Disclaimers: Nothing's mine but the words; everything else belongs to Pet Fly. No infringement is intended, and I'm not makin' a dime. (Who needs money when you've got love?) (Well, okay, but I'm still not making any money!)
Summary: Professor Sonia Cortez, Blair Sandburg's replacement at Rainier, takes her Sentinel, Daniel Casey, to the loft and tries to answer some of his questions.
Warnings: Like Nature's Cycles, sort of a death story — and the guys are still deader yet. Again, however, ripe old ages, full and happy lives, blah blah.
Notes: Best read in conjunction with the Nature Series. Thanks for previous feedback and keep it coming, please! I need high octane everything to keep me going, here!
"Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit," said Sonia Cortez, sitting on the living room floor of 852 Prospect surrounded by the seventeen black binders which constituted Blair Sandburg's masterwork, darting nervous glances over her glasses at the immobile form of Daniel Casey, who, she now strongly suspected, was dead. Or dying. Or something. She shoved a few volumes aside, found the book she wanted, began frantically flipping through it. "Where is it, where is it?" she cried. "Goddamn you, Blair Sandburg! Did you have to write down every friggin word — why do you talk so damn much! You could have left me the short version — a user's manual — in Japanese, even — I speak Japanese!" Frustrated, fearful, she pressed the book open at the index and bent over it, kneeling.
"Zagreus, myth of. Zapotec. Zareba. Zazen, uses of. Zenana. Zend Avesta. Zombies, for crying out loud!" she yelled. "Zones! Zone outs! — aspects of, anxiety associated with, common causes of, data tables on, description of, early prevention of, occasions of, problems associated with, senses and — hah! TECHNIQUES FOR COPING WITH! — Page four thousand, three hundred and thirty-seven! Damn you!"
She dragged the heavy binder over to where Casey was lying, staring glassily at the ceiling. She pressed the heavy, awkward book open with one knee, making a note to tell Cambridge to bring the damn thing out in paperback, pronto! and took Casey's heavy, dead hand in hers. "Okay, Casey, now you listen to me here," she said desperately, peering for the relevant paragraphs. "You have to come home, okay? You have to come back to me. Follow my voice." She stopped suddenly, knowing that there was no point in going on.
Her eyes had stopped at a paragraph:
"The foregoing notwithstanding, helping a Sentinel out of a zone-out is not a magic trick," Blair Sandburg had written, "nor is it a simple verbal formula along the lines of 'Open Sesame.' The key is not in words or in gestures, but in the emotional and psychic bond between Sentinel and Guide. When a Sentinel has zoned, he or she has essentially become lost in minutia, and needs to be reoriented to the larger picture. The Guide is the larger picture: the Guide is zero on the scale, noon on the clock, the first, orienting marker, the horizon line from which the Sentinel puts all other sensory input into perspective. A Guide is a Sentinel's organizing principle, made manifest, made flesh. When in a zone-out, the Sentinel has lost the organizing principle and wants to find it, wants the Guide; the Guide's job is simply to get past the barriers of sensory input and let the Sentinel know that he or she is there."
Okay, thought Sonia, yanking her glasses off. She pushed the book away, took a deep breath, and bent over Casey. She whispered reassurances to him softly, pulling his hand into both of hers. Suddenly inspired, she pulled his hand up to her face, moved it over her forehead, across her eyes, over her lips, down her neck. Casey's fingers twitched as they passed by her jaw and she stopped; his hand then moved of its own accord underneath her chin and stopped, fingers pressing into the soft, smooth flesh there.
Sonia blinked hard, realized that Casey was taking her pulse.
Casey opened his eyes and blinked back at her.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi," she replied, relief washing over her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, and the concern on his face made her laugh.
"I'm fine. Are you okay?"
"You didn't tell me," said Casey.
"Tell you what?"
"That he was like me," said Casey, staring up at her.
"The guy. Your friend. Who lived here."
"What makes you say that?" asked Sonia curiously.
"You can tell," said Casey, trying to sit up. "Ow!" he said, hand going to his head.
