Captain Simon Banks did not want to do this, to leave Daryl to celebrate the holiday alone again while he answered the call of The Job. At least there was a chance that the latest Myst game would keep his son from getting into too much trouble. Now, here he was, parking his sedan outside of the building one of his detectives lived in and wondering if he should approach the whole incident from the view point of the commanding officer of said detective, or as a friend.
"Aw, hell. It never is simple when Ellison and Sandburg are involved in anything. Why should it be any better when I have to question another damn Sentinel and HER guide?" Simon climbed out of the car, shrugging deeper into his overcoat as the wind kicked up again, sending shivers down his spine. Entering the building through the side entrance, he was happy to note that the elevator seemed to be back in working order, and he stepped into the lift.
Knocking on the door to Ellison's place, he thought he detected the sounds of people talking, but that stopped when his knuckles rapped on the wooden portal. The face that greeted him when the door was opened looked completely worn out, even had a few new fine lines around the light blue eyes. Lines that could be caused by either the pain that the man was obviously still feeling from the 'migraine' that he'd been hit with last night, or something deeper.
"Simon." The voice was almost toneless, but the Captain heard the listlessness that was barely concealed.
"Jim. Hate to bug you on your day off... " He stopped when Ellison waved him into the loft. Crossing the threshold, he wasn't surprised to see Sandburg, Connor and Dr. Pallas already there, seated around the dining table. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"
Sandburg shook his head as he stood up from the table. "Nothing much, Simon. Can I get you some coffee? Or, if you prefer, I made some fresh eggnog or wassail." The younger man slipped up behind the Captain and relieved him of his overcoat as he made his way into the kitchen.
"Real eggnog, or that 'unadulterated' crap?" Simon liked eggnog, but only if it had the rum in it that it was meant to have. The non-alcoholic stuff was for kids, and he was well past that stage of his life.
Giggles erupted, quietly, from Megan Connor who rapidly recovered her composure to answer the man's question. "Oh, it's the real stuff all right. Sandy swears that he put the 'proper' amount of alcohol in the mix, but I think the bottle may have slipped a bit more in than he had intended." She held up a short tumbler, half full of the pale, creamy mixture and toasted the man who was her boss at work.
Smiling, Simon quirked his eyebrow at the Inspector, wondering just how much eggnog the woman had already had in her system. "Tell you what, Sandburg, if you have a beer in the 'fridge, I'll take that. Seems to be the safer of the choices you gave me."
"I did offer to make coffee for you, Simon." Blair retorted as he pulled a bottle of beer from the icebox.
"Lobo, not to hurt your pride or anything, but your coffee is best used as ink, or paint remover," Diandra Pallas quipped from where she sat next to Megan.
"Hey! I'll have you know that my coffee was the most sought after drink on campus, four years running, when finals were on." He handed the cold brew to Simon as he crossed back over to the table.
Accepting the bottle, Simon followed the student, spotting the files and what appeared to be-- "Is that what I hope it is?" He pointed to the electronic device sitting in the middle of the table.
Jim nodded as he sat back down at the table. "If you're thinking that it's the missing drive from QuestScape, yes. LaFollet recovered it last night and brought it to Connor's attention this afternoon."
"How in the hell did he know where to find it?" He didn't miss the looks that passed between the four people gathered around the room. "Okay, I get the idea that I need to ask this question--do I really want to hear the truth about what happened last night, or do I want to remain in the dark?"
"We could tell you the truth, Simon." Jim looked up at his friend. "But I think you might want to 'distance' yourself from everything that happened."
Sighing, Simon Banks scrubbed his face with his free hand, then nodded. "It's one of those damn 'sentinel' things again, isn't it?"
"You could say that." Blair pulled the yellow armchair closer to the table and plunked down in it, leaving the remaining dining chair free for Simon to use. "Sit down, Simon and we'll try to answer all your questions for you."
Sitting down, after taking his first sip of beer, he started the line of questioning with a statement. "Okay, first off, I think you should know that the lab finished their analysis of the ashes that were recovered from the scene of Ms. Eolia's murder and it looks like something 'animal' was burned there. Can any of you tell me anything about that?" He didn't bother looking at the detectives or the consultant but, rather, concentrated his questioning glance on the woman who had been a suspect in a beheading a few months back.
Meeting his stare, Diandra never flinched. "Maybe someone burned their dinner in the fire when everything started to go down, Captain."
Smooth. No hesitation in her voice, galvanic responses well within the normal range. "Maybe. Tell me, Pallas, where were you last night around seven PM?"
"I was in my place, cleaning up the mess that was left behind when Lee decided to attack Blair. And, before you ask -- no. There is no one who can confirm that alibi for me."
"I already figured as much. Joel told me you were home when he brought Sandburg and Ellison home and that you appeared to have been in the midst of a cleaning spree." Simon turned to Blair. "Speaking of you, Sandburg, I read over Joel's report of your statement at the hospital. You said that Ms. Eolia had been contacted by the thief who had taken QuestScape's property?"
Blair nodded. "That's what she told me. I tried to get her to wait, either for her bodyguard or Jim to show up, but she didn't seem inclined to listen to reason. When I tried to stop her from leaving on her own, she went nuts on me, basically attacking me and, once she was done, she left. I must have lost consciousness, because the next thing I recall is waking up to find Jim standing over me."
"Okay. Jim, your turn. What happened last night? Why didn't you take Sandburg to the hospital straight away, instead of dragging him all the way across town?" That action alone troubled Simon the most. Usually, Ellison was very concerned about the observer's health, and if he'd been as severely beaten as the bruises on the young man's face seemed to indicate, then the hospital should have been the first place the Sentinel had gone.
Jim tensed his jaw, grinding his teeth, and Simon could see him forcing himself to relax and answer Simon's question. "By the time I found Sandburg, we only had about ten - fifteen minutes to get to where Eolia was supposed to meet the thief that had this." He tapped the DVD-RAM drive with his finger before continuing. "Blair insisted that he was okay, sore but otherwise all right, and I felt it best to try to get to the park before anything happened. We didn't make it in time."
Simon recalled the detective's actions a couple of nights before, when he'd brought Lee Eolia into the station after requesting access to a safe house for the woman. Ellison had been down right solicitous of the security consultant, and Simon thought he'd seen a glimmer of something sparking between the two of them. "Jim, I'm sorry. I don't know the full story, but even a blind man could've seen that you were attracted to Ms. Eolia."
"I'll be fine, Simon." Jim answered as he leaned back in his chair, his arms crossing over his chest.
The body language was loud and clear to the Captain. Jim Ellison wasn't ready to talk about the death of the woman from WindHawk Securities. "I know you will be, Jim. You always are. Next question... What happened to you and Sandburg last night? Why did Connor find him passed out and you zoned so deep she couldn't pull you out?"
Megan hopped into the conversation at this point. "I don't think we'll ever know that, Captain. I mean, there were signs that there had been some sort of electrical discharge at the scene, and Sandy and I have been puzzling over that most of the day." She looked over towards Blair, her eyes begging him to help her out here.
"I think what may have happened, Simon," Blair leapt in with what sounded suspiciously like a planned response, "is that somehow I managed to get caught up in some sort of 'trap' that the man Lee had gone to meet had set up. My nerves still feel a little fried, and if Jim got caught up in the same discharge of energy, it may have caused his zone-out." He shrugged, and then winced as almost an afterthought, like he suddenly remembered he was supposed to be injured. "That's my theory anyway."
"It's the best one that you've come up with today, Chief. Lord knows, my head's still smarting from whatever hit us." To emphasize his point, Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, then got up to go retrieve the medication that he'd been prescribed for the headache.
Simon watched as the detective shook a capsule out of the brown plastic bottle and then swallowed the medicine. Turning back to Megan, he continued his line of questioning. "I stopped by the station on my way here, Connor. There's a report from the Medical Examiner in Seattle waiting for you on your desk, but I took the liberty of looking it over. You may be right on track with the 'assassin' angle that you came up with last night."
Megan didn't bother to hide her surprise. "I am, sir?"
"Yes. It seems that Azir El Sadih, the late husband of Ms. Eolia, was killed in the same manner as she was. And the detectives there in Seattle are of the opinion that there is more than one assassin utilizing that particular MO."
Diandra put her two-cents in. "Really? Isn't that a little odd?"
Simon grinned at the professor. "Yes, it is. But they put together a string of homicides throughout the United States that have the same 'signature' to them and there seems to be a pattern. But the timing is off for it to be only one person behind all of them, so they are working on the theory that there are at least four, maybe five, people loose in the country that are working together."
The anthropologist seemed disturbed by this news, and finally spoke up. "That cannot be possible, Simon. I mean, I only took a few classes in abnormal psychology, but the idea that so many people would use the same exact modus operandi, have the same 'signature' to their crimes, is a little far-fetched. Don't you think?"
Thinking back to his classes at the FBI's National Academy, the ones that had been taught by members of the old Behavioral Science Unit, Simon had to agree with the anthropology student. "That's my opinion as well, Sandburg. But you have to understand Seattle PD's point of view. They have an unsolved decapitation murder, one that seems to match up with several other open files in other jurisdictions and they're grasping at anything that might lead to the killer, or killers." He finished off his beer, swallowing the last few sips in one gulp, and stood up. "Okay, I think I've heard enough for now. I'll want to see your statements on my desk first thing Monday morning, and your reports as well, Connor." After depositing his bottle in the trash, he grabbed up his coat. "Oh, and Jim? I hate to do this to you, but until Doctor Douglas clears you for duty, you're officially on medical leave."
Blair walked Simon to the door, and leaned his back against it after he'd closed it behind the police captain. "That was so much fun--not." He gazed at the three people still seated at the table. "Do you think he believed it?"
Pushing back his chair, Jim got to his feet. "Nope. Not a word of it."
Dee swore softly. "Damn it. Guess I'd better make sure my other identities are up to date."
Blair felt everything turn upside down again. "That doesn't mean Simon's going to come after you, Dee. He might just want this to quietly fade away, like we do. Arresting you isn't going to do that. And Eolia's people aren't going to want this all dragged out in the open, either. I mean, Jan-Michel has as much to hide as you do." He crossed the room to lay a hand on her shoulder. "It'll be okay, I promise."
Dee reached up and gave his fingers a squeeze. "I'm sure it will be, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. So, anyone else starving?"
Megan spoke up. "I'd better eat something, or I'm going to be too wasted to go in to work tomorrow. Got anything in the fridge, Jim?"
Opening the door of the appliance, Jim took a look inside. "Not much here. A couple frozen pizzas."
"That'll have to do," Dee said. "My refrigerator is full of our uncooked Christmas dinner. Somehow I just couldn't make myself get up at 6 am and start cooking after what we went through last night." She slapped her hand down on the table. "The airline reservations!"
"What?" The word was out of his mouth before Blair realized she was talking about their vacation plans. They were supposed to leave tomorrow. "You'll have to cancel them."
