After the events in The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg, Blair seeks spiritual answers to the upheaval in his life. His search has unexpected consequences.

tory Note: Written for Faux Paws Productions' Virtual Season 5

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Linda MacLaren, Our Executive Producer, for having the idea to do the Virtual Season, for allowing me to participate, and for betaing. Special thanks to Garett Maggart, Richard Burgi, and Danny Bilson, without whom there would be no Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, or The Sentinel.

Rated PG:  a little swearing, a little violence.

Completed September 20, 1999

 

 

 

Following the Wolf

by

Susan L. Williams

 

The click of the alarm clock snapped him awake. Before the buzzer could sound, Jim slapped the button down, his blind aim unerring. He tugged the sleep mask off and lay back down, listening, taking inventory. He did it most mornings; he wasn't sure why, but he knew he did it more often in winter, when he woke in darkness. He supposed it was left over from his days as a Ranger, or some kind of sentinel thing. Or maybe just that he hated getting up in the dark. Sandburg would probably have some explanation full of two-dollar words, but he didn't really want to hear it. It was a habit. He did it. So what?

The bathroom faucet was dripping. Wind whistled through Blair's closed bedroom window, which still didn't sit right in its frame. They'd have to fix it, or Sandburg would be whining all winter about the cold. He and Blair were alone in the apartment: that was right. But Blair wasn't in his room and wasn't asleep, and it was only--Jim lifted his head to look at the clock--6:05 AM: that was wrong. Blair's heart rate and breathing were normal. He wasn't sick or scared or upset. He was just awake.

Jim sighed and rolled out of bed, automatically dialing down before the chill did more than touch his skin. No need for a robe; Sandburg hadn't brought home any stray felons or runaway teenagers during the night. His knee ached, and he dialed that down, too. Not too far, or Sandburg would lecture him on how pain was the body's way of telling him to take it easy before he did any more damage. Moving carefully, Jim padded barefoot down the stairs to the living room.

Blair sat on the couch. Just sat, his feet flat on the floor, shoes still on along with yesterday's clothes, hands in his lap, worrying a corner of his flannel shirt. It wasn't completely dark. Streetlight filtering through the balcony doors limned his silhouette with silver and cast deeper shadows than the night. Blair should be able to make out familiar shapes, but Jim doubted that he actually saw anything. He stared at a point somewhere between the couch and the door, pupils so dilated that his irises were narrow rings of blue fire. His usually mobile features were still and somber. No, not somber: sad.

Damn. He couldn't deal with this now, not until he'd had a shower and some coffee. Jim moved into the kitchen. Blair started as he went by, but didn't move otherwise, though his fingers stopped playing with his shirt.

"Jim. What are you doing up?"

"Getting ready for work."

Sandburg looked out the window as though he expected to see the sun. "Oh."

Jim put coffee on and went into the bathroom to shower and shave. When he emerged, Blair was still sitting there. He got dressed, came back downstairs again, turned on a light, and poured mugs of coffee for himself and Blair. He took a sip, and sighed. Better get it over with.

Blair took the mug when Jim held it out to him, cradled it between his hands, but didn't drink. Jim sat at the other end of the couch, and Blair automatically turned to face him.

"What's up, Jim?"

"You, Chief. All night, it looks like."

Blair studied his coffee. "I was thinking."

"What about?"

"Oh, you know," he said lightly. "The meaning of life, whether there'll be peace in our time, what the hell I'm going to do now. Stuff like that."

Jim frowned. "I thought we settled that."

"I know you did, Jim. But I'm not sure."

"Not sure about what? You've got an opportunity here, Chief."

"I know." One thumb ran back and forth over the handle of the mug. "I'm just not sure I should take it."

"You got something else lined up, Sandburg?"

"No, man. I just--I don't know if this is right."

"How could it not be right? You've been a cop for the past three years. All this would do is make it official. And get you a steady paycheck."

"Jim, you don't get it. This isn't about me becoming a cop. Well, that's part of it, but right now, I'm too busy trying to keep my head above water. Figuratively speaking."

A sickly grin ghosted across Blair's face. He raised the mug to his lips, and lowered it again, still without drinking.

"The other day, you said you didn't know who you were. That was wrong. You know. You've always known, somewhere inside. It's just that sometimes you forget, or you don’t want to know what you know. Me, I don't have that. I thought I did, but the more stuff that happens, the more confused I get."

"You're not making any sense here, Chief."

Blair put the coffee down and jumped up, starting to pace. He ran one hand through his hair, his body practically vibrating.

"Okay. Okay, you remember when Incacha passed the way of the shaman on to me? When he did that, I was scared. Terrified. I thought it meant something, that things would change. That I would change. I thought I'd know more. I thought I'd be more. Shaman of the Great City, you know? But nothing happened. Things went on exactly the same as they always had.

"When Alex killed me, and you brought me back, I figured, hey, this is it, it's shaman time. Symbolic or near-death experiences are a big part of shamanism in almost every culture. When I found out we shared a vision, I was sure. Then you said you weren't ready to go there with me, and it woke me up. I realized that whatever I thought I had wasn't really there. I just wanted it to be. You went to the Temple of Light on your own; you didn't need me for that. You didn't need me for any of it. I wasn't a shaman then and I'm not one now."

