Novation Productions Season Five Episode Ten
By Alberte and Vision
Jim sighed and leaned back in his chair, wiping his mouth with a napkin and pushing the plate away from him. Only faint traces of salad dressing and a few crumbs still decorated the colorful stoneware.
"That really hit the spot, Chief. Thanks for fixing dinner tonight."
"No problem. You practically inhaled it, man. No lunch today?"
"Unless you count half a stale donut, a Bronco Bar, and three cups of break-room coffee lunch -- no, no lunch today. Things were breaking on the LaSalle case and we didn't want to miss a chance to catch that bastard."
"We finally dug up his mistress and she showed us his dark side, so to speak. I'm sure we'll find enough evidence to put a case together now."
Blair nodded emphatically as he cleared the debris from dinner.
"That's great. It had to be him, nothing else made sense." He scraped off the plates and stacked them in the sink, then wiped his hands and turned back to Jim. "So, how about dessert?"
Jim eyed him suspiciously. "It's not that Tofutti stuff, is it? I'll take a pass on that again, thank you very much."
"Jim, it's not that bad, as long as you don't expect it to taste just like ice cream. Anyway, I didn't have time to fix something for dessert, so I stopped by Benetto's on the way home."
"Sandburg, if there's a piece of Benetto's tiramisu in that refrigerator with my name on it, I may have to kiss you."
Blair snorted. "Very funny. I thought that, if you could eat something as disgustingly healthy as grilled chicken and spinach salad for supper, I'd treat you to something special for dessert. I have tiramisu and chocolate mocha cheesecake. Take your choice."
"I have to make a choice? You know their chocolate mocha is my favorite. You didn't get two of each?"
"Jim...whining is so unattractive on a grown man."
"All right! I'll take the tiramisu, please."
"You got it." Blair chuckled to himself as he pulled the bakery box out of the refrigerator. Jim was so predictable. Placing each dessert on a small plate, he started a fresh pot of coffee before laying the plates on the table and sitting down beside Jim to enjoy his own little piece of heaven.
"Mmmm..." Jim moaned as he slowly ate the first bite of his dessert. "Excellent, as always. And is that Kona I smell?"
"On the money. The nose, as always, knows."
They enjoyed their dessert in companionable silence, only an occasional sigh or groan of appreciation in evidence. Finishing first, Jim took his plate to the sink and then pulled a couple of mugs out of the cabinet and poured the coffee, setting a cup in front of Blair, who was still savoring his cheesecake.
Just as Blair nodded his thanks and took his first sip of coffee, Jim's cell phone rang. He frowned as he walked over to the coat rack and pulled the intrusive device from his jacket pocket.
"Ellison...hey, Stan, how's it going?"
Blair cringed slightly as he heard Jim taking the call from his mechanic. Despite comments from practically everyone who saw it, and believed that it was totaled, Jim insisted obstinately that his truck could be repaired. Blair still felt bad that he had been driving when the tire blew and the truck went off the road, down an embankment, and into a tree, but there was nothing he could have done about the explosive charge that caused the accident.
Seeing Jim engrossed in the discussion on the phone, Blair took another sip of his coffee, then walked over to his washer-dryer combo and began to unload clean laundry from the dryer into a basket. He looked up as Jim answered loudly, irritation in his voice. The relaxed mood of dinner had dissipated all too quickly.
"I'm not gonna say this again, Stan. I want the truck fixed by the time I get back. I'm tired of your lame excuses.... Yeah, you heard me, whatever it costs.... Just do it, okay?" Jim punctuated his last statement by punching the off button and smacking the cell phone shut. Blair rolled his eyes at his partner as he picked up the basket and headed toward his bedroom. "Don't you think you were kind of hard on the guy? Come on, Jim, even you've got to admit the truck was a write off."
"You never told me you had a B.A. in auto shop, Sandburg," Jim stated flatly, heading towards the stairs.
"Very funny. So, are you mostly packed?"
Waving his hand in dismissal, Jim started up the spiral staircase linking their apartments. "I'm getting to it. Some of us had to work today, you know."