Dee chewed her lip, her brow furrowed in thought. "I hate to do that. Maybe I can just change them to Sunday." Getting up from the table, she headed for the door. "I'll be back in a little while."
Once the Immortal was gone, Blair walked out to the kitchen and turned on the stove, then took one of the pizzas from Jim and began to tear the plastic wrap off. Megan picked up her cup of eggnog and followed him. "Do you really think you should be going away at a time like this?"
Blair glanced up at her, noticing Jim was looking at him, too. "I don't know. I mean, well, Simon didn't say we couldn't go. But I don't want to leave you here by yourself, Jim."
Jim let out an exasperated sigh. "I'm fine, Chief. Go to Hawaii. I know you've been looking forward to it for weeks now, and you deserve it."
"Sandburg, I knew the woman for less than a week." He waved his hand to ward off protests from both Megan and Blair. "Yes, I liked her, yes, we slept together, but one night does not a relationship make. I will be fine. You are going to Hawaii, got it?"
"Got it." Blair stuck the pizzas in the oven. "Now what side dishes go with a Christmas pizza?"
Sighing, Jim checked the lock on the front door and turned out the lights. Thank god today was over. If he'd had to put up with one more minute of everyone tiptoeing around everyone else's feelings...Sandburg had been right. This Christmas sucked.
Padding down the hall into the bathroom, Jim washed up and brushed his teeth. Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror, he paused, mid-brush, to examine the face that stared back at him. A furrow seemed permanently engraved on his forehead, and his eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with dark circles. He hadn't bothered to shave, and over a day's worth of stubble graced his chin. For once, he actually looked as bad as he felt. He finished with the toothbrush, swallowed a couple of pain pills, and headed up to bed.
Undressing, he crawled beneath the covers, then stared at the ceiling. Normally, on a night like this, when everything had gone wrong with his day, and he was tired and cranky, he would listen to the sound of his guide sleeping peacefully below him, and know all would be right with the world. But Blair was across the hallway, giving comfort to the person who really had a right to grieve over Lee's death.
Jim ran a hand over his face. Two thousand years. Diandra had known Lee, or Eolia as she had been called then, for over two thousand years. And yet, he gathered Dee felt she hadn't known the woman at all. Maybe that had been part of the attraction for him, the fact that Lee was a mystery. Even the things she revealed had hidden more secrets.
Punching the pillow into a more comfortable shape, Jim rolled onto his side. Still, her loss hurt. Not so much for the little time they'd had together, but for the promise of what could have been. Life with Lee Eolia would never have been boring. But it would have been a different life than he had dreamed of the day before, when he hadn't known she was immortal. She would have remained forever young and beautiful, as he grew steadily older. There would have been no chance of a family, something Jim had to admit a part of him longed for. And there would have been the fear, lurking in the shadows, coloring every facet of their lives, that today he would lose her. Lee would walk out the door one morning and never return, and he would only learn of the details much later, in a summary of a Watcher's report he would wheedle out of Blair.
He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. How did Blair stand it? How could he live with that fear, live with the thought that people wanted to kill the woman he loved, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it? He didn't think he could handle it; the constant fear would drive him insane. Jim realized, not for the first time, that Blair was a hell of a lot stronger than he appeared on the surface.
The pain pills began to take effect, and Jim drifted off to sleep, his mind replaying the happy moments from his far too brief relationship with Lee Eolia.
Despite the sack of gifts in his hand, Blair held the door to Cascade Police Headquarters open for Diandra and Jan-Michel, then followed them inside.
"You didn't have to come with us, Lobo," Dee said, as she headed down the hallway.
He gave her a grin. "I know, but I had these presents for everyone up in Major Crimes to drop off, and well, I thought you could use the support."
Leaning toward him, Dee gave Blair a squeeze. "Thanks. I don't think this will take too long. J-M just has to fill out the paperwork, and then it's off to Seacouver." Blair noticed she didn't mention what they would be off to Seacouver with.
"You need me to show you where the morgue is?"
LaFollet shook his head. "No, I was there yesterday. I think I can find the way again."
"Good, because I hate going down there. I'll be upstairs when you're ready to leave, Dee." She gave him a peck on the cheek, then followed the other Immortal toward the stairs.
Blair punched the up button for the elevator, and stepped inside the car as the doors slid open. He glanced down at the gaily-wrapped packages peeking out of his sack. Maybe passing these out would help get back some of his holiday spirit.
"Sandburg!" Jim's voice boomed through the bullpen.
Blair, perched at the edge of Brown's desk, stopped his conversation with the detective and looked up. "Hey, J--" His greeting faded when he saw the unrestrained rage on the Sentinel's face.
"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" In three long strides, Jim closed the difference between them, pulling his arm back as he delivered a powerful blow to Blair's jaw.
Blair tumbled off the desk, hitting the floor hard, feeling the air rush from his lungs. His eyes wide, he tried desperately to inhale as Jim leaned over him, his hands tangling in his shirt and yanking the smaller man part way up. "YOU KNEW! You knew all along what she was!"
"Jim, man, let me explain--" Jim's grip on his shirt tightened, and Blair felt his already meager supply of oxygen being cut off. Spots danced in front of his eyes, and he floated toward darkness.
Jim had managed to avoid the rest of the group for most of the morning. Jim Ellison, coward? No, not really, just not ready to face the world that had introduced him to someone he had found totally fascinating, only to rudely cut her out of his life. His mind had played tricks on him all night; his sense of smell picking up the faintest trace of lavender and heather and magnifying it, the sensual sliding of silk on his skin reminding him how Lee's hair had felt. Torture, pure and simple torture.
Having been ordered not to return to work until Dr. Douglas gave his okay, Jim was looking forward to just trying to get back into the swing of his old life. Before the break-in at QuestScape, before meeting Lee Eolia, before, before... 'Damn, it's no use,' he thought to himself. He'd spent the morning doing the fifty-two pick-up routine, straightening up the loft, getting started on the weekly chores, and the entire time his mind kept wandering back to Eolia and what might have been.
Throwing the rag he'd been using for dusting into the trashcan, he realized that staying here, in the loft, alone, wasn't a good idea. Spotting the stack of case files on the table, he made his decision. He'd get cleaned up, change clothes and take the records back to the station. Loping up the stairs to his room, he put his plan into motion.
Jim grumbled as he picked the files up off the floorboard of his truck. He'd laid the files on the bench seat when he'd left, but having to cut the wheel sharply to avoid getting hit by an idiot driver just outside of the station had scattered the files everywhere. Giving up on trying to get the files, and the scattered papers, into any semblance of order in the cold garage, he just scooped them all together with the idea that he'd straighten them out in the Records Room.
Juggling the slippery files, he made his way towards the Records Department on the second floor. A civilian clerk was just leaving as he approached, and the young man held the door open for him. "Thanks, Todd."
"No problem, Detective. Happy holidays."
'Yeah, right. Happy,' he thought as he let the files fall onto a desk that wasn't being used.
"Jim Ellison, what mess did you bring me today?"
Turning to face the speaker, Jim saw it was Gwendolyne "Gwen" Hadley, the woman in charge of Records. "Mess is right, Gwennie. I'll straighten them out before I hand them in. They slid off the seat of my truck."
The tall, willowy blonde sighed as she looked at the mess on the desk. "Funny, I didn't hear any radio traffic involving an 'Ellison Pursuit'."
Snorting a laugh, Jim shook his head. "Not a pursuit, just avoiding an idiot." He pulled the chair out and started trying to sort the files.
"Uh, huh. Sure, tell me another one, Ellison. I know you, remember?" She gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder as she walked behind him to get to the door. "I'm going over to the coffee shop. Can I get you anything?"
"Nah, I'm okay. Thanks, Gwen." He waited until she had left before returning his attention to his work.
Tucking the last photo of Bradley Ventriss on the autopsy table into its original jacket, Jim noticed a handwritten report peeking out from under the latest QuestScape file. "What the--?" Pulling it free, recognizing the neat printing as his roommate's, he read the paper.
Disbelief and anger clouded his mind as he realized the report concerned Blair's first meeting with Lee Eolia, last Thursday at Rainier. That was a full day before the QuestScape break-in. What in the hell? He read further, a knot beginning to form in the pit of his stomach. Blair, along with Dee, had a subsequent meeting Friday with Lee, at a church. Lee had come to Cascade with the intent of not leaving the city alive, according to Sandburg's report. She'd even asked Diandra to take her head. That she was, and this was quoted in the report as being direct from Lee's own mouth, "... so tired. I just want it to be over, I don't want to live without him, and it's too painful. He was the only person who ever understood me, who ever loved me for me... "
The anger at Sandburg started building from a small spark into a raging firestorm. 'He KNEW! He fucking knew, last Thursday for God's sake, that Lee Eolia was an Immortal! He LIED to me! He stood there and boldly lied to me, to Megan!' Mechanically folding the report, he shoved it into his jacket pocket; it didn't belong in the police files, but in Eolia's chronicle.
Shuffling through the rest of the files, checking to make sure that more "Watcher" stuff hadn't gotten mixed in with the QuestScape files, he came across printouts of email correspondence between Sandburg and Jack Kelso. They related the career paths of one Leandra Evans and an Emil Saunders, including photographs. "Leandra Evans" was Lee Eolia-Sadih. The stuff on Lee's work with the CIA didn't bother him because the woman herself had told him about that. But the idea that Blair had lied, had covered his tracks and kept what could have been vital information hidden from him and Megan, that enraged Jim. The growl built in his throat as he started tearing through the papers to see what else Blair had held back from him, and the investigation. As he found more reports and pulled them from the files, keeping the secrets of Immortals from entering police records, Jim Ellison was actually vibrating with his anger.
"How dare he--!" The Sentinel went into full "hunt" mode, intent on tracking down his target.
Gwendolyn Hadley had to move fast to avoid being hit by the bullet train, disguised as the kindly Detective she'd seen earlier, that stormed out of the Records Department and brushed by her. Something had set the man off, and she was glad his anger wasn't directed at her. Entering the department, she saw the files scattered on the desk, sighed, and started the task of trying to get them into order, all the time wondering what had happened. It wasn't like Jim Ellison to leave a task unfinished.
"ELLISON! Let go!" Megan's voice cut through the black haze threatening to overcome Blair. For a moment, nothing changed, then Blair felt Jim's grip loosen, and he dropped two feet to the floor. Sucking in a lungful of air, he looked up to see the Aussie with her arm wrapped around Jim's throat in a sleeper hold. Her lips were moving, but he couldn't make out the words, and he realized she was speaking for Sentinel ears only.
Whatever she said must have worked, because the fire faded from Jim's eyes and they became two glittering chips of ice. Megan released her hold on Jim, and he headed for the door to the bullpen. She grabbed his arm. "Uh-uh. Not so fast there, Jimbo. You have a hell of a lot of explaining to do, as well as apologizing." Jim snorted and rolled his eyes, but made no further move to leave.
