vocal coach, and she had me sing here at an open mike night."

Carolyn was surprised. Jim's voice was one of the things she always found to be so attractive about him, especially the few times he sang to her, but... "I thought you were deathly afraid to sing in public?"

Jim smiled, "between Blair and Sharon, they helped me to find ways around it."

As they reached the table, their host chimed in, "and Mr. Ellison is welcome to sing for us again any time!" Nudging Jim in the ribs he added, "and how about tonight - sing a song for your lady friend, eh?"

Blushing, Jim waved the other man off, "nah, not tonight."

Shrugging, their host replied, "eh, maybe we'll convince him yet." He left the group, declaring, "I'll be back with your drinks. Maybe we can convince Miss Driver to sing tonight..."

Hearing his last comment, Sharon warned Jim, laughing, "be careful, Jim, the man does not give up easy."

Jim replied, "well, don't worry, tonight I can be as stubborn as he is."

Blair gave his friend a curious look, which Jim warned off with a look equally stern. Blair, in turn, made a mental note to drag it out of Jim later.

*****

With everyone at the table agreeing that the case was strictly off-limits as a topic of conversation, that still left the five law enforcement professionals (and one enthusiastic anthropologist) with more than enough topics to make for a lively and interesting discussion.

Carolyn, for her part, was amazed at how many things in Jim's life had changed since she had left for San Francisco. While she was still so thoroughly engrossed in her work that it left her little time for anything else, Jim had found a group of friends who would gladly bend over backwards for him. Even Blair, who she had first thought was simply an intruding bore who'd seen too many cop shows, had turned out to be a fantastic conversationalist who could charm the pants off of any woman in the room - that is, if he had had eyes for anyone else but Sharon. And he had clearly proven himself to be a valuable asset to the team, not just someone who was around to help Jim control his hyper-senses.

Again she felt guilty at how she had doubted the young man when they first met. Tonight, though, she could do something about it. Noticing the couples on the dance floor, she announced to the group, "I feel like doing some dancing. Blair, would you care to join me?"

Four heads at the table looked up in surprise, including Blair's. Sharon was about to say something when she caught Simon's look out of the corner of her eye. He was trying to convince Jim and Sharon to let them go, so with a nod to Simon, she commented to Blair, "why don't you go on, honey? I think I'm going to go talk to Chris at the bar. Maybe they can talk me into singing after all..."

Still confused, Blair replied, "okay Share. Shall we, Carolyn?"

Smiling, Carolyn followed Blair out onto the dance floor. As Blair took the older woman in his arms, she began, "Blair, I figured this would be as good a time as any for us to talk."

[Uh oh,] thought Blair, [here it comes. I knew her good mood was too good to last.] He asked Carolyn, "what about?"

****

Meanwhile, over at the table, Jim distracted himself by eavesdropping on the conversation his Guide was having with his ex-wife. For their part, Sharon and Diane both seemed equally confused by the now matching smiles on Simon and Jim's faces. Diane asked her old friend, "all right, Simon, now are you going to tell me -exactly- what that's about?"

Shrugging, Simon simply smiled, and took another sip of his beer. "Bridge- building."

Not having the foggiest clue what that meant, they both mouthed a silent "oh", and went back to their conversation.

*****

When Carolyn replied, "Blair, I want to apologize," Blair's had to fight to keep the shock off of his face.

Instead, he simply asked her, "really? What for?"

"Well," she replied, "I wasn't all that easy for you to work with when we were working together before..."

[You can say that again,] thought Blair.

She continued, "but I can see how good a friend you are to Jim. He's never let anyone close to him like that before-not even me. I guess I really misjudged you, and I want to see us start things over again, this time on the right foot. Am I making any sense?"

Blair pretended to think it over, then, as the music ended, smiled warmly. "Carolyn, you're making perfect sense. Consider all forgiven and forgotten."

*****

The music Blair and Carolyn were dancing to ended, and "For the First Time" started to play over the club's speaker system as the band took their break. That song has been playing over the radio incessantly a couple of years earlier, and Jim simply filed it away as one of those annoying songs that you can't get out of your head once you hear it. As he recalled the words to the song, though, it almost seemed fitting to be hearing it now.

He excused himself from the table, trying to make eye contact with Sharon and convince her wordlessly to follow his lead. As always, it wasn't difficult. As the pair intercepted Blair and Carolyn, who were making their way back to the table, Jim called out to his ex-wife, "now you wouldn't be thinking about dancing with my best friend without saving one for me, now would you?"

Happily surprised, Carolyn replied, "I guess not," and let her ex-husband embrace her in his strong arms for another dance. Noticing that Sharon had (conveniently) followed Jim onto the floor, Blair decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Are those your eyes? Is that your smile? I've been looking at you forever, but I never saw you before. Are these your hands holding mine? Now I wonder how I could have been so blind.

For the first time I am looking in your eyes For the first time I've seen who you are Can't believe how much I see When you're looking back at me Now I understand what love is For the first time

[Yep, this definitely is not the man I was married to,] thought Carolyn, [but I like this one better]. Even dancing with him felt different. When they danced (the few times they danced) when they were married, she felt like he was holding her at arm's length; that even though she was his wife, she never really wanted to let him in. Now, though, he held her close, protectively - like she was a treasure that he never wanted to let go.

Can this be real? Can this be true? Am I the person I was this morning and are you the same you? It's all so strange How can it be All along this love was right in front of me

Carolyn laughed inwardly as she realized how true the lyrics were for her relationship with the man she was dancing with now. Even though she was married to the man, she never really knew him until two days ago when she flew into Cascade and asked him to be part of this terrible investigation. And the more she was around him, the more she was amazed by the man he truly was.

For the first time I am looking in your eyes For the first time I've seen who you are Can't believe how much I see When you're looking back at me Now I understand what love is For the first time

[How does he see me now?] she thought. His life was so different from when they were married - heck, it's even different from when she was living in Cascade and they were divorced. Parts of himself he had repressed while they were married had been brought to the fore, dealt with, and they were now part of a soul that was far more deep and complex than the one she thought she had known for so long. Was their life together something he treasures? Or regrets?

Such a long time ago I had given up on finding this emotion ever again But you're here with me now yes I've found you somehow And I've never been so sure

For the first time I am looking in your eyes For the first time I've seen who you are Can't believe how much I see When you're looking back at me Now I understand what love is For the first time

As the song ended, Carolyn looked into her ex-husband's eyes, and he smiled warmly. Any doubts he may have had about his feelings for her were gone. She just hoped they would have the chance to finally get to know each other...again.

*****

The experience with Jim's nightmare the evening before had tired out both Blair and Jim, so both men quickly went to sleep to each other as soon as they got home - Jim in bed, Blair (as always) over a stack of books he had hoped he would be able to work on.

In fact, Jim was so tired that never even heard the hiss of the powerful sleeping gas that was being piped into the loft through the ventilation shaft.

Twenty minutes later, the sleeping gas had had it's full effect on the Sentinel, and five men, dressed in black, were easily able to pick the lock to the loft's door and sneak inside.

One man searched the bottom floor, one man searched the top. The top man came back and, through the gas mask, announced to the others, "he's not up there. That's the Sentinel's room."

"And how is our friend?" asked one of the other men.

"Sleeping like a babbling madman," replied the top man, his smile evident even through the mask.

The bottom man then grabbed the other members of the group, announcing, "he's in here, c'mon."

The two front men opened the glass doors, to find the sleeping curly-haired form collapsed over a stack of books at a table. Gently extricating him from the books, two of the men lifted him away from the table, while two more helped to maneuver his legs into the oversize black bag.

As they pulled the bag over the head of the young man, one of the group asked, "what if he wakes up while he's in the bag?"

"Don't worry," replied one of the men in the group, "this stuff works for at least ten hours. There's no way he'll wake up before he goes before Inticho."

Another member of the group asked, "and the Sentinel?"

Replied the other man, "you know, you worry too much. Now c'mon, give me a hand here. This one's heavier than I thought."

One of the men in the group commented as he helped carry their package out the door, "must be all that college food..."

*****

The first thing Jim noticed when he woke up was the smell. It didn't smell like food, it smelled more like...Oh God no. Gun drawn, he ran down the stairs to find everything of Blair's in the same place it was in last night, with one exception.

Blair had disappeared. Maybe he's just gone over to school for a book or something...one look at the clock, though told him that assumption was false. It was 4:30 am. Blair would never leave at this hour. Instantly he was on the phone to his captain.

Jim ignored the sleepiness of the voice on the other line. "Banks here."

All that mattered was getting his guide back. "Simon, it's Jim. Someone pumped sleeping gas into my place. Sir, they used it to keep me out cold while they kidnapped Blair."

So much for sleep, thought Simon. "Are you saying that Blair's disappeared?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying, sir."

Simon sighed, and the Sentinel could hear him swinging his legs off the bed. Nothing was ever easy with these two, was it? "All right, I'm on my way."

