DROWNING, Part Three


Jane Leavell

That's it. No more drugs. I don't care what the doctors said. I don't even remember any doctors.

Blair sat at the picnic table in what little early morning sunlight could escape the clouds, glowering at his mug of coffee. Angry tribesmen were once again poking spears into his temples. Peruvians, he suspected. He hadn't pulled an all-nighter--either with work or with play--and he hadn't gotten drunk, but he had taken that medicine of Alex's, and now he felt worse, not better.

Part of it was having another nightmare. This time he was dressed up, sporting a dress shirt and suit coat, with his hair tied back. But that wasn't all that was tied up; his arms and legs were tightly bound to a kitchen chair's arms and legs. He was sitting next to a gorgeous redhead in a sleek satin gown--Cassie, from the Coroner's Office--and she was tied up, too. A bowlegged, wild-eyed madman with a gun kept pacing around them, threatening all kinds of unpleasantries, and when Blair raised his eyes, he spotted James Ellison lurking on the upper level of the loft. Just what he needed: two villains instead of one. Except that these two guys didn't seem to like each other. The sound of the bullets ripping from the madman's gun woke him up in a cold sweat.

Did this one really happen? Or was he just inventing clashes with his personal Bogey Man, composing new nightmare events? He was afraid to sleep. Awake, he could keep his thoughts channeled, so that he didn't think about his past and could immediately back-pedal if there was any sign of Ellison intruding. He didn't want to be crazy. He didn't want to be brain-damaged, with his memories all confused and Ellison's face pasted over what apparently ought to be Alex's.

Not that the universe cared what he wanted.

Glumly, he lifted the mug. His coffee was cold, too.

Okay, so Alex isn't going to like me refusing to take that potion of hers. She'll tell me that I'm brain-damaged and can't judge my own needs. But I'm not retarded, damn it. I'm just having some memory problems. I'm a grown man, and I have a right to make some decisions about my medical care. All I have to do now is plan the right arguments to convince her.

At least he was dressed like an adult. The sweatsuits had made him feel like a patient--one step above pajamas--but he'd found a single pair of blue jeans, a tee shirt, and a plaid flannel shirt stuck in the bottom drawer of the dresser in his bedroom, so today he was actually normally dressed. Well, normally for him, anyway. That helped.

Maybe I'm going about this all wrong. Maybe what I need to do is tackle the issues head-on. Denial never solves psychological problems. Instead of hiding from my memories, or lack thereof, I should try to face them. Stare the Bogey Man down in the daylight and he will probably disappear. He glanced around the clearing. There don't seem to be any psychologists hiding behind these trees, but I could try meditation to get myself in the right mood, real calm, and then write down each image as it comes and piece them together....

He yawned and stretched. There was always the chance that if he tried meditating, he'd simply fall asleep and get sunburned, even in chilly Washington.

"Good morning. I brought you some fresh coffee." Alex sat down across from him, sliding another mug across the chipped wooden table. Today her hair was piled on top of her head, and she wore some sort of navy skirt and top outfit, the sort of thing a high-ranking executive might wear in the business world. It looked totally out of place here. "I thought you'd be working on your Sentinel stuff."

"Not yet. I needed a break." He tried the coffee, and grimaced. It tasted greasy and bitter. The herbal tea he could understand, but how could she produce coffee this bad? Especially when he'd just brewed a fresh pot? Since her eyes were on him, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings, he took another gulp. Maybe it would go down better if he drank it too fast to taste it.

"I'd suggest hide-and-seek, but I'm not exactly dressed for it," Alex said lightly.

"I noticed. Are we leaving?"

"Not yet, but things are looking up. I'm going to Cascade today to pick up some things we need, and make arrangements for our trip."

"You're going to Cascade?" He threw his arms up. "Are you crazy? You can't do that!"

"I have to do that. There's a temple in Peru that I--we--need to visit."

"But one Sentinel can sense another. We're far enough away here that we're not invading anyone's territory, but if you go into Cascade, Ellison will know it. He'll come after you."

"He'll try. But I think he's too busy right now to worry about me."

"You think he's...?" Blair shook his head, standing up. "I'm coming with you."

"No."

"You need me to protect you."

"I need you to work on the Sentinel data. Blair, I can take care of myself. I was doing it long before I met you."

He followed her back to the cabin, his whole body wrapped up in trying to express himself clearly, because she had to understand this. "Before your Sentinel abilities exhibited themselves, maybe--it could be that other Sentinels wouldn't even notice you until you were, I don't know, 'activated.' But now we know for a fact that the presence of one Sentinel stirs aggression in another, even to the point of murder, and--"

She flipped open her jacket. It didn't seem possible, but somehow that slender figure hadn't revealed the bump where a shoulder holster nestled snug against her body. "I have all the protection I'll need, all right?" He shook his head, and she raised her voice. "I'm not even sure you'd shoot, Blair. But I know for a fact that I would. You're still recovering, and I don't want to have to worry about you. Speaking of which...." She opened the cupboard.

Blair backpedaled. "Oh, no. I'm not taking any more of that stuff."

"I know it's way too early, but you're upset. We can't afford for you to have a setback now, when it's almost over."

He looked at the bottle with loathing, as if it were Ellison's gun. "Alex, I feel just fine the way I am."

"Even if you had your doctorate, it would be in Anthropology, not medicine. The doctor said--"

"What doctor?"

She spun around, her eyes piercing him. "Don't you trust me?"

The words stirred an unwelcome memory of cold anger, walls coming down, a bond tearing. Who had said This is about trust? Did he betray someone's trust, or did someone fail to trust him when they should have?

"You're not a doctor, either," he said, his voice unsteady. "Do you even know what's in that stuff? What the side effects are? It makes me sleepy; is it, like, convenient for you to have me take a nap now? So you win the argument, without us talking it over?"

His cheek stung where she slapped it. "How dare you?" she hissed. "You owe me your life, Blair Sandburg. I didn't have to bring you up here, you know. You could be dead right now."

"I appreciate what you're doing for me, Alex. I do."

"Then prove it." She held out the bottle and the tablespoon. "Trust me on this. Or we end our relationship here and now."

He almost knocked the drug from her hand. But he had no career at Rainier now. He couldn't go back to Cascade. If he didn't have a Sentinel to help, just what was he going to do with his life?

"This isn't over. When you come back, Alex, we have to talk. Really talk."

"Fine. We'll talk. When we're both calmer."

He took the medicine, not meeting her eyes, and turned his back on her. Alex rested her hands on his shoulders.