"I'm about done here, except for the offerings that we talked about. Have you picked yours yet?"
"No! I haven't chosen anything," Jim yelled, stopping midway up the stairs to turn and glare at him. "I told you before, I'm getting to it."
Blair fell silent, hearing the emotion behind Jim's words. Ever since he had suggested a trip back to Sierra Verde, Jim had been on edge. Even though he had described his vision to Jim, that Incacha had again passed the Way of the Shaman to him, this time with the instruction that the two temple pools were to be used by a sentinel and his shaman guide, Jim had still been reluctant to talk about it and even more reluctant to plan the journey with him. Blair knew that Jim had more than his fair share of bad memories from the temple, but he'd hoped that the vision from the spirit world, from Incacha himself, would make him more receptive. Obviously, he had been wrong.
Blair had spent many painstaking hours, researching and documenting all available information regarding the ceremonial pools that Alex and Jim had used during their brief encounter at the temple. Guiding Jim, however reluctantly, through some relaxation and mindfulness exercises, Blair had been able to help him to recall and draw some of the symbols on the inner walls of the temple. Through his own meditation, Blair had been able to remember a few as well.
Even more fascinating to the anthropologist, Jim was able to describe the meanings of some of the symbols, although he could not say where that knowledge had come from. Blair had immediately wanted to probe Jim's memories further, excited at the prospect that he may have found a new sentinel skill. Could Jim access a genetic memory, common to all sentinels? But Jim had rejected Blair's efforts to continue in that vein, walking away curtly and mumbling comments about lab rats under his breath.
Every piece of data that he had found, every educated guess that he had strung together from tantalizing clues and incomplete evidence, led him to the conclusion that his vision was correct, the temple pools had only one proper function. To complete the bond between a sentinel and his guide.
Blair watched as Jim retreated to the loft, but instead of continuing up the stairs to his bedroom to pack, Blair could hear the familiar thump of Jim's body dropping onto the sofa. Tension seeped into Blair's shoulders as he peered up through the stairwell into the dimly lit room above. Years of experience told him that Jim, sitting alone and quiet in the dark, was trying to avoid dealing with Blair's plans and the issue between them.
An imaginary door seemed to take shape between the two apartments, and Blair suddenly felt an emotional distance forming between them. This wasn't the first time that he had felt this space in their friendship, but past experience had shown him that honesty and trust eventually bridged any gaps between them. Whatever demons Jim was fighting needed to be exposed to the light of day and exorcized, not internalized.
Taking ]a seat on the bottom step, Blair began to speak in a calm, clear voice.
"Talk to me, Jim. I need you to tell me what's going on. Look man, if you really don't want to go, just say so. "
A swish of denim against upholstery registered in Blair's ears. "We both have to want this, Jim. I can't do this by myself. Remember when I told you that the water was nice, and you said that you weren't ready to take that trip with me? Do you still feel the same way? Do you really want this, or are you just doing this for me? I think I've seen more of your back this week than I care to. You've been avoiding me, and I want to know why. I think we both know where we're headed if we don't try to work this out."
Jim lay in the dim light of the loft, gently fingering the links of a chain necklace. His hands played lightly over the rectangular slip of metal attached there, his thumb brushing carefully along the engraved numbers and letters. His life as a soldier seemed so foreign to him now, and yet small pinpricks of memory still stabbed their way into his life when he least expected it. Like now....
Blair's research had led him to believe that in order to become a true shaman, and for them to fully realize their connection as sentinel and guide, they would each have to bring an offering of some sort to leave behind at the temple. The item was to represent a time, one before their meeting, that had dramatically changed their lives. At the very moment when Blair had relayed this information, and asked Jim to think about what he would take, a switch seemed to have been thrown in Jim's mind. Images of the helicopter crash, and of his time in Peru, had suddenly burst, unbidden, into his mind.
Ever since that moment, almost a week ago now, intense memories and nightmares had been ambushing him on a daily basis. At times he felt like he was drowning, that there just wasn't enough air in the room to fill his lungs. Other times, he felt small, insignificant, lost in a vacuum of uncertainty and dread.
