Ellison shouldered his roommate's backpack and headed toward the loft, glad of the three-block walk. Maybe it would give him a chance to figure out what had happened that evening. Lord knew the employees of the store hadn't been much help, and the one crook that had regained consciousness had no idea what had happened to him. The other was on his way to the hospital with a broken wrist and what looked like a dislocated jaw. The female cashier, who had been the only employee at the front of the store during the robbery, had ducked under her register when Blair and the suspect had begun struggling for the gun, and had stayed there until the uniformed officers had coaxed her out when they arrived. Hopefully the store surveillance tape he had taken into evidence would show what had happened. He planned on going over it at the station in the morning. Right now, he just wanted to get home to his guide, and relax in the knowledge that he wasn't dead, no matter how unsettling the reasons for that miracle were.
That was another thing Jim planned on taking care of in the a.m. He would run a background check on their new neighbor. He knew he should be grateful to her for saving his partner's life, but there was just something that bothered him about her, something he couldn't quite get a handle on, just an instant dislike. If nothing else, looking into Diandra Pallas' past would make him feel better about Sandburg's new acquaintance.
Jim entered the apartment building and took the stairs instead of the elevator, hoping to burn off a little steam, and prevent himself from taking his frustrations out on Blair. He stretched his senses upward as he climbed, and found his guide's heartbeat in the loft where it belonged. Listening a little more closely, he discerned there were two heartbeats coming from the loft, and odder still, they were beating in tandem. Reaching the door of 307, he rummaged through Sandburg's backpack until he found his keys. As he slid the key into the lock, he heard the heartbeats diverge into two separate rhythms, one slow and measured, the other slightly faster, and more animated.
Blair was just leaning Diandra's sleeping form back against the sofa cushions when he heard Jim outside the loft. Thank god he hadn't walked in to find Dee asleep in Blair's lap. That would have ended the night on a swell note. Dee was definitely not a "table leg", and he wouldn't ever want to give Jim that impression.
He looked up as Jim opened the door, setting the backpack on the floor by the small table. Blair raised a finger to his lips, and gestured for Jim to follow him into the kitchen.
"She's here, isn't she?" Jim said in a low voice, barely controlling the growl he felt building.
Sandburg opened the oven door and checked its contents before answering him. "Yes," he replied, turning around and folding his arms across his chest, "she is. Her stuff isn't unpacked yet, and in the shape she's in, I didn't want her to be alone. She can barely stand, Jim. She's not a threat to me, or you. Besides, she just fell asleep, and with any luck, she'll be out the rest of the night." He turned to the kitchen counter and began slicing a carrot. "Dinner will be ready in about 15 minutes."
Opening the fridge, Jim helped himself to a beer. God knew after tonight's events he needed one and the night wasn't over yet. "What makes you think I have a problem with Ms. Pallas?"
Blair turned his head slightly, and shot him a look through a fringe of hair. "It's Dr. Pallas, and you have that look on your face, like a dog that's just discovered someone else has been pissing on his fire hydrant."
Jim choked on his mouthful of beer, and there was a moment of coughing and sputtering before he could even attempt an answer. "That's one way of putting it, Sandburg. I prefer to think of it as being cautious. We don't know anything about her."
"Actually, I know quite a lot," Blair said, moving from slicing the carrot to a tomato. "I spent a couple hours helping her move in this afternoon, and I asked questions. You know, that thing you do when you want to get to know a person."
"And I found out she's lived in the Pacific Northwest for the past couple of years, but this is her first time in Cascade. She's going to be teaching at Rainier, probably in the history department, but she does have a background in archeology and anthropology. She's published at least one novel, and has made a name for herself by forcing the academia to change its whole way of thinking about the Amazons. She drives an '89 Jeep Cherokee, and is into healthy living and lots of exercise, dancing, I think. Oh, and she speaks Spanish, and whatever that language was she was shouting at the EMTs, possibly Gaelic."
Jim stared at Blair for a moment. Sometimes he forgot that even though he wasn't a cop, Blair was just as trained in observation as the best detective. He felt a small smile curve his lips. "Sorry, Chief. I should have figured you'd find out all you could about the most attractive resident in the building."