Brown reached down and gave Blair a hand up from the floor. "You okay there, Hairboy?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I'm used to getting pounded," he replied, his voice raspy.
"Sandy, I think we'd better do this in private." Megan cocked her head toward one of the interrogation rooms, then started in that direction, tugging Jim with her.
Once inside the room, she whirled on Jim. "What in the hell was that all about? What were you thinking? You'd better thank your lucky stars Dee wasn't here, because I know she sure as hell wouldn't be as gentle as I was! How could you attack Sandy like that?"
Jim was silent, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes fixed on a point over Sandburg's head. After several long moments, he said flatly, "He knew."
Megan let out an exasperated sigh and ran a hand through her hair, pushing the long strands behind her ears. "Knew what?"
Jim yanked some papers from his pocket and slapped them down on the table. Blair recognized them as the info he'd gathered on Eolia. "He knew Lee was immortal. He knew from the very beginning, hell, he knew before we even ran into her Friday night."
The inspector frowned. "What? Sandy, is this true?"
Swallowing hard, Blair nodded. "She approached me last Thursday at Rainier. She was looking for Dee. She wanted Dee to take her head." Megan gasped. Blair ignored her and continued, "Dee talked her out of it, and that was the last we thought we'd see of her. Unfortunately, we were wrong."
Jim's jaw muscles clenched and unclenched, then he finally snarled, "Were you ever going to tell me, tell us, what was going on? Or was it some big Watcher/Immortal secret you couldn't let me in on, even though you knew it would have helped the investigation? Knew that I was getting involved with her?"
Blair threw his hands up in the air and began to pace his side of the room. "I thought you did know, man! I left you the files and a note Tuesday night!"
"What note? I never found any notes!"
"After Dee was attacked! I kept trying to call you, to let you know Lee had lied, that the thief from QuestScape was immortal, was Brad! We were going to Megan's, so I left you a note!"
Jim shook his head. "Damn! I never saw it, never took your veiled hints on the voice mail as a warning. I was too concerned about getting Lee to a safe house and away from the loft."
"God, Jim, I was trying to warn you about her without letting her know." Blair turned toward his friend, his voice pleading.
Jim scrubbed his hand over his face. "Chief, next time -- if there is a next time -- don't play covert ops, okay? Just tell me so I don't have to try to read your mind."
"Hell, Jim, I didn't know what she was going to do. I didn't want her going after you because you knew her secrets. I was trying to protect you."
A snort of amusement escaped the detective. "Blair, I can take care of myself, you know that right? And I don't think Lee would've come after me for knowing that she was an Immortal Spook any more than I would have gone after her when she figured out part of what I am."
Blair shrugged his shoulders, his eyes on the floor. Man, she had the wool pulled so far over your eyes... "Yeah, whatever."
The sentinel seemed irritated by his lack of response. "Think what you want to think, Chief. Call it gut instincts or playing a hunch, but I really don't think Lee was a threat to me, you or Dee."
Oh, yeah, I forgot. She wasn't trying to kill you. Blair's thoughts were dripping with sarcasm, but he wisely held his tongue.
The three of them stared at each other for nearly a minute, then Jim said, "Are we done here? I'm sorry that I blew up at you like that, but I felt like you had purposely hidden information from me that could've helped crack this case before Lee had paid with her life."
Against his better judgment, knowing he was only going to stir things up again, Blair pointed out something Jim seemed to have missed. "Jim, Lee had all that information, which she chose to keep to herself. Dee was nearly killed because she didn't know the person after Lee was immortal."
Jim shook his head. "Maybe she had her reasons to keep silent. If she thought it would go no further than between her and Ventriss, then there was no reason for her to warn Dee or to get us, the police, involved in 'Immortal Affairs'."
Blair felt anger bubbling up inside him again. How could Jim defend her and vilify him? "So it's okay for her not to tell, but I have to spill my guts about it? Dee and I didn't say anything about her being immortal because she asked us not to. It was her business. It stopped being her business when people started getting hurt. If she had told the truth about John David's shooter, hell, if she had told the truth about the thief, maybe no one needed to die at all!"
Jim stared at him for several long moments, his jaw muscle twitching, then he spun around and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Sighing, Blair said, "Well, I certainly fucked that up."
"Oh, Sandy..." Megan moved to his side, giving the guide a hug.
Not knowing what else to do, only that if he stayed in the room any longer things would deteriorate further, Jim beat a tactical retreat. How could he have been so blind? Looking back on it now, everything Sandburg had said seemed to have a double meaning. He'd been warning Jim all along, revealing as much as he could without breaking his word to Eolia. And how had she repaid him? By nearly killing Blair and his lover. Jim had failed. Failed to protect the Guide, the Tribe, allowed his thinking to get muddled by a beautiful, red-haired woman who had proven to be the root of all that had gone wrong in the past week or so.
How in the hell did we get to this point, Chief? Jim thought as he walked down the stairwell to his truck. And worse, how do we fix it?
Dee glanced over at Blair. He was slumped in the passenger seat of her Wagoneer, and had barely said more than a couple sentences since they'd left the police station. If Megan hadn't pulled her aside and told her what had occurred between the guide and sentinel, she'd have been clueless. As it was, she didn't have even the glimmer of an idea as to how to fix the rift she considered her fault. Lia had been her responsibility.
She reached across the bench seat and wrapped her fingers around the hand that rested there. Blair's head lifted slightly and he gazed at her, his eyes dark and troubled. "We will get through this," she reassured him. "The ceremony tomorrow is about honoring Lia, and then letting her go, along with all our grief and anger and fear."
Blair made a strangled noise that Dee realized was his attempt at a laugh. "Jim? Letting go of a grievance? Maybe in your lifetime, Dee, but not in mine. I screwed up. Now I have to pay for it."
Dee ground her teeth in frustration. "You're not the only one who made mistakes, Lobo. I screwed up as well. I never should have gotten you involved. And Jim has to bear some of the blame, too. Mistakes and misconceptions abounded on all sides. Lia did a damn good job of bringing out the worst in all of us. But you have to believe we will work through this, and come out stronger in the long run."
With a small sigh, Blair nodded. "I have to, because the alternative is unthinkable."
Megan shifted her Chevy into park and peered out the window at the deserted beach. She didn't know where else to try. Jim hadn't been at the loft, or the park, or any of his other haunts. Climbing out of the SUV, she shoved her keys in her pocket and started walking. After a couple minutes, she made out the form of a man sitting on the rocks, staring at the ocean.
"Hey, Jimbo," she called out softly as she approached.
She took a seat on a rock next to him, trying to ignore the cold and damp that immediately began to leech through her coat. "Been looking for you for a while."
Cocking his head toward her, Jim raised an eyebrow. "Really? Why?"
Megan stuffed her hands in her pockets and scrunched deeper into her jacket. "Oh, you know, concern for a friend, that sort of thing."
Jim made a noise that sounded like "harrumph." Then he said, "Sandburg send you?"
She shook her head. "No, I thought this all up on my own." Tearing her eyes from the waves breaking on the jagged stone, she looked at him. His face was blank, his slightly twitching jaw muscle the only hint of emotion. "Jim--"
He turned his face toward her, pinning her with his ice blue gaze. "Look, if you're here to apologize for Sandburg, to somehow explain away what he did, you can just forget it."
Shaking her head, Megan stared back at him. "No, I'm not here for that. I'm just as pissed at Dee as you are at Sandy. I let her know that yesterday. I got it out of my system, and we're moving on, or at least I'd like to think so. But I know we have a long way to go before we're truly partners, before we know each other inside and out. That, I think is going to be an ongoing process, one that'll take years."
Jim sighed. "If you're trying to make a point, Connor, would you please get to it?"
"Is this past week worth throwing away years of friendship?"
He stared at her again, his expression one of disbelief. "People died, Connor!"
"And Dee and Sandy were responsible for that how? They did the best they could under very bad circumstances. Dee trusted Eolia, and Sandy trusted Dee. I know you want to think the best of Lee, and I know you were starting to care for her. But she put people you love in danger. Do I think she cared for you? From what Dee says, she cared for you a lot. But it didn't change a damn thing she did. She didn't confide in you; she didn't confide in Dee. She prevented Dee from accepting Brad's challenge, nearly killing Blair in the process. Do you think she spared a thought for you then?"
Closing his eyes, Jim ran a hand over his face. "I see your point, but it doesn't mean what Sandburg did wasn't wrong. And it doesn't mean I don't feel pain at losing Lee."
Getting up from her rock, Megan approached Ellison, laying a hand gently on his shoulder. "In a perfect world, Sandy would have known immediately that telling you about Lee and her past was of the utmost importance. But it's not a perfect world, Jim, and none of us knew that a simple break-in would lead to this. And it's okay to feel pain; I'd be more worried about you if you told me you felt nothing. I think it's important you go to the ceremony tomorrow."
Jim got slowly to his feet. "I know. I'll be there. I just couldn't face spending the night there on the island, knowing she was..." His voice trailed off.
"Yeah, I know. Kind of creeps me out, too." She let go of his shoulder, and was about to stick her hand back in her pocket when Jim grabbed it, giving it a quick squeeze.
"Thanks for coming after me, Connor. You're a good friend."
Surprised by his unusual openness, she flushed, then said, "Come on, I'll buy you a beer and a steak dinner, then we can drive up to Seacouver in the morning. That sound all right to you?"
Draping an arm over her shoulders, Jim guided her back up the beach. "I think I'd like that."
Dee watched from her seat on the floor as Blair paced the small living room of MacLeod's cabin. She'd spent most of the day after their arrival at the island preparing Lia's body for the ceremony. She'd bathed her, anointing her with rare oils and perfumes, then wrapped her body in unbleached linen, all the while chanting prayers of passage from this world to the next. She was surprised she still remembered them, as well as the ritual. It had been a very long time since she had last performed the rites.
Given the choice of helping her, or helping Jan-Michel build the funeral pyre, Blair had headed outside with an ax. She hadn't blamed him. Now, though, it was getting late and she wanted to go to bed. LaFollet had volunteered to stay with Lia's body at the pyre, which they had built on a small cliff overlooking the lake, in order to keep scavengers from disturbing it.
"Lobo, you're making me dizzy. Can you just sit down for a few minutes?"
Running a hand through his hair, Blair crossed the room again. "I should have stayed in Cascade, gone after Jim, tried to work things out."
Resting her elbow on her knee, Dee leaned her chin in her hand. "Were you ready to work things out when we left?"
Pausing in front of the fireplace, Blair moved the logs around with a poker. "No," he replied finally. "No, I wasn't ready then. I was hurt, and I was angry. Jim hit me, for god's sake, even though I deserved it."
Dee exhaled in frustration. "Blair, no one deserves to be hit, especially by a friend. But we are human; we make mistakes. You've already forgiven Jim for striking you, haven't you?"
He kept his back to her as he answered. "Yes."