What do you fear?
Jim had answered that question honestly at the time, but now as the horrors of his past seemed to rear their ugly heads yet again, he was faced with a renewed sense of fear. The visions in the pool had terrified him, but to some degree he had been prepared for them. These memories, the ones that had only recently begun to surface were new, unpredictable.
So much of his childhood, as well as the time just after the crash, had been repressed that it was like some horrible nightmare that he knew one day he would never wake up from. Was this some kind of test? Was he to be brought back to face yet another trip into his own personal darkness? The very thought of having to re-live the darkest episodes of his life, which he himself could not recall with any clarity, seemed even more horrifying than the memories that he had been faced with in the pool with Alex.
Jim blinked at the sound of his name, his head turning slightly towards the source of the sound. Blair stood beside him, his eyes barely visible in the shadowed room.
"I'm gonna cancel the flight."
The matter of fact tone in Blair's voice quickly dragged Jim's mind back to the present. Rising to a sitting position, Jim quickly tucked his dog tags back into his pants pocket.
"Don't say it, Jim, it's okay, really. It was a bad idea. I never even gave you a chance to tell me what you thought of this whole thing. I got carried away, and I'm sorry."
"I'm remembering some things."
Taking advantage of the now empty space on the couch, Blair plopped down beside his partner, his voice rising in excitement. "What things? What are you remembering? When did this happen?"
"It started just after the ritual murder case ended. It's all just so damn confusing. I've been getting, I don't know, I guess you'd call them flashbacks. Flashes of memory of the helicopter crash, my time in Peru.... It's not like I really remember what I'm seeing, but it seems familiar, like I should remember it. Then there's the other."
"Dreams, visions, or whatever the hell you want to call them. They're nothing like anything I've ever experienced before."
Turning his gaze away from Blair, Jim continued, "I'm alone."
"Alone? What do you mean, alone?"
Pushing himself off the couch, Jim began to pace. He could almost feel Blair's eyes on him, following his movements, and hear his unspoken questions. Working to organize his swirling thoughts, he struggled to keep his voice even and his emotions under control. At the memory of finding himself entirely alone in that dark, blue-tinged expanse, he could feel the same tendrils of fear reaching out for him.
"I told you, weren't you listening to me? I was alone. No panther, no Incacha, no jungle...nothing, just me."
"You've never had a vision like that before."
"No kidding. You told me that you were alone in part of your vision after the accident with the truck; it's probably some kind of subconscious thing in response to that. I'll get over it."
He could see disbelief flash across Blair's face, followed by a familiar look of concentration. If there was one thing that they could count on in this Sentinel / Guide connection, it was that visions, no matter how obtuse, always held a deep significance for the pair.
"Maybe it has something to do with what Incacha said," Blair mused.
"What do you mean?"
"This is my journey, Jim. Maybe we have to be separate before we can be together."
At the light pressure of Blair's hand on his arm the Sentinel stopped his pacing, but found it difficult to remain in one spot. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Jim found himself itching to pull away from Blair's grasp.
"We've been working together for years. Why would I want to go back to the way things were before?"
"Maybe we have to accept who we were, before we can accept who we are, and where we go from here."
Shrugging off the hand that held him, Jim sat back down beside his partner. "You really believe this, don't you?"
"Yeah, Jim, I do."
Jim hesitated for a moment, letting the certainty in Blair's voice wash over him. A sense of urgency filled his heart, as if there were some sort of preparations that still needed to be made.
"Okay, Chief, you win. I've still got some paperwork left to do at the station in the morning, but after that, we can head out as planned."
"You mean it?"
Jim watched as Blair quickly bounded off the couch and headed towards the stairs. He couldn't help but smile as he saw the grin blossoming across the retreating face. "You won't be sorry, man, I promise."
"Famous last words," Jim muttered under his breath.
Moments after Blair disappeared down the stairwell, Jim headed to his room and seated himself at his desk. Pulling a thick legal envelope from his file drawer, he removed the document within and scrutinized it carefully. Pen in hand, he found a piece of stationery and began to compose one of the most important letters of his life.