Blair felt his cheeks grow hot. "It's not like that, Jim, not at all. She's not like anyone I've ever met before, and not because she had the power to save my life."
Ellison felt his smile fading at the reminder, "Um, listen, Chief, I know you are probably uncomfortable talking about what happened, but the employees at the store weren't any help. I know you told me before, but that account wasn't exactly lucid. What exactly did happen?"
Blair scraped the diced carrot and tomato off the cutting board and on top of the lettuce in the salad bowls. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled something out and handed it to Jim.
"What's this?" Jim asked.
Blair ran his hand uneasily through his hair. "I, uh, found it in my shirt when I was getting cleaned up. It's evidence, man. It's the bullet I was shot with."
Jim stared at it, still barely able to comprehend what had happened to his guide. Automatically, he went to the cupboard, got out a ziplock baggie, and dropped the slug inside, writing on the plastic with a marker where and when the evidence had been obtained.
The stove timer dinged, and Blair grabbed a hot pad and removed the pan of lasagna, then went about setting the table. "Jim," he said after a moment, "I remembered exactly what happened when I got shot. I don't want to press charges against Danny. It was my fault; I grabbed for the gun, and in the process of struggling for it, my thumb got caught on the trigger. I shot myself."
The older man stood at the counter, his emotions wound so tight he couldn't move. He shot himself. His guide could have died, and would have taken the best part of his sentinel with him, all because of a stupid move on his part. Jim tried to contain his outrage before he turned around to face him, but he could feel the blood rushing to his face. His piercing gaze pinned Blair to the table. "Don't you ever do something so stupid again!" he hissed, then fell silent, unable to trust himself with any more speech.
"Hey, I don't plan on shooting myself again, man," Blair said, trying to make light of the situation.
Jim grabbed his arm as he moved past him to get the silverware. "I'm not kidding, Blair. If you put yourself in danger like that again, I swear I will kill you myself."
Blair looked up into his anguished blue eyes, seeing perhaps for the first time what his death would do to the older man. "Okay, okay, I promise to be careful. No more heroics, at least for a long while. But if you're in trouble, man, all bets are off." Now it was his turn to nail Ellison with a look.
"If I'm in trouble, you call Simon. That's an order." He released the anthropologist and went looking for his beer.
Dinner was pretty silent after that heated exchange, or at least silent as Blair got. He rose several times during the meal to check on their sleeping guest, and once it was over, he piled the dishes in the sink, yawned, and announced that he would take care of the mess in the morning. Jim agreed, seeing that it was close to midnight as it was.
Sandburg wandered into his room, and emerged a few minutes later carrying a pillow and a blanket. Jim raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm gonna sleep out here on the other couch, in case Dee wakes up. She's likely to be confused, and I don't want her falling and hurting herself."
"Suit yourself, Chief," Jim replied, heading upstairs to his bedroom. "Good night." Even though he was exhausted, Jim was still awake by the time the other man had fallen asleep. He listened to his guide's heartbeat and steady even breathing, once again giving thanks to the powers that be for keeping him in this world. He rolled over, slightly irritated with himself. He could thank some unknown deity, but he couldn't find it in his heart to thank the person who had really saved Blair. Maybe once he viewed the tape of the robbery, and did that background check, he would be able to tell her how much he owed her. Closing his eyes, Jim tuned in to his guide again, barely registering as he drifted off to sleep the sound of another heart echoing the rhythm of his partner's.
Diandra awoke slowly, awareness gradually returning as a small whimper reached her ears. She opened her eyes, and after a few brief seconds, they adjusted to the low light coming through the French doors and the skylight. The sound came again, a little louder, and this time it was followed by troubled breathing. She quickly spotted Blair on the opposite couch, sunk in the depths of a nightmare.
Moving to his side, Dee called his name softly, not wanting to startle him. Blair only struggled further, beginning to hyperventilate. "Lobo," she said, placing her hand on his shoulder, "you're dreaming. Come on, wake up, Blair."
