Aftermath by Laurie

Aftermath - Laurie

Aftermath - Something that results or follows from an event, especially one of a disastrous or unfortunate nature.

Explosion of white radiance enveloping his sense of himself.

Feel of hands moving his body.

Rollin’ him over. Huh?

Coughin’. Hurts. M’tired.

'Where…?'

Mouth? Somethin’ hard.

Hearin’ voices. Words’ weird…hollowly-n-distant…not makin’ sense.

Cold.

Wet.

Eyelids open. Ow…bright light shining… 'Hey, cut it out…'

“Mmmmm.”

Dark…better.

Flyin'. Fallin’ back to bed.

Bed don’ wanna stay put… stupid bed… s’tangled… hands stuck…

Tired… ' lemme go to sleep, Jim. No classes today'.

'Jim, man, why's the alarm so loud?'

Hands again – touching… 'Jim? Turn-ed-off ‘cause I’m ‘sleeeep…

xxxxx

Simon gave a sigh of relief as he watched the ambulance leave the fountain area with Sandburg safely enclosed. Jim was allowed to ride with the kid, and had argued briefly to be in the back; he settled for sitting in the cab where he could monitor Sandburg.

The shock of what he’d seen was working its way through him, making him feel shaky and dazed. Damn, Sandburg was a miracle child!

He’d been dead.

Really, really dead.

Jim, though… God.

Jim had called Blair’s spirit back to his body. How the hell had he done it?

Simon’s memory flashed to a conversation he’d overheard as a teenager, when his aunts had talked about how his grandfather’s body had approached the state of death, slowing down till his heart stopped beating and he'd stopped breathing. Unable to let him go, the pleas of the old man’s family standing by his bed would reach him from some spiritual plane and he would rally back to life. It wasn’t until the doctor gently explained that they were keeping his grandfather from passing over, that he was tired and ready to leave this earth, that the family agreed to stay out of the room and let the end come for the old man.

Blair, he was too young for death to be welcome, and somehow Jim was the key to Blair’s life being given back to him. Simon thought it best that he not ask Jim what he had done – and if his friend could still call his soul his own. Jim’s senses were strange enough to deal with, but if he was doing mystical shit as well, then Simon didn’t need to know about it.

Turning back to the police business at hand, Simon sent the detectives with him to find out as much as possible about what had happened here on Rainier's campus during the early hours of the morning.

xxxxx

“M’ San…rg… Mr. Sandburg… Mr. Sandburg… Try and open your eyes.”

'Nah uh, not no way.

Wanna sleep'.

“John, better take his vitals again; we’re two minutes ETA from Cascade General. His pupils were reflexive, but one was larger than the other when he was checked at Rainier.”

'Wolf. Wolf running. He was running. There was a panther, very dark in color, beautiful but dangerous. Except not to him. No, the panther cared about him. He could feel the concern radiating from the big animal, the force of it arrowing at him as the wolf ran towards the panther and they crashed together and --'

He opened his eyes and tried to focus. Man, what was going on? His head hurt, his chest hurt, and something was across his mouth. Too much. Too much. Better to close his eyes again and just listen.

Somebody was poking at him again.

'Man, can’t you guys leave me ‘lone. I don’ feel so good.'

He heard numbers being called out but what they were about he couldn’t tell. He couldn’t move and he was so, so cold. He was in a van or something because he was lying down, and the noise shrieking from the van was making his ears hurt. He’d tell them to turn off the noise when he could get his mouth to work again. If they didn’t they were sure to get a ticket or somethin’ for breaking the sound barrier, and he didn’t have enough money to pay a fine. Jim would tease him about getting a ticket, and where was Jim? He wanted him. Somethin’ about Jim and the loft? Somethin’ about Jim’s mad at him…

xxxxx

Jim followed Blair’s gurney into the ER at Cascade General; he was prepared to flash his badge in order to stay, but he found his presence wasn’t challenged. The ER staff was glad to have somebody present who could register Blair. He answered tersely to questions he was asked about the first aid he and Simon had given to Blair, shoving the memory of the panic, sorrow, and anger he had felt upon pulling Blair out of the fountain deeply down inside himself.

He had revived his partner from drowning, and he’d felt such relief when he’d heard Blair’s heart start to beat, and saw Blair coughing up water. He’d silently thanked Incacha for advising him to use the power of his spirit animal so that his guide’s lungs could return to the deceptively simple rhythm of oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

Now, as he watched nurses and the doctor handling his semi-conscious friend, cutting off his sodden clothing, starting an IV, pulling up his eye lids, doing neuro checks, and searching for other injuries, especially on his head, another wave of panic swept through him. Jim closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and felt his stomach tighten as the anxiety settled in to stay with him. Blair had been without oxygen for far too long. There was a strong possibility that he had sustained brain damage, and the thought of that bright, quirky mind no longer able to function as it had made Jim want to choke Alex Barnes.

“Detective. The nurse said you came in with this young man and that you wanted to see me.”

Jim made eye contact with the tall, thin doctor who had examined Blair and was gesturing towards the gurney where his partner was still the center of a flurry of attention. But while the movements of the nurses showed focus and concentration they weren't radiating a sense of emergency any more.

Blair was on his side, and a rectal thermometer was being inserted into his asshole. He was breathing on his own but a canula in his nostrils was helping to saturate his body with oxygen, and a pulse oximeter on his finger was monitoring his oxygen intake. He had an IV line dripping fluid into him, and a catheter had been inserted to handle his urine. He was nude but was in the process of being swaddled in blankets.

“Doctor? How’s he doing?” Jim prepared himself to listen with the same detached attitude he used in his police work when it would be counter-productive to get tangled up emotionally in the situation.

The doctor spoke professionally, using that clinical tone of voice doctors use to distance themselves from their patients' conditions.

“The young man is holding his own with breathing, but we will be monitoring him for any relapses because that can happen with drowning victims. His vitals are stable; however, we are concerned that he is not fully conscious yet. He has a contusion on the back of his head that could mean a concussion. His right pupil is slightly larger than the other, which is another sign of concussion. He’ll be getting a CAT scan shortly, and then we’ll know more about what’s happening inside his head. He has hypothermia from the immersion, and shock to his system. We’ll know his body core temperature as soon as they remove the rectal, and besides the warming blankets he’s currently being wrapped up in, if needed we can irrigate his stomach and bladder with a warmed solution to increase his core temp.”