"You know I want what's best for both of us." She bent to nibble on the two earrings in his left ear. "Work on your notes while I'm gone, okay?"

He wrenched away from her touch, not speaking. After a moment's hesitation, Alex gathered up her purse and keys and left, letting the door slam behind her.

As soon as he heard the Jeep engine turn over, he bent over the sink and spat the medicine out.

"Caffeine," he muttered. "Whatever it is, caffeine's a stimulant, it should fight the sleepiness part." Remembering the mug she'd brought him, he drained the contents, then grabbed the pot on the counter and poured more. Finally, he upended the medicine bottle in the sink, watching the oily fluid chug down the drain, and made sure there weren't any more in the cupboards. Good. She might have some squirreled away elsewhere, but they'd deal with that later.

Carrying the mug with him, Blair searched the living room for the cell phone. Maybe he could call Nannie Atherton and beg a lift to Cascade; she had a 4 x 4. No, that wouldn't work, he didn't have a clue where he was. He couldn't exactly tell her, "Drive up the mountain until you see me," now, could he? It didn't matter anyway; there was no phone in sight. His eyes drifted toward her closed bedroom door, but he couldn't invade her space like that.

"Okay, so we go with Plan B," Blair muttered, and started gathering up essential supplies. First the laptop, notes, and floppies went into the backpack. After some thought, he added a sharp knife, cheese, bread, bottled water, and a pack of cigarettes and lighter he found in a kitchen drawer; no telling how long this was going to take. By the time he crammed in a sweatsuit, the backpack was majorly heavy, but he knew it would get cold by evening and he might need to pull it on over his clothes, even if he made it to Cascade. The black leather jacket he tied around his waist by the arms, since it was too warm to wear while hiking in sunlight. Pausing to yawn, he tried to think if that was all he needed.

Actually, what he really needed was a good excuse, or at least some chain mail, for when he found his Sentinel. She was going to be totally p.o.'d. "A Shaman's place is with his Sentinel," he said, practicing. "Besides, I had to go. I have a bad feeling about this. No, that sounds too much like Star Wars. Okay, I was scared that Ellison would find me alone in the cabin. Yeah, right, that'll impress her, a shaman with the maturity of a ten-year-old." He slung the backpack on his shoulders, and groaned when his ribs made it clear how much they disapproved.

"I had a premonition that something was going to go wrong, and I had to warn you." That might work. Following the Jeep tracks, he embellished it a little. "It was my duty as your shaman. A shaman who ignores his duties can lose his powers. Besides, if you'd left a cell phone with me, I could've just called and warned you." Always make the other party feel guilty when you're guilty of something else. The best defense is a good offense, or so Blair had always found.

As he walked downhill, he kept scanning the ground for a decent branch he could strip down and use as a cane if the ribs and chest gave him too much hassle. Should he have tried binding his ribs before leaving the cabin? Nah. These days, med texts claimed it usually didn't do any good. So far, he was doing just fine. If he slipped and fell, now...

The weird thing was that the farther he traveled, the more something tickled at the back of his mind. He felt drawn in one direction, almost as if there were some sort of psychic link or bond calling to him. That was so great. Maybe drowning hadn't totally destroyed all his brain cells; maybe he and Alex would be able to rebuild their relationship so that they were two halves of the same soul, as the single Incan reference he'd found to "scout and guide" described it.

Even though he hadn't swallowed that stupid medicine crud, he was feeling really tired. In fact, the evergreens and white pine trees were starting to blur together, which was pretty, in a modern art sort of way, but made maneuvering hell. In a few minutes, he'd stop for a rest, at least until his eyes were focusing again, so he didn't stagger off a cliff or something. After all, he didn't like heights.

"There won't be any cliffs," he reassured himself. "I'll stick to the tire tracks, and eventually hit a decent road, and then I can hitch a ride with a Ranger or tourist or something. All I have to do is aim downhill, and walk. Piece of cake."

Washington State being what it is, that's when the rain began to mist into his hair.

=#=#=#=#=#

Maybe it was because he didn't get to sleep until the early morning hours, since every time he closed his eyes he saw bodies sprawled around Rainier University, and sometimes those bodies morphed into Blair Sandburg, sopping wet, his long dark curls spread across the grass, his face pale and still as an angel's statue. Maybe it was because when he did fall asleep, he had another nightmare about himself in camo gear, shooting a wolf with a crossbow, a wolf that was really his partner, followed by another dream about that temple in Peru that Sandburg thought was so important to Sentinels. Hell, maybe it was just because he found the piles of paperwork he had to fill out on the gas attack to be incredibly boring.

Sandburg used to whip the paperwork out for him on the computer; grammatically correct, too.

Whatever the reason, Jim Ellison found his head bobbing over the reports he was supposed to be concentrating on. He never even noticed when the bullpen emptied out at lunch-time.

He was standing in a clearing in the jungle, with his crossbow slung over one shoulder. The humidity was so thick that you could swim through it. What had to be thousands of flying, stinging insects made as much noise as a rock concert audience at the end of a set, making him wince. If he had a shaman with him, like Incacha, the noise would be bearable, but he was all alone.
A wolf stepped hesitantly from the jungle, one paw raised, seeming ready to turn and ran at any moment.
Ellison dropped the crossbow. "I killed you once. I won't do it again."
The wolf stared up at him with uncanny blue eyes. The paw settled firmly into place, as if it had decided not to leave. But when Ellison took a step forward, it turned and stepped back into the jungle, fading from sight behind the vines and leaves.
"Don't go!"
A long snout emerged from the underbrush, and the wise eyes blinked. With infinite patience, the wolf stepped back into the clearing, turned, and walked back to the jungle, looking over one shoulder at him. Again, it vanished...only this time a distant plaintive howl trailed behind it.

The howl merged into a telephone ringing, and Jim jerked awake as Rafe took a call about a burglary on 9th. He could swear he heard another howl, even after he sat up. Coyotes? A few came down from the mountains to live on trash and stray cats in the rougher parts of the city sometimes, but they yipped, they didn't howl.

Jim stood up and went to the window. There were gray clouds starting to sweep in from the Cascades; it was supposed to rain today.

Jamming his hands deep in his pockets, he turned and paced the length of the bullpen and back again. The Feds weren't letting the Cascade P.D. deal with the aftermath of the gas disaster, although Banks was waiting for a return call from his inside contact. He had to get on that investigative team, because when they found Barnes a.k.a. Barnett, they were going to find Blair Sandburg. They had to. There was no way his partner could be dead.