Unconsciously, Blair's hand clutched at his chest, and he gasped for air. He was reliving the shooting, Dee realized. She moved her hand over his heart, gently massaging the area. "It's okay, Lobo. You're just fine. Take a deep breath and hold it, Blair. Now let it out slowly….and again, Blair." Her quiet voice seemed to be reaching him, and she felt his racing heart slow under her fingertips. His muscles relaxed, and he took another long breath, his eyes opening.
"Jim?" was the first word out of his mouth.
"Right here, buddy," Jim's voice replied from behind Dee.
Startled, she jumped at his presence. She had been so focused on helping Blair that she hadn't heard him come down the stairs. Rising to her feet, she stepped back, allowing the Sentinel to tend to his Guide.
"It's okay, Chief, you just had a nightmare," Jim told him, seating himself next to his guide, his hand brushing Blair's sweat-tangled hair out of his face. He continued to reassure him as the younger man tried to breathe deeply, forcing the dream images from his mind.
Sensing she was no longer needed, Dee grabbed her shoes from the floor next to the other couch, and padded across the loft, taking her trenchcoat from its hook as she slid out the door and across the hall to her own apartment. She dropped the shoes just inside the door, and threw the coat over the back of a dining room chair. A long sweep of her arm shoved a row of boxes off her sofa, and collapsing face down on it, she was soon asleep.
Jim pushed the pause button on the remote, and stared at the TV screen. He had not imagined it. Visible to his enhanced sight, he could clearly make out the image in the security mirror. The camera had been focused on the front door of the store, and the cashiers' area, but in the upper right corner of the picture, it showed the large, round mirror. Jim rewound the tape and viewed it from the beginning, this time concentrating on the images in the mirror. He could see Blair and Diandra shopping, both of them smiling and laughing. When the thieves entered the store, both Diandra and Blair ducked down, Blair using his cell phone to call the police. He watched as Blair started toward the front of the store, and Dee stopped him. When she looked up, he realized she had seen something in the mirror, and he paused the tape again, until he too spotted the second suspect.
Hitting play again, Jim ignored what was happening with Blair in the foreground of the tape. He had already watched that horror once, and that was enough. Dee slipped out of the mirror's coverage for a moment, and then she was back, stealthily creeping up behind the second robber, and bringing him down with an expert grip on his neck. Even Jim doubted he could have executed the maneuver any better. Her whole body jerked in reaction to the shot, and then she moved rapidly to the front of the store, her swift actions quickly sending Danny to join his partner on the floor.
She knelt beside Blair then, and put her hands on his chest, over the wound. Jim could see her close her eyes, and take a deep breath. He focused his attention on her hands then, and even with his heightened sight, it was difficult to make out what was happening on the black and white tape, but it looked like there was some sort of electrical energy flowing from her hands into Blair. He watched until it was over, and he had entered the store. It was strange seeing himself in a zone out, and even stranger to see a now perfectly fine Blair springing to his feet to help his partner.
Shaking off the beginning of a zone with an effort, Jim clicked off the tape, and turned to find his captain standing behind him, a horrified look on his face. "What in the hell is that?!" Simon asked. "Is that Sandburg?"
Jim eased himself off the edge of the conference table and stood up. "Sorry, I'm using your office, Simon, but I wanted to view this in private."
"And I can see why! When the hell did this happen?"
"Last night. Sandburg was involved in a robbery attempt at the market down the street from the loft."
"I'd say he was a little more than involved, Ellison. From where I'm standing, it looked like he took a bullet point blank in the chest, and then a couple minutes later jumped up and was fine. Is this some kind of joke? Because I'm not laughing." Simon crossed to his desk and took his seat behind it.
Sighing, Jim pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Banks. "I'm not sure I understand what happened myself, but Sandburg is fine. No injury at all, except for what looks like a small burn mark on his chest. He showed it to me this morning."
"But he was shot; that tape is not doctored in any way, no special effects?"
"No, it's exactly what it is. A security tape of Sandburg getting shot, and then being healed." Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "I was hoping to find some kind of explanation by going over it using my senses, but all I've discovered is that my new neighbor is a female Rambo. And she had the power to save Blair's life."