Jim swallowed down his anxiety, forcing himself to listen and not lose himself in the sound of Blair's steady heartbeat.

“After a drowning, there is an eight to ten hour period where we’ll be looking for complications. You told the nurse the fountain water was chlorinated, correct?” The doctor, who was Dr. Zimmerman according to his name tag, waited for Jim to confirm his question.

Jim answered in the affirmative, still able to taste the chlorine as well as the flavor of Blair’s mouth on his own lips.

“Unfortunately, bacteria can live in such water, though the chlorine will have helped to control it. The young man will have to be watched for developing pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome. He’ll be started on IV antibiotics, as a precaution. His involuntary reflexes are intact, but he could have long-term neurological problems. We’ll know more when he regains consciousness. He’ll be going up to ICU after the CAT scan is completed.”

Dr. Zimmerman ran his hand through his hair, and Jim became aware that the man looked tired and thought that he must have been working through the night.

“Tell me, Detective, have the police notified his family he is in the hospital? If the young man cannot consent to treatment we will need a family member here to consult with regarding his options.”

“He’s my partner and I’ve got his power of attorney for medical emergencies, but we’ll also be trying to track down his mother. She moves around a lot, but we’ll do our best. Is there anything now we need to discuss?”

The doctor gave him a pat on the arm. “Just make sure the paperwork is in order, if you don’t mind. You can visit him in ICU soon. And Detective Ellison, I’m sorry your friend had this accident.”

Jim felt the white-hot surge of his anger reappear at the word ‘accident.’

“Doc, it wasn’t an accident: it was attempted murder and for now I’d like only police officers to have access to Blair. Make sure they show their ID before coming near him, okay?”

The doctor gave him a nod and walked over to the nurses’ station, took a chart in hand and started making notations in it.

Jim saw that the nurses were mostly finished with Blair. One was wrapping his mop of hair in a towel, the rectal was out of his body and another blanket was being piled on top of the others wrapped around the kid. He decided it was okay now to be closer to Blair, so he edged over next to the gurney. Blair’s eyes were fluttering and Jim saw him make a languid move against the restraints across his chest and legs. Jim reached out his hand and palmed his friend’s cheek, caressing his face. He was relieved that Blair’s skin felt warmer , and watched the kid’s breath rise and fall in his chest. Observing that rhythmic movement was helping the knot still tying up his stomach muscles to relax.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty, time to wake up,” Jim said quietly to his friend, while stroking across his forehead with his fingertips. ‘Come on, Chief, you’ve had your kiss from me. Now hold up your end of the deal and open your big, blue eyes.’ Jim just hoped that when Blair did look at him, it would be with the intelligence that was such an integral part of his partner.

As he continued to touch Blair’s face, he saw the blue eyes in question slowly blink themselves open, then close again, then repeat the process again until Blair was looking at him blankly…

xxxxx

Clackity – clackity – clackity -- clackity…

Blair listened to the rhythmic noises under him, while his bed rolled along, finding it too difficult to try opening his eyes or respond to the pokes from his new buddies, the jabber-jabbers. Jabber-jabbers jabbering on-n-on ‘bout numbers, and cats, and the air… 'Hey, the oxygen count is doing better? That’s good for Our Mother Earth, and people too, like me and Jim, ‘cause we need to breathe —'

Breathing… Scared-helpless-terrified-rush-of-feeling. A wave of coldness pulsing through him. He remembers now, and it’s happening again, he’s trapped again at the fountain, with Alex and her goon. The gun is pointing at his head, and he's trying to stall for time, hoping somebody will see him being threatened with a gun. Should he rush them? Beautiful Alex, with her beautiful blue eyes and long, long legs.

“Alex, you don’t want to do this, I helped you, you’re a Sentinel; Sentinels protect the tribe, and what if you need help with your senses? Alex, I can still help you turn your life around…”

But her cold eyes just ignore him and he doesn't know why they are at the fountain, the fountain where he sometimes eats his lunch. Guns pointing at him, and if he yells they’ll shoot him; he needs to distract them, knock them over and run-run-run. He yells loudly, “Jim, shoot her,” hoping the distraction will give him a moment; he moves like a runner at the sound of the starting pistol and lunges at the goon, but Alex pounces so fast and bam! His head, his head, it hurts and he’s fallen down and the goon grabs him and he’s over the edge of the fountain, and Alex is pushing his head under the water-

Breathing. Oh God. He can't breathe. His face is wet, his face is pushed in the water, and he can't get up… Holding his breath, kicking out his feet, he struggles. He really, really tries but he can't hold it anymore and after a while he breathes in the water and feels so scared. Then everything slows down and he feels limp and knows he is dying. 'Jim, man, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.' He feels such sorrow as the world turns black, for leaving Jim behind.

He's just relived all of his fears and helplessness, but he does know that he's alive, no matter how real the flashback feels.

After he'd died he'd been in a jungle, but it didn’t look like any rainforest he’d been in before, on expeditions or traveling. There had been a blue color to the air and the jungle plants. He remembered the panther, and... he hadn't been himself – he'd been a wolf and he had gone to the panther. He had been called and he'd had to go to the panther and they'd jumped into each other. In a weird way, it reminded him of when he and Jim would bump chests, when they were screwing around in the bullpen or at home.

He stopped trying to remember about that bad stuff and tried to figure out what was going on now. The bed wasn’t making any more sounds and hands again were touching him, he was being picked up… 'Hey, not a baby, I can get up…' Only he couldn’t make his arms and legs do what he told them to do and his head really, really hurt – so okay, maybe he did need some help and he was really tired and he should lie down and take a nap. But he was already lying down and he could feel blankets over him and he thought he might take a little nap. Jim would wake him up for school soon, so he should just take a little nap now, because he would go with Jim tonight for a stakeout and… there was a study group tonight so maybe he should take… a little nap.

xxxxx

Jim was allowed by the ICU nurses to stay by Blair’s bed, once they noticed that Blair was calmer when he talked to him. He didn’t pay much attention to what he was telling Blair, just stuff about projects to do at home and where they might go camping sometime, normal every day things that were, well, normal. The mystical shit that he and Blair had experienced could wait, as far as he was concerned. He also avoided telling him how sorry he was for kicking Blair out of the loft and leaving him vulnerable to Alex’s attack. He knew he’d been acting strangely for the past couple of weeks, but he didn’t want to talk about it now; Blair deserved to be conscious for that conversation.

