Title: Immortal Companion
Category: Crossover Highlander/The Sentinel/X-files
Jim Ellison pulled his truck into a parking space in back of the loft. An expression of mild irritation crossed his face as he glared at the dark green Jeep Cherokee parked in the space clearly marked "Tenants Only". In his head, he clearly heard his partner's voice chastising him for his uncharitable thoughts. "But Jim, we are getting a new neighbor…" About time too. The noise from the renovation of the living space across the hall from the loft he shared with Blair Sandburg had been driving his heightened senses batty for weeks. First it had been the noise and the dust from the contractors, then the harsh odors of paint and varnish. All the activity had ended a week ago, but there had been no sign of the new occupant. Perhaps they were finally moving in, he decided, giving the owner of the Jeep the benefit of the doubt.
Cocking his head to one side, he made a quick check of the building, and heard no sound from either the loft or the apartment across the hall. Well, maybe the Jeep was parked illegally. He did find it a little strange that Sandburg wasn't home yet, as it was going on 7pm, but Jim supposed he could have been held up at the university, getting ready for the start of the summer semester.
He was reaching for the key to switch off the ignition when the police radio crackled to life. "All units…robbery in progress at the corner of Prospect and 53rd. Suspect is armed, possible hostage situation." Jim picked up the microphone to respond to the call as he backed the truck out and sped toward the location three blocks away.
Extending his hearing, he clearly heard a single shot, and his gut clenched in terror. He knew, he just knew his guide was in trouble.
Blair Sandburg hitched his backpack higher on his shoulder and turned the corner toward the loft. Pushing a strand of sweat dampened hair off his forehead, he scanned the street for his partner's blue and white pickup. Good, Jim wasn't home yet. That gave him plenty of time to head to the grocery for the items he needed for dinner tonight. Heading around the side of the building toward the entrance, he literally ran into a tall woman carrying an armload of boxes.
Both of them grabbed for the tumbling cartons, only succeeding in dumping their contents to the ground. "Ow!" Blair exclaimed, as one particularly large tome landed on his foot.
"I'm so sorry!" the woman apologized as she knelt to pick up the scattered books. "I didn't see you! Are you all right?"
She glanced up at him then, and Blair found himself looking into the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Jim's eyes were blue, and so were his own, but her eyes were…electric, that was it, electric blue. As he stared, her lips curved and parted in a million-watt smile. "Um yeah, I'm okay," he managed to mumble. Remembering his manners, he bent down to help her. "I'm Blair Sandburg, and if you're moving in, you must be our new neighbor."
The dark haired woman extended her hand across the box she was rapidly filling. "I'm Diandra Pallas. I'm moving into 308."
"Which is right across the hall from Jim and me." He grabbed a couple books and shoved them in a carton. "Do you need any help getting the rest of your stuff upstairs?"
"Thanks for the offer, but I only have a few more boxes in my Cherokee. The movers took care of most of it this morning."
"I'll help you with whatever you have left," Blair volunteered, gathering up his now full box and getting to his feet. He followed Diandra into the building, his eyes taking in the long chocolate hair swept up in a French braid, the white tank top clinging damply to her well muscled back and shoulders, and the trim hips and legs filling out a pair of cutoffs like she had been poured into them. She appeared to be about his age or a few years older. He wondered if she was single.
On the ride up in the elevator, Blair racked his brain for a topic of conversation more intelligent than asking if this was her first time in Cascade. Glancing down at the top book in the box he was carrying, he grinned. "Hey, I read this book, Daughters of Artemis, a couple of years ago for an undergrad class. I thought it was fascinating."
Diandra raised an eyebrow at him. "Oh really? What class would require you to read a fictionalized account of life among the Greek Amazons?"
Blair felt his cheeks grow hot. This was so not where he'd wanted this conversation to head. "I…um, took a Women's Studies class…and it was one of the required books…."
She was grinning at him now, enjoying watching him squirm. "And you took the class because you thought it would be an easy 'A' and you could meet women?"
Man, she had him pegged. His blush deepened. "Yeah, but it didn't quite work out that way. I had to write more papers for that class than any other that semester, and I found out that a lot of the women in the class were…um,…let's just say they embraced the values that Daughters of Artemis espoused."
She was laughing, a deep, throaty chuckle that made Blair's predicament worse. Now he was embarrassed and turned on. "Is that a polite way of saying they were lesbians?" she asked.
"Uh, well, not exactly." He was saved from further humiliation by the elevator doors opening. As they walked down the hall to her apartment, he tried changing the subject. "So, is this your first time in Cascade?"
She opened the door and gestured with her head for him to go inside. "Yes, actually it is. I've lived quite a number of different places, but I've found myself spending the majority of it in the Pacific Northwest the last couple of years."