Simon took a cigar out of his desk and rolled it between his fingers, pondering the situation. "Are the suspects in custody?"
"Yes, one is downstairs, and the other is in the hospital with a broken wrist and injured jaw."
"And we have witnesses that can place them at the scene, committing the crime of robbery?"
Jim nodded slowly, seeing where his captain was heading. "Yes, the cashier, Blair and Dr. Pallas can all testify to that."
Simon laid down his cigar and started to make his first pot of coffee for the day. "Then I don't see any reason we need that tape as evidence. And I certainly don't have any desire to know what really happened, as long as Sandburg is okay. I have to put up with enough strange stuff from the two of you already."
"Thanks, Captain. If the media ever got a hold of it…"
"It would be a nightmare. Now is there anything else you need, Jim?"
Rising, Jim ejected the tape from the VCR. "Um, yeah. I want to run a background check on my neighbor, find out if she was ever in the military, and see if she's hiding anything more sinister than an ability to heal people."
Banks looked back at Ellison, a little surprised. "She bother you that much?"
"She makes my skin crawl, actually, and Sandburg is really taken with her. I just don't want him getting burned," Jim replied.
"You don't think she's another Alex Barnes, do you?"
Jim had not thought about that possibility. "If you're asking if I think she has Sentinel abilities, she hasn't shown any signs of them. Do I think she might be a murdering psychopath? I don't know that either. But either way, all my instincts are telling me she's trouble."
"All right, Jim, I trust your judgement. Just don't step on too many toes when you go poking around in her past. You know the military doesn't take too kindly to people sticking their noses in where they don't belong."
"Thanks, Simon," Jim said as he exited the captain's office.
He spent the next several hours on the computer and the telephone and came up with some unusual, if not suspicious answers. First of all, there was not much record of Diandra Pallas in the US up until about two years ago, when she had come to America from Australia, using a Greek passport. She had entered the US in Seacouver, WA, and after a week's stay there, had traveled to Paris, France. She had remained in France for several months, then returned to the US, and judging by her credit card statements, had spent a good deal of time in New York City. He also discovered she seemed to have a steady supply of money, as her bills were always paid in full, and she had paid cash for her apartment across from the loft. He called a couple of the contractors he remembered as having worked on the place, and found that she had paid them in cash also.
Growing more puzzled by the moment, Jim advanced to her professional life. He found out from calling Rainier that the last job listed on her resume was as a guest lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. There was a gap of eight months between that position and the one at Rainier. Picking up the phone again, he called Georgetown, and from the English department's secretary, he got the name and the extension of one of the professors she had worked closely with, a Dr. Anna Klein. As luck would have it, Dr. Klein was in her office.
"Dr. Klein, my name is Jim Ellison. I'm a detective with the Cascade, WA police department. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about one of your former co-workers, a Dr. Diandra Pallas?"
"Dee's not in any kind of trouble, is she?" Jim could hear the worried tone in her voice.
"No, no, just doing a routine check. Has she been in trouble before?"
"No, not really, I don't think. We weren't very close, she just helped me coach the fencing team, and we had lunch together a couple times." Dr. Klein paused, and Jim swore he could hear the wheels turning in her mind. "Though there was that incident with her boyfriend…"
"It would be really helpful if you could remember anything at all."
"Well, it was all rather confusing, and she was pretty torn up about it. There was this woman that was killed, very gruesome, the papers said someone cut her head off. Diandra happened to be one of the last people to see her alive. Not that she had anything to do with the woman's murder, but her boyfriend, Diandra's boyfriend, worked for the FBI, and he had to question her about it. I don't know if he suspected her or not, but she thought he did. They broke up shortly after that, and then Dee left at the end of the semester. She had an option for the spring semester too, but she backed out of it. Sorry I don't know much else."
"You've been very helpful, Dr. Klein. Thank you for your time." Jim hung up the phone slowly, feeling frustrated. The questions he had been asking all morning had led not to answers, but to more questions. He flipped through the Rolodex on his desk and found the number of his friend at FBI headquarters in DC.