In his dream, that wolf had acted like Lassie, trying to lead her incredibly stupid human owners to the rescue of one victim or another. And the closest thing to a jungle around here....

He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. Rafe put one hand over the end of his phone receiver. "Hey, Jim, where you headed?"

"To the mountains," he growled, and strode out of the bullpen, pulling out his keys.

=#=#=#=#=#

Wet and cold, Blair Sandburg sniffled as he trudged down another muddy slope. Lacking a watch, and with the sky so overcast, it was hard to judge what time it was, but he knew he must have lost hours. When he huddled under that ancient Douglas fir, he'd only meant to rest for a few minutes, but he more-or-less passed out, just as if he'd taken his medicine like a good boy. Did it ooze through the membranes in his mouth, or what?

He remembered the coffee, but he quashed that memory firmly, because if you started suspecting that your partner would deliberately drug you against your will and without your knowledge, you were on the road to losing that partner. Don't go that way, man.

At least the rain had slowed down to an exhausted trickle, as if the storm was finally giving up. At one point it came down so hard and fast, whipped into fountains by the wind, that he had trouble breathing and had to shield his face with one arm as he walked.

Early in the day he had found a tree limb to use as a staff, which was a help, since it was hard to keep his balance in the mud. Half an hour or so ago, he had slid on a semi-liquid patch and nearly went right over a six foot drop. It wouldn't have killed him, but it sure wouldn't have felt good, either.

With a spurt of gratitude, he realized there was a semi-dry spot under that rock overhang up ahead. Despite the cold, he huddled under the rock and stripped down, replacing the soaked jeans and shirts with the sweatsuit. Then, reluctantly, he put the wet clothes back on, because they weren't going to dry today, and he no longer expected to reach Cascade any time soon. Either he had seriously underestimated how far he was from civilization, or he'd been zonked for quite a few hours, or both.

"Okay, Sandburg, chances are that you're pretty close to a road actually traveled by human beings. But will they see you in the rain? In the dark? It's decision time," he told himself. "Take a chance on walking off a cliff, or stay here in the next best thing to a cave and try to get warm. Which is it?"

Lightning slashed across the rain-sodden skies, and the trickle began to splatter against the rocks overhead with more force.

"I'll take that as a sign from God," he decided, reluctantly, and hoped the wind wouldn't start up again.

His long-ago Girl Scout troop had taught him how to make a campfire--as well as how to find the best bargains when shopping at malls--so he gathered the driest twigs and leaves he could find, reaching far under bushes, and then piled some bigger but wetter branches to one side, well out of the rain. Once he got the fire going, assuming he did, he could feed them in slowly.

Next he dug in the backpack for the cigarettes, lighter, and a blank sheet of paper, which he crumpled up. Lighting the cigarette, he set it in his little fire, then laid the paper to one side of it. As the cigarette burned, it should dry out some of the ingredients, so that by the time it actually ignited the paper, the fire would take hold.

It took three cigarettes and three sheets of paper, but he didn't have to sacrifice any of his notes before he had a real blaze going. Relieved, Blair sat cross-legged as far under the overhang as he could get, huddled over the fire in his wet leather jacket.

Watching the flames stretch and wave triggered the same sort of relaxed meditative state he had intended to establish this morning, when the sun was shining and he and Alex weren't fighting and everything seemed to be fine. The effect seemed especially appropriate with the cigarette base to his tiny bonfire, since the local aboriginal tribes used nicotine for religious rites.

The deep blue streaks at the heart of the red and yellow fire became tiny figures standing in a lake. He had a spear, and was demonstrating tribal techniques for catching fish, joking with Jim, who was wearing waders and using a traditional fishing pole.

What the hell was that? Wishful thinking--my subconscious hoping there's a way to turn a Sentinel from the Dark Side? Even if I did work a little with him as a Sentinel, we wouldn't have taken a fishing trip together, would we? And how can I be pasting his face over Alex's? Let's face it, she's not exactly a Nature Girl type.

Blair tore his eyes from the flames, and realized it had gotten dark. From somewhere to his left, far in the distance, came the yowl of a large, angry cat. It was answered with a roar from the right. He pulled up his knees and shivered. Bobcats and mountain lions didn't eat people, did they? There were black bears in these hills, but those were snarling cats. Big cats.

Just in case, he began feeling around for rocks. It would be just his luck to be eaten by an escaped circus lion, or by the largest and hungriest mountain lion in the history of Washington state. Clutching one especially large rock, he used a branch as a torch and left the overhang long enough to search in the fog for more weapons and more fuel for the fire, coughing on the smoke he sent up. With a pile of rocks and branches at his side, he felt safer.

Since he didn't have any pans, he stuck some bread and cheese on a stick and lightly toasted it in the fire for dinner. Not bad, although rather bland. The cats were silent. Even if they came in this direction, they would be afraid of the fire. He was safe here.

Blair relaxed into the cross-legged position again, his hands loose in his lap, fingers joined so the energy would flow through him in a loop, the way Naomi taught him. His eyes drifted back to the fire.

"Don't think about Ellison," Alex whispered, the sound soft and seductive. "Don't think about your past life. You're my Guide and always have been."

"Alex?" The voice was so real that he almost thought she had found him, but he was alone in the darkness. Was this the link between them, firming up? Was he hearing her thoughts?

When he closed his eyes he heard her voice again, and it was just like the voices he heard in his dreams. "You're afraid of Ellison, but you trust me. James Ellison is evil. Think about every frightening thing that's happened to you when you were with him...it's all his fault."

Blair swallowed hard.

=#=#=#=#=#

Although she had felt the presence of another Sentinel when she first reached Cascade--it was like the itchiness of a poorly-made wool sweater against bare skin--the sensation had faded by mid-day, perhaps buried under other thoughts. After all, Alex had been a busy girl today. She'd had to pick up some newspapers and check out the TV coverage of the "terrorist attack" on Rainier University; arrange for the plane tickets to Peru; pick up a fake ID and passport for Sandburg from a charming forger in the suburbs; check on the arrangements for the remaining canisters; call a certain discreet bank in Switzerland; and shop for some decent clothes for her little guide. He was not going to trudge around in those tees and flannel shirts while he was with her, not when he would look adorable in an Armani suit. Tonight, she'd cut off most of that mop of hair, and she'd get him a decent haircut once they were out of the country. With that lovely face, he should clean up quite nicely.