Following her lead, Blair set his box down on a dining room table already covered with cartons and took a look around her apartment. It was twice the size of the loft, having been converted from two apartments into one. The entrance opened into a combination living room/dining area and the kitchen was to the right of the front door, separated from the dining area by a tall counter. A large bookshelf and entertainment center separated the living area from an airy open space in the middle of the loft. It reminded Blair of a dance studio, with a wood floor, and mirrors along one wall, while the opposite wall was lined with French doors leading to a balcony similar to the one in the loft. Large boxes and sheet-covered furniture were jumbled across the open area, but Blair doubted that was their permanent location. A spiral staircase at the opposite end of the studio led to the upper level of the apartment, and he figured the bedroom must be up there. The wall under the upper level had a door at either end, and the expanse of blank wall in between the doors was covered with racks or brackets of different sizes. Idly he wondered what would eventually hang from them.
"Wow, this is so cool. Way bigger than Jim's place," Blair said.
Diandra shrugged. "I still have a lot of work to do, but I should get settled before school starts."
She smiled at him and headed back out into the hallway, waiting while he unlocked the door to the loft and dropped his backpack inside. "I'm teaching at Rainier University."
"Talk about coincidence! I teach there too! Well, actually I'm a teaching fellow. I'm working on my doctorate in anthropology," he said in explanation.
"Guess that explains the interest in Amazons then," she said.
"Oh, I was interested in Amazons long before I decided to study anthropology. My favorite book as a child was Bullfinch's Mythology."
They exited the building and headed toward Diandra's jeep. She shot him a grin over her shoulder as she opened the back of the truck. "He got most of the myths wrong, you know, especially the ones about the Amazons. All that stuff about a magic girdle was made up." She handed him a case from the stack in the jeep.
Blair grabbed the handle, wondering what it held. It was long and narrow, and reminded him of a music instrument case. "So the Amazons' power didn't come from magic. Then how did Hercules defeat them? For that matter, what was with all the Greek heroes taking Amazon queens for their wives?"
"Boy, you ask a lot of questions!" She handed him another case, took two for herself, and headed back toward the apartment. "But I will be happy to answer them. It'll get me back in practice for lecturing. First of all, who says Hercules defeated them?"
Blair stared at her, suddenly tongue-tied. "Uh, everyone…?"
Diandra shook her head, a strand of hair escaping from her braid and flying into her eyes with the motion. She blew it out of the way, and stabbed at the elevator button with her elbow. "Think about it, Blair. What was the position of women in Greek society 2500 years ago?"
He pondered the question for a moment. "Barely more than slaves."
"And what would a society that treated its women as chattel think of a society of entirely self sufficient women warriors? Don't you think that would have rankled quite a bit, especially with the male heads of state? It rankled so much so that their society and exploits were downplayed and down right lied about by the writers of the time. The writers were in the employ of said royalty, royalty who didn't want it wrote down for posterity that their great army was defeated by a bunch of mere women. Same thing goes for the marrying the queen thing. What better way to advertise your machismo and virility than to claim to bed an Amazon?"
"And people say I can lecture at the drop of a hat!" Blair laughed as they exited the elevator.
"Sorry, it's just that the Amazon society is near and dear to my heart. I wrote Daughters of Artemis under a pen name, but it was based on my doctoral thesis, which exploded most if not all of the false myths about their society. Unfortunately, most universities have looked upon my work the way the Greek patriarchal society looked at the Amazons. Rainier is actually one of the first that wants me to teach my 'revisionist' Greek history."
Inside the apartment, Blair followed her across the open floor and stacked his cases on top of hers in front of the wall with the brackets. "You wrote Daughters of Artemis? I read that book at least ten years ago…you were a child prodigy?"
Laughing, she gave him that smile again, the one that made him feel like she was full of secrets she would willingly share if only he could figure out the right questions to ask. "I wear my years well," was her cryptic reply. "Besides, didn't your mother ever tell you it was impolite to ask a woman her age?"
They finished moving the rest of her boxes upstairs, bantering good naturedly about a variety of subjects. When they were through, Diandra dug a couple of tumblers out of a box and offered him a drink of water. Blair accepted, and she poured them both a glass from a bottle she took from the fridge. He couldn't help but notice that the bottled water was the only item in there.
"I guess you haven't had time to get to the grocery yet. There's a little market a couple blocks from here. I have to pick up some stuff myself, and I'd be happy to go with you and show you where it is."
"Great! Let me just grab my wallet and freshen up a little and I'll be right with you," she replied.
"How about I meet you in the hall? I need to grab my list and money too." Seeing her nod in response, Blair bounced across to the loft, unable to contain his delight. What a beautiful, wonderful, fascinating, intelligent woman! And with any luck, Jim would be tied up at work, and he could invite Diandra to dinner. Oh, man, Jim! What if once she met Jim she lost all interest in him? If what she had said about her age was true, she was probably closer to Jim's age than his. "Stop it, Blair, just stop it!" he told himself fiercely. "Jeez, you've just met the woman and already you're planning her role in this soap opera you call your life. It's only a trip to the grocery store for god's sake. Everything has gone perfect up 'til now. Nothing is going to go wrong." Still, he couldn't seem to entirely get rid of the feeling that something momentous, and bad, was about to happen.