Placing the call, he was once again lucky to find his friend in the office. "Hey, Jim, great to hear from you! To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"
"I'm trying to find out some information on a witness to a crime here in Cascade, Jerry. Her name is Diandra Pallas, and I was told she was questioned by the FBI as part of a murder investigation about 8 months ago."
Jim could hear Jerry's fingers clicking over the keys on his computer. "Pallas, Pallas…ah, here we are. The murder victim was a young woman by the name of Violette Crane. She was found beheaded in one of the federal parks, here, which is why the FBI was involved. The case is still open by the way. Not much in the file on the Pallas woman, just that she spoke to Crane the night of the murder after her class."
Remembering what Anna Klein had said about the boyfriend, Jim asked, "Who was the investigating agent on the case?"
More key taps filtered through the phone wire. "Oh, this is a good one. This was Spooky's case."
"Yeah, Spooky Mulder. He ends up with all the weird shit down in the basement. And now that Mulder's name has entered the picture, there was another beheading a couple weeks after the Crane woman. And what's really nuts, Jim, is that it happened right here in the FBI parking garage, after hours. Let me see if I can pull that record up. Yeah, yeah, this one is still unsolved too. I bet Mulder got his ass chewed good over this one. The woman that was killed? She was a Scotland Yard Inspector. Same MO, forensics said it was done with some kind of sword, though there were quite a few differences in the crime scenes, and the ME didn't think the same sword was used on both victims. Something about the edges being different."
"Jerry, I can't tell you how helpful you've been."
"Say, you haven't had any beheadings out there have you?"
"No, no, and I sure hope we don't. Do you have a number where I can reach Agent Mulder?" Jim wrote the number down when his friend gave it to him. "Thanks again, Jerry." He disconnected the call and leaned back in his chair.
Well, well, well, this was becoming very interesting. He now had one professor who helped coach a fencing team linked to two murders committed with swords. Agent Mulder must have been blind not to see any connection. "Ah, but you're forgetting, Jim, he was sleeping with her," he reminded himself. "And that makes a hell of a lot of difference." So would Mulder have looked the other way? A good question and one Jim would be sure to ask him.
The sound of insistent knocking woke Diandra. Groggily, she sat up, rubbing her cheek where the ribbed pattern of the sofa cushion had imprinted itself. She stumbled to the door, tripping over her shoes, which were still lying where she had dropped them the night before. Kicking them out of the way with a muttered oath, she opened the door to find Blair waiting patiently, his arms full of groceries, his face beaming. "Good morning," he said cheerfully. "Are you feeling better?" Without waiting for her reply, he continued. "I picked you up some stuff, since you never did get any supplies last night. Just the basics, milk, eggs, bread, coffee…"
At the mention of coffee, Dee grabbed his arm and dragged him inside, pulling him into the kitchen. "You don't know how much I need a shot of caffeine," she told him. "You're a life saver." As Blair set his packages down on the counter, she leaned over and impulsively kissed him on the cheek. He flushed beet red, but Dee had already turned away, hunting for the coffee maker, which she located under the sink. Setting it on the cabinet top, she plugged it in. "Would you mind?" she asked, waving her hand towards it. "I really need to take a shower and get out of these clothes."
"Sure, no problem," Blair replied, biting back the first suggestive answer that came to his mind. Giving him a broad smile, Dee headed upstairs. A few moments later, he could hear her cursing, followed by a thump, then she called over the railing, "It's okay, I just forgot the mattresses were in front of the bathroom door." The sound of running water filled the loft shortly thereafter. Humming softly to himself, Blair set about unpacking the groceries and locating her dishes.
When Dee came downstairs again, having changed into biking shorts and a T-shirt and pulled her still damp hair up in a ponytail, she found Blair had cleaned off her dining room table and set it with a small feast. There were bagels and cream cheese, strawberries, grapes, orange slices, and melon arranged artistically on a large platter. He'd even managed to find two coffee mugs and her silverware.
She paused in the passageway between the studio and the entertainment center to compose herself. "Oh, Lobo," she thought, "you are making it so easy for me to fall for you, and that wouldn't be good for either of us." She felt the rush of emotion hit her then, painful memories of what her involvement with Fox had done to him. She would not make that mistake again; Blair was already too precious to her. Swallowing past the large lump in her throat, she entered the dining area. "Hey," she said quietly.