He didn’t mind watching over his partner. Although Sandburg would open his eyes at times and look towards Jim, Blair had never really been lucid, not in the ER, or getting a CAT scan, or being settled into ICU. Sometimes Blair would restlessly shift in the bed and would mumble quite a bit before he finally slackening back into sleep. His mumblings had been like a kaleidoscope of his life – Jim and school and home and the police station had all been tossed together, and occasionally Jim could understand a word or two his partner said.

He was guarding his guide -- the term Bracket, the S.O.B., had used fit pretty well for what Blair was to him -- and after plunging into the spirit plane to snatch Blair back into the real world, he had no doubt that Sandburg was his guide. They had shared souls for a moment, or was it forever? Jim felt that both views were correct. Blair belonged to Jim or would it be more tactful to say he belonged with Jim, and again Jim felt both views were correct. He wasn’t about to admit to anyone but himself how strongly connected to his guide he felt. Not even to Blair would he share these thoughts. He just wasn’t ready to be that open about his intuition, his feelings, or whatever he wanted to call it. Bond, maybe. He and Blair had bonded in the spirit plane.

For now, he just hoped Blair would recover from this despicable attack on him by another sentinel. Hopefully, none of the after effects of drowning the ER doc had mentioned would plague his guide. And he wanted Blair to be kept safe here in Cascade while he tracked down Alex Barnes.

Simon was working on tracing her escape route and her whereabouts. When she was located, Jim was going to wherever she was to take her into custody and recover the weapon she stole that could kill so many people. And Blair was not going to be anywhere near her. Sandburg was going to stay here, if he had to beg Simon to mount a guard over his guide.

There was a strange connection between the two sentinels, and it made him uncomfortable to acknowledge the magnetism between them. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t want his guide to see this attraction for himself.

Jim yawned and checked Blair’s readings on the monitors. He felt better knowing that Blair’s vitals were all looking good. Joel was coming by soon to take a shift for him so he could get some sleep. He didn’t want to leave his partner but it was more practical that he let others help guard Blair, and Joel had always had a huge soft spot for his partner. He wished Blair would wake up and talk to him before Jim had to leave though; he wanted to hear for himself his guide’s voice and know he’d made it through without brain damage. Jim feather-touched Blair’s face, grateful to Incacha for his help in saving Blair; the spirit of his teacher and guide from Peru had instructed him to use the power of their animal spirits to bring his guide’s soul back to his body. ‘Incacha, I thank you, my old friend.’ Reluctantly, Jim took his hand away from Blair’s face when he heard Joel’s footsteps coming down the hallway.

xxxxx

Blair opened his eyes and winced since his head was throbbing a bit. Joel was reading a book while sitting beside him. He sighed when he realized he was in the hospital; he sure hoped his T.A.’s health insurance would cover this bill. Sometimes, in the past, his insurance hadn’t covered all the costs of his injuries from working with the police.

He tried to concentrate on what he remembered; he had blurry memories of being moved and being the recipient of medical procedures. Oh, yeah. He’d been killed by drowning. That was one life experience he’d never wanted to have. ‘Stop thinking about that part, Blair. You don’t need to fall apart just yet.’ He wondered when he could get out of bed, and if that went well, when he could actually leave. He needed to see Jim; he had a vague feeling that Jim had been with him at the hospital, but he couldn’t remember if he’d really explained to Jim how sorry he was for losing the trust Jim had invested in him. Man, he really, really wanted to talk to Jim, try and see if Jim would forgive him for messing up with Alex. Alex… Jim… leaving… boxes and a cheap motel room. Yeah, he needed to talk to Jim, find out if they were cool again.

Joel had closed his book and was watching him with a concerned look on his dark, friendly face. “Blair, how are you feeling? Son, you don’t know how glad we all are that you made it. Do you want me to call the doctor or nurse? You want a drink of water? Anything to eat?”

Blair shook his head no to the barrage of questions but reached over and took the cup and straw Joel was holding out to him and took a long drink of water. Joel placed it back on the nearby stand and quietly asked, “Can you give me a statement about what happened?” He indicated the tape recorder on the bedside table.

‘Man, he wouldn’t tell him the exact truth about how he was feeling, but he’d try and relieve Joel’s concern, and give him as complete a statement as he could’.

Blair nodded yes, cleared his throat, and after a false start managed to answer the question. “‘M' fine. Kind of tired, though. Is Jim here?”

Blair tried not to look disappointed when Joel told him Jim was getting some needed sleep. He felt gratified though when Joel added that Jim had been with Blair in the ambulance and at the hospital till Blair was settled. Joel gave a clumsy pat on his arm and told him Jim planned to be back soon, after some sleep and checking with Simon about the case. He turned on the tape recorder and indicated that Blair should begin his statement.

“It was early in the morning and I was at my office at Rainier University and Alex, she came in with this other man…” Blair finished retelling what he could remember and Joel told him how he’d been rescued and resuscitated. Joel left after a while, patting Blair on the shoulder and telling him to get some rest. He’d explained why an officer had come to take his place, that until they could find out where Alex Barnes had gone, Blair was to be protected from any other attacks she might attempt.

Blair had felt freaked out when he was told about Jim and Simon doing CPR on him, but he tried to keep Joel from noticing. He was kind of relieved when his friend had finished his shift of babysitting, so he could try and process everything he’d been told.

Man, he’d been clinically dead! No wonder his chest felt sore, Simon had been pushing down with his considerable strength on Blair’s chest, and Jim, he’d shared his own breath with Blair; and he’d done something else too, there was something that was teasing at his vague and dreamlike memories. For now, though, he’d let it go. It would probably come back to him if he didn’t try and force it. He sighed again and tried to get more comfortable in the bed by rolling over on his side.