It was rather like playing with a life-size Ken doll...except that this doll did things in bed that Ken and Barbie only dreamed of.

I do hope the conditioning holds. He's such a stubborn man. It'd be a shame to have put all this effort into using him, only to have to kill him now.

When a few raindrops splattered against the windshield, she glanced at her watch. She hadn't intended to leave Cascade so late in the day, but her last stop had been at her friendly local pharmacist's to pick up some alternative mind-controlling substances. At least the original, CIA-developed drug had done what she wanted; now that he accepted her as his Sentinel, feared Ellison, and avoided probing his past, all she needed was something to keep him pliable and happy, since he obviously was going to pitch a fit about taking his "medicine." Carlo had just the thing--easily mixed with food, quite undetectable--and he even threw in a couple boxes of herbal teas, gratis.

Blair drank most of that coffee, so he'd had a double dose today, but she hadn't wanted to be gone this long. The man was too curious and too intelligent, which made him useful but dangerous. Maybe he would work on his notes when he woke up, but without Alex there to distract him, there was always the possibility that he would start prowling the cabin...or worse yet, start thinking clearly.

Unexpectedly, when she was half an hour outside Cascade, she sensed the presence of The Other. James Ellison wasn't in Cascade after all.

"Oh, Jimmy," she snarled, "what are you up to now?" She pressed the accelerator down firmly.

Surely there was no way he could have tracked her movements. He'd been too eaten up with guilt, too busy grieving over his partner's murder, to do anything useful until it was too late. Was this that "link" between a Sentinel and a shaman that Blair kept harping on? Well, a bullet to the brain will break any link there ever was. She just had to intercept him before he found Sandburg.

Admittedly, it was ironic that she'd been using subliminal conditioning and drugs to convince Blair that James Ellison would hunt him down, when that appeared to be exactly what was happening, but she couldn't allow it to continue. The little professor had been useful, and an entertaining playmate, but he was too Goody-Two-Shoes to ever approve of her career choices, and there was no way she would let Ellison take him back. That would give him the home team advantage.

With one hand, Alex reached under her jacket and pulled out the gun, keeping her eyes on the road.

If at all possible, she intended to take Blair Sandburg with her until he couldn't teach her anything more...but if that didn't work out, she had no qualms about finishing the game here and now. It was, after all, the way of the jungle.

There are probably other guides out there. Maybe even in Peru, at that temple I dreamed about....

=#=#=#=#=#

James Ellison pulled his truck over in the middle of nowhere. It made no sense at all, but he felt drawn to the forest. Either his partner was out there, or the loss of his shaman had driven him mad and he was turning into some sort of were-jaguar, returning to the wild. He knew which alternative he preferred.

"Wait here, Sweetheart," he told the old blue truck. "We'll be right back."

He glided into the darkness, struggling to keep his senses at an even pitch, powerful enough to scan the area yet not so enhanced that it would lock him into a zone-out in the middle of a dark, damp forest. Something seemed to be dragging him toward a rocky incline, like a powerful magnet attracting shards of metal, but he sensed The Other, too. The Trespasser. The Invader who had captured his shaman.

Lips drawing back from his teeth in a silent snarl, he reached up and slid his gun from his shoulder holster. She was never going to hurt Blair again.

Light was shining ahead in the darkness. Ellison crouched low and circled, letting his eyes adjust to the change before he moved in closer. It was a small bonfire, little more than a bird's nest on fire, and sitting near it was a bedraggled man with wet dark hair, wearing almost the same clothes he'd been wearing when they dragged him from the fountain, clutching his backpack to his chest.

He's not dead. He's alive. I didn't let him die.

A tidal wave of relief almost knocked him from his feet. Even though he'd told Simon that Blair wasn't dead, there had still been those nagging doubts, the knowledge that maybe he really was just in denial, that maybe he wanted to believe Blair lived because it helped him bear the guilt he felt. But it hadn't been denial. It was reality. Blair Sandburg was all right.

Straightening, Jim ran into the firelight, bellowing, "Sandburg!"

Blair dropped the backpack, stood up, staggered back.

The last thing Ellison saw was a branch swinging at his head.

=#=#=#=#=#

His head felt like Notre Dame Cathedral at noon, when the bells cut loose. Perversely, he felt a flash of pride. Somebody waving a gun came running out of the darkness, and his civilian partner defended himself quite well, thank you. Jim opened his mouth to say so, and realized that he was gagged.

Groggily, he slit his eyes open, wincing at the first flash of firelight. This didn't make sense. Didn't the kid recognize him? He pulled hard, finding to his chagrin that his wrists were bound behind his back, in his own handcuffs.

"I'm sorry," Blair Sandburg said from across the fire. He was still holding the branch. "I know your head probably hurts, but, see, I have to defend myself."

What the hell---?

He crouched in front of Ellison and earnestly explained, "You just can't go around trying to kill people. I mean, it was okay when you did it as a cop, for the right reasons, but not when you start doing it out of greed or jealousy. You see the difference? Killing me is so wrong, and it really doesn't get you anywhere."

The blow to his head must have scrambled his brains, because this one-sided conversation wasn't making any sense.

"We don't have to be enemies. Okay, so I underestimated the result of two Sentinels living in the same city, but I still think it was partly a personality thing. Maybe if you hadn't been so territorial, you could both have gotten along. But my Sentinel can't allow you to kill her guide, can't you see that?"

My Sentinel? He left me for Barnes? An irrational wave of rage rushed over him, and Sandburg must have seen it, because he swallowed hard and edged back, reaching for the branch. His face was colorless, and every time he looked at Jim he swallowed, as if fighting the urge to vomit, so his eyes kept skittering away.

"So, here's the deal," Sandburg said resolutely. "Alex and I will go away, and let you keep this city. In fact, you can keep the whole state, okay? But you have to promise not to come after us. There's a shaman somewhere out there for you, too--there are probably more guides than Sentinels, it would make sense, because shamans would be less able to protect themselves and more at risk--" With a visible effort, he forced himself back on track. "But you can't go stealing one from someone else. We were partners first."

No, he didn't dump me for Barnes. We're back in Wonderland again. He thinks Barnes came first. Jim forced himself to breathe slow and deep, made his muscles relax. What the hell has she done to him?

"The thing is, you're going about this the wrong way, man. Intimidation and force is not going to work with a shaman. A shaman, even an untrained one, is going to tend to the peaceful side, and if you run around tying them up and putting humungous spiders on them, they aren't going to want to help you with your senses. Try a little kindness, a sense of humor, because you have to be a team, you have to share your thoughts and trust each other, let down the barriers." Typically Sandburg gestures had him waving the branch like a magic wand. "Don't you see? It's not about bullying. It's about friendship."

