Slip Sliding Away

by alyjude

His world was just that much off and it was scaring the hell out of him. For days now, there’d been no improvement. In fact, things were worse.

Blair gazed out over the city from his spot on the balcony and noticed how the trees leaned just that much and how the sidewalks seemed to angle off to the right, just that much, instead of heading straight up the street. And the people walking below him all seemed to be leaning just that much to the right.

Something was wrong. Terribly wrong, and it was time he faced it.

Maybe in his brain? A tumor? Wait, maybe an inner ear problem?



“Well, Mr. Sandburg, according to all the test results, you’re fine. No evidence of any inner ear problems, a clear MRI, EEG, blood work-up, everything is normal. I’d have to conclude that you’re as healthy as a horse.”

“Then why—“

The doctor put the folder down, leaned back on the stool, and regarded his young patient. “You’re a grad student, Mr. Sandburg. A pretty busy one at that, right?” At Blair’s nod, he went on. “It’s been my experience that busy grad students who are also research fellows are under a great deal of stress. And as I recall, you also work with the Cascade PD, right?”

“Yes, but—“

The doctor held up his hand. “All I’m saying is that maybe you need to look at this whole thing from a psychological point of view. Stress can cause many different types of symptoms, Mr. Sandburg.”

The man rotated on his stool and picked up a prescription pad. “I’m going to prescribe a mild sleeping aid and a pain killer for the headaches, but I strongly urge you to do something about the stress.  Physically, you’re fine, but continued anxiety can definitely take its toll.”

Blair digested the advice, then nodded helplessly.



Driving home, the feeling of wrongness persisted, which was oddly slapstick because the feeling of wrongness was punctuated by everything leaning to the right. A rightness of his world was signaling the wrongness.

Oh, yeah, he was losing his mind.




“Jim, how are your senses lately?”

Jim looked up from the television and cocked his head.


“Just a question, Jim. How are your senses lately?”

“They’re fine, why?”

“Nothing—weird going on?”

“No-o, nothing weird.”

“Oh, okay. Good.”

Blair went back to his magazine where all the printing leaned to the right, while Jim went back to the television. Blair was betting that for Jim, everything was leaning if it needed to lean, and was straight where it needed to be straight. He just knew that the men and women of the news were standing perfectly straight—for Jim.

For Blair—they leaned. Decidedly to the right.

Which was why he was reading. Print that leaned was easier to handle than people who leaned.




Shit, even the little dancing lights that hid behind your eyes and only came out when you closed them and tried to see them—were leaning. How could he sleep like this?

He couldn’t.

Blair got up and wandered out into the living room. He stood silently and looked. Just looked. He sighed. Now the walls were wavering. Not too much, mind you, but they were definitely wavering.

This was not good.

Leaning and wavering and he couldn’t stop it. He could blink, he could close his eyes tight and pray that when he opened them, everything would be back to normal, but it never worked.

Blair held out his right hand, then brought it up to his face.


His hand was wavering in the dark room.

“Blair, what’s wrong?”

Jim’s voice sent Blair shooting two feet into the air, which wavered, and sent him back. “Shit, don’t do that, man.”

“Sorry, but you’re standing in the middle of the living room, in the middle of the night, and you’re staring at your hand.”

“Because it’s wavering, Jim. It used to just lean to the right, but now, it’s wavering. I’ve seen all the doctors and I’m healthy, but everything is still leaning and now wavering.”

He knew his voice sounded—plaintive, but he couldn’t help it. And he couldn’t help finally telling Jim either. A moment later, he was glad. Jim took his arm and led him gently to the couch where he sat Blair down, went into the kitchen, made tea, turned up the thermostat and came back, mug in hand.

“Drink this, then we’ll talk.”

Blair did as ordered, and when he was done and the leaning cup was placed on the leaning table, Jim, who was the only thing in his life that didn’t lean, said, “All right, start from the beginning.”

“I was born—“


“Sorry. It started several weeks ago. Barely noticeable at first. Things around me were just that much off center, off kilter. I couldn’t really pin it down. But then, things started to lean to the right.  People, cars, streets, printed words, the television, what’s on the television, the works. I finally went to the doctor at the university. When he found nothing abnormal, he set me up with a specialist, an ears, nose and throat guy, but he found nothing, so then I was set up with a neurologist, who made an appointment for an MRI. You know, to check for tumors and such.”

In the semi-darkness, Blair couldn’t see Jim’s face drain of all color.

“Then, while waiting for the results, I had my eyes checked. I received all the results yesterday at the university. I’m healthy. Which means, if it’s not a physical problem, well, I must be going bonkers.”

“Are you hearing voices?”

The question was asked in all seriousness and Blair loved Jim for it.

“No, no voices.”

“Just things leaning?”

“Yes, but tonight, a few minutes ago, they started—wavering. Like, you know, a mirage.”

“I see.”

“Do you, Jim? Do you see? Has anything like this ever happened to you?”

“No, Blair, it hasn’t.”

Sandburg could tell what that honesty cost his friend, could tell that Jim would have loved to say that, yes, it had happened to him. Blair lowered his head and stared at his wavering hands. “No, I didn’t think it had,” he finally said.

“I’m sorry, Blair.”

“Don’t be silly, Jim.” He swiped a hand over his face and rubbed vigorously for a moment, then said, “I’m so god damned tired. I’m not sleeping all that well, especially the last few nights.”

“This leaning thing is affecting your ability to sleep?”

“Yeah. When I close my eyes, all I see are leaning things, you know?”

“The circles and lines?”

“Yeah, only they’re leaning.”

“What about at work?”

“Nothing different. Joel leans, Megan leans, Simon leans—“

“I lean.”

“No, you’re the only person who doesn’t lean or waver.”

“Blair, look at me.” Blair did. “I’m not leaning now?”

  “Nope. You never lean, except when you lean for real.”

“And I’m not wavering?”

“Nope. Steady as a rock.”

“But when you look at yourself, you’re leaning and wavering?” Blair nodded miserably. Jim sat back and mulled this over.

“Jim, we have to face facts. I’m losing it. I need help. Professional help, as in psychiatric help.”

Jim faced his friend and said, “Why? If everything is leaning and wavering, everything but me, why is it you? Why not me? Maybe I’m the problem? You know, like the one kid marching to a different beat?”

Blair pinched himself. Yep, he was awake. “Um, Jim?”

“Look Sandburg, maybe I’m the one off and it’s

making everything else seem—well, you know—“


“Yeah. I mean, we see the world around us a certain way, then something happens and maybe I’m the one off kilter.”

“If that were true, Jim, then I’d see the leaning only with you around. The contrast, see? But I see it all the time. In bed, in the bathroom, at work, at the University, with or without you.” “Oh. Good point. You’ve given this a lot of thought then.”

“Yeah. Never prayed to have a tumor so much in my life, if you know what I mean. But I don’t. Healthy as a horse. Well, except, apparently, my mind.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions, okay? In case you’ve forgotten, it was only a few years ago that I thought I was losing my mind. Turned out all that was happening was that I was gaining—you.”

Blair punched Jim in the arm. But hey, at least Jim’s arm wasn’t wavering or leaning.




Jim moved to the kitchen and took a water out of the fridge. He used the time it took to open it and take a couple of swallows, to observe his best friend. Who, now that Jim really thought about it, looked like hell.

The idea that Sandburg was insane simply did not and would not compute with Jim. It wasn’t possible. Not even remotely. Totally unacceptable. Therefore, something else was going on. Could it be sentinel related? Okay, Jim had thrown out the possibility that he was the one with the problem and Blair had shot that down rather effectively. But what if—

The “what if” hung in the mental air and lead Jim down the path of dark questions. What if Blair really was sick? What if the doctors had missed something, like, a—tumor? His heart was gripped with a cold hand, the fingers tightening at the thought of a truly ill Blair.

Jim put the kibosh on any more ‘what ifs’ as they’d only lead him to an ulcer. He walked back to the couch and took his seat, not failing to notice that Sandburg’s gaze latched onto him as if he were a life preserver.