*****

The ten minutes Jim spent waiting for Simon were the longest ten minutes of his life. He opened the windows to let most of the gas dissipate, then got dressed. Even still, he looked at his watch every two minutes, wondering how much longer it would be. Finally the familiar smell of cigars tickled at the edge of his senses, and he opened the door, "come on in, Simon."

Simon walked in, followed by Diane and a very upset Sharon. Putting a hand on the Sentinel's shoulder, Simon said, "I called Carolyn at her hotel. She's bringing Serena and a team over in a few minutes."

"Thanks Simon."

As Jim closed the door behind them, Diane asked, "any idea what kind of gas they used, Jim?"

Jim shook his head. "It's not anything I recognize. I stuffed some towels under the doors to Blair's room so that Forensics might be able to get an air sample from it."

Sharon walked around the room, taking in the fact that no tables were overturned, nothing was taken...which only served to fuel her feelings of guilt. She announced to the group, "whoever it was, it was Blair they wanted...maybe we should have moved you both to a safehouse..."

Jim walked over to his friend and placed a hand on her shoulder. God, she was so small! So like Blair. In a soothing tone he reassured her, "hey, it's not your fault! Even if they had moved us to a safehouse, they would have found him there. And do you really think that on a case like this, Blair would have -let- you move us away from this case?"

Wiping tears from her eyes, she placed a hand over Jim's. He was right - Blair could be as stubborn as a donkey, particularly when it came to protecting his 'Great City'. Smiling, she told Jim, "you're right, of course. It just doesn't make it any easier."

Sighing, Jim agreed, "I know."

By this point, Carolyn and her team had made it to the house, and Carolyn knocked on the door. When Simon answered, Carolyn greeted him, "hi Simon. How're they doing?"

Simon knew exactly which 'they' she was referring to. "Not the greatest, but give them a couple of minutes. Jim's always at his best when Blair's in trouble, and he and Diane will help Sharon get up there too."

Nodding her understanding, she immediately slipped into the role of take-charge forensics chief. "All right everyone, I want every inch of this place searched for anything suspicious. Remember, these guys have taken one of our own this time - let's not let them get away with it, shall we?"

Each member of the team nodded their understanding and got to work. Encouraged by Carolyn referring to Blair as "one of our own", Jim made sure to tell her, "I sealed off Blair's room. I was hoping your people could get an air sample and tell us what kind of gas they used."

Carolyn nodded her agreement, then shifted uncomfortably as she asked, "Jim, I know how hard this is for you, but would you mind?"

As she waved her hands in the air, Jim immediately caught on to what she was asking. Opening up his senses to search the place and having Sharon act as his stand-in 'guide' would be the perfect way for both of them to channel their emotions productively. He agreed, "sure Carolyn, I'll get started right away. Share, would you mind giving me a hand?"

Understanding what Jim meant, Sharon nodded. "I'd be happy to, Jim. But let's get your real Guide back soon, okay? I'm still not all that great at this."

Smiling, Jim reassured her, "we'll get him back, Share. I promise."

Seeing that Jim and Sharon were busy for the moment, Carolyn donned a gas mask and produced an air sample collection canister from the large kit she had brought with her. The last time Blair was in trouble, her stalling nearly killed him. She wasn't about to let that happen again.

*****

Three hours later, Jim, Sharon, Simon, and Diane sat in the commissioner's office, waiting for Carolyn's team to come back with its report. But unless they could identify that gas, Jim knew, their report would come up with nothing. Whoever this group was, they were so careful that the only things that were disturbed were the lock (professionally picked--no appearance of forced entry) and a handful of papers in Sandburg's room.

Jim sighed, "where -is- that report?"

Diane replied, "Jim, that's the fifth time you've said that since we came back here. This stuff takes time, you know that."

Blankly, Sharon replied, "I think we all know time is one thing Blair probably doesn't have."

At this, all heads nodded in agreement. Suddenly, the phone rang. Jim ran to answer it, but Diane stopped him, picking up the extension herself and answering, "this is Commissioner McPherson."

"Commissioner?" replied the sarcastic voice on the other line, "It figures a Sentinel would have friends in high places. Put Ellison on."

Having totally overheard the exchange, Jim practically grabbed the phone away from Diane's ear, "where's my partner?"

"Whoa, take it easy big guy," replied the voice on the other line, "Professor Sandburg is fine, for now. In fact, you can probably see him outside your lovely Commissioner's office window."

Jim turned around to face the window and started scanning every inch of the city he could see at that level. Simon and Sharon, both recognizing what Jim was doing, moved closer to Jim to make sure he didn't zone out on the phone. Suddenly, Jim stopped, and the others thought he might have zoned had it not been for Simon hearing Jim's barest whisper, "oh my God."

The voice on the other end of the phone laughed. "I see you found him. The others should have seen it by now too--if my friend's geography lesson was correct, the top of the Wilkinson Towers can be clearly viewed from Ms. McPherson's office."

Everyone else in the office followed Jim's line of sight, and saw from a distance what the Sentinel was seeing with frightening clarity: on the top of the Wilkinson Towers building, Blair lay unconscious in a bamboo cage over one of the ventilation shafts. But only Jim noticed the true danger -- the cage was rigged so that if a trip wire was pulled, several exact replica Chopec darts (most likely poisoned) would rain down on the cage's prisoner.

The anger clearly evident in his voice, Jim could barely spit out, "what...do...you...want?"

The voice on the line turned deadly serious. "The Main Lawn of Rainier University, one hour. Bring whoever you want to the Lawn; that doesn't matter. But if anyone so much as sets one foot on that roof, I'll set off the darts. Heed my words, Sentinel, for I have killed before, and to me, your 'Guide' is just one more body."

*****

Chris McPherson turned off the voice changer, then his cellular phone, as he and his shaman watched their young prisoner. Chris asked the other man, "are you - sure- this will work?"

The shaman replied, "aren't you? Remember the things you saw in the files, my friend. There is an old Peruvian saying that says something like the bond between a Sentinel and Guide is stronger than marriage and thicker than blood. He'll do as you ask, all right." Looking over at their prisoner the older shaman added, "his very sanity depends on it."

*****

Jim slammed down the phone, the rage in his soul almost blinding him, until Simon's familiar voice broke through. "What did he say, Jim?"

"I have to be at the Main Lawn of the University in an hour. And if anyone tries to rescue Blair before that he'll set off the trap he's rigged. It'll kill him instantly."

Everyone in the room cursed in frustration. Sharon asked, to no one in particular, "what are we going to do now?"

"Go after them," replied an infamous voice behind them. Everyone turned to the door to find Marcus Martinson standing in the doorway with Carolyn. Before Jim could use Martinson as a convenient (and very satisfying) outlet for his rage, Diane intervened. "We're not releasing any information to the press about this case, Mr. Martinson. And certainly not to you."

As Simon was about to throw him out of the office, Marcus intervened, "commissioner, please, hear me out. I'm not coming her to get information about the case. I'm here to help you."

Carolyn placed a hand on Simon's shoulder to stop him. "Whatever this creep has done, let's at least hear him out. If he can't help, then all we've wasted is a couple of minutes, right?"

Simon sighed, consenting to Carolyn's voice of reason. Turning to Marcus he spit out, "you have -two- -minutes-, that's all."

Marcus let out the deep breath he didn't know he was holding and began, "all right, well, after I got the files from your brother, I started doing some checking for any references to Sentinels on the Net. There weren't many, but the ones I did find were all tied to this group. It seems, detective, that everything they've done in Cascade and San Francisco has been meant primarily to get your attention. They suspected all along that you were a Sentinel -- it just took Chris to confirm it."

Diane asked, "you mean the files Chris stole, right? Your report?"

Marcus shook his head. "No, I mean Chris. He started working with them shortly after he stole the files, Commissioner. I'm sorry." As Diane cursed the air in frustration, Marcus continued, "they killed the people in San Francisco -- relatives of members of their group, the 'Society for a Free America', who were trying to take out their members by force -- primarily because they figured Carolyn would end up being assigned to the case. Killing the handful of dissenters here in Cascade and getting the files released to me were step two -- to get your attention."

Diane then asked, "so what's step three?"

Marcus handed Diane a file of all the information on the group. "That's where they get vague. They want to destroy Jim -- of that much I'm certain. There are also a lot of references in their communications to 'destroying the city the gods have smiled upon', I can only assume they mean Cascade."

Sharon asked, "so how do we go after them?"

Carolyn handed Sharon her report, "I was able to get the Feds to put a rush on this -- apparently, Share, your name has a lot more pull than you realize." Sharon blushed as Carolyn continued, "anyway, the lab in DC was able to recognize the chemical components of the gas as a designer mix of several powerful sleeping gases. There are only a couple of companies that sell them, so I checked their delivery records, and one of the companies made a delivery to an old abandoned train car repair shop two nights ago. I have the address in the report."

Sharon looked in the report, and recognized the address immediately. "Wilkinson Towers isn't too far from there."