A soft smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Glancing up at her almost shyly through his wire-rimmed glasses, he said, "I hope you're hungry."
"Starving," she replied, pulling out a chair and taking a seat. Blair brought over the pot of coffee and filled her mug for her.
Seating himself, Blair reached for a bagel and proceeded to spread it with cream cheese. "So, what are your plans for the day? If you want, I can take you over to the university and show you around."
Dee sipped at her coffee and considered the offer. "That sounds great, but not today. I still have a long way to go to get this place straightened up. Putting the bed together is the first item on my list. In case I have to save the world again today, I'd like somewhere a little more comfortable to crash afterwards."
"I could help you," Blair said immediately. "Four hands will get the job done in half the time."
She felt herself smiling at his boundless enthusiasm. "I'm not going to pass that offer up. But are you sure you have the time, Lobo?"
"Yeah, I'm not teaching at all this summer, just working on my paper. If I wasn't helping you, I would be at the library, or down at the station with Jim."
At the mention of Jim's name, Dee began to reconsider accepting his offer. She didn't want to come between the Sentinel and his Guide. "Are you certain he won't need you today?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah, he told me he was going to catch up on his backlog of paperwork today. Normally I help him with that, but he said he didn't need me this time." A slight frown crossed his face as he said it, as if he had just realized Jim had blown his help off on purpose.
"If that's the situation, then okay, I'd gladly welcome your help," Dee said.
After breakfast, they began work in the master bedroom, Blair volunteering to put together the bed frame. After a few minutes studying the instructions, he gave up and asked Dee for her help. Taking the sheet of paper from him, she quickly translated the instructions from Japanese to English for him. That small feat started a conversation about the various places around the world each of them had visited. They had many of the same places in common, most notably the South Pacific islands. Diandra had spent more time in Europe, while Blair had her beat when it came to visits to Latin America. The time passed quickly as they worked as a team, enjoying each other's company.
Finally the bedroom and bath were completed to Dee's satisfaction, and they headed down the stairs to tackle what she referred to as the studio, the large open area between the living room and the upstairs section of the loft. Once most of the large crates were opened, and objects uncovered, Blair discovered she had enough workout equipment to fill a gym. There was a Universal weight machine, free weights, a heavy punching bag, workout mats, and an assortment of gear Blair couldn't even begin to label. Dee opened a six-foot long box and spilled out four wooden poles onto the ground. Blair watched as, smiling, she flipped one up into her hands with her foot, and moved easily through what appeared to be a complex fighting pattern, the staff whistling through the air.
"Guess you're probably wondering about all this," she said, whirling the staff around her head and bringing the end down with a sharp crack on the floor. "I've studied martial arts for years; it's a wonderful way to keep in shape."
"Is that what the sword in your coat is for?" Blair asked. "Keeping in shape?" He immediately regretted the accusatory tone his voice held, but she seemed not to have noticed it.
Diandra carried the staff over to where he stood against the wall, and slid it into a bracket that he now saw was clearly shaped for it. "Partly for exercise," she answered him, "and partly for protection. You'd be surprised at how many muggers turn and run when you draw a sword on them." She gave him a smile. "I've fenced for many years too. I even helped coach the fencing team at the last university I taught at. And I've been a sword collector for a long time. Would you like to see my collection?"
"Sure," Blair replied, and watched as she walked over to the stack of cases he had helped her carry in the day before. One by one, she set them on the floor and snapped open the latches. Each case held two or three swords, of all different types and sizes. Blair recognized sabers, broad swords, foils, epees, a scimitar, a rapier, and two katanas. As he was looking them over, Dee left the studio and came back a moment later, carrying her black trenchcoat. Reaching inside it, she drew a third katana, and showed it to him.
"This is my favorite," she told him, her eyes lighting up the way he knew his own did when looking at important artifacts. "It's over 1000 years old."
Blair stared at the graceful curve of hand folded steel and the elaborately carved ebony hilt. "You're kidding!" he managed finally. "It should be in a museum."