Blair slid back into sleep, waking up when the routines of ICU would jar him back awake for a little while. The doctor came by, reviewed his chart, made him do some simple physical tests, and asked Blair questions intended to spot any neurological damage. He cautiously told Blair that besides suffering from a mild concussion, hypothermia, and the after effects of drowning he was doing very well, and then released Blair to a regular room.

Blair alternated between fidgeting and dozing off while he waited for Jim to come back. He felt this yearning to be with his sentinel and see for himself if he had returned to the man Blair had known, the gruff, dryly witty, big galoot who was a closet softie, or the cold, stark, version of his friend who had packed Blair’s belongings up in boxes and exiled him.

Finally, while a nurse checked his vital signs, he sensed Jim was coming. He looked towards the door and saw Jim, and his heartbeat quickened and his palms became sweaty. Jim leaned against the doorway and made some crack about Blair meeting nurses and then he walked into Blair’s hospital room. The tension that had tightened Blair’s muscles relaxed when Jim cocked his head and smiled at Blair. Seeing Jim was the catalyst that the remaining foggy memories needed in order to become crystal clear to Blair. And -- oh my God -- he was flooded with the remembrances of dying and his trip to the spirit plane. Jim was joking with him about the rent, and trying to make Blair feel comfortable with the conversation. With a huge effort, Blair tried to play along with the casual friend stuff, but then he decided to share with Jim what he recalled about the jungle place and being the wolf….

xxxxx

Blair opened the door to the loft and whistled softly when he saw again how Jim had stripped it down. Jim had invited him to return home when they had conversed today at the hospital; later, Jim and Simon had left the country following a lead on Alex, and with the other sentinel in Mexico, the protective guard on Blair had been withdrawn.

So his partner was off chasing the bad girl and didn’t know that Blair had opted for an early exit from Cascade General. Well, he called it an early exit; they called it against medical advice.

Blair took advantage of knowing Jim was in another country and took a tour of the loft, including the forbidden zone, otherwise known as Jim’s bedroom. Everywhere he wandered, the same pared down, minimalist decor was in vogue; it was much more stark than when he had first moved in with Jim, and he had thought that decorating scheme a prime example of austerity.

He had left the hospital under strict instructions to rest and to continue with antibiotics and to follow up tomorrow with his own doctor, or in his case, the clinic at Rainier. The doctor at the hospital had gone over what respiratory problems he might develop; Blair had mentally crossed his fingers, hoping he would dodge that bullet, too. He felt kind of shaky still, but he was essentially okay. For a walking dead guy.

Blair had come back to the loft because he needed to meditate and make some decisions. The motel room was too distracting, with the highway noises and uncooperative partiers on either side of his small room. He didn’t want to go to his office either, because… well, because.

He wanted to see his home again; Jim had been gruffly insistent that Blair return here and he had apologized for throwing Blair out of the loft. Blair wasn’t sure though that it would be a good idea for him to return. Maybe Jim needed more space.

More away-from-Blair-space.

Maybe Blair needed to know that he couldn’t be thrown out of where he was living on a whim. Jim had been reacting to the incursion of another sentinel into his territory and Blair had – in Jim’s skewed outlook—given comfort and aid to his enemy. Of course, there was the added bonus of her being a criminal. But Blair hadn’t known she was a criminal and he had tried to tell Jim about her. Jim hadn't listened and Blair had decided he was tired of getting his head bitten off by his cranky sentinel, so he had kept his big, fat mouth shut. He should have tried harder to make Jim listen to him; maybe if they’d both actually communicated with each other, Jim would not have seen his actions as a betrayal and Blair could have avoided taking a dip in the fountain.

Jeez, they had both screwed up.

Blair rummaged in the kitchen hoping Jim’s tidying spree had spared the contents of the drawer he was pawing through. Good, the matches and emergency candles were still here. Jim was really a big Boy Scout and while he had thrown out anything decorative, he had kept his power outage emergency supplies.

Anyway, meditation. Here. Now. Because Jim was gone and Blair wanted to be with him. Except… maybe he should park his butt on the disabled and injured bench and wait for Jim to come back. He knew perfectly well that this would be what Jim would want him to do.

His head was still sore and so were his ribs; he was lucky that Simon hadn’t cracked a couple of them. He’d been pumped full of antibiotics, but the doctor had given him a script for more germ killers in the pill form. He hadn’t filled it though; he wasn’t sure it was needed and he hated to subject his body to something that strong that he could do without.

Blair went back upstairs and pulled a blanket off Jim’s bed. He wanted something to cushion his ass from the floor while he meditated. He had planned on doing it downstairs but he changed his mind once he was back in Jim’s bedroom. He wanted to feel as close to Jim as possible, and hey – this was the room that had the most Jim-feel to it. What was left of Jim’s belongings were up here. Jim’s clothes, too. He opened the closet door and was suddenly very glad his friend was far away, because he didn’t know how to explain his desire to breathe in the scent of Jim’s clothes. He wasn’t a sentinel, but even a plebeian nose like his could detect the scent of his partner that had settled on some of the clothes Jim hadn’t taken to the cleaners. And… here was one of Jim’s sweatshirts the guy had worn, and Blair slid it off the hanger and held it to his face. Yep. The comforting scent of his partner was wafting from the cotton material, and Blair slid the sweatshirt over his head and pulled it down. It hung halfway to his knees because it was pretty big on Jim so it swamped him, and he pushed up the sleeves.

He moved slowly down the stairs, made a detour into the bathroom -- no sense in having to return early from a trance state just to take a piss -- and gathered up his supplies.

Upstairs he arranged the folded blanket on the floor, the plain white scentless candles arranged on plates in a circle around the blanket. Feeling the ghost of Jim’s censure looking over his shoulder, he made sure they were far away enough that he wouldn’t accidentally knock them over; plus he had a pitcher of water over in the corner. Just in case.