Racing toward the crime scene, Jim focused his hearing outward, straining to hear if his guide was all right, or, please god, not involved at all. What he heard made him press the accelerator closer to the floor.
A woman was speaking, her voice filled with concern. "You're going to be fine, Blair." The sentinel recognized the strangled moan that followed as his guide's. The woman spoke again, strain evident in her voice, "Sorry, Lobo, I know this hurts worse than getting shot…"
A weak "Jim…" followed another groan from Sandburg
"Shhh….It's going to be okay, mi corazon." The woman's voice was a soft whisper, barely audible above Blair's fading heartbeat.
Ellison brought the pickup to a sliding stop in front of the market. A black and white was already parked in front, and he could hear sirens in the distance. Leaping out of the vehicle, he sprinted towards the store acknowledging the uniformed officer's shout of "All clear, ambulance on the way!" with a nod.
The sight just inside the door was a scene from Jim's worst nightmare. His guide was sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood, his eyes wide and staring, an expression of fear and pain etched on his features. A dark-haired woman knelt next to him, her hands over his heart. As she turned her face toward him, Jim had a brief glimpse of her eyes, two brilliant, blue flames, before they rolled back in her head and she pitched forward over Blair in a dead faint. Jim felt himself falling into the long spaces between his guide's heartbeats, helpless to stop the zone out. If Blair died, he didn't want to come back.
Dee headed up the spiral staircase to change her clothes. Sighing as she reached the top, she surveyed the bedroom's jumbled contents. There was no way she was going to be able to sleep up here tonight, not with the bed frame in pieces and the mattresses leaning against one wall, effectively blocking the entrance to the bathroom.
Digging through some boxes, she found a pair of jeans and proceeded to change, thinking back over her meeting with Blair Sandburg. What a shock that had been! She should have known, though, that nothing about her life would ever be normal again, after the events of the past two years. But Blair had been a huge surprise in spite of her knowledge that the fates had cursed her to live in "interesting times." When she had looked up at him after he had run into her, Dee had automatically opened up her "other" sight, a habit drilled into her from her youth, and had almost been knocked on her butt. It had been like walking from a pitch-black room out into the desert sun. His soul shone like a beacon, its siren call beckoning her. She had closed her "other" sight then, but she had seen enough to know he was a companion, bound to a champion, though the bond was new, only a couple of years old at most, and nowhere near its potential power. Nor did Dee think he fully understood his own potential. She had picked up on the feeling he thought of himself as a sidekick, an appendage, almost a hindrance, to his champion, rather than an equal.
She tried to remember the last time she had run into a champion/companion pair. It had been in the South Pacific, she knew, but what year? Dee shrugged. It would come to her, it always did. Startled, she sucked in a lungful of air. Her thoughts had sounded just like Lydia then, and despite her best efforts to push the vision away, the image of the tiny, red-haired warrior danced in her mind. She shook her head. She had gone years without thinking about her, and now it seemed like everywhere she turned she was reminded of her. It didn't help matters any that her last student had been the spitting image of the Amazon Queen, and if Diandra hadn't known better she'd have sworn Dana had her soul too. Too bad Lydia's soul was no longer joined to her own; it certainly would have saved her a good deal of heartache if it had been. "Guess it really is until death do us part," she murmured.
Diandra came back to the present with a start. "Blair must think I fell in a black hole," she said aloud. Tucking a few loose tendrils of hair back in her braid, she was turning to head downstairs when her raincoat lying over the top of a box caught her eye. She debated putting it on for the short trip to the store. Goddess, Blair and the memories he was stirring up really had her rattled; she was forgetting the most important lesson she taught her students, always be prepared.
Shrugging on the long, lightweight duster, she descended the stairs. Pausing in front of the stack of cases Blair had helped her carry up from her car, she selected the top case and opened it. Dee ran her fingers over the smooth, ancient wood of the scabbard, then lifted it out of its velvet resting-place. Drawing the katana from its sheath, she moved through a few passes, before tucking it away in the custom holder inside her trenchcoat.
She glanced around the apartment again. It would be a long night, trying to get things organized. As she walked out into the hallway, she decided to clean up the studio first, that way, she could work out in the morning, something she hadn't had time for while preparing for the move.
Blair was waiting for her just outside the door marked 307. He gave her attire a curious look.
"It's supposed to rain tonight," Dee said with a shrug.
"And you believe in being prepared?" Blair responded as they entered the elevator.
"Always," she said with a smile.
Reaching the street, they walked at an easy pace down the sidewalk, Diandra noting that he quickly matched his strides to hers, despite their difference in height. "So, you're a grad student. You must be pretty close to getting your doctorate if they're already turning you loose in the classroom."
"Just have to finish up my dissertation and I can put those initials after my name." Blair grinned at her.
Diandra laughed. "Believe me, those initials are over rated. So what's your dissertation subject?"