Blair sat on his bed, picking through the contents of his suitcase one more time. He'd been packing and unpacking it for days, torn between his desire to return to the Temple of the Sentinels, and his fear of returning to the Temple of the Sentinels. As much as he tried to appear confident and determined in front of Jim, he'd had a few hundred second thoughts himself.
The idea of following Incacha's guidance, of cementing the bond between sentinel and shaman in the ancient way, both thrilled and terrified him. He recalled worrying that he could never become a shaman, never truly be worthy of his place by the sentinel's side. Despite all of his efforts and desires, he had been unable to engage the spirit world, had been unable to experience the visions that Jim had. As much as his roommate had downplayed Blair's failures, insisting that he didn't need a shaman, Blair had felt the bite of disappointment more than once.
Now that Incacha had visited him on the spirit plane, passing the Way of the Shaman to him in the spiritual world as he already had in the material world, Blair felt that he was finally on his way. Ever since his vision, it had been all that he could do to eat and sleep and carry on the activities of the mundane world. His mind was filled with the possibilities of fulfilling Incacha's shamanic legacy, of deepening his relationship with Jim, of expanding his world.
He reached over to the desk and picked up the worn notebook that contained all of his research and speculations on the Temple of the Sentinels and the bonding between sentinel and shaman. Flipping through a few pages, the dog-eared and occasionally coffee-stained pages were practically engraved on his brain, yet he still felt as if he should know more, do more, to prepare. Sighing, he tossed it onto the pile of clothing. Trying to read through all of it one more time would do him no good; it wasn't like cramming for an exam. He was as prepared as he would ever be.
Standing and walking over to his dresser, he opened the bottom drawer and rummaged around in it until he located a small wooden box in the back. Removing the box and closing the drawer, he returned to the bed and sat next to his open suitcase. He smiled slightly as he looked at the childish lettering burned into the top, then pried the tight-fitting lid open.
Inside the box was the item that he had selected as his offering to the Temple of the Sentinels, symbol of a turning point in his life. He removed a small handmade leather and stone bracelet, stiff with disuse, and weighed it thoughtfully in the palm of his hand. Memories flooded back, memories of fear and excitement, loneliness and accomplishment.
He'd received the bracelet years ago when he went on his first out-of-the-country anthropological trip. The youngest in the party, just a junior high school student, he had only been permitted to go because Naomi was a friend of the scientist in charge. He was so thrilled that he and Naomi were actually going to get to go to a foreign country for a vacation that he couldn't sleep for two days beforehand. The trip to meet the expedition party at the airport passed in a daze as he chattered on about the flora and fauna of the area they would be visiting, having poured through many a book and encyclopedia in preparation.
At the airport, they joined the party eagerly waiting near the gate. After setting his luggage down and making sure that he had his ticket and everything, Naomi had taken him aside and sat down beside him.
Blair was sure that he could still picture the look on her face, feel the rush of astonishment and disappointment as she told him that she wasn't going along. Naomi had met the most wonderful man, a "truly spiritual being," and she absolutely had to go to Sedona with him for the Solstice celebration. She wouldn't be able to take Blair along, but she was sure that he would have a wonderful time in South America and she couldn't wait to hear all about it when he got back.
With just a hug and a kiss, Naomi swept away down the airport terminal, a faint scent of jasmine wafting behind her. Blair stood, stunned, fighting back tears as she walked away. Dr. Adams kindly brought him back to the group and made sure that he got on the flight, and generally took him under his wing. Blair grew up that summer, coming to an understanding about Naomi as a woman and a mother -- once he got past his sadness and anger. But he also discovered independence and the ability to detach with love, as well as anthropology and the love of learning which had motivated his life ever since. When next he saw Naomi, she presented him with the bracelet from Arizona. He'd accepted it with a smile and a hug, and a promise to himself that he'd never tell Naomi the dark side of his experiences that summer, and he'd buried those memories deep. He could never wear the bracelet without bittersweet memories and feelings surfacing, so he had rarely worn it. Now it was too small, so it just sat in the little handmade box in his dresser drawer.