He was warm, the sweatshirt trapping his body heat, so he lit the candles, and arranged himself on the pad he made of the blanket. He slowly began the thought clearing exercises his mother had taught him from childhood, and began slow breathing , to allow himself to relax and enter a trance state. He gazed into the candle flame, felt his consciousness going under, and he placed the questions in his mind. Should he stay in Cascade and recover from his injuries or should he follow his sentinel into battle against the woman who had perverted what it meant to be a sentinel? What did it mean that his spirit animal – because he’d realized that was what the wolf was – and Jim’s panther had merged on the spirit plane? What path should his future take with his sentinel?

Quiet

Calmness

Tidal breathing

Memories rising

The Wolf morphing into his own naked body

Incacha laying his blood red hand on his arm

Incacha observing the merging of the wolf and panther

Blending of souls

The Way of the Shaman

A blue-green shroud of fog

Jungle forest emerging from the blue-green mist

Incacha beckoning – walking away

Following the Shaman deeper into the jungle

Blue-green light dappling the path the Shaman travels

Jungle drums heart-beat in the distance

Centering of his life-force

Incacha waiting in the center of the jungle

For him.

Blair faced Incacha. Jim’s old friend was dressed in ceremonial garb, nothing like what the shaman had worn in Cascade, where he’d died in the loft clutching Blair’s arm. Blair glanced down at his arm, half expecting to see the bloody red print that had been burned in his mind as the mark branding him the Shaman of the Great City.

Nothing.

No blood and… no clothes either.

Incacha spoke and Blair understood his words.

“You have shared souls with Enqueri, you see what he has seen, and you understand what he has understood. You are naked because you appear so in his visions.”

Blair felt his eyebrows go up at the thought of being pictured nude in his partner’s dreams. No wonder Jim never wanted to explain what was going on when he was given a dream-revelation. Strangely enough, he found he didn’t care that he was naked in front of Incacha.

“Do you accept yet that you are a shaman?”

Blair shrugged and replied wistfully to the real shaman between the two of them. “Incacha, it was cool of you to tell Jim I was the Shaman of the Great City, but I’m not one really. I don’t know how to do what a shaman does; it isn’t something you can, like, take a class in and pass a test to get your shaman license.” He’d studied shamanism and had met shamans while doing anthropology studies; they were amazing and he was not amazing.

Incacha’s eyes flashed with annoyance, and he responded to Blair’s words by stepping forward and placing his hands on either side of Blair’s temples. “Remember,” he said with a natural authority that Blair responded to by, well, remembering, but first he had one quick, irreverent thought of Mr. Spock doing the Vulcan memory thing to McCoy. God, he was such a geek.

Memories flashed in his head like a slide show on speed. Blair looked, really looked at his past actions and tried to fit them into what he knew about shamanism.

Shamans teach.

Well, he liked teaching. He’d been teaching others how to reach their potential in learning since he was a kid. He’d always helped other students by explaining what the teacher hadn’t gotten across to the other children. He had tutored high school and college students, finding ways to make the material learnable for the unlearned. He was a teaching fellow and used his wits and energy to make anthropology come alive for his students. He coached Jim on how to control his senses and what it meant to be called a sentinel.

Shamans counsel.

Reaching out to others in need? It was kind of second nature to him. He remembered helping Joel with the fear that kept the man from doing his job. He was good at listening to students about their problems and helping them find resolutions. He helped out at the homeless shelter trying to understand the men and women who needed someone to advocate for them, to assist them in regaining their hopes for a better life. He listened to Jim, when his partner was upset and helped his sentinel to understand himself.

Shamans heal.

Okay, he did like to try out natural remedies and he knew a lot about medicinal plants, and also stuff about pressure points and chakras, plus he did a mean massage. He had taught yoga to lots of people before and also basic meditation. Shoot, he had even gotten Jim to try relaxation techniques and beginning meditation. Jim had the potential to be very good at meditation, if the big lug could keep from feeling it was too hippie-dippie to practice. Then there was his interest in preventing diseases by eating nutritious, organic food; that’s why he was on Jim’s case so much about his Wonderburger addiction and why he cooked dishes like his world famous ostrich chili.

Shamans seek balance.

Hmm… that was harder to visualize. But he did help Jim to balance his senses so that he wasn’t overwhelmed. He tried to be a mediator, to help others balance out their differing views. How many times had he worked with environmental groups to help the earth be balanced, so that we didn’t destroy our own habitat? This wasn’t something he would acknowledge outside of this meditation, but he could see auras if he, like, shifted his vision sometimes; he could send his aura-energy flowing into somebody else's, entwining their auras and… doing something so that their colors became a healthier, brighter hue. On the down side though, he would feel exhausted afterwards when he had been with somebody whose auras had been so dull and dark before he lightened them. He wasn’t ever going to mention that he could do this trick. It sounded too far out even for Naomi to accept and Jim – boy, Jim would really think he was a witchdoctor hippie punk if he told him he could balance other people’s aura-energy with his own. Sometimes he did it while just talking to them, sometimes just being with them, not talking – just hanging out together. And sometimes, while he had sex with them and he was giving all he could to his girlfriend, boyfriend or friend with benefits, he used sex energy to make his lovers’ auras be right. Actually, his mom would accept that auras could be cleansed by another person’s energy – but he had his doubts that she would think he could help anybody that way.

Shamans walk in two worlds, the mundane and the mystical.

His death had opened that door for him; he has seen his spirit animal and Jim’s, too. Heck, he was talking to a spirit right now. Incacha was d-e-a-d; besides, it was Jim who had known the Chopec shaman, not him. He’d have to ask Incacha what the deal was, that he was here in this meditation with Blair and not hanging out with Jim. Some shamans used drugs to achieve that doorway into the spiritual plane, but he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of tripping his brains out to do so. Maybe he had gotten a head start, in a scary kind of way, with his mom being pregnant with him while she was being one of the first generation of hippies. He figured she had probably taken hallucinogenic drugs at that time in her life – after all, it was the sixties—so maybe his unborn baby brain had gotten a zap or two that had given him a ticket to ride on the train that crossed to the other side.