Blair hesitated, as if pondering whether or not to trust her with the information. She wondered what could be so sensitive about his paper that he wouldn't discuss it.
Finally, it seemed he came to a decision. "Uh, it's based on some obscure monographs of Sir Richard Burton."
Oh, so that was why he didn't want to talk about it. He's afraid someone will connect his dissertation with his real life role of companion. "I see," she answered thoughtfully, "which monograph in particular? I have some familiarity with Burton's work."
"Sentinels," Blair answered, his voice so low, Dee almost didn't hear him. He visibly flinched as well, as if he expected her to laugh at his subject choice. Jesus, what kind of crap had this kid been given over a stupid paper?
She decided to surprise him. "You know," she said gently, "Burton was the one to come up with the term sentinel to describe the individual in primitive villages with heightened senses. Other cultures had different names for the sentinel and…." She searched her memory for Burton's term. "And guide phenomenon. The ancient Amazons called their nation's protector the Champion, and the champion's partner was the Companion. The two of them worked together to defend the village from attackers, seek out game, and give advance warning of natural disasters. They were respected and revered by the nation. The subject of your paper is nothing to be ashamed of."
Diandra suddenly realized that Blair was no longer at her side. Turning around, she saw him standing a few paces behind her, a look of amazement on his face. As quickly as he had stopped, Blair was in motion again. He caught up to her in a couple bounds, his hair flying behind him, and his hands waving, punctuating his next words. "Oh, wow! I can't believe you've heard of Sentinels. I can't believe you actually believe in them!" His expression grew intense. "Do you have any documentation of the Amazons' Champion? Could I reference it in my work? Have you come across any other incidents of the phenomenon in other cultures?"
Throwing back her head, Dee laughed at his eagerness. "Any materials I have you're welcome to use. Have you really been having such a hard time of it?"
"Oh, man," he sighed, "you don't know the half of it, Dee. You don't mind if I call you Dee, do you?" She shook her head, and he continued. "I've got lots of info and field work with actual people with heightened senses, but not much more background other than Burton's. It's really been what's holding me up."
"You've been working with a Sentinel then?" she asked, trying to get him to talk about his own experiences. She was unprepared for the look of panic that crossed his face.
"I've said too much already," he replied, his anxiety rising.
Diandra frowned. What had him so scared? Without thinking, she opened her sight for a brief moment, focusing it on finding the truth behind his jumbled emotions. What she saw was a large, snarling, growling, blue-eyed, silver wolf. He's protecting his champion, she realized, and ceased her probe. "Sorry, Lobo, I wasn't thinking. Of course you have to protect your subjects. It's okay, your secret's safe with me."
The tension radiated off of Blair for a moment more, then he relaxed. "I don't know how I know, but I feel I can trust you. Thanks for not pressuring me." They walked a few feet in silence, and then Blair said, "Lobo? Where did that come from?"
She grinned at him. "Only fair if you're going to call me Dee. I get to give you a nickname too."
"But 'wolf'? Where did you dream that up?"
If you only knew, she thought. "Just seemed appropriate. Suits your personality. Eager, affectionate, protective of the pack," she trailed off as they reached the market.
Blair held the door for her as they entered. Someone's mother taught him some manners, Dee thought. Picking up a basket, she headed for the produce, Blair trailing along behind. They had spent about twenty minutes shopping, picking over the vegetables for the freshest, and debating the merits of organically grown versus chemically treated, when a loud voice carrying clearly through the small store froze them in their tracks.
"Gimme the money and nobody gets hurt!" The female cashier gave out a frightened squeak.
Tucked around the corner of an aisle, Dee and Blair were out of the robber's line of sight for the moment. Digging into his backpack, Blair produced his cell phone and calmly dialed 911. "This is Blair Sandburg. I'm at Del Amichi market on the corner of Prospect and 53rd. There's a robbery in progress. The robber may be armed. I need some help here!" he whispered into the phone. After receiving assurances that help was on the way, he cut the connection, and peered around the end of the aisle toward the cashier.
Dee planted a firm hand on his shoulder and pulled him back under cover. "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" she asked, her voice low.
"It's okay," Blair replied, "I work with the police, and I recognize the suspect. He took one of my classes a couple years ago. Maybe I can talk him out of this." Shrugging off her grip, he crawled forward again.
Glancing up, Dee caught a glimpse in the security mirror over the front door of something Blair was unaware of. There were two thieves, and they were both armed. One was dumping the contents of the register into a bag, while the other was concealed around the edge of shelves a few aisles away from her and Blair's position. She was distracted for only a split second, but it was long enough for Blair to slip out into the front of the store. "Damn," she hissed under her breath. There was only one thing she could do for him now, and that was take out the second suspect.
Silently, she made her way back down the aisle she was in, and crept up behind her target. He never heard her coming. Her right arm snaked around his neck in a chokehold, and after a few seconds of struggle, he went down.