"I can't tell," replied Sonia, arm going out to support him.
"Well I can." He laughed suddenly, rubbed his hands over his hair. "I feel like Goldilocks."
"What are you talking about?" asked Sonia, exasperated.
"This place," Casey replied, waving his hand. "Everything just right, just like the story says. No noises. No chemicals. Nothing abrasive. Nothing — " he wrinkled his nose, " — unpleasant. Or overwhelming, or overstated, or distracting. It's amazing — its unlike anywhere else I've ever been."
"So then what happened to you?" asked Sonia.
"I couldn't believe it, so I went looking for something distracting." He smiled regretfully. "Stupid, I know. I found it, anyway." He nodded toward the kitchen. "The pasta's gone off. There are wheat weevils in it. I can hear them."
"You can hear wheat weevils?" said Sonia, incredulously.
"Yeah," said Casey, giving her an embarrassed smile. "I'm sure he would have. The other one — the, uh — "
"Yeah, Sentinel." Casey put out a hand, and bracing himself on the sofa arm, he hauled himself to his feet. He looked at the mass of binders scattered on the floor. "What's all that?"
Sonia shook her head. "It's....Casey, I don't even know where to start."
He perched on the arm of a chair and considered her, wrists dangling in front of him. "Well, I think you should start somewhere. Sonia, I've got to know what's going on. My life — "
"Your life!" exploded Sonia, furiously. "Your life! What about me?" She gasped for a moment, then bit back a sob and Casey moved over and pulled her up into his arms. She hesitated, tensed, then relented and let him hold her.
"All right: you, then," he said softly, rocking her gently. "Tell me about you. Just tell me something."
Sonia let out a long breath, feeling suddenly, surprisingly secure in Casey's strong arms. Mustn't think about that now, she thought. "That," she said, nodding over to the binders, "is a book."
"A book?" said Casey, and she grinned.
"Yeah," she said, twisting her head up to look at him. "A book. A long book. By a man named Blair Sandburg. He used to live here."
"Was he — ?"
"No, let me finish," said Sonia. "The book is about Sentinels and Guides. You are a Sentinel. I — " She stopped, and Casey felt her muscles tighten and he rubbed her back reassuringly. "I might be a Guide, I don't know," she said rapidly. She pulled back from him, put distance between them. "Fact is, Casey, I don't think I want to be a Guide."
"Fact is, Sonia," said Casey bluntly, "I don't want to be a Sentinel, either."
"Yeah, I know, I know, I'm sorry," said Sonia.
"So go on."
"So. Blair Sandburg, who wrote the book — he was a Guide. His partner — lover — James Ellison, was a Sentinel. They lived here."
"And they're dead?" asked Casey gently.
"Yes. They're dead, now. And they left this apartment. And you need a place to be. And here we are," finished Sonia.
"Okay," said Casey, beginning to pace around. "That's a start. You have to understand: I have so many questions."
"Me too," answered Sonia immediately. "I don't know how many answers I have though. He has the answers." She gestured at the books.
"Blair San — ?"
"Sandburg, yes," said Sonia. "I think I'm beginning to hate him, Casey. I just wanted a job, that's all," she said. "But this," she said despairingly, "this is out of control."
"Tell me about it. Come here, sit down," said Casey, pulling out a chair from the kitchen table. "Let me just ask you a few things, okay?"
"Okay," said Sonia, sitting.
"You want something to drink, or something?" said Casey, immediately pulling two glasses out of the correct cabinet. "I need some water."
"Yeah, me too."
Casey brought over the water, then pulled out a chair, turned it around, and sat down on it backwards. "Okay. Tell me again: what exactly is wrong with me?"
"Nothing's wrong with you," said Sonia, immediately. "You're a Sentinel."
"All right, all right: whatever. I'm a Sentinel: what's a Sentinel?"
"A Sentinel is someone who has enhanced senses," said Sonia. "A Sentinel uses those enhanced senses to protect the tribe."
"Uh-huh," said Casey dubiously.
"The tribe can be anybody. People, just," amended Sonia.