He didn’t want to do any of the drugs he had seen used by South American shamans. And hoo-boy, Jim would have a cow if Blair even considered doing ritual drugs to put himself in a trance. The drugs wouldn’t be necessary, though, because he did pretty good at putting himself in a meditative state. Or he could always go under by listening to slow rhythmic drums. That would drive Jim crazy, too, if he had to listen to them for very long while Blair sunk into beta brain waves.

Shamans occupied a marginalized place in their respective societies.

In other words, they were the strange ones, functioning in-between the groups they lived with as the mediators, the healers, and the conduits to the spiritual plane. Well, he was kind of marginalized, wasn’t he? Tolerated at the police station but not really considered in the inner sanctum because ‘you’re not a cop, Sandburg.’ He identified himself as being both Jewish and a hippie, and those were both non-mainstream American identities; he’d received plenty of marginalized treatment because of how he’d chosen to dress and his worldviews. He’d been set aside sometimes just from people making assumptions based on his name being Sandburg. Not to mention that his first name was ambiguous; damn, he wished he had a dollar for every time some jackass had made a joke about Blair being a girl’s name.

Another thing was that it was fairly common for shamans to have some kind of non-traditional sexual identity – and he was bi-sexual. Another way he had been pushed to the edge all his life was that he was a bastard; he had no father and no man had ever claimed him as a son, not even one of Naomi’s boyfriends. He supposed it wasn’t as stigmatizing as it would have been in another century, but he still perceived a difference in how he was treated because of it. He really was kind of straddling the border here, now that he had taken a step back to really see himself. Even his choice of an occupation – being an anthropologist – dictated that he not belong to the group he was involved with since he had to stand back to monitor and study those people.

Shamans were inventive.

Okay, he knew he had that trait in spades. He was pretty good about coming up with solutions to problems, from using a baseball to bean a bad guy, to sneaking out of protective custody, to thinking fast on his feet when he was in a tight situation.

Shamans had differing gifts regarding their powers.

Well, he didn’t really think he had much going on in this category. He couldn’t think of any powers he had besides the aura-cleansing.

Shamans feel a call to be shamans.

He hadn’t felt a call so much as he felt he’d been drafted. Before Incacha had named him a shaman, he’d never considered himself one or even idly pictured himself as being a shaman. He’d always thought shamans were very cool but he’d never pictured himself as being one of the cool kids.

Incacha dropped his hands from Blair’s temples. He stepped back and looked Blair up and down, assessing his protégé.

“You still harbor doubts, Guide to Enqueri. You are untutored, but you have much strength as a shaman. Come now with me.”

Incacha took Blair by the hand and led him into another clearing where a delicate pool of spring water glistened, surrounded by tropical flowers. He pointed to the ground and Blair sat cross-legged and waited for his teacher to instruct him. Incacha picked up a small, decorated gourd and sat down facing across from Blair. He removed a tiny brush from the gourd that glistened with a reddish solution. Blair recognized it as Bloodroot dye.

“Close your eyes, Guide to Enqueri, while I anoint you with the symbols of your powers and the symbols of your origins. As I place each one on your body believe in yourself and accept who you are.”

Blair obeyed. Incacha picked up his right hand and held it out, turning it over so that his palm faced up. He felt the brush drawing a circle on his palm, then a design in the middle of the circle. His hand was laid palm upwards on his thigh and his left palm received the same treatment.

Blair concentrated on what that symbol meant to him. He’d recognized it, of course. It was the peace symbol, synonymous with hippie culture. He’d been born to a girl-woman who’d embraced that lifestyle, although she’d moved on to being more new-age-ish than hippie anymore. But he’d formed his identity and values from that time in his life when he’d been a child of the counter-culture. He’d been a hippie child and now as an adult he still considered himself a hippie. It was the reason he wore his hair long, wrapped bracelets around his wrists and wore necklaces. It wasn’t to be fashionable or to match his clothes, each item of jewelry told a personal story or had a symbolic meaning. He had no ancestral home, no community he’d grown up in, although he’d stayed a lot at different hippie communities when he was very young. What he wore on his body was his link to his culture.

Incacha then grasped his right arm and tugged it straight, with Blair’s elbow resting almost on his knees. The underside of his forearm was exposed to the shaman’s scrutiny. Blair knew this even though he’d kept his eyes closed because he could sense what Incacha was doing.

His teacher drew another symbol on his forearm and then repeated it on his left forearm. Again Blair recognized the symbol; it was the healer’s caduceus, the staff and serpents entwined that represented the healer’s art. He wasn’t a doctor but in his own way he was a healer. He did as Incacha had told him and accepted that this aspect of himself was true.

Next, on the bottoms of his feet, Incacha drew a circle that was quartered by a cross so that the circle was divided into four equal parts. Of course he recognized the ancient’s symbol for the earth. Shamans revered the earth and worked to prevent the earth from being harmed. It was what had brought Incacha to Cascade, to stop the rape of the rain forest by the oil company that had intruded on Chopec land. Shamans were warriors for Mother Earth. He had always been protective of the earth and could see his abiding interest in ecology now as a part of his being a shaman.

Placing the brush on his forehead, Incacha drew a triangle and then completed the symbol by drawing a reversed triangle over the first one. Another symbol of his heritage – it was the Star of David, or as it was sometimes known, the Shield of David. He did consider himself a Jew. Not in a practicing religious kind of way, because he was too eclectic to cling to one way of worship. But it was another part of his heritage, and he identified himself as a Jewish man, born to a Jewish mother. He liked this link back to antiquity, and as such it was very important to him. There was even a tradition of shamanism within the ancient practices of the Jewish religion; for him, it linked his past sense of himself with his struggling acceptance as a member of the shamanistic tradition.

Murmuring, “Remember, young shaman,” Incacha executed the next series of symbols on his back. When they were completed the older shaman traced with his finger each of the symbols, which were laid out in a circle on Blair’s back.

As Incacha had touched each symbol Blair remembered things about his abilities that he had overlooked, or repressed, or maybe had suspended belief in because they had seemed to fantastic to have been real.

His teacher completed tracing the symbols on his back, then arranged himself so that he was facing Blair again, their knees almost touching.

“Open your eyes and speak, Guide to Enqueri. Explain to me what the symbols represent and your experience of them.”