“We can figure this out, buddy. And I’m still not convinced that somehow, this isn’t related to me and my senses.”

“Then why would it be affecting me and not you, Jim?”

“Like I’d know the answer to that? For all we know, I’ve started giving off these weird vibes and they’re causing this whole—slider—effect for you.” Blair huffed a little, knuckled back a chunk of hair, then said a bit sarcastically, “But not Simon? Or any other member of Major Crime? Hell, Jim, you were with Megan all day yesterday. She have any sudden leaning tendencies? Was she falling off curbs because she was certain they were the Grand Canyon?”

Jim’s mouth dropped open, then he shut it with a snap.

“You fell off a curb, Chief? When? Are you—“

“Jim, snap out of it. Yes, I fell off a curb, in front of Rainier, if you must know. Gave the students a nice laugh at my expense. I mean, the damn thing was leaning and the closer I got to it, the farther away it leaned, you know?” Blair shook his head. “Of course you don’t know. It was like having a brand new pair of glasses, a new prescription—wait. You don’t know what that’s like either. Well, fuck.”

Jim had to smile at that. “No, Blair, I don’t think I’ll ever know what it’s like to have a new pair of glasses.”

“Yeah, well, I console myself with the fact that I’ll never know what it’s like to be,” he paused for effect, “bald.”

Jim leaned in close, and with his index finger, traced along Blair’s hairline. “Excuse me, Junior? I do believe this, “ he tapped Blair’s head, “is what’s called a receding hairline.”

“No it isn’t. I just have a broad forehead,” Blair defended hotly.

“You keep telling yourself that, Baldy.  One of these days, you’re gonna look like George Carlin.”

“Fine by me, Kojak.”

They looked at each other, then grinned, and for a moment, leaning was forgotten.




Jim moved about his home, locking up, listening, patrolling. His nightly ritual. A ritual that Blair said was part of his inheritance. Jim thought Blair was full of shit. Of course, he had to admit that he’d never done this whole patrolling thing when he’d lived alone. Back then, he’d locked up and promptly fall asleep on the couch as the set droned on. When he’d been married, especially toward the end, he’d done pretty much the same thing; lock up, fall asleep on the couch.

In the darkness, Jim paused in front of his partner’s room. The night wrapped comfortably around him, the sounds of the building and his city washing over him and registering on a level he was barely aware of. He opened the French doors softly, then slipped inside.  He remained by the door, wanting only to see Blair, to ensure that the younger man was actually asleep. He was. Deeply.

Jim hadn’t missed the bottle of pills Blair had pulled out of his pocket in the kitchen just before going to bed. Quizzing him about them, he hadn’t been surprised at Blair’s answer.

“Hard to sleep, Jim. My regular doctor prescribed these as well as a mild pain killer for the headaches.  They work. I can close my eyes and eventually, drift off.”

Sleeping pills weren’t the answer, only a temporary solution. One that Blair couldn’t continue for long.  They had to find out what was wrong, what was causing this strangeness.

Jim was about to turn away, to leave, when something caught his eye. He froze, frowned, then unbelievably, he squinted.

What the hell was that? He blinked, and it, whatever it was, disappeared. Jim tried to reconstruct what he thought he’d seen, but it eluded him.  Slowly, and deep in thought, he left Blair’s room and headed upstairs.



As Jim prepared for bed, he noticed a coldness in his extremities. He paused in his undressing and started to massage his cold fingers. As he rubbed, the coldness spread.

Okay, what the hell was going on? His stomach clenched and for a moment he thought he might throw up, then everything calmed. But he was still cold and even dialing down did nothing to warm him up. He thought back to the coldness he’d felt around Molly—and shook his head. Not the same type of frigidness at all. This wasn’t the air around him, this time it was him.

He was cold.

One half of this partnership was leaning and wavering, the other half—cold. This was not good, as Sandburg would say.

Jim sat down on the edge of the bed and contemplated his cold hands and feet. Was this a psychological reaction to Blair’s predicament? Could this be a physical problem as a result of something in the air, maybe here in the loft? Like—Radon, or something along those lines? And could it be affecting the two of them differently?

//No, Ellison, you’re cold because you’re afraid.//

Jim Ellison hated inner voices. For one thing, they were always fucking right. Like now. The cold might not be due to any fear on his part, but he was afraid. Deathly afraid.

For weeks, Blair had been sliding away from him and now Blair was truly sliding away. How ironic was that?


Absentmindedly, he rubbed at his fingers again.

Even though he and Sandburg had managed to slip back into a normal routine upon their return from Sierra Verde, their interaction had been far from the classic Ellison-Sandburg comaraderie they’d known before the advent of Alex Barnes into their lives. Their friendship looked and sounded normal to everyone, but in the things that counted, Blair was most definitely absent. He no longer shared himself with Jim, but was still there for Jim.

Blair no longer tried to talk about what had happened, including his death, or as he’d put it with a smile, “My walk on the wild side”. Jim was now beginning to realize how detrimental this whole “not talking about it” could be—to both of them. It was simply impractical to believe that two men could go through what they had, then pick up as if nothing had happened. It was also foolish.


When his emotions were in turmoil, his senses picked up on it and whacked out. So why couldn’t the same thing be happening to Sandburg? The guy had swallowed everything whole, locked it all down tight, and now could be paying the psychological price?

//Okay, then why aren’t you leaning?//

Just when he was making headway, that damned inner voice had to chime in with its two fucking cents worth.

“So, smartypants, why do you think Blair is looking at a leaning world, huh?” he asked out loud. He wasn’t surprised when he received no answer. Inner voices were great at asking the questions, but fucking lousy at giving answers.

“You’re fired,” he stated flatly.

As Jim settled into his bed, it hit him that he’d just talked more to himself than to Sandburg in their whole fucking three years together.

With that disgusting thought in mind, he was just about to drift off when an idea hit him. He really should have the loft inspected. Rule out everything so that they’d be left with—left with?

Jim bolted out of bed, ran downstairs and just made it to the bathroom as his stomach gave up dinner.




Waking up from a drugged sleep was not Blair’s favorite method of waking. The whole cotton-mouthed thing he had going was disgusting and the heavy feeling to his limbs did nothing to encourage his crawling out of bed. Taking a piss on the the other hand, was all the encouragement he needed.

Afraid to open his eyes, he struggled up, pushed off the blankets and stood. He swayed a moment, then felt his way around the futon to the French doors. Hand on the knob, he waited, counted to ten, then opened his eyes.

Leaning and wavering—and—dots?

Oh goody. Now he had dots too. This was just so typical of his life. Drop another shoe, spill some more milk, break another egg, and rolling stones gathering shit. Or whatever.

Blair made his way to the bathroom. As the dots moved, blocking some of his vision, he smacked into the wall.

“Okay, this is NOT funny,” he said to said wall. He was just taking his next step when Jim’s voice rang out from the bedroom above.


Blair could hear his partner moving, the bed squeaking, feet hitting the hardwood floors, and knowing that Jim was on his way down, he said, “I’m fine, Jim. Just fine. I have dots this morning. Isn’t that just so cool?”

Blair heard the footsteps stop.

“Dots, Chief?”

Pushing the door of the bathroom open, Blair nodded to himself, “Yep. Dots. And do you know how hard it is to take a piss when everything, including your dick, is leaning?”

Jim was at his side then, hair sticking straight up, face pillow-creased, plaid boxers low on his hips. And because he wasn’t leaning, wavering, nor blocked by dots, Jim Ellison was the most beautiful sight in his universe.

“I have just one question, Chief.”

“What?” Blair asked, as he lifted the toilet seat up.

“Is your dick and the toilet both leaning to the right?”

Blair frowned, then scratched his butt. “Um, yeah.

Everything is leaning to the right.”

“Then hitting what you’re aiming for shouldn’t be too hard. And by the way, did you ever think that maybe this leaning to the right thing was your punishment for years of being the most liberal Democrat God ever created?”

Blair rubbed at his nose. “Mom is the most liberal Democrat ever created by God. And the dots might prevent me from seeing the toilet.”

“This is a truly inane conversation, Sandburg.”