Carolyn nodded. As everyone started getting ready to leave, knowing they were going to check out the address, Jim asked Marcus, "wait a minute, from everything I've heard, you've been in 'hiding' since your 'report' on me aired. Why come forward now?"

"I wasn't totally in 'hiding', Detective," replied Marcus. "I was following up the information I had received on this group. Once I realized that Chris was working with them, though, I realized that we had both been set up. My niece was on that bus the Switchman almost blew up, Detective. So, especially after the way I've treated you, I figure this was the least I could do."

*****

The first thing Blair noticed was the gentle breeze flowing through his hair. That, of course, was before the headache expressed itself full force. He sat up a bit to get a handle on his surroundings, which not only exacerbated the headache, it helped him to see exactly how high up he really was. Not quite ready to attempt to stand up yet, he turned around in place to try and get a better view of exactly - where- he was.

That was when the bamboo poles of his cage came into clearer focus. [Bamboo? You've got to be kidding me,] thought Blair, [one good gust of wind and this cage'll go right over.]

"You better hope that cage doesn't blow over," yelled a distanced voice. "Because if it does, your Sentinel is going to have one heck of a problem getting any guidance out of you."

[How the--?] Whoever this guy was, he was certainly arrogant. [Sure we're high up but...] As Blair's vision improved, he also noticed the elaborate setup rigged to his bamboo cage. Said setup also weighted down the cage so that it clearly wasn't going anywhere. So then why did his captor think--?

"In case you're wondering," replied the distanced voice, "yes, I -can- read your mind. It's a talent the ancient shamans didn't use very much, but they had it. Pity. It can make life -so- interesting."

Blair's vision cleared further, and he was soon staring into the piercing green eyes of one Chris McPherson. His first idle thought was, [so this is Diane's brother...] But as the more difficult events of the week came together with piercing clarity, Blair simply asked, "why?"

"Why what, Blair? Why 'betray my sister'? Why expose your friend's big 'secret' to the spotlight? Easy. I want you to suffer. I want you to lose everything you care about the way I did when I lost Julia.."

"Why? We didn't kill her, Chris..."

Across the roof Chris screamed, "LIAR! You and your big 'secret' killed her just as surely as if your 'Sentinel' pulled the trigger. See, there are only four things in this world that your friend cares about: you, those 'friends' of yours, that ex-wife of his, and the people of Cascade. So...one by one...we're going to take them all away...starting with Cascade...and ending with you."

*****

When the train shop turned up empty, no one was really surprised. Sharon looked around at the tall ceilings and darkened but heavily cluttered surroundings, lit only by huge holes in the blackened out glass windows. "Someone's lived here recently," she announced to the group.

"Do you think it's our group?" asked Diane.

"More than likely," Sharon replied, "but they're not here now." Noticing a pot of uneaten food, she called Jim over and asked, "can you tell how long ago this food was cooked?"

Coming over to where Sharon was standing, Jim knelt down next to the food. [Pork and beans...] He smelled no signs of spoilage, and when he touched the side of the pot... "whoever was here hasn't been gone long...I'd say half an hour, maybe."

Martinson added, "it's a good bet that they've gone underground. I doubt we'll find them down in those tunnels."

Jim looked at his watch. "That is, if we had time to look for them. I have to be at the University in fifteen minutes."

"That's what we're here for," called out a voice from the shop entrance. Everyone looked over to see Joel, Rafe, Brown and the rest of the Major Crimes detectives, dressed in jeans and hiking boots and carrying industrial strength flashlights, walkie-talkies and maps of the old subway tunnels. Joel continued, "Carolyn left me a message this morning about Sandburg. I got the guys together, and we came down here to help."

"Yeah, we couldn't let you and hairboy go through this without us, now could we?" commented Rafe.

Jim smiled broadly, touched by the show of support. Leading the group who were headed out to the meeting spot, he told Joel, "thanks guys. This means a lot to me."

In response, Brown simply handed Jim a walkie-talkie, and added, "hey, we like the kid too, Ellison. Let us know what happens, okay?" Jim nodded.

As he left, Simon informed Joel, "we think a good bunch of the group made their way down into the tunnels."

"Don't worry," replied the big explosives man, "we'll find them."

Confident that his men wouldn't rest until they did, Simon ran to catch up with Jim.

*****

As Jim pulled up to the Main Lawn at Rainier, a million scenarios went through his mind at to exactly how Blair's captors would make their demands. In five minutes, he thought, he would know.

Before those five minutes ticked themselves out, though, he found himself staring at the one scenario he could not -possibly- have expected, along with the rest of the Rainier student body, staff, and faculty. Three giant video screens had been set up smack in the middle of the lawn, the middle one running a continuous tape of the Inside Cascade segment, and the other two clearly showing Blair, tied up but not gagged, in his bamboo prison on the roof of the Wilkinson Towers.

As Simon, Carolyn, Martinson, Diane and Sharon caught up with Jim and took in the scene, Sharon involuntarily exclaimed, "oh dear God..."

Without turning around, one of the students next to Jim commented, "yeah, man, who would pull a sick stunt like this? I mean, everyone likes Professor Sandburg--my girlfriend even took one of his classes--and to have his most personal research blasted all over the world like that by some sick psycho...well he deserves better than that." Obviously thinking the cage camera was a fake, the student continued, "I hope he doesn't walk onto campus and see the cage thing, man, because if someone means this as a joke it ain't funny."

Jim sighed. The young man's respect for Blair was obvious, and hearing it expressed only served to feed his guilt. The criminal element of Cascade had always seen Blair as an easy pawn to get through to Jim, now they knew just - how- important the younger man was to him. But what could he do?

Out loud, he reassured the younger man, "I don't think you have to worry about him seeing this."

Confused, the student turned around, asking, "well why not? I mean, you can see these screens from halfway across camp--" Fully turned around now, the student finally realized who he was talking to, and all of a sudden he wasn't quite so talkative anymore. "You're ah-ah-Ellison aren't you? B-b-b-Blair's Sentinel?" Solemly, Jim nodded. The student then turned and nudged his friend, pointing Jim out as he walked past, trying to get closer to the screens.

Word spread quickly among the gathered crowd, and Jim and his team were given a wide berth and complete silence, as Rainier University waited for what they realized could very easily become their own 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral'. The only sounds that could be heard within a block of the open campus were the cars on the road and the incessant repetition of Martinson's report.

At the appointed time, Jim's cell phone rang. As Jim opened the connection, the middle screen went black, and the report tape stopped. When Jim answered, "hello," it became clear that the phone on the other end was connected to whoever was running the taped show, because the greeting echoed across the campus.

The center screen came on again, this time showing the view from the top of the Wilkinson Towers, Blair's cage visible from the distance on the other side of the roof. The voice on the other end of the phone said, "scan the University all you like, Sentinel. This whole thing was set up with satellites so there's no one there for you to 'arrest'."

Diane gasped in shock as she recognized the voice on the other end of the line. Stammering, she was able to get out, "C-c-chris?"

Chris' face suddenly filled the middle screen. "Hi sis! It's me! Betcha never thought I'd end up bigger than you someday, huh?"

The rage in his voice barely controlled, Jim demanded, "what do you want, McPherson?"

Cackling with insane glee, Chris replied, "what do I want? He's asking me what - I- want? Well, at first Sentinel this was just about getting revenge for Julia but it's not just about that anymore. That happened a couple of minutes ago when anyone who turned on their televisions was treated to the television report about how you, my sister, and the rest of the police have been keeping secrets from them all this time! See it's not what I want anymore, Sentinel, but it's what -our- demands are."

"All right, McPherson," replied Jim, "so what are your demands?"

Another unknown and unseen voice came on the phone while a crazy-acting Chris McPherson continued to mug for the camera. "Our demands are simple, Sentinel. But, if they are not met, we have obtained a biological weapon of great power, and it is set to go off should any sort of rescue attempt occur before our demands are met. Is that clear, Sentinel?"

"Perfectly," replied Sharon, impatiently, "so what do you want?"

"What we -want-," demanded the voice, "is for the Sentinel and Guide to go back to the jungles where they belong. We will release Professor Sandburg, unharmed, if he and Detective Ellison immediately board a plane for Peru, where they will spend the remainder of their natural lives. Should they -ever- return to Cascade, we will detonate the weapon."

"And if we don't leave Cascade?" asked Jim.

The voice replied, "then your guide will be killed, live on local television. You have twenty-four hours to make your decision, Sentinel."

The screens went black.

*****

Simon half expected the huge crowd to break out into a small panic after the terrorist's little 'speech', but instead, the hundreds of people standing on the lawn simply stood around in stunned, solemn silence. A few of the female students near him broke out into muffled sobs, their sorrow soon comforted by their friends around them. These weren't people who were afraid they might die, realized Simon, these were people who had just realized that, no matter what the outcome tomorrow, they were going to lose a friend, fellow student, beloved teacher and co-worker. And so was he.