"Then what makes you think Jim's going to need you to crawl over broken glass before he forgives you? He's your friend, and your partner. He's going to do the same thing you did. Take some time to be alone, to think things through, and then he will forgive you. Everything will be fine tomorrow, you'll see."
Blair crossed the small space between them and sat down on the floor next to her, leaning his back against the couch. "I hope you're right."
"I know I'm right." She patted the rug in front of her. "Now let me work on your shoulders, or you won't be able to move tomorrow."
Blair scooted around in front of Dee, and at her urging removed the three layers of shirts he was wearing. He felt her hands gathering his loose hair, twisting it up and tying it out of the way. Her fingers stroked lightly over his shoulders then, getting him used to her touch before she dug in deep, working the knots out of his muscles. It felt good, really good, and Blair almost felt guilty that he was enjoying this, when he imagined Jim was sitting in a dark loft all by himself, grieving over the loss of Eolia.
Closing his eyes, he played the week back over in his mind. He wondered if he'd done things differently, if he'd told Jim Lee was immortal, that she was CIA, that she'd worked with Brackett, would things would have worked out better? He couldn't see how they would have. If he'd told Jim what he had learned earlier in the week, before anything had gone wrong, Jim would have accused him of checking up on him, of not trusting his judgment. Blair snorted softly. It wasn't like Jim hadn't done the same thing with his girlfriends on more than one occasion, Dee included. Any way he looked at it, Jim was going to be mad at him, to one degree or another. The only way things might have been different was if Lee had told him the truth from the beginning. Jim would have listened to her.
A long sigh escaped him. Her massage finished, he felt Dee's hands drop from his shoulders to wrap around his waist, gently pulling him back to lean against her chest. For a brief moment, he thought of resisting, of getting up and pacing again, but the need to be close to her outweighed his need to fret. He relaxed against her, feeling her drape the blanket she'd pulled off the sofa around both of them.
Her cheek pressed against his hair, and Blair stared into the fire, beginning to feel drowsy, as well as warm, and safe, and loved. That thought sent a stab of pain through his heart. Here he was, being held, being loved by a wonderful woman, and because of him, Jim had lost that chance at happiness. Turning his head, Blair pressed his face against Dee's neck, his breathing ragged as he fought the urge to cry. Dee's hold on him tightened, and he felt her fingers stroking his hair, as she whispered, "Shh, shh, it'll be all right, Lobo. You have to believe that..."
Closing his eyes, Blair let himself drift, believing she believed it, and hoping that would be enough.
The alarm clock bit the dust that morning as Jim started his day by heaving it across the room. He'd taken Megan up on her offer last night, dinner and drinks, and she'd wisely limited his intake of beer to three, but that didn't save him from the return of the headache he'd been fighting for the last few days.
He knew what his problem was. The loft was too quiet; Blair had gone ahead to Seacouver with Dee and LaFollet leaving Jim alone. Without consciously thinking about it, he stretched out his hearing and located the gentle 'thumping' of another heartbeat, one that was becoming as familiar to the Sentinel as his own Guide's was. Megan Connor was across the hall, sleeping in Diandra's place, having brought him home sometime after midnight.
Going through his morning routine, and sweeping up the remains of his clock, he allowed himself to think about what he was going to be doing later that day, attending the funeral of Lee Eolia. The woman had blown into his life with all the subtlety of a typhoon only to leave just as abruptly. Thoughts of her, of what she had been, and what could have been if she'd survived her confrontation with Brad Ventriss, plagued him as he set about getting something to eat.
'It's no use.' His stomach was still unsettled by the pain in his head, and his heart. He ended up tossing the two eggs he'd started to cook into the trash. Grabbing his lukewarm mug of coffee, he headed up the stairs to change out of his bathrobe into something more suitable for an outdoor funeral.
Megan Connor let out a small groan as she reached over and smacked the radio/clock alarm off. "It's too early for this shit." Rolling out of Diandra's bed, the Companion stretched and grabbed up the robe she'd laid across the foot of the bed last night. Walking down the stairs towards the kitchen she raked her fingers through her hair, giving herself a good scalp message at the same time, and flipped on the coffee maker as she made her way to the bathroom.
A few minutes later, showered, dressed in black jeans and a black cable knit sweater, she sat down in the living room sipping her first cup of coffee. 'Sandy and Jim have got to work this whole mess out between them; they have to.' But how that was going to happen was beyond her ability to predict. Both men were stubborn, Jim more so than Blair, but if they held on to the hurts they'd dealt each other, the rift between them would only grow wider and deeper, until there was no chance of reconciliation.
She'd found Jim, sitting alone with his thoughts, last night at one of the beaches and with a little friendly banter and commiserating had managed to get him to accept her offer of steak and beer. She'd even allowed him to drink more than he probably should've, not knowing what effects the alcohol would have with the medications he'd been taking for the headaches, but he'd loosened up enough to actually talk to her.
That was how she'd learned he had been seriously enough attracted to Lee Eolia that he'd asked the Immortal if she would consider relocating to Cascade. And the woman had actually accepted the idea. Megan's heart tightened as she realized that once again Jim had managed to miss a chance at love. But it wasn't his fault. She'd hoped she'd gotten him to realize that last night. Eolia had held all the cards, lied to all of them, for whatever reasons she had. Draining the last of her coffee, Megan chided herself, 'Megs, you have no idea if Lee had been lying to Jimbo, maybe she HAD cared for him. She just didn't know that everything had gotten so tangled.'
Glancing at the clock on the microwave, Megan realized that if she and Jim were to make it to Seacouver in time for Lee's funeral, they had to leave soon. Shutting off the coffeepot and rinsing her cup out, the inspector grabbed up her keys, pocketbook, and coat and headed over to Ellison's apartment.
Brown corduroys, black turtleneck and his black, Army issued, 'all weather' coat would have to do. Besides, the somber colors matched his mood this morning. Jim had just finished lacing up his hiking boots when the knock on the loft's door startled him out of his thoughts. "Come in, Connor. It's open!" he called out, wincing at the pain that shot through his skull.
"Ready to go, Jim?" He noticed Megan had dressed in dark colors as well, leaving behind her 'pink dingo' coat in exchange for one that was less offensive to the eyes.
"Yeah, I guess." Getting up from the couch, he crossed over to where he had laid out his wallet, badge and sidearm, and the bottle of painkillers Dr. Douglas had prescribed for him. With the half pot of coffee he'd drank, the headache that had greeted him earlier had lessened and he didn't think he'd need the potent medication. 'But better safe than sorry.'
After putting everything in its place and grabbing the keys to his truck, he looked up to see Connor watching him. "What?"
"Uh, Jim, maybe I should drive this morning?"
With a tight nod of his head, he placed the keys back in the basket. "Fine. Let me see your set for a second." He escorted her out the door then, taking her copy of the key he'd given her to his place, locked up the loft. "Let's go."
"Joe," Adam Pierson greeted the man standing at the entrance of his place.
"Adam, you sure you want to do this?" Dawson asked as he stepped into the small apartment at the back of the bookshop the other man owned.
Sighing, Adam nodded as he slipped into his overcoat. "I have to. She was my Student, my wife. I owe her this last tribute."
Joe didn't say anything else, just waited as the Archivist and oldest of the Immortals finished gathering up a few things around the place. Adam walked over to a bookshelf and pulled down a fragile looking scroll, placed it in a mailing tube, then shoved it into his coat pocket. The last thing he grabbed as he walked out with Joe was his sword. He knew he wouldn't need it on the island. It was holy land and the only people who would be there would be friends of his departed Student, but if there was anyone watching, there was always the chance that someone would take the opportunity to come after him, or one of the Immortals gathered there.
Jan-Michel LaFollet had spent the night standing guard, one last time, over Lee Eolia's body. Now, as the sun rose above the horizon, he felt the pain of losing her stab him through the heart. Approaching the pyre and the linen covered body lying on top of the carefully stacked wood, he allowed the tears to flow for the first time since she'd died.
'Lee, I should've told you sooner how I felt about you. I'm sorry that I didn't. I don't suppose I'll ever know why you did what you did, why you hurt Pallas, Sandburg and myself, only to go and challenge Ventriss yourself.' The tears streamed freely down his face as he continued his silent conversation with the departed Immortal. 'I just hope that you're happy, that you've been reunited with Azir, and that you find the peace that eluded you since his death.'
Feeling the warning 'buzz' of an approaching Immortal, he wiped the tears from his face before turning to face the visitor. "Morning, Pallas."
Diandra nodded, and he knew she was pretending not to notice the tear tracks on his face as she walked over to him. "Morning, LaFollet. Everything okay here?"
"Yeah." He took in her pale complexion in the bright morning sunlight. "You didn't sleep very well, did you?"
"No. Neither did you." She walked around the pyre, inspecting the linen wrap one last time. "She'll be safe for a little while. Why don't you come up to the cabin for something to eat?"
The mere thought of food made his stomach roll. He'd not eaten in a while, and he decided the last thing he needed to do at Lee's funeral was to pass out because he'd not eaten. "If you think she'll be okay... " He allowed the woman to grasp his arm and lead him away from the site.
Driving up to Seacouver was usually a pleasant event. Today, however, it was just too damn quiet. Out of respect for Jim, who hadn't complained about his headache but showed all the signs of having one hell of a doozy, Megan hadn't turned on the radio. The only sounds in the cab of her Chevy Tahoe were the ones of wheels turning over pavement and the whir of the ventilation system.
Fifteen minutes ago, she'd managed to find the turn off which would lead to the private dock she was looking for. Now, she was just watching for the smaller road that would actually take her and her passenger right up to the lake's edge.
"Connor, should we be expecting someone?"
The first words muttered by Ellison in the past hour or so startled her. "Not that I'm aware of, why?"
'How in the... ' Sighing, Megan banished the question from her thoughts as she realized how Jim Ellison knew what he did. His senses, probably his sight, had clued him into the presence of the other vehicle parked near the dock long before her own eyes spotted the sedan. With the clouds covering the sun in a gray veil, it was hard for her to see who might be waiting for them. "Jim? Can you tell who they are?"
The road was unpaved loose gravel, and had been disturbed recently. Following the tire tracks, Jim was able to spot the dark blue sedan and warn Megan Connor of its existence. Now, at her last question, he focused in tighter on the two forms he had spotted waiting inside the car. "Two men. Oh, I guess that makes sense."
"Pierson and Dawson."
"Former teacher and a Watcher. Yeah, I guess it does make sense. Eolia surely didn't have any real family in the area."
Nodding his agreement, he waited until Connor had stopped her Chevy, parking it behind the sedan. He stepped out of the warm cab just as Adam Pierson emerged from the driver's side of the other car. A few seconds later, Joe Dawson pulled himself out of the car on the opposite side. "Gentlemen," Jim greeted them.