Blair smiled. “Yeah, it is. And unless you want to see me miss, I suggest you amscray. And close the door after you.”




Jim ran his fingers through his hair, then scrubbed them over his jaw. He heard Blair flush, then turn on the faucet. For all their banter, Blair’s heart had been pounding double time. He was more frightened this morning than he’d been last night. But hey, so was Jim.

Remembering his last waking thought, Jim walked over to the phone, picked up his personal phone book, rifled through the pages, then finding the number he needed, quickly dialed. He knew he’d get an answering service, and that was okay. At the sound of the beep, he left his message.

“Craig? This is Jim Ellison. Yeah, I know, long time no hear. Look, I need a favor, buddy. I have need of your services and it’s an emergency. Call me here at the loft, I’ll be here all day. Need you now.”

Jim disconnected and prayed Craig Soto would return his call later in the morning.




Blair came out of the bathroom and walked unsteadily toward the dining room table. He pulled out a chair and sank down, then lowered his head into hands. He was getting sick to his stomach.

A warm, squeezing hand on his shoulder brought his head up. “Jim?”

“Who else?” Jim answered with a tender smile. “I take you’re not feeling so well this morning?”

“Not really, no. Look, could you, I mean, would you get—from my bedroom, umm, pills—“ His voice trailed off, his discomfort at having to ask Jim pretty evident.

“Just tell me where, Chief.”

“Backpack. Umm, the Compezine, please?”

Jim moved quickly, and a moment later was pressing the bottle into Blair’s hand.

“Hang on, let me get you some juice to take it with.”

“Thanks, man.”

Jim got some orange juice, set it down, then took the seat next to his partner.

After Blair swallowed the pill and chased it back with the sweet liquid, Jim said, “Tell me exactly what kind of tests the doctor ran, Chief.”

Blair waved a hand aimlessly as he said, “Not doctor, Jim. Doctors. And between all of them, I had a complete bloodwork and was even checked for strange parasites. My doctor and I both thought I might have picked up something.” At a questioning look from Jim, Blair added, “You know, expeditions, third world countries, Peru, that kind of thing.”

Jim nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, so pretty thorough medical exams.”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah. Very thorough.”

“All right then, I think it’s time we looked at external possibilities. I have a call into a friend with the City. I’m going to have the loft checked out.”

Blair turned in his seat to stare at his friend.

“Excuse me?”

“The loft. There could be a noxious substance, like Radon or something. He can test the air, etc.”

“Jim, if there was something here, you’d be—“

“Tell me I don’t have to explain to you about me and my senses? I could be compensating, right?”

Blair’s brow creased with thought. Finally he said

uneasily, “I suppose—so.” Then his expression

brightened. “Hey, if there is something wrong with

the loft and you are compensating, that’s going to

open up a whole new—“

Laughing, Jim held up his hand. “Whoa, Einstein, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One step at a time, okay?”

Blair took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “Right.

Of course.”

“You hungry, Chief?”

Blair shook his head, his eyes on his non-leaning partner. He didn’t for a minute believe that the problem was here in the loft. The problem was in his mind and he needed to face up to it. But first—hey, it couldn’t hurt to rule out everything before declaring himself insane, right? Right.

“Well, I’m going to fix a little something, since we’re both up. Maybe by the time it’s ready, that pill will have kicked in and you’ll be able to eat.”

Jim pushed away from the table and ambled into the kitchen, totally unaware that he was still in nothing by his boxers. Blair was very glad that Jim wasn’t leaning. It gave him a perfectly legitimate reason for looking.

He looked.




Jim was just whisking the eggs with sour cream and chives when the phone rang. Hoping that it was Craig, he beat Blair to the phone.


//Jimbo, how ya doing?//

With a sigh of relief, Jim smiled, then said, “Fine, Craig, fine. You’re up early on a Saturday morning.”

//Hey, I run now. Gotta keep in shape, you know.

Getting married in two months.//

“So I heard, and congratulations.”

//Thanks. So what’s your problem?//

Jim glanced over at his partner, who was watching him, his head tilted slightly.

“Well, we’re experiencing some strange—odd— symptoms here and I’m hoping you might do a little check of the place? Test the air, that kind of thing?”


//Can you be more specific?//

“Vision problems, for one. Doctors have ruled out illnesses.”

//Okay, there are several environmental issues that

come to mind. Do you have an air conditioning unit?//

“No, why?”

//Freon can leak out and cause all types of problems.

Could be happening with your refrigerator. You live in

a building that was converted to apartments, right?//

“Yes. It used to belong to Wicker Crafts. When they out grew the space, they built their new building over on Fremont. Cappy Wicker sold this place to his daughter, Colette, who owns the dress shop on the ground floor. She did the conversion.”

//Okay, could be another source for environmental

problems. Let me get my morning schedule settled and

I’ll drop by around one?//

“One would be great, Craig. And thanks.”

//Hey, I owe you big time. See you at one.//


Jim said his good-bye, then hung up. Oddly enough, the conversation with Craig actually made him feel hopeful. Very hopeful. It really could be environmental. He turned back to Blair.  “Well, you heard. He’ll be here at one.”

“It sounded as though he had some definite ideas.”

Jim smiled. “He does. You just might be forced to run a whole slew of new tests on me, Chief.”

“I—hope so, Jim. I hope so.”

They both understood what Blair meant. Testing Jim because he hadn’t succumbed to whatever was going on in the loft was infinitely better than Blair’s being insane.





Craig Soto closed up his case and placed it on the floor. He picked up his clipboard, made a few notes, then turned to face his friend. “Clean bill of health, Jim. Surprisingly clean, by the way.”

Jim did a remarkable job of hiding his disappointment.  Blair simply turned, walked over to the balcony, then stepped out and shut the window after him.

“Is he okay?” Craig indicated Sandburg with a nod of his head.

“He’s—we were hoping—“

“Jim, what’s going on? Just how bad are your symptoms?”

“It’s like I said. Our vision has been off, so to speak.”

Craig stared hard at his friend, then nodded slowly.  “Okay, Jim. Understood. Whatever the problem, it isn’t in your environment. At least, not here.”

Not here.

An idea burst forth in Jim’s brain.

“Okay, what about Rainier University?”

“Rainier? Jim, I’m not getting the connection.”

“That’s where Blair works. He’s an anthropologist and a TA at the university.”

“But you’re not, Jim.”

“No, I’m—not.”

Craig glanced out at the lone figure on the balcony, and nodded again. “I see. If he’s an anthropologist, then he’s in Hargrove Hall, right?”

Jim nodded.

“Then it’s not Rainier. The older buildings were tested months ago when the U received that huge donation from the Willoughby family. Hastings Hall and MacInnes Hall were the only older structures that had any environmental problems. They both underwent a complete overhaul and facelift. Hargrove Hall received a clean bill of health. And before you ask, same with the PD.”

Jim’s heart sank. He rallied long enough to thank Craig. They spoke for a few more minutes before Craig left.

After Jim shut the door behind Soto, he walked over to the window, but didn’t open it right away, preferring to stand a moment and watch his friend. He suspected Blair needed some time to deal. He knew he did.


Blair didn’t feel the coldness of the railing beneath his fingers, nor the frigid air blowing over his vulnerable skin. He kept his eyes closed, mostly due to the fact that it was easier seeing leaning dots and dashes behind closed lids then a leaning, wavering, dot-ridden Cascade.

As he listened to the sounds of Prospect, he acknowledged to himself that next up; a psychiatrist.

Bound to happen, right? Which one of Naomi’s boyfriends had called him “high strung and ready to snap”? Oh, yeah, Boyd. Boyd Kildare.

Blair had always been certain that his mother had dated the man strictly based on the guy’s last name.  She’d always been crazy about Doctor Kildare. And hadn’t that craziness been the cause of the worst six months in Blair’s life, if one didn’t count the last six months? Oh, yeah.


Blair could hear Boyd now—

“Naomi, that boy has problems. He needs help.

Professional help.”

That had been the constant refrain from a guy named Kildare. No play-offs or World Series’ with that guy.  Nuh-huh. Just weird looks and snide asides to his mother and anyone else who would listen.  Something brushed up against Blair and he jerked himself back to the present.