The lecture over, Sandburg stood up. He's leaving. He's leaving! Jim squirmed, trying to wriggle toward him, trying frantically to speak over the gag, but only muffled groans came out.

"I can't let you loose, but I promise we'll call someone to come get you. You'll be safe," the kid said, misunderstanding his panic.

He forced himself to his knees, so he could meet Sandburg's eyes. Damn it, what had happened to them? There'd been a time when he knew that even with no police academy training, he could trust Sandburg with his life, and the kid had pulled a gun and protected his back more than once, yet now his partner was actually afraid of him.

There was one sure way to make Blair listen to him, and it took no effort to let a tear trickle from his eyes as their gazes met across the fire.

Hesitantly, obviously expecting to get kicked off his feet, Blair moved closer. Still keeping himself at arm's length, and clutching the branch, he reached out to pull the gag down.

Even in this dim light, Blair's pupils were slightly dilated; the bitch must have used drugs and hypnosis and God knows what else to brainwash him. Jim made his voice steady.

"Blair, it's me. Jim."

He nodded, but the eyes still kept avoiding his face. "I know. Jim Ellison."

"You're my shaman."

"No, that's where you're wrong. I'm Alex's shaman. You tried to take me away from her, only it didn't work." He sounded weary and exasperated. "Didn't you listen to anything I just said? You never listen to me."

"Sometimes it's hard for me, I guess. I'd been working alone for a long time, before you came along. But I thought we were doing pretty well, until this Sentinel conflict came up. I should've told you how I was feeling when I started getting messed up inside, and maybe things wouldn't have gone this far--"

"Things have gone far enough."

"Alex!" It made his heart wrench inside to see the way Blair's face lit up when Alex Barnes slipped out of the shadows. "You found us. Now we don't have to sit out here in the cold all night. I thought I was going to freeze."

Her eyes were on the other Sentinel, kneeling at his feet. "I see you caught Ellison."

Sandburg nodded, gesticulating. "I hit him in the head when he came at me with a gun. This is great. Now we can put him in the Jeep and take him to the cabin."

"Why would we do that?"

"So we can leave him there where it's safe until the police come for him," he said, as if it were obvious.

"If he's alive, he's going to come after us, Blair. As long as we let him live, our lives are in danger. Remember what we said about the Nazis? Sometimes you have to kill."

"Look, we're not talking the entire German nation here. If I could take him out once, and I'm just a grad ass, then I can take him out again, and so can you, if you have to."

"And spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders?"

"I'll protect you, just like you protect me."

The expression on her face--like that of a cat smelling a new cat food it loathes--made it clear how she felt about trusting her life to Sandburg's martial skills. "Blair, why don't you go search his truck and see if his buddies are on their way already?"

His eyes were on the gun in her hand. "Maybe you better do that. You're a better searcher, with your senses."

Her lips tightened, but she had talked herself into a corner, and obviously she knew it. "Fine. But don't talk to him, you hear me? Don't let him try to con you."

Thank God I parked so far away. Jim listened, heard her movements fade. He kept his voice soft. "I knew for three years that you were working on that damn thesis, put up with all your tests, and then I blew up over it. When she moved into my territory, I kicked you out, made you an easy target, and she drowned you. Only it was all a trick. Do you understand, Blair? Do you remember?"

Blair shook his head. "You're lying. Alex warned me about you."

"Darwin, use your head. You're smarter than she is. Can't you see what she's done? You've been doped to the gills."

His face froze. His head turned, looking up the mountain.

The words came pouring out, because Jim knew the murdering bitch would be back any second. "You saved my life more times than I can count, and you saved my sanity. We've been buddies and more than brothers for three years now, but I blew it."

"BLAIR!" Alex howled from the night. "Don't listen to him!"

"I'm an anal-compulsive territorial idiot, chief, and when another Sentinel came into my city, instead of telling you how I felt, I went berserk and blamed you for all sorts of crap that wasn't your fault."

She crashed through the trees, gun raised, but Sandburg drifted into her path, almost as if he didn't realize he was doing it. "Don't let him put you under his spell. I warned you about him."

Blair yelled back at her, "No guns!"

"For God's sake, Blair, you told me you remember him throwing you against a wall, and waving guns at you, and hitting you. I've never hurt you."

Sandburg touched his side, turned accusingly. "You beat me up."

Beat him up? It took a moment to figure out what must have happened. Jim said desperately, "Simon and I did CPR until the EMT's arrived. I can't say I never hurt you, chief. I hurt you when I didn't trust you, when I kicked you out of the loft. But I never tried to kill you; she did."

Her gun was aimed steadily at his head. "Blair, we have to leave now. There was a cell phone in his truck; he may have called for back-up. We don't have time to sit here and listen to his lies."

"Back-up, Blair. Our friends. Remember Simon? Joel? Brown? Daryl cried like a baby when we told him you were dead."

The kid hesitated. What was flickering behind those smoky eyes in the moonlight?

"They're cops, like me. You remember them, right? Do you remember any of her friends?"

He was only surprised she had waited this long to pull the trigger. He should have been killed--it wasn't like Sandburg had superhuman reflexes--yet Sandburg's arm was already up, knocking her wrist aside, so that the bullet whinged off the rock and into the night, although the blast half-deafened him. It was only when the blood began trickling down his fingers that Ellison realized he had torn his wrists open, trying to wriggle out of the cuffs.

Not attending the police academy was turning out to be a bad thing. Sandburg should've had her on the ground by now, but the two of them were still on their feet, struggling over the gun. Barnes kicked upward, and Blair fell heavily, nearly squashing Jim flat, but he took the gun with him as he fell, and hurled it over his head into the trees.

=#=#=#=#=#

Blair felt as if a curtain had been lifted, although he wasn't sure why. Maybe it was coming into full proximity to his Sentinel, skin-to-skin. Maybe the fall jarred his brains. Whatever caused it, it was like a splash of ice cold water in his face. He remembered Jim saving him when Iris and Parkman were going to kill him; Jim leading Yuri away from him and Miki. He remembered helping Jim when he was blinded. He remembered telling Jim, in exasperation, "You've got the attention span of a gerbil." That was Ellison, the super-macho G.I. Joe in the flesh, who had to be taken by the hand and gently led to the joys of relaxation and fun. That wasn't Alex. It had never been Alex.

