It's a Jungle... Out There, In Here

It was not long after Sierra Verde that he noticed.

Sierra Verde had been the end - well, an end to the mess Jim Ellison oh-so-carefully labeled (in what Sandburg would have called the throwback part of his brain) as My Latest Fuck-Up, that started with a jaguar in a convenience store and climaxed in a death in the fountain he would never be able to go near again. And it must have started earlier, but it was eight, nine days afterwards that he noticed the changes in his dreams. The same dreams he had meant, with all good promises and intentions, to tell Sandburg about from now on, no matter how weird and worrying and uncomfortable they - and the telling - would be.

The good intentions lasted just those nine days, and then Jim couldn't. He just... couldn't. He knew - how he knew, he didn't know, but he knew - that the changes were something to do with what had happened at that fountain, and the death he had actually touched and taken into himself without knowing how.

The dreamscape was different. It was still a jungle, his jungle, yes, but darker, grayer, the light harsher and chillier. Something in the air felt wrong, stale, dead. The leaves twisted a little as he brushed through them, edges sharp and brittle; the branches snapped rather than bent, shedding faint, gritty, black flakes.

The panther was still there, and moved as swiftly and silently as ever, but in a new, fluid, oddly lifeless way, its gaunt flanks and long, lean legs like shadows in the dim undergrowth. But it also stayed apart from him, and it never looked at him.

In as much as he understood it - which he didn't - Jim hated it.

In the dark corners of his mind, the Sentinel understood and held back, knowing that it was all making him bleaker and colder in the real world jungle as well as the dream one - in the cityscape that was his territory, as well as the dreamscape that was... somewhere else.

The cityscape - the metal and brick jungle around him - that was different, too, with that same chilly light, but with colors that clashed and grated, hard and sharp; shapes and edges twisted a little, too little for ordinary eyes; sounds that rang slightly hollow all the time. Even living voices - even Simon's, Connor's, Blair's... had that faint, disturbing echo of silence behind them.

Jim, knowing it was the price from the fountain, and more than willing to pay it, sometimes still hid in the dark corners of his mind and watched himself get harsher with all of them. Even Simon, Joel, Brown, Connor... and Blair.

He waited, and couldn't talk, and just tried to hope that something would bring the warmth back.

And occasionally he caught a glimpse, in his mind's eye, of flakes like aging corrosion or long-dead leaves, blackened and brittle, where he brushed against something that should not have died...

-the end-