Dee had been keeping an ear open to what Blair had been doing, and she could hear him trying to reason with the first robber. "Hey, Danny, it's cool, man. You've got the money; nobody has to get hurt." She heard a terrified squeal from the cashier. "You don't have to hurt her, Danny. You got what you want; so go ahead and leave, man, before the cops get here."
Diandra moved toward the cashier's area, keeping the shelves between herself and the suspect's view, while keeping track of what was going on by using the security mirrors. She watched as the suspect headed for the door, gun raised in his right hand, the sack holding the money in his left. "Come on, Robbie, let's go!" he yelled. When no answer was forthcoming, the gunman took a step in his partner's direction. Blair chose that moment to grab for the gun.
Her scream of "NO!" was drowned out by the gunshot. Rounding the corner of the shelves, she witnessed Blair sliding to the floor, his shirtfront covered by a blossoming crimson flower. Scooping up a can from a display, she hurled it at the stunned thief, hearing the bones in his wrist crack as it connected with his hand, causing him to drop the gun. Two long strides closed the distance between them, and a roundhouse kick to the head sent the young punk crashing to the ground.
Dropping to her knees beside Blair, Dee quickly examined him, realizing that if she didn't do something, he would be dead in a matter of minutes. Without hesitation, she placed her hands over the wound, centering herself, then forcing her life's energy though her fingers into Blair, sending his body's own healing abilities into overdrive. In the long seconds that followed a million thoughts crashed through her mind. What if she couldn't save him? She'd never healed anyone hurt this badly before. If he died, she would be responsible…and what about his champion? She wouldn't wish that kind of torture on anyone. She would be responsible for two deaths…
A groan from Blair broke through her self-recrimination. With a start, she realized he was conscious, and could feel everything that was happening to him. Gazing into his wide, frightened eyes, she said, "You're going to be fine, Blair." His only response was a strangled moan. She could feel his tissues healing under her hands, her energy knitting the wound together. She could also feel herself weakening, and knew she would have one hell of a headache once this was over. She apologized for hurting him. "Sorry, Lobo, I know this hurts worse than getting shot…"
"Jim…" he whispered weakly.
She realized then that "Jim" must be his sentinel. How typical that the companion's first thought was of his champion, rather than his own pain. "Shhh…. It's going to be okay, mi corazon," she reassured him.
He was out of the woods now, she knew, and she struggled to finish the job, to neatly close the last of the wound. The sound of someone crashing through the market's front door broke her concentration. Looking up, she found her eyes locking with those of a tall, dark-haired man, whose blue eyes held an agony she remembered only too well. Her last thought before she slipped into unconsciousness was "This must be Blair's champion."
He was drowning, Blair thought. Everything was hazy, and had a peculiar distortion to it, as if he were underwater, and viewing the world through a liquid lens. His chest burned, and against his better judgement, he inhaled, half expecting a rush of water to flood his lungs. Instead the taste of sweet air shocked him into fuller consciousness.
There was a weight of something, no, of someone, he realized, lying on top of him, as his eyes focused on the body sprawled across his own. "Dee?" His cry was barely audible to his own ears. He tried again. "Dee?" It was louder this time, but there was no response from her. Numb fingers fumbled at her throat, relief crashing through him as they found the slow steady pulse. That emergency taken care of, something else tugged at his awareness, needing his attention. The scream of a jungle cat cut through the gauzy film still surrounding his mind. "JIM!" he yelled, sitting upright, dumping Diandra's limp form to the floor.
His vision drawn upward, he saw his sentinel standing over him, eyes blank, face slack in the classic portrait of a zone out. Blair rose slowly to his feet, most of the world spinning around him. He caught at his sentinel's arm, steadying himself, and began speaking to him, falling instinctively into Guide speech. "Jim, it's okay, man. Snap out of it. I'm okay; really, Jim, I'm fine. Follow my voice, come back to me." His hand clutched at the sentinel's, his thumb rubbing over the back of it, providing a distraction. "Turn all the dials down, Jim, your senses are lying to you. I'm okay, I'm okay."
A sharp intake of breath signaled his sentinel's return. Jim blinked slowly, then focused on the anxious face of his guide. "Blair?" This couldn't be him. He was dead; there was so much blood, he could taste the sharp metallic tang even now. Arms wrapped around his waist, and he found himself yanked into a tight hug. A well-known heartbeat pounded against his chest, and Jim dropped his head, burying his face in his partner's soft curls, inhaling the familiar scent of shampoo, sweat, and…blood. "God, Blair, you were dead; I heard your heart stop…"
"No, Jim, I'm fine. I don't know how, but I'm fine." He pulled back to gaze up at the taller man. "Dee…Diandra saved me." The mention of her name reminded him that he had forgotten her in the need to help his sentinel. He whirled around, relieved to find her lying in the position he'd left her on the floor, her chest rising and falling with her deep, even breaths.
"I think she's just unconscious, Chief," Jim said, trying to reassure him. The discussion was interrupted by the arrival of the paramedics.
