Title: A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Three
Beta’ed by t_verano, she who battles mightily with tenses. Thank you, once again. Picture by slipperieslope.
This is the second arc of A Fair Distance. The first arc,Running on Empty, can also be found at sentinel_epic and at 852 Prospect
There are now three Standalone stories from A Fair Distance
The beginning of this story
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain: Chapter Three
“Oh, fuck,” I groused to myself. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t have to like it. Sandburg was fascinated by my dreams of the spirit plane, but I could do without them. Didn’t seem like I was going to have a choice, though. And the sooner I just embraced whatever moral or message or mind-fucking madness was in store for me, the sooner I could wake back up or slide into normal dreams.
I’d happily gone to sleep wrapped up around my guide, secure in the knowledge that there was no way he would leave me as I slept. Okay – so I’d shackled him to me. I wasn’t taking any chances on Blair Sandburg wriggling off my hook before I’d landed him.
The truce we’d agreed on for the night was, for me, the first step towards reconciliation, but for Blair -- I suspected he thought of it as a strange interlude, a bubble of familiarity and comfort that would be popped with the coming of daylight. I was committed to working out our problems; I wasn’t sure Blair was taking things more than an hour at a time.
Everything around me was turning blue and I grumbled that the first time in a year that I get to be in a bed with Blair and my subconscious or whatever gets dream-napped. This wasn’t a good time. I wanted to be able to keep monitoring Blair. The last time I’d surfaced from sleep and checked my watch – and Blair -- it was just past three in the morning. At least the Tylenol I’d given him earlier had lowered his fever, so I hadn’t had to wake him up for meds. Blair was being double-teamed by the strep and mono – his stamina and immune system was shot to hell right now – and I couldn’t rely on him to tell me how he felt. What if he needed me and I couldn’t respond because I was stuck on the spirit plane?
Fucking mystical shit.
’These dreams where I’m back in the jungle and every thing is blue…’ Christ, I couldn’t help but remember when I’d shot the wolf – Blair’s spirit animal – who had turned into a dead and naked Blair. I was not fond of these dreams at all.
I found myself walking along the edge of the jungle, the thick growth of vines and tropical plants somehow weaving together to barricade me when I tried to actually step into the jungle. I was dressed again as the sentinel for the Chopec, a combination of the remnants of my camouflage uniform, tribal markings and skin. I wished I had a machete to cut through the growth so I could get into this strange place. I wasn’t thrilled about entering, but it made more sense than just wandering around the outskirts here. I tried pulling the vines away, but they kept growing back faster than I could yank them away. Christ, this was frustrating. Why the hell was I having this dream if I couldn’t even get in the damn jungle? I hadn’t had any contact with the spirit plane since before Blair had left Cascade. Hadn’t seen my animal spirit sunning itself on the balcony, hadn’t dreamed of big cats and wolves, hadn’t visited the blue jungle.
This wasn’t working, this trying to force my way into the jungle with my hands. I had a hunch, reached into my pants pocket, and felt a familiar shape. I pulled out Sandburg’s pocketknife, which I had placed there for safekeeping -- and to keep my clever partner from getting out of his handcuffs and shackles. I flicked open the biggest blade and tried cutting a vine. The vine parted easily and I quickly slashed my way into the jungle. Once I was past the barricading vines, the jungle looked fairly normal – if being blue could be considered normal.
So now what? Ask for Incacha, look around for my spirit animal, Blair’s spirit animal, camp out, take a nap? What?
I decided to wander around for a while. I hadn’t asked to come here, so let the spirit world approach me.
I thought about how Blair’s knife, the special bar mitzvah knife he’d had since he was thirteen, had assisted me in getting through the perimeter of the jungle. Things didn’t happen on the spirit plane without some meaning attached to them. And I wasn’t dumb. I figured the knife symbolized how I needed Blair’s help. Yeah, I got that already. I wanted to resume our life together, but I was going to have to convince Blair that it was the right step for us. I figured we had some arguments coming up about how that should work. I had the advantage right now since he was in my custody; he couldn’t take off to avoid me.
I hiked for a long time, drank water from a spring spurting out of a rock wall, walked some more. I kept testing my senses, listening and looking for anything that would clue me in about what my task here was. Finally, I stopped and closed my eyes and asked for help from my spirit guide. I took deep breaths to center myself and contemplated the anger that had fueled my feelings about Blair for so long now. After yesterday, I knew that some of my anger at him was anger at myself, for acting the way I had with him. So, why had I acted like such a horse’s ass, and widened the split I’d seen forming between us into an even larger gulf?
Fear -- I was figuring out that my anger had been born from fear. I’d allowed the fear I’d lived with for the last year, no -- longer than that -- the fear I’d felt when I realized Blair was slipping away from me every time he left for his bar job, to take hold of me. So I’d used a highly successful Ellison tactic and poked at my fear with a sharp stick. Only, Blair hadn’t caught on that I was acting out and wanting his absolute reassurance that he loved me and would stay with me. Unconditional love is what I’d been asking for, although it made me cringe now to think of myself as being that needy. Blair, I believed now, had taken my bad moods, nasty comments, and draping myself around Melissa as proof that my feelings for him had changed, and that to avoid talking to him about breaking up, I’d just showed him I had already done the deed. Christ, I’d been such an idiot.