But he wasn't going to give up that easily. There had to be another way, right?

Jim marched silently through the crowd, everyone there giving him all the space he needed. Sharon, Diane, Martinson and Simon soon followed. When they reached the truck, the frustration Jim was feeling quickly became apparent. He had been placed in an impossible situation: do anything to try and rescue his Guide, and he risked destroying Cascade. Do nothing, and he and the rest of the city would be treated to watching Blair's public execution.

But could he consent to their demands? Could he really make the decision to send Blair into exile in order to save his life? What right did he, Jim Ellison, have to make that choice for another human being?

Trying to offer some hope, Diane asked, "maybe they're bluffing about the weapon?"

As if in response to Diane's question, Sharon's cell phone rang. She was about to greet the person on the other end of the line, when she was forced to hold the phone away from her ear in reaction to the frantic amount of activity on the other end of the line. This could only be one person. "Jay?"

"He wasn't bluffing about the weapon, Share."

Sharon had to stifle the urge to gawk at her phone in amazement. "How -do- you do that, Jay?"

"Do what? Anyway, one of my snitches has a brother who's a part of this group, and this brother threatened to kill my snitch by telling him about how he saw the deal go down between some Iraqi dealer and the guy who was on the phone with Ellison. I tried to find out what kind of a bomb it was, but my snitch didn't have any more info, so I've been bangin' the pipes ever since to try and find out who made the sale, what kind of a bomb it is, and whether or not there's a cure for the bioagent."

"There's always a cure," mused Sharon, "otherwise you risk losing your own men if an accident happened. So how's the search going?"

"You ever try monitoring black market arms trading? It ain't easy, I'll tell you. This is gonna take me awhile."

"All right, Jay, just get back to me as soon as you have something."

"No problem. "Oh, and Share?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell your friend Ellison my wife and I are praying for him. I wouldn't want to be in his position with -my best friend."

Sharon picked up the sentiment immediately, and she smiled. "I will. Thanks, Jay."

"Good luck, my friend." *click*

Sharon closed the connection with a sad smile on her face. Immediately turning serious, she announced to the group, "one of Jay's sources confirmed a transaction between our 'Society for a Free America' and an Iraqi terrorist. One biochemical weapon of currently unknown origin. The threat's real, all right. Sorry, Jim."

Diane cursed in frustration. That was probably their best hope for thinking they could get out of this, but now...the commissioner still kept trying, though. "Maybe Taggart's found the other members of the group and they could lead us to the weapon so we can disarm it."

Nonchalantly, Jim replied, "yeah, maybe..."

It was obvious that Jim's mind was a million miles away. Simon directed him, "look, why don't you go back home and try to get some rest. There's nothing we can do right now."

Quietly, Jim nodded, got into his truck and drove away.

As they watched Jim leave, Martinson asked Sharon, "oh, out of curiosity, what was it that your source said that made you smile?"

Never taking her eyes off the road, Sharon smiled faintly at the memory. "He said that he and his wife were praying for Jim and Blair, and that he wouldn't want to be put in the same position with his best friend."

Diane smiled a little herself, putting her arms around her two best friends, Simon and Sharon, who happened to be standing next to her. "Me neither, Share. Me neither."

*****

The loft was far too quiet without Blair around, so Jim grabbed a beer and headed out to the balcony to take in the sounds of his "Great City", as the Chopec had called it. The Chopec...after Incacha's death they said he was no longer 'their Sentinel', that he was now the "Sentinel of the Great City." And now, to be forced to make this choice...could he leave the city he had sworn to protect in order to save his Guide? With this weapon around, it would only be a matter of time before these psychos used it for their own selfish ends or sold it to someone else who would. But could he willingly choose to let Blair die in order to save the city? Would he survive for much longer after that?

He wanted to zone out on something, anything, but he couldn't get up the strength to concentrate, so he tried to relax, letting his mind wander. Unfortunately, it kept coming back to the problem at hand.

Finally a knock at the door shook him out of his stupor. At first he hoped that not answering the door would drive the person away, but a third knock proved he did not get so lucky. So, he got up and came back inside, calling out, "all right, all right, I'm coming," as he approached the door.

Just before he opened it, he noticed the unmistakable aroma of Simon's cigars, but there was someone else with him, someone he hadn't talked to in awhile. Not since this whole nightmare started. As he opened the door he greeted them, "hi Simon, Daryl. What are you doing here?"

Simon shrugged slightly, and looked down to his teenage son to direct this. Uncomfortably, he started, "Daryl wanted to come here. He saw the whole confrontation this morning -- apparently they broke in and broadcast on all the major networks -- that wasn't a hoax either. So he insisted we come over tonight, so that he could talk to you before..."

Jim understood immediately, and the room fell silent, waiting for Daryl to get whatever he needed to get off of his chest.

Finally, after a few tense minutes, Daryl, who had been pacing thoughtfully around the room and looking out the windows, spoke. "It's funny, you know? I keep expecting Blair to race in here any minute."

Jim chuckled slightly at that. "Me too."

"Did you have these super-senses when Kincaid had me & Blair hostage? Dad said you told him about them just after you rescued us."

"Yeah, it had only been a couple of weeks at that point."

Not able to get up the nerve to look at Jim yet, Daryl thought out loud, "that means you heard me when they shoved me out the window..." Jim nodded. "And in Peru?"

Again, Jim nodded. "I was having some problems with them from being in Peru for the first time since I had lived there, but they came back just before I rescued you and your dad."

Daryl muttered, loud enough only for Jim to hear, "and now you guys have to go through this..." Finally able to gather the courage to turn around, he looked Jim straight in the eye and said, "I don't know if I've ever told you this before, but I want to thank you for saving my life and my dad's life so many times."

Jim wanted to say something more, but he sensed the young man still had more to say. A peculiar lump in his throat seemed to be getting in his way, anyhow.

After a few more silent moments, Daryl did ask, "if you two don't leave, they'll kill Blair, right?"

Jim nodded. "That's what they said."

Closing the distance between them, Daryl approached Jim and stated, simply but firmly, using the last of his courage, "then do whatever you have to do, but don't let them kill him." Finally embracing the man who reminded him so much of the best qualities about his father, Daryl's courage left him, and he simply broke down. He could only barely speak in a muffled whisper, "I'll miss you guys, if you leave, you know?"

Resting his chin on top of the teen's head, Jim returned the embrace. Fully able to hear what Daryl had said, he replied, his own voice starting to break with emotion, "I know. I just wish there were some other way."

Pulling away from the embrace and wiping the tears from his face, Daryl added, "me too. Hey, maybe Blair'll come up with something! He's good at that."

For the first time since he'd left the University earlier, Jim felt a tiny glimmer of hope. [I hadn't thought of that...] Jim reassured the young man, "maybe he will, Daryl, maybe he will at that..."

Having said his peace, Daryl pulled away from Jim, crossing the loft to head back toward his father, who had barely moved away from the door, lest he disturb his son's train of thought. Putting a hand on his son's shoulder in his own show of support, Simon then asked Jim, "you don't think there's any other way out of this, do you?"

Jim shook his head. "No, sir, not that I can see." Remembering the young man's words his voice trailed off, "so unless Blair can come up with something himself..."

Simon thought that over for a minute, then told his best detective, best friend, and Sentinel, "then whatever you decide, I'm behind you one hundred percent."

Straightening himself to his full height as a show of respect, Jim replied, "thank you...sir."

Simon took a deep breath, then, after a moment, ordered Jim, "you take care of yourself, soldier, is that clear?" his voice breaking with emotion on that last word just barely enough for Jim's sensitive hearing to catch it.

That lump in Jim's throat seemed to make it's presence known again as he replied, "I'll do that, sir."

Jim extended his hand out to Simon, who shook it in his own, then, after a moment of unspoken communication, muttered, "aw, to hell with protocol," and pulled the other man into a bear hug.

The two men stood in the embrace for a moment, then Simon pulled away, composing himself again. Grabbing the door handle, he said to his son, "c'mon, Daryl, let's go home. Good night, Jim."

"Good night, Simon." And with that, Jim Ellison closed the door on what he would remember later to be the first of his 'forever goodbyes'...

*****

Two hours later, it became clear that Jim had made his decision. So the knock on the door, then, wasn't a surprise -- he had asked several of the local merchants to see if they could find him some empty boxes, so as word got out around the neighborhood, the merchants had been coming by about every half hour or so, delivering as many boxes as they and their employees could carry--along with a few thank you gifts for the "...neighborhood's big brother...".

As he crossed the loft to get the door, though, he was surprised by the increasingly overpowering smell of alcohol as he got closer to the door. And he was even -more- surprised to discover that the source of that smell was his younger brother, Stephen. Not wanting to close the door on the younger man, particularly in his dangerous condition, Jim opened the door further, and Stephen stumbled into the living room, almost tripping over a couple of boxes in the process. Jim remembered that his brother had been on a two-week business trip to New York, and figured that he had just gotten back.