The technician took in the puddle of scarlet on the floor, the unconscious woman, two unconscious men, and the bloodsoaked Sandburg. "We were told there was a gunshot victim?"
"Uh…" Blair stammered.
"Little mistake in all the confusion," Ellison said, taking charge. "She needs help though. The other two are the perps?" Blair nodded. "Check them out and let the officer over there know if they can be shipped downtown." Throwing an arm around his partner's shoulders, he led him toward the door. "C'mon, Chief, let's go outside and you can explain all this to me."
Blair followed Jim through the market's doors, and across the sidewalk to the truck. He leaned against the fender, suddenly grateful for the support as a lingering wave of unsteadiness passed over him. Jim planted a hand on either side of him, and invaded his personal space. "What the hell happened in there, Sandburg?" he growled.
He swallowed nervously, knowing that Jim's anger was only in response to the scare he'd had, but feeling the butterflies in his gut just the same. "It's hard to explain, Jim…" he began.
"I'll make it easier for you. Who the hell is that woman?"
Blair took a breath. Okay, that was an easy question. "Diandra Pallas, our new next door neighbor." Seeing the scowl on Jim's face deepen, he rushed through the rest of the story. "I helped her move in this afternoon, and when I saw she didn't have anything in her fridge, I offered to show her the way to the grocery, since she was new to Cascade, and I needed to pick up a few things anyway, and you know me, Jim, a trip to the store just can't go smoothly, and so there was this guy holding up the cashier and I was afraid he was going to hurt her, so I was just talking to him, trying to calm him down when he went all crazy and I grabbed for the gun and it went off and…." He paused to take a breath, rubbing the heel of his hand over the center of his chest, the ache of the wound remembered. "And I was dying, Jim…I was dying!" His voice was suddenly all tight and squeaky, but he couldn't stop now. "I could feel the blood pouring out of me with every beat of my heart, and then I was on fire! I didn't think anything could hurt worse than getting shot, Jim, but it did. It felt like she reached inside my chest and pulled my insides out…. And then there was this incredible calm, this peace, and I was floating, and then I couldn't breathe, and I took a breath, and woke up, and you were there, in a zone out, and you know the rest, Jim." He finished his recitation, and stood there, looking up at the older man, waiting for a response.
Sighing, Jim took a step back and shook his head. "You know that doesn't make a damn bit of sense, Chief."
Blair studied the toes of his sneakers for a moment. "Yeah, I know, but that's what happened."
Jim ran a hand through his short hair and unclenched his jaw. "Well, keep that story to yourself for a while okay? Simon's never going to believe that one."
"Sure, Jim," Blair agreed, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Seeing the familiar sparkle in his partner's blue eyes overwhelmed Jim, and he pulled the smaller man into a bearhug, a hand in his hair pressing the anthropologist's head against his shoulder. He felt the other man tense, then relax against him.
"I'm sorry, Jim," Blair apologized. "I didn't mean to scare you like that…"
Jim was about to reply, when a commotion behind them caused him to release Blair and turn around. The paramedics were carrying Diandra out on a gurney, just as she began to regain consciousness. Disoriented, she tried to stand, and in the process slid halfway off the stretcher. The words coming out of her mouth were definitely curses, but not in any language Blair or Jim had ever heard. They both started in her direction when she seemed to remember how to speak English. "Goddamit, get these straps off of me! I am not going to any bloody hospital where you can pump me full of drugs!"
One of the paramedics approached her, something held in his hand. "Damn it, I'm not kidding!" she yelled, kicking out at him. "Get these things OFF OF ME!" Dee struggled to bring her hands up high enough to unfasten the strap across her chest, but she couldn't manage it. Her panicked gaze found Blair behind Jim's imposing form. "Lobo!" she cried almost plaintively, her eyes filling with tears of frustration.
Pushing past Jim, Blair ran to her side, his hands going immediately to the buckles holding her in a twisted position, half on and half off the gurney. "Relax, Dee, it's okay. I'll have you free in just a minute." The strap came loose, and she slid off the pallet into his arms. "It's okay, nobody's going to make you go anywhere you don't want to," he soothed, feeling her trembling against him. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, when her shudders showed no sign of stopping.
Using his shoulders to pull herself into a kneeling position, she nodded against his neck. "I'll be fine," she croaked, "I just need to rest, wore myself out…doing what I did."
Blair slid his arm around her waist, his eyes widening a little as he felt something long, thin and solid under the left side of her coat. Now was not the time to ask about it, he knew. "Okay," he told her, "I'm going to help you up, and then I'm going to put you in Jim's truck and take you home." She nodded against him again, indicating she understood. Tightening his grip on her, he lifted both of them to their feet and headed toward the truck. "Jim, can you get the door, man?"
The muscles in Jim's jaw clenched again, but he did as his partner asked, opening the passenger side door, then standing out of the way as Blair helped her into the pickup. "Give me your keys, man," Blair said, holding out his hand.