"And that's what He did?" asked Casey, and Sonia knew exactly who He was, who He would always be to Casey from now on.
"Yes. He was a police detective," said Sonia.
"Really?" asked Casey, now very interested.
"Really," replied Sonia.
"Okay," said Casey. "And are there more of us — how many of us are there?"
"Not very many," answered Sonia. "At least not according to Sandburg, and he spent over fifty years looking. In the book, he describes a number of people with one or two enhanced senses, but Ellison was the only one he ever met who had the full five." She looked hard at him. "You have the full five, right?"
"Yes," Casey said, gnawing his lip. "So what's a Guide?" he asked Sonia, and she found herself blushing.
"A Guide," she said, "helps a Sentinel control his senses. They're, like, partners. The Guide helps the Sentinel, the Sentinel protects the Guide."
"I see," said Casey.
"I should warn you that I'm not a very good Guide," said Sonia, lips twisting into a smile. "As you've probably guessed," she added, gesturing to part of the living room where Casey had zoned.
"Yeah, well I'm not much of a Sentinel, either. I mean, Sonia, look — did they...well, did they just give their lives over to this thing?" asked Casey plaintively.
"Yeah, it appears so," said Sonia, burying her head in her hands. "Blair Sandburg was an anthropologist," she explained. "He was also a genius, but he pretty much put his own career on hold, trained to be a police officer so that he could help Ellison.. That's never been published," she added, nodding toward the binders. "I'm having it published now. He didn't publish it because he needed to protect his Sentinel. And himself, presumably. I should warn you, Casey, you really don't want to tell anyone about this."
"Fat chance!" grinned Casey. "I barely believe it, and its me!" and Sonia laughed.
"Yeah, well, this is just the beginning," she said wryly. "Sandburg and Ellison developed all sorts of powers." The look of astonishment on Casey's face made her laugh again. "That is, of course, if you believe Blair Sandburg."
"Uh...and do you believe Blair Sandburg?" asked Casey.
"Yes, dammit!" said Sonia, covering her face with her hands.
"Is that...is that how come you knew where to find me?" he asked gently.
"Yes..." murmured Sonia, not looking at him.
"Oh," said Casey in a small voice. They sat in silence for a moment.
"So, where do we go from here?" asked Sonia softly, letting her hands drop to the table.
"I don't know," answered Casey. "Well," he amended, sighing, "I guess I do." He reached out, took Sonia's hand, and Sonia jumped as a tingle shot up her arm. "Look, I was pretty much planning to be dead today," said Casey. "That having gone awry, I've got nothing but free time." He smiled. "I'm off the clock in every way, and so I'm going to take this as it comes. I can always go back to the river," and the horrified look on Sonia's face made him grip her hand tightly, though he didn't take the words back. "You say I can stay here — well, I'm going to stay here. I'm going to sit here and read every word of that book," said Casey firmly.
"There's that one, and there's one at the office," murmured Sonia.
"Good," said Casey. "Then I can come visit you when I need a change of scenery."
"You could help me," said Sonia suddenly, sitting up sharply. "I need — well, I've been going through microfilm at the library, collecting information about Ellison's cases. I also need to go through the police files. My idea," she explained, "was to add a casebook of clippings and public documents to the volumes. As an appendix. To see how Sandburg's recollection of their cases compares with the public record."
"I could do that," said Casey, eagerly. "I'd like to do that. The thing is, I need to know how He handled this, what He did." He swallowed. "He's the only role model I have."
"I understand," said Sonia, meeting his eyes. "So, will you be my research assistant?" she asked, gently squeezing his hand.
"Sonia," he said softly, helplessly, "I want...I want to be — " and then his face tightened and became alert and his head turned sharply toward the door. Sonia followed his eyes and watched as the handle to the loft jiggled and turned and the door suddenly opened.
Daniel Casey shot out of his chair, fists clenched, body tense, poised to spring, ready to hurl the intruder over the goddamn balcony.
"Holy Mother of God," breathed Victor de Guzman.
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