Alex came in my office with that gun, and pumped a bullet into the chamber, and I screwed my eyes shut tight because I didn't want to watch while she killed me.

She was hunting for the gun. Fumbling, he dug the key to the cuffs out of his wet jeans pocket and pressed it into Jim's hand, closing the fingers around it.

She'll kill us both if she thinks I remember.

"Alex?" he called plaintively. "Alex, can we go now?"

He heard that familiar sound again, the bullet being jacked into the chamber. "Go?"

"You said we'd go somewhere far away, someplace a lot warmer." His voice shook almost as much as his body did. Between the cold and sheer terror, he felt like a breath would knock him over. "We don't have to go to the cabin, we can leave him here. But can we go now? Please? He scares me."

"Then let me take care of him, here and now."

"No, no guns. We'll--we'll leave it up to God, okay? The Cascade range is full of bobcats and mountain lions and things. A black bear ate a fourteen-year-old girl not that long ago. If it's meant to be, fine, but I can't let my Sentinel kill another Sentinel. We don't know what that would do. Maybe even take away your powers."

He screwed his eyes shut tight, afraid to look. It's working. It has to work. Please, please, please let it work.

"I don't know. I have to be able to trust you."

Turning, he focused the whole Sandburg charm on her, the stuff that had kept him alive through multiple school changes and multiple family changes as Naomi hopped from one lifestyle to the next. He made his body relax, patterning what he wanted hers to do. "Hey, I'm a shaman. A Chopec Indian shaman told me so. The whole point of my existence is to help Sentinels, right? And you're a Sentinel. We're great in bed together. What more can we ask for?" He found his arms wandering up, as if he were raising them in surrender, and forced them back down, shrugging. "Sure, we have some issues to work out, but nothing that can't be fixed." He bent over, forcing enthusiasm into his voice. "See, I've even got my laptop and stuff with me. We can leave right now."

Her eyes were still on Jim. "He won't give up."

"No, Alex, I think you're wrong there. Really. I made it clear I'm going with you. Besides, what's he going to do, search the whole world? We could be going anywhere at all, and the range for the enhanced senses isn't that great." He swallowed hard and took her free hand, turning her away from Jim. "Come on, Alex. We're outta here."

She pulled back. "You don't understand. I have to--"

"No, you don't have to. You can't afford to. He's a cop. Kill a cop, and the manhunt gets out of control. This way, we didn't kill him, some wild animal did." If there had ever been a chance of forming a bond with her, he prayed some trace of it existed, because he was pouring everything he had into thoughts like Trust me. I'm your shaman. I know best. "But you're right, his buddies might be coming, so we have to leave now."

It worked! There was a God after all. Or Goddess, as the case might be. He, She, It, or They had heard his prayers, and he was leading Alex to the Jeep, his backpack dangling from one arm. Jim was alive, and he'd be out of those cuffs before anything could hurt him. He smiled at Alex, absurdly grateful, given that she'd already killed him once.

"Let's go, okay?"

=#=#=#=#=#

Thanks to the blood, his fingers were so slippery that he almost dropped the key, but Ellison twisted around, struggling to unlock the handcuffs. At the same time, his hearing tracked his shaman, listening for the familiar voice, hearing only the sound of a motor starting.

I>She won't kill him, not yet. She still needs him. Eventually she'll throw him away like a used Kleenex, but right now he's safe. All you have to do is follow him.

The metal restraints fell to the ground, and he lunged to his feet, already running.

Gun. What did Sandburg do with your gun?

It was killing him to stop, but he turned back. He had to have the gun to protect Blair. The kid wasn't carrying it, so chances were that he treated it the same way he did The Other's gun, tossing it into the woods. It wouldn't be far away. Jim forced himself to search for the metallic glint, seek out a faint version of his partner's body oils on the grip. Thirty seconds later he pounced on the fallen gun, and was free to run to the pick-up.

The gas tank was open, but there was no dirt on the edges; she'd probably been distracted from disabling the truck by hearing him talk to Blair. Hoping that was so, he screwed the gas cap back on and started the engine. It turned over without a protest. He left the lights off, praying that he didn't smack into a deer as a result.

Not too fast. You don't want her to know you're following her.

Would that work? If he stayed close enough to hear Blair's heartbeat, that would be close enough for her to sense another Sentinel. Maybe he should just opt for a full assault. But that would put his partner at risk.

Ellison picked up the cell phone with one hand, intending to call the precinct for help, but it had been smashed. Damn.

His choices had just narrowed. Trail behind, and take the chance of losing her? She'd already proven she could disappear so thoroughly that no one could find her; where he mastered jungle camouflage, she prowled the technological jungle, just as successfully. Let her escape now, and he'd lose Blair...and she still had the canisters, could kill thousands of people.

He pressed the accelerator to the floor.

=#=#=#=#=#

Alex demanded, "Why the hell did you leave the cabin?"

"I was looking for you," Blair said numbly. His hands locked around the bottom of his seat as the Jeep bumped over something and went briefly airborne; he hoped they'd hit a rock and not something living. "I had a feeling things were going wrong, and I wanted to help."

Alex spared him one scathing glance, then turned her eyes back to the muddy road. "He's still here. Why do I still feel him?"

"A Sentinel's range is wider than this. You'll still sense him for quite a while. Hours, even." He fought the urge to look back over his shoulder. Okay, Jim is my Sentinel. She's a Sentinel, too, and I found her and told her that, but she's not my Sentinel, so I have to protect Jim, not Alex. Even though I like Alex. Don't I? And that medicine...she was drugging me. The coffee, the tea...God, what a shmuck I've been. And God, does my head ache.

Her fingers were wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, which was good, because he didn't want to exit this life wrapped around a pine tree. It was also good because it meant she didn't have the gun in her hand.

"You didn't believe the guff he was feeding you, did you?" Her voice was too casual.

"No, of course not. He'd say anything to get me away from you, I know that. But it doesn't matter anyway. You're my Sentinel. I want to go with you. This time I had a choice, and I chose you, not him."

Too thick, Sandburg. You're laying it on too thick. You know better than that.

They were going too fast. Blair turned his head to the right, watching the trees flash by, and knew that he couldn't jump out without killing himself. The night sky was lightening; through the trees, he caught a flash of silver.

"He's following us." He turned back, and saw that her eyes were on the rear-view mirror. "How did he get loose? What did you do?"

"He can't be following us, I handcuffed him. Unless he had a second set of keys? Maybe cops carry two sets. But he can't run as fast as we're driving. Didn't you fix his truck so he couldn't follow us?"