Jim dropped the keys into his guide's fingers, feeling uneasiness creeping over him. He really did not want Sandburg anywhere near this woman. "It's okay, Jim. I'm just going to take her home. You finish up here, and by the time you get back to the loft, I'll have dinner ready. Okay? I'm really, really sorry about this."
Jim looked into his guide's worried face and sighed. She'd saved his partner's life, if Blair's story was true. Blair trusted her that much was obvious. Why couldn't he trust his guide's instincts? "Go ahead," he finally said, grudgingly. "Take care of her, and I'll see you later. You both have a lot of questions to answer."
"Sure, Jim, we'll answer all the questions you want, but later." He swung up into the cab of the truck and started the engine. Checking for traffic behind him, he pulled out into a U-turn, and headed for the loft.
At the first stop light, Blair stole a glance at Dee. She was slumped in the seat, her head leaning against the door, but her eyes were bright and clear and fixed on him. He fidgeted under her gaze for a moment, then said "What?"
"Go ahead and ask me. I know you're dying to. Pardon the bad choice of words." She gave him a little smile.
Taking a deep breath, Blair said, "How did you do that? How did you heal me?"
Dee shifted in the seat, trying to find a more comfortable position. "I don't really know. I mean, I do know, but I've never really gone into the scientific how part of it. So the unscientific explanation is I speeded up your body's healing system by giving you some of my life energy, actually, a lot of my own energy. That's why I'm so wiped right now. I know that probably doesn't answer your question, but I think that's the best you're going to get at the moment."
The traffic light turned green and Blair set the truck in motion again. Part of him had a million more questions to ask her, but he knew he really didn't have any right to ask them. After all, he had his own secrets. "Thank you," he said finally, unable to come up with any other words to express his gratitude.
Realizing his words weren't meant for her explanation, but for her actions, she laid her hand on his bicep, squeezing gently. "You're welcome," she responded. "Sorry, it had to hurt so much. I haven't quite figured out why the healing hurts more than the injury."
"Maybe it's because you're compressing weeks or months of pain into a few seconds," he said, his analytical mind already at work on the problem.
"Maybe," she answered with a sigh. "Goddess, my head hurts."
"We're here," Blair announced, parking the pickup behind the building. He helped her out of the truck and upstairs. By the time they exited the elevator, Dee was leaning heavily on his shoulder.
"Keys are in my pocket," she told him.
"What?" Blair said distractedly, trying to find the key to the loft on Jim's key ring, since his was in his backpack at the crime scene. He hoped Jim remembered to bring it home with him. "Oh, your keys. No, no, you're gonna come with me. You're in no shape to be by yourself. Besides, I've seen the mess in your apartment, there's no place to even sit down." Finally getting the door open, he gave her a hand inside. Taking her coat from her, he hung it up on the peg by the door, sneaking a peek at what was hidden inside while Dee's back was to him. He didn't know what he expected to find, but it certainly wasn't a Japanese sword.
"Lobo?" she said, drawing his attention back to her.
He hurried to her side and helped her take a seat on the couch. "I think your coat's ruined. You must have knelt right in my…." He couldn't finish the sentence.
"Hmm?" Dee said, distracted by the pounding in her head. "Oh, bloodstains. They should come right out; they have before."
He so didn't want to know how she knew that. A change of subject was in order. "Now you just lie down and rest," he told her, getting her a couple more pillows and dragging an afghan off the back of the other couch. "Can I get you anything to drink? Some aspirin for your headache maybe?"
Dee couldn't help but smile as Blair fussed over her. "Just some water, Lobo. I don't think I can stomach much else right now."
Trotting out to the kitchen, Blair grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and brought it back, cracking it open before handing it to her. "Do you think you'll be okay for a couple minutes while I, uh, get cleaned up?" he asked, gesturing to his blood stained clothing.
"I'll be fine, 'Mom'," she replied, giving him a wink.
"Don't you start with me too," he shot over his shoulder as he headed for the bathroom, snagging some clean clothes from his bedroom on the way. "Jim tells me I have a 'mother hen' mode."
Leaning her head against the back of the couch, Diandra shot back, "Okay, then you can be my mother wolf, my lobo mama."
Shaking his head, Blair closed the bathroom door behind him, giggling at her comment. The adrenaline rush was wearing off, leaving him punchy. Yanking his ruined T-shirt over his head, Blair heard something hit the countertop and bounce to the floor. Tossing the shirt into the trashcan, he bent down to search for the object, finding it buried in the plush pile of the bathmat. Straightening up, he stared at the small metal slug in his hand, struggling to wrap his mind around the concept of its existence. "This is a bullet; a bullet that was in me; a bullet she pulled out of my chest…" Until this moment, the whole experience had all seemed very surreal. Now it came rushing back to him with painful clarity. Danny's drug clouded eyes, the gun waving around, Danny moving past him toward the back of the store, toward Dee! He saw himself grabbing for the gun, Danny pulling his arm back, his hands on Danny's wrist, over his fingers, trying to wrestle the gun away, his thumb brushing against the trigger, an explosion of sound and the smell of sulfur, and pain, oh god, the pain, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe!