Methos tried to gather his thoughts, wondering why he had felt compelled to come to this event Diandra Pallas had dreamed up, a funeral for an Immortal. There were damn few of those recorded in the Watcher's database, and even fewer in his long memory, but this would be one of the first ones that would involve one of his students. He was pulled from his mental ruminations by a quietly voiced question.
"Adam? Did Dee say who all was going to be here for this?"
Joe Dawson didn't have to say just what 'this' was. Methos understood. "Just a few friends of hers and Eolia's. Why?" He glanced at the older mortal to see that he was looking out the back window.
"We've got company."
Instead of turning in his seat to see what the man was talking about, Methos looked up at his rearview mirror and spotted the dark green Chevy, watching as it pulled in behind his car. "The Cascade contingent." Opening his door, letting a blast of chilled wind inside, the Immortal stepped out to greet the new arrivals.
Megan watched Jim greet Dawson and Adam Pierson succinctly, then added her own welcome to the Sentinel's. "Mr. Dawson, Mr. Pierson... Sad day, isn't it?"
"Indeed. One should never outlive one's students." She heard the grief in Pierson's voice, a grief not unlike what she had heard in Jim's voice last night. Odd, that a teacher would have cared for a student like that.
Shrugging off her thoughts, she turned to shake hands with Joe Dawson. "Joe, I didn't realize you knew Lee Eolia."
The other two men, Ellison and Pierson, had already started down the last remaining bit of road towards the dock, leaving Megan and Joe to catch up to them. She held out a steadying arm of assistance for the older man, as he gave his answer. "Not as well as Adam did, but I feel like I've known her for a long time through the stories he told me about her." His hand gently squeezed her arm, grabbing her attention. "He's taking this hard, Adam is. How's Ellison doing?"
Megan sadly shook her head. "I'm not sure. Jim's not one to talk about his emotions, but I have the feeling that he's in the same position as Lee's old college instructor." Damn, it was hard. She wanted to speak freely, but she didn't know how much Joe knew about Eolia, or Ellison's relationship with her. Let alone if he knew about the Sentinel business. She knew Dee confided in him, but the Immortal still had her secrets, as Megan had painfully found out.
Joe, sensing Connor's reluctance to really talk about Eolia, stopped her on the short dock and turned to face her. "Connor, Adam knows. So do I." To demonstrate his answer, he pushed back the cuff of his coat, exposing the blue tattoo on his wrist. "He's a Watcher, like me, like Sandburg."
Her face lost a little bit of its high coloring, but he noticed that she seemed to take the information in stride. "Watchers, Immortals and Mortals. It seems that all touch each other, sometimes without knowing, like a massive jigsaw puzzle."
"It can get a bit confusing." He started walking towards the boat tied up along side the wooden dock. "But you're right, we all touch each other in ways that most people never know." With the aid of Ellison, who had apparently had decided to man the moorings, Joe climbed onto the boat.
It was one of the few motorized boats allowed on this lake, which was situated on the local Indian Reservation, and it belonged to Duncan McLeod. For this occasion, the Council of Elders had graciously decided to allow the 'mourning party' to travel from the mainland to their sacred island without having to resort to the canoes that were all that were normally allowed to ply the surface of the lake. For that, Joe was thankful, as the idea of having to paddle a canoe across five miles of waterway had almost, but not quite, deterred him from accepting Methos' offer to accompany him.
Methos wasn't all that surprised when Ellison had offered to man the lines while he checked the controls and fuel tanks on the 1950's, open deck style inboard motorboat. Once all the members of the small group were seated, and after Ellison had managed to find a heavy lap blanket for Joe and Megan Connor to share, he started the engine and slowly pulled away from the dock.
Duncan's boat was in excellent condition, not that he was surprised about that. The Scotsman had a passion for restoring 'ancient artifacts' and took great pride in his work. The engine was relatively quiet, the wheel responded to the lightest of touches, and the bow sliced through the still waters of the lake's surface like a graceful swan.
Swinging around the island, he located the jetty that was situated under the cliffs on the west side, and, after killing the speed of the boat, Methos brought the craft alongside the stone and mortar edifice simply by gliding. He watched as Ellison hopped out of the watercraft to the new dock and made the lines fast, only to sharply glance in towards the shore.
Following the detective's line of sight, Methos was surprised to see young Blair Sandburg step out of the tree line and walk down to the shore and the jetty. 'Strange, it's almost as if Ellison heard him coming.' With Megan's assistance, he managed to get Joe Dawson safely to shore. Then the three of them walked over to where Ellison was softly talking to his friend.
The trip from the mainland to the island was quiet, just the way Jim hoped it would be, as he was still in no real mood to talk to anyone. He knew he'd screwed up, possibly wrecking the relationship that he had with a certain anthropology student, but sometimes the 'kid' made him so mad. Hadn't Blair learned anything in the three plus years that he'd been hanging around the station? You do not hold back any information that may, or may not, prove vital to a case. As Adam Pierson swung the boat around the island Jim glanced up towards the top of the cliffs.
There, on the edge, he could barely make out what appeared to be a large bonfire structure, only there was something odd about it. Sharpening his line of sight, pupils reacting to his mental command, Jim Ellison took a closer look. He slammed his eyes shut as he realized what he saw. Lee Eolia's body, lying on top of the pyre, wrapped in unbleached cloth, ready for the woman's last journey.
Engine noise faded, and Jim felt the powerful boat ease up towards the shoreline as he opened his eyes and once again took action by manning the lines. Pierson did a fine job of bringing the watercraft alongside the stone, man-made, dock, and the detective grabbed up the ropes, jumped to the dock and made the boat fast against the jetty. Silently thanking his cousin Rucker for the summers he'd spent beating the knowledge of marine knots into a very stubborn head, Jim finished tying off the last line just as something made him look inward towards the island's center.
'Blair.' His mind identified the source of his unease before the young man stepped out of the tree line and started walking down the path towards him. Concern for his friend, and the impulse to move toward the Guide, pulled the Sentinel away from the dock, leaving Connor and Pierson to assist Dawson getting ashore.
'Doesn't look like he slept very well, if at all,' Jim noted mentally as he catalogued the essence of Blair Sandburg. The tired look in the normally bright blue eyes, the set of the shoulders denoting either extreme weariness or tightness, the bruising on the face... Bruising that was there because of him, the man that Blair had jokingly referred to as his 'Blessed Proctector.' Stepping up the path to greet his friend, Jim never noticed that his voice nearly cracked as he spoke but one word, "Sandburg."
The path from the cabin to the dock was fairly clear, but Blair wasn't watching where he was going. He was thinking about the upcoming event and his role in the ceremony, when he stumbled over an exposed tree root. Catching himself before he fell flat on his face made him fully aware of just how sore he was and how little sleep he'd gotten.
He'd awakened earlier to find that Dee had gotten up before him and had left the small cabin. Finding a note on her pillow, he knew that she'd gone off to collect LaFollet from his night's vigil at Eolia's side. Making himself useful, Blair had prepared a fairly substantial breakfast for the three of them. After they had eaten, and J-M had gone back to his self-imposed watch, Diandra had briefed him on his upcoming duties. An hour later she'd sent him to go collect the rest of the mourning party when she'd heard the approaching boat.
Clearing the tree line above the shore, he slowly walked toward the dock. Seeing that Jim had decided to come to Eolia's funeral gave him hope that his friend was trying to put the events of the last week behind him.
"Sandburg." The voice was rough, as if holding back emotions that threatened to break loose, but it was Jim's voice all the same. Glancing up from the pathway, Blair found himself looking into blue eyes he knew were automatically cataloguing every inch of him, imprinting his very essence.
"Jim." One simple word, the name of a friend, and both men found themselves embracing each other in mutual grief. It was Ellison who broke off the hug first, only to hold Blair at arm's length while one hand clasped a shoulder and the other softly touched the bruise on his jaw.
"I never should've hit you, Chief... "
Blair allowed himself to tentatively smile, since the bruising was rather deep and hurt like hell. "Jim, I'm okay. And maybe I needed you to knock some sense into me."
"Never." The touch on his face pulled his eyes upward, forcing him to look at the Sentinel. "If any of us needed some sense knocked into him, it was me, not you."
Closing his eyes, Blair nodded. It wasn't much, but with Ellison, that was probably as close to a full out apology as he was going to get, for now at least. Opening his eyes again, he noticed that they had been joined by the others and stepped away from Jim to greet them.
Megan walked alongside of Joe Dawson, with Adam Pierson on the other side of his fellow Watcher, assisting him up the pathway. Jim and Blair walked behind them, talking quietly. She held to the hope that maybe the two men were trying to patch things up between them on their own.
"Those two are close, aren't they, Megan?" Adam's voice cut through her thoughts as she helped Joe carefully navigate another exposed root.
"Yeah, they're close. I just hope they can weather this latest storm without killing each other."
Joe let out a soft chuckle. "Adam, sounds like those two could rival you and Duncan in the 'we're friends, but have our share of problems' category."
"Probably more so, Joe," Pierson answered.
That effectively ended the conversation between the three of them as they covered the last twenty yards to the clearing where the cabin sat. Megan pondered Pierson's words, trying to figure out what the man had hinted at, only to have her mind go completely blank at the sight of her Champion.
Blair had told the four of them that they needed to clear their minds of any negative thoughts about Lee Eolia before venturing towards the funeral pyre. Diandra had requested this of them, and of LaFollet and Sandy himself the night before. He warned there were likely to be things they would see that would confuse them. Diandra would be conducting the ceremony in the 'old style' and all those who gathered to say good-bye to the Immortal Celtoi woman would be asked to say a few words before the pyre was lit. But this, this was almost like stepping back in time to observe a part of the Amazon which hadn't seen the light of day in a long, long time.
Methos stepped into the clearing around Duncan's cabin, his senses tingling in warning that there were other Immortals in the area. But that was as it should be, what with Diandra and LaFollet nearby. He thought he had mentally prepared himself to see the Amazon in ceremonial garb, but his jaw dropped open in shock anyway.
The outfit was very similar to the one he'd seen her wearing the day that he caused her first death and, ultimately, the fall of Delphi. Her body was covered in the long, flowing white tunic of a priestess of Apollo, with a decorative metal breastplate and a short sword that was more symbolic than useful belted at her waist. But it was her hair that nearly sent him into a flashback to Delphi, for it was piled atop her head, twisted into the elaborate style that he'd last seen on her that fateful day. The day that had brought Eolia of the Celtoi back into his life.
Looking at his companions, Methos noted that even Sandburg seemed a bit shocked at the change of appearance in Diandra. She must not have told him what she had planned, or at least, not all of it. The only one who seemed to be taking the change in Diandra in stride was Ellison, which made him wonder if the man had indeed seen the woman before they had arrived in the clearing. If he had, then there was a chance, a slight one, that Ellison was one of the Warriors of Ares, which would probably make Sandburg a Shield of Ares.
Putting away his line of thought, and slipping back into his 'mortal persona,' Adam finally let loose his tongue. "Well, that's certainly a new look for you, Pallas."