Which meant that he had probably just heard everything.

Stephen stumbled around the apartment slowly, taking in the scene around him. As he noticed a picture that had been taken of the two of them during the cop of the year banquet, Stephen laughed bitterly and commented, "trade secret, eh?"

Jim did -not- want to be having this conversation right now. He tried to distract himself by doing some more packing, but then he felt his brother's piercing blue eyes on him, and he looked up to see an expression of pained disappointment on his brother's face. The expression was identical to one their father used frequently. It got to the point where he would rather have his father beat him than see that look.

And now Stephen was leveling that look at him. From where Jim was now seeing things, he had every right.

The younger Ellison looked at the picture again, then back at Jim. Making an attempt to compose himself, he spoke with unnerving clarity for someone who was so obviously drunk. "Why didn't you tell me, Jim? Why didn't you tell me then?"

Jim started to answer him, but Stephen broke into an angry tirade before the older Ellison was able to utter a word. "I thought we had become friends, Jim! That we were making progress after all those years our father had screwed with our minds. And now I find out you've been holding back from me all along! The report said the abilities were genetic, Jim."

Stephen marched the length of the loft to look Jim in the eye, moving so close to his brother that Jim could have gotten drunk off his brother's breath if he hadn't made a conscious effort not to inhale. "That's right, read my lips, Jim: Ge-ne-tic. That means that I have a -right- to know about it. I mean what if I had kids someday and one of the kids suddenly went crazy, huh, Jim? Did you even think about that, Jim? And what about Mom, Jim? We never knew why she left, but she's out there somewhere. We had to inherit these abilities from -someone-, Jim, and dad sure as hell didn't have them."

As Stephen caught his breath, his eyes grew wider, as if he had just realized something earth-shattering. "Oh my God, Jim. What if she had these abilities, and they drove her crazy? What if that was the reason she left us?" The abrupt realization left him shaken, and he sat down on the couch, stunned. Starting to sob uncontrollably, Stephen continued, "God, Jim, I just found you! After all this time and all those things dad did to us, I just found you!"

The older Ellison didn't know what to say, or think, at this point. Stephen was wasted, that much Jim knew, but everything he was saying made a disturbing amount of sense. Jim sat down on the couch next to Stephen, and put his arm around his brother. Still sobbing, Stephen leaned into the embrace and held on to Jim as if he were a life raft. In a muffled sob even the Sentinel could barely make out, Stephen continued, "please don't leave me, Jim. Please don't leave me alone..."

Rubbing his hand idly across his brother's back, Jim tried to soothe and quiet the man, but he didn't feel right doing it. What could he say? He couldn't say he'd never leave.

Luckily, he didn't have to. Stephen had stopped sobbing, and Jim could just detect the regular, even breathing pattern of a man sleeping off a drinking binge. Pushing the smaller man to his feet, he hauled Stephen over his shoulder and carried him up the stairs. After laying him in the bed, Jim sat down next to him to watch him sleep. Up to this point, his thoughts had been consumed by Blair. But now, watching the peaceful face of his brother, he began to realize that there were things he was leaving behind, too. "I wish I could tell you I'll never leave you again," he whispered, "but I can't let Blair die either..."

Sighing deeply, Jim turned away from the sleeping form and went downstairs to continue packing.

*****

Carolyn drew in a deep breath as she walked up to the building where her ex- husband now lived. Not for the first time that night, she thought about turning back around and heading straight for her hotel. But the more she thought about it, though, the more she realized that if Jim ever meant anything to her, past or present, then she needed to be there.

For him...and for her.

As she approached the door, she nearly ran into three men walking quickly out of the building, talking quietly to each other in Spanish. Wanting to get upstairs before she lost her nerve, she muttered a quick, "excuse me, I have to get upstairs..." and tried to scoot past them.

Before she could get away, though, one of the men stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm, asking in a quiet voice, "you going to see -him-, senora?" Understanding who the implied -him- was, she nodded, and the man simply looked up and shook his head in wonder, sighing deeply. "Such a sad story, this one...I will tell it to my grandchildren one day. After all, you know what the good book say, no one have more love than one who lay down his life for his friends... Ah well, I leave you to your mission. El Sentinel needs to know that there are those who will miss him..." Turning back toward the door and his own friends he declared, "goodnight, senora, and good luck," and walked out the door.

Touched by the show of respect for Jim, Carolyn quietly thanked the man, and closed the door after him. Turning toward her task, she took another deep breath, and started to climb the stairs.

*****

Jim was so focused on getting the kitchen packed up, he almost didn't hear the knock at the door. Seeing, though, that he wasn't going to lack for company on this night, Jim packed the dish he was working on into the box, and opened the door to find his ex-wife staring back at him with a look that was a mixture of uncertainty, sadness and respect.

When she saw Jim at the door, she greeted him, "when you left Simon this afternoon, he said that you looked like you could use a friend. Will I do?"

Surprised to see Carolyn so nervous, Jim stammered out, "of -- of course, Carolyn." Stepping aside, he added, "please, come in."

As she entered the loft, her gaze fell immediately to the boxes scattered in various places throughout the room. "Packing, Jim?"

"Gets my mind off things. Besides, with everything that's going to happen tomorrow, I figured it would make it easier..."

Carolyn thought she understood immediately, but she couldn't accept it quite so easily. Eyes going wide, she asked him, "you're just going to give in and leave? Just like that?"

"Carolyn," Jim replied, "what choice do I have? If we try anything, they'll detonate the weapon, and thousands of people will die. And if we do nothing--" Unable to look Carolyn in the eye anymore, he turned away and confessed, "I can't let him die, Carolyn. Not when it is in my power to stop it."

The conviction and emotion in Jim's voice amazed Carolyn. Quietly, she came up behind him, gently took his hand and asked, "he's very special to you, isn't he?"

Not letting go of his ex-wife's hand, Jim turned around and led her to the couch. He replied, "I can't even begin to describe it to you, Carolyn. You knew me when my senses first emerged -- I was going out of my mind. Did I tell you the first time I ever met with him he saved me by pushing me out of the way of a garbage truck after I had just zoned out?" Carolyn smiled, and gently shook her head.

Jim continued, "see, that's just it -- when people talk about Blair and I, they talk about how we're partners and best friends, but it's more than that. He saves me every day, Carolyn -- sometimes just by putting a hand on my shoulder and other times by yanking me away from speeding garbage trucks. The man even changed the subject of his dissertation because he was afraid that using me as the main subject would be too dangerous. And all he asks from me is a roof over his head and the chance to work with me. If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be alive today...and I definitely wouldn't be whole."

Carolyn smiled fondly, and reached her hand up to caress Jim's cheek. Under her breath she whispered, "you are most definitely not the man I was married to." Knowing he probably heard her, she also sighed, "but God, do I wish you were..."

Eager to get Carolyn to understand, Jim took her hand away from his cheek so that he was now holding both of her hands in his own. With great conviction he asked her, "now do you see why I have to do this?"

Carolyn nodded, then paused for a minute as an idea came to her. Firmly taking Jim by the hand, they stood up and she declared. "C'mon. You have someplace you need to be right now." At Jim's confused look Carolyn simply replied, "you know, even with your with heightened senses sometimes there are things only a woman can see. Blair's leaving someone behind too, you know, and right now I'll bet she's feeling pretty alone."

Jim continued to look confused for a minute, then realized exactly who Carolyn was talking about. As she watched the lightbulb go off above Jim's head, Carolyn simply smiled and handed the Sentinel his jacket. "Now c'mon. You know the way, right? After all, I was told you had spent quite a bit of time there at one point..."

*****

When Jim and Carolyn were greeted with the sounds of kicks and punches being thrown as they climbed the stairs to Sharon's apartment, Carolyn reached for her gun, thinking there might be danger ahead, but Jim stopped her.

"Why'd you do that?" Carolyn asked.

"Share has her own way of coping," replied Jim in a whisper, "you'll see."

Discreetly opening the door, Jim and Carolyn quietly walked in to the apartment to find Sharon in her workout area, drenched in sweat and still kicking and punching the heavy sandbag 'dummy' in front of her with every ounce of energy she had. Even through the strong smell of sweat, though, it was clear to Jim that she had done a lot of crying that night as well.

Recognizing that her job to this point was done, Carolyn placed a hand on Jim's shoulder and whispered, "I'll wait for you back at the loft." As Jim started to object, Carolyn interrupted, "I can pack up that place just as easily as you can, and you're needed more here." And before he had a chance to object, Carolyn turned around and tiptoed out.

Jim watched Carolyn leave, then heard a voice call out behind him, "you know you might as well leave with her."

Jim sighed, and turned around to watch the young profiler work out. The more he watched, the more he realized he wouldn't want to be caught dead in a ring with her. She'd have him flat on his back in ten seconds.

But, she was still human, and Blair had told him once that she only went through these self-punishing workouts when she was trying to battle her fears and her pain. He called over to her, "I came over to see how you were doing."