Stop babbling, damn it. That's no way to obfuscate.

He wanted to get things straight in his head, figure out how many of the nightmares were real and how many were tampered with by her, so that he could find some way out of this, but there was no time. The gun was in her hand again. Was she going to shoot him? But no. One hand still on the wheel, Alex turned, arm outstretched, to shoot at Jim.

Blair lunged for the wheel.

=#=#=#=#=#

It had been a roller-coaster night--the joy of finding Sandburg alive marred by ending up in cuffs and about to die--and now it continued physically as his pick-up leaped over a hill and crashed resoundingly onto sturdy tires on the other side, still speeding, while Jim wracked his brain for options. In the city, there was the option of snaking down a side street and intercepting her down the line; here, there was one dirt road, slick with rain. Whatever he did would have to be fast. Give her a second to think, and she'd use Sandburg as a hostage. He'd put down his gun, just as he did in his dream, and The Other would kill him.

Maybe I can pull alongside and shoot her...? The crash would hurt Blair. Pull in front of her so that she has to hit the brakes, and shoot her then?

The decision was made for him He heard Blair whisper, "Sorry"--to him? to her? Then the Jeep veered right, violently, and off the road, narrowly missing the trees to soar off a cliff. For a moment it seemed to hover in place, then the headlight beams shot skyward, and the Jeep was gone.

"NO!!!"

Jim slammed on his own brakes just a hair from the cliff's edge, and peered 20 feet down into a lake still bubbling around the remains of the Jeep. Eerily, the headlights still gleamed under the water. Dropping the gun, he dove over the edge.

Briefly, the impact knocked senseless, as if he'd leaped head-first into a giant bowl of solid ice cubes, but the first lungful of water sent him scrabbling for the surface, where he took a deep breath before trying again. Without sunlight, the water was impenetrable. He flailed wildly, trying to locate Blair, the Jeep, anything. There. The headlights. He stroked that way.

Smell and touch were useless; he put every ounce of concentration he had into vision. Was that Blair's hair, streaming out in the water?

No. Weeds. Jim turned slowly, searching the night-dark waters for a glint from a button or belt buckle. There! Blair was floating, unconscious, his body weighted down by his clothes. Drowning. Drowned.

Not this time. You won't drown on me this time. I won't let you. He swam to Blair's side, grabbed him with one arm, and started toward the surface. His own lungs were burning, but he couldn't stop, couldn't drown himself, because that would condemn Blair to death. Ellison kicked off his shoes, undid his belt buckle to let his pants float away, and kept stroking for the surface. It seemed an eternity away, but there was light above him, and he carried them both toward the light, no longer certain whether he was going to the surface or to some sort of after-life.

Dawn was breaking when he broke the surface and took a precious gasp of air. Still clasping Sandburg in one arm, Jim half-rolled to his back and kicked hard toward the shore. He was coughing, but there was no movement from Blair, no indication that he was alive.

"Stay with me, Sandburg. Don't do this to me," he growled.

He hauled the other's body out of the water, rolled him onto his back, and tipped his head to one side to let the water spill out, just as he had done before, in front of the university...the last time he let his partner drown.

Brusquely, he pulled the head back, cleared the airway, pinched the nostrils shut, puffed between the ice cold lips. After a count of five breaths, he switched to the chest, pumping it with both hands, knowing it had to hurt worse this time, with the ribs already damaged. Blair's body arched. More water spewed from his mouth.

"Come on, Sandburg. Breathe."

He did it again, mechanically: first the breathing, then the chest compressions. It was the nightmare all over again, a second chance to fail his partner, a second chance to see him lying lifeless and know he could have prevented it. Not this time. You won't die this time, Sandburg, he thought fiercely. I'll let you make a mess in the kitchen. I'll take all the damn Sentinel tests you can dream up. I'll--

It had to be the promise about the tests that did it. If anything would bring Sandburg back from the dead, surely that would be it. Whatever the cause, he was bending over those unresponsive lips again when Blair's eyes opened, dazed. Instead of the breath of life, Jim Ellison gave his partner a tight hug.

"Hey, buddy. Welcome back."

If those were genuine tears that mingled with the water on his face, no one was ever going to know.

EPILOGUE

Seated behind the wheel of a rented fire-engine red convertible, James Ellison was a happy man. California was having a mini-heat wave, so Blair was getting the warm vacation he had yearned for. The drugs hadn't done any permanent damage, and in slowing the heartbeat and breathing had actually kept Blair from suffering brain damage during his few minutes in the fountain. His second drowning had been too short to hurt him, either. Both times, antibiotics had prevented pneumonia from any water he did breathe into his lungs. Blair Sandburg, incredibly enough, was alive--bruised and battered, but alive, and as mentally offbeat as he'd ever been. It had probably been hard for the doctors to recognize that as normality instead of brain damage.

Grinning at the thought, Jim glanced to his right. Wearing a beatific grin himself, his eyes closed, Blair was sprawled out against his seat, soaking in the sunlight. Ellison plucked at the string in Sandburg's minuscule sleeveless fish-net top.

"Better be careful; a few more minutes in that thing, and you'll have white lines all over your body where you didn't tan."

Without opening his eyes, Blair murmured, "'S'okay. We'll paint chocolate sauce on every other square, and Lisa and I can play checkers."

"Spare me the details of your twisted sex life, chief. Even though it is totally imaginary, it's disgusting."

"You're just jealous because no one licks chocolate off your chest."

"Does she enjoy swallowing a mouthful of hair?" Jim wondered. "I mean, personally, I don't find spitting up hairballs romantic. I've seen when cats do it...."

"Now who's being disgusting? First you drag me to the beach, now you insult my personal appearance."

"Dragged you to the beach? I dragged you to the beach? And I suppose I forced you to ogle all those women in bikinis? I forced you to rub lotion on their backs and get them to coo over your poor bruised body? Not to mention that you got all the heat and sunlight you've been moaning for--"

"All right already." Blair sat up, stretching. "I know, we both had to face the water thing before it turned into some kind of phobia, like me with the height thing. But it wasn't exactly pleasant. The beach part, yeah, but not when you made me swim. We coulda done it in stages, you know. Woman ogling this week, admiring the ocean from a distance next week, dipping a toe in next--"

"Dr. Pierce says it'll get easier each time. We'll sign up for lessons at the Y or something when we get home."