“Jim? What did—“ Blair turned to find that he was alone. Completely alone. He frowned, then let his gaze roam over the small balcony, the small leaning, wavering, dotted balcony. But nothing was there. Just him, some plants, a couple of spindly chairs and a small table. Like always.

His gaze drifted back to the windows. He could see Jim walking toward him, two steaming mugs in his hands.  Blair pushed the window open and as Jim walked through, he handed off one of the mugs.

“Thought you could use this. I know I can.”

“Thanks, man,” Blair said as he took the hot cup. He took a careful sip, then said, “So. No leaking fumes, Radon or Freon.”

“Afraid not, Chief. Hargrove Hall is clean too, as is the PD.”

“Well, we kind of suspected that, didn’t we?”

Jim didn’t answer. He didn’t need to.

“So, come Monday, I’ll call a friend of a friend and get the name of a good psychiatrist.”

“Chief, I just don’t think that’s the answer, okay?”

“Don’t you, Jim? It’s been a rough few months, some people could tell you that I’ve never been—exactly -- stable, so why not a psychiatrist? Wouldn’t be the first time, you know?”

“So you’ve mentioned before. And for your information, I didn’t believe you then, and I don’t believe you now.”

Blair smiled oddly as he looked up at his non-leaning, non-wavering partner. “You didn’t believe me?”

“No, I didn’t. You were trying to convince me to let you talk with Joel and it’s been my experience that when you want something, you tend to—maneuver the facts, or if lacking facts, to make them up.  Obfuscating, remember? Male bonding and all that shit?”

“I fudged to Joel about conquering my fear of heights, nothing else, Jim.”

“Are you telling me that you actually did see therapists when you were a kid?”

Blair’s gaze drifted away as he nodded. “I—see, I had—there was this problem—oh, shit.”

Blair swiped a hand over his face, then resigned to revealing a piece of his past, said, “Look, when I was four, I was diagnosed with Leukemia, okay? I spent weeks, and thanks to several set-backs, months in and out of the hospital. Mom went quietly crazy, her current boyfriend took a deep six, and surprise, surprise, I ended up with,” Blair made little quote marks in the air, “issues. When I finally went into remission, mom thought it was over. Ha-ha. Not so.

“After the remission was confirmed, we moved into

phase two; something called Consolidation Therapy. Mom

was so not prepared for that. When I was finally

pronounced completely well, I had a few difficulties

adjusting to being a healthy child again. Not to

mention a shit load of guilt. Hence the—“


“You got it. Not that this little sob story of mine has anything to do with what’s happening now, other than to make the point that me and mental health experts are no strangers. So I call, and that’s that.”

“Chief, I find that I really need to sit down. Let’s take this inside, okay?”

Blair nodded and followed Jim inside. He took the yellow chair as Jim lowered himself onto the couch.

“I—can’t believe you never told me, Blair.”

Voice devoid of emotion, he answered, “It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in introductions, Jim. Or any other kind of conversation, you know?”

“Certainly explains a lot about your mother, I’ll give you that.”

Blair fingered a strand of hair and said thoughtfully, “Used to be straight, until the chemotherapy. It grew back curly. Weird.”

Jim stared at Blair’s finger as he twirled the hair around it. For a split second, he could actually see the sick and defenseless pre-school Blair. He could see the small boy fighting a disease he couldn’t hope to understand as it invaded his body and robbed him of a good chunk of his childhood.

Jim felt a lump in his throat and a burning behind his eyes. Angrily, he blinked hard as he wondered if Blair would ever stop surprising him?

Gathering himself together, Jim said quietly, “Okay, so you’ve seen psychologists. I still don’t think what’s happening to you now is mental, Chief.  Something else is going on and we need to find out what.”

“Jim, it’s getting worse,” Blair said matter-of-factly.

“All right, it’s getting worse. We deal with that.

You’re seeing dots now too.”

Jim stood up and started to pace. Finally he said, “What we need to do is look at anything odd or out of the ordinary that’s occured to either one of us.”

Slowly, Blair grinned. “Jim, you sound like—me.”

“Yeah, well, things rub off, you know? So come on, let’s put our heads together and see what we come up with. Hell, I’ll even go first. Last night.”

Blair tilted his head. “Last night?”

“Yeah. Something odd happened. I thought I saw a shape, a kind of wavering shape, when I was locking up. Then it disappeared and I figured I was seeing things.”

Jim sat down and waited for the usual, “Why didn’t you tell me?” explosion. It never came. Instead, Blair said thoughtfully, “Before you joined me on the balcony, I felt something brush past me. I thought it was you so I turned around, but there was nothing there.”

Jim stared at his roommate and partner. Wavering shadows and something brushing past Sandburg. Well, well. “O-kay,” he said, “so—no pyschiatrist.  Something else is going on, right?”

A glimmer of hope made itself known in the blue eyes staring back at him. “I—maybe, Jim. Maybe.”

Latching onto Blair’s “maybe” like a dog with a bone, Jim added, “And it probably has something to do with -- us. A sentinel thing. I think there might be enough evidence to support that theory. After all, I’m still not leaning, wavering or covered with dots, right?”

Blair nodded uneasily.

“So, doesn’t it figure—“

“Not necessarily, Jim. As a sentinel, who knows what energy you give off that might be radically different from the rest of us?”

“But wouldn’t that mean that we’re dealing with something physical and not mental? No matter what auras I’m giving off, they’d hardly be affecting the mental process.”

“Chemistry, Jim. Many mental disorders are chemical, and as a sentinel, you might be giving off some form of energy that balances my currently unbalanced chemistry.”

“Okay, if I’m giving off some kind of energy field, why wouldn’t, say, this couch,” Jim patted the cushion next to him, “not be wavering? Surely it’s within range of any energy I’m giving off?”

Blair looked carefully at everything around Jim, and it was all leaning, wavering and filled with dots.

Everything except Jim himself.

It was almost as if Jim was—an anchor. But to what?

“Blair? What are you thinking?”

“I’m not—sure. But you’re right. The cushion is still leaning, as is everything around you.” He rubbed at his temples and grimaced in pain. “It’s—really bad right now, man. The pain, I mean.”

Jim quickly stood and headed for the kitchen and Blair’s medications. “You need rest, Chief. We can puzzle this out later, okay?”

Palming his eyes, Blair nodded. When Jim returned with the pills and water, he swallowed them, then gulped down the cool liquid. “I’m sorry,” he said, as he put the glass down. “You have enough to deal with on a daily basis, you sure don’t need all this, man.”

“Enough of that, Sandburg. We’re partners, okay? Now let’s get you to bed.”

Blair smiled at the gruff sentimentality of Jim Ellison in action. Shaking his head, Blair said, “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll just lie down in here. My room gets kind of claustrophobic when it’s leaning, you know?”

“No problem. Come on over here and get comfortable.”

A moment later, Blair was on the sofa, head pillowed on Jim’s thigh. He figured this kind of opportunity wasn’t going to come around very often, so why not take advantage when it did? He let his eyes flutter shut as the medication started working. His last conscious thought was that for now, it felt good to trust Jim.





As Blair’s breathing evened out, Jim rested his hand on the younger man’s head. He slowly wove his fingers through the mass of curls and waves, the softness of Blair’s hair entrancing him. Fascinated, he watched the curls playing with his fingers, latching on and winding around them, almost alive in their tenacity.  His stomach suddenly clenched from the fear he’d been holding back, but that with a sleeping Blair in his lap, had returned with a vengeance.

On a level he didn’t fully understand, Jim recognized that whatever they were dealing with, it was considerably more involved than any kind of mental illness. Something else was at work here, and if they couldn’t figure it out—Jim knew on a gut level that he would lose Blair.

With his mind reeling with that thought, he sought refuge in another subject, but all that came to Jim was the vision of the four-year old Blair—ill and scared, and probably so very brave. He pictured the junior version of Blair holding back for the sake of his mother, giving her a smile when all he wanted to do was cry and bury himself in her arms.