Dee nodded slightly, taking a few steps back from him and lazily rolling the sword from over to underhand with a twist of her wrist. "Probably," she told him, "but I can't help but feel that a tool of such beauty and elegance can only be appreciated when it's used, much the same way a Stradivarius violin needs to be played to keep it's rich tone. If left to molder in some display case, it would eventually deteriorate."
Blair could understand Dee's opinion. He had often felt himself that objects on display in museums were of no educational value if the person viewing them had no conception of how the item had been used. He watched Dee work through some passes with the sword, impressed with the way it became a natural extension of her body. He realized her grace and rhythm could only have come from years of training.
Ending her impromptu workout, Dee mounted the katana on the wall, and turned to Blair. "I think we've done enough for today, and I'm getting hungry. How about I treat you to lunch at the restaurant of your choice, Lobo?" Quickly agreeing, Blair chose a pub just down the street from the loft, for it's convenience, and the fact that neither of them would have to bother with changing their clothes.
Dee waited in the hall while Blair grabbed his backpack, and then they headed to the restaurant. Once inside, and seated in a corner booth, they gave their orders to the waitress. After she had returned with their drinks, Blair pulled a notebook and pen from his backpack. Dee took a sip of her Pepsi and raised an eyebrow at him.
Pulling out his glasses, Blair slipped them on, then flipped through his notebook until he came to a blank page. Glancing up, he caught the quizzical look she was giving him. "I thought I would ask you about the Amazons' Champion and Companion," he told her. "If you don't mind," he hastily added.
Leaning back in her seat, Dee smiled at him. "No, I don't mind, in fact, I was wondering how to bring the subject up."
Now it was Blair's turn to be puzzled. He shrugged it off, though, and asked his first question. "Tell me about the Champion. Did he…I mean, she, have all five heightened senses?"
Dee nodded. "Yes, taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing. Often the Champion was also the most skilled warrior in the nation, but not always. Sometimes that distinction fell to the Companion."
Blair looked up from his writing. "You mean the Guide was a warrior?"
Folding her hands together on the table, Diandra settled into professor mode. "All Amazons were warriors, Lobo. They had to be, to defend their homes. Most of them had other trades as well, but there was a standing army, and the Champion and Companion were an integral part of it."
Blair chewed the end of his pen for a moment. The idea of a guide as a warrior was not a new one to him. Incacha had definitely been one, as well as a shaman, but Blair had never considered that the Guide might be a better fighter than the Sentinel. He had been applying his own experiences to all sentinels and guides, and now he was beginning to see the error in his thinking. After dutifully noting that thought, he looked up at Dee, who was waiting for him to finish writing.
"I…" he started, then changed his mind. "Go on," he said.
"The reason the Companion, or Guide, was trained to fight was to protect the Champion. A village depended greatly on them for survival, and it was only right that the Companion, by necessity always with the Champion, be able to defend her." She could still see a somewhat stunned look on his face. This is a new idea to him? Did his sentinel not really want his guide's help? Unbelievable.
Dee tried a new approach. "Okay, maybe it would be easier to understand if I explained the Amazon method of fighting." She grabbed the salt and pepper shakers, and placed them side by side in the center of the table. "Amazons fought in pairs; each warrior guarding the other's back. They ate together, trained together, lived together. It's what made them almost unstoppable in battle."
"Like the Spartans," Blair interjected.
"Yes, exactly. The idea that the person a fighter was protecting was a loved one, rather than a stranger, was a powerful motivator. It was even more so for the Champion and Companion," Diandra leaned across the table to emphasize her next point, "for their souls were so closely intertwined that the nation considered them one entity. If one died, the other often simply refused to go on, either dying on the same battlefield, or throwing themselves on the funeral pyre of their soulmate. If they didn't kill themselves, they were never the same afterwards, some of them sliding into insanity with no Guide to help them control their senses."
Blair felt his stomach begin to tie itself up into knots, and he knew he wouldn't be able to eat the salad the waitress had just placed in front of him. "Is there….was there any way to prevent that from happening?" he finally managed to ask.