Tossing it into the open suitcase, he reached for the worn notebook again, unable to resist the urge to go through it just one more time.
Jim finished scribbling on the blue post-it note and stuck it on the cover of the file folder in front of him. Dropping the file onto the growing pile on his right, he pulled the top file from the shrinking pile on the left side of his desk and opened it with a sigh.
Today was their last day in the office before they left for Mexico, and all of his open files had to be reviewed and updated, so that they could be temporarily reassigned by Simon. He looked up with a grimace as Blair came over and removed the right-hand pile, raising an eyebrow at the still substantial stack on Jim's left, then carrying Jim's reviewed files to his own desk.
Jim grinned as he watched Blair read the scribbled notes on the cover of the top file, then open the file and scan through it quickly. His partner also had notes and comments to contribute to the case files, but used a totally different method. Rather than adding his notes to the file, he turned to his computer and typed his notes into an email for Simon. Jim knew how to use email, but he was sure that it took him twice as long to type and check his spelling than to just scribble it out. Besides, it was a well-known police tradition to add bits and pieces that made each case file individual. It was just a tradition that Sandburg hadn't learned yet.
Attending to post-it notes and police traditions, along with working on the case files, allowed him to get through most of the day without thinking too much about their upcoming journey. But eventually all of the files had been updated, and he grabbed the pile from Blair's desk and headed toward Simon's office, knocking on the door before opening it.
Jim walked in and placed the stack of paperwork in front of Simon with a thump.
"Here you go, Simon. We've been through all of them, lock, stock and barrel. I don't think there's much else we could add."
Simon nodded, then stood and walked around to the front of his desk, resting one hip on the corner and crossing his arms over his chest.
"So, are you two ready to go?"
Jim leaned back to sit against the edge of the conference table.
"Are we packed and all? Yes. Am I ready? I'm not sure I'll ever be ready, Simon." He rubbed a hand over his face tiredly. "As ready as I'll ever be, I guess."
"Does Sandburg know you feel this way?"
"Yeah, he does. I haven't exactly kept it under my hat. But this is something that he needs to do, that we need to do, so I'm going. Ever since Incacha's death, he's been struggling with Incacha's legacy and feeling that he's come up short. Considering all that we've been through...I'm going."
"All right. I'm sure that I don't understand, but I don't think that asking you or Sandburg to explain it will help. Just take care of business between you two, and I'll see you in two weeks."
Jim nodded and turned toward the door, but stopped before grasping the doorknob.
"Simon, just in case something happens, there's a sealed envelope in my locker with your name on it. Sandburg has a similar envelope in his locker."
"What do you mean, in case something happens? What are you two planning to do down there? Are you planning something dangerous?" Simon blurted out as he stood stiffly and glared in concern.
"No, no, Simon. Nothing dangerous. You just never know what might happen, you know? I'm sure everything will go just fine."
He stood and walked over to the door and opened it as he talked, subconsciously listening to the bullpen banter as he said his goodbyes, missing it already even though they hadn't left yet.
"...pink shirt. I've never worn a pink shirt in my life!"
"...can't get that exact color anymore?"
"It's not pink, it's mauve..."
"...trying to have a conversation here, guys! Sorry, Stan. What did you say?"
"...sure Jim will like it..."
"...wife buying all your clothes now?"
"...by the time we get back. Thanks, Stan."
"I think it's sweet..."
He walked back through the bullpen to Blair's desk, Simon almost at his side.
Blair looked up at him as he hung up the phone.
"Hey, Simon. Ready to go, Jim?"
"Yup, we're out of here, I guess."
"Cool. See you, Simon. We'll try to bring something back for you."
"Why does that sound like a threat, Sandburg? Go on, get out of here. Have a good time."
"Yes, sir. Let's go, Chief."
As they made their way through the bullpen, tossing off brief farewells to their colleagues in the room, Jim couldn't help but turn as they reached the elevator to look around slowly, a slight shiver tickling his spine in foreboding. Somehow he wondered, if they were successful in their quest, whether anything would be quite the same again.
Continue On to Act Two