Would Naomi have known? Had she taken him into her arms and rocked him gently while murmuring sweet non-sensical words into his ear? Had she done everything she could to keep the pain away? To take his mind from it? Or had she buried herself like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand?

“Aw, God, Blair. I’d give anything to have been there.


//You’re here now, Enqueri//

Jim’s head shot up as Incacha’s voice entered his mind.

//You must abandon your old ways, Enqueri. You must

remember all that you learned in the Temple if you are

to save him//

“Incacha?” Jim whispered.

//You must remember, my friend//

The trusted voice faded and Jim knew instinctively that Incacha was gone. If he’d ever been here to begin with.

“Jesus, maybe we’re both going insane, Chief.”





Since his world had started leaning, Blair had slept without dreams, if he slept at all. But—this— this had to be a dream.

Blair gazed about him and had to blink several times to understand what he was seeing. It was like being surrounded by—graph paper.

Lines intersected all around him, and as he held up one hand, he realized the lines were going through him too. Oddly enough, if he squinted past the “graph paper”, he could make out the outlines of his home.  Granted, the world outside the lines looked gray, but he could clearly identify the loft.

In an attempt to find Jim, he turned his head. Relief floode through him because Jim was on the couch, solid and real, his blue shirt very blue, his jeans, very denim. No gray for Jim, no siree.

And yet—

Oh God. Blair could see himself asleep, head pillowed in Jim’s lap, and he was was gray, just like the couch and everything else. Blair had a sudden unreasoning fear that if Jim didn’t take his hand, connect with him in some way, Blair would be lost.

“Blair? Can you hear me?”

He whirled around. There, on the fringes of the gray loft, stood a dark shifting shape. Blair squinted again, but in spite of his curiousity, he stayed right where he was. An inner sense told him that if he moved, it would be the wrong move.

“I hear you,” he said warily.

“Could you come closer? I can barely see you.”

Blair willed the hand resting on Jim’s denim-clad thigh to grip it, hoping the move would anchor him to his own world.

“No, I’m not going to come closer. Who are you?”

“A friend. Just a—friend. But I can’t come to you -- yet, and I need your help.”

Blair cocked his head. “My help? How can I help you?  Not that it matters, since this whole thing is a dream.”

“Blair, you know it’s not a dream. You know that.  This is the world you’re slipping into. This is my world. And you can help me. In fact, I suspect that you’re the only person anywhere who could.”

A coldness gripped Blair as the man’s words dropped like stones into his heart. It was true. This wasn’t a dream.

He willed the fingers of the sleeping Blair to dig in even deeper, probably bruising Jim. Blair honestly didn’t care because those fingers gripping Jim’s thigh were only thing keeping him where he was.

Wait. That meant—

“No, I’m not in your world—yet. Am I?”

The dark shadow shimmered, then solidified and moved closer. Blair wanted to move away, but that might mean that he’d have to relinguish his hold on Jim, and he had no intention of doing that.

He waited.

The shadow stopped.

“What do you mean by ‘my world’, Blair?”

“I mean, if this isn’t a dream, then this is something else,” Blair said, as if that explained everything.  Which he knew damn well it didn’t.

“Cleverly worded,” the shadow said, its smile evident in its tone.

“Look, make this easy on both of us and just tell me what the hell is going on, okay?”

“I can do that. Tell me what you see when you look around.”

“I suspect that would be an exercise in futility. You already know what I see.”

“You’re wrong, I don’t. Tell me.”

Blair’s eyes narrowed in thought. The shadow’s words held the ring of truth, which meant—what?

“Tell me, Blair,” the soft enticing voice came again.

“What do you see?”

He needs to know, Blair thought. He needs to know.

Something told Blair that was not a good thing.

“I don’t see much. Shadows, nothing else,” Blair lied.

The shadow shimmered and wavered, then once again darkened into a solid mass. It moved closer still and Blair could make out the features of a man.  Tall, well-built, chiseled features—not unlike Jim.  Blair couldn’t see things like hair or eye color yet, and to be honest, he hoped he never would. He suspected that if he did, it would mean  that he’d lost whatever the hell battle this was.

“Who are you,” he asked again, his voice stronger, more demanding.

“I’m—a—sentinel, Blair.





Jim felt his legs going to sleep, and to add to the discomfort, he badly needed to take a leak. He gazed down at his sleeping partner and debated the wisdom of moving. At that moment, Blair’s hand gripped his thigh, soliciting a moan from Jim.

Wha’ the hell? The fingers tightened their grip and Jim winced. Frowning, he placed his hand over Blair’s cheek and was surprised to find the flesh cool to the touch—too cool.

“Sandburg? Wake up.” Jim shook him lightly, then said, “Come on, Chief, up and at ‘em. Rise and shine.”

When nothing happened, Jim shook with greater strength. “Blair, you need to wake up right now, okay?  Can you hear me? Wake up, please?”





A voice. A sense of urgency. Blair tore his eyes from the shadowy man and gaze over at Jim. Damn, he looked worried. What was he saying? That Blair had to wake up? Sounded damn good to him.

“Blair, wait, don’t go. Didn’t you hear me?”





“...hear me? Come on, Chief, please?”

Blair moaned, his eyelids fluttered, then opened.


“Thank God. You okay, Blair?”

Blair sat up slowly. He rubbed a hand over his face, then looked down. His other hand was gripping Jim’s leg—hard. He yanked it away, then said, “Oh, man, I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

“Not so bad that this macho man can’t handle it,” Jim said with a relieved smile. “You had me worried there.  I couldn’t wake you.”

“How long was I asleep?”

“About three hours, maybe longer. You sure you’re okay? Your skin was very cold. That’s what worried me.”

“Wow, now that you mention it, I’m freezing.” Blair started to rub his hands up and down his arms.

Jim pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and dropped it carefully over him, then got up. “I’m going to make you some tea, okay? Warm you up. How’s the headache?”

“Barely there. Feel better.”

“Vision?” Jim asked as he filled the kettle with water and took down one of Blair’s Peruvian teas.


“Except when you look at me?”

Blair smiled. “Yeah, except when I look at you.”

“Blair, something happened while you were asleep. I think I’m going to need some of your relaxation techniques.”

Sandburg stared at Jim, who was deliberately not looking at him. He got off the couch, swayed a bit, then made his way to the kitchen. He placed one hand on Jim’s arm, silently asking him to look at him.

“Jim? What?”

Jim took a spoon out of the drawer and dropped it into the mug as he said, “Incacha. I heard his voice. He says I need to—remember—what I saw in the Temple.”

“This happens out of the clear blue, man?”

The kettle blew and for the next couple of minutes Jim was busy preparing the tea. When it was done, he picked up the mug, put his hand on Blair’s neck and guided him into the living room.

“Sit, drink, get warm, then we’ll talk some more about -- Incacha.”

Shaking his head in disbelief at Jim’s priorities, Blair blew on his tea, then took a careful sip. The warm brew felt terrific going down and he could already feel his body starting to thaw out. As he took another sip, he watched Jim start to knead his thigh.

“Damn, I hurt you, didn’t I?”

“I think we’ve had this conversation, Sandburg. Don’t worry about it. Although, I can’t help but wonder— were you having a nightmare?”


Forehead creasing in thought, Blair shook his head.

“Not that I can remember, no. Probably just stress.”

“So I’m a stress-buster now, am I?”

Blair smiled over his tea. “Guess so.”

Jim smiled back gently. “I don’t mind in the least, buddy.”

“So, tell me about Incacha, and why now?”

Jim glanced away as he said, “It’s about—you. He said I need to remember—“

“Yeah, yeah, what you saw in the Temple. But I thought that would be a bad thing? That you’re not supposed to remember.”

“I’m guessing—that I guessed wrong.”

“So how does remembering what happened in the Temple help me? Not to mention, why would Incacha care? And no, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant, why—“

Laughing, Jim shook his head and held up a hand. “I get it, Sandburg. And we won’t know how remembering will help until I, you know, remember.”

“Good point—asshole.” Blair’s grin took any sting out of his name-calling.

“You know, it’s amazing to me that you didn’t even blink when I said Incacha had spoken to me. Would anything surprise you, ever?”