Dee paused in front of the mirror again, her fingers tucking a stray curl back in place. She studied her reflection seriously for a moment. Perhaps this was going a little overboard. She'd had to dig deep the other day to find the outfit; the half-armor had been buried in the bottom of a trunk she hadn't opened in years. And really, did it matter what she looked like? Certainly not to Lia, and she could perform the ceremony just as easily in jeans and a sweatshirt. But she wouldn't have *felt* like a priestess in jeans, and that was the whole point. Any prop that would get her into the correct mindset was welcome.
Sighing, she shook herself, settling the armor. Her physique had changed since she'd last worn it, and it was now a bit snugger. The Oracle hadn't been into weightlifting then. The sound of voices reached her through the open door of the cabin, and Dee headed outside to greet the mourners.
A smile crossed her face at the amazed looks. Blair's mouth dropped open, and Megan's eyebrows crawled up into her hair, but Methos was the only one with a comment.
"A very old look, Adam," she responded, "as you well know." She ran her gaze over them, noting both Joe and Ellison seemed uncomfortable with the whole thing, but probably for different reasons. Touching Jim's shoulder lightly, she said, "I appreciate your being here. I know how hard this must be for you."
Jim's reply was a slight nod. Dee turned back to the others. "Follow me." She led the way up the trail to the cliff, and gave Jan-Michel a hug once they arrived at the pyre. "You holding up okay, J-M?"
At his nod, Diandra moved to stand at the head of the pyre, her back to the lake, while the others spread out around the pyre in a semi-circle. LaFollet handed out small torches to everyone as Diandra explained. "Once I've said the prayer, I will light my torch, and in turn light yours. Then it is traditional for each of us to toss our torch on the fire, one at a time, either saying a few words about Eolia, or simply holding her in our thoughts as we do so."
Closing her eyes, Diandra centered herself, running the prayer over in her mind, making minute changes to fit Eolia's life. Once she was certain she had it, Dee raised her arms in supplication to the Gods, and began to chant.
"Apollo, hear my prayers. I was once your chosen one, and once again I stand on Holy Ground beseeching you to have your brother hear my voice." Diandra paused, waiting to feel the connection that she once felt so strongly when praying to the gods. Feeling the old, yet familiar, sensation settling into her heart, she continued.
"Hades, god of the Underworld, I am here to petition you to smooth the path for my departed sister. She comes to you a warrior true, wounded by lost love and seeking peace within your hallowed Elysian Fields. Eolia was, like me, an Amazon, never taken in by one of the seven tribes, but all the same, she was one of Artemis' Daughters. As the Lord and Master of the House of Ais, it is within your power to control Cerebus, to hold him back from harming Lia as she passes through your realm after crossing the river Styx. Her journey to you has already been a hard one. Make it not more difficult, but ease her way to your Fields."
Once again, Diandra stopped, shifting her attention now to the one god she had heard Eolia pray to, rarely but passionately. "Othin! Hear me! I send to you a daughter of the Celtoi, a woman well suited to wear the armor of your Choosers of the Slain, a true Valkyrie of heart and soul and a child of Janus, able to hide her true self from others as well as herself. She will serve you well if you take her under your wing." Now to finish this, "Apollo, Hades, and Othin. Soon I, and the friends of Eolia gathered here today, will light the pyre to guide her journey into the underworld. I beg of you kindness, compassion and understanding for the woman who I once called my sister. This I ask of all of you, the Gods that would welcome her, in the name of the Great One whose name can never be known."
As Diandra's rich alto filled the air with ancient Greek, Blair began to translate, unconsciously falling into the chant rhythm, but one line behind Dee. He stood to her right in the circle, Jim beside him, and LaFollet to Ellison's right. Megan was to Dee's left, Joe next to her, and Adam stood opposite the priestess, at Eolia's feet.
The prayer continued for several minutes, then came to an end as Diandra lowered her arms and picked up her torch. She passed her hand over the top of it, and it burst into flame. Silently the rest of them accepted a light from her, then she began to speak, this time in English. "Hades speed you on your way, my daughter, my sister. May you find what you were searching for amid the Elysian Fields."
She touched the fire she held to the pyre, and the treated wood began to burn. Dropping the torch into the flames, she reached into a pouch she wore at her waist, then scattered what looked like dust, but what were really mildly hallucinogenic herbs, onto the fire. Colored smoke began to rise, and the air was filled with a musky, earthy scent, masking the smell of burning flesh.
Diandra closed her eyes and began to sing. This time Blair couldn't translate for the others, as the language was far older than Greek, one that perhaps only she and Methos still understood. But it didn't matter. The minor key and the keening vibrato in her voice made the message clear. This was a song of mourning.
Inhaling deeply of the potent amber and magenta smoke, Diandra found herself transported to the temple at Delphi. It rose above her in all its marble majesty, as if it had never fallen. She was kneeling on the steps just below the fissure from which the holy mists rose.
"Lady Dorian." The honorific was spoken softly.
Rising, Diandra turned around to see Eolia, dressed in the simple brown robes of a servant girl, her hands clasped in front of her, her head bowed to accept her reprimand. "Lia--"
The woman threw herself on the ground at the Oracle's feet. "Forgive me, Dorian. I failed to grasp the most basic lesson you taught me. The truth is sacred, and no matter how hard I try to hide from it, the more I twist it to my bidding, the more it becomes my undoing. My lies nearly killed you, as I nearly killed the one you love."
Diandra bent to lay a gentle hand on the Celtoi's pinned up braids. "Lia, it's forgotten. You are forgiven. Go on to your new life, your transgressions washed away."
The other Immortal gazed up at Diandra, her brown eyes wet with tears. Grasping Eolia's hand, Diandra pulled her to her feet and into a hug. When she finally let go of the smaller woman, Dee stepped back, wiping the tears from Lia's face, and kissing her forehead. "Go in peace, Lia. Charon awaits."
Eolia let go of her hands, shimmered, and disappeared.
Diandra came back to the cliff and the ceremony. She turned to Megan, gesturing for her to go next. The Australian shrugged and cleared her throat. "I didn't know you well at all, Lee, but you were important to people I care about. For their sakes and yours, I hope you are in a better place." She tossed her burning stick onto the fire.
Joe was next. He simply said, "I wish I could have gotten to know you better. What stories you could have told. God be with you." His torch joined the other two.
Diandra's gaze fell on Blair, and he knew it was his turn. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, inhaling the pale jade smoke. When he opened his eyes, he was no longer on the island but standing inside a darkened building. Light glowed from candles set on various tables around the huge room, casting long shadows on the stone walls and vaulted ceilings. Blair realized he was in Our Lady of Perpetual Help church. Holy ground. Oh, great! This was not the time for this!
"Companion." The voice was familiar and unexpected. Turning around, Blair found himself face to face with Lee Eolia. She was dressed all in black, her auburn hair hanging loose down her back, her sheathed sword cane in hand.
For a moment Blair was speechless, then he managed to stutter, "What am I doing here? What are you doing here?"
A rueful smile crossed her lips. "I have unfinished business. I owe you an apology, young one. You knew the truth of me from the moment we met, and I appealed to you to keep what you knew to yourself. My request only harmed you, and the people you love. You are justified in your hatred of me, and I have no right to ask your forgiveness. I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused you, and Diandra, and Jim."
Blair was silent for a moment, wondering what she wanted from him. And then he knew. "I accept your apology." As soon as the words left his spirit world lips, he found himself back at the funeral.
"I forgive you, Eolia." He lofted his torch toward the leaping flames, feeling a weight leave his soul.
Taking a step towards the pyre, just as Sandburg moved back, Adam Pierson drew the encased scroll out of his pocket. Holding it close to his chest, burning torch off to his side, Methos began to softly speak. "Eolia... Lia, you were one of my finest Students, even if I had to almost beat some of your lessons into that hard head of yours. Your time on this world was cut far too short." The wind changed directions, gently blowing the herb laced umber smoke into his face and he inhaled the fragrance with his eyes closed.
Opening his eyes, he tossed the scroll onto the pyre and then Methos had to take a step backwards from the vision before him. Eolia was standing there, her back to the pyre, dressed in the ornate silver armor she had worn their year in the Coliseum together. "Eolia?"
Even as he spoke her name, the air and ambiance of the Coliseum surrounded him, taking him back to the last day they had fought together. The massive pyre burned brightly in the center of the grounds to light the spectacle for all in the stands to see. As Champions of the Gladiatorial events, Eolia and Methos were scheduled to fight a small cohort of Germani warriors. Once again, they had proven themselves worthy of the Caesar's admiration, and stood, victorious, on the bloody sands.
The red-haired, gilded apparition smiled, saluting him with the short blade in her hand. "Greetings, Teacher. Brhati heard my wishes and I've been allowed to appear before you one last time."
"Why?" He was stunned. Brhati was one of the older gods, one lost to antiquity, but also one of the few that could have granted this request.
"Because, Meeth, I need to apologize to you. I came to you, asking what no student should ever ask of her teacher, and then had the audacity to get angry at you for refusing me." Tears slowly started to fall down the cream-colored cheeks. "And I wanted to say good-bye to one of my husbands who managed to outlive me."
"Lia," Methos stepped towards the form of his wife of so long ago. Without thinking he reached up to brush away her tears, feeling the soft texture of her skin beneath his fingers. "Oh, Lia. You needn't apologize. I should have realized how deep your pain was and talked to you. Instead, I sent you away, and ultimately, to your death."
The form before him shook her head, her thickly braided hair bouncing over her armored shoulders. "No, that was my fault. I wanted to teach him a lesson when I should've just killed him and been done with it." She paused to look at something off to her right, then her tear-filled brown eyes returned to him. "I haven't much time left. Methos, know this one thing -- I did and always will love you. Take care of Jan-Michel, will you?"
"I will." The vision faded and he was left slightly disoriented as he realized he was still holding his torch and that the fingertips of his left hand were damp. Tossing the brand onto the burning wood, Methos sent up his own prayer. "May Ares guard your path, Little One." The tightness in his chest, which he hadn't been aware of until then, snapped, and he was able to finally and fully grieve for his lost Student/Wife, unabashedly refusing to hide his tears and pain from the others gathered at the pyre site.
Jan-Michel LaFollet watched as Adam Pierson turned away from the fire, his eyes pouring tears the older Watcher and Immortal made no attempt to hide. Taking a deep breath, Jan-Michel started to step forward, only to halt as Diandra moved toward the fire and threw more powder from her pouch onto the flames. The bright grayish blue smoke curling up into the air seemed to move as if alive, twisting in the slight breeze and turning to engulf him in its fragrant grasp.
Closing his eyes against the irritant, Jan-Michel felt himself transported to another place and time, vertigo unsettling his nerves and turning his world upside down.
"Jan, open your eyes. Please?"
The ghostly voice set his world aright again and he followed the gentle command. There, standing in the foyer of the mansion known as Hawk's Wind, stood Eolia. She was dressed in her finest gown, a creation of pure ivory silk that flowed over her body like water. "Lee? Where am I? What's going on?"