And the sorrow I’d felt when he left me -- I’d buried it deep within the anger that had taken over me. I’d refused to deal with my emotions – I could practically hear Sandburg snort at that revelation – and the result was I had been a surly bastard the whole time Blair was gone. I wouldn’t even talk to Simon about it. But then, how could I when Simon didn’t know the truth about us. He thought I was missing my friend and guide. Losing your lover who was your friend and guide was much worse.
While I was being insightful and all, I at last heard a sign of life in this jungle of mine. A jaguar roared in the distance and my hearing locked onto the location. I opened my eyes and did the piggybacking trick with my eyesight-- that yeah, Sandburg had shown me – and saw my spirit animal up on a ledge of rock. I started after him. I wasn’t sure what would happen when we faced each other, but I figured I needed to do this, if Blair and I were to have a chance of being together without screwing up again.
The path I was on kept narrowing down and the jungle on both sides became thicker and more and more draped with the heavy vines that had stopped me earlier from entering the jungle. Finally, I was very close to meeting up with my spiritual helper. Just a bend in the very narrow pathway to travel, and I’d be able to climb up to the rocky ledge the big cat was lying on, his eyes intently observing my progress.
Except when I made that turn I saw such a thick tangle of vines blocking my way that I knew I was going to have to use Sandburg’s knife again to cut through them. I reached into my pants pocket – but the knife wasn’t there. Ah, shit – I’d lost it. It was special to Blair and I’d lost it. I hadn’t cared for it like the treasure it was, I’d been careless, assuming it was okay where I‘d stashed it. I hadn’t checked on it, hadn’t run my fingers over it to make sure it was where I needed it and in one piece. God, I couldn’t be trusted with gifts like this; only it wasn’t a gift, was it? I’d liberated it from Blair’s backpack and now I was going to have to tell him this special knife of his, one of the few mementos of his childhood, was gone -- destroyed by my carelessness.
Kind of like how my carelessness about Blair had destroyed our relationship.
Crap. I hated it when the spirit world decided to teach me a lesson.
While I was standing there berating myself, the big cat got to his feet and jumped down on the other side of the vine barrier. But after that the space he occupied became a motion of color and textures, and then my mirror image was facing me. He was kind of hard to see because of all the vines in the way and I tried to pull them away again. No luck.
“James Joseph Ellison, Sentinel of Cascade,” my spirit-self called and I stepped closer to the barricade.
“Detective, Captain, Ranger, ex-husband, son, brother, friend.”
The spirit seemed inclined to stop there so I prodded him.
“What about lover?” I crossed my arms and waited.
“What I named is what you accept about yourself and will allow others to know about you. You are the Sentinel of Cascade, as you were the Sentinel of the Chopec. During your time with the Chopec, all the tribe knew you as sentinel. Few know you as Sentinel of Cascade, but these few – Simon Banks, your guide, your family, Lee Brackett – accept you as a sentinel.” My spirit-self mimicked my actions and also crossed his arms.
I didn’t like Brackett being placed in the group that I trusted with the sentinel shit, and I certainly didn’t trust him – but he did know that I was a sentinel.
“What about lover?” I wasn’t going to get sidetracked here. This trip to the spirit plane was about Blair and me. I wanted to cut the mystical crap and get to the reason I was here.
“What about your lover, Sentinel of Cascade?” he replied in a tone of voice that dared me to answer him.
“Okay – I’ve figured out I was wrong to treat Blair the way I did. I didn’t need a trip to the spirit world to help me know that. Surprisingly, I’ve come to that conclusion already. I want to make it up to him. I want us to go back to being lovers and I want to take care of him. Satisfied?”
Sandburg would flip out at the disrespectful tone of my voice towards my spirit-whatever, but I was getting tired of the run-around here. Although… thinking of the lecture Blair would give me if he could, I decided that maybe I should watch my mouth; I had asked for help, after all, once I’d been shanghaied into the spiritual plane. And I did owe the spirit world a great debt, for helping me to bring Blair back from the dead.
I cleared my throat and tried again, without the lip. “Why was lover not listed along with friend?” I dropped my arms and waited for his reply more respectfully. No eye rolling; no mentally bouncing a ball against a wall, a bad habit of mine when I wanted to blow somebody off. Instead, I practiced being patient.
“Who have you told about your lover?” the spirit-sentinel asked me.
I thought about that a moment and answered, ”Findley. I told him about Blair and me so he would let me take Sandburg into protective custody.”
“Willingly?” And the answer to that was, of course – no, I hadn’t told him without having my arm twisted. I had to do it. I couldn’t let the murdering bastards after Blair have a chance at killing him.
“No. I didn’t want to tell Findley. I did it to keep Blair safe.”
I added wearily, “And you know, it isn’t anybody else’s business about my love life. Blair knows he’s my lover, or he was my lover, and I hope he will be my lover again.” I knew as I said it that I was missing the point.