Blair grabbed for the edge of the counter as he retched violently into the toilet. He was still shaking with dry heaves when he heard Diandra's voice outside the door. "Lobo! Are you okay in there?"
"Yeah, " he managed, taking a breath, trying to keep his stomach calm. "I'll be okay in a minute. Just a little post traumatic heaving." Turning on the faucet, he splashed cold water on his face and into his mouth, rinsing away the worst of the taste. Grabbing a washcloth and some soap, he cleaned the blood off his chest and stomach, closing his eyes as he wrung the cloth out under the running tap, not able to face the sight of the blood tinged water swirling down the drain. Throwing the washcloth into the trashcan to join his shirt, he toweled off. Tossing the towel in the vicinity of the towel rack, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. His fingers trailed across the skin of his chest, pausing in the middle, just to the left of his sternum. A dime-sized patch of pale pink flesh marred the even tones of his skin. He brushed his index finger over it lightly, and it faded to white, then back to pink as he removed the slight pressure.
"Blair, are you sure you're okay?" he heard Diandra say once again.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he answered, pulling on a fresh shirt and exchanging his jeans for a pair of sweats. Opening the bathroom door, he found her leaning against the wall in the hallway, her complexion ghostly. "Jesus, Dee!" he exclaimed as he caught her before she slid to the floor. "I thought you were going to stay put." Throwing her
arm across his shoulders, he guided her back to the couch.
"Sorry, but you sounded like you needed help," she murmured, wincing as her headache intensified from her exertion.
Noticing her look of pain, Blair once again offered some aspirin. Dee started to shake her head, but thought better of it. "Don't think that'll have much effect. It's more like a migraine."
"I have some herbal tea I drink whenever I get a migraine. Do you think that will help?"
"It can't hurt."
"I'll be right back, then." He headed for the kitchen and put the teakettle on to boil. "Shit," he thought, "Jim'll be home soon and I promised dinner." He didn't even want to think about what Jim would say when he saw Diandra. Yanking open the freezer, he pulled out some lasagna he had frozen last week and threw it in the oven after adjusting it to the correct temperature. Maybe Jim would end up riding with the suspects downtown and dinner would be ready by the time he finally showed up. Blair opened the refrigerator again and began looking for enough lettuce to make a salad.
Dee scrunched down further into the sofa cushions and listened to the comforting sounds of Blair puttering in the kitchen. For the first time in a long while, she felt herself letting her guard down in another's presence. She gazed around the loft, noting that it was immaculate, yet still managed to feel lived in. Somehow her residences tended to move rapidly from lived-in to messy. If she had to guess at it, she would attribute the neatness to Ellison, and the lived-in to Blair's influence. She idly wondered how they had managed to hook up with each other. She had never met a companion/champion pair that was comprised of such extreme opposites. Maybe that was what she had sensed in Blair when they had first met. Maybe he believed that to increase the bond between himself and his sentinel would mean remaking himself in Ellison's image, something he knew he couldn't do. Or maybe he just didn't know how to bring them closer. It wasn't as if guides were handed instruction manuals when they found their sentinels. A wave of pain radiated through her head and down her neck, causing her to bite her lip to keep back a moan. "Serves me right for trying to puzzle out metaphysics when I'm this tired," she thought.
Blair was back in front of her then, holding out a steaming mug. When he saw how much her hands were shaking, he sat down on the coffee table and closed his fingers around hers, steadying the cup so she could take a sip.
Blair's closeness was almost more than she could bear. She kept her eyes shut while she drank, afraid of what the expression on his face would do to her if she could see it. Feeling hot tears collecting behind her closed eyelids, she tried to force them back. "Dee?" Blair's voice softly queried. She felt him prying the mug from her hands, then running his finger lightly across her cheek. She opened her eyes to find his face inches from hers, his blue eyes full of concern. "There you are," he said. "I was getting worried there for a minute."
Those kind words were too much for her, and her tears spilled over, running in rivulets down her cheeks. "Damn, you must really be hurting, " he said. He was beside her on the couch immediately, carefully pulling her against his shoulder, one hand slowly rubbing her back, the other trying to lightly massage her neck and scalp, but getting tangled in her braid.
"Hair band," she breathed against his neck, and Blair tugged it gently loose, combing his fingers through her hair until it fell in dark waves over her shoulders. He returned to his tender ministrations, and Dee relaxed against him, her heart overwhelmed with the feelings he was instilling in her. It had been so long since anyone had treated her like this, since she had let anyone take care of her. She hadn't realized how much she had missed being fussed over and cared for, how much she had missed letting someone else be strong for a change.
Blair could hear Diandra's breathing even out, and her head slid into a comfortable position on his chest as she drifted off to sleep. He rested his chin against her hair, and just held her, enjoying the feeling of being able to do something to ease her pain.