This time it was Blair who looked away. “Oh, there are a couple of things that—if they happened—would surprise the hell out of me.”

“Let me guess: Jags winning the NBA.”

Grinning, Blair said, “That’s one of them, all right.”



“Okay, where do we start?”

“Pull the shades, Jim.”

Jim did as he was told, and when the last shade was down, said, “Now what?”

“Candles. You know where I keep them.”

“How many?”

“Five or six. Set them on the coffee table, then sit down next to me.”

The tea was history and both warmth and color had returned to Blair’s face and body. They’d decided it was time to try and help Jim remember.

Jim came out of Blair’s room carrying the candles, which he set up as Blair instructed. Straightening, Jim asked with a nervous smile, “I suppose you’re gonna want me to light them now, right?”

“Oh, gosh no, Jim. We’ll just let them decorate our little experiment.”

“I just love playing straight man to your Lewis, Sandburg.”

Jim walked over to the fireplace and picked up the long tube of matches. It took him a couple of minutes to light the fragrant candles, but when he was done, he sat down.

Blair gave a low whistle. “Man, you are, like, so relaxed. Think we could let up on our jaw crunching, Conan?”

“Look Chief, I’m not sure I want to remember what I saw in that damn pool, but Incacha says that I need to if I’m going to help you, so let’s just get on with it, okay?”

Blair cocked his head. “Umm, maybe you’d better tell me exactly what Incacha said?”

Jim slid down, his shoulders hunching forward. Blair recognized the posture for what it was: Jim in his denial mode. He simply waited the man out and it paid off. After a couple of silent minutes, Jim said quietly, “He said I had to abandon my old ways and remember what I learned in the Temple if I was going to sa—help—you.”

Blair studied his friend for a moment, then said softly, “Save me. That’s what he said, ‘save’ me, right? Not help, but save.”

Grudgingly, Jim nodded, his eyes focused on his hands, which were kneading his thighs.

“I’ll take all that as a sure sign that I’m not the one going insane, you are.”

Jim’s head shot up and his eyes locked onto Blair’s— who was grinning, eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Asshole,” Jim said, lips twitching.

For a moment, they stared at each other, grins playing about their mouths, reveling in the sweet moment of normalcy. Then Blair brought them back by asking, “I wonder what he meant by you needing to give up your old ways?”

“This is Incacha we’re talking about, Chief. Even when he was alive, he talked in riddles. Now the riddles are just worse.”

Blair turned, faced Jim, then brought his legs up and crossed them Indian style. He propped his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hand. “I’m thinking— you weren’t supposed to forget what you learned in the pool, Jim. That maybe that’s what Incacha was saying.  You know how you are. When you hear something you don’t want to hear, you, like, shove it into the darkest recesses of your mind, lock the door and throw out the key.”

“I don’t.”

“You do. And the candles are melting, so maybe we’d better get started, okay?”

What Blair didn’t say was that his headache was coming back—with a vengeance.

“No I don’t, and okay. I suppose you want me to close my eyes?”


Jim rested his head back and, like so many times before, closed his eyes and left his mind in Sandburg’s hands.

“Take a deep breath, Jim—yeah, like that—hold it

-- good, now let it out slowly, slowly, slowly—“

Blair’s voice commanded, relaxed, and ultimately, soothed him. He took several more deep breaths and felt the tension melt away. He could sense the warmth of the candles, see their ethereal glow, smell their soft, forgiving fragrance—and he was drifing—

“You’re in the pool, Jim. Your eyes are closed and you

can’t feel, see, or hear anything. You’re at peace,

comfortable, open, receptive—“



bombs exploded and the gunfire nearly drove him insane. Bodies fell, first Simon, then Connor. Cars collided, smashing into each other, metal tore, then more gunfire and more explosions—and—Blair’s— body was falling. But then it was Blair shooting, but that scene was soon eclipsed by Blair standing on the roof of a car, gun in hand—and he was falling, landing in Jim’s arms, and Jim could hear his own voice yelling, “THAT’S NOT ME!”

Blair’s headache was already excruciating so Jim’s yell simply dug the razors deeper into his skull. It felt as though his eyes were throbbing in time with every heartbeat. All he wanted to close them, then lie down and never wake up.

But Jim needed him.

Somehow he managed to grasp Jim’s arm and to speak.  “Jim? Jim, man, what are you talking about? Do you remember what happened now?”


When there was no response, Blair realized that Jim was still deep in a meditative state. He ran his hand soothingly up and down Jim’s arm as he crooned softly, “It’s okay, you’re safe, just let go. What you see is in the past, Jim. It can’t hurt you. You’re safe.”





Soft words eased Jim back into the Temple. Somehow, he knew he was safe, and where his memories had been nothing but a jumbled mess, he found that now he could sort through them, put them in order, and follow their progression.

First up—the rainforest and his first dream as he slept a few feet from Sandburg and Connor—

//Jim found himself walking through the forest. Up ahead, a bright light guided him, a light that suddenly dissolved into the man who had guided him in Peru—Incacha.

“Finally, you have come.”

“How am I seeing you?”

“My body may be dead but my spirit lives within you.  Your journey has been long, now you must face your most difficult trial.”

“It’s as if I have no control over my feelings.”

“Power can lead to truth or corruption, you must choose your path. But you must go alone. The danger you face is not to be shared by your friends.”

“How will I know the right path?”

“You already do.”

Jim woke up knowing that he had to leave Sandburg and

Connor and make his way to the Temple.//


Next up; the pools. Jim took a deep breath, uncertain if he could do this.





The stabbing pain abated slightly as Jim, still deep within his memories, began to speak. Blair leaned in and listened to the soft voice, trying to make sense of the words. He touched Jim’s face, almost as if trying to reassure Jim, or both of them, that they were safe, that it was okay for Jim to remember.

Blair ran his thumb across Jim’s moving lower lip and the frown on Jim’s face eased. Blair went back to listening...





//The temperature of the pool was extremely comfortable and natural, the water almost soothing. As he floated, he could remember Alex’s kiss and he wanted nothing more than to spit out her taste.  He floated, feeling nothing, hearing nothing, smelling nothing. Suddenly he was surrounded by a shimmering circular blue light, like—an eye. A blue eye.

He could hear his own voice—

“My obligation is to help the people.”

He could see the Chopec and another Ranger saying, “They could have killed us if they wanted to,” and then—Blair’s voice-- 

“You could be the real thing. Now I know about your time spent in Peru.”

Jim clung to voice, then cringed as another sentinel asked him, “Are you prepared to make such a journey?”.

Jim threw back his head and howled an agonized,



Jim felt something warm and alive trace along his lower lip and he relaxed. More words and memories flowed.

//Violence, so much violence. Connor is falling, Simon, oh God, Simon, shot and going down. Self-hatred filled him and he screamed for salvation.


“Why do you call me?”

“I’m losing my mind.”

“Do not be afraid to walk through your dreams. You must allow your spirit to speak.”

“But all I see is death in my dreams.”

“If there is darkness, you must face it.  The darkness will flee from the light, but the light must shine from within. I can not bring it to you.”

As Incacha’s voice faded, Blair’s face appeared shimmering in the blue light, smiling, trusting, and guiding. Jim latched onto that smile as he heard Incacha ask, “What do you seek?”

Suddenly Jim was in the forest again, bow and arrow at the ready. Jim saw himself let lose with the arrow, and he followed it, watched in horror as it pierced the wolf, killing it—killing Blair.

Incacha’s voice filled his senses again—

“What do you fear?”

Blair, he was surrounded by Blair. Explosions and pain, all heaped on Blair. Over and over again, Blair was being hurt.

“He’s gone.”


“You let him die.”

Jim threw back his head and yelled to heavens—






Jim’s yell once again reverberated throughout the loft and sent Blair over the edge. His head seemed to explode in pain and with a small gasp, he fell forward, his body falling onto Jim’s.





//The blue light disappeared and was replaced in Jim’s mind by a ferocious, shimmering umber. He shivered as the color seemed to surround him, hating its touch on his sensitive skin. He blinked in his dream, or memory, or wherever he was, and the walls, for he could see walls now, seemed to be—leaning.