"Sandburg, you're doing your job."

Blair faced him, his gaze intense, almost pleading. "Am I, Jim? How do you know that? Do you know what my job's supposed to be?"

"Watching my back. Helping me with this sentinel thing."

"Okay, I watch your back. But I haven't helped you with your senses for months. Most of the time, you don't need my help. When you did, when Alex was around, I couldn't help you. I didn't know what to do. If that's my job, I'm not doing it. And what if there's more? What if I'm supposed to be doing something else, something I don’t know about?"

"Like what?"

Blair threw his hands in the air. "I don't know, man! That's just it: I don't know. I don't know anything."

Jim stared at his partner. It was way too early for this. "Chief, you've lost me here. Nothing's changed. You're still the expert on sentinels."

"No, I'm not, Jim. I may know more than anyone else in Cascade, maybe anyone in the country, but I'm not an expert. I only know what I've learned from my research."

"You know enough." Say it, Ellison. "You've helped me from day one."

"Helped. Past tense, Jim. What about now? Where do I go from here?"

"You go to the academy and become a cop."

"And what? Just forget about everything else?"

"No. Not forget about it. Just--put it on the back burner for a while."

"For how long? A year? Five? Ten? What will I be then?"

"A cop."

"What if a cop's not what I want to be?"

What was he supposed to say? Did Blair honestly think he had all the answers? Or was this something else? Something Sandburg didn't have the guts to come out and admit?

"So, what are you saying, Chief? You don't want to go to the academy?"

"No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying I don't know what I want."

Jim carefully placed his mug on the coffee table. He stood slowly, clamping down on the harsh words that threatened to erupt. "Well, you'd better decide. People stuck their necks out to get you an appointment to the academy and a gold shield when you get out. Do you have any idea how unusual that is?"

"I know, Jim. I'm grateful for what you and Simon did, I really am."

"Doesn't sound like it to me."

"That's because you're not listening."

"I'm listening. You don't want to be a cop; you want to wear feathers and paint and talk to the animal spirits. You want to do magic tricks."

"A shaman's not a magician, Jim."

"I know that. But I don't think you do."

"I know what a shaman is, Jim. I've read the books, I've done the studies."

"It's not the same as being one."

"I know that. Dammit, Jim, Incacha passed the way of the shaman on to me. It has to mean something."

"It does. Incacha guided me in Peru; you guide me here. He handed me off to you."

"And that's it? That's all there is to it?"

"What else do you want?"

"I don't know. It just seems like there should be something more."

Jim turned away. Keep a lid on it, Ellison. Don't explode in his face. "So what do you want to do, Chief? You want to go off and sit in a hut somewhere and wait for a revelation?"

"I don't know, Jim."

"You'll waste your life that way."

"So anything that doesn't involve being a cop is a waste? Is that it, Jim?"

Was the kid trying to provoke him? Jim shook his head. "Don't twist my words around."

"I'm not. You obviously think that me trying to get a spiritual handle on my life is worthless. What about you, Jim? What about the Temple of Light?"

"I didn't have a choice there. And I was in pursuit of Alex Barnes."

Bitterly. "You were in pursuit of her all right, man."

Jim faced him then, saw the rare anger lining Blair's features, but he was past treading carefully, his own anger had too hard a hold.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You know what it means. She killed me, and all you could think about was having sex with her. I know you had no control over it, I know it was some kind of sentinel mating instinct, but it still sucked, Jim."

"So, what, you holding a grudge, Sandburg?"

"No! I'm just saying it hurt."

"Well, I'm sorry. But what does this have to do with you wanting to be Super Shaman?"

He could see Blair struggle for control, see him pushing the hurt and anger back, fighting to be, and sound, reasonable.

"You were drawn to Alex, and to the Temple, by sentinel instinct. Maybe my conflicting feelings about this are some kind of shaman's instinct. Or maybe my instinct's screwed up and that's why I'm confused."

"Or maybe you just don't want to face reality."

The instant he said it, his conscience screamed at him to apologize, but he couldn't do it, the words wouldn't come out of his mouth. For a moment, Blair just stared, his face pale. When he spoke, his voice was cold, colder than Jim had ever heard it.

"That's it. That's exactly it, Jim. I can't face the reality of not publishing, or getting my PhD, or being an anthropologist anymore, so I'm obsessing about unimportant things, like just who the hell I am now, and whether there might be some purpose to my life. Why didn't I think of that? Problem solved. Thanks, Jim. Thanks a lot."

"Look, Sandburg--"

"No, you look, Jim. It may not seem like much to you, but this is my life we're talking about. What I decide now could change who I am and how I live. I need to retain some kind of control here. I need to know that, whatever decision I make, I didn't just rush into it. I don't want to have regrets because I couldn't take the time to think."

"Fine, Chief. Take all the time you want." Jim stalked away, grabbed his coat and cane from the rack, and opened the door. "Let me know when you decide whether becoming a cop is good enough for you."

"Jim--"

Jim shut the door, and his ears, refusing to hear the rest of whatever Blair said.

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End Part 1

Part 2