The mahogany-haired woman, whose long tresses were tightly coiled against her head in her famous French twist, smiled and floated toward him over the wooden parquet floor. "I had to see you one last time before I crossed over, Jan. To let you know I knew of your love for me, and that I was honored that you never let it interfere with our relationship as friends." Her pale, slender arm rose up as she approached him, and he felt the warm caress of her hand on his stubbled face.
"Lee... I... I couldn't act, not while Azir was alive. And afterwards, it just seemed too soon... " He paused as her fingertips came to rest on his lips, and he impulsively grabbed and kissed her hand.
"Jan, listen to me. I'm not really gone. I'll live forever in your heart, and within Diandra. I'll never leave you again." Her compassionate eyes, lightened to the darkest amber hue, grabbed his soul and her essence curled around his heart, soothing the ache that had lodged there since her death.
"But why, Lee? Why did you have to leave when you did?" LaFollet made no attempt to hide his pain from her, for she knew him all too well and would see through the subterfuge.
"It was my time. Be happy for me, Jan-Michel, for Azir and I are to be reunited." Her hand dropped away from his face and she turned to look at something, or someone, standing behind him. Turning slowly, Jan-Michel caught a glimpse of a tall form dressed in black and silver, with long jet-black hair flowing freely in a wind he couldn't feel. Azir. He'd come to claim his bride, his wife and companion.
Turning to face his lost love once more, he was confronted with the edge of her blade against his throat. "Lee?"
"You made me a promise, Jan, and I'm going to hold you to it. No more drinking. And you need to find another Teacher to instruct you in the way of the Game." Her blade disappeared, moving so fast that he couldn't see where she had hidden it. "I want you to live, Jan-Michel Wyatt LaFollet. Learn from my mistakes. Talk with Diandra or Methos or even young Blair if you ever have any doubts or questions. But trust Methos with your life... "
LaFollet snapped back to awareness at the sound of a log falling deeper into the pyre, sending sparks and flames flying higher into the blue vaulted heavens. Gone was the vision of "home" at Hawk's Wind Mansion, replaced with the stark reality before him. Bending his head in prayer, he whispered, "I gave you my word, Eolia, and I'll always cherish your memory. May God keep you in the palm of His hand and bless your final journey." And with that, Jan-Michel tossed his torch onto the pyre and returned to his place in the circle as tears started to flow down his face. He wasn't even aware that Adam Pierson, known to Eolia and Diandra as 'Methos,' had moved to stand close to him, offering support without encroaching on his personal space.
There was only one person left to say his good-byes to Eolia and the pyre was almost fully engulfed in flames as the burning fire started to climb toward the shrouded body.
Jim Ellison watched, detached from his own emotions, as the others went through their little eulogies for Lee Eolia. Something had happened, just what he wasn't sure, to Diandra, Blair, then Adam, and now it looked as though LaFollet had slipped into some kind of stupor as he stood before the pyre. The man's eyes were open, but Jim was pretty sure that his hazel eyes weren't viewing the fire before him, but were locked on a sight only he could see.
When Diandra had stepped forward to throw more of the powered herbs onto the pyre to sweeten the smoke, Jim had tried to avoid the tendrils that drifted his way. Something inside him told him that the reactions of the others was tied to their inhaling the black smoke shot through with flecks of gold, silver, pink and blue, that curled around their bodies like a living entity. No matter where he stepped or turned, the sliver of smoke that had drifted his way seemed to follow him, not allowing him to avoid it.
The haunting scent of lavender and heather teased his nose, causing him to stop in his tracks, and soon, Jim was engulfed in the sweet smelling smoke. He felt his reality dissolving. Closing his eyes against the swimming effect that seemed to sweep over him, Jim found himself in a place he'd thought he would never have to see again.
The Temple of the Sentinels was bathed in green-blue light, and the sounds that greeted his ears were not the ones of water birds, waves, and the crackling of the pyre, but the sounds of the jungle. Exotic birds cried in the trees that stretched high over head, blocking the light of the sun and moving gently in a whisper soft breeze. His wandering gaze returned from his perusal of the forest canopy to see something move deeper into the Temple through the doorway. Jim was surprised to see the black jaguar appear in the doorway and sit, as if waiting for the Sentinel to join him. Join the cat he did.
The steps leading down to the pools were worn smooth, but not as smooth as they had been when he had chased Alex into the Temple months ago. The torches that lit the way gave off a feeble light but that never bothered him as Jim controlled his sight, his pupils widening to allow the light to be more than adequate. Cautiously, the Sentinel entered the pool room and was relieved to find no one was there.
A chill breeze blew across his body and, for the first time, Jim realized he was dressed in the garb he had worn while living among the Chopec. The tank top and camouflage pants were the same clothes he often saw his 'inner sentinel' wearing during the few visions he'd had in the past.
The faintest touch, like that of a moth's gossamer wing, brushed his face, and Jim turned to see Lee Eolia standing beside him. Her long hair was braided at the temples, woven with glass and gold beads while the rest hung freely, flowing downward over shoulders covered in light colored leather. A golden torc was clasped around her neck.
"This is you, isn't Jim? You are a Champion, a Watcher of the Clans, a Sentinel." Her voice tickled softly in his ears.
"Yeah, at least that's what Sandburg's been telling me for nearly four years." He took a closer glance at what the woman was wearing. The leather sheath covered her from shoulder to knees and was topped off by a coarsely woven cape that reminded him of the Tartans that the Scotsmen wore. "Lee, what are you doing here? Why am I here for that matter?"
She refused to meet his eyes, instead answering his questions while gazing into the pools that sat side by side in the chamber. "I asked the Gods for a final boon, to be able to speak to those I had hurt one last time, to apologize to them."
"No, Jim. I hurt you; you cannot deny that. By harming Blair, your Guide, I injured the Sentinel within you, nearly severing the bond that should exist between you." She walked over to the edge of one of the pools and sat down on the ledge, facing him, her face turned upwards so that her chocolate brown eyes finally met his own blue orbs. "I never should have lied to you. I knew the thief at QuestScape was an Immortal but I thought I could handle him on my own. Foolish of me, I should have known better."
The Sentinel sat beside the Celtoi woman. "Lee, I'm not sure I would've believed you had you told me the truth at the time, even if I do know Immortals like you and Diandra exist. I wasn't exactly thinking straight from the first time I saw you."
There was a change in the air pressure of the Chamber as the sound of distant thunder echoed through the Temple.
"You weren't the only one not thinking clearly, Jim." Her hand came up to caress his jaw, tracing the firm muscles there and following them upwards to his ear. "I'm glad I got to know you, to share a night of passion with you. Even back when I was born into this world, warriors such as yourself were rare gifts from the Gods. You are a very special man, James Ellison. And I'm honored that you consented to share a bed with me."
Returning the caress, Jim touched her one last time, knowing that this wasn't real, but a vision conjured to the surface of his mind. Still, he was determined to enjoy it. His hands gently flowed from her elbows up her arms to rest on her shoulders and pull her closer to him. "Lee, I am the one who was honored. I just wish I had gotten to know the real you, the woman that I can now see, the one you kept hidden from the world."
Her smile was wistful as she accepted his embrace, and he allowed himself to enjoy the warmth of her body one last time. How long the two of them sat there, curled in each other's arms while balanced on the edge of the pool, Jim couldn't tell. After a while, she broke away from him, tears falling from her eyes in silence as she stood up and walked to the edge of the second pool.
Jim watched, amazed, yet not surprised, as a dark skinned man of nearly his own height rose from the depths of the pool. The man was dressed in robes that reminded the Sentinel of the Arabs that he'd seen while stationed near Bahrain with the Army. The Arab held out his hands in greeting to Eolia, and she joined the man in the pool, standing in the water that came up to her thighs. Her smile for the man was radiant and her eyes reflected the joy she was feeling.
"Jim? This is Azir el'Sadih. My husband. I have to leave you now, but I cannot go until I hear from your own lips that you will try to patch things up between you and your Guide."
She held out a hand towards him, and he moved forward to clasp it within his. "Lee, I promise. What ever it takes, Sandburg and I will try to work through this." He let go of her hand and stepped back away from the pool's edge. "Go now. Complete your journey that will restore you fully to Azir."
Opening his eyes, Jim was a little set aback to see that he was standing near the funeral pyre, and the thought that he had spoken his last words aloud settled over him. Still holding his burning torch, Jim let lose a sad sigh, then with a heave tossed the brand onto the pyre, watching as it sailed through the air to land on the linen enshrouded body of the woman he'd come here to say good bye to. With a roar, the specially treated linen began to burn and the smoke and flame that rose from the conflagration seemed to twist into a strange fire-painting of the woman's face. A face that was smiling and serene, her hair blending flawlessly into the tongues of flame as they reached for the heavens.
Though he knew it had to be a trick of sound, maybe a piece of wood that hadn't completely dried out, Jim shivered as a voice cried out in joy, even as the vision of Eolia's face disappeared in the flames and was swept upwards on plumes of white smoke.
He could still hear Diandra chanting her song of mourning, but Jim had had enough. He turned on his heels in the soft loam of the clearing and headed back towards the cabin, only to be halted by Blair's hand on his shoulder. "What is it, Chief?" he ask, his voice sounding tired, even to his own ears.
The words had no sooner left his lips than the soft chanting that Diandra had kept up through the entire funeral stopped. Blair nodded towards his lady. "Okay, I guess we're done here. Jim? Did you see and hear what I did?" The student jerked his head back towards the still burning pyre, hinting without words just exactly what he was referring to.
Allowing his gaze to return to the burning object, Jim nodded curtly. "Yeah, I saw it. As for what we heard, I'm sure it was just a piece of wood that hadn't dried out completely, nothing more."
"Uh, huh. Right." Blair clasped his shoulder one last time before leaving Jim to walk over to where Diandra stood shivering in the cool wind that had started to blow in from the lake.
Looking out over the green-gray waters, he could just barely make out the squall line that was moving in. Carefully opening up his hearing, Jim could hear the distant thunder of the storm, much like the thunder he'd heard in the Temple of his vision. "Goodbye, Lee."
Facing back towards the small group that still waited, Jim saw that Megan and Blair had moved in to help steady Diandra. LaFollet looked just about like he felt, like he'd been pounded flat on a rock and left to dry in the sun. Jim's headache was back.
Diandra opened her eyes to find the pyre nearly burnt down to ashes, and the sun beginning to set behind her. Blair grasped her arm as she took a step and staggered. "Damn...how long was I gone?" She felt Megan supporting her from the other side.
"A couple hours. Joe and Adam went down to the cabin, but the rest of us stayed," her partner answered.
She looked up then, first at Jan-Michel, then at Jim. Both men looked like they had been put through a wringer. "What in the hell was in that stuff you threw on the fire?" Jim growled. "It gave me a hell of a headache."