Firelight flickered over the stone walls and they too

seemed to be leaning. And—wavering. Jim tried to

look beyond the golden umber colors but could see only

-- gray.//





Simon looked up at Jim’s balcony, then down at both the truck and the Volvo. Okay, so they were home. Not answering the damn phone, but home.

Simon headed inside.

Stepping out of the elevator on three, he heard Jim yelling. The sound was enough to encourage Simon to draw his gun. He moved toward the door, listened, and hearing nothing else, moved to the right of number 307 and knocked.





Jim’s eyes popped open. He looked around him, and sighed in relief.

The loft.

He was home. No orange walls, no leaning or wavering anything. The candles had melted down by half, their wax dripping and pooling on the coffee table. A weight on his lap caused him to glance down.



A knock on the door startled him. He put his hands on Blair’s shoulders and once again found himself shaking the younger man awake. “Come on, Sandburg, we have company. From the smell of cigars, it’s Simon.”


Jim frowned in consternation as his hands roamed over the still body. Cold. Much colder than last time. He pressed two fingers against Sandburg’s carotid and his expression went from concerned to panicked. The pulse was sluggish—very sluggish.

Lifting carefully, he moved Sandburg so that he could get up, then rested the limp figure back down as he made certain that Blair’s head was cushioned. Then and only then did he move quickly to the door to let Simon in.





The door was thrown open and a very haggard Jim Ellison stood in front of Simon, gesturing wildly.

“In, quick.” Jim immediately turned away.

Confused, Simon followed and watched as Jim squatted down in front of the couch. He craned his neck and spotted a sleeping Sandburg.


“He’s—passed out. I can’t get him to respond.”

Simon, puzzled but not yet worried, looked at the array of candles and quipped, “How many hours this time? Did he beat Naomi’s record?”

Voice husky with fear, Jim said,”He wasn’t the one meditating, I was.”

Simon stepped closer to the couch and immediately shivered. “Damn, it’s cold over here. Jim, what the hell is going on?”

Jim had been in the process of covering Blair when Simon spoke. He looked up, brow creased. “What do you mean, ‘it’s cold’?”

“It’s like a freezer over here, that’s what I mean.

And what is going on?”

“Grab Sandburg’s quilt off his bed, Simon. I need to warm him up. And hurry.”

Simon huffed impatiently, but moved quickly into Sandburg’s room. It was dark and he had to turn on the light. As he took the couple of steps to the bed, he realized that he’d never seen more than brief glimpses of Blair’s room. It was surprisingly clean, surprisingly organized, in a artifact kind of way. The room was also warm and inviting, the color scheme soothing and attractive.

Books filled a beautiful six-tiered shelf that stood against the same wall as Sandburg’s bed. His desk was much smaller than Simon would have imagined, but it certainly explained why the kid used the dining room table so often. Simon also had a much clearer idea of the hows and whys regarding the transformation of Jim’s loft.

As Simon grabbed the colorful South American-style comforter, he remembered the loft of three years ago, stark and almost colorless. Now it matched this room, vibrant and full of life.

Simon hurried out to the living room.




Gray again. Shit. Blair gazed around him and cringed.

Darker gray, lines more pronounced, the loft, a barely there shadow, the colors nearly drained. But the most frightening thing of all was that Jim was now a fuzzy figure that he couldn’t seem to grasp a hold of.

This was not good.

“I think you’re here to stay this time,” a disembodied voice said from a dark corner. Blair whirled around and once again watched as the shadow separated itself.


Aw, God, the shadow was gaining color. Reddish brown hair. The shadow had reddish brown hair. And, and—


Green eyes.

He wanted out. He wanted home. He wanted Jim.

“I couldn’t really tell the color of your eyes before, but now I can. Blue. Very blue. I like them.”

“I want out of here. Now.”

The man, the “sentinel”, shrugged helplessly. “I don’t think you can get out now. You’ve been slipping into my world for several weeks.”

“Your world? YOUR world? I want MY world. I don’t belong here.”

“I think you do, Blair. Hey, I was as surprised as you when I first began catching glimpses of you. Then the glimpses grew and I heard your voice for the first time. I can’t even begin to say what it did for me, how it made me feel. You have a beautiful voice, Blair.”

“It’s a voice, just a fucking voice.” Blair, feeling bolder, took several steps toward the man, and with hands balled into fists, said, “You brought me here, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?”

The man shook his head sadly. “No, Blair, I didn’t.  But I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been lonely and I need someone like you. I need—you.”

“Guess what, buddy? You can’t have me. I don’t know

what’s going on, but Jim will find a way—“

“Jim sent you here,” the man interrupted, his voice and words chilling Blair’s heart.





“God, his face, it’s like—ice.”

Jim nodded and continued to rub up and down the length of Blair’s body. Gazing at the lashes resting against pale cheeks, he said, “He’s so still, Simon.

He was holding onto me last time, but now—“

“Last time?” Simon asked from where he was kneeling on the floor.

“Headaches, he’s been having headaches. And—vision -- problems.”

Simon looked up at his friend and cursed. “Why didn’t you say something? We should get him to the hospital, Jim.”

Jim shook his head. “No. No. This is—this is— about us. It’s sentinel related—somehow.” Jim brushed some hair from Blair’s face as he held him even tighter.

“We were, he was—trying to help me remember—the Temple. What I saw in the Temple, so that I could—we could—help—stop this, thing, whatever it is.”

“Maybe you’d better start at the begining, Jim.”





Eyes glittering dangerously, Blair advanced on the other sentinel. “What do you mean, ‘Jim sent me here’?”

“He turned away from you. From himself. That allowed this to happen.”








Jim’s head shot up. “What? WHAT?”

“Jim, what is it?”

“I heard—I heard—Blair’s voice.” Eyes wide, Jim stared down at the still form in his arms. How was it possible for him to have heard Blair?

“Look, I don’t know as I—believe any of this, not that I have a choice, but Jim, this is like he’s in a coma. We can’t just sit here and let this—happen.

We need to take him—“

“NO!” Jim yelled. Jim immediately regretted his outburst and said more calmly, “I can’t explain it, Simon. But if we move him from here, we take away the only anchor he may have. I just need—time. I need to put this altogether in my mind, that’s all.”

Simon rose from the yellow chair he’d taken when Jim had started talking and removed his suit jacket. He let it drop onto the back of the chair, then loosening his tie, said, “Okay, let’s take a look at this whole thing, then. Hell, we’re detectives, we can do this.”

Looking up at his boss and friend with a grim smile, Jim said dryly, “Shouldn’t you roll up your shirt sleeves too?”

Simon started rolling up his shirtsleeves.





The man held up his hands in supplication. “Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just the newsbearer.”

“Bullshit,” Blair said more quietly.  “You’re full of it. I don’t know why I’m here, but I can damn well tell you that Jim isn’t the reason.  That’s just plain hogwash. We’re not—this isn’t some—this isn’t some mystic game, whoever you are. There is something seriously wrong and you’re just taking advantage.”

“He turned away from you in the hospital, didn’t he?  Then again in Sierra Verde. He chose the other one, the other sentinel. He chose her over you.”

Blair smiled. “Is that supposed to make me mad? Hurt me? I know Jim Ellison, you don’t. He didn’t turn away from anything in the hospital, there was nothing to turn from. And as for Alex, she needed his help. She was like him, something he’d never—“

“You’re lying to yourself, Blair. You told him about your vision at the fountain and he shared with you the same one—then he walked away. Went after her.  Chose her.”



“Simon, we may be detectives, but you barely accept the whole sentinel thing now. You think you’re up for more? You think you’re prepared to go where you’ve never gone before?”

Simon looked down at the sleeping—unconscious—

Sandburg. Hadn’t he been on a pretty strange journey for three years? Hadn’t he allowed Jim and Blair to take him places he hadn’t wanted to go? Does Molly ring a bell?

Hadn’t he witnessed a bona fide miracle at the fountain? A miracle that could only be laid at the door of Jim’s sentinel world? Yes. And was he going to let anything happen to Sandburg? No.