Blair answered him with a dazed expression on his face. “To the North is ‘He,’ the Hebrew letter that means Earth. To the East is ‘Iod,’ the Hebrew letter that means Fire. To the South is ‘He,’ and that Hebrew letter also means Air. To the West is ‘Mem,’ the Hebrew letter that means Water.

“These are the four elements. They are also represented in the Shield of David. And… they are important to me because my gifts include enhancement of the elements.”

Blair got to his feet and started pacing around; his hands punctuating the air, and practically circling his mentor. “Incacha, I didn’t know. How could I not have known? And how can I do these things? I’ve never tried to do these things. So how could I do these things?”

Incacha stood and grasped Blair’s hands with his own and tethered him in place. Blair took several deep breaths and whispered, “I am calm, I am quiet, I am at peace.” He repeated this mantra several times until it was actually true.

“So, how do I do these things? How did I call up the wind that broke my fall from Mrs. Danbush’s tree so that I only broke my arm? As high up as I was, I should have broken my neck. I see now why nobody believed me when I pointed out how far I’d climbed. Nicholas, Naomi’s boyfriend in Michigan, he always said I was his good luck charm when we went sailing because if I was crewing, we always won the race. I made the wind blow harder against his sails.

“Man, no wonder I was the fastest torch in my welding crew. Like when I cut that hole in the elevator we were trapped in, so I could push the bomb down the shaft and away from us. I made the fire from the welding torch burn hotter and faster than it should have been able to do. And making campfires – even in the rain I can catch the wood on fire.

“I know I have a green thumb because whenever I’ve worked in gardens the plants have flourished. My old roommates would give me their on-death’s-doorstep houseplants to tend and I would be able to return them healthy and happy. Oh -- and I’ve always been able to dig quickly in the earth. I guess I’ll have to take back my bragging about my muscles, since I was kind of mystically cheating whenever there was some kind of digging I was doing. On those excursions where I helped with archeological digs I had always been lucky about recovering artifacts from the earth. Well, I guess luck wasn’t really the factor; it must have been my earth sense kicking in.

“Water – I don’t feel so happy about water right now. Did you know I drowned? Wait, of course you know that because you were there in the jungle, too. Why couldn’t I stop the water from drowning me then?”

Incacha turned him and retraced the letter ‘Mem.’ “Think now, to before you left the physical world the day the renegade killed you. Remember your face in the water. What did you do?”

Blair thought that it was cool to try and do a meditation within a meditation. He cleared his mind and concentrated on picturing the fountain he'd drowned in. He summoned the memories of being held down under the water, and focused on the water surrounding his face. An air pocket had formed that he'd been able to breathe from. Apparently he'd had access to oxygen for far longer than the doctors had thought. He'd been pushed further into the fountain, and the pain in his head had overwhelmed him. He'd felt his consciousness slip away; his legs and arms hadn't obeyed his commands to move, to stand up and run away. When practically all of his awareness had seeped away, the pocket of air had disappeared, too, and he'd drowned. He shuddered and stopped his remembrances at that point.

“Teacher, I see now that I moved the fountain water away so I could breathe. And you know what, I know how to douse for springs under the water. I went dousing with a water-witch once, an old man who liked to visit this commune Naomi and were staying at when I was about eight years old. He took me and some other kids on a hike to show us how he could find water with a switch from a tree. He let me try and I could feel the switch wanting to bend down, and he said I’d found underground water, just where he would have located it, too. Huh. I’d forgotten about doing that. He must have the same gift of water enhancement that I do.”

Incacha waited silently while Blair sat and processed what he had learned about himself. Finally Blair looked directly at his mentor with a solemn expression. “Incacha. Why are you with me in this meditation? Most of what I’ve perceived here is from my own mind, but I can’t explain your part in this. Jim knew you as a friend and as the Chopec Shaman. I had barely met you before you passed the Way of the Shaman to me. I’m still confused by what that means, by the way. So, please, teacher, tell me what we’re doing here. I thought to meditate and figure out if I should follow Jim to Sierra Verde or stay in Cascade. Also, the joining of the Wolf and the Panther saved me from death, our souls merged, and I thought to explore what that would mean for Jim and me. With your help, I have learned that I am a shaman, and I know that there are responsibilities for me to fulfill in that role, but I still feel I’m just a rookie, ya’know.”

Incacha smiled at Blair and got to his feet, bringing Blair with him. He faced his charge and asked, “What do you fear, young shaman?”

Blair stared at his mentor, his teacher, his… pain in the ass. What did he fear, anyway? Besides heights? And pools of water. He knew those weren’t the right answer to this pop quiz.

C’mon, Blair, he told himself. He'd accepted that he was a shaman -- he didn't know how he did the things he'd done, but he did accept that he had done them – so maybe he should try thinking like a shaman. Okay, to boil it all down -- shamans help their people. More specifically, this shaman guides a sentinel. They work as a team.

He'd been drawn to the concept of sentinels since he was a kid, and if he had any inborn talents that allowed him to work with the elements and manipulate auras, then perhaps he had also been meant to use his abilities to guide sentinels. Maybe only one sentinel – their souls had merged for an endless moment when Jim had saved him and possibly he was locked in with him now. He hoped so. He didn't want any other sentinel.

He considered his biggest fear, which was not being allowed to be Jim's guide anymore. When Jim had talked to him in the hospital, Jim hadn't wanted to join him in the evolution of their relationship. For now, Blair decided, he wouldn't push him. Jim had as much to process about what had happened to them as he had.

He mulled over the fact that he hadn't had a call to be a shaman so much as he'd had a call to be Jim’s guide, except maybe in his case they were a package deal.

He did have his answer about going to Sierra Verde or staying in Cascade. He was going. A sentinel needs his guide. He was ready to wrap up this meditation and prepare to follow his sentinel.

“Incacha?”

“Yes, Guide to Enqueri?”

“Why are you helping me? Will I see you again, Shaman to the Chopec?”

“When Enqueri’s soul joined with yours, a bridge was made for me to travel to you, here in the spirit world. You have many more lessons to learn about being the Shaman of the Great City, and how to increase the strength of your gifts, so we will journey together again, young shaman. But for now I think it best to cloud your memory of our meeting. When the time is right in the physical world, you will remember our lessons here.”