"I really don't think you want to know, Jim," Blair answered for her.
Dee slid her arm over his shoulder and leaned on him as they started toward the cabin behind Jim, Megan and LaFollet. Her stomach growled. "Goddess, I'm hungry." She shivered. "And freezing."
Taking off his jacket, Blair helped her into it. "Come on. I'll take care of you." He wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek.
Smiling, Dee nuzzled him back. "I know you will."
Pausing at the bottom of the trail, Jim looked back up at them. "Hurry it up, you two. I really would like to sleep in my own bed and not on a cold floor tonight."
"We're coming!" Blair yelled back. Lowering his voice, he said, "I'm glad that's over."
Dee gave him a squeeze. "So am I."
Adam made sure that Joe was comfortable in Duncan's cabin before he headed back up the trail to the burial site. He passed the rest of the party on the way, exchanging a few short words with them, telling them he'd catch up by the time they were ready to leave the island. He had one last duty to fulfill. One last, self-appointed duty for his Student/Wife that only he could perform.
The sun had nearly sunk behind the approaching squall line when Methos completed his task and headed back down the trail to the cabin. There, refusing to eat the sandwich Dee had saved for him, he helped Joe back down to the dock, and the mourning party took their leave of the island. The island would now hold very special memories for him; one day he would have to return here. It was peaceful, serene, and now it held a small part of his heart, in scorched earth on a cliff.
Dee fumbled with her seatbelt as Megan pulled her Tahoe to a stop in front of the departing flights door at the Cascade airport. Hopping out of the SUV, she was heading around to the rear of the vehicle to grab her suitcase when Jim said, "Diandra, don't worry about it. Sandburg and I can take care of it. Go help Connor find a parking place." Shrugging, barely hiding a grin, Dee crawled into the passenger seat. This was working out better than she'd planned.
A few minutes later, Megan had parked the car in the covered garage, and the two women were walking back toward the terminal. They were starting across the covered walkway connecting the two structures when the companion paused, looked back toward the car, then at Dee. "You don't have your sword." The Immortal started to reply but Megan cut her off. "And don't tell me Sandy and Jim took it out of the back. I know you only put two bags in there, and neither one was your sword case. What in the hell is going on?"
"I think I'll be safe enough without it, and it's such a pain to take on trips. Miles of paperwork." She started walking toward the terminal again, but Megan caught hold of her arm.
"Wait a bloody minute! What about never knowing when the challenge is going to come? What about being prepared? Didn't your encounter with Ventriss teach you anything?"
Dee ran a frustrated hand through her hair. "Pajara, it isn't what you think." Damn it, she was going to have to tell her.
Blair glanced at his watch, then toward the entrance from the garage. "We're going to be late. We'll miss our plane." Jim chuckled softly. "What? What's so funny?"
"You, Chief. I've never seen you obsess over being late for anything."
The anthropologist shifted his backpack higher on his shoulder. "Yeah, well, I've never gone on a romantic vacation before, okay? I'm a little nervous. I mean, twenty-four hour togetherness is going to be something new for us." He sighed. "At least I checked the bags so we can go straight to the gate."
"I'm sure you'll manage just fine, and--" he gazed out the glass doors, "they're crossing the skybridge now."
Blair gazed up at the Sentinel, frowning. "What about you? Will you and Megan be okay? What if you zone? Will she be able to pull you out of it?" He couldn't help the stab of guilt he felt. Things still weren't back to normal between them, and he was beginning to doubt they ever would be.
"Sandburg--" His name was turned into a growl. "Connor and I will be fine. I hate to admit it, but she seems to be growing on me." His expression seemed to indicate he meant like a fungus, but Blair wisely didn't comment.
A blast of cold air hit the two men as the door opened and Dee and Megan entered. "Everything all set?" Dee asked, walking over to Blair and hooking her arm through his.
"Yeah, everything's fine. Bags are checked, so we need to head to the gate."
"You got everything?" Jim asked. "Cause if so, Connor and I are going to take off. Jags are on in half an hour."
Megan's smile reminded Blair of a crocodile's. "Oh, no, Jim, I told Dee I'd go to the gate with her. Come on, the plane leaves soon. It'll be fun."
Jim rolled his eyes, but followed the trio toward the security checkpoint. Dee and Blair passed quickly through the x-ray and the metal detector, but Jim and Megan had to show their badges and wait until the guards received clearance from their supervisor to let them onto the concourse with their weapons. Finally they headed toward the gate.
"I don't see why we had to come with you. We took so long back there that you'll only have five minutes before you board," Ellison grumbled.
Megan punched him lightly in the arm. "Don't be such a spoilsport."
They reached the gate to find that the boarding process had already begun. "Let's wait until the line goes down a bit. I hate getting on the plane and just sitting," Dee said. She observed them for a moment, wondering if she was doing the right thing. Megan had her hands in her pockets, a barely contained grin on her face. Ellison kept checking his watch and rocking back and forth on his heels like a runner at the starting line. Her lover was digging in his backpack for his ticket, and the sight of him with his unruly curls spilling around his face and his glasses sliding down his nose did incredible things to her insides. Goddess, she wanted him, wanted this so much...
When the line had dwindled to a few stragglers, Dee reached into her pocket and pulled out the envelope holding the tickets and the auto and condo reservations. Taking a deep breath, she stepped in front of Ellison. Grabbing hold of his hand, she placed the folder in it. "Happy Holidays, Jim," Diandra said softly, then stepped back.
Jim dropped his gaze to the tickets, then looked back up at her. "What is this?"
"That is a trip to the beautiful, peaceful island of Kauai for the two people who could use it the most--you and Blair." She knew this was the right thing to do, the only thing she could do, to try and fix what she had nearly broken.
She felt Blair stiffen beside her as he inhaled sharply. "Dee!"
She held her hand up to forestall any protests. "I've already made arrangements with Captain Banks. You have the week off with his blessings. And yes, it's my suitcase, but it's filled with your clothes, Jim. All I ask is that you try and repair the damage I did."
Ellison looked at the tickets again, and then at her, his expression slightly stunned. "I don't know what to say, Diandra. I...thanks."
The Immortal turned to Blair and, taking his hand, led him a few feet away, giving them the illusion of privacy. Once there, Blair let loose in a hushed whisper. "Dee, what are you doing? This was our trip! We planned this together. I thought you wanted to go with me--"
"I did and I do, Lobo. Now is just not the time. Jim needs the time to work through whatever feelings he had for Lia, and you need the time to reconnect with him, Guide to Sentinel."
For a moment he looked like a kicked puppy, then the hurt in his eyes turned to terror. "You will be here when I get back won't you? You're not going to run out on me again, right?" His fingers clutched at her arm, telegraphing his fear.
She captured his face in her hands, lifting his chin so his eyes met hers. The pain she saw there cut her deeply, and she understood his fear. He'd just gotten her back, and now it felt like she was pushing him away once again. "I promise you I will be here. I will always be here for you." Tilting her head down, she kissed him tenderly. When they finally parted, she whispered, "I love you, Lobo."
"I love you, angel." Blair hugged her tightly, then reluctantly let go as the gate attendant announced the last boarding call.
Dee watched as he made his way down the jetway behind Jim. This was the right thing to do. They needed this time together, without distractions, to work things out. Moving to look out the window at the plane, she could see Blair taking his seat by the window, Jim settling in beside him. As the plane began to move away from the terminal, Dee felt Megan's hand come to rest on her shoulder.
"Come on, Dee. Let's go back to my place. We've got a lot of packing to do."
The Immortal gave her friend a grin. "Is it too late to call the plane back? I've changed my mind; I think we should be the ones going to Hawaii."
As the two women began to walk back through the terminal, Megan laughed. "Well, you know, if we get me all moved in the next couple of days, I wouldn't complain if you wanted to treat me to a trip to the beach."
Hmm, now that was an idea....
"I am Jan-Michel LaFollet, a Watcher who has lost both of his Immortals in a short amount of time. But I have a new Immortal to Watch -- John Wyatt." I snap off the mini-recorder to look over at my traveling companion and the urn sitting in his lap. "Mr. Pierson, are you sure you want to do this?"
"I'm sure. Now finish your Chronicle entry on yourself, we've a plane to Paris to catch."
Snapping the recorder back on, I finish my entry. "I've been assigned to follow this new Immortal, who was brought to the attention of the Watchers after mysteriously showing up in Cascade, Washington. He seems to have been taken under the wing of an Immortal the local Watchers do not recognize. Mr. Wyatt and his Teacher are apparently traveling to Paris, France. I am using the cover of visiting the Watcher Archives with Historian Adam Pierson to see if we can find a record of this Teacher and to keep an eye on Wyatt." I close off the entry and turn to face my new Teacher. "Pierson, where is it you said you were going to take Eolia's ashes?"
I watch as Adam Pierson lovingly caresses the ceramic urn cradled in his lap, his sharp, drawn features softening in the light of the fading sun shining through the windows looking out over the airport departure area. "Home. I'm taking her home."
His voice is soft, tinged with grief and loneliness, a feeling I'm becoming all too familiar with, having lost two good friends in just over three months. "And just where on Earth might that be?" Okay, I'm curious. Besides, while Lee had been able to tell me most of her life's story before she was killed by Bradley Ventriss, she didn't recall where her 'home' was.
"You can't come with me, LaFollet. You haven't the travel passes to get you into the area."
"Damn it!" Yes, I'm a little angry with my new Teacher. And his conciliatory tone just doesn't set well with me right now. I'm hurting too much, playing that damn 'What-If' game in my head. What if I'd told Lee how I felt about her before she got tangled up with Ellison? What if I hadn't tried to follow the Immortal who had attacked Diandra Pallas? What if Azir hadn't died in Seattle? Sighing, I push away the thoughts crowding my head. "Don't you think I have a right to know?"
I try to keep my tone low, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to myself, or to this strange man who has become both my Teacher and my new Watcher Mentor. But something makes the man change his mind.
"The former Soviet State of Georgia. The Celtoi, Eolia's tribe, were from that area. It's where I first ran into them anyway, many, many years ago. Besides, the Greek authorities wouldn't give me permission to scatter her ashes where they really belong."
"And where would that be?"
He chuckles, a sad laugh, but the first time I've seen him relax since he arrived in Cascade. "Where she and I were married, and lived off and on for a while. Mycinia, but it's called something else today."
Eolia was married to Pierson? What else did she not think to tell me when I begged for her life's story? Was Pierson merely her first husband in a long life, or was he her Teacher? If that's correct, Lee told me the legendary Methos had trained her! Is Pierson that Immortal? The one who was reportedly part of the truth behind the Christian belief of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? What kind of Immortal has Pallas hooked me up with? Just how old is Adam Pierson, anyway? I sink back into the chair with the feeling that my training as an Immortal is going to be one very long and strange trip indeed. Then again, maybe I'll enjoy the ride -- if I can keep my head.
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