“I’m missing the point, aren’t I?” Might as well admit it. I’d asked for help and I needed to listen to what this guy could tell me. I wasn’t going to like it, but if it would help me get Blair back as my lover, then I would deal with it.
“Why did you keep knowledge of your guide as lover to you secret from those close to you?” There was heavy disapproval in the spirit-guide’s tone of voice and on what I could see of his features.
“I was just waiting to see if it was going to work out between us. I was afraid…”
Fear again. I was afraid Blair would leave me and afraid of everybody’s pity that my lover – tolerant, intelligent, engaging Blair; my guide -- had decided he couldn’t love me anymore. And I was concerned about upsetting my father. I didn’t want to do it for nothing.
“Sentinel. What of your guide’s feelings? What were his actions when you forbade him to tell of his lover’s heart for you?” Still disapproval in my interrogator’s voice; of course, he was a part of me, so a part of me must have thought I was doing the wrong thing last year when I told Blair we should keep our being lovers to ourselves.
“Blair said that it was okay. He understood that it was private, just our own business. And he was happy, at least at first he was.” I started to shift on my feet, waiting for the boom to be lowered on me.
My spirit-guide shook his head. “Your guide told you what you desired to hear. He submitted to your wishes, but they were not his wishes. You have a task, when you return to your body, to find the truth for yourself about his feelings regarding being hidden and denied his status as your mate.”
Homework from the spirit plane – but I would talk to Blair and not let him get away with telling me what he thought would please me.
I bowed to my spirit-guide and prepared myself to leave the jungle. Usually, I just woke up but nothing was happening.
“Nothing is happening – what’s the deal?” I asked my spirit-guide, who had remained quiet.
“There is danger to your guide.” I wasn’t sure if he was asking me or telling me, but I nodded yes.
The spirit-guide thrust both of his arms through the vines that separated us and I grasped his forearms in a two handed warrior’s clasp. We held on to each other and images flashed through my mind, images of Blair’s spirit animal and of Blair naked, as I had seen him before in my jungle dreams.
Blair’s spirit-self had spied on me. Blair in his wolf or human form had crept around or hidden near me in my jaguar or my sentinel-spirit form, and I had seen him -- only to ignore him. I -- me -- my spirit form hadn’t interacted with him till just a few days ago. Had to be when I was on my way to Sweetwater and all I could think about was how mad I was at him. Then I had hunted him in my cat form and he ran from me, hid from me. When I did catch him I – I licked him. He’d been scared, afraid of me, but I felt his relief when I didn’t tear his throat out. God – that poor kid. I saw what had happened in the interview room at the Sweetwater PD. I saw it in double vision – me mauling Blair and trying to kiss him, and biting him on the neck, and also the black jaguar licking the wolf’s neck.
I saw Blair asking for help from my sentinel-spirit because of the bite I’d given him. I saw Blair aroused, naked, driven wild by the touches of my – the sentinel spirit’s—hand, and as he orgasmed with pleasure, I-the sentinel-spirit, bit him hard on the back of his neck. Christ, that was how he got the stigmata. I didn’t know it had really hurt him. Jesus – was there anything that Blair wouldn’t do to save me? I swore to make it up to him.
I also saw images of wolf-Blair’s many lairs that had been destroyed. Something, some other predator was hunting him. The sentinel-spirit had observed the torn apart dens where Blair’s spirit had rested, but had done nothing to protect or comfort wolf-Blair. That had been my fault, I realized. I saw Blair in his human and wolf form during the many times he had been forced to find another place in the jungle to hide. He couldn’t disguise the misery he had felt. And I-my spirit-self hadn’t bothered to make sure my guide was safe. My spirit-self didn’t know who was tracking my guide because in the physical world I had locked him down by repressing my emotions about Blair. My spirit-self was pissed at me, but I silently vowed to him that I’d do better. I wanted to take care of Sandburg now, while he was sick and in need of a friend, and also be there for him in the future. Whatever he needed from me.
The sentinel-spirit let go of my arms then, and the blue jungle faded away.
I opened my eyes to see cabin walls, not vines and branches. It wasn’t dawn yet, but it would be soon. Blair was next to me, still asleep. I felt his forehead, and he was starting to feel warm again. His temp was 99.5, so it was low enough to leave it alone for now.
I thought about what I had learned during my dream. Those torn apart lairs – in the physical world Blair had had to leave places he’d hoped to get settled in at because of either the harassing letters he’d believed were from me, or the official ones from Rainier that damned him. ‘We need to talk, but till he wakes up, I’ll savor this time. I’ll scent his skin and I’ll taste him when I kiss his shoulder.’ I stroked his hair off of his forehead and he gave a small sigh.
‘My little shaman. My guide. My friend. My lover. My lodestar. Who hates you enough to want you dead? Is it Bergman, or do you have another enemy, hiding in the shadows? I promise I’ll do everything I can to find and stop this hostile. You’re my treasure, Blair, and I won’t be careless with what’s precious to me anymore.’
A Fair Distance. Ball and Chain. Chapter Four.