“I won’t remember I’m a shaman?”

“Yes and no, apprentice. You have accepted what you have learned about yourself and you will remain confident in who you are, as the symbols on your body now show. You will seek out confirmation of your abilities in the physical world; you will seek a teacher in the physical world. There is much for you to learn still. You will do the work of a shaman, especially with your sentinel; you will not explain yourself, however. Not even to Enqueri, for he is not ready to accept you as one with such powers. Bide your time, young shaman. You will bundle your recollections of our time here and place them in this bag. Carry it with you when you return to your body. When the time is right you will take the memory of our meeting today out of the bag and recall fully what you have learned.”

Incacha held out a large, beautiful leather bag with a picture painted on it of a black panther. He cocked his head and raised an eyebrow when Blair suddenly started giggling.

“What amuses you, Guide to Enqueri?”

“I’ll be letting the cat out of the bag when I do remember. Get it – cat out of the bag?”

Incacha didn’t exactly roll his eyes but the message was the same. Blair got himself under control and asked, “What do I do now, teacher? It’s time to return to my body.”

Incacha pointed to the pool. “Immerse yourself and take back your fear of this element.”

Blair went to the edge and took a step in, then another and another until he was swimming in the pool. It was deeper then it looked. Blair ducked his head under the water and opened his eyes. He gathered his fearful memories of drowning and pictured them floating away from him, carried by the water until he could no longer see them. He would remember what had happened but no longer would flashbacks overwhelm him and make him relive drowning. Thanks, Incacha. I’m glad I won’t be experiencing dying over and over.

Upon leaving the pool, Blair saw the symbols were no longer painted on his body. He held out the palm of his hand to his teacher in question.

“They are still there, student, but will not be seen for the most part. Now, explain to me what are the uses of this plant.” Incacha held up a plant with a daisy like flower.

“That’s Bloodroot, the juice makes a dye and you used it to mark me. It doesn’t grow in the jungle; it’s more of a North American plant. It has some medicinal qualities but can be dangerous, too, if you don’t know what you’re doing. The root salve has been used to treat skin growths, and to treat gum disease. Some tribes used it to treat like, bronchitis or pneumonia. Umm… mystical uses – some folks have used it in rituals or spells for purification and protection. Old time mountain people would carry a bit with them to ward off evil spirits. Some tribes believed burning the plant would make you forget any spirit you’d seen… Is that what you want me to do, Incacha? Burn Bloodroot to make me forget our time here?”

Incacha nodded, a pleased expression on his face. “The symbols on your skin will also act as protection for you, ‘Anjas Ñawi-kuna.’”

Blair had the feeling he’d just been given another nickname. “What do the words mean, teacher?”

“Incacha patted him on the shoulder and said, “Blue eyes. Now, Anjas Ñawi-kuna, use your gift to build a fire and lay the Bloodroot on it.”

Blair gathered dried moss, twigs, and small sticks of wood and set them aside. He concentrated on the concept of fire as he followed the fire building steps taught to him long ago during an expedition. A spark blossomed and he blew gently on it, and smiled at Incacha when the dried moss caught fire. He sat down next to it, opposite Incacha, and contemplated what he had learned during his meditation.

After the fire had dwindled, he laid the Bloodroot on top of the coals and picked up the leather bag. Slinging it over his shoulder, he stood and watched Incacha as the smoke began to become thicker and thicker.

“Goodbye, teacher,” Blair whispered as the smoke almost obscured Incacha’s body. At last all he saw was a hand raised in farewell.

The smoke continued to fill the area until all that could be seen was the gray-white fog. As he sat and waited he closed his eyes and concentrated on the beating of his heart. When he opened his eyes later, he was in Jim’s bedroom, with one remaining candle sputtering on the floor.

Blair stood and stretched; he had been in a trance for a while this time, but he now felt confident in his decision. Jim was his sentinel and he needed his guide with him. He would go downstairs and start calling airlines for passage to Sierra Verde. Hopefully, it wouldn’t totally bankrupt him.

Once he was downstairs, he popped into the bathroom. While he was washing his hands, for a moment he thought he saw a circle on his left palm. But when he looked more closely, nothing was there. He gazed at himself in the mirror and touched the sore spot on his skull; it hurt but he could live with it. Turning away, he saw a trace of something on his forehead. He squinted at it, but… no; he must have imagined it.

After making arrangements for his plane ticket, Blair was cleaning up when the phone rang. Megan Connor wanted to talk to him and told him to stay put because she was on her way there.

xxxxx

On the flight to Sierra Verde, Blair tried to sleep. When he had told Megan he was going after Jim she had tried to talk him out of it. He’d convinced her that his mind was made up, though, and she’d invited herself along for the party. She was cheerfully unconcerned that Simon might want her neck on a platter. Blair wished he could avoid a lecture when he saw his two friends, but he suspected that was wishful thinking. Megan had insisted on trying to coddle him, though, and made him get his prescription filled. She had also talked him into shutting his eyes and resting once they’d boarded the plane.

Blair felt that he was on the cusp of changing ever since he’d ended his long mediation. Changing into what was the question. He knew he wanted to keep helping Jim -- he was committed to being his guide. He also needed to earn a living. Despite these two priorities, when this problem with Alex was finished, he would spend some time figuring out what direction he wanted his life to go in after he was done at Rainier. He would be finished with his dissertation in a few months. He'd no longer be a student; he'd have his PhD, though he still felt he had lots to learn. He wanted to live up to Jim’s expectations and Incacha’s, too.

He frowned at that last thought. Incacha’s expectations of him? Well, Jim’s Chopec guide and shaman had passed the Way of the Shaman to him. Maybe it was time to figure out what the heck that meant to him.

Yes, that sounded right. After his dissertation was done he would study the Way of the Shaman.

Blair Sandburg… Boy Shaman. Smiling at the notion, Blair eased his way into sleep, never noticing that he’d been idly tracing a peace sign symbol on the palm of his left hand.

The End

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Acknowledgments: Written for Pat K, for Moonridge 2007. Many thanks go to Blue Wolf, for beta'ing the story.