"You want to know how I'm doing?" asked Sharon as she delivered a series of punches to the dummy's head, "How do you think I'm doing? After years of being alone, and not needing anyone, I finally allow myself to fall in love, and - this- happens!" Landing a couple of solid kicks to the dummy's groin, Sharon continued, "you know how much I love him, don't you?"

Now sitting at the edge of the mat, watching Sharon work out, Jim nodded, replying, "I know how much he loves you, too."

Sharon noticed where Jim was sitting and couldn't help but let out a bitter laugh. Stabilizing the dummy for a minute she commented, "you know, the first time Blair ever came to try and help me through something like this he sat in the exact same spot."

Jim could recall the time like it was yesterday. "During the AJ Green case, right?" Sharon nodded. Jim continued, "you know, from the minute he laid eyes on you I don't think he ever thought about another woman."

Sharon smiled at the memory of the goofy look on Blair's face when they first met. Giving up on the workout for the moment, she walked to the edge of the mat and sat down next to Jim. "Yeah, he was pretty cute. But I don't think I really fell for him, though, until that night. He was so patient, just willing to listen and let me vent all my frustrations, and then he held me when it all got the best of me. I miss that."

By this point, Jim had put an arm around her to try and offer some support. Looking up into Jim's eyes Sharon was reminded of how much those eyes reminded her of Blair. The connection between the two men was powerful, and something never to be trifled with, a fact she had always known. It was in that connection, though, that she now found the strength to admit, "you guys are my best friends, Jim -- both of you. I don't know what I'm going to do when you're gone."

Pulling Sharon up off the floor, Jim enveloped her in a huge bear hug. It was only in the comfort and strength of that embrace that Jim and Sharon both found the strength to cry.

*****

Blair observed his surroundings carefully as he rubbed his hands together, trying to warm himself up. A violent wind whipped around him, chilling him to the bone. [I must be dreaming,] he thought, ['cause even when the winds are bad, the jungle's -never- this cold.] He looked down as he felt warm fur brush past his legs. The panther, Jim's spirit guide, had found him, and the cat disentangled himself from Blair's legs and ran into the jungle. Sighing, [not this again...] Blair took off after him.

Within minutes, the panther stopped, and Blair was forced to follow his lead when he realized that they were standing on the edge of a high cliff that dropped away to a raging river and deep ravine below. Turning to face the panther now standing beside him, he watched as the animal spirit morphed into a form that was an identical representation of his partner. The spirit asked Blair, "who are you?"

Confused, Blair answered, "I am Blair Sandburg."

The spirit asked again, "who are you?"

Even more confused, Blair replied, "I don't understand--?"

The spirit quickly cut him off, repeating slowly, "who--are--you?"

A lightbulb went off in his head as he recalled what Jim had told him about his journey to the animal spirit after Incacha's death. {'The spirit kept asking me, 'what do you fear?' I had to keep answering that question until I found out the truth.'

'The truth about what?'

'Why I had repressed my senses. What was really going on in my heart.'}

So who was he? He was Blair Sandburg by name, an anthropologist and college professor by trade, a consultant to the police department in order to guide Jim--

Was that it? Was that who he was? He had once told Jim that the choice to be there for him wasn't about his dissertation, but about friendship. But was it more? Was it who he was? Was it what he was 'destined' for all along?

The spirit was waiting for a response, and Blair provided one, "am I a Sentinel's guide?"

He wasn't sure, but he thought he could almost see the spirit sigh. Once again, the spirit asked, "who are you?"

The memories arose from the back of Blair's subconscious to hit him full force. Incacha, dying on the floor of the loft. The bloody hand that had grabbed his arm, passing the way of the Shaman on to him. The joke he made to Jim as Spaulding was being lead away -- "guess that makes me Shaman of the Great City, huh?" After that case, though, he hadn't thought much about the events of those few fateful days. Could that be who he was? Could he have repressed that part of his soul the way Jim had repressed his Sentinel abilities all those years?

The rational side of his mind told him that was ridiculous -- that Incacha's words were the ravings of a man who was starting to go delirious from the blood loss. And yet, a small voice in the back of his mind told Blair that Incacha's words were true, and that within those words lie his destiny.

The spirit asked him once again, "who are you, young one?"

With increasing confidence, Blair replied, "I am Blair Sandburg, Shaman of the Great City Cascade and Guide to its Sentinel."

Instantly the spirit morphed again, changing from Jim to Incacha. Using perfect English the spirit responded, "finally you have accepted your destiny, young one. Now go, your city needs you." As he turned to run back through the jungle the spirit called out, "shaman! Once you have accepted your destiny, you can not go back to your past."

Blair frowned for a minute in confusion, then almost as quickly he realized what the shaman was telling him. The way he came through the jungle was -not- the way back. But then--"which way is the path back to my city, then?"

The spirit pointed its staff away from the jungle and toward the horizon over the ravine. Blair looked in the direction the staff was pointing, then walked closer to the edge of the cliff. His heart filled with fear as he traced the line from the horizon down to the raging river below him.

Sensing the young shaman's fear, the spirit encouraged Blair, "only by facing your fears, young one, can you be who you were truly meant to be."

Blair looked over the ravine one more time, then looked to the spirit, who was nodding his encouragement. Taking a deep breath, Blair stepped over the edge...

And woke up with a start, in a bamboo cage at the top of the Wilkinson Towers. At first he thought it was a continuation of his dream, but then the memories of the previous day came flooding back to him, merging with the very vivid dream to create a simple, yet powerful revelation. Under his breath, he exclaimed, "I know what to do now...I know how to save Cascade."

*****

Twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes after Cascade had been declared a bargaining chip in some evil Shaman's game, Jim Ellison pulled his truck up to the closest parking spot to the Main Lawn at Rainier University. Which, unfortunately, wasn't all that close. It seemed as if the entire city were here to watch the showdown. He got out of the truck and walked toward the lawn, prepared to face a crowd.

And a crowd there was -- there wasn't a spot left to sit on, so people simply stood around the lawn, waiting to see what would happen to the Professor they all knew now, at least by name -- and to his Sentinel. As that Sentinel approached, he wondered how he was going to get up to those screens through a sea of people fifty feet wide, five feet high, and God only knows how deep. He needn't have worried, though, because as people along the edge of the crowd began to recognize who he was, a whisper of "it's him...he's here" moved through the crowd like a wave, and a path began to emerge, directly through the middle of the crowd, straight to the screen.

Jim had to fight down a bitter chuckle as he muttered to himself, "even Moses didn't have this part this easy." He made his way quickly through the quiet crowd, who seemed as if they didn't know what to say, or how to react. This wasn't a game they were watching here -- this man held life and death in his hands for every person in Cascade. For every person in that crowd.

At the end of the path he was met by a row of police barricades, Simon, Diane, Carolyn, Sharon, Joel Taggart, and Stephen Ellison (wearing a pair of really dark glasses). Before he even greeted the group, Joel mentioned to Jim, "the other guys would be here, Jim, but they didn't want to give up on trying to fin the members of the group who might still be in the tunnels, so Rafe and Brown led everybody back down below this morning."

Touched by the show of support, Jim told them, "thanks for coming, guys."

Carolyn came up to Jim and assured him, "whatever happens, we're behind you all the way. All of us are." Everyone within earshot of those words applauded their support, and the wave of applause swept through the crowd. The applause continued until the screens flickered to life, showing the picture (from a slight distance) of Blair sitting in his cage. All fell silent in a heartbeat, until the shrill ring of a cell phone pierced the air.

Jim flipped open his cell phone and answered it, "Ellison."

"Well, Sentinel," replied the voice on the other line, "have you made your choice?"

Jim drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, gaining strength from the feel of the air going into his lungs. Coldly, quietly, he asked, "if we leave, what assurances do we have from you that you will not detonate the weapon?"

The voice on the other end replied, "the man who sold us the weapon is among our audience today. When we meet you with Professor Sandburg at the plane, we will bring you the weapon, and man who sold it to us will verify that it is the weapon, and the only one he has sold us."

Jim asked, "may we bring one of our own people to verify that it is what you say it is?"

The cold, deep voice on the other end of the line chuckled. "Of course."

"Then we'll leave."

The three words ripped through the crowd like an Arctic chill. No one knew whether to be relieved that Jim chose the path that would allow them to live, or stunned and shocked that this man would willingly leave his entire life behind in order to save their lives.

In that split second of silence, the only sound that Jim Ellison heard was a robin, singing in one of the nearby trees. He nearly zoned on the sound when the voice of his adversary brought him out of it. "A wise choice, Sentinel. Once again you have saved your city." The man holding the cell phone stepped in front of the camera, and the face that came on the screen became burned into the Sentinel's memory for all eternity. Dark hair with slight touches of gray, piercing green eyes, and an evil, twisted grin. Jim recognized the man immediately. "Mr. Jacobsen, I presume?"

