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 find 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?"
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."
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.