Blair shuddered. "No! Look, I'm better now. I swam, didn't I? I don't--"

"We're signing up when we get back. Unless you want more visits with Dr. Pierce instead."

"No, no, I'll take aquatic aerobics. I mean, Dr. Pierce is a great psychologist, and he helped me a lot, but I've had enough of having my memories pulled up and knitted together and smoothed back down." He grimaced. "I remember when she-when Alex came into my office and pulled a gun on me. Right then, if I never saw another Sentinel anywhere in my next four lives, it would've been too soon, you know? Then she jammed that needle in my neck, when I was expecting a bullet to the brain, and she walked me to that fountain...but at the same time, I remember her nursing me and making love to me."

"Stockholm Syndrome."

"No, that's when the victim is held prisoner, terrified of his captors, knows they can kill him, and starts identifying with them because friends don't kill friends. I wasn't afraid of Alex. She was my friend, my lover, my Sentinel."

He felt a stirring of anger. "She was never your Sentinel."

"I thought she was. Even now, my feelings are real...ambiguous." He tasted the word on his tongue, nodded. "Ambiguous. Even knowing it's caused by drugs and brainwashing and the natural tendency for a shaman to relate to a Sentinel."

"And you feel ambiguous toward me?" Jim asked, too casually.

Blair thought about it. "Yes. A little. Because of the drugs, and the brainwashing, and...."

"And?"

"I'm angry," he said simply. "I spent three years of my life working on that thesis--and I could've finished it earlier, but I kept stretching it out, because I didn't want to end the partnership and I didn't want the headaches we'd both get after publication if someone made a big deal out of it--and then I agreed to toss it aside for you. After I already gave up Borneo. What was I gonna do for a living, man? Wait on tables at the cafeteria? And even so, you threw me out. I offered to give up my life's work, and it wasn't enough for you."

"You don't have to give up your work. I was wrong, okay? Maybe some of it was the way that other Sentinel was screwing up my head, just by being there, but I had no business expecting you to be Alfred while I played Batman."

Blair laughed. "Yeah, forget supporting roles, I want to be at least Robin."

Jeez, he hated touchy-feely sentimental crap. Jim cleared his throat. "And I had no business breaking into your desk and stealing your personal stuff."

"You didn't steal--"

"Just because I put it back after I read it doesn't mean it wasn't breaking-and-entering and theft. You never sneaked around behind my back, reading my personal stuff. I'm the one who didn't trust you."

The kid was silent for so long that he was afraid this was one wall they couldn't climb, one wrong they couldn't right. "But I should've seen how whacko your behavior was. Well, I did see that, but when I tried to bring it up, you--well, you can be kinda scary, Jim. I should've been more persistent when I tried to tell you about Alex." He shook his head. "Alex. It comes back to her. She was good at what she did; it's just too bad that what she did wasn't good."

"What she did to you was my fault, too."

"No, I'm the one who volunteered to explain Sentinels to her. She didn't even know you. If I hadn't walked up and offered to help, she wouldn't have known I existed, let alone that I was useful. And then she molded me like Playdough."

"But I talked it over with Dr. Pierce, and I think he's right. One reason she brainwashed you so fast was because you wanted to believe you were needed and your work was valued. If I hadn't tossed you and your stuff into the street like so much garbage, she'd have had a hell of a lot more work convincing you she was your buddy, even with the fancy drugs and all-night brainwashing sessions."

"She didn't really value me. What I could teach her, yeah, she wanted that, but she would've killed me eventually. Even if I broke all the house rules simultaneously, you'd probably only maim me."

He made himself crack a smile. "Just break a few fingers. Left hand, though, so you could still write on the board when you were teaching."

Blair bounced impatiently in his seat. "So when we go back to Cascade...?"

"You turn in your thesis and get your well-earned doctorate. It looks even better for my partner and police consultant to have a mess of degrees after his name." He held his breath.

"You'll have to call me Dr. Sandburg instead of Hairboy," Blair mused, as if their continuing work together had been a given.

Yes!

"Hey, chief, I never called you Hairboy; you'll have to take that one up with Brown. But if you walk into the bullpen asking to be called 'doctor,' they're gonna expect you to prescribe medicine and authorize sick leave."

"Could come in handy. Dr. Pierce and I wiped out most of the conditioning, but--and don't take this the wrong way, Jim--sometimes when I look at you I still feel the urge to vomit. Purely reflex."

"Not in this car, you don't, or you pay the clean-up fee."

He glanced at Sandburg, and they both grinned. Maybe touchy-feely moments weren't that bad after all.

Blair tucked his hands under his armpits. "Doctoral theses that don't deal with money-making matters usually don't grab much attention. I can steer mine toward a dusty anthro journal, respectable but full of real dry pedantic reading. I can even use a pseudonym for you, as long as you're willing to meet with the committee in person and confirm my findings, give a little demonstration. But suppose somebody gets interested in what you can do?"

"We'll deal with that if it happens. Sooner or later, somebody's going to notice, anyway. Conner's been awfully curious, for example."

"But what if--" His usual hyperactivity stilled. His arms wrapped around himself protectively. "What if Alex comes back?"

Jim's face felt like rock. "She won't. She's dead."

"But what if she's not? I'm not dead."

"You would've been, if I didn't pump all that water out. And I didn't sense her."

"Yeah, but I suspect all your senses were concentrated on me at the time. At least, I hope so."

He shook his head. "She's dead, Chief. End of story." He nodded toward the glorious red and yellow sunset. "You spent too long with those twin redheads, Sandburg. It looks like we're not going to make it to that Indian dig you wanted to visit."

Sandburg dug a map out of the glove compartment and put on his reading glasses. "Let's see...oh, yeah, there's a town just a hop, skip, and a jump from here that has a really great archeological museum; it's supposed to have some one-of-a-kind treasures. The town's fair-sized, so we should be able to find a decent motel, and we could check out the museum on our way out tomorrow."

Jim steered toward the indicated exit. "Your call. What's the name of the town?'

"Sunnydale."

"Sounds great. You said you wanted a vacation someplace sunny and warm and safe...."

---copyright Tuesday, July 21, 1998 by Jane Leavell


I want to surface for air and check Jane Leavell's fan-fiction site to try some other tale.

I don't need bionics to e-mail the author at littlecalamity at hotmail.com with some feedback.

I feel like diving into Miss Nitpicker's HOW TO WRITE MARGINALLY READABLE FAN FICTION.

Blair says it's only polite to write to the author.

Never mind, I'll just call a lifeguard.

Copyright 1999 - 2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.