The supposedly late Stephen Jacobsen replied, "ah, so you remember me, detective? Good. Meet me at Cascade International, one hour. My plane will be waiting to take you and your guide to Peru."

As Jacobsen was about to close the connection, though, he heard a voice coming from behind him. "Wait! Don't I get a say in the matter, Sentinel?"

Jacobsen laughed, tilting his head back, apparently quite amused. Into the phone he exclaimed, "hear that, Sentinel, he wants to talk to you! Here, since he can't hear you from -all- the way over there, I'll put him on."

But before Jacobsen could hand him the phone, Blair told him, "actually, Mr. Jacobsen, I'm more interested in talking to you."

"Really?" replied the older man, "and what could you possibly have to tell me now that the deal's been done?"

"Who said anything about the deal being done?" Blair replied with confidence. "I never agreed to leave."

"The choice was never yours to make, -guide-," replied Jacobsen, "you're the weaker half of the partnership--"

Before the older man could continue his tirade, though, Blair calmly but loudly declared, "that's not who I am, Jacobsen."

That response not only stopped Jacobsen dead in his tracks, it threw Jim for a complete loop. Where was Blair going with this? He -was- Jim's guide -- everyone in Cascade now knew that. So why was he denying it now?

Amazed, Jacobsen declared, "and people think I'm the crazy one! You've been Ellison's guide for years, and our friend Mr. McPherson over there has seen the files to --"

Eyes blazing blue fire, Blair abruptly and loudly cut him off, "I never said I don't - do- that, Stephen. I just said it wasn't who I am."

Even Jacobsen was curious to see where the younger man was going with this. "Really?" he asked, "so who are you then?" It was only then did the self- declared shaman stop to look his adversary in the eye. In that moment he saw rage, wisdom, discipline -- and power beyond his wildest imaginings.

The cell phone fell to the roof, the connection open, but its presence forgotten. "Dear God," Stephen Jacobsen whispered to himself, "what have I done?"

With a confidence fueled from the depths of his very soul, Blair declared, "you wanted to know who I am, Mr. Jacobsen? Allow me to answer your question. My name is Blair Sandburg, and I am Shaman of the Great City Cascade." Conceding to his adversary's earlier point, Blair looked the other man straight in the eye and added, "-and- Guide to its Sentinel."

On two separate sides of the city, Chris McPherson and his sister Diane gaped at Blair in similar expressions of open-mouthed shock. Both of them were thinking the same thing, [Blair? A Shaman?] But, while Chris was thinking, [that little punk? Not possible.], Diane, who had known the anthropologist longer, could only think, [now when did -this- happen?]

Their attentions quickly turned back to the young shaman, though, as he declared, loud enough that it sounded as if he wanted the world to hear, "and I call on the spirits watching over the city today to aide me once more in defending your tribe. For we face an evil that has not only tried to hold the city in its grasp, but spits in the face of everything it means to be called Shaman. I call on you, spirits, to bind this evil and disarm it so that all may know that neither this evil nor any other will be allowed to run free within these borders from this moment on."

In the heartbeat after Blair had finished his declaration, Stephen Jacobsen turned his head up to look the young shaman in the eye...

...and discovered that he was doing it from the -inside- of the bamboo cage. Turning around to get a better look at the fact that yes, he really was on the other side of the cage, he nearly jumped out of his skin when he realized that not only was he inside the cage, so was Chris McPherson.

Simon simply couldn't believe it. One minute he thought he was hearing one half of his best detective team losing his mind from inside a bamboo torture cage, and the next he's watching the same police consultant smiling at his former captor from -outside- the cage. Running his hand from the top of his head down to massage the muscles in the back of his neck, Simon breathed out, "I have -got- to take a vacation after this is over."

Diane, who looked equally dumbfounded at this surprising turn of events, shook her head in disbelief and commented, "sounds good, Simon. Maybe I'll join you."

For his part, Jim Ellison simply smiled. After a while he simply came to the belief that Blair Sandburg was capable of doing just about anything if he were pushed hard enough. So, naturally, when pushed like no one's been pushed before, Blair simply pushed back.

A second later, Joel Taggart's walkie talkie blazed to life. "Captain Taggart, sir?"

Taking the machine out of its holster, Joel replied, even with an ear-to-ear grin on his face, "yeah, what is it Rafe?"

On the other end of the connection Rafe replied, "you're not going to believe it, sir, but we just turned the corner and there they were. It looks like all the members of the group are here, sir. And they seem to have the weapon with them. They were headed for the water treatment plant when we just...ran into them."

Looking up at the screen in front of him, Joel's smile finally broke out into deep, joyful laughter. "Oh, I believe it Rafe. I most definitely believe it. Bring them in. We'll sort everything out when we get back to headquarters."

The confusion evident in his voice, Rafe signed off, "yes sir."

Everyone quieted down immediately, though, when they realized that Blair had found the cellular phone in the spot where Wilkinson had dropped it. Seeing that it was still on, he picked up the phone and asked into it, "Jim?"

"Yeah, chief, I'm here."

Blair himself broke out into a wide grin, which set the crowd at ease. They knew, at that moment, that everything was over, and they broke into applause, even cheers.

Over the speakers they heard the young shaman request of his Sentinel, "can you come get me, Jim? It's kinda cold up here."

The smile never leaving his face, Jim replied, "Sandburg, I'll be right over. Sandburg?"

The last thing Blair heard, before he lost consciousness, was the voice of the animal spirit from his dream, <>

Jim watched, helplessly, as Blair Sandburg, Shaman and Sentinel's Guide, collapsed just outside the cage that had held him for the previous thirty hours.

Cursing the luck that had followed them to this moment, Joel called over the walkie talkie, "we need a Medivac chopper to the top of the Wilkinson Towers NOW!" while at the same time Jim called through the phone to his partner, "Sandburg? Sandburg! Can you hear me, Blair?!?!?"

Not taking his ear away from the slow sound of his guide's heartbeat, Jim broke into a run to get to the truck and help his guide. Simon followed closely, yelling out, "Jim? How is he?"

"He's barely breathing, Simon. His heart's still beating but it's way too slow."

Both men reached the truck at the same time, and Simon raced for the driver's side. "Jim, in this state, you're in no condition to drive. Give me the keys."

Wordlessly obeying the command, Jim tossed his commander the keys and climbed into the passenger seat. As Simon started the engine he announced, "the chopper's going to get there before we ever could anyway, so we'll meet them at Cascade General."

Not wanting to focus on anything but his guide's fading heartbeat, Jim simply nodded. He muttered to himself, "c'mon Chief. You pulled us through this, don't you die on me now!"

*****

Epilogue -- one week later

Moonlight shone through the small window in Blair Sandburg's hospital room, bathing the forms of the sleeping Sentinel and his comatose guide in a gentle glow. From the door to the room, Naomi Sandburg watched this most unlikely man who had dedicated his life to watching over her son. The thing that she hadn't understood before this, though, was why her son seemed so equally dedicated to that man. Now, watching the two men, even sleeping, she knew.

While she had done her best to nurture Blair's mind and heart, it was through Jim Ellison that her son had discovered the other half of his soul.

As she slowly approached the bed, Jim seemed to finally pick up on the scent of sage in the room, and woke up immediately. Seeing that Naomi was, as he had expected, the one who had just come in, he greeted her quietly, "oh, hello, Naomi."

Never taking her eyes off her son, Naomi replied, "hello, Jim. How's he doing?"

"No change," replied Jim, "there hasn't been any since he got here. He just seems to be stuck in this state."

Taking Blair's hand in hers, she asked, "did he really do the things that everyone's saying that he did?"

Jim nodded. "yeah, he was pretty amazing."

Brushing a stray hair away from Blair's face, Naomi smiled and whispered in amazement, "my son, a Shaman. I thought those stories were only old legends..."

Jim smiled himself, then his tone turned serious as he whispered, "the Shaman of the tribe in Peru who took me in once told me that the 'great powers' hadn't been used for centuries because no Shaman was powerful enough to handle them." Berating himself, Jim continued, "I can't believe he'd feel he had to try something like this..."

"Jim," Naomi interrupted, "from what your commissioner has told me, you had no other alternatives. I'm sure that if there were something you could have done, you would have done it in a heartbeat." Pausing for a moment, she added, "maybe this time the Guide needed to be the one to save the Sentinel."

Had this been any other day, Jim would have gawked at Naomi in open-mouthed shock. However, after this week, it was harder to find someone in Cascade who - didn't- know about Jim or Blair, or his enhanced senses, or their unique relationship. So he simply smiled, and looked over at his unconscious guide. "So you know."

"I told her everything," replied a voice from the doorway, "I figured she had a right to know what had happened to her son."

Jim looked up to see Diane standing in the doorway. As she walked in she spoke in a hushed tone of voice, "I just got off the phone with Judge Mache. All of your files are going to be sealed by a permanent gag order. Anyone who would want access to them besides you, Blair or myself will need a court order to get to them."