Dee took a bite of her own salad and chewed slowly, considering her answer. "The only solution is prevention. A guide and sentinel must do everything they can to work together as a team, to watch each other's backs, to fight as one. Both champion and companion are better at their jobs when they know the other is safe, and how better to know that, than to be fighting side by side?"
Blair wrote her last words down, underlining them to emphasize their importance. How he would convince Jim of that fact, he didn't know. He picked a bite of chicken out of his salad and nibbled at it, trying to come up with a question that would not lead back along these same morbid lines. After forcing the chicken down with a large swallow of iced tea, he finally said, "The Peruvian guides were also shamen. Was this true of the Amazon champions as well?"
"It wasn't a requirement, no. Each Amazon village had their own priestess, who conducted services in the names of Artemis and Athena, their two primary goddesses, as well as giving tribute to the other gods when necessary. But some champion/companion pairs did have spiritual powers as well, and what you are thinking of as a shaman's power was not restricted to just the Companion. I have records of a champion who was a priestess before she was gifted with her true calling, and she retained her ability to visit the spirit world and divine the truth as the Champion."
They ate in silence for a while, Blair trying to reconcile what she had told him with his relationship with Jim. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that what she had told him made a lot of sense. Jim always wanted him to stay in the truck because he was afraid he would get hurt. Blair always wanted to be with Jim, because he was afraid of something happening to him. They would keep chasing their tails over this until they finally surrendered to the idea that they were no longer two separate people, that they were now two halves of a whole, and in order to remain that way, they would have to learn to face danger together. The notion was a difficult one for even Blair to grasp, and he wondered how he would explain it to Jim.
"A penny for your thoughts," Dee said, interrupting his contemplation.
Blair did not want to discuss his specific Guide/Sentinel relationship with her, so said the next thing that came to mind. "I…uh, I'm still a little shaken up by last night. Sorry."
"If you want to talk about it, I was there too. I understand what you're going through," she said sympathetically.
"I…It's just that I feel so stupid. I mean thanks for saving my life, but you wouldn't have had to except for my own stupidity."
Dee frowned, puzzled. "What are you talking about, Lobo?"
"I remembered exactly what happened when I was struggling with Danny for the gun. I was the one who accidentally pulled the trigger. I shot myself!" Blair shook his head in disgust. "Sometimes I just feel so useless, man!"
Reaching across the table, Dee covered his clenched fist with her hand. "You don't have to feel that way, Lobo." Come on, Blair, she silently urged him. Make the first move, let me help you, let me help you help your sentinel.
"I don't?" he asked, turning pain-filled blue eyes on her.
"No, you don't. I'm a teacher; let me teach you how to handle that kind of situation, how to defend yourself, how to defend your partner."
"Jim doesn't need my help." Blair was surprised at how bitter his voice sounded.
"Hmmm, doesn't need it, or refuses to accept it? A lot of big guys are that way. They're used to doing everything on their own, and their macho bullshit has them insisting a bullet wound is just a paper cut."
Blair jumped in hastily to correct her. "I didn't mean it like that, Dee. Jim appreciates what I bring to this partnership, he does. It's just that he's over protective. He doesn't want me to get hurt. Sometimes I think he thinks I can't take care of myself, like last night."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"I…" Blair's gaze dropped to the table. "Sometimes I think he may be right. It seems like every time I turn around, I'm getting injured, or kidnapped, or being used as a pawn. And I'm just so tired of it," he said, resignedly.
"I can help you. I can teach you what you need to know, teach you to have confidence in yourself again, in your physical abilities, not just in your mind. You need references, I'll give 'em to you."
Looking up into her face, Blair could see that for some reason, this was important to her, he was important to her. "I…I'll think about it, Dee."
"That's good. Thinking about it is good. And you know I won't teach you anything you don't want to know."
"No swords," Blair said emphatically.
"No swords," she agreed. "Just self defense. How to disarm someone without shooting yourself."
Blair felt a laugh bubble up from some forgotten part of himself. "Definitely need to know that one."
Dee released his hand with a giggle, and went back to eating her lunch. She felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and knew she was following the path the fates had set her on so long ago.