“I’m ready to go wherever we need to in order to get that man to wake up and see the world as it was meant to be seen. Are you, Jim?”




Blair felt his legs weaken, and since he was somewhere between his home and—somewhere—he simply sat down. He crossed his legs and dropped his face into his hands.

No way could he explain Alex to this—this— whatever. He understood, he’d never put it into words, but he understood. He and Jim had never discussed it -- any of it—but he’d understood.

Blair sensed movement on the part of the man and he scooted back. Glancing up, he found himself staring into strange green eyes.

“You need to accept the fact that Jim Ellison, Holy Grail Supreme, abandoned you. And now, you’re here.”

Blair scooted away from the man and the hand. “You seem to know an awful lot about us, whoever you are.”

“Charles. Charles Duquett. Captain, United States Marines. Glad to meet you.”

The hand that had almost touched his shoulder was now waving in front of his face. Blair had no intention of shaking it. He moved further away. “Marine?”

Duquett nodded. “Lifer. Well, until I died.”

Blair looked away, tried to make out his home, but could barely discern the outline of the couch. He sighed, then said, “I don’t care how, or why. I don’t care who you are, or why you’re here. I just want to go home.”

“You’re lying again. For one thing, you’re an anthropologist. You do care how I died, who I am, how I was lost, the whole ball of wax. It’s who you are.”

The guy sat down across from Blair, and like Blair,

crossed his legs. “So, I was born in Michigan in 1920,

graduated from—“

Blair rolled his eyes.



Jim glanced over at Simon and said simply, “Yeah, I do. And I’ll do whatever it takes to get Blair back.”

Nodding in satisfaction, Simon said, “So let’s go back to Incacha and the Temple. We’ve both been around Sandburg enough that I think we can figure out what he’d say, where he’d go with everything. Right?”

Hand resting on Blair’s neck, Jim nodded. “Right.”




Warmth. On his neck. Duquett was still talking and absently, Blair rubbed at the warm spot. He closed his eyes and imagined that the heat came from Jim.

“...she was wonderful, warm, funny, and she seemed to understand what I was going through.”

Maybe it was the tone of voice, the sadness that colored it, or perhaps it was simply Blair’s innate curiousity, whatever it was, Blair started listening.

“Jamie studied my ‘symptoms’, and with her medical background, she’d just completed her residency at Boston General, she came up with all sorts of experiments to test my abilities. She called what I had—a gift, I called it a curse.”

“What happened?” Blair asked, the question torn from him.

“She died. I mourned, and somehow, ended up here.”

Up to that moment, Blair felt that he’d been listening to the truth. Up to that moment.

“You’re lying,” he stated flatly.



Simon was pacing again so Jim let him. He was concentrating on the feel of Blair’s skin, relieved that so far, the coolness hadn’t increased.  As he alternated between watching Simon pace and Blair breathe, he had to admit that strange occurances seemed to have dogged his every step since discovering that he was a sentinel. And for a man who hated the idea of being different, it was ironic.

*Face it, Jimbo. Could anyone be more different than


Sandburg, Jim answered to the small voice inside his brain. He’s pretty different. Weird. Off-beat.

But you’re the freaky sentinel guy.

The freaky sentinel. The Freaky Fucking Sentinel of the Great City.


Jim blinked himself back to the loft. “What?”

“The fountain, what happened at the fountain. It’s tied into the whole Alex-Temple thing, it has to be.  You’ve never said anything about it, about how suddenly Blair was alive. Maybe now would be agood time?”

“Nothing to tell, Simon.”

“Oh, really? As I recall, one minute Blair was dead, as in D-E-A-D, and the next, you were kneeling down and running your hands over his face. Then your body went completely still, as in statue, and before anyone could say body bag, you were telling us how you could hear his heartbeat. Suddenly the kid is spitting up water. Doesn’t sound like ‘nothing’ to me.”

Jim looked up his friend, his eyes mirroring the pain the memory of that day at the fountain could still bring. Finally he said, “I couldn’t let him go, Simon.  It was that simple. And because I couldn’t let go, I was screaming for help inside, begging for it. When I glanced down again, Blair was surrounded by this blue light, and I knew I could go to him.”

“Blue light?”

“Yeah. it was the answer to my prayer. Then Incacha showed up and told me to use my animal spirit, and I think—I went—in after Blair.”

Simon stopped his pacing to stare at his friend. He swiped a hand over his face, took off his glasses, then collapsed into the chair behind him. Rubbing at his eyes, Simon said quietly, “I know I’m going to regret asking this, but went in—where?”

Gazing down at Blair’s face, so peaceful in repose, Jim answered, “I guess you could say that I went over to the other side. He was there, in the form of his animal spirit, and he was about to leave. He turned away from me but I somehow—stopped him.” With a hand stroking Blair’s face, Jim added, “You’re probably not going to want to hear this either, but, well, when he turned back, we kind of—ran—toward each other, took a huge leap, and then—he was alive.”

“Dare I ask you to be more specific? And yes, I’m going to regret asking that too.”

Jim smiled, then said, “We sort of became—one. One entity. Then I was back on the grass and I could see, hear and feel Blair’s heart start up again. You know the rest.”

“Tell me you told him about this?” Simon asked incredulously.

“I didn’t need to. Sandburg saw everything. He shared his ‘death’ with me in the hospital and related the exact same sequence of events.”

“Wait. You both saw—experienced—the same thing?”


Grinning, Simon said, “I’m betting Sandburg was jazzed.”

Jim nodded but his expression darkened.

Simon caught it. “Jim? What is it?”

“Even in the fucking hospital, having come back from the dead, he was thrilled about it. Started talking about the mysterious and how the water was fine and how I should come on in or join him, or something like that.”

“That sounds like our Sandburg,” Simon said with a touch of humor.

Jim gave a half-hearted nod, his mind suddenly taking him back to the forest, or “other side” or whatever, wherever, he and Blair had been. Thoughts, phrases, and ideas were scrambling around in his brain, so he shook his head a moment, trying to clear it. Something -- had something gone wrong when he’d gone after Blair? Was that it? Did that explain what was happening now?

“I think—something went wrong, Simon,” he finally said.

“What do you mean?”

“When I went in after him. Something went wrong. Or—“



Jim started to stroke Blair’s face as he stared at his partner. The thought that something had gone wrong seemed—off—now that he’d said it out loud. “No, not wrong,” he said almost to himself, “but a path was opened and—something took advantage of it? Is that it?”

“Jim, you’re scaring me.”

“Simon,” Jim said, eyes still on Blair, “think about it. Think about what I did. I defeated death, crossed over, and brought Blair back. In effect, I did what Blair calls a spirit walk. But while I was there, the door to both worlds was open, Simon. Couldn’t— something—or some*one*,  have come through?”

“What, you’re talking ghosts again? Another Molly?”

Jim frowned. No, that wasn’t right either. And while he had gone on a spirit walk thing, he hadn’t crossed over. No, he distinctly remembered the wolf turning tail and heading for the bright light which meant that Blair had been about to cross over. So they’d been in a place that was between worlds.

Between worlds.


Okay, Detective, let’s review. He’d seen a shadowy form in the loft and Blair had felt something—or someone—brush past him.

Between worlds.

So—if they came back through, couldn’t someone else? But that person couldn’t be alive, didn’t have anyone to—

“No, damn it. This isn’t a fucking movie. I don’t have spirits in the television who are lost and just need someone to guide them to the light.”

“Poltergeist,” Simon said dryly.

Unaware that he’d spoken aloud, Jim looked up. “What?”


“You were describing the movie ‘Poltergeist’. Is that what you think is going on here? Spirits needing Sandburg to guide them to some Great Light?”

A vision made itself known in Jim’s mind. The vision of his animal spirit jumping through a blue tunnel that had formed in the palm of Incacha’s hand. Once again he could see he and Blair about to merge, each coming from a different end of the tunnel before slipping into each other—and just like that, the answer came to him.

“Simon, help me.”


“We need to get Blair down on the floor. I think—I know what I need to do.”