Jim grumbled, "yeah, too little too late in my opinion..." but he was abruptly cut off when he realized that Naomi was throwing dagger looks in his direction.

Tactfully, Naomi then directed Diane, "Commissioner, would you mind taking Jim to go get a cup of coffee or something? I'd like to be alone with my son for a minute if you don't mind."

Taking the hint immediately, Jim and Diane left, Diane closing the door behind her.

The remainder of the room bathed in moonlight, Naomi sit down next to her son and held her hand in his own. She took a deep breath, and began, "Blair, I owe you an apology. Jim's so unlike you, baby -- I thought for a while that you -- well -- you know, you and he -- well, anyway, I figured out pretty fast that I was dead wrong about that. I always thought Jim was more like the big brother you never had but you always wanted, remember?

And now I find out about this. You found your Sentinel, Blair -- I should have seen that one right off the bat. But instead of just studying him like I've seen you do to so many tribes, you've devoted your life to making sure he's able to do what he was born to do -- protect Cascade. I guess that means this was what you were born to do, too. I've never made that kind of a commitment to anyone in my life, Blair -- except maybe to you. So I guess in a lot of ways I'm jealous. But I also know that I'm very, very proud of you.

I'm sure you probably heard your commissioner telling Jim about the gag order. He blames himself, Blair -- he thinks that he could have done something to keep you from doing this to yourself." The tears flowing freely now, she continued, "so you gotta come back to us, okay? 'Cause if your Jim keeps blaming himself he's going to turn into a miserable old hag and then -nobody- would ever want to give him the time of day." Squeezing his hand even harder, she declared, "I miss you so much, baby -- please come back to me. Come back to us."

By this point Jim and Diane had gotten back from the cafeteria, and he stood in the doorway, holding a cup of coffee for Naomi, hearing turned way down so that he wasn't eavesdropping on this moment between mother and son. Naomi noticed the light and shadow playing across the foot of her son's bed, and looked up to see Jim standing in the door. She asked him, "how much of that did you hear, Jim?"

"Actually," Jim replied, "I didn't hear any of it." As he walked in and handed Naomi a cup of coffee, he continued, "Blair taught me how to control my senses so that if I don't want to hear things, I can turn that my hearing so I don't have to listen."

"And you can do that with all your senses?" Jim nodded.

Looking down at Blair's unconscious form, Jim whispered, "I can't do this without him, Naomi." Turning his attention to his partner he asked quietly, not for the first time in that week, "where are you in there, chief?"

The words were spoken so softly it truly took a Sentinel to hear them. "Shaman School."

Jim looked up from his spot near Blair's bed, the shock registering on his face. Remembering everything the nurses told her about how they had all noticed that Jim could always 'sense' changes in his partner's condition, Naomi automatically thought her son had just taken a turn for the worse. "Jim, what is it?"

"I thought I heard him say something."

That got Naomi's attention, and she sat up closer to Blair. She started to babble, "Blair are you awake? Can you hear us? If you can hear us, squeeze my hand..."

She stopped abruptly when she heard the sound of Jim's laughter. Confused, she asked, "what?"

Smiling, he simply replied, "Now I know where he gets it from." Turning again to his partner, Jim simply asked, "Blair, if you can hear me, squeeze both hands."

Not only did he squeeze both hands, he slowly opened his eyes. Smiling, Jim greeted him, "welcome back to the land of the living, chief."

Smiling, Blair was able to barely say, "hi Jim," his vocal chords weak from lack of use. Turning to his other side, he smiled, and his voice gained some strength as he exclaimed, "Hi mom! What are you doing here?"

Naomi smiled, and squeezed his hand. "I came to see you, baby."

Still a little groggy, Blair replied, "oh. Good." Turning to his Sentinel, he asked, "can I go back to sleep now, Jim?"

Jim squeezed his hand. "Sure, Blair. We'll be right here when you wake up."

"'kay. 'Night."

Both Naomi and Blair then whispered, "good night, Blair."

As Blair drifted off to a restful sleep, Naomi whispered, "you know, Blair once told me that a Sentinel grows so close to his Guide, that he considers him family. That true?" Jim nodded, and Naomi smiled warmly. "So I guess that means I could consider you my son too, then?"

Jim smiled back at Naomi, then laughed lightly as the realization hit him. He never really had a mother before, and now his Guide had even given him that. Reaching across the bed for Naomi's other hand, he replied, "yeah, I guess you could, Naomi. I guess you could, at that."

Naomi thought about the implications of that, and laughed, squeezing Jim's hand. "Great. That means I now have -two- cop sons to worry about."

***

The next morning, Sharon Driver burst into the hospital like a woman on a mission. No one bothered to stop her--by this point, everyone at the hospital knew who she was and who she was here to see. Carolyn walked in, two steps behind her new friend, laughing all the way. Up until this point, the young agent had always been the picture of calm. Now, though, she looked like she would literally run over anyone who got in their way.

Finally, the two women made it to the door of their intended destination when what they saw stopped them both at the door, smiling. Blair was gesturing wildly, telling his mother and Jim about something, while his audience looked on, greatly amused. Once he stopped to take a breath, Blair noticed the two women at the door out of the corner of his eye. Well, one of the women in particular. "Share!"

Sharon rushed into the room to embrace her boyfriend. She kissed him, then ran her hands across his face and down to take his hands in her own, grateful to finally feel them warm. And alive. Their heads tilted together so that their foreheads touched, Sharon whispered, "God, Blair, I'm so glad you're all right." He voice choked with emotion, she added, "you scared me to death, you know."

Quietly, Blair replied, "I know, baby, I know," and kissed her forehead.

Naomi couldn't help but notice the expression that Blair had had on his face when this woman walked into the room. [I think it's high time I met this girl...]

When she cleared her throat in order to get the young lovers' attention, they jumped quickly, startled by the noise and embarrassed by the obvious display of emotion. Remembering that there were -several- other people in the room, Blair quickly composed himself, then got excited again as he realized that he now had a chance to do something that he'd been wanting to do for months. Turning to his mother, he said, "mom, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Sharon Driver." Turning to Sharon, he drew in a deep breath and added, "Sharon, this is my mom."

Naomi finished the introduction, "Naomi Sandburg. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Sharon replied, "the pleasure is mine, Ms. Sandburg."

Naomi waved off the formal title, which put Sharon immediately at ease. "Oh please, call me Naomi, Sharon."

Sharon smiled warmly, "then call me Share -- everyone else does."

Returning the warm smile, Naomi then uttered the nine most dangerous words in the English language. "So Share, Blair's told me so little about you..."

The minute Jim and Carolyn heard that sentence from Naomi, they realized their presence was going to be totally ignored, maybe for another hour. Seizing the opportunity, Carolyn caught Jim's attention and nodded for him to step outside the room for a moment.

Closing the door behind her, Carolyn looked up into the blue eyes of the man she once called her husband. Taking a deep breath to gain some strength, she announced, "Jim, I just wanted to let you know that, since we wrapped up everything related to the case and Blair's okay, I'm going to be going back to San Francisco in the morning."

Jim looked down at the floor and sighed. He knew this was going to be coming -- it didn't mean he had to like it. There were some things that still needed to be resolved between them, he knew. Visibly uncomfortable, he asked her, "Carolyn..."

At the same time, Carolyn asked him, "Jim..."

Both blushing and laughing nervously, Jim conceded, "you first."

Taking another deep breath to steady herself again, Carolyn began, "Jim, after being with you these past two weeks and seeing the life you've built for yourself here, I have more respect and admiration for you than I've ever had."

Before Jim could respond, though, she added, "but I know now that I can't be a part of that life, even if I want to."

Jim stared at her, confused. "Why?"

Carolyn replied, "the same reason we got divorced -- you're more devoted to protecting Cascade than you ever could be to me. I understand that now. I even understand that it's a part of who you are. But I know that I can't play second fiddle to that, and I always would. One of these days you're going to find a woman who can accept that, the way Sharon does, but I knew the minute I walked into that room and saw you with Blair and Naomi that I was not her."

Jim let out a small sigh, and looked her straight in the eye. "We can still be friends, though right?"

Carolyn, in response, smiled warmly. "Always."

Satisfied, Jim enveloped her in a tremendous bear hug. "You promise to keep in touch?"

Giggling, Carolyn replied, "I promise. As long as you promise to take care of yourself and that family of yours."

At Jim's confused look, Carolyn simply smiled. [For someone with super- enhanced sight, the guy can be so blind...]

When she tilted her head back to the hospital room, though, the look on Jim's face changed from one of confusion to one of realization, and he smiled. "You can count on it."

Squeezing her hand, they let go, and Carolyn walked toward the exit, while Jim headed back toward the room. As Jim grabbed the handle of the door, he looked over to Carolyn, who was waiting for the elevator. Smiling back at him, she whispered, knowing he could hear, "go. They're waiting for you."

Nodding and smiling his acknowledgment, he opened the door and returned to his family.

-end-